"Looks like it's gonna be snowy weather.
God I wish you could be here.
Oh it won't seem like Christmas without you,
For there are too many miles in between.
But if I get the one thing I'm wishin for,
Then I'll see you tonight in my dreams."
Excerpt from It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You) - sung by Elvis Presley
Written by, Renegade, December 2003
He crouched behind the outcropping of boulders. If only his horse hadn't been shot out from under him, he thought. He'd be home safe by now…away from them…away from their depraved sense of fun…and away from the pain they took pleasure in giving him.
Clutching his left hand to the bullet wound in his side, he tried to stem the flow of blood. He grit his teeth to the sharp pains across his back, and pressed against the ragged boulder in an effort to avoid being detected by his captors. His breaths were now ragged and his heart raced in fear. There was no way in hell he was going to be taken back into captivity. Not after being their prisoner for over four months. Not after what they had done to him.
Hearing the sound of hooves disappear further down the hill, he fought back a cry of pain as he pushed himself off the ground. With the last vestiges of strength, he struggled to his feet and tried to focus on the gnarled path in front of him. His eyesight was fading, dimming from extreme malnutrition and sickness. His fever wracked body ached from the repeated beatings and whippings he had been subjected to on a constant basis since he was taken prisoner back in August.
In the beginning, his tormentors had taken pleasure in beating him with their fists, kicking him until he was gasping for breath, or whipping him with either a leather strap or a strip of cane on a daily basis. But as the weeks went by, they would wait until his wounds were almost healed before they opened them again, laughing sinisterly as his flesh was torn open with each crack of the whip or down stroke of the wicker.
With a trembling hand he wiped the dirt and sweat away from his eyes in an effort to focus on the path. Drawing it down his cheek, he laughed derisively. His 'hosts' had thought it amusing to keep his face clean-shaven so they could see the full extent of his pain, as the cries of anguish were ripped from his throat.
He pressed his left hand once more against the throb in his side, closing his eyes to the feel of warm blood oozing through his fingers, and swallowed hard against the images of the past four months. Up until now, death had eluded his pleas for mercy. But now, glancing down at the wound in his side, he figured that prospect wouldn't be long in coming.
He bit back another cry as a lancing pain cut through his abdomen. Not yet, he thought. Not until I'm back home and say goodbye to him.
Taking a deep breath to steel what was left of his resolve, and with his free hand, he grabbed at branches to help support him as he stumbled down the path that would lead to his freedom…and to home.
His eyesight dimming further, his strength fading rapidly, he knew he had to hurry. It was Christmas Eve, and for the past three years since joining his brother on their father's ranch, they had always spent it together. And he wanted to make sure…at least one last time…that this year was no different.
Death would soon come to finally ease his pain.
But when he died, he wanted it to be at Lancer. And he needed it to be next to his brother's side.
Murdoch frowned as he watched his son pull on the wool coat and head for the front door. "Son, where are you going? It's going to start raining again soon, and it's not the kind of weather you need to be out in. Especially in your condition."
"I'm fine. I've got to get out of here and get some fresh air."
Murdoch wouldn't relent. "But Sam said you still need to take it easy. You haven't been able to shake this cold for weeks, because you've been pushing yourself too hard! Driving yourself beyond the point of exhaustion! Look, I know you miss your brother, we all do! But at some point you have got to put your grief to rest before it destroys you! I've already lost one son, please, please don't cause me to lose you too because you refuse to accept your brother's death!"
"I told you! I'm fine! Now leave me alone!"
"But it's Christmas Eve! We need to be together as a family!"
"Family? Family?! We're not a family anymore! Not since you had him declared dead!"
"I did it so we could get on with our lives! You know it's what he would've wanted! He would've wanted us to go on. To make his dreams for this ranch into reality! And now it's Christmas, and we need to do just that!"
"You really don't get it, do you?"
"There is no more Christmas as far as I'm concerned."
"How can you say that?!" Murdoch asked in disbelief, his jaw dropping to the floor.
"Simple. Without Scott here to share it with me, I ain't gonna celebrate it. Ain't no reason to when I don't believe in God anymore." Johnny said emphatically, and slammed the door behind him.
Murdoch sighed in resignation and turned his gaze into the fire. His thoughts drifted over the past four months.
It had been the middle of August when his world finally fell apart. The cattle drive had gone extremely well, and the Army had offered them a contract for a hundred head of horses. He couldn't remember a more prosperous summer. Scott had offered to take the proceeds into Morro Coyo, and make the deposit himself. And of course, true to his nature, Johnny had accompanied him.
But before they reached the town, they were ambushed and robbed. Johnny had been shot twice and left for dead, but when the smoke cleared, Scott was nowhere to be found. He had been taken hostage, and despite a massive search, had seemingly disappeared into thin air.
It took every ounce of strength he, Jelly, Val and Sam had to keep Johnny tied down long enough for his wounds to heal and get back on his feet. He had cursed them the whole time, rattling off words and phrases in both Spanish and English that would make a pirate blush, accusing them of not trying hard enough to find his brother, and giving up too soon, eventually blaming them for everything.
Murdoch had often wondered in the past four months if maybe they had given up too soon. But he knew better. For eight weeks they had searched high and low for his oldest son, but to no avail. Despite their best efforts, no trace of Scott or his captors was ever found. It was as if they never existed in the first place.
But once Johnny was back on his feet, he continued the search alone, night and day for weeks on end, sometimes shirking his duties around the ranch to head off to God knows where in search of his brother. Only returning home for a change of clothes, some fresh food and maybe a few hours of sleep in his own bed - Murdoch frowned and corrected himself - his brother's bed.
And still nothing. No sign of Scott. Not even a clue as to whether or not he was still alive.
Eventually, as Thanksgiving approached, people in town had started to talk, whisper amongst themselves and shake their heads in pity whenever Teresa or Johnny would go into town, and it had caused nothing but trouble for his family. Too often, Teresa had come home in tears, running upstairs to lock herself in her room and not coming out for hours on end. Johnny had been in several fistfights, taking on anyone that dared suggest that his brother was dead. And at one point, Val had to lock him up because he had once again pulled on the mask of Johnny Madrid, and called a man out for saying that maybe Scott was behind the ambush and robbery, and had taken off with the sizable sum of money himself. Perhaps heading to Canada or to Mexico to live out the rest of his days as a king.
And so, to save his family any further hardship, and to finally put closure on the dark period of time they had been living in since August, he had made the hardest decision in his life. He made a formal request to the court to have his oldest son declared legally dead.
But what had been an attempt to protect his family from further anguish and allow them to get on with their lives, only served to tear it apart. Teresa was devastated at first, but slowly came to realize that maybe it was for the best. Eventually siding with him on his decision. But Johnny…Johnny grew distant. His rage seethed behind a false façade of complacency. And only grew worse when they had had a memorial service a week after Thanksgiving, and attempted to finally lay Scott's soul to rest.
Murdoch sighed and stoked the fire as his memory of that day flooded into his thoughts.
He had ordered a bronze marker, inscribed with the words, 'Loving Son, Beloved Brother, Caring Friend,' and a verse from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, 'Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.' He had hoped that the service and the reading of the marker would allow them to grieve as a family, but instead, it only drove a wedge the size of the Grand Canyon between him and his youngest son.
Johnny had lashed out at him, attacking him and encircling his hands around his throat, his rage consuming him to the point that he had to be forcibly pulled off. Sam Jenkins had even run back to his carriage, grabbing his bag in desperation and gave Johnny a shot of morphine in an attempt to sedate him. But once they had him back in his room, things went from bad to worse. During the night, Johnny developed a high fever and began coughing harshly. And before the first rays of dawn streaked through the panes of the bedroom window, Johnny's ignorance of his health while he searched for his brother finally caught up with him. He had contracted pneumonia.
For over a solid week, Johnny's condition deteriorated. The fever wouldn't break despite Sam's best efforts, or Jelly's poultices. It was as if he had lost his will to live. His fever ran so high that he was lost in a world of nightmares while he slept, and in a constant state of delirium during the brief moments he was awake. All the while, calling out for his brother. Mournful cries that tore every member of the household apart.
In one breath he would plead with them to go look for Scott, to continue the search, because he was still alive. Only to look at them in the next, with eyes blazing from the raging inferno within his soul when they would tell him that Scott was dead, and there was no longer any need to continue the search. But by the end of the second week, those same eyes had become dark and empty, barren of any life or emotion. And now, just a few days later, they reflected only the shadow of a man.
Murdoch took in a deep breath, and lowered his head to rub the moisture from his eyes. Damn flue needs cleaning I suppose. It's getting smoky in here.
A voice behind him, caused him to jump, his head rising quickly as his eyes settled on the robed figure standing before him. "Father Rodriguez," Murdoch said quietly, extending his hand to shake the priest's, "what brings you out to Lancer on Christmas Eve? Especially with a storm heading our way. Don't you have a midnight Mass to prepare for?"
"I have plenty of time, Señor. I came to inquire after Johnny. How is he feeling?"
"Too good for his own welfare, I'm afraid. He just left here. Said he needed some air." Murdoch replied, frustration evident in his voice.
Father Rodriquez raised an eyebrow. "I see. Is that not unwise?"
"Very much so."
"Then he is still ill?"
"Not as bad as he was, but Doc Jenkins still wants him to take it easy. Sam's still not convinced that Johnny is completely over this bout with pneumonia."
"If that is so, I hope he does not venture far in this weather. It would not due well for his health."
"No," Murdoch said, shaking his head with worry, "it wouldn't." His voice was barely above a whisper, when he voiced his thoughts out loud. "He's got to be all right. I can't lose him too."
Father Rodriquez sighed, and placed his hand on Murdoch's shoulder. "I understand, Señor. You have already suffered greatly with the loss of your oldest son, but you must trust in the Lord. He will see you through."
Murdoch nodded imperceptibly. "Yes. I must have faith that we will get through these dark hours."
The Father smiled and squeezed Murdoch's shoulder. "With His help, you will."
"Thank you." Murdoch raised his eyes to look into the priest's. "Father, forgive me. I haven't even asked you to sit down. Please." He said, motioning his hand toward the couch.
Father Rodriguez shook his head and smiled thankfully. "No, no. I cannot stay. As you said, I do have a Mass to prepare for. But I wanted to check on Johnny. He has been in my prayers since I heard of his brother's disappearance. As you all have. And it is my hope that he will come to Mass tonight, as he has done the past three years. I know that it will be difficult to do so without his hermano, excuse me, brother by his side, but he must not let that stop him from celebrating our Lord's birth."
"Excuse me Father, but what do you mean? Scott was not Catholic."
"Señor, in the eyes of the Lord, it matters not what a person's faith is when they enter His House. All who enter are welcome that seek Him. Scott has attended Mass with Johnny on Christmas Eve every year for the past three years. He may not have been Catholic, but it did not matter. He was there to be with his brother. It was always a very close time for both of them, and apparently, also very private." He crossed himself. "Forgive me. I thought you knew that they attended the service together."
"No. No. It's all right." Murdoch shook his head - more out of regret than disbelief. There were so many things that he had to learn about his sons, individually and together. He had never really bothered to find out about their relationship to one another, how they felt toward each other, about how close they had grown in the four years since coming to Lancer. And now…now he would never get the chance.
"Señor Lancer? You are troubled?"
Murdoch didn't answer him. He just stared across the room to the picture on his desk that his eyes had finally settled on. It was a picture of his sons.
"Señor? Are you all right?" Father Rodriguez asked, concern in his voice. "You do not look well," he said quietly, pouring a glass of water and handing it to Murdoch. "Here. Take a sip of this and sit down, Señor, before you fall down."
"No. I'm all right, Father." Taking the glass, he carefully took a sip and handed it back to Father Rodriguez. "Father, I'm worried about Johnny," he said, remorse and fear seeping into his voice. "He and Scott were so close. He loved Scott dearly, and this whole thing has had a devastating effect on him. First Scott's kidnapping and disappearance, then this business with me having Scott declared legally dead, and now this recent battle with pneumonia. I think it's affected him worse than any of us would've thought."
"Que? How so?"
"I'm not sure really. But it's what he said tonight…before he left here…that really concerns me."
"What did he say, Señor?"
Murdoch sighed deeply once more. "He said without Scott there was no need for him to celebrate Christmas anymore."
"That is understandable. He is still grieving for his brother's death. For some, it takes longer to adjust and accept the loss of a loved one. Particularly at this time of year."
Murdoch rubbed his eyes, and then moved his hand around to the back of his neck. "I understand that, Father. But it's what he said ~after~ that."
"And that was what?"
"He said, and I quote, 'Ain't no reason to when I don't believe in God anymore.'"
"Madre de Dios!" Father Rodriguez inhaled sharply. "You are right to be concerned for your son, SeñorLancer. In addition to losing his brother, he has lost his faith."
He had walked the entire way around the house on his way to the barn in an effort to quell the tide of his rising anger, but by the time he had saddled Barranca and spurred him under the arch, he was ready to erupt. Out of respect for Teresa and Jelly, he decided to take his rage away from the hacienda rather than attack his father. For them at least, it was Christmas Eve. A time for peace and love, and good will toward men.
But for him, there had been no peace since his brother's disappearance over four and half months ago. Any love he felt for his father had finally been lost the day Murdoch had his brother declared legally dead, against his vehement protestations to the contrary. And with no faith to guide him, he no longer felt any good will toward men. He wanted to kill someone. Anyone. Everyone.
For over four months, no one had listened to him. No one had cared when he tried to explain that Scott was still alive. No one believed him when he said that he would know if Scott was dead. He couldn't explain it he had told them, but he could 'feel' his brother. They had frowned and looked away, shaking their heads in dismay; refusing to believe that such a thing was possible. He had heard them whisper when they thought he was asleep. Whispering in hushed voices their concern and their pity. 'Poor Johnny. He's so sick with that pneumonia. He's delirious. He still believes Scott's alive.'
He cursed the memory, and then cursed them all. "Maltido se! Damn you all to hell!" He cried into the darkness of the approaching night. He dug in his heels and spurred Barranca on, galloping into the night as if he had the Devil himself on his tail.
He may have lost his faith, but it was Christmas Eve and ever since coming to Lancer, he had spent it with his brother. And tonight, sickness or not, it would be no different. He would spend Christmas Eve by his brother's side or he would die trying.
He laughed sardonically into the wind. Hell, he ain't even buried there, he thought to himself. "Scott ain't buried no where."
His destination held no grave, only a marker, to serve as a symbolic memory of his brother's life, of his very existence. They hadn't even found his body, to bring him home to rest on the hill, overlooking Lancer. Instead, they had placed the marker there. Murdoch had told him that it was a way to finally come to terms with Scott's death. To give them comfort. But it had only given him distress. It served as a reminder that he had failed to protect his brother. Injured in the ambush, he had been unable to fight off their attackers, and what was worse, he hadn't been there for his brother, to give him comfort when he needed it, no doubt in pain and desperate, eventually dying…alone.
His chest heaved with grief as he remembered the anguish of the past four months. The endless searches, the futility they had felt, and finally the decision by his father to declare Scott dead, and put the marker on the ground. He had fervently protested the gesture by Murdoch. "Ain't right, puttin' a marker on the ground when he ain't buried in it." He had told his father. But in the end, when Murdoch couldn't bring himself to order the inscription, it was him that had chosen the words, and decided to put one of his brother's favorite quotes on it.
