The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

To Ride The Wind

 

 

 

"Grab it, Johnny!"

"I'm tryin. Hold still!"

Scott Lancer held onto the pulley rope with all he was worth as Johnny Lancer tried to hook the bale of hay dangling in front of him at the barn loft with the metal claw he held. He reached out as far as he dared and finally hooked the bale. "Got it!" he yelled down to his brother.

"About time," Scott mumbled as he felt the load ease. Johnny pulled the bale into the loft and dragged it aside. He then plopped down on top of it as he waited for Scott to hook the rope and pulley system up to another bale, the last bale! They had been at it all morning and both men were feeling terse. They were both soaking wet from the perspiration and dog tired. "Ok, I'm ready!" Scott yelled up.

"Great," Johnny mumbled as he stepped into the loft opening.

Scott pulled the bale of hay up to his brother and Johnny reached out but missed by mere inches. "Dammit!" "Come on Johnny, this is heavy!"

"No kiddin Boston. Would you hold still!" Johnny yelled back.

"I am holding still. I'm not moving a muscle!" Scott yelled back up.

"Well, then why is this thing dancin around like a saloon girl?" Johnny asked exasperated.

Scott managed to crane his neck so he could look up at his load. He saw the pulley straining against the weight. It wasn't going to hold out. He was about to call out to Johnny to stop when the pulley broke. Just as Johnny got the hook in the bale, he felt himself being pulled out of the loft. He grabbed the side of the opening, but the weight of the hay pulled him out. He fell the twenty feet to the ground below without a sound until his body hit with a sickening thump.

"Johnny!" Scott screamed his brother's name as he ran to his side.

Murdoch Lancer was standing on the veranda talking to Jelly when he heard the raw terror in his son's voice. He suddenly felt ice running through his veins as he and Jelly took off running to the barn. He saw Scott holding Johnny's head and talking to him. He felt relief until he realized Johnny wasn't answering, or moving. "Scott?" he asked, fear clutching his heart.

"Help me Murdoch," Scott begged.

"Is he?"

"He's alive," Scott said suddenly realizing Murdoch's trepidation. Between the three of them, they managed to carry the unconscious man to his bedroom. Murdoch called behind him for Frank to get the doctor. They got him undressed as quickly and gently as possible and Murdoch searched his entire body for damage. His left arm was broken, that was for sure and probably some ribs. Other than that he seemed uninjured but Murdoch knew head injuries could be deceiving. Theresa brought in the medical supplies, not knowing yet what would be needed.

"Jelly, I need something to make a splint for his arm," Murdoch instructed and Jelly flew out of the room. He was back in minutes with two straight pieces of wood and they splinted the broken arm. There wasn't much else they could do until the doctor arrived. Murdoch stood over his youngest son and thought how pale Johnny looked. He spoke to Scott for the first time since arriving on the scene. "How did this happen?" he asked softly.

"The pulley broke. I didn't see it in time to warn him," Scott said miserably.

Murdoch could tell from the tone of Scott's voice he was already blaming himself. "It wasn't your fault, son. It was an accident," he tried to reassure his oldest. Scott nodded his head unconvincingly.

******

Doc Jenkins arrived two hours later, already grumbling to himself about once again making the trip to Lancer to care for his best customer. He took in the scene before him. It was all too familiar. "What happened?" he asked.

"He fell out of the loft. The pulley broke and pulled him out," Murdoch explained. "His left arm is broken and I'm sure some ribs, but he hit so hard," he continued.

Doc nodded his head. "That's about a twenty foot drop isn't it?" he asked. Murdoch nodded his head. Doc Jenkins examined his patient thoroughly. Murdoch was right about the ribs. At least three on the left were broken. It was what he felt in Johnny's back that worried him most. He stood up and stretched his own aching back, then sighed.

"Well?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, at least three broken ribs, actually fractured not broke clean through, so that's at least some good news."

"And the bad news?" Scott asked with dread.

"Well, he has a concussion and maybe even a fractured skull but..."

"What is it Doc?" Murdoch asked.

"There's swelling around his spinal cord, Murdoch. It should go down but he may have some permanent damage there. It's really way too soon to know anything," Doc explained.

"What're ya sayin Doc?" Jelly interjected for the first time.

"I'm saying he may not be able to walk." They all stared at each other in horror.

