by Becky S.
“All right, Johnny, spit it out.” Scott held his brother in place with his eyes. He couldn’t have held him any other way, as he was flat on his back in bed. His head still ached fiercely from the bullet that had grazed his skull earlier that day, when he’d been leaving the ranch with his grandfather. He still didn’t understand why someone had shot him – something to do with his father, Murdoch Lancer, and his grandfather, Harlan Garrett, and the older man’s scheming to get him to go back to his life in Boston. Murdoch had explained it to him, but he’d been distracted by pain and nausea and the glimpse of naked fear he’d seen on his grandfather’s face before the old man had assured himself his grandson would live.
Then the ride back to the Lancer ranch, even in the buckboard, had set his head pounding, a wild dizziness keeping him from thinking about anything but just holding onto his little piece of the world, trying to keep it from spinning out of control. He’d sunk wearily onto his bed, hardly knowing or caring that Murdoch undressed him and tucked him in like a child, merely murmuring a request for someone to turn the sun down. Then the room darkened, he heard a feminine voice shooing everyone from the room and felt a cool cloth on his forehead, and the world went away for a while.
He’d woken later to find his father and grandfather watching him, and he’d turned from them with a soft moan, hating the choice that had been forced on him. His brother had intervened, saying he’d stay for a while, and the older men reluctantly left. Even in those few moments, though, Scott realized that somehow, something had changed between Harlan Garrett and his father, and although he didn’t understand it, he knew he was free to do as he wished – to stay at Lancer.
And now Johnny was wandering around the room, picking up knickknacks and setting them down again, adjusting the wick in the lamp to better light the night-shrouded room. “Spit what out?” he mumbled.
Scott sighed and shifted on the bed. His brother was at his side immediately, rearranging the pillows so he was more comfortable. “Spit out whatever it is that’s bothering you,” he answered reasonably. He watched carefully, saw the flicker in the normally candid blue eyes that tonight were as deep and fathomless as the ocean. He was right. Something was eating away at his brother, and for some reason he wouldn’t talk about it.
They had a good relationship, finally, nurtured by hard work, shared stories over beers in town and brandy on the Lancer terrace, and, unfortunately, through pain. He’d thought there wasn’t anything his forthright brother would hesitate to say to him, but apparently he was wrong.
When Johnny started to move away again, Scott halted him with a gentle hand on his forearm. Johnny stood next to the bed, head down, eyes veiled by overlong brown bangs.
“What is it?” Scott asked again, trying not to push but needing to know.
“Scott . . .” His voice was soft, hesitant, like a summer breeze off the ocean that couldn’t decide what direction to come from, where to go next.
Scott waited patiently. He had all the time in the world, if something was bothering his brother.
“Scott . . .” he started again, then turned away, muttering, “Oh, hell, it’s not important.”
He stopped at the mild, one-word rebuke. His shoulders slumped, giving in, knowing he’d opened the door to this discussion, though not quite sure how. He dragged a chair next to the bed, but instead of flipping it around and leaning his arms on the back, he uncharacteristically sat on it the right way. Elbows on knees, his hands fidgeted uselessly.
After a long silence, while he seemed to find the little scar on his thumb fascinating, he finally spoke. “You almost left. Heck, you did leave.”
“Yes, I did. You have some things you want to say to me about that? You’re entitled, if you do.”
Johnny made a throw-away gesture, though Scott wasn’t sure he had anything in his hands. “I know why you did it,” his brother said, “an’ I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same. Funny, how protectin’ Murdoch is gettin’ to be a habit.”
snorted a small laugh. “I know. When I rode in here that first
day, I never would have thought I’d care that much.”
For some reason, that caught Johnny’s attention. He finally looked Scott square in the eyes, confusion and pain warring within him. “That’s what I don’t understand.”
Now Scott was confused. “That I care about Murdoch? And Lancer and all of the people here? Of course I do.”
Johnny shook his head. “No, what I don’t understand is how you can still care about Harlan Garrett.”
One of Scott’s eyebrows went up in sudden understanding, and he settled back into his pillows with a soft, “Ah.”
Johnny was on his feet again, pacing like a caged mountain lion. “Look at what he did to you. He lied, all those years, about Murdoch not wanting you. He brought Julie here, made her lie to you, try to make you want to marry her when she didn’t love you any more. He lied to you about Murdoch’s past, knowing you’d leave rather than take the chance Murdoch would get hurt. He’s a double-dealing, conniving, self-righteous bastard who almost got you killed.” He stopped abruptly.
Scott’s voice seemed loud in the dark silence. “And you can’t forgive that, can you?”
“Not that last one, no, I can’t.” He sat again, this time on the edge of the bed and spoke so quietly Scott almost didn’t hear him. “An’ what bothers me is that you can.”
