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Ain’t Nothing But A Kid by Phyllis


This story is an orphan – that is, the writer has not been active in the fandom for a long time, and the story has been ‘rescued’ from the old, defunct Yahoo groups. So that we don’t lose the story entirely, we’re storing it here.

However the original author still owns this story. Should they reconnect with the fandom at some point, we will naturally respect whatever they want to do with their story.


The cool air had the two men moving closer to the warmth of the fire, curling cold fingers around the tin cups of hot coffee. The night was cloudy and the moon hidden behind them, offering no illumination in the small clearing other than the fire itself. 

Johnny reached across and picked up the almost empty pot, offering the fluid to Val. With a shake of the sheriff’s head, John Lancer poured the last of the coffee into his cup.

“I want ‘ta thank ya, again, Johnny. I could ‘a got Billings to Madera without your help, but it was nice to have the company.”

Taking a deep drink of the tepid coffee, the younger man shrugged. “Nice to get away from a while, wasn’t much going on at the ranch.”

“Would Murdoch agree with that?”

The dark haired man snorted, shaking his head. “There’s always something to do according to the old man. Only time he rests is when there ain’t enough light to work by.”

Val chuckled at the words, knowing that it was probably true. Murdoch Lancer was a strong willed Scotsman had believed in hard work and pushed his workers, and now sons, as hard as he pushed himself. 

“Well, we’ll be home tomorrow. Let’s see what Murdoch has saved up for ya to do.”

It was Johnny’s turn to chuckle this time. “I’ll bet Scott pointed out a few things that they should leave for me.”

Sheriff Crawford leaned back against the saddle he was using as a pillow. “Yeah, that brother of yours is a real piece of work. I’d ‘a never thought that an easterner like him would ever take to ranch work like he has.”

Johnny Lancer smiled with pride at the compliment to his brother. They had only met last year, but the two men had made a connection that surpassed some brotherly bonds of years. He turned to the look at the older man and said, “Yeah, Boston is…” He paused, embarrassed at the emotion that rose in his throat. Glancing away, he shook his head, “Scott is…is a good man.”

Turning back to the sheriff, he saw the grin on the man’s face and he tossed the coffee into the fire. A flurry of sparks rose and swirled around as Lancer said, “I’ll take first watch.”

“Boy, that sounds good. I’m getting too old to be laying around on the hard ground.” Pushing down and squirming around to a comfortable position, the man pulled the his hat down over his faces, mumbling his good night. 

Johnny settled back, his eyes on the stars above his head. He had always loved the solitude of the trail, the safety that came from not being around people. Camping alone, somewhere off the beaten path, he could relax somewhat and enjoy the beauty of nature. All that was before returning home, a home that he had believed for years was blocked to him. Now, the trail held only loneliness, reminding him of how good life could be in a home…in a family like he now enjoyed. With a sigh, he moved closer and tossed a small limb on the fire before making himself comfortable. 

A couple of hours passed when the sound of movement caught the gunfighter’s attention. He sat very still, listening. The shuffling noise returned along with the soft nickering of the horses. Lancer froze, listening for any intruder to the camp. He heard nothing, saw nothing, the well honed instincts of the gunfighter within sensed nothing. Still, the animals were restless and he trusted their instincts. Rising, he moved away from the warmth of the fire and into the night. 

“Easy. Barranca. Easy, boy.” He patted the blond neck as his eyes scanned the area. Val’s roan snickered and pulled on the line that restrained the animals. “Qué es así usted oír my amigo?”

Suddenly both animals started and pulled back sharply, their ears pinned back and nostrils flared. Johnny instantly reached for the gun on his hip. He stood silently, waiting. A rustling noise in the fallen leaves has him whirling around, gun out and aimed in that direction. A gust of wind must have carried some scent as both animals reared, screaming in fear. They pulled against the rope and it snapped, freeing them to race away from the threat. 

Johnny turned to call to the palomino but a deep throated growl had he whirling back around. A shadow detached its self from the forest and crashed into the young man, slamming him into the ground even as the gun fired harmlessly into the night air. The man screamed as sharp teeth pierced his right shoulder and the pain numbed his arm, his pistol dropped from nerveless fingers. 

The heavy gray body of the wolf pinned Lancer’s slight form to the ground. As he straddled the man, jagged claws scratched and scrambled for purchase. The large head tossed back and forth, tearing at the delicate skin and muscle beneath. 

Fear gave the young man when his muscles seemed ready to fail. Groping, he latched onto a rock with his left hand and brought it up to slam into the muscled shoulder of the animal, again and again with little affect. Each blow was weaker than the one before. The sudden explosion of sound barely registered in the young man’s mind as consciousness slipped away.

Val started awake, wondering what had disturbed him. Even as he glanced toward where Johnny had been sitting, the sound of shot followed by a cry of pain reverberated throughout the clearing. The trail wise man was on his feet, his gun in hand in moments. He charged forward, instinct drawing him to the treeline where the horses were tethered. The fact that there were no horses in sight was his next clue of trouble. As he moved further in, he found the trouble. Johnny was on the ground, fending off the attack of a large timber wolf. 

