Summary: What Happened Next for the episode “Vengeance” Author’s Note: The idea for this story was based on a review I received by Marianne on my previous story ‘A Moment (WHN Vengeance). Thanks!
Word Count: 4300
“Mr. Cartwright!” Mary yelled from below. “Mr. Cartwright!” she repeated quickly kneeling next to Adam’s still form as he lay sprawled facedown on the floor of the great room. Joe promptly turned at her call and stopped on the landing.
“Don’t stop, Joe,” Ben warned. “Hoss has to get back to bed.”
“Pa,” Joe called holding fast to his bigger brother until Ben finally turned an annoyed glance toward his youngest.
“What?” came the flinty question. Joe inclined his head and Ben’s brow furrowed in question.
“Adam,” was all Joe said,
Ben finally followed his look and immediately sucked in a breath at the sight below. “What happened?” he asked, instantly letting go of Hoss’ arm to start back down the stairs two at a time, quickly kneeling next to his fallen son and planting a hand firmly on his back.
“Red shot him,” Joe informed him as Hoss grasped the railing for support.
“What?!” Ben’s mind obviously wasn’t functioning for he couldn’t comprehend what his youngest was telling him. Adam had been standing at the barn. He’d seen him.
“Red shot him, Pa,” Joe repeated, “before I could get to him. For a moment I thought he was dead.”
Ben shot a look back to his youngest then tenderly took hold of Adam’s shoulder and gently turned him onto his back, wincing at the blood oozing down his boy’s face and neck and onto his shirt. “I didn’t know he was . . .” He stopped himself, unable to announce to the world that he’d not even noticed his son was hurt.
“I didn’t see him fall,” Mary admitted, maneuvering Adam’s head into her lap and using her kerchief to stem the flow of blood. “I just heard a thud and he was on the floor.”
Ben didn’t hear her as he leaned in close. “Adam? Son, can you hear me?” he called, seeing Adam’s mouth open as his son took in a breath followed by a glazed look through half-opened eyes. Ben gave him a reassuring smile and lightly placed a hand against his cheek. Slowly a corner of Adam’s mouth barely turned up just before his eyes slipped shut again, his head resting against his father’s comforting hand that trembled with shame. “How could I not notice?” he whispered as the smile left his face, each word laced with sorrow.
“Pa, don’t . . .”
“Don’t what, Joseph?” Ben answered, looking up at the two still standing on the landing. “I looked right at him and didn’t see. How could I not see that my own son had been shot?”
“It was me, Pa,” Hoss gave him, “me and Joe you was worried about the most. Adam . . . well, Adam’s always taken care o’ things. No reason not ta think this wouldn’t be the same.”
“And he did take care of things,” Joe added. “He stopped me from killing Red.”
“Maybe so,” Ben answered holding tightly to Adam’s arm as if he would disappear. “That doesn’t change this.”
“I looked right at ‘im, too, Pa,” Hoss sadly admitted. “I saw my big brother with a smile on his face and worry in his eyes for us both. I saw nothin’ else.” He bowed his head and suddenly clutched Joe’s arm a bit harder. “Shortshanks . . .”
Joe’s head snapped about at the tone, seeing sweat pop out on Hoss’ forehead, and held on tighter himself. “I gotcha,” he answered helping his brother the rest of the way up the stairs and toward his room.
“We should send someone for the doctor,” Mary stated looking at Ben’s anguished face. “Mr. Cartwright, Adam needs a doctor.”
Pulling his eyes from his son’s face, Ben looked at her, his world finally coming back into focus. “Where’s my head?” he admonished himself leaping to his feet. “Keep watch. I’ll be back.”
Rushing out the door, he raced for Buck. If he could catch the deputy . . .
“Well, he’s got a concussion,” Paul Martin began as he began unrolling his sleeves, “and a nice new part to his hair.” He smiled then, always happy to impart a bit of humor when the news he delivered wasn’t life-threatening, and turned to Ben and Joe, realizing his quip hadn’t actually reached them. He exchanged glances with Hop Sing, who merely shrugged.
