Surfacing

Author's Notes: Thanks again for the continued support. It's always great to hear from you and welcome to the new readers I've heard from. Welcome to the 7B47B fandom :). I'd promised one of those new readers that I'd have this chapter posted by her birthday. As it turns out, thanks to Katt, it's ready early and I'm going ahead and posting it. So… happy early birthday, shee1. I hope you enjoy this chapter. I need to give a shout out to janissa11 for her help with the finance side of Daniel's hospital stay. Though I prorated her figures to 1983 cost of living data, her help was invaluable in ensuring that I've kept things realistic. Lastly, saberivojo's ongoing medical fact-checking is so very greatly appreciated.
Story Note: If you blink you might miss it but, in this chapter you'll see my first reference to Daniel still being in high school. Episode 12, Dreams, put him there as a senior and I've chosen to go along with that premise.
Wordcount: Approx. 6,900


Chapter 7

"Call if you need a hand," Crane offered as the bathroom door closed shut in his face. "I'll be right out here."

He smiled then, listening to the muttering behind the door coming from Daniel about being perfectly capable of dressing himself. It was great to hear some of that familiar spirit from his little brother. Ever since the seizure, Daniel had been awfully subdued. Crane knew it had terrified him. It had frightened them all.

And because of that, Crane couldn't shake his anger toward Adam for letting the Barretts see Daniel. The doctors couldn't say for sure, but there was no doubt in Crane's mind that their presence had triggered the seizure and whatever memories might have preceded it. Hell, even Adam agreed and had admitted so when Crane had confronted him about it. Crane knew his oldest brother felt incredibly guilty. It didn't matter. Crane only had so much sympathy to go around these days and every bit of it was reserved for Daniel. In the meantime, he would just continue to do his best to hide the rift between them from Daniel.

Up until then they'd all been in a state of relative harmony, taking comfort in the progress they'd been witnessing daily with Daniel's recovery. The seizure felt like a huge setback, even though it hadn't technically delayed his release from the hospital.

After the seizure, Daniel had fallen asleep in Crane's hold. With Brian and Adam's help, they'd been able to shift them both so that they could settle back against the raised head of the mattress. Once awake, Daniel hadn't seemed to care at all that he'd essentially been in Crane's arms during Dr. Lee's visit. Gone was his typical eighteen year-old bravado. Crane wasn't sure how he felt about that.

The neurosurgeon hadn't batted an eye though and simply went on to explain what the oldest members of the family had already known but had intended to keep to themselves until Daniel was home. That post brain injury seizures were not uncommon. More importantly, they weren't indicative of a future plagued with more. While his brain was still healing though, he would remain at risk and would continue taking Dilantin, the anti-seizure medication he'd been getting all along. The doctor had also given Daniel the news that his driver's license would be suspended until he was seizure free for three months. Despite the fact that he was far from ready for the next county Gold Rush race, Crane had recognized the hurt and disappointment in Daniel's eyes. The kid had already been told that riding would be forbidden for just as long. And Crane had wondered then how many more blows his little brother was going to have to take.

Though Crane had done his damnedest to hide his own concern, Daniel had gotten so used to being poked, prodded and subjected to tests; he'd barely reacted to being told he needed yet another CT scan. Dr. Lee had explained that it was just a precaution and the results had fortunately confirmed what he'd expected. That there had been no ill effects from the seizure and Daniel would still be able to go home the upcoming Friday.

Today.

Thank God.

As thrilled as he was that Daniel was coming home, Crane had to admit he was worried too. The specter of another seizure was hanging over their family now. The ranch was a potentially hazardous place at the best of times and the idea of Daniel collapsing anywhere near the stock was terrifying. The barn, pens, corrals and pastures were all going to have to be off-limits for quite some time and Crane knew Daniel was going to hate that. Hannah was going to have her hands full once Daniel gained his strength back.

But that would be a while yet. After spending a week and a half in bed, Daniel was as weak as a newborn lamb. And even more wobbly. It had been obvious when Daniel had first awakened from the coma that the brain injury had affected the use of his hands, particularly his fingers. What had taken longer to pick up on were the balance issues, his dizziness, and that overall weakness. Between the injury messing with his equilibrium and energy levels, and his drugs making him sluggish, even walking from the hospital bed to the washroom had become a workout.

Speaking of… "Everything all right in there?" He asked, knocking lightly on the door.

