Author’s note: This is the first Bonanza fanfic I ever wrote, though an edited and expanded version of the one I posted earlier on other sites.  Please be patient if you can. J


For Carole, Veroon, Mary and Catherine – whose kindness and love I will never forget.




The Pride of Men


By: Nanuk




Adam stared at him. Ben couldn´t identify the look in his eyes, but he was too angry to give it much thought. He stared back into the strange-coloured eyes of his eldest. Sometimes light brown; sometimes green as moss, they now looked almost black in the dim light of the living room.

Ben was angry. He was disappointed. And as Adam just stared at him, giving him no answer to his accusations but only set his jaw and looked back at him with defiance in his eyes, Ben forgot himself.

“Go”, he said, very lowly, but his voice shook with emotion. “Go and leave my house. If you don’t care, if you don’t take your responsibilities seriously, then go.”

He didn´t really expect an answer. And there was none.

Adam stared at him for what seemed like eternities. Then he was gone. The door closed softly behind him.




The true impact of his father´s words didn´t hit him until he was out of the door and onto Sport´s back. Until then he had just been angry, angry with Joe, angry with himself for letting his brother get the better of him, angry with his father for not seeing what was right under his nose. He knew they often had their arguments. They often quarrelled, and punches were thrown.
They often were sent outside to cool down.
But this time, it was different.
Everything was different.
The anger turned into rage. And then the rage turned into something...dark and dangerous. He didn´t know what it was, but he felt it happening in his body. Feelings, warmth, laughter, all happy memories were wiped out clean. Something inside him froze. What he didn´t know was whether he wanted it to happen or not.
Had anybody watched him in that moment they would have seen the warm hazel eyes turn black. Adam shivered. His eyes were on the path before him, and he would have smiled as he realized the double meaning, but his heart burned white-hot with hurt.
He glanced over at the mountains far away, then at the pines underneath, giant witnesses of centuries gone by. It made him feel small and unimportant, as always, but now he truly was. He was alone.

Unconsciously he suddenly stopped and held Sport back, and then turned around for one last look.
There it was, the house of his family, the house he had helped to build, his house. And now...the house of strangers. He tried to remember what he had felt before when he´d seen it riding up to the yard, coming home after a long travel, but he couldn´t remember.
There it was, a large solid-built ranch house, set in a beautiful landscape, casting bluish shadows in the evening sun – but it meant nothing to him. Not anymore.
All memories were lost.



Ben went up the stairs. He was still furious, but forced himself to calm down considerably before he entered Joe´s room. There he was, his youngest, most vulnerable son, looking more fragile than ever in the big bed with the white linen. His face was pale, his eyes shut tight. Almost he seemed to sleep. Almost, if not for the dark bruise on the left temple where Adam had hit him - the bruise on the temple, the cracked ribs and the broken finger of his right hand.

Ben would have liked to curse. Instead, he sat down on the bed and stroked the soft pale cheek. Unwelcomed memories crept back to his mind.

Adam, who had come into the big room, telling him Joe needed help. Adam who had stood by watching while Ben and Hop Sing brought Joe upstairs and dressed his wounds. Adam who had answered the question as to what had happened without any trace of emotion in his voice. Adam. Adam had promised to keep him safe, had promised…No. Ben shook his head to clear it. Being angry wouldn´t get him anywhere. Resolutely he pushed every thought of Adam away and tended to Joe.




It was two days later that Joe finally came fully awake, due to the laudanum Doc Martin had given him. Ben was still at his side, dozing lightly when he felt a hand touch his arm. He opened his eyes and smiled.

Joe´s lucent green eyes looked back at him, somewhat exhausted and tired, but undeniably alive. He bent forward.

“Hello son. How are you feeling?”

Joe grinned half-heartedly.

“Better.” His voice was hoarse but he settled himself in the bed and groaned just a bit when the movement hurt his ribs.

Then suddenly he stared at Ben and almost shot upright in bed before Ben´s hand could catch him.

“PA! Where’s Adam?” His eyes frantically searched the room and then looked back at Ben, pleading and almost afraid. “Where is he?”


Ben, with a tight grip on Joe´s arms, forced him down, while he tried to calm his agitated son.

“Adam is out”, he said softly. In truth he didn´t know where Adam was, and right now he didn´t care. Still angry that he hadn´t so much as offered an explanation, even less than an apology for shirking his duties, Ben had dismissed him from his mind so far. And by the look of fear on Joe´s face he was indeed glad that Adam was not here.


“But…but…”, Joe seemed at a loss what to say. His eyes, big and green and scared, still looked up at his father. He swallowed.

“Do you forgive me?” he whispered finally. “Please, it was an accident…I didn´t mean to…” His eyes filled with tears.

Ben was confused, and shocked.

“Shhh”, he said soothingly, without any idea what Joe was talking about. “It´s ok. What have you done?” He smiled.

But Joe´s eyes just grew wider and he stared at his father in utter disbelief. He swallowed again. And then somehow found the courage to speak.

 “I shot him, Pa. I shot Adam.”




Ben was dumbfounded. He couldn´t speak, couldn´t think. All thoughts that were left whirled together in his head. And centred around one thing.

Adam. Shot.

And told to leave.

Ben felt sickness rise. With one ear he could hear Joe´s explanation, a rush of hurried words that had to do with “pub in town”, “drunk” and  fight”. And then sentences stuck.

“…I drew on him because I was angry. I was drunk and he told me to go home. I was drunk, Pa. And then…and then I fired.”

Joe´s voice had grown softer with every word. He was shivering. When he finished, he found he was barely able to look into his father´s eyes.

When he did, he found nothing there. Only shocked silence.

Joe hesitated. “Pa?”

Only then Ben looked at him, but Joe could tell his mind was far away.


“What have I done?” The whisper that floated through the silence was almost too low to hear.


“He didn´t tell me. He brought you home and… and I blamed him…and I told him to go…” Ben ran a hand over his face, then looked at Joe. For the first time in his life he didn´t know what to do.

“Oh God, what have I done?” It came out as a prayer.


Joe was aghast. His father looked as if he had aged ten years in a second. He tried to speak, but his voice wouldn´t allow more than a whisper, too.

“Bring him back, Pa.” The tears again rose to his throat. “It´s the only thing you can do. Bring him back. For us.”


* ~ * ~ *

...His father stood at the other side of the abyss, mocking him, turning his back on him. He felt the harsh sand grating his bones and flesh, and the ropes that cut into the sensitive skin of his wrists. He lay on the ground, arms and legs spread out wide, bound to the stakes. Shadows rose from around him, swallowing him, and in the distance he could see Ben Cartwright walk slowly into the embracing and welcoming arms of his family. He tried to cry out, but his mouth was filled with sand. He couldn´t turn his head nor move his body, and the small whimpering noises he heard only intensified his fear. Struggling, he tried to free himself, but then the ground started to shake and small crevices appeared next to him. His father turned around then, but simply stood, and watched while his son was taken by the avalanche and fell... Adam fell; fell deeper into the dark gates, fell, while the razor sharp edges of the rocks cut the flesh from his body. “Noooo”, he cried and sobs mixed with the pleas, “Noooo..!…No!...   ...



He lay on his back, panting, and tried not to move, hoping his shoulder would settle down. Breathing in short shallow gasps to keep the pain at bay, he clutched the ground beneath his body in a futile attempt to hold on to his senses.
Sweat ran down from his forehead and stung in his eyes as the throbbing of the wound faded slowly to an endurable level. Eventually it subsided enough for him to calm down and lose his grip on the blanket. He didn´t know how much time passed as he lay unmoving and stared up into the pale red sky of the new morning. Birds sang in the trees; bees hummed along. He lay still and listened to the blood that ran in his veins.

The memories came back.
Images of his father flashed before his mind; images of a tall man with burning eyes standing in the middle of the room, telling him to leave
. The man he'd loved - his father. The emptiness he felt inside overwhelmed him and he fought to suppress the desperate loneliness and betrayal in his heart.


A determined look came to his eyes as he pulled himself up on his feet. He felt light-headed and slightly nauseous, and his arm felt even more painful than it had the night before. He went to the shore and bent to wash, nevertheless, gazing without passion at the pale complexion that presented itself in front of him in the water. Standing upright proved even more difficult than before, but at last he was up, and he promised himself to stay that way. Dragging himself over to Sport, he gently caressed the horse’s nose. The gelding seemed comfortable enough, and Adam was thankful for its presence.

