Fear on the Horizon (by No1ButJoe)

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Summary:  Joe finds himself in a dangerous situation when the town drunk goes on a rampage, robbing the bank and killing at least two – and taking Joe as a hostage!

Rating:  T   Word count: 10987

Disclaimer – I don’t own Bonanza or any related characters. Any characters not seen in Bonanza are of my own creation and belong to me.

Fear on the Horizon

The gunshots could be heard for miles around as a single man stumbled out of the Virginia City Bank, tightly clutching two bags in his hand while keeping a gun trained on whoever remained inside. He almost stumbled at the end of the sidewalk, but quickly regained his balance. A few bystanders looked in his direction and hurried into nearby buildings, closing, locking, and shutting all the doors behind them. The doors to the saloon opened as Joe Cartwright stepped outside, smiling broadly as he shouted something back into the saloon.

“Cartwright!”

Joe visibly stiffened, the smile fading from his lips as he heard a hammer being cocked back. Slowly and cautiously, Joe brought his arms up above his head.

“Drake, maybe we could talk about this,” Joe tried to reason.

Drake raised the gun, his hand trembling slightly.

“No-No talking,” he ordered. “Now, Cartwright, you’re gonna get me outta here. And if anyone tries to interfere, you get a nice bullet right in the back!”

Joe swallowed and nodded, turning so his back was to Drake. The gunman prodded Joe along by ribbing him in the back with the barrel of the gun, giving Joe no choice but to start walking. Men peeked out from windows, watching the scene unfold before them. Laughter came from the jail as Adam, Ben, and Hoss stepped outside, Roy Coffee following behind them. Their laughter died out when they saw Joe being walked down the street at gunpoint. Hoss made a move towards them, but Ben held out an arm, preventing him from moving any further.

“Drake,” Ben called out. “What’s all this about?”

Joe looked over, hopefully, at the sound of his father’s voice, but the painful way Drake had the gun implanted in his back reminded him that there wasn’t a whole lot his family could do.

“Cartwright, you better keep out of this!” Drake shouted a little too loudly. “If you or anyone else follows me, I’ll kill Joe! I don’t think you want your kid lying dead in the middle of Virginia City, now do ya?”

Ben’s whole body tensed, his eyes firmly locking on Joe, who was calmly standing there, every so often looking over his shoulder at Drake who was too busy talking to notice. If it wasn’t for the gun pressed against him, Ben was sure Joe would’ve made a move to escape by now.

“You hear me, Cartwright?” Drake yelled, angrily. “He dies if anyone follows!”

Ben saw Joe stiffen and immediately caught on to what Drake was doing. The longer they stalled, the closer Drake was to pulling the trigger of the gun. Ben motioned to Adam and Hoss, ushering them back into the office.

“Drake, we’re going back inside,” Ben called out. “As soon as you’re well away from town, you better let Joe go, or else I’ll personally hunt you down!”

Joe smiled gratefully at Ben before he was shoved from behind and forced to mount onto his horse. Ben watched with a heavy heart as his son rode out, Drake following closely behind him in case someone tried something. As soon as they were out of sight, Roy spun into motion.

“Ben, gather up some men and we’ll ride after them,” he said, determined. “We’ll catch ‘em before they get to the outskirts of town.”

“Didn’t you hear what he said, Roy?” Adam asked, stepping back onto the porch. “He’ll kill Joe if we even try going after them. I don’t know about you, but I’m not endangering my brother’s life like that.”

Roy turned to Ben, expectantly.

“I agree with Adam, Roy,” Ben stated. “ I’m not balancing Joe’s life in my hand and neither are you! Even if I have to lock you in your own jail to do it!”

“Ben, I don’t want to put Joe in any danger, you know that, but it’s my job to make sure Drake doesn’t get off scott free,” Roy argued. “I’m sorry but I have to go after him and Joe. I’ll do my best-”

Ben’s anger took hold as he snapped at his long-time friend.

“Roy, if you go after them, you’ll signing Joe’s death warrant! Wait at least a couple hours before you head out and just take me, Adam, and Hoss with you. As much as I trust the men here in town, after the banker and teller were murdered, I don’t think they’ll be in a good mood to go after the killer.”

Roy nodded in understanding.

“Well, Ben lets go inside and wait,” he suggested. “we’ll give ‘em two hours at the most.”

Ben smiled in relief.

“That’s all I’m asking, Roy. That’s all I’m asking.”

________________________________________________________________________

(Just Outside Of Town)

“Keep moving, Cartwright,” Drake ordered, sagging in his saddle a little. “We need to be far enough away from town before I let you go.”

Joe urged Cochise further along.

“Why not just let me go right here?” he asked, keeping his gaze in front of him.

“You know the answer to that!” Drake snapped. “As soon as I let you go, they’ll be hunting me down so fast, I’ll never have enough time to spend all my money!”

Joe was silent for a moment.

“Too bad you had to kill two men to get ‘your money’,” he stated, calmly. “The honorable thing to do would be to get a job and earn it.”

Drake snorted.

“Who do you honestly think would give a guy like me a job?” he questioned, struggling to hold hid head upright.

Joe stopped Cochise and turned to face him.

“My father for one,” he answered. “Drake, if you had told us that you were in trouble, we would’ve offered you a job on the Ponderosa.”

Drake ignored Joe and motioned with his gun for the younger man to keep going. Joe sighed and turned around in his saddle, kicking Cochise forward gently.

“You better just hope your family doesn’t get any ideas about saving you, Cartwright, or they’ll be bringing home a body instead of their family member, “ Drake promised.

Joe sighed and rolled his eyes.

“I know,” he mumbled, “You keep repeating it every few minutes.”

Drake didn’t reply.

________________________________________________________________________

(Back In Virginia City)

“What are you saying, Paul?” Ben asked after listening intently to his friend’s prognosis.

“Ben, what I’m saying is that with a man as unstable as Drake Clemmings, who knows what he’s capable of,” Paul Martin replied, seriously. “If you go after him and Joe, well, I’m not exactly sure what would happen, but it could involve Joe being hurt or worse.”

Ben pondered this for a moment, fully taking in the effect of the words.

“Now, Paul, are you sure?” Adam asked, curiously. “What if Joe does something to make Drake go off on his own and Drake manages to injure Joe? What then?”

Paul shook his head.

“I don’t know, Adam,” the doctor replied. “All I know is we have a murderer, drunk, and kidnapper on the loose with a loaded gun and a hostage. What happens next is anyone’s guess.”

Ben was still quiet. Adam turned to look at him, an impatient look on his face.

“Pa?”

Ben snapped out of his trance at the sound of his oldest son’s voice.

“Paul’s right, Adam,” he agreed. “We could cause more harm than good by starting out after them. And injuring Joe is the last thing I want to do.”

Adam ran a hand through his hair in frustration.

“Pa, if we don’t do something, Drake could kill Joe before -” he began, but Ben cut him off.

“Don’t you think I know that?” Ben interrupted, brief anger flickering across his face. “Joe could be out there right now with a bullet in him and I’m just standing here doing nothing. But it’s better than going after him, having Drake panic, and bringing Joe home injured!”

