The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Sherry

 

 

For You To See The Stars

Special thanks to Mary Branch for the beta.

It's gotta get dark enough
For you to see the stars
Shine like diamonds on black velvet
Love is just a word
Until you felt it even when life falls apart
Strong enough to break your heart
It's gotta get dark enough
For you to see the stars

Radney Foster
( https://www.wideopencountry.com/album-review-radney-foster-see-stars/ )

 

“Scott, you not gonna eat that?” Johnny pointed his fork at the chicken left untouched on his brother’s plate. All afternoon Johnny had watched Scott’s withdrawal—not only had he been quiet, but behind Scott’s rigid posture, thinned lips, and single word answers, a simmering anger had brewed not unlike one of Maria’s bubbling stews, about to boil out of the pot and pop its lid.

“Actually no, John.” Scott’s face was veiled with boredom and condescension—and as if to forestall Johnny from prying any further, he prattled on, “The meal certainly conforms with generally accepted standards for an establishment such as this. I however prefer a lighter touch with the spice jar.” Scott raised a brow, then placed his fork and knife down with a clang and started to rise to his feet.

“Is that it or are you bothered by that boy carrying that Dixie flag?” Johnny had seen how quiet his brother had been ever since the young man carrying the bars and stars had boarded their stage in Modesto.

Scott gave Johnny a gaze that would rival his own intimidating, Madrid stare. And it was not with a small amount of anger that he addressed Johnny as he lowered himself back to the chair, “You think you’re a mind reader? You assume that by simply observing someone that you know what’s going on whether it’s your business or not?” Scott punched his index finger to the table two times, once with each question asked. His face was red with anger, blue eyes flashing his displeasure.

“In my line of work, you learn to take notice. Misreading people can get you killed.” Johnny voice was soft and he met his brother’s stare with one of his own.

“Perhaps Johnny Madrid, gunfighter had to take notice but Johnny Lancer, rancher might need to mind his own business.”

“Maybe.” Downing his head, he looked up through dark lashes at his brother. “You still haven’t answered the question. You not eating ‘cause you don’t like the chicken or did seeing that flag pull up some bad memories that took your appetite?”

“Johnny. Leave this alone.” Scott’s voice was growing louder.

The din in the restaurant died down. Johnny could see some folks trying to see what was going on, others doing their best to focus on their eating and not see what was going on. He wished he’d done what Scott said and left it alone. Hell, he was just trying to help.

Scott tapped the table again. “This has nothing to do with you or anything that you’d know about. I don’t care to discuss my issues with someone that has no understanding or empathy for what it’s like to fight in support of a cause or see men suffer and die for that cause. When I call someone out for a gunfight, you’ll be the first one I discuss it with. Have I made myself clear?”

Everything and everyone in the place went dim for an instant. Johnny’s gut clinched as he stood to leave. There didn’t seem to be any oxygen in the room but he knew there was and he had to find some to breathe and get out of there.

Maybe Scott knew he’d gone too far and somewhere deep down Johnny realized his brother had lashed out from a place of pain and the words were thrown out like rock salt, designed to hurt just enough to get him to back off. Still, the wound had been deep and he was the one that needed space now and fast.

Scott tried to stop Johnny when he rose to make his exit. “Johnny, wait. I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to open up old wounds.”

“Is that right?” Johnny flattened a hand on the table to steady his stance and struggled to keep his voice firm as he looked into Scott’s blue eyes. “I wouldn’t want to do anything to open up old wounds. I best get back to gunfights and stuff I know about.” Johnny walked out of the Green River establishment with as much pride as he could muster.

The general store across the street blurred in his vision. He needed to get out of town in a hurry. Hearing his brother’s steps coming up behind him, Johnny picked up the pace to get to Barranca before Scott could catch him. He ignored the sound of his name being called as he mounted up and rode out of town.

****

Damn it. Scott rubbed his forehead as he watched Johnny ride out. He knew his hateful words had hurt his brother. Why lash out so? He’d been upset since seeing that flag, folded and clutched by a boy on the stage. They’d sat face to face, even bumped knees while he was being thrown into a vortex of bad memories he had thought long buried. Scott had almost panted sitting there in the heat—it was as though the oxygen that flowed through his open mouth didn’t reach his lungs. His hands shook so hard, his knuckles were white from where he’d gripped them together to keep the tremors stilled. In an effort to avoid contact, Scott had kept his eyes lowered, pretended to sleep, and ignored nudges and inquiries from Johnny until they arrived at their destination in Green River.

