TITLE:   On My Way

AUTHOR: SallyAnn


SPOILERS/CHANGES: Set after “The Julia Bulette Story” in season one.    

SUMMARY: Joe is having difficulty dealing with his grief over losing love and proving he’s an adult by taking it out on his family.  This leads to trouble for him and his entire family.

DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of Bonanza Ventures, not me.  I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights.

DATE:  5/4/09

Ben Cartwright tied up his horse, Buck, in front of the Virginia City Bank.  He wiped the sweat and dirt off of his brow, sighing at the unusual September heat.  As he stood, his son Hoss approached.

“Howdy, Pa,” Hoss called out congenially.  “Did you meet Mr. Harrod all right?”

“Yes, he was very pleased to discuss a land lease for his sheep herd.  The only difficult part of the deal will be having Joe finish the fencing up near the ridge trail before fall finally sets in!”  Ben chuckled and wiped his forehead again.

Hoss joined in on the joke about his younger brother.  “I s’pose you’re right, Pa.”  Hoss looked around him, then asked, “Speaking of--where did Adam and Joe get off to?  They never did join me at the general store.”

“I imagine they finished up at the telegraph office by now.  I’d bet you’d find them taking a bit of a break in the Silver Dollar.”  Ben did his best to look stern, then broke into a grin at the sight of Hoss’ suddenly thirsty look.  “I’m just going in to see Mr. Waverly at the bank, then I think I could use a beer myself!  Go ahead, son, I’ll meet you there.”

“Sounds good, Pa.  We’ll save you a stool at the bar!”  Hoss loaded his packages into Chubb’s saddlebags before he headed off towards the Silver Dollar Saloon.  Chubb whinnied as Hoss turned away.  “Sorry, boy, you can have the trough to beat this heat.  I’m getting a frothy one!”

Hoss’ tall fedora barely cleared the doorway to the Silver Dollar.  He blinked rapidly, adjusting to the contrasting darkness inside from the bright sunlight outside.  Nodding at the barkeep, Hoss settled in at the bar.  He glanced around him, looking for either of his brothers.  They were nowhere to be found.  “Hey, Tom, has Adam or Little Joe been in here yet?”  Hoss asked as the bartender started automatically pouring Hoss a beer.

“Well, Hoss, they were in here about ten minutes ago, but I had to send them out pretty quick.  Joe managed to get in some disagreement.  Before they could start fighting here, I got your older brother to drag them apart and outside.  Joe did say he’d be back for a beer once he took care of Josh Reynolds.  That was the other fella,” Tom recounted the events, inwardly laughing as Hoss sighed and rolled his eyes.

“At least Adam got him outside before any furniture got broken.  Thanks, Tom.  I’d better go find them--then we’ll all be back for that drink.”  Hoss left his untouched beer on the bar and stepped back out into the humidity of the afternoon.  He didn’t have to try too hard to find his brothers.  Just follow the sounds: a shout, a shuffle, and gunshots.  Gunshots?!

Hoss began running down the street in the direction of the commotion.  In a small alley next to the International House, he found Adam holding Joe by the collar as Joe struggled to reach for a dirtied man rubbing a split lip.

“You’re gonna pay for that, Little Joe!”  Josh sneered as he stood up.

“You just tried to shoot me!  I was fighting fair, you--” Joe spat.

Adam interrupted Joe before he could say anything too rude.  “Now, Joe, can you just let it go?  Let’s get that beer now, little brother.”

“What’s going on here, fellas?”  Hoss asked, finally stepping into view.  No one had seemed to realize he was there yet.

“This Reynolds character has insulted me and my good name!” Joe shouted, sounding awfully young. 

“Well, Joe, looks like you showed him.  Now cool down, let’s have a drink.” Hoss said, stepping aside to let Adam lead Joe out of the alley.

Joe struggled to release himself from Adam’s grip.  He wrenched his shoulder away and shot Adam a nasty glance before righting his collar.  Joe walked quickly ahead of his brothers, an uneven, frustrated gait, all the way to the saloon.  He realized he was taking his pain out on anyone around him, which gave him a twinge of guilt--simply more raw emotion to add to the mountains of feeling he was currently grappling with.

“What’s going on now, Adam?”  Hoss asked once Joe was out of earshot.

“I don’t really know, Hoss.  Josh Reynolds started hassling Joe when we reached the Silver Dollar, but it seemed all in fun.  Little Joe had been a tad out of sorts all morning, and I suppose he just snapped.”  Adam replied.  He glanced behind him, catching sight of Josh shuffling away in the opposite direction.

