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.
DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fiction based on the characters of the television series “Lancer”. No infringement is intended to anyone who owns a portion of this series. No money was made on this. RATING: PG-13 WARNINGS: A little foul language
NOTES/COMMENTS: For those of you that wanted fiction, I hope this qualifies.
It started out as an answer to Starbuck’s challenge about Scott or Johnny being unable to speak, but I’m not sure it’s going to meet the requirements for that challenge. So instead of tossing it away, I asked Deb to take a look at it and help me. :)) She edited and provided the ending. Thank you, Deb. :))
Johnny Lancer heaved a contented sigh, pushing his twice-filled, now all but empty, plate away. Both his belly and his heart were full on this day, his first real Thanksgiving celebration… one with his new family at his new home, Lancer.
A few of the hands were beginning to drift away, probably seeking out someplace quiet to grab a quick siesta, drowsy after the huge meal. Johnny didn’t blame them. It wasn’t often they had a day off and he knew they deserved it. The ranch was fortunate to have the caliber of men working for them that they did. That hard work and dedication was one of the reasons the long banquet table had been set up outside. Murdoch had wanted to thank the men for the loyalty they had shown to the ranch during the past hectic and difficult times. The Thanksgiving feast had been the perfect opportunity to show that appreciation.
They were fortunate the day had turned out warm and sunny. The table inside the house was large, but there was no way they would ever have been able to fit all the hands inside for dinner.
Johnny shook his head. One look down the length of the massive table was still enough to set him in awe. Most of the food was gone now, but there was enough left over that they would be eating on it for another day or two at least. He’d never seen that much food in one place at one time before . Teresa and Maria had outdone themselves this time. There had been something for everyone. Turkey, dressing, frijoles, enchiladas, every conceivable form of potato and enough pies and cakes to keep the hands happy for more than a week.
There had also been some kind of a berry that Murdoch had insisted needed to go with the dinner to make it complete. Something called a cranberry. Johnny hadn’t ever heard of it, and he had been more than a little suspicious when the bowl of lumpy jelly looking stuff had been passed around, but his father had insisted they each have a bit. Johnny had taken his share, but still had not gotten the courage up to actually put the substance in his mouth. Scott had all ready devoured his helping and said it was sweet. If that were the case, Johnny couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t sitting with the pies and cakes.
He eyed the lumpy concoction once more as he halfway listened at Scott telling them about his past experience at Thanksgiving feasts in Boston. He took a tentative fork full and put it in his mouth.
It was sweet but tart, too. Almost like an unripened mulberry. It wasn’t to his liking, but he had eaten worse than this in the past. He frowned as he took another bite. Not bad really. Not something he would want very often, but it wasn’t as bad as he had expected. He absently took another fork full and turned his attention to the conversation between his brother and his father.
The corner of Murdoch’s lip began to curl as he witnessed Johnny sampling the cranberry sauce. When they had decided to include the ranch hands in their first Thanksgiving together, he had no idea his son had never heard of, much less tasted, the dish. Scott had commented that it had been a staple at his grandfather’s table each year and so had not given it much thought. For himself, it had been years since Murdoch had tasted cranberry sauce. The berries were not easy to come by in the west and it had been by accident these had come into his possession. He had been doubly grateful Teresa had known how to make the sauce.
Murdoch turned his attention back to his older son and listened as he finished the story he was relating. It brought a smile from him and what sounded suspiciously like a scoff of disbelief from Johnny. Sighing, Murdoch waited for the two to start their bantering, a regular habit with his sons. They got along just fine, each finding mutual respect in the other, but it did not keep them from teasing one another. However, Scott’s story did not call for the continued choking laugh Murdoch heard from Johnny. As he turned to say something to his youngest son, he frowned and felt a fear clutch his heart.
Johnny was not laughing as Murdoch had thought. Instead, he was gasping, trying to drag air into unresponsive lungs. Without a second’s thought, he scrambled to stand and aid his son. From the corner of his eye, he saw Scott rush from the opposite side of the table as well.
