Word count 2,290
As always, I don’t own the characters or any rights beyond the pleasure of sharing this story with other Lancer fans .
This was written for the Lancer Writers February challenge to use lines/ideas from the title song of Beauty and the Beast. Thanks to Margaret P. for her time and input as beta.
An epsiode tag for The High Riders
Johnny leaned back in the chair beside his rumpled bed, eyes closed and breathing hard. Damn! I have to get out of this room. Goin’ stir-crazy here.
It had taken more time and energy than he would have thought possible to get into his pants; even then, he could only manage the buttons down to his knees. One quickly aborted move convinced him that boots were out of the question. Socks were doable – barely. His shirt wouldn’t fit over the bulky bandages so he settled for slipping his right arm into the sleeve and draping it around his shoulders. By that time it was all he could do to push himself out of the chair. Once on his feet, he swayed drunkenly for a moment before collapsing back into the chair with a jolt. The tug of the stitches in his back was lost in a wave of agony. Determination cracked under his body’s need to crawl back into the bed and surrender to sleep.
Buck up, Madrid! You’ve been lollygagging around here for more than two weeks with folks tendin’ you and waitin’ on you and smotherin’ you half to death. Yeah, and wondering how much longer they have to pretend to give a damn before you’re well enough to ride out. Tale as old as time… ever just the same… they want Madrid’s gun but they don’t want the man… they don’t want me. Just save us – do our killing – and move on… ever just as sure as the sun will rise… those good folks who don’t want to bloody their hands. No different this time.
The pain carried with it memories he shied away from; memories that suggested it might be different this time. Johnny wanted so desperately to believe in the caring that had surrounded him these past weeks.
Hell, Madrid, you can’t even sort out what was real from the fever dreams.
Those first days after the battle were no more than a maze of nightmares and nebulous awareness shrouded in pain and fever. Did he really remember small, deft hands wiping his face with a cool cloth – a woman softly singing?
No… not here… long time ago… wasn’t it?
Gathering his resolve, Johnny tried again. This time he was able to make his way unsteadily to the head of the bed and lift his rig from the post.
Damn! Son-of-a-bitch is heavy!
He was sure he could endure using his left arm enough to strap the gun belt into place, but not at all optimistic about still being on his feet afterwards. Reluctantly, he looped it over his right shoulder. Awkward, but he’d have it with him. He’d already checked it – every time he woke – each day since he’d regained consciousness.
Let’s go, Madrid. You’re runnin’ out of time. One of those women will take a notion to check on you and that’ll be the end of the trail.
As Johnny made his way to the door, more maybe-memories ghosted around him. Huge, work-roughened hands gently lifted his head and held a glass of water to his parched lips. The deep, rumbling voice he recognized as his father’s. “Please don’t take my son. Please. Why would you bring him home and then take him again? Please. You have to fight, son.”
Son… no… fever dreams… no one’s son. His half-breed mistake.
Opening the door was easy enough and he paused to listen intently. All was quiet. Slowly, Johnny worked his way along the wall to the front stairs.
Don’t remember this hall bein’ so long. There’s a lot you don’t remember, Johnny Boy. But Scott…
He was fairly certain of Scott’s oddly accented but soothing voice. “Easy, Johnny. Lie still. Stay with me, brother.” At the time the words confused him terribly.
Brother… I don’t have a brother. Madrid has no family; don’t need anyone or anything but my gun and a good horse.
Johnny’s legs gave out at the top of the dimly lit stairs. He gasped as the impact sent fire through his left shoulder, splintering into his already-pounding head and down his arm. Clinging to the railing with his right hand, eyes squeezed shut, he battled the pain into submission.
How many hours had Scott spent beside his bed after working all day? The man had to be past exhausted and aching in every muscle. Johnny had seen the blisters on his hands when his brother… that word again … read to him or played checkers with him. Yesterday afternoon, he realized he was looking forward to Scott’s visit; not anyone or anything to ease his boredom – Scott. The discovery sent a pang of fear through Johnny – and set him off on this mission.
If I don’t move, I’ll never get my strength back. I’m not waitin’ around like some pathetic invalid until they throw me out. Even if they did want me to stay, I can’t…
“Stay with me, brother.” Brother…damn that word and everything that goes with it! Damn the fact that I want it!
Time to move. Gripping the banister, Johnny rose slowly. He faltered. Blackness pressed in on him, but a few deep breaths cleared things a bit and he started down one careful step at a time.
“Stay with me, brother.” That war hero Boston gentleman wouldn’t be using that word if he knew who I am. So why didn’t you tell him about Johnny Madrid? You know why. Damn, damn, damn! Don’t get too close.
But he wanted to get close. Dios, he wanted it so bad it was like a hand squeezing on his heart. How often had he wished for a brother… a family… He turned away from the thought, carefully adding a fresh layer of hardness around his aching heart.
Gunfighters don’t have family. You’ll hurt them. They’ll hurt you. You know it will happen, dammit! When will you ever learn not to care?
A socked foot slipped down a step before he caught himself. The pain was worse this time: pulling at the stitches, hammering in his head, and driving spikes of torment through him. The shadows crowding the edges of his mind promised oblivion. No more pain; no more guilt; no more wanting what he could never have…
How much blood have I spilled for people I don’t give a damn about? How much have I hurt and been hurt just because of what I am? And what are you, Madrid? Half-breed? Gunhawk? Son… brother… I want it and I can’t have it… not ever. Certain as the sun rising in the east, I’ll hurt them.
The pounding in his head subsided to a tolerable level and his breathing was not quite so ragged. Muscles straining, Johnny hauled himself up. Leaning heavily on the railing, he took a cautious step down.
