The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Doreen

 

 

A Question Of Loyalty

A QUESTION OF LOYALTY


It was the last day of the month and pay day. Already dark outside, the main saloon in Green River was hazy with smoke and full to capacity. Rowdy cowpokes jostled for space at the bar, while several tables were occupied by seasoned card players, some playing poker, others blackjack.

Johnny Lancer leaned forward in his seat and held the cards dealt him tight against his chest. With his other hand he grabbed his glass and took a long swallow of its contents. It was his first beer in quite a while, and he gratefully appreciated its cooling effect as the liquid quickly disappeared down his throat.

“So where's that brother of yours? Not like him to miss out on a few games of poker when given the chance.”

As he set his empty glass down Johnny glanced over at his old friend and town sheriff, Val Crawford. A hint of a guilty look flashed across his face as he wiped his lips dry on his jacket sleeve. “Scott, being Scott, decided he'd rather spend his time making sense of the monthly accounts than having some fun time relaxing. So I left him to it.”

“He gave up his night-off to do paperwork?” Val's tone was disbelieving as he studied his own cards.

“I told him Murdoch would sort them out when he gets back, but you know Scott. Once he sets his mind to tackle a job, he won't rest till it's done.”

After giving a silent nod to the dealer for another card to be sent his way, Johnny critically examined his poker hand. He then threw the worthless cards onto the table with a look of disgust.

Having beaten his other three adversaries, Val chuckled as he laid his own winning hand down and raked in a pot of loose silver and a few dollar notes. “Looks like this could be my lucky night boys.”

Johnny watched him and fought hard to stifle a yawn. He then reached for his hat.

“You're going already?”

Johnny couldn't miss his friend's incredulous expression and nodded an answer at the question. “Sorry Val. I'm whacked. It's been hard work keeping things running smoothly on the ranch with Murdoch and Teresa away in San Francisco . Guess it's taken more out of me than I realized.”

Val didn't dispute the response while watching the bone-weary young man as he pushed back his chair and started to move away. “Before you go John, there's one thing you should know,” he said in a serious tone. “The next time you're in town you better be ready to lose at least a month's pay to me before you leave the poker table. Otherwise I might just have to throw you in jail for a breach of the law.”

Johnny twisted his head round and could see his old friend's face break out into a teasing grin. “You gotta deal sheriff,” he agreed, returning the smile, and with a farewell wave disappeared out through the batwing door.

****

 

Outside Johnny walked slowly along the sidewalk as he gathered his thoughts. The excuse he'd given for leaving was only true to a point. There was another, more pressing reason, to head back to Lancer.

Since a mysterious and official-looking envelope arrived for Scott the week before, it was obvious the contents had left him with something serious and troubling on his mind. Often Johnny would find his brother sitting and staring as though toward a far distant horizon, his thoughts obviously far away. However, whenever he was asked what was wrong, Scott only gave a tight-lipped smile or cut him short, before changing the subject.

He'd asked Scott again early that evening what was the problem, but once more he'd refused to open up. Instead he brushed aside his worried concerns with false laughter and a shake of the head. This left Johnny to air his frustration at his brother's silence by heatedly declaring he was going to town where the company was more friendly and forthcoming. Adding a few well chosen expletives for effect, he'd then slammed the front door hard and loud behind him as if to emphasize the point.

Johnny recalled how tired Scott looked as he'd listened to his angry tirade without comment, his eyes red rimmed as though from lack of sleep. He felt a pang of remorse to have left his elder brother tackling the long columns of figures while in such a weary state. Why hadn't he offered to lend a hand instead of rushing out like a spoilt petulant brat?

‘Damn,' he silently cursed, settling his hat more firmly on his head. Leaving in such a way didn't sit comfortable with him, for he and Scott had hardly exchanged a heated word since the first day they'd met.

Reaching his tethered palomino, Johnny gave his mount an affectionate pat before burying his face into the warmth of the long golden neck. ‘Reckon it's time to go face the music, Barranca,' he whispered. He was answered by a quiet whinny and nod of the head.

Johnny heaved a heavy sigh and untied the reins. He eased himself up into the saddle, and with a slight feeling of trepidation, headed out of town towards home.

****

 

With the light from a full moon to help him on his way, once safely back at the ranch, Johnny stabled his horse and then made towards the imposingly built, white-washed hacienda.
After hanging up his hat and gun belt behind the door, he entered the main downstairs room. Immediately he noticed his father's desk was as he'd last seen it a few hours before. There'd been no obvious attempt to sort out the paperwork, for ledgers and receipts were still strewn across the top in a muddled and disorganized fashion.
Johnny's gaze soon settled on his brother sitting in a chair by the side of the fire. He was staring into the flames with a bottle in one hand and a small glass in the other.
Suddenly aware of his presence, Scott looked over with a vaguely glazed expression. Their eyes met and for a moment neither man spoke, then Scott broke the silence. “I thought you said you'd make a night of it and maybe even stay over in town.”

