The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

You Did WHAT?
Thanks to Cat and Sandy for the beta
Usual disclaimers

 

He watched as his brother limped into camp. Having tended his horse, it was now time to look after himself. Scott Lancer stumbled over an exposed tree root and uttered a grunt of pain as his muscles tensed and reflex took over in preparation for the fall. But he managed to stay upright for which Johnny was thankful. Having found much humor at his brother’s expense earlier, Johnny didn’t want to push things too far, that is, if he hadn’t already. Scott appeared to be in substantial discomfort as he lowered himself to the ground, finally to get some rest after the horrendous day.

Johnny offered a hand to get him settled on the bedroll as comfortably as possible. “Gettin’ pretty stiff, huh, Scott?” Johnny asked as he struggled to maintain control over the howl of laughter that threatened to erupt as he recalled the events of the day.

His dignified older, Boston-bred brother had taken flight after his horse spooked and bucked him into the crisp morning air. The long, flailing arms and legs thrashed wildly, looking much like a giant, gangly, featherless bird in a free fall to the earth. He landed with not only a loud, sickening thump but as he disappeared into the thistle patch a large puff of downy white fluff shot into the air to mark his descent. After finding Scott basically all right with nothing broken except his starched Boston dignity, Johnny began the difficult task of holding himself together and easing off with the embarrassing comments, well, only a little.

Johnny reached into his saddlebags and pulled out the bottle of liniment that they all carried as part of their medical supplies. Every Lancer hand had the basics for tending minor injuries as one never knew when they would come in handy. With a ‘hey, look what I just happen to have’ gleam in his eyes and a grin that spread ear to ear, Johnny offered his assistance.

“Ya want some help with this, Boston?”

Scott wearily looked over at his younger brother and saw the bottle in his hand. He was anything but humored. “No, but thank you anyway,” he answered sarcastically. He thought of the time they had to hold Johnny down to slather the foul smelling concoction that Jelly made into his bruised and battered hide.

“What d'ya mean ‘no thank you’? I’m only tryin’ ta help! Ya sure jumped on the chance when I got hurt last time… Hell, ya had me smellin’ like a… like a… Can’t think a nothin’ that smells that bad but ya made sure that I got rubbed down with that shit. Now I think it’s your turn…” The wicked smile grew until it stretched across his face and Johnny’s eyes danced with hilarity. Scott looked into his brother’s humorous features deciding to mollify the remark and took the ‘tit for tat’ route.

“Made you stink, did it? How could you tell?" he asked with a serious tone.

Johnny only stared, but the smile didn't waver. He shook his head and laughed. "What’d ya mean ‘how could I tell'? You're just sayin' that ta get me sidetracked in a argument so I'll forget about you needin’ Jelly’s liniment. Besides, I know I don’t smell bad. Holly likes the way I smell. So, lift up your shirt an' drop them pants an' I'll put this on your backside…" As Johnny pulled the stopper from the bottle, he quickly turned his head, so the vapors wouldn't suck the air from his lungs and fill his eyes with tears.

Scott quietly sat on his bedroll and watched his younger brother's antics with his ‘you're kidding me, right?' expression.

“C’mon, Boston, I can getcha all fixed up here." Johnny caught his brother’s face and burst into laughter. “’K, I‘m gonna hafta tell Jelly an’ T’resa all about how ya got hurt an’ resisted the medicine…” Johnny let the statement to hang thinking that once threatened with the idea of their sister and the grizzled old ranch hand knowing Scott refused to be helped, that he would submit. But that didn’t happen.

Scott had more words for his brother. “I resisted medicine?” Scott huffed incredulously. “I resist?" His eyes were wide in disbelief.

"Yeah, ya resisted. Here I am just tryin' ta help you out an'..."

You always resist!”

“How could I? You were sittin’ on me holdin’ me down! Both you an’ Murdoch while Jelly smeared that shit all over my hide!” Johnny’s defenses had kicked in and bordered on taking action.

“Well, I’m not hurt as badly as you were. Now, I am fine! Put the stopper in that bottle before you scare our horses.”

Johnny laughed as he stowed the bottle away and he watched Scott try to get comfortable on the hard ground. Then his fingers touched the tequila bottle he stashed in his bags and a light, more wicked than the last one, appeared to dance in his deep blue eyes and the dazzling smile deepened. "Well, if I was a sharin' kinda guy, I just might offer ya some a this instead…” and he held out the bottle to his brother.

Scott’s smile grew. “Now that is what I call medicine!" and he took the proffered bottle. Oh, if Grandfather could only see me now… Scott thought.

Johnny left his brother with the bottle while he made coffee and heated their supper over the campfire. Thinking on his brother, he started to chuckle as he glanced up through the thick lashes that fringed his eyes, and watched Scott relax, reclined against his upturned saddle as he clutched the bottle Johnny so graciously supplied.

“Don’t drink it all, Boston. It’s gotta last for a day or two.”

The glazed blue-gray eyes turned to Johnny as if horrified. "You... you don't have any more with you? Why is it that you came out here so ill-prepared?" Scott asked as if in shock and indignation.

“Well, how was I supposed ta know you were gonna fall off your horse? Don’t usually travel with a case of tequila anyway. One bottle always lasted me long enough. Hell, Boston, you don’t even like the stuff that much!” Johnny smirked as Scott sighed and shrugged.

“Never let it be said that Scott Garrett Lancer resisted his medicine!”

“I’m gonna remind ya a this next time ya haul my ass ta bed an’ make me wallow in all that crap an’ grease me up with Jelly’s concoctions! But ya gotta admit that my medicine is better than his! Ya best slow down there, Scott, no sense in makin’ your head hurt, too. Gettin’ up in the mornin’ ain’t gonna be that much fun for ya as it is…” Johnny winked at his brother, but he thought it doubtful Scott even saw it as the older Lancer son was already feeling the effects of the magic elixir from Johnny’s bottle.

By the time the food was hot Johnny wasn’t sure that Scott would be up to eating but was surprised, not to mention relieved, when the Harvard graduate ate the plate of beans and bacon appearing to relish it all. Good thing. Now he won’t be pukin’ all night. Never known Boston ta drink that much tequila. He’s gotta be hurtin’ pretty bad. Maybe we should head for Lancer just in case it’s worse’n I thought.