“Johnny?” he called, placing a hand on the young man’s back. “What is it, son?” He waited for long seconds, but Johnny was not able to answer. Instead, he continued to gasp as his eyes widened in panic.
Alarm seized Murdoch as his hands quickly searched Johnny’s back, shoulders and chest for some sign of obvious injury. Had his son somehow been silently attacked? The alarm he felt increased when he found nothing to indicate what was wrong.
Johnny’s head dropped forward as he continued to fight for breath. Murdoch looked over
Johnny’s head to Scott on his opposite side with questioning eyes. Both men looked and felt helpless.
“Johnny?” Scott called to his brother, placing a hand on Johnny’s back and easing his nearly unconscious body back into the chair. “Come on, boy, tell us what’s wrong,” he said with the barest hint of teasing tone in his voice.
Johnny remained unresponsive, but as Scott tipped the dark head back, he saw his brother’s breathing ease slightly. Surprise and relief washed over Scott’s face as he looked up quickly to his father and saw Murdoch had witnessed the same thing.
“Teresa,” he heard Murdoch order. “Send someone for the doctor. We’ll get Johnny in the house.”
The girl acknowledged her guardian and snagged the first ranch hand she encountered for the duty, then continued into the house to ready Johnny’s room.
Murdoch and Scott began shifting Johnny, preparing to carry him. They were both surprised when they felt the younger man’s body tense in protest.
“What is it, Johnny?” Murdoch asked, looking into the expressive eyes.
As he watched, his son’s mouth began to move in an attempt to speak. However, as soon as Johnny tried to force the words, he was seized with breathlessness and began gasping once more.
“Easy, Johnny,” Murdoch soothed. “Don’t try to talk. Just let us get you into the house. The doctor will be here before long.”
They again attempted to carry the young man but were once more met with resistance. Johnny’s head dropped forward in his struggles and he was yet again gripped by the inability to breathe.
Scott quickly forced his head back again. Whatever was wrong with his brother was blocking his throat when he bent his head. “Johnny,” he said urgently. “Stop fighting us.” He paused to see if his words were having any effect. “We’re only trying to help.” After a moment, he felt the tension lessen in his brother’s body. “Good,” Scott told him. “Now relax and let us get you into the house.”
Wordlessly, Scott saw him nod and give in to the helplessness Johnny hated with a passion.
Murdoch and Jelly hovered nervously nearby while Scott and Teresa sat beside Johnny’s bed. Scott gripped his brother’s hand and felt the pressure increase once more as he fought to breathe. A slight frown creased Teresa’s forehead as she felt a fever steadily building in Johnny despite the cool cloth she used to bathe his face.
By the time they had gotten Johnny into his bed, he had been near to unconsciousness with a lack of air. They had confirmed that as long as he kept his head back and remained still, he was able to get a small amount of air into his lungs. However, any movement or attempt to speak left him gasping for air.
Scott felt a deep sense of fear invade his soul. Nothing they did seemed to help Johnny catch his breath. They had no indication to what had caused the episode and no idea if it would become worse. They did their best to keep him still, but the anxiety over the suffocating feeling was nearly impossible for Johnny to control.
Johnny Lancer was a man used to controlling his own fate and facing trouble or adversity head on. The helplessness he was feeling now was only adding to the current problem. Scott watched him closely, noting the fading awareness in his brother and the decrease of movement in his chest as his breathing became less frequent. A hand on Johnny’s chest reassured Scott that although his heart still beat, it had slowed dramatically.
Scott gripped Johnny’s hand a fraction tighter, silently urging him to hold on until the doctor arrived. He felt a weak increase in the grip of his hand and smiled at his brother. He knew it was Johnny’s way of letting him know he was not giving up.
For another half hour, Scott, Teresa and Murdoch stayed by Johnny’s side, none willing to leave for fear the young mans weakening heartbeat would cease entirely. Jelly had stayed as long as he could stand the oppressive tension in the room, but before long, he had retreated to keep a watch for the doctor.