It was with difficulty that he managed to saddle Sport, one-handed as he was. He had decided to forgo breakfast and dosed the fire, then regarded the horse thoughtfully. But before he could even start wondering how he would last a day on the spirited animal, dark eyes stared hard into his, challenging him.

Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself up in one go, swaying only slightly as he gathered the reins in his hand. Then, after one last look around, he turned and rode off.

~ * ~ * ~


    Ben was in a stupor. He had somehow packed together some things. Joe had repeatedly assured him that he would be ok, with Hop Sing to care for him and Hoss coming back from Sacramento that afternoon.

But both his and Joe´s thoughts were haunted.

He felt himself engulfed in a circle of depression. How could he have been so blind? Fear for Joe, for his baby, had made him overlook the telltale signs he now knew for sure: the paleness of Adam´s skin, his stillness, his reluctance to move much, the look in his eyes.

Ben knew now what it was.

Hurt. Deep hurt, and loss of trust in a father who could easily give away one son for the other.

One fault. One fault had cost him a son, because he had lost his temper. Because he had forgotten how precious gifts his sons were. All of his sons.


He didn´t know where Adam was. Two days were too long for any track to keep and even if –what chances were there for an “if”- he found him, what could he say? Nothing, for there was no excuse for the words he had said.


He went to town, forcing himself to think reasonably, hoping beyond hope and reason that Adam was there. He was injured, he needed help.

But even as he rode along the streets of Virginia City, Ben could tell he wasn´t there.

Not wanting to give up that easily, he went to see the doctor.


Paul Martin looked up in surprise.

“Ben, has something happened to Joe?” The concerned look in his eyes was almost too much for Ben. He swallowed.

“No. No, he´s ok. Came around some hours ago. Paul…” he hesitated, knowing how strange he had to sound, “Have you seen Adam?”

Paul turned around. “Not since he came to get me for Joe. Two days ago. Seemed a bit off-colour himself, but when I asked him he said he was ok. Why?…Ben…” his voice trailed off. Alarmed he grabbed Ben´s arm, who stood still, face the colour of ash, frozen to the floor.

“Ben, what is it? Are you hurt? Can you breathe?”

Finally Ben looked at him and Paul let out the breath he didn´t know he had been holding.

“Yes”, he managed to get out, “I´m ok. I have to…I have to find Adam.” He took a deep breath and shook off Paul’s hand. Purposefully he strode to the door, then hesitated and turned around to the bewildered doctor.

“Paul…Adam is shot. And…I don’t know where he is.” He looked pleadingly at his friend. “Could you…tell Roy?”

Then he was out. And at a loss what to do next.

What should he do? He had no clue whatsoever where Adam might have gone. He looked around and saw the saloon. And went to find some answers.




 “Well, you know how it is with youngsters…they never do as they are told”, the barkeeper shook his head and regarded Ben thoughtfully. “Adam has to drag him out of here almost every day…”, he stopped embarrassed when he caught Ben´s eye. Then he cleared his throat and went on. “Well, that day it was bad. Joe had lost at cards, and he´d drunk quite a bit. Adam had him outside already when he started insulting a boy in here. Pretty soon a nasty fight developed. Joe went down in it, and when Adam came to get him, he drew on him, then fired. Think he didn´t know it was his brother, for when Adam went down, he dropped the gun and hurried to his side. But Adam managed to get up and gave Joe a good one. Almost knocked him senseless. Then he dragged him out again and put him on his horse. Don´t quite know how he managed it with that shoulder, but…sir?”

“Thank you.” Ben choked out the words and rushed outside before he would throw up. His ears rang from what he had heard, and he wanted to disappear in the ground.

Joe playing cards every day! He knew of course that his son liked gambling but…Adam had done his job well. They seldom arrived at home together, Adam was always at least three hours late, tending to this and that, working, helping, advising…taking the responsibilities, carrying his burden without complaint.

A hand clapped Ben´s shoulder, bringing him abruptly back to reality. He turned around, ready for an angry retort but stopped himself in time when he saw Luke, the storekeeper.

“Good day to you, sir. How’s the family? Did Adam say when he´s back in town? He wanted to pay for the ammunition yesterday but he didn´t show up. And how’s Joe doing?”

The babble went on, but Ben just gaped at him. Adam had bought ammunition. What for? He knew nothing of it. Startling Luke, Ben grabbed his shirt.

“What did Adam say? When did you see him?”

“Just three days past…said he wanted to go up to the mountains, hunting…”

The rest of the sentence was lost when Ben released Luke and ran to get his horse.




At least he had a clue now where Adam might be. He hadn´t been to town, he hadn´t taken the stage coach. He´d bought ammunition, and lot of it obviously. Luke had said he wanted to go hunting. Adam hadn´t spoken to him about it, so maybe…just maybe he was now up there after Ben had turned him out.


Fear had a tight grip on Ben as he rode up the path into the woods. He was almost off the Ponderosa now and his stomach twisted as he realized what that meant. “Out of the house…off the Ponderosa…” Adam was proud to a fault, fiercely independent…and stubborn as a mule. And hurt beyond his knowledge. There didn´t seem to be lot he could do to …to what? Almost he was afraid of finding him, afraid of what he would see in Adam´s eyes.


~ * ~ * ~


Adam felt dizzy. Pain pounded in a steady thump behind his forehead. His shoulder felt as if someone had thrust a red-hot poker to it. God. He knew he must get up, tend to Sport, get off the Ponderosa, but even the task of opening his eyes proved a challenge he didn´t feel up to.

He knew he was awake because somehow the sensation of the ground under his body felt different than in his dreams. Gradually he became aware of the things beyond his own being, of the dew-wet grass in his hands, the warmth of the morning sun on his face. He didn´t want to get up, it seemed too difficult to do. Somewhere nearby Sport´s neighing entered into his subconscious, and he weakly waved his hand at the interfering noise. So tired.

Thunder in the distance penetrated through the confused thoughts in his mind, and he blinked, careful not to move anything. Bright rays of light pierced his eyes and made him wince.
Slowly he turned his head and rolled his body to one side. By the time he managed to stand, his shirt was drenched in sweat and blood, but Adam didn´t notice.

Arm held loosely by his side, he staggered across the ground towards Sport. Fortunately, the horse didn´t move when Adam pulled himself up into the saddle. By now he didn´t notice his surroundings anymore. There was only one thought left in his mind. He had to get off Ponderosa land.


The weather caught up with him.

God, he was cold! The wind blew the rain down on him, soaking him, drenching him, and what at first had been a welcomed shower to cool the heat burning him from inside had turned into an avalanche that made him shiver- and sent shafts of pain down his shoulder.

As time wore on, he became so cold he barely shivered anymore. His fingers were stiff from holding the reins, and his left arm felt no longer attached to his body. Stubborn pride had forbidden him to camp on Ponderosa land again. No matter what the effort would cost him…he wouldn´t rest until he was off, and too far away to trouble anyone anymore.


Faces flashed through his mind; friendly brotherly smiles, lucent green and blue eyes awake with life. He resolutely shook his head to clear it of all images before it would turn to the imposing man with the dark eyes – the man he had looked up to all his life- even if the movement made his head pound. A terrible mistake. Blinding pain shot through his head, bringing water to his eyes. He blinked hard and breathed deeply, willing himself to grasp some piece of reality. Focus, he thought. Hold on.

He tried to turn his thoughts back to the path that lay ahead of him.

The way would eventually lead him to a small stream in the woods. He would have snorted with satisfaction, but it seemed so much of an effort that he refrained. In half a day´s time he would be free and gone from their lives forever, but what then?
Rage and insult still burned deep inside him, somewhere, enough to make him go, but he knew he wouldn´t have time to enjoy his “freedom” for long.
He coughed, and it came from deep within, shaking the marrow of his bones. Tightening his grip on the reins, he staggered in the saddle and leant forward to ease the pain in his chest.


~ * ~ * ~


Ben prayed he could find him. There were no tracks whatsoever, the rain and dew had cleared the ground of all marks. He had not seen a human for at least one day, no signs that anyone might indeed have come up here. Only hope and the last remains of trust in his knowledge of what Adams actions would be kept him going. Another day and he had to return home to get some men and more supplies.


He was about to give up any hope of ever seeing Adam again. He was almost up to the tree line now where he could have an unhampered view around. The lake was there; the rivers flew down in the valleys; the sun shone through the trees and made them glow in a deep warm green.

The openness of the space had always impressed him the most for it suited his independent spirit.

