The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

On The Other Side

Thanks to Cat to the great beta!

The cows were rounded up, all the fences were checked, and those in need of mending had been fixed. The line shacks had been restocked and horses broken to fill the contract with the Army. It was a busy fall, but it appeared that things were on schedule and Lancer would be ready for winter. Everyone was exhausted working long hours from sun up to sun down, and it was now time to take it a bit easier and recuperate.

Relieved there had been no serious incidents, accidents or injuries all summer long, which were a common occurrence since his sons had returned home, Murdoch Lancer was counting his blessings. They sold a record number of cattle this year, and the horse breeding business that Johnny and Scott started was going well.

Looking back on things, Murdoch regretted balking at the idea. "We run a cattle ranch! We're not raising horses, too!” he had insisted. But after the boys took the initiative, working on the horse project after their ranch chores, the business venture began to produce impressive profits, and now Lancer horses were in as much demand as the cattle. He would be paying more attention to his boys in the future as they proved themselves savvy in both the raising and the selling aspects.

<><><><> 

Two special occasions were approaching that had been long overdue, and that was both of the boy's birthdays. Scotts would be first, and Murdoch knew that there would be a night out at the saloon if Johnny had any say in it. He mentally prepared himself, for what he wasn’t sure, but he knew something would happen, there was no doubt.

The day arrived, and Johnny did, indeed, have plans arranged. After dinner, birthday cake, drinks and gifts around the fireplace in the great room with the family, Johnny and Scott left for town. Green River may never be the same… Murdoch thought as the boys left, he watched them thunder down the road to race under the Lancer arch. Ahhh, youth…

<><><><> 

Johnny paid the man a generous fee and made arrangements for the deliveries. Then he and Scott proceeded to the saloon to continue the night of merrymaking, thinking to himself, gonna be a night ta remember. Johnny steered his older brother into the crowded, smoky saloon and instantly drinks were lined up in front of Scott, compliments of happy well-wishers already on their way to oblivion.

Scott lost count of the number of times he had been toasted, slapped on the back, wished well and kissed. Kissed, of course, by the girls at the Angels Nest, each trying to outdo the other. Scott, upon analyzing the canoodling, thought Lilly the best but he wisely dared not announce that to the rest of the girls. He wasn’t that intoxicated, yet. So, he just enjoyed the attention and declared them all winners of the kissing contest. Lilly set a beer down in front of Scott, compliments of someone, he couldn’t remember who she said it was from and he whispered in her ear something that only she could hear. Her grin parted the brightly painted lips, and she lit up like a flame in pitch dark.

Cindy was upset at Johnny for focusing all his attention on a girl in Salinas…. But she wasn't here tonight, so Cindy sidled up to Johnny and was about to plunk in his lap when Scott reached over, grabbed her wrist and pulled her to his embrace. Enraged, Lilly yanked Cindy from the birthday boy’s long arms, and the two women tussled, pulling hair and rolling about on the floor. Scott was mortified until Johnny spoke up.

“You did that, Boston….” Johnny said with a smirk as he watched the girls fighting.

And suddenly Scott beamed with delight, his glazed eyes bright. “And I k-know whose g-g-gonna w-win!”

Johnny's brows went up; this is gonna be good. “Yeah, Boston? Who's gonna win?"

“M-me!” Scott stood up on unsteady legs and stepped up to the wrestling pile of ruffles, petticoats, and feathers. “Girls, g-girls, now this is no way…”

"Shut up!" they wailed in unison, and both gave him a shove back into his chair.

Johnny sighed heavily and got out of his chair. This could get ugly! he thought to himself.

“Guess we better break this up….” Johnny issued an ear-piercing whistle, and both girls stopped in mid-swing. “You girls oughtta be ashamed of yourselves, ruinin’ Scott’s birthday like this. Now go over an’ tell ‘im you’re sorry!”

Taking each girl by the arm, he gently shoved them in Scott's general direction and returned to his chair. When Johnny looked at the Birthday Boy, both girls were seated on his lap, his arms around each of them and it certainly looked like he was enjoying himself. Gonna have one hell of a hangover, though… Johnny grinned. Suddenly Scott stood up, and the girls struggled to keep from landing on the floor. Now what the hell’s he doin’? Johnny thought, his eyes not leaving his older brother just in case there would be the need for some intervention.

Scott went to the bar and climbed on top; everyone watched and waited, prepared to catch him when he fell. Johnny had to wonder how they celebrated birthdays in Boston because this was like nothing he’d ever seen. Scott burst into song singin’ ‘bout some girl named Jeannie with light brown hair. Lilly and Cindy huffed, turning their noses up at Birthday Boy and stomped away, upset he was singing about another woman.

Val Crawford, sheriff of Green River and friend of the Lancer family, pushed his way through the batwing doors not quite believing what he was seeing. Trying to keep as far away from the noise issued from the older Lancer son, he found Johnny at his usual table on the back wall sitting forward on his chair resting his chin in his hand. Val knew Johnny was about done with the commotion and ready to take his brother out of there before anything terrible had the chance to happen.

“Hey, Val. Disturbin’ the peace yet?” Johnny asked not bothering to look up.

“Hate ta say it, but, yeah, startin' ta have a few complaints.” Val sat down and sighed.

“Well, guess it’s time ta get ‘im home. I just hope he pukes b’fore I get ‘im in the house…”

Johnny rose from his chair and sauntered up to the bar. Scott continued to belt the off-key notes out about Jeannie and her light brown hair as Johnny tugged on his pant leg.

“C’mon Boston, time ta go.” Scott stopped singing and looked shocked astonishment at his brother.

“B-but, J-johnn-y-y, these g-gentlem-men  want to h-hear ab-bout J-j-jean-nie and her…”

“I think they heard ‘nough ‘bout Jeannie, haven't ya, boys?" They all nodded their heads yes and thanked Johnny for his assistance. He reached up for Scott’s arm and yanked him forward, but Scott resisted. His other arm went back in an attempt to regain his balance but he lost control of the beer glass in that hand. His fingers opened, and the glass went sailing from his fist to land against the mirror on the wall behind the bar, glass shattering in every direction from the impact. Yanking Scott down to sit on the bar, Johnny looked skyward and rolled his eyes. Reaching into Scott's pocket, he retrieved a wad of bills and tossed them to Henry.

“This outta take care of the damages, Henry. If ya don’t see Scott next time he’s in here…” And taking Scott’s arm, Johnny pulled the limp body over his shoulder and lugged him out of the saloon.

Once out into the cool night air, Scott started to revive, or so Johnny thought.

“Hey, p-put me d-down…” he mumbled. Johnny stopped and set his brother on his feet making sure there was some degree of balance. Scott teetered a bit but leveled out. Johnny untied Remmie from the hitch rail and tossed the reins across the saddle. Scott stumbled forward, grabbing one long velvety ear with a none too gentle hand and started again singing about Jeannie. Remmie, decidedly upset, tossed his large head and sent Scott stumbling backward to cling on the hitch rail for balance until the horse, street and everything in his sight stood still. Remmie turned around, and presented his other end in an effort to rid himself of the noise. Scott finally righted himself. He grabbed the saddle and put his left foot into the right side stirrup.

“Ah, Scott? I wouldn’t do that…” Johnny warned but was quickly reprimanded by his older brother.

“J-j-johnn-y-y, I have beennn riding s-since b-bef-fore you w-ere bornnn, I can m-man-nage,” Scott bluntly reprimanded his younger brother, so Johnny let him do exactly what he was doing. Scott mounted Remmie and plunked in the saddle…backwards. Scott immediately slumped forward, resting his head on Remmie’s rump and passed out. Johnny looked at his brother, then at Val and shook his head.

“Guess they do things different in Boston…” he said quietly then took Remmie’s reins and slowly headed for Lancer.

<><><><> 

“You know who that was, Danny?” asked the young man sitting with his friend on the other side of the saloon. The second young man said nothing but looked with a question in his eye.

“The one in the red shirt was Madrid…” he let the statement sink in.

Danny turned to his partner, puzzled. “They called him Lancer. That’s the ranch not far from ours.”

“Yeah, he used ta be Madrid.”

Then Daniel Prescott’s mouth turned up at the corners in an ugly grin.

<><><><> 

Scott sat at the table holding his head in his hands not daring to move. Everything hurt, every move produced explosions igniting in his head. Murdoch and Teresa watched as Scott tried his best to sober up. The headache was pounding; his eyes were not focusing and the room would not stop spinning. The back door slammed announcing the arrival of Johnny and knowing that Scott was seated at the table in agony, Johnny spoke loudly as if there was something wrong with his brother's hearing. What the hell, his ears are attached ta his head, they gotta hurt too.

