Word Count 8,925
WARNING: Death of a major character
Warning: graphic descriptions of violence.
Thunder crackled across the early morning sky just as Murdoch Lancer sat bolt upright in bed. He looked around wild-eyed for a few seconds as he struggled for reality. Lightning lit up the room briefly, just long enough for him to realize it had only been a dream. He sat on the side of the bed and lit the lamp, opening his pocket watch and noting the time. Three o’clock. Johnny was born at 3 a.m. Why did that thought come to him?
He realized it was because of the nightmare he’d just had. Still vivid in his mind, he could see his son standing in the yard, soaked to the bone in the driving rain. Johnny had his back to him and when he called to his son, Johnny turned. That was the nightmare, Johnny completely soaked, but not with rain, with blood. His son looking pleadingly at him and asking one question. Why?
Asking him why as if Murdoch had caused the injury. What the injury was, he could not see, all he could see was blood covering Johnny’s face and body. He shivered at the vision and stood up to look out the window at the torrential downpour.
Teresa got up and quickly slipped into her robe. Wrapping her arms around herself, she stared out at the storm, shutting her eyes as the lightning illuminated the courtyard. She couldn’t get the dream out of her mind and the feeling of dread that consumed her.
She could see Johnny plain as day standing in the courtyard, his back to her. Dripping wet in the storm, he made no effort to come inside. She had called to him, beckoning him inside the house. He had turned then and that’s when she had awakened, stifling the scream. She shuddered as she recalled the sight when he’d turned. He’d had no face, only a pulsing mass of muscle and blood.
She felt ill then, fighting the nausea the thought provoked. Why had she dreamed such a horrible thing? She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. That something ugly and evil was about to happen. She also couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed to check on him.
Chastising herself for being a silly girl at first, the need to see him became overpowering. As the thunder boomed overhead, she jumped at the sound and knew she would not be settled until she set eyes on him.
Murdoch opened his bedroom door just as Teresa passed him hurriedly. She hadn’t seemed to have seen him there and when he called to her, she did not respond.
He followed her to Johnny’s door and laid a hand on her small shoulder. Teresa spun around, a look of fear on her face that caught Murdoch offguard.
“What’s wrong, darling?”
“I….I had a nightmare …. about Johnny. I just wanted to check….” she trailed off. Hearing the words come out of her mouth made them seem suddenly ridiculous.
“I had a nightmare about him, too,” Murdoch said in a hushed tone.
They looked at each other for a long moment, then turned back to the door. Teresa couldn’t make herself open it however, so Murdoch gently guided her aside. He opened the door silently, not wanting to startle his son. Experience had told him it was unwise to wake Johnny suddenly.
They crept into the darkened room, trying to adjust their eyes and focusing on the bed. Lightning hit again and they could see the form on the bed for a brief second. Unsatisfied with this tiniest glimpse, Murdoch stepped softly to the bedside and leaned in. He could hear Johnny breathing softly, evenly, and he smiled. He wanted to laugh at the outrageousness of the situation but instead, he took Teresa’s arm and gently guided her back into the hallway.
“He’s sleeping. I’m glad someone can,” he smiled.
“Don’t you think it’s odd that we both had nightmares about him at the same time?” Teresa asked.
“I guess so, but he’s fine, honey. Go on back to bed,” Murdoch shrugged.
“I doubt if I’ll sleep much. I’ll be glad when Scott gets back,” she said.
“Because I want to know if he dreamt about Johnny, too,” she said quite seriously.
“Teresa, don’t be ridiculous,” Murdoch said patronizingly.
“It’s not ridiculous, Murdoch. We both dreamt about him and I take it your dream was as disturbing as mine,” she said defiantly then turned and walked away.
Later that morning, both Murdoch and Teresa were moving slowly, exhausted from the sleepless night of creeping about.
Johnny bounced down the stairs with a smile. “Good morning,” he exuded.
He got a grumble in reply.
“What’s the matter with you two? You look like you didn’t sleep a wink,” he grinned.
“I guess the storm kept us awake,” Murdoch fibbed.
“Storm? Oh, yeah. Doesn’t bother me,” Johnny shrugged and sat down.
“Obviously,” Teresa quipped as she set a plate of food in front of him.
Johnny smiled brilliantly at her and she felt like crying. She thought she might pull her hair out as she waited for him to finish his breakfast and leave. She wanted desperately to talk to Murdoch.
Johnny finally left for the day’s work and she sighed heavily.
“Tell me about your dream,” she said.
“Oh, Teresa, will you forget about that?” Murdoch said, exasperated.
“No, I will not. Now, tell me about it,” she said firmly.
Murdoch sighed and described the dream he’d had that night. When he finished, he looked at her and took her arm.
“Are you alright?” he asked, alarmed at her pallor.
“It’s almost exactly like mine, Murdoch. Almost exactly!” she exclaimed.
Jelly walked into the barn and found Johnny saddling Barranca.
“Mornin,” he said.
“Mornin, Jelly,” Johnny smiled, then frowned. “Storm keep you awake, too?”
“You look as haggard as Murdoch and Teresa this morning. Did the storm keep you up, too?” Johnny explained.