As soon as they had stopped, Scott had exited the stage first, grabbed his saddle bags and headed for the restaurant. Johnny’s spurs were jingling as he followed, calling his name. Johnny had held off with the questions until Scott had failed to eat. Then he had started with his get-to-the-bottom-of-it conversation.

Johnny’s inquiries had angered him, made him feel vulnerable and exposed...but that didn’t explain why he had exploded and hurt Johnny. The whole situation had left him out of control and that release of anger had calmed him. Still, when he’d seen his brother’s face, the hurt and pain, all calm had fled—replaced with something very close to fear.

He needed to catch Johnny and repair the damage to their relationship. Mounting his horse, he headed toward the ranch. With luck, he could find Johnny and make amends before either of them reached Lancer.

Johnny was long gone but the ride back gave Scott time to think. The clip clop of his horse, the stripes of sun and shade that washed the road, and a cooling breeze somehow soothed his troubled soul. The peace he’d found at Lancer was returning to him. He could think again.

When first heading West, he’d thought he was past reminders of a painful time; the echos and remnants of war that seemed to shred him inside out. Being reduced to tremors and waking sweat-soaked by nightmares was something that he still dealt with on occasion but what had happened today was unacceptable.

Scott hadn’t wanted Johnny to see him as weak and so he acted defensive and lashed out. Always being a private, introspective person, it wasn’t easy to share his feelings with others. Johnny was trying to help but this was something Scott wanted to think about alone.

How did Johnny know what set him off anyway? Damn him for being so intuitive. Sometimes that brother of his was like a mind reader and it could get downright aggravating when a man needed his privacy. Still, Johnny would have understood if he’d been kind and explained that it was a personal matter. He wished he’d not been so harsh to the one person in his life that he had a close connection with.

As he rode under the Lancer Arch, Scott looked around, no sign of Johnny or his horse. He dismounted and walked his own mount into the barn. Barranca’s stall was empty so Johnny hadn’t come home. He decided to let Robbie handle his horse and went to have the dreaded talk.
 
Scott entered the great room and saw his father with his head bowed over countless papers spread across his desk. Engrossed in ranch accounts, Murdoch dipped his pen, made a ledger entry, placed a receipt on a stack of papers, and reached for another before he heard his elder son’s footsteps. At the creak of a floor board, Murdoch looked up from his desk and a smile brightened his face, “Scott! You’re back a day early, and where’s Johnny? How did you do buying the stock?” Murdoch stood up so fast that some of the papers flew off the desk. His smile widened as he reached for Scott seeming to be glad to see him.

“Good, Murdoch, we bought the cattle under market price. Got everything we talked about.” Scott pulled some folded paperwork from his jacket pocket and handed it to his father. “It’s all in there, delivery dates, receipts...but Johnny, I think I upset him. I need to find him. I thought he’d be here.”

“Scott? What’s happened? Is Johnny okay?” Murdoch’s gladness from a minute ago disappeared and deep concern lined his face as he walked from his desk toward the sitting area. Murdoch spread his arm for Scott to join him.

“I-I’m not sure where Johnny could be—he left Green River, I thought he’d head this way. Murdoch, I said some things, some harsh things. I need to find him. Do you have any idea where he might go?”

“What happened, Son?”

Scott took a breath and looked into Murdoch’s troubled eyes. “Murdoch, I’d rather not talk about it right now.”

“Sit down Scott.” Murdoch’s commanding tone and Scott’s military training to follow orders of those in charge might have been why he found himself sitting next to his father ready to make a confession instead of an exit. Why he found himself ready to tell the whole miserable mess to his father was a mystery to him. Perhaps, finally having a real father to listen to him, to care about his life, his hurts and pain made a difference.

Scott took a breath and recounted the whole mess from the stage to when Johnny rode off in Green River. “Sir, I am ashamed of how I lashed out at Johnny. I was upset and frankly, I didn’t think he could relate to how I was feeling. Still, I shouldn’t have hurt him.”

