Summary: Four vignettes in which the each Cartwright decides to share a hidden truth with the others. Written for a challenge – Campfire Confessions on Bonanza Trailriders.
Rating – K, WC – 823
Adam slowly lowered his aching body to the ground, cradling his left arm tight against his chest. As a groan escaped his clenched lips he leaned back against his saddle, closed his eyes, and willed everything inside of him to stop hurting. Before he could drift off, he heard a familiar voice.
“Uh, Adam? Can I talk to ya? Adam?”
Adam opened his eyes and waited. Ben and Joe watched from where they sat by the fire.
Hoss, knelt by his brother, twisting his hat in his big hands. His blue eyes were riddled with guilt.
“I’m real sorry you got hurt. It’s all my fault. I knew better than to let that horse into the remuda. He just weren’t ready to be around them cows. It’s all my fault….”
“No…Hoss. I-I chose him. My…fault.” Adam’s eyes fell closed.
Hoss sighed and dragged his bedroll over beside his brother’s. He wasn’t going to leave him until they could talk it out.
Joe sat by the fire, cleaning and polishing his rifle. Yeah, it was his, the one he got from Adam as collateral for the horse race. Oh it was a mighty fine rifle, easy to sight and it shot straight and true. Older brother sure knew how to pick ‘em.
Hearing tense whispers, Joe looked up to see Adam talking to Hoss, well more like Hoss lecturing Adam. Ever since the race, it appeared that Adam had forgiven Hoss for his part in the fiasco, but not him. Adam gave Hoss some choice words then strode to the fire, ignoring Joe. Pa appeared out of nowhere with a bucket of water. Joe didn’t miss his stern look.
He rubbed down the rifle once more and, deciding it wasn’t worth the price, held it out to Adam.
His brother flicked his eyes over the rifle then at Joe, raising one dark brow.
“I got carried away with all the betting and collateral stuff. I shouldn’t have asked for the rifle. It needs to go back to its rightful owner, and… well, I need my brother back.
Adam quietly took the rifle and stepped over to his bedroll to lay it down. Joe dropped his head as Hoss and Ben shared nervous looks.
Adam returned to the campfire, dropping down on a log, and changed his frown to a lopsided grin. “Guess I need my little brother back, too.”
Adam draped his arms over his knees as he sat by the fire. Ben sat across from him after pouring a cup of coffee. It had been a rough couple of days of roundup but Ben knew that wasn’t what was bothering his son.
“Want to talk about it?”
“What’s there to say?”
“I expect Margarita and Don Luis are at his home by now.”
“She was quite a woman; full of life and very lovely.”
“Yes she was. Okay, I’ll say it and then that’s the end of it. Yes, I was developing feelings for her. Despite the um…difficulties we encountered, she was…special. If Don Luis hadn’t been in the picture, maybe we could have… Oh well, it’s in the past. I wish them both every happiness.”
“Mm-hmm. Want some coffee?”
Adam reached for the proffered cup.
The fire crackled and spit sparks into the black sky as father and son sat peacefully, sipping their coffee, with something stronger added.
With the campfire out, he mounted up. Turning toward home the rider reined in his Buckskin as the pinto bearing his youngest son approached. “Evenin’ son.”
Joe remained silent as the two riders headed down the road at a steady walk.
“You were at her grave again.”
The chill in his son’s voice told Ben all was not yet forgiven. Ben tugged on Buck’s reins. “Joe, look at me, please.” Ben waited until he could see his son’s green eyes. “I know you and Julia had something special, and that it still hurts you that she’s gone. I also know that you think I had no right to be so hard on you about getting involved with her, but, son, I had to do it. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I came down hard on you, did my best to keep you away from her, because…well…I knew what could happen if you became involved with her, son.”
Joe’s eyes flashed. “No Pa, you didn’t know. You could never know what could have been.”
“You’re wrong, Joe.” Ben fixed his son with his black eyes, his strong voice beginning to waiver. “I do know.” Now almost a whisper, “I… do… know.”
Joe stared blankly at his father until the meaning behind those three words finally sank in. “No!!” He kicked Cochise into a frantic run.
Ben held Buck back until his son disappeared over the ridge, then he nudged his horse into a slow, maudlin walk toward home.
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