Brothers Forever (by Sherri)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  13,000


The wind whistled through the tall majestic trees on the Ponderosa land, as a hot breeze filtered its way down to the two men camping below. Their horses, which could be heard snickering to each other, were safely tethered away from the camp while a small campfire glowed. The two men were on their way back from business in Placerville and had looked forward to being home last night, but the heat had slowed them down considerably. The oldest of the men, Adam Cartwright, had heard about the horse auction last week that was being held in Placerville and had suggested that his younger brother Joe join him on this expedition. Together they had looked over some really good horseflesh, and he had to admit to himself, he was really impressed by how much Joe knew about the horses. But then again, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to him that Joe knew so much for a fellow his age; he had great teachers. Staring across the fire, Adam soon was lost in his thoughts on his youngest brother who, at the moment, was stretched out on the ground using his jacket as a pillow. When did his brother grow up? Adam wondered. Here he was in his early 20’s, and from his observations in town, Joe already knew how to turn a lady’s head. Plus, despite the age difference between the two brothers, this trip they were getting along with one another, instead of being at each other’s throats.

As Joe yawned, he opened his eyes, sensing someone staring at him; he saw that it was his older brother Adam looking intently at him. “What are you staring at?”

Shaking himself out of his reverie, Adam focused his eyes on Joe and smiled. “Nothing, just was thinking.”

“You sure? You were making me nervous with that look on your face. Thought you knew something that I didn’t.” Then grinning, he answered his own statement. “But then again, I’m sure there is plenty you know that I don’t.” Picking up his cup, Joe leaned on his elbow before tossing the remnants of his coffee into the fire. Putting the cup on the ground, he got to his feet and began to stretch as he tried to roll his neck to get the kinks out. “Fall is almost here, and it is still so hot and dry.”

“I know,” Adam replied. “I’m worried about that; we haven’t had much rain this season and the trees are getting really dry. The leaves shouldn’t be falling this soon, and when they fall, they are bone dry.” Stretching, he let out a yawn before he stood up. “Well, let’s break camp so we can make it back home this evening.”

Pouring the remains of the coffee over the fire, Adam kicked dirt into it and stomped out all the embers of the campfire. Making sure no smoke arose from the fire site, he joined Joe in packing their bedrolls and gear. Not speaking much, both men were lost in their thoughts as they saddled their horses. As they rode out of camp, Joe thought to himself that he was glad that he and Adam had this time together. Not often could they spend much time in each other’s company without jumping at each other’s throats. Soon his thoughts moved from his brother to who he was going to dance with at the upcoming social.

After riding for several hours, they urged their horses up a hill and just as they crested the top, took a break. There they could feel the breeze better on the top of the ridge than when they were riding down below the tree line. Dismounting, Joe tried again to twist a stubborn kink out of his back. “Good grief! I don’t know why I am so tired,” Joe complained.

Tossing over the canteen, Adam answered, “Well, Little Brother, if we hadn’t been on the trail, I could have said it was from your carousing in town.”

“That was two nights ago, and the only thing I did was play a hand of poker.”

“Just one hand?” Adam said grinning. Patting his horse on the neck, he leaned across its neck before looking out across the mountains. “It’s not looking too good out here. Look at how dry those trees are? Without any rain, they are going to become a tinderbox.” Looking across the ridge from where they were, Adam thought he saw a plume of smoke in the distance. Pointing across the hillside, Adam turned to Joe, “Joe. Take a look over there, and tell me what you see.”

“Looks like it is something more than a campfire,” Joe observed.

“My thoughts exactly. I’m not betting, but it looks like that ridge might be on fire. We ought to go check it out.” Straightening up, Adam waited for Joe to get back onto his horse before they rode in that direction. The closer they rode to where they saw the smoke, the stronger the smell of burning pines flooded their senses. “Hold up!” Adam yelled, as he pulled his horse to a stop. “Smell that. We’re getting close.”

Dismounting from his horse, Joe tossed the reins around a bush as he went to get a closer look to see how far away the fire was. “Wait up, Joe,” Adam hollered as he dismounted from his horse. Climbing up the hill, Adam followed Joe, as the smell of smoke became stronger. Just as they were about to crest the hill, both men saw a wall of flames licking at the tops of the trees on the ridge in front of them. “The wind is pushing the flames the other way, and it doesn’t look like it is headed our direction,” Adam observed. “But we need to let someone know what is happening here and get help to fight this.” Turning away from the fire, he began to carefully pick his way down the hill.

Taking one last glance at the fire, Joe turned to go down the hill, when the wind suddenly shifted. Surprised as ash began to lightly filter down around him, Joe lost his balance for a moment. Trying to regain his footing, he stepped onto a loose rock and could feel himself loosing contact with the ground. Desperately he fought for control, when he felt himself pitch forward toward the ground. Arms flailing, Joe cried out, “Ahhhhhh! Adam!”

Whipping his head around, Adam looked up just in time to see Joe stumble, then fall to the ground before sliding down the hill. In horror, Adam watched as Joe tumbled and slid down the rocky hillside, and within seconds, watched as he landed in a crumpled heap at the bottom. Shaking the shock out of his system, Adam ran and stumbled down the hill, until he arrived to the area where Joe lay sprawled out on the ground.

Leaning over Joe, he began to call out his name, “Joe! Little Joe!” Reaching out to touch him, Adam let out a sigh of relief when he saw Joe move his arms around and push his upper body off the ground.

“Ow!” Joe moaned, as he pulled himself into a sitting position. Flexing his arms and feet, Joe grumbled, “I definitely had more fun with that when I was a kid.”

“You okay?” Adam asked, as he reached out to help Joe up.

“Uh, yeah, I think so. I’ll know I’m going to have one killer of a headache,” Joe answered, as he stood feeling a bump on the back of his head. Shaking his head, he could already feel the coming of a headache. “All bones intact. I’ll be okay.”

Looking at Joe, Adam saw a few cuts and skinned areas littering his face, with one cut bleeding freely on his upper lip. Concerned, he reached over and handed Joe his handkerchief. “Your lip is bleeding. What happened up there?”

Accepting the cloth, Joe dabbed at his lip before answering, “The wind shifted, and brought ash down around me. Caught me off guard for a moment. Then somehow I slipped on a loose rock, and ended up here.” Remembering what had sent him plummeting down the hill, Joe pointed up from where he fell, “Look.”

Turning from Joe, Adam looked up and saw the glowing of the forest fire as it raged above them, “We’d better get out here, Joe.” Staring up at the ridge, Adam missed the sudden grimace on Joe’s face as he got onto his knees to get up. Kneeling on one knee, Joe could feel his knee throbbing from the pressure he put onto it and reached down, hoping to massage the ache away. Slowly as they made their way back down the hill, Joe could already feel a headache gaining ground in his head. Groaning a bit, he squinted his eyes in pain.

“What’s wrong, Joe?” Adam asked when he heard Joe’s groans.

Reaching up, he rubbed his temple before answering, “It feels like someone is pounding my head with a rock.”

“When we get to our horses, drink some water and see if that will help some.”

As they arrived where they had left their horses, Joe went to retrieve his horse while Adam went over to his grabbing the canteen. “Drink this, Joe.”

Accepting the water, Joe gulped it down. Feeling a little bit better, he handed it back. “Thanks, Adam, it helped a little.”

Sticking his foot in the stirrup, Joe was just about to climb on, when a roaring sound came rumbling down the hill. Looking up, both men saw a grand display of fire at its finest dancing across the trees above them. The fire was eagerly eating everything it could with wild abandon as it hopped and skipped from tree to tree. With hot embers falling down around them, Joe’s horse reared. Struggling to control the panicked horse, the horse spun around knocking an already unstable Joe out of the stirrups and onto the ground. Joe lay there stunned as he watched his horse run down the trail.