Adam didn’t reply as he thought over his father’s words.

“Pa, what if only one of us goes after Joe and Drake?” he asked, thoughtfully. “Drake would surely hear four of us, but one would give that person the advantage in this case.”

Ben thought and nodded in agreement and turned to Hoss.

“Hoss, you follow Joe and Drake, but be careful,” he pleaded. “If something happens, get back here as fast as you can.”

The big man nodded and immediately headed out the door. Adam watched before turning back to the men remaining in the room.

“How much of a head start do they have?” he asked, worriedly.

Ben didn’t reply for a few minutes.

“Four hours,” he replied, not looking up at Adam.

Adam knew what that meant. There was little hope of Hoss catching up to them now.

________________________________________________________________________

(With Joe and Drake, Location Unknown)

“All right, Cartwright, stop right here,” Drake ordered.

His liquor had left his system some hours ago and he was thirsty for another drink. Joe brought Cochise to a halt and waited while Drake dismounted in front of an old shack. Joe looked behind him and swallowed. He couldn’t even see the town anymore.

“Dismount, Cartwright, and get your head out of the clouds,” Drake said, training his gun on him. “I don’t have time for you to daydream.”

Joe dismounted quickly, not wanting to anger the man even further.

“Then, why don’t you let me go, Drake?” he asked, hopefully. “When I meet up with the posse, I’ll beg them not to come after you. You have my word.”

The gunman laughed.

“Now, why would I want to do a fool thing like that when I can just hold you for ransom?” he asked, smirking smugly. “I bet your pa will pay a handsome price for your safe return.”

Joe’s face paled. He should’ve known it wouldn’t be that simple. Drake walked over to a cupboard and opened it, bringing out a wine bottle, popping the lid, and taking a long swig. Drake motioned for Joe to take a seat, then continued to drink his ‘prize’. Joe grudgingly sat down, taking in the scene all around him. Dust lined every inch of the shack, from the floor to the ceiling. Joe wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“Now, then, Cartwright, whatdam I gonna do wit you?” Drake slurred. “Maybe I should just kill you and get it over with.”

Joe whirled on him, a furious look on his face.

“What about the ransom you were going to hold me for?” he demanded.

Drake chuckled.

“Who said you hafta be alive when I demand it?” he asked, a smile spreading across his drunken face. “Your pa will pay the ransom, I’ll be free to leave, and your family will never find your body!”

Joe remained silent as Drake outlined his plan. The youngest Cartwright examined Drake cautiously. The older man was cradling the bottle of wine like a baby , all the while still managing to keep his gun aimed right at Joe.

“Once my father realizes what you’ve done, he’ll never stop hunting you down,” Joe vowed.

Drake turned from his drink and stared at Joe.

“Oh, really?” he asked. “What makes you think he won’t be so upset that his youngest son’s dead that he’ll forget all about me?”

Joe’s face hardened as he answered.

“Because my pa will want to see you hang.”

________________________________________________________________________

(A Few Miles Outside of Virginia City)

Hoss Cartwright urged Chubb forward, his face set in a determined scowl as he rushed to catch up to Joe and Drake. Worry for his little brother clouded his mind as he pushed Chubb into a run. He didn’t have anytime to waste if we was going to overtake Joe and his kidnapper.

________________________________________________________________________

(Virginia City)

Ben slammed his hand on Roy’s desk, his impatience getting the better of him.

“Roy, if I have to wait any longer, I’m liable to burst!” he vowed.

His friend nodded.

“I understand, Ben, but you heard what the doc said. If anyone went after them, then Joe would be dead. Sending Hoss was the only way. At least we can’t say we’re not doing anything.”

Ben nodded and calmed himself a little, but suddenly paled and looked around the room before turning back to his friend, fear written across his features.

“Roy, where’s Adam?”

________________________________________________________________________

“Hoss!”

The said person whirled around, surprised to see Adam riding towards him at a fast gallop.

“Adam, what in tar nation are you doing here?” Hoss demanded, somewhat relieved to see that his brother had followed him. “You know what Pa and the doc said.”

His older brother pulled up alongside him and gave him a look.

“Oh, like you wouldn’t have come if it had been me Pa chose,” he said, but smiled.

Hoss opened his mouth, then closed it again and smiled. Not another word was said as the two brothers urged their horses into motion and galloped off to save their younger brother, hoping beyond hope that they wouldn’t be too late.

________________________________________________________________________

(Joe and Drake)

Joe sighed as he watched Drake place his gun belt on the table, surprised he hadn’t taken it the moment he had stepped onto the street. With his hands tied behind his back hours ago, movement towards the table and gun were impossible. Joe glared at Drake, who was across the room, rummaging through the cabinets for his third bottle that day.

“Not even your own mother would look at you like this, Drake,” Joe stated, earning himself a slap across the face, which he took.

“No one talks about my mother!” Drake ordered, angrily.

Joe smirked.

“I wouldn’t bet on that,” he argued.

For the next few minutes, Joe continued rattling the gunman about his mother, receiving a slap each and every time. As stupid as it seemed, the only thing the younger man was accomplishing was tiring Drake out until he eventually fell asleep, gun cradled gently in one arm, a half empty bottle of wine in the other. Joe’s face was sore, bruises already starting to form on his cheeks and a black eye beginning to take shape. Several of his ribs were sore, most likely bruised also from Drake ramming the butt of his gun into them. For several minutes, Joe had been working on the rope tying his hands together, working feverishly to free himself and escape from his prison, but Drake must not have been too drunk when he did the knots, for they were tight and unbreakable.

Joe dropped his head and relaxed his body, giving in to the fact that he would never be able to untie himself. Creaking of floorboards announced the arrival of Drake next to Joe’s chair. His breath stank of wine, causing Joe to turn his head away in disgust. Drake leaned over his prisoner, and whispered in Joe’s ear.

“One more word out of your mouth, boy, and I’ll see to it your pa and brothers never reach home again.”

The threat caused Joe to pale considerably and make him go stiff in his chair. If he tried to escape or talk, not only would he possibly be killed, but his family would be in danger as well. That was one chance he just couldn’t afford to take. Drake smiled in satisfaction and proceeded to take another swig of his wine, staggering towards the front door in a haze. Joe didn’t look up as the door opened and closed, he just hung his head in defeat.

“Not so tough without your family to back you up, are you?” Drake asked, walking back through the door with a bucket of water.

Joe didn’t reply, refusing to meet his captor’s gaze until a splash of cold water caused him to sputter and cough.

“What the heck was that for?!” he demanded.

Drake grinned.

“You’ll start freezing long before it becomes dark,” was the only reply.

At that statement, Joe paled considerably. Drake was not only holding him for ransom, but torture was looking very promising as well. Silently, Joe shivered, praying and hoping someone would find him and take him home.

________________________________________________________________________

(Hoss and Adam)

“Adam, don’tcha think we oughta slow down justa little?” Hoss asked, concerned for the well-being of his horse and his older brother’s state of mind. “These horses are gonna run themselves to death if we keep this up.”

