Rating: PG13, T (language, adult themes)
Wordcount: Approx. 3,300 of 15,000 total
Warnings: Those aforementioned adult themes plus the odd dropped f-bomb.
Disclaimers: See my profile page.
Author's Notes: I'm in the midst of writing a new large multi-chapter fic but a couple of weeks ago this one slammed me and I had no choice but to get it out of my system. Though this is admittedly a self-indulgent angst-fest, I wrote it in the hope that it would lift the spirits of one of our fellow 7B fans whose family has been going through a really rough time. I truly hope you enjoy it, hon!
It's been a while since the words have flowed this freely but, in letting them have control, it soon dawned on me that this fic has many similarities (or parallels, perhaps) to Cag45's wonderful Brotherly Love. Though I often made a conscious effort to veer away from those similarities, the muse would stubbornly lead me back at times and I ultimately stopped arguing. Chalk it up to two Daniel-centric writers with similar visions of the character and of his possible future.
Mega thanks to Katt for the terrific beta, cheer-leading, patience tonight and the inspiration.
Important Story Notes (i.e. please read): This one has been different for me for a number of reasons:
1) I'm "breaking the fourth wall" here, something I don't think I've ever done before.
2) The story consists of 2 narratives, both from Crane's POV. The first takes a look back in time and works its way up to the present... in this case autumn, 1985. The second narrative carries on where the first leaves off but is told from a later perspective before finally finishing off in the present too... a later present.
3) Given my tendency toward beating up my characters, and in an attempt to keep story-lines believable, I make it a rule not to refer to my other stories and consider all of them "one offs". I'm breaking that rule here. This one clearly follows Surfacing though all you really need to know in order to follow along is that, in Surfacing, Daniel suffered a brain injury during the events of "A Ring for Hannah" that resulted in some memory loss and a need for long-term medication during his recovery.
4) Another reason I consider my other stories one offs is because I don't want to tie myself down to a single premise. Case in point, in Growing Pains, I have Crane starting college a year early. For this story (and another one I hope to someday write), that's not the case.
5) Seriously? No, I'll shut up now LOL. Here is part 1 of 3 (I should have it all posted in the coming week).
by May Robinson
Part 1 (of 3)
Dr. Kovacs, my professor for the one and only Psychology course I took at Davis, used to say that most people have no memory prior to three years of age, and few memories between ages three and six. That, often our actual memories of specific episodes get muddled up - my words, not his - with what's been told to us by those old enough to actually remember the events.
Most of the time.
My oldest memory is so vivid that, even with the few black and white photographs kicking around in a shoe-box somewhere that commemorate it, I definitely don't need to see them. After all, pictures can't reveal the scent of baby powder enveloping us as my mother settled down next to me and tucked me under her arm.
I was three. Though, back then, I would've adamantly told anyone within earshot that I was three and a half, almost four.
I remember Dad standing there in front of us, every bit as towering as the ancient Sequoias in Calaveras State park. Sometimes it's hard to believe that I've surpassed him by over an inch. Back then and for many years beyond that, I thought he was bigger than life.
Yeah, I caught the unhappy irony there too.
Anyway, unlike my older brothers who'd had every reason to, I never found him even remotely scary. Except in that moment. Dad was holding onto this tiny, squirming blanket-wrapped thing, and I remember being awfully worried that he might unintentionally hurt it with those big, powerful hands of his.
That thing was my baby brother, Danny.
I remember reaching up for the baby then and Dad chuckling, deep and throaty and warm. I wasn't amused though. I think both he and Mom misunderstood my urgency for eagerness. It's true that, after being the little brother in the house for so "unbearably" long, I wanted nothing more than to get a look at my very first little brother. But it was more than excitement driving me.
I truly believe that the vigilance and protectiveness that have pretty much defined me as an adult began to kick in right at that very moment.
In retrospect, I think that my protectiveness had started up even before Danny came home. It had been a difficult birth for Mom, and Daniel's stay in the hospital had exceeded hers by over a week. Though Dad had warned us when he left to pick her up that the baby wouldn't be coming home right away, I threw a temper tantrum for the ages when they came home empty-handed.
That's something I really don't remember - thankfully.
I do vaguely recall being upset. More than that though, I think I was desperately worried.
