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Sue H (Suz)

 

 

Acceptance

This is my first endeavor into fan fiction.  I want to thank my friend and beta, Lacy, for her advice and encouragement during the writing of this story.  Without it, I would never have attempted to write or post this story.
No disclaimers except for the usage of a few four-letter words in later chapters.

 

Chapter One

Johnny sat in the darkened room.  The lantern standing nearby cast a subtle glow in the room.   Even in the dimness he could see the figure lying in the bed; the breathing was slow, the face still pale.  Johnny shifted his weight uneasily in the chair.  He had gone over the events in his mind and knew this was his fault.  He sighed and closed his eyes as his mind drifted back.

 

One of the hands had made it to town.  Rodriquez was in bad shape when he reached the saloon where Murdoch, Johnny, and hands from the ranch, and their neighbors, were celebrating the past two months.  The man had fallen off of his horse in the street near the entrance to the saloon.  Someone outside, recognizing the rider, sent someone inside the saloon to find Murdoch and Johnny.  Both men and those from the other ranches rushed out into the street.  A crowd was gathering.  When they reached the ranch hand they could see Rodriquez's shirt was soaked dark crimson on one side.  Both men knelt down next to the injured man; Murdoch gently picked him up and held him in his arms.  The man's eyes fluttered open.

 He was barely conscious but managed to get the words out, "ranch hit by gunmen, many wounded, need help, get there fast."

The injured man started to pass out but Murdoch gently shook him and asked about the others.  He opened his eyes again, "not sure how many hit."  He winced from the pain and continued.  "Many shots coming from house; Senior Scott."  His eyes fluttered shut.

"Pedro, what about Scott?!" Murdoch demanded as fear rose in him.

Pedro's body became limp in Murdoch's arms.  Johnny and Murdoch looked at each other, neither saying a word.

Dr. Ramsey had made his way through the crowd.  Upon reaching Murdoch and the others, he knelt down, took the injured man from Murdoch and gently laid him on the ground, and began his examination of the injured man.   Murdoch told the doctor to take care of Pedro and get out to the ranch as soon as possible.  Dr. Ramsey reminded Murdoch to get word to Teresa and the other women at Garrison's ranch once things were safe.  They could start the preliminary care until he could get there. 

Teresa and some of the other women had decided to meet at Garrison's ranch for their own celebration.  Normally celebrations would start Friday but since the work had been completed early, the celebrating had started Thursday evening.  Johnny, Murdoch and the others had decided to stay in town for the weekend with plans to return to the ranch after church on Sunday.  Murdoch and Johnny got up and hurriedly walked through the crowd towards their horses. When they reached their horses, the rest of the Lancer hands were already mounted.  Murdoch's friends and neighbors joined them as well as the sheriff.

No one said a word on the ride to the ranch.  To Johnny the ride was long and slow.  He was anxious and wanted to ride hard but knew it would be futile; the horses would give out before they reached their destination.  When they finally rode onto the ridge overlooking the valley, the sight before them stopped them cold and sent shivers through each of them.  From there, it looked as though the end of the valley was on fire.  A huge yellow fire ball was where the ranch house should be.  They drew their guns and rode towards it.  As they got closer they could see one of the barns and the bunk house was ablaze.  Between the flames they could see the ranch house was still standing; black smoke billowing from the patio.  Johnny could feel his chest tighten.  He looked over at his father; his father’s face was tight with a mixture of fear and anger.

They could hear an all clear being yelled as the men approached the burning barn and bunkhouse.  Weary Lancer men were trying to put out the burning buildings as others were assisting the wounded.  The bodies of unidentified men lay everywhere.  The men dismounted and quickly moved to assist the exhausted men.  After ascertaining that Scott wasn't among these men, Murdoch and Johnny ran to the house.  The broken glass from the French doors crunched under their boots.  They carefully made their way into the Great Room.  The room was eerily quiet except for the crackling from the fire on the patio.  Furniture was strewn throughout the room, bullet holes marked the walls.

Johnny and Murdoch looked around the room, again seeing the bodies of unknown men on the floor.  Murdoch's gaze finally fell onto the door frame that led to the kitchen.  The frame was badly damaged by heavy gunfire.  Murdoch hurried towards the doorway and walked through it into the hallway.  He stopped suddenly as he saw the body of Scott lying face down, a pool of blood under his body, his gun still in his hand.  Murdoch holstered his gun as he knelt beside his son. Johnny came through the doorway immediately behind his father, cast a quick glance down the hallway before holstering his gun, and joined his father next to his brother.

Murdoch placed his hands on Scott's shoulders and began to roll him over as Johnny assisted him.  They could hear the thud of Scott's gun as it fell from his limp hand to the tiled floor.  Scott's eyes were closed, his face pale, his breathing barely audible.  Murdoch cradled his unconscious son in his arms.  Johnny could see the dark stains on Scott's shirt, one near his right shoulder, the other near his belt.  Johnny quickly got up and ran to the linen closet.  He grabbed napkins and table linens and rushed back to his father.  Murdoch had managed to open Scott's shirt with his right hand.  Johnny handed him napkins which Murdoch pressed to Scott's wounded shoulder.  Johnny placed linens on Scott's bleeding abdomen.  Foot steps and shouting could be heard as others entered the house.  The Lancer men called out their location as the sheriff and a neighbor, Jack Collier, ran into the hallway.

"Murdoch, Johnny, oh my god, Scott!"  Jack yelled upon reaching the men.

"Help us get him to the couch," Murdoch instructed his friends.

Both men nodded and helped pick up the unconscious man.  They walked over to the couch and gently laid the injured man down. Murdoch sat on the edge of the couch keeping pressure on Scott's wounds.

"Johnny, get some blankets.  Jack can you get some wood and get the fire going?" Both men nodded and disappeared from the room.

"Harry if it's all clear, can you get someone over to the Garrison ranch, fetch Teresa and the other women to help tend to the wounded until the doctor can get here?"

"I'll go Mr. Lancer,” came the voice of Bart Mathis, one of the Lancer ranch hands who had come into the room.  Murdoch looked up at him.

"Thanks Bart.  Take some men with you just in case."

"As soon as we got here, I sent some men to check on the other ranches to make sure everyone is alright," Sheriff Adams said.

Murdoch looked at the sheriff, nodded, and turned his attention back to his injured son.  Mathis' face tightened as he glanced at Scott.  Mathis turned and left the room as Johnny entered it carrying an armful of blankets.  The two men exchanged worried smiles as they carried out their tasks.  Collier walked in with an arm load of fire wood.  Sheriff Adams went to him and assisted him in getting the fire started in the large fire place.  Johnny picked up a chair, put it near his father and placed the blankets on it. He opened a few and placed them on his injured brother.  Johnny then walked to the coffee table and turned it right side up.  He then walked back to the chair, picked up the blankets and then placed them on the coffee table closer to his father and brother.  Johnny looked at Scott whose chest was barely moving up and down.  He noticed bruises appearing on his face.

"How's he doing?"  Johnny asked his father.

"I don't know.  The bleeding has slowed.  I wish Doc Ramsey would get here."

Johnny nodded, thinking the same thing.  He looked around the room, his gaze settling on the scene on the patio; the fire was under control.

The Sheriff and Jack had the fire started in the fireplace, and the flames were now heating the room.  The two men turned away from the fireplace to Murdoch, who was looking at his son, lost in thought.  The sheriff turned his attention to the bodies in the room trying to determine their identity and the reason for this assault.  Jack walked over to his friend.

"Murdoch, what else can I do?"

Murdoch looked up, "Check on the others and see how they're doing."

Jack nodded and left the room.

"Murdoch, do you want me to check where the doc is?"  Johnny asked his father.

Murdoch shook his head.  "No, he'll be along as soon as he can.  Check the rest of the house and see if anyone else is hurt."

Johnny nodded and left the room.  When he entered the hallway, he saw the pool of blood on the floor, stopped for a moment and then continued down the hall.  When he entered the kitchen it was empty.  Johnny put his hands to his face and stood there for a moment.  When he had regained his composure, he went through the kitchen to the back door and opened it.  He drew his gun and carefully stepped through the door onto the back patio.  The young gunhawk looked around and saw no one.  The sun was starting to rise in the east.  He walked around the house towards the front.  Upon reaching the front, he walked out to get a better look at the barn and bunkhouse.  Both fires were nearly under control but both buildings were destroyed.  The second barn was being used as a make shift bunk house.  Johnny's gaze turned back to the blazing buildings and then to the approaching wagons.  Bart was returning with the women.  Johnny heaved a sigh of relief as the wagons drew nearer.  He holstered his gun and hurried into the house.  Murdoch was still sitting on the edge of the couch looking at Scott.

"Murdoch!  Teresa and the others are here!"  he yelled to his father.

Murdoch looked up at Johnny and nodded.  "Good."  Then he turned his attention back to his injured son.

Teresa, Maria, and Lisa Garrison rushed into the room.

"Maria, you and Lisa go, get more bandages and get some water boiling," Teresa said as she ran to Murdoch taking off her hat and wrap, placing them on a nearby chair.

Both women nodded and disappeared.  When Teresa reached Murdoch, she knelt beside the couch.

"Oh my god, Scott," she said placing her hand on his forehead. "Has he moved since you got to him?"

"No."

Teresa then moved her hands down to Scott's shoulder.  Murdoch moved his hand so she could see the wound.  She examined it carefully, then unbuttoned Scott’s shirt further, opening it wider, exposing his abdomen.  Murdoch again moved his hand so Teresa could examine this wound.  Maria entered the room with a basin of water, brought it over and placed it on the coffee table.  Teresa looked at Maria.

"Thanks, he has a temperature."  Maria nodded and left the room as Lisa entered with bandages in her hands.

Teresa tended to Scott as Murdoch stood up and walked around the couch so Lisa could assist her.  Maria entered the room with another basin of water and walked over to the other women.  Teresa dipped a cloth into that basin, wrung out the excess water and then gently placed it on Scott's forehead.  Murdoch stood there for a moment and watched the three women tend to his injured son.  He then turned and walked over to the French doors.  Johnny joined his father.

The two men stood there looking out the broken windows, lost in their thoughts.  Murdoch sighed and was about to go to the barn and check on the other Lancer men when something caught his attention.  Dr. Ramsey's carriage came into view and was heading for the barn, another man was with him.  Murdoch recognized Dr. Stevens from Spanish Wells.

"Teresa, Dr. Ramsey and Dr. Stevens are here.  I'll be right back," Murdoch said as he opened the door and hurried through it.

"All right," came Teresa's response.

Murdoch and Johnny met the men at the carriage.

"Milt, Roger, thank you so much for coming.  How is Rodriquez?"

"He's doing much better.  Mrs. Tyler is tending to him," Dr. Milt Ramsey responded as he stepped down from the carriage.

Murdoch made a mental note of this, and would send a thank you note to Mrs. Tyler later.

"Murdoch, I came as soon as one of the deputies from Morro Coyo came to town to warn of the attack here at Lancer.  He was looking for volunteers to assist with checking on the other ranches.  I told I could come too in case other injuries were discovered.  I met up with Milt and we decided to come together here first."

Murdoch nodded, "Good thinking."

"Roger, why don't you tend to those in there, and I'll go and check on Scott," Dr. Ramsey said as he gathered his bag and extra supplies.  Dr. Stevens nodded, collected his equipment and headed for the barn.

"Here, Dr. Ramsey, let me help you," Johnny said as he reached into the carriage.

"Thank you Johnny."

The three men hurried towards the house.

When they entered the three women were still tending to Scott.  The bodies of the attackers had been taken away by other ranch hands.  The room was much warmer as the fire burned in the fire place.

"How is he?"  Dr. Ramsey said as he reached Teresa.

Teresa shook her head.  "He has a temperature.  He's still bleeding, but it has slowed."

Teresa moved to allow Dr. Ramsey to examine Scott.  After several long minutes he spoke.

"He needs to be moved to a table.  I need to perform surgery, get the bullets out of him and try to repair the damage they may have caused."

"We thought that might be necessary so we've been preparing for it," Maria said.

Murdoch and Johnny noticed the dining table had been covered with clean linens.  End tables were moved near it and covered with clean linens as well.  The room smelled clean and antiseptic.  Johnny's stomach and chest tightened.  He said nothing.

"What can we do to help?"  Johnny finally asked.

"We need to get him to the table," Dr. Ramsey said as he stood up.

Murdoch and Johnny nodded.  They walked over to the couch. The three men lifted Scott and carried him to the table.

"Let's get his shirt off before we lay him down," Dr. Ramsey stated.

Murdoch and Dr. Ramsey held Scott as Johnny removed Scott's shirt.  It was only for a moment, but the light from the nearby lantern had illuminated Scott's back revealing faint scars, which Johnny briefly saw.  Johnny said nothing.

"Thank you.  Teresa, Maria, Lisa, please come over here.  I need your assistance."  The three women hurried over to Dr. Ramsey.

"Is there anything else we can do?"  Johnny asked.

Dr. Ramsey shook his head.  "No.  Just make sure no one comes in here until I tell you.  I'll let you know when I've finished."

Murdoch and Johnny nodded and left the room.  When they reached the French doors, they noticed wood had been put in place of the missing glass panes by a ranch hand.  Murdoch and Johnny walked through the door.  Murdoch turned and watched the activity at the table.  He stood there for a moment and then shut the door.

 

Chapter Two

Murdoch made his way to the barn.  He noticed the fires were nearly out.  He was eternally grateful to his hands and neighbors for their assistance.  He wondered how he'd be able to repay them for their kindness. Murdoch nodded and smiled to those he met as he made his way.  When he reached the door way he saw the barn was filled with activity and had been sectioned off into several areas.  Cots had been set up in one area to be used as a new bunkhouse.  Another was set up with tables and chairs where weary men were sitting taking a momentary break as the other women were serving coffee and sandwiches.  Murdoch noticed another had been set up as a dispensary.  He quickly walked to it acknowledging the men and women as he passed them.

Murdoch looked around the area, a look of puzzlement coming over his face.  Dr. Stevens was tending to one of the ranch hands.  Most were sleeping.  Dr. Stevens was finishing with one.  Murdoch walked to him.

Dr. Stevens had finished with the man and stood up.  He saw Murdoch approaching him and walked over to him.

"Hello Murdoch, how's Scott?"

"I don't know.  Milt is performing surgery on him."

"Milt is a good man."

"Yes I know.  How are the rest of the men?"

"We lost Gomez.  The rest are doing very well.  Let's go over here so they can rest."  He motioned to Martha James and spoke to her.  She nodded and proceeded to the area where the injured men were sleeping.

"Mrs. James will look after them with instructions to call me if necessary.  Most should sleep for a while.  I'm going to the house to see if Milt needs a hand."

Murdoch sighed.  He was sorry they had lost Gomez.  Gomez was a good man and word would have to be sent to his family.  Murdoch made another mental note to check with Cipriano.

"Thanks Roger.  I really appreciate all you've done."

Dr. Stevens smiled.  He'd known Murdoch Lancer a long time.  He, Milt Ramsey and Murdoch had become good friends over the years.  In addition to Sheriff Harry Adams and the neighboring ranches, Murdoch had many friends in the valley.

"No problem, that's what I'm here for," he said as he patted Murdoch on the shoulder.

He turned and headed out the door way.  Sheriff Adams passed Dr. Stevens in the door way.  The two men greeted each other and continued on their way.  Upon seeing Murdoch, the sheriff walked over to him.

"Hello Murdoch, how are you doing?"

"Me, I'm fine.  It's them and Scott I'm worried about."

"I know.  By the way, how is Scott?"

"Milt is performing surgery on him and Roger is going to see if he can assist."  Murdoch sighed.

"Murdoch, is there some place we can talk?"  Murdoch looked at the sheriff questioningly and nodded.  Then he led the sheriff out of the barn and walked away from it out of earshot of everyone.

"Harry, what is on your mind?"

"We've known each other a long time, but I don't know how to say this, so I'm just going to say it.  Murdoch, why was there only six men left at ranch?"

Murdoch looked at him questioningly, "Only six were here?" Sheriff Adams nodded as Murdoch continued.

"So, that's why there are only four men in the barn.  I thought the others were assisting elsewhere.  This doesn't make sense.  We always have at least 10 to 15 men here.  Scott always makes sure of that.  He would never have just six men here."

Sheriff Adams nodded, "I agree it doesn't make sense.  Only six men plus Scott to look after the entire ranch; especially with the cattle ready for the upcoming drive to Stockton."

Murdoch stood there dumbfounded.  He'd been in town to tend to some business matters leaving Scott and Johnny in charge of the ranch. It was Scott's responsibility to make sure there were enough men on hand to tend to the ranch on weekends when the others left for town.  Scott was very good at knowing how many men would be needed on any particular weekend.  Murdoch had been surprised at this; however, after thinking about it he realized it was due to Scott's training in the army.   When Murdoch spoke to him before he left, Scott mentioned having at least 15 men here this weekend.  Murdoch had questioned whether that would be enough with the added responsibilities of the nearby cattle.  Scott assured him it would be for the few days prior to the others returning for the drive.

Murdoch didn't understand why only six men were left behind.  It's something Scott wouldn't have done.  Six wouldn't be enough to handle the entire ranch even with Scott home.  Another matter Murdoch didn't understand; Scott had indicated he would see him in town later.  However, when Johnny joined him in town that evening, he said Scott wasn't coming.  When Murdoch pressed Johnny all he said was he didn't know why.

"Harry, I don't understand what is going on.  Six men left to tend the ranch and the cattle?"

"I know, I managed to speak to Lucas before he passed out.  All he said was 'we should have listened to Mr. Scott.'"  Sheriff Adams said.  Murdoch looked at him hard.

"What do you mean they should have listened to Scott?  What the hell happened here!"

"From what I've been able to gather so far is this.  About 20 men or so came to the ranch with their guns drawn.  About 5 dismounted, disarmed Scott and walked him at gunpoint to the house.  After a few minutes they emerged from the house.  One had his gun to Scott's head.  The leader and a few others rode over to the house and said something to Scott.  The hands couldn't hear the entire conversation.  Scott managed to wrestle free from the man, get into the house and grab a rifle.  Shots were heard, the hands opened fire and the battle began.  From what I understand they managed to hold them off through two attacks.  At some point, Pedro said he was going for help and left.  They could hear gunfire from the direction he went and someone yelling he got away."

Murdoch stood there and looked at Sheriff Adams.  His face was a mixture of shock and disbelief.

"What the hell did they come for?"

Harry shook his head.  "The payroll? Today is Friday; all ranches pay their men on Friday."

"Yeah, but we paid them yesterday because we finished early.  They came last night.  Normally all the hands would have still been here last night.  It would have been suicide to have attacked the ranch with all the men here."

Sheriff Adams nodded his head.  Finally he spoke, "unless they knew the hands weren't here."

Murdoch looked at him hard, "How would they have known?  Even if they saw the hands leave for town, how could they be certain how many were still here?"

The sheriff shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know.  It makes no sense to me.  All I can think of is someone told them."

"But who?  Granted I don't know all the men, but I can't imagine one of them setting up the ranch like this.  It just doesn't make sense."

"Murdoch, I don't know what to say.  I'm going to stick around and keep investigating and see what comes up."

"Thanks Harry.  I appreciate it.  If they set us up, they might try another ranch."

"Yeah, that's what I've been thinking."

Johnny stood on the porch, Scott's shirt still in his hands.  He looked down at it, closed his eyes and shook his head.

"Johnny, are you okay?"

Johnny was irritated, he wanted a moment to himself.  He opened his eyes and looked up; Bart was standing in front of him.

"Yeah I'm fine.  What's going on?"

"Well, we've got the fires under control.  We moved the livestock from the barn and have made it into a bunkhouse.  When I was there last, the doc was checking on the injured guys."

"Where did you move the livestock?"

"Over in the south corral, why?"

Johnny shook his head, "Put them in the pens behind the house."

"Johnny, it would be better for them in the corral. We're making pens for the chickens," he was interrupted by Johnny.

"Look, I said put them in the pens behind the house.  It will be easier for Teresa and the rest of the women to have them closer.  The south corral is too far away for them."

"Johnny the pens aren't strong enough for all of them.  It will be fine where they are. We can…"

Johnny interrupted him again. "Can what?  Go and fetch whatever is needed at the corral and bring it to the house?  Are you going to get the eggs and milk the cows?  You and the boys are needed elsewhere.  Reinforce the pens and put the livestock there."  Bart was going to say something, but Johnny continued.

"Dammit Bart, how many times do I have to tell you.  Just move the livestock!"  Johnny glared at Bart and walked away.  Bart shrugged his shoulders and left for the corral.

