The Well-Undressed Man
by  Jennifer

A/N:  This is a little ficlet that grew out of an idea that hit me after seeing the episode “Blind Man’s Bluff”.  And a very excellent episode it was, except for that last scene, which rather bothered me.  Would Johnny Madrid really run down the road from Lancer wearing nothing but a nightshirt?  I think not. 

(Not only undressed, but unbeta’d.  Working without a net here!)


“The Well-Undressed Man” 


Through the wide-open French doors of the great room, Murdoch Lancer could hear the sounds of the ranch hands cheering on his youngest son at work in the corral.  Hard at work himself at his desk balancing the books, the noise from outside faded into the background as his thoughts and concentration were taken up with neatly written numbers that marched across the ledger and small jotted notations that he was quite sure had been much easier to read not all that long ago….

Then a different sound shattered the morning air to jolt him out of his fixation on the cost of driving five hundred head of cattle to market, the wages of said hands to drive said cattle, and everything else involved in such an undertaking down to the price of bacon and coffee for already aforementioned hands.

Loud shouts of  “Johnny!” in a variety of voices got him out of his chair and through the doors faster than he would have thought possible at his age.  He headed to the corral at a dead run, fear lending his imagination several horrifying visions. 

All the men who had been watching Johnny work with the new horses were gathered around a still figure lying on the ground.  Scott was on his knees next to the man’s head.  Murdoch could only see one outstretched leg from behind the close circle of anxious hands, but that was enough.  


The ranch hands eased away from the fallen man as Murdoch approached.  He dropped a hand on Scott’s shoulder as he looked down at his youngest son.  Johnny lay sprawled in the dust of the corral, arms and legs awkwardly askew.  Further details slowly etched their way into Murdoch’s mind as he struggled to remain calm.  Eyes closed, still, pale, a thin trickle of blood trailing down one side of his face…. 

“Scott, what happened?  Did he get thrown?” 

Scott did not look up from wiping the blood off Johnny’s face with his bandanna as he replied.  The tense set of his shoulders was the only sign of his own worry.  “Yes, he did.  Everything appeared just fine, Johnny was working his usual magic, and then the horse seemed to go crazy.  Crashed into the rails, spun around, bucked, and before any of us could even do anything, Johnny was flying through the air and hit the ground.”  His fingers were gentle as they finished cleaning the blood from his brother’s face.  The slow trickle had stopped, but it looked like a good-sized bruise and a knot would be showing up soon on Johnny’s temple.  He slid one hand beneath Johnny’s head, searching for other possible bumps or bleeding.  Finding nothing else, he nevertheless continued to cradle the dark head in his palm.  

By now Murdoch was on his knees beside Scott, and he was carefully running his hands down Johnny’s chest and limbs, checking for breaks.  After straightening Johnny’s arms and legs, he sat back on his heels and allowed himself to feel a bit of relief.  “Nothing broken.  Probably some more bruises, though.”  Then the relief quickly vanished.  “Why isn’t he waking up yet?”  He brushed back the long sweep of bangs that had fallen over Johnny’s forehead.  “Should we risk moving him?” 

Scott looked over at his father.  “I think we can.  I’ll keep his head steady, and if a couple more men get their arms under his back….” 

So with willing and careful help, they got Johnny into the house and upstairs to his room, with Frank already on the way to get Doc Jenkins. 

Lowering Johnny to the bed, Scott eased his head down to the pillow, and nodded in thanks to the men who had helped to carry Johnny.  They nodded back, and quietly left the Lancer men alone.  Scott took a seat on the edge of the bed and wiped another thread of blood from his brother’s face.  Wake up, he silently commanded, watching for the slightest flicker of movement.  Open those eyes for me, boy.  Open those eyes, smile that smile, and tell me you’re all right.     

Stubborn, as usual.  Johnny’s eyes stayed shut, unmindful of his older brother’s orders.  

Murdoch started tugging off Johnny’s boots.  “Let’s try to get him a little more comfortable, Scott.” 

The two of them eventually got him stripped down to his drawers, revealing a rather spectacular array of bruises already beginning to show across his chest and ribs.  Scott reflected that he’d had a bit too much practice at putting his brother to bed lately.  Of course, he did have twenty years to make up for, so maybe it really wasn’t that often, if you averaged it out over all that time…. Scott smiled to himself, a fond, sad smile, and wished he could’ve been a big brother when Johnny was fifteen, and ten, and all the other years that they should have had together.  

He almost missed it.  Johnny’s fingers twitched.  “Murdoch!  He moved!”  Scott sat back down on the bed and peered closer at Johnny’s face, again willing him to open his eyes.  

Murdoch came closer and stood behind Scott, watching anxiously. 

Johnny’s head tipped to one side, and his eyes slowly fluttered open, squinting once or twice, and then clearing somewhat to focus on Scott.  The weight that had settled in Scott’s gut without him realizing it suddenly lifted, and he let out a sigh at the sight of those blue eyes.  

“Hey, Scott,” Johnny rasped.  He licked his lips.  “What happened?” 

“You got thrown by a horse, little brother.” 

A long, owlish stare greeted that statement.  “Nah…. I didn’t get thrown by no horse.  I got fell on by a horse.  I got fell on by a whole herd of horses….” 

“No, just one horse.  Sorry.  I guess you’re losing your touch.” 

Johnny grimaced and shook his head at such a ridiculous notion, and then made a low, incoherent moan of pain at the movement.  “Don’t make me get up and hit you.”  He lifted one hand and gingerly probed the growing lump on his head.  “Oh, boy, I can feel that one.”  He lowered his hand and added, “Horse all right?  Everybody else all right?” 

