This was written as a birthday present for a dear friend who, like me, has a special place in their heart for this wonderful show.
Joe figured there were a lot of good reasons a person might find themselves staring down a rattler on a scorching summer day. Out in the middle of nowhere, laying on their belly in the middle of a barren hillside, no horse nor backup near by enough to do them any good.
Any attempt to call for Cochise could be exactly the excuse the darn reptile was waiting on, and reaching for either of his weapons had the potential to be the last move he ever made. Before being bitten by a very deadly, admittedly pretty impressive looking creature. All those scales and no feet. How did the thing get around? Especially over all this hot dirt and piles of stones? You'd think the thing would overheat and keel over before a human might, but noooo; they have to be perfectly adapted to their stupid environment and have no stinkin' eyelids! How could he possibly win a staring contest against a varmint that had no-
The report of a handgun going off no more than twenty yards off and the kick of grit and dust right into his face made Little Joe spring straight up off the loose, pebbly dirt and jerk his head uphill. The sun doing a nice job of obscuring anything up that direction well enough that he couldn't see a darn thing. So he looked to the ground instead and jumped a good four feet behind himself, an extremely dead rattler staring directly at his boots he'd just had freshly reheeled.
Well: whoever'd shot at him was either a terrible shot, or hadn't been aiming for him at all. Therefore, "Hey, thanks for not giving fair warning. Nearly gave me a heart attack!"
"Yeah, well you're alive, aren't ya?" Came a familiar call from far closer than the handgun could possibly have gone off.
"No thanks to you and that peacemaker of yours. Candy Canaday," the creeping smile impossible to keep from his face, Joe settled for putting up a hand to 'shade his eyes' as he waited for his friend to trek the remainder of the slope down to him.
"You're really good at gettin' yourself into all sorts of trouble, you know that?" The man in red asked a bemused Little Joe as he came into spitting range.
"That's what I hear, but, way I look at it, I'm real good at gettin' myself out of trouble."
"Ah. That where folks tend to get it mixed up?"
"Yep. Blame me for the trouble, but not for the solution." The two shared a quick snicker, Joe glancing down and nudging the considerably less deadly snake with the toe of one boot before looking back up and doing his best to suppress the ear to ear grin he felt threatening to get him teased all over again.
"Thanks, by the way. For that."
"What on earth possessed you to slither on down this hill and play patticake with one of natures finest, forked tonguers?" Candy asked, no shortage of mirth tickling his face as he took a turn toeing the dearly departed desert dweller in the ribs.
"You really think I did that on purpose? I came down here to strike up a conversation with an animal that doesn't even have ears?"
"No, I said nothing about any conversation, Joe. But it would be awful nice to be able to tell Mr. Cartwright exactly what from I've saved his youngest son this glorious day. Another of his cock-eyed schemes perhaps? Or maybe the snake owed you money?" Candy raised an eyebrow, daring the brunet in the green jacket to supply him with a more believable story.
"You find me down here retrieving a runaway canteen. Rolled down here after a rattler crawled out from behind a rock and spooked Cochise well enough that the blasted thing went flying," Joe explained, doing his darnedest to not come across as embarrassed as he felt. That only ever made Candy wanna jab harder.
"Mmhm. You wouldn't have happened to be holding this canteen right before it went flying, would you?" He asked, one eyebrow raised.
"I cannot believe- Me," Joe bent and scooped up the exact item that had gotten him into his near death experience in the first place, straightening before getting back to the matter now first and foremost at hand. "Me drop a canteen? You must be out of your mind with heatstroke, because I never-" The feeling of his trusty canteen slipping right through his gloved fingers cut him off. Then the two of them watched as it clattered to the sandy dirt below, disturbing the dead rattler before coming to rest against the side of Candy's leather clad foot.
The taller of the two stooped to pick up the wayward water container, then held it in one hand as he straightened to look his rather red faced friend in the eye. "You sure you weren't holding this?"
"Give me that, and no. It was looped around the saddle horn, thank you very much," Joe said, hand extended and waiting non too patiently.
