The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link
subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link
subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link
subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link
subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link
subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link
subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Wendy K

 

 

The Pocket Watch

 

 

Johnny looked down at the contents of the small box in his hands, eyes brimming with tears.

Dios, Murdoch, I’ve been such an ass.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Son. Everyone has disagreements with their siblings now and again. This one just kind of got away from you.”

Johnny wiped at his eyes and shook his head. “Scott didn’t want to fight but I wouldn’t listen. And it wasn’t like he actually did anything wrong. I just had to be so damn stubborn….”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

One Week Earlier….

Johnny stalked into the Great Room, spurs jingling, and flung his hat onto a nearby chair. Scott followed at a more sedate pace, his face contrite. He stared at his brother’s back as Johnny poured himself a drink.

“Johnny, I’m sorry. How was I to know the man was wanted?”

The dark haired man threw back a shot of tequila and turned to glare at his brother. “You could’ve asked me! I know that Jubal Sweeney ain’t exactly a choir boy but he was there for me when I needed someone. He’s pulled my fat out of the fire a time or two. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.”

“I’m grateful to him for that, Johnny, more than you can know,” Scott countered. “But that doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s wanted for robbing the stage over near Bitter Creek. The driver was shot and he might not make it.”   

“We only have Gabe’s word on that,” Johnny argued. “Besides, those wanted poster descriptions ain’t always accurate. You know that there’s more than one side to any story. I mean, look at me. There’s lots a stories about me out there that ain’t true. Jubal wasn’t looking to make any trouble. He just wanted to have a drink with an old saddle pal.”

“I know there are two sides to every story,” the blond replied, placating. “And Sweeney’ll get the chance to tell his when the circuit judge arrives in a couple of weeks. Johnny, it was just a casual conversation with Gabe while we were waiting to have our hair cut. I mentioned that we were in town to pick up supplies and that you had bumped into an old friend. How was I to know that the sheriff had just received word to be on the lookout for Sweeney?” 

“Well, you just shoulda,” Johnny persisted stubbornly. “And what with Jubal getting hauled off to jail, I didn’t get a chance to ask that pretty new school teacher about going to the dance with me next Saturday.”

“You mean Delia Abbott?” Scott asked, eyes anywhere but on his brother. 

“Yeah,” Johnny replied, regarding the blond suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you already asked her.”

“Um…..”

“Dang it, Scott!”

“Well, how was I supposed to know?” Scott threw up his hands. “Last I heard you were still dating Amorita.”

“We broke up last Saturday!” 

“You never mentioned it. So again, how was I supposed to know?”

“Well, you just shoulda,” the brunet sulked.

“I ‘just shoulda’?... I ‘just shoulda’? That’s got to be one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard,” the former Bostonian replied, starting to get irritated with his brother’s irrational expectations. “I hate to break it to you, Johnny, but I’m not a mind-reader nor am I omniscient. I’m sorry about Sweeney and I’m sorry about Delia but there’s not much I can do about either one of them now.”

“I’ll tell you what you can do, Boston,” Johnny hissed. “You can stay the hell away from me!”

Grabbing his hat from where he’d tossed it earlier, Johnny stalked out the door, slamming it hard behind him. A few seconds later, the sound of hoof beats receded into the distance. 

~*~*~*~*~*~

Johnny had known before he’d even left the Great Room that he was being unreasonable but he hadn’t been able to stop himself. He’d been feeling crankier than a bear with a sore paw for the past couple of days. The pocket watch Murdoch had given him, back when he’d first arrived, had gone missing during a stampede and it was bothering him more than he was willing to admit. It was the first gift he’d ever received from his father and it had come at a time when he’d been going through a pretty rough patch. Adapting to the life of a rancher had proven to be harder than he’d expected and the watch had shown Johnny just how much his father believed in him, cared for him.