Johnny walked a few feet and heard voices.  He stopped realizing it was Murdoch and Sheriff Adams.  Johnny was going to continue on until he heard what they were discussing.  He stood there in the shadows listening to the conversation.  When they finished the two men walked to the house.

Johnny stood there unable to move.  Only six men and Scott were here.  Johnny shook his head.  //I don't understand this.  When I spoke with Rollins he said he'd make sure someone was here.// Those words rang in his head.  Rollins left only six men behind.

Johnny stood there not knowing what to do.  Finally he turned and walked to the house.  He entered the front door and walked to the stairs, glancing towards the Great Room.  He stopped for a moment and could hear voices.  He wanted to go in there but knew he couldn't; not yet, he had been told things needed to be kept as clean as possible so instead he turned and went upstairs.

He made his down the hallway to his room, entered it, and closed the door behind him.  Then he walked over to the window.  As he passed his dresser, he placed Scott's bloodstained shirt on it and continued to the window.  He stood there and looked out lost in thought.  After a few minutes he turned and walked over to the wash basin.  He splashed some water on his face and stood there, his head bowed.  Finally he reached for the towel and dried his face.  He hung the towel on the peg over the basin and turned around.

He turned and saw the adjoining door between Scott's room and his.  He walked over to it and stopped, his hand resting on the door knob.  He took a breath, opened the door and walked into the room.  The room was filled with sunshine.

Johnny loved this room.  Although Scott's room was the same as Johnny's, Scott's always seemed warmer and more inviting.  Johnny loved being in this room with his brother.  Johnny looked around the room.  A few pictures and other personal items adorned the dresser and table near the window.  An open book was lying face down on the foot rest in front of the chair facing the window.  Scott often read facing the window.  A couple of times Johnny had caught Scott staring out the window deep in thought.

He noticed Scott's jacket, gloves and hat were on his bed.  Johnny walked over to the bed.  Scott would often come upstairs and remove these items and toss them on the bed.  He would then freshen up for dinner.  Johnny looked at the items.  His hands ran over them as if they were prized possessions.  Johnny heard footsteps approaching and quickly went towards his room.  Suddenly the door opened and Teresa entered the room.  Johnny was standing in the doorway between the two rooms when she noticed him.

"Oh Johnny, here you are."

"Yeah, I came up here for a moment."

A small smile crossed her face.  She looked tired and worried.  "I've come up to get Scott's room ready.  Dr. Ramsey wants to move him up here."

"Is he finished with the surgery?"

"Yes, he's finishing up now."

"How's he doing?"  Johnny asked walking over to Teresa.

"Dr. Ramsey was able to get the bullets out and stop the bleeding.  Both bullets in his shoulder and stomach went in deep; he’s lost a lot of blood, and is running a low temperature which concerns Dr. Ramsey."

"Why is he concerned?"

"He's says it usually means there's an infection. 

Teresa walked over to Scott's bed and picked up the items on it.  She ran her hand over the brim of Scott's hat.  She stood there for a moment.

"You helped him pick that out, remember?"

"Yeah, I told him he needed proper clothes.  I really liked this hat and was so glad when he bought it.  I really like this jacket too.  It looks so nice on him.  He found it on one of his trips to Sacramento."

"I remember.  He came back with it on.  I remember Murdoch seemed to be pleased he'd bought a warmer jacket."

"I remember.  The one he bought in town when he first got here was nice too but it's not as heavy as this one.  Besides I've always liked the two shades of browns, and I’ve wondered if it was intentional."

"What?"

She looked at Johnny and smiled, "The way it almost matches his hat.  He won't tell me if it was deliberate. I remember asking him about it.  He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't notice."

Johnny chuckled.  "Sounds like Scott."

Teresa's eyes filled with tears as she hung up Scott's jacket in his closet and placed his gloves in the sleeve.  She hung his hat on a peg on the door and then closed it.  She took a deep breath and walked to the bed.  After she was finished she turned to Johnny.

"Well, we'd better go downstairs," Teresa said as she walked away from the bed to the door.  Johnny nodded and followed her.

When they walked through the doorway leading to the Great Room, Murdoch was already there talking to the doctors.  Johnny glanced towards the dining table. Maria and Lisa were standing near it.  Johnny looked at Scott.  His face was almost as white as the sheet that was covering him.  Johnny could barely see Scott’s chest moving.  He could see the bandage covering his shoulder.  As Johnny walked toward his father, he could hear Dr. Ramsey’ voice.

“My main concern is the blood loss and infection.  The next 24 to 48 hours will be critical.  All we can do now is wait.”

Murdoch’s face was pale and covered with worry.  He nodded, “Milt I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done.”  His voice was low.  Murdoch extended his right hand to his friend.

Dr. Ramsey smiled and took Murdoch’s hand, “I’ll be keeping a very close eye on him for the next few days.  Try not to worry.  Scott is young and in good health.”

Murdoch nodded and looked over at Scott.  A few hands were moving him to his room.  Dr. Ramsey turned, walked over them and followed them out of the room with Teresa and Lisa close behind.  Maria cleared the table, gathered linens from it, turned and left the room.

Johnny looked at Murdoch and spoke, “Try not to worry? How can we not worry? Scott’s got two bullet holes in him.

Murdoch looked at Johnny. “I know.  Milt said Scott was lucky.  He said the bullet in his stomach nicked an organ, I cannot remember the name of.  He said he stopped the bleeding and it will heal.  He said the bullet in his shoulder did some damage but with time and treatment he should regain full use of it.”

“Scott may not regain the use of his shoulder?”

“Milt said it will be up to Scott.  It will be hard work, but if he does what he’s told he could get full use back.”

Johnny nodded, “How about a drink?”

Murdoch looked at him and smiled, “I could use one.”

Johnny walked over to the table.  The bottles of alcohol had been placed back on the tray.  Most had survived the melee that occurred earlier.  Johnny poured two stiff drinks and placed the bottle back on the tray.  He walked over to his father and gave him a glass.

Murdoch took it from him, hesitated for a moment, looked at the contents in the glass and then took a drink from it.  Johnny took a drink from his and turned to look at the fire in the fireplace.  He walked over to it and stoked the fire.  As he looked into the flames, he became lost in thought.

Johnny remembered the last time Scott was shot in the shoulder not that long ago.  Scott didn’t rest like he was supposed to.  He pushed himself very hard which concerned Murdoch.  Scott said there were too many things that needed to be done.  Johnny often thought there were reasons, reasons Scott wouldn’t talk about.  That was after the Cassidy’s came.  During the time they were here, Johnny had learned Scott had been in a Confederate prison camp.  It had surprised Johnny; he thought he had his brother figured out and then this had come out of the blue.

Now Johnny realized he couldn’t read his brother as well as he thought.  This bothered Johnny.  He was always good at reading people.  He had to be able to read people being a gunfighter.  His instincts had never let him down.  Now it seemed he may not really know his brother after all.  Johnny thought Scott’s life had been easy in Boston, but he had seen the marks on Scott’s back.  Although Johnny had seen Scott without his shirt on Johnny never noticed them before.  Of course he really didn’t pay close attention.   Those scars indicated Scott had been beaten.  Johnny wondered what else he’d missed about his brother.

Johnny looked at his father.  Murdoch looked pale and worried.  Johnny had come to respect this man and had deep feelings for him.  He had deep feelings for Scott as well.  He was surprised how quickly they had developed.  Johnny had always been a loner.  Now he had a father who cared about him, a woman he considered as his sister and an older brother.  Although Scott was only a couple of years older than he, Scott seemed so mature and possessed knowledge about things Johnny knew nothing of.  Johnny would often tease Scott about the things he talked about.  Suddenly Johnny felt his stomach twist into a knot.  That’s what started all this.  Johnny took a drink from his glass.

 

The hands laid Scott in his bed and moved from it.  They walked to the doorway, turned and looked back.  They watched as Dr. Ramsey, Teresa and Lisa Garrison settled Scott into the bed.  They looked at each other and knew none of them would ever look at Scott the same way.  The hands turned and left the room.

 

Chapter Three

Murdoch quietly opened the door to Scott’s room.  He remembered doing this, months ago; only this time Scott didn’t wake up.  Teresa looked at him from the chair she was sitting in and smiled at him.  Murdoch smiled back at her, and walked over to her.

“Why don’t you take a break, I’ll sit with him for a while.”

“Are you sure?  You look tired.”

“I’m fine, Darling.  You’ve been so busy since you returned.  Why don’t you take a break, I’ll call you and Dr. Ramsey if anything changes.”  Teresa smiled again and got up from the chair.  She stood up on tip toes and gave the elder Lancer a kiss on the cheek.

“He’ll be all right.  Scott’s strong and healthy.”

Murdoch nodded.  Teresa walked past him and turned to see Murdoch sit down in the chair.  She turned and closed the door behind her.

Murdoch sat there looking at his son.  Watching his breathing, knowing that with each breath he took, it kept Scott with him.  Murdoch said a silent prayer.  //Please don’t take him.  He has his whole life in front of him.//  Murdoch was finally getting to know him.  Unlike Johnny, Murdoch knew it would take time.  Scott let people get so close and then a wall would go up.  Murdoch knew there were many reasons for this; but Johnny, being young, would often find it frustrating.  Although Murdoch didn’t want to dwell on the past, he knew it couldn’t be avoided.  He had wanted to start fresh with each of his sons, but realized that wasn’t fair.  Too much had happened and each had questions.

When Murdoch had talked to Johnny the conversation had gone well.  Johnny could vaguely remember the ranch and a few things from his childhood.  His younger son had asked tough questions and Murdoch had answered them.  Afterwards the two started to become closer.  When Murdoch talked to Scott the conversation had become heated.  Scott had no memory of his father.  Murdoch felt the wall go up and backed away giving Scott space.  There were so many things he didn’t know about Scott.  Murdoch sat there thinking and realized how much Scott was like his mother.  Not only did he have her eyes, but he had her grace and elegance.  Sometimes when Scott would be talking, Murdoch could hear Catherine.  Scott also had some of her mannerisms, and a stubborn streak.  A slow smile came over the elder Lancer.  //That, he gets from me. //Perhaps that's why they had clashed when Murdoch tried talking to his son.  Murdoch realized the next time he talked to Scott it would be much different.  Murdoch closed his eyes and prayed that moment would come.

 

Teresa walked into the Great Room and found it back to normal.  She walked through the room towards doorway leading to the kitchen and stopped.  She looked at the mangled door frame, walked through it, and looked down at the floor where Scott's blood had been, and started to shake.  She stood there for a moment and after she regained her composure continued on her way.  She walked into the kitchen.  She could see Maria and the others had made food and were probably serving it to the men in the barn.  She walked towards the stove as Johnny entered the room from the back door.  He looked tired and worried.

"Johnny, why don't you come and sit down?  I'll pour you some coffee and make you a sandwich."

"Oh, Teresa I'm all right.  You've been busy since you returned."

She smiled, "So have you.  You look tired and must be hungry. Please come and sit down."

Johnny looked at her and smiled.  He walked towards her and noticed tears welling up in her eyes.  He could tell she was trying to control her emotions.  When he reached her, he put his arms around her.  At first she resisted and then began to cry, eventually putting her arms around him.  He reached up with his left hand and stroked the back of her hair.  She stood there for several minutes.  Finally she pulled her head away from his shoulder and looked into his face.  Johnny smiled at her.  Teresa smiled back.  She looked at him for a moment.  Teresa noticed that when Johnny smiled his face and eyes would light up.

"Thanks.  I shouldn't have done that."

"Why?  Teresa, ever since you've returned to the ranch you and the rest of the women have been working very hard.  You're just as tired as everyone else is."

"I know, but I'm not much good to anyone if I get emotional.  That's always been my problem.  I get so emotional."

"That's what makes you so special to us.  Murdoch, Scott and I need to be reminded that there's another side to things."

The young woman smiled, "Oh, you and Scott always make me feel special."  She turned away for a moment.  When she spoke her voice was so quiet.

"I'm just so scared he's not going to make it."

Johnny's voice was quiet, "I know."

She turned and looked at him realizing he was scared too.  She remembered Johnny had been very much the loner when he first came to the ranch.  After a while, realizing that people were sincere, he began to open up.  She and Johnny became like brother and sister in no time.  Scott was a little harder to get close to.  He'd only let people get so close.  Although she had managed to find out he had a sense of humor.  She'd wished he'd show that more often.  Teresa knew that in time, she and the others would break down those walls.

Teresa took a deep breath, "Come, let me fix you a sandwich.  I need something to do."

Johnny smiled, "All right, but only if you join me."  Teresa cocked her head to one side and nodded.

 

Sheriff Adams made his way from the barn to the house and entered through the front door.  The sheriff closed the door behind him and hung his hat on the rack in the foyer and walked into the Great Room.  Murdoch was standing near the desk at the other end of the room looking out the window.  He turned when he heard footsteps.

"Well, I've just been able to talk to Ramirez, Lucas, Smith and Mason.  They all said the same thing."

"Which is?"

"Scott came back to the ranch a little before sundown.  He dismounted his horse near the barn and was going to take care of it when Ramirez said he would.  Scott thanked him and headed for the house.  About 10 minutes later he came back to the barn.  Upon seeing the men, he asked Lucas where the others were.  Lucas told him they were the only ones.  Scott became irritated and then his attention was drawn to the ridge.  Scott saw the men first.  He told the hands they were outnumbered and told Rodriquez to go and get help.  Rodriquez argued with Scott, and then the attackers were on top of them with their guns drawn.  Five of the men dismounted. They walked to Scott, disarmed him and led him to the house.  A couple more men dismounted and led the hands into one of the barns.  Once inside, the hands subdued the gunmen and ran for their guns.  They took up positions around the buildings and waited.

Scott and the others emerged from the house.  One of the men was holding a gun to Scott's head.  The leader and another man rode over to the house.  The hands could see they were talking but couldn't hear what was being said.  Scott wrestled free of the man and ran for the house.  The man fired in the direction Scott went.  The hands then opened fire and the battle began.  At one point the hands and Scott had the gunmen in a crossfire.  A couple of the attackers started the barn on fire which quickly spread to the bunkhouse.  Scott yelled at the hands to hold their positions.  As the first attack started to wane, Rodriquez decided to go for help.  Shots were fired at him as he rode out and someone yelled he got away.

Smith attempted to get to the house to help Scott.  Smith was shot and Gomez ran out after him.  Scott seemed to come out of no where and covered them.  Gomez was shot as he got Smith to safety behind the other barn.  Scott managed to take out several of the gunmen before he disappeared towards the house.  Smith and Ramirez think Scott may have been shot during this time.  For a moment everything was quiet, and then another battle began.  Some men stormed the house; there was gunfire and then yelling.  The remaining gunmen made it to their horses and rode out.  The hands stayed put for several minutes.  Then Lucas, Ramirez and Mason went to check on Smith and Gomez.  One of them was about to go to the house and check on Scott when they heard riders.  Of course the timing is more spread out but that's basically what happened."

Murdoch looked at his friend not knowing what to say.  Sheriff Adams continued.

"Murdoch, do you have any idea what those men would have been after?"  The sheriff sat down on the sofa.

Murdoch shook his head and turned towards the fireplace.  Finally, he turned towards his friend.

"The money for the bulls; I'd arranged a sale of some cattle in Stockton.  Scott and Johnny were going to head out next week.  While they were there, I wanted them to purchase 10 bulls from Hank Evenson."

The sheriff nodded, "That's it.  Was the money here?"

Murdoch shook his head, "No, I told the boys we'd bring it back here from town."

The sheriff thought for a moment. "Was the money here for the payroll?"  Murdoch nodded. "Yes.  I had that much here to pay the hands.  Johnny and Scott were going to pay them upon returning to the ranch before leaving for town.  However after paying them, not much would be left."

"Who knew that you were going to purchase the bulls?"

Murdoch shook his head, "All of the hands.  We've been preparing for it and the sale of the cattle.  We'd been dealing with the drought.  Things were finally returning to normal, so I decided to do this transaction."  Murdoch remembered Scott had disagreed with him.

"Yeah, you and the rest of the ranches have had your hands full."

Murdoch nodded, 'Yes, it's been a long haul.  The rains finally came and things have turned around.  Everyone has worked hard.  I was glad things had been completed early so the hands could have a few days to relax and celebrate."

The sheriff slapped his hands on his knees and stood up, "Well, we know why they were here.  All we need to know now is who were they?"

"You think someone from the ranch is in on this, don't you?"

The sheriff nodded, "Yes I do.  Look you've hired quite a few men recently to help with things.  You and I both know that hands aren't always the most trustworthy."

Murdoch nodded his head, "You're right, but I have no idea who it could be.  Did any of the others recognize anyone?"

The sheriff shook his head, "No, but they didn't get a good look at all of them.  They said Scott got a good look at the leader and most of the men.  I've got deputies looking for tracks.  I'm going to check with them and then I'll be back.  Hopefully, when I return I can talk to Scott."

Johnny had been walking down the hallway from the kitchen and had entered the Great Room when he noticed the sheriff and his father talking.  Johnny stopped near the dining table.  Neither man heard him come into the room.  The younger man heard the entire conversation.  He stood there a moment unable to comprehend what he'd just heard.  These men were Johnny's friends and now one or more of them had betrayed him, and nearly killed his brother.  Johnny couldn't believe it.  His blood ran cold.  Murdoch noticed the younger man over by the table.

"Oh Johnny, I didn't hear you come in."

"Yeah, I just got here.  I didn't mean to interrupt anything.  I thought you were upstairs with Scott."

"I was. Dr. Ramsey came to check on him so I came down here.  You didn't interrupt anything; the sheriff and I were discussing what happened.  Did you happen to hear the conversation?"

"Yeah, most of it.  I didn't mean to eavesdrop."

"Oh, you didn't."

The sheriff looked at Johnny, "Johnny, you seem to be close to the men.  Any ideas who might want to do something like this?"

Johnny felt his stomach knot, "No, not at the moment."

The sheriff nodded, "Well, I'd better get going."  He turned to Murdoch.  "I'll be back tomorrow and in the meantime, I'll pray for Scott."

Murdoch walked over to his friend and shook his hand, "Thank you Harry, for all you've done.  I'll see you tomorrow."  Murdoch walked the sheriff to the front door and said his goodbyes.  Murdoch shut the door and stood in the foyer.  He glanced at the stairs leading up to Scott's room and the turned his attention to his younger son.  Johnny was standing in front of the fire place deep in thought.  Murdoch walked towards him.  He knew something was bothering him; more than Scott being shot.

"Johnny, what's wrong?"

Johnny looked up at his father.  Murdoch had so much on his mind; besides this was his problem.

"Nothing I can't handle."

Johnny turned to walk past his father; Murdoch caught his arm and saw the pain in his son’s eyes.  The elder man knew there were times to leave things alone, but something told him he needed to pursue this.  Murdoch placed both hands on his son’s shoulders.

"Johnny, I know something's wrong.  Whatever it is you can tell me."

Johnny tried to wrestle away but Murdoch's grip was too tight.  Johnny looked into his father's eyes, finally he spoke.

"This is my fault!"  Murdoch looked at him and shook his head.

"What, Scott being shot?"  Johnny nodded his head.

Murdoch continued. "No, Johnny, this isn't your fault."  Johnny broke free and walked a few steps away.

"Yes it is!  If I hadn't rode Scott so hard none of this would have happened!"

"Johnny, I don't understand what you mean."

Johnny looked at his father, "The last few days, oh hell, the past few months I've been riding Scott hard about things!  Things got out of hand Thursday morning, and I undermined Scott's authority in front of the men.  I could see the anger in his face as he turned and mounted his horse.  He told me if I wanted to be in charge, then be in charge.  When I asked him where he was going, he said he was going to finish the surveying on the north ridge.  When I asked about going to town later, he said not to bother to wait for him and left. "

Murdoch shook his head, "Look Johnny, you had nothing to do with the attack on the ranch."

Johnny shook his head, "No, but you heard Sheriff Adams; Rodriquez argued with Scott.  Rodriquez has never argued with Scott before.  Hell, he's never argued with anyone.  If he'd left when Scott told him to, help would have arrived earlier."  Johnny turned for a moment, anger rising in him. He turned back, looked at his father and continued.

"When we returned to the ranch, the guys took care of the cattle while I went to the house to get the payroll.  The guys were talking and I should have paid closer attention to what was being said.  Anyway, I paid everyone.  Then Bart and a few others said we should get going.  I mentioned I needed to decide who should stay when Rollins volunteered to take care of it.  I said fine and left with the others.  I can't believe Rollins left six men to tend the ranch.  It's my fault that happened; I should have dealt with it before I left!"

