The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

Lost In The Shallows

Thanks to Cat for the beta

“Brother, I’m so sorry, so sorry I didn’t get down to ya!” The desperate whisper hung in the air, unheard, unheeded. It was as if his brother was dead, lost to him, and he was now alone.

<><><><> 

Five days earlier

Having a brother was nothing short of incredible. Another person that was a part of you to share in personal joys and heartaches, in the best of times and the worst, was like nothing Johnny could comprehend. But growing up, not knowing that you had a brother was… unforgivable. It would serve no purpose to put yourself through the ‘what ifs’ and ‘whys’ and ‘why nots’ now. That would be a waste of time. No one could call back time to re-live what should never have happened in the first place. They would all have to get on with life and make the very best out of what they currently had. And for Johnny Madrid Lancer, he had it all… now.

For as long as he lived, Johnny would never forget that fateful day when he scrambled up the hill to the edge of the dusty road to stop the stage and ask for a lift into Morro Coyo. It was the day that changed his life, his thoughts, and his love.

Madrid would always be a part of him, but Lancer would grow and be an extension of the man he was. They would combine into the best of both to create a man anyone would be proud to call friend… or son and mostly, brother. He had learned, the hard way, not all he’d been told as a very young boy was true. There had been a place for him at Lancer his whole life, and more surprisingly, a father that did want him. And he would now be a part of a family, something he never dreamt possible for a man like Madrid.

Sometimes things change for the good, and Johnny was thankful that he’d given it a chance. Because he found his brother. Thinking the situation over, and knowing now the things he did, Johnny could, for all intents and purposes, be happy that he’d grown up without Scott. Because now, had they grown up together and then been separated, Johnny knew for a fact that he would not have survived. If they were destined to meet, this was by far the only sequence of events that would be acceptable. You can’t miss what you never had, but finding it now, one was assured of knowing, for the rest of your life, God willing, the person so critical to your existence would be there with you for as long as you lived.

Johnny smiled as he leaned forward and rested his forearms on the saddle horn as he watched Scott work the cows. Boston had come a long way. He certainly did not share any resemblance with the dandy that had been on that stage two years ago. And Johnny was proud to call him brother, and more, his friend.

With the last of the ornery beasts rounded up, Scott and Johnny herded them to the lower pasture at Lancer. A hot bath, a delicious dinner, and a soft bed was the ideal ending to a strenuous day and would prepare them to start the whole thing again in the morning.

<><><><> 

Murdoch heard the banter coming down the stairs. He had to stop and listen closely, not sure he was hearing what he thought he was hearing.

“Hey, Scott, ya think them cows ever stop being stupid? Think about it, we pull them outta the mud an’ before we know it, they’re right back in it an’ stuck again! I mean, how dumb is that?”

“No, I figure the only way that will stop is when they end up on the dinner table, brother! I guess it takes drastic measures!”

And Murdoch couldn’t help but grin. The boys were hungry and tired but not too tired for the silliness that Murdoch began to cherish. The stoic Scotsman was now taking delight in tomfoolery. Times sure had changed.

“Dinner is ready, you two! We’re having… beef and chilies!” Murdoch said with a smile.

Johnny grinned. “Tonto en el casco!” Johnny and Murdoch laughed, leaving Scott with a raised brow.

“Well, my Spanish is coming along, but that was more than I could understand. What did you say, brother?” Scott asked.

“We’re havin’ dumb on the hoof,” Johnny said as he pulled out a chair. “Well, they may be dumb as a box of rocks, but they sure do taste good!”

“Do you two have them all rounded up, or are there more stragglers out there?” Murdoch questioned as they enjoyed the meal.

“I think we should check out the North pasture tomorrow. Some of the men noticed a fence down, but it rained so heavily that the ground was too unstable to do any work in that terrain. They thought maybe some cows had wandered into the canyons and mountain valleys up there. Johnny and I will check it out. Hopefully, it won’t take more than a day or two.” Scott chewed another mouthful of beef and turned to Johnny.

“What did you call this?” he asked.

“Tonto en el casco, why?” Boston’s got somethin’ on his mind…

“I think tonto per delicioso is a far better name!” Scott said with a smile.

<><><><> 

“Don’t know about you, Boston, but I’m turnin’ in. Them ornery-ass cows wore me out taday,” Johnny mumbled through a yawn as he stood and made his way to the stairs.

“I’m right behind you, brother! You look like you’re ready to sleep right here. Do you need any help?” Scott offered in his condescending, big brother way.

“Nope, if anyone’s gonna put me ta bed, it ain’t gonna be you!” Johnny laughed suggestively before Murdoch’s ‘harumph’ brought the silliness to a halt.

“’Night, ol’ man.”                                      

“Goodnight, Murdoch.”

“Goodnight, boys!”

<><><><> 

Johnny couldn’t figure out how the night could be over so soon. Hadn’t he just gone to bed? Why was he getting up now? Somehow, things didn’t appear to be working out the way they should. Maybe he needed a new watch? Yup, that had to be it.

Once dressed, Johnny strode to the window. It was still dark. Mierda, the damn chickens ain’t even up yet! He let the curtains fall back into place, tugged on his boots, and left the room.

The sight of his brother in the hall sent a grin across Johnny’s face. “Somethin’ wrong with your watch, too, huh?”

Scott was bewildered. “What…?” he asked, not making any sense out of Johnny’s comment. I should be used to his nonsense by now! he thought, wondering where the off the wall comment had come from.

“Never mind. Hey, I bet Maria ain’t even here yet. Probably still home in bed…” Johnny groused.

Scott figured it out and stifled his laugh, not wanting to wake up anyone that didn’t have to be up at this hour. He slapped his brother on the back, resenting the early hour in secret conspiracy.

“Come on, Johnny, the sooner we get started, the sooner we get home.”

<><><><> 

He blamed it on the grass. It had to be the grass. The cows closer to the ranch didn’t behave this badly. Johnny had never dealt with such cantankerous critters in all the time he’d been working cattle. No sooner than he and Scott would round them up, they would break for freedom. It was as if they huddled to discuss strategy, how one would run here and get the attention from the two on horseback, three or more would break away and run for parts unknown. Johnny swore he saw a cow snort and smile as if to say’catch me if you can, cowboy!’ His only consolation was that he knew they would end up the main course on the dinner table.

The sooner we get started, the sooner we get home, huh? Johnny thought of the pearls of wisdom spoken by his brother earlier in the morning as he rounded up the cattle that he’d already rounded up once today, and maybe more than once! Johnny was beginning to re-think the dumber than a box of rocks analogy. The bovines did appear to be their own worst enemies where mud and other dangers were concerned, but they seemed to have developed that ‘catch me if you can’ mindset into an art form. A refined art form. Nope, they’re stupid. That’s all there is to it. Plain stupid!

“Scott! It’s gettin’ too dark ta see, let’s call it a day!” Johnny yelled out as he waved Scott to the campsite where they would spend the night. He got the fire going, and the coffee started as Scott trudged over to settle against the fallen log.

“Good thing Maria left all this food for us. It’ll make supper pretty easy an’ if you don’t stuff yourself, Boston, we’ll have enough ta get us through tamorrow, too!”

Scott’s eyes widened as he stared in disbelief. “Just what exactly do you mean when you say if ‘I don’t stuff myself’? I’ve never seen anyone put away the food you can!”

An easy grin broke out on Johnny’s face, and the reflection of the fire danced in his eyes. “Boy, Boston, it sure don’t take much ta rile you up!” 

Their meal was taken along with good brotherly ribbing, and both Lancer siblings once again thanked fate that they were finally united.

Scott watched his brother through the steam rising from his cup. Johnny moved with such purpose, no wasted energy, and fluid as the snowmelt water down a stream. It never ceased to amaze Scott as he observed the many facets that made up the man, whether it was Johnny as he rode Barranca, moving as one with the steed or sitting patiently in the straw waiting for a foal to make its appearance in the world. Regardless of his actions, his younger brother was a contrast, as if reading Waldon Pond laced heavily with Charge of the Light Brigade, though Scott sincerely suspected neither Henry David Thoreau nor Lord Alfred Tennyson would appreciate the analogy. And he could only smile to himself with the thought.

“Hey, Scott, ever think what woulda happened if we’d been raised tagether?” Johnny asked as he sipped the hot coffee. The steam curled upward into his face as the deep blue of Johnny’s eyes twinkled in mischievous imaginings. “Murdoch woulda had more gray hair than blades of grass. A lot more!” he grinned.

Scott burst into laughter. “Well, brother, I can tell you one thing,” he teased.

