The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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SandySha

 

Broken

*The usual disclaimers
**A/R- Johnny is 19 and Scott is 23
** Thanks go to Alice Marie and Susan for help with the beta.  If there is a mistake, it’s all mine.

 

Looking up from the ranch ledger he’d been working on all morning, Murdoch stretched and rubbed his eyes.   He’d been sitting so long his back was aching and the numbers on the page had started to blur.

He’d been listening to the sounds coming from the corral for almost an hour.   Hearing the men cheering and whistling, he knew someone was breaking a horse.    The sounds stopped a couple of times indicating that either the horse had been broken or the rider thrown.   Every time the noise stopped; Murdoch paused over his work, wondering if his youngest son was once again sprawled in the corral.

Shaking his head, Murdoch looked back down at the ledger.  There was a mistake.  He was determined to stay at it until he found it.  Of course, he’d said the same thing an hour ago.

Hearing the front door open and then close, Murdoch looked up to see his oldest son, head held high, back straight, shoulders braced, marching across the room toward him. 

Scott took his hat off, put it under his arm, and then proceeded to pull off his gloves.  He had a determined look on his face as he approached the desk and all Murdoch could think was, What now?

“Scott?” Murdoch hesitantly asked, not really sure what the problem was and afraid to ask.

Scott stopped in front of the desk and came to full attention before glancing out the open French doors, towards the corral.  The sound of cheering and whistles could still be heard.

“Your brother?” Murdoch asked seeing the concern on his son’s face.

“No.  Not yet, anyway.  That’s Clay.  ‘Your son’ will be next up,” Scott retorted with a slight shake of the head.

“My son?  So why is he ‘my son’ and not your brother at the moment?” Murdoch tried to hide the grin that had formed on his face.

“Because ‘my brother’ won’t listen to me.  I’m hoping you can get ‘your son’ to listen to you,” Scott stated and then exhaled.

“Listen to what?”  Murdoch frowned, tapping the pencil in his hand against the desktop.

“He’s going to attempt to ride the grey.  I’ve told him he needs to let that horse go and forget about trying to break him; however, he won’t listen to me.”

Scott relaxed his shoulders and bent over, slamming his fist on the desk, causing Murdoch to flinch. 

“Murdoch that horse is crazy.  Even Cipriano says the horse can’t be broken.  I’m afraid ‘your son’ is going to get himself killed trying to break him.”

Scott finished and looked expectantly at his father.

Murdoch was on his feet now and moving toward the front door.  Taking his hat from the hat rack, he stepped outside in time to see Clay bring the horse he was breaking to a walk.

“I thought we discussed that horse last night after dinner.  Johnny agreed to turn him loose.”

Walt and Frank were bringing the grey stallion into the corral as Murdoch and Scott made their way to the fence.

Seeing Johnny, positioning himself on the top rail of the corral, Murdoch called out.

“Johnny!”

Johnny had just started to drop into the corral when he heard his father’s voice.  Turning his head, he could see both Murdoch and Scott advancing on him, both frowning.

Oh, boy, here we go.

Stepping down from the fence, the dark-haired boy turned to face his father.

“John.” Murdoch stepped closer to his son so the hands, lining the fence and in the yard, wouldn’t hear him. “We discussed that horse last night.   You agreed he was dangerous and needed to be turned out.”

“You discussed it.  You and Scott discussed it.  I can break him and…”

“You didn’t disagree last night when we discussed the horse, Johnny.”  Scott took one step forward.  “I remember distinctly you agreeing.”

“Well, I changed my mind,” Johnny replied, looking over his shoulder at the horse now nervously prancing.  “I’m going to give him a try.  I can break him.”

“NO!  You are not.” Murdoch’s voice rose loud high enough for everyone in the area to hear him.

Johnny looked around.  The men were watching.  He wasn’t going to back down; not now. 

“I know what I’m doing, old man,” Johnny responded in like voice.  “I can ride that horse, and you aren’t going to stop me.”

Murdoch was turning a shade of red that everyone recognized as near to exploding. 

Johnny tried to calm himself. 

Johnny lowered his voice. “Murdoch, let me at least try.”   

Murdoch looked at his youngest son and then at the men standing around the corral.   Knowing he’d challenged Johnny in front of the men, he could see Johnny wasn’t going to back down without a fight. 

Scott moved to stand next to his brother, keeping his voice low, “Johnny….”

“Scott,” Murdoch held up a hand.  “Alright, John, I trust you to know what you’re doing.   I don’t like it.  Though it appears what I like and don’t like doesn’t matter to you.   Do as you please, just as you always do.”

“Murdoch,” Johnny dipped his head, “I’ll know right away if I can break him or not.  If I can’t, I’ll admit it and turn him out.”  Johnny toed the ground with his boot before looking up at Murdoch.  “If you really don’t want me to try, then I won’t.”

Murdoch looked at Johnny and closed his eyes.  He’d thought once his sons were home his life would be easier.  Little did he know he was going to start pulling his hair out by the roots, and what hair was left would be solid white.

Murdoch reached out a hand and placed it on his Johnny’s shoulder.

“Alright, son.  Go ahead, but… please be careful.”

Johnny smiled and turned back to the corral.  Climbing over the top rail, he dropped quietly to the other side.

Walt was holding the rope on the grey stallion.  Johnny nodded for him to let the horse loose.

Walt loosened the rope around the horse’s neck and hurriedly stepped back.  The stallion reared and then started racing around the corral.  Johnny stood perfectly still in the middle of the enclosure, waiting for the horse to calm.

Finally, the grey came to a stop, eyeing the man who dared invade his territory.   Squealing, he charged Johnny; stopping just a few feet from him.

Johnny didn’t move.  He kept eye contact with the horse while speaking softly in a sing-song voice; a mixture of English and Spanish. 

The horse threw his head from side to side before turning away and trotting to the other side of the corral.

Once again, the stallion charged.

Johnny stood his ground.   

It was close to thirty minutes before Johnny left his position in the middle of the corral and took a step toward the animal.  When the horse didn’t move, a smiling Johnny reached out a hand and stroked the horse's body.   He could feel the muscles in the horse’s neck and shoulders bunch under his touch.  Normally, by this time, the horse he was working would have started to relax.   Johnny could tell his methods weren’t working on the grey. 

Johnny kept talking to the horse.  As time went by, he knew that his usual way of breaking a horse wasn’t going to work. 

Reluctantly, Johnny motioned for Walt to bring in a halter, blanket, and saddle.  Watching the horse’s reaction to the items laid in the middle of the corral, he had a bad feeling but wasn’t going to give up.

Fifteen minutes later, the grey was saddled.

Johnny wiped his hands on his pants and straightened his hat.  Taking a deep breath, he placed his left foot in the stirrup and started to mount.

The horse sidestepped.

Johnny pulled his foot back and watched as the horse started to run around the outside edge of the corral.   Just as suddenly, he stopped and hesitantly walked back to Johnny.

“That’s a good boy.  Easy now, …easy.”

Murdoch and Scott leaned against the corral fence and watched, both of them holding their breath.  They’d watched Johnny break horses before and were always amazed at his technique.   They could tell he wasn’t happy with his progress with the stallion. 

When Johnny called for the saddle, Scott shook his head, knowing that his brother was going to try to break the horse by sheer will power.

Scott glanced at Murdoch.  He could see the strain showing on his father’s face.  He turned his attention back to Johnny.

Reaching out, Johnny took the reins in one hand and then reached out for the stirrup.  He placed his left foot in the stirrup and in one fluid motion pushed up, swinging his right leg over the horse, and settled in the saddle.

In less than a second, he felt the stallion’s muscles begin to bunch.  The explosion of energy had been anticipated and Johnny was ready for it. 

The battle began.  

The horse was bucking with everything he had in him.   At times it appeared the horse's nose and rear feet were meeting in mid-air as he tried to get both rider and saddle off his back.  The grey spun in a circle one way and then the other.  The cheering and whistles of the ranch hands surrounding the corral caused the panicked horse to buck harder.

Johnny knew he wasn’t going to win this one.  He was tiring and knew the horse wasn’t.  His only hope was to find a way off the horse’s back that wouldn’t break any bones.   The momentary lack of attention solved his problem when he went one way, and the horse went another.

All sound stopped as Johnny tucked and rolled his way to the edge of the corral, coming to rest on his back.   Slowly, he sat up and looked around.   Walt had thrown a rope on the stallion, bringing him under control.

Johnny rolled over and pushed himself to his knees, looking at his father and brother with a grin on his face.

“Alright, you win.” He raised his hands in defeat and shook his head. “I give up.”

Scott let out the breath he was holding, realizing Murdoch had done the same.   Both smiled as they saw the younger man stand, grinning at them.

Johnny picked up his hat and slapped it against his leg.

The sound of the hat hitting Johnny’s legs and the plume of dust that billowed up caused the stallion to rear.  Walt lost his hold on the lead rope.

Screaming and with a flash of rage in his eyes, the horse charged the man who dared to mount him.

Johnny turned and let his instincts take over as he scrambled for safety, knowing it was already too late.    

The stallion reared again and struck out with his front legs. 

Johnny’s world exploded into a kaleidoscope of color, and waves of agony as the grey’s right front hoof caught the back of his head and then continued raking down his right shoulder and back.   The stallion’s left front hoof came down on his left side.   The impact of both hoofs threw him forward where he landed face down in the dirt.

“JOHNNY!” Scott and Murdoch both screamed as they watched the stallion strike out and heard a sickening cracking sound. 

Walt and Frank both grabbed for the rope around the horse's neck.  The stallion reared again bringing both hooves down, this time just missing the prone body on the ground.  Frank was finally able to take hold of the rope and pulled the screaming horse away.

Men jumped the fence and rushed into the corral.

Murdoch and Scott fell to their knees on either side of Johnny.  Blood spray covered Johnny and the surrounding ground.

Scott took his handkerchief and pressed it on the back of his brother’s head, trying to stem the flow of blood.   Scott watched in horror, with tears pooling in his eyes, as the handkerchief quickly became saturated with blood that now bubbled between his fingers, covering his hand.   

Suddenly, there were hands in front of him holding out towels.  Scott tossed the handkerchief aside and placed a heavier towel on the back of the dark head.  

Murdoch ripped the shirt off his son and gasped as he looked at the wounds on his back and side.  He grabbed an offered towel and started putting pressure on the side wound.  

Cipriano was kneeling next to Scott, trying to stop the flow of blood from the back wounds.

“Send for Sam!” Murdoch yelled out.

“Already done, Patron,” Cipriano blurted out as he kept applying pressure to his nephew’s back.
“Joe has been sent.”

“Should we try to move him?” Scott asked as he watched the towel, he was pressing against the head wound, quickly become blood-soaked.

Murdoch shook his head.

“I don’t know, son.  I’m afraid if we move him, we could do more harm.  I don’t like the look of the head wound.”

Scott looked around at the faces of the men still standing around the corral.  

“Slim, can you get some blankets?” Scott asked of the man closest to him.

“Sure, thing, Scott.  Be right back,” Slim answered as ran toward the bunkhouse.

“Murdoch?” a woman’s voice called out from the other side of the corral.  

Everyone looked up to see Teresa and Maria standing next to the fence, both pale with tears in their eyes.

“Teresa, I need you and Maria to get everything ready for Sam.  You know what to do.” Murdoch continued to apply pressure to the side wound.

“Is he….?” Teresa couldn’t get the words out.  “Will he…?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart.  Go on back to the house and get everything ready.  Sam’s going to need the kitchen table,” Murdoch responded as he watched his son bleed out under his hands.

Slim quickly returned with the blankets.

Scott was afraid to lift his hands from the back of Johnny’s head.  The sight of the saturated towel made his stomach churn.  When a hand covered his, Scott looked up to see Cipriano’s face.  

“I will tend to this, Senor Scott.  You do what you must.”

Scott, for the first time, realized Frank had taken Cipriano’s place applying pressure to Johnny’s back.

Scott nodded as he moved his hands away and let Cipriano move into place.
 
“Let’s make a stretcher with the blanket,” Scott said to no one in particular, as he looked at his father.  He knew they needed to get Johnny into the house even if Murdoch was hesitant.  “Slim put a blanket over Johnny’s legs.  We’ll keep him as warm as possible until we can get him in the house.”

Walt and Jacobs started working on the stretcher, as Slim and Clay covered the unconscious man from the waist down.

The sound of the grey snorting and pawing the ground drew Murdoch’s attention away from his son.  Looking at the horse, he wanted to grab a gun and put a bullet between the horse’s eyes.

“Jose, get that… get him out of here.  I don’t care where as long as he’s out of my sight.”

Jose led the horse out of the corral and into the barn.  Not knowing what to do with the grey, he put him in the corral behind the barn.

Once the stretcher was finished, Scott stood and took a deep breath, hoping to calm himself.   Looking down at his brother, he saw Cipriano slowly lifted the towel he was using to put pressure on the head wound.  To his relief, the bleeding had slowed.

Now they could see just how bad the wound was.   The horse’s hoof had caught the middle back of Johnny’s dark head, slicing it open a long gash.  Scott gasped.  Inside the gash, Scott could see the white bone of his brother’s skull.

Murdoch looked up at his oldest son and then down at what held Scott’s attention. The back of his son’s head was covered in blood.   His eyes trailed down the young man’s back.  The hoof had cut a wide gash running from the upper shoulder blade down to the waistline.   The bleeding there had also slowed.

Murdoch looked at the side wound where he had been applying pressure.  The injury was horseshoe-shaped, deep, and still bleeding.

“Boss!” Frank’s voice reflected the panic he was trying to control.

Murdoch’s eyes met Frank’s. 

Frank looked down at the man under his hands.  The entire time he was putting pressure on the back wound, he’d felt a slight rise and fall as Johnny struggled to breath.  Now there wasn’t any movement at all.

Suddenly, Murdoch understood what Frank was saying.  Trying to control his shaking hand, he reached for the side of his son’s neck. 

Scott’s eyes were wide, also understanding what Frank was telling them.  He fell back to his knees next to Johnny.

Leaning over, he cried out in a strangled voice, “Don’t you dare die on me, do you hear me, Brother?”

“Scott.” 

“Johnny, don’t you dare…”

“Scott!” Murdoch’s voice brought his oldest son’s head up.

Scott raised up, searching Murdoch’s face.  Murdoch nodded with a faint smile.

Scott sat back on his heels, fighting tears that were threatening to fall.

“We need to get him into the house,” Scott announced. 

Murdoch only nodded.

Scott began giving instructions on how his brother was to be moved.   Within minutes four of the men were lifting Johnny, placing him on the makeshift stretcher.   The same four men raised the stretcher and carefully carried it toward the house.

********

Sam Jenkins was having a quiet day.   For the first time in a week, he had nothing to do.  He ate a leisurely breakfast and even had a second cup of coffee, wondering how long his luck was going to hold out.    By noon, he’d cleaned the office and updated his records.  

Sam raised his head as his office door opened and Val Crawford strolled in.

“Sam.” Val nodded as he closed the door behind him.

“Val.  Do you need anything?” Sam straightened up, wondering if someone was hurt.

“Nope.  Just wondered if you wanted to have lunch with me?” Val smiled.

“Well, Sheriff,” Sam answered with a laugh, “I think I can spare the time.”   Grabbing his coat, he turned to the door.

As they started toward the café, Sam was thinking this was the first time in weeks he was going to eat lunch and not have to hurry.

Joe tore down the middle of Main Street.  It had been an hour since he’d left the ranch and he hadn’t slowed since.   His horse was as close to winded as he could get.   Joe knew he would have to get a fresh mount before going back to Lancer with the doctor.

Val and Sam were entering the café when Joe’s horse was heard galloping towards Sam’s office.   Val stepped off the boardwalk and waved the tired man down.

“Slow down, Joe.  You’re gonna’ hurt someone,” Val yelled, reaching for the halter on Joe’s now dancing horse.

“Val,” Joe called out breathlessly, “got no time.  Got to get Doc.”

“Sam’s right here,” Val responded, waving Sam over.

“Sam, you gotta’ come quick.” Joe jumped down from his horse.  “Johnny got trampled by a horse.  He’s hurt bad, Sam.  Real bad.”

Sam didn’t need to hear more as he ran back to his office for his medical bag.    

“Joe, get my buggy for me,” Sam called over his shoulder, not slowing his pace. 

Val turned to Joe and took a breath. “You said he was hurt bad, Joe.  How bad?”

Joe, like most of the men who worked at Lancer, knew of the special relationship between Val and Johnny.  He hated being the one to give Val the news.

“Johnny was trying to break a stallion.  We all knew he shouldn’t have tried.  Even Johnny knew it.  He got thrown.  We all thought it was over.  Not sure what set the stallion off but he charged Johnny while his back was turned.  The horse reared up and came down on him.  I know he got hit in the head and the back, not sure where else.  Val, there was an awful lot of blood.”

Joe could see Val’s face pale.  When Joe ran to the livery to get Sam’s horse and buggy, Val was right beside him. 

“Joe, get a fresh mount from Willy over there and head back out to the ranch with Sam.  I’m gonna’ ride on ahead.”

Val didn’t look up as he tightened the cinch on his saddle.

“Val, I’ll get Sam there as soon as I can.”

Val nodded, mounted, and rode out of town. 

*********

Sam had made the trip to Lancer in record time.   The entire way he ran every possible scenario through his mind.  When he arrived, he found the ranch to be unnaturally quiet and ranch hands milling near the front of the house. 

Hurrying through the front door, he was met by Murdoch, still covered in Johnny’s blood.   The anguish on his friend’s face broke his heart. 

“Sam, it’s bad.” Murdoch chocked the words out, before leading the doctor into the kitchen.  

Sam found his patient lying on the table. Maria and Teresa had done all they could to clean away the blood that covered the youngest Lancer’s back and side.  There was little they could do about the blood-soaked hair.  Just one look at the boy told Sam this latest injury was far worse than he’d imagined.

Sam quickly ushered everyone except Teresa and Maria out of the room.   With the women’s help, Sam spent the next four hours trying to repair Johnny’s damaged body, before seeing him settled in his bedroom.

Sam hesitated as he stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at the Lancer Great Room.  Below he could see Murdoch, Scott, Val, Cipriano, and Teresa waiting.  As Sam started down the stairs, five anxious faces turned his way.    He’d left his patient in the care of Maria before starting down, dreading what he was going to say.

Murdoch was the first to speak. 

“Sam?” Murdoch’s voice broke, seeing the expression on the doctor’s face.

Sam took a deep breath and made his way down the stairs, going straight to the drink cart.  He poured a double and then turned to face the family.  He didn’t want to scare them; still, he wasn’t going to lie either.

Sam shook his head.

“Murdoch, you were right.  It’s bad, but he’s alive.   It looks like Johnny must have tried to move away as the horse struck his head.  The hoof glanced off his head before it tore down his back.   I’ve had to shave his head to clean and stitch the gash.”    He hesitated a moment before continuing. “There’s also a hairline fracture to the skull.  I don’t know if there is any brain damage.”

Scott moved to one of the chairs in the room and collapsed.   Murdoch poured himself a drink and downed it before he too found a chair.   Val hadn’t moved.  

“Go on, Doc,” Val said, “what else?”

“I’ve stitched up the wound going down his shoulder and back.  The wound in his side was deep.  I’ve done what I can for now.   He won’t regain consciousness for some time.   I’ve gone ahead and put in a feeding tube.    We’ll need to keep him sedated and hydrated.   He’s already started a fever and I expect it will get much worse very quickly.”

Teresa had been with Sam while he worked on Johnny.   She had seen the true extent of the damage.    It didn’t make it any easier to hear what Sam was saying.

“Sam, will he be alright?” Scott asked, praying for the right answer.

Sam looked at Scott, seeing the worry in the young man’s face. 

“Honestly, I don’t know.   I can easily treat the wounds on his back and side.   It’s his head that concerns me.  If there is…if there is brain damage, there’s little I can do.    There are specialists who deal only with head trauma.    I’ll send some telegrams to see if there’s someone in San Francisco.”

“And if we need a specialist, could we get one to come here, to the ranch?” Murdoch spoke up.

Sam shook his head.

“No, we would have to get Johnny to the specialist, and frankly, I don’t think he’d survive the trip; not in his present condition.”

“Johnny’s a fighter, Doc.” Val moved across the room to the drink cart. “If anyone can make it, it’s Johnny.   What can we do for him now?”

“We’ll fight the fever and treat the wounds.    I’m staying tonight and possibly tomorrow night unless I have other patients,” Sam responded as he took a large drink of the whiskey in his hand.     “He’s still unconscious and I expect he will be for some time.   We’ll need to set up a schedule so that someone is with him at all times.   He’s not to be left alone, even for a minute.”

“Can we see him, Senor Sam?” Cipriano stepped forward, speaking for the first time.

Sam nodded.  “Yes, but only for a moment.   I’m going back up now.”  

Sam started to turn and stopped. Looking at the faces of his friends, he knew he needed to prepare them.

“I want to prepare you for what you are going to see.  Johnny’s head is heavily bandaged as are his back and side.   The nasal feeding tube will look worse than it is.  He’s on his stomach right now, but he’ll need to be turned every four hours to prevent fluid buildup in his lungs.”   Sam looked around the room one more time.  “Everyone understand?”

They nodded in unison and followed Sam upstairs.

Upon entering Johnny’s room, Sam made his way to his patient. Bending over the bed, Sam lifted first Johnny’s left eyelid and then the right.   Taking a deep breath, he shook his head. 

“Sam?” Scott had seen Sam’s reaction.

“His pupils aren’t responding.”

“What does that mean, Sam?”  

Val moved to the foot of the bed; his eyes fixed on Johnny’s bandage wrapped body.

“It’s too early to tell, but it’s a symptom of the brain damage I told you about earlier.”
 
Murdoch quickly moved a chair closer to the bed and sat down, taking Johnny’s limp hand in his own.   Sam had tried to prepare them for what they would see, but seeing nothing but white bandages on Johnny’s once dark head, made him shudder.  What he wouldn’t give to see that black hair falling into his son’s eyes.  

Teresa took her place near Murdoch’s shoulder.  Somehow, Johnny looked worse than he had when she’d left him earlier.

Sam stepped back and let Scott move forward.   

Everyone looked toward the door as Cipriano carried a second chair into the room and sat it down so Scott could sit. Cipriano moved to Maria’s side, putting an arm around her. 

Wiping her eyes, Maria leaned into her husband.  Seeing their Sobrino weak and defenseless broke her heart. 

Scott nodded his thanks to Cipriano as he moved to the chair.  Sitting down, he took Johnny’s other hand, squeezing it tightly.  He was still berating himself for not doing more to stop his reckless brother from riding the stallion.

Scott looked up when he felt someone stepping close to him.  Seeing Val moving to the bedside he took a deep breath and laid Johnny’s hand down. 

Looking into Val’s eyes, Scott saw a need as great as his own to be with Johnny.  He nodded, and Val gave him a faint smile.   Scott pushed himself up and let Val take his place.

Val sat down, taking the hand Scott had previously held.  He wanted to say something but was afraid that if he opened his mouth, he’d make a fool of himself.  His emotions were so close to the surface at that moment, his chest hurt.    He sat for a minute before placing Johnny’s hand back on the bed, standing, and quickly walking out of the room. 

“I’ll sit with him for a while,” Murdoch announced to no one’s surprise.

Everyone else started to move out of the room.   Scott turned back at the door, looking at his father and brother. 

“I’ll go tell the hands what’s happening, Murdoch.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours to relieve you.”

Murdoch didn’t say anything as he squeezed Johnny’s hand.

********

Scott walked out of the house and onto the veranda. The moment he stepped into the yard, the men, women, and children who called Lancer home surrounded him.

“How’s he doing, Scott?” Walt stepped closer, acting as the spokesman for the group.   It had been hours since he’d helped carry Johnny into the house.

Scott swallowed hard.   He looked at the worried faces surrounding him, trying to control his emotions.

“Not too good, Walt,” Scott finally replied.  “He hasn’t regained consciousness yet.   Sam says he has a fractured skull.  He already has a fever and Sam’s afraid it’s going to get worse.”   

Scott looked around to see Cipriano joining him.

“We have to wait.   One of us will let you know if there is any change.    I’m going back inside now.  Cipriano will you…?”     He couldn’t finish the sentence.    The operation of the ranch was the last thing he wanted to think about at that moment.

“Si, Senor Scott, I will make sure everyone gets back to work,” Cipriano reached out and put his hand on Scott’s shoulder.   “You go back to your hermano.   He needs you now.   Your Papa needs you also.”

Scott nodded and went back into the house.   He could hear Cipriano giving the men their orders as he closed the door behind him.

********

When the fever worsened that evening, it took on a life of its own. Scott had heard the term ‘take on a life of its own’ before, but he’d never really thought about what it meant until now.   

For the first two days, everyone was at Johnny’s side.  At the end of the second day, Sam told the family he believed there was an infection in the side wound and he would need to operate to remove it.   Operating that same day, Sam found the source of the infection and inserted a drain.     

Once again, all they could do was wait and pray.

That evening Val reluctantly said he had to go back to town and would come back in the morning.

By the end of the third day, both Murdoch and Scott were so exhausted, Sam ordered them to bed.

They thought the fever was finally going to relent when it spiked, even higher.   The seizures started soon afterward.

When day five saw no end to the raging fever and Johnny was growing weaker, Scott couldn’t stand it any longer.  He’d sat with his brother through two bad seizures.  Lost in his own suffering he’d taken himself out of the house to find work to do around the ranch.

By day six, Cipriano had enlisted Walt, Frank, and Jose to help sit with his nephew. 

The entire ranch seemed to be waiting for some sign that the ordeal would be over, one way or the other.

On day seven, when Sam made his daily visit, everyone held their breath.  After examining Johnny, he left Maria to sit with the boy while he met the others in the Great Room.   He looked at the expectant faces of his friends, knowing what he was going to tell them would destroy their world.  Not being able to find the words, Sam shook his head. 

Teresa turned her head into Murdoch’s chest, tears streaming down her face.

Scott looked at Murdoch, Val, and Cipriano.  No.  There had to be something they could do.

“Sam, there has to be something we haven’t tried.” Scott’s statement mirrored everyone’s thoughts.

“We’ve tried everything, Scott, except one and I’m afraid the cure may be worse than the fever.”

“Do we have a choice?” Murdoch asked, drawing himself to his six-foot-five-inch height. “What haven’t we tried and why?”

Sam thought for a moment.  “Ice.  We haven’t tried ice and the reason we haven’t is that cooling him down too quickly can cause seizures and convulsions.”

“He’s already had seizures,” Scott stated.

“Yes, he has and I don’t know how much damage they’ve caused.  Chancing more seizures …well, if there isn’t brain damage now…” 

Sam looked down, closing his eyes, finding the words he needed to say.   

“What if we save Johnny’s life only to have him live like a vegetable for the rest of his life?  Would he want that?  Would any man?”

“I want my son to live, Sam.  We’ll deal with whatever comes one day at a time.  Right now, you need to save his life.”

Val had remained quiet until now.  He took two steps forward.  Everyone turned their eyes on him. 

“Val?”  Murdoch turned to the one other person in the room who could sway the final decision on Johnny’s fate.

“Murdoch, I know Johnny.  He wouldn’t want to live like that, but he wouldn’t want you to give up on him either.”   Val turned to Sam.  “Doc, you do what you have to do.  You save his life.  Johnny will do the rest.  If there’s a way to come back to us whole, he’ll find it.”

Sam turned to Murdoch.  “Murdoch, you have the final say.” 

Murdoch looked at Johnny’s family; all his family.

“Do it, Sam.  Do whatever you need to do.”

Sam nodded.  “Alright, I need as much ice as we can get.”

********

Murdoch stood next to Barranca, running the brush over his golden coat.  Barranca nickered, raising and lowering his head, making the rancher laugh. 

“You like that boy?”

Barranca’s head bobbed again.  As Murdoch started to run the brush along the horse’s neck, Barranca took a step forward, peering over the stall gate.  Murdoch watched Barranca look toward the front of the barn, then stomp his right front hoof on the ground.

“You miss him too, don’t you?”

Barranca responded with another bob of his head. 

“You understand everything I’m saying, don’t you?”

Barranca stomped again and bobbed his head.

“I can see why Johnny loves you.”  Murdoch sighed, leaning into the horse, hoping to draw strength from him.

Johnny was still in his bed, burning up with a fever and fighting for every breath.  He’d been like that for over a week.  Each time Sam came, their hopes rose, and each time he left those same hopes were dashed.   

Raising his hand to stroke Barranca’s neck, Murdoch heard a woman’s faint scream.   Hurrying to the barn door, he saw Maria near the front of the house; Cipriano running toward her.

Standing mesmerized, Murdoch watched Maria crumple into the Segundo’s arms.   Not wanting to admit what Maria’s collapsing meant, he stood rooted to the spot. 

Then from across the yard, Joe rode toward Cipriano.  Reining up hard, Joe’s horse danced in circles.

Cipriano waved his arm in the air and pointed Joe toward town.   Cipriano looked around before taking his pistol from its holster.  Raising the gun in the air, he pointed it away from the house and fired three shots.

The sound of the shots brought Murdoch to his senses.  He started running, slowing only a brief second as he passed Cipriano and Maria.  Tearing through the front door, he didn’t stop until he reached his youngest son’s door.

Scott was riding toward the house when he heard three pistol shots; the signal of distress on the ranch.  He and the men riding with him kicked their horses into a full gallop.  As they entered the yard, they saw men running toward the house. 

Scott was off Charlie even before the horse stopped.  Pushing his way through the men standing at the French doors, he ran into the house, up the stairs, taking them two at a time, and down the hallway.

As he turned into his brother’s room, Scott barely held back the tears that were brimming in his eyes.   The thought of losing his brother was tearing him up inside.  He’d thought of nothing else since the day the grey stallion struck Johnny down. 

Scott stood motionless at the foot of the bed, his eyes falling on the still form on the bed.  He saw his father kneeling beside the bed, his head lowered, and his large hands holding his brother’s smaller hand.

Scott realized his father was praying. Tears pooled in his eyes.  They’d waited and prayed Johnny would be alright, and now…

Sliding in next to Murdoch and going to his knees, Scott put one hand on Johnny’s chest and the other on his father’s shoulder.   He didn’t notice when Cipriano, Maria, and Walt entered the room. 

Lowering his head, Scott tried to control his breathing and the sobs that threatened to overtake him.  

It was faint at first, just a slight movement under the hand on Johnny’s chest.  Scott raised his head, staring. He gasped as he felt his brother’s chest rise and fall.

Johnny was alive. 

Laying his head on his father’s shoulder, Scott let the tears come.

Murdoch reached out an arm and encircled his oldest.  Leaning into the young man, he placed a kiss on top of his head.

“Patron?” Cipriano asked hesitantly, not wanting to break the moment. 

Murdoch looked at the Segundo with tears running down his face. 

“I have sent for Sam and Val.”  Cipriano kept his arm around Maria.  Unashamed, Cipriano like the Patron and Senor Scott, let the tears flow.  

“Thank you,” Murdoch choked out.

********

Crying, Maria leaned into the stout Segundo.   She had been sitting with her nino when the pungent odor of urine filled the room.  Sighing, she knew the young man had once again relieved his bladder not even realizing he’d done it. 

It had been this way for eight days, and she, along with the entire ranch, prayed for the fever to break.  The ice baths had succeeded in lowering the fever, but not breaking it.

Maria stood to get some men to help her clean Johnny and change the bed when she noticed he seemed more relaxed than she’d seen him since the ordeal began.  At first, fear gripped her heart.  Holding her breath, she leaned forward to touch his face.

Taking a cloth to cool him, she saw beads of sweat running down the pale face and covering his upper body.  Jerking her hand back, Maria inhaled sharply.

The fever had broken.