The wind grew colder and blew the collar of his coat up around his neck, ripping through his coat and stinging his face with sharp pins and needles. As he headed toward his destination, his whole body began to shake from the cold seeping into his bones. Suddenly, he was tired, exhausted was more like it, he thought. The ride had never taken this much effort before. But then, he remembered, it was the first time he had ridden this path since that fateful day. Hell, it was the first time he'd been out of the house since that day; too sick and distraught to even raise his head from the pillow. No wonder I'm so tired. Been sleepin' too long.
He ignored the warning signs, his lungs protesting the abuse and the obtrusive weather by wracking his body with deep, rumbling coughs. He managed to take a deep breath and looked toward the storm clouds. He had to reach the hill overlooking the hacienda before the storm hit. He had to reach the spot where he and Scott had spent many an hour talking, and planning their future, all the while overlooking the ranch they had now called home after coming to the aide of their father over four years before.
When he reached his brother's side, he would rest, he thought. And dream - dream of happier times when he and Scott would solve the problems of the world. And he would once again see his brother's engaging smile and laughing blue eyes. For tonight, as he had every night for the past four and a half months, he hoped he would see Scott once again.
Urging Barranca forward, he wiped the tears from his eyes and tried to stay astride the saddle as he felt the vice tighten within his chest at the thought that forever more, he would only be able see his beloved brother in the memories of his dreams.
Finally reaching the crest of the hill, he reined Barranca to a stop and dismounted slowly, grabbing hold of the horn to steady his weakened legs as they began to buckle under his weight. Patting the Palomino's neck, he spoke softly when the strong mount whinnied in protest. "It's OK fella, I wanna walk the rest of the way." He looked toward the site where he would walk, and sighed. "Maybe I can finally sneak up on him," he said mournfully.
Staring into the clouds of the impending storm, his shoulders slumped in resignation, and he coughed once more. "Damn it!" he cursed, and clutched his hand to his chest. "Stop! I ain't got time for this!"
He knew he was running out of time. He had been wracked with fever for over three weeks since the pneumonia had consumed his lungs. It had left him weak and exhausted. And now he was numb. He knew it wasn't solely because of the drop in temperatures. The feelings that had told him Scott was still alive were fading, and fading rapidly. And now he couldn't feel anything, except the dangerous rumbling in his chest, and the fever now once again raging through his body. Murdoch had been right, and he cursed him. "Arrogant, son of a bitch. You always know everything, don't ya?" He knew he was in no condition to be out in this weather. Exposed much longer and he would die. But he no longer cared.
Any reasons he had for living, for believing in something, had actually died the day they placed that bronze marker in the ground. His brother was gone. Dead. Just like he was now. He was a shell of the man he had used to be. The day they laid his brother's memory to rest was the day the soul of Johnny Madrid Lancer died as well.
His eyes welled with bitter tears and he raised an angry fist to the sky. "Why?! Why did you give me a brother only to take him from me so soon!" he exclaimed, angrily. "Everything I ever learned about you being a good and merciful God was all a lie! You have never given me a break! You have always made it harder for me! First you take my mother! Then I have to fight to stay alive by taking the lives of others! And now this! He was my brother! My best and closest friend! And you took him from me! You are not merciful! You are vengeful! And I hate you! I hate you!" He screamed, shaking both fists in the air, his face red with rage and streaked with tears from eyes that clouded from the darkness engulfing his soul.
A voice behind him and he whirled around, his gun now clasped firmly in his hand.
"You do not mean that, Juanito."
Johnny's eyes narrowed. "I mean every word of it, Padre. I hate Him."
"Because He took your brother from you?"
"Si." Johnny answered tersely.
"Juanito, your soul is in turmoil. You are upset about your brother's death. But you must come to terms with it, and not seek vengeance against our Heavenly Father."
"He took Scott! He had no right!"
"He had every right, Juanito. Only God has the power to give and take life."
A sinister grin curled on the edges of Johnny's lips as the persona of Johnny Madrid threatened to show itself. "Judging me, Padre?"
The priest stepped down from his carriage, and approached Johnny. "You do well enough to judge yourself in this world, Juanito. God will judge you when your time comes to cross over to the next. Which, unless you return home to the hacienda, will not be long in coming. You are still very ill."
"I'm fine!" Johnny spat, coughing harshly once more. "Did Murdoch send you after me?"
"He did not."
Johnny holstered his gun and turned away from the priest. "That's surprisin'. He's bin hoverin' ov'r me, smotherin' me with his ~love and kindness~. E'er since Scott's been gone, he's trying to make up for all those years of lost time. Only not just with me. He's been tryin' to forget the fact that he abandoned Scott to the clutches of his grandfather."
"You are too hard on your father, Juanito. He is grieving not only for Scott but also for you. He has seen your path of self-destruction these past few weeks, your denial and your refusals to accept the inevitable. He is concerned about you. And now you are sick with fever and your lungs fight for every breath. You will die unless you return home and take care of yourself!"
Closing his eyes, Johnny shook his head. "I don't care, Padre. I want to die. Life ain't worth livin' anymore without Scott."
"So you condemn your father to a life without both his sons?"
Johnny turned on the priest, his eyes open and now flashing the internal blaze raging out of control. "He condemned me to a life without a brother when he gave up any hope that Scott was still alive, and stopped searchin' for him!"
Father Rodriguez held out his arms in front of him. "Juanito, please. It is Christmas Eve. Return to the hacienda, and to your father's arms."
"No!" Johnny cried, clenching his hands into tight fists at his sides. "Don't you understand?! I hate my father for what he's done to me! And I hate ~your~ father for what He's done to Scott!"
Father Rodriguez crossed himself and closed his eyes in prayer. "God, forgive him. He knows not of what he speaks."
"I know exactly what I'm talkin' about, Padre." Johnny sank to his knees, tears streaming down his face as he looked up at the priest standing before him. "God has forsaken me, and I hate Him."
Father Rodriguez put his hands on Johnny's shoulders and squeezed them gently. "Juanito, please. Do not speak of such things. You do your brother a grave injustice by dishonoring his memory with this talk of hate of not only your father, but our Heavenly Father as well. Do you not remember how Scott attended Mass with you? Sharing in the beliefs that you learned as a child in order to learn more about you as a man, and more importantly to be with you on Christmas Eve. Scott loved you, Juanito, as you loved him. But do not forsake him in your hour of grief by denouncing our Lord God."
Johnny buried his head in his hands. "I can't, Padre! I can't believe anymore! Scott's dead! And it hurts too much!"
"I know, Juanito. I know. Death of a loved one always hurts." Father Rodriquez knelt in front of Johnny and wrapped his arms around the young man's trembling shoulders. "But you can believe, Juanito. You must believe. If you do not do so for yourself, then do so for the memory of Scott."
Johnny sank into the father's arms, shuddering as sobs of grief consumed him.
Father Rodriguez said a quiet prayer and stood, pulling Johnny to his feet with great difficulty. "Juanito, please. The storm is near, the temperature has dropped and you grow weaker. You must return home, now!"
Johnny pushed him off. "No. Not until I spend Christmas Eve with him." He turned and started walking toward the area where the marker lay, only to pause and turn to face the priest. "Go back to the church, Padre. You have Mass in a couple of hours. I won't be there this year…." Or ever again… His voice cracked with regret as he continued, "I have to spend it with Scott, and since he can't make it…." Unable to finish, he turned away and continued his trek to where the memory of his brother was buried.
It was dark, save for the faint light of the moon that managed to peek through the approaching storm clouds.
Scott pressed his hand to the wound in his side and sank to his knees. He could go no further. His strength was finally gone. Tears of frustration streamed down his face. He had to be close to the hacienda, he thought. He just had to be.
He cursed the darkness and his dimming eyesight. It had finally clouded. And now he could barely see a mere few feet in front of him, and then only shapes and shadows. Looking around, he tried to focus through the tears as his weary mind struggled to get his bearings.
Raising his face to the heavens he shook his fists. "What more do You want of me?! You let them take my pride! My life! Can You not even let me see my home one last time?! Must You also take that from me?! Must You take my eyesight so that I can't gaze upon it one last time or even see where he lies?!"
The memory of that day had continued to haunt him every waking moment of his tortured state for over four and a half months. The image of the bullets piercing Johnny's chest and abdomen were as vivid now in his mind as the day they happened. The sudden loss he had felt when Johnny's body slumped to the ground, his brother's eyes locking with his one last time before closing in death was as strong today in the bitter cold of December as it had been that hot and humid day in August.
Anger raged deep within his soul, and he cried toward the heavens. "I hate You! You took him from me! And now You won't even let me find him so I can say goodbye!"
A bitter blast of air blew through him and knocked him forward onto his hands.
His hands were still swollen from the shackles that had bound him for hours and days on end without release. And now, cracked and bleeding from his struggles and efforts to escape, they protested the sudden impact against the cold, hard ground and he cried out in pain. Glaring through clouded eyes at the heavens above, he yelled. "Damn You! Damn You to Hell!"
The clouds parted slightly and in the faint moonlight, he squinted his eyes once more and looked toward the bottom of the hill. Despite his clouding eyesight he could make out a large white structure in the distance, and he sighed in relief. He had made it. He was home. Now he had to find his brother. Taking a deep breath with a great deal of difficulty and pain, he turned and began to crawl the last few feet toward the crest of the hill. He knew that was where he would find Johnny. If Murdoch didn't do anything else, he knew his father would've respected his brother's last wishes to be buried up here.
The wind whipped around his body. What strips of cloth were left of his shirt and jeans did little to protect him from the biting wind and dropping temperatures. Caked with blood, sweat, and dirt they clung to the seeping wounds that covered his back and chest, and continued to ooze blood and pus from the infections. Feeling the wind catch a strip of his shirt, he grimaced as one of the many wounds on his back and shoulders opened further. He clenched his teeth and slammed his fist against the ground in protest. He knew it was the wound that crossed diagonal across his right shoulder to the small of his back. It had not been the first wound that his captors had given him, but it had been the one that caused him to finally cry out in pain, surrendering to their depraved torture.
Despondent, the tears streaming down his face were now from pain, and he finally sank the remaining few inches to the ground. Clutching at the small rocks and dried grass, he tried to pull himself further up the hill toward the crest. His side screamed at him, throbbing with each pull of his left hand. His once lean body was now gaunt and emaciated, covered in bruises, cuts and abrasions. The scars and wounds on his back felt as if they were on fire. And he struggled for each breath now as his cracked ribs protested his determination to die by his brother's side.
He clutched his hand to the wound in his left side and cursed as the blood oozed through his fingers. "Damn it to hell."
His chest heaved, and he gasped for air. Catching the shadow of a dark object only a few feet in front of him, he painfully stretched his right arm forward to pull himself the last few feet toward his destination. Reaching it, he finally collapsed next to the plaque. Wiping the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand, he tried to focus on the words, but could not see past his grief. Stretching his arm across the marker, he lowered his face to it and let the tears fall freely, sobbing as his grief overwhelmed him.
"Oh Johnny. I'm so sorry…please forgive me…Little Brother. It was my…fault. It's all my fault! And I…I…I wasn't…there for…you…when you…needed me." He rasped, his voice now gone from grief. "But…I'm here now, Johnny. It…it won't…be long…now…and…and I…I'll soon join…you…Brother."
His hand trembling, he traced his fingers over the words, 'Loving Son, Beloved Brother, Caring Friend…' and his grief intensified. If only he hadn't let his arrogance get the better of him that day and kept his smart mouth in check, he thought. Then that man Ferguson wouldn't have backhanded him, and Johnny wouldn't have reached for his weapon, only to be gunned down in cold blood by Jacob MacMillan.
"Jacob MacMillan. You Goddamn Son of a Bitch. I'll see you in Hell for what you did to Johnny." Scott hissed painfully, and tried to spit the bitter taste left in his mouth by the name alone.
He clenched his teeth and his clouded eyes narrowed in hate - dangerous hatred that had consumed him as it kept him alive through his ordeal. As a child growing up in Boston, he had always disliked MacMillan. He had been the neighborhood bully, a bully that delighted in tormenting the other children, and took sheer pleasure in torturing animals before he killed them. Scott closed his eyes to the memories and the image of MacMillan as he methodically broke a dog's leg, laughing maliciously as the poor dog yelped and howled in pain.
But his closed eyes did little to stop the flood of memories that came forth, once again drawing him into a blackened void of nightmare images.
It wasn't long into adulthood that his dislike for Jacob MacMillan grew into palpable disdain. A Lieutenant in the infantry unit of the 2nd Division, 4th Corps, Army of the Cumberland under Sheridan, MacMillan had taken great pride in tormenting any poor, hapless Confederate soldier that crossed his path, and later, while attached to the same cavalry corps to which he was assigned, he had heard that MacMillan had literally tortured a man to death to get him to reveal the location of his division.
And now, now he thought as his eyes opened and he blinked back the tears, he hated and despised the man's very existence.
The wicked grin that had curled onto MacMillan's lips each time the whip or the cane cut across his back was burned into his brain, intensified only by the sinister smile that had formed on MacMillan's lips when he fired on Johnny. The sinister laughter had resonated in his ears every day of his captivity. 'Too bad your half-breed brother wasn't in the war, Lancer. I would've enjoyed watching him suffer as I ripped his flesh to shreds.' MacMillan had hissed like a venomous viper, glancing at Johnny's still form lying on the ground, his life's blood spilling forth to darken the sand beneath him.
Scott moaned against the nausea the memory invoked and vomited. The action sending sharp, lancing pains through his abdomen, and white-hot shards through his brain.
The memory grew more vivid, and Scott contorted once more in agony as the heaves continued.
MacMillan's demonic laughter the moment Johnny sank to the ground had continued as he wrapped his strong hand around his throat, squeezing tightly, causing him to gasp for precious air while Ferguson and two others, grabbed his arms, wrenching them behind his back to securely bind his arms, and then shackle his wrists together tightly with iron cuffs. 'Guess I'll just have to rip your flesh to shreds, Scotty boy. And watch you ~bleed~ to death like your brother there.'
He had spit in MacMillan's face, and remembered the look of satisfaction on MacMillan's lips as he wiped it off, licking the spittle from the back of his hand. 'Oooh. You taste good, Lancer. I'll be able to have a true feast on your blood. A slow, delectable one as I watch you suffer under what I have planned.'
His eyes still locked on his brother's fallen body, 'Why are you doing this?' he had managed to choke out, before they shoved a wet rag in his mouth and secured it with a piece of leather strapping.
MacMillan had leaned in close and sneered. 'Because I want to, Scotty boy. That's why.'
The smell of MacMillan's breath had gagged him, and the bile had risen in the back of his throat to soak the rag further, causing his mouth to burn from the stomach acids that he could not expel.
'What'll we do 'bout that half-breed?' he had heard Ferguson ask.
'Get rid of the horses and leave him. Let him slowly bleed to death.' MacMillan had replied, only to lean in close once more and cast a menacing look into his eyes. 'Sides, I want Scotty boy here to have a lasting memory of his brother. Something to keep him occupied during the long nights ahead when I ain't havin' my fun with him.'
He had tried to lunge at MacMillan, only to be yanked back harshly by the two men holding him, his right shoulder popping in protest to the sudden backward movement.
A groan had escaped past the gag and MacMillan had only laughed sinisterly once more. 'Truss him up like a holiday turkey, boys. I don't want him gettin' free too soon.'
