By:  Nanuk




Author´s note: This was written after I heard that lateron in the series Ben said that he had only two sons. I wondered what made him say something like this...







Ben closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Then he took a deep breath to calm himself, opened his eyes and looked around the great room.


It was empty, as empty as his heart at this moment. His son was gone. His son had left.

Angry tears threatened to fill his eyes, but he willed them away, clenching his fists.


He was gone? Fine then. Life would go on. But even as Ben tried to harden his mind against the unwelcome thoughts he could feel the terrible loneliness creep up to engulf him, to drown him. His son was gone. And perhaps he would never return.


Ben glanced around the room. There was nothing here that indicated the loss, nothing that proved that in fact four people had been living here just yesterday. There was nothing that gave a hint that a dark young man had lived here.


He sighed and sat in his big red chair next to the fireplace. He was wrong, though, he thought. Looking back at him as he stared was the blue chair on the opposite side of the table, lonely reminder now of days long gone. His son´s favourite chair it had been, where he had used to sit down many an evening after a hard day´s work, reading, playing the guitar,...


Ben got up. It was too much. He had to get out of here, where memories seemed to flow from every corner of the room. He shook his head. No, he wouldn´t back down. This was his house after all, his house for more than thirty years, and here he would stay.


Turning, he cast a quick glance up the stairs and smiled ruefully. He doubted he could find sleep this night, his bedroom, right next to the room where his son used to...




The thought of Adam left him trembling with suppressed emotions. All day long he had tried to shut out HIS name from his mind. The farewells at the coach station had been cool and formal on both sides, the arguments not yet forgotten. Ben had stared down the road, long after the stage coach had been gone, swallowed by a cloud of hot dust. He had stared after his firstborn son, with dry eyes and empty mind, trying to feel – anything.




It had been a winter full of arguing. Adam, confined to the ranch, had acted like a cougar in a trap. His moods had gradually become darker as winter proceeded and heavy snowfall stopped all outside activity. And with the withdrawel of fresh air and vast spaces, he shut out anything that might have broken through the wall he had erected.


He didn´t speak for days. When spoken to directly he answered in one word sentences, his clipped cold tones telling everyone just what exactly he was thinking. He wanted to be left alone. He didn´t want to be addressed. He wanted privacy.


Dozens of evenings Ben had found him in the barn, laying on a pile of hay, staring up at the ceiling, oblivious of the cold. Awoken to the unwelcomed presence he had snarled at him, then locked all emotions behind an inscrutable mask of indifference. Ben´s kind words were ignored as Adam brushed past him and escaped to his room. After that he brought a blanket with him every time he sought solitude, and Ben, weary of trying to talk sense into him, let him be. He suspected that Adam took to sleeping in the barn inspite of the cold, for he never came back to the house before Ben went to bed. And Ben, sick at heart not knowing what was wrong and not daring to confront Adam in the knowledge they would end up shouting once again, had hoped that spring would bring release.


He was wrong. Adam, restless as ever, had taken to long rides, in the middle of the night, for days on end, never telling them where he went, or how long he would be gone. His work lay neglected, his drawings forgotten. He hadn´t sung in months, hadn´t laughed in weeks. On rare occasions his brothers could steal a smile from him that barely touched the corners of his lips.

 They had worried at first when he rode out, but the relief they all felt everytime when Adam was gone was obvious to all of them, and the shame they experienced couldn´t subdue it.


And now he was truly gone. His things packed, his room cleaned out, he had disappeared from their lives like a shadow. They didn´t have more than a week to prepare themselves for what could well be a good-bye forever. The last time Adam had come home, he had presented them with the news, and no heated discussion, argument or temper tantrum could change his mind. Everyone´s nerves were lying blank when he left the house for the last time; and Adam didn´t look back.


Ben had come to his room the night before he left. Adam had been asleep, the deep lines in his face softened by sleep. Ben had stood and looked down at him, seeing for the umpteenth time the child behind the handsome features. He left then, and sitting by the window in his own room, had stared at the stars all night.