When he’d lamented its loss at dinner, his father and brother had been quick to try to console him but they hadn’t had much luck. He’d continued feeling prickly and out of sorts and today’s incidents with Jubal and Delia had been the straws that had broken this particular camel’s back.

It was true that none of his brother’s actions had been deliberately malicious … or deliberate at all for that matter. It had simply been a series of unfortunate coincidences that no one was responsible for. Scott was just a handy target for Johnny’s frustration and peevishness. 

Even though he recognized his earlier behavior as unreasonable, Johnny still couldn’t bring himself to apologize when he returned home later that evening.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Things continued on this way for a couple days with mealtimes being a decidedly chilly affair. Scott, not really wanting to air what had been a private disagreement between his brother and himself, had finally, reluctantly, sought out Murdoch’s counsel. The rancher, baffled as to why Johnny was so angry with his brother, had simply suggested that Scott give the younger man the time and space he needed to cool down.

Not particularly thrilled with that course of action, Scott had decided to be a little more proactive. He’d been with his brother during the stampede and the loss of the treasured pocket watch. He’d seen how upset the former gun-fighter had been when he’d realized it was missing. He felt sure that he could thaw Johnny’s icy choler if he could just find the missing keepsake and return it to him.

But the task was a daunting one. They’d covered an extensive amount of ground while trying to reign in the rampaging herd. It was a classic “needle in a haystack” scenario if ever there was one but Scott would not be deterred. His relationship with his brother was important to him and if it meant spending hours going over a trampled, muddy pasture one square inch at a time to have Johnny back to his old self, then by God, he’d do it. 

Informing his father of his plans, Scott saddled up Hannibal and rode out after breakfast. He’d had Teresa pack him a lunch as he intended to make a day of it. Dismounting in the general area where the blond recalled seeing Johnny when the stampede started, he began a methodical search, moving in an orderly, grid-like pattern, even going so far as to sift through the loosened top soil using a rake he’d swiped from Teresa’s vegetable garden.

It was tedious, grubby work and the day was hot. By mid morning Scott was covered in dirt, sweat and some fowl smelling clods of what he was fairly certain were fermented cow pies. He seriously hoped his brother would appreciate all this effort.

“Especially since I’m not the one in the wrong here,” Scott griped somewhat petulantly. “I’m not the one who’s behaving like an immature brat.”    

By mid afternoon, he’d gone maybe a quarter of the distance he remembered seeing his brother traverse and without any luck. He had hoped that he would find the watch more towards the beginning of the stampeded area because if Johnny hadn’t lost the watch until near the end, it could take at least three more days of searching. Scott was sorely tempted to jump ahead and see if there was anything there but ultimately decided against it. If he started bouncing around, his carefully mapped out search grid would be useless and he’d run the risk of potentially overlooking a section and missing the watch altogether. No, as frustrating as it might be, it was best to just be patient and stick with the original plan.            

It was late afternoon and the sun was low in the western sky when a metallic glint several feet off to his left caught the young man’s eye. Dropping to his knees and scrabbling frantically in the churned up sod, Scott’s dirt encrusted fingers closed like a grubby starfish around the sun warmed metal of the pocket watch. He threw back his head and let loose with a jubilant whoop that could be heard for miles.   

~*~*~*~*~*~

Murdoch was in the courtyard where he’d been enjoying the cool evening breeze with a post-dinner glass of scotch when Scott rode in. He had seen how the rift between the two brothers had been weighing his eldest down. Johnny’s ire was a cause of consternation for the rancher. He didn’t understand why his youngest was continuing to hold a grudge that had no real foundation in any facts. He was anxious for his sons to work this out and have things return to what resembled normal.       

“Well?” he asked hopefully as he watched his spent son dismount and hand off Hannibal’s reins to Frank. “Did you find it?”

“Yes,” Scott’s teeth were a bright flash of white in his dusty face. He removed his hat and wiped his brow with a grimy forearm which didn’t succeed in doing much more than moving the dirt around.  “It needs a good cleaning as some dirt’s gotten into it and gummed up the gears. I’ll take it into Spanish Wells first thing tomorrow. There’s a jeweler there that should be able to clean it up good as new. I’m going to have him engrave a little something in it, too.”

