Johnny Madrid Lancer wandered into the kitchen of Lancer where he found his father's ward, Teresa O'Brien, sitting at the table eating cookies and drinking coffee. Smiling her delight at seeing the dark-haired young man up and around, Teresa commented, "Well, at least you look like you're feeling better."
"Yeah, I'm fine. I think I'll go out to the stable for awhile. Barranca could use some groomin'."
Teresa looked at him carefully. She knew that the ranch hands had taken care of the palamino while Johnny had been laid up. She also knew that both Johnny and Scott tended to spend time grooming their horses when they were troubled or in need of solitude. Hesitating, she finally ventured, "You and Scott are certainly cut from Murdoch's mold."
"What exactly does that mean?"
"All three of you are as stubborn as mules. Scott rode out looking like death warmed over and now you...."
"Yes, didn't he tell you he was going up to the Tate place for a few days?"
"No, uh, we kinda had words."
Taking a sip of coffee before continuing, Teresa asked, "Johnny, what's going on between the two of you?"
"Nothing? I know Murdoch treats me like a child at times, but don't you start! What happened with that man who stole the money?"
"You already know. The man shot me and Scott gave him the money!"
"And that's all there was to it?"
"So why are you two acting like you're enemies instead of brothers? What else was Scott supposed to do, but give him the money?"
"It's not the money, dammit!"
"Then what is it?"
"He did what?"
"After Scott gave him the money, I...well, that's when I drew on this guy and wounded him. He...he was going to kill me, but he said he wouldn't if Scott begged him not to."
"So Scott did?"
"Yeah, but I didn't ask him to!"
"You mean you would rather have let him kill you?"
"Men don't beg!"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"I remember your running out of here after Mattie left. You begged her not to leave."
The dark head looked down for a moment. "I loved her. I wanted her to stay."
"I'm not saying you didn't. But why is it wrong for Scott to beg if it saved your life when you begged Mattie to stay here for love?"
"It's not the same!"
"Isn't it? When you care about someone, who is to judge what is right or wrong? If the situation had been reversed, would you have stood there and watched that scoundrel kill your brother?"
"I'd have done something to save him!"
"Maybe but what if there was no other choice?"
Johnny stood there for some time. "God help me, I don't know what I would have done."
"Johnny, it took a lot of courage for Mattie to leave. She believed that she was doing what was best for the both of you. Scott did the same. He valued your life more than his pride."
"But I didn't ask him to humiliate himself that way!"
"Just like you didn't ask him to help you rob a train to help a friend?"
"Scott did that on his own."
"But why? I know he tends to be overprotective at times, but you mean a great deal to him. I think he's terrified of losing you."
"I'm not going anywhere."
The brown-haired woman sighed. "Maybe you don't intend to, but I think that both Scott and Murdoch fear that all it will take is another wild stallion and you'll be gone."
"I wouldn't chase off like that again. I've learned my lesson."
"Oh Johnny, it doesn't have to be a horse. Both of them are afraid that Lancer isn't enough, that your family isn't enough to keep you here. Can't you see that?"
"So what am I supposed to do? Tell Murdoch and Boston that I don't intend to leave Lancer?"
"If it's true, but right now I have the feeling that what's really important is that you have to decide whether you need them as well."
"Johnny, you're more than capable of surviving on your own, but is that what you really want? After so many years apart, do you really not need Scott and Murdoch? If so, then I think you're cheating yourself as well as them."
"I...it's just hard to say..."
"Johnny, I've got work to do and you're the only one who can decide what you're willing to risk. I just don't want you to regret losing something as important as your relationship with Scott because of a few words."
"I'll think about it."
"That's all I ask. I love all three of you and Lancer needs both of her sons."
"Her? Lancer's a he!"
"Maybe you're right, since HE's as stubborn as the rest of you!"
Johnny grinned. "Uh, do you suppose I could have a cup of coffee and some cookies before I go out to the stable?"
"Sure. Help yourself. I'm going to go start on the laundry."
Thirty minutes later, Teresa O'Brien, bucket in hand, noticed the golden palamino with his dark-haired rider head north in the direction of the old Tate place.
Johnny Lancer rode slowly out to the Tate place. The small ranch had once belonged to Alonzo and Nora Tate, but since it was totally surrounded by Lancer property, it had been natural for Murdoch to have purchased the land when Alonzo had passed on. He had paid Nora Tate a good sum of money so that she could go to live with her children in the East. For the past year, the Lancer patriarch had intended to fix up the ranch house as a more comfortable place for the hands to stay when they were required to work for long periods on the far north reaches of Lancer.
