The World Goes Still (by Arien)

Summary:   A What Happened Next for the episode “My Brother’s Keeper.”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:  3577


Adam Cartwright sat near the enormous fireplace in the great room of the Ponderosa ranch house, a house that he had helped his father design and build. As he sat looking at the warm wood walls, the thoughts of what had happened kept chasing themselves in his mind. No matter how he approached the situation, his vaunted logic failed him. Failed him when he agreed to keep chasing the wolf at Montpellier Gorge and most assuredly failed him when he lost track of Joe, his baby brother, in the rocks. He was the oldest and, by default, supposedly the wisest; he made a stupid mistake and one that he had never made before. He could still see the wolf’s fangs glistening in the light as they tore at his brother’s flesh.

Dear, god, how was he to tell his father that his brother had died. And that it was his fault, without a doubt. He knew that none would blame him for his transgression. He also knew that he would carry that guilt to his grave. How does one recover from something like this? How does one move on from such an act?

He could still remember having to operate on his young brother with no ether and the help of two people he didn’t even know. Joe hadn’t thrashed about as he had expected. No, he had thrown his head back and moaned but had kept Adam from causing more damage than had already been done. As he worked, Adam could feel himself empathize with the person who could in one breath drive him to distraction and in the next bring him to his knees. He would have given anything to have traded places with Joe.

Hoss, the middle brother, had left that morning to take the men to see Sheriff Coffee, the men who had stolen Joe’s chance at surviving the mauling and had tried to ambush them in their home. The Reardons, the total strangers he had relied on, had finally gone. Not to say that he wasn’t grateful for their help in such a situation but Mr. Reardon had always been too ready with soothing words and he wasn’t in the mood to be comforted.  Shelia, now that he thought about it, hadn’t been much better than her father. Complaining that there wasn’t a doctor, no medicine…as if he didn’t know the drawbacks to living out West. He couldn’t fathom what he had seen in her. He put his actions up to it being a very stressful situation and he hadn’t been reacting as he typically would.

As he sat in his favorite chair, Adam felt himself give himself up to the exhaustion that had been dogging his heels since the fiasco began. He wanted to be awake when Ben, the patriarch of the Cartwright family, returned but just couldn’t seem to will the sleepiness away.

*****

Sobbing woke Adam from his troubled sleep. He got out his warm bed and followed the sounds to his young brother’s room. Opening the door, he saw that Joe was having a nightmare and was crying in his sleep. Little wonder, thought Adam, his mother just died. He rushed to the bedside to waken Joe. “Joe, wake up,” he coaxed gently, “you’re having a bad dream.”

His brother continued to cry out in his restlessness. Adam reached over and picked Joe up and carried him to the rocking chair near the window in the bedroom. He began to sing softly to his beloved sibling. He had done this so many times in the last few months. The young boy had never been prone to nightmares but since his mother had died in a riding accident it was a nightly occurrence. As he rocked, he felt Joe begin to relax and could also tell that small body he held was also awake.

He recalled the accident that had left this small bundle of energy without a mother and, for a while, without a father. Not that he could really blame his father. It was difficult to loose one wife but to have lost three—there had to be a toll on a man’s soul. He knew that Ben couldn’t look at Joe with out seeing Marie in the child’s face. As things stood now, Adam was the one who had to run the ranch and look after his two younger brothers. A question from the child he rocked brought Adam back to the present.

“Adam, will you always sing to me,” asked Joe sleepily.

“Of course I will. You know you don’t even have to ask,” answered the older Cartwright.

“Even if I die and go to heaven like Mama,” persisted Little Joe.

“Joe, don’t even talk like that,” Adam said. The thought of Joe not being around brought an intense ache to his heart. “You’re going to live to be an old, old man and have lots of adventures with me and Hoss. Sounds like fun, don’t ya think?”

“Can we sail the seas like Pa,” asked the youngest Cartwright, who sounded sleepy again.

