Disclaimer: Scott is nearly twenty five and Johnny is nearly nineteen. The boys haven’t been home for very long but the family bond is developing fast.
Synopsis: Scott’s in danger because of Johnny’ past and a guilty Johnny rushes to his rescue but this time will he be alone?
Special thanks to Kit for all the advice and encouragement and for the wonderful gift that is her Johnny, which I am privileged to be able to dabble with a little. Her influences are obvious in this piece and I make no apologies for that but give her, her just due always.
Special thanks has to go to Mary (SF) for her wonderful beta work and special tweaks and additions….Pronouns huh? I’ll remember sis…or at least I’ll try! Thanks as always SF you worked your usual magic and you’re a doll for doing it for me.
Thanks also to Binnie for reading it first and guiding me towards SF…(yes it was her fault..) and for her help with some commas n’stuff.
Here’s to all at LTAN for welcoming me into their cyber family and being there when I need ya’ll the most…
LTAN members ya’ll rock.
Haunted by a Name
Looking every bit the gentlemen he was, Scott strolled into the best hotel in Spanish Wells. Dressed in a tailor made suit with his saddle bags in tow, he walked up to the reception desk and paid for his room. He’d conducted his business and was now looking to relax for a few days as discussed with his father, Murdoch Lancer. He’d been sent on an errand and was taking a well earned break from Lancer and more importantly from his little brother.
Johnny had proved to be a handful for everyone and not the least for Scott, ever since his arrival at Lancer. Despite the fact that he’d known nothing of the boy, he’d found himself assuming the role of big brother almost immediately; his father encouraging him to do so. But sometimes, just sometimes, he needed a break from his brother’s youthful mischief and the constant teasing. After only a short time together, Murdoch Lancer was beginning to recognise the signs indicating a separation was needed.
After preventing what was threatening to escalate into a full blown fight, Murdoch had directed Scott to go to Spanish Wells on some ranch business, alone, much to Johnny’s displeasure; hence this business trip was also acting as a respite from older brother duty.
For a whole day Murdoch had shown the patience of a saint as Johnny had pestered him none stop. He wanted to go with his brother. He didn’t want to pass up a trip to anywhere that contained a saloon and a bordello. His pleas, however, fell on deaf ears, but he wasn’t about to give up.
Goodbyes said, Scott had ridden out to the whines and pleas of his brother, who’d still not given up. He was begging now and had even gotten down on one knee. Murdoch had hauled him up onto his feet with a sharp stinging swat to his backside and a resounding, “NO!”
Scott rode under the Lancer arch, laughing as he heard his father’s loud bellow.
Murdoch laid his hands on his belt; a signal Johnny knew only too well. It meant, ‘end of discussion, the tune had been called’!
Johnny hated it when he missed out on an opportunity to get off of the ranch, especially since his father had taken to grounding him as punishment for his many recent misdeeds. He hated it even more if the missed opportunity involved a saloon and a bordello!
Scott knew Johnny was going to be pissed at him for not persuading their father to let him accompany him into Spanish Wells and if he was honest he did feel a tad guilty about it. However, familiarity breeds contempt and this chance to get some time alone would be worth the reign of Hell his little brother would put him through upon his return. Johnny was like Scott’s shadow at times. Johnny had been alone for most of his young life and it was as if, now that he knew he had a brother, he didn’t want to let him out of his sight and sometimes it all got too much for Scott.
Scott knew Murdoch tried to talk to Johnny about allowing his older brother some time to his self. Their father had explained to the complaining youth that his brother was ‘six years his senior and where he enjoyed his little brother’s company, he also enjoyed having some time to himself with people his own age’. Johnny had yet to accept the fact and did everything possible to hang out with his older brother; revelling in the fact he actually had one.
The ranch business had been taken care of and now Scott was aiming to make the most of his free time. His agenda included a little poker, a nice drink and some female company to end the perfect night.
Scott strolled towards the saloon and sidestepped a couple of ladies, tipping his hat and offering up a couple of ma’ams as he passed them by. Both young women responded with ‘sir’; grinning shyly at the handsome man. Despite his intentions Scott found himself smiling back. They were pretty little things and he thought ripe for the taking, but he wasn’t distracted for long. He was looking for a sure thing and these ladies were certainly not that. The saloon and what lay inside was beckoning the young man to walk on. Nothing was going to deter him from that drink and the guarantee that his needs would be taken care of, nothing.
As he moved along Scott found himself chuckling. He was actually missing his little brother and it amused him. Johnny had become such an integral part of his life in such a short space of time and it simply amazed him that he had come to mean so much to him. An only child, or so he had believed, Scott had always dreamed of having a younger brother and now that his wishes had come true; it felt like they had grown up together. Johnny’s laughter was so addictive and he had to admit his younger brother’s particular brand of mischief could also be very entertaining too! The simple fact was Johnny in a good mood was a joy to behold and very good company.
He’d never met anyone as caring and as kind hearted. Johnny and everyone, who truly got to know him, loved him, despite his penchant for mischief and his dubious past. His younger brother had already won over the hearts of the good people of Green River and Morro Coyo. All of them intent on reforming the local delinquent for that’s what he’d become. Even the town’s sheriff loved him. Val Crawford’s link with his younger brother ran far deeper that just friendship, that was certain. Johnny had a wary respect for Val, Scott had seen it from that very first meeting and so had Murdoch.
Arriving at the saloon, Scott stood at the batwing doors, cautiously looking in; taking in everyone in the room and noting their guns or lack of. He’d learned a few tricks from his little brother and this was one of them and the other was to pick a table at the back with a clear view of the door and a solid wall at your back. ‘That way older brother,’ Johnny had warned ‘you won’t get back shot.’
Scott smiled at the memory of the discussion. Johnny had been as excited as any ten year old imparting knowledge to his older brother and he’d been so full of good advice that day, Scott hadn’t had the heart to stop him. Besides the advice had been good, so good, Scott had found himself listening attentively to his obvious wisdom on the subject. Johnny was a survivor; his instincts well honed.
Johnny’s a cocky little shit, Scott thought grinning to himself, but he had to admit, he was glad of it none the less. It’d been his arrogance and bravado that had kept him alive in a world desperate to kill him; that and his speed and accuracy with a pistol. The two, he knew, went hand in hand but still he wished he could get the youth to listen to the advice he had to offer. He was working on it and it was getting better but he had a long ways to go.
The fact that Johnny Madrid was able to turn his back on the life he’d led and be the boy Johnny Lancer still was, made both Murdoch and Scott very happy. Val had also mentioned more than once how happy he was Johnny was finally home where he belonged. It was hard to take his mind off of his younger sibling and yet this trip was about doing just that!
After ordering his drink, Scott plopped down on a chair in the back by the side of the stairs and sipped his drink. He cautiously watched for any sign of trouble. Scott had learned who to avoid and who he could approach. His instincts may not have been as well honed as his brother’s but Scott wasn’t actually a green horn either.
The saloon wasn’t too busy. There were three men playing poker in the corner and another half dozen standing at the bar. Scott finished his beer, got up and walked to the table where the game of poker was being played.
“Room for one more, gentlemen?” Scott asked a smile gracing his proud features.
An older man raised his head and stared hard at the young man standing before them. “Well now, sonny, don’t rightly know. Ya seem a might fancy ta be sittin’ here with us, don’t he, fella’s?” He spit tobacco into the spittoon to his left; hitting it dead centre.
Scott grimaced, disgusted by the habit. “Well appearances can be deceiving.”