“Well, yes and no. Storm didn’t wake me but I dreamed about it. Dreamed about you, too,” Jelly said.
“Oh? Hope it was a sweet dream,” Johnny teased.
“It was not! It was awful, just awful!” Jelly yelled.
“Take it easy, Jelly. It was just a dream,” Johnny said, concerned at his friend’s outburst.
“Sorry, it was just ….. it was real scary, is all. You be careful today, ya hear?” Jelly warned.
Johnny laughed softly. “Sure Jelly, I’m always careful.”
Jelly walked into the kitchen, still in deep thought, when he heard Teresa tell Murdoch that their dreams were alike.
“What dreams ya talkin about?” he asked.
“About Johnny. We both had horrible nightmares about him,” Teresa explained.
Jelly felt the need to sit down suddenly as his knees quaked. “Was he out in the rain?”
“Yes,” Teresa answered, watching him closely.
“Soaked to the bone and had his back to ya?”
“Yes, Jelly,” Teresa said, her voice trembling.
“And when ya called to ‘im and he turned around?” he asked.
Teresa swallowed hard and dropped her eyes. “He had no face,” she whispered.
“He was covered in blood, head to toe in mine,” Murdoch replied, his own voice failing him a bit.
Jelly shivered visibly as he heard this. “Did he say anythin to ya?”
“No,” Teresa answered.
“He asked ‘why’,” Murdoch said.
Jelly closed his eyes for a moment and bowed his head. “He turned around and there was a great big hole in his belly, pourin blood. He said ‘help me’,” Jelly said in a husky voice.
Tears fell from Teresa’s brown eyes when she heard this. “Murdoch, go get him. Bring him back home,” she pleaded.
“This is just crazy. Something must have been said last night that we all took to bed with us. That’s got to be the reason we all had almost identical dreams,” he argued.
“That ain’t it at all! Somethin bad’s gonna happen ta that boy! Teresa’s right, ya got to go get him,” Jelly said angrily.
“And tell him what? We all dreamed you were hurt last night, Johnny, so I want you to stay home forever?” Murdoch said sarcastically.
“Not forever, just today. At least today. Maybe we won’t have the nightmares anymore and it will be alright,” Teresa tried to convince him and herself.
“That is ludicrous and Johnny would say the same thing. I cannot believe the two of you are taking this seriously,” Murdoch said adamantly.
“Fine! But you just know that if anything happens ta that boy today, it’s your fault!” Jelly huffed and stormed out of the house.
Johnny rode in that afternoon, tired and wet, but intact. Murdoch was walking out of the barn as he dismounted and he sighed in relief, berating himself for his foolishness at the same time.
“How was your day, son?” he asked.
“Wet,” Johnny laughed, looking down at his pants which were damp to his knees.
Murdoch chuckled and looked at the sky. “Looks like we’ll get more rain tonight.”
Johnny’s eyes followed his father’s. “Yep. I know we need it but it’s awful hard to work in,” he grinned.
Murdoch wrapped an arm around him and they walked into the house together.
“Johnny!” Teresa exclaimed and ran to hug him.
“Teresa,” he replied with some confusion.
“Welcome home,” she said.
“Thanks, but I was only gone a few hours,” he said, pulling back and looking quizzically at her.
“Well, that doesn’t mean I can’t miss you,” she smiled. “Oh look at you. You’re all wet. Why don’t you get changed and I’ll fix you some nice hot chocolate to take the chill off.”
“Okay, that’d be nice,” Johnny said, looking at her like she’d lost her mind.
Murdoch and Johnny sat in the living room talking and sipping Teresa’s hot chocolate.
“What’s the matter with her? She’s acting a little strange,” he asked.
Murdoch raised an eyebrow but decided to only edge around the truth. “She had a nightmare about you last night. It shook her up pretty good,” he said.
“Yeah? Jelly said he dreamed about me, too. I must be popular,” Johnny laughed.
“That must be it,” Murdoch chuckled.
“I sure hope Scott didn’t get caught up in all this rain. He’ll be sick as a dog when he gets home,” Johnny commented.
“He should be back this evening or in the morning at the latest.”
“Supper’s ready,” Teresa called from the dining area.
The men joined her and she sat in her seat next to Johnny, scooting it a little closer than usual.
The move was not lost on Johnny and he smiled at her concern for him.
As they began to eat, they heard the front door open.
“Johnny!” Scott yelled.
“What?” Johnny yelled back.
“Was that necessary,” Murdoch grumbled.
“Ask him,” Johnny shrugged and stood up. “What?” he asked more quietly as Scott walked in.
Scott stopped when he saw his brother, looking sheepishly at him. “Nothing, I just wanted to know where you were.”
“You had to shout at me to find that out?” Johnny asked.
“Sorry,” Scott said.
“Welcome home, son,” Murdoch said as he watched his eldest with a frown.
“Thank you. How is everything here?” Scott asked, trying to sound casual.
“Fine as can be, brother. Are you alright?” Johnny asked.
“A little tired. I got caught in that storm last night and it’s just starting to rain again,” he replied.
“You should get changed and join us, Scott,” Teresa said, suspicion overcoming her.
