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Renegade

 

 

Sworn Promises

Timeline: 4 years after High Riders -- sequel to Finding Faith -- immediately following.
Rating: PG-13 to R for strong language (including curse words), violence and intense graphic images. This story is not for the faint of heart. If you are sensitive to such things, please do not proceed.
Synopsis: Scott is alive, but is now fighting for his life against immeasurable odds. Compounded by the painful and horrible nightmares resulting from over 4 months of captivity and the belief that his brother was dead, the demons that haunt Scott will destroy him unless a sworn promise is kept to avenge his brother…only it is only outweighed by his brother's sworn promise to keep him alive.

Disclaimer: Like Finding Faith, though this story is set four years after High Riders, some might consider it an AU/AR story, in that the characters may be portrayed in a manner to which you are not accustomed. If you do not wish to view the characters as such, please do not proceed.

A special note of thanks to my wonderful Betas: Barb D., Mary H. (Southernfrau) and Sammi. Also to Winnie (PoohBear), for reading along on this wild ride! My dear friends, without you this story would never have been finished. Your support, help and gentle impatient prodding for the next installment to read have brought this sequel to fruition. To each one of you, my sincerest thanks!






"So Boston, think Murdoch will give us some extra spendin' money with these profits?" Johnny asked, grinning from ear to ear.

Scott smiled at his brother. "I hope so, Johnny. I saw this nice new spyglass I'd like to get. It's got a better range than the other one and would be good to use when we're out on the range. We can see a fairly good distance with it."

"Sounds great. Make it easier to keep an eye out for strays…and banditos."

"Yeah it would." Scott agreed, his gaze shifting to the movement on the ridge off to their right. "Speaking of which looks like we got company coming. Can't make out who it is. You?"

"No. They're in a mighty big hurry though."

As the riders came closer, Scott caught a glimpse of the rider's face in front and felt the hackles stand on the back of his neck. He slowly lowered his hand to his gun and released the safety loop on the holster. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Johnny do the same. He recognized the tone of his brother's voice. It was now a deadly calm and low as Johnny wrapped his hand over the butt of his Colt.

"Friends of yours, Boston?"

"Not hardly," he answered through clenched teeth. "Don't do anything just yet, Johnny. We're too out numbered." Scott said in a low voice, placing his left hand over his brother's wrist.

"There's six of them and twelve bullets between you 'n me in our guns alone, Brother. Not to mention that carbine restin' by your leg. I'd say they're the ones out numbered."

"No, Johnny. Please. Let me handle this." Casting a warning glance to his brother, Scott tried to steady his voice, but it belied the growing rage in the pit of his stomach. Rage that had been planted over fifteen years before when he was a teenager and had continued to fester and grow as he became a man. "I'm asking you please. They've already drawn their weapons and that man out in front will cut you down before you break leather."

"You know that hombre?" Johnny asked, incredulously.

"Yeah I know him, and the man on his right." Scott said sullenly, a heavy sigh leaving his lips. "And it's me they're after."

"Yeah, well, they ain't takin' ya, Brother. Not unless it's ov'r my dead body."

His eyes shot to his brother's. "Don't say that, Johnny! Don't ever say that! Not even as a joke!" He felt Johnny's hand twitch beneath his wrist and squeezed it tighter when he noticed two other riders appear behind them. They were now completely surrounded.

"Afternoon boys. Mighty nice day for a ride ain't it."

"Nice day to die too." Johnny sneered, his finger tapping against the hammer of his gun. "I can take 'em, Brother," he whispered, "just let go of my wrist."

"No Johnny," Scott warned quietly between gritted teeth, "let me handle this."

"I don't like this Boston. I don't like it one bit."

Scott ignored his brother and turned cautiously to the man that had spoken. "So what brings you to these parts Ferguson? Not enough rocks to crawl under back east?"

"These rocks are bigger. Know what they say…ever'thins bigger out west."

"Everything but you, no doubt." Scott sneered, casting a mocking glance toward the man's crotch.

"Boston…please." Johnny grated through clenched teeth.

Another voice caused Scott to turn abruptly.

"Smart mouthed as ever aren't you, Garrett?"

Scott's eyes narrowed. "It's Lancer, MacMillan, and you know it," he said with assertion, the venom dripping off his tongue as he spoke the man's name.

"Well then…~Lancer~…drop your weapon and climb down off that horse. Nice and slow like." He warned, motioning to Scott.

"And if I don't?"

"Do it or one of my men will give your impatient trigger tapping friend there a third eye."

Scott reached for his gun.

"Ah, ah, ah, ~Lancer~. Slow…with two fingers." MacMillan grinned maliciously as Scott pulled the gun from his hip and released it, allowing it to fall to the ground. "Now step down. Real easy." As Scott dismounted, MacMillan then motioned to Johnny. "You too, boy. Drop it and step down." He ordered.

"I'm comfortable where I am, thanks." Johnny scoffed and locked eyes with his brother.

Scott met his brother's gaze. He knew Johnny was willing him to stand clear of MacMillan, but he shook his head imperceptibly. Silently pleading with him to drop his weapon before MacMillan or one of his men cut him down. He knew MacMillan too well - he was an evil, cunning and bloodthirsty murderer - that wouldn't hesitate to put a bullet between his brother's eyes if he looked at him the wrong way. Scott inhaled deeply, his mind quickly assessing their situation. MacMillan had planned this confrontation well…too well, he thought. He and Johnny were now trapped with no way out. Hearing MacMillan's laugh, he pulled his eyes away from Johnny. He would painfully remember that what happened next, occurred in the time it took for his breath to leave his lungs and his heart to stop. Johnny…no…

"Really now?" MacMillan sneered and raised a finger off the barrel of the gun he was casually brandishing. "Well my boys here got real itchy trigger fingers. 'Specially when it comes to 'wetbacks'."

Before MacMillan's finger had cleared the cold steel, the man behind Johnny, on his right, hit him on the side of the head with the butt of his rifle. Sending Johnny to the ground before his hand managed to wrap around the butt of his Colt.

"Johnny!" Scott yelled and stepped toward his brother's sprawled form, only to be hauled back by Ferguson and two other men. Seeing the gash on the side of his brother's head, he twisted in their grasp and turned on his oppressor, eyes flashing. "You ruthless son of a bitch! Johnny's my brother!" Scott hissed.

MacMillan's grin widened. "Your ~brother~? So the honorable, high-falutin' and self-righteous Scott Garrett Lancer's got a half-breed for a brother!" He laughed sinisterly. "Boy howdy! Ain't we gonna have some fun!"

"I know what you consider fun! And you're not touching him!" Scott bellowed and tried to break free from the two men holding him. Ferguson backhanded him across the jaw with his pistol. He ignored the pain as he felt the inside of his cheek open against the sharp edge of his teeth. The blonde Lancer tasted blood and it only served to fuel his anger. Breaking their hold on him, Scott lunged at the man standing before him, only to feel the butt of a gun across the back of his skull. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his younger brother's gun clear the holster, but two blinding flashes in front of him signaled it had been too late. As the dark haired Lancer fell to the ground, Scott watched in horror as the bullets pierced his brother's chest and abdomen. "Johnny!" He cried, his eyes locking on his brother's as Johnny slumped forward against the ground, the gun falling from his hand as he slowly closed his eyes.

The tears that instantly welled in Scott's eyes were pushed back by the constant flashes that were now set off inside his skull, from the blow to his head and by the bone-jarring thud against the ground. When the flashes ceased, MacMillan was standing over him, glaring down at him.

"Too bad your half-breed brother wasn't in the war, Lancer. I would've enjoyed watching him suffer as I ripped his flesh to shreds." MacMillan hissed and then glanced at Johnny's still form lying on the ground.

Ferguson and two other sets of hands roughly pulled Scott to his feet. Yanking his arms behind him harshly and with brute force, they secured rope around his upper arms and elbows, binding them together tightly as iron shackles were tightened around his wrists.

Scott bit back a grimace when the iron cut into his flesh and glared at the man standing before him. He wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing his pain.

MacMillan laughed menacingly. He wrapped his strong hand around Scott's throat and squeezed tight. "Guess I'll just have to rip your flesh to shreds, Scotty boy. And watch you ~bleed~ to death like your brother there."

Scott gasped for air against the hand as it squeezed tighter, but managed to spit in MacMillan's face.

A look of satisfaction curled onto MacMillan's lips as he wiped it off, licking the spittle from the back of his hand. "Oooh. You taste good, Lancer. I'll be able to have a true feast on your blood. A slow, delectable one as I watch you suffer under what I have planned."

"You go to hell!" Scott rasped, glaring at MacMillan before shifting his gaze to his brother's fallen body. Oh God, Johnny…I'm so sorry, Brother…I'm so sorry.

The hand tightened further and he looked once more at MacMillan. "You son of a bitch!" Scott grated through clenched teeth and glared at him. "Why are you doing this?!" He managed to choke out, before they shoved a wet rag in his mouth and secured it with a piece of leather strapping. The moisture collected in the back of his throat to further restrict his air supply. Scott's eyes glazed over, as he looked at his brother's body lying so still, a puddle of blood rapidly accumulating beneath him.

MacMillan leaned in close and sneered. "Because I want to, Scotty boy. That's why."

The smell of MacMillan's breath gagged him and the bile rose in the back of his throat to soak the rag further, causing the blonde Lancer's mouth to burn from the stomach acids that he could not expel.

"What'll we do 'bout that half-breed?" Ferguson asked.

"Get rid of the horses and leave him. Let him slowly bleed to death." MacMillan replied, only to lean in close once more and cast a menacing look into Scott's eyes. "Sides, I want Scotty boy here to have a lasting memory of his brother. Something to keep him occupied during the long nights ahead when I ain't havin' my fun with him."

Scott tried to lunge at MacMillan again, only to be yanked back harshly by the two men holding him, his right shoulder popping in protest to the sudden backward movement.

A groan escaped past the gag and MacMillan only laughed sinisterly once more. "Truss him up like a holiday turkey, boys. I don't want him gettin' free too soon."

They threw him over the back of one of their mounts, wrapping a rope around his neck and securely fastening it to his ankles by way of the underbelly of the horse. Securing it in such a fashion that the slightest movement of his body caused it to tighten around his throat, choking him. Scott finally succumbed to unconsciousness, but not before the sight of Johnny's lifeless body lying on the ground, in a pool of blood, was forever engrained in his mind.

I swear I'll avenge you Brother…. He promised, his eyes closed to the darkness enfolding around him and he pleaded with God to help his fallen brother. Oh God! Please help him! Johnny! No! No!



"Johnny, no!" Scott moaned and turned his head side to side to rid his mind of the four and a half month old nightmare that once more ensnared it. "Oh God! Please no!" He cried, twisting and thrashing against the hands that were trying to hold him down.

"Grab his shoulders and hold him, Murdoch! He's going to rip his side open further unless we can get him to calm down!" Sam yelled, struggling to refasten the restraints around Scott's wrists.

"John…ny!" Scott cried out once more, tears collecting behind tightly woven lids that refused to open from the nightmare that locked them together.

"Son! Wake-up! Please Scott! You've got to calm down!" Murdoch admonished, his eyes darting quickly to Sam. "Sam, why can't we get him to wake up?!"

"I don't know, Murdoch. His fever has spiked again. Whatever hell he's reliving right now is pulling him deeper into the delirium." Sam said quickly. "Damn it! Scott! Calm down, son! You've got to snap out of this! We're not going to hurt you!" He looked at Nathan. "Nathan! I can't get this restraint fastened with him struggling like this! Not without hurting him!"

"I know, but you must Samuel! The sutures have opened again and I can't give him another shot of morphine yet! Especially not with him delirious like he is! It's only making it worse! You know what side effects it has!"

Murdoch pressed Scott's shoulders back against the bed, cursing himself that he was being so forceful with his injured son. "Scott! Please! Wake up, Son! You're safe! You're home! And no one is going to hurt you!"

Scott's eyes snapped open at the sound of his father's voice then. "Mur…doch?"

"Yes Scott. I'm here, Son."

"Johnny…he's…dead…" Scott moaned and arched against the restraints. "An…and…it's all…my fault…I got…got…him killed…Murdoch…" He tossed his head back and forth, his breaths coming rapid and shallow. "All my fault…Murdoch…Johnny's dead…cause of me."

Murdoch's eyes narrowed. "No, Scott. Johnny's alive." He said firmly, gently stroking the hair back from his son's face. "He's alive, Scott. You've got to believe me, Son."

Scott clenched the sheets beneath his hands and strained against the restraints that were now once again firmly fastened around his wrists. "No…let me go! Please! They killed him…I wouldn't let him draw…it's all my fault, Murdoch!" He rasped, his eyes closing once more as he continued to shudder against the images that refused to let go. "It's all my fault!"

Murdoch placed a hand on his son's tear streaked face and turned it toward him. "Scott. Scott, look at me, Son." He pressed his hand harder against Scott's cheek. "Son, open your eyes and look at me," he said sternly.

Scott finally ceased his thrashing and collapsed against the pillows, opening his eyes slowly. "He's dead Murdoch…" he said, exhausted, his voice cracking with emotion.

Murdoch shook his head. "Scott. You've got to listen to me. Johnny survived. He's alive, Son. He's not dead."

Scott looked up at his father and blinked back the tears.

The confusion, pain and anguish Murdoch saw there ripped his heart in two. He had to make Scott understand that his brother was still alive, that it had only been a nightmare - a horrible memory. His oldest son was fighting for his life against immeasurable odds, as the fever raged and the infections continued to invade his weakened body, still threatening to consume him in death.

The fever that they had finally managed to lessen in the early dawn that morning, had now spiked dangerously high in the mid day hours. Unable to keep anything down, including the dosages of quinine, the patriarch's oldest son had been delirious off and on since Father Rodriquez had been summoned on an emergency to a parish in Sacramento in the early morning hours.

Reluctant to leave his brother's side after the priest left, Nathan and Sam had finally managed to get Johnny back to bed. Nathan had convinced Johnny that a small amount of a sleeping powder would not sedate him heavily. That he needed to rest for a few hours during the day if they were going to let him sit with his brother for a short time in the evening. 'I want to stay with Scott.' Johnny had argued defiantly, refusing to leave his brother's side that morning. But eventually, Johnny had reluctantly, if not begrudgingly, relented to Nathan's admonitions that the only way to help his brother would be to get well first and to do that meant he had to rest. Now, as Murdoch watched his oldest once more battle the delirium, struggling against them, breathless and crying out with moans that had cut them each to the core, he wished that his youngest son was well enough to be here by his side to help comfort Scott.

The concerned father studied his oldest son. He knew too well that Scott was struggling to understand the words he was saying and was desperately trying to focus his clouded eyes. "Johnny's alive, Son." He said with conviction and nodded to affirm his statement of fact, once more stroking the sweat soaked hair from his son's pale face.

"Johnny…alive?"

"Yes. He found you and brought you home. Don't you remember?" Murdoch asked worriedly, his eyes rising to meet Sam's.

"It's normal, Murdoch. Don't worry." Nathan said. "His fever has him disoriented. He's remembering fragments, splinters of time."

Scott's eyes darted around the bed and Murdoch knew he was searching for his brother. Scott's expression further clouded in confusion when he could not find his younger sibling. Murdoch felt Scott shudder and stiffen once more, his breaths quickening in fear. "Take it easy, Scott. He stayed by your side most of the night while Sam and Nathan worked on you."

Scott's voice cracked from the strain. "Want…to see…him. Whe…where…is he, Murdoch?"

"He's safe. He's asleep in his room." Murdoch said quietly, stroking his son's forehead. "Johnny's very sick. He has pneumonia, Son. Sam and Nathan said he's going to be fine with rest."

"Johnny's…sick?" Scott asked weakly, his eyes narrowing when he gazed up at his father.

"Yes." Murdoch took a damp cloth from Sam and began to wipe his son's fevered brow. "But he is going to be all right, Scott." His own eyes narrowed as he watched his oldest struggle once more to comprehend everything. "You have to trust me. And you have to rest and let Sam and Nathan take care of you."

"He's all right?"

Nathan spoke up. "He's fine, Scott. Stubborn as you and as ornery as Sam described to me in all those letters." Leaning over his patient, he pressed a firm hand against Scott's shoulder and the other against the wound in his side. Scott tried to pull away from his touch. "Easy Scott. I'm sorry. But I need you to try and stay still. You've managed to tear open your sutures young man. And that was some of my best needlework. I'm not pleased that you are so critical of my artistic talents." Nathan forced a smile to his face and then looked up at Sam and Murdoch. "I'm going to have to close this again, gentlemen. And the sutures that have opened in his back and chest. Not only can we not risk further blood loss, we can't risk any further infection."

"Oh dear God." Sam said, exhaling sharply. "Is it too soon for the morphine?"

"Yes. I'm afraid so." Nathan sighed.

Murdoch looked at them in disbelief and then gazed down at his son's pale and pain riddled face. He continued to wipe Scott's face with the damp cloth, trying to cool the fire and soothe the pain away. "Can't you give him anything for the pain? Why can't you give him another shot of morphine?"

Nathan poured the whiskey over his hands and reached for a clean towel. "Because I only gave him the other shot less than two hours ago, Murdoch. At best, I can't administer another shot for at least two more hours. Not without endangering his life further. I know the pain is severe and it's tearing you apart to watch him endure it. But you'll have to strengthen your resolve and trust me." He turned to Sam. "Give him a few drops of laudanum, Samuel. Just enough to dull the edge."

Sam nodded and placed his hand behind Scott's head, raised it slightly and pressed the bottle to his lips. "Hold on, son. This will help."

Scott nodded imperceptibly and his eyes glazed over. He gasped for breath and shuddered beneath his father's touch. "Wi…wish…John…ny…was…here. Hu…hurts…bad…Murdoch."

Murdoch swallowed hard. "I know, Son. I know. But you just hold on, OK?" He choked out and looked up at Sam. "Sam, please…the morphine."

"I can't." Sam whispered and shook his head. He placed his hand on Murdoch's shoulder and squeezed it firmly. "It'll be all right, Murdoch. The laudanum will help dull the edge. Just help me hold him down until Nathan can re-suture these open wounds on his chest and that one in his side. Then we'll undo the restraints and turn him on his side toward you so Nathan can get the ones on his back."

"And hopefully, maybe he'll soon succumb to unconsciousness." Nathan said with a sigh and stepped toward the bed. Placing a small tightly rolled piece of leather in Scott's mouth, he spoke quietly. "Here, son, bite down on this." He placed his hand on Scott's forehead and tenderly pushed the hair back. "I'll be as gentle as I can Scott, I promise."

Scott nodded painfully, closed his eyes tight, clenched his jaw and clutched the sheets beneath his hands.

Nathan swallowed hard and nodded to Sam and Murdoch. "All right…let's begin."







All right! That's it! The top covers already cast aside in his fitful sleep; Johnny threw the remaining sheet off his body. The youngest Lancer put his feet on the cold wooden floor and clenched his fists in rage as he stood. You lied to me you son of a bitch! You let me sleep all damn day!

Reaching the door to his room he cast a sidelong glance back to the headboard and seriously debated taking the Colt with him again. The chime on the grandfather clock downstairs, however, ended the argument for him. What? It's only been four hours since he gave me that damn drug?! Johnny rubbed his eyes and then ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "Imposible," he muttered in Spanish. He felt like he'd been asleep the entire day. His nightshirt was damp and he knew his fever had finally broken. "Now I know what a wet dishrag feels like when it's been wrung out," he mused. Pulling the bandages with what remained of Jelly's poultice from his chest, Johnny took a deep breath and a small smile crept onto his face. His chest ached, but he no longer felt the rumbling that he had the night before.

Feeling like he could conquer the world, Johnny threw the door to his room open and stepped across the hall. He knew he was going to be in for another heated argument, but enough was enough. His brother needed him and he knew it. At this point he was ready to fight the hounds of hell to stay by his brother's side. The dark haired Lancer was prepared for anything - anything, except the sight that greeted him when he opened the door to his brother's room.

Oh my God…Scott!







"Scott!" Johnny cried and drew in a harsh breath as he stepped toward the bed. "What happened?! What's wrong with him?!"

"Your brother managed to rip open his sutures, Johnny." Nathan didn't look up as he began to suture the wound in Scott's side. "I've got to get them closed before he either bleeds to death or further infection sets in."

Scott arched against Murdoch and Sam as the needle pierced his skin. A painful groan escaped past the rolled leather.

"Madre de Dios." And there's no more ether… Johnny's eyes locked on his brother's tortured face and reached for Scott's hand without hesitation. He wrapped his hand over Scott's, tightening his grip when Scott arched once more, straining against the leather straps that held him to the bed. "Oh Boston…hold on, Brother," he whispered. His voice was lost to the sounds of his brother's pain filled moans and the harried voices of his father and Sam as they struggled to hold his brother still against the torture he once again had to endure.

Scott's eyes opened sluggishly at the feel of Johnny's hand. He searched the faces hovering over him until he found his brother's.

Ignoring the fresh blood on the sheets, Johnny sat down on the bed next to his brother. He placed his hand on his brother's arm, gently stroking it in an effort to help calm Scott. "I'm here, Brother," he said softly, glancing toward Nathan. "Doc Davis is gonna fix ya up." He swallowed hard to the lie that formed on his lips in an effort to reassure his brother that his pain would be over soon. "Not much longer, Boston. Ya just hold on, k?"

Scott gripped his brother's hand, looking at Johnny in concern.

Johnny immediately understood the look in his brother's agonized and worried eyes. "Don't you worry none 'bout me, Brother. I'm gonna be fine. Been restin' all mornin' so I can sit with you. Doc's orders." Johnny replied lightly, trying to put levity in his voice to ease his brother's fears.

Scott convulsed and moaned as Nathan drew another stitch in his side. Tears were streaming down his cheeks and he clenched his jaw tighter.

God…he's in so much pain. Johnny cringed at the thought of having to give Scott more medication, but he couldn't stand to see his brother in pain. He fought the sting of tears in his own eyes when he looked at Nathan to voice his reluctant request. "Can't you give him somethin' for the pain?"

Sam answered him. "It's too soon for the morphine, Johnny. I just gave him some laudanum. It's the best I can do at this point."

Johnny felt his brother's nails dig into his palm and he grimaced, tightening his grip in answer to his brother's silent plea for help. "No it's not! Give him some more, damn it! He can't stand anymore! Not after what he's been through! Not after last night! Please, Doc!" Johnny suddenly felt his brother's grip loosen and his eyes shot back to Scott's face. "Scott?"

Scott collapsed into the pillows and gasped for air. His eyes widening with fright as he fought for every breath.

"Oh God, no." Nathan said, drawing a sharp breath. He stopped the suturing, grabbed the stethoscope and listened to Scott's chest. "We're losing him."

"Scott!" Johnny yelled and yanked the rolled leather from his brother's mouth. "Help him, Doc! He can't breathe!"

Nathan's eyes shot to Sam's and he nodded abruptly. "Laudanum, Sam. Do it now." He ordered.

"But Nathan, it could backfire and put him into a coma!" Sam argued. "I've already given him more than…"

"At the moment it's the only option I've got to slow his heart rate!" Nathan interrupted, his voice turning harsh as he listened to Scott's ragged and all too rapid breathing once more. "Quickly damn it!"

Johnny's gaze darted between the two men and he caught the worried glance that suddenly darkened Nathan's face. He cast a frantic sidelong glance to his father and then gazed back down at Scott "What's wrong, Doc?! What's happening?!"

Sam grabbed the laudanum. "Tilt his head back, Murdoch," he said quickly. Jenkins poured several more drops into Scott's mouth. "Come on Scott. Please, son. You've got to hold on. You can't give up now. Not after last night. Please." Sam pleaded. His eyes locked on his colleague. "Nathan?"

Deafening silence fell on the room.

Nathan continued to listen for several moments. He slowly exhaled in relief when Scott's breathing finally stabilized and his eyes fluttered close. "It's all right. The arrhythmia has stopped." He said quietly, placing a hand on Scott's cheek. "Hold on Scott. Not much longer." He looked over to Murdoch and then to Johnny. "The laudanum has pulled him into a haze, but you're going to have to continue to hold him. We don't have the luxury of time anymore, gentlemen. I need Sam to help with these sutures so we can finish. Johnny's right. Scott can't take anymore. He's too weak. One more episode like this and we'll lose him for sure."







An agonizing hour later, Johnny heard the chimes on the grandfather clock once more yet he felt like an eternity had passed. His eyes hadn't left his brother's pale and pain-riddled face except twice when he heard Murdoch clear his throat. Once had been after Nathan's words, 'One more episode like this and we'll lose him for sure.' The other, only a few moments before, when Scott shuddered in their grasp and then fell suddenly still. His breathing became almost indiscernible. Johnny wondered if the sharp intake of air that he heard was his own, until he heard his father whisper his brother's name in the same breath. He had turned his gaze in time to see his normally stoic father bow his head and wipe the tears from his eyes.

He swallowed hard and placed his left hand on his father's shoulder, squeezing it firmly beneath his grasp. "S'ok, Murdoch. Scott ain't goin' nowhere. I ain't gonna let him. Not without a fierce fight from me. And I ain't takin' no mind to losin' this battle."

His father had only nodded and avoided looking at him. Instead, he had taken a deep breath and turned his head away - his hand quickly wiping his face before turning his gaze back to his oldest son.

Johnny tightened his grip on his brother's hand, once more holding onto the life thread that bound his brother to this world. He watched as Sam and Nathan finished with the bandages. The doctors quickly changed the linens on the bed once more as he and Murdoch gently cradled Scott in their arms. Sighing a breath of relief that the torture was finally finished when they lowered Scott's prone form back to the bed.

"All right. We're done for now." Nathan said, exhausted. "But we're going to have to change those bandages every few hours. His chances of infection are increased without his spleen. We can't let blood or pus coagulate too long beneath the bandages. It will be a breeding ground for germs and we can't afford to let that happen."

Johnny looked up at the man he had grown to respect and trust with his brother's life. "He gonna be ok, Doc?"

Nathan drew in a long breath and gently touched Scott's cheek. "Only time will tell, Johnny. Scott is in very serious condition. That surgery last night was grueling, as you well know. It took a lot out of him. And now this…" He let the sentence trail off. "I don't know. I'll do everything I can to pull Scott through this you know that. But unless we can control the bacteria, his risk to further infections and fever will be tantamount. Not to mention the fact that unless we can keep him calm, he's liable to open up these sutures again." Nathan ran his hand through his hair and then rubbed his neck. "I hate like hell to keep him restrained, especially after what he's no doubt been through. Only I can't risk another episode like what just happened should his nightmares take hold again. As long as he's asleep, the restraints stay on. Is that clear?"

Johnny looked to his brother's wrists and closed his eyes. The bandages encircling them beneath the thick cotton padding and leather straps did little to dispel the image that was now planted firmly in his mind, after what he'd already seen when he reached his brother's side on the hill.

"Johnny? Is that clear?" Nathan asked once more. "He has to stay in the restraints until he's had a chance to heal further and hopefully, by then these nightmares will stop."

Johnny nodded and found his voice. "For how long, Doc?" He asked, barely above a whisper when he finally opened his eyes to look over at Nathan.

"I don't know, Johnny. I'm afraid that without his spleen, Scott's recovery will take longer. The trouble is, there's no way to gauge how long. It could be days…or weeks before he's fully healed."

"Weeks?!" Johnny exclaimed. "We can't keep him tied up like this for weeks! Not after what he's been through!"

"Take it easy, Johnny." Murdoch cautioned quietly. "I'm sure it will only be as long as Nathan and Sam think best. It's for his own good. You know that."

Johnny lowered his head in resignation. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and then slowly drew his fingers through his dark head of hair. "What about the pain, Doc?" The youngest Lancer asked, his eyes studying his brother's face as it began to furrow in sleep once more. "It's already started again and he ain't even awake yet."

"I'll give him another shot of morphine in a couple of hours, but not before. And no more laudanum right now." Nathan replied in a stern voice.

"But Nathan, Johnny's right. Scott has been through so much. Can't you at least see that he stays free from pain? At least until he's had a chance to heal?" Murdoch asked, frustration and concern evident in his voice.

Nathan and Sam exchanged quick looks. "The administration of the pain medication must be taken with great care Murdoch. If Scott manages to pull through, unless you want your son to spend the rest of his natural born days in an opium den. You'll have to trust my decision in this matter. I've seen too many cases where the patient has become addicted to the very drug that masks their pain. And quite frankly, I don't want to see your son become another statistic. I'm sorry. But my decision is final. Either Sam or I will administer the drugs to him and then only on a strict schedule. Is that understood?"

"Doc…what…" Johnny started to speak, only to be cut off by Sam.

"Nathan knows what's best, Johnny. You're going to have to trust him." He said quietly, placing a hand on Johnny's shoulder. "You don't want Scott to get through this only to become an opium addict do you?"

Johnny shook his head sharply and once more fought the sting of tears welling in his eyes. Aside from the fact that he hated the fog that came with pain medications, leaving him with a feeling of vulnerability and slowing his reflexes, he loathed the thought of what the drugs could do to a man. He'd seen it too often along the border towns. Grown men, filthy and indigent, begging for money so they could wallow in the opium dens to feed their habits. Their minds gone - trapped in delusions and nightmares -- slowly dying as they wasted away to nothing. He shuddered. He definitely didn't want his brother in pain, but the thought of the same thing happening to Scott nauseated him and he fought to keep from heaving the contents of his stomach. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes to stop the rising tide of tears, he barely heard Nathan.

"Not to mention the fact that though the drugs may lessen his pain, they can worsen his nightmares. It's a side effect, but one I think we need to consider. Especially since he's obviously been tortured and he's having nightmares about it." Nathan added.

Murdoch cleared his throat once more and spoke. "Isn't there anything we can do to help him?"

Sam squeezed Johnny's shoulder and looked over at Murdoch. "Continue to sit with him. Talk to him, even while he's asleep. Just try and keep him calm." He released Johnny's shoulder, took the stethoscope from Nathan and leaned toward Johnny. "Now as for you, young man. Let's take a listen to that chest of yours."

Johnny looked up quickly and shoved his hand away. "I'm all right, Doc. I want to stay with Scott. I ain't goin' back to bed."

"Johnny." Murdoch chided in a harsh voice.

Johnny glared at his father and then at Sam, before looking to Nathan for support. "I ain't leavin'. I rested earlier like you asked. I even let you give me a sleeping powder so I'd sleep. And you know how I hate it. But I feel fine now. You been with him all mornin' Murdoch and Scott needs somebody to sit with him and talk to him. Jelly's busy tendin' to the horses and Teresa's tendin' to Christmas dinner. So I'm stayin'. And that's final."

"Nevertheless, Johnny. I want to listen to your lungs. You may feel better, but if I hear any rumbling like I heard this morning, you're going back to bed and ~that's~ final. Nathan or I will sit with Scott." Sam argued. He pressed the stethoscope to Johnny's chest and listened intently.

Johnny took a deep breath. Not only to placate Sam but to steel his resolve. He knew before he even stepped out of his room earlier that he'd be in for another argument, but he wasn't going to give in this time -- especially not after what just happened. Damn it, he thought, he felt better and he knew his fever had broken. The youngest Lancer was going to be damned if they chased him from his brother's side again. He decided he'd face their reprimands later and fired with both barrels as Sam pulled the stethoscope away. "You can't."

"Excuse me?" Nathan asked sharply.

Johnny straightened his shoulders and shoved off his father's reproaching hand as it came to rest on his shoulder. "I ain't blind. You're both dead on your feet now. Don't think I didn't notice your hand shake a minute ago Sam." His eyes went to Nathan. "Or see you clench your fist to steady yours, Doc, when you sewed up that last wound on Scott's back." He glanced at his brother and clenched his jaw. "Don't think I ain't thankful for what you've done for Scott, but you're both exhausted. And he's gonna need you both well and rested to help him get through this." He folded his arms in defiance. "No more arguments. I'm stayin'." Johnny raised an eyebrow to press his point home. "Is ~that~ understood?"

Johnny watched in restrained amusement as Sam bit his lower lip and Nathan coughed quickly, turning his head away to hide the smile that broke the corners of his mouth. The younger Lancer even thought he heard his father stifle a laugh.

Nathan looked to Sam.

"Well, I'll have to admit. His lungs do sound clearer and his fever has broken." Sam said, resigning to defeat.

Nathan nodded succinctly, looked to Sam and then Murdoch. "Gentlemen, I think we've been out voted. I suggest we take our leave and let Dr. Lancer here continue his ministrations on his patient." He said, winking at Johnny. "You know, if you ever get back to Chicago, I'd be honored if you'd give some of my colleagues a lecture on bedside manners." He motioned his hand toward the door. "Gentlemen, please. I think Scott is in good hands. Besides, I could use a drink of that brandy, Murdoch."