Hoss followed Adam’s gaze, then shook his head.  Sometimes their younger brother could get into moods, but picking fights and being reckless was another matter altogether.

Recently Joe had been finding himself in situations that required others to pull him out of.  Just last week, during a poker game, Joe had managed to cause an issue with one of the other ranchers they shared land with.  Ben had to smooth over Joe’s accidental insult, and Joe was sent out to start work on the fence line by the ridge trail as a result.

Not long before that snafu, Joe had been given great responsibility.  He had traveled alone to San Francisco to sell cattle, and returned successful and in one piece.  The whole family was proud of his youngest brother, and his father was especially proud of Joe’s growing up.  However, things became strained shortly after he returned.  Joe become seriously and naively involved with a gold-digging saloon owner.  His brief love affair with Julia Bulette caused himself great pain, in addition to a great deal of stress for his family.  Everyone knew Joe was still grieving for Julia and his lost love, he just chose to deal with it more violently than his family preferred.


Ben beat his sons to the Silver Dollar once he had finished his business with Mr. Waverly at the bank.  He had been surprised to find none of the boys there, but selected a table with a view of the door, figuring they would be along shortly.

Ben’s surprise was instantly replaced with a volatile mix of confusion, anger, and worry upon seeing a dirty and bloodied Little Joe followed by dusty and frowning Hoss and Adam.  “What on earth happened to you boys?  I figured you’d be on your second or third round by the time I showed up here.  You been fighting, Joseph?”  Ben stood to interrogate his sons as they walked in.

Joe kept his head down and tried to hide his swollen cheek.  Adam stepped in to quell their father’s bubbling rage.  “Joe was defending himself, nothing else.  The Reynolds kid was giving him some trouble,” Adam explained.

“He sure won’t be anymore,” Joe mumbled.

“What was that, son?” Ben inquired pointedly.  Joe simply shook his head and looked up quickly with wide eyes, realizing he spoke aloud.  Ben sighed and stretched his shoulders back.  “Should we have that beer then, sons?”


The Cartwrights reached home just as dusk was settling over the Ponderosa.  Joe hadn’t said a word during the ride back, and no one provoked him.  When he was this moody, it was best to let him simmer until he either boils over or lets it go.  As they rode up to the house, Joe was about to reach his boiling point.

“Make sure you put some of Hop Sing’s ointment on that cheek, Joe,” Adam advised as he swung down from Sport’s saddle. 

Joe led Cochise into the barn, stopping abruptly at Adam’s words.  “I can take care of myself, big brother,” he stated through clenched teeth.

“You don’t want a shiner, now, do--” Hoss tried to make the situation light, but was cut off by Joe’s angry shouts.

“I’m just fine, why don’t you both leave me alone!”  Joe urged Cochise into the barn and didn’t look back at his bewildered family.

“Joseph!” Ben began to call his son back to scold his tone, but Adam put his hand out to stop his father.

“It’s probably best to let him go.  Don’t worry, we’ll deal with him when he gets in the house,” Adam glanced back at the barn, frowning.  He didn’t often put up with Joe’s attitudes, but tonight, he was too tired to start a fight before dinner.


Dinner passed quietly.  Ben tried small conversation, but his attempts were frustrated by all of his sons’ sullen attitudes.  When Joe wasn’t happy, nobody was happy.

Finally, at the end of the meal, Ben couldn’t take it anymore.  Joe needed to grow up and get over what was bothering him.  He sat down next to his youngest on the settee while Joe pretended to read a book.  “Joseph,” he started, “what is bothering you, son?”

Joe staunchly ignored his father.  His anger and pain from the past several weeks was making it impossible for him to focus and he frowned at his book, having read the same sentence four times over.  Ben did not take kindly to being ignored, and made a quick glance at his other sons, who were playing checkers and trying to stay out of the situation for the moment.  Ben decided to try again: “Joe, I asked you a question, young man.”

That was enough to set off Joe’s fuse.  He had been simmering all day, and being called “young man” set him to his boiling point.  Joe dropped his book and bolted up from his seat on the settee.  “I am NOT a young man!  I’m an adult, and would you all just stop hasslin’ me?  I can take care of myself!” Joe shouted at his family.  He suddenly turned and rushed out the door, barely taking a moment to grab his gun belt and jacket, leaving his hat.

“Joseph!”  Ben called after him, rising quickly.  Adam was halfway to the front door when Ben lifted a hand to stop him.  “No, Adam, let him go.  When he’s ready, he’ll come back inside.”

