Tough Love by Vicki N.

RATING: Rated PG-13 One strong language moment, two paragraphs to be precise.
DISCLAIMERS : Standard disclaimer. Lancer and the characters are not mine, but the story is.
SUMMARY: Scott accidentally stumbles upon the Pinkerton report on Johnny Madrid. Will he read it, or will he have a more drastic reaction?
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is in response to Deb B’s invitation to complete another of her story starters. Thank you Deb, for setting up such an interesting scenario and then letting us run with it. I hope you approve of my interpretation of where this could have gone.

Scott Lancer was sitting at his father’s desk studying the Army contracts that Murdoch had requested he review before the meeting next week. Except for the occasional scratch of his pencil when he made a note, the house was silent. His father and brother had left that morning to check the condition of the line shacks on the northern portion of the ranch. Teresa, his father’s ward, had retired hours ago. As the clock struck eleven, Scott realized how tired he was and decided to finish his perusal of the contracts tomorrow. Having made this decision, he gathered the pages together to return them to the bottom drawer of the desk.

As Scott was opening the drawer, he carelessly knocked over a cup of coffee. Fortunately the cup was almost empty and it appeared that only a few drops splattered into the drawer. To be on the safe side, Scott decided to remove all the papers and check that they were dry. As he was doing this, he found a bound report with the words JOHNNY MADRID blazoned across its cover.

With the coffee forgotten, Scott sat staring at the report. He had known the report existed. He probably even knew about a few of the events that the report included … the few that his brother had shared. But Scott also recognized the fact that there was a lot that Johnny had not told him. There were so many things that Johnny kept bottled up inside. Things that Scott would like to know for Johnny’s sake as well as his own. Although Scott loved his brother dearly, he was honest enough with himself to admit that there were times when he just didn’t understand Johnny. Could this report be the key to finally comprehending what Johnny’s life was like before he came to the ranch? Who Johnny was before he became Johnny Lancer? Would gaining this knowledge be worth any guilt he would feel for what could definitely be considered an invasion of privacy?

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Having come to a tentative decision, Scott closed the drawer, returning the tantalizing report to its previous place of ambiguity. He simply couldn’t bring himself to casually peruse details of Johnny’s life that may or may not be the complete truth. Well, not directly, anyway. He wasn’t about to simply ignore the document’s existence, but Johnny deserved at least a chance to come clean on his own. And one more chance was all he was going to get.

Standing, Scott groaned when his leg vehemently protested the movement. Reaching for the cane he had been using since being injured a week before, Scott hobbled from behind the huge desk and headed for his bedroom. Maybe if it hadn’t been for the bullet wound in his left thigh, a little gift from one of Johnny Madrid’s former saddle buddies, he wouldn’t be feeling this way. Then again, who knew? What he did know for certain was that Johnny was due back in two days. By the end of the third day, he would know quite a bit more about the elusive Johnny Madrid.

*** *** *** ***

With a terse groan, Johnny squinted in annoyance at the morning sun shining through his window. This wasn’t the first time he had cursed his draw of bedrooms, and he doubted it would be the last. Whether by luck or by design, his brother had ended up with the room on the other side of the hallway – the side of the house where the sun did not mercilessly invade the darkness every morning, including those few occasions on which he could indulge himself by sleeping in.

He and Murdoch had arrived back at the ranch well past midnight. The last thing his father had said, before disappearing into his own bedroom, was to tell Johnny to feel free to sleep in. Snorting, Johnny crawled out of bed and padded over to the window. His bare feet made a slight squeaking noise as he crossed the floor, but just as he reached to pull down the heavy draperies, he felt an old familiar shimmy making its way up his spine. He wasn’t alone.

Suddenly wide awake, Johnny spun around, his now wide-open eyes taking in every inch of the room around him, looking for whatever danger was lurking in the dusky shadows. However, when his eyes focused in on the source of his anxiety, his nervousness faded as quickly as it had appeared. “Mornin’, brother,” he said with an affectionate drawl.

“I’m glad you think so,” came the curt reply. Scott was sitting in the chair on the other side of his bed. Although dressed, his shirt was undone, revealing his broad chest and flat stomach. The usual etiquette monger looked uncharacteristically casual, even for an early morning surprise. However, it was the tangible sense of hostility hovering between them that bewildered Johnny and sent his ingrained sense of self-preservation into instinctive motion.

He didn’t like the feeling of vulnerability his brother’s unexpected visit had brought down on him. That the sense of comfortable camaraderie that usually existed them was conspicuously absent didn’t unnerve him nearly as much as the cool intensity that was clearly being aimed in his direction. Reaching for the pair of pants he had discarded only a few hours earlier, Johnny quickly pulled them on, not once taking his eye off the man sitting quietly across the room.

Feeling more at ease now that he was at least decently covered, he sauntered back across the room, where he plopped back down on the bed. Leaning causally against the headboard, he gave Scott a lopsided grin. “Somethin’ I can do for you, brother?”

Instead of answering verbally, Scott reached for something in the chair beside him. Even when he tossed the book-like item onto the bed between them, Scott still said nothing. However, the intense scrutiny of those gray-blue eyes, combined with the written words glaring up at Johnny from the folder lying next to his hip, made a formal explanation unnecessary.