"I think we all could, Nathan." Murdoch said, placing his hand on Johnny's shoulder and squeezing it firmly before walking to the door.

As Murdoch and Sam filed out of the room, Nathan turned and smiled at Johnny. "Stay with your brother, Johnny. And continue to talk to him. He may not be able to answer you, but he can hear you and it will help. Your presence has done more to help keep him calm this past hour, than any sedative I could give him."

"Yes, Sir."

"Just promise me something, Johnny. Promise me that if you start feeling tired, or if you start coughing harshly again, that you'll call out for one of us to come sit with Scott. I know you're feeling better, but you're still not well. I don't want you suffering a setback because of your stubbornness. Your health will do more for Scott than you know."

Johnny nodded and lowered his head to blink back the tears. Raising it, he looked at Nathan and swallowed the lump in his throat. "Doc?"

"Yes?"

"If I didn't say so 'fore now…thanks…for everything."

Nathan smiled. "Thank you, Johnny. For helping me believe in miracles again." He replied and closed the door behind him.







Johnny watched the door close and turned his attention back to his brother. Taking a cloth from the small basin next to the bed, he began wiping Scott's forehead, trying to cool the fever. He sighed and remembered Nathan's words, …continue to talk to him. He may not be able to answer you, but he can hear you and it will help. Hell, he'd never been one for a lot of words, he thought, but suddenly he wanted to talk, to chatter and to ramble on about anything. To say anything he could to try and reach his brother, to keep him from leaving his side. Dear God, please…do not take him from me again.

He swallowed hard and tried to force a smile onto his face. "Boy, Doc said it. Miracle is right. You're alive, Brother. If that ain't a miracle, I don't know what is. And you're gonna stay that way. I ain't lettin' you go, you hear me? I'm gonna stay right here and take care of you. 'Sides, it's Christmas. So you just sleep and take it easy, Boston. Your chores can wait a day or two and those that can't…well…soon as I know you're well enough, ~and~ as soon as they let me out of this house, I can tend to 'em for you. Don't you worry none 'bout that."

A shudder crossed Scott's shoulders and Johnny stopped, catching his breath. Oh God… He studied his brother's face closely. The smile quickly faded when he watched Scott tense and then gasp for air, before stilling once more in sleep. Scott, you've just got to hold on. Please, Boston…don't leave me. We've only known one another for four years. We got a lifetime to try and make up for. Please, Brother…fight. Fight and stay alive.

Biting his lower lip to still the quiver, he wiped Scott's cheek and continued to ramble. "Teresa's been cookin' an' bakin' all mornin'. Course I know Doc Davis or Sam won't let you have anything but broth, but maybe I can sneak you a real small piece of turkey in the soup. Just so you can have a taste." He paused and looked down at his brother, knowing he wouldn't get an answer but asking just the same. "Would you like that, Boston?"Johnny studied the lines that continued to furrow on his brother's face and frowned. He touched his brother's cheek with his other hand, "Ssshh Scott…you've got to rest, Brother," he whispered. "Don't you worry about anything except getting well and coming back to us, you hear?"

He dipped the cloth back in the water and squeezed out the excess. Turning back, his gaze shifted down to the bandage that encircled Scott's neck. He closed his eyes to dispel the memories of the scars that had been left by a rope - no doubt tied tight around his brother's neck for an indefinite period of time. Opening them, he blinked back the tears that threatened. Johnny pulled the covers back so he could cool the areas of his brother's chest and shoulders that were not covered in bandages. He swallowed hard as he remembered the scars. The deep wounds that laced over Scott's chest and back. The blood and pus that had soaked into his shirt when he held his brother's trembling body in his arms, just the night before and finally the images from the surgery that would forever haunt him.

Johnny's hand trembled and he pulled it back in haste - suddenly afraid that the tremors would do his brother further harm if he were to touch him. "Oh Scott…what they did to you, Brother. The pain you must have gone through." Gazing down at his brother's battered body, the dam holding back his emotions finally breeched and the tears flooded down his cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Brother. I'm so sorry we didn't find you before they did this. If only I'd looked harder…then…then you wouldn't have gone through that Hell. Oh God, Scott…this is all my fault. I should've protected you…I should've stopped them…."

"Stop…." a weak voice, echoed his.

Johnny wiped the tears away with the back of his hand. "Boston…I…"

"Stop…." Scott rasped once more. His eyes barely open, he looked up at his brother and struggled to take a deep breath. "Stop…blaming…yourself…Johnny."

"Scott…it's my fault. I didn't protect you." Johnny said, struggling to regain his inner strength. It waned desperately as he looked down into his brother's clouded eyes. Eyes that were struggling to contain the pain that threatened to spew forth in a flood of bitter tears. He wiped Scott's face again and took a deep breath to steel his resolve.

"Not…your…fault…Johnny." Scott grated out through clenched teeth, clutching the sheet beneath him. A painful gasp left his lips. "My fault…I didn't let you draw…but…I was scared…he would kill you…" Tears seeped to the corners of his eyes and he closed them tight. "And then…then…thought he had."

"Scott…."

Scott released the sheet and slowly opened his eyes. "Please…don't…blame yourself…for my mistakes…Johnny," he continued. He gazed up at Johnny and tried to lift his head, straining against the restraints.

"Easy Boston." Johnny placed his hand on Scott's forehead and gently pressed him back against the pillows. "You need to lie still."

"No…must make…you understand." Scott whispered and struggled once more to raise his right hand. He closed his eyes and yanked on the restraint, another gasp leaving his lips at the strenuous effort.

Johnny quickly undid the restraint and took his brother's hand. Frowning that his brother's breathing had become more rapid and ragged, he began to stroke the hair back from Scott's face with his other hand. "Come on, Scott. You've got to calm down. Please, Brother…. Doc said he couldn't give you anything for the pain just yet. And the more you struggle, the worse it's gonna be!"

"No! Listen to me!" Scott rasped and shook his head harshly. "My…mistake…Johnny. Not yours. Have to believe that." He choked out through tears that were now starting to fall. He gripped Johnny's hand tight. "Must believe that…Johnny."

"No Scott. I ain't believin' that." Johnny retorted and shook his head. "I should've killed him when I had the chance," he hissed.

"No." Scott said, his words strained and sluggish as he continued. "Not you, Johnny. Me. I should've killed him…when ~I~ had the chance."

"Boston, you're talkin' nonsense. You weren't in a position to fire." Johnny insisted, but his eyes narrowed as he studied his brother. He saw something in his brother's clouded blue eyes that he had never seen there before and he suddenly wasn't sure he ever wanted to again. In one brief moment, he saw the darkness linger there. Cold darkness, borne out of pure hate. The kind that he had seen many a time when he faced down an opponent in the street. The very kind that he himself had carried in his heart when it meant the difference between dying and staying alive.

"No Johnny. Not then. Should have…kill…killed him…fifteen years ago…when he murdered…my best friend. Instead…he…almost killed…m…my brother. Tho…thought…he had." Scott choked out and then convulsed, moaning in agony and clutching Johnny's hand tighter in desperation.

"Hold on, Brother." Johnny pleaded and wrapped his hand around Scott's, tightening his hold in an effort to help him through the spasms coursing through his body. All the while soothing his brother's forehead with the fingers of his other hand. "But he didn't kill me, Scott. I'm alive and I swear to you, I'm gonna make them pay for this."

Scott clenched Johnny's hand and raised his head slightly to stare into his brother's eyes. "No, Johnny…me. I want…retribution…for what…they did. Not just…to me…to you…for what they did to you."







…for what they did to you…for what they did to you… His brother's tortured words reverberated through his mind, haunting him with the knowledge that Scott had believed him to be dead as he suffered incredible pain and torture at the hands of madmen.

Johnny gently touched his brother's cheek. Oh God, Scott. If only I could take away your pain…. He let the thought trail off and once more wiped away the stray tear that had breeched his newly fortified defenses. Johnny knew the extent of mental anguish he had felt as he searched night and day for his brother. He couldn't imagine having to endure the torture that Scott had for over four and a half months, believing the entire time that he was dead.

Johnny shook his head in despair. After four months, he'd finally lost his faith when he had lost any remaining hope that Scott was still alive and started to believe, like everyone else, that his brother was dead. But how long had Scott been without his faith, he wondered? How long had his brother been consumed with the darkness of hatred that he had seen only a glimpse of moments before?

Another tear strayed down his cheek and he wiped it away with the back of his trembling hand. He shuddered at the memories from the previous night that were now forever imbedded in his mind.

The youngest Lancer sighed heavily, a feeling of regret washing him.

Like him, Scott had never been one to show his emotions, let alone fear, to the outside world. He was always masking his innermost feelings and hiding them behind a calm and strong façade. A melancholy smile crossed Johnny's lips when he thought about how alike they were, and yet different…a compliment to the other. Like two halves of a whole….

Scott was patient, where he was not. Where he always had the short fuse when it came to losing his temper, Scott's was usually even-tempered and cool. But where he would be quick to forgive and let bygones be bygones, once his older brother erupted, he would smolder for days.

The smile faded into a frown. Only what had happened to his brother the past few months had shattered all of that. Johnny felt his chest tighten to the thought that not only had his brother's body been tortured, so had his spirit.

Johnny closed his eyes and swallowed back the lump that had formed once more. He knew he'd never be able to forget his brother's anguished words from the night before, I…I…de…denounced…God…Johnny. Or when Scott had clutched his hand to his bloody chest and pleaded, He…help me…Johnny! Do…don't…wanna die…with…without believing. For the look of fear he had seen in Scott's eyes at that moment his older brother uttered those words, would tear the fibers of his very being for the rest of his life.

His thoughts wandered back four years. He remembered the discussion they had had when they attended Mass together that first Christmas Eve together, as brothers.

Touching Scott's cheek once more, his words from that night filtered through his mind. Look Scott, you and I both know we ain't no church goers. And both of us have done things in our life we ain't proud of and will have to own up to when our time comes. 'Spec'ly me. But we both believe in God. Don't have to be no church go'er to do that. Just the same, means a lot to have you by my side for Christmas Eve Mass, Brother. And I'm proud to call you that. Mighty proud.

Oddly, they had each admitted to the other as they rode into town that they hadn't been to a Christmas Eve service in quite some time. Yet on that night, months after coming to Lancer to help their father and finding out that they each existed, it seemed only natural. And even though his brother wasn't Catholic, it seemed perfectly natural for them to attend Mass together - to give thanks and praise for the blessings that they had received in the knowledge that they were brothers. They had done so together every year for three years…until last night, that is.

Johnny took a deep breath and stroked the hair back from Scott's face, letting his hand linger briefly on his brother's fevered brow. Yes, he thought, they had missed Christmas Eve Mass this year. But he took comfort in the knowledge that he had been by his brother's side, holding onto him and refusing to let him be led away by death's heavy hand. And he took even greater consolation knowing that in the solitude of those dark hours last night, he and his brother had re-affirmed their faith…in God…and each other. And they had done so ~together~.

He wrung out the cloth once more and continued to wipe his brother's face in an effort to cool the fires that raged within, sighing heavily when he looked down at Scott. Despite the fever, the blood loss his brother had suffered now rendered the color of Scott's skin a ghastly shade of grayish-white, which hauntingly stood out against the stark white of the pillows his head rested upon - the pale color of his brother's tortured face drawing a sharp contrast to the temperature of his fevered body.

Thankfully, he thought, at least unconsciousness had pulled Scott back from the edge of physical pain that he had been walking all morning. But as he studied his brother's face and watched Scott's eyelids twitch, his body shuddering and tensing as it fought another nightmare, Johnny couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't a curse. He stroked Scott's forehead with his fingers, once more trying to soothe away the lines that etched his brother's handsome features…knowing too well, that his brother was now walking along a dangerous precipice of mental torment.







Johnny felt a twinge in his chest and coughed, tensing at the sound that he feared would come. The deep, rumbling sound that would once again take him from his brother's side. That would prevent him from keeping watch and standing guard against the angel of death that seemed to still hover so close, threatening to take Scott from this world. He took a deep breath. No sound had come this time. A lingering tightness, but nothing more and he closed his eyes in thanks, saying a silent prayer that he would continue to beat the odds of the dangerous game he too often played with the Angel of Death.

Opening his eyes slowly, he focused once more on his brother's face and listened intently, only to frown at the sudden rapid and labored breathing as Scott struggled against the images of his nightmare. He placed his hand on Scott's shoulder and grabbed his brother's hand, as lips that had been silent only moments before now moaned. Crying out in pain, Scott began twisting and thrashing against the bed. Madre de Dios! The restraint! Johnny thought in a panic, frantically trying to secure his brother's wrist.

"Please don't! Let me go!" Scott cried out. "Please don't hurt me anymore!"

"Oh God! Scott! Damn it, no!" Johnny grappled with his brother, cursing himself as tears welled in his eyes. You fool! Doc said he had to be restrained when he slept! Usted tonto! Usted tonto! Amazed that his brother had so much power in his weakened state, Johnny managed to get the restraint over Scott's wrist and secured it, but now his hands shook violently when he tried to tighten down the strap to keep Scott from thrashing further.

Scott's eyes shot open and looked at him. "Why? Why…are you…doing…this…to me?" he ground out through painful gasps.

Johnny wrapped his hand over Scott's. "Oh God, Scott…I'm so sorry, Brother. Please forgive me."

Scott tensed and tried to pull his hand free. "Why are you…hurting me? Can…can't you see…you've…done…enough?"

"Boston…please…" Johnny's voice wavered and he felt Scott's hand tense beneath his.

"Get…away…from…me!" Scott yelled harshly, his eyes locking on Johnny's.

Johnny gasped and pulled his hand free, stepping back from the bed, only to freeze at the next words from his brother's mouth.

"I…hate…you! I…hate…you!"







Johnny suddenly felt his chest constrict. He couldn't breathe. The words from his brother's mouth hung thick in the air between them. "Scott…" he barely managed to whisper.

"Leave…me…alone!" Scott grated through clenched teeth, balling his hands into tight fists as he pulled against the restraints. "Let…me go…you…sick son of a…bitch!"

Johnny drew on every ounce of energy he had to step toward the bed and the vehement words of his brother. "Boston…I…I…can't…" he choked out, the tears that had been contained now breaking free to dampen his cheeks. "Please…Scott…"

Blue eyes frosted as Scott glared up at him.

A sharp intake of air passed over Johnny's lips. It felt like Scott's eyes bored into his soul. He pulled his gaze away and looked down at the strap he had just fastened. With trembling hands, he once more reached for the strap…this time to loosen the bonds that held his brother's wrists tight.

A strong voice from the direction of the door stopped him.

"Johnny! Don't!"

Johnny drew his gaze upward and into the eyes of Dr. Davis. He pulled his hands away in haste. "Doc…I…I…" he stammered, unable to speak.

Nathan quickly stepped toward the bed and placed a hand on Scott's forehead. "Ssshh. Easy Scott. It's all right. He's not going to hurt you. That's Johnny." He said repeatedly, softly, trying to draw Scott's eyes to him.

Blue eyes blinked in confusion and finally turned toward the sound of the name. "John…ny?"

"Yes, Scott. Johnny's here." Nathan nodded, stroking Scott's forehead. "He's right there. Standing next to you." He turned toward the table and opened the small leather case he had been carrying. Pulling forth the syringe he tipped the bottle and inserted the hypodermic, drawing forth the clear liquid.

Scott turned his head toward his brother, his eyes clouding with tears of confusion and pain. "Johnny?" He asked, trying to find his brother. "Where…where are…you?"

Johnny's eyes shot to Nathan's. "What's the matter with him?" He asked, concerned, his eyes drawn to the syringe Nathan held in his hand. He swallowed hard and suppressed the sickening fears from earlier.

"Get closer, Johnny, and sit down so he can see you." Nathan admonished. Then he quickly swabbed Scott's arm, pressed the needle into the skin and depressed the plunger to release the morphine.

Johnny quickly did as he was told.

"Johnny?" Scott breathed, trying to focus on his brother.

"I'm right here, Brother."

"You…ok?"

Johnny swallowed hard once more as he watched Scott struggle to see him through the tears and the effects of the drug. His brother's words had cut his heart out, but he managed to push forth the lie from his lips. "I'm fine, Boston…really." He reached forward with his hand and placed it on Scott's cheek. Johnny inhaled deeply when his brother turned toward his touch, finally stilling against the bed as the narcotic raced through his system. "Oh…Scott…you've just got to hold on. You've just got to."

"Johnny…stay…please." Scott whispered, "don't go," his voice trailing off as the drug pulled him back into unconsciousness.

"I'll stay right here, Brother." Johnny replied quietly, softly stroking his brother's cheek. "I'll stay right here." As the tension dissipated in his brother's face and Scott sank further into the pillows, Johnny looked up at Nathan. "Doc? What's going on? Why couldn't he see me when…when he could just before you came in?"

Nathan stroked Scott's hair and then placed his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Johnny. I want you to try and understand what I'm saying. When he was looking at you and saying those things, he wasn't ~seeing~ you. He was seeing the man that had tortured him."

"But he was lookin' right at me, Doc!"

"His eyes were looking at you, Johnny. But his mind saw whoever it was that was responsible for doing this. You may have thought he was awake, but he wasn't. His eyes were open, but his mind was still trapped in the nightmare."

Johnny lowered his head to blink back the tears. "But what about just a minute ago? Why couldn't he see me then?"

Nathan drew in a long breath and pulled his hand from Johnny's shoulder. He turned and closed the leather case. Swallowing hard he looked at Johnny and spoke quietly. "I believe his eyesight is damaged, Johnny. To what extent I don't know. It may only be temporary. Aggravated by his weakened condition and perhaps caused by his malnutrition and fever. I noticed it last night and several times when he's been awake earlier. He has extreme difficulty seeing anything past a few feet…an arm's length really."

"Madre de Dios…Scott…" Johnny whispered, his eyes darting to his brother's face. His hand trembled as he stroked Scott's cheek and then pushed the sweat soaked hair back from his forehead. "But you said it could be temp'rary…right?"

"Yes. It could well be. Without a thorough examination by a specialist, there's no way of telling for sure until he gets better. And then, it may be weeks, months even before we know."

Johnny put his hand over his eyes, pressing against them to stop the sting and block the flow that threatened once more. "Scott's just got to be OK, Doc. He's just got to. He's already been through so much." The younger Lancer lowered his head and inhaled deeply. "It's all my fault…it's all my fault."

Nathan sighed, placed his hand back on Johnny's shoulder and squeezed tightly. "No it's not, Johnny. And it's not Scott's either."

Johnny looked up at him, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "Course it's not Scott's fault!"

Nathan ignored the look and took another deep breath before he continued. "Johnny, both of you are blaming yourselves for what happened to the other. And it's got to stop. I know you feel responsible for what happened to Scott, for letting him be taken hostage and not finding him in time. But you're not, son. And you've got to start believing that. Those men gunned you down and left you for dead. Both Murdoch and Sam told me how you continued the search for Scott as soon as you were back on your feet. Searching day and night until your ignorance of your health caught up with you. Guilt is not going to get your brother well. It will only destroy you and believe me, that's the last thing Scott needs right now. I've heard enough since last night to know that Scott is blaming himself for what happened to you. And you're going to have to convince him otherwise, Johnny. Only to do that, you're going to have to stay well and get over your own guilt."

"But how can I when…"

Nathan cut him off by shaking his head sharply. "Johnny, listen to me. In every nightmare that Scott has had these past twenty-four hours, he sees you lying on the ground, surrounded by a pool of blood. He believed you to be dead. He's blaming himself for that - for not letting you draw your gun and for him antagonizing this man MacMillan. You have got to make him believe that he's not at fault." Nathan looked at Scott and reached for his hand, enfolding his own around it. "Johnny, Scott is in a great deal of pain, more than either one of us could possibly imagine. The nightmares he's having are only aggravating that. Unfortunately, as I explained earlier, the same medication that will help to ease his pain can also add to the intensity of those nightmares. It's a double-edged sword, but one that I'm going to have to use, Johnny. I know how you feel about the drugs, but Scott's condition is too serious for me not to try and keep the pain under control."

"I know, Doc," Johnny agreed halfheartedly.

"Trouble is, I can only keep Scott sedated for so long with the morphine and laudanum. They're narcotics, Johnny, and morphine can be very addictive. I've seen the resolutions of the strongest men break if they don't get a 'fix'. I don't want to see that happen to Scott. And I know you don't either. I can keep him on it for a few more days to help with the pain, but after that, I've got to start diminishing the dosages. It's too risky, otherwise. Only if we can't get the nightmares to stop, I'm afraid that he's going to be in pain for quite some time with these wounds and I'm concerned what it will do to his health."

Johnny choked back the lump in his throat. "Isn't there anything else we can do?"

Nathan sighed once more and looked at Johnny. "Help him face his nightmares, Johnny. Before it's too late. Before they consume him."

"But how?" Johnny asked and shook his head. "Scott aint' never been one to talk about his nightmares, Doc. He's had them sometimes in the past…'bout his bein' pris'ner at Libby during the War. He finally talked to me 'bout them…but it took a long time for him to do so. And even then, I don't think he told me everything." He looked at Scott and once more stroked his brother's face with his fingers. "Only…only these…these are worse." A tear slid down his cheek and his voice cracked. "How…how am I ever gonna get him to face these? Before…before it's too late?"

"By being the brother that you are to him, Johnny." Nathan replied and squeezed Johnny's shoulder once more. He looked down at Scott as he spoke. "You've got to try. And you've got to understand that until you do, Scott is liable to say things to you that will cut you to the core and rip your heart to shreds. But you've got to be strong about this, Johnny. You must realize that he's not lashing out at you, he's lashing out at the demons that did this."

Strong? How can I be strong when Scott believes I'm hurtin' him? "I don't want to hurt him anymore, Doc."

"You haven't hurt him and you've got to understand that. But you will hurt him if you continue to blame yourself, Johnny. You're closer to Scott than anyone else. And after what I witnessed last night, I know you're the only one that can truly help him. You see what they did to him. You can see the pain he's in. If you don't help him face what happened, I assure you…it will eventually destroy him."

Johnny nodded imperceptibly, his eyes still studying his brother's pale face. He leaned over close and whispered into Scott's ear, silently praying that his words would reach his brother. "We'll face these demons together, Scott. I promise you we will. And I'm stayin' by your side, Boston…you aren't gonna walk this path alone, Brother."







'…you…are…alone, Brother.'

The words filtered through the haze.

Alone, he thought. He was now utterly and totally alone. His brother was dead. They had gunned Johnny down in cold blood before he even had a chance to reach for his gun. Oh God…why? Why didn't I let him draw?

Scott's thoughts faded once more as the pain coursed through his body. He couldn't feel his hands anymore, only the constant throb in his shoulders and the sharp pins and needles traveling down his arms from being drawn tight behind him. The sounds of the horse's hooves as they plodded along were interspersed with the maniacal laughter resonating in his ears. His eyes tried to focus on the surrounding landscape, but they were now clouded. Clouded with stinging tears and the fringes of the darkness that refused to pull him under. Instead, only taunting him with the comfort it could provide. The hammer continued to pound in his head, nauseating him further. Twice he had forced back the bile that had risen since that first time. The rag was now soaked, stinging the tear on his inner cheek and gagging him with the bitter taste. His breaths were forced at best and he struggled to take in enough oxygen through his nose as his breathing continued to be constricted by the rope tightening around his throat.

Scott tried to look up through eyes hooded in pain when he felt his horse stop. He felt the rope around his throat loosen and tried to take a deep breath through his nose to fill his lungs of desperately needed oxygen. Suddenly, the dull throb in his shoulders became a sharp dagger as it lanced down his back when they yanked him from the back of the horse, dropping him on his side. He moaned into the gag when the impact sent excruciating pains coursing through his whole body.

"Get on your feet, Lancer!" Ferguson yelled and kicked him in the ribs.

Scott cursed behind the gag. The air he had just inhaled was expelled forcibly from his lungs. He curled into a ball to protect his midsection.

"I said…get your ass up!" Ferguson shouted again and kicked him once more. "I ain't got time for you to lay 'round all day!" He yelled, walking around and then kicking Scott in small of his back. "Get up you lazy dog!" He screamed and kicked him again and then again.

Scott bit back the cries and convulsed from the painful kicks, trying to breathe through his nose as he fought the rolling tide of nausea. Another kick to his ribs and he moaned against the sharp pain lancing through his side. The breath once again left his lungs. Stars flashed before his eyes and he fought to stay conscious as he heard his nemesis' voice.

"Get on your feet, Scotty boy." MacMillan knelt in front of him, grabbed the rope around his neck and pulled the blonde within inches of his face. "You'd best do it, otherwise, Davy here will just keep kicking the shit out of you. Frankly, I don't mind watching, but I do want there to be some life left in you, for what I have planned."

The stars left Scott's eyes. Replaced by the burning glare that ignited there. Go to Hell, you son of a bitch.

MacMillan grinned maliciously. "Ohhh…now I do believe I see a glimmer of life in those pretty blue eyes of yours." He pulled Scott closer and whispered low. "Let's see just how long it takes me to extinguish it, shall we?" He released Scott, shoving him to the ground harshly. "Pick him up boys. And drag his ass inside. It's time we got down to business."

Scott groaned as he was roughly yanked to his feet. The mere touch of their hands sent white-hot shards of pain coursing down his back and sides.

Ferguson leaned into him. "Gonna be real fun to break you, Lancer."

Scott stiffened and glared at him through the pain. He cursed him behind the gag. 'Bastard.'

"What was that, Lancer?" Ferguson asked and threw a punch into Scott's ribs. "Don't think I heard you?" He threw another, this time smiling in satisfaction when he heard the distinctive sound of bones cracking.

Scott doubled over and sank to his knees, a strangled gasp of pain escaping past the gag.

"Oh now that didn't hurt, did it…~Scotty boy~?" Ferguson sneered and grabbed Scott by the hair, yanking his head back harshly. "If ya cry out at that small amount of pain, I'm gonna love to hear yer cries when I really get to work!"

"Ferguson!" MacMillan bellowed. "I said bring him inside!"

Scott looked up into a face that smiled demonically.

Ferguson smiled down at his prisoner. "Sure thing, Jacob. The boy just stumbled, that's all." He nodded to the man standing over Scott and they yanked him once more to his feet. Ferguson wrapped his hand around the slipknot of the rope and pressed it against Scott's throat. "Come on, ya mangy dog. Time to learn yer manners." He yanked on the rope and pulled Scott after him.

Scott called upon what remained of his strength and straightened his shoulders. Forcing back the pain consuming him, he struggled to stay upright and stumbled behind his tormentors toward Hell.

Through the cloud of pain, his eyes once more tried to focus on his surroundings to get his bearings. He knew by the landscape they had traveled well north of the ranch and into the foothills of the mountains. But as he approached the darkened entrance in front of him, his chest tightened. It was a cave. Scott cursed the fates under his breath. This whole area was littered with caves and abandoned mines. Which meant, even if a search party were able to pick up their trail and track them into the mountains, the chances of them finding him would be slim to none.

He stepped into the darkness and stumbled forward when the rope was yanked once more, the knot pressing against his larynx and further constricting his airflow. He laughed inwardly, sardonically. Physical darkness now surrounded him. Yet in reality, darkness had surrounded him the moment his brother's body sank lifeless to the ground and Johnny's deep blue eyes, that had always shone bright, full of life and love for him as a brother, locked on his one last time before closing forever.

Johnny…he thought and sank to the ground. The darkness surrounded him, pulling him further into the black abyss of the nightmare to which he had become a part of.







Johnny…

Scott focused on that one word as he became fully aware of his surroundings. His eyes adjusted to the dim light and he realized that he was not in a cave, but a mineshaft. Awakening further, the pain now became constant and he struggled to raise his head against it. Scott didn't have to look up to know that his arms were pulled above his head in a spread eagle fashion. His wrists were tightly shackled to the beam overhead, the rope around his neck threaded between the shackles and looped in such a fashion that any moment toward one direction or the other would tighten the noose around his throat. Shackles also encircled his ankles and were chained on either side to the lower fringes of the supporting beams. His jeans and shirt had been stripped from him and his boots removed, leaving only his underwear to give him any defense against the cold and damp of the mineshaft.

A voice over his shoulder drew his attention into the light of the lantern.

"Oh…I see Scotty boy is coming around." MacMillan said with a sneer. "Wake his ass up further, boys. I want him fully awake and aware of the pleasure I have intended for me and the pain I have planned for him."

Through the haze of his clouded eyes Scott watched two men approach with buckets and he clenched his fists in preparation of what he knew was coming. He couldn't contain the gasp that escaped past the gag when the ice-cold water hit his skin. White-hot shards raced through his brain and his whole body shuddered then convulsed against the sharp, biting cold.

MacMillan cupped his hand under Scott's chin and clenched it tight. "Wakey, wakey, Scotty boy," he sneered and dug his fingers into his victim's jaw.

Scott glared at him and tried to pull his head free.

"Ohhh…Your eyes speak volumes, Scotty boy. You hate me don't you? You despise and loathe me for what I did to that half-breed brother of yours." He laughed sinisterly. "Like I told you, it's just too bad I had to gun him down like that. He would've been a nice alternative to the entertainment I have planned for you, Scotty boy. I would've enjoyed seeing him bleed. Screaming as I tore his flesh to shreds. And then hearing your screams, your cries to make me stop hurting your poor, sweet brother."

The glare ignited in Scott's eyes and he twisted in his bindings, ignoring the increasing pressure on his throat.

"Take the gag off him, Joe. Won't do him any good to cry out." He leaned in close as Joe undid the leather strap, then pulled the bile and blood soaked gag from Scott's mouth. "'Sides, no one will hear you scream, Scotty boy. Not even when you call out for your dearly departed brother."

Scott spit the accumulated blood and bile in the back of his throat into MacMillan's face. "Damn you! You son of a bitch! I'll see you in Hell for what you did to him!" He rasped, his voice becoming hoarse. He swallowed painfully against the feeling of gravel at the base of his throat and knew that it was severely bruised from the constant pressure of the rope.

MacMillan glared at him, grabbed his gun and backhanded Scott, the hammer slicing into Scott's cheek. "Oh now look at what you made me do! You made me harm that handsome face of yours!" He grabbed Scott's chin once more and turned his head sharply to the light. "Take care of that cut now, Joey. I may want to harm his body, but I don't want nothin' harmin' that pretty face of his, you hear?"

"Yeah I hear, Jacob."

MacMillan grabbed a handful of Scott's hair and jerked his head back, drawing his fingers lightly up Scott's neck and along his jaw line. "And make sure you keep him clean shaven, boys. I don't want nothin' to block every line of pain I plan on etching on this handsome face, you understand?"

Two sets of laughter could be heard as they answered in unison. "Yeah, we hear ya, Jacob."

Scott shuddered beneath MacMillan's touch, suddenly feeling vulnerable and violated. "You go to Hell, MacMillan," he grated out through clenched teeth, twisting once more, to distance himself from MacMillan's hands.

MacMillan yanked Scott's head back further and wrapped his hand over Scott's throat, squeezing it tightly. "You first…~Lancer~." He nodded sharply to his right and released Scott from his clutches.

Scott caught sight of a man stepping out of the shadows. One of the same ones that had yanked him to his feet after he and Johnny had been attacked. Ferguson stepped forward to join him. Even in the dim light, Scott could see they each held something in their hands - a whip and a cat o' nine tails - and he forced back another swallow.

"Always did love the mandate in the military to flog a man for insubordinate behavior." MacMillan grinned sadistically. "I'll bet as an officer you were never flogged with a cat o' nine tails were you, Scotty boy? Bet you were always the one givin' the orders, weren't ya?" He leaned in close and whispered maliciously into Scott's ear. "But I bet when you were in Libby, you tasted the end of the whip now and again, didn't you…~Lieutenant~?"

Scott seethed but remained silent, glaring at his tormentor.

"But you know what? I'm gonna bring back all those nightmares for you and give you some new ones!" MacMillan began laughing.

Deep wicked laughs that sent chills down Scott's spine - the same laughter he heard when MacMillan gunned his brother down in cold blood. The haunting words rang in his ears. 'Too bad your half-breed brother wasn't in the war, Lancer. I would've enjoyed watching him suffer as I ripped his flesh to shreds…Guess I'll just have to rip your flesh to shreds, Scotty boy. And watch you ~bleed~ to death like your brother there.'