“Yeah, an’ what’s that?” Johnny asked, knowing that Scott thought he would have the last laugh.

“You would have made a well-worn path out to the woodshed!”

“Well, Boston, that’s where you’re wrong, cuz I learned a long time ago how not ta get caught!” And the two brothers laughed, one thinking about the trouble his brother got into and the other thinking no trouble if I ain’t caught!

“I think we should get some sleep so we will be able to outwit those cows tomorrow. What do you say, Johnny?”

“You outwit them, Scott. I’m gonna just shoot a few of them. Maybe they’ll understand we ain’t messin’ around anymore!”

Now Scott howled with laughter. “Tell me, Johnny, is this a different version of your fishing techniques?”

“Funny, Scott,” came Johnny’s muffled reply as he pulled his hat low over his face to settle in for the night. It seemed that Scott would never let that go. You fish your way, Boston, an’ I’ll fish mine…

<><><><> 

The day dawned with the promise of heavy rain, just what they didn’t need. Storm clouds began to build over the mountains to the northwest as the winds gradually gained intensity. The cows grew more restless and became increasingly difficult to handle. And adding to the misery, the temperatures dropped as the light gave way to dusk, and nighttime quickly approached.

“Think that’s all we’re gonna find taday, Scott! What say we try ta find someplace where we can stay dry for the night an’ head back in the mornin’?” Johnny called over the increasing winds.

“Good idea, I saw a sheltered spot where we could spend the night. Come on, brother!”

Before Johnny could nudge Barranca to move, the stallion swiveled his ears to the north and stared. Johnny could feel a tremor as it passed through the horse beneath him. “What’s the matter, amigo? What is it, boy?” Johnny waited, then called out to Scott. “Wait up, Scott, somethin’s wrong!”

Scott returned to Johnny’s side and waited. He watched as Johnny patted the golden neck as he peered through the dimming light.

“What is it, Johnny?”

The screams of terrified horses split the air over the howl of the wind. Both Barranca and Remmie began to dance nervously.

“There’s trouble, Scott! Let’s go!” And getting their mounts under control, Scott and Johnny made their way across the rain-saturated ground. Wild horses struggled with life and death situations every day, but if a person was up here, chances were they needed help. But what would any person in their right mind be doing up here at night? They were about to find out.

The horses ate up the distance in good time, considering the deteriorating conditions. They had just crossed over onto public land and wondered what exactly they would find. There was nothing up here, or shouldn’t have been, other than rocks, trees, and treacherous mountains.

And then the shrill screams of a woman sent shivers of dread down their backs. The horses broke through the trees and skidded to a stop. Just ahead was the old Cooper’s bridge, abandoned and fallen into disrepair years ago. But it wasn’t abandoned now.

A wagon, the back mounded with what appeared to be household belongings and wrapped with a tarp, teetered on the bridge, front wheels dangling in mid-air, threatening to fall and follow the team already lost in the abyss below. A woman, crying hysterically, ran onto the decking and seemed to collapse in a heap.

Johnny was off his horse and went out to drag the woman to safety, but she fought him with the strength of a wildcat. He pinned her arms down around her sides and did his best to steer her onto the muddy rim of the deep gorge.

“Ma’am! Settle down now! That bridge is gonna break apart any minute! Easy, c’mon, now, settle down…”

“My husband! He fell! Please, help him!”

The woman swayed as she sobbed. Johnny held on to prevent her from falling to the rain-soaked earth.

Scott heard the frantic pleas for help and briefly saw Johnny struggle to keep the woman from crumpling on the decking as he wrapped his arms around her and gently but forcefully maneuvered her off the bridge. She was desperate to reach her husband lying on the sill below. Scott grabbed his rope and tied the end to the saddle horn, then eased out to the spot where the woman had been. Carefully, painstakingly with slow steps, he reached the hole in the decking to crouch and peer below. The bridge moaned as if in warning as the deck crumbled by the minute.

Once at the splintered hole where the man had fallen through, Scott went down on all fours and peered down to the sill underneath. There, twenty feet below, lying unconscious, was a man bleeding from a head wound.

“Johnny!” Scott called, knowing their time was running out. “Johnny!” he repeated as Johnny settled the woman with her two small children as they cried and buried their little faces in her skirts. Retrieving his rope, Scott slipped the loop over his head and snugged it around his chest.

Johnny raced to his brother’s side, and as he watched Scott fit the rope around him, he began to protest. “Scott, what the hell do ya think you’re doin’?” he yelled above the wind.

“There’s no time to argue, her husband’s unconscious and bleeding. We have no other choice. Just help me!”

Johnny ran back to the horses, checked Scott's rope, and retrieved his own. Tying his own on Barranca’s saddle, Johnny tethered himself should Scott need his help.

“Wait’ll I get there, Scott!” Johnny warned, not willing to let Scott alone out on the bridge any longer than he had to. The wind was picking up, and rain began to pelt them with icy needles that nearly pierced the skin.

“Johnny, help to lower me down, I know where he is, and I think between both of us we can raise him up here! There’s no time to argue, brother, so don’t even try!” With the order issued and refusing to listen to any opposition, Scott crawled to the edge of the broken planks. He looked at Johnny and nodded, then grabbed the length of rope above his head with both hands. Johnny held the line tight as Scott descended to the sill of the bridge below.

Damn it, Scott! Don’t be in such a hurry… You’re gonna get yourself killed! Prickly tendrils of gut-wrenching fear penetrated Johnny’s body setting off waves of unfamiliar panic. If they didn’t work fast enough, Scott would likely be buried at the bottom of the ravine. It was as if Johnny received a punch in the belly as the possibility slammed into him. Just get him outta there, Madrid, stop thinkin’ about what-ifs…

He let the rope slowly play out and could feel the pull as Scott was buffeted around by the wind, swinging like the pendulum of the old clock in the great room. Edging closer to the ragged hole where the men would make their escape, Johnny watched as Scott valiantly grabbed for the bracing before the wind crashed him against it as he swung wildly, tossed around at the mercy of the violent gales, but he managed to pull himself onto the sill next to the injured man and for a moment, Johnny breathed a sigh of relief. The rain battered their exposed skin, pelting them with icy, stinging needles.

Scott hastily examined the man and hoped there was nothing more than the gash on his head because there was no time for further assessment. He slipped the rope from around his chest to fasten it over the limp shoulders and secured it tightly. It was all he could do for now, except for sending up thanks he’d gotten there before his reckless younger brother.

Scott tugged on the rope making sure it was as safe as it could be, then yelled for Johnny to haul the man to the top. Time was running out, and Scott shoved the thought aside, praying Johnny would get the man dragged to safety and quickly pull him off the sill before he met his own demise, falling with the crumbling bridge.

Johnny waved to the woman to get her attention. “Lead the horse! Pull them up!” He watched as she broke from her tiny shelter and ran to Scott’s horse.

“Easy, now!” he called as Remmie moved forward, and the rope became taut with the weight.

An ear-shattering screech rent the air. Johnny looked up to see the wagon lurch, then break free of the bridge and plummet down onto the boulders, a grotesque wooden carcass lying broken and dead. Johnny heard the woman gasp, but to her credit, she kept the horse moving. Slowly, the limp body could be seen rising to the decking of the bridge. Johnny wrestled the broad shoulders through the hole and avoided further injury to the man from the splintered boards and cursed the fact that Scott had not come up with him.

Scott watched from below as the man was raised upward, shielding his face as pieces of wood began to fall. He could see the underside of the bridge disintegrating before his eyes. Hurry, brother! He braced against a gust of wind and felt the rain becoming heavier. This bridge was breaking apart right under his feet!

The woman halted the horse and ran out to help her husband off the bridge.

“No! Get back! Don’t come out here!” Johnny waved her away as he ripped the rope from around the unconscious man and dragged him back to the safety of the muddy earth. Leaving the woman to tend her injured husband, Johnny turned and scrambled out onto the bridge as it creaked and moaned and shifted under his boots. He had to get Scott!

Scott heard his brother yelling. But he couldn’t make out what was happening above him. But he was increasingly aware that his time on this earth could be running out. Had he made it through that hellish war only to be pulled to his death, crushed at the bottom of the ravine with the broken bodies of the horses and wagon?

The beam came down, knocking Scott off his feet and numbing his leg with the glancing blow. With the backward step, he tripped on debris lying on the sill, and the momentum propelled Scott over the side. He made a wild grab, arms flailing for anything that would stop his descent. Desperate fingers closed around an iron rung, part of a broken, rusted ladder, and left him to dangle exposed and unprotected in the brutal elements sixty feet above the rocks, and vulnerable in the wind and the hungry jaws of the gorge below. Quickly losing the feeling in his hands as the cold rain and wind robbed him of his senses, Scott Garrett Lancer desperately fought for his life.

