Crossroads (by slaine89)

Summary:  An accident that takes place when he’s visiting home from college helps Adam to decide whether or not to stay on the Ponderosa.

Rated: K+ (5,930 words)

 

Crossroads

“Are they here yet?” Joe Cartwright asked his older brother Hoss for what seemed to Hoss like the thousandth time that afternoon.

“Not yet, Little Joe.” Hoss didn’t look up from the six shooter he was cleaning.

Joe’s mouth twisted as he thought for a minute. Then he tapped Hoss’s side.

“How do you know? You didn’t even look.” he said.

“Because the door didn’t open, and Pa and Adam didn’t walk through it.” Hoss said. Part of him was mildly annoyed with his kid brother’s pestering, and the other part was amused at his cute eagerness to see the brother they hadn’t seen in over a year. And Hoss had to admit, he was eager to see Adam too. The ranch never seemed quite complete when his older brother was away at school.

At least this is his last year. Hoss thought. After one more short semester, Adam would be coming home to stay.

Hoss felt a tapping on his arm, and he looked down into the hazel eyes of his eight year old little brother.

“Are they here now?” Joe asked.

“Joe, if you don’t quit pestering me, I’m gonna tie you to that chair over there.” Hoss said, not at all seriously. Joe stuck out his bottom lip.

“No you won’t.”

“Oh, won’t I?” Hoss stood and became an instant giant to tower over his little brother. Joe took one look at Hoss and made a leap for the stairs. Hoss caught him in two strides and wrestled him to the floor. Joe struggled to squirm out of his older brother’s hold, but one of Hoss’s hands could easily wrap around his entire arm or leg. He thrashed back and forth, trying to shake his big brother off of him.

“Hoss!” He glared up at his brother’s laughing blue eyes. “Let me up!”

“Not quite.” Hoss stood, slung Little Joe over his shoulder, and started walking to the chair. Joe kicked and pummeled with his fists, twisting and turning as he tried to get free.

“Put me down!” he yelled. He’d managed to get his upper body free, and now Hoss held him by his legs with his head pointing down ti the ground. He reached up and tried to pry his brother’s hands off of his ankles, but Hoss’s grip was like iron.

“Not today, little brother.” Hoss said.

“Let! Me! Go!” Joe punctuated each word with a punch on his brother’s back, which Hoss paid no more attention to than if they had been mosquito bites.

“Are you sure I was gone for a year and a half, Pa? It seems like this is exactly the way I left them.” a familiar voice said. Joe twisted his head around to see an upside down Adam and Pa standing by the door.

“Adam!” he yelled. The instant Hoss let him down, he flung himself at his older brother.

“Hey, kid.” Adam caught Joe up in a hug that swept him into the air. “Taller now, are you?”

“Yep. Pa’s been measuring me on the barn door. But I’m still a lot shorter than Hoss was at my age.”

“Well I think everyone is shorter than Hoss was at his age.” Adam said. He set Joe back on the ground and moved on to greet Hoss. “And you just keep getting taller. What’s Pa been feeding you around here?”

“We got a new cook named Hop Sing; you’ll like him.” Joe said.

“And he’s been cooking all day to welcome you home.” Hoss added.

“But make sure you compliment him.” Ben warned his son. “He’s a little bit touchy about his cooking.”

“Hoss is the only one who can eat enough chicken to make him happy.” Joe added.

“I’ll make sure I praise his cooking to the high heavens.” Adam promised.

As it turned out the food was worth the praise. After they’d eaten and Hoss and Joe had gone up to bed, Ben and Adam settled down next to the fireplace for the father-son talk Ben had been looking forward to all evening.

“So how was your summer in New England?” He asked.

“Warren offered me a job.” Adam cut right to the chase.

Ben had known it was coming, but that still didn’t stop a pang in his heart as the reality his him that his oldest son might not be coming back home after college as he’d been hoping. “Oh? Doing what?”

“A lot of what I’d been doing this summer, building, designing, that kind of thing. He’s got some pretty new ideas that most people are calling wild and crazy.” Adam’s lips twitched in a familiar grin. Ben knew that anything considered new and crazy was something his son would want to get his hands on.

