Scars

Author: Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I do not own Brick McKenna or any rights to the television show "McKenna", nor am I making any profit from this story.

Author's Note: This chapter's shorter than the previous ones but I wanted to reassure my awesome readers that this story is still moving forward. Please don't give up on me or this story!

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Chapter 5

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"Alright, who unplugged my alarm clock?" Brick grumbled as he made his way down the stairs at 11:30am.

"You had no reason to set it," Leigh called from the kitchen. Rose and Harry stopped their card game on the couch to watch Brick's reaction. They giggled at his over the top grimace that he did for their benefit. "You think your mom's funny, huh?"

Harry's response was a straight forward, "Yes," as if 'doesn't everyone think that?'

Brick ruffled Harry and Rose's hair as he headed for the kitchen, where Leigh greeted him with a sickening sweet smile. "Your wish is my command, Lord Brick."

"Oh please," he groaned. Leigh laughed and, before Brick knew it, she was hugging him.

"Take care of yourself, Brick," she pleaded as she held onto him, felt relieved when Brick relaxed and returned the hug. "You scared us all worse than you usually do with one of your antics. That's got to tell you something."

"Kinda scared myself too," Brick candidly admitted.

His statement caused Leigh to pull back so she could read his expression, was surprised to realize he was serious. "You're going to be back to normal in a couple days because you're going to follow your doctor's orders," she reassured as she steered him to a chair and pushed him into it. "Your pills first," she announced as she sat a glass of water and his pill bottle on the table in front of him. "Then I'll make you anything you want to eat."

"Gee mom, could you smash the pills so they go down better," Brick retaliated to her hand holding.

But Leigh didn't miss a beat, offered with a smug smile, "I could use the horse's pill gun."

"Oh, you'd love that," Brick shot back but his smile had crept into his tone. He and Leigh exchanged challenging looks for a beat before they both chuckled.

Watching Brick dutifully swallow a pill, Leigh questioned, "So what's your pleasure?"

"Aw…just coffee," Brick replied.

Leigh's hands slid to her hips and she got the look she did when her children smart mouthed her. "Excuse me? I thought you said 'just coffee' when I know you meant 'Leigh, I want the works: eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast.'"

Knowing a losing battle when he saw one, Brick conceded with "Yeah, yeah, I'll take an egg and toast," before he picked up the newspaper. As his sister in law merrily headed to the kitchen, Brick couldn't help but feel grateful that his family didn't know his doctor's true orders.

The fact was, he felt drained and a dull ache had begun in his head. The doctor had warned him that, though he could be cured, it wasn't going to be overnight. Of course, that was if he stayed in bed for two months. And here it was, day one and he was already disregarding the doctor's advice. 'But I make my own decisions about my life,' Brick defiantly thought, quelled the cynical voice that tacked on, 'and about how you'll die, right?'

Jack's entrance into the kitchen sidelined Brick's internal battle, had the younger man abandoning his sagging pose.

Sweat beading on his brow and his face streaked with dirt, Jack greeted his son with a self-satisfied, "Afternoon, Brick," proud of himself for his part in his son's late rising.

"Morning Jack," Brick returned, ignoring his father's glee. He should have known Leigh wasn't sneaky enough to venture into his room and turn off his alarm. "What are you working so hard at?"

"Putting up that new row of fencing on the east side," Jack said, nearly draining his glass of water in one gulp.

Brick straightened further in his chair. "You mean the fence I was going to put up?" he challenged, an accusing edge to his tone.

"Yup," Jack bluntly replied.

Fire snapped from Brick's eyes as they lanced into his father's. "You couldn't wait two days?!"

"Nope," Jack answered brusquely, didn't bother letting on that his decision to do the fencing himself had little to do with impatience and everything to do with stopping Brick from doing it. Two days hardly seemed enough time to recover from an attack that had caused Brick to pass out. What was the doctor thinking when he had set only a two day restriction to Brick's physical activities?!

