Summary: Ben is troubled by a recurring dream that almost comes true.
Rated: G (4,700 words)
The Awakening Dream
Closing the ledger on the desk before him. Ben Cartwright rubbed his now closed tired eyes with his fingertips. It had been a harsh winter and an even harder spring. There had been too much snow this season causing a loss of countless head of cattle and severe damage to line shacks, bridges and fencing. With all the snow melt, the creeks and rivers were running over their banks and the roads were deep in mud.
The patriarch of the Cartwright family had spent the majority of the evening, figuring and re-figuring the Ponderosa ranch’s finances. No matter which way he tried to adjust the ledgers, the ranch would just not be making a profit this year. There had been too many losses without any way to recoup. The best that he could do to keep from dipping into the reserves and thereby keep the ranch in the black; was to limit the timber operation to supporting the rebuilding of the fences, line shacks and bridges. All remaining funding would then be diverted to building back up the stock.
Ben’s head jerked up at the sound of the Grandfather clock chiming 12. The hour was late and he would have a very early morning. Stretching he rose from the leather chair and groaned when his aching back protested. Ben snorted at the thought that he was getting old while rubbing the protesting muscles before heading towards the stairs.
As he reached the upper landing, Ben glanced down the hallway at the closed doors of his sleeping sons. This past year had been hard on them as well. Hoss and Joe had spent long exhausting days trying to extricate the remaining cattle and drive them to better somewhat drier pastures. While Adam had been out surveying the damage and working to repair what could be salvaged.
Ben was concerned not only about the ranch, but also about his boys. His youngest, Little Joe, had lost the light-footed lilt to his step and always seemed to be dragging lately. His middle son, Hoss, had lost his cheerful happiness and the expression he now habitually wore was closer to a frown. But his oldest, Adam, had him the most worried, Adam was always the quiet one but was even more so lately. Ben had also noticed that Adam had developed a slight cough and a general washed out look to his complexion. Adam hadn’t voiced any complaint, but then again, Ben really didn’t expect he would.
Though his sons were well past the age of being tucked in, Ben still couldn’t resist the fatherly need to make sure all were sleeping soundly. He turned first to his youngest son’s room, where he found Little Joe sprawled out haphazardly upon his bed with coverlet upon the floor. Walking silently, Ben retrieved the bedspread from the floor and covered his curly-haired son. After leaving Joe’s room, he made his way to the room next door and found Hoss loudly sawing logs. But he was too tired himself to bother with trying to roll his rather large son onto his side to reduce the snoring. Ben shook his head in mild amusement before closing the door to the room to stifle some of the sound. He headed across the hall to his last stop before his own bed this night, Adam’s room. Ben knew his oldest could be a light sleeper, but decades of practice had allowed him to hone his craft. Silently, Ben made his way to the head of Adam’s bed and looked down into his son’s sleeping face.
Even in the pale moonlight, Ben could see Adam’s wan face. His son seemed so still and quiet lying there on his back with the bedcovers drawn up to mid-chest. Ben found himself unable to leave, something didn’t seem quite right. Reaching out, he placed a tentative hand upon Adam’s chest. His heart skipped a beat when he felt nothing but the distinct chilling cold of unfeeling skin. Now no longer concerned if he woke his firstborn, Ben frantically moved his hand to cover Adam’s heart. Again there was nothing, no beat of the heart, no rise or fall of the chest in peaceful slumber, no life in the young man’s body. In fear, Ben grabbed Adam’s shoulders and shook him soundly.
Deafening silence answered his plea. In abject terror, Ben continued in a concerted effort to shake his son’s unresponsive limp shoulders, while calling out his name repetitively as tears began to stream down his cheeks.
“Pa, Pa. It’s alright, Pa. Please wake up.” Came a concerned and reassuring voice from the darkness.
Hearing the comforting tone of a much beloved deep baritone voice, Ben hastily opened his eyes. He looked up and saw the deeply distressed and loving face of his eldest child. Without conscious thought, Ben threw his arms around his son and drew him warmly to his chest.
Not usually giving into such warm displays, Adam allowed his father to embrace him. He waited while his father stroked his hair and whispered his name over and over again. Once feeling his father was calmer and more rational, Adam disengaged himself to quietly address his father.
“Would you care to talk about it?”
Adam was not surprised when his father’s tearful face shook a silent ‘No’. His father had been waking in the middle of the night for the last three days, but would never explain why. Nodding in acceptance and not wanting to force the issue, Adam departed his father’s room heading back for his own warm bed. He wandered by the rooms of his brothers, and wondered why his father’s nightmares never seemed to disturb either one of them.