The old coot laughed. “Well park yer backside right here then,” he said, patting the empty seat to his right. “And we’ll see what yer made of…huh?” He grinned, brown teeth protruding as his mouth widened to a full blown smile.
Again Scott grimaced; the old man stank of stale sweat and rot gut too. He was secretly beginning to wish he’d given the poker game a miss; wishing that the first thing he’d seen was a lovely girl, holding out her hand, beckoning him to come hither.
But he was there so he began to play in earnest. If he was lucky he’d win enough to pay for the fun upstairs without having to break into his billfold. That was his plan anyway.
After a few successful hours playing poker, Scott had enough money to pay for the rest of his evening. He spent the rest of his night in the arms a lovely red head. He awoke nicely relaxed to the sun’s rays cutting through the shabby lace curtains; the whore neatly tucked under his chin.
“Good morning, darlin’,” she said, kissing him on the chin and chest. “You need anythin’ more, baby?” She was sitting up now arranging her hair, which was a mess.
He smiled and pulled her to him. “You got any ideas?”
She did, as did he. There was, in Scott’s humble opinion, nothing better than a free ride in the morning.
After returning to his hotel, washing and dressing, Scott made his way down to the dining room for breakfast. He had decided he was going to be making his way home to Lancer after breakfast; in fact he was looking forward to it.
He’d had a very pleasant trip but was now missing home and family. He was wearing his travelling clothes, not quite as smart as his suit but smart enough. Breakfast was a quiet affair as he sat alone avoiding the other guests, who were chatting amongst themselves. Enjoying his bacon, sausages, eggs and freshly baked biscuits, even though they weren’t as good as Maria’s; he started to wonder what his brother and father were having. Thoughts of his family made the homesick sensation grow. This was a new feeling for him, since it was one he hadn’t experienced in all the years he had lived with his grandfather.
If anything he had been homesick for boarding school and his friends and suddenly he felt angry with his grandfather. He had missed out on so much. Why did you keep my father from me, Grandfather? Why did you let me believe he hated me and blamed me for my mother’s death? He knew one day he needed to ask the questions, but not yet. He picked up the biscuit and lavished it with honey; the flaky bread melting in his mouth.
His life was so different now. He found he liked the way Johnny and his father made him feel. His little brother had been nothing like he’d imagined and yet so much more. Oh, he could put on the façade of a gunfighter and often did but the boy, who’d been trapped inside was full of the joys of life and also shot full of mischief and a constant source of laughter and fun. Of course there were times when he could have done without the high jinks but for the most part life at Lancer was fantastic.
Scott finished his breakfast, stood up and made his way back to his room to pack, blissfully unaware of the three men hiding in the alleyway, in wait for him.
“You see him yet, Carl?”
“Shut the fuck up, Will,” Carl growled, he caught the hurt expression on his little brother’s face and sighed. “No, if ya must know, I don’t see him yet ok.”
“Jeez, Carl, I was only askin’; no need to bite ma fuckin’ head off. You figure he’s really Madrid’s brother ‘cause he sure don’t look nuthin’ like him.” Will scowled at his brother.
“Yeah, little brother, he is, heard tell he’s Madrid’s half brother.” Carl explained, “Same Pa but different Mama, Madrid’s half Mex, remember? They’re sons of a fine upstanding man called Murdoch Lancer. Old man Lancer was the one that pulled Johnny from that damned firing squad.”
Carl suddenly looked upset. “Heard it was a close call, ya know, Madrid and that firing squad? If the Pink’d been sixty seconds later, Madrid woulda’ been shot, damn bad luck if you ask me.”
They laughed but the larger man of the three, Josiah, frowned.
“Folks were spreadin’ rumours ‘bout ‘im bein’ killed but I got to talkin’ with a little ‘lady’,” Carl paused to snicker, “She told me about Madrid bein’ Lancer’s long lost boy and at first I laughed but then she told me about the money Lancer paid for his release. No one would pay that kinda money less’n they was kin and you know them Mexican pigs, they’d sell their own Mamas for a fuckin’ peso.”
A maniacal gleam fired in Carl’s eyes, “Nope, he’s the kid’s brother alright.” He chuckled. “Who’d a believed Madrid would be the son of a rich gringo rancher. Jesus, I can remember a time when the kid barely had britches to cover his ass never mind a rich daddy.” He snickered. “And then to find out he has an eastern dandy for a brother, eh? Musta’ been a shock huh?” He spat out a gob, hitting the ground with such force it displaced the earth mere inches from Will’s foot.
“Hey, Carl, fuck!” Will yelled jumping to the side.
The two older brothers snickered.
“Shush now, Lil’ Will, we gotta keep it quiet.”
“Fuck you brother and less of the Lil’…ok,” snarled Will.
Carl just laughed, lightly punching Will in the gut.
“Were gonna take that fancy boy, and then we’re gonna deliver a message to that little bastard Madrid.” Carl grinned wickedly. “He’s gonna pay for killin’ our baby brother Sammy. Hell he was only fourteen,” he seethed.
“But wasn’t Madrid the same age at the time, Carl?” asked Will, a puzzled look on his face. Sammy had been the youngest in the family, but at twenty two, Will now filled those shoes.
“What’d I tell ya, Will, shut the fuck up,” demanded Carl.
“But wasn’t he…? I mean he’s the same age Sammy woulda been, ain’t he?”
Will was thrown a withering look from Josiah, the older brother knew what was coming.
Carl gave him a seething look, one that Will knew very well.
Even Josiah, the middle one, mouthed the words, Will, for fuck’s sake, shut up!
Will finally fell silent and all three waited for Scott’s arrival.
Scott sauntered down the boardwalk contemplating being home. Johnny was going to be a problem, he knew. He began to think of ways to placate him, before he exacted his own special brand of revenge and he was in no doubt he would. Maybe a covert trip into Green River was in order that would certainly appease Johnny. Some drinking... some ladies, oh yes he thought I have a plan. He laughed. Scott hardly ever disobeyed his father but when it came to placating his brother, there was nothing better than sneaking off into town to the local saloon. Scott wasn’t entirely innocent when it came to helping out his kid brother.
Yep, he thought, Johnny’ll enjoy that, and then him and me, will be just fine.
Scott was deep in thought, thinking about the ride home, when suddenly he was hit from behind. He felt his legs turn to mush beneath him and a shroud of darkness envelope him; unconsciousness wasn’t far behind.
“We did it, Carl... Siah…we did it!” whooped Will, as they dropped Scott onto the floor of their hideout cave. His legs and arms were tied and he was deeply unconscious.
“Yep, we surely did Lil’ Will, we surely did. Now all we gotta do is cut some locks off that pretty head of his and send them to Johnny Lancer with a message to come here. He ain’t gonna ignore that, s’pecailly iffen we put some blood on the hair and tell him we’re gonna kill his brother, iffen he don’t come…eh, Siah?” laughed Carl.
“It ain’t gonna matter a damn, how fast he is. I’m gonna crush him like a grape,” sneered Carl, sudden anger filling his eyes. “I’m gonna kill him for Sam.” He looked at his middle brother and Josiah nodded.
Josiah felt the need to say something. “And if you don’t, me and Will here will, wont we, Will?” He slapped his little brother on the back.
Josiah had always been the soft one of the family, although he was the largest. A veritable giant of a man, he towered over both his brothers.
Will continued to whoop and dance around the prostrate man and Josiah scowled.
“Carl?” Will called.
“Yeah, Will, what is it?”
