Hey eyeryone! This is my first Ponderosa fic! Love Bonanza and Ponderosa! :))))

A Birthday Alone

He was angry! Oh was he angry. He didn't do one thing wrong and his family practically tanned him. His father was going to but didn't exactly get a chance. And those annoying brothers of his. They assumed he did wrong when he didn't do a thing. Of course he didn't even get a chance to tell them. He was too angry.

He could see from their point of view what he did wrong..... Well what they thought he did wrong but they didn't even listen to him.

Oh course he did know why they didn't listen. They were tired. The ponderosa was busy and there was much work to be done. Everyday his family came home late and every morning they left early. They were cranky and didn't want a annoying eleven year old getting in the way.

But that didn't make his any less angry or any more happy. It's not like he wanted to get in the way. It's not his fault his family had a child to come home to each day. It's not his fault that he was late getting home and Hopsing told his family he was late getting home. And it's definitely not his fault his family didn't have the time for him.

But he wasn't just angry. He was sad but couldn't let it show so he used anger to hide it. He was hurt. So hurt but not physically hurt, no he was mentally and emotionally hurt. His heart was hurt. But of he showed his family this he would be giving up. And giving up would make his accept a fact. A fact that he didn't want to be true, but was nearly positive it was. To stop the hurt he didn't give up and ignored it. He ignored the hurt and that little fact that hurt even worse.

But that hurt in his heart wasn't just from today. No it was a build up from a few days. Ever since his family started working late. He kept getting in trouble and half the time he didn't do anything wrong. But what the hurt was wasn't because he didn't do anything wrong, it was because they didn't listen or trust him, just made up dumb things he could have done wrong.

The anger had been building up in him for a while but he had no way to let it out. His family were never home to even see him. He had taken on both his, Adam's and Hoss's chores. They never got a chance to do them. He also had to do Adams work at the widow Mrs. Greene farm and her daughter Tess. She asked his Pa to send one of his boys down to help her with the basic work and Adam volunteered. She even payed him to do it. When Adam had to work late with Hoss and Pa, Joe took on the job. It was hard work but he enjoyed the pay he got for it.

He was tired too now because of that. He was only a eleven year old and like he said it was hard work. He was saving the money he got. He wanted to buy a new pair of boots for himself. His were old and had a hole in them but he didn't dare mention it to his father. They were already low on funds.

He hated the feeling. The sad feeling, the way he used anger to forget it, the loneliness, the boredom and the eating meals all alone. He hated the unloved feeling he got and wanted to go back in time. Wanted to change all those feelings. Go back to when his problem started... Last Monday morning........

"Pa! Pa, Adam, Hoss! I'm home," Little Joe shouts as he runs through the door into his house.

"Pa? Adam? Hoss?" Joe asks quieter now in confusion.

"Misser Cartwright and sons no home! They very busy!" Hopsing says as he walks out to Joe.

"Oh. I'll just get started on my chores then," Joe says a little dejectedly. He walks out and notices Hoss's and Adams chores haven't been done. Once he finishs his own ones he starts his brothers. By the time he's done Hopsing is calling him in for dinner.

He eats dinner alone at Hopsings persistent moaning that his food is getting cold and his family won't be home in time to eat with him. This was the start of the hurt.

He then went to his and his brothers room to go to bed-alone. It was already nine thirty and his family still wasn't home. He was starting to worry and sleep wouldn't claim him.

It was 11 pm by the time he heard the front door open and three sets of footsteps walk in. He heard quiet voices talking to Hopsing and chairs being pulled out. He guessed his family was having a late dinner.

He desperately wanted to go out and see his family but knew if he did he'd be in trouble. It was way past his bedtime. With the thought that his family was safely home he fell into an uneasy and unrestful sleep.

Adam, Hoss and Pa walked into the boys bedroom a little while later. Ben stared at his fully clothed youngest son and was happy he was at least asleep. He started unclothing him as his to eldest sons changed into their night cloths.

Adam came to help once he was done and in a few minutes they had a still sleeping Little Joe in a nightshirt. Well it was actually one of Bens old shirts.

Ben tucked his youngest son in under the covers and gave him a kiss before heading to his own room. Adam and Hoss slipped into bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Morning

Little Joe woke up on his own this morning only to find his brothers beds empty. He rushed into his cloths and quickly washed up before going into the living room. He found Hopsing cooking his breakfast.

"Hopsing! Where is my family?" Little Joe asks.

"They still busy. They leave. You eat then do chores and go to school," Hopsing orders as he puts a plate of oatmeal in front of Joe.

Little joe eats about half the bowl before leaving to the barn to do his morning chores. Once again his brothers chores aren't done and he does them too.

By the time he finishs he's already late for school and rush's to saddle his pony and leave to school. By the time he gets there the bell already went. He rush's through the door to the school and runs into his teacher.

"Little Joe! Why are you late?" Mrs. Himily questions.

"I uh... I," Joe starts but the teacher cuts him off.

