The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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BarbA

 

 

Drawing Lines In The Grey

Chapter 1

“Piss-ant weather. That’s what you’ll run into.” Sheriff Fergusson was correct on both counts. The weather was piss-ant, as the man so eloquently termed it, and they’d ridden right into the stuff.

The weather seemed timed with the twilight and as darkness mushroomed across the sky, so did more rain. Fat drops of it spit off the end of Scott’s hat to the front of his jacket. Raising one gloved hand in defense, he only succeeded in getting the wet down his jacket sleeve. He settled his eyes on the hunched back of his brother. “We should have stayed in town.”

Johnny curled himself in tighter, the only hint Scott knew he’d been heard.

The reply--finally--was muffled, caught between the collar pulled up around Johnny’s mouth and the pelting rain. “You coulda stayed.”

“Hardly.” The problem was the boy in Alliance reminded him of Tad Wilkins. How that memory snuck past all his defenses, he’d never know. It crept around and edged into his brain like the fog from Boston Harbor, until it was a fully formed entity--solid and tangible. Right there for the plucking.

The remembrance wasn’t of action or even so much of form, although Mark Parrish had that skinny lankiness they all bore at the start of the Rebellion. It was the set of the eyes, the easy smile and the sideways cant of his head so Tad-like, it made him take a breath.

They’d almost bypassed the Lucky Star, but an urge for cheap beer--anything other than the stale water in his canteen--buzzed through his brain. Johnny was easily persuaded, just a tip of the head toward the door and he was in.

He swiped at the wet running down his cheek and wished to God they’d never seen that saloon.

Johnny pulled up Barranca. “There. We can make a camp.”

It was a sketchy overhang of bare rock that Johnny pointed to, with enough room for a fire and two men to stay dry standing underneath--if one of them stooped. His jacket was damp and clinging, the only real warmth was where trouser met saddle and even that was intermittent. He nodded. Not the best, but they’d both had worse.

Dismounting, he rolled some of the stiffness out of his shoulders and yanked his coat collar tight around his neck. The dampness was bone-deep, a thing that only a roaring fire and a few fingers of Talisker’s could correct. Unfortunately the scotch was locked in Murdoch’s cabinet at the ranch, more than twenty-five miles away.

He looked over his saddle at Johnny. The wet planes of his brother’s face stood out, all hard edges and shadows.

“Johnny…”

“Nothin’ to say, Scott. I did what I had to do. That’s all there is to it.” He walked toward the outcropping. “I’ll get the fire going.”

*Did what he had to do*. Well. Maybe the movement would give his brother time to breath, to edge down from whatever particular cliff he was looking over. Pragmatic, Johnny was able to draw lines in the grey, somehow angling out the black and white.

He knew something about life and death himself, but it was messy and circuitous, shrouded with doubt--sometimes Johnny made it look easy. Today wasn’t one of them. 

There was a snick of metal against metal, but before it could fully register, a dull boom slammed into the tree trunk next to him, sending out showers of splintered wood.

Two more shots peeled off before Johnny dove straight into him, sending them both cartwheeling past the overhang.

He wiped at his eyes and floundered on the wet shale, trying to get his legs underneath him. The rifle cracked again, this time further away. Then another shot. That was Johnny’s answering pistol.

Scrambling up, he ran past the fork in the trail into the woods. A clearing was ahead and he slid into it on rain-soaked brush. The meaty sound of fists hitting bodies was intermingled with curses.

He fired off two warning rounds, and the men turned in surprise. Then a sickening crunch of underbrush echoed across the clearing. Both men gave startled yelps…and disappeared.

Panic froze his legs for a moment. He jogged to the edge of the rise and peered over. Johnny lay at the bottom of the short ditch in a curled heap, the other man was missing.

He slipped to the bottom.

“Are you hurt?” His hands fanned out on Johnny’s back. “Are you hurt?”

Johnny flinched when he pulled him over. A dark spot welled up on his white shirt, off to one side. Pushing a few fingers under the torn fabric, they came out wet and sticky. “Where else?”

“My leg.” Johnny tagged his sleeve. “It was Parrish.”

“Are you sure?”

“It was him. Son-of-a-bitch kept comin’.”

“Okay, okay.” A furtive glance around revealed trees and brush and the shadows beyond. No one there. “Johnny, we’ve got to go.” He wrapped his hands around the lapels of his brother’s jacket and hoisted him to his feet.