“What we gonna do with him when Madrid’s dead?” Will gestured to Scott.
“Why we’ll bury him right alongside his brother.” Carl laughed. “Together forever.”
“Yeah, good one brother,” Josiah remarked, rubbing his hands together. It had always been the same. Sammy and Josiah had been the quiet ones and they had been incredibly close, and Josiah had always known Sammy would run. Somehow the kid had never really fitted with any of them.
Will and Carl had always stuck together despite the age difference and Josiah had always felt left out that was until Sammy was born. He knew Carl and Will were mean but he didn’t figure they were killers. They were all known locally as the Bailey brothers, now there were only three of them. Carl was the oldest aged twenty nine; Josiah was twenty eight and Will was twenty two. But Sammy would always remain fourteen.
Sammy had been the smartest and the cutest, and he’d run off at thirteen. Their Mama had sent them all off to look for him but Sammy had remained elusive. Then they’d heard he was selling his gun and the stories of his subsequent gunfights confirmed it. Carl became desperate to find him before it was too late. He knew only too well how most gunfighters died young.
Sammy had always been their Mama’s favourite and Carl had always known it. His Mama had warned him not to come home without him and he’d believed her when she’d told him, she’d kill him if he didn’t find him and bring him home. That had been four years ago and they’d been looking for Madrid ever since. Getting another lead on Madrid had changed their course since they’d been headed home. Instead they went to a place called Morro Coyo. Madrid, they’d heard, was living not ten miles away.
Hell, they’d even played poker with the Lancer brothers and later they’d asked lots of questions locally. They soon found out that the so called local Christian people were more than willing to gossip about having an ex-gunfighter in their midst and it seemed Johnny was considered a regular hell raiser by the good people of Morro Coyo and Green River, another place the kid frequented.
At last they’d found Madrid. A plan was hatched and helped by Scott leaving Lancer alone.
Their aim was to deprive Murdoch Lancer of both his sons, or at least it was the aim of Will and Carl. Josiah wasn’t quite so sure.
Johnny was brooding; sulking actually and Murdoch was beginning to lose his patience. The boy had hardly been civil to anyone for three whole days. Maria had already taken to beating him at a mere glance and Teresa was hardly speaking to him at all.
“Johnny, change that attitude. I am getting fed up with it. Do I need to resort to harsher measures once more, son?”
Johnny shrugged not really wanting to think about the ‘harsher measures’ his father was referring to.
“Your brother will be home soon and you’d better have a civil tongue towards him. After all it wasn’t his decision that you couldn’t go, it was mine.”
Johnny made a phfft sound. Nope, but he sure in hell coulda put in a good word for me though, he thought as he picked at a sore on his finger.
“I’ve had about all I can take with your bickering of late,” scolded Murdoch. “And stop that picking!” he admonished.
“Jeez they’re my fingers,” Johnny hissed, receiving a harsh glare in return.
He sighed. “I won’t fight him Murdoch. If ya must know, I’ve actually missed him,” he said, smiling that innocent smile that usually got him extra dessert from Maria or on occasions, a pardon from his old man.
Course a little teasin’ and some sweet revenge is in order…nothin’ dangerous just a little somethin’ to let big brother know I’m here. It is after all, now a Lancer tradition, he thought grinning wickedly to himself.
Murdoch noted the mischief in his younger son’s eyes. “Son, you’d better not be thinking up some nefarious scheme of revenge for Scott upon his return, otherwise my boy you and I will be taking a trip to the woodshed,” he warned.
Johnny rolled his eyes. “What?! With all the extra chores I gotta do! Jeez, I ain’t got the time or the energy Murdoch.” Again he shot his father his now famous smile.
“Right,” Murdoch agreed, though his face displayed his suspicion. “Well, just see that you don’t,” he cautioned. “I don’t like punishing you, John, but mark me now I will.”
“Huh!” Johnny huffed. Ya coulda fooled me…old man, he thought shuddering as a painful memory assaulted his mind.
Murdoch wiped his mouth with his napkin, and a small smile graced his lips as he watched Johnny wolf down the last of his large breakfast.
“Let’s get to it then, son, we’ve a busy day ahead of us and Scott will be home tonight. Come on, boy, I’ve got to give the men their orders, follow me.”
It wasn’t a question and Johnny knew it, so obediently he followed giving Maria a quick peck on the cheek and as he passed and Teresa, a brief scowl. She in turn made to smack his rear end but he skilfully skipped away, giving her a swat in return. However, he was unprepared as he turned away, for the second attack.
“Hey, Murdoch she smacked me!” he complained rubbing at his behind.
The hard swat had stung like all holy hell and he could still hear the bitch laughing about it. “Murdoch!”
Murdoch’s answer to his whine was to swiftly cuff him on the ear, pulling him along.
“Ow...what the hell was that for?” he asked stopping at the now famous ‘look’ from his father. “But Pa she smacked me,” he whined, glancing back at Teresa.
“Johnny quit whining, come on.” Murdoch said, gritting his teeth. “She’s just a girl, John, surely you’re not telling me a smack from her hurt, besides, you got your lick in too,” he replied, laughing.
“No, I’m not but…” Johnny let it go. Next time I won’t hit back and see if she gets in trouble.
Despite Johnny’s antics, he loved it that his younger son was able to relax enough to just be just Johnny Lancer; Madrid’s shadow was fading away. Johnny was finally home where he had belonged all along and Murdoch was determined it was where he was going to stay. He was safe from Madrid and all that he brought with him. It had been difficult to get his gun away from him, but he had and it was now stored away in his safe. No longer was his son going to be a target for a passing gunfighter.
No, Johnny Madrid was fast becoming Johnny Lancer; son to Murdoch and kid brother to Scott. In his heart, Murdoch knew it was what Johnny needed and wanted. His younger son was still a kid in many ways, with a hell of a lot of growing still to do. Of course in some ways he was older than his eighteen years but in others he was positively stunted.
Johnny had long since suppressed the boy in favour of his created persona Madrid, gunfighter extraordinaire, and he’d done it to survive. Murdoch knew that even if Johnny didn’t. But Murdoch was determined to bury Madrid once and for all and it pleased the man to no end to see his boy relax into his new role of younger son and brother to Scott.
Jelly was a man with a mission and he wasted no time. He was carrying a telegram with an urgent message marked for Johnny’s attention. He’d saddled his horse in record time, despite the aching bones that he was always complaining about. He’d jumped onto his horse like a man half his age and was galloping before he reached the arch. If Murdoch could see me now, he thought ruefully, Jelly Hoskins yer no kinda example, he’d admonished. Hell I’m actin’ just like Murdoch’s wild boy. He allowed himself a snicker at the mere thought, Breaking the rules but I gotta git this to Johnny, I jest know it’s about Scott!
Johnny was working alongside his father; a place he didn’t like to be at the best of times especially without his big brother for support. Murdoch had put the men in pairs, positioning them at even distances along the fence line and had deliberately assigned Johnny to work with him, much to his annoyance and he’d tried to complain only to receive a sharp rebuke in front of the men.
Murdoch apparently wanted to keep an eye on his boy. He’d heard the men talking about his son slipping away from his assigned duties for trips into Green River or as was normally the case, since Val Crawford’s appointment as sheriff, into Morro Coyo.
Hell on earth workin’ with the old man, thought Johnny as he swung the hammer up and over his head. He could feel his father’s eyes on him and he hated it. He’d already removed his shirt and his skin was now glistening with sweat; his leather pants clinging to his lower body.