They had thrown him over the back of one of their mounts then, wrapping a rope around his neck and securely fastening it to his ankles by way of the underbelly of the horse. Securing it in such a fashion that the slightest movement of his body had caused it to tighten around his throat, choking him until he finally succumbed to unconsciousness, but not before the sight of Johnny's lifeless body on the ground, lying in a pool of blood was forever engrained in his mind.
His eyes fluttered, and he struggled to push the memory away as his fingers kneaded the words on the bronze marker beneath him. "Oh Johnny…I'm so…so sorry…Little Brother…"
Raising his head slightly, his eyes finally focused, and he read the name, 'Scott Lancer,' the breath catching in the back of his throat.
"Johnny…" he gasped, realization sinking in to his fevered mind.
His brother was still alive. Johnny was alive!
His shoulders shuddered as the sobs of grief turned to cries of joy. Johnny didn't die that day, he thought, a flicker of hope casting light in a soul that had finally been consumed in darkness when he had overheard his captors laughing sinisterly about Murdoch Lancer burying a son. But soon the cries of joy became cries of regret. His brother was alive, but had no doubt suffered inexorably. And he knew his brother's grief would have been compounded by the fact that his body had never been found. Having to accept his death with only a bronze plaque to mark his passing. "Oh Johnny…please forgive me…for the pain…I…I've caused you."
A sharp lancing pain through his abdomen and he clutched both hands to the wound, contorting in agony, as a cry of pain hissed through his teeth. Scott curled into a tight ball, placed his bloody right hand on the plaque and closed his eyes to await the inevitable. "I love you, Brother." He whispered softly, his words lost on the howling wind and the rain that was beginning to fall.
As memories of his all too brief time with Johnny came flooding to the surface, a painful laugh left his lips at the irony of the situation. The next time his younger brother came to visit his final resting place, Johnny would finally have a body to bury.
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Johnny tried to ignore the pleadings of the Catholic priest following him. Only a few feet from the crest of the hill, he stopped and turned suddenly, glaring at Father Rodriquez. "I told you, Padre! Leave me alone! I ain't leavin' til I talk to Scott!"
"Madre de Dios," Father Rodriguez whispered, crossing himself quickly.
Johnny's eyes narrowed at the look on the priest's face. He started to curse the man once more, when he realized that the Father was not looking at him, but past him toward the marker. Johnny turned slowly, the breath leaving his lungs in one beat of his heart.
"Madre de Dios…. Scott!" he exclaimed, running the last few feet and dropping to his knees behind his brother. He reached out to touch Scott, only to draw his hand back in horror. Even in the fading moonlight, he could see the wounds on his brother's back, and his hand went to his mouth to stifle the shocked gasp.
"Scott…" he cried softly, gently wrapping his arms around his brother, and pulling Scott into his lap to cradle him. His eyes were drawn to the wound in his brother's side and he ripped apart the remnants of the shirt to get a better look at it. He cursed under his breath and pressed his hand against the gapping hole to stem the flow of blood that spilled forth with each beat of his brother's heart. Damn! There's no exit wound! he thought, panicked at the knowledge of what a stray bullet could do internally.
Removing his coat, he placed it over his brother's trembling body, and then ripped a strip of his shirt off and pressed it against the wound, causing a low moan to escape from his brother's lips.
"Boston…" he whispered again, stroking the matted hair away from his brother's face, "can you hear me, Brother?" Continuing to gently wipe the dirt and blood from Scott's face, he leaned forward and whispered. "Come on, Brother," he pleaded. "Open your eyes. Please, Scott. It's me Johnny, please…please wake up and look at me. Please, Brother!"
Scott's body shuddered in his arms, and Johnny tightened his hold. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked up at Father Rodriguez. "Padre! Bring me that blanket off Barranca!"
"Si! Uno momento!" Father Rodriguez said, turning on his heel to run back to the where they had left the horses.
"Jo…John…ny?" Scott rasped, barely audible over the wind.
Johnny's eyes shot back to his brother's face. "I'm here, Scott. I'm here. Hold on, Brother. I'm gonna get you home."
"Yo…you're…alive," Scott choked out. "I…I…thought…you…were…dead."
"No, Brother." Johnny shook his head, and gazed into his brother's sunken eyes. "But we thought you were," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
A painful smile crossed Scott's lips. "So…so…I…noticed."
Johnny smiled at his brother's forced humor. "Guess we were wrong, huh?"
"Guess…so…." Scott grimaced. "Ob…vious…ly…the reports…of my…death…have been…exag…exaggerated." He raised his hand toward Johnny's face. "You…OK?" he asked weakly, placing his hand on Johnny's cheek.
"I'm fine," Johnny answered, wrapping his hand over Scott's and pressing it against his cheek, desperately needing the physical contact with his brother. "And you will be too," he offered reassuringly, concern filling his voice as Scott contorted in agony, clutching his other hand in desperation. Johnny locked eyes with Scott. "Easy, Boston. You're gonna be all right."
"No, Johnny." Scott shook his head, his hand falling from Johnny's cheek to grab at Johnny's shoulder. "Too…late." He shuddered once more and squeezed it hard.
"No!" Johnny cried vehemently. He tried to ignore the pain as his brother clenched his shoulder even tighter. "Don't you talk like that! I ain't gonna hear it!" He drew his eyes away from his brother's, looked toward the path and yelled into the darkness. "Padre! Ándele!"
Father Rodriguez came running toward him. Handing him the blanket, he helped Johnny wrap it over his brother's shuddering body. He knelt next to Johnny and placed his hand on Johnny's other shoulder, squeezing it firmly. "Juanito, we must get your brother back to the hacienda. He is very ill!"
"Si." Johnny nodded. "I'll take care of him. You head back to town and send Doc Jenkins. And hurry, Padre!"
"I'll help you get him into the carriage…" Father Rodriguez said, only to be cut off by Johnny.
"No, Padre. I ain't turnin' loose of Scott, and if I take the carriage, I'll have to. And we ain't got time for you to take us to the hacienda and then send for the Doc. No…I'll get him home on Barranca."
"But you are too weak! You cannot handle him alone, Juanito!"
"I'll be fine! Now go! I don't have time to argue, damn it! Tell Sam to burn leather and come quick!" Johnny ordered.
Father Rodriguez looked quickly between the two boys, placed one hand on Scott's forehead and said a quick prayer. He looked into Johnny's face and squeezed Johnny's shoulder once more. "You must keep your faith, Juanito," he said softly, before pushing himself up and running toward the carriage.
Johnny didn't say a word. Feeling Scott's grip on his hand and shoulder loosen, Johnny looked down at his brother quickly. "Scott? You hold on, Boston. You hear me?" He shifted, and tightened his hold around his brother's trembling shoulders. The movement drew another anguished cry from Scott's lips, and he cursed himself. "Damn! I'm so sorry, Boston."
Scott didn't respond, and Johnny felt his heart skip a beat when he looked into his brother's once clear blue eyes that were now clouded with tears. Johnny could tell that his brother was struggling with the last vestiges of strength that he possessed to keep the pain that was wracking his body under control.
He could feel his shirt begin to stick to his skin because of the blood oozing from the wounds on Scott's back, and he forced down a swallow. The sight of Scott so battered and bruised, bleeding from the multitude of wounds covering his body sickened him, and it took every ounce of will power he had to keep the bile from rising in the back of his throat. "Oh Scott…what did those animals do to you?" he whispered, placing his hand on Scott's cheek and gently wiping the tears from his brother's face. "I swear to you, Scott. I'm gonna find 'em. I'm gonna find 'em, and make them pay for what they've done to you."
Scott shuddered violently in his brother's arms. "Co…cold…Jo…John…ny…so…cold…"
Adjusting the blanket, Johnny started to wrap his other arm under Scott's legs to pick him up. "I'm gonna get you home, Brother."
Scott cried out in pain. "No! Please! Leave me!"
Johnny's lips quivered, and he shook his head. "I ain't leavin ya, Brother. Not after I just found ya."
Scott shook his head and once again reached for Johnny's hand. "No. Please. Let's just stay here a…a bit…lon…longer…and…talk…like we…used…to."
Scott grimaced and clutched his brother's hand. "No…please…tell me…what…what it looks…like, Johnny."
"What?" Johnny managed to choke out.
"Lancer…. Tell me…what it…looks…like…now. I…I want…to see…it…again…through…your eyes…Little Brother."
"Scott…please…" Johnny tightened his hand around his brother's when he felt Scott stiffen in pain once more. "There'll be time for that later. I've got to get you home! Now ya just hold on, k?"
Scott swallowed hard and looked up at his brother. He raised his other hand to Johnny's face and smiled weakly. "Can't anymore…Johnny. Hurts too much." He grimaced. "But…at least…I…made it home. And…and now…I can…die…in your arms…Little Brother."
"No!" Johnny cried, pulling Scott closer. "You ain't gonna die! I ain't gonna let ya!"
Scott struggled to breathe, his voice fading as he spoke. "Too late for me…Johnny. Now please…tell…tell me…about…Lancer…about home."
Johnny could barely see past his tears as he looked into his brother's eyes. The pain he saw there tore him apart and he took a deep breath to strengthen his resolve. But the cold air only served to aggravate his lungs, and he started coughing; deep rumbling coughs that shook his whole body…and Scott's.
Scott cried into the darkness, and Johnny felt as if he was the one ripping the screams from Scott's throat as his brother contorted in agony within his arms. "Oh God! Scott! I'm sorry!" He exclaimed, struggling to gain control of his own coughing spasms.
When the coughing finally eased, Johnny pushed the hair back from his brother's face. "I'm so sorry, Brother."
"It's…s'ok, Johnny," Scott gasped, looking into his brother's eyes. "But you…lied…to me…"
"Yo…you're not OK…you're sick aren't you?"
Johnny gazed into his brother's eyes with guilt and regret, and then nodded, unable to answer.
Scott clenched his jaw and clutched Johnny's hand tighter. Touching his brother's cheek once more, he whispered painfully. "Promise me some…something…Johnny."
"Anything Scott. Just please…hold on and let me get you home!"
"Promise me…you…you'll take care…of…of yourself. Mur…Murdoch…ca…can't lose…us both…"
"He ain't gonna lose us both! You're gonna be all right!"
Scott stroked his thumb across Johnny's cheek, wiping the tears away. Twisting in agony, "No…Johnny…it's…time," he grated out through clenched teeth.
"No! It's not time!" Johnny shook his head vehemently. "You hold on! Do you hear me?! Don't you dare die on me!"
Tears of pain streamed down Scott's cheeks to further dampen his sweat soaked hair. He gazed into Johnny's eyes and smiled weakly one last time. "At least…we had…one more Christmas Eve together…Brother. Merry…Merry Christmas, Johnny…. I…I…love…you…Brother."
Johnny's breath left his lungs as Scott's hand slowly fell from his face and Scott fell limp in his arms. "Scott! No!" He yelled down at his brother.
Johnny pressed his fingers against his brother's scarred neck, vainly trying to find a sign of life, only to scream and pull Scott to his chest.
"No! No!" He cried into the cold darkness, his mournful cries carried on the wind that swirled around them and howled down the hill toward the hacienda.
"Scott! No! Please…no! Not now! Please Boston! Don't leave me. I need you. I'm lost without you, don't you see? And you're right. I am sick. Very sick! And you have to take care of me! You're my big brother, remember?" He sobbed, cradling his brother's body in his arms. "You can't die! You have to take care of me! You have to!"
Lowering his head to place his cheek against Scott's, his own tears mixed with those on his brother's face. Cradling his brother gently in his arms, he slowly rocked back and forth, his anguished cries now barely above a whisper as he repeated the words like a mantra to his beloved brother. "I love you, Scott. I love you, Brother."
Frustrated, Murdoch ran his hand through the disheveled gray hair and gazed toward the hill overlooking the hacienda. He knew that was where his son had disappeared to in haste, and the blind rage that was consuming him.
He slammed his fist against the doorframe. He should've stopped Johnny, by physical force if necessary. His son was in no condition to be traipsing about in this weather, much less headed for the hill where the memory of his brother was laid to rest. And for the first time since he could remember, a feeling of dread came over him as he watched the rain begin to fall. Not because of what he feared would happen to Johnny in this weather or during the ride to the crest of the hill, it was what he feared his son would do once he got there.
Tears welled in his eyes, and he tried to push the horrible thought from his mind. His son was lost. Lost to the grief that had consumed him since his brother had disappeared. And now, with Scott being declared dead, he had lost all hope, and what was worse, his faith in God.
Silently, he cursed himself for not following the priest. But Father Rodriguez had been firm in his admonition.
'NoSeñor. Let me go and speak with Juanito. It is best that you do not follow. He is very angry with you now, and is liable to try and kill you if you interfere.'
'He's my son God damn it! I have every right to interfere!'
'But he is God's child first, Señor. And if I cannot reach him with my words, I fear that his soul will be forever lost.'
'Padre? You don't think, Johnny could…' he had been unable to finish the thought.
The priest had only hung his head and crossed himself as he spoke a quiet prayer. 'I will find him, Señor.'
His parting words to the priest as the carriage moved forward were desperate. 'Please Father. Save my son. Find him before I lose him too.'
A tear rolled down his cheek and he closed his eyes to the bitter winds that blew through the courtyard. He felt his chest tighten when he heard the chime of the clock inside. Those parting words that he had spoken to the priest were said close to an hour before.
He opened his eyes and swallowed hard, gazing back toward the hill. Searching the darkness for his son. Praying that he would soon see him riding astride Barranca and not lying dead in the back of the priest's carriage.
Cipriano interrupted his thoughts. "Perdóneme, Señor."
Turning, Murdoch looked into the concerned face of his trusted ranch hand. "Cipriano. I thought you were heading into town for Christmas Eve Mass?"
Cipriano nodded. "Si, SeñorLancer. I was. But…" He stopped and glanced around quickly, wringing his hat in his hands.
Murdoch's eyes narrowed in concern. He couldn't remember a time when he had seen the man so nervous and on edge. "But what Cipriano? What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Cipriano's eyes shot up to meet Murdoch's. "No Señor. Not seen. Heard."
"What on earth are you talking about man?"
"The wind SeñorLancer. It cries."
"Of course it does, Cipriano. There's a rainstorm on the way and it's a howling wind tonight."
"No Señor. It does not howl. It cries this night. Mournful cries."
Murdoch shook his head in frustration. He didn't have time for silly superstitions. He needed to find his son before something happened. "Cipriano, get a hold of yourself. You're talking nonsense. If you're not going into town, then mount up. You can help me find Johnny." He turned to walk toward the barn.
Cipriano grabbed his arm and stopped him. "Señor. Por favor. You must listen to the wind. It is Juanito's cries that it carries."
Murdoch turned on him, his eyes flashing the fear in his soul. Grabbing Cipriano's shoulders, he shook him harshly. "What?! What are you babbling about it carrying Johnny's cries?! What do you mean?!"
Cipriano looked into Murdoch's eyes. "The wind, SeñorLancer. Some of us were heading toward town for Mass as you said, when we heard Juanito's cries…carried on the wind from the hill where SeñorScott lies. The men, Señor…they did not wish to go further, so we returned to la hacienda. To tell you. They are concerned, Señor. Frightened by what they heard. The cries were horrible Señor. Filled with pain and how you say…anguish. Señor Juanito, he cries for his hermano."