“Hey, how’s the birthday boy this mornin’?” Johnny grinned as Scott cringed and slumped further down in his seat. He came up behind and grabbed Scott’s shoulders, giving them a little shake. A moan was issued from Scott as he fought to keep his head from rolling off his body and his belly from erupting in the kitchen.

“Mornin’ Boston!” Johnny said again, this time slapping Scott on the back. Johnny tipped his hat back onto his head and placed his hands on his lean hips. Murdoch and Teresa snickered behind their napkins. Maria, Lancer cook, was trying to hide her amusement with her back turned to the commotion as she cooked at the stove.

“Boy, Boston, You sure do know how ta celebrate, whhooeeeeee!” Johnny laughed, still talking as if trying to be heard above tornado-force winds.

"….I wouldn't know…," Scott mumbled almost in a whisper, hands trying to cover his face and ears at the same time.

“Ya mean…. Don’t tell me ya don’t r’member?”

Scott looked up at him through blurry eyes. “No, I don’t. Do I want to?” he responded in a whisper. "What happened?"

“Ya wanna know? Yeah, I think ya should know, might as well warn Murdoch an’ T’resa, too, an’ get it over with b’fore Lilly moves in….” Scott’s eyes widened with alarm.

“Well, first after tryin’ ta drink me under the table, which, by the way, ya can’t do, ya proposed ta Lilly at The Angels Nest, oh, she's expectin' ya taday when you're up to it. Then Cindy walked by an' ya pulled her onta your lap an' that pissed off Lilly." Murdoch shot Johnny a warning glare for his choice of words. Johnny knew Murdoch frowned on swearing in front of the ladies. Johnny proceeded. “After we got the fight from them two broke up ya started ta sing ‘bout some girl named Jeannie with light brown hair an’ that piss—upset Lilly an’ Cindy. So I pulled ya off the bar an’ carried ya outside b’fore ya got your shirt all the way off…”

“Wait...What? Wait….You carried me?” Scott asked completely shocked, and if it were true, he was appalled, too. This can’t be happening…

“Yeah, an’ I gotta tell ya, Boston, you’re heavier ’n ya look!” Johnny, shaking his head, was telling the events as if they were everyday occurrences, deadpanning the entire event.

“Carried….?” Scott still could not believe what he was hearing, his mouth sagged open.

“Yup, I never been that drunk that I needed help standin’ up….” Scott’s brows went up at this. “Well, O.K., maybe a little, but I never been so drunk that I couldn’t tell the front ‘o my horse from the back….” And Johnny let the statement hang.

Teresa was beyond any control and Murdoch had begun to warm to the antics. Maria’s wide shoulders were heaving up and down, laughing so hard but trying not to make any noise. Johnny could see her pull her apron up to wipe her eyes.

"You turned him around!…. He was facing the other way!” Scott protested.

“Uh uh, Boston,” Johnny said, shaking his head, “He turned around after ya grabbed his ear an’ started bellerin’ ‘bout that Jeannie girl and her light brown hair. Guess he didn't like your singin’ either. An’, I gotta tell ya somethin’ else, Boston, ya can’t expect ta put your left foot in the right side stirrup an’ end up facin’ forward in the saddle.”

This was Teresa's undoing. She flopped down on the table laughing out loud. To Murdoch's credit, he still had a bit of control left, but it was abandoning him quickly.

“WHAT? I did What?”

“Yeah, Remmie didn’t like it an’ really didn’t like it when ya flopped forward, which was really backward an’ started droolin’ down his flank… but the travelin’ photographer did! He got a coupla shots of ya, your hat was on backward, one eye open and usin’ Remmie’s rump as a pillow…” All the while during Johnny’s report of Scott’s lost evening, Johnny was straight and serious, telling the whole chain of antics with nothing more than a sweet and innocent smile.

Traveling photographer…?”  Scott replied in horror. This was getting worse and worse; I wish he would stop… He did remember seeing the flash of a camera now that he thought about it…

"Yeah, he only had a coupla shots ‘a ya, but ya had ‘im send one ta your grandfather in Boston, I tried ta talk ya outta that one, but you kinda insisted. Guess ya had your heart set on it. Sorry, Boston…” Johnny looked so innocent, and Murdoch couldn't help himself any longer. He laughed as he hadn’t laughed in years. Scott’s head was in his hands again.

“No… I didn’t…. did I? Oh, Lord…" he mumbled, and with that, he stood on wobbly legs and staggered to the back door on the way to the outhouse.

Johnny smiled into his coffee cup. Both Teresa and Maria were now sitting at the table laughing uncontrollably as tears streamed down their faces. And Murdoch finally had to stop and wipe his eyes to clear them.

“O.K. Johnny, now tell me what really happened. And I want the truth!” Murdoch commanded as he pulled himself together.

“Well,” Johnny began, “he did try to out drink me, he did whisper into Lilly’s ear, sounded like he said ring, but I coulda been wrong ‘bout that, an’ there was a fight with the two girls that we had ta break up. I did carry him off the bar an’ Remmie definitely doesn't like Scott's singin'. Scott did get on his horse backward, an' there was a photographer…” Johnny said, still deadpanning.

“Forget it, Johnny; I don’t think I want to know any more. Were there any damages?” Murdoch asked, knowing that there had to be some.

“Uhhh, yeah, but Scott took care of ‘em, an’ then some," Johnny said with a smile. "Wonder if Ol’ Man Garrett’ll hang that picture over the mantle…” Johnny said going back out the door leaving Murdoch, Teresa, and Maria again holding their sides and laughing beyond any control.

Teresa dried her eyes, still burbling a run-away giggle here and there, then suddenly stopped cleaning the dishes from the table and looked at Murdoch with wide eyes as a
thought struck her like lightning.

“What’s the matter, Sweetheart?” Murdoch asked, wondering at the look in her eyes.

“Johnny’s birthday is in a few weeks…  You don’t think Scott will plan some sort of revenge, do you?”

“Well,” Murdoch began, rolling the possibilities around in his head, "I really don't know, but if he does anything it will be something like tricking Johnny into going to San Francisco and dragging him to the opera or some such thing.” And he snickered picturing his youngest son sitting in the opera hall ‘listenin’ ta all that bellerin’’, as Johnny so eloquently put it.

Teresa smiled. “And then Johnny would turn the tables on Scott and fall asleep during the performance!” she responded with a laugh as Murdoch grinned and thought, yes, that’s exactly what Johnny would do!

<><><><> 

The day passed, agonizingly slow, for Scott. His pounding head would not settle down, and his belly rebelled against any intrusion. However, the spinning did stop. Johnny took pity on him and asked Maria to prepare an old remedy for hangovers and, of course, Scott resisted like Johnny knew he would.

“Trust me, Scott! This is gonna work. Just drink it down, one big ol’ gulp an’ you’re gonna start feelin’ better in just a few minutes!” Johnny coaxed, Scott still not biting.

Trust you?” Scott said a little too loudly as he grabbed his head before it fell and he would have to chase it down. “Trust you? Trust the brother that got me in all that trouble last night?” Scott asked, implying Johnny had something to do with the issues of the night before and the possibility of Lilly showing up at the ranch demanding to know where her ring was and asking where to put her things.

“Hey, wait a minute, Boston! You were the one that wanted a drinkin’ contest, ask Henry, an' it went downhill after that. I was sittin' at the table tryin' ta keep you outta trouble!”

"Henry would back you up in a heartbeat!" Scott declared in disgust.

“Scott!” Johnny said as if deeply hurt. “I’m not lyin’ ta ya, honest. Here just try this stuff, it’ll help, I promise…” Scott looked into his brother’s eyes and decided they were sincere.

"Alright, but if it doesn't work, you’re going to do my work today. Deal?”

Johnny’s eyes sparkled. “Yup, deal!” And holding out his hand they shook.

Scott took the cup and in a few large gulps, downed the entire contents fully expecting for it to make a reappearance. But it didn't. It stayed down, and as if a miracle occurred, he started feeling human again.

Dios, gracias! Johnny thought. Sure didn’t feel like doin’ his work, too!

<><><><> 

Amazingly enough, Scott was at the dinner table that night, with an appetite.

“Hey, Boston, how ya doin’?” Johnny asked with his best dazzling smile and twinkle in his eyes.

Scott, with a broad smile of his own, looked across at his sibling. “Just fine, Brother, just fine!”

“If you boys get your chores done tomorrow in time how about taking a ride with Teresa and me over to meet the Prescott’s? They just bought the Henderson place. We thought we'd go and introduce ourselves and welcome them to the valley." Scott willingly agreed to go, but Johnny hesitated.

