Daniel looked at Ford and then Adam and Crane on the other side of the fire. Crane had returned with food, coffee, bed rolls, and the spare change of clothes Daniel, Evan, and Ford had brought with them. Which they rarely used on these trips but kept on hand for that just-in-case situation…and this was the best just-in-case Daniel had ever had. The clothes from this morning were gonna go in the garbage. Even Hannah's far reaching talents wouldn't make them wearable again.

Crane and Adam had made quick work of getting Daniel and Ford as comfortable as possible. They were clean and pretty comfortable. Coffee and a meal had been organized, and Adam had finally wrapped Ford's ankle. Ford had tolerated the procedure as well as could be expected, but Daniel still hated that he had to go through it. That ankle was hurting him something fierce.

In the meantime, Crane and Adam were trying to hide their worry. But the rest of the afternoon had passed, and Evan had not returned. It was easy to see they were concerned. Daniel was, too, and Ford was watching his brothers and the countryside like a hawk. Evan had probably been gone a couple of hours anyway, and with his back bothering him, well, Daniel knew he'd feel a whole lot better when Little Brother got back.

Sitting there waiting, vaguely listening to an unimportant discussion his brothers were using to distract themselves, Daniel finally had time to think about everything that had happened today. Relieved didn't begin to cover how he felt about his legs. Pain was a small price to pay for regaining sensation and movement. Ford had jumped Daniel's case for pulling himself out of the debris…and rightly so. Daniel remembered all the first aid he'd learned about back injuries—after the fact. He should've waited, but the urge to get free had been overwhelming. And then the pain started. His legs ached and throbbed and tingled and didn't do what he wanted. But he could move and feel them again, and he could be patient as they got back to normal. And his ribs hurt every time he breathed. Or moved. Or thought about moving. But still way better than he had any right to expect.

He'd just felt so…out of control all day. All week really. He'd been arguing with Ford for what seemed like forever and controlling his own reactions to his brother had been a disaster. And today, Adam had sent them out on circle together even though they wanted to be as far from each other as possible. Then the earthquakes and the ravine and being trapped and terrified of being paralyzed. When Crane suggested Daniel take off his jeans, it felt like the straw that broke the camel's back. Daniel acted like a kid, but only now did he see why. It was just something else he couldn't control.

The issues with Ford, well, they weren't completely resolved. And most of that was because Ford was still growing up. In some ways, he was already an adult. Give him a problem to solve, and he approached it in a way that reminded Daniel of Crane and Adam—sometimes so much like 'em it was scary. But dealing with personal issues showed Ford was still a kid in other aspects. He tended to be shy and quiet and lacked self-confidence—except when he was arguing with Daniel. Made for a hard time. And needing very little assistance in some areas and so much reassurance in others could present a challenge to an older brother trying to help.

And of course, the problem was made worse when that older brother was clueless most of the time anyway. Daniel couldn't figure out when to push, when to pull, and when to leave it alone with Ford. Clearly, he'd been guessing wrong most of the week. All the mistakes made Daniel made more likely to react with anger. Then, of course, Ford answered the same way which just made everything worse. It was one of those vicious cycles Daniel had read about. Just went round and round, and they couldn't get out of it. Out of control again.

It was only when Daniel was calm and not in the middle of an argument that he could figure this stuff out. Beat him all to heck how Adam, Brian, and Crane just seemed to know when to push and when to back off. They must've gone to big brother training school or something; Daniel had surely missed that class 'cause almost every normal conversation with Ford had gone bad lately. But then again, being stuck in the ravine had led to a couple of good moments, so maybe he hadn't failed the big brother test completely.

And then there was Evan. Daniel's big brother relationship with Evan was different than with Ford and Guthrie. They were close in age and had grown up doing almost everything together. Evan usually did what Daniel told him, but as he'd learned today, that was because Evan agreed with Daniel most of the time. Evidently, it was easier for Evan to just do what he was told—everybody's happy—rather than argue about who gave the order…a concept Ford apparently didn't agree with. Despite a quick temper, Evan was pretty easy going and had a personality that lightened everybody around him.

But he'd not gone for help today despite Daniel's...strong suggestion. And he'd flat rejected Daniel's idea about staying together when they were in the ravine. The only reason Evan hadn't proceeded with his own idea was because their brothers had shown up. And that sunny disposition sure wasn't in evidence this afternoon. That's probably what bothered Daniel the most—that Evan just didn't seem to be himself. Of course, his back was hurting after being stuck under the tree…which still just blew Daniel's mind. A tree fell on him! How does that happen to anyone except Evan? So maybe that was the problem...Evan had been worried about Daniel and Ford, tired of listening to them fight, and his back was bothering him. And Daniel acting like an idiot most of the day probably didn't help his brother's mood. And now, Evan was MIA after going to look for their horses. Adam and Crane were trying to hide their worry, but Daniel wasn't fooled and knew Ford wasn't either.

"How's your legs, Daniel?"