Jesus, even if I was to work stark nekked, I’d still be sweatin buckets, he thought. The work was back breaking and he wasn’t used to it.
Johnny was compact and slim, a fact his father knew only too well, in fact he thought far too thin. He was always on at him to eat a balanced diet. Despite this, however, Johnny was well proportioned and quite strong in a wiry sort of way. The boy favoured his mother but there was no doubting he had Murdoch’s blood pumping through his veins. Johnny’s eyes were just like Murdoch’s fathers, the same unusual blue, so intense and distinctive; a blue so fierce it sometimes took your breath away.
Johnny’s stubbornness knew no bounds in fact Murdoch would have been the first to say it, both his sons had inherited his pig headed ways. Johnny had a temper too, his Latino side often coming to the fore and it frequently got him into trouble. Father and son argued almost daily.
Just like me, defiant, wilful, insolent, a little cuss! Murdoch thought, observing his son, using his bandana to hide his laugh. His own father had called him stubborn, defiant and wilful and he’d run away to sea, a boy rebelling against his father wishes. So was it any wonder his sons were the same? He didn’t think so.
Taking a sip from his canteen, Murdoch examined his son’s back, blinking to focus in the midday sun. He was pleased to see his son bore very few scars, considering he’d been brought up around the border towns of Mexico. The only scars were two old bullet wounds, one on his side from a bullet that had obviously skimmed his body; resulting in the wound requiring stitches and one on his left shoulder blade. Murdoch grinned, at the revelation. It was the first real good look he’d gotten of his son’s back, even after the bullet from Pardee. Then his mind had been so focussed on getting the bullet out he hadn’t noticed anything else. Now he half expected to see scars and was pleased that he bore none. He’d long since suspected his son had suffered abuse at the hands of Maria’s many men but it seemed for the most part he’d escaped unscathed. Murdoch closed his eyes in silent thanks to a God for obviously listening to his many prayers.
One thing about Johnny, when he worked, he worked real hard. Murdoch couldn’t take his eyes off of his boy and noticed he hadn’t stopped for a moment. He briefly wondered if he could keep up with his young son and he shook his head. Johnny was one thing or the other. Black and white in everything he believed and did; no areas of grey at all. He was either doing double the work of any man on the ranch, or he was shirking his responsibilities and slinking off to town for some entertainment! It seemed the boy didn’t know what responsibility was unless it was taking care of his gun, his horse, or as it was in the past, doing a job hiring out his gun and then leaving; moving on. Now his life was different and as far as Murdoch was concerned the sooner he came to terms with that the sooner they could all relax.
Oh to be young again, he thought wistfully as he watched Johnny. He could still remember the days when he could burn the candle at both ends and still do a hard day’s work the next day. He knew without a shadow of doubt, Johnny was at times doing just that! He’d seen him flat out sleeping on the couch and had known he’d spent the previous night in town with a saloon floozie, but he’d said nothing.
He watched as Johnny moved with the grace of a cat, every movement precise, like poetry in motion. The older man smiled as a sudden memory assaulted him, Even as a mere toddler Johnny moved with the grace of an angel. The little toddler had done nothing by halves; even learning to walk when he was only nine months old; his little legs hardly strong enough. The rancher smiled, he really couldn’t remember Johnny ever walking; the boy had run everywhere, often disappearing out into the yard before anyone could grab a hold of him. He figured Johnny was still full of the vigours of youth and not yet ready to stop running, and that’s what worried him most of all.
Murdoch moved towards his son and was amazed at the height difference. He positively towered over him, much to his younger son’s annoyance. Johnny, it had to be said, bore no real resemblance to his father, at least not physically. He was his mother reborn; both in looks and in stature, something that bothered the older man. Maria had betrayed him and ran away and he worried that her son, no, his son, would do the same.
Maria had been one of the most beautiful women Murdoch had ever seen and Johnny had inherited her good looks. A strikingly handsome boy, it was as if he floated into a room and his mother had been the same. The woman had always known she had power over men and she had used that power to good effect. He briefly wondered if Johnny had gotten his cockiness from his mother. He’d once been mesmerized by her in much the same way his own son was mesmerizing him now and he couldn’t help being captivated by him.
Johnny was finally settling down and everyone liked the boy. It seemed the town’s people had taken to him, adopting him into their fold. Of course many also regularly scolded him for his outright mischievousness and unchristian ways! But what had amazed Murdoch even more was that Johnny would take the many scoldings with no real reaction on his part.
Watching him now, Murdoch had to admit he admired the way he tackled the work and, if he was entirely honest, he was finding it difficult, no that wasn’t right… downright impossible to keep up with him!
“Johnny, slow down,” he reprimanded. “Take your time and have a drink. You need to take a break,” Murdoch ordered, handing him his canteen.
Johnny looked around as if puzzled by the interruption and stopped hammering. He looked directly into his father’s eyes; his mouth twitching in that now oh so familiar way; gratefully he took his father’s canteen. He took a swig and finished the move by pouring some of the contents onto his face and head, shaking his head like a wet dog. “Aaahhh,” he moaned, as the water cooled his head. He bent over and stretched out his back.
“Boy, I ain’t worked so hard in all my life, Murdoch,” he grunted.
“Yes, you’ve certainly earned yourself a well deserved break,” Murdoch vowed. “It’s lunchtime, stop now and we’ll eat.”
He handed Johnny the sandwiches, which had been lovingly prepared by their housekeeper, Maria. Unlike her name sake, Johnny’s mother, she cared about all the men at Lancer but she had a soft spot for Johnny, in part because he was the youngest member of the Lancer family but also because she had assisted at his birth. She was one of the first to hold him, something that for her had sealed the bond of love forever. It had helped that she’d spent the next two years tending to the toddler, since his mother had hardly been maternal.
Johnny had wormed his way into the woman’s heart and she’d been almost as devastated as the Patron when he’d been taken away. It hadn’t taken long for her to feel the same way upon his return. Johnny, even as a young man, was still very endearing.
The boy didn’t miss a beat and his eyes burned with mischief. “Have I worked hard enough for me to maybe take a trip into Green River for a drink, Murdoch?”
Murdoch laughed out loud at his son’s audacity and cuffed him lightly on the ear. “In your dreams, boy, in your dreams.”
Johnny frowned at first still unsure of his father’s intentions, and then flashed him a smile. “Well it was worth a try old man.” He winked.
Laughing, Murdoch moved in his direction. “Why you cheeky little….” But before he’d even finished his statement the lightning reflexes of his younger son had propelled the boy out of his reach and out of harm’s way. Johnny spent the next couple of minutes teasing his old man about how he was too old to catch him as he danced around him just beyond arm’s length.
The bond between father and son was growing every day and Murdoch was relishing in his new found relationship with his younger son. He found himself laughing at Johnny’s antics, something that he would’ve been hard pushed to do only a few short months ago. But now he was beginning to feel at ease with him, as Johnny let the boy inside, out.
They ate their lunch in silence; Johnny determined to eat everything in sight. Now finished he walked over to the shade of the old oak tree in the meadow for his usual siesta, a practice Murdoch did not follow. He did however understand his son’s need to. The boy was used to the ways of Mexico and so he left him to it. After all, he thought grinning as he watched him settle under the tree, he is still a growing boy.
Johnny was just getting comfortable when movement on the horizon caught his attention. His eyes narrowed as he tried to focus on the approaching rider; his hand instinctively going to a pistol that was no longer there. His father heard his soft curse and ignoring him went to fetch his own rifle.
