Roots and Wings
By Visage
Rating: G
Summary: Hoss turns to a trusted friend for advice when Adam is due home from College. Prequel.

The kitchen was stifling from constant use with almost a week's worth of cooking and baking completed in one hot August day. Though sweat was rolling down Hop Sing's face and back, he all but pranced around the small room making sure each edible was perfectly delicious. There were only a few things left to do, and a shorter amount of time to do it in.

Honorable Number One Son was coming home!

It was strange how time managed to fly over the past four years that his oldest (well, SECOND oldest) boy had been thousands of miles away in Boston educating himself. It seemed as just yesterday he was a small seedling, grasping for roots in the soil. With his ever present shadow toddling behind, barely beginning his second decade of life, the boy poured sweat and blood into every inch of the developing Ponderosa Empire.

Overnight his babies were becoming mighty Ponderosa Pines like the ones that surrounded their home. Tall, sturdy… majestic.

"I found some more, Hop Sing!" Honorable Number Two Son's unmistakable voice interrupted his thoughts. The side door slammed and Hoss Cartwright clomped through the kitchen, a towel-full of eggs in front of him. Only sixteen, he towered over nearly every other adult on the ranch. Though well meaning, he was still settling into his new frame and often fumbled and tripped over his own hands and feet.

"Very good, very good!" Hop Sing praised. He quickly clapped the flour off of his hands before grabbing a small work bowl and placing it on the table in front of Hoss. "Put in here. Make hard for lunch tomorrow, yes?"

"Absolutely, Hop Sing!" Hoss grinned, just as he usually did around food. "It's gonna be awful hard to wait for 'til tomorrow though."

"Ha! You wait, Greedy Belly!" Hop Sing waggled a finger under Hoss' nose. "Eggs seem like slim pickings against today's feast! No time for foolishment! Need to finish celebration supper tonight."

"C-can I help, Hop Sing?" It took everything in Hop Sing to hide the grin playing on his face. This nearly full grown man was looking down at the floor, the toe of his boot sheepishly scuffing the floor.

"Crack three egg in here." Hop Sing pointed at the work bowl. "Stir good. Rest, put over here."

"Yessir!" Hoss immediately set to work. He gave the first egg a good thwack on the side of the bowl and carefully separated the gooey inside from the shell. With a practiced flick of the wrist he threw the shell into Hop Sing's garbage bowl before reaching for the next egg.

Hop Sing reached for his big carving knife and turned toward the counter. He grabbed a hunk of leftover bread and began to cut it into cubes, giving himself a moment to think. Hoss was a frequent visitor to his kitchen, usually to sneak a doughnut or an extra helping of dinner. But during the past four years his visits became extended. It started by offering to clean green beans or peel potatoes for dinner, but then evolved into watching something on the stove, or adding an ingredient when Hop Sing's hands were full.

"Where Little Joe? He stay out of mischief?"

"I reckon so." Hoss said with a chuckle. "He can't decide if he wants to run around in circles from excitement or go sulk in the tack room. Wanted to go into town to meet the stage worse than bad."

"Why Father say he not go?" He scooped up the medium chunks of bread and spread them evenly in one of his cake pans.

Hoss shrugged as he picked up a fork to whisk the eggs together. "Reckon he figured there were a few chores we could do around here, finishing touches to make sure everything looks perfect. 'Sides, it ain't like they won't be coming straight here."

Unless you were watching, you wouldn't have noticed the slight pause and the pointed look from under suspicious eyelids as Hop Sing reached for the jug of milk on the table. He had a feeling a certain middle son planted a few chores in Honorable Father's ear to keep both younger brothers home while he collected his oldest, giving them the first moments with each other and time to catch up with undivided attention. Quickly, Hop Sing held a measuring cup of milk out to his sentimental and thoughtful helper. "Here. You mix milk in. Stir good."

It was a long while before Hoss spoke again, his arm moving in slow, absent-minded circles. He didn't even notice as the cook slipped in a measure of sugar into his bowl. "Hop Sing?" He said with a cautious voice. "Do you reckon-? I mean…. Adam always seemed happy in his letters. Goin' on about this new class, or his new friends, or what he and his Grandfather were doing that weekend. Do you think-? Will he be happy without those new things?"

Hop Sing paused, giving Hoss a pointed look. "What you mean?"

Hoss narrowed his eyebrows in thought. "In Boston, he could go to fancy parties and had new books and friends within walking distance. Always something new to learn or do or see. Do you think… Will we be enough? Do you think Adam will still love us even though we're not Boston?"

Hop Sing put his spoon down, his lips in a thin line as he thought carefully about his response. He knew that Boston gave Number One Son the adventure of a lifetime, a chance to grow and learn not only about his past, but about his future. However, Hop Sing knew the boy's heart was planted deep in Ponderosa soil just like his father and brothers. This Eldest Son would always be a wanderer, but wherever his family was he would ultimately return.

"Honorable Fathers give sons two things." Hop Sing said slowly, grasping for the correct words. "Roots for strength. Wings for freedom. Wings spread far and wide. Take many places. But roots always planted with family."

Hoss's eyes were fixed down on the table, seeing nothing as his mind turned Hop Sing's words around. Slowly, the corner of his mouth twitched in a smile of understanding. "And Cartwright roots are on the Ponderosa."

"Boy put eggs in here." Hop Sing pointed to the chunks of bread in the pan, not acknowledging Hoss's comment. "Lickity split, need time to soak."

Hoss complied with the order as a grin split his face. He gave the chunks of break a short toss in the egg mixture as Hop Sing sprinkled just a touch of cinnamon on the top. Honorable Number Two Son walked over to the sink with the dirty bowl in his hand. Suddenly, he stopped mid-step, his ear tilted toward the window. Hoss practically threw the bowl down as he raced for the door.

"He's here! Little Joe, get out here! It's Adam! He's home! Hey, everyone! Adam's home!"

Hop Sing laughed to himself. He gave his dessert one last shake before picking it up and walking it to the large stove to bake. Yes, all Cartwright roots were most definitely planted on Ponderosa soil, and those roots ran as deep as the mighty ponderosa pines themselves.

"Huānyíng huí jiā. Welcome Home, Honorable Son."