He shot Ford a grin. Ford knew exactly what was going on, and he was giving their older brothers something else to concentrate on. Smart, grown-up kid. Geez, Daniel loved him—no matter how much Ford frustrated him. "Better. Not aching so much."

"You know how lucky you were today? Both of you?" Adam spoke around the rim of his coffee cup.

Daniel was well aware of their luck. "Yeah."

Ford shook his head. "You weren't down there, Adam. You couldn't see how much debris there really was. We could've easily been buried." He glanced apologetically at Daniel. "Well, more buried."

Daniel bounced his brows in agreement. "And as big as the rocks on me were, if one had hit my head or chest, there's no way I'd still be breathing."

Crane looked unsettled. "Total fluke all the way around. You guys were standing right on top of that tunnel just when the quake hit? What are the chances?"

Adam added his two bits. "And despite everything, you ended up with only minor injuries."

Daniel started to answer, but he heard Crane's horse, Gypsy, and looked to see what caught her attention. She was a very social animal, and she'd likely call out to her stable mates. Sure enough, Evan was approaching on Diablo, Buck and Kitt trailing along behind him.

Instantly on his feet, Adam's angry voice rang across the clearing. "Damnit, Evan, where've you been?!" He twisted worry into mad sometimes.

"Took me a while to find their trails." Tired.

Crane was also up. "Trails…with an 'S'?"

"Yeah. They took off in two different directions. After I found Kitt, I had to look for Buck."

Daniel took his brother's measure. He looked exhausted, and Daniel shared a glance of concern with Ford.

Crane's voice was more gentle than Adam's. "Hungry?"

Evan kept Diablo headed toward the other horses. "Nah."

Adam and Crane shared a look then followed him. Daniel was glad Evan was back, but he was still worried. Evan hadn't eaten since breakfast; he oughta be starving.

Evan dismounted—a bit stiff but not too bad—and loosened Diablo's cinch. Crane walked up and placed a hand on his shoulder—lightly. "Come on. You're worn out, and you've been going all day. Take a load off and get something to eat. And we need to check your back."

Something flashed across Evan's face. "I'm fine. I'll finish this and be over in a minute."

Adam took over. "I'll finish this. You get something to eat."

Evan seemed reluctant, but he allowed Crane to head him back to the fire. He steered Evan to sit beside Daniel. "I'll get you some chili."

Evan winced slightly. "I'm really not hungry. How 'bout just some coffee or something?"

Daniel decided to just sit tight. Crane was way better at the older brother stuff anyway.

Crane handed Evan a cup and watched as he took a sip. Then Crane went to help Adam finish the horses. Daniel silently watched him leave, figuring those horses would be done in record time. And while they worked, Crane and Adam would probably discuss the situation.

"Where'd you find Kitt?" Ford distracted Evan.

"The thicket on the other side of that big stand of pine six, seven miles northeast of here."

"That far? She must've been pretty spooked."

"Yeah. And Buck was in Zach's Meadow."

Daniel pictured both places in his head. Evan had done a lot of riding. "Thanks, Little Brother."

Evan summoned a grin. "You guys feeling better?"

Daniel nodded, "Yeah. We both are. You?"

"Tired. Ready to hit the sack. Think maybe they'll just let me go to sleep?"

Stupid question. Evan must be more tired than he realized 'cause there was no way on earth that was gonna happen. Daniel thought of his own idiotic attempt to keep his pants on and shared a glance with Ford who looked dubious. They both turned back to Evan. "Not a chance."

"Huh-uh. No way."

Evan rolled his eyes and went back to his coffee.

Sure enough, in a few minutes, Adam and Crane returned to the campfire just as dusk was starting to settle. Adam raised a questioning brow. "You ready for us?"

Evan rolled his shoulders and tried to act like it didn't bother him. "Adam, it's fine. Just—"

Adam shook his head as Crane plucked the empty mug from Evan's fingers. "Forget it. Take your shirt off and lay down. A tree fell on you, your back's hurting, and we're gonna check ya out."

Evan was sitting close to his bedding, so he didn't have far to go. Even so, it was easy to see how tight he was after sitting still for just ten or fifteen minutes.

Crane picked up the pail of water warming by the fire and reached for the first aid kit as Adam went to get the towels he'd washed out after Daniel and Ford cleaned up.

Evan reluctantly pulled his denim jacket off and tossed it toward the foot of his bed. He was wearing an old Bret Harte Union sweatshirt that had seen better days a few brothers back, but he didn't try to pull it off. Adam glanced at him pointedly when he came back, and Evan blew out a deep breath before grabbing the bottom of the shirt. He got it about halfway up and stopped.

Adam was watching. "What?"

Evan sighed, "I can't."

Adam eyed him with more concern. "Can't what?"

"Get it off."

A quick glance between the older brothers, and they moved toward him. Crane put a hand on his shoulder. "We'll get it."

In short order, Adam and Crane had his arms out of the sleeves and slid the shirt over his head. Evan tried a stretch, but even that seemed to bother him, and he lay down as instructed.

