Summary: While it’s become abundantly clear that some hurts never heal, a small bullet wound and a night trapped out in the rain reveal that the scars that stick around do so with a vengeance. Every time Adam tries to take a step toward healing, his mind forces him to take two steps back. This time around, Joe is there to have his back. A WHN for The Crucible.
Word Count: 2,561 Rating: G
The Scars Series
Scars that Never Fade
Scars that Shatter Trust
Scars that Distort Reality
Author’s note: This story is part of the Scars series, which takes place a year after the episode “The Crucible.” While it isn’t necessary to have read the first ones before reading this story, reading the first parts of the series might enhance the overall storyline a bit and make more sense of the following story. Enjoy!
Scars that Distort Reality
It took Joe shouting in his ear to pull Adam back to reality. As the thick sheets of rain continued to stuff his head with cotton, it was all too easy to zone out.
The gaping hole in his side wasn’t doing him any favors, either.
Biting back a grimace, Adam nodded, urging Sport forward and following his little brother toward the cave. How the kid had spotted it in the storm, he’d never know.
Maybe if you weren’t so distracted all the time, you would’ve seen it, too.
Somehow, the cave was just tall enough to fit their horses, and just deep enough not only to give them adequate shelter from the rain but to add a somewhat creepy feeling to the atmosphere.
Joe was at his side mere seconds after he dismounted. “You all right, Adam?”
His smirk fell short, he could just tell by its feel, and he nodded once more. “Fine, Joe.”
I’ll be just fine…
“You don’t look fine,” the kid shot back with a frown and it was all Adam could do to keep from rolling his eyes.
“All right, I’m not fine then. Help me sit down over there, will you?”
As Joe aided Adam in his descent against the wall, he chattered a bit, trying to fill the blaring silence.
Just breathe so you don’t scare him more than you already—
The hiss slipped out before he could bite half his tongue off in a vain attempt at stopping it.
“I’m fine,” he told Joe’s worried face. “I’ll be fine…”
Always so sure of yourself, aren’t you, Cartwright?
Oh, shut up.
He was already fighting a bullet to the gut, he didn’t need to fight the voice as well.
That’s the last thing I need right now.
The voice had gotten pretty good at sticking around; at popping up during the worst possible times.
And Adam was getting pretty bad shooing it away. What used to be a relatively easy task had become damned near impossible as of late.
You’re weak, Cartwright. That’s why.
You always have been, always will be.
Snapping back to attention was his only indicator that he had been on the verge of getting lost again. Lost in his own thoughts, in the torment that just wouldn’t leave him alone.
In the shroud of that voice…
You know what.
Joe’s brows creased. You’re gonna give that kid elevens before he’s even twenty five.
“You zoned out on me for a second there.”
He tried for a laugh that ended as a grimace and Adam braced himself for the next wave of pain.
Because Joe was reaching toward his wound…
It was going to hurt like hell, he knew that from experience. He also had practice in not letting the pain show, no matter how hot or sharp it grew to be.
“Looks like it went clean through,” Joe observed after a few moments—moments that felt for all the world to Adam like hours. Long agonizing hours.
It was all he could do to bite out a reply. “That’s good.”
“Man, those guys came out of nowhere.”
They always do.
I did, didn’t I, Cartwright?
Maybe you would’ve seen them coming if you’d stop spending so much time trapped in your own mind.
Right. And who trapped me there, exactly?
Blinking didn’t do much but simulate life, even though Adam had felt dead inside for some time now.
“I’m still here, Joe. Always have been.”
The look Joe gave him was less than reassuring, but his baby brother kept on working all the same. Tying parts of his jacket around Adam’s stomach; hurrying to staunch the bleeding before it got any worse.
And running his mouth double time to keep the eerie silence at bay.
Any silence with Adam in the room these days was far from comfortable—he knew that for a fact. After all, he wasn’t comfortable in those hesitant, cautious silences, so why would any of his family be?
Just another thing you have to fix…
Thunder clapped outside, a cruel reminder that they were stuck in that blasted cave for the foreseeable future.
“I think…” The amount of concentration on Joe’s face was almost painful to look at. “I think I got it under control before it could get worse… Hold on a second…”
Worse? How could it possibly get any worse?
You really want me to answer that, Cartwright?
At last, Joe sat back on his heels, wiping a bloody hand across his forehead. “There. That should hold for now.”
As he studied his brother’s handiwork, Adam wondered when he would stop getting ambushed in the desert.
We weren’t even carrying any cash this time.
Do you really think rustlers are going to stop to think about that?
“Thanks, Joe,” he managed through a sigh, shifting into a more comfortable position. Or, trying to, at least. “You all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. They didn’t even graze me.”
“Good.” Adam let his eyes flutter closed for a moment. Just a moment… When he opened them, Joe was gone.
A mere glance to the side revealed the kid had just gone to check on the horses, soothing his precious Paint, but the jolt his sudden absence had sent through Adam lingered on.