Johnny witnessed Scott’s stumble and fall over the side. His heart stopped, then pounded, wanting to explode from his chest, and his breath caught in his throat. SCOTT!

“Scott! Hang on!” Johnny started down through the jagged, splintered hole, mindless of any danger. Getting Scott to safety was paramount, and he would move heaven and earth to see his brother onto solid ground! He strained to keep the panic at bay and focus on his brother; Johnny couldn’t let Scott out of his sight; if he did, Johnny was sure he would never see him again. His heart pounded painfully in his chest, and his blood raced through his veins, making him dizzy as it careened about in his head.

“Scott, hang on!” he screamed again. Johnny Madrid Lancer had never known this fear. It burned in his brain and froze his soul.

“Wait! Johnny! Go back!” With a strength he had never known, Scott pulled himself up to the next rung… two more to go! He made another grab and pulled again. One more! One more and he reached the sill. “Johnny! GET BACK!”

“Ain’t leavin’ without ya! Now grab this rope an’ let’s get the hell outta here!”

The bridge lurched, and beams tore loose from the old rusted bolts that once held them secure. The wind swayed the structure, shifting it in the final throes of life, and Johnny could only hope it was the bridge whose time had run out and not his brother’s. The gales battered and beat at the old rotting wood, nature’s attempt at murder.

“Johnny! Get off of this bridge! Leave the rope, and I’ll pull myself up. Just get off the bridge!” Scott screamed as he saw what Johnny could not. The supports underneath were breaking apart; it was raining daggers, shards of wood, and Scott had all he could do to hang on lest he be tossed into the abyss below. Risking a look above, he saw Johnny halfway through the ragged hole with the rope he’d taken from around the man they’d hauled to safety. The same rope that would very soon, he hoped, lift him off the crumbling bridge.

Scott pulled himself up to the last rung of the ladder, hands scraped raw from the rusted, flaking iron. The bridge shuddered with loud cracks and screaming shrieks, a farewell song, sung grossly out of tune. Scott looked into Johnny’s eyes in the fading dusk, and they locked together. I won’t let him watch me die!

“C’mon, Scott! Grab the rope! You’re almost there!” C’mon, Boston! Almost there… Gonna get ya outta there an’ go home! I ain’t lettin’ ya die!

“Johnny! Go back! I can get the rope, get off the bridge! NOW!” Scott knew they had only seconds. He grabbed the rope with one hand and met Johnny’s eyes, and in them, he saw raw fear. He’d never seen his brother scared and it knifed through his heart with fear of his own. “GET OFF THE BRIDGE!” Johnny was reasonably safe for the time being, and Scott was going to make sure his brother would stay that way. If he was going to die, at least he’d helped a man to live.

“I ain’t takin’ my eyes off you, now, c’mon!” Johnny’s nerves were frayed. The feeling was foreign to him, he couldn’t control it. Never had the icy fingers penetrated this deeply before, leaving his heart exposed and soul raw and bleeding. There was no way he was letting his brother out of his sight.                                                                                                                                                                              

But he tensed as he felt the timbers beneath him shift. Their time was quickly running out. He watched as Scott wasted several precious seconds, shielding his face from falling debris, and another beam landed perilously close to Scott’s foot. Johnny could stand it no longer and again started for the sill to get his brother moving.

Scott raised his eyes and saw what terrified him most, his brother coming down to him, making his way out of the bit of sanctuary he had on the deck of the bridge. He was horrified and screamed, “NO! Go back, I’m coming up!”

Johnny scrambled back onto the planks making the way clear for Scott to crawl through the ragged hole. Their eyes locked again in the dimming light as the bridge, in its last mighty shudder, broke apart with a sickening explosion, heralding its surrender. NO! NO! NO! Let Scott make it! The visual contact held, each trapped in his own terror, knowing that one of them was going to die.

Scott resolved himself for the end but agonized for Johnny, who would witness his death. The brother he’d come to know and love so late! Even the worst moments of his life at Libby was nothing compared to the horror of this moment. His heart broke as the rope slipped from his hand, leaving a burning wound on his palm, and he fell as Johnny’s face quickly vanished from his sight.

Johnny refused to accept what he was seeing. “SCCOOOTTT!” His voice cracked as he lunged for the opening, stretching his hand and fingers in a futile attempt to reach his brother. The sill broke from under Scott’s feet, and he dropped from Johnny’s sight and was gone. Had he not been tethered, Johnny would have followed Scott in his descent to the ravine floor.

Was he floating? For a second, he thought he’d crossed into the next world until he felt the slam of broken decking contact painfully with his body and push him through nothingness. Then another crash into an unmovable object made everything go black.

The intensity of the shock was so great, Johnny was not aware that the planking under him was breaking away until the rope around him cut off his breathing with a violent snap around his chest, and his body slammed with the force of a sledge into the side of the cliff with a sickening thud. His head jerked back and ignited an explosion of stars as it made contact with the rocky wall. But the blow only served to emphasize the overwhelming loss of Scott. His eyes dimmed, it grew fuzzy and gray around the edges, and a sob burst from his throat before the constricting rope around his chest cut off all air. Through the shock and horror, Johnny felt his heart crack and splinter with debilitating grief.

When the bridge collapsed, the rope tied to Barranca’s saddle was the only thing that prevented Johnny’s fall into the ravine to perish along with his brother. It pulled tight and kept him from plummeting to his death but ultimately crashed him into the rock wall, suspending him helpless, stunned, physically and mentally. Then the anger kicked in, enveloping Johnny in consuming rage.

“SCOTT!” he bellowed as the wind whipped the strangled scream into the dark.

“Lead my horse! Barranca, go!” Johnny called out, hoping the woman above him would hear. Slowly he was pulled up the rock face as the numbness settled into his broken, shredded heart.

The woman heard the call for help; there was no mistaking the desperation that pierced through the roar of the wind. She ran to the edge and held onto the broken guard rail to peer over into the ravine. She gasped as she saw the young man hanging down the cliff face, buffeted around by the fierce wind. She ran to the horse, leading Barranca as he walked at Johnny’s command. Finally, she could make out Johnny as he climbed onto the muddy ground at the edge of the drop-off. He grasped the splintered stub of the bridge support to steady himself. It was the only indication that a bridge had ever been there.

Johnny tore the rope from his body, ignoring the bruised flesh beneath his coat and looked into the ravine below. He could see nothing, nothing but black. There was no way down, no way to look for his brother, and his heart shattered. Ain’t givin’ up! Scott! Brother, I ain’t lettin’ you go! A ragged gasp ripped from his throat as the desperation of the situation began to sink in. There was nothing Johnny could do for his brother until he got help, and daylight arrived.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see the vague form of the woman standing over him. He felt the tremble in her touch as he was sure she could feel the same running rampant through his body. Johnny hung his head, but only for a minute before the rapidly escalating resolve erupted and forced him to his feet. He would get nothing accomplished sitting here. He had to move, and now!  

Madrid willed his mind to work. He could feel his brother’s spirit as if Scott were beside him, guiding him. He would get the stranded family back to Lancer and return with help. Johnny would bring his brother home. He owed him that, and at that moment, he would give everything he owned to be able to hear Scott throw around some of ‘them ten-dollar words’ he so loved to use.

For one minute, he stopped at the edge of the ravine and looked into the darkness below. He couldn’t control the hitch in his throat or the tears that traced down his face. But Johnny knew that, if he were here, Scott would object to the sadness, the desperate thoughts, and emotions. He would tell Johnny to take care of the family and to get them to Lancer.

It would be no less than twenty-four hours before Johnny could be back at this spot to look for Scott. With the time it would take for them to get to the ranch, the time it would take to get the supplies ready, then get back here more than a day would be lost. But he had no choice. So he gathered the little family together and headed out to Lancer.

Remmie balked but settled into step after a few words from Johnny. The woman, who Johnny found out on their journey, was named Laura Barton, had the two children, a son, and a daughter, with her on Remmie. Johnny struggled to keep Lem Barton in the saddle in front of him on Barranca. All through the night, they traveled at an agonizingly slow pace, stopping only when necessary and then only briefly.

Johnny was out of his mind knowing he needed to be up in those mountains looking for his brother. But knew the family had to come first; if only there had been help, another hand to aid in the rounding up of the cattle; then they would be taking charge of the Bartons and Johnny would have stayed, alone or not, to find his brother.

