The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Doc

 

 

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

Based on the 1968-70 TV Western Lancer, and the thoughts of a horse crazy 14 year old girl who watched Westerns for the horses and discovered cowboys, and who learned 45 years later that she wasn't the only one…


They met at a fiesta held at the big ranch. He danced one or two dances with Theresa and other pretty young women; she danced with Murdoch, then went into the house.

He followed her into the library; she was looking at Murdoch's books when he entered. She figured he was Johnny Lancer but he did not introduce himself; neither did she. He apologized for interrupting her. She explained that she often borrowed books from Mr. Lancer's wonderful collection. Do you enjoy reading? she asked. Nah, not much, and he looked down almost shyly. He wondered why she wasn't dancing; she wondered the same about him. He said he enjoyed watching folks, especially when they were happy and having a good time. She agreed, returning his small smile. He said he didn't remember seeing her before. I've been in mourning for my late husband until recently she said quietly. The silence got awkward. She took her books and her leave. He stayed in the library as it grew darker.

 

Several weeks later he appeared at her house. By now he knew that her husband had worked for Murdoch Lancer as a handy man and had been killed just before Johnny and Scott arrived a year ago. He was greeted by a little old dog who barked a couple of times, then settled back down to sleep. She was not there, but had left cookies for the workman she knew was coming from the main ranch to help her with some of the chores. He tackled a few jobs and was relaxing on the porch, petting the dog when she rode back in.

He told her he had not known that she was the Widow Morris when he met her in the library, and he offered his belated condolences. He hadn't expected a widow to be so young he said, smiling a bit. She smiled back, and told him her late husband had been older than her; when he died Mr. Lancer kindly allowed her to stay in the little house her husband had built for them. In return, she raised chickens so that Lancer had eggs.  She had helped Theresa to run the household, and sometimes she cooked or cleaned at the main house when Theresa wasn't able. The fiesta was her first public appearance after her year of mourning.

She put her horse away and offered to rest Johnny's for a while in the cool barn.  He walked in with her; in the barn were several goats, four horses, and the chickens. Two of the horses were hers; the other two belonged to local ranchers and were staying with her to be “fixed”.

So is it true what they say? Johnny asked. I heard you can talk to animals. No, she said. We don't talk; but I do know things about them. She compares what she does to what he does-she watches. She smiled to remind him of his remark in the library. You can learn a lot by just watching she says. Being still and watching. He smiled again.

They talk. They talk about watching people and animals, and how somehow in the watching, you start to know things, Johnny told her he had been watching people all his life; he had to. He surprised himself when he said that. He liked watching horses, too. She told him she did, too. That's where she was when he arrived today-watching a small herd of mustangs.

He rode back to Lancer marveling at how similarly they saw the world. She made herself dinner marveling at how different they were.

 

Weeks passed. They thought frequently of each other. She remembered his half smile and his shy voice; he remembered the steadiness of her gaze and her quick wit. Once day Johnny spied her sitting quietly on a horse, looking into the distance. He rode up noisily, scaring away the horses she was watching; she didn't mind. They were happy to see each other; Johnny invited her back to the ranch with him for supper.

The table conversation was about her late husband-how he could make anything, fix anything, and was kind and decent. Johnny was uncomfortable; she tried to help by asking him what he enjoyed doing, but he couldn't think of anything to say. Scott saved the day with small talk about horses.

After dinner they rode slowly back to her house. In the dusk, in the open, he talked more easily. He admitted he had little schooling and was somewhat intimidated by her love of books-and by the husband who could do anything. She offered to read to him so he can enjoy the story without worrying about knowing all the words; he didn't refuse, but he seemed amused by the suggestion.

He began to tell her about his life before Lancer. He told her he had been a hired gun who killed men.  That he had lived from day to day, no entanglements, no responsibilities. That after a few years he came to realize that what he thought was freedom was really a form of hell. That he had taken up with some revolutionaries who had no money to pay him but who wanted his help standing up for the land that was theirs. He found something admirable about them, helped them; he was captured; and he was seconds away from death when his father's money saved him.

