Disclaimer: I don't own Bonanza, not making any money, just cheap thrills.
Warnings: Angst, Violence, AU
Italics indicates a flashback
Author's Note: In this alternate universe the Cartwrights run a working cattle ranch as well as an adventure tour company, Ponderosa Outfitters. This is set in present day Nevada, however I don't live in Nevada so please excuse any mistakes I might make. Hopefully they will be few.
Summary: As Joe's womanizing and risk taking increases his family becomes concerned. Will he tell his family what is driving his behavior?
The Importance of Family
Adam Cartwright stormed into the ranch house he shared with his father and younger brothers. He couldn't remember a time when he had ever been so furious and if he were honest terrified. It was that terror that had ignited the anger which still burned its way into his soul.
Grabbing an ice pack from the freezer he gingerly sat down in his favorite chair, and dropped his head into his hands as the terrifying images flashed through his mind.
"What do you think you're doing Joe?" Adam demanded as he joined his youngest brother at the corral.
"What's it look like I'm doing big brother?" Joe grinned.
Adam sighed, angered by the spark of mischief in his younger brother's green eyes. "It looks like you're trying to get yourself killed," he snapped.
Joe bristled, his own anger rising in response to Adam's. "Miss Bowers wanted to see some bronc busting, I'm just giving the guest what she requested." Though he didn't say it, his tone was a clear reminder to his brother of his own words regarding keeping the guests happy.
"You can show her some bronc busting without doing it on this horse," Adam pointed out through clenched teeth.
Joe grinned, "But what would be the fun in that Adam?" He didn't wait for an answer. Turning away from his older brother, the cocky young man vaulted up and into the loading chute. Settling himself onto the horse's back, he gave the signal for the gate to be opened before his brother could make any further objections.
The ranch hand manning the gate wasn't sure what to do, but knowing that kept in the chute the horse would become angrier possibly doing more damage to the man on his back. Better to let him out into the corral where Joe would at least have a chance to wear him down or get away if he had to.
Adam had watched, in spite of wanting to turn away. The horse rocketed from the chute as if he'd been shot from it. It was like watching a train heading towards a car stuck on the tracks, you wanted to close your eyes but somehow it was impossible. Staring with growing fear, he watched his brother fighting to stay in the saddle as the horse, known by the appropriate name of Widowmaker, did all he could to unseat him. To his dying day Adam wouldn't be able to say how his brother had done it, maybe it was divine intervention or maybe it was proof that God really did look out for fools and children. In either event, his brother had done what nobody else had managed; he rode Widowmaker to a standstill and after a couple of triumphant turns around the corral he slid from the horse's back.
"You stupid little boy, are you trying to get yourself killed?" Adam confronted his brother the moment the younger man left the corral.
"I'm not a kid Adam, don't talk to me like I am," Joe answered forcing himself to stay calm.
His unusual calmness was like a match to a fuse; Adam's fear fueled temper ignited. Grabbing his brother's shirt front he lifted him so that he was on his tiptoes, savagely shaking him. "You could have fooled me," he growled. "You know that horse can't be ridden," he shook him again. "He's already crippled two men and Dad was planning to have him put down," another shake emphasized his words. "You had no damned business getting on that animal. I've got half a mind to put you over my knee and blister your behind."
Joe clawed at the hands holding him, in spite of the ringing in his head from the shaking he was receiving. The humiliation of being treated like a misbehaving child, especially in front of the very pretty Sarah Bowers, enraged him. The threat of a spanking pushed him over the edge. Exploding with rage, he brought his knee up between Adam's legs. He hadn't thought about what would happen when Adam suddenly let go of him. Surprised to find himself at eye level with his brother, he lay on the ground, staring at the older man as they both tried to catch their breath. Joe, suffering no real injury, recovered first.
Adam lay on the ground, curled up in a fetal position, his hands cupping himself as he blinked back tears of pain. He watched as Joe pushed himself to his feet; for one awful moment he thought his little brother was going to kick him while he was down. To his relief the younger man simply gave him a look of angry disgust and walked away, but not before ordering the hands standing around watching to take care of Widowmaker. A few minutes after Joe left, Adam finally managed to get to his feet, with help from one of the hands.
Glancing around, he wasn't surprised to see Miss Bowers gone. Typical spoiled rich girl, simper and bat her eyelashes until she convinced a man to take some foolish risk, then slip away the moment trouble appeared. He glared at the hands milling around the corral. "Why didn't any of you try to stop my brother?"
"We tried to talk Joe out of it Adam," Jeb attempted to explain.
Adam snorted, "You didn't try very hard. Who put the horse in the chute for him?"
"What makes you think he didn't do it himself?"
Adam glared at the man, not surprised it was one of the new hands who had asked. "Because until Joe rode him to a standstill it took at least four strong men to get him into that chute. There is no way one man could have done it alone."
"We were just following orders," Chet defended himself.
"And ignoring the orders my father gave," Adam snapped.
