Not ours, no profit being made, etc. This is just for fun.
Summary: A What Happened Next for Lifeline.
to Con for betaing, and Ronnie for the reassurance. (g)
Johnny should have stayed.
He shouldn’t have let the ol’ man push at him like he did. Should have remembered when Murdoch got worried like that he’d strike out like a cornered badger, and before Johnny knew it he was on his way to the mine instead of staying where his father needed him.
Johnny scrubbed his palms wearily over his face, and wished for nothing more than a hot bath and his bed. Glancing down at his sleeping father he knew even if he had both, he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
He wished Scott were home.
Jelly had held himself together long enough to get Murdoch home, in bed, and washed up before collapsing in the chair beside Murdoch’s bed. Johnny arrived home and helped the still ailing man off to his bed with Jelly muttering assurances that the doctor had been sent for. Not that the ‘boss’ needed a doctor with the way he was carrying on.
Jelly was certainly getting back to normal.
Shouldn’t Scott be home?
Now he was just borrowing trouble, but given the week they’d had, it wouldn’t surprise him if something held up his brother.
Charlie. He hadn’t seen that one coming at all. Hell of a way to die, but grimly fitting. Johnny was too tired and disappointed to get angry, and he still had to tell Scott everything that had happened.
Johnny certainly wasn’t looking forward to telling Murdoch about Angus. The two men had their differences, but Johnny knew that Murdoch had called the man a friend. How Angus could do this… Johnny shook his head, relieved that the bastard was on his way to jail.
Anna was gone, and Johnny was more than grateful not to deal with her part in all this.
Johnny remembered a couple years ago when he was the one in the bed and Scott was sitting in the chair beside him.
“Brother, our father has the biggest ranch around; he shows a confidence and wealth that others want the easy and violent way.”
Now those had been prophetic words. Lancer was a big target and there had been more than a few who had taken a shot at it. There were times Johnny wondered what their lives would have been like without the ranch.
Scott had been lost to Murdoch when Haney had gone after Lancer all those years ago. He wondered what Lancer had meant to his own mother when she had taken off with him. Murdoch had lost close friends through death and deceit. There were people like Buck Addison, but unlike Buck, they wouldn’t have someone like Aggie to stop them from finishing what they started.
Murdoch jealously guarded Lancer from all comers, and sometimes that included his sons. Any talk of going beyond the cattle business inevitably led to an argument.
There were times Johnny couldn’t help but question where he fell in his father’s priorities, or where Scott did.
And where was Scott?
Hearing the sound of a horse and buggy, Johnny nearly sagged with relief. A glance down at Murdoch revealed his father was still asleep, so he cat-footed it out of the room and down the stairs to greet the doctor.
Sam entered through the main door when Johnny was half way down the stairs.
“Murdoch upstairs?” Sam took off his hat, hooked it on the coat tree, and started up the steps. Johnny nodded, feeling a little washed out himself now that one concern was being addressed.
“He’s been sleepin’ almost since Jelly got him home.” Johnny was about to turn and head back up, but Sam, upon reaching him caught his elbow.
“Johnny, I’ve been told what happened. I’ll look after Murdoch.” A small tug on Johnny’s arm and he was gently, but insistently steered downstairs. “Where’s Scott?”
“He went to town to see about roundin’ up some hands.” Johnny frowned, looking up at Sam. “You didn’t see him?”
“No, but that’s not unlikely.” Sam smiled, and gave a stronger nudge. “Go to the kitchen, get something to drink and eat. I’ll come down after I examine your father. Go.”
So Johnny went and once he arrived in the kitchen he didn’t know what to do. He knew he should be hungry, thirsty, and above all tired. Should do what Sam said. Eat, drink, and from there he knew he should get some sleep.
But Scott wasn’t home yet.
Earlier, Johnny had ordered the remaining men to clear out the salt licks, and expressed his appreciation for staying. One crusty old vaquero, Adolfo, had scoffed and waved him off. Those that remained were much the same group who had remained the last time Lancer was under siege. The best, Murdoch had called them, and that had taken on a newer, more personal meaning to Johnny.
How do you thank men like that?
Wished Scott had seen them. Vaqueros and cowboys that gathered their horses, and went about doing their job as always without worrying about the ‘dark cloud’ hanging over Lancer.
It was the rainy season.
Of course there was a dark cloud.
Johnny kicked himself mentally and shook the recriminations loose. Anna had told enough of the truth that he was able to find Murdoch. As for the rest? Well, when those you think of as friends turn on you, there is no preparation for that.