Crawford’s gun hand rose and he fired at the animal. The slug caught the animal in the neck and drove him sideways, releasing the man underneath. Staggering, the animal turned on this new threat, but the man was ready and pumped three more slugs into the large canine, not stopping until it crashed to the ground and stilled all movement. 

Keeping his pistol lined up on the animal, Val ran to Johnny’s side. Placing one hand on the man’s chest, he sighed at the slight motion of breathing that he could feel. Stepping over the prone figure, the sheriff approached the animal and confirmed that it was dead. He grabbed a hind leg and dragged the body away. Returning, he squatted down next to the youngest Lancer.

“Hell, boy you gone and got into now?” 

It was too dark to see much more than the inky black spots that indicated blood. Shoving his gun into the back of his pants and Johnny’s back into his holster, he slipped his hands under the injured man’s shoulders and knees and with a determined effort, pushed to his feet. Grunting under the weight, he lurched toward their camp.

“Damn, boy, you’re heavier than ya look,” he huffed out.

Stopping over the laid out bedroll, he tried to gently lower the man but lost the battle with gravity, crashing hard to the ground, the dark head of Lancer bouncing off the hard packed ground. “Sorry,” the grizzled sheriff apologized. 

Straightening the young man on the blanket, he swiveled around to stoke the fire up, adding more fuel to the flames. He rinsed the coffee pot with water from his canteen and then poured clean water in and set it over the fire to heat. In the glow of the firelight, he got his first good look at the damage the animal had inflected on the young man. 

“Well, let’s see what ya done to your self now.” Carefully, Crawford removed the gunbelt from around the slender hips of Lancer and laid it off to the side on top of the man’s saddle, keeping it out of the dirt. He then removed the tattered and bloody shirt revealing the damage from the jaws of the wolf. The sight had the man grimacing; he had seen plenty of wounds in his time, some worse, some better but it always seemed worse when the injury was to a friend. Shaking off his dark thoughts, he began to clean up the wounds and bind them. 

The task took longer than the gruff sheriff had hoped and the wounds were more severe than he had hoped. The bites on Johnny’s shoulder were deep and the edges ragged where the animal had apparently had shaking its head. Along with those wounds, there were deep gouges on the wolf’s victim’s chest from ragged claws. None of these wounds were deep but they were numerous and each one had to be cleaned. Since some of these wounds extended below Johnny’s waist, Val had ended up stripping the boy of his pants and discovered welts on his legs. While they looked raw and painful, the heavy pants had protected Lancer’s thighs from serious injury. After cleaning the wounds, the sheriff had poured part of the supply of whiskey from his saddle bags on the deepest wounds, hoping to avoid any infection, though he doubted that Johnny would be that lucky. 

After covering the young man with a blanket and making sure he was comfortable, the sheriff decided to have another look at the wolf and then see if he could find any of the horses. When he returned several minutes later, he was relieved to see that his friend was still sleeping peacefully. The night passed quietly for the lawman as he sat and kept watch on the dark haired gunfighter, wondering how he would get them both back to the Lancer ranch and safety. 

The sun was just beginning to peek over the surrounding mountains when a noise had the dozing Crawford jerking awake, his hand hovering over his holstered weapon. He sat silently, waiting for the rustling noise to return. Moments later he relaxed as a snort and soft whine alerted him to a presence to his right. The man stood slowly, smiling at the pale horse as it approached warily. The palomino’s head tossed as his eyes scanned the area and Val would have sworn that the horse on seeing his prone master, glared at him as if he were the blame for the younger man’s condition. 

Feeling accused by the animal’s glare, Val caught himself defending his actions from the previous evening. “Ain’t no need ta be glaring at me like that. I ain’t the one that ran out on ‘im.” 

As if he understood, Barranca answered with a shake of his head and a snort, pawing the ground with one hoof. 

Val adjusted the belt at his waist, nodding at the horse. “Yeah, ran off and left him, that’s what ‘cha did. And don’t bother trying to make some kind of excuse to me.”

A soft chuckle had the man whirling around. 

“Val, are you scolding my horse?” Johnny asked weakly, a slight smile on his face. 

“Well,” the older man began, “…it ain’t as if I had anybody else to converse with.” 

Seeing the younger man attempting to sit up, Val quickly crossed back to his side and placed a hand under Johnny, helping to lift him to lean against the saddle that had served as a pillow for the dark head. The sheriff knew the horse would not run again. The bond between the dark haired man and the blond horse was the stuff the legends were made from. Only the inbred self preservation instinct had the animal fleeing the first time and he had overcome that and returned to his master’s side. 


“How about some coffee?” Val held the pot and a cup up as he asked. At Johnny’s nod, he poured the hot brew and offered it to the injured man. 

