Summary: A misunderstood tragedy brings a man home for the first time in years.
Rated: K (1,750 words)
The tombstone in front of him caused tears to fill his eyes as he knelt next to it, running his fingers over the words etched neatly into it. He sighed deeply as he stood back to his feet, his eyes wandering over the vast landscape set out before him. It had been a long time since he had been there, but nothing seemed to have changed in his absence. With one last glance at the stone, he turned and walked towards his horse, mounting and galloping off down the road, his destination evident.
It wasn’t long before he arrived in the yard he had come to know and love as a kid. Everything was exactly as his family had left it, down to the very last detail. Horses neighed from the barn, sensing the familiar man’s presence as he allowed his horse to walk the rest of the way into the yard. He looked around and smiled to himself, his eyes taking in every detail he had missed over the last few years. Before he could proceed further, the front door of the house opened and a young man stepped out onto the porch, frowning upon seeing the stranger, but his frown quickly turned into a look of disbelief as he recognized the man’s face. Not thinking twice, he hurried over to greet him, his smile spreading wide across his features as the visitor dismounted his horse and shook hands fondly with the young man before pulling him into a tight embrace. Once they pulled apart, they started walking towards the house, their arms slung over each other’s shoulders.
“We’ve missed you.”
“I know, Joe. It just took me a while to figure out where I belonged.”
Adam smiled at his younger brother.
“I think I’ve realized it’s here.”
Joe smiled back as they entered the house. Quickly, Joe went to fetch some coffee, his grin never leaving his face as he hurried into the kitchen. While he was gone, Adam looked around the room, his eyes taking in everything and noticing nothing had really changed since he’d been away. A sound brought his attention back to the room and he turned towards the kitchen, fully expecting Joe to be returning with the coffee. Seeing no one there, Adam frowned, but shrugged it off, thinking it was just his imagination – until a voice called to him from the stairs.
The oldest Cartwright brother’s whole body tensed at the voice, one he hadn’t heard in years, but welcomed now. Slowly, he turned to face the stairs, his dark eyes softening at the sight of his father standing on the last step, staring at him in amazement. Adam’s smile grew wider and he took a step towards the older man, taking in his features, which hadn’t really changed all that much. Adam stopped just in front of Ben, his eyes never leaving the other’s face.
That was all Ben needed before pulling his oldest son into a tight embrace. Adam welcomed the contact and returned the hug, burying his face in the father’s shoulder. It had been far too long since he had seen any of his family members, but they were still glad to see him. Adam pulled away gently from his father, keeping his hands on the man’s shoulders as he smiled at him through his tears.
“It’s good to see you, son,” Ben stated, smiling back. “It’s been far too long, boy.”
Adam chuckled a little at the word ‘boy’, for he was far from a boy now, but just the sound of it brought back so many memories from his childhood that he didn’t dare ruin them by correcting Ben.
“It’s good to see you too, Pa,” Adam agreed.
Silence reigned for several minutes as Ben took in the appearance of Adam. His clothes were slightly disheveled, dust clutching to the clothing tightly, telling him Adam had been riding for a while.
“You must be exhausted from your trip. Why don’t we sit down?” Ben suggested, leading the way to the settee.
Adam smiled and nodded, following Ben’s lead and sitting next to him just as Joe returned with the coffee. His smile widened when he saw Ben sitting with Adam as he placed the tray on the coffee table in front of the settee. After each of the three men had taken their time drinking their coffee, Ben turned to Adam again and asked the question that had been on his and Joe’s mind since they had seen their long lost family member.
“Adam, what happened?”
Adam had known the question was coming, but hearing it actually said out loud caused him to cringe slightly before setting his cup and saucer on the coffee table and leaning back with a sigh.
“That’s a long story, Pa,” he replied, running a hand over his face.
Joe and Ben exchanged worried glances before turning their attention back to Adam.
“We have time, Adam,” Joe urged. “What happened? Why’d you leave?”
Adam slowly sat up, and rested his arms on his knees before he spoke, his voice seemingly a distance off as he stared off into space, reliving the story he was about to tell.
