Notes: This is a story may7fic and I wrote back in 2008.
Warnings: Strong language, violence, lots of h/c!
Forged From the Pyre
By: May7fic and Pkatt
Tuck and roll, Johnny-boy, tuck and roll.
Johnny Lancer was no stranger to falling. In fact, he had become a master at it by the time he was in his teens. He had become not only an accomplished horseman, but was also well on his way to becoming an expert in the art of breaking horses. And, as anyone who has ridden a thousand pounds of contrary horseflesh could attest, the time spent spitting up dirt was equal or greater to the time spent on their backs. If you didn't learn fast just how to tuck and roll, you'd best find yourself another vocation.
But if that vocation happened to be pistolero, and you'd planned on living through more than one gunfight, well, the fine art of falling played its part there, too. The added skill of being able to come up firing with deadly speed and accuracy explained in large part how and why Johnny was still here today. And how he'd made it through the near misses and even the didn't misses. . . the bullets that had found their man but not their lethal mark. Surviving long enough for the men his father hired to find him could bring him home.
Yeah, Johnny had learned how to get himself away from trouble or, at least protect what was vital. He'd been forced to learn that lesson even long before he'd begun shaving. Long enough that it had become second nature.
It was oddly funny then how he'd managed most all his years to keep himself basically in one piece - avoid the serious damage that could be inflicted by a bigger man's fists or the flailing legs of a panicked horse, or even the toll of hot lead piercing his body. Yet, with all his skill, lightning quick reflexes and experience to draw on, he couldn't for the life of him manage to get out of the way of this God-forsaken wagon.
Even as his world narrowed down to this one moment in time, slowing down just like it did every time he faced off with another man, he couldn't prevent what was about to happen. And as he found himself literally falling through the air and about to crash onto the unforgiving terrain, he tucked his head and curled his body, trying not to tense up as he prepared to absorb the impact of the earth. He'd survive this fall too, he knew. It was just that damnable wagon he had to worry about. The one he and his brother had been riding in and the one he'd realized, at first with a sense of impending dread and then with resigned detachment, that was following his path like a hound from Hell. The one that without a doubt was really, truly going to cause him some hurt when it finally landed.
There was one consolation. Scott had already been thrown clear and Johnny just prayed that his brother's landing had been smoother and that he was unhurt. As long as Scott was all right, he would be too.
Johnny had been right.
Not that it required his brother's Harvard education to figure that bouncing out of control down a steep hill with a supply wagon in hot pursuit was going to result in anything but pain and misery. Still, now that he'd woken up, Johnny was having one hell of a time trying to keep from passing out again or worse, giving into the panic beginning to consume him.
And just where the Hell was Scott?
He remembered careening down the hill, his body seemingly finding every rock, tree stump and boulder nature had to offer, though he didn't actually remember stopping his descent. He suspected his landing had been more than a little abrupt, enough to knock the wind out of him along with his senses, at least for a while. He hadn't been out long though, he could see a wheel still turning on the underside of the wagon presently upturned and resting most awkwardly along his body and on top of the boulder Johnny was crammed up against. He realized he should be thankful for the rock's presence, despite the fact that he was certain his collision with it had caused more damage than the runaway buckboard.
He was decidedly ungrateful about his current state of immobility though and growing more concerned as he realized Scott hadn't so much as called out for him yet. That disturbing fact could only mean that his sibling was in a similar or worse situation.
Okay. That hurt more than it should have. He should settle down. Just because he knew his brother would be by his side in an instant if it was at all possible, it didn't mean Scott was really any worse off than Johnny. He had probably just been winded and was trying to get his wits about him too, just like Johnny was trying to do. Come on, Scott, c'mon!
Where was he? Between the wagon's position and the rock next to him, Johnny couldn't see much of his surroundings but he knew his brother couldn't be far. Within shouting distance at least. Well, if his brother couldn't come to him, then Johnny would have to go to Scott. All he had to do was get out from under his makeshift prison.
Johnny flexed his right hand. His fingers brushed against the cold steel of his revolver and he sighed with relief. His gun hand remained in one piece. A comforting thought; even if every other bone in his body remained useless, at least he could still shoot. Cold sweat popped out along his face from minimal movement and the chill of the ground could already be felt in his bones and he realized how helpless he truly was. He shivered, further awakening nerves he'd prayed would stay dormant.