Jelly was barrelling towards them.
“Johnny! Johnny!” I got somethin’ fer ya,” Jelly shrieked dismounting as his horse came to a halt. “It’s urgent!”
“No shit!” Johnny said, laughing at the older man’s urgency. He immediately got to his feet and grabbed for the telegram, ripping it out of the older man’s hand. His eyes widened and his face changed; in a second he became Madrid and the change in him was formidable.
Johnny lightly fingered the lock of his brother’s hair another soft curse coming “Fuck.” His eyes closed and he felt his heart skip a beat. Without saying a word, he turned, rigid with anger, he marched for Barranca.
“Son, what is it?” Murdoch asked, frowning and moving swiftly in Johnny’s direction.
Johnny was focused on saddling his horse and ignored his father.
“I can’t tell you, Murdoch,” Johnny whispered. “I just can’t.” His eyes glittered with moisture of anger and fear.
“Johnny, tell me what is it?” Murdoch asked sharply, fear causing a tremble in his voice.
Johnny stumbled as he picked up his saddle, cursing the fact he’d removed it in the first place, “Fuck!”
Murdoch grabbed his son by the shoulders, his concern causing him to be rough in his action. “Johnny, will you tell me what’s going on?”
Johnny tried to shake free but Murdoch was like a rock.
“Look, Murdoch, I ain’t got time to explain.” He knew he needed to say more. “Scott’s in danger and I need to go. NOW!”
Johnny started to struggle to free himself once more but knew he wasn’t going anywhere unless his father let him go.
“Lemme go, old man, lemme go!” Johnny twisted but despite his efforts he felt his father’s grip tighten even more and it hurt. “Murdoch, please!” He was desperate now.
“What’s wrong with Scott, Johnny? I want to know and I want to know NOW!” Murdoch was like a rock as he stood before him.
Johnny was in no mood for a conversation and as always fought hard against his father constraints until he felt an attention getting swat to his rear end.
“Ow…Murdoch, what the hell?” Johnny protested.
“Good I got your attention.” It had the desired effect as Murdoch knew it would. “Tell me what’s going on!” Murdoch ordered.
Resigned, Johnny’s head dipped. He knew he wasn’t going anywhere unless his father let him go and as always he got frustrated at his father’s power over him.
“You wanna know what’s goin’ on…and whose fault this is…?” he spat. “Well I’ll tell, you old man, its Madrid’s. Is that what you wanna hear?” He knew the impact the name would have and he wasn’t wrong.
It was as if Murdoch heart had been pierced by a sword. “Madrid?” Stunned by the words he let Johnny go.
“Yeah that’s right, old man, Madrid. Told you I could never get away from my past, didn’t I?” he sneered, shaking his head. “Jesus, old man, it ain’t ever gonna just go away. I need my fuckin’ gun. I gotta go.” He turned to tighten Barranca’s cinch.
“Johnny, if this involves Scott, it can’t be all about Madrid.”
Johnny turned on his father, venom spewing from every pore. “It can’t, huh, shows what you know. Murdoch, they got him and it’s all my fault.” He swallowed to choke back the tears he felt forming and fought desperately with his emotions. “I need to help him. I need to be Madrid for a while, it’s all I know, Murdoch. It’s who I am. I was good you know, really good.”
Murdoch nodded. “I know you were but….”
Johnny swiped at the moisture that trickled down his face. “You don’t know these men, Murdoch. They’ll kill Scott and not blink an eye. I killed their brother and they’ve been after me ever since.”
Murdoch frowned. “You know these men? How, where, when?”
“It was a gunfight, a long time ago, Hell, I was just a kid.”
Murdoch shook his head. “Johnny, you’re still just a kid.”
“No, I mean I was really a kid. I was fourteen when he called me out. He was about my age and I tried to talk him out of it, honest I did.”
Johnny looked so young and vulnerable it about broke his father’s heart.
“But he wouldn’t listen. He kept on tellin’ me he was gonna’ kill the legend; kill Madrid.” Johnny shook his head. “It wasn’t as if I even had one back then but I was gettin’ a name for myself , you know? He was just a kid Murdoch and no damned good, stupid little prick,” he cursed.
Murdoch ignored the obscenity, now was not the time.
“I tried to tell him but he wouldn’t listen and he drew on me. I had no choice but to…” his voice trailed off and his head bowed as a tear fell down his cheek. “I always shot to kill, Murdoch, it’s what I’d been taught to do. Do it to them before they do it to you….remember?” He dipped his head again and sighed.
Murdoch nodded, unable to speak past the lump of fear in his throat.
“I knew he had brothers and that they were after me but it was such a long time ago, I thought they’d given up. They could never keep up with me so I didn’t worry about ‘em.”
Again Murdoch nodded he knew all about not being able to keep up with his son’s movements.
“I wasn’t ever worried because I knew I could take ‘em if they ever caught up with me. I’d forgotten all about ‘em to be honest. But now I know they ain’t ever gonna’ give up. I need to do this Murdoch…I can do this Murdoch. You don’t understand; I need you to let me do my job.” Johnny kicked out at a rock, his frustration evident.
Murdoch looked drained. “I understand more than you know, son.” He held up his hand to stop him from saying anything more. “I’ll let you go but you’re not doing this alone, not anymore, do you understand? I know Scott’s your brother but he’s also my son.”
Johnny nodded. “But…”
“No buts, Johnny. Come on, boy were going home to get your pistol, and then were going to get your brother.”
Johnny smiled and leapt onto Barranca’s back.
Murdoch mounted and all three men returned to Lancer.
Scott woke up in a daze, his hands and feet tied tightly. He was in a cave and he was cold. Swallowing, and then licking his lips he cautiously looked around. He tried to move but found he couldn’t. He was startled by a voice.
“So yer awake are ya?”
Scott blinked at the sound coming from the entrance of the cave. “What do you want with me?” he asked spitting out some sand and grit in his mouth.
Carl sighed. “T’ain’t you we’re really interested in. It’s that killin’ son-of-a-bitch gunfightin’ brother of yourn, we want. Don’t worry we sent word to him tellin’ him we gotcha. He’ll come fer sure.” He spat a glob of tobacco onto the ground.
“What are you talking about? You have the wrong man; my brother is not a gunfighter.” Scott lied; hoping against hope they’d believe him.
“He ain’t?” Carl spat. “Well, now that’s a turn up for the book. Well, I guess it’s your little rancher brother that’s gonna hav’ta face one of my younger brothers then.” He laughed. “It’s a shame him not bein’ a gunfighter and all. And here my little brother Will was lookin’ forward to the challenge.”
“Look, you’ve got the wrong man,” Scott hissed trying to wrench his arms free. His feet were getting numb.
“You’re brother ain’t Madrid then?”
Scott rolled over or tried to and grunted, “No!”
“Ok.” Carl got up and kicked Scott in the back. Grabbing him by the hair he pulled him up close. “I hate a liar, Scott Lancer, John Lancer’s older,” he sneered, “wiser brother.” He accented his words with a harsh punch to Scott’s ribs.
“We know John Lancer is Johnny Madrid, so just shut the fuck up, Scott Lancer.” He sneered.
Scott sank to the floor a soft grunt coming as he rolled onto his side. His ribs ached something fierce but he knew they weren’t broken, just bruised.
“So,” he panted, “you know my brother Johnny, how?”
“Well, now ya see we know all about that little bastard. He’s a right regular bad one. He killed our baby brother Sammy when he was only fourteen,” Carl declared, omitting the fact that Johnny was the same age.