The good doctor’s evening had started out nice enough as he’d sat down to his first quiet meal of the week. Slapping open the Territorial Enterprise and lifting the first spoonful of soup to his mouth, he heard the frantic rapping at his front door begin . . . and the soup was forgotten. Something had happened at the Ponderosa and he was needed. As he eased old Barney out of his stall and quickly buckled on the harness, he wondered about these friends of his and how they always seemed to be getting themselves into some kind of trouble, whether they looked for it or not. Ah, well, he had to check on Hoss anyway.
And now it was a couple of hours later and the Cartwright boys were not in any danger . . . at least not at this hour. Snapping his bag shut, the doctor pulled his coat from the bedpost and slipped into it, looking at both Ben and Joe and knowing they were barely aware he was in the room. Something else was going on. He’d just ask Hoss.
Paul turned to Hop Sing. “The wound is deep,” he continued, “but not as serious as I originally thought. Just make sure you change the bandages twice a day for the first couple of days and make sure he drinks plenty of water and gets enough to eat.”
“He eat and drink,” Hop Sing agreed.
“Good man,” Paul answered with a grin as he caught Joe finally looking at him.
“Did he wake up at all?” Joe asked.
“For about two groggy minutes, enough time for me to guarantee that his brains weren’t too scrambled. I’m sure he won’t even remember I was here.”
“But he’ll be all right?” finally came from Ben, his hand resting on Adam’s foot as he watched him sleep.
Paul nodded. “Yes, Ben. He’s got that hard Cartwright head. Something like a bullet won’t keep him down for long, which means you other Cartwright’s will have to make sure he stays in bed. A couple of day’s rest should reduce any double vision he may have; after three days, he should be able to walk a straight line with some help.” He shifted his attention back to Hop Sing. “I’ve left some headache and sleeping powders. He’ll probably want one or both when he wakes up.”
“Thank you, Doctor Paul,” the cook answered as Paul turned back to Ben.
“There’s nothing else you need to tell me?”
“What?” Ben said absently.
“Is there something else?”
Ben finally looked at Paul as if just noticing he was in the room. “Ah, no, no nothing.”
Ben just shook his head.
“Okay.” Picking up his bag, the doctor headed toward the door. “I’m going to check on Hoss, Hop Sing.”
“I right behind you.”
“You should go with them, Joe,” Ben said as he moved to sit in the big overstuffed chair near the bed.
“Pa, I . . .”
“Go on,” Ben insisted. “I’ll sit with your brother awhile.”
Hesitating, Joe’s eyes moved from father to brother, wishing Adam was awake. He needed to speak with him, needed to thank him.
“All right,” Joe finally answered and headed for the door, looking back a final time before quietly exiting.
Ben didn’t even hear him go, too busy listening to his own inner voice placing blame as he stared at his injured son.
When he’d left Adam on the floor, Ben had ridden like the devil was after him, catching up to the deputy only ten minutes later, returning to find Adam draped in the Indian blanket, Joe and Mary wrapping a makeshift bandage about his wound.
He’d felt so helpless . . . he always felt helpless when one of his son’s was hurt, always began questioning the wisdom of settling in this wild country. ‘Stop it, Pa’ came to him in the tone of a miffed older son and he rubbed his neck. Just hearing Adam’s voice in his head reminded him of his tunnel vision and he pounded his leg with the flat of his hand.
How could I only see Joe and Hoss? How could I not notice blood streaming down your face?
Leaning toward the bed, Ben picked up Adam’s hand and ran his fingers along the back of it, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on that face that looked so pale and vulnerable, trying to ignore the bright white bandage that encircled his head.
“You’re going to be fine, son,” he began with a weak smile planted on his face like some party mask, its intention of relief and comfort not reaching his own heart let alone his sad eyes. “Probably have a whopping headache when you wake up but you’ll be fine after a few days. Um, Joe told me what happened . . . in the barn. I was so worried he was going to . . .” Shaking his head, Ben replaced Adam’s hand on the bed, patted it then straightened out the bedcovers around it, returning nervous hands to his lap to fidget with his pants.
“Hoss is fine,” he continued, “and Joe, well, he’ll be fine, too. You should’ve seen us trying to get you up the stairs though. I think you might have some bruises in some odd places.” The words were hollow and Ben sat up straighter and cleared his throat.
