Summary: What Happened Next for the episode “Vengeance”*
Word Count: 2800
“Hoss, what’s the matter?” Adam Cartwright asked of his younger brother who sat quietly across from him.
It’d been two weeks since Red Twilight invaded the ranch and one week since Hoss had been allowed upright by Paul Martin; Joe was his happy self and Ben was relaxed and smiling.
Adam, relieved of the bandage about his head days before, was now experiencing single vision for a change – something he gave thanks for daily. It was very disconcerting talking to two of the same people and getting two echoing responses. His dizziness had retreated as well, and only remnants of a headache reared its head off and on throughout the day. He was on the mend. And none too soon. Tomorrow the trial would start and, he hoped, Red would be off to jail or the hangman’s noose. Everything had returned to normal . . . everything that is except Hoss.
“Nothin’,” came his answer, the same answer he always gave and it was beginning to drive Adam crazy.
Fingers quickly found the healing depression on the side of his head and Adam’s thoughts traveled back to what happened the day a bullet nearly ended his life, about what had gone through his mind the moment he’d found himself facing down Red’s gun and all that could’ve been lost.
“Yer thinkin’ on it again, ain’t ya?” Hoss asked, the words taking a moment to seep into Adam’s brain and pull him back to the present.
“Yer thinkin’ on it…on what happened with Red.”
Adam narrowed his eyes. “How did you know?”
“’Cause ya always run yer finger over yer scar and get that faraway look in them eyes of your’n.”
Quickly pulling his hand from his head like he’d been caught sneaking cookies, Adam closed the book in his lap and sat up a bit straighter in his chair.
“Ya was, wasn’t ya?”
Adam met his brother’s look with a raised brow. “It’s only been three weeks, Hoss, and you know how I am. I dwell on everything.” He’d hoped to put something like a smile on his brother’s face and wasn’t disappointed.
“Well, that’s fer true. I ain’t seen no one think a problem ta death like you.”
Adam answered with a smirk and a nod of the head. “True, very true.” Knowing he would have to pull any information from Hoss, he decided now was the best time. “If you’re going to make me guess what the problem is, let’s start with the obvious. Red’s trial starts tomorrow and you’re worried he’s going to get off.”
Hoss shook his head. “Naw. Miss Mary’s testimony should take care ‘o that.”
“Okay… how about you’re worried your shoulder isn’t going to be sound enough for you to head up the cattle drive next month?”
Hoss’ brows flew up. “Dang! I hadn’t thought on that.”
Oh crap! Shouldn’t’ve said anything.
“It’ll be fine so don’t worry,” Adam hastily added. “Ah, how about Pa’s birthday present? You ordered that new saddle two months ago and it hasn’t arrived yet.”
“Damn! I forgot about that, too!”
I did it again!
“Well, then I’ve run out of ideas!” Adam said, exasperation filling his voice. Tossing his book onto the coffee table, he clasped his hands together and drilled his brother with a glare. “There’s something wrong, Hoss, and I want to help because I think I might be the problem.”
“I catch you staring at me and you look away. That means I’ve done something, so out with it! And if you say there’s nothing wrong, I’m gonna come over there and beat it outta you!”
Hoss stood then and Adam quickly followed suit, consciously leaning towards the front door. He was pretty sure he could make it to the safety of the yard before Hoss since he was still recovering but he wasn’t going to leave it to chance. He knew how fast his brother could move when he wanted too.
But Hoss stayed put, stuffing his right hand in his pocket and turning toward the darkened fireplace, heaving a heavy sigh. Deciding he wouldn’t have to hightail it out of the house after all, Adam relaxed and sat on the table, planting his feet on the hearth, and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.
“I’m sorry,” came his brother’s voice barely above a whisper.
Inwardly Adam groaned, recalling a similar statement from his father some days before. Well, at least he knew Hoss was suffering from the same thing his family was – a case of the guilts. He might as well ask the question. “For what?”
“For what?” Hoss repeated looking upon his brother perched on the table. “For bringin’ all this down on ya,” he answered pointing at his brother’s head. “For almost gettin’ ya killed that’s what.”
Adam couldn’t take it anymore. “Oh, for pete’s sake!” he said shooting to his feet. “Does everyone in this family think they pulled the trigger?!”
Hoss’ eyes grew wide. “Adam, I…” he fumbled.
“I suppose Hop Sing thinks he shot me, too, huh?!”
“No, Mister Adam,” came Hop Sing’s answer as he placed a tray of cookies and milk on the table behind him. “Me no have anything to do with that. Eat cookies.” Quickly, he scurried from the room as the brothers looked after him.
The burst of frustration leaving him in a flash, Adam plopped back down on the table. “Well, at least he doesn’t think he shot me,” he said with a sigh. Hoss settled next to his brother, catching the heartfelt gaze Adam cast upon him. “And neither did you or Joe or Pa,” he finished. “Red Twilight shot me.”