“I don’t believe my brother would do that,” Scott spat out, his faith in his brother unyielding. “He’d never kill anyone except in self defence.”
Will sauntered in and overheard what Scott said. “Johnny was just a kid when it happened, weren’t he, Carl?”
Carl turned on a dime. “Shut the fuck up, Will! Jesus, but you got a big mouth!”
Scott laughed. “Ah, so they were both kids…tell me… Carl…did your baby brother challenge Johnny to a gunfight; did he give him no choice?”
For his question Scott got another kick in the ribs. The pain so intense he lost consciousness.
“Will, you tell him anythin’ else and I’m gonna put a bullet in ya myself,” Carl threatened.
Will nodded, terrified. He knew Carl was more than capable and he didn’t trust that he wouldn’t carry out his threat.
Josiah came into the cave and went over to Scott, feeling for a pulse. “He’s out cold. Carl, you gotta stop hurtin’ him, you’re gonna kill him before Madrid comes, then what good is he?”
“So he’ll be dead, he’s gonna die anyway,” snarled Carl
“Yeah but we need him alive for now, so keep that temper of yours in check,” warned Josiah.
Josiah was younger than Carl by more than a year but he was as big as a house and more than capable of knocking Carl on his ass and Carl knew it.
The eldest’s eyes narrowed for only a heartbeat then he broke into a grin. “Ok, ok… got’cha, Siah. I’ll watch my temper. You take care of him and I’ll see if I can’t catch us a jackrabbit or two for supper. Come on younger brother it’s just you and me.” Carl grabbed Will by the arm and led him out of the cave, leaving Josiah to take care of Scott.
Josiah pulled up Scott’s shirt and gently pressed on his ribs, eliciting a grunt from the still unconscious man. He knew from his manipulations that his ribs were not broken but they were tender. Deciding they needed binding he ripped one of his brothers’ shirts into shreds and bandaged Scott’s rib cage.
The job done, he patted the younger man on the head. “You’ll be more comfortable,” he said but he was speaking to a man who was still out cold. Scott heard nothing.
Josiah had always been the tender hearted one in the family. When it came to someone or something hurting, he was the one who would come to their rescue and care for them and they all knew it. His favourite brother had been Sammy and angered by his death he had agreed to avenge him. Carl was smart like his mother and Sammy had been the same. In fact, he had been smarter. Will and Josiah on the other hand, had inherited their father’s large commanding frame and brawn with Josiah being the largest of them all.
Their supper had been eaten when Scott started to stir. “Humph,” Scott moaned and Josiah was immediately at his side.
“Anyone’d think ya liked him or somethin’,” sneered Carl.
Josiah ignored him and helped Scott to sit up. “Easy,” he said, lifting him into position. “We left some jackrabbit fir ya. Here, I’ll help ya.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Don’t do me any favours.” He wasn’t in the mood for his attention.
Johnny was glad of his father’s presence. Doing his job didn’t normally involve emotions but this was his brother and he was finding it hard to focus. The controlled rage he relied on to get him through a situation was mired in fear, an emotion that was useless to Madrid.
“You sure you know where you’re going, Johnny?” asked Murdoch.
“Yeah, Murdoch, I know where I’m goin’. I know the place real well,” he said; shifting in his saddle.
Murdoch frowned a little. “Should I ask why?”
Johnny shook his head. “Nope probably better if you don’t.”
“Then lead on, my son.” Murdoch was willing to follow his son after all he was expert in these matters.
Back home at Lancer, Murdoch had watched as his son had reclaimed a part of his history; his gun and belt. Then he’d watched him revert to Madrid as he’d buckled his rig in place and it was as if a shroud had covered the boy. He hadn’t liked it at all.
“Well, are we close?” Murdoch asked, shifting in the saddle to relieve the ache in his back.
“Yeah, we are, see that ridge up there?” Johnny pointed upward.
“Well it’s just on the other side of it. Murdoch, we gotta be careful now. Stay behind me.”
The roles had changed and Johnny was taking the lead and for once Murdoch was willing to let him.
“See that hollow? Well we gotta sneak in there and hold up until I figure out how many of them there are.”
“Are you going to sneak into their camp, son?”
“Yeah that’s the plan, Murdoch.” Johnny grinned.
“No, John, it’s too dangerous. You don’t know how many…”
“And I won’t until I get down there,” Johnny interrupted his father’s protest. “Murdoch, I know what I’m doin’. They won’t even know I am there, honest. Can you just trust me on this?” he sighed.
“John, I trust you implicitly but I can’t help being a little afraid for you.”
Johnny scowled. It had been a mistake bringing his father with him. “You shouldn’t’a come,” he growled, a little pissed at his self for allowing him to come. Not that he could have stopped him anyway.
“No, son, the sooner you realize you’re no longer alone the better. I’m pretty handy with a rifle. I can help if you’ll let me.”
Again Johnny sighed. “Ok, but can you do as I say, for once,” he replied.
Murdoch looked into his son’s worried blue eyes. “You’re calling the tune, John.”
Johnny’s eyes widened in surprise and his father laughed.
“Don’t let it go to your head, son,” Murdoch retorted with a smile.
Johnny nodded a deep frown marring his handsome face. “It don’t ever go away, does it?”
Murdoch sighed. “No, it doesn’t but it will get better, trust me. Madrid is who you used to be but you’re more Lancer now, Johnny. Hold onto that, promise me you won’t let us go.”
Johnny’s eyes lit with mischief and he grinned. “Jesus Christ, old man, I sure hope I’m more Madrid tonight,” he exclaimed, trying to duck as his father ruffed his hair.
“You little devil.” He laughed. “John, be careful,” Murdoch cautioned.
“Always! C’mon we need to get up there.” With that Johnny kicked Barranca into an even lope with Murdoch following.
They crested the hill just before the sun set and hid in the place Johnny had indicated.
“See there’s their campfire.” Johnny carefully slid forwards for a better view.
“Johnny,” Murdoch whispered, holding onto his son’s rump.
“Murdoch, let me go. I’m goin’ in. I’ll be right back, and then we’ll decide what were gonna do, ok?”
“Ok, but be careful.”
Johnny rolled his eyes but smiled anyway. It felt good to have someone covering his back for once.
Murdoch watched as his son slid down the hill, inching forwards, invisible to the world around him and he marvelled at his son’s stealth.
Well now, son, you are good at this, aren’t you? He thought, as he watched the men oblivious to the person coming ever closer. He couldn’t quite make out how many there were with them coming and going into the cave, but he knew Scott was there never the less.
Johnny was at the edge of their camp and counting. Only three, this should be easy. He felt the usual adrenalin rush he always felt when the odds were stacked against him and he almost stood up right then and there to challenge them. He knew he was fast enough to take them all and he would’ve to if his father hadn’t been sitting on top of the hill watching him. Damn it! This is why I like to work alone, he thought cursing his father. But he had to be sure that no one was in the cave with his brother.
Johnny waited for over an hour to make sure that there were only three of them, and then he turned to crawl back to his father to explain what he was going to do. He knew before he got there, there was going to be an argument. But as far as he could see it was the best solution. He wasn’t used to having anyone else around and thought his father couldn’t get close enough without alerting them anyway.
They had the advantage with a good view of the surrounding countryside but there was only room for one person creeping in and that person was going to be him, no matter what the old man said. He didn’t like the fact that he couldn’t see his brother but he’d seen his brother’s horse and that was good enough for him. As he crawled back to his father he was already forming a plan to get into the cave undetected. He needed to find out for sure whether or not Scott was alone because it could mean the difference of retrieving a dead brother or a live one.
