Between Brothers (by DebbieB)

Summary: When Adam finds Joe wounded and near death, he blames no one but himself. Will he be able to find help, not just for his brother, but for himself as well?

Rated:  PG for Mild language  (10,270 words)

Between Brothers Series:

Between Brothers
Baring Souls

 

 

                       Between Brothers

 

Adam clinched his stomach. The pain deep down in his gut was almost more than he could bear. How he wished he hadn’t argued with his younger brother, thus causing Joe to take off alone. Now he worried, as he looked for a trail, that he’d kept his mouth shut instead of pushing the issue. Taking a deep breath, Adam was at a loss now as to what they’d even been arguing about. But the gnawing feeling in his gut sent daggers of doubt and fear through his veins that he couldn’t understand. Mixed with the knowledge that they were in Indian country and that Joe could have ventured almost anywhere, Adam’s instinct warned him that things could turn from bad to worse in a heartbeat.

Adam clicked to his horse, forcing the animal to move a little quicker. With sharp eyes, he scanned the horizon, hoping, praying that he might catch sight of his younger brother off in the distance. A band of mesa’s blocked his view to the west and with the sun on it’s downward descent, it was almost impossible to look directly into that direction without forming a shield over one’s eyes. A soft breeze stirred and with it, Adam picked up a slight scent of smoke. He pulled Sport to a stop and sniffed again at the air. The scent seemed to be coming from just beyond the point of the mesa to the left. Adam pulled his hat down low over his brow to help shield the searing sun from his eyes. As he studied the signs, the dull ache that gnawed at his gut, churned again. Unaware of his own actions, he rubbed his stomach.

“Giddy-up Sport…let’s check this out,” he said, nudging his horse. “Surely Joe hasn’t cast all caution into the wind and built a fire…not in Indian country!”

Though he tried, Adam could not shake the feeling of trepidation that lingered. He had hoped that by riding hard and the wind blowing in his face, that the growing dread might somehow, miraculously be wiped from his innermost being. By the time he reached the tip of the mesa and turned his horse westward toward the way station he knew to be there, the feeling had begun to intensify. And by the time he hauled his mount to a sudden stop, the sight he beheld struck him hard and a wave of nausea almost cost him his meager lunch.

“Dear God!” he screeched aloud. “Dear God…NO!” Adam cried as he practically jumped from the saddle and ran hell-bent across the expanse of ground that separated him from the burning building.

The way station was ablaze with a roaring fire and Adam knew he could do nothing to save the building. But the young man, tied spread eagle to the front porch supports, with arrows burning and stove deeply into each leg and each arm, might have a chance if he could work fast enough. The boy’s life depended on his ability. Adam swallowed down the bile that had erupted from the pit of his stomach into his mouth and without giving a thought to his own life, began yanking and pulling on the thin strips of rawhide, commonly used by Indians to hold their captives bound. The heat from the front wall of the dwelling had certainly worked its magic on the shrinking strips, making them next to impossible to untie. Adam’s fingers were worthless in their attempts.

“Hurry…my back…it’s…burning…” mumbled the boy.

“I know, hold on…” Adam answered as he dug deeply into his pockets for his knife. He could feel the heat on his own back, and he wore shirt and vest, he could only imagine the heat on the bare back of his younger brother.

Opening his knife, Adam sliced through one strip holding Joe’s leg to the post on the porch and then quickly cut the second leg free. The weight of his body, pulled against the straining strips that held his arms prisoner to the burning porch. The fire had spread and had begun nipping at their feet. Adam cut one wrist free, allowing Joe’s arm to drape across his shoulder to support his brother’s weight, then cut the second wrist free. The weight of his brother sagged against him as Adam carefully, but quickly pulled both of them free of the flames that were licking at their heels. Once a safe distance from the burning rubble, Adam laid Joe on the ground.

The boy, unconscious now, moaned softly, acutely award of the pain that coursed through his dirtied and tarnished body. The smell of smoke was strong as Adam inspected each wound. The arrows, shot into his brother’s body, most likely after Joe had been tied to the porch, pierced each leg, one in the upper thigh and the other in the lower calf. The one in Joe’s right arm was just below the bend of the arm. The left arm carried its arrow in the upper forearm. Adam cringed at the sight unable to fathom the pain he knew his brother must surely have endured and was at this moment unable to bear.

Four arrows, he thought, four wounds. Burns on his back, blood tarnished a shiny ebony, but soot and smoke…how ever was he going to save the life of this precious young man…a boy really, and one his father as well as himself and Hoss, adored? Adam felt the sickening feeling gurgling in his gut and seconds later, moved away so as to allow the foul tasting bile to gush forth from his mouth. After he kicked dirt over the mess, he glanced around, assuring himself that he and his brother were alone.

Adam painstakingly broke the protruding arrows so that only a small part of each shaft extended from the entry wounds.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to his brother when Joe’s body arched with pain. Adam gritted his teeth, totally sickened by what had happened and what he was being forced to do, adding more anguish to his brother’s already tortured body.

“Joe,” he said, leaning down and carefully lifting the boy’s head. “We have to get out of here, before they come back,” he said as he placed both arms beneath the unconscious boy’s body and carefully lifted Joe.

Joe moaned again, more pitifully than the last time. “I know this hurts, kid. I’ll try to be careful.” Quickly, Adam situated Joe in the saddle and then climbed on behind him, looping his arms around Joe’s middle to hold the boy upright in front of him. Joe’s body slumped forward, his arms dangled down to his sides. With every step the horse made, or though it seemed, Joe’s moaning grew in volume until at last Adam knew he had to stop and give the boy a break. He guided his mount into a dense formation of rocks, hoping that they would serve as a shield against prying eyes.

“Whoa,” he commanded Sport and then quickly slid down from the saddle, pulling Joe down carefully. The weight of Joe’s body rested in Adam’s strong arms. The older of the two, carried the younger deeper into the rocks where he found a shaded spot, free of the hot rays that beat down on their heads and where, he hoped, they would be protected should night descend before he could get Joe safely home.

Adam brushed back the dampened locks of hair that were plastered to his brother’s brow. He gasped deeply as the heat penetrated his hand.