Murdoch stood there and thought about what Johnny had said.  Johnny had used bad judgment, but it wasn't his fault the ranch was attacked and his brother shot.  Johnny had become friends with some of the hands and until now it hadn't been a problem.  Now it looked as if someone had used Johnny's compassion for other purposes.

"Johnny, you used bad judgment, but listen to me you are not responsible for the attack on the ranch or getting your brother shot."  Johnny was about to argue when Murdoch continued.

"I don't care how much you disagree with me, you are not at fault!  Someone told those men there was money at the ranch and there wasn't enough men to defend it.  Someone may have used your kindness for their own purposes."

Johnny looked at his father not believing what he was hearing.  Murdoch was disappointed in him but wasn't angry.  Johnny stood there not knowing what to say.

"You're not angry with me?"

"No Johnny, I'm not angry with you.  You made a mistake."

Johnny shook his head, "I can't believe this.  I wasn't expecting this reaction."  Johnny hesitated for a moment and then continued.  "Somehow I don't think Scott will be so forgiving."

"I think Scott will be more understanding than you think."

"Not after what happened.  I think I've ruined whatever relationship we had, and I don't think he'll ever talk to me again."

"I think you're wrong.  I don't think Scott will see it that way.  I'm curious though, why did you ride Scott so hard?"  Johnny walked to the fireplace and turned around.

"I don't know.  I can't explain it.  I guess it all started after the Cassidy's left."

"I don't understand."

"That man came 3,000 miles to kill Scott over something he did!  Cassidy calls himself a friend and yet he believed Scott could betray him and the others!  I know Scott's not capable of that.  I can't believe after all he put Scott through, Scott forgave him.  I thought I knew Scott and now I find out I don't know him at all.  Murdoch, he spent a year in a Confederate prison camp!  You didn't know about either, did you?"

"No, I didn't."

"It wasn't in the Pinkerton report?"

"No.  I knew Scott was in the army but it said nothing about the prison camp.  I was as surprised as you, but why are you so angry at Scott?"

Johnny took a deep breath, "I'm not angry, but I guess I resented how he put the ranch and people I consider friends in danger over a man who really isn't his friend.  I know I should have talked to him about it, but it wasn't until a while ago I realized what I was doing.  Now I'm not sure of my friends, and I feel I can't trust my instincts."

Murdoch looked at him, "Johnny I don't think your instincts failed you.  You're very careful who you trust.  I don't think someone you consider a friend betrayed you.  I think someone else did.  Look, you don't know all the ranch hands.  I think Harry is right, I think some one we recently hired is to blame."

Johnny thought about what his father said and nodded his head, "Maybe you're right.  But how could I be so wrong about Scott?"

"How were your wrong about your brother?  He's still the same person, isn't he?  He spent a year in a prison camp.  He hid that from you, me and Teresa.  You know Scott; he's not going to talk about that."

Johnny thought for a moment, "You're right, he is the same person.  I guess finding out he'd been in a prison camp threw me.  I thought I had him figured out; that he'd had this easy life in Boston and I find out that wasn't true."

Murdoch smiled at Johnny, "Look, we have to remember we don't know everything about Scott; just like I don't know everything about you."

Johnny smiled and chuckled, "Yeah, you're right, but I don't think I have anything in my past that's all that surprising."

Murdoch laughed, "I hope not!  But if you did, we'd work it out.  Now, let's go upstairs and check on your brother."

The two men made their way to Scott's door.  Murdoch turned the knob slowly and opened the door.  Dr. Ramsey was standing next to Scott's bed finishing his examination.  Upon seeing them, he smiled and walked over to them.

"Milt, how is he?"

Dr. Ramsey sighed, "He's holding is own."  He saw the dejected looks on their faces and continued.

"This is good news.  Scott is doing well."

"Does he still have a temperature?"  Johnny asked glancing at his brother.

"Yes, but its low."

"It's still a concern, isn't it?"  Johnny replied.

"Yes, but it hasn't risen which is good news."

Murdoch walked over to his son.  He took Scott's left hand in his and held it.  Teresa dabbed Scott's forehead with a cloth.  She turned and smiled at the elder Lancer.  Murdoch smiled back at her.  He placed Scott's hand back on the bed, walked over to the nearby chair and sat down.  The three of them knew this is where Murdoch wanted to be.  They quietly left the elder Lancer alone with his son.  Murdoch stayed with Scott the rest of the night and most of the next day.  He'd take periodic breaks but not for long.  People from the surrounding ranches stopped by offering assistance and support.  The reverend from the church in Morro Coyo stopped by to offer his support and prayers from the congregation.  Although Murdoch deeply appreciated everyone's support, he became antsy when he was away from Scott's room for too long.  During this time, Johnny took charge of the daily activities of the ranch.  He appreciated being busy but found himself not wanting to be too far from the house.

 

Chapter Four

Johnny woke and rose from his bed.  His room was dark but he could see clearly as the moonlight shown through the open window.  He walked over to it, looked out and took a deep breath.  Finally, the young man turned and reached for the clothes he had left on the chair near his bed.  After dressing, he carefully opened the adjoining door to his brother's room.  His father was still sitting in the chair near the bed.  Johnny quietly entered the room, his father turned to him.

"How is he?"

Murdoch stretched, "About the same."

"Why don't you get some sleep?  I'll stay with him for a while."

Murdoch was about to protest but seeing the look on Johnny's face made him change his mind as he rose from the chair.

"I am a little tired.  Dr. Ramsey has gone to bed and so has Teresa.  If anything should change," his voice trailed as Johnny interrupted him.

"I know, I know, I'll get Dr. Ramsey."

Murdoch smiled and patted his younger son's shoulder and said goodnight.  He knew Scott was in very good hands.

Johnny sat down in the chair near his brother's bed.  Suddenly, he opened his eyes and looked at his brother.  His mind had drifted back to the moments leading up to this.  He took a breath and watched Scott.  No matter what Murdoch had said, Johnny still felt responsible for Scott being shot.  As he watched his brother, he noticed Scott's breathing seemed to be stronger, deeper.  Johnny sat up in the chair and watched his brother closely.  Johnny wasn't sure but thought he saw Scott move.  Then he heard Scott softly moan and Johnny realized Scott was coming to.  He quickly got up from the chair and hurried to his brother.  Johnny took Scott's hand in his and squeezed it.

"Scott, hang on, I'm going to get Dr. Ramsey.  I'll be right back."

Johnny wasn't sure if Scott heard him.  His moans were becoming louder and Johnny could tell he was in pain.  He rushed from the room to Dr. Ramsey's.  He opened the door and called to the doctor.

"Dr. Ramsey.  Scott's waking up, come quickly."

"Johnny, what? Oh, I'll be right there."

Dr. Ramsey got up quickly, grabbed his medicine bag and followed the worried young man down the hall.  Dr. Ramsey entered Scott's room to find him moaning and moving.  He hurried to his patient.

Dr. Ramsey placed his hand on his patient's arm, "Scott, Scott, don't move.  It's Dr. Ramsey.  Hang on; I'm going to give you something for the pain."

Dr. Ramsey opened his bag quickly, removed a small amount of cotton and a bottle.  He swabbed Scott's arm and placed the items back in his bag.  The doctor quickly retrieved a syringe and a vial.  He quickly filled the syringe and placed the vial back into his bag.  He then plunged the needle into Scott's arm.  After a few minutes Scott settled and Dr. Ramsey continued to call to Scott.  Johnny hurried from the room to wake his father and Teresa.

 

Black pools were swirling in front of his eyes.  They were soothing but light seemed to be emanating from behind them and becoming brighter.  The pain intensified with the brightening light.  It was the same white hot pain he'd experienced when he fell into black pools.  He wanted to go back to there.  The black pools were soothing and inviting, but the pain and a voice wouldn't let him go.  Then the pain seemed to lessen but the voice wouldn't go away.  It was imploring him to open his eyes.  His eyelids felt very heavy but finally he was able to open them.  It was dark but he could see a shadow next to him.  Finally the shadow became clear and he recognized the figure.

"Scott, do you hear me?"

"Yes, Dr. Ramsey, I hear you."

Scott barely got the words out.  His throat and mouth were dry.  Scott felt a hand behind his head lifting it.  A glass was near his lips.  He opened his mouth and drank from the glass.  The water seemed to soak up in his mouth as fast as he could drink the water.  His head felt heavy and finally it was put back onto the pillow.  He felt weak and wanted to close his eyes.

"Scott, are you in any pain?"

Scott was able to shake his head, "No."  He tried to move and was stopped by a wave of pain.

"Scott, don't move.  For now, I want you to lie still."

"How are Gomez and the others?"

Dr. Ramsey had no intention of telling Scott that Gomez was dead; not yet.

"They're fine.  Dr. Stevens and I have been looking after them."  Scott closed his eyes and sighed.

"What time is it?"

"It's a little after 1:00 a.m."

Scott frowned trying to comprehend this, "You've been asleep for a couple of days.  Scott, I want to you go back to sleep.  We'll talk more later."

Scott looked at the doctor, closed his eyes and drifted off.  Dr. Ramsey straightened, turned and walked over to Murdoch and Johnny.  Teresa placed a cool, damp cloth on Scott's forehead and walked over to the men keeping a watchful eye on her patient.

Dr. Ramsey spoke, "This is excellent.  Now we need to make sure he gets plenty of rest.  I want to limit his visitors until his strength has returned."

Murdoch and Johnny nodded and smiled; relief washing over their faces.

"You're still worried about an infection, aren't you?"  Teresa asked.

"Yes, I want his bandages changed according to the schedule I gave you.  He's very weak and is still running a temperature.  It's low and I want to keep it that way until we can get it to break."

"Do you think he has an infection?"  Murdoch asked.

"Hard to tell.  I don't think so. He could have had the temperature before he was shot.  It didn't go up during the surgery or right after."

Dr. Ramsey briefly explained Scott's recovery to Johnny and Murdoch.  When he finished, he convinced both Lancer's to get some sleep.  Both men reluctantly agreed with the doctor and left the room.  Teresa stayed behind and tended to Scott.  It was near dawn when Scott stirred.  Teresa went over to him.  Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead as he shivered.  Teresa walked over to the end of the bed, picked up the heavy spread and placed it on Scott.  She took a cloth from the basin of water on the table next to the bed, wrung out the excess water and gently dabbed Scott's face.  She brushed the blond hair from his forehead.  His hair felt like silk in her hands.  An hour or so later Scott's temperature broke to a relieved Teresa.  She left Scott momentarily as she fetched Dr. Ramsey.  After he examined Scott, he turned to Teresa; a smile came over his face as he squeezed her hand.  Scott had overcome another major obstacle.

 

When Scott woke, sunshine filled the room.  He turned his head and saw Teresa sitting on a nearby chair.  His movement caught her attention.  She looked up from the book in her hands and smiled brightly.  She placed the book on a nearby table, got up and walked to him.

"Well, good afternoon.  How do you feel?"  Scott's eyes seemed clearer than the last time he was awake.

"Better.  What time is it?"  He cautiously moved his body remembering the pain from the last time he moved.

"A little after 2:00 p.m."

He sighed, "Seems I'd better ask what day this is?"

She smiled as she felt his forehead, "It's Monday.  Good, your temperature is still gone.  I'd like to check your bandages."

Scott said nothing as he nodded his head.  Teresa carefully moved the covers.  She could tell he was still uncomfortable with her in this type of situation.  Scott didn't quite regard her as a sister, although she could tell he was fond of her.  When she was done she pulled the covers back.

She smiled reassuringly, "Well, they look good."

Scott moved his head and Teresa realized he was uncomfortable.

"Can you lift your head a little?  I can fix the pillow for you."

Scott lifted his head.

"Why don't I move the other one under your head as well?"  She grabbed the pillow from the other side of the bed and placed it under Scott's head lifting it to a better position.

"Thanks that feels much better."

She smiled, "Can I get you anything?  How about some water?"

"That sounds good, thanks."

He was always so polite.  She turned to the table near the bed, lifted the pitcher, poured a glass of water and handed it to him as she placed the pitcher back on the table.

She watched him carefully.  "Can you manage that?"

Scott lifted his head slightly and drank from the glass, "Yes."

He drained the glass and handed it to her, "Thank you."

There was a knock at the door and Maria entered the room.

"Oh Senior Scott, you're awake?  How are you feeling?"

"Better, thanks Maria."

"Maria, can you get some broth for Scott?"  Teresa asked.

Scott began to protest, when Teresa interrupted him.

"Scott, we need to get your strength up.  Dr. Ramsey said that is very important right now."

Teresa looked at Maria.  Maria smiled and nodded.  She walked over to Teresa, handed her fresh bandages, turned and left the room closing the door behind her.

Scott noticed the exchange between the two women.

A few minutes later Maria returned with a tray.  She walked to the dresser across from the bed and placed the tray on it.  Maria turned around and looked at Teresa.

"We need to get Senior Scott into a sitting position."  Teresa looked at Scott and nodded.

"I agree.  There should be some more pillows in the chest."

Maria nodded; walked to the chest at the foot of the bed and opened it.  She retrieved several pillows and walked to Scott's left side.  The two women assisted the injured man into a sitting position, placing several pillows behind him.  Although he still felt so weak, sitting up felt good to Scott.

 

Teresa walked to the dresser, picked up the soup bowl and crossed the room to Scott's left side.  Maria moved away allowing Teresa to sit on the edge of the bed.  Teresa handed the bowl to Scott.

"Can you handle this all right?"

Scott nodded and reached with his left hand towards her. "Yes, I think so."

Teresa could see that he wasn't going to get a good grip on the bowl with one hand.  She steadied the bowl for him as he took it in his left hand and brought it to his lips.  He took a sip, the liquid was warm and tasted of chicken.  When he was finished Teresa took the bowl from him, turned and handed it to Maria.

"Thanks, I thought I could manage that on my own."

Teresa smiled at him, "No problem.  At first I thought you could do it; then I realized the bowl was a little too big for one hand."

Scott smiled at her and sighed as he rested his head on the pillows.  Teresa could see he was tired.

"You’re tired aren't you?  Why don’t you lie down and get some sleep?"  Scott looked at her and sighed again.

"Perhaps you're right."  She stood up as Scott moved forward.  Teresa removed a couple of pillows while Scott moved down onto the bed.  His movement was slow and deliberate.

"Are you all right; do you need some help?"

Scott shook his head, "No I'm fine, thanks."

Teresa pulled the bedcovers up over his chest as Scott settled himself into the bed.

"Thanks, I appreciate everything you and Maria have done."

Teresa smiled at him, "You're welcome.  Now get some sleep and we'll see you later."

Scott returned her smile and closed his eyes.

 

Murdoch entered the house through the front door.  He hung his hat on the rack by the door as he entered the Great Room.  He stretched his long arms as he walked towards his desk.  Upon hearing approaching footsteps he turned to see Teresa entering the room.

She smiled when she saw him and started towards him, "Hello Murdoch.  How are you?"  She asked as she reached him giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"I'm fine darling.  How was your day?"  He replied wrapping his arms around his ward, giving her a hug.

"Really good; Scott was awake for about an hour and he had some broth", she replied looking into his eyes.

"Oh, that's good to hear.  How is he doing?"

"He seems better, and more alert, but tires very easily."

Murdoch nodded, "Is he awake now?" he asked looking towards the doorway.

She shook her head, "No, he fell asleep a few hours ago.  Maria is with him now.  I was going to check on dinner; by the way are you hungry?"

"Yes, but I'd like to clean up first.  Johnny should be here in a few minutes.  Could we eat in about an hour or so?"

Teresa nodded her head, "That should be fine.  I'll let you know if anything changes."

 

Murdoch finished cleaning up and entered the hallway leading downstairs.  He stopped outside Scott's room and decided to go inside.  Maria looked up from the sock she was darning.  When she spoke her voice was low so as not to disturb the sleeping patient.

"Hello, Senior Lancer.  How are you today?"

"I'm fine Maria, and you?"

"I'm fine.  Looking in on Senior Scott?"

"Yes, I thought I would before dinner.  How is he?"

"He's doing very well.  Dr. Ramsey looked in on him about an hour ago but didn't want to disturb him.  Dr. Ramsey was very pleased that Miss Teresa and I managed to get some broth in him."

"Yes, Teresa told me.  That's good."  Scott stirred and Maria got up from the chair collecting her things.

"Tell you what, let me go downstairs and see if Miss Teresa needs any help.  Why don't you sit here while I'm gone?  It will give you a few minutes alone with him."

Murdoch smiled at Maria as she passed him, "Thank you, Maria."

Maria smiled and left the elder Lancer alone with his son.

Murdoch sat down in the chair near Scott's bed and looked over at his eldest son.  Murdoch noticed his color was better and his breathing was deeper, stronger.  Murdoch sat there and watched his son.  He couldn't explain it, but Murdoch was more at ease when he was with him.  As he sat there, his mind drifted back to the day's activities.  He'd spent the day organizing the clean up of the charred barn and bunkhouse.  Murdoch had taken short break and checked on the injured ranch hands.  They were still talking about Scott and his heroic actions the night of the attack.  It filled Murdoch with pride.  Scott stirred again and opened his eyes.  He started to cough; holding his right hand to his side.  Murdoch got up from the chair, quickly poured a glass of water, sat on the edge of the bed and held it out for his son.  Scott managed to slightly sit up and take the glass from his father.  After a few sips he handed the glass back to his father.

"Thanks."

"Are you all right?  If you're in pain I can get Dr. Ramsey."

Scott shook his head and then rested it on the pillow, "No, I'm fine; the pain is subsiding."

Murdoch reached over and put the glass on the nightstand next to the bed.

"How are you feeling?"

Scott looked at his father, "Better.  How long have you been here?"

"Oh, not very long.  I volunteered so Maria and Teresa can check on dinner.  Are you hungry?"

"No, not really.  Did you get a chance to see the others today?"

"Yes, I did.  They're all doing very well and will be up and around in a day or two."

Scott nodded, "How is Gomez?"

Murdoch wasn't sure what to say.  He didn't want to tell Scott; not yet.  It was too late; Scott saw the expression on Murdoch's face.

"Murdoch, I asked you a question, how is Gomez?"  Before Murdoch could say anything Scott knew the answer.  His head fell back on the pillow, his eyes closed.

Murdoch placed his hand on Scott's arm, "Scott, you did everything you could have."

Scott tightened his eyelids and shook his head, "If I'd gotten there sooner, they'd both be alive."

"Scott, you can't blame yourself.  From what I've heard it's a miracle you got there at all."

Scott didn't say anything; Murdoch could feel him tremble.

"Scott, I know this is hard, but you have to keep remembering you did everything you could."

"Tell that to Gomez's family."

"I will, and I'm sure they'll be grateful for everything you tried to do."

Scott opened his eyes and looked at his father.  He knew Murdoch was right, but it couldn't take away the enormous guilt he felt, it was a feeling he'd had so many years ago when other lives were lost.  Scott tried to push those memories away, back to where they belonged.

 

 

Scott opened his eyes.  The room was dark except for a dim light emanating from a nearby lantern.  He heard movement to his left and turned his head in that direction.  Johnny was sitting in the nearby chair and hadn't noticed he was awake.  Scott marveled that whenever he opened his eyes someone else would be sitting in the chair.  His limbs were stiff and Scott started to move which caught Johnny's attention.

"Hey Boston, you're awake.  Can I get you some water?"

"No, I'm fine.  How long have you been there?"

"Oh, I don't know, a little while.  How are you feeling?"

Scott moved to get into a more comfortable position, "Better.  So you've got the night shift?"

"Yeah well, it was hard to convince Teresa that someone else could watch over you."

"Yeah, it seems she's here every time I open my eyes.  She must be exhausted."

"Well, not quite.  She and Maria have been splitting time with you."

"Oh yeah, that makes sense.  So what's been happening?"

"Oh, not too much.  We've been getting ready to move the cattle."

"Oh yeah, that's right; when do you leave?"

"I leave tomorrow.  With luck, I should be back in about a week or so."

"Well, I hope you have a good trip."  Scott shifted his body again, "So, what else has been going on?"

"Are you all right?  You seem uncomfortable."

"Yeah, I'm fine.  I'm just a little stiff and thought stretching would help.  Go on with what you were saying."  Johnny took a breath, he and Scott were talking.  Scott didn't seem upset with him.  Johnny felt relieved; perhaps Murdoch was right.

"Well, we've been clearing the sites where the barn and bunkhouse were.  Murdoch has been trying to decide how he should construct the buildings."

Scott smiled, "Yeah, he's always hated how the buildings stood.  Guess this will give him a chance to put them how he's always wanted them."