Scott changed quickly and joined his family for supper. He gave Murdoch his report on the contracts he’d been sent to retrieve and was praised for the work.
He kept watching Johnny, however, and this was not lost on Teresa. She knew with everything in her, Scott had had the same nightmare as the rest of the family.
“Where’s Jelly?” Johnny suddenly asked.
“I don’t know. He’s never late for a meal,” Murdoch smiled.
“Maybe I should go check on him,” Johnny frowned and stood up.
“I’m sure he’s fine son, finish your dinner,” Murdoch said.
“No, I’m gonna go check on him,” he said and left the house.
“He worries over Jelly,” Scott said.
“I know and Jelly worries over him,” Murdoch smiled.
“Tell us about your dream, Scott,” Teresa said.
Scott looked stunned. “How did you know?”
“Because we all had a nightmare about Johnny last night and I could tell by the way you’re acting, you did too. So, tell us,” she said.
Scott looked totally perplexed at this statement but he proceeded with his recount.
“Well, he was standing in the pouring rain, in the courtyard, with his back to me. I called out for him to come inside and he turned around and …..” Scott stopped, the memory making him sick to his stomach.
“He ….. his chest was laid open. Blood was pouring from it,” he said haltingly.
“Did he say anything to you?” Teresa asked.
“He called my name. That’s when I woke up. I have to tell you, waking up from something like that in the middle of nowhere was quite ….. disturbing,” Scott said, his voice dropping.
“He asked Murdoch why and asked Jelly to help him in their dreams. He didn’t speak in mine but they are all exactly the same except for the injuries,” Teresa said, trying to remain calm.
“What about the injuries?” Scott asked.
“In my dream, he had no face. In Murdoch’s, he was covered in blood and in Jelly’s, his stomach was gaping open,” she explained.
Scott felt very cold suddenly, cold from deep inside him somewhere. “What does it mean?”
“I don’t know but it certainly isn’t something we all heard before going to bed because you had the dream, too,” Teresa said, shooting Murdoch a look.
“Jelly,” Johnny called out as he knocked on the door. “Hey, Jelly, open up.”
Jelly swung the door open. “What’ya want?”
“You missed supper. You okay?” Johnny asked, looking past the man into the room.
“I’m fine. Just weren’t hungry is all. Thought I’d turn in early,” Jelly said.
“You ain’t sick, are ya?” Johnny asked, looking closely at his friend.
“Nope, just a little tired is all. So, if you’ll excuse me,” he said and started to close the door.
“Sure, oh, Scott’s back,” Johnny informed him.
“He is? Good! Well, uh, goodnight, Johnny.” Jelly closed the door abruptly in Johnny’s face.
He stood there for a minute, pondering. ‘What’s the matter with everyone?’
As he started back across the courtyard, he heard a horse whiny in the barn. Sighing, he looked up at the black clouds. It was raining but not hard yet, so he headed to the barn to check things out.
“Well, I’m not one to believe in hocus pocus, but you must admit, this is very strange,” Scott said.
“I’ll admit it’s strange but I can’t imagine it means anything, son,” Murdoch offered.
“I hope you’re right but I do get feelings about things like this. You can laugh if you want to, but I know something terrible is about to happen,” Teresa said.
“Woman’s intuition?” Scott asked wryly.
“Call it what you want, Scott. Where is Johnny? It shouldn’t have taken him this long to check on Jelly,” she wondered.
They each looked at the other as the thunder boomed over head and all three jumped a few inches.
Scott laughed nervously. “I guess the storm’s back.”
“Scott, find Johnny,” Murdoch said, trying to sound casual.
“Yes sir,” Scott replied, needing no further prompting.
Johnny walked into the barn and found the nervous mare. He quietened her until the thunder boomed, then she became skittish again. He shushed her, stroking her neck and speaking softly.
“It’s just a storm, girl. It’s alright, just a little rain,” he said. But he felt something. Unable to put a name to it, Johnny felt something …. wrong.
It wasn’t anything he’d felt before, not quite. There was danger but he couldn’t pinpoint it like he usually could. He knew there was no one in the barn, still something was just not quite right.
Unwillingly to just shrug it off, he opened the barn door to the downpour and sighed. ‘Damn, guess I’m about to get a good soaking,’ he thought as he stepped outside and closed the barn door.
The wind had picked up and he could hear nothing else. This made him edgy since that feeling was still with him. He looked around, unable to see anything out of the ordinary. He stood there, still as death, and waited. He knew he was getting soaked but something made him stay where he was.
Scott opened the front door as the wind gusted and he had to hold on to keep it from slamming. He looked around but could see nothing at first. Then he saw Johnny come out of the barn and stop.
He watched his brother look all around and just stand there. He called out but the wind was too strong and his voice would not cut through it.
Scott felt the fear of his nightmare come back like a door slamming into his face. His breath caught in his throat and he found he couldn’t speak. He tried to call out to Johnny again, but no sound would come. Frozen in place, he tried to make his logical mind work through the senseless fear that overtook him.
Johnny’s back was to him and he felt the world spinning around him. He felt as if he was in the dream again and prayed he was. It’s just a dream, he tried to tell himself, though he knew it was not so.
