Word count 10,047
I do not own any part of Lancer, not any of the characters or anything else in the Lancer stories. I do, however, take the boys out for a spin around the ranch every so often. The characters of my making can not be used without permission. This story will have an NC-17 rating, for language.
Scott looked out the window in his room, looking at all the rain as it fell around Lancer. Only a few hands were working out in the downpour, his younger brother Johnny being one of them.
Scott turned from the window and walked to the door. He went out and into the hallway and walked to his father’s bedroom.
Murdoch had taken sick last night with a fast rising fever. He was contested and coughed this deep wracking cough, that took his very breath away.
Maria was sitting with him, wiping his sweaty face and chest with cool cloths. She tried to get him to drink some of the willow bark tea she brewed. He wasn’t having any of it.
Right now, he was resting, sitting up in his bed so he might possibly breathe easier.
Scott walked in and sat in the chair on the other side of the bed. He gently put his hand to Murdoch’s forehead and very softly said to Maria, ” His fever feels like it’s lowering. Maybe he’ll be fine in a day or so.”
” I’ll sit with him Senior Scott. Go down and eat your meal. I’ve put some in the oven for Juanita when he comes home.”
Scott sat a few more minutes with his hand gently resting on his father’s sweaty head.
He sighed softly and stood up. Looking down at his father’s sweaty face once more, he then walked to the door and said to Maria, ” Call me if he worsens or wakes, even for a moment Maria.”
Scott slowly walked down the stairs and was just rounding the staircase and Johnny came in. He was soaking wet and ornery as hell!
He took off his hat, rain slicker and his gun belt and hung them all on the coat rack by the door. He made a bee line into the Great Room and the liquor in the corner.
Before Scott could say anything, Johnny lifted the bottle of tequila to his lips and threw back a huge swallow.
” Johnny, can’t you use a glass!?”
He turned glittering sapphire eyes to his brother, and looked as tho he was going to get angry. Instead he smiled and said, ” I don’t see why Boston, I’m the only one who drinks this stuff.”
But he put the bottle down and as he lowered his eyes he felt a sudden chill go thru his body. He saw, from lowered eye lashes, that Scott was now looking at him with a small concern on his face.
” You feeling alright Johnny? You look pale all of a sudden.”
Johnny smiled and said, ” Nah, just wet and cold from these cold rains. Think I’ll go take a nice hot bath, change into dry clothes, check on the old man and get something to eat. Then I’ll go out again.”
” You need to rest Brother. You can’t afford to get sick.”
” Isn’t anyone else to get them stupid beeves to higher ground, before they float away, Boston. You’re taking care of the books and looking after the old man. That leaves me to look after them stupid critters.”
He then turned and bolted up the stairs. He went to his room and stripped off his wet clothes, grabbed clean dry ones and went to the upstairs water closet.
He turned the water on and watched as the hot water filled the big tub. He smiled to himself and quietly thanked his older brother for suggesting and arguing with the old man for the inside facilities. It made everything so much easier.
He stepped his right foot over the edge and slowly slid it into the tub. At first, the hot temperature hit him hard, but his skin adjusted. Soon, he slid his cold tired body into the tub. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the edge.
Johnny softly sighed and just relished sitting in that hot water. He had slid down and only his head was above the water. Damn! This felt really good!
Five minutes later, he sat up quickly. He had fallen asleep and almost drowned himself. He sputtered and coughed for a few minutes. He quickly washed his body and hair, as the water was cooling. Then stood up, the water running off his sleek body.
He reached for a towel to dry off. He stood on a small rug and after he was sufficiently dried, he slid his clean clothes on. He padded across the hall back to his room, where he sat on his bed and put his socks and boots back on. He stood and wrapped his gun belt around his hips and automatically checked his gun.
Before he left the second floor, Johnny walked to his father’s door. He quietly opened the door and peeked in. Maria was sitting by the side of his huge bed, fixing ripped clothing. She smiled when she saw Johnny peeking in.
” How is he doing Maria? Any changes in his fever?”
She played the repairing on her ample lap and very softly said, ” Si, Patron he sleeps easier. I think his fever has lowered, but he still coughs and has a hard time with his breathing. But he is getting better.”
Johnny smiled softly at her words, and then turned his sapphire eyes to his father’s still form, noting that he was taking deep breaths. He watched him for a few more minutes then left the room quietly, closing the door gently.
He walked down the stairs and headed to the kitchen, where Scott was making a huge beef sandwich for him to eat. Johnny first reached for the hot cup of coffee.
” You didn’t have to do this Boston, I’m still able to make my own sandwich.”
The brothers laughed at each other and as Johnny picked up the sandwich, Scott sat down with a cup of coffee as well.
While Johnny ate, Scott asked him about the herd.
” How many more do you think you have to move Brother? Might not be able to get all of them Johnny. “
His eyes glittered for a moment, and then he said, ” I have to get them all Scott. The old man is expecting me to do that. I want him to know I was responsible with the ranch.”
Scott listened to Johnny’s words and he saw a look of hurt flash briefly in his eyes. Then it struck Scott like a thunderbolt. Johnny still, after all these years of being here of being Johnny Lancer, he still craved and desired Murdoch Lancers approval.
Scott reached a hand out to his brother’s forearm and very softly said, “You don’t need to kill yourself to get the old man’s approval, little Brother. He is already so pleased and proud with how you’ve grown up.”
The sandwich was put back on the plate and Johnny fixed a hard stare on Scott’s face. Those sapphire eyes sparked once and then Johnny took a huge breath and closed his eyes.
” I sometimes see the disapproval in Murdoch’s eyes. He says he’s accepted Madrid, but he still has his doubts Boston.”
He heard the sadness that was in Johnny’s voice, and he really wanted to tell his brother he was wrong. But he too saw the doubts, even now, in Murdoch’s eyes. But at the same time, he knew that Johnny could tell, could always tell, how their father was never really sure if his youngest.