Adam was seething, irritated at having to deal with his brother--Joe was always so doted on, even when acting petulant, childish, irresponsible, everything Adam was not, and really, never had been.  He halted in his tracks, turning his head only partly back to his father, ground out a reply: “He is being ridiculous.”

“I know he is, Adam.  But there’s no point making the situation worse.  Let him have some space.  It can’t continue past tonight, and I will be the one to ensure it does not.  Understood?”  Ben’s tone allowed no room for argument.  With an almost petulant sigh of his own, Adam retracted his steps and walked upstairs to his room.


Joe stormed out of the house and directly to the barn.  He started saddling his horse, Cochise.  “I’ll show them, they think I’m just a child.  I’m a man, and I’ll just have to prove it to them that I can do what I want and take care of myself!”  Joe spoke to his loyal friend and companion as he deftly swung up into the saddle.  He led the paint to the main trail, their destination Virginia City.

The sky grew dark much faster than normal.  Dusk fell speedily into night as clouds covered the sky.  Joe noted that a storm was brewing to the west; the unusual September heat was fixing to cause quite the fall thunderstorm.  “Hopefully it won’t reach Ponderosa land.  I forgot my hat!”  Cochise whinnied and jerked his head.  “I know boy, I don’t want to get wet either,” Joe patted his horses’ neck and urged him on.

As Joe rode on, his mind wandered back to thoughts and feelings he had been trying to repress for weeks.  His frustration over not being a boy but not quite a man had been building.  The successful trip to San Francisco had made him feel like a million dollars--until he fell in love.  Love.  It seemed to always mix things up for Joe.  He heaved a deep sigh, refusing to cry even though Cochise never minded.

The cover of clouds blocked out any light from the moon and stars.  The blackness made it difficult to see the trail and he soon found himself off the main path and nowhere he recognized.  Refusing to panic, Joe led Cochise towards what looked like a large clearing some thirty feet ahead.  He could only hope it would direct him back to the trail and closer to Virginia City.  The thunder was getting louder; it was only a matter of time before the storm hit.

The clearing Joe spotted turned out to be a large canyon where a river once ran.  A flash of lightening from behind him illuminated the depth of the canyon.  The light startled Cochise and he began pawing the ground in agitation.  Another flash sent Cochise running forward and the reins slipped from Joe’s hands.  Surprised, he leaned forward to hang on.  Cochise suddenly stopped, throwing Joe forward and down into the canyon.  Joe’s screams echoed across the canyon, frightening the horse.  His paint galloped quickly away into the night as Joe landed hard on the rocky floor, knocking him unconscious.


As night drew on, Ben began to worry about his youngest son.  He often stewed when his emotions ran high, but it had been nearly an hour since he had stormed out.  Hoss had wanted to go out and see if he could talk to his little brother, but Ben had halted his attempt just as he had Adam’s earlier. 

Ben heard thunder in the distance and decided to check the doors of the barn and other outbuildings in case it stormed.  Upon reaching the barn, he noted that Joe’s horse was missing.  If a thunderstorm struck and Joe wasn’t sheltered, he could be in real trouble.  Ben cursed inwardly.  If only he had checked on Joe earlier or allowed one of his sons to follow Joe!  If anything happened to Joe, he’d--

Suddenly Cochise galloped into the front yard.  He was riderless and looked spooked.  Ben rushed to calm the horse, then tied his reins to the post, leaving him saddled and ready to ride back out.

“Adam!  Hoss!”  Ben bellowed.  The other two men rushed out of the house, hats and gunbelts in hand.  He quickly explained the situation.  “Your brother’s gone.  If this storm hits and he’s not in a line shack or some shelter, he’ll be in serious trouble.  Let’s saddle up.  We may just beat the storm.”

“Figured it was something like that, Pa,” Hoss stated as he started to saddle Chubb.  He shook his head.  His little brother sure could be a fool sometimes.


Joe awoke to the sound of rushing water.  Tahoe?  He couldn’t quite figure out where he was or why he felt so weak.  He remembered a clearing.  No, not a clearing.  A canyon.  But where was the water coming from?

Joe lifted his head slightly.  He couldn’t move his left arm, however, and propped himself up on his right, wincing with pain.  He could move his legs, even though it hurt worse than anything he’d ever experienced.  Sitting up at that moment was worse than being shot.