“Scott…not to the horses. He’ll be there.”

He frowned and looked in all directions. The beat of urgency inside him drove a decision. North, away from the horses…and town. 

*

*

They stuttered to a stop. It happened again. He heard someone or something behind them. Imagination? He pulled Johnny behind a juniper trunk and waited. Just the rush of blood in his ears. Maybe it was exhaustion overtaking his senses.

The slowness pulled at his strung-out his nerves. Ever since Johnny had fallen silent for the last half-mile.

Little by little, Johnny had given more of his weight until he was fully leaning against him. Warmth pressed between them, shoulder to thigh, and however slim, it felt good.

Every now and then, he’d snake a hand from under Johnny’s arm to his chest, feeling for the heartbeat. The first few times, Johnny pushed him away. Now nothing. Just the step-slide-hitch-stop through the wet forest with more hitch-stop than steps. 

The steady thrum inside him threatened to erupt.   

Step-slide-stop. The break in cadence was unexpected and irritating, but Johnny wasn’t moving anymore. He looked up and saw why.

Grandfather had drilled into him at an early age a belief in a destiny of his own making.  God never entered the picture until one muggy April night in Virginia, wrapped in the stench of blood and spent cartridges.      

Surely, this would line up in the Providence category. He blinked twice. Tucked away in the middle of nowhere, with a stack of animal hides and discarded antlers adorning the front, stood a hunter’s cabin.

Destiny be damned.

He shoved the door with his free hand and it swung open on wooden hinges. A fireplace took up half the north wall, and a few scattered sticks of wood littered the flooring. Too dark to see much more. He hauled Johnny in and pinned him against the wall, then turned to shut the door.

“We there yet, Boston?” Now that was a name from the past. Maybe Johnny was feverish already.

“We’re inside, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Johnny took it as a cue and his knees buckled. He hit the floor hard and bounced to his stomach, favoring his right side.

“Couldn’t you stay put?”

Johnny rolled and spoke over his shoulder. “What do you think I’m doin’? Lot easier down here.”

“Just…just stay there until I get a fire started.”

“Floor’s good. I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

He kicked a few pieces of kindling to the fireplace. God it was freezing. His breath plumed out in wisps of white and silver. It took two tries before he could wrap his dead fingers around the flint and three more before he could get a spark. Wringing in cold sweat, he stooped down and pushed his hands almost into the small flame.

The fire’s soft light slinked about the interior, encouraging the musty smell. Sprawled on the floor and silent, Johnny lay unmoving.

He straightened and hopped over his brother’s legs to a bundle of hides and bedding squeezed into the corner. A few spiders scurried away from the ancient mattress, leaving rolly-pollys caught in their webs. He slapped away the worst and spread it out before the hearth. Fisting two handfuls of Johnny’s coat, he pulled him over.

Johnny raised his head. “So, how is it?”

He dropped to his knees and peeled back Johnny’s jacket. “Give me a minute and I’ll let you know.”

Curses welled up. One bullet had torn an ugly crease into Johnny’s side. The second was an in and out through his thigh, still oozing blood. The mattress was already discolored with it.

A bluff and a dodge were easier. “I think I saw you hurt worse around yearling time. The cow that got the best of you, remember?”

“You mean got the best of you. You were the one tryin’ to hold’ er.” Johnny’s words slurred.

“At least I had the good sense to be beside her, not in front.”

“I told you…told you not to go near her calf...”

He looked up from the gore to find Johnny’s eyes were closed. So much the better.

There were two cabinets, curtained off by soft speckled deer hides. He pulled out two dust-covered bottles of what looked to be whiskey, one half-full. A small tin of either salt or sugar and a rusted frying pan made up the rest of the contents.

He unrolled the rest of the bedding and picked through it, finding half-way decent linen hidden between the blankets.

When he got back to the fireplace, Johnny was awake. He waved the half-bottle of whiskey and uncorked it.

Johnny tossed down a drink, spilling a little on his chin, and sputtered. “Cheap rotgut.”

“It’s the only game in town, Brother. Take another.” He blew a few specks of lint from the linen pad and held it over Johnny’s torso. “Ready?”

“Just do it.”

The alcohol splashed over the chest wound.

“Jesús Cristo!” Johnny twisted away while fumbling his bottle, hand blanched white against the glass.