Slowly pulling back from his brother's still form, Johnny pushed the hair away from Scott's forehead, gently stroking his brother's face with the trembling fingers of his right hand. "It's gonna be all right, Scott. You just sleep…and I'll get you home. I promise…I'll get you home, Brother." He said, mournfully.
He felt his chest tighten, his lungs once again constricting, and he tried to inhale deeply, only to cough harshly as he clutched his brother's lifeless body to his breast. He knew the dull throbbing pain around his heart wasn't from his pneumonia. It was from grief…desperate, agonizing sorrow that threatened to rip his heart out.
He raised his face to the heavens, his voice turning cold and bitter. "Why?! Why must you do this?! You bring him home, only to take him away again?!" He cried in anger. "Father Rodriguez said that only You have the right to give and take life. Must You take his? Can't You just let us have some happiness? It's Your Son's birthday! Can't You give me the gift of Scott's life? Please!"
The wind grew harsh and Johnny nestled Scott's head against his shoulder, wrapping his arms around Scott to shield him from the cold and rain. Unable to see past his tears, Johnny once again lowered his head next to his brother's, and closed his eyes as he pleaded with the heavens. "Please! Don't take him from me! Please God! Please don't take my brother!"
Johnny opened his eyes and gently brushed the raindrops that had fallen on Scott's face aside, his tears preventing him from seeing his brother's face clearly. "Oh Scott…I will miss you," he choked out through the emotions caught in the back of his throat. Placing a tender kiss on Scott's forehead, his heart broke to the finality of the action and he whispered, "Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
Impervious to his own pain and weakness, Johnny shifted Scott, and scooped him into his arms, silently cursing because his brother had lost so much weight that he was virtually weightless. Nestling Scott's head on his shoulder, Johnny slowly stood and turned to walk to Barranca. His eyes burned with bitter tears as he gazed down at Scott's face. No more would he see his brother's engaging smile, or ever again gaze into the laughing blue eyes that had always shown him nothing but acceptance and love. All of that was now lost to him, he thought. And he would only be able to find it in his dreams.
The tears fell freely down his cheeks, clouding his vision and he stumbled over a small rock. Falling to his knees, he managed to keep a firm hold on his brother's body, pulling him to his chest to shield him from the impact of the cold, hard ground. "'S'ok, Brother. I got ya. And I ain't ever lettin' go."
He shifted, and his right hand grazed over the butt of his gun. He closed his eyes. He had only loaded one bullet before he left the house…a bullet with only one purpose. At the time he knew it would send his soul straight to Hell, but with no faith to guide him, it didn't much matter any more. And he didn't care. But now, as he held his brother in his arms, he knew Hell was not where he wanted to be. He wanted to be with his brother.
Raising his head, he looked toward the clouds through stinging tears. "Dear God! Please forgive me. I'm sorry for what I said. By your grace, and wisdom…please…do not forsake me, now in my hour of need. Please let me see my brother again. Please God…please."
He lowered his head, and sobbed against Scott's shoulder, tightening his arms around his brother as he felt the dull throbbing pains in his chest begin anew. Across his shoulders he felt the wind, but it was now gentle, almost caressing in nature, not harsh and biting as it had been, and he realized that he was no longer cold. Slowly, the dull pains left him and he felt stronger. Closing his eyes once more, he nodded his acceptance to the realization of his fate. Death would soon come to take him to his brother's side.
The religious people that he had met over the years, particularly Father Rodriguez, had always told him that death was not final for those that believed in God. They had said that in death, we would all meet our loved ones in the 'hereafter,' as they called it. And now, as he opened his eyes and gazed once more at Scott, stroking a stray lock of hair away from his brother's face, he knew in his heart that the only way he would be with his brother in the 'hereafter' was to find what he had finally lost after four and a half months of searching.
He raised his head, blinked back the tears and spoke his prayer quietly to the heavens above.
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty. Maker of heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen."
Bowing his head, Johnny crossed himself and then looked down at Scott as he felt his chest tighten once more. Placing his hand on Scott's cheek he made his request. "Dear God, do not take me before I can get him home. At least let me do that. Please."
Once more he went to place his arm under Scott's legs to pick him up when he stopped. He looked around and listened close. The rain continued to fall, but something was different, very different. There was no sound. Total silence surrounded them. And he could only hear the faint sounds of his breaths as they misted in the air upon leaving his lips. The hackles stood on the back of his neck, but he felt no fear. In fact, he thought, bewildered at the feeling overcoming him, he felt safe…very safe.
"Madre de Dios…" he whispered into the darkness, only to inhale sharply, as he felt Scott tremble in his arms. His eyes shot to his brother's face. "Scott?"
Scott arched back against Johnny's arm and gasped, a sharp intake of air passing over his lips.
Johnny clutched him to his chest. "Scott!"
Stroking Scott's face, Johnny tried to will his brother's eyes open once more. "Come on, Boston! You can do it! Look at me, Brother! Please! Come back to me and open your eyes!"
Scott moaned and gasped for air. "Jo…John…ny."
Raising his eyes to the heavens, Johnny smiled through the tears and nodded. Oh Dios, muchas gracias! Muchasgracias!
"Who else would be fool enough to be out in this weather?" Johnny snipped lovingly. He didn't waste any time and scooped Scott into his arms. "No more arguments. I'm taking you home, Brother."
Scott barely nodded against Johnny's shoulder.
Reaching Barranca, Johnny steeled his resolve as he looked at the palomino and then to the man in his arms. He cursed the arrogance that had refused the priest's help. He knew he was too weak to place his brother on Barranca's back without a great deal of difficulty, and danger of injuring Scott further. He cursed himself once more, before he turned his gaze to the heavens. "Dios,por favor. Help me. I can't do this alone."
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and felt his strength return once more. He gently lifted his brother onto the saddle, pulling himself up behind. Easing Scott back against his chest, he re-wrapped the coat and blanket around Scott's trembling body. Taking the reins in his right hand, he looped them over the horn, and then pressed his left hand against the wound in his brother's side.
Barely conscious, Scott grimaced in pain and tried to shift away from the offending pressure.
Wrapping his right arm over Scott's chest, Johnny pressed him back gently, speaking softly into Scott's right ear. "Sorry, Brother. I know it hurts, but I have to try an' keep that bleedin' under control. You just lay back 'gainst me, and rest easy. I'll have ya back to the house in no time."
"Hurts…Johnny," Scott rasped.
"I know…. But you just hold on, 'K?" Johnny whispered and eased Barranca forward with his knees. He felt Scott shudder and pulled the blanket tighter around his brother's shoulders.
"I…I'm…so…so…cold." Shivering uncontrollably, Scott's teeth chattered as he stammered. "Wan…wanna…sleep," he said weakly, leaning his head back against Johnny's shoulder, and turning his face toward the nape of Johnny's neck.
Johnny wrapped his right arm around Scott tighter and pressed him against his chest. "No, Scott…you can't sleep now. Not until we get back to the house, 'K?" He nuzzled his cheek against the top of Scott's head. "Come on, Brother. You need to stay awake for me."
"Can't…" Scott refused and closed his eyes, moaning against his brother's neck.
His breath catching in his throat, Johnny tried to suppress his fears and kneed Barranca on. "No Scott. You got to listen to me. Hey, how 'bout we talk 'bout our plans for the ranch, huh? You know, like we always do? Or better yet, I'll tell you 'bout Lancer, like you wanted me too?"
No response came.
Johnny's heart pounded against his chest wall in fear. Nestling Scott's head against his shoulder, he urged the strong palomino forward at a faster pace. "Come on boy…faster. Get us home."
Tears streamed down his face as he watched the large white structure grow larger with each hurried step of the golden palomino. Placing his right hand against the back of Scott's head, he nuzzled his brother's cheek once more. "Hold on Boston. Just a li'l longer and we'll be home, where I can take care of ya. And I promise ya, I ain't ever leaving your side again, Brother."
"I ain't stayin'!" came the gruff response.
Murdoch pulled himself into the saddle and glared at Jelly. "I need you to stay here with Teresa, Jelly! Someone needs to be here if Johnny comes back or if Father Rodriguez brings…" he said harshly, letting the final thought trail off.
Murdoch felt a trembling hand on his leg and turned to look into the reddened eyes of his young ward.
"Find Johnny, Murdoch. Find him before it's too late." Teresa pleaded, her cheeks streaked by the tears that continued to fall.
Murdoch forced a loving smile to his face in an effort to calm her fears. "I will, honey. Don't you worry. It's Christmas Eve and I'll bring Johnny home where he belongs. I promise you I will."
Jelly's gruff voice pulled his eyes away from Teresa and he looked into the old man's face, which was covered with lines of worry. "You be careful, Murdoch. Johnny ain't hisself. He ain't thinkin' straight, grivin' like he is for Scott. He's li'bl to go an' do sometin' stupid."
Murdoch stiffened and straightened his shoulders. "Don't say that! Johnny will be fine!" He shouted in anger, fear creeping in to belie his authoritative tone. Taking a firm hold of his reins he glanced at the three men next to him. "Cipriano! Let's go!" he ordered and spurred his horse into a gallop.
As the four men disappeared under the arch, Teresa buried her head against Jelly's shoulder. "Oh Jelly! Johnny's just got to be all right! He's just got to be!"
Jelly watched the dark images gallop toward the hill and wrapped his arms around the trembling girl. "Don't ya worry nun, missy. Murdoch'll fin' 'im in time." Dear God…I know I ain't one to be askin' nuttin' of ya, but please…giv' us a mir'cle.
"I'll tell ya, Boston. Ain't ever believed in miracles 'fore tonight, Brother. Wha…what 'bout you?" Johnny whispered, trying to elicit a response from his brother. He pulled his head back and looked into his brother's face, his eyes narrowing at the paleness of Scott's skin. Placing the back of his hand against Scott's cheek, he frowned at the coolness. "Com'n, Scott. Open your eyes and talk to me. Ain't right, I'm doin' all the talkin'. Downright, rude of ya to let me carry on like this." Stroking a stray tear away from the corner of Scott's eye, Johnny pressed his cheek against Scott's forehead. "Please Boston…ya just got to hold on, Brother."
The sound of hooves in the distance drew his eyes toward the direction of the hacienda. Even with what little moonlight shone through the clouds, Johnny recognized the tall figure out in front. A sigh of relief left his lungs and he looked back quickly to Scott. "It's Murdoch, Scott! See?!" He wrapped his arms tighter around Scott, and kneed Barranca into a faster gait. "Murdoch! Murdoch!" he cried, as he hurried toward his father, his brother held tightly in his arms.
"SeñorLancer! There he is! There is Juani…" Cipriano exclaimed only to stop dead in mid sentence.
Murdoch's gaze followed Cipriano's cries. "Johnny!"
"Madre De Dios!"
His breath left his lungs as his ranch hands' cried out in unison. His mind tried to comprehend the image coming toward him. It couldn't be possible, he thought. He was imagining it in his concern for Johnny's safety, and his perpetual grief over the loss of Scott. And yet the image grew sharper, larger as it came closer. Dear God in heaven. Please do not let this be the dream of a madman, grief stricken at the loss of his two sons!
He heard Cipriano's concerned voice next to him. "Patrón…SeñorScott…it looks like he is wounded."
Murdoch's eyes were drawn to his oldest son. Even in the darkness, he could see the gravity of Scott's condition. "Oh my God…Scott," he whispered.
He reined his horse to a stop, dismounted and stood in Barranca's path to help slow the steed down. Reaching for the reins he pulled the palomino to a halt and placed a hand on Johnny's thigh. His eyes locked with those of his youngest son, his unspoken question answered by a slight nod of Johnny's head. His hand trembled as he reached for Scott's leg, gingerly touching it as if it were an apparition that would vanish at the slightest touch. "Scott…" he choked out through welling emotions.
A painful moan left his oldest son's lips and he stiffened in Johnny's arms. Murdoch pulled his hand back in haste, his eyes catching the image of his youngest son pulling his brother closer to his breast, nuzzling his cheek and whispering words he couldn't quite make out. He watched Scott ease against his brother's shoulder, nodding imperceptibly to the sound of Johnny's voice.
A moment in time hung suspended before Murdoch then.
In one brief instant, he was able to catch a glimpse of the absolute trust and abiding love his sons had for the other, and his heart broke that he could've ever doubted Johnny's feelings that his brother was still alive.
His eyes studied his two sons quickly, and clouded in concern. There was no doubt that his oldest son was in grave condition and may even be dying, but his youngest son's pallor was far from healthy. Finding his voice, he looked up at Johnny. "Son, let us take him now. You're in no condition to continue holding onto him like this. You're about to fall out of the saddle yourself."
His statement was only met with a cold glare, and the nudging of Barranca forward. "I ain't turning loose of Scott," Johnny replied harshly. "I promised him. And I ain't gonna break my promise! Now move out of the way, Old Man, so's I can get Scott home wher'n he belongs."
Cipriano had dismounted and joined Murdoch by his side. He started to speak, "Juanito, porfavor! You are ill…" only to have Murdoch stop him with a strong squeeze on his arm.
"Let him go, Cipriano. Scott's his responsibility now. Mount up and let's all get out of this weather." Murdoch said sharply. He knew too well by the glare in his youngest son's eyes and the tone in Johnny's voice that there would be hell to pay if anyone tried to separate him and his brother at that particular moment. It would have to wait.
Murdoch pulled himself into the saddle and headed down the hill to catch up with his sons. In the distance, he could see the dark silhouette of a carriage rapidly approaching the arch. He recognized it as Sam's. Johnny's voice answered him, although he couldn't remember asking the question.
"I sent Father Rodriguez after him," Johnny said tersely.
"Good thinking, Son," was all he could say, his mind burning with another question that he knew he'd probably never ask, afraid to know the answer. So the padre did find you in time.
"I told you he wasn't dead. I just hope it ain't too late."
Murdoch clenched his jaw at the tone of his son's voice. "Yes. Yes you did. And I hope and pray you're right, Johnny." He could feel his son's eyes on him, studying him for a reaction and he lowered his head, keeping his gelding at that same pace. "We'll talk later, Son. After we get Scott home and make sure he's going to be all right, and get you taken care of as well." He turned his gaze forward and spoke with determination. "And then we'll talk about how I was wrong to ever doubt you." Out of the corner of his eye he watched Johnny lean his head down and whisper in Scott's ear.
"I told ya, Boston. Tonight's a night of miracles."
Murdoch overheard his son's smart aleck remark and smiled faintly. It certainly is.
By the time the riders rode up to the house, Sam Jenkins had been pacing for several minutes, trying to avoid running into the frantic figures of Jelly and Teresa. His eyes locked with those of his friend Nathan standing near the door, and they both frowned. Father Rodriguez' all too brief description of Scott's condition had concerned them both, and they made an all too hasty departure from their dinner party to ride to Lancer as quickly as their carriage would carry them.
Murdoch quickly dismounted and came around to the left side of Barranca. "OK, Johnny. Let us take Scott from here."
Without hesitation Sam stepped forward next to Murdoch. Looking first to Scott, he managed to hold his breath in check at the sight of the young man's condition, but it took every nerve in his body to steel his voice from the wavering fear. He gently placed his hand on Johnny's knee. "Your father's right, son. You can't hold Scott and dismount without endangering not only yourself, but Scott as well. Now please, let us take him."
Tears welled in Johnny's eyes. "He's hurt real bad, Doc," he choked out.