Chet glared at the oldest Cartwright brother. "Your father wasn't here and if we had disobeyed Joe's order he would have fired us." He was gratified that several of the hands mumbled in agreement.
"Be that as it may, my father ordered that nobody was to take that horse from his stall. I don't suppose any of you bothered to remind my brother of that, no of course you didn't," he went on, answering his own question.
"So your precious little brother gives us a different order and now we're in trouble for obeying it? That's bullshit Cartwright and you know it!" Chet snarled.
Adam sighed, damn he hated this. He wanted nothing more than to fire Chet Williams right this minute, but if he did no man on the place would ever again obey an order from Joe. Angry he might be, yet, he couldn't bring himself to blatantly undermine his brother's authority. "You're right Chet," Adam admitted, swallowing his pride. "I shouldn't have taken my anger at Joe out on you men."
The humble admission took the wind from Chet's sails. Unsure of himself, Chet mumbled something that could have been taken as acknowledgment and walked away, followed by most of the other hands. Left behind were the two who were still leading Widowmaker around the corral, cooling him down from the fight Joe had put him through and their foreman Jeb Stuart.
Adam slowly walked over to the corral fence. Leaning against it, he watched the now calm horse allowing himself to be led around the corral. The only sign of his natural spirit was the occasional attempt at nipping a shoulder as he was led. "I can't believe he did that," Adam quietly observed.
"Took the risk or succeeded?" Jeb asked from beside him.
"I won't argue it wasn't a hell of a risk Adam and if I'd been here sooner I would never have let the boy get on that horse. Maybe it's a good thing I wasn't here," he murmured.
"If I had been that horse would still be standing in his stall waiting for his executioner to arrive."
Adam chuckled, "I'm not sure Dr. Burton would appreciate being referred to as an executioner, but I take your meaning."
"He's too fine a piece of horseflesh to put down," Jeb observed.
"He's a damned lucky piece of horseflesh," Adam smiled grimly. "If he'd hurt my brother I would've shot him myself."
Jeb nodded, he had no doubt of that. Adam and Joe might butt heads as often as not, but they loved each other as only brothers can and would defend each other to the death if necessary. "You better go on back to the house and find some ice Adam, I'll see to it that Widowmaker is taken care of."
"I don't suppose I could talk you into taking care of my brother?"
Jeb grinned, "Nope, you're on your own there boy."
"That's what I thought you'd say," Adam chuckled.
The sound of the front door opening brought his focus back to the present. He wasn't surprised to see his father, he just wished he could tell if the older man knew about the situation with Joe yet. "How did the fishing trip go Dad?" he asked.
"We'll be having fish for supper. How did things go here?" Stepping further into the room, his eyes narrowed with concern as he took in the way Adam was sitting and the position of the ice pack he held. "What happened to you?"
Adam grimaced, "Joe," he reluctantly replied.
Ben sighed, "What happened?" As Adam explained what had happened a myriad of emotions passed over Ben's face, chief among them fear and anger. "You say he rode the horse to a standstill?"
"Yeah," Adam slowly answered.
"That boy, I can't believe he managed what nobody else has been able to," Ben smiled, allowing himself a moment of pride in the accomplishment of his youngest.
Adam's anger, which had begun to ebb, flared to life. Surely his father didn't intend to let Joe get away with his blatant disobedience.
"That doesn't excuse the danger he put himself in though, nor the fact that he ignored my order to leave the horse alone," Ben added. When he glanced up the look of anger on Adam's face was muted. Deciding to ignore the anger for now, he asked his next question, "Do you need to see a doctor son?"
"No, it hurts but I'll live," Adam replied. "What are we going to do about Joe?"
"I don't know," Ben admitted with a sigh. "He's always been a risk taker, this though..." he trailed off uncertainly.
"It's almost like he has a death wish."
"I wouldn't say that big brother," Hoss offered as he joined them. "I'd say it's more like he's trying to prove his manhood," he added thoughtfully.
"What makes you say that Hoss?" Ben asked curiously.
Hoss thought it over carefully. "Well sir, Joe ain't just taking risks he's also dating every girl that shows the slightest interest. Thing is, he don't ever date any of them more than a couple of times."
"Aw Hoss, Joe's always had an eye for the girls," Adam scoffed. His tone made it clear he didn't think much of Hoss' theory.
"Now hold on Adam, your brother might be on to something. How is his behavior different now than from what it was before?" he asked Hoss.
"It's more extreme. When he was a kid he'd date a girl for a few months and then move on to a new one. Now though, well now it's like I said, he dates them a couple times before he's got a new one."
Ben thought it over, he was glad Hoss had pointed out the behavior he'd noticed. Ben had of course realized that Joe didn't have a steady girl and hadn't for some time, but he hadn't realized that he was behaving like a playboy. It didn't surprise him that Hoss had been the one to notice the difference. Joe wouldn't be likely to share his exploits with his father and Adam was so much older that he would be equally unlikely to share them with him. Hoss on the other hand was close enough to Joe's age that the boy would be inclined to talk to him, if he were going to talk to anybody. Of course, it didn't hurt either, that Hoss was the least likely to judge his behavior harshly, only cautioning him to be careful if he felt a warning was needed. "I hadn't noticed," he mumbled.
