Johnny Lancer never did things the easy way…not even dying. This story features the Lancer men, with whump for Johnny and angst for Murdoch and Scott. But never fear, despite the title this isn't a death fic!
This was written for and is dedicated to, my good friend and avid Lancer fan Sherry 57. I know you've wanted a Lancer story for quite a while now, so I hope it ticked at least some of your boxes!
I hope the other fans like it too…and thanks to Sherry for letting me share it with you.
Johnny couldn't remember when it had happened.
It hadn't been when he'd got the letter. Or even when he'd sat slouching on the coach, amused, but not especially interested in the dandy sitting opposite. It hadn't even been when the old man laid down the gauntlet, challenging him to make a decision that would change his life. Walk away with the thousand bucks – or stay at the ranch.
Why hadn't he taken the money? It would have been the easy choice, but Johnny Madrid didn't do easy. He'd never been able to resist a challenge, besides, it was a lucrative offer and he wasn't one to turn down the chance of making a fast buck. Except there was no easy money. There was only dirt covering his sweaty, aching body from the ground he dug. Blood from the torn calluses as he toiled the land - his inheritance.
Johnny hated manual labor. There had been many times during the last few months he'd cursed the old man for pushing him to his limits. Cursed himself for getting trapped in a life he wasn't used to. When things changed, he didn't know. It had probably crept up on him gradually. Then again, maybe it had only been since he realized he might not make it home.
Home…It was a place he thought he'd never find again. He could barely remember the run down shack he'd shared with his mom. She'd loved him, but love didn't put food on the plate, and he'd hated being poor. More than anything he hated being treated like bastard scum, just because his pa had abandoned them before he'd been born – or so he'd thought.
Johnny grimaced as another shaft of slick, sharp pain tore through his leg. He gasped, then clenched his jaw as he bit back a scream that would have sent a message to the local wildlife there were easy pickings nearby. Hot, tired and fed-up he'd left the ranch on the spur of the moment. No one knew he was missing. No one would be searching for him. He was alone in the desert with only the tumble-weed and the buzzard circling overhead for company. If he didn't get killed by an Apache or the bands of horse thieves that lived in these hills, the coyotes would finish him off when the sun went down. It was likely he'd die there, but he still didn't want to make it easy for them. Easy, there was that word again…
He'd watched his mom as she'd slipped away. At the end her death had been easy. She'd even looked peaceful as her breath hitched and her body became still and silent. But watching her suffer in the weeks before was the hardest thing he'd ever done. Since then he'd watched a lot of men die, many at his hands. Pulling the trigger was always easy, but the way it made you feel as a piece of your soul died with them took its own toll.
A wry smile tugged at his lips when he thought of all the men who wanted him dead. At least he'd denied them revenge. It was ironic that instead of a bullet or a knife, it was a snake that'd done the job for them. He'd killed it, but not before it had spooked his horse sending him hard against the ground and breaking his leg.
Barranca wouldn't have let him down. Even if he had thrown him, something he doubted, his faithful friend would have stayed by his side. There were times when he thought his horse was the only one that really understood him. The only one who knew how far he'd come. If he could talk, he wondered what he would say about the choice he'd made. Still, Johnny reckoned words weren't necessary. He knew how Barranca felt. The love and trust in his eyes was there for all to see. It would be today when he needed him most, he'd found him lame. Johnny missed him, hoped he'd be okay, most of all he hoped to see him again…He was mad at his luck, but more than anything he was mad at himself. This would be a stupid way to die, pointless. Once again he'd messed things up. Once again he had only himself to blame.
He'd lost his temper when the old man had come by. At first he'd been pleased at the unexpected visit. He was proud of the neat row of fence posts that had taken the best part of the day, and was looking forward to joining him on the ride home. But Murdoch had treated him like a kid. He hadn't even said he'd done a good job before throwing him an extra canteen and telling him he wanted the job finished before he came home. Johnny had seen red. He'd barely waited for the old man to leave before jumping on his borrowed horse and galloping until the ranch was out of sight, but he couldn't get it out of his mind. The anger burned hot and fierce in his gut until he drowned it with booze. If he hadn't been so drunk he might have seen the damn thing, or even sensed the danger, then again maybe this was just his time. He licked his lips trying to get some moisture in his dry, aching throat, but cracked by the searing heat all he tasted was heat and sand.
