What Comes Next

By Cadillac Red

This has been rolling around in my head for some time and I just had to write it. It's a little sappy so avoid if that bothers you. It contains references from a couple of favorite movies, and a quirky little detail from a former colleague who had an interesting idea about what comes next…. Thanks, Mary!

Scott Lancer knew it was morning even though he had not yet opened his eyes. The golden haze outside his still-shut eyelids told him it was full morning already, with the strong California sun already at full strength.

He sighed. Maybe it was a legacy from his father but even now he really did not like letting the day get away from him. He stretched his arms over his head and sat up on the side of the bed. Then he rose.

"Well, you must've slept well, old man," he thought, noticing he had no sore muscles from yesterday's exertions. It was branding season, and the work was, as always, back-breaking.

Then he noticed the room around him. "What the…?"

It was the room he'd originally been given when he arrived at Lancer all those years ago. He had not slept there in decades now. "Okay, Scott, you had one too many brandies last night," he muttered to himself. He remembered having only one but his exhaustion must have worked with the alcohol and somehow he'd ended up here in the first-floor guest bedroom instead of the upstairs master bedroom. He shook his head as he went to the wardrobe to see if there was anything he could wear, just for the moment, until he could get himself to his own bedroom.

He smiled, pleased to find clothes that were both familiar and well-worn. Someone in the house must have realized he had bedded down here and put them in the closet for him. A beige plaid shirt and brown work pants, and well-worn leather boots. He dressed quickly, bemused by the strangeness of this morning. Despite the obviously hard night he'd had, he felt great. He went to the side door that led to the courtyard – he'd been pleased Murdoch gave him that room years ago. A privilege of being the eldest son, he imagined. His younger brother, Johnny had not been given a room with a back door through which to escape.

He stepped out into the warmth of the sunshine. He could smell the sweet fragrance of the purple nightshade that spilled from the planters in the courtyard, and the earthy scent of the pine tree that shaded it. Then he noticed the booted feet and looked up to see Johnny lazily rise from the bench.

"I thought ya might sleep the mornin' away, brother," he drawled.

Scott frowned in confusion. "Johnny?"

"Yeah, it's me. I told 'em I had to be the one to come and get ya." He strolled over and dropped an arm over Scott's shoulders. "It's good to see ya, big brother."

Now Scott realized he was still dreaming, probably asleep in his own bed in the master bedroom. But Johnny felt as real and solid as he himself. He smiled. "Same here, little brother."

The two men hugged, and Scott took a long look at his brother. He looked no more than a few years older than when the two had first met. When they'd both arrived at Lancer, each of them unaware he even had a brother.

"Yeah. It's good," Johnny said, his voice cracking just a little. As he spoke a horse wandered around the stucco wall.

"Barranca! How—" Scott sputtered. Then he remembered this was a dream. One he did not want to end too quickly. "How're you doing, boy?" he asked, stroking the horse's face.

"Charlie's here too," Johnny added just as Scott noticed his own horse, Charlemagne sidling up beside Barranca. The horse whinnied as he saw Scott. His old horse butted his shoulder with his head.

Scott laughed. "How are you, Charlemagne? Long time no see. You look good. Very good, old friend." The horse responded with another, softer head butt. "Sorry, I don't have anything for you," Scott said before being surprised to find a lump of sugar in his pocket. "Not sure how long this has been here but it's all yours, Charlie."

"Let's go," Johnny said as he swung up into Barranca's saddle. "Daylight's burning, to quote our esteemed father."

"Go where?" Scott asked as he mounted his own, already-saddled horse. Johnny kicked Barranca into a canter and Scott followed along. As dreams go, this one was a doozy, but he hoped it would be a while longer before he woke from it. They rode in a leisurely fashion, enjoying the day, the weather and the chance to just be together. Scott had questions but he hesitated to ask them, afraid it might somehow bring the pleasant dream to an end.

In a little while, they came to the place where their father's ward, Theresa O'Brien had stopped on that first day, to give the two young men their first glimpse of Lancer, "the most beautiful place in the world," as she had called it. It had not taken either young man long to agree with the girl's assessment.

Scott's pulled up next to Johnny. "I still love this view," he said.

"Yeah, me too. I come here a lot."

Scott smiled. He was in the habit of stopping here frequently too. "The last two years have been hard," he said. "The drought's taken a toll—" He stopped suddenly, taking in the lush green landscape before them. In fact, it was lusher, and greener, than the day they'd first seen it. "What the heck….?"

