Forgiven (by Nancy)

Summary:
Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  8700


Heath kicked open the door.  As he entered the room with his gun drawn, he saw the man crouching behind the kitchen table with a gun in his hand.  The blond cowboy started to raise his hands over his head as he tried to tell the man not to shoot, but his words were drowned out by the sound of the gunfire.  Heath felt a shearing flame burn deep into his side.  He dropped his gun, grabbed his side as he felt himself fall.  When his body compacted with the hard floor he cried out in pain.  He lay on the floor clutching his side and fighting to control the pain.

My God! He shot me I can’t believe he shot me.”  Heath though in total disbelief.

The dark haired man hiding behind the table was ready when the blond man kicked open the door.  He saw the fair-haired stranger start to raise his gun arm.  Without a second thought he shot and watched as his enemy’s gun dropped from his hand.  When his foe hit the floor he crawled over to where the other man’s gun had fallen.  He wanted to make sure that the wounded man could not reach it.   He reached out and picked up the gun.  His hands began to shake when he noticed an eagle on the handle of the gun.  He sat frozen, staring at the gun.

“Okay drop your weapons and kick them over here nice and easy.”  Nick ordered as he entered the kitchen from the living room.

Nick had entered the house from the back door, while Heath had entered through the front.  He had just entered the house when he heard the gun shot.  As he cautiously entered the kitchen he saw Heath lying on his side in a pool of blood.  A dark haired man knelt on the floor holding Heath’s gun.  A woman sat by the window holding a riffle.  Nick ordered both the man and woman to kick over their weapons to him.

The woman was the first to drop the weapon she held and kick it over to Nick.  The man placed both his gun and Heath’s on the floor as he stood up.  He then slowly kicked the guns in Nick direction.  As he kicked over Heath’s gun he said.  “I’ve see that gun before.”

“You should have seen it before.  You bought it for him on his last birthday.  You just shot your brother, Jarrod.”  Nick snapped as he bent down and picked up the weapons.  He emptied them of their ammunition.

At Nick’s words Jarrod’s memories started to flood back.  Jarrod remembered the very first day that Heath arrived at the ranch.  He remembered watching out the window of a train as a young cowboy on a little Modoc pony raced and beat a train.  He remembered the same young man riding up to the ranch house to ask for work.  He remembered Nick not wanting to hire this man and having to convince his brother to do so.  He remembered the face of the angry young man, as he fought for acceptance into the family that night when Nick dragged him into the study of the mansion and forced him to reveal who he was.  He remembered how the blond’s blue eyes showed the pain of dejection when Jarrod placed a handful of money into his shirt pocket and told him to hit the road.   How the offended man took the money offered him from his pocket and placed it into a glass of whiskey.  Then with a half smile and slight wave walked out of the mansion.  Jarrod also remembered watching as the young blond rode up to the neighbor’s ranch to take his place along side his brothers in the battle against the railroad.  Then Jarrod saw the dark blue eyes of the same young man shine with appreciation as he opened a box containing a gun with an eagle etched into the handle.

“Oh my God!  What have I done.”  Jarrod cried as the realization of what he done sank in.  He fell to his knees on the floor as he buried his head in his hands.

*****

Once Nick had removed the ammunition from the weapons, he walked to where his younger brother lay on the floor.  He knelt down beside his blond brother and rolled him onto his back, which caused the injured man gasped out in pain.  Nick tried to remove Heath’s hands from the wound, but the wounded man only clutched at his side harder.

“It’s okay Heath let me see.”  Nick pleaded as he pried Heath’s hands away.  Heath finally allowed Nick to remove his hands.

“It’s bad isn’t it, Nick.”  Heath gasped in pain

“I’m afraid so, but you will be okay.  We got to get you to a doctor.”  Nick answered.

“Our doctor left yesterday and will not be back for at least two days.  The next nearest doctor is Fifty miles away.”  The woman said.

She stared at the young, blond man lying on the floor in his own blood.  She saw the worried expression of the brother who knelt beside him.  She realized that in her desperation to keep Jarrod from remembering who he was she had caused him to almost kill his own bother.  She did not know if she could live with herself for what she had done, but she now knew that she had to do anything required of her to help save this mans life.

“Why should I believe you.”  Nick spat at the woman.  He did not understand how Jarrod could have shot Heath, but he had a feeling that this woman was behind it.

“Because it is the truth.”  The woman answered.

“Nick, you will have to remove the bullet.”  Heath gasped out though clenched teeth.

“I can’t, I could kill you.”

“If the bullet isn’t removed I will probably die any ways.  There is no way I can make it fifty miles and you know it.”  Heath tried to convince his older brother that it was the only way.

“Yeah! You are right.  There is no other choice.”  Nick said as he ran his hands through his dark hair.  He looked up at the woman.

“I’ll need some whiskey, boiling water, sheets to make bandages and a knife sterilized in the fire.”  He ordered.  The dark angry look on his face told the woman that she better not cause trouble.  Though she did not plan to.

“I don’t have any whiskey or any other type of alcohol in the house, but I will get you the other things.”  She stammered as she turned to get the things that he requested.