Johnny’s blood instantly turned cold. He had expected this moment to come from the day he had agreed to become partners with his father and brother, only he had always pictured it would be Murdoch on the business end of this particular document. He couldn’t quite fathom what Scott was doing with the Pinkerton report on Johnny Madrid, or why he was acting so unusual?

“That supposed to mean somethin’? Johnny asked with a cold aloofness that belied the turmoil churning within his chest.

“It means,” Scott said with just the barest hint of concern in his voice, “that the time has come for you to fess up, brother. About everything.”

“You already know everything, so what’s the point?” Johnny challenged.

“I haven’t read it,” Scott countered, then added a biting, “Yet.”

Confusion and fear had Johnny’s nerves frayed to the breaking point. He felt like he was being set up, and while that feeling in itself wasn’t anything particularly unusual, it was when the source of that feeling happened to be coming from his usually understanding brother. Never before had Scott pushed him for answers about his past, so why was he doing so now? And why was he being so blatantly combative about it? Again, Johnny reacted out of pure instinct.

Bouncing off the bed, Johnny headed for the nearest door. When he tried the latch, however, nothing happened. Another few jerks and Johnny realized that the mechanism was jammed. With his panic mounting, he headed for the other door, only to find the same malfunction had occurred there, as well.

“You’re not running away from it this time, brother,” Scott stated flatly.

A quick glance at the only other avenue for escape, the window, reminded Johnny that the bars used to keep the outside out, also kept him in. With no other viable alternative, he returned to the bed. Plopping down with the same air of indifference he had cloaked himself in for he walk across the room, he leaned back against the headboard and returned his brother’s defiant stare with one of his own.

As the minutes of tension-filled silence extended, a battle raged inside Johnny. With the same tenacity that had proved life saving on more than one occasion, Johnny Madrid slowly but surely clawed his way from the obscurity in which he had been banished less than six months ago. Scott didn’t know what he was doing, and Johnny Lancer’s parting thought before becoming completely overshadowed by his alter ego was to hope that Scott didn’t push too hard. Brother or not, Johnny Madrid would not react as kindly as Johnny Lancer.

*** *** *** ***

The transformation that took place right before his very eyes was both daunting and mesmerizing. In a matter of minutes the man sitting on the bed had ceased to be his beloved brother. Now, sitting before him, was the man whose life was chronicled in the report that was still lying ominously between them. Johnny Lancer had disappeared into some unknown obscurity, and in his wake had emerged the crisp, emotionless form of Johnny Madrid.

Scott briefly wondered if he might have overplayed his hand, but just as quickly pushed those thoughts aside. Retreat was not an option. This was for Johnny’s own good, for his own good, as well as for Murdoch and Teresa and the other hands that were loyal to Lancer. The secrets would end here, in this room, or one of them would die in the process.

A small irregular beat of his heart reminded him that the later alternative was a distinct possibility. The brother in which he had total confidence could never intentionally do him any harm had been completely eclipsed by a man Scott didn’t even know; a man Scott wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know. With his actions he had effectively cornered Johnny Madrid, left him with no means of escape, and served notice that his life was about to be served up for scrutiny. Johnny Lancer would be mortified; Johnny Madrid’s reaction was, as yet, an unknown variable.

The minutes continued ticking away, the tangible silence broken only by Scott’s nervous breathing. He couldn’t even hear the sound of Johnny’s breaths, but the steady rise and fall of the other man’s chest gave credence to the fact that Johnny was still breathing right along with him. As he watched the movements of his brother’s chest, Scott was startled to see that they were breathing in unison. Had that been a subconscious reaction of his own mind, or was Johnny Madrid purposely toying with him?

With a sincerity he didn’t know he possessed, Scott fervidly thanked God for giving him the foresight to remove Johnny’s gun from the room before sabotaging the door latches. Although Johnny had made no overt moves to retrieve his weapon, Scott had no doubt that the only reason for this was because Johnny was already aware that it was not to be had.

Fighting off his rising anxieties, Scott stared back at his brother, hoping that Johnny had not picked up on his momentary fears. The man who had survived the hardships and dangers of the Mexican border through sheer grit and determination would no doubt exploit any show of weakness.

Scott lost track of time as he and Johnny fought a battle of wills with nothing but their eyes. It amazed Scott how his usually flighty and impatient brother could be so still and composed for what seemed like such a long time. How long had it been? Scott didn’t know. Johnny’s bedroom was laid out as simply as his life, and a timepiece obviously hadn’t been something he had felt the need to acquire. No matter, it was time for this particular standoff to come to an end.

Swallowing hard, Scott verbally drew the line in the sand, issuing his ultimatum with his own brand of determination. “Do you want to tell me your side of it?” he said in a voice more steady than he would have believed himself capable of at the moment. “Or would you rather I read a complete stranger’s interpretation of your life?”

Johnny didn’t answer. He didn’t even blink an eye at the challenge, which only served to infuriate Scott. All thoughts of compassion, or even fear, that might have threatened to derail his fact-finding mission were lost by the wayside. If Johnny Madrid wanted to make a fight out of this, then he was about to get a serious lesson on just how tenacious an Eastern dandy could be.