“That’s a fine idea, Son. I’m sure this thoughtful gesture will get Johnny back to behaving more like his old self in no time,” Murdoch said as he went to give Scott a congratulatory clap on the shoulder. The older man stopped however, his hand hovering in the air several inches above its target, when he caught a good whiff of the aroma emanating from the weary man. Taking in Scott’s filthy state, he decided to skip it until the younger man had bathed.

“Johnny’s gone into town for the evening and I don’t expect him back for another few hours yet,” Murdoch said instead. “He wanted to visit with Sweeney for awhile. You don’t have to worry about him seeing you or asking where you’ve been.”

“Good,” Scott sighed with relief. “I’m headed for the bathhouse and then something to eat.” 

“I’ll let Teresa know you’re back. She’s been keeping a plate warm for you in the kitchen.”

“Thanks, Murdoch.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

The sky was a velvety indigo with a sprinkling of stars when Johnny rode home from town, thoughts in turmoil. Up until this evening, he’d been all set to apologize to his brother for his rather erratic behavior the next time he actually saw the blond but then he’d gone into town to visit with Sweeney.

Jubal had always been a rover who loved the freedom of open spaces, ill at ease and twitchy if he spent too much time indoors. Watching him move restlessly about his small cell had filled Johnny with sympathy. He’d been reminded of a big black cat - a panther - he’d seen in a shabby little traveling circus in San Diego about six years back. The great beast had paced endlessly back and forth within the cramped confines of its wheeled cage and Johnny had felt sorry for it. He could tell from looking into the animal’s eyes that it was desperate to escape its tiny prison and he knew Jubal felt the same.

Damn it.

If Scott had just kept his mouth shut, Gabe would’ve never even known that Jubal was in town.

Sweeney had sworn to Johnny that he hadn’t been involved in the stage coach robbery. Yes, he and some of his buddies had been in Bitter Creek at the time but it was all a case of mistaken identity. Jubal wasn’t a saint by any stretch but, like Johnny, he’d had deeds laid at his feet that hadn’t been his. Johnny knew what that felt like and was willing to give his old friend the benefit of the doubt.

Hopefully, the circuit judge would do the same because Jubal would go loco in prison. That is, if he didn’t end up hanging. Word had come from Bitter Creek earlier that day that the stage coach driver had died of his wounds.              

~*~*~*~*~*~

The next morning Scott headed into Spanish Wells with his brother’s watch. The jeweler, Ignacio Mendez, had given the timepiece a quick once over and proclaimed the damage to be minimal.

“Just a little dust, Señor Lancer. And the engraving will not take long either. If you don’t mind waiting, I can have it done in an hour or two.”

And so Scott had left him to it. With some time to kill, he’d peeked in on Delia for a minute. He didn’t want to interrupt her class so he only stayed long enough to confirm that they were still on for the dance on Saturday and that he would pick her up at seven.

With Sweeney in residence over at the jail, Scott decided to forego a chat with Gabe and he’d had his hair cut just a few days ago so there was no reason to visit with Sam at the barber shop. The former Bostonian finally decided to while away some time with a cup of coffee and some of the Widow Hargis’ fresh cinnamon rolls while she told him all about her latest letter from Zee.

Roughly ninety minutes after leaving Ignacio, Scott was back and holding Johnny’s watch in his hand, polished and gleaming softly in the dim light of the shop. The soft, steady ticking of his brother’s cherished timepiece was music to his ears and the engraved message on the inside cover was everything he’d hoped it would be.

“Thank you, Ignacio. It’s perfect.”            

“Gracias, Señor. Let me wrap it for you.”