“JOE!” Adam yelled, as he fought for control on his own horse. Lying there watching his horse run down the trail, Little Joe lay there a moment longer without moving. Then waking out of his daze, he tried to shake the fuzz out his head. As he rolled over and knelt on his knees, he let out a cry as sharp needles of pain sent daggers through his right knee. Watching Joe tumble back to the ground, Adam tossed the reins of his horse into some brush and ran back to where Joe lay struggling to get up. “Hold still a moment!” Adam demanded, as he made it to where Joe lay.

“We can’t stop,” sputtered Joe as he grasped hold of his knee. “The fire is gaining on us.”

Looking up, Adam saw the flames had made it down the hill, where they had been standing just moments before and obviously had no plans to stop. Muttering an expletive, he glanced around and saw that Joe’s horse was up ahead, her reins caught in a bush. “Joe, your horse is down the trail a short distance; I need to go get her.” Glancing over at Joe, Adam saw that he was trembling in pain, with a bead of sweat across his upper lip. Scrutinizing the area around them, Adam asked, “Do you think you can ride, Joe?”

“Uh, yea, just need help getting on my horse,” Joe replied with a gasp. Spasms of pain shot through his knee and he let out a cry of pain, as he tried standing on his own. Leaning against the tree, he tried to take his weight off the injured leg, yet even though he was unable to think clearly, one thought did make it through. Fear. Fear, as he realized that they were in dire straights if they didn’t get out of there soon. However, putting his trust with Adam, he felt safe and knew everything would be okay.

Reluctantly, Adam left Joe and ran down the trail where he untangled the reins and led the frightened horse back up the trail. Watching the sky turn from blue to black with smoke from the fire, he didn’t take any chances with Joe once he returned with the horse. Going over to where Joe was leaning up against the tree, Adam bent down and picked Joe up in his arms carrying him over to the horse, where he nearly tossed him up into the saddle. “You’re getting heavy, Joe,” teased Adam, trying to lighten the situation, as he patted him on the leg. Reaching over to grab the reins, he handed them up to Joe before going over to his own horse. Jumping on, he shouted. “Let’s get out of here fast!”

Ignoring the intermittent pains shooting in his knee, Joe kicked his horse in the ribs and followed Adam along the trail, sending their horses in a run down the trail. Just as they crested the next hilltop, Adam pulled his horse to a hard stop. “Fire. Straight ahead.” Sure enough, licking at the tops of the trees, flames devoured the needles, sending the remnants down to the floor of the forest, creating new fires.

Aghast, Joe stared and looked around him. Everywhere he looked he felt and saw the effects of the fire. “Adam, we’re surrounded by fire!”

“Not yet, buddy,” Adam answered, as he turned his horse around to face Joe. Looking over at him, he could tell he was holding his own, even though he wasn’t looking too good. Sweat covered Joe’s face, and he could tell by the way Joe sat in the saddle his knee was bothering him, “How are you doing?”

“I’m a little dizzy, but staying on.” Tense, he began to rub his forehead as he turned to face Adam. “But what are we going to do? We’re almost surrounded by the fire!”

“I have an idea, Joe,” Adam said as he pulled the horses next to each other. “I think we can outrun the fire down to our south.” He pointed to a way through the trees, off the trail to the south. “There’s no path, but I think it is our only hope.”

“I’ll follow you, Adam,” Joe answered. Despite feeling a little anxious about this turn of events, he trusted Adam and knew that he was placing his life in his brother’s hands. Turning their horses south, Joe and Adam urged their horses to run as fast as they could go in the terrain. Off the trail, there was less clarity as to where to go, with bushes and wayward branches that sprang into view, daring to knock them off their horses. Without warning, a sudden gust of wind brought about another shift in the wind’s direction. Suddenly the fire that seemed to be burning far off behind them was suddenly right behind them. They could smell and feel the heat of the fire on their backs. The horses, smelling the burning of wood, began to run even faster, encouraged by non-verbal commands of the riders. Rabbits, squirrels and other animals ran along with them, as it became a race between fire and man. As they went downhill, and just when it seemed like man would win, Adam’s horse tripped and fell sideways. Flying through the air, Adam landed on the ground and immediately began rolling down the hill. Trying to reach out and grab something to stop his uncontrolled descent, he looked up just in time to see Joe’s horse stumble. The horse was unable to get her feet on firm ground, and therefore had trouble on this downward slope regaining control. Trying to fight to stay on top the horse, Joe realized that it was a loosing battle, especially since he was rapidly loosing strength. Tossing himself out of the stirrups, Joe landed free of the horse just as she fell to the ground. In one tremendous amount of speed, the horses along with the men slid haphazardly down the hill with no chance of slowing down. Head over foot, they tumbled down the steep incline. Man and beast, each trying their best to regain control, but with the speed at which they traveled, they couldn’t stop. Already hurting, Joe no longer could catalog just where he hurt, while Adam was discovering new places where rocks, branches and bumps were making a path down his body.

Reaching out for something to grab onto, Adam stiffened up when he realized that he no longer felt anything. In fact, the ground had disappeared from beneath him. Trying to twist around and see what the end had in store with him, he saw their horses come careening over the edge towards him. Holding his breath, he feared what was promised to be a painful death with the last sight in his head, the vision of those crazy horses toppling down on him.

*****

“Pa, shouldn’t Little Joe and Adam be back now?” Hoss Cartwright asked, as he looked up from the piece of wood he was whittling.

Rubbing his neck, Ben looked over at Hoss, “Actually, I was just thinking that.” Laying the book down in his lap, he folded his hands before resting his chin on them. “They went to Placerville three days ago, but they may have decided to stay a few days longer.”

“But Pa, they were only going to stay one night. Besides, with that dance…” Just as Hoss was about to finish, they could hear horses enter the yard. Worried about his brothers, he jumped up and ran over to the door, “I bet that’s them.” Throwing the door open, Hoss peered outside ready to throw out greetings to his two errant brothers. Instead, he backed up as a man covered from head to toe in soot came running into the room. “Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright!” Panting, and out of breath, he bent over and tried to speak. Coughing, he had trouble saying anything else.

“Hold on, Pete. Catch your breath.” Motioning over to Hoss, Ben pointed over to the brandy. Pouring a glass, Hoss brought it over to where Pete stood. The man took the glass and swallowed it in one large gulp.

“There’s a fire on the north ridge, Mr. Cartwright! It’s burning something fierce.”

“WHAT!” bellowed Ben, “How did it start? Is it on the Ponderosa?”

“Yes sir. Heard that some fellow camping out in the hills may have started it by not making sure the campfire was completely out before he left.”

“Damn! That country up there is already like a match waiting to be lit.” Pacing, Ben stopped next to the table before letting out a resounding bang with his fist. Turning to Hoss, he barked orders out, “Hoss, get Tom to gather as many men that we can spare to fight the fire. Pete, find someone to ride into town and inform the sheriff about what is going on.”

Nodding, Pete turned and ran outdoors while Hoss hung back to gather his hat and gun belt. Just as Ben was grabbing his gun belt, the location of the fire struck him before his eyes. “The north ridge! That’s the area that Joe and Adam will be traveling through on their way back!”

Slamming the hat on his head, he yelled out to Hoss. “Get Tom, then let’s hurry and get those horses saddled!” Shutting the door behind him, he sent a quick prayer up, “Dear God, please be with my boys. Please be with my boys.”