“Scott, ya wanna head out for home insteada spendin’ the night in the cold?” Johnny asked hoping that his brother wasn’t too far into oblivion to make a sensible decision.

“Nonsense! Who’s cold? And besides, we’d miss out on this!” Scott announced as he waved his hand at the beautiful star-studded sky.

Johnny huffed. Hell, no wonder he ain’t cold with all a my tequila in his belly! “Pfffftt. Ya just don’t wanna face T’resa an’ Jelly, ya ain’t foolin’ me one little bit!” Johnny resolved to keep a close eye on Scott. If he showed the least little sign of getting worse, they would break camp and head for Lancer and a warm bed. “How’re ya doin’, Boston? Think ya wanna go home for the night?”

Scott glanced over and caught Johnny’s stare. The slow grin slid across his face as he saw the concern his brother held for him and it warmed his heart to know that the fierce Johnny Madrid was looking out for him. He chuckled as he answered.“No, Johnny, I'm fine. I will be as good as new in the morning. Tell me, though, what did you do all those years before you came to Lancer? Surely you got thrown a time or two with no warm bed at your disposal?” Scott debated asking the question; he knew his brother’s apprehensions talking about his past but thought maybe Johnny would open up, finally. Besides, Scott had swallowed enough alcohol that he was almost past the point of taking heed of any glare that Johnny would throw his way.
Johnny's grin crawled across his handsome face before he said a word. He met Scott's eyes, his own sparkled with mischief, and he laughed.
“I’ll tell ya what I did… Kept my tequila handy. That’s what I did! Come in pretty handy more’n once! So it’ll always be there in my saddle bag. Just as long as I keep it outta your hands...”  

Scott ignored the remark but wondered if this wasn’t the chance that he had been waiting for, the opportunity to ask more questions. Hmm, maybe I’m not as drunk as I thought… He decided to give it a try. “More than once, huh? Tell me about it…” he asked quietly, urging his brother, waiting for the response but not sure if one would be forthcoming.

Johnny held his brother’s gaze wondering what he could share; what would he share? Other than Val, Scott was the person he trusted the most on this earth, but he knew that Scott had a difficult time dealing with many aspects of Johnny's former life. While raised in Boston, wanting for nothing in his youth, Scott was not used to the horrors that Johnny suffered through as a young boy, the struggle to live from day to day, stealing to eat, not to mention the beatings for simply having blue eyes. Mestizos were to be shunned; they did not belong. Plus the fact that Scott seemed to take everything that Johnny faced too much to heart and he wanted to spare his brother; Johnny did not want his pity.

Once upon hearing that Johnny had come very close to being hung, Johnny laughed it off while Scott sat stunned by the fact that it seemed to be just another day, stunned that Johnny had come so close to dying, and he was so casual about it and let it roll off his shoulders and made a joke of it. Johnny defended his response and explained that he wasn’t hung and everything turned out all right, nothing would change it now, so forget about it.

But that’s not what Scott did. He pressed the issue, and Johnny realized then and there that he would have to be discreet in relating anything about his past. So, as he looked into his brother's face now, he wondered exactly what he would tell Scott. The blue-gray, although only slightly blurry gaze, still held his with questions swirling in their depths and Johnny swore to himself that Scott would never know all of it. To satisfy the curiosity he began to relate an incident from long ago when he learned a valuable lesson… The hard way. Johnny grinned as he began to talk.

<><><><> 

“Came inta this town an’ there was a fracas in the alley. Three rowdy border trash types were tryin' ta rob an ol' Mexican man. Hell, the guy had ta be about eighty. All he was doin' was carryin' a bucket a water home an’ these three hombres were givin’ him trouble.” Johnny thought about it as his mind replayed the incident, skipping over the parts of which he thought Scott would react negatively and focused on the humor as much as he could.

The old man, by this time, had spilled the water and stood with an empty bucket clutched in his hand while the three antagonists pushed him back and forth between them. Madrid rode his horse down the alley, knocked the closest man aside with the massive chest of his horse, Valiente, and got in front of the old man, as his horse pranced nervously.

“What the hell?” one of the men grunted as he fell to the ground, desperately avoiding the hooves that threatened to trample him. He scrambled to his feet as his companions tried to pull the rider from the saddle. Three against one could be handled easily. Johnny lashed out with his foot catching one man in the chin as the bottom tooth, one of the few that hadn’t previously been knocked out, bit through his upper lip. He howled in pain spitting blood as he furiously grabbed the leg of the man in the saddle and pulled. Johnny came off his horse and landed on the three men in a tangle of arms and legs.

The old man skittered out of the alley and disappeared as the fight ensued. As they struggled to their feet, the three men grabbed viciously at their lone adversary. Once his hat had been knocked from his head the men realized it was only a boy they had in their clutches and a half-breed, to boot! The deep blue eyes a dead give away.

“Hey! What’da we got here? A breed!”  One yelled wanting nothing more than to teach the boy a lesson.

Johnny fought ferociously knowing it was entirely possible he would not live through the beating he was likely to get. There would be no one coming to his rescue. Johnny was beaten nearly senseless and left in the alley. But it wasn't his day to die…

Johnny was still laughing when Scott held up his hand to stop the narration and Johnny looked to his brother in question. “What?” he asked, his eyes dancing in the reflection of the fire.

Scott couldn't say anything; he was shocked that, once again, Johnny thought nothing about the horrible circumstances.

“Ya gotta let me finish, Boston, it gets better!” he said between chuckles. “Anyway…” Johnny continued.

The old man returned to find Johnny lying unconscious in the alley; he reached under his poncho, pulled out a bottle of tequila and dribbled it down Johnny’s throat. After the coughing spell settled and a close examination revealed nothing more than severe bruising, Madrid went about plotting the payback.

He waited and watched until the men were long into their night of merrymaking. The empty bottles lay on the scarred tabletop, a testament that any sobriety had long ago fled as they ‘romanced’ the working girls in the cantina. With drunken, wet kisses, they pawed at the exposed, tempting flesh and made the girls wish for a swift ending to the evening. Finally, they all stumbled upstairs to the cribs above and one by one the lights flickered out. Now, the beaten kid that they had left in the alley robbed of his money and bleeding would seek his revenge having learned his lesson, the hard way.