So, when Dad finally placed the baby in my arms, I wasn't just incredibly happy. I was immensely relieved too.
And, as evidenced by those photographs… full of wonder and awe as well. Never one to have been accused of having big eyes, they have never looked so huge as in those pictures.
I'm looking down at the baby in my hold in the first one. In the second shot, I'm looking straight at the camera - my bowl-cut hair obviously as blond as Ford's despite the black and white image - and I'm beaming from ear to ear.
Now, here's where my recollection gets a little faulty, telling me I held onto Daniel all on my own. In the pictures though, Mom's arms are looped around me as I'm holding him; her gentle hand supporting his shaggy dark-mopped head.
It doesn't really matter. Either way, the feelings shown in and evoked by the photos remain the same: fierce love and protection. Hers toward us and mine toward Danny.
I wouldn't let him go. Not even when Dad reached for him again.
As a matter of fact, I've been told I outright declared, "No, mine!" before hauling him into my chest like he was a new teddy-bear at Christmas. One that I clearly wasn't willing to share. My parents should've scolded me for that; probably did. I don't recall.
I have to admit, even though I was only three at the time, knowing that I'd acted that possessively toward him is a little embarrassing.
Then again, it probably explains a lot.
Daniel and I were still at school when Mom and Dad were hit. Classes were over for the day but there was a full rehearsal for the talent show afterward and Danny was entered, of course. Which meant, after making sure Evan and Ford got onto the right bus for home, I stayed behind too.
My friend Will Turner's stop was the next one after ours so our folks had arranged with his to make sure he rode the bus with Evan and Ford whenever Danny and I stayed after school. Will took that responsibility to heart and always watched out for them damn near as vigilantly as I did Daniel.
I wasn't even remotely surprised when he decided to become a deputy.
Even though our parents were coming into town to watch the rehearsal, I still stayed after school like usual that night. I didn't like the idea of Danny being on his own in the interim and Mom and Dad wanted me there anyway. Especially after the previous year when Jed Patterson, a fellow contestant, accidentally bumped into Daniel, sending him hurtling off the stage. We were damn lucky that the floor had been covered in gym mats at the time. Daniel had only gotten bruised up in the fall.
Coincidentally about a week later, Jed, who was in my grade, had somehow accidentally run into his gym locker door - twice.
He never bothered with Daniel again. Neither did any of his friends.
You know… I think that was the first time I ever felt genuine approval from Brian.
Not that anybody could ever prove that I had anything to do with poor Jed's mishap. He couldn't even identify the perpetrator.
Still, there were always a few of the older kids who took objection to the fact that a squirt like Daniel could beat them. Along with watching out for my younger siblings at home, I think being on the lookout for those guys was probably where I first earned my vigilance stripes.
Little did any of us know then that his competition had nothing to worry about… Daniel never did sing "Song Sung Blue" in front of our parents that night. Or in the contest. His involvement in the talent show had ended as suddenly as a flash-freeze on asphalt.
After all, knowing that your parents were killed on their way to watch you rehearse tended to suck the enthusiasm out of participating. And out of everything else.
It shattered Daniel. Not that becoming orphans didn't devastate us all. But his grief was saturated in guilt too and that broke him in ways I don't think the rest of us have ever fully understood.
Even though we've tried to.
I've never stopped trying.
Though Adam broke the news to all of us together, inside the hospital's little chapel, Danny and I were the last to find out that anything was wrong.
Sheriff Turner and Deputy Sykes had driven out to the ranch to give Adam the news - though Mom was still alive at the time - but of course Danny and I weren't there. It was Ed who picked us up afterward from school, interrupting the rehearsal all rain-soaked and grim-faced. His dripping hat wrung tightly in his grasp.
I remember hearing adults whispering and then him zeroing in on me as soon as the lights came on in the gym. And I remember shakily calling for Daniel, needing to know where he was right that instant. Sensing that something was horribly wrong, even before Ed solemnly told me - told us, as Daniel slipped his hand into mine, "There's been an accident, boys. Your brother Adam asked me to come get you."
Ed wanted us to ride up in the front of the cruiser with him but I refused. I remember crawling into the back with Danny and huddling up with him against the seat and the door. Daniel curled up against me, his head pillowed on my chest. Ed had the heat blasting back there for us but I couldn't shake the chill of the rain, of impending doom, and just held on tight to my little brother, as though our lives depended on it.
