Thanks to all who are reading! Here's part 2 (last part) for ya'll!
Jake? Hear me - can you - can you …son …you hear me?
"Jake? Son, can you hear me?"
It took all he had to open his eyes just a crack. His lips were coated in dust and the brightness of the sun beating down on the bare dirt was blinding.
Shadowing the sunlight just a little, he made out the silhouette of a head wearing a cowboy hat. "Dad?"
Johnston Green leaned forward and Jake could make out his face better. There were little dark whiskers on his chin again and the very tip of his nose was slightly sunburnt. "I'm here, Jake. It's alright."
"Is he gonna be okay?" Jake heard Eric's worried voice close by.
Johnston didn't answer but pulled up Jake's pant leg, exposing his swollen ankle and leg. Jake heard Eric shudder at the sight and he decided he didn't want to know.
Johnston examined the bite only for a moment and then nodded. "It's not too bad, looks like he didn't have his fangs in too long. Jake? Jake, I need you to listen to me."
Jake was having a hard time keeping his eyes open and the pain in his leg combined with the numbness of his body was making him dizzy and disoriented.
Johnston put a hand to his forehead and then to his cheek, directing his gaze upward so he was looking his father in the eyes.
Jake started to speak but his throat as beginning to close up and his heart suddenly raced. "Dad… I can't -" His eye's went wide with panic. He dug his short, chewed fingernails into the dirt. "I can't breathe …!"
"Jake! Listen, you need to stay calm, alright? Take deep breaths and breathe through you nose. Do you hear me?"
Jake nodded feverishly and gasped. He held the breath, afraid to let it out incase he couldn't inhale again.
Johnston saw what he was doing and shook his arms. "No! Jake, that's not what I need from you. You gotta' breathe in steady, and breathe out."
Eric was raking his fingers through sticking-up, blonde hair, whimpering, "Is he okay? Is he gonna' be okay?" Over and over again.
Jake gasped again and his fingers dug further into the cracked earth.
"Close your mouth, son," Johnston urged. "Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. C'mon, with me." Jake forced his mouth shut and sucked the unwilling air though flaring nostrils. He focused on his father's face, trying to mimic his breathing. "Good, good, now let it out, nice an' easy."
His chest relaxed and two or three petrified tears slithered through the dust on his face.
"Dad…" Eric murmured anxiously.
"We need to get you to the hospital. Try to stay awake. I'm going to carry you back to the car."
Jake just nodded again so he could concentrate on breathing. Johnston slid one arm under his knees and the other he wrapped around his shoulders.
The moment he started to stand up, pain flooded into Jake's ankle and spiraled up his leg. It jarred his whole body. Someone cried out and, Jake supposed, it must have been him. "Dad! It hu- it hurts! Ah! No, Dad -"
"I know it does, son, just hold on. You're strong, Jake, you can fight it, just hang on!"
Johnston walked fast towards the car a little ways away followed by Eric who ran three steps for each of his father's.
Jake curled his dirty fingers into Johnston's big coat. The big coat he always wore, even in eighty-degree weather like this. He wore it because he was always ready for anything. He was ready to be big and tall and scared of nothing.
Jake heard someone crying softly and he hoped beyond hopes it was Eric, not him.
"It's alright, Jake. You're gonna be okay." Johnston whispered comfortingly as they reached the car. "Don't give up, son."
Don't - don't give up… give up - don't give up…
Eric and the boys are coming, stay alert. Don't give up.
I love you sweetheart.
How many people have to die before you don't care anymore?
Remember the time I was, uh, supposed to wake you up for that meteor shower?
Yeah, it was supposed to be this… this once in a life time thing. Anyway, you got so mad, I finally gave up and let you sleep.
Well, I'm not giving up this time.
We're not gonna die in here.
I don't know how much more I can take, grandpa.
They're just trying to soften you up. A man's mind doesn't work too well without sleep. You break a man's mind, he'll give you anything you want.
The one thing you have to remember is that people are depending on you.
Jake, I don't want to die today.
We're gonna make it out of here. Alright? I promise.
You're out manned and you're out gunned. There's too many of us and we are too desperate to give up. I'm giving you one last chance. Walk away, put you're guns down, and return to town, and no one else will be harmed.
Jake, I need an answer, what's it gonna be?
The most important thing is to never forget how much we have to fight for.
This isn't a fight for land, this is a fight for our very existence.
Don't give up.
So you're punishment is to sit in this hole and die. But how does that bring back Bonnie? Or the Stanly you knew? Or the little girl in Iraq?
It's a start…
It's an ending!
Jake, what makes a hero great isn't never showing weakness, it's fighting back in spite of it.
But, Dad, if you're weak, how can you ever do what's right?
You're stronger than you think, son. You'll see that one day, if you don't give up.
Don't give up.
Jake opened his eyes but didn't notice the burning white light. Perhaps it was just the sun, reflecting off the desert sand.
For the briefest moment, he thought he saw a rattlesnake slither past him and he heard Johnston's voice play him back to hospital bed at three a.m.
"I was just being stupid, Dad. It's all my fault! Eric didn't want me to go out that far or try climbing the sink, but I… I don't know, I just… I just want to do something, you know? I always want to feel like I'm doing something different, something - something I could be proud of! But I always pick the stupid thing. I think I'm too weak-minded to be a real hero." He sighed. "Boy, that sounded really lame."