He sat back and wiped his sleeve against his cheek. Now the leg. Johnny nodded at him to start. The round hole was reddened and raw, its edges black. A rush of heat rolled over him, and his hand shook over the wound. He pointed toward the whiskey with an elbow, waited until Johnny tipped it upwards again, then doused. 

Another few beads of sweat trickled down between his shoulder blades. After tying off the last of the homemade bandage, he reached up to snag the bottle out of Johnny’s lax fingers. It wasn’t until he pushed away from the mattress he realized both hands were unsteady.

*

*

Cross-legged on the floor, he propped his head up with one hand and waited. A handprint of blood, crusted and dark, smeared his hip pocket. It all happened so fast--the blink of an eye. He’d spent the last hour second-guessing himself about leaving the horses. He crammed two knuckles against his eyelids, and rubbed.   

Johnny lay turned toward the fire. Pale. Quiet. A few lines of pain etched across his mouth, but none of the anguish from before. A dark spot had already formed on the thigh bandage.

Because the worries didn’t stop he got up to pace the cabin, feeding the fire first. The fresh wood caused the flames to hiss and spark, burning a bit brighter. 

Glancing about the room, he really saw it for the first time.

Something was odd about the far corner where he found the bedding. Squinting in the dim light, it became clear. A rather lascivious print of Lotta Crabtree was pinned to the wallboards. Clothed in ridiculous short pants, she was smoking a cigar with what looked like utter enjoyment.

The cabin’s owner was eclectic; Harper’s Weekly supplements and peach labels were plastered side-by-side, keeping Lotta company. He turned to look at the door. It made sense now. The corner was a focal point for the room. Eclectic--and careful.

There was movement from the blankets. Johnny wasn’t out near long enough. “Hey, hey, stop it.”

Two fingers were under the bandage wrapped around his thigh and he was half-way up to an elbow. “You tied it too tight.”

He palmed Johnny’s chest, pushing him back. “I had to stop the bleeding.”

“My leg’s burning. Loosen it up.”

“You want to bleed to death?”

“Better than waiting for Parrish to come and get us.”

He stilled.

“Must’ve tracked us from town.” Johnny eyed the fire. “We might as well hang a sign outside sayin’ ‘here we are, come and get us’.

“You’re cold. I’m cold.”

Despite his injuries, Johnny was focused. “He’ll find us.”

He sighed. “I don’t have any doubt.”

“What kind of weapons do we have?” Focused and to the point.

“My revolver.”

“And?”

“And my revolver. That’s it.”

Johnny’s eyebrows climbed into his hairline.

“Exactly.”

Not able to settle, Johnny picked at the blanket’s pilled edge. “I didn’t want to kill him, Scott.”

 

 

Chapter 2

Scott eyed the poker chips amassed in the middle of the table.

“You gonna bet or fold?” Mark Parrish’s words were directed to Johnny through a sneer on his young face. 

Johnny was playing cat and mouse with Parrish. Sonora rules. Which added up to no rules at all. And that was all right because the Tad look-alike didn’t seem to appreciate the finer points of playing poker anyway. The boy took a sledgehammer approach--no finesse at all, much like the real Tad.

Johnny checked his hand and threw a few colored chips to the pot. “Ten dollars.”

Carl Sprader, a shopkeeper from north of town, drummed his gnarled fingers on the table. The wad of tobacco tucked behind a left-sided molar jiggled up and down as studied his cards. “Too rich for me.”    

He gave a cursory glance to his cards. At the top of his game, Johnny was a wonder to watch, but hell to play. “I’m out.” 

Parrish bunched his chips and pushed them forward. “Call the ten, and raise you ten more.” He gulped down his whiskey and the sneer was back. A look of triumph.

Johnny sat back and thumbed his cards, then fingered the felt on the table. Leaning in, he spoke in a low, worried voice just loud enough to be heard at the table. “You got me covered, Scott?”

The Green River Ensemble was missing an actor. He tipped his head and suppressed a grin. “Always.”

Nodding, a slow smile spread across Johnny’s face. “I’ll see your ten and raise you eight.”

Parrish flushed to the roots of his brown hair. “Eight more? You know I don’t have eight more!”

Johnny shrugged and made to scoop up the pot.

“Just hold on, Mister.”

Parrish pushed back from the table and scrounged in his front pocket. He brought out a bright gold coin, etched with writing.