Entering his own room, Adam raised his hand to his neck and futilely attempted to rub out the kink he found there. He glanced down at his bed, studying the object hopefully before discarding his robe, then crawled back between the bedcovers. Raising his fist, he tried in vain to punch his pillow into a more comfortable position. Adam rolled over onto his other side and sighed in frustration when sleep didn’t come immediately. He knew he would be getting no more sleep this night.
Cold, miserable and in desperate want of a hot meal, Adam Cartwright opened the large wooden doorway to the Ponderosa ranch house. He was not amused to find his baby brother, jumping from one piece of furniture to another, dancing about the large main room with an epee in his hand. Adam wondered if his sixteen-year-old brother would ever grow up. He stopped near the entrance to remove his gloves before tossing them onto the sideboard at the door, and tried to stifle the small annoying cough that had been plaguing him lately.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than play with that thing?” Adam resented his baby brother’s tendency to put play ahead of work. He removed his tan coat and hung it on the hook behind the door, then unbuckled his gun belt and placed it beside his gloves.
“No, as a matter of fact I don’t.” Waving the French dueling sword in a challenging manner towards his oldest brother’s direction, Joe used the best snottyish tone he could muster.
“Well, then I’ll find something for you.” Crossing his arms high across his chest, Adam sneered as he retorted in a superior tone of voice.
“I think not!” Now moving the epee in a circling motion, Little Joe taunted back. He neared his bossy older brother in a mocking jest of Adam’s authority.
Joe was completely caught off guard when a strong hand grasped his left wrist roughly drawing his body closer. It resulted in his loss of grip upon the weapon’s hilt, causing it to clatter to the floor harmlessly. He then found his body flying backward towards the stairs by a solid backhanded slap to the side of his face. Stunned more than hurt, Little Joe found himself lying on the cold dark hardwood floor looking up at the smug face of his oldest brother. Now enraged, Joe felt his blood begin to boil, jumping to his feet Little Joe charged toward Adam with his fists clenched and raised before him.
Anticipating his baby brother’s advance Adam waited until Joe was again within arms reach. Easily, he warded off Joe’s left hook with his right forearm. Using his left hand, Adam slapped the young man across the face to send him sprawling across the settee, where he landed face first upon the rug, which laid upon the floor between the low table and the couch.
In abject fury, Little Joe Cartwright came off the floor to pounce upon his older brother. Letting his fists fly haphazardly, he smashed into Adam’s left jaw and landed two punches to his oldest brother’s midsection.
Losing all patience and tolerance with his disrespectful kid brother, Adam again backhanded the youth. Harder this time, hoping that the boy would stay down. Much to his chagrin, Joe didn’t stay on the floor for long. Now Adam found himself struggling to hold Joe’s hands at bay with Joe sitting on top of him.
As he rounded the corner from the kitchen at the sound of the commotion, Hoss entered the dining room and slammed the plate carrying his pre-supper snack down upon the table. He was not happy to find his brothers engaged in uncivilized warfare in the main room. He charged forward to separate the two from their angry embrace. Reaching down, he easily hefted Joe off of Adam, and restrained his little brother by his shirt collar.
“Settle down, ya hear.” Hoss gave Joe a sharp shake, which went virtually unnoticed. Tired of Joe’s continued persistent petulance. With one hand, Hoss easily tossed Joe backward into their father’s well-padded burgundy leather chair. Both the chair and its new occupant toppled over backwards to land on the dining room floor. With one combatant down, Hoss turned his attention to the other when Adam, now on his feet, charged forward.
“I said, I’ve had enough of this tomfoolery.” Hoss warned grabbing Adam’s upper arms to hold his progression to a standstill.
Seeing one last opportunity with Adam now restrained by Hoss, Joe jumped to his feet. He leapt onto his large brother’s back and took a swing at Adam’s exposed chin.
With his back to his younger brother, Hoss was caught unaware by Little Joe’s advance. He lost his footing and began to fall forward into Adam, who was already toppling backward by the force of his little brother’s blow.
All three Cartwright sons fell to the floor in a heap, with Adam on the bottom; Hoss sandwiched in the middle and Joe on top. Adam’s head connected soundly with the hard stone of the fireplace hearth, and he momentarily saw a kaleidoscope of colors followed by bright stars before losing consciousness.
“Joe, get off of me!” Hoss ordered trying to shrug his younger brother from his back, while trying to push himself up from the floor and off from his older brother’s prone form. He instantly knew something was terribly amiss when he didn’t hear Adam’s loud angry voice raised in protest.