“Sure we can. We’ll go anywhere you want, anywhere at all. How about you go back to sleep and we’ll talk more about it in the morning,” promised Adam. He stood up and carried his brother to bed and was getting the covers straightened out.

“Adam . . . will you sleep in here tonight? I don’t want to be alone,” admitted Joe.

“Sure, scoot over a bit and I’ll be here,” Adam assured Joe. “I’ll always be here for you and protect you.”

“I love you, Adam,” Joe said, yawning.

“I love you too, buddy,” Adam whispered back.

*****

Adam again woke to the sounds of sobbing. For an instant he thought he was in Joe’s room. It took him a few seconds to realize he was the source of the crying. He had forgotten that long ago promise that he’d made to his grieving brother. His brother wouldn’t grow to be an old man nor would they ever have the chance to have all of those adventures at sea, although, they had quite a few adventures at home.

He chuckled lightly to himself as he remembered all the mischief that the three brothers had gotten into over the years. He was willing to bet that those “adventures” were why Pa had so much gray hair now, though most of it was Joe’s fault. He was swept away by the memories of the time that Joe had decided to try to learn how to start a fire without matches.

*****

Ben was out in the barn with his older two sons when he smelled the distinct odor of smoke. They had been discussing Joe’s upcoming sixth birthday party and were trying to decide what to get the young troublemaker. They wanted to make it special since it would be his first birthday since his mother had passed away.

“Do you smell smoke?” queried Ben. He sniffed the air as acrid scent became stronger.

“Yes sir, I sure do,” answered Hoss, who at twelve looked to be more like fifteen.

“Oh, god, what’s he gotten into now?” groaned Adam, for he was positive he knew the source of the smoke and it wasn’t just fire.

“Now Adam, you don’t know where that’s coming from. Your brother isn’t reason for everything happening, you know,” admonished Ben. Although, he would only admit to himself that he’d had the same thoughts as well. It boggled the mind at how quickly the child went from one near disaster to another. Ben swore he could actually feel his hair turning grey. He was grateful it wasn’t falling out as well.

“Pa, you know you can’t turn your back on him for five minutes without something happening,” Adam answered, with a smile in his voice. Truth be told, the scamp was always keeping them on their toes and it certainly was never dull around the Ponderosa. He’d never forget the time that he’d managed to connive Hoss into believing that time stopped in the woods and nobody would ever know they had left the ranch house. They’d been missing for most of the day before he and Pa, frantic by this point, had found the younger brothers covered in mud and desperately trying to look innocent.

The three Cartwrights went out in search of the odor. As soon as they left the barn, they could see the smoke coming from behind the ranch house. Rounding the back of the house, they came upon a sight which stopped them in their tracks. There was Joe, calmly trying to put out a good sized fire. There was a trail of water from the kitchen to where Joe was standing and everyone knew their factotum would be furious if Joe had messed up his kitchen.

“Fire!” bellowed Adam. He turned to go looking for buckets and men with which to put out the fire.

“Joseph! Get away from there,” Ben yelled as he snatched his baby away from the flames.

“Hoss take your brother and go to the barn while we try and get this under control!”

Men came running with buckets and they set up a fire line, passing buckets of water from person to person. Soon, the fire was put out and there was quite a bit of damage to Hop Sing’s garden. Ben and Adam thanked the men for such quick action. After the hands left, the two went to the barn to find out from Joe what had happened.

“Joe,” called Ben. His young son came running up to him with his arms out to be picked up. He obligingly did this, as Hoss and Adam were too old to be cuddled like this but he could still get away with it from his baby.

“Now, can you tell Papa what happened back there,” asked Ben.

“Well, Papa, you remember telling me that you were going to show me how to make a fire…” started Joe with his explanation.

“Yes, I also remember telling you that you were too young and it would have to wait until you were older,” Ben stated with a frown.

“Well, you said that last week and now I’m older,” Joe stated emphatically in his child logic. It sounded perfectly reasonable to him.

“Are you telling me that you started the fire?” Adam asked incredulously. He knew his brother could come up with some bizarre reasons for doing things but this . . . was not what he had been expecting.

