Wanted! (by Sandi)

Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  1100

Heath studied the face that stared back at him, hardly daring to believe his eyes.  His own reflection stared back at him.  Yep, that was him all right.  Heath could hardly believe he was staring at his likeness in an eight by ten.  Wanted!

It had been a year since he had come.  Demanding his share of it all.  Everything that was Barkley, he wanted a piece of.  Audra was really the first one to truly accept him.  Oh, she tried her womanly tricks on him at first.  Heath recalled that night in the hotel.  “Alone.  In a room.  With a man.”  She had tried to seduce him.  To test him.  But he wasn’t falling for the bait.  Jail bait.  He knew she was not seriously attracted to him.  It was all in a game.  She wanted to know how he would react.  If he was really a cheap phony of whom he claimed to be.

Now he stood here with all he desired and still, sometimes it didn’t feel real. And now this.  His heart fluttered in his chest as he stared at the face that was his before him.  Wanted!

How had it come this far, he pondered?  For so many years, he didn’t know who he was.  Only that he was some unknown man’s bastard son.  His mama tried to shield him but still he fought.  He fought to make his way.  Going off to join a war he didn’t understand at a tender age, he would fight there too.  Fight for what was right.  Fight and almost die for the cause that was to many the right cause.  The right thing to do.

Then came the day, he was working up on the Klamath.  A note came.  Said she was sick.  He had to go to her.  It had been too long.  He must go to her before it was too late. A dread illness had his mama in its grip.  He tried to comfort her but it was almost too late.  “Heath, honey.  Get my Bible.  Please.  Get it and turn to the last page.”  He did as he was told but he wore confusion in his eyes.  He was perplexed.

He brought the Good Book to her and a piece of paper fell out.  A piece of paper that would change his life.  Change it forever.

Now here he was with his family and yet he was still sometimes unsure.  Unsure as he stared at the face that stared back at him.  His face.  Wanted.

A knock came at the door just then.  Silas, his friend, the servant of the house, opened the door.  Stockton’s Sheriff stood there.  Nick had come down the stairs to talk a matter over with the Law of the town.

“You understand, Nick, that it must be done.  I have here this poster.  Gotta bring him in.”

“Yeah,” the disconsolate man in black leather had said.  “I understand.  It’s just a shame, that’s all.  He’s a good man.”

The Sheriff showed remarkable understanding though he had a hard task at hand.  He said with feeling, “Do ya wanna speak to him first or shall I take him in right now?”

“Thanks, Fred.”  Nick clapped the Sheriff on the shoulder.  “I’ll talk to him first.  He’s not going to take it easy, but he’s a reasonable man.  You have my word that he will be at your office by morning.”

“Alright Nick.  As you wish.  Only, if he’s not, we will have to take him by force, you do understand that, don’t you?”

Nick sighed.  “A good man, Fred.  Are you sure it’s him?”

“Got the poster here to prove it, Nick.  Wanted.  A picture don’t lie.”

Nick ran his hand through his dark thick hair.  “He’ll be in your office tomorrow.  I’ll see to it,” he said sadly and turned away.

How had it come to this, the blonde man wondered.  For so long he had no future but that of a wanderer and now he had it all.  It hadn’t always been easy.  How many times had he almost buckled to the insensitivities of the ignorant and walked away from it all?  A callous word here, an unkind gesture there.  “Handle the men,” Nick had retorted sharply, not knowing really what he was asking.  Heath handled one, he thought.  He gave him the sack.  Nick hired him back.  That was a trial.  Almost made the blond ride out for good, forgetting he had people who said they loved him.

Now a year had past with many a thrown punch to his name.  And an image that he gazed at.  It was him, without a doubt.  Wanted.

He remembered that day.  That day when they had gathered.  He had started to walk away and yet she, the woman he now called “mother”, came to him and drew him close to her side.  “You are a part of us now,” she had said.  “Please stay.”

And stay he did.  Yes indeed.  He was patient as the family assembled. They made him a part of them.  It was still all so new, though he was beginning to belong.  A quiet reserved man, he would allow it to be.  A wait eternal, the muscles beginning to hurt in his crooked smile.  At last a broad flash came, bringing it all to completion.

And now he sat staring at the copy of himself and reflected.  The hand that had been caught stealing was brought to justice.  Nick had kept his word, bringing the man, who had been in their hire for so long, in to answer for his bad deeds.

A light gentle hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present. “Is there something wrong, my son?”  His mother had asked with concern, studying his faraway face.

“No mother.  Everything is very right,” he replied, kissing her lightly.  “I’ve found me a family.”  Looking at the family photo he had been studying with his brothers, sister and dear Mother gathered, he answered with truth in his heart. “I feel wanted.  Wanted not in a vile way, a man to be hunted down for bounty.  But in a loving way.  I’m honored to be a Barkley.”

***The End***

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