The frantic shout escaped before he'd even realized it and he berated his weakness again. Enough was enough. After all, if Scott wasn't able to get to him, Johnny would just have to bite the bullet and save them both.
Taking a few calming breaths, he gritted his teeth and raised up slightly, enough to give his left elbow and forearm some purchase and allow himself a chance to lift his head and shoulders. Johnny gripped the side of the wagon bed with his left hand, shifting slightly to free his other arm.
"Oh, Dios." Johnny whispered as the blissful numbness in his legs abruptly gave way to blinding pain. He felt the sickening crunch of bone as he realized not only was he caught, but the real damage the boulder had caused. He clamped his jaws tight and dug wildly at the earth, trying to hold on to something solid to keep the pain from dragging him under. Rivulets of sweat trailed along his neck, igniting uncontrollable trembling and producing the sickening sensation of both freezing and burning and he was sure he was going to throw up. Or pass out.
A ragged cry tore from his lungs, cut short by the rising nausea swelling inside his throat and the agony of movement. Johnny gagged and choked it back, unwilling to give in to his own sickness. Not now. He had to make sure his brother was all right, then he'd worry about puking his guts out and how bad he hurt. Except he couldn't move. Pain and exhaustion held him tight and he had no reserves left to call upon.
But, he couldn't black out yet.
His unplanned look at the swirling stars had lasted a hell of a lot longer than the glance at his surroundings had. But Johnny knew that he had glimpsed his brother in his periphery. Or more precisely, Scott's gloved hand, a familiar tan jacket-sleeve, and his even-more-familiar shock of blond hair.
And his big brother wasn't moving.
"Scott!" He wished he could control his panic, but the thought of Scott lying there hurt, just yards away from him was creating such torment in his mind, Johnny was ready to pull himself out from under the wagon, broken leg or not.
"Scott!" Despondent and desperate, he called out again and again, though to his ears, all sound was muffled by the roar of ocean drowning him, threatening to take him under. Squeezing his eyes shut against the frustration springing forth, Johnny breathed in through his nose, fighting off the nausea and pain that had excruciatingly announced itself in his right leg.
Johnny warred against the dizzying gray fog trying to engulf him, defying its wishes, no matter how much he desperately wanted the pain to go away. His brother needed him. Scott needed him conscious, if only to provide him with a reason to wake up.
"Scott, you have to wake up." Despair rising in his chest, Johnny shook it off. He couldn't lose control now. He had to hold on, just until Murdoch got here. His father would take care of Scott, both of them. Hell, his old man would move mountains just to make sure his sons were all right. His father was coming, Murdoch was coming. Johnny just had to hold on.
It was only a matter of time before the old man switched from irritation to outright worry and gathered up a posse of hands to look for them. He smiled at the thought. It had taken Johnny some time but he'd finally figured out that old Murdoch Lancer's bark was worse than his bite and once his younger son had learned to recognize the worry in his eyes, well, Johnny had found something special. Home. With a father who loved him, but who harbored more guilt than anyone could possibly endure without closing himself off. If for no other reason than the fear of the unbearable rejection he fully expected and felt he deserved. Murdoch didn't deserve rejection though. Not from Johnny, not from Scott and, even though he'd never truly know what had gone on between his parents, Johnny was certain his father hadn't deserved it from his mother either.
What mattered now was, whether Maria Lancer had wanted it or not, that his family was together. Along with a father he looked up to and loved, he had a little sister who he adored and who adored him right back. He even had a crotchety old "uncle" in Jelly, a confidante who understood Johnny better than most and loved him anyway.
And then he had Scott. A best friend to idolize and worship like no other and yet compel Johnny to guide and teach him at the same time. He was Johnny's guardian and defender and the one Johnny wanted to protect most. He was the reason Johnny had survived the gun battle with Pardee's gang and the reason Johnny had stayed in the aftermath, long enough to find his true home. Scott was the big brother an orphan didn't even dare conjure in his dreams. Because brothers that wonderful weren't possible. And even if they were, they'd have no interest in the likes of Johnny Madrid.
Thank God he'd been so very wrong.
Why wouldn't Scott wake up? They weren't all that far apart so why couldn't he hear him? Fear crept back into Johnny's muddled thoughts. Maybe Scott couldn't wake up. He shoved aside the invading thought, he couldn't afford to wallow in maybes. Truth was his shouts had wound down into nothing more than glorified whispers. It was taking every ounce of strength left to just stay awake and he needed something louder than his feeble voice to wake his brother.
