The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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goldieasj

 

 

Devotion

Johnny grinned at the idea of a nor’easter. Not just the fact that it was a “funny word,” which of course it was, but also the very idea of a storm of that magnitude. And all that rain. Out in dignified Boston. Nope, couldn’t happen. When Scott offered the alternative word “cyclone,” that was even funnier. Same impossible storm, two different silly names. Johnny suggested his brother was pulling his leg.

Scott rolled his eyes. “Why would I lie to you about something that innocuous?”

This time Johnny laughed out loud. “There you go again, Boston, with those big words.” The two of them were the only hands remaining in the barn after the crew had spent the day herding horses from the west range back to the barn corral. The other men had finished work and were eating supper at the picnic tables in the yard since the weather was nice. Not a nor’easter in sight anywhere.

Johnny vaulted a saddle rack and playfully punched his brother in the stomach, all in one graceful move. “You best be careful, brother, or I’ll start talking to you in Spanish.” He turned back to his horse Barranca with a curry brush but instantly whirled back to Scott. “And you won’t have any idea what I’m saying, will you?” He returned to currying Barranca and laughed loudly.

Scott shook his head in feigned frustration. “How can I ever teach you anything about Boston if you don’t take me seriously? I think you’ve been working too hard, Johnny. You’re getting giddy.”

“Another made-up word!” Fresh laughter.

“All right, fine. Let me ask you this. I’ll bet there’s even a Spanish word for ‘nor’easter’?”

“Sure! Mi hermano está loco!”

Turns out Scott did know a little Spanish, and Johnny got a slap on the rump. Both of them laughed and Scott chased his agile younger brother around the barn, actually catching him and rubbing his face in some hay. “Uncle, brother, uncle!” Johnny sputtered, raising his arm. Both were laughing too hard to speak at first, but Scott finally blurted out, “That’ll teach you to have some respect for your elders!”

Johnny sat up and spit out some hay. “Ugh! How can these animals like this stuff?”

Scott replied coolly, “Maybe animales está locos!” Surprised, Johnny started laughing so hard he fell back in the hay. Scott watched his younger brother fondly. How wonderful it had been – two years ago already – to discover he had a brother, and what a joy Johnny had turned out to be! And best of all, Scott knew Johnny felt the same way about him. They were comfortable together and completely trusting of each other. They may not have grown up together, but as grown men they were making up for lost time. And for the most part, their father allowed it. Rejoiced in it, even. Murdoch Lancer had turned out to be a pleasant surprise for both of them, also. His love for them was obvious, as was theirs for him. Scott knew he would be eternally grateful to Murdoch for getting the three of them together. He shook his head and grinned as this thought occurred to him, as it did every single day. Working, playing, relaxing – life had never been more enjoyable.

“Come on, Johnny!” Scott said. “Let’s finish up in here. That food smells good. I want to get some supper pretty soon!”

Johnny was still laughing as he threw a handful of straw at his brother, but he jumped back into action currying Barranca.

*****

Oddly enough, it was Scott who noticed it first. Small bits of hay drifting down from the hayloft. No reason for it, of course, so Scott assumed some tiny animals were partying up there. He smiled at that idea and went back to currying his horse. Johnny started singing softly in Spanish to Barranca as he worked. Scott had no idea what the lyrics meant, but the pure joy of performing simple tasks with his beloved brother sometimes overwhelmed him and he smiled. How different was this life from the regimented unemotional way his grandfather had raised him! In his staid Boston upbringing, he had seldom been happy. But here at Lancer – all the way across the country in California! – everyone at the ranch, and especially his brother and father, had welcomed him with open arms. Literally. In his heart, Scott almost believed he did not deserve such happiness.

More hay drifted down. Scott chuckled and quit brushing. He pointed with his curry brush to the hayloft and said, “I think there are mouse festivities up . . .” He turned to his brother and was puzzled to see that Johnny had stopped singing and was on full alert. As a gunfighter, Johnny often reacted to things that Scott or Murdoch would have considered “innocuous.” But in this case, there didn’t seem to be any possible way there could be danger. They were safe in a barn, and the yard was full of Lancer ranch hands, all armed. If there had been any danger, surely there was plenty of protection.

Confused, Scott was about to ask Johnny what was wrong, but was interrupted by his horse and Barranca and the other horses in the barn and corral all starting to neigh at the same time. In addition, his horse and Barranca began to rear up as much as their tethers would allow. The other horses in the barn began to kick at their stalls. He could hear the mares in the corral outside running riotously around and slamming into the fence. He glanced out the open barn door and saw the men were as mystified as he was. Most were standing and looking wildly around and some had drawn their guns at the unseen danger.