*****

All movement stopped. Tense, it took Adam a moment to realize what happened. With his chest burning from lack of oxygen, Adam broke free from the watery prison that he had fallen into and began to gulp large quantities of air. Treading water and breathing heavily, he looked up and saw the twigs and branches hanging from their self-made path above him still dropping from the steep edge into the water. Gasping for breath, he could tell that their trip down the mountainside wasn’t without injury, as he felt every spot where he bumped into trees and rocks. Looking quickly around him in the water, he realized he didn’t see Joe. Feeling his chest tighten up with worry, he began calling out to him, “Joe! Little Joe! Can you hear me?” Dear God! I can’t lose my little brother this way, Adam thought. I promised him I would keep him safe. “Joe!” Looking up towards the bluff he had fallen from, he called out hoping that he would hear an answer. Hearing and seeing nothing, Adam continued to look and yell towards the bluff, as the water pushed him further downstream. Thinking that Joe definitely must have fallen into the water also, he again began to scan across the surface for any sign of his brother. Any pain or exhaustion that he might have felt was gone as he frantically sought out his brother. Diving back down into the water, he swam beneath the murky water trying to see if he somehow became tangled up beneath the water. Coming back up for air, he gasped for air as he fought off the feeling of panic when he thought about losing Joe.

Treading water, he continued to look across the water as he tried to catch his breath before diving back beneath the surface. As he bobbed on the surface, trying to catch his breath, he saw a tangled mass of branches, trees and other debris floating downstream from where he was floating. With an internal intuition, something encouraged Adam to check it out. Swimming close towards the debris, he grabbed hold of it, and leaned against a branch trying to catch his breath. As he lifted his head, he looked across the mound, and saw something. Joe? Adam wondered, as he inched his way carefully around the debris. Carefully, he made it to the other side, and there he saw his brother entangled in branches that were keeping his head up out of the water. Not seeing any movement, Adam cried out, “Oh God, no!” With a burst of energy coming from deep within him, Adam reached through the branches, and was just barely able to reach Joe and placed his fingers on his neck, feeling for a pulse. Floating as still as he could on the bobbing mass, he could barely feel the pulse. He was alive!

With a sigh of relief, all the tension that had been built up was let go as he said a silent thanks to God. Leaning up against the branches, he was careful not to lose hold of the debris as he inched as close to Joe as possible. With a sigh of relief, he saw that Joe’s face was barely out of the water and resting on a thick branch. Wrapping his arm around Joe’s shoulders, Adam was going to make sure that Joe didn’t accidentally end up floating away from him. Now that he found him, he wasn’t about to lose him again. Holding onto his brother and onto the branch, he looked around to try and place where they were. Looking upriver from where they floated from, he could faintly see the dark clouds of smoke billowing in the sky behind them.

As Joe tried to move, it felt like a heavy weight was pressing down on him. Fighting the urge to return to darkness, Joe tried to move as he slowly regained consciousness. Coughing, he spit up water that he had swallowed when he had entered the lake.

Hearing the coughing, Adam turned his head around so he could face Joe as he slowly came to.

Trying to stretch as he came to, Joe ended up tossing his arm out from his side, and heard the splash as his arm fell into the water. Puzzled as to where he was, Joe lifted his head a little and saw that his right arm was wrapped around a branch that was part of a large mound of debris. Looking over, he saw Adam hanging onto the branch also, with one arm wrapped around Joe. Realizing where the heavy weight originated from, Joe croaked out, “We’re alive?”

“Hey buddy, how are you doing?” Adam asked as he looked into the dark green eyes that were looking over at him.

“I don’t know. Just feel so tired.” Coughing, Joe held his chest a moment, before continuing, “Feels like I’ve been trampled by a dozen wild horses.” Actually, there wasn’t any place on his body that wasn’t aching, and for now he was glad his knee was submerged under water where he couldn’t feel it. Looking over at Adam, he observed the cuts and bruises covering his brother’s face. Concerned, he asked, “What about you? You look like you’ve tangled with a wild cat.”

“And I lost, right?” Adam joked, as he reached up to feel the numerous cuts. Looking around him, he turned back around to face Joe, “So how did you like my shortcut?”

Chuckling, Joe grimaced as he moved. “Had a fairly soft landing. Better than what we could have had.” Propping his chin up on his arm, he looked around him. “Adam, where are we?”

Looking across the water before answering, Adam replied, “Somewhere in the middle of Lake Tahoe. After we fell, we drifted downstream, and now I’m not quite sure where we are.”

Moving a little, Joe felt a pain shoot through his chest as he moved. “And how…” he panted, “are we going to get to shore?”

Concerned at Joe’s catch in breath, Adam reached over and squeezed Joe on the shoulder. “We’ll get there, buddy. You just hang in there. We’ll make it out of this lake, and that I promise you.”

“I’m holding you to that, Adam.” Then with a sigh, Joe laid his head back down on the branch and closed his eyes.

The two brothers drifted in the lake, not knowing where they were going. After some time had passed, it seemed to Adam that they were drifting closer to shore. Lifting his head, he turned over to Joe. “Joe, I think if we kick we can make it to shore.” Removing his arm from Joe’s shoulders, Adam stretched out and began to kick their craft of debris toward shore. Following Adam’s example, Joe began to kick also, but he forgot about his knee. Having been submerged in the water, it had obtained a feeling of weightlessness, but just as he kicked, a violent burst of pain from his knee brought him back to reality. Crying out, he grabbed his knee without thinking, and let go of the branch. Feeling the water close in around him, Joe quickly realized that he had lost hold of his anchor as he gasped for air before going under. As Joe went under, he felt a violent tug on his jacket, then a quick trip through the water as Adam, in one swift grab, brought him back above the surface and onto the branch. Reaching out he grabbed the branch and rested just as the energy left him. “Adam….” He panted, “I’m sorry. Let me rest a minute, then I’ll help.”

“That’s ok, just rest, Joe.” Seeing Joe closing his eyes, Adam shook him, “But you need to stay awake for me, until we hit dry land. Do you hear me, Joe?” Nodding, Joe briefly opened his eyes to let Adam know that he heard him.

“Stay with me, Joe!”

Listening to Adam, yet feeling an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, Joe tried to do as he was told. But slowly, he felt himself drifting off. Abruptly his peace was shaken from him, as he felt Adam shaking him.

“Wake up, Joe; you said you were going to stay awake!”

Trying to listen to Adam, Joe knew he needed to do something, or else he’d drift off to sleep. Stretching out his one good leg, he tried to help paddle but it was barely enough to propel them. Giving up, Joe just held on and watched Adam kick.

After what seemed like hours, Adam could feel the shore beneath his feet. With his strength nearly exhausted, Adam had just enough energy to pull himself and Joe out of the water before he collapsed on the shore. When Joe felt the firm ground beneath his body, he sighed and finally felt like it was safe for him to close his eyes and sleep.

Hours passed as the sun moved its position in the sky while two prone figures lay on the banks of Lake Tahoe. Shivering, Joe slowly began to wake up, and with teeth chattering, he slowly pulled the rest of his body out of the water. Looking over, he saw Adam lying still next to him. Wrapping his arms around his chest as he leaned forward, Joe let out a sigh of relief when he saw the rise and fall of Adam’s chest. Moving back into a sitting position, Joe tried to get his hands to stop shaking as he tried to see what part of him wasn’t hurting. Looking down at his knee, he tried to bend it, but stopped when he felt the pain ignite and shoot up through his leg. Gasping out, he reached down, and could feel the swollen flesh through his pant leg, with the heat rising up from it. Rolling his eyes, he wished at that moment, the rest of him could be as warm as his knee. Gritting his teeth, he continued the inspection across his body. Moving his other leg, he was relieved to see that despite a lot of bruises from their roll, there were no broken bones. Slowly he leaned back, as he brought his hand up to his chest. There he could feel a couple of badly bruised ribs; however, it didn’t seem like they were broken. Cracked perhaps, but not broken. Continuing his self-examination, he was pleased to note that there were no other injuries, but just when he thought it was safe to start moving around, his headache from earlier came back with a passion. Sitting there, he rocked back and grabbed his head and moaned. Feeling the jabs subside slightly, he licked his lips and realized how thirsty he was. Rolling over on his side, he slowly crawled over to the water and dipped his head in the water, drinking greedily from it.