The storm blew most of the night, but when the blush of morning came with its tinge of pink, the rain ceased to fall, the blue sky began to push away the clouds, and the sun made a gentle appearance. But Johnny didn’t notice. He was sick at heart, empty and angry. He wasn’t aware of his burden, the injured man sitting in front of him. He rode, looking straight ahead, not talking, not seeing anything except his brother’s face in dark recesses of his mind, over and over as he slipped away in the night. He showed no outward emotion to indicate what he was feeling, his eyes cold, and saying nothing. And there was nothing to lessen the horrendous ache in his heart.

What would he tell Murdoch? What could he tell his father, other than the truth, the course of events that led to Scott’s untimely demise? Scott’s dead! And again, the ugly fact slammed into him as the agonizing images flashed through his mind as he watched his brother fade from sight in front of him. And there was absolutely nothing that he could do about it. A ragged breath tore from him, and Johnny sagged in the saddle. He felt the icy weight in his belly as it churned and threatened to turn inside out.

<><><><> 

It was mid-morning before the Lancer arch came into view. Johnny thought that   once he crossed under, it signified that life with Scott was truly gone. No more would Johnny come home and witness the joy of Scott waiting for him. The brother, so recently discovered, was now gone forever. The last thing Johnny would be able to do for his brother now was to bring him home to Lancer. And Johnny would honor his brother now, bring him home in eternal rest. Scott didn’t wait. And neither would Johnny.

Murdoch sat at his desk as he tallied the ranch ledgers. The numbers weren’t figuring the way he thought they should. I’ll have to get Scott to see what he can do with… His thoughts were interrupted as Jelly burst through the front door, his announcement loud, and his voice broke.

“Boss! Ya better get out here, quick!”

Murdoch quickly rose from his desk, raced out the front door and skidded to a halt. A small family waited as Frank and Walt wrestled a stranger from Barranca. Joe and Isidro helped a woman and two small children from Remmie. He watched as Johnny dismounted, but saw no sign of Scott.

“Johnny, what’s going on here? Where’s Scott?” He waited for an answer, but none was forthcoming.

Johnny stood for a minute, head bowed, but the agonized mumble issued from him did nothing to alleviate the mounting tension. “Goin’ back ta get him…” and Johnny turned to walk away.

There was something Johnny wasn’t telling him, and Murdoch felt the ire start to boil. He took several long strides forward and grabbed Johnny’s shoulder to halt him.

At the first bit of pressure on his arm, Johnny whirled in a half-crouch, his hand going for the Colt. A collective gasp escaped from all that watched and witnessed the shocking scene between father and son. Murdoch stood frozen, the color faded from his face as he realized that his son had come very close to putting a bullet in him. He looked into Johnny’s eyes and what he saw there terrified him.

“Son, what’s wrong? Johnny…?” Murdoch whispered as fear and panic took hold.

Johnny looked at his father, and suddenly his eyes cleared as he physically shook himself to gather his wits. His heinous actions toward Murdoch hit him like a thunderbolt, but he pushed them aside and set about his mission.

“Joe, saddle Dusty for me. Cip!” Johnny motioned for the Segundo and asked him to load a wagon with supplies. Then Johnny turned to Murdoch. “Don’t have time for particulars, Murdoch, but I’m goin’ ta bring Scott home.” And at the mention of the word home, Johnny’s voice cracked. “He’s… he’s at the bottom of the ravine at Cooper’s Bridge.”

Murdoch swayed on his feet and was supported by those who stood around him. But, like Johnny, stubborn anger began to build. He resisted the urge to cave into sorrow and began to issue orders to the men. Tully was sent into town for the doctor for the injured man Johnny brought to Lancer. Jelly had already started loading a wagon with food, medical supplies, blankets, and lanterns. The rest of the hands took every rope they could find, a block and tackle, and every other piece of equipment that could possibly aid them for bringing Scott back home.

<><><><> 

It began as a twinge, annoying bites tearing at his brain, tiny spikes that needled behind his eyes. Oh, brother! Where are you?

<><><><> 

Johnny hadn’t waited. As soon as a fresh horse had been readied, he vaulted into the saddle, pushed the fatigue aside, and was down under the arch, riding back the way he’d just come, shrouded in suffocating grief, and forced himself beyond the limits.

Murdoch had tried to reason with him, telling Johnny he needed to rest before going back out, but the order fell on deaf ears, as he knew it would. He’d seen the pain of loss in his younger son’s eyes and had a suspicion Johnny was holding himself to blame. Murdoch ordered Frank and Walt to go after Johnny and help him in whatever way they could. Johnny shouldn’t be alone, whatever he was going to do. The rest of them followed, the wagon heavy with the tools needed for a recovery mission, for Murdoch Lancer knew in his heart it would not be a rescue.

<><><><> 

They traveled many hours before Johnny, Frank, and Walt made it to the mountainside where Cooper’s Bridge used to span the ravine. Johnny threw himself from Dusty’s back, grabbed his rope, and raced to the splintered stub that once anchored the bridge to the ground at the edge of the cliff.

The destruction below was catastrophic. The bridge lay in ruin— it was dead. A broken skeleton of what had been. Daylight spelled out the ugliness that nighttime hid from Johnny’s searching eyes. Piles of wreckage covered the bottom of the ravine. Broken timbers and lengths of braces appeared as matchsticks tossed, discarded by a giant’s hand. And somewhere in the devastation was his brother.

Frank and Walt made their way to Johnny’s side, wanting nothing more than to lay a comforting hand to his shoulder but thought better of it after witnessing the incident back at Lancer.

Walt finally broke the silence. “Johnny, let’s tie our ropes together, and two of us can go down ta look. Someone needs ta stay up here, though.” He didn’t think Johnny heard him. There was no response at all from the younger Lancer. Then a slight nod was given, and they went to work.

With ropes tied around him, Johnny rappelled down the rocky side. Using his feet, he kicked at the wall, bouncing himself away to prevent slamming into it as he had the night before. The rope tightened around him and cut into the already bruised chest, but he didn’t feel it. His mind was entirely focused on finding his brother. And find him, Johnny would.

Several Lancer hands arrived ahead of the wagon and brought lanterns; the hunt for Scott could continue into the long night. And they knew Johnny would be searching and would not stop because of the dark.

Night had settled and made it difficult to see. More lanterns were lowered after the wagon arrived to aid in the search efforts, and Johnny took full advantage. Working late into the night, he finally took a break. His hands were shaking, fatigue rolled from his body, but he would only stop for a few minutes at a time, catch his breath, get a drink, and continue the search.

Upon arrival, Jelly took over the camp, getting a fire started and putting a meal together as search teams worked diligently in shifts. He kept a constant supply of food going to sustain the workers with help from old Jed, the bunkhouse cook.

Murdoch had been watching the goings-on from the camp above. He leaned against an ancient oak fitted with the harness and rappelling lines that provided easy access down into the ravine. The Lancer patriarch was tense from the constant strain and numb as he struggled to keep his grief at bay… for now. He called from above for Johnny to come up and rest, but the plea was ignored. Murdoch knew his son would continue his search, and although weary, Johnny kept going.

“I don’t know what’s keeping him on his feet,” Murdoch said softly, more to himself than anyone else.

“That boy’s got more grit an’ guts than what’s good for ‘im,” Jelly muttered as he shoved a cup of hot coffee in Murdoch’s hand. “Here, Boss, drink this!” At first, the firm order took Murdoch by surprise. Uneasy with the sentiment, Jelly disguised his worry with grousing. The harsher the words, the more worried he was.  

“Johnny! Johnny, stop looking! Come up here!” Murdoch watched the figure below lift another piece of wood as he slipped in the muck and look beneath.

The damp and muddy wood slipped out of Johnny’s saturated gloves to crash onto the heap of the mangled bridge. His balance lost, Johnny slipped again as he fought to stay upright. Recovering, he pushed aside his discomfort and fatigue and continued to search, ignoring the pleas from his father. The only thoughts in his head were of his brother and the sorrow-filled eyes as they vanished from his sight.

Murdoch’s breath hitched in his throat as he observed the struggle below.

Walt scrambled up the rock face and began to gather supplies. Johnny’s bedroll, plus an extra blanket, two canteens of water, the makings for coffee and food were bundled together and lowered down. With a call to his friend, Walt got Johnny’s attention and motioned to the supplies on their way into the ravine. Then he proceeded to get his own together to join Johnny, committed in his loyalty to find Scott. It was clear to everyone there that Johnny would continue until he dropped, and Walt was going to be there with him if he did.