"Oh, even so, I think maybe this jewel ought to stay in my capable, steady hands. Till we get back to the road anyway," Candy reasoned, enjoying the flabbergasted face of his friend before turning to start back up the hill he'd dirtied his boots trudging down.
"Hey, wait up!" Joe called, making a grab for Candy's dark vest. Cursing under his breath when he missed it by inches. Then cursing double when his 'savior' cackled and broke into an uphill jog. Obviously not considering the outlandish possibility that Joe just might have wanted some of the water he was carrying off.
"Wait till I get my hands on you! You- you..." The threat petered out as Joe couldn't think of anything fitting to call the ranch hand who both did and didn't deserve some sort of commendation. Or condemnation. "Ah, who needs him?" The words he muttered to himself as he began his ascension, paying far more attention to his surroundings than the invincible Candy'd bothered with.
He, after all, wasn't the one who'd just gone head to head with a diamond back and barely lived to tell the tale. Which, Joe came to think of, he probably wouldn't be telling many people about. What with Candy undoubtedly doing all the telling before he could stop him.
What a pal.
"What's a matter, Joe? Gettin' slow in your old age?" The bronc buster in red suggested.
"You're older'n me and you know it. Now hand me that canteen so I can wash this desert grit outta my mouth," Joe demanded, hand outstretched.
"Well, alright, Joe," Candy said, breaking into a wry smirk as Joe accepted the canteen. "Just be sure not to drop it again." He dodged as Joe swiped at him with his freeer hand and danced off to pick up his horse's ground hitched reigns. Giving Cochise a pat as he passed her.
"Nn-nope! Don't touch my horse you- you scoundrel. Might infect her with your-"
"Famous good looks? My wonderful personality? My steady gun hand? My-"
"Pig-headedness maybe," Joe said as he picked up Cochise's trailing reigns, eliciting a laugh from the guy swinging up into his own saddle.
"Oh really? As if your horse isn't the most pig-headed in the stable?"
"Candy," Joe said, a hint of warning to his voice.
"Why, I once walked by her stall carryin' a heavy carton of apples, didn't have a free finger, couldn't'a handed her one no matter how much she nickered, and , well, long story short: She bit me right on the shoulder. So, no apple for Cochise."
"She probably thought your stupid shoulder was an apple. Bony as it is and you always wearing that same red shirt? Anybody could make that mistake," drawled a Joe taking his time securing his canteen to the saddle.
"Oh no, was no excusin' that behavior."
"Candy!" Spoke with enough command that Canaday, the army brat, just about snapped to. His next words though, spoken with a hand on his horse's neck, were in the neighborhood of tender. "Cochise has saved my life more times than I care to count, so unless you have a real grievance, please-"
"Alright, alright Joe," said a startled straight ranch hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize-"
"Forget about it. It's fine," Joe said, giving his mount one more pat before checking her cinch, climbing up into the saddle and pointing them in the direction of home.
Candy nudged his horse to fall in just shy of shoulder to shoulder with Joe's at a long strided walk. He spent the better part of their first trail minutes studying in turn the sparse scrub brush, the occasional circling bird of prey some ways off, and the duo to his right.
To his expert eye, his friend was both sounding and acting uncharacteristically stiff. He glanced at the face under that wide, cream colored, shading brim once more and his mind was made. Definitely in need of some cheering up.
"Y'know, Joe? Back there-"
"You can save it, Candy," informed a decidedly dour trail companion. "You don't like my horse and you plain felt like being inconsiderate today." Joe glanced over at the face of his friend, who appeared to be patiently waiting for his turn to finish his piece. "A-after shooting the snake. Everything after that," he tacked on, facing front once more with a firm nod signaling he'd appreciate some peace and quiet.
"You sure know how to make a man sorry for savin' your life," Candy said, giving his hat an adjustment against the sun's harsh beating and therefore missing the signal Joe gave his trusty mount to transition into a jog. Granted, it was a pretty subtle signal.