“So are you going to take it?” he asked, dreading the answer. He knew what his response would have to be if Adam said yes. He’d have to support him, just like he’d done when Adam had wanted to leave for college, not a year after the death of Marie, his wife and Joe’s mother. That had been a hard year, but through it all Ben had kept imagining the time when Adam would be back at his side. Now it looked like that time might not come.

“I don’t know.” Adam said. “He told me to think about it, and I will. I just thought you’d like to know.”

Ben nodded and remained silent. He felt Adam’s gaze on him, but he still didn’t move to say anything.

“Well?” Adam finally broke the contemplative silence. “Any thoughts?”

“Boston is a long way.” Ben finally said. “And while my father’s heart would want you to stay here, I know you have to do what’s best for you. The Ponderosa was my dream, and it’s not one I want to force on any of my sons. If you feel you have to go, you have my blessing.”

Adam nodded slowly. “It’s a bit of a relief to hear you say that.”

Ben stood and clapped his son on the shoulder. “You think about it like Warren said. I’ll support you either way.”

“Thanks, Pa.”

It had been the answer Adam had hoped for, though he hadn’t known whether to expect it or not. Instead of going up to his room after Pa had gone to bed, Adam went out onto the porch. One thing he’d missed while in Boston was the night sky; somehow the stars never seemed to shine as brightly as when he was on the Ponderosa. And in the cold, clear air of the December night, there seemed to be hundreds more stars than he’d ever seen in Boston. He stood on the porch staring up at them and watching his breath vanish into the air. This had been the home he’d known since he was seven, but going to college had opened his mind up to the wide world in a way he wouldn’t have thought was possible. He’d resented those at college who had called Nevada an uncivilized backwoods desert, but in a way it was. The scattered miners and farmers in the area could barely speak comprehend-able English, let alone read it, and they were few and far in between anyway. A man could go for days out here without seeing a soul. Part of that appealed to Adam, the wildness and beauty of untamed nature, and the other part chafed and longed to capture it, to prove the stronger and smarter. Not much had changed since he’d been away. Somehow Adam doubted that a civilized society would be formed in the Washoe area for a while yet.

Adam took one last breath of the crisp mountain air and then went back inside. He still had a while to make his decision; he would take his time.

~*~

Adam found Hoss in the barn the next morning, shoveling hay to the horses. He grabbed a pitchfork and joined him, his arms performing the familiar task that he hadn’t done in over a year with an easy remembrance.

“New horse?” he gestured to a stocky sorrel.

“He’s a Sufolk Punch. Pa bought him for work around the ranch.”

“Seems kind of small.” Adam examined the stout horse that didn’t look like it was even sixteen hands tall.

“Yeah, but he’s a tough little fella. He’ll pull more’n horses twice his size.”

Adam took one last look at the horse and then went back to the hay. He and Hoss worked in an easy silence for several moments.

“He’ll come in real handy this spring, that’s for sure.” Hoss finally said. “Pa’s planning on clearing pastureland up above the house. There’s a lot of trees up there.”

“Sounds like you’ll have your work cut out for you. That’s a big job though.”

“Well you’ll be around to help anyway.” Hoss said.

“Yeah.” Adam glanced at his brother. He was tempted not to say anything, but in the years he’d been away, something had happened to Hoss. He’d had to be the big brother and eldest son, and it had given him a maturity he hadn’t noticed until now. Hoss wasn’t a kid anymore, and Adam felt he owed him an explanation.

“I may not be though.” he said.

“What?”

“I may be leaving for good.”

“But why?” For all his maturity, Hoss suddenly felt like a kid again, waiting for his older brother to explain something that was just beyond his grasp.

“There’s a lot going on in Boston; I may want to be a part of it.”

“There’s a lot going on here.” Hoss pointed out.

“True. It’s just something I have to think about.” Adam silently asked his brother not to argue with him. Thankfully Hoss left it alone.

“Adam, Hoss!” Joe entered the barn with his coat unbuttoned. “Pa told me to get you for breakfast.”

“We’ll be in once the horses get theirs.” Hoss answered.

“I want to help.” Joe tried to pick up a pitchfork that was longer than he was. Adam chuckled and took it from him.

“How exactly is that coat supposed to keep you warm if it’s falling off of you?” he asked.