“Guess I’ll hafta meet ‘em some other time, Murdoch. I gotta go with Val over ta Merced. Told ‘im I’d help with that prisoner he’s takin’ up there,” Johnny explained around a mouthful of Teresa’s chocolate cake that he loved so much. He hoped there would be some left when he returned with Val tomorrow.

“Well, I’ll make the appropriate introductions and explanations. I’m sure that you’ll be meeting them at the church bazaar and picnic, anyway,” Murdoch replied. The bazaar was a popular and well-visited outing, and families from miles around attended every year.

"Yeah, ‘m sure I'll be seein' ‘em sometime soon. Any more cake left, T’resa?” Johnny asked with his best smile.

<><><><> 

The visit to the Prescott ranch was brief, but Murdoch wanted to welcome the new family, so they only stayed for a short time. Mr. Prescott was congenial and seemed a nice enough fellow, knowledgeable about cattle and the workings of the ranch. Mrs. Prescott seemed a bit standoffish, almost suspiciously eyeing Teresa as if expecting the girl to openly display an attraction for her son, Danny. It was quite the other way around. Danny openly ogled Teresa, making her uneasy and she stayed close to Murdoch and Scott, edgy about the unwanted attention. Danny secretly wondered ‘where that other son was' as the introductions were made but decided to bide his time. Things would happen… eventually.

Bidding farewell to the new neighbors the Lancers left, Murdoch and Teresa in the carriage while Scott rode Remmie. Murdoch chatted to Scott about the possibility of using Prescott's bulls to enhance the Lancer cattle, and in turn, Prescott could use Lancer bulls. Scott noticed Teresa seemed a bit distracted and asked if she was alright. Answering a bit too quickly she said 'Yes, of course, she was alright' and Scott knew something had happened but could not figure what had occurred. Teresa sat in the carriage seat ramrod stiff and straight, staring ahead and Scott could see the tension rolling from her body. Murdoch didn’t pick up on the fact that his young ward was distressed, he was preoccupied with thoughts of cattle.

<><><><> 

The prisoner posed no threat as Johnny, and Val released him into the custody of Sheriff Flint in Merced. They stopped at O’Hara’s Diner for lunch, each ordering the special of venison stew and a large piece of Mrs. O’Hara’s apple pie for dessert. The waitress seemed to dawdle over the two men, making sure that the pie was cut a tad larger than usual and kept the coffee filled in their cups. They paid the bill and left a very generous tip for Maudie. Making their way out to the horses, they mounted up and started back for Green River.

They took their time as Murdoch had no plans for Johnny, knowing that he was assisting Val and that Val had made arrangements for Chuck Dodson to watch Green River in his absence. So the return trip was leisurely and relaxing.

“So, how’d Scott do yesterday after his ‘night out’? Did’ya make it home alright?” Val couldn’t resist asking, knowing that Johnny had his hands full trying to get his brother home without incident. Johnny's smile told the story, and Val wished he could have been there to see it play out. He knew what Johnny was capable of when the opportunity presented itself.

“Oh, he had some trouble gettin’ up an’ I don’t think Maria had enough coffee to get ‘im sober, ‘specially when I told ‘im what he did. Well, kinda did… But Murdoch, Teresa an’ Maria liked the story. Anyway, we got most of the way home b’fore he started ta get sick. Had ‘nough time ta yank ‘im off his horse b’fore he puked down Remmie’s flank, an’ it took a while ta empty out, didn’t know he drank that much. Sure had a whopper of a hangover, though!” Johnny had Val laughing and enjoying the story just as the three in the Lancer kitchen had. Val, howling with great belly-laughs, especially liked the part when Johnny told Scott he’d started to strip while singing on the bar and Val had to stop his horse and wipe tears from his eyes.

"Hey, Val, what'd ya know ‘bout the Prescott’s? They bought the ol’ Henderson place last week.”

“Not much. Come from Kansas City, but that's ‘bout all." Val confessed. "Why?"

“Murdoch, Scott an’ T'resa were goin' over ta ‘welcome' them ta the valley is all. Just thought maybe ya knew somethin’ that we should know…”

“Nope, nuthin’. All I know is there’s Mr. an’ Mrs. Prescott an’ one boy.”

<><><><> 

“Teresa? Are you alright?” Scott asked of his ‘sister’ after they had gotten home. Teresa had gone into the house immediately and went directly to her room. Scott waited for her to come back downstairs but she didn't. The opportunity didn't arise again until later that afternoon. Teresa went out into her garden and began weeding and breaking up the hardened earth between the plants, chopping at the ground with unusual aggressiveness, looking much like she was attacking more than weeding. She jumped as Scott startled her, embarrassed as she thought what she must have looked like beating at the ground.

“Yes, I’m fine, Scott…" she lied and desperately wanted to turn the conversation down a different path. "Would you please hand me my gloves from the basket over there? I forgot to put them on when I started. Thanks," she said when he handed them to her. "It's a pretty day, isn't it? Wonder when Johnny will get home. Think he'll make it for dinner? It's a little too quiet around here when he's not here….."

“Teresa, what’s bothering you?” Scott asked gently, touching her arm. She stopped the chopping in the dirt.

“Scott, I’m fine, honest,” she answered, but she did not meet his eyes.

<><><><> 

The next few weeks passed with amazing speed. Scott was planning revenge on his brother, although Johnny hadn't done much of anything to deserve it, well, except a little embellishing of the events the night of Scott's escapades and shenanigans at The Angel's Nest. But, Scott was determined to ‘get even’ regardless. And Johnny’s birthday was coming up fast. He knew Johnny didn’t like being the center of attention and did not like his fun organized, so, what better way to seek his revenge than to plan a big party in his honor? If Murdoch went along with it, it could be held here at Lancer and if not The Angel’s Nest was a fitting place, as Scott could attest. And the plans had begun to be made.

<><><><> 

Johnny worked long and hard, but finally, the results were starting to show. The line shack had been severely damaged by the storms, and he had been in it when the last storm hit. There were so many leaks in the roof that there weren’t enough pans, pails, and buckets to catch all the water that ended up in the cabin. Johnny thought at the time that he would have stayed dryer if he'd been outside. So, here he was, for the last three days, working at the repairs before they would need to use it again.

He'd seen the two riders about an hour ago up on the ridge, and the fact that they had not come to the cabin made him wary. When he was in town buying the supplies for this job he noticed the same two young men watching, however discretely, and he knew the type. They were trouble, especially the one with the low slung pistol on his hip. This one was going to try and make a name for himself and Johnny was not about to oblige him, ever. He was done with that way of life, why couldn’t they leave him alone? Madrid was in the shadows, now, and wanted to stay there. Johnny kept working but also kept the two in sight.

He was done for the day and was putting away the tools when they wandered to the cabin. Johnny was getting a drink from the water barrel and eyed them as they got closer and he read all the signs.

"Afternoon. What can I do for ya?" Johnny asked, mentally getting a handle on the situation. One looked like a regular cowboy but the other, the one with the six gun tied low, was trouble just lookin’ for a place ta happen… Johnny thought.

“You Madrid?” asked fancy gun.

“Used ta be. I don’t do that anymore,” Johnny said very softly, eyes taking in every move, every twitch of body language.

“Turn yellow?”

“No. Just don’t do it anymore. Don’t need a reason,” Johnny responded, eyes turning cold.

“You will…" And fancy gun turned his horse and rode away with his partner following. Johnny felt ice in his belly. He knew there would be a problem, and he would be forced to face this kid, this troubled kid with a death wish. How many would that make? He wondered, and he felt sick.

Returning to the ranch long after dark, Johnny finished getting Barranca settled in the barn before going into the house. He poured coffee and sat at the table with his hands wrapped around the cup, staring at the wooden planks. He was so tired of this, of trying to defend himself from youngsters thinking that if they took out Madrid, they would be famous; they could demand respect and people would know them and fear them. Well, it don't work like that. Ya can't just kill someone an' people respect ya; ya gotta earn respect… I know. Putting his hands over his face he sat alone for a long time and finding no answers, he soon left his cup and went to bed.

Johnny didn’t sleep. Visions of men, more like children with guns ran through his brain, tormenting him with their horrified, pain and panic-filled eyes realizing they'd made the biggest mistake of their young lives when they called out Johnny Madrid. In their dreams, they'd outdrawn him and watched as the blood of Madrid pooled in the dirt. But then reality hit home, just like Madrid’s bullet, they fell onto their knees and died, eyes rolling back in their heads as they plummeted into the dirt face first.

