The Voyager Bonanza re
Summary: Tom finds himself in the Old West as Little Joe Cartwright, living on the Ponderosa with his Pa, and two older brothers, Adam and Hoss. It seems Little Joe has one girl friend too many, the lovely rancher's daughter, Belle, and the saloon girl, Sylvie.
Disclaimer: The Star Trek folks belong to Paramount. I haven't the faintest idea who owns Bonanza, but the Cartwrights all belong to whoever that is. The overall story is mine. But I also drew on dim memories of early Bonanza episodes. How did I get to this? Well, when I was a kid I wrote Bonanza angst about which I actually confided to someone. Then, the idea of putting Voyager and Bonanza together sort of kicked around to no purpose. And then, Michael Hollihan posted his Voyager Brady Bunch and Love Boat stories and challenged us for more. It all fell into place. Copyright 1998.
Dedication: To the memory of Michael Landon (Little Joe), Dan Blocker (Hoss), and Lorne Greene (Ben aka 'Pa').
Warning: PG-13. Maybe a little bad language and a little Tom angst.
Comments are welcome: email@example.com. Visit my website for more Star Trek stories:
Please Archive at ASC, PT Collective. Please leave all disclaimers and warnings intact.
His first awareness, apart from the pains shooting through various parts of his body, was the unknown male voice saying, "He's coming around, Pa."
<Pa? Pa?> If his head didn't hurt so much, Tom Paris, Lieutenant and chief pilot on the starship Voyager, would try harder to figure this out. Instead, it was easier to open his eyes and squint when the light hit them. With some difficulty he lifted an arm to shield his eyes.
"Take it easy, son," another unknown male voice said in a deep bass register.
The figures leaning over him were a little blurry, a big guy with a broad face, blue eyes, and sparse reddish hair, <hmm, thought Tom, whose hair does that remind me of?>, an older man with silvery hair, the owner of the deep voice no doubt. A little further back was a guy all in black with dark hair and dark eyes. Tom tried to get his bearings. He suspected he'd suffered a concussion but that didn't explain these strangers or his surroundings.
This wasn't a holodeck, he couldn't detect the faint hum of Voyager that he'd know anywhere under any circumstances. He didn't remember beaming down to a planet. What did he remember? He'd left Sandrine's after a little misunderstanding with B'Elanna. That's right. He'd said something to Seven, B'Elanna had flared up and they'd both left the holodeck to go their opposite ways. Then he'd gone to his quarters to sulk and pull out some holovids before heading for his bed. Did he actually make it to his bed? He couldn't be sure. But somehow, a memory of being in a shuttlecraft tried to insinuate itself into his scrambled mind.
"Where am I?" Tom asked and found that his voice sounded strange, younger and higher pitched than he was used to hearing when he spoke.
"You're at home, Little Joe." <Little Joe?> "On the Ponderosa. Don't you remember?" It was the silver haired man who addressed him. The man pushed back the hair on Tom's forehead and lay his hand to rest there. This must be Pa, someone's Pa, at any rate.
Tom took in a little more of his surroundings. He was on a couch. There were some massive chairs off to his left near a huge stone fireplace. The ceiling was very high with dark heavy beams. Struggling against the hand on his forehead, Tom tried to sit up. He was hit with a major dizzy spell that left him close to gagging. He fought down the nausea and sat with his back against the corner of the couch. The silver haired man was looking even more concerned, his hand now settled on Tom's shoulder.
"Cochise came home alone last night. Hoss and Adam found you on the road from town, about a mile away. You gave us quite a scare, son."
"Oh. 'M sorry." The man in black had to be Adam because the huge guy couldn't be anybody but Hoss. Who were they? Tom asked, "Who . . . who?"
Hoss moved toward the couch and sat down on the end of it, his attention focused on Tom. He sank most of the couch down with his weight. In a southwestern accent, the big man wondered, "What do you remember, little brother?"
"I . . . I don't . . . "
Adam chimed in, his rich voice seeming to carry an almost musical quality to it. "You must have taken quite a fall."
"Maybe we should get Doc Adams out here," Pa suggested. "How do you feel, son?"