Completely confused, Scott turned to Johnny. “What is going on?”

Johnny ignored him and whispered “No!” Then he yelled, “Earthquake!” Whirling quickly back to Barranca, he deftly dodged the dangerous hooves from the panicking horse and released the clips from his bridle. Immediately Barranca bolted from the barn and ran off. The men in the yard picked up on Johnny’s cue and some of them yelled “Earthquake!” also. Scott was mystified, but something even scarier began happening. The floor beneath his feet began shimmying and he saw the stall doors and the side walls of the barn shake, at first gently and then with increasing intensity. He had heard of earthquakes but had never been in one and recognized he would have trouble keeping his balance. He instinctively knew he would not be safe inside the barn but hesitated. Johnny bolted from the barn, yelling to Scott as he ran, “Get those horses out of here!” Scott’s uncertainty lasted only a second. He watched Johnny race for the ranch house and knew he was planning to get Murdoch, Teresa and Maria out of the house. Scott yelled at the men, “Someone help me with these animals!” and he turned back into the barn.

His poor horse was completely panicked and wouldn’t allow its rider near it. Scott managed to unclip one side of the bridle but the horse sidestepped and half-reared and blocked his way to the other side. He saw two of the ranch hands rush past him to the stalls in the back.

The shaking was intensifying and Scott fell. His attempts to regain his footing were hampered by a couple of the horses from the back of the barn bolting for the open door. Apparently the men had reached the furthest stalls and were beginning to release the horses, one by one. Everyone was shouting and the horses were frantically neighing and it was complete chaos. The barn was also making loud noises as it shook and Scott wondered if it would be strong enough to remain intact. It was shaking dangerously and he doubted it.

Two more of the horses rushed past him, one of them knocking into him and knocking him down again. He had to roll quickly to the side to avoid his own horse’s pounding hooves. Grabbing the nearest stall to right himself, he made a lunge for the remaining clip on the bridle. He held on to the mane with one hand and the clip with the other, even when his horse reared up. He felt his feet leave the ground and for one second enjoyed the feeling of “control.” As he and his horse again reached the quaking floor, he managed to unhook the clip and the frightened animal reared one more time before bolting out of the barn.

Scott fell to his knees, realizing one of the hooves had scraped the side of his head. He felt the warm blood and struggled to regain his footing. The shaking was making it impossible to stand and falling debris and dust were making it impossible to see. A couple more horses lunged past him and he grabbed on to the stall again for support. One of the men also ran outside. He saw the man turn back to him and yell, “Get out, Lancer! Now!” He fleetingly noticed the outside men running away from the buildings. Looking inside the barn again, he saw one more horse remaining in its stall, frantically rearing and trying to escape. But Dave, the final man, was at his side and making a grab for him. “We’ve got to get out!” Dave yelled. He was close but Scott could barely hear him because of the general chaotic noise and the new ringing in his ears.

Scott shook his head no, and pushed Dave toward the open door. “There’s one left!” he yelled to him. Dave made another grab for him, but Scott had already started for the horse. Dave looked back at Scott but realized there was nothing he could do. He ran for the safety of the open door just as part of the front barn wall began collapsing. He lost his footing but scrambled out the door to safety. Looking back into the barn through a large opening afforded by the partially-collapsed wall, he could see Scott trying frantically to unlatch the final stall. At the same time, Dave saw Johnny and Murdoch Lancer and Teresa running toward the barn and yelling Scott’s name. “He’s still in there!” yelled Dave.

Soon the horse came running out of the barn as best it could with the shaking ground. Scott, right behind the animal, once again lost his footing and fell just inside the doorway. At the same moment, the roof over the front of the barn collapsed. Scott covered his head with his arms but they afforded little protection against the crumbling building. Someone screamed, but it is unclear which of the Lancers it was.

Maybe all.

*****

The Lancers and ranch hands gathered outside the barn door and waited for the ground and the building to stop shaking, which happened shortly. Murdoch had his arms around Teresa and Maria, both of whom were sobbing. The ranch hands were talking amongst themselves. The only person who jumped into immediate action was Johnny. He raced to the barn at approximately the area he had seen Scott collapse and began moving boards and debris to the side. Dust was everywhere, making it hard to see. As he worked, he yelled, “Some of you men come help me! The rest of you round up those horses!” He turned to his father, who had abandoned the women and started removing the fallen boards. Murdoch’s face was ashen and he seemed to be in shock.

“Murdoch!” Johnny said. “Leave this. Go check the house.”

