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Doc

 

 

Hurting
Part of the Widow series. Click here for the order of stories

 

Part 1

Nogales 1868

The unmistakable sound of a hammer thumbed back on a Colt stopped the fat man before his fist smashed the face of the woman in front of him. The barrel of the gun dug into the flesh of his neck. "Let her be," came a deadly soft voice in his ear. The fat man released his grip on the terrified woman's dress and raised both hands to shoulder height.

She scrambled backward, whimpering. The pistolero pushed his gun harder into the fat man's throat as he glanced her way and said "Go on now-get back upstairs to Mamie." She climbed the barstools to get to her feet, then stumbled up the back stairs of the now empty  saloon.

The gunman released the hammer; he stepped back from the fat man's side. The Colt was steady and aimed at the fat man's neck. Slowly the man turned, arms still up, until he faced the gunman.

"I got no quarrel with you, Madrid," he choked out. He was sweating. His knees were shaking.

"You'll make one if you ever lay a hand on her again." Johnny Madrid didn't raise his voice to make his point; his gun did it for him. "Now get out." He watched without expression as the fat man hurried out of the bar, but his lip curled slightly when he heard the man break into a run on the other side of the batwing doors.

A couple of days later, when the girls told him that Carla and Lum were seeing each other again, all he could do was shake his head. Lum was a lout and Carla was better off without him, but it was her business. Trouble was, Johnny knew the man's type; he knew it was only a matter of time before Lum beat on her again.

When word reached Johnny of a job in Altar, an easy three or four day ride from Nogales this time of year, he sent word that he was on his way, and went upstairs to enjoy his last night at Mamie's.

A scream, a man's angry voice,  a thud...Johnny jumped out of bed and wrenched the door open, Colt in hand, before his sleep-fogged brain registered the sounds that woke him. The hallway was empty, but more noises came from the room next to his. The locked door gave way to his barefooted kick. Momentum took him partway into the room; he landed in a crouch, bringing his gun to bear.

In the dim light he saw Lum lunging at Carla. She tried to move away from the fat man but the room was tiny and there was nowhere to go. Lum grabbed her hair and forced her on the bed; he jumped on top of her and circled her throat with his hands.

"¡Basta!" Johnny yelled. Lum froze. Johnny reached out to pull the man off Carla but thought the better of it-the guy outweighed him by a lot. Instead he brandished his pistol and ordered the fat man to back away. As he did Carla curled down into the bed and pulled the sheet up to cover the bruises Lum had inflicted; she couldn't hide her rapidly swelling eye.

Mamie appeared in the doorway with her rifle and her bouncers. They grabbed Lum and hustled him out of the room. Johnny scooped up the man's clothes and angrily  threw them after him. He sat on the side of the bed and realized he, too, was naked. He grabbed a pillow to hold in his lap, looked at Carla's damaged face, and sighed.

"Hey," he said quietly. Carla raised up slightly to see him.

"Johnny," she said, and tried to smile. "I don't know what got over him..."

Johnny scoffed. "Oh, you know what got over him, Carla. Lum's an ass. He's no good. You can do better, you know."

Mamie came back with a bundle in her hands; when she gave it to Johnny he recognized his own clothes. With a wry smile he relinquished his spot beside Carla and turned his back to the women so he could dress.  

"Are you hurt bad, Carla?" Mamie asked. Carla scooted to sit against the headboard, pulling the sheet with her. She shook her head but unconsciously reached up to touch her eye.

"Madrid's right," Mamie said. "Lum's an ass. I won't be letting him in here no more, but I think the best thing you can do is go somewhere else yourself. "

Carla hitched the sheet up higher. "You lettin' me go, Miss Mamie?" she asked tremulously.

Mamie's face was hard. "Don't want to," she said. "But I know Lum, and if you're here he's gonna keep causin' trouble even if I try not to let him back in. That's bad for business. 'Sides, you gotta get away from him or he's gonna kill you. "

Carla started to wail. "It's not my fault!" she protested. "I didn't do nothin' wrong! He beat up on me !"

Mamie sighed, but there was no softening in her face. "It's not fair, I'll grant you that. But I got to protect my business, and Lum's got it good in Nogales. He ain't going anywhere, so you best be on your way."

"Mamie, it just ain't right." Carla wailed louder. "Please let me stay, please. There's nowhere else for me to go. Please don't send me away."

"Hey, Carla?" Johnny turned back toward her. His pants were in place but his shirt was unfastened and untucked. "Look, I'm leaving today. I'll take you with me down the road, make sure you end up somewhere so you don't starve..."

She didn't answer right away, but at least she stopped wailing. She rubbed the tears off her face and sniffed a few times. "Maybe," she said to Johnny. "Mamie, isn't there any way I can stay here?"

Mamie just shook her head.

"Johnny, I'll go with you then."

Johnny smiled, but it wasn't much. Nothing about this whole situation deserved much of a smile.

"Yeah, OK," he said. "Meet me at the livery in an hour. I'll be ready for us to go then."

He looked at Mamie. "How long can you keep Lum away from us?"

"Long enough," she replied with a frown. "Johnny, you sure you know what you're doing here?"

"Yeah," he replied. "It'll be fine. Once I get Carla out of here there won't be any reason for Lum to cause trouble. It'll be fine."

Morro Coyo 1871

"Your turn," Johnny Lancer said. He smiled and leaned closer to the young woman seated beside him at the picnic table. Emily looked across the street where a group of men stood in the skimpy shade of a boardwalk overhang. She studied them as their discussion became more heated.

"I choose the short man wearing the green vest," she said. "He has something really important to say, but the other men won't give him a chance. Every time he breathes in to start talking the fellow on his left speaks up before he can get a word out. In a little while he's going to be so frustrated I think he'll start yelling."