Murdoch patted his son’s knee then rubbed a circle in the center of his back. “Son, I think we both could use a drink.” Murdoch moved to the sideboard and poured two whiskeys, handing one to Scott, he eased down beside him. With his eyes closed, Murdoch shook his head as if to remove from it a thought that chilled him and then he cleared his throat and began, “Scott, how much do you know about Johnny’s role in that revolution in Mexico, the one that landed him in front of a firing squad?”

Scott was startled. “What revolution? I didn’t know he was involved in a revolution.” Scott stood, then moved back toward his seat and slumped down hard into the upholstery, feeling the weight of the day. Shaking his head, he stared out the large window behind Murdoch’s desk. “Johnny never shared that he fought in any type of war.” Scott’s voice sounded defeated and he didn’t seem to see what was before him. After an instant, he turned his head toward Murdoch as if just realizing what his father had said and he raised his voice. “What firing squad?”

Murdoch sighed and shook his head. “Scott, I don’t want to break any confidences but considering the circumstance, you need to know that your brother lead a revolution, was arrested for it, and kept in a Mexican prison for months. He was starved and beaten before his death sentence was almost carried out. It was the Pinkerton agent hired by me that found him next in line to be executed by a firing squad.

“Oh my god, I didn’t know.” Scott lowered his head and then rubbed the heels of his hands over his damp eyes. Placing his elbows on his knees, Scott laced his fingers behind his neck and shook his head. “How could I be so callous? Murdoch, what must he think of me, of what I said?”

“Scott, you owe your brother an apology but in your own defense, you were upset and Johnny knows that—plus you didn’t know Johnny’s history. But Son, I do know this, you both have endured enough hurt from life. Make this right between the two of you.”

“Yes sir. I’ll do everything in my power to make this right. I just hope I haven’t damaged our relationship beyond repair.” Scott rubbed his forehead. This day had started so well. His reaction to a symbol of the past had destroyed it.

“Scott, how are you doing? I know you were upset before all this happened with your brother and now a bad situation has to be worse for you.” Murdoch’s understanding and compassion meant a lot to Scott.

The thoughts and words of both men were interrupted when greetings and sounds of shouts were filtered and muted by the large glass window. They moved for a better viewpoint which showed Johnny leaning against Barranca, one arm slung over the saddle. Cipriano had one hand on Barranca’s reins and another on the boy’s back. Johnny nodded and moved off toward the hacienda.

Johnny walked toward the front door with his head down. Gone was the usual liveliness and bounce to his step. He entered the room, looked first at his father, gave a brief glance at his brother and moved to the sideboard and poured a splash of tequila into a glass.

“Johnny.” Murdoch came to his youngest’s side, placed a fatherly hand on his shoulder then drew him into his embrace. “Good to have you home, Son.”

“Good to be home, Murdoch. Guess Scott told you we had good success.” Johnny placed an arm around his father’s back and he looked up at his concerned gaze and gave him a pat before he pulled back and picked up his drink. Johnny threw the shot of tequila back and set the glass down hard enough to rattle the decanter next to it.

“Yes, yes. Good job boys. Good to know we have the breeding stock coming and at below market price. Timing is perfect. Anything else we need to go over before dinner?”

“Not from me. I’m going to go up for a bit. See you at supper.” Johnny was out of the room without acknowledging his brother at all.

“Well that went well.” Scott stated when Johnny was out of ear shot.

Murdoch raised his brow and patted Scott’s arm. “You can make it right. And Son, if you need to talk, I’m always available.” He turned and walked out into the ranch yard leaving Scott to contemplate just how to do the impossible.

****

Teresa and Maria made a special dinner to welcome the boys home. Instead of the happy banter that filled the room at most meals, there was strained silence. The clanging of silverware and an occasional polite comment or question about the trip answered with short non-descriptive words made the quiet even more apparent. Dessert was served and the strained meal was coming to an end when Murdoch suggested that Scott and Johnny have an after dinner drink and a discussion in the great room. There seemed to be no doubt, the ‘tune caller’ meant it as an order not a suggestion.

Murdoch placed a drink in each of his sons’ hands. “I expect you to discuss what‘s bothering you...” Murdoch began and with a raised a brow he looked from Scott to Johnny.

“Old Man, you need to leave this alone. It’s between me and Scott.” Johnny interrupted and then killed his drink with one swallow. He made a determined stride toward the French doors and the patio when his father’s loud voice stopped him.