“No, I . . . I can’t. My son Scott . . . Scott is in . . “

Johnny needed to somehow snap Murdoch out of his trance. He had enough men to help and knew Murdoch would only be in the way and would be devastated if Scott was found dead. “Go check the house! Murdoch, go check the house!” Johnny yelled, even though his father was standing right next to him.

“The house is . . . is fine,” Murdoch haltingly said.

Johnny quit working and grabbed his father by the shoulders. “I know the house was built strong, and it’s probably OK, but make sure! When we get Scott out of here, we have to have a safe place to take him! Do you understand?” He turned to Teresa and Maria, both of whom were still crying and holding on to each other. He believed they should be elsewhere also. “Maria,” he said, “Lleva a Teresa a la casa. Obtener vendas y bálsamos. Prepárate. ¡Apúrate!” He gently shoved the women in the direction of the house and was grateful when Murdoch apparently came to his senses and herded them along with him. “Ladies, we have to make things ready for Scott!” Murdoch said persuasively. As he started for the house with them, he looked back at Johnny, who nodded gratefully. In his heart, Johnny was thankful for small favors; if this turned out to be a devastating day, he knew he and his father would need each other later.

Johnny then turned back to the task at hand – removing the debris of a crippled barn as quickly as possible in hopes that his brother was still alive.

In hopes that his brother was still alive.

This stubborn thought again occurred to Johnny but he worked hard to push it to the back of his mind. There was no one on earth he loved more than Scott, not even his father, and Scott’s best hopes for survival rested on the expedient removal of the debris. And Johnny needed a clear head to direct these efforts.

He knew approximately where his brother was. All he had to do was find him. Before another tremor.

*****

Johnny, Dave, and a couple more of the hands stationed themselves front and center and formed an assembly line of sorts, removing as much debris as possible and handing it off to other hands, who removed it from the area. Johnny was at the very front, evaluating each board before he carefully removed it from its position, making certain that the removal of any particular board would not cause the entire barn roof to collapse.

Because in fact part of the roof was hanging precariously down in front, the area where the men were working and Scott was buried. One side of the barn had already collapsed and the roof was resting on some partially-leaning supports. Dust was still in the air and it was hard to do much without coughing, but Johnny instinctively knew there was not much time before the sagging roof collapsed completely. Ignoring the coughing, ignoring everything except the need to remove the right debris without disturbing anything and as expediently as possible, Johnny toiled. He handed board after board to Dave, working strenuously, endlessly it seemed, taking precious time to evaluate each small and each large bit of debris, hoping he calculated correctly and that each piece would not be the one to cause more collapse. Johnny’s hands were cut in several places from nails and wood fragments, but he did not take the time to put on his gloves. The thought that Scott was only in this predicament because he himself had implored him to return to rescue the horses kept nagging at Johnny. Scott was buried under the rubble of a collapsed barn, and Scott could be dead. Johnny’s hands were bleeding and his back was aching, but he knew that these were merely the beginning of the penances he would inflict upon himself if his beloved brother was dead.

After what seemed like hours but was probably only a couple of minutes, Johnny had cleared enough debris to detect an opening. He allowed only seconds for the dust to settle before he wedged his way in. He heard coughing and saw Scott lying safely inside, protected from debris for the most part by a makeshift “roof” comprised of a portion of the wall that had fallen and settled itself upon some vertical boards. Although Johnny could not see his brother’s legs, Scott appeared largely uninjured. Scott smiled at Johnny and said feebly, “Hello, brother.” He coughed and tried to turn onto his side. Johnny had to limit his brother’s movement by holding his head and shoulder. He noticed that Scott’s head was cut, but that’s the only injury he could see. Johnny wanted to take a moment to breathe a prayer of thanks, an attempt to defuse some emotion, but he could hear the creaking of the roof as it rested unsteadily on the debris and he knew time was of the essence. He smiled reassuringly at his brother and said, “Hang on, Boston, we’ll have you out in a minute.” He touched his brother’s face gently and then crawled backwards out to the men.

“He’s alive!” he called out. “I need something to shore up those boards – something strong to keep them from caving in!”

The Lancer ranch hands were a loyal bunch – paid well and worked fairly. They were glad to hear the owner’s son, one of the owners himself, would survive the destructive earthquake. But they did not mistake the solemnity in Johnny’s voice. Scott was alive but Scott was still in danger.