“But if’n I hadn’t ki…”
“You-didn’t-kill-Willie,” Adam interrupted, enunciating each word. “Get that out of your head. It was an accident. You shoving him had nothing to do with his death.”
“But he’s still dead, Adam.”
“Maybe so but you didn’t do it. You heard Mary. He had a bad heart, he’d taken up drinking and picking fights. He had a death wish. Unfortunately, you happened to be there when he died. But, Hoss, it wasn’t your fault. You can’t go on blaming yourself for something you didn’t do.”
“It ain’t that easy, Adam. It was my hands that shoved him. I know that just an itty bitty shove from me can send you across the room. Willie was half Joe’s size.” Hoss held up his hands. “He popped his head against the column then dropped ta the ground. These hands did that.”
Adam quickly grabbed them. “These are the hands of a gentle man. Big as they are, they can hold a newborn kitten as carefully as mine; they bring love and life to those less fortunate; and they belong to my brother who I know would never intentionally hurt a living creature, human or otherwise. You are a tender soul, Hoss. I know that because of the guilt you feel for something that wasn’t even your fault.”
Hoss slowly pulled his hands from his brother’s and stared down at the floor. “That may be . . . but Willie still died.” Adam laid a hand on Hoss’ shoulder and squeezed. “And, because ‘o that Red came gunnin’ fer me. That I don’t mind ‘cause I cain’t say I wouldn’t’ve done the same. But he went after you and that ain’t right.”
“He’s a murderer, Hoss. He shot down Tandy1 without a second thought.”
“And besides . . . it was my fault I was shot.”
Hoss turned a perplexed look toward his brother. “How can gettin’ shot in yer own home be yer fault?”
“It was my own stupidity that put me in that situation.”
“Think about it, Hoss,” Adam began. “The latch on the front door makes a noise. That’s what tipped off Red. He had the drop on me from the get-go. I just got lucky he didn’t kill me. I might not be so lucky next time.”
“Maybe next time ya’ll come through the kitchen,” Hoss gave him as Adam nodded.
“Let’s hope there isn’t a next time.”
Hoss looked at his brother then, saw something in those dark eyes and wondered if he felt a little of that guilt the whole family was passing around.
“Ya told me ya looked down Red’s barrel and knew yer number was up,” Hoss started as Adam nodded.
“Had me dead to rights,” he admitted.
“What did ya think about right at that moment when ya thought ya was a goner?”
Adam gave him a small smile. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Shoot, Adam, I already do.”
They both chuckled at the comment, then Adam quickly sobered as fields of wild lavender and bluebonnets and marigolds filled his head.
“I thought of you and me and Pa crossing the plains on our way to Nevada, thought of all the flowers and fish and flocks of birds we’d seen, all the people we’d met and left behind, and how sad I was to be leaving you and Joe and Pa. It’s amazing what comes to mind, how disjointed and unimportant they seem at the time but when you look back, they mean everything.” He paused a moment, the smile slowly leaving his face, his voice becoming quiet. “And the hardest memory to face was your mama.”
Adam barely nodded resting his chin on his hand. “I thought about…about how I’d failed her, failed to protect her son like I’d promised.”
“That moment hurt the most.”
Hoss watched his brother, watched the pain flicker across his face.
“I knew she couldn’t hear me when I whispered my vow in her ear right before they buried her, but I could and I took it to heart. It was the last thing I could do for her.” He turned toward Hoss. “You were my responsibility from the minute you took your first breath until I took my last. I was so hoping Joe would do what I couldn’t.”
“He did,” Hoss said with a toothy grin. “He beat the tar outta Red.”
“Yes he did,” Adam smiled back. “And he almost did something else, too.”
“I know and that worried me somethin’ awful,” Hoss agreed. “I tried ta tell Pa but the words just wasn’t there. I couldn’t let that boy ruin his life but I could hardly move. I didn’t even know you was in the house so all’s I could think about was Joe.”
“It’s all right, Hoss.”
“No, no it ain’t, Adam. Ya cain’t always be the one that no one worries about. I don’t care that yer the oldest. Shouldn’t matter,” Hoss quickly added when he saw Adam open his mouth to protest then quickly shut it when he found himself on the receiving end of a Hoss glare. “When I came out ta the barn, I saw ya, I spoke ta ya but I was just so darned relieved Joe hadn’t killed Red, I weren’t worried about you. Yer always thinkin’ straight.”
“Let’s see…” Adam began rubbing his hands together. “How about Regina Darien2 or Frederick Kyle3 …or Sam Bryant4,” he said looking into the fireplace as Hoss shook his head.
