Phoenix (by Tauna Petit-Strawn)

Summary:  This story follows “Prizes”. Suffering nightmares after his ordeal by the hands of Matsu, Adam accidentally injuries Little Joe. Fearing he’ll hurt someone else, Adam packs and goes away, leaving the family to wonder when, and if, he’ll return.

Rated T (25,140 words)

Troubled Waters Series:

Troubled Waters
Prizes
Phoenix

Phoenix

Chapter One

One moment Adam stood watching the white fluffy clouds move slowly across a clear blue sky, the next he was watching those same clouds as they gathered together and turned dark and black. Thunder began rolling as lightning started flashing. Before he knew it, Adam felt a thousand bolts of lightning surge through him and he screamed.

“Adam!” Little Joe, who had run into his brother’s room when he heard the unearthly screams escape Adam’s bedroom and reaching their ugly fingers into his room, Joe’s room, grabbed Adam by the shoulders and fought to keep his brother down as the man lashed out at ghosts only he could see. By the time Ben and Catlin, who had also heard Ben’s eldest’s screams of terror, entered the room, Adam was sitting up perspiring like mad and Little Joe sitting up against the wall holding onto his shoulder.

“What happened?” Ben quickly moved to Adam’s side while Catlin took a look at Little Joe.

Adam, who had been shaking like a leaf, regained control of himself as he looked at his younger brother. He could tell, by the pained looked on Little Joe’s face and the way Catlin was shaking her head, his baby brother’s left shoulder had most likely been dislocated. “I…I don’t know.”

“It was my fault.” Little Joe, with his stepmother’s help, stood up while he held his arm close to his body, spoke up. “He was having another nightmare. I grabbed his shoulders instead of his arms like I usually do.” Grabbing his brother’s arms was what he normally did, as to avoid things like being punched or thrown back, just like what had just happened.

“Come down stairs, Little Joe.” Catlin nodded towards the open door. “I’ll have one of the ranch hands go for the doctor.”

Ben said and did nothing until his wife and son were out of the room. Only when Catlin had shut the door behind her did Ben look at Adam, grave concern in his eyes. Ever since he and his other sons had found Adam lying up in the mountains with wounds to his chest, wounds inflicted by Matsu the Bannock Indian, Adam had suffered one nightmare after another. “Son, as you know, I used to have nightmares after my ordeal. What you don’t know is they only stopped after Catlin put her foot down and insisted that I talk about what had happened; it helped. You need to talk about what happened to you.”

Adam said nothing as he threw his legs over the side of the bed. He knew his father meant well. Still, talking about having buffalo bones stuck through your chest and hung two feet over a fire filled with herbs that made one hallucinate; well, that was something he didn’t care to talk to anyone about. Besides, he’d been the one to offer the idea to Matsu in the first place.

Ben watched as Adam reached out for his pants; they hung over the back of a nearby chair, all the time waiting for his eldest to say something, anything to indicate he’d heard him. When Adam did speak, it wasn’t what Ben wanted to hear.

“I can’t get dressed if you continue to stand there.” Adam turned his head and looked up at his father.

With it being four in the morning, Ben would have argued with Adam, but he knew it would have been useless. It was obvious his oldest son meant to be downstairs when the doctor arrived to take a look at Little Joe’s shoulder. “I still wish you’d tell me, or somebody, about your ordeal.” Ben said quietly as he turned and left the room.

Catlin was sitting in the red chair, when Ben walked down the stairs while Little Joe lay on the couch with a somewhat pained look on his face. “How are you son?” Ben asked as Catlin started to stand to give her husband “his” chair only to be stopped when Ben laid his hand upon her shoulder.

“I’ll be fine once doc gets here. How’s Adam?” Joe was afraid of what Adam might do since he was, most likely, taking what had happened pretty hard. It wasn’t his oldest brother’s fault that he, Little Joe, hadn’t taken the time to stop and think before he laid his hands on Adam’s shoulders instead of his arms.

“Getting dressed,” Ben answered as he sighed. “I wish I knew what happened out there.” His wife and youngest son nodded in agreement. Before anyone had time to say another word, Adam was walking down the stairs. Instantly a very awkward silence filled the air. Ben, Little Joe and Catlin all wanted to tell Adam, he needn’t worry or blame himself about accidently hurting his brother, although they didn’t. How could they? Just as Adam stepped off the last of the stairs, their foreman opened the door and let the doctor in. The good man had actually been on his way home after helping their closest neighbor birth her baby.

~oOo~

Little Joe and Hoss, who had brought his wife and son over to stay with Catlin and Ben for the day, stood in the yard, along with their father, and watched Adam leading Sport out of the barn. Once again, they tried to talk Adam out of his plans.

“Adam, why can’t ya jist stay?” Hoss took a few steps towards his brother who was beginning to tighten the cinch on his saddle.

“I told you, Adam,” Little Joe spoke up, “This isn’t your fault.”

Adam turned his head and looked at his baby brother with his left arm in a sling; Little Joe’s shoulder had indeed been badly dislocated. He didn’t agree with Little Joe. Sure, maybe his baby brother should have known that he needed to put his hands on his, Adam’s, arms. Only that didn’t matter; it didn’t change the fact that Adam had struck out and sent his brother flying. “And what happens next time?” He asked the question to both his father and brothers. “What if Miss Catlin is the only one around when I have another nightmare?” He was looking straight at his father when he asked the question.

Ben had never felt so torn in his life. With Catlin just finding out she was carrying Ben’s child, he knew full well what his eldest feared. Still… “You don’t have to go. I’ll just make sure your stepmother understands that, no matter what, she is not to be the one to try to wake you or calm you down.”

Adam threw his father a small smile, as he lifted his left foot and placed it into the stirrup and then mounted Sport. His father meant well and Catlin would do her best do as Ben asked only, just like his baby brother, she too could easily forget and rush to Adam in the midst of one of his tortuous nightmares.

“I’ll send a wire the first chance I get; I promise.” Adam’s eyes were full of sorrow and hurt for his family, as he pulled the reins in his hands just enough to let Sport know it was time to start their journey.

“Adam…” Little Joe started after his brother only to find Ben’s hands upon his uninjured shoulder.

“Let him go.” Ben said with a catch in his voice and pain in his eyes. “Hurry back my son; things won’t the same until you do.” Ben thought before he looked at Little Joe and glanced at Hoss out of the corner of his eye. “Let him go. He knows what he’s doing.” He then let go of his youngest boy’s shoulder, turned and disappeared back into the house.

“How long you reckon he’ll be gone?” Little Joe asked quietly, not that he really expected Hoss to answer.

Hoss shook his head and let out a long sigh. “Iff’n I knew that, I woulda known how to make him stay.” Hoss then pointed out that he and Little Joe needed to get to work. After all, Little Joe still had one good arm and could do a few things to help.

Chapter Two

It was almost dark before Adam stopped his horse and dismounted. For the biggest share of the day, he had simply rode around the Ponderosa, going every which way while he did a lot of thinking and serious pondering. Now he was standing in the very place he had met Matsu and suffered at the man’s hands. He didn’t know he had come to this place. It’s not like he was holding onto any hate for the Bannock; he wasn’t. Hate never did anyone any good. He’d just felt an overwhelming need to see the place.

Adam tethered his horse near the same spot he’d been tethered on that fateful day so many months ago, though at the moment it seemed just like yesterday. Adam then began gathering wood. He needed to get a campfire going. It might not be winter yet; still, it the nights were quite cold. Adam was sure they’d have snow by the time another month passed by.

As he gathered the wood, his mind wandered over the events that led him to this place and to his meeting with the Bannock Indian who had kept his promise and stayed away from the Ponderosa. After building the fire, Adam began cooking the beans he’d brought with him. He’d brought enough food with him to make it, so he could spend a few weeks in the mountains if he needed to. He’d also do some fishing and hunting. That is, until he decided what to do.

After eating Adam laid out his bedroll and then lay down for the night. Morning came early and he still needed sleep.

Adam stood in the front of his house laughing and talking with his father who sat at the table that always sat on the porch. His brothers were taking turns throwing horseshoes. The sky was clear as a bell and birds sang in the air. Adam turned when he heard a noise…and everything changed.

“We will settle this now.” Matsu with his eyes full of anger was standing next to a boulder looking at a very bare-chested Adam. “Won’t we?” the Bannock Indian stepped forward and lifted his hands which once again held two sharpened buffalo bones and thrust them downwards into Adam’s chest.

Adam’s screams filled the night air as he shot straight up, causing more than one animal to flee out of fear, feeling sure the one doing the yelling was warning them he was coming after them. Only after his screams subsided did Adam wake up completely, and then he had to fight to regain control of his breathing. “LEAVE ME ALONE!” He raised his voice and screamed into the darkness of the night, knowing full well there was no one around to hear. Adam didn’t really care though; he just needed to say it. Afterwards, he lay back down and looked up at the stars.

As he studied the stars, he began thinking about the past and all the good times he and his family had had. He couldn’t help but feel a bit of a twinge in his heart. He missed them already, especially Hoss’ son, his nephew, who already had his Uncle Adam wrapped around his finger, even if he was only six months old. It was for their sake that Adam knew he had to find a way to get a handle on himself. He wanted to be around them, to help them and simply to enjoy life with them. Only problem was, he had seriously injured Little Joe and just couldn’t risk hurting anyone else. After a while, Adam found his eyes closing and much needed rest coming to visit him.

While Adam wasn’t aware of it, he was being watched. A lone figure had appeared at the top of a nearby cliff holding a rifle in both hands. The stranger had seen Adam make camp and, later, heard his screams. Upon hearing the screams, the unseen traveler had bolted from their own bedroll and ran to see what was wrong. Once the stranger saw there was nothing around to harm the gentleman, and that he had settled back down, they sat on a nearby boulder. Having had a late nap, Adam’s self-appointed guard wasn’t all that tired and figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep watch for a while longer.

~oOo~

Ben stood on the porch looking up at the stars. He should be in bed; it’s not like he’d had a short day. Only he couldn’t seem to relax. He kept thinking about Adam and the tormented look that was in his son’s eyes. As a father, it had hurt to see his son suffer so and now, he sighed; he was helpless to do anything at all. When he heard Catlin’s footsteps on the porch, Ben turned his head.

“You should be in bed.” Ben said as he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him, taking a glance at her still flat abdomen. He didn’t want the stress of their current trial to endanger the child she carried.

“You should too.” Catlin laid the side of her head against his chest as she felt a cool breeze blow across her face. How could she sleep in their bed knowing Ben was not there? She knew he needed to have support; support which needed to come from her not from anyone or anything else.

A smile appeared upon Ben’s face, as he kissed the top of his wife’s head. He still had a hard time he had been blessed once more with a woman who was giving him all the love and support she could. “I know; I just couldn’t.” He let out a soft sigh as he closed his eyes. For a split second, he could see Adam’s eyes once more.

“He’ll come back, Ben. I know he will. Until then, you have the rest of us here to support you. And, in return, you can support us. As a family, we’ll get through this together.” Catlin held onto her husband as she did her best to see things would be all right.

Ben placed one of his hands on the back of Catlin’s head and kissed the top of her head once more. “I guess we best get back to bed. Dr. Martin’s not going to like it if I keep you up all night.” That only served to get a laugh out of his wife as the two of them turned and disappeared back into the house.

Chapter Three

Morning found Adam rolling up his bedroll and breaking camp. What had possessed him to come back to the place he’d suffered so was beyond him. All he knew for sure was there was nothing he could change in the past and, in all honesty, he didn’t want too. After all, it was what had secured peace for his family. Only question he had was, where did he go now? Somehow, he couldn’t get himself to go back home yet. Last night’s nightmare proved that to him. After making sure everything was taken care of he mounted Sport and started on his way once more.

Adam hadn’t gone twenty feet when he felt as if someone was watching him. He looked around, keeping his hand near his gun. Only he didn’t see anyone. “Get a grip of yourself,” he chastised himself, as he pushed Sport forward.

From where they sat on their horse, the stranger who had kept an eye on Adam the night before, now watched as Adam left his camp. A part of the stranger said they were crazy for keeping an eye on the man; the larger part kept them moving. Since the unseen stranger’s father had been an excellent teacher, when it came to tracking, Adam’s “guardian” was able to continue following Adam even when they could not see him. As time passed the rider let their mind wander back over time.

Curtis Markwell’s screams rang through the house for what seemed like the millionth time. It woke all his children, two daughters and three sons, up. By the time his oldest daughter, Sarah, ran down the stairs, Mr. Markwell was sitting on the couch staring at nothing particular. His daughter turned to her brothers and nodded her head towards their rooms. They might have argued with her only she was the oldest daughter in the family, and their father had put her in charge running the household.

“Pa?” She cautiously made her way to her father. When he got like this, no one was crazy enough to go simply rush up to him and try to make their presence known.

Adam, who had continued to feel as if someone was watching him, stopped Sport and looked back. He didn’t like not knowing if he did indeed have extra company, or if now, besides the nightmares, he was getting close to slipping into insanity. Since he didn’t like the idea of living in the world known only to the mentally ill, Adam hid himself and waited to see if anyone appeared or not. If there was someone, he would be in a position to surprise them and get some answers as to why they were following him.

Surprise his visitor was something Adam might have succeeded in doing had they not seen the signs of him disappearing into the nearby trees and bushes. A smile crossed their face and laughter appeared in their eyes. Obviously, the man who they’d been following had, like Mr. Markwell and many others, the knack of knowing when someone was behind them. Since the stranger couldn’t shake the feeling that, while the man was fully capable of taking care of himself, he still needed help for some reason Adam’s unexpected “guardian” stopped their horse a good thirty feet from Adam. The stranger then leaned forward and rested their arms on the horn of their saddle. The stranger might have gotten closer only, with all the years they’d spent dealing with the man named Curtis Markwell, keeping their distance at the beginning was simply habit and safety precaution.

