Disclaimer: This is for fun, no money is made. The boys are not mine but they live in my heart.
Thanks to my betas Ronnie, who encouraged me a lot and helped me with my English (without you I wouldn't have written an English story at all) and Evelin (Juanita) for her helpful remarks.
Remaining mistakes are mine.
It was one of those very hot Californian days the Easterner could hardly get used to. The sun was burning in the sky and seemed to sip all humidity from the flora as well as the fauna. For the man from back East not only was this a challenge but also the hard work had to be done in spite of the heat. Not a noise interrupted the silence.
Scott lowered the hammer to the ground, pushed his hat back on his head and wiped his forehead with his shirtsleeve. He sighed. Murdoch had sent him to repair the fences of the Southern Range which had been run down by the cattle several days ago during a thunderstorm. Rounding up the cattle again had been hard on him and now there was this fence left to be repaired.
Scott looked up and squinted against the sun. He smiled. It was high noon and his brother should be here soon bringing the lunch Teresa had prepared.
He had learned to read the hour by the location of the sun in the sky. Chuckling to himself, he remembered how Johnny had quickly talked him out of taking his golden pocket watch with him while doing the ranch work. Johnny had told him that a golden pocket watch didn’t fit at all while branding calves.
Johnny had almost fully recovered from the bullet wound he had received during the attack of Pardee's men, but he was not yet allowed to do hard chores. So he made it a habit to join Scott as often as possible. First he thought he did so because he wanted to show Scott the ways of the west and the chores of a ranch, but soon he discovered that he liked to be in his brother's company and that Scott felt the same way. They were curious to learn more about each other and had a lot to talk about because it had only been a couple of weeks since they had met.
Scott was not used to hard physical labor in heat, dirt and dust. Nothing in his Bostonian upbringing had prepared him for this kind of life. He was raised to be a perfect gentleman; he went to Harvard University and he had expected to take over his grandfather's business.
Teresa had been thrilled at her new "brother's" polite behavior; Scott would not sit down at the dinner table before he helped Teresa to take her place. Teresa had not experienced anything like that before in her life. Johnny's eyes widened with puzzlement that first day at Lancer as he watched his brother guiding Teresa to a seat. Johnny quickly hid an amused grin behind his hand.
However, none of the skills Scott had acquired were useful here on the ranch, except his calculating abilities for the bookwork. But he was determined not to give in. Much to his own amazement he quickly discovered that he loved working up to near exhaustion. He found it much more useful and satisfactory than anything else he had ever done before. He was beat every evening, and barely able to keep his eyes open at the dinner table. Only yesterday he fell asleep on the couch near the fireplace while the three men had taken their after dinner whiskey. Actually he didn't know exactly how he had gotten to bed. He had a blurred memory of Johnny and Murdoch helping him upstairs, pulling off his boots and easing his sore body into the soft, inviting bed.
No, he wouldn't give in even if he melted away in the sun like ice and every muscle in his body ached like hell every evening.
Coming out of his thoughts, he reached for the canteen he had hung on the limb of a nearby tree and took some big swallows.
Then Scott lifted his hammer again to continue hammering the fence post into the earth.
Suddenly he heard a noise from behind his back and then, before he was able to turn, a gun being cocked. "Hold it!" a low, menacing voice whispered near his ear.
After having passed the Lancer Arch Johnny urged Barranca into a faster gait. He was on his way to meet his brother on the Southern Range. It was a hot but beautiful day with white clouds sailing across a very blue sky. But Johnny didn't see the landscape surrounding him nor did he feel the soft warm breeze touching his face.
He was in a hurry, not knowing if he should be angry or worried about his Greenhorn Brother. Probably both, but at the moment his concern was growing. He had a bad feeling and hoped he would come in time. This time his brother had gone too far.
Thinking back to his first days at Lancer Johnny felt nothing but contempt for that fancy "brother" of his. What did this man want here? Johnny was sure, the Easterner would quit as soon as possible. He just didn't fit.
But things between them changed quickly after Pardee's attack. The fancy dude hadn't quit but stubbornly stayed, whatever happened. In his quiet way he had shown that he cared for Johnny and wanted his friendship and his love as a brother. And obviously he found a way into the former gunfighter’s cautious heart.
Johnny shook his head in disbelief. How could this have happened? He had always been free and cared for nothing or nobody. And now he, Johnny Madrid, notorious gunhawk, found himself clinging to a foolish Easterner, worrying that he could lose him soon.
Cursing violently Johnny leaned forward on Barranca's neck and pressed his spurs into the horse's sides, urging Barranca to a fast gallop.
Barranca flew across the meadows of the Lancer Ranch towards the Southern Range.
"Drop the hammer", the man behind him demanded when Scott started to move cautiously.
"Easy, boy, easy!" The man didn't give him the hint of a chance. The hammer fell.