The stairs were dimly lit, the hallway cluttered with refuse and the air rank with the odor of unwashed bodies, stale beer, and cigar smoke. Carefully limiting any noise, Johnny cat- walked down the hall and into a room. He opened the door slowly and there on the bed lay a couple tangled in the sheets. Carefully Johnny poked at the man still in the grips of the drunken stupor and had an idea.

The whore opened her eyes, startled by the young man standing over them when Johnny put his finger to his lips for her silence. She huffed and whispered that the slob had passed out before she could earn her money.

Johnny smiled. He went to the pile of reeking clothes on the floor, fished through the pockets, and tossed her some bills which she deftly caught in mid-air. She looked at the money in her hand then ogled Johnny from head to toe and rewarded him with what she hoped was her best seductive look after she decided she liked what she saw, but it was not to be.

Johnny declined her invitation. Instead, he focused his attention on the naked man beside her and rolled him out of bed. Johnny dragged him by the feet out into the hall and down the stairs, letting his head fall from one stair to the next in a loud, empty thunk as it hit each riser on their way down. The unconscious man mumbled with the disturbance but never regained full awareness; then Johnny pulled him out into the street.

The other two were soon reunited with the first man. Johnny had paid the girls with the money from the pockets of the drunks and left the men buck-ass naked in the street. He then collected their clothes and lit a fire which produced a nasty, smoky mess as he burned the smelly garments in the alley. He entered the cantina and with the leftover money bought himself a bottle of tequila and was never without one from that moment on.

Johnny looked over to Scott who was only slightly smiling; it was more like a grimace.

“Oh, c’mon, Scott! That was pretty damn funny! Kinda wish I’d a stuck around till mornin’ ta see what they did when they realized they had nuthin’ ta wear an’ no money ta buy anything!”
Again Johnny dissolved into laughter.

The more Scott thought about three naked men lying in the street, the more he had to admit it was comical, in a depraved sort of way. And he did laugh along with his brother. This was indeed nothing that could have ever been carried out in Boston, but then Boston was a long, long way from the dusty, lawless border towns of the southwest.

Johnny settled down and gained control over the hilarity that erupted from him earlier. Scott watched knowing that there had been more to the story that he would probably never get to hear, but this was a start. Would his younger brother tell him more? He had to ask…

“When did you meet Val?” Scott chanced in hopes the conversation would continue. He studied his brother as Johnny seemed to be lost in thoughts.

The smile never wavered as Johnny’s memories went back in time. “First time we met on a job. Didn’t like what we saw in the other an’ things kinda went downhill from there. Fact was, we were fightin’ on opposite sides, but after that, we'd run into each other on occasion. Guess neither one of us was willin’ ta give the other a chance but in that line a work ya tried ta not get close ta anyone. We ended up in a poker game with some other fellas, and they were cheatin' us, so we did somethin' about it, finally fought on the same side an' been friends ever since.” Again, Johnny laughed, more to himself than to Scott.

And Scott sensed, here again, was a story. "May I ask what happened in the poker game?" Scott knew he was dangerously close to watching Johnny shut down, but the tequila had made him just a bit more willing to push the issue, so he waited and was finally rewarded as Johnny's soft voice continued.

He tipped his hat back off his forehead, and Scott could see the firelight play in his brother's eyes, the smile still in place on the handsome mouth as he reached for the tequila bottle and took a swallow before he continued. Not a sign of the burn! Scott marveled as he watched Johnny’s face as the liquid fire slid down his throat and into his belly. Johnny kept staring at the fire with absolutely no watering in his eyes. Amazing! Scott thought.

“I got inta the game before Val got there. Knew somethin’ was goin’ on but didn’t know just yet what was happenin’ so I was watchin’ an’ had an idea of who was cheatin’. One a the players folded an’ left the game an’ that’s when Val came over askin’ if he could sit in. A cheat ain't gonna say no ta fresh meat at the table, so the dealin' started an' that's when Val looked up an' saw me. I looked straight at him an' moved my eyes ta his left, so he caught on that there was somethin' not right. After a coupla hands, we'd had enough, saw all we needed ta know an' at the same time our gun hands slowly went under the table ta our Colts but ol’ Val thought ta add some excitement. Always had a flair as an attention getter…” Johnny laughed and Scott, this time, laughed with him.

Scott saw in his mind's eye Val Crawford adding an element of exhilaration to the already volatile situation.

 “He knew I'd cover ‘im, even with our differences up ta that point, so he reached down ta his boot an' pulled out a huntin' knife, had ta be a ten-inch blade, an’ skewered the cheater’s cards ta the table. The whole hand was still face down an’ he grabbed the gambler’s wrist an’ some cards fell out of his sleeves. Val pulled his knife outta the table an’ all the gambler’s cards were skewered on the tip. Three aces on the knife an’ two fell outta his sleeve…” Again, Johnny dissolved into laughter as he tried to relate the brawl that ensued and the subsequent reclaiming of their losses as the gambler was ‘escorted’ out of town with a standing invitation to not come back.

“From there on out we been ridin’ tagether. Watchin’ each other’s back started ta come real natural.” Suddenly Johnny erupted into laughter taking Scott by surprise. “One time, I forget what was happenin’, but Val decided he was gonna take care of it without me. I think he was tryin’ ta keep me outta whatever was goin’ on cuz I took a bullet an' wasn't back on my feet yet, but he paid the girls in the saloon ta keep me ‘busy' all night so I wouldn't follow him on this job." Johnny stopped talking as he remembered with fond, sweet and lusty memories of that night and with a slight blush he related the events to Scott who listened, now in complete amusement.

“We been drinkin’ a lot, well, I was drinkin’, Val kept linin’ ‘em up for me. The bastard knew I wasn’t up ta goin’ out on a job, I wasn’t gonna admit it, but he was watchin’ out for me. Said he was gonna turn in so he went upstairs with Sonny. Lexi, pretty little thing, she was, red-brown hair, green eyes an’ spunky,” Johnny stopped to shake his head. “She came over an’ looped her arms around my neck an’ whispered ta me…” Johnny’s smile widened as he remembered her invitation and the way she didn't mince her words, suddenly uncomfortable as his leather calzoneras seemed to tighten as he recalled what she whispered. Shifting to a less constricting position, Johnny continued with Scott hanging on every word.