“It was only supposed to be a small one,” explained Joe. “I took some of Papa’s matches and built a small pile of leaves and sticks. I was doing real good until I dropped all those other matches in the fire.”

“Then what happened?” asked Hoss; it was getting close to supper time and he was hungry. He figured the sooner he wrapped this up, the sooner he could get some pie. Just the thought made his mouth water.

“Well, I didn’t get all of the other leaves away from the fire and it just sorta spread,” Joe said. He pretty sure he was going to be in trouble for this one. From the look on Papa’s face, he was sure he was going to get a “necessary talking to” in near future.

“Joe, you know you aren’t supposed to touch anything on my desk, don’t you? And you also know you aren’t supposed to mess with matches, don’t you? Now, I’m going to send your brother’s in for dinner while you and I have a talk,” Ben stated. He hated having to discipline his boys but Joe could have burnt the house down!

*****

As the memories washed over him, Adam decided it was time to keep his promise to Joe. That he would sing to him even after Joe was gone from this world. He also knew Joe would tell him to stop being such a worrywart and not let it bother him. For whatever reason, he couldn’t let this go. He had to do this. There was a burning need to do this for his brother. He couldn’t explain it. He just couldn’t wait until later. It had to be done now.

He felt bereft but, also, felt the pain being tempered as he recalled the many happy time he had shared with Joe and the rest of his family. He got up quickly in search of his guitar. He knew what he had to write, he just hoped he had it in him to put it to music the way he wanted. Hopefully, Joe wouldn’t be laughing at him from his perch in heaven as he watched his oldest brother trip over the coffee table in his haste.

Working diligently, he wrote what he hoped was a tribute to his beloved brother. He wished that he could see Joe’s face as he sang:

I’m so tired of being here
Suppressed by all my childish fears
And if you have to leave
I wish that you would just leave
‘Cause your presence still lingers here
And it won’t leave me alone

These wounds won’t seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There’s just too much that time cannot erase

When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears
When you’d scream I’d fight away all of your fears
And I held your hand through all of these years
But you still have
All of me

You used to captivate me
By your resonating light
Now I’m bound by the life you left behind
Your face it haunts
My once pleasant dreams
Your voice it chased away
All the sanity in me

These wounds won’t seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There’s just too much that time cannot erase

When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears
When you’d scream I’d fight away all of your fears
And I held your hand through all of these years
But you still
All of me

I’ve tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone
But though you’re still with me
I’ve been alone all along

When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears
When you’d scream I’d fight away all of your fears
And I held your hand through all of these years
But you still

All of me*

As he finished, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Adam looked up to see his father’s face with tears streaming, unchecked from his eyes. Adam felt as if he’d been hit in the stomach. He was now faced with telling his father what had happened. That he had killed Joe.

“Pa,” Adam began. “Pa . . . oh, god, Pa! He’s, he’s…” He finished on a sob. His heart ached with the news he was trying to impart to his father. He didn’t think he would ever be able to live with what he had done or, as he perceived, failed to do for his brother.

“Shh, son. I know, Hoss told me what happened. We met on the road and he filled me in on what’s been going on,” Ben tried to comfort his sobbing child, even in his own hour of grief. He turned to his large son and said, “Hoss, would you mind getting his bed ready? He’s out on his feet.”

“Sure, Pa. Do you think we should get the doc out here to see if he can get him to calm down,” inquired Hoss. He didn’t relish the thought of that quack being back in the house but he would get him if his Pa wanted him.

“No, let’s try and get him to sleep without any medicines,” Ben said after a moment. “It will be a much more healing sleep if he’s not medicated.”

Hoss nodded and went up the stairs to ready the room. He hesitated slightly at Joe’s door but continued on to Adam’s room. He got the bed ready, pulled out a nightshirt, and went to help Ben get Adam upstairs.