Scott thought to get his father but he still couldn’t move. His mind was screaming at him to do something, anything and he closed his eyes briefly to get control of himself.
Johnny stood in the rain and kept listening. He knew he heard it but he couldn’t identify the sound. Something or someone was out there. Something dangerous to his family, he knew. How he knew was one of the mysteries of his life. His instincts, finely honed over the years, had never failed him. He had ignored them once only to find himself paying a high price for the mistake. He had vowed then never to ignore them again.
At this moment they were screaming at him to take heed. Still, he could not identify the threat and his nerves were itching. His fingers had been tapping at his colt the entire time, waiting for something to happen.
A crack of lightning expoded in a tree in the field and he jerked toward the sound, watching as the tree fell and the smoke rose from the trunk. ‘Was that it? Was that what the danger was?’ No, his instincts told him.
Having decided he wasn’t getting any sleep, Jelly had come in through the kitchen door. “Heard Scott was back,” he said.
“Yes, I sent him to find Johnny,” Murdoch replied.
“Johnny? He left my place a good ten minutes ago,” Jelly stated and looked at them both.
The three of them started toward the front door when they heard the lightning crack loudly. Their pace quickened as they opened the door and found Scott standing there.
“Scott, what is it?” Murdoch asked his seemingly dazed son.
His eyes followed where Scott was staring and he saw Johnny standing with his back to them all in the rain.
“Johnny!” Murdoch bellowed.
“No, Murdoch!” Teresa cried.
Johnny heard his father’s voice and turned towards them. At that moment, another loud sound was heard, but it wasn’t lightning this time.
They all watched in horror as Johnny’s body was riddled with bullets. Scott was the first to move, the sound pulling him out of his dazed state. He drew and started returning fire toward the unknown snipers.
Murdoch and Jelly began shooting as well, and Teresa ran quickly to retrieve a rifle. The hands came out of the bunkhouse, ready to fight. They all began firing and working towards the spot where the bullets had come from.
With the hands taking on the fight, the family ran to Johnny, who was now lying on his back, the rain pelting his face.
He stared up at the sky, fighting to breathe.
He turned his head and saw his brother. “Scott.”
“Let’s get him inside,” Murdoch said and they lifted him and carried him to the house.
They laid him gently in his bed and began removing his clothes. He watched them dazedly until his father’s eyes found his own.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know, son,” Murdoch answered huskily.
Jelly removed his boots and started working on his pants as Scott and Murdoch took great care in removing his shirt.
Blood poured from the wounds to his chest and belly and Scott stared disbelievingly at the sight.
Johnny’s eyes moved to Jelly who he could see more easily and Jelly felt his gaze. He looked up at the sapphire eyes and smiled.
“We’ll get ya all fixed up, Johnny. Don’t you worry none, ya hear?” he said, trying to sound light.
“Help me?” Johnny asked as his eyes fluttered closed.
Jelly swallowed hard and blinked away the moisture building in his eyes, trying hard to concentrate on the task at hand. It dawned on him that Johnny had spoken the words all three of the men had heard in their dreams. He had said nothing to Teresa in her dream and Jelly had to wonder what that meant.
It was well past midnight when Sam Jenkins came downstairs looking quite haggard.
All three men stood and waited for his diagnosis.
Sam sat down heavily in a chair and buried his face in his hands for a moment before speaking.
“I’ve removed some of the bullets, some others had gone in and out.”
“What do ya mean? Ya didn’t take ’em all out?” Jelly asked.
“I couldn’t! Not yet. He can’t take it, Jelly. He just can’t take it,” Sam said wearily.
“Sam, just how bad is it?” Murdoch asked.
“Good God, man! Did you see him? I doubt if even the great Johnny Madrid has ever had that many bullets in him at one time!” Sam spat.
“Sam, take it easy,” Scott said.
“I’m sorry, everyone. I’m just tired and there’s just so much damage,” Sam shook his head slowly.
Scott and Murdoch looked at each other, each reading the worry and fear in the other’s face.
“I’ve repaired the most critical areas. His chest and stomach. He still has two bullets in his left leg and one in his right shoulder and right leg. The left leg was broken by the bullet so I’ll need to work on that next but I had to stop and give him time. The one to his head is just a graze, it’s a deep furrow but nothing life threatening. He most probably has a concussion from it. He hasn’t stirred but he’s been under anesthesia most of the time. The chest wound damaged some muscle but the stomach wound is the most worrisome,” Sam stopped to take a breath and collect his thoughts.
“The bullet lodged in the stomach itself. I had to remove a small portion of his stomach and stitch it closed. The incision had to be left open and packed because I’ll have to go back in once his stomach heals. Until then, he won’t be able to eat or drink so I’ve placed a tube in his nose that feeds into his stomach. We can give him medicines and nourishment through it. Now I have a question. Who the devil did this?”
Murdoch and Scott felt like the world was turned on end as they tried to digest everything Sam was telling them. His question caught them both by surprise.
“We’re not sure. Val has been questioning them but they won’t talk,” Murdoch replied.
“And you don’t know these men?” Sam asked.
“We haven’t seen them, Sam. We’ve been here. Val only stopped by to tell us they’d been caught and taken to jail and that they weren’t talking so far,” Scott explained.