"It's fine."

Daniel didn't sound fine at all. He sounded angry but with a hint of distress. It was the latter that made Crane risk setting off his little brother's chemically imbalanced and currently volatile temper.

"Incoming," he announced as he opened the door and entered the small room without waiting for an invitation.

Standing in front of the vanity and mirror, Daniel abruptly swung in Crane's direction, his irritated glare losing its impact as the sudden motion unbalanced him and he began to topple forward.

"Whoa," Daniel exclaimed, reaching for the counter-top and catching himself just as Crane lunged and caught him beneath his armpits.

"Easy, easy. I gotcha." Crane assured him as Daniel gripped his arm. Crane didn't let go, not until he was certain his brother had solid footing again.

"Thanks," Daniel said softly, all rancor gone. He only made brief eye contact, looking away quickly as his emotions ricocheted once more from one extreme to the next. And Crane knew he had to work on masking his own feelings at moments like this. That had always been a problem with being Daniel's self-appointed guardian… it was damn hard for Crane to look into his kid brother's eyes and not have his own reflect what he was seeing. He wanted to be Daniel's rock though. He'd done it before, he could do it now.

"Hey, no problem. That's what I'm here for." Shifting his grip to Daniel's sides, he held his little brother at arm's length, taking in the sight. For the first time in ten days, Daniel was clothed in something other than a hospital gown or the pajamas he'd graduated into. Standing there in jeans, sneakers and a sweatshirt, he looked almost perfect.

Except, as heartened as he was by the sight of Daniel even being upright, in all honesty Crane could see plenty of evidence of his brother's brush with death and his ongoing recovery. Hannah, bless her heart, had dropped off his homecoming clothes the previous day. She'd confided in Crane her hesitation about bringing one of his favorite over-shirts, knowing full well Daniel couldn't handle the buttons yet. Daniel nearly always wore layers, unless it was the heat of the summer. Ultimately she left the shirt behind. A good thing, since Crane knew full well Daniel's hostility and frustration of moments earlier had everything to do with dressing himself. Contrary to his objections, the poor kid did need help.

"Here, let me," Crane said casually as he moved the bandana hanging loosely around his brother's neck to its intended destination. "You almost had it," he said encouragingly as he doubled the knot Daniel had attempted and lightly tugged it against his forehead. When he'd first requested it, Crane had wanted to protest its use, concerned that Daniel was being self-conscious about his healing burr hole scar. But, he'd relented and asked Hannah to bring one along. Realizing that, at his age, Daniel was probably more embarrassed about his lack of hair in that area and not the scar. Besides, whether he was emulating one of his songwriting idols or sporting one for practical purposes, this was Daniel they were talking about and it was pretty normal for him to wear a bandana that way. Crane was all for his little brother feeling as normal as possible.

"There," he said, careful not to be too rough as he pulled a few wayward strands out from under the fabric, allowing his remaining bangs to flop over it. Met with silence and downcast eyes, Crane decided it was best to get the kid's perceived humiliation over with as quickly as possible. "Okay, let's do up those laces," he added, squatting down to lace up Daniel's sneakers.

"I told you I wanted my boots," he replied petulantly.

"I know, but you need a better tread right now," Crane answered honestly. Never mind that most of Daniel's boots had a bit of a riding heel and Crane didn't trust the kid's balance to handle them yet. Finished with his footwear, Crane straightened up and dealt with his brother's fly and belt as efficiently and nonchalantly as possible. He'd have ignored the belt if he could have, sparing Daniel from his brother spending so much time helping him with his pants. But Daniel had lost so much weight the waistband of his jeans was slipping down onto his hips. The family had been told that weight gain was one of the side-effects of the Decadron he was on and would still be taking for a while. Crane couldn't help but think that wasn't exactly a bad thing given how slight Daniel appeared right now.

"Usually I get a kiss first," Daniel snarked, and despite the annoyance in his tone, Crane was gratified to hear some of his brother's sense of humor coming through.

"Yeah, well don't hold your breath. You're not my type," Crane smirked and Daniel actually smiled. Throwing an arm around the kid's shoulder, Crane added, "Don't sweat this. I've been dressing you since you were born. You can pay me back when I'm too old and decrepit to tie my own shoes. Deal?"

"Deal."