For over a week, Scott had been fighting to control his growing anger, had been trying to squelch the mounting frustration that had surfaced the moment it was discovered that the bullet dug from his leg had been put there courtesy of Johnny’s past life; a life he refused to share, except when it came to explaining why one of them had been hurt because of it. Only then would he admit to knowing who had it in for him, and why, but by then it was always too late.

Then, two days ago, Scott had inadvertently discovered that damnable report in Murdoch’s desk. From that moment forward, he had been unable to think of anything else. For two days he had planned the best way to confront his brother. For two days he had deliberated with himself over his right to know, verses Johnny’s right to keep his past his own. In the end, however, it was the throbbing pain in his thigh that cast the deciding vote. He had retrieved the file from Murdoch’s desk, and put into motion the chain of events that would now lead to revelation or annihilation.

In response to an urgent summons from the sheriff in Green River, Murdoch and Jelly had departed for Morro Coyo a little before sunup. Both were certain to be highly irate when they discovered the sheriff had sent no such summons, but Scott didn’t care. He needed Johnny to himself for this to work.

Thankfully, Barbara Cooper had provided him a reprieve where Teresa was concerned. A previously issued invitation to spend the day in town with her and some of the other young ladies had kept his web of deceit limited to just his father and Jelly. Teresa had ridden to town with the two men and would not be home until dark. There would be no interruptions, no interventions, and no salvation from whatever was to be.

“Have it your way, brother,” he said crisply, but not without making sure he stressed the word brother, just in case Johnny Lancer was still within hearing range. It wasn’t something he was counting on, but he wasn’t above exploiting any possible means to gain the advantage.

Steeling himself, Scott leaned forward and retrieved the report. Half expecting Johnny to make some sort of token gesture to stop him, Scott was surprised when his fingers made contact with the cold binding without any resistance. Recovering quickly, Scott pulled the document back into his lap.

“Johnny Madrid,” he read the bold block lettering with an interested sigh. Glancing up at his brother, he noticed the expression on Johnny’s face had not faltered in the slightest. “I don’t suppose you would be too inclined to tell me what made you decide on that name?” Scott asked without expecting to receive an answer, which he didn’t get.

Opening the folder, Scott said with only the slightest amount of regret. “Somehow I doubt that particular bit of information is going to be found in these pages, so I guess that’s one secret you’ll get to keep.” Scott casually scanned the first few paragraphs and then looked up at Johnny with a wry grin. “Then again, I could be wrong about that.”

“Ain’t the only thing you could be wrong about.”

Johnny’s response came in the form of a deadly soft voice that made Scott flinch. It was a voice he had heard only once before. They had both just arrived at Lancer, and had met Murdoch for the first time. Scott had quickly declined the offering of a drink, as had Johnny, only his brother’s refusal had come with less finesse and a lot more antagonism. It was when Murdoch had turned his back on them that Scott had heard the threatening tone of Johnny Madrid’s icy voice for the first time.

‘You got somethin’ to say, old man, say it.’ At the time Scott had jumped at just the sound of his Johnny Madrid’s voice, wondering not only how such a young man could have acquired such a fatalistic attitude, but also how it could be woven into a subtle timbre that could silence the entire world for an entire moment. Just thinking about it could make his skin crawl, but actually hearing it again had his stomach twisted into a hard knot.

“Care to explain that remark?” Scott asked pointedly.

“Ain’t none of your business,” came the softly dangerous reply.

Scott’s indignation flared out of control. “The hell it isn’t!” he growled. Standing, a tactic he had learned from his grandfather to place himself above, and therefore in a superior position to the adversary, he ignored the protest coming from his leg and used its stiffness to accentuate his point.

“This leg makes it my business. The slug dug out of your shoulder last month when Jack Dumas tried to take you makes it my business. Teresa having to witness the killing of Steve Cameron, all for the sake of some stupid ideology that says whoever can pull a gun out of his damned holster and shoot the other the fastest is something to be proud of, makes it my business! The uncertainty that each day might drag in another gun-toting stray from your past makes it my business. You are my brother, damn it, and you can bet your ass that makes it my business!”

“An’ you actually think knowin’ the gory details of things that happened in the past woulda stopped any of that from happening?”

Johnny’s voice was still soft, but not nearly as dangerous sounding as it had been a moment ago. The edge was still there, but there was something else, too, and Scott easily recognized the small part of Johnny Lancer that had resurfaced. “No, I don’t,” he replied calmly as he sank back down in his chair. “But maybe it would make the acceptance a whole lot easier.”

“It won’t,” Johnny argued with an almost calm indifference. “It’ll only make things worse.”

“Worse?!” Scott snorted in disbelief. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Like I done said, there’s more’n one thing you got wrong so far.”

“Maybe,” Scott agreed, but then added almost apologetically. “But that isn’t going to stop me, Johnny.”

Johnny shrugged and looked away. “Do what you gotta do, Boston. Just don’t blame me when you find out this ain’t the smartest thing you ever done. Johnny Madrid wasn’t no saint.”

