|Nobody's Ever Turned Away from the Ponderosa
Author: Kitty O PM
A strange, STUBBORN, and injured girl shows up on the Ponderosa, followed by a scared new ranchhand, and then cattle rustlers. Inspired by the title, S6 quote. Hoss/OC. CompleteRated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Western - Hoss C. & Adam C. - Chapters: 13 - Words: 21,905 - Reviews: 36 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 06-22-11 - Published: 09-21-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6342782
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: No, I do not own the Cartwrights or the Ponderosa or Bonanza. No, I don't know exactly where this is going, I just have an idea. Yes, I'd appreciate any feedback. If it stinks too badly, let me know and I'll take it off . And if the writing sounds a little funny, remember I'm trying to talk as the character would. (Example: smack-dab.)
"Nobody's Ever Turned Away from the Ponderosa"
~Adam Cartwright (Pernell Roberts) in the Flannel-Mouth Gun, episode of season 6.
Chapter One: Day One on the Ponderosa
She limped along, each step more painful than the last. As if in a dream, she felt her shoulders shaking from repressed sobs, but she refused to cry outright. Up ahead she could see a barn, but in her half-conscious state she did not recognize it for what it was. The pain kept distracting her…burning her…
"Oh," she moaned, breaking her promise to herself. "Oh…"
Then she ran smack-dab into the barn and staggered backward, angry at herself. Running into things. How stupid.
Painfully, she turned away from the barn and blindly kept walking into a yard full of dust. Collapsing sounded like the most enticing idea in the world now, but she couldn't. No, she had to - needed to - keep going.
She screamed in surprise and pain. Though it was right in front of her, she hadn't seen the hitching post until she ran into it and fell backwards, unable to catch herself. The ground no longer felt so inviting. As a matter of fact, it was every bit as agonizing as walking. Gosh-dog it, dash-blame it! she thought angrily.
She moaned again.
Dimly she heard footsteps and words, approaching fast. Her heart beat wildly, and she was suddenly very afraid. What would happen now?
Hands reached down and grabbed her. They were male hands; she could tell. The woman broke her promise to herself all over again. "No! Don't touch me! Don't you touch me!" She yelled more, reaching for the knife hidden in her skirts. But the movement pulled at her worst wound and a fresh wave of pain left her breathless and paralyzed.
Oh, fine, she thought, and reluctantly let herself relax as she passed out.
The doctor would be there any minute; Pa had gone for one a long time ago. Hoss sat uncomfortably in his chair and waited, wanting to speed up time. If the Doc took too long… Well, Hoss had seen the girl's injuries himself. He didn't know if she would make it.
He fidgeted as he remembered how his perfectly ordinary day had turned tragic in mere seconds.
Joe heard someone scream outside just as he was finishing breakfast, and he and Hoss rushed out to help. They found a young, injured girl, her face covered with nasty bruises, blood seeping ominously through the cloth of her lavender blouse.
When Little Joe had gone to pick her up, she'd panicked, screaming about how they couldn't touch her. She stopped after a moment, and Joe carried her to the spare bedroom without another sound. Ben went into town for a doctor then, after agreeing that the boys could stay around the house until he returned. Then they had to go back to work.
Hoss hoped the girl would be alright. He'd never seen her before in his life, but her pain had already won the sympathy of his soft heart.
He lost another game of checkers.
Joe whined, "Hoss, beating you isn't even any fun today. What's eating you?"
"Nothin', Joe, nothin'. I'm just dyin' of curiosity, is all."
"About the girl up there? Me too, but sitting there looking worried isn't going to help her any. Come on, let's play another game." He began to reset the board.
The door opened and Ben stepped in, taking off his hat. Behind him walked Paul Martin.
"Good morning, Doc," said Hoss kindly, and he and Joe came forward to shake the doctor's hand.
After the greetings, Paul said, "Well, Ben, you told me you had an injured girl in here."
"Yes, sir, I do. She's in the upstairs guest room… Here, I'll show you."
The doctor chuckled. "No need. By now I should know my way." He walked up the stairs, dragging along his black briefcase. Hoss followed.
Joe sighed, seeing that Hoss would not be playing another game. "How do you like that? You want to play with me, Pa?"
"No, son," said Ben. "Shouldn't you be heading out to help Adam?"
"Aw, but Hoss…" Ben's look checked his youngest mid-whine, and Joe went to pick up his hat and gun belt.
"I'm gone," he said, and then he was.
Upstairs, Doc looked in at the girl and saw her looking back at him blankly. "Well, little lady," he sang. "You're awake!"
She stared coolly, trying to understand if he was stupid or trying to be funny. At last she decided that he was going for 'soothing'.
The doctor whistled. "You look like you lost a fight with a mountain lion."
That wasn't funny. Had she been well, she could've happily slapped him. He'd never talk to her in that voice again then, would he?
"You seem to be bleeding a lot around your middle," he told her mock-calmly. "I'm going to check on that…"
Good idea, she thought sarcastically. Nincompoop! She had no patience left for this. "It's a bullet wound," she growled.