“If you come in for breakfast, I won’t be out in the cold.” Joe replied.

“You go on ahead, Joe. Tel Pa we’ll be in soon.” Hoss said.

“But I want to help.”

Hoss’s face took on a patient expression that told Adam this was a common occurrence.

“Now Joe, I think two people giving hay is enough, and don’t you want to let Adam have a turn helping me?” he said.

“I guess.” Joe looked wistfully at the pitchfork.

“How about you go tell Pa we’ll be in in a minute, and I’ll let you help me tonight, ok?”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart.”

“Ok.” Joe ran out of the barn.

“He never walks.” Hoss said with an affectionate grin.

“Too bad that just as soon as he starts to actually be helpful, he’ll realize work isn’t fun.” Adam said.

“Yeah. He’s pretty capable now though, but you gotta watch him. He’s not one to be aware of limitations.” He shook his head in amusement. “Well let’s finish up.”

~*~

As Joe ran back to the house, his mind mulled over the conversation he’d overheard. Adam leaving again? And for good from the sound of it, just like his Mama had. The thought filled Joe with a helpless sadness. Why did everybody have to leave?

Maybe he could figure out a way to convince Adam to stay. Joe decided to ask Hoss to help him later.

~*~

“It’s snowing!” Joe’s yells echoed through the house and woke Adam up. He rolled out of bed and entered the hallway at the same time Ben did.

“You know, I never realized how low key and mellow you and Hoss were until this one.” Ben said. Adam grinned and followed him down the stairs. Joe met them at the base of the staircase.

“Pa, it’s snowing!” he said before dashing back to the window to watch white flakes swirl down to the already covered ground.

“So I heard.” Ben couldn’t be mad at his son in his nightshirt with tousled curls.

“You know what that means, shortshanks.” Hoss said from behind them.

“What?”

“It means you can’t come with us to get the tree.”

Little Joe skidded to a stop. “Why not?”

“You’re too short, right Adam?”

Adam caught the look Hoss gave him and pulled a straight face. “Right. The snow’s over your head, if you tripped and fell, we probably wouldn’t find you ’til spring.”

Joe’s face fell. “Pa, tell them I can go.”

“I don’t know if any of you can go; the drifts will be too deep for you boys to ride out.” he looked out the window to hide his smile.

Joe grabbed him by the arm. “But you promised!” he accused.

Ben grinned at his irrepressible son. “Well, I guess you three can always walk out to the lake.”

“But Pa…” Hoss began.

“That new draft could make it through the snow to drag the tree back.” he continued. Joe was grinning over Adam and Hoss’s groans.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go too?” Adam asked.

“No, someone needs to stay here and try to shovel a path to the barn. You boys go have fun. And make sure you pick the best tree on the Ponderosa.”

“With Joe coming along, how can we fail?” Adam asked.

They put the harness on the draft but didn’t hook him up to a cart. Instead they slung a coil of rope over the hames for the tree and trudged through snow up to Joe’s waist.

“Hey!” Adam reached behind his head and brushed off a demolished snowball. Joe’s sparkling eyes belied any attempt to look innocent.

“You really want to start this?” Adam was already reaching down for a handful of snow. Joe ran toward Hoss, and a lucky trip made him fall into the snow. Adam’s snowball whizzed over his head and hit Hoss in the stomach. Joe looked up and grinned.

“Let’s get him.”

Hoss let go of the lead rope and the two lunged at Adam. Hoss knocked him over, and Joe jumped on top of him. The three rolled over, grabbing and shoving until finally they lay panting side by side, completely covered in snow. The draft horse stared at the three brothers as if he was glad he was a horse and not a human, more specifically not a Cartwright human.

“I propose a truce until we get the tree.” Adam said.

“Whatever you say, brother.” Hoss said.

“Yeah, we’ll get you when we get back.” Joe added.

They stood, brushed themselves off, and continued on toward the lake where the best trees were. Joe ran ahead to look at each individual tree.

“Careful not to slip, Joe.” Hoss called. “You could slide right down onto the lake, and the ice isn’t safe to walk on.”

“Ok, Hoss!” Joe yelled without looking back.

“Just watching him makes me exhausted.” Adam said. “Does he ever stand still?”