“Joe!”

At the sound of his name, Joe jerked his head around and saw Adam towering over him.

“Dang it, Joe!” Adam scolded. “You scared me there. Thought you were a goner!”

“Naw, just thirsty.”

“How are you doing, Joe?”

“Honestly, not too good.” Pointing down at his knee, Joe continued, “I know I banged up my knee a bit, but that was from my earlier fall down the mountain. Other than that, I’m doing great.” Grinning, he looked up at Adam. “What about you?”

Shrugging, Adam answered him, “’Bout the same. I have bruises and scratches all over my body.”

Trying to stand up, Joe grabbed onto Adam’s right wrist. Howling out, Adam bent over in pain.

“…And I think I messed up my wrist.” Slowly straightening, Adam felt the pain ease.

“Where’s our horses?” Joe asked, as he looked around the area.

Sighing, Adam answered, “I don’t know. The last thing I remembered was falling in the water and then seeing those two beasts coming down after me.”

“Do you think….are they okay?”

“I don’t know, Joe. I wish I knew where they were.” Adam said, as he looked around the area trying to place where they were. Vaguely he had an idea, but only if they walked some could he pinpoint their location. Turning around to look at Joe, he caught the look on Joe’s face as he was trying to get up. “Joe! What’s wrong?”

“Huh?” Joe replied, as he tried to figure out a way to deflect the question.

“Your ribs, Joe, I saw you holding them and grimacing.” Frowning, Adam realized that Joe hadn’t told him the complete truth earlier. “Sit down, Joe and let check you out.”

“Aw Adam, I’m fine,” whined Joe, as he tried to dodge Adam’s hands.

“Can I at least check?”

Sitting stoically, Joe shot him a glare, knowing that he couldn’t outrun Adam even if he wanted to. Walking over to Joe, Adam knelt and began to feel on Joe’s ribs, watching Joe’s face as tried to hide the pain. “Uh huh,” grunted Adam. Gently squeezing on one rib, Adam watched as Joe writhed in pain.

“Dang it, Adam! Whatcha do that for?”

“Sorry. Looks like you made it down the mountain without much more injury to your body. No broken ribs.”

“Yeah, just a ton of bruises and scratches.”

Just then a soft breeze blew across the water, and blew across the pair of men. Immediately both men felt the breeze in their wet clothing and shivered.

“What are we going to do, Adam?”

Looking up at the sky, Adam saw that the sun was soon going to set and darkness was coming soon. As he stood up, Adam glanced over at Joe and became concerned with his little brother’s shaking. Thinking back from his days with the Paiutes, he remembered a way that they had started a fire without matches. Patting his holster, he was relieved to see that his gun had made the journey down with him, although it was useless. Looking around the shore, he didn’t find the items that he needed, so he went over to Joe. “Joe, I need to find a rock, a certain type of rock and see if I can get a fire going.”

“Go ahead, big brother; see if you can warm this place up,” Joe answered, although his shivering was a direct contrast to the sweat glistening across his face.

Looking down at Joe, Adam felt a bit concerned, but knew that they needed to get dry before nightfall while the sun was still out. Reaching out and patting Joe’s good leg, he continued, “I’ll be right back.”

Going out into the woods, Adam finally found just what he was wanting, and carried it over to where Joe lay. Gathering some dry brush and twigs, he went over to his brother. “Joe, we need to get someplace away from this water. This moisture is not helping us dry any.” Reaching down with his good arm, he tried to help Joe up off of the ground.

“Wait a sec, Adam.” Joe panted, as he gritted his teeth. With one somewhat fluid motion, he hobbled to his feet while holding on dearly to Adam’s arm. Stopping a moment, he felt the fireworks in his knee and head begin, yet while he tried to clear his head by shaking it, the movement sent shockwaves through the rest of his body. Groaning, it felt like he was one mass of aches and hurts. Finding energy he didn’t realize he had, Joe leaned heavily on Adam as he painfully limped with his brother to a clearing away from the water. Dropping down next to a tree, Adam helped Joe position his back against the tree. Satisfied that Joe was somewhat comfortable, Adam moved back to his assorted collection of rocks and brush.

Trying to shake the fog from his head, Joe tried to watch what Adam was doing. Pulling his gun from his holster, Adam looked at it a moment before picking up a rock and striking it against his gun.

“Adam? What are you doing?” Just as the words were out of his mouth, Joe saw a flicker of spark jump from the friction and land onto the brush.

Bending over Adam gently blew on the spark as it caught hold of the brush, and soon they could see a small flame develop in the brush.

“You did it, Adam! You did it!”

Adding small twigs to it, Adam gradually added larger pieces of kindling until it was ready to be fed larger pieces of wood. Soon, the fire was blazing, and both men could feel the warmth of the fire their wet clothing.

Looking over at Joe, Adam frowned when saw how the wet clothes lay on his body. Realizing that his wet clothes weren’t any different, he carefully took off his shirt hoping that it would dry quicker. Unfortunately, it seemed like the breeze attacked his skin with even more ferociousness. Determined to have at least a dry item of clothing, he braved the wind. “Joe, why don’t you take off your jacket and see if you can dry it.”

Shedding his jacket, Joe continued to shiver, as the breeze hit a second level of wetness with his shirt that was still plastered wet against his skin, making patterns against his muscles.

“A…A…A…dam.” Shivering, Joe could barely get out his brother’s name. “W…hat…are we going…..to…do?” Hunched over, he tried to block himself from the breezes, while at the same time protect his leg.

“Go to sleep, Joe.”

“But…”

“Go to sleep. I’ll watch the fire.” Inching his way over to where Joe lay, Adam positioned himself so that his brother could use his lap for a pillow.

Feeling Adam push his wet curls from his forehead, Joe felt comforted and fell into a fitful sleep. Looking to the west, Adam thought he saw clouds developing, just as the sun was setting.

*****

“Look, Pa!”

Ben looked in the direction that Hoss pointed, and saw thunderheads rapidly building to the west. Against the setting sun, they created an awesome sight, as the distant rumbling echoed like cannons through the mountains. Watching the clouds, Ben hoped that the rain would make it their way, to help fight the fire. All the men were tired and worn out from fighting it. Ben and Hoss had been all over the fire-stricken north ridge, but there was no sign of Adam or Joe. Unfortunately, they also knew that the fire would have erased any sign, except for charred remains of bodies.

“Pa, they ain’t up here,” Hoss said, as they finished searching the area.

“I know, son,” Ben said, as he sat on his horse rubbing his neck. “But I have a feeling they are alive somewhere. I’ve been praying that we are led in the right direction.”

Taking another look at the clouds, and then at the sun, Hoss suggested, “Why don’t we take another ride south of here along the banks and see if we see anything?”

Nodding, Ben motioned for Hoss to lead the way.

For another thirty minutes they rode, seeking any possible sign of where Adam and Joe were. Nothing was found. Just when Hoss was going to suggest they turn around and look elsewhere, Ben saw a light in the distance. Reining his horse in, he shouted out to Hoss.

“Hoss! Do you see that light over there?” Pointing to a spot downriver from them, faintly they could see a fire burning next to the shore.

“I do, Pa. It looks like it might be a campfire.” Looking out at the clouds, and then back at the campfire, he continued, “But Pa, it looks like those clouds are gaining on us.”

Grimly Ben nodded in agreement. “Let’s ride as far as we can.”

Picking their way across the terrain, they led their horses up an embankment as the shore meandered away, in their quest to get to the light. Suddenly, they came to a turn in the embankment, where there was no way to get down to the water but straight down a vertical edge. Looking at the vegetation around the area, Hoss noticed something laying on the ground. “Pa!”

Turning around to where Hoss stood, Ben saw him waving a hat, Joe’s hat.