Sam swallowed the lump forming in the back of his throat at the sight of Johnny's reddened eyes. He knew Johnny was struggling to keep his tears from breaking free, but there was no doubt in his mind, that the younger Lancer had been distraught and crying for quite some time. "Yes. But we'll be real careful, OK? You just let us do all the work, Johnny. You brought him home, now let us take care of him. All right?"
Johnny looked down at his brother, nestled Scott's head next to his shoulder and whispered something, then nodded slowly at Sam.
Sam inhaled deeply and glanced at his friend now standing next to him. "Nathan, give me a hand, will you? Murdoch, step aside and let us handle this." He said quickly, pushing Murdoch out of the way.
"Sam, he's my son, damn it," Murdoch replied harshly.
"And he's my patient. I'm giving the orders now, so get the hell out of the way and let me help Scott. You help Johnny. Get him out of this weather and into bed where he belongs."
"I ain't leavin Scott!"
Sam's eyes shot up to meet Johnny's. "You'll do as I say, damn it! You'll be of no use to your brother if you die from exposure and pneumonia!" Turning his gaze to Scott, he reached up and gently put his hands under Scott's arms, and pulled him down toward his chest. The action elicited a moan from Scott's lips and an icy glare from Johnny's eyes. Ignoring them both, Sam glanced at Nathan. "Nathan, take his legs."
"Ain't no exit wound, Doc," Johnny offered sullenly.
Sam and Nathan exchanged quick glances and slowly pulled Scott from Johnny's grasp.
Scott contorted in their arms. "Jo…hn…ny," he moaned before passing out.
Johnny threw his leg over the horn of his saddle and slid off Barranca, his legs buckling as he hit the ground. "Scott!" he rasped through clenched teeth. He coughed harshly and clutched at his chest with his left hand while reaching toward his brother with his right.
Murdoch wrapped his arms around his youngest son, and pulled him to his feet, struggling to hold him back. "Easy Johnny! Sam's got him!"
"Scott!" Johnny shouted and twisted in his father's arms. "Let go o'me, Murdoch! Scott needs me!" He grated out through gasps for air.
Murdoch wrapped his arm around Johnny's shoulder and pulled him to his chest. "Scott needs you well, Johnny! Now calm down!"
Johnny shoved his elbow into his father's ribs and twisted once more, breaking Murdoch's hold. He wasn't clear of his father's grasp before his eyes rolled back and he slumped to his knees, prevented only from sinking further by Murdoch's quick reaction of grabbing his shoulders.
"Johnny!" Murdoch cried and scooped his son into his arms.
"Get him to bed Murdoch!" Sam yelled, and shot Murdoch a hurried glance, before turning toward the house. "Come on Nathan, let's get this boy upstairs and quickly."
As they entered through the front door, Teresa gasped and put her hand to her mouth in shock. "Scott…"
Sam's voice was firm. "Teresa. Pull yourself together. Get some water on the boil, and bring us some clean bandages." Frustrated by her hesitation, he yelled. "Now, girl! And then see to Johnny! He needs to be tended to as well, but Nathan and I are going to have our hands full with Scott."
Nathan spoke quickly to Jelly. "Hoskins is it?" Jelly nodded. "Hoskins, get my black bag out of Sam's carriage. There's a small leather case inside of it. I want all of those instruments boiled thoroughly in a clean pot, do you understand? Then bring the pot to me with the items still in it, but for God's sake do not touch them! And then bring some whiskey!"
Adjusting the covers over Johnny, Murdoch slowly pulled back from his now unconscious son. Grief and concern clouded his eyes as tears threatened. Johnny was so pale, his breathing rapid and ragged as his lungs struggled to take in enough oxygen to sustain his life. He placed a loving hand on his son's cheek, frowning at the fever that was once again raging through his son's body. "Hold on, Son."
Turning to a tear streaked face, he leaned over and kissed Teresa on her cheek. "You and Jelly stay here and take care of Johnny. I'll go check on Scott." He said quietly, barely above a whisper so as not to awaken his youngest son.
Teresa touched his arm as he turned. "Murdoch? Scott…he's so…"
Murdoch closed his hand over hers and patted it gently. "I'm sure Sam will do everything he can for Scott. But you need to worry about Johnny right now. His fever is back and I don't like the sound of his breathing. As soon as Sam can get free, I'll have him look in on him." He wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Be strong, Teresa." Nodding toward Johnny, "He's going to need our strength to pull through this if Scott…" he said, his voice cracking, causing him to stop. He inhaled and continued. "Now you just stay here. Keep those poultices of Jelly's on his chest and try to keep him quiet."
Murdoch turned toward the door, and Jelly stopped him. "Who's that oth'r fella wit' Doc Jenkins?"
"I don't know. But you can bet I'm going to find out." Murdoch said quickly. He looked back at Johnny. "Keep him quiet as long as you can, Jelly. And try not to mention Scott's name too loudly. Johnny needs to rest if he's going to beat this pneumonia, and worrying about Scott is not going to help."
Jelly shook his head. "Got to tell ya, Murdoch. Won't make no dif'rence, nev'rmind if'n I say Scott's name, or not." He nodded toward the bed. "When that youngin wakes up, he's gonna be callin' fer his brother. And ya best hope, Doc Jenkins and that oth'r fella can work a mir'cle…fer both 'dem boys."
The truth of Jelly's words caused the hackles to stand on the back of Murdoch's neck. Turning his back on the old codger he took a deep breath to steel his resolve and walk to his oldest son's room. He knew too well that if Sam and this mystery visitor couldn't save Scott's life, the likelihood that he would have two sons to bury by morning would be tantamount.
Hearing the concerned voices through the partially open door, Murdoch stood outside his oldest son's room carefully listening to the words being exchanged by the two men inside.
"I'm really concerned Nathan. Scott's injuries are severe. I haven't seen this kind of abuse since the war, if even then. Whoever did this to the boy is demented."
"I concur, Samuel. The wounds are acute and infected. He's emaciated, and I'm concerned about that high fever. Not to mention the fact that Scott's lost a great deal of blood from that bullet wound. His heartbeat and breathing are erratic at best."
"Agreed. But do you think his heart and lungs are strong enough to endure a grueling surgery under anesthesia? Frankly, I don't think he's strong enough, and I'm afraid we'll lose him before you finish making the first incision."
"It's a risk I believe we need to take, Samuel. Unless we proceed with surgery, and remove that bullet and stop the internal bleeding, that young man there will die before midnight. At least we can give him a fighting chance to see the dawn of Christmas morning. Now what do you say? You are the family's physician."
"I'm in agreement, but I'm afraid it's not up to me to make that decision, Nathan. It's Murdoch's."
"Then might I suggest that we talk to him as quickly as possible? I suggest you go get him immediately. Time is of the essence, if we are going to have a snowball's chance in hell of saving his son, my old friend."
"You're right. I'll be right back."
Murdoch pushed the door open in haste. "That won't be necessary Sam. I'm right here and I heard every word." His eyes locked on Nathan's and he stared coldly at the man before him. "I take it that you are a doctor?"
Sam spoke quickly. "Oh heavens, forgive me. In the haste of the moment I neglected to make introductions. Murdoch, this is an old friend of mine from Chicago, Dr. Nathan Smith Davis. Nathan, Murdoch Lancer, our host and father to our two young patients."
Nathan nodded succinctly and extended his hand. "Mr. Lancer. I wish we were meeting under more pleasant circumstances."
Murdoch studied him cautiously. The man standing before him was distinguished looking. Close to sixty he figured, with graying hair and eyes that no doubt were the windows to a library of knowledge. He could tell by the manner in which Sam and this stranger conducted themselves around each other, they had been close friends and colleagues for many years. Still, despite Sam's introduction of his friend as a doctor, this man was suggesting surgery on his oldest son - a grueling surgery apparently - one that could take his son's life. And he wanted to know the man's qualifications. "Dr. Davis. Forgive me, but before I grant my permission for you to perform surgery on my son, I'd like to know your qualifications."
Nathan inhaled and looked at Sam. "Samuel, would you mind? If Mr. Lancer here continues to waste time asking for my credentials, the least I can do is make use of the time preparing Scott for surgery, should Mr. Lancer ~finally~ allow me the latitude of trying to save his son's life." He nodded sharply to Murdoch and turned on his heel toward the bed.
"Now see here! This is…" Murdoch started to speak, only to be interrupted by Sam's sharp tone of voice.
Sam shook his head. "Murdoch. Please. Let Nathan do his job. If anyone can save Scott it will be him."
Murdoch's eyes narrowed questioningly.
Sam continued. "Murdoch, that is Nathan Smith Davis. He received his medical degree in 1837, just a few days after he turned ~twenty~. He's considered one of the best doctors and foremost surgeons in the nation. And he's the founder of the American Medical Association, to which he was President of during the war. Now please. I think he is more than qualified to tend to Scott."
Murdoch felt his heart skip a beat. He had read articles about the man standing by his son's bedside. Articles filled with adulations, and praise for the man that many back east and in Chicago regarded to be a medical genius. He swallowed hard and cast a glance toward his son's pale face. "Of course. My apologies doctor. I meant no disrespect. Please…do what you can to save my son."
"I intend on doing just that, Mr. Lancer." Nathan said brusquely, studying the wound in Scott's side. He rose and turned to face Murdoch. "Now, we're going to need more light, lots of it. Do you think you can arrange it? And quickly?"
Murdoch nodded. "Of course." He looked back to Scott, then to the distinguished doctor hovering over his son, carefully tending to his wounds. He took a deep breath, and turned to walk out the door. In the hall, he heard Sam's voice behind him and turned.
"Murdoch. Wait a moment."
"Sam. Look…about what I said…"
Sam shook his head and touched Murdoch's arm. "Don't worry about it. I know Nathan doesn't. But I need to ask you something."
"Of course, Sam."
"It's about Johnny, Murdoch. I'd like to give him some laudanum so he can rest. I know he'll refuse if I suggest it to him. No doubt the pneumonia is back in full force, and his ride this evening did little to help his condition."
"Out of the question, Sam."
"Murdoch. I'll be honest with you. I'm very concerned about not only Johnny's physical condition but also his mental one right now. He's in trouble, Murdoch. The effects of Scott's disappearance, your request to the courts to have Scott declared dead, the memorial service, and his little joy ride tonight…have all compounded together to have a devastating effect on his health. And now, this business with Scott's condition. I'm not blind. I saw the look in Johnny's eyes when he rode in here this evening. I think something happened out there, either before or after he found Scott."
"What do you mean?" Murdoch asked, fear suddenly gripping his heart.
"I don't know, Murdoch. And quite frankly, unless Johnny offers to tell us, we shouldn't ask. But regardless, I think until this crisis with Scott is past it would be best if we keep Johnny sedated. Just a mild dose, mind you. Just enough to let him sleep."
Murdoch shook his head. "I don't know, Sam. If he was sedated and something was to happen to Scott…" he said, stopping his train of thought. "He'd never forgive me."
Sam sighed. "And in his current weakened condition, if something was to happen to Scott, it could kill him." He squeezed Murdoch's arm. "He needs rest, Murdoch. Are you willing to lose both sons to avoid one son's wrath?"
Murdoch lowered his head and blinked back the tears. He pulled away from Sam and started down the hall to the stairs. Stopping at the landing he didn't turn as he spoke. "Give him the laudanum, Sam. But just enough to help him rest. If Scott…if Scott dies, he'll need to be told then. Not when he awakens from sedation." He paused, taking in a deep breath. "I'll get those lanterns now."
I'll get a chance to whip 'im agin', won't I Jacob?
"How could someone whip a man like this, Nathan?"
'Course ya will, Davy. So long as he's alive, you can whip and beat him to your heart's delight. I know how you like it. And I like to watch Scotty boy here bleed. He tastes mighty good, his fear mixing with his blood. You Ferguson's sure know how to break horseflesh. It'll be fun to watch you break this fine specimen here. And I can't wait to see his flesh torn from his bones. Would you like that Scotty boy? Would you like to know what it feels like to be skinned alive?
"Practically skinned alive, if you ask me. Don't understand it, Samuel. I don't think in all my years of practice, even during the war, I've ever seen a man this tortured and abused. I hate to even restrain him for surgery."
Scott moaned into the darkness of his nightmare. He could barely make out their voices through his pain. No…please…stop…no more… he pleaded; trying to pull his arms free from the hands that were restraining him.
"I couldn't agree more, Nathan. But he's delirious now. And we're going to have to turn him to tend to these wounds on his back after you finish with the operation, and it's liable to cause him further agony unless we can keep him restrained long enough so he won't do further damage, much less pull out any sutures."
"I know I've got enough ether for the surgery. But I can only hope I have enough to get him through what else needs to be done, Samuel. The poor boy is a mess. But we do need to get started. I've got to get that bullet out. Go ahead with the restraints and get the rag ready."
Get the gag ready again, boys. Soak it real good.
No! Stop! Scott twisted in his tormentor's clutches, clenching the fabric beneath his hands, unable to move as the restraints tightened around his wrists.
"For God's sake! Hold him down! Finish with those restraints, Samuel!"
And after you finish, Davy. Then Joe over there can have a turn at it. You'd like that, wouldn't you Joe?
Sur'ly would, Jacob. Ain't got 'nuff chances to skin 'dem Reb'l dawgs, and only 'ad a chance wit' a co'ple of 'dem yankee of'cers that were so cotton to sym'thizin wit' 'dem Reb'l pris'ners. Ain't right, of'cers like Lancer here treated that scum tol'able when we'd raid 'dem towns. Ain't right, no'how.
"All right, Nathan. I think that should do it. Damn but I hate to do this to him."
Well, you boys are going to get your chance. Told you I had more than one reason for taking Scotty boy, here. Just too bad, I had to kill that half-breed brother of his. Would've been real fun to hear Scotty boy cry out for his dear, sweet brother. Maybe before we finish with him we can make Scotty boy scream out his brother's name again like he did when I shot that worthless half-breed, and we left him in dying in his blood.
NO…Johnny! Scott cried out in silence, his words lost as he struggled for air, the darkness surrounding him, pulling him further into the blackened abyss as he clenched his fists beneath the restraints that bound his wrists.
Boy, I would've loved to hear that, Scotty boy. Loved to hear you scream out in pain…JOHNNY…right before you watched me slit his throat…
"Oh God! His throat is constricting! He can't breathe Nathan!"
"Dear God in heaven! Tilt his head Samuel! See if you can open up his airway! Scott! Scott! Calm down, son! Don't fight us!"
Scott thrashed in Samuel's grasp. His eyes shot open to the feel of a hand against his throat and behind his neck. "Jo…hn…ny!" he screamed through choking gasps. "He…lp…me!"
"Johnny? Johnny come on and drink this…please. Doc Jenkins says it will help." Teresa implored, raising the glass to Johnny's lips.
"Com'n, Johnny. Do like we ask. Ya gotta rest, if'n yuz gonna git well."
"No! No! Scott? Where's Scott?! Where's my brother?!" Johnny twisted against Jelly's grasp, turning his head from side to side as horrible images ensnared his mind. Clenching the sheets beneath him, he continued to moan, crying for his brother. "Scott…"
He felt the glass touch his lips and inhaled. Eyes that had been clenched tight in nightmares now opened suddenly as he recognized the smell in the water. Laudanum.
He could hear Teresa's voice pleading with him as he struggled to focus. "Please Johnny. Murdoch wants you to rest."