Today it made him sick. Not knowing where his son might be it just gave him the impression of being completely alone. The feeling of emptiness that had threatened him all along the way now returned with a force that left him with tears in his eyes.


He didn´t know how long he had sat there, staring at the impossible wideness. Feeling defeated, he turned his horse. Then, as a last greeting, he looked back.

“Good-bye, son”, he whispered. “I love you.”


When he cast down his eyes, he saw the tiny flicker of a fire at the foot of the mountain. For a minute he stared at it, not really believing what he saw. His heartbeat rose. Then he rode down the mountain as fast as he could. He didn´t stop to think.


~ * ~ * ~


Fidgeting with the gear, Adam loosened the saddle belt and let the saddle, blanket and gear drop to the ground after deciding it would be too much trouble to lift. Sport tried prance away, but Adam just managed to wrap the bridle around the tree, not wanting to lose his horse in the wilderness. Spreading the saddle blanket clumsily with one hand, he fell onto it and was asleep before he even hit the ground.


The nap left him waking in late afternoon and feeling refreshed and better than he had for the last few days. His shoulder hurt –no reason why it shouldn´t- but for once his head was clear. He felt light-headed due to the fever, but Adam wasn´t about to complain.

Knowing he didn´t have long before the fever would return full force, he set to the most important things.


He needed water, a lot of it, and the site could use a clean-up, too. He glanced at the river and decided for a short wash in the hope he´d feel better without the grime of the last two days. He slowly walked down to the water, not wanting to make the fever sear up with untimely exercise, and managed to clean at least his face and hands without fainting.

What next? Not knowing how he´d feel in a few hours time, he set to gathering as much firewood as he could, still walking slowly and awkwardly. His left hand was swollen by now and unable to grasp anything, so he had to do with small loads of wood.


The short exercise of cleaning the camp left him weak-legged and shaking, but he knew he had to have a try at his shoulder before doing anything else. He didn´t really know how he should do it, one-handed, but anything was better than just to sit and wait until he died of blood poisoning and infection.


Again he made his way down to the water shore, taking only his knife with him. Breathing deeply he tried to prepare himself for what he had to do.

Carefully peeling off his jacket and opening his shirt, he tentatively reached up and touched the wound. Worse, he decided, a lot.

The wound itself was a ragged dark hole, scabbed at the edges and faintly blue-tinged. The deep angry red of inflammation had spread, was much brighter than the remaining black smears of dried blood. Taken aback, he gripped the knife with his good hand and made a feeble attempt at some incisions to drain the hole of pus. He wondered whether he should take the risk and try to get the bullet out. He certainly didn´t feel up to cutting his shoulder wide open with just one knife. Perhaps the bullet would just pop out if he did, he mused grimly. The wound was infected enough that the flesh around it was painful in a wide circle…and he knew he would just pass out before he could make any serious attempt at getting the bullet out. But then, what choice did he have?

He tightened his grip on the knife, drew a deep breath, and thrust it in.


Not much later he came awake to agonizing pain throbbing through his shoulder. When he slowly began to recognize his surroundings again, he noticed he lay on his back where he´d fallen backwards; his shirt, soaked through with fresh blood, clung to his body. He tried to lift his head but almost at once halted in his movements when the world began spinning again. Breathing carefully, he lay back, and started what he had done numberless times in the last days. He stared at the sky above and let his mind wander.


Ben Cartwright had lost his temper. So what? It hadn´t been the first time, and it surely wouldn´t be the last. What was so different?


Adam shifted uncomfortably on the ground and stopped abruptly when his shoulder reminded him it didn´t take to movements at the moment. So far he hadn´t dared to take a look, but now he turned his head and squinted down. Grimacing, he closed his eyes and tried to forget what he had just seen. Probably it wasn´t from the fever alone he felt so light-headed. Carefully he tried to dab the wound with his bandana, a small attempt to stop the blood flow. Obviously, he´d make things worse.

   What was so different?


And then it hit him. It felt unfair, to him, and he´d never known his father to be unfair. Ben had judged without knowing, something he had tried to teach his children never to do. He had judged without knowing all the details, and let himself get carried away by the moment. Perhaps it was because he was getting older, Adam thought. He could see that it became harder for Ben to adjust to new situations, and having his bleeding baby son carried into the living room surely wasn´t a situation that took cold blood for granted. It was just that he tried to survive these situations and answer them in the ways he knew.


´God knows, I´ve experienced it often enough´, Adam grimaced half-admiringly, ´when he rejected my ideas. ´

The thought of all those years alongside his father made him almost smile. What a stubborn, agitated and proud mule he had been! But now it all seemed for nothing. His father didn´t trust him. He didn´t trust him after all those years.

Admittedly, he hadn´t told him about Joe´s gambling, and he supposed Joe´s injury must have come as a shock to his father- more than to him, that was, because he´d anticipated something like that to happen long ago.

Perhaps it had been Ben´s fear and anxiety speaking in that living room, his worry for his son. Adam could understand that. He supposed he would feel the same in a situation like that.

But what was worse, he didn´t think he could forgive the words his father had said. He knew what had made him speak them, but he doubted that Ben would say something that hadn´t been on his mind for a long time.

His father didn´t trust him. He had betrayed him by pretending he loved him. And that he couldn´t forgive.




Angry with himself and sighing with frustration that he hadn´t seen it earlier, he got up, swaying slightly, and decided it was time to move on. Cleaning the soiled knife, he straightened up and closed his shirt, but putting on the jacket seemed too much of an effort. He draped the fabric loosely over his shoulders and slowly made it back to the camp.


The sight that awaited him shook him deep in his bones. His father was standing in the middle of the clearing, haggard and tired, looking around, obviously searching for him; the man he had assumed he´d never see again.


Searching his empty mind for useless explanations, he could feel his heart beat rise in fearful anticipation, while at the same time his whole body froze into numbness. Perhaps he had come to chase him off further, perhaps to say good-bye, perhaps to say he was sorry. It didn´t matter. It was too late, anyway.


~ * ~ * ~


Cautiously Ben approached the fire. Nobody was there. Letting his eyes swirl around, he noticed the neatness of the camp, the fire, the water. And the horse tethered to a tree. Sport.

This discovery and the realization that Adam had to be close by fell together with the cold voice of his firstborn son behind his back.


“What do you want?”


Ben turned around. It wasn´t evening yet, but they were under the trees where the light was poor. He could just make out the tall form of his eldest under the shadows of the trees. The black cloths fitted neatly into the surrounding darkness. If not for the light jacket, loosely draped around Adams shoulders, Ben wouldn´t have seen him at all. His first thought was to move towards him and tend to the injury Joe and the barkeeper had spoken about, his second to stay put. As it was, neither of them moved.

Ben shifted uneasily. Suddenly he felt he knew how others must perceive Adam, for in this very moment he felt like prey staring into the dark depths of a cave where death was waiting.

Finally Ben licked his lips, uncomfortable with the stretching silence.



“I´m not on your land. What do you want?”


That short remark, spoken in barely more than a cold whisper, and the interruption, showed Ben just how angry and hurt Adam was. He tried again.

“Son…I want you to come home with me. I apologize for what I said. I´m sorry. Joe told me what happened.” He paused and waited.

Adam didn´t move. Ben couldn´t see his face at all. Then he heard him speak. And froze.




Adam´s voice was soft, but Ben could easily hear the steal and ice in it, and it made him shiver. He sensed the mistrust that was behind it and for once knew that he was talking to a stranger. For a short moment he wondered where the trusting little boy with the dark eyes had disappeared. This was the side of Adam he knew existed, but had never dared to acknowledge. Now it was before him, frightening him.


“No. You meant what you said. You meant every word. You always did and you still do. And you were right. I was responsible for Joe, and I didn´t look out for Joe as I should have done.” Obviously seeing his father wanting to object, he went on.

“You don´t trust me. There can be no fertile partnership if you don´t trust me. And you don´t.”




Ben´s heart throbbed in his ears. From the depths of heart he wanted to protest, but a tiny voice inside him told him that Adam was right. He wasn´t sure what he had heard in Adam´s voice because his words had killed him. The much more because there was nothing he could say. His actions had already belied all words he could have said now.

Had he done that to his son, his beloved one? But…but…He had to try.


“Son…”, he said softly, with one word trying to convey why he was here. “Come home with me.” Tears dwelled up in his eyes.


“It isn´t my home anymore.”


~ * ~ * ~


His father had left then. He had not looked back to see Adam break down.