But what if this really is a chance? How long has it been since I felt safe anywhere? Too late for you, Madrid. You’ll never learn. You do care… you want them to care… maybe they do… and that’s worse.
At the landing, he was able to ease down without jarring anything. He allowed himself only a few moments’ rest.
Not winnin’ any races here, are you? Three whole steps in one go. Has to be a better way.
Turning a bit so he could grip the edge of the step with this right hand, Johnny slid down. The holstered gun thunked and he cringed at the noise. That’s one…
He threw us out – didn’t want a half-breed kid. For twenty years he didn’t give a damn whether I was alive or dead until he needed my gun – Madrid’s gun – not Lancer. But he sent those Pinkertons to find me and the Pink said they’d been looking for me for years. Teresa said “She just ran off… he was a gambler or something.” Just like Mama – always sure there was something better. No, no, no! Teresa’s just a kid repeating what she was told.
Those maybe-memories of the Old Man praying. The crusty old bastard wouldn’t talk to me… but he read to me… what if Teresa was right? Maybe… no… no family, no one close to hurt or be hurt. I’ll just ride out…
Sure you will, Johnny. Just scoot on out to the barn and saddle up. This isn’t gonna work. They’ll hear. Can’t ride out if you can’t even make it outside. And you have to go… you know what staying will cost… Get up! Johnny Madrid doesn’t crawl.
The palomino was in the barn and being well-looked after. His saddlebags were in the wardrobe along with his clean clothes and the ‘listening money’. By the time he was awake enough to ask about those things, his rig already resided on the bedpost. Why he’d so readily accepted his father’s assurances about those important matters was one more thing he didn’t want to think about, even if he could spare the time and energy right now.
Jaw clenched, Johnny struggled to his feet once more. Muscles trembled and his chest heaved with the effort of drawing in enough air to stave off the darkness. His rig was getting heavier by the minute.
Father… my father… what would that be like? One-third he said. But he didn’t mean it… you know damn good and well he didn’t mean it. Then why did he say it? Madrid’s gun is expensive but not one-third of a place like this expensive. And Scott…
“Stay with me, brother.”
He collapsed on the last step, not only clinging to the newel post but resting his head against the hard, smooth wood. As his breathing became more even and the pounding in his head lessened, he heard faint feminine sounds float from the kitchen where preparations for supper were underway. Scott would be still out with the work crews and the Old Man had gone into town.
If I can just make it to the patio… feel the sun on my face… Old Man’ll have a hissy and those women will squawk like a flock of chickens, but… they don’t understand. None of them understand how dangerous it is for me to be here and be hurt. It can’t be a secret that Madrid was riding with Pardee. None of ‘em that survived the fight knows how bad I’m hurt but it only takes one…
When he pulled himself to his feet again, his legs trembled. His head spun, the darkness closed in, and his body threatened to betray him just as it had the day his brother carried him into the house.
A greenhorn from Boston tote’n the infamous Johnny Madrid over his shoulder like a sack of flour. Damn!
Slowly, with halting steps, he worked his way from the banister to a chair, then from the chair to the wall until he faced the front door. The single step down into the greatroom proved his undoing.
Disoriented, his strength failing rapidly, Johnny missed the step and fell heavily against the cabinet. This time he knew he was finished. Unable to rise and too exhausted to care, he sat panting on the cold floor. Gun belt and shirt had slipped from his shoulders, but his right hand curled tightly around the weapon.
Well, Madrid, this ain’t one of the brighter ideas you’ve ever had. Can’t make it outside and you sure as hell can’t get back up those stairs. So tired…
Hands tugging at the gun belt and shirt roused Johnny. He pulled away, blindly raising the Colt. A firm hand on his arm arrested both movements.
“It’s me, Johnny.”
Scott’s lifted him, wrapping his brother’s right arm over his shoulder. Still clutching the gun, Johnny concentrated on forcing his legs to hold him upright.
“Here we go.” Scott was supporting him; leading him… somewhere. The movement exacerbated the dizziness and Johnny’s stomach churned. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.
No, no, no… dammit, Madrid! Don’t lose it now. Don’t humiliate yourself anymore.
Somehow he managed to keep the nausea in check until he was deposited gently on something soft and oh-so-welcome.
“Teresa!” The shout crashed against his head like a hammer on an anvil and he moaned into the sofa cushion. Voices reached him – Scott and Teresa but whatever they were saying was lost.
Not good. Need to know what’s going on. Johnny struggled to sit up.
“Easy, brother. What the hell were you trying to do?” Scott pushed Johnny back and brushed sweat-damp hair away from his face.
Brother . . . Johnny found himself relaxing.
“I’m here, Johnny. Rest.”
Brother … Johnny released the gun to catch Scott’s wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. Could I be wrong? I’m dangerous… I’ll hurt them… but his fading thoughts were lost in a surge of hope. He was safe; his brother would watch out for him. For now, that was enough. This time the darkness was a friend.
Scott could not have put a name to what was happening between them, but he sensed the change… small to say the least… but a change. Something in his stoic brother had given just a bit. Mercifully unconscious now, Johnny looked so young. Such a dichotomy between the youthful innocence of sleep and the too-old eyes in the hard face turned on the world.
“The bleeding has just about stopped but he tore out most of the stitches. Whatever was he trying to do?” Teresa asked.
Scott sighed deeply. “I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was important to him.”
Teresa smiled. “It doesn’t matter right now. We’ll figure it out.”
Scott Lancer heaved his brother up over his shoulder and once again carried him up the stairs to his bed.
~ end ~
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