You never should’ve left him back at Eastgate.
Maybe then, none of this would’ve happened.
Try as he might, Adam couldn’t reconcile with the odd contrast that had taken over his life lately: the need to be left alone, and the overwhelming, almost panicky urge to not be deserted.
To not be left alone in the desert to die with no family or friends or—
You’re fine. It’s fine. Joe’s fine…
Speaking of the kid… Joe had wandered around a bit, making his restlessness known before plopping back down beside Adam.
“I’d build a fire, but…” Joe jerked his head at the mouth of their stoney prison.
“It’s okay.” And it took a good portion of his already dwindling energy to keep the edge of pain out of his voice. “I don’t think we’ll be here long.” At Joe’s you’ve got to be kidding me look, Adam couldn’t help but chuckle. A poor choice, considering it rattled his throbbing wound. “The power of positive thinking.”
“Oh.” Joe slumped, elbows resting atop his knees. “Right. Figured you were gonna say something dumb like that.”
Much as he wanted to slap that smirk off Joe’s face, Adam restrained himself, flashing a smirk of his own instead and praying to God it didn’t look more like a grimace.
“Even if you hadn’t been shot,” Joe went on, a pinch of worry still swirling around his overly casual tone, “we would’ve had to stop anyway. I couldn’t even see my hand in that storm.”
As a shiver wracked Joe’s lanky frame, it occured to Adam that he should probably feel guilty. The kid’s only source of warmth was wrapped around his midsection and Adam couldn’t have snaked off his own jacket if he tried.
Yet, the guilt wouldn’t come. It couldn’t seem to push itself through the thick layers of unease, of anxiety… of foreboding.
When he closed his eyes, he could feel it. The dense air, the suffocating heat. The sweat pouring down his face and neck—
“Maybe I should just leave you be.”
Adam glanced at Joe, snapping out of his thoughts again. What good is thinking anyway?
“You keep zoning out on me.” And there were those furrowed brows… “You didn’t even lose that much blood.”
“My mind’s just on… other things, I guess.”
Joe snorted. “Yeah, I guessed.“
“Like how we’re going to get home and all that.”
“Sure.” Joe didn’t believe him, but they both pretended he did.
They were always pretending these days, weren’t they?
Pretending everything was fine.
Pretending Eastgate never happened.
Pretending everything was going to go back to normal. Eventually.
Pretend, pretend, pretend.
Like you pretend I’m still alive.
The second Adam felt his fists clench, he let them go. There wasn’t any reason to heighten Joe’s concern.
Like you pretend you didn’t k—
I didn’t kill you. You know that.
I know a lot of things, Cartwright. I know you still feel guilty about it, about everything.
And you and I both know I’m never going away.
Joe shifted beside him. “I wasn’t saying anything.”
If he could just keep the battle inside his head, then everything would be a little easier, but reality was so hard to weed out of the noise inside his mind these days…
“Just ignore me, Joe,” he sighed, giving the bridge of his nose a good pinch.
“You know,” Joe cocked his head, “if you keep telling me to do that, pretty soon you won’t exist anymore.”
Maybe that’s for the best.
“So, I guess it’s a good thing I don’t listen to you.”
“You never have.”
“Aw, come on. I listened to you sometimes.”
“Right. When it didn’t matter. And when it did matter, you didn’t.“
A shrug was the best Joe could offer. “What can I say? I was sort of a spoiled kid.”
“If you take the words ‘was’ and ‘sort of’ out of that sentence, you’ll have a perfect statement of fact.”
“Ha ha. Funny, Adam. Hey…” He turned toward the entrance. “I think it’s letting up.”
“Already? It can’t be.” Too good to be true. Too good to be—
Never trust anything that seems too good to be true.
“Yeah, looks like it. Usually I hate it when you’re right, but I think we might not have to stay here long after all! Just like you said.” Jumping to his feet, Joe continued, “I’m gonna go out and try to see where we are. Maybe we’re not as far from home as we thought.”
The hope in Joe’s eyes was akin to a physical blow to Adam’s chest, which had begun to struggle at doing its job.
“Don’t go out there, you’ll get completely soaked.”
A weak argument at best, proven all the weaker when Joe flashed that grin of his.
“I’m already wetter than a fish, Adam. Can’t get any worse than this.” To prove his point, he ran a hand through his sopping curls.
And Adam’s chest burned. That old unease returning full-force, the foreboding that had made its home in the back of his mind ever since—
The dusty, sweat-soaked shirt tugged at his side as he shifted. Tying it tight like that used to keep out the dirt and grime, but now it only worked to rub his skin raw.
Don’t go out there. Don’t—
There was a reason why not, a good reason. One he just couldn’t seem to remember.
But Joe was already halfway there. Halfway out of this hell, yet halfway to—
“Joe, stop, come back!” He hissed, keeping his voice low because…
“Come on, Adam, I’m just gonna check things out. I swear, I’ll only be a few minutes.”
“It’s not a good idea,” Adam pressed, fighting to keep his chest working.