Adam slowed Sport and turned to face Hoss.

“I guess you’re right,. You want to make camp here for the night?” he asked, already dismounting.

Hoss shrugged and followed suit. After settling the horses, the two men set up their bedrolls and started a fire, already feeling the chill in the air as the wind rustled some nearby trees. As soon as they were tucked into their bedrolls, Hoss’ mind began to wander.

“Hey, Adam?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you think Joe’s okay with Drake?”

Adam sat up in his bedroll and looked over at his younger brother.

“I like to think so, why?”

Hoss sighed and shrugged.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied. “I-I just got this gut feeling, ya know? That something ain’t right.”

Adam remained silent for a moment before responding.

“I know, Hoss, I’ve had that feeling too, but I didn’t want to say anything.”

Silence reigned in the camp for a moment or two.

“Adam?”

“Yeah?”

“What if we don’t find Joe? What then?”

“I don’t know, Hoss. I just don’t know.”

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben and Roy)

Roy Coffee sighed in defeat. He had tried every way possible to persuade Ben to remain in Virginia City and wait for his boys to return, but his parental instincts had taken over and there was no arguing with a protective father. The sheriff watched silently as his friend walked outside and mounted onto Buck, urging the horse into a full-blown gallop out of town.

It was several miles outside of town that Ben found his boy’s tracks. His determination growing stronger, he continued on, not intending to stop until all three of them were safely home.

________________________________________________________________________

(Joe and Drake)

Joe shivered violently, his body clammy and cold against the evening chill coming through the open door and window. Drake had gone into a back room, a bedroom most likely, and left Joe to fend for himself against the cold. Facing the door and window, Joe’s face had lost all feeling some time ago due to the wind blowing. The youngest Cartwright tried burying his face close to his chest in order to ward off the wind, and it helped some, but not enough.

So this is how it ends, Joe thought. Dying of hypothermia before anyone can find me. And my only salvation is a bank robber and murdering drunk asleep in the next room.

By early the next morning, Joe had a fever and he had a cough that sounded like it was lodged deep in his throat. Drake didn’t pay any attention to his prisoner, just looked for a new wine bottle and went back to sleep. Joe’s mind was in a haze from the fever and his whole body shook with shivers, even though Drake had closed the door and window as soon as he got up that morning. A few minutes later, Joe passed out.

________________________________________________________________________

(Hoss and Adam)

The two brothers had started out at dawn, packing up their belongings and putting out the fire long before the sun had completely risen over the horizon. Sport and Chubb rode side-by-side along the trail, both of their riders silent as they made their way across the country. Neither Adam nor Hoss had to speak their feelings aloud. Both of them had that feeling again. The feeling that something was dreadfully wrong and it just urged them to move faster and cover more ground. After a few hours of silence, Hoss finally spoke.

“Adam, what do you think will happen when we find him?”

“I’m not sure, Hoss, I just hope he’s still alive when we do.”

That statement shocked Hoss into silence once again. What would happen if they found Joe only to realize they were too late? What if Joe was never found? But Hoss had other important matters and ‘what if’ questions running through his head.

Such as, what if they found Joe, hurt, and what would Hoss do to the man responsible?

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben)

Ben never stopped during the night, instead, continuing on in a desperate attempt to catch up with Adam and Hoss. Buck was tired and slightly dehydrated, and Ben felt the same. Resting for a moment, he dismounted and gave his horse some water that he poured onto his hand from his canteen, which Buck gratefully drank. Patting him on the neck, Ben mounted once more and continued on his way, glancing in every which way direction, trying to catch a glimpse of any, or all, of his sons.

________________________________________________________________________

(Joe and Drake)

Slap!

“Wake up, Cartwright!” Drake shouted, angrily. “I didn’t tell you to go to sleep!”

Joe’s heavy eyes opened and he stared up at Drake, his fever raging in him as he tried to get his mind to comprehend what was happening.

“Cartwright!”

Another slap sounded throughout the shack as Drake landed another hand on Joe’s face, causing the younger to recoil. Joe’s fever was taking quite a toll on him, otherwise, he would’ve retaliated for certain. Drake spat off to the side in disgust and walked outside. The neigh of horses could be heard as well as hoof beats. Drake had left, taking Cochise with him, leaving a very sick Joe to fend for himself. The only problem? Joe was still tied.

________________________________________________________________________

(Hoss and Adam)

“Dadgumit, Adam, we should’ve found ‘em by now!” Hoss whined.

Adam didn’t say anything, just brought a finger to his lips. His brother immediately shut up and looked around. Before either of them could move, a familiar horse wandered into the clearing.

“Cochise!”

Hoss dismounted and rushed over to the animal, examining her thoroughly for any signs of Joe’s dilemma. Cochise neighed softly in greeting and walked into Hoss’ touch. Hoss smiled a little and rubbed the pinto’s neck, warmly.

“Where’s Joe, girl?” Hoss asked, gently, already knowing the horse couldn’t answer him.

Cochise shook her head back and forth. Hoss smiled slightly and patted her, then turned back to Chubb and mounted, Cochise’s reigns still in his hand, hoping Joe would be riding back to the Ponderosa with them soon. Adam spurred Sport into a gallop, shouting over his shoulder to Hoss, “He can’t be too far away! Lets go!”

Hoss nodded and rushed to catch up with his older brother.

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben)

“I have to make it,” Ben urged himself on, gritting his teeth together.

Buck continued to trot, unaware of his master’s urgency. Ben finally stopped Buck and leaned forward, surveying the area around him. The landscape was silent, not an animal in sight, let alone any humans. His worry was slowly becoming fear for the safety of his sons. A loud neigh was suddenly heard, snapping Ben to attention and causing him to send Buck into a full out gallop.

________________________________________________________________________

(Joe)

A groan escaped his chapped lips as he slowly opened his eyes and his gaze roamed over the poorly lit room. It was still cold and Joe shivered violently, already knowing that his fever was still there due to the fact that he was extremely cold. Little light filtered in through the window directly across from him, but it was good enough to see an empty wine bottle broken on the floor, it’s edge glittering in the light. With a sudden burst of energy, Joe rocked back and forth in his chair, until he completely fell over. With quite some effort, he managed to drag himself as well as the chair over to the bottle. Immediately, Joe began working the ropes over the sharp edge, grunting with every effort as he exerted himself trying to get free. After several hours, the ropes broke and he untied the rest of his body from the chair. Too weak to stand, the young man crawled towards the back room where Drake had stayed. Reaching the doorway, Joe rested a moment, his fever catching up to him as he lost all consciousness.

________________________________________________________________________

(Adam and Hoss)

“Hoss, do you see what I see?!” Adam shouted, excitedly, pointing a little ways off.

His younger brother squinted against the sun and finally spotted what Adam was talking about. A small shack stood there, concealed in the woods, almost invisible.

“Reckon whoever lives there might’ve seen Drake and Joe?” Hoss asked, hope filling his entire being.

Adam looked over at him and sighed.

“We’ll find out, Hoss,” he replied, looking back towards the shack. “I just hope it’s good news.”