"I don't want to hear it! You will be kept after school and a note will be sent home! Now go to your seat," She says.

"Yes Ma'am," Joe says before sadly trudging over to his desk and flopping down. It was a boring day at school and he found himself daydreaming nearly all the time. The teacher thankfully didn't notice.

By the time school was out and he was kept for a further hour he left. He got home late and was disappointed to see him family's horses were missing which meant they were still working. He unsaddled his horse Paint and once again did his and his brothers chores.

The day ended like the first. He ate alone, went to sleep late, didn't fall asleep until his family returned home and slept unrestfully.

For his family it was also the same. They returned home, ate dinner, but as they got up Ben notices a note on the table. He picked it up and read it. His anger grew the more he read.

Dear Mr. Cartwright,

Your son Joseph was late for school today and disrupted my class when he came in,

I want to say his behavior changed as the class went on but I noticed he wasn't paying attention,

I don't know if this is a one time thing but I had to keep him after school,

Please make sure he isn't late again,

I don't know if he purposely skipped until our math lesson was over or if he was genuinely late,

Thank you

Mrs. Himily

"What's it say Pa?" Hoss asks.

"It seems your little brother was either late for school or skipped maths class. He better not be taking advantage of our late ours and early wakening," Ben threatens.

"He probably took his time leaving or was late up since none of us were here to wake him up," Adam suggests.

"I'll have a talk to him tomorrow night. He's probably asleep by now... Well he better be," Ben says.

"Aww Pa. He probably didn't mean it," Hoss says sticking up for his younger brother.

"Well it's late. Lets head to bed boys," Ben says and heads towards his room. He doesn't check on Joseph tonight. He's too tired.

Hoss and Adam change before once again changing their little brother into his nightshirt. Why couldn't the boy change before he went to bed?

Once they fall asleep they don't wake. Not even a bear attack would wake them frankly. They were just too tired.

Morning

Joe once again wakens alone. He changes and wash's before going out and eating his breakfast alone. He does both his and his brothers chores before leaving to school, this time not late.

He hasn't seen his family in two days and was getting quite lonely. His teacher was pleased by his being on time and he payed attention today.

Once school was over he was about to leave town but the widow from the green farm stopped him.

"Joe! I haven't seen Adam in a few days and he was suppose to be helping me out around the ranch. Do you know where he is?" Mrs. Greene asks.

"Sorry. We've been really busy on the ranch. I'll come over and do whatever he was suppose to do," Little Joe offers and follows her out of town to her ranch. He had to do all the chores in the barn and yard that built up from two days ago. It was hard and by the time he got home it was already six. Once home he did his own chores and his brothers before going to eat supper.

He sits alone once again picking at his food and pushing it around to make it look like he ate some of it not just played with it. He goes to bed sad and lonely. He remembers this time to change and slips into bed exhausted.

He felt so lonely. His family have been so busy and they haven't been home on time in ages. He tries to fight the tears that threatened to fall but lost that battle within seconds. The warm tears trickle down his cheek.

His tears slowed as he fell into an exhausted sleep. His thought are full of questions like 'Will he see his family tomorrow?' And 'What will they say to him'. His last though is a happy one. Tomorrow's a special day! He will definitely see his family tomorrow.

Adam, Hoss and Ben walked through the front door each about to pass out. They had so little sleep and so much work for the past few days. Adam and Hoss head for their rooms without dinner.

"Where are you going?" Their Pa questions.

"To tired ta eat," Hoss mumbles.

"And for Hoss thats really saying something," Adam comments.

"No! You have to eat or else you'll be even more tired," Pa orders.

"Yes Pa," They chorused mumbling. They all sit down to a silent dinner. They were to tired to talk. Finally when they finish they drag themselves to their rooms and fall asleep instantly.

Morning

When Little Joe woke up he was practically jumping up and down with excitement. His smile faded a little when he saw his brothers empty beds but ignored it. He washed and dressed as fast as he could and ran out into the living room.

"Hopsing! Weres my family?" Joe asks.

"Where they always lately? They work!" Hopsing says.

"But they can't! Not today!" Little Joe argues.

"Why no work today?" Hopsing asks.

"You don't know?" Little Joe questions. Did Hopsing and his family forget what a special day it was today? It's his birthday. He's turning twelve. "Never mind Hopsing. It doesn't matter."

"You hurry! You be late!" Hopsing says pushing Little Joe out the door.

"Yes Hopsing," Joe say dejectedly and walks out to the barn to do all the chores. He then races Paint to school. If he didn't he was definitely going to be late.

He got there barely in time. He rushed to unsadle his horse and got through the school door just in time. His teacher gave him a glare but didn't say anything.

The whole class he spent daydreaming. It was his birthday yet no one remembered. Not Hopsing, not his family and not his friends.

When school was let out he got called back by the teacher. He was told to sit at his desk and she watched as he squirmed nervously in his seat. Little Joe didn't know what he did wrong.

"Little Joe, why weren't you paying attention in my class?" Mrs Himily questions.