Johnny regarded the man in question. "That's good," he said with a drawl, nodding. "You could be right."

"Really? I'm right?" Emily was thrilled. Watching people to predict what they would do next was a game she and Johnny had made.  Johnny excelled at it; Emily was better with four legged creatures.

He broke into a teasing grin. "No, I said you 'could' be right. Fact is, your man there is Ed Connors, and the reason everyone talks over him is that he never says anything worth listening to. You watch now; pretty soon he'll give it up and just nod at what everybody else says."

"And how do I know that's true?" Emily retorted. "You could be making that up, and I could still be the one who's right!" But Johnny snickered quietly and pointed at Ed, now nodding his head with his mouth firmly shut. Emily said, "Pfftttt," in perfect imitation of Johnny when he scoffed. He laughed.

"C'mon, I better get you home before it gets dark." Johnny stood and Emily took his arm. They walked towards the corral where their horses waited, unaware of the eyes following them from the saloon across the street.

"It can't be," said the fat man to his brother. "I heard he was killed in Mexico last year."

"Sure looks like him, though," said Eli. "Walks like him and all..." He turned back into the bar and approached the rail . "Barkeep!" he said sharply. "You know Johnny Madrid?"

The bartender looked up. "Might," he answered. "Who wants to know?"

"I do." Lum joined Eli. The bartender looked at both men for a few heartbeats. 

"Nope," he finally said. "I don't believe I know Johnny Madrid."

Lum snorted. "Just saw a guy out there who sure looked like him."

"I wouldn't know."

Eli pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and laid it on the top of the bar. "This jog your memory any?"

The barkeeper looked from the money to Eli, then back to the bills. "Yep, it does. Now I'm sure I don't know Johnny Madrid." He swiped the top bill and glared at the two men, daring them to challenge him.

With an oath Lum turned away. Muttering under his breath he strode back out to the street while Eli scooped up his money. Lum looked in the direction he had last seen the cowboy; he saw two people saddling horses at the corral.

Lum's horse was just outside the saloon; he mounted and rode slowly in the direction of the corral. It was his lucky day-the cowboy and the lady mounted up and headed towards him. He reached up to touch his hat to the lady, using his hand to shield his face as he got a good look at the cowboy riding the palomino. Damn if it wasn't Madrid. There was no doubt about it.

He signaled to Eli, who mounted his own horse. The brothers rode opposite the direction Madrid had gone, hardly believing their change of fortune. Since Madrid had left Nogales nothing had gone right for the brothers, and they blamed him for all of it. When he learned that Carla had left town in Madrid's company Lum made big trouble at Mamie's. He tore the place apart and ended up spending 6 months in prison. An ill-fated attempt at a jail break got his brother Eli locked up as well. By the time they were free, Madrid was long gone-dead by a firing squad, they'd heard. Forbidden by the terms of their release to go back to Nogales, Lum and Eli drifted into California, taking what work they could find and cursing the memory of Johnny Madrid.

But here he was in Morro Coyo, big as life, looking well fed and keeping company with some plain woman who obviously wasn't a whore. After letting the couple get far ahead of them, the fat man and his brother turned their horses around to follow the road taken by Madrid and his lady friend.

At first they missed the lane turning off the main road, but a closer look at fresh tracks in the dust set them right and led them to a small house east of a grove of shade trees. The palomino Madrid had been riding was tied to the small corral. Lum and Eli hid their horses in the grove and crept to where they could keep an eye on the house.  As the sun set they saw Madrid ride out. He was alone.

They waited until the house was dark, then waited another hour or so, wondering if Madrid was going to return. Voices low, they discussed their options. Lum decided it didn't matter if Madrid came back tonight, or tomorrow, or not at all. They would take his woman like he had taken Carla. And if he came looking for her, they would kill him.

Part 2

The hacienda was quiet on Sundays, and Johnny loved it. Everybody but Johnny went to church on Sunday, and the day had become a welcome respite from the slog of learning to be part of a family. As much as he relished having the place to himself, though, lately Johnny found himself saddling Barranca for a visit to the Widow Morris on Sunday. She didn't go to church, either.

This Sunday when Johnny turned Barranca up the lane to Emily's house, her goats were grazing by the side of the road. It troubled him a little-Emily's animals did not stray. His concern mounted when he saw her ugly old dog walking slowly down the lane, panting despite the cool morning air. That damned dog was always with her, but he didn't see Emily anywhere. The dog looked up as Johnny rode past, then turned to follow Barranca without so much as a wag of his tail. If dogs could look worried, this one did.

Johnny slipped his gun out of its holster as he approached the house.

When he saw two unfamiliar horses in her corral he pulled up, scanning the yard for her. A movement on the porch caught his eye as someone stepped out  of the house and hailed him.

"Madrid." The man was fat, and he held a gun pointed at Johnny. He recognized Lum. He threw the man a sardonic smile and vaguely waved his gun hand. Inside, his guts turned to ice.

"Lum, ain't it? What's going on?"

"I owed you one, Madrid, and I paid you back." Lum grimaced; it might have been meant to be a smile. "Remember Carla? You took my woman away from me; I just took yours away from you."

Madrid's tricks returned when he needed them; Johnny slouched in the saddle, looking relaxed and  unconcerned despite his racing heart. He stared at the fat man for a few beats before he asked, "Where is she?" 

Lum didn't answer right away. Johnny knew he could take the man down, but he also knew Lum always hung out with his brother Eli-and there were two strange horses in the corral. Until he knew what he was facing, until he knew where Emily was, he didn't dare make a move.