“Anyway, we went up ta her room an’, well, she ah, she was really good at what she did… But I had this feelin' Val was gonna be headin’ out an’ I needed ta go with ‘im. So, soon as we were... ah, finished, I left Lexi’s room an’ was goin’ down the hall. Was still buttonin’ my pants when Kat opened her door an’ grabbed my arm an’ pulled me inta her room. Well, never let it be said that Johnny Madrid ever turned his back on a lady! She laid a kiss on me like she was tryin’ ta suck all the air outta my lungs! Damn near did it, too!”

In truth, Kat had almost attacked him, smothering his protests about having to help Val with blistering, hot kisses and laying her hand along the inside of his thigh, trailing it higher and higher. Another blush tinged his cheeks as he thought about her kisses, her tongue and her… other parts as she tantalized him through the next few hours. “Hell, I thought I died an’ went ta Heaven, Scott. That woman pushed me onta her bed so fast an’ had the buttons that I just buttoned up, unbuttoned an’ had my shirt off layin' in a heap on the floor, sayin' I couldn't leave her, not until we… well, she wanted ta… visit, and I gotta tell ya, that was a helluva good ‘visit’!

"But then I remembered Val an’ that he needed help, so I left Kat an' was tryin’ ta make my way  ta stairs an’ damn if Libby wasn’t standin’ out in the hall, jus’ standin’ there, robe hangin’ open an’ wearin’ nothin’ under it, said she needed ta talk an' she pulled me inta her room. Then it hit me. Val was already gone an' he didn't want me goin' with, so he put the girls up ta keepin' me busy." Johnny thought back to that night with great fondness. “He was takin’ care a me…”

Scott smirked as he reached for the bottle. “In more ways than one, little brother, in more ways than one!” Scott laughed, making a note to ask Val about details. This was a story that Scott would like to know more about, this time with no details slipping through any cracks! Scott mentally applauded his brother’s stamina. Injured as he was, enough that Val had been concerned for him, he arranged for Johnny to spend the night with three women and had survived the ordeal none the worse for wear! Amazing!

“Well, did you recover from your wound?” Scott asked sarcastically.

Johnny looked surprised then the grin exploded across his face. “With all a that time in bed? Hell ya, I ‘recovered! By the time I got downstairs, Val was back an’ all he did was ta wink at me an’ smile.”

“So, now I have to ask, how long did it take for you to recover?”

“From what? The girls or gettin’ shot? Them girls were pretty good at nursin’!”

The Lancer brothers laughed, Johnny at the memories that were worth remembering and Scott for beginning to understand that not all of his brother’s former years were filled with tragedy; there were good times, fun times that deserved to be remembered and appreciated. Scott had to make an effort to look at some of these things through Johnny’s eyes, had to think about the humor that was there, all you had to do was see it, it was there. He resolved to make further inquiries as the opportunities presented themselves, but he didn’t realize that it would be so soon…

<><><><> 

When they woke it was still dark, Johnny stirred the fire to flame and added more kindling. He got the coffee started, and soon Scott mumbled something incoherent and opened his eyes.

“How ya doin’, Boston? Need any help gettin’ on your feet?” Johnny watched carefully, and he gauged his brother’s range of movements to diagnose his condition. Thankful that Scott had eaten enough last night so he wouldn’t be hung-over, Johnny left Scott on his own. Nothing alarmed Johnny regarding an unstable condition, and he determined Scott would be all right, kind of, and let him see to his personal needs by himself.

A rumble of thunder over the mountains alerted Johnny as he cooked the bacon in the pan. Maybe they’d have time to eat their breakfast before they had to head to the line shack and wait out the weather. Scott walked slowly back into camp and Johnny once again analyzed his progress.

With a smirk, he asked: “Ya want some a that liniment now, brother?” not bothering to hide the smile as Scott turned a glare in his direction.

Scott stared for a brief moment before he answered. “No!” And he reached for the coffee with a huff. Another rumble in the clouds sounded before a flash of wicked, hot lightning snaked through the sky.

Johnny looked up with apprehension. “Looks like we’re gonna be spendin’ some time at the line shack. Not gonna get this job done on time. Murdoch ain’t gonna like that…" But secretly, Johnny was looking forward to more talks with his brother. He knew what Scott was doing, but it did serve a purpose. Johnny knew that his family had wanted to know, should know at least some of what his life had been like but he had absolutely no intentions of telling them all. Murdoch felt guilt and Scott was, well, Scott hadn’t got the idea of letting things go. It happened. It’s over and done, gone. Let it go… Johnny knew that he would still have to give thought about what he said and how he said it. Then it would be Johnny’s turn to ask questions. And he smiled…

They had enough time to get their camp cleaned up, things packed and fire put out before the rain started to fall. They quickly donned their slickers and headed for the line shack letting their horses pick their way through the mud and slippery moss that covered the ground. In the time it took to reach the line shack the rain increased in its intensity and made it difficult to see where they were going, but they trusted their horses to get them to the intended destination.

Soon the shack was in view as Johnny leaned toward his brother to be heard above the roar of the pounding rain. “You get a fire started. I’ll take care of the horses!”

Nodding to Johnny, Scott stiffly stepped off Remmie and onto the porch that was sheltered by a small roof. He vanished into the cabin and Johnny took the horses around the side to the lean-to, unsaddled, fed and brushed them down before he dashed through the downpour and onto the porch of the shack.

He took the slicker from his shoulders and shook off the water before he entered just as Scott had taken the coffee pot off the fire and filled their cups. Nothing like hot coffee on a cold rainy morning! Johnny smiled his thanks and picked up the cup savoring the strong, hot brew as it warmed him from the inside. He watched as Scott moved around, somewhat stiff but surprisingly mobile.

“Ya doin’ all right there, Boston?” Johnny asked again now that Scott had a bit of time to move around and work out some kinks.

Scott smiled. “I do believe I will live!” he announced with a smirk and Johnny found himself battling the laugh that threatened to run away with him as he remembered watching his brother disappear into the patch of thistles that had gone to seed igniting the white explosion that puffed into the air at Scott’s descent.