The two brothers moved forward, glancing in every which way direction, just in case they missed some sign of their younger brother. Inside the shack was dark and they had to wait a few minutes before their eyes adjusted to the darkness. Adam was the first one to react.

“Joe!” he shouted, kneeling next to the form of his unconscious brother.

Tenderly, he rolled Joe over onto his back and patted his cheek gently, trying to rouse him. Hoss moved to their sides and carefully lifted Joe into his arms and set him on the bed. Adam immediately took control again as he worked hurriedly to bring his little brother’s fever down.

“Hoss, I think I saw a well out back. Go see if you can fetch some water!” Adam ordered, rushing to the kitchen to get a cloth.

Hoss nodded and grabbed a bucket from the back door on his way to the well. Adam anxiously dabbed at the sweat beading Joe’s brow, silently pleading with Hoss to hurry up. A few minutes later, Hoss reappeared in the doorway, the bucket in his hand, empty.

“Hoss, where’s the water?” Adam asked.

Hoss swallowed hard and looked down at the floor.

“The well’s dried up, Adam,” he replied. “There’s no water within miles of this place.”

Adam nodded in understanding and turned back to Joe, whose eyes were beginning to flutter.

“A-Adam?” he stammered, surprised at the sudden appearance of the older man.

“Hey, little buddy,” Adam whispered, pushing back Joe’s curls. “Just take it easy. You have quite a fever. Hoss and I are just trying to bring it down enough so you can travel.”

Joe’s eyes widened considerably at the mention of Hoss and his face took on a look of fear.

“No!” he shouted, struggling against his brother’s hands to get out of bed. “No, you have to get out of here!”

Hoss gently, yet firmly, held Joe to the bed.

“Now, Joe, I don’t wanna hurt ya, but if you keep up your shenanigans, I’ll have no choice but to knock ya out.”

Joe grew silent, fully taking in Hoss’ words, but stopping his motions. Joe looked pleadingly over at Adam.

“You have to get out of here,” he said, urgently. “Drake – he’s promised to kill my whole family if I tried to escape. Please, get out of here! I don’t know when he’ll be back!”

Adam and Hoss exchanged a glance, both wondering if Joe was delirious.

“Now, now, Joe, is that anyway to treat our guests?”

Adam and Hoss whirled around to find Drake standing in the door, gun in hand aimed right at them. Drake stood from leaning against the door and entered the room, a smile on his face. The stale smell of wine followed him. Joe’s eyes widened in fear at the sight of his captor.

“Drake, I didn’t try to escape,” he immediately said. “Please, let them go.”

Drake looked over at Joe and laughed.

“You really expect me to believe that, do you?” he asked. “If I let them go, they’d go for the sheriff and I’m not about to let that happen.”

Drake motioned for Adam and Hoss to go out into the other room, which the two cowboys immediately obeyed.

“No!” Joe shouted as Drake closed the door behind them. “No! Please!”

Drake smirked in satisfaction at the way his hostage was begging. Quickly, he tied Hoss and Adam and gagged them. Drake aimed his pistol, firing two shots into the wooden floorboards, making it seem as if he had shot the two brothers. A strangled cry came from Joe’s room, proving Drake’s idea and sick joke had succeeded.

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben)

No matter how far away Ben could’ve been, he still would’ve heard the gunshot. His heart constricted in worry and fear for the safety of all three of his sons. Buck started when a second gunshot sounded and almost tossed Ben if he hadn’t been ready.

“Come on, boy,” Ben urged him ahead, drawing his gun. “We need to see what’s going on over there. Whatever it is, I just hope the boys aren’t involved in it.”

________________________________________________________________________

(The Shack)

“Adam!” Joe screamed, tears coursing down his cheeks. “Hoss!”

Outside his door, Drake was watching Adam and Hoss, smiling widely at the anguish coming from Joe.

“Now, if that isn’t music to your ears,” he whispered. “Make a sound, either of you and I won’t hesitate to put a bullet in both of you.”

That said, he went back into Joe’s room, smiling as he approached the bed. Joe’s tears had stained his pillow as he looked up in hate at the man he believed to have killed his brothers. Drake chuckled.

“Now, now, Cartwright, I told you what would happen if you tried to escape,” he disciplined. “You disobeyed me and had to pay the price.”

Joe’s eyes flashed in anger.

“I’ll kill you for this!” he spat out, anger replacing his sorrow. “I promise you that!”

Drake shook his head in amazement at the younger man’s ability to fight, but stepped out of the room again, turning his attention back to Adam and Hoss.

“I guess your brother’s stronger than I originally thought,” he admitted, before a smile slowly formed. “But I’m willing to fix that.”

Hoss lurched forward against his bonds, but they held strong. Drake laughed at the attempt.

“We can’t have you getting away, big man,” he said. “That would ruin my plans for your brother.”

Adam only glared at the man, his mind spinning in circles and trying to come up with a plan to set himself and Hoss free. Joe needed medical attention and Drake’s plan wasn’t helping matters!

Joe, please, hang on,’ he silently urged. ‘We’ll find a way out of this somehow.’

Back in Joe’s room, the youngest Cartwright was having a hard time controlling his emotions. Both of his brothers were dead and he was on his own. Adrenaline coursed through his body and, had he been able to move, he would’ve been after Drake in a heartbeat. Joe’s heart grew heavy as he thought of his father. What in the world was he going to tell him? That’s to say if Joe survived. He shivered at the thought.

His tears continued their course until sobs escaped from his lips. Both of his brothers gone in a matter of seconds was too much to take in.

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben)

Ben sighed in relief at the sight of a shack up ahead. His relief turned to concern and horror as he spotted Sport and Chubb, as well as Cochise calmly standing outside. Cautiously, Ben dismounted, gripping his pistol firmly. A voice could be heard through the window, chilling Ben to the bone.

“Now that your brother thinks you’re both dead, torturing him shouldn’t be too hard,” Drake’s voice continued. “After I’m through with all of you, I’ll head to Mexico and spend my hard-earned cash.”

Ben’s chest constricted at that announcement. What did Drake mean, Joe thought Adam and Hoss were dead?

“Did you hear that?”

Ben ducked out of sight as Drake walked out onto the front porch and looked around, gun at the ready. Ben forced himself to hold his breath as the gunman eyed the yard warily, then turned back inside.

“You’re lucky, Cartwrights,” he said. “If anyone had been out there, I would’ve killed you on the spot.”

________________________________________________________________________

(Joe’s Room)

Joe’s whole body shivered under the blankets. His fever had increased sometime within the past few minutes and he was slightly delirious. A window opened to the right of Joe’s bed and a figure silently entered. Joe tried to make out who it was, but his feverish eyes prevented him from seeing clearly. The intruder spotted him almost immediately and hurried to the bedside.

“Joseph,” came a soft whisper and Joe closed his eyes as he felt a gentle hand push his curls from his face.

In that very moment, Joe didn’t need his sight to know who the man was.

“P-Pa,” he whispered softly.

“That’s right, son, it’s Pa.”