“Look here. I think somehow or another, they came this way and fell into the water.” Hoss pointed to the mess of leaves and brush; one could easily see that something or someone had slid over the side. Peering down into the water, they could see nothing. “Pa. It’s getting really dark now and it will be storming soon. I think we’d best make camp, before we end up the same way.”

Sitting on his horse, Ben contemplated his options. Unfortunately, he knew that Hoss was right. “Ok, son, but first thing in the morning, we are going to check on that campsite down river.” Climbing down from his horse, he went about helping Hoss make camp and protect them from the incoming storm.

*****

BOOM! Joe jerked awake at the sound of the thunder. Seeing the flashes of lightening dance across the sky, he watched as the clouds swirled above him. Eyes wide open, he turned to Adam and saw that his brother also was awake and watching the clouds.

Reaching over, Adam felt his now dry shirt, and as he was putting one of his arms into the sleeves, he grabbed Joe’s jacket and tossed it over to him. Buttoning up his shirt with one hand, Adam turned around and saw Joe still struggling to get his jacket on.

“Wait a sec, Joe.” Leaning over to Joe, Adam gently helped Joe into his jacket while he tried to be careful with his broken wrist and Joe’s ribs. Standing up, he reached down and offered Joe his arm.

Biting the inside of his mouth, Joe groaned as he slowly stood up, favoring his leg.

Looking around him, Adam tried his best to find a better shelter. Unfortunately, being this close to shore, there wasn’t much of a selection especially since they were in no shape to travel far.

Watching Adam, Joe knew there was nothing that could be done. He was hurt, cold and getting sick. With Adam hurt also, there wasn’t really anything that could be done but to wait until morning to sort out what they were going to do. Plus, there was no shelter in sight from what promised to be a majestic storm. Feeling tightness in his chest, he began to cough. Trying to cover it, as to not to concern Adam, he stifled it just as Adam jerked his head around to see him. Looking at him, Adam stared as Joe stared back. Satisfied that he was ok, Adam looked away. Joe released the pent up tension and sighed. As his body shook with his compressed coughing he was trying to hide, a spasm of coughing shook his body so hard that he couldn’t contain the coughing.

Concerned, Adam came rushing over to Joe’s side. “Joe…you okay?”

“Yeah…just each cough shakes my ribs.”

“Let me see your ribs, Joe.”

Waving him away, Joe noticed that Adam’s nose was red and running. “You don’t look much better than me, older brother.” Just then, Adam sneezed, proving Joe’s point. “Adam, why don’t we just sit under that bunch of trees over there, and sit close together. There ain’t nowhere else we can go.”

Looking over to where Joe pointed, Adam sighed. Personally he didn’t like to be around trees with a storm coming, but at that moment they had no choice. It was either lay out in the opening and get drenched, or hide beneath the great boughs of the trees and dodge the raindrops. Reaching over to Joe, he put his arm around his brother’s waist and then together, they slowly made their way over to the stand of trees.

Panting heavily, Joe collapsed on the ground, no longer caring about how much he hurt. All he wanted to do now was sleep. Looking up at Adam, he muttered thanks, and then drifted off to sleep.

Seeing Joe curled up on the ground, Adam pulled up close to Joe and shared his body heat. There they slept, brother next to brother, as the sky opened up and dumped out the water it was holding on its two victims down below.

*****

Early the next morning, just as the rays of sunshine were peaking across the land, Ben and Hoss were already on their horses, having broke camp before the sun rose. Making a detour around the high embankment, they slowly began their descent down towards the shore. Stopping, they looked across to where they saw the fire the night before; there was nothing there now.

Determined to check it out nonetheless, both men were quiet as they silently hoped that it was Adam and Joe’s site. Walking their horses slowly, they came to a low spot on the shore and noticed hoof prints. Puzzled, they followed them, to a stand of trees where they saw a horse. Jumping off his horse, Ben ran over to the gelding and looked it over. “Hoss! It’s Adam’s horse!” Looking worn out, and beaten up, but otherwise healthy, the horse stood silently as he sensed human presence. Walking up to it, Ben was able to grab the reins without much trouble, “They’re alive, Hoss! I feel it in my bones.”

Nodding, Hoss smiled, feeling hope for the first time since the fire. Looking down the shore, his eyes caught hold of something in the water. Climbing down from his horse, Hoss walked over to the object. “Pa, have a look.”

Leading the horse he had just rescued to where his horse stood, Ben walked over to see what Hoss wanted to show him. There in the water, half submerged was Joe’s horse that he had ridden over to Placerville. “It’s dead, Pa.”

Dropping his head, Ben tried to hold back a sob. Reaching over to his Pa, Hoss patted him on the shoulder. “They’re okay, Pa. They have to be.” With nothing they could do for the horse now, they pulled off the saddles bag and gear from it before retrieving their own horses.

Holding their thoughts to themselves, Hoss and Ben gingerly made their way down the shore as they slipped on the wet rocks trying not to slip into the water. Coming close to where they had seen the light the night before, Hoss stopped. “I know they are here. I just sense it,” Hoss said as he climbed down off his horse. Squatting down, he looked across the water.

“I know, son,” Ben replied, as he patted Hoss on the back. Pulling his hat off his head, and then replacing it, he stopped suddenly at a sound. Turning around, he peered into the woods. “Hoss, did you hear that?”

Standing up, Hoss listened closely. “I sure did, Pa.” Walking slowly into the trees, they stopped to listen. “There it is again, Pa! Sounds like coughing.”

Running over to where the sound was coming from, they both stopped dead at the sight before them. Joe lay safely sheltered in Adam’s arms as Adam’s head rested on the tree behind him. With an arm over his chest, Adam had his right arm resting on Joe’s shoulder. Again the sound that brought them over happened again as Joe coughed.

“Joe! Adam!” Ben cried out, seeing his son’s bedraggled appearance.

Adam opened his eyes a bit; as he reached up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, wearily he replied, “Pa! Knew you would find us.” Gently shaking Joe, he tried to wake him up. “Joe….Joe….come on, buddy, wake up.” Groaning, Joe reached up to fight off Adam’s hand.

Kneeling down to the ground, Ben carefully looked over both his sons. Feeling Adam’s forehead, he felt a fever beginning then noticed the swollen wrist. “Adam?”

As Hoss tried moving Joe off of Adam, he quickly stopped when he heard Joe cry out in pain. Frightened, Hoss let him go.

“Adam?” Ben questioned again, as he looked at both his sons in concern.

Turning to look down at his charge, Adam answered Ben’s unmentioned question. “Long story. But he busted his leg up the other day, and then ended up with some badly bruised ribs.”

“And you, Adam?” Ben asked, as he saw that Adam was not completely out of the clear.

“Think I broke my wrist, then just a bunch of bruises and scrapes; otherwise I’m okay.”

Looking over at Joe, Ben saw a pair of glazed green eye’s staring at him.

“Pa?” Joe questioned, as he reached up trying to decide if it was real or part of his dream.

Grabbing Joe’s hand, Ben answered, “I’m here, son; just rest.” Pushing Joe’s hair off his head, he contemplated what to do. Joe was too beat up all over to ride a horse in comfort, but staying where they were was out of the questions, being as both his sons needed to be at home and out of their wet clothing. Looking at them, Ben could see that both of his sons were feverish and sweaty.

“Hoss,” Ben called out, as he motioned over to him. “Bring the horses over here, and pull off the bedrolls while you’re at it.”

Nodding, Hoss did as he was told, bringing the bedrolls over to Ben, who then unrolled them. Giving one to Hoss, Ben suggested, “Wrap that one around Adam, and help him up on his horse.” Watching Hoss move over to where Adam sat, Ben grabbed the other bedroll and went over to where Joe was laying. “Joe?”

Looking up at him, Joe slowly leaned forward while he clutched his ribs, “Yes, Pa?”