From where he was hidden, Adam was surprised to see that it was a blond haired woman who appeared to be in her early twenties, if that, who had been following him. Unaware of her tracking abilities, Adam was left to be surprised again when she stopped, leaned forward and waited. Waiting, it hit Adam like a ton of bricks; that’s exactly what the stranger was doing. She was waiting for him. Keeping his eyes on the stranger, Adam tapped Sport with his spurs and moved out into the open. He was met with a smile a wide long.

“Hello there.” The woman kept her words short, not only because she didn’t know the man, but also out of habit. She had learned to keep her mouth shut early on in life. She’d learned much over the years because of it.

“Who are you? Do you always follow men you don’t know around?” Adam asked, not knowing whether or not to be flattered or annoyed.

“Name’s Sarah Markwell and,” she replied, her smile remaining on her face, “I do when their blood curling screams wake me up.” While she wore a poker face, she felt like she’d die from laughter inside her when a very surprised look came upon Adam’s face. He had been unaware she’d been watching him that long.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb you.” He pulled on Sport’s reins and tapped the animals with the spurs on his boots. “You don’t have to worry about me.” Again, Adam didn’t know whether to be annoyed or not, as Sarah pushed her own horse forward and rode alongside him.

Concerned enough about the impressions she was getting to follow him, yes, worried, no. “Who said I was worrying?” Sarah replied as she continued riding alongside him.

Adam eyebrows furrowed as he spoke quietly, his voice dangerously low. “There is no need to ride beside me.”

Sarah shrugged her shoulders and pulled back, though she continued to follow him. She wasn’t a bit surprised when Adam stopped his horse and turned on her.

“You don’t need to follow behind me either.” He barked low and soft.

Sarah had lived her life by following the impressions she’d receive from time to time. Many men and women had tried to get her to stop and always failed. She wasn’t about to back down. “Sir, whether or not you like it, you have company. Whether that company rides beside you, behind you a few feet or,” she said as steel appeared in her eyes and in her voice, “I track you as I was doing before, is all up to you.”

Adam’s eyes widened as he realized how serious the woman who had introduced herself as Sarah Markwell was. Thoughts of his family, and what had happened to Little Joe, ran through his mind once more. He didn’t want to hurt anyone else. He took a long hard look at Sarah. He didn’t know if she was a nut case or what; however, he did know that if she was going to follow him no matter what he wanted to be able to see her. “Name’s not sir. It’s Adam, Adam Cartwright and,” he growled softly again as he replied, “Keep your distance, but stay in my sights.”

Sarah only chuckled as Adam pushed his horse forward while she followed behind.

Chapter Four

Having started their travels early in the early morning, Adam and Sarah reached the Truckee River at a decent hour and followed it; stopping only when absolutely necessary. While the two had talked very little, Adam had quickly realized just how independent the young woman called Sarah Markwell really was. It was her hunting skills that had put rabbit on their plates when it came time to eat lunch.

By the time evening rolled around, Adam had grown tired of the silence and wanted answers. He stopped Sport until Sarah caught up with him, which only took a few seconds as she hadn’t been all that far behind him. “Why were you by yourself?” He turned his head and looked at the young woman dressed in a black skirt and light blue shirt; her hair was pulled into a ponytail and hung to her waist. Her speech was that of one who was educated, and she had proved how well she could cook when she’d cooked up the rabbit she’d caught.

“I didn’t start my travels alone.” Sarah sighed, as she thought on her family. “My father, one of my brothers and I were traveling together, but my brother had a change of heart and hopped a train heading for California. Then my father up and had a heart attack on me and died last month. Since I had all our supplies, I decided I’d simply take a small vacation and see what there was out here. I know,” She chuckled, “probably not the brightest idea me being a woman and all, but I couldn’t get myself to go live with one of my siblings either.” She then turned her head and smiled at Adam. “Before I knew it, I felt as if someone was literally pulling me up to that cliff. You know the one just above where you camped. I guess the man upstairs figured if I was going to do that, then I could mix some of his business in with my travels.” She paused and then asked, “What’s your story?”

Adam frowned slightly. He should have known that by asking her for an explanation she’d want to know his. Only thing was, how was he supposed to tell a complete stranger what had happened when he couldn’t even get himself to tell his own family? On the heel of that question came the memory of when he had realized Matsu was back on their land, and that he, Adam, felt strongly that something had to be done. Still, he wondered now what had possessed him to propose Matsu put him through the “Journey of the Dead”. After all, there were other challenges less painful that he could have suggested. Not wanting to discuss it with Sarah, Adam shrugged his shoulders and answered, “I’m going to Placerville. I have a few friends I haven’t seen for a while.” He tapped Sport with his spurs and started moving again, only this time Sarah stayed right beside him.

Sarah gave him a slight nod and said nothing. She wasn’t blind. She could tell something was troubling him, but she wasn’t going to press him to talk. Though, she did find it somewhat annoying that whoever was pushing her to stay with him couldn’t at least find some way of telling her what she was supposed to do. It’s not like she really wanted to be seen traveling with a man who wasn’t at least a male relative.

As if Adam had just read her mind, he said, “As long as you insist on coming along for the ride, I think it best if we say we’re cousins.”

The fact that he was obviously concerned about her reputation felt rather nice and reaffirmed the feeling she’d had that he was a good man. “We should start looking for a place to camp again.” She looked up at the sky, “And we best see if we can find some shelter while we’re at it.”

Adam looked up at the clouds and sighed. The darkening sky, caused by thick clouds that were starting to roll in, were evidence enough of why Sarah had said such a thing. Good thing they both carried some sort of tarp with them. Looking around, Adam spotted a few trees he could wind rope around, making it possible to put some sort of “tent” up, one with enough room in it to make it possible for there to be a decent amount of space between himself and Sarah. “We’ll have to make our own.” He headed for the trees and explained his idea. A few hours later, they had the “tent” up, had eaten some dried jerky and had bedded down for the night.

Adam smiled and whistled as he and his brothers moved the cattle. It was a warm day, but not too warm and it felt good to be on the drive with his brothers. As he turned to face Hoss and Little Joe, Adam’s eyes widened. Matsu was riding along side his brothers and looking at them as if he was debating which of them he would attack.

“Stay away from my brothers!” Adam hurried and did what he had to in order to put himself between his brothers and the Bannock Indian.

“Make me!” Matsu’s eyes darkened as he lifted up his fist; it held a bloody buffalo bone.

Thunder rolled through the air as Adam’s screams filled the air, causing Sarah to sit up right. Again, out of habit, she went on alert, but did not make a move towards Adam until his screaming stopped. Even then, she moved cautiously as she spoke. “Adam, it’s okay, there’s nothing here that will hurt you. Maybe get you a bit wet if you leave the tent, but not harm you, or I.”

Adam, who had once again been trembling slightly, took a couple of deeps breathes and shook off the nightmare that had reached out and grabbed him once more. “I’m sorry.” Adam said after a few moments. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Sarah moved a bit closer and laid her hand upon his shoulder. “I’ve been woke before. Don’t let it bother you.”

Adam turned his head and looked into her eyes. He could see the compassion she had for him in them. “You need to talk to someone…” his father’s words came back to him. Adam sighed as Sarah took her hand off his shoulder and moved back to her bedroll. For a moment he thought about telling his unexpected guest everything, and then he lay back down and did his best to relax. Soon he was fast asleep. Only after she could see Adam was asleep did Sarah relax and do the same.

Chapter Five

Ben leaned against the fence in front of his home and watched as the sun began to set. It had been almost a week since Adam left home and still they had no word from him. It was killing Ben, or felt like it anyway. He told himself to be patient, and that Adam had promised to wire him the first chance he got. That he hadn’t done so yet, told Ben that his son had not gone towards Carson or Reno as Ben had hoped. Only when he felt a hand upon his back did Ben turn his attention away from the sunset.

“You didn’t eat much supper.” Catlin smiled up at Ben; it was a tired smile, and he saw through her. She was hurting just as much as he was only she had been hiding it.

Ben wrapped his arms around his wife and pulled her to him. His ordeal had eventually given him a wife who was more precious than gold to him; one who had helped him find a peace of mind when it came to the affliction he’d suffered at Matsu hands. How he prayed Adam would be able tell someone, or do something to help him put his own ordeal, whatever it had been, behind hm.

“I wasn’t very hungry.” Ben answered as he titled her head backwards and looked into her eyes. “But I could use some desert.” He murmured as he lowered his head.

~oOo~

Adam stood beside Lake Tahoe, while Sarah sat on a rather huge boulder near the bank of the lake. They had tethered their horses to some nearby trees which Sarah said were almost as gorgeous as the ones she’d seen on the Ponderosa. Their days had been full of very little talk, as he was still feeling a bit out of sorts that Sarah had continued to refuse to leave. It might be more irritating to him…only too many of the nights had been filled with nightmares and, each and every time. Sarah had acted with precise timing and helped him come out of the nightmares without any trouble. Well, not any trouble on his part. He was sure she had been pulling some of her hair out afterwards. Remembering the few times she’d talked about her father, Adam turned away from the lake and walked over to where Sarah sat.

“What caused your father’s nightmares?” He asked as he sat down next to his new friend, though he did not look at her directly.

Sarah didn’t normally talk about her late father’s past only, after spending four out of seven nights helping Adam through his; she knew that both men had gone through hell. “He was in the Calvary for years, fought in more than one skirmish with the Indians and,” she sighed, “saw more and went through than anyone should have to go through,” she paused and added, “just like many other men.”

Adam took a deep breath. It was that exact fact, the fact that other men had been through similar experiences that had helped him keep his mind in tack; still, it didn’t chase his nightmares away. The fact that the fear that if someone touched him while he was sleeping he’d hurt them when he came up swinging was also constantly with him.

Since Adam wasn’t saying anything, and she needed to stretch her legs, Sarah stood up and walked over to the lake. Adam needed to talk; to open up, but how did she get him to do that? It had taken her mother, and then her, years of patiently working with her father to get him to the point where the nightmares weren’t coming around as much. And, while she couldn’t prove it, Sarah was sure it was because her father would so seldom talked about his experiences. “How do I help him?” It was a question that was only answered by a soft gentle breeze.

“We have another fifty miles to Placerville.” Adam’s voice snapped her out of her musings.

Sarah turned to see him walking towards her. “So, a few more days of traveling.” She knew it was an unnecessary statement; still she made it and then turned her attention back to the sparkling blue lake before her. Since the light of the sun was hitting the water just white the sparkles came close to looking like small, diamond shaped jewels.

“I’d say so.” Adam lifted his right foot and put it on a very small “boulder” that sat in front of him. He then crossed his arms and rested the wrists on his knee. He could see Sarah out of the corner of his eyes. He was startled to see just how tired her eyes really looked. It brought him up short, as he realized that he’d been getting plenty of sleep…he’d go right back to sleep after one of his nightmares, because she was there to reassure him everything was alright. However, she had not gone back to sleep. Most likely she’d remained awake to watch over him for a while longer. Question was, for how long?

Not wanting to make her feel like he was blaming her for the thought that came into mind, Adam looked around and said, “We’ve covered a lot of ground in the short time we’ve been traveling. Would you have anything against setting up camp for a few days? Give the horses a good rest?”

Sarah couldn’t stop the smile from coming onto her face. She knew full well the horses had had enough sleep. She knew it wasn’t the horses Adam was concerned about. If she wasn’t feeling the strain of being up all day and a small portion of the night, she might have objected. As it was, she nodded and smiled. “Sounds good to me, I’ll start gathering kindling and wood. We’ll need it later tonight.”

“No,” Adam stood up straight and took a hold of her shoulders. “You need to rest. I’ll do it.” He then let go of her and left to get the needed wood.

Sarah watched him walk away. Since he’d asked about her father, she began wondering about his. Had the man passed away? Was he alive? Where was Adam’s family? Did they know where he was at? The last question bothered her the most. Not knowing Adam had already made a promise to contact his family, she vowed to send her own wire when they reached Placerville.

Chapter Six

“Is he all right?” Sarah asked as Adam knelt at looked at her horse’s front right hoof. The animal had started walking funny and now Adam was looking to see what the problem was.

Adam shook his head. They still had forty three miles to go to get to Placerville and the horse had a nasty stone bruise. There was no way the horse would be able to carry a rider until the problem was fixed. “You’ll have to ride with me for now. Don’t worry,” he held up his hand as panic filled Sarah’s eyes. “The horse is fine enough for now, but we’ll have to lead him, not ride him for now.”

Adam held out his hand for Sarah and, when she’d taken it, helped her into the saddle. He then mounted the horse behind her. As they moved along, Adam keeping a hold of her horse’s reins as they rode down the road they were traveling on, she was shocked to realize she was more than comfortable riding with Adam right behind her. Or course, she said nothing not wanting to do anything that might send the wrong message. Due to the problem Sarah’s horse had come down with, he and Sarah only made it another five miles before it was time to set up camp.

“Will he be okay?” Sarah asked after she’d laid out their bedrolls and gathered wood. Adam was again looking at the horse’s hoof, and he didn’t look very happy. She near froze when Adam shook his head.

“I hope, but we won’t be going anywhere tomorrow. We have to take care of this somehow. If we don’t he’s bound to get an infection and we both know since we’d have no way to treat something like that what would end up happening.” Adam answered as he stood up and began looking around to see where they could set up camp. By the time the sun set and the stars had all poked their heads out, Adam and Sarah were again lying in the bedrolls sleeping.

Adam felt the wind on his face as he rode past one tree after another and the birds sang to him. He could see his family riding towards him. Then, out of nowhere, Matsu was trying to get to them. Adam screamed a warning and Matsu turned on him instead. Only this time, just as Matsu lifted the buffalo bones, Sarah’s image appeared and stopped the enraged Indian.

Sarah, who had made her way carefully over to Adam after he’d shot straight up and yelled out her name, had had enough. If she was to help her friend, she had to know what had happened. “Talk to me Adam!” she pleaded as she rested her hand upon his upper arm. “Tell me what happened!”