Carefully Johnny inched his hand along beside him until his palm connected with the pistol grip that fit him like a glove. He sucked in an unexpected hitch of breath as he slowly and awkwardly drew the gun from its holster. Blinking away the sweat burning his eyes, he took a few more calming breaths, determined not to pass out.
Stretching his arm out and away from him, as far as his aching body would allow and as close to the wagon's edge as he could get, Johnny instinctively cocked his gun and pulled the trigger, hoping like Hell he didn't get hit by a ricochet.
He shouldn't have bothered worrying about that. The recoil damn near made him puke. He really was a mess.
Waiting for the echoes of the gunshot to die down, he focused in the direction where he'd seen Scott. He nearly cried at the silence that greeted him. Firing again and again as he emptied his gun in frustration and desperation, Johnny let out a guttural moan as the pistol fell away from his hand.
Oh, Dios, what if. . . No.
Johnny wouldn't think it, couldn't think it. Brothers didn't just up and die and leave their siblings trapped and cold and hurt. Especially not Scott.
"Damnit, Scott! Wake up!"
Scott fought through the blanket of haze smothering him. He could hear his brother's panicked voice calling for him, or was it merely the echo of a familiar fading dream? Reality began to invade the protective fog and he struggled to open his eyes and free himself from this mental confinement.
The high-pitched call finally reached his brain and it, followed by the distinct report of gunshots, told him this was all too real. Scott rolled over, sucking in a ragged breath as fire erupted in his side and sharp claws raked the inside of his skull. He could feel himself longing to give in to the blackness again, but Johnny's frightened cry kept him determined. He could give in to his own agony later; right now he had to make sure his brother was safe.
"Damn it, Scott! Wake up!"
Johnny's weak, yet insistent call shattered inside his head and sunlight assaulted his tender eyes as he tried to focus. He tried to call back, let Johnny know he was coming, but his throat refused to release enough moisture to carry the words further than his own ears.
Scott gritted his teeth and crawled toward the sound of his brother's voice, blinking hard to dislodge the sand and film obstructing his vision. Pain assaulted him as he pulled himself over the cold, rocky ground, but he forced it aside, his determination strengthened as he caught a glimpse of Johnny near the over-turned wagon.
"Johnny." The name came out not much above a whisper, but Johnny turned his head, a half-laugh, half-sob of relief flooded from his lips.
"Thought you'd gone deaf on me, brother," Johnny said, the weak smile on his lips not hiding the worry glazing his eyes.
Scott dragged himself next to Johnny, catching his breath as he sat up and leaned against the broken wagon. "Surprised you didn't. . . wake a few dead saints. . . with all that wailing."
Johnny laughed half-heartedly and let his head drop to the ground. "You all right?"
"Better than you. Where are you hurt?"
Scott followed Johnny's gaze downward, his heart seizing as he realized one of Johnny's legs appeared pinned underneath the buckboard. How could he have not noticed that? Scott turned around, trying in vain to see if by some chance he would be able to just fling the damaged buckboard off his brother. Instead he found himself fighting off the dizziness as his own pain resurfaced. Scott rested his forehead against the iron wheel, trying to will himself to stay conscious.
Johnny's worried voice helped him focus, to remember why he had to stay strong. His hope was that his brother's leg was merely pinned and it simply looked much worse than it actually was. "How bad is it?"
"Can't feel it much anymore, but it's busted up real good. I can't move it."
Scott let out a deep breath and peered under the wreckage. He ran his hand along Johnny's injured limb as far as he could reach. The wagon had mercifully landed at an angle, the one end supported by the boulder creating a large gap that kept the bed from crushing him, but Scott could tell from the awkward position that Johnny's leg was broken and getting him clear of the buckboard would be an ordeal. With his own waning strength and the dizziness, he knew he only had one shot at getting his brother free before he gave out.
"I'll get you out. Just hang on, brother."
Scott stood up, his mind racing. The sun warmed his face, but the stinging wind reminded him it was winter. He couldn't remember why they'd taken this route and he closed his eyes to try and bring back the memory of what kind of mission they'd been on and if they would be missed before morning.