******

Scott had refused to leave his brother's side all night. Johnny hadn't woke up yet, or even stirred. He fell asleep in the chair he'd pulled beside his brother's bed. Doc Jenkins had stayed the night so he could check on his patient first thing. He walked into the room to find Scott with his head resting on the side of Johnny's bed. He shook him gently and Scott jerked up. "Easy, I need to check him," Doc said. Scott

nodded and stood up to give the man room. Doc was not happy. He had hoped Johnny would have awakened by now but he knew there was always a chance he may never wake up. He hadn't shared that information with the family. They had enough to deal with.

The next two days passed ungodly slow. Everyone took turns sitting with Johnny, each talking to him and urging him to come back to them. They bathed him, changed his bed linens and still he remained unconscious. Doc Jenkins came every day and left every day with the same worried look on his face. He had come to like this young man very much from the first time he'd met him. It was almost as hard on him as it was on the family. Murdoch stopped him on the second day after the accident. "Sam, I want you to be straight with me. Why hasn't he woke up yet?"

Doc Jenkins sighed heavily, he knew this was coming. He also knew Murdoch Lancer didn't like to be kept in the dark. "Murdoch, I have to be honest with you. Johnny has a fractured skull and a severe concussion. He may never wake up."

Murdoch stared at him in disbelief. "He will wake up, Sam. You know Johnny. He'll beat this!" The determination on his face almost gave the old doctor some hope but all he could do was nod at his friend. When Murdoch turned around, Teresa was standing behind him with tears streaming down her face. She had heard everything. Murdoch held her, giving her encouragement that he was not feeling himself. As he started back up to his son's room, there was a knock on the door. He opened it to find Cipriano standing there with his hat in his hand. "What is it?" Murdoch said a little more tersely than he'd meant.

"Pardon, Senor. The men were wondering....how is Johnny?" Cipriano asked.

Murdoch smiled at the vaquero. Johnny had been easily accepted by these men on his arrival home. Murdoch knew it was due largely to the fact that Johnny knew their life well and had a similar background. He shared a camaraderie with these men and, like everbody else who took the time to get to know him, they had warmed to him quickly. Murdoch's smile vanished as he answered. "There's been no change, I'm afraid."

Cipriano nodded sadly. "We are all praying for him," he said as he turned and walked away.

*****

Scott sat by his brother's bed, talking to him until he was hoarse. "Come on Johnny. I know you can beat this. It was just a little fall. Don't you think you've laid around here long enough. Listen, if you think I'm going to do your chores for you, forget it little brother," he teased. He stroked Johnny's hair and held his

hand. "Johnny, I need you. Please don't leave me," he whispered. He suddenly felt a twitch in his hand. He stared at it waiting to see if he had imagined it. "Come on, that's it. Wake up," he coaxed. Johnny's hand tightened around his own and Scott felt a rush of adrenaline. He looked back at his brother's face to see those sapphire eyes staring at him. If Scott Lancer tried to smile any bigger, he jaw just might break. "It's about time, little brother," he said. His eyes were alight with joy.

Johnny only stared at him. He didn't try to speak or smile. He looked very confused. "What is it?" Scott asked, worried now. Johnny just kept looking at him with that same confusion. "I'll be right back," Scott said and he ran downstairs. "Murdoch! Murdoch!"

"What's wrong?" Murdoch came rushing into the great room to meet his son.

"You've got to get Doc Jenkins back. Johnny's awake but something's wrong," Scott explained, huffing from his sudden sprint.

Jelly was at the door having heard Scott bellowing. "I'll get 'im," he said and ran to the barn. Murdoch

and Scott vaulted back upstairs and slowed down as they reached Johnny's door. They went in quietly, not wanting to startle the man. Murdoch approached his son and sat beside him. Johnny stared at him with the same look he had given Scott.

"It's all right son. You're going to be alright. Jelly's gone to get the doc. What is it, what's wrong?" He tried to keep his voice calm and reassuring. Johnny licked his lips and tried to speak but his throat was so dry he couldn't make any sound. Murdoch gave him a drink and eased his pounding head back down. It was almost more effort than Johnny could handle. Finally he found his voice.

"Who are you?" he asked.

Murdoch and Scott stared at each other in shock.

*****

Doc Jenkins ran up the stairs as fast as his advancing years would allow. Johnny had drifted off to sleep by then and Murdoch and Scott stood vigil. "He doesn't know us, Sam," Murdoch said miserably.