Johnny sat up in bed and ran his shaking hands over his face. When would this stop? The sky was just beginning to lighten, and Johnny hadn't slept... at all. Pulling on his clothes he stumbled down to the kitchen as Maria came in the back door. She took one look at her Juanito and commanded him to sit, and in a very short time, there was a cup of strong hot coffee shoved into his hands. With the coffee came the soothing effects of this calming brew. But his eyes were still troubled. However hard he tried, there was always someone who wouldn’t let Madrid just fade away, no matter the lengths Johnny went through to bury him. He didn’t realize he’d sat there so long until a plate full of food was set in front of him. He stared at his breakfast a minute before he remembered his manners.

Gracias, Maria,” he mumbled quietly.

Maria watched him, knowing he was troubled. His eyes didn’t have the mischief they usually held, even at this early hour of the morning. She resisted the urge to touch his face to check for fever. No, Juanito did not like to be fussed over. So she watched him push his food around on his plate.

Que ta pasa, Juanito?” Maria asked (What’s wrong, Johnny?)

Johnny looked up and smiled at her worried face, her large brown eyes trying to read him. She don’t miss a thing… he thought. Stepping away from his chair he wrapped his arms around her broad shoulders and hugged her tight. He kissed her forehead telling her he was fine and was out the back door before she could say any more.

Scott entered the kitchen, greeting Maria warmly and retrieved his coffee, seeing no one else around he asked the obvious. “Has Johnny eaten yet?”

Maria turned to Scott and shrugged, not knowing if she should mention anything to him and he noted her distress.

“What’s the matter, Maria? Is Johnny alright?”

Maria sat at the table across from Scott deciding he could help and told him everything.

“Did he leave?” Scott asked wondering what had his brother upset.

“Just to the barn, I think. You know how he likes to talk to his horse,” Maria said with a worried frown.

“Yes, I do. Don’t worry, Maria. I’ll make sure he’s alright,” Scott said with a reassuring pat to her shoulder.

Gracias, Scott, gracias!”

Scott was touched by her concern. She was very attached to Johnny; she couldn’t help but be attached. She helped with his birth.

Scott entered the barn only to hear Johnny stop talking in mid-sentence but it almost sounded like he said "… don’t know what ta do ‘bout it…”

“Anything I can help you with, Brother?” Scott interrupted quietly.

Johnny looked up; the surprise in his eyes, and even in the dim light of the lantern Scott could tell he'd heard something Johnny hadn't meant for other ears, except Barranca's.

“No, thanks, Boston. ‘M fine.” A half smile appeared on his face, and he continued to brush the sleek coat of the stallion.

“If you need to talk, Johnny, I’m here, you know that…”

“Yeah, I know, thanks, but what makes you think somethin’s wrong?” Johnny asked in a low voice.

"Well, Maria is worried, and you're out here brushing your horse,” Scott stated plainly.

“Brushin’ my horse means somethin’s wrong?” Johnny asked with surprise in his voice.

“Usually, yes when you're brushing him until his hide is showing. Must be contagious. Teresa’s been quiet, too, and insists there’s nothing wrong.”

Johnny’s head snapped up at the mention of Teresa and Scott’s observation of her.
"What'd ya mean ‘quiet'? She alright?” Johnny asked, suddenly concerned.

“I don’t know, Johnny. She says the same thing you do. I can’t help if I don’t know,” Scott responded, looking pleadingly at his brother.

“It’s alright, Scott, honest,” Johnny said, trying to ease his sibling's worries. Johnny put the brush away and saddled the beautiful Palomino.

“Speaking of Teresa, she needs to go into town today. Are you finished at the line shack so you can go with her?”  Scott asked.

“Yeah, sure, I can do that. Know when she wants ta leave?”

“I have no idea! But when you’re with her see if you can find out what’s bothering her, will you, Brother?”

"Yeah, I will," Johnny promised.

<><><><> 

The ride into Green River was quiet and pleasant. Teresa chatted a bit and didn’t seem to be stressed, but Johnny could tell something had happened. Scott didn't imagine things. It was early afternoon when they arrived at Baldomero's General Store. Johnny hopped off the wagon, going around to the other side to help his ‘sister' down. She bounded up the stairs onto the boardwalk and into the store to place her order. Knowing it would take a while Johnny told her he was going over to see Val and he would be back.

“Alright, Johnny, I’ll see you later!” she called after him.

The scene that played itself out was a welcome one for the person watching from the shadows. He would bide his time. This would be fun!

Johnny crossed over to the sheriff’s office, opened the door and found Val asleep in his chair. He quietly closed the door, got himself a cup of coffee and sat in the chair opposite the sheriff. Putting his feet up on the desktop to mirror Val, he then started to whistle softly. When this did not rouse the sheriff, he whistled a little louder. Nothing. I sure hope ya haven’t pissed off anyone ta where they’re gonna sneak up on ya! Hell, they’ll kill you b’fore ya know they’re there!

“Val!" Johnny called at the top of his lungs. Val jerked awake, grabbing his pistol.

"Jesus! Johnny! What'd ya tryin' ta do ta me? Yer askin' ta get yourself shot!” he griped.

“Just keepin’ ya on your toes, Val, keepin’ ya on your toes.” Johnny sniggered into his coffee as Val tried to slow his heart rate before it quit on him.

"What'd ya want, Johnny?" Val asked gruffly, not amused at the rude awakening he'd received. Johnny was still smiling, then the smile disappeared.

“There been any strangers around lately? Young kid, dressed mostly in black, wears his gun low?” Johnny asked casually. Val looked up.

“Sounds like you’re describin’ the Prescott boy.”

“Ya mean Prescott as in the new owners of the Henderson place Prescott’s?” Johnny met Val’s eyes with an 'Oh, shit' look that Val was well familiar with.

“The one an’ the same… Why?” Val asked.

“Cuz, the kid came by the line shack I was workin' on and wants ta take on Madrid. I told ‘im I didn’t do that anymore.”

“Yeah? What’d he say?” Johnny smiled a bit.

“He asked if I was yellow…” Val started to laugh. Johnny was amused but not that amused.

“Well, I guess I better start keepin’ an eye out for ‘im,” Val said with a huff. “I ain’t puttin’ up with no trouble from that young’un.”

“Just wanted ta let ya know, Val, cuz I ain’t gonna draw on ‘im, not unless I hafta.”

“Good an’ don’t let ‘im push ya inta anything, either,” Val added.

“Hadn’t planned on it.” Johnny finished his coffee with a grimace. Val always did make the worst coffee he’d ever had.

As Johnny walked back to the store Teresa came out onto the boardwalk, arms overflowing with packages and bundles. He smiled, but it quickly disappeared as he watched the young man that Val suspected was Danny Prescott step up to Teresa, attempting to take the packages from her arms.

Johnny quickened his pace, and he heard her say: “Thank you, but I have help. No need for you to bother.”

No bother at all, Miss Teresa! I’m right here an’…” Danny was saying when Johnny arrived.

“I got it, Teresa,” and turning to Danny he said, “Thanks for the help but I got it now.” He turned away, leaving Teresa very much relieved.

“Thank you, Johnny, can we go home now?” she asked with a pleading in her eyes.

“Yeah, querida,” and Johnny helped her onto the wagon seat. He brushed by Danny as he stepped up and onto the wagon, seating himself between Teresa and Danny.

The youngster leveled a hate-filled glare at Johnny.“A gentleman wouldn’t have left a lady alone.”

A challenge had been issued in his remark. Failing to get a response, Johnny only smirked.

“Maybe I ain’t no gentleman!” He lightly slapped the reins against the horses' rumps and drove out of town, leaving Danny fuming and fondling his gun as he quickly stepped away from the wagon wheels.

<><><><> 

Teresa did not say a word but, again, sat stiff and straight in her seat, just like Scott described her when they had left from visiting the Prescott’s. Johnny took it all in and gave the situation thought before he said anything.

“Wanna talk ‘bout it?” he asked, wanting to encourage her, to let her know he and Scott were there for her.

Teresa glanced over at him with startled eyes. "Talk about what?" she asked, not wanting to talk at all, except she knew he would get it out of her. Johnny could coax it out of her in no time.

“Teresa, I know somethin’s wrong, what is it?” he pursued quietly.

“I can’t hide much from you, or Scott either! It’s Danny Prescott. He hasn’t exactly done anything… It's just the way he looks at me like he's constantly staring, watching me. It makes me nervous. It was the same way when Murdoch, Scott and I went to introduce ourselves. Mr. Prescott was very nice, though. Mrs. Prescott was almost apprehensive; I don't think she liked me very much…”

Johnny listened to her vent. It seemed that once she started, she couldn't stop, the dam had broken. And he let her go on until she wore herself out. Johnny had seen the predatory look in Danny's eyes, but he wasn't about to worry Teresa, no sense getting her any more upset than she was now. He would warn Scott but would keep his suspicions to himself and his brother until he had proof.