Barranca's ears swiveled; Johnny spun the horse away from Lum to see Eli pointing a gun at him  from the door of the barn. A shot rang out and for a heart stopping instant Johnny thought they'd shot him. Then he saw the dog bolt into the barn as Lum's bullet kicked up the dirt beside him. With two guns pointed at him from opposite directions Johnny did the only thing he could do; he grinned cockily at Lum and made a show of dropping his own Colt with two fingers. He gracefully stepped off Barranca , thanking god his knees didn't buckle.  

The fat man on the porch motioned with his gun. "Eli left her in the barn, I believe. Wanna see?"

Eli led the way; Lum crossed the yard quickly to keep his gun pointed at Johnny's back. It took only an instant for their eyes to adjust to the dim light of the barn. Two horses were loose from their stalls and stood still, heads down, investigating something on the ground.

They were sniffing at Emily. She lay naked on the floor of the barn, unmoving, curled on her side facing away from him. Her dog was with her now, laying in the hollow of her belly with his head on her bare hip.

Johnny felt Madrid's bravado collapse as he stared at her. When he saw her move, ever so slightly, he let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. She was bruised and cut, and there was blood streaking the backs of her thighs. He dropped to his knees beside her and touched her shoulder with a trembling hand.  She stiffened slightly and mumbled, "No. Please, don't."

"It's all right, it's me, it's Johnny. " He didn't believe for a minute that it was all right, and he shuddered at what she have must have experienced. Desperately looking up he saw Lum looming over them, his gun pointed at her head. When the fat man said with a sneer, "She weren't much of a fuck. You can have what's left," Johnny exploded.

With a furious roar he tackled the larger man, knocking him down and grabbing his gun. As he rolled away from Emily he saw Eli aiming at her; Johnny fired at him from the floor. He fired again before he saw Eli crumple to the ground. With a grunt Lum kicked out and knocked the gun from Johnny's hand.  Johnny jabbed his elbow back and nailed Lum right in the balls as the fat man was trying to scramble to his feet. Johnny twisted, grabbed Lum by his greasy hair and savagely bashed his head on the floor again and again.

"Damn you, damn you, damn you, damn you..." He cursed Lum with every sickening crack of the man's head on the hard ground. The sound of his own voice finally penetrated his blind rage; he released his grip, panting, and sat back on his heels. His hands were covered with blood and hair. He wiped the gore on his pants and turned to where Emily lay silently on the cold bare floor.

He bent over her, wishing he had something to wrap her in. "It's all over,"  he told her. He caught a glimpse of her face and gasped at her bruises, her black eyes.

 "You're gonna be fine. Let's get you back to the house." She stirred and whimpered as he lifted her into his arms but she didn't wake. He got to his feet, holding her close, noticing against his will the bleeding abrasions on her breasts, the huge purple bruises under her arms. He tried to walk without jarring her. The dog followed him.

The floor of her house was muddy, the furniture stained, and dirty dishes were scattered everywhere. Her bed was unmade; he pushed aside the bedclothes with his arm as he carefully laid her down. He covered her with the sheets and quilt. The old dog jumped on the bed and snuggled up to her; Johnny briefly laid his hand on the dog's grizzled head.

In the kitchen he rinsed his hands clean, then quickly fired up the stove and put water on to boil. He pumped more water to fill a basin and carried it back to the bedroom. With a damp rag he began to wipe away the blood from her face. She startled awake and looked at him, confused, through swollen eyes.

 "Hey," he said softly. "You're OK now." He saw the instant her memory returned; her terrified gaze darted away from him as she searched for her tormentors. "Kill you," she said, her voice little more than a raspy whisper.

"No, no, I'm here, I'm OK. The bad guys are gone." Johnny reached up to gently stroke her hair; he caught his breath when he saw that some of it had been hacked off close to her scalp. She relaxed at his touch and her eyelids grew heavy. "It's all OK," Johnny continued. "But you need the doctor, honey."  Her eyes flew open again as she whispered, "Don't leave me."

'I don't know what to do for you,' Johnny thought; but he saw her fear before she lost the battle for consciousness, and knew he couldn't leave.

He found a pencil and writing paper in her desk and wrote:

 "At Morris's. She's hurt. Get the doc. Hurry.  J"

 He emptied his money pouch, put the letter in it, and tied it to Barranca's neck, knowing the ranch hands would recognize the pouch as well as the riderless palomino. He knotted the reins so they wouldn't drag, turned the horse towards Lancer, and shooed him away. When the gelding didn't run fast enough Johnny threw pebbles at him, stinging his butt and driving him off. He knew the men would take quick action, but it would still be hours before the doctor arrived.

He returned to Emily. She didn't look like herself-the pale, bruised, swollen face topped by irregular lengths of tangled brown hair was nearly unrecognizable. The bruises under her arms coupled with many deep abrasions and cuts that told him she had likely been dragged with a rope for a short distance. She was lucky to be alive. He wouldn't let himself think about the blood he had seen on her thighs.

Damn it to hell, this was all because of him. Lum and Eli hurt her in order to hurt Madrid. He had hoped so desperately that  he could have this new life, the life he should have had all along if only his mama hadn't run away and lied and died. A peaceful  life with a father, a brother, a sister, and a good woman like Emily in it. A life where he could look ahead with reasonable assurance of a future.

The reappearance of Lum and Eli blew his hoping all to hell. He'd been kidding himself. He'd been right when he told Emily that he had killed his own future. This was proof of it.

With a shake of his head Johnny pushed his tortured guilt deep inside him. Emily needed him now. She was cold-god, she was cold-so he built the fire up high as he could. She needed fluids, so he made hot tea and added sugar to it. When she couldn't swallow he wet a cloth in it and put it between her lips and was pleased when she sucked at it a little. He wanted to clean her up but was afraid it might hurt her more. When he couldn't think of anything else to do he sat on the side of the bed, held her hand, and prayed quietly to a God he wasn't sure he believed in.