Turning from the bed, she hurried toward the door, hitting the corner post on the footboard with her leg as she went.   It slowed her for only a split second.  Rubbing her leg, she continued out of the room and down the hall.  She didn’t remember the rest of the trip down the stairs or out the front door.  All she knew was she had to find the Patron.

Once in front of the house, Maria looked around.  There were men near the corral.  Seeing Cipriano, she screamed out for him.

When Cipriano reached her, she was overcome with exhaustion and relief.   Cipriano took her in his arms and eased her to the ground.  

“Maria?  Juanito?”

His wife’s tears scared him.   Surely, Juanito wasn’t gone?

“Dime.  Que hay de nuestro Sobrino.”  (Tell me.  What of our nephew?)

 “La fiebre ya no existe.”   (The fever is no more.)

“Que?”

“la fiebre se rompio.”    (The fever broke.)

“Verdaderamente”      (Truly)

“Si.”  Maria nodded.

“Gracias a Dio, gracias…gracias.”  (Thank God, thank you... thank you.)

Now she stood and watched as the men she loved as her own kneeled by the bed and cried themselves.

Maria took a deep breath and pulled herself together.   She wiped the tears away, knowing she had to be strong for these men.  

“The nino needs a bath, and the bed changed.”  Maria’s voice shook all of them to their senses.  “I will get some broth.   You men see to his needs.” 

Murdoch laughed as he saw the determination in the woman’s face.    He nodded and pushed himself up, still holding his youngest son’s hand.  He found comfort in knowing that Maria was in charge.

********

Val sat with his feet propped on his desk, head down, thinking about what was happening at Lancer.   He’d been holding his breath for eight days.  Eight long days.   It had been touch and go several times.  Sam had given them little hope, but here it was eight days later and Johnny was still with them.

Val remembered sitting by the boy’s bedside over the years when he was sick or wounded.  He’d held his breath then too.  It never got easier.

Hearing the sound of a horse galloping down the street, Val jumped up and hurried to the door as Joe rode toward Sam’s office.  

Grabbing his hat, he ran out the door.  He got to Sam’s office at the same time Joe and Sam were coming out the door.

“What’s...?” Val started to say.

“Don’t know, Val.  Maria came out of the house, screaming for the Boss.  Cipriano got to her first and I think she fainted.  Cipriano told me to come get you and Sam,” Joe answered breathlessly.

“You stay with Sam and help him get his buggy hitched.  I’m gonna’ ride on ahead.”  Val didn’t wait for an acknowledgment as he started for the livery.

 

********

Val remembered little of the trip to Lancer.   All Val could think about on his ride to Lancer was what he’d find once he got there. 

The moment he entered the yard, one of the ranch hands was there to take his horse.   He ran into the house and up the stairs to the second floor. 

Outside Johnny’s door, he froze with his hand on the knob; his mind was racing.  Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open.  Murdoch and Scott both looked up when he entered the room.

“Murdoch?” Val asked, with his eyes glued to Johnny’s pale face.

“His fever broke, Val,” Murdoch smiled.  “It broke and he’s sleeping now.   Is Sam with you?”

“Doc’s coming right behind me.  Joe was helping him get hitched up,” Val answered.  “Has he woken up yet?”

“Not yet,” Scott spoke up.

Val stepped closer to the side of the bed and Scott moved out of his way. Val reached out and brushed his hand across Johnny’s forehead.  It was true; the fever was lower.  He closed his eyes and fought against his emotions.

Sam careened into the yard of the hacienda.  He noted the gathering of men and women in front of the house and his heart went to his throat.  Stopping the buggy, he looked at the grim faces. 

Frank stepped forward.  “Don’t know Sam.  No one’s come out to tell us anything.”

Sam nodded, grabbed his medical bag, and hurried into the house.  The Great Room was empty.  Not really expecting anyone to be there, he went up the stairs and down the hall.  The bedroom door was open.   No one noticed him as he stepped in.

Maria and Cipriano were standing near the door.  Scott was at the window.  Val and Murdoch were on either side of the bed.

Sam took a deep breath before speaking, “So how is our patient?”

Murdoch looked up. “His fever broke Sam, but he hasn’t come to yet.”

“Alright, let me take a look.”  

Sam moved to the bed and gently pushed Murdoch aside.  Looking across the bed, he saw Val’s face for the first time.   The gleam of tears in the man’s eyes spoke more than words could have.

Normally Sam would have run the lot of them out of the room.  Not this time, though.  He knew he’d be faced with a rebellion if he tried. 

A few minutes later, he had finished his examination and turned to the people in the room.

“The wounds look like they’re healing nicely.  His pulse and heart rate are steady, but he’s still unconscious.”

Everyone in the quiet room looked at him expectantly.  Sam knew what their eyes were asking. 

“I won’t know if there is any damage due to the seizures until he wakes up.”

Sam turned to look at Johnny.  Reaching into his bag, Sam took out a vial of smelling salts.

“I going to try to bring him around.  I need Val and Scott to hold his shoulders in case he tries to sit up. He’s going to be in pain.  I’m not going to give him anything until I know if ....” he didn’t finish the sentence.  He leaned across Johnny and opened the small vial.  Putting it under the boy’s nose, he waved it back and forth. 

********

The heat was unrelenting.   He’d been walking in the desert for days and felt like hell.  Maybe that’s where he was… hell.  

In the distance, he could hear voices.  Faint sounds that drew his attention.  Someone had called his name.  He thought about trying to answer, but they weren’t fooling him.  Somehow, he knew if he answered, there would be pain.  So much pain.

‘Nope, not gonna’ answer.’  

He settled back into the darkness, drifting away from the voices and the pain.   Then there they were again, those pesky voices.  He could tell one of them was Val, but he didn’t recognize the others.

‘Wonder where Mama is?  She’s gonna’ be mad at me.  She’s always mad at me.  I wish she wasn’t.’  

It was still faint, but Dios, it was bad.  Worse than anything he’d ever smelled before.

The voices grew closer, worried voices.  

‘Maybe I should answer them.’ 

He tried moving toward the voices, but he couldn’t lift his arms, and his legs wouldn’t work.  He was too tired.   Maybe if he rested a little longer, he’d be able to open his eyes and see who was calling him. 

‘Sí, más tarde’   (Yes, later.)

*********

 

Sam leaned back, putting the cork back in the vial of smelling salts.

“I thought for a moment he was coming around.” Sam shook his head. “We’ll have to give him more time.”

“But the fever’s gone, Sam.” Val faced Sam.

“Yes, the fever is gone, but the injuries are still there.  They can’t be ignored.  At least now we know we’re only dealing with the injuries and not with a fever that is going to drain the life out of him.”

Val turned to look at Johnny again.   “So, we wait?”

“Yes, we wait.  We wait for him to wake up.”

“And we won’t know if there’s more damage until he does?”

“That’s right.” Sam put a hand on Val’s shoulder.  “Some things come in their own time, Val.  We’ll give him a few more days and if he’s not come to by then, I’ll try to wake him again.”

Val looked around the room.  He wasn’t the only one who was anxious to have the boy wake up.
Sitting down and taking Johnny’s hand, he looked across the bed at Murdoch.

Val could see the look in Murdoch’s eyes.  Neither of them would give up on Johnny.  Not now; not ever.

********

“Is Sam coming today?” Scott rushed through the front door, dropping his hat on Murdoch’s desk. 

Murdoch straightened the papers on his desk and stood up stretching.

“He should be here any time.” 

“Is Val coming with him?”  Teresa asked as she came from the kitchen.

“I’m sure he is.”  Murdoch turned to look out the window behind his desk.  “They're here now.  Is Maria with Johnny?”

Teresa nodded.   “Scott, go find Cipriano.”

“No need,” Murdoch said, seeing Cipriano moving across the yard to meet Sam and Val in front of the house.  “He’ll be in any minute.”

Sam was ushered into the house by Cipriano, followed closely by Val.  Stopping in the middle of the Great Room, Sam could see everyone, except Maria, was present.   He knew Maria would be with Johnny.

“I take it he hasn’t woken yet?”

“It’s good to see you, Sam.”  Murdoch moved forward, extending his hand.   “No, he hasn’t woken yet.   Are you going to try the smelling salts again?” 

It had been five days since Johnny’s fever broke; thirteen days since the accident.

Sam nodded.  “Yes, and if you’re ready, let’s go up.”

Sam entered Johnny’s room, followed by Murdoch, Scott, Teresa, Val, and Cipriano.   Maria was standing next to the bed.   She had already assembled everything he’d need to change the bandages.

Setting his bag down, Sam looked his patient over.  He’d hoped Johnny would have woken by now.  The fact that he hadn’t worried him.  

“Before I try to wake him, I need to change his bandages.  Maria,” Sam said as he turned to the woman, “will you give me a hand.  Scott, if you’ll help roll him over.”

It took almost thirty minutes to get the back and side wounds cleaned and bandaged before Sam turned his attention to the head wound.

Slowly, he removed the bandage surrounding Johnny’s head.   Examining the wound, Sam nodded his head.   “It’s healing nicely.”

Everyone leaned in to get a look.  The head wound did look like it was healing. 

Murdoch reached out to touch the fine black hair that was starting to grow back.  Blushing, he pulled his hand back and glanced at the others.

“I’ve never seen him with so little hair.  He had a full head of curly black hair when he was born. You remember, don’t you, Sam?”

“I remember.  A full head of hair and lungs that brought the roof down.  They heard him all the way down to the bunkhouse,” Sam laughed as he redressed the head wound. “Before you know it, he’s going to need a haircut.”

Straightening up, Sam stretched his back.  

“We can turn him onto his back now.  Careful of his head.” 

Sam stood back as Cipriano and Scott gently rolled Johnny onto his back.  Maria and Teresa moved in to straighten the bedding.

“Now, Scott and Val hold his shoulders.  We don’t want him jerking up if this works.” 

Sam pulled the smelling salts out of his bag and uncorked it.   Leaning over the bed, he waved the small bottle under his patient’s nose.

********

Johnny was nestled safely in the depths of darkness, free from pain when he felt his body being turned.   The movement brought him close to the edge between darkness and light. 

Suddenly, there it was again.  That smell.  That God-awful smell.  Johnny tried to pull away from it as he had before, but this time, he was too close to it and couldn’t pull away.

His eyes popped open to blinding light and closed just as quickly.  He heard his name being called.  There was more than one voice.  He recognized Val, but not the others.

He opened his eyes again, willing them to stay open.  Trying to rise, Johnny realized he was being held down.  He wanted to struggle but was too tired to fight them.

Johnny lay still until his world finally came into focus.  He tried to turn his head, but couldn’t.  Faces moved into his line of sight, and for the first time, he was able to put a face with the voices he’d been hearing.  

“Johnny, can you speak to me?” Val tried coaxing him.

Johnny tried to speak but couldn’t get his voice to work.  He couldn’t get anything to work.

“Johnny, I know it’s hard, but can you try to move your fingers?”  Sam said while watching Johnny’s hands for movement.

Val leaned over Johnny and looked him in the eyes.  “Hey buddy, you need to try.  Try real hard.”  

He wanted to answer them, but the sounds wouldn’t come.  Closing his eyes, Johnny drifted back into a world of restful darkness.

********

“He’s asleep,” Sam said as he rechecked Johnny’s pulse.

“Sam?” Murdoch had moved closer.

“We need to give him some more time.  At least he opened his eyes even if it was for only a few seconds,” Sam saw the distress in his friend’s face.  “I’m not sure what we can expect.   Between the head trauma and the seizures… I just don’t know.”

“His eyes were open, but…,” Scott hesitated.

“But what, son?” Murdoch asked as he stroked the side of his younger son’s face.

“Nothing.” Scott shook his head.  Scott had seen something when his brother opened his eyes or, rather he’d seen the lack of something.   It was as if there was nothing behind the eyes.   

“Sam, if there is damage, what can we expect?” Murdoch asked.

Sam shook his head. “There may be some disorientation or memory loss.  It can be temporary or permanent.”       

“Memory loss?” Scott asked.  “You mean he may not remember who he is?”

Sam answered, trying not to scare them, “Yes. It may just take some time for his brain to adjust.  He may have memory lapses. I’m not an expert at this.  As I’ve said before, there are doctors in San Francisco and Denver who specialize in head trauma.  We may have to take him to one of them.”

Sam could see the tension in Murdoch’s face.

“Let’s not think of that now.  We’ll decide on a specialist if we need one.” 

“So, again… we just wait?” Murdoch asked, his voice despondent.

“Yes, we wait.  Let Johnny set his own pace.  Don’t force him. Right now, everyone needs some rest, but first, you need to go outside and talk to your men and their families.  They’re as anxious as you are about his recovery.”

Murdoch nodded but somehow, he couldn’t make his legs move.

“Murdoch, you mind if I stay the night?” Val asked, looking up from Johnny.

“Of course not, Val.  You know your room is always ready for you.”

“I’m staying too,” Sam said as he adjusted the sheet over Johnny’s chest.

Murdoch nodded.  His legs finally moved.  He turned and left the room.  Yes, it was time to let the rest of the ranch know what was happening.  They were Johnny’s family too.

********

During the next week, Johnny opened his eyes several times but hadn’t spoken.

Murdoch and Scott took their turns sitting with Johnny, but there was still a ranch to run.  They went through the motions, but it was Cipriano who took care of the ranch.

Sam spent as much time as he could with Johnny. He had taken to staying every night at Lancer and made his daily rounds from there.

Val had run back to town like a coward when Johnny’s fever was high, and the seizures came regularly.   At the time, he couldn’t stand to watch the strong young man withering away.

Now, Val had no plans to leave.  He turned his duties in town over to his deputy and was now living full time at the ranch.   When he wasn’t with Johnny, he was helping Cipriano and the Lancer hands with their work. 

Val had seen Johnny in good health and bad.  He’d laughed with him in the good times and wept with him in the bad.   He’d stood by and watched Johnny Madrid in gunfight after gunfight and never doubted he would walk away.  The two of them had watched each other’s backs and never doubted the other would always be there.  

The one thing that never changed was Val’s love for the boy.  Loved him as if he was his own

 

********

The next time Johnny woke, he heard the sound of snoring.  Looking around, he saw Val sitting beside the bed, sound asleep.   

He lifted his head and felt a sharp pain.  Taking a deep breath, his hand moved slowly to his bandaged head. 

Johnny tried to remember what happened.  All he could remember was that the last time he was awake, he was tired and didn’t have the strength to speak. 

Turning his head, Johnny felt something tug on his nose. Touching his face, his hand found the feeding tube.  Taking hold of the offensive object, he began to pull on it. He tried not to gag as it finally came free.  Johnny held the tube up and looked at it briefly before letting it fall to the floor next to the bed.

“JOHNNY!”

Johnny jumped, and pain shot through him.  The source of the loud voice entered the room and advanced on him.   It was an angry giant.   The scared boy tried to sink further into the bed to escape the approaching man.

Val jumped as he woke.   Looking around, he saw Murdoch striding toward the bed and Scott and Sam entering the room.  

“Murdoch?” Val mumbled as he stood up and moved to the bed.

“He pulled out the feeding tube,” Murdoch answered as he bent down and picked up the tube from the floor.

Sam pushed by the others and moved to his patient.  

Johnny felt everyone’s eyes on him.    He had been beaten many times by many men.   He knew Val wouldn’t beat him, but he had no idea who the others in the room were.   Wide-eyed, he sat up in the bed, his pain forgotten.

As Sam reached for Johnny’s wrist, the frightened boy jerked back and pulled the sheet up over his chest.  He looked at Val and reached out his arms.

“Papi,” he cried out with tears in his eyes.

Val stood frozen. 

“Papi,” Johnny begged, his arms still out as if a small child, wanting to be picked up. 

Looking at Murdoch, Val didn’t know what to do.  When Murdoch nodded, Val moved to the bed and sat down. 

Johnny threw his arms around Val and sniffled.

“Papi.   Don’t let him beat me.   Papi, por favor.”

“It’s alright, hijo.”  Val put his arms around Johnny’s trembling shoulders.  “No one is going to hurt you.   No one here is ever gonna’ hurt you.”  

Johnny peeked around Val’s shoulder at the man who had yelled at him.  He pointed at Murdoch and in a soft, childlike voice said, “He yelled at me.  Don’t let him hit me.”

Everyone in the room stood fixed in place.  Murdoch watched as Val gently rocked his son. 

“Johnny.” Murdoch moved closer. “I’m sorry I yelled, son.  I didn’t mean to scare you.”  

Johnny shrunk away, burying his head in Val's chest.

Val looked around at Murdoch.  He could see the distress in the older man’s face.

“Johnny, you know Murdoch wouldn’t hurt you,” Val said. 

“Val, I need to have a look at him.  Is that alright, Johnny?” Sam moved slowly next to Val and looked down at Johnny’s face.  It was evident that the young man was frightened.   In the time he’d known Johnny he’d seen many reactions from him.  Fear had never been one of them.  Something was very wrong.

“Johnny, do you know who I am?” Sam asked gently, reaching for Johnny’s wrist.

Johnny shook his head.

“No,” he whispered while still holding onto Val for dear life, wrapping Val’s shirt around closed fists. 

“My name is Sam Jenkins.  I’m your doctor.   Do you understand?” Sam asked.

Johnny nodded. “Si.”

“Do you know anyone else in the room?”  Sam asked, watching a frown forming on the face of his patient.

Again, Johnny shook his head.

“Johnny, I need to talk to Val and… the others.   I want you to lay back and try to rest.   Can you do that?” Sam looked around the room, motioning everyone to the door.

“You do like the Doc says.  Lay back now,” Val said as he pried Johnny’s hands away.

Val pushed Johnny’s shoulders down and saw something in the boy’s eyes he hadn’t seen since Johnny was a small child.

Johnny lay back and pulled the sheet up over him again.   He didn’t feel good.   Nothing felt right.    He closed his eyes as everyone filed out of the room.

********

“What was that all about?”  Scott rounded on Sam once the men gathered in the hall, and the bedroom door closed. 

Maria was coming down the hall as Sam gathered his thoughts.

“Maria, can you sit with Johnny?  He’s awake, but I have to warn you he isn’t himself right now.   Don’t be alarmed by anything he says.”

“Si, Doctor Sam,” Maria answered with a confused look on her face.

“I think the rest of us should go down to the Great Room.  We need to talk and I don’t want to upset Johnny.” Sam led the way down the stairs.

Cipriano and Teresa came in through the kitchen as the others came down the stairs. 

Cipriano looked at the faces of everyone before asking, “Que?” 

Sam answered him.  “Johnny woke up, but…”

“That’s wonderful.” Teresa broke in.

“Let me continue, Teresa.  It is wonderful that he woke up. However, he doesn’t remember anyone except Val.”

“Madre de Dios,” Cipriano responded.

Sam turned to Val.  “Val, he recognized you right away.”

“Yeah, he did but he ain’t right.   Him and me rode together a lot of years.  I ain’t never seen him grab hold of me like that.   At least not since he was little.”

“How little?”  Sam asked.

“Five, maybe six- years old,” Val answered.   “There’s something else.  It’s been years since I’ve seen that boy afraid of anything.”

“I noticed that too,” Scott spoke up.   “He was acting like a small child.   Sam, you said there was a chance of memory loss.”

“Yes.” Sam rubbed his tired eyes.  “I think he is experiencing memory loss.  I don’t know how much and for how long he will be experiencing it.”

“Sam, Johnny hated me before he came home.   If he doesn’t remember me and what we’ve been through this last year…”  Murdoch didn’t finish the sentence.

“He won’t remember we’re brothers, will he Sam?” Scott moved to a chair.

“Is it possible that Juanito will not remember being Johnny Madrid or how to use a gun?” Cipriano asked as he saw the realization in the faces of those in the room.

“Sam, if he doesn’t remember Madrid….,” Val started to say.

Sam held up his hand.  “Hold on everyone.  We’re getting ahead of ourselves.  We need to find out what he remembers and what he doesn’t.    If he has regressed to a point to before he was Madrid…”

Val jumped back in.

“Sam, if he can’t remember Madrid then we’re gonna’ have to be careful who knows about this.”

Sam nodded.   “Alright, I need to go back up and examine him.  Now that he’s awake and has taken out the feeding tube, he’s going to need something to eat.   Teresa, can you get him some broth?    Val, I want you to go up with me.”

“Sam, I should be there,” Murdoch protested.

“Yes, Murdoch you should, but right now all he remembers of you is that you yelled at him.   Let Val and I figure this out then we can introduce all of you to him,” Sam answered as he looked around the room.

“Val, after you.” Sam waved Val toward the stairs.

********

Maria entered Johnny’s room with a smile on her face.   Her nino was awake, and that was all she needed to know.  Moving across the room, she reached for Johnny.

“Poor nino,” she said as she started to straighten the bedding.   The moment she touched the sheet; Johnny’s eyes shot open.

“Quien eres tu?” Johnny snapped.      (Who are you?) 

“Maria, of course, nino.   I am Maria,” the confused woman replied.

“No.  No, you are not my Mama,” Johnny replied, pulling the covers closer to his chin.

“No nino, I am not your Mama.  I am your Tia, your aunt.  Do you not remember me?” Maria tried to remember what Sam had said about not getting upset. 

“No.” Johnny shook his head.  “My head hurts.”

“Poor nino.” Maria reached for a cool cloth to put on Johnny’s forehead. “This will help.” She smiled as Johnny accepted the touch.

“I didn’t know I had a Tia,” Johnny said as he watched Maria’s every move.

Maria didn’t say anything.  She didn’t know what to say.

They sat quietly for a long time.   Soon Maria was humming a lullaby and watched as Johnny’s eyes closed and he dropped off to sleep.

********

The door opened slowly and Maria turned her head.   She stood up as Sam and Val stepped into the room.

“He is asleep,” Maria said.   With a look of distress on her face. “He does not know me.”

“We know Maria,” Sam responded.  “Go on back downstairs.  Val and I are going to talk to him.  We’ll call you up when we need you.”

Maria took one more look at the bed and then left the room.   She made her way to the Great Room and saw Cipriano.   She flew into his arms with tears streaming down her face.  

“He did not know who I was.  My nino did not know me.”    

“Sam says he has a memory loss, Maria.” Teresa moved to Maria’s side.  “I just hope it isn’t permanent.”

“I’m sure it won’t be, sweetheart,” Murdoch reassured, trying to convince himself as well as Teresa.      “He’ll get his memory back.”

********

Sam moved to Johnny’s bed and gently shook the young man’s shoulder. 

“Johnny.” Sam looked at Val and motioned him to the other side of the bed.

Yawning, Johnny slowly blinked his eyes.   He looked up at the face of the man that said he was the doctor.   

“Johnny, I need to change your bandages and then Val and I want to talk to you.  Is that alright?” Sam smiled as he picked up Johnny wrist to check his pulse.

Johnny returned the smile when he saw Val on the other side of the bed.   He was glad Val was with him.  Johnny knew his mother would be mad at him, but she had no right to take him away from Val.   He’d never minded being taken away from the others she’d insisted he call Papi, but Val was different.   Val was really like the fathers the other chicos had.   When Val rode north for a job, his mother had told him to get his things; they were leaving.   

Johnny hadn’t wanted to go.  He hadn’t wanted to leave Val.  All he could think about was that Val would come home and they would be gone.

The last thing he remembered was he wanted to find Val and his mother yelling at him.  

Johnny knew something was wrong with him.  He’d seen it on the faces of those that had been in the room earlier.   The only thing he knew was that his head hurt, along with his side and back, and he had no memory of being hurt.

The doctor was asking a question and Johnny looked to Val for the answer.

“Johnny, the Doc here is gonna’ change your bandages. It may hurt some, but he doesn’t mean to hurt you.   That alright with you?”

Johnny nodded, taking Val’s hand.

“Alright, let’s start with your head,” Sam said as he motioned for Val to lift Johnny’s shoulders.

It took almost an hour before all the bandages were changed.   Johnny was exhausted by the time it was done.  

“Do you want some water?” Sam reached for a glass, holding it for Johnny to drink while Val lifted Johnny’s shoulders and held his head up.

Sam looked at Val, shaking his head.  Seeing how tired his patient was, Sam knew there was no way they were going to talk to him now.  They would wait until Johnny rested.

“I know you’re tired, John.  Val and I are going to let you rest.   We have some questions we need to ask, and I don’t think you’re up to that right now.   I’m going to give you something to help you sleep.”

Sam put a dose of sleeping powders into a glass of water and helped Johnny to drink it down.

As Johnny settled into the bed, Val pulled the sheet over the young man’s chest and smiled. “You go to sleep, amigo.  We’ll be back to talk after you get some rest.”

They both watched as Johnny’s eyes closed. Sam motioned for Val to follow him out of the room.  In the hall, he found everyone waiting for them.

“Maria, would you sit with him for a while?  I’ve given him something to help him sleep.  I’m afraid he’s exhausted after I changed the bandages.” 

Maria slid past the others and into the room.

“Sam?”  Murdoch asked.

“The wounds are healing and there is no sign of infection.   He’s tired and I didn’t want to start questioning him now.   We’ll let him sleep for a few hours.   I think we all need some rest.”

Sam rubbed his eyes and yawned. 
 
“Sam’s right.” Scott could see his father looked like he had aged over the last few weeks.  He needed rest; they all needed rest.

Murdoch nodded.   “I’m going to lay down for a couple of hours.   Wake me if there’s any change.”

********

Johnny opened his eyes and looked around the room.    A young woman was sitting with him now.    He watched her for a long time, wondering who she was before she realized it.

“Johnny, you’re awake.” Teresa smiled at him.  “Are you hungry?”

Johnny smiled and nodded.  He liked this gringa.  Anyone who wanted to feed him couldn’t be all bad.

“I’ll be right back.”  

Johnny watched as she stood and left the room.

Teresa entered the kitchen with a slight skip and a smile on her face.

“Maria, he’s awake and he’s hungry.” 

Maria returned the smile before turning back to the stove. 

“I will make him a tray.  You tell Doctor Sam and the Patron.” 

“Where are Scott and Val?” Teresa asked as she started for the Great Room.

“In the barn,” Maria answered as she prepared the tray for Johnny.  “I will send someone for them.”

Maria carried the tray up to Johnny.   The moment she stepped into the room; she was rewarded with a smile that melted her heart.

Johnny scooted up in the bed, and Maria put pillows behind his back and shoulders.

“Tienes hambre?”  Maria asked, setting the tray across Johnny’s lap.   (You are hungry?)

A quick nod said it all.

“Eat.” Maria smiled.

Johnny frowned at the cup of broth and piece of toast on the tray.

“Not one word, Johnny,” Teresa said firmly from the doorway.  “We know you want something more to eat than broth, but until Sam says different, you get broth.”

Johnny gave her a determined glare. 

Teresa laughed and shook her head.  She feared she’d never see that expression again.

‘How I love you, big brother,’ she thought, wishing she could say the words aloud.    

“Alright, you eat that and I’ll talk to Sam about something more solid.  How’s that sound?”

Johnny smiled as he picked up the cup of broth.

Johnny had just finished the broth when the door opened.  Sam and Val came in, passing Maria and Teresa as they left the room to join Murdoch and Scott downstairs.

“Are you feeling up to talking?”  Sam asked as he sat in the chair next to the bed.

Johnny looked at Val for guidance.  Val nodded.

“I’d like to ask you some questions.   Is that alright?” Sam was patient with the young man and wanted to make sure he didn’t upset him.

“Si.”

“Johnny, can you tell us how old you are?” Sam asked while watching Johnny’s face.

Johnny’s brow creased as he thought for a moment. 

“I don’t know.  Mama hasn’t told me,” Johnny answered in a low voice, almost a whisper.

“I don’t understand.” Sam looked to Val.

Val sighed.  “Maria would change his age depending on where they were living and what man she was with at the time.   She always told him how old he was supposed to be depending on the circumstances.    It wasn’t until a few months ago we figured out exactly how old he really was.”

Johnny listened to what Val was saying.  He was more confused now than before.   He’d always wondered how old he was.  Mama always said he was small for his age.  In the last village, she told him he was five years old.   Val told him once he was older than that.  

“What was the last age Maria…your mother said you were?”

“Cinco… five.” Johnny held up his right hand.  “Mama said to tell anyone who asked that I was five.”

Sam smiled.  Johnny’s voice was again almost that of a child.
                                                         
“What’s the last thing you remember before waking up?” Sam moved to sit in the chair near the bed.

Johnny looked at both Val and Sam frowning.   His hands went to his head as a sharp pain shot across the back of his head.  Every time he tried to remember something; his head hurt worse.

“Johnny, is your head hurting?” Sam put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.

Johnny nodded. 

Val moved closer and put a hand at the back of Johnny’s neck and gently rubbed it. 

“What was the last thing you remember, hijo?”

“You left and then Mama said we were going to leave before you got back,” Johnny answered.   “I didn’t want to go, Papi.”  Johnny looked up at Val with tears pooling in his eyes.  “I didn’t, but Mama got mad and started yelling.  She beat me, beat me so hard my head hurt.”

“That’s the last thing you remember before you woke up here?” Val asked.

Johnny nodded.

“Johnny, that happened when you were six years old,” Val said.  “A lot has happened since that day, and you’ve grown some.   I got a lot to tell you.”

Johnny looked confused. 

“Papi?”

“Yeah,” Val answered, seeing the confusion in the boy’s eyes.

“How old am I?  I mean, how old am I really?” Johnny asked, his voice shifted for a moment from that of a child to one Val recognized as a teenage Johnny.   

Sam noticed the change in Johnny’s voice, as well.

Val smiled.  He knew that Johnny had always wondered about his age.   He knew it had surprised both of them when they found out.

“Well, you were six that day I left you and your Mama to take that job north of the border.   You’re nineteen now.”

Johnny closed his eyes and felt the gentle pressure of Val’s hand on the back of his neck.  Nineteen?  How could he be nineteen?  He wasn’t good at figures, but he did know that nineteen was a lot more than six.

“I know this is a lot to take in at one time, John,” Sam said as Johnny’s eyes opened.   “There is more we need to tell you and some people we want you to meet.”

Johnny squeezed his eyes closed and then opened them, fighting the dull throb in his head.  He started to raise his hand and stopped.  Staring at his hand, his eyes widened.  It wasn’t the hand of a child; it was the hand of a grown man.

Turning to look at Val, Johnny’s bottom lip quivered.  “Papi, what happened to me?” 

Val took a deep breath and let it out.  This part was going to be hard. 

“Before I answer that I need to tell you something, something important.  Johnny, you know how your Mama always told you that your real Pa didn’t want you?   She didn’t tell you the truth.    Your real Pa always wanted you.   Your Mama took you away from him just like she took you away from me.    Your Pa looked for you for a long time because he wanted you and because he loved you.”  

Val hesitated as he watched to see what Johnny’s reaction would be. 

“About a year ago, your Pa found you and asked you to come home.   You came home to Lancer.  That’s where you are now.   You’re in your room at Lancer.”  

Johnny cocked his head, and his eyes narrowed.  Did he trust what Val was telling him or did he trust what his mother had always told him?  

“My Papa wants me?” Johnny choked out, a look of confusion on his face.

“Yeah, boy, he wants you.   He always wanted you.  Remember how your Mama’s story would always change when she was telling us about your Pa?    I don’t know why she left here, Johnny. All I do know is that he never stopped looking for you and I know he never stopped loving you.”

Johnny’s chin dropped to his chest.   He had often dreamed of his real Papa.  He had even prayed at night that his Papa would come for him. 

“John, would you like to meet your father?” Sam asked as he watched a tear slide down the young man’s face.

Johnny hesitated and then slowly nodded.

Sam turned to the door and opened it. 

“Murdoch.” Sam watched Murdoch step through the doorway.   When Scott started to come with him, Sam held up a hand. “Just a minute, Scott.”

Scott frowned but held back.

Murdoch moved slowly across the room.   Johnny raised his head and looked at him.  Light blue eyes met dark blue.  Murdoch wasn’t sure what he saw in Johnny’s eyes.   There was a brief moment that he thought he saw yearning and trust, then just as quickly it was gone.