Scott swallowed hard and squared his back and shoulders. Clenching his fists, he locked eyes with Jacob MacMillan. He clamped his jaw and prepared for the inevitable.

The cat o' nine tails came hard across his shoulders and Scott bit back the cry of pain in the back of his throat. Another lashing, and then another and another…across his shoulders, down his back, across his chest they continued…raising welts, forming bruises and tearing his skin.

He could hear the laughter of the other men around him, but he couldn't see them. Scott kept his gaze on MacMillan, his eyes locked on the man he had despised since he was a child. Clenching his fists and his jaw tighter, he refused to break. He wasn't going to give MacMillan the satisfaction of hearing him cry out in pain no matter how long the flogging continued. For with each down stroke of the cat o' nine tails, his heart grew darker with hatred - venomous hatred that would only get satisfaction in the knowledge that he would take great pleasure in making Jacob MacMillan pay.

Scott's thoughts went back to the days of his childhood. The memories of Jacob MacMillan and Dave Ferguson tormenting the other kids were as vivid now as when they happened.

He and his best friend, Kevin Latham had always fought them, trying to protect the younger and smaller kids from MacMillan's perverted ideas of fun. But one day, over fifteen years ago, the fight turned deadly. MacMillan, Ferguson and six of their cronies had jumped him and Kevin in an alley, on their way home from school. Scott remembered that he and Kevin had held their own until he was hit across the shoulders with a plank of wood. He had struggled fiercely, restrained by Ferguson and three others while MacMillan gained the upper hand on Kevin and beat him into the ground.

Yet, the win wasn't enough for MacMillan. And Scott watched in horror as MacMillan, looked at him and sneered, 'Think about this the next time you cross my path, Scotty boy,' and then slammed his hand down on Kevin's throat, crushing his windpipe in one blow. Ferguson then punched Scott again in the stomach and he collapsed to his knees, gasping for air as the victors ran off, laughing hysterically, down the alley. He had crawled over to Kevin and cradled him in his lap, trying to will him to stay alive until help arrived. Unable to speak, Kevin had looked up at him with brown eyes full of undying friendship and silently asked for Scott to seek justice as he took his last breath.

But justice did not come. Despite Scott's pleas to his grandfather and the authorities, MacMillan and the others were never brought up on charges. Everyone had said that it was a boyhood scuffle that got terribly out of hand. It was a horrible accident that should never have happened. Even his grandfather had said that he and Kevin should've been more careful. That they should've never antagonized the likes of MacMillan and Ferguson. And so, his grandfather had shipped him off to the shore of Cape Cod for the summer to forget. When Scott returned, MacMillan, Ferguson and the others had left Boston -- their whereabouts unknown.

Then the growing unrest in the South and the ultimate war that occurred drew his attention away from seeking retribution for Kevin. Over three and a half years later, when Scott turned eighteen and enlisted, his attention was focused on his duties as an officer in Sheridan's cavalry unit. By a twist of fate, his path crossed with MacMillan and Ferguson again when their infantry unit of the 2nd Division, 4th Corps, Army of the Cumberland was attached to Scott's cavalry unit under Sheridan's command.

He had heard that MacMillan had literally tortured a man to death to get him to reveal the location of his division. Scott tried to get MacMillan and Ferguson court-martialed by bringing charges against them for cruel and unusual punishment. Only before they ever went to trial, Scott's cavalry unit had been ambushed. Those still alive had been captured and sent to Libby. And once again, when Scott was released, MacMillan and Ferguson had vanished with the end of the war. Scott returned to Boston trying to put the memories of the war and the nightmares of his captivity at Libby behind him. But the memory of Kevin's eyes looking up at him, pleading with him for retribution was always present in the back of his mind.

The memory of those brown eyes morphed into deep blue. The eyes were now his brother's and Scott once more tasted the bitterness of hate as the cat o' nine tails lashed across his lower back.

Johnny….

When Scott first arrived at Lancer four years ago, memories of the ravages of war still fresh in his mind, he couldn't understand why his brother could be consumed with so much hatred that he had become a gunslinger. A pistolero. A hiredgun. The Pinkerton reports were filled with Johnny's exploits over the years growing up along the border. Slanted images of a man filled with hate, gunning down one opponent after the other in senseless gunfights or for the lure of easy money.

He had questioned Johnny about it and was at first met with resistance. Johnny refused to talk about his past. Much like he had refused to answer Johnny's questions about the war and his captivity at Libby. But as their relationship grew, they began trusting one another with their innermost secrets and the barriers between them fell. Unlike their father, Scott was willing to accept his brother's earlier transgressions. He accepted Johnny - not only for who he was, but also for who he had been. Even more so when he discovered that the reports on Johnny had been false and utterly wrong. His little brother was not the cold-blooded killer they made him out to be.

Now more than ever, as he felt the cat o' nine tails cut into his flesh once more, Scott understood Johnny and the hate that had threatened to consume his brother growing up along the border towns. Alone. Desperate. And fighting for his life.

The memory of his brother's deep blue eyes locking on his as Johnny slumped to the ground grew sharper and more vivid. Like Kevin had done fifteen years before, Johnny's last request was for retribution. Scott clenched his jaw tighter, his eyes narrowing with indignant rage as he looked at MacMillan. You bastard. I swear you'll pay…and pay dearly for killing my brother.

"Enough." MacMillan said, stepping forward. He grabbed Scott's hair and yanked his head back once more. "You are a tough one, Lancer. Thirty lashings. Not many men could endure being flogged that many times without some sign of weakness. But how long are you going to be able to endure the pain before you cry out, eh? How long, Scotty boy? How long before I break you?"

"A lifetime…yours…." Scott choked out.

"Really? We'll just have to see about that, now won't we?" MacMillan sneered and ran his hand over Scott's chest, then over his shoulder and across his upper back. "Ahhh…such a broad chest and shoulders. Too bad I'm gonna have to scar them." He said wickedly, wiping a trail of blood with his finger and then licking it off. "You do taste mighty good, Scotty boy. But I want to taste more of your sweet blood before I settle in for the night."

Scott closed his eyes to the offending touch and swallowed the bile rising in the back of his throat. When he opened them, he continued to glower at MacMillan. "I hope you choke on it, you son of a bitch," he rasped, gritting his teeth to the increasing pain coursing down his back and across his chest.

MacMillan's eyes narrowed. "Then let's make sure you give me enough to ~choke on~, shall we?" He nodded to Ferguson. The man stepped forward, brandishing the whip in his hands. MacMillan stepped by him and issued his order harshly. "Tear him open, Davy," before turning to face his victim once more. "This time I want to hear him scream."

Scott inhaled sharply at the first crack of the whip, but clenched his jaw tight. Once again trying to endure the agonizing torture as the whip bit and cut into his flesh, drawing blood from every place it touched. He wouldn't remove his eyes from MacMillan. The man had become the one object of pure hate he could focus upon. Scott silently cursed him, his eyes stinging with burning tears of pain and humiliation. He forced them back and swallowed back the nausea that was threatening to erupt, as the whip tore into his flesh with each blood-curdling and bone-chilling crack. His back and chest were on fire -- every nerve in his body was igniting in a raging inferno of pain.

The pain became excruciating and he struggled to keep his eyes focused on MacMillan, but his strength was fading. His legs were buckling under his weight and the rope tightened around his neck. His breathing was further constricted as he now struggled to avoid the blows of the whip. He tore the flesh on his wrists trying to free himself and the shackles were now soaked in blood.

A final loud crack and the whip came crashing down diagonally across Scott's right shoulder to the small of his back, ripping open his flesh and producing the desired effect as it made contact with the bone and sinew underneath.

The scream was ripped from Scott's throat. A painful plea crossed the blonde's lips and his resolution shattered in the wake of his torture. "Please! Stop! Please!" He cried, the tears finally breaking free and streaming down his face.

He lowered his head in shame and the wave of nausea that he had suppressed so long, erupted - causing him to convulse violently against the restraints. The rope tightened further and Scott felt the darkness folding around him like a comforting blanket. A roar of laughter erupted around him and he collapsed, his body sagging against the shackles holding him.

MacMillan's voice echoed in his ears. "Cut him down, get him dressed and chain him like a dog over there. On a very short leash, mind you. We've had enough fun for one day."

Ferguson spoke up. "I'll get a chance to whip 'im agin', won't I Jacob?"

"'Course ya will, Davy. So long as he's alive, you can whip and beat him to your heart's delight. I know how you like it. And I like to watch Scotty boy here bleed. He tastes mighty good, his fear mixing with his blood. You Ferguson's sure know how to break horseflesh. It'll be fun to watch you break this fine specimen here. And I can't wait to see his flesh torn from his bones. Would you like that Scotty boy? Would you like to know what it feels like to be skinned alive?"

The shackles were released. Scott moaned into the darkness when he collapsed to the ground in a heap. "No…please…stop…no more…." He pleaded.

"That's not the idea, Scotty boy. You see, I decide when to stop. Not you. Understand?" MacMillan knelt next to Scott and gloated, yanking Scott's head up.

"Go…go…to…hell…you bastard."

MacMillan shook his head. "Now, now, Scotty boy. Where are your manners? You know better than to curse your host. Guess I'll just have to make sure you can't say anything bad against me behind my back now, won't I?" He looked up at Ferguson. "You can whip him again later, Davy. In the meantime, let these wounds fester a bit. Get the gag ready again, boys. Soak it real good."

"No! Stop!" Scott twisted in his tormentor's clutches.

"Shut up ~Lancer~!" MacMillan backhanded Scott then turned to face his men. "And after you finish, Davy. Then Joe over there can have a turn at it. You'd like that, wouldn't you Joe?"

"Sur'ly would, Jacob. Ain't got 'nuff chances to skin 'dem Reb'l dawgs, and only 'ad a chance wit' a co'ple of 'dem yankee of'cers that were so cotton to sym'thizin wit' 'dem Reb'l pris'ners. Ain't right, of'cers like Lancer here treated that scum tol'rable when we'd raid 'dem towns. Ain't right, no'how."

"Well, you boys are going to get your chance. Told you I had more than one reason for taking Scotty boy, here. Just too bad, I had to kill that half-breed brother of his. Would've been real fun to hear Scotty boy cry out for his dear, sweet brother. Maybe before we finish with him we can make Scotty boy scream out his brother's name again like he did when I shot that worthless half-breed and we left him in dying in his blood."

Ferguson shoved a wet rag in Scott's mouth and secured the leather strap.

'NO…Johnny!' Scott cried out against the gag, his words lost as he struggled for air, the darkness surrounding him, pulling him further into the blackened abyss.

MacMillan leaned down close and whispered menacingly. "Boy, I would've loved to hear that, Scotty boy. Loved to hear you scream out in pain…JOHNNY…right before you watched me slit his throat…."

'Johnny….' Scott moaned behind the gag, the tears flowing from his cheeks, falling to the dirt beneath him. He finally surrendered to the comforting, heavy hand of darkness. God…why did You let Johnny die? Why? Why?







A heavy hand was on his shoulder, squeezing it as a harsh voice pierced the darkness that had become his haven from the torment of the past two and a half months. "Rise and shine, Lancer. Time to start a new day!"

His arms bound firmly behind his back, the rope around his neck secured to the base of the supporting beam, Scott was barely able to raise his head more than a few inches from the ground. Once more he spat the words across cracked and bleeding lips. "Go to Hell."

"Oh but we're already there, Scotty boy!" MacMillan yelled. "Let's see how many times we can get you to scream today, shall we?" He knelt in front of Scott and tilted his head mockingly. "How many was it yesterday, hmmm? Five…no six times!"

Another voice snickered behind him. "It was eight times, boss."

MacMillan smiled maliciously. "Eight times! Imagine that! Why I do think that's a new record, Scotty boy!" He cupped Scott's chin and drew his face upward harshly. "How about we try for ten today?"

Scott spit into his face. "Fu…"

MacMillan's fist connected with Scott's ribcage and cut him off, causing a cry of pain to escape instead of the curse.

"Oh that's one! Only nine more to go!" MacMillan sneered and hit him again in the same area. "I wonder how many times I can crack these ribs before they finally break!"

Scott buried his face in the dirt to muffle a scream when another sharp blow landed against his ribs. He was trying desperately not to give MacMillan the satisfaction, but the abusive pain had become too much to bear. Breathless, he raised his head and gazed up at MacMillan through tears. "Please don't! Let me go!" Scott pleaded. "Please don't hurt me anymore!"

"But that's not the idea, Lancer!" MacMillan hissed. He turned his head and looked at one of the men standing near him with a large pitcher of water. "Give him a drink and wake his ass up." MacMillan grabbed a handful of hair, yanked the blonde head back and forced Scott's jaw open, grinning wickedly as the man tilted the pitcher and slowly poured the water down Scott's throat.

Scott thrashed in Jacob's hands, gasping for air and gagging as the ice-cold liquid choked him. His lungs screamed for precious oxygen and sent sharp daggers to his sides when his ribs protested the violent movement.

The pitcher empty, MacMillan smiled down at his prey and patted Scott on the cheek before releasing him. "Had enough?"

Heaving the remaining liquid, Scott convulsed again and managed a feeble nod.

MacMillan patted him on the cheek once more, harder. "Now that's much better, Scotty boy. I like you much better when you acquiesce to my way of thinking."

"You sick bastard…I'll never…~acquiesce~…to…to your way…of thinking." Scott grated out, his gasps only increasing the level of pain in his chest. "Why? Why…are you…doing…this…to me?"

MacMillan shook his head. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, Scotty boy. You already know the answer to that. You've asked me everyday now for over two and a half months. And like I've told you…everyday for over two and a half months…because I want to, that's why."

Two men loosened the rope and the shackles around his wrists then pulled him to his feet.

Scott tensed and tried to stand on his own, twisting in his captor's grasps. "You're demented, MacMillan."

MacMillan scoffed and backhanded Scott across the corner of his mouth. "I got to give you credit, ~Lancer~. You got more fight in you than I thought you would after close to three months of my generous hospitality."

Scott tasted the blood and straightened his shoulders, fighting the wave of nauseating dizziness he felt. "Why are you…hurting me? Can…can't you see…you've…done…enough?"

Looking down at his hand, MacMillan wiped the blood on a tattered portion of Scott's open shirt. "No reason really, other than to see how long it takes me to kill you…slowly…and painfully."

Scott closed his eyes to stop the spinning. God…why have You forsaken me? He grimaced when his arms were once more yanked overhead, his scarred wrists shackled tightly in the iron restraints on the overhead beam. Please…just let me die…

Ferguson grinned as he asked, "What's on the menu for today, Jacob?"

"Oh I don't know. It's been a few days since we caned him." MacMillan took a deep breath. "I'll give you boys a silver dollar a piece for every wound you manage to open back up on him."

"Can I be the one to do it, Jacob?" Joey asked enthusiastically.

MacMillan turned and smiled. "Sure ya can, Joey." He turned back toward Scott, placed his hand under Scott's jaw and raised the blonde's head. "You got a real talent for making him scream."

Scott glared at him. His eyes were drawn across MacMillan's shoulder and he watched Joey pick up the piece of cane and rub his hand along the thin wicker. The tortured blonde twisted and yanked on the restraints.

"Still got his blood on here from the last time, Jacob." Joey said with a malicious grin.

"Really?" MacMillan said, more as a statement than as a question. His eyes locked on Scott's. "Bet you can coat it real good now that his skin has been tenderized." He fondled the remnants of Scott's shirt between his fingers. "Course, I guess that means we'll just have to take this filthy shirt off you, ~again~. Or better yet, how about if we make it interesting and leave it on this time? Shall we see if Joey here can finally rip it to shreds? Or should we just leave enough to soak up the blood?"

Scott swallowed hard and watched Joey step forward toward him. "Please…don't do this…"

MacMillan backed away and let Joey step closer. Nodding to the man, he glanced toward a bucket in the corner and then grinned sinisterly toward Scott. "Yes…. I think we'll leave it on this time and when Joey finishes, we'll put it to good use. Have fun boys. I know I will."

Joey stepped behind Scott, raised his hand and lashed out at Scott's back.

His resistance shattered, his will gone, the agonizing screams were torn from Scott with each down stroke of the cane. Words that MacMillan had asked so many weeks ago were echoing in his fevered brain, 'Would you like to know what it feels like to be skinned alive?' But after over two and a half months of being tortured day in and day out, the question didn't much matter anymore. With each crack of the whip, each lashing of the cat o' nine tails and each down stroke of the cane…he felt like they were literally skinning him alive.

A final cry passed over his lips and Scott sagged against the restraints. His battered body was left swaying slightly from the last series of vicious strokes.

MacMillan had been watching from the shadows and now stepped forward with the small bucket from the corner. "Ever hear of the phrase, 'baptism by fire', Lancer?"

Scott drew his tear-streaked face upwards and narrowed his eyes, only to draw his head back sharply when MacMillan waved the bucket under his nose. Kerosene! "Get…away…from…me!" Scott yelled harshly, madly yanking on the restraints. His eyes locked on MacMillan's. "I…hate…you! I…hate…you!"

MacMillan's laughter was drowned out by the screams of his victim when he slowly poured the contents of the bucket down Scott's back.







"Get…away…from me," Scott ground out as Ferguson secured the rope once more to the base of the support timber, drawing it taut so that Scott was barely able to raise his head more than a few inches off the ground. Another man yanked his arms behind him, sending sharp daggers across the freshly opened wounds on his back, shoulders and chest.

Once more, MacMillan had taken great pleasure in pouring kerosene down his back and the wounds still stung from the caustic liquid. Scott grimaced and tried to remember how many times, in the past few weeks MacMillan had used that particular method of torture after they cut his back and chest open again. Four times…no six…six times…at least once a week for each additional week spent in this Hell, since that first 'baptism by fire'. He thought painfully and remembered MacMillan's vicious words that were spoken each time, 'How's about some more baptism by fire, Lancer…just to see if you still got any life left in ya' worth savin'?'

The smell of the volatile liquid that had soaked his shirt, continued to sicken him and he turned his head away as a plate of food was shoved under his nose. Then tilted, pouring the contents on the ground in front of him. The taunting words, "Here's yer suppa, ya mangy dog!" were punctuated with a harsh kick to his stomach.

Scott heaved what meager contents were left in his stomach from the last series of spasms. He gasped for air as his newly cracked ribs protested the violent convulsions. Oh God…please…why have You forsaken me? Why won't You just let me die?!

"Hey Lancer! Here's somethin' for ya to think 'bout while ya choke down yer dinner! I hear that lowlife of a father finally got up enough nerve to have a marker placed on his son's grave!" Ferguson snickered, his vicious laughter mixing with that of the two other men with him, resonating throughout the mineshaft. "'Bout damn time! Course, I suspect it's 'cause they couldn't get near the stench coming from that half-breed's grave! Hell it only took ~four and a half months~ to get rid of the smell!"

"Shut up," Scott rasped against the rope that was tightening while he struggled to raise his head further. "Shut up! Don't…you…talk about…Johnny…that way!" he choked out, raising his voice in anger.

Ferguson taunted him. "Oh and why not, ~Scotty boy~? He was just a worthless mestizó!"

Scott seethed with rage. "No! Johnny was my brother! And you killed him! You killed him, you sons of a bitch!" He gazed up at them through tears of anger, pain and humiliation, trying to focus on their faces, but it was no longer any use. His eyesight was fading, fringed in shadows and clouds of darkness. Ferguson kicked him again harder, causing the shadows and clouds to become white-hot shards of light, as he felt the air escape his lungs. Scott heard the sickening sound of his bones cracking. An agonized cry leaving his lips, he sank into the dirt, curling into a tight ball to alleviate the pressure on his side.

His tormentor's demonic laughter grew louder. "Let the dog lie!" Ferguson sneered. "'Sides, Jacob wants to show him some real ~personal~ attention tomorrow since it'll be Christmas Eve! So he'll need his beauty sleep!" He grabbed the lantern and motioned for the other two men to follow him.

Another heave coming over him and Scott watched them disappear into the shaft. What little light had been emanating from the sole lantern of his prison, now faded into the darkness with his demons, leaving him once more alone and in total blackness. Their words haunted him and he shuddered violently with the thoughts that tomorrow what little pride he had left would be stripped from him in one degrading act. Scott vomited the bile once more and cursed the heavens. "Damn You! You have forsaken me! You take my brother! You take my pride! Why won't You take my life?!"

Daggers of pain lanced across his back and shoulders, only to burn as the kerosene continued to seep into his wounds. He sobbed into the darkness that enfolded around him, until it finally shrouded his eyes in the black abyss of unconsciousness and the nightmare that refused to end.







Unconsciousness refused to return and Scott pleaded once more to end his pain and let him die. "Please…no more. Please…just…just…let me…die…."

A maniacal laugh was his reply. "Oh not yet, Scotty boy! Not until I finally satisfy my thirst for your blood! And feel you squirm beneath my hands!"

Scott's half closed eyes narrowed further. "Keep…yo…your…Goddamn…hands off me…you sick bastard!" He hissed at MacMillan and twisted vainly in the arms of the men holding him.

MacMillan stepped forward and drew his hand down Scott's jaw, then across his collarbone. He ran his hand provocatively across Scott's chest and down his stomach, pausing to let it linger above the waistband of his torn jeans. "Oh yes…I can feel his anticipation…his fear. It's so good I can taste it." He leaned in closer and whispered in Scott's ear. "The kind of fear those other men felt before I had my way with them…right before I killed them…."

A scream originating in the bowels of hell was ripped from Scott's throat and he twisted free, lunging at MacMillan with the last vestiges of strength he possessed. He slammed his fist into MacMillan's jaw, sending him hurtling into the supporting beam to which Scott had been tied like an animal for over four and a half months.

The jolt knocked MacMillan senseless and he stumbled and then fell to his knees, cursing through clenched teeth. "Lancer, you Goddamn son of bitch! I'll kill you!"

The sudden surge of energy and strength from their victim shocked the men around him. Scott glanced at the other bucket filled with kerosene near the barrels behind him. Picking it up, he heaved the contents between him and his captors and grabbed a lantern, throwing it in the wake of the flowing liquid. "Burn in Hell!" he yelled as the kerosene ignited. Turning, he pulled the rope from around his neck. He stumbled toward the direction of the entrance as fast as his weakened and injured legs would carry him. The commotion of the fire allowing him a head start. Scott could hear MacMillan and Ferguson cursing over the shouts of the other three men that had been in the shaft. Wiping the back of his hand over his eyes, Scott tried to clear his vision. He realized that left three men unaccounted for and no doubt on watch or guard duty at the entrance to the mine.

Seeing a faint light only a few yards ahead, his resolve to get free from the monsters that had held him prisoner overcame any fears he had of the danger waiting for him the moment he reached the entrance. Scott clawed at the walls of the mineshaft, pulling himself toward the light of freedom. Reaching the entrance, the stark light of day blinded him and he inhaled sharply as the sun's harsh rays became hot needles piercing his eyes. The blonde Lancer threw his arm up to shield his eyes and looked around frantically as his eyes tried to adjust to the bright sun after over four months of virtual darkness. Only a few feet to his left, he caught the movement of horses. He staggered in that direction. The angry voices grew closer and Scott grabbed at the reins of the closest horse that was saddled. Summoning every ounce of willpower and strength he had remaining, he painfully pulled himself into the saddle and kicked the horse forward into a gallop.

An angry shout, then a flash out of the corner of his eye and Scott felt a searing fire in his left side. He clutched his left hand to it and held on for dear life, kicking the horse and urging it faster down the hill toward his freedom.

Behind him he could hear the angry voices and the shouting. MacMillan's voice boomed over them all, cursing and yelling as they mounted up and raced after him.

With what eyesight he had, Scott focused on the path ahead of him and wiped the tears away with his upper arm. It was Christmas Eve, he thought solemnly, and he needed to spend it with his brother. Urging the horse to run faster, racing toward his destination, his only thoughts were of returning to the hill, overlooking Lancer…and to his brother's side. I'm finally coming home, Brother…to die by your side…

"Johnny…." he completed the thought as a painful whisper into the wind.







"Johnny…."

The whispered word was filled with so much pain and anguish, Johnny felt his heart leap into his throat and he struggled to swallow it. To send it back to its resting place in the hollow cavity of his chest. A cavity that had only grown larger and darker as he listened to his brother's agonized words spill forth from the nightmares that refused to let him go.

He reached over and touched his brother's face, stroking the hair back from Scott's forehead. "I'm here, Brother. I'm here." Scott's eyes fluttered open briefly, only to close once more in pain filled sleep. Johnny bit his lower lip and pressed his fingers against the inside corners of his eyes. It was becoming an unconscious habit, he thought to himself. One he seriously wanted to break. But it was becoming increasingly harder each time his brother's crystalline blue eyes had opened over the past five days; for they had been clouded in tears of pain and uncertainty, confused, frightened and always searching…searching for him.

And once again, just as he had done each time it happened, Johnny took Scott's hand in his and gently gripped the trembling appendage, speaking softly to reassure Scott that he was home safe. Telling his older brother that he really was alive and not dead like Scott had seen in the nightmares. "Ssshh, Boston. You're safe now, Brother. Remember, I brought you home, Christmas Eve? I'm alive, Scott. You've just got to believe that and pull through this. Please Boston…please hold on."

Each time, Johnny's words and his touch seemed to soothe his brother and lull him back into a deep sleep. Until another flashback, another horrible nightmare gripped his mind, torturing him with agonizing memories and reawakening the pain wracking his body. Pulling Scott closer and closer to the edge of oblivion. Yanking the ex-gunfighter's heart out each time the silent memories became vociferous images.

Assured that his brother was once more asleep, Johnny gently pulled his hand free of Scott's and stood. Stretching his lower back, he felt a chill in the room and adjusted the covers over his brother. He pulled the extra quilt up from the foot of the bed. Touching Scott's forehead with the back of his hand, he sighed. The fever, though still present, had waned a bit in the last hour. He could only hope that it would not spike once more in the coming hours of darkness and pull his brother back into another nightmare or series of convulsions.

Johnny walked to the window and watched the storm clouds once more roll across the land he and his brother now called home, bringing colder winds and biting rain in the last two days of December. A melancholy smile crossed his lips. If anyone had told him five years ago that he would one day enjoy being tied down to life on a ranch, he probably would've called them out in a gunfight for being a liar. And during those first few months after arriving at Lancer, that would've been the case as he struggled to fit in to the routine and endure the heated battles with his father.

He remembered what it was like those first few months, struggling to gain his father's acceptance and somehow erase the past that would forever haunt him. The youngest Lancer just knew in those early months that this life wasn't for him; it wasn't what he wanted…it was what his father wanted. And his past was always there to remind him of that -- for it always came back to plague him or his family with heartache and pain.

The former gunfighter had thought about leaving for good many a time, to protect them from his past, or to get away from his father's strict rules. He had threatened to do so…even had gone so far as to saddling Barranca and actually leaving. But he had always come back - drawn back to this land he now called home by two things - his brother's acceptance of him for who he was now and for who he had been, and more importantly, his brother's unconditional love and trust.

Casting a glance toward the man that was still fighting for his life, Johnny took in a deep breath and then sighed heavily. After over four years, working the ranch, living under the same roof, sharing hopes and dreams and fighting side by side with Scott, he couldn't imagine Lancer…the land…this home…his ~life~…without his brother.

And in the heat of a hot August day, all of that had almost come to an abrupt end because of madmen from ~Scott's~ past…not his.

Johnny closed his eyes to the memories and the unsettling fear that his brother could still die from the wounds that had been inflicted upon him. Opening them, he studied his brother once more. As he had done every day for the past five days, he clenched his fists in rage when he thought about the pain Scott had endured. The pain that Scott was still fighting with each labored breath he took. Once again, he whispered his mantra to his brother. "I swear they will pay for this, Scott."

For the past two days, thanks to Jelly's poultices, Nathan's insistence that he rest as much as possible and Sam's watchful eye, Johnny had finally been well enough to ride out with the men in search of the monsters that had almost destroyed his family. The evil men that still threatened to do so with each painful gasp from his brother's lips, but he would not betray his sworn promise to Scott to stay by his side. Not after almost losing him. Not after he ~had~ lost him Christmas Eve on the hill overlooking the hacienda. Not ever, he thought. Until Scott was finally out of danger and well, he would not leave his brother's side.

Pulling his eyes away, he glanced out the window when he heard the sound of riders coming back from their search. He watched Cipriano and Frank speak to his father, shake their heads and then turn with the others toward the bunkhouse to turn in for the night. Over the past couple of days, it had become a silent routine between him and Murdoch. He looked down at his father, meeting his gaze when Murdoch turned and looked up at the window, only to shake his head solemnly and walk back toward the house. Johnny dug his fingernails into his palm, wincing when he drew blood.

There was still no sign of the men that had tortured his brother.







Johnny rubbed his hands over his face and then ran a hand through his hair in frustration. If truth were told, he was exhausted. He hadn't slept well since August and even less since Christmas Eve -- despite the fact that Teresa, Murdoch or Jelly had taken up watch by his brother's side so he could rest for a few hours each day.

The ex-gunfighter's sleep was always filled with dark images of pain and torment. Haunted by the vision of his brother's tortured body, battered, broken and bleeding in his arms. And the memory of Scott's hand on his cheek, telling him, 'At least…we had…one more Christmas Eve together…Brother. Merry…Merry Christmas, Johnny…. I…I…love…you…Brother,' before he took a painful last breath and then fell still, ~dying~ in Johnny's arms.

Johnny quickly wiped the tears from his face when he heard the door open and Teresa's soft footsteps.

"Johnny? You all right?"

He didn't turn away from the window. "I'm fine, Teresa." The dark haired Lancer heard her sigh and set a tray down next to the bed. "Don't bother askin'. There's no change. The fever is down a bit, but he's still delirious and in a lot of pain." Turning, he put his hand up when she started to speak once more. He knew what she was going to ask. "No,querida. I don't think you should stay with him right now. Not until Doc Davis gives him another shot of morphine to get him through the night."

"But Johnny, you need to rest."

Johnny shook his head and stepped toward her, his eyes flashing his determination to shield his little 'sister' from the horrors his brother had been subjected to. "I said no, Teresa. You don't need to be here right now."

She squared her shoulders and stared at the dark haired brother. "I don't care. You seem to forget, I love him too, Johnny. And you. You can't keep shouldering all of this by yourself. You're exhausted as it is and if you don't take care of yourself, you're going to have another relapse. No more arguments. I'm staying with Scott for a while, Dr. Davis and Murdoch want you to join them downstairs for dinner tonight."

Johnny's eyes narrowed. "Where's Sam?"

"He had an emergency in town. Sam said he'd be back as soon as he could. Dr. Davis said he'd stay as long as he had to. He already sent a telegram back to Chicago, telling the hospital there he was extending his stay here and wouldn't be back until Scott was past the 'crisis stage'. What's that mean, Johnny? Crisis stage?"

Johnny's eyes shot to Scott's face and then he quickly turned back toward the window to hide the welling tears. He gazed at the storm clouds once more, before closing his eyes and lowering his head. He answered her quietly, "It means…Scott…Scott could still die," his voice cracking when he did so.







…Scott could still die. The thought echoed through Johnny's mind and he found himself once more picking at the food on his plate. He wasn't hungry, in fact, he felt sick. He barely heard Murdoch's voice.

"Johnny. Please. You need to eat something, Son." Murdoch pleaded quietly.

"I ain't hungry," Johnny replied, pushing the plate away. He glanced up toward the ceiling, threw his napkin on the plate and forcibly pushed his chair back. "Teresa don't need to be in there with him right now," he said harshly and stood. "Not until Doc gives him a shot to make him sleep through the night."

"Sit down, Johnny," Murdoch admonished, his voice raising a noticeable tone. "Teresa will be fine. You, however, won't be unless you eat."

"I told you I ain't hungry, Murdoch." Johnny glared down at his father. "Scott's still in a lot of pain and out of his mind with them nightmares. She don't need to hear any of that!"

Murdoch inhaled deeply. "None of us do, Johnny. But Teresa is strong. She'll be all right." He pointed to the vacated chair. "Sit down," he ordered. "Now."

Johnny clenched his fists to his side. "No." His eyes narrowed as he silently challenged his father. "I'm goin' back up there." He started to turn.

Murdoch stood, threw the napkin down on the table in front of him, stepped around the table and grabbed Johnny's arm. "No Johnny. You'll do as I say! Nathan said you needed a break and I agree with him!"

Johnny threw his arm back to dislodge his father's hand. "I need to be with my brother! Now let go of me, Murdoch!"

Nathan stood and looked between them before speaking to Johnny. "Johnny, please. Do as your father asks. You need to eat in order to keep your strength up. Remember what I told you about your health and helping Scott."