"Well you know Joe, he isn't likely to tell you or Adam about his dates," Hoss smiled, unknowingly echoing his father's thoughts.
"Do you have any idea why your brother would feel he needs to prove, as you put it, his manhood?"
"No sir, I haven't been able to figure it out," Hoss replied. Absently scratching his head, he considered the problem. "I reckon it might be his size, but I don't know why he all of a sudden thinks he needs to prove it or who he's trying to prove it to."
"Maybe to himself," Adam suggested. He too couldn't understand why a man of nearly twenty would suddenly feel the need to prove he was a man.
"Could be," Hoss amicably agreed.
Ben looked between them, "Could be he's trying to prove it to us. Adam you told me what you said to him down at the corral and I know I didn't listen when he tried to tell me he could break that horse."
"You did the right thing Dad," Adam quickly assured him. "How could you think of letting Joe or anybody else try to break that devil horse? He'd already crippled two men," he quietly reminded him.
"What horse...Widowmaker?" Hoss gasped. "You telling me Joe rode that thing?"
Adam nodded, "Rode him to a standstill, but that's not the point. He could just as easily have been killed or crippled, it's only dumb luck that he succeeded."
"Dumb luck?" Joe asked. "That what you really think Adam? I'm just some dumb kid that got lucky?"
All three men turned towards the front door, surprise written on their faces. "Now Joe, you know Adam didn't mean it like that," Hoss immediately tried to placate the youngest.
"Don't put words in my mouth Hoss," Adam angrily interrupted.
"That's enough," Ben growled, ending the argument before it could start.
"Nice to know where I stand," Joe mumbled.
"Joseph," Ben snapped in a warning tone.
"Sorry Dad, but he wouldn't be saying I was a dumb kid if I was just one of the hands," Joe protested.
"You're right Joe I wouldn't; if you were one of the hands I would've just fired you for disobeying orders," Adam firmly pointed out.
"Even after that hand rode a horse to a standstill that everybody else said couldn't be broken? Even if he just saved this ranch several hundred dollars? I'll just bet you'd fire a hand who did that big brother," Joe scoffed.
"Joe I want to know why you disobeyed my orders and I want to know now," Ben sternly ordered.
"Like I told Adam, Miss Bowers wanted to see some bronc busting."
"You could have chosen another horse."
"I guess I could have, but I knew I could break Widowmaker and I hated to see him getting put down without giving him every chance."
"I see," Ben said. "How did you know?"
Joe shrugged, "I just knew."
"That's not an answer son."
"It's the only one I have," Joe sullenly retorted.
"You better watch your tone boy," Adam snapped. It was one thing for Joe to treat him that way but he wasn't going to get away with treating their father with anything less than respect.
"Go to hell Adam," Joe snapped. Before his father could say anything he ran up the stairs to his room. Grabbing some clean clothes, he hurried down the hall to the bathroom. If he knew his father, and he did, he'd spend a few minutes downstairs taking Adam to task for treating him more like his child than his brother. He knew it would be his turn next, only he had no intention of listening to a lecture on his many misdeeds. Joe was sure his father and brothers were treating him like a kid only because he was the youngest. If it had been Adam or Hoss who had rode that horse to a standstill nobody would have said a word. Of course they wouldn't have done it; Hoss was too large for breaking horses while Adam was too cautious to take the risk of riding a horse like Widowmaker.
Downstairs Ben's attention was divided between glaring at Adam and shooting concerned glances up the stairs towards Joe's room. "That went well," he sarcastically observed.
"I'm sorry Dad but he had no right talking to you in that tone."
"If that's so Adam, don't you think I'm capable of correcting my own son?" Ben gently asked.
Adam looked to Hoss for support, not really surprised when he didn't find any from that quarter. "I wasn't questioning your ability as a parent Dad."
"Weren't you?" Ben didn't wait for an answer, better to give Adam time to think about his own mistakes today. Perhaps, after some reflection, he would handle things more adroitly next time. Walking up the stairs, he braced himself for the coming conversation with his youngest. Raising his hand to knock on Joe's door, he paused, turning his head towards the room on the other side of the hall and the sound of running water. He should have known; obviously his most volatile of sons was doing his best to avoid any further recriminations. Ben chuckled silently, maybe Joe was smarter than all of them put together. Well don't let it be said that Ben Cartwright couldn't take a hint; he would follow the boy's lead and take time to cool down before continuing the conversation. He only hoped that he would have a better idea of what to say, by then, that would convince Joe he didn't need to take crazy risks or date every girl in Nevada to prove he was indeed a man.
Hope y'all like this new Alternate universe for Bonanza and my first attempt at a Bonanza fanfic. Please feed the muse with reviews. I'll do my best to reply to every signed review.