Into The Father’s Arms (by Nancy)

Summary:
Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  9450


She sat at the kitchen table desperately searching the bible for answers.  When was it going to be enough?   Her mind screamed out to God.  Wasn’t it enough that she had to watch as narrow- minded people treated her son like he was worse than dirt?  Wasn’t it enough that she had to watch as her six-year-old son fell asleep at the supper table after a hard day working in the mine, because they needed the money?  Wasn’t it enough that she had to wipe away his tears when Adults and children called him names that he did not understand?   Wasn’t it enough that she had to patch him up after a fight he got into defending her?  Wasn’t it enough that he ran away at thirteen to join the army?  Wasn’t it enough when he came back six months ago physically beaten, starved and very sick?

The mother’s frantic search for answers was interrupted by the screams coming from her son’s room.  In frustration she threw the Book across the kitchen as she stood and went to her son.  As she entered the room she saw him sitting up in bed.  His face was a mask of horror and hate as he swore at some unseen enemy.

“Is this enough!”  The furious mother yelled at God as she pointed to her child trapped in the torments of a nightmare.  “Is this enough to pay for my sin.”  She went quietly to her young son’s side and softly talked to him.

Finally her voice registered in his mind and he awoke.  She went to put her arms around him, but he pulled away from her touch.  He sat on the bed with his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them.  He rocked himself back and forth as he fought to regain control.  He wouldn’t look at her.  He just stared at the foot of the bed.  As she sat watching her emotionally tortured son she thought of the past six months.

Even though her son had healed physically, mentally and emotionally he was still wounded.  Ever since his return from the war he was plagued by nightmares.  Even during the day she would see him slip back in time as that place of horrors trapped him once again.  He never talked about it.  Actually he did not talk much at all since his returned.  He would answer when spoken to, but his answers were always short and to the point.  He never started a conversation and his silence usually ended them.

He would spend his days working at the livery stable.  His time with the animals seemed to calm him.  On days when he could not go to the stable he was more agitated and the dreams more intense.  The woman had even found him curled up in the stall of a horse sleeping on more than one occasion.  She got him a puppy, which also seemed to help.

The mother also worried about her blond son’s health.  He hardly ate and was way too skinny for a boy his age.  At meals she would encourage him to eat, which he did, she believe only to please her.  If she did not say anything he would just push the food around on his plate.

When Leah looked into her son’s dark blue eyes that once shone with life she saw that they were empty, almost dead.  Each day she watched her son sink deeper and deeper into himself.  She was afraid that she was losing him and she did not know what to do to stop it.  If something didn’t snap him out of it and soon she was afraid he would die.

“Oh God!  Please help your precious child.  It wasn’t his fault.  He should not be punished for what I did.  He is in your hands now Lord.  What ever be thy will let it be done.  Amen.”  The desperate mother prayed as she surrendered her son’s fate completely to God.  She sat in a chair by her son and rested her arms on his bed.  She buried her face in her arms and wept.  She fell asleep in this position and when she awoke he was gone.

*****

Heath sat on the bed fighting the fiery rage that burned deep inside of him.  Ever since his release from Carterson He felt as if he was sitting on a powder keg that was about to explode and it terrified him.  There were times he wanted to strike out and hurt someone as much as he hurt.  There were times he almost did, but he always managed to keep the rage under control.  He wondered for how long he would be its master.  When would it finally break free and consume him.  He feared that when that happened he would hurt those who were around him.  He made a vow to himself that when he no longer could control the rage he would destroy it before it hurt anyone else.  But today he won the battle and the rage went meekly back into its cage.

Heath looked over to where his mother lay sleeping by his bed.  He got up quietly so he would not disturb her, got dressed and went to the kitchen.  He was about to exit the house when he noticed his mother’s bible lying on the floor where she had threw it.  He went over, bent down and picked it up.  An envelope fell out of the bible.   He scooped down and picked it up.  It was addressed to his mother and the return address clearly read Tom Barkley, Stockton.  Heath opened the envelope and began reading the letter.  In anger he shoved the letter into his shirt pocket and dropped the envelope along with the bible.  He walked over to kitchen cupboard and took down the box with some money in it.  He then left the house and went to his boss’s house.  When he arrived at the house he knocked loudly on the door.

“Heath what are you doing here at this time of morning?”  The livery owner angrily asked as he answered the door.

“I need to use a horse for a few days.”  Heath said as he handed his boss the money.  “This and the wages you still owe me should cover it.

“Heath, you can use one of my horses if you want.  You don’t have to pay, but why couldn’t you wait until later in the morning to ask?”  The sleepy man demanded.

“I have some business to take care of, that has already waited too long.”  Heath answered as he handed the man the money.

“Thanks for your offer, but I don’t take charity.  When the man took he money Heath headed to livery to saddle up a horse.

The determined young man rode out of Strawberry and headed for Stockton.  When the runaway reached Stockton late in the afternoon he went to look for someone who could give him directions to his father’s ranch.  He decided to try the Saloon.

“You are too young to be in here boy.”  The bartender said

“I don’t want a drink.  I just want directions to the Barkley ranch.”  Heath replied.

“You are in luck kid, I work for them.  Just came into town for some supplies and decided on a wet one before heading back.  I could give you a lift.”  A tall red headed cowboy offered when he heard that the kid was looking for his boss.

“I have a horse, but I be obliged to follow you.”  Heath said.