As he prayed she turned her head ever so slightly towards the sound of his voice. He squeezed her hand and thought she may have squeezed back just a bit. Her breathing became less ragged. He began talking to her and when he ran out of things to say he found himself singing a Spanish lullaby he didn't know he knew.

It was a song from long ago, from his forgotten childhood. Mama would sing in her rich voice with its hint of laughter, and he would sing with her in his little boy voice. Mama would tell him his voice was as sweet as an angel's. They sang duets, and sometimes Papa would join in and they would try to sing in three parts, but they always ended up getting it wrong; they laughed until they cried. He'd forgotten...

Other lost songs came back to him, for Emily. The guilty darkness in his heart eased infinitesimally as he sang softly. He gave her tea and rubbed her hands tenderly. He thought he felt her getting warmer. The old dog, stretched out on the bed by her side, fell asleep and snored lightly.

A familiar cadence of galloping hoof beats broke through the mid-afternoon quiet. Johnny jumped up to look out the window; he was relieved to see Scott fling himself off Barranca and race to the door, shouting his name.

"In here, Scott," he called; the small measure of peace he had known when he sang to Emily evaporated as he returned to bitter reality. Scott took in the scene-Emily's injuries, the anguished look on Johnny's face-and wordlessly embraced his brother.

"Check the barn. There should be two bodies in there," Johnny spoke quietly into Scott's ear. "Take your gun. Make sure..."

Scott dashed outside. Johnny looked at Emily. She hadn't moved at all. He sat on the side of her bed, took her hand, and softly sang to her again. His defenses cracked a little now that he didn't have to be strong alone; the tears he had held at bay all day streamed down his cheeks.

Scott was shaken when he returned to the house . "My god, Johnny. What happened? Who were those men?" But Johnny could only shake his head as he wiped his face dry with his free hand .  

"What can I do?" Scott asked.

"Just help me here. Help me keep her alive."

Scott sat on the far side of the bed and took Emily's other hand, warming it in his. The old dog looked at him suspiciously, then back at Johnny, before he jumped off the bed and went to lay in the front room.

"I wasn't expecting anyone so soon," Johnny said.

"We saw Barranca on the road to the estancia," Scott explained. "He ran up to the buggy, and I found your note. Murdoch and Teresa turned around to get the doctor, and I rode Barranca back here."

"I didn't know what else to do," Johnny said. "She's been hurt so bad...I thought about warming some blankets on the stove but I was afraid they'd catch fire if I wasn't there to watch 'em..." 

Scott was already on his feet, glad to have something to do. "I'll take care of it, and I'll see if there's anything to eat while I'm in there. You hungry?"

Johnny shook his head. He hadn't eaten today, but food was the last thing on his mind. He turned his attention back to Emily as Scott disappeared into the kitchen. Soon they were wrapping her carefully in warmed blankets, and offering her fresh water and tea. Johnny never left her side as Scott went out to take care of the stock. And finally, after hours that seemed like days, the doctor arrived with Murdoch and Teresa.

Part 3

Johnny refused to leave her side until Murdoch and Scott each grabbed an arm and dragged him into the front room.  "Let the doctor do his job," Scott said with a grunt as they deposited him in a chair.

"She didn't want me to leave," Johnny insisted. "I promised her I'd stay."

"You haven't left," Scott said, an edge creeping into his voice. "You are in the next room, and you are going to sit here with Murdoch and me until the doctor is finished. You've done everything you can do for her. Now you need to settle down and tell us what the hell has been going on here."

Johnny bristled at his brother's tone. "Damn it, Scott," he began, but his sharp words dissolved in the guilt that rose suddenly in his throat, extinguishing the nervous energy that had fueled him and leaving him weak and nauseated. He drooped forward in his chair, pressing the heels  of his hands into his eyes in a vain effort to push back the tears. Then he covered his face with his hands while he cried. His father and brother watched silently, grimly.

When Johnny recovered his voice he spoke without looking up. He told them of those days in Nogales and how he helped Carla escape Lum's brutality. He knew nothing of what had become of Lum and Eli after he left Nogales, didn't know how they found him and Emily, didn't know how or when they came to her house....only that he found them here this morning, and that he killed them for what they had done to her.

Finally Johnny looked up at his father. "It's my fault," Johnny said, but Murdoch stopped him with an upraised hand.

"Johnny," he said, his voice unexpectedly gentle. "You are NOT responsible for this depravity."

Johnny dropped his head once again. "If I hadn't butted in that time in Nogales they'd have had no reason to do this."

"You did what any decent man would have done," Scott protested. "You helped a woman get away from a man who hurt her. This could have happened to anyone man enough to help someone like Carla."

Johnny looked up and his voice rose in anguish. "But it didn't happen to 'anyone'. It didn't even happen to me -it happened to Emily!  She..."  Words failed him.

After a deep breath he tried again, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. "I could've handled it if it had been me they came after.  Before, it was me. " He opened his eyes and stared coldly at his father, forcing him to hear the unsaid words, 'When I was Madrid' .  "It was only me, and I could handle it. I could keep it away from..." He couldn't verbalize that thought, either, and pounded his fist on his knee in frustration.

Murdoch was about to speak when the bedroom door opened. The doctor's face was solemn as he eased the door shut behind him.

"She's going to survive this, but she's been very badly injured," he began.  Johnny gave a small sigh of relief. Emily was going to survive.

 "No bones are broken although she does have a cracked rib, likely from being kicked. She's been beaten about the face but I don't think there will be any permanent scarring there. I can't be entirely sure but I don't think there is any internal damage."  The doctor stopped his recitation and looked guardedly at the Lancer men before continuing.