Johnny walked slowly towards him and slumped down on the couch. “Yeah, well, truth is, once I got there I wasn't in the mood for a long session. Just ain't the same without you alongside me, sharing the fun.”

Scott shifted uncomfortably at the disclosure, knowing he'd been the cause of his ruined night out. He heaved a sigh. “Look, I'm sorry Johnny. I know I've not been the best of company lately. It's just that I've had a lot on my mind and...”

Johnny interrupted. “No Scott. I might as well come straight out with it. I behaved like a jerk earlier and I'm the one who needs to apologize.”

Between the two of them there was then an unspoken understanding as they exchanged a friendly, brotherly glance. “Let's call it quits,” Scott finally offered as a solution with a sheepish grin.

Johnny smiled and nodded, relieved the air was somewhat cleared and peace now settled between them. He gestured towards the desk. “What happened to the book-keeping? I thought you wanted to get it finished tonight.”

“After you'd gone I couldn't be bothered, so decided to have a one-man celebration on my own instead,” Scott admitted as he filled his glass again with another shot. He swallowed down the contents in a single gulp and gave a satisfied sigh as the alcohol settled warm in the pit of his stomach.

“You do realize this is Murdoch's most expensive brandy?” Johnny asked as he took the half-empty bottle from his brother's grasp and stared at the label. “He had a half-dozen shipped over special from ‘Frisco weeks ago. Open one at your peril while I'm gone, he told me.”

Scott shrugged his shoulders, seemingly unconcerned at the threat of his father's wrath. “I didn't know, but too late to worry about it now. Pour yourself a glass and join me.”

With a shake of the head at the invitation, Johnny grinned knowingly as he placed the brandy on a small table by his side. “No thanks, but nice try Scott. You're on your own when the old man notices how much has vanished and he starts to dish out any blame.”

Realizing his ploy hadn't worked, Scott gave a quiet chuckle. “You're getting far too smart for your own good. I've obviously taught you well,” he responded with a lighthearted slurring. He went to take hold of the bottle again, but felt a hand on his arm pulling him back. “Don't you think you've had enough?”

After a moment's deliberation, Scott leaned forwards and pointedly tapped a finger into Johnny's chest. “You know something little brother, you're beginning to turn into our father,” he admonished, but immediately sank into his chair without further protest. “Though you're quite right; I have drunk more than I should.”

He placed his glass next to the bottle, then stared again at the fire, seemingly mulling over something in his mind. “I don't suppose you realize what today is, do you?”

Johnny considered with a thoughtful frown then shook his head. “Apart from it being pay day, no, can't say that I do. Not your birthday is it?”

Scott gave a wry smile. “No, it's not my birthday. Today is exactly a year since we first met on that stage to Morro Coyo. Remember?”

Raising an eyebrow at the unexpected revelation, Johnny let out a low whistle. “Yeah, I remember. A whole year on Lancer, well what'd you know.”

“We've had a good time together over the past twelve months, haven't we brother.” At Scott's words past memories flooded back for the two men.

“Sure have,” Johnny agreed and then laughed. “Apart from being shot, beaten up, run out of a couple of towns, I'd say we've had an excellent year.”

Scott couldn't help but chuckle, yet soon his smile faded as he took out an envelope from his shirt pocket.

Johnny recognized it immediately as the one received days before, and watched as Scott fingered it thoughtfully. “Since we first met I've always tried to be honest with you and Murdoch, but there's one thing I've held back. There just never seemed to be the right time, till now…”

As his voice trailed Johnny sensed something ominous was about to be told his way. He wiped a hand across his mouth and waited.

Now clearly sobered up, Scott took a deep breath as he thought back in time. “After finishing at Harvard, my life was mostly an aimless round of drinking, gambling and women. Poor Grandfather despaired of me at times, even threatened to cut me off without a penny if I didn't change my ways.”

Pausing a moment, Scott swallowed a groan of shame at the memory of the kind of man he'd become during those days. He inwardly shook away the thought and went on.

“To escape Boston society for a while, I went to stay with an old friend in Washington . While there I met my former commanding officer from the war, General Sheridan. He asked what I was doing. I said, apart from wasting my life, not much. Knowing my expertise and background, he suggested I re-enlist. He guaranteed I'd be promoted to captain after a short period of training, and then would recommend I serve in the newly formed 7 th Cavalry under George Custer. Have you heard of him?”

Johnny pondered for a moment at the vaguely familiar name. “Reckon I read somewhere he's been campaigning against the Sioux and Cheyenne in the Indian Territories . Is that right?”

Scott nodded. “Must admit I was sorely tempted by the idea and Sheridan gave me a month to think about it. I returned to Boston and within the week I'd made up my mind to accept his proposal. Then the Pinkerton man Murdoch paid to find me showed up. Much as I now wanted to pursue an Army career, I couldn't resist the chance to head for California , and finally get together with the father I'd never met.”