So this Pa was his father. Amidst the increasing confusion Tom felt, he remained aware of just how much he hurt all over. "Uh, hurts. Everything hurts."
"Does anything feel broken?" Pa again.
"No-o, I don't think so, just bruised. A regenerator should fix things right up."
The three men stared blankly at each other as if they didn't know what he was talking about. Uh-oh, Tom thought. He must be on some primitive planet, he'd better watch what he told these people. He pressed a hand against his chest, searching for his comm badge. Only then did he realize that he wasn't wearing anything familiar. He had on a tan shirt and grey trousers. On a nearby table, he saw a cowboy hat, a green jacket and a gunbelt. <A gunbelt?> "What's the day?"
"It's Sunday morning," Hoss told him, looking very concerned. "You *said* you were going over to Belle's last night."
"Only you didn't," Adam chided as if he knew something Tom didn't. Of course, he did. Adam acted like a man who knew exactly where he was and who he was.
"No. What date, what . . . what year?"
Another round of worried glances was exchanged among the three men. Pa placed a hand against Tom's forehead. "You seem all right, no fever."
"But . . .?"
"It's September, 1860," Adam finally drawled.
"On earth? I mean, this is a state in the US?"
"Actually, we're still just a territory," Adam clarified.
"Oh," Tom closed his eyes. This couldn't be happening. He couldn't have traveled back five hundred years, could he? And why did these people keep calling him Little Joe? Without letting them stop him, he suddenly lurched to his feet and found a mirror. He swayed as much from renewed dizziness as from the image that stared back at him. He was a teenager, thick brown hair, hazel eyes, slim build, somewhat on the short side. The man called Pa was by his side in an instant.
"What is it? What do you see?"
"Pa, he's like to have seen a ghost," Hoss observed. "He's just as white as could be."
"Come on, son, let's get you back down on the couch. It's going to be all right." Pa led him by the elbow back to the couch and hovered over Tom as he sat down.
Feeling totally drained and exhausted by the painful, and as yet unexplained, bruises, and by the inexplicable turn of events that had brought him to some home in the Old West surrounded by these strangers, strangers who thought they knew him, Tom closed his eyes and nodded off to sleep. He was aware of the big guy helping him to lay down and pulling a blanket over him. A quiet hum of male voices moved away, something about how he probably just needed to rest. An unknown voice said 'commercial'. On that puzzling note, Tom let himself fall asleep.
He didn't know how long he slept, but when he woke up, he found himself in a bed, an open window nearby indicating that it was night out. The fresh air felt bracing, dry, and smelled sweetly of pine trees. A dim lamp burned on the dresser. By its faint light, Tom discovered that he had on long johns, socks, and nothing else. His muscles weren't much happier with him now than they had been earlier. What he'd give for a regenerator. But, his head felt clearer and he was no longer dizzy when he stood up. Good signs. Now if he could only find the bathroom. Although his room seemed to have a washbasin, it didn't seem to have a toilet.
After sticking his head out of the room and finding a very dark hallway, Tom retrieved the lamp from the dresser. As he wandered the deserted hallway, he was aware of snoring sounds coming from most of the rooms off the hallway. It seemed as if everyone was asleep. There was no room he could identify as a bathroom so he padded downstairs in his stocking feet. The large living room was a dark cavern save for the embers from the fireplace. He found a room with a bathtub, but again no toilet. A small knot of dread began to build up. What if he couldn't find one?
Then he happened on a door that led to a bedroom where someone with very dark hair was sleeping on the bed. Quickly and quietly he closed the door, but the bed's occupant came after him. "What you want, Lil'le Joe?"
"Huh?" The man who addressed him was Asian and seemed to speak a different dialect than the other people in the house. "Uh, well, I was looking for a bathroom?"
"You want baff? Now?"
"No. A toilet."
"Outside. We pwe'tend it not there. Use chamba' pot."
"Oh." Suitably unenlightened, Tom headed into the kitchen to find the door to the outside and what he guessed was an old fashioned out house. He fiddled with the lamp and managed to increase the illumination enough to locate what looked like a small outbuilding outside quite a few meters behind the house. The Asian man muttered something in a language Tom didn't know and went back to his room. He wished he had his comm badge on so that he could better understand what the man had said.