Murdoch watched the scene unfold before him. He stiffly got to his feet and stretched aching legs before attempting to walk, then limped to the man’s side before he went over the edge and back into the gorge. “Walt, I… thank you. I didn’t want him to be alone. Thank you.” It was all Murdoch could get out before the words cracked, threatening to close his throat, and wouldn’t allow any more.

Walt looked up, surprised as he stared at his boss. “Mr. Lancer, it’s my honor. For both Johnny and Scott.” Then, carrying his own supplies on his back, he harnessed up and dropped over the side to join Johnny and camp at the bottom of the tomb-like ravine.

Murdoch crouched, waiting at the edge and watched as Walt worked the ropes, sliding down the rock face, then he sat and bowed his head, allowing worry and grief to wrack his entire body.

<><><><> 

Walt picked up the cup and filled it. The only way Johnny was going to take any coffee was if Walt handed it to him. And he was right.

“Johnny, take this, ya need it. Ya ain’t had nothin’ all day.” Knowing that fussing would not be tolerated, he said no more but kept a watchful eye on Johnny. The creases around the young man’s eyes and the blanket of exhaustion he wore, prompted the caregiver role that Walt was known for. He would see to it if he could, that Johnny stayed safe and be there should Johnny falter. Between Walt and Cipriano, they would watch and be there for whatever the young Lancer needed.

Johnny looked at the cup as if he didn’t recognize what it was, then blinked and took the offering. “Thanks, Walt, ‘preciate it.” Johnny drank and hardly noticed as the brew burned down his throat and into his belly. The burn was nothing compared to the fire that flared in his heart. He emptied the cup and handed it to Walt then continued combing through the debris.

The mud made walking near to impossible. The ooze was everywhere, hampering the efforts as men slid and fell to their knees, only to struggle upright and continue the search, then slip and stumble again. The rainsoaked lumber of the bridge was not any more stable. Years of wear and weather weakened beams and decking, creating hazardous conditions. Rotted boards broke as the search party shifted them, doubling the time it took to sift through the wreckage.

Johnny’s brain would not turn off. Inside his skull, memories of Scott turned and spun, creating bittersweet remembrances. What he wouldn’t give right at that moment to turn back time and re-direct the circumstances that lead up to the fateful night, the night Johnny lost the person most important to his existence. He blinked away the moisture that seemed to blur his vision at every turn, and clear the knot in his throat that cut off his air. Keep going, it was all he could do. Stop thinking and keep looking.

Johnny wasn’t aware of anything except the emptiness, hollow and black. No other thoughts entered his mind. He was burning hot and freezing cold. Anger and grief.

Half an hour later, Walt called out to Johnny. “Hey, I got some supper here, an’ it’s hot…” If Johnny would just give it a chance, once he sat down, Walt was sure he’d drop off to sleep. After the second call, Johnny stumbled over and sat cross-legged on the bedroll that Walt had discreetly spread on the ground, and he watched through lowered lashes as Johnny struggled to eat. He observed the difficulty Johnny had swallowing the meal, and after three bites, the plate was set aside, forgotten next to him on the bedroll.

Johnny scrubbed his hands over his face and leaned forward with elbows on his knees, hands covering the anguish-filled eyes. Walt kept silent, not daring to interrupt the grief. But a gentle hand on Johnny’s shoulder and a slight squeeze told Johnny he was not alone, and he nodded at the supportive contact to let Walt know that he was appreciated more than words could say.

He leaned back, head against the rock wall, and looked at the stars. They began to blur together, and not able to separate them, he closed his eyes. With a muttered ‘Mierda,’ Johnny dropped off to sleep.

Scott was laughing, Cindy Middleton was perched on one leg, and Lilly settled on the other, each girl doing her best to win the birthday boy’s affections. His eyes were bright, mostly due to the over-indulgence of the alcohol. Scott had put away a significant amount. But it was the laugh that echoed in Johnny’s mind, deep, heartfelt and pure, and, although silly, it touched Johnny’s heart to know that he could provide this outlet for his staid and proper brother to cut loose.

As if doused with a bucket of cold water, Johnny burst into consciousness with a gasp. He looked around, eyes wide, wild, then realized where he was. He wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and never open them again. But, it was his anger that kicked him in the gut and roused him from slipping into the black tunnel of his grief. He resolved to find Scott, then after, he would get a bottle and wallow in his emptiness. And with any luck at all, he just might not ever wake up.

Johnny got to his feet, now grateful that Walt had the foresight to bring supplies down with him. He stirred the embers of last night’s fire to life. Kindling was in abundance, although somewhat damp; soon, a flame danced under the coffee pot. It was still dark, and he had no clue as to the time, but that wasn’t going to stop him. One quick cup of coffee and he was going to search for his brother. Sunlight or no, the lantern would suffice.

<><><><> 

Murdoch opened scratchy eyes as dawn began to blanket the mountains with its stunning colors. Had the situation not been so dire, he would have taken pleasure in the scene. His mind occupied with that of his lost son, Murdoch’s eyes filled with tears. He had lost Scott again!  Quickly leaving his bedroll, he went into the cover of trees and brush and allowed himself the tears that came in a flood.

Murdoch Lancer pulled himself together then returned to stand on the ravine’s edge and look below. It was no surprise to him that he watched Johnny’s relentless search for his brother. He also noted Walt was right there with him, and he felt grateful to the man and his loyalties to all that was Lancer.

The determination in him was strong; it drove him long after he should have stopped. However, the concentration was fading. Johnny would shake his head and focus again, but, in his heart, he knew it would be today. He would find Scott today, he had to.

The heat of the day was beginning to build down in the ravine. The flies were swarming around the carcasses of the horses that had been hitched to the wagon and ultimately crushed to death when they fell from the bridge to perish on the rocks below. Before too long, the stench would be overwhelming. Johnny shoved that aside and pushed himself in the search.

“Cip, I’m gonna crawl up there an’ see if I can get a better look,” Johnny said as he spied a pile of rocks that would provide a view from higher up. The jumble of rocks and boulders would add another twenty, twenty-five feet of height; a different angle just might be the advantage they would need.

“Sí, Juanito, ten cuidado,” (be careful) the Segundo warned.

Johnny did not reply but started to climb the rocks at the base of the ravine wall. The thick debris field made progress slow and treacherous. He stepped over boards and chunks of broken, splintered wood that seemed to do their best to reach out and trip him.

Gaining more height, Johnny stopped to search across the ravine floor with a tired but critical eye. In places, the scraps of decking and broken beams lay in piles eight and ten feet deep. Never one to believe in miracles, Johnny prayed for one now. It would take a miracle to get through the wreckage below.

He struggled to the top and stopped to move a large piece of planking that blocked his way. He grunted with the effort, sliding it across the top of the boulders to step up onto them. As the plank fell to the side, Johnny froze, stunned as there, shielded by the boards, wedged between boulders and the rock wall lay his brother, pale, crumpled, and unmoving in a small recessed pocket in the rocks. A sudden gasp exploded from Johnny, the blood drained to his feet, but a split second later, he was crouched at Scott’s side, blinking away his tears. He reached to wrap his arms around the limp body as a groan slipped from between the blue-tinged lips.

“Scott?...SCOTT! ” Johnny softly called, his voice breaking with shock that exploded through him like lightning, igniting the flare in his body.

At the gasp from Johnny, Cipriano quickly climbed the boulders and watched the miracle unfold.

Sensing a presence behind him, Johnny turned, the moisture sparkling in his eyes and drops glittering on the long lashes. “Cip, he’s alive!”

Racing back down the way he came, Cip called to the top. “Patrón! Patrón, Señor Scott! He lives!”

Murdoch Lancer shot to his feet, dropped the cup he’d been holding, and raced to the edge of the ravine. He couldn’t see much, and he went onto hands and knees, leaning as far as he could to catch a glimpse of… anything!  Thankful for the towering oak that grew at the edge, Murdoch could hold onto a low branch to look further over the side. Now they confronted the issue of getting Scott up the rock face. He turned to the nearest hand and barked out an order. “Isidro, get into Green River and get Dr. Jenkins out to the ranch!”

Isidro’s butt had not touched the saddle when his horse raced out of sight.

<><><><> 

“Cip, that planking, we can get Scott onto it an’ raise him ta the top, just hope it ain’t too rough goin’…” Johnny remembered the trip down and wasn’t about to subject his brother to the unstable travel.

“Juanito, we will tie ropes from under the wood and hold it steady as they pull from above. Walt, Frank, and I will manage the ropes from here. You should ride with him to keep him safe.”

The strong, but soft words eased the apprehensions that plagued Johnny’s exhausted mind. “Thanks, Cip! It’s a good plan,” and Johnny turned his attention to his brother to begin accessing his injuries.