Murdoch inched closer to the bed and sat on the edge.  His voice was low and as soft as he could make it.   “Johnny.”

Johnny looked at the giant who had yelled at him earlier.  

“You’re…,” Johnny started and then looked at Val.  When Val nodded, he continued.  “You’re my Papa?”

Murdoch heard the soft, frail voice of a child.  Taken aback for a moment, his swallowed hard and nodded.

“Yes, son.  I’m your fath…Papa.  I’ve been worried about you.  We’ve all been worried. You scared us.”  Murdoch started to reach out and touch Johnny’s shoulder but stopped himself.  It was too soon.

“What happened to me?”   Johnny’s voice still held the childlike tone.

“A horse trampled you.  You were trying to break him, and you were thrown.  The horse reared up and hit you in the head.”

Johnny reached up and touched the bandage on the back of his head.

“Is that why I can’t remember?”

Murdoch nodded.

“Papi says you want me.  Mama always said you didn’t want a mestizo” Johnny hesitated before lowering his head and eyes.  “Do you want me?”

Murdoch felt as if a giant hand was squeezing his heart.  All this was settled months ago, and now they had to relive it.  He was going to have to rebuild his son’s trust once again.  Murdoch reached out and cupped Johnny’s chin, lifting it.  He could see tears pooling in his son’s eyes.

“Oh, yes, I want you. I want you very much, John, and I always have.  I don’t know why your mother told you I didn’t, but it isn’t true.”

Johnny’s brow furrowed as he thought for a moment.    

“Who were the other people who came to see me?”

Murdoch looked at Sam.  

Sam nodded.  “Those are others you need to meet Johnny.  I’ll get them.”

Sam moved to the door and opened it, motioning Scott, Teresa, Cipriano, and Maria into the room.

Murdoch stood up and walked over to Scott.

“Johnny, this is your brother… your older brother, Scott.”

Johnny cocked his head and looked at the blond man his Papa had his arm around.  Mama never said anything about a brother.

Murdoch moved to Teresa.   “This is Teresa.  She’s my ward and like a sister to you.”

Seeing the expression on Johnny’s face, Murdoch figured he’d better move on quickly.  He pulled Cipriano and Maria forward so that he was standing between them.

“Johnny, this is Maria and Cipriano.  They are your Tia and Tio.  Your mother’s aunt and uncle.  Do you understand?”

Johnny closed his eyes.  The throbbing in his head was getting worse.   Opening his eyes, he looked at each person and then pointed. 

“You’re my hermano, Scott and you’re Teresa, my hermana?”

Scott and Teresa nodded.

“That’s right, little brother,” Scott answered with a smile.

Johnny looked at Cipriano and Maria.  “And you are my Tio and Tia.  Mama never told me she had familia.   How long have you been here?”

Cipriano answered, “Since before you were born, nino.  Your Tia Maria took care of you when you were a baby. From the day you were born until your Mama took you away from Lancer.”

“We’re going to let you rest now.” Sam hurriedly stepped forward, recognizing his patient was in pain.  “First, do you have any questions for anyone?”

Sam knew Johnny was getting too much information; too soon.

Johnny sighed and leaned his head back against the headboard.  Did he have questions?  He had nothing but questions, but he was too tired to ask them.

When Johnny didn’t answer, Sam started motioning everyone out of the room.  They’d made a good start.

“Johnny, do you want something to help you sleep?”  Sam moved back to the bed after everyone had gone from the room.

Johnny closed his eyes.  “No.  Can I be alone?” 

“I’ll see they leave you alone for a while.  Rest now.” 

Johnny didn’t open his eyes.  Sam could tell the young man was fighting to hold back tears.

********

When Sam entered the Great Room, he found everyone waiting for him. 

“We made a good start.”  Sam tried to reassure the family.    “He took it better than I thought he would.  Actually, a lot better.”  Sam frowned.  “He didn’t act like the Johnny we know.  He seemed sedate…”

“He seemed lost,” Teresa spoke up.  “Val, he seemed like a lost little boy.”

“It won’t be easy for him.  You know Johnny as a confident man, who is in control of his life.  We’re dealing with a man with the memories of a six-year-old and if I’m not mistaken the emotions of one also.  Don’t be surprised at anything he says or does.”

Scott sat on the sofa and looked at the others.  “Should we treat him as a child?”

“Treat him like Johnny.  True, the memories Johnny has of his childhood and growing up made him the man he is today.  There is nothing to say those memories won’t come back to him.”

Murdoch stepped forward.  “Sam, is it possible Johnny will remember everything?”

“How soon?”  Scott moved to stand beside his father.

“It is possible,” Sam answered, looking at Murdoch and then turned to Scott.  “I have no idea.  It could be tomorrow.  It could be weeks.  There may be some recovery a little at a time.  He may never recover those lost memories.   I just don’t know.”

Sam sighed.  He just didn’t have all the answers.

“For now, we treat his body and take care of the injuries.  When he’s stronger, we’ll tackle the memory problems.”

“I’m glad you were here Val.  Having you is like an anchor Johnny’s going to need to get him through this.”

Sam thought for a moment.   Sitting down, he looked at Val.

“Val, what was Johnny like at six?” 

“What was Johnny like?  The boy was a holy terror.” Val laughed.  “No. I shouldn’t say that.  He was a good kid.  When I first met him, he was wild.  Maria let him do anything he wanted; she didn’t care where he was or what he was doing.  I told you the first time I met him; he tried to steal my saddlebags.”

Val stopped and looked at Murdoch.   He still felt uncomfortable talking about his time with Maria in front of the man.    

“After I started living with him and Maria, he calmed down.  By the time Maria left with him, he minded me.  We were close, real close.”

Sam could see Val was having a hard time going on.

 “Was he emotional?”

“Emotional?  If you mean, did he have a temper?  Yeah, he had one hell of a temper and still does.  Did he cry?  No.  His Mama told him real men didn’t cry.  I only saw him cry one time.”

“Does any of that help, Sam?”  Scott looked from Val to Sam.

Sam shrugged.  “I don’t know.  We won’t know until Johnny does something uncharacteristic for him.”

“Sam, I got to tell you, when Johnny was little, he had a lot of insecurities.    He knew his mother didn’t love him or care about him, and he didn’t think anyone else did either.  He put on a brave front back then and still does.”

“You mean he draws on Madrid?” Murdoch spoke up.  “We’ve all seen it.  That look he gives you when he wants to hide how he really feels.”

Val nodded.  “Yeah, that look has scared the piss out of a lot of men, but when he was six, he didn’t have that Madrid stare.  Back then, he would just lower his head, wrap his arms around his chest, and get real quiet.  He tried to make himself invisible.”

Everyone was quiet.  None of them had any idea what to expect.

“So,” Scott looked around the room, “we don’t know any more than we did before.”

“No, Senor Scott,” Maria spoke up for the first time.  “We know our Juanito is still our Juanito.  He does not remember us now, but he will.” 

“And if he doesn’t?”  Scott asked.

“Then he will grow to know us again.  He does not remember we love him, but has that changed anything?   No.  We still love the nino.  Do we not?”

“Si, our feelings have not changed.”  Cipriano moved to put an arm around his wife.  “He is still Juanito, is he not?”

Murdoch smiled.  “Yes, Johnny is still Johnny.  We’ll take one day at a time.”

Murdoch walked to the French doors, looking out.  Turning back to Sam, he could see the doctor was tired.  “Sam, why don’t you get something to eat and then rest here for a while?”

“I think I will.”  Sam stood up and started toward the kitchen.  He stopped and turned, “I know everyone in the room loves that boy.  We all want him to be the Johnny we’ve always known, but it may be a long road.  

“Don’t push him to remember.  I’ve already seen that his head hurts when he tries to remember and can’t.   He may never get his memories back.  If that’s the case, well do as Cipriano and Maria said, make new memories for him. 

“If he asks a question about his past, answer him but try to limit the information for now.”

Val sighed.  “He’s got to know about Madrid at some point.”

“Why?” Scott spoke up.  “Why does he have to know?”

“Because the day is gonna come when someone will recognize him and call him out.  What’s he gonna do if he doesn’t remember… if he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do?  How is he…”

“That’s enough, Val.  He won’t be leaving this house or the ranch as long as his memory is impaired.”

Val turned to face Murdoch.  “You gonna lock him in his room, Murdoch? Do you plan to keep him a prisoner on the ranch?  You’re gonna have to let him start living again at some point.”

Murdoch closed his eyes and shook his head.

“No, I’m not going to keep him locked in his room, but is it wrong of me to want to keep him safe, even for a short while.”

Sam stepped in.  “No, Murdoch, it isn’t wrong to want to keep him safe, but Val’s right.  At some point, he’ll have to be told about being Madrid.”

“But not right now, Sam.  His mind is that of an innocent at the moment.  He doesn’t remember all the bad that happened in his life.  He doesn’t remember having to kill just to stay alive.”

Val couldn’t argue with Murdoch’s reasoning.  For now, Johnny didn’t remember killing for a living, and maybe it was for the best.  While it lasted, the boy might be able to sleep without the ghosts of his past haunting his every dream.
   

********

It was morning before Johnny woke again.  Blinking he looked around the room and spotted Val coming through the door.

“Papi!”  Johnny sat up in bed, his face lighting up with excitement.

Val moved across the room and sat on the side of the bed.   The moment he did, Johnny threw his arms around the only father he’d ever known, hugging him.

Although caught off guard, Val wrapped his arms around Johnny and pulled him to his chest.

“Papi, Mama said you were never coming back, but you found me.  You found me, Papi.   I missed you so much.”  Johnny didn’t let Val go.

“I know you did, hijo, and I missed you. After you and your Mama left, I looked for you for a long time.”  Val heard a noise behind him.  Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Murdoch step into the room. 

“Johnny, do you remember everyone you met yesterday?”

Johnny nodded into Val’s chest.

Val pushed him back, looking into his eyes. 

“Do you have any questions?”

“Papi, is he really my Papa?”  Johnny looked past Val directly at Murdoch.

Val nodded.  “That’s right, hijo.  Murdoch is your Papa.”

“But you’re…” 

The look of confusion on Johnny’s face, Val knew he had to say something to ease the boy’s mind.

“Johnny, you remember that day when we talked about who I was to you?”

The day Val referred to was fourteen years ago, when he’d sat down with a five-year-old boy and explained who he was and how he fit into the boy’s life.

Johnny nodded.

“I told you, you had a real Pa somewhere.  Well, Murdoch is your real Pa.”

Johnny glowered at Murdoch.  “Mama said he didn’t want me.”

“Johnny, your Mama lied to you.  She lied to both of us.  I think you know that.”

Murdoch stood quietly listening to Val and Johnny.

The expression on Johnny’s face changed.  He lowered his eyes before speaking again.

“He really wants me?”

“That’s right.”  Val glanced at Murdoch again and nodded.

Murdoch stepped forward.

“John, I’ve always wanted you.  Your mother took you away from me in the middle of the night.  I looked for you for years.  I can’t tell you how happy I was when you came home to me.”

Johnny cocked his head.  “She took me away in the middle of the night?  She took me away from Papi, too.”   Johnny looked between the two men before his eyes came back to Val.  “You’re still my Papi though, aren’t you?”

Val smiled.  “I’ll always be your Papi, hijo.  You have to remember you have both of us in your life.  That alright with you?”

They could see Johnny thinking before he responded with a faint smile and a nod.

“Good, now that’s settled.  You hungry?”  Val pushed Johnny back into the bed and pulled the sheet up over his shoulders.

“I’m hungry, but all they feed me is broth,” Johnny answered with a pout.  Then with a smile, he asked, “Can I have tamales?”

Both Murdoch and Val laughed.  

It was Murdoch who answered.   “No tamales… yet.  I’ll ask Sam if you can have something besides broth.  Rest while I go get you something.”

Johnny closed his eyes and snuggled into the pillow.

Seeing Johnny drift off to sleep, Murdoch and Val walked out of the room.  Once in the hallway, they stopped to talk.

“He’ll be alright.”  Val put a hand on Murdoch’s shoulder.

“I hope so, Val.  It took us a long time to get past the issue of his mother.  Sometimes, I don’t think we’ve totally gotten past it.  Now, it’s like we’re starting all over again.”

“We just take one day at a time.”

The two men stood quietly for a moment.  This was uncharted territory for both of them.

********

It had been eight weeks since Johnny woke up, ten weeks since the accident.  The wounds had healed, but the headaches kept coming, each worse than the one before.  Terrible headaches that sent the boy to bed; tears streaming down his cheeks.

After a particularly bad episode, Sam called a meeting of the family.  Assembled in the Great Room, they waited to hear what Sam had to say.

“The headaches aren’t getting any better.”  Sam looked at Murdoch.  “It’s time he saw a specialist in San Francisco.”

“You’re sure?”

“Murdoch, I’m a good country doctor.  I can deal with almost any injury, but this is beyond my skills.  We can’t wait any longer.  The headaches are getting worse with each episode.  If we don’t act now, I’m afraid there will be more damage to his brain.  Damage that can’t be repaired.”

Murdoch looked around the room.  Then looking back at Sam, he nodded.

“Do what you feel is best, Sam, but if he goes to San Francisco, I go with him.”

“As do I,” Scott spoke up.

It was no surprise when Val chimed in, “No way I’m letting him go anywhere without me.  He’s gonna need a gun to back him up.  No offense Scott, but I know the type of men who’d come after him.  I can tell another gunhawk a mile away, no matter how he’s dressed.  Johnny ain’t safe without his memories.  I aim to be there to protect him if needed.”

Although Murdoch thought to argue with Val, one look at Johnny’s face told him it would be a good idea having Val with them.   Val was Johnny’s anchor in life right now, and they couldn’t take the boy to a strange city without him.

“Very well.  I had a feeling you would agree and I’ve already contacted the specialist.  His name is Doctor Steven Asbury.  We leave in two days.  I plan to go along as well.  I want to learn all I can first hand from Doctor Asbury.”

“Pretty sure we’d agree, weren’t you?”  Murdoch smiled.

“I knew you’d act in the boy’s best interest.  So yes, I was sure you’d agree.”

“Now which of us is going to tell Johnny about the trip?”  Scott asked, looking directly at Murdoch.

“I vote for Sam,” Murdoch replied, looking at his friend.

“I’ll tell him, but I want both you and Val there.”

Both men nodded in agreement.   Together the three men mounted the stairs and went to tell Johnny he was going on a trip.  When Sam explained the doctor in San Francisco might be able to stop the headaches, Johnny didn’t hesitate to agree to go.

Two days later Johnny, Murdoch, Scott, Val, and Sam boarded the train for San Francisco.

********

Scott shifted, straightened and then yawned as he looked at Johnny stretched out on the seat across from him.

“Is he asleep?” Scott asked.
 
Murdoch nodded. 

“His head was hurting, but I think he’s finally asleep.”  

Leaning forward, Murdoch pulled a blanket over Johnny’s shoulders.  He smiled when he heard a gentle sigh and watched his son snuggle into the warmth of the covering.

Looking across the aisle of the train car, Murdoch saw that both Sam and Val, chins on their chests, were also asleep.   Everyone seemed to be able to sleep but him. 

Sighing, he let his eyes fall once again on his youngest son.  Why the hell did everything have to be so hard for the boy?

The day Johnny woke after the accident, everyone felt nothing but joy.  When they found out his memory had been affected, they were afraid, but they adjusted.   Johnny’s memories were that of a six-year-old.  They could adapt, and they did. 

At first, they tried not to treat him as a child, but like a man.  They learned soon enough that too had to be adjusted.  There were times Johnny needed to be treated as a child; to be reasoned with as a child and comforted like a child.  He was learning all over again.

Murdoch had hoped life would settle into a rhythm that they all could live with until Johnny’s memories came back.  That wasn’t to be, either.   The family knew from experience that a nineteen-year-old Johnny wasn’t an ideal patient.  A six-year-old Johnny, with six-year-old behavior, was worse, but they tried to adjust.

Remembering the day Johnny called him, Papa made him smile.    They were eating dinner and Scott said something, he couldn’t remember what.  Johnny became quiet and put his fork down.  He looked at Murdoch with a strange look on his face.

Murdoch had his wine glass almost to his lips and could see Johnny was distressed.  He sat the glass down and leaned forward.

“What’s wrong, Johnny.” 

“I don’t know what to call you.” 

Murdoch’s brow furrowed as did Scott’s.  

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know what to call you.   Scott calls you Murdoch, but what do I call you?”

Murdoch realized Johnny hadn’t once addressed him by any name since he’d awoken.

“What do you want to call me?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny whispered, lowering his head. 

“I’m your father, John. You can call me anything you want…” Murdoch cleared his throat, “except old man.” 

Johnny looked at Murdoch and smiled.  “You’re not an old man.  It’s just that…”

“What would you call me if you had a choice?”

Johnny thought for a moment.  “I’d call you Papa or Pa.  I could call you Murdoch like Scott.  But Val is …”

Murdoch understood.

“Johnny, where you’re concerned, Val and I have an understanding.   I don’t object to you calling him Papi or him calling you son.  I know he means a lot to you and you to him.  So, young man, what will you call me?”    

“Papa,” Johnny instantly responded, grinning.  “Papa,” he repeated, letting the word roll off his tongue as if getting the taste of it.  Then he looked at Murdoch and asked, “Can I call you Papa?”

“I’d like that, son.”

“What about me?” Scott asked.

“You’re easy, hermano,” Johnny answered with a laugh. “I know what to call you.” 

Both Murdoch and Scott laughed.   It was that easy.  They’d jumped another hurdle as a family.

********

The train lurched slightly bringing Murdoch out of his musings.  Johnny shifted on the seat and moaned.  Murdoch pushed his stiff body up to check on him when Johnny’s eyes opened.   Murdoch could see the pain in the boy’s eyes.

Johnny whimpered, and his hands came up to his temples.

“Sam!”  Murdoch moved down on one knee next to Johnny and looked across the aisle to the sleeping doctor.

Sam stirred and looked around.  It took him a moment to remember where he was.   Looking sideways, he saw Murdoch kneeling next to Johnny.

“Sam, he’s hurting.”

Sam pushed himself up, trying to get his balance as the train movement caused him to sway and grab hold of Val’s shoulder for support.  Val woke with a start.

“Let me see.”  Sam crossed the aisle, motioning for Murdoch to move back to his seat.

Murdoch pushed up and sat in his seat, brushing Scott’s leg as he did.

Sam brushed his hand over Johnny’s forehead, checking for a fever.  Relieved when he found none, he asked, “Johnny, how bad is it hurting?”

Johnny didn’t answer for a few moments.  When he did, it was in a soft voice, “Bad, but not as bad as before.”

The before he referred to was three days ago when the pain had been so bad; he’d collapsed in the Great Room in tears.  Murdoch had to carry Johnny to his room and call for Sam.  It was that episode that prompted the trip to see the specialist.

“Do you want me to give you something for the pain?”

Johnny frowned.  He didn’t like taking the laudanum Sam gave him.  It made him feel funny afterward. 

“How about I see the conductor about making some of the herbal tea Teresa sent along.  That seems to help.”

“I don’t like the way the tea tastes,” Johnny answered with a pout.

“I know, but the white willow bark and ginger will help your headache.  I’ll add some honey to make it taste better.  Is that alright?”

Johnny nodded.

“Good.” Sam patted Johnny’s arm.  “I’ll be right back.  Why don’t you sit up until I get back?”  

Sam helped Johnny to sit upright before going to find the conductor.

Scott moved from his seat to sit next to Johnny.  Putting an arm around his brother’s shoulder, Scott felt Johnny scoot closer to him and lean his head against his shoulder.

“Sam will be right back.  He’ll make you feel better.”

Johnny looked up and smiled.  “Gracias, hermano.”

“De Nada, hermano menor.”     (You’re welcome, little brother)

Johnny’s smile got wider. “Did I teach you Spanish?”

“Yes, you and the vaqueros.  I’m still not as fluent as you, but I can at least keep up.”

Johnny laid his head on Scott’s shoulder again, wincing as his eyes closed tightly fighting the pain in his head.  

Scott put his hand on the side of Johnny’s head, slowly rubbing his temple.   He could feel his brother relax.  

It was only a few minutes before Sam returned with a cup of tea.

“I put honey in it, just like I promised.  Drink it all.”

Johnny took the cup and blew on the liquid to cool it.   “How long before we get where we’re going?”

“We’ll be in Sacramento in about an hour.  The train to San Francisco leaves at 3:00, so we’ve got a couple of hours before boarding again.”   Murdoch slid closer to the window to let Sam sit next to him.

Johnny nodded as he sipped the tea.  Lowering the cup, he looked at Sam.

“You really think the Medico in San Francisco can fix me?”  

Sam smiled.  It was the sixth time Johnny asked the same question.  

“Johnny, I’ve told you, he knows more than I do about head injuries.  I don’t know why your head still hurts like it does.  I’m sure he can tell us.  I’m hoping he can help make the pain go away.”

With a sigh, Johnny went back to his tea.  He didn’t feel well, and the movement of the train made it worse.  He could taste the ginger in the drink.  Teresa told him the ginger helped with pain and also settled an upset stomach.  

Finishing the tea, Johnny handed the cup back to Sam.  

“Do you want to lay back down, son?”  Murdoch leaned forward.

“My head feels better.  Can I sit up for a while?”

“Do you want to sit near the window?” Scott asked, glancing out the window.

Johnny looked at the landscape, flying by the window and felt queasy.   “No.  I like it here…with you.  Is that alright?” 

Johnny felt Scott’s arm tighten on his shoulder.

“Very alright.  Lean back and relax.  We’ll be in Sacramento before you know it.”

********

Johnny was riding across the prairie.  Holding his arms straight out from his swaying body, he felt like he was flying as tall green grass whipped in the wind and against the horse’s belly.

Suddenly, the horse stopped.  Johnny felt something touch his arm.  Opening his eyes, he realized Scott was shaking him.  Raising his head from Scott’s shoulder, he looked around.  The train had stopped.   Murdoch, Val, and Sam were still in their seats, letting everyone else get off the passenger car first.

“Are we here?”  Johnny rubbed his eyes and looked over his shoulder to see the car was almost empty.

“Yes.  You fell asleep again.  Feel better?”  Scott raised the arm that had surrounded Johnny’s shoulder; flexing it to get the blood circulating again.

As Johnny nodded, Murdoch stood up and stretched.  

“Scott, if you and Val will get the luggage, I’ll help Sam with Johnny.  If I remember right there’s a café about a block south of the station where we can get something to eat.”

Val and Sam stepped into the aisle and waited for Johnny to stand.  Ushering him between them, they started to the end of the car.

On the platform outside the train car, Sam stayed with Johnny while Val headed off to get the luggage.  When Scott stepped down to the platform, he followed Val.   Murdoch was the last to leave the train car.

“John, are you hungry?”  Murdoch divided his attention between Johnny and Scott.    When Johnny didn’t answer right away, he looked down at Johnny and smiled.   Johnny looked lost.  Taking a step forward his put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. 

“It’s alright, son.  It’s big, but you’ve got us with you.  Now, how about something to eat before we have to get back on the train.”    

Scott and Val made arrangements for the luggage to go on the next train to San Francisco, confirmed their tickets, and went to join the others.

********

“San Francisco.  Next stop… San Francisco.”  The conductor's loud voice announced they were pulling into the station in San Francisco.

The meal in Sacramento had been good, but quick.  The 75-mile train ride from Sacramento to San Francisco took only two hours, with one-stop along the way.

Johnny was feeling better after a good meal and rest in Sacramento.  To everyone’s relief, he was alert and smiling on the last leg of the train ride.

After disembarking in San Francisco, Murdoch turned to look at Val.

“Murdoch, I’m staying with Johnny.  Scott can handle the bags.  Why don’t you and Sam go get us a ride to the hotel?”

Murdoch gave Val a stern look.

“No need to look at me that way.” Val ground out, looking down the platform toward the end of the train.  

Murdoch turned to see what had Val’s attention.   It took him a few moments before he saw the man.  A lone traveler, wearing a long, black leather duster, his hat pulled down over his eyes.  When the man pushed the duster aside, they could see the gun sitting low on the man’s right hip.

“Trouble?”  Murdoch turned back to Val.

“Nope.  Not as long as he stays down there and don’t come this way.”  Val put an arm around Johnny’s shoulder.  “Come on, hijo.  You and me are gonna’ stand over here out of the way while your Pa gets the carriage.”

Johnny tried to look around but was pulled by Val closer to the building.

Murdoch stepped nearer to Val and Johnny, blocking the stranger's view of his son, should he look their way.   Sam glanced at the stranger and followed Murdoch.  Together the three men encircled the boy.

Val kept an eye on the stranger until he left the platform and entered the depot.   

“It’s alright.  Let’s go.” Val moved out first, with his arm still around Johnny’s shoulder.  Murdoch and Sam brought up the rear.  They found Scott standing just inside the station door waiting for them.

“Did you see him?”  Scott picked up a saddlebag and handed it to Val.

“Yeah.  Where’d he go?”  Val took the bag as he scanned the room.

“He went outside.”  Scott handed a valise to Sam and another to Murdoch.

“You know who he was?”  Murdoch took the valise from Scott.

“I don’t have a clue who he is.  I know what he is, though.  I guessed you were waiting for him to leave before coming in.”   Scott picked up his and Johnny’s valises.

“Who are you talking about, Papi?” Johnny asked, looking around, seeing no one.

“No one now.  Just someone we thought we knew.  You ready to get to the hotel and get some rest?”  Val said as he pushed Johnny ahead of him.  They followed Murdoch outside and hailed a carriage.

“Cosmopolitan Hotel,” Murdoch told the driver when everyone was seated.

Sam flinched at hearing where they were staying.   He’d seen the building the last time he was in San Francisco and knew it was the largest hotel he’d seen since leaving the east.  When he visited San Francisco, he usually stayed in lower rent hotels or boarding houses.

“Pretty expensive, isn’t it, Murdoch?”

“It’s close to the hospital and downtown.  I thought that since we’re going to be here, we might as well enjoy the stay.”  Murdoch smiled and looked at the men with him.  Johnny had his head outside the carriage taking in the sites.  “Besides, I don’t think there will be any surprise guest at the Cosmopolitan.  I doubt a …” Murdoch glanced at Johnny and lowered his voice.  “I doubt a gunfighter would be staying there.”

“You got that right.”  Val laughed, pulling Johnny back inside the carriage.  “You’re gonna’ fall out and crack your head open again, boy.”

Johnny grinned.  “Never seen so many people and the buildings…”

“I know, but keep your head inside.”  Val brushed Johnny’s hair down.  It was hard to believe how fast his hair had grown back.  It was also hard to believe it was curly.

The carriage stopped, and the driver dropped down to the door. 

“The Cosmopolitan, Gentlemen.”  The driver opened the door and stepped aside.  

They let Murdoch out first, then Scott and Sam followed.  Val let Johnny go ahead of him.
The small troupe made their way into the hotel while the hotel valet collected their luggage. 

Going straight to the check-in, Murdoch tapped the bell on the desk.    A small, thin man with a dark mustache came from a room behind the front desk.

“May I help you, Gentlemen?”  The man gave everyone a cursory look before his eyes fell on Johnny. 

“I’m Murdoch Lancer.  I have reservations for a four-room suite.”  Murdoch addressed the man, while at the same time noting his demeanor when he looked at Johnny.

The man cleared his throat while looking at his reservation cards.

“Yes, Lancer.  Here we are.  I have a suite that has two bedrooms.  One of the rooms has two beds.  There is a door to an adjacent two additional rooms. You’ll be able to share the sitting area, and there are two Convenience rooms.  Is that satisfactory?”

“Very.” Murdoch signed the book for them all.

The clerk gave Johnny another look.  Murdoch thought it best to introduce everyone.

“Mister…?”

“Prentice, Mr. Lancer.  Ervin Prentice.”

“Yes, Mr. Prentice, this is my oldest son, Scott Lancer.”  Scott tipped his hat.  “This gentleman is Doctor Sam Jenkins.  This is Sheriff Val Crawford, from Green River, and this…” Murdoch put an arm around Johnny, pulling him closer.  “This is my youngest son, John Lancer.”

“Hello.” Johnny smiled at the small man.  The others just nodded.

“Well, I’m happy to have you with us.”  Prentice cleared his throat again.  “I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay at the Cosmopolitan.  If you should need anything, just let any of the staff know.”  He tapped the bell on the desk. “Bellboy!”

A young man wearing a uniform and small round hat on his head approached them.

“Jerry, see Mr. Lancer and his party to the Carlton Suite.  They’ll also be occupying the adjoining rooms.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Prentice.”  The boy looked to be no more than 14 or 15. “This way, gentlemen.”

The boy picked up two of the valises and reached for a third when Johnny picked up his own.

“I can take mine.”

The bellboy smiled.  “Alright.”  Seeing that all the bags were being carried, Jerry led the way to the stairs.

********

Johnny ran across the bedroom and jumped on one of the two beds.

“Johnny!”

“Sorry.”  Johnny jumped back onto his feet and looked at the doorway to see Murdoch standing with his arms crossed over his chest and a smile on his face.  Johnny relaxed, knowing his Papa wasn’t mad at him.

“Do you want to rest before dinner?”  Murdoch strolled across the room, followed by Scott.

“I suppose I get the other bed.”  Scott motioned for the bellboy to put his valise on the bed.

“Thank you, Jerry.  That will be all.”

“Do you need me to show you how to use the water closet or the fixtures?”

Scott walked to the Convenience closet and looked around.  It was similar to the ones he’d seen in hotels in the east.

“No.  We can manage.  Thank you.”  Scott handed the boy a silver dollar and walked him out of the suites.

The door to the adjacent rooms opened and Val walked in. 

“Murdoch that room is bigger than the room you’ve got for me at Lancer.”

Johnny popped out of his and Scott’s room.

“Papi, our room is bigger than the house we lived in with Mama.”

Murdoch and Val looked at each other.  It made both men uncomfortable when the subject of Val and Maria came up.

“Yeah, it is.”  Val looked back at Johnny.

Johnny frowned. “Papi, where is Mama?”

Scott had one foot in the sitting room and one in the bedroom when he heard Johnny’s question.  He looked to his right and saw Sam standing like a statute.   Everyone turned their eyes to Murdoch.

“Johnny, uh…we’ll discuss your mother another time.  Right now, I believe I asked you a question.   Do you want to lay down before dinner?   We’ll eat at 6:00, so you have a couple of hours.”

Johnny hesitated.  He knew he’d said something wrong.  No one would talk to him about his mother.  He guessed they were all mad at her for leaving.

“I’ll answer the question for you, Murdoch.  Yes, Johnny is going to lay down until dinner.  He’s feeling well now; I want to make sure he stays that way.”  

Sam moved across the room, turned Johnny, and gave him a gentle push.  Johnny started to protest and pout.

“No arguments, young man.  We have a big day tomorrow.  You’ll rest now, and right after dinner it will be off to bed for the night.”

After Johnny was in bed, Sam closed the door to the room so he could talk to the others without disturbing him.

“We’ll wake him a little before six.  Now, I want to go over with you what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Everyone sat down to wait for Sam to continue.

“In the morning, Johnny has an appointment with Doctor Asbury at 10:00.   The City and County Hospital is only three blocks from here, so they’ll be no need for a cab.”

“How long do you think the appointment will take, Sam,” Murdoch asked, leaning forward.

Sam scratched his chin.  “I don’t know.  I would expect Doctor Asbury to do a complete examination.  I suspect the appointment will take at least three to four hours.”

“Will you be with Johnny, Sam?” Val leaned forward mimicking Murdoch.

“I don’t know if Doctor Asbury will allow it.  I’ll ask.”

“What do we do if Doctor Asbury can’t help Johnny?”

Sam sighed at Val’s question.  It was a question he’d asked himself a dozen times. 

“We’ll cross that bridge when it comes…if it comes.  Right now, we need to stay positive.”

