Summary: Adam is coming home, but not everyone seems eager to meet him. Joe rather goes fishing. Prequel.
Word Count: 1100
Joe watched the cork floating lazily on the surface of the lake. The cork hadn’t jerked once, but that was all right. He didn’t deserve a fish today. Not when he shouldn’t be here at all. For today was the day Adam was coming home.
Joe had been excited, just like everybody else. Adam was coming home, after being away for four years at college in Boston.
Adam was coming home!
Adam was coming home, and Hop Sing had cooked the chocolate cake Adam loved so much, had prepared all the food he remembered Adam liked. “If he still like—I don’t know,” he had said. “Mista Adam’s taste may have changed, no one know. He now grown up!”
Joe and Hoss had helped baking cookies, scrubbing the dining table, airing Adam’s room, making his bed, and arranging some apples in a bowl on his desk. Joe had wondered if Adam still liked apples.
Adam was coming home, and Mr. Barnes from Barnes’ Hardware had said he would have to order more books now, but surely Adam would want different books than he had wanted four years ago. Adam would have new interests, and new ideas, and weren’t they excited to have this new Adam back? Joe had thought about the books Adam had used to read to him, and what books the new Adam would read to him now—if he read to him at all.
Adam was coming home, and Pa had said how proud he was of the college graduate (“Best in his year!”) and how Adam now could help him with running the ranch and how mature he would be and how he might have changed, and then he had chuckled and said, “We probably won’t know him at all when he steps off the stage. He’s a man now, boys!”
Joe had shaken his head and said he would too know Adam. He was his brother, and he would know his brother, wouldn’t he? But secretly he had been scared. Because…he didn’t remember Adam. He didn’t remember his own brother, didn’t remember his face, his voice, his…Adam. How could one forget how his brother looked like?
Adam was coming home, and Joe had been haunted by the image of a stranger stepping off the stagecoach. What if there was more than one passenger? What if Joe welcomed the wrong Adam? What if he didn’t like the right Adam anymore? If there wasn’t a right Adam at all?
Joe didn’t dare to confess this, but the more everyone was getting excited about Adam’s coming arrival, the more anxious he became. He didn’t sleep much the last few nights before his brother’s return, tossing and turning in his bed, always picturing a faceless stranger emerging from the coach’s cabin.
And so at the morning of the great day he had gone fishing. He knew Pa wouldn’t have time to find him and drag him to Virginia City; the stagecoach was due quite early, they had to set off shortly after breakfast to be there in time and Pa wouldn’t want to have Adam arrive without a welcome committee.
Joe also knew that he would be in for a tanning once he had been found; but for now he was safe. He stared at the unmoving cork and wondered if the absent fortune in harvesting fish was an exceptionally immediate penalty for his lacking in brotherly devotion.
“No luck yet?”
Joe tensed. He knew that voice. A shade deeper now than four years ago maybe, but still the same voice he remembered reading stories to him.
“No.” It came out defiant and croaky; and Joe fixed his eyes on the swimming cork.
He knew that hand on his shoulder. Remembered the weight, the way those fingers gently squeezed him. A shade heavier now than four years ago maybe, but still the same hand.
“I’m glad you still remember this spot; it’s the best place for fishing. I should have brought a rod, too.”
Joe took a look to his right. He remembered these long fingers. A shade less tanned now than they used to be, but still the same fingers. And gingerly Joe lifted his shoulder and lowered his head until his cheek rested on his brother’s hand. He remembered the feeling, the tickling of fine hairs on his cheek.
Joe let out a choked sob and hauled himself into waiting arms. He knew these arms, a shade stronger now than they used to be, he knew this chest, a shade broader now than it used to be, he knew the scent even, Bay Rum Cologne, books and leather, although the faint shade of cattle that seemed to escort them all everywhere was missing.
“Hey, little buddy.”
He remembered the words, and they were exactly the same as they used to be. Joe heaved a deep sigh and dared to look up. The face was more mature, more five o’clock shadowed, in more turmoil than it used to be, different in many, many ways; but it was distinctively and utterly and unmistakably Adam.
The rod suddenly jerked in Joe’s hand, and he took hold of it; and the brother’s watched the cork jumping up and down while Joe tugged at the line.
“Looks like you caught a big one, little buddy.”
Joe looked up to Adam, and his eyes never left his big brother’s face when he said, “Yeah, a real great big one!”
Adam smiled and tousled Joe’s hair, and then both brothers worked together to haul the biggest trout Lake Tahoe had ever seen onto land. It would make a fine supper for the whole family. But without more than a mere glance at each other, Adam and Joe worked together in that unspoken way only brothers had, seamlessly, to carefully dislodge the hook from the trout’s mouth and, with difficulty, let the wriggling fish slip back into the cold blue waters of the lake. The brothers watched the trout darting away; then, without another word, turned in unison, mounted their horses and slowly rode home to the Ponderosa, side by side.
A/N: With many thanks to Sklamb for the beta.