"Where is your gun, Scott?" a very familiar voice suddenly demanded in an irritated tone.
Slowly, Scott turned, his heart thundering. Shocked, he looked directly into his brother's eyes and saw in them a mixture of anguish and anger.
Scott was not yet able to think clearly. He opened his mouth but the words stuck in his throat. Johnny had caught him completely off guard; he had been deep in thought and expected nothing like this to happen. He was so shocked that he was hardly able to breathe.
In front of a real attacker Scott would have maintained a cool stance, but in front of his brother this wasn't necessary. There was no reason to hide his feelings. Perhaps, under different circumstances, Scott would have been angry about his brother's ambush. But he had a bad feeling that there was more to his brother's actions as Johnny had reminded Scott more than once on how important it was to always take his gun with him.
"Johnny!" he at last gasped. "Oh my God, don't do this ever again." He sank down on a rock and wiped his sweaty brow, still surprised.
"You could have been dead by now!” Johnny hissed between clenched teeth, horrified at the very thought of this possibility.
Hearing this Scott bowed his head. He couldn't deny that fact.
After having calmed down a bit he looked up at Johnny, testing his brother's mood with a small careful grin. Perhaps there was a little chance that he had been teasing him? And if Johnny wasn't really mad but in a joking mood, Scott would be ready to laugh with him at this "ambush". Actually he would be relieved to avoid the discussion that seemingly was going to follow now.
But his brother didn't respond. His expression remained serious; his eyes were dark with anger. As far as Johnny was concerned there was nothing funny about this. Regarding the worry Scott had caused him several times already he was now very angry. Not feeling like joking or even talking he holstered his gun and silently looked down at his brother, arms across his chest.
"Damn' Boston, where IS your gun?" he finally repeated.
Scott lowered his eyes to his lean hip: no gunbelt, no gun. Sheepishly he looked up again into Johnny's unmoving face. Regretfully, he shrugged.
"I'm sorry, Brother. I'm afraid I forgot it at the house", he said. "But", he eagerly tried to soothe his sibling, knowing that Johnny was very angry at his thoughtlessness. “I brought my rifle; over there, look!”
Johnny's gaze followed his brother's outstretched finger. He saw Charlie grazing silently in the shadows of some trees; Scott's rifle peeked out from the scabbard in the saddle.
"OVER THERE?” Johnny's tone let no doubt about what he was thinking. He sighed heavily and sat down next to Scott. "That's ridiculous, Boston, and wouldn't have helped at all".
"I know,” Scott admitted, subdued.
"When will you learn, this is California, not Boston, Massachusetts? I’ll not be able to watch your back every minute of the day!!" Johnny threw his arms into the air in a helpless gesture. He was desperate and at wits end. What else could he do to convince his brother to always have his gun with him?
Scott looked cautiously around. Noticing the sunshine, hearing the humming of the bees and the whispering of the breeze in the leaves of the tree above him, he couldn't see anything dangerous. The only thing he felt was peace. And this peace was another of the reasons why he liked being on the ranch. Since his experiences during the Civil War he seemed to have looked for a place like this to recover mentally and forget all the violence he had seen and survived.
Ever since the ambush of Pardee’s men everything had been quiet on the ranch and every now and then Scott would forget his gun as he was not accustomed to wearing one in Boston - very much to his family’s concern and frustration.
But at the bottom of his heart he knew his brother was right. This California peace was deceptive; in fact, this was not the paradise he wanted it to be although it was beautiful and quiet now. This was still a rough and dangerous country.
And, at this very moment, Scott realized he didn’t want his brother or anyone else in the family he loved to suffer because of his foolishness.
As he looked into his sibling’s imploring eyes he felt a lump form in his throat, deeply moved by Johnny’s concern for him. He threw an affectionate arm around Johnny’s shoulders and gave him a reassuring smile.
“Calm down, Little Brother, don’t worry,” he croaked, clearing his throat. “I appreciate your concern and I will never again forget my gun, I promise! I didn’t realize it worried you that much."
Lowering his eyes he paused and sighed. Johnny watched him silently.
" I'm sorry, Brother.” Scott added softly.
Johnny eyed his brother warily, then, seeing Scott’s serious expression, relaxed and grinned with relief. Scott of all people was a man who would keep his word; that he was sure of.
“Okay, Boston,” he smiled and, ready to change the subject, he slapped Scott’s stomach. “What about lunch?”
The next morning when Scott was about to leave the house to start his daily work he was well aware of three pairs of suspicious eyes watching him intensely.
He pretended to not see them, nonchalantly reached for his gun belt and fastened it around his hips as if this was only natural. He put his hat on his head and left, whistling a lively melody.
Outside, he smiled to himself. No, he would never again forget his gun belt.
He had put up a fight out here in the wilderness; he was ready for many challenging circumstances; wearing a gun would only be a trifling matter for him from now on.
~ Fine ~
Becky W., May 2009