Joe’s legs felt wet.  He figured it was blood, since he noticed rips and tears all over his pant legs.  His hips began to feel wet as well, and Joe became concerned.  Surely he wasn’t losing that much blood.  He began to shiver as the chill from being wet and hurt set in.  When his right hand became cold with wet as well, he realized he wasn’t just bleeding.  It was water.  Running water, and more was coming. 

Joe’s mind rushed back--the thunder, Cochise rearing, falling into the canyon.  Now rushing water?  It was likely a flash flood as a result of the earlier, distant storm.  Of all the nights to have run off in a huff.  He struggled to stand and reached for his gun with his right hand.  This was an unfortunate time to be left-handed, but Joe had trained himself to shoot right-handed starting at age twelve.  That would certainly come in handy today.

He fired a warning shot into the air, hoping someone might just hear it.  Joe waited a moment then shot two more shots.  He’d need a few rounds in case he ran into trouble.  Three shots now would have to do. 


The three oldest Cartwrights had been riding along the main trail on the Ponderosa for quite a while.  No one spoke, not wanting to miss a sound that might indicate their youngest family member nearby.  The darkness made it impossible to see very far ahead, and the Cartwrights decided it was simply safer to ride together.  If the storm hit and they were separated looking for Joe, more of them could get into trouble.

Adam contemplated Joe’s attitude from that day.  He had been so up in arms over being teased by the Reynolds kid, and turned quickly on their father when he called Joe a young man.  It was clear Joe was having issues with being the youngest and proving himself.  Adam knew Joe was still grieving for Julia and his lost love.  But level-headed Adam couldn’t quite make sense of it.  Even those strong emotions shouldn’t reduce one to a simpering child. 


Joe searched for a branch or ledge to hold on to.  The flash flood water was still racing out of an unseen gap in the canyon wall.  Joe had no idea how much water was still coming, and it was already to his knees.  The canyon was not very wide, probably only twelve feet or so, but at least it was long.  Joe couldn’t see its end in the dark, but any exit path for the water must have been much smaller--or nonexistent--as the canyon quickly began to fill like a well.

Joe managed to locate a rock jutting out of the canyon side.  His wet hand slipped as he tried to pull himself up to it.  As he got a good grip on the rock with his right arm, his feet struggled to find a good way to climb up the wet wall.  His right foot hurt something awful, and wouldn’t quite do what he wanted.  The foot slipped in trying to find a good grip, and Joe winced in pain.  His ankle was definitely twisted and swelling up in his boot.

He couldn’t give up now.  If he did, he could possibly drown.  Joe did entertain the thought that if they canyon filled it could just rise him up to the top and he could crawl right out, but as the water swirled around his legs, that didn’t seem as safe as moving up the canyon wall.  Joe pushed himself hard with his right arm, and managed to make it to the small ledge. 

Joe had managed to keep his gun above his head and dry.  He decided he could try another warning shot now, hoping someone might be nearby now.  The storm seemed to be breaking up in the distance, so it wouldn’t be reaching his area.  Instead, he had the after-effects to deal with in the flash flood.

Holding the pistol high, Joe fired. 


Buck faltered as a gun fired.  “Whoa, boy,” Ben soothed.  He squinted in the darkness, trying to discern what he could in the distance.  The clouds had begun to move out, but starlight yielded little.

One more shot rang out.  “Pa--that canyon ahead,” Hoss called out, urging Chubb forward.  Adam and Ben followed close behind, hoping Joe was nearby. 


Water was rising all around Joe.  It was waist-high now even as he sat on the ledge, and there seemed to be no end in sight.  Joe contemplated firing his last shot when he heard hoofbeats above him.  He called out, hoping he could be heard above the water.  “Hello!  Hello!  I’m here!”  Joe yelled as loud as he could.

“Joe!  Son, hold on now.  We’re all here, we’ll get you out of there!” Ben was leaning over the edge.  His son was about twenty feet down, half of him seated on a rock ledge, barely holding on.  Ben could see water flowing below and around Joe.  “Are you all right?  Are you hurt?  What’s the water, Joe?”

“Flash flood, Pa.  My left arm’s broke, but I think I’m okay.  Have some rope?” Joe called back.

Ben gestured for Hoss to throw down the rope.  Hoss was by Ben’s side, tying a square knot in the end to create a loop.  Tossing it down to Joe, Hoss called “Loop that around your waist, Joe, then we’ll pull you up!”

He did as told and felt himself be lifted up and out of the canyon.  Joe held his left arm as still as he could while gripping the rope with his right.  With his father and brothers all pulling on the rope, Joe was out of the canyon rather quickly.  Ben pulled him over the edge gently, noting how Joe was cradling his left arm. 