Adam hadn´t allowed his brothers to take him to town. He had reluctantly hugged them good-bye and turned, his desire to be gone pouring from him like rain fom the sky. He hadn´t been able to convince Ben to stay at home, and so they had shared a half hour of uncomfortable silent waiting in front of the coach station. When the coach finally arrived, Ben looked at his son. The truth was, he could no longer figure out what kind of behaviour to expect from Adam, and so he waited. Adam turned to him then, but he didn´t step closer for an embrace nor did he reach out his hand. He had stood and looked at his father, his eyes giving away his emotions for once. Then, he had softly said “Good-bye, Pa” before he stepped into the coach. And Ben, feeling rejected and betrayed, had stared after him long after the carriage had disappeared.




He had come home to see the melancholic faces of his other sons, and the sight made him harden his heart. Fine then. Adam had chosen to leave this family. Fine. But he wouldn´t let his other sons suffer because of him. He knew his own face was set, and he had forced himself to smile at them before he sent them out to the barn. He had called out to Hop Sing after they were gone, and had set to pack Adam´s things away, everything that might remind them of him: books, drawings, his guitar and – after hesitating a long time – pictures of him.

Now there was no trace left that another Cartwright son had ever lived here. No trace that he had ever had another son. A son with darkly handsome features, unruly as the summer wind and lovingly gentle, stubborn as a mule and charming as larks in the field.


He just made it to his room before he broke out down. Kneeling on the floor, he sobbed, hot angry tears burning his cheeks, until the overwhelming flood of emotions made him pound the ground in frustration. Damn him. Damn him.




When he came down to dinner, the stony silence that greeted him could only just cover the depressed mood in the house. Hoss and Joe were already seated at the dinner table. Slowly he made his way through the living room and tried not to notice the emptiness descending from all corners, the subtle changes in the air.


Hoss looked up when he took his seat and gave him a tiny encouraging smile. Joe´s gaze stayed on his plate, but he asked the question that hadn´t had an answer, yet.


“Did he say where he wanted to go to?”


Ben, his eyes staring at the vacant chair in front of him, felt his insides turn to stone when he remembered the scene at the coach station. “No”, he answered shortly. “Let´s eat.”


But neither Hoss nor Joe moved. They stared down at their plates, and after what seemed like an eternity, Hoss spoke softly.


“He said he wanted to go to the sea...a long time ago...wanted to see countries...”


Silence greeted his words. Of course they all knew that, had always known his thirst for knowledge.


Finally Ben cleared his throat. “Let´s eat”, he whispered.





After dinner he went out to the porch and sat down. Above him, the starry sky with its familiar constellations greeted him as it always had, steady and calm. He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest, trying to find out what bothered him so much.


The thing was, he couldn´t picture Adam on a ship. He couldn´t picture him sailing away. But neither could he picture him staying at the ranch. Or in Boston, that was. Try as he might, he couldn´t find a place in his mind where his restless son might find peace. And he wondered whether he himself was to blame. God, he wished Adam could somewhere find the peace he didn´t seem to find here. He wished he would find rest for his soul.




After that, neither of them spoke of Adam again. They tried to settle into their daily routine and cope with the vacant chair at the dinner table, the horse in the barn and the emty room on the second floor.


It took them weeks to get used to the changed roles in the family, but Ben thought they had coped better than he could have wished for. The time before Adam had gone had been marked with arguments, but he knew both of his sons missed their brother dearly.


Joe was almost his usual energetic self by now, running and bouncing where he shouldn´t. Between Hoss and him, they had taken over Adam´s tasks and did well. Hoss, too, had adjusted well to the new condition of being the eldest brother, but then, Ben had not expected different. And now indeed, it seemed that there never had been another Cartwright, and he was glad about it. Seeing their lost and desperate faces every morning at breakfast was more than he could stand. All traces of the oldest son had been wiped out.


It was a good thing.