A slight smile tugged at the left corner of Scott’s mouth, but the relief quickly faded. This was too fast, too soon. Johnny Madrid would never have acquiesced to such a blatant threat, nor would he have called him ‘Boston’. But that could only mean…the slow dawn of realization began to form in his gradually clearing mind.

He had been wrong. So had Johnny, for that matter. And Murdoch, and everyone else who tried to segregate one man into two distinct beings. “It would seem that I’m not the only one who is wrong about a thing or two. Johnny Madrid is neither saint nor sinner because he never even existed.”

A pair of steely blue eyes narrowed as they stared at him. “How do you figure?”

Picking up the Pinkerton report, Scott held it up for Johnny to see. “This is wrong. This isn’t a recount of the life of Johnny Madrid. It is the details of the life of Johnny Lancer.”

“You’ve gone plumb loco, Scott,” Johnny snapped defiantly. “Johnny Lancer wasn’t even around back then.”

With an enthusiasm born of a hard-fought discovery, Scott stood from his chair and took the two steps necessary to close the gap between he and his brother. Sitting on the bed, he held the precious document close to his chest. “How many legs does a cow have?” he asked in total seriousness.

“Huh?” Johnny’s face became a canvas of suspicious confusion. “What are you talkin’ about?”

Scott shook his head. “Just answer the question, Johnny. How many legs does a cow have?”

“Four,” Johnny answered hesitantly.

“Right. Now if I said its tail was a leg, how many legs would it have?” Scott pressed with barely controlled exuberance.

“Five,” came the even more hesitant response.

“Wrong!” Johnny nearly jumped off the bed when Scott let the report fall between to grab Johnny firmly by the shoulders. “Just because I say its tail is a leg, doesn’t make it a leg. Don’t you understand?”

Johnny eyed Scott very cautiously. “No.”

Taking a deep breath, Scott pulled back to regroup. With a chuckle he admitted that if he had been on the receiving end of the same scenario he would probably be looking at himself with as much skepticism as Johnny was right now. “Don’t you see, Johnny, it doesn’t matter what name you used, you’ve always been the same person inside. You could have called yourself the Crown Prince of Problem Solving, but that wouldn’t have changed the fact that you were still just plain Johnny Lancer, son of Murdoch and Maria Lancer.”

Confusion only slightly crowded the suspicion from Johnny’s features, but Scott couldn’t miss the familiar gleam that ignited in those fiery blue eyes. “You sayin’ I’m a tail, brother?” Johnny asked with a touch of amused sarcasm.

“Sometimes more than others,” Scott grinned. “Don’t you see what you’ve been doing, what we’ve all been doing, is all wrong. This,” Scott retrieved the document from the bed and held it up. “This isn’t the story of some heartless, obscure, killer who I never met and care nothing for.”

Grasping the report tightly to his chest, Scott fought back the emotional avalanche that was suddenly threatening to overtake him before he could make his assertions clear. “This contains the trials and tribulations of Johnny Lancer. This is an accounting of the hell the brother I didn’t know existed survived, so one day he could be the brother I know and love.”

Swallowing hard, Scott choked back his tears. “This is you, and I love you. All of you. The good, the not so good, and the oh-so-thankfully resilient. I’ve been wary of this information, fearing it as something I wouldn’t be able stand knowing, but it’s not. It is something to embrace, the key to understanding the brave, honorable, brilliant, compassionate, sometimes annoying as hell, man who is, and always was, my brother.”

Uncertainty flickered across Johnny’s flat expression, but Scott was not about to be dissuaded. He had found the answer, and with it, the reality that had been staring him in the face for months. “Johnny, I spent a year of my life in a confederate prison. I did things during that time that I’m not overly proud of, but I did them in the name of my survival, as well as the survival of others. When I was rescued, I carried the same burden of guilt you feel now over the things you did just to make it through the life you were handed.”

Reaching out, Scott slipped his hand behind Johnny’s neck and gently pulled Johnny to him. His other arm slipped protectively around a pair of tense shoulders, which he squeezed in a tight embrace. “Don’t you see, Johnny? You were a prisoner just as much as I was, only your jailer was life. You didn’t choose to be taken from Lancer, you didn’t choose to be thrust into an environment fraught with danger and hatred. The only difference between the two of us is that only a year of my life was taken from me, whereas you had to survive your hell for a lot longer.”

Even as the tears began falling shamelessly from his eyes, some landing without a sound on the pillow of dark hair nestled beneath his cheek, Scott basked in the relief, the knowledge, that his brother was not only free of that prison, but that he had survived it relatively intact. Sure, Johnny could be hard as nails, but it was the softness, the tender gentleness that Johnny hid only half as well as he thought that told the real story. With Johnny’s survival, Scott could accept all there was to know about his brother, with no condemnation, no censure, and no disappointment. There could be nothing but joy in true salvation.

“Scott,” Johnny mumbled against his shoulder. “I think I understand what you’re tryin’ to say, but you still ain’t got it just right. No one forced me to stay there. No one forced me to become a gunhawk. That was my doin’.”