“Cain’t include Sam Bryant in that group. You was one of the few that kept yer head that night. Them others, well, no one can think straight when their heart’s all a flutter and their dander’s up. It’s just that yer always keepin’ things together, keepin’ all ‘o us goin’ whether we want too or not. Ya kept us together when Joe’s mama died and Pa just wasn’t hisself.”
“But this time I nearly got myself killed…”
“Doin’ what’cha do – takin’ care ‘o us. And we didn’t take care ‘o you, plain and simple.”
“Ya might be able ta change my mind about Willie,” Hoss began, heat entering his words, “but yer never gonna change my mind about not seein’ yer bloody face or not knowin’ you was hurt ‘til ya hit the floor. We all share in that bit ‘o guilt, Adam. Ya ain’t no stranger. Yer our brother and son and we love ya. And I want ta apologize so just let me!”
Adam watched his brother’s face burn with anger and knew he didn’t have a choice. In the long run, it didn’t really matter if hethought no one should have guilt, they did and if he was the only way out for that guilt…then so be it.
“Go ahead,” he said, seeing that anger melt away.
“All right then,” Hoss nodded then peered into his brother’s face. “I’m sorry that my…accident with Willie brought Red down upon ya and I’m sorry that I didn’t see ya was hurt at the barn. Won’t never happen again.”
“Never?” Adam grinned.
“Never, big brother,” Hoss answered with a smile as he slapped his brother on the leg. “I’ll be askin’ if’n ya feel alright when ya gotta hangnail.”
“Oh, please don’t,” Adam laughed as Hoss joined in.
“I will and ya know it.”
“I do,” Adam answered with a nod, his eyes never leaving his brother’s face, so happy he was still around to worry about his brothers. “I accept your apology, little brother,” he gave him, a seriousness shading his face. “Don’t ever let it happen again.”
“Yessir,” Hoss answered, pulling Adam into a one-handed hug that was returned gratefully. Hoss released his brother and they both peered into the fireplace, comfortable in the silence.
Adam so hoped this was the last of the guilt talks because he just didn’t have the energy for anymore and, since Hop Sing wasn’t playing – thank goodness – he was pretty sure he was off that play-list at last. It’s not that he didn’t appreciate the love his family had for him; it was just that enough was enough!
The Grandfather clock chimed off the hour as Adam spied Hop Sing closing the dining room shutters for the evening, surprised at the hour.
“You know,” he began drawing Hoss’ attention. “I’m thinking you better be getting yourself off to bed, little brother. We’ve got to get up early for court tomorrow and you know Pa’s due home right about… now.” As if on cue, hoofbeats arose from the yard and Hoss moved hastily to his feet.
“He did say I was supposed ta be restin’, didn’t he?”
“In bed, if I remember correctly,” Adam added with a half smile, reaching for his book lying on the table. “Hurry. I’ll cover.”
Quickly retaking his seat in the blue chair, Adam cast a glance at his brother moving hurriedly up the stairs, hearing his door close just as the front door opened onto his father and younger brother.
“Hey, Pa, Joe,” Adam called, innocence shining from his face as he opened his book. “Hop Sing left some dinner for you on the stove,” he finished absently.
Joe’s eyes moved from Adam, whose long legs stretched out on the table, to the cookies and milk at the other end and shook his head. “Would you look at this, Pa,” he began as he sauntered over to the table. “We’ve been out working hard and this one’s sitting here eating all the cookies.”
“Oh, geez,” Adam said as he shut his book and jumped to his feet, whipping the plate out from under Joe’s reaching hand. “I was supposed to take those up to Hoss. Bedtime snack.” Adam smiled sweetly at his younger brother and headed for the stairs just as his father piped up.
“He take it easy today, Adam?” Ben called making him stop on the landing.
“Nice and slow, just like Paul wanted,” Adam explained, then started up again as Ben nodded. “Oh, don’t forget we have to go to court in the morning so don’t stay up too late. ‘Night,” he threw over his shoulder as he hurried the rest of the way up.
Ben followed the sound of Adam’s progress as he disappeared from sight, leaning forward on the banister to hear laughter coming his way as a door opened and closed.
“Why’re you smiling, Pa?” Joe asked, seeing a happy grin creep onto his father’s face.
“It’s just nice to have all of you with me and in one piece for a change.” Ben clasped Joe’s shoulder, steering him toward the kitchen. “Now let’s go see if Hop Sing has any more cookies.”
1Ponderosa hand Red killed in the yard in the episode “Vengeance” (I never knew his name.)
2Regina Darien from the episode “The Hopefuls”
3Frederick Kyle from the episode “A House Divided”
4Sam Bryant from the episode “Death at Dawn”
*Vengeance, written by Marion Parsonett. The storyline of this episode is used within this fictional piece.
Author’s Note: The idea for this story was based on a review I received by “Rairo” on my previous story ‘A Moment Lost (WHN Vengeance)’. Thanks!