Johnny finished the sandwich and coffee, and then stood up. The brothers walked to the front door. Johnny put his slicker on again and reached for his hat. He left the house and sort of trotted to the barn. He decided to saddle another horse, Barranca was soaked.
He layed his head against the chestnut gelding he was saddling. He could feel the tears beginning to stir in his eyes. He took a deep breath and got the horse ready.
Johnny slowly trudged the horse thru the mud and headed back to the last place they were finding the cattle.
Johnny rode at a mild run, he didn’t want the horse to slip and throw him. He soon joined up with the few ranch hands that were still working the animals.
Frank, one of Johnny’s best friends, among the ranch hands, came up to him as he ride up. He looked at Johnny’s sunken eyes and rather pale complexion and he softly said, ” You okay Johnny? You look a little tired and kind of pale.”
Johnny smiled briefly and was again hit with a coughing fit. When it finally passed, he said, ” I don’t feel too bad Frank. I need to get all the cows we can find and get them to a higher meadow. You know how stupid they are.”
Frank laughed and said, ” Yep, I know. While you were at the house, we had to pull six of those stupid critters out of a mud hole.”
Johnny slid a crooked smile to his lips.
” See what I mean? I’ve said it before, they are the stupidest animals on the face of the planet.”
As he rode off to find cows in trouble, Johnny heard Frank’s chuckle. It seemed to follow Johnny as he rode around the heads of the cattle that was there.
As the day wore on, the harder it rained. Johnny was positively miserable. He hunched into his slicker even more and pushed his hat down more on his head.
He was coughing a lot more and now he heard wheezing with every breath he took in.
‘ Oh great! Just what I need!’
Because of the heavy rain and deep dark clouds, it felt later than it was. The men with him had been out here since seven this morning. They were wetter and more miserable than he was.
He waved the men over and they slowly trudged their wet and muddy mounts over to where Johnny sat.
” Guys, let’s call it a day and go back to Lancer. We can pick it up tomorrow morning. Maybe this shitty weather will go away by the morning.”
The men all agreed with Johnny, and they all turned their equally miserable horses back to the promise of warmth, food and dry clothes.
Johnny felt chilled to the bones and he just swayed in the saddle as they all rode back. Frank stayed by his side, because he looked like he was ready to slide out of the saddle.
His eyes were all but closed as they entered the compound. Frank directed their two horses towards the front door, and slid out of his saddle. He went to help Johnny down, and Scott came out onto the porch.
He saw Frank struggling with his little brother and went into the rain to help Frank.
” I got him Frank. Take the horses. Get them dried off and put up for the night, and you go get into dry clothes too.”
Scott half carried his little brother into the house, and straight up the stairs to his room. He peeled his wet clothes off him and dried his body and his hair really good. Then slid a warm night shirt on his almost unconscious brother.
He put his wet clothes in a pile, put his holster with his Colt on the headboard. He put his boots near the fireplace to warm and dry them. His soaked leather pants he laid over a chair and pulled them over to the fire as well to dry. Everything else he was going to take downstairs with him.
He turned to his brother and felt his forehead. Just as he thought, Johnny was burning up! He poured some water into a bowl and reached for a small soft cloth. He sat next to the side of the bed and started to wipe Johnny’s face, neck and chest.
After ten minutes, Johnny slowly opened his eyes, and Scott saw the glazed fever high blue eyes shining at him.
” What’s going on Scott?”
Scott turned worried eyes to his sick sibling. When Johnny started to cough badly, he couldn’t seem to get his breath. Scott lifted him up and slid a few more pillows behind his back.
He carefully laid Johnny back against them. He saw the sudden look of fear enter his brother’s eyes, and he began to struggle.
” No Johnny, calm down. You’re fine. Breathe slow Johnny, slow. See you’re okay. Just relax.”
Johnny locked his eyes on Scott and he slowed his frantic breathing. Soon he was breathing slower and that scared look left his face.
” I knew this was gonna happen Brother. You are really sick. I want you to stay in this bed and rest. I’ll be back to check on you in a couple hours. You hear me little Brother?”
Softly, he weakly told his brother he did and his eyes closed again and Johnny slipped into a sleep mode that was anything but restful.
Scott sighed and sat back on the hard wooden chair. Now, what was he going to do? Both his father and his brother were sick, and more than half of the work force on the ranch were down with fevers, coughing and chills.
As Scott watched his brother’s restless sleep, he thought of what he could do. He slowly and quietly got up and went quickly down the stairs.
He reached for his hat and rain slicker, and went out the door and headed to the bunkhouse. As he slid the door open, he was met with a large amount of sick men.
Frank walked over to the oldest son and quietly asked what he needed.
Scott clasped Frank’s shoulder with his hand and said, ” I need a hand to go to the Conway Ranch. Talk to Aggie Conway and tell her what’s happened and we need help. “
” I’ll go Scott. The rest of these men need rest, I’m not sick as of yet.”
Scott got ready to go back to the house and as he opened the door, he saw, standing on the porch, in his nightshirt, his brother.
He sprinted across the ground to his brother’s side. As he turned him around, he softly said, ” What do you think you are doing little Brother? You need some rest. Come on back into the house.”
Scott steered Johnny back into the house and back up the stairs to his room. He called for Maria and told her to sit with him, while he gets some medicine for his brother.
Maria sat next to Johnny and slowly slid her fingers thru the dark bangs that were sliding into his eyes.
Johnny sank into a sleep that was one step away from actually being unconscious. Every breath he took, was laced with heavy wheezing.
Maria had made a cup of willow bark tea for Johnny and it sat on his night stand, waiting for him to open his eyes.
Frank soon returned to Lancer and he went to find Scott. He was in Johnny’s room. He and Maria were putting a poultice on his chest to help him breathe.