Johnny yelled “Now!” before crawling back in. Once at his brother’s side again, he maneuvered around and waited for the first board to reach him. While waiting, he again assessed any damage to his brother’s body and talked softly to him. “Won’t be long now, Boston,” he said softly as he lovingly brushed his brother’s hair off his face. Scott smiled feebly. Johnny began to feel pangs of mawkishness and was grateful when the first shoring board reached him. He quickly surveyed the area and placed the board perpendicularly under what appeared to be the strongest roof area. He did the same with the second board, and the third and fourth, and then yelled that there were now enough. He had placed the last two boards above Scott’s legs and doing so allowed him to finally start dragging Scott away from his prison. His pinned legs freed at last, Scott was able to assist Johnny, minimally at first, then more energetically as he realized one leg wasn’t seriously hurt. “Easy, Boston, easy,” Johnny commanded. “Don’t kick anything. Let me do the pulling.”

They didn’t have very far to go, but just as they reached the door opening, the section of the roof that had remained somewhat intact finally collapsed. All along, there had been creaks and groans and strange noises coming from the wreckage that clearly indicated it would not remain standing much longer. Johnny was well aware of them, but hoped to god that he could get his brother out in time. His hopes were dashed as he heard the roof beginning to crash in. Instinctively he knew he no longer had a chance to get Scott out of the wreckage so he made an instant decision to try to save Scott’s life. With lightning reflexes, he threw his own body over his beloved brother. To hopefully minimize the impact, he arched his back and covered Scott’s head with his arms.

As the crumbling building and the pain settled on him, Johnny’s last thought was that he had been unable to save Scott’s life.

*****

Teresa couldn’t stop crying. She had been crying, on and off, for hours, ever since the earthquake. She would no sooner get herself under control than something would trigger it again – a chicken found dead, a small quake aftershock, Scott telling her it was OK to cry. She took Scott very seriously and clung to him, sobbing until she couldn’t any more, completely aware she should be tending to him instead of the other way around.

When she finally had cried out all her tears, Scott softly told her, “There, that’s better. It’s going to be all right.” Remembering the loving gesture Johnny had paid to him, he gently brushed Teresa’s hair from her face, well aware that everything was far from “all right.” To rectify this last statement, he added, “Johnny wouldn’t want you crying over him.” Teresa apologized mindlessly and sat up straight in an attempt to control herself.

The dust had finally settled and landed on everything. Teresa unthinkingly brushed some dirt from her skirt. She finally looked at the collapsed barn and the men working frantically to clear the debris. Sitting next to her on the bench, Scott followed her gaze and did the same. He thought of what lay under that debris and wished he could allow himself to weep as Teresa did. But he knew he had to be strong – for her, and for Murdoch. And maybe to prove something to himself. It was only a couple of hours ago, he recalled, that the thought of his contentment with his new life had once again occurred to him. Perfect things aren’t possible; and even if they do happen, they are destined to end, Scott thought dismally. He let his head lean back against the wall and closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, Murdoch stood in front of him. Teresa was handing him a canteen, which he accepted gratefully and drank from deeply. In a moment, he ran his shirtsleeve across his face to erase sweat and dust and addressed Scott, “They told me you were awake. How are you feeling, son?”

Scott tried to stand but the effort was more than he could handle at that moment. He remained seated and answered, “I’m all right, sir. I’m told you’re the one who set my leg. Thank you.”

Murdoch waved it off. “Clean break. It’ll heal fine. That cut on your face looks like it came from something sharp brushing against it. Teresa cleaned it for you.”

At the mention of her name, Teresa stood up and indicated Murdoch should sit instead. “I’m going back over to help,” she said. “You need to rest for a minute, Murdoch.” And, throwing back her shoulders and momentarily making Scott proud of her, she marched over to the collapsed barn and the heartbreak it represented.

Murdoch sat as commanded. “Just for a minute,” he said to no one in particular. He sighed, a very deep, very long sigh, and leaned his head back as Scott had. Scott watched his father, envious but painfully aware that it was now just the two of them. And not just on the bench.

In a minute, Murdoch spoke. “You’ll be woozy for a while, son. We gave you something for the pain.”

“Oh. And thanks to whoever worked up this crutch for me.”

“Dave.”

“Thanks then, Dave.” The half-hearted attempt at conversation came to an end, both of them unwilling to speak the unspeakable.

In a moment Murdoch sighed again and stood. “I’d best get back over there,” he said wearily.

“No!” Scott surprised both of them with the intensity of his voice. He toned it down. “You have to rest for a while! I don’t want to lose . . .” Embarrassed, he looked away.

Murdoch looked down at his oldest son. He rested his hand tenderly on Scott’s shoulder. “Son,” was all he said before he leaned down and touched his forehead to Scott’s. Then this man who was so very tall, in so many ways, straightened up and walked back to the collapsed barn to once again assist the men working hard to clear the debris. Scott watched him longingly, blinking back the tears. For some reason, in a yard full of people, he felt very alone.