“Nothing to kill the pain.  Oh great!  This day just gets better and better.”  Nick said through gritted teeth as he ran his hands through his hair again.  He turned back to Heath as he mentally tried to prepare himself for the task ahead.  He glanced over to where Jarrod knelt on the floor in a state of self-hate.

Oh! Jarrod how could you do this.’    Nick’s mind screamed out.  He desperately wanted to understand what happened today, but he could not.

“Here are the knife and sheets.”  The woman’s voice brought Nick out of his deep thoughts.

Nick shook his head as he wiped the sweat from his brow.  The dark haired cowboy had removed bullets before, but never from one of his brothers and never from the stomach area.  He knew that one wrong move on his part could finish what Jarrod started.

“Oh God!  Help me.”  Nick prayed as he turned back to Heath.

Nick ripped his brother’s shirt away from the wound.  He dipped a cloth into the warm water that the woman had brought him.  He washed away as much blood as he could from the wound, which caused Heath to inhaled with pain.

“I am afraid this is going to hurt.  There is nothing I can give you for the pain.”  Nick apologized as he looked into the pain filled eyes of his blond brother.  He wished that Heath would pass out.

“Just do it.”  Heath said through gritted teeth.

Nick again wiped the sweat from his brow as he picked up the knife.  His hands started to shake as he held the knife.  He closed his eyes took three deep breaths as he tried to calm his nerves.  His brother’s life depended on him; he had to pull himself together.

Nick took one more deep breath, open his eyes and began removing the bullet.  He dug around in Heath’s side searching for where the bullet was lodged.  His brother’s face winced in pain at every movement he made with the knife, but the injured man held still.  Finally the knife hit the bullet and Nick pulled it out.

After Nick removed the bullet he took a shell of ammunition, knocked off the cap, emptied the contents into the wound, lit a match and set the gunpowder on fire. When he set the gunpowder on fire Heath bucked, screamed out in agony and slipped into a blessed pain free darkness.   Nick then took the sheets the woman brought him and bandaged the wound.

“Where is a bed I can take him to.”  He snapped at the woman

“There is a room upstairs.  Follow me.”  She answered

Jarrod had been kneeling on the floor in a daze ever since he started remembering who he was and who the blond man he just shot was.  The loud agonizing scream snapped him out of his daze.  He watched as dark haired brother wrapped the wound on Heath’s side.   When Nick started to lift their younger brother off the floor to carry him to the room, he went over to help.

“Get the hell away from him Jarrod.”  Nick snapped at his older brother as his dark eyes burned with anger and hate.  “You could have killed him.  He still might die.  I don’t need your help.”

“You could hurt him more by trying to move him by yourself.  Please let me help.”  Jarrod pleaded.  The eldest Barkley brother desperately needed to be by Heath.  He needed to feel the younger man’s heartbeat to assure himself that his brother was not dead.

Nick nodded his head realizing that Jarrod was right.  He did need help to move Heath to the room.  Not wanting to cause his younger brother any more damage he allowed his older brother to assist him.  They carried their injured brother as they followed the woman upstairs to a room where they laid him on the bed.

Once they had made Heath comfortable Nick grabbed Jarrod and threw him up against the wall.  “How could you do this.  He is your brother and you could have killed him.”   He screamed

“Don’t you think I know that.  Don’t you think it is eating me up inside?   But I swear when he burst into the room I didn’t know that it was him, hell I didn’t even know who I was.   There are those who are trying to run these folks of their land.   That is what I believed you two where here to do.  I was helping Libby defend her land.  It wasn’t until I saw his gun that I remember who I am, who he is.”  Jarrod cried

“Damn it Jarrod, you should have known.  Deep down inside you should have known that pulling that trigger was wrong.  We told you who we were.  Why did you not believe us?”  Nick asked

“I don’t know.   We thought it was a trick to get us to let our guard down.  Libby told me some men where by earlier who threatened her.  She told me that you were the same men.”  Jarrod explained.

“We were by earlier.  We were looking for you.  She told us that she never saw you.  But we noticed her mending a shirt of yours, so we came back.  She lied to us and she lied to you.  Because of her lies Heath may die and if he does you have killed your own brother.”   Nick spat out between gritted teeth

Jarrod slid down the wall to sitting position on the floor, placed his head between his legs and wept.  At seeing the obvious pain his older brother was in, Nick softened.  He knelt down and put an arm around his guilt-ridded brother’s shoulders.

“Don’t worry Jarrod, he will pull through.  He has been in worst shape and survived.  A little bullet won’t stop him.”  Nick tried to console his brother.

“Oh God! I hope you are right, but how am I ever going to face him.  How can I ever make him understand when I don’t even understand.”  Jarrod cried as he pushed Nick away, stood up and staggered out of the room.  He had to find Libby.  He had to ask her why?

Nick watched as his emotionally tortured brother exited the room.  Then he turned and looked at the pale face of his younger brother.  Oh how he wished he would wake up to discover that this was all a really bad nightmare, but he knew that would not happen.

“Oh God please let them both be alright.” Nick prayed.

*****

Jarrod went down stairs where he found Libby in the living room.  She was sitting on the sofa with her arms rapped around herself.  She was crying as she rocked herself back and forth.