Joe quickly complied with his brother’s urgent command and stood helplessly nearby while Hoss bent over their older brother. The sight of Adam’s motionless body lying on the hard floor with his head still resting against the rock of the fireplace broke the angry spell, replacing it with a sense of panic.
“Adam, Adam can ya hear me?” Pleadingly, Hoss gently patted a big meaty hand to the side of Adam’s face. He released a sigh of relief when he received a low moaning in response.
Carefully Adam opened his eyes, then shut them abruptly as he vainly attempted to stop the spinning of the room. Groaning once more, he raised his right hand to the back of his head. He opened his eyes then examined his hand for any evidence of blood, and was relieved when he found none. No blood, no tears, Adam recalled the old adage, but with the way his head hurt right now, he sure wanted to shed a few drops.
“Ya alright Adam?” Hoss was still worried by his brother’s pale complexion and quite painful actions. He was not very happy when Adam slapped his hand away, not allowing him to inspect the injury for himself.
Adam nodded his response to Hoss’s inquiry, and almost immediately regretted the action as his stomach started to rebel.
“Just give me a minute.” Adam mumbled, again reaching to the back of his head to lightly rub the throbbing lump.
All three sons’ attention was drawn to the front of the house at the sound of an approaching horse. Their father was home.
“Joe, get that furniture straightened up.” Hoss hurriedly commanded, indicating the disarray that was now the main room.
Joe wasted no time in doing his brother’s bidding. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched while Hoss helped Adam to his feet. He felt a sinking feeling of impending doom when he noticed Adam trying to shake his head and weakly stand upright, heavily leaning upon Hoss’s forearm.
Hoss placed Adam into the blue velvet chair and handed him a book before pulling it closer to the fireplace. He then headed for the dining room to retrieve his hastily discarded sandwich. Joe managed to get the furniture back into their usual places, and leapt over the back of the settee to land in a semi-reclining position as the front door opened.
“Hi Pa!” An overly enthusiastic greeting from his sons met the tired man when he entered his house. Ben Cartwright turned a wary eye towards the main room; something was definitely up with those three. Ben paused just long enough to shed his coat, gloves and gun belt, before he purposefully strode into the main room. He eyed each one of his sons in turn, looking for clues.
Hoss was standing near the dining room table at the edge of the main room. His mouth partially full with a meaty sandwich clasped in one hand and a china plate in the other. Adam had one hand to the side of his head trying to conceal the fact that he seemed to be massaging an ache, while holding a closed book across his lap with the other. Little Joe looked up from where he sat with his feet propped up on the settee, trying desperately in his father’s opinion to look innocent.
“Get your feet off the furniture Joseph.” Ben instructed, sitting down in his favorite chair to rest his weary body. Once more he studied his oldest son who sat across from him. Even with Adam’s downcast face, Ben could clearly see his normally meticulous son’s ruffled hair and a slight discoloration upon his jaw. Glancing to his right, he found Joe’s hair equally unkempt and the slight reddish outline of a hand on the boy’s cheek. It was obvious that Joe and Adam had gotten into a row about something.
“So Adam, is there anything you think I need to know about?” Ben addressed his oldest, feeling he’d get to the heart of the matter quickly. Ben fought the urge to chuckle when he heard Hoss slightly choke on his food behind him.
Adam glanced up to the dark piercing eyes of his father. His eyes traveled further upward to Hoss’s bright fearful ones, who was still trying to recover from his mis-swallowed bite of sandwich. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his baby brother’s suddenly white face and pleading look. Adam knew his father expected the truth, he also knew his father didn’t really care for his sons’ brawling. Not wanting to endure his father’s lecture over not being able to maturely deal with his baby brother and feeling more than a little ashamed over his own behavior and subsequent failure to be able to deal with the rambunctious youth. Adam gave Little Joe a small wink with his left eye, before returning an equally penetrating stare back to his father’s face before responding.
“No sir, there isn’t anything that you need to know about.”
“Good.” Ben accepted his son’s answer, then turned his attention to warming himself by the fire. He felt that whatever had happened between his sons was now settled, and wouldn’t pursue the matter further. Ben Cartwright had no awareness of the passage of time and was brought out of his musing over timber, cattle and battling sons by Hop Sing’s cheerful announcement.
Ben watched while Hoss and Joe raced for the table. He chuckled when Hoss fairly picked his brother up and set him out of the way. As always, Hoss was the first to the dinner table. Joe finished a respectable second; he third and bringing up the rear and moving slowly was his oldest son Adam.