Johnny started to reach for the cup but grunted as pain tore through his shoulder. 

“Sorry, sorry, I should have reminded ya…” Val apologized. 

Grimacing, Johnny held his shoulder as he rode out the shock of pain. Val knelt beside the man, a steadying hand on his shoulder. 

“Just ride it out, boy. You’ll be fine.”

Johnny nodded as he sat and waited. After a few minutes his eyes opened and he gingerly sat back against the saddle, using his left arm to take the cup from Crawford. “Thanks…again.” Blue eyes looked up at the man. “What…happened?” Johnny panted. 

:”Ain’t real sure what started it, but I woke to find you and a wolf having a wrestling match, horses were gone.”

A soft chuckle was followed by “Guess I was losing?”

“Yeah, I’d say so.”

The younger man was silent for several moments, his eyes staring into the distance. The silence was broken when a quiet voice asked softly, “Was…was he…sick?”

Normally a wolf didn’t hunt alone, they were pack animals. Only if he were a rogue, or sick, would a wolf run alone. Both men knew this. Val was quick to alleviate the younger man’s concerns. “Nah, he was old, had bad leg, probably couldn’t hunt any more. Pack might have run ‘im off.”

“Yeah, seen that happen before.” He looked over at the palomino. “Just looking for a easy meal.” Johnny frowned. “Where’s the other horses?”

“Ah, dang mule heads run off. Barranca there’s the only one to make his way back.”

The youngest Lancer snorted. “He knows a good thing when he sees it. Spoiled. Right, amigo? You’re despojo y perezoso.” 

As if he understood, the animal flicked his ears and snorted loudly. 

Val laughed softly. Patting the uninjured shoulder, he stood, moving toward the palomino. 

“Come on, let’s get you tied up. Don’t suppose you know where my mule headed animal is?” Not getting an answer, he nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.” Taking hold of the dangling lead, he led Barranca to the far side of the clearing and tied him to a sapling. 

The lawman moved back to the campfire and squatted down next to Johnny. “How ya doin’, Johnny?”

The tremors in the gunfighter’s hand were a good indication even though the younger man nodded his head. 

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you would say.” Val stood and began to gather their belongings. After he was finished, he glanced at the golden horse and then his saddle and gear, sighing. His gaze moved to Johnny who was lying against his saddle, his eyelids half closed. The sheen of sweat told the sheriff all he needed to know. The boy was in trouble and needed help as soon as possible. With only one horse, what should have been a half a day’s ride could easily turn into another night on the trail. 

“Johnny, I need to saddle that horse of yours. Lean up and let me get this thing.” Carefully moving the saddle, he took it over and got the animal ready to go.

“Okay, we’re ready to go, boy.”  

Val bent down and helped Johnny to sit up, allowing him a moment to get his bearings and balance before pulling him to his feet. The gunfighter swayed slightly and fell against the chest of the lawman. Crawford wrapped his arm around the slender waist and supported the weakened man as they shuffled toward the horse. 

Barranca stood quietly as the two men approached. Val stood quietly as a trembling Johnny clung to the saddle, panting at the exertion of simply walking twenty feet. Once he caught his breath, Val boosted the injured man into the saddle where Johnny sat, leaning over the saddle horn, his eyes clenched close against the throbbing pain that numbed his entire right side. His arm was bound to his chest to prevent pulling the wounds as much as possible, but the dead weight was affecting his balance and he clung to the saddle horn to keep from tumbling back to the ground. 

Crawford untied the lead rope and turned to look at Johnny. “Ya ready, boy?”

“What…what about…your gear, Val? Can’t leave it.”

“No choice. I’ll come back after I get ya home. Now, the sooner we get you home, the sooner I can get back up here.”

The sheriff gently turned the horse and started down the mountain, heading toward the Lancer ranch. They hadn’t gone far at all before a weak call had the sheriff pulling up. “Johnny? What’s wrong?”

The dark head was bowed down, almost laying on the neck of the horse. “I…I can’t…dizzy.”

Val scratched his whiskered chin. “Only choice is the tie you in the saddle, son.”



“Ride…balance me.”

Val chuckled slightly. “Boy, I don’t think Barranca’s going have it. Don’t hardly tolerate me walking ‘im.”

Johnny’s blue eyes were closed as he shook his head slowly. “He’ll…let…ya.” He patted the pale neck as he spoke. “Necesito ayuda , Cuartel , Necesito Val hasta montar con , chico. Comprendéis?”

The pale head nodded, turned around to glance at the blue-eyed man, as if acknowledging the request.

“Get on, Val. I… don’t…” Johnny finally lost his battle and succumbed to the darkness that beckoned him. 

With sigh, Crawford patted the muscled neck. “Okay, you beast… you and me are working together in this. No funny business. Johnny ain’t got time, okay?”