The interesting thing was, he said, that he was ready to die just then. There was no reason to go on living. But now, he had a father, a brother, greater wealth than he had ever imagined, and a ranch that required such hard labor that he was too tired to get into any trouble. Or much trouble, anyway.

She had listened silently and wanted to know more, but they had arrived back at her house. The dog met them, and followed wherever she went. Johnny told her that was the ugliest dog he had ever seen, and she agreed, smiling. She took Johnny's hand at her door, looked at him, thanked him for the dinner, the evening, and the conversation. They kissed.

Johnny began coming to visit. They talked, they rode together, she showed him the language of animals, how to know what they were seeing and hearing and even thinking. Sometimes they rode into a nearby town and watched people so Johnny could show her what he saw. They enjoyed each other's company and felt easy together. Their silences were comfortable. They teased and laughed a lot.

He shared more details of how he grew up an orphan, wild, scared, hungry; and how he learned to defend himself. He learned to shoot because that's all there was for him to do, and he was good at it. It made people respect him. He told her that he adored women because women were kind to him. She told him of her upbringing with a loving mother and father, an education, enough money to travel a bit. When her parents died in an epidemic she married Mr. Morris-she didn't love him, but he took good care of her, and allowed her to finish her education. When they moved out west she was doubtful, but she grew to love the country, and grew to love her husband as well.

When Mr. Morris was killed Murdoch Lancer's generosity had meant the world to her. Her life now was simple, interesting, and quiet. She'd be lonely if not for the animals. She kept notes on the behavior of the horses she watched, and occasionally sent them to a university professor she knew who was gathering  natural history about horses-but she sent them under her late husband's name so they would not be rejected.

They discussed a future together. The thought scared them both.

One night a storm came up while she was visiting Lancer. She stayed the night, but instead of sleeping in the guest room she sat up with Johnny in the library and read out loud to him. He was captivated by Dickens; she read until the lamps gave out. As the sun rose they fell asleep in each other's arms.

Reading out loud became an evening ritual whenever they were together. In return, he taught her to shoot, to rope, to drive a buckboard.  She watched, horrified, as he broke a horse. Later she showed him a different, gentler way of training horses. They were recognized as a couple-albeit a highly unlikely one-by the community. They stopped discussing the future to enjoy the moments they had together instead.

Johnny sometimes went away without a word for days at a time. She missed him while he was gone but was happy he came back. Sometimes he came to her house and she wasn't there; he knew she was watching horses, or working in town for a day or two, raising extra cash by teaching or writing for folks who needed help.

He thought she was funny, and smart, and strong and beautiful, and loving. She thought he was charming, and caring, and good looking, sweet, and a little dangerous. She loved his voice.  Her horses and the ugly old dog approved of Johnny. The goats didn't care. Scott, who also approved, said this was likely the most boring relationship Johnny had ever had. He meant it as a compliment.

 

They didn't know they were being watched that day in town. Johnny took her home, then continued back to Lancer. During the night two men broke into her house. They were old friends of Johnny's, they said, and they wanted to return some favors.

She said nothing. They slapped her around a while to make her tell them where Johnny was, when he would be back; it didn't work. One man raped her while the other watched for Johnny to return. Hours passed; when she refused to cook for them they beat her and raped her again.

Night fell again. When she thought they might be asleep she snuck out to the barn and began to ride away without a saddle or bridle, but she only got a few yards before they roped her horse, and then her. They dragged her a ways, then dragged her back to the barn and left her there.

 

They didn't close the barn door, and the goats and the dog headed down the lane, away from bad men, towards Lancer. It was too much for the old dog, going away from her; he stopped and lay panting by the side of the lane. As the sun came up the goats strayed slowly until they met up with Johnny, riding out for an early morning visit.

He saw the goats and was puzzled. He saw the dog by the side of the road and became alarmed, because the dog was always where she was. Two unfamiliar horses stood in the corral. All the animals were silent.

His old friend appeared on the porch, gun drawn. Johnny stopped. He recognized the man as a degenerate he had known a lifetime ago, in hell, when he was on the path to become just like him.

What's going on? Johnny asked.

I owed you one, Madrid, and I paid you back. You took a woman away from me; I just took one away from you.