"I never could never figure out why they were positioned that way, seeing how much he complains about them."

Scott chuckled and nodded, "Beats me.  I've never been able to figure that out either.  You know if you're leaving tomorrow, shouldn't you be in bed?"

"Yeah, I'm going turn in soon.  I'm waiting for my relief to come."  Scott turned to Johnny; a small smile came over his face.  Just then the door opened and Jelly came into the room.  Scott was startled; he thought Jelly was in Denver visiting friends.

"Well, well, you're awake.  I was told this was gonna be easy cause you were supposed to be asleep!"  Jelly growled in mock protest as he crossed the room to Johnny.  "I suppose you woke him up, didn’t you?"

"Jelly, I thought you were in Denver!"  Scott said with surprise.

"I was; I came home today.  You, get off that chair and go get some sleep so you don't fall off your horse tomorrow."

Jelly turned to Scott, "And you get back to sleep or Teresa will have my hide if she finds out you were awake all night.  Besides, I need some peace and quiet," Jelly growled as he sat in the chair.

 

Chapter 5

Johnny rose early.  He really hadn't been sleeping.  He'd tossed and turned most of the night.  Today he and some hands were going to drive the cattle to Stockton.  Johnny didn't want to go.  He wanted to be at the ranch near his brother.  He dressed, collected his things and stopped by the adjoining door to Scott's room.  He carefully opened the door and found Teresa tending to Scott.  He quietly entered the room.  Teresa turned as she heard his footsteps.

"Good morning, Johnny," she said almost whispering.

"Good morning.  Is he still asleep?"  She smiled at him and shook her head.

"No, he's kind of dozing."

"Oh, I wanted to say goodbye."

"Go ahead, I need to do something."

Johnny walked over towards Scott.  He placed his things on the nearby chair, turned, walked over to the bed and sat on the edge. Feeling someone's presence on the bed, Scott opened his eyes.

"Hey Boston, didn't mean to wake you.  I just wanted to say goodbye."

Scott smiled, "Have a safe trip."  His voice seemed hoarse and his face seemed paler.  Johnny became concerned.

"You feeling all right? Maybe I should get Doc Ramsey?"

Scott shook his head, "I've already had that argument with Teresa.  I'm fine; I'm just tired."

"Well, we did talk for a while last night.  That probably wasn't good for you."

Scott shook his head, "I'm the one who woke up.  No one bothered me.  We didn't talk all that long."

"Maybe not by normal standards, but you've got two bullet holes in you.  You need to be very careful and sleep."

Scott smiled at Johnny; "Now you sound like Teresa."

"Yeah well, she's right about these types of things.  So, you'd better listen to her.  Look Scott, I also wanted to tell you that I'm sorry for last Thursday."

Scott looked at his brother and frowned trying to figure out what he meant.  He was about to say something when the door opened.  Teresa and Dr. Ramsey entered the room.  Johnny nodded at them and then turned back to Scott.

"When I get back, we'll talk about it all right?"  Scott nodded and Johnny continued.  "I want you to listen to the Doc and Teresa, and do what you're told."  His voice was firm.

Scott reached out his left hand towards his brother.  Johnny took it in his and squeezed it.  Johnny turned to Dr. Ramsey and Teresa.

"He looks pale."

"That's what I thought so I fetched the doctor."

"Look you two, I'm fine.  I'm just tired," Scott said aggravation in his voice.

Dr. Ramsey walked over to Scott's right side, "Yes he does look pale. How was he last night?"  The doctor asked looking at Johnny.

"He was fine.  He woke up late.  We talked; and now that I think about it, it was longer than we should have.  Then Jelly came into the room and told him to get back to sleep."

Dr. Ramsey looked at Scott, "And did you?"

Scott nodded his head, "Yes."

Dr. Ramsey checked Scott and then spoke, "Well I'm inclined to agree with both of you.  He's over done it and is exhausted."

Scott looked at him; surprise came over his face, "Look Doc, I don't believe that.  All I've been doing is sleeping."

"Yes Scott I know.  However, because of your condition you tire easily and need to be careful.  You need a lot of rest."

Scott shook his head and before he could say anything Johnny interrupted, "Scott, you listen to him do you hear me?  Like I said you've got two bullet holes in you and that's gonna take time to heal!"  Johnny's voice was sharp and forceful.

Scott looked at his brother, took a deep breath and swallowed.  He was about to say something, stopped and nodded his head.

Johnny's eyes sparkled as a small smile came over his face, "Good, I'll see you in about a week, all right?"

Scott nodded.  Johnny turned, collected his things and headed out the door.  As he entered the hallway, he ran into his father.

"Good morning Murdoch, you're up early."

"Morning Johnny; thought I'd get up to say good bye.  You saw Scott?"

Johnny nodded and told his father what had happened.  Murdoch listened intently concern washing over his face.  Murdoch walked to the doorway of Scott's room; Johnny stood behind him.  Dr. Ramsey and Teresa, upon seeing the two Lancer men, joined them in the doorway.  Scott became exasperated listening to the four of them discuss his condition as if he wasn't there.  He yawned and decided it was pointless to say anything; they weren't listening.  He closed his eyes and fell asleep listening to the four of them conferring on how Scott could get more rest.  After a few minutes, Murdoch glanced at the bed and saw Scott asleep.  He chuckled and motioned the others to the hallway.

 

Murdoch finished his lunch and headed for the Great Room.  He went over to his desk, picked up a ledger and opened it.  He couldn't concentrate, his mind kept drifting.  He looked towards the doorway.  He threw the ledger on the desk and crossed the room.  The elder Lancer made his way upstairs towards Scott's room.  He opened the door; Maria was sitting in a chair.  She saw him, stood up and walked to him.

"Hello, Senior Murdoch."

"Hello Maria, how is he?"

"Better, but he seems restless.  I don't think he's getting the sleep he needs to."

Murdoch nodded.  Maria smiled at him.  She knew he wanted to be alone with his son.  She left the room closing the door behind her.

Murdoch walked to the bed and stood there looking at his son.  Scott's color was better but not as good as it had been.  Scott had been recovering so well, and now Murdoch realized how vulnerable his son's condition was.  He walked to the chair and sat down. Murdoch knew how lucky he was that he had both of his sons in his life.  He treasured every moment he had with them.  He was tough when he had to be but loved them dearly and would do anything for them.  Scott stirred and seemed restless.  Murdoch got up, went to the bed and sat on the edge of it.  Scott opened his eyes.

"Son, are you all right?  Do you want me to get Dr. Ramsey?"

Scott shook his head and cleared his throat, "No, I'm all right."  His voice was hoarse.

Murdoch could see something was wrong.  He poured a glass of water and offered it to his son.  Scott drained the glass and handed it back to his father.  Murdoch put the glass on the table and turned his attention back to his son.  Scott had closed his eyes but Murdoch could tell he wasn't asleep.  Murdoch was unsure of what he should do.  His gaze fell to Scott's hand.  Murdoch put his hand around it and felt Scott's grip tighten.

"Are you sure you don't want me to get Dr. Ramsey?"

Scott shook his head.  He closed his eyes tighter and is breathing became rapid.  Murdoch sat and watched him.  Scott sighed, then relaxed and fell into a deep sleep.  Murdoch stayed with his son for the rest of the afternoon.  Teresa came periodically to check on Scott and see if the elder Lancer wanted a break.  Each time Murdoch shook his head.  It was late afternoon when Dr. Ramsey opened the door and entered the room.  Murdoch was sitting in a chair close to the bed, his hand still holding Scott's.  Murdoch turned when he heard the door open.

"How's he doing?"

Murdoch looked at his friend and smiled, "Better.  His color has improved and he's been sleeping all afternoon."

Dr. Ramsey walked closer and put his bag down on the end of the bed, "Yes his color is much better.  Teresa told me was sleeping.  I didn't want to disturb him; however, I do need to check him."

Murdoch nodded and turned to his son.  Murdoch tightened his grip on Scott's hand, placed his other hand on his son's shoulder and gently shook him, "Scott, Scott, wake up."

Scott stirred, sighed and finally opened his eyes to find his father sitting next to him.  He could see it was late in the afternoon.

"How long have you been here?"

"Since after lunch."

Scott looked at him and realized Murdoch had been there since he fell asleep earlier.  Dr. Ramsey cleared his throat, and Scott turned his attention to him.

"Well, young man you look much better than this morning.  How do you feel?"

"Better."

"Good.  Let's check you out.  Murdoch, can you give us a few minutes?'

Murdoch nodded.  He released his grip on Scott's hand, smiled at his son and stood up.

"Of course.  I'll be downstairs if you need me."  Scott watched his father cross the room to the door.  Murdoch turned, looked at his son and then walked out the door closing it behind him.

Murdoch went downstairs and entered the Great Room; the table was set for dinner.  Wonderful smells were emanating from the kitchen.  He decided to pour himself a drink when he heard a horse ride up to the house.  He looked out the window and saw Sheriff Adams.

Sheriff Adams dismounted his horse and heard a familiar voice.

"Hello Harry.  You look tired and frustrated."

"Hello Murdoch.  Yes, I am.  We lost the tracks about 30 miles from here."

"Well, why don't you come in, have a drink and then freshen up before dinner."

The two men entered the house.  Sheriff Adams placed his hat on the hat rack as he past it entering the Great Room behind his friend.  Murdoch walked over to a table next to the couch, poured two drinks and handed one to his friend.

"Thank you, Murdoch.  I really appreciate your hospitality.  By the way how is Scott?"  He asked as he took a drink.

"Better.  Milt has been keeping a close eye on him."

"So he's still here?"

Murdoch nodded, "Yes, he's been looking after Scott and the rest of the men.  Roger has taken over his practice until Milt feels Scott and the others are strong enough for him to turn over the daily care to Teresa and the other women."

The sheriff nodded as he took another drink, "Murdoch, any idea when I can talk to Scott?"

Murdoch shook his head, "I don't know.  Scott had a minor setback.  Milt is with him now."

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.  What happened?"

"Thanks.  Scott woke up in the middle of the night while Johnny was with him.  He and Johnny were talking and Johnny lost track of time.  Then Jelly came into the room to take over for Johnny.  Although Scott said he went back to sleep, I don't think he did.  At least not right away.  Anyway, he became exhausted."

"That's too bad.  I know he was doing so well when I left.  I was hoping I could talk to him.  But seeing this has happened I'll just have to wait."

Murdoch looked at his friend, "You really need to talk to him, don't you?"

The sheriff looked at him, "Yes I do, but I don't want to put his health at risk."

Murdoch smiled at his friend, "Well, the only way we're going to find out is if we ask Milt.  Come on, let's find out what he thinks,"

The two men drained their glasses and went upstairs.  Dr. Ramsey was coming out of Scott's room as the men made their way down the hallway.

"Milt, how is he?"

"Much better; his sleeping today has made an enormous difference."

"Look I don't want to rush things, but when I can talk to him"?  Sheriff Adams asked.

Dr. Ramsey looked at him and thought for a moment, "Well, maybe you can for a few minutes.  I don't want to tire him too much."

Sheriff Adams nodded, "I understand."

Dr. Ramsey nodded and opened the door.  Teresa was finishing up and looked at them.

"Scott, Sheriff Adams would like talk to you."

Scott looked over at the doctor, Murdoch was behind him.  "Fine."

The three men entered the room.  Teresa passed them, "I'll leave you alone.  I'm going to see if Maria needs some help.  Call me if you need anything."

Murdoch smiled at her, "Thank you, darling."

Teresa smiled at Murdoch, and left the room closing the door behind her.

Sheriff Adams made his way over to Scott's bed.

"Hello Scott, do you feel up to a few questions?"

Scott straightened a little, "Yes, Sheriff Adams."

"Do you know who the men were that attacked the ranch?"

Scott thought for a moment, "I remember seeing the leader before, but I can't place him."  He looked at Murdoch.

"He's the one that came to the ranch a few weeks ago looking for a job.  You recognized him from one of the other ranches, and said he'd been fired."

Murdoch looked at Scott questioningly; slowly recognition came to his face, "You mean Harvey Preston?"

Scott nodded, "That's him.  He was the leader."

Sheriff Adams pondered this and then continued, "Scott, do you remember any of the others?"

"I remember what they looked like, but I don't know who they were."

"What did they come for?"

"They came for the money in the safe."

The sheriff nodded, "Go on."

"When we entered the house, they demanded I open the safe.  I knew that if I opened it and they found it empty, they'd kill the hands.  So I refused to open it."

"What happened next?"  Sheriff Adams asked.

"When I refused, they brought me back outside."

Both the Sheriff and Murdoch knew that must have been the moment when Scott was hit in the face.  The bruises on his face indicated he'd been hit hard, probably with a gun.

"What happened when you got outside?"

"They told Preston I wouldn't open the safe.  He said that maybe killing one of the hands would change my mind.  I saw an opportunity to break free and I took it.  I managed to get into the house and grabbed a rifle.  One of the gunmen fired at me, I returned fire and then shots came from everywhere."

Dr. Ramsey interrupted, "I think that's enough for now.  He should get some rest."

The sheriff nodded, "I agree.  I don't want to overtire you.  Scott, you've been very helpful."  He turned to leave the room and looked at Murdoch as he passed him.

"Harry, I'll be down in a moment."

"Don't hurry; I'm going to wash up before dinner."

 

Sheriff Adams was downstairs in front of the fireplace when Murdoch entered the Great Room.

"Well, Harry what do you make of it?"

"Things are fitting together.  I now know why we lost the tracks."

"Oh?"

"We lost the tracks about 30 miles from here.  I think they are hiding out on Miller's ranch.  It all makes sense.  The point where we lost the tracks, the ranch Preston was fired from."

Murdoch became concerned thinking his friends could be in jeopardy.

"Do you think Stan and Sylvia are in danger?"

The sheriff shook his head, "The night of the attack I sent men to check on them.  I also rode there and talked to both of them.  No one else is at the house; all their hands are there and on the look out.  But, given the country I think these criminals are hiding out in the hills; probably in one of the caves.  That's where we'll concentrate tomorrow."

Murdoch looked at his friend and nodded.

 

Chapter 6

The cattle drive was slow for Johnny but they made Stockton in good time.  Johnny easily handled the transactions but felt a twinge.  Scott was supposed to be there with him.  They had made plans to stay at a nicer hotel and go to dinner.  Johnny had really been looking forward to it.  Although Scott was still learning the ways of the west, he was unequaled in larger towns.  He could always find the most interesting things to do.  The rest of the hands were going to get cleaned up and have dinner.  They asked Johnny to join them but after finishing his meal, he excused himself.  They asked him to go to one of the saloons to take in a show, but Johnny wasn't interested.  Bart had tried to ask him what was wrong, but Johnny left in silence.  He wandered the streets of the town, not really noticing the shops or the people he encountered.  He made his way back to the hotel and settled himself into one of the chairs on the porch.  He wanted to think about what he was going to say to his brother when he returned to the ranch.

 

Scott carefully made his way down the stairs.  He reached for the banister with his left hand, his right arm in a sling.  His father was behind him at the insistence of Teresa.  It was a little over a week since Scott had been shot.  He was making excellent progress and had talked Dr. Ramsey into letting him get up and move around.  Teresa was adamant that he should stay in his room.  They had nearly come to blows when Murdoch finally intervened with a compromise that once downstairs Scott was admonished to the couch.  Scott slowly walked into the Great Room and made his way to the couch.  Once there, he sat down while Teresa stood over him, a knitted throw in her hands.  He looked up at her and realized he would lose this argument.  He put his feet on the couch without a word.  She placed the throw over him fussing with it until she was satisfied.  Dr. Ramsey had decided his continued presence wasn't needed at the ranch, and had put Scott's care into Teresa's hands.  She had become overprotective of Scott since he was shot; and although he was deeply appreciative of her tending to him, Scott was having difficulty with her forcefulness.  Usually the young woman was emotional, but when it came to tending the Lancer men she was domineering.

"There, are you warm enough?"

"Yes, I'm fine thanks."  Scott figured between the roaring fire in the fireplace and the throw he'd melt.

"Do you want anything?"

"No, Teresa, I'm fine."  Teresa found it interesting that for someone who grew up with servants Scott didn't give orders to her or the other household staff like she expected.

"All right, I'm going to the kitchen for a moment, I'll be right back."  Scott nodded at her as she turned and walked out of the room.

Scott looked at his father, "Do you have my book?"

Murdoch nodded, "Yes, here, I brought it with me."  He walked over and handed it to his son.

"Thanks."

"So why were the two of you arguing over your book?"

"When I get tired, I place it on the bed next to me.  Whenever I wake up the book is gone and has been put somewhere out of reach; it's annoying so I told Teresa.  She told me I need to rest, which I'm doing so I don't understand why she's making a fuss about it."

Murdoch smiled to himself.  Scott's convalescence was going to be interesting seeing that both he and Teresa were stubborn.  Murdoch figured he'd better stick close by and mediate when necessary.

"Well she's been very worried about you, so take it easy on her."

Scott looked at Murdoch and nodded, "I know; and I sound ungrateful which I'm not."

Murdoch smiled at him, "I know.  I'll try and talk to her all right?"

Scott smiled and sighed, "Thanks."

Murdoch turned, left the room and headed for the kitchen.  Upon entering the kitchen, he could see it was busy with activity as the women were preparing lunch.  He stood there a moment watching them.  Upon seeing Teresa he called to her.

"Teresa, can I talk to you for a moment?"  She looked up from the counter she was working at preparing sandwiches, a look of concern crossed her face.

"Did you leave Scott alone?"  She asked as she walked over to him.

"Yes, and that's what I want to talk to you about."  He led her into the hallway.

"Darling, I know how concerned you've been about Scott.  However, he's getting better so try not to be so hard on him."

"What do you mean?"

"Well for example his reading a book."

Teresa looked at him her eyes narrowing, "Look, Dr. Ramsey said it was very important for Scott to rest and not overtire."

Murdoch nodded, "Yes I know, and he has ever since that one time.  Look darling, he's on the couch reading his book.  Scott's not up moving around and promises he won't.  He said when he's tired he puts the book down and sleeps.  That's what he's been doing, isn't it?"

Teresa looked at him and knew he was right, but she was so worried about him.  She nodded her head, "Yes, you're right.  I guess I overreacted.  It's just that I'm so worried about him."

Murdoch smiled at her, "We all are, but he is getting better."

Teresa nodded her head, "All right, I won't be so hard on him, but I'm keeping a close eye on him especially after last time."

Murdoch nodded, "That sounds fair enough."

 

Johnny came awake with a jolt.  It took him a moment to remember where he was.  The campfire was burning and Clem, one of the hands, was keeping watch.  They were a few days out of Stockton heading back to the ranch.  Johnny's heart raced as he laid there going over the nightmare he'd just had.  He kept telling himself not to have those thoughts.  Finally, he drifted back to sleep.

 

Murdoch had established a new routine over the last few days.  Upon rising each morning and after dressing, he would stop by Scott's room before beginning his day.  Sometimes his son would be awake and other times he'd still be sleeping.  By the time lunch was ready, Scott would be in the Great Room on the couch either reading a book or sometimes talking to Jelly.  Murdoch would then have lunch with his son.  The elder Lancer enjoyed these times immensely and looked forward to them.  However, today he was frustrated.  The construction on the new barn and bunkhouse was not going the way he'd planned.  He couldn't quite get the lay out of the new buildings to his satisfaction and this was delaying the work.  The materials would be delivered soon and he needed to get this worked out.  His attention was drawn to the ridge.  He could see riders and bulls making their way down the road.  Johnny and the other hands were finally home.  Murdoch stood there a moment watching them.  It would be wonderful to have them home.  One of the hands approached Murdoch and indicated he was needed elsewhere.

 

Johnny rode his horse to the barn and dismounted.  One of the hands came over and told him he'd take care of his horse.  Johnny thanked him and was about to remove his bedroll and other belongings when Murdoch came out of the barn.

"Johnny!  It's so good to see you.  How was the drive?"  Murdoch asked as he walked to his son.

Johnny slid his hat off his head and let it dangle down his back from the cord around his neck.  He wiped his brow as he answered his father, "Not bad.  Everything went well.  Hank Evenson says hello."

"Good, no problems then?"  Johnny shook his head.  "It's so good to have you home."

"Yeah, it's good to be home; how's Scott?"

"Doing very well; I was about to go to the house for lunch when something came up.  Why don't you go ahead and I'll meet you there."

Johnny nodded and turned; realizing his horse was being tended to and the hand would eventually bring his things to the house, he decided to head there.