Johnny caught the disgust on Scott’s face and offered a weak attempt to justify his thoughts. “Well, ya shoulda seen from where I was sittin’, Scott, an’ you would a thought it was pretty funny, too! I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it!” Johnny defended, trying his best to get the chortle under control. Using all the willpower he had, Johnny pulled himself together without looking at his brother, knowing it would be his undoing, and set about checking the wood box making sure that it was full.

Johnny checked out the provisions and found them to be sufficient. He knew everything would be stocked, but he had to do something to get his attention off Scott and occupy his thoughts to keep them from wandering. He walked to the window and looked at the sky. Seeing nothing but low, dark and heavy clouds Johnny realized that they would be here a while.

"Looks like we're stuck here unless ya wanna be ridin' in the rain…” he said as he continued his observation of the weather.

“No, I have no desire to ride in that. We’re a good three hours from Lancer. Guess we’ll stay here. I know that you will be entertained…”

The laugh bubbled over again as Johnny desperately tried to hold it in check but failed miserably.

“C’mon, Scott, it was funny!”

<><><><> 

“Hey, Boston, I got some cards in my saddlebags. How about some poker?” Johnny asked with a hopeful smile.

Scott eyed his brother suspiciously. “I left my money in my room, what would we use to bet with?”

“Hell, Scott, we can use matches… Hey, I got it! We can bet like we did on that huntin’ trip when we went ta the mountains with Murdoch! I get a case a tequila if I win you get a case a whatever it is that you drink, ya remember?” Johnny asked with a sparkle in his mischievous eyes.

Remember? How could I forget that trip?" Scott shivered as he thought about it. Johnny had almost died in those mountains, but here he was, again acting as if the near-death experience never occurred.

“Aw, it’ll be fine. Boston! C’mon over here…” Johnny said as he kicked out the chair and he grabbed his leather saddle bags engraved with the Lancer ‘L’. The deck of cards was in his hand before Scott moved.

He hesitated a few seconds then went for his saddlebags. “And I have a pencil and paper so I can keep score so that you don’t forget what you owe me!” Scott said getting into the spirit of the game.

Johnny sighed as he again thought that Scott was the only person he knew to carry paper an’ pencil in his saddlebags.

Scott retrieved the items, and the two Lancer brothers spent the afternoon engaged in the fine art of out-betting the other with outlandish wagers and more often than not the hands ended in hilarious and outrageous stakes. No limits had been set on the antes and after the sheet of paper Scott provided had been filled on both sides they called quits to the cards and moved to settle in front of the fire.

The rain still beat on the wooden shakes with no signs of stopping. The light was fading and the night was swiftly falling.

“Sure hope T’resa didn’t go ta no trouble makin' dinner. Wonder if Murdoch’ll be pissed that we ain’t there. Never make it b’fore six!” Johnny smirked.

Scott’s eyes gleamed with a snide sparkle as he turned to his brother. “Yes, speaking of, what are you going to make for dinner, brother?” he asked with an innocent smile.

Johnny looked at Scott and returned an equal sparkle. “With all that wagerin', that's the one thing we didn't bet on! Who's cookin'… Well, Boston, since I owe ya for all that laughin’ at cha I been doin’, I’ll cook.” He launched himself to his feet and went to the shelves that lined part of the wall by the stove.

“What d’ya want? We got beans, an’ some beans and, hey wait! I found some beans!” Johnny deadpanned.

Scott thought a minute as if making a difficult decision. “I think I’ll have some… no, wait. I’ve got it, I want… Beans! No, wait, I changed my mind. I will have the beans.” Scott shot back.

Johnny took the leftover bacon from their breakfast, leaving it in thick chunks and mixed it in the beans then made pan biscuits and more coffee. They ate their fill, and Scott complimented the cook.

“That was very good, brother. Where did you learn to make biscuits like that?” Scott asked.

Johnny smiled slyly. “It’s a gift…” he replied with a twinkle in his deep blue eyes.

"Yes, I see that, and you have a way with beans, too!"

“Val always liked my cookin’, too. ‘Course we’re talkin’ about a guy that can’t make a decent cup a coffee ta save his soul… Never did figure out what he does ta somethin’ as simple as coffee ta make it taste so bad! Beats the hell outta me how he gets it ta taste like swamp water… an' his trail coffee's worse'n what's in the pot at the jail." Johnny stated as Scott's eyes widened in surprise.

“There’s something worse than what he has in the sheriff’s office?” That’s not possible! Scott thought. There's really something worse than what is in that pot…?  

Johnny laughed. “He got shot once an’ I told ‘im I was gonna use his coffee ta cauterize his shoulder. Told him anything that tastes that bad would plug up that bullet hole!”

Scott laughed not quite believing the story but not entirely doubting it either. The more he gave it thought, it sounded feasible. Maybe they should tell Sam Jenkins, Green River’s doctor. They could have a medical breakthrough on their hands and not even know it!
Johnny laughed again as he stared into the fire.

"What?" Scott asked. The later in the evening it got, the more bizarre Johnny's stories became.

"We used Val's coffee once ta break me outta jail." Johnny met his brother's eyes, and he could tell there was doubt in them. Johnny now grinned wolfishly. “Ask him next time ya see him! Just don’t do it in fronta Murdoch, though. He don’t ‘preciate these things too much.”

The sparkle in his brother's eyes was like a soothing balm for Scott. Johnny didn't have a typical childhood, destined to be poor, destitute, really, and Scott came to realize that his brother could find humor in almost any situation. He had to; he would have grown into a horribly cynical and bitter man with a tragically short lifespan otherwise. Scott had known Johnny had a penchant for tomfoolery and now he knew why. He would have died without it. That went for Val, too, if you caught him on a good day…

“So, what happened? You were in jail and…” Scott prompted.

Johnny took a breath and began the tale skipping over specific details. "Been locked up for a coupla days when Val figured out where I was an' what happened, so he comes inta the jail ta talk ta the sheriff. He was gonna get a cup a coffee, an' the pot was empty so Val… made some for him. He put a few drops of some stuff he got from an’ ol’ medicine man up in the mountains in the pot an’ well, let’s jus’ say the sheriff spent the night… outback. He didn’t even get suspicious when Val turned down a cup after he went through the trouble of makin’ it.”

Again, Scott could see the faraway look in his brother’s eyes thinking about what had been obviously fond memories instead of the worry and concern that Scott tended to experience when accounting for these incidents.