In an instant, his mind cleared at the mention of his father's name. "Murdoch?!" he hissed through grating teeth. "He has no right!" He yelled in anger and shoved Jelly away from him with brute force. "Get away from me! You ain't druggin' me!"
Jelly staggered backward, and struggled to stay on his feet. "Johnny! Ya gots to calm down!"
Johnny threw the covers off and pushed himself up from the bed. "Scott…I need to find Scott."
"Doc Jenkins is with him, Johnny! Please!" Teresa said through tears, grabbing after him.
"Don't touch me!" Johnny said harshly, and flailed his arm backward, throwing off her hand. Weakened, he staggered away from the bed, pushing off Teresa's frantic hands and glaring at Jelly to dare take a step closer in an effort to stop him.
Suddenly, he heard the scream being ripped from his brother's throat, 'Jo…hn…ny! He…lp…me!' and his chest tightened in fear.
The next seconds flashed before him in slow motion. He didn't remember pulling the gun from the holster, or opening the door to his room and running across the hall to Scott's. He didn't even remember leveling the gun at the stranger standing over his brother.
He only remembered that his eyes were drawn to Scott. The white sheet covering him, now soaked in his brother's blood, Scott's hands secured to the bed by his side, and his head tilted back in Sam's hands while he gasped for air, thrashing against the restraints and the stranger holding him down.
"Get your goddamn hands off my brother, you son of a bitch!" he said, his finger closing over the trigger of the Colt.
"Johnny! No!" Murdoch cried, and grabbed his son's arm as the gun fired.
The bullet shattered the lamp behind Nathan, and he released Scott, turning quickly to extinguish the flames. "Get your son under control and out of here, Mr. Lancer! I don't have time for this!" He yelled, turning back to hold Scott down. "Damn it Scott! Calm down and let us help you!"
"Let go o'me, Murdoch!" Johnny cried, twisting in his father's arms as Murdoch pried the gun from his hand.
"No! Johnny! Now calm down and let Dr. Davis and Sam help Scott!" Murdoch supplicated in an angry voice.
Johnny glared at him. "Scott needs me!"
"Scott needs surgery, young man!" Nathan bellowed. "And you need to be in bed! Now get out of here and let us do what we came here for!" He turned to face Samuel. "Go ahead Samuel, start the ether. Quickly, so we can get that bullet out before he bleeds to death right in front of us!" He said emphatically, his hands on Scott's shoulders, pressing him back against the bed.
Scott twisted beneath the hands that held him firm. "No…Jo…hn…ny…" Scott rasped, barely audible to those in the room.
But Johnny heard the fear in his brother's plea and pulled free from Murdoch, shoving him back roughly, and raced to his brother's side. Kneeling next to the bed, his eyes quickly scanned his brother's face, and looked down at the restraint holding Scott's right wrist. "I'm here, Brother. I'm here." He said quietly, hastily unfastening the leather strap and pulling Scott's hand free. He wrapped his hand around his brother's and placed a gentle hand on Scott's cheek. "S'ok, Scott. I'm with you now." He glared at the man holding his brother down until Nathan pulled his hands from Scott's shoulders, as Scott finally stilled to his voice and gentle touch.
"Johnny, please." Sam implored, placing a hand on Johnny's shoulder. "We need to operate…now."
"No…" Scott gasped. "Sca…scared…Jo…hn…ny."
Johnny tried to blink back the tears, but he failed miserably and they began to fall freely down his cheeks. "Ssshh, Boston. It'll be OK. Sam's gonna take real good care of you."
"No…please…can't…" Scott shook his head and struggled to breathe. His eyes found his brother's face and he gripped Johnny's hand in desperation. "Do…don't wan…wanna…die…Johnny."
"You ain't gonna die!" Johnny choked out through his tears.
"Do…don't…under…understand…." Scott's eyes fluttered and he looked around the room, frantically. "Gotta…tell…ya…some…something…Brother."
Johnny read the look of apprehension in his brother's pain-filled eyes, and tightened his hold around Scott's hand. He looked up, at first to Sam and then the stranger across from him. "Leave us."
"I will not!" Nathan replied sternly. "This boy needs…"
Johnny cut him off. "I said, leave us! Now get out of here! All of you!" He yelled harshly, his eyes flashing determined anger.
"Johnny! He needs help!" Sam exclaimed.
"And I ain't refusin' it! But he wants to say something to me, and he don't wan' none of you 'round when he does! Now, please! Leave us alone for just a minute!" His eyes shot to his father's. "Please, Murdoch! If not for me…then for Scott!"
Silently, he pleaded with his father, praying that Murdoch would just this once listen to him and do as he asked. Please Murdoch! He's dying! Let him tell me what he wants to say!
Murdoch inhaled, and motioned the two doctors to the door. "Doctors, please. Give them just a moment."
"Murdoch, I really don't think this is wise." Sam said, shaking his head as he reluctantly walked away from the bed.
"I'll not be responsible for your son's death because of your stupidity or that of your youngest son, Mr. Lancer. This is inexcusable and unforgivable!" Nathan said brusquely, striding through the door in a huff.
"Please." Murdoch didn't look at them as they passed him; he kept his eyes on his youngest son. Nodding to Johnny, he slowly closed the door behind him.
Johnny sighed in relief. He watched the door close, and waited until he heard the latch, before turning back to his brother. His words were frantic, but soft. "They're gone, Boston," he said, stroking the hair back from Scott's forehead. His hand trembled in grief as he gazed into his brother's frightened eyes.
"Do…don't wanna…die…Jo…hn…ny. Don't wanna go….to…Hell." Scott stammered, struggling for every breath.
Johnny's eyes narrowed. "You ain't gonna die, Scott, and you damn sure ain't gonna go to Hell!"
Scott shook his head and arched his back, a cry of agony escaping his lips and he clenched his brother's hand tighter.
"Hold on, Scott!" Johnny cried, wiping the beads of sweat from his brother's forehead as he fought to help Scott endure the agonizing spasms contorting his battered and weakened body. Tears streamed down his cheeks as tried to soothe Scott's brow, struggling to anchor his brother to this world with only the grip of his hand.
Slowly the spasms ebbed, and Johnny felt Scott loosen his grip, but he continued to maintain a firm grasp on his brother's hand, refusing to let go. "Easy Boston. You just hold onto me and everything is gonna be OK. You ain't leavin' me again, Brother. I ain't gonna let you go."
Scott stared at the ceiling, tears welling in his eyes and Johnny forced back a swallow when he took a good look into the misting orbs. The once clear blue eyes were now clouded in pain. But what caused the hackles to stand on the back of Johnny's neck was the expression, or rather lack thereof, in his brother's eyes. They were void of life. Clouded windows to an empty soul.
"No…you don't understand…Brother…" Scott rasped, his breaths labored. He slowly turned his head and locked the vacant eyes with Johnny's. His grasp loosened further, and tears streamed down his cheeks as he gasped. "I…I…de…denounced…God…Johnny."
Madrede Dios, no…Johnny felt the breath leave his lungs at the same moment his heart stopped beating. Surely, he must have misunderstood his brother's pained words, he thought. There was no way in Hell his brother could've ever denounced God. Not like he had. Not Scott! He swallowed hard, and leaned in close. "Scott…you don't mean that Brother."
"Yes…" Scott grated out, "I did, Johnny." He looked into his brother's eyes through tears. "Said…I hated Him. For wha…what…th…they…did…to me. Took my pride…my life…Johnny. Took…yo…your…life from me. Th…thought…you were dead. Didn't…want to…live anymore."
Tears clouded Johnny's eyes as he wiped the tears away from his brother's face. "No…Scott. Now you listen to me, Boston. I'm alive! They didn't kill me! You know I'm too ornery to die! Just like you are! So don't you talk like that, you hear me?"
"I…I'm…so…scared…Johnny." Scott gasped for air, and his eyes opened wide in terror. He raised his head slightly and clutched Johnny's hand to his chest. "He…help me…Johnny! Do…don't…wanna die…with…without believing."
Johnny held onto his brother's hand for dear life, and wrapped his other hand behind Scott's head. Leaning in close, he locked his eyes on his brother's and whispered. "You listen to me, Boston. You ain't gonna die, you hear me? You already died once in my arms tonight, and you ain't gonna do it again! I lost my faith too, Brother! I lost it when I thought you were gone from my life for good! I was gonna kill myself tonight, up there on that hill. Told God I hated Him for taking you from me! Never felt so alone in all my life…with you gone, Brother. But then I found you, Boston! I found you! Only when you died like you did in my arms, I felt so alone…so lost again…worse than before. Only I knew in my heart, the only way I was gonna see you in the 'hereafter' was to start believin' again. So I asked for forgiveness and told God I did believe! And prayed for Him to spare your life, Brother! And He did! You came back, Scott! You're alive! And you're gonna stay that way, you hear me!"
A sharp intake of air crossed Scott's lips.
Johnny felt Scott's grip loosen and he held on tighter. "No! Hold on!" Fear wrapped around his heart like a cold sheet of ice as he gazed into Scott's clouded blue eyes. He recognized the look. It was unmistakable, and he knew his brother would die once more in his arms, his soul forever trapped in Hell, unless Scott found what he too had lost. He knew Scott was searching for answers. Answers that he suddenly knew only he was able to give.
He swallowed back the lump in his throat, and blinked back the tears. "You believe, Brother. I know you do. You just misplaced your faith like I did for a while." When he saw another flicker of fear in his brother's eyes, he entwined his fingers in Scott's hair and spoke quietly. "Com'n Scott…look into your heart, Brother. You know it's true."
An eternity of silence fell on Johnny's ears. His brother's eyes clouding further, his breaths growing more faint as his strength waned.
Johnny clutched him tighter. "No, Scott! Don't go!" His fingers tightened in his brother's hair, pulling his face closer. "I know you believe! I know you do! Please, Boston!"
Slowly, a painful nod and eyes that were now half-closed and welling once more with tears were his only reply.
Johnny leaned in closer, almost nose to nose with his brother, and pulled Scott's hand to his chest as he whispered. "Then say it with me, Brother. Com'n Scott…you can do it."
Scott's eyes fluttered and finally opened further to gaze up at his brother.
Johnny didn't hesitate. His eyes locked on Scott's, he started the prayer, softly and slowly speaking the words as Scott echoed him until they were saying them in unison. "I believe in God, the Father Almighty. Maker of heaven and earth…"
By the time, 'Amen' left his brother's lips as a faint whisper, Johnny felt Scott relax in his arms. His breathing slower than before, his eyes still clouded with tears but no longer filled with fear as they had been. His shuddering body was now still against the bed.
Johnny moved his hand from behind Scott's head and gently stroked the matted hair back from his brother's face. "I love you, Brother," he whispered. "God gave you back to me, Boston, so help Him out and fight to hold on, all right?"
So focused on Scott's face, he didn't hear the door open or the soft footsteps enter the room.
He heard Sam's voice behind him. "Johnny, we can't wait any longer. We need to operate now."
Johnny nodded and started to pull back when Scott shook his head and gripped his hand tight.
"Don't leave me…please…"
Johnny squeezed Scott's hand in reassurance. "I ain't gonna leave you Brother."
"Promise…me…" Scott whispered.
"I promise, Scott. I ain't ever leavin' you again, Boston. I swear it."
Sam's voice was firm. "Johnny, please. Let go and let us try to save Scott."
Johnny's eyes shot up to meet Sam's. "I ain't leavin' his side again, Sam. Don't try an' make me."
"Young man! You're sick with pneumonia! You need to be in bed yourself, not in here, in the way!" Nathan admonished harshly from across the bed.
Johnny glared at him. "No! I ain't leavin' Scott!"
Murdoch had moved next to his son, and put his hands on Johnny's shoulders. Squeezing them firmly, he tried to pull Johnny away from Scott. "Johnny, please. Let them operate. You can't be in here."
"Let me go, Ol' Man! I promised him I'd stay!" Johnny struggled once more in his father's grasp, losing his hold on Scott's hand.
With the stethoscope pressed against Scott's chest, Sam was listening intently to his breathing. "Quiet! Both of you!" His hand shot up when Johnny's hand slipped from Scott's. "Hold it Murdoch!"
"Johnny…" grated across Scott's lips, and he clenched the sheets, balling his hands into tight fists.
Murdoch stopped, and Johnny pulled free from his grasp, shoving him aside to get to Scott. He reached for his brother's hand. "I'm right here, Boston." Glaring in succession at each of the three men around him, he continued. "And I ain't leavin' your side, Brother. And ain't ~nobody~ gonna make me."
"You'll be in the way, young man. And I have to try and save your brother's life. Now we're wasting precious time arguing!" Nathan declared.
Johnny's eyes settled on Sam as he watched him exhale sharply, his shoulders sagging slightly. Johnny's breath caught in his throat and he looked down into his brother's face, now paler than before. "Scott?"
"Nathan, I think Johnny needs to stay and help keep Scott calm. His heartbeat is weaker than before, and his breaths are shallow. Noticeably so when Johnny let go of his hand." Sam said quietly.
"Oh this is ridiculous!" Nathan exclaimed, his anger evident. "The boy has pneumonia, for God's sake! He needs to be in bed! Not holding his brother's hand through surgery!"
"I understand that. And under any other circumstance I would agree with you. But I'm quite serious about this, Nathan. Let Johnny stay. It may be the one thing that helps us keep Scott alive through this ordeal." Sam replied, his voice firm and determined.
Nathan exhaled and threw his hands in the air in visible frustration. "Very well!" He pointed a finger at Johnny. "But not a word, young man. I want you quiet through the whole surgery, do you understand?"
Johnny nodded solemnly.
"Dr. Davis?" Teresa came in with the pot of steaming water and the items from the leather case. "Here are your instruments."
Nathan turned and nodded. "Thank you. Set them on the table there."
Teresa quickly did as she was told.
Nathan turned to face Murdoch. "Everyone out! We've wasted too much time as it is!"
Teresa turned and looked down at Scott and then to Johnny. She started to speak when Johnny interrupted her.
"G'on, Teresa. Do like the Doc says. I ain't gonna let anything happen to Scott."
Nathan touched her arm. "Go on child. You wait downstairs with Murdoch and the others, all right? I'm going to do everything in my power to save your brother's life. Now go." He said softly, gently pushing her toward Murdoch's arms. "Mr. Lancer, please. Wait downstairs. Sam will come and get you if something should happen."
Murdoch looked over at Johnny and then to Scott. "You take care of your brother, Son," Murdoch admonished.
"Yes, Sir." Johnny nodded and straightened his shoulders in determination before turning his gaze back to his brother.
As the door closed behind Murdoch and the others, Sam handed Johnny the small rag and the bottle of ether. "Here Johnny, hold this close to Scott's nose and mouth, and allow a drop to fall every few minutes, but not too fast. Understand?"
Johnny nodded, his stomach knotting in fear, preventing him from speaking.
Sam opened the windows and turned back to Johnny, placing a hand on his shoulder. "And don't you get too close, either. You keep your head away from Scott's, you hear? Otherwise, you'll pass out from the fumes."
He didn't move. He couldn't. He was suddenly frozen in place, near his brother's head.
Sam squeezed his shoulder. "Are you going to be all right?"
Johnny nodded imperceptibly.
Nathan spoke up. "Johnny. Have you ever seen a man operated on before? Like this I mean?"
He shook his head sharply and locked eyes with Nathan.