"Is that what you're worried about? You should be glad he even woke up!" the doctor exclaimed. He sat next to Johnny and nudged him. Johnny opened his eyes and stared at the new face. "Do you know who I am?" Doc asked. Johnny shook his head slowly. "Do you know who you are?" Doc asked. Johnny frowned at him and seemed to be thinking. He was becoming anxious and Doc waved his father and brother over in case they needed to hold him down. "Listen to me boy," Doc said soothingly. "You're safe here. No one is going to hurt you. You had a bad accident and you're injured. Try not to get yourself all upset now. This is your home. It's alright Johnny."

Hearing his name seemed familiar to him. "Johnny," he whispered.

"That's right. You're Johnny. Johnny Lancer," Doc said. He waited to see if this sparked his patient's memory.

Johnny closed his eyes and tried to think. It was familiar. Johnny Lancer. Yeah, that was right. And Scott? Yeah, his brother. It was coming back to him now. He opened his eyes and sought out his brother's face. "Scott?" Scott's face visibly relaxed and he smiled, moving to his brother's side.

"You had us scared there for a minute," he said softly.

"Just feel so stange. Everything's all jumbled up," he said, rubbing his head.

"Johnny? Do you know who this is?" Doc asked, pointing to Murdoch.

"Johnny studied the old man's face and grinned. "Nope, never seen 'im before in my life." Murdoch's face brightened and he smiled.

Doc was smiling too. "Now that's the Johnny I know," he said with satisfaction.

"Sorry I scared you," Johnny whispered.

"Don't worry about it son, you're going to be fine," Murdoch said.

"Now you just rest young man. That's what you need most of all. That and plenty of fluids and some broth when you feel up to it," Doc instructed. Johnny smiled weakly and closed his eyes. He wasn't about to argue the point. He felt awful.

******

Slowly over the next few days, the pounding in his head had lessened to an annoying throbbing. At least he could see clearly now. Everything had been a blur at first and he couldn't think straight to save his life. Now that the pain in his head was at least manageable, he was starting to get antsy about being in bed. He didn't dare ask to get up, he knew better than that. Besides, his entire body either ached or felt numb. Still, maybe he could just sit up in the bed. He decided he'd ask as soon as he managed to open his eyes. When he did, he saw his father watching him intently.

"What?" Johnny said suspiciously.

"Nothing. I was just watching you sleep, son," Murdoch said with a smile.

"Murdoch? You think it would be ok if I sat up in bed for awhile? I'm starting to feel caged in here," Johnny said with such genuine morose, Murdoch had to grin.

"Weeelll. I don't know Johnny. Maybe we should wait for Doc. He should be here anytime." Johnny nodded his head slowly and hoped Doc Jenkins wouldn't be his usual stubborn self. When he arrived, Johnny repeated his request and Doc studied him thoughtfuly.

"I don't see any harm in it. But if you get too dizzy or start to feel any nausea, you have to tell us right away."

"I promise," Johnny said gratefully.

Murdoch summoned Scott and Jelly to help him sit Johnny up. They positioned themselves, following Doc's directions and started to slide him up in the bed.

"Stop!" Johnny yelled out. His face was white, his eyes wide with terror.

"Lay him back down, now!" Doc demanded. "What is it Johnny?" he asked. Johnny stared at him with pure fear in his eyes. Doc had never seen such a thing from this particular patient. "Johnny, what is it!?" he persisted.

Johnny held his hand up and closed his eyes for a minute. He needed time to figure this out. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked at the doctor with pure misery and terrible understanding on his face. "Doc, I can't feel my legs," he whispered.

Doc Jenkins nodded sadly and Murdoch and Scott were taken aback. They had forgotten what the doctor had said about Johnny's back. They had been so happy just to have him awake.

******

Doc palpated his lower back again and though Johnny knew what he was doing, he couldn't feel anything. His heart was racing and his head was pounding. "Johnny, there's some swelling around your lower spinal cord. Now, the swelling will go down eventually, but..." he couldn't finish. Not and look into those eyes at the same time.

"But what?" Johnny said sternly.

"But, you may not be able to feel your legs even after the swelling goes down."

Johnny glared at him. "Are you telling me I might not be able to walk?"

"Yes, that's what I'm telling you."