“Never mind them devils. Is Johnny gonna make it?” Jelly asked, frustrated.
“I don’t know, Jelly. I just don’t know. I’m doing everything I can but I have to tell you all, it really doesn’t look very good,” Sam answered bluntly.
“I want to see him,” Murdoch said, his voice indicating he would take no quarter.
“Go ahead but he’s deeply asleep,” Sam said and sipped at his coffee.
Jelly stayed with Sam, offering to feed him to build up his strength while Scott and Murdoch headed upstairs.
Teresa was washing Johnny’s face when they walked in, careful not to disturb the tubing. When she turned to look at them it was evident she’d been crying.
Murdoch hugged her and told her to get some rest until Sam needed her again.
Scott knelt beside the bed and took his brother’s hand. “Hey there. You sure got in it this time, brother. Looks like you’ll be laid up for a good long while. I’m a little suspicious since this coincides with calving time,” he said with a faint smile.
The smile was brief and faded away as Scott took in his brother’s features. He was more pale than Scott believed was possible for Johnny and his breathing was irregular and harsh.
Murdoch pulled up a chair on the other side and took Johnny’s other hand, smoothing back his hair even though it didn’t need it. He found he had no words and was sure his voice would not work even if he did find something to say. He swallowed hard and fought back the emotions.
“We’re here, son. We’re going to take good care of you. Don’t be afraid, Johnny,” he whispered.
Scott was sure he would lose it listening to his father. He hadn’t thought of Johnny being afraid and it nearly broke his heart. They sat silently until Sam came back.
“I need to check him, gentlemen,” he said softly.
Scott moved aside for Sam but lingered close by and Murdoch stayed put. Sam listened to Johnny’s chest and laid a hand lightly on it, feeling the irregular pattern of his breathing. He sighed heavily and removed his stethoscope.
“He’s just too weak to take anymore surgery right now, but, those wounds are bound to get infected if I don’t operate. Murdoch, this will have to be your decision. If I operate now, we could lose him but if he develops an infection, he’s just not strong enough to fight it off,” Sam reported.
Murdoch stared at his son lying so still on the bed. He didn’t know what the right choice was. He looked at Scott.
“What do you think, son?”
Scott look hopelessly at his father. “I don’t know,” he whispered.
“Sam, you know more about this than we do. What do you think?” Murdoch turned to his friend.
“Well, I think it’s best if I clean the remaining wounds out as well as I can and wait a few days,” he said.
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Murdoch said, grateful the burden was taken from him.
Scott sat with his brother through the night, refusing any offers to spell him. He was adamant in his stance. He knew he had to be there when, or if, Johnny awoke. He spoke softly to his brother, checking frequently for signs of fever. He administered the medications and fluids as Sam had instructed. He read to Johnny. He did everything he could not to think of how seriously ill his brother was and the fact that, this time, his luck may have run out.
As dawn broke over the mountains east of the estancia, Scott stood and stretched, then walked to the window to take in the view. He couldn’t appreciate the beauty before him. He thought of how much Johnny loved the simplest things, like a sunrise. He felt a stinging in his eyes and rubbed them vigorously. Scott said a prayer for his brother, then, as he had throughout the night.
“Scott?” Murdoch called softly from the door.
“Yes sir,” he answered. “No change.”
Murdoch walked to the bed and sat down next to Johnny, automatically checking for fever and finding none.
“Well, at least there’s no sign of infection,” he commented.
“No, no sign of infection or anything else,” Scott said abruptly.
Murdoch looked at his son’s haggard face. “Go to bed, Scott. I’ll call if there’s any change,” he nearly ordered.
Too tired and emotionally exhausted to argue, Scott said nothing and retreated to his own room.
The sun shone brightly through the window as he opened his eyes. He blinked and rubbed his face vigorously before the nightmare returned with a crash to his mind. Scott jumped out of bed, a sense of alarm screaming in his ears.
He dressed quickly and didn’t bother with his boots. He walked immediately to his brother’s room. Taking a deep breath, he eased the door open.
Murdoch was sitting in a chair beside the bed, blocking Scott’s view of his brother. He had his head down and Scott could tell even from the back, he was sleeping. He smiled slightly and walked to the other side of the bed.
He stood at the foot of the bed for what seemed like forever. He couldn’t seem to move. It was as if someone had nailed his feet to the floor. His legs wouldn’t work, nor would the rest of his body. His mind refused to fully acknowledge what his eyes saw.
He opened his mouth but no sound would come out. Scott felt exactly as he had that night as he watched Johnny standing in the rain. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead and above his lip. He felt dizzy and sick to his stomach. The only thing he was able to move was his head. He shook it back and forth slowly as if this action would negate the reality before him.
Murdoch stirred and mumbled incoherently as he arose from the depths of sleep. His eyes opened slowly and he stretched his sore neck muscles as he sighed loudly. Suddenly, he felt cold. Colder than he could ever remember feeling in his entire life.
His eyes went to Johnny and he stared silently. When he finally found air for his lungs, the sound that emerged was blood-curdling.
He felt desperate to open his eyes. To get away from the heinous nightmare he was caught in. It seemed as if his body would not obey his brain and he couldn’t comprehend the problem.