A gentle scold as Crane looked at his back. "Evan."

Adam's face showed compassion as he placed a hand carefully on top of Evan's head. "You sure did a number on yourself, cowboy."

Daniel wondered if he looked as alarmed as Ford did. Evan lay completely boneless. Daniel had to see for himself. Evan had worked his tail off to get them out of that hole. Daniel waved for Ford to stay put and willed his legs to work. Standing up was managed in stages, ribs protesting every inch.

Crane's glance was immediate. "Where ya going?"

"To take a leak. And look at his back."

Crane managed a crooked smile and came to help. Daniel shuffled over to Evan's side. Even in the dim light, it was easy to see the heavy bruising. It disappeared south under his jeans and liberally dotted the exposed flesh of his back, shoulders, and arms. No surprise he couldn't get the sweatshirt off. It was a wonder he could move at all. One large, ugly bruise continued from under his jeans on the left, up, and across to his right shoulder. Adam gently traced the outlines with one finger. "What was this?"

Evan was half asleep, and it took him a second or two to answer. "Uhh, that must've been the big limb that had me pinned. It was heavy."

Continuing the exam, Adam blinked and double checked Evan's hair line. "What…? Is this blood?"

Evan flinched slightly. "Probably." That explained the no appetite. And left Daniel wondering if Evan's paleness was due to a sick stomach and puking.

Crane's voice was a little less patient. "Evan! You know you shouldn't be on a horse with a head injury."

Evan still didn't open his eyes. "Yeah, I probably shouldn't have been climbing into holes and digging Daniel out of a pile of rocks either, but I thought I should give it a try."

Daniel breathed a laugh at the stubbornness of his brothers. Crane tried to hold back, but he couldn't keep a smile from breaking out. Adam ran a hand over the top of Evan's head as his lips twitched.

"And since I survived that—and Daniel did, too—I figured I could manage Diablo."

Ford's grin was a mile wide. He shrugged, "Can't argue with his logic. His brain seems to be working just fine anyway. Or as good as it ever does."

Daniel patted Crane's hands where they held him securely. "I can make it. You deal with Jug-Head."

Crane's gaze was questioning, but whatever he saw when he looked at Daniel was apparently reassuring since he let Daniel move over to the tree line to do his business. It took longer to get there and back than the actual event, and he caught frequent glances from Adam, Crane, and Ford as he returned. Evan didn't seem to have moved and might well have gone to sleep as Adam and Crane cleaned his back. There weren't any other areas of broken skin, just the large, deep bruises. Little Brother was going to be pretty uncomfortable for a few days anyway.

"Too bad we don't have something warm like a heating pad."

Daniel looked at Ford in disbelief. "What?"

"Well, ice packs would be better for the swelling—like with my ankle—but it's chilly out here, and ice might make him sick. Heat would ease the muscles and relax him."

What in blue blazes was Ford thinking? "We don't have ice anyway, and how would we use a heating pad even if we had one?"

"I know that! I'm just saying what we could do if we had something like it!"

"But we don't! It's impossible! So why bring it up?"

"To see if anybody else has an idea that might help!"

Adam and Crane tried to interrupt, but it was the soft voice from the bedroll that finally got Daniel's attention, and Ford shut up as well.

"Daniel. Ford. Can you please do this tomorrow? Just let me sleep tonight without any arguments? If you guys don't shut up, I'm going over to bed down with the horses."

Daniel bit his lip. Evan would do it without a second thought. Ford wore an embarrassed grin and couldn't stop a snicker from escaping.

Daniel turned to Evan. "Sure, Little Brother. We'll give ya the night off and pick it back up tomorrow." Serious in voice if not intention.

Adam and Crane rolled their eyes and shook their heads as they tried to keep from laughing. Evan lifted his head enough to eye Daniel and Ford sourly. "Thanks. Thanks a lot. Can I go to sleep now? Please?"

Daniel shared an amused glance with Ford who shrugged. "He acts like we've been doing this all day or something."

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV 1984


Setting inspired by Bonanza story "Trapped" by Rona available at Adam and Little Joe in a cave-in. Broken foot, brother trapped. I used those basic elements and changed them up, adding and taking away to make my own story. But her story is the inspiration, and credit is due. No plagiarism intended. I did notify Miss Rona and request that she read my story prior to posting. She did just that and graciously informed me that she has no problems with the post. If she had not given permission, I would not have shared the story. Many thanks for her kindness and generosity.

I should also mention that a story with the same title can be found on the Big Valley Writing Desk, authored by my good friend and occasional beta, DocDeb. She posted her fabulous story more than a year ago, but I didn't realize the title was taken from Ecclesiastes till I read the verse again myself just a short time ago. And it seemed so appropriate…and much better than my other possible title(s). Debbie's story has absolutely nothing in common with this one, but I highly recommend it and anything else she's written if anyone enjoys "The Big Valley".