Adam stood up and made his way to a boulder; Sarah was right beside him. Never having been one to just bow over and do as someone thought he should, Adam struggled with her request. If it wasn’t for the fact that she’d stuck by him for the past week and a half, if she hadn’t been in his dream and had been protecting him, Adam would have said nothing. As it was, he shook his head. “Let’s say I had a slight disagreement with one very upset Indian by the name of Matsu, a Bannock Indian.”

Sarah raised her eyebrow. One that asked the question ‘A slight disagreement?’ Her reaction got a chuckle out of Adam, but he said nothing else concerning the matter. “Look,” Adam said rather forcefully as he was back on being on the defensive side, “I never asked you to come along. Once we take care of your horse, you can be on your way.”

Sarah shook her head. “I’m sticking with you. That is,” she said and then softened her tone when she realized that as badly as she wanted to continue helping him, it wouldn’t do any good to continue forcing her company on him, “unless you’re going to right down insist on my leaving.”

Adam went to do just that, but shocked himself by being unable to do so. As he thought about it, he realized he’d grown accustomed to having her around, and she knew how to handle things when he had a nightmare. In fact, he’d stopped worrying about hurting her during one of his nightmares days ago. “No,” he laid his hand over hers without thinking, “You can stay just,” he sighed, “don’t expect me to talk about the incident again, please. That is, not unless I start it.”

Sarah, who could easily come up with a dozen different ‘disagreements’ that this Matsu and Adam could have had, nodded and replied, “All right, but I’m here anytime you want to talk.” She started to rise only to find Adam gently pulling her back down.

“You are a stubborn one; thanks.” Adam lifted his hand and ran his fingers down the side of her check.

Sarah smiled as she felt her heart skip a beat and then quickly excused herself saying she was tired. However, the truth was Adam’s touching her like her had unsettled her. It had made her look at him in a different light, and she chastised herself for it. She was only there to help him, not fall in love with him.

Adam watched as Sarah lay back down. Like Sarah, he was chastising himself. For a small moment he’d thought about kissing her, only she was a lady and proving to be a very good friend. He sighed as he stood up. He hoped they could take care of her horse without too much of a delay. Just as he thought on the horse the animals started neighing frantically, causing both Adam and Sarah, who bolted out of bedroll, to run to see what the problem was.

As Adam drew closer to the horses, he was horrified to see a rattler rising up and striking Sarah’s horse. The girl went to hurry towards her frightened animal, but Adam held her back with one arm and drew quickly in the other. “No it’s a rattler, Sarah stay back,” he yelled, shooting the snake before it could strike gain at the distressed horse.

Adam released Sarah as both of them hurried to untie their mounts and calm them down. He checked Sport over as Sarah did the same, Adam could hear her soothing words to the Animal.

“Shh shh, Prince, shh boy, it’s alright.” suddenly she groaned then called out, “Adam?”

Adam tied Sport back up and quickly ran to her side.

“He’s been bit Adam, what…”

Adam gently rested his hand on her shoulder then bent down to examine the horse leg. There just above her fetlock were two very obvious bite marks. The area was already looking inflamed and had started to swell.

The horse started to tremble, “Shh boy. He’s still frighten, Adam. Is he going to be alright?”

“No Sarah, he’s not. The tremble is the poison making the muscles spasm. He will only start to panic more because he doesn’t know what’s going on.”

“But, horses survive snake bites all the time.”

“Depends, where they get bitten, and how quickly the poison gets into their blood stream. And like humans each horse can be affected differently. I can’t be a hundred percent sure, Sarah, but Prince…” Adam stood up and held Sarah while they both caressed the horse…”You don’t want him to suffer.”

“Can we wait, just…”

In his heart, Adam knew it wouldn’t do any good; still, he answered, “Yes, we can wait, just a little longer.”

Sarah knew in her heart that Adam was most likely correct. Prince’s eyes had already glazed over with the shock and the stress of the unknown. When she could feel Prince’s heart beating wildly and saw his breathing start to labor, Sarah knew that Prince had already started to suffer.

“Adam,” she said, looking up with tears in her eyes. “I don’t want him to suffer.”

Adam nodded, “Here, let me take him. I’ll find a nice place to…”

Sarah burst into tears and buried her head into the horse’s neck, kissing him and caressing her. “I’m so sorry Prince, I’m…”

Adam grabbed the reins and led the horse gently away. Sarah watched, as the stallion limped away shakily yet quiet. She then moved towards their smoldering campfire and added some wood then sat down on a log. Moments later she heard the gunshot, and then cupped her hands as she lowered her head and sobbed. She was still there when Adam returned. He sat down next to her and gently wrapped her in a hug and let her cry herself out.

Sarah let the comfort and warmth of Adam surround her, calming her as the last of her tears trickled down her face. “Oh, Adam, what are we going to do? We still have two days of traveling at least. I can’t ride double the whole time.” Sarah was beside herself at both the loss of her horse and the thought of being a burden to Adam’s fine animal.

Adam put both his hands on her shoulders and smiled. He wiped a lone tear from her face with the gentle touch of one finger. “Sport can handle it for that long. Though, we might wind up walking now and then just to be sure. We’ll be fine, and I’ll get you a new horse once we get to Placerville. Now, go back to bed, get some rest. Sarah would have argued with him only she needed both the sleep and a horse to ride. “Okay.” She turned and walked back to her bedroll, doing her best to settle her shaky nerves.

Chapter Seven

“Hey! Watch it!” Adam jumped up and pretended to be angry, as Sarah dumped a small amount of water on top of his head. She’d only done it because he’d been so sour when he woke up, probably because of the nightmare he’d had the night before. Well, that and the fact that she felt strongly he needed to lighten up a bit. Since they had were only five miles from Placerville, she wasn’t worried about using a tiny bit of water to get Adam wet.

Sarah only laughed, dropped the now empty canteen…they were actually carrying three on them, took a hold of her skirt and ran away from Adam. If he wanted to get even, he was going to have to work for it. She laughed again when she succeeded in getting Adam to go after her.

Adam was surprised how fast of a runner Sarah really was and it took him a few minutes before he caught up with her. However, when he did, she squealed as he wrapped his arms around her and swung her around; he was holding onto her from behind.

Adam was pleasantly surprised to find himself in the best mood he’d been in a long time. He realized that it was because, in spite of his nightmares, he was allowing himself to relax and have fun. As this realization came to him, Adam was shocked to hear his father’s words, ones spoken shortly after he’d returned home and after his nightmares had started, repeat themselves. “We’re a family; we’ve worked together, played together. We can work this out. Good or bad times, we need to stick together.” Adam stopped abruptly and put Sarah down.

The moment he put her down, Sarah looked into his face. The light in his eyes had dimmed just a little. “What is it, Adam?” she asked as she laid her hand upon his arm; this time instead of saying nothing or turning away Adam sighed and sat down on the boulder that was next to them.

“My family; they don’t know where I went. They’re waiting back on the Ponderosa for me to send a telegram to tell them I’m okay.” Adam answered as he looked in the direction they were traveling. He went onto explain why he’d left.

Sarah knelt in front of Adam and took a hold of his hands. Adam was surprised to find himself holding onto her hands as tight as he could; that is, as tight as he could without hurting her. “Don’t beat yourself up too bad, Adam. Daddy told me he did the same thing at one time course,” she said as she smiled wide, “he came to his senses and came home.” Then, still curious, she asked one more time, “Won’t you please tell me what happened?”

Adam closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Afterwards, he opened his eyes back up and began talking. “It actually started with my father. He left home…” Adam talked slowly, explaining what the end result of his father’s experience had been. “We all thought Matsu would stay with his people after that. After all, he was their chief, but months, and I mean months, later he again came onto our land.”

The fact that a chief would leave his people for any amount of time and find his way back to the Ponderosa told Sarah that Matsu had to have a great deal of anger and grief still in him. “And that’s when your ‘disagreement’ with him began?” Sarah asked, only she never got answer as she and Adam heard a couple of riders approaching.

Adam turned his head and looked in the direction the hoof beats were coming. He felt shock waves go through him and he was on his feet in a split second. The fact that he reached out, took a hold of Sarah’s waist and pulled her to his side surprised her. After all, he had said they would just tell everyone she was his cousin. Still, there had been a look of someone with a fierce determination to protect her appear in his eyes. She couldn’t help but smile. The past couple of weeks had indeed been the beginning of a friendship they both, apparently, shared. She slid her arm around his waist too, as she saw no reason not to since he was the one who started it.

“Hello, Thomas. What are you doing here?” Adam’s greeting shocked Sarah. The thought that he might know one, or both, of the men had never entered her mind. Now, since it had, she held on a bit tighter without even half realizing it. It was obvious Adam did not fully trust the man. Then, not wanting the man to think she was with Adam as more of a friend and seeing no wedding ring on her hand, she slipped her left hand into her skirt pocket. While she didn’t know if it did any good, it had. The man Adam called Thomas and the other man had not even looked at her hand when they’d ridden up.

“Heading to Placerville on some business,” Thomas replied as he leaned forward in the saddle, “I didn’t expect to run into you clear out here.” He was now eying Sarah close, and it made her nervous.

“This is Sarah,” Adam pulled her a bit closer and, to the astonishment of Sarah, and their unexpected visitors, added, “my fiancée.” Truth was Adam only said it because he knew the red headed man in front of him well, well enough to know the rumors about the man all had high possibility of being true, or mostly true anyway. That meant letting him believe Sarah was already taken. It was a fact he would take time to explain to Sarah the moment their visitors left.

It was all Sarah could do not too looked shocked at Adam’s statement. This Thomas fellow must be really bad if Adam felt the need to pass her off as his intended.

“Oh,” Thomas sat straight up obviously disappointed. Disappointment showed in the eyes of his companion also. “Well, congratulations. We love to sit around and talk but our business is urgent. Talk at you later,” He turned his horse towards Placerville and rode off with his friend riding close behind.

“Not a good man I take it,” Sarah said, as Adam helped her up into the saddle and then mounted his horse, sitting behind Sarah. He would have had her sit behind him only if Thomas was going to be in Placerville; Adam was going to make sure the message that Sarah was unavailable was reinforced.

Sarah would have liked Adam to continue his tale concerning Matsu…only the moment had been broken. All she could do was pray that Adam would open up to her again sometime soon.

Chapter Eight

The streets of Placerville were pretty empty when Adam and Sarah rode into town. Seeing how the few people who could be seen recognized Adam from previous visits, along with the fact that Thomas had been more than happy to spread the news of Adam’s “engagement” to those who knew the eldest Cartwright son the best, Adam and Sarah had more than one head turning. It made both of them wish Thomas had not crossed their path.

“I have to stop by the telegraph office first.” Adam spoke up. Sarah was relieved to learn what he meant to do. It relieved her of the burden of sending one herself. “Then we’ll go see my friends. They sell horses, and I’m sure they’ll have a stallion that will fit your liking.”

Again, Sarah only held her peace, knowing she had to have a horse to ride. That being the case she looked at the saloon, the café and the rest of the buildings that made up the small town of Placerville. Most of them were in decent shape, but there were a couple whose window shutters were hanging loose and that had doors missing. Though, one of them had a couple of men working on the problem as she and Adam passed them by.

One of the men, who happened to know Adam, smiled as he saw the couple. Having no reason to doubt Thomas, the brown haired worker called out, “Congratulations! About time you found someone to put up with that granite head of yours!”

Sarah had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing, as she could tell by the way Adam stiffened slightly, he wanted to find Thomas and put a gag in his mouth.

“Best wishes!” The other man, a Mexican by the name of Julio, called out.

Not wanting the men to think she and Adam had gone deaf or had turned rude, Sarah called out with a smile on her face, “Thank you!”

Again she wanted to laugh as Adam growled softly. “Do you have to encourage them?”

She turned her head slightly, making it so she could see his face and smiled from ear to ear. “You started it.” She started laughing and looked forward as Adam only muttered something about Murphy’s Law.

~oOo~

“Pa!” Little Joe hollered as he opened the front door and hurried inside the sound. Ben and Catlin, who was starting to show the fact that she was in the family way, both jumped to their feet. The couple had been sitting on the couch when the Ben’s youngest son bolted through the door.

“What on earth is wrong, Joseph?” Ben couldn’t help but bark out Little Joe’s full first name. He didn’t appreciate being given heart failure unless it was absolutely necessary.

“Nothing,” Little Joe said as he handed his father the telegram he’d been handed while in Virginia City, “it’s just that it’s from Adam! He’s in Placerville.”

Ben took the telegram from his son and read the words Adam had sent.

Arrived Placerville. Visiting William and Rebecca Pulsipher. Will write later.

Ben felt some of the weight he’d been carrying around lift. Adam was alive and was with friends. Not knowing about Sarah, all Ben could do was hope the Pulsiphers would be able to help his eldest.

“Oh Ben, that’s wonderful news. You know at least he is safe,” said Caitlin. Ben wrapped his arms around his wife’s shoulders as she finished saying, “Let’s hope they can help him.” The rest of the evening the Cartwright did what they could to relax and enjoy a good evening. Since they’d received word from Adam, it wasn’t as hard as it had been in the past two weeks.

~oOo~

“It’s good to see you, Adam,” William said as Rebecca set his supper on the table before him, “and to meet your friend here.” Then, wishing to tease his friend, he added, “So when does the most eligible bachelor in Nevada give up his freedom?” William wasn’t surprised when Rebecca gave him a playful slap while Adam and Sarah both looked a bit uncomfortable.

“Thomas needs to learn to keep his mouth shut.” Adam answered as he thought on the man who cared only for himself. The man was known to do anything, take any risk and tell any lie if he thought it would benefit himself. Adam might not even know who the man was except for he had worked on the Ponderosa for a few months, until Adam had had to fire him, that is. As far as he was concerned, the only redeeming quality the man had was that he wouldn’t touch another man’s wife, hence the reason for making sure Thomas thought Sarah was taken.