~ *~


It had been a dry summer. The cattle had trouble finding water, and Ben, Hoss and Joe worked all day – every day – to get the much needed fluid up to the meadows, or find new water holes, dig new wells. By evening they were completely exhausted, their faces were burned, their minds empty. Hop Sing did his best to revive them, but even he couldn´t do more than send them to bed.


This evening was different, though. Loud and desperate shouting woke them from their stupor, and they didn´t need to run to the front door to know that the barn was aflame. Angry crackling flames greeted them, blazing with heat that made them stumble back. It hadn´t rained in weeks, and the wood was dry, the piles of hay a wonderful nourishment.


Crouching low, they entered the building that was one blurr of orange and red,and within seconds they choked, gasping for air that wasn´t there. The horses were frantic with fear, but with the help of the hands they got them out, unharmed, then stumbled out after them, coughing their lungs out. It was too late to safe the barn, impossible to try and put out the flames in that heat, and all they could do now was wait and watch until all wood had been consumed by the hungry firestorm.


Ben felt his sons next to him, trembling with exhaustion. He laid a hand on Hoss´ back, only to feel him flinch and tighten under his palm. Surprised he looked at him, but the expression on Hoss´s face was only one of shock as he stared at the blazing barn.


Ben took his arms, shaking him hard to bring him back from wherever his mind had been. Hoss gulped, then turned pleading eyes on Ben.


“His journal...his journal´s up there...I´ve gotta go...”  He shook himself free and turned towards the barn, headless of the danger. Ben grabbed his hand, shaking with anger.


“What do you think you´re doing? Stay here, you fool! Do you hear me? Do you want to kill yourself?”  He janked Hoss´ arm, but his son´s eyes were full of fear and desperate pleading.


“I gotta go, his journal´s up there...Pa...his journal...” Hoss was fighting to get free now, and the harder Ben tried to hold him, the harder Hoss fought. Then all of a suddenly, a part of the roof came down, sending red-hot sparks towards the sky.


Hoss froze. All fight went out of him, and when Ben released him, he slumped to the ground. Tears left white streaks on his soot-covered face as he stared at the barn. Ben knelt next to him, stroking his back. He was confused, but already an idea formed in his mind, one he was afraid to voice.


“His journal....Adam´s...journal?” he asked hesitantly, not really wanting to know the answer.   


Hoss caught a sob and nodded absently. “Found it after he left...he´d forgotten...” He couldn´t seem to pull his eyes from the burning barn that suddenly had devastated more than just wood. Ben continued to stroke his shoulder in a reassuring way, but his mind was racing.


Sharp shouts roused him from his thoughts. Glancing around, he suddenly noticed that one familiar figure that should have been with them was missing. And looking towards the barn where all the other hands were heading, he saw a lonely person stumble from the remains of the blazing building and break down before anyone could reach him.




Damn him, Ben thought. Hadn´t Adam done enough damage to this family?  He had left his family three years ago without caring whether he broke their hearts, and Ben had believed he had gone forever from their lives. Until now.  His other foolish sons had tried to get themselves killed because of him. Damn him. What more damage would he wreak upon him?


Of course it had been Joe who had stumbled from the barn, his face burned, his clothes almost aflame with heat inspite of his soaking them, the journal of his oldest brother clutched tight to his chest. They had needed one hour to bring him around, and he coughed his lungs out for a whole day after that. His eyebrows had been burned clean off, and his hair was singed in more than one place. And yet, he had smiled when he had woken. As had Hoss, for that matter, and  not just because Joe hadn´t been harmed.


The journal lay on the table in front of him. The writing on the cover was burned beyond recognition, but the pages were still readable enough. He had considered burning it, but somehow couldn´t bring himself to do it after Joe had risked his life to get it. Now it lay in front of him, and Ben felt betrayed that after all his efforts to live his life without Adam he had left something that important behind. He reached out a hand and opened the soot-stained cover, but once his eyes fell on the name written inside, he closed it with a snap. No, he wasn´t ready for that, yet.


Wearily getting up, he climbed the stairs and made his way down to Joe´s room, Adam´s journal in hand. Cautiously he opened the door to gaze inside, but Joe was awake, and staring out of the window. Strange enough, Hoss was perched on the bed, looking downcast. Ben could tell they had been speaking about Adam.