Frank knocked and Scott looked up. He went to the door and asked Frank if help was coming. Frank nodded and said Miz Aggie was putting supplies in a wagon and coming with a dozen ranch hands to help.
Scott closed his silver blue eyes and said a quiet prayer of thanks.
Turning to his friend, Scott told him to get out of those wet clothes and get some rest, until Aggie’s ranch hands came.
He went back to Johnny’s side and told Maria to check on Murdoch, that he’d sit with his brother.
The brief reports he was getting every so often from Maria, were encouraging. Murdoch seemed to be recovering.
Johnny, on the other hand, his fever was rising at an alarming rate, and he was even delirious at times. He looked at Scott thru fever glazed eyes, and thought he was a Rurale soldier in the prison he’d been at in Mexico.
Scott tried to keep Johnny calm and in the bed, but at every step, Johnny was fighting him. He thought, at one point, he might have to restrain him in the bed. No, he’d only do that if he got to be too much to handle, and he became a threat to himself or others.
Soon, Scott heard the jangle of harnesses and lots of horses coming in. He closed his eyes and sighed in relief.
Johnny was, for the moment, sleeping soundly. So Scott got up and went down the stairs. He opened the door and was greeted by a very wet Aggie Conway, carrying supplies.
She came up on the porch and leaned up and kissed Scott on the cheek.
” How are you Scott dear? How sick is Murdoch and Johnny? Frank said you needed help. I’m here with a dozen men, all ready to help with anything you need.”
” Thank you so much Miz Aggie. Your men can use the barn on the left of the small corral for their horses and the wagon. The empty bunkhouse is their’s to use too. Frank, can tell them what all needs to be done, after they rest and get something to eat.”
All the supplies were brought into the house and Aggie took her hat and slicker off and brushed her graying hair back up into it’s pulled back hair do.
” Okay, let me go up and check on Murdoch and Johnny, and see where we are with them.”
Aggie went into Murdoch’s room first, and Maria looked up and smiled.
” Hello Maria. How is this old goat doing?” And she laughed softly.
Softly, a deep rumbly voice from the bed said, ” The old goat is awake Aggie dear.” Then he opened light blue eyes that were still glazed with fever.
She put her hand up to her neck and a pretty pink blush appeared on her cheeks.
” Murdoch! I had no idea you were awake. But I must say, I’m glad you seem to be recovering.”
He smiled weakly and said, in between bouts of coughing, “Why are you here Aggie?”
” Well, I got a message that Lancer needed help, so here we are my friend.”
Smiling innocently, Aggie said, ” Yes, I brought some of my ranch hands to help your hands get the cattle to higher ground.”
As his eyes slowly closed, Aggie saw a soft smile come to his lips. She ran her hand across his forehead and felt the heat still coming from his body. Thinking to herself, she said, ‘ It seems I got here just in time my friend.’
She told Maria to keep cooling him and she was going to see how bad Johnny was. Aggie saw the worried look on Maria’s face.
Aggie walked across the hallway and silently slid into Johnny’s room. Her eyes saw a very sick young man in the bed, his sweat covered hair on his face.
She went to his bedside and gently pushed the sweaty hair from his eyes. Her smile was soft and almost loving looking at Murdoch’s youngest son. She had a soft spot in her heart for Johnny, ever since he came home.
She could feel the heat just coming off Johnny’s body in waves like an ocean.
” Oh Johnny, you are definitely a very sick young man. But I’m here and I’ll make sure you recover from being so sick.”
Aggie gently caressed his hot cheek and looked down at Johnny with the look of a mother wanting her child to be healthy.
After a few minutes, Aggie turned and left Johnny’s room. She headed down the stairs to where all the supplies were stacked. She picked up a few things and then turned and started back up to Johnny’s room.
Scott came into the kitchen and asked Aggie what she thought about his Johnny was so sick after being in the rain twice in one day.
She set the medicine on the table and she lifted soft brown eyes to look into the eyes of the oldest son.
” I think Johnny was already sick before he went out thus morning. He’s so sick Scott, I don’t know why it hit him so hard. He’s a very sick young man.”
Scott sat down with a cup of coffee. He had such a sad look coming into his silver blue eyes. He reached for the cup, but he didn’t lift it to his lips.
” Do you think…..that maybe………he won’t make it Aggie? I’ve never seen him this sick.”
She patted his arm and then stood up and gathered up the medicine again.
” That’s why I’m here Sweetie. I am not going to let Johnny leave us. “
She gently kissed the top of Scott’s blonde head and turned and went up the back stairs. When she got to Johnny’s room, she heard soft Spanish words being spoken. She walked in and saw Maria sitting there, wiping his sweaty face, neck and chest. She lifted her eyes to look at Aggie. Her eyes, also, had that sad look.
” Maria, he’s gonna be fine. I promise you he will. Why don’t you make a pot of your willow bark tea. When he wakes up, I’ll get as much down his throat as I can. When the rain slows, I’ll have someone get Sam. He’d never be able to get here with all this mud.”
She nodded and put a cool cloth on Johnny’s forehead, pushing his hair back and gently kissed his sweaty forehead. She got up and walked slowly to the door and went to the back stairs to the kitchen.
Aggie set about making Johnny’s room into an infirmary of sorts. She put all the medicine she had on his night stand.
Right now, all Aggie could do was cool Johnny down, for now. She softly talked to Johnny, hoping to get thru the darkness he was in.
Towards night time, still cooling him down and wishing he’d wake up, Aggie worked.
Scott came up with a tray of food for her and he conjoled her to eat, that he would put cool cloths on Johnny.
She sat at his writing desk and ate her sandwich and drank her tea. She could tell it was still raining hard, from the sounds of the drops hitting the windows. She sighed at this thought. She wished Sam was here so he’d tell her if what she was and wasn’t doing for the youngest son, was the correct thing to be doing.