“What were you in jail for, Johnny?” Scott asked as he watched Johnny’s face, but the smile never faded.

Johnny answered the question without skipping a beat. “Stealin’ a horse.” He saw Scott tense. Aw, shit, shouldn'ta told him… Johnny thought. Well, Scott knew about it now… Can’t take it back…

Stealing a horse? Johnny, that’s a hanging offense!” Shock and disbelief washed over his features.

“Yeah…?”

“Did you do it?” Again, Scott found the issue unsettling.

“No.” Guess Boston needs more ta drink… Johnny thought.

<><><><> 

“Hey, Scott? Look what I found…” Johnny held up a bottle of tequila that he had stashed behind the provisions on the shelf a few months back. Johnny made sure that every line shack had one, not that he intended on overindulging but he never knew when it would come in handy... for medicinal purposes, of course. Nothing warmed the insides on a cold day, or night, like a shot or two of tequila. An’ my insides need warmin’… Johnny held up the bottle for his brother to see, Scott immediately scowled and looked away. Johnny laughed. Guess Scott ain't too cold…

“What’s the matter, Boston? Thought you were enjoyin’ your self last night the way ya guzzled down the other bottle…” Johnny teased knowing his brother had had enough the night before. He poured himself a healthy amount and settled on a bunk close to the fire. The brothers fell into easy conversation, again, about things past.

“So, you and Val have been together a long time?” Scott asked.

Johnny snorted and shook his head as a wide smile turned up the corners of his mouth.

“Always had each other’s back?” Scott pressed.

Johnny seemed amused by this question. “Pretty much.” Then he burst into laughter again as he remembered a time he had been the recipient of Val’s wrath. “I made him so mad one time I thought he was gonna shoot me where I stood!” He paused to control the mirth and wipe his eyes on the back of his hands then took a drink and sighed as the warmth flooded through his body.

Scott patiently waited not knowing if he was going to be amused… Or not. Some of the issues that his brother found so entertaining and humorous left Scott to shake his head at the very least.

“We were workin’ this job on the border an’ knew the men we were after were holed up in this town. So we rode in the back way an’ found out where they were. They were hidin’ inside the general store an’ we were tryin’ ta come up with a plan ta flush them outta there; a plan where they wouldn’t know that we were there yet. Ya know, take ‘em by surprise kinda thing. Anyway, there was this… woman… that lived in this town, she was big, not only heavy but large boned an’ more cantankerous’n the Widow Hargis, anyway, the only thing that I could think of was ta…” laughter burbled out from Johnny as he reminisced, relating to Scott the whole ridiculous exploit.

“What d’ya mean ‘go through the front door’! I ain’t going through no front door! Are you loco?” Val railed when he heard Johnny’s plan. Johnny shrugged, and looked down at his boots, then met Val’s crazed eyes.

“Well, Val Crawford ain’t going through that front door but the person wearin’ this dress will…" Johnny held up an ugly, drab gray dress that he’d yanked off the line as it dried in the sun when they'd come in the back way. It was a large size, and as Johnny held it up alongside Val to get a rough measurement he could tell that it would just about fit, of course, they would have to stuff it some in all the appropriate places. Johnny could hardly hide the smile that threatened to explode, although Val did catch the more than the amused look that danced wildly in his eyes.

“Are you out of your fuckin’ mind, Madrid?” Val never used Madrid unless he was stressed and it seemed to Johnny that Val was, indeed, a bit stressed.

“Well, Val, the way I see it is we’re runnin’ outta time an’ we’re gonna let these bastardos get away if we don’t do somethin’ quick! Now, what’s more important here, gettin’ this job done or your stupid pride, huh?” Doing his best to keep the laughter from bubbling to the surface and lose the momentum of the argument, Johnny wiped his face clear. The two men stared off and wasted much time, but Val finally grabbed the dress and slipped it over his head while Johnny picked at a bale of straw and ripped handful after handful to stuff into the bodice to an enormous proportion.

“Wait a minute, Val, one side's bigger'n the other…” And Johnny made an effort to even out the miscalculation and reached for Val’s overly buxom chest.

Val exploded… “GET YOUR FUCKIN' HANDS OFFA ME!" he railed. Had he been in a slightly better frame of mind he would have added ‘What kind of girl do ya think I am?’ But he was in no mood to add anyfurther embarrassment to the already ridiculous situation so, once packed to its limits, Johnny buttoned the dress up the back, but he reached around to the front of Val’s now bulging chest, cupped the enormous bosom in each hand and shook his head. “Yeah, one side’s bigger,” but curbed the urge for any teasing knowing that would come later, and he did catch himself before he whispered, ”Hey Sweetheart, what’s a nice girl like you doin’ in a place like this?” Hell, he’d shoot me, not far from it now… A bonnet was plopped on his head and tied in a tight bow under his chin as Johnny stepped back to appraise his handy work.

“Uh, Val, ya got straw pokin’ outta your collar…” Suddenly realizing they weren’t alone, Johnny looked into the blazing eyes of a very large woman as she stalked across the space between them. She stopped in front of Val and leveled him with a stare that would blister paint off walls. Since she was apparently the previous owner of the dress, both men were taken aback when handed him a basket filled with eggs.

"I usually sell eggs to the storekeeper, and this will help you get in an’ maybe ya won’t look so stupid!” Both men looked at her in shock before Johnny uttered a “Thank you, Ma’am.” He took the basket and handed it to Val who Johnny swore growled as snatched the basket out of Johnny’s grip.

“Hey careful, Val! Ya can’t ‘spect ta sell busted eggs! Now get goin’!”

Johnny was howling as he recounted the tale and this time Scott, too, was gasping for breath. Val Crawford, of all people, dressed up like an old biddy! Johnny caught his breath as he audibly sighed and, again, wiped at his eyes, the long, black lashes wet with tears of amusement. He took a rather large swallow of tequila.

“Wish ya coulda seen ‘im, Scott! He marched down the boardwalk an’ inta the store without skippin’ a beat. Looked like a big ol’ grizzly stompin’ around in a saggy ol’ gray dress! I came in through the back door an’ we got the drop on the guys we were after with only one shot fired,” Johnny proclaimed with his dazzling smile.

“Only one shot, huh?” Scott was clearly impressed; the blue-gray eyes squinted in laughter.