My admiration for my oldest brother Adam knows no bounds. How a barely eighteen year-old kid managed to keep us together, not just physically or even geographically, but emotionally too, is beyond me. He did have help though… from the town; the church; from family friends. Brian.
My arms were still wrapped around Daniel when Adam tearfully shook up our world. Stayed that way for the days that immediately followed, and the nights we curled up together in my bed. Adam tried to pry us apart a few times. I understand why now. No kid my age should've taken responsibility for nursing a traumatized child through that kind of grief.
I did though. In part because Daniel was clinging to me as fiercely as I held him that day Mom and Dad first brought him home. In part because looking after him distracted me from my own sorrow. But mostly it was because I simply had to. I'd lost my confident, boisterous chatter-box of a baby brother that night and, in his place, found a timid, docile and near silent replica. I loved them both equally but, I missed the first one terribly. Our whole family did.
So I made it my mission to find the exuberant Danny again.
I think Daniel's first day of high-school was more nerve-wracking for me than him.
Professor Kovacs used to say that resilience is mistakenly assumed to be a trait of the individual but is in actuality a process.
Okay, I'll grant it that the support we had from our community, combined with an abundance of love and affection under our roof, were definitely "positive protective factors" that helped all of us recover from the trauma.
But, for Daniel to have come back as well and as far as he did? No, that wasn't just a process. That's a testament to my little brother's heart and his grit.
Hell, by the time grade eight rolled around, Daniel could even have been described as a cocky little shit.
Grade nine had me worried though. It was, still is, a tradition at BHU for the freshmen to suffer through the ritual of "Initiation" during the first week of school. The hazing isn't anything close to what happens in college; mostly the seniors making them wear "kick me" signs, having kids carry ridiculously tall stacks of books, forcing them to crawl on their bellies down hallways, that kind of thing. All of it fairly harmless.
Still, Daniel was awfully little back then and, well, the idea of some of those goons from my class literally kicking his butt or making him crawl down a hallway after he'd come so far…
Tradition or not, my little brother was not going to crawl - ever.
Which, in the end, wasn't even an issue at all.
I'd forgotten about what had happened to me over the previous summer: the growth spurt from Hell.
Definitely a late bloomer, I'd gone from pip-squeak to becoming one of the tallest seniors in school in a period of only a few months. It made for a tough summer. As gangly as a new born foal, I was more than twice as awkward. Brian ragged on me mercilessly, for anything from tripping over my own feet to bashing my head - repeatedly - in the hay loft. Even Adam teased me about it.
The fact that I outgrew them both has been the sweetest revenge.
By the end of the summer, my muscles and coordination started to catch up to the rest of me though. So, by the time school came around, everyone from my teachers to the athletic coaches to my fellow future grads were looking at me differently.
As for the latter group, my peers, that's where unbeknownst to me, the BHU "McFadden Factor" came into play.
The one that dictates: Don't fuck around with a McFadden unless you want to take on his older brother too.
It saved my bacon my freshman year, though I didn't realize it at the time. I should have. After all, my "Initiation Week" had been entirely unremarkable.
You see, after our parents' crash, Brian ended up having to repeat a year. In spite of the school being very accommodating, he just ended up missing too many classes that first year, helping out at home and with the ranch.
So, that resulted in Brian being a senior my freshman year.
It wasn't until Daniel's "Initiation Week" that I made the connection. I even thanked him for it at the time. I still remember Brian's lopsided smirk when he denied doing anything at all to intimidate his classmates or persuade them to leave me alone.
Of course I could say the same thing about Daniel's uneventful first week. All I really did was make sure my presence was known. Very much known.
Like all of us, Daniel's had a few setbacks over the years. Sadly, his have shown me the bone-deep, lasting effects of the accident.
They've also been tributes to his resilience.
He took my going off to college really hard. I still feel guilty about it and I know Adam does too. I may have been too young to be his legal guardian but, I'd still been his primary caregiver for a long time. And then I promptly upped and left him like Mom and Dad had. Except, in my case, I went willingly.