“Now Mark, your daddy ain’t gonna be too happy if you lose that piece.”

“Mind your own business, Carl. Pa gave it to me, didn’t he? Besides, I’m not gonna lose.”

“Well, I…um, reckon.” Sprader shook his head. 

Parrish rubbed the piece between his fingertips, almost in reverence. Placing the coin on the table, he slid it to the center of the table. “It’s worth a lot more than eight dollars, Mister.”

Scott angled a look to Johnny, but he was already plowing ahead.

“Not in this pot.”

Parrish glowered.

“But I tell you what. We’ll call this even, I’m gettin’ tired anyway.”

“No! I call your eight.” The boy’s smile was giddy. “Queens high.”

Johnny fanned out his cards--a full house.

Parrish’s face suffused with red. His mouth was working, but no words came for a moment, then a whisper squeaked out that grew to a bellow. “Cheat!” He kicked back his chair and pointed at Johnny. “He’s a damn cheat!”

Parrish whirled on the shopkeeper. “Carl, you saw what he did, right?”

Sprader eased back from the table.  “Now hold on…it seemed fair…”

The saloon went dead quiet.   

 “Why don’t I buy you a beer and we move on to better things?” No one would know it by his soft voice, but Johnny was en pointe.  

“I don’t want your goddamned beer.”

“This was your play, kid, no one else.”

Parrish’s draw was fast.

Johnny’s was faster.

He slid his fingertips to Johnny’s forehead checking for fever. It was there, already marking the pale skin with two red points, one on each cheekbone.

The afternoon was a million years ago, the actual shooting hazy. But the blood under his fingernails was real enough. A bite of laughter bubbled up at the absurdity of it all. He squelched it back down and lifted the bottle, taking a drink.

The whiskey was almost gone. It wouldn’t last the night. He let the bottle fall to his side where it knocked against his holster. His gun. If Parrish did make a run for the cabin, there were only four bullets to stop him.  

Johnny was mumbling. “Too bad Cal Parrish had to find out.”

“Find out what?”

“How it is.”

“How what is?”

Johnny looked at him like he was a slow child. His hand crept out of the blankets to wave in the air.

“Everything, Scott.”

Sick or drunk or both. He grabbed Johnny’s wrist and tried to push it back under the blanket.  

“To lose someone.” Eyes intent, Johnny pulled away to tangle his fingers in Scott’s jacket. “He was full-on grieving, never figured on him coming after us. Didn’t seem the type…”

For one traitorous moment in the saloon, Scott wanted to find Parrish and tell him how his son was killed--fathers always want to know the how. A quick truth was easier. Get it done and over with, maybe the man could accept the circumstances of his son’s death.

It all happened too fast, though. Before he knew it, the sheriff was pushing past him to the body, with Parrish trailing behind. Flickers of shock, outrage and pain. It was all there the instant Cal Parrish saw his son’s body on the floor.

And now Johnny was lying on the floor.

He thought about it, then thought some more. There were steps to be taken.

Johnny was slow to rouse, his face tight with pain.

“I’m leaving to find the horses.”

“When are we goin’?”

“We’re not. I am.”

“What…?”

“You’re too much of a liability, Brother. We wouldn’t make it twenty yards.” He took his revolver and held it out, butt-end first.

Johnny shied away. “You’re not givin’ me that.”

“I’m leaving it here.”

“You get about two steps out the door and bam. Parrish’ll be waiting to pick you off.”

“Maybe.”  

“It’s stupid to try.”

He forced a smile. “The eternal optimist. Now take the damn gun…you’ll need it if Parrish comes before I get back.”

“Wait….just wait.” Johnny looked around the room, settling his eyes on one spot. “Help me get over there.” It was Miss Crabtree’s corner of the room.

The mattress was dragged to the corner. Johnny laid halfway on it and halfway propped up against Lotta’s legs. Even with the simple movement, a sheen of sweat covered his face. 

He pushed the pistol into Johnny’s hand and left the rest of the whiskey canted against his leg. Any other time the scene would look comical, but Johnny’s eyes were halfway closed and the bandages showed too much red.     

*

*

It was a gamble going after the horses. The night, combined with the woods, was good cover. There was moonlight now, no more rain. One more point in his favor. The path dipped down past a stream and he followed it for a while, going south.