“Yeah, one shot. But that one shot did do some damage, though.” Johnny said quietly.

I knew it!! Scott thought to himself. There’s something that turned bad, I can feel it…

“When Val walked in he took a bullet in the basket an’ all the eggs blew up on ‘im! There was egg hangin’ everywhere! Shells in his hair an’ stuck on ‘is face, yolk drippin’ everywhere, oh, Dios, Scott, I ain’t never seen nothin’ so funny in my life!” Johnny, once again, was beyond any control as the hilarity of the situation bubbled over, taking both the Lancer boys into a place where Scott had never thought possible. One brother relieved to have something actually funny related to him about his sibling and the other relieved that his older brother found at least some humor in his life, that it wasn’t all bad. Jus' maybe Scott'll stop thinkin' everything has ta be so serious… Maybe start ta think about lettin’ things go…

"An' that ain't all of it. The ol' lady met us outside the store afterward an’ made Val pay her for the eggs but told him ta keep the dress, that it looked better on him than it ever did on her!” That was Scott’s undoing, he flopped back on his bunk and held his aching sides as the sounds from inside the shack drowned out the sounds outside. The rain never let up, and neither did the laughter.

"Your turn," Johnny said after they got themselves somewhat under control.

Scott turned a confused eye to his younger brother and raised his brows. “What do you mean, ‘my turn’?” He asked.

Johnny huffed. “Tell me somethin’ about you,” as he took another drink, then topped off his glass and resettled on his bunk.

Scott didn't know for sure, but he thought he saw a wicked gleam in his brother's eye. So he thought a moment. “Well, I don’t think that I can top that story, Johnny.”

“Ain’t askin’ for ya ta top it. Really don’t think it could be done. Jus’ tell me somethin’ about you.”

Again, Scott eyed his brother. “Like what?”

Johnny huffed and rolled his eyes. “Tell me about the first time ya got laid.”

Scott looked up in feigned mortification. “A gentleman never kisses and tells!” he replied with a smirk.

“Scott, this is me you're talkin' to! She's over three thousand miles away! It ain't like I’m gonna go ask her how ya were!" Johnny laughed not quite believing Scott wasn't going to say anything. "C'mon, how old?" he asked again, grinning ear to ear, eyes sparkling with Johnny Madrid Lancer mischief.

“Sixteen.”

Now it was Johnny’s turn to raise his brows.

“She was a maid in my Grandfather’s house. She introduced me to the fine art of love and the wonderful treasures of a woman’s body. Like you so eloquently phrased it ‘I thought that I had died and gone to Heaven…’ Until the day that Grandfather caught us."

Johnny started to laugh as Scott sat with a far away, dreamy-eyed expression of a lovesick sixteen-year-old.
“So what’d ol’ Harlan do?” Johnny asked, still laughing as he thought about the pious, stuffy, pompous Bostonian businessman dealing with a red-blooded, coming-of-age boy with hormones running rampant.

Scott sighed sadly looking much like a lost puppy dog. "Well, I was confined to my room for three days, and he terminated her employment in the household… But, that, little brother, was my introduction to the fairer sex and not only was she an excellent teacher, but she also had a very adept pupil. What about you?” Scott asked with a wicked smile knowing that his younger brother probably had some wild, outrageous tale about his first encounter with a woman.

"Hey, this is my time ta be askin’ questions. Ya already had yours. So did the ol’ man have a talk with ya about the… what'd they call it… the birds an' the bees?”

Scott smiled and dropped his gaze to his cup of coffee. “No, that was left up to James.”

“James? Who’s James?” Johnny asked, not remembering hearing about any ‘James’ person.

“James was the butler, and I might add, a good friend to me while I was growing up. He was the one person I could trust to talk to, and I could tell him anything, and he would understand. A best friend.”

An’ he thinks my younger days were somethin’ ta worry ‘bout? The smile disappeared from Johnny’s face as he thought about his brother’s situation.

Scott noticed the change in Johnny, the explosive silence and met his brother’s eyes.
“What’s the matter, Johnny?” Scott, while not exactly alarmed by his brother's look, was worried that this might trigger something that Johnny wished to have remained in the past and not disturbed, to be left buried.

“Scott, are ya tryin’ ta tell me that the butler was your best friend? Ya had all them rich kids like you with servants an’ maids. Didn’t ya have any a them for friends?” This shocked Johnny. He thought that his older brother had every advantage, everything that money could buy. What happened that a small boy had no one but the butler for a best friend?

Scott hesitated before he spoke, suddenly realized how strange this would sound to someone who wasn’t familiar with ‘privileged' upper-class family life.

"Grandfather gave me everything, everything that money could buy. But the sad truth of the matter was that he didn't think the other boys my age were… good enough. I grew up basically isolated until many years into my education. But I did sneak out, thanks to James… He helped me on many occasions to get out and play with other boys my age…”

Hey, I think I like this James fella… Johnny thought.

“We had to think up a good enough story to cover the fact that I broke my leg falling out of an apple tree while playing with the other boys when I should have been in the house with my studies.” Scott smiled as he thought of James’ care in getting him home, thankfully only a short distance from the large brownstone and summoning the doctor before they informed Mr. Garrett of Master Scott’s ‘tumble down the stairs…’

"So tell me about sneakin' outta the house. Did'ya ever get caught?" Johnny asked, steering the conversation away from the sad thoughts of Harlan manipulating a small boy for hideous reasons. Where Johnny knew of Harlan's views about Scott having a ‘half-breed' for a brother was bad enough, Johnny never realized that Harlan was so prejudiced as to keep Scott from the other boys in the area.

"Oh, it wasn't much of a problem to get out. Once Grandfather left for his offices for the day, James and I would go for walks, and he would make sure that I got to see friends my age. But I have to tell you, Johnny, James did a lot to get me through what would have been some tough times. I owe him more than what I could ever repay him. However, I do think that he was a bit disappointed in the fact that I had been… ‘deflowered’ by a maid!”

Johnny looked at Scott as if in shock but quickly the two burst into laughter, Johnny mainly for having never heard the term 'deflowered' in reference to losing one’s virginity and Scott laughed at the look on his brother’s face.