“Only when he’s thinking, which he doesn’t do very much of.” Hoss answered.

“So what about this tree?” Adam gestured to a full fur tree.

“Looks about right. But we’ll have to make Joe think he found it. Where’d that little scamp run off to anyway?”

They both looked around. Then they heard a short yell. Hoss dropped the lead rope, and he and Adam jumped forward. Joe had slid down onto the lake and was about thirty feet out.

“Don’t stand, Joe!” Adam yelled. Too late. As Joe got to his feet, there was a sickening crack, and Joe dropped down through the ice.

“Joe!” Adam raced across the snow. “Hoss, get the rope!” he yelled. As soon as he hit the edge of the lake, he dropped to his knees and pulled himself across the ice on his stomach. Joe’s head was just barely visible above the surface of the ice.

“Adam!” he tried to pull himself out. As Adam got closer, he saw terror in his little brother’s eyes.

“Easy, Joe. Just hold on to the edge until I get there.” Adam kept his voice even. Inwardly he was shaking as he crawled. He could feel the ice giving slightly beneath him every time he shifted his weight forward.

“I can’t.” Joe’s voice trembled, either from cold or fear. “My boots…” his face was getting closer and closer to the water’s surface, and Adam resisted the urge to move faster. But any sudden movements would make the ice fall out from under him.

Just a couple more feet.

Then Joe’s head disappeared. Adam lurched forward, and the ice gave way. Instantly he was surrounded by dark water.

For a second the sheer coldness knocked any air right out of him. Adam surfaced briefly to take a breath and then went under again. He cracked his eyes open and dove down.

Please, God. He fumbled around blindly in the water, unable to see more than a few inches in front of him. Then his hands brushed against something soft. Adam latched onto Joe and shot toward the surface.

“Adam!” Hoss was on the shore, knowing better than to test his own weight on the unstable ice. Adam raised one arm while the other held tightly onto Joe.

“The rope!” he yelled.

“Adam…” Joe began.

“It’s ok, Joe.”

“You’re wet.”His purple lips trembled as they formed the words, but despite his worry, Adam had to laugh at the ridiculousness of Joe’s statement. “Grab the rope Joe.” he said when Hoss tossed it out. He tied the end around Joe’s waist just in case he wasn’t able to hold on.

“You too, Adam.”

“I don’t think Hoss can pull us both. Hold tight, and stay on your stomach.” Adam lifted Joe out onto the ice. “Pull, Hoss!”

Joe went skidding out over the ice, reeled in by Hoss like a fish. Miraculously, the ice held. Once Joe was a few feet away, Adam tried to pull himself out of the water. Already he was starting to lose feeling in his hands and feet, and his legs felt three times their normal size. As he heaved himself onto the ice, it cracked, plunging him back into the frigid water.

Well, eventually I’ll get to shore this way. He tried again with the same result. By that time, Hoss had Joe up onto the bank and was swinging the rope in a circle to throw it back out. It landed on the ice half a foot away and Adam reached out a numb hand to grab it.

The first time Hoss pulled, the rope went right through his hands. He began to chip away at the ice in front of him. If he couldn’t get on top of it, he would just get rid of it. Hoss threw the rope again, and this time Adam wrapped it around his whole arm. His fingers were too clumsy too even think of tying a knot.

When he was a few feet away from the bank, Hoss reached out and pulled him in. Adam leaned against his younger brother, not sure if he could stand.

“Here, Adam.” Hoss pulled off Adam’s shirt and then put his own on his brother. Adam looked up to where Joe was wrapped up in Hoss’s coat and sitting on the horse.

“Hoss, take Joe back to the ranch.” Adam gasped. He straightened up and wrapped his arms around himself in a defense against the frosty air.

“But what about you?”

“Send Pa back once you get there. There’s no way that horse can carry all three of us.”

“Adam…”

“Go!” Adam gave Hoss a shove and nearly fell over himself. “The sooner you get going the sooner you can send Pa back. I’ll start walking.”

Hoss looked like he wanted to argue, but he knew Adam was right. If he wanted both his brothers to get back home as quick as possible, this was the best way. He turned and in an instant was mounted and riding away.

Adam took a shivering step forward, followed by another one. How was he supposed to walk if he couldn’t even feel his legs?