Aggie remembered when her own boys got sick, but never this bad. Aggie knew Johnny ran very high fevers when he got sick. His coughing was what worried her the most. She also remembered when he was just one years old, and got so sick. Murdoch, at his wife’s insistence, called on Aggie for help. He was a very sick little boy, but he pulled thru. She hoped that could happen again.
Scott was quiet as he replaced warm cloths for cool ones. He turned to Aggie and be softly asked her if she thought Johnny would leave them.
” Don’t think like that Scott! He’s gonna pull thru this. Your brother is a fighter Scott, and he won’t give up! We just take it one day at a time.”
Scott nodded. One more day, that’s what he’d hold on to.
When Aggie was thru eating, Scott suggested she rest for a bit in a spare room. She was going to fight his suggestion, but then thought that maybe Johnny’s brother could get him to wake up. She turned to leave the room and stopped.
” Scott, get Maria to make a mustard plaster for Johnny’s chest. It can clear his chest of this congestion and he’ll be able to breathe easier. I know she knows how to make them. Have her make up enough for a couple. She will need to change them every couple hours.”
Scott said he’d go to the kitchen and have her work on that. Aggie turned and walked from the room and went into a room next to Murdoch’s and laid down on the bed. She was asleep within minutes.
While Scott kept cool cloths on his brother, once he returned to Johnny’s room, after telling Maria what Aggie wanted her to do. He wiped Johnny’s chest, neck and face down with the cool clothes, he even talked to his brother. Softly, about anything that came into his mind.
At one point, he saw Johnny’s head begin to move on the pillows and saw his dark eyelashes flutter a few times.
” Come on Brother, open your eyes. Come on Johnny, wake up. Please!”
Johnny’s eyes slowly opened. They were very unfocused and fever glazed. Johnny didn’t seem to recognize him and he sort of reared back.
” Get away from me you Bastard!”
” Johnny, it’s me Scott. You’re at Lancer, you’re safe little Brother. Focus on me Johnny. Please!”
Johnny’s eyes, while glazed and unfocused, locked on Scott. He kept telling him to get away from him. That he’d escape and get far away from him. They couldn’t hurt him again.
A sudden coughing fit had Scott pulling his brother into a sitting position. He started to rub small circles on his back. Scott could feel Johnny’s body rigid with fear, but the soft circles and sitting up was helping him breathe easier.
Soon, Scott leaned him back against the pillows. He saw the cup of cooling tea, and picked it up and gave Johnny a few sips. After three sips, he pulled his lips from the teacup.
Scott saw that Johnny’s eyes were beginning to close and he softly told his brother to get some more rest. When Scott heard the soft even breathing, he got up and left the room, quietly.
He went across the hall to his father’s room. He peeked in and saw his father was awake.
Scott smiled and said, ” Good to see you awake Sir. How do you feel?”
” Hungry Son. How’s Johnny doing?”
” He’s really sick Sir. Aggie said to take it one day at a time. He was awake and I got some willow bark tea down his throat.”
Then a soft voice from the door said, ” Thought I heard you awake Murdoch.”
As Aggie walked into the room, Scott saw the smile come to his father’s face. Scott softly, under his breath, chuckled.
” Aggie, my dear! How nice to see you again.”
Aggie sat on the edge of his bed and took one of his hands in her’s. They talked quietly for a bit, and she saw he was tiring.
” We’ll talk again when you are awake again Murdoch.”
She watched his eyes close and she got up and asked Scott how Johnny was doing. He told her he was sleeping and she nodded her head.
” I’m gonna go and sit on the porch to get some fresh air and figure out how to help your brother.”
They both walked down the main staircase and went out onto the porch. It was pouring even harder and Aggie could feel the cooler air.
Meanwhile, upstairs in Johnny’s room, he woke up once more. He saw he was alone and slowly swung his long legs over the side of his bed. He saw his gun belt and pulled his Colt out of the holster. Before he stood up, he checked the gun. Full count.
Johnny slowly stood up and grabbed the headboard with his left hand, until he was steady. Everything was sort of wavy and coming and going into focus.
He was still in his night shirt and decided he’d leave without getting changed into his clothes. He opened the door and headed to the staircase. Johnny slowly walked down the steps. Just as he got to the last one, the front door opened.
He saw Scott and Aggie coming in. He saw Scott as a Rurale soldier and as he aimed his gun, Aggie started to talk.
” Johnny, dear. Give me the gun Sweetie. You’re safe here at Lancer. You don’t need to use it. Give it to me, Johnny.”
She slowly walked towards Johnny, as he swayed back and forth on the step. He slowly and dangerously said to move away from the door. Even though he was swaying, the hand holding his Colt was rock steady.
Scott and Aggie slowly moved away from the door. Evidently, they weren’t moving fast enough, and Johnny’s voice got louder.
” Move! Now!”
At that point, on a few steps down the staircase, Murdoch appeared. He was holding the railing, and looking at Johnny aiming his gun at his brother and Aggie.
” John! What are you doing!?”
That startled Johnny, and as he slowly pivoted on one foot, he raised his gun to his father. Scott moved quickly and as Johnny pulled the trigger, Scott tackled him, throwing his aim off. The bullet hit the wall over Murdoch’s left shoulder.
Scott had Johnny on the ground and Johnny was fighting like a wild cat.
” Get off me! Let me loose!”
” John! Hold still Son, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
Finally, Johnny seemed to deflate on the floor, and Scott helped him up and all but carried his sibling upstairs and back to his bed.
As Scott looked at his brother, unconscious once more, he came to a decision he wished he didn’t have to make. He went quickly to his room and retrieved the cloth strips that were in his saddlebags.
Returning to Johnny’s room, and with a look of regret, Scott gently tied his brother’s hands to the bed post. He hated to do this, but it was for Johnny’s own good. At least until he got a little better and his mind was a bit clearer.