"I uh... I'm a little distracted lately," Joe mumbles.

"I can see that!" Mrs. Himily replys sharply but he voice softens. "Is something wrong Little Joe?"

"NO! I'm I.... Uh... I'm fine," Joe stutters.

"Ok then.... You may be excused," She says eyeing him sharply. She knew he was lying but didn't want to press the little boy. She watch's as little Joe races out of the classroom like she was the devil.

Joe quickly got on his horse and headed over to the Greene's ranch. He said hello to Mrs. Greene before doing the work. He was nearly done when he heard someone enter the barn.

"Hey Little Joe! Happy Birthday!" Tess exclaims pulling him into a hug.

"H...Hi T... Tess," Joe stutters.

"Little Joe! What's wrong?" Tess asks now serious.

"N... nothing," Little Joe lies.

"Hey," Tess says gently. Little Joe looks down but Tess pulls his chin back up to look into her eyes. "Don't lie to me. What's the matter? Why are you so sad?"

"Really it... uh it doesn't matter," Little Joe says trying to get away but Tess keeps a hold on his arm.

"It does matter if your upset by it," Tess encourages, she was like the older sister he never had. The tone she had was so like his mothers he couldn't resist anymore. He missed his mother and that motherly touch of hers. He knew Adam and Hoss didn't have their ma as long as they had his but theirs got taken away before they could even realize what was taken. His mother was taken away when he could feel the pain and empty spot it left. Even though his ma was Adams and Hoss's too he was only eleven. It's not the same.

His eye's tear up and Tess pulls him close. He wraps his arms around her and sobs his heart out. She rubs his back and whispers nonsense to him. She calms him down till his sobs are old sniffles and the occasional hiccup.

"Now will you tell me what's wrong?" Tess asks gently, still holding the hurt boy tight.

"They forgot. All of em forgot my birthday and I... I ain't seen em in days," Little Joe whispers.

"Do you mean your family?" Tess asks and her response is a slight nod.

"They've been workin real late and up real early and I ain't seen em in days. Then they fergot my birthday an I... I don't wanna be alone," Joe says, the last part coming with another burst of tears.

"Aww, Little Joe your not alone. You always got me," Tess comforts, rubbing circles on his back. "Now lets see what I got you for your birthday."

"Y.. You got me so... something fer my birthday?" Joe asks confused.

"I sure did! Now why wouldn't I get my favorite little brother a birthday present?" Tess teases.

"I'm your only little brother..... Well none related little brother," Joe says giggling.

"Well to me your a real little brother! Now come on! Lets go see what I got you," Tess says pushing Joe inside her home. She brings him into her room where she gets a present from under her bed and hands it to Joe.

"Here ya go! Now open it!" Tess encourages. She felt bad for Little Joe. He was like a little brother and she loved him like one. She really couldn't believe his family forgot his birthday. She definitely would have a word with Hoss. How could he make his little brother cry! And Adam! He was suppose to be the smart, oldest one. How could he forget Joe's birthday. Her heart went out to the little boy but she knew that his family was probably just over busy. They still should have time for the boy. He's only eleven.... Well technically he's now twelve.

"No way!" Little Joe gasps as he finish's opening his only present. "You got me the new boots I wanted!"

"I saw you admiring them in the window and couldn't help myself," Tess explains.

"But they cost so much! You shouldn't have," Joe complains.

"Hey! It's no problem. I've been saving up but had nothing I wanted to spend my money on. To me that was a favor! I needed something to buy and you really need new boots! I enjoy getting you stuff and I only get to buy stuff for you a few times a year," Tess says smiling. Joe has tears in his eye's but this time they're for love. Love to this person who was like a sister to him. A sister he dearly loved.

"Thanks Tess," Joe whispers giving her a hug.

"Well lets see if they fit!" Tess exclaims and helps him put them on. They fit perfectly. Not to small and not to big but big enough to leave some room for his feet to grow.

Little Joe smiles down at his new boots. They were so nice and new looking. Much better then his old, tattered, torn ones. He frowns before taking them off and putting on his old ones.

"Don't ya want to wear them home?" Tess asks.

"No. I'm gonna visit my ma's grave an don't want em to get all muddy," Joe explains.

"Well you better be on your way then if you want to be home by dark," Tess says as they leave her room and head to the front door.

"Thanks again Tess," Joe whispers and gives her another hug.

"You take care Joseph!" Mrs. Greene calls out to him from the kitchen.

"Bye Mrs. Greene, bye Tess," Joe says before leaving and heading out to the barn where he saddled Paint and rode out to his mothers grave. He got there as quickly as he could and kneeled down beside the grave.

"Oh Ma. I feel so alone. Why weren't Pa or Hoss or Adam home. They fergot! How could they. It's like I'm not even there anymore. I ain't seen em since Monday an it's already Wednesday. They didn't even wait to see me on my birthday. Pa always makes sure he's here fer our birthdays," Joe spills his heart out to his mothers grave.