Johnny was starting to wish someone had shot him. A bullet would have been quick, ending his life within minutes if they did it right. A knife in the gut would have hurt like hell, but at least his misery would have ended long ago. Now instead of a quick death, he waited for the sun to turn his bones to dust while he suffered in agony.
For someone who'd lived alone most of his life, he didn't want to die that way. He'd become used to having people around, kinda liked it even. He reckoned Scott would miss him, at least he hoped so. His brother wasn't someone he would've befriended in his old life, but they'd grown close in the short time they'd been thrown together. As for Murdoch, Johnny didn't know what to think. Would the old man miss him? Or would he be glad to be rid of the thorn in his side?
The sun was getting higher in the sky and he lifted a trembling hand but it didn't protect him from the glare that burned his eyes making the relentless, undulating landscape look almost white. He shuffled, trying and failing to take the pressure off his busted leg as he forced himself inch, by painful inch along the hot gritty surface towards the relative shelter of an outcrop of rocks. Twice he'd passed out. How long for, he didn't know. By the time he reached his destination his hands were burned, and his face felt tight and swollen. The sweating had stopped and his body was shaking, the raw angry pain throbbing through his leg so bad, Johnny looked at his gun. It would be so easy…
Murdoch stared at the figures on the page, but frustrated pushed the ledger away unable to concentrate. Damn the boy. Why did the stubborn, pigheaded fool do things like this? Johnny wasn't stupid although sometimes like now, his irresponsible behavior made it seem that way.
It wasn't the first time he'd pulled this stunt and while there was no logical reason for Murdoch to be worried, there was an ache in his gut that wouldn't quit. He flinched as he moved out the chair too fast, aggravating his old wound in the process. It still hurt after all this time and as he made his way towards the window, he gently rubbed his thigh easing the dull pain back to the constant ache he'd learned to live with. He peered into the distance but there was no change from the last time he'd looked. What he wanted to see was the quirky grin of his wayward son as he made his way home, but all he saw was land rolling into the horizon. Lancer land. The land he shared with his sons. Damn it to hell! Where was he?
The sound of the door opening made him turn round just in time to see Scott entering the room.
"Well?" He ground out, sounding more abrupt than he intended. He cursed himself when as a hurt look flashed across Scott's face.
His eldest son shook the dust from his hat, and with the arm of his jacket wiped away the sheen of sweat covering his face. "He isn't on the ranch, least not as far as I can tell. I was going to ride straight into town but as it would be dark before I got there, I figured I'd better let you know first."
Murdoch said nothing. The news didn't come as a great surprise, but Scott's reaction was. Instead of being angry, or even frustrated at his brother for doing another disappearing act, he looked concerned.
Murdoch considered the man in front of him. Scott had impressed him from the start. With his military background, discipline was already part of his make-up He was smart as a whip, hard working too. An upstanding young man with a sensible head on his shoulders, everything you could want from a son. Johnny on the other hand was impulsive, hot headed and wild yet, he loved both his boys the same.
They were as different as you could get. Their build, coloring and natures nothing alike, but unexpectedly his sons got along just fine. He was still getting to know them, and the voyage of discovery was also showing him something about himself. The boys might be two sides of a coin, but he was the blood bonding it together. They might favor their mothers looks – thank the Lord – but in Scott he could see his commitment to detail. He was a man determined to get the job done, and do it right. Johnny was equally determined - to live life his way.
In Johnny he reluctantly saw a side of himself he'd forgotten. As a young man he'd had a wild, wilful streak, until his father had given him the beating of his life for breaking curfew. Rules and discipline had been important to his old man, and Murdoch suddenly realized he was a little jealous of his youngest son for the easy, wanton life he'd led. Since he'd arrived he'd pushed him, tried to mold him into a rancher, but now he wondered if he'd gone too far. Johnny Madrid was a free spirit. The gun slinger wasn't used to leading a structured life, let alone the hard, back-breaking work it took to build and keep a successful ranch. Murdoch saw Scott watching him, waiting for an answer. He hobbled over to the cadenza and poured them both a shot of bourbon.