He was sure he'd awoken to gunfire, but just who was shooting at them, he didn't know. And where were they now? Maybe it had all been a dream created solely from the monstrous pounding in his skull. He didn't plan to mention it to his brother either way. Johnny had enough to worry about without Scott's imagination heaping more anxiety onto his shoulders.
"Scott." Johnny's weak voice broke through his thoughts and he turned to his brother. "Get some planks from the wagon first - to make a splint. Okay?"
Right, that was a good idea. Get Johnny taken care of so they'd be ready to go. It was never a good idea to stay in one place too long. He had to find a spot where he could defend them if necessary.
Scott stumbled to the rear of the wagon. Each step jolted his abused body and his stomach churned in time. Bending over slightly and resting his hands on his thighs, he inhaled cautiously, careful to avoid undue strain on his battered ribs and doing his utmost to prevent a decided display of weakness. Inspecting the damage to the wagon and assessing its usefulness, he faltered. He'd already known it was destroyed, hadn't he? The horses were nowhere in sight anyway so other than kindling, what possible use could the buckboard provide?
His brother's voice. Sounding weak and clearly worried and apparently with good reason. His elder sibling had momentarily forgotten about him. Shaking his head in disdain, Scott nearly sank to his knees with the action, one he'd have to remind himself not to repeat. His head might be pounding, but his brother was in worse condition so he'd simply have to chin up and function.
Just why was he back here though? Looking at the wreckage, all he could see was the underside of what remained of their supply wagon. Wood and metal. Metal and wood. Wood. . . wooden slats.
Clearly he wasn't thinking straight but he refused to let his own debility affect his performance or responsibilities. As an officer or older brother. Straightening up, Scott squared his shoulders, wincing at the cost but feeling a new resolve possess him.
Focusing on the task at hand, Scott chose two evenly sized strips of wood from the debris and peeled them away from the rest of the wreckage. Muscles straining and panting more than should have been necessary, he valiantly fought off the haze trying once again to envelope him before making his way back to his brother and dropping to his side.
He could feel the throb of his heartbeat booming in his skull and against his ribs and found himself oddly entranced, almost swaying to its rhythm. It would be so easy to give in to it, let it lead him down the path into blessed oblivion. Only the sudden grip on his forearm kept him anchored in reality.
"Scott, you all right?"
The urgency in Johnny's tone and the concern in those pain-filled blue eyes increased the affect that Johnny's hold already had on him. Scott hated knowing his brother was badly hurt, but seeing his fear and believing his own inadequacies were adding to it, well that just wasn't acceptable.
Scott transformed his features into the exasperated, yet amused older brother mask he adorned quite frequently. A look he'd be wearing quite naturally right now if not for the desire to have his head fall off and end his own misery. Still, Scott smiled down at Johnny, indulgently, even a little smugly, and patted the hand still holding his wrist in its iron grasp. "Johnny, I'm fine."
"Oh, don't even try it." His brother's eyes flashed fire now and Scott knew he'd have to give a little.
"All right, brother." Scott's words cut off any further protest from Johnny. He must have found some sincerity in Scott's tone for Johnny's fingers grew lax, though they didn't let him go completely.
"Don't lie to me." Johnny's whisper was as much plea as decree and Scott could only hope he'd be able to instil enough confidence in his words to lift his brother's spirits and convince him all would be well. He abhorred the idea of lying to Johnny but honestly, he knew he wasn't as bad off and, once he had a chance to rest, stopped jostling his head and ribs, he was certain his words would prove truthful.
"I am not lying to you." Johnny turned back to him, looking unconvinced, worry shining in his eyes. Wearing a mock scowl, he waved an accusing finger at him and admonished, "And don't give me that look. You're not exactly all that pretty yourself at the moment."
There it was, the smile he'd hoped to incite in place of his brother's anger and frustration and Scott could feel relief rolling off his shoulders in anticipation of Johnny's retort.
"Prettier than you on your best day."
Scott grinned back, grateful for some normalcy in their plight.
"Johnny, look, I really am all right. Bruised and scraped, just like you are but, if you haven't noticed, at least I'm mobile."
"You may be movin' but you ain't movin' right."
His all too observant brother. Scott decided it would only be prudent to confess a few more of his ailments if he wanted to ease Johnny's mind. "It's only my ribs, Johnny. I'm sure they're just bruised, none of them feel broken."