“Everybody’s fine, including the horse.  You’re the only one who got knocked around,” Scott informed him.  “Quit scaring me like that.” 

Johnny’s blurring eyes closed again.  That, and the fine lines of pain around his tightened mouth were the only indications of how much he hurt.  “Are you sure a whole herd didn’t fall on me?” 

Murdoch laughed.  “You’ve got a bad bump on your head, but no broken bones.  Doc’s on his way now, just in case.  Let’s get you into a nightshirt and under the blankets—” 

“No!”  Johnny suddenly bolted upright in the bed.  “I ain’t wearin’ no nightshirt!  Since I got to Lancer, every time I get sick or hurt, you put one of them things on me when I’m asleep.  I hate ‘em!  Git me my pants!  I’m gittin’ dressed….” 

Scott got his hands on his struggling brother’s shoulders.  “Take it easy!  Will you lie down, please?”  

Panting, shaking, and covered in a fine sheen of sweat, Johnny did.  But he did it with ill grace and a glare.  “I ain’t wearin’ no nightshirt,” he said again, mouth set in a stubborn line.  “You can’t make me do it when I’m awake.” 

“What is this all about?” Scott practically yelled, going from worried to exasperated in mere seconds.  “You sound ten years old!  What else are you supposed to wear to bed?” 

“Depends on where I’m sleepin’ and who I’m with,” he said, going another shade paler, struggling to stay conscious.  “Never had no complaints about it, either,” he added, sounding just a trifle smug. 

Murdoch hadn’t stopped laughing, and Scott turned to him.  “You aren’t helping matters any,” he hissed. 

“I’m sorry, Scott,” he said, trying to control himself, and failing miserably. 

Scott turned back to his brother.  “Johnny,” he said firmly, “what about Teresa?” 

Another owlish blink before the eyes fell shut again, and he said generously, with utter sincerity,  “Teresa can wear a nightshirt if she wants, Scott.  I don’t care.” 

“No, that’s not what I meant!”  Scott groaned and dropped his head into his hands.  If Johnny didn’t look so pathetic, he’d smack him for being so unreasonable.  “What if,” he began again, mustering all his patience, “Teresa just happened to walk in and see you not wearing a nightshirt?  You know she has that habit of barging right in without knocking….” 

The blue eyes opened wide and outraged at that.  “Are you sayin’ I got somethin’ ta be ashamed of?  What exactly the hell is wrong with me?” 

At this point, Murdoch had given up completely and was sitting in a chair, as his legs were far too weak to hold him any longer.  He just leaned back and watched, grinning. 

Scott raised his head and considered.  Well, Johnny was shorter than Scott, but he had broader shoulders, and he wasn’t exactly what you would call fat.  No; lean, lithe, slim, slender, those adjectives would fit Johnny quite nicely.  And he was lean and lithe, from his finely muscled chest and flat stomach (and, um, further), all the way down his strong horseman’s legs to his currently bare toes.  All right, he conceded; Teresa would no doubt be shocked if she walked in on Johnny not wearing a nightshirt.  But once she got over the shock, she would probably be very appreciative.  But she was also like a sister to them both, he reminded himself firmly, and therefore she would not, anytime soon, be seeing Johnny not wearing a nightshirt.  Or at least a sheet. 

Johnny was still waiting for an answer, Scott noticed.  His glare at Scott had not wavered in the slightest, even though he looked about as white as that sheet he should be wrapped in. 

“No, there is nothing in the least wrong with you.  Well, I take that back,” he added, thoughtful.  “You could be an inch or two taller.” 

“Oh, very funny,” Johnny grumbled. 

“But all right, you win.  This time.”  Scott pointed a stern finger at his brother.  “But only because Teresa is staying with friends for another day or two.  Next time, though….”  

“Hah!  Johnny Madrid don’t wear a nightshirt for nobody.”  The voice was fading rapidly even as the eyes drifted shut.  “Gonna have ta call ya out, Boston….”  His head lolled to one side, but there was a slight smile on his face as he fell asleep.  

Scott just shook his head and pulled the blanket up over his brother.  He shot a look at Murdoch.  

“You were a lot of help.” 

Murdoch grinned.  “I thought you did just fine.  Of course, you did lose.  But do you suppose he’ll remember any of this the next time he wakes up?” 

“Oh, God, I hope not.  I really don’t want to go through this again.  But just to be on the safe side, Murdoch, maybe you should tell Teresa she needs to start knocking on Johnny’s door and give him a minute or two before walking in.  Just in case.” 

“I might mention it.  But if she did walk in, and caught a glimpse of too much Johnny, wouldn’t that be the best way you could think of to get Johnny into a nightshirt?” 

Scott just stared at his father, his mouth hanging slightly open.  “Why, you old…. I think you’re right.  Do we let Teresa in on this or just allow it to happen?” 

“I think we let things fall out on their own.  Only a matter of time, I would say.” 

Scott snickered.  “It would teach both of them a lesson, wouldn’t it?  Oh, Murdoch, you are far more devious than I suspected.” 

“Thank you.  I think.”  Then he stood and motioned to Scott.  “How about we let your brother sleep?  We can wait for Doc Jenkins downstairs.” 

Scott got to his feet after a last glance at Johnny.  “Yes, all right.  I could use a cup of coffee, but I think I’ll come back and sit with him until the doc gets here.”  

They turned and left the room together, softly closing the door behind them, and so missed the sight of the wide grin growing on Johnny’s face as he opened his eyes again. 


June 2004



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