His knees giving out under him, he suddenly found himself on the ground, shaking uncontrollably. Hugging his body awkwardly with his good arm he tried in vain to stop the trembling; kneeling in the grass, he leant forward until his head almost touched the ground, and his heavy breath moved over the blades.


Later he was too exhausted to shake anymore. Swaying with tiredness and pain, he held on to the ground until he had somehow brought his feet under him. Grabbing the saddlebags with one hand and extinguishing the fire with his feet, he limped over to Sport. He didn´t know how he´d managed to saddle him or take care of the deer. All he knew was that he had to get away from there, had to move, had to get away…Clumsily he pulled himself up onto Sport and let him have his way.

He didn´t notice the way the horse took. He didn´t notice when Sport stopped some hours later. He didn´t notice when he fell down and slipped deeper into black-velvet unconsciousness.



So much darkness.

He was alone.


Would anyone notice if he died?

Would anyone care?


There was noone.



~ * ~ * ~



Ben wept. The way back up the mountain he sat still on his horse, thinking of the last and final words he would ever hear from his son. He had stood there, rooted to the ground, not daring to move because he thought he might shatter if he did. Finally he had nodded and gone to his horse. And all the time Adam had watched him from under the trees, his face hidden by the shadows. It was only when Ben stood leaning against his horse, unable to get up that he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard the soft warm voice for the last time.


“Go home. Go to Joe.” Adam had spoken very gentle.


It had broken Ben´s heart.


He caught a sob in his throat, mounted his horse and rode out of the clearing. He didn´t look back.


The thought of Joe suddenly brought him to his senses. Joe. He had promised him he would bring his brother back. A very little light came back to his eyes. He would fight. He had let down one son. He wouldn´t let down another. Resolutely he turned his horse and pushed it forward.


Exhausted he arrived at the camp, but the sight that awaited him wasn´t what he had expected. There was nothing there anymore. The fire had been extinguished; the meat was gone. Adam had disappeared. Again.


Ben cursed. Then he looked for tracks. It was almost dark by now, but he found them. Knowing he wouldn´t come far in the night, he decided to sleep there.


* ~ * ~ *


Already before the first light Ben was up and on the trail. Apprehension made him hurry. It was easy to follow Sport´s tracks; the ground was soft from the dew and the river nearby.

It wasn´t long before he found him. The sun had just risen. His heart stopped for a moment. Adam was lying on the ground, still asleep, and unmoving. Ben led his horse away to a tree and dismounted. Then, feeling he had no right to come about his son unannounced, he decided to make himself known and mentally prepared for the battle that was about to begin.


“Adam”, he called but got no answer. Throwing all caution into the wind for the favour of being near his son again, he slowly went over and knelt down, lightly touching Adams shoulder to wake him.

The reaction was instantaneous. Adam groaned and curled himself together, one hand clutching his left shoulder. Gasping he lay on the ground while horrible truth dawned on Ben.


“Oh no…”


Adam must have heard Ben´s soft words. He opened dark fever-bright eyes and looked at him.


“Go…away”, he managed to get out before he closed them, gasping with agony. Involuntarily he clasped himself tighter as a small movement hurt him again.

Ben had listened, feeling as if his heart was ripped out of his chest. But he knew exactly what he had to do. One close look at Adam had been enough: His eyes were dark with pain, fatigue and fever; his face drawn and pale. The raven-black hair was soaked with sweat.

Carefully he tried to loosen Adam´s hand from the jacket and opened the blood-encrusted shirt that clung to his body. And saw what Adam had managed to conceal the evening before.


The wound was deeply inflamed and had already begun to fester. Cuts along the bullet entry let Ben suggest that Adam had tried to get the ball out, without success.

Without speaking, he searched for a cloth, dipped it in water and laid it on Adam´s forehead. The small gesture was enough to bring Adam around. Lifting his dark heavy lashes, he stared angrily at Ben from under blood-shot eyes.




He had trouble concentrating, but Ben knew the determined look in his eyes. When Ben, equally stubborn, shook his head, Adam began to fight Ben´s hands off his body.


“You´re not well”, Ben choked out through gritted teeth while he tried to keep Adam still. Then, seeing Adam wasn´t to give in, he reached out and, praying for forgiveness, touched the wounded shoulder.

Adam arched backwards on the ground and hissed with pain, then shuddered and passed out.




Adam didn´t know he had been out until he came around again. The excruciating pain had lessened a bit. His shoulder had been bandaged, obviously cleaned, too, but he could see the red streaks of inflammation lurking under the linen. Painfully slow he tried to lift his head.

They were still at the camp where his father had found him. A blanket covered him, tightly tugged up around him; a flask of water lay close-by. To exhausted to hold up his head any longer, he lay back down and closed his eyes. Damn.

He felt sick, probably because of the fever, but didn´t dare to move. When he fainted, he would never be able to convince his father to leave... God, all he wanted was to lie down and sleep, and perhaps his head would stop threatening to burst apart, too.


All of a sudden he felt a cool hand on his blazing skin. He was too weak to be surprised, but frowned anyway when he heard the dark soft voice next to his ear.


“Adam?” Ben´s sounded hesitant. He reached out tentatively to peek under the bandages, but Adam beat his hand away. His head swam, but he managed to mutter some ragged words before the darkness claimed him again. “”


He drifted in and out of consciousness. The darkness welcomed him, and he welcomed it; and a lot of times he was reluctant to leave it. He didn´t know how often he came around in the next hours, but his father was always there with him, holding him on his lap, refusing to leave him.




Ben couldn´t remember the last time he had felt so helpless. He knew he should get Adam home as fast as possible, but that was risky with a fever like that and the loss of blood he had already suffered. The bleeding had stopped in time but the bullet was still in there, and if Ben tried to get it out, it would bleed again, weakening Adam further. But then the bullet had to come out or the fever would rise.


He sighed and looked down on Adam who lay curled up on his side, breathing heavily. He had bandaged the shoulder with clean linen and covered him with a blanket. For now he was asleep, but Ben knew he had to decide fast.


He was tired. He rubbed a hand over his face, trying to stay alert.

Adam had fought him. Whenever he was awake and lucid enough to recognize his surroundings, he had fought Ben with words or actions, had told him in clipped words, interrupted by short ragged intakes of breath to keep the pain at bay, to go away.

Ben had stubbornly refused to acknowledge him, knowing only too well that his temper would flare would he listen- and agitating Adam further by arguing with him was the last thing he wanted.


But his heart was bleeding. Seeing his son suffering like this wasn´t the easiest thing to do. Worse were the hurt and reproach he could sense in Adam, and a betrayal he could never make undone.


Now, as he watched him sleep, trying to decide what to do, he thought that maybe he could let him go away – if he lived, that was – to find his own peace, follow his dreams, but thinking he would never again hear the word “Pa” spoken by the fine sonore baritone voice seemed unbearable to him. Right now it seemed that he had no choice whatsoever in that regard since Adam had not called him that once since he had found him. Ben couldn´t imagine the power of will needed to control fever dreams, but Adam had not called out to him, had not mumbled his name in his sleep, as he had done before when hallucinating. Not once. He had spoken of his mother, his brothers, but it was as if he had wiped all memory of Ben from his mind.


Adam shifted uneasily on the ground, groaning with pain and fever. Automatically Ben put a hand on his shoulder to calm him, still deep in thoughts.

When the movements suddenly stilled under his hand, he looked up in surprise. He couldn´t see Adam´s face, but he felt the muscles tighten under his palm. Almost reluctantly he let go, knowing from experience that when Adam was awake he would ask to be left alone.


This time there was no remark. Ben waited, then he softly touched his cheek.


“Adam”, he called without thinking.


“Yes…” The weak husky voice was barely audible, but Ben had heard it. Carefully he turned Adam on his back so that he could take a better look at him, earning him a sharp hiss. To him it seemed that his son was getting paler by the minute, the brows and thick black lashes that rested on ivory cheeks were the only colour in his face. Ignoring the fever for now, he held Adam´s head on his lap, getting alarmed when he felt no resistance at all.


“Adam”, he called again, but this time he got no reaction whatsoever. Adam´s face was pale and worn out, the fast shallow gasps the only things that belied his stillness; the deep line of pain on his forehead, of trying to hold himself from crying out, was smoothed. He looked almost relaxed, but for Ben it was as if the last battle had begun. He had to decide now. Adam was slowly slipping into constant unconsciousness, and with a fever and a wound like that he couldn´t survive.