How were they expected to breathe in here when the air was so hot and thick?
“Just getting a breath of fresh air before I keel over in that oven…”
“Well, don’t take all day about it.”
Joe’s brows dipped again. “I’ll be real quick. I don’t get why—”
“Just don’t, Joe. All right?”
That laugh… It just wouldn’t leave his mind alone.
You know why, Cartwright.
Stumbling out of that heat trap.
The rifle being shoved in his face.
That inevitable, powerful…
“I’m cutting your food and water rations in half as of today.”
Joe’s next step was the final straw.
… Click of the gun.
“Because!” Adam’s shout echoed off the cave walls. “Because he’s waiting out there! He’s always waiting out there, and if you go out, he’ll get you!”
The air went from thick to unbearable as thunder rolled in the distance, followed by a streak of lightning.
It lit up the cave and Adam could see.
There’s nothing out there but rain, you imbecile.
The sweat trailing down his back was just droplets of rainwater.
And his tightly tied shirt was Joe’s jacket covering his wound. Not keeping out the dust of the desert.
The whisper split the silence as reality came crashing down on top of him.
“Adam?” Joe’s voice didn’t tremble; it didn’t bleed with pity; it wasn’t cautious.
It wasn’t even worried. After all, Adam had put a stop to that a long time ago.
“Quit worrying about me, will you, Hoss?”
“I’m not an injured calf you can fix, Joe.”
“Just… let it go, Pa…”
No, Joe’s tone was just curious.
And Adam could tell it was taking everything inside his little brother to keep it that way.
“Forget it, Joe.” He didn’t even have the strength to force a smile. “It’s just the blood loss talking.”
“I don’t think you lost enough blood for that.” Conflict painted Joe’s face. To stay or to go. That’s the question, isn’t it?
Go, just go.
That way he could get his mind back under control in peace.
Peace? When’s the last time you had peace?
Then, instead of pressing out into the rain, Joe cleared his throat. “Have you ever… Well, have you ever thought of… of talking about it?”
A dry, mirthless chuckle escaped Adam’s lips. “More times than I can count, believe me.”
“Then…” And there was that curiosity again, that confusion. “… why don’t you?”
“It’s not that easy, Joe.”
“But it could be. You just gotta take that first step.”
“Sure… Sure. Maybe some other time…”
“Well,” Joe said with a shrug, flashing a ghost of a smile, “I’m always here to listen… For whenever you’re ready.”
Adam found his mouth too dry to make any sort of reply, so he simply gave a nod. Joe took this to be the end of the conversation, though he lingered a moment more before going out to brave the storm.
Which, Adam realized, truly had begun to let up.
When was his storm going to let up? The one that swirled around his mind every hour of every single damn day…
Not as long as I’m around, Cartwright.
You’re stuck with me.
Perhaps he should just resign himself to his fate.
That’s it, Cartwright. It was so much easier back when you let me call the shots.
That’s only because you left me no choice.
You always had a choice. And you used it to kill me.
Slamming his eyes shut, Adam clamped down on the voice.
Silence was a luxury these days, a luxury he had to fight tooth and nail for every day.
The sigh that cut through his throat sounded more like a choked sob, making him beyond grateful Joe was still out in the elements.
Don’t let them see you break.
You can’t let them see you—
The laugh echoed across his brain again. All he would’ve had to do was open his eyes and he’d see the maniac who went with it.
So, he kept his eyes screwed shut.
Just for now. Just until Joe came back.
You can’t let them see you break.
They already have.
7 thoughts on “Scars That Distort Reality (by HarpistforHim)”
I just started with this Scars story… It was truly riveting to be in Adam’s mind and truly sad. I always have thought that producer David Dorcet could have had sequels to these episodes that clearly had more to say to the TV viewing audience.
Every time I read a WHN for a TV episode I thank God that there are you talented authors write to carry on the captivating Cartwrights that we fans yearn.
Thank you for your creations and thank God for your gift of writing.
I cannot tell you how long I have been looking forward to this next story in the Scars series. Oh my goodness, you do such an incredible job writing the trauma, the fear, anxiety, and pain. I’m right there in the boat with Joe and Hoss worrying for him. Also, you sure know how to write tense build up to certain moments. It’s amazing! Thank you so much for sharing with everyone!
What a difficult time for Adam. Loved hearing the internal struggle of Adam’s thoughts here. He’s lucky he has a supportive family to help him and offer a listening ear.
This series is so good! Thank you for sharing it with us.
Another emotional and chilling story. How well you draw us in to Adam’s torment and the love and worry from the family. I worry for Adam, he’s got to open up soon for his own sake and get rid of that voice.
Une grande force d’écriture ! Une lecture haletante, comme la respiration d’Adam. . .
Again a beaitifull story. I live the scares series. Its about everyday situations for Adam were the PTSD hit him. And as you can see he is drowning. He has to open up otherwise he will be lost in his own mind. You decribe it well.