The two horses were still tethered by the outcropping where he and Johnny left them. As if it was nothing strange to lose your owners for six hours. He felt a chill run down his spine that didn’t have anything to do with the damp midnight air. It was there. The unmistakable click of a revolver being cocked.

“I knew one of you would come back.” Cal Parrish bounced the gun in his hand. “But I was hoping it would be your brother.”

Parrish stepped out of the shadows, close enough to realize the man had been crying.  

“My wife died a year ago, Mr. Lancer. All I have left to remember her is this gold coin. Did you see it?” He pushed down into a front pocket and brought out the coin. It trapped a piece of moonlight and seemed to glow. “Gave it to her on our wedding day. It reads ‘Forever’. The etching cost a pretty penny, but my Abby was worth it.”  He rubbed the coin between finger and thumb. “Only it wasn’t forever. And now my boy is dead, too. Your brother made sure of that.”

He swallowed. “Your son…”

“His name is Mark.”

“Mark played a part in this. He would have killed my brother.” He clipped his words--something was simmering inside him, ready to boil up and spew.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My son and I were supposed to be together.” He waved the gun toward the horses. “You can leave, Mr. Lancer. It’s your brother I want. Where is he?”

Fear crawled through him like those spiders from the mattress. Think…think! 

“Johnny is already in a bad way, Parrish. Why don’t you just forget about us? I get help for him and we go on about our business. No fault, no foul.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.” An idea popped into his head. Less than half a chance, but it was something. 

Parrish went to put the coin back into his pocket.

Now. It was now. “I’d like to see that coin, Mr. Parrish. You see, I was married once, too. She died, back in Boston.” The lie tripped off his tongue.

Parrish’s eyes flicked to him, then down to the coin in his palm. He shook his head.

“She had brown hair and blue eyes. The prettiest you’d ever seen.” The die was cast.  “Her name was…Julie.” 

There. Hooked. Parrish held out the coin, keeping his revolver high.

He took the piece and ran a thumbnail across the word. Admiring it for all he was worth. “It’s very nice. I can see why she liked it.”

He palmed the coin and offered it back. The gun tipped towards him, so he took the gold piece between thumb and forefinger and stretched out his arm. Parrish took a step forward.

His left hand shot out to grip the long barrel, turning it up. A deafening shot exploded beside his ear. Smoke cleared and he wrenched the gun from Parrish’s fingers. Bobbled, it landed a few feet away.   

He dove for the pistol. The fear and anger, the wet and cold, Johnny lying in his own blood--it all crowded in on him and he jerked the trigger.

The first shot caught Parrish under the ribs. Eyes going wide, he stumbled back toward the trees. The second shot hit him square in the left chest and he pitched facedown. With a final half-hitching sigh, the man lay still.

His breaths came out in puffs of white, the heavy pistol awkward in his cold fingers. He pulled it up higher onto his thigh, letting the heat from the spent barrel seep through the wet fabric of his trousers.

The ringing in his ear made his head spin. He glanced at the body, but no real thoughts of Cal or Mark Parrish came, only ride to the shack, find Johnny alive, get him to town. He wobbled to his feet.

The small cabin wasn’t hard to find after all. The door an easy push as it bounced back against its hinges. He stopped in the doorway. 

Johnny was laying down, his head off one end of the mattress. A well of dark blood blossomed out from under his leg.

It was too late. “Johnny!” The sharp knot in his stomach twisted.

Johnny twitched and brought the gun up. “Come…come to finish the job, Parrish?” 

The colt swung in a crazy arc then pointed at him. He lunged for the mattress when the bullet whisked past him, biting off part of the door jam. 

As Johnny tried to get the gun righted for a second shot, Scott’s hand closed over his brother’s and tugged the weapon away.

He sagged back on his heels. Too close. This had all been too close.

*

*

The thought came to him in a vague sort of way. The kind where you didn’t know if it happened or if you’d dreamt doing it. Only this was real. The harder Scott concentrated, the clearer the picture grew...

He’d been an ancient nineteen. The Wilkins’s parlor, crammed with heavy furniture and purple brocade drapery pulled tight against the afternoon sun, was stifling and closed-in after so much field work. He tugged at the blue serge buttoned around his throat. Cognizant of his weary-looking boots, he pushed his toes further under the ottoman in front of him. Nobody could keep a shine on issue boots, and it was important there be one today.