“As you both know, it started when I began seeing Lisa. What you both don’t know and what I later found out was she was already spoken for. I found out one night after I had finished taking her out to dinner and we were heading back to her house. Someone called her name and when we turned around, she gasped and suddenly started crying. Next thing I knew, she was hugging and kissing a man I’ve never seen before. But the man wasn’t even paying attention to her – he only had eyes for me..”
Ben’s face paled slightly as he had a feeling what was going to happen next, but listened anyway as Adam’s voice continued.
“He pushed Lisa away and started towards me. If looks could kill, I’d probably be dead by now. He pushed my chest, asking me why I was with his girl and vowing that if I ever went near her again, he’d kill me. I thought he was bluffing so I tried seeing her again the next night. He was in her room when I knocked on the door and attacked me before I had a chance to defend myself. After he finished, he made another promise. He told me that if I ever set foot in Virginia City again, he’d come here to the Ponderosa. He said he’d take my mistake out on my family.”
Anger was rising within Ben, but he kept his gaze firmly fixed on his son as the story unfolded.
“I left Virginia City shortly after that. I couldn’t let him carry out his threat, Pa. I traveled around for a while before I finally decided to send you a letter. It took me a while to write it, let alone send it, but I eventually did.”
At this point, Adam looked at Ben, who nodded. He had received the letter, though the contents had confused him.
“I always wondered why you never told us where you were,” Ben said, thoughtfully. “I guess I always knew you had a reason.”
“There really isn’t much to tell after that Pa,” he announced.
Ben frowned and put his arm around Adam’s shoulders, squeezing gently.
“What made you come home?” he asked, curiously.
Adam’s eyes closed tightly at the question and it was a few minutes before he opened his eyes and looked at Ben.
“How long has it been?” he asked, softly.
At first, Ben wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but, seeing the sadness in Adam’s eyes, he was bound and determined to find out.
“What are you talking about, Adam” he asked, worriedly.
“How long has it been since Hoss’ death?”
Ben’s eyes widened considerably as he searched his son’s face, trying to find the hint of joking in the younger man’s face. Not finding one, Ben’s heart constricted.
“Adam, what made you think Hoss is dead?” he questioned.
Adam ran a trembling hand over his face.
“I was passing through Carson City a few days ago,” he answered. “The sheriff there told me about the accident.”
Ben chose that moment to force Adam to look at him.
“Adam, Hoss isn’t dead,” he stated, firmly. “He was hurt, yes, but he’s far from dying.”
Those words slowly sank into Adam’s brain and he swallowed hard.
“Wh-Where is he?” he whispered, anxiously.
In a split second, Adam was off of the settee, heading for the stairs, taking them two at a time before sprinting down the hall. He paused just outside of Hoss’ bedroom door, hesitantly closing his trembling hand around the cool doorknob. Adam slowly pushed the door open, hearing a sound that brought a smile to his face. Hoss’ snoring. He would’ve recognized it anywhere. Adam entered the room, examining the still form of his brother in the bed. Adam leaned heavily against the wall, hardly daring to believe that he wasn’t dreaming. When he had heard that Hoss had been killed, he had spent all his time trying to return to the Ponderosa.
The sound of his younger brother’s voice snapped Adam out of his thoughts and a wide grin spread across his face as he found blue eyes staring back at him in surprise. Adam walked closer to the bed and knelt down so he was eye-level with the bigger man.
“Sure is good to see you, Hoss,” Adam whispered, his voice cracking slightly.
Hoss stared at him for a while, not understanding why Adam was acting so strange. Seeing his questioning gaze, Adam smiled slightly and shook his head.
“It’s nothing,” he assured him. “I-I just heard some information that, thankfully, turned out to be false.”
Hoss pondered this explanation for a few minutes before breaking out into a wide smile and offering Adam his hand to shake. Adam grasped it without hesitation.
“Good to have you home, Adam,” Hoss whispered.
Adam squeezed his younger brother’s hand before replying.
“I missed you, brother.”