Hoss got up when he entered and after spying the journal in his father´s hand, sat on a chair in a corner of the room farthest away from Ben. Joe, his head still turned towards the window, shortly glanced at his father, then closed his eyes, but not before Ben had seen the betraying marks of tears in his lashes.


Slowly he sat down on the other chair, book held loosely on his lap, and tried to access the silence in the room. Neither Hoss nor Joe would meet his eyes, but he couldn´t make out their mood. Did they blame him for pushing Adam away from them?


“How long since you found it?” he asked quietly.


Hoss lifted his head. “One year after he left. When I changed the boards...It was was hidden under one of the lose ones...” His eyes were clear as he looked back at Ben.


“It helped me... To understand, I mean...what he felt. And to live...without him.”


Ben felt his heart squeeze as he thought back to the first days after Adam had gone. The days when Joe and Hoss had been walking around like ghosts, lost in a stupor, completely beside themselves. He didn´t want that to happen again just because they had dug up Adam´s journal.


“Didn´t I tell you I had only two sons in this family? Those who are here, beside me, in this house?” His hard gaze took in his sons, averting their eyes, looking miserable. He sighed.


“Pa...”, Joe´s reluctant voice floated up from the pillows, “...I wrote him letters.”


Ben´s head spun around at that, but Joe steadily went on. “I ...wrote to him...I knew of course I couldn´t send them, I didn´t know where he was; so I kept them in my drawer. I just...couldn´t forget.”


“I see.” He looked down to his hands that still held his oldest son´s journal.


“What does it say?”


Nobody answered, though, and when he looked up in surprise it was just in time to see Hoss cast down his eyes.


“Hoss?” he questioned.


His son swallowed before answering, but his voice was calm enough.


“Perhaps you should read the first page, Pa.” 


Honouring the request inspite of how strange he thought it, Ben opened the old book, trying to avoid the signature on the first page, and leafed to the first entry. Wetting his lips, he started to read, and tried to ignore the rising swirl of emotions inside him:


 ´ “I love my family. But, God help me, I must go. I´m suffocating, and the pain I see on my family´s faces is too much to bear. I have to go...” ´


His voice trailed off.


“He loved us, Pa. Every single day.” Hoss´ voice broke through Ben´s thoughts. “He wrote about us, what we did, what we said, how it affected him. He wrote about everything.”


Ben, his momentarily speechlessness overcome, glared at Hoss with fire in his eyes. “Did he write about how he treated you? How he argued with you, with me? About how he couldn´t stand to be in the same room with us? Have you forgotten what it was like? Speaking to him, not knowing whether he would just leave or cut your throat first?”


Breathing heavily and trying to calm down, he could see Joe´s appalled face. His anger disappeared, only to be replaced by weariness. He was so tired of this.


“I´m sorry”, he said. Absently he jumped through the pages, noting how worn they were.


“How often did you read it? Hoss?” He could sense the mood in the room now, although he couldn´t understand it. Hoss was calm, content with a deep-down peace that Ben couldn´t trace. Joe was calm, too, but his calm was overshadowed by sadness. Why? Because of him? Because of Adam?


“Every day. When I could...When I needed to...feel him...near me...To remember him.”


Ben sighed. “I understand. Joe?” He wanted to know what his sons were thinking.


Joe´s answer took longer to come. When he spoke, Ben had to strain himself to hear him.


“I didn´t know it was there”, he whispered. “Only when I heard Hoss speaking of it, I learned it was there. I just had to get it.” Joe´s eyes shone with tears again as he looked at Ben. “It was his...”


Ben took a deep breath. So, here it was, the thing he had been afraid of all the time. He didn´t know what to make of his own feelings. He remembered a time when he had been so proud of his sons, all his sons, so proud of Adam. But a lot of time had passed since then, and he had tried to forget what had once been; he had tried to forget the hurt, and the betrayal he felt, and the one who caused it.