He made his way to the house and decided to enter from the back so he could say hello to Teresa and the other women.  Then he would go upstairs, check on Scott and clean up.  He opened the back door and was hit with wonderful smells.  He made his way into the kitchen which was busy with activity.  Johnny had learned quickly not to interfere with the routine of the kitchen.  He stood there for a moment soaking in the activity and aromas when he heard a familiar voice.

"Senior Johnny, you're back!  It's wonderful to have you home!"  Maria cried seeing him in the doorway.  Teresa turned from the stove and hurried to him.

"Oh Johnny, it's so good to have you home!"  Teresa exclaimed as she hurried to him.  She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek when she reached him.

"It's good to be home."  Johnny said returning the hug and kiss.  "When's lunch going to be ready?  I wanted to clean up."

"Oh, that's fine.  We're not quite ready."

Johnny smiled and went up the backstairs.  He made his way down the hallway and entered his room.  He threw his hat on the dresser and removed his jacket and threw it on the bed.  He walked to the adjoining door to Scott's room and opened it.  The room was filled with sunshine and Johnny had a foreboding feeling.  The bed was made and everything was in its place; just like his nightmare.  He hurried through Scott's room to the hallway and quickly made his way downstairs.  He walked into the Great Room and was shocked at the sight before him.  Scott was on the couch reading a book.  Hearing footsteps, Scott looked up at him.

"Well little brother, it's about time you returned.  How was the drive?"

Johnny stood there for a moment trying to regain his composure.  When he left, Scott had been pale and tired.  Johnny had been worried the entire time he was gone; wondering how his brother was doing.  Scott looked wonderful.  His color was vastly improved, he was dressed and his right arm was in a sling.  Finally, Johnny managed to say something to his brother.

"God Boston, you're up!  How the hell are you?"

"Getting there; I'll bet I look at bit better than I did when you left."

Johnny walked towards him.  "Much better.  I can't believe you're up!"  Scott was about to say something when he was interrupted.

"Well if I had my way, he'd be upstairs where he belongs," Teresa said as she entered the room.

Scott looked at her, a look of contempt on his face.  Johnny noticed Scott's expression, smiled and chuckled.  Just then a sound of horses and a carriage could be heard outside.  Both Teresa and Johnny looked towards the French doors.

"Who is it?"  Scott asked.

"Dunno, stay here while I check it out," Johnny stated as he walked to the doors.

Teresa followed Johnny.  When they reached the doors, Johnny opened one; after a moment he and Teresa walked outside.  Scott watched them go and listened as he heard voices.  He couldn't make out what was being said but he heard a greeting and then the name Gomez.  Scott stood up, slowly walked towards the open door, and stood in the doorway.  An older gentleman and woman had just stepped down from the carriage.  Murdoch, Johnny, Teresa and Sheriff Adams were outside with the couple.  Scott stood there for a moment, took a deep breath and walked outside. He barely made it halfway across the veranda when Mrs. Gomez saw Scott as she shook Teresa's hand.  Upon seeming him, the woman knew instantly this was the young man who had tried to save her son.  He was tall with blond hair; his right arm was in a black sling and had blue grey eyes that were filled with pain.  She immediately hurried to him.  Upon reaching him, she took the left hand he had extended and held it firmly as she walked up to him and embraced him.  She could feel him tremble as she spoke.

"I want to thank you very much for everything you tried to do for my son," she said, her voice filled with emotion.

"Mrs. Gomez, I am so sorry about your son.  Manny was a good man and I am very sorry for your loss.  I wish I could have," Scott's voice trailed off as Mr. Gomez interrupted him.

"Done more?  Oh Mr. Lancer, from what I've heard you did so much.  You risked everything for our son.  We will never be able to thank you enough."  Scott looked at Mr. Gomez who took Scott's hand into his.

Mrs. Gomez released Scott and Mr. Gomez then embraced him.  Scott was overcome with emotion and was momentarily unable to speak.

The ranch hands, who had been performing their jobs, had stopped what they were doing when the carriage had halted in front of the hacienda.  They watched as Scott emerged from the house to greet their co-worker's parents.  They hadn't seen Scott since the attack on the ranch.  His right arm was in a sling; and even from a distance they could see he was pale and weakened from his wounds.  The hands watched Scott greet Gomez's parents and then embrace them.  They had viewed Scott as often being arrogant and uncaring.  The hands also heard, from the surviving men, how Scott had not only held off the gunmen through two attacks but came out of nowhere to cover Gomez and Smith.  Smith adamantly stated that he would not be alive if it had not been for Mr. Scott as he had started calling Murdoch's eldest son.  The hands were moved by the scene at the hacienda and none of them would ever view Scott Lancer the same way again.

"Mr. Gomez, I always enjoyed your son's company.  He had such an enthusiastic outlook and a wonderful sense of humor.  He spoke about the two of you often."

"Thank you Mr. Lancer.  Manny wrote to us, and told us how much he loved living and working here.  He'd worked many ranches in his life, but he said this was the best.  He also spoke of you; how much he respected and enjoyed working for you and your family."

Scott smiled, "Thank you, Mr. Gomez, I appreciate your kind words."

"Mr. Lancer, Manny loved this area and we've decided to bury him here," Mrs. Gomez added.

"I'm sorry I won't be able to attend the funeral."

"We understand, the sheriff mentioned what happened; that's why we asked him to bring us here."

Scott smiled at both of them, "Thank you so much for coming.  I'm glad I had the chance to speak to both of you."

"We are too.  Mr. Lancer we’ve taken enough of your time; and now, young man, you need to rest," Mrs. Gomez said patting Scott's arm as she smiled at him.

Scott smiled again, "Thank you Mrs. Gomez; please have a safe trip."

The Gomez's stood there for a moment, then turned and walked to the carriage.  Mr. Gomez helped his wife and then stepped up to the seat.  He grabbed the reins and the two of them took one final look at the man they'd come to see.  Sheriff Adams mounted his horse, said something to Murdoch and escorted the couple.  Scott stood there for a moment watching the trio leave then turned and entered the house.

As had his eldest son, Murdoch stood there going over in his mind what had just happened.  Scott was so much like his mother.  Catherine could easily show compassion; but complained she didn't always know the right words.  Murdoch struggled with both and his son had demonstrated both in one of the most difficult situations.  Murdoch walked towards the house knowing how strenuous this had been for Scott.  Johnny and Teresa exchanged looks.  Both knew how tough this had been for Scott to greet Gomez's parents and knew they needed to go inside.

Scott had picked up the glass of water he'd been drinking from the coffee table and walked to the fire place.  After draining the glass, he threw it into the fireplace, closed his eyes and shook his head.  He needed a few minutes alone.  Seeing Gomez's parents brought the night of the attack back to Scott.  He couldn't shake the vision of seeing Gomez being shot and subsequent feelings that came with it.  The memory was so much like another from so long ago.  Murdoch, followed by Teresa and Johnny, entered the Great Room as Scott threw his glass into the fireplace.

"Scott, this wasn't your fault.  You did everything you could have," Murdoch said as he crossed the room towards his son.

Johnny could see Scott's back straighten and he knew that a wall was going up.

"Scott, Murdoch is right, this wasn't your fault."

Scott stood there looking into the fireplace.  Johnny took a deep breath and was about to continue when Scott spoke.

"Johnny, I don't want to talk about this right now."

Scott was tired and his nerves were raw.  He wanted to be alone to deal with this privately like he had so many times before.  He turned to his left to leave and was met with Johnny's face.

"Scott, you can't go through this alone."

Scott looked at him irritation rising in him, "I do not want to talk about this.  Just leave it alone."  Scott managed to get the words out and keep his emotions in.  All three of them could see the turmoil within him.

"Scott," Murdoch's voice trailed as his eldest son shot him a glare as he walked past his brother.  Johnny and Murdoch exchanged concerned looks.  Teresa watched Scott head for the doorway and then turned her gaze back to the Lancer men.

Upon entering the foyer, Scott started towards the staircase and stopped.  He turned, looked at the front door and cursed himself for not remembering this sooner.  He walked to the front door, opened it and walked outside.  Scott crossed the porch and started towards the barn.  Scott was tired, but this was something he needed to do.  As he made his way to the barn, he encountered a few hands who nodded at him with surprise on their faces.  When Scott came to the barn he stopped for a moment at the entrance, took a breath and entered.  It had been sectioned off into a few areas.  Scott stood there for a moment searching.  Hands were eating lunch at tables, some stopped as they noticed him at the door.  Scott encountered a hand who tipped his hat as he greeted him.

"Afternoon, Mr. Scott.  Glad to see you're up and around."  A note of disbelief in his voice.

Scott was only able to smile and nod at the man as he continued on his way.  Scott returned his gaze to the barn's interior and found what he was looking for.  As his made his way to the section that was curtained off, he met another hand.

"Afternoon, Mr. Scott."

"Afternoon," Scott replied.  He stopped for a moment, shook his head and continued on his way.

When Scott reached the curtains, he opened them carefully not wanting to disturb the occupants behind them.  Scott proceeded quietly.  Smith and Rodriquez were each on cots towards the back of the area sleeping.  Ramirez was sitting on another cot, his back was to Scott.  Mason and Lucas were sitting on a cot facing Ramirez.  The three men were talking oblivious to the new arrival.  Lucas looked up and saw Scott.

"Oh my god, Mr. Scott! I can't believe it's you!" He exclaimed.

Scott smiled and walked towards the men.  Ramirez jumped to his feet.

"Yessir, it's so good to see you!  Should you be up and around we heard you were wounded pretty bad."

One of the figures from a nearby bed stirred.  Smith opened his eyes.

"Mr. Scott!  God, am I ever glad to see you!" he cried.

Scott walked to him and extended his hand.  Smith took it and held it firmly as he looked up into the young man's face.

"I'm sorry Smith, I didn't mean to wake you."

"No, no that's all right.  It's so good to see you!   Ramirez is right.  You look tired, and should sit down."

"I’m fine.  How are you doing?"

"Much better.  Doc says I'll be laid up for a few weeks though.  Damn!"  Scott smiled.

"He's right sir.  You really should sit down."  Scott turned to Ramirez and nodded.  He walked over to the three men shaking each of their hands and finally sat down on Ramirez's cot.  The others returned to their seats.

"We've been wondering how you were doing.  Doc Stevens told us it was pretty bad."

"Well, I took a couple of rounds but I'll be all right.  I came to check on you guys. I'm just sorry I wasn't here sooner."  How is Rodriquez?" Scott asked looking over at the still sleeping man.

"Well, Doc Ramsey said he was do'in great.  Pedro had been pestering him to return to the ranch, so Doc brought him here yesterday.  But now he's not feeling too well.  Bart went to fetch the Doc."  Scott nodded, concern creeping over his tired face.

Scott stayed with the men for a while inquiring about their conditions and became engrossed in a long conversation knowing they had a bond that would forever tie them together.

 

Johnny looked at Teresa then his father.  "Well, now what?"

"What do you mean?" Murdoch replied.

"He's keeping it all inside him."

Murdoch sighed heavily, "I know and that's what worries me."

"This is adding to what he's been trying to bury."

Murdoch looked at his younger son.  Johnny's face was covered with concern.  Murdoch smiled to himself knowing how much his brother meant to him. 

"You mean the memories from Cassidy's visit?"  The dark haired man nodded.

"I've been thinking about that too.  While they were here he seemed fine.  After the Cassidy's left he became quiet and distracted.  I asked him if anything was wrong and he'd always say he was fine."

"You know, I don't get it.  Like I said before, I think Scott forgave Cassidy a little too easily.  That man held a grudge against Scott for five years.  His people put a bullet into him and there he was a few days later shaking his hand and making plans to see him.  I know Scott has a lot of compassion in him, but dammit he's human!  Scott has never once shown anger.  And I think Cassidy's visit brought up a lot of memories that he's been trying to deal with."

Murdoch nodded his head, "Now with Gomez's death, it's only going to add to whatever he's feeling."

"So back to my question, what are we gonna do?"

Murdoch looked out the window, "I don't know."

 

Teresa brought in lunch from the kitchen and set it on the dining room table in the Great Room.  Murdoch had suggested eating here earlier when Scott was reading on the couch.  Teresa thought it was still a good idea.  Maybe Murdoch could persuade Scott to join them and then nap on the couch.  Murdoch went upstairs to ask his son.  Murdoch tapped on the door, opened it, and found the room empty.  He was perplexed, Scott said he was tired.  Murdoch walked over to the adjoining door to Johnny's room, knocked twice, opened the door and walked into the room.

"Johnny?" Murdoch called as he walked around the door.

"Yeah Murdoch, " Johnny answered as he stood at the basin.

"I don't mean to disturb you."

"Oh that's all right. I was just finishing washing up. What do you need?" He asked reaching for his shirt.

"Have you seen Scott?"

"No, I figured he was in his room."

"He isn't and I wonder where he's gone.  He said he was tired and I thought he came up here."

"I thought so too," Johnny replied as he finished dressing.

"Well, let's go downstairs and see if we missed him," Murdoch said shaking his head.

The two men headed downstairs.  Johnny started into the Great Room when something out the French doors caught his attention.  Cirpriano was walking nearby.  Johnny walked over to the door and opened it.

"Cipriano, can you come here for a moment?"  Cipriano nodded and headed towards Johnny.

Johnny held the door open as Cipriano walked inside.

"Cipriano, have you seen Scott by chance?"  Johnny asked as he closed the door.

"Si, Senior Johnny.  Senior Scott is in the barn visiting with the injured hands. I hope it will help him cope with Manny's death; he looks so upset, he and Manny were close."

Murdoch and Johnny exchanged quizzical looks.

"Scott and Manny were good friends?" Murdoch asked surprise in his voice.

Cipriano nodded.  "Si Patrone.  Manny and Senior Scott were very close; ever since Senior Scott came to the ranch.  Senior Scott would ask Manny about the area, the ways of the west.  Things like that.  Manny really liked Senior Scott.  He said it was too bad the rest of the hands didn't know Senior Scott like he did."

"Thank you Cipriano."

"No problem.  Do you need me for anything else?"

Murdoch shook his head, "No, thank you Cipriano."

Cipriano nodded and left through the French doors.

Johnny and Murdoch looked at each other.  The front door opened and Scott entered the foyer.  He was about to go upstairs when Murdoch called to him.  Scott rolled his eyes.  He had hoped they were having lunch in the kitchen as usual and he could slip upstairs.  Scott turned as his father approached him, his brother was behind him.

"Scott, where have you been? Are you sure you're all right?"  Murdoch asked as neared him seeing how pale his son's face was.

"Yes I'm fine.  I wanted to see the men."

"Lunch is ready," Teresa called from the next room.

"Do you want to have some lunch?"  Murdoch asked.

Scott was going to say something and then nodded his head.  The three men entered the room and sat down at the table.  Teresa was already seated.  Scott was quiet during lunch.  Murdoch and the others could tell he was tired, more to the point of exhaustion.  Teresa noticed Scott was finished and decided to suggest he rest downstairs.  She felt he was too tired to venture upstairs and if he was downstairs, she could keep an eye on him.

"Scott, you look tired.  Why don't you lie down on the sofa?"

"That's a good idea.  Besides, I need to go and check on things with the new construction so I won't be around to disturb you,"  Murdoch added.

"And I need to check on the bulls and a few other things so I won't be around either."

Scott looked up from his plate, "No, that's all right.  I'm going upstairs."  He stood up pushing his chair back and left the room.  Teresa and Johnny looked at Murdoch.

"Let it go."

Johnny looked at his father as he rose from the table, "For now."

Johnny was heading towards the barn after checking the bulls and stopped at a nearby corral. He leaned against a fence post thinking about what he was going to do.  He knew now that he wanted a close relationship with his brother; closer than they had been.  During the past couple of months things had grown tense between them.  Johnny knew he was at fault.  He let his feelings get in the way.  He hadn't looked at things from Scott's point of view.  The young man shook his head.  He did that often where Scott was concerned; easily dismissing his brother.  Johnny's life had been tough and he assumed Scott's had been easy.  Scott had buried a lot of things much like the former gunslinger had.  He smiled at the thought realizing that he and his brother were quite a bit alike.

 

The air was hot, heavy and hard to breath.  Darkness and quiet surrounded him.  A feeling of foreboding crept over him as he slowly made his way.  Then suddenly the quiet around him exploded.

Scott jolted awake and sat up.  It took a moment before he realized where he was.  His pulse was racing and he was unable to catch his breath.  He was in his bed at the ranch, sunshine filled the room.  He threw back the covers and walked to the wash basin, poured in some water and sloshed it on his face.  He stood there for a moment trying to push the images back to where they belonged.  There was a knock at the door and it opened.  Scott was angry, he wanted to be alone.  He turned towards the intruder and saw Dr. Ramsey in the doorway.

"Good morning, Scott."

"Hello Doc, what brings you here?"

Dr. Ramsey studied the young man, "I came to see Pedro and the others.  I figured as long as I was here I'd check to see how you're doing, and I'm glad I did.  Young man, I do not like your color.  You come over here and let me check you out."

Scott was about to protest and thought better of it.  He sighed, walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge.  After he was finished, Dr. Ramsey stood up, a stern expression on his face.

"Scott, you are exhausted and have over done it again.  I want you on complete bed rest."

Scott stared at him incredulously, "Doc I'm fine.  Yes I'm a little tired, but I'll be fine."

"Yes you will, when you start following my instructions."  Scott was about to say something when the doctor continued.

"Scott, listen to me. I agreed to your dressing and going downstairs with implicit instructions that you were to rest."

"Doc, I did.  I stayed on the couch and slept when I was tired."

The doctor narrowed his eyes, "From what I understand, you were up most of the day yesterday and spent quite a bit of time in the barn seeing the men."

Scott sighed, "Doc, look I'm sorry but Mr. and Mrs. Gomez came.  I had to see them.  It's something I needed to do."

Dr. Ramsey's face lightened as he patted Scott's hand, "I know.  And I know how much you wanted to see the men.  But you're doing that all in one day was too much for you.  I meant what I said.  You need to rest.  It was a little over a week ago that you were shot. Scott you laid down yesterday afternoon and slept for five hours.  Teresa said you had a light supper here and went back to sleep soon after.  That was about another 10 hours.  I can see now you're still tired.  So young man I want you to get back into bed and stay there until I tell you otherwise."

Scott closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "All right.  So you're staying?"

Dr. Ramsey nodded, "Yes, I want to keep watch on Pedro, and you.  Scott, try not to worry."  He saw concern come over his charge's face. Scott nodded and got back into bed.

"Scott, I want to ask you something.  Are you all right?"

Scott settled into the bed and rested his head on the pillows, "Yes Doc, I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"I don't understand what you mean?"

"Your father and brother are very worried about you."  Scott rolled his eyes and his face tightened. "Look I'm fine."

Dr. Ramsey was going to say something when there was a knock at the door and it opened as Teresa entered the room.

"Hi, I just wanted to check to see if you needed a hand."

"Everything is fine.  I've put Scott on bed rest until further notice."  Dr. Ramsey picked up his bag and headed toward the young woman.

Teresa smiled, "Good.  That's where he belongs."  She walked over to Scott and fixed the bed covers.  When she was finished she gave him a long stare.  Then, finally she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead startling Scott.

She cocked her head, "I love you."

It caught him off guard and he wasn't sure what to say.  He looked up into her brown eyes and smiled at her.

"You get some sleep and I'll be back later."  She turned, walked towards Dr. Ramsey. The two left the room closing the door behind them.

 

Murdoch sat down in the large leather chair, by the desk, turning it to face the window.  He loved this view.  He sat there many an evening thinking about the day; his mind eventually drifting to his sons; wondering about them and their lives.  Then suddenly one day they were here and he could see what fine young men they had become.  Murdoch always suspected that his youngest son would have had a rough time being of mixed races.  He was slowly learning just how rough it had been.  He’d always thought that if Johnny had been raised at Lancer, Murdoch could have helped him deal with the prejudice he would endure, but it hadn't happened that way.  Maria had seen to it.  He knew he hadn’t tried hard enough to find them.  Murdoch was hurt and angry at Maria for leaving him for another man, but he should have gone after her at least to try and bring his son home.  It had come as a shock to the older man upon learning his son had been a gunfighter.  The young man was so angry and unwilling to trust when he first arrived at the ranch.  Murdoch came to understand this, eventually giving his son space.  Murdoch knew he should have shown his unconditional love for his youngest son more often, but he had a hard time with that.  So long ago he’d been hurt in his life and was now learning he had to open up to his youngest son especially if Johnny was going to open up to him.  Johnny was slowly learning to trust him and his brother.