They locked eyes and Scott was momentarily grateful for the continuing effect Johnny's condition was having on his brother's vision and endurance. Johnny could always read him and sometimes out-stubborn him too, but not now, in this shape. And even though Scott still felt as though his head was coming apart, he was equally obstinate and, with more to gain from winning this battle of wills, he knew he could outlast Johnny.
Just as he expected, Johnny blinked first, sighing in what seemed to Scott to be a mixture of disgust and resigned acceptance. Scott simply felt immense relief and, knowing just how prideful his sibling could be, a touch of sympathy too. Scott settled his palm on Johnny's chest until their eyes met again. The challenge was gone but the intensity of emotion certainly remained, and this time it was Scott who found it nearly impossible to hold his gaze.
There was more than resignation in those expressive pools of blue. . .
Surrender. Dependence. Trust.
The kind that could only be gifted by a young man with too much faith in his big brother.
And as if those soulful eyes weren't enough to shake Scott to his very core, Johnny softly requested, "Get me out of here, Scott."
Scott was well aware that Johnny had only been asking for help in escaping from beneath the wagon, but the vow Scott made to himself went much deeper. His brother was depending on him and, come Hell or high water, Scott would get him out of this mess. Scott found himself on the opposite side of the wagon, on his knees, trying to figure out the best way to release his injured brother from the wreck without heaving his own stomach contents all over the soil. Still, his concern for Johnny far outweighed a little dizziness and Scott was determined to soldier on and get them both to safety. Their location might not be easy to spot from the roadway above but, to anyone scouring the fields, the Lancer brothers were easy pickings.
He hadn't lied completely about his injuries. Scott really didn't believe he'd broken any ribs, though some might have earned a few cracks along with their bruises. It was his headache that was most debilitating. Scott wasn't too pleased about the feeling of disorientation that would overcome him, especially when he didn't have Johnny right there to ground him but, he put the sensation down to a little fatigue and what seemed to be a rather insignificant, if tender, bump on his head. Aside from that, he couldn't find any open wound or evidence of blood. Certainly Johnny hadn't spied anything untoward when he had given his brother the once over.
Scott had to concede that, even in the best of shape, he wouldn't have the strength to lift the wagon. And, after having a closer look at Johnny's position relative to the wreckage, Scott had determined he couldn't simply pull his brother out from under it. Though the one end of the wagon had thankfully landed on the boulder, saving Johnny from certain death, the other end was on the ground providing very little space between the upturned wagon bed and Johnny's boot. Pulling him out was going to hurt like Hell no matter what, but having his foot get caught during the ordeal was not something Scott was willing to risk.
All Scott needed was an inch or two, something to wedge under the bed to lift it slightly higher at that end. Thanks to the impact of the wagon when it had finally landed, the walls of it had pretty much splintered or come apart so now Scott was rummaging beneath it, collecting scraps to work with. Stretching to almost beyond his limits, he was surprised to discover the smooth surface of blown glass meeting his fingertips. Lunging forward slightly and trying to suppress a groan, Scott snagged the bottle and cautiously worked it back toward him. He wondered if any more alcohol had survived the crash. No matter, this scotch had just been demoted for medicinal purposes.
Pleased that he'd procured something to actually help Johnny endure his pain, Scott found the renewed energy to hurry back to his brother. With a genuine smile on his face, he dropped down next to him, brandishing the scotch as though it was a prize. The look on his brother's face told him it was.
Reaching for it, Johnny grinned. "Oh, bless your heart. Gimme that."
"Just a minute, just a minute," Scott scolded, holding the bottle away from Johnny's reach and earning a glare in response. In reality more than happy to oblige him, Scott took a moment to slip in behind Johnny, providing his bent knees as a pillow. He knew Johnny was more than capable of handling hard liquor but Scott intended to get as much down his brother in as little time possible and he had no intention of letting him choke. They had enough to worry about.
Accepting the opened bottle, Johnny immediately took a couple of swigs before resting the bottle by his side. He then lolled his head back into Scott's lap, taking comfort in his brother's solid presence.