“Careful now, let’s get him onto Cochise.”  Ben said as he led his youngest boy to his horse.  They brought the paint with them on their hunt for Joe, for precisely this reason.  Hoss gently lifted Joe into the saddle, careful of his arm. 

The rest of the Cartwrights swung into their saddles.  “Let’s go home, boys,” Ben directed, glancing quickly at his sons, relieved they were all together again.


Ben was barely in his saddle when he heard before he saw the barrel of a gun positioned directly in front of his face.  The trigger was cocked back.  The night sky hardly lit the gun, let alone the arm holding it or the man attached to both arm and gun.  “What the--” Ben started in confusion.

“Just hold it right there, Cartwright.”  Ben recognized the voice. 

“Harrod?”  Ben placed the voice, and was instantly even more confused.  “What are you doing?  What on earth...”  His voice trailed off as he realized Alan Harrod was joined by three other men.  Their guns were drawn as well, the moonlight that was just beginning to peek through the remaining clouds glinted off the barrels.

“Surprised, Ben?  Really?”  Harrod’s voice sounded genuinely amused.  “I was hoping to do this another way, but you beat me to your boy here.”

Ben made a half glance behind him, ensuring all his sons were safe and on their horses.  They were, though none of them had their guns drawn quite yet.  “My boy?” Ben asked, trying to keep the man talking and not shooting.

“I was going to kidnap Little Joe here while he finished that fencing.  Instead, my hands noticed he raced off tonight, and I figured I’d take advantage of this opportunity while he was alone.  Just couldn’t wait til morning to get that land and money, you see,” Harrod explained, never lowering his pistol.

“We were working on an agreement, Alan,” Ben tried to reason with the man. 

“I think this will be much more profitable for me, actually.  I’ll take all the land from that lease as a gift, as well as $50,000.00 in exchange for me not killing your sons.  All of them now, since they’re here,” Harrod grinned evilly.

“Well, let’s talk about this like gentlemen, back at the Ponderosa, Alan.  It would be much easier, and we can draw up papers.”  Ben was trying to distract Harrod and stall for time.  The boys realized what their father was doing and very slowly reached for their hips, hoping neither Harrod nor his men would notice the movement in the dark. 

No such luck.  Josh Reynolds, the man Joe had fought with earlier and a hand of Harrod’s, noticed Joe shift his gun uncomfortably in his right hand.  With a quick shout, he alerted Harrod and the others and shots were instantly fired.  Adam and Hoss had drawn as soon as Reynolds moved his head towards Joe.  One of Harrod’s men fell from his horse and Reynolds was gripping his shoulder from a shot Joe administered.

“I thought I made it clear, Ben, that I was not playing around here!”  Harrod rode right next to Adam and grabbed him by the arm, jutting the barrel of his gun under Adam’s chin.  “I’m taking him; Barrett, take the little one.  If you try to stop me, they’ll both be dead.  Deliver the money to me by dawn, or you’ll only have one son left.”  Harrod had taken Adam and Joe’s guns and the two mostly unharmed men took the horses’ reins.  Reynolds kept his gun trained on Hoss who was aiming at Harrod.  Ben raised his arms up and nodded for Hoss to do the same.  With that gesture, Harrod raced off with Barrett and Reynolds in tow with half of the Cartwrights.


Ben cursed as he watched Harrod ride off.  He could not understand how a simple business transaction had turned to deadly.  Hoss put a hand on his father’s shoulder, reassuring him.  “We’ll get ‘em, Pa.  Don’t worry, Adam’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’ll take care of them both.”

“We’ve got to get out to Harrod’s ranch, Hoss.  And fast.  There’s not too many hours left until dawn.”  Ben holstered his gun and pulled Buck around.

“You don’t mean to pay him, do ya?” Hoss asked, surprised.

“I may not have a choice.  First, you ride into Virginia City.  Get the sheriff and Doc Martin.  We’ll need them both for whatever happens.  I’ll head back to the house to get the money and we’ll meet at the ridge trail as soon as we can.  Got that, son?”  Ben spoke quickly and with determination.  He had to get his sons back.

Hoss nodded.  “Yes, sir.”  With that, he raced off into the night.


Adam and Joe had been tied and placed in the Harrod barn with only a cow.  Their horses had been tied outside, supposedly in case they would try to make a break for it.  Joe was brought nearly to tears when his arms had been bound behind his back and his ankles tied together.  He refused to cry in front of his big brother, however, and endured the pain.  Joe’s breathing had become rather shallow, however, and Adam noticed. 