His pants were frozen as stiff as his gait, and the wind was tearing through him like a bullet as he walked. Somewhere along the line, Adam forgot where he was going. He just knew he had to get there. He focused on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping his body, hunched over in the cold, from keeling over.

As he walked, he forgot about the cold too, almost like you forget about breathing. It’s not so much something you do as something that’s a part of you. In place of the cold a numbness took over, weighing down his limbs and threatening to drag him to the snow covered ground. He struggled to remain standing as his body begged him to just stop and rest for a few moments. Adam’s head rolled forward and his chin met his chest. His knee landed in the snow, and his arms automatically flew forward to break his fall. Only his arms weren’t working, and his face smashed into the cold white powder. He didn’t even feel that, or the pair of arms that pulled him out of the snow and lifted him onto the back of a horse. Adam’s mind had succumbed to blissful nothing.

~*~

Ben didn’t like the look on the doctor’s face. He’d seen it before on the night Marie had died, when his wife had been lying pale, helpless, and in pain after falling from her horse, and now he saw it again when two of his three sons were both unconscious in their beds. The doctor shook his head.

“It’s not up to me now, Ben.” he said sympathetically. He put a hand on Ben’s shoulder. There were always more happy endings than sad ones in his job, but the sad endings never failed to outweigh the rest.

“Their fevers are both rising. I wouldn’t worry as much about Joe if he weren’t so little, and frankly…” he hesitated. “Frankly I’m surprised Adam managed to make it this far considering the shape he was in when you found him.”

“What can I do?” Ben asked almost pleadingly.

“I’ve gotten them as warm as I can; now we just have to wait and see if they pull through.” the doctor cleared his throat. “Ben, I’ve got two mother’s who are expecting children this week; I need to be at my house where they can find me.”

Ben shook himself out of the stupor he’d fallen into. “I understand.” Inwardly he wanted to beg Doc Travis to stay and make his sons well again, to do something. But he knew the doctor wouldn’t leave if there was still something that could be done. He suddenly felt dizzy and groped about for a chair.

“I’ll be back in the morning, Ben. Come and get me if there’s any change.”

Ben barely registered the doctor leaving. He rested his head in his hands and then looked up when he felt a hand on his shoulder and his eyes met the worried-filled blue eyes of Hoss.

“I’ll stay with Adam, Pa, if you want to sit up with Little Joe. I reckon that’s about all we can do now.” his voice caught at the end of the sentence, and Ben gripped the hand on his shoulder.

“We can sit up with them, and we can pray.” he said. “Your brothers have the Cartwright stubbornness in them; they’ll pull through.”

Hoss nodded. He didn’t look completely convinced, but Ben didn’t know what else to say. He went into Little Joe’s room and pulled up a chair by the bed. His small face was shaped so much like his mother’s, and instantly Ben was flooded with memories of being by her bedside. He’d spent countless long hours there, watching her sleep after Joe was born, with feelings of pride and love pouring in rivers through him. And then he’d spent a few short hours there after the accident, hours in which Marie had been in too much pain to talk much, but she’d held his hand and told him not to worry. And then she’d gone, as quickly and quietly as an angel in the morning. He’d wept and then put on a brave face to go out and tell his sons – this son who was now clinging stubbornly to his small life. Ben took Joe’s hand in his own hand, which looked like a giant’s hand next to his son’s and closed his eyes. If he was going to spend the night worrying about his sons, it was going to be spent pleading with God to spare them.
~*~

Fog. So much fog. He felt lost, like he wasn’t even standing on the ground, just floating in the never-ending fog. Then someone called his name. Joe’s heart leaped as he recognized the voice. It called again.

“Mama?” Joe called through the fog.

“You must have grown a foot since I last saw you.” familiar arms wrapped around him, and Joe nested against her, breathing in the scent of lavender and roses. For a minute he just sat there, basking in the warmth of his mother’s presence. Then he sat up.

“Am I in heaven?”

“Why do you ask that?”

“Pa said you went to heaven. Why’d you have to go?”

“Aw, Joe, love.” she fingered his light brown curls and her eyes gazed on him with a mix of affection and sorrow. “I didn’t want to leave. How could I? More than anything I would have wanted to see you grow up from a sweet little boy into a strong capable man.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be as much of a man as Pa or Adam.” Joe suddenly remembered something. “Adam… he pulled me out of the lake. Is he alright?”