“Why Libby?”  Jarrod asked

 Libby looked up into his pain-etched face.  “How is he?”  She asked

“He is still alive, no thanks to you or me.  Why did you do it?  Why did you lie?”  He demanded.

Libby looked at her feet and her body trembled as she spoke.  “I was tired of raising my son alone.  I wanted you stay.  I thought if you never recovered you memory you would stay with me.”

She closed her eyes and swallowed deeply before she continued.  “When your brothers showed up I knew they would take you away.  I love you so much, I did not want to lose you.”

“You love me.”  He screamed as he roughly grabbed her arms, lifted her off the sofa, held her so her face was only a few inches from his and shook her.

“Out of love you told me my brothers were enemies.  Out of love you convinced me to shoot my own brother.  You are not a woman.  YOU ARE THE DEVIL.”  Jarrod threw Libby across the room.  He was approaching her with his arm raised to strike her when Nick stepped in front of him.

“She is not worth it Jarrod.”  Nick said as he grabbed his brother’s arm.

When Nick heard Jarrod yelling he came down stairs to see what was going on.  He saw his older brother toss the woman across the room and approach her ready to strike.  He saw the uncontrolled fury in his angry brother’s face as he stepped between Jarrod and the woman.  He grabbed his enraged brother’s upraised arm and held it tight.

Jarrod saw the frighten woman lying on the floor where he had thrown her.  He saw his upraised hand that Nick held.  Never in his life had he even thought of hitting a woman, but today if his brother had not stopped him he would have used his fists to beat this woman.  He might have even killed her.  Jarrod pulled out of Nick’s grasp, then walked out of the room.

Nick turned to the woman.  “I suggest that you stay out of our way until Heath is well enough to travel.”

“That won’t be a problem Mister.  I plan on taking my son and leaving as soon as possible.  I don’t care what happens to this land anymore.  I pray your brother will be all right.  I am so sorry for what I have done.”  Libby tried to apologize

“Sorry ma’am isn’t enough for what you’ve done.”  Nick spat vehemently as he turned to follow Jarrod.

Libby stood watching the tall cowboy leave the room as tears streamed down her face.  Then she went to prepare to leave.

*****

Nick found Jarrod in the kitchen kneeling by the bloodstain on the floor.  Nick knelt down and put his arms around his brother’s shoulders.  He could feel his brother’s shoulders shaking with grief.

“It will be alright Jarrod.”  Nick tried to console his brother.

“No it won’t.  I shot my own brother.  I almost hit a woman.  Oh God!  What have I become?”  Jarrod cried out in agony.  Nick did not know what to say or do to make things better.

Nick helped his guilt-ridden brother up off the floor, led him to a room next to where their injured brother lay sleeping, removed his brother’s boots and helped him into bed.  Nick had just pulled the covers over Jarrod when he heard Heath scream.

*****

Nick raced to the room where Heath was.  As the concerned brother entered the room he saw Heath thrashing around in the bed.

“No, Jarrod don’t shoot.  It’s me Heath your brother. Jarrod, NO!   Oh God!  He shot me.  I can’t believe he shot me.  Oh God!  It hurts.  Nick help me.”   Heath screamed over and over as he relived the event in his dreams.

“Heath!  It’s Nick.  You are safe.”  Nick said as he tried to wake his frantic brother.  As soon as he touched the younger man’s arm he felt the radiating heat.

Nick raced down stairs, pumped some cold water into a pan, grabbed a dishtowel, headed back to his brother’s room and began his battle with the fever that racked his younger brother’s body.  He kept sponging Heath down with cold water all night until mid morning the next day when the fever finally broke.  When the blond man fell into a deep healing sleep, Nick sighed with relief as he placed his face in his hands and thanked God.

Jarrod, who had been emotionally drained, slept late that morning.  As soon as he had awakened he went to check on Heath.  “How is he?”  He asked Nick as he entered the room.

Jarrod’s voice startled Nick out of his silent prayer.  Nick looked up to see the concern written on Jarrod’s face.  “It was touch and go last night, but I think he’ll be alright.”

“You go get some rest.  I’ll stay with him.”  Jarrod offered.

“No.  I don’t think that is a good idea.  I don’t think you should be the first person he sees.  There is no way to know how he will react to your presence.”

Nick stopped talking when he saw the pained expression on his older brother’s face.  “I am sorry Jarrod.”

“You are right.  He probably won’t want to see me.”  Jarrod said as he left the room. He was relieved to hear that his brother would survive, but would their relationship survive.  He wondered if Heath would ever be able to forgive him.

*****

Heath dreamt he was running away form someone with a gun.  He was trapped, so he turned to face his pursuer.  He saw the man raise the gun and pull the trigger.  As the bullet tore into Heath side, the face of his assassin became clear.  It was Jarrod.  He cried out as he awoke with a start.  He was in a cold sweat and panted heavily as he tried to catch his breath.

Nick had fallen asleep in the chair by Heath’s bed, but awoke at his younger brother’s cry.   He saw the horror written all over his blond brother’s face.  Nick approached the bed.