Johnny pulled the team to a stop by the door, hopped out and helped Teresa to the ground, his hands comforting around her tiny waist.

“It’ll be alright, querida,” he told her and smiled. She couldn’t help but smile back at him. I feel so safe with my brothers! How lucky I am… And still smiling she took her purchases into the house, Johnny tagging along behind her with the last of the packages. Depositing them on the table, he made his way back out to the team and down to the barn, unhitched them and turned them out into the corral. When he entered the barn to check on Barranca, the Palomino's head came up, and he whinnied when he saw Johnny, asking for his ear scratch and tasty treat of carrot that he knew Johnny always had for him. Indulging his horse- some even had the gall to insinuate Barranca was spoiled- Johnny provided the attention and the carrot receiving a headbutt for his efforts.

<><><><> 

Dinner was served at the designated hour of six every night. If you were late, you ate a cold meal. Murdoch did not tolerate tardiness, it had taken Johnny a while to learn this, and he learned the hard way. He still couldn't figure out what was special about six o'clock and why Murdoch had to eat dinner then but the Ol’ Man called the tune, so they ate at six, sharp…  Tonight was no different. Maria had prepared a delicious meal, once again, cooked to tasty perfection. The woman was truly gifted, and the family counted their blessings having her in their kitchen and a member of the extended Lancer family.

“Hey, Johnny? Would you mind giving me a hand with this?” Scott asked of his brother.

"Sure, what'd ya need?" Johnny asked following Scott out into the yard. The night was cool and comfortable, the breeze pleasant, the stars beautiful. Scott stopped by the corral and Johnny joined him there.

"What'd ya need help with, Boston?”

“Nothing. I was just wondering if you had the chance to find out what’s wrong with Teresa. Did she talk at all?” Scott asked, worry in his gray-blue eyes.

“Yeah, she did. The Prescott kid has her jumpy,” Johnny said as he leaned his arms over the top rail next to Scott.

“Is that all? He was pleasant enough when we were there the other day, didn’t seem like a threat,” Scott mused. Johnny measured his words, saying what he thought needed to be said without causing any reason for panic. He sighed heavily.

“I saw it, Scott. The look in his eyes when he watched her, but, there’s somethin’ else an’ I need for this ta stay between you an’ me till I can get a better handle on it….. Alright?” Johnny watched Scott’s face as the older sibling digested what he’d heard.

Turning to Johnny with questions burning in his brain he said, “Alright. Tell me about it.”

“The other day when I was out at the line shack I saw these two riders up on the ridge to the west. They were there for a long time. If they were just passin’ through they wouldn’t ‘a spent that time up there. They were watchin’, waitin’ for somethin’.” Johnny paused.

“What were they waiting for?” Scott wasn’t getting it.

“Me. Rather Madrid," Johnny said casually as if it had happened many times before, and it had. Scott went cold inside, the ice forming in his belly as if by magic, evil magic.

“Who were they?” Scott asked, knowing the answer.

"Danny Prescott, an' another kid. Lookin’ at the way he wears his gun I get the impression he’s wantin’ ta make a name for himself,” Johnny answered, again with a response as if this were an everyday occurrence.

“What happened, Johnny? Did they come and talk?”

“Oh, yeah, they came in. Asked if I was Madrid an,' I told ‘em I used ta be but don't do that no more."

“And?” Scott kept digging. Johnny set his chin on his arms looking out over the corral at their mares, heavy with foals. He wondered how he and Scott were going to handle this, just hoping it wouldn’t amount to anything, but he knew better. It had happened before.

“Prescott said that I will.” Johnny turned his head to look in Scott’s eyes trying to read what was there.

"So, he's going to try and goad you into something, force you out?" Scott issued the question, but it was more of a statement.

"He's gonna try; it's happened b'fore. Already talked ta Val ‘bout it an' I told him that I wasn't gonna do nuthin’ unless I had ta. If I can't do nuthin’ else, I’ll hafta. But just gotta make sure T'resa don't find out an’ ta watch her cuz that kid just might use her ta get ta me.”

“We need to let Murdoch know what’s going on, Johnny. We can’t keep this from him," Scott said as he made to leave for the house, but Johnny grabbed his arm.

“Scott? Why don’t we wait a little? Val is lookin’ inta it an’ I don’t wanna upset Murdoch if this can be handled quick an’ quiet.” Johnny looked into Scott’s face, hoping to convince him otherwise.

The older Lancer tumbled the facts around in his brain then came to a decision. “Alright, Johnny, but at the first sign of any more trouble, we have to tell him.”

“That’s the way I see it,” Johnny said, relieved and hoping to straighten out the problem before it got to be one.

<><><><> 

Teresa kept busy the next several days with plans for the bazaar at the church. She’d been baking for days now, much to Johnny’s dismay as he’d failed to pilfer the tasty morsels that came from the oven.

"Oh, no you don't Johnny Lancer! These are for the bazaar, and you have to wait! Then you can buy them!” Johnny couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Buy ‘em! They’re sittin’ here in the kitchen! Why do I gotta buy ‘em? And reading the look in Johnny’s eyes Teresa explained that all the proceeds were going to the orphanage, knowing that Johnny had a huge soft spot in his heart for them. Reaching into his pocket, Johnny withdrew a five dollar gold piece and flipped it over to her, which she masterfully caught with surprising skill. Johnny then retrieved a handful of cookies and left the kitchen whistling a catchy tune.

<><><><> 

The ride into Green River was a relaxing one; the two Lancer brothers had grown to value and enjoy their time together. Not having been brought up as brothers, not even knowing of the other’s the existence, they had bonded very quickly after getting acquainted. So, when the opportunities presented themselves, both Scott and Johnny were anxious to indulge in them.

“Ya know we got company?” Johnny muttered, almost under his breath. Scott jerked his head to look around but couldn’t see anything.

"They're just over the ridge up there, ducked outta sight," Johnny said as if talking about the weather.

“Know who they are?” Scott asked.

“Yup,” was all the answer he got.

<><><><> 

Scott and Johnny took their table in the back of the saloon up against the wall. Lilly winked at Scott as he made his way across the room.

“You gonna have a song for us today, Scott?” she purred as Scott blushed.

“No, not today, Lilly, but we will have two beers, please.” Scott sat next to his brother as Johnny tipped his hat back on his head, starting to laugh.

“Oh, Boston, ya really started somethin', ya know that, don't cha?"

“With no thanks to you, little brother!”

“Hey, I hauled your ass offa that bar b'fore ya stripped in front of all them folks in here! Oh, an, by the way, Val said there were complaints ‘bout disturbin' the peace comin' in…." Taking a few swallows of the beer he suddenly stopped, setting the half-empty mug on the table.

Mierda….”  he mumbled. Scott's Spanish wasn't that good, but he recognized ‘shit' when he heard it. The batwing doors were flung open and Danny Prescott and his shadow, whose name they didn't yet know, came into the saloon and sidled up to the bar. They ordered whiskeys and looked around the room. Danny’s sight settled on Johnny and Scott at the back table. He downed his drink and sauntered over to them.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the famous gun slick Madrid! Hey, how’s that sister of yours? No wonder why you don’t want anyone else around! Saving her for yourself, are you?” Danny blundered on.

“You got a ugly mind, kid. Why don’t you just go away?” Johnny said quietly as if Danny were nothing but a big annoyance. Danny stood, not making any attempt to leave, staring at Johnny as if he were trying to scare Madrid into making a move. Johnny merely set his chin in his hand and smirked. Scott saw the direction this was going and tried to head it off. Standing, he looked at Danny and calmly asked for him to leave them alone.

“We’re here for a little relaxation and not looking for any trouble.”

“Well, you have trouble if you want it or not!” Danny shouted loud enough for everyone in the saloon to hear.

Johnny sat back in his chair and leveled his Johnny Madrid glare at the boy, not saying a word.

Danny tried to ignore the shards of ice shooting out from the deadly, cold eyes but found that his soul, his very countenance had been pierced and shredded, almost immobilizing him. Suddenly, he was afraid, but he shook it off to save face.

“Kid, if I were you, I’d just go ‘bout my business an’ leave these two alone. Now, git!” Val had come in when he’d seen Johnny and Scott in town knowing that a beer was in order and it looked as if he’d gotten there just in time.

Embarrassed, Danny flung out a threat. “I’ll be waiting for you, Madrid!”