“Well, tomorrow, you two can take supplies to the line shack up at Sandy Fork where the new herd will be grazing. Make any repairs needed.” Murdoch continued his orders as if Johnny had never spoken. “Double check the fences and that feeder stream up there. It should already be cleared but I want no problems with dry water holes when the cattle get here.”

At this point, Scott and Johnny were both staring at their father as if to stop the issuing of orders. Murdoch stared back at his offspring—his voice went low and his index finger pointed first at Scott and then Johnny and he continued, “But most importantly, when you get back here I want to see that the air has been cleared between the two of you. You’re brothers. And blood is more important than anything. Now do what it takes to work this out.”

The room was quiet. Johnny sat down on the edge of Murdoch’s desk. His head was down. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he looked up at his brother. But Scott stood staring at their father with hands on both hips. Johnny scooted off the desk, and slammed his drink down. “Whatever you say Old Man. You want the air clear, then I guess we’ll clear it. Ain’t that right Boston?” He tapped his brother’s shoulder and went out the door with spurs jingling.

As soon as Johnny was out of the room, Scott could contain his ire no longer. “Sir, surely you realize that Johnny will never take a forced apology seriously. Your insisted ‘clearing of the air’ has ruined any chance that I might have of mending this rift between us.”

Murdoch turned so fast that Scott thought to himself ‘so that’s where Madrid gets his fast draw’. His father’s face reddened and he seemed to be working to keep his voice steady as he stepped closer, “Son, you created the rift and you will mend it. John seems amenable to my terms and I expect you both to do whatever is necessary to fix this and live peacefully and happily in this family. You do care about your brother, do you not?”

“Of course, I...I love Johnny.”

“Scott, perhaps I seem to be demanding too much concerning you and your brother.” Murdoch sat at his desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out his pipe and tobacco pouch. He had a faraway look in his eye as he begin filling the pipe. After a moment, he began to speak. “About a year before I left Inverness for this country, I had harsh words with my younger brother. His name was Lachlan, such a sweet boy, always happy—the two of us were close. It was a silly argument over a girl of all things.” Murdoch shook his head. “I thought she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen and I wanted to spend some time with her.” Scott smiled at his father and and Murdoch laughed a little. Laying the filled pipe aside, his face sobered and he continued. “But then I saw him flirting with her. I was so angry with him.”

Murdoch stopped his tale at this point. He rubbed his hands up and down his arms and downed his head seeming to summon courage to continue, he took a breath. “I loved Lachlan dearly. I’m sure I would have forgiven him and we would have made things right eventually as we had never let anything come between us before, not for long. But I was hanging on to my hurt, hanging on when truth be told, I’d already forgotten the girl.” Murdoch took a ragged breath before he could continue. “I’d give this ranch if I could go back and change things. Two days after our argument, Lachlan was swimming with some friends. He dove into a lake and drowned. He was a good swimmer…healthy. We never figured out exactly what happened but my brother died and my last words with him were hateful words and I’ll never forgive myself for that.”

The pain and grief were still in Murdoch’s eyes all these years later. With an affirmative shake of his head, Scott agreed with his father. “Sir, I understand. I’ll talk with Johnny and I will see that he truly understands how sorry I am. I appreciate the perspective and Sir, I’m sorry about your brother. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m going up to pack. You have my word, I’ll make this right with my brother.”

*****

Scott walked out of the room and headed up to pack. Neither he nor Murdoch were aware that Johnny sat in the kitchen not meaning to eavesdrop but having overheard the story, a single tear ran down his cheek. He knew how fragile life could be and how last words could be haunting and hurtful.

****

“How much more do you think we can fit in this wagon?” Johnny asked as he stacked a box of canned goods on top of the wooden planks. Scott handed him another box containing medical supplies and turned to get two more, one filled with nails and the other packed to the top with miscellaneous tools.

“Johnny, I think this is it.” Scott slammed down the last of the boxes. The conversation was easy between the brothers as they worked to load the wagon and get on their way.

Murdoch walked over to tell them bye. “Boys, I know you will work hard but take some time for yourselves. Fix this thing between you and enjoy some time together.” Reaching out with his long arms, he grabbed them and squeezed their shoulders. “Look after each other and stay safe.” Johnny could sense that his father had high hopes that they would return—all forgiven with their ties as brothers and their friendship as strong as before.

“Yes sir.” From Scott.