Why was this is so difficult? It wasn’t like those hazel eyes were drilling into him, pinning him down with their intensity. Adam was asleep, lost in slumber and away from a father who ignored him . . .
Ben’s hand quickly moved to his brow as he tried to rub away his thoughtlessness. He hadn’t seen anything but Hoss, then Joe, and was so relieved that Red was still alive. Adam was standing and speaking . . . and then he was on the floor. Cursing, he sprung out of the chair and moved toward the window, turning angry eyes to the darkening heavens above as he plunged hands into his front pockets.
Thankfully, this dreadful day was drawing to a close, the setting sun sending streaks of gold racing across the sky as it ran from the darkness that would soon envelope it. Such beauty splashed before him should have brought peace and would have if not for an unconscious son behind him. Rubbing his face, Ben had to remember it was a good thing Adam slept soundly in his own bed and not at the undertaker’s — that all his boys were in their own beds — and he knew tomorrow would be a better day because of that very fact. Of course it would depend on whether or not he could face this son with anything other than regret.
“I’m so sorry, Adam,” Ben finally uttered, burying his face in trembling hands, then stomped his foot and wiped away the tears burning his eyes. “This is ridiculous,” he muttered, taking a deep breath and turning to face his boy, moving to sit on the side of the bed.
“I was so consumed with fear,” he began as he ran a hand over Adam’s stubbled cheek, “that Joe was going to do something he’d regret that when I saw the deputy dragging Red out of the barn, my relief . . . well . . . that’s all I saw. I barely registered you standing there, barely heard your voice. God help me, I don’t even remember what you said.” He rubbed his face again. “It’s all such a blur. What could’ve possessed me?”
Whoever said confession was good for the soul didn’t know what the hell they were talking about!
“Then you were on the floor,” he continued, looking back toward the window, chewing on his lower lip. “I didn’t even hear Mary call out. What’s the matter with me? How could I not have seen?”
“Because Adam’s always taken care of things,” Paul answered for him as he walked back into the room to lean against the bedpost. Ben looked toward his friend who held his gaze with a tender smile. Hoss was a good talker. “And Joe has always been the one to fly off half-cocked. You don’t have to watch Adam like you do Joe.”
“But there was blood, Paul,” Ben stated. “As I think back, I must’ve seen it.”
“You saw it but it didn’t register.” Paul could see the anguish on his friend’s face, knowing now where it was coming from. “Ben, you’ve had a hellish week. Your mind’s been with Hoss then Joe.”
“And never with Adam,” Ben sighed. “Never with Adam.”
Paul sighed too. He’d tried and knew nothing he said would make a difference. Only Adam could make a difference. “Ben, just be grateful that all your boys were here and looked after each other. That’s all that really matters.” He patted his shoulder. “Try and get some sleep. I’ll be back in the morning.”
A somber Ben moved off the bed and returned to the chair, plopping heavily into it. Propping his head on his hand, he thought on what Paul had said.
The boys had been here for each other as they always were, and because of it, Hoss and Adam hadn’t been killed and Joe hadn’t fulfilled his promise to his brother. They’d succeeded. And yet, only fault and uncertainty filled him. Once again, he’d taken Adam for granted, dismissed him like he didn’t exist and now he’d been shot and was in bed. Ben laid back his head and groaned.
“What kind of a father am I?”
There it was again. Adam was sure he’d seen it this time – a familiar shadow moving hurriedly past his door. At least he thought it was a shadow. For all he knew, it could just be a figment of his imagination, an imagination that was doing double duty these last couple of days as in everything came at him in two’s. He only remembered one Joe the day before but then he wasn’t really all there at the time.
There . . . a sigh. Unless his hearing had also been affected along with his vision, that sounded real enough and he decided to throw caution to the wind. If no one was really there, no one would know he was talking to a figment.
“Pa, is that you?”
The shadow moved then, he was sure of it this time, coalescing into the familiar figure of his father coming towards him.
Aha! I was right!
Adam sat up a bit straighter, grabbing the bedcovers for just a moment to steady himself, then draped a faint grin across his mouth, hoping it would clear away any vestiges of the hammers pounding away in his head. As Ben approached, he tried to catch his eyes. The task proved difficult at best.