“Told ya b’fore. I don’t do that anymore….” Johnny said softly.

“Because you’re yellow!” came the response that was intended to provoke a fight.

Johnny laughed in Danny’s face. “No, kid, I ain’t yellow. Just done with all that. Bye.” And dismissing Danny with one word, one casually spoken word as if it were a joke, and an icy grin, Danny left with Shadow and Val close behind them. Val turned and mouthed the words “I’ll be back.”

Scott started to relax in his chair while Johnny still slouched, appearing to all at ease, but with his Colt within easy reach. When will this stop? he thought…

Val returned shortly and sat at the table. He ordered a beer, and after Lilly left the table, they started to talk.

“That one’s trouble…” Val said into his glass. “You boys be careful 'til we get this straightened out.”

Johnny blew out a breath and briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them, both Scott and Val were watching him. “Already told’ya Val, I ain’t gonna fight ‘im ‘less there’s no other way. But I gotta feelin’ that he’s gonna use T'resa ta get ta me an' I can't let her get hurt. He was botherin' her the other day when we came into town, an' I really can't even say he was botherin' her, but I saw the look in his eyes an' it wasn't a friendly, sociable look. It scared her, but I will protect her… at any cost,” Johnny leveled with Val.

“An’ ya have a right to. I think maybe I’ll do a little diggin’ on ol’ Danny Boy. See if maybe Kansas City can tell me anything. Careful goin’ home, keep them eyes open, both of ya.” Val finished his beer and left the table.

“Well, I’ve had enough excitement for one day. How about we finish up here and head for home,” Scott said with a disappointed sigh. He had been anticipating some brother time.

The return trip home was long and quiet. Each man with his own thoughts and each slightly different.  Scott was wanting to approach Mr. and Mrs. Prescott to ask for their assistance and Johnny, knowing a fight was coming, was still hoping to convince the stupid kid to back off. He’d had enough experience at this to know that wouldn’t happen but he needed to try, and maybe Val could turn something up when he contacted Kansas City for information. Dios, he was tired of all this…

Scott scanned the horizon for any sign of the unwanted ‘visitors’. Not seeing any threat he felt a little better, just let them get home, not too far to go now.

<><><><> 

The next few days passed without incident, and the Church Bazaar was on Saturday. With her usual eye for detail, Teresa put the finishing touches on the boxes of perfectly packed cookies and cakes. She kept watching for the ‘sweet tooth bandit’, as she called Johnny but she had to admit that he was more than generous and knew that he would make a sizeable donation to the orphanage, plus offering to make some repairs there. She smiled as she thought of his rough beginnings and how kind and generous he’d turned out to be. It was truly a miracle that he was still alive, not to mention the man he’d grown to be. Both her brothers were good, decent men, benevolent to a fault and as precious to her as blood kin but there was something special about Johnny, she thought.

<><><><> 

The morning had been a rough one, pulling ungrateful, ornery cows out of a bog and returning them to the herd. The damaged fence had been mended, and the rest of the chores were completed. After a nice soak in a hot tub to relieve the aches and pains, they’d be ready for the dancing and festivities.

Scott had several of Green River girls already asking if he would be there, as they knew what an excellent dancer he was. His steps whirled them into a fairy tale princess world they’d never known before, and they all hoped he would ask them out onto the dance platform.

They all wanted Johnny, on the other hand, to ask them to walk in the moonlight; they wanted him to hold them and maybe even try to kiss them! How exciting that would be! But Johnny had other ideas, and it didn't include the young girls here. Johnny's heart belonged to Holly, a young woman he had known for years, the two of them living their own lives but had secretly pledged themselves to each other and they remained faithful as if the vows had been spoken in a church. Holly lived in Salinas a hundred miles away, and their visits were far, and few between, but very much enjoyed when they were together.

Regarding functions such as the church bazaar and following dance, Johnny stayed in the background and away from the ‘organized’ activities. He probably wouldn’t be staying long anyway. After he'd donated to the orphanage, checked out the cakes and whatever else struck his fancy, he had intended on going home and getting into bed. He was worn out from working with stupid cows all day, so his bed was the only thing on his mind.

Murdoch pulled the wagon to a halt and Johnny helped Teresa down, both Scott and Johnny began pulling boxes out of the wagon bed under Teresa’s strict instructions to be careful. The baked goods needed to be presented well and broken cookies wouldn’t bring a good price, after all! Depositing all her hard work on the tables the ladies began to arrange Teresa’s donations with the other items and knowing Johnny’s taste for the bakery, they made sure to draw his attention to it all.

He honestly couldn't make up his mind what to buy. Finally, after giving serious thought, he made his selections, most of it being what Teresa had made. He put his purchases in the wagon bed and watched for a moment as the dancers started whirling around on the platform. Scott was out there, and it looked as if the girls had lined up, waiting their turn with the man from Boston. Johnny smiled, but it quickly faded as, in the distance across the dance platform, he could see Danny Prescott watching Teresa as she sold items at the bakery table. Johnny immediately assumed his role as protector and stood back to keep watch.

He stayed in the shadows but close enough to come to her rescue should the need arise. Billy Morgan went to Teresa and grabbed her hand to lead her out to the dance. She smiled as they whirled around and she seemed to be having a good time. The flush on her face was attractive, and Johnny had to admit that Teresa was a very pretty girl, especially in her dark blue dress. It picked up her skin tone and complimented her every feature. But Johnny wasn’t the only one who thought that.

Danny Prescott picked his way through the whirling couples and tapped Billy’s shoulder. “I think I’ll cut in…”

Billy apprehensively let her go to the other young man’s arms.

Teresa’s smile faded as he took her in his arms and held her a bit too closely. Immediately she put her hands against his chest to push him away. Johnny maneuvered his way through the crowds of people with one thought in mind, and that was his sister, because she was in trouble. Johnny reached them quickly, taking Danny's shoulder and forcefully pulling him away from Teresa. The younger man’s eyes spit fire as if issuing a challenge.

“Think I need ta cut in, now,” and taking Teresa in his arms swept her away from her antagonist, leaving Danny standing alone and livid, the fury in his eyes drilling holes into Johnny’s back.

“Johnny? Thank you….! He was holding me so tight….” Teresa exclaimed.

"Yeah, had ta do somethin'! An' this was the only thing I could do with this many people around. Ya wanna dance, or ya wanna go siddown?" The music ended making the decision for them as Johnny steered her through the couples and found Murdoch sitting at a table. They joined him as he watched the horseshoe game. Teresa was deeply grateful Johnny had come to her rescue and sat at the table, her knees slightly shaking.

“Well, what about it, Johnny? Want to try and beat ‘the old man’?” Murdoch asked hoping to involve his son in the competition.

Johnny felt Teresa tense, worried at the thought of being alone. “No, it’s alright, Murdoch, we both know you can beat the pants offa me playin' horseshoes,” Johnny said with a slight grin and hoped that Murdoch hadn't seen what had transpired on the dance floor.

Murdoch looked surprised as they both knew they were equal opponents at the game.

“How did the sale go, darling?” Murdoch asked Teresa. She smiled as she thought of Johnny purchasing all of her donations. Murdoch grinned, he had watched as Johnny debated and carefully made his choices.

“Oh, Murdoch, it’s almost gone already! Everything is selling out!” she replied excitedly. She watched the dancers continuing their fancy footwork and suddenly caught sight of Danny watching her. Her breath caught in her throat and she turned back to Murdoch trying to engage him in conversation. But Johnny had seen it, and knew what had abruptly taken the smile from her face.

<><><><> 

Leaving Teresa protected in the company of Murdoch, Johnny left to get himself a beer. He wished there would be something stronger. Walking through the crowd, he reached the keg and paid for his drink just as a shoulder crashed into his back sending his newly purchased drink down the front of his shirt.

“You’re supposed to drink the stuff, not wear it, Madrid,” came the snide remark followed by snickering.

Not bothering to turn, Johnny sighed deeply. This kid was going to start trouble here! He needed to keep it contained… if he could… “Accidents happen. Just be a little more careful from now on, huh?” Johnny said softly.

“What’s it gonna take, Madrid? You’re yellow!” Prescott shouted loud enough as people turned to watch, several of the men ushering their wives, daughters, and girlfriends away from the scene.

"Already told'ya, Kid, I don't do that anymore." Johnny spoke quietly, quietly and deadly.

“What’s the matter, Madrid? You beggin for your life?" Danny asked with a wicked smile across his face.

“No, but I’m tryin’ ta save yours… Go find someone else ta play games with…” Johnny turned to walk away, but his shoulder was grabbed, and Danny tried to swing him around when Johnny's fist quickly connected with Danny's jaw, and he went down into the dirt. He launched himself from the ground, and his hand hovered on his gun when Val grabbed him from behind.