We weathered it though. The first year I came home more than Adam intended but less often than I wanted. And, by the time that next Labor Day rolled around, we'd found our stride.
Music helped. Truthfully, it already had plenty to do with drawing Danny out of his shell after losing Mom and Dad. Already at seven he possessed a natural talent at guitar, one our parents had nurtured. Especially our mom. It's what gave Daniel the confidence to compete against predominantly older kids in the talent shows.
After their deaths, the music stopped. Not just with Danny but all of us. It was too painful to sing or dance without our parents being there to applaud us or join in.
But Guthrie was still a baby and singing to him was about the only thing that could consistently get the little guy to sleep. And, in our upside down world, we soon realized that those little scraps of music were also providing Ford and Evan some semblance of normalcy. And even an odd sense of security.
Daniel ultimately couldn't resist the pull. A force so strong, even then I understood that music would be his calling.
So, whenever Adam wasn't working me to the bone those summers home, looking over the books or riding herd - on either cattle or my little brothers - Daniel and I were writing songs together. The lyrics were mine; the music his.
Though somewhere along the line, those roles changed and interspersed and it became impossible to tell what lyrics were his versus mine. Which notes were his versus mine.
Of course, both belong to him now. No surprise there.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The second setback - and what a monumental understatement that is - was what happened at The Howling Man.
Yeah, you know the story. After all, it made the national news.
Teenage bravado, stupidity and stubbornness almost got Daniel, our youngest three, and the daughter of a friend killed in the collapse of an abandoned gold mine.
It was that same stubbornness, plus a dash of that bravado and stupidity that managed to save them though too.
And a lot of guilt.
The same suffocating guilt that still haunted Daniel over Mom and Dad. And nearly resulted in killing him after he practically single-handedly rescued those kids.
He's almost fully recovered from the brain injury and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank God for that. He's as strong as he ever was.
At least to the naked eye.
Though almost three years have gone by, his brain chemistry is still out of whack and he's never stopped taking drugs for that. He might be able to quit someday but, right now, without the medication, his emotions still run the gamut. Actually, that's not quite true. They usually head to the same place… and it's always pretty dark there.
Professor Kovacs didn't cover "post-traumatic brain injury depression" as part of his curriculum. I've done enough reading on the subject though I bet I could teach him a thing or two. Certainly enough to know that it's not unique to Daniel.
That doesn't make living with it any easier for my kid brother. Or easier on his family.
Disturbingly, he's written some brilliant lyrics - ones he's been able to sell - when he's forgotten to take his meds. I worry sometimes that he's forgetting on purpose.
I worry a lot actually.
Which is exactly why I'm standing here with a haphazardly stuffed duffel bag slung over my shoulder and the keys to the Jeep in my hand.
Staring my oldest brother down.
"He made his choice," Adam says harshly, though the sheen of tears in his eyes belies those bitter words. Our oldest brother can't stand being out of control and it's not because he's a control freak. It's because he's desperately afraid something else awful is going to happen to our family.
Given our track record, I can't honestly say I blame him. Still, it's in my DNA to stand up for Daniel, even though I'm every bit as afraid of his choices as Adam is. "He's an adult now, Adam. He has every right to his choices."
"Yeah, well look where that's got them."
And this time, he really does sound bitter. He's blaming himself for Evan too, like somehow he could be responsible for what happened in a little over eight seconds and five states away from here.
There's no arguing with him when he's worked up like this - a lesson neither Daniel nor Evan really ever learned, or Brian for that matter - so instead I just tell him, "He needs me, Adam; I have to go."
"We need you," he says adamantly, McFadden obstinacy shining through. "The ranch needs you."
I know. Daniel's gone; Hannah's laid up in bed and Evan's still rehabbing his hand. But, at eighteen and fifteen, Ford and Guthrie are more than capable of taking up the slack and helping the big boys while I'm gone. Besides, with any luck, I won't be away for long. And I won't be coming home on my own. No point in telling Adam that right now. I'm not sure if I'd believe me either. So instead I say, "He needs me more."
"You'd better be damn sure of that choice."
I can already see the regret washing over him so I don't let the threat bait me.
"I am sure," I tell him, every bit as unyielding. I'm a McFadden too, let's not forget. "This is my choice, Adam."
Daniel is my choice.
To be continued