“I hope that heat’s from the sun Little Brother, and not from fever,” he said softly, leaving the boy just long enough to fetch his canteen, a bottle of whiskey and bedroll from his saddle. He was exact in how he laid out his bedroll, assuring himself that his wounded brother would be as comfortable as possible in this hot, dry wilderness and in his ill-treated condition. When he had everything arranged, he carefully moved Joe into the folds of his blanket placing the underside of his saddle in just the right spot to serve as a pillow for his brother’s head. His next course of action was to treat Joe’s injuries. Adam pinched his lips tightly, fending off the nausea he felt churning once more as he began tending the wounds. First he gave Joe a couple of gulps of the whiskey to ward off some of the pain. It was no easy feat, removing the arrowheads from his brother’s upper thigh. The head was buried deeply into the flesh on one leg but had gone completely through the calf of the opposite leg. There he was able to push the shank through to the back of side of Joe’s leg and dislodge the part that had remained embedded in the torn and bruised flesh.

Blood dripped from the wound as Adam washed, with painstaking care, the opened wound and then using the clean shirt in his saddlebag, ripped the material and bound the gash where the arrow had traveled through the flesh. The injury to the other leg, he cleaned as carefully, unable or perhaps unwilling to chance injuring the boy further, Adam chose to keep that particular injury for more skilled hands, such as Doctor Martin’s.

Both arms had stopped bleeding at some point during the time he had moved Joe, but now, with the removal of both shanks, the blood began to flow freely. Joe whimpered several times, proving to Adam what he had feared, that he was in fact adding to his brother’s misery and discomfort.

“I’m sorry Joe…I don’t mean to hurt you…”

“I…know…”

Shocked to find his younger brother watching him, but relieved to find Joe conscious, he smiled at the boy.

“I didn’t know you were awake.”

“I…just…woke…up…ohhh…hurts,” Joe said in a grunting voice.

“I know, and I’m sorry…but I’ve got to get this shank out and stop the bleeding. Joe, what the hell happened back there?”

“I was…oh….ohhhh…um…”

Adam saw the pain that washed over his brother’s expression and was almost thankful when Joe blacked out again and thus lessening the anguish he was feeling. The injuries on the boy’s arms needed cauterizing, something that Adam was hesitant to do, knowing how painful cauterization was to endure. He knew it was dangerous to start a fire, something he’d definitely need for cauterizing, but he also knew he had no other choice in the matter. So he set about gathering a small amount of sticks and dry grass and once he had a small fire burning, he set his hunting knife, blade to the fire, to use as an instrument for the job he dreaded.

When the blade on his knife was red hot, Adam picked it up by the handle and knelt down beside his brother.

“Joe, this gonna hurt like hell,” he whispered to the unconscious boy. “But it has to be done, or things are going to get worse.” He knew Joe couldn’t hear him, but as sure as he knew that, he knew his brother would feel the pain.

He placed the searing hot blade against the wound on Joe’s right arm front and back. He cringed when he saw Joe’s body arch and his head begin to twist back and forth. A deep guttural sound slipped through the boy’s unawareness as the pain engulfed him. Before he could even finish working through the first round of pain, Adam seared the wound on Joe’s other arm. Tears had formed beneath the kid’s closed eyes and rolled slowly down the boy’s dirty cheeks, leaving tiny white lines in their wake. Adam hated himself for what he was doing to his brother, but he’d had no choice, it was either cause more pain or watch the boy slowly bleed to death and then die…he’d not allow that to happen…never, not in this lifetime, God willing. He stood up, drained of strength and emotion as he stomped out the small fire, no sense in alerting the Indians to their whereabouts.

Exhausted and worried about his brother, it came to Adam that it would be best to remain where they were, for the night at least. They’d head out for home as soon as the sun came up and with any luck, they sure were do some, they’d be able to reach home before nightfall. The main issue was keeping Joe warm, for with the setting sun, came a cool night air, chilly…and as Adam glanced closer at his brother, he could see the boy already beginning to shiver. Without Joe’s bedroll, it was going to be a cold night for them both, reasoned Adam. He returned to his horse and grabbed his coat that he spread out over Joe, tucking the sleeves in around the boy as best he could and then took his second blanket and wrapped around his brother. For himself, he’d just have to suffer the cold, building another fire would be too dangerous, what with the Indians so obviously on the up rise. As he settled in for the night, back leaning against the rocks so that he could see their little hideaway from all angles, Adam couldn’t help but wonder what had sparked the attack on the little way station. And how…and most importantly, how had his youngest brother gotten involved. Why had Joe been tied as he had and then tortured as such? What would their father say once he found out that his eldest son was the reason his youngest son was suffering as he was now? Ben would be furious…the argument had been his fault, he’d not deny that…and pointless too for that matter. What if Joe died before he could get him the help he really needed? Would their father ever be able to find it in his heart to forgive him? Could he, Adam Cartwright, ever be able to forgive himself for being the cause of his own brother’s death, should Joe not survive? So many questions, so few answers…such a pain in his stomach that hadn’t lessened since earlier that day when the dreaded feeling of pending doom had washed over him.

As the night deepened, the cool air intensified and with it, Joe’s shivering also became more severe. Adam could hear the soft chattering of his brother’s teeth together.

“Joe,” he whispered as he lay down next to the shivering boy. “I wish I could build you a fire…but it’s just too dangerous…”

“I…know…” came the muted response. “I’m…so…cold…though…”

“Yeah…I can see that,” said Adam, feeling the night chill on his back as well. He pulled back the jacket and the blanket he had covered Joe with and curled up against Joe’s quivering body. He arranged the covering as best he could and slipping his arm beneath Joe’s neck and turning them both slightly, so that faced each other, Joe’s head now resting on Adam’s arm, the senior Cartwright hoped to bring a measure of warmth to both of them. Their body heat blended together and after several minutes, Joe’s quivering lessened.

Unable to sleep, Adam listened to his brother’s irregular breathing, alarmed that Joe might be getting worse. He pulled the boy closer to him, hoping to gather in more warmth.

“Pa?”

“No…it’s Adam, Joe…Pa’s not here, buddy…”

“Cold…”

“I know…”

“Hurt…my leg…bad…”

“Yeah…I bet it does. Listen Joe, just lie still and try not to move too much and as soon as it’s light, we’ll head home,” Adam said softly, his lips practically brushing his brother’s ears.

“Home…wish…I…was…already…there…”

“Me too, pal…me too. Joe…about that argument we had…”

“Forget…it, Adam…”

“I can’t Joe…I…feel responsible for what happened to you.”

“No…my fault…I…shouldn’t…have run…off…alone. Not…in Indian…country…stupid move…” Joe breathed heavily. “Adam…I’m sorry…I shouldn’t…have left…you…alone…

Adam made a snickering sound, though there was nothing funny to be laughing about.