“Time off, Old Man? No arguing with that and yeah, I’ll look after Boston here.” Johnny tapped Scott’s chest and beamed his best grin back at his father. He hated for the Old Man to worry. Scott tied his horse to the back of the wagon and Johnny mounted Barranca. They were off to mend fences.

It was near noon and not a word had been spoken since they had left the Lancer Arch. Scott offered up the first olive branch in the form of food. “Johnny, want an apple?” Scott held up a large red apple.

The wagon stopped and Johnny made a slow turn to move along side the wagon motioning for a toss. Catching the treat, he pointed to the trail with the apple. “We could break for lunch but if we keep movin’ we’ll make the line shack ‘bout an hour.” Looking up at the clear sky and considering the good traveling weather, Johnny continued, “Wanna snack on apples and jerky, get there quick?”

“Suits me, brother. We do that, we’ll get the supplies unloaded and check the fence line today.”

Johnny nodded and moved Barranca back to the front of the wagon. Soon they were continuing on as before, silent but steady. Johnny figured that Scott wanted to make his apology or at least talk. There had not been a time that was right so far—maybe tonight. He wasn’t ready to sit down with his brother yet. He wasn’t angry. Scott had found it so easy to lash out at him and that hurt and the ache inside wasn’t gone yet. It was almost like a physical pain. What in the hell was wrong with him and why was this family thing so hard? Caring about people, it hurt. Maybe he was growing too soft.

Moving just to the edge of the trail he glanced back just as Barranca began to neigh, skitter sideways, and rear. “Woah boy, woah...” Then all hell broke lose. It was too late when the sound of rattles reached Johnny’s ears—the warning sound that caused his mount to rear and lose the footing that knocked him first into a sapling and then to the ground. Barranca regained the path but not in time for his startled master whose reactions were fast but not fast enough. Johnny was on his feet but not before he felt a sharp painful sting on his upper left arm. He backed up toward the path and began shooting.

*****

Scott was startled when his brother became unseated from Barranca and jumped up to start shooting. What was going on? Looking around for signs of danger and seeing none. Scott jumped from the wagon and with eyes searching for the cause of all the commotion, he made his way to his brother. “Johnny! What’s going on?”

Johnny looked at Scott and seemed to be a bit panicked. He grabbed his left arm and then pulled the bandana from his neck. “Help me.” And he began trying to tie it around his upper arm.

“Help you what?” Scott looked at his brother’s arm when Johnny ripped the sleeve downward. There was an angry and swollen area above the elbow that contained two bloody marks in the center. He knew then what it was but looked around anyway and was not surprised that a large snake was lying in the grass shot into pieces. Panic hit him. “Johnny! Oh my god! Here, sit down. Let me have that.” He grabbed the bandana from Johnny with shaking hands he placed it just above the angry bite marks on his brother’s upper arm and tied it just tight enough to slow the poison’s circulation.

Scott didn’t know a lot about snake bites but Johnny was already sweating and breathing hard and he looked worried. “Johnny, what do I need to do next?” Johnny didn’t answer but turned over and began to vomit. Holding him and trying to soothe him with useless words, Scott helped him to sit when he’d finished. His breathing was more ragged now. “Johnny, let’s get you to the wagon. We aren’t far from the line shack. We’ll decide what to do from there.

“Okay, help me get you up. Ready?” Johnny nodded and made it to his feet, swayed a bit, swung his right arm over Scott’s shoulder and step by step they moved to the wagon. With each move forward, Scott took more of his brother’s weight. By the time they made it to the wagon, Johnny’s legs were no longer carrying him. “Johnny, can you climb up to the seat? Please, move with me.” Somehow, they made it and Scott managed to get his brother lying across the wagon seat and he found himself holding Johnny’s head and upper body on his lap and they were moving toward the line shack again.

There was a neighing sound behind the wagon and when Scott looked back, Barranca ran up to follow the wagon. It was a good thing because he couldn’t do anything about searching for him and Johnny loved that horse.

He prayed they didn’t have far to go. “Hang on brother, just hang on.”