In protest, Scott’s arms tightened around Johnny’s shoulders. “No it wasn’t. I know this is going to sound harsh, but it needs to be said, Johnny,” Scott begged softly. “The truth is that it was all your mother’s doing. She could have left Lancer without placing you in that environment. She could have made a living somewhere else, without doing the things she did, and without subjecting you to a future of poverty and crime.” Scott felt a bitter resentment stirring inside his soul and fought valiantly to keep it under control.

Once calm, he continued. “She put you in that prison, and she threw away the key when she told you those lies about Murdoch. If you hadn’t hated him so much, you might have returned here sooner. You would have had a chance for escape, but she took that chance away from you. I’ll always be eternally grateful to her fro bringing you into this world, but I’ll never be able to forgive her for stealing you away from the life you could have known.”

Having finished, Scott fearfully waited for Johnny’s reaction. Maria Lancer was a volatile subject with both her former husband and her son, and Scott’s words had been anything but pleasant. But they were the truth as Scott saw it. However, instead of an angry outburst, Scott heard only a light chuckle coming from his brother.

Dislodging himself from Scott’s arms, Johnny sat back and looked at him with a small smile that contained only regretful understanding. “I guess that kinda makes us even, Boston. I don’t gotta like your grandfather to appreciate what he done for you when you was growin’ up. I guess it’s only fair that you ain’t gotta like my mother for what you think she done wrong.” Pain clouded Johnny’s voice. “But you’re wrong. She didn’t have a choice, Scott. I know she didn’t.”

Pursing his lips, Scott stood his ground in the name of pure love. To give in now would be to let Johnny fall back into that pile of manure of self-doubt and self-recrimination. “Johnny, your mother’s reasons for leaving Murdoch were her own, and unless you know something you haven’t shared with me, those reasons died with her. However, she had every choice in the world when it came to what she told you about your father. She had no right, no justification, to burn that bridge for you. If she hadn’t been so selfish, Johnny Madrid would never have been necessary. That’s the cold, hard truth and it can’t be denied. Your hell was all her doing, not yours.”

Scott’s heart sank when Johnny bowed his head low. He had known even as he spoke the words that he was risking destroying everything he had gained with his brother, but he couldn’t help it. The responsibility for Johnny’s life had to lay somewhere, and better at his mother’s feet, the chief candidate, than at Johnny’s, the helpless victim.

As he tried to think of some kind of feeble peace offering that might keep this encounter from costing him his brother, he heard Johnny inhale sharply. Scott held his breath as he watched the dark head before him slowly rise to reveal Johnny’s anguished face.

Johnny looked at him, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. When he spoke the sound was painful and tempered with regret. “I know she done wrong by me, Scott, but she was my mother. I still love her.”

Immensely relieved by the lack of condemnation, Scott gave Johnny a reassuring smile. “I’m not asking you not to, Johnny. I’m simply asking you to accept that you are not to blame for the things that were done *to* you, not *by* you.”

Johnny nodded, but didn’t verbally acknowledge his agreement. A frown barely ghosted across his lips as his gaze became fixed on the discarded Pinkerton report, but his eyes easily belied his anguish. “What does that paper say about it?” he asked without taking his eyes off the report in Scott’s hands.

Glancing down at the Pinkerton report, Scott wasn’t sure what Johnny meant. “Say about what?” he asked.

Johnny snorted lightly. “About how I picked the name ‘Madrid’.”

Blushing, Scott knew he had been called. “It doesn’t,” he admitted. “I was just bluffing to get some kind of response out of you.” Johnny nodded, but Scott’s curiosity had been piqued. “Will you tell me about it?” he asked, hoping Johnny wouldn’t clam up on him again.

“Ain’t all that interestin’,” Johnny mumbled very unconvincingly.

Despite the day’s revelations, Scott still had a mission to complete, and he wasn’t about to back down. Shifting around so that he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with Johnny, Scott stretched his legs out, crossing them at the ankles. He might as well be comfortable if things were going to get ugly again. “I’d like to know, anyway.”

Johnny shifted anxiously, but remained next to him. “Scott…” he implored.

“Johnny.”

“El Tesoro Madrid Blanco.”

Scott looked over at his brother, sensing the deep pain that was lurking just behind those few unknown words. Even after these long months living in bilingual California, his Spanish was still remedial, at best. There had been too many other things he had been required to learn, about ranching and cows and living life in the west, for him to have put too much effort into learning another language. He had mastered the necessary words and phrases that were a part of dealing with the Mexican hands and neighbors, but that was all.

“Translation,” he requested softly. Next to him Johnny snorted, or maybe it was a sob. He couldn’t tell for sure. What he could tell was that Johnny was in pain.

“El Tesoro Madrid Blanco was how she died,” Johnny explained in a softly anguished voice. “I came home one afternoon and found her lyin’ in the floor. She’d finally drank herself to death. Two empty bottles of El Tesoro Madrid Blanco tequila where on the floor, too. The undertaker…” Johnny choked on a heartwrenching sob. “I heard the undertaker tellin’ my stepfather that he’d had to break her fingers to get the last bottle out of her hand.”

Scott didn’t know what to say. Like Murdoch, Scott had come to believe that Johnny’s mother had been murdered, presumably by her second husband. Little things Johnny had said, and his reactions to certain statements and situations, had fostered that belief in both father and brother.