Johnny kept staring at him in disbelief. Then he relaxed and closed his eyes. "Leave me alone," he said quietly.

"Johnny.." Murdoch started.

"I said leave me alone, please. Just for a little while."

Scott took his father's arm and nodded to him. They left the room and closed the door. "Scott, I don't think he should be alone right now," Murdoch said.

"Murdoch, he needs some time to take this in and to deal with it on his own. There will be plenty of time later for us to help him," Scott said gently.

Johnny stared at the ceiling and tried to understand what had happened to him. He kept thinking about the implications of this. He couldn't walk, he couldn't ride. He may never sit Barranca's back again. The tears would not be held back and after a minute he didn't even try. He figured he better get it out now and be done with it. He didn't want to break down in front of his family. But the thought of never feeling the pure power of his beloved horse beneath him again was almost too much. He was useless. He couldn't work on a ranch without legs! He was a burden now, a charity case. Johnny had spent his childhood fighting against being anybody's charity case. He wasn't going to start now! He tried to tell himself that it might not be permanent. He had heard everything the doctor had said. Still, he couldn't help feeling devastated. Suddenly, he felt more alone than he ever had in his life. One more horrifying thought came to him. He would never be able to make love to a woman again. He would never father his own children. These last anguishing thoughts ripped through his heart until he was sure it would stop beating. He finally fell asleep, exhausted from the emotions.

*****

A few days later Scott and Murdoch sat at the kitchen table. "He won't even talk to me, Murdoch. He won't even look at me," Scott said.

"I know, son. He's been that way with all of us since...well you know."

Scott nodded his head. Johnny had withdrawn into himself and nothing they had tried so far had reached him. Sam Jenkins came every other day and kept reminding Johnny this may resolve on its own, but that wasn't helping either.

"Maybe we need to shock him out of it," Murdoch suggested.

"How?" Scott asked.

"I don't know, make him so mad he tries to get out of bed?"

"That's just plain cruel!" Teresa cried.

"I know darling, but I'm at my wit's end. I just don't know what else to do."

Scott suddenly had an inspiration. "Barranca!" he exclaimed out of the blue. Murdoch and Teresa jumped. "Sorry, but that's it. Johnny will come around for Barranca."

"Scott, he can't ride, how's the horse going to help," Murdoch asked.

"I don't want him to ride. If we tell him Barranca's sick, he'll want to go to him. Get out of that bed."

"I think that's even meaner," Teresa said.

"I think it's a good idea son. I hate to lie to Johnny, but we have to do something," Murdoch stated.

"I know just the person to do it too," Scott said with a victorious grin.

*****

Jelly knocked softly on the bedroom door. "Johnny, you awake?" he said as he entered the room. Johnny turned his head away from his friend and Jelly grimaced. "Johnny, you know I wouldn't bother ya if'n it weren't important. It's just that I don't know what ta do. It's Barranca," Jelly said as miserably as he could. Johnny's head snapped up and he stared at Jelly. "He's sick, Johnny. I think he's missin' you so much, he's just plain made hisself sick! Now, if you could see your way clear to just go out there and talk to 'im, I'm know it'd do 'im a world of good!" Jelly said with a hopeful smile. Johnny stared at his friend suspiciously. "Johnny, ya gotta! He's layin down!" Jelly pleaded.

Johnny's eyes widened. "Help me up," he said as he struggled to sit.

"Ok, jest let me get some help," Jelly said as he ran out of the room. He returned with Murdoch and Scott.

"Get my clothes, I'm not going outside naked!" Johnny scowled. They helped him dress and Murdoch carried him out to the barn and sat him in a chair conveniently placed by Barranca's stable. Johnny stroked his mane and rubbed his neck. He turned on his family. "There's nothin' wrong with him!" Barranca whinnied and shook his head as if to tell Johnny he was wrong.

"Why sure there is, Johnny. Jest look at 'im, why he's plumb miserble," Jelly said.

"How could you do that?! Take me back!" Johnny yelled.

"No," Murdoch said bluntly.

Johnny stared at him in disbelief. "I said take me back!" he yelled.

"No, Johnny. You need to be out of that bed," Murdoch said gently.

"Why!? What am I gonna do?"

"Anything! Sit here with Barranca or sit out on the veranda. Anything except lay in that damned bed!" Murdoch said, determined.