 "The bruising and abrasions below the neck are from being dragged with a rope, probably behind a horse. Thank goodness it doesn't appear to have been a lengthy run. I don't think she's had anything to eat or drink for the past few days, so she's somewhat dehydrated. I suspect she was a touch hypothermic earlier today, but you did a fine job of warming her. She's been mostly unconscious; we've managed to clean her up, bind her ribs, treat the wounds, and so on. She did come to once and asked for Johnny."

Johnny rose to his feet to face the doctor. "She was raped, wasn't she?" he asked bluntly.

Scott inhaled sharply at Johnny's question; Murdoch stared, aghast, at his younger son. The doctor nodded. "I'm sorry. She has injuries relating to that atrocity as well."

Johnny blew out a big sigh. He had known it already, but hearing it from the doctor made it inescapable. To his surprise he was not overwhelmed  with guilt at the words. Instead, he felt...not relief, exactly...more like determination. Determination to take care of Emily, to see her through this battle.  His personal guilt was a luxury he couldn't afford just now.

He straightened his shoulders and met the doctor's eyes. "OK. Now what?"

The doctor's mien softened somewhat. "She'll need round the clock nursing care to make sure she takes in sufficient fluids, stays warm, and so on. She'll be in quite a lot of pain, so give her laudanum-15 drops every three hours or so. Her injuries need to be checked, cleaned, and treated twice daily-I've left some salve and shown Teresa how to apply it. Once she's strong enough to sit up in bed she can eat whatever sounds appealing to her. I'll be back in a day or so to check her progress."

The doctor looked at the three men; he cleared his throat. "I'm afraid it's a rather delicate situation," he said hesitantly. "But I understand Mrs. Morris has no immediate family to look after her. Young Teresa is an excellent nurse, but you'll need additional help at least in the first few days, since some of the injuries are of a feminine nature. I can recommend several widows in the area who could..."

Johnny realized what the doctor was trying to say. "Thanks for the offer, doc," he said. He thrust out his hand, and when the doctor grasped it he took the man's elbow as well and subtly maneuvered him towards the door. "Appreciate everything you've done. We'll see you when you come back."

When the doctor was gone Johnny turned and strode past his father and brother without another word. He disappeared into Emily's bedroom where Teresa was folding the soiled apron that had protected her Sunday dress. Johnny went to her and took her in his arms.

"Thank you," he told her. "You shouldn't have had to see this, Teresa, but I'm grateful for your help." They hugged, and Johnny heard Teresa sniffle as she quietly cried. After a long moment he pushed her back, keeping hold of her shoulders. "Wipe your nose," he said to her, gently and with a hint of a teasing smile. She smiled back before averting her eyes.

He looked at Emily unconscious in her bed. Her eyes were covered with a damp cloth to help minimize the bruising. Her lips were swollen and cracked; there were cuts on her chin and cheeks. "Was it real bad?" he asked Teresa softly.

Teresa nodded. "Why would anyone do this? She's hurt everywhere...why would anyone hurt someone like this? And why Emily? She's so kind and quiet. I don't understand..."

Johnny bent his head, determined to keep his guilt buried for now. He accepted the responsibility of caring for the one who had suffered because of him; he owed Emily his full attention. His own feelings could wait.

"Can you stay here with me and Emily?" Johnny asked. "She needs some nursing I can't do..."

"Of course, Johnny," Teresa replied without hesitation. "I'd be honored."

The next two days coalesced into a morass of anxiety, boredom, and exhaustion as Johnny and Teresa tended Emily around the clock. Scott came by several times bringing food and clean laundry. The constant administration of pain medication kept Emily in a state of semi-consciousness, and Johnny began to despair of seeing her awake and smiling ever again. When the doctor came back he was pleased with Emily's progress and advised the laudanum dose be decreased.

Johnny had moved an upholstered chair from the front room to her bedside; he was reading there when Emily woke up. Her lips were pinched with pain, but when she recognized him he saw a slight upturn to the corners of her mouth.

"Well, hello," he said to her, a smile breaking across his face for the first time in days. "Thirsty?"

 She tried to answer but could only croak. Johnny's grin grew  as he grabbed the water from the night table and carefully held it to her lips. "I'll take that as a 'yes'," he said.

She managed a couple of sips. As he set the cup down he confessed, "It's good to see you, honey."

"You, too," she managed to say.  The ugly old dog was sleeping in his usual spot alongside her; when he heard her voice he stretched forward a few inches, tail wagging. She weakly pulled her hand out from under the covers, placed it on top of his head, and left it there. The dog sighed in contentment.

"Hey, can I have some of that?" Johnny asked. Emily turned to meet his teasing gaze, smiled again, and brought her other hand to the top of the covers. Johnny reached out for it, but she pulled it away from him and pointed her index finger to her lips. Laughing, Johnny leaned in to kiss her, but before their lips met he saw a sudden flash of terror in her eyes. He straightened up quickly and caressed her head instead.

"You're OK," he crooned. "Don't worry. I won't hurt you. No one will hurt you now, Emily. You're OK."

Her eyes were wet with unshed tears as she searched his face. "Sorry," she whispered, embarrassed.

Johnny shook his head. "Nothing to be sorry about," he said. "Here." He kissed the first two fingers of his right hand and touched them lightly to her lips.  "Better?"

Emily nodded slightly. "Love you," she said as, exhausted, she fell back asleep.

"Love you, too," Johnny answered, wondering what would become of their love once she recovered.

Part 4

Once Johnny was able to care for Emily without help, Teresa returned to Lancer. Murdoch, unhappy that his son was staying unchaperoned in the house of an unmarried woman, grudgingly acceded to Johnny's stubborn refusal to consider any other arrangement. Like Johnny, Emily seemed to regard social conventions as suggestions, not rules; it made sense to them that he should stay with her, so he did.