“Maybe, but it happened to you…”

“Let’s just…keep it between you and I…no sense in…tellin’ Pa…or Hoss…just…between the two of us…”

“I don’t know, Joe…I’m not sure I can keep it from Pa…I’ll think on it…say, Joe, what did happen?”

“Guess…you…can say, I…was in…the wrong…place at the…wrong time. Adam…I’m so…tired…” mused Joe.

“Rest then Little Buddy…try to get some sleep…you’re going to need all your strength for the trip home in the morning…”

“You…should get some…rest…too…”

“I will…”

“Promise?” Joe pleaded softly.

“I promise, now hush…rest.”

Adam leaned his head down close to Joe’s. He could smell a hint of the strong soap that Joe used to wash his hair with. It stirred something within his soul. He took a deep breath, savoring the scent, storing it away as a memory…just in case things didn’t turn out well. Next to him, he felt Joe snuggle a bit closer to his chest, heard the boy moan weakly and once more the guilt ran through his veins that this…all this suffering could have been averted, had he just kept his mouth shut. Suddenly, his chest felt tight, his breathing restricted as he fought to maintain control of his emotions.

“I’m sorry Little Joe…I swear to you…if we make it out of this in one piece, I’ll never argue with you again………………”
It was almost morning, and how he’d done it, Adam wasn’t sure, but sometime late into the night, he had fallen asleep. Now he woke to the tender murmurings of his brother, who, after checking, was burning up with fever.

“Joe…can you hear me?” Adam pleaded as he gently tapped the sides of Joe’s flushed face with his opened hands. “Wake up Joe…we need to get started home…”

With no response forthcoming, Adam dampened his neckerchief and wiped the boy’s face bringing a measure of comfort to the wounded lad. He then checked the wounds on both arms, relieved to see that each appeared to be doing all right for the present time. Afterward, he checked the wound on Joe’s calf, again relieved to find that injury beginning to look better.

“This fever’s coming from somewhere,” Adam said softly, to himself, for Joe was delirious and incomprehensive to what was going on around him.

Turning Joe just slightly, Adam tore the rip in Joe’s trousers where the arrow had entered his thigh. His face betrayed his fears. An infection was already taking hold of the wound area, warning Adam that something must be done almost immediately. Dread once more washed over him as he contemplated the situation. Did he dare try moving the boy? Should he attempt to dislodge the arrowhead himself? The air rushed from his lungs as he looked upward at the dawning day.

“Please Lord…show me what to do!”

After whispering the sincere prayer, Adam knew what he must do. It was almost daylight, safe enough to start another small fire. The arrow had to be removed otherwise the infection would kill his brother. With that thought set in his head, Adam went about preparing for what he had to do. The fire was burning, his knife once again resting in the flames for sterilization. Carefully he turned Joe over just enough that he could inspect the back of the thigh. Luck or maybe it was fate, for what he had missed the night before was the very sharpest tip of the arrow buried deeply within the thigh, lay barely just beneath the top layer of flesh on the back side of the boy’s leg. He’d have to make an incision and then pull the arrow by the head through that incision, thus removing it completely. Afterwards, he’d have to use the whiskey for disinfecting the wound and then another painful cauterization to both the front and back of the leg.

After sighing deeply, Adam picked up the knife, giving it just a moment to cool before he set to work making an incision in the back of Joe’s leg. He heard Joe moan pitifully and when the young man’s body arched slightly, Adam pulled back the knife, dabbing at the bright red blood that dripped from the incision. It was going better than he dared; he’d only had to make the incision about an inch and a half long and the depth was only a fraction of an inch. When he was ready, the would-be surgeon took a deep breath and pushed on the shaft at the front of the leg. Joe screamed in pain but the arrowhead had managed to come through to the back of his leg.

“Easy Little Buddy,” Adam said softly, as his hand, steady as a rod gripped the tip of the arrow and pulled the remaining shaft through his brother’s leg. Again, Joe screamed out in his unconscious state. The boy’s breathing was deep and labored, his brow damp with sweat as Adam hurried to finish the unpleasant task of cauterizing the wound both front and back. Joe’s cries tore at his brother’s heart, sickening his stomach but Adam never for a moment stopped. His goal was to finish as quickly as possible to avert any further pain for his brother. When he was ready to wrap the bandage around the leg, he took a long swig from his whiskey bottle.

“This gonna burn like fire, Joe…but I have no choice…and it’s the only disinfectant I have…sorry, pal…here goes.”

Adam was a bit surprised that his brother hadn’t screamed out again, but the boy was so far from himself that Adam felt as if Joe had left him completely. Now that the surgery was complete, Adam began cleaning camp to prepare for the trip home. It wouldn’t be easy, not with the amount of pain Joe was feeling. The only satisfaction that Adam had was the knowledge that Joe was completely out of it.

He grabbed the saddle and headed toward his horse, but just as he was about to toss the saddle onto Sport’s back, a scream ripped through the early morning hours, startling his horse. Sport jerked back on the tethering rope, breaking free and bolting off in the direction of home even before his owner had a chance to make an attempt at grabbing the rope.

“Galldangit!” he cursed as he slammed his saddle down into the dirt. “Now how in blazes am I going to get Joe home?” he grumbled. Angered, Adam kicked at the saddle on the ground. He stood looking off into the distance in the direction his horse had taken.

“Fool horse,” he muttered as he turned and returned to his brother’s side. Adam squatted down and gently ran his fingers through the wayward locks on Joe’s brow.

“I can dare to say little brother, that things right now are about as bad as they can get,” he muttered softly, rising and sighing deeply. Quickly he searched for something to make a travois, but there didn’t seem to be a tree within fifty miles, let alone branches to use for poles.

Adam felt his frustration growing and his worry deepening. As he glanced up at the sun, he realized that the earliest part of the morning had been wasted looking for something that wasn’t even there. Discouraged, he made his way back to his brother, stooping down to brush his fingers over Joe’s forehead.

“Hot,” he muttered to himself. Carefully, he checked the wounds, pleased at least for now that they looked as well as could be expected. “Well, kid, looks like I’m going to have to carry you out of here…and I can assure you, it’s not going to be pleasant for either of us.”

As best he could, Adam wrapped the blankets around Joe’s still form and slipped his arms under the younger man’s body. With a groan, he rose, Joe carried up with him, safely in the strong arms of his older brother. Softly, Joe moaned, feeling the discomfort in both arms and both legs.

“Sorry sport…but at least its you and not Hoss,” Adam said in a whispered voice as he paced himself so as not to tire to quickly.