“I need a drink?” Val leaned back and looked around the room.   “You think this place has a bar?”

“I’m sure it does.  I could use one, too.” Scott was on his feet.  “Come on Val.  Let’s see what we can find.”  Turning to Murdoch, “Sir?”

“You go ahead.  I’m going to take a bath and lay down for a few minutes.  I’ll see to Johnny.  Sam, do you want to go with them?”

“Yes.  Yes, I do.” Sam following Scott and Val through the door.

When the door closed, Murdoch collapsed back into the chair.  He looked at the closed door of the bedroom to his right.  His son was there, resting now and for the moment free of pain.

Lowering his head, Murdoch took a deep breath.

“God, please help him.  He doesn’t deserve this…any of this.  Give the doctor tomorrow the skill to help him.  Please, Lord, give us all the strength to help him.”

*********

“Johnny, sit still.”  Murdoch put a hand on his son’s bouncing leg. 

“I don’t want to do this anymore, Papa.  Let’s go home.”

Johnny started to stand and felt Murdoch’s hand on his arm.

“Sit.”

Johnny looked across the room to where Val was sitting with Scott.   Val shook his head and pointed his finger toward the chair, mouthing the word ‘sit.’

Johnny huffed and leaned back into the chair.

The longer they waited, the more nervous Johnny got.  He jumped when the door to the waiting room swung open, and a voice called out, “John Lancer.”  

Sam stood up and went to talk to the nurse.

“I’m Doctor Jenkins. Is it possible that I can go in with Johnny?”

“You’re the attending physician?”  The nurse scanned the chart in her hand.

“That’s right.”

“Alright.  Come with me. However, it will be Doctor Asbury’s decision if you stay for the entire examination.”

“Thank you.”  Sam let out a breath he was holding and smiled.  He knew Johnny was going to be difficult to deal with and wanted to be there in case he needed someone.  “Johnny, come on.”

Johnny held onto the chair he was in with both hands while he listened to Sam and the woman dressed in white.  When Sam called to him and motioned him to follow him, Johnny still held onto the chair.

“Johnny.”  Johnny turned to see his father leaning close to him.  “It’s alright, son.  Sam will be with you, and I’ll be waiting for you here with Scott and Val. You don’t have to be afraid.”

Johnny raised his chin.  “I’m not afraid.”

“I’m sorry.  I know you’re not afraid.  You’re very brave.  Now, go on with Sam and let’s see what the doctor has to say.”

Johnny nodded and stood up.  He walked across the room to where Sam and the woman stood.  Looking over his shoulder, he gave the three men waiting for him a weak smile.

Johnny and Sam followed the nurse to a room down the hall.  She opened the door and ushered them inside.

“Doctor Asbury will be only a moment.”    The nurse closed the door and left them alone.

Johnny looked around.  It was a small room with a table in the middle and two chairs against one wall.  On another wall was a cabinet that contained what looked like medical supplies.    Johnny walked around the room before coming to a chair where Sam motioned for him to sit.

A few minutes passed before a tall older man with grey hair stepped into the room, closing the door behind him.  

Sam stood to greet him, extending his hand.

“Doctor Asbury, I’m Sam Jenkins.  I’m Johnny’s Doctor.”

Doctor Asbury smiled, returning the handshake.

“Steven Asbury, Doctor Jenkins.  I’m glad you’re here.  I have your notes on this young man.  Your input will be greatly appreciated when I ask for it.  However, I warn you that when I examine Mr. Lancer, I will want to draw my own conclusions.  If I ask for your input, I would appreciate it.  If not, I require silence.”

“I completely understand, Doctor.”  Sam turned to look at Johnny, who had shrunk back into his chair.

Doctor Asbury stepped closer to Johnny, extending his hand.  “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Lancer.”

Johnny looked at the extended hand and then at Sam.

“Johnny, he means you.  Shake Doctor Asbury’s hand.”

Johnny reached out, quickly shaking before pulling his hand back.

The doctor smiled. 

“So, John.  Do you prefer Johnny or John?”

“Johnny,” Johnny answered quietly.

“Johnny, will you sit on the examination table for me? I would also like you to take off your shirt.”

Once again, Johnny looked at Sam.

“It’s alright, Johnny.  Doctor Asbury is going to take a look at you, just like I do back home.”

Johnny started unbuttoning his shirt.  He slid it off his shoulders and then moved to the table.  Sam helped him up.

Doctor Asbury stood back, watching the young man unbutton his shirt and take it off.  His eyes widened when he saw the scars on the boy’s chest.  Looking at Sam, Doctor Asbury cocked his head.

“If it’s alright, Doctor, I’ll explain later.”

“Yes, that will be fine, and I assure you I’m anxious to hear the explanation.”

Doctor Asbury pulled a stethoscope from his pocket, putting the earpieces in his ears.  He moved around behind Johnny and came to a halt.  His head shot up, staring at Sam.  

Sam mouthed the word ‘later,’ and Doctor Asbury went back to his examination. 

“Johnny, I understand you’re having problems remembering some things.   Is that right?”

Johnny nodded. 

“Can you tell me what you remember?”

Johnny lowered his head and softly answered, “I remember Papi leaving, and Mama said we were going away.  I didn’t want to go, but Mama got mad at me.  She yelled and hit me.”

“Is Papi, your father?”

Johnny shook his head.  “Papi is Papi.  He’s not my real father.  I never met my real father until I woke up after I hurt my head.”

Doctor Asbury frowned.  “I take it that is also a story I need to hear?”

“I’m afraid so.  It’s complicated,” Sam answered.  

“For now, let's stay with the current facts.  Johnny, how old are you?”

“Papi says I’m six, but Papa says I’m 19.  I don’t feel like I’m that old.  I know I look old, but I don’t feel like it.  When I try to remember what happened between the time I was six and now, my head starts to hurt, but it’s not the same pain I get all the time.”

“So, when you try to remember your head hurts, but it’s a different pain than you get for no reason?”

Johnny nodded.

“Johnny, when your head hurts, where does it start?”

Johnny looked at Sam, who only nodded.

Johnny put his right hand on the back of his head where the stallion's hoof hit.

“Let me see.” 

Johnny lowered his head so Doctor Asbury could see the crown of his head.   Walking around the table, the doctor looked closely, then started probing his scalp.

Johnny flinched when the doctor fingered the raised scar on his head. 

“I see it’s still tender.”  Looking at his notes, the doctor nodded and continued the examination.

Three hours later, the examination was over, and Johnny was near tears.  He was tired, hungry, and his head was pounding. 

“I’m sorry, Johnny.  I’ll have my nurse get you something for pain.”

“Doctor Asbury,” Sam spoke up.  He’d been quiet through most of the exam.  “Johnny has an aversion to pain medication.  I have the makings of an herbal tea with me that I believe will help with the pain.”

“Herbal tea?” Doctor Asbury nodded and looked at the scars on Johnny’s torso again.  “I can see why he has an aversion to pain medication.  Very well.  Johnny, why don’t you go out to your father and I’ll have my nurse brew the tea for you.  I’ll bring everyone in to talk to them in a few minutes.”

Johnny scooted off the table and put his shirt on.  He wasted no time leaving the examination room and making his way back to the waiting room.   The moment he saw Murdoch, he threw himself in his arms, shaking.

“Johnny, are you alright?”

Before Johnny could answer the nurse opened the door.  “Doctor Jenkins has given me the herbal tea to make for your son, Mr. Lancer.  I believe he’s overly tired right now and his head is hurting.    Doctor Asbury will call all of you back shortly to discuss his findings.   I’ll be right back with the tea.”

“Sit down, son.”  Murdoch guided Johnny to a chair.     

Val moved to the chair on the other side of Johnny and Scott knelt in front of him.  Johnny leaned forward and put his arms around Scott and his head on his brother’s shoulder.   Scott hugged him before releasing him and pushing Johnny back upright.

“It’s going to be alright, Johnny.”

“Tell us what the doctor said.” Murdoch rubbed Johnny’s neck.

“He didn’t say anything to me.  Just poked at me and asked a lot of questions.  He’s talking to Sam now.”

The nurse returned with Johnny’s tea.   “Here, Johnny.  I put some honey in it to make it taste better.”

Johnny gave her a big smile.

“My you are a charmer, aren’t you?”  The nurse said as she handed him the cup.  “I bet that smile has gotten you into a lot of trouble.”

Johnny blinked and looked at Murdoch.  “Am I in trouble?”

Murdoch chuckled.  “No, son.  Now drink that down.  You’ll feel better soon.” 

*********

Doctor Asbury sat down, motioning Sam to join him.  He knew what was wrong with John Lancer, but he wanted to know more about the young man he’d examined.

“I’m ready for that story now, Doctor Jenkins.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many scars on a man so young in my life.   No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many scars on anyone.  The ones on his front were bad, but the scars on his back were worse.  I saw gunshot wounds, knife wounds, whip marks, and, I’m sure, scars from a belt buckle.  What happened to that young man?”

Sam sighed.  He knew the Doctor needed to know Johnny’s history.

“Doctor Asbury, have you ever heard of a gunfighter by the name of Johnny Madrid?”

“Yes, I believe so.” Doctor Asbury looked at Sam, surprised by the question.  He leaned forward in his chair.  “Are you telling me the young man I just examined is a gunfighter?  He’s Johnny Madrid?”

Sam nodded.  “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

For the next half hour, Sam told Johnny’s story to Doctor Asbury.  Leaving nothing out, Sam knew Johnny’s physical well-being depended on the Doctor knowing all of it.  When Sam finished, he sat back and waited for his colleague’s reaction.

The first words the Doctor spoke weren’t what Sam expected.

“Is he as fast as they say?”

Sam laughed.  “Yes, he’s as fast as they say and I’d say some faster.  I’ve never seen reflexes like his.  His movements are almost a blur when he draws his gun.  Right now, however, he doesn’t remember being Johnny Madrid, and we haven’t told him.

“I can understand that.  Johnny’s emotions are currently those of a child.  I would imagine he would have a hard time coming to terms with killing, especially with the number of men he reported to have killed in gunfights.”

“Can you tell me what you can do to help him, if anything?”  Sam leaned forward.

“I know what’s wrong.  Let’s talk to the family.  We’ll need a bigger room.”  Doctor Asbury stood up.  “We’ll use my office.”

The nurse walked back into the waiting room to find Johnny leaning on Murdoch’s shoulder, asleep.  Murdoch moved his shoulder, waking Johnny.

“Doctor Asbury wants to see all of you in his office.  If you’ll follow me.”

When the nurse opened the Doctor’s door, Sam and Doctor Asbury were waiting for them.

“Sit down, gentlemen.  I’m Doctor Asbury.”

“Murdoch Lancer,” Murdoch said as he shook the Doctor’s hand.  “This is my oldest son, Scott, and our friend, Val Crawford.”

“Please, take a seat.  It’s nice to meet all of you.  As you know, I’ve completed my examination of Johnny.”

Doctor Asbury smiled at Johnny, who was yawning.  He was having a difficult time seeing this young man as a hardened gunfighter, let alone the legendary Johnny Madrid.

“Doctor, can you help John?” Murdoch asked as soon as they were seated.

The doctor nodded. 

“Yes, I believe I can.  What I believe has happened is that when the hoof fractured Johnny’s skull, a small piece of the parietal bone splintered and broke away from the fracture. The fragment fell through the fracture and lodged between the cranium and the brain.  It’s that splinter or fragment that’s causing the unusual pain he’s having.”

“Are you sure?”  Murdoch asked.

“As sure as I can be.  It’s not unusual for fragments to break away when the parietal bone is impacted.”

“What can be done?”  Murdoch looked between Doctor Asbury and Sam.

“I’ll have to operate to remove the fragment.  It is a simple operation.  The fragment or splinter I’m expecting to find is along the fracture line.  I’m sure I can see where the fragment came from when I examine the skull more closely during the operation.”

“How dangerous is the operation, Doctor?”  Scott asked, looking at the panicked expression on Johnny’s face.  

“Any surgery has its risks.  A much greater risk is not doing the surgery at all.  Should the fragment shift, it could cause permanent damage to the brain or even death.  The injury is still rather fresh.  I should be able to access it through the original wound.” 

Doctor Asbury looked at the fear in each man’s eyes.  “I assure you I wouldn’t attempt any surgery unless I felt it would benefit the patient.  In this case, it will save his life.”

“When do you want to do the surgery?”  Murdoch shifted in his chair, putting a hand on Johnny’s arm.

“Tomorrow morning.”

“So, soon.” This time it was Val who was shifting in his chair.  He could see the fear in Johnny’s eyes.

“The sooner, the better, Mr. Crawford.  I’m positive the surgery will eliminate the pain he’s having due to the accident.  However, it will not eliminate the pain he has when he tries to remember.  From my understanding, Johnny’s attempts to remember the gaps in his life are also causing him headaches.   There is nothing I can do for him on that front.”

“Johnny, do you have any questions?” Murdoch turned in his chair to look at Johnny.

“I don’t understand what he’s planning on doing, but he says he can make the bad headaches stop.  I want them to go away, Papa.”

“I know, son.”   Murdoch tightened his hand on Johnny’s arm.  “Alright, Doctor Asbury, tomorrow morning.”

********

“Juanito, come back here!”   Maria stomped her foot and huffed.  

“No, Tia, I want to go outside.”  Johnny stalked toward the French doors.  “I never get to go outside.”

“El medico has not said you could go outside.  When he does, you may go out with your Papa or hermano.”

Johnny scowled at Maria.   

“Do not look at me that way, nino.  You must stay inside.  El Patron will be unhappy if you go out.”

“I don’t care, Tia.  I’m going.”

“Going where?”  The voice made Johnny jump.  Spinning around, he saw Murdoch standing inside the room.  

“Outside.  I’m going outside.  No one ever lets me go outside.”   Johnny lowered his head and wrapped his arms around his chest, a pout on his face.

“Johnny, Sam hasn’t said you can go out yet.”

Johnny flopped onto the sofa in a huff. 

Murdoch shook his head.   The prior three weeks had gone by slowly.   Had they only been back from San Francisco for three weeks?   The trip there and back seemed like a lifetime ago.

After speaking with Doctor Asbury, it was obvious Johnny had to have the procedure.   Because the operation was the next morning, the Doctor insisted Johnny was admitted that night. 

Leaving Johnny at the hospital alone was one of the hardest things Murdoch Lancer had ever done.  The tears in the boy’s eyes as he walked out of his room, tore his heart out.   It had been just as hard for Scott, Val, and Sam.

No one slept that night, and all four of them were back at the hospital early the next morning.  They found Johnny had already been sedated, so they didn’t get to talk to him before he was whisked away to the operating room.

Three hours later, Doctor Asbury came to the waiting room to talk to them.  Murdoch remembered the smile on the Doctor’s face.  

“It went well.  I found the fragment almost immediately.  I could see where it broke away from the parietals bone.  I had to drill…” Doctor Asbury stopped.   Murdoch suspected it was because he’d seen the three men pale.    “There’s no need for details.  Just know that the fragment was removed and he’s going to be alright.   The orderly will bring him back to his room shortly.”    

They all sighed and then the laughter and the hugs started.  Murdoch remembered looking at Val, who had a grin on his face.  They didn’t hesitate to grab hold of each other in a bear hug.  When they released their hold, both men were blushing.

Doctor Asbury assured them Johnny was admitted as John Lancer and that no one at the hospital knew of Johnny’s other name.  Still, one or more of them were with Johnny every minute they were allowed to stay with him.

Val developed a routine of walking around the hospital grounds every morning and every evening.  He hadn’t forgotten the stranger in the long duster at the railway station.  Some days he walked alone; other days, Scott was with him.   On more than one occasion Val would come back to Johnny’s room, put a chair outside the door, and spend his day watching anyone and everyone who came down the hall.  On those days, Murdoch and Scott would take turns staying in the room with Johnny, watching over him.   

 It was ten days before Doctor Asbury reluctantly released Johnny to go home.  

Once back at Lancer, Johnny was confined to his bed, and that’s where he stayed until Sam said he could get up and walk around.   That’s when then the problems started.  Johnny was feeling better and, of course, wanted to go outside.    

The family tried everything to entertain the bored boy.  Murdoch, Val, Scott, or Teresa read to him every night.  The day Scott suggested his brother read a book on his own, they discovered something. 

“I can’t read,” Johnny announced, wrapping his arms around his chest.

Scott stopped for a moment, thinking.  “Sure, you can.  You read all the time.”

“No, I never learned.  Papi was teaching me when Mama….”

“Johnny, you can read and write in two languages.”

“I can?”  There was a surprised look on the young man’s face.

Scott nodded.  “Yes.  Do you want to see if you can remember how?”

Johnny hesitated and then smiled.  “I can read and write?”

Scott nodded again.  Picking up the book he’d been reading to Johnny the night before, he sat on the sofa and patted the spot next to him.   Johnny sat and looked at the book Scott was holding.

“This is one of your favorites.  We started it last night.   It’s called ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ and Mark Twain wrote it.”

Johnny took the book from Scott’s hands and held it in front of him.  He ran his fingers over the illustration on the front cover.  Looking at Scott again, Johnny turned to the first page and stared at it. 

“Johnny, just relax and let the words come to you.”

Johnny looked at the words knowing he didn’t know what they meant.  Scott began reading.  Johnny followed along silently.  On the third sentence, Johnny started reading the words aloud with Scott.  He didn’t notice Scott had stopped speaking until he was at the end of the page.

“I can read!  Hermano, I can read.”  Johnny’s face lite up with excitement.

“Yes, little brother, you can read.  Now, do you want to see if you remember how to write?”

Johnny nodded.

Together they went to Murdoch’s desk.  Scott sat Johnny in the chair.  Taking a piece of paper, he placed it on the desktop, dipped the pen in the inkwell, and handed the pen to Johnny.

“Write your name,” Scott said as he stood by his brother’s side.

Johnny frowned. 

“Here, let me start it for you.”  Scott took the pen from Johnny’s hand and started to write.   “J,” he said as he made a ‘J’ on the paper.  “O” “H”

Johnny reached for the pen and finished his first name.  He hesitated and looked up at Scott.  “What’s my other name?”

“Lancer,” Scott replied.  “You’re Johnny Lancer.”

“Oh, yeah.”  Johnny wrote the word Lancer on the paper and shook his head.  It didn’t seem right.

“Something wrong?”  Scott could see the indecision on his brother's face.

“That don’t seem right, but if you say it’s Lancer, then I guess it is.”

Scott held his tongue.  He wondered if Johnny remembered something.  Johnny dropped the pen and grabbed his head.

“What’s wrong, Johnny?”

“My head hurts, Scott.”

“Did it start hurting when you tried to remember your last name?”

Johnny nodded.  “It really hurts.”

“Alright, go on upstairs and lay down.  I’ll let Teresa and Maria know.”

Johnny went to his room and crawled into the bed.  

Scott told Murdoch what happened when he came home.  He’d already sent for Sam.  By the time Sam arrived, Johnny was back downstairs, smiling.  The headache was forgotten.   The family saw similar reactions each time Johnny tried to remember something.  Each time, the pain took him to his bed until it passed.   

Now, three weeks after coming home from San Francisco, not even a book could entertain Johnny.  He was determined to go outside.  The family had been reluctant to let him set foot out of the house since the accident.  They didn’t know how Johnny would react to the outside world or how the ranch hands would react to him.

Murdoch sighed. He remembered Val’s question about locking him in his room.  That’s when Murdoch made a decision.

‘I can’t keep him locked up in here for the rest of his life.’

“Alright, John.  After breakfast you can go out with Scott and me when I give morning orders.  Then you have to come right back in.  Is that alright?”

“I can?  Really?”

Murdoch smiled.  There was a genuine smile on his son’s face.

“Yes, but you have to eat breakfast first.  So, go on to the kitchen.  I’ll be along in a minute.”

As Johnny hurried to the kitchen, Murdoch wondered if he was making the right decision. He’d find out soon enough.

********

Johnny was shoveling food into his mouth when Scott walked into the kitchen. 

“Slow down, little brother.  You’re going to make yourself sick.”  Scott laughed as he took his seat.

“Can’t,” Johnny chocked the words out.  “Got to eat fast.  Going outside this morning.”

Murdoch joined his sons at the table, as Maria sat a cup of coffee in front of him.

Scott looked from Johnny to Murdoch.  “Is that so?  Who said you could go outside?”

“Papa said so.”  Johnny gave Scott a cheeky smile and kept eating.

“That’s right, Scott. Now, let’s finish breakfast and go out for orders.  I think it’s time we introduced John to the men.”  Murdoch gave both of his sons a contented smile.

Scott was skeptical at taking Johnny outside but held his tongue.  It was apparent that his brother was excited about the adventure.

********

Murdoch finished eating and pulled Scott aside.

“Scott, go out and tell Cipriano that I’m bringing John out.  The two of you explain to the men.   I don’t want anyone saying anything to Johnny that might upset him.”

“You’re sure about this?”  Scott took his hat and gun belt from the rake near the front door and put them on.

“No, but we can’t keep him a prisoner forever.”

Scott nodded his agreement and turned to the door.

“I’m ready.”  Johnny ran across the room and skidded to a stop next to Murdoch. 

“Give me a minute, and we’ll go out.  It’s a little chilly this morning.  Maybe you should get a jacket.”

“Do I have to wear a jacket?”

“Go on.  When you come back down, we’ll go.”

Johnny turned and ran up the stairs.  He was back in less than two minutes.

********

The Lancer cowhands and vaqueros began gathering near the corral awaiting morning orders.  Scott explained to Cipriano what was about to happen.   When Cipriano turned to the men, they went silent.

“El Patron will be here shortly to give the orders.  He is bringing Juanito with him.”

A murmur ran through the group.

“Johnny doing better?” Walt asked.

Scott moved forward. 

“Physically, Johnny’s healing.  The problem is with his memory.  Sam called it a form of Regressive Amnesia.”

“What’s that mean?”  Frank spoke up.

“Johnny’s lost part of his memory.”

“You mean he can’t remember who he is?” Frank looked around at the other hands who were whispering to each other.

“He remembers to a degree.”  Scott could see the men didn't understand what he was trying to say.   “The last thing Johnny remembers before waking up in his room after the accident was arguing with his mother… when he was six years old.”

Scott could see this wasn’t going well.

“Johnny doesn’t remember growing up or coming to Lancer.  He remembers Val because Val was with him at that age, but he doesn’t remember anything else. We’re hoping his memory comes back either gradually or all at once.”

Before anyone else could ask a question, Scott continued.  “All of you know Johnny except for the two new men we’ve hired.  Both of them are on the range right now.  I want to talk to them before they meet Johnny for the first time.  We’re concerned that no one says anything to upset him.  Today he’s going to be out here for a few minutes.  We hope to have one of the family with him at all times while he’s outside.”

Cipriano tapped Scott on the arm.   Scott turned to the house to see Murdoch and Johnny walking toward them.

Murdoch stopped in front of the men with Johnny by his side. Murdoch started to talk and saw Johnny take a hesitant step back.  He reached out and encircled Johnny’s shoulder with his arm, pulling his son forward.

“Johnny, these are the men who work for us.”

Johnny gave a faint smile before saying in a small voice, “Hola.”

A chorus of voices saying hello and hola responded.

“Johnny is having trouble remembering a few things right now, so he won’t remember your names.  It will help him if you introduce yourself when you talk to him.”  Murdoch released Johnny’s shoulder and continued with the morning orders.

Johnny watched the men watch him.  He wrapped his arms around his chest and lowered his head.  Kicking the ground with the toe of his boot, Johnny listened as Murdoch talked.

“That’s it.  Cipriano get everyone moving.” Murdoch turned back to Johnny.  “Son, do you feel well enough to walk around for a few minutes, or do you want to go back inside?”

“Can I walk around?”  Johnny raised his head.  His eyes lit up with anticipation of being able to stay outside with his father.

“Yes,” Murdoch smiled, “but I walk with you.”

As they walked, Murdoch put his arm around Johnny’s shoulder again.  Stopping near the corral, Murdoch moved off to talk to Cipriano leaving Johnny alone.

The sound of horses drew Johnny’s attention.  He saw Murdoch still talking to Cipriano and started moving toward the corral. Standing on the bottom rail of the corral, Johnny pulled himself up on the fence.  His eyes fixed on one horse in particular. 

The moment Johnny pulled himself to his full height, the horse came straight to him. Laying his head over Johnny’s shoulder, the palomino nickered.  Johnny laughed as he leaned his head into the horse’s head.  Reaching out, he wrapped his arms around the golden neck.

“Johnny,” Murdoch called out trying not to frighten either his son or the horse he was hugging.

Johnny leaned back with a grin on his face.  “He likes me, Papa.”

Every time Johnny called him Papa; Murdoch's heart beat faster. 

“He should.  He’s your horse.”

“Mine?  He’s my horse?”

“Yes, his name is Barranca.  I gave him to you on the second day after you came home.”

“Hola, Barranca.” Johnny started scratching between the horse’s ears.  Barranca tossed his head up and down.

Murdoch let Johnny have a few more minutes with Barranca before he put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Come on, son.  Time to go in.”

Johnny started to protest when the sound of a horse coming into the yard caused him to turn.  Johnny smiled when he saw it was Val.

Jumping off the corral fence, he ran to the front of the house where Val was dismounting. 

“Papi!”

Val turned, catching Johnny in his arms.  “Slow down, boy.  You’re gonna’ knock me over.  What are you doing out here?”

“Papa brought me out.  Papi, I have a horse.  Did you know that?  His name is Barranca and Papa said he was mine.”

Val laughed.  “Yeah, I know all about that spoiled horse.  So, you got to come outside.  You feeling alright?”

Johnny nodded slowly.  He was getting tired but didn’t want to admit it.

“Val, it’s good to see you.  We didn’t expect you until this afternoon.”  Murdoch extended a hand to Val.

Val shook Murdoch’s hand.

“Need to talk to you and Scott about something.  He around?”

Murdoch wanted to ask more but saw the expression on Val’s face.  They needed to talk, but not in front of Johnny. 

“I’ll send someone for Scott.  Go on in the house; it’s time for Johnny to lay down anyway.  I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“I don’t need a nap, Papa.”

“You won’t admit it, son, but I can see you’re tired.  Go on now.”

Val threw an arm around Johnny’s shoulders and pulled the boy toward the house. Calling over his shoulder, “You might want to get Cipriano, too.”

Murdoch nodded and went to find Cipriano.

********

“You have got to be joking!”  Scott yelled loud enough for the hands in the bunkhouse to hear.

“Keep your voice down.  You’ll wake Johnny.”  Murdoch quickly walked over to the main stairs and looked up.  There was no sign of his youngest son.  With any luck, he was already asleep and didn’t hear his brother.

“I wish the hell I were,” Val answered as he poured himself a double scotch.

“Dios mio,” Cipriano crossed himself and looked to Maria and Teresa standing to his left.

“Murdoch, what are we going to do?” Teresa asked, looking around the room.

Murdoch didn’t answer.  He moved to a chair near the fireplace, collapsed, and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.    What were they going to do?

When Val said he wanted to talk, Murdoch knew something was wrong.  He just never imagined this.  Val had ridden out to Lancer to let them know there was a gunhawk in Green River asking for Johnny Madrid.

“Maybe he’ll just leave when Johnny doesn’t go to town.”  Scott joined Val at the drink cart.

“Maybe… maybe not.”  Val downed his drink and poured another.

Murdoch sat up.  “It won’t be a problem for some time.  Johnny is not leaving the ranch and will not be going into town.   This man will get tired of waiting and move on.”

“Right.”  Scott nodded.  “You’re right.  Johnny’s not going to town any time soon. I can’t imagine the man riding out here.  So, we have nothing to worry about.”

Val didn’t say anything.  He wasn’t as sure as Scott that the gunhawk wouldn’t find a way to get to Johnny.  Val would keep an eye on the man until he moved on.

“I’ll watch the man.  You’re right; he’ll get tired of waiting.  If he don’t, I might have to encourage him to ride on.”

They sat silently for a minute before Val spoke again.

“Johnny seemed happy when I rode in.”

“Yes, he kept begging to go outside.  I gave in to him and introduced him to the men at orders this morning.”

“Any problems?”

“No,” Murdoch responded.  “Everything went well.  Scott and Cipriano spoke to them before I took Johnny outside.  I think they all understand the situation.  We have good men working for us and they all like Johnny.”

“You introduced him to Barranca, too?”

“I didn’t.  Barranca introduced himself to Johnny.  Those two are like magnets.   Johnny was drawn to him, and Barranca responded.”

Scott shifted in his chair.  He didn’t say anything but was concerned about Johnny being around horses, any horse.  The image in his mind of the grey trying to stomp the life out of his brother was still too fresh.

“Val, can you stay the day?  I know Johnny would enjoy having you here.”

“I can do that.  Left my deputy in charge and told him to watch the gunhawk.  Thought I might stay tonight and go back in the morning.”

Murdoch nodded.  “I can’t think of anything that would make Johnny happier.”

Scott laughed.  “You just want someone else to entertain him.”

“The boy getting bored?”

“That is an understatement, Val.  We’ve run out of ideas.  Having you here today is like a dream come true.”

“Don’t worry, Scott, I’ll keep him busy.” 

Val was true to his word.  He spent the day with Johnny, and by the time dinner was over, everyone was ready for bed.

As they started settling in for the night, Murdoch locked the doors and turned out the lights.   

“Johnny seemed happy today.”  Scott waited at the bottom of the steps for his father.

“Yes, he had a good day.  I hope all his days go this well.”

“You know they won’t, though, don’t you?”

“I know, but I can dream.”   Murdoch laughed and put an arm over Scott’s shoulder as they mounted the stairs.    Scott leaned into the embrace, relishing the contact.

 
********

“Going outside, Papa.”  Johnny was already out of his chair and headed for the door when Murdoch walked into the kitchen.  

“Johnny, hold up.”   Murdoch got the words out just in time.

Johnny turned with a frown on his face.  Looking at Murdoch with a pleading look, Murdoch relented.

“Alright.  Go on out.  I’ll be out in a few minutes to give orders.  Scott’s already out there.”

Johnny grinned and turned toward the Great Room, only to run headlong into Val.

“Sorry, Papi.  Got to go.”

Val hurriedly turned to step out of Johnny’s way.  Smiling, he looked from Johnny to Murdoch’s smiling face.   Johnny hesitated a moment but didn’t stop to talk.

“Are you alright with him going outside?”  Val scooted into a chair, accepting a cup of coffee from Maria.

“No, but as I said yesterday, I can’t keep him a prisoner.  He did well yesterday.  We’ll take it one day at a time.”

Val nodded and sipped his coffee.

“I’m going back to town this morning and keep an eye on that gunhawk.  I’ll make sure he don’t get near Johnny.”

“Thank you, Val.  You’re a good friend.  I’m glad Johnny has you in his life.”   

Val lowered his head, fighting the blush that threatened to creep up his neck to his face. 

********

Johnny walked across the yard, a grin on his face. It had been four months since his accident, and he was outside, by himself for the first time.  A few men waved to him and called out.  He returned the wave and kept heading toward the barn.  He wanted to see his horse.  He couldn’t believe he had his own horse.  Barranca was beautiful, and his Papa said he was all his.

Before he got to the barn, Johnny saw Scott coming toward him.

“Scott!”

Scott could see his brother grinning.  While he was nervous that Johnny was by himself, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything.   Johnny was feeling confident enough to be on his own.  The big brother in him was proud of him.

Johnny waited for Scott to get to him.  When Scott threw an arm around his shoulders, his grin got broader.

“Did Murdoch say you could be out here on your own?”

“Didn’t ask him.  Told him I was coming out and he didn’t stop me.”

“Oh, you are getting brave, little brother.  Alright, you behave yourself.  I have some work to do this morning and if you’d like we can go for a short ride this afternoon.”

“Doc Sam said I could do that?”

“He said you could if we didn’t ride hard.  So, do you want to go with me?”

Johnny gave a firm nod.