William chuckled. “If that’s the man who rode into Placerville earlier, I doubt he’ll do that. His mouth was going as fast as any train I’ve ever seen, and he was more than happy to let everyone who would listen how the great Adam Cartwright had finally been caught. Though, if I know Thomas,” William had had the misfortune of meeting on numerous occasions, as he was the sheriff in Placerville, “until you actually put a ring on her finger, he’ll do everything he can to get her away from you. After all, she’s a pretty one, not as pretty as my Rebecca but…”

Adam and Rebecca laughed while Sarah smiled and went a pinkish red. Though, behind his laugh, Adam was feeling very uneasy. Robert had a point. Thomas had probably started making plans to get Sarah away from him from the moment he and his friend rode away. Those concerns grew as Rebecca set his plate in front of him.

“I wish that man would just ride out of town. As it is, he says the trip he was planning to Wyoming has been delayed, says he’s sticking around Placerville instead.” Adam said as he picked up the utensils in front of him.

After making sure everyone had their food, Rebecca sat down and all four adults ate their food, catching up on the events that had transpired in their lives since they’d last seen each other. Though, Sarah noticed how Adam did not mention Matsu had returned to the Ponderosa a second time. After supper was over Sarah helped Rebecca clean up while Adam visited William in the living room. It wasn’t until Adam’s friends went to bed that Adam pulled Sarah aside, telling her that they needed to talk.

Sarah, who sat on the couch that sat against the west wall and under a window, stared at Adam as he talked about Thomas and all that the man was capable of. “Are you serious?” she stared at Adam, as he’d presented her with an idea, the only idea he could think of that would keep Thomas at bay.

“Very,” Adam, who had his hand up on the mantle of his friend’s fireplace, replied, “Look I realize we’ve only known each other two weeks. If it would be a legitimate marriage, I wouldn’t even suggest it. Only, you heard my friend, and he’s right. I saw the way Thomas looked at you. The only way that man will not try to do anything to you is if you’re my legal wife. Though, like I just said, it would change nothing and we’d get the marriage annulled once Thomas leaves the area, maybe sooner depending on how long I stay in this area myself.”

William had mentioned at dinner that Thomas had bragged he was going to Wyoming and would be leaving Placerville in a couple of weeks and Adam had already been planning on where he’d go once his visit with William and Rebecca was over.

A part of Sarah told her that the stress of dealing with whatever Adam was running from had pushed the man to lose his mind; the other part was shocked to find herself excited at the thought of being Mrs. Adam Cartwright for any amount of time. “May I have the night to think about it?”

Adam nodded. “Or course.” The two then continued for a few more minutes before they too

Chapter Nine

Sarah was standing by the corral when she heard someone walking toward her. She turned expecting to see Adam sure he’d want an answer to his proposal. However, she was appalled to see the man called Thomas Leech behind her instead. His red hair was combed back and had a slick look to it; he also had a serpent like smile on his face a look full of lust in his eyes. It made her very uneasy.

“What do you want?” Sarah let go of the fence and stood as straight as possible, praying Adam would walk out of the house soon.

Thomas, who had been thinking ever since he’d ridden away from Adam and this pretty young lady, had like William feared, decided he still had a chance with the gal Adam said he intended to marry. He took a step towards Sarah, who instantly recoiled. “I asked you what you wanted.” A steel like tone entered her voice, one that should have been warning bell to Thomas only he was tone deaf.

“Now is that any way to greet a gentleman caller?” He reached and took a hold of Sarah’s upper arm only to receive the shock of his life when she reached up with both hands and grabbed his right arm. Before he knew, William has being flipped up and over her shoulder. He had just hit the ground when Adam came out of the house.

Adam, gun in hand, ran to Sarah’s side, keeping the gun on William. “What happened?”

“He forgot his manners.” Sarah stepped closer to Adam. She might have succeeded in throwing the man, but she was no fighter and she knew it.

“I didn’t mean any harm.” Thomas stood up and sputtered while throwing a glare at Sarah.

That only served to get Adam barking at him to go someplace else. “Get out of here; now!”

The man complied only he kept looking over his shoulder.

“He’ll be back.” Sarah, who was shaking a little, let Adam lead her to the porch of the Pulsipher home. The moment she said the words, she noticed that Adam had paled ever so slightly. Somehow, she knew it had to do with this Matsu he had talked about earlier. That being the case, after Adam sat down she asked, “Want to talk about it?”

“Tell me how Thomas landed on the ground and I will.” Adam had been wondering about it ever since he came out the door.

“My father was a farmer for a while. I have lifted and thrown more bales of hay than I can count.” Sarah chuckled as Adam starting laughing. “I just pretended he was a bale of hay.” Once their laughter died down, Sarah leaned forward a bit and looked at Adam. “So, why did you grow so pale when I said that Thomas fellow would be back? Was it because of Matsu?”

Adam didn’t answer for a moment. When he did, he let out a long drawn out sigh. “Yes, it was.” He then told her how Hoss had seen him and what the gentle giant had said about Little Joe. “He wanted a Cartwright to pay for his wife’s death, but by his own Indian lore, he couldn’t lay a hand on Pa. I knew things had to be brought to an end, and I only knew one way to do it.” He closed his eyes as the past ran through his mind.

Sarah didn’t have to ask who had wound up paying the price, though she was curious as to the details. When Adam started breathing hard, as if he was going to hyperventilate, she pushed her thoughts aside and hurried and closed the space between them. “Deep breaths, Adam, take deep breaths.” She laid one hand on his shoulder and the other one his right hand.

Adam opened his eyes and did as she directed. It took a few minutes, but soon he was breathing normal. “Sorry,” Adam stood up and walked over to the post that his friends had put up when they’d added the porch onto their house. “I don’t know what brought that on.”

Sarah smiled as she remembered the many times her father would act like this. Her mother said that time had put distance between her husband and his experiences, but that, once in a while, those memories still caused a bad reaction for him. “Memories, they bring out all sorts of reactions. What did Matsu do to you? If I may ask,” she asked hoping Adam would not come unglued on her only she was growing more curios as time rolled on.

Adam might have told her, only out of the corner he saw Thomas watching them. Sarah noticed the man too and, once again, moved to Adam’s side. “What are we doing to do about him?”

‘Turn him over to Matsu,’ came into Adam’s mind only he didn’t say it. Instead he wrapped his arm around Sarah and pulled her to him. “I told you before; that man’s only real virtue is he won’t lay his hand on a married woman. Let me ask William to go fetch the judge. You and I will know it’s a marriage in name only, but no one else will.”

Sarah didn’t really like it, but she liked the idea of Thomas coming around her ten times less. “All right, but you deal with answering any questions the man has. Call me whatever you want; after all, whatever you call me will probably fit me. I’m just not willing to deal with it.”

Adam chuckled. “All right,” Then, to send yet another message to Thomas, he started kissing Sarah…but not before he’d asked permission to do so and explained why he was doing it.

Thomas’ friend who had been inside the local mercantile getting a few supplies walked up to Thomas and followed the man’s angry gaze. “She’s taken, just leave it be.”

Thomas growled back. “She ain’t his yet. I still have a chance.” “Someone needs to teach her some manners.” He thought as he watched Adam and Sarah turn and walk back into the house hand in hand. Unaware of the couple’s plan, Thomas wasted his time when he began to plan how he’d get Sarah away from Adam.

*“The Minstrel Knight” (12 June 1824)
Canzonett, Opus 14, No. 3
With an accompaniment for the Harp
Composed by Benjamin Carr, 1768-1831.
Philadelphia, PA: T. Carr’s Music Store,
No. 132 South Second Street
[Source: 037/003c Levy]

A/N I used as much of the song in this chapter as the public domain site had. Apparently, their source is missing part of the song.

Chapter Ten

Are you sure?” Adam stood next to Hoss talking about the Bannock Indian who had once more come onto their land.

He wants us, Adam.” Little Joe appeared out of nowhere.

Adam took a step towards his brother only to have the scenery change and his brothers disappear.

Sheer pain shot through Adam as he felt himself floating in the air as he watched flames, stoked by Matsu, reaching up to grab him.

“Adam, Adam,” Sarah again stood a few feet away from Adam calling his name the same way she’d called it before, soft and with a comforting sound. It reached through the fog Adam found himself and pulled him out.

Adam blinked his eyes and looked around the room his friends were letting him use; it was just big enough to hold a bed, a dresser with a small area to move around if necessary. By the time he’d finished looking around William and Rebecca, who had also been awakened by Adam’s screams, were in the doorway.

Knowing Adam never felt like talking the first few minutes after having one of his nightmares, Sarah did her best to smile at the Pulsiphers and said, “He had a nightmare: he’ll be fine.”

Knowing his friends as well as he did, Adam forced himself to nod in agreement and managed to get a few words out. “I’m fine, really. Sorry for waking you up,” he kept his head forward the whole time he was speaking.

William didn’t like it, but figured Sarah had it under control. He tapped his wife on the shoulder; she was still looking at Adam with concern in her eyes. “Come on; let’s get back to bed.” Only after they had shut the door did Sarah sit down on the edge of the bed.

“What was the dream about?” Okay, in some ways that was a stupid question; on the other hand, she figured it was a justifiable one. She wasn’t surprised when Adam closed his eyes and didn’t answer right away. Finally, after a few minutes, he began talking.

“I tracked Matsu down, not hard to doing seeing how much he’d talked about the place before leaving the first time, made a deal with him…I…I was dreaming about what happened afterwards.” Adam opened up his eyes and looked at the only person he’d ever met who had succeeded in getting him to talk about the past. Sooner or later, he knew he’d have to tell her the exact details, just not now. He lifted up his hand and laid it on her cheek, brushing it with his thumb.

Sarah would have pulled back and insist that he continue talking only she seemed unable to move, as if Adam’s touch seemed to have an effect on her she had not expected it to have. Before she knew Adam had her in his arms and was sliding his tongue into her mouth. This time it wasn’t the kiss of someone simply sending a jerk the message that he’d best keep his hands off what wasn’t his. It was more of one who had found a life line to hold onto and was desperate to keep that lifeline around.

Finally Sarah, who had wrapped her arms around Adam and allowed herself to melt in his arms, made herself back away. He needed her listen, to help him, not to allow the two of them to find themselves falling into the fire just because there was such a strong need for security. And she felt strongly that exactly would happen, if she didn’t exercise some self-control.

“I’m sorry,” Adam apologized, and then let out a soft, half amused chuckle, “here I ask you to marry me in name only for your own protection and then I do that.” He paused as he again closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “It won’t happen again.” He’d make sure of it.

Sarah felt her heart go to Adam and she smiled. “There’s nothing to forgive, Adam.” She then stood up and shocked him by climbing into the bed and moving behind him. “What you need,…I can give without making it so we can’t get an annulment later after we get married.” She then sat against the headboard and, wrapping her arms around his back and around his chest, she pulled him towards her. Soon he was resting his back against her, his head resting under her chin.

Her actions and words “….without making it so we can’t get an annulment later after we get married” told him that, if nothing else, he had one of the best friend’s he’d ever had. He couldn’t help but wonder how she knew just badly he simply needed to find comfort in something as simple as being held like a child…without having the embarrassment of asking his father or mother, or in his case, stepmother, to do it. After all, he was still very capable of taking care of himself. Only thing was, even the strongest of men needed a shoulder to lean on once in a while. As he closed his eyes, he was again amazed as Sarah began singing softly, singing a song he’d heard many times over the years.

*A wand’ring Minstrel weary came
to a Castle at an ev’ning hour
where many a Knight and lovely Dame
were met to hold a festive bow’r
Songs of war were loudly sung
by other bards of ancient pride
But the Minstrels Harp in Love was strung
and was sweeter that all beside
was sweeter than all beside
So sweetly sweetly
Sweetly to Love his Harp was strung.
A Maid within this Castle dwelt
more fair than any that grac’d the Hall
tho’ many a Knight for her had knelt
she lov’d the Minstrel best of all…

 

By the time Sarah finished the song Adam had fallen asleep. That left Sarah to think on everything that had happened, and everything she’d learned, since joining Adam on his quest to fight the demon memory inside him. She couldn’t help but smile as she closed her eyes and did her best to rest. She’d never slept sleeping upright before. Still, if her mother could do it for everyone from her father to her and her siblings, she could do it for a friend who needed what comfort she could give.

Chapter Eleven

From where Adam stood on his friends’ porch leaning on the railing, he could see Thomas, who was standing on a corner down the street. He didn’t like it and was more anxious than ever for William to get back with the judge. His friend and Rebecca might have argued with having the wedding without his family around, only Rebecca had looked into the room Adam was using, the door was slightly ajar, and had seen Sarah behind Adam. When she’d done that, Rebecca had put two and two together and came up with five. Neither Adam nor Sarah was going to correct her though, as it made it so William didn’t fight them either.

“You sure you want to do this, Adam?” Sarah walked out of the house and stood beside Adam. Being his wife might get Thomas off their case, but it would close any road he might want to travel sort to speak.

Out of the corner of his eye, Adam saw Thomas watching them. It made him sick. “I’m sure.” He then looked at Sarah more closely. The way she kept glancing towards his chest and away had him wondering what was going on. He knew her well enough to know, it wasn’t the idea of getting him in bed that had her looking at that area. As he thought on it, the more he thought on how she’d held him and sang to him. While he was pretty sure she hadn’t opened up his shirt, he realized she could have seen more than she’d planned on too.

“You saw?” He asked as Sarah kept her face forward.

Sarah fidgeted and turned to look at him. “I couldn’t help it. I…I glanced down when I had you lean back. The two scars I saw are light. Are there others? Did Matsu put them there?”

Adam, still keeping an eye on Thomas out of the corner of his eye, nodded as he started explaining what had been done to him and why. More than once Adam had to stop, forcing himself to keep his eyes open. He also took more than one deep breath. By the time he was finished he was holding onto the railing so tight his knuckles looked as if they would turn white.