Realizing that Joe’s ribs were hurting him, Ben knew that they needed to be bound before more damage was done when he was put up on the horse. Looking over to where Hoss had a tightly wrapped Adam, he stopped Hoss just as he was about to help him on the horse. “Hoss, hold up a second.”

“Yes sir?”

“We need to bind Joe’s ribs before we go. Let’s get this shirt off him, and then use it as a bandage.”

Seeing what Ben had in mind, Hoss carefully sat Adam back down on the ground, then went over and sat behind Joe, helping Ben to remove Joe’s shirt. Slowly unbuttoning the shirt, Ben was able to pull one sleeve off Joe’s arm before he squeaked out a cry of pain. “Shhh…shhhh…it’s okay, son.” Cringing, Ben looked down and saw the multitude of bruises all over his son’s back and chest, as Hoss finished taking the shirt off.

Grabbing a knife from one of the saddlebags, Hoss then proceeded to rip and tear the shirt into sections before handing them over to Ben.

Leaning Joe forward, Ben began by warning Joe, “This is going to hurt some, but it will help once we get you bound.” Turning to Hoss, he said, “Help me get this around him and tied.” Pulling the strips of cloth, Ben pulled it around Joe’s chest and began to tightly bind him up.

Wanting to cry out in pain, Joe began to hold his breath against the onslaught of pain. Feeling lightheaded, Joe cried out once more before he passed out.

Relieved that Joe was out it, Ben finished binding Joe chest then shook the blanket out before wrapping it around Joe. “Let’s get them up on the horses and head back to the ranch.” Going over to Adam, both Ben and Hoss helped him up onto his feet and supported him over to the horse. Knowing that it was going to be tricky getting him up on the horse, Hoss stayed at Adam’s side while Ben held onto the reins of the horse as Adam climbed upon the horse. Pushing Adam from behind, Hoss helped Adam get situated on the horse before pulling the blanket closer around him. Going over to Adam, Ben patted him on the leg as he handed him the reins. “You did good, son.”

Vaguely hearing him, Adam gave a half grin and nodded while he accepted the reins being offered to him.

Looking over at their sleeping burden slumped against the tree, Ben led Buck over to where Joe lay and climbed onto the horse’s back. Hoss, waiting for Ben’s signal reached down and swept Joe up into his arms, carrying him over to where Ben sat waiting. With a little bit of maneuvering, both men were able to sit Joe on the horse so that both of his legs were hanging over one side of the horse. Careful not to let Joe slip, Ben kept a tight hold on him while keeping in mind his son’s injured ribs.

“Ok Pa, when you get tired, let me know and I’ll carry him awhile.”

Turning their horses towards home, the trio of riders slowly rode their horses, with concern on making it home before the next round of showers.

*****

“Hoss, there’s the road to Virginia City,” Ben instructed as they made their treacherous journey out of the hills and into a flatter plain. “Bring the doctor out to the ranch.”

Looking over at Adam and Joe, Hoss shook his head, “I’m sorry, Pa, but those two are liable to collapse on you at any moment.”

Exasperated by his son’s refusal, Ben looked over at Adam. Adam was just barely hanging on to the reins, and looked as though he had reached the end of his stamina. When he heard Ben call out his name, he just nodded in recognition, but didn’t have the energy to do much more. Reining his horse, Ben rode over to where Adam was and he pulled on the horse’s reins. Reaching over, he could feel the heat radiating off Adam’s body as he patted him on the shoulder. Reaching down, he pulled up the canteen and after twisting off the cap, offered some to Adam, hoping it would help regenerate his spirits some. “Here, son.” Gulping greedily, Adam waved it away when he had enough.

Looking down at Joe, Ben could see that he was awake but grimacing in pain. Feeling the heat burning from Joe into his shirt, Ben waved Hoss on towards home. “Come on, son, let’s get your brothers home.”

*****

As soon as they came close to the ranch house, Ben called out to a ranch hand to retrieve the doctor. After pulling their horses as close to the front door as possible, Hoss dismounted and walked over to where Adam still sat slumped over on the horse. Reaching up, Hoss gently pulled the reins from his hands. “Come on, big brother, we’re home.”

Looking down at Hoss, Adam could barely comprehend what was being said; he just nodded as he sat there without moving.

Shaking his head, Hoss reached up and tugged on Adam, “Come on, I need you to help me a bit here.” Hearing this, Adam let go and slid off the horse into Hoss’ arms. Half carrying him, Hoss nearly made it into the house, before he turned around to see how Ben was faring with Joe.

Having slid off Buck, Ben was reaching up to pull Joe off the horse; however, Joe had somehow ended up getting tangled up in the blankets. Ben was now having a mountain of trouble untangling Joe so that he could safely get him off the horse.

Seeing the trouble that Ben was having, Hoss hollered over to him. “Pa!” Hoss yelled. “Wait a moment.” Looking around the barnyard, he saw a wrangler over in the corral. “Hey Frank!”

Looking up, Frank saw Hoss motioning him over to where they were and quickly walked over to where the Hoss stood. Hoss directed him to help hold Adam while he went over to help Ben with getting Joe off the horse. Reaching up, Hoss pulled Joe off the horse and put him on the ground. Already in a fuzz of reality, Joe instantly woke up with a scream of pain as the pressure from standing sent rods of pain up through his knee. Lifting Joe off the ground and into his arms, Hoss apologized, “Sorry, buddy, didn’t mean for you to hit the ground so hard.” Looking over at Ben, Hoss suggested, “Pa, why don’t you take Adam inside; I’ll take care of Joe here.”

Reluctantly Ben let go of Joe and went over to where Frank was assisting Adam. Relieving Frank, Ben wrapping his arms around his eldest son’s waist, turned, went indoors and gently guided Adam up the stairs to his bedroom.

Watching Ben take care of Adam, Hoss followed with Joe in his arms, being careful not to jar his brother’s knee as he carried his burden up the stairs and into his bedroom. Ben, just leaving Adam’s room, came to help Hoss pull back the covers on Joe’s bed. “Adam is covered in just as many bruises and scrapes as Joe,” Ben commented as he entered Joe’s room. Watching Joe shiver and shake, Ben went out into the hallway and grabbed some blankets. Going back into Adam’s room, he shook one of the blankets out and tucked it in around his now sleeping son. Gathering up the other blanket, he went back towards Joe’s room.

“How’s Adam, Pa?” Hoss asked, as he worked at laying Joe down on the bed.

“He’s pretty much beat up, probably as beat up as Joe will be.”

Together, both men took on the task of taking the clothes off the injured man lying in front of them. Unbuckling his gun belt, they gently began to slide his pants off. Forgetting about his knee, Hoss bumped into it, sending coursing waves of pain up through Joe’s body. Crying out, Joe tried to lurch up in the bed to clinch his knee. Ben, realizing what he was going to do, stopped Joe before he pulled himself from the mattress. Gently rubbing his son’s shoulder, he tried to get Joe’s mind off the pain.

Moaning and rocking, Joe tried to wish the pain away. Awake now, he clenched his teeth as he felt every sore sport crying out in agony, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he glanced over and finally saw Ben and Hoss. Licking his lips, he questioned, “Pa?”

“Yes, son…”

Briefly Joe closed his eyes as he tried to talk but the parched area in his throat prevented it; he instead looked over at the water, before turning his eyes back to Ben.

Watching Joe’s eyes, Ben realized that he wanting water, so he hurried over to the pitcher and poured him a glass. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Ben gently lifted Joe’s head, and helped support his head as he drained the glass.

“Thanks,” Joe whispered, as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Just then, Hop Sing came into the room with a heated brick wrapped in sheets, “Adam have brick. Here brick for Joe.” Getting off the bed, Ben pulled back the covers, so that Hop Sing could place it at Joe’s feet. “All better now!”