You’d think with two of him standing, there one of them would look at me.
“Yes, son?” came the weary question, interrupting Adam’s meandering thoughts. There was that sigh again.
“I haven’t seen you in almost two days, Pa . . . at least I think it’s been two days. Do I smell or something?” Adam joked, hoping to put something on that haggard face besides a frown. It didn’t work.
“Of course not,” came the strained answer.
Adam squinted then, trying to focus on one of those faces before him, catching something familiar and pursed his lips. “What’s the matter, Pa?”
“Nothing,” came the rapid answer.
“Nothing, huh? Pa, you’re standing in this room but you’re not actually here. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Ben fiddled with the bedpost then walked to the window gazing out into the night as he’d done two nights before. Thousands of stars graced the dark sky, shining down upon the earth like diamonds as crickets made it known this wouldn’t be a silent night. And it did nothing to sooth him.
“It’s not Hoss is it?” came Adam’s worried question.
“No, no, he’s fine.”
“Joe? He seemed okay yesterday.”
“Then what is it?”
How do I admit that he was forgotten, dismissed, tossed away, while feelings for someone else interfered?
Adam patiently waited. Of course, that was about all he could do since the powders Paul left behind seemed to slow everything down. It suddenly reminded him of those moments when he’d faced Red’s gun and shrugged it off. He had to concentrate as best he could since something was up and he just needed to know. He dragged his lethargic attention back to Ben as his father cleared his throat.
“I want to . . . apologize, son,” Ben finally managed, fingers playing with the curtain.
Ah oh, he’s got me at a disadvantage here. Well, sound halfway intelligent.
“For what?” Adam asked, hoping his tone didn’t indicate that he was totally befuddled, trying desperately to remember what Ben had done. It wore him out.
“For what,” Ben repeated with a slight laugh.
Okay, now Adam was completely confused and not just from his concussion. Not only was he uncertain which father to look at, but the little hammers in his head were beginning to pound way too loud for his liking, not to mention how the room would shift into a nauseating swoop and whirl every so often, making his stomach lurch up toward his throat. So with eyes tightly shut, he leaned back against his headboard, one hand at his temple and the other clutched across his stomach, and was pretty sure of one thing – he didn’t need any more confusion.
“Pa,” Adam began in a strained voice, “if you plan on standing here all night and making any less sense than you already do, would you at least mix up some of Paul’s medicine in that water for me?”
“What?” Ben asked turning to see his boy in obvious discomfort and quickly reached for a packet of powder and a waiting water glass. “Of course, son. Here,” he said, handing it to Adam. The strong grip that caught his hand forced him to look up.
“Talk to me.”
There were those hazel eyes and they burned into Ben, catching him like a fish on a hook. There was no way out of it now. As Ben dropped into the chair, Adam released him, watching his father brush back his silver hair and let go with another heavy sigh.
“I didn’t see . . .” Ben faltered, making Adam furrow his brow which then caused him to grimace at the pain that caused and close his eyes again. He felt a hand on his leg and nodded.
“Go on,” Adam urged, rubbing his forehead as he drank half the glass.
“I, ah, I didn’t see that you were hurt . . . in the barn. All I . . . all I saw was . . .”
Adam opened his eyes when Ben didn’t continue, a half smile decorating his face. “All you saw was Joe,” he supplied, downing the rest of the concoction. Ben nodded. “And you feel guilty about it don’t you?” Ben nodded again. “And why am I not surprised?”
It was then Ben fully expected to see much deserved disappointment on display. Instead all he saw was compassion and understanding followed by a low chuckle. A chuckle!
“Adam,” Ben began sitting ramrod straight in the chair, confusion on his face. “I didn’t see you. I saw only Hoss then Joe. It was like you weren’t even there. How can you laugh?”
“Because I know you, Pa,” Adam said through a smile. “You didn’t do it on purpose. I didn’t even notice I was bleeding ‘til just before I decided to check out the floor up close. Then I was just happy it was over and I knew you’d take care of things and I was off the hook. It’s not easy wrestling with my little brother’s emotions and I was worn out.”
“But I should’ve seen it,” Ben continued not willing to be released from his guilt so easily. “I’m a father, damnit! I’m supposed to see these things!”