“Names Duke McCall.”  Duke said as he extended his hand to the young boy before him, who briefly took the offered hand then pulled away.

“Heath.”  The kid told Duke his name.  He had not been able to tolerate being touched since the end of the war, but he knew that it was impolite not to shake some ones hand, so he made the gesture as quick as possible.

“Okay Heath.  Let’s go.”  Duke down the rest of his drink, headed for the door and out to the waiting wagon.  Heath mounted his horse and followed Duke as they headed to the ranch.

“Do you need help unloading the wagon?”  Heath asked when they reached the ranch.  He wanting to repay the man for his kindness

“No that won’t be necessary.  You will probably find Mister Barkley up at the house since it is almost supper time.”  Duke said as he pointed to the big white mansion.

Heath walked up to the door of the mansion and knocked.  A tall skinny black man with graying hair answered the door.

“May I help you?”  The servant asked.

“I am looking for Tom Barkley.”  Heath replied

“Come this way.”  The man said as he led Heath into a big room. The family was sitting talking and enjoying each other’s company while they waited for supper to be ready.

“Mr. Barkley, there is a young man here to see you.”  The black servant announced Heath’s presence to a tall blond man.  Heath studied the tall man standing before him, so this was his father.  All his life he had dreamt of this day and what he would say to this man, but now nothing came.  He stood nervously watching the man who was his father.

Tom turned and looked at the tall skinny man standing behind Silas.  This was no man, but a boy.  He studied the nervous boy and thought that there was something familiar about him, but could not place it.

“What can I do for you kid?”  Tom asked.  His words infuriated the son he did not know.  How dare this man call him a Kid?

“Don’t call me kid.  I haven’t been a kid since the first day I started crawling around in the mines of Strawberry at the age of six to help my mother make ends meet because of you.  You son-of -a bitch.”  Heath yelled as he hauled back and punched Tom in the face with a force of years of built up anger.

Nick saw the little punk punch his father and lunged at the kid.  The two boys wrestled on the floor until Jarrod and Tom pulled the dark haired boy off the scrawny kid.  The father went to help the blond boy up, but the kid violently pulled away from him.

“I don’t need your help.  I haven’t needed your help for fifteen years I don’t need it now.”  Heath hissed as he got to his feet.

“Who are you and what do you want?”  Tom asked losing his patience with this kid that interrupted a quiet family time.

“I am your BASTARD SON!”  Heath yelled at his father.

“You filthy liar.”  Nick screamed and tackled the boy before Jarrod or Tom could stop him.  The force of the attack caused the blond to lose consciousness as his head hit the floor.

Tom and his eldest son once again pulled Nick off the unconscious boy.  Tom knelt down beside the stranger and wondered if what the boy said was true.  Was this his son?

Tom checked the boy over to make sure he was still breathing and had a pulse.

“Nick go get a doctor.”  Tom ordered his second son.  “Jarrod help me get him upstairs.”

“You heard the lies he told.  We should just throw him out.”  Nick spat

“Nicholas do as you father asks.  This boy is injured and needs a doctor.”  Victoria ordered.

Nick reluctantly did as his father instructed and went to get the doctor.  Jarrod and Tom carried the unconscious boy to a room on the second floor and laid him on the bed.

“Is what he said true.”  Jarrod asked his father.

“I don’t know, but it could be.”  Tom admitted

“So you had an affair with another woman.  Does mother know?”  Jarrod demanded.  He could not believe what he was hearing.

“No.  I never told her.”  Tom answered his eldest son as he looked at the boy lying on the bed.  Could this boy be Leah and his son?

Jarrod approached the bed; sat down as he reached out and touched the boy’s forehead.  “So he could be my little brother?  How could you have not known it was a possibility?”

Tom did not answer his son’s accusation.

*****

Tom’s wife watched her husband and eldest son carry the boy from the room.  She also wondered if what the boy said was true, but if it was then that meant that her husband did have an affair.  After he returned from Strawberry she suspected that it was so.  She had two choices; she could take her children and leave him, or she could stay and fight for their love.  She was determined to save her marriage so silently forgave him, but never confronted him about it.  She had even convinced herself that it wasn’t true, but was this boy the proof.

“Mommy, I think that boy dropped this.”  Audra said as she pulled on her mother’s skirt.

Victoria looked down to see what her ten-year-old daughter was talking about.  She took the paper her little girl held out to her and read it.  “Oh God!  It is true.”  She cried as she dropped to her knees and wept as her compassionate daughter held her.

“Mommy what is wrong.”  Audra asked

Victoria did not answer.  She just hugged her concerned little girl as she thought of a little blond boy growing up without a father.  She thought of Tom’s betrayal of their marriage vows and all the old fears and insecurities started to resurface.  No she could not think about that now.  The child, Tom’s son was injured and needed help.  She had to pull herself together.

Victoria managed to get herself in control of her emotions by the time the doctor arrived with Nick. She escorted the doctor to the room where his patient was.  Nick followed them upstairs and stood at the doorway of the room.

“What happened?”  The doctor asked the family as he started to check the boy over.

“I think he hit his head hard on the floor when Nick tackled him.”  Tom supplied the information

The doctor undid his young patient’s shirt and placed a stereoscope on the boy’s chest to listen to his heartbeat.  “Tom can you help me remove the boy’s shirt so I can examine his ribs a little better.”  The doctor asked Tom.  Tom and Jarrod held the boy in a sitting position as they remove his shirt.