"Right! Sit! Sit down or lay down, those are my choices. I want to go back to my room!" he yelled. Then he hung his head. "Murdoch, please. I don't want anybody to see me like this," he pleaded and looked up into his father's eyes. Murdoch nearly broke into tears at the look on his son's face. He very nearly gave in. Scott could see his father wavering and didn't blame him, but he had to be strong. He walked over and squatted down next to his brother.

"Johnny, you can't spend the rest of your life in bed," he said softly.

"What life! I don't have a life Scott!" he yelled. "Just get away from me all of you. If you won't help me, I'll crawl back. Is that what you want to see?! You want to see Johnny Madrid crawl!?" He lunged out of the chair and fell on his right side. He was lying on his right arm and he didn't have the strength to get it out from under him. Since his left arm was still in a splint, he was stuck. Johnny laid there with his face buried in hay and wept.

Murdoch couldn't stand it any longer and he picked his son up and held him in his arms. "Johnny, I'm so sorry. We were only trying to help you son. I just don't know what to do for you." The tears were brimming in his eyes as well.

Jelly couldn't stand anymore and he quietly walked out of the barn in time to almost get run over by Doc Jenkins. "Good grief man, you nearly got yourself run over!" Doc exclaimed. When he saw the look on Jelly's face, he softened. "Jelly?" Jelly just threw a thumb over his shoulder indicating the barn and walked off. Doc walked into the barn to quite a sight. Murdoch was holding Johnny as they lay on the ground. Scott stooped over them. "What the devil is going on here!?" he demanded.

Scott stood up to face the wrath. "We thought if we could just get him out of bed..." he said sheepishly.

"How?" Doc asked.

"Well, we uh, we told him Barranca was sick," Scott said, his face turning red.

"Unbelieveable! Would you mind getting my patient back in the house now, or were you planning on leaving him in the barn all night!" Doc said angrily.

******

Once they got Johnny settled back in bed, Doc Jenkins threw the two psychiatrists out of the room none too gently. "I suppose they thought they were helping," he said with a small smile.

"Doc, can you tell me if this is permanent? I have to know," Johnny whispered.

"Let me take a look" he answered. He once again palpated Johnny's back and Johnny couldn't feel his touch. "There's still some swelling there Johnny. I can't say for sure one way or the other. I'm sorry."

Johnny nodded. "But when you do know, you'll tell me the truth, right?" Johnny asked.

"You know I will, Johnny," Doc said. He was getting a bad feeling from this young man. He had seen it before, Johnny was giving up. "Now you listen to me. I'm an old country doctor, Johnny. If I can't help you, I'll find someone who can. Why they're making new discoveries in medicine every day!" he said as he spied the gunbelt that always hung on Johnny's bedpost.

"Ok, Doc." Was all Johnny said.

Doc left his patient to rest and sought out his family. He found them in the kitchen.

"How is he?" Scott asked.

"The same," Doc answered. "Murdoch, I want you to take Johnny's gunbelt," he said.

Murdoch looked astonished. "What? You don't think.." Murdoch exclaimed.

"I don't know, but I'm not taking any chances," Doc said.

Murdoch had never felt so miserable and helpless in his life. His heart ached for his son. "What can we do?" he pleaded.

"Well, no more trips to the barn! I'm going to send some telegrams, make some inquiries. See if I can find out any new information about this," Doc said. "In the meantime, I did bring something for Johnny. Come out to my surrey and help me with it," he continued.

*****

Murdoch and Scott brought the wheelchair into the living room. They figured they would give it a day or two before showing it to Johnny. "I don't think he's going to be a bit happy with this," Scott said.

"I know but right now I'm more concerned with Sam's suggestion that we take his gunbelt," Murdoch said.

"You don't really think Johnny would do such a thing!" Scott said astonished.

"Ordinarily, no never but, I just don't know anything anymore son," Murdoch answered.

"Maybe we should move it. Just to be on the safe side," Scott suggested, shuddering at the thought of his brother even considering taking his own life. Scott opened the bedroom door as quietly as possible. Johnny had his eyes closed but he wasn't sure his brother was asleep. He stepped lightly to Johnny's side and stood there for a moment. Johnny didn't move so he eased the gunbelt off the bedpost and turned to sneak back out.

"What do you think you're doing?" Johnny asked.

Scott kept his back to his brother. "I was just checking on you, go back to sleep. I'll see you later," he lied.