Scott pulled up and eased his brother’s head off his legs. He was as glad to see the rough line shack as an oasis in a desert—it was their haven. He jumped to the ground, grabbed Johnny under the arms, and started to pull his body toward him. He supported his brother’s back with one arm and patted his cheek, rubbing his thumb along his hot brow, he attempted to awaken him, “Johnny, Johnny, you with me?” A light fluttering of lashes was his only response. Johnny moaned and moved his arms in protest when Scott pulled him to a sitting position. His body was hot and Scott knew he needed to get his temperature down. He placed his shoulder at Johnny’s waist, leaned in and took his brother’s weight.

It was with great determination that Scott carried his burden to the line shack door and kicked it in. He paused inside and surveyed the space until he saw a straw mattress—three strides and he bent his knees to deposit his brother upon it, using his own body to cushion Johnny’s landing.

Scott loosened the bandana and winced at the swollen, discolored arm. His movements roused Johnny who pushed at Scott’s hands. “It’s okay, I’m trying to help you. You were bitten by a snake. Do you remember? Johnny, let me help you.”

Johnny’s eyes were trying to focus. “Scott, lo siento, I..I..need..to tell you,”

“Shhhh....rest for now. I need to get water and cool you down. Just rest.”

“No!...No! Don’t leave...let me tell you...” Johnny was grabbing on to Scott’s shirt, his eyes frantic as he tried to form the words to tell him something. “Can’t die... let you be like Murdoch....thinking...Scott....I don’t...don’t matter...I forgive you...don’t matter...if you hurt me.. don’t matter..te amo”

Scott tried to calm him but Johnny’s ragged breathing became tighter and tighter. Johnny was panicked and trying to find air. Scott worked to calm him and find a way to help him breathe easier with no success. Soon Johnny was no longer conscious and his lips were turning blue.

“Johnny. Johnny!” Scott couldn’t see that Johnny’s chest was moving at all. Shaking him, he still got no response. “Please, please breathe! Johnny!” Scott placed an ear to his brother’s chest. Was there any movement? “Breathe, damn it!” He yelled at Johnny and looked at the ceiling in a plea. When still nothing happened, he pulled Johnny to him in a desperate attempt to infuse life into his body, to hear a sign of life. And there it was—a ragged breath and Johnny’s lips begin to lose their awful purple hue. “Oh God, oh thank you, God!” Scott released a sob and held his brother to him. “Stay with me. Please stay with me.”

He whispered into Johnny’s ear. “I am sorry. Make it through this and I will never hurt you again. I promise you, brother, I will never say anything to hurt you again. You fight this and be okay. Please.” Scott eased Johnny’s head back to lie on a makeshift pillow Scott formed out of some linens left on the mattress.

Scott’s hands were trembling—his whole insides were shaking. He needed to pull himself together, make a plan, and save his brother’s life. He could do this. Others had survived and he would make sure that his brother would. Scott looked toward the ceiling and whispered a prayer.

Johnny was still struggling to get air into his lungs. Perhaps elevating his head more would help. Scott found and folded another straw mattress. Lifting his brother forward with one arm, he scooted the folded bedding underneath him. Johnny moaned and rolled his head, a welcome sound as it reassured that he was breathing.

Scott placed his hand on Johnny’s forehead and was not surprised to feel the heat there. The immediate need was for water. He headed to the wagon and gathered all the canteens and the box of medical supplies. The horses neighed and threw their heads around making their displeasure known at remaining harnessed. A pang of guilt hit Scott at leaving them unattended but they would have to wait until he had Johnny cooled down.

Cloth, he needed cloth to wet and use it to cool his brother’s fevered body. Scott found some towels and wet one with a canteen and wiped his brother’s neck, face, and upper body with the cool water. Then he took his hat and waved it back and forth like a fan to help cool his brother. Over and over he repeated the process until Johnny’s temperature seemed to be lowering.

While Johnny was cooler, Scott unharnessed the horses and grabbed a few other supplies. He’d found a crate with food, cooking utensils, another with more toweling and sheets, and a sack full of medicinal herbs Teresa had given them.

Arms full, Scott backed into the shack to open the door, he placed his bounty on the rough built table. Almost afraid to check, he rushed to Johnny’s side and found him holding his own, the cloth on his forehead was still damp but warmed by the heat from his fever. He’d found willow bark, echinacea, and camphor salve in the medical supplies. He hoped some tea brewed from the bark might reduce the fever and perhaps the camphor would help the bite-wound. He’d read that a poultice from echinacea would help with infection and prevent loss of tissue. He would try anything to help his brother.