Aggie came in and saw what Scott had done, and she walked over to him. She put her hand on his forearm and softly said, ” It’s okay Scott. It’s only until he gets a little better. Johnny will understand.”
Scott looked so sad and before he went to sit by his brother, his voice, filled with this sadness, said, ” I wish I did Aggie. I hate tying him down. Johnny told me once, when he was in that prison, the doctor there tied him down when he was trying to help him. Johnny said he fought like a wild animal. And I go and do the same thing to my own Brother.”
Aggie’s heart broke for the turmoil the oldest brother was feeling and she once again said, ” He will understand Scott. You’ll see. Johnny can be very forgiving of things. Just give him time to get well.”
When Aggie left to see how Murdoch was doing, after coming within six inches of having Johnny’s bullet take his shoulder off.
Maria came in then, with a tray of things and white gauze bandages. Together they applied the mustard plaster to Johnny’s chest and wrapped his chest with the gauze. She caressed his cheek and left.
Scott stayed with Johnny, once again wiping his sweaty body with the cool cloths. Softly, he talked to his little brother, saying that he was sorry for tying him to the bed.
When Scott went to brush Johnny’s shaggy black bangs away from his eyes, Johnny opened his sapphire eyes. They were definitely focused and they were shooting hatred at his older brother.
” Get away from me you bastard! You say you are my Brother, but Brothers don’t tie the other one up! I want you to leave me alone!”
Johnny suddenly started to gasp for air. Scott tried to sit him up and call for Aggie at the same time. She rushed in and Scott said, ” He can’t catch his breath Aggie!”
Aggie saw the hate in Johnny’s eyes and she told Scott to go sit with his father. She would calm Johnny down. Reluctantly, Scott left his brother’s room and closed the door gently.
She looked at Johnny and put her soft hands on his cheeks and said, “Johnny, look at me! Listen to me! If I untie your hands are you going to behave?”
Johnny’s sapphire eyes had the look of a trapped animal. He focused on Aggie’s face, and she didn’t waver as she held his eyes. She felt Johnny relax against her hands and he sort of melted into the pillow.
She untied his hands and sat him up. She laid his head on her shoulder, while she rubbed his back. Softly cooing motherly sounds to him.
As Johnny relaxed against Aggie, his breathing became less frantic. His eyes closed at one point and he felt himself falling asleep.
All too soon, Aggie gently laid him back against the pillows. His eyes opened and Aggie saw the deep blue eyes locking on her again.
” Thank you.” His voice was soft and just this side of mesmerizing. If she had been a young girl, she was positive he could get her to do anything by using that voice.
As his breathing became easier, he felt he could breathe without hacking himself to death with coughing. He rubbed his chest with his hand and came in contact with the bandage.
His soft voice, sounding more tired than before, asked, ” What is this?”
Aggie sat on the edge of the bed and she smiled down at Johnny. She gently brushed his hair back and softly said, ” I had Maria make a mustard plaster, to help with your breathing and coughing. It seems to be working.”
Johnny felt his eyes unfocusing again and he rubbed his chest once more. His chest hurt from all the coughing. He looked at Aggie and her features, were once again, sort of wavy back and forth. He closed his eyes.
” Go back to sleep Johnny. That’s the best medicine for you.” Aggie pulled the cover up on Johnny’s body and caressed his cheek.
When she heard his soft even breathing, Aggie left the room and went to see how her other patient was doing.
Murdoch was sitting up in his bed. He was awake and Aggie saw his face was very pale. As she moved closer to the bed, she saw he was also shaking.
” Murdoch, are you okay? The bullet didn’t hit you, did it?”
He lifted his pale blue eyes, made lighter by his pale complexion. ” No, it went into the wall. I can’t believe he’d shoot at me Aggie. It’s like he doesn’t even know who we are, at times!”
” It’s the fever Murdoch. He appeared okay because his Madrid persona kicked in. A sort of security blanket. Maria made a mustard plaster and it’s on his chest. That will help his breathing and also his coughing. When I was talking to him, he was rubbing his chest.”
Murdoch leaded his head tiredly back against the pillows.
” Is he going to be okay Aggie?”
” He’s very sick Murdoch. After the adrenaline left his system, he pretty much crashed. But one good thing, he is starting to breathe easier. Before I left, his vision became unfocused again and he sounded so very tired.”
She stopped talking, which was out of character for Agatha Conway, and Murdoch looked at her closely.
” What else Aggie?”
Aggie took a deep breath and looked at Murdoch. She had something to tell Murdoch, but she didn’t know how to do that.
” Aggie? “
” Well, there is something Murdoch. After Scott got Johnny back into his bed, he umm……tied Johnny to the bed. I untied him Murdoch and he promised to behave. I saw a look of fear in his eyes while he was coughing so hard. Murdoch, he’s afraid of dying.”
A sigh came from Murdoch and he said, ” He’s not afraid of dying, but being unable to breathe. It happened once before.”
Aggie sat on the edge of the bed, instead of the chair, and reached for his large work worn hand.
” What happened Murdoch,? Talk to me.”
He lowered his head and his voice started out soft, and the more he talked the stronger it got.
” About a year ago, Johnny had been attacked. He was clearing a stream, by himself, and had innocently, taken his gun belt off. Well, four men, ranch hands from Driscoll’s ranch rode up on him. They had the drop on him and beat him severely.”
” Why didn’t Johnny fight back?”
” He did Agatha. He fought them like an enraged stallion. But four against one is a tad much to overcome. They left him there, beaten severely, not defending himself even. Then to add to his injuries, one of them shot him in the back up high by his shoulder.”
Murdock stopped and started to reach for a glass of water, and Aggie picked the glass up and handed it to him. He took a few sips and then handed it back to Aggie.