Pinning Brick with a calculating look, Jack couldn't help but wonder if his son had purposefully lied to him about his condition and the doctor's orders.

Sensing Jack's judging gaze, Brick shot back, "What?"

"Nothing," Jack growled. Then he left the house without another word to his son.

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Boring. It was the only word Brick could describe his day. With a capital B.O.R.I.N.G! TV and reading had never been his passion when he was young and they still weren't. He was all about the outdoors, about action. He had gotten so bored that he had voluntarily taken a nap on the couch for a while.

Even supper was uneventful.

Afterward, he stole out to the swing on the porch, was soon joined by Cassidy who claimed a seat beside him, gave him an adoring little sister smile before leaning against his shoulder. Putting his arm around her, he gave her a gentle squeeze.

But she fidgeted, stilled, turned to look at him then returned her focus to the mountain scenery. But the next second she shifted again.

Exhaling a breath of air in defeat, Brick affectionately said, "Ok, Cass. What's your question?"

Immediately she sat up and faced him. "Were you really in a racing accident?" her eyes large and concerned.

"Yes. Next question."

Cass took a steadying breath. "Why weren't we told? I mean, it was serious, right?"

Brick eyed his sister in silence for a couple of minutes. "I guess it was serious," he softly admitted.

Noticing Brick's reluctance to talk about his accident, Cassidy debated whether or not to keep pursuing the answers that were keeping her up at night. "I thought hospitals contacted people's families," she quietly said.

Giving Cassidy a sad smile, Brick got up, leaned against a porch post, eyed up the nature that surrounded him. This was his favorite place in all the world…and yet he had left behind. Didn't think Cassidy fully understood his decision to leave Bend. And he knew that she would never understand his decision to not notified Jack or any of them when he had gotten hurt. Yes, Cassidy was Jack's daughter but she didn't have the same relationship Brick did with Jack. Didn't incur their father's disapproving looks at every turn, never had to beg or fight to earn even a fleeting second of their father's attention. She was so like Guy in that respect, so much so that it hurt him to be around her right then.

"I'm going for a stroll. Night Cass," he bade without facing her. Then he stepped off the porch and headed for the meadow.

Torn between chasing after Brick, apologizing for whatever she had said that had hurt him and wanting to go inside and have a good cry, Cassidy leapt off the swing, spun around and came face to face with Jack. But her father's frustrated, worried gaze didn't land on her, was fixed on Brick's receding figure as it disappeared into the growing darkness. "Night Jack," she offered before she slipped by him into the house.

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"Why don't you just relax the rest of the week?" Jack had suggested.

And if there was ever a time that Brick seriously wondered if Jack wasn't really Jack, that was the moment. But he gave the imposter Jack the same answer he would give the real one, a sharp "No."

From that point on, Brick plunged back into life as if nothing could slow him down.

But Brick's family watched him and Dale watched him, as if they feared any second he would do a repeat performance of a few days ago and pass out on them. And Jack, he watched with dogged determination, vowed to spot any signs of pain that flickered ever so briefly across Brick's features. And when his son wasn't in his line of sight and he couldn't reassure himself of Brick's safety with his own eyes, he worried. Laid awake at night with worry gnawing at him, couldn't shake the belief that his son needed him, more than Brick was saying, would ever say. And if he wasn't there for him, if he let Brick down like he had Guy…he couldn't live with that type of failure again. He would break this time. And he wondered if Brick knew that, if Brick would even believe him if he told him he couldn't bear to lose him.

For Brick's part, he didn't miss his family's vigil. Between Leigh, Cassidy, Jack, the kids and Dale, it seemed he was never left alone…not unless he sneaked away. Today, he had managed to do just that.

He stood mid-thigh in the river's flow, a hat shading his face from the sun and a fishing rod in his hand. It had been two weeks since his hospital stay and it seemed like an eternity ago. Out of all the people who watched him, Jack was the most fervent and the most observant.