“As well as making one thousand dollars in the process,” Johnny interjected with a faint grin.

Scott slowly smiled. “Yes, that was an added bonus,” he wryly acknowledged, then went back to his narrative. “Out of respect I returned to Washington to explain to Sheridan in person my reason for turning his offer down. He was more understanding than I expected. Told me he didn't want to lose such a potentially ambitious officer, and was prepared to keep the position as Custer's aid open for a year in case things didn't work out for me here. It seemed the perfect solution so I agreed and we shook hands on it.”

Scott took out a piece of paper from the envelope and studied the contents carefully. “This was from Sheridan , reminding me if I still wanted to take up the position on Custer's Staff I needed to let him know as soon as I received his letter. To say I was flattered to think he still wanted me was an understatement. However I was left in somewhat of a quandary. Do I stay here on the ranch and continue the partnership with you and Murdoch? Or should I take up the chance of making a name for myself by carving out a career under Custer?”

With his story concluded, a heavy silence now hung in the air. Shaken by what he'd been told, Johnny rose from his seat. He stalked towards the window, and with arms crossed, stared blindly out into the darkness for several seconds.

He inwardly cursed as the thought of his brother leaving painfully churned at his insides. Conscious of a blue-eyed gaze boring into him, he eventually turned and gestured around the well decorated room, his voice now raised angrily. “I can't believe you have to think about what you should do Scott! You're prepared to give all this up just so you can go play at tin soldiers again?”

Refusing to be drawn into an argument, Scott eyed him with a calming smile. “I seem to recall you were ready to give it all up once brother. ‘I got a lot of places to go before they box me in' you said, if I remember correctly.”

Johnny made a scornful snort at the memory. “That was different and you know it,” he returned. “Besides I never went anywhere…I stayed.”

“Only because Wes got himself killed before you had the chance to take off together with that stallion in tow.”

Knowing he couldn't argue the point, Johnny sighed in defeat. He made his way back to the couch and sank down; loyalty to his brother painfully divided.

All he wanted was Scott to be happy, and if that meant he left to fulfill a long standing dream, he'd give him all of his support. Yet without him around playing an important role in his life, Johnny could also see the years ahead empty, bleak and without much meaning.

He raked a hand through his hair and swallowed back a feeling of helplessness. “So the question is, where's your allegiance gonna be from now on Scott?” he tentatively asked, his voice flat. “With the military or Lancer? Have you made up your mind?”

Scott heard his dejected tone and gave him a sympathetic gaze. “I guess in my heart I knew what I was going to do from the first moment I read Sheridan 's letter. It just took you leaving in such a temper earlier to confirm it.”

Johnny suddenly froze, heart hammering loud in his chest. So it was his stupid behavior which was to send Scott away. Why couldn't he be more like him? Scott didn't slam doors; throw tantrums when he was mad. He was the finest brother a man could have; a brother who once gone, he'd probably never see again.

That was something Johnny couldn't bear to think about.

He sank his head back on the edge of the couch and looked up at the ceiling, swallowing back the sob he could feel forming. Now was not the time for tears…they would come later, in the privacy of his room. “I'm gonna miss you Scott, but you're right to go. You'll make a real fine officer and don't worry about the ranch. I'll manage…we'll all manage without you around.”

Scott looked mystified and said nothing. Then as a realization dawned, the corner of his mouth lifted slightly and a mischievous glint appeared in his eyes. He often knew what his brother was thinking, and was sure he wasn't wrong this time. “Captain Scott Lancer, US Cavalry. Has quite a ring to it, don't you think Johnny?”

Johnny sighed in resignation and nodded dumbly.

“Yes, I think I could get used to being addressed that way. Shame it's not going to happen though.”

It took a moment before Johnny took in what had been said. His eyes narrowed on Scott's face. “What are you saying?”

“I'm saying I'm not going.”

“But…but you said you made your mind up when I stormed out.”

Scott tried not to laugh at his bewildered expression. “That's right little brother. With your temper and knack for getting yourself into trouble, how could I leave you to fend for yourself? Someone's got to keep an eye on you and make sure you make it past thirty,” he teased with a smile.

Suddenly aware how tight he was clutching the letter and envelope in his hand, Scott scrunched them firmly together. He threw the paper into the fire, his expression now serious as he stared into the consuming flames. “When you disappeared out the door, it just took the thought of never seeing you, or Murdoch again, to make me truly realize I couldn't leave Lancer. This is where I belong, where we all belong; taking care of each other, no matter what.”

As he felt his eyes moisten, Scott waited a moment to regain his composure before his gaze returned to Johnny. He smiled with genuine affection towards his younger sibling. “You look like you could do with a brandy or even two,” he said, his voice still husky with emotion. “But don't worry. I swear when Murdoch asks who drunk it all, my lips will be sealed about your participation in its disappearance. After all that's what brothers are for, isn't it? To watch each other's backs?”

 

 

~ end ~

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