Though still a tequila man, Johnny had grown to appreciate his father's taste in fine whisky but, truth be told, this scotch was going down about as smooth as cow piss. He was too damn hot, despite his earlier chills, and the alcohol just seemed to add fuel to that heat. He could feel the sweat forming on his skin, crawling its way down his neck and it only served to make him feel worse. Though he understood why his brother was giving it to him, what he could use as much or more than the booze was simply a drink of water. That Scott hadn't yet thought to offer him any frankly astonished him but, he was loath to ask for some. He knew Scott was hurting worse than he was letting on and the last thing Johnny wanted his brother to have to do was go hill climbing with sore ribs to find their canteens. Scott would come up with water eventually and, in the mean time, Johnny would just have to make do with getting loaded on his old man's sippin' scotch.
As if on cue Johnny felt the cool glass slip from his loose hold and miraculously re-appear before his face, followed by the command to drink more. "Consider it an order."
"You tryin' to get me drunk?" Johnny asked, grasping the bottle and knowing full well the answer. Scott just motioned for him to continue so he gave his older brother a half-hearted salute along with a "yes, Sir" and downed another gulp.
In the short time it took Scott to coax about a third of the bottle into him, Johnny was feeling just god-awful. Mind you, his brother's plan had worked for the most part and he could no longer feel any pain in his leg. For that matter, he could barely feel, let alone use, any of his limbs. Johnny's head felt like it weighed a ton, his throat burned worse than his eyes and he felt so nauseous he knew he'd end up upchucking on Scott before this ordeal was through.
Coincidentally, his brother's anxious face came into view and Johnny couldn't help but wonder when exactly it was that Scott had slipped out from behind him and given him his jacket to use as a pillow instead. Before he had a chance to ask, he watched Scott's hand briefly rest on his brow before disappearing into his hair. Johnny knew he should have found it annoying, but he didn't feel that way at all. In fact it made him feel a little better and he knew it was probably helping Scott settle his nerves, too.
"Johnny, you ready?"
Scott just gave him a patronizing smirk and promptly slid in behind Johnny again. This time he wrapped his arms around Johnny's midsection and drew him up higher, nearly up to his waist. And Johnny just let him. He felt like a rag-doll and couldn't help if he'd tried. Besides which, despite the fact that he couldn't feel his legs just moments earlier, that little amount of jostling had re-ignited the flame shooting through the broken one and he had to bite his lip to keep from crying out.
Johnny appreciated the fact that Scott wasn't prolonging the ordeal. They had no choice but for Scott to drag Johnny a full body's length out from beneath the wagon and there was no point in stalling. Even though he could hear the dread in his sibling's voice and knew this was going to be damn near as hard on Scott. Not wasting any time either, Johnny nodded his head against his brother's chest and grabbed onto the arms holding him tight. "Let 'er buck," he said, hoping his tremulous voice didn't give Scott cause to doubt Johnny's trust in him. On the contrary, Johnny's faith in his big brother was irrefutable.
Johnny didn't hear the rest. His brother's voice was drowned out by his own scream and the waves of agony that washed over him as his leg was torn apart. Oh, Dios, it hurt, it hurt, and it wasn't stopping either.
He was vaguely aware somehow that he was lying sprawled out on top of Scott, his brother unmoving though his arms still held him tight. The pain was relentless and Johnny prayed for blessed oblivion to take him, even though he knew that would mean abandoning Scott. Until then, all Johnny could do was keep sucking in air and lie there helpless as each surge of fiery pain worked its way upward. It seared along his broken leg, then into his gut, churning its contents until Johnny felt the burn in his chest and throat and, oh God, he knew it.
Though he never even opened his eyes, Johnny knew his world had just upended and he was mercifully puking his guts up in the dirt and not all over himself and his brother. He was still in Scott's arms, back braced up against Scott's chest, though one hand had shifted and was now supporting Johnny's head. An act of charity Johnny would have to thank him for whenever he got his breath back. His acrid retching continued until Johnny was certain he'd emptied out the previous night's supper, his breakfast, and every ounce of imported whiskey he'd swallowed earlier. He figured the old man would understand.
The heaves were quieting now and though his throat still scalded him nearly as badly as his leg, Johnny was beginning to feel a welcome lethargy sweep over him. He could make out Scott's words now, softly spoken directly into his ear as they were, telling him that everything was okay, that the worst was over and that it really would be alright to go to sleep. Scott would be there to watch over him, he promised, so let go. Just let go.
So he did.
"Thank God." Scott couldn't prevent the cry that escaped his throat as his brother blessedly passed out. His own body was shaking now, arms straining as he hugged his brother's lax form to his chest, one arm still wrapped around Johnny's waist, the other supporting his head which he braced against the side of his own as he felt Johnny faint.