Adam felt himself being half carried to his bedroom and also felt hands getting him into his nightclothes. Finally, he was tucked in and he felt a warm hand on his forehead and a voice whispering in his ear. He couldn’t understand what was being said but knew it was his father. His heart swelled as he realized his father was trying to give him comfort and, with this knowledge, drifted off into slumber.

*****

With a start, Adam sat bolt upright in bed. His heart pounding, his breathing coming in short gasps, and he was covered in sweat. He briefly wondered if this was how Joe felt when woke up from his nightmares. And with that innocent thought, the truth hit him full-force. His brother was gone. He couldn’t shake the overwhelming guilt that dogged him at every turn.

Making a decision, he quickly threw the covers back and padded quietly to his younger brother’s room. He felt that he would try and find solace in the room that Joe had grown up in, that maybe he could be closer to his brother. He knew it was irrational but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he would be nearer to Joe there.

Opening the door, Adam stood in shock at what he saw. There, in the middle of disheveled bedding, was Joe, whole and alive. He could see the bandages on Joe but he was alive!  In shock, he made his way over to the bed and just stood looking down at the sleeping face. He could feel himself shaking in reaction to the vision before him.

“Joe,” Adam managed to get out. He reached his trembling hand out and touched the warm, living flesh. He gave a little shake. “Joe!” This time a bit more urgent.

“Wha . . .” Joe mumbled sleepily. “Go way, it’s not even light out!”

“Joe,” Adam whispered. “I…I had a dream. I had to see if you were alright.” Now that he’d said it, it sounded ridiculous. How could he explain to his brother than he’d been certain that Joe was dead? He still couldn’t believe he was talking with him.

Waking up at last, Joe looked at his usually stoic brother. Adam was pale, even in the moonlight, and was shaking. Alarmed, Joe sat up and urged Adam to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Are you okay?” asked Joe. “Do you need me to get Pa?” He was getting worried by the fact that Adam just kept staring at him like he’d seen a ghost.

“No! Sorry, no, I’ll be okay in a minute,” Adam replied. He sat there a minute and began gathering his thoughts about what he’d dreamed. Once he had everything straight in his mind, Adam began his tale.

Not one to be quiet, Joe sat in silence letting his brother tell the dream that had scared him so badly. He vaguely recalled that long ago promise of adventures on the high seas. He definitely remembered the talk he and Pa had over the fire incident. He was in a state of shock as he listened to his brother tell him about the need to write a song. He knew his brother played but he’d never known him to actually write something. Adam’s voice eventually fell away and the two sat in companionable silence for a time.

“Adam, I don’t know what to say,” Joe started. “That is the most beautiful song I’ve heard. I can’t believe you’d write something like that about me.”

Sighing, Adam looked at Joe. “I know we don’t always get along. Surely you have to know how I feel about you, Hoss, and Pa. You’re my family and nothing is more important to me than that. I still can’t believe that almost killed you!”

“You didn’t, though. You got me home and even got the bullet out. Not too many people would have been able to accomplish all of that. You didn’t even have the right equipment and, yet, here I am. On my way to being totally well and it’s all thanks to you, older brother,” Joe said with quiet certainty.

“But,” Adam started.

“But, nothing. There’s nothing to forgive . . . only yourself,” came the quiet wisdom from the younger of the two men.

Adam looked at his brother and realized that he was right. It had been an awful experience and one he didn’t ever want to repeat. The only bright side, if you could call it that, was the fact that he and Joe were closer than they had been in years.   He started to chuckle quietly.

“What’s so funny,” Joe wanted to know.

“Only with us would it take something like this to bring us together,” Adam said with quiet humor.

Smirking, Joe said, “I never do anything the easy way. Or have you forgotten that in your old age, brother?”

Laughing, Adam made to get up to leave and a hand on his arm stopped the movement. He looked at the owner of the hand.

“Thanks for everything. I love you, Adam,” Joe said, yawning.

“I love you too, buddy,” Adam whispered back.

***The End***

*“My Immortal” was written by Amy Lee and Evanescence. No infringement intended. I heard this song and thought it would be nice to try and work it into a fic. 

 

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