Ben looked up from his nearly finished dinner plate and vaguely paid attention to the idle chatter between his younger sons. He noticed that Hoss was already finishing his second helping and Little Joe was serving himself more roast beef. He looked across the table and observed Adam pushing his food around the plate with his fork.
“Ain’t that so Pa?”
“Hum, huh?” Ben tried to return his attention back to Hoss’s question and realized he didn’t even know what the topic of conversation was. Deciding there was a more pressing issue at hand; Ben interrupted his middle son’s explanation. “Just a minute Hoss, Adam are you feeling alright son?”
Adam glanced up from the mashed potatoes and gravy on his plate. He was hoping to keep the small amount that he’d already consumed in his stomach. His face flushed when he realized he had three sets of eyes upon him. Not wanting to lie, Adam answered his father’s inquiry truthfully.
“I’ve got a bit of a headache, Pa. That’s all.”
Ben watched, as the oriental cook seemed to appear from nowhere with glass in hand. He could tell by the cloudy look of the water, that Hop Sing had already mixed in a powder for Adam’s headache.
Gratefully Adam accepted the glass that was proffered and downed its contents. He waited a few seconds before speaking. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to be excused so I can go and lie down.”
Ben nodded his acceptance and studied Adam’s retreating form as he slowly made his way up to his room. He then returned his attention to his meal and his other sons.
Yawning broadly, Ben stretched and rubbed at the aching muscles in his lower back. He glanced up at the chiming of the clock, and realized it was well past time for him to be in bed. He rubbed his tired eyes briefly before closing the payroll ledger before him. After rising from his chair behind the broad desk, he made his way to the stairs.
As he reached the second floor landing, a cold chill ran down his spine causing him to shutter. He had the distinct feeling of doing this before. In some strange way, he was certain he’d experienced this night before, and tried in vain to shake the feeling of dread produced by this waking nightmare. Deciding the only way to allay his fears was to confront them; Ben purposely strode down the hall to Adam’s room.
Momentarily hesitant, Ben felt almost foolish for giving into what he considered a childish response to some recurring nightmare. He’d almost changed his mind to check on his son, until an insistent nagging fear re-emerged. He decided it wouldn’t hurt anything if he went to look in on Adam and silently entered the room.
As quietly as he could, Ben walked over to the side of Adam’s bed. He looked down at the peacefully sleeping form. Satisfied that all was well, he turned to exit Adam’s room and accidentally knocked a book off of the bedside table, which fell heavily to the polished hardwood floor. He bent down to quickly retrieve the book before turning back to apologize for waking his son.
His heart lurched when he realized that the noise had not awakened this normally light sleeper. Now frightened, Ben reached out a hand to grab the young man’s shoulder. Shakily, Ben shook the strong muscular shoulder and called out his son’s name.
“Adam,” Ben felt his own heart stop in his chest when he received no response.
Frantic, Ben again shook Adam’s shoulder calling his name out loudly. No longer caring if he woke the whole household.
Joe sleepily awoke to the sound of his father’s fearful voice calling out his oldest brother’s name. Alarmed, he ran to Adam’s room where he found his father desperately trying to rouse his older brother.
“Pa?” Joe stood open mouthed at the scene before him.
Ben spared his youngest the briefest of glances before commanding.
“Joe ride to town for the doctor.”
Joe rushed to do his father’s bidding and collided with his big brother in Adam’s doorway. He stopped and looked into the frightened large blue eyes of Hoss, which caused him to move even faster. Something was wrong, horribly wrong.
Ben glanced up from the ledgers to his son who prowled the main room like a caged animal. He smiled in satisfaction realizing that his oldest was getting his just desserts by being cooped up indoors when he wanted to be outdoors. He was also happy that his son was still here with them. It had been a long three days while Adam first fought to regain consciousness after fracturing his skull in his brawl with Little Joe. But it had been an even longer week while everyone endured Adam’s convalescence.
“Leave that alone young man.” Warning his son, Ben rose from his desk to stop Adam’s tugging at the bandage that still adorned his head.
“But it’s annoying.” Adam almost whined in response. He wished the doctor would just allow him to remove the wrapping. He looked toward his father and could see he would get no sympathy from that camp.
“Good, then let that be a lesson to you.” Wagging his index finger towards Adam, Ben mockingly scolded before softening his tone. “Would you care for some coffee?”
Adam nodded, before reaching up to scratch at some irritating little itch behind his ear.