Nodding, Ben pulled the covers back over Joe, and noticed that his shivering had never stopped, hoped that the bricks would help warm him. Concerned about Adam, Ben got up to go check on him.

“I’ll do it, Pa,” Hoss said, as he guessed where Ben was headed. “Then I’ll go downstairs and wait for the doctor.”

Looking up, Ben acknowledged Hoss, and settled back down in the chair next to Joe’s bed, watching his son sleep restlessly in his bed.

*****

“Pa!”

Hearing Hoss yell out, Ben jumped out of the chair and rounded the corner out of Joe’s room, looking down the stairs. There stood Hoss with the doctor at the door. However, the doctor’s left hand was covered in a swath of bandages. “Doc Martin! What happened to you?”

Shaking his head, the doctor walked towards the stairs as he answered, “I’m not immune to accidents.” Rolling his eyes, he continued, “I grabbed a kettle off the stove, not realizing it was hot; I ended up burning my hand. It should be fine in a few days. So, where are my patients?”

Shaking his head, Ben smiled as he led the way upstairs; at the top, he gave a run down on Joe and Adam’s conditions. Nodding, the doctor went into the first room, where Adam was just waking up. Walking in, he saw that Adam was already in bed, under several layers of blankets. On top of the covers, lay his right wrist, already red and swollen.

Hearing the noise, Adam shifted beneath the blankets and opened his eyes. Sneezing, he rubbed his nose before greeting, “Hi doc.” Painfully he moved around in his bed, while he carefully shifted his body without moving his wrist.

Picking up Adam’s wrist, Martin looked over it, grunting while he examined it. “Needs a splint so that we can stabilize it. But, I need someone to help me.” Looking up, he saw Hoss hovering in the doorway and sent him downstairs to get the supplies for making the splint. Pulling back the covers, the doctor continued to check over Adam and see if there were any other injuries. As he leaned Adam forward, he checked his chest for any congestion filling into the lungs. Pulling the thermometer from Adam’s mouth, which he had stuck in earlier during the examination, he announced, “Well, Adam, it looks like you made it out alive with nothing worse than a broken wrist and probably a bad cold.” Going over to his bag, Martin pulled out a bottle of medicine that he handed to Ben. “Give him a dose of this right now, and then every hour. It should help break the fever, and help him rest more comfortably.”

Nodding, Ben took the medicine and spooned out some for Adam. Not wanting to take it, Adam squeezed his eyes shut and tried to dodge it. “I don’t need that stuff, Pa.”

“Open your mouth.”

Rolling his eyes, Adam obediently opened his mouth, and swallowed the bitter tasting stuff. “UGH! Can’t they make this stuff taste any better?”

Just then, Hoss strolled into the room with the supplies the doctor asked for. “Glad to see you’re feeling better, big brother.” Turning to the doctor, “Here’s what you wanted. What do you need me to do?”

“I need to you to splint Adam’s arm, and then wrap it around with these bandages,” Paul explained as he waved his injured arm around. “’Bout the only thing I can do here is hold his arm up.”

Grinning down at the doctor, Hoss followed the instructions given to him, and soon Adam was bandaged up and ready for sleep. Patting him on the shoulder, Paul slowly got up from the bed and began putting back the thermometer and other items back into his bag. “This young man will be feeling good in a few days; however, keep him from using his wrist for at least four weeks. Then I’ll need to see him again.” Turning around to face Ben, he said, “So where’s my next patient?”

Leading the way into Joe’s room, Ben stepped aside so that the doctor could approach Joe’s bedside. Looking down at his patient, the doctor noticed that beads of sweat had formed across Joe’s forehead and upper lip. Taking his thermometer out of the bag, he sat on the edge of the bed as he patted Joe on the shoulder. “Joe, are you awake?” Briefly, the doctor got a glimpse of Joe’s green eyes as they flicked open. “Ok, so you’re alert. I’m going to check your temperature.” Pulling out the thermometer, the doctor pushed it between Joe’s lips. “Open up, son; let me make sure it went under your tongue.” Hearing Joe mumble something, the doctor leaned closer, “What son?”

“It’s under my tongue,” Joe mumbled again, as he opened his eyes again ever so briefly.

Nodding, the doctor acknowledged he heard, and turned around to fumble in his medicine bag. Facing Ben, he asked, “Could you please get the medicine bottle that I left in Adam’s room? I have a feeling this young man is going to need it also.”

Hearing that, Joe made a grimace as Doc Martin reached down and pulled the thermometer from his mouth. “Yep, young man looks like you are going to end up with a nasty cold.” Pulling down the sheets that were covering Joe, the doctor noticed the bandages wrapped around Joe’s chest. “Hmmmm, looks like you have more going on here than a cold.” Reaching into his bag, the doctor retrieved a pair of scissors as leaned over and began cutting through the makeshift bandages that were binding Joe’s ribs. Looking across the room, Martin saw Hoss hovering near the doorframe. “Hoss, I need your help again.” As Hoss came forward, Martin gave directions. “Help me lean him forward so I can check out the condition of his ribs.” With one hand sitting in his lap, Martin used his other to gently prod Joe on his chest. Listening to Joe’s suppressed grunts, he nodded to Hoss to lean Joe back down on his pillow. “Well, Joe, it looks as though you have cracked about three ribs and bruised a few others.” With Joe’s chest free of bandages, Martin placed the stethoscope on Joe’s chest and listened. “Hmmm, good. No rattle. I think you made it without pneumonia, but you are going to have to take this medicine to make sure it doesn’t happen.” Looking over to Hoss, he instructed him to grab some bandages out of his bag. “Joe,” Martin said, “this may hurt a bit, but we need to bind your chest up so that these cracks don’t turn into breaks. Ok?”

Listening intently to what the doctor was saying, Joe began to remember the last episode of chest binding. Just as he was about to speak, Hoss returned with the bandages, distracting Joe from what he was planning on saying. Pulling Joe up from the pillows, Martin assisted Hoss as much as he could as Hoss carefully went to work with binding Joe’s chest.

“Owww!” Joe squeaked out, as the bandages seemed to squeeze the air out of him. Twisting his lips around, he tried to form a word just as the last bandage was wound around him. “That…..urts!”

Patting Joe on the shoulder, Martin turned around a he sensed Ben behind him. Standing up, the doctor moved aside so that Ben could dole out the medicine. Pouring a glass of water, Martin had it handy for Joe once he swallowed the medicine. “Same thing I told you for Adam is for Joe here also.”

Pouring out a dose, Ben measured carefully in the spoon and went over to Joe. “Ok Joe, I need you to open your mouth.”

Watching Joe’s eyes dart beneath the closed eyelids, Ben grinned, “I know you’re awake, so you can either do it the hard way or the easy way and get this medicine.”

As Joe contemplated on how to avoid this request, he coughed and in went the spoon of medicine. “Pa!” complained Joe, as he struggled to fight the taste out of his mouth. Gladly he accepted the water that Martin handed out to him and gulped it down before lying back down in the bed.

Motioning over to Ben, Doc Martin moved to the other side of the bed so that he could examine Joe’s knee. “Here, help me pull back the covers so that I can examine his leg.”

As they pulled back the sheets, both men saw the reddened and inflamed knee. Reaching down, Doc Martin gently probed it as he felt the heat radiating from it. To Joe, the probing felt like a red-hot poker digging into his knee, causing him to cry out. Flinging his arms out, he tried to lean up and knock whoever it was causing the pain away but his cracked ribs stopped his motion, causing him to cry out in pain. Seeing what Joe was intending on doing, Ben moved up towards him and began to caress his forehead. “It’s ok Joe, let the doctor examine your knee.” Watching the doctor through narrow slits, Joe gritted his teeth as the doctor picked up and massaged his knee. Letting out a gasp, he sighed with relief when the doctor removed his hands from his knee.