They made their way back to the hospital bed, Daniel not surprisingly wanting nothing to do with it and taking the chair beside it instead. Crane hopped up onto the mattress, settling in to wait for Adam's arrival and for someone to bring them a wheelchair. The fact that Daniel hadn't put up an argument about that news told Crane exactly just how little energy his sibling had.

They'd been sitting there all of about thirty seconds when, out of the blue, Daniel asked Crane the question he'd been praying wouldn't come his way. Though he knew it was inevitable, especially upon Daniel's discharge from the hospital.

"Crane, how are we gonna pay for this?"

"Daniel—"

"Don't blow me off, big brother, I need to know." Daniel's tone was adamant and pleading at the same time and Crane knew that his brother was absolutely right. Daniel did need to know, especially since technically the debt was his. Besides, he was going to be seeing the amount owing as soon as he signed his discharge papers. Still, just how in the hell did you tell an eighteen year-old high-school student that he was suddenly in debt over sixty thousand dollars?

The family would hold the debt, of course, but that wouldn't ease his brother's mind at all. Crane knew Daniel better than anyone, which meant he could tell when guilt was gnawing at him. Almost from the minute Daniel had started getting his wits back after regaining consciousness, he'd been worried about the bill. Remembering the accident and finding out just how much was owed to the hospital would only add to his sense of culpability. God, how he wished Adam hadn't let Tom see Daniel. "I know you do, kid. But, it's like I've been telling you… I've got it covered, all right? We're gonna be okay."

Damn. The addition of 'we're gonna be okay' to his standard spiel had somehow just backfired on him. Whether it was the wrong choice of words or the wrong delivery, Crane couldn't be sure. But, instead of easing his little brother's worries, Crane had made matters worse. Daniel almost gasped when he'd said it, his eyes boring into Crane's as he asked, "Jesus, Crane. Just how much do we owe?"

"We may not have to pay it all." Crane knew he was stalling but he just couldn't help himself. The number was going to horrify Daniel so he kept on rambling. "There's Medicaid, plus grants and programs we might qual—"

"How much, Crane?"

Sighing in defeat and trepidation, Crane slid off of the bed, answering Daniel as he approached him. "A little over sixty-three thousand dollars," he stated calmly.

Daniel immediately went still and for a terrifying moment Crane worried that his words were triggering another seizure. "Daniel?" He asked softly, reaching down and gingerly cupping his brother's face. "Hey. You okay?"

Daniel looked up then, eyes full of shock and fear as he finally uttered, "Oh my God, Crane. Oh my God." Breathlessly he asked, "What are we gonna do?"

Crane crouched down in front of him, this time grasping Daniel's hands in his. "Hey, listen to me. We probably won't have to pay it all and the rest we'll figure out. It'll be all right."

"You've got to be kidding me," Daniel said disbelievingly, anger rising. "How can you possibly say that when this family can't scrape together an extra fifty bucks when we need it?"

"Come on, Daniel. It's not that bad," Crane responded a little resentfully, the strain of the past ten days making him take the kid's statement personally. After all, for the most part, the ranch's finances and budget were his responsibility.

"Not that bad?" Daniel scoffed, roughly wrenching out of Crane's hold and knocking Crane on his butt in the process.

His own temper was flaring but, as Daniel abruptly stood and spun away, Crane's anger evaporated. He found himself launching off the tiles instead in an effort to save Daniel from falling too as the sudden change in elevation had him pitching toward the floor. Calling out to him Crane grabbed hold of Daniel's waist from behind, swinging him around and letting the bed break his fall.

"Get off me!" Daniel screamed as a well-placed elbow caught Crane in the ribs.

"Not until you settle down," Crane said around a grunt.

Daniel was in a rage now, out of control but Crane knew his brother didn't have the strength to keep it up. He could chalk up this erratic behavior to the injury and knew full well the opposite end of the kid's emotional spectrum would claim him soon. All he had to do was hold on and make sure Daniel didn't hurt himself before the inevitable crash came.

Evan might have been the family's rodeo star but, just like when he wrestled a steer, Crane's considerable height and reach advantage gave him the upper hand and he used it to keep his squirming and bucking brother in place against the mattress. Never mind the fact that Daniel wasn't up to his full strength and was quickly using up what little reserve he had. When he wasn't turning the air blue with profanities that would make Brian blush, Daniel was panting and puffing hard. So Crane just kept hanging on, waiting for the kid to give in.

It might've worked too if Adam hadn't just walked into the room.