"Bullet. In my side." Her eyes were bright with pain, but her tone was level and casual. Hoss and Paul were surprised at her calmness. Was it really a bullet wound, as she said?
The injured girl yawned. She could stay awake, but it was so much easier to go back to sleep until this obviously inept doctor was gone. So she did.
When she awoke, the doctor had left, and there was a bandage around her waist, restricting her movements. The doctor must have removed the bullet and left, she thought, relieved.
It was evening already, she thought. How long did I sleep?
She looked up and around. The room was a nice one. The bed didn't make her back ache as her own cot did. In the corner stood a stand with a porcelain washbowl, and in the doorway was a big, rough-looking man.
Slowly, her hand inched under the blanket and to her skirt. She made a fist around the hilt of her knife. The beaten girl would not hesitate to stick it in him, should he become a threat.
He looked down at her and walked in. "You're awake."
They kept telling her that, as if she didn't know. "Yes."
He smiled at her, but she didn't release her weapon. What did a friendly smile prove?
"Doctor says you're going to be fine."
She didn't feel fine.
"You don't talk much, do ya, ma'am?" asked the big man, standing over her and unintentionally sending her heart hammering into her throat.
Her face stayed blank.
"What's your name?"
The man smiled, pleased to have gotten a response. "I'm Hoss."
She rolled the name about in her head. Hoss. It fit him! She liked it. All she said was, "Okay."
Hoss blinked. The silent woman made him nervous. He bravely plunged onward. "Ma'am, do you mind telling me what happened to you?"
Suddenly she smiled – a cold, empty smile that didn't reach her gray eyes. Chills crept up Hoss's spine. "I was shot," she said. "And hit. Multiple times." There was no amusement in her voice, but nonetheless Hoss got the feeling that she was laughing at him.
Rather than losing his temper, he smiled. "There's no need to be afeared, ma'am. No one here will hurt you."
She blinked, at a loss for words, astonished at his manners in the face of her rudeness. Her respect for him went up and notch. He was going to 'kill her with kindness', eh?
Kindness. Dad-burn it. She gave a little shiver.
"You look cold," he said, and reached across her blankets. In an instant, her arm was up, clutching her knife and pressing it against his chest.
"You step back," she said emotionlessly.
He stepped back, eyes wide. "Ma'am, I was just going to pull up the blankets."
She smiled that empty smile again. "I can do that myself, Hoss."
"Yes ma'am, so you can. Perhaps you could put that knife up, too."
He looked earnest, kind, but was probably faking. Probably trying to fool her. It wouldn't work. She kept the knife up.
"Put it away, ma'am," said a male voice from the doorway.
She turned and looked at the young man by the door. He was shorter than Hoss but taller than her, and she correctly guessed that he was the youngest of the three. He was small, but wore a baggy green jacket to give himself bulk and disguise his little build. His 'I'm-a-grown-up' way of standing and adult stature didn't fool Paige. That dramatic entrance and those sparkly eyes made her think that this man was barely more than a boy.
Outnumbered, she put the knife away where she could quickly grab it again. "Who are you?" she asked.
"Little Joe. That's my brother Hoss that you wanted to slice up. Pretty little girls shouldn't play with knives."
How about plain girls who are older than you? she looked away from him. "How many men are there around here? Don't you have any mothers, or sisters, or wives?"
Hoss just laughed. "She must like you, Joe. That's the most she's said since she came."
She didn't know what to say again, and she didn't like it.
"No, ma'am," said Joe in that same too-cute tone. "We haven't any. Just me, my two brothers, and Pa."
She honestly thought she paled a bit. "All grown?"
"And none married?"
Holy smokes, she thought. What kind of place was this that she'd stumbled into? "Where am I?"
"The Ponderosa," said Hoss, who had straightened up and taken a step or two back.
Her head snapped around to face him. "The Ponderosa? You're Cartwrights, then?"
"We are," said Joe, walking into the room and sitting down on an upholstered chair. "What's your last name?" he asked her.
"Anton," she responded automatically, still feeling a little dazed. The Ponderosa? Heavens above! She began to smile, just a little. Who said she couldn't appreciate irony?
I'm being cared for by the Ponderosa Cartwrights! Jacob's going to laugh until his sides split!
Joe's feet pounded down the stairs with Hoss right behind him. Ben looked up from his desk. "How is she?"
"Alive and kicking," Hoss assured Ben. "That filly's a wild one."
Ben sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. Hoss wondered to himself if Pa was getting old. Sometimes he just looked so… tired! But when Ben moved his hands, his eyes were bright with intelligence and curiosity. He wasn't over the hill yet, thank heavens.
He asked, "Who is she? What happened to her?"
Joe shrugged, leaning on the railing. "Paige Anton's her name."
Hoss nodded and stuck his thumbs into his pants. "I asked what happened, and all she said was, 'I was shot'."
Joe added, "She's not very talkative."