Looking down on Adam, Ben knew he had made his choice. There was no alternative. If he waited, he would lose him. If he tried to get the bullet out, Adam might die. Or, he could live. Unbidden the tears came again. Angrily Ben wiped them from his face. Then he closed his eyes and bent down his head until it touched Adam´s cheek. He could feel the heat radiating from his skin and the soft stubble that covered his face.

“I love you”, he whispered.


The preparations didn´t take long. He boiled water and washed his knife, laid out the blankets and cut the bandages he was going to need. Then he turned towards the task he didn´t want to do.

He stripped Adam off his shirt and took off the bandages. The sight wasn´t one to improve his hopes: The infection had spread, turning the edges of the wound an angry red. Ben sighed. Almost he thanked God that Adam was unconscious, for he had nothing to numb the pain.

Then he said a short prayer, and giving his soul and hands into God’s care, he put a knee on Adam´s chest and took hold of the knife.


* ~ * ~ *




Someone was calling him, from far away, and he thought he should get up and see what was the matter, but somehow he didn´t care at all.


“Yes...” He heard his own voice, but it was weak and the wind blew it away. He heard the calling again, “Adam...”, but he was moving away from it, towards sunflowers and ladybirds and endless green meadows...


A little girl in a red dress ran over the meadows, feet bare and hair flying wild, laughter and happiness in her eyes. Amazed he watched, and knew he had fallen in love. Never had he known such carefree happiness, and he stood and watched; his heart beat with joy and excitement. And then she turned and he could see the sparks in her eyes...


He heard his own cry in the darkness around him, but nobody came to wake him up. His hands were tied to a rock, an iron band was around his chest, and there above him, the dark shadow...wasn´t that the eagle coming to feast on his flesh, pick from his liver? The eagle that had already tasted Prometheus...the thought made him smile but why had the eagle dark eyes he thought he should know? He couldn´t remember where he had seen those dark piercing eyes, and the eagle spoke to him while selecting a new spot to pick from, to tear from. His weight was on his chest and kept him from moving, and all he could do was to be still and listen to the deep voice and wonder why Prometheus ever dared to speak up against the Gods.






The eagle pulled the flesh from his bones, from his arm, tore apart his body that was aflame now with pain and agony, but the tearing would not stop, the weight on his chest took his breath away, made him unmovable as the rock itself, made him still as a rock,


still as a rock....


But there was still warmth, and the eagle’s sharp beak tearing flesh from his body hacked once again into him, tearing, tearing.


He groaned, but the shadows and the darkness around him swallowed all sound. And he was here, a small, tiny human being, nothing at all against the world.


He had failed.

And the darkness came quickly.


He blinked. The fire had died down, leaving his body exhausted and half-awake to the wolves that came to eat the rest of the hangman’s dinner.

Would they choke on the bones, he wondered.

Or would they just break them,

fighting and howling like banshees that searched the dark nights for lost and lonely souls?


The wolves came nearer, he could hear their heavy paws on the ground, howling and singing his favourite childhood-songs while they came and gathered around him, watching, with their merciless yellow eyes.

Should he try to move?

He wasn´t sure whether there was anything left of him that actually was HIM. But yes, there was a hand and an arm, still attached to his body it seemed, but when he tried to move them they wouldn´t, try as he might; and he squinted his eyes to see beyond the darkness around his own body. But there was only darkness, darkness, and the howling, and a heavy breathing in his neck, warmth on his back. He shivered, but the warmth stayed, and the bite he expected didn´t come.

Wolves, he thought. How strange.


He floated again, and it felt nice, because people tied to a rock are usually not expected to float. It´s amazing, he wondered, I can even see our house from here.

Blue eyes, clear as a summer sky, looked back at him, so full of love that his heart wanted to break with the warmth of them. Green eyes alive like leaves in the wind...


He was so cold.

He shivered, but almost at once the wolves were back behind him, and he felt their warm breath on his neck again.

Let them come, he thought. Let them kill me.

I want it to be over..


But then they turned into a large bear that hugged him to its huge body, engulfing him in its warmth, and hummed in his ear; and despite himself he found he couldn´t resist, and snuggled closer to its body, seeking for a presence in his last hours.

Noone here, he thought, but I won´t be alone.

Almost, he was grateful.  




They ran over the dew-wet grass, holding hands, laughing. Adam beamed. His feet barely touched the ground, as he ran towards the horizon. He heard her laughter behind him, and it made him ran faster; he reached out with his arms, embracing the sky and wind, celebrating life. Far behind him he heard her voice, and he stopped then, and looked back. There she was, calling out to him, her red dress flying. He smiled.



~ * ~ * ~


It was the fourth day when they found them.

The men stared at the scene before them.


Ben and Adam Cartwright lay flat on the ground, unmoving, not reacting to calls in any way.

Alarmed, Paul Martin and Roy Coffee rushed over to them, searching for signs of life. Carefully they tried to disentangle Ben from Adam, whose body was wrapped around his son. Ben, coming around to find himself in the arms of Roy Coffee, stared for a moment in wonderment at the face above him. Then, painful realization written all over his face, he frantically turned around.


“Adam!” he breathed, watching as Paul Martin examined his son. At the sight, he started. Adam looked deathly pale. The lips had a blue twinge, despite the sweat on his forehead. His lips were dry and cracked, and he had an unhealthy ashen colour to his skin. His fever was still high; Ben could feel the heat from where he was. Paul was just unwinding the bandages from his chest. All men watching drew in their breaths in shock when the last linen came away. Ben felt the sickness rise again. He almost turned away.


“The wound was… infected. I…had to…had to get the bullet out.” He uttered the words as an explanation for the carnage he´d made, but speaking them let the horror of the last day come back with a vengeance. He had gotten the bullet out, but then he had cut the infected flesh away, too, and having no means of desinfection, he´d had to wash out the wound with boiling water. The result was so ugly to look at that several men who stood around them bent over and threw up. Ben himself felt like doing so, but Paul just licked his lips. Thoughtfully he regarded the mess in front of him, felt Adam´s forehead and pulse.


“Well, I guess you saved his life, so far. It was good that you cauterised the veins.”


Ben just nodded weakly. He was slowly turning green with the memory of burning flesh and Adam´s hoarse screams despite his unconsciousness. Adam, if he were to recover, would have a deep gash in his shoulder for the rest of his life where Ben had cut away the infection.


Paul had finished his examination. “As crude as your work was, there’s not much more I can do at this point.” He searched for Ben´s eyes, asserting himself that Ben was aware of the fact. “I can give him something for the fever. He should drink as much as possible to make up for the loss of blood. I will clean the wound and dress it properly, but anything else is up to Adam.”

He shook his head. “He should be home in his bed, but I´m afraid we’ll lose him if we move him that far.”

Searchingly he looked at Ben who seemed transfixed. “Ben?”


Not taking his eyes off Adam, he shook his head.

“No”, he said softly. “Adam wouldn´t want to go home.” He ignored the startled looks of both men, thinking. “There’s a little hut, just a mile to the east. Could we move him there? There would at least be a roof, and there should be supplies and blankets, too.” He gazed at the doc. “What do you think?”


Paul thoughtfully regarded Adam. “I think that would possibly be best. If we move slowly enough not to jostle him too much we can do it. It´s in any case better than to leave him lying on the damp ground where he can catch pneumonia any minute.” He looked at Ben again. “Shouldn´t you relax for a bit, too? One of the guys could bring you home…no, Ben, I know you want to stay with Adam, but if you break down from exhaustion, you’ll be no great help.”


Ben glanced at him, indecision and weariness written all over his face.




All heads turned sharply at that. In a wink’s time, Ben was crouching next to Adam, taking his free hand, while Paul perched on Adam´s other side, carefully checking his pulse.


“Adam? Adam, do you hear me?” The longing in Ben´s voice was heartbreaking. Adam painfully turned his head away and struggled to open his eyes to Doc Martin.


“Make…make him…go.”


A sharp gasping from Ben was the only answer. When Paul turned his head questioningly in his direction, his friend wiped the tears from his eyes, backing away. “Ben?”


“It´s ok”, Ben choked out. He drew back, slowly sinking to his knees as he watched Paul turn back to Adam. Right now, at that moment, he wished for nothing else than a knife to cut out his heart.


Paul whispered to Adam. “He will go, Adam. If it´s ok with you…”


“Needs…to care…for…family.”


Ben´s head pounded. This was just too much. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears. No matter what he had thought before of not arguing with Adam, that just did it. In a second he was back at Adams side, shouting on top of his lungs.