He handed a glass to Scott, and shook his head. "No…it's going to be dark soon, and I don't want two missing sons. Leave town until tomorrow."
"What if he's in trouble?"
Murdoch ignored the accusatory tone and drew him a look. "Johnny's a big boy. He got along fine before he came here. He'll come back when he's good and ready…And if he doesn't, then he isn't the man I took him for."
Scott still hadn't touched his drink, and his expression hardened. "Maybe you should tell him that sometime. Johnny's working hard to change, but it isn't easy to turn your back on what you know. He deserves some credit for that." Scott took his glass and downed the amber liquid in one gulp. "I'm going into town. I won't be back until I find him."
A movement outside the window drew their attention. Murdoch suppressed a smile when he saw a horse galloping over the rise. He couldn't make out the rider, but as they weren't expecting a visitor it could only be Johnny. "Looks like you won't need to make that trip into town after all."
Scott lips curled into a smile, but it quickly faded as the horse got closer but the rider was nowhere to be seen.
Without a word being spoken the two men exchanged a anxious glance before rushing out into the courtyard. Murdoch's gut twisted as he saw Johnny's exhausted horse covered in sweat after what must have been a long, hot ride. He ran his hand along its flank wishing it could speak. Wishing it could tell him what had happened to his son…
The searing heat of the day had long gone. Now he was freezing, and Johnny didn't know if it was the cold making him shiver, but each time the tremors wracked his body the fierce pain shooting through his leg took his breath away.
No one could ever accuse Johnny Madrid of being a quitter, but Johnny Lancer had walked away from the last job he'd been in charge of, and it made him feel hollow inside.
Why had he done it? His fuzzy brain couldn't even remember now, but this wasn't how he'd planned to go. He'd always figured he'd die young, but it wasn't his style to leave unfinished business, and Lancer was as big a deal as you could get. This had been his chance but he'd let it slip through his fingers. It was the story of his life…
He winced and a groan escaped. His leg hurt like crazy, so painful that if he still had his knife he'd be tempted to cut the damn thing off. The blinding sun had faded to a golden yellow. It looked like dusk was falling but he couldn't trust his eyes as the landscape was fuzzy and blurred, and his head was pounding so hard he drifted in and out of consciousness. He'd tried to shelter from the sun, but it hadn't taken long for the blazing heat to bake him to a crisp. Dry as a bone for a minute he wished he had his canteen instead of his gun but it was long gone, along with his ride. His skin felt raw, his burnt blistered body aching, throbbing in time with the beat of his heart. He was exhausted. Too beat to even rub some warmth to relieve the chill now seeping into his bones.
The gun was still in his hand, but he wasn't going to take the easy way out. If this was the end, he would take it. He owed it to himself but more than that, he owed it to the old man. Murdoch was a stubborn, persistent SOB who pushed him so hard there'd been times he'd wanted to let his fists do the talking, but, he'd been the only man who'd given him a chance. Because of him, he had a new life. It wasn't easy trying to change the habits of a lifetime, but nothing worthwhile was. As Johnny Madrid he could go where he liked, when he liked, do whatever he wanted – and nobody cared. Now people did, and it was a feeling he was getting used to.
It was almost dark and the coyotes had been hovering for a while now. Sapped by hours in the sweltering heat and worn down by pain, his strength was almost gone.
His arm was trembling as he raised his gun. There were six bullets in the chamber, but there were nearly ten in the pack creeping towards him. Johnny struggled to focus as he tried to keep his hand steady. He needed to make each shot count as he sure as hell wasn't giving up without a fight. Besides, he wanted to leave his family something to bury.
Murdoch peered into the encroaching darkness but could hardly see a damn thing.