“Stop that!” Ben barked walking past Adam. He chuckled to himself when he saw Adam jump slightly, and his hand rapidly descended in surprise. Hearing the unlatching of the door handle, Ben looked over to the door as Hoss and Joe entered. He could tell that his younger sons could do with a cup of coffee as well.
When he re-entered the room minutes later, Ben’s spirits lifted hearing the laughter of his sons while they casually teased and joked with one another. After setting the tray replete with coffeepot, cups and a plate of fresh sugar cookies down on the low table in the main room, Ben settled himself into his chair to simply enjoy his sons’ company.
“Joe, you’ll never be big enough to take me on.” Adam taunted glibly. He shook his head at the thought of Joe ever getting the best of him.
“Oh yeah, just try me.” In a slightly teasing tone, Joe fired back not really caring for Adam’s mocking statement.
Ben’s angry shout brought about dead silence to the room as three sets of eyes turned to him in surprise.
“Have you learned nothing?” Ben slammed his cup down upon the low table, then rose to his feet before storming back over to his desk in the room alcove.
Speechless, Adam watched his father’s unexpected outburst. Looking back, he found the helpless and bewildered stares of his younger siblings. Shrugging his shoulders, Adam stood slowly, then walked over to stand next to the corner of the desk where his father now sat.
Ben could hear the approach of his son, but he made no attempt to face him. He was angry, too angry to deal rationally with his sons right now. Ben Cartwright fought to contain the burgeoning fury that was growing inside of him. He glanced briefly to the worried and fearful expressions of his younger sons. Throughout this ordeal, Ben had been worried for his oldest son, but at the same time, he’d been furious with him. He’d also been angry with Adam’s brothers for not confiding in him. Though his sons should be old enough to handle their own problems by now, they still had no right to conceal Adam’s injury from him. The seriousness of which, Adam had hid from all of them. Purposefully placing his back to his sons, Ben would prefer to deal with them later.
Adam approached his father and clearly recognized his stiff posture. His father was very upset about something, but Adam was clueless as to what it could be. Adam’s first instinct was to try and talk to his father about it later, but knew it would only put off the inevitable. He reached out and put a tentative hand upon the older man’s shoulder.
“Pa?” Adam jumped back when his father turned abruptly to face him.
“Don’t Adam, don’t try to apologize or explain until you’ve almost experienced one of your darkest nightmares come true. Then watch as you and your brothers mock the whole situation, as though it was all some sick joke.” Ben spat out the words with such vehemence it caused Adam to withdraw a step backward. Adam couldn’t recall a single instance of his father being so enraged with him.
Hoss stood leaning with one hand against the rock of the fireplace. His gaze first studied the grain on the low table before him; then he raised his eyes to meet Little Joe’s fearful green hazel ones. He pursed his lips in consternation, he knew his father was angry, very angry and he had every right to be. Giving Joe a small smile, he nodded his head slightly trying to reassure him that everything would be fine.
Ben took a deep breath, and fought to control the strong emotions welling inside of him before addressing his first born son.
“Know this, if you know nothing else in this world. You are the reasons I live. This is for you.” Ben made a sweeping gesture of his hand toward the map on the wall. “Without you three, my life would have been for naught. Please don’t ever take your lives for granted again.”
Feeling a presence on either side of him, Adam looked to his left and found his younger brother Hoss standing stoically beside him. To his right, stood his littlest brother Joe, with tears shining in his eyes. Finding comfort in the support of his brothers, Adam found the courage to speak to his father.
“We won’t Pa, we promise.”
Ben nodded his acceptance of his son’s word, he could feel some of his anger abate after clearing the air. Feeling more at ease, he addressed his younger sons.
“You,” he pointed his right index finger toward Hoss then to Joe, “back to work.” Ben directed in his best serious all business tone.
Nodding their heads and grinning, they knew that they had their father’s forgiveness. Hoss and Little Joe turned for the door.
“You,” changing the object of his focus, Ben moved his finger to point at his oldest, “bed.” Ben gave Adam an ominous warning glance when Adam’s mouth opened to speak, which pre-empted any further debate or argument from his son.
Adam could see that his father wouldn’t be open to any discussion, so he shrugged his shoulders before heading for the stairs, amid the chuckles from his younger siblings.
Ben turned his dark warning glare towards his younger sons and chuckled when Little Joe, in his newfound eagerness to depart, ran into Hoss’s broad back. Sighing, he once again felt at peace with the world. Ben squared his shoulders before heading back to his desk and the awaiting ranch paperwork, muttering under his breath as he retook his seat,
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