Shrugging, Tom set off in his socks toward what he hoped was the outhouse. It was. And although Tom associated September with fairly warm weather, it was actually quite chilly outside. With his muscles so stiff, he found himself somewhat uncomfortable being outside. Struggling with the unfamiliar long johns, he finished as quickly as possible and headed back inside only to find the silver haired man in the kitchen.
"Hi," Tom tried a quick smile at the man. "I . . .uh . . .needed to . . . you know . . ."
"We don't discuss that in this home. The censors."
"Oh," Tom said in a small voice. "Sorry?"
Escorting the younger man to the dining table where both their lamps managed to illuminate the room, the older man pointed to a chair. Both sat down almost simultaneously. His hands clasped in front of him, Tom waited politely for the older man to speak. He didn't have to wait long. "Son, I don't know what's happened to you, but it would probably help if you talked about it. Belle's father came over this afternoon."
Keeping his face neutral, Tom nodded. "Uh-huh."
"Is there something you want to say on your own behalf?"
"Should I?" Tom found his voice squeaked when he spoke.
"You broke his daughter's heart, son."
"Oh. I'm . . . " inspiration hit, "I'm sure I didn't mean to."
"You were seen in town last night with Sylvie. You were supposed to be with Belle. And you know how I feel about you hanging around with saloon girls."
"Joseph, this is serious."
"Yes, sir." When in doubt, be respectful. The way the man had said the name 'Joseph' gave him the chills. It reminded him of when his own father called him 'Thomas'. Not good memories there.
"What do you have to say for yourself?"
"It won't happen again?" Tom tried.
"Belle's father told me he doesn't want you to come near his daughter any more."
Tom was at a loss as to what he could say to fix this situation. "I don't know what to say."
The older man almost smiled at that. "I've told you all along that I think you're much too young to be getting serious, but you hurt a young girl's feelings with your thoughtlessness."
"Yes, sir." That had worked before, he'd try it again. This time the older man did smile.
"Then you'll do the right thing."
"Yes, sir, I will." Tom tried to put some eagerness in his voice. What the hell was the right thing? <Ah-ha> "I'll go over there and apologize."
Positively beaming, the older man clapped him on the shoulder so heartily that it hurt. Tom winced. "I'm glad we had this talk. And you'll stay away from Sylvie." It wasn't a question, it was an order. "You may be nineteen, but you're not too old for me to tan your hide."
"I know, sir." Tom realized he'd better be very careful. This man looked as if he both meant it and could pack a wallop with those powerful arms and shoulders.
"All right, then. Let's get back to bed. We've got to get an early start tomorrow. Ah. Commercial."
Clapping him once again on his still smarting shoulder, the older man got up and led the way up the stairs. Tom had a lot of questions. He wondered what constituted an early start. And he wondered how in the hell he was going to find Belle and her father to apologize. And would he recognize the forbidden Sylvie if he saw her? What was this commercial thing? And where in universe was Voyager?
Despite the questions ricocheting around his brain, Tom fell asleep almost immediately. Far too soon, however, the man whose voice he now recognized as Hoss was calling him awake. "Come on, little brother, time to wake up."
As Tom fought the sleep, he realized it was dark out. "It's dark out."
"Chores are waitin'. 'N I happen to know Hop Sing has a pretty good breakfast spread out for us."
Tom groaned. He didn't want to wake up again in this ancient melodrama of a teenaged boy who had two girl friends. Why the hell was he here? He had tried to go back to sleep, but this time Hoss whipped the covers off his bed and lifted him up to a sitting position. Sleepy and not too alert, Tom just sat on the edge of the bed. Finally, Hoss tossed a cold wet wash rag at him and told him to clean up. As the big man left, Tom noticed the giant was dressed in the same clothes, or ones identical to them, as he'd worn the day before, cream colored shirt, leather vest. Sort of like uniforms, Tom thought fuzzily.