“Bloody Hell!”  Tom yelled as he noticed the boy’s back covered in scars.

Victoria gasped.  “Who would do such a thing to a boy.”

The doctor examined the scars closely.   “They seem to be fairly recent.  I would say they are less than a year old.  The boy also looks like he has either been starved or been very sick to be this underweight.  Maybe even both.”  The doctor shook his head in disgust as he continued his examination.

When the doctor finished his examination he turned to face the Barkley’s.  “Well I would say this boy has been though hell.  Not only has he been whipped and starved, he had a broken arm that healed slightly crooked and I would also say his ribs were broken at one time.  By the blackness around his eyes I would say he hasn’t been sleeping all that well either.  To top all that off now he has a slight concussion.  Luckily he did not re-break his ribs.”

“Will he be okay?  The concerned father asked

“I would say that this boys main problem is exhaustion and malnutrition.  He needs rest and food.  Lots of both.  The blow to the head wasn’t serious.”

“But he hasn’t waken up yet.”  Jarrod informed the doctor.

“Yeah I know.  Until he does wake up he should be watched very carefully.  When he awakes make sure he stays in bed and eats something.”  The doctor said as he pulled out a bottle of pills and handed them to Tom.  “Give him a couple of these if he has difficulty sleeping.”

After he had left Victoria handed Tom the letter and he recognized it immediately as he took it from her.  “He’s my son.  Oh!  Victoria I am so sorry.  I never meant to hurt you.  It only happened once.  You got to believe me.  Can you ever forgive me.”

“Tom, I knew when you came back from Strawberry and I forgave you then.  That’s in the past, but he is here now and he needs you, he needs us.”  Victoria told the man she loved as she pointed to his son on the bed.

“Us, Victoria?  You mean you will accept him.”  Tom asked

“I could never hold the sins of the parents against the child, especially one that has suffered so much.”  She said as she walked over and sat on the edge of he bed.  “I’ll stay with him.”

Tom watched his wife stroke the check of he son he never knew he had and thought how lucky he was to have a wife like Victoria.  How could Leah not tell him about their child?  Now the boy hated him, how could he make him understand?  Tom thought of the scars on the boy’s back and how he had been starved.  Oh! Leah how could do this?

*****

Nick had watched every thing from the door of the room.  When Tom declared the boy his son the dark haired boy raced out of the house.  How could his father do this?  How could he hurt his mother like this?  He ran to the barn.

Jarrod also watched everything that had transpired in the bedroom.  But unlike his younger brother stayed and heard his mother forgive his father and accept her husband’s illegitimate son.  Then he went to find his emotionally crushed brother.  He found him in the barn and the two boys talked about all that had just happened.

*****

After awaking to find her son gone, Leah went into the kitchen to see if he was there.  She noticed her bible on the floor.  As she bent down to pick the Book up.  She noticed the envelope on the floor beside the bible, so she picked it up instead.  She looked inside and found the letter gone.  Oh my God!”  She cried as she got up and ran out the door.

She ran to the livery stable and found her son’s boss, Bill.  “Have you seen Heath?”

“Yeah, He came by my house about four this morning wanting to rent a horse.  He said he had some business to attend to.   Woke the whole house up.  That boy of yours sure has been strange since he came home.”  Bill complained

“You gave him a horse?  You know he ain’t well why did you not stop him?”  Leah asked.

“Oh Leah you know that once that kids made up his mind nothing will stop him.  If I didn’t give him a horse to use he would have found another way and you know it.”  The Livery owner defended himself.

“Yeah you are right I am sorry.  It’s just.”  Leah started to say but broke down crying.  When she got control of herself, she explained what happened and her belief that Heath had went to confront his father.  She told him of her desperate need to get to Stockton.  He told her she could use one his buggy.  He hitched up the buggy for her and she headed out immediately, but how could she reach the Barkley ranch before enraged boy?

When she reached Stockton she only stopped long enough to ask for directions to the ranch.  She arrived at the ranch as Jarrod and Nick talked in the barn.  She drove the buggy up to the front steps got out and tied the horses to the hitching post.  She then walked up to the door of the white mansion and knocked.  When the black servant answered she told him she was looking for her son.

Leah followed the tall servant up the stairs to a room.  At the door of the room the servant knocked.  Tom opened the door.  “Yes, Silas.”

“The mother of the boy is here.”  Silas informed his boss as he gestured to where the woman stood.

Leah looked into the room and saw her pale son lying on the bed.  She tried to enter the room to go to him, but Tom stopped her.

“We need to talk Leah.”  Tom hissed

“I know, but not now my son needs me.”  Leah answered as she pushed past the boy’s father, but he grabbed her arm roughly and pulled her to face him.  She gasped as she looked into the steely blue eyes of her ex-lover, so full of anger and contempt for her.

“We need to talk now Leah, but not here.”  He demanded as he started to drag her from the room.

“Heath needs me.”  She cried.  “Let me go to him.”  But Tom would not listen to her pleads

Victoria watched her husband roughly grab Leah and drag her from the room.  She could tell her husband was furious with this woman and decided that she should be present during their talk.  She asked Silas to keep an eye on the boy as she got up and followed her husband and his ex-mistress.