“Joe, are you all right?  Talk to me, Little Joe,” Adam lightly cajoled his brother.

“I’m fine,” Joe replied a bit too harshly.

“Now’s not the time to be snippy, Joe,” Adam pointed out.  Joe sighed, knowing he was right.  He was still angry, however--mostly at himself.  If he hadn’t been so childish and selfish, he wouldn’t have fallen into the canyon, needed his family to save him, and gotten them all in this current mess with Harrod.

Adam seemed to have read Joe’s mind.  “It’s not your fault, brother,” Adam said softly.  He would have much rather yelled at Joe for acting like a boy, but he decided Joe had been suffering enough lately.  Now he had a broken arm and who knew what else to add injury to insult--literally.

Joe closed his eyes trying to eliminate the pain and his brother’s pity with sheer willpower.  It didn’t work, and when he opened his eyes again his arm and foot were still throbbing, and his legs felt rubbery.  “It obviously is, brother,” Joe responded bitterly.  “If I hadn’t been in such a mood we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“I won’t deny you were acting like a child,” Adam started.

“I am not a child!  When will any of you see that?” Joe cut him off in a loud voice.

“Keep your voice down!  Do you want them to gag us too?”  Adam hissed, checking the barn door to see if anyone was coming.  When it seemed clear, he continued.  “I know you’re a man Joe, Hoss and Pa know it too.  You need to figure it out yourself, though.  You’re too busy trying to prove to everyone you’re a man, but doing it just like a boy would.”

Joe opened his mouth, ready to send a seething reply, then halted at his brother’s words.  Adam wasn’t yelling at him, but offering sage advice.  That was strange enough, but the fact that it made sense to Joe was even stranger. 

“I have been a bit...what’s the word?  Petulant?  Haven’t I?”  Joe confessed, and sneaked a glance at Adam.  “I s’pose you’re right.  Always are, aren’t you?”  Joe shook his head, wincing again at the pain it caused.  “If I really am a man, I’d better admit when I’m wrong.  So there you go.  I was wrong, you’re right.  I’m on my way.”

Joe’s tone had a hint of bitterness and sarcasm, but he smiled at Adam, indicating his genuineness.  Adam returned the smile and nodded.

“Good for you.  You’ll get there, eventually,” Adam affirmed.

Just then the door to the barn opened.  Reynolds came in, his shoulder bandaged and arm in a sling.  His free hand held a gun, cocked and leveled at Joe. 

“I think I owe you something, Little Joe,” Reynolds emphasized.  He lifted the gun to smack Joe across the face.  Adam lunged at Reynolds then, catching him in the knees and causing him to fall.  As the gun landed it discharged, causing Harrod’s other hand to come running into the barn.  Joe was on his knees and caught Barrett by surprise, causing him to trip over Joe hunched over.  Adam managed to release his rope ties and quickly undid his ankles.  He began helping Joe, but Barrett had gotten back up with his gun drawn.  Before Joe could even warn Adam, Barrett fired. 

Joe didn’t realize quite what was happening.  He saw the gun, knew Adam couldn’t see it, and the next thing he knew he was up, ankles still bound, and slugged Barrett.  But the gun had gone off.  Where had the bullet gone?  Joe’s head was swimming, things were happening too fast and he was in so much pain.  He looked down at his right hand, realizing there was a great deal of blood on it.  Joe touched his side; it felt wet.  More water?  The canyon again?  No...no more flash flood...it was a barn now...

Nothing made sense.  Adam was holding Joe, telling him something, but no words made sense.  There was too much pain.  Darkness seemed so comfortable right now...Joe just wanted to rest...

Adam was frantically trying to stop the bleeding in Joe’s side.  The bullet grazed him, going clear through him, but he was bleeding quite a lot.  Joe had saved Adam from being shot in the back by Barrett and was now suffering even more.  Possibly even failing.  Adam ignored the cold of the evening and removed his jacket, pressed it into his brother’s wound.  Frantic, he refused to let go or to stop talking to him, trying to keep Joe awake and in this world.

They had to get out of there, Adam knew it.  He picked up Barrett’s and Reynolds’ guns then picked up Joe, cradling him in his arms.  He walked out of the barn, holding one gun in front of him while still carrying Joe.  Harrod had reached the yard in front of the barn, having heard the commotion. 