The silence between them lengthened until it was almost a live thing, a tension between them, a gulf that might prove unbridgeable if Scott couldn’t find the words to make Johnny understand.
His brother was a man of strong emotions – rigidly controlled by an iron will, true, but his decisions were often made on gut instinct, on what his heart said was right. Scott had to find a way to reach that part of his brother. It was the only way to make Johnny see why he couldn’t just turn his back on his grandfather, even after what the old man had done.
Mouth suddenly dry, he asked, “Would you get me some water?”
With quick, fluid motions, Johnny filled a glass and raised his shoulders so he could drink. His blue eyes narrowed as he laid Scott back on the pillows. “You’re tired. We can finish this another time.”
“No.” The word was out of Scott’s mouth before he even had time to think. If he didn’t clear this up now, tonight, Johnny would never bring it up again, would never allow Scott to bring it up. He would accept Scott’s decision, but it would be between them, nevertheless. “Sit down,” he ordered, and though there was little strength in his voice, there was still the power of his command experience, and Johnny found himself back on the chair.
“I was about six years old when I realized my family was different,” Scott began. “My friends had mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, some had aunts and uncles and all sorts of relatives. I had my grandfather and a household of servants.”
He stopped whatever Johnny was going to say with a wave of his hand. “No, I’m not telling you a ‘poor little rich kid’ story. I was happy, for the most part, though I wondered why my father never came around. I knew he was alive – Grandfather didn’t lie about that – but every now and again I wished he’d at least come to visit. Something Murdoch said yesterday . . . I think he did come, but I think he gave me up rather than drag me through the emotional mess Grandfather likely told him he’d make of my life if Murdoch pushed for custody.”
Johnny snorted. “Just what I said.”
Scott shook his head and grew pensive. “I don’t know about that. I’m not sure Grandfather would have followed through.”
He turned his gaze back on his brother. “He really does love me, in his own way. He wants what’s best for me, wants what he believes will make me happy.”
“He sure has a strange way of goin’ about it.”
“Yeah,” Scott laughed.
“It’s not funny, Scott! You take as much power and money as that man has and add in all that cussedness and self-righteousness and you get someone who tries to control everyone’s lives. It ain’t right.”
“No, it isn’t right. But it is kind of funny.” He knew his brother didn’t see the humor. Maybe it was his still-aching body and throbbing headache, warping his thought processes. “Do you really think that because Murdoch couldn’t best him twenty years ago that no one could? Johnny, I’ve never been cut off by my grandfather from anything I really wanted or needed. He couldn’t stand to see me truly unhappy. I went to college against his wishes, went to Europe, went to war–”
He stopped abruptly. The memory of the day he’d made that announcement was one that still sent arrows of pain into his heart. “Anyway, like I was saying, my family was different. He was the only one I really had. One day I realized that, and I realized something else.”
He paused until he saw he had Johnny’s full attention.
“I realized that, just as I would be completely alone if I ever lost him, so he would be completely alone without me. Leaving him to go off to the War was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. He raised me, guided me, taught me. We were close in a way I can’t really describe. He would take me to country homes on visits so I’d have other children to play with. But I always knew, though my friends had mothers and aunts and older sisters to kiss their hurts away and fathers and brothers and uncles to teach them to ride, I always knew that there was just the two of us. If anything ever happened to him, I’d be lost. And as I grew older, I knew it was the same for him.”
Johnny was watching him, absorbing his words, his feelings. It showed in his face, in the taut lines of his body.
“I can’t just forget that, Johnny. I can’t forget twenty-five years of love. Am I angry at what he did here? Hell, yes. I don’t like to be manipulated any more than the next man. But do I understand why he did it?” He paused, suddenly exhausted, too worn to say more.
But Johnny finished for him. “Yes,” he said softly. “Yes, you do, don’t you?” He pulled the covers up over Scott’s chest, dabbed at his sweaty forehead with a cool cloth. “It’s the same reason you left with him. You’d do anything for someone you love.”
“Johnny–” He tried to sit up, afraid his brother still hadn’t understood.
“Shh,” Johnny said, pushing him back down. He’d lost his fidgets, was calmer now, with that easy, relaxed smile. “I know what you’re sayin’. You weren’t leavin’ because of the ties you have with your grandfather. You left because what you had with him, now you have with Murdoch.”
Johnny turned the lamp down and was about to go when he heard Scott’s whisper.
“And with you.”
halted, one hand on the doorknob, shoulders hunched, startled into a brief
moment of immobility. Then he looked back at his brother, now asleep,
and a small smile lifted the corner of his mouth as he opened the door
to the hall. “Me, too, Scott. Me, too.” And he closed
the door silently behind him.