Though he knew Johnny could no longer hear him, his whispers didn't stop. "That's it, let's get you lying down." Slowly he sat back on his heels, taking Johnny's full weight with him and gasping as his damaged ribcage protested the strain. Twisting Johnny around in his hold, he gently settled him onto the ground, away from the evidence of his sickness, once again using his jacket to cushion the dark head from the unforgiving earth. With utmost care, Scott took a moment to arrange his brother's arms and left leg into a more comfortable position, cringing at the misshapen sight of his right. "In a minute," he softly declared, knowing he'd have to deal with Johnny's leg soon, hopefully while his brother was still out cold.
Johnny was in such bad shape and Scott felt overcome by a crushing sense of inadequacy. He would splint Johnny's leg but what then? And where were his men? Had he failed them too? For that matter, where were he and Johnny? For the life of him, Scott still couldn't remember where they'd been headed and whether or not they were supposed to be alone. All he could remember was waking up to his brother's desperate calls and that vague recollection of gunshots in the distance.
He supposed he could no longer deny his disorientation was in large part due to the knot on his skull. How could he, given how relentlessly it was pounding right now? His head was reeling and smacking it on the hard ground when he'd pulled Johnny out from underneath the buckboard hadn't exactly helped with his steadiness. And though that effort had clearly been excruciating for Johnny, it hadn't been exactly a breeze for Scott either. Johnny was far from a lightweight and Scott's sore ribs were paying the price. Breathing had become increasingly painful and that breathlessness combined with the throbbing of his brain and an ever-present queasiness were making it more and more difficult to think straight. Still, his brother was depending on him and feeling sorry for himself would serve no useful purpose. He would not, could not, give in to desolation nor to debility.
Angrily wiping away the vestiges of his frailty, Scott breathed in as deeply as he dared, wincing inadvertently, and pulled himself together. There was still the matter of splinting Johnny's leg and getting him to safer cover. Once his brother was taken care of, Scott would set about scouting their surroundings before it became too dark, to get a lay of the land and hopefully come up with a plan.
Concentrating on his brother seemed to lessen his own suffering and pushed the now familiar fogginess and uncertainty away to the edges of his consciousness. His grandfather would undoubtedly maintain that this stemmed from the responsibility of command. More likely from fraternal devotion, Scott countered, bringing a smug smile of satisfaction to his face. Whatever the cause, Scott found his focus and, in very little time, using his belt and some strapping from the wreckage, he had set his brother's leg and securely splinted it between the wooden slats he'd gathered together earlier.
Aside from a brief moment of alarm when Scott was certain his brother was waking up to the bone being set, Johnny remained unconscious and unaware throughout what could have been yet one more agonizing ordeal. For that Scott breathed another little prayer, this time remembering to include his brother's saints in his thanks. He prayed too that Johnny would stay out, until he could move him. Scott dreaded the idea, but there was no question that sitting out in the open made them a poor excuse for target practice and besides, Scott had already decided upon their hideaway. His brother needed shelter, not only from the growing cold, but from whatever dangers the coming night might hold. Haunting memories and flashes of pain streaked through his skull and he found himself panting, gripping the wagon wheel like a lifeline as he fought to stay upright. He couldn't identify the visions, but the terror they invoked reinforced his need to stay hidden. Something waited for them, sought them out and he had to keep them safe until he could figure out what he needed to do.
Scott had no intention of dragging his brother again so he only had one choice. He'd have to carry him. Spurred on by necessity and fear, Scott defied the stabbing pain in his ribs and slung Johnny's arm over his back and straightened, bearing the full brunt of his brother's muscular form as he hoisted Johnny over his shoulder. Grunting with the effort, the sting of sweat suddenly reaching his eyes, Scott staggered before finding his footing and pushing off toward the outcropping he'd spotted overlooking the wagon.
He could feel every bruise, every scrape and every bump he'd sustained during his fall protest with each step, but he would not put his brother down. Nor would he drop him.
His destination finally reached after what seemed like an eternity, Scott positioned himself so that he could simply slide Johnny to the ground, letting his boneless body do the work while Scott supported his brother's head. Mindful of Johnny's leg, Scott eased him down, once again arranging his limbs into some semblance of comfort and nearly started at the gasp escaping his brother's lips.