Shocked silence. Everyone was stunned. Most men looked in awe at Ben Cartwright who knelt next to Adam, shaking with emotions. Anger, fear, frustration, impatience and love were written plainly on his features, and noone dared to interrupt him, not wanting to come into the line of fire. Only Paul Martin hesitantly put up a hand, only to let it fall again to his side as a look of wrath descended upon him.


 “Listen to me: YOU ARE FAMILY! You are my son! You are my son!” Tears were streaming down Ben´s face now, but he didn´t care. All he noticed were the dark brows on his son’s pale face, drawn together, as he screwed up his face.

“You are my son! You are my son…” Weeping, he bent down and took his son’s face between his hands, his eyes inches away. “I love you, Adam! Please, God, I love you…” He closed his eyes and kissed the drawn cheeks, only to open them in surprise when he felt a slight touch on his arm.




 ~ * ~


“Adam…” Sobbing freely, Ben gathered Adam up in his arms, despite all the noises of protest from Paul. He held him tight, just as a little baby, caressing his hair over and over, slowly cradling back and forth. “I love you”, he whispered again and again as he held him to his chest.


Only slowly he became aware of the world outside again. When he felt Adam flinch, he let him carefully glide to the ground, and wiped his face. Shaking all over, he stayed on hands and knees until his heartbeat had calmed down to a slower level.


He stared up in Paul’s face. Paul Martin felt an unknown swirl of emotions. Fear for Adam was mixed with bewilderment and anger at Ben´s unreasonable actions. He knew somehow that what had just happened was important for Ben, maybe also for Adam, but he couldn´t see that it had done any good. Adam had flinched and jerked when Ben had touched him, had gasped with pain, but he hadn´t tried to pull away. Now, as he lay on the ground, unconscious again, Paul didn´t know what the jostling had done to his injuries. And all he could do was stand by and wait.


“Uhm.” Roy Coffee cleared his throat. All the time he had stood by, watching. Now it seemed that nobody was able to make the necessary decision. Ben was still holding on to Adam with one hand, the other was buried in his son’s hair. Paul Martin was watching, looking annoyed. He sighed and cleared his throat again.


“Ok then…two men to tend to the horses. Two men build a stretcher; one rides to town and comes back with supplies. Doc will tell you what we need. Ben and Paul, you will prepare Adam. I ride up to the shack, check the way and make the bed ready for Adam. Any questions? Then off you go.”




With a plan at hand, it was as easy as it could be. While the men built the stretcher, Paul carefully bandaged Adam´s shoulder again and bound the arm to his side. Adam had woken once through the painful procedure, flinching when Paul had to move his arm, only to pass out again. But the sight of the dark eyes, and the fact that the fever, though still high, was sinking gave Paul the hope that against all odds Adam would survive.


The stretcher the men had built was sturdy and long enough to carry Adam´s full length. With two men to the front, and two behind, the going was easy enough. Still, when the hut was in sight, the relief couldn´t have been greater.


Roy, as good as his word, had the cot ready for Adam. Soon he had been settled down and taken care off, the men sent back to town and only Paul and Ben remained to tend to Adam.


* ~ * ~ *


Adam slept most of the time. The fever sank further until only a slight warmness of his skin indicated the passing sickness. The wound started to heal - slowly. Ben and Paul took it in turns to watch, either of them staying at his bedside all the time, dressing the wound, washing his body, rousing him for drinking.

Adam never spoke to one of them. When he was awake, what was seldom enough, he just stared at the ceiling or let his eyes wander over the two men in front of him. In consequence, Ben, who had never been much of a talker, withdrew more and more into himself, talking to Paul only when tasks made it necessary to communicate. Paul began to wonder just what had passed between the two of them, but Ben wouldn´t speak, and Adam couldn´t. The only times Ben alighted were in the mornings, when he sat next to Adam, watching him sleep, and the sun rose, drawing golden lights on his son’s skin.


One morning Ben woke to the sound of the birds chattering outside. All was peaceful. Then he looked to Adam, only to find the strange brown eyes watching him. His heartbeat went up. He knew what Adam´s reactions so far had been, but couldn´t keep the hope out of his voice.


“How are you feeling?” He shortly touched Adam´s forehead, checking for fever. Almost, he didn´t await an answer.


“Don´t…ask.” Adam´s voice was weak and husky from disuse. He tried to clear his throat and grimaced as sudden pain shot through him. Without comment, Ben lifted his head and gave him water. Adam breathed deeply.


“Hey, you are awake? How are you feeling?” Paul Martin, just coming in from outside, stepped towards the bed, checking in quick succession arm, bandage and forehead. Then, content, he sat down, nodding to Adam and Ben alike.


“Seems the worst is over. I think, one more day here, and we can move you home.” He smiled.


Adam slowly looked up at Ben, meeting his eyes as he spoke. “I don´t want to go home.”


Ben was startled, but at this stage he felt too tired and exhausted to think of a reply or even feel anything. Luckily it was Paul Martin who answered.


“And just where do you think you would go? Not that you are in a state to go anywhere, I’d like to remind you. It´s really time to get out of these woods. I have other patients to care for, and staying here would be too much trouble, too much danger to your life, too much danger to your health. It is just out of the question for you to go roaming in the woods. Understand?!”


Adam grimaced. “NO!”


Exasperated, Paul threw his hands in the air and left the room.


Ben gazed at Adam. He was disappointed. What had he expected? A happy reunion? An “I will forgive you, Pa. Let´s go home”?

He should know Adam better than that, claiming he was his father. But maybe he had lost.

Sighing, he half turned.


“Maybe…maybe you would consider to stay at ho…at the Ponderosa until you´re well enough to choose what you want to do. The wound would heal faster if we took proper care of it…” He spoke reluctantly, “ …and you could…do whatever you want”, he ended lamely. He knew he had just lost his son another time, but losing him this way seemed a lot better than losing him to death.


Adam nodded slightly. “I…would like that.”


Ben didn´t look at him. “I’ll go and tell Paul”, he said flatly.




Adam didn´t know how long he´d stared at the wall of the small cabin. It seemed like an eternity.

He didn´t know how long they had been here. His father and Doc Martin had been there when he woke from his fever dreams, but they had been careful not to strain him too much, and kept conversations and explanations to a minimum. They needn’t explain a lot, though. As the pain in his shoulder eased and his strength came back, so did his memories.


He didn´t remember a lot of the last days – what he assumed were days, because he had completely lost his sense of time-, it still was a haze with blurred images floating to the surface every now and then. He remembered fear, and wild animals chasing him; and he remembered the little girl.


It had surprised him. He hadn´t thought of his childhood friend in years, and it amazed him that he´d dreamed of her. She had been his best friend when all the world seemed unfriendly and cold; she had shared his secrets and fears. He had trusted her with his heart as he had only his father at the time.

He could still recall the day when they had to part because her family went further north in their search for new land. They had promised each other to be brave, to bear the separation with as much dignity as they could muster, like all the heroes they had read about in stories. They had vowed to cherish each other’s memory.

But when his father´s wagon went past her and he looked down on her and saw the tears running down her cheeks, he didn´t feel ashamed of his own wet lashes.


He did remember the days...before, though. It explained a lot - his ride into the mountains, his father´s search for him, the state of his wound - even if he still had to puzzle the pieces together, one by one. His father didn´t speak much, but Adam could tell he was thinking about that last night at home all the time. Nothing he could do about that right now; he had to clear it all up for himself and gather strength before he could “discuss” this topic.


Another point on his list, gathering strength. His Pa and the Doc had explained the condition he was in, rather vague he found, and so far he hadn´t been able to take a look at his shoulder, covered in bandages as it was, to see for himself what the doc referred to as “butchery”, with a twinkle in his eyes. Judging from the pale face of his father, the doc´s assessment of the wound had to be closer than he liked it.

It ached, that was all HE knew, and it tired him. Usually he wouldn´t mind so much, but his thoughts seemed to elude him these days. He slept a lot, and when he woke he was fed and given a drink, but even those necessary activities wore him out. His memories ran wild, and his thoughts were always hiding in some dark eternity; they wound up higher and higher, like an endless road; and at some point he couldn´t follow them anymore and was completely lost.


Adam couldn´t describe his feelings towards his father. On the one hand he wanted to assure him that everything was alright and that he had to stop worrying, on the other hand he knew it would never be the same again. Those words were still painfully vivid in his mind, and they surfaced every time he tried to approach the subject on a rational level. Consequently, he hovered in a place somewhere beyond space and time, not knowing where he belonged to.