Where is she? He thought his voice would quaver, but it was low and steady. Time stopped. (Dear god where was she?)

I asked you a question he said as he dismounted, slowly, watching…

He saw his horse's ears swivel behind him and he wheeled, drawing his gun, to see a second man at the door of the barn. The man on the porch shot a warning shot towards Johnny, who froze.

The fat man on the porch smiled and holstered his gun. She's in the barn, I believe. Let's go see. Drop your gun.

Johnny dropped his gun.

Johnny's brain always worked fast, calculating positions and angles and approaches and odds. But now there was no action in his brain at all, just a black space filled with fear.  What would he see? He walked to the barn door.

He saw her curled up on the barn floor, her back to him, naked, bloody, but breathing thank god she was breathing. The old dog had come back to her. The horses were loose in the barn standing over her.

Johnny dropped to his knees beside her, touched her gently on the shoulder, winced as she moaned and said No please no.

It's all right, it's me, it's Johnny he told her, and the tears came to his eyes and he began to shake. He looked up to see a gun pointed at her head. He roared and jumped up, grabbing the gun as he bowled over its owner. He heard shots being fired through a red haze. He rolled to one side, saw the fat man shooting towards him and shot him from the ground. Shot again just to be sure. Turned to the man whose gun he had grabbed and bashed his head on the floor again and again and again.

She hadn't moved.  It's all over he told her, shaking. You're gonna be fine. Let's get you back to the house. And he picked her up and carried her to her bed, where he covered her in blankets, started the fire in the stove because she was so cold, started to wipe away the blood but stopped for fear of hurting her more. I'm going to get the doctor he said but she opened her eyes and said no, Johnny, don't leave me and he couldn't.

He wrote a note. It said At Morris's. She's hurt. Get the doc. Hurry. J

He pulled out a pouch that had money in it, dumped out the money and put in the note. He ran outside to his horse, pulled off the saddle and bridle, looped a rope around his neck with the pouch attached, then shooed him out the gate knowing he would go home to Lancer. He hoped he would run all the way.

Johnny boiled water for warmth and for tea. He soaked a cloth in the tea and put it between her lips for her to suck at. He saw the bruises on her face, the blood at her nose and lips, and noticed her hair had been chopped off. As he watched she seemed to grow more pale, colder, her breathing less noticeable. He rubbed her hand and implored her to stay with him. She seemed to respond to his voice so he began to sing. He didn't know he knew any decent songs, but found himself singing Spanish hymns and lullabies, words and music that had lain dormant in his soul until this moment.

Scott arrived on a fast horse. He ran into the house shouting for Johnny. He entered the bedroom and was shocked at her beaten face, and at Johnny's tears, and the way Johnny looked up at him haunted, defeated. I can't leave her Johnny said. Take your gun and check the barn. There should be two bodies in there.

Scott checked and found the two dead men. He returned to the house, shaken. He heard Johnny singing softly; it brought tears to his eyes. What can I do? Johnny shook his head. Help me keep her alive.

It seemed like days before the doctor arrived. With him were Murdoch and Theresa. When the doctor sent the men out of the room Johnny could barely walk.

They wanted to know what had happened. Johnny said that he had helped a woman escape from the clutches of a violent boyfriend and it was that boyfriend who lay dead in the barn, along with his brother. That if he had known this would happen to her he would never have come to Lancer, never given anyone the chance to hurt her this badly. That she would not be able to forgive him for causing this to happen to her, that he could never forgive himself. And then he put his face in his hands and sobbed, as Murdoch and Scott stood grimly by.

The doctor came out to say that she had been badly abused but he thought she would live. She will have a lot of pain for a while, here I'll leave this laudanum for that. She needs warmth and sleep right now. Johnny, she asked for you.

It took a while before she was coherent. Johnny stayed with her, tended to her, talked and sang to her, read to her. The old dog stayed on the foot of her bed. Sometimes he crept up beside her and nudged his head under her hand to make it seem as if she was petting him. Johnny let him do that.