The left arm was bent at a peculiar angle, and Johnny knew it was broken but could not see much else other than a gash on the pale forehead and a few bruises that were now in bright colors despite the dirt that covered him. Johnny knew, without a doubt, there would be more. Scott didn’t fall this far amid flying debris and only come out of it with a broken arm and a few bruises.

“Easy, Boston, we’re gonna get ya home. I ain’t gonna leave ya, ever again… I’m sorry,” he whispered. And a wave of guilt washed over Johnny thinking that he’d abandoned his brother on that horrendous night, left him alone and hurt as the dark and cold enveloped him.

<><><><> 

Cipriano called up for more rope and bedrolls and coverings. His idea was to lay a few blankets on the planking, move Scott onto them, and cover him, then secure a rope around the whole to raise him above. “Juanito, it is good you go with him. He will be in pain, and if he wakes, he should see you and know you are there.”

Johnny sat with Scott until the blankets had been lowered. The area where Scott fell was small but somewhat sheltered. Johnny tried to piece together how he’d gotten there. All he could envision was the wind blew the large boards into Scott as he fell, propelling him into this alcove of sorts. Maybe them boards protected him somehow? It was all he could figure, but he was thankful his brother had not hit the ground below. This was only halfway to the rocky bottom from where he’d fallen.

With slow and gentle moves, Johnny straightened the crooked limbs to a more comfortable position. He unbuttoned his brother’s shirt to further check for injuries. By the look of Scott's bruised chest, there were, no doubt, broken ribs. Moving him onto the ‘stretcher’ of planks would not be easy for any of them.

Murdoch was still on his knees at the base of the gnarled old oak tree where they’d suspended the block and tackle. He was shaking, trembling uncontrollably. From there, he could see most everything, once they had Scott out from behind the rocks. He felt Jelly crouched beside him, offering a supportive arm across his shoulders. He held his breath as the stretcher carrying both his sons began to inch upward, to safety, to him, and the protection of his arms.

Johnny climbed onto the boards, praying they would hold together. With the weight distributed evenly and the ropes securing them, it looked as if this should work, just get to it and get it done. Lines secured them. A spare coil lay beside Johnny, and he picked it up to thread above on the rigging, leaving the loop close in case it should be needed.

As if of a will of their own, the words came soft, as much for Scott as for Johnny. “I got ya, Boston, I got ya. Takin’ ya home. Gonna be in your own bed tanight with T’resa an’ Maria fussin’ over ya. An I ain’t leavin’ ya…” Johnny murmured the words and hoped they would ease his brother in some way. Right now, it was all he could offer.

Scott heard those words, soft, comforting but could not reply. He knew the tones and knew where they came from, and they drew him into a peaceful place where he felt safe. He lay still, comforted by that voice and the touch on his skin.

Jelly threw any of the supplies that remained in the wagon bed to the ground. He knew that once Scott was loaded and secured, Murdoch and Johnny would ride with him to make the trip as comfortable as possible. Much of the land they would be riding over did not have a trail or road. Travel would be rough for a while, and he intended to make their journey as smooth as possible. You can trust ol’ Jelly with that! he thought to himself. He built a pallet with the bedrolls of the men, and it was ready and waiting for its occupant. Stopping many times to brush the emotion from his eyes, Jellifer B. Hoskins had the situation under control and waited for his part in driving the wagon back to Lancer.

Murdoch thought his heart would beat out of his chest. Catherine, are you watching? Our boy is alive! The words careened in his head, beautiful, glorious words— Scott was alive! He watched the painfully slow progress up the rock wall as Cip, Walt, and Frank steered the advance from the ravine floor. Pulling from below, the men would guide the stretcher away from rocks protruding out from the wall and steady it should a gust of wind threaten to buffet it against the rock face. And he saw Johnny holding his brother, protecting him, and with the help of those on the ground, keeping him safe. The father in him knew Johnny would die before he let Scott fall.

And Murdoch cried.

Johnny tried to slow his heartbeats. From the moment he saw Scott covered with dirt and debris, his heart began to hammer in his chest, sending blood racing through his veins, making him dizzy.He straddled Scott in an effort to keep the weight evenly distributed and ensure a smooth ride from the gorge below. Cipriano’s idea to steady them with the guide ropes from the ravine floor was working out well. The tension on the guidelines prevented any random encounters with the rocky wall.

He looked down at his brother’s face and, once again, felt the emotions take a firm hold. He knew he should get himself under control, but the tremors tore through him like lightning bolts, ragged and razor-sharp. As it was, he couldn’t stop the shaking in his hands, but Johnny did find the trembling lessened when he touched his brother. He may be the person that found Scott, but Scott seemed to be his lifeline, his link to sanity.

Slow, it was taking too long, and when the ear-shattering crack came, Johnny’s heart froze, seized, then stopped. No! NO! Not now! Time seemed to halt, then his brother  was sliding out of his grip. Scott’s right side slipped as the boards crumbled beneath him. Johnny desperately grabbed the limp body, prompting a scream of pain as broken ribs shifted across torn muscles, and the fractured shoulder bones grated together. His heart broke, knowing he’d caused Scott fiery agony but had to shove it aside. He wouldn’t let Scott fall to perish now.

Frantically, with the aid of only one hand, the other secured around Scott in a death grip, Johnny balanced on what was left of the stretcher to wrap a coil of line around them that he’d hung from the rigging of the block and tackle. Hafta keep him safe! We’re so close! With a crude, but secure knot, holding them together, Johnny could only watch and pray the knot would hold as he watched the boards under them disintegrate.

For those on the ground fighting the guide ropes, they held their collective breaths as they, too, watched in horror at the scene playing out above them.

Johnny felt the wave wash over him. It filled him with a surge of strength, flooded his veins like rapidly rushing water, crushing anything in its path. His arm tightened around his brother, refusing to let him go as he struggled with his free hand to secure another coil around them, and then it happened. The remaining boards of the stretcher fell away, plummeting to the ravine floor, leaving Johnny and Scott suspended, tied chest to chest, and slamming into the rock wall.

The blankets fluttered down into the ravine, looking like broken giant birds that landed in heaps in the dirt.

Johnny kicked out with his feet to spin around, making contact with his back to the wall as he protected Scott from the blows. The involuntary groan of pain went unnoticed as he risked a look above; they couldn’t be that far down… could they? They were a long way from safety, a long way to go before they reached solid ground. 

Murdoch was terrified. He felt as if he were breaking apart, completely panicked, and utterly helpless. Both of his sons were now in jeopardy, literally hanging at the mercy of fate. A sob escaped his lips, but rage took over, brushing the helplessness aside. He rose to his feet and reached the lines that looped the oak branch and, with every shred of strength he had, pulled the ropes, lifting his sons ever closer to the edge of the ravine.

Jelly raced to Murdoch’s side, and together with the aid of Joe and Juan, Johnny and Scott were hauled upward.

Still spinning, Johnny waged his private war against the rock face, struggling to keep his back to the wall, taking the blows but keeping Scott safe. They were almost there!  

Finally, hands reached out to pull them over the cliff edge and settle them on solid ground.

“Watch his shoulder!” Johnny called to the rescuers. “It’s broken!” he warned between pants of worry, fatigue, and pain.  

Now, out of danger, Johnny helped to unwrap his brother of the ropes that secured them together. All that mattered now was to get Scott into the wagon and get home. His heart pumping wildly in his chest, all he wanted was to get Scott back to Lancer.

He leaned in to help carry his brother to the wagon, but large hands gently pushed him aside. Johnny started to protest, but Murdoch’s soft words silenced him. “Johnny, get in the wagon bed so you can take your brother. We’ll need to ride back there with him to keep him still.”

No further urging was needed, as Johnny vaulted into the wagon, all pain and fatigue were forgotten, he was ready to lift Scott and settle him for the trip home. Johnny claimed his spot next to his brother, and Murdoch didn’t bother to hide a brief smile as he watched Johnny hunker down as close as he could to Scott. Murdoch climbed in on the other side of his prone son, and Cipriano joined them to lend his strength to keep Scott from jostling on the way to Lancer.

The bedrolls under Scott absorbed much of the jolting from the rough travel. Jelly would slow the team and warn those around Scott to steady him when he saw uneven and rocky terrain ahead. The men riding in front of the wagon kept a careful eye on the path, alerting Jelly to potential issues and were able to avoid many ruts and holes. They had miles to go before they reached a road and the relative bit of comfort it would bring.