The watch was quickly packaged up, money changed hands and, with a smile and wave, Scott took his leave of the little shop. His mood lighter than it had been for days, he stepped out onto the sun drenched boardwalk…and into chaos. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Royal Sweeney’s plan to get his brother out of jail was a simple one. He, Deke and Mal would hit the town hard and fast. Ride in with guns blazing and hope that while everyone was ditherin’ about and divin’ for cover, they’d take out the lone lawman and bust Jubal out. With any luck, by the time any town folk managed to gather themselves, the gang would be long gone. And if anyone happened to walk in front of a bullet during the fracas, so be it. It would help add to the confusion and make people think twice about tryin’ to be a hero.

The plan went off without a hitch, just like Royal hoped. Jubal had been thrilled to see his brother and the other boys when they’d burst through the door. The Sheriff took a bullet to the chest and went down where he stood by the stove, pot of coffee in hand. Royal kept watch while Deke grabbed the keys from the desk and unlocked the cell door. Mal had snagged Jubal’s gun and belt from the hook on the wall and tossed it to him as he stepped over the dead lawman, lying in an ever growing puddle of blood on the floor. They all dashed outside and leapt onto their horses. As the gang thundered down the dusty street with guns again blazing, Jubal noticed a blond man in a tan jacket sprawled on the boardwalk but he didn’t give it much thought.

The whole thing had taken no more than a few minutes.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~      

Murdoch and Johnny were out by the north pasture, doing some surveying, when Cipriano rode up, followed by an obviously upset Charlie Poe.     

“Cip, Charlie,” Murdoch greeted them. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, Murdoch, but its Scott,” Charlie replied, somewhat breathless from his ride.  “There was a jailbreak in Spanish Wells and Scott was shot during the commotion. It looks pretty bad and, when I left to come get you, Doc Jenkins was getting ready to operate.”

Johnny felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. “A jailbreak?”

“Yes,” Charlie confirmed. “Sweeney escaped and…. Gabe is dead.”

“Dear Lord!” Murdoch gasped as Cipriano crossed himself.

“Val’s gathering up a posse and heading out after them.”

Upon hearing that, Johnny sprinted towards Barranca and leapt into the saddle.

“Johnny, wait,” Murdoch called. “Where are you going?”

The younger man whirled his mount and glared down at his father, eyes glittering fiercely from underneath the brim of his hat. “To meet up with Val and the posse. Sweeney and me are gonna have us a little dance.”    

“You’ll do no such thing,” the Scot forbade as he climbed onto his own horse. “Your brother needs you. I need you. You’re coming with me to Spanish Wells.”

“But he lied to me, Pa!” Johnny cried, unable to contain his emotions any longer. “Jubal lied… and now Gabe is dead and Scott is…Scott is…”

“I know, Son, and that’s why I need you to come with me,” Murdoch pleaded. “Let Val handle Sweeney.”

Torn, Johnny continued to hesitate, Barranca shifting restlessly beneath him as though he could sense his rider’s distress.

The older man tried again. “Johnny, please.”

With a growled epithet, Johnny whirled the palomino and sped off towards Spanish Wells, Murdoch close behind.   

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When the two frantic men reached Sam Jenkins’ office, they found the jeweler, Ignacio Mendez, waiting. Murdoch knew that Mendez was who Scott had come to Spanish Wells to see even if Johnny did not. 

“Ignacio, where’s Scott?”

“Doctor Jenkins is operating on him in the other room. The Widow Hargis is assisting. The bullet caught him in the left shoulder.”

“Did you see what happened?” Johnny asked softly.

“No, not really,” Ignacio shook his head. “Scott had just left the shop and I had turned back to my work when I heard shouting, horses and shooting. Several bullets came through my window and lodged in the wall right near where I was standing. When I dove behind the counter, I must have hit my head. I think I blacked out for a moment or two. By the time I shook it off, there was more shooting as they rode past again. Once they were gone, I peeked outside and found Scott lying on the boardwalk.”

“You were lucky you weren’t hurt,” Murdoch murmured.