"I wish you were here Ma! You wouldn't ferget my birthday an you wouldn't leave me alone fer three whole days. I miss you so much. It wasn't fair what happened. You never did nothing wrong! You were a gift Ma, a gift that was to good fer me. I love you Ma but I gotta go. Bye Ma," Joe says before getting up and heading home.

It was already seven by the time he got home and he rushed to do all the chores. When he finally got inside Hopsing was waiting.

"Where Little boy?" Hopsing questions.

"I was at the greene ranch," Little Joe explains.

"Fine but be on time tomorrow. Late boy gets cold suppa," Hopsing complains and gets Little Joe's supper. It was warm even though Hopsing said it would be cold. The cook couldn't be that mean. He'd heat it until the family got home.

Little Joe once again ate very little. He wasn't hungry. He was too sad to be hungry. After dinner he put his new shoes under his bed and changed into his nightshirt. He lied down on his bed but this time didn't cry, he wouldn't. So what if his family forgot his birthday, it's not like he cared. And Adam and Hoss always forget each others birthdays. Well it hasn't happened yet but they still could!

He forced his eyes to close but sleep wouldn't take him and fly him away into the world of dreams were his pain would disappear and he'd feel better. But emotional and physical exhaustion takes over and soon he's sleeping like a baby.

Adam, Hoss and Ben walks into their warm home compared to the cold air outside. They're greeted by Hopsing and a nice delicious warm looking dinner. Hungrily they eat their food and make small talk. They were busy but it was only cause they got a whole load of work and little time to do it. They were nearly done and soon they wouldn't be doing such late hours.

"Pa ain't there any way one of us could stay home. Little Joe's been home alone fer a while an he must miss us," Hoss asks.

"I need you boys with me but I think there's only two more days of work to do and we'll be able to relax," Ben says but he also has been missing his youngest. He hasn't seen the boy awake in about three days.

"Adam you quiet. Is there something on your mind?" Ben asks.

"I don't know Pa? I feel like I'm forgetting something.... something important," Adam explains.

"I'm sure it's nothing boys. Lets just get to bed," Ben orders and they all head to bed.

Morning

Little Joe woke up but didn't bother to check his brothers beds. He knew they were empty, lately they were always empty. He walked out of his room and through the living room. He didn't wait for breakfast, he just went outside to do the chores. After he finished them he left for school forgetting his lunch.

As he road there he noticed he was wearing his old boot and forgot to put his new ones on. He really liked the new ones. How could he forget?

By the time he got there he was early. He talked to his friends for a while before going in with all of his friends who go to school. He noticed the teacher smiling at him and gave an awkward smile back.

Soon school was over and he hadn't gotten in trouble at all. He headed over to the Greene ranch to do the chores. Tess was out when he got there so he worked alone. When he was done he said bye to Mrs. Greene and left for home. He was later then usual and he knew he'd be in trouble. But who was there to yell at him or punish him? He was alone.

He got home and did all the barn chores before heading back inside. He was hungry after not eating all day and the days before he ate very little. He ate about half his dinner before heading to bed.

He really missed his family. He hasn't seen them and missed his father or brothers tucking him into bed every night. He changed before washing up and going to bed.

"No tears!" He whispered to himself continuously until sleep took him in it's warm hands.

Three men walked into their home happily. They were nearly finished their work and only about a days more of work to go. They sat down to dinner.

"God dangit Pa! Were nearly finished," Hoss exclaims.

"Yes son, only about half a days more work and we can come home to your little brother," Ben says happily.

"Pa I still got this bad feeling from last night. Every time I think of Little Joe I get the feeling like I've forgotten something terribly wrong," Adam came out with.

"Son your probably overly tired and it's nothing," Ben comforts.

"Yeah.... sure Pa," Adam says still unsure. They finish their dinner and head to bed all asleep in mere minutes.

Morning

Joe woke up alone.... again and went out to the barn to do the chores. He felt nauseous and the though of breakfast made him feel worse. After the chores were finished he headed to school.

It was a boring day at school but it was Friday so they didn't really care. They'd all have two days off school and looked forward to the weekend. When class was over Little Joe was held back.

"Joseph, I was wondering if you could help me put new shelfs on the wall and fill them with books for our new bookcase?" Mrs. Himily asks.

"Sure!" Little Joe agrees.

"I'll write a note as to why your late home," Mrs. Himily says and they soon get to work. An hour later the new book shelfs are up and are filled with books.

"Thanks Little Joe and have a nice weekend," Mrs. Himily says as she hands the boy the note. After he says goodbye Little Joe rush's out and over to the Greene farm where he once again does the barn chores before heading home.

When Little Joe gets home he's surprised to see his father and brother's horses in the barn. Even though he hopes his family is home he doesn't let that hope fully take over. If he did, if they weren't there the disappointment would be to much to bare. He'd been to hurt already. He does the barn chores before going into his home.

"Joseph! Where were you!" Ben demands as his youngest son walks through the front door. He and his eldest two sons finished work early and came home to a empty house besides Hopsing when his youngest son should have been home.