Brick was exhausted with keeping up the pretenses.

In truth, he had a raging headache that wouldn't go away. The medication only helped for a few hours of each day, leaving him with many hours of unrelenting pain. Riding horse hurt so badly that he had practically fallen from the saddle. And each day the pain was getting worse.

Casting his fishing line, he shut his eyes. He could always feel a bad attack coming on and had learned the hard way that all he could do was take a seat, draw in deep breathes and clench his jaw until the pain eased. And right now, a bad one was coming on fact.

Recognizing that he couldn't walk back to the bank in time, he braced his feet on the bottom of the river among the swift current and drew in a shaking breath. When the pain struck, he clenched his jaw, tried to lock his legs but found himself staggering back a few paces. Apparently there was no substitute for sitting down.

Even as he felt his knees slip from their locked position, he swore someone called out his name. He was collapsing, slipping under the water when someone grabbed onto him, began hauling him back to the bank. His foggy brain finally made out the voice: Dale's.

Laying his best friend down onto the bank, Dale knelt beside Brick, watched his friend take in deep breathes even as he kept his eyes closed. But Dale's alarm wasn't abating, not when he saw how ashen Brick's coloring was. "Brick, are you alright? Should I get help?" he worriedly asked, hand coming to rest on his friend's chest while his other coiled around his friend's forearm.

Through his haze of pain, Brick barked, "No!" yet his eyes remained tightly squeezed shut.

Watching Brick's features contort with pain, Dale felt helpless and afraid but he didn't go against his friend's wishes or abandon his hold on Brick. No, he would stay there until Brick came back to himself, no longer had need of him. After a few indeterminately long minutes, he noticed Brick's grimace lessening. And when his friend finally forced his flickering eyes to bear the sunlight, he noted that Brick's eyes were dull, lacked the sparkle that was all Brick McKenna.

"I can get you to a doctor, Brick," Dale gently offered, was already envisioning slinging Brick over his shoulders, plotting the trail he would take.

Brick slowly began to sit up, was aided by Dale's strong hands. "I'm Ok, Dale," Brick reassured, saw his friend wince at his weak voice.

"Brick…" Dale warned, would not let his friend tell him a tall tale.

Sensing Dale's next words, Brick snapped, "I didn't get an instant cure, remember!"

Studying Brick with suspicion and concern, Dale carefully replied, "I realize that, but it's been two weeks and that attack looked pretty bad."

"They're getting better," Brick defensively countered, yanked his arm out of Dale's hold. He gave Dale a glare when his friend tried to reach for him again as he climbed to his feet. Then he was heading toward the trail that would lead him back to his car.

Watching Brick's departure, realizing that his friend was struggling to maintain his normal gait, Dale challenged, "You know what, I think you're lying!"

That was enough to stop Brick, caused him to spin to face his friend, who was quickly eating up the distance between them. "What?!" Brick spat, taking indignation to a new level.

Coming to a stop when he was toe to toe with Brick, Dale growled, "Why don't you stop all this…this crap!? You've lied to Jack, to your family, to me long enough! You're not getting better, are you?"

"One little attack and now I'm a liar?!" Brick exploded. "If it'll make you feel better, I'll rush home and describe the whole attack to Jack. Would that be proof enough that I'm not hiding anything?!"

Dale stood there, had watched his friend's emotions play across his face and knew that Brick was still lying to him. "No, not it's not," he sadly refuted.

"Well, thanks for your help, Dale," Brick gruffly bit out with anger instead of gratitude. Then he swiftly cut through the path.

Dale heard Brick's car engine growl to life before the tires spun out in the dirt trail, probably sending pebbles and dust into the air. Then his friend was gone. "Ah, shoot. Great job, Goodwell. You really got him to open up to you," he chastised himself as he kicked the fishing rod that Brick had left behind in his haste to get away from him.

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Tbc

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Thanks for reading and for everyone who has been encouraging me to continue to post this story!

Have a great day!

Cheryl W.