Scott helplessly watched Teresa and the men remove board after board from the wreckage. He wished fervently he could help them. A couple of times he tried standing but he did not have the strength. After a short while, Teresa apparently noticed his efforts and returned to him.
 
“Scott, let’s get you in the house,” she said, helping him to stand. With her help and the aid of the crutch, Scott managed to hobble to the largest upholstered chair and fall heavily into it. She stood in front of him.

Scott was miserable. The pain potion, most likely laudanum, made him nauseous and didn’t do a good enough job of killing the pain. He was hungry but was afraid to try eating. He was dirty and his clothes were torn. His brother was most likely lying dead under the collapsed building.

His distress must have been evident. He wanted to talk but couldn’t think of anything to say.

Teresa watched him for a minute. Then she said, “Don’t worry about the house. It’s safe. Murdoch checked it. Then Jelly and Slim. We lost some tiles but the structure is . . .”

He waved it off. “No, I wasn’t worried about that. I was just thinking about . . .” This was not the time. Not yet. When he saw her look down in obvious distress, he quickly said, “I was wondering what happened. How did they get me out . . . ?” He couldn’t bring himself to say it, but it was implied. And not Johnny?

Teresa made a palpable attempt to control her voice. “Murdoch,” she said. “He was so good, Scott. I wish you could have seen him. When the barn first caved in, he was there right away. He yelled for the men who had gone after the horses to let them go and come back and help. Then he organized everyone into pairs. Two men at a time dug into the debris and removed it. Then the next two men, and so on. Murdoch kept them in a constant rotation and I think it is working much faster than if they hadn’t.”

Scott nodded his head impassively. “But how did they . . . ?”

“They found you first. Your arm was showing through. Johnny was on top of you. They were able to pull you out but . . . but Johnny . . . I guess something was pinning him down. They had to get you to safety and then go back for him. But then that’s when the back of the barn collapsed, and . . . and pushed the whole mess forward again. They had to start over to look for Johnny.” She looked down in anguish. “They never even got to see if he was alive.”

“I see,” said Scott automatically. He leaned his head back against the comfortable chair and wished to god he could turn the clock back to the time just before the earthquake, when he and Johnny had been joshing each other and enjoying being alive. Being alive. Scott began to feel so very tired; he allowed his body to sink into the soft cushion of the chair. He could hardly keep his eyes open. He heard Teresa tell him there was a pitcher of water next to him if he needed it, and he felt her put a footstool under his hurt leg and a pillow behind his back, and that’s all he remembered before falling deeply asleep.

*****

“I’ll go ride for Sam!”

Sam? Sam the doctor? Who’s talking to me? Scott shook his head, trying to shake off the trance he had been in. Was someone talking to him? His eyes were very heavy and he tried unsuccessfully to force the lids open.

Scott realized the drug was still imposing its effects on him. He fought through it and then gratefully heard his father’s booming voice. Murdoch was saying something about the quake probably hitting the entire valley, and it would be foolish to ride for Sam because he would be hard to find and would eventually make his way to the Lancer ranch anyhow. Scott realized they were not talking to him or about him. He finally was able to force his eyes open and they were met with an astonishing sight.

Johnny!

“Johnny!” Scott attempted to shout, but his throat was dry and dirty from the dust and he could only barely manage to scrape the word out.

The room was full of people and a few heads turned at the sound of his voice. Murdoch looked over at him and nodded. “Scott,” he said reassuringly. “We found your brother. He’s going to be all right!”

Any tension Scott had been feeling suddenly melted away. The drug was retarding his movements and to some extent his thinking, but not his emotions. He felt a deep feeling of gratitude at his father’s words. But when he looked closely at Johnny, all the carefree feelings vanished. Johnny was lying on the couch just a few feet from him. He was clearly unconscious and had what appeared to be a very serious gash in his head. Teresa was crying again and holding bandaging cloths to his head and changing them to new ones as they filled with blood. (Johnny’s blood!) Some of the ranch hands were standing around and looking very concerned and even distraught. And Maria, the Mexican cook, was kneeling by the couch and praying.

Johnny did not look like he was going to be all right at all. Murdoch had merely been trying to mollify Scott, saying almost the same things he himself had said to Teresa earlier.

“No!” Scott shouted, much louder this time. He attempted to jump off the couch to get to his brother, but he forgot that his leg would not work and he fell painfully to the floor.

Dave, the ranch hand who had tried to get Scott to leave the falling building and who had made him a crutch later, started toward Scott in an effort to assist him, but stopped when Murdoch gave him a look. Murdoch himself came over to Scott and got him back in his chair.