For a brief moment, Joe opened his eyes, fixing them on his brother’s face. “Gee thanks,” he muttered and then closed them again.

Adam chuckled. “Well, at least your sense of humor hasn’t been damaged.”

Adam had walked for what seemed to him, forever. Joe had said nothing more, but the soft muted moans that escaped now and then told the older brother that his younger sibling was feeling every step they took. With his shoulders aching, Adam marched on for another quarter mile before stopping and carefully and with a gentleness that spoke volumes of his concern for his brother, Adam placed Joe on the ground. The boy moaned softly again.

“Sorry Joe,” Adam said, arranging the blankets to protect the wounded lad from the hot sun. Adam stood and stretched, flexing his shoulder muscles as he studied the horizon.

‘Must be about ten miles out,’ he sighed to himself. Glancing down at Joe and noting the tiny beads of perspiration that dotted the boy’s brow, he wondered silently how he’d ever get the boy home alive…or worse, how’d they both get home alive.

He was still contemplating their plight when Joe’s weakened voice jarred his thoughts back to the present.

“Adam…”

“I’m here, Joe,” he said, dampening his neckerchief and wiping Joe’s brow and then his fevered cheeks. “Here, have a drink,” he insisted, lifting Joe’s head enough so that the boy could sip from the canteen. “Easy…it’s…” he paused, not sure that he wanted Joe to know that their water supply was nearly depleted.

“Adam?” Joe said again.

“Yeah?”

“How far are…we from…home?”

“Umm…just a ways, Joe…why?” Adam answered.

“You…go…leave me…”

“What? Are you out of your mind?” Adam scolded.

Joe’s eyes found his brother’s face and for a long moment, he studied his brother’s expressions. Adam was keeping something from him.

“Listen…I…got water…I’m slowing you down. You…have…to go, Adam. Get help…save…yourself at…least…don’t let…Pa find…two dead sons…”

“No!” Adam growled, angered, but not so much at his brother as he was at himself and the guilt he felt for having allowed them to get in such a predicament.

“Adam, you…can’t keep…carrying me…and if you don’t go…on without me…it’s for sure…we’re both gonna…die. But if you go…then…at least…we’ll both…stand a chance. Don’t you see…it’s the…only way?”

Adam was quiet, giving thought to what Joe had said. The boy was right in one respect, he couldn’t carry him ten miles or more…the water was running out…and if he didn’t go, they’d both die. But could he leave his brother…here…in the heat, wounded, bleeding…probably dying? What would his father say? How in hell would he ever be able to forgive himself if his brother died…all because of some silly argument that neither of them could even remember the cause?

At last, Adam moved closer to his brother and knelt down. “Joe, I’m going to find you a safe place first, hopefully with a bit of shade. Come on,” he said as he again gathered the wounded lad into his arms.

They walked, or rather Adam walked, carrying Joe for another hour before Adam was able to spot the place he had been praying to find.

“Over there, Joe,” he said, nodding his chin in the direction he was making reference to. “Lots of big rocks and plenty of shade,” he declared, almost running with his bundle to the location.

Once they reached the rocks, Adam placed Joe on the ground, making sure he was comfortable and then quickly looked around the thick formations in search of a spot to place Joe to assure safety and at least some form of protection from not only the elements but wild animals as well.

He found the perfect spot within minutes. In a remote area of the rocks, Adam found an overhanging rock that all but hid a small opening in the rocks below. With his pistol drawn, Adam made his way into the cave-like configuration of rocks. When he was assured that no wild animal had claimed the hideout as its home and seeing no signs that said animals had been there, he slipped his pistol into his holstered and returned to his brother’s side.

“I found the perfect place, Joe,” he said as he picked Joe up and carried him to their new hide-away. “You’ll be safe here…and in the shade. I’ll leave you the canteen and my pistol…just in case,” he stated, placing Joe on the ground once more and making him as comfortable as possible. He placed the canteen within easy reach and placed his gun next to Joe’s left hand.

“I’ll be back, Joe…I promise,” he said, aware that unintentionally, he might be telling a lie.

“I know you will…” he muttered.

“And Joe…I’m…sorry about all of this…it’s all my fault,” Adam said with downcast eyes.

“No…I’m as much to blame…as you are…”

“I should have known better…”

“Why…because you’re older…or…smarter?” Joe said with a weak chuckle.

“Yeah,” Adam answered with a small smile. “I wonder what Pa’s going to say…when he hears about this?”

“We…won’t tell him…”

“Won’t tell him…in case you aren’t aware of it Little Joe…you’ve been shot with…not one…but four arrows…how do you think we can avoid telling our Pa?”

“No…not about the Indians…about…you know…the argument. We’ll just leave that part…out.”

“And tell him what?” Adam asked.

“Just tell him…I went off alone…against your advice…and ended up in the middle of an Indian raid…which isn’t a total lie…” Joe said and then surprised Adam by grinning.

Even in deep pain, Adam could see the mischievousness in his kid brother’s lopsided smile. He couldn’t fathom the fact that Joe was willing to take the blame…especially when he, himself was as much to blame for what happened.

“He won’t be pleased with you…”

“I know…but…look at me…what’s he gonna do? Tan me? I doubt it. Adam, he’ll be so relieved that we’re both alive…he won’t rant at either of us…”

Adam couldn’t stop the laughter that bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. Tenderly he ruffled Joe’s curls.

“You are a rapscallion, aren’t you little brother?”

Joe’s response was to smile. “Get going…” he muttered.

“Alright…but…understand this, I don’t like leaving you here…and I wouldn’t if I could find that blasted horse…” he explained.

“I know, Adam…and…I know you’ll be back, one way…or the other,” Joe said, forcing another smile.

Adam stood, looking down. “That I promise, Joe.”

“I know…and Adam?”

“Hum?”

“Remember…the argument…it’s just between brothers, Pa need never know…promise?”

His eyes were growing heavy and he wished that Adam would hurry so that he could shut them and his brother not see the God awful pain that pelted his body.

“Promise…now you promise me, you’ll not move…you’ll stay put?”

Joe nodded his head. His response was so muted that Adam barely heard. The eyelids had grown too heavy. Hours later when he awoke, Joe found that night had descended and that he was alone, hungry and cold. It took several long moments for him to recall where he was and why and what had happened.

“Adam? Adam?” he called out softly. His wounds kept him from moving about too much, but he found the canteen Adam had left and with great difficulty, he managed to quench his thirst.

When he replaced the cork, he studied his surrounds. The night air was barred from the inside of the natural made enclosure and for that the boy was glad; the night before he had been so cold he had not stopped shivering all night.

