An alternative take on the episode "Stillness Within"

Almost before the buggy stopped, the man in the grey suit jumped down from the driver's seat and rushed into the house.

"Joe! Joe?" There was a touch of desperation in his voice when no one answered. The ring of his boot heels sounded hollow on the polished wood floor and his voice seemed to echo around the emptiness of the room. Standing still, Adam Cartwright looked slowly around and assessed the situation. Nothing appeared to have changed, but he knew that was not true. Everything was irrevocably altered and life on the Ponderosa would never be the same again.

Since leaving the ranch several years before, Adam had led a busy, but unsettled life. He'd travelled widely, first around Europe and then up and down the eastern seaboard of America, before finally basing himself in Boston. That summer he had embarked on an extended business trip to New York, where work had kept him fully occupied. Returning to his apartment, Adam looked forward to reading letters from his family and catching up with all their news.

Sure enough, the moment he opened the door to his narrow hallway, Adam saw a letter addressed in his father's distinctive handwriting. He tore it open and eagerly began to read the contents.

My dear son,

It is with great pain in my heart that I write this letter. Ten days ago, your brother Joseph was seriously injured in an accident. He was storing nitro-glycerine when one of the bottles was knocked over, resulting in a ferocious explosion. Joseph was lucky to escape with his life, but he received a severe injury to his head.

Adam, there is no easy way to tell you this. Your brother is blind. At first, the doctor was hopeful Joseph's sight would return, but this now seems less likely with each day that passes. I did not wish to burden you with this sad news until we knew for certain, but I do not believe that Joseph will ever see again.

I cannot describe the pain and anguish your brother is going through…

Adam could not read anymore. For some reason, the words on the page started to blur into one another, becoming indistinct and impossible to decipher. His fingers no longer seemed to belong to him and the letter fell to the floor as Adam stared into space, trying to conquer the turmoil in his soul. Eventually, he gathered himself together, got up slowly and retrieved his valise from the hall floor. Discarding its contents onto his bed, he quickly packed few clean garments and then hurried out, determined to begin the long journey home as soon as possible. In his haste, he left the letter lying forgotten on the floor of the empty apartment.

Standing in the great room of the Ponderosa, Adam began to feel uneasy. Where was everyone? Had Pa taken Joe to San Francisco to see another doctor? He suddenly realised it would have been sensible to have sent a wire to announce his arrival, but the notion had not even occurred to him. Adam smiled wryly. "For a man that prides himself on a logical approach to life, that was a bit of an oversight!" he said softly.

"Talking to yourself, big brother?" remarked a familiar voice and Adam spun around to see Joe standing by the dining table, a cup of steaming coffee in either hand.

"Thought you might be able to use some coffee after your long journey," Joe continued. His words were nonchalant and the tone of his voice was kept purposefully light, but the warm, welcoming smile on his face clearly displayed the depth of his emotions. He carefully put both cups on the table and moved across the room with quick, long strides to enfold his brother in a fierce hug. "It's been a long time, brother."

"Too long." Adam could not say anymore. He returned the embrace briefly, then gently eased Joe away, holding him at arms length and studying him closely. Little appeared to have changed: Joe was as handsome as ever, his face appeared unchanged and his eyes appeared to dart mischievously as he grinned wickedly at his brother.

Adam stifled a sigh as he thought of the small boy who would hold trustingly onto his hand, secure in the knowledge that his brother would look after him. He had thought those days were long passed, but now it seemed Joe would need all the love, guidance and support his family could provide.

Under Adam's intense gaze, Joe began to feel slightly uneasy. Of course, Adam had always appeared to have the uncanny ability of being able to see into the deepest recesses of his recalcitrant younger brother's mind. A small smile crept across Joe's face: this was ridiculous! He was a grown man, with nothing to feel guilty about. Well, nothing that Adam could possibly know about…

Planting his hands on his hips, Joe returned his brother's gaze steadily. Green eyes met brown and for a few moments it was as if they were boys once more, daring one another to see who would blink first. And then, struck by the ludicrous nature of this behaviour, Joe began to chuckle. As ever, the sound of his distinctive giggle provoked an equal and equivalent reaction in his listener. It was impossible to listen to Joe laugh and not join in, Adam though. Some things never changed and Joe still had a laugh that could scare hens from laying!

But things had changed, Adam realised, changed forever. Joe was blind and nothing could alter that. Adam exhaled sharply and then staggered slightly as all his strength seemed to desert him. He grasped desperately at Joe's forearm to steady himself.