By Wendy K.
They move him to the sofa in the sitting room, partly because the doc needs the space and the extra light to work and partly because none of them can stand the stench of blood in Scott’s room. Johnny presses when the doc says to press, intense in his concentration, and Murdoch hands over what the doc tersely asks for from his bag on the floor beside him. The doc says things like, ‘the bullets still inside him’, ‘too much blood’ and ‘nicked the femoral artery’.
Scott is pale, a sickly gray that reminds Johnny of dingy sheets that have gone too long between washings with too little bleach. He’s cold, too. Clammy. Even his blood, smeared in thick sticky patches on Johnny shirt and pants is cold. It’s funny. Just a few hours ago Johnny had been joking with Scott, basking in the warmth of his brother’s smile. And in this very room, too. It seems like an eternity ago.
Dios. He’d just wanted some air.
After getting into it with Murdoch – again – the walls of their hotel rooms had been closing in on him. Johnny had just wanted some fresh air. That’s all.
Just some air.
When he’d returned several hours later, he’d noticed maroon droplets on the powder blue carpet of the hallway and red handprints on the gold flocked wallpaper. Signs of something awful that lead, like a trail of breadcrumbs, to the door of their suite. The stray thought that the walls and floor would need scrubbing flitted through Johnny’s brain - wouldn’t want to upset the other guests - and he fought the hysterical giggle that welled up in his throat.
Damn it. His brother’s life smeared all over the walls. Like a talisman or something. Johnny looks down at Scott and feels like the world is spinning, he’s going to fall over ‘cause he can’t breathe. He can barely remember what he and Murdoch were fighting about. He’s also thinking about how lucky it was that he came back when he did. Everyone else had been asleep in their rooms and hadn’t heard Scott stagger in. Any later and the blond could’ve been gone. Still could be. He wasn’t out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot.
The doc mutters while he’s working, a solemn yet determined set to his jaw. He doesn’t look up at them. Johnny figures it’s safer that way, considering how far his hand is inside his big brother’s thigh. He notices that Murdoch can’t watch. He looks for a few seconds but then his eyes slide away to the far corner of the sitting room, bright with unshed tears. It’s not the first time they’ve pulled a bullet out of one of his sons but Johnny figures it never gets any easier.
Teresa strokes Scott’s hair and whispers reassurances in his ear. Johnny wonders if he can hear her.
Hours later – feels like years – Johnny takes the first watch even though they all know no one will sleep. Not yet. He can hear the Doc conversing in low tones with Murdoch, the constable and the night manager of the hotel out in the hall. Teresa has retreated to her room and Johnny can just make out the occasional muffled sob through the heavy door. Delayed reaction. She’d been cool as a cucumber earlier.
My fault, Johnny thinks queasily. All my fault. They all know it but they’re not saying it.
Mierda. He’d just wanted some air.
Johnny is abruptly sick at the thought of what he’ll have to say when his big brother does wake up. There’s no way to ….fix things. To make things right. The real kicker is, even as he’s being crushed under the weight of all this stupid guilt, there’s this idiot voice in the back of his head insisting that it’s not his fault. It’s Scott’s, because Scott should’ve kept a better eye on his own back in a big city like San Francisco. He shouldn’t have gotten himself in a situation where some common thug could rob him, shoot him. He shouldn’t have followed Johnny out into the foggy night in the first place.
But that’s who Scott was. That’s what he did. Johnny should have known that Scott would try to follow him. How could he not? The mediator, the conciliator, the calm voice of reason. He was the steady rock that both Johnny and Murdoch counted on when things got too heated between them.
And it occurs to him, such stupid poetic nonsense, that if Scott is the rock then maybe Johnny and Murdoch were the river, wearing him away. Wearing him down to nothing. He shoves that thought away before it poisons him. Scott’s alive. He isn’t going to die. That’s all there is to it.
But what the hell is he going to say when Scott does eventually open his eyes? Johnny’s never been a coward, but with a dizzying lurch, he realizes he doesn’t want to be here for that. He has no idea how to make it right and the desire to flee the room yet again is quenched through sheer force of will.
Taking a deep breath, he pushes the fear away, banishes it before it can worm its way too far into his soul. He’ll deal with it. Somehow.
For now, Johnny keeps watch, a gentle hand on Scott’s shoulder to remind himself that he’s not alone. Not yet.
When Scott wakes, he’s on a sofa in a finely appointed, if unfamiliar, sitting room and Johnny is staring tiredly at him from an armchair.
It seems surreal and, for a moment, Scott thinks himself in a dream. It’s an idea that’s lent credence by the thick silence and the glitter of his brother’s eyes reflecting the flickering light from the gas lamps. Johnny is still as stone, unreadable. When Scott blinks sluggishly at him, feeling like his eyelids are five pounds each, he doesn’t move.
“Wha’ happened?” His speech only slurs a little. Scott thinks about sitting up but the dull ache permeating his entire body tells him that it would be an extremely bad idea. When Johnny doesn’t answer, he groans and clumsily begins to pat his thigh where the worst of the agony radiates from. The bandages are rough and warmly sticky.
“We’ll need to change ‘em soon,” Johnny says. “Don’t touch ‘em.”
Scott halts his fumblings, too tired to continue. He can’t feel his legs very well. He feels drugged…. cotton-headed. He squints over at the small table next to his brother and sees a pitcher of water, a glass and a bottle of what he assumes is laudanum.
“Pardee?” he asks, clearing his throat.
Johnny gives him a funny look and then shakes his head. He shifts, and that’s when Scott notices a gleam of metal in his lap. His gun, fingers curled loosely around the handle.
“Everyone okay?” Scott asks when nothing seems forthcoming.
Johnny makes as if to nod his head, then hesitates as he changes his mind. “No,” he mutters.
“What?” Scott sits up quickly, but it’s a mistake. The pain that flares up his torso takes the breath right out of him. He falls back, clutching the blankets, cutting off a weak cry before it escapes. He is not entirely successful. Johnny is at his side in a second, pushing Scott down onto the cushions angrily.
“What the hell, Scott?! You got a hole in you the size of the whole San Joaquin Valley. You stay down or I’ll tie you down!”
“Where’s Murdoch?” Scott gasps, ignoring the shaking of his limbs as the pain recedes to an ache again. His heart pounded. “T-Teresa?”
Johnny glares at him for a moment. “Have you gone stupid or somethin’? Where’s that fancy education you’re so famous for?” He asks roughly. “I was talkin’ about you, Scott.”
Relief floods through him like quicksilver and Scott closes his eyes, exhaling heavily. “Oh,” he says faintly. “That’s good.”
“Whatever,” Johnny finally says, low. “I’m gonna go get the doc.”
Scott manages to grunt an affirmative. He doesn’t hear anything else after that, but he feels fingers brushing through his hair, gentle and comforting, before sleep claims him once more. He suddenly remembers, somewhat vaguely as he drifts off, that it wasn’t Pardee. But that doesn’t matter. Tomorrow he can tell his little brother that its okay, no one’s at fault. No one needs to feel guilty. Scott knows. Scott gets it. He can listen to what Johnny doesn’t say, after all.
- end -