His feelings must have shown on his face, for he heard Hoss´ low voice from across the room, frightening him.


“Why do you hate him so much?”


Did he, then? Ben wasn´t sure. Did he hate Adam for leaving him? Did he hate him for never coming back? He didn´t know, but he just had to know what was in his sons mind.


“Why don´t you?”


“I sometimes did. Until... Until I read how it was like for him.” Hoss almost stumbled on the words; and Ben could just barely make out the hint of sorrow in his voice.


“What was it like for him?” Ben was curious, no matter what his feelings were. He had prouded himself once that he knew what was on his sons` minds, but that confidence too had been gone, with Adam.


“He choked here. We were here, his family, but it wasn´t enough. It wasn´t life, not for him, not his life. He...he said he felt like running with his head against a wall, day by day; that he had to break from the prison before his restlessness made him kill him and us. Couldn´t you see it, Pa? The unhappiness in his eyes everytime he looked at you, at us? Could you see he was lost here?”


Hoss must have seen the angry look in Ben´s eyes when his head snapped up, for he hurried to continue, his eyes a silent prayer to Ben that he would listen.


“Pa, you were always around people you loved, and even when you lost them, you always knew where your place was. Can you imagine what it felt like for Adam to live here with us, thinking he had finally found his home, and then wake up one day and realize it wasn´t? Realize he was outside; that he was different, that his place and heart would never be fully here, on this ranch he had worked so hard for? It didn´t matter how much he loved us, Pa. His place wasn´t here.”


Ben had closed his eyes while Hoss talked. He pictured Adam in his mind, as he remembered him, and knew in his heart that Hoss was right. Adam had always been different. Ben knew how much they were alike, thinking along the same lines in regard to injustice and equality. But somewhere inside Adam had always been a different side, one he had rarely seen but which made him think that Adam was in fact nobody´s son but a child of the winds, free-spirited and independent.


“I know.” He whispered the words more to himself than to anyone else in the room, but Joe heard them anyway.


“Do you love him, Pa?” he asked quietly, his green eyes surprisingly lucent in spite of the tears in his lashes.


Was that the question? Ben swallowed the sobs that caught in his throat. Whether he loved him or not? God, he had always loved him, but it had been hard to live with that love – when it should have been simple. He almost smiled. Nothing concerning Adam had ever been simple. But he had loved him. He remembered. But now?


“Yes”, he said, and when he lifted his eyes to meet Joe´s he could see the relief on his son´s face.


Hoss stood up. He crossed the room until he was in front of Ben and gently took the old journal from his father´s hands. Ben didn´t miss the look that Joe sent Hoss, and willingly followed Hoss outside, knowing there was still something left unsaid.


Hoss didn´t go far. He opened Ben´s own bedroom door and motioned him to sit down on a chair, then sat down himself. Cautiously he held the journal in his hands, gently, almost lovingly, caressing the surface. When he finally looked up, Ben was surprised to see tears glittering in his eyes.


“I couldn´t...I couldn´t understand him...then”, Hoss´ voice was barely audible. He smiled sadly. “I thought he left us.”


Ben opened his mouth to reply, but the look on Hoss´ face stopped him. His son got up then, and placed the book on the table between them, stroking the cover once more before he turned back to Ben.


His voice was gone with the tears that silently ran down his cheeks.


“You said you had only two sons. You were right.” He gripped Ben´s shoulder and reassuringly let his hand stay there for a moment. A tiny smile lifted the corners of his mouth.


“He loved you so much, Pa”, he said. Then he left and softly closed the door behind him.


Ben sat frozen. He didn´t dare to move. Finally, with the evening sun shining through his window, he opened Adam´s journal at the last entry, his hands shaking and his heart about to well over at the sight of Adam´s bold and distinctive hand.



´ “February 28th ...have been to see Doc Martin this morning. One year.“ ´ 


The entries stopped there, almost two months before Adam had left. Ben leafed through the pages, but they were blank. All life had ended that day.


Pressing the book to his heart, Ben buried his face in his hand and wept.






The end