” The bullet traveled down after it hit him and caused all sort of breathing distress. He got a very scared look, like that of a hunted animal, every time he couldn’t catch his breath. Sam told him how to control his breathing, slow it down, so his lungs could expand easily for him to breathe.”
Aggie put her hand up to her neck and softly exclaimed, ” Oh my Murdoch! No wonder he was so afraid!”
Aggie turned her head and looked out one of the windows in Murdoch’s room. She noticed it was still raining, but not that hard driving rain of the last few days.
” I’ll be back later Murdoch.” She got up and dropped a soft kiss to his cheek. She breezed out the door, before Murdoch could even open his mouth to say anything.
Aggie went in search of Scott and found him in the Great Room, just sitting behind Murdoch’s massive desk.
He looked up when he heard the rustle of her skirt.
He stood up when he saw the concerned and worried look on her face.
” What’s wrong? Is it Johnny or my father?!”
” They are both sleeping again, but it does involve Johnny, to a degree. I want you to send a ranch hand to fetch Sam. Johnny’s breathing is still strained and I’m afraid I don’t have anymore tricks to use. I think I need Sam”s expertise.”
Scott turned to look out the huge windows. Yes, it wasn’t raining as hard as it’s been. ” Okay, I’ll send one of the ranch hands for Sam. I don’t know what the roads will be like, his carriage might bog down with all the mud.”
He left Aggie standing by the desk and went to the door. As he stepped onto the porch, he saw Frank going into the barn for a fresh horse.
” Frank! Come here for a minute!”
Frank acknowledged the summons from one of his bosses, and handed his horse to one of the hands there. He told the guy to get another horse ready for him.
Frank turned and trotted carefully thru the mud, his rain slicker behind him like a flag. He got up onto the porch and lifted his hat a bit.
” What ya need Scott?”
Scott’s silver blue eyes looked at all the mud in the compound, and then swiveled them to look at Frank.
” Frank, I need you to go to town and find Sam and bring him here. Don’t rush, or Sam’s carriage will bog down with mud. If you find him at his office, tell Sam that Johnny is sick and having a hard time breathing. Sam will know what to bring.”
” It could take extra time Scott, even if the carriage bogs down. I’ll get him here as fast as I can.”
Frank adjusted his hat and sprinted to the barn once again. He saw that a horse had been saddled and stood tied to a post in the front of the barn. He mounted up into the saddle, adjusted the slicker and walked the horse out, bending his head as he exited the barn.
Once clear, Frank started the horse out towards town. Keeping his eyes on the way the horse moved in the mud. When he figured his horse was moving fine, he pushed for a faster gait. As it was, it was gonna take a couple hours, maybe more, to find Sam.
Scott stood on the porch a few minutes more to watch Frank. He watched the rain slow and then pick up again, and he sighed. He was so sick of rain. He watched a couple hands come in, probably to get a fresh horse or dry clothes.
After another minute, Scott turned and went slowly back in the house. He went up the stairs, first checking on Murdoch, who was sleeping, then to his brother’s room.. He noticed that Johnny was restless and he heard the wheezing Johnny was doing. He also saw the sweat that was glistening on his face. He reached for a cloth in the bowl of water, wrung it out and put it on his brother’s head. Then Scott reached for another one and wiped his brother’s face, neck and chest.
Scott listened to the wheezing and saw how hard it was for Johnny to draw a breath. He was also pale, which was not an easy thing for his brother to achieve with his rich bronze complexion.
He sat in the chair, next to his brother, and he could feel tears of frustration filling his eyes. He dropped his head a bi9t and he softly said, to his unconscious brother, ” Please, Johnny, please don’t leave me. I don’t know what I’d do if you were gone. Just give me a sign that you are in there fighting. Please Brother, just a sign.”
Scott turned when he heard Aggie come into the room. She moved close to him and pulled him to her body, caressing his soft blonde head, very much like a mother would. The tears finally fell and she didn’t move away. She rubbed his back as if Scott was her child in need of comforting.
” It’s okay Scott. Let it out. I know you are worried about Johnny and even your father. As soon as Sam gets here, he’ll know what to do for them. I saw your ranch hand leave heading, I believe, into town to get Sam.”
A couple minutes later, Scott sat back from Aggie’s warm body and wiped his eyes.
” Sorry Aggie, it’s been a rather long couple days with them both sick. As soon as Sam is here, I’ll be able to focus more. Right now, it seems like Johnny is just as bad as he was three days ago.”
L” I thought the mustard plasters would help, but they aren’t. I don’t know Scott. I hope Sam can figure this out and help your brother.”
” Me too Aggie, me too.”
Four hours later, just as dusk was beginning to settle around Lancer, Frank and Sam finally got to Lancer. Sam’s little mare was covered in mud and wet to her bones. The carriage was like a rolling mud bog.
A ranch hand came to help Sam out and then took the mare and carriage to the big barn.
” Give her some extra oats please Raphael. She had a long muddy drive here.”
Sam walked the few steps thru the muddy compound, up onto the porch, where he wiped his shoes as best as he could of the mud, and then went into the house.
Scott and Aggie were coming down the stairs and they greeted Sam.
” Scott, nice to see you again.” He turned to Aggie and as he took his black hat off, he leaned over and kissed her cheek.
” Agatha, what are you doing here out in this nasty weather?”
” Long story Sam. Both Murdoch and Johnny, plus almost all of the Lancer ranch hands are sick Sam. I’m more concerned with Johnny.”
Sam pulled off his wet jacket and hung it on a chair near the fireplace and took off his shoes to dry them out as well.
As Sam drank a hot cup of coffee, Scott and Aggie filled him in on what Johnny’s symptoms were.
Hallucinations, wheezing, coughing, sweating, pale, all was told to Sam.
” I remember he was like this one time, a long time ago, he was sick like this. Almost lost him then. I won’t lose him now either.