The relief on his father’s face when he arrived was evident. “Johnny, thank God. Well, what did you see?”
“There’s three of ‘em, Murdoch, but I need to get into that cave before we do anythin’ else,” he said his brow furrowing.
“Is Scott in there?”
“Yeah, he is,” Johnny revealed. “I need to find out if he’s in there alone though.”
“But how, Johnny?”
“Well, Murdoch, that’s where you’re gonna come in. I need you to create a diversion, a noise that’ll have ‘em investigatin’. Just make sure they don’t see you, ok?”
“Johnny, I can’t let you go in there alone.”
Murdoch, remember you said I was callin’ the tune here. Please, I’ll be ok. If there’s three of ‘em I can take ‘em easy.”
“But what if there’s more?”
“I’ll be fine, honest, please let me do this my way?”
Ok, but be careful,” his father begged.
Johnny nodded. “I will. Wait until I’m down there before you distract ‘em, ok? He slipped away again.
Murdoch knew his younger son was often reckless but he also trusted him. If there was one thing Johnny was good at it was looking after himself; his survival instincts second to none.
Johnny slowly made his way back to the camp and Murdoch waited. Then he saw his younger son crawl within inches of the men sitting by the fire and he held his breath. But he did what he’d been instructed to do and dislodged a rock, watching as it tumbled down the hill gathering more rocks as it went. The men in the camp were on their feet in seconds and he saw Johnny duck into the cave.
He sent out a prayer. Keep my son safe, Lord, please, keep both my sons safe. He closed his eyes briefly and remained hidden.
The cave was dark and Johnny had to blink a few times to focus. Then he saw him. Scott was huddled in a corner, obviously in pain. He ran to his side, all the while checking to make sure they were alone.
“Scott, are you ok?” He quickly checked him over watching as he winced when he got to his ribs. “Brother, I’m sorry; it’s because of me that you’re in this bind.”
Scott’s eyes blinked open. “Johnny, I knew you’d come for me.”
“Yeah big brother it’s me,” he replied, and then got down to business. “C’mon, we ain’t got much time, we gotta get you out a here.” He undid Scott’s bound feet and wrists. “Here, I brought you a gun.” He shoved it into his brother’s hand. “Take it.”
“Thanks, Johnny, don’t worry I’ll watch your back.” He tried to smile and actually managed one, freezing as he realized there was someone at Johnny’s back.
“So, Madrid, you’re here, huh? Well, now ain’t you the sneaky son-of-a-bitch?”
Johnny’s back was to Will when he heard the click of a gun. In one swift motion Johnny spun around, pulled his gun and fired. He didn’t miss and Will stumbled back, holding onto his chest; a look of pure shock and panic on his face. He was dead before he hit the ground, the bullet going right through his heart.
Johnny didn’t waste any time. “C’mon , Scott, the others are gonna be back any second, we gotta get outta here.” He pulled his brother onto his feet and put his hand under his arm to support him.
“Johnny, duck!” Scott shouted as he lifted his gun to shoot Carl. The sound of gunfire bounced off the cave walls and when the smoke cleared Carl was dead, shot by Scott and Josiah was wounded.
Scott kept a watchful eye on the wounded man as he anxiously looked at his now motionless younger brother. “Johnny?” The anxiety in his voice was clear.
Johnny was on his side curled into a tight ball and groaning.
Scott stood up, or tried to. He found he was a little wobbly on his feet. Rubbing his numb legs, he stumbled forwards. “Johnny!” he yelled again, this time louder.
Johnny hissed; the pain from the bullet wound so intense it became unbearable. He could feel his world growing dimmer. His heart beating so fast he thought his ears were going to explode.
“Johnny!” Despite his legs, Scott made it to him. “Stay still, little brother.” He moved to pull Johnny’s shirt up, ripping the material in his haste.
Johnny tried valiantly to wave his brother’s hand away. “Hey, that’s my best shirt,” he complained just before he passed out.
Scott shook his head, even in pain Johnny was thinking of his favourite red shirt!
Murdoch came storming into the cave, rifle in hand; prepared to kill anyone attempting to harm either of his sons. His eyes fell on Scott. “Scott, thank God!” And then he saw Johnny. “Oh God, Johnny!”
Murdoch didn’t know how to feel because he was both relieved and instantly worried as he saw a river of blood flowing freely from his younger son. He also knew the bullet had gone clean through and he closed his eyes in silent prayer. He knew the kind of injury his son had could be fatal. It all hinged on no major organs being damaged.
He rushed to his younger son’s side, feeling for a pulse. “He’s in a lot of pain Scott, we need to work quickly. The bullet went clean through.”
Scott nodded. “Father?”
“Uurrrg! Get off of me!” Johnny snapped as his father tried to stem the flow.
Murdoch ignored the outburst and continued to hold on.
He tried to fight against the hands that were holding him down but it was a useless fight, since Murdoch was much stronger. The pain got so intense, he passed out.
“Jesus, Murdoch,” Scott swore, “he’s bleeding too much.”
Murdoch heard the tension in his older son’s voice and understood. “Yes, son, I know, we need to close the wound, front and back.” He stuffed Johnny’s ripped and rolled up shirt onto the oozing wounds to stem the flow.
“Scott, my horse is outside, go get my saddlebag,” Murdoch barked.
The young man took off and was gone less than a minute. Murdoch reached into his bag and pulled out a small bottle. It contained a needle and several long strands of horse hair, already immersed in whiskey. He proceeded to thread the needle and stitch his son’s wounds; starting with the exit wound, because it was the largest. After he was done he doused the whole area with whiskey, a thing that had his younger son regaining consciousness and gasping again.
“Fuck, leave it, will you?” Johnny hissed, irritated by the pain.
“I will not, Johnny, it needs to be cleaned.” He turned to Scott. “Make some of Maria’s tea for the fever, Scott. We’ll get it down him, and then we need to get him home.”
Scott nodded. “What about him?” he asked, pointing to Josiah who had by now got to his feet and was leaning against the cave wall, nursing a small wound on his arm.
“What about him, Scott? He was trying to kill you and your brother.” Murdoch shook his head. “As far as I am concerned, he’s lucky I don’t kill him. He’s on his own.”
Scott dipped his head, Murdoch had proved that he would die for his sons and kill for them too, on more than one occasion.
Josiah acknowledged Murdoch. “Don’t blame ya none, Mr. Lancer. As far as I’m concerned it’s over. I’ve lost too damned much. Sammy wouldn’t’a wanted this.” He frowned. “You know, I think I always knew that. He was a good kid, Mr. Lancer, young and foolish, but a good kid none the less.” He scowled. “Carl, now he was different; he was always a mean cuss and with him bein’ the oldest, we just followed.” He frowned again. “And little brother Will there was just too dumb to do anythin’ about him, me too I guess.” He sighed. “Will followed Carl like a male dog follows a bitch in heat. Sammy never did and Carl hated him for that. No sir, I don’t blame ya none for wanting to kill me. Iffen I was in your shoes, I would want to kill me too.” He grinned sheepishly. “Sammy faced Johnny’s gun about four years ago and lost, Mr. Lancer. It was a fair fight and I guess the faster one won that’s all.” His head dropped in shame after his long confession.
Murdoch nodded, gritting his teeth as he continued to doctor Johnny.