The cold water did it. He woke up enough to notice the grey lightening of the sky out his window. After a little exploration, he found his clothes. Grey pants, tan shirt, boots, green jacket. He remembered there had been a cowboy hat, but he didn't see it in the room. Figuring it would turn up eventually, Tom made his way downstairs. He found the Asian man he'd encountered during the night serving the table of three men. There was a place set for the youngest son. Interestingly, the man who must be Hop Sing, did not sit down with them. Tom wondered why and figured the man must be some kind of servant in the household. He slid into the chair obviously meant for himself.
"How are you doing today?" Adam asked.
"Okay. A little stiff." What was it about Adam that unnerved him so much?
Hop Sing began shoving food onto his dish from a variety of plates and poured a very black substance into a cup. Tom picked up the cup and sniffed it suspiciously. "Real coffee?" he blurted out before he could think about his words. He sipped it carefully. It was very hot and very strong. "Wow."
His outburst earned a wry grin from the big guy, Hoss, and a bemused silent exchange between the father and Adam. "Joseph has to go over to the Torrance's place today. I'd like one of you to go with him. Mr. Torrance wasn't very happy yesterday when he came over here."
"Sure, Pa," Hoss grinned. "I'll babysit my little brother here while he eats a little crow."
"Hey," Tom protested, but not too much. After all, Hoss would at least know how to get there.
"Good. Then that's settled." The silver haired man fixed his dark eyes firmly on Tom. "Get your chores done first," he said sternly.
"Yes, sir," Tom responded. It had worked last night to just agree politely and not say much else. He hoped someone could explain to him just what his chores were or he wouldn't be going over to the Torrance's until sometime next week. With an impudent grin, Tom suggested, "Maybe Hoss can help me with my chores, too."
"Not today, Little Joe. I got enough chores of my own."
Hopefully, but without much conviction, Tom turned to the dark clad man beside him, "Adam?"
"I'm heading in to town," Adam answered a little mysteriously.
"Oh," Tom acknowledged. He raised his eyes to the man who was supposed to be his father and the man just smiled and remained silent. No help there. Tom decided to try another tact. It wasn't easy calling this man 'Pa' but he'd try. "Uh, Pa . . .uh, what exactly do you want me to do today? I just want to be sure I get it right."
The man beamed at him. "Well, I must admit you gave us a scare yesterday, but I guess you're going to be all right after all."
"I'm fine." Trying to ignore the suggestion of queasiness in his stomach, Tom realized that 'Pa' hadn't answered his question.
"So, Little Joe," Adam began, "Do you remember what happened to you? Did Cochise throw you?"
Tom wasn't sure what Cochise was. A person? An animal maybe? "Yeah, I guess so."
Adam nodded, "I thought that might be it. Maybe that horse is too much for you?"
Another reference that Tom hadn't a clue as to how to take. He sensed that this much older brother was subtly mocking him.
"Adam," Pa warned mildly. "You know Joseph's an excellent horsemen. Something must have spooked the horse."
All eyes turned to Tom who ducked them by staring into his plate of breakfast.
When he tried it, the food was excellent. Who knew when he might have to face Neelix's cooking again? Tom noticed Hoss digging in to his third helping of potatoes. Eating a big breakfast must be approved of around here. Tom set to work on his own plateful, glad to have this time to figure out how he was going to do chores that he didn't know a thing about. And then there was the horse. He'd ridden a few times as a kid, but there hadn't been many horses in Starfleet, the Maquis, prison, or the Delta Quadrant.
Someone said 'time for another commercial' and everyone around the table seemed to relax for a few minutes. Tom frowned as he tried to figure out what that phrase meant. Hop Sing said something in perfectly clear, unaccented Standard English, "I think they made the coffee extra strong today." Then he heard 'we're back', and his bewilderment at Hop Sing's change in accents was lost in the new mystery of locating that ubiquitous voice. It just seemed to exist all around them.
Hoss finished up and suggested, "Let's get to work, little brother."
On the way out the front door, Tom found his hat and the gunbelt hanging on pegs. He watched Hoss place an enormous rounded white hat on his head and then strap on a gunbelt. Imitating the genial giant, Tom placed the hat he'd seen last night on his head and then reached for the gunbelt hanging under it. For a moment he puzzled over how to put it on because he couldn't quite imitate Hoss' actions. Hoss' gun went on the right but try as he might, this gunbelt just didn't seem to work that way. Shrugging, Tom buckled it on with the gun on his left thigh. He had to cinch the belt fairly tightly to keep it from sliding off his narrow hips. Outfitted properly, he followed the older man out the door.
