A WHN for THE BUSCADEROS
From downstairs the distant chime of a grandfather clock struck twice as Johnny tiptoed quietly along the unlit hall with dimmed oil lamp in hand. Outside a bedroom door he stilled and without knocking slowly pushed it open a few inches, grateful the hinges didn’t squeak as he peered into the darkness. “You awake Scott?” he asked in a whispered tone.
There was no reply for several seconds and as Johnny was just about to retreat a slightly hesitant voice answered. “Yes…I’m awake. Come on in.”
The invite was eagerly taken up and entering the room Johnny shut the door behind him and placed the lamp on a chest of drawers. “Can’t seem to settle for once,” he admitted as he turned up the wick.
“Me neither,” Scott answered, squinting for a few moments as his eyes adjusted to the light.
Still sore and stiff after his long ordeal he’d also been lying awake for hours even though he couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept, and glad of the company he pushed up and rested his back on the pillow. “Something on your mind brother?”
“Nothing special. Just got too much running round my head after all that’s gone on today, you know what I mean?”
Knowing all too well what he meant Scott gave a silent nod as he gestured towards a thickly cushioned armchair by the side of the bed. “Well make yourself at home.”
Although Johnny was still fully dressed there was no thud from leather boots or metallic tinkling from jingly spurs as his sock covered feet padded with silent steps across the wooden floor. He eased down into the seat and stretched out his legs to rest them along the edge of the mattress, taking a moment to shuffle around a little as he made himself comfortable.
It was then in the flickering lamp light Johnny could now see in Scott’s undressed state the skin on his chest and shoulders was covered with numerous cuts and bruises.
Although he’d been made aware of the violent treatment Scott had been subjected to by the group of desperados when he’d been held hostage and took on the persona of Johnny Madrid, Johnny hadn’t realized to what extent until that moment as he stared at the tell-tale signs of brutality.
He inwardly cursed and wondered what emotional scars were also being silently carried though already guessing that was something he’d probably never be told by his occasionally tight-lipped elder brother.
“Well Boston, it’s been one hell of a day,” he declared as his blue eyes narrowed somewhat and his lips tightened grimly. “All I can say is along with roughing you up real good Drago must have had one heck of a sick mind to make you a target for firing practice the way he did. Though I still can’t figure out what he was trying to prove by doing such a stupid stunt.”
At his words Scott shuddered and closed his eyes as the memory of the angry rattling roar of the Gatling gun echoed once more around and around within his head. He still couldn’t believe he’d managed to keep upright as the bullets struck the wall inches from where he stood, leaving choking dust swirling around to settle in his throat and myriads of minuscule splinters of stone to pierce his body.
It certainly wasn’t bravery on his part; he’d been terrified, more scared than he’d ever been. But he was sure if he’d shown any sign of weakness by falling to his knees or crying out for them to stop, Drago or the even more sinister Chapel would have had no compulsion in mowing him down so they could boast the infamous Johnny Madrid had died a coward at the end.
As he drew in a sharp strained breath at the recollection Scott didn’t realize his fists were now clenched tight around his blankets until he felt a hand settle on his bare arm and fingers give a gentle squeeze. He looked into the tanned face where concerned eyes stared towards him.
“You alright brother?”
As the tension eased and his thoughts returned to the here and now Scott forced out a weak smile. “Just overly tired. Other than that I’m fine,” he lied, swallowing down a feeling of nervy nausea in his stomach. “Like you said, it’s been one hell of a day.”
Showing signs of exhaustion himself Johnny leaned back in his chair, linking fingers behind his head and studying his brother closely for a long moment. “Level with me Scott. What else happened between you and Drago while you were taking on my name?”
Scott didn’t answer at once as his thoughts wandered.
He’d intentionally failed to mention the near shoot-out and the hand of cards where the stakes bet on the first deal would have been the loss of one or maybe two of his fingers. But knowing how Johnny was already storing up a load of guilt and blame for something he had no control over he decided there and then not to drag it all up and for a second time within a few minutes had no compulsion about lying to his brother.
He took a deep breath. “I’ve already told you everything that went on,” he said quickly, hopeful that he’d been believed as he managed a grin “Just how much more suffering do you think a mere mortal like me could have taken?”
surprise Johnny didn’t return the smile. Instead he unclasped his hands
from behind his head and in a slow easy rhythm swung his legs to the floor
and sat forward in his chair, his gaze focused, looking deep; blue eyes on
blue. “I’ve got to tell you Boston, when the old man told me you were
claiming to be Johnny Madrid I thought there was more than a good chance
you weren’t going to make it out alive."
His voice oozed disquiet and Scott felt a pang of sorrow for being the cause of his brother’s suffering. "It seemed a good idea at the time,” he admitted with an apologetic sigh. “But I’m sorry to have been the cause of so much worry though.”
Johnny shrugged, his eyes glistening strangely wet in the lamp light as he lowered his gaze and began absently picking at a loose thread on his shirt sleeve. “Comes with the territory now Boston. I’m already a committed worrier where you’re concerned.”
Scott’s expression reflected tenderness at his brother’s heartfelt admission. "Well I'm not dead. I made it, I survived.” His words though quietly spoken were said with a confidence, as much to reassure himself than Johnny.
“I know.” As a
cold chill ran down his spine Johnny paused, took a deep breath. He didn't
want to think about how close he might have come to losing the best thing
that had ever happened to him. "But you could have died because of what I
once was…because of Johnny Madrid and that damn shadow from the past."
"But I didn’t die…I’m still here brother."
Johnny sighed, a
heavy sound in the quiet stillness as he lifted his hand to drag it through
his thick wavy hair. “I know.”
Time ticked by slowly in the long silence that followed until Johnny finally spoke. “Boston, will you do something for me?”
Without hesitation Scott gave a nod.
“Promise you’ll never do anything that foolhardy again. How’s my reputation going to hold up if you get yourself killed while pretending to be me? I’d never be able to live it down!”
Although his tone showed a faint lightheartedness Scott knew he was deadly serious; the thought of his reputation as a gunfighter somehow being the cause of his brother’s death in the future too much for the younger Lancer to contemplate.
Swallowing hard Scott nodded. “You have my word,” he firmly assured. “From now I promise to stick to just being plain old me.”
As though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders Johnny blew out his cheeks with relief and a silent pledge of understand passed between them. There was a comfortable silence for a few moments then suddenly after finding himself unable to suppress a loud yawn Scott snuggled back down under the covers.
“Well if we’ve got that settled, maybe you’d allow me to get my beauty sleep. As Murdoch said there’s still a ranch to run and we’re going to have to make an early start if we’re ever going to finish clearing up that mess downstairs before Theresa gets back.”
Almost reluctantly Johnny gave a silent nod of agreement and pushed himself up, and after taking hold of the lamp he made his way to the door and opened it. But then he hesitated a moment as he looked back towards the figure stretched out on the bed. "I love you brother."
The words were
soft, almost inaudible but not entirely, then the light disappeared as the
In the darkness and suddenly infused with a warm, inner glow Scott felt his chest constrict as the sound of those four words never before openly spoken between them repeated again in his head.
He squeezed his eyes tight as he felt moisture form but not before a single tear had escaped to run down his cheek. And as the corner of his mouth curved into the faintest of smiles he whispered back.