“Time for you ta go home! Now! Git!” Val looked around at the crowd, “Alright, break it up, nuthin’ ta see!” The crowd dispersed, and he faced Johnny with a shrug.

“This ain’t gonna be good, Amigo, he’s gonna make more trouble, ya know that,  don't cha?”

“Yeah, I already had ta rescue T’resa from dancin' with 'im, he was holdin' her in a way she didn’t like.” Johnny took a cloth from the counter next to the beer keg and wiped the front of his shirt. “Well, guess it’s time ta let Murdoch know what’s goin’ on. He’s gonna be pissed we didn’t tell him b’fore now. I’ll hafta pull Scott offa that dance platform. He hasn't sat down yet!" Johnny said with a slight smile.

<><><><> 

It was a quiet ride home, and once there, Teresa went directly to her room. Murdoch was in the great room when Scott and Johnny came in from bedding down the horses. Joining their father for a drink, the two brothers sat opposite Murdoch's chair, and the ‘old man' waited.

“We need to discuss something, Murdoch.” Scott began.

“I thought as much. You two were uncharacteristically quiet on the way home. What is it?”

“Danny Prescott.” Johnny sighed, relaxing into his seat.

“Danny Prescott? What’s going on?” Murdoch looked confused.

“Ta make it short, he’s tryin’ ta use T’resa ta get ta me. He wants Madrid. He’s made it plain that he wants ta call me out. I told ‘im I don't do that any more, the first time he said that yes, I would fight him. The second time was in the saloon, Scott an’ Val were there an’ tonight he had T’resa out tryin' ta dance, but he was botherin' her, so I stepped in, later he tried ta start a fight with me an' Val told ‘im ta go home. I'll tell you what I told Val; I'm not gonna face ‘im unless there's no other choice, but I will not let ‘im hurt T’resa….."  Johnny looked down into his drink, suddenly appearing drawn and tired.

Murdoch mulled the situation over. The safety of Teresa was first and foremost on his mind; of course he worried about Johnny but chances were Johnny would be able to hold his own in a fair fight. Murdoch had witnessed him draw and fire his gun, and still not believed what he'd seen.

"The only thing I can think of to do is to talk with Mr. and Mrs. Prescott, explain that Johnny isn't interested in fighting their son." Scott offered his plan, flimsy as it was, but a plan none-the-less.

“Val said he’s gonna see what the law in Kansas City has ta say ‘bout Danny. Maybe there’s somethin’ we need ta know,” Johnny explained.

Murdoch absorbed this information, pondering carefully.

“Guess I was wishin’ the kid’d let it go.” Johnny tipped his head back to lean against the cushion, his eyes closed.

Murdoch once again cursed the circumstances that led Johnny into that life of kill or be killed. Fortunately, other than times such as these, he came out of it alright. Murdoch watched his younger son. Johnny was troubled, and Murdoch knew he was sick at heart with the thought of another youngster that would perish thinking of fame and glory instead of the more probable ending, his own death. And that would be added to Johnny's conscience. Murdoch wondered what could be done, not only to save the Prescott boy but his own son, the son that had seen so much heartache, violence, and turmoil. How many times could Johnny cope with this repeating issue?

<><><><> 

The package arrived addressed to Mr. Scott Lancer. What is this? I didn’t order anything… he thought as he unwrapped the box. There was no clue of its origin, no return address or name. Guess I’ll open it…. Removing the lid and packing material, Scott stood rooted to the spot, his gasp audible and his heart beating rapidly in his chest. He reached in and took the photographs out one by one as if they were delicate, treasured and precious, which they were, indeed.

Staring back at him were the likenesses of himself and brother Johnny on the night of his birthday celebration, standing side by side with arms folded across their chests and each with his own dazzling smile blazing for the camera, their easy camaraderie very apparent. The next photograph was a close up of the two brothers, standing with shoulders touching and looking directly at the camera, both more serious, their eyes bright and sharp as if piercing into the soul of the one behind the lens, so intense were their gazes the camera captured each pair of irises with incredible clarity.

And the last shot was of Scott alone, standing next to Remmie. The pose caught Scott natural and relaxed, comfortable and happy. This was the picture that Johnny had sent to Scott’s grandfather. Johnny had seen the shot taken and was touched by the genuine essence this picture created and as a gesture of kindness, thought the lonely old man in Boston might appreciate how happy Scott truly was at Lancer. Scott was moved to the point of tears, glad that he'd been alone as he saw this incredible gift for the first time and so very thankful that Johnny was his brother but… this wasn't going to save Johnny from his birthday surprise!

Murdoch had given his consent for the party to be held in the Lancer barn. Conspiring with Jelly, Scott had the barn cleaned, and repairs were discretely made. As the weather was turning colder, the barn would hold all the guests, tables for food and have enough room for dancing. The plans were proceeding smoothly, Scott thought. Jelly was doing a great job and anticipating dancing all night. Yes, little brother, you are going to be surprised!

<><><><> 

“Sorry, Johnny. Nuthin’ I kin do ‘bout this. No charges were ever filed against him in any of these issues, so there just ain’t nuthin’ illegal ‘bout it. I gotta feelin’ that ol’ man Prescott paid someone off so they wouldn’t file any charges. Guess the only thing we kin do is ta just be sure you got a witness with ya an’ not let T’resa go anywhere by herself so nuthin' has a chance ta start…" Val looked genuinely disappointed as did Johnny. Mierda! Would a talk with the Prescotts do any good if they were willing to pay off people and cover for their son’s indiscretions?

<><><><> 

“Hey, Murdoch? What’s goin’ on out in the barn? Looks like you’re fixin’ ta have a party or somethin’, looks pretty nice out there!” Johnny asked over dinner that night. Having just enough time to grab a quick bath before entering the house and taking his seat at the table, Johnny hadn’t seen the pictures that Scott received.

“How was your day, little brother?" Scott asked as Johnny began to pile his plate full, minus the peas.

“Fine, got a lot done on the north fence line. Stupid cows won’t be breakin’ through that fence for a while. What’d you do taday, Boston?” Johnny asked, meeting his brother’s eyes.

“Oh, I got all the book work done,” Scott said with a smile.

Thank God! Johnny thought, sending up a prayer of sincere appreciation as he hated being confined to a desk and tallying those endless and mind-numbing figures.

“Oh, and Johnny, a strange thing happened today.”

“Yeah, what was that?” Johnny asked around a mouthful of tender beef, blue eyes staring at Scott across the table.

“A package arrived for me today…”

Johnny did not skip a beat. "What'd ya get, Boston?” Scott got up from his chair and disappeared into the great room for a moment, then returned with the box.

“I got these, Johnny,” and handed the photographs to his younger brother. Johnny just smiled and glanced up to see Scott beaming back at him.

“Thank you, Johnny, I can’t tell you what this means to me.”

“You’re welcome an’ ya don’t hafta tell me, I know. Remember the pictures you had taken for Angela a coupla years ago? Well, I felt the same way." Johnny had been asked to be the godfather of a beautiful baby girl for a dear friend, and as a surprise, Scott had paid a photographer to take pictures and had them sent to Johnny. One of the pictures hung on the wall in the great room of Johnny, his goddaughter, Angela, Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa. Johnny had several other personal shots in his room. The baby was gorgeous, and Johnny was very proud of her. He had wanted to return the favor, and as it turned out, on the night of Scott’s birthday, the photographer had been in Green River and couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“Just so ya know, Boston, that’s the one that got sent to Harlan,” Johnny indicated the picture of Scott standing alone beside Remmie.

Scott sighed, not only in relief but, again, moved at his brother’s thoughtfulness.“Thank you, Johnny; I know Grandfather will appreciate it.” Scott looked at the photograph and, again, had to control his emotions. Pulling himself together he handed the pictures to Murdoch.

Taking them in his hands, Murdoch fought to keep his sentiment in check. The images of his sons were incredible! Their companionship visible and tangible in their body language, speaking of bonds closer than most brothers, the photographs told of the pride these two felt for the other. Inseparable, with the spark of challenge in sharp, clear eyes.

Murdoch was stunned to his core with these remarkable likenesses. Looking at each son, studying his features, Murdoch was in awe. Scott looked so like Catherine! His coloring, bone structure and even the way he tilted his head was his mother all over, and it came close to taking Murdoch’s breath away. Johnny, on the other hand, had his mother’s good looks but Murdoch also saw all of life’s lessons in his younger son’s eyes. And some had been very difficult lessons, yet mixed in those life lessons were kindness, compassion, and love. Many stories were held in those unforgettable eyes. Murdoch looked to his young son as the
smile grew, not only on his face but in his heart and soul.