Scott was in pain and sitting awkwardly due partly to the drug and partly to his injury. And Murdoch could see that he was clearly very upset. Scott tried a couple more unsuccessful times to stand but his father was too strong for him and managed to keep him in place.

“Scott, there’s nothing you can do,” Murdoch said gently. “There’s nothing anyone can do right now.” He held his son’s arms to the armchair to keep him from moving too much.

“That’s my brother! I have to help him!” Scott struggled in vain against his father. “Let me go, Murdoch!”

“Calm down, son. Please. Calm down. You’ll only hurt yourself. You’re too upset.”

“Damn right I’m upset! That’s my brother! He’s not all right, he’s badly hurt!”

“It’s in the hands of God now. There’s nothing anyone can do. Please calm down, son.”

Finally the thought that there was in fact very little he could actually do reached Scott’s heart. He stopped struggling against his father and Murdoch released his hold and sat heavily in the chair next to him. Scott gazed longingly at Johnny. All along he had thought that Johnny was dead, then for one wonderful moment Johnny was all right, and then, just like that, Johnny was dying again. Scott had never felt so helpless in his life. “He’s my brother,” he whispered miserably.

“He’s my son,” Murdoch whispered. Just as miserably.

Johnny was a sad sight - so much blood and his face so very very pale and he wasn’t moving at all. Scott forced himself to look away and glanced at his father. Murdoch was in the chair next to him, sitting tall as if he did not have a care in the world. But his eyes were closed, squeezed tightly in fact, as if it was too painful to open them. Scott knew that it probably was. He reached over and put his hand on his father’s. At first Murdoch did not respond. Then he curled his fingers around his son’s. He did not open his eyes.

Scott closed his eyes as well. This allowed him the luxury of not having to see his badly injured brother or his suffering father, but unfortunately his mind began to wander. Scott thought back to the times he’d seen men die, some of them even at his own hand. War was very difficult on the emotions - he had even seen a hanging and a duel - and he had learned to steel himself. But, he reflected, never once in his life had he loved anyone who had died. He had never loved anyone at all, until he came to Lancer.

And now he knew love. And it was possible . . . likely . . . possible . . . Scott squeezed his own eyes tighter, understanding very well why his father did the same.

For several moments, they stayed like that, until they both heard Jelly yell, “Murdoch! I think we got the bleedin’ stopped!”

Faster than Scott would have thought he could move, Murdoch jumped from his chair and rushed to his youngest son’s side. He knelt down next to Maria and talked softly to Johnny, who could not hear him.

From the chair, Scott watched longingly. He made no attempt to move closer, out of respect for his father, who he knew wanted him to stay where he was to avoid further injury. He watched as Teresa cleaned the wound one last time before wrapping a bandage around Johnny’s head. When she sat back heavily in her chair, Scott imagined she had been attending to Johnny for a while already. He sent her a subliminal “thanks.”

Strangely enough, Teresa opened her eyes and met Scott’s. She rose wearily and came over to him, siting in the chair Murdoch had vacated.

“How are you?” he asked her.

“I’m all right,” she sighed. “Everyone’s all right, except for you two. A couple of the men had minor injuries trying to dig Johnny out, but mostly everyone’s OK.”

They both looked back at Johnny. In a moment, Scott hesitatingly said, “How is he?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, Scott, I just don’t know. The poor guy got hit by something hard when the building collapsed. The bleeding didn’t even stop until now. You’re not supposed to lose that much blood. Look how pale he is. That’s not Johnny.”

“I know head wounds do that.”

She looked down. “I know. But still . . . he’s barely breathing . . .”

“Is he OK otherwise? Anything else?”

“Murdoch looked him over. He can’t find anything. In a way, Johnny was lucky because those same boards that protected you protected him, too. Just some bruises below his knees where something fell on his legs and scrapes on his hands when he was trying to rescue you. I think if that building hadn’t collapsed a second time, he would have got you both out safely. But . . . it did . . .” She hung her head.

Scott felt her pain and wanted to comfort her, but he had to deal with his own first. He knew he shouldn’t be thinking about the guilt he felt that Johnny was hurt in the first place because of him, but he couldn’t help himself. The fact is . . . it was true! Johnny was only hurt because he was trying to help. He had been trying to rescue Scott. If Johnny had simply left Scott where he was, he wouldn’t be dying now. Johnny would be as healthy as Teresa said the other men were. But for many reasons, Johnny would not have been able to do that. And Scott knew the most important one.