Of course, that was before Scott had stumbled upon the existence of the Pinkerton report. Unconsciously his faith in that theory had been cemented with that discovery. Murdoch no doubt knew what was in the report, yet he had all but confirmed Scott’s assumptions during a quiet conversation back when Johnny was recovering from Jack Dumas’ bullet. This was obviously going to be startling news to their father, too.

“I knew without her, I wouldn’t be welcome in that house no more. Not that I was ever more’n tolerated anyway,” Johnny continued. “I figured I wouldn’t be able to stay alive without doin’…things, an’ I didn’t want to go sullyin’ my mother’s name, so I decided on Madrid.” This time Johnny’s snort sounded defeated and heartbroken. “I guess I coulda turned out to be Johnny Tesoro just as easy.”

“Madrid was the better choice.” Although sickened by the event that led to Johnny having to make such a choice, he wasn’t about to do anything but offer his full support for the choice made. Neither sounded better than Lancer, but of the two, Johnny Madrid definitely had more class.

“What else?” Johnny asked. His voice was cold and flat, but not argumentative.

Part of Scott wanted to give in, to let Johnny off the hook about the contents of he Pinkerton report, but he couldn’t. While doing so would be easier on Johnny now, in the long run he would not be doing his brother any favors. Getting it all out in the open, putting the ghosts to rest and removing Johnny’s constant fears that something in his past would come up and turn his family against him was the only way to give his brother lasting peace.

Over the next few hours he and Johnny went over the report in detail, with Johnny correcting the few things the detectives had gotten wrong, and expounding on the far greater number of facts they had gotten right. About thirty minutes into their review, Johnny had actually commented on how impressed he was with the report’s accuracy.

They had just finished the report, and Scott was sitting in a dazed silence while Johnny paced nervously around the room. It had been early on that Johnny had found it impossible to remain seated, retaking his place on the bed only when a particular fact, as dictated by Scott, seemed to require his visual inspection.

The last item had been the revelation that Johnny had been within minutes of death when the Pinkerton detective finally caught up with him. Scott couldn’t believe how close he had come to never having the opportunity to get to know his brother.

“So, where’s the key?” Johnny’s voice intruded into Scott’s agonizing thoughts.

“Huh?” he looked up absentmindedly.

“The key?” Johnny repeated with a gesture aimed towards the door.

Scott flushed, and Johnny’s expression turned expectantly demanding in response. “Well, it goes this way, brother,” Scott began nervously. “I…well…” winching at his own shortsightedness, Scott took a deep breath and blurted out his confession. “The doors aren’t locked.”

Johnny walked over to the nearest door and again tried to open it, with no more success than he’d had when he tried it earlier. “Then why won’t it open?” he asked suspiciously.

“I jammed the mechanism with hot coals,” Scott muttered. “It’s probably fused solid by now.”

“Are you crazy?!” Johnny yelled in a sudden fit of anger. “What if things hadn’t turned out so well? What if I’d…” Johnny stopped. He was staring at Scott, chest heaving from his ragged breaths, and his face a contorted mixture of paralyzing terror and disbelief. “I could have killed you!”

Scott shook his head. “No, Johnny, you couldn’t. You might have destroyed this entire wing of the house, but you could never hurt me. Not like that.”

“How can you be so sure?” Johnny was still breathing heavily. His fists were balled tightly at his sides, and he looked like he was about to explode. “How could you have done this to me?” he demanded softly. “Do you got any idea what woulda happened if I’d hurt you?”

Scott was amazed that through all he had done, all he had said, Johnny found this issue to be the breaking point of the confrontation. Slipping from the bed, he approached Johnny with caution. Not because he feared Johnny would hurt him, but because he feared Johnny would hurt himself, somehow.

“I trust you,” Scott said softly as he came to a stop in front of Johnny’s trembling form. “I trust you with my life, Johnny. I only sabotaged the doors because I also trust your well-honed flight response. I always believed it was just your way of avoiding us, avoiding facing things that hurt too much. Now I understand that you’ve always thought you needed it to protect us from yourself.”

Placing a hand on Johnny’s shoulder, Scott squeezed it reassuringly. “You don’t have to run from us, Johnny. No matter how upset you are, you could never hurt us. Never.” Half expecting Johnny to bow his head in remorse, Scott was startled when terrified blue eyes met his gaze.

“Yes, I could, Scott,” Johnny admitted. His total anguish was etched in every stress line on his normally smooth face. “If you only knew how hard it is to stay in control. I been so angry for so long…Scott…you just don’t know. Lashing out is too much of an instinct for me. Please promise me you won’t do nothin’ like this again.”

Scott started to protest, but the painful determination in Johnny’s pleading eyes stopped him just as he opened his mouth. “I promise,” he said with certainty. “I promise because I know I won’t have to do anything like this again. We slew those dragons in here today.”

Instead of agreeing, Johnny jerked away. “We ain’t killed nothin’,” he protested. “Just ’cause we talked about things, don’t mean they’s gonna go away.”

Unwilling to argue the point, Scott smiled. One day Johnny would figure out that his fear of having the past dragged out into the open was ninety percent of his control problem. Next time something came up, Johnny would realize it too, but until then, Scott could let him believe as he needed. Time was on his side, so Scott wasn’t the least bit concerned. “I said I promise, Johnny.”

