Summary: After Joe takes the sheriff position in Rubicon, Adam decides to head up there to knock some sense into him. But Ben isn’t about to let that happen. A WHIB/WHN for the episode “The Tin Badge” with a little bit if “The Honor of Cochise” thrown in for good measure.
Word Count: 1,400
That Changes Everything
by Annie K Cowgirl
“And just where do you think you’re going?” The baritone voice startled me so badly that I nearly dropped the saddle I was carrying. Glancing over my shoulder, I spied the familiar figure of my father standing in the barn doorway, his arms akimbo.
“Rubicon,” I replied, settling the tack onto Sport’s back,” I’m going to talk to Joe. Somebody’s got to try and knock some sense into that stubborn head of his, might as well be me.” Ducking down, I tied the cinch, all the while knowing I’d have to tighten it again later; the sorrel gelding had a nasty habit of filling his belly with excess air which prevented me from getting the girth snug enough on the first try.
Pa sighed. “That wouldn’t be wise. Joe’s man enough to make his own decisions, and I’d say he’s made his thoughts on the matter pretty clear.”
“Man enough?” Bitter laughter spilled from my lips. “He’s not a man. He’s a boy trying to play grown-up. This harebrained idea of his, it’s only going to get him hurt, or worse—killed. Well, I’m not going to stand by and let that happen. I’ll bring him back home, kicking and screaming if I have to.”
My fingers started fumbling with Sport’s cross ties, but a firm hand on my shoulder halted my movements. “Adam, Joseph is twenty years old; he’s not a boy…not anymore. He grew up when we weren’t looking.”
“But, Pa, he left me and Hoss to do all of the chores today while he went scampering over to Rubicon to visit that little—”
“—Because I asked him to. He took that new lumber contract you drew up to Harv Benson; I figured it was a bit more important than re-painting the barn with you and your brother. Now, whatever else he did or didn’t do afterwards is Joe’s business, and his alone.”
“Oh.” I scuffed the toe of my boot across the hay-strewn floor. “Even so, becoming a sheriff? Pa, he’s not ready to take on that much responsibility. What if something goes wrong? If there’s trouble—and whenever Joe’s involved, trouble’s never far away—he’ll end up right in the middle of it, we both know that. Don’t you want him to be safe?”
“Of course I want him to be safe; as a father, I want all of my sons to be safe. However, there comes a time when a man has to stand up for himself, make his own way. I may not agree with the decision your brother’s made, but he’s made it and neither you nor I have the right to prevent him from doing what he’s set out to do. If there’s trouble, he will have to deal with it according to the law.”
I gave him a shrewd look. “If I had made such a choice at his age, you would have hauled me back quicker than you can spell cat.”
He shook his head. “No, I wouldn’t have. Adam, you grew up so fast; what with us moving from place to place all of the time, you had to. When you were eight, you were as stalwart and reliable as someone twice that age. You earned my trust and I’m proud of the man you’ve become, but I will always regret your lost childhood. Come to think of it, out of all of you, Joe’s the only one whose had the luxury of being a child. And that’s the reason why he’s chosen to do this.”
My brow furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Because of the dangers on the prairie, you rarely had a chance to laugh and play with other children your own age. It was the same way with Hoss. But by the time Joe came along, we were firmly settled and the Ponderosa was well on its way to its current glory. Unlike you and Hoss, Joe’s only known the comfort of a stable home life. Because he got to be a child, he feels like he has to prove to us that he’s a man.
“Now, ever since he rode on his first cattle drive with us four years ago, I’ve thought of him as a man—a playful, sometimes irresponsible man, but a man nonetheless. The problem is, neither you nor your brother see him that way. You both still believe him to be that little boy who used to follow you around everywhere, asking you incessant questions.
“Taking this job, however wrong we may think it to be, is the first real chance he’s had to show you both that he’s an adult. More importantly, it’s a chance for him to show himself that he’s just as capable as his older brothers. When a boy proves that he can do a man’s job…well, that changes everything. He’s seen as a respected equal by the men around him. He’s able to do hard things, and that can be both empowering and, at the same time, terrifying; his choices can have major consequences.”
He took a breath, then smiled at me. “Do you remember a few months ago when we were surrounded by Cochise’s men and you got shot?”
“Not really,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. In truth, I recalled very little of that day. It had been hot, really hot, and Hoss had been grumbling about pa taking too long to fix up the stew Hop Sing had sent with us for our supper. Everything from that point until I woke up in an army tent three days later, was a complete blank. My lack of memory wasn’t surprising; by the time pa had returned with a doctor in tow the next morning, I’d lost a good deal of blood and infection had set in.
“No, I don’t suppose you do. Anyway, you got hit, and the next thing I knew, Joe was high tailing it through the brush to where you lay out in the open. He picked you up, and carried you back to camp amid a hail of bullets. It was a thing to see. Of course my heart was in my mouth the whole time, but I’m proud of what he did. You were in trouble and he didn’t even hesitate.”
I blinked, almost too shocked to comprehend what he had just told me.
Joe carried me? It was an impossible thought. My considerably smaller younger brother had just scooped me out of the dirt, and lugged me to safety, heedless of the danger to himself. I was no Hoss, but I wasn’t a light-weight either.
It was a bold action, and so very in character for Joe; it was rash…and brave. “Reckless,” I mumbled under my breath just loud enough for pa to hear, but I didn’t truly mean it.
“Not reckless,” he said. “You may not believe me, but Joe’s always looked up to you, respected you. He did it because he knew, if the roles were reversed, that you would have done the same for him. It’s the natural response of a man—a good man—to help someone in need. And someone he loved very much was in need.”
He stared at me a good long time, letting me process what he’d just said. Then he shook his head. “No, Adam. Joe has made his choice. There will be no changing his mind. There’s only one thing we can do: pray that he remembers he has a family who will come running if he asks for help.”
He squeezed my shoulder one more time before releasing it. “Now, un-tack your horse and come inside. I’m in the mood for a game of chess and I need a good opponent.”
He walked out of the barn, leaving me standing alone beside Sport.
I hesitated; I wanted to head out after Joe. I wanted to go to the innocent little boy who used to look up at me as if I had hung the moon, and protect him from all of the evils in the world. But pa was right. Joe was different; he was growing up. It was about time for me to notice and start treating him accordingly.
Five minutes later, I slid into the seat across the chess board from my father. “I’ll take white,” I said.
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.
Author Note: This was written for the Bonanza Boomer’s writing challenge “Bonanza Ballads #7”. I was given the artist Billy Currington and the song title “That Changes Everything”.