Sam took his bag and went up the stairs to Johnny’s room. In the bed, he saw a very sick young man, wheezing. He saw the pain lines on Johnny’s face.
” John, you are a sick young man again. But don’t worry, I pulled you thru last time, I’ll do it again.”
Sam started almost instantly to make Johnny’s breathing easier. Johnny was laid against a mountain of pillows, taken from the spare bedrooms. He was sitting up in bed against this pile of pillows.
Sam then summoned Maria, telling her she needed to make a diffuser for Johnny to breathe directly into his body. He handed her a handful of mint leaves, and told her to steep the leaves and bring the pot back up here to Johnny’s room.
” Mint leaves Sam? I never heard of that. Will it work?”
” It should. We’ll need to make a tent over Johnny, and put the pot on a stand next to him. He will breathe in the fumes and it should open up his lungs and hopefully get rid of that wheezing.”
Before Maria came up with the pot, Scott, Sam and Aggie made a tent over Johnny. Tucking in the edges so the fumes wouldn’t get out.
Soon, the pot was placed under the tent with Johnny, and Sam said, ” Now we wait to see if this helps.”
Aggie and Sam sat on either side of Johnny’s bed. Both lost in their own thoughts on knowing how sick he really is and more can they do.
Scott went downstairs and slid his slicker on and went out to have a talk with Frank. While at the bunkhouse, he saw some of the Lancer hands were bouncing back. Scott told them to take a little more time, that they had help from the Conway ranch hands.
He and Frank talked a few more minutes. Frank told him the majority of the cattle had been moved to higher ground.
Scott was pleased that Frank was so on top of everything.
As Scott walked back to the house, he saw the rain coming to a stop, and he prayed it would stop all together.
He went up the stairs to his father’s room, and saw, much to his surprise, Aggie and his father engrossed in a game of cards.
” Is Sam with Johnny?”
” No Sweetie, he is resting for a bit. He will check on Johnny when he wakes I am sure. Why don’t you rest too. You look so tired Scott.”
” I think I will. Just want to check on Johnny real quick, then I’ll go lie down.”
He left his father’s room with a smile on his lips. His father sure got better quick, as soon as he knew Aggie was at the house.
He went into his brother’s room and instantly knew something was wrong. The tent was not as tightly tucked as it was when last he was in his sibling’s room.
He walked closer to one side of the bed and exclaimed quickly, “Johnny!”
He rushed to his brother, who was lying on the floor, the nightshirt he wore drenched and the pot the mint water had been in, empty and lying by his side.
” Aggie, get Sam!”
He saw his brother wasn’t moving and he sure as hell didn’t seem to be breathing either.
” Don’t do this Brother! Don’t you die on me! Breathe Johnny! Come on Brother!,”
Aggie, Sam and Murdoch all came in.
” Damn! I should have stayed with him!”
Murdoch’s face got very pale and he said, ” Is he burned too Sam?”
Sam lifted up the nightshirt, and he saw there was a mild burn, sort of like a hard sunburn.
” Nothing too bad. Let’s get him into a dry nightshirt. Murdoch, you go back to your bed. Don’t need you collapsing either.”
Aggie took Murdoch’s arm and steered him out of the room.
Scott and Sam could get Johnny cleaned up and into a dry nightshirt, without a worried father hovering.
After Johnny was in a dry nightshirt and in his bed, Sam examined him. The look on Sam’s face told Scott what he dreaded the most to hear. Johnny was in a coma.
Sam reached for his black bag and pulled out long red tubing. Scott cringed inside, he knew what Sam was gonna do. Sam threaded it down Johnny’s throat and tape it in place on the side of his cheek.
” Now we wait for a sign that he is waking up. We can give him water, broths and medicine thru the tube.”
Sam stayed for a while longer and then he patted Scott on the thigh and told him to talk to Johnny. Keep him anchored to this world.
Scott was skeptical. Sam said, ” He can hear you Scott, talk to him. His subconscious will hear you. I promise.”
Scott sat in the chair and picked up Johnny’s hand. Long supple bronzed fingers, work worn attesting to the hard work he’s done.
For two days, Scott sat by his sibling’s side, talking, almost pleading with him to wake up.
” Just one more day Johnny. Just one more. Don’t leave me Brother. I won’t know what to do if you leave me Johnny. Please Brother, give me one more day and then one more day after that forever. Please Johnny.”
Scott lowered his head to the top of Johnny’s black head and held his hand just that much tighter.
Softly whispering against Johnny’s ear, ” One more day little Brother, one more day.”
A single tear slipped from Scott’s eyes, and it fell on Johnny’s soft hair. Scott neither noticed it nor wiped it away. Soon his eyes closed and his cheek sank a little deeper into his brother’s soft black hair.
Scott was sleeping hard, but somewhere in his subconscious, it felt like a soft touch on his cheek. Almost like a soft caress.
Scott’s silver blue eyes slowly opened and he saw Johnny’s right hand on his cheek and his brother’s fingers were softly caressing his cheek.
Scott slowly lifted up his head and his silver blue eyes locked on his brother’s sapphire blue eyes. A slow smile came to his lips and he softly said, ” Johnny?”
A soft smile came to Johnny’s lips and his eyes took on a sort of far away look. They were unfocused but yet focused.
” Nice to see you Boston.” Softly spoken to his older brother.
The grin that came to Scott’s lips was slow to come and he quietly said, “Nice to see you little Brother. I don’t mind saying, you had me just a little worried.”
Johnny blinked several times to try and clear up his vision, soon figuring it was a lost cause.
” Worried, why? I’ve only got a cough from being in the rain.”
Scott looked at his brother as if he just said something unbelievable, and in fact, he just did.
” Johnny, you’ve been sick a total of ten days, the last four you have been in a coma. I thought you were gonna leave me Johnny.”