Once outside, Tom breathed in the crisp morning air. By now, the sun was out, the sky was a deep lapis blue, and the pine scented air was mingled with something else. That odor grew stronger as he followed the big guy out to the barn. Barnyard odors, Tom realized, were rather pungent. Still uncertain as to what he was supposed to do, Tom was relieved when Hoss placed a pitch fork in his hands. "Here you go, Little Joe."
"Uh, Hoss, this may sound stupid. But what do I do with this?"
The giant turned toward Tom with an incredulous look on his face, then broke into loud laughter. When the man could speak, he sputtered out, "Oh, Lordy, Little Joe, you sure do know how to fun a guy."
A little put out at being laughed at, Tom tried again. "I'm serious."
Hoss looked at him more soberly. "You are serious. What happened? That fall make you forget your lines . . . I mean, forget your chores?"
"Yeah. Totally. Sorry." Tom tried his best to look the part of a pathetic little brother, not much of a stretch since he had been the youngest of three. It must have worked because Hoss shrugged and then grinned.
"I guess we can improvise here. Okay, little brother, take this here pitchfork and go over to that first horse stall and start mucking it out."
"Mucking it out?"
"Clean out the soiled hay and put it in the wheelbarrow over there . . ." Hoss pointed to a three wheeled small cart ". . . and take it out to the pile out back of the barn. Then put in clean hay. Then you start on the next stall."
Tom looked with dismay at the large animals in each stall, a spotted white and black horse, a big brown horse, and so on. It looked like eight horses in all. The smell was beginning to get to him. Combined with the dizziness from yesterday, Tom thought he was going to lose his breakfast, good strong coffee and all.
"Hey," Hoss observed, "You don' look all that good."
Using the pitchfork as a cane, Tom sat down on a bale of hay. "It really stinks in here. Would you believe I don't remember ever doing this before?"
Sotto voce, Hoss said to himself, "Where's that commercial when you need one?" To Tom, he said, "I reckon I do believe it. Here, I'll show you on this first one. Gimme that pitchfork, Little Joe."
Gladly, Tom handed it over.
"Now watch me carefully."
"I will," Tom promised. And he did. He watched very carefully as the big man worked easily around the horse, making short work of the mucking out process. The stench it raised as the hay was disturbed assailed Tom's queasy stomach. He bolted out of the barn with only moments to spare. Outside, he slid to his knees by the corral and vomited up everything he'd eaten and drunk that morning, one arm hanging over the corral railing. It was the only thing that kept him from falling over. At some point, in between heaves, he was aware of Hoss leaning over him. There was a large warm hand on his shoulder.
"It's okay," the big man reassured him, his back to the corral and its new contents, "they cut to a commercial."
There was that term again, but Tom was too preoccupied to pay much attention. Just when he was sure he'd expelled every ounce of his breakfast, he found himself leaning over and throwing up again. Finally, he let go of the railing and sat down without landing in the mess he'd made. "Ah, shit," Tom muttered.
Alarmed, Hoss said, "Hey, watch your language. Standards and practices."
"Sorry," Tom felt too weak to ask what the hell this guy was talking about. He decided to tackle one of the problems that was on his mind. "Hoss, doesn't Adam like me?"
"Still on commercial break?" Hoss checked, nodded, then grinned at the younger man. "He's a bit put out cause you get more fan mail than he does."
"Oh." Similar to so many explanations Tom had been offered in this place, that one made no sense either. His stomach lurched again, but he managed to stifle the gagging that threatened to overwhelm him. That overarching voice announced, 'break over'.
"You look pretty poorly, little brother. Whyn't you go lie down on the couch inside? I'll take care of things out here."
Shakily, Tom told him, "Thanks. You're a nice brother."