In as semi-unconscious state Heath heard his mother’s frantic voice.  His mother was in trouble and needed him.  He fought the darkness.  “Mother!”  He cried as he awoke, sat up and looked around the room in confusion.

“Its good to see you awake.”  Salis said to the drowsy boy when he turned to find the boy sitting up in the bed.

 Heath looked at the black servant and remembered where he was.  He was in father’s house, but he had heard his mother’s voice.  “Where is my mother.  Is she here.”  He asked the servant.

“She is down stairs.  They needed to talk.”  Salis answered.

“With him!”  Heath screamed as he jumped out of the bed and headed to the door.

“You really need to stay in bed sir.” Salis said as he grabbed the boy’s arm and tried to stop him.  The furious boy punched the servant as hard as he could in the stomach.  Salis doubled over in pain as the boy raced from the room.

*****

“Why did you not tell me I had a son.  I had a right to know.”  Tom yelled

“You had a wife and children.  How do you think they would have taken it?  I didn’t want to hurt them.  I thought I was doing the right thing.”  Leah cried.

“We would have dealt with it.  I could have made sure he boy was taken care.  He wouldn’t have had to work in the mines at such a young age.  I could have keep you and that brother of yours from abusing him.”  Tom seethed.

“I never abused him.  I would never hurt him.  He’ my life.”  Leah cried shocked by her ex-lovers accusation.

“Well someone sure as hell did.”  Tom screamed at her.  Leah turned away from him and buried her face in her hands.  She could not face him.  After all wasn’t it her fault that their son suffered?

“Who whipped the boy?”  Victoria asked Leah

“He was whipped and abused during his seven month incarceration at Caterson prison at the end of the war.”  Leah answered.

“CARTERSON!”  How the hell could have you allowed a boy his age to join the army.”  Tom demanded of his ex-lover.   Leah turned and looked at Tom as if he had struck her with his fists.  No one in the room noticed when the subject of their conversation slip in

“Where the hell were you?  Why weren’t you there to stop me from joining.”  Heath demanded of the father he had never known.

Tom reeled around to face the very angry young man standing before him.  “I did not know about you.”  He tried to explain

“Didn’t know or didn’t want to know.”  The hate filled boy seethed.

“It is because of you I ran away to join the army.  The reason I ended up in that hellhole was because of you not her.   I hated going down in those dark cold mines to make a few pennies to help my mother support your BASTERD son.  When I heard that the army was offering double what I could earn in the mines I lied about my age so they would take me.  I thought it would be easy money.”  Heath laughed sarcastically as he continued.  “Oh! Yeah it was easy money.  All I had to do was kill men and watch good friends die.  Oh but God seen to it that I was punished for that.  I winded up in that sinkhole of a prison camp.  With every whip that stung my back, every mouth full of maggoty food I ate, every drink of filthy water I drank, every time someone cried out in agony and every time a man died I cursed you.  The only thing that kept me alive was my hate for you.  I vowed that someday, somehow I would find out who my father was and make him pay for the day I was born.  Then I found out it was you.  All this time that my mother and I struggled to survive you sat here in this fancy big house with your real children and your loving wife while servants waited on you hand and foot.  You didn’t even consider that you might have left my mother to rot in that mining town with your child.”  Heath spat in his father’s face then the angry teenage turn his wrath on Victoria.

“So how does it feel to find out that your high and mighty husband is nothing more than a low down snake who used a innocent woman and left her with child to fend for herself?”  He asked

Leah watched in horror as her only son self-destructed in front of her.  She was powerless to stop it.  Ever since Heath had come home Leah had noticed the change in her boy.  She knew that he had been suppressing all the anger, hate, fear that the war had caused.  Now she watched as those entire emotions surface as a fiery rage directed at the boy’s father and his family.  She watched as Tom reached out to put a hand on her blond son’s quaking shoulders.  Heath threw off his father’s hand.

“Don’t touch me.  Don’t ever touch me.”  Heath yelled as he grabbed Tom’s gun from its holster and aimed it at Tom.  Both Leah and Victoria gasped in surprise.

“So how does in feel to have your devil spawn show up to destroy everything you hold dear?”  The enraged young boy screamed as he held the gun on his father with the expertise of a killer.

“Son put the gun down.”  Tom pleaded.

“Don’t call me son.  You don’t have the right to call me son.”  Heath hissed as he continued to hold the gun on Tom.

“Heath, no.  I never told Tom about you.  If you have to hate someone hate me.”  Leah pleaded as she stepped between Tom and the gun her son held.

“Oh, but I do hate you mother.  I hate you for never telling about my father.  I hate you for what you let him do to you, but more than that I hate myself for being born.”  Heath ranted.  When he looked into his mother’s terrified face and saw the gun he was holding on her he realized that his rage was now the master.  Then he remembered his vow.

 I was a mistake.   A mistake I am going to erase.”  Heath told her as he lifted the gun to his temples.

When Heath had pulled the gun on him Tom had not been afraid. Even when Leah stepped in front of the gun he wasn’t afraid that the boy would use it.  Now he was terrified for now he knew the boy would use it.  He had to stop this boy; he had to save his son.  But could he reach the boy in time.

*****

As Nick and Jarrod entered the house they heard yelling coming form the study so they listened at the door.  They heard every angry word the young boy threw at their father.  They heard and felt the boy’s pain as he described Caterson.  As soon as they heard their father beg the boy to put down the gun they quietly slipped into the room.  Everyone in the room was so intent on the boy with the gun that no one noticed the two older boys.  When Heath put the gun to his head Nick made his move.