It was all Sarah could do not to run around the corner of the house and lose her breakfast. Just the idea of Adam hanging in the air, even two feet, with buffalo bones through his chest made her nausea. “Your family must be as good as you are for you to be willing to go through that to get Matsu to leave your land for good.” It made her admire him more than she did already.

“I think so.” Adam stood up straight, as Thomas started walking towards them, though he looked the other way when Thomas froze and looked as if he was going to drop. A smile spread across Adam’s face. His friends were almost to the house, and they had the circuit judge was with them. Minutes later, Adam, Sarah and the others were inside the house leaving one very disappointed man out on the street.

~oOo~

Sarah again stood at the foot of Adam’s bed only this time it wasn’t because he was screaming or calling out her name. It was because he’d started tossing and turning in the bed and woke her up with his mumbling. For a moment she thought about climbing into to bed as she had before only he wasn’t awake and the action might cause him to lash out. At least, she’d heard her mother say that if she didn’t start out the night with her husband she didn’t spend any of it with him. Mrs. Markwell said it safer for both her husband and herself.

After she and Adam had explained that ‘he suffers nightmares due to an unfortunate incident’ and that ‘it is better if we share separate beds at night’, the Pulsiphers had been nice enough to put a twin sized bed in the room. Now, wide awake, Sarah was watching Adam and trying to think of a way to talk him into going home.

Yes, he still had nightmares but, since telling her everything, they were, for the most part, not that bad. In fact, in three weeks, there had only been two other times that he’d started screaming, and only once that he had come up swinging. That being the case, she thought it would be safe for him to return home. Only problem was, Adam didn’t agree. “It only took once to dislocate my baby brother’s shoulder.” Those had been his exact words.

Sarah had not fought him at first due to the fact that Thomas was still in town. Oh sure, as disappointed and angry as the man had been, he had proven Adam correct by backing off the moment he’d learned that the judge had indeed went to the Pulsipher home to marry Adam and Sarah. Only time was dragging on and, the way Thomas was dragging his feet, if they waited until he left town, she and Adam could find themselves growing old together. Of course, she thought as she looked upon her sleeping ‘husband’, that was starting to sound like an interesting adventure.

Adam, who had finally stopped mumbling and tossing, opened his eyes. It took a few minutes, but soon his eyes adjusted to darkness. Soon he saw Sarah standing at the foot of the bed. He was instantly on alert. He’d had a pretty unsettling dream and worried he might have disturbed everyone in the house. “Was I dreaming again?” he asked anxiously.

“If you were, you weren’t screaming.” She answered as moved to the side of his bed. She then explained why she was up.

“I saw my family and felt like they were in danger. I was trying to get them and couldn’t.” He sat up and sighed. “No matter where I go the dreams follow me.”

Sarah nodded towards the door. “William and Rebecca won’t be back for a couple more days.” The Pulsiphers had left town to visit some friend a week after she and Adam had gotten married. They told Adam and Sarah that the time alone was their wedding present to them. That and they confessed they needed someone to watch the place while they were gone. “Let’s go sit near the fireplace.”

Adam agreed and, throwing the covers back, he stood up and followed her out of the bedroom. Soon Saran and he were sitting in front of the empty fireplace, swapping stories of their childhood and sharing more than one laugh as they took turns quoting various poets and, or plays. Each time the other one had to say where the quote was from. However, the light hearted talk and laughter disappeared as Sarah grew serious on Adam.

“We can’t continue staying with the Pulsiphers and our “friend” hasn’t left for Wyoming. Since we’re married, if we go somewhere else, do you think he’d follow us?”

Adam was sure she meant the Ponderosa as he’d talked more about it and his family since telling her his story. A part of him wanted to go back home very badly, the other part still feared that the nightmares, even if their decreased state, would make him dangerous to his family. “Probably not,” Adam admitted, but also confessed his feelings about returning to Virginia City and his father’s ranch. “I’ll think about it though.” He then stood up, reached down and helped Sarah up, telling her they really should go back to their beds.

Sarah didn’t agree with him when it came to Virginia City and the Ponderosa. However, she didn’t argue about going back to bed, though she did smile as Adam held her hand all the way to their room.

A/N First: The timeline on Bonanza bounced around MAJOR time. In fact, as I’ve studied it I’ve come to the conclusion the writers just didn’t have time to worry about it. That being the case, I am putting this story in the year 1855 and, for the sake of the story, Adam’s 30 years old.

Two: While it did not start out this way, a few of the Barkleys (even the one who was deceased from the beginning) from The Big Valley are going to be in at least a few chapters; namely, Tom and Victoria Barkley, along with Jarrod and Nick…Make them whatever ages you wish. Like Bonanza, The Big Valley and timelines had MAJOR inaccuracies or improbabilities. In this chapter, the Barkleys are only mentioned.

Chapter Twelve

“Are you serious?” Sarah sat at the rectangular, oak table that sat in the Pulsipher’s good sized kitchen listening to the plans Adam had made. The two of them were just finishing breakfast, and she was trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Adam meant to leave Placerville.

“Very serious,” Adam answered as he poured himself a cup of coffee; Sarah had made it for him. He let his mind wander back a few years, back to a rather pleasant time on the ranch. “We had a man and his wife that stayed on the Ponderosa for a few days four years ago; they had a couple of young sons.” He chuckled as he could see the oldest one sitting at the table with his nose in a book while the other one followed Hoss all over the yard talking about horses and cattle. “When they left, Mr. and Mrs. Barkley said they were moving to Stockton, California. That is, that Mr. Barkley had bought some land outside that city. He had a dream of building himself a ranch, among other enterprises. He told Pa he’d love to see us sometime; that is, if we ever got out that way. I’d like to see how they’re doing and how those sons of theirs are doing. Since Thomas is still in town, it wouldn’t be safe for us to get the marriage annulled before I leave. I’m sure the Barkley’s would welcome you as well.”

Sarah remembered her brother in Sacramento and inwardly sighed. If it weren’t for the fact that out of all her brothers he was the one who would most likely react extremely badly towards an annulment of any kind of marriage, she might have thought about suggesting getting an annulment once in Sacramento. As it was, she cautiously asked, “What about your family? They’ll be worried about you.” She hated the idea of anyone being put in a position where they had just cause to worry about a beloved family member.

Adam put his coffee down and shook his head. “I sent them a telegram early this morning. They’ll know where I’m going.” Then, he admitted to telling him he’d married. “Too much chance of crossing paths with someone who might have cause to cross paths with my family, I can explain everything to pa, Miss Catlin and my brothers later.”

Sarah felt shock waves roll through her, though she didn’t know why. She just hoped his family would understand once the day came that he had to explain a marriage of convenience and an annulment that had been planned before they’d even married. Though, she was concerned they’d blame her for Adam going to Stockton rather than returning to the Ponderosa. However, she kept that worry to herself. Adam was stressed enough as it was. “When will we leave?” She asked, as she stood up and started clearing off the table.

Adam thought about it for a moment and then answered, “William and Rebecca should be back by tonight. I’d like to get a start first thing in the morning.” He stood up and helped Sarah clear the table and then stepped outside while she washed the dishes up.

As Adam stood in the porch, he could see the people of Placerville riding, or walking, up and down the street. Of course, with Placerville being a small town, there wasn’t that many people to watch. He thought on his family and his decision to go to visit the Barkleys. Like Sarah, he hoped his family would not blame her. With that thought, he decided to write them a letter only he’d do it in the next town they came too. He didn’t want to chance Thomas getting a hold of it and reading it.

~oOo~

Catlin sighed, as she walked out the front door and found her husband standing on the porch. It seemed like he spent a lot of time there lately. Eighty percent of the time it was because he had Adam on his mind. As she drew closer, she saw the telegram in Ben’s hand and the frown on his face. “Heaven help us,” she thought as she stepped up onto the porch and walked over to her husband. “What is it? Did Adam contact you again?” Ben said nothing as he handed her the telegram.

Catlin’s mouth fell open as she held the paper in her hands and read Going to Stockton, California. Going to see Barkley’s. Married Now. Name Sarah. Explain later. Adam.

“Oh Ben, I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted to see all your sons married here on the Ponderosa.” She laid her hand on her husband’s upper arm. “But who knows, maybe this Sarah is actually a good thing in his life. I mean, if she’s gotten close enough to Adam to marry him, maybe she’ll be the one to bring him back.” She hoped that was the case anyway. Adam was a Cartwright and belonged on the ranch. Well, for a while longer he did.

“Or keep him away,” Ben voiced his fear. Though he had to admit that, for the sake of his son, he hoped this Sarah was helping Adam find whatever it was he was looking for. Nothing more was said as Ben slipped his arm around his wife’s waist, pulled her to his side and watched a few deer running around in the distance. Only when he had to, did Ben let go of Catlin and go back inside to finish the paperwork that was waiting for him.

Chapter Thirteen

The stars were starting to poke holes through the blackened skies as Adam and Sarah sat around the campfire; they were talking and laughing, a change from the fast pace they’d set for themselves. Now, surrounded by tall, majestic Pine trees, they were relaxing. Both knew that come morning they would begin the passage through Donner’s Pass. A trip they were more than grateful they were making during the summer time and not winter.

“Well, if you hadn’t come after me, you wouldn’t have landed in the water!” Adam laughed as Sarah and he remembered how they’d stopped by a small creek a few hours before and how Sarah, irritated that Adam ‘had the nerve to be right yet again’, had tried to push him into the creek. Only thing was, Adam had stepped out of the way at the last minute.

“Maybe,” Sarah smiled she took another bite of the supper she’d cooked for them. She then grew serious which made Adam sit straight up. “Adam, what are you going to do after you visit the Barkley’s? You can’t keep running. Life is life. One rolls with the punches, learns and, hopefully, grows.” She knew she’d touched on a sensitive subject as Adam had a hard look come into his eyes as he put down his plate, stood up and walked over to a nearby tree. It stood at least five feet from the campfire.

Adam didn’t answer at first; he was too busy remembering the night before. He’d had another bad nightmare and Sarah, for the first time since meeting him, had miscalculated her timing.

“Sarah!” Adam jumped to his feet once he realized his arm had connected with her jaw. He took two or three feet and held out his hand to Sarah. She had made the mistake of moving towards him too quickly. Unlike Joe, she only had a sore spot.

“It’s okay, Adam.” Sarah laid into Adam when he started apologizing, saying it had been a mistake not to find another way to deal with Thomas. “This is not your fault! And what happened to your baby brother, it wasn’t your fault either! For landsake, Adam, WE were the ones wide awake! WE are the ones who know better than anybody that we need to be careful when approaching you when you’re having one of those nightmares!” She’d then taken a deep breath and added, “Adam, you’re a strong one and, no, no one needs to lead you around by the hand. Now, with that said and done, someone needs to crack a hole through that thick English skull of yours and get you to admit these nightmares, for now, are just a part of your life and they, along with anyone who doesn’t take the time to stop and think, are not in your hands. You can only do so much!” Sarah and then promised him within an inch of her life to do as her mother had done…do her best to keep her distance and talk to him from afar when he was having ‘those dreams’.

“I don’t know.” Adam let out a sigh and tilted his head back and took a deep breath, allowing the night air to fill his lungs. He knew Sarah was right; he knew he should go back to the Ponderosa, yet he couldn’t. When he answered her, Adam wasn’t surprised to find Sarah standing next to him. In that moment he realized something else he’d been denying for weeks. He’d grown accustomed to having Sarah around. With that realization, came another one. He didn’t want a marriage of convenience; he wanted Sarah as his wife for good. Of course, they hadn’t known each other that long either; still, he didn’t want an annulment either.

“Adam?” Sarah reached up and laid her hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong? Is last night still bothering you?” She gave his arm a slight squeeze. “I told you it wasn’t your fault and,” due to a comment he’d made, she added, “I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me for now.”

Adam turned and looked at her. She did have a knack of seeing through him. It was both annoying and, strangely, very comforting. As far as her question went, how was he supposed to tell her he wanted the rules of the game, per say, to change? As much as he realized he was in love with Sarah, he couldn’t bring himself to say it either. “Just trying to make up my mind, let’s get to bed. Morning comes early, and we still have a few weeks journey.”

Sarah shook her head, and then followed Adam to where their bedrolls lay. For safety reasons, there was a good five feet between the two ‘beds’. She knew something was troubling her husband, but what? She might have tried pushing Adam to talk only she’d already learned when Adam Cartwright didn’t want to talk; he didn’t talk! That being the case, she sent a prayer upwards and slid into her bedroll.

~oOo~

Tom Barkley, who had been to town, walked into the home he, his wife and children were living. In his hands he held a telegram, the one Adam had sent from Placerville. When he entered the house, he could hear Nick and Jarrod having a disagreement. Tom had to shake his head; the boys were upstairs, but Nick’s voice carried through the door and down the staircase while Jarrod’s was barely audible. At least, compared to Nick’s voice Jarrod’s was quiet.

“You’re home early.” Victoria walked out of the kitchen, but stopped short when she saw the telegram in her husband’s hands. She held her breath, half afraid the telegram held bad news.

“Remember Ben Cartwright and his sons?” Tom looked at her with a smile on his face.

Victoria couldn’t help but give him a ‘well, of course I do’ look as she answered, “Sure, are Mr. Cartwright and his sons coming for a visit?” She liked the idea of seeing the man and his sons again.

“Adam is,” Tom answered as he took off his hat and hung it on the hat rack that stood in the corner of their home, “he and his wife expect to be here in a few weeks.”

His wife! Victoria couldn’t help but grin as she remembered the oldest Cartwright son. If he was married, the woman had to be pretty special. It would be good to welcome their friend and his wife into their home. She hoped they would stay for more than a day or two.