Marie didn’t answer as she continued to hold her son. And as much as Joe tried to worry, he couldn’t feel anything like fear or concern. Instead he felt a deep contentment settle inside his chest.

“Are you sure I’m not in heaven?” he asked.

“I’m sure, Joe.”

“Oh.” the contentment dwindled a little bit.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to leave you.” Joe said. “I… I miss you.” he tried to blink back hot tears, but a couple spilled out and trickled down to his chin. Marie smiled sadly and wiped it away with her thumb.

“I know, Joe; I do too. And I wish you could stay, but Adam needs you.”

“Adam?” Joe sniffed. “Why?”

“He’s on the edge, Joe. He needs you to bring him back.”

“Back from what?” The conversation he’d overheard came back to him now. “Is it because he’s thinking of leaving?”

“Just go tell him Joe.”

“Tell him what?”

“To come back.

“But Adam doesn’t listen to me.” Joe couldn’t hear his mother anymore. He couldn’t see her either. Her arms disappeared from around him like morning mist burned away by the sun, and he felt like he was underwater, floating toward the surface.

His eyes cracked open. His hand hung over the edge of the bed where it had fallen when Ben had dropped it after falling asleep. He was asleep now, in a chair next to the bed. Joe studied him for a few minutes, trying to decide if he should wake him up or not. He wondered how his Pa had managed to fall asleep in such an uncomfortable chair and then decided that it must be because he was extremely tired. Better not to wake him then – Joe knew how Pa hated being woken up when he was tired. Instead, Joe slid his feet over the bed and stood up. Instantly he was cold, and he thought about getting back in bed, but then he remembered. He had to tell Adam not to go.

Joe tiptoed out into the hallway towards Adam’s room. A slight snoring sound came from inside, and as he opened the door, he realized that it was coming from Hoss, who was also sitting in a bedside chair.

Why is everybody sleeping in chairs tonight? Joe wondered. At least Adam was in bed, and he looked like he was sleeping too.

“Adam.” Joe whispered. He tugged at his brother’s shoulder. “Adam, wake up.”

Joe glanced at Hoss. Hoss must be tired too, so he didn’t want to wake him up, but he was too cold to stand there much longer, and his legs felt weak beneath him. He lifted the covers and slid underneath next to Adam. His brother was feverishly hot, and Joe curled up against the heat. Soon he felt warmth creeping back into his body.

“Adam.” he whispered. “Mama said I had to tell you to come back because you might be leaving.” he peered up at his Adam’s face from under the covers. It seemed cold and distant.

“Adam, I don’t want you to go away like Mama.” Joe’s voice was low and hoarse as it squeezed past the lump in his throat. “I need you to stay here with me and Pa and Hoss. Because… because Pa doesn’t always understand me, and Hoss is my best friend, but you’re my big brother, and… I need you, Adam.” Joe didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t even know if Adam could hear him. He scooted close to his brother and closed his eyes. He couldn’t remember feeling so tired in his life.

He remembered the night Mama had gone how he had wanted to stay with her, even when the doctor had left, but Pa had sent him outside. Then she was gone, just like that. Well not this time. This time he would make sure no one could take the person he loved away.

“I won’t let you go, Adam.” he whispered as sleep caught him in its net and dragged him toward unconsciousness. “Not this time. This time I’m staying right here.”

~*~

It was like water was rushing over his ears as the tide pulled him somewhere. He didn’t know where. At first he’d been fighting it, but then, slowly, his arms had given out, and now he lay floating on his back, waiting to see where he was drifting. The current grew stronger, and as much as he wanted to fight, to pull himself free, it seemed pointless. He didn’t have the strength anyway.

“Adam.” a voice came through the sound of the water. Adam looked around for the speaker, but he couldn’t see anyone. The voice was speaking, again, but he could only make out two words.

“…come back…”

I can’t. Adam thought. He couldn’t pull himself out of the dark water. But as the voice continued speaking, he recognized it.

Joe.

“…I need you Adam.” he could hear the fear in his little brother’s voice, and it spurred him to action. He struggled to free himself from the current that was pulling him along, but the water held him fast.