“Sí, I was fortunate. Much more so than others,” Ignacio replied. “Now that you are here, I must return to my shop. My wife and I will keep Scott in our prayers.”

After Mendez left, the two men settled in to wait but it wasn’t long before Johnny was up and pacing the confines of Doc Jenkins’ waiting room. Murdoch watched with veiled eyes as his younger boy wandered aimlessly about, picking up items, fiddling with them for awhile, then putting them down again in random places.

“Sam’s going to have a hard time finding anything if you keep that up, Son. Why don’t you come have a seat over here next to me?”

Johnny shook his head and went over to stand by the window. He looked out on Sam’s herb and vegetable garden but didn’t really see it. Instead all he saw was Jubal’s face as the man he had called friend lied to him. Anger, denial and guilt all welled up within him and he couldn’t suppress a moan.

Before Murdoch could say anything, the door to the adjacent exam room opened and the Widow Hargis emerged, carrying a basin filled with bloody bandages and surgical tools. She stopped short when she saw two pairs of anxious blue eyes on her.

Knowing how concerned they must be for the young man in the room behind her, she wasted no time on pleasantries or platitudes. “He’s alive. You can go on in. Sam will give you the details.”

Murdoch had never been more grateful for the Widow’s direct, no nonsense way of speaking than he was at that moment. As he and Johnny slipped past her, he dropped a hand down onto her shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and murmured his thanks. 

The elderly doctor, his expression mild, was waiting next to the bed where Scott lay, shoulder swaddled in bandages and deeply unconscious. “It was bad but nowhere near as bad as it could’ve been,” Sam told them. “He’s lost a lot of blood and we’ll need to keep an eye out for infection. He’s running a low grade fever at the moment but he’s young and strong. As long as it doesn’t rise, he should be fine.”

“Thank God,” Murdoch let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

Johnny reached out and brushed back his brother’s damp, blond bangs. Scott’s forehead was warm but not overly so. The former gunfighter’s hand then drifted down to caress the other man’s cheek which was slightly flushed. Scott wasn’t out of the woods yet but it could have been so much worse.

“I know you two aren’t going to leave Scott’s side until he wakes up so you might as well make yourselves comfortable,” Sam said, indicating two chairs against the wall. “I’m going to finish cleaning up and put on a pot of coffee. And Eulalia said something about fixing us some sandwiches.”

“Thank you, Sam,” Murdoch acknowledged without taking his eyes off his first born.

Johnny went to grab a chair and noticed one of them had a pile of clothing on it - Scott’s. He lifted up the bundle and a small box fell out onto the floor. The dark haired Lancer placed the garments on top of a nearby cabinet where Sam stored some of his many medicines and then stooped to pick up the package.

“What’s this?” he asked his father.

“I believe that’s the reason Scott was in town today,” the older man replied. “I don’t think he would mind if you opened it. After all, it’s for you.”

“Me? Why?” Johnny’s brow was wrinkled in confusion and his voice tinged with remorse. “It ain’t my birthday and it ain’t Christmas. Besides, with the way I’ve been treating him lately, I can’t imagine he’d be buying me anything.”     

“I think you’d be surprised,” Murdoch said softly. He filled a basin with water from a nearby pitcher and grabbed some clean cloths. He then settled himself in the chair nearest the bed and began bathing Scott’s forehead. “Go ahead and open it.”

Curious, Johnny did so and gasped at what he found. “It’s my watch,” he whispered reverently.

“Your brother knew that its loss was weighing on you and went out in search of it,” Murdoch explained. “He spent all day yesterday digging in the dirt.”

The younger man gaped at him, speechless. Johnny had pretty much given the watch up as gone for good. That his brother would take on the daunting task of locating the timepiece simply because it was important to Johnny was incredibly humbling.

“Open it up,” his father continued. “I believe he also had it inscribed.”

Johnny flipped open the cover of the watch and read aloud the words engraved on the inside. “Therefore be at peace henceforward, and as brothers live together.”   