Johnny was coming to.
He placed a firm hand on Johnny's shoulder, providing a distraction from the pain and a connection to the here and now before speaking softly. "It's all right, you're doing fine," he encouraged.
As confusion mastered pain in the battle of expressions warring on Johnny's face, Scott's concern turned to relief and he almost laughed out loud as his bewildered brother curiously checked out his new surroundings plus the splint on his leg. "How long?"
"About ten minutes too long. You couldn't have considered waking up before I had to carry your lazy hide?"
"Oh, sure. Harvard educated and you can't figure a way to wake somebody up?"
Scott grinned at the jibe, despite the strain in Johnny's voice. He'd endure a hundred headaches such as this, as many bruised and battered ribcages, as long as he knew his brother would still be there, well enough to badger him again tomorrow. "Brother, it would have taken dynamite to wake you ten minutes ago," he replied, trying desperately to hide the pain and breathlessness in his tone.
"Yeah, well. . . I guess I should be grateful then, huh?"
The gratitude was there, shining in Johnny's eyes and in his rough voice and Scott felt woefully undeserving. He knew he was doing his best but he feared his best wouldn't be good enough. "Definitely," he muttered, almost automatically. He had so much left to do, before he could rest, and not enough daylight to do it in. He felt better now that Johnny was awake, despite his unhealthy pallor and the sheen of sweat covering his face. Willing to leave his brother, if only long enough to scavenge more supplies from the wagon and do some reconnaissance, he had to see what was happening beyond their limited view.
"Scott, you all right? You didn't hurt yourself luggin' me around, did you?"
Johnny's concern broke Scott from what must have been a too-long reverie and he tried to cover his weakness. "Any more seconds at the mess tent and that might be the case."
His brother's mirth turned to puzzlement but Scott didn't stop to wonder why. He needed to get started on his mission and desperately wanted to deflect Johnny's thoughts away from pointless concern. "Never mind." Changing the subject then, he cheerfully asked, "How about some good news?"
"I had a good look at your leg while you were having your siesta. . ." Johnny flashed him an ineffective glare though Scott knew his brother was only attempting to mask his anxiety, in the same way Scott was using humor to cover up his. Broken legs were never anything but serious. "And, it looks like a simple fracture to me," Scott concluded, pleased to see the dread drain away from Johnny's face.
"Nothin' pokin' out where it shouldn't be?"
"Everything's where it should be," Scott replied, indulgently patting his brother's chest as he caught his breath. "If slightly askew."
Johnny's relief was so obvious, Scott watched in awe as his brother ignored the quip and seemed to relax further with a long, if tremulous, sigh.
Clearly their time for banter was over and, no matter how much he enjoyed the verbal sparring, he needed to get on his way. Besides, he may have been able to ease Johnny's fears about his leg but his brother was still very ill and Scott needed what little additional supplies he could find to better look after him. And, as much as he wanted to deny it, Scott was running out of energy fast.
In truth, he'd lied to Johnny about hurting himself carrying him. His ribs had passed aching and gone straight into stabbing and he was finding it increasingly difficult to tune out the marching band playing "The Battle Cry of Freedom" in his head.
Adopting a more serious tone and expression, he spoke. "Listen, Johnny, it's getting late and I want to take some time to reconnoitre, gather up some supplies from the wagon before we hunker down for the night."
"Help won't be long in comin', Scott."
Scott wished he shared his brother's convictions but then Johnny didn't really seem fully aware of their circumstances and Scott wasn't about to reveal them to him. His sibling had more than enough on his plate to worry about. "I hope so, Johnny," he placated. "Will you be all right while I'm gone?"
"Yeah. You be careful though."
"Aren't I always?"
"Ri-ght," Johnny practically scoffed. Suddenly growing more serious, Johnny almost reluctantly asked, "Say, Scott? You think you could find some water while you're out there and maybe bring me my gun?"
Scott was mortified. His brother's almost timid request felt like a slap in the face and Scott was appalled at the revelation that he'd been so neglectful of Johnny's needs. Johnny was fighting shock and fever and Scott hadn't even considered getting him any water. Lord, what was wrong with him? He had to snap out of this half haze he'd been barely functioning in, get his brother through the night and hopefully find his men tomorrow. That was all. Just make it through the night.
to be continued...