"Then I want you to listen to me very carefully." Nathan said, taking a deep breath. "Your brother's condition is very serious, and I'm going to have to try and get that bullet out. And to do that I'm going to have to make an incision in your brother's abdomen and go looking for it. There's liable to be a lot of blood, Johnny."
Johnny swallowed hard. Suddenly, he felt dizzy, nauseous as Nathan continued.
"And you're liable to see me do things to Scott that you may think are hurting him, but they're not. Not as long as he's under the anesthesia. Do you understand?"
Johnny seethed inside. The thought of this man hurting Scott sickened him. He looked at the bloody sheet once more, his mind remembering the images of the wounds on his brother's body. Hadn't Scott already been hurt enough? He was broken and bleeding. Dying. He pushed the horrid thought from his mind and studied the man Sam had addressed as Nathan. How did this man know it wasn't going to hurt Scott? How could he know what Scott was feeling as he cut into his flesh and poked around inside of him? He mused.
"Johnny? Do you understand?" Nathan asked him again.
His eyes shot to Sam's for answers. Sam would know. Sam would tell him the truth, he thought.
Sam's voice was firm. "Johnny, if you can't handle this, then you'll have to leave. We can't have you passing out on us. It's bad enough you're weakened by the pneumonia and wracked with fever. But you're going to have to stay strong through this, son. You're in here, because Nathan and I believe that your presence may help keep your brother alive. Nathan is probably the finest surgeon in the nation, Johnny. And he's going to do everything he can in his power to save Scott, but you have to trust him. All right?"
Tears formed in his eyes and he felt his chest constrict once more in fear.
Nathan shook his head. "Samuel, I knew this was a bad idea. Johnny's too sick right now. He's not strong enough to sit through this, and endure watching what I'm going to have to do to his brother." Nodding to the rag and ether bottle in Johnny's hands he spoke to Sam. "Take the ether, Sam. I'll have to handle the surgery by myself."
Johnny's eyes shot to Nathan. Suddenly he found his voice, "No…I…I can do it," he whispered, a tinge of fear creeping in to belie his assertion. Looking to Sam, he pleaded. "Please Sam. Let me stay with him. He needs me. I promise I'll be all right."
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Very well." Leaning over, he placed the stethoscope back on Scott's chest. He listened for several beats before he nodded to Johnny. "Start the ether, son. Nice and slow."
Johnny tried to steady his hands as he positioned the rag over his brother's face. But they were shaking so terribly that Nathan wrapped his hand over Johnny's left wrist.
"Take a deep breath, Johnny. And put your faith in God." Nathan said calmly. "You'll be fine. And so will Scott."
His eyes welled with tears of uncertainty, but he nodded to Nathan. The words the man had spoken rang in his ears…'put your faith in God.' He looked once more at Sam for reassurance that he was doing the right thing. The man was a good friend of Sam's, and he had to trust him - this stranger standing across from him, that was going to save his brother's life. And he had to put his faith in God.
Johnny bowed his head, closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. Dear God, please…guide his hand and help him save Scott. Please do not take my brother from me again. Please spare Scott's life and let him live. I ask in Jesus' name, Amen.
Slowly raising his head, he blinked back the tears, and took a deep breath to steel his resolve. Forcing a smile to his lips he gazed down into his brother's eyes. "Guess it's time for a nap, Boston," he said softly as he tilted the bottle of ether and allowed a couple of drops to fall to the rag. "But don't you worry none. I ain't gonna leave you, and I'm gonna be right here when you wake up OK?"
A slight nod of Scott's head and his eyes fluttered close to the sound of his brother's soft voice.
"Count to five, Johnny," a soft voice ordered.
Huh? He asked, frozen. Paralyzed was more like it, he thought. He could barely breathe now his chest was so tight. Why did his heart have to beat so damn fast? It hurt. Hurt really bad now. And damn it, if only his stomach would quit flipping over and over. Once more he tried to swallow the bitter liquid threatening the back of his throat, but this time, he couldn't manage enough spit to get past the desert in his mouth. His eyes were dragged away from what was happening to his brother's side and upward toward the voice.
"Johnny. Can you hear me?" Sam asked again. "I said count to five between the drops, son. If the admission of ether is not steady, Scott could start to wake up before we're done."
Scott…awake! No! Another pain shot through his chest and his eyes shot back to his brother's face. Oh thank God…you just keep sleepin', Brother. He managed to swallow, and poured another drop on the rag in his hands. Once more his eyes were drawn to his brother's side. Madre de Dios…there's so much blood. Scott can't lose no more!
Suddenly, he felt the blood drain from his face when the man called Nathan stuck his hand inside his brother's stomach and pulled out part of Scott's insides.
The sharp tone of Sam's voice kept him away from the edge of darkness that licked at the fringes of his eyelids.
Another voice. Harsher.
"Damn it, Samuel. The boy's going into shock! He can't handle watching this!"
"Johnny! Look at me!" Sam said once more, placing a hand over Johnny's.
Johnny managed to look into Sam's face, but he could barely focus. The edge was getting closer.
"Damn it! Take a sip of this, Johnny. You've got to hold on!"
He felt the glass being pressed to his mouth and started to turn away, the memory of his father's attempted treachery still fresh in his mind. But when he inhaled cautiously, he didn't smell anything, so he allowed the liquid the pass over his lips. Maybe that would finally get rid of the desert, he thought.
The edge slowly faded into the distance. Then his eyes finally focused on Sam's hand as the glass was drawn away from his face. It was covered in blood. He remembered the feel of Sam's hand on his, and his eyes shot down to his left hand. Dios. Blood. Scott's blood. He forced back a swallow.
"Take a deep breath, Johnny. Through your nose." Sam ordered.
He did as he was told. He had to stay awake, he thought. He couldn't get sick. Not now. He had to keep giving his brother the ether, so Scott could sleep through what he could only watch in horror. His mind tried to comprehend the bloody images playing before him. Blood…oh my God there's so much blood…the sheets…Madre de Dios…
And their hands are covered… He looked down at his left hand where Sam had grab it only moments before, and swallowed hard as a drop of blood ran down the fleshy area beneath his thumb to fall on the rag in his hand. Oh God, he thought. He was going to be sick.
"Breathe through your nose. You'll be all right." Sam said again. "Just keep the ether steady, Johnny."
Johnny managed a weak nod. He was sick to his stomach, his chest ached, and now he could barely think straight. His mind was overwhelmed. His world was suddenly reduced to the bloody confines of his brother's bed, and now…time seemed to stand still. Measured only by each drop from the bottle he held in his hands.
Once more, Nathan reached into his brother - deeper this time -- first with one hand and then the other. Poking. Prodding. Searching with his hands, ~inside~ his brother's body.
Johnny fought the urge to throw up. But even as the wave crested and then ebbed, he couldn't help but notice that the man's eyes never left his brother's side. The eyes were filled with concern, and his face was now etched in worry as he withdrew a hand, giving the metallic instrument to Sam, only to take another and begin the process all over again. And then again, and again -- for an eternity it seemed.
Johnny could barely make out their voices as he continued to watch. His eyes transfixed on the blood and the sight of his brother's flesh cut open, part of his insides spilling forth through the now gapping hole in his side.
Again, Nathan's hands were inside his brother, only now Sam added a third to the edge of the wound.
Ain't no more room in there!Johnny heard himself scream, but no sound left his lips. His voice trapped at the back of his throat.
Their voices were low and concerned, a collective sigh leaving their lips as Nathan pulled forth the bullet.
Johnny felt the pressure in his chest lesson, and he thought he heard the sound of air passing over his lips, but he wasn't sure. His ears only heard the curse from Nathan's lips.
"Son of a bitch!"
He didn't understand the next words that passed between the men, but he felt his chest constrict once more as he watched their faces fall. His heart pounded painfully now, and kept threatening to jump into his throat.
"Damn it, Samuel…"
The words were lost to his confused mind. '…grazed his lung…cracked…broken ribs…internal bleeding…' He could hear them, but he didn't want to listen. They were talking about his brother like a medical textbook. And then they said more words. Words he didn't understand. '…ruptured spleen…' What's that?He thought worriedly.
"I don't have a choice, Samuel. It can't be saved."
He forced back the edge of darkness that threatened his world once more, with a flood of water. The flood crested over the lids damming it and now surged down his face. Saved? Saved! Yes he can! Don't you say that you son of a bitch! You gotta save Scott!
"I've got to remove it."
Remove it? Remove what?! Don't you dare take nothin' from my brother! Johnny yelled in the silence of his world.
"I agree, Nathan. Do what you think is best."
No! Stop him Sam! You've got to stop him! Johnny cried frantically, once more in silence, his voice gone to the horrible images of his brother's guts laid out for all the world to see.
Seconds. Minutes. And eternity passed for Johnny. And yet, another drop fell…and another, and another.
Madre de Dios, make them stop!
"All right, Samuel. There you have it."
"Dear God, you're right, Nathan."
Johnny's eyes widened in terror when Nathan pulled a mass of something, shaped like a small, bloody, loosely balled fist from his brother's side, and turned to hand it to Samuel. No! Put that back!
Suddenly, the silence was gone. His voice was ripped from his throat as he screamed at them. "No! Put that back! You have no right!"
Sam's voice was firm. "Johnny, we don't have a choice. It's his spleen. It's too badly damaged for Nathan to try and save it! I'll have to explain it to you later! Now calm down!" He quickly ordered.
"No!" Johnny shook his head vehemently, and glared at them through his tears. "Stop it! You're hurting him! You've got to stop! He can't take much more!"
A sharp intake of air from lips not their own, caused all three men to freeze.
"Johnny! The ether!" Nathan yelled. "Quickly! He's coming around!"
Scott! Johnny's heart shattered at that moment. He pressed the rag against his brother's mouth and nose, and tilted the bottle to release another drop. "Oh my God. I'm sorry! I'm sorry, Brother!" His eyes locked on his brother's face. He couldn't breathe as he waited and watched for another reaction from his brother. Oh Scott…you just got to stay asleep, Brother. I don't want you feelin' what they're doin' to you. Not after all the pain you already been through….
He tilted the bottle, and poured another drop.
Time now crawled, as he watched it fall from the lip of the bottle to join the tears soaking the rag beneath.
Another drop of ether landed on the rag, and Johnny looked at the bottle. It was now empty. The blessed liquid that had kept his brother asleep through the horrible, and tortuous ordeal that he had witnessed, was now gone. Madre de Dios…no…
He gazed up with reddened eyes to look at Sam. His voice barely above a whisper, when he managed to croak out, "It's gone, Sam."
"It's OK, Johnny." Sam replied, as he secured the last of bandages that encircled around Scott's chest and back. "We're done. Nathan is going to give Scott a shot of morphine. It will help keep him sedated so we can finish."
"Finish?" He asked in disbelief, his chest tightening once more to horrid images that threatened.
"The sheets, Johnny. We've got to get rid of these bloody sheets."
Johnny looked down at his brother's face and placed his hand on Scott's cheek, tenderly drawing his thumb across Scott's cheekbone. "But that means you got to move him."
"Yes, Johnny. But he won't feel anything. I promise." Sam said quietly.
"How do you know?" Johnny shook his head. "How do you know he didn't feel anything while you were cutting him? Pokin' and proddin' 'round his insides like that? And what was that you took out of him?"
"It was his spleen, Johnny." Nathan interrupted. "And I'll be happy to talk to you about it later and explain. But in the meantime, it's imperative that we get your brother surrounded by clean sheets, so the infections won't worsen. Not to mention, the smell. It won't bode well for his recovery. He's going to need to be in a thoroughly clean environment until he's well again."
"Nathan's right, Johnny." Sam agreed, and put his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Think you can help us hold Scott, while we take care of things?"
Once again, Johnny's eyes were drawn to the bloody sheet covering his brother's body. He was definitely going to be sick, he thought, but managed to swallow the bile that rose in the back of his throat and nodded to Sam.
"All right then. Don't try and lift him. You're too weak. Just let Scott lean against you, OK? We'll take care of the rest." Sam directed, his voice calm as he unfastened the restraints on Scott's wrists, and along with Nathan, gently rolled Scott toward Johnny.
Johnny didn't hesitate to enfold his brother in his arms, thankful that he was finally able to do so. He lowered his head and placed his cheek next to Scott's, and kept whispering to him, until Sam and Nathan completed their tasks.
The linens replaced with fresh ones, Sam gathered the blood soaked sheets and rags, and placed them by the door. He turned and walked toward the bed. Placing a hand on Johnny's shoulder, he looked down at him. A wistful smile formed on the edges of his mouth. "You can let him go now, Johnny."
Johnny trembled and tightened his arms around Scott's limp form. He couldn't release his brother. Not when he'd come so close to losing him again. He couldn't speak, and barely managed to shake his head, choking out a meager, "No," as tears started to fall once again from his reddened eyes.
"Johnny, you've done very well through all of this. I know it was extremely difficult for you to watch, but Scott pulled through…with your help." Sam said, a firm squeeze on Johnny's shoulder punctuating his statement.
"But I almost let him…" Johnny suddenly felt dizzy at the thought, and closed his eyes.
"No you didn't, Johnny. You did fine. Just fine. Now please, let go of him so not only he can rest, but you too. You're as white as sheet." Nathan interjected.
Johnny?" Sam asked, concern seeping into his voice as he placed his hand against Johnny's forehead. "Nathan, his fever is back. We've got to get him back to bed. It's a wonder he hasn't dropped before now."
"No!" Johnny grated through clenched teeth; his eyes squeezed shut in fear, his arms tightening further around Scott's shoulders. "Please. Don't make me. Let me stay here."
Nathan reached across the bed and put his hand on Johnny's head. "Son. Let your brother go. You need rest. Scott still has a long road ahead of him, and he's going to need you by his side to walk it."
Johnny opened his eyes and looked across the bed to Nathan. His eyes must have been full of unspoken questions, he thought, because he heard Nathan answer them before he could form them on his lips.
"Johnny. Scott has been through Hell. And I'm not going to lie to you, son. He's still in very serious condition. But he pulled through the surgery. That's a start. And with your love and support he will make it. But he needs you well and strong, Johnny. You're very sick, young man. You have pneumonia, and if it hadn't been for the fact that your very presence here in this room helped calm your brother, and perhaps even helped keep him alive, you would've been in your bed hours ago. You need to understand that by not taking care of yourself, you are jeopardizing your brother's health as well, Johnny. Do you understand that?"
You need to understand that by not taking care of yourself, you are jeopardizing your brother's health as well, Johnny. Nathan's words rang in his ears. He looked into his brother's face, and gently stroked Scott's hair. He gently lowered him to the bed, his hand lingering on Scott's cheek as he spoke. "You'll come and get me when he wakes up…or if anything happens?"
Nathan nodded. "Yes. I promise." He looked at Sam and nodded sharply. "Now go with Samuel and get some rest, Johnny. Please."
Johnny reluctantly nodded and felt Sam's hands on his shoulders, gently pulling him from the chair. His eyes were still locked on Scott's form when he heard the chimes of the grandfather clock downstairs. He looked at Nathan. "What time is it?"
Nathan and Samuel exchanged quick looks. Nathan smiled pensively. "It's after 2:00 in the morning, Johnny."
"You mean…we been in here for…" Johnny couldn't finish the statement, his weary mind suddenly shutting down to the pain and fever that had been ignored.
"Over four hours, Johnny." Sam supplied, his hands squeezing Johnny's shoulders and pressing him forward toward the door.