“Please, just give me a reason to pull this trigger,” Adam ground out the words, actually hoping Harrod jerked his hand towards his gun.

“Now, now, this is not how things are supposed to happen.  It was just threats!  I just wanted the land and money, just an easy trade, see, no one was supposed to really get hurt, it was just for the money...” Harrod began to panic as he saw his foolish plan begin to fall apart.

“Give me your gun,” Adam commanded.  Harrod quickly complied and Adam added it to his collection.  “Now, the horses.”

“Yours are tied just behind there,” Harrod indicated behind Adam.  He held his arms up and began to sweat.  If his hands were dead, he’d have three deaths on his conscience, maybe four if Joe was dead too.

Adam walked backwards toward Sport, never taking his eyes off Harrod.  He placed Joe in front of him on Sport, not trusting Joe’s condition to leave him alone on his brother’s paint.  Adam grabbed the reins of both horses and never lowered his gun from Harrod’s direction.  Without another word, he spurred the horses away from the Harrod ranch and as quickly as he could to Ponderosa land.


Ben had managed to gather around $20,000.00 in cash from his safe at the house.  He would have to negotiate the rest with Harrod if it came to that at dawn.  He hoped that Hoss would make it back to the ridge trail with the sheriff and doctor soon, he knew his sons would be counting on them.


Hoss had ridden like the devil himself was chasing him into Virginia City.  He rounded up not only the sheriff, but also the deputy, and a few friends in town to back up the Cartwrights.  He found Doc Martin taking care of a few last fever patients in town, but he was able to come out with Hoss.  The small posse rode as fast as they could back to the ridge trail, hoping Ben would be there to meet them.


Adam rode as fast as he could without jarring Joe towards the Ponderosa.  Joe was drifting in and out of consciousness and Adam was concerned Joe would fall asleep and not awake again.  He didn’t know how seriously he was hurt from his fall into the canyon, but Joe looked like he had been put through the ringer a few times--and that was before he had been shot.

Joe’s conscious and unconscious thoughts were centered on his family and his overwhelming sense of guilt.  His foolish, childish need to prove himself placed himself and his family in grave danger.  If anything happened to Adam, or Hoss, or even his Pa, it would be his fault.  It was almost too much to deal with.  That, coupled with the pain from multiple wounds, made it hard for Joe to stay awake.  He tried though, since Adam kept talking to him, and sounded a bit worried.  Adam never sounded worried. 

It seemed like it took hours for them to ride towards the ridge trail.  Joe didn’t even know where he was once they arrived, even though he had been working on this fencing just days ago.  Adam leapt off the exhausted horse and carefully eased Joe down.  He inspected Joe’s side, glad to see it had stopped bleeding, but was not encouraged by Joe’s ashen color.  He was just about to remove Joe’s right boot when he heard hooves rapidly approaching.

It was still dark and difficult to see, but Adam could tell the horses were coming from friendly territory--the Ponderosa and Virginia City.  Ben and Hoss with his posse arrived almost simultaneously.  Ben practically jumped from his horse as he saw his two sons in the grass.

“Adam!  Are you all right?  Joe!  What happened?”  Ben clasped his eldest on the shoulder and bent by his youngest, eyes full of concern.

“He’s hurt bad--that fall was bad enough, then he took a bullet for me, Pa,” Adam explained, revealing Joe’s side.  “The bullet went through, but he’s lost a lot of blood.”

Doc Martin joined the men then and quickly looked Joe over.  “We need to get him to a bed, Ben, he’s in bad shape.  If he doesn’t get some care right away, there’ll be damage I can’t fix.”

Ben nodded.  “Hoss, Adam, please go with Paul and Joe.  Do anything that needs to be done.  I’ll be along after I talk with the sheriff.”

His sons agreed and they sped off, Adam again riding with Joe resting carefully in front of him.


Ben led the sheriff and deputy to Harrod’s ranch not far from the ridge trail.  The other men joined them, still in an auxiliary capacity.  Harrod was found easily, panicking in the barn, looking over his wounded men, alternately yelling at them and crying out in worry about the whole situation.  He didn’t seem quite sane, and the sheriff led him and his hands right away to the jail.

As the sheriff rode off, Ben rushed back to the Ponderosa.  Joe.  He was so worried about his young son.  His hot head got him into some serious trouble, and he hoped it wouldn’t cost him too dearly.


When Ben arrived home, he found Adam and Hoss sitting silently in the great room.  Doc Martin was still up with Joe, setting his arm.  Ben raced up to Joe’s bedroom, bursting through the door without knocking.