Ben moved from the bed over to the nightstand where a basin stood. He silently cursed when he saw that it was empty. A noise outside of the door caught his attention and he barely had enough time to hide behind the door before Drake stuck his head in and looked around. Satisfied his prisoner was alone, Drake entered and made his way to Joe’s bed. He got halfway there when the barrel of a pistol was lodged into his back.

“Put the gun down,” Ben hissed into his ear.

Drake surprisingly did as he was told and the gun clattered to the floor. Ben jabbed Drake in the back, urging him to move forward. Instead, Drake turned and started trying to wrestle the gun out of Ben’s hands. A few shots went off until a final shot sounded. Drake’s eyes widened in surprise as he slowly sank to the floor. Ben glanced down, spotting the wound immediately and knowing there was nothing he could do to help the man, for he was already dead.

Snapping out of his daze, Ben turned to Joe, his eyes widening at the sight that greeted him. His youngest son was unconscious, his head turned to the side as the white sheet covering him slowly turned red. Ben raced to the bedside, and gently pulled back the covers to reveal the wound from the stray bullet. Ben grimaced at the sight and turned away, recovering the wound with the sheet and looking around for the water basin. Finding it, he paled when he saw it was empty. Ben took one look at Joe and hurried from the room, a bucket in his hand. Reaching the next room, he stopped when he saw his two oldest sons. Immediately, he undid their bonds and released them from the chairs.

“Hoss, hurry and run out to the well for some water,” Ben ordered, urgently.

Hoss looked at the floor.

“There is no water, Pa,” he replied, softly. “I checked when we first got here. The well’s all dried up. We’d have to go to the nearest town for some water, but that could take hours.”

Ben grit his teeth in frustration.

“We don’t have hours,” he stated, mostly to himself. “I don’t think Joe has hours either.”

Both Adam and Hoss frowned at their father, not fully understanding what he was talking about. Ben looked over at them, a solemn look on his face.

“While I was fighting Drake, a bullet strayed and hit Joe in the side,” he explained. “We need more than just water. We need a doctor.”

Adam, who had been silent the whole time, moved towards the door almost immediately. Noticing this, Ben followed him out the door, calling his name.

“Adam, where are you going?” he asked, anxiously.

Adam mounted Sport, then answered, “You said Joe needs a doctor, well, I’m going to get him one.”

Ben could only watch as Adam sent Sport into a gallop and disappeared into the woods. Not able to see him anymore, Ben headed back inside, where Hoss was desperately trying to calm a delirious Joe. Ben sat on a chair next to the bed and grasped Joe’s hand within his own.

“Easy, son, you’re all right,” he whispered. “Adam’s gonna be back with the doc soon enough. Just take it easy.”

Ben’s words seemed to have no effect on the young man. By the time Adam returned with a doctor, Joe’s fever had spiked to a dangerous level. Adam quickly introduced Doctor Daniel Trey, then ushered him into the room Joe was in. Doctor Trey rushed everyone out of the room, then shut the door behind him to start work on his patient. Ben turned to Adam.

“Did you get any water while you were in town?” he asked, hopefully.

Adam nodded.

“The doc brought some with him on his buggy,” he replied. “I’ll go out and bring it in.”

Hoss headed out after him, offering to help. Ben sighs as they leave, sinking into a chair and running a hand over his face. Adam and Hoss return with buckets of water and set it on the kitchen table, heading back out to get more. Time drags slowly on after they finish unloading the water. All three Cartwrights are seated at the table, trying to come up with something to talk about until Ben breaks the silence.

“Adam, what happened here?” he asked, curiously.

It took a good half hour to explain everything to his father, with Hoss interrupting every now and then. Just as Adam was finishing, Doctor Trey walked through the door, his face pale and exhausted. Ben, Adam, and Hoss all rose to their feet, anxiously waiting for him to speak.

“I removed the bullet,” he announced, tiredly.

Ben swallowed hard.

“Doctor?” he asked. “Joe, is he-”

Doctor Trey held up a hand, stopping him mid-sentence.

“Joe’s resting, Mr. Cartwright,” he assured him, “It’s up to Joe now, but with that fever he has adding to his gunshot wound, the next twenty-four hours are crucial.”

Ben visibly paled and went back to the table to sit down, the doctor’s words fully comprehending the truth of the doctor’s statement. If Joe’s fever didn’t go down by the end of the day, Joe’s chances of surviving were slim to none. Adam watched his father for a moment before turning back to Doctor Trey.

“Can I see him?” he asked.

Doctor Trey didn’t reply, just nodded and opened the door wide enough for Adam to pass through, shutting it behind him. If Adam hadn’t known better, he would’ve sworn the figure in the bed was not his little brother. Joe’s face was pale, his breathing labored. The loss of blood from the bullet wound was taking it’s toll on the younger man and it hurt Adam to see him this way. After pulling a chair over by Joe’s side, Adam began talking.

“Hey, Joe. It’s me, Adam. Looks like Drake really did a number on you, huh, Little Brother? I’m only sorry Hoss and I didn’t get here sooner than we did. Maybe we could’ve stopped him.”

Adam paused when he noticed a slight movement of Joe’s hand, but continued once he was certain Joe was still asleep.

“Joe, if you give up, Drake will win. He’ll have taken everything from you, even though he’s dead. So you have to fight, Joe, if not for me and Hoss, then do it for Pa. He’s worried sick.”

Silence reigned in the room until Adam stood to his feet to leave. As he turned his back, Joe’s eyes fluttered open, the fever still evident in them.

“A-Adam,” he whispered, weakly. “Not . . . going . . . . a-anywhere.”

Adam whirled around, only to watch Joe’s eyes close once more as he slipped back into a restless sleep.

________________________________________________________________________

(Later That Evening)

The screams started earlier than anyone expected. It startled Ben awake just after sunset. Recognizing the screams, he headed in to see Joe, only to witness him thrashing back and forth on the bed, his wound already opened again, blood staining the sheets crimson. Quickly, Ben rushed to Joe’s side, anxiously trying to hold him down to prevent him from injuring himself more.

“Joe, easy, you’re safe, son,” Ben gently spoke.

At his voice, Joe’s struggling slowly subsided and he lay on the bed, breathing heavily. Doctor Trey, after being wakened by Adam, hurried into the room, dressed Joe’s wound again, and ushered everyone out.

“He needs his rest,” he explained. “If he cries out again, we’ll hear him.”

Ben protested for a few minutes before gradually agreeing and settling back down into a chair. The night passed slowly and not another word was heard from Joe. Early the next morning, when Doctor Trey checked in on him, he came back out with a huge smile on his face.

“He’s through the worst of it, Mr. Cartwright,” he announced, putting a hand on the other man’s shoulders. “Now, all he needs is rest and plenty of fluids in him to keep up his strength.”

Ben just looked at the doctor, his eyes asking what he couldn’t speak. Doctor Trey smiled and nodded, stepping away from Joe’s door and allowing Ben access. Without hesitation, Ben went into Joe’s room, Adam and Hoss following close behind him. Joe lay on the bed, breathing evenly than the night before. His face gained some color over the past few hours, which caused Ben to sigh in relief.

“Pa?”