"Sorry Pa I was just-" Joe starts but is cut off.

"I don't want to here it! I went to town and your teacher said she gave you a note to explain your tardiness, what did you do this time to get in trouble?" Ben questions.

"Pa really I-" Joe starts again.

"No excuses Joe! Just tell me what you did wrong," Ben orders.

Joe was mad. He spent a whole week alone and when he gets home he's being yelled at by his stupid, mean and uncaring father. It wasn't fair.

"Pa why not just take the note? He's not going to tell the truth if he thinks he'll be in trouble," Adam says.

"Yeah Pa! Ya know he'll make up a fake thing he done wrong and say he lost the note just to get outta trouble," Hoss joins in.

Now his brothers too! How could they! He didn't do anything wrong and they were trying to get him in trouble with Pa. He wouldn't take it. Joe felt his temper rise.

"Well ya know what? I don't care what either of you two idiots think! You ain't got no right! I'm not gonna take it no more. You two just find something else to do other then get me in trouble! You're lier's an ya know it! But the worst one is you Pa! You stay away fer a week an come back thinking I'm the wrong one. You missed out on a lot and you can't make up fer it. Your a big meany!" Little Joe shouts and throws the note from his teacher on the floor before taking off at full speed out of the house and into the barn.

"Joe," Hoss and Adam shout before making to follow him but their Pa stops them with the shake of the head.

"Leave Joe to cool off for a while. He's probably angry we were away all week and when we get backthe first thing we say to him is how he's in trouble. We weren't too nice," Ben explains.

"Yeah but Pa should we really-" Hoss asks but is cut off by the sound of hoofs heading away from the ranch.

They all look at each other for a second before rushing to the door and yanking it open. They're just in time to see the back of Little Joe as he rides away from them.

"Pa should we go after him?" Adam asks.

"No, like I said lets give him a little time to cool off. He probably wants to be away from the Ponderosa for a while if it means being away from us," Ben says sadly.

"Ok..... Lets go see Hopsing. Maybe he might know why Joe is so angry at us," Adam suggests.

"Boy no eat breakfast in two days. He sad and get home very, very late one day. Forget lunch for two days too and eat little dinner. Don't know why little boy eat so little but small enough already. Need eat food to be big like brothers," Hopsing explains.

"I should have been here! He was probably lonely, thats why he didn't eat!" Ben exclaims.

"Pa you know we were piled on with work! There was nothing we could do," Adam comforts. All of a sudden they hear horses hoof's making it's way up to the house. They all once again run to the door hoping it's Little Joe but are disappointed to see Tess.

"Hey Tess. What's new?" Hoss asks as Tess reins her horse to the hitch post.

"I came by to see Joe...... What are you doing here? I though you were working late," Tess asks.

"We finished the pile load of work early today and came home to relax," Adam explains.

"Oh... Have you seen Joe? I missed him when he came to our ranch," Tess asks.

"Why did Joe go to your ranch?" Ben asks.

"You didn't know? When was the last time you saw him... besides today?" Tess asks.

"Uh..... Last Sunday. Why?" Ben asks.

"I really didn't think it was true. You fergot," Tess mumbles to herself.

"Why was Joe at your ranch?" Adam asks again.

"Oh! He was doing the work you couldn't do cause you were busy," Tess explains.

"I forgot about that! Sorry," Adam apologizes.

"No it's fine. Joe did the work and he did it well," Tess praises.

"So ya came here ta see Joe?" Hoss asks.

"Yeah! Last time I saw him he was in tears he-" Tess says but is cut off.

"TEARS! Why?" Ben exclaims worriedly.

"He said you fergot. And you did. You fergot something so important at the start I didn't believe it was true, didn't believe you actually fergot," Tess says.

"What did we forget?" Adam questions.

"I... I can't tell. Where's Joe!" Tess demands.

"When he came home I yelled at him. I thought he got in trouble at school but it turns out he was helping the teacher. He started yelling before running off and leaving here on his horse. I was going to let him cool off and not follow him," Ben explains.

"What?" Tess exclaims.

"Why Tess! What's going on?" Hoss asks worriedly.

"It was his birthday..... You fergot his birthday," Tess accuses. The family instantly pale. They forgot Little Joe's birthday. What kind of family were they. Their little brother and son. They were to busy with work that they forgot about family. About how lonely and unloved the youngest family member must feel.

"Thats what it was. That was the bad feeling I had," Adam whispers.

"What do we do Pa?" Hoss asks.

"Give him time. If he's not home by eight we get a search party and go after him," Ben says.

"I better go..... If he isn't home make sure to get me. I want to help in the search party," Tess informs them before leaving. The family go in and sit down thinking about what a big mistake they made.

With Little Joe

He raced the horse out of the yard on Paint. His tears blinded him so he let Paint led the way and he just sat on the horses back. The horse was galloping but he didn't care. He didn't even know where he was going.... Until it was too late.