He felt a cold cloth on his forehead and heard the soft voice speaking to him. He felt the heat that enveloped his entire body as he fought to open his eyes. His heart was pounding loudly in his ears but he could still hear that voice.
He had to respond to it. That pleading, nearly begging request that he awake. The nightmare still gripped his heart like an icy glove and the need to ensure it was a dream was all consuming.
Slowly, he managed to come around. Opening his eyes, he focused on the figure before him. The gentle voice was reassuring and gave him a huge measure of peace.
Scott looked into his brother’s eyes and smiled.
“Well, it’s about time, Boston. Thought you were gonna sleep forever,” Johnny grinned.
Scott opened his mouth but no sound would come out. He was gripped by an unidentifiable fear along with an intense feeling of déjà vu and his eyes widened.
“Easy now. Here, drink some water. You’re as dry as the desert,” Johnny explained as he helped the older man drink.
Scott swallowed but it was painful as well as cooling to his throat. “How long?”
he managed to whisper.
Johnny averted his eyes, using the excuse of setting the glass down. “Three days.”
“What ha …. happened?”
The younger man sighed and looked gravely into his brother’s pale blue eyes. “You were shot, Scott.”
Johnny could only nod and look away.
Scott managed to raise his hand to touch Johnny. He couldn’t believe how weak he was.
Johnny took his hand immediately, smiling as he looked back with moist eyes. “You’re gonna be fine, brother,” he whispered.
“Had a nightmare. Really bad,” he managed.
“Sshhh, you shouldn’t be trying to talk now. Rest, Scott.”
“Bout you. You were sh ….. shot over and over. Blood ….. everywhere. You …..”
“Okay, Boston. It was just a dream. Please, rest now,” Johnny implored.
“It was so ….. real,” he whispered.
Johnny wished it was him lying there but he said nothing.
“Murdoch?” Scott asked.
Johnny shook his head. “They call me stubborn. He’s getting a little sleep. He was up all night with you.”
Scott closed his eyes for a few minutes and Johnny thought he’d fallen asleep until he spoke again.
“What?” Johnny asked.
“Get Murdoch, please,” he sighed.
“You come ….. back, too.”
“Sure,” Johnny smiled and nodded, then left the room.
The knot of fear in his stomach kept growing as he neared his father’s door. He didn’t want to do this, knew what it meant. Yet, somehow he’d known from that first day, three days ago, this was going to happen. He couldn’t explain it to anyone. They wouldn’t listen or want to believe him but he knew and it was killing him.
He raised his fist to knock, then hesitated. Dropping his hand, he backed away a few steps. Then, he leaned both hands against the door, resting his forehead on the wood panel. He prayed one more time. Knowing it would do no good but doing it anyway.
He straightened himself and knocked. Getting no reply, Johnny opened the door to find his father deeply asleep.
He walked over and shook the man’s shoulder.
Murdoch jerked awake. “What is it?”
“Scott wants you,” Johnny said.
Murdoch looked into his youngest son’s eyes and knew. He steeled himself and got up, having not bothered to undress.
He pulled on his boots and walked out with Johnny following. As they reached the door he stopped and looked at his son.
“He said both of us,” Johnny explained.
Murdoch nodded and entered the room. The air was too still, it was too quiet in here, it unsettled him. He sat beside his son and caressed his cheek.
Scott opened his eyes and smiled. “Hi.”
“Scott, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Murdoch quickly replied.
“Didn’t see anything,” he struggled.
Johnny sat on the bed next to him. “Wasn’t your fault, Scott. It was an ambush.”
Scott frowned. “Why?” he asked.
Murdoch sighed deeply and shook his head. “”It was a robbery. They probably followed you as soon as you left the bank in Green River.”
Scott frowned more deeply. “Hope it was worth killing me.”
“No one has killed you, Scott,” Murdoch said brusquely.
“Yes, they have,” Scott answered as firmly as he could. “And you both know it. I saw it….. in your eyes, Johnny.”
“Scott, please, you’re too weak for this,” Johnny implored.
Scott locked eyes with his brother, determined to make him understand what he already knew. “I’m dying, Johnny. I have to say this.”
Johnny kept the gaze, unwilling to let his brother go. “You ain’t dyin.” The words fell short of convincing, even to his own ears.
Scott smiled at him. “I want to tell you both some things.” He sighed weakly but steeled himself, resolute on saying the words none of them ever had.
Johnny’s grip on his hand tightened and he looked once more into his brother’s eyes. “I’ve never met anyone like you, Johnny. You’re an incredible person. A fine man. It’s an honor to call you brother.”
“The honor is all mine, Scott,” Johnny replied softly.
“I love you so much,” Scott whispered. He felt the tears threatening but he ardently held them at bay. “I never imagined I would ever have so much love in my life. I never thought I would ever find a place so …… close to heaven on earth. Never thought I could care about grass, and trees and cows.”
He laughed a little, then winced as the pain seared through his chest.
“Easy, brother,” Johnny murmured.
“It’s okay,” he sighed. Looking at Murdoch, he saw the anguish. “I never thought I’d ever meet you, much less live with you. Share your dreams and make them my own. Share your life and ….. love you so much.”