His brother.  Murdoch sat thinking of his eldest son and all the mistakes he’d made.  He should have gone after Harlan when he’d fled with his son.  He should have fought him in the courts but didn’t want to subject Scott to the turmoil it would have caused the little boy.  The elder man had told himself time after time it was for the best. Scott was in good hands.  He’d have the best of everything.  A feeling of guilt washed over him.  He, like Johnny, thought Scott’s life in Boston had been easy.  The elder Lancer knew his son was in the army but assumed his grandfather had maneuvered things so Scott never experienced the atrocities of war.  Now Murdoch knew that he had not only seen them but had experienced them in a prison camp.  Murdoch was still reeling from that revelation so many months ago.  His child, his son spent a year there.  He’d heard some of the stories but was always able to shake them off and distance himself from them.  They happened to other people, other families.  Now those images flashed through his head.  Murdoch closed his eyes and shivered uncontrollably.  Scott had masked that part of his life so skillfully.  Suddenly Murdoch was aware of someone else’s presence.  He turned the chair to find his youngest son standing next to him.

“Hey Murdoch, you sure were concentrating on something.  Sorry to disturb you, but Cipriano needs to talk to you.”

Murdoch stood up and smiled, “Yeah, I guess I was.  I’ll head down to the corral. Thanks.”  He patted Johnny’s shoulder as he walked by him.

 

Scott was glad to be up moving again.  He'd spent the last couple of days in bed.  Now Dr. Ramsey decided he could go downstairs back to the couch.  Depending on how Scott cooperated would determine how many hours he could spend there.  Scott carefully made his way through the Great Room under the watchful eye of Dr. Ramsey and his family.  Scott could not see why everyone had to be there it was no grand occasion at least not to him, but to his family it was.  Scott read his book and dozed off a couple of times.  Teresa kept her promise to Murdoch not to move Scott's book.  Scott woke mid afternoon and was stretching his muscles when Cipriano burst through the French doors.

"Senior Scott!"

"Cipriano, what is it?"

"It's Rodriquez.  He's not doing very well and he's asking for you."

Murdoch and Johnny entered the room to see Scott pull on his boots.  Before they could stop him, Scott raced out the door, Cipriano following behind him.  Scott quickly made his way to the barn and into the curtained area.  Dr. Ramsey was tending to Pedro.  He turned and upon seeing Scott started to speak.

“Scott,” his voice trailed as Scott shot him an icy stare.

Scott sat down on the other side of Pedro and touched his right hand.  The injured man groaned and opened his eyes.  Murdoch and Johnny entered the area and stood behind Dr. Ramsey.

“Oh, Senior Scott you’re here.  I need to talk to you.” His eyes fluttered shut.

“Pedro, save your strength,” Scott responded looking at Dr. Ramsey who shook his head.  Scott took a breath and looked back at the injured man.  Johnny and Murdoch exchanged glances.

Pedro Rodriquez was well liked among the hands.  Easy going always with a joke or a smile, he was a hard worker and his loyalty was unquestionable.  He'd been at Lancer many years and was a fixture among the hands.

Pedro opened his eyes again.  “Senior Scott?”

“I’m here Pedro.”  Scott took the man’s hand in his and held it firmly.  Pedro shifted his head and looked into Scott’s blue grey eyes.

“I am s-so sorry for what happened.  Please, please forgive me.”

Scott shook his head, “Pedro it’s all right.  There’s nothing to forgive.”

“Y-yes, I should have gone when you said to.  I should have left right away.  If I had, help would have come sooner.”

“Pedro, we’ll never know for certain.  Those men were upon us so fast.”

Pedro shook his head, “No Senior Scott, I should have listened to you.  Please, please forgive me.”

He barely uttered the words.  A sharp pain consumed him.  Scott tightened his grip on Pedro’s hand and Scott could feel Pedro’s tighten around his.  The pain subsided and the man once again looked into Scott’s eyes imploring the young man’s absolution. Scott could see how important it was for Pedro to receive his forgiveness.  Forgiveness, Scott knew was not necessary.

“Pedro, I forgive you.  You did everything you could have.  Please remember that.”

Pedro smiled and appeared calmer.  Then he looked into Scott's eyes, “I’m dying, yes?”

Scott held his eyes, “Yes.”

Another pain gripped Pedro; Scott held his hand and looked into his eyes.  Dr. Ramsey brought a water glass to the man’s lips trying to ease his last moments.  After taking a drink Pedro coughed and was seized with more pain.  Scott knew the end was near; Pedro’s grip was lessening with each assault.

“Senior Scott, I’m scared,” he managed to utter.

“I know.”

Murdoch and Johnny exchanged glances, each knowing Scott had been through this before.  His voice and actions were calming and soothing to the dying man. They turned their attention back to the scene before them.

“Please, stay with me.”

“Of course.  I’ll be right here.”  Pedro nodded, his eyes closing.  Scott held his hand and watched his face.

“Senior Scott?”

“Yes Pedro, I’m right here.”

“I, I can’t hang on anymore.”  Pain seized him; his body arched.

Scott gripped his hand tighter, his voice low and comforting, “Pedro if you can't hang on, let go.”

Pedro looked into the young man’s comforting face for the last time.  He managed a small smile and closed his eyes.  Scott held his hand for a few silent minutes; then gently untangled his fingers from the mild ranch hand, stood up and started for the entrance.  He was gone before Murdoch and Johnny could react.  Scott quickly headed for the barn’s entrance, passing hands who had heard the last moments of their co-worker and the man who had given him comfort and peace.

When Scott reached the outdoors, he headed for the ranch house.  Midway there he stopped for a moment contemplating his next move.  He continued on his way and entered through one of the French doors.  Upon entering the Great Room he walked towards the couch and stopped, unable to move forward.  Images and feelings from long ago were colliding with those of the present.  He closed his eyes as his body shook from all of the emotions fighting to surface.  Suddenly he was aware of hands on his shoulders and moved away before they could grip him.  He opened his eyes and walked towards the fireplace struggling to gain control of his emotions.  Again hands were on his shoulders gripping him firmly.

“Scott,” his father softly said.

Scott shook his head and stared into the fireplace. Murdoch stood there with his hands on his son's shoulders.  Scott didn't move and his father could feel his son's anguish.  Murdoch wanted to turn his son around, hold him tightly in his arms and take away his pain.  However, he knew there was nothing he could do so he stood there with him. Johnny moved around the couch near his brother, seeing the torment within him.  Like his father, Johnny wanted to reach out and hold him.  As he stood there fighting the torment within him Scott could feel his strength waning. His breathing became deeper and he was having difficulty staying conscious.

"Johnny, help me get him to the sofa."  Johnny grabbed Scott's arm and helped his father move his brother to the couch.

"Teresa, go and get a blanket."  Teresa nodded and ran from the room.  They managed to put Scott into a sitting position.  Scott's eyes were closed as he rested his head on the back of the sofa.

"Johnny, get some water."  Without a word Johnny rounded the couch.  In an instant he returned with a glass, and sat down on the couch next to his brother.  Scott opened his eyes and took the glass from him.  Teresa reappeared with pillows and blankets from a guest room.  Scott drained the glass and handed it back to his brother.

"I'm fine, just give me a moment," Scott said quietly as he closed his eyes and rested his head back on the couch.

Murdoch and Johnny exchanged knowing looks.  Johnny stood up and placed the glass on the coffee table.  Teresa stepped forward and placed the pillows on the couch near where Scott sat.  Before Scott could react, Murdoch positioned his hands on Scott's shoulders and gently moved him forward.  Murdoch turned Scott as Johnny picked up his feet and they laid him on the couch.  Johnny removed his brother's boots as Teresa handed the blankets to Murdoch.

Scott murmured, "What are you doing?"

"Shh," Murdoch said as he placed the blankets on his son. "We know what's best for you." Murdoch brushed the hair on his son's forehead.

Scott opened his eyes and looked into the faces of his family; with his strength nearly gone he finally succumbed to the soothing darkness.

 

Chapter 7

"Look, there weren't supposed to be any survivors!  How long do you think it'll take before Lancer puts it together?  My price just doubled!  I want my money and I want it now!"

"That isn't my problem!  We had agreement you bastard!  How dare you double cross me!"  A shot rang out.  The sound of a horse's hooves faded into the night, and then there was silence.

 

"Dammit Milt, I know that!"  Murdoch exploded.

"Murdoch, keep your voice down," Dr. Ramsey said to his friend as he cast a glance to the couch where Scott was sleeping.  His patient stirred but didn't wake.  Dr. Ramsey moved the group into the outer hallway out of earshot.

Dr. Milt Ramsey had known Murdoch Lancer for many years. Over time he knew the louder his friend bellowed, the more concerned he was.  Dr. Ramsey had voiced his concerns regarding Scott's health.  Although Murdoch's oldest son had been making progress in his recovery from the gunshot wounds, the deaths of the two ranch hands were taking its toll.  Scott had nearly collapsed into Murdoch's arms after sitting with Rodriquez.  The doctor stated Scott was under enormous stress which had started to hinder his recovery.  Dr. Ramsey took a deep breath and continued.

"As I said, he cannot endure anymore stress."

"And how do you propose we do that?"  Murdoch asked his voice calmer.

"I'm considering putting him back on complete bed rest.  That way he'll be upstairs and his visitors can be controlled.  I do not want any more trips outside this house, he's not strong enough," Dr. Ramsey stated firmly.

"Milt, I don't agree.  Scott's not a child; he won't respond to that kind of treatment," Murdoch answered as he looked to the doorway leading to the Great Room.  He took a deep breath and continued,

"I know what's best for him."  Johnny and Teresa exchanged looks but said nothing.

Dr. Ramsey studied Murdoch for a moment before he answered.  He knew something had happened between father and son when he entered the house earlier and saw Murdoch standing with Scott at the fireplace.  The tone is his friend's voice also told the doctor that any kind of argument would be pointless.

"All right Murdoch.  I've explained his care to you and I will leave him in your hands.  I'll return to my original schedule for check ups.  If anything should change, you know where I am."

Murdoch turned to his friend, smiled and extended his hand, "Milt, I appreciate all you've done.  You saved Scott's life and I'll never be able to repay you." His voice was filled with emotion.

Dr. Ramsey took his friend's hand into his and shook it firmly, "You know better. I'm glad I was here.  Scott's a strong young man."

A look of gratitude washed over Murdoch's face, "That he is Milt; that he is."

 

Murdoch sat in his favorite leather chair near the fire place, a ledger laid in his lap as he watched his son as he slept.  The only sounds in the room were the fire burning in the fire place and the Grandfather clock quietly ticking on the other side of the room.  His son looked peaceful and Murdoch wondered how he could preserve that peace for him.  Murdoch felt something had happened between him and his eldest son earlier.  Initially, Scott had pulled away from him when he had placed his hands on Scott's shoulders.  However, when Murdoch had gone to Scott at the fire place and repeated the action, Scott had not moved.  Murdoch had felt his son accept his comfort and eventually Scott had leaned slightly back into Murdoch's arms.  Murdoch knew a wall had started to crumble.  Murdoch sat and watched his son knowing what he had to do to help him.

 

Scott woke and found himself on the couch in the Great Room.  He could tell it was evening.  He laid there and remembered the events that led to him being there.  The fire crackled in the fire place; the quietness of the room soothed him.  He let the peacefulness envelope him.  Finally, he had decided to rise when a voice halted him.

"Hey son, how do you feel?"

Scott looked over to the location of the voice and saw his father sitting on a chair near the fireplace.  A ledger lay in his lap.

"Better.  I didn't realize anyone was here.  How long have you been there?"

"Ever since you fell asleep."

Scott felt uneasy.  Ever since he was shot, his father was never far away.  Although Scott was grateful for his and everyone's concern, he wasn't used to this kind of attention and wasn't sure how to react.

Scott stretched, "What time is it?"

"Around ten o'clock."

His response surprised Scott.  He'd been asleep for almost nine hours. Slowly Scott rose from his position on the couch.  The sling from his right arm had been removed making his progress easier.

"Do you want some help?"  Murdoch asked as he removed his feet from the ottoman and started to rise.

"No, I can manage," Scott replied as he moved into a sitting position.  He felt lightheaded and sat there for a moment and waited for the feeling to pass.

"Are you hungry?"  Murdoch asked as he threw the ledger on the ottoman and walked to him.

Scott shook his head, "No, I'm fine. Thanks."

"Well, I was thinking of having a sandwich.  Do you want to join me?"

Scott thought for a moment.  A sandwich sounded good and would probably ease his lightheadedness.

"All right," Scott replied.  He reached down for his boots and slowly pulled them on while Murdoch watched him.  As he started to stand, he felt shaky.  Murdoch moved to him and grabbed his left arm to help steady him.

“Thanks,” he replied as he looked up into his father’s eyes.  Murdoch smiled at him.

“Are you sure, you don’t want some help?”  Scott shook his head.

“No, I think I can make it but perhaps you’d better stick close by.”  Murdoch nodded and followed him closely.  Scott maneuvered through the room using furniture to steady him.

Upon reaching the kitchen, Scott sat down at the table.  Murdoch set about locating the various items for the sandwiches, and placed them on the table.  Scott started to cut the bread, took the first piece, buttered it, and ate it while he sliced more.  Murdoch brought silverware and plates over and handed them to his son.  When all items were located, he sat down across from his son.  Murdoch sat there for a moment watching Scott.  He marveled at how much he was like his mother.

Scott looked up from the table catching his gaze.

"What?"

"Oh, you just remind me of your mother."

"Well that's what you said; that I have her eyes."

"You do, and you have some of her mannerisms."

Scott studied him, "Oh?"

"Yes.  Occasionally the way you move your hands or the way you slightly tilt your head when listening to someone."

Scott became self conscious and sat back in his chair.  He realized what he'd done and shook his head chuckling.  Murdoch joined him.  Scott looked down and continued to make his sandwich.

"She was also good at showing compassion, but always complained she could never find the right words.  Me, I have trouble with both.  You do both extremely well."

Scott was fiddling with the corner of his sandwich, "I guess it's because I was in the army," He stated, then took a bite of his sandwich, and looked up at his father.  Murdoch shook his head.  "No Scott, it's not something you learn, it's something that is in you."

Scott stared at him for a moment, and then looked down at his plate.

 

Johnny woke early.  He hadn't really been sleeping; he'd tossed and turned most of the night.  He picked up his clothes from the chest at the end of his bed and walked to the window.  The sun was coming up, dew was on the grass and a light breeze was blowing the lace curtains in his room.  It was going to be a beautiful day.  He dressed, then collected his things and stopped at the adjoining door to his brother's room.  Johnny was worried about his brother.  When Scott had nearly collapsed into Murdoch's arms the day before, the incident had scared the young man.  Johnny wasn't sure, but he thought he'd heard Scott come into his room late last night.  He opened the door carefully not making any sound.  Scott was sound asleep in his bed.  Johnny stood there for a moment, sighed and closed the door.  He made his way downstairs and found his father in the Great Room.

"Morn'n Murdoch."

Murdoch turned and smiled at his youngest son, "Morning Johnny.  How are you today?"

Johnny returned the smile as he buckled his gun across his lean hips, "All right I guess.  Looks to be a beautiful day."

"Yes it does.  I need your assistance in reorganizing the barn.  After breakfast I'd like you to check the herd on the south range."  Johnny nodded; he seemed preoccupied.

"Is something wrong son?"  Murdoch asked as he walked towards him.

Johnny looked at him for a moment and then spoke, "I'm worried about Scott."

Murdoch placed a hand on his son's shoulder, "I know you are.  But he is better."

"Is he?"

"Yes, when he woke last night his color was better.  I also managed to get him to eat something before he went back to bed."

Johnny sighed and nodded, "Good."

"Well, my boy let's see how we can fit things from two buildings into one," Murdoch stated as he led Johnny outside.

 

Scott woke up and sunshine filled the room.  A breeze was blowing in making the room fresh and cool.  Scott rose and went to the window.  He enjoyed the view from his room.  He'd contemplated many things in front of this window and soon became lost in thought.  Finally he sighed and walked to the wash basin.  He washed up and then dressed.  As he started to leave the room, he noticed the black sling on his dresser.  He walked to it, and picked up.  He shook his head and wondered why he needed it.  He then turned and left the room.  As he entered the Great Room, he was hit with the wonderful aromas emanating from the kitchen.  He glanced at the Grandfather clock and knew that breakfast would soon be served.  He stood there for a moment and then walked towards the doorway that led to the kitchen.  As he entered the doorway he stopped and looked at the frame, his fingers lightly touched the new wood, the events of a Thursday night echoed in his mind.  He turned and looked back towards the French doors; the gun battle a vivid memory.  He closed his eyes and tried to shake the images from his mind.  Finally he turned and walked to the kitchen.

The ranch's kitchen was located towards the back of the house.  As Scott stood in the doorway, he watched the activity of Teresa and the other women who lived and worked at the Lancer ranch.  Scott knew from his early childhood not to interfere with the activity of a kitchen.  Maria was moving a large pot from the enormous stove to a counter when she noticed Scott.

"Senior Scott!  It's so good to see you up!"  She exclaimed.  After setting the pot down on the counter, she hurried to him and gave him a hug.  Maria had been with the Lancer ranch since marrying Cipriano many years ago.  She was a warm, affectionate woman who cared very deeply for Murdoch and Teresa.  Upon their arrival, Maria grew very fond of the Lancer boys and had developed very deep feelings for them.

Before Scott could answer, Teresa looked up from the counter she was working at and hurried towards him also, "Oh Scott, it's so good to see you up!"  She cried and gave him a hug.

"I was about to go up and see if you were awake.  Come over here, sit down and I'll pour you a cup of coffee," she said as she led Scott to the square table.

"Thanks.  As usual, it smells wonderful in here," Scott replied as he sat down.  Both Maria and Teresa smiled, appreciating the compliment.  Teresa noticed the sling in his hand.

"Here, let me help you put that on," Teresa stated as she took it from him.

"I don't understand why I have to wear that thing," Scott said sullenly.

"It's to keep your arm immobilized so you don't pull the stitches out of your shoulder," Teresa stated firmly.  She assisted him and after she was finished she stood back and admired her handiwork.

Scott sighed as he looked at her.  She smiled brightly at him.

Breakfast was always served around 8:00 in the morning.  Work started at sunup and then the men at Lancer would stop for breakfast.  Teresa walked over to the stove, picked up the coffee pot and returned to the table.  As she poured Scott some coffee, Murdoch and Johnny walked into the room.

"Good morning ladies, it smells fantastic in here!"  Murdoch exclaimed as he took off his hat and gloves and placed them on a cabinet near the door.

"Yeah, it sure does," Johnny added as he walked in behind his father.

"Scott, you're up.  Wonderful, how are you feeling son?" Murdoch asked as he washed his hands.

"Not bad," Scott replied as he looked up at Teresa giving her a wry smile.  She returned the smile knowing Scott had remembered her comment to him about how he always said he was better when she asked him how he was.  Johnny noticed the exchange between them as he finished washing up and became curious.

"Something going on here?"  He asked as he walked over to the table, moved the chair and sat down next to his brother.

Scott shook his head, "No, just a private joke."  Teresa smiled at the comment and liked how Scott had phrased it.

"Hey Boston, it's great to see you up.  You look a lot better than the last time I saw you."

"Thanks, I feel better."

Murdoch sat down on the other side of Scott.  Teresa brought plates of food loaded with pancakes, and sausages.  Maria came behind her with a plates piled with hash browns.  The women handed the plates to the men.  Teresa sat down opposite Scott.  Maria turned and left the room to join her husband and the others for their breakfast.

Johnny loaded his plate with pancakes and then handed the serving plate to his brother.  Being one handed, Scott set the plate down on the table and then placed pancakes on his plate.  After he was finished, he handed it to his father.  Murdoch took the plate from his son and watched him as he managed the other serving plates one handed.  Scott picked up his fork, moved it towards a sausage on his plate and hesitated.  Without thinking, Murdoch reached over and picked up his son's plate.

"Here, let me help you with that," Murdoch stated as he placed the plate down next to his and cut the sausages into pieces.  When he was finished, he handed the plate back to Scott.

"Thanks," Scott replied simply.

Murdoch smiled at him, "No problem."

The breakfast conversation consisted of complimenting Teresa about how wonderful the food was to the latest ranch activities.

"So, how's the construction coming on the new buildings?" Scott asked.  Johnny cleared his throat.  Scott looked at him and Johnny gave him a sly smile.

"I wouldn't ask about that brother," Johnny replied, his smile broadening.  Scott looked at him questioningly.

"Why not?'  Scott asked as he dabbed his mouth with a napkin.