"Joe!" He called, tapping his own trusty steed in the ribs. "Joe, I'm sorry," he said in all seriousness as he came abreast once again. Getting himself another good look at the darkening expression on his friend's face. "I was just funnin' and I'm sorry. Will ya slow down so I can do this proper?"
For a long moment, Candy thought that the hard look in Joe's eyes meant the answer was 'no'. Then the man in green sat a little deeper in his saddle and his paint mare settled back to a comfortable, efficient walk.
One which Candy only then realized, his horse had to work to keep up with. Even though his chestnut was every hand as tall if not some fingers taller. Huh.
Joe's eyes lost their hard edge and he let out a breath, the same time his horse blew some trail dust from her nose. No doubt the sole reason for the microscopic smile that overtook his overall unhappy mouth, which disappeared when he addressed the horse next to him.
"Talk if you want, but let's keep name calling out of it."
"Of course, Joe." Candy gave that a good half furlong to sink in, double checking that he'd come across as sincere and not chiding, as it looked like Joe had no patience for their usual joviality at present.
"First off: I didn't start heading back to the ranch early to vex and displease. I was hoping I'd catch up to you and that we'd keep each other company."
Joe adjusted his seat and made a 'go on' sound in the back of his throat.
"And second: I was fibbing about Cochise and the apples. Truth is, I put away the carton then teased her with and especially scrumptious looking specimen. Long enough and she gave me a little nip which I now freely admit was... warranted." Candy didn't break from studying the side of his friend's head, willing him to look over and see the sincerity written plain as day on his face.
Only after Joe finally glanced his way did he add, "Honest, Joe, I didn't mean anything by it. Just joshin'."
Joe adjusted his reigns so they were looped loosely around one arm at the elbow, freeing up that hand so he could pull up his canteen for a drink.
Candy watched as he unscrewed the cap and let it dangle, bringing the canteen higher while keeping one eye on the trail ahead.
"Apology accepted," the only words directed at him before the canteen tipped and Joe's throat was busy with something else. Adam's apple bobbing along to the rhythm of the water flowing to his belly.
"Mmhm," grunted only once Joe, obviously still peeved, put the canteen back where it was meant to spend the trip sloshing.
Watching Joe in his peripheral as they made their silent way, pondering what in heaven or hell he could possibly have done to put his friend in such a mood, and figuring if it had truly been the jab at Cochise's character he'd have known already not to fib around about the horse, it occurred to Candy that the rankled guy was holding the reigns in his left hand.
Being pretty sure the sour southpaw, like any good ranch hand, habitually reigned with his non-dominant hand, he felt his eyebrows draw down as his mind grew pensive.
After a stretch of less than companionable silence, in which Candy observed the rider next to him displaying several hallmarks of an 'unhappy' Cartwright, including clenching of the jaw and squinting of the eyes, a well formed question had come to him.
"I was wondering..."
"Back there a piece," Candy said, making sure not to come across as... mean spirited. "How did you get down that embankment?"
"Walked. Just like anyone." Ooh, clipped delivery. Either embarrassed, or upset. Or both.
"You're awful dusty for someone who just 'walked' down a hill," Candy observed.
"You're awful nosy for someone who-"
"Joe, did you roll down that hill?"
"No," came the incredulous reply. Perhaps a little too incredulous.
"Joe," Candy said, allowing a hair more concern peak through alongside his sincerity. "Joe, please," he said when his friend set his jaw and shortened his reigns minutely. Ready to ask Cochise for a higher speed. "Are you hurt?"
"Why would you think a fool thing like that, Canaday?" Asked Joe, none too happy but stalling his apparent plan for take off.
"...Is your arm broken?" Asked as Candy indicated the arm Joe seemed unsure what to do with because it wasn't reigning.
"If my arm was broken, how could I have checked my tack and mounted up? Hm? How could I do this with a broken arm?" Joe defended, reaching up with his right hand to doff and don his hat in a sarcastic show of dandiness. Face morphing to one of shock when the beloved accessory slipped from his grip.