Johnny’s contact never turned from his brother. He held tight on Scott’s hand, and if the pain became too much, Murdoch was ready with laudanum. Soon Scott would be out again. But Johnny did not relinquish the hand he held, nor did he stop the gentle touch to Scott’s face. He murmured soft words knowing Scott would hear them and would know he wasn’t alone. Johnny’s gut twisted with guilt that knifed into his belly as he thought of Scott covered with debris, wet, cold, and alone.

Murdoch watched his sons knowing that something had happened between them. When not talking to Scott, Johnny was sullen, remote. He hadn’t said a word to anyone, except Walt and Cipriano. Murdoch thought maybe he was in shock but had no idea what to do about it. He would have to wait until they settled Scott; perhaps Sam would be able to find out something…

<><><><> 

It was late when they drove under the Lancer arch. The lights in the hacienda burned brightly as those inside awaited their arrival. Murdoch sent Frank ahead to alert Sam they were close. He looked at Johnny, slouched in the shadows. He not moved from his brother’s side, and Murdoch wondered if he had fallen asleep.

“Johnny? Son, we’re home…” he said softly, not wanting to startle him.

“Yeah, I know.”

The wagon stopped as the men lowered the gate. The blankets were pulled to the end of the wagon bed, bringing Scott’s limp body with them, and gently they carried Scott up to his room. Murdoch made no attempt to try to hold Johnny back as he raced ahead of his brother and would no doubt be there until Sam had seen to Scott, and he was conscious. He wondered if Sam would have any luck getting Johnny to rest. But he suspected that Johnny would not tolerate separation from his brother. Murdoch was beginning to think he just might have two ill sons on his hands.

Sam was ready and waiting as Scott was transferred into his bed. Johnny briefly left but returned in a few minutes after he’d changed out of his muddy clothes. Sam ordered everyone out of the room except Maria. “I’ll let you all know something as soon as I can. Johnny, you need to leave, too. I’ll do the very best I can for him…” Sam knew he may as well be talking to a brick wall. “Johnny… please…”

“Ain’t leavin’, Sam. Get to it…” The firm, but softly spoken words, told of how it would be. Johnny was not leaving his brother.

Wasting no more time, Sam went to work assessing Scott and deciding the best way to proceed.

Johnny remained in the chair, out of the way until Scott became semi-conscious. A bit of thrashing had Johnny out of the chair and on the bed, holding Scott still until Sam could administer morphine.

“Easy, brother, Sam’s gonna get ya fixed up so ya can help me with all these chores ya left for me ta do.” The murmurs penetrated the foggy brain and eased the torture that plagued Scott’s mind and body.

His struggles eased as the words found their way into the muddled head. His lips moved as if to respond, but the morphine spread through his veins in a warm flood, and soon, he was blissfully unconscious. 

Sam wanted to hold off on the morphine as long as he could, Murdoch had given Scott laudanum on the way home, but this left him no choice. Scott’s injured shoulder required surgery, more than laudanum would handle.

Sam watched Johnny as he comforted his brother. The connection was incredible,  unlike anything that Sam had ever witnessed. And at this moment, he was thankful that Johnny had stayed. Scott needed that contact, the support his brother provided.

Johnny settled next to Scott, then nodded to Sam, and the doctor went to work.

<><><><> 

Three long hours later, a very tired Sam Jenkins came down the stairs and headed into the kitchen where he knew a pot of hot coffee would be waiting. He helped himself to a cup and savored the delicious brew.

Taking the cup, he ventured to the great room where he found Murdoch slouched and sleeping in his chair. That’s a sore back in the making… Sam thought as he looked at his friend. With a light hand on the Lancer patriarch’s arm, he gently woke Murdoch.

If those boys didn’t get their work finished and went off to chase down those horses, I’m going to tan their hides!

The dream was interrupted as a warm hand on his arm shook him awake, and he stared into the smiling face of Sam.

“Sam! How is Scott? What time is it?” he stammered, trying to pull his scrambled thoughts together. Scott!  “Is Scott going to be alright?” Murdoch’s eyes suddenly cleared.

“He will be, Murdoch, he’s got several broken ribs, and the break to his shoulder is a bad one. He sustained a concussion, as well. I don’t think I need to tell you that it could have been much, much worse. But let’s just focus on the good news, shall we?”

“Shouldn’t there be someone with him? What if he wakes, and no one is there?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Murdoch, Scott’s not alone, and I don’t think he will be until he can sit his horse again!” He ended with a laugh.

The worry left Murdoch’s eyes, and he too smiled. “I guess I should ask if they are alright!”

“Johnny refused to leave, but now, I’m glad he wouldn’t! He was a huge help, but I don’t know how he did it. He’s exhausted, and when I left the room just now, he was talking to Scott, although Scott is deeply unconscious. If Johnny isn’t careful, I’ll be tending them both.”

“Sam, Teresa fixed a room for you. Why don’t you get some sleep?” Murdoch said.

<><><><> 

Laura Barton pushed aside the trepidations that had been so much a part of her life for months now. The move from Kansas had not been easy. Every step of the way was filled with unknown circumstances. Had it been just herself and Lem, it would certainly have been an entirely different story, but with their two small children, her worries became nagging fears.

Now she had to wonder; could this be their salvation? Their lifeline in the form of two young men that had willingly come to the aid of strangers, and one, without regard for himself, had saved her husband and sacrificed his own life. But, thankfully, that was not how it ended. As long as she lived, she would never forget the grief on Mr. Lancer’s face when he thought his son had perished; nor would she forget the look on that same face when they drove up to the house when his son had been found alive.

Laura Barton was now faced with another apprehension in the form of a six-foot five-inch giant of a man, who at the moment, was watching her approach. This could not be put off any longer, and she took a deep breath, pulled her shoulders back, and put on what she hoped was a believable expression. One that would hide her inner fears.

“Mr. Lancer, how are your sons? I have been concerned about them,” Laura began. Did he hear the tremble in my words? she wondered.

“Doctor Jenkins is in with Scott, but I expect to hear something from him very soon. And Johnny is probably with him. The boys don’t seem to be able to leave the other when there’s been injury or illness. Thank you for asking, Mrs. Barton,” Murdoch replied with an anxious tone.

“Please, call me Laura. And I want to thank you for your kindness to my family. I don’t know what we would have done had your boys not come to our rescue. But I deeply regret that Scott was injured, and the trauma suffered by Johnny was enough to render him desperately ill. I am so very sorry for all the trouble…”

“Laura, I know I can speak for my sons when I say they were happy to be able to help. That was quite a difficult situation you found yourselves in. May I ask how you came to be there? That trail has not been used in many years.” Murdoch had been curious and wondered how the family had gotten to such a desolate place.

“As you may have guessed, we lost our way. According to the map we had, there was a pass through the mountains, and it would have taken several days off our travel. Lem has waited many years for this move and was overly anxious to get to Turlock. He has a brother there; they were going into business together. Now it will take longer; we lost everything we owned when our wagon and horses fell into the gorge.”

“How is your husband, Laura? Teresa said he hit his head.”

“Yes, there is a serious concussion, but Dr. Jenkins said, with time, he will be alright. Thank you again for your kindness. I guess I’d better find my children. I fear they have been driving Teresa crazy!” Laura said with a smile, then she turned and walked away.

<><><><> 

He slowly, quietly pushed the door open, resisting the urge to hurry into the room. The lamp had been turned down, leaving only a tiny flame to illuminate the room, bathing it in a soft yellow glow. Pausing to let his eyes adjust, Murdoch made his way to the foot of the bed. Scott was resting comfortably, his breathing steady, but even in the low light, Murdoch could see the pale face and knew there was pain there, resting comfortably or not. Murdoch tried to settle his fears. Sam said he would recover… Give it time… he thought.

Murdoch then studied his younger son sitting next to the bed. He would have thought Johnny would be sleeping, lost in exhausted slumber, but he saw the lamplight reflect in Johnny’s eyes. Watching over Scott… standing guard… protecting. Guilty.

“Johnny,” Murdoch whispered. When he got no response, he continued. “Son, go to bed. He’s not going to wake up for a while.” Murdoch was not surprised when the eyes never left his brother. It was as if Johnny was in a trance until he spoke.

“I’m fine.”

Murdoch wasn’t sure if he heard the words, so softly were they spoken.

“Murdoch… I left him alone. He coulda died an’ I left him…”

The anguish was tangible, and Murdoch’s heart broke for his sons. One son dealing with the physical pain, the other with searing guilt, each debilitating in its own way.