Little Joe found himself in a dark, dense, woods. He didn't know how to get out either. Paint brought them here but he didn't know how to find the way out. He got off Paint for a minute to look around.

He got the sudden urge for his family to be here with him but as soon and his family came to mind his scared feeling got replace with anger and he started kicking and branch or bush he could find.

He was angry! Oh was he angry. He didn't do one thing wrong and his family practically tanned him. His father was going to but didn't exactly get a chance. And those annoying brothers of his. They assumed he did wrong when he didn't do a thing. Of course he didn't even get a chance to tell them. He was too angry.

He could see from their point of view what he did wrong..... Well what they thought he did wrong but they didn't even listen to him.

Oh course he did know why they didn't listen. They were tired. The ponderosa was busy and there was much work to be done. Everyday his family came home late and every morning they left early. They were cranky and didn't want a annoying eleven year old getting in the way.

But that didn't make his any less angry or any more happy. It's not like he wanted to get in the way. It's not his fault his family had a child to come home to each day. It's not his fault that he was late getting home and Hopsing told his family he was late getting home. And it's definitely not his fault his family didn't have the time for him.

But he wasn't just angry. He was sad but couldn't let it show so he used anger to hide it. He was hurt. So hurt but not physically hurt, no he was mentally and emotionally hurt. His heart was hurt. But of he showed his family this he would be giving up. And giving up would make his accept a fact. A fact that he didn't want to be true, but was nearly positive it was. To stop the hurt he didn't give up and ignored it. He ignored the hurt and that little fact that hurt even worse.

But that hurt in his heart wasn't just from today. No it was a build up from a few days. Ever since his family started working late. He kept getting in trouble and half the time he didn't do anything wrong. But what the hurt was wasn't because he didn't do anything wrong, it was because they didn't listen or trust him, just made up dumb things he could have done wrong.

The anger had been building up in him for a while but he had no way to let it out. His family were never home to even see him. He had taken on both his, Adam's and Hoss's chores. They never got a chance to do them. He also had to do Adams work at the widow Mrs. Greene farm and her daughter Tess. She asked his Pa to send one of his boys down to help her with the basic work and Adam volunteered. She even payed him to do it. When Adam had to work late with Hoss and Pa, Joe took on the job. It was hard work but he enjoyed the pay he got for it.

He was tired too now because of that. He was only a eleven year old and like he said it was hard work. He was saving the money he got. He wanted to buy a new pair of boots for himself. His were old and had a hole in them but he didn't dare mention it to his father. They were already low on funds.

He hated the feeling. The sad feeling, the way he used anger to forget it, the loneliness, the boredom and the eating meals all alone. He hated the unloved feeling he got and wanted to go back in time.

After his anger was satisfied by kicking the bush's and branch's the scared feeling once again took place in his heart. He was alone, in the dark woods and had no way to get out. He was also scared of the dark. He didn't like it at all. Darkness meant loneliness and loneliness meant he was all alone without his family.

He could barely see around him, the only light was whatever sun could get through the leafs and branches of the canopy.

Little Joe took a step back towards Paint. He kept on hearing twigs snap and bush's moving. Was there an animal around him? Was it going to attack.

Whimpering a little Joe got back on Paint and pushed him back the way he came.... or what he thought was back the way he came.

He heard a twig snap from behind and he urged his horse on faster. He was nearly sure they were being followed. Then out of no where he heard the sound of water. He had none... So that would be the first thing he should get.

He directed Paint towards the sound of water and soon came on a creek. Just as he was about to get off his horse a dark shadow jumps out from a bush and sinks it's teeth into Paints left back leg. Paint terrified pulls away. He gets his leg away from the animal but the horse goes down when he puts pressure on his left leg and takes Little Joe down with him.

Little Joe feels a intense pain from his right leg which Paint is lying on. The pain moves up his spine from the bottom of his leg. He screams out in pain.

Paint tries to get up but only makes it up to fall down again. Little Joe's feet slip out of the stirrups and doesn't get fallen on again.

Soon Little Joe finds the animal which is a wolf coming at him. It lunges for his throat but misses and instead bites Little Joe's right shoulder. The wolf holds on and sinks it's teeth deeper as Little Joe tries to push it off. Finally Little Joe succeeds when he hit's the wolfs muzzle and the wolf releases him.

Just as the wolf lunges again Little Joe grabs a stick and hold it out. The wolf jumps into the stick and it goes through the wolf stomach and back out through it's side. The wolf instantly falls down dead with a stick going through it.

Gasping and crying Little Joe shakily push's himself up and staggers before falling down. The pain in his leg was so bad. He drags himself over to his horse before pulling himself up and resting his head on the horses belly. Within seconds the crying boy is unconscious.

With the Family

It was already nine and still no sign of Joe. They got a search party together at eight and were already searching.

Tess, Hoss and Adam were following the tracks while everyone else split up. Ben with Hopsing unwillingly stayed at home incase Little Joe came home.

Hoss, Adam and Tess think Joe was heading towards one of the forests but didn't go ahead incase the tracks change and go in another direction.