With a smile, Hoss helped him to his feet, patted him lightly on the butt, and sent him on the way. Taking a shovel, Hoss covered Tom's upchucked breakfast with dirt as the younger man walked unsteadily back toward the house. Hoss wondered what was the matter with the boy. Maybe he'd had too much to drink the other night on his trip to town to see Sylvie. Sometimes they served real alcohol in that bar, even to kids.
Tom dozed lightly on the couch, alone in the house. The others had gone to do their own chores and errands. When was this going to end, Tom wondered as he surfaced to dreams of his place on Voyager, at her helm, the senior crew arrayed on the bridge behind him.
"Little Joe? You feeling better?"
It was the cheerful greeting that reminded him of Neelix. As he stirred, Tom's mind idly matched the others in this little drama with familiar people. Pa reminded him of Tuvok, Adam of Chakotay. They were supposed to go meet Belle Torrance's father. Would Belle remind him of B'Elanna? And Sylvie . . . where did she fit in? "Huh?"
"We better get going over to the Torrance ranch. Feeling up to it?"
"Yeah. I can do it. But . . . I'm a little worried about riding a horse today," <or any day> Tom thought.
"Pa took the buckboard, but we can take the buggy."
"Uh . . . I'd like to use the facilities first."
'Commercial break', came that unseen voice.
"You know better than to speak of that on this show." The older man seemed upset with him.
"Right," Tom agreed without having a clue as to what Hoss meant. "Look, I'll meet you out front in a few minutes."
Hoss had the buggy ready and Tom climbed aboard. As Hoss flicked the reins, the horse moved, and Tom held on tight when the buggy swayed ominously. <Think of this as like flying> Tom told himself.
They traveled along a bumpy dirt road, past some breathtaking scenery of mountains, tree covered hills, a huge emerald lake. Unfortunately, Tom was unable to appreciate the vistas as he constantly monitored his stomach and attempted to keep it from erupting. Hoss tried to engage him in conversation once or twice, but eventually he seemed to realize that Tom was looking a little green and left him alone.
Over an hour later, they reached the dirt lane that led to the Torrance ranch house. From a distance, they saw a man riding a horse in a corral much like the one at the Cartwright ranch. Farther away, two men seemed to be working on a fence. Tom didn't see any woman. In fact, he realized he hadn't seen any women since this whatever-it-was began. Neither his 'father' nor 'brothers' appeared to have wives. Even the cook was male. Hmm. But if Little Joe had two girl friends, then maybe there were women around somewhere.
"Well, there's Mr. Torrance. You better make real nice with him, Little Joe." <make real nice?> Hoss seemed to be indicating the man on the horse in the corral as the buggy pulled up to the hitching post in front of the ranch house. Tom followed Hoss out of the buggy and waited while the big guy tied up the reins. "You're on your own now, little brother. I'm going to knock on the door and see if I can get me a lemonade." When Tom hesitated, Hoss said, "Go on, if you want your girl back."
Taking a deep breath, and really glad he was no longer on the rocking buggy, Tom headed toward the corral. The man on the horse was almost as big as Hoss. The horseman seemed to be in his mid-fifties, with grey hair in a halo under a brown cowboy hat. The cold stare he gave Tom as he dismounted gave Tom pause. Torrance left the corral and stood belligerently in front of Tom, hands on hips, a furious scowl on his face. The horse snorted over the fence railing and Tom stepped back nervously and quickly.
"Uh, sir. Mr. Torrance," <oh, great start, Tom> "I am . . . I came to apologize."
Torrance's ruddy complexion reddened into the danger zone. "You little . . .spoiled brat," the man finally spit out. "How dare you hurt my daughter? Humiliate her? You lied to her, you took up with that tramp. . . you broke her heart. I ought to tear you from limb to limb!"
Tom turned around to see, next to Hoss, a petite, dark haired girl with high cheekbones, an upturned nose, and sparking dark eyes. But at a growl almost like a cry from Torrance, Tom faced the angry father.
This guy's pissed, Tom thought. "I'm really sorry. I did every terrible thing you think I did," <I probably did them> "and I'm really very, very sorry. I didn't mean to hurt Belle. Honest."