The two stared at each other for several moments. Barranca turned his head away and gently raised and lowered his head. The man patted the animal once again and then slowly moved around to the left side of the strong brute. He slipped Johnny’s boot from the stirrup and gently slipped his own boot in, keeping an eye on the animal as he bounced once and then pulled himself up behind the unconscious Lancer. The horse remained rock steady the entire time, waiting patiently as Crawford situated himself at the back of the saddle.

Val pulled the lax form back to rest against his chest and sifted to get comfortable with the dead weight pressing against him. Barranca shifted under him, adjusting to the weight of two men on his back, one of them further back than he was used to. Once they were both satisfied, Val flicked the reins and they moved out again.

While the mountain road was not hard to travel, the two men had decided to go over the ridge in an effort to get home a bit earlier than scheduled. Crawford was fairly certain that decision had been based on the reaction of Murdock Lancer when his youngest son announced that he was accompanying the sheriff to Madera. Johnny was a friend that was always willing to give a helping hand and his stern father, while a good man, considered ranch business more important than just about anything. The youngest Lancer had not told the sheriff what the big Scot’s response had been…and Val didn’t ask. It was between family and therefore none of his business. If Johnny wanted the sheriff to know, he’d tell him in his own time. 

The ridge trail was not a hard route as long as you moved slow and were careful, but two men on one horse doubled the risk and in the past two hours between the trail and dealing with the lax and feverish body in front of him, Val Crawford was a very unhappy man. He was tense and uncomfortable, and in need of a distraction, anything to take his mind off of the condition of his old friend. So he started to talk. No matter that only a horse could hear him. He needed the release that sound would offer. 

“Johnny ever tell you how we met?”

He watched as the horse’s ears flicked and twitched. 

“Yeah, I didn’t think so. Boy don’t like to talk about them days.” Crawford checked on the young man before launching into his tale. 


The American cowboy rode into the small Mexican town, his eyes taking the various threats to a ‘gringo’ riding alone in the poor settlement. It was noon and there weren’t many people on the streets as the high sun baked the dirt and people alike. Val had been on a job for his boss, delivering a small herd of pure bred Holsteins to a buyer in the interior of Mexico. He had rode along and it had been an uneventful trip to this point. One more night and tomorrow he would cross the border into California and be home once again. 

He moved slowly up the street, pulling his mount to a stop in front of the saloon. A quick meal and a drink and then he could replenish his supplies and continue his trek. He stepped from the saddle and stretched the tight muscles in his back. As he started into the dark interior of the building, a tingling sensation had him glancing around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary so he pushed into the interior. 

After ordering a drink and some tortillas and beans, he took the meal across the room and pulled out a chair at a table near a front corner and dropped into it. He ate quietly, watching through the window as the town slowly ground to a halt as the sun’s rays intensified. Waves of heat rose and distorted the view, wavering and rippling the scene. Val sighed, knowing he had to move soon or miss the chance to restock his saddlebags until after the afternoon siesta that would soon close the little town down. 

Rising, he nodded to the man behind the bar and headed back out into the heat. As his eyes adjusted, he located the small store and unhitching the big roan, he moved across the street. After tying the near cooled animal near a water trough and checking to see there was water in it, he stepped onto the boardwalk and entered the small store. He made quick work of buying some the few things he would need over the next week until he reached home. Thanking the woman, he headed back out. 

The sight of a man standing near the rump of his horse set the instincts he had come to rely on jangling in his head. As he stepped into the dust, he dipped his head slightly and his eyes, once hidden from the other man, darted around, looking for the others. The Mexican would not confront him alone; there had to be friends of his nearby. Sure enough, a shadow moved to his right. The American sighed. He knew this trip had gone too easily. He continued forward, opening the saddlebag to deposit his purchases inside and thereby free his hands for the coming confrontation. 

Patting the big animal on the rump, the Mexican spoke. “He’s a nice horse. You want to sale him?” 

The accent was heavy and Crawford had a hard time understanding the words. He shook his head, prompting the man to snarl slightly he repeated, “I want to buy your horse.”

Val smiled, revealing the wide gaps between his teeth. “Sale ‘im? Hell, man, this horse is as old as my granny. You don’t want to buy this plug.” Buying time, he moved to closer to the man in an attempt to place the Mexican between himself and the man on the boardwalk. Apparently, the ‘would be’ horse buyer was having none of that and he stepped back, away from man and horse alike. 

“You are right, senor. I do not wish to buy this fine animal. How about I just take him off your hands?”

Crawford stepped over so that he stood with the rump of the roan at his back as he smiled and said, “I ain’t partial to that idea either.”

Movement had Val glancing quickly to one side. The cocky grin turned downward at the sight of two men approaching to join the first one. He had hopes of surviving this confrontation if there were only two men, but three was too much to overcome. Even as he resigned him self to fighting the three men since just turning the horse over was not an option, a fourth man sidled up and stood slightly apart from the others but close enough to confirm that he was a part of their group also. 