“Its okay Heath.  You are safe.”   Nick spoke softly trying to calm Heath down.

“Oh Nick!   I just had the worst dream.  I dreamt that Jarrod shot me.”  Heath told Nick

Nick closed his eyes not knowing how to answer.  Heath saw the pained expression on his brother’s face and felt the burning pain in his side as the events of previous day flooded back.

“Oh God!  It wasn’t a dream was it?  Jarrod tried to kill me.  Why would he want to kill me?”  Heath asked as he frantically searched Nick’s face with dark blue eyes that were filled with confused terror.

“Jarrod did not know it was you when he shot you.  He thought you were a hired gun who had come to run these people off her land.”  Nick tried to explain.

“How could he not know it was me?”  Heath asked

“He had amnesia.  He did not even know who he was.  The woman who found him convinced him that we were here to hurt them.  It wasn’t until he saw the gun that he gave you that he remembered who he is and who you were.  He has been devastated ever since he learned what he did.”

Heath listened to Nick’s explanation of what had happened.  He turned away from his older brother.  As he stared at the wall his mind raced with thoughts.  Jarrod had shot him, but hadn’t realized when he done so that he was shooting his own brother.  What if it had been Nick who burst through the door instead of him?  Would have Jarrod remembered sooner?  Even if Jarrod did not remember right away, would have something deep inside of him kept him from pulling the trigger when he saw Nick?

Heath could not understand how his oldest brother could have pulled the trigger.  Did it mean that deep down Jarrod did not consider him a brother?  Was the bond that he thought he had with his older brother not real?

“Heath.”  Nick said as he shook Heath’s arm.

When his younger brother finally looked at him Nick asked.  “Jarrod would like to see you, would that be alright?”

“NO!”  Heath said louder than he meant to.  “Not now.”

 “Then when Heath?”  Nick asked

“I don’t know, but not now.  I am tired and want to go to sleep.  Just leave me alone.”  Heath said as he pulled the blankets up around his neck.  The confused man closed his eyes as he tried to make sense of what had happened.

*****

When Jarrod heard his blond brother cry out he went to see if Nick needed his help.  He stood outside the bedroom door listening while Nick tried to explain what had happened to their wounded brother.  The lawyer could hear the fear and confusion in his blond brother’s voice.  The knowledge that his younger brother feared him tore through Jarrod’s heart like a knife.

Jarrod remembered how hard it had been for Heath to learn to trust his new family when he had first arrived at the ranch.  He had been Heath’s rock through the stormy first months when Nick refused to accept the new brother.  Heath had learned that he could trust the lawyer for sound advice on any problem that he was having.    Now Jarrod had shattered that trust.  Would his blond brother ever be able to trust him again?

 Nick excited the room and placed a hand on Jarrod’s shoulder. “Give him time Jarrod.  He needs time to think over everything that has happened.  When he is ready he’ll talk to you.”

Jarrod smiled weakly at his younger brother as he said.   “What if he is never ready?  What if he can never forgive me?  How can I expect him to when I can’t even forgive myself?

“He will forgive you.  He forgave me for all the times I picked a fight with him.”  Nick said

“This is different and you know it Nick.”  Jarrod snapped as he glared at his younger brother.

Nick looked down at his feet as he realized that his attempt to lighten the mood failed miserably.  “Yeah. I know.”  He mumbled.

*****

They remained at the house while Heath grew stronger.  On the third day after the shooting Nick walked into the room to find the blond man out bed and getting dressed.

“Where do you think you are going.”  Nick asked

“I am going home.”  Heath answered as he struggled to pull on his boots.

“You are in no condition to be riding a horse all the way to Stockton.”  Nick rebuked his younger brother.

“Well I am not staying in this place one more day.  I am going home.  Are you coming?”  Heath answered.  He picked up his gun belt as he headed for the door.   As the injured man reached the door his knees buckled beneath him.  Nick caught him just before he hit the floor.

“See you are in no condition to be going anywhere.”  Nick said as he tried to lead Heath back to the bed, but Heath refused.

“I won’t stay here any longer.”  He said as his eyes pleaded with Nick to get him out of this place.

“All right I will send Jarrod into town to buy a wagon.  You just lay back down in this bed while we prepare for us to leave.”  Nick pleaded.

Nick understood perfectly well why Heath wanted to get out of this place.  He wanted nothing more than put as much distance between them and this place as well.  After he helped his reluctant brother back into the bed, Nick went to tell Jarrod to go get a wagon form town.

When Jarrod returned with the Wagon, they made a bed for their blond brother to lay on during the trip home.  When they had the wagon ready Nick went to get Heath.

Heath leaned heavily on his tall brother as they made their way to the wagon.  When they reached the wagon Jarrod helped Nick get their wounded brother into the wagon.  Heath did not pull away from eldest brother’s touch, but the lawyer felt the muscles of the blond man tense.

Once Heath settled in the wagon, Nick tied Cocoa and Charger behind the wagon.  Then he jumped up to driver’s seat and commanded the horses forward.  Jarrod rode behind the wagon on Jingo as they headed home.