Joe’s eyes were open slightly and focused on his father. Ben smiled and pulled a chair next to Joe’s side, clasping his hand in his.

“How do you feel, Joe?” he asked, anxiously.

Joe blinked slowly and finally replied, “I’m tired and weak.”

Behind them, Adam and Hoss frowned at each other. If Joe was hurting, he usually didn’t admit it, but if he was saying so now, they knew Joe must’ve been through one tough ordeal. Ben smoothed Joe’s curls back out of his eyes.

“You gave us all quit a scare, young man,” Ben admonished, but a smile graced his lips, proving that he wasn’t really mad.

Joe returned the smile with a half of one before spotting Adam and Hoss behind Ben. All of a sudden, everything came back to him. Drake kidnapping him, Drake leaving him for dead, Adam and Hoss finding him, Drake killing-. Joe’s eyes widened and he suddenly cried out in fear. Ben frowned and turned to see his two older sons standing there. Seeing nothing wrong, Ben turned back to Joe.

“Son, what’s wrong?” he asked, worriedly.

Joe pointed a weak finger at his two brothers.

“A-Adam and H-Hoss’ ghosts,” he whispered, feebly. “They’re standing right there.”

An understanding dawning occurred to Ben and he smiled a little.

“Joe, those aren’t ghosts,” he corrected. “It’s really your brothers. Drake never killed them. It was all a ruse to get you to break.”

Joe shook his head.

“I heard t-the sh-sh-shots,” he argued. “Th-They’re d-dead.”

Ben shook his head adamantly.

“Joseph, your brothers are right here, alive and well,” he stated. “Drake fired off those shots to make you believe he had shot Adam and Hoss. It isn’t true, Joe. Please, I wouldn’t lie to you about something like this.”

Joe remained quiet for a moment, fully allowing Ben’s words to register and take root. Adam and Hoss rounded the bed to stand on the other side of him, making sure he could see their faces clearly. After a while, Joe’s tear-filled eyes lifted to meet those of his brothers.

“Y-You’re n-no-not dead?” he stammered.

Adam smiled and shook his head.

“No, Joe, we’re right here,” he assured him. “We’re all fine, it’s you we’ve been worried about.”

Hoss nodded in agreement.

“That’s right, little buddy,” he said. “We’re just waiting for you to get better so we can go home and leave this whole mess behind us.”

Joe smiled through his tears, then looked around.

“W-Where’s Dr-Drake?” he asked, fearfully.

Ben paused a moment.

“He’s dead, Joe,” he replied. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”

Joe nodded and his eyes slowly closed as he fell back into a deep sleep. Ben motioned to Adam and Hoss that they should leave. Once back in the main room, Ben spoke again.

“We know Drake robbed the bank in Virginia City, but there’s still a matter of where he hid the money.”

“Do you think he hid it somewhere around here, Pa?” Adam asked, curiously.

Ben nodded.

“It’s possible, but it’s also possible that he left it somewhere on the trail where we couldn’t find it no matter how hard we looked.”

Hoss had a thoughtful expression on his face as he stared at the floor. His expression changed as he suddenly bolted out the back door. Ben and Adam exchanged glances, then followed him in time to see him look down into the dried-up well.

“Hoss, you better be careful,” Adam called. “You fall down that well, you might get stuck!”

Hoss looked up and smiled.

“Well, someone’s gonna hafta go down there and get the money, now, aren’t they, older brother?” he asked.

Ben and Adam exchanged glances before rushing to the well and peering in. Sure enough, the bags of money from the bank were stacked neatly again one side of the well, out of the way of the bucket for when it came down.

“That’s why I never heard it, Pa,” Hoss explained. “I just let the bucket go and never bothered to look in the well. I didn’t think anything else would be in there besides water.”

Ben clapped Hoss on the back.

“What maters is we found it, Hoss,” he said. “Now, we just have to find a way to lift it out of there.”

“I believe one of us should go down there with a rope and tie the bags on it, then the others can lift them out,” Adam proposed. “Afterwards, the person left in there can be lifted out.”

Ben nodded.

“Sounds like a good idea, but now we have to figure out who’s going to go down there to do the job,” he said.

Adam looked up at Ben.

“If you and Hoss lower me down, I’ll be able to secure the money,” he stated. “After that, you two can haul me back up.”

Ben frowned in thought.

“No, I think it best if I go, Adam,” he argued.

Adam shook his head.

“Pa, you know I’m the lightest out of the three of us,” he reasoned. “It’ll be easier on you and Hoss if I go down. Please, Pa. We have to at least try.”

Ben was quiet for a minute before nodding his head and allowing Hoss to tie a rope around Adam’s waist. Adam swung his legs over the side and gave Hoss and Ben a nod before he dropped, the line secured around his waist the only thing preventing him from falling to the bottom of the well and to his death. Adam went down slowly, careful of any protruding rocks or bricks. Small branches stood out in some places and he slightly winced as they cut at his hands and face. Finally, he reached the bottom and untied himself. Turning around, he spotted the bags immediately. Without a moment’s hesitation, he tied the bags to the rope and gently tugged, letting Hoss and Ben know the bags were ready to be pulled up. Slowly, inch-by-inch, the bags of money were hoisted out of the well. The rope being pulled by Ben and Hoss was strong, but one flaw made this recovery turn dangerous. A fray in the rope was unraveling, little-by-little each time the bags were moved up more. After a few more minutes, the rope snapped, sending the bags plunging to the bottom of the well, straight on top of Adam.

“Adam!” Ben shouted down into the well, worry creasing his features. Quickly taking control of the situation, he turned to Hoss. “Go get the horses. I have some more rope tied to my saddle.”

Hoss didn’t bother arguing and immediately set off. Ben looked back into the well, searching for Adam. At long last, he spotted his eldest son. Adam was lying on his stomach, the bags of money lying on top of him. Ben’s worry increased drastically when he saw Adam wasn’t moving. Hoss returned in record time with the rope and horses. Sport, Chubb, and Buck all stood off to one side of the well as Ben lowered the rope into the well.

“Adam!” he called, anxiously. “Adam, you have to tie the rope around your waist!”

Down at the bottom of the well, a weak groan escaped Adam’s lips as he slowly regained consciousness. Trying to move, he cried out in pain as he tried moving his right foot. Ben’s voice rang clearly down to him and he looked up, squinting to see his father.

“Adam, are you all right?”

“I-I hurt my leg, Pa!” Adam called back. “I think it’s broken!”

“I sent a rope down to you,” Ben returned. “See if you can get it around your waist enough so we can have the horses haul you out of there!”

Adam quickly did as he was told and yelled up that he was ready. Ben nodded to Hoss, who immediately started leading the horses, slowly pulling up the rope secured to Adam. After another ten excruciating minutes, Adam was hoisted out of the well. Hoss stepped away from their horses and went to Adam’s side, lifting him into his arms and carrying him into the shack. By this time, Joe had woken back up and paled at the sight of Adam being carried by Hoss.

“Adam! Hoss, what happened?” Joe asked, anxiously.