“Longfellow,” Murdoch supplied, quietly impressed with the quote his first born had chosen. It was extremely appropriate. “It’s from a poem called The Song of Hiawatha and it was written by a man named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. ‘All your strength is in your union. All your danger is in discord; therefore be at peace henceforward, and as brothers live together’.” 

Johnny looked down at the contents of the small box in his hands, eyes brimming with tears.

Dios, Murdoch, I’ve been such an ass.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Son. Everyone has disagreements with their siblings now and again. This one just kind of got away from you.”

Johnny wiped at his eyes and shook his head. “Scott didn’t want to fight but I wouldn’t listen. And it wasn’t like he actually did anything wrong. I just had to be so damn stubborn….”

“Your brother knows that, Johnny, and he doesn’t hold it against you” the older man said, comfortingly. “This is not your fault and I’m sure he’ll tell you so himself once he wakes up.”

But Johnny wasn’t so sure.

~*~*~*~*~*~  

The two men spent the remainder of the evening sitting by Scott’s bedside, occasionally using a damp cloth to cool his fever which fortunately never climbed very high and several hours after midnight broke completely.

Relieved, Murdoch took the opportunity to put on a fresh pot of coffee and to use the privy, leaving Johnny alone with his brother ….and his thoughts.

Slouched in his chair with legs extended and ankles crossed, the former gunfighter fiddled with his refurbished pocket watch. He opened the cover and read the inscription inside for the umpteenth time. 

‘Therefore be at peace henceforward…’

Peace. Scott was always playing the role of peacemaker. He was the calm voice of reason in their little family and it was just one of the many things that the former gunfighter valued about the man. But this time around, Scott had found himself in the role of one of the combatants instead of in the middle like usual. Johnny felt another flush of shame at his recent behavior towards his brother. He really had been quite unreasonable and there was no excuse for it. At least none that was acceptable to him.

A soft sigh from the man in the bed caught Johnny’s attention and he sat up a little straighter. He watched intently as Scott’s eyes fluttered open and the blond squinted blearily around the room, blue-gray orbs finally coming to rest on his sibling.

“Hey…” the injured man croaked out.   

Johnny reached for a glass of water and leaned forward to help to help the other man take a sip. “Hey, yourself.”

“What happened?” Scott mumbled as he shifted in the bed, hissing when the wound in his shoulder made itself known.   

“You got shot,” Johnny replied, studiously fluffing pillows and adjusting blankets while avoiding his brother’s gaze. He really did not want to have this conversation.

“I did? How…?”

“There was a jailbreak,” Johnny replied. “And when you were coming out of the jeweler’s shop, you got caught in the crossfire.”

“Jeweler’s shop?” Scott thoughts were all fuzzy and jumbled. He searched his memory, desperately, trying to recall the events of the day. “I don’t remember….”

Johnny held up the pocket watch for his brother to see. “You were in town because of this. Because of me.”

Seeing the timepiece dangling from Johnny’s fingers by its chain brought everything rushing back and Scott found himself blushing. “Oh, that. Um…”

“What you did? For me?” Johnny said, voice thick with emotion. “I can’t tell you how much…To think that you…Thank you.”

“So you’re not still mad?”

Dios, Scott, no,” Johnny gaped at his brother. “Of course not! I shouldn’ta been mad at you in the first place. You didn’t do anything wrong. The way I see it, you should be mad at me! Hell, it’s my fault you got shot. If I hadn’t been acting like such a pendejo, you wouldn’t be laying here. It was Jubal who…”

“I’m not mad at you, Johnny. And none of this is your fault,” Scott protested as he shifted on his pillows. “I know Sweeney’s your friend but you are not responsible for his actions. As for the watch, I probably would’ve gone out and looked for it no matter how you were behaving. I know how much it means to you. The fact that you were acting like a five year old brat was just added incentive.” 