Johnny cast a sidelong glance to Nathan. "I have been eatin'. And restin' like you asked."

Nathan shook his head. "Not enough, Johnny…of either. You've dropped more weight these past couple of days. Plus, I can tell by looking at those two sunken orbs you call eyes that you're exhausted. You can't keep this pace up, Johnny. Not without endangering your health further. You're running the risk of a relapse and I know you don't want that." He motioned to the chair. "Now please. Sit down and finish your dinner. Teresa will be all right until you stand watch again."

Johnny looked at Nathan and shook his head slightly. "She don't need to hear that stuff, Doc. What if…"

Nathan put his hand up to stop him. "If she does, then we'll deal with it, Johnny."

"How?" Johnny asked, incredulously. "It's bad enough she's got to see what those maniacs did to him, but she don't need to hear it too!"

Nathan stood firm. "And you've heard too much of it yourself, Johnny."

Johnny slammed his fist down on the table with such force that the wine glasses tumbled, spilling forth their contents on the lace tablecloth beneath. "You don't understand, Doc! It ain't right! You don't hear her late at night, cryin' her eyes out after she's been sittin' with Scott!"

Nathan picked up his glass and reached for the carafe of wine. "No. No I haven't heard her." He said calmly, pouring the wine out slowly to refill his glass. His eyes met Johnny's. "But I've heard you."

Silence. A wall of ice suddenly formed between them.

Johnny's eyes narrowed dangerously. His hand instinctively went to his vacant right hip.

Murdoch tensed, raising a stern eyebrow in the direction of his son.

Nathan pointed once more to the chair. "Sit down, Johnny. If Scott makes it through this, he's going to need your strength to help him face what happened. And you can't do that if you've collapsed from physical and mental exhaustion. You need a break. Before you yourself, break from the strain."

Johnny took in a long breath and studied the man across from him. "I'm fine, Doc."

"Are you, really?" Nathan took a sip of his wine and sat back down. "I don't think you are, Johnny. You're on the edge now." He said calmly and looked up at Johnny. "Are you willing to bet your brother's life on that?"

"What are you talkin' about? You know damn good and well I wouldn't endanger Scott!" Johnny yelled, leaning over the table.

"Johnny!" Murdoch quickly stepped closer and grabbed his son's arm once more.

Nathan put his hand up. "It's all right, Murdoch." He looked back at Johnny as Murdoch released his son. "But that's exactly what you're doing by not taking care of yourself, Johnny. How do you think Scott will feel if he finds out that ~his~ nightmares caused you to neglect your health to the point that you finally collapsed from total exhaustion? Or worse, died from a relapse of pneumonia? He already feels guilty about getting you shot."

"Scott didn't get me shot!" Johnny cried and slammed his hand down on the table, once more shaking the contents.

Nathan grabbed his glass as it teetered. His eyes locked on the dark haired Lancer across from him. "Then take care of yourself so you can convince him of that, not me."

Johnny glared at Nathan and then his father. He slammed both hands on the table and started to say something when a scream from Scott's bedroom caused the blood to curdle in his veins. "Madre de Dios! Scott!"







"Scott!" Johnny cried, racing to his brother's side as Scott sank to his knees next to Teresa's prone form. The dark haired Lancer enfolded his arms around his blonde brother, easing him into his lap as Scott collapsed against him.

Murdoch and Nathan knelt next to Teresa.

"She's all right, Murdoch." Nathan said quickly. "It's just a small cut. Get her out of here, while I tend to Scott. Keep pressure on that cut and as soon as I make sure Scott is all right, I'll tend to it."

Murdoch nodded and scooped his young ward into his arms. He tried to calm her fears and started to carry her from the room. "Ssshh, honey. Are you all right?"

"Yes! Yes! But Scott! Oh my God, Murdoch! It wasn't his fault! I scared him! He didn't know what he was doing!" Teresa cried hysterically, reaching for her oldest 'brother' over Murdoch's shoulder.

"I know. Scott is going to be fine. Johnny's with him. Now just calm down." Murdoch quickly glanced over his shoulder at his youngest son and locked eyes with Johnny.

Johnny understood the concerned look and nodded. "Don't worry. I will. You just tend to Teresa." He gazed back down at his brother. Tightening his hold when Scott began to shudder violently. "Take it easy, Boston."

Scott gripped Johnny's arm, digging his nails into his brother's flesh. His eyes were wide with fright as he looked up at Johnny. "Oh…God…Johnny. Teresa…I hu…hurt her! Wha…what…have…I…I done!"

"She's gonna be fine, Brother. It's just a small cut. Doc will take care of it soon as he fixes you up."

"Ease him toward you, Johnny." Nathan directed, his hands quickly assessing the damage.

Johnny did as he was told. He watched Nathan frown when the doctor saw the blood on his hands and locked eyes with the learned man. All the while clinging to his older brother as if his life depended on it.

"Damn it. I was afraid of this. He's managed to rip the stitches on this long wound across his back. It's opened back up. Help me get him to the bed, Johnny."

Oh God…no, Johnny thought.

Scott tensed and arched his back, releasing an anguished moan when Johnny and Nathan lifted him. His nails dug deeper into Johnny's arm. In the short amount of time it took to move the blonde Lancer from the cold, wooden floor to the warmth of the bed, Scott had managed to draw blood.

Johnny winced but held fast to his brother, a dark red trickle of blood beginning to soak into his sleeve.

Scott looked at the arm and looked up at Johnny through welling tears. "Sor…sorry…Johnny."

"'S, ok, Scott. I've had worse." Johnny said, forcing a smile to his face. The smile immediately faded when Johnny saw his brother's eyes darken and Scott's hand rose toward the area of Johnny's chest wound. Enfolding his hand around Scott's, Johnny shook his head. "Don't," he said softly.

Scott pressed forward with his hand until it rested against Johnny's chest. "M…my…fault."

Johnny blinked back the tears, shaking his head. "No, Scott. It wasn't your fault. And you gotta quit believin' that." He pulled Scott closer and quickly shot a glance toward Nathan when Scott shuddered. Johnny swallowed hard when Nathan turned toward him with the syringe. "Isn't it too soon for the morphine, Doc? Can't you give him some laudanum instead?" He asked, nervously. God, how he wanted his brother well and free of the pain consuming him, he thought. Each time Nathan or Sam had given Scott a dose of laudanum or a shot of morphine in the past few days, Johnny had felt the vice around his heart tighten, fearing that his brother was slowly taking one more step toward those opium dens.

"I'm out of laudanum, Johnny. Sam is going to send more when he gets back to town, but in the meantime, I've got to use some morphine. He won't be able to stand it otherwise."

Johnny nodded reluctantly. He lowered his head next to Scott's and whispered to him. "Now you just lay still, Brother. Doc is gonna give you another shot so you won't feel nothin'. He's gotta sew your back up again. OK?" The nod was barely discernable but Johnny felt Scott's grip tighten once more. The blonde turned his face toward Johnny's chest to stifle another cry of pain when the hypodermic pierced his skin.

"You're going to have to hold him, Johnny. I only gave him enough to help dull the edge. I want to save the stronger dosage for later in the hopes that he'll sleep through the night." Nathan said quietly, stroking the hair on the blonde's head. "Breathe deep, Scott. Don't fight it. Just let it take effect." He gripped Johnny's shoulder and squeezed it firmly. "Are you all right, Johnny?"

Johnny raised his head and met Nathan's gaze. The nod he gave the distinguished doctor was not very convincing but it was all he could manage and he tightened his hold on his brother's trembling form.

"Sure you are." Nathan said and smiled. "All right. I'll be as quick as I can. Just sit still and try to keep him from moving around too much, Johnny."

"I ain't going anywhere," Johnny replied, taking a deep breath to steady his frazzled nerves. He pressed his cheek against the top of Scott's head. "You just hold onto me, Boston. You hold on as tight as you have to, you hear me? Cause I sure as Hell ain't gonna let go of you, OK?" A weak nod was soon replaced by a sharp intake of air and a hiss from the older Lancer's lips when the needle and thread pierced the tender flesh on his back. Johnny swallowed the lump in the back of his throat. "Hold on, Scott…just hold on…." His eyes locked on Nathan's concerned face and Johnny continued to repeat his soft mantra to his brother with each stitch the doctor took down Scott's tortured flesh. "Not much longer…I promise…not much longer. The Doc's almost through."

Several agonizing minutes later, Johnny watched Nathan snip the thread after drawing the last stitch in Scott's lower back.

"Damn it to Hell."

"What is it Doc? What's wrong?"

"Hold onto him a bit longer, Johnny. The infections are getting worse." Nathan directed and turned toward the table. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to lance some of these wounds back open and clean them again." Picking up the bottle of whiskey he poured a liberal amount onto a clean cloth and then onto the scalpel. "I'm sorry, Scott. Please understand this is for your own good." Placing his hand gently on Scott's back, Nathan drew in a long breath and inserted the scalpel into one of the wounds on the blonde Lancer's left shoulder.

Despite being able to sit through a grueling and bloody surgery on his brother only a few days before, Johnny turned his head away quickly, taking a deep breath to stem the rolling tide of nausea. Hearing his brother's strained voice pulled his attention back to the situation at hand. He swallowed hard, choking back the bile that threatened as the pus oozed from his brother's back. The younger brother closed his eyes and gathered his nerves.

A weak voice filtered up to Johnny's ears when Nathan made the second cut into Scott's tender flesh. "No…no more…please…ma…make him…stop…John…ny. Please…don't…don't let…let him cut me anymore…."

Opening his eyes to gaze down at Scott, a tear crested the corner of Johnny's eye. "I…I can't Scott. Doc's gotta do this. Your wounds aren't healin' like they should." Looking down at his brother's back, he gulped down his stomach acids once more. Dios…por favor no…

"Hu…hurts…to…too…much," Scott moaned. He clutched Johnny's shirt, a cry escaping past clenched teeth when the alcohol soaked cloth was pressed to the freshly opened wounds. "No! Please…it…it burns! Please stop! No more!" Scott cried, thrashing in Johnny's arms to get away from Nathan's touch. The blonde Lancer turned his face upward and stared at the dark haired man holding him. "Please…don't…don't do this. Don't hurt me…anymore. No more…kerosene…please…please…just…just let…let me go…."

Johnny inhaled sharply at his brother's mournful plea, painfully remembering Nathan's words only days before. Scott is liable to say things to you that will cut you to the core and rip your heart to shreds.

Deep blue eyes welled with tears and locked on eyes that were once crystal blue but now suddenly clouded in confusion, desperation and pain. In that one instant, Johnny felt his heart ripped from his chest when his older brother gazed up at him with accusing eyes -- eyes that once more suddenly saw Johnny as the tormentor from his nightmares.

It took every ounce of strength Johnny possessed to pull his brother closer and tighten his hold around Scott's trembling form to keep him from fighting so Nathan could finish his ministrations. Johnny choked back what remained of his heart, willing it back in place to that hollow cavity in his chest. He gazed down at his brother's tortured face. Words of desperate consolation formed in the back of the younger Lancer's throat, but were lost to his grief and the guilt consuming him. Johnny could barely choke out, "I'm sorry, Brother. I can't," before his own tears broke free and flooded down his cheeks.







"I'm sorry, Murdoch." Teresa cried through her tears.

Murdoch pressed the cloth against his young ward's temple and smiled ruefully. "It's all right, honey. I told you. Scott is going to be fine. Just sit still and let me try to get this bleeding stopped until Nathan can look at it." He squeezed her shoulder gently but firmly, pressing her back against the bed. "Now calm down and tell me what happened."

Teresa begrudgingly leaned back against the headboard of her bed. "Oh Murdoch! He's so sick and thin! I heard Doc Davis and Doc Jenkins talking before Doc Jenkins left. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, honest! But I was standing at the kitchen door and heard them both say that Scott needed to eat, otherwise, Doc Davis was going to be forced to put a nasal tube in and run it down his throat so he could be force-fed. I was scared, Murdoch! Scott's already been through so much! And he's in so much pain! I was only trying to help!"

"I know, honey. Now calm down. It's not your fault."

"But it is, Murdoch!" Teresa sobbed, pulling her head away from Murdoch's touch and burying it in her hands. "I managed to get him to take a few spoonfuls of broth and some water, like Doc Davis asked for us to do. I guess I gave him too much 'cause it started to choke him. It scared him, Murdoch! I didn't mean to! I mean, I thought he was awake! I didn't know he was still asleep! His eyes were open!" She shook her head. "I didn't know! I didn't know!"

Murdoch pulled her trembling body into his strong arms and held her tight. "Ssshh, Teresa. You've got to calm down. Dr. Davis said that it would happen sometimes. That Scott's eyes will be open but he'll still be dreaming. Scott didn't know what you were trying to do. He was trapped in a nightmare, Teresa. It's not your fault." He pulled back from her and took her hands in his, wrapping his big hands tightly around her petite ones. Pulling them toward his lips, he went to tenderly kiss her palms when he stopped. He lowered his nose and inhaled deeply. "Teresa, honey. What's that smell?"

Teresa quickly pulled her hands back and wiped the tears from her eyes with the cuff of her shirt. "Oh my God, I'm sorry. It's kerosene. The lantern next to the bed was low, so I filled it back up with some kerosene from one of the other lamps. I figured I could fill all of them later, when I had the chance. Some of it spilled on my hand. I meant to go wash it off, but I didn't want to leave Scott alone. And I didn't want to redo the restraints around his wrists, since I thought he was awake. Doc said we only had to keep them on when he was sleeping. I couldn't stand to see him tied down like that anymore, Murdoch!"

Murdoch pulled her back into his arms and nestled her head against his shoulder. "I know. I know. None of us do. But it's for the best right now, Teresa."

"But it's like we're holding him hostage!" She cried, looking up at him with tear streaming down her cheeks. "And he's in so much pain! I just want him well, Murdoch!"

No more than I do, honey. No more than I do. "We all do, Teresa. Scott is going to get through this. Dr. Davis will make sure of that and will do everything he can to make sure Scott stays with us…even if it means putting a tube down his throat to keep him alive."

A voice from the door drew their attention. "Which may not be far off, Murdoch. Between the infections and the lack of fluids, his fever has spiked again. We managed to get some more quinine into him and he kept it down this time. But if his fever doesn't break again soon, it's something we may need to consider. Especially if his condition doesn't change in the next twenty-four hours."

"Are you sure Nathan?" Murdoch asked worriedly. "Won't that mean you'll have to sedate him heavily?"

"Unfortunately, yes. But we'll talk about it later…when and if the time comes. In the meantime," Nathan approached the bed and drew in a long breath, "let's take a look at this shall we, young lady?" Taking a seat next to Teresa he continued speaking while tending to the cut on her head. "If we do decide on that route, I want it to be a unanimous decision on the part of the whole family, Murdoch. The trouble is, your youngest son won't allow it."

Murdoch ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "That's understandable. Johnny hates pain medication. He hates what it does…what it can do to a man."

"I understand that, Murdoch. As do I. It's one of the things I admire most about Johnny." Teresa tensed under his touch and he looked down at her. "Sorry, dear. But I am going to have to put in a couple of stitches." He continued quietly. "I gave Scott a dose of chloral hydrate to help him sleep, but what I haven't told Johnny yet is that I'm going to have to increase Scott's dosage of morphine tonight to help with the pain. I'll need your assistance when I do tell him, though. You know he's not going to take it well."

"You said it Doc," Teresa snipped. "Johnny doesn't want to see Scott in any pain, but he's liable to fight you on increasing the dosage to more than what you're already giving his big brother."

"Sit still, Teresa and let me finish," Nathan said, frowning. "The trouble is, the wounds on Scott's back are not healing properly. The infections are worse. With that wound in his abdomen still too fresh, I can't keep him on his stomach. We're going to have to keep Scott positioned on his right side for a few hours each day, to allow those wounds a chance to breathe and hopefully heal. It will only cause him undue pain and duress with those cracked and broken ribs. I'm afraid without the medication, he won't be able to stand it. Scott has endured more pain these last few months than any man with twice the strength or constitution could stand. It speaks well of his character and resolution to survive. But I'm worried he's rapidly approaching the breaking point, if he hasn't already passed it."

"Haven't we all?" Murdoch mumbled under his breath.

"More than you'll know." Nathan answered quietly and turned his attention back to his patient. "All right, Teresa. Tell me how this happened. When Johnny left you and Scott to join us for dinner, he said that his brother was sleeping. What happened to make you and Scott struggle and for him to grab you like that?" Carefully stitching the small cut closed, Nathan listened intently to her description of the event. When she waved her hand to describe how Scott had suddenly grabbed her wrists and threw her to the floor when she struggled to get him to calm down, Nathan drew in a sharp breath. He wrapped his hand around her wrist, pulling it toward his nose. "Teresa! Is that kerosene?!"

"Y…yes," she stammered out, her eyes widening in fear. "What's wrong?"

"Oh dear God, no wonder!" Nathan put his hand over his eyes and shook his head. "That's what triggered Scott to lash out at you like that!"

Murdoch stepped closer, his eyes darkening in concern. "Nathan? What on earth are you talking about?"

Nathan placed a bandage on Teresa's temple and secured it gently. "Stay still Teresa. I need to speak with Murdoch a moment." He directed firmly.

"But…" Teresa protested.

"Do as I say, child." Nathan said, his voice growing tenser. He stood and placed his hand on Murdoch's arm, pulling him out of earshot of Teresa. The learned doctor sighed heavily, lowered his head and whispered. "Kerosene, Murdoch. Whoever it was that tortured Scott, poured kerosene on his open wounds."

"Oh dear God!" Murdoch gasped in shock.

"Not only once…but apparently several times." Nathan said quickly, casting a glance over his shoulder to make sure Teresa could not hear them. "That small amount on her hands was enough to terrorize Scott. In his tormented mind, Scott believed she was going to pour the caustic liquid on him again."

Murdoch's eyes welled with tears and he turned away. "How?" Clenching his fists to his sides, he grated out his question, not really sure he wanted to know the answer. "How do you know?"

Nathan stepped behind him. "When I had to clean the wounds with whiskey, Scott became delirious again. He pleaded with Johnny to make me stop. To stop using the ~kerosene~, Murdoch…not the whiskey."

"Oh God." Murdoch choked out through a voice straining with embittered emotions.

The older doctor placed a hand on Murdoch's shoulders and turned the Lancer patriarch to face him in the darkness of Teresa's room. "Murdoch…when I asked Johnny if he knew what Scott meant, he told me…very reluctantly, I might add. The trouble is, I think Johnny knows more than he's letting on, Murdoch. That's why he's being so protective of Scott. Wanting to stay with Scott constantly and keep us out of that room unless it's absolutely necessary."

Murdoch swallowed the lump in his throat. It had been only natural that a close bond developed between his sons from the moment they set foot off the stage over four years ago. They were always protecting the other, watching each other's back to ensure that the other stayed safe and shouldering each other's guilt. The patriarch had always suspected, as his sons grew closer over the years that they had shared their innermost thoughts and fears. He knew his sons shared a bond of trust between them now that no one else could be a part of. He also knew they would protect that trust to the death if need be, rather than betray the other, or worse…endanger the family or cause them undue pain and remorse. But he never realized just how strong that bond of trust was until now. He looked into the older man's eyes and voiced his fear in the form of a question. "Scott's nightmares…Johnny has heard everything, hasn't he?"

Nathan nodded succinctly and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Yes. Unfortunately…I believe he has. More than any of us and more than he's willing to tell."







"…to tell…" Scott moaned.

"Easy, Brother. Just lie still and be quiet." Johnny soothed, gently rubbing his brother's shoulder.

He had stayed next to the older Lancer after Nathan left to tend to Teresa. Scott had finally stilled with the injection of morphine and Johnny was afraid to move from his brother's side as Scott leaned against him, the blonde's head resting against the lower left half of Johnny's chest.

Scott moaned again and tried to raise his head. "Need…to tell…Teresa…sor…sorry."

"No you don't. You need to rest and let that quinine work, Brother, so it will pull your fever down. Teresa knows you're sorry, Boston."

"Did…didn't mean…to…to hurt her, Johnny." Scott ground out, reaching for his brother's hand. "Didn't know it…it was…her."

Johnny wrapped his right hand around Scott's and moved his other to stroke the blonde hair back from his brother's face. "I know, Brother. I know. You were havin' another nightmare." Johnny's heart was breaking and his stomach was twisting into tight knots. His older brother was struggling for every breath against the burden on his side and Johnny shifted slightly to allow Scott to lay further across him in the hope of relieving some of the pressure.

Scott hissed sharply but didn't utter another sound. Instead, he clutched Johnny's hand tighter, drawing it toward him.

The sudden tension across the blonde's shoulders and the vice-like grip on Johnny's hand, told the dark haired Lancer that his big brother suddenly feared that he was leaving. "It's all right, Boston. I ain't goin' nowhere. Just tryin' to make you more comfortable."

Scott sank back against his brother and eventually started to drift back to sleep. His breathing soon matched the rhythm of Johnny's and the tension across his shoulders eased with the gentle touch of Johnny's hand on his shoulder. Slowly, Johnny leaned over to turn down the light. "You just try to sleep and I'll stay right here, OK?" He whispered quietly.

Scott's half closed eyes shot open as the room grew dark. He inhaled sharply and clutched Johnny's hand. The older Lancer's words were strained as he raised his head to look up at his younger brother. "No…please. Wan…want the…light. Night…nightmares…come…in the dark."

"All right, Scott," Johnny replied quietly, turning back up the flame. "I'll leave the light on, just turn it down some, OK?"

Scott nodded weakly and put his head back against his brother's chest. "Please, Johnny…don't…don't leave…me. Don't leave me…in the darkness…."

"Take it easy, Scott. I won't leave you. I promise." Johnny answered quietly, frowning. "And I won't turn out the light."

As he clutched his brother's trembling form, Johnny couldn't help but think that Scott had always been a pillar of strength - the one calming force in his turbulent life. The strong thread that always managed to bind him and their father together after one of the many disagreements they had had over the years. The strong shoulder that the weary ex-gunfighter would lean on whenever the world seemed to be crashing in around him. Or when he felt like he had no where to turn, except to run away from the life that his father had presented to him and return to the life of being a pistolero. Scott was the strong big brother with the voice of wisdom and reason. Who was always there to catch Johnny when he stumbled. Who was always willing to listen when the dark haired, impetuous, obstinate younger brother finally felt like talking about whatever it was that was bothering him.

Hell…Scott was his hero.

Now, Johnny thought desperately, all of that had changed. His older brother was like a frightened child. Scott's spirit was broken. His mind tormented with dark images of torture and humiliation. His body wracked with pain and fever as he clung to life with each breath.

Johnny stroked the blonde hair away from his brother's face and inhaled deeply, willing his strength to his brother through the grip of his right hand. "Everything is going to be all right, Boston. You'll see." He said, trying to soothe away the lines of pain from the blonde's tortured face. "I'm gonna stay right here, just like I promised. OK?"

"K, Brother," Scott whispered. His voice growing softer, he stared up at his little brother. "Sor…sorry, Johnny."

The younger sibling stared back at the other. "What for?"

"F…for…being scared of the dark," Scott quipped, a small, faint smile creeping onto the edges of his mouth. "Sup…supposed…to be…strong an…and pro…protect…you little brother. N…not…the other way 'round."

For the first time in days, Johnny grinned, allowing his brother's weak attempt at humor to further lighten the darkness of the room. Allowing the brief moment of happiness to chase away some of his brother's pain and anguish, as well as his own. He continued to gently stroke the blonde hair back from the fevered brow. "Yeah…well…I kinda like bein' in charge for once and protectin' you for a change, Boston. Actually kinda like bossin' you 'round. Could get used to it as a matter o' fact."

"Don't…don't count on it…little brother. I…I…can…still knock you…down…a notch…when…I want…to." Scott threatened, weakly but lovingly.

"Can't do that if you're sick, Brother." The dark haired brother retorted in kind. "Guess you're just gonna have to get better, now won't ya?" It was an order, not a request.

The smile faded from the blonde's lips as he looked up at his younger brother through tears, a sharp intake of air signaling the onset of another spasm of pain.

The ex-gunfighter swallowed the lump in the back of his throat, when Scott grimaced and then fought to gain his breath as the spasms coursed through his fevered body. Johnny tightened his hold and clutched his brother's hand to his own chest in an effort to help Scott endure the agonizing seizures.

Slowly the spasms ebbed and Scott once more stilled against Johnny's side. His eyes glazed over and he stared into empty space. Strained and tormented words left the older Lancer's lips. "Demons…come in the darkness, Johnny. MacMillan…and Ferguson…they come…to hu…hurt me. An…and kill you…Johnny. M…my…fault. Did…didn't pro…protect you. I…I…fa…failed you, Brother…."

"You didn't fail me. You've never failed me, Boston." Johnny whispered, trying desperately to keep his voice steady. Instead, it was cracking with emotions. "You're my hero. And heroes don't fail." Another sharp gasp from Scott's lips and Johnny pulled his brother closer - the agonizing sound all too familiar to the younger Lancer's concerned ears. "And they don't die, either. You hear me?"

Johnny put his hand on Scott's cheek; gently drawing the blonde's face back up and willing his brother's eyes back to his. "You listen to me, Scott Lancer. You are my hero, Brother. You have been ever since that day four years ago when you ran out like a damn fool in all that gunfire to pull me to safety. You can't die, don't you understand? I need somebody I can look up to. Somebody I can trust with my deepest secrets. Somebody I can lean on and to be there to catch me when I fall. See…you're the strong big brother and I'm the pesky, nagging little brother. That's how it's supposed to be, Scott. It's like one of them contracts…only it ain't written out between brothers. It's just the way it is, you know? I ain't gonna let you break this contract, Scott. It means too much to me…~you~ mean too much to me, Boston. So you just hold on and keep up your end of the bargain and I'll keep mine, OK?"

Eyes of deep sapphire locked on those of light blue topaz that were trying to fight another spasm of pain, clouding in tears as they stared up at Johnny. An unspoken promise passed between the brothers then and the clouded blue eyes finally closed in tormented sleep once more, his grip tightening on the hand that anchored him to this world.

The hardened ex-gunfighter held onto the man he called his brother -- a man that was now trapped once more like a child in the nightmares threatening to destroy him.







The nightmares had threatened once more in the coming hours, but had been battled back by the reluctance of the dark haired brother to relinquish his hold on the trembling form of his blonde sibling. Johnny continued to speak softly to his brother. Nagging him to hold on. Rattling on about anything he could think of. From the plans to move the herds and drive another two hundred head into Stockton come springtime, to helping Jelly rebuild the chicken coops, to even taking Teresa on a trip to San Francisco to buy some new dresses. He didn't care if he had already talked about something in the previous few days. All Johnny cared about was keeping his brother's attention away from following the ever-present angel of death.

By morning, the dark haired Lancer was exhausted and hoarse, but he felt victorious. Not only had he managed to stave off another assault of death's heavy hand against his brother, he had successfully held off Nathan and Murdoch shortly after Scott had finally drifted back into a restless sleep. Glaring at them when they had entered the room, suggesting a stronger dose of morphine to help Scott get through the night. Despite their protestations to the contrary, Johnny had refused the administration of the heavier dose of the addictive narcotic into his brother's system.

If there was one thing that he was certain of, Johnny didn't want his brother in pain, but he was going to be damned if Scott would be turned into an opium addict. He knew that his older brother wouldn't want it either. Hell, he thought. It was bad enough, that Scott's pain was still so intense that it even required the medication. The younger brother, however, knew in his heart that without the drug the pain would be unbearable for Scott and perhaps even become a danger to his life, as it stressed his overtaxed heart and lungs further. So instead, he reluctantly agreed to a light dose. Just to help his brother breathe easier and dull the edge of the sharp pains still coursing through the blonde's body.

Pulled away from his brother's side so he could rest while his father or one of the others stayed with Scott, the hours dragged for Johnny. The year was drawing to a close and he wanted it to end. All of it. The pain, the nightmares and the fear he saw when he had looked into his brother's clouded blue eyes. Eyes that had never even flashed a glimmer of fear in the over four years that Johnny had known his brother.

Brushing Barranca's mane, the dark haired Lancer closed his eyes and leaned into the strong mount, wrapping his arms around the palomino's neck. He'd had enough pain and anguish the past five months to last him a lifetime. What was worse, Johnny thought, he knew too well that whatever he had felt, it had been even worse for Scott. He could only pray now, that with the coming new year they could both begin to heal. For the nightmares that continued to plague his older brother, that he had heard time and time again over the past week, would haunt them both for the rest of their lives.

Johnny sighed heavily and nuzzled his face against the golden mane. "It may still be some time before Boston can come to visit you, my old friend," Johnny said softly. "He's very sick, mi amigo. The fever…and his wounds…they still hold him in a death grip." The tears that he had fought back in the early morning hours now threatened and he finally let them fall freely against the mount's strong neck. "Scott can't die, Barranca. He just can't. He made me a sworn promise last night. You ain't supposed to go back on your promises."

The strong mount whinnied and shook its head as if to agree with its trusted owner.

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Johnny smiled wistfully. "That's right, mi amigo. Just like my sworn promise to Boston. I ain't gonna go back on it either. No matter how long it takes. I'm gonna find the men that did this. I'm gonna find 'em and make 'em pay for what they did to Scott. I swear on all that is holy, I will find them…and kill them."

Feeding his silent friend one last handful of oats, Johnny turned toward the door of the barn. Reaching it, he took a deep breath and watched the rays of light fade with the last setting sun of the year. His heart grew heavy and the younger Lancer closed his eyes, bowing his head in silent prayer. Please God…don't let Scott's chances of livin' fade like the setting sun. He's still so weak and in so much pain. Do not take away the gift you gave me a week ago, Lord. Please…let him live to see the New Year…a lifetime more of New Year's. Please…make him well so we can grow old together making our dreams come true for Lancer…for our families and for us.

He glanced toward the house, his eyes drifting up to the window of his brother's bedroom. "You just hold on, Boston. We've come too far for this to be our last New Year together. I can't make those dreams come true without you, Brother."







That's right, Brother…those dreams are gonna become a reality for ~both~ of us. You just wait 'til I get back up there. We can start…

Johnny's thought faded when he saw his father out of the corner of his eye, downing a shot of whiskey, only to reach for the decanter and pour another. Murdoch's hand was shaking violently and the rich golden liquid spilled across the table's dark oak surface.

"Damn it to Hell!" the gray haired patriarch bellowed.

Only the sound of Johnny's voice kept his father from swiping the entire contents from the surface with his forearm. "Murdoch?" he asked softly, "you all right?"

Murdoch quickly turned away from his youngest son. "Johnny? I thought…I thought you were resting."

"Too restless to sleep in the daylight thinkin' 'bout Scott." Johnny stepped closer to his father, noticing the distinct tremors coursing through his father's broad shoulders. "I was in the barn, tendin' to Barranca." He placed his left hand on Murdoch's right shoulder and squeezed firmly. "Want to talk about it?"

Murdoch didn't answer. He just lowered his head and reached for the decanter once more. His hand continued to shake and he pulled it back, balling it into a tight fist.

"Here. Let me." Said Johnny in a quiet but firm voice, removing his hand to turn toward the table. He reached for the crystal container, pouring out two glasses. "I could use one myself," the youngest son continued. The glasses poured, he handed one over to his father. Johnny studied his father's profile closely, until his scrutinizing gaze caused Murdoch to turn away from him once more. The deep blues eyes of the son narrowed and he glanced quickly upward, then to his father's back. "Thought you were sittin' with Scott."

The ex-gunfighter was used to reading body language. It was one of the skills he had honed to a fine art - an art that had managed to keep him alive on more than one occasion. The fact that the tremors became more pronounced when he mentioned his brother didn't escape him. His hand went to his father's shoulder once more. "Murdoch? What happened?" Johnny asked, his voice firm despite the trembling he felt starting in the pit of his stomach.

Silence. Nothing but the ticking of the grandfather clock was heard.

"Murdoch?" Johnny pressed again. Turning his father toward him, the look on his father's face said it all. Feeling his gut wrench, Johnny fired with both barrels loaded. "What did you hear? What did Scott say?"

For the first time that he could remember, Johnny watched the face of the strong head of Lancer visibly begin to crumble with emotion. Johnny instinctively knew that his father was struggling to gain control before his defenses came crashing down in front of his youngest son.

Murdoch's voice was barely above a whisper. "He was so alone…and frightened."

"Yes," Johnny answered, his stomach knotting further. Fearing what part of his brother's horrendous ordeal his father had overheard.

