Summary: A bullet, a question, and the unconditional love of a brother.
Word Count: 978
Why? The word echoed in my mind as I stared at the figure laying on the bed in front of me. He was still, too still. As far back as I could recall, he’d never been still a moment in his life, not when he was a baby, not as a child, and certainly not as the young man he’d grown into. His boundless energy meant he was always on the move.
Oh what it is to be young, I mused, smiling softly, but the smile quickly faded as I eyed the blood stained bandages swathing his bare chest.
Why? The question came again and my hands curled into fists. There were so many possible answers, but none of them brought me any comfort. There would be no comfort for me, not now, not ever.
A muscle ticked in my jaw as I clenched my teeth.
Of all the low down, dirty, rotten…. I broke off that line of thinking. No good would come of it. Cal Barlow, the man who’d shot my brother, was dead, his soul burning in hellfire. Still, even if I could resurrect him only to kill him again and again, it would do nothing to ease the guilt churning in my belly.
Ultimately, this was my fault. I was the one who sacked Cal for drinking on the job. I was the one he had threatened to kill. I was the one he’d aimed his gun at.
But Joe was the one who got hurt.
My brave, foolish, stupidly loyal younger brother had seen the flash of sunlight off of Cal’s rifle barrel, where it stuck out from a window in the loft of the livery stable, and had pushed me out of the way just as the irate cowhand had fired. The slug had caught Joe high in the chest, whipping him around in a half circle before his knees buckled and he fell face down in the dust of Virginia City’s main street.
Hoss, who had been a couple of steps ahead of us, turned and shot in one fluid movement. His bullet had been true, and the body of Cal Barlow fell headfirst out of the window to land in a crumpled heap before the doors of the livery stable. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Everything after that happened in a blur. One minute we’d been in the street, and the next we were sitting in Paul Martin’s waiting room, praying for news on Joe’s condition. I vaguely remembered Roy Coffee showing up, trying to get our side of the story, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall a word I’d said to him.
Now I was sitting beside the cot in Paul’s office, gazing down at my baby brother.
“Don’t worry, Adam,” the doctor placed a friendly hand on my shoulder and squeezed it gently, “Joe’s young and strong, and the wound isn’t life threatening. He’ll pull through,” his words rang hollow in my ears even as the question bubbled up within me once more: why?
“Adam?” my head snapped up as the hoarse whisper dragged me out of a light doze. A pair of pain-filled, green eyes peered up at me, causing a flood of relief to fill my being.
“Hey, buddy,” I said as I reached over and brushed a few sweat-dampened curls from his forehead.
He blinked owlishly at me. “What happened?”
“You…you got shot, Joe. Don’t you remember?”
His brow furrowed for a moment, then he slowly nodded. “Yeah. Cal…he was gonna shoot you,” he murmured.
“If not for you, he would have,” I said. Suddenly, a mixture of emotions boiled over within me: anger, fear, self loathing. “Why?” the question slipped off of my tongue without my permission, “Why did you do it, Joe? You know, sometimes you’re so stupid! Were you trying to get yourself killed?” Unable to stay motionless a second longer, I stood up so fast the chair I’d been sitting on nearly tipped over. I stomped over toward the only window in the room and gripped the sill so hard that my knuckles turned white. “Why? Why did you push me out of the way? You could have died,” I said softly as the guilt threatened to overwhelm me.
“What sort of man would I be if I stood by and did nothing to save you?” his reply shook me to the core. Turning my head, I looked at him, tears filling my eyes. “You’re my brother, Adam, I’d do anything for you,” one corner of his mouth twitched upwards and he added, “Besides, you taught me to always help damsels in distress.”
A bark of laughter escaped my lips and I shook my head, wiping the tears from my cheeks with one hand. “Ass,” I muttered lovingly as I moved back over to his bedside.
“Takes one to know one,” he shot back and chuckled. His laugh quickly morphed into a groan of pain as the movement tugged at his wound.
“Easy there, Joe. You don’t want to go pulling out those nice stitches Doc Martin put into your shoulder now, do you?”
He started to make a face at me, only to have it turn into a jaw cracking yawn.
“Go back to sleep, buddy.”
After pulling the blanket up over his chest, I headed for the door.
“Adam?” I halted, fingers wrapped around the doorknob and glanced back at him. His expression was more serious than I’d ever seen before. “It’s not your fault, you know? It was my choice and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
My throat filled with emotion as some of the guilt lifted off of my shoulders. “Thanks, buddy. I’d do the same for you too.”
He gave me a lopsided grin. “I know you would, because that’s what brother’s do: watch each other’s backs.”
Tags: Adam, Joe, SJS, shooting, angst
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