“Guess all I do now is to wait…” he mumbled to the rock walls. Almost instantly, his eyes closed again and he sank back into his dark abyss where, for the time being, he knew no pain.
Miles away, Adam was stumbling along a rough, pitted, hardly used road. He was tired, dirty, hungry and thirsty, but he trudged on, stumbling each time his feet found the deep pits and ruts in the darkness. He fell repeatedly, but refused to stop or rest; Little Joe’s life rest solely on his shoulders. The image of Joe’s body tied to the porch, arrows protruding from the boy’s body and the sometimes, verbal proclamations of agony, gnawed at Adam’s gut, pushing him onward in search of help.

Silently, he cursed himself. Aloud he lamented his dire situation. No one heard his words, inaudible and condemning as they were becoming, but deep in heart and soul, Adam heard…and he hated himself for the helpless, frustrating and maddening place he had come to in his life…and in the life of his youngest, most enduring little brother. He’d never forgive himself, he vowed in his heart, if Little Joe died because of his stupidity. Why had he purposely picked that argument with his brother? Why had he taunted the boy?

“DAM!” screeched Adam, pausing, trying to straighten his back to glare up at the stars that filled the dark skies of the heavens. “DAM, DAM, DAM!” he cried out again, seconds before collapsing to the ground in an exhausted wail of despair.

The voice that called his name seemed far away and at first he imagined that he heard the soft voice.

“Adam…Adam…”

“Joe?” he muttered, weak and exhausted as he tried to push himself up.

“Get up Adam…you must go on…you cannot stop, or rest…”

“She’s right, Adam, your brother’s life depends on you…”

Adam squinted his eyes, desperately trying to bring them into focus. The voice had changed; the accent was different. Where there two persons calling for him, urging him on? Who could they be? Why didn’t they help him?

“Who are you?” he wanted to know.

“We’re…your mothers, Adam…” one of the voices said in a low, tender voice.

“Mothers? But…but…how?”

“It doesn’t matter, son…get up…move…Little Joe needs you. Remember, you promised to get him help…now go….”

With all the effort he could muster, Adam pushed himself up to his feet and staggered a bit further. But too exhausted to continue any further, the weary man dropped to his knees. His arms hung lifelessly down to his sides.

“Pa…PA! PA! I NEED YOU!!” he shouted into the heavens, just as his body fell forward onto the hard baked ground. Once again his senses became lost amid a dark sea of blackness.

“Do not worry my dearest son…we will guide your father to you……………….”
“They’re late!” grumbled Ben Cartwright as he worked at saddling his big buckskin horse.

“Aw Pa…they probably just lost track of time…” Hoss said, trying to soothe his father’s obviously ruffled state of mind.

“Not Adam…Joseph perhaps, but not your older brother. Something’s happened to them, Hoss…hurry up, let’s get going!”

Ben was already mounted and waiting as Hoss tightened the cinch on his saddle before mounting up.

“I’ve a good mind to give both of your brothers a very necessary little talk when I get them home….”

Hoss hadn’t a chance to say anything in response to his father’s statement. Ben had spun Buck around and headed out of the yard. He only rolled his eyes upward, shook his massive head and followed behind his angry, worried father. For the next couple of hours, father and son rode hard, in silence. At long last, Hoss was forced to call out to his father.

“Pa! Hold up a second!”

Ben pulled back on the reins, bringing Buck to a sudden and dusty halt.

“What now?” the elder Cartwright growled as he spun his horse around and glared at his middle son.

Hoss swallowed deeply acutely aware of the underlying worry in the tone of his father’s voice.

“If’n we don’t give these ponies a rest, we’re likely to be walkin’,” he said.

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I reckon I have been pushing them pretty hard. We’ll rest for a spell and then start out again.”

Ben slid from his horse’s back and dropped the reins to the ground and then placing the biggest rock he could find down on top of the leather straps. He heard his son’s deep sigh of relief and smiled to himself.

“I’m sorry, Hoss…I guess between being a little worried and bit mad…I’ve over reacted,” Ben said with a grin.

“A little worried?” chuckled Hoss. “And…just a bit mad?” he laughed.

“Okay, so I was very worried and a lot mad…” Ben snickered. “But those two…especially Adam…should know better than to…”

“Aw, Pa. Maybe they got held up at Morris Springs…maybe one of their horses went lame…maybe they…”

“Maybe, maybe, maybe…Adam should have had enough sense to at least send a wire saying they were held up, or that their horse went lame or…or…whatever their excuse for being nearly a week over due might be! Maybe…just maybe…but no! Not a word…” grumbled Ben, feeling the pinch of gnawing fear again that seemed to be gurgling in the pit of his stomach.

“Pa…”

“Don’t “Pa” me, Hoss…I’m angry…we needed that contract…we didn’t need for Adam and Joe to wonder off doing…whatever they’re doing…instead of delivering those papers to the proper authority…ME! Now, because of their shenanigans, we’ve lost the best contract we’ve ever had with…of all parties, the railroad! That contract was important, very important, and they knew that…”

Hoss could do nothing but lower his head, avoiding the piercing dark eyes that glared at him. He knew just how much his father had depended on that new contract, and now, because of his two brothers being tardy in delivering the papers on time, they had lost out on the most important contract Ben Cartwright had ever made. It was a shame to see the disappointment in his father’s eyes. And above all else, he sure dreaded the long lecture he knew would be forthcoming when they finally found Adam and Little Joe.

“Mount up, Hoss. We’ve wasted enough time…let’s ride.”
“Joseph…don’t give up…keep fighting………….”

The voice, soft and sweet, called out to him from afar. Wounded and ridden with fever, Little Joe strained to open his eyes, to see the face behind the tender, loving voice that spoke to him. Something about the way the voice talked and sounded jarred a deep seeded memory, but in his muddled state of mind, the wounded young man could put no name to the person who spoke with such deep abiding tenderness.

“Pa…..” he mumbled.

“No my darling…but your father is on his way…so you must not give up…”

“Who…who are…you?” His hand reached up, hoping for a familiar touch.

“It doesn’t matter mon cherei…it is only important that you continue trying.”

“But…”

“Shh…sleep now, I will stay with you until your father comes.”

Lured by the soft sounds of singing, in a language that he could not fully understand, Joe drifted off into a deep sleep, where the agony of his days turned into sweet, precious, comforting dreams and images of faces once lost, now renewed.
“Pa…look down there!” Hoss proclaimed in a loud, excited voice. He pointed down from the ridge where he and his father had been riding. “Over yonder…on the ground, it looks like a man!”