It had been madness starting a search this late but when he'd stated his intention to the men, no one put up any objection. Not that he would have listened. If no one had come, he would have gone himself. Johnny was out there somewhere. Either hurt or dead he didn't know. Murdoch sent up a silent prayer he was still alive. Regardless, he wouldn't stop looking until he found him.
The men said nothing but their expressions spoke volumes. It would soon be too dark to see anything. Common sense told him he should hand down the order to make camp for the night, but his gut was telling him something else. His boy was close by so he didn't want to give up.
"Murdoch…I don't want to stop looking either but…" The sound of gunfire made everyone snap to attention, and the dejection on Scott's face was replaced with hope. "It came from over there." Scott shouted as he rode off in the direction from where he heard the shots. He didn't look back. Didn't wait to find out who was following him.
Murdoch's heart was thumping and his mouth went suddenly dry as the slumped figure came into view. Johnny looked dead. For a moment the world stood still until the bowed dark head stirred and his glazed eyes blinked. "You came…"
Johnny's parched lips broke into a small smile then his face went slack and his gun slipped from his fingers. Scott was already down beside him, gently easing him onto the ground. "You're going to be okay, Johnny…we've got you."
The words of comfort went unheard, but Murdoch knew they were said just as much for their benefit as for the wounded man now lying unconscious in his brother's arms. He just hoped they were in time.
The journey back to the ranch seemed to take forever.
Scott held his brother close. There wasn't much he could do but try to keep him steady as the buck-board rumbled along, hitting every rock and twig strewn along the uneven road. He flinched every time they hit a pothole, but Johnny didn't stir. He didn't even wake as they carefully carried him into the house. Heat was coming off him in waves but apart from a grimace of pain, his brother remained unconscious as they peeled off his sweat drenched clothes, and bathed his clammy skin.
It was the longest night of his life as they waited for the doctor to come. When Doc Jenkins walked into the room, the look when he saw his patient made his heart plummet. Murdoch went white, and neither of them spoke. Neither of them wanted to voice the fear that Johnny might not make it.
His brother never did things the easy way. Scott hoped he'd stay out until after the doc had set his leg, but Johnny's eyes fluttered open just in time for the painful procedure to begin.
The doc looked just as sorry at the bad timing as he did. His voice was filled with remorse as he addressed his patient while nodding to Scott to take position at the top of the bed. "I'm sorry, young man…but this is going to hurt."
Johnny merely nodded as he grimly accepted the leather strap between his teeth. His glazed eyes wandered until he saw Murdoch standing at the side of the room, and with a mutual look of understanding, locked eyes with him.
Scott hated himself for what he had to do but he held firmly onto his brother as the doctor prepared to pull the leg straight. "I'm here, Johnny…it will all be over in a minute."
Johnny didn't look up but grabbed hold of one of his hands, crushing it as he let out a muffled scream. It tore at his heart, which fell when his brother's body went limp. The strap fell out of his mouth, and Scott threw it away in disgust as he laid Johnny's now loose fingers against the covers. The pain had left his features but the tears remained. With a soft cloth he mopped them away and fought back his own.
Johnny was a force of nature and he couldn't bear to see him like this. He was just getting to know his brother, surely he couldn't have found his blood to lose him so soon – could he?
The doctor washed his hands before rolling down the sleeves of his shirt. After taking a final look at the sleeping man in the bed he addressed the other two occupants in the room. "It was a clean break and should heal just fine, but he's going to be off his feet for quite a while."
It wasn't the best news. Johnny wouldn't be happy being confined to bed but it could have been a helluva lot worse. Relieved Murdoch let go of the tension and the nagging fear his son would be left a cripple like him. But Johnny looked far from well. He was trembling, his damp hair clamped to his head by the sweat rolling down his pale face. "Thank's, Sam, but why is he shivering?"
"Johnny has a bad case of sunstroke. He's badly dehydrated, and the chills are his body reacting to the loss of fluids. Keep bathing him, and try to get him to drink as much as possible…but small sips at a time." The doctor snapped his bag shut, pulled on his jacket and grabbed his hat. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid there isn't anything else I can do. I've left something to help with the pain and I'll be back tomorrow. Right now I have to get back to town – Mrs Millar was in the early stages of labour when you called. I have a baby to deliver."