For a brief moment Johnny merely stared back at Scott. However, before long that mischievous glint appeared in his eyes and a teasing smirk formed on his lips. “So, Boston, has that Harvard educated mind a yours thought of a way to get us outta here?”

“Actually…” Scott hesitated, then exhaled slowly. “No.”

“No?”

“Yes,” Scott somewhat reluctantly agreed. “I mean, yes, as in, no, I don’t have the slightest idea.”

With a roll of his eyes, Johnny headed for the chest of drawers in the corner. Kneeling down, he pulled out the bottom drawer and began rummaging around in its contents. “Good thing for you,” he called out over his shoulder, “that you have the Crown Prince of Problem Solvin’ for a brother.” Closing the drawer with a bang, Johnny stood and provided the visual evidence of his assertion.

As he watched Johnny begin removing the pins from the hinges in the door, Scott wasn’t sure what surprised him most: the fact that Johnny actually kept a hammer and chisel in his bedroom drawers, for what reason he was pretty certain he didn’t want to know; or that Johnny would have he audacity to actually refer to himself by the outrageous title Scott had thought up at the spur of the moment.

In a matter of seconds, Johnny had all three pins removed and was smiling victoriously in Scott’s direction. “Care to give me a hand?” he asked with a teasing smirk. “These doors ain’t the lightest things around.”

After a few grunting lifts, the heavy door slid away from the hinge plates, and was maneuvered against the adjoining wall. However, when the two men turned around, it was not an empty corridor that met their startled stares.

“Would you two care to explain what’s going on?” Murdoch demanded in and icy growl.

“The lock got jammed,” Johnny answered a little too quickly.

“Jammed?” Murdoch snapped. “And using the other door would have been too much trouble?”

“Well, sir,” Scott joined in. “It was jammed, too.”

Without saying another word, Murdoch shouldered his way into Johnny’s bedroom and proceeded to inspect the recently removed door. A deep frown furrowed his weathered brow when the mechanism did indeed turn out to be fused solid, and why. Moving to the far door, he repeated the same procedure, and obviously found the same situation.

Unfortunately, as Murdoch turned back towards them, he noticed the Pinkerton report lying in the middle of Johnny’s bed. Snatching up the document, he studied it in silence for a brief moment, then looked up, glaring at them with an expression they both knew meant he wanted an explanation and he wanted it now.

Scott and Johnny glanced sheepishly at each other. “Well, your Highness,” Scott mumbled to Johnny. “You wouldn’t happen to have any solutions handy for this particular problem, would you?”

+++ +++ +++ +++

After following Murdoch into the great room, in a flurry of words Scott had confessed all his three days worth of sins: finding the Pinkerton report, formulating a plan of action that included the fake note from the sheriff in order to get Murdoch and Jelly out of the way, retrieving the report, removing Johnny’s gun from his room, and, last but not least, sabotaging the door locks.

Although Johnny had been guilty of nothing, he insisted on standing by Scott’s side, or in this case, sitting by his side as their father paced the floor in front of them. This touched Scott deeply, even though he had already come to expect such steadfast loyalty from his younger brother.

For the third time in five minutes, Murdoch stopped, looked directly at Scott and opened his mouth to speak, only to snap it shut and resume his pacing. Finally, Scott couldn’t take it any longer. Yelling he could have dealt with, but this silent form of disapproval reminded him far too much of his grandfather.

Standing, Scott stepped directly into Murdoch’s path, forcing his father to stop. “Sir, I wish I was sorry for my actions,” he paused to sneak a peek at Johnny, who was grinning like an idiot from his seat on the sofa. “I wish I was sorry, but I’m not. I do, however, apologize for deceiving you and Jelly, even though it was necessary.”

“But not for this?!” Murdoch snarled as he waved in Scott’s face the report that had been held tightly in his fist ever since it had been retrieved from Johnny’s bed. “You don’t feel one bit of remorse for pilfering through my private documents—”

“Wait just a minute!” Johnny snapped to his feet. “How do you figure that’s *your* private stuff when it’s all about me? I’m the one who should be feeling invaded, not you. Were you ever gonna tell me you had that, Murdoch? Or maybe you was plannin’ on springin’ it on me the next time you thought I needed to be reminded of my place!”

Things were quickly spiraling out of control, and Scott knew he had to act quickly or his equally hotheaded, stubborn, and mostly unreasonable father and brother were going to be at each other’s throats once again. “Shut up, both of you!” he ordered in his most commanding voice.

Glaring at Murdoch, Scott held out his hand. “Give it to me,” he demanded with just as much authority as had actually, much to his surprise, silenced the two other men. His surprise was complete when Murdoch actually did relinquish the document.

“I take it you’ve read this, sir?” he snapped quickly, before he could lose his nerve or Murdoch regained his senses.

“Yes,” came the curt reply.

“All of it?” Scott pressed. What he had in mind was drastic, and final, so he didn’t want any miscommunication to turn his decision against him.

“Yes.”