"Because you could lose your head or some other important body part," Johnny said still smiling.  Murdoch scowled at his younger son and then turned to Scott.

"The construction hasn't started yet.  I cannot find a suitable way to locate the buildings," Murdoch stated with irritation in his voice.

"Oh," Scott said.

"Would any one like more pancakes?"  Teresa asked as she tried to change the subject.

"I would," Johnny replied as he smiled at her.

Teresa handed him the serving plate.  Johnny heaped quite a few on his plate and then handed it to his brother.  Scott placed more on his plate and then handed it to his father who smiled at him realizing how he had sounded.  Teresa smiled to herself as she watched Scott.  This was the most food he'd eaten since he had been wounded.  A look of satisfaction came over her face as she picked up her fork and continued to eat the food on her plate.

After breakfast Johnny and Scott walked into the Great Room.  Murdoch wanted to check something in another part of the house.  Scott walked over towards the French doors and looked outside.  Johnny stood near one of the chairs and watched his brother.  He could see the conflict in him.  Johnny took a deep breath.

"Scott, are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"Look Scott, you're not to blame for this.  If you want to blame someone blame me."  The words tumbled out of Johnny.

Scott shook his head and before he could respond, Johnny continued, "Scott, this is my fault.  It was my responsibility to make sure there were enough men to tend the ranch.  When it came time to decide who was to stay I ducked the responsibility like you said I would.  It's my fault Gomez and Rodriquez are dead and that you were wounded."

Scott stood and faced the French doors for a moment.  Scott wasn't up to this; he was tired and wanted to discuss this later.  He was going to tell his brother this when he turned and saw Johnny's expression.  He knew this couldn't wait.

"Johnny, this is not your fault," Scott said carefully.  There were two issues that needed to be addressed and each one needed to be dealt with differently.

Before Scott could continue, Johnny spoke again, "No Scott, this is my fault.  Nothing you can say will change that," Johnny said as he moved towards the fire place.

"Johnny, you weren't responsible for the attack on the ranch," Scott said quietly.

The younger man shook his head, "No, but it's my fault there weren't enough men here to defend it," Johnny said his words filled with emotion.

Scott stood there for a moment and Johnny turned towards him.  Scott was looking directly at him.  His blue grey eyes locked on him.  Johnny could see the sadness in his brother's face.  Johnny waited for his brother's response and wondered if this would change their relationship forever.

Murdoch had entered the room from the hallway leading to the kitchen and heard most of the conversation.  At first he was going to stop it knowing Scott wasn't up to this.  However as he listened to his sons, he knew they needed to talk.  He stood in the doorway and waited.

"Johnny, listen to me.  You're right, not enough men were here to tend the ranch, but someone knew that and that's why it was attacked.  You and I both know Lancer was ambushed."

Johnny stood there and looked at his brother.  The young man couldn’t believe what he heard or the expression on his brother's face.  In what seemed a minute, Scott's face changed from grief to concern; concern for him.  Emotions started to well up in the younger man.  He had not expected this.  He finally gained enough composure to answer his brother who still looked at him.

"So, you're not angry with me?"

Scott lifted his brows, "Oh, I'm angry you didn't leave enough men here to tend the ranch.  There was quite a bit to do that weekend.  Not only with the cattle that were going to Stockton nearby but with other things that needed to be done.  The household staff wasn't here either so that left six men spread pretty thin if nothing had happened."

Relief spread over Johnny.  Scott being angry at him for not leaving enough men he could handle.  Before Johnny could respond, Scott continued.

"As far as getting Gomez and Rodriquez killed, you weren't responsible for that."

Johnny shook his head, "Yes I am."  He could see Scott was going to respond when he stopped him.  "Scott, it's my fault Rodriquez argued with you."  Johnny took a breath and continued.

"When we came back to the ranch, the hands talked about what happened between us earlier.  I didn't pay as close attention as I should have, but I knew they were talking about it.  Scott, I undermined your authority in front of them.  I shouldn't have done that and I swear if it takes me a lifetime, I will make it right."

Scott stood there and listened to his brother.  Johnny was right, Rodriquez had argued with Scott that night.  Something Rodriquez had never done before.  What Johnny didn't know, was that Rodriquez was scared.  Scott had seen it in his eyes.  The others were afraid as well.  Scott knew they were outnumbered and had toyed with the idea of disappearing into the darkness with the men.  Then they would formulate a plan.  These particular hands were some of the best riflemen and Scott knew he could use these talents.  It didn't work that way. Rodriquez had cost them the time and then gunmen were upon them.  Scott didn't want to tarnish Rodriquez's reputation.  He chose his words carefully.

"Johnny, it wasn't your fault Rodriquez argued with me.  A lot of things happened that night and very quickly.  In the end, Rodriquez managed to escape and bring help.  That's all that matters.  Concerning what happened between us, that needs to be discussed.  As for you're damaging my credibility with the men, well that's something I can take care of on my own."

Scott's stare had become hard and his blue grey eyes darkened.  The tone in his voice had changed and was full of sarcasm.  Johnny realized Scott hadn't forgotten what happened.

There was a knock on one of the French doors and then it opened.  Bart Mathis walked in.

"Johnny, Cipriano wants to know if you're ready."  Johnny sighed irritably at the interruption.

"Tell him I'll be right there."

Bart realized he'd interrupted a conversation.  He was about to say something, thought better of it after seeing Johnny's glare and left.  Johnny started towards the door and turned towards his brother.

"I have to leave.  Look Scott, this isn't over.  We need to resolve this."

Scott looked at his brother.  Johnny turned and walked out the French doors.

Scott turned and saw his father.

"I suppose you heard."  Scott said as he walked towards the couch.

"Listen Scott, this is between you and your brother.  All I'm going to say is that I know how sorry he is for what happened.  It's been on his mind ever since.  He's also been concerned it will affect your relationship."  Murdoch knew he had to stay out of this and let the boys resolve it on there own.

Scott looked at his father, "It will as long as he keeps it up."  Scott turned away and Murdoch knew this was the end of it.  He walked past his son to the desk.

"Listen, I've been thinking.  I can't seem to place the new buildings the way I want.  As you've heard, it's been irritating me.  I need to check on something and wondered if you wanted to take a look."

Murdoch asked as he opened the plans.  Scott stood there for a moment, turned towards his father, then nodded his head as he walked to the desk.  Murdoch was pleased.  He knew this would be good for Scott.  It would distract him and he was good at these types of things.  Besides, Murdoch thought with the two of them working together, he could keep on eye on his son.

 

Chapter 8

Johnny and the others checked the herd.  They moved them slightly south for better grazing.  Johnny was sitting up the hill watching the herd and hands when something caught his attention.  He looked into the sky and saw buzzards flying nearby.  He yelled at Bart, then turned his horse, Barranca, and headed in the direction of the buzzards.  When he arrived at his destination, he saw a carcass.  He rode to it and then dismounted.  When he reached the remains of the animal he noticed the Lancer brand.  Johnny knelt beside the animal.  Bart Mathis rode to where Johnny was, dismounted his horse and walked to his friend.

"They did a real hatchet job, didn't they?"  Bart asked as he knelt beside his friend.

"Yeah, only took what they needed at the time and wasted the animal," Johnny replied irritably as he stood up.

"The gunmen?" Bart asked as he stood up.

Johnny looked around, "Yeah, makes sense.  I'll bet they're up in those hills someplace," Johnny replied noting the direction with his eyes.

"The sheriff thought they were on Miller's' ranch.  The tracks he followed led him and his men there."

Johnny looked at his friend, "Well this explains why he hasn't been able to pick up their tracks.  Miller must have moved his herd, so they came here.  We're probably being watched now."

Bart looked at Johnny, "Yeah let's give them the routine, shall we?"  He asked his eyes twinkling.

Johnny smiled and the two men walked to their horses.  To anyone watching, the two men appeared to be typical ranch hands looking for other remains and possible stray cattle.  After a few minutes they headed back to the herd.

 

Johnny reached Morro Coyo in good time.  He dismounted his horse in front of the sheriff's office.  After tying up his horse, he casually walked inside.

"Hello Sheriff Adams, have you got a minute?"

Sheriff Adams looked up from his desk, "Why hello, Johnny.  How are you and what brings you into town?"

Johnny left the sheriff's office after he related what he and Bart had discovered.  The sheriff told the young man he would check into a few things and would be in touch.  Johnny decided to get a cool beer before he headed back home.  He untied his horse and walked to a saloon down the street.  Johnny tied up his horse and entered the saloon.  As usual he started to scan the room to see who was inside, when a familiar voice called to him.

"Hey Madrid, what brings you to town?" Rollins asked from a corner table.

Rollins was drunk and had been since the night of the attack on the ranch.  After he had decided who was to stay at the ranch that night, he had gone to town with the rest of the hands.  When Rodriquez came to town wounded, Rollins had gone back inside the saloon where he'd been since.  Johnny was full of contempt at the ex-hand.  He walked past him to the bar and ordered his drink, mindful of where Rollins was located.  As Johnny drank his beer, he remembered Rollins' actions the days that preceded the attack and after.  Rollins had never liked Scott.  The day of the attack, things had become heated between Scott and Rollins.  Scott had wanted to fire the man when Johnny intervened.  Johnny now knew Scott had been right about Rollins all along.  Johnny shook his head; Scott had been right about a lot of things.  Johnny finished his beer, spoke to a few friends and then turned to leave.  Rollins rose and attempted to block the gun hawk.

"Rollins, get out of my way!"  Johnny ordered.

Rollins refused to move and before he could speak, Johnny shoved the man who crashed to the floor.  Johnny then continued on his way.  The bartender and another bar patron picked up Rollins and threw him out of the bar.  The drunk crashed against a hitching post, and watched with hatred as Johnny rode out of town.

 

By the time Johnny returned to the ranch it was dark.  After he'd tended to his horse, he walked to the house.  Lights were on in the Great Room, which indicated someone was still up.  He entered the house through the French doors and saw his father reading in his favorite leather chair.  Hearing someone come in, Murdoch looked up.

"Hey son, how are you?  Were you able to see Harry?"

"Yeah I was able to see him.  He agrees, the gunmen are hiding in the hills on Lancer," Johnny replied as he set his hat on a nearby chair, walked to the couch and sat down.

Murdoch nodded concern crossing his face.  "You only found the one animal?"

"Yeah, and I think we were being watched.  The carcass hadn't been there that long and we saw fresh tracks."

Murdoch watched his son, "What is it, what's bothering you?"

"It doesn't make sense.  Why would they still be hanging around?  You'd think they'd be across the border.  Why stay around here and risk being caught?"

Murdoch nodded, "At first I thought it was because the leader was wounded during the attack here.  However, no one sought medical help from Milt or Roger.  I agree, it doesn't make sense for them to still be around here."

The younger man thought for a moment, "Unless they've stayed around here for another reason."

Murdoch looked at him questioningly, "But what?"

Johnny shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know."

Johnny looked away lost in thought and then looked back at his father who was watching him, "How's Scott?"

Murdoch smiled, "Much better.  He went to bed about an hour or so ago.  Teresa was thrilled this evening because he ate another full meal."  Murdoch chuckled at the memory, which made Johnny smile and then it faded.

"I suppose you heard our conversation earlier. I hadn't meant to bring it up, but when I saw the look on his face it just came out," Johnny said quietly as he looked at his father.

Murdoch looked at him and smiled, "I know." Before he could continue, Johnny interrupted him.

"I can't believe during the conversation he became concerned about me.  Here I was trying to help him and he winds up helping me."  Johnny shook his head.

Murdoch could see this incident frustrated his youngest son.  Johnny was concerned about his brother but was at a loss as to how to help him.

 

After breakfast, Scott decided to look at the plans.  He became engrossed in the plans and lost track of time. Finally, he was aware of someone in the room, he looked up from the desk and saw Bart Mathis standing in the entry of the French doors.  Scott didn’t particularly like Mathis and he knew the feeling was mutual.  Mathis was a friend of Johnny’s who had come to work at the ranch a few months ago.  He was a good worker when he wanted to be.  He had an attitude and Scott didn’t feel he was someone you could depend on.

“Excuse me Mr. Scott, your father asked me to meet him here,” Mathis said.

Scott noted the title had been added to his first name.  He remembered a few hands had addressed him that way too.  In the past they’d called him Scott.  The Mexican workers had addressed him as Senior Scott.  Scott was puzzled by this new addition.

“He’s in the kitchen,” Scott replied.  From the expression on Scott’s face, Mathis could tell he was to proceed there.  He nodded, closed the door and headed for the kitchen.

Scott continued to study the plans.  He needed more room to roll out the entire sheet.  He rose from his chair and crossed the room to the large dining table.  He was about to unroll the sheet when he heard a familiar voice.

“Here sir, let me help you with that,” Mathis said as he reached for the sheet in Scott’s hand.  Scott handed it to him.

“Thanks.”

“Sure, no problem.  It’s kinda hard with one hand,” Mathis said as he rolled out the sheet and anchored it with a couple of candelabras.

“Yes it is.  Thanks again,” Scott replied.  Mathis smiled, nodded and then turned his attention to the sheet.

“Is this a plan of the new buildings?”

“Yes, I’m having trouble with the location of the new buildings in the existing space,” Scott stated as he looked at the sheet.

“That’s the same problem your father is trying to work out, isn't it?”

“Yes, and now it’s become my problem.”

“Oh,” Mathis said chuckling.  Scott smiled and returned his attention back to the sheet.

“So the location of both buildings is a problem?”  Mathis asked.

“Well, not exactly; just the barn.”

“Is that this building?”  Mathis asked as he pointed to the sheet.

“No, that’s the bunkhouse; this is the barn,” Scott stated as he pointed the buildings out to the ranch hand.

Mathis’ brows went up, “That’s the bunkhouse?  It looks so much larger than the old one and different from the sheet your father was using.”

“This is my drawing.  I cannot understand why the buildings won’t fit the space.  Even with the buildings being larger, there should be enough room.  I remember there was plenty of room between the old buildings.”

Bart nodded, “Yes, there was almost too much.”

“Too much what?”  Murdoch asked as he entered the room.

Scott looked up at him, “Too much room between the old buildings.”

“Oh, you’re starting that again, are you?”  Murdoch said as a frown came over his face.

Scott smiled, “Yes I am, and you know I’m right.” Murdoch shook his head with a twinkle his eye.

“Bart, get me out of here.  I can’t take another moment trying to figure out those goddammed buildings!”  Murdoch mockingly bellowed.

“Then get the hell out of here and leave me alone,” Scott replied as a smile came over his face.

Murdoch patted his son’s left shoulder and motioned to Mathis.  The two men left through the French doors as Scott turned his attention back to the plans.

 

Scott woke with a jolt.  He'd had another nightmare and this time it was more intense.  He took a deep breath and realized he’d fallen asleep on the couch.  The last thing he remembered was that he needed a break from the plans.  He had moved from the chair at the desk to the couch for a moment.  He stood up and moved towards the fire place.  He trembled inside and tried to push the memories from the dream away.  He glanced at the grandfather clock which indicated he’d been asleep for a couple of hours.  He turned, started to move, when Johnny entered the room from the door near the desk.

“Scott, are you all right?”  Scott realized he must have made a sound during the nightmare.  He cursed to himself.

“Yes, I’m fine,” he replied as he continued towards the desk.

Johnny noticed his voice was unsteady.  The younger man knew Scott's denial had to end.

“No, you’re not fine.  You haven’t been the same ever since,” his voice trailed as Scott interrupted him.

“Ever since what?”  Scott asked with annoyance in his voice as he reached the desk, walked around it and faced his brother.

“Ever since Cassidy came.”

“What the hell has Dan Cassidy got to do with anything?”  Scott asked as the irritation rose in his voice.

“Everything Scott; you haven’t been the same since he left.  I wish that man had never come here.  If it wasn’t for him,” again Johnny’s voice trailed as Scott interrupted him.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here. I would never have made it through that first night if it wasn’t for him.”  The words came out before Scott could catch himself; Scott turned and faced the large window behind the desk.

"Scott, don't shut me out; maybe I can help," Johnny said as he walked towards the desk.

Scott turned towards him, "Just what do you think you can help with?" His stare was hard and his blue grey eyes were dark.

"Facing the past."

Scott looked down at the papers on the desk.

Johnny plunged on, "I know you spent a year in a Confederate prison camp with Cassidy."

"You know nothing," Scott managed to say as he picked up a paper, his voice firm.

Johnny continued, "Scott, I saw the scars on your back.  I know you were whipped.  I also know Cassidy planned an escape.  The night before you were to leave he became ill, you led the escape and 16 men died before you reached the wall."

Scott stood there unable to move.  He placed the paper on the desk and turned away, back towards the window.  Finally he spoke, his voice was quiet, "Who told you this?"

"Sara Cassidy when she came here in a bid to save her husband. She also said that Dan believed you'd sold them out.  Something I know you're not capable of."

Scott continued to face the window, it acted as a mirror and Johnny could see Scott fighting his emotions.  When he spoke his voice was low, "That isn't exactly how it happened."

Johnny watched his brother knowing this was difficult for him but the younger man knew Scott needed to resolve this.  He took a breath and continued.

"Scott, you can't keep this in you any longer." Scott shook his head.

"Johnny's right Scott, you need to talk about this," Murdoch added.

He'd entered the room from the doorway leading to the kitchen and heard the conversation.  Until now Murdoch didn't want Johnny or anyone else bringing this up.  However, he knew his son couldn’t go on like this anymore.

Murdoch continued, "Scott, you've buried this too long."

Scott turned and stared at his father, "You always said we need to move forward from the past; that we can't change it."

Murdoch held his stare, "No, we can't change the past.  I was wrong though; sometimes we need to talk about the past in order to move forward."

Scott turned back towards the window.  After a moment he spoke, "It's not something you talk about in polite company."

"Scott, this isn't Boston.  We're your family and we want to help."  Johnny's voice was firm.

Scott continued to look out at the landscape and pondered his father's and brother's statements.  Maybe they were right.  He had never wanted to talk about what happened all those years ago to anyone, but then there wasn’t anyone he could talk to; until now.  During the past weeks, Murdoch, Johnny and Teresa had proven over and over how much he meant to them.  He'd been overwhelmed by their concern for him.  He wondered if recounting those horrible memories would finally enable him to find peace.  Johnny was right, after Cassidy had left memories and feelings surfaced, then Gomez and Ramirez died compounding his emotions.

He took a deep breath and finally spoke, his voice was quiet, "We were captured behind enemy lines.  We’d been sent to in sabotage a supply line.  Our mission was successful and we managed to cause plenty of damage before we were caught. The rebs wanted us badly.  When we were captured, we weren't sent to a typical prison.  We were brought to a plantation they used.  To keep the prisoners in line, they starved them and when necessary beat them."

Scott closed his eyes as visions emerged and stopped.  He couldn't continue.  The memories were too horrible to recount, especially here and now.

"I can't do this," he said quietly.

Johnny and Murdoch looked at each other.  Johnny nodded at his father and then turned back to his brother.

"Scott, yes you can."  Scott shook his head and Johnny continued.  "You can tell us whatever you need to."  Johnny voice was calm.  He hoped his tone reassured his brother.

Scott took another breath and continued, "Initiation into the camp was to be whipped and left until the next morning.  Quite a few didn't make it that first night.  I don't think I would have either if it hadn't been for Dan."

Murdoch closed his eyes at the images that flashed in his mind; he opened them and looked at his son who continued to look out the window.  Johnny continued to watch his brother, his face a mixture of emotions.

Scott opened his eyes, took another breath and continued, "Dan started to analyze the other escape attempts.  Going over and over why they had failed.  Finally after several months he came up with a plan of his own and put me second in command.  Everything was set and we were ready to leave.  Then Dan became sick and wound up in the infirmary.  Before they came for him, he made me promise to go ahead with the plan.  I didn't want to leave without him, but he had given me an order.  The night of the escape things didn't seem right and I nearly called it off when Dan's words rang in my head, so I went ahead.  It was a dark night, the air was quiet and thick making it difficult to breath.  It was quiet, too quiet.  We began to make our way when all of a sudden the sky lit up, sounds of gunfire came from everywhere.  We lost eight men in the first wave and we were cut off from the make shift barracks.  The only thing to do was to keep moving.  So we pressed forward and were met with another barrage of gunfire.  We lost another three men and then another wave hit.  Another three men, Munson, Carstairs and Evers were hit."

Scott stopped for a moment, then took another breath and continued, "Munson was standing right next to me.  God, he was just a kid!"

He swallowed and went on, "He was so scared.  There was nothing I could do for him.  I stayed with him until he died."

Johnny and Murdoch exchanged glances and then looked back at Scott.