Val shook his head slightly and slowly reached out to pat the horse’s dusty rump. He then stepped away. No need in a stray bullet taking the animal down. 

“Well, boys, how do we play this out? I ain’t giving ya my horse, so….” 

Seeing the four men’s eyes flick to the side, the American paused. A shadow grew slightly to one side though the man it belonged to remained just behind him. Val Crawford was no coward, but facing a battle of five to one had him considering the possibility of walking home. Getting back shot in some dusty trail town in Mexico was not the way he wanted to meet his maker. 

“Seems a mite unfair…four to one. You boys might want to think hard about this.” The words were in unaccented English.

The shock of the words and their support almost had Val turning to look but it would have been a fatal move, so he stood ready to see what would come of this new development. The American accent was a surprise to the rugged cowboy, but a welcome one. 

The four men hesitated, glancing around at each other. Val began to think they would back down and leave. Those hopes were dashed in the next moment as the man that had spoken to him reached for his weapon. Five other hands quickly did the same. 

Bullets flew as the six men shot it out. Two of the horse thieves went down as the first shots were fired. The other two had the sense to drop and make smaller targets but to no avail. The gunman behind Crawford picked off each man even as Val was reeling from a wound on his leg, staggering several steps to end up balancing against the roan horse. 

When the red rush of pain subsided, he gingerly turned to check on his rescuer. The slight frame was moving around the fallen men, gathering guns and belts, rifling through the pockets of the dead men.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? You don’t gun men down and then rob their bodies.”

The answering voice was soft but had a hard edge, a coldness to it that spoke volumes the cowboy. “I don’t gun men down. They started it…I finished it. ‘Sides they don’t have any use for these things.”

As he finished with the last man, cautious heads began to appear in the doorways. The man called to one young boy. The youth approached and listened intently before taking something and running off. The gunman finally turned toward Val, asking, “How bad ‘s the leg?”

Crawford froze at the sight of not a man, but a boy…a boy with black hair and piercing blue eyes. Val stared as the youth approached. 

“They’ll have friends to come looking. If you can travel, we best be moving on before they get here.”

Shaking him self from his stupor, Crawford blurted out, “You ain’t but a kid, boy.”

The boy’s expression did not change at the words. He hooked thumbs into the gunbelt that rode low on his hip. “Mister, I ain’t been a kid in a long time.”

Moving past, the slight figure strode up the street as Val struggled to wrap his bandanna around his leg. It was only a graze but it stung like the devil. A shadow moving close drew his attention upward. He looked up at the boy astride a black pony. 

“You coming?”

Not waiting for an answer, he tapped the black on the sides and moved up the street. Glancing around the street, Val saw the veiled and suspicious looks from the people as they moved forward. He suddenly felt very out of place and he grabbed the reins of his mount and struggled to mount. Once up, he moved off in the direction the boy had taken. It was north and that was the way he had planned to go anyway. 

He found the black standing patiently at the edge of town and with a nod, the two men rode off. 

It was early evening when they finally stopped. Val dropped from his horse and staggered back to fall to the ground as his leg gave way under him. He sat there clenching his throbbing limb for several moments. 

“I’ll take care of the horse for you.”

The cowboy watched as the youth moved away with the animals. Val couldn’t explain it but he knew he could trust the youth with his mount…as well as anything else. There was an air of confidence that surrounded him, an air that many grown men did not have. 

Soon the camp had been set up and Val nodded at the choice. They were protected on three sides with the horses close and easy to get to. The boy had a fire going and coffee brewing before the older man was aware. As the coffee brewed, the youth squatted down in front of Crawford, his hand extended. 

“Got some hard tack and tortillas. They’re a bit dry, but still eatable. Soon as we eat, I’ll take a look at that leg.”

Val’s hand unconsciously rubbed at the injured limb. “It ain’t too bad.”

Stepping back on the hard ground, the blue-eyed boy shook his head. “Might not be bad but infection can kill a man almost as fast as a bullet. We’ll clean it up and I got some salve that’ll fix it up.”

Crawford nodded even as he chewed on the dried meat. They sat in silence for the rest of the meal. Putting his cup down, the boy stood and moved to his gear, removing some items from his bags. He moved back to stand over Crawford.

“We best get this done and then you can rest.”

Doubt crept into the man’s eyes because the boy shook his head, saying, “Mister, you want to die of gangrene, it’s fine by me. I’m just trying to help.”

Crawford studied the youthful face for several moments before nodding. “Appreciate the help, boy.”

As he squatted, the youth said, “Name’s Johnny.” He began to remove the crusted over bandanna from the man’s leg. 

Gritting his teeth, Val replied, “Val…Val Crawford. Pleasure to meet ya, Johnny. Got a last name?”

As if he hadn’t heard, Johnny pulled the bandanna back and Val’s world narrowed to the pain that radiated up his leg to steal the air from his lungs.

The next few minutes were agony for the cowboy as Johnny worked the blood soaked material off the injured leg. He cleaned the wound and applied the salve and then wrapped a clean cloth around the wounded leg. Crawford was pale and sweaty by the time Johnny was finished.