Without even turning that way, Scott extended his arm fully to the side and with a quick flip of his wrist, sent the offensive document flying into the fireplace. Thankfully the weather had been just chilly enough for the fire to have been kept going through the night, so the remaining smoldering embers were enough to ignite the dry paper.

“What are you doing?” Murdoch demanded in outrage. He moved as if he planned to retrieve the burning document, but Scott grabbed him and held him back.

“You don’t need that thing anymore,” he said firmly. “If you want to know about your son, there he is.” Scott pointed directly at Johnny. “He’s already discussed what was contained in that report with me, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it with you, too.”

Glancing up at Johnny, Scott was surprised to see that his brother was standing there watching the paper burn in the fireplace. He looked pale, but at the same time, relieved. “Do you have a Pinkerton report on me?” Scott asked bluntly.

“Of course not? But what has that got to do–“

“Everything, sir,” Scott interrupted. “The three of us are right here, in this room, in this house, on this ranch. There isn’t a detailed outline of my life to be examined without my permission or consent, and there isn’t one on yours either. All I’ve done is put us all on even footing. If any of us want to know something about the other, we’ll find it out like normal families do — by talking to each other.”

“I’ve tried talking to him!” Murdoch yelled.

“No you haven’t.” Johnny’s voice was so soft it was almost inaudible as he continued staring at the disintegrating report. “You demand and you disapprove. You ain’t never *asked* me anything.”

A deafening silence filled the great room. Only the popping sounds of the fire broke the stillness. Scott waited, watching his father and brother both try to come to terms with issues that should have been settled back when they were first reunited. Fear and hurt had caused Murdoch to dismiss the transgressions of the past with the wave of his hand, while the same emotions had made Johnny close himself off from his father each time a clumsy attempt had been made to bridge the ever-growing gap developing between them.

Both men had leaned on that report for too long; Murdoch using it as a crutch to keep from having to knuckle down and ask Johnny the difficult questions, and Johnny, not sure of its existence but suspecting enough to keep waiting for the eventual ambush. The tension on both sides had never found a release, but now it could. Now it had too.

Scott held his breath as he watched Murdoch move stiffly over to Johnny’s side. Everything could change here, today, in the next few moments, depending on how Murdoch reacted. Time seemed to tick by slowly, and Scott could feel his lungs beginning to burn as they slowly depleted the oxygen in the breath he was still holding.

“Johnny, would you tell me about your mother?” Murdoch said more gently than Scott had ever imagined that usually gruff voice could be. “I…I loved her very much, and I would really like to know what happened.”

Ignoring the burning in his lungs, Scott’s entire being was focused on his brother. His heart sank when Johnny’s head bowed lower against his chest. However, a moment later Johnny’s head raised, and when he looked up at their father, Scott saw only anguish in his teary blue eyes.

“It’ll hurt,” Johnny said softly.

“I know,” Murdoch agreed. “But I have to know, Johnny. I have to know if that report was right, if she was killed by that man.” Murdoch’s agitation was obvious in both his voice and the hand that now gripped Johnny’s shoulder.

“It ain’t, at least not the way you’re thinkin’,” Johnny answered regretfully. “An’ there’s a few other things in that report that ain’t all that accurate, neither.”

Releasing his grip, Murdoch slipped his arm around Johnny’s shoulders. “I would like to hear about them all, son.”

Scott watched for a moment as his father and brother got settled on the couch. Already knowing what was going to be said over the next few hours, and knowing it would be both painful and cleansing for the two men, he slipped out without a word.

While this hadn’t exactly been the way he had planned today to work out, it was much more than he had ever dared hope to achieve. Murdoch and Johnny were talking, and as for himself, there were a couple of doors upstairs that needed some serious attention before Teresa got home. That girl would be the death of them all if she didn’t even have to open the door before barging into a room, which just wouldn’t do now that there was a chance for peace in the family.

~end~

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9 thoughts on “Tough Love by Vicki N.

  1. A great read, although I have to admit I thought it was very reckless of Scott to seal them up in Johnny’s room like that. Thankfully it worked out and the two men were able to talk and come to some resolution
    And it was good that it led to Murdoch and Johnny also being able to talk
    Lancer lives on!

    Like

  2. I really enjoyed this story. I love the interaction between the brothers, how Scott looks after Johnny and seeing the boys and their father get closer. I’m so glad Lancer lives on through all the great stories!

    Like

  3. Hey Vicki,

    Interesting take on the ‘Madrid File’ we always knew about, but never fully. Scott’s now or never approach was risky but effective, and amazingly he survived unscathed. Love the regal title he gave Johnny.

    Johnny escape tools-too cute. So I can’t help but wonder, did Scott get in trouble for damaging two doors?

    Enjoyed your story.

    Elin

    Like

  4. Very nicely written, smooth and intense at the same time. Some sentences and paragraphs were simply sublime – I particularly liked your description of Lancer turning into Madrid. A very special story! To be read and re-read!

    goldieasj

    Like

  5. Tough Love, indeed! Scott liked thin ice, didn’t he? It would have saved a lot of time and trouble had they all talked things out sooner, but some truths are hard to face, and some people would prefer to keep them buried. Very interesting story! Thank you for sharing.

    Diana

    Like

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