Ina and Michael Wilkins stared at him in that expectant type of way--respectful of the uniform, if not the boy inside of it--sitting on the edge of their seat cushions, tea left to cool on the doily-covered table.

After polite necessities, he told them a story of gallantry, of their son dying for the cause, hoping the picture he painted fit the son they loved before he left home. Because it wasn’t the Tad he knew. His parents bobbed their heads like two parakeets after each sentence, eager for the next lie.

He rambled under their stares--Tad was a good friend, always smiling, hard to wake up for morning drill. Their grief was still new, palpable in a way, and it washed over him, conjuring up images he’d put to rest during the last month. Looking away, he fumbled to a close and stood.  

Later, by the white railing on the front porch, Michael Wilkins pulled him aside wanting to know the how.

“That was a good story.”

“Sir?”

“What you told Tad’s mother and me in the parlor.”

Scott scuffed his booted foot against the porch strut, making the rowel sing as it spun on the spur. Tad was reckless--and a bit naïve. He was able when it counted, but sometimes Scott had just wanted to shake him, tell him to wake up. And now, what was he supposed to say to his parents?

Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins, your son died in the back of a canvas tent, ankle-deep in mud and pissing drunk. Shot by one of our own, over a pot of money not worth twenty dollars.  

“I know my boy, Lieutenant. I just want the truth.”

Mr. Wilkins had grey eyes, Tad inherited the very same. Kindly, with crinkles at the corner.

The story and all its inequity spilled out.

A faraway look clouded the grey. “Tad always had a wild side. We thought the Army….” Wilkins ran a hand through his thinning brown hair. “Well. At least I know.”

Cold anger sizzled and sparked. For Tad, his parents…maybe a little for himself…

Something was tugging on his arm. The thought beat its way past his dreams and he jerked his head upright. When had he fallen asleep?

“Jebediah Fergusson is here. He wants to ask you some questions.”

The doctor’s wife, certainly used to having injured cowboys dumped on her doorstop at all hours of the morning, held a measure of sympathy in her eyes. She took his hand and unclenched the tight fist, placing a ceramic mug filled with hot coffee into his palm. 

“My Jonas takes it black; I didn’t think to doctor this up any.” A glimmer of mirth replaced the sympathy.

The corner of his mouth pulled up at the small joke. At some point in the last hour a gingham quilt was thrown over his lap. He fingered a frayed edge, drawing out a few red threads, trying to gather flyaway thoughts.

“You looked cold, even with the fire.”

He nodded. The cobwebs shifted, and his thoughts settled on Cal and Mark Parrish.

She waited until he took a sip. “I expect you’ll want to talk to the sheriff outside, so as not to disturb your brother.”

A train running through his room wouldn’t wake Johnny, not with laudanum on board. And the good doctor had dosed him to the eyeballs. He took the hint to get going and lurched out of the rocker, the coffee tipping from rim to rim, until her steadying hand came under his elbow.

“Jebediah will want to talk with your brother, when he wakes up, too.” She said it with the perfunctory ease of one who had ample experience with lawmen and killings.

*

*

The sheriff would have to wait another three hours. But when Johnny awoke, it was with bloodshot eyes and one question.

“Parrish?”

“He’s dead. Should be off the mountain and at the mortician’s by now.” It came out too casual and Johnny, even under a narcotic haze, caught his worry.

“You killed him.”

A short nod. It was a ridiculous gesture to describe the endpoint of a man’s life.

“Shit.” Johnny turned his head to stare at the door.

“He was waiting for me where we left the horses.” Parrish’s look--the one of complete  surprise--when the first bullet plowed into his gut, made his stomach jump with a quick slide of nausea.

Johnny was eyeing him. “I’m not blaming you.” He swiped a shaky hand across his forehead, scattering dark bangs. “Dios. Not for this.”

His brother’s pragmatic side reasserted itself. “I know you, Scott. If you’re sayin’ it had to be done then that’s it--it had to be done.” His eyes closed again before the last word was out.  

How many times in the past did Johnny say those words to himself? How often did they have to be repeated before he believed them? Black or white. Or grey. And the ability to draw a line between the shades. 

Simple really.

Placing the empty coffee mug on the floor beside the rocker leg, he stretched out his legs, and pulled the quilt up higher on his chest to wait out the laudanum.

It was a trait he envied.

~ end ~
December 2010

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