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” the blond replied, blue-gray eyes serious. “You’re not just my brother, Johnny, you’re my best friend. I would do anything for you. Surely you know that.”

Johnny swallowed hard, the emotion of the moment rendering him speechless.  He felt like the luckiest hell-bent bastard that ever lived. Whatever he had done to deserve this man as his brother, he wasn’t going to question it. Scott Lancer was a gift, one that he wasn’t giving back. Ever.

That goes for me, too,” he eventually managed to rasp out.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The sky was lightening, ever so slightly, to the east and Murdoch had just finished pouring himself another cup of coffee when a soft call from outside drew his attention. He peered out the window and spotted Val Crawford, staring at the house from astride his horse. The scruffy lawman wore an air of dejection and was slouched in his saddle in such a way that Murdoch found himself imagining the worst. Had the Sweeneys gotten away?

The Scot opened the door and stepped out onto Sam’s porch.

“Did you catch them?” he asked softly, almost afraid to hear Val’s answer.

“Yeah,” Crawford replied slowly, as he shifted in his saddle. “We caught ‘em up near Rattlesnake Canyon. Had ‘em completely boxed in.” He shook his head, disgustedly. “They knew they were surrounded and they still wouldn’t surrender - just kept on shooting. We were forced to pick ‘em off, one by one. They’re all dead.”  

Murdoch felt a sense of relief so strong, his knees went weak. Relief that these four cold-blooded killers would no longer pose a threat to anyone. And even more relief that Johnny hadn’t ended up having to face down an old friend. But looking again at Crawford’s face, the rancher found himself wondering if perhaps, this time around, Val had been the one put in that position.

“Did you know Sweeney, too?” he asked tentatively.

The other man nodded once.

“I’m sorry. This couldn’t have been easy for you.”

“I knew it was a possibility when I took this job,” Val said, face inscrutable. “I’ll deal with it.”

Wanting to change the subject, the sheriff nodded towards the house. “How’s Scott?” 

“He’s lost a lot of blood but Sam says he’ll be fine,” Murdoch replied. “Why don’t you come inside for a cup of coffee? There’s a fresh pot and I’m sure Johnny would like to see you.”

“No thanks,” Val shook his head and turned his horse towards Green River. “I wouldn’t be very good company right now. Tell Johnny to stop by once Scott’s on the mend. We’ll share a bottle and reminisce a little.”     

With that, horse and rider plodded off into the pre-dawn gloom.

~*~*~*~*~

When Murdoch returned to the sick room, he noticed that Johnny seemed less tense, less anxious, less...guilt-ridden. “Did he wake up?”

“Yeah,” Johnny grinned somewhat bashfully. “And he’s not mad. I thought for sure he would be.”

The former gunfighter didn’t tell his father what else Scott had said. That was something special to be kept just between the two brothers.

“See? Didn’t I tell you?” Murdoch asked as he lowered himself back into his chair. He reached out and checked Scott’s forehead for fever and was grateful to find none.

“Val was here,” he continued somewhat reluctantly. “He and the posse chased the Sweeneys up to Rattlesnake Canyon.”

Johnny went very still. “And?”

Uncertain about what to say, Murdoch just shook his head.

Johnny slumped back in his chair, not quite sure how to feel. Hurt, anger, regret, disappointment and denial all warred with each other in his head. Once upon a time, Jubal had been a friend, a good friend. One who didn’t exactly walk the straight and narrow but not a bad guy. At least that’s what Johnny had always thought. But looking over at his sleeping brother, pale from blood loss and swathed in bandages, the former gun-slinger realized that was no longer true. Sweeney’s recent actions had made that abundantly clear. Maybe the man he thought he knew had never really existed at all.

Murdoch, seeing the turmoil on Johnny’s face, reached out with a large hand and gently squeezed his shoulder. “I know, Son, and I’m sorry.”

“Do you?” Johnny turned stormy blue eyes towards his father. “Do you really?”

“Joe Barker,” the older man supplied.   