Chapter Fourteen

The wind was starting to blow something fierce as Adam and Sarah made their way through Stockton. A trip that could have been made in a couple of weeks had taken a solid month. However, Sarah had fallen sick and Adam had to take care of her. After she’d recovered, Adam had come down with the same thing! By the time they made it to Stockton the two were laughing and joking that they best remember not to get sick or hurt at the same time. The first thing they did was head for the telegraph office. Adam was making sure he kept his promise to his family and sending word as he had the chance. Though, due to the cost of sending a telegram, Adam kept the messages extremely short. Once the telegram was sent, Adam and Sarah headed for the sheriff’s office. They figured if anyone could tell them where Tom and Victoria Barkley were living it would be the lawman.

When Adam saw a young man who couldn’t be very much over twenty walk out of the sheriff’s office wearing a badge, Adam was quite surprised. Most sheriffs he knew were closer to thirty. Then again, a man had start sometime and, if the man did his job well, nothing else should matter.

If Adam had known *Fred Madden as long as the people living in, and around, Stockton, he never would have had any concerns when it came to his age and the office the young man held. As it was, when Fred realized the stranger he’d seen dressed in black and the young woman traveling with him were heading for him, he stopped in his tracks and waited until the strangers dismounted their horses and were in standing front of him to speak.

“May I help you?” the smile on Fred’s face and in his eyes were warm and genuine. He received the same from Adam, who introduced himself and his wife.

“We were hoping to get some directions to a Tom and Victoria Barkley’s home.” Adam said hoping the couple had indeed made their home in the Stockton area and that he’d not wasted money sending his previous telegram. That hope grew as the sheriff in front of him started beaming from ear to ear.

“I was just heading out that way myself.” Fred told him. “You can just follow me out there. Or course,” Fred said as a gust of wind blew across the road, “we best hurry or we’ll probably get caught out in a storm.

It was a fact that neither Adam nor Sarah cared to argue about. They remounted their horses and waited for the sheriff to get his. Afterwards, the three adults rode out of Stockton and towards the Barkleys.

~oOo~

Nick was standing next the corral that his father had built when they first settled on the land, he saw the riders coming. Even though the three visitors were still a ways off, Nick recognized the sheriff, along with Adam Cartwright. Even after four years, he still remembered the man that had seemed larger than life to him, and the one who his family credited for influencing the hot tempered Barkley when it came to clothing…Nick had been dressing in black ever since meeting the eldest Cartwright son.

“Mother! Father!” Nick started yelling as he turned and ran for the house. “We got company!”

Victoria, who had been in the living room, heard her son through the open window and turned to her husband, who had just finished his lunch and walked into the room, said, “If he yells any louder, I’m sure everyone in Stockton will hear him.”

Tom only laughed and, with his wife, walked outside to see who was coming. Smiles large enough to cover California appeared on their faces as they saw heading their way. They had worried that something had happened to Adam and his wife and were relieved to see otherwise. Only when the good sheriff and their guests had stopped their horses and dismounted, did Tom and Victorian step off their porch.

“Good to see you, Fred.” Tom shook the lawman’s hand and then welcomed Adam and Sarah as well. “It was nice of you to show them the way here.” He looked back at Fred.

Fred, who had been looking at some of the fine horses the Barkleys had in the corral, turned his attention back to the Barkleys. “I was planning to come out here before they even approached me. I was hoping to talk to you.”

Tom wasn’t sure he liked the look that was in Fred’s eyes, but he wasn’t going to question it in front of guests. “Well, while Victoria shows our guests to the room they’ll be using,” Tom said. He looked at Victoria as if to ask if she minded taking care of Adam and Sarah; she smiled and nodded, “You and I can talk in the study.” He then looked at Nick, who was standing nearby looking as he was waiting to hear if his father wanted him to do anything. “Go see what McColl needs done, Nick.”

Duke McColl was a young man Tom had hired recently and was proving to be a trustworthy and reliable employee. Tom could easily see the ranch hand becoming foreman someday.

“Yes, sir.” Nick turned and ran off in the direction he could see McColl working.

“Come with me.” Victoria smiled at Adam and Sarah as she turned towards the four bedroom home she and her family lived in. Adam and Sarah followed Mrs. Barkley inside, Adam carrying what belongings they would need with them. They were impressed with the living room with its beautiful furniture and the excellent paintings on the wall. They could see a door in the corner which Victoria told them led to the room she and her husband shared. They then walked across the room’s floor and through an archway that led to a staircase that led upstairs to the other two bedrooms. Victoria led them into the door to their left.

“This is Jarrod’s room, but he’s already said you are more than free to use it as the guest room,” She pointed to a third door that set a few feet from the one they stood at, “is chuck full of furniture we are storing for a friend.” She then opened the door and stepped aside, allowing Adam and Sarah to enter.

Sarah couldn’t help but stare. The room held more space than she’d ever seen in anyone’s home. Even with the bed, the dresser, a closet and a small desk there was plenty of room to move around in. Though, before she could say anything, Victoria excused herself telling them that she and her family were looking forward to visiting with them once they settled in.

~oOo~

*Fred Madden was an actual sheriff on The Big Valley . He appeared old enough in the show that I could easily see him starting out as a young sheriff in 1855.

Chapter Fifteen

Sarah stood by the Barkley’s living room window. She could see Adam talking to Tom Barkley, while the young man called Nick worked with the one Mr. Barkley called McColl. It had been four days since they arrived in Stockton and then made their way to the Barkleys. The visit was going fine, with Adam working alongside Tom and his sons. Well, mostly Tom and Nick as the one named Jarrod seemed to be learning how to handle more of the business end of the ranch and learning what he could about the law. When Adam turned away from Tom, looked towards the house, shook his head and looked as if he was sighing, she couldn’t help but wonder if Adam was finally telling Mr. Barkley the reason he, Adam, had felt compelled to come to Stockton. She might have wondered, even thought about going outside to find out, only Mrs. Barkley entered the room.

The moment Sarah turned away from the window and looked at Victoria’s face, her eyes full of concern, her mind was taken off Adam and Tom. “Is something wrong?” Sarah asked as she stepped away from the window.

Victoria wasn’t the type to pry into another person’s business if that business wasn’t hurting her family or others she cared about. Still, after watching a couple who were married acting more like brother and sister; Adam and Sarah had confessed he had nightmares and given the Barkleys the same explanation when it came to the two of them sleeping in the same bed as they had the Pulsiphers. Like the Pulsiphers, Tom and Victoria had been gracious enough to remedy the situation. Now, Victoria wanted Sarah to know if she ever needed someone to talk to that she, Victoria, was there for her and said as much. “Forgive me if you feel I am trying to pry into private affairs. That is not my intention.”

Sarah leaned forward and tried to fight the tears of frustration she’d held inside, but they still poured out as she sat down on the couch. Victoria handed her a handkerchief, as she herself sat down, though she waited until Sarah’s tears stopped before speaking. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Sarah gave her hostess a half amused, very tired chuckle. “Yes and no,” she answered as she wiped her tears away and sat up straight. “Out of respect for Adam, I can’t talk about everything. That is Adam’s place, not mine. Though,” she paused as she thought on the past few months and her feelings, Sarah sighed and explained why the marriage had taken place. She finished saying, “I just wish he saw me as more than a woman simply needing protection from men like Thomas. My word, I carried more than my share of my weight since we’ve met.”

Victoria smiled wide as she thought on the days before Tom started officially courting her. “If you feel that way, Sarah, you need to make that fact known to Adam. If you don’t, the man might just slip out of your fingers once he returns to the Ponderosa. And,” Victoria raised hand as Sarah went to open her mouth, “He will return. I saw the look in his eyes when he talked about his father, stepmother, which,” Victoria said as she smiled even wider, “I will say I was elated to hear his father remarried, and his brothers. He’ll go back someday.”

Sarah had thought about making her feelings known on more than once occasion, only she’d never been able to get herself to do it. She might be very independent and know how to stand her ground; she had to stand it to get Adam to agree to her even being with him in the first place, but she wasn’t very good at letting her true feelings be known. “How do I do that?” she asked after a few moments of silence.

While Victoria was more than happy to give Sarah some advice and help, Tom continued talking to Adam. Their conversation had, ironically, also turned to marriage, particularly Adam’s recent one.

“If you love her, tell her.” Tom leaned on the fence. “And then, don’t give up when things go wrong.” He sighed, as he thought on the past couple of years of his marriage. “If you do, you’re bound to slip and you’re spend what feels like an eternity regaining the trust you’ll lose.”

Adam started a bit as he looked in Tom’s eyes and realized what the man was confessing to, though he didn’t ask him to expound on the unspoken confession. “How can I ask her to make it a real marriage when it’s not even safe for her to be in the same bed as me?” He couldn’t imagine any woman wanting to spend her life with a man who might wind up hurting her to the point of needing medical help.

“How long have the two of you been together? ” Tom smiled at Adam as he asked the question.

Adam frowned slightly, as he starting counting the day and weeks. He was surprised to realize that, with September fast approaching, it was almost three months. He went to answer Tom only both men jumped out of their skin as they heard Nick, who had disappeared around the barn, start to yell, and he was using some pretty colorful words to boot. That, of course, got both men running fast.

When they turned the corner, Tom and Adam saw the dark headed, lanky fellow, Tom had hired a few weeks before leaning against the barn, a whiskey flack at his feet. Nick, once he saw his father and Adam come around the building, shut up and backed off. After all, he was, as his father put it, ‘too young to be telling adults off.’ Though, in this case, Nick had no intention of apologizing. Mr. Ballard had been drinking on the job and he, Nick, didn’t appreciate it even if he wasn’t old enough to help run the ranch yet. He needn’t have worried, his father didn’t either. Especially after Sheriff Madden had told him the man was causing trouble in town and that he, Fred, would have to arrest the ranch hand if it kept up.

“Get your things together and come and get your pay.” Tom growled. “I told you before, if you chose to drink while you were supposed to be working, that I’d fire you.”

Mr. Ballard muttered something inaudible and went to do as Tom had said. Tom then turned to Adam, “You said you didn’t know how long you were staying. I don’t suppose you’d stay and help with the fall roundup. With Mr. Ballard’s loss, I’m short a man.”

Adam thought a moment. If he stayed for the round up, he and Sarah might as well stay in Stockton until spring. After all, he wasn’t going to try to make it back through Donner’s Pass in the winter. Men had died trying to do that one. Thinking about Sarah, along with all that Tom had said, Adam asked, “May I talk to my wife first?”

He wasn’t surprised when Tom nodded and then turned to his son, telling him to get back to his chores.

Chapter Sixteen

“What do you mean he’s staying to help the Barkley’s with their fall round up!” Little Joe was furious. They had their own roundup to worry about, and Adam was staying in California to help someone besides his own family?

Ben sighed, as he looked at the telegram in his hands. Staying. Help Barkleys. Fall Roundup. Adam. While he wished Adam would come home, and he’d told him as much in a letter he’d mailed to him once he was able to find out the Barkley’s address, he knew he couldn’t force him too. “Hoss is here to help us, as are our long time ranch hands, plus a few new ones. We’ll be fine until your brother returns home.” He then looked towards the stairs. “And I’d appreciate you keeping your voice down. Catlin needs her rest.” His wife was now six months along, and Ben was making sure she didn’t overdo it, which she had a tendency to try and do.

Little Joe scowled, but lowered his voice. “I’m going outside.” He said as he headed for the door. Once outside, he did his best to calm down. He, like Ben, was extremely worried that Adam just might stay away for good. And, the truth was, while Little Joe didn’t admit it, a part of him blamed himself. If he had only take the time to think and held his brother’s arms down instead of grabbing his shoulders, Adam wouldn’t have run off. “Oh Adam,” Little Joe looked at the fluffy white clouds that dotted the clear blue sky. “Please, come home soon.” Even as he spoke, Joe got the deepest impression “soon” would not be a word connected to Adam’s return.

~oOo~

Adam and Sarah walked hand and hand onto the dance floor. Tom and Victoria had invited them to go to the fall social the city of Stockton was holding. After inviting them, Tom said he, Adam, and the other men would start the fall round up in a couple of days since Sarah had backed Adam up on going on the round up…upon the condition that he have Tom explain to everyone that no one, absolutely no one, but Tom was to approach Adam if he had a nightmare. Even then, Tom had had to promise both Sarah and Adam he would do as Sarah did, call his name from at least ten feet away until he woke up.

Putting his right hand on the side of Sarah’s waist and holding her right one with his left, Adam began moving his feet while Sarah followed his lead. As they danced, Sarah thought on the conversation that she had had with Victoria Barkley. “You’re something else, you know that?” Sarah, whose left hand rested on his shoulder, moved it ever so slightly towards his neck.

As Adam looked into Sarah’s eyes, he was startled to see the love and admiration in them. How long had it been there? “The same could be said about you. Not many women would agree to stay with a stranger and her children while I go with Mr. Barkley on the round up.”

Sarah chuckled. “Victoria Barkley is no longer a stranger to me, neither is her husband or their sons. I’ll be fine.” She then paused and then forced herself to make one confession as she took the tiniest step forward. “I’ll miss you something fierce while you’re gone.”

From where Victoria and Tom sat they could see Adam and Sarah dancing without a problem. They couldn’t help but smile as they watched the couple dance and, from what they could see, really talking. It made both of them smile. Of course, their quiet observation was broken as Nick ran into the building through its side door, which happened to be near his parents.

“Jonathon Nicholas Barkley!” Tom snapped as loud as he could without disturbing anyone. “What do you mean by barreling in here like that? You’re supposed to be playing the games that have been prepared for the children outside.”

“They’re sissy games,” Nick answered as he started looking around the room, “I didn’t want to play. Where’s Mr. Cartwright?”

The fact that Nick had answered without looking at his father and was looking for Adam had Tom and Victoria Barkley feeling more than a bit uneasy. “What do you need him for?” Tom asked, taking a hold of Nick’s shoulders and making it so the lad would have to look at him.