As Tom grabbed Leah to push her out of the way Nick came up behind the youth, grabbed his arm with the gun and forced the barrel away from the boy’s temple toward the ceiling.  The gun went off causing a hole in the ceiling.  Hanging onto the arm with one hand Nick grabbed the gun with his other and twisted it out of the boy’s grip.  Nick released the boy’s arm as Jarrod took the gun from him and handed it to their father. Heath lunged for the gun, but Nick tackled him and pinned him to the floor.

“Let me go!”   Came Heath’s murderous cry as he struggled to free him self from his older brother.

“No!  I won’t ever let you go.  You are my little brother and no one not even yourself is ever going to hurt you again.”  Nick screamed back as he held the furious boy down.

When Nick first found out about this boy he hated him.  Even when Jarrod had told him in the barn that their mother had forgave their father and accepted this blond boy Nick vowed he would never accept him.  As Nick listened to the angry boy confront his father he realized that this boy was not to blame for what had happened between Tom and Leah.  The minute Heath raised the gun to his head Nick knew that this was his little brother and he had to save him.

Finally when the boy stopped fighting Nick released his grip a little, but it was enough for the young solider to push away his enemy and bolt for the door.  Heath had almost reached the door when Jarrod grabbed one arm and Tom the other.  The furious blond kicked and bit like a savage at both men in an attempt to gain his freedom, but they held tight.  Nick grabbed the little warrior’s legs to stop him from kicking.  As the enraged boy screamed and struggled they carried him to a room upstairs.  They placed him on the bed where they held him down while he swore and fought against them.

*****

When Heath put the gun to his temples Leah stood paralyzed by the terror that gripped her heart.  She felt Tom’s hands roughly push her out of the way as she saw another man grab her son’s arm with the gun, she heard the gunfire and fainted.

Victoria had stood and listened as Tom’s son confronted his father.  She saw the anger, fear and pain clearly written on the young boy’s face.  As the boy related the story of his life to his father she saw the anger turn into an uncontrollable rage.  When she had looked into his deep blue eyes as he asked her what she thought of her husband Victoria knew he had gone over the edge and that he was now dangerous.  She was about to warn Tom when he reached out to touch the boy, but there was no time.  Her husband’s son grabbed the gun and aimed it at his father.  Then the boy turned the gun on himself.  She watched as her middle son forced the gun skyward just as it went off and saw Leah faint.

Victoria walked over, knelt down and cradled her husband’s ex-lover’s head in her lap.  After Tom, Nick and Jarrod had carried the screaming boy away Leah finally awoke.  “HEATH!”  She screamed as she sat up and frantically looked around the room.

“Heath is alright.  His father and brothers just took him upstairs.”  Victoria assured the anxious mother.

“Oh my God!  What have I done?  He is so angry, so full of hate.  If only I told him who his father was or told Tom about him none of this would have happened.  I thought by keeping Heath a secret I would spare everyone pain, but my silence only caused more.”  Leah cried.

Victoria put her arms around other woman’s shoulders.  “You are not the only one to blame.  Tom should have known.  I should have known.”

“You?”  Leah asked.

“Yes, I knew that Tom had an affair.  I wanted my marriage to work so I forgave him, but I did not even want to consider that he produced a child with you.  I told myself it was impossible and locked the thought deep inside my mind.”  Victoria explained

“Now is not the time for blame.  There is a very tormented boy upstairs that needs us all.”  Victoria said as she helped Leah to their feet.  They went to the room where her husband and son’s took Heath.  The two women watched as the boy fought and screamed.   After what seemed hours the furious rage ceased and the lost child stopped fighting.

“I hate you.”  Heath whimpered

“I know, but I love you.”  Tom answered back as he held his emotionally wounded son down to the bed.

“You don’t even know me.”  Heath spat vehemently

“No, but I want to.”  Tom calmly answered

“Why? I am only your mistake.”  Heath screamed.

“You are not a mistake.  You are my son and I will never let you go.”  Tom said as he gestured to his two other sons’ to release their hold on the boy.  He gathered his lost child in his arms and held him tight.   “I love you Heath.”

“I not worth loving.  I have done terrible things.”  Heath cried as he fought to free himself from his father, but Tom held on.

“You are more than worth loving.  You are my precious son and nothing you can do will ever cause me to stop loving you.”  Tom whispered in his son’s ear.

Heath stopped struggling and collapsed into his father’s arms.  That night, at the very moment Heath lost control of the fiery rage when it had escaped its cage and threatened to destroy the boy, his father and brothers took over the battle.  They faced the rage head on and conquered it.

Leah watched as Tom met and defeated every argument the boy threw at him.  When her son finally surrendered to his father’s love she knew that God had answered her pray.  As she watched father and son cling to one another she knew what she had to do.

When Heath had finally calmed down Tom asked for a couple of the pills that the doctor had left.  Victoria got the pills and a glass of water and held them out to Heath.

“Here son take these.  They will help you sleep.”  Tom ordered

“I don’t need them.”  Heath said as he sat up and looked at the pills in Victoria’s hand.

“Please sweetheart.”  Victoria pleaded  “The doctor said it is important that you get your rest.”