He looked over at his brother but could not see Johnny because many people were crowded around him. Strangely enough, just then he heard Murdoch announce, “Let’s move away and give him some breathing room.” Murdoch’s voice was usually full of command and it was back to normal now. The men moved away and began separating in conversational groups. Murdoch leaned down and said something quiet to Maria, who nodded and left for the kitchen. Scott could not hear what he said but apparently Teresa did, for she told Scott, “Murdoch has asked Maria to make cakes for the men as treats and to heat water so they can clean up. I think I’ll go help her.”

As always, Scott was amazed at the power Murdoch had to command people. He secretly wished Murdoch had the power to heal Johnny.

Then Murdoch announced, “I know the bunkhouse isn’t safe right now. And you men have already worked hard today. You’re all welcome to sleep here in the hacienda tonight if you like. I believe this building is safe, barring anything new as strong as we felt earlier, anyhow. In the morning, we’ll get together and fortify that bunkhouse.”

Scott watched about half the men go outside, wishing he had their freedom of movement and ashamed of himself for thinking of himself instead of Johnny.  It had grown dark out and some of the men outside lit the lanterns and set up more. Scott watched as bedrolls were unrolled on the ground.  Apparently many of the hands were afraid to stay in the hacienda and chose to sleep outside. Scott understood that and did not blame them. A few men remained in the great room and seemed unsure what to do next. Scott surprised himself by announcing that his and Johnny’s rooms would be available tonight. Murdoch surprised everyone by announcing his room was available also.

Scott looked over at his father. “Sir,” he said, “I can watch over Johnny for a while. I think you should get some rest.”

Murdoch chuckled and laid a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I’m going to stay up tonight and watch over both my sons.”

“But . . .”

“No arguments, Scott.” And that was that.

*****

As the evening wore on, Scott was given more medication and gratefully felt the pain began to ease and evaporate. When the women brought out pieces of cake for everyone, he took one and asked Teresa to save one for Johnny. Murdoch generously opened several bottles of wine and passed them around to the men both inside and outside. Some of the men had retrieved clean clothes, and Maria and Teresa did the best they could to wash the dirty ones for them. Some of the men were darning torn clothes and mending broken bridles. The atmosphere was far from jolly, but at least a lot of the tension had been released.

Murdoch sat in the chair next to Scott, and Scott was grateful to see his father nodding off for a while. Whenever he awakened, Murdoch checked on Johnny, fidgeting with the bandage, opening his eyelids, listening to his heart, feeling his pulse. At one point he announced, “It’s much stronger” with a smile.

But the night wore on and Johnny did not awaken. Scott expressed concern about this to his father, but Murdoch replied that it didn’t matter. Scott knew very well that it did in fact matter and that his father was very much aware of that. He knew Murdoch was trying to ease his worry. He was grateful and did not mention it again.

Teresa went to her room for the remainder of the night, but both Scott and Murdoch stayed in the great room with Johnny. Occasionally one or the other of them would nod off but for the most part they were wide awake. Worry can do that.

Scott appreciated his father’s company and was surprised and pleased with the tenderness Murdoch exhibited toward Johnny. Sometimes the big man paced, and sometimes he sat in one of the chairs. When he was sitting next to Johnny, he talked to him. Soft, easy words that Scott could not make out. But from the look on his father’s face, they were words of love and encouragement. When Murdoch was sitting next to Scott, the two of them spoke. Mostly about Johnny, but also about Scott himself. Murdoch seemed very interested in Scott’s previous life in Boston, more than usual, and Scott believed it was because he was trying to take Scott’s mind off his worrying.

At one point during the night, Scott looked over to see Murdoch tenderly brushing Johnny’s hair from his face. Scott instantly felt tears sting his eyes as he was reminded once again of this gesture Johnny used on him and that he himself had used on Teresa.  The thought that he had not deserved this happiness again occurred to him. Johnny had to get better!

But Johnny did not awaken.

When the morning’s sun finally came streaming into the great room, Scott awoke to the next day. He realized he had probably been dozing for a couple hours but when he looked toward his brother, Murdoch was still sitting next to Johnny and talking softly to him. In addition, Murdoch was holding Johnny’s bandaged hands. Scott took a moment to shake the sleep from his head and regain his bearings. But something drew his attention back to Johnny. He looked more closely this time and he could tell that there was more color in Johnny’s face and it seemed Johnny was moving! He was moving his head slightly and he was groaning and moving his hands.

Johnny was awake!

Scott let out a strangled yell that caused Murdoch to look over at him and smile. “Both my sons wake up for the new day,” Murdoch said with a catch in his voice.