Johnston shook his head. "Everybody has weaknesses, Jake."
Jake laughed humorlessly and looked away. "Yeah, well maybe that's why heroes only exist in comic books and movies."
"That's not true, either. Jake, what makes a hero great aint never showing weakness. It's fighting back in spite of it. Whenever there's trouble, people in danger or in need, when there's a problem that has to be dealt with or a battle that needs fighting, you can find a hero ready and willing give up his life for it."
"Different things, but mostly, I believe what usually drives us is love. Love of country, love of friends and family... and also hope."
"What do we hope for?"
Johnston tipped his hat forward and leaned back in his chair. "Well, what I hope for is that there are still people in this old world who will give it all they got to do what's right."
"But, Dad… if you're weak, how can you ever do what's right? Weakness is the opposite of strength, right? And if you don't have the strength to fight, you may as well just give up!" He pressed his head into the pillow and squeezed his eyes shut. "And where's the hope in that?"
Johnston was silent for a moment. Jake felt a little uncertain for saying all that. He and his dad didn't often talk about these things. But he wanted… or maybe needed to know the answers.
At long last, Johnston said thoughtfully, "Jake, do you know where a hero's strength comes from?"
"When a soldier steps onto the field of battle, what is going through his mind? Is it "I only hope I'm strong enough to stay alive"? Or is it, "Lord, bring me out of this alive so I can see my wife again.". When a fireman runs into a burning building to rescue someone, he isn't thinking about keeping away from the flames. He's praying that he can save those two kids on the third floor. Strength isn't what gives us our hope and it isn't what makes us who we are."
Jake stared achingly into his father's pale blue eyes. "Then what does?"
"Love, Jake. It all comes down to that." He gave Jake's shoulder a squeeze. "That's why I get up in morning, that's how I sleep at night, and that's the only thing really worth fighting for." He put his hands on his knees and stood up slowly. "Get some rest. It's been a long week. The doctor said you might be able come home tomorrow." He turned and pulled back the curtain to leave.
"Dad?" He turned back. Jake twisted the hospital afghan around his finger. "Do you think I'll ever be able to… to make a difference?"
"I most definitely do. Especially since you already have. You have a head full of hope, a heart full of love… You're a little stupid sometimes, but you're stronger than you think, son. You'll see that one day if you don't give up."
Anytime - time - time… An - Anytime
Something erupted outside.
Jake was no longer lucid enough to process that it was gunshots. Then there were three more bangs, closer and more shaky sounding, followed by hurried footsteps and urgent voices.
Someone dropped down beside him and a hand turned his face upward. Out of the smog covering his vision, he thought he made out Eric's face.
A knife was sawing at the thick, plastic zip tie around his wrists. "Help me!"
Someone else was now kneeling beside him just as the tie broke and Jimmy's voice muttered, "Got it?"
"Yeah, get him up."
They each took one of Jake's arms around they're necks and lifted him up. Jake tried to stand but, as he already knew, couldn't and the other two didn't expect him to. They ran as fast as they could with Jake between them.
Jake felt the toes of his shoes bounce limply over the uneven ground. The smell of hogs was more pungent. Were they outside?
Suddenly, there was a car door in front of him and Eric shouted "Cover us!" to an unknown figure.
The gun fire was deafening now and seemed to come from all directions. The car door was opened from the inside and someone caught hold of Jake as he was thrust urgently onto the seat. The door slammed and brakes squealed just as Jimmy closed his door. Eric let off a few more shots, and tumbled through the back window.
Emily's face swam into clearer vision and she kept whispering, "It's alright, we got you."
Jake shut his eyes and his jaw shook as the car sped down the bumpy, dirt road. "Eric?" He was surprised to hear his own voice.
"I'm here Jake," Eric panted, leaning over the back of the seat.
"Eric…" His mind was having trouble catching up to his speech. He opened his eyes again and tried to focus, even as his thoughts continued to zoom in and out of the present. "Dad."
Bill caused the car to jump around a sharp turn, and they all slid to the right a little. "Sorry," Bill called over his shoulder. "We should be out of it by now. How is he?"
"Jake are you okay?" Eric's hand reached over the seat and felt his forehead. "Em' grab the water, will you?"
She nodded and unscrewed the cap of the water bottle, pressing it to Jake's lips. "He's dehydrated," she said in answer to Bill. "And there's a fever, but I think…" she ran a hand over her eyes. "I think he'll be okay.
"Jake, we're going to a cabin on the edge of town, you'll be safe there. Hey, can you hear me?"
"What is it?" Eric leaned closer so he could hear Jake's whisper.
"You remember when… when I got bit by that snake out near the Camble sink?"
He looked confused but answered, "How could I forget? You were in the hospital for like a week. What about it?"
"Just something," He coughed roughly. "Something…Dad said to me… when I was in the hospital." He shook his head a little. "It's not important… but, Eric?" He reached up and took hold of his brother's sleeve. "We're not giving up, okay? Never. Don't forget that… and don't - don't let me forget it either."
"Never," Eric echoed. "Don't worry, Jake. We're gonna make it."
"Yeah." Consciousness was slipping away from him. Having been denied food and sleep for the past three days, he no longer possessed the determination to hold onto it. "I'm a stupid hero…I'm gonna work 'n that." he murmured, but no one heard over the car's rumble.
So he let his eyes fall shut one last time, and told sleep to go ahead and do its thing.