"What the hell is going on here?"

Their oldest didn't give either of them a chance to reply and instead barreled forward, pulling them apart before Crane could protest. Or warn Adam of the tempest in their midst.

So be it. As far as Crane was concerned, Adam was largely responsible for Daniel's state of mind anyway.

As soon as Adam broke them apart, Crane backed off; lightly rubbing his lower ribs where he knew a bruise was already forming. Daniel, on the other hand, was hunched over the bed. His chest heaving as he gulped in precious oxygen. Crane felt awful that he'd lost control of the situation and accepted the disapproving look Adam threw his way.

Trying to make things right, Crane rested his palm on Daniel's back only to have it shrugged off. The kid was still clearly pissed with him. And the world.

"You're lucky security didn't come in here; I could hear you two from the hall." Adam's face revealed his confusion and concern as he gripped Daniel's arm but looked at Crane. "So, would one of you care to tell me what's going on?"

Daniel laughed bitterly then, slowly turning to face Adam though he still braced himself against the bed. "You want to know what's going on? I'll tell you… We're on our way to bankruptcy and losing the ranch and it's my fault!"

"Whoa, slow down a minute, mister," Adam said, clearly shocked by Daniel's words and ire. "Who said anything about losing the ranch?"

"Nobody had to, Adam. It's sixty-three thousand dollars, for God's sake. I've ruined us."

And here came the crash Crane was expecting.

Suddenly sounding incredibly broken, tears flooded Daniel's eyes again and Crane wanted desperately to go to him. But, sensing that he might be rebuffed again, he looked helplessly to Adam.

Adam looked as sick as Crane felt, obviously shaken by Daniel's abrupt shift in gears and even more so by his undeserved self-contempt.

Reaching across Daniel's back, Adam rested a hand on Daniel's shoulder. The kid tensed but Adam snaked his arm around him, gathering him in and turning him around so that he could face both of his big brothers. He lightly gripped the kid's upper arms, an act Crane appreciated, since their younger sibling looked about ready to drop.

Squeezing his arms none too lightly, Adam said, "I want you to listen to me, young man. We are not ruined, you hear me? And this is not your fault." His words were firm, brooking no argument.

"But it is," Daniel responded. Equally adamant and still unwilling to accept anything but blame. "None of this would've happened if I'd listened to Tom."

Crane winced and stepped in as he watched Adam drop his arms, visibly deflating; his own accusations from the other night coming back to haunt him. "How dare you let them in to see him?" Crane had railed. "Don't you realize how much damage you've done?"

As mad as he'd been and still was to some extent, seeing the pain reflected in Adam's eyes right now reminded him that Adam would sooner cut off his own arm than ever knowingly hurt Daniel.

And now that damagewas staring them in the face. Confirmation, finally, that Daniel did remember the mine collapse. And as badly as Crane felt for Adam, his heart broke for Daniel all over again. "Nobody blames you for this, kiddo," Crane said, wrapping an arm around Daniel's waist to give him whatever support he needed. Addressing Adam as much as Daniel, he added, "I think it would be a good idea if we talked about what happened, don't you?"

Daniel shook his head, unwilling to let go of the guilt despite his heroics in the aftermath. "There's nothing to talk about. I messed up and nearly got my brothers killed."

The kid sounded so upset and Crane desperately wanted to fix that. Tugging him in tighter to his side, he tried to get through to him again. "Don't say that. It was an accident and you've suffered more than enough for it."

"But this whole family's gonna suffer for it," Daniel argued, still inconsolable.

"No. We're not," Adam said, his voice so stern he sounded angry, successfully snapping Daniel out of his desolation and gaining Crane's attention too. Reaching out, he cupped Daniel's face with both hands, not letting the boy look away as he spoke his next words. "What we're going to do is thank God each and every single day that all of you made it out of that mine alive. And then, over time, we're going to pay off that bill."

"But it's so much money," Daniel protested, sounding as young as he did miserable.

"Doesn't matter," Adam insisted, pulling Daniel in against his jacket and resting his chin atop his head. Crane let go, allowing "Dad" to give Daniel the reassurance he so desperately needed. Whatever remaining animosity toward Adam he'd held dissipated as their oldest said what was in all their hearts. "Sixty thousand or sixty million, you're worth every penny of that; you hear me?"