They traveled slowly with Nick stopping frequently to check on his injured brother.  That night they stopped by a creek where they set up camp.  Heath was trying to let on that he was fine, but his brothers could tell that the trip was taking its toll on him.

*****

The next morning they broke camp and continued on their way.  When they reached the next town Nick stopped the wagon to ask a lady in the street where to find the doctor.  The lady pointed to a house at the end of the street.  Nick drove the wagon up to the doctor’s house.

“Why are we stopping here.”  Heath complained as Nick stopped the wagon in front of the doctor’s office.

“I want the doctor to check you out.  Just to make sure you are okay.”  Nick explained.

“I am fine. I don’t need a doctor.”  Heath lied.  He didn’t really feel that well, but he didn’t want to delay their trip home.

“Well we’ll let the doctor tell us that and until he does this wagon ain’t moving.  So you can either sit in that wagon in the middle of the street all day, or you can go into the doctor’s office.”  Nick ordered.

Nick helped Heath out of the wagon while Jarrod walked up to the doctor’s house and knocked on the door.  A man in his late forties answered the door.

“May I help you?”  The man asked

“Yes.  My brother was shot about four days ago.  The bullet was removed, but we would like him checked over by a doctor.”  Jarrod answered as Nick helped Heath up the steps of the doctor’s house.

“Bring him this way.”  The doctor said as he turned and led them to his examining room.

 Nick helped his blond brother unto the examining table.  The doctor checked Heath over thoroughly.  Then he then re-bandaged the wound.  The doctor poured something into a glass and handed it to his patient.

“What is that.”  Heath asked as he eyed the glass cautiously.

“It is only something for the pain.”  The doctor answered
“I don’t need it.”  Heath tried to refuse

“Drink it son.  You are not leaving until you do.”  The doctor said as he handed the glass to his reluctant patient.  Heath took the glass and drank the liquid.

“How is he doc?”  Nick asked.  “Will he be able to travel.”

The doctor turned toward Nick and Jarrod.   “Who ever removed the bullet did a good job.  They didn’t do too much damage.  There is no sign of infection.  But I suggest that you let him rest a few days before you travel any further.”

“Fine we’ll get a room at the hotel for a few day.”  Nick said

“There is no need for that Nick.  I am fine.  I can travel.”  Heath said as he stood to prove to Nick that he was okay.  All of a sudden his head started to spin and he had to grab the table to stop from falling.

Dang doctors you just can’t trust them.”  Heath thought as he realized the doctor gave him something stronger than painkillers.

“Oh we are staying and you are going to rest even if I have to hog tie you to the bed.”  Nick stated as he grabbed Heath’s right arm and placed it over his own shoulder. He held his drugged brother up while Jarrod paid the bill.

“Give him a couple of these morning and night.  It will help with the pain and prevent infection.  Try to keep him in bed for at least two more days.  With the medicine I just gave him He should be out for a good eighteen hours.”  The doctor said as he handed Jarrod a handful of pills.

“Thank you.”  Jarrod said as he turned to help Nick with Heath. They carried their brother over to the hotel where they rented a room.  Once they had Heath settled into the bed, Nick went to care for the horses and wagon.  Then he went to the telegraph office and sent a wire home to tell Audra and Victoria that they had found Jarrod and he was fine.  He told them they would be home in a few days.  He did not mention anything about what had happened.

*****

The next morning Heath awoke with a start from the same nightmare that plagued him ever since he had been shot.  He looked around the hotel room that he found himself in.  Nick was not there, but Jarrod sat at the table reading a paper.  When Heath sat up Jarrod put his paper down and approached the bed.  Heath’s heart started to pound in his chest as his older brother came toward him.  He took a couple of breaths to get his emotions under control.

“How are you feeling this fine morning.”  Jarrod asked trying to act as if nothing was wrong.

“I am fine.  We don’t have to delay in this town on the count of me.  I can travel.”  Heath answered without looking at Jarrod.

“Well the doctor thinks it is a good idea that you rest for a couple of days and we agree.  The doctor also wants you to take two of these morning and night.”  Jarrod said as he held out two of the pills that the doctor had given him.  “They are for pain and to help prevent infection.”

Heath eyed the pills in Jarrod’s hand suspiciously.  “No thank you.  I will pass on anything that doctor prescribes.”  Heath refused as he lay back down and turned his head to look out the window.

Jarrod wanted his brother to take the medicine, but he did not feel he should press the issue.  He would get Nick to make sure Heath took the pills latter.  He laid the pills on the nightstand by the bed and turned to go back to read his paper.

“If it had been Nick would you have remembered in time and not pulled the trigger?”  Heath asked the question that had been gnawing at him since Nick had told him what had happened.

At Heath’s question Jarrod turned back to the bed and looked into dark blue eyes searching desperately for answers.

“I don’t know Heath.  Maybe something about Nick would have triggered my memories sooner or maybe nothing would have.  If it had been Nick that burst into that house instead of you, in my state of mind I probably would have shot him too.  At the time I believed my life and Libby’s was in danger so I reacted.  If you think that because of what happened it means that my bond with Nick is stronger than my bond with you are dead wrong.  I may not have known you all my life, but in the short time you have been with us you have become as important to me as Nick, Audra, Eugene or mother.  I would not knowingly hurt any one of you.  I would give my life to change what happened.  If you can never forgive me I will understand.”  Jarrod told his younger brother.