“Mr. Jacobs came by and asked me to run this,” Nick said holding up a telegram, “to Mr. Cartwright, said he had an emergency come up and couldn’t bring it in himself.”

Tom took the telegram and sighed as the words Virginia City, Nevada were on the outside. He prayed it wasn’t bad news. “Go back outside; I’ll get this to our visitor.”

Victoria waited until her hot headed son was out of sight before she looked at her husband and asked, “Is it from his family?” Tom nodded and headed towards the couple who had stopped dancing and was heading towards an empty table.

~oOo~

Adam was leaning against the window seal looking out the window watching Sarah talking with Nick, who was more than happy to show her how to use a rope. Nick was “roping a cow”. It was actually one of the fence posts. As he watched his wife and Nick Barkley, Adam thought about the telegram Tom Barkley had handed him the night before. It was from his father. Little Joe was engaged to a red headed gal by the name of Alice Johnson. The two were to be married in the late Spring. He played the events of the previous night through his head.

“I told you I wouldn’t argue with you going on the cattle drive with Mr. Barkley and the men.” Sarah stood in front of Adam once they were in the privacy of the room they were sharing. She took a hold of his hands while she continued. “Why would I discourage you from attending your own brother’s wedding? My word, if anything someone needs to use a cattle prod on you some days.”

“I don’t know that it would do any good.” Adam laughed and pulled her into his arms. He then shocked them both as he lowered his head and started kissing her, gently at first and then, as she returned the kisses, his kisses deepened.

“Sarah,” Adam forced himself to pull away, “I made a promise to you, but….”

He never finished his sentence as Sarah put her fingers on his lips and smiled as she whispered, “Maybe, after his wedding, we could renew our vows.” She then moved her fingers off his lips as she slid them down the side of his neck, as she started kissing him again. It was an action that had Adam picking her up and carrying her to his bed.

Adam smiled. He’d have to talk to Tom Barkley and ask if he could continue working for him until it winter was over. He’d make sure he dropped his family a few letters to ease their mind during that time. He’d make sure one of them told his pa, stepmother and brothers that he and Sarah planned on being there for Little Joe’s wedding.

Chapter Seventeen

Hoss and Little Joe, along with the ranch hands they’d hired drove the cattle down the familiar route, the one they’d used for years. The wind was blowing gently and the breeze created was quite nice. Had it not been for the solemn mood that hung in the air, everything would have been just fine. “It’s not right.” Little Joe broke the silence as he rode up next to Hoss. “Adam should be here with us, helping us.”

That was something his baby brother didn’t have to tell Hoss. This was the first round up he’d been on where Adam was riding with them. Over the past three and a half months, Hoss had accepted that Adam had been more troubled than any of them wanted to admit. Maybe that’s the real reason Adam had left; deep inside he’d needed someone to admit that the nightmares weren’t simply going to go away. “I know it ain’t, short shanks.” Hoss sighed as he looked over the moving cattle and the scenery they were passing through. “But there’s not a darnblasted thing we can do ’bout it. Adam’s a grown man and, from what he says in those telegrams he’s sent, a married one at that. We cin’t force him to come back. At least, we know where’s he’s at. The rest of us have written letters to him and this Sarah he’s supposed to have married. Why don’t you?”

When Little Joe didn’t answer, Hoss wanted to reach out and slap him upside the head. Of course, he didn’t. It’s not like it would help any. However, he did ask one more question before he rode ahead of Little Joe. “Have ya ever thought that maybe, jist maybe, by not writin’, yer sendin’ the message to Adam that you are holdin’ what happened against him? That you hate him fer it?” Before his brother had a chance to reply, Hoss was riding away.

Little Joe hung let the cattle pass by him until he was at the tail end of the herd. By riding at the rear, it gave him time to think about what Hoss had said. It hurt to admit only his brother had a point. “Well, Cochise,” He glanced at his horse. “I guess I have a letter to write.”

~oOo~

While Hoss and Little Joe, along with their ranch hands were moving the Cartwright’s cattle, Adam, Tom, and Jarrod, along with their help, were doing the same with Tom’s cattle. Jarrod might have a goal of becoming an attorney some day; however, he was still expected to pull his weight around the ranch until the day came that he would be in college.

The area they were traveling through had plenty of grass for the cows to graze, and the land was dotted with a few trees here and there. Adam couldn’t but sigh. Tom, who was riding nearby, heard him, barely, but still he heard him. “Your family?” he asked as closed the few feet that were between him and Adam.

Adam nodded and sat up straighter in the saddle. “I’ve never run from anything before in my life, and yet that’s what I’ve done now…and I can’t seem to stop.” That part was frustrating him to no ends and had, in the past, been the source of the very few fights he and Sarah had had.

Tom leaned slightly forward as he surveyed the scenery around him. When he spoke, he spoke with a conviction that had the ability to reach and grab its listener. “A man can move to a different area; he can change his name, his occupation, along with a number of other things. Now, with that said and done, a man can never the experiences of the past; still, he can learn and grow from them.” Tom then rode on ahead to talk to one of his men, leaving Adam to think over what he had said.

Pushing Sport forward, and doing what he had to to keep the cattle moving, Adam allowed his thoughts to wander back to his family, back to the night he’d hurt his brother.

NO!” Adam came up swinging the moment Little Joe grabbed his shoulders only he, Adam wasn’t seeing Little Joe. No, in his mind it was Matsu and he was going to put him through the Journey of the Dead once more.

Son, you can’t change what happened, your brother knew better. We all do.” Adam heard his father’s words as he, Adam, saddled his horse. “I think you must have talked to Sarah and the Barkleys, pa.” He spoke to no one in particular and the cows could have cared less about what he said. Tom Barkley was right; he had changed his place of residence twice, he was still Adam Cartwright…and he couldn’t change the past nor could he get away from it. He could only learn from it.

~oOo~

Sarah sat on the porch of the Barkley home watching Nick working around the barn. She had to smile as the boy was putting all his energy into working around the ranch. She knew he would rather be on the round up with his brother and father. The fact that his father had promised Nick that he would be able to go the following year didn’t seem to matter.

When Victoria walked out of the house, Sarah turned her head and smiled. “Hello again. It’s beautiful out here, too beautiful to stay inside.” Sarah had already said good morning to Mrs. Barkley as they’d eaten breakfast together with Nick. She had just beat her hostess outside was all.

“Keeping busy helps,” Victoria said as she looked around a rather bare yard, thinking of her husband, son, their guest and other help.

Sarah grinned. Mrs. Barkley did have a knack of seeing through a person. “Does it get any easier?” She’d slept alone all her life until she lay together…and they’d only shared the bed for two nights when he had to leave on the round up. That being the case, she was surprised how hard it was to relax and go to sleep now.

“You accept it and work with it.” Victoria answered as she smiled. “However, if Adam and you are going to spend the winter here,” she said as she recalled Tom telling her Adam had asked if Tom needed winter help, “then I think we need to worry about getting the small cabin that stands four miles down the road cleaned and ready. A newly married couple need their own place, even if it’s temporary.”

‘It best be temporary.” Sarah thought as she smiled wide. “Thank you very much. I’m sure it will be fine for now.” She and Victoria discussed the housing arrangements and other topics for a solid hour, and then Victoria asked her if she wanted to go into town with Nick and her. Sarah was more than happy to go along for the ride.

Chapter Eighteen

Sarah stood next to the kitchen window watching the rain fall. Adam had left on the cattle drive, came back and now the two of them were living in a small two bedroom home that the Barkleys had recently built for a place for guests to stay. She sighed, turned away from the window and looked around. Where had the summer gone? For that matter, where had September gone to? And why was she feeling so melancholy? Even as she asked the question, the answer came. Thanksgiving was only two months away while Christmas was three. She and Adam would be celebrating the holiday with the Barkleys, not with his family. There was something wrong with that picture.

Sarah walked through the entrance that separated the kitchen from the living room. The pictures above the mantle caught her eye. Adam had brought a picture of his family; his pa, brothers, Hoss’ wife and son, along with pictures of both his real mother and the woman he called Miss Catlin, while the two pictures, Sarah had carried with her after her father died of her immediate family sat on a corner table in the room. She found herself sitting down on the couch and crying. She was still crying when the door opened and Adam walked into the house.

Adam had expected lunch, not an upset wife. He quickly threw his hat on the hat rack that stood in the corner of the living room and made his way to the couch which sat next to the north wall. “What’s wrong?” he asked as he wrapped his right arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “What’s happened?”

Sarah managed to stop crying; still, she didn’t answer for a few minutes. How could she? Even if she pushed to be back on the Ponderosa, Adam would never agree to it. After all, by the time they reached Donner’s Pass, there would be snow on the ground and there was no way any person who didn’t have to would try to get through it in that condition. Finally, she asked, “Is there another route we could take to go back to Nevada?”

Adam stiffened. He didn’t have to ask what brought her question on. “Grandma and Grandpa Barkley are coming for Thanksgiving!” Nick ran through the house shouting excitedly only to be told by his mother to lower his voice as he was not outside. Adam and Catlin smiled as the boy did as he was told, but continued to talk about his grandparents and the upcoming holidays.

“It’s a bad time of year for traveling.” Adam gave her a hug and kissed the top of her head. “It’s better if we spend the winter here and then head back to Nevada, if we do that.” He tilted her head upwards as he truly felt his heart go out to his wife. “Though, why don’t we look into spending Thanksgiving with your brother in Sacramento? You haven’t seen him for a while.”

Sarah wiped the remainder of her tears away, as she thought on her red headed brother. While she had never been extremely close to him, they weren’t enemies either. He’d even traveled to Stockton for a couple of days when he’d learned his sister was married and living on the famous Barkley ranch. “As long as you’re in California, we should visit each other as often as possible.” Henry Markwell said as he hugged his sister and got acquainted with his new brother-in-law. “After all, once you return to Nevada,” he looked at Adam with a look that said ‘you can’t tell me you won’t go back home sooner or later’, “we won’t see each other that often.”

She nodded slightly. “With all due respect to the Barkleys, I’d just as soon spend the holidays with family if possible.”

Adam felt a twinge of sadness enter his heart, though he covered it up with a smile as he replied, “Go ahead and write him, see if he’ll be available.” Adam let go of his wife, stood up and walked to the fireplace which he knew would soon hold the first fire of many. After all, the nights were starting to cool off.

Sarah saw what Adam did not say. He was hurting just as much as she was when it came to the holidays and family. She stood up and walked over to Adam, laying her hand upon his upper arm as she did so. “You can’t turn the clock back, Adam. None of us can, though we can look ahead. Right?”

Adam turned his head and chuckled. She did have a rather unnerving talent for seeing through him. “I didn’t want to hurt them or, worse yet, be the cause of their death.” “If he’d hit that wall any harder…” Dr. Martin’s words, the ones Adam had overheard as the doctor stood in the front of the Cartwright home rang in his ears. “But I did just that, hurt them that is.”

Sarah wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest. “Yes, you did; however,” she stressed the word however, “they still love you. They proved that by the letters they wrote you.” The moment she said she saw Adam stiffen once more and she realized her mistake. He’d never received one from Little Joe, the very person he had hurt.

Adam closed his eyes for a moment, seeing the letters from his pa, stepmother and Hoss, along with one from Deborah. Why hadn’t Joe written as well? When he opened his eyes, Adam changed subjects as he couldn’t see how discussing something they couldn’t change was doing any good. “The Barkleys have invited us to eat supper with them. Do you want to go?”

Sarah didn’t know if it was the stress she’d allowed to get to her or what only she found herself wanting to do nothing but be with Adam. Still, how could she say no to the couple who had been so kind to them?

Sensing her hesitation, Adam realized that, since returning to the ranch he and his wife had had no real time together, he ran his hand down the back of her head and assured her that it would be no big deal if they stayed home instead.

“I need that, Adam. I need you.” Sarah’s whispered reply, and her hands running up his back, pulled a groan out of his lips. In no time flat Adam laid her down on the floor right then and there. Lunch would just have to wait.

Chapter Nineteen

Adam sat in a chair that was on the porch of the home he and Sarah were using while he worked for the Barkleys. The afternoon held a bit of a nip in the air, but the sky was as blue as he’d ever seen it. Off in the distance he could see McColl and other men taking their afternoon break. He sighed. He would have joined them only Sarah had returned from town with a letter for him. She had gone inside the house, but he’d stayed on the porch looking at the envelope in his hands. In the top left hand corner he read Joseph Cartwright for the hundredth time. He’d received many letters from everyone else, but never his baby brother, and Adam found himself unusually frightened. Should he open it or not? Before he had a chance to answer his own question, Sarah walked out the front door, up to his side and laid her hand on the back of his shoulder. Only when he looked up, did he see the sympathy she felt for him in her eyes, along with the love she had for him.

“You’ll never know what he has to say if you don’t open it up and read.” Sarah spoke gently, praying that whatever Adam’s baby brother had to say would help him moving in the right direction…the right direction being Nevada and the Ponderosa. After all, she wanted to meet the family of the man she’d married and then fallen in love with.

Adam took a deep breath, as he stood up and walked over to one of three posts that were attached to the awning and the bottom of the porch. Leaning on the post, Adam continued gazing on the scenery, knowing full well if he didn’t read the letter it would bother him the rest of the work day. “I have told myself to do that ever since you gave it to me.” Adam let out a somewhat amused chuckled. “I’ve been around for a few years and have never had as much trouble opening a letter as I am now.”

Sarah could understand that one. This wasn’t just any letter; it was the letter he’d both wanted and dreaded for months. It was only natural he would feel apprehensive when it actually received it. She crossed the porch and, wrapping her arms around his back while resting the side of her head against his back, Sarah gave him a much needed hug. “He’s your brother. You’ll never know what he has to say until you do it. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know what’s inside. That way, for better or for worse, we can deal with it together.” She gave him another hug, hoping he knew she would always be there for him.