Nan arrived with a wheelchair shortly after Adam had successfully calmed Daniel down and Crane couldn't help but wonder if she'd been lurking outside the room all along, just waiting for tempers to settle and the coast to clear. If so, he was grateful she hadn't come in sooner. Adam's heartfelt words were exactly what the kid's sense of self-worth needed.

Though more content afterward, Daniel was awfully nervous when they made their way to the finance department to sign his release papers and the grant applications. Fortunately the staff were great with him, from their patience and encouragement as he fumbled with the signatures; to assuring him that Medicaid would cover some of the expenses and that they'd continue advocating for him to receive some grants. Crane knew the truth though. That in the end, it was pretty much going to be all or nothing. But, Daniel didn't need to worry about that right now. All everyone wanted was for him to focus on his recovery. The rest they would deal with later.

All things considered, his discharge went smoothly but Daniel had been riding an emotional rollercoaster all day and was exhausted by the time Crane wheeled him to just inside the exit doors of the main lobby. Not surprisingly, while they were waiting for Adam to get the truck, in no time Daniel's chin dropped to his chest as he began to doze off in the wheelchair.

Seeing the familiar old pickup pull in front of the curb, Crane bent low, next to Daniel's ear, saying, "Rise and shine, buddy; your ride is here."

Startled, Daniel groused, "I wasn't asleep," his grumpiness a sure sign that Daniel had indeed been sleeping. It felt so normal that, just for an instant, Crane could forget the harsh realities of Daniel's plight and instead believe the kid was acting like he always did whenever he was over-tired. Downright surly, thanks to staying up too late the night before, either working on his music or out late listening to someone else play their own. Crane knew that was a fantasy but, just knowing that Daniel was finally coming home gave him a glimpse of a hopeful future… that Daniel would again someday complain about Crane waking him up too damn early to get started on their chores. The thought made him smile and, as he pushed the chair through the exit and toward the truck, their first real steps toward bringing Daniel home, his smile grew wider.

"What are you grinning for?" Adam asked as he rounded the front of the truck to meet them on the passenger side.

Not wanting to embarrass Daniel, Crane shrugged his shoulders and lied. "Nothing in particular."

"Yeah, sure," Adam said knowingly, making Crane duck as he swiped at the top of his head. Adam busted out into a big grin as well and Crane knew full well that his big brother was feeling that same damn near giddy sense of relief and joy. Adam composed himself more quickly though, turning his attention to a somewhat bemused looking Daniel and hunkering down next him. "Come on," he said, sliding an arm behind the kid's back as he helped him out of the chair. "What say we blow this joint and get you home?"

Basking in the warmth and affection he heard in Adam's voice, Crane handed over the wheelchair to the attendant who'd followed them outside before he turned back to his brothers, intent on climbing in next to Daniel. But as Daniel began to slide across the bench seat, he hesitated and looked back at his brothers wearing an expression that lifted Crane's heart even higher. There was mischief along with humor in the kid's sparkling eyes as he asked, "Now that you two have kissed and made up, you sure you don't want to sit next to each other?"

So much for Crane thinking he'd successfully hidden their rift.


"Almost there." Adam didn't bother saying anything more as he took his eyes off the road a moment to look at Crane. He knew Daniel was sound asleep tucked up against Crane's side, had been pretty much since they'd passed Sonora's limits. The sight of Crane conked out too caught him off guard though. It shouldn't have, knowing how Crane had been burning both ends of the candle since Daniel had gotten hurt. Between reading up on traumatic brain injury and the aftercare, dealing with the hospital's finance department and just being there for Daniel as much as humanly possible, it was a wonder he was still coherent.

Adam knew full well the strain of it all had contributed largely to Crane being so mad at him over Tom and Carey. Not that he hadn't every right to be. Adam had just believed that, with so much history together before the mine collapse, the Barretts' presence would no more trigger a memory, let alone a seizure, than seeing their three youngest brothers had. He'd figured wrong though and, as Crane had so intensely pointed out that night, Daniel had paid dearly for that mistake. Adam would never forgive himself for it.

Adam was awfully grateful that Crane had put aside his anger and let him take the lead in trying to calm Daniel down about the hospital debt. That Crane trusted him not to mess up again meant a lot. Thank God he'd been successful. Not just because it was damn hard seeing Daniel so distraught but also because Adam had missed having Crane to talk to the last few days. Doing right by Daniel had earned him the privilege of Crane's friendship and allegiance again.