She would take laudanum only at bedtime because she hated the way it muddled her thinking, so Johnny read to her to help take her mind off her pain. As she was able to stay awake longer they played checkers or cribbage, or devised their own private games of stories or words. Only at night, laying sleepless on the couch in her front room, would Johnny allow himself to dwell on his guilt. It kept him awake, but he never admitted it to her. As far as Emily knew he always slept well.

And then she asked him who Clara was. "Clara?" he asked. Emily frowned. "I think it was Clara...they said you knew her."

Johnny didn't need to ask who  'they' were.  "Carla. You mean Carla?"

Emily nodded. She wore her housecoat and they were sitting on her front porch, drinking tea. She was strong enough now to move around a little, and Johnny was planning to take her to the hacienda in the next day or so to continue her convalescence. Her face was still swollen but her bruises had faded to a sickly greenish-yellow. Her ribs hurt with every breath. She had started tying a kerchief on her head to hide her unevenly chopped hair. She still slept a great deal.

"What did they say about Carla?" he asked guardedly. 

"They said you stole her away from one of them, and that you had forced her to go with you, and that you...you treated her badly."

Johnny shook his head. He wasn't ready for this conversation, but couldn't see any way out of it. "Lum-the fat one-he and Carla were together. He was mean to her. I just helped her find a new place after he got her fired, that's all."

"They said a lot of other things, too, about you."

"I bet they did." Johnny looked calmly into her eyes and tried to see what she needed from him.

"Have you always been honest with me?" she asked, looking away.

"As honest as I know how to be, " he answered.

"Then I guess most of what they said wasn't true," she said.

Johnny almost smiled. "Since I don't know what they said, I guess you'll have to go ahead and tell me what you want to know."

Emily turned her forthright gaze back to him. "I don't need to do that. I know you, and I know what kind of men they were. I'd be a fool to think they told the truth about anything." She hesitated. "Except they were pretty clear they intended to kill you.  As horrible as everything else was, I think at the time that scared me the most. They were going to kill you and I couldn't figure out a way to stop them."

Johnny was dismayed. "That should have been the last thing on your mind," he began. But he caught himself, unsure what to say next. He didn't want to imply that she should have fought harder to get away, to stop them. He just couldn't believe, with all she had been through, that she had been worried about him.

She didn't notice his unease. Now that she was talking about the ordeal she needed to get it all out. As hard as it would be to hear, Johnny was determined to listen. It was the least he could do for this brave young lady who had been through so much because of him.

"Things kind of all ran together," Emily continued. "I thought if I could get away, I could hide somewhere so if you came, I could call out to you or something. But I wasn't very good at escaping. I wasn't thinking too clearly. I was so thirsty and weak..."

"Wait," Johnny interrupted. "Why?"

Emily looked down.  "They wouldn't let me eat or drink," she said in a small voice. "It was punishment for fighting them, they said."

Anger grabbed him; he smashed his hand down on the arm of the chair, wishing the bastards were alive so he could kill them again. "How long?" he asked, more loudly than he meant to. "How long did that go on?"

"I don't really know. Like I said, it all ran together. Next time I fought them they hacked at my hair with a knife."  Incredibly she snorted out a short laugh. "I thought they were going to slit my throat. It was actually a relief when all they did was cut my hair."

Johnny didn't see the humor. "God, Emily," he said.

"For a while I didn't fight back or try to run, but at night, when I thought they were sleeping, I snuck out and tried to ride away." She stopped, and her face paled. She looked at him beseechingly.

"I was naked, Johnny. They'd taken my clothes and forced me... I was naked." She looked away again; he saw she was trembling. For her, he clamped down firmly on his own rage. "I ran out to the barn and jumped on Jughead and tried to...but they were already out there, and one of them roped her and pulled her up. The other one roped me," and her voice broke.

"Honey," Johnny said desperately. "It's OK. Stop..."

"They pulled me off her, and they tied the rope to Jughead's tail and used the end of the other rope to whip her so she would run, and..." as she broke down into convulsive sobs Johnny knelt beside her, clutching her by her arms and pulling her to his chest. "And it hurt so bad, and I was so scared, and I am so sorry I couldn't warn you," Emily cried, while Johnny hugged her and silently begged God  to take her pain and memories away.

That night he slept with her in her bed. He needed to hold her as much as she needed to be held. He couldn't stop the images of Emily, dragged, beaten, raped, starved-and more worried about him than about herself. He couldn't understand it. He couldn't accept it. He feared it would haunt him the rest of his life.

Part 5

Scott drove Lancer's best buggy to fetch Emily; its springs and padding would make her trip to the hacienda  more comfortable. Lancer hands would take care of the horses, goats, and chickens remaining behind. The old dog came with Emily to the house. There was no discussion, even though dogs weren't allowed in the house. He came with Emily, and he went wherever she went, and that was that.

Johnny felt a change between him and Emily almost as soon as she entered the hacienda. At her house there had been no barriers between them; at Lancer she was suddenly a houseguest, and a semi-invalid at that. Teresa and Maria took over her care as Johnny returned to his daily routine.  He was no longer a part of every minute of her day; he began to feel uncomfortable around her when they were together.

In this new environment he saw just how badly she'd been injured. The short trip to the ranch exhausted her. When she wasn't resting, she read or stared into the distance, stroking her dog's head as he lay in her lap; it seemed the dog did nothing else. Emily ate very little. She was pale with dark circles under her eyes; resolving bruises marred her face.  When someone engaged her in conversation she smiled and answered, but she rarely initiated interaction.

Johnny missed her wit and her laughter. It was easier for him to simply avoid her.