“Paul--how--” Ben was out of breath, and could hardly bring himself to ask how his son was.

“He’ll be all right, Ben, but he’s pretty banged up.  Besides the bullet wound, which did go clean through, he’s got a broken arm, sprained ankle, and a great many bruises on his back and legs from that fall.  He’ll be on bed rest for a while, but I think if he rests, he’ll make a full recovery.”  Paul reassured Ben as he finished splinting Joe’s arm.

Ben sighed with relief.  He watched his son sleeping peacefully and thanked the doctor.  Paul gave Ben a quick nod and handshake then excused himself from Joe’s room.  Ben quickly took Paul’s position next to Joe, holding his good hand and saying comforting things to the sleeping boy.

Joe stirred slightly at the sound of his father’s voice.  “Pa?” he weakly called.

“I’m here, Joseph, right here,” Ben said, tightening his grip on his son’s hand.

“Pa, I’m so sorry.”  Joe couldn’t hold it in any more.  His boiling point had been reached, and now he was just so full of pain and grief he had to let it out.  Everything--Julia, the fall, putting his family in danger, everything that had happened over these few short weeks--weighed heavily upon him.

Ben tried to hush Joe, but he ignored his father and pushed on.  “It’s my fault, if I--I hadn’t been such a child...”  Joe started.

“No, son, it’s all right.  You didn’t make it happen.  It’s not your fault.”  Ben wasn’t sure he could handle this conversation right now either.  So much had happened, his emotions were frazzled.

“No, Pa!” Joe continued as forceful as he could muster.  “If I hadn’t been so awful to you all, and just left, I wouldn’t have put everyone in danger...I’m so sorry...”  His voice trailed off again and his breathing became heavy.

“It’s not your fault, Joe.  But you must understand, you’ll always be my boy, my son, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a man.  You don’t have to prove it to us or anyone, understand?  I am always proud of you, always trust you, and don’t blame you here.  None of this is your fault, Joe.  Now rest, son, rest.”

Joe was asleep.  Ben hoped he had gotten through enough to Joe so his sleep would be restful.  He kept an eye on his son for a while until he drifted off into sleep himself, in that straight-backed chair beside Joe’s bed.


The coming weeks were difficult for Joe as he recovered.  He was more frustrated with his forced bed-rest, however, this did provide him quite a bit of time to think.  It was during one of these thoughtful moments in which he was still nursing some guilt that Adam decided to pay Joe a visit.

“Care for some company, little brother?” Adam asked as he poked his head in Joe’s room.

“Sure, Adam,” Joe gestured to the end of his bed.

“How are you feeling?”

“Better today.  My ankle’s not swollen anymore, finally.  I hope that means I can start walking without that cane Doc Martin left for me.  I mean, I wanted to prove I was old enough and all, but I didn’t need a cane quite yet!”

Adam shared a laugh with Joe, glad his sense of humor seemed to be recovering as well.  Then he sobered when he remembered partly why he came to see Joe.

“Look, Joe, I never got a chance to thank you.”

“Thank me?  Whatever for big brother?”

“For saving my life!  You took the bullet in your side to keep me from getting it square in the back.  You saved me, Joe.”

Joe looked down at his lap.  “Well, you wouldn’t have needed saving if I hadn’t screwed up, so really, I think it’s the least I could do.”

Adam sighed.  For weeks every one of them had been trying to convince Joe that while he had made mistakes, Harrod kidnapping them was not his fault.  It seemed clear Joe was still blaming himself.

“I know, I know.  Not my fault,” Joe quickly stepped in when it seemed Adam was ready to recite the same speech Hoss and Ben had been saying.

“Well, it’s true.  But I just wanted to say thanks.  And you didn’t have to do it, you know.  A weaker man would have been too scared to have stepped in like that, but not you.  Your bravery--however foolhardy it can sometimes be--” Joe rolled his eyes and Adam gave a small smirk before continuing: “Your bravery is worthy of a real man, Joe, and don’t forget it.  I know I won’t.”  Adam gave Joe a small smile then stood to go.  “You rest now.  I’ll bring the checkers board in with your dinner later.”

Joe nodded.  “Thanks Adam.  For everything.”

Adam understood Joe’s thanks.  He turned to leave, feeling that he had finally reached his younger brother.  He had, and it was the best salve Joe had received while recovering. 

That night, Joe joined his family at the dinner table.  Then he beat Adam in three rounds of checkers--back to his good-natured, young-at-heart self.