This morning he had awoken to find his father watching him and had seen the worry in the older man´s eyes. He had seen the longing, too, but he couldn´t bring himself to speak the words his Pa wanted to hear, not yet. Instead, he had accepted the offer to stay at the Ponderosa, his home, for his recovery. After that it was his to decide. The offer, and the underlying acceptance that he might leave, had cost his father dearly, he could plainly see it, but Adam refrained from promising anything that he might not be able to fulfil.


Right now, his caretakers were busy packing. His arm had already been dressed anew and bound to his chest, and all he had to do now was wait for them to get him outside. He took a deep breath that halted suddenly and came out much more careful, and wondered how they intended to get him home in one piece. He felt his lids drop. He was so tired.



* ~ *  ~ *

The way back was as eventless as one could wish for. Ben and Paul had transformed the stretcher into a travois and packed it with blankets to make it as comfortable as possible. Between them, they managed to get Adam out of the shack and onto it. Then, with Adam settled and bound to the travois, they slowly made their way back to town, and the Ponderosa.


~ * ~ * ~


Finally, after what seemed like two never-ending days of worry, they arrived at the ranch. Paul had already left them, leaving strict rules, having other patients to think of, too. Ben had been worried how Adam would react being ON Ponderosa land again, but Adam had been out when they crossed the borderline, and when he later felt anything, he didn´t say.

Ben was glad they were at home. He was frazzled, numb in mind and body. Now he would have Hoss and Joe and Hop Sing to help him care for Adam, and if possible be successful where he wasn´t: In convincing Adam to stay. Never had the house looked so inviting to him. All he wanted right now was Adam in bed, and a few hours sleep for himself.

The last days had been draining. Adam was weaker than anyone dared to admit. By now, Ben could already see the fever returning in his eyes. He pulled the horses to a stop and sighed.


Hoss came running from the house.


“PA! Are you ok? Adam?” He rushed to the side of his brother, almost crouching in the dust next to him, taking in at once the pale face and the shoulder covered in bandages.


“Adam?” he whispered, and when his brother didn´t respond, looked up at Ben. “Pa?”


Ben had wearily dismounted and stood next to his horse, his body stiff. “He´s alive. Can you bring him in and up to his room? And be careful with his shoulder.”


“Yeah…sure.” Hoss´ face showed the bewilderment he felt. When he saw his father walking slowly towards the house, saw the tiredness expressed in his every move, he refrained from asking questions. With gentle hands he untied the bounds and moved the blankets aside. Adam had moved slightly, but didn´t open his eyes. Only when Hoss carefully lifted him, he gasped.


“H…Hoss?” he asked in a faint voice that Hoss found hard to recognize as the voice of his brother. In a reflex motion he pulled him tighter to his chest, only to let go again when he saw the lines of pain on Adam´s face.


“Don´t you worry none. We’ll have you up and about in no time.” With long regular strides he strode up to Adam´s room and settled him onto the bed. Then he changed his cloths – a task he found extremely difficult under the circumstances- and finally pulled the blanket over his brother.

He knew he had to take a look at the bandages, but first he had to solve the problem of his father´s mysterious absence from Adam´s room. As far as Hoss could remember, in the past his father had always been the first to a sickbed of one of his sons, and the last to leave it, no matter how tired he was. But today…Ben had been more than tired, Hoss had easily seen that - no wonder after first worrying and then caring for Adam, and he sure could use sleep. But he hadn´t even seen Adam in his room, made sure of his welfare – and that struck Hoss as something most strange.


He found his father seated on his bed, his head in his hands. He looked up as he felt Hoss´ hand on his shoulder and Hoss was startled to see the despaired look on his face, a look he couldn´t explain.


“Well?” Ben asked.


“I settled him and changed his cloths. I still have to change the dressing. For now he is ok, but I think he has a fever coming.

Joe is well, too. Mending without complications, and asleep right now in his bed.” Hoss cleared his throat before going on.

“What about you?”


Ben gave him a weak smile. “I´m just tired. Do you think I can leave you in charge of both your brothers for a few hours?”


If Hoss hadn´t been alarmed before, this would have set him off. Since when did his father admit to being tired in an emergency? As it was, he could see that he was indeed worn out and decided to leave questions for later. Nevertheless, he gave it one more try.


“Before you go to sleep…can you help me change Adam´s bandages? I don´t even know yet how he´s hurt…”


Ben´s head was in his head again. “He doesn´t want me around, Hoss”, he murmured, sounding resigned.


Oww, Pa, come on, He´ll…”, Hoss started but stopped when Ben lifted his eyes to him and gave him a forlorn smile.


“It´s better you start now. Hop Sing will help you, I´m sure. I’ll look in on him in the morning.” With that, he stood up and turned to the window, a clear signal for Hoss to leave the room.


 ~ * ~


“Oh God!”


Hoss, coming up from the kitchen with a fresh bowl of water, stopped dead in the doorway.


“Joe, what are you doing here? I thought you would sleep?” He put the basin on the bedside table and grabbed Joe´s forearms, yanking him from where he stood frozen in front of the bed to a corner of the room. His face was white as a sheet. And no wonder, Hoss thought. Between Hop Sing and himself they had taken the bandages off for new ones. While Hoss changed the water, they had left Adam uncovered, the ugly wound open to the air for a few minutes. But they hadn´t counted on Joe seeing it. Hoss himself had been deeply shaken to see the damage, but the horror on Joe´s face and the guilt weren’t things he was prepared for.


Joe started to tremble. “I heard you…I had to see for myself…what I´ve…” He swallowed and gazed hesitantly at Hoss.

“Will he live?”


“Yes, of course.” Hoss wasn´t to discuss any other way. It was bad enough to care for Adam. He would not have thoughts to enter anyone’s mind that undermined hope. He shushed Joe away from the room.


“Go to bed. I only want to see you here in the morning.” With that, he closed the door firmly behind Joe and set to work.




Three days later, Hoss woke abruptly in the middle of the night.

He was sleeping in a chair in Adam´s room, just in case. So far, Adam had been very still, had hardly moved at all. The fever had sunken without problems, the wound looked as good as it could be. Joe had sneaked back into Adam´s room in the morning and, finding Adam awake, had apologized and been absolved from his guilt. Adam, still too weak from fever, pain and the prolonged absence of food, awoke now every few hours, enough for Hoss to feed him a little soup and speak to him encouragingly. His efforts were greeted with warm glances and tiny smiles that just touched the corners of Adam´s mouth.


His father was another matter. Although he often looked into the room, asking how Adam was doing, he never stayed longer than a moment, hovering near the door -to be able to escape at any moment, Hoss thought. He´d spoken to Ben about what had happened, but although his father had been pretty detailed, Hoss knew the most important things were missing from the report. Only when he spoke to Joe, he got an impression of what must have happened. He was shocked, but knowing both Adam´s and his father´s disposition to pride and stubbornness, he didn´t wonder. But understanding didn´t keep him from wishing that things were different.


Hoss didn´t know what had woken him. He thought he had heard a low moaning, but wasn´t sure. Sitting up a bit, he was about to check on Adam when he saw the dark figure sitting on the bed, holding Adam´s hand. It was dark in the room with just one candle burning, but Hoss would have recognized Ben with a blindfold over his eyes.

Apprehensive, he remained still, watching the scene in front of him.




Ben was weary. For days now he had tried to imagine how a life without Adam would be like, had been torn with guilt. He had dared to hope after Adam´s reaction to him in the mountains, but since then he felt like falling down a bottomless pit. Numb in mind and body, he couldn´t stand being near Adam longer than a few seconds, couldn´t stand the knowledge that he had done this to his son, that he had injured him, first by turning him out, then by cutting his flesh. Sickness rose in him whenever he thought of those hours in the wood, heard Adam´s cries in his mind, saw the dark eyes look up at him.

He couldn´t stand it any longer.

Silent tears were running down his face as he sat in the darkness of Adam´s room. Hoss was asleep in the chair in the corner, where he´d slept every night since he had brought Adam home. He let his eyes wander over his son’s face and longed to touch one dark brow so that he could feel the fine hairs with his fingertips. He didn´t dare to.

Instead he looked down where the hand rested on the covers and gently traced its outline with his fingertips. When he lifted his head again, Adam looked at him.




He had felt his father´s presence even before he opened his eyes, felt his work-hardened large hand on his wrist, warm and oddly comforting, like the anchor that he had been all his life.