“Dare I hope?” Ben exclaimed in a small voice. “Come on, let’s check it out…”

With that, both men kicked their mounts into a full run, almost tumbling down the steep embankment where they had, just minutes ago, stopped to rest. Ben practically jumped from his mount as the big buckskin skidded to a stop. Running toward the prone figure, he nearly stumbled in his attempt to reach, which he recognized as his eldest son, Adam.

“Adam…dear God, Adam!” he proclaimed as he gently turned the unconscious man over onto his back. Ben held Adam’s upper body gently in his arms, close to his chest as he tenderly patted the dirt smeared cheeks trying to awaken the boy from his lost state of mind.

“Here’s the canteen, Pa,” Hoss said as he pulled the cork from the opening and handed the receptacle to his father. He helped Ben as he carefully poured a few drops of the cool liquid into his son’s mouth.

Almost instantly, Adam responded by trying to grab the canteen and tilt it upward, starved for a drink.

“Easy son, easy,” Ben cautioned as he pulled the container away.

“Wa…ter…wa…ter,” Adam mumbled.

“Slow, drink slowly Adam,” Ben continued to caution.

He allowed Adam to drink a bit more and once again removed the canteen, handing it to Hoss who quickly replaced the cork.

“Adam,” Ben said with concern ringing in his voice. “Where’s Little Joe…” he said, glancing up to see Hoss’ troubled blue eyes watching both of his family members.

“Joe…Joe…”Adam said weakly as if he were attempting to call out to his brother. His eyes, bearing a far away look, tried to focus on his father’s face. “Pa?”

“Yes son, it’s your Pa…and Hoss, he’s here too.”

“Adam,” Hoss interrupted, “what’s happened to Little Joe…where on earth is he?”

Ben sat Adam more upright, allowing his son to rest his back against his father’s chest. Adam’s attention was drawn to the other brother’s face. Almost without warning, he began to laugh, though it was a strange, eerie type of laughter. Deranged, in a matter of speaking, thought Hoss. The gentle giant looked up worriedly at his father.

“What’s wrong with him?” he asked softly.

Before Ben could reply to the statement, Adam’s laughter turned into a soft moaning sound and then the eldest of Ben’s sons began to weep. The piteous sound jarred Ben to the core of his being as he nestled his son’s raven locks tight against his pounding heart.

“Adam…son…what’s wrong?”

“My fault…it…was…all…my…fault! The…fire…the…Indians…oh God…please…”

“What was your fault…and Joe…where’s Joe? What’s this about a fire and Indians?”

Ben watched Adam suck in a chest full of air, trying to compose himself.

“Nothing…” he said, pushing himself upright and away from his father. “As for Little Joe,” gulped Adam, “he’s probably dead by now…” he said, as he started to rise.

Hoss slipped his arm around Adam’s shoulders and helped to pull his brother to his feet.

“What’cha mean…Joe’s dead…how…where…” he growled as fear gripped its fingers around his heart.

Adam groaned and nodded in the direction he had come. “Out there…somewhere…”

“Adam, what do you mean somewhere? Don’t you know where you left him?” Ben, the same fear tangling around his own heart demanded.

“I know…” Adam said with penitence. “I’ll take you…we best…hurry. But I’ll warn you, Pa…Joe was…hurt…and it may already be too…late,” he said as he started to walk away.

“Wait just a dadburn minute,” Hoss said, grabbing his brother’s arm. “You said Joe was hurt…what happened, how’d he get hurt…and what about them injuns and you mentioned a fire…where were you when this was suppose to happen? What on earth goin’s on Adam!”

Adam’s eyes turned dark at the accusing tone that rang in his middle brother’s voice. Hoss blamed him already, without even knowing the full story. But then, didn’t he blame himself as well? Adam glanced at his father, seeing the doubt that lay beneath the burden of fear that shone in the dark, chocolate eyes.

“I’ll explain it to you on the way,” Adam said. Remembering what he and Joe had sworn to, he’d only tell his father part of what happened, not why…that was between himself and his brother. Between brothers, that’s what Little Joe had made him swear to.

They were forced to stop several times in spite of the fact that Ben was anxious to find his youngest son. But Adam, who was riding double with his father, was tired and weak and necessity forced them to rest. It wasn’t easy, getting Adam off and on the horse. His body had become like dead weight and his incoherent babbling had grown louder and louder and sounded more and more distressful.

“Can you make out what he’s sayin’?” Hoss asked his father.

“No, not really,” Ben said, while wiping a damp clothe over his son’s face. “Something about it being his fault…whatever ‘it’ is and he’s trying to tell us something about that fire and the Indians…”

“Ya don’t think them injuns took Little Joe prisoner…do ya?” Hoss, worried was anxious to know.

“I don’t think so…Adam said he had Joe hidden in a safe place.”

“Well, if Adam here don’t get any better, we might never know where that safe place is. He’s plum outta his head, Pa.”

Ben sighed deeply. What Hoss was saying made sense. For whatever reason, for whatever had happened to his two sons, both were in grave danger. Joe might, even now, be dead. The thought caused Ben’s stomach to churn with fear.

“Come on, help me get him back on the horse. We have to try and find Little Joe,” Ben said as he began to pull Adam upright to a standing position.

Minutes later, Ben was mounted behind his son. As soon as Hoss mounted up, they started off again in the direction that Adam had earlier pointed out to them. They’d ridden a couple more miles when Adam began muttering and pointing to a tightly formed rock formation off in the distance.

“What is it son?” Ben asked, pulling his horse to a standstill.

Adam, his head bent low continued to mutter words that seemed jumbled and unclear to his father.

“What’s he tryin’ to tell us? Is that where Little Joe is?” Hoss insisted as he sided with his father.

“Lit…le…Joe…” Adam finally said in enough clarity that both his father and middle brother could understand. He pointed once more toward the rocks. “There……….”

“Come on, let’s ride,” Ben said, urging his horse into action. “God only knows what we’re going to find when we locate Joe…” The worry that he felt filtered into his voice, although he tried not to let it, he was frightened for his youngest son and what fate the boy might have met. Adam’s broken words of Indians and fire was like a hot branding iron stabbing into his heart and Ben was not sure what mark their discovery might leave on their lives.

“Up…there…there…” Adam, in his weakened state, stirred, pointing to an incline where a weathered, worn out trail led upward into the rocks informed his father.

“Joe…he’s…there…hurry…”

Ben followed the direction Adam had pointed until they had reached the rock overhang where Adam had hidden his youngest brother.