“Where are you going?”

“To see my horse.  His name’s Barranca.  Did you know that?”

“Yes, I know his name’s Barranca.”   Scott felt a warm feeling welling up inside him.  Seeing Johnny happy and excited, like a child, put a lump in his throat.  Johnny was seeing the world in a new light; through the eyes of a child.  Johnny didn’t remember the horrors of his childhood or the abuse he’d suffered, and for that Scott was thankful.

Scott squeezed Johnny’s shoulder before releasing him and giving him a shove towards the barn.   As he went back to the corral to talk to a few of the men, he didn’t see the two new hands going into the barn.

Johnny stood in front of Barranca’s stall, rubbing his hand over the palomino’s face.  Speaking to the horse in a low voice, Barranca responded to the words and gentle touch.

“Hey, kid.”

The voice gave Johnny a start.  He turned to face the two men standing behind him.

“Hola.” Johnny smiled at the men.

“What are you doing in here, kid?”

“Seeing my horse.  His name is Barranca.”

“That so?”  Mike Massey asked, giving Johnny a smirk. 

Massey and his partner, Jim Blevins, started work at Lancer two weeks ago.  It was a good job, at least for now.  The two men didn’t stay in one place long.  They’d find a job, work for a month or two, and then move on.  Sometimes, it wasn’t their choice to pick up and move on.  They didn’t make friends along the way.

“I don’t think a Mex half-breed like you would own a horse like that one,” Blevins laughed.

“You’re wrong.”  The grin on Johnny’s face vanished.  It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that tone in a man’s voice or the words.

Massey huffed.  “So, we’re wrong?  We ain’t seen you around here before.  You trying to steal that horse, boy?”

“I don’t have to steal him.  He’s mine.”  Johnny’s eyes narrowed.

“Sure, kid.  Sure.” Massey looked at Blevins and laughed.

Blevins inched his way to the other side of Johnny.  With Massey on one side and Blevins on the other, Johnny’s instinct kicked in.  His right hand unconsciously fell to his hip.

Walking into the barn, Val saw Johnny talking to the two men.  Seeing a smile on the boy’s face, Val didn’t think anything of it.  Taking a step forward, he felt someone coming up on his right.  Looking over his shoulder, he saw Scott had also stopped and was watching his brother.

When the smile slid off Johnny’s face, Val still waited.  When he saw the two men bracket the boy, Val didn’t wait any longer.  

Both Val and Scott saw Johnny’s face and realized more was happening than they first realized.  Johnny’s right hand fell to his right hip, feeling for something that wasn’t there. 

“What’s going on in here?”  Val stomped his way across the barn.

Massey jumped and turned toward Val.  “Nothing that’s any of your business.”

Scott was two steps behind Val.  “Then tell me.”

Blevins looked Scott in the eye.  “Nothing is going on, Mr. Lancer.  We caught this kid trying to steal a horse.  Thought we’d teach him a lesson.”

Scott stopped within three feet of Blevins, while Val faced Massey.

“I hardly think my brother has to steal his own horse.”  Scott let his eyes move from Blevins to Johnny.   “Are you alright, Johnny?”

“I’m fine, hermano.  Those men didn’t believe Barranca was my horse.”

“Is that so?” Val growled.  

Massey swallowed hard.  “Look, we didn’t know who he was.  We heard you had a brother, Mr. Lancer.  No one said he was a Mex.”

“Do you have something against Mexicans, Massey?” Scott was grinding his teeth.  “How about you Blevins?” 

“No, sir.  Nothing against Mexicans.  Look, Mr. Lancer, it was just a misunderstanding.  We didn’t hurt him or anything.”

By this time several of the ranch hands had moved into the barn, listening to the conversation.  Cipriano stepped past everyone to stand next to Johnny. 

“You are alright, Sobrino?”

Johnny nodded, lowering his head.  “Si, Tio.”   Raising his head, he looked at the two men who had threatened him.  “They didn’t hurt me.”

“Johnny, why don’t you go with Cipriano.” Val kept his eyes pegged on Massey.

Cipriano put an arm around Johnny, guiding him toward the barn door.  As they passed the gathering men, Johnny kept his head down.  He was just at the door when he ran into his father.

“What’s going on?” Murdoch looked at Johnny and then Cipriano.

“Senor Scott will tell you, Patron.  I will see Juanito to the hacienda and then come back.  We need to discuss the two new men.”  Cipriano put a hand at Johnny’s back and continued pushing him out of the barn.

Murdoch edged his way through the men standing inside the barn.   He found Val and Scott confronting Massey and Blevins.

“Would someone care to tell me what’s going on?”

Scott half-turned to Murdoch.  “It appears Massey and Blevins thought they were keeping a Mexican boy from stealing one of our horses.”

“Mr. Lancer, we didn’t know who he was.  He was fooling around with the palomino.  We thought he was going to steal him,” Massey spoke up.  “We were only going to put the fear of God in him and turn him over to the Segundo or you.”

“Did they hurt John?” Murdoch glared at the two men.

“No, sir.  They didn’t hurt him.  I’m not sure what would have happened if Val and I hadn’t come in when we did, but Johnny is alright.”

“Massey. Blevins, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt… this time.  I don’t take kindly to someone threatening anyone on Lancer, especially when that someone is my youngest son.”  Murdoch turned to look at the men behind him.  “Cipriano will give everyone their orders when he gets back.”

Murdoch turned and stalked out of the barn followed by Scott and Val.

Massey and Blevins stood still as the rest of the Lancer's hands stared at them.  Slowly, the men dispersed leaving the two new men wondering what to do next.

********

Johnny sat on the sofa in the Great Room, trying to figure out why everyone was so upset.  He’d had his share of men bullying him.  The two men in the barn weren’t any different.  He’d been ready to defend himself if necessary, but then Papi and his hermano stepped in and took over. 

Johnny couldn’t get over the look in Papa’s eyes when he’d heard what happened.  Maybe this is the way it was supposed to be.  When someone cares about you, they stood up for you, defended you. 

Johnny smiled.  He liked having someone care about him.  The only other time he could remember having someone care about him was when Val was in his life.

Johnny stood when his father walked into the room. 

Murdoch walked straight to his son and took him by the shoulders, looking him in the eyes.

“Are you alright?  The men didn’t hurt you, did they?

Johnny shook his head. “Val and Scott didn’t have to help me.  I can take care of myself.”

Murdoch relaxed.  Now, this was the Johnny he knew, his independent son. Smiling, Murdoch let Johnny go.

“Alright.  So, what are you planning today?”

“Can I go back to the barn and see to Barranca?  Scott is taking me riding this afternoon.”

Murdoch thought for a moment. “You can’t keep him a prisoner.” 

“Go ahead, but be careful.”

Murdoch watched as Johnny walked out of the room and across the yard.

********

Scott and Johnny rode toward the lake south of the hacienda.  When they’d started, Johnny was all smiles and continuously talking.  The longer they rode, the quieter Johnny became.  By the time the brothers arrived at the lake, Johnny was completely silent, and his complexion pale.

Scott held Barranca’s halter while Johnny stepped out of the saddle.   Concerned, Scott asked, “Are you feeling alright?”

Johnny looked at Scott and finally nodded.

“Your head’s hurting?”

Johnny knew Scott was thinking about taking him home.

“A little.  I’ll be alright.  Can we sit for a few minutes before we go back?” 

As they sat next to the lake, Johnny leaned his head back, enjoying the sun on his face.

“Feels good?” Scott asked, watching the color come back to his brother’s face.

Johnny sighed.  “Si.  I could sit here all day.”

They sat quietly for a long time before Scott asked the question that had been on his mind all morning.

“The men in the barn this morning?  What did they say to you?”

“Nothing I haven’t heard before.  Not sure why everyone got so mad.  I’ve been called Mex and half-breed before.  I can take care of myself.  Didn’t need all of you to stand up for me.”

“That’s what family does, Johnny.  Family takes care of family.  Do you think we’d let someone treat you like that, little brother, and not do something about it?”

Johnny didn’t answer.

“Is your head feeling better?

Johnny nodded.

“We’d better get back.  Murdoch will be worried about you.”

“He worries about me?”

“Yes, he worries.  We all worry, Johnny.”

“Don’t need to worry about me, Scott.  Like I said, I can take care of myself.”

Scott smiled and shook his head.  “We know, but would it hurt to let us help?”

“No, don’t think it would hurt none.”

Scott started to get up when Johnny put a hand on his arm, pulling him back down.

“Scott, tell me what it was like growing up here.”

Scott hesitated.  Wondering if telling Johnny about the past few months would do more harm than good?  Scott decided to answer his brother’s question, but would carefully edit some details.

“Johnny, neither of us grew up at Lancer.”

A strange look came over Johnny’s face before he asked, “Why?”

For the next fifteen minutes, Scott explained about his mother, growing up in Boston with his grandfather, and about their meeting for the first time on the stage.

Johnny sat quietly with his eyes closed. 

“Are you alright, Johnny?”  Scott reached out and touched Johnny’s arm, hoping he hadn’t made the wrong decision.

“Where did I…where did I grow up?  When did I come home?  Scott, no one has told me about my Mama.  Where is she?”

“Johnny, we haven’t told you everything because we aren’t sure you’re ready to hear it.   There are things Murdoch needs to tell you, not me.  I will tell you that you grew up in Mexico and you came home that day we meet on the stage.  I didn’t know about you before that day, and you didn’t know about me.”

“Scott, I have flashes…I mean, I see things.  When I do, my head hurts. Not like before the operation.  The pain comes when I try to remember.  I know Papi said I’m nineteen, but Scott I don’t feel like I’m that old and I don’t remember being that old.”

“When you woke up, you said you were six.  Has that changed?  How old do you remember being?”

Johnny thought for a moment.  “How old am I.”

Johnny sighed and his shoulders sagged.    Looking at Scott, he shook his head. 

“I don’t know anymore.” 

“Come on, let’s go home.  I think you need some rest.”

Scott waited for Johnny to mount before he climbed into the saddle.  Riding back to the house, Scott knew there was a lot he needed to talk to Murdoch, Val, and Sam about.
 

********

Walt and Frank were on the south range.  Their job today was to round up strays and move them back to the main herd.   The events of that morning were still fresh in their minds.  They hadn’t liked Massey and Blevins before that morning; now they liked the two men even less.

Lancer was their home, and they considered the Lancers family.  Most of the men felt the same way.  No one liked the way Massey and Blevins treated one of their own, and that’s the way they felt about Johnny.  Johnny was one of their own.

None of the men had spoken to Massey or Blevins since leaving the barn.  They knew should any of Lancer's hands confront the two men; they’d end up in a fight.

“Where are Massey and Blevins?”  Walt scanned the area.  The two men were supposed to be helping round up strays.

“Haven’t seen them since the barn.”  Frank slumped in the saddle.  “What are we going to do with those two?”

“That’s the Boss’s decision.  I can tell you though if it were up to me, I’d beat the hell out those two and then kick their asses off Lancer.”

“If they’d hurt Johnny, I think Val would have shot them.”  Frank chuckled.  “I wouldn’t want to get between Mr. Lancer or Val and anyone trying to hurt either of the boys, especially Johnny.”

“Ain’t that the truth!” Walt laughed.  “It’s like two papa bears defending a cub when it comes to that boy.”

“We better get back to work.  No sense in worrying about Blevins or Massey.”  Frank reined his horse around and started after a calf going the wrong way.

********

Massey and Blevins knew their time at Lancer had come to an end.  They’d marked time until they could get back to the bunkhouse and get their gear.  They knew they had a good thing going until the run in with the Mex kid that morning.

Stepping out of the bunkhouse, the two men stopped and stared at the lone figure near the corral.   The palomino that had been in the barn earlier was now prancing around the corral with Lancer’s Mex son laughing at his antics.

Massey started to turn away, then turned back to look again.  There was something about the kid that seemed familiar.  The longer he looked the clearer the image got.  A smile ghosted across his face.

“Jim, take a look at the kid over there.”

“What about him?” Jim Blevins asked as he looked at Johnny again.

“Does he remind you of anyone?”

“Only the kid that got us in trouble this morning.”  Blevins turned to walk away only to have Massey grab his arm and pull him back around.

“No, look at him.  Take a good look.”

Blevins shrugged.

“Imagine him with a gun on his hip, hung low and wearing a red shirt.”

Blevins brow furrowed as he thought.   His eyes got wide and he turned to Massey.

“Madrid?”

“Yep, that’s who he is.  Damn, that’s Johnny Madrid right over there.”

“But Madrid was killed in Mexico.  Everyone knows that.”

“Well, guess everyone is wrong because that’s Madrid.”   Massey jabbed a finger in the air towards Johnny.

“How do we find out for sure?”

Massey looked around.  Miguel, one of the younger vaqueros, was walking toward the barn.   Massey called out to him, “Hey Miguel, come here.  Got a question for you.”

Miguel wasn’t one of the men in the barn that morning and hadn’t heard about what the two men had done to Johnny.   He’d come to work at Lancer after Pardee was defeated and was new to the ranch, however, he knew who the Patron’s youngest son was or had been.” 

“Si, Senor Massey.”

“Miguel, we were wondering how long Madrid’s been here?”

Miguel turned toward the corral and Johnny.  Looking back at Massey, he shrugged.  “I’m not sure.  Maybe…”

“Miguel!” 

Massey, Blevins, and Miguel turned to see Jose stomping toward them.  

“Miguel, no digas mas.   Sabes que no hablamos de el.”
 (Miguel, say no more.  You know we do not talk about him.)   

Miguel swallowed hard and looked back at Massey.   “No se.”  (I don’t know.)

Massey stared at Jose.  “I was just asking a question. No need to tear into the boy.”

Jose stopped in front of Massey.  “Miguel has work to do.  He does not need to be here talking.”

Jose turned to Miguel. “Vuelve al trabajo.”   (Go back to work)

Miguel lowered his eyes and nodded before hurrying away.

Massey smiled.  “Jose, no harm done.  We just wanted to know how long Madrid’s been here.  We heard he was dead.”

Before Jose could say anything, Cipriano was by his side.  He didn’t know what was happening, but he knew something was wrong.  He’d just passed Miguel who looked like he’d been branded.

“Que.”  Cipriano looked from Jose to Massey.

Jose knew neither Massey nor Blevins spoke Spanish.

“Ellos saben quien es.”     (They know who he is.)

“Quien?”   (Who)

Jose turned to look at Johnny.

“Senor Massey, Senor Blevins, you have questions about the Patron’s son?”

Massey didn’t know what the two men said, but he was surer than ever that the man standing near the corral was Johnny Madrid.

Massey shook his head.  “Didn’t mean anything by it.  We heard Madrid was killed down in Mexico last year.  Glad we were wrong.”

“His name is Lancer.  It would serve you well to remember that.”

“Sure.  Sure.  Like I said, didn’t mean no harm.”

Cipriano nodded curtly and walked off.

“What are we going to do now?”  Blevins moved closer to Massey.

“I think we need to stay around here for a while longer.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Massey laughed.  “There are a lot of people that would pay to know where to find Johnny Madrid.  Just look at it this way, Madrid or Lancer, as he’s calling himself, is like money in the bank.”

The two men watched Johnny and the palomino a few more minutes, before turning back to the bunkhouse.

********

A lone figure sat at a corner table in the saloon.  He’d become almost a permanent fixture in the saloon for the last week.

Burt Hawkins was tired of the saloon, tired of Green River, tired of waiting for Madrid, and damn tired of the Sheriff always watching him.   He knew Madrid was near, but no one was talking.   He figured he’d give it another few days and move on.

It was Saturday night.  Hawkins knew that the local cowhands would be coming to the saloon.  With luck, he’d find out where Madrid was and finish his business in Green River.

Hawkins looked up from his drink to see the Sheriff walking his way.  There was something familiar about the man, but Hawkins couldn’t place him.

“Sheriff?” Hawkins stared up at Val.

“Surprised you’re still here, Hawkins.  Thought you would have gotten bored and moved on by now.  Maybe you should do just that.”

“You running me out of town, Sheriff?  I’ve been sitting here nice and peaceful.  No cause to …”

“Not running you out of town, Hawkins.  Suggesting you move on.   I’m sure a man like you can find work…say in Arizona or Texas. No call for you to waste your time in Green River.”

“Do I know you, Sheriff?  You look familiar.”

“Might have seen me down near Tucson or Nogales or over in Texas.  Worked a lot of places.”

“Nogales? No, not Nogales.  Texas.” Hawkins’ eyes narrowed.  “Yeah.  I remember.  What was it?  Two years … no almost three years ago.  You were mixed up in a range war in Texas. You weren’t a Sheriff then.”

“No, I wasn’t a Sheriff back then.”

It was then Hawkins remembered.  “Crawford.  That’s it.  Your name’s Crawford, and you rode with Madrid.  Well, damn, imagine meeting up with you here and me looking for Madrid.  You wouldn’t know where I can find him, would you?”

“Nope. Heard Madrid got himself killed in Mexico.”

“Heard that too, but also heard he was in the San Joaquin fighting Pardee not long ago.”

“Well, Hawkins, you heard what happened to Pardee.  Wouldn’t want you to meet the same fate.  Maybe you should move on before you join him.”

“That’s not real friendly.”

“Don’t mean to be.  Hawkins, I want you out of Green River by tomorrow morning.  I’d hate to have to arrest you for loitering.”

Hawkins laughed.  “You’d do it too, wouldn’t you?”

“Damn, straight.”

“Alright, Sheriff, I’ll move on in the morning, but if you see Madrid, let him know I’ll meet up with him someday… someday real soon.”

“I’ll do that, … if I see him.”

Val turned, sauntering out of the saloon.

Hawkins knew that if Madrid was here, Crawford would back his play.  He remembered the team Madrid and Crawford made in Texas.  Facing both of them wasn’t something he wanted to do.   Pushing back from the table, Hawkins figured moving on today was a better idea.

********

Johnny was up early.  Smiling, he knew that his Papa and hermano always got up early and he was determined to start doing the same. 

After dressing, he looked at himself in the mirror.  He still couldn’t believe he had to shave.  The thing was, no one had to show him how to do it.  Somehow, he knew how to use the razor without nicking himself.

There were a lot of things he knew how to do and didn’t remember learning them; like reading and writing.  He was also surprised that he knew how to play chess and checkers.   It was little things, but he was happy he could do some things without bothering his family to teach him.

Running down the back stairs to the kitchen, Johnny skidded to a stop when he found he was the only one there.   Frowning, Johnny walked from the kitchen to the Dining Room and then the Great Room.    Looking at the grandfather clock, he shook his head. 

He was so excited about being up early; he hadn’t realized the first rays of the sun hadn’t topped the mountains to the east.  It was only 5:00.

Johnny decided to go to the barn and check on his horse before the others came down for breakfast.

Losing track of time, Johnny didn’t go back inside until after 6:30.   When he entered the kitchen, he found three people staring at him, and none of them looked happy.  

“John, where have you been?”  Murdoch was on his feet, moving across the room to confront Johnny.

Johnny, who had been smiling only moments earlier, was now taking a step back, the smile gone.

“Outside.  I got up early to surprise you.  No one was up yet, so I went out to see Barranca.”

“Who gave you permission to go outside?”

Johnny’s eyes dropped.  Wrapping his arms around his chest, he answered, “No one.”

“Exactly.  You are not to go outside this house without permission.”

Johnny dropped his chin, staring at the floor.

Scott moved across the room.  “Johnny, we were concerned when you weren’t in your room.  We were about to go looking for you.”

“Don’t have to worry about me.  I can…”

“I don’t want to hear you say you can take care of yourself.   You can’t take care of yourself right now.  We don’t have time to go looking for you every time you decide to go off by yourself without letting someone know where you’re going.  You will stay in the house today.  Maria will watch you.  Do you understand?”

“But…” Johnny raised his head and stared at Murdoch. 

Murdoch could see the defiance in Johnny’s eyes.    “No buts, John.  You will do as you’re told. Now sit down and eat your breakfast.  Scott and I have wasted enough time this morning.  We have work to do.”

Johnny shuffled toward the table.  Just as he was about to sit down, Teresa raced into the room. 

“Oh, Johnny, I was so worried.”  She threw her arms around him.  “Where were you?”

“John decided to go to the barn this morning without permission.”  Murdoch sat in his chair. 

“Johnny, you should have told us before going outside by yourself.”

“I know.”  Johnny sat down, sighing.  “I just …”

“Just what?” Teresa asked as she took her seat at the table.  

“Nothing.” 

Johnny had started the morning happy and excited about being up to join his family.  Now they were all mad at him.  Maria sat a plate of eggs and bacon in front of him and patted him on his shoulder.   Johnny looked up at her and smiled.

Everyone was quiet as they finished eating.  Pushing back from the table, Murdoch looked first at Johnny and then Scott.

“Scott, I’d like you to check out the creek in the south pasture.  Take a couple of men with you.  I want to make sure it’s clear before it rains again.”

Scott nodded.  Pushing back from the table, he gave Johnny a brief smile before heading for the door.

“I have to go to town.  Johnny, you’ll stay inside and listen to Maria and Teresa.  Do not go outside.  I asked you a question earlier you didn’t answer.  Do you understand?”

Johnny nodded.  “I understand.”

Murdoch stood and started towards the front door.  “I’ll be back this afternoon.”

Johnny sat at the table by himself for several minutes. 

“Johnny, we need to clean the kitchen.  Go into the Great Room and find a book to read.”

“I’m going up to my room.”

“Alright,” Teresa said, dismissing him as she and Maria started cleaning the kitchen.

Johnny took the back stairs to the second floor and his room.  Closing the door behind him, he went to his bed and plopped down.   He didn’t know what to do.

Standing, he went to the window and looked out.  Johnny watched as Scott and two men rode under the arch.  Sighing, he looked around the room, wishing he could remember it being his room.  He only remembered what they’d told him.  He also knew there was more they hadn’t told him.

Sitting on the bed again, Johnny tried to remember anything about his past.  He started remembering back as far as he could. He had no trouble remembering being a child or when he first met Val.  The memories of Val and his mother together were vivid.  Val had treated him like a son.   It was when he tried to remember the events after Val left that his memory failed him.

Lying down, Johnny started to relax.  He was almost asleep when a vision jumped into his mind.
He saw his mother and a man; the man was beating her.  There was blood everywhere.

Before he could control the image, pain shot from the back of his head to between his eyes.  Curling into a ball, Johnny tried to push the images away and with them the pain, letting his mind go blank, the pain gradually eased.  He fell asleep with tears in his eyes.

********

When Scott rode into the courtyard, he was hot and tired.  The creek in the south pasture was indeed damned up.  It took the three men most of the day to clear the debris before they could head home.

A vaquero came to take Scott’s horse, and he gladly handed over the reins.  Looking down at his dirty clothes, he knew Maria would never allow him in the front door.  He’d started towards the side of the house to come in through the kitchen when the front door opened, and Johnny barreled out.

“Scott, you’re home!”  Johnny was smiling as he grabbed Scott, hugging him.  Something the old Johnny wouldn’t have done.

Annoyed, Scott pushed Johnny back, holding him at arm’s length. 

“Johnny, don’t do that.  I’m filthy.”

Johnny backed off.    “Sorry, Scott.  I was just happy to see you.”

Scott took a deep breath.   He was too tired to deal with his brother at the moment. 

“Johnny, I need a bath and dinner.  We can talk later.”  Scott started to walk away, leaving Johnny standing alone.  Turning, he frowned. “Don’t pout and by the way, Murdoch told you to stay inside today.  You need to get back inside before he sees you out here.”

As Scott walked away, Johnny sighed, dipping his chin.  He’d done it again.  Now, Scott was angry at him. 

********

“Johnny, get your feet off the couch.  You know better than to put your boots on the furniture.”

“Johnny, sit up straight and eat your dinner.  Maria and Teresa went to a lot of trouble to fix it for us.”

“Johnny, did you move my book?  Don’t touch my things without permission.”

“Johnny… Johnny… Johnny…”

By the time Johnny made his way up the stairs and to his room, he was tired of everyone yelling at him.  Yes, the day had gone downhill from the moment he got out of bed that morning.   Johnny fell into bed.  No one even said goodnight to him when he’d told them he was going to bed.  

********

The next morning at breakfast was much like the day before.  Murdoch and Scott talked about what work needing to be done that day.  Maria and Teresa talked about housework. There were brief nods in Johnny’s direction, but his family seemed not to notice he hadn’t eaten very much.  Breakfast was quickly over, and Murdoch stood to leave.

“Johnny, you can go outside today if you want.  I’ll be working on the books for most of the day.  Just stay out of trouble, son.”    

Johnny nodded and watched everyone go their separate directions.

********

Looking over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching; Johnny made his way toward the barn and corral.    Even though his Papa said he could go outside, he was never far from the man’s sight. 

Johnny had overheard one of the women, helping in the kitchen, talking about a new litter of puppies in the barn and he wanted to see them for himself.  As he walked across the yard, he saw men working near the corral.   A grey horse was running the fence and snorting.  Johnny cocked his head and started slowly walking toward the horse.

Leaning against the fence, Johnny watched the stallion paw the ground and throw his head.  There was something familiar about the horse, enough so that it made his head hurt to think about it.  He knew there was something he was supposed to remember and couldn’t.

Wanting to get a closer look at the stallion, Johnny put his right foot on the bottom rail of the corral fence and pushed himself up.  As Johnny leaned over the top rail, the horse stopped pawing the ground and fixed his eyes on the boy.  Slowly, the stallion walked across the corral. 

Johnny reached out his hand as the horse’s head came within touching distance.   His fingers inched ever closer to the stallion’s velvety nose.  There was a smile on Johnny’s face as the tip of his finger found the whiskers that tickled his hand.

“JOHNNY, NO!” 

Scott’s outburst caused the stallion to scream in protest and rear on his hind legs.   Johnny fell backward off the corral, stumbling when his feet hit the ground.

Scott stalked toward his brother, stopping in front of him.  Grabbing Johnny’s shoulder, Scott slowed his breathing before speaking.  

“Never... go… near… that… horse… again.  Do you hear me?  Never!”

“But, I… just… I wanted…”  Johnny stuttered.

“No, Johnny.  You will never go near that horse again.  Go back to the house.”

Johnny looked around the yard.  Men had stopped working and were watching them.

“No.  I won’t go.  You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my Papa.”

“Johnny, listen to me.  You don’t know what you were doing.  Now, go inside.”  Scott pointed toward the house.

Johnny had just started to trust this man who said he was his brother.  Now he was shaking him and yelling.  Johnny swallowed hard, tears pooling in his eyes.   He pushed Scott’s hands away and started walking toward the house.

At first, Johnny walked slowly, then picked up the pace until he was running by the time he got to the French doors.  Running into the room, he went straight to the stairs and to his room.

Murdoch was behind his desk when Johnny tore through the room, up the stairs, and out of sight. 
Shaking his head, Murdoch looked out the doors.  He saw Scott leaning against the corral fence, his head buried in his arms.  

Knowing something had happened between them, he was determined to find out what, but he’d wait until one or both of them came to him.  Deciding he needed a cup of coffee, Murdoch turned away from the doors and went to the kitchen.

Johnny stomped into his room, slamming the door behind him.  Tears were streaming down his face.  He didn’t know what he’d done wrong, only that it was one more thing to make his brother mad at him.

Wiping the tears from his face, he took a deep breath.   He was confused and needed to talk to his Papa.  He needed to know what he’d done wrong.

Scott had told him to go to the house, not to his room. Straightening his shoulders, Johnny opened his bedroom door and went back downstairs only to find the Great Room empty.  Sighing, he went to the sofa and plopped down.  He’d have to wait for Murdoch to come back.

Stretching out on the soft sofa, it wasn’t long before Johnny closed his eyes and started dozing off.  

********

Murdoch walked out of the kitchen just as Scott entered through the French doors.

“I saw Johnny come in earlier.  He seemed upset.”

Scott shook his head.  “I lost my temper and yelled at him.”

“Why?” Murdoch sat his coffee cup on the desk and turned to his oldest son.

“He was on the corral fence, trying to pet the grey.”

“I see.”  Murdoch sighed.

Johnny roused on hearing voices.  He lay still trying to listen to what they were saying. From the sofa, he couldn’t see his father or brother, only hear them.

Pointing towards the corral and the grey, Scott shook his head.  “Sir, there’s something broken in him.  It isn’t something we can fix.  We need to get rid of him.”

“Scott, I know what you’re saying, but I’m not sure…”

“Do you think Val would know of a place for him?”

“I know he wouldn’t.  I also know he wants nothing to do with him.”

“I can talk to Cipriano.  He can find a home for him, or we can just turn him out.”

“Yes, I think that’s best.  Talk to Cipriano tomorrow.  I’d like him gone as soon as possible.”

Scott noticed Johnny’s pocket watch on the desk.  He picked it up and looked at Murdoch.

“It can’t be fixed.”  Murdoch took the watch from Scott.

“I know this means a lot to you, but sometimes when something is broken and can’t be fixed, you just have to replace it.”

“I know, but I loved…”

Scott smiled.  “I know.”

Johnny lay curled up on the sofa, his legs pulled to his chest, his mind racing.   He heard Murdoch and Scott leave the room.  Slowly, he raised up to look over the back of the sofa.  The room was empty.  Quickly, he stood and walked up the stairs to his room.  Easing through the door, he closed it behind him and slid to the floor.

Tears streamed down his face. His Papa and hermano were talking about him.  He was broken and couldn’t be fixed.  They were going to replace him with another boy.  He sobbed, remembering what they’d said.  Mama was right. No one wanted him, not even Val.

Looking around the room, he saw saddlebags hanging over a chair in the corner.  Johnny stood and picked them up.  Opening the saddlebags, he dumped them on the bed and started sorting through what he found. 

It wasn’t long before he’d repacked the bags with a few clothes and most of what he’d taken out of them.  He didn’t remember much of anything, but he figured his old self would have had a reason for the things in the bags.

When he finished, he pushed the bags under the bed and then turned to walk to the window.  Outside was a world he knew he should remember and couldn’t.   They’d told him he was a Lancer and that he was wanted.  Now, they were going to send him away and bring another boy to replace him.   Well, he would have none of it.   He’d leave.  He’d been taking care of himself for a long time, and he could do it again.  

Johnny wondered where that idea had come from, was it a memory?

A knock on the door caused him to jump.

“Johnny, dinner’s ready,” Teresa announced as she pushed the door open. 

Looking at Johnny’s face, Teresa frowned.  “Are you alright?”

Johnny nodded.  “I’m alright.  I’ll be right down.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.  I’ll be there in a minute.”

Teresa left the door open as she moved down the hall to the back steps to the kitchen.

Johnny moved to the mirror over the chest of drawers and looked at his face.  His eyes were red and swollen.  They’d be able to tell he’d been crying.  He splashed water on his face and toweled it dry before turning to the door and going down to dinner.

********

“John, aren’t you hungry?”  Teresa asked, looking at Johnny’s plate.  She’d watched Johnny push his food around the plate, but he hadn’t taken one bite.

“Just not hungry,” Johnny answered with a shrug.  Looking up from his plate, he could see everyone watching him.

Scott set his fork down.  “Johnny, I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier.”

Johnny didn’t respond.  He looked at Scott and then at Murdoch.  Scott may be sorry for yelling, but he knew what he’d heard earlier.   The words, ‘when something is broken and can’t be fixed, you just have to replace it’ kept repeating in his mind.

“I’m tired.  I think I’ll go to bed early.”  Johnny looked at Murdoch.

Murdoch nodded.  “Go ahead.  I’ll be up later to check on you.”

Johnny pushed back from the table, giving them one last look.  

Once in his room, Johnny quickly undressed, put on a nightshirt, turned out the lamp, and slid between the sheets.  He turned his head toward the window.  A gentle evening breeze moved the curtains and the room filled with the scent of roses from the garden behind the hacienda.  

Closing his eyes, he fought the tears that threatened to come again.  Mama always told him real men didn’t cry.  He tried not to cry, but this time his heart was broken.