Sitting back, Johnny wiped at his hands. “How ya feel? You sick or anything?”

His eyes closed, Val was leaning heavily against the underside of his saddle. Slowly he shook his head. “No…no, I’ll be fine. Just a mite light headed.”

“Yeah, well, that’s understandable. Rest, I’ll keep an eye on things.”

Val nodded and soon drifted off. Johnny stood watching the man for a few minutes. “Madrid. Name’s Madrid, Johnny Madrid.” 

Finally, he moved off and took up a position where he could see anyone that might be approaching. He settled in for the long evening.

Crawford woke the next morning to find the boy, Johnny sitting quietly on the far side of the fire, cleaning one of the guns he had picked up the day before. He pushed himself upward and leaned against his saddle, closing his eyes.

“How’s the leg?”

Soft words spoken so close had Val’s eyes snapping open. He hadn’t heard the boy move yet he now stood in front of him, offering up a cup of coffee. 

“Damn, boy, you move quieter than….well, pretty damn quiet.”

Johnny snorted lightly. “Here, drink up. We need to get moving.”

“You expecting trouble?”

The dark haired boy moved back across the camp and began to gather his gear as he stated, “I always expect trouble. Keeps me breathing.”

As the youth moved around the camp, Crawford studied him. The youth was a contradiction. He was young, no more than fifteen in Val’s assessment, yet he wore a gun, low and tied down, and he knew how to use it. He had gunned down three men, at least the older man figured he had. Calmly, callously, he had searched the bodies, taking items of value. Yet, he had stepped into a fight that was not his own. Afterward, he had taken care of a stranger, tending his wound and watching over him during the night. 

“You figure them boys had friends?” Val asked as he slowly rose.

“Friends? Nah, but they have companions, men they rode with…stole with.”

Val noticed that the boy was avoiding looking at him. “And how do you know this?”

Johnny froze, his hands clasping the saddle he had just cinched. His slight shoulders rose and fell with the deep sigh. Turning slowly, blue eyes gazed at the older man. Finally, he broke the silence. “I rode with ‘em. Not something I’m proud of but when a man is hungry…well, he’ll do things…”

Moving across the camp, Crawford began to saddle his roan. “Yeah, I understand that.”

Their hands touched as both reached for the saddle. 

“Let me do it. No need to open that leg again.”

The camp fell silent again as the gear was gathered and camp broken. Within minutes, they were mounted and moving toward the border once again. 

Val shifted in the saddle, biting down a groan as the throbbing pain in his leg flared. Trying to distract his mind, he looked at the boy riding next to him. 

“What you doing out here alone?” 

Johnny turned his head slightly toward the other man. He shrugged and pointed his eyes on the horizon again. 

“No family? No one worrying over ya?”

“No.” The answer was short and sharp. 

Silence descended again. They moved closer to the border and Val was beginning to think they were out of the woods. 

The first shot was wide. The two men spun around, looking for the threat but as more shots followed, they kicked the animals and headed for a rock outcropping just ahead. Reaching the cover, they jumped from the animals, allowing them to run free. 

A few more bullets zinged off the rocks but they soon tapered off as their targets disappeared. The targets took a few moments to catch their breath and assess their position. They had the high ground, well protected by the rocks but had no water or food. Both items were still tied to the animals. They checked their ammunition and exchanged worried glances. 

“Well, if the horses hang around, we can make a break for them after dark. How’s the leg?” the boy asked. 

“Hell, if I gotta run, I’ll run.” Crawford rubbed his injured leg and sighed. “I’ll be fine. Often I ain’t, you leave me. No need in both of us dying out here.”

The boy didn’t say anything; just stared out at the scrub brush, watching for any movement. So they sat waiting. Several times during the day, Johnny casually drew his gun and fired at something only he saw. Val was amazed as well as a bit frightened as each time there was an accompanying sound of pain by a grunt, groan, or sharp cry. 

As the afternoon began to fade to evening, there had been no attempt in two hours. Crawford turned to the boy. 

“Mind if I ask you a question?”

Madrid didn’t move. Crawford pinched his lips together and watched the youth. Finally, he continued.

“Just how old are you, boy?”

Though Johnny didn’t move, his entire bearing oozed tension. “Old enough,” was the curt answer.

Val knew he was pushing his young companion, but he decided to forge onward…carefully. “Seems to me you chose yourself a hard life pretty young.”

Madrid sighed and slumped against the sheltering rock. “Didn’t chose it, was  pushed on me.”

Crawford nodded. “Happens; ain’t right, but it happens.”

Johnny had no response to the statement. He simply turned back to his watch. 

“Be dark in an hour. They’ll try to move in when the sun goes down.” 