“Well, Joe, it looks like you have a badly sprained knee. Fortunately, you didn’t tear any ligaments.” Looking down at his patient, the doctor moved up closer to where he could be in view of Joe. “Unfortunately, a sprain can be just as painful.” Looking over at Ben, he said, “Ben, the best thing for this is a cast. But…”

Hearing this Joe groaned as he interrupted the doctor to complain, “Oh please! Not a cast!”

Looking down at Joe, the doctor continued, “As I was about to say…but I don’t have the material with me. At this point it would be easier and less time consuming to make a splint.” Watching Joe, the doctor could see that he was visibly relieved by this news. “Bu, I need his word that he will be still and won’t try to get out of bed. He must have absolute bed rest for the next two weeks. That means no getting up out of this bed. Do you understand me, Joe?” Peering down at his patient, both men glared at each other until Joe backed down.

“Yes sir, I understand. Stay in bed and do absolutely nothing for the next two days.”

“That’s right, and not for two days. Two weeks. Thought I wouldn’t catch that, did you?”

Grinning, Joe nodded as he lay his head back down on the pillow and closed his eyes.

Looking over at Ben, the doctor continued, “Looks like the medicine has kicked in. Keep that up every hour and also, if you have ice around. I would like to see someone put some ice in a rag and place it on Joe’s knee every hour for at least fifteen minutes. Try that for a day or so, because I would like to see if that will help keep the swelling down.”

Nodding at the doctor, Ben listened to the instructions asking, “Will he be okay?”

Looking over at Ben, the doctor knew that he was concerned about both of his sons; just, at this point, Joe was uppermost on his mind. After glancing over to where Joe restlessly lay, Martin turned his attention to Ben. “Yes Ben, I believe he will be okay. Adam will be fine also. As long as they both follow doctor’s orders.”

Letting out a sigh of relief, Ben grasped Martin’s hand. “Thank you, Doc; I really appreciate you coming out here.”

Grinning, Martin shook Ben’s hand, “No problem, Ben; hopefully next time it can be for pleasure and not business. Now I must go and tend to my own injury. Hopefully I can have time to soak this slightly burned hand in a soothing solution.” Waving with his other hand, the doctor continued, “I can show myself out.”

Nodding Ben bid him farewell, as he turned his attention back to Joe who by now was sleeping peacefully in a medicated slumber. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he brushed the hair from Joe’s forehead as he became lost in his thoughts.

*****

Days later, Joe was still restricted to bed while Adam was just being relieved from his restriction. Stretching as he climbed out of bed, Adam was carefully not to jar his splinted wrist, as he pulled on a house robe. Quietly he pulled the door open and went down the hallway to Joe’s room. Knocking slightly, he heard an affirmative on the other side before entering. “Hi buddy, how are you doing?”

Joe clutched his chest as he moved up in the bed, leaning up further on the pillows so that he could face Adam better. “Hell of a lot better than a couple of days ago.”

Laughing, Adam came over to the edge of Joe’s bed and gently sat down, trying not to shake the bed, “How is your knee doing?”

“Doing better than I thought it would. For the last few days, Hoss, Pa and Hop Sing have been putting ice packs on it, and it seems like it has reduced the swelling. I feel like a new man, ready to get up and break some horses.”

“Oh no you don’t, son!”

Whipping their heads towards the doorway, both men saw their pa standing in the doorway. “You are doing no such thing until the doctor gives his okay.”

“Awwww…Pa…”

“Don’t ‘aw Pa’ me, Joe. You heard what the doctor said; it could have been worse.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll stay in bed a few more days.”

Shaking his head, Ben stepped away from the doorframe and came into Joe’s room. Settling down in the chair by Joe’s bed, he was relieved to see both of his sons on the mend for the better. Adam still had a cough from his cold, but his fever was gone and he was already looking better. Most of the scratches that had marked his face were fading away, while the bruises were turning to light shades of yellow. As he turned to face Joe, Ben knew that his time in bed would be longer than his brother’s; however, he also was showing drastic improvement. His knee had been packed faithfully with ice every hour, with help from Hoss and Hop Sing. The swelling had gone down, and Joe was able to move his knee somewhat without pain, encouraging both Ben and Joe that he was going to recover. Looking at both of them, Ben was reminded at how close he came to loosing both of them. “So, who would like to tell me what happened up there, and how you ended up going into the water?”

Both sons looked at each other before speaking. Clearing his throat, Adam spoke first, “Well, pa, we were on our way back to the ranch when we saw smoke rising from the horizon. We went to check it out, and while we were on the ridge the wind shifted, startling Joe.”

“Wait a second, Adam,” Joe protested. “It wasn’t the wind that startled me, it was the fact that the flames that were going in the opposite direction suddenly shifted and was headed towards us. Ash and embers were falling around me, and I lost my balance and fell.”

“Anyway, Joe ended up lying on a heap at the bottom of the hill.”

Protesting again, Joe interrupted, “Heap?”

Rolling his eyes, Adam pointedly looked at Joe, “Do you want me to finish the story or do you?”

Looking over at Ben, Joe grinned, “I will. Anyway, as Adam was trying to say, I slid down the hill and rested at the bottom. When we went to get our horses, we headed down the trail to outrun the fire.”

“There you go, Joe, omitting details.” Adam complained, as he interrupted. “Pa, Joe’s horse spun around and knocked him down to the ground. That is where he ended up injuring his knee, although I have a feeling it was from when he fell, I mean, slid down the hill.” Feeling Joe’s glare, Adam turned around and threw a smirk his way. “Anyway, Joe was pretty much out of it by then, so I’ll continue at this point.”

Listening to both boys interact, Ben rolled his eyes while he patiently sat listening for the rest of the story. Crossing his legs, he nodded at Adam encouraging him to finish his tale.

Encouraged, Adam continued, “Well, we got to a point where we were surrounded by fire, and there was only one direction we could go, and that was south. However, I never intended for us to go into the water the way we did. My horse stumbled, then Joe’s, and we all went sliding down the steep embankment into the water.”

“When we broke free of the water, we came into contact with a pile of debris that had entered the water with us, and so we floated along with that until we kicked towards shore.” Taking a breath, Adam swallowed as he finished up his story. “Basically, we landed, we were wet, I made a fire and then we got caught in that rainstorm, and you and Hoss found us huddled under that tree.”

Hearing a noise at the doorway, all the men turned their eyes and saw Hoss coming into the room. “That’s an interesting thing, Adam, your fire. How did you start it?” Hoss asked, as he leaned against the dresser.

Jumping in before Adam could answer, Joe replied, “He was awesome; he struck a rock against his gun and started the fire!”

Shrugging his shoulders, Adam explained further, “I knew that if I could find some flint, I could hit against the gun barrel in the chance of creating a spark. I guess I was lucky.”

Looking over at Ben before speaking, Hoss spoke, “You don’t know how lucky you two were. Pa and I never had any intention of looking for you fellows along that patch of river, but it was your fire that we saw that directed us to you. You were lucky.”

At this point, Ben leaned forward and stood up, “No, Hoss, they weren’t lucky; they were blessed. From the moment we left the ranch house to the time we found them, I was praying that we would be led to them.”

Fingering the covers on his bed, Joe looked up to Adam, “And Adam, I want to thank you for saving my life.”

“But Joe, I didn’t do anything.”

“Yes you did; you encouraged me, and you were there with me as you promised you would be. Thanks.” Reaching, over, Joe grabbed for Adam’s hand and clung to it as he continued, “I’m glad we’re brothers.”

Securing Joe’s hand in his own, Adam made a motion that almost looked like he was rubbing tears from his eyes, “I am too, Joe, I am too.”

Watching from across the room, Ben and Hoss watched the two brothers reunite in a spirit of love and friendship, as they also wiped tears of happiness from their own eyes.

***The End***

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