In unison, the two riders twitched their reigns and changed their seats so their mounts came to a smooth stop. Both looking back at a forlorn, cream colored hat laying brim down on the dirt trail directly behind them. Hoping it didn't get itself pooped on this fine, scorching day.
"So that's why you dropped the canteen. After the snake died," said a relatively wide eyed Candy who hadn't been expecting any proof quite so damning as that. This time though, he'd caught the momentary pinched look which, on a Cartwright anyway, signified pain. It'd been there, off and on, since he'd met up with Joe down the side of that hill.
"No wonder you been actin' more tender'n a horse with a sticker under the saddle," Candy said. Rather relieved to find that he wasn't the only reason for Joe's displeasure.
"Alright," Candy's head snapped back up at the word, worry percolating at his friend's resigned tone, "you can have your fun now. Yes, I got thrown and nearly bit by a snake and yes, I hurt myself doing it. Laugh all you want."
Candy gawked at the image of perhaps the proudest ranchero he knew turning in the saddle, obviously attempting to hide his injured arm as it curled up against his chest in a bid for comfort. Gloved fingers bunching and flexing as if trying to work out a kink in his hand.
Candy swallowed, feeling like he could use a deep drink, and nudged his horse in front of his pained friend's Cochise. Not sure whether he did it to block them from bolting off down the trail home or simply to get their attention, but expecting it was some mix of the two.
When Joe finally brought his eyes up to meet his, Candy drew in a breath at the glint of vulnerability he hadn't been aware ever took up residence there and spoke, low and gentle. "Why would I laugh, Joe?"
"Why stop now? You laughed earlier," said a Joe who managed to muscle up a decent challenging look.
"Yes, but I laughed because you were fine, Joe. I was happy I got the snake in time. I saw Cochise on the trail," Candy indicated the paint, careful to come across as respectful, "looking like a dog that couldn't find her owner." He looked to the side, where the hill still swept away same as it had where they'd met up. "I thought something bad- real bad might'a happened, Joe." His friend met his eyes again at the use of his name. Starting to look about halfway to believing him too.
"When I shot that rattler and you popped right up outta the dirt, why, I could'a sang a song, danced a jig, kissed ya right on the lips; I was pleased as pie."
Joe looked down at the appendage still curled against his chest, a small smile breaking through his melancholy. Candy catching the quirk of the nearly hidden mouth smiled right back, reassured that things were gonna be alright between them.
"Well, Canaday, I'll thank you once more for the excellent shot, but you're no doctor, so what good does you knowing about this," he gave his arm a little bounce, then cringed just a tad,"do anyone? You're gonna worry, I'm gonna be annoyed, and our horses are gonna get bored 'cause you're not gonna let us go above a walk the whole way home!" Joe said, completely out of breath and a hair worked up by the end.
Candy smirked at the challenge and preened as he thumbed his own chest. "This is an army brat you're talking to. They taught me how to bandage up just about anything before I was out of dresses and into my big boy pants." "Now let's see that arm."
Joe bit his lip, looking down at his hand a moment before speaking. "It's just the wrist. I don't think anything's broken."
"Alright. So we'll stabilize it and have a doc look at it first thing," Candy declared, undoing the knot securing his ascot and peeling the thing off from around his summer sweated neck.
Joe looked on in bemusement. "Your fancy little kerchief? That'd never work as a sling! Not even for a youngster knee high to a-"
"Ah, but that's where you'd be mistaken, my good man," said Candy, reaching down and a tad behind himself to rifle around in one saddle bag. "As I always travel with two handkerchief," he preened as he liberated the unsoaked length of black cloth with a flourish. Neither well gentled horses balking at the sudden flapping. Their only perceptible reaction being a curious flick of their closer ear.
Joe watched as Candy, tongue sticking between his teeth to help him concentrate, took two corners, tied a fancy knot, did the same to two other corners, creating a bit of a hammock looking shape.
Then Candy applied some gentle calf pressure to his horse's off side to move him around closer to Joe's right. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be," Candy's patient said with a grimace stunted nod.