As he reached the door, Scott grabbed his arm. "Is he going to be okay?"
The doctor shrugged, and shook his head sadly. "I don't know. Johnny's strong, and that should hold him in good stead but…he was lying badly hurt out in the sun without water for hours. Only time will tell if he's going to make it or not."
Murdoch felt his heart lurch as he watched Scott's face fall. He didn't want to leave Johnny's side, but the doctor was good enough to come, so manners dictated he seen him out. When he came back, Scott was gently wiping the sweat off his brother's face. He spoke without looking round.
"He can't die, Murdoch…not like this….it wouldn't be fair. Johnny didn't have the chances I had. This ranch, it's the only good thing he's had in his life."
Murdoch swallowed a lump in his throat. There were times when he thought Johnny was happy at the ranch, but there were others like yesterday when his hot-headed son would flare up, words were spoken in anger, and he would storm away. Fact was, he was never really sure how Johnny really felt about living here, but he knew the boys were close so Scott's words were good to hear.
He pulled in a chair, sat at the other side of the bed and took Johnny's hand in his own. "He'll make it - he's a Lancer…and a Lancer doesn't give up without a fight."
He hurt all over. Raw, angry pain behind every labored breath he took. It was the only constant between the chills shaking his tight, aching body and the waves of searing heat that burned him alive.
Images flashed through his brain. His mother smiling at him, telling him to be a good, brave boy…then the ache in his heart when he stood at her graveside holding back the tears. There were other visions too. Things he'd done he would rather forget. The men he'd killed lined up to taunt him. The women he'd used, cursing him for leaving them behind.
At other times he felt a hand by his head, and Scott's voice urging him to drink. His mouth was so dry he didn't need asking twice, but the cup was taken away too soon. He was sure he'd seen Murdoch by the side of his bed, but reckoned he'd imagined it. The old man looked like shit, worried as hell. Johnny wondered why he was so het up. Surely it couldn't be about him?
When awareness eventually came the sun was streaming through the window. It was blinding him and he flinched, then groaned as the involuntary movement spiked the pain in his leg.
"Easy, Johnny…you need to try and keep that leg still."
When his eyes focused on Murdoch, he was surprised at the relief on the old man's face.
"I'll try to remember that…if I don't, I'm pretty sure the pain will remind me." He croaked, and immediately Scott lifted him by the shoulders and helped him take a drink. The water was warm, but right now it tasted better than the old man's best whisky.
"We nearly lost you, Johnny. I'm just getting used to having a brother…So please. Don't do anything like this again."
Johnny flinched but not from the pain. Murdoch and Scott looked as wiped out as he felt, and why? They had been caring for him. He felt like a heel, and could barely look his father. "I'm sorry…What I did…I don't deserve another chance." He rasped, swallowing back the bile in his throat. "I'll leave…get out of your hair as soon as I'm able."
Murdoch folded his arms, and looked him straight in the eye. "What do you say, Scott, do you think we should let him off that easy?"
Scott's eyes were glinting with amusement as he shook his head. "Well I'm not finishing those fence posts…"
"Nor should you, that was Johnny's job…and they'll be more needing dug after that leg heals."
His head was still a little fuzzy and at first he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You want me to stay?"
Murdoch took the seat by his bed and patted his arm. "You're my son, Johnny…and while I'm not happy you walked off the job, nobody said this was going to be easy…for any of us. I'm just glad you're going to be okay so we can still have a chance to make this work. But, if you want to leave…"
John suppressed a grin. "I can't leave. I have those fence posts to finish…besides, no one is ever to going to say Johnny Lancer is a quitter." He yawned on the last word, and his eyes started to droop as sleep once again pulled him under.
Murdoch chuckled as he smiled at his sleeping son. "No one could every accuse you of that, Johnny. Sleep well, son." He pulled the covers up to the stubbled chin, and nodded to Scott. "I'm going to sit with him a while. Ask cook to bring me some coffee…and something to give it a kick. I have something to celebrate…"
I hope you enjoyed the story, and please review!