"Scott, turn around," Johnny said firmly. Scott turned slowly, moving his arms behind his back as he did. He smiled. "What's behind your back?" Johnny asked.

"Nothing, see?" Scott said as he brought one arm to his front, returned it and brought the other out.

Johnny sighed, he was so tired of this. He wished he were holed up in some dump taking care of himself like he had before he came home. "Put it back," he said simply.

"Put what back? I don't know what you're talking about."

"Scott! Put my gunbelt back where you stole it from now!"

"I was just going to, um, clean it for you. Yes, I was going to clean it. I'll bring it back when I'm done," Scott made up the lies as he went along.

"It doesn't need cleaning and you know it. Was this Sam's idea? I guess he thinks I'm gonna do myself in now. Just put it back," Johnny said. He was exhausted from fighting them all for every shred of dignity they would leave him.

"What's the problem here?" Murdoch asked as he entered the room.

"The problem is that you people seem to think I've lost my mind. I don't need a babysitter and I don't need a thief for a brother! Now put it back!" Johnny yelled. He wished he hadn't, his head started throbbing once again.

"Johnny, we're just worried about you, son. We don't want you to hurt yourself," Murdoch tried to explain.

Johnny stared at him astounded. "Why can't you understand? Why do you want to take everything away from me? Haven't I had enough taken away? Can't you at least leave me with some protection?" he pleaded.

Murdoch was stunned. He hadn't thought they were taking anything, but only trying to give Johnny love and support. "What have we taken from you, Johnny?" he asked softly.

"Oh nothing much. Just my dignity, my privacy and now the only protection I have. You've lied to me, treated me like a child and now you think I don't have enough sense not to kill myself! Get out, just get out!" he yelled. Murdoch walked out and Scott started to follow, but he stopped. He looked down at his hands and walked back over to the bed, placing the gunbelt back in its rightful place. Without another word, he left the room.

******

Murdoch was standing in the hall being stared down by a willful force to be reckoned with. When Scott came out, he started the other way. "Stop right there. What is wrong with you two? Have you just gone completely crazy?"

"Teresa we were only trying to help," Scott said shamedly.

"Trying to help whom? Johnny or yourselves?" she demanded.

"Johnny of course!" Murdoch said.

"Oh, really? Then why are you tormenting him? He needs your love and support, not to be lied to, tricked and stolen from. He's lost so much and now you two are hell bent on destroying him!" she yelled at them without remorse.

"Teresa!"

"Don't you Teresa me, Murdoch Lancer. Just get out of my way!" she demanded as she pushed past them and went into Johnny's room. She had to stop herself from slamming his door. She walked over and sat on the bed next to him. "I don't know about you, Johnny but I've had about all I can take of those two!" she said exasperated. When she looked at him, he was smiling and she had to smile back.

"You sure told 'em," he said with pleasure.

"Somebody had to, they certainly weren't listening to you," she huffed. "You know it's because they're both scared to death and feel totally helpless," she said softer now.

"I know but they ain't helpin'. In fact, they make it worse," he said with a sigh.

She took his hand and gave it a firm squeeze. "Well, I'm taking over now, so don't you worry about it anymore. I'll help you get well," she said lovingly. Johnny smiled at her and felt like crying again. Finally someone who understood that he didn't want to give up. He wanted to fight if they would just let him do it in his own way. But his father and brother were so wrapped up in their own misery, they couldn't see that. He really didn't blame them, he knew it was because they loved him but still, they made everything worse. He closed his eyes and relaxed for the first time, he felt safe in Teresa's care.

******

He was riding through an open meadow, the wind in his hair, his beautiful horse beneath him. He was laughing. He didn't have a care in the world. He felt like he was flying. Like he was once more riding the wind. Then the horse stumbled and he fell. He kept falling, falling and not hitting the ground.

Johnny woke up in a sweat and raised up quickly. His head started pounding once more and he slumped back down in the bed and sighed. Just a dream, he thought.

"Hey, are you ok?"

He heard the soft feminine voice beside him and opened his eyes to see Teresa sitting next to him. "Just a dream," he said.

"Good or bad?" she asked.

"Both," he smiled.

"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked.

He shook his head slowly. "No, my head hurts."

She smiled sympathetically and smoothed his blanket. "Well, try to go back to sleep, it's late," she said.