With Joe

Little Joe came to a little while later. He then remembered where he was and what was going on. The pain in his shoulder and leg had gotten much worse and he was so thirsty.

He reachs with his left hand over his right shoulder and is surprised when his hand meets something warm and sticky. He pulls his hand back to see it dripping in red liquid. Then it comes to him what it is and he nearly pass's out again.

He looks over his horse and is happy to see the horse was only injured on it's leg. He sits up and orders the horse to get up. It push's itself onto it's legs. It holds it's left leg off the ground but is otherwise fine.

Little Joe wraps his hanker chief around the horses injured leg before dragging himself painfully to the creek to get a drink. After drinking his fill he falls into unconscious again.

With Hoss, Adam and Tess

They finally made it to the forest by following the tracks. They all looked at each other before back at the tall, dark woods. Hoss and Tess made to go in but Adam stopped them.

"We have to make up camp," Adam says dully.

"But what bout Joe! He's in there scared! We can't just leave em!"Hoss yells.

"Hoss you have to do the sensible thing-" Adam says but is cut short.

"Sensible thing! Our little brother is in these woods possibly hurt and all you think about is the sensible thing!" Hoss yells.

"HOSS! It's night time, we can barely see a thing! How do you suppose we track him in the pitch dark. If we get hurt too how will we find him!" Adam demands and Hoss instantly feels guilty.

"Your right Adam. We'll jist probably end up gettin lost our selves," Hoss agrees and they turn towards Tess who has been silent this whole time. They are shocked to see her off her horse with the horse tied to a tree and is making a fire.

"You jist gonna stand there and stare at me or are ya gonna help?" Tess asks. Adam and Hoss smirk before getting off their horses and helping as well.

Morning

No one got much sleep that night. They were all to busy worrying about Joe and if he was Ok. To busy thinking up all possible tragedies that could have happened to Little Joe.

They set out a sunup and followed the tracks into the woods. There was enough light to follow them so they didn't have to worry about getting lost, they could follow their tracks back out when they had to but Adam still used a knife to mark a few tree's they passed.

After a while of them follow the tracks they noticed another set of prints not made from a horse.... or human, it was wolf tracks but thankfully only one wolf... but thats all it took to kill a twelve year old boy. They speed up slightly now with the worried thought of Joe being attacked by the wolf.

Finally they came upon a opening to a river and what they saw turned their hearts cold. The wolf had a stick going strait through it, Paint was standing off to the side with it's left hoof slightly raised off the ground and a body of a boy right next to the river with a pool of blood around it.

Adam is the first one to come out of his shock and quickly dismounts and runs over to his fallen brother. He sits down and just stares at the little boy's face.

The boy was pale except for the pink flush in his cheeks. His body is wet with sweat and his breathing is shallow and harsh. The thing that scared Adam the most was how still the boy was. Normally this excited and energetic boy would be running around..... not lying deathly still.

Shakily Adam feels for a pulse even though he could see the boys chest rise barely and could hear the rough breathing. He just had to be sure. He didn't feel a thing but could hear the breaths. He pushed down harder on the boy's neck till he felt a weak and fast pulse. He knew this wasn't a good sign.

Adam felt two people kneel beside him. He looked at both before nodding his head to their relief. They all stared down at the injured boy.

"We need to check him over," Tess recommends and starts to check him over.

"Look at the angle of his leg..... I think it's broken," Adam whispers.

"We need ta turn him over.... I found teeth marks on his shoulder but they must be deeper on the back of his shoulder cause thats where most of the bloods comin from," Hoss says.

"Ok. On three," Adam says as he steps over Little Joe so they're not all on the same side turning him over. "One, two, three!" They all as gently as possible turn the boy over. Hoss rips the shirt in half to get it off.

Their worry only multiplies at what they see. The teeth marks are seeping puss and angry looking. No wonder the boy has a fever.

"Hoss get a cloth and dip it in the river, we need to bring down his fever. Tess get my bedroll and Hoss's," Adam orders taking charge again. They hurry to do his bidding and quickly come back as he turns Joe back over. Tess lays a bedroll on the ground and they gently lift him onto it before placing the blanket on his, and the wet cloth on his forehead.

"We need to set his leg.... it's broken for sure and clean out these bites," Adam says and they set to work. Tess and Hoss hold Joe down as Adam forces the bone back into place.

Joe's eye's snap open and he lets out a whimper. Hoss and Tess whisper comforting words to him. His eye's were open but not seeing. They slowly close again.

"Hoss go collect some sticks to make a splint and some for a fire. Tess get out a metal pot. We need to boil some water to clean the wound," Adam says and they set to work. Tess builds a fire with the wood Hoss brought and Hoss collects good size wood to make Little Joe's splint. Adam puts water into the pot and boils it.

Soon they're washing out Little Joe's wounds. Hoss goes over to take care of Paint. The' horses injury was minor but they still didn't want Little Joe to wake up with a sick horse possible going to die...... that is if Little Joe wakes up at all.