The ride north encompassed some of the most scenic aspects of the famed ranch, but the gunfighter saw little of it as his mind was occupied with Teresa's words. He couldn't forget the implication of her question about what his choice would have been had it been Scott's life on the line. Would he have begged to save the blond from a killing bullet? Part of him wanted to deny that it would have ever come down to such a choice and yet....
Johnny's headache had returned with a vengeance. He had to talk with Scott. Teresa was right; the situation could not remain as it was or Lancer would be torn apart--not to mention the two brothers.
Riding up to the rather ramshackle cabin, Johnny noticed that Scott's horse was tied up at the rail. That puzzled him if Scott intended to stay for any time.
Pushing the door open, he walked into the small main room where the stove and table were located. Continuing through, he entered the dark bedroom.
From the corner came a shakey voice, "Stay right there. I've got a gun on you."
"Scott? It's me Johnny."
"You're lying," said the breathless voice. "Johnny wouldn't come here."
"Just wait a minute. Let me open the curtains and then you can see my face."
Johnny did just that. Even after he opened the curtains, there still wasn't much light due to the dirty window, but he could see the pain-filled, flushed face of the blond lying on the bed in the corner. Taking a step towards the bed, he stopped when Scott's gun hand began to waver. "Johnny? Sorry, I thought..."
The gun slipped out of the slender hand as Scott Lancer slumped back on the bed. Johnny moved over to the bedside immediately, picking up the gun. Reaching out, he touched the hot face. "Whooee, you are warm. What caused this?"
Since there was no answer from the fevered man, Johnny went outside to pump some water into a pan he found. It took quite a bit of pumping before a trickle of water appeared, but at least it would be enough to wipe off Scott's face. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any clean cloths, but the dark-haired son found a bandana in Scott's saddlebags.
Dipping the bandana into the cool liquid, Johnny proceeded to wipe off Scott's face, arms and throat. Happily, this seemed to bring the older man around as his cerulean eyes opened. This time he did seem to recognize his sibling. He murmured, "Sorry, Johnny," again before shutting his eyes.
"For what? It's not your fault if you're sick."
"Not that." Twisting awkwardly, the blond winced as he tried to turn on his side. "Sorry about...road. Should of thought of something."
"Don't worry about it. At least we're both alive."
Scott tried to smile. "Couldn't let him kill you, even if you hate me for it."
"I don't hate you."
"You will when you find out."
"Find out what?"
Again there was no answer as Scott had passed out. "Dammit Boston, what do you think could make me hate you?"
Dipping the cloth again, Johnny carefully wiped off all of the exposed skin on the upper half of the slender body. Then he unbuttoned Scott's shirt to apply cooling water to his chest. As the fourth button was undone, Johnny caught sight of a jagged, inflamed wound on Scott's side. It was obviously infected and was proably the source of the blond's fever.
Gently applying the cool cloth to the wound brought only moans from the injured man. Knowing that he had no medicine to help his brother, Johnny knew that they had to return to Lancer so that a doctor could be summoned.
In a struggle, reminiscent of the one Scott had fought on the road, Johnny managed to hoist the older Lancer onto Barranca's back and mounted behind him. By this time, the blond was deeply unconscious which was fortunate because the return to Lancer would definitely be unpleasant for all concerned.
Because of the slow pace needed to keep Scott from being jostled too much, it took twice as long for the two men to reach the hacienda. Shouting for help from the vaqueros who were at the corral, Johnny accompanied his brother indoors. He also remembered to ask one of them to go for the doctor and another to ride up to the Tate place to collect Scott's horse.
It didn't take long to get the unconscious man settled; however, that didn't offer much consolation as the blue eyes remained closed. Teresa quickly entered with a bowl of fresh, cool water and clean cloths. Remembering the flushed look on the handsome face, she rightly had concluded that they would be needed.
When the gunfighter removed the shirt that was covering the wound, the young woman gasped, but didn't flinch as she began to soak it with the fluid. "Johnny, go out in the pantry. On the high shelf is a bottle of carbolic acid. We've got to clean that out."
"But Teresa what about the doctor?"
"I'm sure he'll be here as soon as he can, but he could be out somewhere. We've got to get that cleaned out if we're going to get his fever down."
Johnny followed directions. When Teresa daubed at the irritated flesh and Johnny saw his brother's body flinch with the pain, he shut his eyes. He knew Teresa was right, but it still was difficult to watch
Then Teresa poured a small amount into the heart of the cut which brought a scream of agony to the pale lips. Trying to push the torrmenting hands away, Scott grabbed at his side. Johnny jumped in to clasp his brother's hands above his head while Teresa finished cleaning and bandaging. By the time she was finished, there were three white-faced individuals in the room.
"Now, let's let him rest. I'm going to go make some lemonade. He needs to drink as much as he can."
As she stood up, Johnny could see that she was trembling. "Are you all right, Teresa?"
