This is a short WHN for the High Riders.
It was pain that woke him.
Memory followed slowly in a series of disjointed images. He felt again the thrill of his wild ride, the hard landing on the ground, heard gunfire and relived his surprise when Scott had suddenly appeared at his side, pulling him out of harm’s way and protecting him until the fight was over.
He didn’t remember much after that, hadn’t even realized how badly he was hurt until he tried to stand up. Someone had clearly looked after him and it sure was nice to wake up lying on a soft mattress and covered with clean sheets and blankets. At least Murdoch Lancer hadn’t kicked him out yet. Maybe there was some compassion there after all.
Johnny squirmed around until he found a more comfortable position. Whoever had patched him up had done a good job. Although his head felt a bit fuzzy, his legs were moving fine and there were no fever chills. Definitely better than the last time he’d caught a bullet. Being a rich man’s son did have its benefits.
The house was quiet and the only light came from a lamp with its flame turned down low. He felt...safe. That was a sick joke since Lancer hadn’t hidden his contempt during their argument. The suggestion that he’d chosen to side with Pardee had hurt worse than he’d expected. To hell with his ‘family’. He’d been paid his thousand dollars and Lancer would be glad to get rid of his unwanted sons now that his precious ranch was safe.
The growing anger and disappointment wasn’t helping his pain. Sinking his teeth into his bottom lip to smother a groan, he tried to loosen the knots in his neck and back. There was nothing he could do about the cold lump sitting in his gut.
He wasn’t aware of anyone approaching his room until the door opened. Lancer took a couple of steps inside, his body outlined by the brighter light in the hallway. Dios! He was one big son of a bitch. Johnny knew that his face was in shadow. If he kept still his unexpected visitor would leave. Trouble was, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be left alone with his thoughts.
“What d’you want, Old Man?” he drawled, making damn sure there was no hint of welcome in his words.
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Johnny noticed that Lancer hadn’t moved and that he hadn’t answered the question. “You didn’t.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Nope. I’m fine.” That was a lie, but Johnny didn’t care. Lancer was probably only checking to see how fast he could give him the keys to the road...again.
“Good. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Having invited the conversation Johnny wasn’t ready to let his ‘father’ off that easily. “Why’d you do it?” That brought the old man further into the room.
“Throw mama and me out.” He couldn’t see Lancer’s face in the weak lamplight and that bothered him. He liked to be able to see his enemy’s eyes.
“I told you that wasn’t how it happened.”
“You also said the past was dead and gone. Well, it sure don’t feel like it.”
“Would it make you feel better if I told you that your mother had lied to you? No, Johnny, I don’t know what she told you, but I do know that she loved you. If you want to hate someone, hate me. But, I had hoped you could let the past go and see if we could make a future as a family.”
A few more steps brought Lancer to his bedside. Johnny stared at him, confused. The words sounded sincere, with none of the cold aggression of their first meeting. “You loved her?” he whispered, shocked by the discovery. His mama had never spoken about her husband with anything other than hate.
“Yes, and I love the son she gave me.”
Johnny lowered his eyes, embarrassed and unsettled. “You don’t know me.”
“You’re right, but we can change that if you agree to stay.”
“You might not like what you find out.”
“I’m willing to take that chance. You don’t have to make any decisions tonight. Think about it.”
He was being given a choice! For once he wasn’t being shown the door the minute a job was over. He could leave or... The tension drained out of him. His eyes began to close and even his best efforts couldn’t force them to open again. The brief conversation had worn him out, leaving him weak and vulnerable. “Think about it.” His voice was little more than a whisper. He felt a brief pressure on his shoulder.
“Rest. We’ll talk tomorrow, Son.”
Johnny fell asleep wrapped tightly in a blanket of hope. The feeling might not last but, for one night, he was at peace.