Emily slowly got better. In time she required little in terms of nursing, and was able to dress every day. She ate her meals with the family, and she did small tasks that required little strength or stamina. She was healing-proof that she didn't need Johnny, he thought. She was better off without him, he thought. She could concentrate on her own recovery without worrying about him. His guilt was a burden for him to bear alone.

His withdrawal did not go unnoticed. His family treated him gently-asking if he was OK, wondering if perhaps he should spend a little more time with Emily. He nodded as if in agreement but did not change his behavior. He didn't expect them to understand, after all, and it was easier not to talk about it.

That wasn't good enough for Scott. He buttonholed Johnny during a lunch break one day and asked him bluntly why he was avoiding Emily.

"She don't need me around, Scott," replied Johnny tersely.

"Did you have a fight?" Scott persisted.

"No."

"Did she ask you to stay away?"

"No."

"Are you angry with her?"

Johnny looked at him in disbelief. "No, I'm not angry with her."

"Well, brother, she thinks you are," Scott retorted.

Johnny looked at the ground, then back at Scott, eyes narrowed. "She tell you that?"

"Yes, she did. She asked me if you were really that busy with ranch work because she hasn't seen much of you. I said there was always a lot of work, but it did seem to me you were doing more than your share of it. Then she asked me if I knew why you were angry."

Johnny looked past his brother to the mountains in the distance. Was he angry? Yes, he was. But not at Emily. "She really thinks I'm avoiding her because I'm mad at her?" he asked.

Scott nodded.

Johnny heaved a sigh. "OK, I'll talk to her tonight and clear that up," he said. He pulled his hat on with a jerk of his chin as he stood up to get back to work.

Scott looked closely at him. "That's it? Just clear it up?"

"That's it. I'm not mad at Emily. I'll tell her that."

Now it was Scott's turn to sigh. "Johnny, I don't think it's quite that simple..."

But Johnny interrupted him. "I think it is." And that was the end of the conversation.

After dinner Johnny invited Emily to take a walk with him. Side by side but not touching, they made their way to the barn. Emily's dog followed them at a distance. Emily's steps were measured but noticeably stronger; she no longer winced with every breath.  She was thinner than before, but Johnny had been pleased to see that she ate well at dinner. The same could not be said of the old dog. He had not eaten much since coming to the ranch; tonight he walked slowly and with grim determination.

"So," Johnny said finally. "Scott told me today that you thought I was mad at you."

Emily shot him a guarded look. "You've been avoiding me. I asked Scott if he knew what was wrong. We talked about things a little, and I wondered if you were mad at me and that was why you were staying away." She spoke in a carefully matter of fact tone.

Johnny answered in a similar voice. "No, I'm not mad at you. I just figured you were better off without me around."

Emily stopped walking to look at Johnny in amazement. "Why would I be better off without you?"

Johnny couldn't meet her eyes. "I brought you an awful lot of pain."

" You did? In what way?"

"Emily, you know what happened to you was because of me. You know that," he answered impatiently.

She faced him and put her hands on either side of his face, forcing him to meet her eyes. "I knew you would try to blame yourself, Johnny. But I won't let you. You did nothing to harm me. I am not better off without you. Is that plain?"

He looked at her for a long moment, wondering how she could be so blind. Still, he didn't want to fight with her. "OK," he said finally. He stepped back, away from her hands and her fierce gray eyes.  "And you know I'm not mad at you, right?"

Emily sighed. "OK," she replied, and they walked back to the house without another word.

Johnny's mood did not improve. Every person he encountered managed to piss him off somehow, and he let them know it. The ranch hands he worked with stayed far away from him. When he lost his temper with Teresa and made her cry he got a lecture from Murdoch and that pissed him off even more. An old darkness  grew within him, a featureless and airless darkness he hadn't felt since he had come home to Lancer. It smothered all hope.

His responsibility was clear. Emily had been brutalized because of him. His past had reached out and nearly killed the woman he loved. He knew the only way to make sure it never happened again was to leave-leave Emily, leave Lancer, leave his new life. He had to leave.

But he couldn't. He was living a dream come true, a dream he hadn't even known he had until it materialized in front of him. He had a family now. He had a place. He had a future.

No. He had killed his future long ago. He had to leave.

He couldn't leave.

Angry at everything and everybody-especially himself-Johnny retreated to the barn. He sat in darkness even though sunlight flooded  a path through the open service door. He was surprised to see Emily's ugly old dog wander in. There was no sign of Emily. The dog walked slowly, panting. Johnny whistled to him but he kept padding aimlessly, stumbling when he met an obstacle, until he seemed to find the place he was seeking and settled under a hay rack.

Johnny sat in his darkness. He forgot about the dog. He forgot about everything except his guilt. He worried it from every angle, trying to come to terms with what had happened. He knew he was a coward because he wanted to leave; he knew he was a bigger coward  because he couldn't leave.

A long time later, Emily came in. Johnny saw her before she knew he was there. She wore a simple yellow dress and a kerchief on her head; he had never seen anyone so beautiful. Her eyes were downcast as she searched the ground, looking in the nooks and crannies of the barn; she startled a little when she saw Johnny sitting on a bale of hay. She asked if he had seen the old dog. He nodded and pointed under the hay rack.

Emily bent down to look. She fell to her knees with a soft moan. She reached in and carefully pulled her beloved old dog out by the scruff of his neck; he was barely alive. His limbs were stiff. She sat on the ground and gently nestled the dog in her skirt, holding his head in the crook of her elbow. The ugly old dog thumped his tail once.  A few breaths later he died peacefully in her arms.

She sat crying on the floor, rocking the dog's body, her tears falling on the grizzled old head. Johnny watched her, the darkness in him so heavy he couldn't get up to comfort her. He wiped his own tears with the back of his hand.

"Oh, honey," he finally said, his voice so soft he could barely hear himself. "Please don't cry. I can't bear it."