Oh. Those circumstances weren’t exactly the same but they were close enough.  

“Yeah, I guess you do know,” Johnny said after a moment. “And if I remember it right, it was Scott that got hurt that time, too. Isn’t there some sort of saying about the third time being the charm?”

Murdoch blinked. Johnny was correct. Scott had paid a physical price on that occasion as well. “We’ll just have to make sure there is no third time,” He said firmly.

“Yeah, right,” the younger man replied, only half joking. “In this family, that’s easier said than done.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Epilogue….Two weeks later:

Murdoch Lancer was laughing so hard he was bent nearly double. The sight of Johnny and Jelly, hopping along in potato sacks, determined expressions on their flushed faces, was something that would stay with him for many years to come. The whole situation was made even more comical by the fact that both men towered over the race’s other contestants - children ranging in age from seven to ten - by at least a foot.

The gathered crowd of parents and other town folk cheered as nine year old Tommy Wiggins bounded across the finish line well ahead of the others.

It was good to see everyone enjoying themselves. The tragic and traumatic events of a couple weeks ago had left the little town of Spanish Wells reeling. This picnic was a way for them to welcome their new sheriff, fresh off the stage from Yuma, and to remember the old one. Gabe had been a good man and his loss would be keenly felt.

Thinking of Gabe reminded the rancher that he needed to go and purchase his raffle tickets soon. The prize was a free portrait sitting generously donated by a photographer who happened to be traveling through town. As much as the Scot would like to have a portrait taken of him and his sons, the prize itself was pretty irrelevant. Murdoch would gladly shell out money for tickets no matter what the prize since the funds collected would be going to Gabe’s widow, Ida, who would shortly be moving back east, to Syracuse, to live with her sister.        

The rancher’s eyes slid over to where his first born sat, arm in a sling and somewhat pale, on a blanket in the shade of a nearby tree. The young man still tired easily but had been quite adamant about attending the picnic. It was with great reluctance that Murdoch had eventually agreed and that was only because Scott had sworn he would not overtax himself. The blond’s determination may have had something to do with the young woman who sat next to him, reading aloud from a book.

Delia Abbott.

Watching as Scott reached over and tucked a small yellow flower behind Delia’s ear, Murdoch couldn’t help but smile. Oh yes, there was definitely a romance blossoming on that front. The doting father sent a grateful prayer heavenward that his son was alive to enjoy this day and Delia’s company.  

~*~*~*~*~*~

Scott leaned back against the trunk of the sycamore tree and listened raptly as Delia’s voice, low and melodious, washed over him. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea had never sounded so good. To be honest, the pretty school teacher could have been reciting multiplication tables and he would still be hanging on her every word.

It also didn’t hurt that the delightful Miss Abbott, with her cloud of dark curls and clear gray eyes, looked quite fetching in a dress whose color reminded Scott of the blue hydrangeas in his Grandfather’s garden back in Boston.

No sir, this was not a bad way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Totally focused on each other and the book they were reading, the couple was startled when a dusty young man with dark hair plopped himself down on the blanket next to them.

“Hey there, Boston. Miss Delia,” Johnny greeted them somewhat breathlessly. “What you two doin’ over here? I thought you were going to watch the potato sack race. Did you see? I was this close to winning.”

“Oh, really?” Scott quirked an eyebrow. “From here it looked like Tommy Wiggins had you by a mile.”

“Well sure,” the younger man blustered. “From here it might’ve looked that way. But another few more feet and I would’ve beat him for sure.”

“We’re sorry, Johnny,” Delia smiled, dimples appearing in her cheeks. “I guess we lost track of the time.”      

“Sounds to me, Big Brother,” Johnny said as he good naturedly nudged the blond. “Like we need to get you a watch.”   

“Thanks, but no thanks, Johnny,” Scott replied emphatically. “I’m all set with watches.”

 

~end~

To Getting Married
Want to comment? Email Wendy K