Summary: After the events in the episode The Dark Gate, Adam reflects. An expanded response to the Pinecone Challenge #20, in which the first line was given.
Rated: K+ (1,265 words)
An expanded response to the Pinecone Challenge #20, in which the first line is given. “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad” is the first line of Scaramouche by Raphael Sabatini.
A Pinecone Challenge #20 Response (Expanded)
He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Maybe that’s why his end was inevitable. Ross Marquette could laugh at anything, could find the humor in any situation. Adam used to believe he envied that trait; now, looking back, it frightened him. He’d asked Ross once, how he could look at a dire situation with a twinkling in his eyes and Ross, of course, had laughed at the question. It’s because the world is mad, he’d replied and that was the only explanation he’d give.
Adam had, at the time, shaken his head and gone on with life. Chalked it up to Ross being Ross and moved on to the next question. That’s how it had always been with Ross. He thought his friend’s humor had been a shield against the madness he saw in the world. Now, though…
Now he understood that Ross’ laughter was a symptom of the madness.
The world hadn’t been mad. Ross had.
Understanding hit him like a bolt from a clear, blue sky. It stole his breath, tightened his chest, set his heart to racing. He felt sick and the pain in his shoulder throbbed in stark relief. He had sat on the edge of the porch, intending to enjoy the sunshine in his brief reprieve from work, but even the sun felt cold.
No, not quite. Not even cold. It felt like nothing. Adam sat in a washed out, gray world, in which no sun shone and only a haunting memory remained.
His vision blurred around the edges; in the morning stillness, he heard Ross’ laughter. He leaned forward, resting his forehead in his good hand. He’d shot him. Hunted him down. Took a bullet from his best friend and returned the favor with interest. Held Del as she died. Couldn’t answer her as she asked him to explain her own husband’s madness to her. She’d loved Ross so much; her broken why? had widened the cracks in Adam’s armor. He could still hear the love and betrayal, far beyond any physical hurt, in her voice and could still remember the moment she’d gone limp in his arms. He’d never forget. Adam had remembered, in that moment, her saying that Ross’ laughter drew her to him, as a moth to a flame. Seemed a fitting metaphor now: Delphine had burned alive in the flame of Ross’ madness. He could still see her broken and beaten body sprawled awkwardly on the floor whenever he walked into the house. Ross and Delphine, together in life and in death. Adam’s breath caught in his throat.
There was so much anger and grief in his heart that he wasn’t sure where one ended and the other began. And there was nothing worth laughing at but maybe the world was mad anyway. It seemed so simplistic just to say that it hurt, but it shut down everything in him, until all he was was a mass of raw grief. There was no breath in him anymore. Maybe no soul. Maybe that had died with Ross. (But if that was so, what hurt so badly now? Only a being with a soul could be so sorrowful for the death of a friend, right?)
A large hand — gentle even then, careful to avoid the tender bruising on his bad shoulder — settled in the middle of his back. Adam knew Hoss was speaking; the specter of Ross drowned him out, but Hoss was insistent, firm. His fingers kneaded the too-tight muscles at the base of his neck. His hands were warm, like the sunshine should have been.
“… be all right.” His brother’s voice coalesced into something real, and pushed back against the ghost of Ross. “You gotta take a breath, brother.”
And so he did, because Hoss never laughed in the face of madness. Because Hoss was a bright spot of color and love in a washed-out world, where laughter heralded madness. Adam ran his palm over his cheek, rested his chin on his knuckles, and stared into the yard. He hadn’t even noticed Hoss come into the yard, hadn’t noticed Chubb at the hitching rail out front. Hadn’t even noticed morning had slipped into afternoon. How long had he been out here, listening to phantoms? How long had he been back out on that ridge? Back in the great room with Del?
“Ya with me, Adam?”
He didn’t move. His voice was rough, strained with grief. “Yeah.”
Hoss sat beside him, his movements careful and almost deliberate; it was the way he’d move around a skittish colt. Nothing abrupt, nothing fast and, for a moment, Adam was insulted. (A flash of old ire and he grabbed onto it, held it, and fanned the flame, because he hated this gray world full of nothing. This was where Ross and Delphine lived now and he couldn’t be part of their world anymore. He’d killed Ross and couldn’t protect Del. He shouldn’t be there.)
“You’re thinkin’ on it,” Hoss said. In his hands, he held a small rock and he rolled it between his fingers.
Adam let that irritation swell, despite having no real reason for it. He needed it. “Shouldn’t I?”
Hoss shrugged. “I figure it’s a good thing I decided to come back here for some lunch.”
“I’m not an invalid.”
“No.” Hoss’ drawl was slow and easy, a direct counterpoint to Adam’s snapped frustration. He tossed the rock to the ground in front of them. “But you’d apparently forgot how to breathe.”
Hoss had a point. Adam let his hand drop to his knee. That ire bled away and took all the warmth in the world with it. “I should have seen it coming.”
That large, gentle hand settled at the base of his neck again. “Maybe. Everyone says that after somethin’ bad happens.” He started kneading the knotted muscles. “Just figure that means you’re in good company.”
There was silence for long moment. Adam’s hand drifted back to his jaw. “Not alone.” He’d said that to Ross, tried to chase away the loneliness for Delphine and now he was in desperate need of the reminder. The only difference was that he was the one still alive. Was he mad? He wasn’t sure. He’d never understood Ross anyway; he understood him less in madness. He still heard his friend’s laughter, though.
But he wasn’t alone.
“Yeah.” Hoss dropped his hand and leaned over to bump Adam’s shoulder lightly. “Now that you remembered that, don’t go lettin’ me eat alone. C’mon.” Hoss stood and offered his older brother a hand up.
Adam couldn’t muster up a smile, but he did take Hoss’ hand and pull himself up to his feet. His darkening world might hold mad laughter for the time being, but Hoss wouldn’t ever be swallowed up by it — and as long as his family was his beacon, he wouldn’t fall into it, either.
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