Lowering his eyes, Johnny softly said, ” Ten days? I only remember being sick with a cough and the rain.”
He turned his eyes to his window and he said, ” I see the rain has stopped. Have all the cattle been relocated?”
Scott laughed and said, ” Yeah, they have been. Aggie brought some men with her to help. All our ranch hands were sick, except Frank.”
At that point, Sam came into the room. ” Thought I heard two voices in here. How you doing John?”
All Johnny did was lift up the tube in his throat and Sam chuckled.
” Yea, I suppose I can take it out.”
And he slid the tube out and Johnny gagged a couple times.
Sam looked at Scott and said, ” Have you seen Agatha anywhere Scott? Haven’t seen her for a couple hours and I noticed Murdoch’s door is shut and locked.”
Scott turned to look out the window, but Johnny saw the angry look come to his siblings face. It began to bother him as his jumbled brain began to unscramble and work. He wasn’t liking where it was going either.
Sam checked Johnny out and said his lungs sounded fairly clear. He left with instructions to Scott that if Johnny began to again have troubles, to send someone. He packed up his instruments and closed his battered black bag and left the room.
Johnny looked at Scott and the unspoken questions hung in the air. Scott shook himself from his silent pondering and said, ” I bet you are starving little Brother. Gonna go see if Maria has any broth for you.” He chuckled when he saw the look come to his little Brother’s face.
” You know the drill Brother! Broth first then real food later.”
Johnny opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, as he knew his brother was right.
After Scott left the room, he paused outside his father’s room, and actually could hear noises inside the room and he became borderline enraged.
Didn’t he give a damn about his brother!? It seemed ever since Johnny took the shot at Murdoch, him and Aggie have been together.
After talking to Maria, Scott went into the Great Room. He poured a drink and started pacing, very much the way Johnny would pace. He got angrier by the minute, and by the time his father and Aggie made an appearance four hours after Johnny woke up, Scott was furious.
As they walked, arm in arm, into the Great Room, Scott turned on them.
” Are you both aware that Johnny has now woken up?! Do you even care your youngest son was so sick, I thought he was gonna die! No, you two were locked in the old man’s room, screwing! Sam even was looking for you to tell you about Johnny, and all you were interested in was bedding your whore!”
Murdoch and Aggie stood there and then Murdoch unleashed on his oldest.
” How dare you Boy! I want you to apologize to Agatha for what you just called her! What I do in my own room, in my own house is my fucking business! How dare you talk to us like that!”
He was red faced and Aggie tried to calm him down, to no avail.
Scott was breathing hard and he kept screaming at them.
“How could you act like that when Johnny was lying in bed, unconscious, between life and death. It’s no wonder Johnny was in the damn storm trying to save your damn cows! Killing himself to please you! You could care less about him or his welfare. Either of you! The minute you were shot at by your very sick son, that’s when you started carrying on like fucking rabbits! I would of expected different from both of you!”
They all had moved a little bit away from the doorway, so they didn’t notice the unsteady young man on the stairs. He was dressed in his leather pants and a white shirt with fancy embroidery on it. It was untucked and unbuttoned. He didn’t have his boots on either, but his gun belt was wrapped around his slim hips.
He had been hearing the loud yelling in his room, and even tho he was catching bits and pieces, he was curious about what was going on. It took him a few tries to get his pants and shirt on, and he wasn’t even going to attempt his boots. As he was buckling his belt on, he was heading for the stairs.
Johnny held the banister as he walked down the stairs. He was wobbly and his head felt like it was filled with cotton. All he knew, was his brother was angry, and he needed to be there with him.
Johnny got to the doorway and as he leaned against it, he softly said, “What’s going on Scott?”
Scott rushed to his brother’s side and helped him to a chair.
” Dammit Johnny! You shouldn’t be up walking around, you’re gonna fall on your face.”
” Heard the yelling Scott. What’s going on?”
Scott poured a glass of water for his wobbly brother and said, ” Oh, I’m sure you aren’t strong enough to hear this, but it might put some things into prospective Brother.”
Scott turned angry silver blue eyes on the old man and Aggie and he said, ” You want to tell your youngest son, who was in a coma for four days, what you and your whore have been doing!?”
Johnny quickly looked at Scott then Murdoch. He saw the anger between them, growing rapidly. Aggie had the good grace to lower her eyes.
His voice, sort of on the loud side, Johnny said, ” What have you been doing old man?”
Johnny’s sapphire eyes were beginning to spark and it was only a matter of one being set off for there to be an explosion.
” What old man!?”
Murdoch looked at his youngest then to Scott and he said, “Aggie and I are engaged in a loving relationship. We knew your brother was watching you.”
” So, instead of even checking on me even once, you decided to bed her! That’s just fucking wonderful Murdoch! You want to get in her pants more than you wanted to make sure I was okay. You really are a fucking piece of work old man!”
Johnny stood on wobbly legs and looked at his brother with hurt and confusion.
” Need to get out of here Scott. Before I shoot him!”
He started for the stairs and did in fact, stumble. Scott was there and he helped him up and the brothers went up to Johnny’s room.
Scott followed Johnny’s directions and he put his socks and boots on. While Johnny buttoned up his shirt, Scott threw clothes and some personal things in Johnny’s saddlebags. Took his two jackets, rifle and boxes of shells out and laid them on the bed.
He went to his room and did the same thing. When he was done, Scott came and collected Johnny and his possessions, and they went down the stairs. As the brothers put their hats on, Scott looked into the Great Room.
What he saw, only infuriated him even further.
The brothers went to the barn and saddled their horses. As they started to ride out, Murdoch came out onto the porch.
” Where are you two going?”
” No where! Go back to your whore old man! You don’t have sons any longer!”
As the brothers rode out, Johnny asked Scott what he had seen in the Great Room.
” Nothing Brother. We’ll take our lives one day at a time. We’ll be together one more day, forever.”
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