****

Scott applied the camphor salve and the poultice he’d made from the echinacea to the wound. Johnny was restless. “Johnny, drink this.” Scott held the tin cup to his brother’s lips, determined to get some of the tea down. “Good job, one more sip and it’s all gone.”

Scott started the process once again of wiping his brother down, even dampened his shirt to get him cool. Over and over he wiped him with cool water and fanned him to get control of the fever. It was a battle that at times seemed to be lost but he would not give in. He lost track of time as the task was repeated over and over throughout the afternoon and into early evening.

“Johnny, can you hear me?” Scott could see no response. His own thoughts were running wild as he worked. Would history repeat itself? Would he lose his brother as Murdoch had? And just as his father had never had a chance to apologize for a foolish argument, would he find himself agonizing over the same mistake?

No! “Johnny, Johnny!” Scott began a desperate attempt to get Johnny to a conscious state. His fever was too high. Johnny’s temperature was not responding to Scott’s attempts to lower it. He had to try a different method to help his brother. A small stream ran adjacent to the shack and the cold water might bring the fever down if he could immerse Johnny in the shallow edges.

“Brother, I have a feeling you aren’t going to like this any more that I am, but we’re doing this together. So grab on.” Scott gathered Johnny up to a sitting position and along with one of the sheets, managed to throw him over his shoulder. Almost stumbling as he came to full height, Scott began the short trek to the stream. “You’re eating too many of Teresa’s biscuits. I swear, you weren’t this heavy when you took Pardee’s bullet.”

A thought struck Scott, something Murdoch had said about Johnny having been captured, starved, and beaten then ending up in front of a firing squad before coming to Lancer. Scott shook his head. “I guess you didn’t weigh as much then, did you? I tell you what, you hang on and get well, I’ll feed you biscuits or anything else you want myself. All you have to do is live.”

They made it to the water after one stop where Scott leaned against an oak tree. Carrying his brother was not an easy task. Once they were at the stream, Scott waded to where the water was about 6 inches deep. Then he eased Johnny down into the water, taking care to avoid rocks and stay in the sandy areas. Johnny started to fight him, and struggled to get away from the chilled water. “Johnny, easy, easy, stay still. We’re going to get you cooled down, get rid of that fever and make you feel better. Do you know where you are? Remember the snake?”

Johnny’s eyes opened, “S-Scott”

“Johnny, you’re awake, thank God.” Scott knew tears were running down his cheeks and hoped maybe his brother wouldn’t notice with all the water from the stream. What a silly thought, he smiled to himself.

“H-help me, c-cold.” Johnny was shivering.

“Shhhh, I am, I am. Trust me. Relax. Let the water cool your fever and that arm. We’ll get through this. Okay?”

Johnny nodded and Scott felt his brother’s body relax. Sitting in the water beside Johnny’s head as the water ran over his body, Scott cooled his brother’s face with a bandana that he dipped into the stream time and time again. He worked until the fever began to lose ground. Scott prayed he was doing the right thing, that the cold water would not harm his brother.

“S-Scott, S-Scott” Johnny’s teeth were chattering as he said his brother’s name.

“I-I’m f-freezing.”

“Sure you are, sure you are. Here, I’ll get you out of this water and warm you up.” Scott moved Johnny out of the shallows and up on the bank to wrap him in the sheet he’d brought. He sat on the ground and pulled Johnny up onto his own body to get him warm and dried quicker. The warm breeze felt good to his own skin but he feared Johnny wouldn’t find it as pleasant.

“Johnny, you stay here while I get you a blanket from the shack?”

“Sure.”

Scott propped him against a large, sun warmed bolder next to the stream and tucked the now damp sheet around his shoulders. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“I’ll stay here.” Johnny closed his eyes.

Scott hurried to the shack to grab some blankets and a dry shirt and pants for his brother. Relief flooded his whole being. Johnny was conscious, his fever down, he was no longer delirious—he had to be over the worse. He was sure that Johnny would make it.

Once inside the shack, Scott ticked off the things they needed. The sun was going down, he should light a lantern near the shack entrance should they need to head back in the dark. He wanted to stay near the water to make sure Johnny’s fever would stay down.

Stuffing a canteen, the camphor, an echinacea poultice, and strips for bandages in a sack, Scott lit the lantern, left it near the edge of the shack and hurried back to the stream. Johnny was still sitting as he’d left him against the rock. Scott dumped the supplies beside him and started removing Johnny’s shirt. Blue eyes opened at his first touch, a good sign. The fever was still there but didn’t seem to be nearly as high as before.