Now all there was to do was the waiting.
He was tired of waiting for Scott.
The weariness hit him all of a sudden, and that washed-out feeling he experienced earlier was a pale comparison to this.
Johnny turned to the stove, and got a pot going. He couldn’t remember off hand why Maria or Teresa weren’t around, but knew he wasn’t supposed to expect them. Looking around he could see the signs that they had provided for their absence, but coffee was the one thing the Lancer men would have to manage.
Johnny was spoiled by these women. And he liked it.
But he’d made coffee for himself for years and let routine take him through the steps.
Now if his brother would –
Johnny spun on his heels to see Scott standing in the back door, pulling off his hat.
“Is Jelly worse?” Concerned, and more than a little trail weary, Scott looked much like Johnny felt.
“Jelly’s fine. It’s Murdoch, he – ” And watched his brother pale, and rushed to reassure, “Scott, he’s gonna be all right.”
Scott removed his gloves and scrubbed at the side of his face tiredly. “Something tells me, Brother, that you have a story to tell.”
“Yeah, and I will, but what took you so long?”
Scott sank down in one of the chairs, and finally, Johnny sat, comfortable in the knowledge he wouldn’t have to get up too soon.
“I’ve been in Moro Coyo, Green River, and Spanish Wells. It appears our situation has become very well known.” Scott folded his arms over his chest, and kicked out his legs. “Now I am very well aware that bad news travels fast, but this was all too strange for my liking. I’ve acquired a few hands, but not near enough to move a herd.”
“About that…” Johnny, over three cups of coffee, related the betrayals and scheme to his brother, and was grateful for Scott’s silence through it. Only when Johnny was finished did he say anything.
“You believe it was Charlie that bushwhacked Murdoch?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Johnny –” Sam came through the door, and smiled. “Scott, glad you’re home. Boys, Murdoch’s going to be fine. Man has a skull like granite. He woke up for my exam, but is sleeping now. Just check on him periodically.”
Johnny’s body went boneless with relief. From the corner of his eye he saw Scott take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Ain’t like we don’t know the ol’ man’s hard-headed.” Johnny grinned. Scott swiped him lightly across the shoulder and rose.
“Thank you, that would be much appreciated. I need to get back to town, but I can spare time for a cup.”
When it was time for Sam to go, Johnny volunteered to walk the doctor out. Scott bid Sam goodbye and was up the back stairs quickly. Scott’s long legs taking the steps three at a time let Johnny know that his brother’s patience in waiting to see their father had run out.
Once Sam was seen off, Johnny slowly made his way back to the kitchen to give Scott just a little more time.
Later, Johnny entered Murdoch’s bedroom, and grinned upon seeing an extra chair pulled in beside Scott’s. His brother was sprawled in the chair, elbow propped on the arm of it, chin resting in his palm. His gaze fixed on the tray Johnny was carrying.
“Good plan,” Scott commented quietly, getting up and moving a small table between the chairs.
“I’m starving.” Johnny set the tray down, and looked at their sleeping father. “Been out the whole time?”
“Yes.” Scott frowned as he returned to his seat. “His face is badly bruised.”
“It was rocky where he went down.” Johnny picked up a sandwich and shoved it at his brother. “Come on, eat.”
Scott took the sandwich, but didn’t eat. Instead he studied their father with a faraway look in his eyes.
“Remember how this all started, Johnny? Arms, legs and guts?” A faint smile played around his lips.
“Could hardly forget. Also remember you saying there’d be folks that would want to take Lancer.” Johnny snorted. “You sure called that one.”
“I didn’t know it would be quite this hard, and I didn’t expect it to come from those we called friends.”
“Makes it harder,” Johnny agreed. “Murdoch doesn’t deserve that.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Scott’s jaw worked, and Johnny knew his brother was building up to say something neither of them would be comfortable with.
“Get it said, Brother.”
“I wonder if we are still competing with this ground Murdoch loves more than anything God ever created.” Scott looked at Johnny then, a tired smile on his face. “And if we are, I think I understand it now.”
And Johnny knew what he was talking about. Knew how it felt to protect Lancer from all comers. Knew what it was to love a place and the people who lived there.
So he nodded to let his brother know he understood, and gestured at the uneaten sandwich in Scott’s hand.
“Murdoch’s good. Jelly’s good. We’re good. The ranch will recover, and we’ll make it right.”
“We’ll make it right,” Scott repeated and accepted the sandwich. “Sounds like a plan, Brother.”
Johnny settled back in the chair hearing the echo of the words he had spoken two years ago, and smiled.