Heath saw the raw pain and remorse etched on Jarrod’s face.  “It wasn’t your fault Jarrod.  You did not know what you were doing.  That woman lied to us and to you.  She put you in a situation that you should not have been put in.  I am sorry I haven’t told you this sooner, but I just could not face it until now.”  Heath said as he sat up and looked out the window.

“I could have killed you and I could not have lived with that.”  Jarrod said as he sat down on the edge of the bed and buried his face in his hands.

Heath turned and placed an arm around Jarrod’s shoulders.  “But you didn’t kill me and we can both learn to live with that.”  The two brothers sat there holding onto one another, as they took their first step in repairing the shattered bond.  They were still like this when Nick came back from checking on the horses.

“Is everything okay?”  Nick asked.  Jarrod nodded his head.

“I am more than okay for travelling.  When can we leave.”  Heath answered.  He desperately needed t to change the topic.

“Oh no.  The only place you are going is back into that bed.  “Nick ordered.

At Heath’s look of defiance Nick added.  “The length of our stay here will be determined by how well you behave.”

Heath meekly crawled back into the bed and covered himself up with the covers.  When Nick saw the two pills sitting on the nightstand he picked them up and handed them to Heath.  “That also means you will take your medicine without any argument.”

Heath glared at his older brother as he picked the two pills out of Nick’s hand.   Jarrod poured a glass of water and gave it to his younger brother, who gladly took it to help wash pills down.

“Good now I will go downstairs and have the kitchen send up some oatmeal and orange juice for you.”  Nick said as he watched Heath swallow the pills.

“Oatmeal!  That is all I have been eating for the past three days.  I want eggs, ham, toast and coffee.” Heath complained

“Fine, I will get a couple eggs, but I don’t think you should be eating ham or toast yet.”   Nick replied as he left to get Heath his breakfast.

“Boy Howdy!  That guy will make a great mother someday.”  Heath grumbled as Nick exited the room.

Jarrod burst out laughing as Heath’s face broke out in a lop-sided grin.  When Jarrod stopped laughing he suggested they play a game of cards, so they did.  When Nick returned he joined in.  They played cards while they waited for their breakfast.

*****

They stayed in the little town for three days and three nights while his two older brothers forced Heath to rest.  The morning of the fourth day they finally headed for home, much to the blond brother’s relief.  Heath wanted to ride Charger, but his brothers insisted he ride in the wagon. The blond cowboy reluctantly agreed, but refused to lie in the back.  Against Nick’s better judgement he allowed his blond brother to ride up front with him.  They had not even gone a mile when the wagon wheel hit a rut and Heath cried out in pain as he clutched at his side.  Nick stopped the wagon and forced his stubborn brother to lie down in the back of the wagon, for the remaining trip to Stockton.

When they drove into the town of Stockton Nick and Jarrod insisted that before they headed out to the ranch that they should get Dr. Meyers examine Heath.

“There is no need to bother the doctor.  I am fine.”  Heath complained.

“Oh you are going to let Dr. Meyers examine you even if I have to sit on you.”  Nick snorted.

“Fine lets get it over with.”  Heath said as he climbed out of the wagon.  Then the three brothers walked up to the door of the doctor’s office and knocked on the door.  Dr. Meyer answered the door.

“Good afternoon Nick, Jarrod, Heath.  The doctor greeted the three Barkley brothers.   It is good to see you Jarrod.  I know your family was worried about you when you were missing so long.   What may I do for you boys today?”

“Jarrod here just recovered from amnesia and I think you should check him over just to make sure he is okay.”  Heath said before Nick or Jarrod could answer the doctor’s question.

“Okay Jarrod.”  The doctor said turning toward the lawyer.  “Just have a seat on the examining table.

“Jarrod is not the reason we are here Doctor.  Heath is.  We ran into a little trouble.  He was shot in the stomach about ten days ago.  We have been travelling for the last two days so we just want him checked over before we head home.”  Nick explained the real reason for the visit as he glared at his blond brother, who had a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

“Well I will check them both over.  I will start with you Jarrod.  Please have a seat.”  The doctor said as he gestured toward the examining table.  Jarrod complied.

Dr. Meyer examined Jarrod and announced that the lawyer was in good health.  Then he turned to his other patient.

“Heath would you please remove your shirt and get on the examining table.”  He ordered.

Heath reluctantly did as he was instructed.  The doctor carefully cut away the bandage to expose the wound.   After he examined the blond Barkley the doctor re-bandaged the wound.

“The wound is healing nicely.”  The doctor informed the brothers as Heath put his shirt back on.

“Will I still have to stay in bed?”  Heath asked as he glared at his two older brothers who stood behind the doctor.

 “I don’t see any reason why you should have to stay in bed, but you should take it easy for the next few day.

“Thanks Doc.”  Heath said as he jumped off the examining table and bolted for the door. Jarrod and Nick were right behind him.  When the blond cowboy reached the wagon he untied Charger and mounted him.