"Why aren't you in bed young lady?" he half-teased.

She smiled wider. "Somebody with some sense has to take care of you."

Johnny laughed softly. "Well, that would be you, Teresa," he said then his face became somber.

"Try not to be too angry with them, Johnny. They just love you so much."

He might have blushed if he hadn't been so tired, instead he just nodded his head and drifted back to sleep.

******

When Johnny awoke again it was late morning and Murdoch was sitting at his side. Johnny looked at him and could swear his old man was embarrassed. He would have laughed aloud except he was still ticked off. "Morning, son."

"Mornin."

"How are you feeling?"

"Ok, I guess. My head doesn't hurt too bad," Johnny replied.

"Good! I..um..Doc left something for you but I..well, I'm not sure if you want to see it," Murdoch stuttered.

Johnny looked at his father sideways and was hesitant to ask. "Why? What is it?" he asked, almost dreading the answer.

"Well, he thought you might like to be more...mobile," Murdoch said.

"Uh huh."

"He, uh...well it was his idea Johnny so don't get mad at me about it!" Murdoch said defensively.

Johnny grinned at his father's childlike defiance. "Murdoch, what is it?" he said patiently. Murdoch stood and walked into the hall. He returned with the wheelchair. It had a high wicker back and the wheels looked as big as wagon wheels. There were foot rests and some sort of belt across the seat. "What the hell is that?" Johnny asked with dismay.

"Now, if you're not ready for this, just say so. It's a wheelchair. You can move yourself around. I thought, if you want, we could take you downstairs. Then you could have a little freedom to move around," Murdoch blurted this recitation out quickly so Johnny wouldn't interrupt him.

'Freedom!' Johnny thought, 'what a joke!' He stared at the contraption like it was a rattlesnake. He felt like treating it as such and shooting the gruesome thing. "No," he said resolutely.

"Well, just know it's here if you change your mind," Murdoch said. Johnny thought he gave in way too easy but he figured he could get away with just about anything as guilty as the old man was. He wondered with some amusement if Scott felt as guilty. He might be able to use this some time. His face darkened then as he thought of what use there would be. What use was he now? "Johnny?" He was startled back to the present by his father's voice. "Son, I wish I knew what to do for you. I feel so helpless," Murdoch said miserably.

Johnny's heart softened for his father. He knew he wouldn't stay mad long, but Murdoch was making it impossible to stay mad at all. "Murdoch, come here," he said as he motioned to the side of his bed. His father sat down next to him and Johnny, with much effort and a supporting hand, raised up in the bed. "I know you want to help me. But...this isn't about you," Johnny said as gently as he could.

Murdoch nodded his understanding. "Tell me what you need, son."

Johnny sighed with relief. "Well, right now...I'm starvin!" he said with a grin. Murdoch laughed and headed off to the kitchen to feed his son.

******

He sat up in the bed waiting for his breakfast and thought about the dream he'd had the night before. Riding Barranca full out across a golden meadow, the wind quickening their pace. He thought he would never feel that again, or much else for that matter. He was scared. Johnny Madrid Lancer was scared. He came to this realization some days before but had pushed the thought away. Now, he had to face the cold reality that this could be his life. He remembered a man he had met last year. He had lost a leg in a wagon accident and was trying to kill himself. Johnny had convinced him he still had a life, that he still had two arms and a brain. Hypocrit! He thought. How easy it was to tell that man those things when he had no idea what the man was going through. Hell, he'd even gotten the man a job. Well, Johnny what are you going to do? Lay here the rest of your miserable life? Or are you going to at least try to make yourself useful somehow. But how? On a ranch, how could he be useful? He sighed as he tried to picture his life in a wheelchair. Tried to think of what kind of jobs there would be for him. No more bronco bustin', no more driving the herd or mending fences. The only bright side he could think of at the moment was no more branding. He chuckled to himself as he thought of teasing his brother about having to do all the branding. But wouldn't they start to resent him? Wouldn't they get fed up with waiting on him, helping him do the most private daily rituals? He shuddered at the thought of depending on someone else for his most delicate needs. Then he got angry. The anger surged up from somewhere deep inside. A place that Johnny hadn't allowed himself to go to for a very long time. Somewhere so deep inside him, he was sure it must be his very soul.