“Johnny, this was…. very thoughtful! These are excellent photographs!” Murdoch said, his voice strangely tight and soft.

"Yeah, well, thought that we should have somethin' ta remind us a that night other than thinkin' a Scott sittin' backward on his horse…” Johnny laughed. Scott blushed scarlet, and Teresa and Murdoch burst into laughter.

<><><><> 

“Scott! The party is two days away! What are we going to do?” Teresa shrieked, near to panic levels. Scott took her by the shoulders and held her steady.

“We are going to wait! Maybe his gift will arrive tomorrow, or even if it gets here the day after it will still be alright! We just have to be patient, Teresa. And if it should be later than that, well, Johnny will understand.” Teresa turned pleading eyes on her older brother, sadness sneaking onto her face at the thought of the saddle not getting there on time.

“Oh, I wanted everything perfect for him! I don’t think anyone has ever surprised him like this before…”

Scott smiled, thinking, No, and if they did he probably shot them!

Murdoch and Scott had conspired to have Johnny working away from the ranch for the last two days in order to complete the preparations for the special event in Johnny’s honor. Murdoch began to think of this, not as a birthday celebration, but as a celebration for him to know he was indeed part of a family. Oh, Johnny fit in, loved and was loved in return, but Murdoch felt this necessary to recognize him for the man he was, to show him just how much he meant to them all, their respect and appreciation of Johnny Madrid Lancer. Yes, they had all come to respect Madrid, too. He was part of the package.

<><><><> 

Teresa galloped her horse over the ridge feeling the wind at her back and excited to be out riding on her own. She hoped she would catch Johnny before he came back to the house for lunch. She had packed a large and tasty variety of his favorite food to bring him, again, in the effort to keep him away while the finishing touches were made for his party. When Johnny had come home these last few days, Cipriano had made sure that someone had been there to take Barranca and get him settled for the night. Johnny knew something was going on but was too tired lately to think much about it. He had never celebrated his birthday before, and the thought had not occurred to him.

It was a bright, cool day and Teresa had high hopes that the secret about the party would be kept just that, a secret. Keeping her attention on the trail, she failed to see the shadow until he was directly in front of her horse. She pulled up on the reins as her horse reared up. Fighting to stay in the saddle gave Danny time to rein his horse over beside hers. He grabbed her bridle as she gasped at his brazen move.

“What are you doing here? This is Lancer land, and you're trespassing!” she gasped startled at the sight of him.

“Oh, I was only out for a social call, Miss Teresa! I haven’t seen you in a while, how have you been?" Danny Prescott asked with a leer on his face. His eyes were indecently resting on her heaving breasts, and she made a grab for her reins.

“Let go! And get off this property!" Teresa screamed.

But Danny was off his horse and quickly dragged her off hers. He held her tightly, crushing her against his body so she could feel the length of him from chest to thighs and everything in between. Teresa struggled with all the strength she could muster, only serving to excite Danny more, as he was enjoying her struggles. He pulled her arms behind her back and brought his mouth down on hers with a savage, callous kiss, and she bit his lip, drawing blood. He quickly pulled away and slapped her face, snapping her head viciously back. She let loose with a scream that sent her horse galloping over the rise. Her heart pounded crazily in her chest, and she wondered if Johnny was close. She screamed again as she saw Danny reaching for her, drawing his fist back for another blow.

<><><><> 

Johnny stood up straight, throwing down the shovel he’d been using to fill in the hole. What the hell was that? Sounded like a… FUCK! That was T’resa! He vaulted onto Barranca’s back and as he started up the hill Teresa's horse, Nicky, came bolting down the trail. Spurring Barranca into a breakneck gallop, Johnny topped the rise and his heart stopped.

Below was Teresa fighting for her life as Danny Prescott was on top of her. With all his focus on Teresa, Danny failed to see the violent storm that was coming. He’d pulled off her blouse and was trying for the rest of her clothing when suddenly he was hit with the force of an explosion.

Launching himself from the saddle Johnny slammed into Danny’s body, sending him sprawling to the ground, stunning him badly. He rolled and sprang to his feet a second after Johnny had regained his footing.

Danny's hand went for his gun, but he was, again, stunned as Johnny’s bullet was already tearing through his hand knocking it away from his holster. He howled in agony and grabbed the mangled fingers, blood pouring from the wound and dripping on the ground.

Johnny’s eyes bore into his, freezing Danny to the core and terror spread into his heart. He looked at his hand, dumbfounded, stupefied at what had just happened. Madrid had outdrawn him!

Johnny holstered his gun and turned to Teresa as she lay sobbing on the ground. She looked to Johnny, her eyes suddenly grew wide, and Johnny knew what was happening. Danny, realizing his hand was now crippled, let loose with a strangled scream, yanked his gun with his left hand and pulled the trigger, aiming at Johnny’s back. Johnny’s body slammed into the ground as he pulled his gun, twisted his frame to face the threat and fired, then fell bonelessly to the ground.

Teresa had watched the scene unfold, not believing how fast it had happened, in three seconds it was over. Shaking the fog from her brain, she reached Johnny's side, amazed and shocked at the amount of blood covering his back.

“Johnny!” she screamed and getting no reaction checked for a pulse. “Johnny! Johnny, can you hear me? Please, Johnny, wake up! I need for you to help me get you home!"

A slight groan slipped from his lips, and lashes fluttered open. The deep blue eyes were glazed with pain as he fought for consciousness. He struggled to get to his feet. Teresa’s arms wrapped tightly around him and settled him to a sitting position, his head bent forward, chin resting on his chest. He battled to get a leg curled under him and raise himself to a knee. The ragged groan escaped his lips, and a loud hiss followed as shards of pain raced like bolts of lightning through his body.

Barranca had stayed close, but Teresa puzzled as to how she would get him into the saddle.

“Johnny…? Can you put your foot in the stirrup? We need to get you home… Johnny?” she repeated when there was no answer.

His eyes had drifted shut. “…Huh….? Querida… You… alright?” The mumbled words sounded beautiful to her ears. He was alert enough to know what had happened!

This is good! she thought. “Yes, Johnny, I’m fine, thanks to you! Now let’s get you home, O.K.?”  she said as she caught Barranca’s reins and brought him to stand at Johnny’s side. Getting her shoulder under Johnny’s right arm she slowly helped him to a standing position, staying with him as he tried to stabilize, battling the dizziness starting to settle in.

“… Kay, le’ss go… home,” he slurred and started to bend at the knees, sagging to the ground.

“No! Johnny! I need your help! See if you can get your foot in the stirrup, there, that's good, Johnny, just a little…. more…" and struggling with his weight, she gave his backside a boost, and he landed unsteadily in the saddle. Putting her foot in the stirrup, she settled behind him, quickly untying his bandanna from his neck and stuffed it inside his shirt to stem the flow of blood that was soaking his clothes at an alarming rate. She took the reins, gave a kick to Barranca’s flanks and the stallion took off, hooves swiftly eating up the ground on his way to the ranch.

<><><><> 

“Have to hand it to you, little Brother; you sure know how to celebrate your birthday!” Scott quipped as he watched Johnny lying in his bed, echoing the exact words spoken by Johnny the morning after Scott woke up to a major hangover. “Can I get you anything, Johnny?”

Struggling to get to a comfortable position in the bed, Johnny smiled a bit. “Some peace an' quiet…” was all he said.

Scott mirrored the gesture. “Somehow, I don't think that will be possible, not tonight anyway."

Johnny gave his brother a puzzled stare. "Why, what's goin' on, Boston?” he asked as he settled his head comfortably on the pillows.

Scott could barely contain his mirth. "Nothing you have to worry about... now.” barely

Johnny’s eyes, already closing with fatigue answered. “Nuthin’ I gotta worry 'bout?…. Hey, what's all that noise?”

“That noise is your birthday celebration out in the barn. We've been planning this for weeks now, and as long as you will be alright, we all decided to continue with the festivities. Would you care to make an appearance and thank all of the towns’ people for making the effort to come all the way out here to see you?”

Johnny laughed a bit, then groaned and thought that he’d never been so thankful to have taken a bullet if it got him out of a party. He closed his eyes and a few short minutes later, Scott could hear deep and even breathing, and he sighed in relief. Johnny would be alright; he lived to see another birthday. Johnny Madrid Lancer was sleeping peacefully. Scott quietly closed the door as he exited the room

"Happy Birthday, little brother!" Scott thought about the gift. The saddle can wait until tomorrow...

 

 

~ end ~

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