With everything on Ben's mind right now, he really didn't need an injured girl in the house. This was a busy time of year… and what with those rustlers and all…
While plopping himself down on the couch, Joe said, "You know, she wasn't real friendly. But she was pretty. Maybe she's just shy." He smiled his most winning smile.
Ben heard hoof beats in the yard. Adam was home from a long day's work, he thought, and turned his mind back to Hoss and Joe's conversation.
Hoss was snorting, "I don't think shyness is her problem. Hey Pa, whatever you do, don't make her mad. And don't try to pull up her covers. She can do that herself."
The door opened, and Adam stepped inside. Ben's oldest son was a big man, brave and smart, with a good sense of humor and a college education. Best of all, he didn't call his day short just because they were housing a strange girl for awhile, which was a trait that was Ben was beginning to appreciate more and more.
"Hello, Adam," said Ben to his dark-haired son, but Adam, looking grim, didn't return his greeting. Ben knew what that was about. He sighed and asked, "How many did they get away with last night?"
"Five," said Adam darkly. "Five head of steer missing. Again."
It was nighttime, and Paige should've been sleeping, especially after a day like today.
She had been, but the inevitable nightmare had driven her to awareness, making her bite her tongue to keep from crying out loud. Sweat ran down her body despite the chill in the air.
The pale moonlight leaked in through the window and covered the bed like a second blanket, calming her. After a minute or two she relaxed back into her bed, allowing her mind to wander until she slumbered again. She'd always liked the moon and its light, she found herself thinking. They were….unassuming. Yes, that was it. The moonlight wasn't demanding, like the sun, or threatening like the rainclouds. It was just there, subtle and silver, letting her know that she was the most important person around. No one was better than anyone else by moonlight, not even the President. Paige wasn't sure where she'd gotten this idea, but the thought comforted her when she was upset. She began to feel better, and the nightmare was less scary. Already she began to forget it.
After a moment, her attention turned from the light to the opened door. Now how could she sleep with it open? Paige simply couldn't; someone would have to close it before she could doze again. She couldn't call to the men of the Ponderosa, of course, so she would have to do it herself. Her middle felt almost better, anyway.
Paige tossed her covers aside with a sigh. She groaned, knowing this was going to hurt, and stood up. Her feet landed in the shadow, away from the moonlight.
It hurt to stand! Walking was going to be worse, and she knew it. But the door isn't so far away, not really. And I've already gotten this far.
She took a step, faltered, and shook her head at her own weakness. She took a second step and trembled. On the third, she collapsed with a thud.
Hoss looked up when he heard the noise. He was downstairs, losing to Joe at checkers – a pastime that he was tiring of.
Joe glanced toward the ceiling. "Guess she's up," he said, standing.
Adam put down a work of Shakespeare and gazed at the ceiling.
Hoss jumped to his feet, saying, "I've got it," and bounded up the stairs. He reached her doorway and saw her lying on the floor, looking up at him. Her face was pale.
"You shouldn't get out of bed," he admonished her. "Has your wound opened again?" he asked, coming forward cautiously, in case she pulled out her knife again.
Hoss made a mental note to see if he could part her from it soon, so he could sleep easier.
"No, it hasn't," she growled.
"What were you doing?"
"Trying to close the double-danged door," she said, using one of her funny expressions. "I can't sleep with it open."
Well, she'd slept with it open all afternoon, hadn't she? Hoss didn't mention it, just went and picked her up. She didn't struggle, but her body stiffened. He found himself wondering how someone who looked so solidly built could weigh so little.
"Now, ma'am," he said, carrying her over to the bed and putting her down on it. "The doctor said to stay in bed, okay?"
"Yes, well," she sneered. "He's an imbecile, isn't he? Why should I care what he says?" Her temporary calmness was now completely gone and quickly being replaced by an urge to cry. But she wouldn't, not in front of Hoss.
Hoss felt a flash of anger towards Paige, but then he remembered. She was scared; she was in pain. He had to keep his temper. "You don't mean that. You'll feel better in the morning. I always do." He looked down at her, and suddenly his kindly expression froze on his face. They stood there a moment, gazes locked, and the world stood still. Then, silently, Hoss turned and left the room.
Once he was back downstairs, Adam and Joe looked at him, their expressions curious. Hoss shook his head. "Paige just fell outta bed. She's fine. No, Little Joe, I don't think I'll play again. I'm plumb tired."
Upstairs, a very exhausted and very injured girl burst into helpless tears. The big oaf! Who was he to be so nice to her? It was like rubbing salt in a wound! She sobbed miserably into her pillow until she finally fell asleep. When she awoke, she would discover that Hoss was right; things always did look better in the morning.
In another room, Hoss was trying to force himself to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes and prepared to slumber, it came back to him: the look on her face before he left the room. It was an expression of pure hatred, of loathing. He couldn't get it out of his head.
What had he done to deserve that look from such a pretty girl? Why did she hate him?
A/N: Guilty conscience, that's what I'm thinking! But we'll see. Thanks for reading.