Murdoch swallowed hard at the painful lump in his throat. “I love you, Scott.”
“I know but it feels so good to hear it. Thank you for inviting me into your life. More than anything, thank you for giving me the best brother in the world.”
Johnny dropped his head and closed his eyes tightly at this. How could he go on? He wasn’t sure he could. Not now. This was the one loss he had always known he couldn’t bear.
“I never imagined you would have anything to thank me for, son. I’m the grateful one. Grateful to have you both back in my life,” Murdoch said, his voice trembling.
“I have to ask you both for a promise.”
“Name it, brother.”
He took a moment to find some reserve. “I want you to promise to stay together. To love each other and respect each other. To live together and keep Lancer alive forever.”
“I promise, son,” Murdoch answered quickly.
Johnny stood up and walked to the other side of the bed. He laid down gently next to his brother and took his hand again. “I swear it.”
Scott smiled and moved his head slightly so it was resting on Johnny’s shoulder. He closed his eyes for a few seconds. “You see, I know how much you love each other. I know you would never say the words but that’s alright. As long as you know it about each other.”
Johnny looked at his father and smiled. “We know it.”
Murdoch nodded. “We sure do.”
“Johnny, I need something else from you.”
“Anything, Scott. Anything at all.”
“Be happy. Find some peace and let the past go. Fall in love and get married. Have a ton of kids. And, name one after me, okay?”
“You bet, brother. I’ll name them all after you. Six Scott’s and six Scottettes,” Johnny laughed.
“No need to get carried away,” Scott laughed softly.
Johnny rested his cheek lightly on Scott’s head. “You have no idea how much better you’ve made my life, brother. I don’t know how …..”
“You’ve done the same for me. You will go on, Johnny. You have to. For me, for Murdoch and for Lancer.”
Murdoch leaned over and kissed the top of his son’s head. “You will never know how much you mean to me, son. You will never know how proud I am of you.”
“I think I do ….. pa. Could you … tell grandfather I was thinking of him? Tell him I don’t regret one thing I’ve done. Tell him …… I love him.”
“I will, son. I promise.”
Scott felt moisture on his forehead and he smiled. His own tears spilled over onto his cheeks. “I wish we’d had more time,” he breathed.
“Me too,” Johnny said, his voice cracking.
Scott took a hitching breath and Johnny’s head jerked up. He moved slightly so he could see his brother’s face. “Do you want some laudanum?”
Scott shook his head, waiting for the worst of the pain to pass. He sighed deeply after a few seconds. “Johnny…..”
“Scott?” Johnny looked into his brother’s eyes. “Te amo, hermano. I love you more than I can say,” he whispered. Johnny leaned his forehead down until it touched Scott’s.
“I love Spanish. So pretty,” Scott mumbled.
“Le llevaré en mi corazón por siempre. I’ll carry you in my heart forever.”
Scott smiled and squeezed both Johnny and Murdoch’s hands tightly. They reciprocated, both trying to will their own life force into the young man.
After a brief moment, Scott’s hands relaxed and he let out a long soft breath. Then, he took no more.
Johnny’s entire body shook as he sobbed openly. His tears spilled onto Scott’s pale face.
Murdoch watched his sons, longing to comfort Johnny but unable to find any words. He knew there was nothing to say so he laid a hand on his son’s trembling shoulder.
Johnny embraced his brother, holding him tightly in his arms and rocking back and forth. “I can’t let you go,” he said through the hitching breaths.
That single statement released a flood from Murdoch and he wrapped his arms around both his sons. Over and over, he whispered, “I love you both so much.”
They sat like that for a good hour until there were no more tears left. Both men emotionally and physically drained. It was Murdoch who finally, haltingly pulled away.
“Johnny, let him go, son.”
“Johnny, please. I need you.”
Johnny stopped rocking and released his hold slightly. He looked up at his father. “Help me,” he pleaded.
Murdoch was on his feet in a flash. Moving quickly to the other side of the bed, he grabbed hold of Johnny and held on for dear life.
Johnny fell into his father’s arms. “How are we gonna live without him? He was the best of everything.”
“I know, son. I know. It’s going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. But Johnny, we have to. It’s what Scott wants. What we both promised him.”
Murdoch gently pulled his remaining son to his feet and guided him out of the room. Johnny resisted a little at first, unwilling to leave his brother. But he went with Murdoch.
He laid Johnny on his bed and covered him with a quilt. He pulled off his boots and sat beside him. “I know it’s hard but try to get some sleep, son. I’ll take care of …. things.”
“No, you shouldn’t have to do that, Murdoch. Let me,” Johnny said, starting to rise up.
“No, I ….. need to.”
Johnny’s eyes misted again and he simply nodded his head, lying back down on the pillow.
Two days with little sleep or food had both Murdoch and Johnny on the edge. Teresa and Jelly weren’t in much better shape. They convened in the living room for the ride to the cemetary.
Johnny kept replaying the past few days in his head. Riding the range, it had been an impetuous decision to cut across the valley and meet his brother. He knew Scott would be coming down the road anytime. He had planned on playing a trick, shaking him up a little.