"I...I'm fine. It just brought back a bad memory. My father cut his hand one time. I used carbolic acid on it. For awhile, we thought he might lose it. I'm going to go make that lemonade. You stay with him until the doctor comes."
The sapphire-eyed Lancer nodded. He truly hoped that the doctor was not out on another case.
Fortunately, Dr. Winston arrived a short time later. After carefully examining the patient, he praised Teresa on her fortitude. He admitted that he could do little more than advise them to keep the wound clean and bandaged. Hopefully, the fever would abate with cool sponging and a cleaner wound. He also left laudanum for pain if needed. Chagrined, that he couldn't do more, the doctor headed back to town.
The rest of the day was spent in the tedious but necessary effort of cooling the blond's fever and changing the bandage as often as it became soiled. Johnny and Teresa took turns as the shadows deepened into evening when they were finally rewarded with Scott awakening and asking for something to drink. After providing it, Teresa ordered Johnny to go to bed for a couple of hours.
To her utter amazement, the young man did. His headache, which had been forgotten in the wake of the discovery at the Tate ranch, made him desire one thing--to sleep for twenty-four hours. Of course, he did not sleep that long, but it was a much-refreshed Johnny Madrid who reentered his brother's bedroom around midnight when he told Teresa it was her turn to sleep. Not arguing, the slender woman headed gratefully to bed.
Around dawn, Johnny woke from his uncomfortable sleep in the chair. Opening his eyes, he noticed that cerulean ones were staring at him. "Scott? How do you feel?"
The easterner just nodded.
"Here, have some lemonade. Teresa made it."
Scott gulped it down as if it were the purest nectar. "Hey, hey, that's enough. You'll be sick."
"I'm sorry," breathed the blond.
"Don't be. There's more."
"No, not that. Sorry about all of it."
"I'm the one who's sorry. I was a fool for blaming you for...for well you know."
"My...fault. Should have thought of a better way."
"Scott, you saved my life. I should have thanked you instead of saying those things."
"But you were right." Scott clenched his eyes shut. "Was trying to be the hero."
Johnny sat there for a moment. "Boston, I was angry when I said that. I'm proud of you for getting that money back. That took guts."
The blond shook his head. "Don't understand. Tricked him--and you."
"You're not making sense. You need to get some more sleep. When you wake up, you can tell me."
Summoning up his strength, Scott growled, "No! Now. Need to tell you."
"Okay, okay. Just relax and take your time."
"Only gave him part of money. Rest was paper. Had Gregory make up two bundles. Still had most of it in my bags."
"Safer. Lot of money. Didn't want to... disappoint Murdoch."
"But what if he had noticed?"
The blond head nodded. "He'd have killed both of us. . . Took chance.. . Sorry."
"Is that why you gave him the gold?"
"Thought he'd value that more and not think about the paper money."
"Well, it worked. What did he say when you caught up to him?"
"Didn't," came a barely audible whisper.
"Couldn't find trail."
"But you gave Murdoch the whole amount."
"My money. Added it to rest. Don't tell, please."
Johnny Madrid looked into his brother's pleading eyes. Then he walked out of the room.
Scott Lancer rolled over onto his good side with his arms clasped over his head. He had known that Johnny couldn't forgive his cowardly act. Now, he would tell Murdoch and his father would also know what he had done.
A tap on his shoulder broke into his tortured thoughts. "Scott, take this. If it's not enough, I'll get the rest when I go into Green River."
Even though the blond knew it was Johnny's voice, a part of him said that he must be delirious. Johnny had left.
Walking around so that he could face his brother, the dark-haired Lancer held out a stack of bills to Scott. "You shouldn't have to make up the whole difference yourself. We'll go halves."
Scott didn't take the money. "I...I should have to pay the money. I took a chance with your life."
"So did I when I drew on him that second time. He could have killed both of us then. I don't think he wanted to kill anyone. We both made a mistake so I'll forgive you if you forgive me. Is it a deal?"
For the first time, Scott gave a small smile. "It's fine with me, Brother, but are you going to tell Murdoch?"
"Let's just say, in this case, I think he's better off not knowing. I'll just have to tell Val not to say anything about not finding the crook."
"Ranch hands found him dead but no money. The doctor said he bled to death. I paid to have him buried."
"Well, that's a rough way to die and he did let us go so I suppose you did the right thing."
The half-closed blue eyes flickered. "Thanks. I knew you'd understand."
"What I don't understand is how you got hurt. Scott?" But his brother didn't hear as he had slipped back into sleep.
Sitting there, Johnny decided that it really didn't matter at that point. He would have time to talk to Scott later. Now, he intended to go snitch the last of the cookies--and share them with his brother when he awoke.