So the field dressing took place and Joe had his arm elevated and hanging from his neck in no time flat. Wrist at a far more comfortable angle than it was obvious the poor guy had thought possible.
Candy suppressed another smile, opting instead to ask a serious question. "Your head alright?"
"Of course. 'Protect your head'. Rule number one out of the Ben Cartwright rule book."
"Might be rule number three," Candy reminded, hands busy with double checking the knot behind Joe's jacket collar. Satisfied it wasn't gonna slip undone, he pulled just far enough away to have a good view of the rest of the sling. "Now, let's have a look at that wrist."
"And by 'look' you mean, 'Time to poke at it,' right?"
"I'll be gentle. Cross my heart," said the guy who only then became conscious of the fact that their knees were sandwiched together between two powerful beast of burden's bellies, which he could feel moving air like a couple'a forge billows. If Joe didn't mind though, it was fine by him.
Reaching forward and pulling down the sage green jacket cuff, he felt around Joe's wrist with slow, measured movements. Pleased when it felt intact, though concerned that the glove would soon be constricting blood flow if it wasn't removed.
"Start in' to swell, Joe. Best remove the glove till we can have it seen to proper."
"It'll hurt less if I cut it off. That okay?" Candy asked with no urgency, knowing how attached Joe was to his riding gloves.
"Might be hard to get a new pair... Pa hates unnecessary waste. Wouldn't wanna buy a new pair on account of-"
"On account of his youngest son narrowly escaping death? Oh, I don't think he'd bat an eye. He dotes on you, you know that? In fact," Candy started, pulling out his pocket knife and flicking it open, "if I do this right, I bet he'd darn it himself. To tide you over till the new pair come in," he explained at Joe's incredulous, questioning look.
"I don't think I've seen my pa darn a thing in my life. What makes you think-"
"Well," Candy said, expertly slipping his knife under the supple black leather and giving the back of the glove a nice slit from the hem of the wrist to the middle finger's first knuckle. "There's a first time for everything. Isn't there, Joe?" As he slipped the poor, dissected glove off the swelling wrist and aching hand, he thought he spied the beginnings of a Cartwright smile.
"Yeah, Candy. I guess there is."
Patient's arm comfortable -relatively so- and secured, the red shirt stashed his once again folded pocket knife and the four friends headed back home. A quick, "Just lemme know if you need help with that pesky canteen anytime," the last either of them said with any seriousness until they hit the main house and were greeted by a white haired Cartwright who really didn't appreciate being told it 'looked worse than it was, honest.'
Surprisingly, to Mr. Canaday anyway, it was Mr. Hop Sing who provided a poultice to take down the swelling and who managed to calm the driven to distraction Ben who'd ordered Candy 'to bed without supper' for bringing Joseph home in such condition.
He'd apologized to his son's savior not long after Hop Sing had coaxed him into a chair and plied him with tea and fresh shortbread cookies, then given the bashful guy a good thanking and an invitation to stay for dinner. An invitation Candy couldn't have said no to if he'd wanted to.
When Joe woke the next morning, well, closer to noon than a ranch hand's typical type of morning really, the first thought to flit through his fuzzy mind just so happened to be 'ow'. Followed closely by, "Wha's on my arm?" Which he was surprised to find was bound with an apparent expertise in the fine art of bandage wrapping which he didn't think his pa possessed. The little bow at one end far more intricate than anything he'd ever seen around the Ponderosa that didn't happen to be attached to someone's Christmas stocking.
So who could have- Right. That devil in the grass Candy Canaday. Must've trussed him up at his pa's behest around the time he'd finally agreed to Ben's demands that he take, at minimum, three days completely off of work.
Hmm. Maybe there'd been a little sleeping potion in that 'healing' tea Hop Sing'd insisted he and only he drink two cups of while his wrist soaked and 'poulticed'.
"For sprain," he'd explained, pushing a fresh cup of bitter, black tea on him while he couldn't escape. Eyes beginning to droop even though the sun hadn't yet dropped below the nearby mountain peaks.