He turned his eyes on Crawford and for the first time, the older man noticed their blue color as the dying sun shone into them. It was the first time the man had noticed and realization set in. Val had thought Johnny was one of the many orphans that ran the streets of so many Mexican border towns. It was a hard life for those children but a blue eyed half-breed would have even a worse time, shunned by everyone. It was no wonder the boy had turned to a gun. 

“We need to move in a few minutes.” The sound of the young voice drew the cowboy’s attention from his thoughts. 

Val nodded. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out of small packet. Pursing his lips, he looked hard at the boy. Making a decision, he offered it to Madrid. “This here is the money I got for the herd. If any thing happens to me, you take it to Jacob for me.”

Johnny just stared at the man. “You trust me…with someone else’s money?”

Crawford just smiled. “Ain’t got much choice. Can’t very well trust it to them, can I?”

The younger man shook his head, chuckling softly. “No, I don’t guess so.”

Johnny glanced around to check on their unwanted company. The sun slipped behind the hills and the shadows surrounding them deepened. Turning back, he asked, “Can you walk?”

Val nodded and, steeling himself, pushed up. He staggered forward a couple of steps, stopped by a slender shoulder as Madrid wrapped his arms around the bigger man. Crawford simply nodded and they started forward. 

The two horses were grazing only a few hundred yards away, but as they reeled alone, wavering from side to side, it seemed as if the distance was double that amount to the injured man. His leg screamed in pain with each step. The boy was too slight for the man to use as much as he would have liked, so placing his foot on the ground was a necessity. 

Johnny realized that his companion was quickly losing the battle to keep moving and the faltering steps were alarming the two horses. He stopped, forcing the taller man to stop also. 

“Sit,” the young man ordered quietly. “Wait here, I’ll get the horses and come back for you.”

Val was gasping for breath as he complied. “I’ll be right back.”

Crawford watched as the youth disappeared into the darkness without a sound. He rubbed at the leg as he waited. The heat told him that he had some infection in the wound, but not as much as there would have been if the boy had not helped him. It irritated him that he was left so weak and therefore unable to help him self or the boy. A flicker of movement drew his attention up and he looked into the dark eyes of his mount. 

Johnny stepped around the animal and he reached down to help the man up. Val clamped his mouth tight as his leg protested the movement, but moments later he was leaning against his saddle, one hand on the horn and one on the slender shoulder of the quiet youth. Balancing on one leg, he gathered himself and jumped into the stirrup, pushing off the youth as he did. Madrid grunted slightly as the larger man’s weight pressed him downward. 

Johnny placed his hands on Crawford’s hip and gently supported him as he balanced on top of the horse. Once the man was settled, the youth went around and mounted up. Kicking the animals lightly, the two men moved out slowly, cautious on the unknown territory. 

They continued moving throughout the night. By sunrise, it was apparent that there was no one following and they took time to rest. They ate a cold breakfast of jerky and water and then Madrid checked Val’s wound. 

They rested for an only an hour and then got back on the trail. The hours passed in mile eating silence. 

Johnny was certain by the noon hour that the gang had not followed. He found a sheltered place to camp just in case. Soon he had a hot meal prepared and strong coffee to fortify them. As they sat back, relaxing for the first time in two days, he turned to the older man. 

“They knew you were carrying money.”

Val’s brows drew together. 

“I overheard one of them talking to a fellow. Apparently this cowboy works for the rancher you delivered the herd to. Got me the feeling a lot of cowboys never get back home from that trail drive.”

Crawford’s face hardened to find out he had walked into a trap. First thing he would do when he got back would be to spread the word and see about doing something to stop the murders of cowboys only doing their job. 

“Why’d you decide to help?”

At first Johnny only shrugged but the continued scrutiny from Crawford had him lowering his cup. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a pocketknife, caressing it with his thumb.

“I wasn’t helping you as much as cutting the odds. The man I took this off of took it from a friend…after he killed him.”

Val looked down suddenly interested in what his cup contained. 

“I promised his son I’d get the knife back. It’s been passed down for years.”

Johnny studied the knife before slipping it back into his pocket. He looked up and Val was struck by the old soul revealed in the blue eyes. 

“What are you planning to do now?”

The young man looked into the fire. About the time Crawford decided that he would not get an answer, Johnny spoke. 

“No plans. Thought I better make sure you get back home safe.”

Val laughed heartily at the brazen statement, but he knew that Madrid was committed to escorting him safely home.

“Well, you might be biting off more than you can chew.”  

Johnny cocked his head, a look of humor pulling at his features. “Oh, an old man, crippled up like you are? I don’t think you’ll be that much trouble.”

Val stared at the youth until he saw the grin twitching on the boy’s lips. “Ah, you’re joshing with me.”

Johnny laughed at the man even as Crawford laughed at himself. The two settled into a comfortable silence as the noon sun passed into the western sky. Once the hot of the day dissipated some, they mounted up and set out again. Another few hours would have them crossing the border into California.  The sun went down and the men camped, resting comfortably for the first time in days. 