The man's face took on a strangled looking expression and he clutched his arm and fell heavily to the ground. <What the hell?> Tom's medic training kicked in, and he immediately crouched down over the stricken man. The girl was running up to them, Hoss trying to stop her. Tom focused on the man in great pain on the ground in front of him. It looked like a blockage of the arteries had cut off the flow of blood to the heart. The man had vomited and was turning blue. After quickly checking for a pulse, Tom cleared the man's airway with his fingers and without even thinking about his next move, pinched off the man's nose and then breathed into the man's mouth. He repeated this move over and over, then placed his crossed hands over the man's chest and pumped away. He breathed again into Torrance's mouth.
Tom kept up his actions until the man finally began to stir. When Torrance was breathing on his own and some of his color returned, Tom rocked back on his heels, relieved that the man had survived this crisis. Awareness of the others returned and he looked around to see Hoss regarding him with an expression that approached awe, and Belle bending over her father with tears streaming down her face.
"Daddy, Daddy. Are you all right?"
Her father sat up with Tom's help and leaned against a corral post, still feeling pain in his chest. "I . . . I'm . . . I don't know what to say. I think this boy just saved my life."
Belle wiped her face free of her tears and turned a confused and hurt look on Tom. She reminded him of the tenderly human B'Elanna he'd seen in the Vidian caves. Remembering that his actions as Little Joe had hurt and humiliated this beautiful girl, Tom shook his head and told her, "I'm sorry, Belle. I'm really sorry. Can I make it up to you? Please?"
Her father watched the exchange, wondering if this youngster could be trusted. But then, he'd saved his life. "It's okay, Belle."
Belle turned her teary eyes to Tom and he hoped against hope that she would give him another chance. "Maybe."
"Yes?" he squeaked. Then he tried to pitch his voice lower, "Um, yes? I'll do anything, Belle."
"All right. You have to give up Sylvie. Publically. Totally. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, of course. I will, I promise."
The two young people stood up and helped her father to his feet.
"Uh, Mr. Torrance?"
"Yes, Little Joe?"
"Um, could I give you some advice so you don't have this. . . this thing with your heart happen again?"
"What does a kid like you know?"
Hoss was interested in that question as well.
"I don't mean to sound . . . but I knew what to do just now."
Tom recalled the large and fat filled breakfast he'd had this morning and suspected that such a meal was commonplace to this time and century. Tom cautioned the man on his diet but realized from the outraged expression on the man's face that there wasn't a chance in hell the man would follow it.
"Well, that's my advice."
"Fine, young man. I thank you for that. Now, I need to apologize. I followed you from town the other night and spooked your horse. He threw you. I checked to see that you were all right and then I left you there. It was shameful of me. I have no excuse, I simply let my anger get away from me."
"I probably deserved it," Tom told the unhappy man looming over him. "It's okay, I survived. Let's forget about it."
Once Tom was sure that Torrance wasn't going to have another attack, and after reassuring Belle of his love, he and Hoss headed out to town. Hoss suggested they go directly to the saloon where Tom would be able to fulfill his promise to Belle. It seemed like the best course of action to Tom, even if it did mean adding more time to his discomfort in the buggy.
It was late afternoon. Hoss tied up the buggy in front of the saloon and he and Tom went inside. There were only a few men inside and a bartender. There was no sign of a woman. As they approached the bar, Hoss ordered a beer for himself and a sarsparilla for Tom. When Tom protested, Hoss reminded him of how green he'd been most of the day.
"Just drink it, little brother. You're too young to be drinking beer. It's probably what got you into so much trouble the other night."
"Alcohol has always gotten me into trouble," Tom muttered, much to Hoss' surprise.
"You keep sayin' and doin' the strangest things. Where'd you learn about that . . . whatever you did for Mr. Torrance?"
"Oh, here and there," <in elementary school>.
The drinks were placed in front of them and Tom took a cautious sip from his glass. It was okay. At least it didn't make him feel like hurling.
A sultry female's voice spun him around. "Little Joe."
Oh, gods, she was devastatingly beautiful. Enormous blue eyes, light blonde hair, an hourglass figure with mounds of flesh drawing his eyes to her chest where her low cut dress revealed so much. He had to work to bring his eyes up to her face. The hormones of a nineteen year old raged through his body and he wished that he had his Starfleet uniform on, for although it was tight, it was nothing like these grey pants. Hoss' hand on his shoulder brought him back to reality. "Easy there, little brother."