When he spotted the ancient buggy belonging to Morro Coyo’s doctor, Jelly silently thanked God. Now they could get Johnny the help he needed.
“‘Bout time you got here,” he demanded peevishly. “What’d you do? Stop off for dinner first?”
Dr. Sam Jenkins eyed Jelly Hoskins with a watchful eye. The older man was crusty at the best of times, but Jenkins could hear a touch of fear lacing Jelly’s voice this time. Johnny had to be pretty bad off if Hoskins was this upset.
“I’m here now, Jelly. Where is he?”
Without issuing further challenge, Jelly led him into the house.
Jenkins continued ahead as they reached the upper level of the house. It was not the first time the doctor had been at the ranch to treat someone for an injury and Johnny and Scott seemed to be more accident-prone than the rest of the hands put together.
When he pushed open the door to Johnny’s room three grateful faces greeted him.
“Sam. Thank God you’re here.” Murdoch breathed with a sigh of relief.
“Murdoch.” Jenkins acknowledged, advancing to an unconscious Johnny’s side as Scott stood and moved a step back. “What happened?” he asked as he began his examination. He gently peeled open Johnny’s eyes for inspection.
“We aren’t sure. He just couldn’t get a breath,” Murdoch told him.
Jenkins placed his hands on either side of the pillow, keeping Johnny’s head tilted. “Why is his head extended this way?”
“As long as he keeps his head back like that, he can get a little bit of air. If he lowers it at all, nothing gets through.
Jenkins frowned as he pulled a stethoscope from his bag and placed it against Johnny’s chest.
“What was he doing when it happened?”
“Nothing,” Scott spoke up for the first time. “We had just finished eating and were still sitting at the table. We thought he was laughing, but he couldn’t breathe.”
Jenkins frowned. “He wasn’t doing anything?”
“He was still eating,” Murdoch commented as he ran the events back through his mind.
“Eating? Eating what?” The doctor immediately began to probe Johnny’s throat, searching for something that might have become lodged in his throat.
Murdoch watched with narrowed eyes. “Cranberry sauce,” he stated.
Jenkins stilled. “Cranberry sauce?” he asked with a frown. Unless there was something in the food that didn’t belong that would not be caught in Johnny’s throat.
Murdoch nodded. “It was the only thing left on his plate. He hadn’t been excited about trying it.”
Sam Jenkins frowned as he thought about the situation. He recalled something he had read recently in a medical paper, and suspicion began to form in his head. “Has he eaten cranberries previously?”
Murdoch shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, Sam, but I don’t think so. This is the first time we’ve had them since he and Scott came home, and he didn’t seem to know what they were. I don’t know if he had ever seen them before.” Murdoch’s heart ached for his lack of knowledge regarding his sons.
Dr. Jenkins listened once again to Johnny’s chest, then looked up at the others. “Has he gotten any worse in the past hour?” he asked quickly.
Teresa, Scott, and Murdoch looked at each other in silent conference. “His breathing hasn’t gotten worse, but he wasn’t unconscious before,” Murdoch answered as Jenkins nodded and reached for his bag. “Do you know what’s wrong with him, Sam?”
Jenkins withdrew a wooden box from the medical bag he carried, along with a small bottle. “Possibly,” he said as he removed a hypodermic needle and began filling it with liquid from the bottle. “I think Johnny may be allergic to the cranberries.”
Murdoch and Scott looked at each other over the doctor’s back. “Allergic?” Murdoch asked, turning back to Jenkins. “Are you sure?”
Murdoch’s frown deepened. He didn’t like the sound of this or the looks of the medical needle he saw Jenkins preparing to use on his son. “Will that counteract this ‘allergy’?”
Dr. Jenkins shook his head as he injected the fluid into Johnny’s arm. “No, this is to stimulate his heart.”
“What?” Murdoch felt a knot form in his stomach.