Adam turned around in his wife’s arms and, wrapping his arms around waist, pulled her close. “Are you always right?”

Sarah laughed remembering a number of times since meeting Adam where she’d been proven wrong. “I think we take turns when it comes to being right or wrong. Now,” she said as she pulled out of her husband’s embrace, “What does this Little Joe have to say?”

Adam made his way back to the chair, while Sarah sat at the top of the steps that led up to the porch. While he felt his heart was pounding at least sixty miles an hour, Adam tore the envelope and began reading Little Joe’s words out loud.

“Dear Adam,

I have started this letter more times than I can count, ever since Hoss asked me why I hadn’t written you. Truth is Adam, I didn’t know what to say. I knew you blamed yourself for my being hurt even though I told you not to do that. My word, I was the one awake and I knew better than to do what I did.”

Adam looked up from the letter when Sarah cleared her throat and acted as if she was brushing some dirt off her skirt. He couldn’t help but smile just a little. Sarah was probably enjoying the fact that his baby brother was only restating what she’d been telling him for the past four and a half months. He turned his attention back to the letter when his wife looked at him as if to ask ‘well?’.

“I can hardly believe you left at the beginning of the summer and it’s now the end of September. I don’t understand why you’re staying away. Sure, Hoss and I don’t know what you went through. How can we? You won’t say anything to us. I would have pressed you to talk, but Pa, he said no one can force another person to talk if they really don’t want to. That doesn’t stop me from wishing you’d come home and help us understand, let us be here for you.

Hoss and Deborah are going to have another baby, guess they thought Pa and Miss Catlin’s baby would need some more company. Doc says he was wrong about Miss Catlin’s due date and that he thinks now the baby will be born the latter part of December. That means it will be five months older than Hoss and Deborah’s new baby; it’s due in May. You know that’s another thing that’s bothering me now. You said you went and got married. What does she look like? How many children are you going to have? Okay, that part is none of my business; I’m just curious. How does this Sarah you married put up with your thick English skull?”

Now it was Sarah’s turn to chuckle. Adam was, as her great-grandfather would have put it, “a wee tad stubborn’. Adam only shot her a playful glare as if to ask her if she was through laughing. It only served to make it twice as hard for Sarah not to laugh, though she did manage to hold the rest of her laughter in as Adam went back to reading.

“You know Adam, I’ve been reading and you know that thing called a Phoenix? The thing that dies and then comes life? Well, whatever happened to you it seems like a part of you died, and I just want to see you alive again. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not; I hope it does.

Anyway, I know winter’s coming on fast and to expect you home before Thanksgiving or Christmas is probably pushing things. However, Adam, I am asking, no I’m begging you, to do as you said you might in the letter you sent to Pa. That is, be here for my wedding. I want you to be my best man.

Love Forever, Your brother

Joseph Francis Cartwright “Little Joe”

P.S. Everyone around here has stopped calling me Little Joe, only you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

More than one tear ran down Adam’s cheek as he finished reading his youngest brother’s letter. How he now wished it wasn’t already the first day of October. It really was too late in the year to travel clear to Nevada. As his tears continued to fall, Sarah, who had once again moved to his side, simply held onto her husband.

A/N I know we’re all ready for Adam to go home. Alas, since the passes from California to Nevada ARE blocked during the winter, it’s not going to happen yet. I know the fact about the passes is the case; I asked my friend in California about the passes as I had hoped to have Adam home by the holidays. Stories don’t always listen to me though.

Chapter Twenty

Ben made himself smile as the guests starting arriving. It was the day before Christmas, and he and his family were holding their annual Christmas party. Catlin sat on the sofa, which had been moved to the side of the room, holding their nine day old daughter, Rebecca B. Cartwright; Hoss and his family were standing next to the Christmas tree visiting the guests who were already there, while Little Joe was outside greeting the guests as they arrived. Smiling might not have been so hard to do, only his heart was still quite heavy. It had been difficult to truly enjoy Thanksgiving, even if Ben was grateful he at least knew where all his children were. But, without Adam actually being in the house, it had seemed different, too different.

Catlin, who had been watching her husband greet their visitors, couldn’t help but inwardly sigh. She didn’t have to ask Ben why the troubled look in was his eye; everyone knew the cause behind the pain that refused to stay completely out of view. Her mind turned to the letter they’d received just before Thanksgiving.

Dear Family,

It’s getting rather “cold” here in California. I say “cold” because of the complaints I hear. I have to smile and say nothing as I know full well how “cold” cold can get. Sarah and I are spending Thanksgiving with her brother in Sacramento. For her sake, I’m glad he’s made his home there.

Catlin mentally shook her head, as she recalled how Adam had told them all about his brother-in-law and how generous of a man he was turning out to be. That part was all well and good, though she wasn’t sure she liked the idea that, as Adam put it, “he is insisting he could find me work since I excel in the area of architectural work; that is, if I’m interested…” or the fact that Adam said he was seriously considering it. He had to come home. She sighed again realizing that Adam didn’t have to do anything, only she prayed he would decide to come back. Well, at least long enough to make real peace with his family. They, and he, deserved that much.

Catlin was brought out of her thoughts as more and more guests arrived. After all, it was hard to concentrate on thinking about one subject when the guests kept interrupting those thoughts. Of course, she didn’t hold it against them. How could she? Not only was it Christmas time, but the guests naturally wanted to see the newest addition to Ben’s family. “’bout time he got a girl” was just one of the many comments she was hearing when it came to the daughter she and Ben had been blessed with.

By the time Ben stood next to the tree addressing their guest, the house was chock full of guests. For their sakes, and the sake of the family had still had with him, Ben smiled wide and addressed the group. “As you know, it’s been a rather trying year for us.” He wasn’t surprised to see nods and sympathetic looks appear in the room. “However, we still have much to be thankful for during this joyous time of the year. Our family has expanded,” he gave Catlin a genuine smile which, naturally, had her blushing as everyone broke out in soft giggles, “and is still expanding,” Ben smiled at Deborah, who also blushed. He also smiled at Alice and Joe but all they did was smile at each other, “even if some of us are elsewhere for now,” again that brought sympathetic smiles as they thought on Adam and the wife they’d been told he’d taken, “so, during this Christmas…” Ben continued talking as all eyes were upon him. Later, they would join in singing the familiar carols while, in their minds, they had their absent brother with them.

~oOo~

Adam and Sarah smiled as they sat in the Barkley’s living room and watched Jarrod and Nick run; well, Nick ran while Jarrod walked fast, over to the Christmas tree and begin to open their presents. Having accepted the fact that, due to the weather, all passes to Nevada were closed for the winter the couple had determined to make the best of things and still enjoy the holidays. They had spent a rather enjoyable Thanksgiving in Sacramento and now, thanks to Tom and Victoria, along with their two sons, Christmas was being made bearable.

“This is for you, Uncle Adam.” Nick, who had started to call Adam and Sarah ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ on his own, handed him a box and then hurried to retrieve another one for Sarah. Naturally, both Adam and his wife smiled and thanked the young boy for the gifts which turned out to be a new pocket knife for Adam and a set of knitting needles for Sarah; she’d commented how she planned on replacing her old ones after the holidays.

After all the gifts were opened, Jarrod and Nick disappeared up the stairs as they took their gifts to their rooms, leaving the adults to talk among themselves.

“I want to thank you for letting us be a part of your Christmas.” Sarah smiled at Victoria and Tom. “Especially after how moody I’ve been. I shouldn’t have let myself get so down about not being around blood family during the holidays get to me so.”

“Neither one of us should have,” Adam added as he thought on his own mood since he’d asked around and learned that he was right; all the passes to Nevada were not safe to travel through until after winter was over. “We are grateful to at least be with good friends if we can’t be with family during this time of the year.”

Tom and Victoria both smiled wide. They weren’t about to fault Adam or Sarah for feeling that way; after all, the couple knew all too well what it was like to find yourself away from home during the holidays. “We are more than happy to have you with us.” Tom said as he stood up and excused him saying he still had to give the few ranch hands that stayed on year round their Christmas gifts. When Adam offered his help, Tom was more than glad to accept the offer. That left Sarah free to talk to Victoria without feeling it necessary to sensor her words.

“I can never thank you enough,” she said once Tom and Adam had left the house, “If you and your husband hadn’t been here, I don’t know where Adam and I would have gone to when we left Placerville. Adam just wasn’t ready to go home at that time.”

Without having been told the exact details of how Adam problems started, Victoria found it hard to comprehend that one; still, she did not judge the man harshly. Actually, she did not judge him at all. “It had been no inconvenience,, really,” she smiled at Sarah. “After all, we told Ben and his sons they were more than welcome here anytime when we left their place.” She then leaned slightly forward and asked, “Is it okay if I ask if you know yet what the two of you will do come spring?” She knew what their friends had talked about, but had never heard anything definite.

Sarah shrugged her shoulders and answered, “Adam wants to attend his brother’s wedding in the spring, but after that? I don’t know. The way he talks?” she sighed, “I don’t know if it will turn out to simply be a much needed visit or if we’ll be settling down there for good.”

The rest of the day Sarah, Adam and the Barkleys enjoyed the company that came and went throughout the day knowing they might as well, seeing how the only other choice they had was to look on the dreary side of life, and they didn’t want that.

Chapter Twenty One

The activity around the Cartwright home was rather busy. Ben was doing his best not to curse his tie, while Little Joe was doing the same with his, though it did not help that his mind was on both his bride to be and the brother he still hoped would arrive in time to be his best man.

Adam had written a few times during the winter, as had Sarah. Both seemed to be doing well and both had stated they planned on being there to see Joe’s wedding. It made it so everyone was on edge wondering if the couple would really show up. After all, it had been almost a year since Adam had left. A lot of things could change in a year, and that included people.

“Iff’n ya ask me, Pa, I’d say yer tie is winnin’.” Hoss teased as he entered Ben’s room through his opened door way, and watched as his stepmother took over the job of doing her husband’s tie.

“Has everyone arrived?” Ben asked as he looked over Catlin’s head.

Hoss sighed knowing full well his Pa was really asking about Adam and Sarah. “They’ll be here, barring some unforeseen event, pa.”

That was what was worrying him; some ‘unforeseen event’. He didn’t know if he could handle that or not, if any of them could. Ever since they’d received the wire that Sarah had sent, the one that said she and Adam still planned on being at Little Joe’s wedding, Ben had felt antsy and that feeling had only grown each day. Every day they watched for Adam and his wife to appear; every night they’d gone to bed hoping. Now Little Joe’s wedding day had come and still no Adam. Where was he? Had something gone wrong? Just the mere thought made them all sick with worry.

“Well,” Hoss said as he turned to leave the room. “I best get down stairs.” He smiled though his eyes ached. With no Adam in sight, Hoss had the role of best man.

“Smile Ben,” Catlin did her best to smile, “We’re having a wedding, not a funeral.”

Ben smiled and, taking a hold of his wife’s arm, led her out of the room. She was right. Little Joe needed his support, not for him to rain on the parade per say. However, as they reached the top of the stairs, shouts of joy exploded throughout the room as the front door opened and two more guests entered the house.

“ADAM!” Little Joe, who had been standing next to the preacher, flew down the aisle, created when they’d set the chairs up in the spacious living room, and into the biggest bear hug his oldest brother could give him. Ben too, once he’d let go of Catlin, flew down the stairs and over to his eldest son, as did Hoss. The guests, while shouting, were polite enough to let the family greet Adam first.

Ben turned to Sarah, who had stood silently by smiling at the heartfelt reunion she’d dreamt of witnessing for months. “You must be my daughter-in-law.” He gave her a huge hug, one that was returned with just as much feeling as he had put into his.

After a few minutes, Alice’s mother spoke up. “Are we having a wedding or a family reunion?” Because she said it with a smile on her face and laughter in her eyes, everyone else busted up laughing.

Little Joe blushed, as Adam teased him and then took his place by the preacher once more, only this time he couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. Adam stood to his right and soon his bride would be beside him. It was going to be a wonderful wedding after all.

Arrival from Adam’s Point of View…

Days and days of traveling, Adam was more than ready to see his family once again, when the house came into view. He also froze. Due to one thing after another, his and Sarah’s trip back to the Ponderosa had been delayed. Now, his brother’s wedding was just moment’s away, and Adam was shocked to find himself seriously wondering if he should even attend.

As always, Sarah seemed to read his mind. Reaching her hand on, she encouraged him to move forward. “He wants you there, Adam. They all do.”

He turned, smiled at her and pushed Sport forward. By the time the two of them put their horses up and made their way around the buggies that had been driven, Adam and his wife could hear the noise level in the house had dropped some. Again, a bit of panic filled Adam’s heart as he wondered if he had missed being his brother’s best man. Taking a deep breath, he reached out, took a hold of the handle, opened the door up and stepped inside with Sarah following right behind him.

The look of pure joy that appeared on his brother’s face, then the way Little Joe tore down the aisle and wrapped his arms around Adam, would have made the man’s day, even if the others hadn’t followed suit.

“Let’s get this wedding going.” Adam nodded towards the preacher and smiled. It was going to be a wonderful wedding.

EPILOGUE

Adam and Sarah stood on the porch of the Cartwright home. The stars were just beginning to pop their heads out for the night. Adam, who had been struggling to decide whether or not to continue working on the ranch for a while, ran his hands over his wife’s abdomen which was starting to swell. He didn’t know why, but in that moment he knew what he wanted more than anything in the word. “Do you have anything against living in Nevada? More specifically, the Ponderosa? At least for a couple of years.” Adam said that because he knew that, sooner or later, he wanted to follow his dream of being an architect.

Sarah smiled, as she leaned against her husband, his arms wrapped around her. “I don’t care where we live as long as I’m with you.” Those words, the ones spoken by Sarah, would be repeated more than once and at more places than the Ponderosa as the years rolled by, but never again would Adam be separated from his family due to anything caused by fear. That was something all the Cartwrights would be eternally grateful for.

 

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