Finally she awoke as if from a fever. Johnny's head was on her bed as he slept in a chair beside her; he woke to her touching his hair. Her eyes met his and she smiled. I knew you'd be here she said. His tears this time were tears of joy. He fluffed up some pillows and gently pushed them behind her. The effort of sitting up was excruciating and exhausted her. But she had a little bit of an appetite, and was glad Theresa was in the kitchen to make her an egg and some tea.

Johnny, I was so scared they would kill you. I tried everything I could think of to get away or to warn you, but there was nothing I could do.

He couldn't answer. It's all my fault he kept thinking. It's all my fault.

I had a dream, she told him later. I dreamed I was hurt so bad that I was dying, and that I could hear angels singing in heaven. They sounded so beautiful, Johnny, and I wanted to hear them more closely. And as I went to heaven one angel's voice was clearer than all the rest. And even though I didn't understand the words I knew this angel was singing to me. Then I realized that this angel was taking me away from heaven, away from death, and back into life, and I was so happy! I wish I knew the words he was singing, but I guess I never will because I don't speak angel.

She smiled at him. Or Spanish…

When she was strong enough to ride in the buggy they took her back to the Lancer ranch, where she could be more easily cared for as she healed. No one objected to the old dog coming too, although dogs had never been allowed inside the house before.

As her recovery settled into a routine of sorts, Johnny began growing quieter. She no longer needed constant attention; he returned to work around the ranch; he talked less and less; some days she barely saw him at all.

 She became afraid he was going to disappear, to go away from her so that his past couldn't catch up to her again. He hadn't said it to her but she knew he blamed himself. He refused to talk to her about it, withdrew deeper and deeper into his darkness. No one could reach him. Murdoch, Scott, Theresa-everyone soon began to share her fear that Johnny would go.

But it was the old dog that disappeared instead. After a day or two of not eating well, he went outside and did not come back in. She knew he had gone away to die. He had been a good old dog for so long, and had helped her so much when she needed him, that it did not seem right he should die alone. She went looking for him.

Johnny was sitting quietly in the barn when she walked slowly in. He started to say something to her but stopped. She asked if he had seen the ugly old dog as she began looking in the kind of places the old dog liked. Johnny watched her. She found the old dog, barely alive, curled up underneath a hay rack. She sat down next to him, pulled the old dog into her lap, cradled his head in the crook of her arm as she stroked him gently, lovingly. Her tears fell on the old dog's head as he breathed his last. When he was gone she continued to hold him, rocking, petting him, crying.

Johnny was still there. Watching. Blue eyes guarded, kind, sad, watching her and that ugly old dog.

Oh, he said so softly. Please don't cry. I can't bear it.

Sudden anger rose up in her. You can't bear it? she said as she looked up at him. She laid the old dog's body on the floor.  What can't you bear, Johnny? My tears? My scars? My existence? You can't bear to be with me because I'm a constant reminder of your guilt. Your stupid, arrogant guilt. You are so puffed up with your own arrogance that you think what happened to me was your fault. It wasn't, Johnny. It was just some stupid hurtful mean people looking for an excuse to make other people hurt as much as they did.

And they are succeeding, you bastard, because you are leaving me. They have driven you away. You walk around like a ghost, you won't talk to me, I can't even touch you.

You pulled me back from heaven. How dare you leave me to go to hell?

She was standing now, raging, crying and he stood silently in front of her, listening, taking it. She began to beat him furiously with her weak fists and he did not move to stop her.

What can I do? he whispered.  The only way to keep you safe is to go away where my old life was so I can keep it there, away from you. But I can't bring myself to leave. I hated myself for not leaving, and I hated myself for wanting to leave, and I hate myself for what happened to you.

He opened his arms to her, and they hugged in an angry, desolate embrace. Her voice quieted. I love you, Johnny. Your past made you who I love. If you hate yourself how can you let anyone love you? Please let me love you…

He held her tightly while he listened. I love you, too he answered, and I want you to love me. I just don't know how.

You knew before, she said. Before all this happened. We were in love and we loved each other just fine. I want us to be there again. You need to figure out how to understand that none of this was your fault. You need to heal yourself from that, so that we can learn to love each other all over again.

Can you do that?

He kissed her. I will, he said.



~ end ~

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

 

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