Ben calmly explained as Hoss tended to Adam. Feeling his older brother’s leg, Hoss finally just ripped the pant leg, gaining easier access and making it easier for him to pin-point the problem. Adam’s whole body tensed as Hoss examined it. As Hoss finally finished, Ben was just telling a still feverish Joe to get back to sleep. Adam bit his lip to keep from crying out.

Ben turned to Hoss, an expectant look on his face.

“Well, Hoss?” he asked.

His middle son sighed and looked up at him.

“It’s definitely broken, Pa,” he replied. “It’s gonna be hard to set us being out here without any proper medicine.”

Ben turned to Doctor Trey, but the other man shook his head, already next to Hoss, examining Adam’s leg carefully.

“I didn’t bring the equipment with me, Mr. Cartwright,” he explained. “If this leg is going to set right, we’ll have to get him back to town.”

“But, Doctor, is Joe ready to travel?” Ben asked, anxiously.

“That’s the part I’m worried about,” he admitted. “With Joe as weak as he is, I don’t want to take the chance on moving him and causing him further injury.”

Ben nodded in understanding. Doctor Trey thought a moment.

“There is one way to get Adam to town, Mr. Cartwright, but you aren’t going to like it,” he announced. “Adam desperately needs to be in town. The only way I can do that is if me and one other person go with him.”

Ben let the idea sink in before he finally shook his head stubbornly.

“You’re talking about leaving Joe here,” he accused, angrily. “That’s not going to happen!”

Doctor Trey held up his hands in defense.

“That’s not what I meant,” he argued. “Either you or Hoss stay with Joe, while I take Adam to town, accompanied by one other person.”

“I’ll stay with Joe,” Hoss immediately volunteered before his father could speak. “No, Pa, Adam needs you right now. I’ll be fine taking care of Joe right here. We have plenty of water now and Joe’s already settled in so there’s no use in arguing about it.”

Recognizing the look in his middle son’s face, Ben sighed loudly and nodded.

“We’ll leave first thing,” Ben stated. “I’ll support Adam on Buck.”

The doctor nodded in understanding and set about the task of setting Adam’s leg as best he could before the trip. Ben moved to Joe’s side, placing his hand on top of the younger man’s curly hair.

“Joe, I promise, I’ll be back,” he assures him. “I just need to get Adam situated and I’ll be back for you.”

Joe frowned, but realized that Adam was in bad shape and slowly nodded that it was okay. Ben patted him on the head in thanks and stood to his feet.

“I’ll get the horses ready, Doctor,” he said. “We’ll leave as soon as possible.”

As soon as Ben left, Hoss went to sit by Joe’s bedside. Joe smiled up at him weakly. A cry from Adam caused them to look over at their older brother, worriedly. Doctor Trey was trying his best to bandage Adam’s leg to prevent it from further injury and had accidentally hit against the break. He apologized quickly and carefully continued. Within minutes, Ben walked back inside and announced it was time to go. Hoss nodded and picked Adam up and carried him outside. He waited as Ben mounted Buck, then lifted his older brother to his father.

“Hoss, I’ll be back,” Ben vowed and spurred his horse into a gentle walk.

Doctor Trey’s buggy followed behind slowly. After watching them until they were out of sight, Hoss returned back inside and to Joe. His little brother was breathing heavily in bed, sweat beading his brow.

“Joe?” Hoss whispered, feeling his forehead. “Oh, short shanks, you have quite a fever.”

A moan escaped Joe’s lips and his head tossed back and forth on the pillow. Hoss dipped a cloth in the basin of water and quickly dabbed Joe’s forehead with it.

“Easy, Joe, you’ll be all right,” he soothed.

Joe calmed somewhat but his breathing was still labored. Hoss sighed in relief and dropped into a chair, running a hand over his face. Anxiously, he looked out the window.

Get back soon, Pa,’ he pleaded. ‘I don’t know how much longer Joe can last.’

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben, Adam, and Doctor Trey)

“How much further is the town, Doctor?” Ben asked, already anxious to get back to his younger sons.

“Not too much further, Mr. Cartwright,” came the reply. “Don’t worry, as soon as we get your son situated at my office, you can ride back to your sons.”

Ben frowned.

“Aren’t you coming with me?” he asked. “Joseph still needs a doctor.”

“To be honest, Mr. Cartwright, there isn’t a whole lot I can do for your son at the moment,” Doctor Trey replied, solemnly. “His fever was fluctuating so much, I doubt any of my medicines would work.”

Ben jerked his head over to look at his companion.

“Doctor, what are you saying?” he asked, his face loosing all color.

“I’m saying that if your son’s fever continues at it’s normal pace, I might be able to cure it, but the way it keeps going up and down, it’s just too hard to tell if the medicine is working or not.”

“Are-Are you saying Joe might-”

“All I’m saying, Mr. Cartwright, is that is a very likely possibility,” Doctor Trey answered before looking ahead again.

Ben looked back for a brief second and sighed. It was going to be a long trip.

________________________________________________________________________

(Hoss and Joe)

“Easy, little brother,” Hoss said. “Pa’ll be here soon, doncha worry.”

Joe opened his feverish eyes a little and whispered, “H-Hoss? Where’s P-Pa?”

Hoss sighed at the same question again. A delirious Joe was not fun and it pained him to have to answer the same questions over an over again.

“Pa’ll be back soon, little buddy,” Hoss assured him. “You just get some sleep now.”

Joe nodded and closed his feverish eyes slowly, gratefully accepting sleep as it overtook him. Hoss sat down again in his chair and ran a hand over his face in exasperation. He hoped Ben was having better luck than he was. Joe’s mumbling snapped Hoss out of his thoughts and, just as quickly, Joe began thrashing around, his cries echoing around the room like a fly. Hoss placed a gentle hand on Joe’s chest to prevent him from rising off the bed.

“No! No, stop! Don’t-don’t shoot! No!” Joe’s cries came one right after the other each becoming more urgent than the first.

Hoss shook Joe’s shoulders, desperately trying to get him to wake up but having no success. Eventually, Hoss gave up and sat back down in his chair, his body tensing every time Joe cried out. It’s wasn’t much longer before he woke up and sighed in relief at seeing Joe sleeping on the bed, a pained expression on his face.

“Joe, what is it?” Hoss asked, anxiously.

Joe’s eyes slowly opened as he replied in a monotone voice.

“They’re gone,” he said. “They’re all gone.”

Hoss paled slightly. They were back at square one again.

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben, Adam, and Doctor Trey)

“Adam, I need you to just relax on this table,” Doctor Trey ordered.

Adam did as he was told, wincing as Ben propped his leg up on the table. Doctor Trey immediately started his work, handing Ben a cloth to stick in Adam’s mouth.

“Adam, I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “This is going to hurt.”

The cloth quickly dropped out of Adam’s mouth as he screamed from the doctor placing his bones back. Mercifully, he passed out, leaving Doctor Trey to work on his leg easier than if he were awake. A few hours passed as Ben sat out in the other room, anxiously waiting for news of Adam’s condition. As he sat, his thoughts drifted to Joe and Hoss.

Ben swallowed the lump in his throat.

Joe.