But when he heard the rifle, all thoughts of play rushed from his mind. He topped the small hill to begin the nightmare he’d spent so many nights in the past two years having.
His worst nightmare and greatest fear. Losing Scott. He saw his brother lying on the ground. He saw the ambusher creeping up. He also saw the blood spreading across his brother’s chest. He hadn’t thought about it, he reacted. Pulling his rifle from its scabbard, Johnny brought it to bear on the thief and squeezed the trigger.
He never got his payday, only payback. Johnny had ridden up quickly to check, make sure he was dead. He still had a few breaths in him but Johnny Lancer had no sympathy. He threw the man’s weapons away and went to his brother.
It amazed him thinking of it now. It couldn’t have taken more than one minute for all this to transpire. Yet in that minute, his entire world changed forever.
He was jerked out of his thoughts by a strong hand on his shoulder. Murdoch smiled tightly at him and Johnny nodded.
They all climbed into the surrey and headed out. Johnny had no idea what arrangements Murdoch had made. He trusted his father to have the very best for Scott. It was still a dream world he was living in. Rather a nightmare world and he wished to God he’d wake up.
They arrived at the cemetary and Johnny was unsettled by the number of people there. He wasn’t surprised, Scott was well liked in the valley. Still, he would have rather it be more private. He couldn’t fault them though. They wanted to say goodbye to their friend.
There were four chairs set up at the graveside and the family took their places. Murdoch, Johnny, Teresa then Jelly. Murdoch kept an arm around his son and Johnny held tight to Teresa’s hand as the minister began.
Reverend Fuller did an incredible job. He had known Scott for a while but the family were quite impressed with his insights into the eldest Lancer son.
After the service, the Reverend passed along the family, shaking hands. Johnny held fast when it was his turn. He looked up into the man’s eyes and smiled weakly.
“Scott would have liked that. Thank you.”
The man paused. “If you ever need to talk, Johnny. Not get preached at but talk, I hope you’ll come to me.”
“Thank you, I’ll keep it in mind.”
All the mourners passed by the coffin, paying their final respects. The family sat patiently as the parade passed by.
Val Crawford was the last, he made sure of it. He walked up and knelt in front of Johnny. “If ya wanna get drunk or talk or anything, come get me.”
Johnny smiled and laid a hand on his friend’s arm. “I might take you up on that.”
Val nodded and walked away.
Finally, it was just the four of them left. The gravediggers stood far off, waiting. Teresa and Jelly stood together over the grave and said their goodbyes. Jelly walked her to the surrey.
Murdoch gave Johnny’s shoulder a squeeze and together, they stood and walked the few steps to the grave. Johnny couldn’t look at the coffin. He kept his head down.
“I’ll leave you alone for as long as you need, son,” Murdoch said softly.
“Stop it, Murdoch. He was your son. You need to say goodbye. You loved him as much as I did.” With that said, Johnny backed away. He walked over and stood by the surrey, giving Murdoch some privacy.
He stood there stolidly. Staring at the coffin, Murdoch could think of little to say at first.
“I just can’t believe this has happened, son. I swear I’m at a loss. No parent should ever outlive their children. It isn’t right, it isn’t the way things should work. I don’t know what to do, where to go. I’m so worried about your brother. I know he’ll stay with me. I also know he’s been destroyed and I’m not sure he’ll ever recover from this. If you can, please watch over him, help him, Scott. He’s so lost.” Tears streamed down the big man’s face but he didn’t even seem to be aware.
His entire body began to quake and he sank to his knees. Johnny and Jelly were beside him in an instant. Johnny folded his father into his arms.
“I know, I know,” he said softly.
Jelly held onto both of them, his own tears shed unabashed. Now was not the time for stoicism. Now was the time for family.
After a bit, Murdoch recovered and straightened himself. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. He looked at Johnny and hugged him tightly. Then, he got up and walked away with Jelly.
Johnny sat there, on his knees, staring at the oak coffin that held what was left of his brother. He shook his head in disbelief.
“Why you, Scott? It was supposed to be me. I was the one who was supposed to die young. I chose the dangerous path, not you. You were always the cautious one, the careful one. I’m the reckless one. Why?”
He hung his head and cried quietly. Unashamed of his love for his brother as always. Scott had never made him feel less. Never been anything but supportive. Even when they argued, Scott was always the level-headed one. It was all so senseless! That was what Johnny would never understand.
He looked up at the headstone for the first time and his heart broke all over again.
Scott Morgan Lancer
Beloved son and brother
Hermanos por siempre
Johnny reached out and touched the granite, his fingers lingering over his brother’s name. It wasn’t happening. Madre del Dios, por favor.
He had no idea how long he sat there. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered anymore. He finally took a deep breath.
“Well, brother, I guess I have to go now. I just wish to God I knew how. I love you, Scott. I always will. Nunca me olvidaré. Hermanos por siempre.”
Johnny stood up and turned to see his family waiting for him. Murdoch looked incredibly old and he knew it was time he started being strong for his father. He could not imagine losing a child, no matter what age they were. He knew Murdoch would never be the same man. None of them would ever be the same.
Johnny resolved to keep his promise to his brother. He would take care of their family. He would make sure Lancer lived on and that Scott Lancer would never be forgotten.
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