As close as Brian and Adam were, they often found themselves at odds which was rarely the case with Adam and Crane. More often than not he could count on Crane to have his back as much as he could Hannah. The only person Crane ever showed more loyalty to was Daniel.

Glimpsing the two sleeping brothers huddled together beside him brought back fond memories. It had been a while since he'd seen them like that, probably not since before Crane had gone off to college. It was a heartwarming sight.

Geez, he was getting soft.

Nearing the cutoff to their road, Adam reached across Daniel and lightly nudged Crane's knee. Crane didn't startle or jostle Daniel, seemingly aware of the boy in his charge even while asleep.

"What? Oh… yeah, I'm awake," Crane said a little groggily, rolling his neck and shoulders as the sleep cleared from his foggy mind. "Hey, we're here," he observed brightly as Adam turned onto the gravel road leading to their ranch.

"You wanna wake him before a crater does?" Adam suggested, knowing just how jarring their pot-holes could be.

"Hey, kiddo, up 'n at 'em," Crane said softly by way of an answer, and Adam couldn't help but smile fondly at Daniel's response.

"We home?"

"Yeah, we are." The quiet joy in Crane's reply gave voice to the emotions filling Adam's heart. Daniel was finally home.

Adam pulled the truck in front of the gate left open for them and, as he saw their family billow out the front door, he heard Crane laugh, clearly amused by the sight of Daniel's welcome committee as well. They were all standing on the front porch wearing grins, the younger ones bristling like racehorses at the gate. They were taking heed of Adam's orders not to rush Daniel, though Brian had his hands on Guthrie's shoulders, undoubtedly holding back the boy's charge.

Daniel seemed oblivious, clearly concentrating much harder than he should have been simply to climb out of the truck. Crane was there though and helped ease him to the ground, hanging on even after Daniel gained his bearings and appeared steady. No longer walking on the tile flooring of the hospital, the ground at home was uneven at best and Daniel needed the help, at least for a while. With that in mind and ignoring the bags they'd tossed in the back of the truck at the hospital, Adam stepped around the front of the truck and took his place on Daniel's other side.

Apparently that was the cue Guthrie was waiting for to bolt out of the gate. Or through it, in this case.

"Daniel!" He shouted, his delight as over-the-top as expected. Contrary to Adam's instructions of that morning, the boy did charge, though he pulled up in front of Daniel at the last second saving Adam from having to intervene.

Facing each other, Guthrie looked pensive as he gave Daniel a visual once-over.

"Hey, Guthrie," Daniel said quietly, perhaps a little thrown by their baby brother's sudden reserve.

Adam knew that, if Daniel was a lot steadier on his feet, he'd have sunk down to his knees by now. His invitation to give the boy a big old bear hug like he had on so many other occasions. And maybe that was what Guthrie had expected from him. Daniel must've sensed it too. Releasing his hold of Crane, Daniel took one small step forward before spreading his arms in invitation. "It's okay."

Adam watched Guthrie bite his lip and felt his own eyes well when tears rolled down their youngest's face. Wrapping his arms around Daniel, Guthrie cried, "You're home," and proceeded to get an upright version of the bear hug he'd been expecting. As Adam moved in to support Daniel, so did Crane, exchanging misty glances as they did so. And then the rest of the family joined in too, Evan's whoopin' and Hannah's unabashed tears as she slid under Adam's arm, showing the range of how they all felt.

Somehow, during their group hug, they managed to move Daniel along safely from the gateway to the base of the porch steps. They stopped there, untangling their arms and breaking apart until only Crane was supporting Daniel once again. Two realizations struck Adam then. The first being that Ford and Brian had in fact stayed back from the celebrations, though that was being remedied in part now as Ford descended the steps and walked into Daniel's waiting embrace.

Since Daniel's seizure, their relationship had changed… they were more like equals now than before and though Daniel didn't remember much about the actual episode, Adam was sure he remembered Ford's steady, comforting presence. Adam certainly did and he couldn't help but think Ford had grown up a little because of it, taking on even more responsibility at the ranch and determined to do the same with Daniel's recovery and rehab. It made Adam proud each time he thought about it.

The second realization was just how many damn steps there were leading up to their front door. He knew the staircase to their bedrooms was going to be an issue but he hadn't really considered the front steps. Daniel was looking at them too now and with the trepidation Adam felt.