“Johnny there was nothing else you could have done, and I’ll tell you right now, Scott would have wanted you to get that family to safety. Lem Barton would not have made it through the night had you not brought him to Lancer. Sam told me that. You did the right thing, son.” But Murdoch knew his words would not be enough. No one was harder on Johnny than Johnny was on himself. “Son, get some rest… please.” There was no more Murdoch could say. When Johnny was ready to talk, Murdoch would be waiting.

<><><><> 

“Sam, could Johnny be in shock?” Murdoch asked as he contemplated both the physical and emotional issues that stemmed from afflictions. While dealing with the injury itself of one son, he also dealt with the emotional state of the other.

“Well, it’s possible, but I don’t know if that’s the problem. Did he tell you anything about what happened? He seems haunted as if reliving that night. I think he should talk about it, Murdoch, because he’s definitely troubled.”

Murdoch stood and left the kitchen only to return a few minutes later with Laura Barton. Sam stood as Laura slid into a chair to join them at the kitchen table. Murdoch brought cups and a full pot of coffee for the trio, thanks to Maria.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Lancer?” Laura asked, as again, anxiety began to build.

“Laura, we need to know what exactly happened that night on the bridge. What was said between Scott and Johnny?”

Laura looked from one man to the other. She couldn’t tell them what they wanted to know because she didn’t know. “I don’t think I can tell you anything. It was storming loudly; the wind was terrible. Once Scott was lowered under the bridge, I couldn’t hear anything they said. The bridge started to crumble, and Johnny, although tethered, fell when the bridge broke apart. He was hanging twenty feet down the side of the cliff. When he reached the top, even in the deep dusk, I could see his complete distress. It was a grief I hope to never see on anyone ever again. He thought he’d lost his brother while he escaped injury.” Laura finished her narration of what she saw as Murdoch and Sam mulled over what they heard.

“He feels guilty,” Murdoch said, then he walked up the stairs.

<><><><> 

Murdoch could hear the soft murmurings. He listened for only a minute, then felt as if he were eavesdropping on a private conversation, and he left.

“You listenin’, Boston? Cuz I need ta talk ta you. I need some help, Scott, don’t think I can get past this on my own. I keep seein’ you down on that sill under that bridge an’ knew that ya weren’t gettin’ outta there before that bridge broke apart. I ain’t been so scared in all my life. The men I faced in the street was nothin’ compared ta this an’ I gotta wonder if there wasn’t somethin’ that I coulda done different. Watchin’ you disappear inta the dark was the hardest thing I ever been through. Brother, I’m so sorry, so sorry I didn’t get down to ya.

“Every time I close my eyes, I see ya standin’ there lookin’ at me. But I didn’t see fear in your eyes… I saw… loss, regret. It was like I saw your heart breakin’ an’ there wasn’t anything ta be done about it. It was like I was standin’ in shallow water that was washin’ you away, an’ I couldn’t get out ta help you. Shallow water, shoulda been able to step out of it an’ get ya off the bridge, but it wasn’t workin’, nothin’ made sense, except I knew that this was gonna be it. I couldn’t help you! ‘’ Johnny bowed his head as his eyes filled, threatening to spill over, then he took a deep breath and gathered himself, wiped away the moisture, and felt the beginnings of a grin tug the corners of his mouth.

“Bet ya never thought the rowdy that got on the stage that day was your brother, did ya? Ya shoulda seen your face when I ended up sittin’ in your lap! But that wasn’t all my fault. Ha! Ya ain’t nothin’ like I thought ya were gonna be an’ I’m glad of that! Never met anyone as good as you are, Boston. Ya sure changed my life an’ I know I wouldn’t have lived this long if you hadn’t been here. You made all the difference for me, Scott, an’ I’ll never be able ta thank you for what ya done for me. Please don’t scare me that bad ever again, don’t think I could get over it a second time, ain’t over this time yet!” he finished in a rush. Again that final vision of his brother flashed through his brain and ignited the heart-stopping, icy hold on him, the thing that his nightmares were made of.

Johnny sat back in the chair, and he closed his eyes. He leaned his head back as his trembling hands clutched the soft upholstered arms of the chair. His heart thundered in his chest as the memory played over and over in his mind.

<><><><> 

The dark reached up to grab Scott and pull him down, out of sight. NOOOOOO! There was nothing there; Scott was gone, the wide blue-gray eyes faded quickly from sight, and there was nothing left but blackness… Scott was gone! Johnny tried to go after him, drag him back to safety but the bridge broke apart beneath him, and he was falling until the rope tightened around his chest with a crushing snap as the slack played out and Johnny’s body, suspended by the tether, swung him back to slam into the rock wall. A shower of stars exploded in his head, pain erupted…

His eyes shot open, his breathing hard and raspy. Johnny looked around and took a minute to gather his scrambled thoughts. He shook his head as he realized he was with Scott in Scott’s room at Lancer, and Scott was resting in his bed.

Johnny took a breath to clear his fog, and as the fog dissipated, a soft moan came from the bed. Johnny was on his feet and crawled across the blankets next to his brother.

“Scott? Can ya hear me, Boston?” Johnny whispered. Hopefully, desperately.

“J-Johnny?” Scott croaked in a gravelly voice.

“Yeah, Scott, it's me. Can I get ya somethin’? Ya need a drink?”

“Water…”

Johnny quickly got to his feet and filled the glass. Holding a hand behind Scott, he gently raised his brother’s head to let the cool comfort slide down his throat.

“Not too much, Boston, you can have more later if this stays put.” Johnny pulled the glass away and settled Scott against the pillows.

“Thanks, Johnny,” Scott murmured, closing his eyes as the soothing drink traveled through him.

“Anytime, Scott, anytime,” Johnny said with a relieved smile. He took his chair, ready to be there for Scott should he need something more.

“Johnny?”

Yeah, Boston?”

“I’m sorry.” Scott turned half-opened eyes on his brother.

Johnny frowned a bit, not knowing where Scott was going with the apology. “Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“I heard you before when you were talking to me. I’m sorry that I scared you, didn’t mean to do that.”

“Hey, it’s over now, there wasn’t anything you coulda done about it. We need ta put it behind us, Scott. You’re gonna be alright an’ once you stop being lazy an’ get outta that bed, you can get ta work an’ earn your keep, you know, make yourself useful.”

Though his words were meant to ease Scott’s fears, Johnny wondered how easy it would be for him to put behind him. Would the dreams of Scott dropping from his sight ever go away? Maybe when he was feeling better, Scott would talk with him about it. In the two years they’d been brothers, they had shared personal thoughts and fears, and this would be another issue for them to work through. But they would do it.

“Johnny?”

“Yeah?”

“I was upset when you landed on my lap and messed up my clothes…” The corners of Scott’s mouth turned up in a slight grin, and a laugh bubbled from him at the confused look on Johnny’s face. But as soon as the laugh burst from him, the pain shot through the broken shoulder and ribs. He gasped as Johnny quickly measured out a spoonful of the dreaded laudanum, and Scott gladly took it.

Scott reached out to catch Johnny’s hand and held it tight to work through the pain. He pulled Johnny onto the bed next to him and felt the tremors in Johnny’s hand. With no hesitation, Johnny settled down and tried his best to ease his brother’s discomfort.

“Easy, Scott, it’ll be over in a minute,” Johnny murmured. He put a hand on Scott’s face to check for fever. There wasn’t one. Gracias! Then the pain killer began to kick in, the opiate worked quickly, and Scott hovered in a semi-conscious state, then suddenly he chuckled.

“What’s so funny, Boston?” Johnny asked as he wondered if he’d given Scott laudanum or locoweed juice.

“Brother, please don’t sit on me any more, alright?” Then Scott closed his eyes in blissful slumber, still clutching Johnny’s hand.

Scooting down on the bed, Johnny lay next to his brother. Scott’s gonna know that I’m here with him, I ain’t leavin’ ya, brother. It would take time, but it would be alright.

“Te amo, Boston,” and Johnny closed his eyes.

<><><><> 

It was late when Murdoch gently opened the door. It had been quiet lately. He had wanted Johnny to rest, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew where his younger son would be. And he was right.

Murdoch stood at the foot of the bed and watched them quietly resting. Scott had Johnny’s hand, holding it tightly while Johnny stretched out beside him sound asleep. Healing sleep for them both, and Murdoch smiled a father’s smile. Full of love and proud of his sons.

Quietly he retrieved a blanket from the armoire in Scott’s room and spread it over Johnny, tenderly tucking the edges around his son. Then he went to the other side of the bed and could not resist reaching down to touch Scott’s face.

My sons! My beautiful sons!  Catherine, do you see? Scott and his brother will be alright! And Murdoch Lancer left his sons to sleep.

 

 

~ end ~

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