He opened his eyes. Ben´s face was streaked with tears. He looked down to where their hands were touching on the blanket, and Adam could see the lines of worry that had edged themselves deep into his cheeks and forehead. He felt a strange sensation tickling his hand, and he knew it was his father´s hand, lightly caressing his own...because he was afraid.

Adam watched him, in that odd atmosphere he felt himself captive in, as if everything did happen underwater, all sound tuned out, all the world left outside, and everything that mattered were the people around him, the people, and his feelings, and the truth.

And then his father looked up. Saw his eyes. And merged into the world that had been his own for so long, a world entirely deprived of action, consisting only of thought and thought alone.

Adam could sense another person near him, and knew without thinking that it was Hoss, watching over him as had been their habit in their long hours alone, with no company but the other.

But it was his father he concentrated on, the lines on his face, the dark deep eyes so full of sadness that the whole room seemed full with it, the shame in his heart, and the fear.

It was the fear that touched Adam the most, the fear that told him that he´d forgiven his father those words he had said, the fear that told him his father was only human, and a loving gentle man who had experienced too much sadness in his life. Like he himself had. Sadness seemed to be everywhere, no matter whether they thought they deserved it or not.

Ben looked at him, and he felt breathless for the sensation. Time had stopped, and all he could think of was his father, here. They were both here, in this room. They WERE, and somehow that seemed all that mattered for the moment. They just were.




For a moment, everything seemed like a dream. Adam lay still, silently watching his father´s face. It was still in the room. Ben could hear Adam´s breath, even and regular for once. He felt like he was floating underwater. For eternities he drowned in the dark depths of Adam´s eyes, thinking nothing, feeling nothing but long-lost happiness. He let himself get carried away by the wave of contempt that rushed through him, warming his body like the laughter of his sons on a cold winter’s night.


Adam blinked. He turned his head to the side and coughed lowly. Ben snatched his hand away. Helplessly he watched, then pulled the blanket up to Adams chest and left the room.

He didn´t go far. Just outside he leant against the wall, breathing deeply, running his hands over his face. Then he stared at the opposite wall and closed his eyes. His knees were shaking.


“Don´t you think you should forgive him?”


Hoss´s soft voice was floating through the door. He heard a rustle of blankets and Adam´s deep voice in response, still slightly breathless.


“I have forgiven him.”    


Ben opened his eyes in surprise. Never had he assumed…He heard Adam coughing again before he continued to speak.


But…I…”  Adam sounded reluctant to share his feelings. Involuntarily Ben clenched his fists as he listened.


“I don´t know whether I can still live here, Hoss.”


~ * ~


Ben was out on the porch, staring at the stars above, when Hoss joined him in the silence. Together they gazed into the darkness. Then Hoss cleared his throat.


“Did you hear him?” he asked softly.


“Yes.” Ben´s voice was husky.


“He did forgive you.”


“Yes.” Possibly even softer than before, he sighed. “But he can’t forget. … And he wants to leave.”


Hearing his own words sounding into the silence of the night, Ben felt strange. For the first time since he had told Adam to leave, he was at peace with himself. His thoughts were calm; the terrible guilt that had weighted him down had lifted from his shoulders. But now there was something else he couldn´t really define. Maybe it was sorrow, he thought, deep-down sorrow, for again he found himself in a situation where he couldn´t help Adam. Again he had to stand by and watch his beloved one suffer, had to wait until his decision was made. Again there was nothing he could do. Adam had chosen to fight his demons alone, as so often in the past.


“He doesn´t want to leave.” Hoss´ low but firm voice interrupted Ben’s sombre thoughts. “He doesn´t. And it´s tearing him apart that he thinks he has to.”


“What can I do, Hoss?” Ben looked up at his second son´s face, hovering inches apart from his in the night, like a pale opal.

“He has lost his trust in me.”


Hoss stared at the stars for a long time before he answered. Then he regarded his father thoughtfully. When he spoke, his voice was full of compassion, and not louder than the evening breeze.


“Love him, Pa. Just love him. He´ll learn again how to trust you.”


* ~ * ~ *


Somehow it was an awkward time that followed. To Ben it seemed that the whole house was silent in anticipation, waiting for something to happen, although nobody seemed to know what it was.

Joe soon was his usual rascal self, bouncing through doors and landings at full speed. Only when being near Adam his hilarity was subdued.

Ben was equally subdued, but for different reasons. He kept on thinking what Hoss had told him, what Adam had said himself. He wasn´t often in Adam´s room, still not daring to be near him too much, but he would sit with him in the evenings, sharing the night and the silence.

Hoss kept on tending to Adam, who was healing well. Still he was taciturn at his best, speaking to Hoss sometimes in the evenings, sometimes not for days in a row. By now he could wear his arm in a sling and was allowed out of bed for dinner, after a long argument with Doc Martin that proved that although Adam was barely speaking with one of his family, he had by no means lost his quick mind and sarcastic wit, not to tell the stubbornness that drove them all crazy.




Adam lay in bed, contemplating.

He desperately tried to remember her name. He knew it was buried somewhere in his mind. If he could only remember. It was because of her he was still here, because of her he hadn´t given up to fight for his life. He was alive because of her.

He could see her in his mind’s eye, see her hair, the smiling lips and the eyes full of love and laughter, and feel the joy in his heart even as he thought of her. He was thankful. More than words could ever express.

She had made him smile when his life seemed darkest, had made him see the blue of the sky, the yellow of blooming fields. She had brought...


He smiled. The sunset painted his room in dark red colours as he remembered.






Ben, seated in his favourite red chair by the fire, was lost in thoughts. Dinner had been a bit livelier for once, since Hop Sing had favoured them with his best apple pie that had Hoss break out in loud praise, and Joe in giggles in consequence.

Right now they both of them were occupied with a game of checkers by the fire, trying to cheat in every way there was. Called out of his reverie by a loud exclamation from Joe, Ben looked up and smiled as he became aware of the red and sweating faces in front of him. Amused, he glanced over at Adam and saw the corners of his mouth curl upwards. Amazed, he sat watching the long lost sight, saving it to his memories. Then Adam became aware that he was being watched. But when he turned his head and regarded Ben in turn, the smile was still in his eyes, lighting his face with life like a torch. Ben held his breath until Adam turned back to the book he had been reading. He peered at Adam who seemed oblivious, but sat quiet and relaxed, lost in his book. The paleness had left his face, and he was beginning to gain some of the weight he had lost. Hidden under the black shirt and the bandages was the wound that healed into a ragged, twisted scar, reminder forever of days of absolute loneliness.


Ben looked up when Joe and Hoss excused themselves for the night. He nodded a good night and followed them with his eyes up the stairs, then gazed at Adam, who had stayed seated.


“Adam”, he asked hesitantly, not wanting to appear too nosy, “Are you ok?” Somehow he felt that the motive for Adam´s sudden companionable behaviour was more than just pleasure in the cozy atmosphere. His neck started to tickle with terrible foreboding, but he forced himself to remain calm, as he had promised himself for Adam´s sake he would.


Adam slowly turned on the settee until he faced his father. Then he looked at Ben, his eyes glowing in a warm golden brown, reflecting the fire.


“I have made my decision.” His voice was very soft, vibrating with emotion. Ben felt a tremor running through him, despite the warmth of the room.

But before Ben could say anything, Adam stood up. Suddenly swaying with dizziness, he held out a hand to his father, who was beside him in less than a second, steadying him. Adam closed his eyes, trying to stop his blood from rushing loudly in his ears.


Ben, feeling the shivers that ran through the body next to him, held him tighter, feeling under his hands the bandages and the scars. When Adam finally had regained his steadiness, Ben looked at him, tears prickling in his eyes.


“I´m so sorry, Adam”, he choked out, steadying himself for what Adam would tell him of his decision.


Adam appeared not to hear him. He opened his eyes and regarded Ben with a strange mixture of wistfulness and sorrow.


“Did I ever thank you for saving my life?” he asked softly.


Ben didn´t say anything for a long time. He stared at Adam, not understanding, until he looked into those strange eyes, full of gold green lights now, and knew, when his heart leaped with joy, what it meant.


But he couldn´t speak, for he didn´t trust his voice. Huskily he tried, then broke off, then tried again.


“Did I ever thank you for saving me?” he asked back.


Adam didn´t answer. He drew his father in an embrace, and Ben held on tight, not letting go for a very long time.


His son was home.





~ The end ~




(Word phrase “fiercely independent” by BeckyS, because I think nothing describes Adam better than this.)