She was suddenly very still; then with a jerk she raised her tear-stained face to him. Her eyes were furious. The shock would have knocked him back if he had been standing.

"You can't bear it?" she said incredulously. She laid the old dog's body tenderly on the floor and struggled to her feet.  "YOU can't bear it?" Her tears continued, but they were tears of anger now.

"What can't you bear, Johnny? My tears? My wounds? My very existence? You can't bear it because I remind you of your guilt-your stupid, arrogant guilt. You are so puffed up with your own importance that you think all this is your fault."

"It is my fault!" he shouted at her, rising to his feet. "If it wasn't for me you wouldn't have been hurt. Emily, I hate it that you were hurt. I hate myself for what happened to you, for causing it, for not being able to stop it!"

"I hate what happened to me, too, but I hate the people who did it to me-not you!" She didn't shout back at him. Her voice was quiet and hard. "It wasn't your fault, Johnny. It was those stupid hateful people wanting to make other people hurt as much as they did."

She looked up at him, eyes blazing. "And they are succeeding, you son of a bitch, because they've driven us apart."  The fire burned itself out, leaving only pain. "You walk around like a ghost. You won't talk to me. You won't even let me touch you. And that hurts worse...that just hurts so much..." She turned away from him, overcome with sobs.

Aching, Johnny reached out for her. He folded her into his arms as she tried to push him away; he held her tightly. She stopped fighting him and finally relaxed in his embrace until her sobs were spent.

 "I never meant to hurt you, Emily," he whispered to her. "I don't know what to do. I don't want to hurt you, ever. Maybe if I'm gone nothing like this will happen again."

Emily took a deep breath before she pushed out of Johnny's arms.  She looked up at him again. "I think you may be lying to yourself," she said carefully. "Do you really think that going away will keep me from ever getting hurt? Ever?"

After a moment Johnny shook his head. "No," he admitted slowly. "Everybody gets hurt. But it would keep you from getting hurt by what I've done."

"Johnny, everybody gets hurt." Emily repeated his words. "So, then, what makes people feel better after they've been hurt?"

Johnny cocked his head ever so slightly to the side, studying her; he said nothing.

Emily smiled sadly as she answered her own question. "The people they love."

Her words made him wince.  "But what if the reason for the hurt is those people?" he asked softly.

"You know what? It usually is," Emily replied. She was silent for a long time; Johnny felt her considering her next words carefully. "I don't think you can love someone without somehow hurting them, even when it's the last thing you want to do. But when people love each other, they figure out how to get through that."

Johnny shook his head. "This loving stuff...it's hard for me, you know. I thought it would be easier."

Emily took his hands and led him back to the bale of hay. She guided him down and sat beside him, leaning into him. He felt some of the darkness fade away in her warmth. He continued,  "I never really loved anybody since...well, it's been a long time, 'cause when I lost her it hurt real bad, and I swore I would never hurt like that again. As good as I got with my gun, that's how good I was at keeping from getting hurt. It was all the same, you know?"

"That's so sad," Emily said quietly.

Johnny nodded. "After I got over hating Murdoch, after enough time went by, I guess I began to understand love a little. But then I met you, and when I figured out I loved you, I realized that..." Johnny surprised himself by chuckling a little. "Well, first of all I realized that you could hurt me . But mostly I realized I could hurt you. I could hurt you without ever meaning to, because I was Johnny Madrid." 

He stopped to fill his lungs with air. Without thinking he reached his arm around Emily and pulled her closer. More darkness ebbed away.

"I thought it would be because of the bad things I'd done. But it wasn't. I did a good thing by helping Carla, but that's the thing that caused you to be hurt. I just don't know what to do with that. "

"I wasn't the only one hurt, was I?" she asked gently.

Johnny sighed as he squirmed a bit to get a better look at her. "Why do you do that?" he asked, exasperated.                                                                                                                                    

"Do what?"

"Be so selfless. So sweet. So goddamn noble." And why did he felt the beginning of a smile on his face?

"But you do it, too." He saw the tiniest hint of a smile on her lips as well. "You're so worried about me being hurt, you can't even see that you're hurt, too. When you love someone, their hurts are yours and yours are theirs. You can't separate them."

Johnny considered her words. "Well, damn," he said. Emily laughed out loud.

God, it was good to hear her laugh. Johnny smiled.  "So I get twice the pain for loving someone?"

Emily nodded. "But you get twice the good stuff, too. It's just that we haven't had a lot of good stuff lately. Oh, we will," Emily looked over at her dog and her face clouded.  "But maybe not today."

"Oh, honey, I'm sorry about him," Johnny said. They sat in silence, but his arm was around her, and her head was nestled in the hollow of his neck. The passing of the ugly old dog was a sad thing, but they would get through it. "He was a good ol' dog."

She nodded as Johnny squeezed her. "He meant a lot to me."

 "I'll take him back to your place and bury him, if you want," Johnny offered.

She cleared her throat. "That would be nice. Thank you."

"You're welcome, pretty lady."

"I have something else to tell you, Johnny," Emily said.

 He looked at her apprehensively, but she smiled reassuringly. "It's something my grandma told me."

"Your grandma with the farm?"

Emily nodded. "She told me 'Don't be afraid'."

" 'Don't be afraid.' That's it?" He wasn't sure he understood.

Emily nodded again. "That's everything, Johnny. It's a lot harder than it sounds. Pain is inevitable; so is love. You can't avoid either one. Don't be afraid." She straightened beside him and looked deep into his eyes; the last of the darkness fled.

"You know what? Your grandma was a very wise woman."  He kissed her and held her close; he was no longer afraid.

 

 

~ end ~

Part of the Widow series. Click here for the order of stories

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