He took a deep breath, "I'm okay."
The blonde smiled at him, her white teeth flashing. He realized she was at least six or seven years older than the teenager whose body he occupied. "My, my, Little Joe. How nice to see you." Her lips pursed as in a kiss. "And one of your *big* brothers."
Her come on almost derailed Tom. But he remembered the promise he'd made to Belle. His throat was dry, but he managed to say her name. "Sylvie."
"Oh-h, you seem so serious." The older woman seemed to be toying with him, her tone sexy, her words mocking.
He felt such a conflict of emotions, lust, hurt, awkwardness. He understood how Harry must feel when he stumbled all over himself in Seven's presence. It was how he felt now. Outclassed by a huge margin. "Uh, Sylvie. I can't see you anymore. I'm in love with Belle."
His voice sounded remote, far away, as he heard himself say the words he needed to say. He saw her facial expression change from teasing to angry. "You're nothing to me," she told him contemptuously. "You're nothing but a spoiled little rich boy. You even had to bring your big brother along. Come back and see me when you've grown up."
Entering the saloon was Adam Cartwright, dark, smoldering and possessive as he placed his arm around the waist of Sylvie and smiled at Tom. "Little brother. Don't look so surprised. Sylvie wants a real man."
She turned on her heel and flounced away, Adam's hand tightening around her waist as he went with her. After a few steps, Adam threw a superior grin over his shoulder at Tom.
Tom almost launched himself after Adam, but remembered Belle. She probably wouldn't take it very well if he fought his brother over Sylvie. Trembling, Tom turned back to the bar and picked up his drink. Taking a large gulp of it, he looked up at the big man standing thoughtfully by his side. "I knew I didn't like that guy. You know, I . . . uh . . . I want to go home now."
"Captain, he's coming around now," the doctor's voice said.
Tom stirred and managed to lift up the lids of his eyes. Oh, shit, he was back in sickbay. But at least he was no longer on a swaying buggy trying hard not to puke his guts out. "What happened?"
Surrounding his biobed were the doctor and the captain, also B'Elanna and Seven.
The Captain leaned over to speak to him. "It'll be all right now, Tom. What do you remember?"
"Uh . . .the ranch . . . Hoss . . . " Tom tried to capture the memories while they were fresh.
The foursome exchanged glances much as the Cartwrights had not long before.
"Do you remember taking the shuttle to the complex on the planet?" the captain asked.
"Uh . . .no." <Planet? Good. At least there wasn't a barn to be cleaned.>
"Ah. Well, there was a complex communications array there. It seems it captured you and placed you in a virtual reality situation, something like a holovid, only it drew from ancient transmissions from the Alpha Quadrant."
"Oh," Tom said, still not sure he understood why he was in sickbay. At least he didn't feel sick, just confused.
B'Elanna told him, "It put you in a VR based on a holovid more than four hundred years old. An old television series called Bonanza."
"Bonanza. . . Little Joe . . . I *was* Little Joe."
The doctor waved the tricorder over him again and regarded him with a smug expression on his holographic face. "I'm sure you were, Lieutenant." The doctor paused for effect. "Now, you're back safely on Voyager thanks to Lt. Torres and Seven. When you're feeling better, I'm sure they will tell you all about it. Everybody, it's time for the Lieutenant to rest."
Tom wanted to hear more now, but the doctor was shooing his visitors away. A hypospray emptied its metered dosage into his neck.
As Tom drifted off to sleep, his eyes closed, his body relaxed, he thought he heard Hoss' hearty voice speaking to him.
"Little Joe, you can bet your britches Pa's gonna have something to say to Adam about what happened today. But you done good, little brother. Pa's gonna be mighty proud of you"
A tear leaked from Tom's eye and then he was asleep.
Dum de dum de dum de dum de de dum dum
Dum de dum de dum de dum - - dum dum dum dum dum
Dum dum dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum dum
Dum de dum de dum de dum de de dum dum
Dum de dum de dum de dum - - dum dum dum dum dum !