Adam reached out, Ben taking his searching hand in his own. “Pa, think of what you’ve gone through this week. Hoss was shot in the back and nearly died, then Joe at his hot-headed best was bound and determined to kill Red, and you were being pulled from front to back. I saw the relief on your face when Red was dragged from the barn; I knew what you were thinking – thank God Joe didn’t kill him. I was thinking that, too. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“But it was you, Adam. Joe told me it was you who stopped him.”
Adam just shrugged. “I reminded Joe of a few things is all. He did the rest.”
Ben knew what Adam had done, knew how thankful Joe was that he’d been there, how’d he’d saved Joe from making the biggest mistake of his life, and he didn’t want any credit. How typical.
“All that matters now is that those moments are behind us and we can move forward.”
“But that’s just it,” Ben tried to explain. “Of those moments, I’ve lost a most precious one – you, and for that I’m sorry. Of all the things I could do to you, ignoring you shouldn’t be one of them.”
“Truth be told, I’m not fond of being ignored either,” Adam said with a smirk, thinking he saw a bit of one – or two – appear on his father’s face. “Think of it as a momentary lapse. Caught up in the moment, you lost track of things but then quickly picked up the pieces. I’m just happy to take a few days off and let my younger brother do all the work for a change.”
“I heard that,” floated in as Joe walked past, an empty tray in hand, drawing a snicker from Adam followed by a hissing breath as a heavy hammer fell behind his eyes forcing him to ease back down to his pillow. Ben took the empty glass from him before he dropped it.
“If what you’re looking for,” Adam continued turning a squinty look back to Ben, “is an acceptance of your apology . . . then you are forgiven.”
“Easy as that?” Ben finally asked as he eased the covers up to Adam’s shoulders, cracking a bit of a smile that his son returned.
“Easy as that,” Adam answered, letting loose a breath and closing his eyes. “Now, if you don’t mind, your ‘lost moment’ would like to get some shuteye before these hammers in my head decide to build something bigger.”
“Of course, son,” Ben answered with a quiet laugh, holding the back of his hand against Adam’s cheek.
“Goodnight, Pa,” were his final words as Adam leaned into his father’s hand, Ben leaving it to rest there until his boys’ breaths deepened into sleep. Leaning over, he blew out the lamp, dousing the room in darkness tempered only by the faint aura of light provided by the bright stars shining through the window.
“Goodnight, son,” Ben whispered, brushing his hand down Adam’s arm and moving to the foot of the bed, taking a moment to think on how lucky he was to have been blessed with such fine sons, and cast a glance heavenward. Without those three women, none of his boys would be here, and, even though he felt he’d stumbled, he’d been forgiven and that lost moment had been regained.
Ben smiled then, truly smiled, and headed out, leaving Adam’s door ajar, and stopped at the top of the stairs. He fixed his eyes on the wall next to the Grandfather clock to the place where his oldest could have died at the hands of Red Twilight if time or fate hadn’t intervened; outside was the barn where his youngest saved himself and his middle boy . . . well, he’d managed to surprise them all by surviving in body and soul. How very lucky they’d been.
“Mr. Adam asleep?” came Hop Sing’s voice from below drawing Ben’s wayward attention.
“Yes. He’s down for the night.”
“Good. He saw only two of me today. He getting better.”
“Hop Sing! I can’t find the cookies!” Joe called from the kitchen as their cook rolled his eyes. “Hoss wants some before bed.”
“Mr. Hoss get no more cookies. Warm milk only,” came his exasperated cry.
“You tell him then. I’m not going back up there without at least one cookie.”
A flurry of Cantonese flew through the room as Hop Sing darted back toward the kitchen and Ben shook his head.
A moment he thought lost had been regained by a simple acceptance of an apology. He’d dwell on the thoughts he still harbored no longer than it took him to walk down the stairs, sit in his chair and light his pipe. True, they would always linger in the background but Adam wouldn’t want him to worry about it. Joe and Hoss would tell him the same thing. They’d tell him to think on what he still had.
And, yes, he had many things in this life. A beautiful home on beautiful land, respect and friends, and he had the thing that bound him to this earth – three miraculous sons who carried the Cartwright name with honor and trust.
Yes, he was truly blessed.