“And what do you think you are doing?”  Nick demanded.

“I am riding Charger the rest of the way home.”  Heath answered as his blue eyes shone with determination.

“If you want to hog tie me to that wagon you will have to catch me first.”  He shouted over his shoulder as he urged Charger in a gallop and raced out of town.

“The doctor said to take it easy you fool.”  Nick shouted at his retreating brother.

“Now you know how mother feels when you won’t listen to what is best for you when you are sick or injured.”  Jarrod said as he placed a hand on his fuming brother’s shoulder.

Nick laughed.  “Yeah!  I guess he is giving a bit of my own medicine isn’t he.  Well you can drive the wagon home.  I am riding Cocoa.”  Nick untied Cocoa, jumped on his back and raced after Heath.  Jarrod tied Jingo to the back of the wagon, climbed into the driver’s seat and urged the horses to follow his two brothers.

*****

When the brother’s reached home they tended to the horses, then went to the house.

“Oh Jarrod!”  Audra squealed as she hugged her older brother that had been missing.  “We were so worried.  Why were you were gone so long?”

“I am home now Sis.  I just had amnesia for a while, but Heath and Nick helped me remember.”  Jarrod said.

Jarrod glanced over to where his two brothers stood beside one another.  He thought of the last few days.  Of how close he had come to ending his young blond brothers life and making it so Heath would never be standing at Nick’s side again.  He thought of the morning in the hotel room when Heath forgave him and how good it felt to be forgiven.  Even though his younger brother had forgiven him, Jarrod wondered if their relationship would ever be as strong as it once was.

“Are you alright sweetheart.”  Victoria asked concerned by the dark look that crossed Jarrod’s face.

Jarrod saw the concern on his sister and mother’s faces.  Concern that he felt he did not deserve.  He wondered how the two women would look at him once they where told what had happened.

“Yes, I am fine.”   He answered as he hugged his mother.

“Well I am glad you are all home.”  Audra said as she ran over and threw her arms around Nick.  Then she turned and threw her arms around her blond brother.  Heath gasped out in pain when his sister pressed against his side as she hugged him.  Audra pulled away and looked at him with concern.

“What’s wrong?”  Victoria asked her attention drawn to her blond son by his gasp.

“Nothing is wrong.”  Heath lied.  But Victoria wasn’t buying it.  She could tell that he was fighting to control some pain.

“Heath Barkley, don’t you lie to me.  I can tell when there is something wrong.”  Victoria snapped.

“Oh, I just took a tumble off Charger a few days back.  I am still a little stiff, but I will be okay.”  Heath lied again.

“Well maybe we better have the doctor check you over.”  Victoria said, not believing for one moment that Heath had fallen off Charger.

“Nick and Jarrod already made me see the doctor and he says I am fine.  So you can quit worrying.”  Heath reassured his mother.

“Yeah!  He hurt his pride more than anything.”  Nick added to the lie.

“You look tired.  You should go up to bed and rest. I will have Silas bring you up your supper.”  Victoria said concerned by Heath’s pale complexion.

“No!  That won’t be necessary.  I assure you I am fine.  I’ll go to bed when it is time to go to bed.”  Heath stated as he walked over to the bar in the sitting room.  He poured himself a shot of whiskey to kill the pain in his side as he admitted to himself that riding Charger home probably wasn’t a smart move.   He downed the drink in one gulp and poured himself another.

“Well pour me one boy.  Or do you prefer drinking alone.”  Nick ordered. Heath poured Nick a drink and handed it to him.  Then he poured a glass of wine for Jarrod and a glass of sherry for Victoria.  They all sat in the sitting room and talked while they waited for Silas to announce that supper was ready.

Victoria watched her three sons.  She could tell that Heath was favoring his side.  She also noticed the concerned glances Jarrod and Nick kept throwing in his direction.  It was almost like they were afraid that any minute their blond brother would vanish.  She could tell that they were hiding something.  What could have happened on their trip that they would want to keep from her and Audra?  Heath had told her that he fallen off Charger.  That could explain why he was in obvious pain, but it would not explain her other two son’s behavior.   Besides when he told her Charger threw him she could tell he was lying.

“Dinner is ready.”  Silas informed the family.

“Thank you Silas.”  Victoria said as the family all got up and went to the dining room.

*****

After supper Jarrod, Nick and Heath went to the billiard room to play pool.

“Why did you lie about what happened.”  Jarrod asked Heath thinking that Victoria and Audra were out of earshot.

“That is what I want to know.”  Victoria demanded as she entered the room.  She had decided to confront her three sons about what had happened on their trip, so she went to corner them in the billiard room.   She was about to enter the room when she heard Jarrod ask Heath the question.  All three boys jumped at the sound of their mother’s voice.

“Heath, I am waiting for an answer.  Why did you lie to me?  What happened on your trip.”  Victoria demanded.  Heath looked like an animal trapped in a cage with no escape.

“Nothing happened.  We just found Jarrod and brought him home.”  Heath tried lying again.

“Heath Barkley, do you think I am a fool.  You don’t think I can’t tell when you are lying to me.  It is obvious that you are all trying to cover up something that happened on that trip.  I want to know what happened.”  Victoria confronted her youngest son.