********

Once Johnny left the table, Teresa gave Scott a stern look.  “What happened this afternoon to upset him?”

Scott sighed. “He was on the corral fence, trying to pet the grey.  I saw him and panicked.   I yelled at him and sent him to the house.”

“Just yelled?”

“No, when I yelled, he almost fell from the fence.  I was so upset I… grabbed him and shook him.  The hands saw us.”

Teresa looked at Murdoch.   “I knew he was upset about something.  When I went to get him for dinner, he looked like he’d been crying.”

“Crying?”  Murdoch pushed back from the table. 

“Murdoch, I know this is Johnny we’re talking about, but he’s not the Johnny we know.  This Johnny is still trying to cope with losing the memory of a good portion of his life.   He thinks like he’s six, not nineteen.”    She looked at Scott.  “Scott, did you tell him what he did wrong or did you just yell and order him to go to the house?”

Scott didn’t answer. 

“I’ll go up and talk to him.”  Murdoch stood and started for the stairs.   Stopping, he turned to Scott.  “Scott, sit down with him tomorrow and try to explain why you acted that way.”

Scott nodded as Murdoch continued up the stairs.   

“Oh, and Scott, you and I have to go to Sacramento for the Cattle Growers meeting day after tomorrow.  I’m going to ask Cipriano to take Johnny with him to the orphanage to pick up the boys who are going to be working at the ranch for the rest of the summer.   I think getting away from the house will do him good.”

“I agree and I’ll feel better knowing he’s with Cipriano while we’re gone.”  Scott glanced at Teresa.   “What have you got planned while we’re gone?”

“Maria and I are going to move everything out of Johnny’s room and give it a good cleaning.  We haven’t had a chance to do much in the room since the accident.”  

Teresa looked at Murdoch.  “What about the grey?  What will happen to him?”

“We’re going to see if we can find a home for him.  Maybe someone else can break him.  If not, we’ll turn him out.  We’ll talk to Cipriano in the morning.”

Murdoch continued up the stairs.  Stopping in front of Johnny’s door, he turned the knob and eased the door open.  Peering inside, Murdoch could see Johnny was already asleep.   He decided not to wake him.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to talk to him.

********

Johnny was already at the kitchen table when Murdoch and Scott made their way down the back stairs.

“Good morning, John.  How are you feeling this morning?”  Murdoch smiled as Johnny took another bite of his breakfast.

“I’m fine,” Johnny answered, trying to keep the smile on his face. 

Waking up that morning, Johnny decided he’d make everyone believe he was alright; that nothing was wrong.   He didn’t want them to know he’d heard them say they were sending him away.  If they knew they might do it before he had a chance to leave on his own.

Scott sat next to Johnny, putting a hand on his little brother’s arm and squeezed it.  He felt Johnny tense under his touch.

“Johnny, I am sorry about yesterday.  It just scared me when I saw you near the grey.  That’s the horse that hurt you.  I didn’t want to see him hurt you again.”

Johnny frowned.  “That was the horse that hurt me?”

Scott nodded.  “Yes.  I’m sorry I scared you, and I’m sorry I made you cry.”

Johnny stiffened.   “I didn’t cry,” he snapped.

“No, of course, you didn’t,” Murdoch joined in.  “Johnny, Scott is sorry.  I know it upset you, but we’d like you to stay away from the horses for a while longer unless one of us is with you.  And especially, stay away from the grey stallion.  Do you understand why?”

Johnny nodded.  “I understand.”   Then brightening a little, he asked, “What are we going to do today.  Will one of you take me riding?”

“We can’t today,” Murdoch answered as Maria brought him a cup of coffee.  “Scott and I have to go to Sacramento tomorrow.  We’ll only be gone for three days.  Cipriano is going to the orphanage tomorrow to pick up the boys who are going to stay with us.  I want you to go with him.”

Johnny sat quietly, trying not to react.  He swallowed hard.    “How many boys are you going to get?”

“I’m not sure,” Murdoch answered, accepting his breakfast from Maria, “three or four.   Johnny, I think you’ll like the boys at the orphanage.”

Neither Murdoch nor Scott saw the expression on Johnny’s face.  

Tomorrow.  They were sending me away tomorrow.  They’re gonna bring four boys to choose from and leave me at the orphanage.

While Murdoch and Scott talked about Sacramento, Johnny withdrew into his own misery. He tried to eat, but couldn’t do it.  All he felt like doing was cry.

When breakfast was over, Murdoch stood and looked at Johnny.  He noticed he looked a little pale but didn’t say anything.

“I’m going out to give orders.”  Murdoch started toward the front door.  “John, do you want to come with me?”

Johnny looked at his father and nodded.

The men were gathered near the corral when Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny came out of the house.  Murdoch led the way with his sons behind him.

Johnny leaned against the corral fence and listened to his Papa give the orders.  Looking around at the men he noted they chanced glances at him when they could.  

After morning orders, Johnny went to the barn.   Climbing into the loft, he sank into the hay and sighed.  He needed to think; to plan.  The sound of two ranch hands coming into the barn caused him to turn over and peer over the edge of the loft.

“The Boss wants the line shack at Fern Falls resupplied,” Walt said.  “I’ll do that and be back in time to help you with the repairs to the corral fence.”

“I’ll go to town for the material,” Frank responded.

“Sounds good.”  Walt started saddling his horse.  “Frank, you think Johnny remembers being Madrid?”

“I don’t know.  You’ve seen the boy.  From what Scott and Cipriano said, I don’t think he remembers much after the age of six.  I sure wouldn’t want him to come across someone wanting to take his reputation.  If Johnny doesn’t remember Madrid, he probably doesn’t remember how to use a gun either.”

“A gunfighter who can’t remember how to use a gun isn’t good.  I still hope the day comes when he’ll get his memory back.”

The two men led their horses out of the barn, their voices fading as they walked away.

Johnny turned onto his back again, staring at the barn ceiling. 

“A pistolero?  I’m a pistolero?” he said aloud.  

You’d think I’d remember something like that.  I wonder where my gun is?

Hurriedly climbing down from the loft, Johnny made his way to the back of the house.  Coming through the kitchen door, he took the back stairs to the second floor.  Walking into his room, he looked around, wondering where his gun would be.  

Going through the drawers in the tall chest, Johnny pulled a drawer open and there it was.  Lifting the gun belt and holster, he held it out in front of him, looking at it in awe.  He moved to the bed and sat down, the gun belt in his lap.  Wrapping his right hand around the butt of the Colt, Johnny smiled.

Suddenly, pain shot through the back of his eyes.    Releasing the gun belt, he grabbed his head.  Rolling over onto his side, he brought his legs to his chest and curled into a ball.  Faint images played across his memory; images of him firing the gun and men falling at his feet.

Slowly, the pain ebbed away, leaving him weak, tears streaming down his face.   He didn’t remember falling asleep.

  ********

“Johnny.”  Teresa’s called out as she knocked on his door.  “Johnny, dinner’s almost ready.  You’ve got five minutes.”

Johnny rolled onto his back, opening his eyes, and looked at the ceiling.  Blinking, it took him a moment to remember where he was.    Sitting up, he saw the gun belt laying on the bed beside him. 

The flashes of memory he’d had earlier had faded. 

“Johnny?”

“Coming.”  Johnny wrapped the gun belt around the holster and pushed it under his pillow just as his door opened.

“Are you alright?”  Teresa asked as she looked around the room.

“Yes.  I just laid down for a while.  Guess I fell asleep.”

“I should say so.  You’ve been asleep for hours.  Now, come on and get cleaned up.  I’ll see you downstairs.”

Johnny nodded as she closed the door.  He could hear her moving along the hall.

Pushing himself off the bed, Johnny walked to the washstand and filled the bowl with fresh water.  Splashing it on his face, he raised his eyes to the mirror.   There was something different about the face that looked back at him.   The memories he’d had earlier weren’t completely gone.  It was the man in the mirror who had held the gun and fired it.   Johnny knew that each new memory was filling in the gaps in his life. 

“How old are you now?”  Johnny asked aloud to the face in the mirror.    Thinking for a moment, he was surprised when he answered aloud, “Ten.”

Johnny smiled.  Maybe there was a way to fix his mind.  Someday he’d get all his memory back and wouldn’t be broken anymore.   When that happened, he’d come back to Lancer and his family.

********

Everyone was already seated when Johnny made his way to the table. 

“How was your day, Johnny?”  Murdoch asked as he started passing dishes around the table.

“Good,” Johnny answered, looking at his father.   He hoped no one could tell how miserable he felt.

“Johnny took a long nap this afternoon,” Teresa piped in as she passed another dish.

“Is that so?  Glad someone got some rest this afternoon.”  Scott snorted, taking a sip of the wine Maria had poured for him.

“Hard day, son?”  Murdoch nodded to Maria as she poured wine in his glass.

“Would have been easier with more help.  I’ll be glad when the boys from the orphanage get here.  With them here, it will free a few hands to work on the range.”

Murdoch only nodded.

Johnny picked up his fork and took a small bite of food.  He knew he wasn’t going to be able to eat.   Wondering if there was anything he could do to change his father’s mind about sending him to the orphanage, Johnny spoke up. 

“Do I have to go to the orphanage?  I can stay here and help out.”

Murdoch shook his head.

“No, John.  I want you to go with Cipriano.  I don’t want to be worrying about you while Scott and I are gone.  I know you’ll be alright with your uncle.”

“What time do we need to leave in the morning?”  Scott turned his attention from Johnny to Murdoch.

“Early.  We’ll have to leave at first light to catch the train at Cross Creek.”

Scott and Murdoch spent the rest of the meal talking about their trip.  

Johnny laid his fork down and looked at the faces of the people he would be leaving in the morning.  He etched each face in his mind, knowing he was going to miss them.

“Can I be excused?”    Johnny interrupted Murdoch and Scott’s conversation.

Murdoch nodded.   “As I said we’ll be leaving very early tomorrow.  We won’t get a chance to say goodbye before you’re up.”

Johnny mustered a weak smile.  “I understand. Don’t worry; I’ll go with Cipriano and do what he says.  You won’t have to worry about me.”

“Good. Are you going to your room?”

“Yes.”  Johnny pushed back from the table and stood up.  He started toward the main stairs but turned back.  “Goodbye, Scott.  Goodbye, ...Papa.”  

Murdoch smiled.   

“Goodnight, John.  I’ll come up later to check on you.”

“Night, Johnny.”

Johnny went upstairs and to his room.  Once there, he closed the door and leaned against it.  

They’re not even going to say goodbye to me tomorrow.
 
Crossing the room, Johnny reached under the bed and pulled out his saddlebags.  Remembering the gun and holster under his pillow, he put it in the bags and looked around the room.  He planned to get the saddlebag to the barn tonight so that he wouldn’t have to come back to the house in the morning.   

********

Putting the finishing touches on the kitchen clean up, Maria and Teresa talked about what they were going to do while the men were away.

“Maria, after breakfast in the morning, I’d like to start cleaning upstairs.”

“I have several of the ranch women coming to help us.  We can start with the Patron’s room and then Senor Scott’s.”

“Yes, and then we can start on Johnny’s room.   Once we have everything out of Johnny’s room, we can clean it properly.   I wouldn’t be surprised if he had something growing under the bed.”  

Maria laughed.    “Have they found a home for the grey stallion yet?”

“I don’t think so, but I think they should turn him out instead of finding him a home.  I’ll be glad when he’s gone.  I don’t like having him so close.”

Stealing down the back stairs to the kitchen, Johnny heard the women’s voices.   He waited at the top of the steps trying to listen to what they were saying but only catching pieces of the conversation.

“Maria, once we have everything out of Johnny’s room, we can clean it properly. I wouldn’t…” Teresa’s voice faded as she and Maria walked toward the Great Room.  All he heard after that was, “they should turn him out instead of finding him a home.  I’ll be glad when he’s gone…”

He’d hoped that at least Maria and Teresa were going to miss him, but it didn’t sound like it.

Now he was more determined than ever to leave on his own.  He wasn’t going to the orphanage. He’d taken care of himself for a long time; he could do it again.   That memory surprised him. Another memory to add to the ones he’d lost.

No one paid him any attention as he walked to the barn.   He put the saddlebags in the hayloft and then returned to the house the way he’d come.  He’d be gone tomorrow, and it would be at least three days before they missed him.   He knew he could be in Mexico by then.

********

Scott was first down the next morning with his valise. Stepping into the kitchen, he saw Maria and Teresa fixing breakfast for them.  Maria handed him a cup of coffee as Murdoch made his way down the stairs.

“Did you check on Johnny?”  Scott looked at Murdoch and at the same time nodded his thanks to Maria.

“No.  I was afraid I’d wake him.  He hasn’t looked well the last few days and I’ve noticed he’s not eating as much as he normally does.”

“He’s probably excited about the trip to the orphanage with Cipriano.”   Teresa sat two plates on the table.  “Sit and eat before it gets cold.”

“Thank you, sweetheart.”  Murdoch sat down and picked up his fork.  “I don’t know.  He’s been awfully quiet since the incident at the corral.  Scott, you did make up with Johnny, didn’t you?”

“I apologized to him, but we really haven’t talked since that day.  I’ve noticed he’s been quiet.  Do you think he’s still mad about me yelling at him?”

Teresa sat down.  “He has been quiet and I’ve noticed he’s been taking a lot of naps.  Do you think we should call Sam?”

“I’ll talk to Cipriano. It may be nothing.  If Cipriano feels Johnny needs Sam, I’ll tell him to take him to Green River.”

“I’d feel better checking on him before we leave.”  Scott put his fork down and started to get up.

Murdoch looked at his pocket watch.  “We don’t have time, Scott.  Teresa, check on him after we leave.  Make sure he eats breakfast before he and Cipriano leave.”

“I will.  Now you two get out of here.  You don’t want to miss that train.”

Murdoch stood and kissed Teresa on the cheek.  Scott did the same.  Both men gathered their things and started for the door.

********

The sounds of the ranch woke Johnny.  He jumped out of bed and ran to the window in time to see Murdoch and Scott riding towards the arch.  

“Goodbye.”  Johnny raised his hand to the windowpane and sighed.  He’d hoped that at least one of them would have come to see him before leaving, but now they were gone.

Turning back to his bed, Johnny sat on the edge and put his head in his hands.   It was really happening.  They were really going to send him away and without even a goodbye.

He heard footsteps in the hall and knew they were Teresa’s.   A quick knock on the door and then it opened.

“Johnny.  Good, you’re up.  You need to get dressed.  Cipriano is going to be ready to go right after breakfast.  I’ll pack your things for you and have it in the buckboard by the time you leave.”

“Alright.”  Johnny hesitated.  “Teresa, I know I’m supposed to go with Tio, but can I please stay with you and Maria.”

“No, Johnny.  You have to go.  It’s for the best,” she answered and started to turn away.  “Now, get dressed.”

The door closed, and to Johnny, it felt like a door closing on his life.  He had no one now.

Johnny dressed quickly, wanting to get this over with as soon as possible.  He needed to put his plan into action and get away from the hacienda. 

Since the night before, his plans had changed.  Yesterday he’d planned to go straight to Mexico.  After hearing Walt and Frank’s conversation about supplying the line shack at Fern Falls, he’d spent some time studying the map of Lancer.  He knew Fern Falls was south of the hacienda and on the way to Green River.  

Johnny needed some time to himself before riding south; time to practice with the gun he’d found.  If he was a pistolero, he wanted to make sure he acted like one when he got where he was going.

Before leaving his room, Johnny took a few clothes out of the drawers of the dresser and put them in a valise he’d found in the bottom of the wardrobe.   He didn’t want Teresa finding out he’d taken the gun with him. 

Picking up the valise, Johnny took one more look around the room, saying a silent ‘goodbye’ to it before closing the door and walking away.

Once downstairs, Johnny went straight to the kitchen.   Stopping at the door, he took a deep breath and put a smile on his face.  Entering the kitchen, he found Teresa and Maria waiting for him.

“I packed my things, Teresa.”  Johnny sat the valise next to his chair and sat down.

“Did you get everything you’ll need, nino?”  Maria put a plate in front of him with eggs and bacon.

“Si, Tia.”  Johnny picked up his fork and started to eat.  He didn’t have an appetite but knew he needed to eat before leaving.

The back door to the kitchen opened and Cipriano stepped in.  “Juanito, are you ready?” 

Johnny nodded, set his fork down, and pushed his chair back.   Picking up the valise next to his chair, he kept his head down as he started toward the door.

Maria smiled and moved across the room.  “Juanito, behave yourself.  Do as you Tio tells you.”

“Si, Tia.”  Johnny looked up with tears in his eyes.  “I’ll miss you.”    

Maria sniffled.  “Go, nino.”  She gave Johnny a brief hug before turning away.

“Johnny, this is for the best.”   Teresa hugged him and guided him toward the door.

Cipriano was seated on the buckboard by the time Johnny made his way out of the house.

Johnny threw his valise into the back of the wagon and climbed up next to Cipriano.  The moment he seated himself, he put his plan into action.    Johnny grabbed his head, moaned, and bent over, putting his head between his legs.

Alarmed, Cipriano took hold of Johnny’s shoulder.  “Juanito!”

“I don’t feel so good.  My head….”   Johnny moaned again.

“I’ll send someone for the Doctor.”

Johnny shook his head.  “No.  I just need to lay down.   I’d better stay here.  You go without me.”

Cipriano was torn as to what to do.   The Juanito he knew would never admit to being in pain unless it was serious.  Cipriano started to get down from the wagon seat.

“No.  I’ll let Teresa and Maria know I’m not going.  If I need Sam, I’ll have them send for him.”

Cipriano nodded.  “Bueno.  Go straight in and to bed.”

Johnny climbed down from the wagon and took the valise Cipriano handed him. 

“Goodbye, Tio.”   Johnny looked up at the face of the uncle his mother had never spoken of to him.

Cipriano nodded with a smile.  “Adios, Sobrino.”

********

Johnny watched the wagon pull away and let out the breath he was holding.   The first part of his plan had worked.  Looking around, he noted it was still too early for many of the hands to be out.

Walking quickly to the barn, Johnny saddled Barranca and then climbed into the loft to retrieve his saddlebags.  Once he was ready, he put his jacket on, straightened his hat, and led Barranca out the back door of the barn.

Mounting up, Johnny kicked Barranca’s sides and headed south.  

Riding with the wind in his face, Johnny tipped his head to the sun.  It felt good to ride free.  Something stirred within him.  It was a memory; the memory of riding alone across plains and deserts.  

A dull headache started behind his eyes. His hand fell to his right hip.  Something was missing, and he knew what it was. 

An hour and a half later he rode up to the small cabin at Fern Falls.  The location was beautiful with water erupting from the middle of the hill facing and plunging to tiered pools.  A small upper pool caught the frothy water and overflowed into a lower quieter pond.   Surrounding the lower blue-green pool were flat rocks and thick foliage.  A small stream broke free of the pond and twisted its way beside the cabin before disappearing into the undergrowth.

Johnny closed his eyes and inhaled.  There was an earthy smell to the area.  He opened his eyes when he felt a slight breeze and heard the leaves of the trees start to sway.   A beam of sunlight filtered through the leaves and caught the misting water. Johnny’s breath hitched when a rainbow appeared, arching over the entire feature.

Smiling, he knew he’d made the right decision.  For the first time since waking up, Johnny felt like he was in control of his life.  Deep down, he knew he could take care of himself, that he’d done it before and could again.  There was no way anyone was going to send him to an orphanage or anyplace else he didn’t want to go.

Once Barranca was unsaddled, Johnny decided not to stable the horse.  Somehow, he knew his horse would stay close.  He turned the palomino out onto the grassy area next to the cabin where he would have access to the water.

Taking his saddlebags, Johnny made his way into the cabin.   Inside was a table and two chairs.  A potbellied stove stood in one corner and across the room were two cots.  He knew he should get a bucket of water and light a fire, but he was too tired.  Instead, he tossed the saddlebags on the table and forced his feet across the room to one of the cots.

Stretching out, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

********

“It’s good to be home.”  Murdoch sighed as he and Scott, rode under the Lancer arch.

“Yes, it is.  I’ve missed Johnny.  I hope he had a good time at the orphanage.”  

Murdoch smiled.   He’d missed his youngest son too.  Johnny had worried him for the last three days.  When they’d left, he had been too quiet and pale.  They were all used to the robust, laughing young man who brought light to any room he walked into. 

Pulling up in front of the house, Slim and Pete walked out to take the horses.

“Welcome home, Boss. Scott.”  Slim took Murdoch’s reins.  “You have a good trip?”

“Yes.  Yes, we did.  Was there any trouble here while we were gone?”

“Nope,” Pete answered.  “Everything’s been quiet.  Glad you’re home.”

Murdoch and Scott untied their valises from the saddle horns and walked into the house.  The sound of Teresa’s voice greeted them.

“You’re home.”  The young girl threw her arms around Murdoch and then Scott. 

“Is Johnny back yet?”  Scott looked around the room, hoping to see his brother. 

“No.  We’re expecting Cipriano and Johnny any time.  Go freshen up and I’ll get you something cool to drink.   Maria has been cooking all day.  We’ve missed you all, especially Johnny.”

Murdoch went to his room and tossed his valise on his bed.  He noticed the room had been cleaned in his absence. 

Stepping back into the hall, Murdoch went to Johnny’s closed door.  Opening it, he looked inside.  That room had also been cleaned.  So well, that it looked like no one had ever occupied it.  Looking around, he frowned.  He didn’t like the feeling the room gave him.  It was if Johnny were never coming back to it.

Backing out of the room, Murdoch ran into Scott stepping into the hall.  “Something wrong, Murdoch?”

Murdoch shook his head.  “No.  It’s just that Johnny’s room feels so empty.”

Scott stepped past his father and into the room.  He knew what Murdoch meant.  The room felt unlived in and cold.

“I’m sure Johnny will change that when he gets home.  The room is too neat.  You know how he is.  This time tomorrow, it will look like a tornado went through it.”

Murdoch laughed.  “I’m sure you’re right.  Let’s go down and relax before he gets home.  I’m anxious to hear all about his trip.”

The sound of a horse out front, caught their attention as they made their way down the stairs.   Scott went to the door to see Val tying his horse to the hitching rail.

“Val,” Scott called out.  “What brings you out here?”

“Came to see how your trip was.  Kinda’ missed Johnny while you were gone.  Is he back yet?”

“No.  We expect them soon.  Come inside and get a drink.  Teresa’s promised us something cold.”

Val stepped into the house.  Letting his eyes adjust to the lower light, he saw Murdoch and Teresa near the sofa.

“Murdoch. Miss Teresa.”  Val’s voice carried across the room. 

“Val, it’s good to see you.”  Murdoch extended his hand.  “Come to see how Johnny’s trip was?”

“Yeah.  I’ve missed him.  Didn’t get to say goodbye to him before he left.”

“Well, that makes it unanimous.”  Teresa laughed.   “We’ve all missed him. The house has been too quiet with him gone.”

Sitting down, everyone accepted a glass of lemonade from Teresa.   It was more than an hour later when the sound of a wagon coming into the yard caught their attention.

“I believe they’re back.” Scott went to look out the French doors.   He watched the wagon go directly to the barn.  In the back, Scott could see the heads of several boys.  He figured Johnny was one of them.

“Was that Cipriano coming in?”  Teresa ran to stand beside Scott.

“Yes, it was.  He’s taken the wagon to the barn.  I imagine Johnny’s helping get the boys settled before he comes in.”   Scott looked one more time at the wagon before turning back to the room.

“I baked a chocolate cake, and Maria made tamales for him tonight.  It should be ready by the time he gets cleaned up and in the house.”  Teresa turned and walked back to the kitchen. 

“Maria, Johnny’s home.”  Everyone laughed, hearing her call out as she hurried back to the kitchen.

Val settled back in the chair, holding a glass of lemonade.  He wanted to see Johnny.  He’d had a bad feeling for days about the boy and wouldn’t relax until he saw for himself that Johnny was alright.

“Val, what about the gunfighter that was in town waiting for Johnny?”  Scott asked as he made himself comfortable.

“Hawkins?  His name was Hawkins, and we had a little talk.  It seems he remembered me from a job Johnny and I worked on in Texas a few years back.”  Val huffed.  “He moved on the same day I talked to him.  Suppose he didn’t want to face Johnny as bad as he thought he did, especially when he knew I was here, too.”

“Well, that’s a relief.  One less problem to worry about.”  Murdoch laughed and relaxed, waiting for Johnny to come inside.
 
Almost an hour passed before the group in the Great Room heard voices coming from the kitchen.  Standing, they saw Cipriano come in with a smile on his face.  Maria and Teresa followed him.

“Patron.”  Cipriano held out his hand to Murdoch.  “It is good to see you.”

“Cipriano, my friend.  Good to see you, too.  How many boys did you bring back with you?”

“Four, Patron.  All are good boys and are anxious to learn.  They will make fine ranchers.  All four know how to ride also.”

“Good, good,” Murdoch repeated himself.  Looking past Cipriano, Murdoch was hoping to see Johnny.   “Is Johnny still with the boys?  He needs to get cleaned up for dinner.”

Cipriano looked around the room.   There was a frown and confused look on his face.  

“Patron, Juanito is not with me.”

“Not with you?  What do you mean?” Scott was on his feet, advancing on Cipriano.  He could tell Val was right behind him.

Cipriano shook his head. “Juanito did not go with me to the orphanage.  He was not well when I left.  I told him to go back into the hacienda and tell his Tia.   He said he was going to lay down.”

Teresa moved across the room.  “We haven’t seen Johnny since you left that morning.  He didn’t come back to the house.”

“Cipriano, go check with the men.  See if anyone saw Johnny that morning.”  Murdoch started to turn away.  “Is Barranca here?”

“I don’t know, Patron.  He was to be turned out to the pasture while we were away.”

“I’m checking his room.”  Scott was already moving toward the stairs.

Val hadn’t moved.  He should have followed his instincts days ago.  He knew something was wrong.   “What did he say the morning you left?”

“Scott and I didn’t see him.  We left early and didn’t want to wake him.”  Murdoch started pacing.  

Scott ran down the stairs.  “His saddlebags are gone.  Did he have them with him when he was supposed to go with Cipriano?”

“No,” Teresa answered.  “He had a valise.”

Everyone turned to the French doors when Cipriano hurried back into the room.

“No one has seen him, Patron.  Walt says Barranca was not in his stall that morning.  He thought I had put the horse in the pasture.  No one thought anything of him being gone.   I checked the barn and found this.”   Cipriano held up the small valise Johnny had packed.

Murdoch stared at the small bag.  Moving to his chair behind the desk, he collapsed.  

“My God, he’s been gone three days.  Anything could have happened to him.”  Elbows on the desk, Murdoch put his head in his hands and covered his face.

“We’ll search the ranch.” Scott started toward the door.

“Senor Scott,” Cipriano put a hand out to stop him.  “It is getting dark.  We cannot search in the dark.  We need to think.  What would he be thinking?   Where would he go?”

“The question you need to ask is ‘why’ would he go.”  Val slammed down the glass he’d been holding.

“Val you can’t think we’d do something to drive him away.”  Scott turned to face the angry man.

“Something did.  What was it?  Did you argue?”

“No.”  Scott stopped.  “No, not really.  A few days before we left for Sacramento, I yelled at him when he got too close to the grey stallion that hurt him.   I apologized.  I thought everything was alright.”

“He was quiet after that,” Teresa joined in. 

“Si, and he was not eating as much.  I noticed he barely ate anything.”  Maria moved to stand next to Teresa.

“Did you explain to him why you didn’t want him near the stallion?”  Val asked, staring Scott down.

“Yes, I did.  I explained the next morning.  He seemed to accept it.   I don’t know what could have happened.”  Scott walked over to stand in front of Murdoch’s desk.  

Murdoch looked up to see everyone staring at him.  He needed to act and act now.  They had to find him.

Murdoch started to stand when he saw an envelope in the middle of his desk, addressed to him.  He’d recognize the handwriting anywhere.   Reaching out, Murdoch picked up the envelope and tore it open.    He read the letter inside and frowned.

“What is it?”  Scott reached for the letter and lifted it out of Murdoch’s hand.  He started reading it aloud.
.
Papa

I heard what you and Scott said.  I know something inside me is broke.  I wish I could fix it.  I understand.......when something’s broke and you can’t fix it you get a new one.  That’s why you were sending me to live at the orfanag and getting a new son.

Don’t go blaming Tio.  I just couldn’t go to that place with him.  I was in one once and didn’t like it then, don’t expect I’d like it much now.   Besides I’m too big to go to another home.

I don’t know who your new son is gonna be, but I know he’ll like it here... I did.   Scott will make a good big brother to your new son.  I liked him as my brother, even if he didn’t want me anymore.

Tell Teresa and Maria they don’t have to worry about finding me a home.  I can take care of myself.  Been doing it for a long time.   Don’t want no other home no ways.

I still love all you even though you don’t love me anymore.  

Mama was right.

Johnny
.

There was complete silence in the room.  Val stepped forward and took the letter from Scott and reread it.

“What does he mean you were sending him to the orphanage to live?”

“I don’t know, Val.” Murdoch leaned his head back.  “I don’t know what any of it means.  He’s confused.”

“What did he say about being broken…”  Scott retook the letter.  “Murdoch, remember the day I pulled him away from the corral.  You and I were talking about the stallion.  I said there was something broken in him.”

“Yes, but the rest…You don’t think he heard us talking.  We talked about his watch as well.  You said that sometimes when something’s broken and can’t be fixed, you get a new one.”

“Maria and I were talking the night before you left about finding a home for the stallion.”      

“He heard parts of all those conversations and pieced them together out of context.   What did he mean by ‘Mama was right?’  Val?”

“Maria told him you didn’t want him and didn’t love him.  She told him you didn’t want him because he wasn’t perfect.  He as a half-bred.”

“Now, in his mind, he’s broken and not perfect.”  Scott sat on the arm of one of the chairs.

“There’s something else here that don’t make sense.” Val looked the letter over again.  “This part about being in an orphanage before and he didn’t like it.  Johnny was in the orphanage only after Maria died and then only for a few months.”

“So?” Scott shrugged.

“Johnny was eight when Maria died.  He remembers the orphanage.  He says he’s been taking care of himself for a long time.”  Val looked around the room.  “Don’t you see, he remembers stuff after the age of six?”

“He’s got to be even more confused now,” Teresa spoke up.  “If he heard bits and pieces of our conversations and put them together in his mind as us not wanting him…poor Johnny.  He must feel like we’ve abandoned him.”

Murdoch stood up.  “Cipriano, I want the men organized into search parties.  If he’s still on the ranch, I want to know.  Tell them what’s happened and that Johnny is confused.”

No one saw Maria leave the room.

Murdoch turned to look at Val.

“Val, you’ve not seen him in Green River, so that means he went straight south through Morro Coyo or he’s still on the ranch.  Could you check Morro Coyo and see if anyone has seen him?”

Val nodded.

“Scott, do you have any idea where he would go?”  

Scott shook his head.  “No, I don’t.  He really hasn’t been out of the house much since the accident.”

Maria came down the main stairs.  “Patron, he has taken his gun.  The one he used as a pistolero.”

“He’s going to be heading south,” Val said, closing his eyes and shaking his head.  “If he remembers Madrid, he’ll be heading south.”

“We don’t know he remembers Madrid,” Scott snapped.  “I’m sorry.  I’m just worried.  All we know is that he remembers when he was eight years old and being sent to the orphanage.”  

“He may remember more than that by now.  He’s been on his own for three days.”  Thinking, Murdoch tapped his fingers on his desk.  “We need Sam.  Cipriano, send a man to town and bring Sam back here.”   

“Cipriano.” Scott stopped the Segundo.  “I want to talk to the men before we split them into search parties.  We’ll leave at first light.”

Cipriano nodded and continued out the door.