Come to think of it, how was he in his own bed now if he'd fallen asleep at the table? Before dinner even? Hoss was the only one in the house strong enough to carry someone his size up those stairs, wasn't he? And he hadn't been home for the evening yet.
On second thought; he didn't want to think about that any longer. Especially not when bleary images and muffled sounds of a long suffering though fond fatherly voice agreed to the suggestion that an undisturbed night of rest in his own bed was just what the Hop Sing had ordered. Then, dimmer as it went on, Joe remembered being unable and frankly uninterested in refusing the arms that scooped him with a cavalier confidence from the chair he was slumped in, against a chest filled with more wiry, raw power than anyone would have guessed, and up an entire floor to lay him to rest.
He could feel his face heating up already. The thought of being carried to bed like some sort of rug-rat not helping him muster up the will to do something about his bottomless hole of a stomach. Beginning to growl at him like some sort of angry dog he'd forgotten to leave scraps out for.
Pushing best he could against a wall of musty memories he'd just as soon forget, Joe turned some without lifting either his still sleepy head nor currently pain free arm and inadvertently caught sight of something laying out on his side table.
"Haha!" Candy'd been right. His pa did dote on him.
Reaching out with his good hand, Joe admired the clean, even stitches making the previously damaged half of his favorite pair of riding gloves appear just about good as new. Which he found a relative comfort in the face of the knowledge that he'd be completely grounded and benched for 'a minimum of three days' by none other than the head honcho and his right hand cook. And if he was particularly unlucky, Candy would be one hundred percent on board with the whole thing along with them.
Joe gave the ceiling a sigh as he resigned himself to an upcoming dull few days of being either completely ignored, or waited on hand and foot by no fewer than two hopeless caregivers and one 'friend' who just couldn't keep his nose out of other people's business.
Joe gave the wrapping on his wrist a feather light, curious touch as a strange thought entered his mind: That just maybe, he was the teensiest bit glad the infuriating, ridiculous, perpetually red shirted Candy had come along when he had.
And that he'd gotten that snake on the first try.
"Thanks, Candy," Joe said to an empty-
"Aw, shucks. Welcome, Joe," came the voice of a ranch hand leaning against Joe's doorjamb who promptly received a flying pillow to the face.
"If this's the thanks I get for my good turn, then maybe I should turn to a life of crime instead."
"How about turning and leaving my room? Before-"
"Before what? I have the pillow," the man in the doorway said.
"Oh no you don't! You- you- scoundrel you!"
The rest of the house, settling in for a delicious lunch, found great amusement in the sounds of laughter, shouting, and pillows being tossed around.
Ben, especially entertained, could be found sitting at the head of the table, shaking his head and giggling to himself.
When Hop Sing laid a large platter of perfectly scrambled eggs on the center of the table, he noticed the strange noise the senior Cartwright was making and leaned in to investigate.
"What? Oh, nothing's wrong, Hop Sing," he managed between peels of hearty chuckles. "Just," he pointed toward the stairs and the ridiculous noise filtering down from the top floor. "Children!" All he could squeeze out as he grabbed a serving spoon and leaned around his long time friend. Ready for some lunch.
"Children? More like menace!" At the understanding look the three times father sent him, Hop Sing couldn't help it a moment longer and joined in the laughter. Hoss doing the same the moment he walked in the front door and discovered what all the commotion was about.
"Not a bad way to start a convalescence," Ben muttered under his breath as he popped his first bite of food in his mouth. Nearly choking on it when a shout of, 'Not fair!' followed a certain red shirted someone barreling down the stairs.
"They'll be the death of me yet," he told their long suffering cook soon as he'd cleared his throat.
Hop Sing took one more glance around at the mockery his dining room had become, turned, and retreated to the safety and relative peace of his kitchen. Muttering unhappily as his departure caused even more laughter. Not sure how such a thing was possible.
Hope it read like an extra special episode of our favorite family, serialized western!
Hope everyone is having a great, Bonanza filled weekend!