As wonderful as it was to see Daniel up and around, especially at home, the truth was he looked like someone who'd spent almost two weeks in the hospital. Exceptionally fit before he got hurt, the weight he'd lost was muscle, and his clothes were hanging on him. His tanned skin not only pale but even a little pasty. It was as though the minimal exertions of the day were catching up to him, and those nine steps might as well have been ninety. Though Adam's first instinct was to simply step in and carry him, he knew that would hurt Daniel's pride and probably worry Guthrie. He decided to move in anyway, catching Crane's equally concerned eye and silently agreeing between them that they'd get him to the door together.

He should've known that Brian already had it covered.

"Hey, what am I? Chopped liver?" Bounding down the steps and hoisting Daniel up into a fierce hug, he didn't set his little brother back down until he'd swung him up onto the porch.


"Hey, Adam?" Evan whispered as their oldest and Hannah walked through the front door. Loud enough to catch Crane's attention too as he worked away at the ranch's ledgers on the cleared off dinner table.

Though the evening's meal had been the first time the entire family had eaten together since the night before the mine collapse, and Daniel's first back at home, it had been a subdued rather than celebratory affair. Daniel was getting much more adept but his relationship with cutlery was still strained at best. Watching him struggle to feed himself was difficult for everyone. Knowing he wouldn't yet have much of an appetite, Hannah had made up a milder than usual stew, chopping the ingredients down into tiny pieces so that when Daniel tired with his spoon, he could use the bread she'd baked to scoop it up and get it from the bowl to his mouth. Crane could've kissed his sister-in-law for her consideration, though he'd left that deed to her husband. Who was more than willing to oblige.

The couple hadn't really had much time together, let alone any privacy, since before Tom and Carey's anniversary party. So they had wandered outside onto the deck for some time alone, despite the cooler temperatures, after the evening's dishes had been taken care of.

They'd just come back into the house, content and happy in each other's arms, when Evan whispered Adam's name. He sounded a little concerned so Crane abandoned the accounts and headed over to the couch where Evan and Daniel had been seated.

It was just the five of them at the moment. Brian had gone out for a final check on the stock and the youngest two were upstairs doing homework in the room Ford and Evan shared.

By the time Crane made it over to join the others, he could see why Hannah was smiling so warmly. Daniel was asleep at Evan's side, or rather slumped down against him, Evan's arm wrapped around his older brother's shoulder.

Crane couldn't help cracking a smile too. Evan was their rough and tumble bronco buster and having his brother fall asleep on him didn't exactly fit the image of manhood the seventeen year-old was struggling to project these days. The kid looked a little self-conscious but it was the concern Crane could see in his eyes that Adam addressed.

"Everything all right?" Adam asked as he squatted low in front of them.

Despite his embarrassment, Evan rested the back of his hand against Daniel's forehead. "He's feeling a little warm… I think," uncertainty in his tone.

Adam reached out, copying Evan then checking the warmth of Daniel's cheek too. "He's okay, champ. I think he's just worn out."

Though he could see the worry and skepticism in Evan's face, even though it was barely 7:30, Crane was frankly surprised Daniel had held up as long as he had. Resisting the urge to check on Daniel himself, Crane backed up Adam's words. "He's done in, Evan. It'll be a while before he's up to late night runs into Murphys."

"Yeah, I guess," the boy replied, concern for his brother now overriding his earlier discomfort as he draped his arm protectively across Daniel.

"He'll be all right," Adam said reassuringly, reaching out and tousling Evan's hair before straightening back up again. "You two stay put and we'll pull out the bed for him."

"Like I have any choice," Evan answered, eliciting a snicker from Hannah.

Apparently they were all done in. Either that or Murphy's Law was holding court in their living room. Whatever the reason, despite their attempts to set up Brian's bed quietly, somehow a few pillows managed to dislodge sending them directly into the path of the nearest guitar. Fortunately it didn't sustain any damage when it fell but the reverberating cacophony woke up Daniel.

"Hey, it's all right," Crane heard Evan insist and, as he rounded the furniture to help him with a clearly disoriented Daniel, Crane was grateful the boy had the sense to keep Daniel from bolting upright. "Stay put, Daniel. You're okay."

Crane bent low, placing his hands on either side of Daniel's face and forcing eye contact. Daniel had hold of Evan's arm, his eyes still looking a little wild but clearing when they focused on Crane. "That's it, you're okay," Crane soothed, relaxing as Daniel's expression did the same.