Was he even still alive? Was Joe still sick? And how long would it take him to get back to the shack in order to find out? Ben sighed and continued in his thoughts until the back door opened and Doctor Trey entered, wiping his hands on a towel and breathing a sigh of relief.

“I’ve managed to re-set the bone, sir, but the healing process is going to take some time,” he announced.

Ben nodded in understanding and made to enter the backroom when Doctor Trey grabbed his arm.

“Mr. Cartwright, I know you’re in a hurry to get back to your other son, so make your visit brief,” he stated. “The sooner we get Joe back here, the better.”

“But . . . You said,” Ben started but the doctor cut him off.

“Forget what I said, sir, we need to get that boy in here as soon as possible!”

________________________________________________________________________

(Hoss and Joe)

“Come on, Joe, snap out of it!” Hoss pleaded. “Drake’s dead and we’re all alive, little brother.”

Joe’s fever had risen in the past few minutes, causing Hoss’ worry to grow. According to Doctor Trey, Joe should’ve been getting better, not worse. Hoss looked over at the bed and blinked in surprise at the sight of Joe looking back at him. The younger man’s eyes were opened wide, fever still evident in them.

“Joe?” Hoss tried again.

At Hoss’ voice, Joe bolted out of bed and headed to the door. At first, Hoss was too stunned to move, but he quickly snapped out of and managed to catch up to the escapee before he could reach the front door. Hoss grabbed him and hoisted him into his arms, ignoring his struggles and protests.

Eventually, Joe stopped struggling and allowed Hoss to place him back in bed. Joe’s cheeks were stained with tears and he turned his head away from Hoss in shame.

“Why are you haunting me, Hoss?” came his soft whisper. “Why?”

Understanding reached Hoss’ features and he placed a hand on Joe’s shoulder, gently.

“Joe, I ain’t no ghost,” he stated. “Me, Adam, and Pa are all safe and alive. Drake’s dead and we’re working on finding a way to get you to the nearest town.”

Joe’s tears gradually resided as he listened to Hoss’ words, daring to believe that they might be true. His eyes wandered around the room.

“Where are Adam and Pa?” he asked, frowning.

Hoss sighed in relief. Joe was starting to make better sense.

“Pa and the doc had to take Adam into town,” he explained. “You see, when he was trying to get the bags of money out of the well, Adam had the bags fall on top of him and you know how heavy they can be. He busted his leg up so the doc thought it’d be better if they took him to his office.”

Joe nodded.

“Well, why didn’t they take me too?” he asked, curiously.

“You were burning up with fever so the doc didn’t wanna take a chance on you getting any worse out on the trail,” Hoss answered. “I sure am glad you’re feeling better though, short shanks.”

Joe smiled at the old nickname and settled his head back against his pillow. Hoss was grinning widely. The worst was over.

________________________________________________________________________

(Ben)

Ben started out as soon as he was assured that Adam would be well taken care of. Doctor Trey had splinted the leg and given Adam medicine for the pain. Ben urged Buck onward, anxiously wanting to get back to his sons. After several hours, the shack came into view and Ben breathed a sigh of relief. Before Buck even came to a halt, Ben was dismounting and rushing inside, anxious to see Joe and Hoss.

“Joe? Hoss?” he called out.

“In here, Pa!” Hoss’ voice came from the bedroom.

Ben hurried in and breathed a sigh of relief. Joe was sitting up in bed, talking with Hoss, his eyes straying to the door when Ben came in. Hoss’ face widened into a grin as he stood to greet his father. Joe smiled at Ben, reassuring him without words that he was okay.

“How do you feel, son?” Ben asked, stepping over to his bedside.

“I’m fine, Pa,” he replied. “A little weak, but I’ll be okay. How’s Adam?”

Ben gave Hoss a confused look.

“I told him everything, Pa,” Hoss said, smiling. “He knows that Drake’s dead and Adam’s in town.”

Ben nodded and turned back to Joe.

“That reminds me, Doctor Trey said we could move you to town,” he stated. “He wants to look you over at his office before we take you home.”

Joe nodded in understanding and looked over at Hoss.

“Hey, Hoss, could you help me out of bed?” he asked.

Immediately, his older brother was at his side, offering his support to the youngest Cartwright as the three of them made their way outside and to the horses.

When they reached town, Doctor Trey treated Joe, announcing that the fever was almost completely gone, but he’d still need rest and plenty of fluids in him to make a full recovery. Ben and Hoss promised to make him obey the instructions.

“And what about Adam, Doctor?” Ben asked.

“He’ll be fine, Mr. Cartwright,” Doctor Trey assured him. “He won’t be able to walk on that leg for another good three weeks, but be sure to have your doctor in Virginia City look at it when you get back there.”

Ben gratefully shook the man’s hand and helped Hoss get Joe and Adam in the borrowed buckboard.

________________________________________________________________________

(Back at the Ponderosa, A Couple Weeks Later . . . )

Screams shook the house late one night, causing Ben to fall out of bed, startled. Quickly, he jumped up and threw on his robe. The cries were coming from Joe’s room. Adam and Hoss met him out in the hall, Adam slightly limping. All three men headed to Joe’s room. Opening the door found Joe tossing and turning in bed, crying out for it to stop. Whatever ‘it’ was, the older Cartwrights had a pretty good idea. For the past couple of days, Joe had been having nightmares, usually about Drake killing Adam and Hoss. Whenever it came, he could be heard all the way out in the barn. Gradually, Ben found out how to calm his youngest son, so it was usually him who entered Joe’s room.

But this time was different. Joe’s cries didn’t make it sound like one of his normal nightmares. No, this one seemed worse and that scared them more than anything else.

“Joe, easy, Joe, it’s me, it’s Pa,” Ben soothed him, gathering him into his arms. “You’re safe, boy, you’re safe.”

Adam and Hoss stayed by the door, watching the scene before them, but still staying in the room, just in case they were needed. When Joe had nightmares of them being killed, Ben would often have to show Joe his two brothers to convince him they were still alive. Joe calmed slightly at Ben’s voice. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he clung to his father, the memory of the nightmare still fresh in his mind. Ben stroked Joe’s back soothingly as he held him in his arms.

“It seemed so real, Pa,” Joe whispered after he had calmed down some.

“I know, Joe, I know, but it was just a dream,” Ben soothed. “None of it was real.”

Joe nodded into Ben’s shoulder. Ben exchanged glances with Adam and Hoss and managed a weak smile. As long as they continued on being there for the youngest member of their family, they could get past this and, hopefully and eventually, get back to the way things were.

________________________________________________________________________

Sheriff Roy Coffee and a few of his deputies recovered the money stolen from the bank out of the well and retrieved Drake’s body to bury. Adam’s leg recovered under the watchful eye of Doctor Martin. Joe eventually was able to move past his nightmares and pretty soon he was no longer waking the whole house up at hours of the morning. Even though everything seemed at peace, no one would ever be able to forget that day, no matter how hard they tried.

 

 

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

 

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Author: No1butjoe

I've been writing fanfiction since I was ten. Bonanza was my very first step towards it and has been my inspiration ever since.

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