“Let me see your arm.” The arm was black and swollen but the swelling had reduced and wasn’t spreading like before. “You have any feeling in your arm?”

“It...hurts. Does that count?” Johnny’s voice was weak but he managed a grin.

Scott started to unbutton the shirt and Johnny stopped him. “No, leave it. May have to go for ‘nother swim ‘fore this is over.”

“You have a point. The warm air and that fever have about dried your clothes as it is. You still cold?” Scott picked up one of the blankets as he asked.

****

The sun had long set and Johnny’s fever was still high. He’d slept some and rambled in his sleep but each time Scott woke him, he knew who he was. Scott pulled Johnny up higher on his own body, trying to keep him warm. “Dark times for the Lancer boys.” He said and rubbed his fingers over the make-shift bandage on Johnny’s arm. The swelling was still down and he prayed it would stay that way.

He placed a hand on his brother’s forehead and it was still warm but Johnny seemed lucid when he started talking in that soft voice of his. “A man from Texas once told me, it’s only when things get dark enough that you can see the stars. Look up there, Scott. See ‘em? Shining like diamonds on black velvet.”

Scott looked up. He tightened his hold on his brother as he felt a tear run down his cheek. Leave it to Johnny to find beauty in pain and ugliness.

“Scott, you okay?” Johnny rolled his head around on Scott’s shoulder to look up at him as he asked.

Too choked up to answer, Scott wiped a tear with the back of his hand and nodded. Pushing back Johnny’s damp bangs, he gazed again toward the heavens. Looking at those ‘diamonds’, he sent up another prayer—one of thanks that his brother was still alive.

“Scott, you think we could go back to the shack now, maybe sleep on one of those cots? You’re not the best mattress I slept on, you know.” Johnny wiggled around a little to prove his point.

Scott laughed. “Yeah, I guess it’s time we got off this hard ground and into better quarters. You think you can walk?”

“I can make it.” Johnny grinned.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before. Arm around my neck. Up on three...one...two...three.”

 

****

They managed to make an awkward stand and walk to the shack, using the light from the lantern as a guide to their destination. Johnny was exhausted when Scott helped him to the bunk. Scott checked to make sure his fever had not risen and bathed him down once more to make sure it stayed that way.

“Thanks, Brother. Now get some rest. I’m gonna be okay. The fever’s down. Rest.” Johnny stayed his hand as Scott started to wipe his brow once again.

“I will if you’ll eat some broth.” Scott offered.

“No. Can’t handle it now. Maybe tomorrow. You eat and then rest. I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“You need water. I’ll eat, you drink and then we rest. Deal?”

“Deal.” Johnny closed his eyes.

Scott gave his brother some water first and then pulled out the food packages that Maria had packed. He found biscuits and a package of dried beef that would do just fine with coffee for his supper—or was it an early breakfast? He built a fire in the small, dusty fireplace, found a pot, and put the coffee on.

With biscuits in a pan near the fire to warm, Scott made up one of the mattresses on the floor beside Johnny’s bunk. He filled and placed a canteen next to the bed, checked on Johnny, poured some coffee into a tin cup, and with a warm biscuit and dried beef in hand, he settled on the mattress to eat.

Scott Leaned back against Johnny’s bunk and while he drank his coffee, his brother slept. He pulled a watch from his jeans pocket, it was almost 4:00 a.m. A new day had dawned and beyond feeling dead tired and thankful, Scott wanted to talk to his brother—make sure Johnny knew how sorry he was for the things he’d said to him and clear some air between them. Their relationship was such a new one and though it was a strong one, it should have been handled like the precious thing it was and not as something that was easily broken or moved aside. 

That flag, it had thrown him straight back to the most horrific place in his life. Maybe what Johnny said was right, you have to get to that dark place to see the diamonds, the precious and wonderful things in your life. In being thrown to that bleak time that was such a contrast to this best time, this time with Johnny and his father, he’d been able to see more clearly—been able to see the stars. So this love for family, it was the diamond in all the blackness, No one but Johnny could have made him see it and he planned to tell his brother how much it meant to him as soon as they woke up...tomorrow.

 

 

~ end ~

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