"Crane? Where?"

"You're home, kiddo. See?" Knowing Evan still had hold of Daniel and vice versa, Crane moved aside slightly so that Daniel could see the familiar surroundings of their living-room. He'd been looking at variations of the same sterile walls for almost two weeks; it was no wonder the kid was confused.

"Home?"

"Yeah, you betcha," Adam replied from beside Hannah, the two of them having followed Crane.

Daniel relaxed further in Evan's hold until clarity sunk in and he began to straighten up once more, slowly this time and with Crane and Evan's help. Apparently realizing he'd been using his younger brother as a pillow, Daniel offered a needless apology. "Sorry, man," he said but Evan shook his head.

"Hey, don't mention it," he replied and then waiting a beat, added. "To anyone."

The ensuing laughter felt good and watching Daniel grin and elbow his younger brother felt even better. There was still the matter of getting Brian's bed set up for Daniel to contend with however. And Crane knew, now that Daniel was lucid, it was going to present more of a challenge.

Apparently reading Crane's mind, Adam said, "Why don't we call it a night and get you to bed?"

Daniel didn't hesitate in agreeing, proving to them all just how exhausted he was. "Yeah, okay. I've been looking forward to sleeping in my own bed."

Crane caught Adam's slight wince and as they exchanged glances, Crane didn't bother sending his oldest brother his "I told you so" look. They'd had this discussion days ago. Before the seizure, when their disagreements had still been civil. Adam was worried about the staircase and didn't want Daniel isolated for as many hours as he needed sleep. But Crane felt, with a family their size they could work around it and give the kid his bedroom. Ultimately Crane had deferred to Adam but had warned him that Daniel wouldn't take the news well.

"Well, actually…" Adam started, gesturing toward Brian and Guthrie's bed.

"What? No way," Daniel protested, coming fully awake and fully aware as he saw the partially made pull-out bed. "I want to sleep in my room."

"Daniel, I know. I get it," Adam tried to placate. "But c'mon, sport. You're not up to those stairs yet. You know that."

"So what," Evan interjected, defiance shining in his eyes and evident in the set of his jaw. "It's not like he doesn't have plenty of help." It wasn't every day that Evan stood up to Adam and rarely was Daniel his cause. Apparently Daniel's vulnerability had brought out the protectiveness in another of his siblings.

Unfortunately that protectiveness didn't always put the brothers on the same side.

Adam shot Evan a look that very clearly told him to keep out of it, so the kid huffed and crossed his arms as he settled back on the couch next to Daniel.

"Daniel, honey," This time Hannah tried to reason with him. "Adam's not telling you you'll never sleep up there again. It's just until you're stronger."

Daniel sighed and Crane braced for the rollercoaster to begin. He was expecting his brother's temper to flare, especially with Evan in the room. He knew tears were a possibility too but he figured they'd be less likely in the presence of one of his younger siblings. He certainly didn't expect Daniel's next question.

"Adam, what time is it?"

"What?" It clearly threw Adam as well.

"What time is it?"

Adam checked the clock on the mantel and answered with, "It's almost a quarter to eight, why?"

Daniel looked at Crane and Crane realized that his little brother was asking for his support, even though he wasn't entirely sure what Daniel was up to. He had a pretty good idea though. Besides, they'd always trusted each other and with Daniel keeping his cool, Crane had faith that the kid was working with a level head. Hoping he wasn't making a mistake, Crane nodded at Daniel.

"How am I supposed to get back my strength with what might as well be a herd of buffalo trying to tiptoe around me down here? It's not gonna work. Especially if I'm gonna crash this early."

Crane dropped his head to hide his smirk. Evan tried to contain his laughter but they all still heard his resulting snort anyway.

"Adam, please. I'm not gonna take a header, I promise," Daniel implored. "I won't try the stairs without help, okay?"

Clearly of mixed emotions, Adam clenched his jaw before looking to Hannah and then Crane for… Crane wasn't exactly sure what Adam was looking for either. Guidance? Their blessing? Adam already knew how Crane felt. Maybe it was just strength.

"Okay, sure. We'll give it a try," their eldest gave in; not sounding entirely convinced he was making the right decision.

But Daniel's delighted response put a smile on Adam's face. Crane's too.

"Thanks, Dad."

To be continued.