"And they just kept on whipping him…. Whipping him until they broke him like an animal! With no other purpose in mind but the pleasure of it!" Murdoch yelled harshly, the shot glass shattering when he clenched his hand into a fist.

"Murdoch!" Johnny cried and reached for his father's bloody hand, pulling a piece of glass from the palm. Grabbing the decanter he poured some whiskey on the open wound, holding tight to Murdoch's wrist when he tried to pull his hand away. "Hold still, damn it!" Johnny admonished, grabbing a bandana to wrap around the wound. "Damn it, Murdoch. Doc's gonna have to put a couple of stitches in this."

"It's all right," Murdoch replied, slowly pulling his hand free from his son's grasp. "Thanks."

Johnny sighed and put the top back on the decanter. The younger Lancer's shoulders sagged and he placed his hands on the table. His back was to his father. Lowering his head, he spoke quietly. "I'm sorry you had to hear that, Murdoch." He felt his father's hand on his shoulder, squeezing it firmly.

"Johnny? You've heard everything, haven't you, Son?"

"I don't know." Johnny solemnly replied, closing his eyes and swallowing hard to the tortured ramblings of his brother. Opening the deep blue orbs, he steeled his resolve and turned to face his father. "But I wouldn't tell you if I had. None of you need to hear that."

"Johnny…please. You don't need to shoulder all of that by yourself."

"I ain't betrayin' his trust, Murdoch." Johnny retorted, looking his father straight in the eye. "Please, don't ask me to again," he said decisively. "Ever."

"Of course." Murdoch nodded and smiled ruefully. "I'm sorry." The patriarch placed his hand back on his young son's shoulder and stepped closer. "But I'm worried about you too, Johnny. About how this is affecting you."

The younger Lancer forced back the lump that was forming in the back of his throat when he looked into his father's concerned eyes. "I'm all right, Murdoch. I'll be a whole better when Scott pulls through this and gets back on his feet." So I can finally hunt down and kill the sons of a bitch that did this to him.

Murdoch started to speak when a broken and emotional voice filtered into the room.

They turned to find Teresa standing at the doorway, her face streaked with tears.

"Murdoch…Johnny…Doc…Dr. Davis wants to see both of you."

Johnny reached his 'sister' first. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he squeezed them firmly. "Teresa! What's wrong?!" He read the terrified look on her face and Johnny felt the blood drain from his. Releasing her, he headed to stairs, barely hearing the words, "…tube down his throat…" as he took the steps two at a time, yelling, "No! He promised!"







He promised! Johnny thought frantically when he burst into his brother's room.

Nathan grabbed his shoulders and stood firm between the ex-gunfighter and his brother's bed. "Johnny! Calm down!"

"No! Let me go! Scott!" Johnny struggled in the older man's grasp, amazed that the doctor had such strength. Breaking the hold, he sank to his knees next to Scott's bedside. The young man's chest immediately tightened when he saw his brother. Scott's eyes were barely open and his breathing was intense and labored. Johnny placed his hands on either side of his brother's face. "Scott?" he asked softly, his voice barely above a whisper. His brother did not acknowledge him and the younger brother's breath caught in his throat. Not removing his eyes from Scott's face, Johnny directed his next question to the doctor standing behind him. "What happened, Doc? He was OK when I left earlier…he was OK…." He repeated, his voice trailing off.

Nathan placed his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "He's taken a turn for the worse. His fever is out of control, Johnny. I've got to insert a tube so we can keep fluids in him."

Tears welling in his eyes, Johnny shook his head, "No," and pulled free of Nathan's grasp.

"Johnny! Please!" Murdoch exclaimed. "Go ahead, Nathan. Do it."

"No!" Johnny yelled adamantly, turning his head, eyes flashing in protestation. "He promised me last night that he'd fight!"

Nathan quickly exchanged looks with Murdoch and then gazed at the young man kneeling in front of him. "Johnny…Scott's been fighting for five months. He can't fight anymore. He's too weak."

Johnny's eyes darted between the two men. "Then I'll fight for him!"

"Son, please." Murdoch took a step toward his son. "Listen to yourself! Let Nathan help Scott." He said sternly, reaching for Johnny's shoulder.

The dark haired son pulled away from his father, shoving the hand away harshly. "I said no, Murdoch! You ain't stickin' that tube down his throat and druggin' him up so much that he can't feel nothin'!"

Nathan sighed heavily. "Without it, Scott won't live to see the New Year. He's dying, Johnny."

The younger Lancer took in a sharp, painful breath. His whole body shook with fear and unreleased rage. He turned back toward Scott. Leaning forward, he placed his hands on the fevered face once more, turning his brother's head toward him. "No he's not," Johnny replied with conviction. "He can't. 'Cause heroes don't die."

Ignoring the collective gasp from the two men behind him, a tear breeched Johnny's defenses and he gently stroked Scott's forehead. "Come on, Scott. Look at me." Trying to elicit a response from his brother, Johnny pressed his hands firmly against his brother's cheeks. "Look at me damn it!" A flicker of recognition in the tortured blue eyes and Johnny continued. "We got a contract remember? You promised me that you'd fight like my big brother while I nagged you like a pesky little brother. Ain't right for you to go back on your promise and break that contract, Brother."

"Con…tract…sworn promise…." Scott choked out.

"That's right, Boston." Johnny nodded, his lips quivering as he fought to remain strong to fight his brother's battle with the angel of death. Taking his brother's hand in his, Johnny pleaded his case. "You said Christmas mornin' that you wouldn't turn loose of God's gift. Remember?"

"Y…yes…" came the painful reply, a tear escaping past the half hooded eyes.

"Well I ain't turnin' loose either. I know you're tired Scott. Tired of the pain. Tired of fightin' for every breath. Tired of the nightmares that won't let you go. You can't give up now. You hear me? You got to fight. I'll help you…I promise." The pain filled eyes closed tight and the blonde's face grimaced. The dark haired brother continued, his voice cracking with raw emotion. "But Doc over there wants to put a tube down your throat so he can do the fightin' for ya. Is that what you want, Brother? Do you want him to do that so you can finally rest? Do you want to take the chance that you'll never be able to fight again?"

"Johnny!" Murdoch admonished harshly.

The dark haired son didn't remove his eyes from his brother's when he yelled, "Shut up, Murdoch! Let me finish!" Nathan started to interrupt but Johnny turned his eyes on the doctor and glared at him. "If you're gonna stick that tube down his throat, then it has to be his decision and his alone! Not ours!" Johnny felt his brother squeeze his hand and turned back to face him. The younger brother gazed into the half closed eyes that were now pools of tears. He swallowed the lump in his throat and tightened his hold on his brother's trembling hand. "You're my hero, Scott. I love you, Brother. I want you to fight and hold on 'cause I don't want to lose you…but…." he paused, wiping the tears that had strayed from Scott's eyes and then forced a waning smile onto his own trembling lips, "I'll do whatever you want."

Johnny watched Scott's eyes close and felt his brother's grip tighten when a spasm coursed through his weakened body. Summoning every ounce of courage he had against the fear of the answer he would receive, the younger brother leaned in closer, gently stroked his brother's fevered cheek and asked again, "What do you want, Boston?"

The silence hung thick in the air, surrounding each member of the room in a blanket of remorse. Enfolding their hearts in pain and anguish as they watched the oldest son of Murdoch Lancer fight another seizure of pain. His body now too weak to even convulse against it. Scott's hand was enfolded tightly in that of Johnny's, his eyes fluttering as he struggled to open them and look into the worried eyes of his little brother.

Johnny let the tears that had escaped flow freely down his cheeks. His voice wavered once more. "What do you want, Brother?"

The strangled words were forced past lips that quivered in pain, barely audible when Scott whispered, "…to fight. He…heroes…fi…fight…t…their…own…ba…battles…."

Blue eyes locked on blue and the darker of the two closed, his shoulders sagging in relief. Gracias, El Señor.

Murdoch stepped toward his sons. "Johnny…please. He's too weak."

Johnny's eyes shot open and darkened, narrowing dangerously. He turned the flashing orbs on his father. "You heard him! He said no!"

Murdoch shook his head and grabbed his younger son shoulders, pulling him to his feet. "Johnny! He'll die!"

"Then he'll die on ~his~ terms! Not yours!" The youngest Lancer exclaimed, glowering at his father and then Nathan. "At least this way, he'll save what dignity he has left!" Johnny yelled and shoved his father away. He knelt next to his brother's side once more, tensing when he felt his father's hand on his shoulder. "Leave it alone, Murdoch." He turned and gazed into his father's eyes. When Johnny saw the depth of concern and fear in them, his voice softened and he folded his hand over the strong hand on his shoulder. "Please, Murdoch. Let Scott do this his way."

The Lancer patriarch closed his eyes, reluctantly nodding his acceptance to the wishes of his sons. The eyes slowly opened. "All right." He turned his gaze toward Nathan. "Can you keep him comfortable at least?"

Nathan inhaled and turned toward the table. Placing his palms flat on it, he lowered his head in resignation. "Yes," he answered softly. "I'll diminish the dosages and give him just enough to dull the edges, but not enough to pull him under." He turned toward the dark haired brother and placed his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Will that be all right, Johnny?"

Johnny looked back down at his brother, studying his face and reading the look in the blonde's clouded blue eyes. The nod Scott gave was indiscernible but Johnny didn't miss it or the slight squeeze of his brother's hand on his. "Yes."

Nathan sighed. "All right then. At least we can try and keep small amounts of fluids into him."

The look that flickered in his brother's eyes didn't get past him and Johnny shook his head sharply. "No Doc. ~I'll~ try and keep small amounts of fluids into him."

"Johnny…" Murdoch growled under his breath.

Ignoring his father's reprimand, giving his brother's hand a strong squeeze, Johnny stood and turned to stare down the two men facing him. "I said no. This is now our fight, Murdoch. Scott's and mine. He don't want any of you to help, only me." Seeing the feelings of rejection wash over the faces of everyone else in the room, Johnny ran his hand through his hair in tired frustration. The look Scott had just given him told him that his older brother was concerned about what their father had overheard. Even more frightened about what he could still say when another nightmare took hold. "Look…it's not that he doesn't love you. It's just…well…he don't want none of you to suffer anymore." Johnny said reassuringly, quickly glancing toward his father in the hope that Murdoch would understand the silent message he was trying to convey.

Teresa spoke up from her silence next to Jelly. "Johnny, we love him. We only want to help him get well."

Johnny shook his head, trying to get his emotions back under control. "No querida. Please…understand that this is what Scott wants. He wants to protect you because he loves you - all of you."

Murdoch sighed and stepped toward his youngest son. Placing one hand on Johnny's shoulder and the other over Scott's left hand. "This…this ~contract~ between the two of you…. It's binding?"

A guarded smile crept onto the dark haired Lancer's lips. Johnny gazed down at his brother and placed his hand on Scott's shoulder, squeezing it gently to reaffirm his end of the bargain. "Yeah…very much so. It's unbreakable."







So much pain…. He thought, struggling to focus his clouded eyes. He was on his side again, leaning against something warm, comforting…a strong presence. The gentle rise and fall lulling him into a state of calm as he awakened to new fears that his family had heard him cry out once more. He must have tensed, he thought. A strong but gentle hand was on his shoulder. A soothing voice filtered down to his ears.

"Ssshh, Boston. It's all right. You're safe now."

Safe now…safe now. Those two simple words echoed through his fevered brain. Yes, he thought. He was safe. He was home. Lancer. His family. His brother. Johnny…

"I'm here. Just go back to sleep, Brother."

He frowned. He didn't remember saying his brother's name out loud. Maybe he had. He didn't know. He didn't care. He was finally safe. He was finally home. His brother was alive.

Reassured by those simple but profound thoughts he closed his eyes once more. Letting the gentle rise and fall of his brother's chest and the strong feel of his brother's protective hand on his shoulder lull him back into the comforting haze where the pain went away.







"I just wish I could take your pain away, Brother." The words sounded strained, emotional.

Scott tried to understand the soft voice - his brother's voice. It sounded tired, he thought. I'm tired. Go away, Johnny. Please…just go away and let me go….

"Come on, Scott. Drink this."

The blonde didn't have to open his eyes to see the concern that clouded his brother's face. He felt it in the trembling of his brother's hand when it wrapped behind his head, pulling it forward as he felt the glass press against his lips. Once more forcing the life sustaining liquid into him.

"You've just got to hold on, Scott. Please, Brother. Don't leave me."

Please…leave me alone. Scott thought, growing more and more frustrated with his little brother.

"I know you can hear me, Boston. We made a deal! You've got to continue to fight!"

I don't want to fight! I'm tired of fighting! I'm sorry now I didn't let you allow that doctor to put that tube down my throat! Can't you see, Johnny? MacMillan got what he wanted! He broke me! Please, Brother! Just let me die!

"Oh no you don't, Scott Lancer!"

Ouch! Damn it Johnny, that hurt! Scott moaned, feeling the fingers of the hand behind his head entwine tightly in his hair. His hand balled into a tight fist and he yanked on the restraint. He suddenly had an overwhelming urge to belt his little brother and put an end to his incessant nagging.

"We got a contract!"

Contract Hell. He tensed in angry frustration. You do that again and I'll flatten your ass.

"Oohhh…what's the matter, Boston? Hit a nerve? Want me to undo that restraint so you can finally take a swing at me?"

You have no idea…. The blonde seethed silently. He felt the strap loosen.

"Well then, bring it on ~Big Brother~. Let's dance."

Oh we're gonna dance, you little brat….

"Quite frankly I don't think you got it in you to fight. You've lost your nerve, Boston."

Why you little shit…I'll…. His hand was free.

"Yep. You've been lyin' 'round here for the past ten days doing nothin' but lettin' everyone else fight for ya. Spec'ly me. I'm tired of it."

That's it! His eyes shot open and he grabbed the front of his brother's shirt, pulling the insolent face within inches of his own. And I'm tired of your incessant nagging, you bratty little piece of shit! "Leave me alone!" Scott rasped, his weakened voice tinged in anger until he saw the mischievous grin on Johnny's face.

"'Bout damn time you woke up, Boston. Hell, you slept through Christmas and New Year's. I was beginning to think you were gonna sleep through Easter too." Johnny wrapped his hand around Scott's and squeezed gently, grinning from ear to ear as he continued his badgering. "Ah…I know you've been wantin' one for your own but do you mind lettin' go of the shirt now? Teresa just ironed it for me. Maybe if you're real nice, she'll make you one and even iron it for ya."

Scott's eyes focused on those of his little brother. He still couldn't see very well, his eyes were clouded with shadows, but the blonde didn't need to see anything else except the pair of dark blue eyes that had refused to let him die. The same blue eyes that he had seen each time he had barely been conscious…barely alive.

"It's almost the fifth of January, Boston. Happy New Year, Brother."

Scott watched the eyes darken with emotions and felt Johnny's hand tighten around his, as if his little brother was afraid to let go. That's OK, Johnny. I don't want to let go either…now.

"God, Scott. I almost lost you again, Brother. You and the Angel of Death have danced one too many dances together this past week. I was so afraid you weren't gonna make it back."

I almost didn't. Fragments and splinters raced through the blonde's mind. Dark images. Nightmares. Pain. Excruciating pain. Threatening to pull him into oblivion. Always present, strong hands and a pair of deep sapphire blue eyes that refused to let go or give up hope. Johnny - his lifeline, his anchor to this world. The little brother that was always there to pull him back from the black abyss of darkness. I wouldn't have made it…if it hadn't been for you, Brother. Besides, we have a contract…a sworn promise. Can't go back on that. Scott felt as if those concerned blue eyes were staring into his very soul. He nodded weakly, trying to force back the welling emotions with a waning smile. "Yeah…well…heroes fight to keep their sworn promises to their pesky, nagging little brothers," he choked out.

This time, Scott watched the darkness fade from the deep blue eyes, replaced by a glimmer of happiness…of hope.

As the comforting haze pulled him back once more into a peaceful sleep, Scott would remember Johnny's arms wrapped around him tight. His free arm draped across Johnny's trembling shoulders. Pulling his little brother into a hug and never wanting to let go.







If only the nightmares would let him go, Scott mused, struggling against the pain coursing through his body.

He felt a slight prick in his arm and grimaced, feeling the warm liquid race into his veins. The comforting haze soon followed. He was once again drifting, barely hearing the voices in the room but always feeling the touch of his brother's hand.

Through hooded eyes he watched his younger brother ride herd on Teresa and Murdoch. Shooing them out of the room along with the doctor. What is his name again? Dr. Nathan? No…Dr. Davis? I need to remember to ask Johnny. When he quits bulldoggin' Murdoch, that is. The blonde thought amusingly.

The amusement faded when he looked at his father's departing eyes. God…he looks exhausted. Johnny was right. Murdoch did hear something. I bet he hasn't slept since. His gaze shifted to his dark haired brother. Johnny…dear God he looks even worse. Studying the low riding jeans his brother always wore, he sighed. He's so pale and thin now. Those jeans would probably fall off him if it weren't for that conchabelt. I bet he hasn't eaten enough to sustain a mouse. It's all my fault.

The door closed behind the three figures and his brother turned, the deep blue eyes narrowing when they met Scott's.

Damn it. Close your eyes, you idiot. He'll see right through you. Scott quickly thought to himself, closing his eyes to his own harsh order.

"You and I need to have a ~little talk~, Boston."

Oh shit. Too late. He heard the footsteps grow closer and sound of the chair being drawn across the wooden floor.

"Open your eyes, Brother."

Just keep your eyes closed. Maybe he'll get the idea that you've drifted off to sleep. Maybe he'll leave you alone to rest. Maybe ~he'll~ leave to get some rest. The voice grew closer. It was lower now. Threatening.

"I said, open your eyes and look at me, Scott. I ain't leavin'."

Then again…maybe not. Scott reluctantly opened his eyes and tried to focus on the pair of deep blue orbs staring back at him. Studying him like a specimen under a microscope. God, I hate it when he looks at me like that. The blonde Lancer tried to take a deep breath, only to cough harshly for his efforts. Sharp lancing pains shot through his left side. Oh God! Make it stop! He felt Johnny's hand clutch his and Scott held on for dear life, digging his nails into his brother's palm when the pains grew worse.

"Easy Scott. Come on, Brother. You know the drill. Hold on to my hand and breathe easy. Let the morphine kick in." Johnny said in a soothing voice, stroking the hair back from his brother's forehead.

"Still hurts…Johnny," Scott grated through clenched teeth.

"It'll pass soon. Just try and calm down. That shot has to last you for several more hours, OK?"

Scott nodded weakly and gazed up at his brother. The deep blue eyes had darkened in concern. The threatening tone from a moment before, though loving in nature was now replaced with one of apprehension, tinged with regret…and guilt. I knew it. He's still blaming himself, damn it. "Not…not your fault, Johnny."

"That's what we need to talk about. It's not yours either, Boston." Johnny said flatly, reaching for the cloth in the basin. "It's that bastard, MacMillan's. As soon as I know you're all right, I'm going to hunt him down and kill him." He threatened, placing the cool cloth on Scott's fevered brow.

The blonde wrapped his hand over Johnny's wrist and shook his head sharply. "No, Johnny. He's mine." Scott hissed, the venom dripping off his tongue.

"Scott…you're not a cold blooded killer."

"Oh, like you are," Scott retorted.

"More than you."

"Yeah…well maybe you don't know me that well, Johnny." The blonde remonstrated, raising his hand when Johnny started to protest. Maybe the war changed me more than I told you. "I'm hard to get to know, remember?"

Johnny shook his head, a mock grin curling the edges of his mouth. "Yeah…sure you are, Boston. So I guess barin' our souls to each other over the past four years didn't count for much then?"

"Johnny…" Scott growled, clenching his teeth against the dull throb starting in his lower abdomen. Damn it, please don't argue with me on this!

"Scott…" Johnny echoed his brother's snarl.

"Damn you! Don't argue with me!" Once more, blue eyes locked on blue, only it was the pair of clouded blue topaz that took control. Scott's hand tightened around his brother's wrist, silently threatening the ex-gunfighter. He suddenly felt a rush of warmth as the smoldering rage that had somehow sustained him through his ordeal the past several days ignited into a blazing inferno deep within his soul. Scott knew, by the sudden flicker in Johnny's eyes that his own eyes, though clouded in pain and sickness, were flashing with the flames of retribution. "He's mine. Do you understand me?" The blonde Lancer snarled once more, his voice low and threatening.

Johnny pulled his wrist free abruptly and stood, turning away from his brother. He ran a hand through his hair and then balled his hands into tight fists at his sides. "The only thing I understand is that MacMillan and his men tortured you, Scott. Tortured you and would've killed you if you hadn't escaped. They held you prisoner for over four and a half months for God's sake! Treating you worse than an animal!" The dark haired Lancer turned and faced his brother. "I want them to pay," Johnny said menacingly, "and pay dearly…for every wound…every scar…every bit of pain you felt and still feel with every breath you take!"

Scott shook his head. "No Johnny." His vision clouded once more and he could barely see his brother. Damn it! I wish it would quit doing that! The blonde reached out his hand in the direction of his brother's voice. "Please. This has to be my doing. Not yours." He felt Johnny's hand enfold around his and looked into his brother's face when Johnny sat back down. Glad that he could see at least a few feet he thought ruefully, That's all I need. Just enough to slit MacMillan's throat. "Don't you see? I should've killed Jacob MacMillan when he murdered my best friend, Kevin Latham. Only I didn't and I've carried the burden of that guilt for over fifteen years. Because I didn't seek retribution then, other men suffered, Johnny. Brave men. Innocent men. That were caught on the receiving end of his demented sense of ~fun~ during the war. How many others suffered after that, Johnny? How many others didn't escape his depravity?" Scott grimaced as another pain traversed across his shoulder and down his back.

Johnny frowned and taking the cloth in his other hand, wiped his brother's beleaguered face. "I don't care about the others, Scott. I only care about you. There's no excuse for what that maniac did to you. I have to make him pay for this."

Scott felt Johnny's hand tremble slightly and tightened his grip. He could tell that his ex-gunfighter brother was struggling to contain indignant emotions of rage and hatred, wanting to seek his own form of vengeance. "Johnny. Listen to me. You have to understand. Kevin Latham may have been my best friend growing up in Boston, but he wasn't my brother. You are, Johnny. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me." He drew a sharp breath and locked his eyes on the younger brother before him. "You're a part of me, Johnny. Five years ago I didn't even know you existed, now I can't imagine living my life without you being a part of it. Only, on a hot day in August Jacob MacMillan took all of that away from me. Everyday for over four and a half months I watched him gun you down in cold blood! Laughing sinisterly as your body slumped to the ground! Lying in a pool of blood!"

The memory was still too harsh, causing the intensity of the pain in his back to increase. Scott fought another spasm and hissed through his teeth, clutching his brother's hand. "Mor…morphine…" he pleaded, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Boston…please. Take it easy. We can't give you anymore right now."

Another convulsion and Scott doubled over in agony, the waves of nausea lapping at the back of his throat, as the nightmares now became vivid images. "Oh God…no," he cried in desperation. Thankful his brother knew the routine and eased him onto his right side, Scott leaned over the side of the bed, heaving the meager amounts of broth and water Johnny was finally able to get into him earlier. "Please, John…ny…gi…give me something for the…the pain…." He choked out between the heaves.

"I can't Scott. It's too dangerous."

The older Lancer brother gazed up and into the misting blue orbs staring back at him. "Please…it hurts…just…just a little laudanum then."

Johnny shook his head. "No," he croaked and wrapped his right arm around Scott's trembling shoulders, pulling Scott's hand to his chest. "Take it easy. I've got you. It'll soon pass and you'll be fine."

Fine. Yeah right. I'll never be fine again, Johnny. Scott felt the strength flow from his brother's hand and slowly eased forward to lean against his brother's chest, breathing heavily to take in enough oxygen until the spasms ebbed. Looking up, he fixed his gaze on his brother's eyes. Scott's eyes welled with caustic tears. He didn't force them back, instead allowing them to fall freely as he whispered his words. "He broke me, Johnny."

"No…" came the strangled response.

"Yes…he did." He clutched at Johnny's hand, once more seeking the physical contact that had anchored him to this life. The blonde knew his younger brother had heard everything - how could he not have heard the painful words? Johnny hadn't left his side for more than a few hours each night, he thought. His heart grew cold and cracked with bitter remorse when he looked into his brother's eyes. He knew the memories that had spilled forth while he was delirious had torn his brother's heart out. Only now, he was in control and the words were his own…and somehow, he had to use them to make his brother understand. MacMillan is going to pay and pay dearly for the pain he put you through….

Scott's voice grew distant as the images of four and a half months of torture invaded the space between them. "MacMillan broke me, Johnny. Only it wasn't with the whip, or the cat o' nine tails, or even the cane. It wasn't because they tied me to a post like a dog, forcing me to eat food off the ground like an animal. My hands shackled behind my back so I couldn't use them. Or when they would beat and kick me as I struggled, the rope too tight around my neck to raise my head more than a few inches off the ground. My body shuddering and convulsing because they had drenched me in ice-cold water."

"Scott…please…"

Ignoring his brother's anguished plea, the blonde continued. "Or when they would come in the middle of the night, after the wounds had started to heal…only to cut them open with a dull knife. Laughing as I writhed in agony. Pleading with them to stop…to let me go…to let me die." Scott ground out through another spasm of pain.

The tears fell and Johnny shook his head, tightening his hold on Scott. "Boston, don't…please don't do this."

The blonde pulled his gaze away from the tormented eyes gazing down at him through tears. He stared past his brother into the darkness of the room. "They'd always come in the dark…to rub dirt or salt in the wounds. It was one of the sick pleasures they enjoyed, I guess. 'Cause they always got a kick out of hearing my screams when they would rinse the salt out with kerosene."

"Madre de Dios…no."

"It wasn't the torture that broke me." Scott pulled his hand free of Johnny's trembling hand and placed it on his brother's cheek. He wiped the tears from the ex-gunfighter's face. "MacMillan broke me the moment he gunned you down, Johnny. The moment your eyes locked on mine and you sank to the ground. When I thought he killed you."

Johnny closed his eyes and lowered his head. His voice was gone and he barely managed to choke out, "He did."

The older brother drew a long breath at hearing those two words. No longer was the voice the menacing calm one of Johnny Madrid, or the soft loving voice of Johnny Lancer. It was the voice of an apprehensive little brother that had, on more than one occasion in the past five months, almost lost everything he had come to believe in and love.

Watching the raw emotions play across his little brother's face, Scott swallowed hard to force back the lump at the back of his throat. He placed his hand under Johnny's chin and drew his brother's face up, forcing Johnny to look at him. The deep blue eyes revealed so much and Scott felt his cold, cracked heart shatter from the silent pain his brother was feeling. "Johnny…"

"He's killed me a li'l every day you were missin', Scott. Every single day everyone thought you were dead, pityin' me cause I didn't believe it. Every day you've been home, too sick with fever and infections from your wounds to fight the nightmares that won't go away…fightin' for your life with every breath you take, I've died a little more! He has to pay for all of that! He has to pay for makin' you suffer!" Johnny put his hand on Scott's face and looked into his brother's eyes. "Can't you understand? You said I was a part of you, that you couldn't imagine your life without me bein' in it. Well, the same goes here, Boston. My life ain't worth a plug nickel if you ain't a part of it. See…you and me…we're kinda like two halves of a whole, you know? We really can't exist without the other now. Not sure we really did before four years ago. I just know I want ~you~ back, Brother…to complete the whole."

So once more you bare your soul to me. When did I ever become worthy enough for that? Scott closed his eyes to his brother's anguished words and the effects of the morphine as he began to feel drowsy. This ~little talk~ had zapped him of his energy but he had to make his brother understand. Slowly, he opened his eyes, forced a faint smile to his face and locked eyes with Johnny. "Then let me do this, Johnny. My way. Please, promise me that."

"Nope," Johnny replied, shaking his head defiantly. "I know what you're askin' of me, Scott, but I ain't gonna do it. If you want me to promise, then it'll be with me helpin' ya. You ain't doin' this alone, Brother."

I'm tired and I am not in the mood to argue with you! Scott sighed a painful breath. "Damn your hot-tempered, stubborn, pig-headed attitude! You never listen to reason!"

"Yes I do. When it makes sense." Johnny said flatly and without emotion. "Only you ain't makin' any sense right now, Boston. You're in pain, you're tired and you're lettin' your temper get the better of you."

Temper! The pot shouldn't call the kettle black! "Why you little…. You just wait until I get my strength back, Little Brother. I'll knock you senseless!" Scott snapped, his eyes flashing his exhausted frustration. It only grew in intensity when he watched the edges of his brother's mouth curl into a wicked grin. "What's so damn funny?"

"Oh nothin'. Just thinkin' how good it feels to have my big brother back and fightin' mad."







"You really are mad, Jacob." Ferguson sighed in frustration, drawing his forearm across his brow to wipe the dirt from it. "Why do you want to leave a message on that body anyway? Even if Lancer managed to survive after everything we did to him, not to mention the fact that Billy shot him in the gut when he escaped, he ain't just gonna come ridin' up here pretty as you please. Just cause you threaten to kill another man if he don't show."

MacMillan finished securing the torn piece of paper to the front of their latest victim. "Oh that's where you're wrong, Davy. That's precisely what I know he will do." Wiping the blood from his hand on the bandana he held, he stood and then tossed it on top of the dead blonde man at his feet. "Lancer's too predictable. You know that, as well as I do. Scotty boy will do anything to protect another innocent man from meeting his untimely death. Even if it means giving up his own life in the process."

"Davy's right, Boss. Let's just git our kicks back'n Green River n' be on our way, once n' for all." Joey replied quickly, his eyes darting around the surrounding area. He shifted uneasily in his saddle. "The longer we stick 'round dis neck of the woods, the nosier somebody's gonna git. Hell, dem search parties out of Morro Coyo and Lancer been doggin' our tails for the past two weeks! Damn lucky we ain't been caught yet! We've already killed three men since Lancer escaped, not includin' this one. 'Sides…how you know Lancer ain't dead?"

"Marker's gone," MacMillan said flatly, dusting off his jeans with his hat. He studied the horizon in the late afternoon sun, his eyes narrowing as the edges of his mouth curled into a wicked grin. "The old man had it dug up and melted down. Christmas Day, as a matter of fact."

"So. That don't mean nothin'." Joey insisted.

"That's where you're wrong, Joey. Dead wrong." MacMillan sneered, tapping the hammer of his colt. He glared at his impertinent accomplice. "That missing marker means I'm going to get another chance to see that pretty blonde once again and have one last dance with him before I cut his heart out…just as soon as the sheriff and his deputies find this body and deliver that message to Lancer. Trust me, Scott Lancer is alive. He might still be fighting for his life, but he's alive…and he's going to be anxious to dance."

"Still say you're being a damn fool." Ferguson shook his head and scoffed. "That's not all that ~missin' marker~ means, Jacob.

MacMillan whipped his head in the direction of his other crony. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"

Ferguson tightened his hold on the reins and straightened in the saddle. He took a quick glance at the dead body and turned his head forward. "It means ~you~ didn't kill his half-breed brother. Now we'll have to deal with him too," he answered, his voice stoic as he spurred his horse forward into a lope and away from the others.







"Johnny. Come on, Son. You're gonna break your back sleeping hunched over like that." Murdoch chided softly. He rubbed his hand over his youngest son's shoulders and then drew his fingers through the dark head of hair. "Come on, Son. It's after six. Go to bed and get some rest."

"Huh?" Johnny moaned, raising his head slightly from his forearm. His hand was closed tightly over his brother's.

Still holding onto him for dear life. Murdoch smiled wistfully. He kept his hand on the forehead of his dark haired son, making sure there were no signs of returning fever. His youngest hadn't slept well or left his brother's side since Nathan had threatened to put a tube down Scott's throat. That was a week ago, he thought. Hell, just who was he kidding? His young son hadn't slept well for five months, let alone the past two weeks since Christmas. "Get some rest, Johnny. You've been with him all day since last night. I'll sit with him for a spell."

"No, that's OK, Murdoch. I'm all right." Johnny drawled and leaned back in the chair. Yawning, he stretched his arms over his head. "I want to stay with him. He's still not sleeping very well, even with the morphine."

"Yes, I know and I talked to Nathan about that last night." Murdoch sighed and pulled up a chair next to his youngest. "He said that the pain is liable to get worse before it gets better -- as the wounds heal further and the nerves mend. Especially since he and Sam are beginning to diminish the dosages of morphine and laudanum. Nathan told me we should expect it and be prepared, just in case."