Scott talked about his college days and some of the issues, but he could tell that Johnny liked his stories about his daring escapes from the boudoirs of young socialite’s balconies the best. Such as the night when the Pinkerton agent found him to tell him of his father's wish to see him and the offer of one thousand dollars for one hour of his time.

“So ya made it off the balcony in one piece, huh, Boston?” Johnny asked, eyes glittering with respect and brotherly pride and was thankful they didn’t have to explain to Harlan of a broken leg under this particular circumstance. Harlan would have locked Scott up for the rest of his life over that. After all, Johnny knew that Scott couldn’t sully the Garrett name…

"Yes, I did, and with Murdoch's timely invitation, there were no repercussions regarding the lady in question and her overbearing father!" Again laughter filled the cabin as the brothers enjoyed their treasured time together and the long overdue conversations.

“Ya ever make Harlan pissed off at cha? What was the maddest he ever got cuz of somethin’ that ya did?” Johnny asked wondering what would set off Old Man Garrett the most. Now it was Scott that burst into laughter as he thought back and recalled the shock and horror on his guardian’s face on one specific, and now, utterly gratifying evening.

"It was shortly after my fifth birthday and Grandfather had an elaborate dinner party with his most prestigious clients and Boston’s most upper-crust citizens."

Johnny followed along and was certain that Harlan was trying to impress a lot of folks if only for the fact to get himself ahead for his own personal gains.

"I became bored and went outside anxious to see my new pony, so I got to the stable and being Boston at that time of year it was cold, so I brought Scooter with me into the house…”

Johnny coughed as he tried to hide the amusement that was near to bubbling to the surface, though he struggled with the effort he failed to contain the mirth as he, once again, laughed out loud at Scott’s narration.

"Scooter… Ya named your horse… Scooter?"

Scott cast a leery eye at Johnny. “Yes, I did. It seemed like a nice name for a Shetland pony, at the time. I was only five after all… Now, if I may continue…" Scott said in mock anger. "I had just gotten him into the house when there was a clatter of pots and pans in the kitchen that startled Scooter, and he bolted through the house and charged into the dining room filled with Grandfather's clients, all in formal evening wear. They jumped from their chairs around the table, the women screamed, and that scared Scooter even more to the point of him relieving himself on the carpeting…"

Once again, Johnny howled with the thought of Old Man Garrett trying to impress all of his stuffy ‘friends' and dealing with horse shit in the dining room.

“Oooowwweeeeee, Scott, wish I coulda been there ta see the ol’ man’s face! What’d he do?”

Scott sighed, the smile faded a bit as he remembered having to bid Scooter goodbye the very next day and Scott was confined to his room for the next week.

Johnny, now serious, watched his brother’s face as he studied the emotions as they raced across his aristocratic features. Johnny sighed and looked down at his empty glass. He pushed himself off the bunk and refilled it, then returned to his place by the fire.
“Seems like kinda stiff punishment for a kid so little…” he began.

But Scott smiled. “Well, after all, it was a Persian carpet!” He laughed before continuing. “Once again, James was there for me. Even though Scooter,” a chuckle from Johnny interrupted and Scott cleared his throat with an exaggerated effort as he relayed the rest of his story. “Even though Scooter was no longer around, James took me out to the stables and saw to it that I was introduced to the animals and later on was responsible for me learning how to ride.”

“James… Is he still workin’ for Harlan?” Johnny hesitated to ask knowing that James had to be getting on in years. Johnny secretly thought that he would like to meet this James and thank him for watching out for Scott all the while he grew up.

"Yes, he is. He is still in my grandfather's employment, and I have to say now that I am thinking about him, I miss him…"

“Do ya write ta him, Scott?” Johnny asked.

“Not in a long while but when I get back to Lancer that’s the first thing I am going to do. And I am going to tell him what he has done for me.”

“Do me a favor, will ya Scott?” Johnny said as he watched the question form in his older brother’s eyes.

“Sure, Johnny, what is it?”

“Thank him for me, too,” Johnny said with a sincere smile.

Scott was stunned. He knew Johnny had a soft spot in his heart for certain things, animals he’d seen Johnny tame with a kind hand and his velvet tones, he’d seen Johnny playing with the children on the ranch and marveled at the way he was able to connect with them so easily. Scott thought about the irony of the situation. Here he sat with his younger brother, Johnny Madrid, gunhawk, the brother that had next to no education, had literally nothing, the brother that had grown up and come through against all odds; the brother so rough around the edges and survivor of the harshest environments known and he was the one to remind Scott to count the blessings he’d had in his life.

Scott looked at Johnny with appreciation. "Thank you, Johnny," Scott said just above a whisper.

Surprise written in the deep blue eyes, Johnny paused in mid-drink. “For what?”

“Today. This talk. Your company; our friendship.”

Uneasy with the sentiment, Johnny didn’t quite know what to say and sensing this, Scott proceeded. "So, I've spilled my story, what about yours, little brother?" Scott's grin grew across his face, and a sneaky kind of light sparkled in the blue-gray of his eyes.

Johnny was puzzled.  “What story, Boston? I told ya about my early life…”

“Not quite, Brother. How old were you when you first got laid and who was she?” Scott’s smile grew wicked.

Johnny’s laughter, again, filled the confines of the shack. His eyes sparkled in the firelight as he again wiped the moisture away from those deep blue orbs. "I was fourteen, and she was the sheriff’s daughter…” Scott listened in shocked and stunned silence.

<><><><> 

The ride home went much too swiftly. The bond between brothers had been forged into a solid and unbreakable tie. As they learned and understood more about the other’s past, they understood more about the men they’d grown to be. Scott was learning that the past was just that, the past.  His brother had indeed made it through horrific circumstances and had learned, when he thought back on it, not to focus on what could have happened but that he was here… now, he had made it through some horrible and tough times.

Johnny had made Scott ponder on his own life, as well. The fact that Scott had everything that a little boy could ever possibly want, except that that mattered most, a family, a warm embrace, hot chocolate in front of the fire at night, a kiss on the forehead. Both instances held dire consequences, but they had made it through, both of them.

Now they were brothers, and nothing would take that away, not now. They had each made it through their own Hell, had come out of their trials and tribulations stronger and better for it. Now they were the brothers that they should have been all along; no more looking back to focus on what could have happened, they looked back to enjoy the good and then forward to what they had now — each other. They had each other…

 

 

~ end ~

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