“It’s in the past.  Just let it be.”  Heath pleaded.  He desperately wanted to protect his mother and sister from the horrors of what had happened.  To spare them the emotional turmoil that he and his brothers where going through.

“Families don’t keep secrets, Heath.  I want the truth and I want it now.”  Victoria once again demanded.

“Some truths are best left buried.”  Heath snapped as he tried to walk out the door, but she stood in his way.

“I said I want the truth now!”  Victoria ordered as she lost her patience with her young blond son.

“Mother! Leave him alone.”  Jarrod snapped as he stepped in between his mother and Heath.

Just then Audra entered the room.  She had heard her mother ask her blond brother for the truth.  She saw her oldest brother step protectively in front of Heath and yell at their mother.  She saw the pained expression on all her brother’s faces and she felt the tension in the room.

“What is wrong.”  Audra demanded.

“Nothing is wrong.” Heath snapped as he walked over to stare out the window.

‘Why can’t she just let it go.’  He thought.  Before coming to the ranch his life had been a hard one.  Over the years he had been hurt by the cruel world many times. In order to survive he had learned to bury things that cause him pain.  That is what he desperately wanted to do now, but she would not let him.  Both Jarrod and Nick walked over and stood beside him.

“It’s okay Heath I’ll tell them.  Thanks for trying to protect them.”  Nick whispered in Heath’s ear.

“But they don’t need to know.  Just let it go,” Heath pleaded again

“Yes, Heath they need to know.  They have a right to know.”  Jarrod replied as he placed a hand on the blond cowboy’s shoulder.  “You don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to.  But they have to be told.”

“No, I will stay.”  Heath croaked out as he shook his head and continued to stare out the window.

Victoria watched her three sons as they talked by the window.  When Jarrod and Nick turned to face her she could clearly see the pain etched into each of the two boys’ faces.  Heath remained staring out the window with his back to her, but by the way he held his shoulders she could tell he was in emotional turmoil too.  Victoria and Audra braced themselves to hear the worst, but nothing in their wildest imagination could prepare them for what they were about to hear.

Jarrod remained by the window near Heath as Nick walked over to Audra and Victoria.  Nick placed a hand on their shoulders and led them to a seat.  Then he told them of the events that led to Heath being shot and almost killed by his own brother.  Audra bolted from her seat and rushed over to face Jarrod.

“Jarrod, how could you?  You could have killed him. I hate you. I hate you.  I hate you.”   Audra screamed as she pounded Jarrod in the chest with her fists.  The guilt-ridden brother did not even try to deflect her assault.  Heath came up behind her, grabbed her arms and pulled her into his chest.  He held her in a tight embrace.

“It wasn’t his fault, sweetheart.  He didn’t remember who I was.  He thought I was there to kill him.”  Heath defended Jarrod as he held the sobbing Audra in his arms.  “I am here, honey.  I am still alive.  Everything is going to be okay.”

Oh God!  Victoria closed her eyes and prayed as the realization of how close her family had come to total destruction hit her.  What if Heath had died at his brother’s hands, could have this family survived such a tragedy?  As Victoria watched her young blond son holding Audra, she thanked God that they would never have to find that out.  By what Heath said to Audra, Victoria knew that he did not blame Jarrod for what had happened, but she could tell that there was still awkwardness between the two brothers.  She knew it would be a while before this was totally behind them.  As awful as the truth was for her to hear she was glad she insisted they tell her.  Now she could help her sons deal and come to terms with what had happened.

‘Yes, families should never keep secrets no matter how painful the truth is.’  Victoria thought

Nick walked over and put his arms around his two blond siblings.  Jarrod stood frozen by the window.  Victoria walked over, threw her arms around her eldest son and held him tight.

Heath released his grip on Audra and broke away from Nick’s embrace.  He walked over to where Jarrod and Victoria were.  “Why couldn’t you just let it be.  You didn’t have to know.  She didn’t have to know.”  Heath seethed as he pointed at the emotionally distraught Audra.

Victoria turned to face Heath as she still hung on to Jarrod with one arm.  “Heath, a wound like this needs to be tended to otherwise it will scab over and fester inside until it is a raging infection that will destroy the body.    I know you’ve learned to push painful events in your life deep down inside of you, but that has never worked has it.  Those hurts always found away back to surface and caused you more pain.   This horrible incident affects the whole family and we need face it together if we are to weather the storm.  I know it is hard, but it is worth it.”

Heath’s body began to shake as all the emotions he had been suppressing for the past few days overwhelmed him.  He covered his face with his hands as he broke down and wept.   Victoria reached out with her free arm, pulled him to her and embraced both of her wounded sons.  Audra broke from Nick’s arms, ran over to embrace the three some.  Nick followed suit.  When they finally broke apart Victoria insisted that Heath go to bed since he was still recovering.

In time the family put all this behind them, but Jarrod and Heath’s relationship was never the same again.  Their bond had been tested by fire.  It was stretched to its limits, but did not break and because it survived it grew stronger and deeper than it had been before.

***The End***

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