Johnny chuckled, and Scott turned to him, a quizzical look on his face. "Is this…. California?"

"Nah. It's heaven," Johnny replied. "Race ya to the house!" The younger brother took off down the hill at a gallop and Scott laughed out loud. His brother had pulled that on him many a time over the years. He kicked Charlemagne into a gallop and raced after his brother, urging his stallion to catch Barranca. Johnny cleared the first fence ahead of him but by the time the two men and their mounts sailed over the second fence, they were neck and neck.

They slowed to a walk as they passed through the white arch that said "Lancer" and approached the hacienda. It looked…. Well, it looked like it had years earlier, before some improvements and extensions had been added to accommodate the growing Lancer clan. Over the years, the house had been filled with children, the grandsons and granddaughters that their father had always hoped for.

Scott swung down and handed his reins to someone just as he heard his name being called. He turned to see who it might be, and was startled.

"Is that Murdoch?" he asked Johnny as a man strode out of the front door and hurried toward him.

"Yeah. Everybody here's about twenty-seven," Johnny replied.

"Why?"

"Dunno. You're more the question-asker. Maybe you can find out."

Murdoch Lancer reached them, his strong face lit with happiness. "Scott," he said as he pulled his eldest son into a bear hug. His father looked younger than Scott remembered, and was even taller and stronger than Scott recalled. Truly in his prime, the son mused. Perhaps that was the idea behind everyone being about twenty-seven, he mused.

"Scott, my boy," Murdoch murmured again, pushing him back to look directly into his face. "You made me proud, son. Every day of your life. Every single day, boy. And now, it's good have you here at last."

Scott blinked, as the full realization suddenly came to him. He looked around him. "This isn't- this isn't a dream, is it?"

Murdoch shook his head. "No, son. Or maybe it is. The kind of dream that lasts forever."

Before Scott could respond, he heard someone approach from behind his father, and a soft, gentle voice. "Step aside, Murdoch! Now it's my turn. I've waited so long—"

A blond woman with blue-grey eyes that reminded him of his own came to a stop next to Murdoch, and his father's arm went possessively around her waist. Her eyes filled with tears as she gazed at their son, and then she reached up to kiss Scott. "My darling," she whispered. "I almost can't believe it." Putting her arms around his neck, she pulled him into a hug.

"Mother," he whispered back. "I always…. I always wanted a chance to hug you, even once."

"I know," she laughed. "I was there, with you. I often hugged you, my darling. Only you didn't know it."

"I have so much to ask you," Scott said.

"And we will have all the time in the world for it. But now, we have much to celebrate. And many people who have come to greet you—" As she spoke, Scott saw Theresa O'Brien behind her.

"Theresa," he said, giving the young dark-haired woman a kiss.

"I don't know if I ever told you but I always loved how you pronounce my name," she said warmly. "It hasn't been that long for us, but… I missed you, Scott." An older man appeared beside her and without knowing why, Scott knew with certainty it was Theresa's father, Paul O'Brien. The older man took his hand and shook it firmly.

"I'm so glad to meet you finally," the dark-haired man said. "Thank you for taking care of my little girl when it was needed. And for being there for Murdoch the way you were. He never stopped hoping he'd get you home. And he's never stopped bragging about his boys since he got here."

"Well, I don't know 'bout anyone else, but I'm hungry," Johnny interrupted. "I think it's time to get this party started."

Everyone laughed at Johnny. Hardly anything ever interfered with the younger brother's mealtime and it seemed nothing much had changed in that regard. But Scott was surprised suddenly to see a long table stretching out into the grassy meadow, laden with food and wine and flowers. How had he missed that before?

And there were people, milling about, who now started approaching him. Jelly and Val, both looking younger than he had ever known them to be. And there were numerous other friends and family members who had gone before him. They all clustered about him, offering hugs and kisses, and wide smiles. Music came from somewhere and he saw a few people begin to dance, while others clustered around the beer kegs that had suddenly appeared.

Scott suddenly felt overwhelmed by it all. Then he felt Johnny's arm around his shoulders, pulling him a little to the side. "Welcome home, big brother," he said quietly. "We've all been waitin' for ya."

A warmth from inside filled him, something he recognized as a mixture of love, and happiness and the satisfaction of a life well-lived. He sighed, and then he smiled, the kind of smile that lit his eyes and spread across his face. "So, Johnny….we're really not in California any more, are we?"

THE END