He threw the covers off and stared at his legs. He willed them to work, concentrating so hard on even one small movement until his head was throbbing again. He laid back against the headboard, panting from the sheer effort. He wanted to hit something, or someone. Or throw something or just....anything!

Johnny Lancer reared himself up and resolved to get out of bed. He had never let anything or anyone stop him from doing what he wanted and he sure as hell wasn't going to let a stupid accident destroy him! He used his right arm to pull his legs off the side of the bed and struggled to get himself in a sitting position on the edge. He stopped, catching his breath for a minute. Now what Lancer? You idiot! He made sure his feet were flat on the floor. He had to look down at them to do this and that just made him madder. With more resolve and determination than he had ever felt before in his life, he pushed himself up and summarily dropped to the floor with a thud. He laid there cursing himself and his body for not responding to his commands. He rested his face on the cool floor and, for the first time in his adult life, he prayed.

Murdoch burst through the bedroom door to find his son laying on the floor. "Johnny, what are you doing?" he demanded as he went to his son's side.

"Just thought I'd take a little stroll," Johnny said sarcastically. Murdoch shook his head at his mule headed son and started to help him up. "Wait!" Johnny yelled.

"What is it, did I hurt you?"

Johnny looked up at his father and smiled. "Yes, yes you did."

"And that makes you happy? Did you hit your head again?" Murdoch asked in dismay.

"It's not my head that hurts. It's my back," Johnny said still smiling. Realization dawned on Murdoch's face and he started laughing and hugging Johnny. Scott and Teresa ran into the room after hearing the loud voices to find the two of them on the floor laughing. They looked at each other in utter shock.

"Murdoch!" Scott said in his firmest military tone.

"Scott, help me get your brother in bed and then send for Sam. Johnny's back is hurting," he said through his laughter. Scott literally beamed as he scooped his brother up and laid him gently in the bed.

Teresa ran downstairs and sent the first hand she saw after the doctor. The smile on her face told the man it was good news and he rode faster than he ever had in his life. Sam Jenkins got to the ranch as quick as he could. Little Bobby Johnson's belly ache would just have to wait! He bounded up the stairs and entered the room to find the whole family laughing and smiling, including Johnny.

"What's all this?" he asked amused.

"Sam, come here. Johnny's back hurts!" Murdoch exclaimed.

Doc Jenkins looked skeptically at his patient. "Where?" Johnny laid his hand on his lower side to show where the pain was. Doc smiled. "Alright, don't go getting all excited on me. Let's just have a look," he said as he began to palpate Johnny's back once more. This time, Johnny flinched from the tenderness. Doc uncovered his feet and pretended to touch one. Johnny's face dropped as he couldn't feel the touch. Doc then tried again and this time, Johnny could feel it. "Can you move them at all Johnny? Just your toes maybe?" Doc asked.

"I'll try," Johnny said as he concentrated once more on willing his body to respond to his commands. This time there was movement. Not much, but Doc Jenkins definitely saw movement. He looked up at his patient with satisfaction.

"Before you throw this young man a party, we still have a long way to go," he said to the group.

"What do you mean?" Johnny asked.

"Well, son your legs have been out of commission for a month. The muscles are weak and they need to be exercised. it's going to be a while yet before you can walk. But, Johnny you will walk again," he said with conviction.

"I don't care what it takes, Doc. As long as you can tell me for sure that I'll be back on Barranca before it's over," Johnny said.

"I can tell you that for sure Johnny," he replied.

 

EPILOGUE

Two months later

"Johnny, are you sure?" Scott asked with a hint of fear in his voice.

Johnny smiled at his concerned brother. "Boston, I've never been so sure of anything in my life."

He swung up on Barranca's back in one swift move and sat there for a minute.

"Are you alright?" Scott asked.

"Yep, just gettin' the feel again," Johnny smiled. Then he kneed Barranca into an easy canter and led him out of the corral. It felt so good. Scott kept watching, waiting to go to his brother's aid if need be.

"How's it feel?" he called out.

"Feels like home, Boston," Johnny said and a big smile spread across his face. Scott saw something else that was all to familiar, mischief. Suddenly, Johnny kneed the palomino and said something to him that Scott couldn't hear. They were off in an instant. Johnny rode at a full gallop across the meadow, racing the wind. He felt more alive, more free than he had in his life. He also felt grateful, very grateful to be alive. He rode and rode......and thought how glorious it was to ride the wind.

 

 

~end~

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