“Over here…” Adam said weakly as Hoss and Ben helped him to dismount. He leaned heavily on Hoss who helped him walk the short distance to the hideaway. Surprisingly, his dark eyes widened when he spotted the empty makeshift bed where he had left his brother.

“He…was there…I…left him, right there!” Adam proclaimed.

Hoss carefully lowered Adam down so that he could sit, propped against the rock. Ben, his own eyes filled with worry and doubt bent down and searched the blankets where it was obvious that Joe had lain there at some time. Seeing the canteen, he picked it up, shook it, found it to empty and then tossed it down. The pistol lay were Adam had left it the evening before. When Ben stood, he glanced around, hoping to catch sight of his youngest son.

“He must have wondered off,” he said. “Hoss, you look over there, I’ll search around on this side.”

As he started to walk away, he turned back to Adam. “You stay put, I don’t want to have to go looking for you…rest, son, we’ll find Little Joe.”

Adam watched as both his father and Hoss walked away. Minutes later, he could hear their voices as they called out for Joe. Fear gripped his heart for the fate of his youngest brother while dread and guilt gnawed at his gut. Using the rock against his back, Adam slowly pushed himself up. Once on his feet he staggered off in a search of his own, going in opposite directions than his father and Hoss had taken.

It was only minutes before he spotted Joe’s body lying in a ravine where he had apparently fallen. Adam briefly wondered how the boy had managed to move so far away from his safe-haven, being unable to walk. Then it hit him like a bolt of lightening, Joe had crawled, looking for water or help or God knows what.

“Dear God, Joe…” he mumbled to himself as he pulled his pistol from his holster and fired two shots into the air.

Almost before he could put his gun back in it’s holster, Ben and Hoss were beside him. Adam pointed down the low ravine.

“There,” he said, “next to that rock that looks like a…”

“I see him!” Ben interrupted as he quickly moved to the edge. “It’s not so bad, Hoss, get a rope while I go down to him and toss one end down to me. We’ll probably have to pull him up…hurry.”

Hoss left Adam standing on the rim of the ravine while he raced back to their horses and got the rope. Meanwhile, Ben slide down the rocky edge to get to Joe. Carefully, with great tenderness, he turned Joe over onto his back, gathering the broken body into his arms.

“Joseph,” he said softly, brushing back the dirty locks of chestnut hair from the boy’s battered face. “Son, it’s your Pa…can you hear me?”

With great inter determination, Joe forced his eyes opened, looking up into the dark chocolate eyes of the man who cradled him.

“Pa?” he said weakly, swallowing.

Ben smiled, the first in many days. “Yes, yes, son, I’m here. Everything’s going to be all right now,” he soothed.

Joe, hungry for water, swallowed again. “She…said…you’d…come…”

Before Ben could ask Joe what he meant by that statement, Hoss was there, handing him the canteen he’d also taken from the saddle.

“I thought I told you to stay up there?” he said a bit gruffly.

“I couldn’t wait, Pa. I had to know…how’s Joe?” Hoss answered.

“He’s in a bad way…but once we get him on solid ground, I can better assess his wounds. Help me tie this rope around him and then climb back to the top so you can pull him up. Tie the end of this rope to one of the saddles; that will make the climb up easier,” Ben instructed.

“Joe…ya hang on now, Punkin,” Hoss said to his brother.

“Hoss…you’re here…”

“Course I am…where’d think I’d be?” Hoss said teasingly. The relief he felt was evident in his tone and the big, broad grin he wore on his rotund face.

“Adam….” Muttered Joe.

“He’s up top waitin’…”

“You best get going, Hoss.”

“I’m on my way, Pa. See ya in a bit, Little Joe,” Hoss called over his shoulder.

Adam watched from the sidelines, too weak and exhausted to be of any help to his middle brother who was using the horse to pull Joe to the top. He staggered slightly forward when Joe was nearly to the surface but almost fell.

“Ya best sit down brother, afore ya fall,” Hoss advised as he glanced around at Adam.

“Maybe you’re right,” Adam said as he allowed himself the pleasure of sitting.

Minutes later, both Joe and Ben were safely on flat ground. Ben was bent over the boy, Hoss was removing the rope. Unable to bear it any longer, Adam scrambled on all fours to reach his near unconscious brother.

“Joe…Joe…” he cried in a pleading voice.

“I…knew…you’d…come back,” mumbled Joe, barely able to turn his head to look at his brother.

Despite himself, Adam smiled, taking hold of his younger brother’s hand. “I was told I…couldn’t stop…”

“What…by whom?” Ben asked his son, puzzled by yet another strange statement.

“Doesn’t matter,” Adam said. “I just…knew I couldn’t…stop…I had…to get…help.”

“And Pa…I knew you…were…coming,” Joe told his father.

“And just how did you know that?” Ben asked, smiling down into the tired, wounded eyes.

Joe’s eyes seemed to take on a faraway look and slowly misted with tears.

“She…told me…you were on…your……………way,” he said as he slipped once more into unconsciousness.

“Now what on earth does that mean?” Hoss pondered aloud.

Adam forced himself to stand upright. “I think I know…”

“Would you mind sharing it with us?” Ben asked.

For a long moment, Adam said nothing and then shook his head no. “Not until I’ve talked to Little Joe. Right now…I think it’s…best just to keep it…between brothers.”
A week later, Adam, now rested and feeling much like his former self, found his kid brother sitting up in bed, propped against a stack of soft pillows. Not bothering to knock, he gently pushed the door opened, saw that Joe’s eyes were closed and then closed the door softly as he entered the room.

“Joe?” he called in a low voice. “Are you sleeping?”

Joe’s eyes opened immediately. “No…just resting.”

“Good. I wanted to talk to you. Pa and Hoss are down at the corral so I thought now might be a good time…no interruptions,” Adam explained as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

He noticed that the painful look that had been so apparent in his brother’s eyes was no longer as visual as before and had softened at long last. The days after they had finally made it home had been harrowing days and even longer nights for his family as both he and Joe struggled to return to the real world and to put to rest at long last the nightmarish images that had haunted their dreams.

“What’s up?” Joe asked as he studied his older brother. He could plainly see that something was bothering this usual quiet and reserved man for whom he had grown to love and respect though at times had barely been able to tolerate because of his overpowering and oft as not demanding ways.

“I…I think we should talk.”

“Okay…what do you want to talk about?” Joe asked.

Adam hesitated some before speaking. “How about we start with the argument we had?”