“I’m gonna’ bury my brothers here, then go home and tell Mama it’s over. Then I figure on riding on. I got a life and I aim to live it.” He grinned but tears filled his eyes, never the less, as he moved to hover over his fallen brothers.
Murdoch was visibly moved by the younger man and he tapped him on the shoulder. “You’ve lost everything, haven’t you, young man?”
Josiah nodded. “Yeah, I guess I have but that ain’t your doin’, Mr. Lancer, or your sons. Nope, I guess what I’m tryin’ ta say, Mr. Lancer, is I’m sorry for what me and my brothers did. You acted in self defence, like Johnny did when Sammy called him out.”
Murdoch extended his hand. It was all Josiah was going to get from the older man. Murdoch wasn’t prepared to extend his forgiveness. Johnny was injured and he still wasn’t sure if he was going to survive. So he didn’t feel in a forgiving mood, but Josiah understood and was just grateful he was still alive after what they had tried to do.
Murdoch lent down and wrapped his arms around Johnny, lifting him with a soft grunt yet with amazing ease; he then carried him towards his horse. “Help me get him up onto the front of my saddle, will you, Scott?”
Immediately Scott moved to his father’s side and helped him with his burden.
“Hold onto him whilst I mount up.”
Scott did as he was directed, extending his arms to accept his father’s burden.
He looked into his brother’s face, he looked so young. Hell, he thought, he is young, just a kid. Here was his brother, a youth that only a few short months ago he hadn’t even known existed and yet his emotions were in turmoil; the unbreakable bond of love firmly in place. He realized in that moment there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his little brother and that feeling, he now knew, was mutual. It gave Scott an inner peace he’d never felt before and he hugged his brother to him, not wanting to let him go.
“Don’t you die on me, brother, don’t you dare,” he whispered into Johnny’s ear.
Murdoch mounted his horse and indicated for Scott to come forwards and Scott lifted his bother into his father’s strong arms, wedging him between the saddle horn and Murdoch. The Lancer patriarch then proceeded to wrap his slicker around Johnny and took hold of the reins with Johnny carefully cocooned in front. The youth was leaning against his father limply, his dark head resting against Murdoch’s chest and without thinking Murdoch planted a kiss on his head; closing his eyes briefly in silent prayer.
Scott didn’t miss the move and smiled as he too mounted his horse.
The tune caller was back. “Let’s go, Scott,” he declared determinedly and together the two oldest Lancers moved out; Johnny’s horse in tow.
The journey home was fraught with difficulties but they made it never the less. Johnny was deeply unconscious and his fever was raging by the time they got him home and Sam was sent for immediately.
It didn’t take Sam too long to come since the night was well lit by a full moon.
They were all in Johnny’s room awaiting Sam’s verdict, terrified that Johnny might be internally injured.
“The bullet passed right through and as far as I can see it didn’t hit any major organs, Murdoch.”
Murdoch almost collapsed at the good news as the tension abandoned his body.
“However, he has a high fever and he will require around the clock care. The wounds will heal and he has youth on his side. It’s my opinion he will be fine with care,” Sam related the details. He took in a deep breath. “By the way, well done, old friend, you did a good job stitching him.”
Murdoch nodded too overwhelmed with relief to speak just yet.
“Maria and Teresa will know what to do. I’ll give them potions to help his fever. Sam tapped the bed. “Plenty to drink to replace the blood he’s lost when he comes around. You got him home, Murdoch, to a clean bed and to the care of this household. I think that has significantly improved his chances of survival.”
Doc Jenkins turned to see Scott wobble. “Scott, are you alright?” he asked, worried at what he witnessed.
Scott’s attention was totally focused on his brother and he stuttered out his response. “Huh? What? Oh yeah, Sam, I’m fine. Don’t get me wrong, I could’ve done without being tied up in a cold cave, you understand and my throat’s a bit raspy, but I’m fine. I’ll go to bed after we get Johnny settled.”
“See that you do,” said Sam sternly but his eyes told a very different story. He was very fond of these two sons of Murdoch and very pleased that they were both now home where they should have been all along.
“Johnny feels guilty, Scott. We need to make him understand that it wasn’t his fault. That no matter what happens, he’s no longer alone. He thinks it was his fault.” Murdoch was clearly worried.
Madrid it seemed was set to haunt his son for many years to come.
Scott nodded. “He’s more than paid for his past, Murdoch. I’ll talk to him, square things. Trust me, sir, he’ll be fine.”
Murdoch smirked. “I’m sure he will be with your fine counsel, Scott. He couldn’t have asked for a better brother.” Murdoch was proud of his older son.
“Nor I, sir,” Scott shot back.
Murdoch let his lips curl into a full blown smile. Trust Scott to remind me that he feels the same way. “You’re quite right, Scott.” A frown appeared as he shook his head. “It’s just that Johnny is such a handful and he isn’t easy, in fact, he’s a young hellion at times, but believe me when I tell you this, I know he isn’t bad and I know he loves us. He feels bad about all of this, Scott, but I’m proud of you both,” he shook his head. “Son, I need to tell you this...I...I…love you,” he glanced at Johnny and added, “Both.”
Scott grinned. “Thank you, sir, believe me the feeling is mutual,” he dipped his head in much the same way his little brother did when he was feeling vulnerable or embarrassed.
Murdoch was moved by Scott’s action, so characteristic of Johnny. His sons, it seemed, were more alike than he’d first thought.
Scott sighed and felt old all of a sudden. “But if you don’t mind me saying, Johnny needs to hear those words from you. I had my Grandfather telling me all my life, how much he loved me; I’m quite certain no one’s ever told Johnny and I believe its time he heard those words, sir.”
Murdoch knew Scott was right as he glanced at his younger son, still unconscious on the bed. I’ll wager Scott is quite right. It was time, Hell, he thought, it was past time. “I agree with you, son.”
Scott grinned and moved to embrace his father. Johnny was so insecure and he needed the acceptance of those around him; and in particular the acceptance and love of his father.
Scott was certain that the healing would begin. His sky blue eyes shone with wisdom and warmth that pulled Murdoch in and he found himself returning the embrace, giving his son a tight squeeze.
“I’ll let him know how I feel, Scott,” he whispered. “You’re right, Johnny needs to hear those words and I promise you, he will.”
Scott’s smile said it all and he relaxed in his father’s arms, hiding the fact he was close to tears. “Thank you, si…I mean, Pa.”
Murdoch’s face lit up at the term of endearment. We’re going to be alright the three of us. Things can only get better.
Both men were distracted by a sound coming from the bed.
“Aaarrrgg,” Johnny groaned as he opened his eyes. He looked at his brother and father and grimaced sheepishly.
Murdoch and Scott were immediately by his side. “Johnny, you’re awake, you’re home, son, with me, Scott and everyone; you’re safe. We’ll take care of you, rest now. I love you, John and I always have.”
Johnny’s eyes went wide and his face flushed, embarrassed at the expression of love, but he liked it never the less. He looked around and saw that they were all staring at him affectionately. He became determined they wouldn’t see him vulnerable and his bravado kicked right in.
“Jesus Christ, old man, I ain’t a fuckin’ kid, don’t get all mushy on me!” He rolled his eyes at his brother and Scott laughed out loud.
It seemed they still had a ways to go but Johnny was going to be ok and that was all that really mattered.
Murdoch was grinning like a Cheshire cat but the father in him couldn’t let the bad language pass. “Johnny... mouth,” he warned but the firmness wasn’t there because the Lancer patriarch felt truly content for the first time in a very long while.