Heath looked into the eyes of his father’s wife and saw genuine concern.  He took the pills from her hand and placed them in his mouth.  Then he took the water to wash them down with.  Tom sat on the edge of the bed as his blond son fell into a drug-induced sleep.  Tom covered his son up with a blanket.  Leah approached the bed and sat down.

“I will stay with him.”  Leah stated.  She needed to spend this night with her son.

“That is a good idea.  I think the rest of us should go down to the kitchen to have something to eat.  Then we should go to bed.”  Victoria said as she sensed that Leah wanted to be alone with her boy.  They all agreed and went down to the kitchen.

“Nick I want to thank you.  If you had not been there.”  Tom said putting a hand on his middle son’s shoulder as they entered the kitchen.

Nick angrily pulled away from his father’s touch and glared at his father.  “Because of you and that woman I have a brother I never knew about.  A brother who feels that he is a mistake that needed to be eliminated which he almost did tonight.  I hope you are proud of yourself, because I sure as hell ain’t.”  Nick spat as he headed for the door, but Victoria grabbed his arm and stopped him.

“Nicolas Barkley, I will not have you talk to your father that way.  I want both you and your father to go to the barn.  Scream yell hit one other but solve this tonight.  That boy upstairs doesn’t need your anger.  He has enough of that himself.  He needs your love.  He needs all of our love if he is to survive this.  He needs to see us working together not tearing each other apart.”  Victoria told her second born son.

Tom and Nick did as Victoria ordered.  Jarrod grabbed an apple and followed his younger brother and father out to the barn.  Victoria went to check on Audra and found her asleep in her room.  Then she went down to the sitting room to wait for her husband and son’s to come back into the house.  She fell asleep on the sofa.

*****

Six hours after Tom and his two older sons went to the barn they returned to the house.  Victoria awoke when she heard them come in.  She got up from the sofa and went to greet them.

“How did it go?”  Victoria asked Tom when Nick and Jarrod had gone into the kitchen to get something to eat.  She noticed a bruise starting to form on Tom’s jaw.

“It was rough at first, but he came around.”  Tom replied

“So he forgave you?”

“Yeah, but not before he threatened me.”  Tom answered

“Threatened you.”  Victoria gasped

“Nick told me that if I ever hurt his little brother again he would make me pay.”  Tom informed his wife

“Well then you better never hurt Heath again, you don’t want to face Nick’s wrath.”  Victoria said

“No kidding, that boy can sure pack a hell of a punch.”  Tom laughed as he rubbed his jaw.

“Well Duke can manage things today.  I think the boys and I will go get some well deserved sleep.”  Tom said as he headed to the kitchen to finally get something to eat.  After they were finished eating the three men went to bed.

*****

 It was early in the morning when Heath began to stir.  Leah sat by his bed talking to him quietly so he would know she was there and he was safe.

“Good morning.  How are you this morning?”  She asked when he finally was awake.”

“I am okay. You don’t have to worry.”  Heath replied

“Good, because I should go home today.   I got to get back to work and Bill will want his horses back.”

“Okay.”  Heath said as he started to get up.

“Where do you think you are going?  Leah asked.

“Home with you.”  Heath answered confused by her question.

“You are home sweetheart.  This is your home now.  It’s time you get to know your father.  I was wrong not to tell either of you about each other.  You need to stay here with him.”  She told him.

“You are scared of me aren’t you?”  Heath asked as he remembered the look of terror in his mother’s face the night before.

“Oh no.  I could never be scared of you, but I am scared for you.  Ever since you returned from the war I watched as you slowly die inside.  I tried but I could not help you.  Your brother’s and father can.  You need to stay here with them.”  Leah answered.

“I am so sorry for all the pain and sorrow I have caused you.  You would have been better off if I had never been born.”  Heath said

“Heath, don’t you ever be sorry you were born.  You are my life and my joy.   My life would not have been complete without you.”  Leah said as she threw her arms around her son.  For the first time since returning from the war he returned the embrace.

“Promise me you will work hard to get well.”  She pleaded

*****

When Leah finished saying her good-byes to her son she went downstairs and found Victoria.  She told Tom’s wife that she would be leaving that morning.

“Leah, if you are leaving because of me don’t.  Heath needs you.”  Victoria said

“No he doesn’t.  He needs his father and brothers not me.  The other night I prayed for God to help my son.  I surrendered him completely into the Father’s arms.  That morning Heath found the letter that led him here.  Last night as Tom held Heath I realized that in order to save my son I have to give him completely to his father.  Tom can help him I can’t.  My presence would only cause more pain for everyone.  I must go.”  Leah explained.

Victoria agreed that it probably would be for the best.  She got Salis to make a basket of food for Leah’s trip back to Strawberry.  While Leah and Victoria ate their breakfast they talked about the little blond boy.  Leah told of how he was before the war.  She told Victoria of the nightmares that plagued her son.  They both cried for a boy that had to become a man way too soon.  Finally Leah left for Strawberry.

*****

After Leah left Victoria went up to check on her husband’s son.  She noticed the tray of food Salis had brought up had been left untouched.  Heath was standing by the open window as he watched something in the yard very intently.

“Good morning Heath.  I hope you slept well.”  Victoria greeted Heath cheerfully.

Heath turned and looked at her.  “Why are you doing this?”  He asked

“Doing what?”  Victoria asked afraid that the boy was blaming her for his mother’s decision to leave.