"Just in case." Johnny repeated sardonically, shaking his head. "Just in case the pain gets worse?" He stood abruptly and clenched his fists to his sides. "How much worse can the pain get, Murdoch? How much more can Scott stand? He's been through too much now as it is. He can't take much more."

The Lancer patriarch studied the worried young man before him. His youngest son had lost more weight. Johnny was paler and his handsome face was now marred with lines of worry. The deep sapphire blue eyes were sunken, dark circles draped under them, revealing the tell tale signs that Johnny had barely slept a wink since bringing his brother home Christmas Eve. The concerned father wondered how many of those sleepless nights his young son had spent tossing and turning were from worry over his brother. Or from the anguished words and tormented images of Scott's nightmares that Johnny had overheard.

Murdoch drew a long breath and watched Johnny step toward his brother's side, reaching out hesitantly to gingerly touch one of the bandages on Scott's chest. His ears strained to hear the anguished words of his dark haired son. They sounded hollow and distant, as if Johnny had gone back in time - four and a half months worth of time.

"Ever since coming to Lancer over four years ago and learnin' I had a brother, I've always been afraid that someone from my past would be the one to take Scott from me…to put a bullet in his back on account of me. Because of who I was and what I did…back then. I never figured I'd almost lose him to someone from his past. Someone that Scott's hated his whole life 'cause of what that maniac and his friends did to others…to his best friend." Johnny placed his hand on his brother's forehead and lightly stroked the blonde hair back from his brother's eyes. He spoke softly, his eyes never leaving his brother's drawn and pale face. "His time at Libby was bad, Murdoch. But nothin' compared to the likes of this. They tortured and hurt him so bad. So much pain they inflicted on him, laughin' each time they created a new wound or opened up an old one. He was so alone, Murdoch. So frightened in the dark of that mineshaft, cold and hungry…in incredible pain. Yet he hung on. Hung on so he could get back here to Lancer. To die."

Murdoch swallowed hard at hearing the painful revelation of his youngest. "He didn't Johnny. Thanks to you. He's not going to either."

"No. No he's not. I don't take kindly to him breakin' his sworn promise to me, so I ain't gonna let him."

Murdoch smiled in satisfaction at his son's stubbornness. "Your contract?" It was a statement, not a question.

"Our contract." Johnny agreed adamantly.

A long moment of silence fell between them and Murdoch studied his two sons. They were alike in so many ways. Stubborn as the day was long, proud, self-reliant and resourceful. Yet, to look at them they were as different as night and day in coloring - hair, skin and even the shade of their blue eyes. Johnny's were a deep sapphire blue, like the depths of the ocean. While Scott's were lighter, a faint shade of gray tingeing the clear blue topaz, like the wide-open sky overhead. He smiled inwardly and with a sense of overwhelming pride. His sons' eyes were indeed windows to their souls. They were as broad and endless as the analogies he drew to them. Thank you Lord for giving me a second chance to explore those broad horizons. Please…just let me be worthy of one ounce of the undying love and abiding trust they have for each other. The proud father barely heard the strained voice of his youngest son through his thoughts.

Johnny didn't pull his sapphire eyes away from Scott but he shifted his head slightly to speak over his shoulder. "What kind of man does this to another man, Murdoch?"

"I don't know, Son." Murdoch said quietly, the smile fading into a deep frown. Entwining his fingers and folding his hands in front of him, he blinked back the welling tears that threatened. "I've seen what the horrors of war and prisons can do to a man. What they will make men do to other men. I didn't think anything could ever be as bad as that." Lowering his head, he closed his eyes. "I was wrong," he admitted, his voice cracking with strained emotions. "So very wrong."

"When I was about eighteen or nineteen, I was in prison for a spell in Mexico. They whipped me once cause I didn't like to take orders from one of the guards. It wasn't anythin' like this." Johnny whispered. "My wounds healed and the scars faded over time." His fingers trembled as he touched his brother's chest once more. "But…but these," he choked out and swallowed hard to continue, "these are worse, Murdoch…and Doc said that some of 'em won't fade." His hand went back to his brother's face and he let his fingers linger against Scott's cheek, drawing his thumb across the gaunt cheekbone. "He said that they'd always be there…always visible. Especially the one that crosses down Scott's back." The ex-gunfighter's voice wavered. "The one that caused him to finally cry out and plead with them to stop!"

Murdoch watched the shoulders of his youngest son shudder and finally sag in despondency. He, Sam and Nathan had talked about this moment several times during the past few days. It was bound to happen. Johnny had pushed himself past the point of exhaustion. Now his young son was caving under the weight of the emotions that he had managed to bury and hide away from his family since Christmas morning. The father didn't hesitate. He stood quickly, placed his hands on his son's shoulders and pulled him back against his chest. "Oh Johnny."

The youngest Lancer son finally gave up the internal battle he'd been waging and turned into his father's embrace, sagging against the strong chest that offered him support and comfort. "Oh God, Murdoch! Those scars will always be there to remind Scott of what happened!" He cried. "As long as they're visible, the nightmares will never leave him! They'll always haunt him! And they'll always remind me of my failure to protect him!"

"Son, you're the only one that insists on blaming yourself. Your brother certainly doesn't blame you and I sure as hell don't. Those men shot and left you for dead, Johnny." Wrapping his hand behind his son's head, Murdoch pulled Johnny closer. "I have thanked God each and every day that you're as stubborn and ornery as a jackass because you survived." The caring father felt his young son inhale sharply and he knew that Johnny was desperately trying to regain control of the tears that were flooding down his cheeks. He pushed Johnny away enough to place his hand under the ex-gunfighter's chin, drawing the tormented face up. "I love you and Scott so much. I know I don't say it often enough but I'm so very proud of you, Son."

Johnny closed his eyes and then opened them slowly. "How can you be proud of me, Murdoch? After everythin' that has happened to Scott?" He put his hands son his father's chest, trying to push himself away. "After what they did to him because I didn't stop them."

The father wouldn't release his son. "How can you say that? Scott is alive now because of you, John. Because you wouldn't let go of the belief that he was alive or the thread that held him to this world." Murdoch held his trembling son tighter. "With God as my witness, I'm sorry I ever doubted you."

Murdoch looked into his son's darkened eyes and placed his hand on Johnny's cheek. "Johnny, I've lost too many years not being there for you and your brother. These past four years, you've shouldered each other's problems because I was never really there for either one of you. I realize now that I never actually bothered to see how close the two of you have become. You're not only brothers, Johnny. You're best friends. The trust and love that you share binds the two of you together like 'nobody's business'. I can never be a part of that."

Johnny looked up at his father and his eyes narrowed. "That's a load of bull, Murdoch."

The patriarch released his son and stepped toward Scott's bedside. He looked down at his oldest and swallowed back the rising tide of emotions. "Is it?"

"Well, hell yes!" The youngest Lancer ran his hand through his dark hair and blinked back the remaining tears. "Look, I know we've all had our disagreements over the years. Hell…it comes with the territory of bein' a family…but you're still our father!"

 



"A father that should have been able to comfort his sons when they needed it, Johnny. A father that should have been strong enough to listen to his son's anguished nightmares instead of leaving the room in a fit of disbelief and anger! Refusing to hear the torture - torture his own brave son endured for over four months - because he was too much of a coward to face the fears that he could still lose both of his sons to the devastating fallout!" Murdoch's shoulders shuddered and his hands began shaking violently. He clenched them into tight fists at his sides. "What kind of father does that make me?!"

The head of Lancer felt a hand on his shoulder, pressing firmly and biding him to turn around. He turned to look into the caring and concerned eyes of his youngest son. Gone were the tears of guilt from only moments before. The deep sapphire orbs now held tears of love and something more. They held compassion and understanding…strength - the same strength that was mirrored in his older brother's eyes. The same quiet strength he had seen over and over again in their eyes the past four years but had never really bothered to notice. It was the strength that bound his sons together and had kept them alive through the horrendous ordeal of the past five months.

"The kind of father that cares too much to see his sons in pain," the son said quietly.

"Yes." Murdoch forced a waning smile to his face and placed his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "The kind of father that needs to take a lesson of strength from his sons." The slight tremor beneath his hand didn't go unnoticed and he watched his son struggle to stay upright when his knees began to buckle. "Starting right now." He grabbed Johnny's arms and then took his son's elbow, turning him toward the door. "Come on, Johnny. No more arguments, into bed with you. You're exhausted and you need to get some sleep."

"Murdoch…I…"

"I said, no arguments," he said firmly, leading his rebellious son across the hall. "Who was it that said never argue with a stone wall…?"

Johnny rolled his eyes and finished it for him. "Especially when it has Lancer written all over it. Yeah, yeah…I know."

"Good. I'll stay with your brother. Now humor your old man." Murdoch opened the door to Johnny's room, pulling his stubborn son forward and toward the bed. "Get in bed. Now!" He bellowed and shoved Johnny into the soft confines of his bed. "Not a peep out of you for at least four hours! You hear me?!"

Johnny grinned impishly. "Hard not to with ya bellowin' your danged fool head off like that."

"Why you little…" Murdoch forced back the threatening smile. He took a deep breath and turned toward the door. Reaching it, he didn't turn to face his impertinent young son. "Jelly will be right outside your door to make sure you don't cross the line anymore tonight, Johnny. Now get some rest!"

As the head of Lancer started to close the door, he caught sight of Johnny rubbing his elbow. The smile erupted when he heard his young son grumble, "Danged old fool doesn't need any lessons in strength."







Danged old fool, huh? Murdoch smiled, his youngest son's words still echoing in his thoughts as he kept watch over his oldest son.

From the window of his eldest son's room, Murdoch watched his segundoand the others dismount and head toward the corral for fresh mounts. The Lancer patriarch's eyes were drawn to the sound of riders approaching in the distance. Two other riders were heading up the long drive to the hacienda in a flurry of flying hooves, creating a swirling dust cloud. As they drew closer, Murdoch recognized the first rider as Val.

His brows knitting in consternation, the head of Lancer watched the sheriff and his deputy quickly dismount when they reached the house. A quick series of greetings exchanged between Teresa and Val could be heard before the weary riders entered his home. Moments later, Murdoch heard the door to Scott's room open and Val stood hesitantly at the door.

"Come in, Val. He's asleep." Murdoch said quietly, smiling and stepping toward the door, extending his hand toward the trusted family friend.

Shaking Murdoch's hand, Val shook his head slightly, glancing in the direction of the bed. "I'd rather speak to you out here, Murdoch. Where's Johnny?"

"Asleep as well. I just ordered him to bed a little while ago." The grave look of concern on the faces of the sheriff and his deputy didn't go unnoticed. Murdoch frowned, stepping into the hall and pulling the door closed behind him. Leaving it cracked enough to hear his son should Scott call out. Murdoch turned toward Val, "What's going on, Val? You look terrible."

With his hand shaking, Val reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a blood stained note. "The body of a young man…not much older than Scott…was found in the hills north of Green River late yesterday afternoon, Murdoch. This was found pinned to what was left of his shirt."

Reaching toward Val, Murdoch took the note from the trembling hand. He quickly studied the man standing before him. Val had been a long time friend of the family, knowing Johnny longer than any of them. He had managed to pull the Lancer sons out of more scrapes than Murdoch cared to remember over the years. Val Crawford was a lawman. A man that had stood up against many an outlaw in his career and had managed to come away unscathed for the most part. Other than a bullet wound or two to his shoulder or leg. In many ways, Murdoch envied the man his fortitude and resilience. Never one to shirk from a fight, Val Crawford had nerves of steel. Yet the man standing before him was shaking like a leaf on a harsh autumn breeze.

Opening the note, Murdoch's hand began to shake as he read the words, barely hearing Val continue.

"The kid had been tortured, Murdoch." Val swallowed hard and nervously rolled the brim of his hat in his fingers. "We found the other three bodies, just where that note said we'd find 'em. Tortured. Just like that kid."

"We know any of them? Do they have any family?" Murdoch heard the words leave his mouth, but he wasn't sure he had spoken them. His youngest son's words were haunting him as he continued to read the note over and over again. What kind of man does this to another man, Murdoch?

"Not that we know of. They were drifters, mostly…just passin' through. One was seen in Morro Coyo right after Christmas, one in Spanish Wells a couple days after that. This kid and the other victim were both seen in or near Green River 'round New Year's."

Murdoch closed his eyes, taking a deep breath to steady his now frazzled nerves. Opening them he looked into the concerned face of his friend. "Then they've been around the area this entire time."

Val nodded. "Makin' fools of us."

The Lancer patriarch clenched his fists, crumpling the note in his hand. "This note proves they know Scott is still alive and since they've probably been watching the ranch too, they know about Johnny." Murdoch's heart turned cold as a feeling of dread washed over him. "Val…Scott and Johnny…they…"

"…Can identify them." Val quickly added, finishing the statement for Murdoch.

Murdoch turned to Jelly, who hadn't left his post as guard on Johnny's room. "Double the guards on the house, Jelly, and tell Cipriano and Frank to wait for us. We're riding out tonight."

"Sure thin', Boss." Jelly nodded and headed toward the stairs, mumbling. "Them boys sure ain't in no condition to be fightin' maniacs…'spec'ly Scott…."

Murdoch started to turn when Val touched his arm. "Murdoch? How's Scott really doing? Sam had to help with the bodies and he was pretty shaken up. I've never seen Doc like that before. He kept mumbling something about how those poor boys weren't even as bad as Scott. How Scott wasn't out of the woods yet and how he could still die."

Murdoch fought to keep his lips from quivering, more out of anger and rage than fear. "He's holding his own, Val. That's the best we can hope for right now." Placing his hand on the door, Murdoch paused before stepping back into Scott's room and turned to Val. "You and Mike get something to eat and some coffee. I'll be down in a few minutes. I want to speak with Nathan first and make sure the boys are okay before I leave."

"Sure thing, Murdoch. Thanks." Val agreed and started to walk down the hall. He stopped and turned to face the head of Lancer. "Murdoch…this time we're gonna find 'em. Only after what me and the boys saw these past few hours, particularly after knowing what Scott's been through…I don't guarantee they're gonna be alive to stand trial."

Murdoch clenched his jaw tight, glancing quickly at the crumpled note he still held tightly in his fist. "They better not be."







"That any better?" Murdoch asked quietly of his blonde son, easing him back against the pillows.

He had entered the room after speaking with Val, only to find his son fighting another spasm of pain. Barely reaching Scott's side in time to undo the restraints. He leaned his son over on his side as the blonde's stomach rejected the last intake of fluids. The concerned father wiped his son's face with the cloth. He managed to get some water mixed with quinine into Scott before helping him lean back against the soft confines of the pillows beneath his head.

Scott nodded imperceptibly. "Th…thanks…Murdoch," he said weakly. Touching his father's arm, he gazed up at Murdoch through tears. "Where's Johnny?"

Murdoch folded his hand over his son's and soothed the hair back from Scott's forehead. "He's sleeping."

"Is he all right?" the blonde asked, frowning. His voice was barely above a whisper.

"He's fine, Son. I'm sure he'll be back in later to sit with you. I gave him strict orders to stay put and get some rest."

"He…he must really be…be ex…ex…exhaus…oh hell…tired…then if he's…listening to you," he rasped, struggling to push himself up. A waning smile curled onto the edges of Scott's mouth.

Murdoch watched his eldest son struggle to rise and gently pressed him back against the pillows. "Take it easy, Scott. Just lie back and rest." His heart cracked further when he listened to Scott grasping for the words. His worried heart finally broke in two when he watched Scott feign a smile and a weak attempt at humor to offset the spasm of pain the concerned father knew was still coursing through his son's weakened body. Murdoch reached for the glass, steeling his voice as he did so. "Think you can drink some more water?"

"No…please…no more."

The Lancer patriarch frowned, his eyebrows knitting in consternation. "You've got to keep drinking fluids, Son. I know it's been several days since Nathan threatened to put that tube down your throat, but you're still weak and fighting a fever. So help me God, if you take another turn for the worse, I'll personally break that promise between you and your brother. I will have Nathan do it this time. I'm not going to sit back and watch you die without fighting to keep you alive. I can't lose you again, Scott. I won't."

"Sir…please…I…"

Murdoch raised his hand to stop his son's argument. "No. Listen to me. You need to hear what I have to say." Wetting the cloth, Murdoch squeezed out the excess as he continued. "For twenty-five years I kicked myself over and over again for not coming after you. I didn't get along with your grandfather but I knew he would care for you. At the time I had my reasons for not bringing you back here to Lancer. I thought they were for the best leaving you there in Boston. Then when I came to get you on your fifth birthday, Harlan's arguments were so strong that I knew if I tried to fight for you it would only ruin your life. I've realized now that I was wrong not to fight for you, Scott. Very wrong."

"I'm going to tell you the same thing I told your brother just a short time ago. I haven't been there for either of you over the years." Wiping his son's face, he looked into the light blue eyes that he had likened to the wide-open sky overhead just hours before. The remorse he saw in them cut his heart out. He swallowed hard and pressed on. "Hell, I wasn't even there when you were born. I wasn't there to hold you when you were a baby. To rock you to sleep or to comfort you when you cried. I missed your first tooth, first steps, first words, first day of school, first fight and your first love. I missed everything in your life for twenty-five years, Scott. At least with Johnny I had the first two years of his life. Yet after that, I lost all those years as well because I didn't go after Maria and search for Johnny myself…leaving it to those damn Pinkerton agents."

"I've made mistakes in both your lives that I can never make up for, Scott." The head of Lancer gazed into his son's eyes and wiped away the tear that had strayed past the corner of the blonde's left eye. "Now, these past four years, I've lost seeing you and Johnny grow closer. I was always telling myself that one day, we must sit down and talk as father and sons…as friends. Yet, something would always come up on the ranch and I'd tell myself 'there's always tomorrow, we can talk then'." The gray haired Lancer paused, taking a deep breath to steady his voice and still the sudden trembling in his hands. "Only a few months ago…after you disappeared…tomorrow never came."

Silence descended on the room.

"I'm sorry…."

The two weak words filtered up to the father's ears and he stared down at his son in disbelief. "You're sorry? What on earth for?"

"For the pain I've caused you and Johnny," Scott said quietly.

Murdoch's jaw dropped. "That's utter nonsense! This is not your fault, Scott!" He exclaimed adamantly.

"So Johnny keeps telling me," came the stoic reply as Scott closed his eyes and turned his head away.

"Well he's right, damn it!"

"Is he?" Scott asked, turning his head back and opening his eyes to stare up at his father. "I disagree. If I had killed Jacob MacMillan fifteen years ago, none of this would've happened." He clenched the sheets and struggled to finish speaking. "You two…have…have been through so much pain…and heartache…these past few months. Searching. Won…wondering if I was still alive…having me declared dead…only to show back up…and h…hear the nightmares that haunt me."

"Scott…that's enough. You need to rest." Murdoch said sternly and shook his head in refusal to his son's argument. He started to stand when he felt Scott's hand.

Scott wrapped his hand around his father's wrist. "When is it enough, Murdoch?" The blonde asked, grimacing in pain. "How much more can you or Johnny take?"

"Whatever it takes to get you well," the father replied obstinately.

"That's too much, Murdoch." The eldest son shook his head and frowned. "Johnny hasn't left my side more than a couple of hours every day since I've been back home. He's exhausted and near the point of collapse. All because he still blames himself for what happened. He won't listen to me!" Scott cried and tried to push himself up once more. He touched his father's bandaged hand. "And you! I don't want you to hear anymore, Murdoch! Johnny told me what happened! How much more heartache can you stand? You can't keep up this pace either!"

"I'll keep up this pace as long as I have to." Murdoch pulled his hand free and stood abruptly. He glared down at his son. "I'm not going to lose you…either of you…to this madness. You understand? I lost too many years because I didn't fight for my sons. I'm not losing anymore! I swear to God I will do whatever it takes to see you through this. By God, I'll fight tooth and nail, with the last breath in my lungs, to make sure you and your brother are safe." His gaze softened and he touched Scott's cheek with the back of his hand. "Now you get some rest, Son. I've got a few things to tend to this evening." Adjusting the covers over his son's bandaged chest, the Lancer patriarch turned down the light leaving enough of a glow to cast an eerie shadow on Scott's gaunt face. He forced back a swallow and tried to dispel the fear he knew was creeping into his eyes. "I'll send Nathan in with a shot so you can get some sleep. I'm sure Johnny will be in later to take up the watch."

"Murdoch…please…"

Murdoch quickly turned away from his son and clenched his fists in an effort to ignore the anguished tone in Scott's voice. "Get some sleep, Scott. I want you well and back on your feet. Because once you are, I promise the three of us are going to have those father and son talks."







Opening the door, Murdoch stepped into the hallway and sighed heavily. He could only hope that his eldest son would heed his words and get the rest that was so desperately needed for him to heal. Stepping across the hall, he quietly opened the door to his youngest son's room. A guarded smile crept onto his lips. Johnny was sound asleep, curled to one side, his arm hanging off the side of the bed. Murdoch stepped forward hesitantly and gently put his son's arm back under the covers.

Johnny stirred in his sleep, softly calling out for his brother.

Murdoch placed his hand on Johnny's forehead and soothed the dark hair back from his son's exhausted face. "Ssshh, Johnny. Scott's all right. You just sleep. Everything is going to be fine, Son. Everything is going to be just fine." He said softly but with determination. His mind closed in on his next priority like a steel trap. We're going to find the bastards, Johnny. We're going to find them and kill them before they can harm your brother or you ever again.

Softly treading back to the door, the head of Lancer took one last look at his youngest son. The guarded smile turned melancholy when he thought about Johnny's refusals to leave his brother's side. Now, as a result, the dark haired, obstinate, stalwart pillar of strength had finally succumbed to the exhaustion of the past several days. Murdoch could only hope that Johnny's reluctance to leave Scott wouldn't prove to be a detriment to his youngest son's health once more. Especially so soon after fighting a battle with pneumonia. If there was one thing the Lancer patriarch was certain of…his oldest son wouldn't be alive if it weren't for the stubborn efforts of his youngest son and Johnny's refusal to let go of his brother. Yet if Johnny fell ill again now, Murdoch wasn't sure he would be strong enough to fight without Scott's help…and his oldest son was still in no condition to fight anyone's battle but his own.

Closing the door behind him and stepping down the hall, the concerned father said a silent prayer. Praying tonight would be the night. That the search party would find the men that had harmed his sons and enact a swift justice. So that come tomorrow…the nightmares that had plagued both of his sons would finally be at an end and they could begin to heal.







Scott had watched his father close the door and sighed heavily. Stubbornness was one trait that ran deep through the Lancer clan. In his heart, the blonde knew that his father and brother would wind up paying a heavy price for their reluctance to rest since his return. Particularly Johnny, he thought in complete desolation. Johnny hadn't looked well the last couple of times he'd sat watch. Scott couldn't help but worry that his little brother's refusal to leave his side was like lighting a slow burning fuse to a bundle of dynamite doused in nitroglycerin. If exhaustion didn't finally claim his brother, Scott knew that the rage and bitterness that was silently building beneath his brother's false calm façade would. When it did it would blow the roof off the house and probably flatten the surrounding countryside.

The blonde clenched his fists in frustration. Somehow he had to make Johnny understand that it wasn't his fault, but his words earlier had fallen on deaf ears. Damn it Johnny…when will you ever listen to me? What aggravated him further was Johnny's reluctance to abide by his promise to let him handle MacMillan, Ferguson and the others alone. Exasperated, he sighed once more. The last thing he needed was to worry about his little brother going after those maniacs only to finally wind up dead. He had lived with that horrible memory for over four and a half months. He didn't care to live with it for the rest of his life.

Thankful his father had left without securing the wrist restraints that continued to keep him immobile during sleep, Scott flexed his fingers and went to smooth out a wrinkle in the covers out of mindless nervousness. His forefinger grazed across something harsh and he realized that it was the corner of a piece of paper. Straining to reach it with his fingers, Scott managed to pull it closer. He grasped it firmly and pulled it toward his face, gingerly raising his other hand to help open the crumpled paper and smooth out the creases. Vainly trying to focus on the hastily scrawled words, his eyes narrowed when his thumb grazed over one of the bloodstains. What the hell…?

Scott swiped a hand over his eyes in an attempt to dispel the fog. Then pressed his fingers to the inside corners of his eyes. Holding the note in trembling hands, he pulled it closer and turned it toward the dim light in an effort to read it. His eyes lingered on the last words, reading them over and over again until the smoldering rage of the past few days ignited into a blaze of fury.

'Too bad you didn't kill me when you had the chance, Scotty boy. Your escape has now cost four men their lives. How does that make you feel? How does it feel to know you have four more innocent lives on your conscience? Four innocent men have suffered because you wouldn't let me finish what I started. The longer you take to get well, the more time I'll have to kill other innocent men. So now you have to ask yourself only one question. How many more will die before you and I dance?'

"MacMillan, you demented son of a bitch. You and I are definitely going to dance you sick bastard. I'm personally going to make sure of it, so I can send you back to Hell from where you came." Scott hissed venomously to the darkness of his confining room.

Hearing a noise at the door he shoved the note under the covers.

"Well, Scott. How are you feeling this evening?" Nathan queried, entering the darkened room and setting a tray down on the table. He turned up the light, illuminating the room in a soft amber glow.

"Fine," Scott answered tersely. Even in the dim light, he didn't miss the harsh glare he received from the older man. "Sorry, Doc. I'm just a bit on edge this evening."

Nathan raised an eyebrow. "Care to tell me why?"

"Not really."

"Might help if you talk about it, Scott."

"I doubt it," Scott snapped. His frustration level was rapidly reaching that of his rage. The only thing the blond wanted to do was get out of bed, saddle a horse and head back to the one place he knew he'd find Jacob MacMillan and his band of thugs. He had business to attend to and a sworn promise to his little brother to keep. The last thing he wanted to do was give any explanation to anyone about anything. "Look…Dr. Davis. I'm fine. I'm just tired and I really don't feel like any company right now."

"All right." Nathan frowned and inhaled. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at the young man in front of him. "You and your brother must tell me where you received your medical degrees. It amazes me that you're both able to determine one's medical condition without an examination."

"I said I'm fine." The blonde snipped harshly once more, grimacing when a sharp pain cut across his back.

"Yes, well, I'm the attending physician on duty at the moment and I'll be the one to determine whether or not 'you're fine'." Nathan replied flatly. Taking the stethoscope, he leaned over his patient. "Let me listen to your heart and lungs, then I'll give you a shot to get you through the night."

"Leave me alone!" Scott growled and shoved Nathan's hand away. "And I don't want any shot either!"

Nathan stood upright, shaking his head. He ran his fingers through Scott's blonde hair and then grasped the young man's chin firmly, turning Scott's face toward him. "Hmmm…that's funny. I could've sworn I was treating Scott Lancer at the moment…not Johnny. I must have been mistaken."

"Very funny." Scott quipped and tried to pull his head free from the doctor's vice grip. He grasped Nathan's wrist with his hand and made a vain attempt at dislodging the doctor's strong hand, but it was no use. He was too weak and exhausted to put up a fight. When Nathan didn't relinquish his hold, Scott sank into the pillows in visible frustration. "Just get it over with then and leave me alone."

"All right." Nathan said, raising an eyebrow. "Well…since you certainly have a burr under your saddle this evening, I'll make this quick." He placed the stethoscope against Scott's chest and issued his directive. "Take a deep breath and let it out slow."

Scott inhaled deeply and closed his eyes tight to the sharp pains lancing through his chest. He cursed silently. Every breath he took the past few hours was so labor intensive, draining him further of his strength, he thought. He knew part of the reason was his reluctance to take in further fluids. What liquids he had consumed, most of the time hadn't stayed down. He shuddered and clenched his right hand in frustration. One thing was for sure, the fever was returning in full force. That meant he had to do some quick talking to the doctor hovering over him if he was going to carry out his plan. Opening his eyes slowly he looked up at Nathan and asked quietly, "Dr. Davis…please…can we wait and do this another time?"

Nathan pulled the stethoscope from his ears as he rose. "Why? Do you have another pressing engagement that I'm keeping you from?"

"No."

"Then let me finish my examination, Scott, and keep your mouth shut." He placed his hand on Scott's forehead and tensed his jaw. Reaching for the glass on the table, he held it toward the blonde and didn't say a word.

Scott sighed heavily and turned his head away. "No."

"Drink, damn it!"

Scott turned and shot him a glaring glance; taking the glass from the doctor's hand he drank the liquid quickly. Handing it back to Nathan, he snapped, "There! Satisfied?!" He inhaled deeply through his nose to quell the rising tide of nausea from the sudden influx of liquid.

"No, but considering your attitude this evening, I guess I'll have to be for the moment." Looking down at Scott, he frowned before turning toward the table to set the glass down. "When I agreed to this 'contract' between you and your brother to let you fight this battle on your own without any outside intervention, I thought you would at least take the necessary steps to make sure you got better. Instead, you're not taking in nearly enough fluids and as a result, your fever has spiked again. That and the fact that you've barely been able to keep anything down in the way of nourishment. Your heart and lungs sound weaker…not stronger as I had hoped they would be by now. Scott, you've been through Hell. Your systems are overtaxed and now I'm extremely worried that they're on the verge of shutting down. Contract or no contract, I'm your doctor and I'm not going to let you throw your life away because of sheer Lancer pride and stubbornness."

Scott swallowed back the wave that crested at the back of his throat. The last thing he wanted to do was get sick. Not after being lectured so harshly. "Doc…please…don't do anything drastic. Let me do this. I swear I'll try."

"I'm afraid trying is not good enough anymore, Scott." Nathan replied bitterly. "You either do it, or you'll die," he continued in a stern voice. Turning toward the table, he reach for the small black case and opened it.

Scott shook his head and reached for Nathan's arm. "No shot tonight, Doc."

"Scott…you need to rest and…"

"Please…no shot, no laudanum." the blonde interrupted, his voice wavering when another pain lanced across his chest. "And no restraints, either."

"Out of the question, Scott Lancer." Nathan shook his head sharply. "It's too dangerous."

"For who?!" Scott asked incredulously.

"For you!" Nathan yelled. "It's a simple fact that without a spleen, it will take you twice as long, if not longer, to heal than the average man! Your wounds haven't healed enough for me to risk you not opening them up again if you start thrashing about like a mad man!"

"I'm tired of being tied down like a damn animal!" Scott exclaimed, pulling at the bandage encircling his neck and then raising his hands in the air, only to shake them furiously drawing attention to the bandages around his wrists. "You see these! I've been tied down for over four and a half months! No more!"

"Scott! Calm down!" Nathan admonished, grabbing for the young man's wrists.

Scott twisted his wrists, trying to break Nathan's hold until a sharp pain cut through his abdomen and into his chest, dulling as it wrapped around his heart. He collapsed against the pillows and gasped loudly, his breath catching at the back of his throat. Wide eyed he stared up at Nathan.

Nathan released him and grabbed the stethoscope once more. The Chicago doctor listened for several moments before slowly standing erect. He shook his head and turned toward the table. "That's it. Enough is enough, Scott," he said quietly, pulling out the syringe. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to give you a shot to help you rest." He inserted the hypodermic into the bottle and began to draw out the clear liquid. "The pain is still too intense and I'm afraid your heart can't take much more."

Scott reached over and touched his arm. "No…please Doc." Tears welled in his eyes. "It's not bad, really. Just caught me off-guard that's all." When Nathan turned and swabbed Scott's arm, the blonde raised his head and gripped Nathan's forearm, digging his nails into the doctor's flesh. "Please! I don't want it tonight! I have to…" He stopped short. Watch your mouth, you fool.

Nathan looked down at him and frowned. "You have to what, Scott?"

Regrouping his offensive, Scott swallowed and met the doctor's gaze. He had overheard the doctor and Johnny on several occasions in his pain-filled haze talk about how he had to come to grips with what happened. How it may be the only way for the nightmares to finally end. Each time, the older Lancer brother had watched through hooded eyes, as his younger brother would struggle with his emotions - knowing all too well that Johnny's guts were wrenching in an internal upheaval of anguish, remorse and guilt. He had to put a stop to all that. He had to protect Johnny from further pain. The only way to do it was endure his own pain long enough to slit the throat of the man responsible. Just a couple of hours…that's all I need….

He softened his voice and his gaze in an effort to convince the man standing over him that he would be all right without medication or the restraints. "I have to be alone tonight…to think. I don't want anything interfering with that, Doc." Scott loosened his grip. "Please, Dr. Davis. No pain medication tonight…and no restraints. I'll be all right. I just need to be alone for a while. Everyone is so tired, including you. Call me a liar, but I know I haven't been left alone for more than a few minutes every day since Christmas. I also know that my little brother has been the one keeping that watch, practically the entire time. Right?"