"Four hours? Then it's…" Johnny looked up, his eyes now struggling to focus, as he felt pulled once more toward the edge of darkness.
"Yes, Johnny. It's Christmas." Nathan said and smiled. "Merry Christmas, son. You've been given a wonderful gift in Scott's life, Johnny. Now go take care of yourself, so you can give him the same."
"Merry Christmas," Johnny whispered. He felt Sam's arms around him then, as he finally reached the edge and fell over toward the darkness, comforted in the words that left his lips. "Merry Christmas, Scott." I love you Brother….
"Señor, it is your move."
Murdoch raised his eyes and looked into the face that had spoken. "What was that Father?"
"It is your move, Señor Lancer." Father Rodriguez said, motioning his hand toward the chessboard that sat between them.
"Oh…yes." Lowering his gaze, Murdoch blindly looked at the board, and made a pretense of studying his game pieces. But in truth, his mind was not on the game. It hadn't been since they started playing. In fact, his mind wasn't even in the same room and hadn't been for…how many hours has it been now? He asked himself.
He wondered if he'd ever be able to remember what had transpired since closing the door to his oldest son's room. Suddenly fearing as a vice tightened around his heart, that he was closing the door on his sons' lives.
He vaguely remembered Teresa linking arms with him, and Jelly's hand on his shoulder as they walked down the stairs and into the great room, and then Jelly saying something about 'being made up of spit and vinegar', but he couldn't remember much after that. Although he did remember turning to the sound of a calming voice and seeing Father Rodriguez standing in the middle of his living room, and then asking the padre something about Mass and thanking him for coming, but he was very unsure about the later.
He looked up at Father Rodriguez. "I'm sorry, Father. Did I tell you how grateful I am that you're here?" He asked quietly, his voice strained with emotions.
Father Rodriguez smiled and placed his hand on Murdoch's shoulder. "Si, Señor. Several times. And as I told you, I felt my place was with you and your family this night. Father Ruiz is more than capable of delivering our Lord's Mass at Christmas Eve service."
Murdoch nodded. "Muchasgracias, padre." He took a deep breath and forced a weak smile onto his lips. "I'm sure Johnny…and Scott…will take great comfort knowing you are here," he said quietly, lowering his head to blink back the tears. He felt a firm squeeze on his shoulder and heard the calming voice once more.
"Señor, it is I that am comforted by being here tonight. Can you not feel His presence?" Father Rodriguez asked, pulling his hand away to wave it slowly in a circular motion between them. "The Spirit of Our Heavenly Father is in this home. He is with us this night. He is holding each of us in His loving arms, giving us comfort and strength in our hour of need."
Murdoch managed a waning nod.
"And He is guiding the hands that administer to your sons, Señor. No hade fechar, Señor Lancer. Have no fear. Your sons will be fine."
"I have to believe that, Padre. I honestly don't know what I'd do if I ever lost them again." The chimes began and Murdoch's eyes shot to the grandfather clock. 2:30. "Dear God they've been in there for over four hours. When is it going to end?"
A voice from the stairs drew his eyes upward.
"It has ended, Murdoch." Sam said quietly, walking the remaining few stairs with Nathan close behind.
Murdoch stood and faced the two men, his heart wedged in his throat. He tried to speak, but Sam's hand was suddenly on his shoulder, his voice calm as he spoke.
"Take it easy, Murdoch. Scott pulled through surgery. It was touch and go there for a spell, but he's sleeping now, as is Johnny. We finally got him back in his own bed and he's asleep, and resting comfortably."
Murdoch found some semblance of his voice as he looked toward Nathan. "Scott…will he…?"
Nathan inhaled and stepped forward next to Sam. He looked at Sam and then into Murdoch's eyes. "Your son is still in very serious condition, Murdoch. I was able to remove the bullet and stop the hemorrhaging, but the damage was severe. I'm afraid I had to remove his spleen."
"Wha…what?" Murdoch choked out.
Sam interceded. "His spleen, Murdoch."
Murdoch looked at the two men questioningly. He didn't understand. He needed to, he thought. But he wasn't sure he'd be able to handle what the two learned men standing before him were about to tell him.
"It is an organ of the body that we in the medical profession still know little about," Nathan explained. "But those patients that have had to have a splenectomy, excuse me, have had their spleens removed, tend to have difficulty fighting off infections." He looked at Murdoch intently, and continued. "Many doctors and researchers believe, as do I that the spleen may be partly responsible for helping the body combat disease and infections. Your son is alive, Mr. Lancer. But great care will have to be taken to see to it that he stays that way. Not only as he recovers from this operation, but in the future. The smallest cut, the slightest cold…could prove to be deadly for Scott if he does not take care of himself properly."
Murdoch inhaled sharply. He suddenly knew what Nathan was telling him. His oldest son would be walking a tightrope between life and death the rest of his days on earth.
"Murdoch, medical science is making great strides every day. New treatments and drugs are being developed and discovered all the time." Sam offered reassuringly. "One day, a drug will be found that will help the body fight off disease. But until then, with proper care like eating right, getting enough rest, and not driving himself to the point of exhaustion like he tends to do sometimes, there's no reason at all why Scott can't lead a perfectly normal life."
Murdoch managed a feeble nod and a weak squeeze on Sam's shoulder. "Thank you, Sam." He turned his gaze to Nathan and extended his trembling hand. "And thank you, Dr. Davis…for everything. You saved my son's life tonight, and I'm forever in your debt."
Nathan clasped Murdoch's hand firmly. "I only held the instruments, Mr. Lancer." His eyes settled on the Catholic priest standing behind Murdoch and he smiled. "Someone more skilled than I could ever be, guided my hands."
Murdoch caught the look that passed, and turned to look at Father Rodriguez. A smile curled onto his lips as he remembered the priest's words, 'The Spirit of Our Heavenly Father is in this home. He is with us this night.'
He turned back to face Nathan and spoke hesitantly. "Doctor…may I…?"
Nathan smiled and stepped aside, motioning his hand toward the stairs. "But of course. Not too long, though. Just a few minutes only. They both need their rest."
Murdoch nodded and stepped toward the stairs, Teresa and Jelly quickly joining him. He stopped with his foot on the second step and turned. "Oh…Merry Christmas, Sam, Dr. Davis. And you too Padre."
"Merry Christmas, Murdoch." Sam replied, a smile on his face.
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Lancer. My best wishes to you and your family on this blessed night. I'll be up shortly to look back in on your sons." Nathan said.
"Thank you. Thank you all again…for everything." Murdoch stated, his voice wavering slightly as he struggled to contain his emotions. He turned quickly and headed up the stairs to his son's rooms. He needed to look in on them, and see for himself that were still a part of his life.
Sam watched the head of the Lancer clan take the stairs two at a time and smiled wistfully as he turned back to face his long time friend. "You are a wonderful doctor and surgeon, Nathan. I don't think I could've ever done what you did here tonight. That surgery was grueling to say the least. And quite frankly, I'm amazed…gratefully I might add…but still amazed that you were able to pull Scott through. Particularly when his heart stopped again, like it did. I thought for sure we'd lost him for good that time. You are definitely a miracle worker."
Pouring himself a glass of brandy, Nathan turned and looked toward Father Rodriguez who had moved off to a corner to quietly pray. He took a sip of his drink and turned back to face his friend. "I'm a doctor and a surgeon, Samuel. Not a miracle worker." Nathan turned his gaze to the picture on Murdoch's desk. Reaching out, he let his fingers linger on it momentarily before continuing. "As I said, my hand only held the scalpel. There was another surgeon far more skilled and qualified that guided my hands this night."
"You truly believe that, don't you?" Samuel said, smiling back at his old friend and colleague.
"Yes. Yes I do, Samuel." Nathan stated emphatically. "I may be a man of science, but I am also a man of God. And I'll be honest with you. In all my years of practicing medicine, I don't think I've ever been witness to what happened up there in that room tonight."
"Between Johnny and Scott?"
"Yes." Nathan answered. Pouring a glass for Samuel, he handed it to his friend. "You heard what I did, Samuel. I'm almost ashamed that we walked in when we did. That was a very private moment between those two boys. Those words were meant only for their ears and those of God. A man's declaration of faith is a very private thing."
Sam took a slow sip of his drink and looked into his friend's eyes. "Perhaps God wanted us to hear it, Nathan. So that we would truly understand the bond that ties those two boys together."
"Yes." Nathan smiled. He thought pensively for several moments before continuing. "Perhaps you're right, old friend. I'll be honest. I believe that if we had not let Johnny stay by his brother's side, we would've lost Scott for sure. I think Johnny helped anchor his brother to this world. He certainly wasn't going to let go of Scott. Not without a fight." His gaze shifted toward the stairs. "Knowing that a loved one must go under the knife is one thing. Watching it take place is another all together. But the fact that Johnny was able to endure that ordeal in his condition, lends even more credence to the fact that there was something happening in that room that you and I will no doubt spend the rest of our natural born days trying to figure out."
Samuel placed his hand on his friend's shoulder and guided him toward the couch. "Maybe instead of trying to figure it out, we should just accept it?"
"Yes. Yes we should." Nathan smiled and raised his glass to Samuel. "We have been witness to a miracle here tonight, old friend."
"That we have, Nathan. That we have." Sam raised his glass and toasted Nathan. "Merry Christmas, old friend."
"Merry Christmas, Samuel." Nathan then raised his glass in the air. "And Merry Christmas to You, Sir. Thank you for Your help this evening."
The previous evening's memories still fresh in his mind; Johnny opened the door to his room and padded softly across the hall to his brother's, trying desperately not to awaken the sleeping house.
He stood there for several moments, his eyes adjusting to the darkness of Scott's room, and gazed intently at his brother's face. Painfully aware that his brother's wrists were still restrained in an effort to keep him from turning in his sleep, or suddenly moving should he awaken, risking further damage to his tortured body, Johnny slowly unfastened the left restraint. Taking his brother's hand, he wrapped his hand over it tightly, and pulled it to his chest as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He placed his right hand on Scott's cheek, gently stroking it with his fingers as he attempted to soothe away the lines that furrowed on his brother's face, even in deep sleep.
"Easy, Boston. I'm with you now, Brother. You just sleep and get well, ok?" He whispered softly.
He sat there in the darkness, his eyes never leaving his brother, and quietly said a prayer that he would one day soon be able to see his brother's engaging smile and laughing blue eyes once more. The images of the previous hours invaded his mind and he shuddered. He wondered if he'd ever be able to forget the blood, the sight of Scott lying there, so still…helpless…his flesh being cut into, his guts laying open, the mass that was pulled from his brother's body, and handed to Sam. The feelings of desperation he felt as he watched it all, too shocked to even speak. His voice lost to the fear that gripped him the moment Sam handed him that bottle of ether.
The ether…dear God, he thought. He'd almost failed his brother. He did fail him, he mused, and his stomach turned as he remembered the sharp intake of air that passed over his brother's lips. Madre de Dios. How much pain did his brother feel because he had forgotten to keep the drops steady? He wondered. "Oh God, Scott. I'm so sorry. Will you ever be able to forgive me?" he said, and lowered his head in shame. Tears once more welled in his eyes and he did nothing to stop the flow, allowing them to fall freely and unashamedly down his cheeks.
"There is nothing to forgive, Brother…"
A weak and pain filled voice filtered through the darkness between them, and Johnny's eyes locked on his brother's.
"Scott…" He managed to choke out between tears. "Oh thank God…"
Silence ensued. No words passed between them. Only a knowing look was shared as they continued to look at each other.
It was Scott that finally managed to break the comforting silence between them. "And…thank you…Brother…" Weakly wrapping his hand tighter around Johnny's he struggled to speak. "For…for helping…me find…find my faith…again."
Johnny grasped Scott's hand tighter, pressing it to his heart and enfolding his hand around it. "You helped me find mine, Brother. And God as my witness, as long as I got you by my side, I ain't ever gonna lose it again." Johnny leaned in closer, and wiped a stray tear from the corner of his brother's eye. "And that's gonna be for a long time, Boston. God gave me a wonderful gift last night. And I ain't ever turning loose of it."
Scott smiled, and nodded weakly as he whispered, "Nor I, Johnny. Nor I."
Johnny smiled and continued to soothe the lines on his brother's forehead. His eyes were drawn to the rays of light that began to filter through the panes of the window next to the bed. "Hey, Boston…it's mornin'. Merry Christmas, Brother."
Scott's eyes closed to the soothing touch of his brother's hand on his face, and the strength emanating from the hand that held his tight, anchoring him to this world. "Merry Christmas, Johnny."
Father Rodriguez smiled and softly closed the door, taking great care to secure the latch quietly. His presence in the doorway had been undetected by the Lancer brothers and he wanted to keep it that way.
He quietly made his way back to the room that his host, Murdoch Lancer, had graciously provided him so that he could stay and help administer to Scott and Johnny.
Sitting down at the small desk near the window, he pulled a piece of paper from the drawer and took pen in hand. Gazing through the window at the early dawn, he began writing.
'As the dawn breaks on the morning of our Lord's birth, I am completely convinced in my heart and soul that I was blessed to witness the work of our Heavenly Father.
When I left here last night, to search for Juanito, I feared that I would be too late. My heart was heavy with the thought that the young man no longer held faith in God. His soul lost to the torment of his brother's disappearance and death. But when he found his brother in the darkness on that hill, I believe that our Heavenly Father gave us the first of several miracles this night. Scott Lancer was alive and had returned home.
I believe the second miracle occurred when Juanito raced to his fallen brother's side. In one brief moment, I witnessed the darkness leave Juanito's eyes, thoughts of taking his own life now gone as he held his brother in his arms, cradling him to his breast to give comfort and strength.
I do not know what transpired next on the hill, as I hastily made my way to town to seek out Dr. Jenkins…only our Heavenly Father, Juanito and Scott will ever know what happened…but I do know that when I entered this house last night, after returning from town to secure the aide of Dr. Jenkins and a friend of his, I was immediately aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is that presence that has permeated this home and enveloped each of the inhabitants in His loving embrace, these past several hours.
I understand from Señor Lancer that the man called Dr. Nathan Smith Davis is a notable man of medicine. Considered by many to be the best in his profession. I am convinced that this too is another sign of our Lord's hand. I believe that without Dr. Davis' help, Dr. Jenkins, as skilled a doctor as he is, would have been hard pressed to save Scott's life. I am extremely gratified in the knowledge that this man is also a man of God. For he pushed aside any praise for his skill in saving young Scott's life, instead giving credit to our Heavenly Father for guiding his hands.
And finally, only moments before I write these words, I was once again able to witness the miracle of love and abiding faith that these two boys have for one another and for our Lord God.
It has been said by some that God works in mysterious ways. After what I have witnessed tonight, I can honestly say without hesitation that those words are indeed true.
For tonight, I was able to see that two brothers, bound together by their undying love for the other, found their faith not only in our Heavenly Father…but also in each other.'
For those that are wondering about the character of Dr. Nathan Smith Davis:
Nathan Smith Davis, MD
Born in 1817, Nathan Smith Davis founded the American Medical Association (AMA) when he was just thirty years old. He received his medical training at the Medical College of Western New York and through apprenticeships with individual physicians, as was the custom in the mid-nineteenth century. He received the degree Doctor of Medicine in January 1837, just a few days past his twentieth birthday.
Further information can be obtained on the WEB, or the library, but in a nutshell, he was considered by many to be the foremost physician and surgeon of his time, working diligently throughout his career to further medical education and research.