Rising the next morning, they ate and rode out again. Midmorning, Madrid pulled up. Val followed and drew his horse to a stop next to the young man and the black horse. 

Johnny sat leaning back with one leg pulled up and crooked around the saddle horn. He used his head to indicate an easterly direction. “Jacob’s farm is about a half day’s ride that direction.”  The dark haired youth paused, playing with the string on his battered hat. “You’re welcome to ride along with me…’preciate the company, but I understand that you need to get back…turn over the money.”

Val looked over to see that Madrid sat, looking off to the east, avoiding eye contact. The confidant gunman had been replaced by a shy youth, unsure of his welcome in the older man’s world. 

Crawford shifted in his saddle, attempting to relief some of the pressure on his injured leg. “Ole Jake ain’t ‘specting me back for a couple ‘a days. Safer traveling together, too…what with this money and all…”

Johnny turned his head to the man and laughed softly. Nodding, he dropped his leg back over and rose in the saddle to adjust his weight. “Well, I just we better get to riding then.”

With a nod, they started their journey. 

The sheriff shifted his grip on the unconscious Johnny as he slipped to the side slightly. Once the younger man was secure, Val gazed out across the expanse. They had made good time, passing out of the mountains and entering the edge of the valley. The man continued his narrative to the unresponsive animal. 

“Yeah, we went to that farm and returned that little knife to that boy. Kid was a little tike…maybe six years old. He cried when the kid handed it to him. Johnny was always a push over for a kid…or a pretty woman.” Val chuckled. 

“Boy’s mama insisted we stay the night…fixed supper. Nice woman. Me and Johnny took off the next morning…went back to Jacob’s place. Your boy stayed around the ranch for almost six months before one day someone challenged ‘im. He rode out the next day. Told us he didn’t want to bring trouble to ranch.”

Val tightened his grip at the memory of the teen riding off alone. 

“Tried to tell ‘im that he could stay, keep to the ranch, but he wasn’t having any of it. Said it was best if he kept moving.” Crawford smiled. “Imagine my surprise when he showed up in town. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Knew he wasn’t the killer everyone talked about. Too gentle a soul in the boy.”

Crawford looked around to get his bearings. That’s when he spotted the rider coming toward them. 


Scott Lancer galloped up, his mount sliding to a stop next to Barranca.

“What the hell happened? Your horse came trotting in at the house. We figured something was wrong.” Blue eyes swept over the lax form of the dark haired youth, the concern obvious. “What happened, Val?”

“Wolf tried to attack the horses. Jumped Johnny instead.”

Fear clouded the man’s face as he whispered, “Was it…”

“No, don’t worry, Scott. It wasn’t rabid…just old…injured…no good at hunting any more.”

A groan drew their attention and they looked at the dark haired youngest Lancer as his head came up and he looked around. Seeing his brother, Johnny snorted. “Boston, what the hell you doing here?”

Scott chuckled. “Hell, boy. Looking for you, as usual. What have you gone and got yourself into now?”

The sharp words were tempered by the concern written on the blond’s face.

“Ah, I thought I’d wrestle a wolf. He won.” 

“Damn Johnny. I would have given you a little more credit than that.”

Johnny snorted. “I love a challenge.”

Scott reached out. “How you doing, brother? Truth.”

Blue eyes met blue. After a few moments, Johnny looked away first. “Feel like crap…but I’ll live. Val did a good job taking care of me.”

The Easterner looked at the sheriff, a grim expression on his face. The two men nodded. 

“Boy’s got some deep bites on his shoulder, running a fever, but he’s right…he’ll live. Just won’t be wrestling no cows for a while.”

“That ought ‘a send the old man into a tizzy.” Johnny grimaced slightly as he shifted in the saddle. 

Scott studied his brother closely before patting him on the leg. “Don’t you worry about Murdock. I’ll take care of him. You just worry about Teresa and that willowbark tea she’ll be forcing you to drink.”

Johnny groaned and dropped his head forward. “Just when I was feeling good about getting close to home.”

Scott and Val both chuckled as the trio headed toward Lancer and home.





Thank you for reading! Please take a moment to leave a comment. You can do so using the ‘reply’ box below.

Sadly, we can’t pass the comment on to the author, as we don’t have a current email address. Don’t let that stop you commenting! If the author reconnects with the fandom in the future, she will see how much her work is appreciated.

8 responses to “Ain’t Nothing But A Kid by Phyllis”

  1. This was really good. I liked it a lot.


  2. Very enjoyable. I love stories about how Val and Johnny met.


  3. Beautiful, thank you for this story.


    1. I really enjoyed reading this story, but I wished that it was longer. Thanks for sharing and keeping Lancer land alive. JML always ♥️


  4. I always like stories that tell how Johnny and Val met.


  5. Beautiful story! Really portrays Johnny and Val how I like to think of them. So glad you adopted this orphan for us


  6. I love this story! I hope there will be more.


  7. I love this story! I hope there will be more.


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