*****

Although he didn’t know it, Johnny was sitting in the same spot on the bench that his brother had three days ago. He absently watched the men work as they rebuilt the barn instead of frantically tearing it apart. He was envious, but he had long since passed the point of wanting to join them. Entreaties from Teresa and Sam the doctor, threats from his brother and something close to pleading from his father had convinced him that it was necessary not to exert himself for the next few days. If he wanted to get better, and of course he did. Life for Johnny was finally worth living.

He was deeply in thought, and his thoughts varied. Some were unhappy, such as his anguish over his belief that he was essentially responsible for Scott’s injury. But a small smile came to his lips as he recalled his bewilderment when he woke up to the sight of Murdoch holding his hands. He remembered being confused at first and then quickly realizing what had happened. He felt the pain, but when he saw Scott hobbling over to him and the looks of joy on the faces of his brother and father, the pain disappeared. Nothing in the world mattered to him more than the fact that the three of them were alive and together. Johnny smiled gently and looked down. Sometimes the true bliss of this life overwhelmed him, overwhelmed the bad things.

Johnny didn’t hear his brother limping over to him until Scott was standing in front of him.

Scott pointed with his crutch to the empty seat next to Johnny. “Excuse me, is this seat taken?” he asked teasingly, and sat down without waiting for an answer.

Johnny chuckled. He loved the fact that Scott was his brother, Scott was alive, Scott had his sense of humor, Scott wanted to be with him . . . “Tell me, brother,” he said, “Is that the line you usually use to meet women? Because if it is, that explains why you’re still a bachelor!”

“Oh, no!” said Scott in mock seriousness. “I usually refer to their eyes as ‘diaphanous sapphire-blue gems.’”

“Uh huh. And how well does that work?”

“It worked pretty well until the day I said it to a beautiful lady with brown eyes and a bad temper!”

They both laughed. Then, comfortable in each other’s company, they grew silent as they distractedly watched the re-building of the barn.

It was some little time before either one of them spoke. Scott looked over at his brother’s face, at his half-closed eyes and his look of contentment, and wished fervently that he didn’t have to break this mood. He cleared his throat and then said, “Johnny, listen. I . . . I just want you to know how much I appreciate . . . “

“Don’t say it, brother.” Johnny didn’t move except for his smile disappearing.

“You almost died because you tried to rescue me! Of course I’m going to . . . “

Johnny turned quickly to face him. “Scott, you and I both know that I should never have sent you back into the barn to free those horses in the first place!”

Scott stared at his brother in surprise. “Johnny,” he said very seriously, “please don’t think for one minute that I blame you. I would’ve done it whether you said it or not.”

Johnny turned back to watching the men. He was quiet for a moment, as if he was carefully weighing what he was going to say next. He finally spoke, in a soft voice. “Thank you. But I blame myself.”

“No, you shouldn’t . . .”

Johnny interrupted his brother. “Scott, I really love this life. Things have never been better for me. I admit it was hard at first, but . . . but I guess I realized how nice it was to have a place to be, something to call my own, a family. . . I’ve been in earthquakes before. As soon as I knew what it was, all I could think about was getting Murdoch out of the house. And Teresa and Maria. I wanted to save the horses too, but you were right there. I knew I wouldn’t have time to explain it to you and I figured I would be faster at getting Murdoch out. So I told you to do it instead – save the horses. I’m sorry, Scott, I wasn’t thinking.” During this speech, Johnny had continued looking in the direction of the barn. But it appeared that he was looking through, rather than at, the barn.

Scott cleared his throat. “It seems,” he said softly, “we have a stalemate here. You feel guilty about keeping me behind in the barn, and I feel guilty about you getting hurt while trying to rescue me.”

Johnny nodded almost imperceptibly.

“But,” Scott continued, “since it was nobody’s fault, other than Mother Nature anyhow, why don’t we stop blaming? Johnny, I love this life too. I never told you, but I was pleased as punch to find out that I had a brother. Probably the best day of my life – first my father and then a brother! Murdoch turned out to be exactly how I had always wanted him to be, rather than what I’d always been told. And you turned out to be the perfect little brother!” Scott had to smile when he saw the corner of his brother’s mouth turning up. “Let’s stop blaming . . . anyone . . . and start living again. What do you say?”

Johnny turned back to his brother. “Yeah,” he said, “I guess you’ve always been there for me, and I plan on always being there for you.” He extended his hand.

They shook hands meaningfully. Pain and injuries notwithstanding, they both felt very very good. They watched the re-building for a minute, and then Scott smiled and said, “I’m going to try harder to learn some Spanish. Soy malo en hablar.”

Johnny laughed. “You know what this quake was, Scott? It was innocuous!”

Scott laughed, too. And gently brushed Johnny’s hair from his face.

 

 

~ end ~

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