"Hoss we need to get him home. His fever is rising and being here isn't good for him. Could you make a travois?" Adam asks.

"Yeah. I'll get to work right away," Hoss answers and gets to work. Tess grabs a rope from the saddle bag and starts cutting it up to make pieces to tie the wood planks together. Adam puts the wooden splint on his brothers broken leg and uses some of the cut rope to tie it together. What worries him is Joe doesn't make a noise. Not a whimper or moan or even a cry.... nothing.

"It's all ready Adam," Tess says bringing him back to reality.

"Hm.... Oh yeah lets load him on," Adam responds. They place Tess's bedroll on top of the travois and place Joe carfully on it before placing both Hoss's and Adams bedrolls on top of him. They tie a rope around Joe tying him to the travois. They then tie the travois to Adam's horse. They pack up camp and leave at a slow steady pace with Hoss leading them.

They stop when they finally get out of the forest. Adam gets off his horse and joins Tess and Hoss in checking over Little Joe. Tess trickles a little water into him.

"Hoss. You need to go ahead and tell Hopsing to get ready. I'd ask for a doctor but there isn't one in miles. Hopsing is nearly a doctor so tell him what happened and have Joe's bed ready," Adam orders. Hoss hesitates for a second before complying and heading towards home.

Adam and Tess continue on their slow way home, stopping every so often to check on Joe. His fever was rising to a dangerous degree and they needed to cool him down but couldn't stop. When they reached home they could cool him. Home was his best chance at life.

As soon as we reach the garden Ben runs out to them. They stop and without a word get down and check on Little Joe. They untie him before Ben picks up his baby and walks inside.

Hopsing is ready and waiting when they get in there. They set him down on his bed before waiting. Hopsing checks over the wounds and the leg before leaving the room.

"I get boy herbs that make fever go down. Leg set well so month off it and leg be fine," Hopsing says as he comes back in and gives Little Joe the herbs along with a glass of water.

1 Day Later

It was a tough battle and they got little sleep but Hopsing was now confident that Little Joe would make a full recovery yet the little boy in question still hadn't woken up. Tess had left to town to tell them to stop the search, Joe had been found and went home after. Her mother would be worried after all.

Ben sits right next to his sons bed with Hoss on the other side and Adam down near the feet. All waiting for the hurt boy to waken so they can tell him how sorry they all are. Finally some movement comes from the sleeping boy and he slowly opens his eye's to his family.

Little Joe licks his lips trying to get them moist so he can make words but it just won't work. His father seeing this raises his head and places the glass to his lips where he drinks greedily.

"How do you feel son?" Ben asks.

"Weak and sore," Little Joe whispers back.

"Boy am I glad to see ya awake Joe! We were real worried," Hoss exclaims.

"Yes. We found you injured and it was quite a fight but I'm glad to see those eye's open and focused," Adam says.

"I'm sorry fer runnin away. I didn't mean what I said," Little Joe whispers tears forming again at the thought of all the mean things he said to his family before he left.

"Were sorry to son. We got so wrapped up in work we forgot about our family and your birthday," Ben apologizes.

"Yeah Little Joe! Can ya even fergive us?" Hoss asks.

"We shouldn't have spent so little time with you. Family is more important then work," Adam finishs.

"Your already forgiven," Little Joe whispers and gives them a big bright smile before it fades and sleep takes control of his small and skinny body once again.

The three men look at each other and share a smile. Joe always was quick to forget and forgive. Even if what they did hurt him so deeply he felt alone and unloved.

"Carlos won't believe this when he gets back from his trip for the new horse!" Adam comments.

Couple Days Later

"Common Joe! You can't be tired after that!" Hoss exclaims.

"You try bein the one sick and unable to walk for another two weeks!" Joe argues back.

"Little Joe you sure yer up to leavin yer bed?" Hoss asks.

"Coarse I am!" Little Joe shouts. He and Hoss have been trying to get him dressed into his normal cloths without standing up. Even sitting up was draining Joe of his energy.

"Lets get ya outta this here room then," Hoss says and picks his little brother up. Little Joe still wasn't allowed to walk, stand or put weight on his broken leg to Joe's anger.

They walk out of the room and Joe's face takes one of shock when everyone jumps out and shouts surprise. His shock disappears and is replaced with a bright smile.

Ben, Adam, Tess, Margaret Hopsing, Carlos, Shelby, Eli, Ruth, Frenchy, and Big Dan . They all smile and shout happy birthday to him. He giggles and waves to them all.

"What's this?" Joe asks.

"Well since these idiot family members of yers fergot yer birthday we decided to have a party for you!" Shelby says.

"Really!" Joe says excitedly.

"Really son. We love you and were sorry," Ben says.

"Love you too Pa!" Joe says.

"Well. Lets get this party started!" Frenchy says in his french accent. With a 'yeah' from everybody they start the party and Little Joe has a great time for his birthday..... even though he can't walk yet.

Well thats the end! I hope you like it! Please review! Biiiiiiiiiii