Jenkins leaned back as he kept a careful watch on his patient. For long moments, he considered how to explain the young man’s condition to his father. Slowly, he began. “You’ve seen what happens when you get bare skin against thistle, haven’t you? How the skin swells in that area and turns red with a rash.” He waited until Murdoch nodded. “Well, the cranberries are like a thistle to Johnny, but because he ingested them, it’s his throat and insides that are swelling. That’s what’s causing his difficulty in breathing. His throat is swollen.”
“Will that injection make the swelling go down?” Scott asked from beside his father.
“No. It won’t.”
“Then what is it for?”
Jenkins spoke carefully. “The increased difficulty in breathing is putting too much of a strain on Johnny’s heart. It’s not beating properly. That’s why it’s slowing down,” he paused to place a hand on the young man’s chest.
Murdoch Lancer felt the blood drain from his face and his own heart clinch with grief. Surely he hadn’t found his son only to lose him again. “No,” he whispered.
“You said his breathing hasn’t gotten any worse in the past hour. Hopefully, he’s reached the crucial point of his reaction to the allergy. The swelling should start to diminish soon, but we have to help his heart keep going until it does.”
“And this ‘heart stimulant’ will do that?” Scott asked in a strained voice.
Sam Jenkins nodded as he once more checked Johnny’s heartbeat. “Yes. This is ‘digitalis’. It’ll make his heart beat faster for a while, hopefully long enough for his reaction to the cranberries to wear off.”
For what seemed to father and brother to be an eternity, Scott and Murdoch stood beside Dr. Sam Jenkins while he kept a close watch on Johnny.
Shortly, they saw a smile form on the doctor’s face and they could tell there was a steady increase in the rise and fall of Johnny’s chest. Jenkins finally looked up at the other members of the family as he put his stethoscope away. “You might want to bring some cool water, Teresa. He’s going to be thirsty for a while,” he said with a grin.
“Doc?” Scott’s voice still held a note of tension.
“He’s going to be fine, Scott,” Jenkins told them as Scott and Murdoch breathed twin sighs of relief. “He should be coming around soon,” he told them as Murdoch closed his eyes in thankful prayer. “He’ll need to take it easy for a few days, but I think he’ll be fine now.”
“Thanks, Sam,” Murdoch told him with a hand on the doctor’s shoulder.
Jenkins stood and took a step back as Johnny made the first restless moves toward consciousness. He knew his patient’s father and brother needed the reassurance of being close when Johnny regained awareness as much as Johnny himself would.
“Johnny?” Scott called to him softly. “Come on, boy, open your eyes.”
From out of the darkness, he heard his name being called. It was funny, because the voice sure sounded like Scott ‘s, but Johnny had been certain the next one he was going to hear would be the devil himself.
“Come on, boy, open your eyes.”
Yep, that was Scott, which meant whatever had made it impossible for him to breath hadn’t killed him after all and he wasn’t destined for the fires of hell just yet . Johnny tried, with little success, to force his eyes open . He was so tired.
“Johnny, son, open your eyes.”
That was Murdoch’s voice and he sounded worried. More worried than Johnny could remember him sounding since he and Scott had come to the ranch. For some reason, he could not yet put a name to, and that bothered Johnny. Dragging his eyelids up, he oriented on his father’s voice to investigate.
In the fatigue-laced blue eyes that focused on him, Murdoch read concern. As he seated himself at his son’s side and rested his hand on the slightly too-warm chest, guilt seized his heart. Something he’d insisted everyone eat had almost taken his youngest boy from him. A berry, a stupid berry… He offered reassurance to ease the young man’s and his own worry.
“It’s all right, son. You’re going to be okay.”
Once the worry had been addressed, a question formed in the eyes still regarding him. Murdoch answered it. “Doc Jenkins said you had an allergic reaction to the cranberry sauce.”
Johnny wrinkled his brow, confused by the diagnosis. He’d had food make him sick before but never rob him of the ability to draw breath.
“So, no more cranberries for you, young man,” Murdoch stated mock-sternly, covering the fear of the tenuous nature of existence that had crept into his soul.
Johnny’s eyes slid shut, a half-grin appearing on his face. “Didn’t like it… that much… anyway,” he whispered.
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