“I’m heading for Morro Coyo now,” Val said as he started for the door.  “I can be there before dark.  I’ll be back in the morning to join one of the search parties.” 

“Val, is there any chance at all of picking up his tracks?”  Scott asked, stopping Val at the door.

Val shook his head.  “No.  Even if there was, it rained a couple of days ago.  Any track he left would have been wiped away.”

Once Val was gone, Scott stood still for a few more minutes.  His mind was racing.  The worry he had for his brother was enough to crush the air out of his lungs.   Glancing at Murdoch, he could tell his father was feeling the same way. 

“I’m going to talk to the men,” Scott finally said.

Murdoch nodded.  “Go on, son.  I’ll get with Maria and Teresa and have them get supplies ready for tomorrow.”   Murdoch turned his chair to look out the window behind him.  “I wonder where he is and if he’s alright?”

“We’ll find him.”

“Murdoch?”  Teresa still stood to one side, listening to everything.  “Dinner’s ready. I really think you both should eat…”

Murdoch nodded.  “Alright, but we’ll eat in the kitchen.”

Teresa started to turn toward the kitchen and then stopped.  Turning back, with tears in her eyes. “I wonder if Johnny has anything to eat.”

Murdoch covered his face with his hands and rubbed his eyes.

********

Scott took his time getting to the bunkhouse to talk to the men.   Stopping outside the door, he waited a moment before opening it and stepping inside.   Feeling someone at his right shoulder, Scott glanced back to see Cipriano step into the room.

Walt stood up and took a step forward.  “Scott, is there trouble?”

“You could say that, Walt.”  Scott looked around the room.   “Three days ago, when Murdoch and I went to Sacramento, Johnny was supposed to go with Cipriano to the orphanage to pick up the boys who are helping us out this summer.   He talked his way out of going with Cip and was supposed to go back into the house.  He didn’t.  No one has seen him since that morning.  We don’t know where he is.”

The men looked at each other and started mumbling.  Frank spoke up.  “Scott, you saying Johnny took off on his own?”

Scott nodded.

“Does he remember any more than he did before?”  Walt shifted closer to the front of the men.

“We don’t know.  We think he may remember something when he was eight or nine but…”

“Did he take Barranca?” Slim asked from the back of the room.

“Yes.  Cipriano didn’t turn him out to pasture before he left.  He thought Walt would.”

“I didn’t turn him out.  I thought Cipriano did.” Walt spoke up, defending himself.

“It’s alright, Walt.  We know.  Johnny must have had this planned.”

“Why?” Frank asked.  “Why did he go and take off like that?”

Scott shook his head.  “Everyone knows I yelled at him that day when he was near the corral and the grey.  Later that day, I told Murdoch that there was something broken in the horse and we needed to get rid of him.   In that same conversation, I had Johnny’s pocket watch in my hand.  It was broken, and I told Murdoch that sometimes when something’s broken and you can’t fix it, you have to replace it.

“Johnny heard bits and pieces of the conversations and put them together to mean that he was broken and we didn’t want him any longer.   He thought Cipriano was taking him to the orphanage for good and bringing one of the other boys here to replace him.”

“That’s plum crazy,” Frank barked out.  “Why don’t he know…”

“No, Frank.  He doesn’t know.  That’s the problem.  He has the memories of a six-year-old Johnny who lived with his mother in a Mexican border town.  The only person he ever trusted was Val.   He didn’t know or trust Murdoch, and at the time he didn’t even know I existed.  He’s confused and his hurting.  He thinks we don’t want him… just like his mother told him.”    

“So, what do we do?”   Walt asked, reaching for his hat and gun belt.

“We wait until morning and then form search parties.  We don’t even know if he’s still on the ranch.  He’s got a three-day head start on us.  Val is checking Morro Coyo to see if anyone has seen him.  For tonight, get some rest and be ready to ride out at first light. Oh, and there’s one more thing.  Johnny has his gun with him.”

“He remembers being Madrid?” Walt asked, looking sideways at Frank.  He remembered the conversation the two of them had only a few days ago.

“We don’t know.”

“Scott, Frank and I were talking the other day in the barn about Johnny and Madrid.  He could have heard us.  I saw him come out of the barn a little while after we did.  You don’t think….?”

“I don’t know, Walt.  I don’t know anything.  All I do know is I want my brother found.  Just be careful if you do find him.”  

Scott turned to leave the bunkhouse.  He heard Jose say, “Do not worry, Senor Scott.  We will find Juanito and bring him home.”

“Thank you,” Scott answered from the doorway.

********

Massey and Blevins stood at the rear of the bunkhouse listening to what Scott said about Madrid.  He didn’t remember being Madrid.  That explained a lot.

Massey smiled and looked at Blevins.  Johnny Madrid not remembering being a gunfighter, might work in their favor.  

********

Stretching, Johnny threw the meager covers he had over him off the bed.  He felt hot, too hot for a cool crisp morning.  He knew he was sick and had a fever.

He looked around the cabin and wondered why they called it a line shack.  It definitely wasn’t a shack.  He’d lived in shacks most of his life.  This building was luxury compared to the places he and Mama lived.

Johnny walked outside and looked around.  The location was beautiful.  A wooded area surrounded the clear pond and waterfall. The sound of birds singing in the crisp morning air made him smile.  It was beautiful, but it was a lonely place. 

It had been four days since he’d stolen away from the ranch.  The first day he’d been so exhausted he could do nothing more than sleep.   When he woke on the second morning, he felt refreshed.  He’d spent the morning exploring his temporary home.    That afternoon, Johnny took the gun belt from his saddlebags for the first time.

Wrapping the rig around his waist and buckling it down, Johnny relaxed.  It had a familiar feel.   When his hand settled on the butt of the Colt, he got a tingling sensation that surged throughout his body.  He spent the next hour drawing and dry firing the gun.  

It was as if his instincts had taken over.  He was amazed that he knew what to do.  He knew not to put bullets in the gun while he practiced drawing.   After an hour, he filled the cylinder for the first time.  It all felt right to him.

Setting up targets, Johnny slowly drew and fired for the first time.  The sound echoed through the forest around him.  The birds stopped singing and flushed from the trees around the cabin. 

The cracking report and recoil of the gun caused Johnny to jump.  His eyes fell to the weapon in his hand.   Blinking, he held the Colt, firing again.  He smiled when the recoil was less.  By the time he’d emptied the cylinder, he was laughing.

He reloaded and fired six shots again.  Holstering the gun, Johnny felt a peace settle over him that he hadn’t known since he’d woken up that morning at Lancer.

Caressing the butt of the Colt on his hip, Johnny closed his eyes.  Memories flashed through his mind and with the memories a headache started.  At first, it was a dull pain at the back of his head, then a sharp pain that sent him to his knees.

He’d made his way back to the cabin and the bed he’d left only a few hours earlier.   Sleep seemed to be the only thing that released the pain.   He slept away the afternoon and night.

On the third day, Johnny again awoke refreshed; the head pain was gone.   He spent the day walking around the falls trying to remember the images he’d seen the day before when the headache came.

Johnny discovered a pattern.  With the flashes of memory came the headaches, though he was retaining the memories.  The more memories he retained, the older he felt inside.   It was like he was picking up the pieces of his broken life and putting them back together.

When it started to rain, Johnny was on the far side of the falls. He started running toward the cabin.  He was almost around the small pond when he lost his footing on the slippery rocks and went into the water.  

Climbing out of the cold water, Johnny sat on the bank for a few minutes.  He was shaking by the time he reached the front door of the cabin.   He thanked his lucky stars he hadn’t had the Colt on his hip when he went in the water.

Stripping his clothes off, he hung them next to the stove to dry while he wrapped a blanket around his shivering shoulders.   Holding a cup of coffee in his shaking hands, he wondered when he was going to warm up.    Giving up trying to warm himself by the stove, Johnny went to bed, throwing every blanket he had over him.   

It was later that night when the cough began.  In the early hours of the morning when the fever started, he knew he was sick.

When he woke up on day four, Johnny was shivering.  It was all he could do to raise his head.  That was the moment he knew he was in real trouble.   

Walking outside that morning, feeling alone, he wanted to cry.  He wanted to go home to his own bed with his family around him.  Then he remembered he didn’t have a family or a home.  No one wanted him.  

Johnny mentally shook himself.  No, he wouldn’t feel sorry for himself.  Anger started filling him.  He was angry with the people who had lied to him.  His mother had been right.  His father never wanted him.  The old man threw him out when he was a baby, and he’d done it now.

Going back into the cabin, he settled into the warm bed.  Johnny wanted only to get well and move on.  He was ready.  He had enough memories now to survive along the border.

Johnny was dozing when he heard Barranca nickering.   He pushed himself out of bed and walked to the front window.  He heard riders coming toward the cabin.

He quickly dressed and put on his boots.  Grabbing the gun belt, Johnny moved out the door and around the side of the cabin.   

********

Murdoch saw Scott waiting for him as he walked out the front door.   He’d lain awake all night kicking himself for not seeing Johnny before they’d left for Sacramento.  He could only imagine what Johnny thought as he rode away from his home that morning.   The letter had said it all.  He didn’t believe he was wanted.  God, how wrong the boy was.   If only he knew how much he was wanted.

“Ready, sir.”  Scott handed Murdoch the reins to Nessie.

Looking around the yard, Murdoch could see the men already seated on their horses.   Cipriano stood next to Scott, waiting for orders.

Teresa and Maria stepped out of the house to stand behind Murdoch.

The sound of a horse coming toward the house caused everyone to look toward the arch.  It was Val.

Val stopped and looked around the yard before speaking.

“Johnny hasn’t been seen in Morro Coyo or Green River.  He’s either still on the ranch or by-passed the towns and headed south.”

Murdoch nodded.   “Alright.  We search the ranch, every inch of it.  Cipriano split the men up and get them moving.  Val go get yourself a fresh mount.”

“Si, Patron.”  Cipriano started breaking the men into search parties and giving orders as Val went to the barn to get another horse.

Scott mounted and turned to the men.  “Remember, Johnny has his gun.  We don’t know if he remembers being Madrid or how to use the gun but take no chances.  If you find him, send someone for either Murdoch, Val, or me.”

There were nods all around.

“Scott,” Walt spoke up, “remember I told you Frank and I think Johnny overheard us in the barn that day.”

Scott nodded.

“Well, Frank and me were talking about restocking Fern Falls.  Johnny probably heard us talking.  If he did hear us, he might have gone there.   Frank and I want to take a look.  Johnny may not be there now, or he may not have even gone that way, but we think it’s worth a look.”

Scott thought for a moment.  “Go ahead and take a couple of men with you.  If it looks like he was there or he’s there now, send word back to us.  I’m going southwest.  Murdoch is going to start on the east side.”

Murdoch took one more look at his men. 

“Move out.”    Starting to mount, he looked at Teresa and Maria.  “Sam should be here soon.  Let him know everything that’s happened.  We’ll be back by dark.”

“Please find him.” Teresa reached for the handkerchief in her pocket and wiped away her tears.

Murdoch didn’t say anything.  He didn’t want to make promises he couldn’t keep.

********

Walt, Frank, Massey, and Blevins rode straight to Fern Falls.   Walt felt it was their best and only chance of tracking Johnny if he were still on the ranch.

Riding into the clearing in front of the small cabin, they heard another horse nearby.  Looking at the grassy area to the right of the building, they were relieved to see Barranca.

“He’s here,” Walt whispered.  “Massey, you and Blevins stay here.  Frank and I’ll go in.”

Both men stepped out of the saddle and made their way to the cabin door.  Walt hesitated a moment before pushing the door open.  Peering inside, he found the place empty.

Frank stepped in and looked around.   There were still hot coals in the stove, a set of saddlebags lay on the table, and one of the beds looked slept in. 

Frank walked over to the bed and put his hand on the mattress. 

“He hasn’t been gone long.  The bed’s still warm.”

Walt turned to go back outside.

“I’ll look around.  Frank, find Scott.  Blevins, you go back to the house and get the boss.”

Blevins mounted his horse and looked at Massey.  There was a smile on his partner’s face.  He knew what Massey was thinking.    Blevins turned towards the hacienda while Frank bolted onto his horse and rode away. 

Walt looked around.  It didn’t take him long to spot boot prints going around the side of the building.   Walt started tracking his young friend.

********

Run.   Run.  Run and hide.  They can’t find me.  If they find me, they’ll send me away.  Send me to the orphanage.

After leaving the cabin, that’s what Johnny did.  He started running.  He didn’t know who he was running from, only that he didn’t want them to find him.

Stumbling, he fell to his knees. 

Johnny looked behind him.  There was no sign of anyone following him.  Standing, he started walking. Coughing with every step, he was soon out of breath.  He needed a place to rest and think.   If they found him, he knew it wouldn’t be long before his father would come.  The one thing he didn’t want to happen. 

He never wanted to face Murdoch Lancer again.  His mother’s words came back to him.

“Your father didn’t want either of us.  He didn’t want a Mexican esposa or a mestizo hijo. He threw us out.  We weren’t good enough for him. You weren’t good enough.”

Finally, finding a place to rest, Johnny sat on a fallen tree.  Taking deep breaths, Johnny put his head in his hands.  

The sound of a twig snapping brought Johnny’s head up, gun in hand.  Standing in front of him was a man, his hands up. 

“Stay where you are.  Don’t come near me.”

“It’s me, Johnny,” Walt said softly, moving forward another step. “It’s me…Walt.  You remember me?”

Johnny stood; gun still leveled at Walt.

“You remember me, don’t you, Johnny?”

Johnny nodded.

“Do you remember we’re friends?  Amigos.”

“Amigos?”

“That’s right, Johnny.  We’re amigos.  I won’t hurt you.  You can put the gun down.”

“No. You go back.  Get away from me.”

“I can’t do that, Johnny.”

Walt felt Johnny’s eyes boring through him.

“Johnny lower the gun and talk to me.  Just talk.  Alright?”

Johnny lowered the barrel of the gun.

Walt walked over sat on the fallen tree.  “Sit down, Johnny so we can talk.”

Coughing, Johnny sat back down but kept his eyes on Walt.

 “You have a lot of people worried about you, Johnny.  Mr. Lancer has every man on the ranch looking for you.”

Johnny didn’t say anything.

“Why’d you run, boy?”

Johnny looked at Walt. He really didn’t know this man, but something deep inside him said he could trust Walt.  

“They don’t want me anymore.”

“What in the world gave you that idea?  Of course, they want you.”

“No, they don’t.  I heard Papa and Scott talking.  I’m broken and they don’t want me.”

“Johnny, you’re wrong.  They do want you.  If they didn’t want you, do you think your Papa would have everyone out looking for you?  He’s worrying himself sick.”

Johnny frowned.  “But…”  A cough cut off his words. 

“Johnny, you’re sick.  Come with me.  I need to get you back to the cabin and into bed.”

Walt put an arm around Johnny’s shoulders, smiling when Johnny leaned into him.

“Come on then.”  Walt stood, pulling Johnny to his feet before guiding him back the way they’d come.

********

Standing next to Green Creek, Scott wiped the sweat from his face.  Jacobs, Jose, Clint, Slim, and Joe had been with him all day while they searched the South Mesa line shack and the area around it.    They were discouraged when they found no sign of Johnny.

Scott looked out over the rolling hills and grassland near the river.  The sight should have made him happy, but all he felt was a dull ache.   It had been five days since he’d seen his brother.  He knew he should have taken the time to say goodbye to him the morning they left for Sacramento.  Knowing now how Johnny must have felt, it broke his heart.

The sound of a rider coming in fast brought Scott out of his musings and the vaqueros with him going for their guns.  

They relaxed when they saw it was Frank.

“Scott,” Frank yelled, pulling back on the reins, “we found him.  He’s at Fern Falls.”

“Is he alright?”  Scott asked as he moved towards Frank.

“I don’t know.  We only missed the boy by minutes.  Walt and Massey are looking for him.”

“What do mean, looking for him?  I thought you said you found him.”

“We did, but he must have heard us coming and took off on foot.  Barranca’s there and so are his saddlebags.  He won’t get far, Walt was gonna’ start tracking him when I left.”

“Where’s Blevins?”   Scott was already mounting his horse.

“Walt sent Blevins back to the ranch house to let Mr. Lancer know.”

A slight shudder ran through Scott.  He didn’t trust either Massey or Blevins.  His gut told him something was wrong.   Looking around, he made a decision.

“Jose, find Cipriano and Val, let them know we’re heading for Fern Falls.   Joe, get back to the house and bring Sam.  Have someone find the other men and get everyone heading for Fern Falls.”

Jose and Joe rode out in separate directions.  

“Alright, let’s go.”  Scott kicked his horse into a gallop leading the men to Fern Falls.

********

By the time Walt and Johnny made it back to the cabin, Walt was the only thing keeping Johnny on his feet.   As they walked into the clearing in front of the cabin, Walt stopped, seeing both Massey and Blevins waiting for them.

Walt looked past the two men, expecting to see his boss.  He scanned the area, seeing no one his senses went on high alert.

“Blevins, I told you to go get Mr. Lancer.  What are you doing back here?” 

Massey spoke up, “We figured you might need help finding the boy.”

“Well, I found him.  Now, go get Mr. Lancer.”

“Why don’t you go for the boss?  We’ll stay here with the kid.”  Blevins sidestepped, moving away from Massey.

Johnny was barely holding on.  With his head down, he let Walt hold him up as he talked to the two men.   Johnny recognized them as the men who had bothered him in the barn.

The moment he heard Blevins tell Walt they would stay with him, Johnny pushed away from Walt, finding his balance.   There was something familiar about the tone Blevins used.  Johnny peered at both men. They were a threat to him.  He didn’t know how he knew, only that he did.

Johnny’s hand fell to rest on the Colt on his hip.  Another familiar feeling.

“I’m not leaving Johnny,” Walt firmly stated, his protective instincts kicking in; knowing something was wrong. 

Johnny felt Walt stiffen beside him.  He knew he was in danger, and there was only one man that was going to help him, or was there?

“Johnny, why don’t you come over here to me?  You don’t want to go back to your Pa, do you? Isn’t that why you ran away?   We’ll help you get away.”

Johnny looked at Walt.  His instincts were screaming at him.  Walt voiced the question; he couldn’t seem to ask.

“What are you two up to?”

Massey smiled, drawing his gun.

“Well, you see, Walt, we found out there’s a reward for Madrid below the border.  Whether he remembers being Johnny Madrid or not, he’s still Madrid.  The reward money is gonna’ spend just the same.”

“I’m not letting you take him anywhere!”

Walt’s hand went to his gun.  Massey fired and Walt fell to his knees, grabbing his right shoulder.

“Now, come here, kid.”

 Johnny stood fixed to the spot. 

“You either come with us, or we’ll put a bullet between Walt’s eyes.”

Massey saw something in Johnny change.  The youthful, innocent look vanished from the boy’s face, and his blue eyes turned dark and hard. 

“I don’t think so, Massey.” 

Walt recognized the soft, cold voice of Johnny Madrid.  Somehow, Johnny had found his old self.   Walt could only hope Johnny remembered how to use the gun he was wearing.

“What did you say, kid?”

“You heard me.  I’m not going anywhere.  The two of you need to mount up and get out of here before I do to you what you did to Walt.  The difference is I won’t leave you standing.”

Blevins was listening to the exchange between his partner and Madrid.  Madrid sure as hell didn’t sound like he didn’t remember who he was.  Blevins reached for his gun.  Massey saw his partner’s move and went for his gun as well.

Johnny’s hand moved in a blur.  A shot rang out, taking Massey down.  Johnny pivoted, firing at Blevins, just as Blevins fired.  Blevins’ bullet caught Johnny’s left arm, spinning him around.  Johnny straightened up in time to see Blevins crumple on the ground.

Johnny looked at the gun in his hand and then at the men lying on the ground in front of him.  The fire that burned hot within him only moments ago was gone.   Only a void remained.  A void in his soul and memory.  

“Johnny.”   Walt struggled to his feet.  Johnny was still staring at the gun in his hand.  “Johnny, I need help.”

Walt reached out a hand, taking Johnny’s right arm.

Johnny looked at Walt, confusion on his face.    “I … I …”

“It’s alright, Johnny.  Let’s get inside.  Frank will be back soon with Scott.  We’ll let him take care of Massey and Blevins.”

Johnny nodded and slid his gun back into the holster on his hip.  Turning, he helped Walt into the cabin.  Glancing over his shoulder at the bodies on the ground, he didn’t know how he felt.

********

Scott slowed as he approached Fern Falls.  He’d always liked this place.  The cabin had been built in one of the most beautiful places on the ranch. 

The men who rode with him slowed to a walk and then stopped.  Two bodies lay in the dirt at the edge of the clearing.

Scott jumped from his horse and ran to the closest body. Holding his breath, he flipped the man over.  Seeing Massey’s dead eyes staring back at him, he let the breath out. 

Frank stepped out of the saddle and went to the other body.

“It’s Blevins,” Frank called out.

Scott ran toward the cabin picking up speed as he got closer. Pushing open the half-closed door, he stood in the doorway and scanned the room.   He found Walt sitting at the table with his head buried in one arm, asleep.   Scott’s eyes fell on the cot in the back of the room.   Peeking from under a blanket, he could see the dark head of his brother lying on his side with his back to the door.

A smile spread across Scott’s face.  Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Frank and Jacobs move into the room.   While Frank went to Walt, Scott went directly to Johnny.

Frank shook Walt’s shoulder. “Walt.”

Walt moaned and raised his head.

“You alright, Walt?” Frank asked, leaning over Walt and looking at his bandaged shoulder.   “Scott,” Frank called out, “it looks like the bullet’s still in there.”

“Get him on the other bed.  Jacobs ride back to the ranch and bring back a wagon.  Sam should be on his way here already.”  

As Frank and Jacobs helped Walt to the bed, Scott turned his attention back to Johnny.  “Walt, what happened?”

Walt grimaced as he sat on the bed.  “Massey and Blevins were going to take Johnny south to Mexico.  They said there was a bounty on him there.  I tried to stop them.  Massey shot me.”

“You killed them?” Scott asked.

“Not me.” Walt nodded toward Johnny.  “It was him.”

“Johnny?”

“Not Johnny; Madrid.  Scott, don’t ask me how, but it was Madrid that outdrew Massey and Blevins.”

“He remembered?”  Scott stared at his brother.

“Remembered enough to handle that Colt.  He was fast too, Scott.  Real fast.   He sounded and looked like Madrid.  Then after he took them down, it was like… I don’t know… it was like he was lost again.”

Walt laid down, closing his eyes. 

“Scott, he’s sick.  When I found him, he was coughing, and there’s something else.  Blevins winged him…left arm…” Walt’s voice faded as he lost consciousness.

Scott knelt next to Johnny’s bed.  Putting a hand on his brother’s shoulder, he gently rolled him off his side and onto his back.   Pulling the blanket down, Scott could see a bandage around Johnny’s left arm.

Scott put a hand on Johnny’s forehead, feeling a fever. 

The sensation of someone touching him brought Johnny awake. He turned his head and saw the smiling face of his brother.  For a brief moment, he was happy.  Then he remembered where he was and why. 

Johnny quickly turned his head away from Scott.

“Don’t turn away, brother.”

Johnny didn’t turn back or say anything.

“Johnny?”

“Leave me alone, Scott.”

“I can’t leave you alone.  You’re my brother.”

“Don’t have a brother.  Don’t have no one.  Leave me alone,” Johnny mumbled as he rolled onto his side, facing the wall.

Scott sighed.  Regaining Johnny’s trust was going to be harder than he thought. 

Scott pulled the blanket up over Johnny’s shoulders.  “Get some sleep.  Murdoch will be here in the morning, and we’ll get you home.”

Scott started to push himself to his feet when he thought he heard a sniffle and a whisper, “Not going back there.” 

********

Scott sat in a chair next to Johnny’s bed, half dozing when he heard Frank calling out to him.

“Scott, riders are coming in.”

Stepping onto the porch, he let his hand rest on the butt of his gun.  Frank, Jose, Clint, and Slim spread out around the clearing with their rifles raised.  They took a breath and relaxed when they saw Sam. 

Climbing down from his buggy, Sam picked up his medical bag and looked around at the armed men.  

“Scott, where’s my patient?”

“Patients, Sam.  Walt’s got a bullet in his shoulder.  Johnny’s shot in the arm.”

“How is Johnny?”

“I don’t know, Sam.  He won’t talk to me.”

Sam shook his head.  Lancer men were the stubbornest he’d ever met…at any age.

“Lead the way.”

Sam followed Scott inside.

Forty minutes later, Sam had Walt resting quietly; the bullet removed from his shoulder.  Turning to Johnny’s bed, he braced himself for not only the medical issues he was going to face but also the emotional.

Leaning over the bed, Sam touched Johnny’s shoulder.    

Johnny had been awake since hearing Frank call out to Scott. Lying quietly, he’d listened to Sam talking and taking care of Walt.  He was more confused than ever.   His mind was telling him one thing, his heart another.  

Johnny knew what he’d heard.  They couldn’t stand to look at him and didn’t want him.  Cipriano was to take him to the orphanage and bring back a new son for the rancher.   Walt said his father was worried about him; looking everywhere for him.   Why would he do that if he wanted him gone? 

He’d started to doze off again when he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder.   Rolling onto his back, Johnny saw Sam smiling at him.

“Johnny, how are you feeling?”   Johnny gave Sam a faint smile in response to the soft voice.

“I don’t know.”   A cough followed Johnny's answer.

“I understand you got in the way of a bullet.  Can I look at your arm?” 

Sam didn’t wait for an answer.  He reached for Johnny’s left arm and started to untie the bandage.

“Walt says you’ve been sick.”  Sam continued to work as he watched Johnny’s face.   “How long have you had that cough?”

“I don’t know, a couple of days, I guess.  I fell in the pond the other day.”

Sam smiled.  It was unusual to get anything other than ‘I’m fine’ out of Johnny.

Johnny winced when Sam pulled the bandage away from the wound. 

“At least it’s not bleeding, but it is going to need stitches.”   Sam reached for a small bottle of laudanum in his bag.     “I’m going to give you something for pain before I work on your arm.”

Looking over his shoulder, Sam called out.  “Scott, would you bring a cup of water?”

Scott hurried to get the water Sam requested.  Standing next to Johnny’s bed, he looked at his brother as he handed Sam the cup.   Johnny’s eyes met his.  What he saw was sadness and confusion.   The one thing he wanted to see, trust, wasn’t there.

Sam mixed the laudanum into the cup of water and held Johnny’s head while he drank it. 

“Try to relax.  We’ll give the medicine a few minutes to work before I start.”

Johnny laid back on the pillow; his eyes still fixed on Scott’s.   It wasn’t long before his breathing evened out, and his eyes slid shut.

“That’s better,” Sam said as he began to clean the wound and suture it.    “He’s running a fever.”

“I know.  Walt said when he found Johnny, he was coughing.”   Scott pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat down.    “Sam, there’s something else.   Johnny shot Massey and Blevins.”

Sam stopped what he was doing and looked at Scott.   “Johnny?”

Scott nodded.  “Walt told us Massey and Blevins were going to take Johnny across the border to collect the reward the Rurales have on him.  He said Johnny became Madrid long enough to take both of them down.  Sam, he remembered Madrid.”

Sam looked back at his patient.  A smile formed on Sam’s face.  The boy’s memory was coming back.   Now all they had to do was keep him at home and safe until it was completely back.

********

Murdoch, Val, and Cipriano left the ranch long before first light, trying to reach Fern Falls as quickly as possible.  

The day before, Joe brought word back to the ranch that Johnny had been found.  With Sam in tow, the two men started for the line shack.   

It wasn’t until later in the day that Murdoch arrived home to receive the news.   Knowing Scott and Sam were going to be with Johnny, Murdoch decided to wait for Val before going himself.   They had recalled all the search parties, and for a moment, Murdoch breathed a sigh of relief.

Within the hour, Val and Cipriano came back to hear the good news.  The three men sat down to enjoy a drink before dinner.  Plans were made to leave for Fern Falls the next morning.

That all changed when Jacobs rode in at dusk to tell them of the gunfight between Massey, Blevins, and Johnny.   When told that both Johnny and Walt were wounded, Murdoch wanted to get to his son as soon as possible.  It was Cipriano who convinced him to wait until morning.   Murdoch reined in his impatience as long as he could before leaving that morning.

********

Johnny silently walked onto the porch.  Glancing over his shoulder, he smiled. He’d just walked past a sleeping Scott, Sam, and Frank.   He knew how to walk soft when needed.

He took two steps forward and came to an abrupt halt, his breath hitched.

Standing in front of him was Murdoch Lancer; to his right, stood Val and to his left Cipriano.  Behind them, the clearing in front of the cabin was filled with Lancer hands and vaqueros.

“Going somewhere, son?”  Murdoch’s voice was quiet but firm.

“Guess not,” John responded, looking at the faces of the three men in front of him.

Val moved past Murdoch to stand directly in front of Johnny. 

“The question is, why would you want to go somewhere?”    Val started to reach out to take Johnny’s shoulders when a noise from inside the cabin drew everyone’s attention.

Scott stumbled, blurry-eyed out the door in his stocking feet.  His clothes rumpled and hair tousled, he stopped in his tracks when he saw who was confronting his brother.

Johnny pulled away from Val.  “I’m not going with you.  I’m not going to that orphanage.”

Murdoch moved closer.  “No one’s taking you to an orphanage, Johnny.”

“Don’t lie to me.  I heard you.”

Johnny looked at Val, his eyes pleading.

“Hijo, he’s not lying to you.”

“No, Scott said I was broken… he said he couldn’t look at me anymore. He said…”

“Johnny, we read your letter.”  Murdoch cut him off.  “We weren’t talking about you.  We were talking about the grey stallion.”

Johnny closed his eyes.  “No…”

Murdoch took another step forward.  Johnny’s hand went to his Colt, slipping into his hand before anyone could react.

“Stay back.  Stay away from me.”  Johnny’s voice took on a tone they were all familiar with.  Sidestepping, he waved the gun towards Scott.   “Move over there with them.”

Scott stepped off the porch, moving next to Murdoch.

“Don’t do this, brother.  We only want to help you.  Murdoch’s telling the truth.  We were talking about the horse.  We would never send you away.”

Johnny had stopped listening.

“Tio, saddle my horse and bring him here,” Johnny ordered as he kept everyone covered.

“Sobrino, I can’t do this for you.  You need to stay here with us.”

Johnny fired a shot.  A puff of dust billowed up in front of Cipriano’s right foot.

“I won’t repeat myself, Tio.  I don’t want to hurt any of you, but I’m leaving, and no one is stopping me.”

“Johnny…” Murdoch started and then stopped.   He could see the determination on his youngest son’s face.   Half turning to Cipriano, he nodded.

Cipriano moved away to do as Johnny asked.

“John, you’re not well.  Let’s go back to the ranch.  We can talk …” Murdoch started to step forward when Johnny fired another shot.  This time the bullet struck the ground in front of Murdoch.

“I can take care of myself.  Been hurt worse than this.  I told you I’m not going ba…”

Johnny’s words were cut off by a movement on his right.  He felt a sharp prick in his neck.   His left hand came across his body, grabbing hold of someone’s hand.   Spinning into the pain, Johnny’s eyes met Sam’s.  

 

********

Sam had been sleeping when he heard raised voices.   Opening his eyes, he saw Scott making his way out of the cabin, stopping just outside the door.

Sam eased himself out of the chair he’d been sleeping in.   He heard Johnny’s voice and Murdoch’s response.

“I’m not going with you.  I’m not going to that orphanage.”

“No one’s taking you to an orphanage, Johnny.”

“Don’t lie to me.  I heard you.”

Sam moved closer to the door when he heard Val join in the conversation.

“Hijo, he’s not lying to you.”

Sam quietly walked back to his bag and withdrew a syringe and filled it with a dose of morphine.  He knew if he could inject it into Johnny, it would eventually sedate him.  The problem was, he didn’t know how Johnny was going to react to the injection.