“Why are you being nice to me?  Why should care what happens to your husband’s bast?”  Heath started to ask but Victoria stopped him.

“Don’t you ever call yourself that again.”  She yelled.  “You think that because you are my husbands son with another woman I should hate you, don’t you?”

“Yeah!  You have every right.”  Heath replied.

“So you think I should be the kind of woman who can hate an innocent child.  For that is what you are.  You are not to blame for what Tom and Leah did.”  Victoria said as she took his face in her hands and made him look at her.

“I won’t lie to you.  I was hurt and angry when I found out, but I love my husband so I forgave him.  Since I love my husband so much how could I not love his son.”  Victoria told the young boy.

“Do you hate my mother?”  Heath asked

“At first I did, but now I see she is loving caring woman who for one night lost her way and created a precious child with my husband.  A woman who thought more of my feeling and my children’s than her own.  I know you mother is sorry that she hurt me.”  Victoria said

“So you forgive her.”  Heath asked

“Yes sweetheart I forgive her.”  Victoria assured Leah’s son.

“Thank you.”  Heath said as he turned back to the window.  Sensing he wanted to be left alone Victoria left.

Heath watched as some cowhands tried to break a big black stallion.  The horse fought with all its strength resisting it captivity as it threw man after man from its back.  As he watched the proud stallion refuse to be broken Heath though of how like this horse he was.  Of how in Caterson he resisted the men who tried to break him, but he had refused to let them win.  He had fought them with the same fury that the horse now used.

“Fight” his mind screamed out to the horse. “Fight. Don’t let them kill your spirit.”  He turned away from the window, walked over to the bed and lay down.  He could not continue to watch the horse fight for its freedom.  As he lay there he fell asleep.

*****

It was just after lunchtime when Tom finally awoke.  He went downstairs and found his wife.  Victoria informed him that Leah had thought it was best if she went back to Strawberry.  She also told him that Heath had not eaten his breakfast and that when she went to take him his lunch she found him asleep.  They were about to go into the kitchen to get Tom some lunch when they heard a loud scream come from upsairs.  They raced upstairs and into the blond boy’s room.  They found him sitting up screaming as sweat pour off his face.  Tom went to wake him, but Victoria stopped him.

“Leah said if you touch him in this state he will take you as his enemy and fight you.  We have to talk softly to him to convince him he is safe.”  Victoria told her husband.  Together they kept assuring the boy that he was home and he was safe.

Finally their voices registered in the boy’s mind and he awoke.  When Tom went to put his arms around his quaking son’s shoulders Heath tried to pull away, but the father would not let him.  Tom pulled his son into a strong embrace and held him until he stopped shaking.  He made his son tell him of the dream, which the boy did reluctantly.

After the boy finished relating the dream to his father, Tom told him to get dressed and join him downstairs for lunch.  Heath did as his father asked.  Nick and Jarrod were also up and having lunch when he entered the dinning room with his father.  Tom indicated to a chair next to Nick for Heath to sit in.  Nick, Jarrod, Tom and Victoria all talked while Heath sat quietly staring at the food on his plate.

“Heath, this is a working ranch and everyone pulls their own weight.  In order to that they must eat.  We also don’t have time for some to play with their food, so eat it.”  Tom ordered the blond boy when he noticed that his son was only pushing his food around on his plate.

“I am also not use to giving orders twice, so I expect you to eat ever meal that is place in front of you without any more foolishness.  Understood.”  Tom demanded

“Yes sir.”  Heath said as he started to wolf down the food.  Victoria and Tom exchanged a smile as another milestone in the boy’s recovery was won.

“Good.  After lunch you, Nick and I are going  to paint the fence.”  Tom informed his two boys and went back to eating.

*****

Tom, Nick and Heath were just about to leave the house to go paint the fence when Duke knocked on the door and told Tom that they needed to talk.  Tom told the boys to go get started without him as he lead Duke to the study.

Nick and Heath had just started painting the fence when Heath saw his father and Duke come out of the house.  He saw them approach the corral that held the stallion.  He saw the gun in his father’s hand.  In horror he realized that they planned on destroying the animal.  The panicked stricken boy dropped his paintbrush and raced across the yard.  As Tom raised the gun and aimed it at the horse the furious boy tackled him and drove him to the ground.

Nick saw his new brother race across the yard and tackled his father.  “Oh no!  Not again.”  Nick thought, as he feared the boy was after the gun.  Nick dropped his paintbrush and raced after the blond.

“What the hell do you think you are doing.”   Tom yelled as Duke pulled his attacker off him.

“You can’t kill that horse.”  The frantic boy screamed.

“I have to Heath.  The horse can’t be broken.  He has already injured three of my best men.  He almost killed one.  I won’t have him hurt anyone else.”  Tom tried to explain.

“Then let him go.”  The furious boy demanded

“I can’t do that.  He has been stealing mares and causing a whole lot of problems for the ranchers in this area.  If I don’t kill him someone else will.”  Tom said as he picked the riffle off the ground and started to raise it to destroy the animal.

“Let me break him.”  Heath pleaded as he stepped in front of the riffle putting himself between his father and the horse.

“Let him.”  A loud booming voice deep in Tom’s mind ordered.  As Tom looked into his son’s determined dark blue eyes he realized that this boy saw in the horse himself.  If Tom killed the horse Heath would take it to mean he too did not deserve to live.