"Yes," Nathan nodded.

"Thought so," Scott replied quietly. "Tell me the truth…Johnny is exhausted isn't he?"

Nathan pulled the syringe away and sighed heavily. "Yes. Yes he is, Scott."

"All the more reason why I need to do this, Doc," Scott said, hoping the doctor wouldn't understand his double innuendo. "Johnny needs to rest, otherwise he'll get sick again. I can't let that happen." He pulled his hand back and lowered it to the bed. I won't let that happen. Sinking back into the pillows, Scott gazed up at the older man. "Please, Dr. Davis," he pleaded softly. "Leave me alone for just a couple of hours." Taking a deep breath he closed his eyes to silently battle the spasm that was starting once more in his chest. He forced his voice to remain steady. "For just a couple of hours, let me be free of the restraints and the drugs so I can try and think clearly." Get the hell out of here and do what I should've done fifteen years ago. "Only for a couple of hours…please," he pleaded again, opening his eyes to look at Nathan through tears.

Nathan rubbed his eyes. "Just a half dose, Scott…something to dull the edge so the pain won't be so bad. I know you're fighting another spasm now, aren't you?"

"I'm all right. It's not that bad."

"Scott…"

"Doc…please. Two hours. That's all I'm asking for."

Nathan drew in a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "All right. Two hours. Nothing more." He laid the prepared syringe in the case and closed it. "I'll see to it that Teresa and Jelly leave you alone, but I don't make any guarantees that little brother of yours won't beat down this door when he finally wakes up."

"In a couple of hours, I won't care if he beats down the gates of Hell." Scott smiled wistfully. As long he stays asleep long enough for me to get a head start…

Nathan chuckled. "Which he'll probably do anyway…right after he sends me there when he finds out I let you do this."

Scott smirked. "Sounds like you've gotten to know Johnny pretty well these past few days."

"I have."

The older man looked down at Scott and for a brief instant Scott thought he saw tears well in the doctor's eyes.

"I've gotten to know a young man that would walk through the fires of Hell to protect his older brother, to keep him safe from harm and free of pain. I've gotten to know an ex-gunfighter with a heart of gold and the soul of an angel. A man whose nerves of steel melted down each time he's watched you struggle against the pain coursing through your weakened body and fight the nightmares that refuse to turn loose of your mind. His heart breaking into a thousand tiny pieces as he tried to put out the raging fires from the fever that has held you in its grasp for the past two weeks. I've watched your little brother bare his emotions to the world in an effort to get you to fight…to hold on…fearing that with each breath you took, it would be your last."

Nathan swallowed hard. "Yes, Scott. I've gotten to know Johnny very well these past few days." He turned down the light and adjusted the covers over Scott's chest. "I know that young man across the hall loves his brother very much. Johnny idolizes you, Scott. He worships the ground you walk on. Quite frankly, never in all my years of practice have I seen such love and devotion between two brothers. It's very comforting to an old man like me to know that brothers can be as close as the two of you. To know that the love and trust you share gives your father and others…like me…hope for a better tomorrow." Nathan placed his hand on the blonde's shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Don't destroy that, Scott. You made a promise to Johnny that you would fight. You think about that during the next couple of hours. You think about how much you love your younger brother and how if you do something foolish it will destroy him."

Scott's eyes narrowed. "I'm not going to do anything foolish," he said with determination to cover the lie.

"By not doing your damnedest to take in more fluids and keep that fever down, that's exactly what you're doing." Nathan pulled away, poured a glass of water and held it out toward his patient. "Drink?"

Scott frowned and took the glass. His stomach was still queasy after the last intake of fluids and was now rebelling against the thought of drinking anymore of the liquid. "Got anything stronger?"

"Yes," Nathan replied, grinning wickedly. "But you said no medications for two hours."

Scott curled the edges of his mouth and gave the doctor a sneer. "So I did." Taking the glass and pressing it to his lips, he mumbled, "Cheers," before taking a few long sips. Let's just hope I can keep this down, so I can keep you out of my hair long enough to do what I need to do. He thought, as his stomach flip flopped in somersaults when the cool liquid reached the empty cavity below the base of his chest.

"Breathe through your nose, Scott. You've got to keep it down."

"Easy for you to say," Scott grumbled. Slowly taking in the air through his nose, the somersaults finally subsided and he eased back against the pillows. "That better?"

"For now." Nathan smiled. He squeezed Scott's shoulder once more and walked toward the door. "I'll be back in a couple of hours to check on you. Don't go anywhere." He quipped, closing the door behind him.







"Don't worry I won't." The words had sounded hollow to the blonde, even as they left his lips in the lie that followed the doctor out of his room. He hated lying to the man. Hell, Dr. Davis had saved his life. The least he could do was be honest with the learned doctor. Yet, he had no choice. He'd spin a web of lies to cover what he had to do to protect his younger brother. He had a five month old sworn promise to keep to Johnny and he would be damned if he didn't fulfill it.

He pulled the note from beneath the covers and read it again, clenching it tightly as his anger welled once more. He knew too well his father had headed off with a posse in search of MacMillan and the others. He could only pray they wouldn't find them…not before he did. Not before he had a chance to ~dance~ with his nemesis of over fifteen years.

Waiting impatiently until he could no longer hear any noises coming from the other areas of the house, Scott gingerly pushed himself up to a seated position. He clutched his hand to his left side when it pulled, another sharp pain lancing from front to back to remind him that it was far from healed. Taking a slow but deep breath, he managed to turn and throw his legs over the side of the bed. "Here goes nothing," he said quietly, pushing himself up onto weakened and shaky legs. His legs wobbled unsteadily under the full weight of his gaunt, emaciated body. Scott inhaled deeply, shaking his head against the dizziness that threatened to pull him into a dark abyss of unconsciousness.

With his movements painfully slow and deliberate, the blonde managed to gather his clothes from his dresser and armoire. Eventually, with a great deal of pain, he was able to pull on his jeans. The simple effort of fastening them and his belt left him no energy to button his shirt. Frustrated, he shoved the shirttails into the waistband; leaving the shirt open and his bandaged chest exposed.

Every square inch of his body vehemently protested his actions. It took every ounce of strength he possessed to stay on his feet and keep from passing out. What remained of his energy after that was zapped from him as he bit back the cries of pain that threatened to erupt from his lips. The last thing he needed was to cry out in the darkness and awaken every member of the sleeping house…particularly his dark haired brother across the hall. If the older brother managed to survive the remainder of the night and what he had planned, it would be bad enough to face the cold, harsh reprimanding glare from his brother's dark sapphire eyes. He didn't feel like facing it now.

Pulling his gun rig from the top dresser drawer, he managed to secure the holster around his hips after several tries. It amazed him that the gun could carry so much weight, laying heavily against his upper thigh, but he knew in his heart it was only because he was too weak to wield it. He secured the ties around his leg, strapping the holster down low and tight. Scott paused and looked in the mirror. A sardonic smile crept onto his lips at the sight.

In the four years since coming to Lancer, Johnny had reluctantly taught him the finer points of the handgun in an effort to keep his older brother alive. Not nearly as fast as his younger brother, the blonde had managed to hone his draw and had become fairly good at it - much to his brother's approval. Yet, with that approval came Johnny's constant concern that he had created a monster, fearing that he had signed his older brother's death warrant if Scott should be called out in a gunfight.

Scott frowned and glanced toward the corner where the Winchester that Johnny had given him for Christmas two years before leaned against the wall. He was definitely a better shot with the rifle but his plans required close range…closer than even the Colt strapped against his thigh. Besides, with his eyesight as clouded as it was, a firearm would do him little to no good. He sighed and pulled another drawer open. Picking up the sheath that held his hunting knife, he tucked it under the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back. Scott grimaced at the pressure it placed against the lower end of the wound that traversed across the length of it. Taking a deep breath to steady his legs and the tremors of weakness coursing through his body, he picked up his hat and started to turn. On a second thought, he grabbed the rifle from its perch in the corner and quietly made his way to the door of his bedroom.

Opening the door slowly, Scott peered down the hall, making sure no one was standing guard. His eyes finally settled on the heavy oak door directly across from his room. Stepping hesitantly into the hall, he stopped and raised his hand toward the door. He wanted to look in on his sleeping brother, to make sure Johnny was all right and to silently say goodbye as he looked down at Johnny's exhausted face. Instead, he placed his hand against the closed door and swallowed hard. "Forgive me, Johnny," he whispered and then slowly turned toward the back stairs that led into the kitchen.

It would be a longer route to his destination but the oldest Lancer brother knew it would also be the safest one to take. He had overheard Murdoch issue the order for more guards around the house. At least, this way he surmised, he would have more opportunities to hide as he made his way toward the barn. Once there, however, he knew he'd face another challenge. Barely strong enough to stay upright on his feet, he now wondered how in the world he'd ever manage to get his horse saddled. One thing at a time, Scotty my boy, he mused.

He closed his eyes to the haphazard thought and swallowed back the bile that suddenly rose in his throat. He never really liked his grandfather calling him Scotty, but out of respect he had let Harlan Garrett call him that his entire life. However, after being taunted with it for over four and a half months, he now made a fervent vow he'd never let anyone call him 'Scotty' again.

With a great deal of effort and more strength than he had to muster, the blonde was finally able to get his horse bridled and saddled. It had taken considerable time. Time he didn't have. He knew he had wasted much of the agreed upon two hours just getting to this point. Not to mention his waning energy. Now as he leaned heavily against the chestnut gelding, his breaths came in rapid and painful bursts. Scott clutched his chest and cursed to the heavens when the vice tightened once more around his heart. "Damn it to Hell." He didn't need this, he thought angrily. What he needed was more time to get away from Lancer and head back to the abandoned mine where he knew MacMillan and Ferguson would be waiting for him. He could only hope that Dr. Davis was sleeping as soundly as the others in the house…especially his brother.

The thoughts of his brother only served to increase the pain. The hurt his actions would cause Johnny, would only be surpassed by the pain of betrayal that he knew his younger brother would feel by not being included in his plans. As Scott painfully struggled to pull himself into the saddle, he could only pray that one day Johnny would forgive him for slighting him of his chances to take vengeance on the thugs that had tortured his older brother.

A fleeting glance toward the large white hacienda and he spurred his horse forward and into the night. Tears of regret welled in his eyes. Maybe one day Johnny would understand that the torture he had faced was minor compared to the image of Johnny sinking lifeless to the ground - the one horrible nightmare that would forever haunt him when the pain of the others was long forgotten.







He had long forgotten what sleep had felt like. After close to five months of not having any, it had become a luxury he couldn't afford. Rubbing his eyes, Johnny threw his legs over the side of the bed and stretched, attempting to realign his aching bones and tired muscles. He quickly glanced at the clock on the mantle of the fireplace in his room and smiled inwardly. At least he had kept his word to his father and then some, he thought. It was after midnight. He had managed to stay asleep for close to five hours.

Taking a deep satisfying breath, the dark haired brother stood and quickly walked toward the door to his room. He was anxious to get across the hall. Not only was it time for his watch, he wanted to see his brother. He needed to make sure Scott was all right. He had had some disturbing dreams while he slept - dreams that Scott was missing and in pain. Much like the dreams that had tormented him during the four and a half months that his older brother had been gone. Except these dreams were filled with bloody images of the bandages covering his brother's chest and back…and images of Scott's pain riddled face. Scott's light blue topaz eyes filled with regret as his chest tightened in a vice.

Johnny opened the door only to be greeted by the ashen face of Dr. Davis. Their eyes locked and the breath left Johnny's lungs. The door to Scott's room was open and Johnny's eyes were drawn to the empty bed. He barely heard the words, "He's gone, Johnny!" as he raced into Scott's room.

Frantically yanking the drawer open where he knew Scott kept his Colt he pulled forth the garments, praying that he would find the Peacemaker. His eyes were drawn to the corner. The Winchester was missing. In one swipe of his forearm he cleared the contents from the top of the dresser. "NO!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, cold fear wrapping around his heart like a vice.

He turned and grabbed Nathan's shoulders, shaking the older man violently as he tried to suppress his darkest fears. "How long has he been gone?!"

Nathan shook his head. "I don't know, Johnny! I left him alone over two hours ago!"

Two hours! Madre de Dios! The dark sapphire eyes of the ex-gunfighter blackened. "Left him alone?! Why?!"

"He wanted to be alone for a while! Scott said he needed time to think!" Nathan exclaimed, running his hand through his hair quickly. "He wouldn't let me give him a shot and he convinced me not to fasten the restraints! Dear God! What have I done?! What have I done?!"

"Nothin' except lettin' him go so he could get himself killed!" Johnny kicked the chair next to the bed, running his hand through his dark hair in angry desperation as the chair toppled over, barely missing the table. The ex-gunfighter's eyes were drawn to the blood stained piece of paper nestled under one of the folds of the comforter. Reaching for it, his hands began to tremble violently when his eyes scanned the words. Clenching the note in his hand he turned and shook it at Nathan. "Where did this come from?!"

Jelly had appeared in the doorway. "Val found that note 'tached to one o' the dead men, Johnny. He brought it out here a few hours ago. You were sleepin' 'n Murdoch didn't want to wake ya!"

Johnny glared at the two men standing before him. His blood was boiling as the unspent rage of the past two weeks ignited into a raging inferno. "Where's Murdoch?! Where's my father?!" He yelled, stepping toward Jelly, his eyes flashing as the inferno consumed his soul.

Jelly retreated when Johnny stepped toward him. "Your father rode out with Val 'n the posse over four hours ago! They're gonna try to find them murderin' mangy dogs!"

Johnny balled his hands into tight fists at his sides, crushing the note in his right hand. "Yeah…well…so is Scott. Only Scott knows where to find them!" Shooting a harsh glance at Nathan, he strode to the door. "Jelly, saddle Barranca. I'll be downstairs in ten minutes. I'm goin' after Scott."

Jelly grabbed Johnny's arm. "Johnny…ya don't think Scott would be fool 'nuff to try 'n take on that whole gang by hisself, do ya?"

Johnny gazed into the worried eyes of the old family friend and then looked into the concerned eyes of the doctor he had just berated needlessly. He struggled with every ounce of will power he had to sustain a steady voice. "I'm certain of it," he replied, trying to keep the venom from dripping off his tongue. Turning on his heel he strode across the hall into his room, slamming the door in the wake of his anger.







By the time ten minutes had passed, the entire estancia had felt the wake of Johnny's anger. It had erupted into a tidal wave of seething rage. Those that had never known the side of Johnny Lancer known as Johnny Madrid quickly became familiar with the vehement determination of the ex-gunfighter to protect his brother.

They had gathered around the front of the hacienda, worried looks on their faces and guilt in their eyes. They had failed to discover Scott before he had made off undetected into the cold night and now felt the bitterness of the youngest Lancer's wrath.

Grabbing Barranca's reins from Jelly's hand, the youngest Lancer quickly hauled himself into the saddle saying nothing to the old man or the terrified young woman at his side. He cast a harsh glance at the hands around him and turned Barranca toward the front arch. A frantic voice from the door of the house caused him to stop and turn. His eyes narrowed as he watched Dr. Davis run toward him, calling after him and waving his arm in the air.

"What is it Doc? I don't have time for anymore delays!" He said in a hostile voice.

Nathan pressed his hand against Johnny's thigh, breathing heavily from his run to catch the young man. He raised his right hand toward Johnny. "Johnny! Take this! It's the morphine! Scott's going to need it!" He said breathlessly. "The pain, Johnny…it's liable to get worse! It will only increase the longer he refuses to rest!"

Johnny gazed down at the doctor and slowly reached for the black case, only to pull his hand back in horror. "Doc…I can't give him this…." He said, his voice trailing off in fear when the images of the opium dens flooded his memory banks.

"You'll have to, Johnny. You won't have a choice. He doesn't have the strength to fight the pain anymore." Nathan replied, shaking his head. He pressed his hand against Johnny's thigh once more. "It's his heart, Johnny. I'm afraid he's in trouble. Between the fever, his malnutrition and the pain, his heart has gotten weaker."

The youngest Lancer stared at the older man in disbelief. The images from his dreams…of Scott's face consumed in pain, his brother's light blue topaz eyes filled with regret as his chest tightened quickly dispelled the dark images of the opium dens. His voice faltered, quaking in the fear consuming him that he would be too late to find his brother. "But you said he was going to be all right!"

"With rest! Yes! Eventually he will be! But not by running off in the dead of night on some insane mission of vengeance to fulfill a sworn promise he made to you when he thought you were dead!"

Johnny suddenly felt the blood drain from his face. He was going to be sick and fought to stem the rolling tide of nausea starting in the pit of his stomach. Closing his eyes he barely heard Nathan's concerned voice filter up through the darkness.

"Johnny, when you find him…you'll have to give him that to sedate him. You won't have a choice, Johnny. His heart and lungs are liable to be overtaxed and will no doubt be racing like a herd of frightened horses toward a sheer cliff."

Slowly opening his eyes, the dark haired Lancer looked down at the learned doctor, his eyes finally settling on the black case that was being pressed once more toward him. With a trembling hand, Johnny took it and held it tightly in his grasp. "I…I…don't know how, Doc," he said despondently, tears of frustration welling in his eyes.

"I'll show you." Nathan looked up at him. "Give me your hand, Johnny," he ordered in a quiet voice. "You've watched me draw out the drug from the bottle right?"

Johnny shifted the case to his left hand and held out his right toward the doctor, nodding hesitantly. "Yes," he replied in a voice that was nothing more than a faint rendition of a whisper.

"Good. Then you know how to fill the syringe." Nathan took the outstretched hand and pointed to Johnny's little finger. "Now it's just a matter of knowing how much to administer to Scott. Use your little finger as a gauge, Johnny." He admonished, squeezing the tip of Johnny's little finger. "That will be close to a half-dose. It will dull the edges but shouldn't pull him under. If the pain gets too intense, or you have to sedate Scott to move him, double it. You can use the distance between the tip of your finger and the first knuckle then. You understand?"

Once more the answer was whispered. "Yes."

"And no less than four to five hours apart, you hear me?"

Johnny nodded, once again feeling the wave of nausea lap at the back of his throat. "Anything else, Doc?"

Nathan sighed and pulled forth a small bottle of laudanum from his pocket "Keep him calm, Johnny. Try and get some water into him mixed with a drop or two of laudanum. It will help. Above all, make sure you keep him warm."

Keep him alive is more like it… he thought pensively. A waning smile formed on Johnny's lips. "Don't worry, Doc. I will." He looked down at the doctor and then to the other two pairs of eyes that had joined them and now stood impatiently behind the Chicago physician. "Look…for what I did earlier…I'm sorry."

"I know." Nathan smiled and squeezed the young ex-gunfighter's hand. "You had some very good reasons to be angry. You just find your brother, Johnny. You find Scott and bring him home again where he belongs."

Johnny pulled his hand free, put the black case in the saddlebag and took hold of the reins. "If Murdoch gets back before we do, tell him his youngest prodigal son has gone after his reckless older one." Casting a loving glance toward Jelly and Teresa, he spurred Barranca forward and galloped into the night.







The darkness of the night enfolded around Scott like a cold wet saddle blanket. The blonde leaned heavily against the side of his horse, cursing the fates that he hadn't been able to control the last spasm of pain. The pain that had lanced across his shoulders and down his back, causing him to lose his seat and fall heavily to the ground.

The resulting bone shattering jar to his weakened body had left him painfully gasping for air. His breaths coming rapid and ragged as he tried to push himself up from the cold ground and stand.

Now, standing on wet noodles for legs, Scott grasped the saddle tightly, his knuckles turning white with his efforts. He felt sick but any thought of heaving the bile collecting at the back of his throat meant that he would have to release his hold on the saddle. That was just not an option, he thought to himself. Not if he wanted to remain standing. Standing? Is that what you call this? More like holding on for dear life.

He laughed derisively. "If only Johnny could see his almighty hero now…." Hearing a noise behind him, Scott pulled his gun, leaving the remaining thought unspoken. He turned to face a blackened glare piercing him from two sapphire orbs. Oh shit. "What are you doing here?" he asked coldly.

"Lookin' for Drago," came the equally cold reply.

"What?"

"Drago. Figured he was chasin' ya."

Scott holstered his weapon and grasped the saddle once more in desperation. "What the hell are you talking about, Johnny?" He asked, bitter frustration creeping into his voice.

"Nothin' really."

"Bullshit." Scott took a deep breath, clenching his jaw tight to the pain coursing through his chest and across his back. He struggled to keep his voice steady and meet his brother's ire on his own terms. "I know I'm going to regret asking this, but why did you follow me after I told you I had to do this on my own? Why won't you ever listen to me?!"

Johnny pulled the stalk of grass from his mouth that he had been chewing on and threw it on the ground. He fumbled with the beads around his wrist, speaking softly as he looked at his brother. "Well, Boston…you see it's like this. Since we got a contract between us, thought I'd ask you the same thing, so I rode out after you. What with you bein' so stubborn 'n hardheaded 'n all, figured it was the only way I'd get an answer from ya. Only while I was trying to catch up to ya, I kept thinkin' how I thought all this time your name was Scott Lancer. So now that I'm here, answer me this. Since Drago ain't anywhere around, why did you change your name back to Johnny Madrid?"

Scott met the penetrating glare of his brother's gaze with one of his own. He certainly wasn't in the mood for his little brother's flippant sarcasm. He tightened his grip on the pommel, knowing good and well that if he released it he would take a swipe at his brother to wipe that deadly smug grin off Johnny's face. His resilience was tested further when Johnny stepped within striking distance.

Johnny stepped closer and now stood toe to toe with his older brother. "Seems to me a fool stunt like this would be somethin' Johnny Madrid would've tried four years ago…before he found a brother that cared about him…loved him…and that he in turn, loved more than anything else in this world. Guess I was wrong, huh?"

"Why you…" Scott said, releasing the horn and swiping his hand toward Johnny's jaw. The effort to backhand his impertinent little brother backfired miserably. Scott found himself grasping for the lapels of Johnny's bolero jacket when his knees buckled beneath him. With a sharp cry escaping past his lips, Scott sank to the ground, only to feel the strong arms of his brother wrap around him as he fell into an abyss of uncontrollable pain.







Strong arms kept him from falling further into the blackened abyss. A soothing voice spoke to him, drawing him out of the darkness. Scott felt a slight prick in his arm and then the familiar sensation of a warm liquid racing into his veins, dispelling the pain. Confused and cold beyond reason, he reached for his brother's hand, thankful when Johnny wrapped his warm hand around his cold trembling one. His eyes opened and clouded with tears. He gazed up at his brother's face; regret washing over him like a tidal wave. Reaching up slowly, the older brother wiped a stray tear from the corner of his brother's eye.

The blonde swallowed hard and felt the vice tighten around his heart as he realized what those tears meant. Johnny's deep blue eyes were nothing more than sapphire pools of tears. Pools that held a rising tide of guilt and something far worse…hurt.

Still, the blonde needed to know the answer to a burning question that only his brother could give. The one word query left his lips as a bitter testament to the betrayal of his brother's trust. "Why?"

"Why not?"

The two-word question in reply to his own sent chills down the blonde's spine. When the two words left his brother's lips, he saw something flash in Johnny's eyes. Something that the older brother felt after leaving Lancer under the cloak of darkness and betraying their agreement that he would never see again in the depths of his brother's eyes…undying love and abiding trust.

Scott forced a smile to his face. "You're a damn fool you know that? You just got over pneumonia and shouldn't be out in this weather."

"Yeah, well…I take after my older brother. For bein' such an educated man out of Harvard and all, sometimes he doesn't have a lick of sense."

"You know there's a very good reason, donkeys don't go to college, ~Little Brother~."

"Oh really? And what would that be, ~Big Brother~?"

"Nobody likes a smart-ass."

Clear blue topaz met deep blue sapphire and a very familiar silence fell between them - the silence of a brother's undying love.

Scott shuddered in his brother's arms. He took another deep breath and tried to pull himself to a seated position by grabbing hold of his brother's jacket lapels once more. "I have to do it, Johnny."

"I know. Only I'm going with you, Boston."

"No Johnny. I have to do this on my own. MacMillan is mine."

"Sure thing, Scott."

Scott glared at his brother. The underlying sarcasm in his brother's voice grated on his last nerve. He clutched the jacket lapels and drew his brother's face within inches of his own. The resulting wicked grin he received from his brother only threw kerosene on the smoldering fire, igniting his anger into a raging inferno. "You don't understand! They'll kill you! I have to protect you! I have to do this by myself!"

"All right." Johnny said flatly, helping his brother to his feet and holding him, long enough to steady his stance. "I'll make you a deal, Boston. If I can determine that you're fit enough to do this on your own, I'll leave you be and send you on your merry way with my blessing. Only you have to look me square in the eye and tell me the truth to two more questions."

"Tell me something, Brother. Do you ever get tired of asking questions?" Scott asked breathlessly, trying to keep his legs from buckling once more. His heart was pounding painfully against his chest wall and his lungs felt like they were on fire with each gasp for air he took. At least, he thought, the shot Johnny had just given him had helped dull the sharp edges of pain that still coursed through his body.

"Only when I have all the answers, Brother." Johnny replied flippantly. He gripped his brother's shoulders and turned Scott to face him. "Question number one. There's a group of small pines about twenty yards over my left shoulder. How many trees are there in the cluster?"

That's not fair! You know good and damn well I can barely see anything clearly past the length of my arm right now! Scott glared at his brother.

Johnny's eyes narrowed. "Thought so."

"Let me go, Johnny." Scott twisted in his brother's grasp. "Let me finish this!"

"Nope. Still got one more question." Johnny tightened his hold.

"Then ask it damn it!"

"All right." Johnny glanced at the saddle and then locked eyes on his brother. "So tell me, Boston. Did you step down from that saddle or fall out of it?"

Scott's eyes narrowed. Smart-ass.

The penetrating gaze from the sapphire eyes that stared him down pierced his defenses and shot straight through to his soul. The blonde cursed under his breath. Shit! It would do him no good to try and lie when he knew too well by the look in Johnny's eyes that his brother had seen everything. Scott closed his eyes and turned, pulling away from his brother in defeat. When he opened them, Scott stepped toward his horse. He grabbed hold of the pommel, put his foot in the stirrup and made a vain attempt at pulling himself into the saddle - silently thankful his brother's hands were on his waist to help hoist him onto the strong mount. A waning smile of thanks curled onto his lips, "Just don't do anything I'm gonna regret, Johnny," he said quietly before grasping the reins as firmly as his trembling hands could manage.

"You just make sure you don't either, Brother. I lost you once. I don't plan on doin' it again." Johnny answered in a stoic voice. He pulled himself onto Barranca and walked the palomino abreast of the gelding. "That one time is gonna leave me with a lifetime of regret."

As the golden palomino cleared the chestnut quarter horse, Scott watched his brother's back begin to fade into the darkness. Johnny's haunting words hung heavy in the night air around him, only serving to strengthen his resolve to kill the one man responsible for his little brother's pain. Spurring the gelding forward, he whispered into the darkness, "That makes two of us, Brother."







The darkness of the night would soon surrender to the first light of day. It had taken the Lancer brothers another four hours to reach their destination after stopping twice to rest their horses. Johnny had kept a watchful eye on his brother, his concern for Scott's health mounting with each passing minute.

The words Dr. Davis had uttered to him before he left Lancer haunted the darkest recesses of the younger brother's mind for the past several hours. It's his heart, Johnny. I'm afraid he's in trouble. Between the fever, his malnutrition and the pain, his heart has gotten weaker.

The dark haired brother had kept abreast of his older sibling, watching him like a hawk for any sign of pain. More than once he had to reach over to steady Scott and help him stay in the saddle, cursing a blue streak in both Spanish and English at his brother's stubbornness. Scott had refused another shot of morphine and fought Johnny vehemently when he tried to give his older brother some water mixed with laudanum. He shoved the cup aside with such force that Johnny lost his grip on it. The bitter liquid spilled forth onto the ground as the cup fell from Johnny's hand.

A feeling of helplessness had washed over Johnny. How much more could his brother stand, he wondered? Scott was already weakened after his battles with death over the past two weeks. With each step closer to their destination, Johnny feared that his brother was only marching forward to meet the Angel of Death on the battlefield where it all started.

What was worse, Johnny knew Scott was growing increasingly edgy with each step of his gelding's gait, making his pain that much more intense.

Scott pulled his horse to a stop and went to dismount. "Let's leave the horses here, Johnny. We'll go the rest of the way on foot so we can avoid any guards."

Johnny slid out of the saddle quickly and helped his brother down. "Scott…you've got to be mistaken. I recognize this area. We searched it over and over again when we was lookin' for you." Johnny said deliberately. "Most of these mines have been abandoned for years and the old Wizard's Mine had a cave in a few years back. There's no way they could've been holed up here." The dark haired Lancer drew a sharp breath across his lips. The sudden flicker of disbelief and pain in his brother's eyes cut him to the core. He felt his brother tense beneath his grasp. "Scott?"

Scott looked into his brother's eyes and blinked back the tears. "There's a hidden auxiliary air shaft about a hundred yards up that hill to the left, Johnny. That's where they were…." He didn't finish.

"Madre de Dios…no," came the tormented response to his older brother's revelation. Johnny felt his chest constrict and he clutched his brother's shoulders tighter in desperation and guilt. Horrible thoughts rattled through his mind. Hidden and obscured from his view, he must have passed by it time and time again while he searched for his brother. If only he had searched harder…if only he had been able to find any sign of them…if only he had heard his brother's anguished cries!

If only he had found Scott in time!

If only…if only….

The anguished thoughts consumed him and Johnny sank to his knees at his brother's feet, despondent. "Oh my God! Scott! I'm so sorry!" He cried in shame. "I'm so sorry! How will you ever forgive me?!" Johnny continued, burying his face in his hands and shaking his head. "My God…my God…I failed you, Brother. I failed to find you when I was so close!"

The ex-gunfighter felt a hand on his shoulder and then another under his chin, gently drawing his face upward. Trembling hands wiped the erupting tears staining his cheeks and then struggled to pull him to his feet. He weakly followed their bidding, finally standing on legs that shook under the heavy mantle of guilt he was now carrying. Johnny looked into the pair of blue topaz eyes that gazed back at him. The depth of love he saw in them filled the emptiness of his soul. The words that came forth from his older brother's lips mended his shattered heart.

"How did you fail me when it was you that kept me alive, Brother?"

The younger brother fell into his older brother's embrace and held onto him for dear life. After two weeks of willing Scott his strength, he now drew on that of his brother…his hero.

Finally damming the rising tide of emotions, Johnny pulled away from his brother and squeezed Scott's shoulder in reassurance. He was rewarded with a waning smile that spoke volumes of an internal battle of pain. His eyes narrowed. "You want another shot or some laudanum?"

"No," Scott replied, shaking his head. "Not yet. I'm all right. I have to keep my head clear, Johnny." His eyes locked on his little brother's. "No matter what happens in the next few minutes, he's mine Johnny. Do you understand that?"

"Yeah, Boston. I understand. But Ferguson is mine." Johnny declared venomously. Pulling his gun from the holster, the ex-gunfighter checked the barrel and spun it. The mask of Johnny Madrid now in place, he grinned wickedly at his determined blonde brother. "We'd better get going. Our dance partners are waiting on us. We don't wanna be late."







"They're late, damn it!"

"I'm tellin' you, Jacob. Joey and the others should've been back over an hour ago! They've been caught! I just know it!" Ferguson yelled in angry frustration, running his hand through his hair. "I told you that you were bein' a damn fool by leavin' that note! That damn posse from Lancer found them! And they'll be after us next! We've got to get out of here!"

MacMillan grabbed Ferguson by the throat. "We stay until Lancer shows, you understand me?" He threatened menacingly.

"He ain't comin', Jacob! How can he, when I broke him like I did?! Hell, he was at death's door when he escaped!"

MacMillan squeezed tighter, causing his partner to gasp for air. He leaned in close, spitting his words into Ferguson's face. "We're not leaving. Not before I have one last dance with that blonde!"

"Then let's dance."

The cold words cut through the darkness like a hot butter knife and MacMillan released Ferguson's throat. He spun around in the direction of the familiar voice in time to see the blonde Lancer step out of the shadows, Colt leveled in the direction of the outlaw's chest.

He and Ferguson both quickly went for their weapons, only to hear another cold voice to their right.

"I wouldn't if I were you."

Scott stepped closer. "You'd better listen to him, gentlemen, and I use that term loosely. My brother doesn't make idle threats." He raised the gun higher and stared into Jacob MacMillan's eyes. His own narrowed dangerously. "And neither do I. Release your weapons. You and I are overdue for our last dance, Jacob."