“No, Scott said I was broken… he said he couldn’t look at me anymore. He said…”

“Johnny, we read your letter.”  Murdoch cut him off.  “We weren’t talking about you.  We were talking about the grey stallion.”

 “No…”

“Stay back.  Stay away from me.”  As Johnny waved his gun at Scott, Sam stepped to the side of the doorway.  He heard Johnny’s next words and held his breath.   “Move over there with them.”

Peeking around the corner, Sam saw Scott step off the porch and move to stand next to Murdoch.

“Don’t do this, brother.  We only want to help you.  Murdoch’s telling the truth.  We were talking about the horse.  We would never send you away.”

When Sam heard Johnny order Cipriano to get his horse, he knew he had to act.

“Tio, saddle my horse and bring it here.”

“Sobrino, I can’t do this for you.  You need to stay here with us.”

Sam was concentrating on making his way unheard and unseen by Johnny.  He did register the next words spoken by Murdoch. 

“John, you’re not well.  Let’s go back to the ranch.  We can talk …”

He flinched when Johnny fired the shot at Murdoch’s feet.  

Sam stood quietly for a moment.  Everyone in front of the cabin was watching him now as he eased his way closer to Johnny.   Sam raised his hand with the syringe and held his breath.

“I can take care of myself.  Been hurt worse than this.  I told you I’m not going ba…”

Sam pushed the needle into Johnny’s neck and pressed the plunger before Johnny could finish the sentence.  Instantly, Johnny’s hand caught his.

“What the hell?” Johnny cursed, as he looked at the empty syringe in the hand he was holding.

“I’m sorry, John.  It’s the only way.  You’re too sick to know what you’re doing.”

“What was that?  What’d you do to me?

“I gave you something to help you relax.  Johnny, you don’t know what you’re doing.” 

“I know damn well what I’m doing.  What…what was that?” 

“Morphine.”  Sam looked at Murdoch.  “It will take a few minutes to kick in, but when it does, you won’t have a problem getting him back inside.” 

“I’m getting out of here, now.  Tio, bring my horse.”

Cipriano hesitated before moving slowly forward.

“Hurry up.”  Johnny tried to control a cough.

Johnny started to sway.  Sam knew it was only a matter of time before the young man would succumb to the injection.

“You had no right.  I...”   Johnny slowly lowered the gun barrel. 

Val started to move forward.  Johnny responded by raising his gun again.

“Hijo, give me the gun.”

“No…”   Johnny stumbled sideways looking at Sam once more.  “I won’t go…”

He tried to turn back to Val and Murdoch seeing them move toward him.   His hand fell to his side.  The gun slipped from his fingers and then dropped to the porch with a thud.  His eyes rolled back as he spiraled into his father’s arms.

Lifting Johnny, Murdoch looked down at his unconscious son’s face as he held him close to his chest.   Murdoch carried his precious bundle into the cabin, followed by Val, Scott, and Sam.

********

It hadn’t been easy for any of them in the last few days.  After he’d collapsed into his father’s arms that day at Fern Falls, Johnny had slept for the rest of the day and the night.  When he woke up, he was back at the ranch in his own bed.

Most of what happened at Fern Falls was fuzzy, but some memories flooded in on him when he let his guard down.  Facing Massey and Blevins, with a gun in his hand was a memory that kept him awake at night.   Another was Walt being shot trying to protect him.  The one memory he had the hardest time with was pulling a gun on his father. 

Two days after Fern Falls, Murdoch had come to his room followed by Sam, Scott, Val, and Cipriano.   They wanted to talk.  He didn’t.   But they wouldn’t leave until they’d said their peace.

While Murdoch pulled a chair next to the bed, the others stood around the room looking at him.

“John…,” Murdoch started.

“I’m sorry.” Johnny cut Murdoch off.  “Please don’t send me away.”

“John, we’ve tried to tell you we weren’t talking about you.  We were talking about the stallion.  Son, we…I would never send you away.   Don’t you understand, we love you?”

“You can’t love me because I’m broken.  You may have been talking about the stallion, but I’m as broken as he is.”

Murdoch looked over his shoulder at Val and Scott, silently asking for help.

Val stepped forward.  “Johnny, have I ever lied to you?  In all the years you remember, have I ever lied?”

Johnny looked Val in the eyes.  “No. Never.”

“Alright then, I’ve never lied to you and don’t plan to start now.  What Mur…your Pa said is the truth.  No one wanted to send you away.  No one ever will.  This your home, hijo.” 

Val finished and sighed when Johnny’s head went down.  He had no idea if he was getting through to the boy or not.

Scott stepped forward to take his turn.  Taking a deep breath, he looked at his brother and then around the room.   

“Johnny, we know you may not believe us, but no one is lying to you.  I’m your brother. I’m always going to be your brother.”

Johnny raised his head.  “What about the boys you brought from the orphanage.  You’re gonna’ pick one of them to take my place.”   He looked at Murdoch.  “You’re gonna’ pick out a new son.  That’s why you brought them here, isn’t it?”

Scott laughed.  Johnny saw smiles on the faces of everyone in the room. 

“Little brother, no one could take your place, and we wouldn’t want anyone else.  You’re one of a kind.”

Murdoch put a hand on Johnny’s arm, feeling his son stiffen under his touch.

“Son, the boys Cipriano brought from the orphanage are here for a few weeks to help us. We bring three or four to help every year.  They learn about ranching and earn some money. It’s worked well for the ranch over the years.”

“You didn’t want Tio to leave me there?”

“No, Sobrino,” Cipriano answered.  “You were to go with me so you could meet the boys.  The Patron and I spoke of it being good for you to get away from the rancho for a few days.”

“Well, …” Johnny looked at them with a sly smile on his face.  “I guess I got away for a few days anyway.”

“You sure did, amigo,” Val laughed.

“So, Brother, are we alright?  I mean, you’re not going to run off on us again?”

Johnny looked at his family.  Yes, everyone in the room was his family, and they wanted him.
                                                    
“Mama, lied, didn’t she?  You do want me?”

“I don’t know why Maria told you the things she did, but yes I want you, son.  Very much so.” Murdoch could see they were making headway.

“You’re not mad at me for pulling a gun or shooting at you?”

“I won’t say I’m thrilled with what happened, but I know you were confused and in pain.  Just don’t make a habit of it.”

“When I shot those two men, something happened. I remembered something, and it scared me.” Johnny looked at Val, knowing he’d tell the truth.  “Val, I’ve heard the men talking.  They say I’m a pistolero.  Those men they called me Madrid.   I want to know who I am.”

Val cleared his throat.   “Sam?”

Johnny’s eyes moved to Sam.  

“Johnny, there are things we haven’t told you, but we’re afraid that too much information, too soon might cause a setback in your memory.”  

“I need to know.  I remember things, but they’re just bits and pieces.  It’s like all the pieces are mixed up, and when I try to sort them out, my head starts hurting.  Tell me…tell me all of it.”

Murdoch cleared his throat. 

“Go ahead, Murdoch,” Val spoke up. “You tell him what you know.  I’ll tell him the rest.”

So, it began.  Murdoch and Val talked, filling in the pieces of Johnny’s life.  Scott and Cipriano stood across the room, listening and hearing some of the facts for the first time.

Sam stood next to the bed, concerned that whatever Johnny found out about his life was going to take a toll on his health.

Several times Johnny rubbed his temples or buried his face in his hands.  Each time he did, Murdoch would hesitate, and each time, Johnny would snap, “Don’t stop, tell it all.”

An hour later, Murdoch and Val stopped talking.  It had all been said.

Johnny sat with his head lowered to his chest, eyes closed.  They had filled in the blanks.  As they spoke, memories flashed through his mind.   His head began to throb.

Johnny looked up, tears in his eyes. 

“You know all that about me, and you still want me here?  How can you want me? How can anyone?”

“Son, it’s all in the past.”

Johnny slowly shook his head, rubbing his temples.

“I think that’s enough for today,” Sam moved closer, “Johnny, I’m going to give you something for that headache, and I want you to lay back and try to sleep.”

Johnny nodded. 

********

The sounds were familiar and comforting; a horse’s whinny, a calf off in the distance calling for its mother.  The voices of men talking and laughing drifted through the window along with a cool breeze. 

Johnny lay with his eyes closed, enjoying the feel of… home.  His Papa was still letting him sleep as long as he wanted in the mornings.  Sighing and settling back into the soft pillow, he drifted off again.

The next time Johnny woke, he could feel a warm breeze coming through the window.  Opening his eyes, he could tell it was later in the day.  The sounds coming through the window were different; it was quiet outside.

This time it was smells that gave him a feeling of home.  With the breeze came a faint aroma of roses from the garden.  The room smelled of lavender and fresh flowers.   A whiff of fresh-baked bread coming from the kitchen made his stomach growl.  

Stretching, Johnny felt a slight twinge in his left arm.   Blevins’ bullet had done enough damage to warrant sutures, but not enough to slow him down.  

Walking across the room, Johnny opened the top drawer of the dresser and pulled out a pair of pants and a shirt.  It only took a few moments to dress and put on his boots.   Looking at himself in the mirror, he shook his head.  He looked thin, needed a shave and a haircut.  

Figuring he’d better shave before going downstairs, he took the next few minutes to remove the beard.   He wondered when the last time he’d shaved.  He couldn’t remember.

Making his way down the back stairs, Johnny stood in the kitchen, waiting to be noticed.  It wasn’t long before Maria spotted him.

“Juanito!”  Maria was across the room, throwing her arms around Johnny and hugging him before he could say a word.   Johnny returned the hug, and the embrace increased.

“Mamacita, I can’t breathe,” Johnny gasped.

Maria released her hold on Johnny and then stepped back to look at him.  Looking him up and down, she had tears in her eyes.  “Nino, you must never leave us again.  We were so worried about you.”

Johnny lowered his head. 

Maria guided him to a chair.   “Sit, Sobrino.  Do you think you could eat?”

Johnny nodded.

Maria set a plate in front of Johnny along with a glass of milk.  Johnny looked at the milk and smiled. 

“Mamacita, can I have a cup of coffee?”

Maria cocked her head.  Johnny hadn’t asked for coffee since before the accident.

“Si, nino.”  Filling a cup, she sat it next to the plate.  “Do you not want the milk also?”

“Si, I’ll drink the milk.  It’s just I thought I’d try to act more... grown-up.  Maybe more of my memories will come back.”

Johnny ate quickly, wanting to get outside.  He hadn’t been further than the garden since they brought him back from Fern Falls five days ago. 

Pushing back from the table, Maria gave him one of her concerned looks, as if knowing where he was going.

“I’m going to the barn to see my horse.  I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Johnny said, reassuring her.

Maria watched him leave the kitchen.

Listening until she heard the front door open and then close, Maria sighed.  The only sound she missed when she heard Juanito walk away from her was the sound of his spurs.  He hadn’t worn them since the day of the accident.

********

Johnny started across the yard, heading for the barn.  Several men were working near the corral. 

Looking towards the bunkhouse, Johnny saw Walt sitting out front with his head bowed.  Sam hadn’t released him to go back to work as yet.

Johnny detoured, making his way to Walt.

“Hey, Walt,” Johnny called out as he got closer.

Walt raised his head from the book he was reading, waving at Johnny.  He turned the book over in his lap to hold his place.

“Johnny, good to see you outside.  Sit for a while.” Walt motioned to the chair next to him.

Johnny hesitated before sitting.   “Walt, I wanted to thank you for what you did for me the other day.”

“I didn’t do anything, Johnny.  You’re the one who took Blevins and Massey down.  I’m the one who should be thanking you.” 

“You stood up for me, tried to protect me.  You took a bullet for me.”

“Well, it looks like we owe each other then.”

Johnny nodded. 

“I’m going to go see Barranca.”  Johnny suddenly announced.  “You want to come with me?”

Walt laughed.  “No, you go on ahead.  I’m gonna’ sit here and read my book.”

Johnny looked down at the cover of the book.  Cocking his head, Johnny frowned.  “Is it any good?”

Walt blanched.  “It’s alright.  Been told there’s not a lot of truth in it though.”

“Can I read it when you’re finished?”

Walt hesitated not knowing how much Johnny knew about his past.

“Tell you what, talk to Mr…. your Pa or Scott.  If they say you can read it, I’ll give it to you when I’m done.”

Johnny stood a little straighter.  “They told me who I was.”

“Johnny, we’re friends.  Mr. Lancer and Scott may have told you, but books like this one tell a whole lot of lies.  I don’t want you hurt again.”

Johnny nodded, turned, and started walking away.    Turning back, he looked at Walt again.  “You feel like playing some checkers later, let me know.”

“I’ll do that.  Now, go on and see to that horse.  I understand he’s been missing you.”

Johnny waved goodbye.  Walt picked up the paperback book and read the cover.  ‘Johnny Madrid; The Blue-eyed Boy Pistolero.’   Walt had read this dime novel and others like it.  While entertaining, none of them bore any truth to the real Johnny Madrid.

Johnny was almost to the barn when he heard a rider coming in.  Turning, Johnny grinned. 

“Scott!” Johnny called out but didn’t run to him.  He remembered Scott’s reaction only a few days earlier.

“Hey, little brother.  You feeling alright?”

“Sure am. Why are you back early?”

“Murdoch and I are going into town.”

Johnny’s face lit up.  “Scott, do you think… well, do you think I can go too?”

Scott wanted to say no, but he and Murdoch had talked.  It was time Johnny went to town.  Time to begin living again and make new memories.

“I’ll ask Murdoch.  I believe he’ll let you as long as you behave yourself.”

“I always behave myself.”

Scott laughed as he put an arm around Johnny’s shoulder and gave him a quick hug.

********

Cipriano had the horses saddled and ready when it was time to leave.  As they walked out the front door, Johnny stopped, lowering his head. 

“What’s wrong, son?”  Murdoch moved back to stand next to Johnny.

“Do you think… well, my gun.  Do you think I should take it?”

Murdoch looked at Scott and Cipriano, not knowing what to say.  With Johnny’s reputation, it was dangerous for him to go unarmed.  Although, with his loss of memory, Murdoch was afraid the gun would invite trouble.

Scott took the bull by the horns and stepped forward. 

“Johnny, we’ll be with you, but if you think you’d feel safer with your gun, then go get it.  It’s obvious after Blevins and Massey that you remember how to use it.”

Johnny looked from his Papa to his brother.  He could count on these two men to protect him, but something deep inside told him he needed his gun.

“I’ll be right back.”  Johnny turned and ran back into the house.

Murdoch gave Scott a frown.

“Sir, we don’t know that wearing the gun won’t help bring back his memory.  I, for one, don’t want Johnny to go into town unarmed.  Memory or no memory, he’s still Johnny Madrid.”

Murdoch took a deep breath and nodded.  “You’re right.  God help us, you’re right.  He’s still Madrid.”

Johnny was back within a few minutes.  While Murdoch and Scott waited, he strapped on his gun belt and tightened it down. 

Once it fit the way he wanted, Johnny looked up.  Smiling, he said, “I’m ready.”

“Mount up, Son, but remember we aren’t in a race, so no galloping.”

Johnny swung into the saddle as he’d done a hundred times before.   Murdoch couldn’t help but feel he was slowly losing the young Johnny who had called him Papa.  The young man who called him ‘old man’ or Murdoch was coming back to them.

The ride to town seemed like old times.  Murdoch rode to the right of his youngest son, while Scott rode to Johnny’s left.   The two boys talked and bantered the entire trip.   It was as if the last five months had never happened. 

As they entered Green River, people stopped to watch.  Everyone in town knew Johnny had been hurt.  This was the first time they’d seen him since the accident. 

The Lancers had taken care that no one knew Johnny had lost his memory.  Of course, that didn’t mean the townspeople hadn’t heard rumors.

Stopping in front of the bank, the three men dismounted.  

“Johnny, I’d like you to stay close to me.  Scott, if you’ll go for the mail, we’ll meet you at the café for lunch once I’m done in the bank.  We’ll get what we need at the Mercantile after we eat.”

Scott nodded and started to turn.  “Johnny, remember, behave yourself.”

Johnny laughed but didn’t say anything.

Murdoch stepped onto the boardwalk, with Johnny right behind him.  Stopping at the door, Murdoch opened it and ushered Johnny inside ahead of him.  Both men waited a moment for their eyes to adjust to the lower light.

“Murdoch,” a voice came from the office at the back of the bank.  Homer Jefferson, the bank president, stepped out to greet them.  “Good to see you.”  

“Homer Jefferson,” Murdoch leaned down and whispered in Johnny’s ear.

Homer moved forward and shook Murdoch’s hand.  Turning to Johnny, he held his hand out again.  “Good to see you, Johnny.  We heard you’d had an accident. Glad to see you’re better.”

“Mr. Jefferson,” Johnny responded naturally, shaking the man’s hand and putting a smile on his face. 

“Well, come in.  What can I do for you?”  Jefferson led the way to his office, followed by Johnny and Murdoch.

Thirty minutes later, Murdoch led a bored Johnny out of the bank and onto the boardwalk.

“I’m sorry that took so long, Son.”

Johnny took a breath and let it out in a long sigh.  

“I know it was boring, but if it’s any consolation, you have always found business meetings boring.”

Johnny smiled.  “So, it wasn’t just me not knowing what you were talking about?”

“No.  I’m afraid that with or without your memory, your reaction would be the same.”

“So, where to next, Papa?  I’m getting awfully hunger.”

Murdoch gave a warm smile and put his hand on the back of Johnny’s neck. 

“Scott should be waiting for us at the café.”  

Murdoch pointed up the street.  Taking the outside of the boardwalk, closest to the street, Murdoch started walking.  Along the way, several people nodded to them, and some spoke. Each time it was necessary, Murdoch would whisper the person’s name in Johnny’s ear before he greeted them.

Scott was already seated and waiting for them when they got to the café.   He’d chosen a table in the back.

As they reached the table, Johnny started to sit down.

“No, John, I think you should sit over here.”  Murdoch guided Johnny to the seat where his back would be to the wall. 

Scott gave Murdoch a knowing looking.

“Why?” Johnny asked.

Murdoch cleared his throat.  “It’s just a better seat.  You can see everything from here.”

“Alright.”  Johnny sat down and looked around the room.   For some reason, it felt right that he was sitting with his back to the wall. 

“Mr. Lancer,” Jeannie, the owner of the café greeted them once they were seated.  “Johnny, it’s good to see you.”

Murdoch quickly spoke up.  “Thank you, Jeannie.  What’s your special today?  I believe I have two hungry sons.”

“Meatloaf,” the young woman answered with a smile.

Johnny grinned.  “That’s what I want.”

Murdoch laughed.  “Make that three, Jeannie.  I want coffee. Scott?”

“Same.”

“Johnny, would you like milk or coffee?”

“Milk, please.”

Jeannie nodded and went to put their orders in.  Bringing back the drinks, she sat them down and went to wait on another table.

“So how did things go at the bank?” Scott took a sip of his coffee.

“Very well,” Murdoch answered.  “I’m afraid your brother was bored.”

Scott laughed.  “That’s no surprise.”

Johnny took a deep drink of his milk and sat the glass down, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Napkin, John.”  Murdoch pointed to the napkin on the table as the café door opened.    They looked around to see Val step in.

Johnny’s eyes lit up.   Before he called out ‘Papi,’ Murdoch stilled him. 

“Val, good to see you. Come join us.”

Val took a seat next to Johnny.  “Well, lookee here.  You out and about?” Val grinned.  “He behaving himself Murdoch?”

“Why does everyone ask that?” Johnny sat back in his chair with a pout on his face.

The three men laughed.

Murdoch leaned back as Jeannie sat a plate in front of him.  “Are things in town quiet, Val?”

“Sure are.”  Val knew Murdoch was asking if there was anyone in town Johnny needed to be worried about.  “Miss Jeannie, I’ll have the same.” 

Once lunch was over, Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny started to the Mercantile, while Val went the other direction.  None of them had gone more than ten feet when they heard someone call out.

“Madrid!”

Everyone turned toward the man standing in the street.

Murdoch looked at Johnny in a near panic. 

At first, the look on Johnny’s face was one of confusion.  Looking into his son’s eyes, he saw the change come over the young man.  What he didn’t know was if the change was some deeply ingrained instinct or if Johnny’s memories had come back.

Murdoch shook his head and took Johnny’s shoulders.  “No, John.”

Val was quickly making his way back to the Lancers.  He recognized Burt Hawkins, the gunfighter he’d run out of town weeks earlier.

Val was within just a few feet, watching Johnny’s face when he saw it.  Johnny was gone, and Madrid took his place.   It was the same thing Walt described when Johnny took down Massey and Blevins.

Murdoch felt his hands pushed away. 

“Stay out of it…”  Johnny didn’t finish.   Looking at Scott, he conveyed the same message with one look.

Moving from the boardwalk, Johnny strolled to the middle of the street, turned, and waited.  All of this felt... it felt familiar.  He knew what he was doing. 

Val had seen Johnny in more gunfights than he cared to remember.  Watching the boy closely, there was no hint he didn’t remember who or what he was.   With his hand resting on the butt of his gun, Val waited to see who was going to win the gunfight.  If it wasn’t Johnny, then the other man wouldn’t live more than a few minutes longer than Johnny.

“You ready to dance, Madrid?”  Hawkins shifted his weight and positioned his hand, hovering over his gun.

Johnny’s voice startled his family and friends.   It was an all too familiar voice they hadn’t heard in a long time.

“Whenever you’re ready.  Your dime, your dance.”

********

The ride back to Lancer was quiet.  Johnny rode a few yards ahead of his father and brother.  The laughter they’d experienced earlier in the day was gone.

Murdoch sighed and glanced at his oldest son.  All of Scott’s attention was on his brother.  Scott had tried to move forward and join Johnny as soon as they left Green River, but Murdoch stopped him.  He knew Johnny needed a few minutes to himself.

The gunfight was over in nothing more than a blink of an eye.  Johnny’s unpracticed hand was still a blur, and Hawkins was on the ground.

Val had moved quickly to Johnny’s side, seeing the pain the boy’s eyes.  The pain, not caused by a bullet, but by memories that were crashing back as waves of the ocean.  

Before Murdoch and Scott could get to him, Johnny turned and walked to Barranca.  When he swung into the saddle, he looked at them for a moment, and then rode out of town.  They’d caught up with him on the road to Lancer.   Now, they trailed behind, wondering what to do next.

Johnny pulled up so fast it startled both of the horses following him. 

Scott pulled back on the reins of Charlie, while Murdoch was doing the same to Nessie.   They waited a heartbeat before slowing moving forward.  Scott rode to one side of Johnny while Murdoch took the other.

Stopping next to Johnny, Murdoch reached out a hand and put it on his son’s arm.

Johnny turned his head towards his father.  Tears were streaming down his face. 

“Pap…Mur..”  Johnny leaned over Barranca’s neck, his shoulders shaking.

Murdoch dismounted and stood next to Barranca.  Reaching up, he gently lowered Johnny to the ground and pulled him to his chest.

“It’s alright, son.  I’m here.”  Murdoch put a hand at the back of Johnny’s neck and started stroking his hair.

Scott dismounted and went to stand next to Murdoch and Johnny.  Scott put a hand on his brother’s back, rubbing in gentle circles.

“You remember, don’t you?”  Murdoch’s voice was soft and low.

Johnny nodded into Murdoch’s chest. 

“We’re here for you, son.”

Murdoch looked around.  A large tree near the road provided welcome shade from the afternoon sun.

As if reading his father’s mind, Scott led the horses under the tree.  Reaching up, he untied his bedroll and laid it down.

Murdoch guided Johnny to the bedroll, and together they sat down. 

“Does your head hurt, John?”  Murdoch pulled Johnny closer and continued to stroke the back of his head.  He could feel the raised scar under Johnny’s hair, where the stallion's hoof hit.

Again, Johnny nodded.  “Yes, my head hurts, but …”

“What?”

“I don’t want to remember.  It’s too hard to remember.  I want…I want what we had before … before I remembered who I was; what I was.”

“You want the innocence of the boy who woke up after the accident?”

Johnny raised his head.

 “Is that wrong?  Is it wrong to not want to remember?  I’ve tried so hard to remember, and now I don’t want the memories.”

“I know it’s hard, Johnny, but we can’t run from our past.  You remember all the things that came before; the good and the bad.  Build on the good and forget the bad.”

“I liked being your little boy.  It made it seem like I grew up on Lancer.  I don’t want to grow up yet.”

Murdoch chuckled.  “Oh, Johnny, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re always going to be my little boy.”

“And my little brother.” Scott sat on the other side of Johnny.

“Son, I can honestly say you are not grown yet.  You’re only 19.”

Johnny shook his head. 

Scott knew more needed to be said.  

“Johnny, we know you grew up too fast.   I’ve got to admit, for the most part, I’ve enjoyed having a little brother who looked up to me.  Someone I could teach.  Mur…Pa’s right, you’ve still got some growing to do.”

“I just killed a man in a gunfight…”

Murdoch jumped in. “Yes, a fight you didn’t start…”

“But one you finished.”  Scott finished Murdoch’s sentence.

The sound of a buggy on the road caused Johnny to reach for his gun.  Murdoch stilled his hand.  It was Sam, followed by Val.

On seeing the horses at the side of the road, Sam pulled the buggy over.

Val jumped out of the saddle and ran to the tree.  “Is he alright?”

Johnny gave Val a faint smile.  “I’m alright, Papi.”

Sam stepped down from the buggy, bringing his medical bag with him.  Kneeling in front of Johnny, he lifted the boy’s chin and looked into his eyes.

“He remembers,” Murdoch spoke up.

“Everything?” Sam asked, looking from Johnny to Murdoch.

Johnny nodded.  “I remember everything.  I wanted so bad to remember, and now I wish I didn’t’.”

Val knelt next to Sam.  Johnny was now surrounded with Murdoch and Scott on each side and Sam and Val in front of him.   He knew he should feel like he was being crowded. Instead, it felt like they were hugging him.

“I think we should get you home and let me take a good look at you.  Is your head hurting?”  Sam put a hand on Val’s shoulder to help push himself to his feet.

Johnny closed his eyes and swallowed before nodding.

“I thought so.  Come on, young man, you’re riding with me in the buggy.”

Johnny started to protest and stopped.  He felt like a dishrag.  Riding in the buggy wasn’t a bad idea.

********

“Wait for me, Scott!”  Johnny ran through the Great Room heading for the French doors. 

“Hold it!”  Murdoch called out from behind his desk.  “Where are you going?”

Johnny stopped so quickly; he skidded on the tile floor before coming to a stop.  With a grin on his face, he turned to look at Murdoch.

“Town.  Scott’s going to town, and I’m going with him.”

“I presume you have all your chores done?”

“Yep, all done.”  Johnny dropped his head a moment before looking up again.  “So, can I go with Scott?”

Murdoch smiled.  Things were getting back to normal and maybe, better than normal.

“You were going without asking me before, so, why ask now?”

“Well…” Johnny toed the tile floor with his boot. “I didn’t think I needed to ask, but…”

“But since I caught you, you thought it would be a nice touch to pacify the old man?” 

Johnny gave Murdoch one of those sly smiles he was so famous for, then nodded.

“You’re right, you don’t have to ask, but it’s nice you did anyway.”

“Thanks,” Johnny answered and started for the door again.

Murdoch watched Johnny run across the yard and meet Scott who was coming out of the barn leading both Charlie and Barranca.   Scott was laughing at something Johnny said.  The two boys mounted up and started toward the arch.

Watching them go, Murdoch thought back to the day they’d returned from town after the gunfight.   Johnny didn’t protest when Sam examined him and then put him to bed with a sleeping powder.    Coming downstairs, Sam looked at everyone before stating Johnny was alright.

Murdoch remembered the collective sigh that filled the room.

“Let him sleep as long as he wants.  When he wakes up, if he still remembers everything, I believe we’ll have nothing to worry about.”

“So, Doc, you’re saying he’ll be the same.  He won’t act like a little boy anymore?” Val slumped into a chair.

Sam nodded.  “That’s right.”

Scott frowned and sat down as well.

When Sam saw Murdoch, Teresa, and Maria do the same, he shook his head.  “What’s wrong?  This means he’s fully recovered.”

Val huffed.  “We know, Sam, but …”  Val looked around the room.    “I don’t know about anyone else, but I liked the boy when he didn’t remember being Madrid.  It was like when he was little.”

“I know what you mean, Val.”  Murdoch looked around.  “I had my little boy back.  He needed me; called me Papa.  Johnny’s not needed a father since he came home.”

“I must admit, I too, enjoyed having a little brother who looked up to me.  He didn’t know anything, and I had all the answers.”

“I suppose he’ll go back to calling me ‘old man’ again.”

“Johnny’s always called me Papi when we were alone, but it was nice to hear when we were with family.”

Sam laughed.  “Listen to you.  John is getting well.  Isn’t that what we’ve all wanted?”

Teresa sighed.  “Yes, Sam, it’s what we all wanted, but …”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t want him to regain his memory?”

“Of course, I did, Sam.  It’s just that…I…”  She looked at Maria.

Maria nodded.  “I too liked Juanito as my nino again.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but Johnny does remember his life before the accident.  I would hope when you see him tomorrow; you remember that fact.  He still needs your support and love.”     

The next morning Johnny trudged down the backstairs to the kitchen, coming to a stop at the bottom.  Sitting and standing around the room were Murdoch, Scott, Val, Teresa, Sam, Cipriano, and Maria. Every one of them staring at him.

“What?”  It was the only thing he could think to say.

Murdoch stood and walked to Johnny’s side.  “How do you feel, John?”

Johnny ran his fingers through his hair, resting his hand on the back of his neck.

“I’m alright.  Are all of you alright?”

Murdoch put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder, patting him.

“Yes, I’d say we’re alright.  Sit down, Son, Maria has your breakfast ready.”

Johnny scooted into a chair and looked around again.  They were all still watching him.

Sam was the first to speak.

“Johnny, yesterday you said you remembered everything.  Is that still the case?”

Johnny lowered his head and nodded.  “I remember.  I remember it all; the good and the bad.  Wish the hell I didn’t, but I do.”

“That’s good, Johnny.  That’s very good.”  Sam smiled.  “That means you’re fully recovered.”

Johnny cocked his head and slowly scanned the room.  Everyone was smiling at him.

“Does that mean I’m not broken anymore?”

“I wouldn’t have used the term ‘broken’ to begin with, but yes Johnny, that’s precisely what it means.  You’re not broken any longer.”

A grin spread across Johnny’s face.    “I’m not broken.” He started to laugh.  “I’m not broken.” 

Soon everyone was laughing with him.

“No, Son.  You aren’t broken.”  Murdoch stood behind Johnny’s chair with his hands, kneading Johnny’s shoulders.

It had been a week since that morning in the kitchen.  Two days later, Sam released Johnny for light work.  The headaches that had plagued him seemed to disappear.  Soon he’d be back to full days. 

Murdoch turned to go back to his desk when he heard a horse coming back toward the house.  Stepping to the French doors, he moved outside to see Johnny jump from Barranca’s back and hurry toward him.

“Is everything alright?”  Murdoch asked concerned that Johnny was sick or that his head was hurting again.   Looking toward the arch, he could see Scott waiting for his brother.

Johnny stopped directly in front of Murdoch.  “Everything’s alright.  I just wanted to tell you…” 
Johnny took another step and put his arms around Murdoch.   “Thanks.”

Murdoch was grinning when Johnny pulled away.   

“What brought that on?”

“Just didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten.”

“Forgotten what?”

“That no matter how old I am, I’ll always be your little boy.”  Johnny laughed. 

Murdoch smiled.  “Thank you, son.  Now, go on before Scott gets tired of waiting.”

Johnny nodded and turned to go.  Stopping mid step, he looked back and with a faint smile and a soft voice said, “And just so you know, no matter what, you’ll always be my Papa… old man.”

 

 

~end~
September 2019

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