“Okay.  You break him he is yours.”  Tom said

“Are you mad.  That horse will kill that boy.”  Duke said as Heath turned and walked toward the corral.

“I had no choice Duke.”  Tom snapped at his hired hand.  “I can’t explain it Duke, but I have feeling he needs to do this.”

“He needs to get himself killed?”  Duke yelled as he turned to stop the blond kid.  He thought his boss had just lost all his marbles.

“I don’t think he will.”  Tom replied as he placed a hand on Dukes shoulder to stop him from interfering with the boy.

 Heath was about to climb over the rails of the fence when Nick grabbed his shoulder and stopped him.

“Are you a fool.  That horse is a killer.”  Nick spat.  He was angry that his father would even think of allowing this boy to break this horse.

“So was I.”  Heath stated flatly.  Nick released his grip on the younger boy’s arm, as he understood his father’s actions.

The three men watched as Heath played what seemed to be a dangerous game.  But he always managed to stay just out of the way of the horse’s hooves as he chased the horse around the corral.  Finally Heath started to walk away from the horse making circles as he went.  Amazingly the horse was following him.  Finally Heath stopped, turned to the horse that had stopped behind him and patted his sleek black neck.

“I wouldn’t have believe it if I did not see it.”  Duke uttered.

“I heard about men like him, but I never thought I would meet one with the gift.”  Another cowhand, who had came out of the bunkhouse to see what all the commotion was all about, said as he whistled.  “Who is the kid?”

“That’s my son.  Heath Barkley.”  Tom’s loud voice boasted proudly.  If he could have seen Heath’s face he would have seen a lop-sided smile play across the boy’s lips.

Heath gave the horse another pat then walked over to the fence and climb out of the corral.  He walked over to his fathers and looked his squarely in the eye.  “So he’s mine now?”

“A deal is a deal.”  Tom said as he extended his hand to his son.  Heath took the offered hand and shook it.

“What are you going to name him?”  Nick asked.  He too was amazed with his younger brother’s gift with horses.

“Rage.”  Heath answered as he turned and walked away.  He walked over to the fence, picked up his paintbrush and started painting the fence.  Nick and Tom joined him.

*****

Heath worked everyday on gentling Rage.  The more he worked with the stallion his nightmares got less and less intense.  When he thought the stallion was ready Heath put a saddle on him and mounted.  The horse bucked a little, but the blond held tight.  Finally the horse surrendered and walked around the corral.

“Hey let’s see if that nag of yours can run.”  Nick challenged as he rode Cocoa up to the corral.

“You are on.  Open the gate.”  Heath answered the challenged.  Both boys race out of the yard and over the open range with the big black horse way out in front.  Tom watched as the boys returned from their ride and noticed that his blond son was laughing.  It was the first time since the boy came here that he had laughed and Tom thanked God for giving him the wisdom to allow the boy to break this horse.

*****

Tomhad to go out of town for a few days on business.  When he returned Victoria had prepared him a special meal of all his favorites.  After the main meal was over Salis came in and place a dessert in front of Tom.

“Audra wanted to make something special for your return.”  Salis said with a hint of apology in his voice.

Tom looked warily at the dessert his daughter had made him.  He loved his daughter dearly, but the girl could not cook.

“Thank you honey, but I am pretty full right now.  How about I save it for my bedtime snack.”  He planned on discarding the dessert after Audra had gone to bed.

Heath noticed his little sister’s face drop as their father refused to eat what she had made him.  “Sir, this is a working ranch as such we all pull our own weight.  To do so you must eat.  We also don’t have time for you to play with your food.  So eat your dessert.”  Heath repeated almost word for word what his father had told him.

“Yes sir.”  Tom answered.  He swallowed hard as he began to eat his daughter’s offerings as he glared at his blond son.  Audra’s face just beamed as her father ate the dessert she made for him.

Nick leaned over to Heath and whispered.  “He’s going to get you for this you know.”

“Boy howdy.  Don’t I know it.”  Heath replied as a lop-sided grin spread across his face.

When Tom had managed to finish the dessert he turned to his daughter.  “Honey was that all you made?”

“Oh no, daddy I made you a whole batch.  Do you want more?”  She asked delighted that her father had enjoyed what she made.

“No I had plenty sweetheart, but I think Heath might enjoy some.  Would it be okay if I allowed him to have some.”  He asked his blonde little girl who nodded her head.

“Salis will you go get him some please?”  Tom asked the servant.

Nick again whispered in Heath’s ear.  “Told you he would get even.”

Salis returned and place some of Audra’s dessert in front of Heath.  Heath took a bit of it and wished he left his father alone.

“Boy howdy, Audra this is good.”  He lied.

Nick looked at his younger brother with amazement on his face.  “You got to be kidding.”

“Oh not at all.  If she keeps this up she could be a chef at Carterson.”  He said as he took another bit and tried to swallow it.

Audra who did not know what Caterson was took his comments as a compliment.  She smiled with delight.  “Thank you Heath.  You are my best brother.  The others won’t even try what I make.”

Tom, Victoria, Jarrod and Nick all laughed with joy as they realized that the boy’s joke was his way of letting them know he would be fine.

*****

Three months after Heath had gone to live with his father he rode his big black stallion to Strawberry to visit his mother.  When Leah looked into his eyes she saw them shining as bright as the sun with life.  Her son had been to hell, but his father and brothers brought him back with the help of God.

***The End***

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