“Argument…we had an argument?” Joe said, looking puzzled.

Adam suddenly looked worried. Had Joe forgotten…had he lost his memory?

Without warning, Joe began to giggle. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist…you looked like you’d seen a ghost.” The giggling abruptly stopped.

“What’s wrong, Joe?”

“Nothing,” he said gruffly. “Forget about that stupid argument, Adam. I have. I told you before I was as much to fault about the whole thing as you were…let’s forget it ever happened.”

“I’d like nothing better…but can you…I mean…you’re the one who was nearly killed…I can’t forget that,” Adam said, lowering his head to hide the guilt that had haunted him since he’d seen Joe ride off from camp and disappear out of sight.

“Look Adam…I thought we agreed to keep that just between the two of us. I can forget it, if you can…won’t you please try?” Joe asked, practically begging. “I made a dumb mistake, one I won’t likely ever make again.”

“We both made a big mistake, Joe. I’m sorry for my part…and…I’m willing to let it go, if that’s what you really want to do,” Adam offered.

Joe nodded his head. “That’s exactly what I want to do…and I want you to do the same. Look Adam, I want you to know, I don’t hold any of this against you. Please, don’t feel guilty…I made the choice to ride off that afternoon. Unfortunately, it was a wrong choice. But I learned something from it…”

“What was that?”

“I learned not to be so quick to judge…and, I learned it’s best to stay and talk things out…” he grinned then, “even with you,” he teased.

Adam snickered. “I learned something too, kid…I learned that…you mean more to me than what you’d ever expect I do. You’re a good man, Joe…I admire you…and…from now on, I’ll respect you’re views instead of poking fun at you and…”

“I feel the same way about you, Adam. I’m sorry too for causing you to worry…but…”

“But what?”

“There’s something else that I’ve wanted to talk to you about…”

Adam watched how Joe twisted the corner of the sheet around, making a twisted knot with the material.

“Well…spit it out…we’ve just agreed to talk things out from now on. What’s bothering you?”

“It isn’t to easy to talk about…cause, I’m not sure it really happened,” Joe said, glancing up at his brother to check Adam’s reaction.

“Go on.”

“When you left me…I saw something…someone…or…at least I thought I was seeing someone,” Joe explain hesitantly.

Adam swallowed hard, wondering where this was leading.

“Whom did you think you saw?”

“I wasn’t sure at first. But it was…a woman. I was sort of out of it…and I heard her talking. When I opened my eyes…I was looking into the most beautiful face I’d ever seen. She…smiled at me…and told me to hang on…that Pa was coming…she said…she’d stay with me until he got there. I thought I was seeing things. I tried asking her who she was…but she said it didn’t matter…everything would be all right just as soon as Pa got there. I didn’t know who she was, Adam…and then the strangest thing happened.”

“What was that?”

“When I closed my eyes, I could hear her singing to me.” Joe gulped, knowing that his eyes had unexpectedly filled with tears. “She was singing lullabies…in…French.”

Joe watched as Adam’s face paled. “Marie?” he stammered.

“Mama…” Joe said as a lone tear dripped slowly down the front of his face. “She was…watching over me…that’s how I knew Pa would find me. She told me so…and I don’t reckon she ever told a lie…Adam, do you think it really was her? My mother, keeping me safe?”

Adam was quiet for so long that Joe was beginning to think his brother was ignoring him.

“Adam? You think I’m nuts, don’t you?”

The older young man turned to smile at his brother. “No…I don’t think you’re nuts, Joe. And as for it being Marie…I’m not sure…but it could have been…well…I believe it was because…I had a similar situation myself,” Adam explained.

Joe’s eyes widened. “You did…what was it?”

“Well,” began Adam as he scooted a little closer and lowered his voice. “I was walking, and walking…and growing more weary, more thirsty…I was hungry and tired and dirty and…frankly, I was scared, Joe…but that’s something else we need to keep to ourselves. But I was scared I wouldn’t get back to you in time, that I couldn’t find Pa and Hoss and that…that…you’d die before I could get help. I suppose at some point I passed out…now whether I was awake when this happened or not…I’m still not sure. But at some point, I saw a vision…a lovely face…it was a woman also…but not Marie,” he added quickly, “but someone I’ve never seen before. But I knew her…I knew who she was……………”

“Who was she…your…your mother, Adam?”

He nodded his head. “Yes…later, when I got to thinking on it, I realized that I’d seen her face before, in pictures, like the one on my dresser and the one that Pa keeps on the desk. She told me to get up…to keep moving…not to give up…that you needed me and that your life depended on me. She told me that Pa would find me, that he would meet up with me, but that I couldn’t give up…it was the strangest thing, Joe…strange, and Inger was there…she kept whispering to me as well. I…can’t explain it, Joe,” Adam said, turning away as if he were lost in deep thought.

Both young men were silent for a long time before Adam turned again and smiled at his brother.

“I think we’d best keep this to ourselves. If we tried to explain it to Pa…he’d most likely send both of us to the home for the mentally deranged.”

Joe’s giggles were light and full of mischief. He looked up at his brother, wondering how on earth he could have ever thought that Adam cared so little for him. He’d been wrong in what he’d done, running off like he had and it had caused a great deal of trouble and worry for his entire family. Shame chased the smile from his face.

“Adam…”

“Yeah, Joe?”

“I won’t promise that I’ll never be mad at you again, but I do promise…when I am…I won’t run off next time.”

The lopsided grin and the dimpled chin surprised the youngster.

“I should be relieved…but something tells me little brother that there will still be times that I will be angry, perhaps very angry at you…but I promise next time…not to let you run off…even it I have to hog tie you!” he laughed.

“What’s going on in here?”

Both young men turned, surprised to see their father standing in the doorway. Neither had been aware that he had returned. Adam and Joe both looked up at their father and then at each other. Smiles graced their handsome faces.

“Nothing, Pa,” Joe said turning his sheepish grin on his father.

“It’s just between brothers…that’s all,” Adam added.

Ben shrugged his shoulders, grinned at both of his sons and turned, leaving the pair alone. Halfway down the hall, he heard their happy laughter. Turning his head upward, he whispered a silent prayer, thanking God for giving him back his two sons. He’d wonder for days what was being kept from him, what had really happened between them, but gave them enough respect not to pressure them. Someday, when they were ready, they’d share their secret with him….someday…maybe, but if not, he’d still have the satisfaction that both were well and that things between them were as they should be.

THE END
May 12, 2007

Next story in the Between Brothers Series:

Baring Souls

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