MacMillan laughed sinisterly. "That we are, Scotty boy! That we are!" He slipped the gun back into the holster and stepped menacingly toward the blonde. "Only I'm calling the tune."

A wicked grin curled onto the edges of Scott's mouth as he holstered his Colt. "Then it's time to pay the piper, MacMillan."

"Scott," Johnny warned.

"Stay out of this, Johnny," Scott said harshly, shooting his brother a warning glare over MacMillan's shoulder. "This dance is between me and MacMillan. You get your own dance partner."

"Oh all right." Johnny whined and flashed his brother a toothy grin. He then looked toward Ferguson. "Looks like my brother's dance card is filled…but mine's not." He waggled his eyebrows as he stepped into the light. "Care to dance?"

Ferguson glared at the dark haired Lancer when Johnny pushed himself away from the wall of the mineshaft and stepped toward him. "I knew I should've made sure your worthless ass was dead after Jacob gunned you down."

Johnny met the harsh glare with a cold deadly one. "That was your first mistake," he replied coolly, holstering his weapon as Ferguson did the same. "Your second was allowing my brother to escape and reach Lancer. Where I was able to see what you did to him!" Johnny yelled and lunged at Ferguson, wrapping his hands around the outlaw's neck.







Scott and MacMillan looked at the bodies grappling on the floor of the mineshaft. Scott stepped closer to his nemesis. "Looks like the music has started MacMillan," Scott sneered. "You don't mind if I lead this time, do you?" He asked maliciously, grabbing MacMillan's shirt and throwing him up against one of the timbers of the mineshaft.

MacMillan broke Scott's hold and pushed him back, lunging after him as Scott stumbled backward into the darkness of the mineshaft. Weak and barely able to stand, Scott fell backward and landed heavily in the dirt, raising his right leg in time to kick MacMillan in the sternum. The action sent the outlaw hurtling over his head. The blonde struggled to turn over, clutching his left side as he desperately tried to push himself off the ground. He knew in his weakened condition he needed to gain the upper hand and quickly. Jacob MacMillan had always been a large man of brute strength, having close to a hundred pounds over the lanky blonde. Scott's only defense against MacMillan's size was the athletic ability and agility he possessed and which he now prayed would not fail him in his weak state.

He felt MacMillan's arms wrapping around his chest like a vice, pulling him back to the dirt. Scott twisted and threw his right elbow backward into MacMillan's ribs, knocking the air out him. It was enough to cause the outlaw to loosen his hold around Scott and the oldest Lancer brother scrambled out of the man's clutches. MacMillan reached after him and caught Scott's left leg, yanking him forcibly to the ground. He lunged once more after Scott, landing heavily on top of the blonde. The breath left Scott's lungs as a curse. "Shit! Get off of me you bastard!" He hissed.

Scott felt his chest constrict and drew a sharp breath of pain. When MacMillan landed a heavy punch to his left side, an anguished cry escaped past his lips when he felt the stitches give. Another punch of MacMillan's fist and Scott felt the blood begin to ooze forth from the still healing wound. He briefly thought of what Dr. Davis would say about him damaging the doctor's needlework…if he managed to survive this fight, that is.

Struggling for superiority, the two men grappled in the darkness like mountain lions - kicking and clawing each other in a fight to the death.

For every punch or kick Scott managed to land against MacMillan's hardened body, the outlaw delivered at least two. It was sheer determination and the primal need for vengeance that kept the battered Lancer fighting for his life. Scott felt his strength waning rapidly. His side throbbed relentlessly, while his chest and back were once again on fire. The bandages were now red with the blood seeping from the re-opened wounds. Kicking free, he staggered backward, clutching his chest with his left hand, gasping for air as his lungs and heart protested the overexertion.

MacMillan stood quickly. He grabbed Scott's shirt and threw the blonde up against the same charred timber to which Lancer had been tied only a month before. He leaned in, wrapped his hand around Scott's throat and sneered into the blonde's face. "I should've killed you when I killed that flimsy excuse for a friend, Kevin Latham, Scotty boy. Instead, you cost me my army career! Those damn charges you brought against me were unfounded and unjustified!"

Scott glared at him in disbelief. "I cost you nothing!" He rasped against the harsh pressure on his larynx. "You tortured a man to death to reveal his unit's position!" The blonde grated out, trying to break MacMillan's hold on his throat. "Besides…how could I ruin your career?! We never went to court martial!"

The outlaw grinned and shoved Scott against the timber once more. "And do you want to know why?"

The motion caused Scott's head to reel backward into the timber and he blinked back the stars that began to shatter the darkness surrounding them. The blonde felt the long wound across his back rip open from the sudden forceful impact and he bit back a cry of pain. He felt the pressure on his throat tighten and he shoved his left hand against MacMillan's wrist once more, trying to press away from the rough timber with his right. "What?" he choked.

"Why we never went to court martial, Scotty boy." He squeezed Scott's shoulder, digging his thumb into one of the open wounds on Scott's upper chest.

Scott cried out as the sharp daggers lanced through his body, igniting every nerve into a fiery explosion of pain. A dark fog was beginning to engulf him.

"Who do you think gave information to that Confederate division as to the location of where your cavalry unit would be on that ridge, Scotty boy?" MacMillan sneered, laughing maniacally. "Did you like Libby, Scotty boy? Did they treat you and your friends nice there? Bet it wasn't as nice as my hospitality though, was it?"

Suddenly, the fog cleared with the demon's admission. Scott's right hand no longer pressed against the timber. Instead it wrapped around the knife that still lay miraculously nestled in the small of his back. With a burst of energy from deep within his soul, he pulled it forth and swiped at the demon's rib cage.

The demon roared and clutched his side as the sharp blade cut across his ribs. Groaning he released the death-grip on his prey.

With his last vestiges of strength, Scott pushed the ex-infantry lieutenant away, lunging after MacMillan as the outlaw staggered backward across the shaft. No longer was the blonde Lancer a weakened victim. Suddenly, his military instincts took over and the ex-cavalry lieutenant began swiping and striking the blade at his target with the skill and precision of a trained swordsman. "You son of a bitch! Do you know how many men died in that ambush?!"

The memories of that day had haunted the Lancer son the entire year of his captivity in Libby. Taunting him with 'what if's', 'why's and 'how's'. After the war ended, he had managed to bury the images deep within the darkened corridors of his mind. Now, close to ten years later, the bloody images of man and beast dying on the battlefield as canon fire and exploding shells surrounded them were fueling Scott's rage.

He fell on top of MacMillan with the intention of driving the knife into the demon's heart, but MacMillan countered with a blow to Scott's left side, grabbing the blonde's right wrist in the process. Scott yelled in agony, but twisted clear of MacMillan's other hand as it grabbed for his shoulder. Once more, they grappled in the dirt. Blood from their respective wounds soaking the sand beneath them as they struggled for control of the knife.

Scott felt his grip loosen on the knife and watched in horror as MacMillan grinned wickedly in realization that he was gaining the upper hand on the weakened blonde. Suddenly, he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his lower chest and he fell backward against a supporting timber. Staring down at his mid-section, Scott's eyes welled with bitter tears of defeat as he looked at his hands - wrapped around the knife embedded to the hilt at the top of his abdomen, directly beneath his breastbone.

The dark fog was returning. He barely heard the sneering growl from MacMillan's lips, which were only inches from his face.

"Told you we'd dance, Scotty boy and that I'd name the tune. I just hope Ferguson hasn't killed that worthless half-breed brother of yours. I can't wait to dance with him…and then slit his throat."

Johnny…

The tears were forced back. Blue eyes instantly darkened as the cold hatred of four and a half months of torture and the image of Johnny's body slumping lifeless to the ground consumed and blackened the oldest Lancer son's soul.

Repositioning his right hand so that it wrapped over the handle of the knife, Scott pulled it free from the bloody sheath in one fluid motion. Ignoring the agonizing pain his action caused, the blonde grabbed the front of MacMillan's shirt with his bloody left hand. Pulling the shocked face closer, his blackened eyes locked on those of the demon. "You're never going to harm my brother again! Go back to the Hell from where you came you Goddamn son of a bitch!" Scott hissed and swiped the blade across the exposed neck.







Johnny's hands tightened around Ferguson's neck as they toppled to the ground. His words still hung in the air around them as they fought. I was able to see what you did to him!

Five months of rage ignited into a blazing inferno that the dark haired Lancer knew the whole Pacific Ocean couldn't drown out. The man he held in his grasp was the man partly responsible for the wounds and the scars on his brother's body. Scars that would always serve as painful reminders to Scott of four and a half months of torture and humiliation at the hands of madmen. That would always remind ~him~ of his failure to protect his older brother or to find Scott in time.

The memories of the past two weeks, of Scott's nightmares, the painful cries and the anguished moans that had pierced the darkness each night and shattered the light of day, ripping the heart and soul apart of the ex-gunfighter, blinded Johnny. His rage was all consuming, all controlling. No longer was he Johnny Lancer. Nor was he Johnny Madrid. That mask had fallen the moment he laid eyes on David Ferguson.

He was now a cold-blooded killer with one purpose - destruction of one of the men responsible for his brother's pain. You son of a bitch, I'll kill you for what you did to my brother! The enraged thought became a vocal threat that flowed from his lips in a heated litany of Spanish words. "Usted hijo de una ramera yo'll lo mata para qué usted hizo a mi hermano!"

Johnny had knocked Ferguson back against the wall of the mine. The sudden jolt to the outlaw had dazed him and he slumped to the ground, gasping for air. He reached for his gun but the holster was empty.

A wicked grin crossed Johnny's lips. "Lose something, Ferguson?" He asked and kicked the gun that had fallen at his feet in the heat of their struggle further away. Johnny's eyes caught sight of something laying across a barrel to his left. Emotionless, he turned and wrapped his hand tightly around the leather shaft. He picked it up, his eyes drawn to the dark red stains that covered the leather straps. Blood…Scott's blood…

The dark sapphire eyes of the youngest Lancer brother suddenly became black onyx pools of hate. He turned toward Ferguson, his voice menacing and bitterly cold. "Do you know what it feels like to be whipped? Whipped worse than an animal?"

Ferguson backed away from him, crawling into the darkness.

Johnny inhaled deeply, smelling the fear exuding from the man's pores. It was strangely satisfying and he felt his primal instincts take over. He lunged forward, raising his hand and drawing it down swiftly across Ferguson's chest. "Well do you?!" He yelled and lashed out at Ferguson again and again, stepping forward with each backward step the outlaw took to get away from the enraged Lancer brother. The words spilled forth as Johnny delivered his wrath. "To feel your flesh being ripped and torn open with each down stroke of the whip?! To feel every nerve in your back and chest…your entire body ignite in a blaze of pain?! Screaming for your tormentor to stop?! Your cries of pain and pleas for mercy ignored as you're whipped over and over again for nothing more than the sheer pleasure of the act itself?!"

"Stop! Please!"

Johnny ignored the plea of the man at his feet. "Stop? Stop?! Did you stop when my brother cried out?! When he pleaded with you to stop hurting him?! To let him go?!" He glared down at Ferguson, his chest heaving in a rapid succession of breaths, his whole body shaking violently from the rage consuming him.

Ferguson looked up at him and sneered. "He deserved it! I'm just sorry I didn't get the chance to finish the job!"

In the blink of an eye the whip fell from Johnny's grasp and his hand found the butt of his Colt. An explosion of fire and Johnny inhaled a deep cleansing breath, staring down into the eyes that stared back at him - lifeless into the darkness of his brother's former prison.







The darkness surrounded him. Taking another deep breath and holstering his weapon, the ex-gunfighter stood on shaky legs. Never before had he been so consumed with rage and hatred. The knowledge of what Ferguson had done to his brother and the outlaw's words that had been spoken so vehemently and with determination, had caused something to snap in the darkness of the young Lancer's soul.

He exhaled and threw his head back, thankful his fight with one of the demons that had haunted his brother's dreams as well as his own for five months, was finally at an end. Looking around, his eyes settled on a kerosene lantern and he reached for it. Turning up the flame, he carefully studied the mineshaft. He had to find Scott. His brother and MacMillan had disappeared into the darkness only moments before.

Steadying his legs and balling his hands into tight fists to stop the residual tremors of rage, Johnny turned to head deeper into the bowels of the mountain.

He had taken only a few steps when the light from the lantern illuminated the grisly scene in front of him. His eyes were drawn to the bloody shackles that hung from the rafter overhead and the pair that lay haphazard across the dirt, attached securely to the timbers on either side of the shaft. A rope stained with blood hung loosely through the rings of the overhead irons, while another was coiled in the dirt at the base of another timber. A cat o' nine tails and long switch of cane lay strewn in the dirt near an overturned bucket. Even in the dim light, Johnny could make out the stains of his brother's blood that covered the implements of torture…much like the stains on the leather strips of the whip he had discarded at Ferguson's feet.

Johnny stepped closer, his nose twitching from the lingering smells of human waste and vomit that mixed with the caustic odor of kerosene. The anguished cries of his brother echoed in the stillness. The tormented images of Scott being tortured over and over again - in pain and frightened, left alone to wallow in the filth while he shuddered from the cold - pierced the darkness surrounding the younger Lancer.

"Oh my God…Scott…." He breathed and sank to his knees.

Johnny heaved the contents of his stomach, continuing to retch as bitter tears fell to mix with the mucus and bile that spewed forth. Gasping for air, the dark haired brother wrapped his arms around his stomach, clutching his sides as the muscles protested the violent convulsions.







A convulsion of pain came over him while he watched his younger brother retch at the scene before him and Scott inhaled sharply. The light blue eyes gazed out of the darkness toward the tormented figure of his brother. His heart shattered. He had wanted to protect his little brother from this at all costs. It was bad enough that Johnny had heard his nightmares; Johnny didn't need to see what had actually caused them.

From where he lay in the darkness, Scott drew his forearm across his face, trying to wipe away the blood that had sprayed forth when he slit MacMillan's throat. His face covered in blood would be the last thing his little brother needed to see at that particular moment.

Slowly he stretched his hand into the dim light and softly called toward his brother. "Johnny," he whispered, his brother's name grating across teeth clenched in pain.

Johnny raised his head sharply, his eyes searching in the direction of the voice. "Scott…" came the breathless answer.

Scott reached out further, straining to pulling himself up and watched Johnny's eyes register the movement, quickly moving to his side.

Johnny set the lantern down and knelt next to his brother, wrapping his arms around Scott to pull him into his lap.

The blonde reached for his brother with his left hand to try and comfort him. The sharp intake of air across his little brother's lips was only offset by the terrified look in Johnny's eyes. "Don't look so worried…it's…it's just…a scratch," Scott rasped, trying to stem the flow of blood that poured from the knife wound with every beat of his heart.

"Madre de Dios!" Johnny cried and pressed his hand against the open wound. "I've got to get some help!"

Scott watched his brother's eyes dart around the mineshaft, frantically searching the darkness. The older brother squeezed his younger brother's arm. "Don't…don't leave me in the darkness, Johnny."

"Not on your life, Boston!" The dark haired brother wrapped his arms around Scott tighter. "I'm gonna get you out of this Hell if it's the last thing I do!" He started to lift the blonde into his arms. "Come on, Brother. I'll carry you out."

"No! You can't!" Scott inhaled sharply and dug his fingers into his brother's upper arm. "You…you'll nev…never make it down that hill. Hel…help me up, Johnny. I…I can make it…jus…just don't let go…OK?" He flashed a weak smile to dispel his little brother's growing fears.

"Never," Johnny replied adamantly. "Told you I was never gonna let go of you and I meant it!" He grabbed hold of Scott's hand, clutched it to his chest and wrapped his other arm around the blonde's trim waist, pulling Scott slowly to his feet. "We got a contract remember?"

Johnny's reply was said with such conviction and determination, that Scott felt the strength of his brother's love emanate from the dark blue eyes locked firmly on his. He touched his brother's tear stained cheek and smiled painfully. "That we do, Brother…that we do."







"You wanna know what one thing I'm gonna make sure I do when I get you home, Boston?" Johnny asked breathlessly, as they stepped out of the darkness of Hell and into the faint light of day.

"Wha…what's that, Johnny?" The older brother asked, stumbling and clutching his brother's hand tighter.

"Fatten you up! You need some meat on these ribs!" The younger brother chided playfully, struggling to keep them both from falling head over heels down the hill. "If I'm gonna be carrying you 'round half the countryside, I don't want them pokin' me!"

Scott grimaced and pressed his hand against the gaping hole in his mid-section. "Yeah…well…'fraid that might take a bit of doing, Little Brother." He looked down at his blood-covered hand and then into his brother's eyes, a sheepish grin on his face. "Looks…like I…I won't be eatin' anything solid for a spell." Another hiss of pain and his knees buckled beneath him. His eyes rolled back into his head.

Johnny grabbed after his brother as Scott clutched the lapels of his bolero jacket and lowered him carefully to the ground. "Don't you dare die on me, Boston!" The youngest Lancer raised his head and whistled loudly, praying Barranca's ears would hear it. "Just hold on, Scott. Please…hold on."

Eyes barely open, Scott whispered, "I'll try…Johnny…I'll try."

"Don't try. Do it!" Johnny admonished, locking eyes with his brother. "You promised!"

"So…so you keep reminding me…"

Johnny wrapped his hand behind Scott's head, entwined his fingers in the blonde hair and leaned in close. "Yeah…And I'll keep on reminding your stubborn ass of it too! Every chance I get! Even when you're old and gray sittin' in a rocker on the front porch of the hacienda!"

"Great…something to look forward to in my old age…." Scott clipped. "My little brother's incessant nagging."

"To keep you alive, I'll nag your ass through the fires of Hell, Boston," the dark haired brother stated firmly.

Scott smiled and put his hand on his little brother's shoulder. "You already have, Brother…. You already have…."

An all too familiar authoritative voice in the distance drew their eyes toward the bottom of the hill.

"Murdoch…" they said in unison.

Scott clutched Johnny's shoulder and raised his head. "Johnny…the mine…don't let him see it!"

"Scott…I need to get you down from here!"

"No!" Scott yelled and shook his head. "You've got to destroy it, Johnny! Bad enough…you saw it…" he groaned. "Want…wanted to protect you…why I…I didn't want…want you to come! Can…can't let our father know!"

Their eyes locked in silent understanding.

"All right, Scott." Johnny nodded and clutched his brother to his breast, pulling Scott's head to his shoulder in reassurance. He hugged Scott tight and then lowered his older sibling slowly, touching his brother's cheek gently. "I'll take care of it. You just stay right here, you hear me?"

"Don't worry, Little Brother…I'm not…not going anywhere. Don't have anything better to do at the moment." The blonde rasped, a faint smile curling onto the edges of his mouth. "'Sides…have to leave the dance with the one that brought me."

Johnny returned the smile and gave his brother's hand a firm squeeze. "You just remember that, Boston. Be awfully rude of ya if ya didn't."

"Hurry back…OK?"

"You won't even get a chance to miss me, Brother." Johnny took of his jacket, rolled it up and placed it under his sibling's head. He glanced down the hill and recognized the figures of his father, Val and Cipriano making their way up the incline. "Murdoch! Murdoch! Up here!"

One more look to his brother, a broad smile and a silent request to Scott to hold on and Johnny turned to run back into the mine to fulfill his brother's wishes. As he entered the blackened abyss of darkness to set charges on the kegs of gunpowder and crates of dynamite they had seen earlier, Johnny silently prayed those wishes wouldn't be his brother's last.







"Here's to my brother's wishes." Johnny whispered into the darkness. Setting the last of the charges, Johnny lit the main fuse that would destroy the remnants of his brother's prison in Hell. Glancing quickly at the dead bodies of MacMillan and Ferguson, his eyes narrowed and he grinned wickedly. The silent thought, May you burn in Hell you sons of a bitch! became a vehement declaration as he turned and ran toward the entrance to the mine, "Queme en el Infierno usted hijos de una ramera!"

Reaching the entrance, Johnny caught sight of his father and the others nearing the crest of the incline. Racing toward Scott, he yelled, "Fire in the hole!" and dropped to his knees, covering his brother's body with his own as the mountain rumbled beneath them. An explosion of fire and debris spewed forth from the entrance of the mine's airshaft, raining dirt, ash and burning embers over the two Lancer brothers.

"Johnny! Scott!" Murdoch yelled.

His father's voice pierced the lingering din of the explosion. Johnny raised his head and coughed profusely, trying to spit the dirt from his mouth. It felt like his lungs had sucked in half the mountain. "Over…over here, Murdoch…" he gasped. He was in a fog, his mind trying to register everything that was happening - so much smoke and dust…choking him…depriving his lungs of precious oxygen…smothering him and his brother. His brother…. Scott…Oh my God! Scott!

The fog cleared and he looked down at his brother. "Scott?" He asked tremulously, pushing himself onto his haunches. He wiped the dirt from the blonde's face and then placed his hands on both sides of it when his brother didn't respond. "Scott?" Johnny queried once more, his chest tightening in fear. The youngest Lancer pressed his fingers to his brother's throat, frantically trying to find a pulse. "No! Don't you dare do this to me! Stop messin' 'round!" Johnny cried. He grabbed his brother's shoulders and shook him. "Scott! Scott!" he yelled louder, "Open you eyes! Breathe! Damn it! Breathe!"

As if by command, the blonde inhaled suddenly only to begin coughing - harsh, ragged coughs as he gasped for air.

"Easy Scott, slow down. Just breathe slow and easy." Johnny pulled Scott toward him, leaning his older sibling against his chest and wrapping his arms around Scott gently, to help support him as the older brother endured the painful spasms.

"Hurts…so bad…now…John…ny."

"I know, Boston. I know." The younger brother could feel the rapid pounding of his brother's heart. The blood oozed through his fingers when he pressed his hand against Scott's wound. He swallowed back his fears as to what he knew he had to do. The morphine…Madre de Dios…I'll have to give him double what I did before. He closed his eyes to the horrid thought. The opium dens. Yet, he knew Scott would never make it back to Lancer unless the flow of blood could be stopped and his brother heavily sedated for the tortuous journey. Once again, he heard Dr. Davis' voice. You'll have to give him that to sedate him. You won't have a choice, Johnny. The youngest Lancer's eyes shot up when he recognized the sound of his father's steps. "Murdoch…my saddle bag…right side…get the black case…quick!"

"I'll get it!"

Johnny heard Val's offer and watched his friend run back toward the other riders that were coming over the crest with his and Scott's horses. He leaned down and pressed his cheek against Scott's when the blonde stilled in his arms, his breaths now shallow and strained. "Hold on, Scott. Please…hold on, Brother."

"Scott…."

Johnny heard the anguished voice of the Lancer patriarch and looked into his father's ashen face when Murdoch knelt next to them, placing his hand on his oldest son's forehead. "It's okay, Murdoch. He's not goin' anywhere." The dark haired son choked out through tears. A hand tightening around his and Johnny looked down quickly.

"Y…yes…I am. I…I want…to…to go home…" Scott grated and tried to lean forward. "Now…if you don't mind."

"Just what the Hell do you think you're doin, Scott Lancer?!" Johnny asked incredulously and pulled his brother back against him. "You just stay put a minute! And don't move!" He reprimanded.

The blonde collapsed back against his brother and stared up at him. "You…and I need to have a ~little talk~, Johnny." Scott rasped, a weak grin curling his lips. "If…if we're gonna con…continue this contract…this…this partnership…of ours…then…we…need to decide who's boss. I…I'm getting real tired of takin' orders from you, ~Little Brother~."

Johnny ignored the flash of mischief in his brother's eyes. At the moment, he wasn't in the mood for any glib humor from his stubborn, reckless older sibling. Instead, he looked at his brother smugly. "Oh yeah…well get used to it, ~Big Brother~. I'm callin' the shots right now, so just shut up and deal with it!"

The reproach sounded harsh, much more so than what Johnny intended. The flash of hurt in Scott's eyes cut his heart out, but he'd had enough. If it weren't for the fact that Scott was fighting for his life, he would personally choke it out of his blonde brother for Scott's lack of judgment and sheer stupidity on running off in the middle of the night to enact vengeance. Especially since his older brother wasn't in any condition to do so! Not to mention his brother's selfishness at not including him in his plans. That alone irked the hell out of the ex-gunfighter. Why didn't you trust me, Boston? Why do you always feel you have to protect me when all it does it cause you pain?! If that weren't enough, many of Scott's wounds were re-opened, oozing blood and soaking the bandages through and through. To top it all off…now his older brother had a gapping hole in the top of his gut. Just a scratch, my ass! You're bleedin' to death! Dear God, Scott…I can't lose you now…not after everything we been through…. He glanced up when he heard Val approach.

"Here Johnny," Val said, handing Johnny the black case.

Johnny reached for it and shifted. "Here Murdoch…hold him just a minute," Johnny said quietly, leaning his brother into their father's arms. His hands trembling, he opened the black case and pulled forth the syringe and bottle of morphine. Dear God…please let me be doing the right thing.

"Johnny? What are you doing? Where did you get that?" Murdoch asked.

The worried tone in his father's voice only served to rattle his nerves further. "Doc…Doc Davis gave it to me…'fore…I…I left Lancer," Johnny choked out nervously. "I…I've got to sedate…him, Murdoch. Scott….he…he won't…won't be able to make it back to Lancer if I don't. Only…what if I…?" He couldn't finish it and looked into his father's eyes through tears, silently pleading with him to understand.

Murdoch reached over and wrapped his hand over Johnny's trembling one. He squeezed it firmly. "It's all right, Son. I have all the faith in the world in you. So does Scott. You'll do fine." The Lancer patriarch gazed down at Scott and then into his youngest son's eyes. "Give him the shot, Johnny." He smiled faintly and wiped a tear from his young son's cheek. "You can do it…I know you can."

Johnny's lips quivered and he nodded. Looking back down at the syringe, he inserted the needle into the bottle. He drew out the clear liquid that he prayed would not only relieve his brother's pain, but also sedate him long enough to get back to Lancer and the skilled hands of Doc Davis and Doc Jenkins. Once the draw of the liquid was complete, he held a trembling little finger against the syringe and measured the amount of liquid against it like Nathan had shown him. Taking a deep breath, he reached for his brother's arm. His eyes locked on Scott's seeking his brother's approval and instead, found a depth of trust that took his breath away.

As the blonde nodded, Johnny inserted the needle as gently as he could, depressing the plunger to release the drug into his brother's system. Pulling the needle free of Scott's arm, he set the syringe aside and placed his right hand against his brother's pale cheek. Please don't leave me, Scott. I love you too much, Brother. He thought painfully. The younger brother leaned down close and whispered, "Just remember, Boston…heroes don't die," his voice cracking with overwhelming emotions.

He was rewarded with a faint smile and the feel his brother's hand wrapping tightly around his left.

"See you back at the ranch, Little Brother," the blonde whispered and squeezed his little brother's hand.

Johnny stroked his thumb across Scott's tear stained cheek. "Promise?"

"Promise."







EPILOG

He'd made a promise to himself the moment his oldest son's eyes closed and his weakened body stilled to the effects of the morphine. Never again would he question the bond between his two sons. It was a bond that transcended any other. Words only fell short to describe the depth and strength of what existed between Scott and Johnny. What the patriarch had witnessed the past four weeks since Scott had miraculously returned to the loving arms of his family. What his youngest son had done to keep his brother alive.

He had watched the fingers of his son's frail hand entwine tightly with those of his little brother as the narcotic pulled him under. Their hands had stayed that way the entire ride back to Lancer and through the agonizing surgery that Sam and Nathan had to perform on Scott to stop the bleeding and once more mend his son's wounds. Yet, the ~contract~ between his sons had held fast throughout it all and had not been broken, despite the frayed and torn edges.

A faint smile crept onto the Scot's lips when he thought about Nathan's comment after the surgery, that Johnny should consider a career in the medical profession. It would be only fitting - the Chicago doctor had declared - since Johnny was almost a pro at dealing with difficult medical procedures and his bedside manner rivaled that of Florence Nightingale.

Murdoch raised the glass of brandy to his lips and gazed out the large window behind his desk across the land he loved. The land he knew that for the rest of their lives, his two sons would continue to work, protect and cherish.

Scott and Johnny.

His sons. His legacy. His life.

They were more alike than different.

'Two halves of a whole', he had overheard Johnny say when he didn't know his father was listening at the door that night. Willing his older brother to stay alive with every word from his lips, every touch of his hand.

Murdoch inhaled deeply and allowed his thoughts to turn pensive for a moment. A shudder ran down his spine as his thoughts drifted back to that day when his world threatened to come crashing down around him once again.

A bloody gun battle on the outskirts of Green River had left four of the posse deputies seriously injured and two dead - all brave men that had fought to protect his sons. When the smoke cleared, MacMillan's six remaining henchmen had been killed and the patriarch held a grim sense of satisfaction that he had been responsible for two of their deaths. The later of which occurred after they were able to pry the location of the gang's hideout from a man named Joey, but the young fool had lunged after Murdoch, claiming a sense of pride for maiming the Lancer son the way he had. Murdoch still wasn't sure if it was his bullet or Val's that had ended the maniac's worthless life, but he had little doubt he would ever care. The man was dead. They all were and that's all that really mattered.

They had headed toward the mine with a guarded sense of satisfaction that only two members of the heinous gang remained. The worst of the lot, but they were confident in their abilities to bring them to justice. What they did not know, however, was that his sons had arrived at the mine with the same plan in mind. Murdoch remembered the feeling he had when he caught sight of the chestnut quarter horse and the golden palomino at the base of that hill. His heart had leapt into his throat and the breath left his lungs. He wondered if he'd ever forget the series of curses that spewed from Val's lips as they drew closer. For when he, Val, Cipriano and a handful of men had reached the top of that hill, they each had been devastated to learn that MacMillan had almost succeeded in taking Scott's life.

They had demanded answers from Johnny. Why were he and Scott there? Why wasn't Scott back at Lancer, in bed where he belonged? How could they have jeopardized their own lives like this? Didn't they realize how foolish and dangerous this stunt had been? What if something worse had happened? What if MacMillan and Ferguson had succeeded in killing them?

Yet his young son ignored them, instead tending to his brother and making sure Scott held onto the life thread that anchored him to this world. It was only after Scott had been secured in the wagon and they began the tortuous journey back to the ranch that Johnny had told him about finding Scott missing when he awoke, trailing him in the dead of night and then about killing MacMillan and Ferguson.

Murdoch frowned. His son's description had been all too brief in that matter. 'We fought. They're dead. That's all you need to know, Murdoch. It's over.'

Is it really over, Johnny? The Lancer patriarch thought regretfully. Johnny was hiding something. Of that he was certain. He wondered if Johnny would ever tell him the whole truth, or Scott for that matter, but he knew in his heart it would be a worthless cause to try and find out. His sons would forever be closed books on what happened within that mineshaft before the explosion rocked the mountain. He now prayed that they wouldn't be haunted by nightmares because of it. They had each had enough of those in the past five months to last the lifetimes of ten men.

Murdoch sighed and took another sip of his drink.

His sons still had a long road to travel before either of them was fully recovered - mentally as well as physically. Yet, despite everything that had happened the past five months, his sons were still alive. He held hope that they would survive the long weeks and months of healing that lay ahead.

Two weeks since returning from that hill, his oldest son's condition had continued to improve each day, strengthened by the resolve of his youngest son to make sure Scott stayed that way. Though Scott's eyesight had not returned to normal, it was slowly getting better. Nathan and Sam both had assured the family that it would eventually return with the proper rest and nutrition. 'Just give it time, Murdoch,' Nathan had said assuredly, with Sam offering his affirmation without hesitation. The loss of Scott's spleen, they had warned however, would always be a cause for concern. One not to be taken lightly, but Johnny had assured them that he would watch over his brother like a hawk. To which, both learned men just smiled broadly and said in unison, 'Tell us something we don't know, Johnny.'

The Lancer patriarch took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Murdoch knew in his heart that Scott would pull through and one day return to them whole. He knew because of the inner strength and courage that had driven Scott to survive and also because of the love and determination that his youngest son possessed. It was a great comfort to him knowing that the road his sons would travel, they would travel together in the coming weeks and months, standing side by side each other every step of the way.

Yes…they truly are two halves of a whole, he thought.

The head of Lancer watched the sun sink lower on the horizon, bathing the hills in a warm glow on a cold late January afternoon. For the first time in months, laughter filtered through the house and it warmed Murdoch's heart.

Taking another sip of the brandy, Murdoch smiled proudly at the sound of his sons' laughter - laughter that held the promise of a better tomorrow.






~end~
January/February 2004




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