Help me, Joe. He thought. Keep talking.

“I won’t let you go, Adam.” Joe said. “Not this time.”

As he reached the surface he felt dizzy. And hot; like he was surrounded by fire. Adam shifted, looking for someplace cool. For an instant he thought of the water below him, but he was fighting for real now. He continued to struggle to wake up, but he felt like he was drowning in flames. Again the thought of cool water pulled at him, luring him towards darkness. Adam inwardly cried out for Joe’s voice, but there was no answer. He felt a light above him and struggled toward it. Then, as abruptly as it had come, the fire was extinguished.

For a moment he didn’t feel anything – no pain, no fire, nothing. Then exhaustion rolled over him like an ocean wave. Adam shifted, suddenly aware of where he was. His head was propped up on a pillow, in a chair beside the bed, Hoss was gently snoring, and there was someone lying beside him. With a great struggle Adam opened his eyes and looked down to see his little brother, eyes closed and curled up against this side. His face was flushed slightly, but it was peaceful. A weak smiled flitted over Adam’s face.

He always looks so angelic when he sleeps. Then he has to go and wake up. He closed his eyes. Neither of them would be up and causing mischief anytime soon, that was for sure. Taking comfort in the nearness of his brother, and confident that he would actually wake up again, Adam let himself drift back into unconscious.

~*~

As he began to enter the waking world, Hoss also started to realize how uncomfortable the chair he’d been sleeping in was. He stood up and stretched, annoyed with himself for dozing off. Adam was still asleep, but his face was more relaxed and less flushed, and Hoss could see the gentle rise and fall of his chest under the sheets. Hoss went over to the window and pushed back the curtain, letting a sliver of light into the room. He heard a stirring behind him.

“Morning?”

Hoss whirled around. “You’re awake.” In two strides he was beside the bed, his hand on Adam’s forehead. “Your don’t feel feverish anymore.”

“It’d take more than a dunk in the lake to do me in.” Adam shifted and became aware of the small body next to him. The voice in his head, and then waking and falling back asleep seemed almost like a dream that slowly faded back into memory as he slid back the top of the blankets to reveal Little Joe’s curly head tucked under his arm.

“Looks like you have a visitor.” Hoss said. “When did he come in?”

“Last night while you were sleeping, capable watchman that you are.” Adam didn’t mean it. “I’m surprised he’s not waking up.”

“Adam, that boy would sleep through an earthquake.” Hoss said. “I’ll go tell Pa that at least one of you two is awake.” The sound of him shutting the door seemed to rouse Little Joe; he shifted and burrowed closer against his brother. Adam smiled and curled his arm around his brother, reliving the moment when he’d gone through the ice. His heart had almost stopped then, and the lake had seemed miles away as he ran toward it. His chest filled with thankfulness that his little brother was alive and next to him.

“Adam?” Joe mumbled. His eyes were still closed, and Adam remembered how slowly Joe woke up.

“How’d you get here, Little Joe?” he asked.

“I wanted to tell you… to make sure you didn’t go anywhere.” Joe said. Through his sleep bleary eyes, he could see sunlight seeping through the window and flooding the room. Adam was still beside him, and the inexplicable danger he had felt from the night before was gone. But he still wanted to be sure.

“Adam,” he looked up into his brother’s deep, steadfast face with searching eyes, “are you still going away?”

Adam tightened the arm that was wrapped around his little brother in a gesture of reassurance.

“No, Little Joe.” He said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

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Author: slaine89

I consider myself a storyteller, more than a writer. I don't make up the stories; I just tell them - and everyone has a story. I like my stories to be driven by emotions because that's what drives human beings. Also I like to introduce different dynamics to the characters that we're so familiar with. One thing that I strive to do in my writing is make my characters, both original and unoriginal, strong and real with clear voices. As I said, I'm merely the storyteller, and I prefer that the reader hears the characters' voices rather than my own.

4 thoughts on “Crossroads (by slaine89)

  1. What a touching story. Little Joe as cute as ever. Adam so loving and sweet to his baby brother.. Adam and Joe have the best moments. Lets not forget Hoss who saved both of his brothers lives at the lake. Pa the ever loving mother hen. Loved this story. Thanks

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