"Gunfire was still coming from everywhere.  I motioned to Hughes and Erickson to head for the wall.  When we made it near the wall, we were pinned down.   Hughes and Erickson said they'd draw their fire and told me I needed to continue on.  I didn't want to leave, but they said I was the only one who could make it through.  Me, the kid from Boston who'd never been in this kind of countryside; Hughes should have been the one to go.  I deviated from the plan and made it to the wall.  Although it wasn't that tall, at the time it seemed like a mountain.  I don't know how I managed, but I made it up.  I turned, looked one last time only to see Hughes and Erickson cut to pieces.  All I remember after that was running.  At first I didn't know where the hell I was going or where I found the strength.  I finally came to a clearing and stopped to catch my breath.  As I looked into the sky, I could see stars and the moon.  It was a welcome sight.  I was able to get my bearings and continue on.  A few days later I found a northern army patrol and from there was sent to a military hospital where I was for about two months.  The day I was released, I saw Dan.  He was near death but recognized me.  He said he held me responsible for those men's deaths.  As if I need to be reminded!  I never knew he believed I sold them out until he showed up here.  Damn him!  How could he believe I'd do that!  He always told me I was like a brother to him."  Scott was quiet for a moment and then continued.

Scott took a breath, turned and looked at his brother, "I've known Dan longer than I've known you; and what did you say to me, that I was incapable of doing something like that."  Scott walked around the desk.

Johnny's face was a mixture of anguish, anger and concern for his brother.  Scott continued to look at him, "I know you were angry that I brought Dan and his wife here and felt I endangered the ranch.  I knew Lewis and Hardy were no match for Cipriano and the others.  I also wasn't thinking clearly when I made that suggestion.  I was caught up in their fear.  You have to know, I would never intentionally put this ranch in danger."  Before Johnny could say anything Scott turned his gaze towards the French doors, his face was tight and then continued.

"That damned bastard wouldn't even listen to me, but as soon as he found out he was to blame everything changed.  All of the sudden he had to talk to Jed and Rick to make them understand.  They'd listen to him.  And after he'd confronted the two of them all he could think about was himself.  When he started discussing where he and Sara should settle down, I nonchalantly suggested they should start fresh somewhere else.  It never occurred to him that I didn't want him here.  When they left, he wanted to get together to talk about the good things."

Scott shook his head as he remembered his response and then he continued, "Not any time soon Dan."  Scott sighed heavily and continued to stare at the French doors.  After a moment he continued.

"A few months later, there I was back in Boston and my old life; as if nothing had happened."  Scott shook his head and sighed heavily as he gazed out the French doors.

Murdoch walked straight for his eldest son.  When he reached him, he placed his hands on his shoulders, turned him towards him and embraced him.  Murdoch felt a wall come down and emotions that had been buried for so long finally surface.  Johnny walked to them and placed his hand on Scott's left arm.  Scott moved it and Johnny took Scott's hand into his and held it firmly.  He could feel his brother's hand tighten into his, and then Johnny placed his other hand on his brother's shoulders.

Murdoch looked at Johnny and both knew how lucky they were to have Scott with them.  After a few minutes, Scott took a deep breath and straightened.  Johnny's arm tightened around his brother's shoulders and Murdoch released his grip.  Johnny led his brother to the couch.  Scott looked into his brother's face which was full of anguish and concern.  Scott was about to say something, when Johnny interrupted him.

"Dammit Scott, for once in your life let me take care of you!"  Johnny's voice was sharp.

A smile crossed Scott's face as he turned, sat down on the couch, placed his feet on the coffee table and rested his head on the back of the couch.  Johnny smiled, a sparkle flashed in his blue eyes as he walked to the couch and sat down next to his brother.  Murdoch walked over and poured each of them a brandy.  He walked around the couch and handed his sons each a glass as he sat down on the other side of Scott.   Scott drained his drink and rested his head on the back of the sofa and closed his eyes.  Murdoch took the empty glass from his son's hands, looked at his younger son and saw Scott had rested his head on the arm Johnny had put behind him.  Johnny smiled, drained his glass and handed to his father as he shook his head.  Johnny put his feet up on the coffee table next to his brother's and settled himself into the couch.  Murdoch stood up, walked out of the room and left his two sons alone.

 

Chapter 9

Scott was stiff.  He opened his eyes, realized he was on the couch, a hand was under his head.

"Hey, you're awake," Johnny said as Scott turned to him.

"Yeah, sorry.  I didn't mean to fall asleep on you.  Why didn't you wake me so you could move?"  Scott asked as he straightened.

"You weren't asleep all that long.  Besides, I figured you could use the rest.  Feeling any better?"  Johnny asked as he stretched his muscles.

A small smile came over Scott's face as he shook his head, "Oh, I don't know."

"You look drained.  I think you should go upstairs and lie down for a while," Johnny responded as he stood up and looked at his brother.

"Still taking care of me little brother?"  Scott asked a hint of playfulness in his voice.

Johnny laughed and then became serious, "Yeah, I am, and you really do look tired.  I know how concerned the doc has been about you not wearing yourself down, or becoming sick."

Scott sat there for a moment, sighed, stood up and looked around the room.

"Well, you're right, I do feel drained.  Going upstairs and lying down for a while does sound like a good idea."

"Murdoch is right you know," Johnny continued.

Scott looked at him, "About what?"

"That we know what's best for you."

Scott wasn't sure what to say.  He looked into Johnny's face and extended his left hand. Johnny took it into both of his, pulled Scott to him and embraced him.  After a moment, the two brothers parted.

"Thanks.  Well, I think I'll go upstairs," Scott said quietly as he moved past his brother.

"Scott," Johnny called to his brother.

Scott turned and looked at him.  "Just remember, I'm always here for you,"

A small smile came over Scott's face, "Thanks," he responded.  He lingered for a moment, turned and went upstairs.  Johnny watched him leave feeling closer to him.

 

Scott awoke and smelled a fresh breeze blowing into his room.  He felt refreshed and less tired than he had when he had lay down.  He stretched, rose from the bed and cast a glance at the clock sitting on his dresser.  It read a little before 5:00 p.m.  Dinner at Lancer would be in a couple of hours.  He moved to the window, rested his lean, long body against the door frame of the French doors that led to the small balcony outside his room.  The sun was setting casting a pink glow on the trees and hills outside his room.  He loved this view from his room.  He'd spent many a night looking at those hills pondering many things.  He closed his eyes and let the fresh air fill his lungs.  This was the first time in weeks Scott was had been completely alone.  Although he was eternally grateful for his family's presence in the days after he had been shot, the young man needed some time alone to reflect on the past few weeks.  So much had happened.    

Scott sighed as he recalled the argument between him and Johnny the day of the attack.  There had been tension between them and it had escalated.  Scott had an idea why, but had decided to wait and let Johnny make the first move.

Scott let his mind drift.  In the last couple of weeks Scott felt a closeness to his father he'd never felt before.  When Scott first arrived, they were strangers and Scott had harbored adverse feelings for his father.  In the months after, Scott had started to understand this man.  He often wondered what decisions he would have made faced with the same challenges his father had faced when he was born.  At first Murdoch told both he and Johnny there would be no discussion of the past, but in the following months the old man seemed to regret that decision.  Scott knew Johnny and Murdoch had talked, which started to clear the air between them.  They had become closer.  Murdoch tried the same thing with Scott.  The discussion had quickly become heated with Scott ending it.  Scott knew his grandfather hadn't told him everything about his father and the events which lead Scott to living in Boston.  Whenever he'd asked questions about his mother, his grandfather had told him the same things.  Scott's grandfather would never talk about his father.  He'd only say that his father had abandoned him.  That had left a hollow feeling in Scott.  Now that feeling was fading.  Scott stood there and pondered what he should do next.  Finally he turned, cleaned up, selected fresh clothes and made his way downstairs.

The dining room table was set and wonderful smells were emanating from the kitchen.  No one was in the Great Room and Scott deduced they were freshening up for dinner.  He walked over to the French doors and opened one, and stepped out onto the patio.  This was the first time Scott had actually stood on the patio since the attack.  The walls had been repaired, and furniture from the back patio was in place of the destroyed pieces.  Scott stood there and remembered the attack.  His left hand reached into his pocket, pulled out a gold medallion and turned it over in his hands.  Scott looked down at the piece and remembered Munson pulling it from his neck, thrusting it into Scott's hand.  Although Scott wasn't catholic, the young solider had wanted him to have it.  He had said the saint would protect him.  Scott usually kept the medallion in the folds of his wallet.  It had been there the night of the attack.  Scott wondered if the saint had watched over him that night.

Murdoch finished dressing and left his room.  On his way downstairs, he stopped at Scott's room and tapped softly on the door.  He carefully opened the door and found the room empty.  He closed the door and went downstairs.  He entered the Great Room, glanced at the clock and knew dinner wouldn't be ready for a while.  He decided to have a drink and as he walked across the room, he noticed the door that lead to the patio was open, and then saw Scott.  Murdoch walked out onto the patio.  Scott didn't hear him and appeared to be concentrating on something.  Murdoch watched his son and noticed the gold medallion in his hand.  Murdoch recognized it as a Catholic medal and wondered where it had come from.  Murdoch watched Scott turn it over in his hand.  The elder man had never seen it before and wondered about it's significance.  He also wondered what his son was thinking.  Was he remembering something from his time in the prison camp?.  Murdoch shuddered uncontrollably and then took a deep breath.  Suddenly Scott moved and saw Murdoch.

"Oh, I'm sorry son, I didn't mean to startle you,"

"That's all right.  Guess I was a little distracted."

"I was about to pour myself a drink, would you like one?"

"No thanks," Scott replied as he walked towards his father and replaced the medallion in his pocket. Murdoch decided not to say anything.  He smiled at his son and led the way from the patio.

The two men entered the room.  The elder man went over and poured a drink.  He turned and faced his son.  He could see Scott was mulling something over.

"Is something on your mind son?"

Son, that's what Murdoch had taken to calling him in recent months.  Only lately, did Scott feel it fit.  During the past couple of weeks, things had changed between them.  Scott felt closer to his father and now he wanted a few answers.  The old man had always said he could ask him anything.

Scott looked at his father, "I need to ask you something, and I need an honest answer from you."

Murdoch nodded, "Of course Scott.  You can ask me anything."  The elder man was intrigued.

Scott walked towards a table near the couch.  He swallowed and looked at his father, "I want to know why you withdrew your motion when I was a child."

The statement shocked Murdoch.  He felt as if he'd been hit in the stomach.  He had no idea Scott knew he'd been in Boston when he was a child.  Murdoch knew Scott's grandfather would never have told him.

"How did you know?" Murdoch asked barely getting the words out.

"I had the Pinkerton Agency run a report."

Murdoch was even more stunned.  He looked at his son and was unable to read his expression.  Murdoch continued.

"I-I guess I don't understand."

Scott studied him, "Do you really think I'd travel all this way for a thousand dollars and one hour of my time because a man I've never met asked me to?"

Just then, Johnny entered the room and was momentarily oblivious to the conversation.

"Man am I hungry.  I think I could eat a whole steer!"  The words stuck in Johnny's throat as he realized he'd walked into something between his father and brother.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know the two of you were talking."  The young man was uncomfortable and was unsure of his next move.

Murdoch stood there for a moment irritated by the intrusion.  Before he could respond, Scott spoke.

"It's all right."

Teresa and Maria walked into the room with serving trays and announced that dinner was ready.

Murdoch sighed to himself as he saw the wall go up in his eldest son.

 

It was early afternoon and Scott could not figure out why the buildings would not fit into the existing space.  Exasperated he stood up, gathered the plan sheets and headed for the door.  He walked down to the site for the new buildings and stood there thinking when he heard a familiar voice.

“Morn’n, Mr. Scott.”

Scott turned and saw Bart Mathis walking towards him.  Again he noted the title and could not figure out why Mathis would address him that way.  He shook it off and greeted the hand.

“Good morning Bart.”

“How are you today?” Mathis asked when he reached Scott.

Scott shook his head, “Not the best.  I cannot figure out why this won’t work.  Bart, take a look at that and tell me what it reads to you.”

Scott tipped the plan sheet he was holding towards the hand.  Bart became uncomfortable and unsure of how to respond.  Scott sensed his uneasiness and was about to say something when Mathis finally spoke.

“I can’t read,” he said his voice quiet.

Scott looked at him, “Oh, Bart I’m sorry.  I had no idea.”

Mathis looked at him, "You had no idea that I can't read or write?"

Scott looked at him, "No, why would I?"

Mathis couldn't believe Scott assumed he could read and write.  Bart's opinion of Scott had begun to change since the attack.  Before then, Bart had viewed Scott as arrogant and uncaring.  However, after hearing of Scott's actions from the surviving hands, seeing his greeting of Gomez's family, comforting Rodriquez as he died, and now this; Bart shook his head.

"I just figured you knew."

Scott studied him for a moment.  "No Bart.  Like I said I had no idea.  Tell you what though, I really need another opinion on this.  Why don't you mark on this piece of paper what you see on the plan sheet?"  Scott pulled out a smaller piece of paper from the sheets he was holding and handed it and a pencil to Bart.  Bart nodded, took the pencil from Scott and made a mark similar to what he saw.  Scott studied what the man had written, Bart had written the number two.  Now if finally made sense.

"So, this is what you see?"

Mathis nodded, "Is there a problem?"

Scott could see the man was uneasy, "Yes, but it's not your fault."

"You've lost me."

Scott smiled, "Sorry, let me explain.  We've been trying to place the new buildings in the space where the old ones were and haven't been able to understand why they won't fit.  I wasn't sure what this number was but now that you've confirmed it, everything is clear.  According to this, we are two feet short."

Mathis thought for a moment, "Do you mean they didn't follow this plan?"

"Exactly.  The old barn and bunkhouse were built outside of this area."  Scott pointed to the sheet.  "Thanks Bart, you've been a terrific help."

Mathis smiled, "I'm glad I could help."

Scott smiled, turned and was about to head for the house when he heard a familiar sound.  He was tired, but needed to do this.  He headed towards the corral on the other side of the barn and stopped, a large smile came across his face.  A beautiful chestnut horse with white socks trotted over to Scott, and dipped his head when he reached the young man.  The horse, upon hearing Scott's voice, had whinnied and snorted to gain his master's attention.  Scott tucked the plans he was carrying under his right hand's sling, unhitched the gate and walked into the corral.  The horse came up to Scott as he reached out his left hand and found a familiar spot on the animal's nose.

"Hey boy, how have you been?  It's been a while since I've seen you."

The horse stood there and enjoyed his master's touch.  Scott loved this horse.  He loved his high spiritedness.  Both Murdoch and Johnny could never understand why Scott picked this horse.  When no one had succeeded in breaking the animal, Murdoch had intended to sell him, deciding the animal was too unpredictable.  Murdoch had also been uncertain of the horse's lineage.  Scott suspected the horse was a cross breed between a thoroughbred and a Saddlebred.  The horse wasn't good for herding but was excellent for longer rides.  Scott immediately saw something else.  He had excellent stamina.  Much to Johnny and Murdoch's surprise, Scott had broken him with as much fanfare as Johnny had received when he broke Barranca.  The two of them had forged a close bond.  Scott had named him Niall, Scottish for champion, because that's what Scott saw in him.  Scott suspected, and quickly learned, that Niall liked to jump.  A quality Scott appreciated and enjoyed.  Many times on their way back to the ranch after a day's work, Scott and Niall would jump some of the fences.  It was something they did alone and it was their secret.  Scott and Niall were as close as Johnny and Barranca.

Johnny rode back to the ranch after checking on the herd.  Upon seeing Scott, he turned Barranca and rode up near his brother.  He dismounted his horse, tied him to the corral and walked towards his brother.

"Hey Boston, how ya do'in?"

Scott glanced at his brother, "Fine, how's the herd?"

"Things look good."  Scott nodded and returned his attention to his horse.

Johnny watched his brother closely.  He was wary of this horse.  He had never understood why Scott picked him.  There were so many other fine horses he could have taken.  Although Niall was a good breed, he was so unpredictable.  Johnny figured it was only a matter of time before Scott was dumped on his head.  For someone who knew horses as well as Scott did, Johnny couldn't figure it.

"I'll never understand why you picked this horse.  Murdoch has so many other fine horses on the ranch you could have selected."

Scott rolled his eyes.  He wasn't in the mood for this. //Well, it was only a matter of time.//  "He's a fine horse," Scott retorted.

"Yeah well, one of these days he's gonna dump you on your head."

"Look just because he dumped you off him, doesn't mean," Scott's voice trailed as Johnny interrupted him.

"Yeah he dumped me off all right.  He's too damned erratic."

"I've never had a problem with him."

"It's only a matter of time."

"I'll see you later boy," Scott said to the horse.  He turned, walked to the gate, closed and locked it.  Scott shot his brother a cold stare and headed for the house.  Johnny turned to follow him and ran into Bart Mathis.

"Hey buddy, what's the big hurry?  How's the herd?"  Bart asked upon seeing his friend.

"Um-oh, hi Bart.  The herd is fine."

"What's the matter?"  Bart asked

"I don't get it."

"What?"

"Scott.  I came over here to say hello and the next minute he's mad and walks away."

Bart heard part of the conversation and pondered his response, "You know, I don't think I've ever heard you compliment him since I came to work here."

Johnny looked at him, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing.  It's just that you're always correcting him."

"I do not."

"Oh yes you do.  You're always gett'n on him about putting his gloves on his gun, or how he wears it.  Then you're always mak'n cracks about his horse."

"Well, it's dangerous the way he puts his gloves on his gun.  It could cost him someday when he reaches for it and they're in the way."

"Johnny, I know that.  I was only using that as an example, but you do ride him pretty hard."

"I know I was rid'n him pretty hard right before the attack."

Bart shook his head, "No Johnny you always have.  It made me wonder just how much you actually liked him."

Johnny looked at his friend, "Of course I like him, and you're a fine one to talk.  I thought you didn't like Scott."

"I didn't, but then I heard what he did the night of the attack.  Then I watched him as he greeted Gomez's parents and heard him console Pedro as he was dy'in all the time he was recover'n from some serious wounds of his own.  He cares about this ranch and the people who work it more than I thought he did.  And I've learned he isn't stupid.  He knows more than people give him credit for."

Johnny studied his friend and thought about what he'd said.  "So, that's why you've started call'n him Mr. Scott?"

Bart nodded, "Yeah, because he earned it."  Another hand called to Bart.  He waived at him.  "Well, I've got to go.  I'll see ya later."  He turned and headed towards the hand.  Johnny nodded and watched his friend leave.  He turned, leaned against a corral post and stared at the hacienda.  After a few minutes, he headed for the house.

 

Johnny entered the house through the main door.  He placed his hat on the rack as he entered the Great Room.  The afternoon sun filled the room.  Scott was standing at the desk studying a drawing and didn't hear him come in.  Johnny watched his brother, took a deep breath and spoke.

"Hey Boston." Scott turned towards him and Johnny could see he was still irritated.

"I was wonder'n if you had a minute."

"What did you have in mind?"  Scott could hold his temper which intimidated Johnny.

"I want to talk to you and get things settled between us."  Scott stared at him.

"Can't this wait?"  Scott was tired.  He had placed the drawing on the desk and was about to go upstairs and lie down.

Johnny shook his head, "No, it can't.  This has waited long enough.  I need to explain things to you."

Scott, sat on the edge of the desk and faced his brother.

 

Chapter 10

Johnny looked at his brother, "Scott, you know I've been alone most of my life, which hasn't made me very good at relationships.  Until recently it didn't matter."

Johnny took a breath and continued, "In the past few months, I've felt us getting closer.  I've appreciated your listening to me and offering advice when I asked for it.  Then a couple of months ago, I learned you'd been in a Confederate prison camp and the news stunned me.  I've always been able to read people; its how I've managed to stay alive.  Realizing that you had hidden this from me really shook me.  I felt I couldn't trust my instincts and I didn't know how to handle it.  Then the Cassidy's came here.  I understood why you brought them here.  But you were right, I felt you endangered the ranch for that bastard.  I didn't know how many of them were out there and I was concerned for my friends.  When they left I thought you had forgiven him.  All this for someone I thought you regarded as a friend, and I knew he didn't feel the same way."

Johnny paused and walked towards the table near the couch.  Scott said nothing and waited for him to continue.

"I tried to talk to you and could see you had things on your mind.  I didn't know how to deal with it, so it added to my frustration.  I let that frustration build up in me and then I took it out on you the day of the attack.  I know it's no excuse for my behavior, but it's the reason why."

Scott studied his brother.  He knew these words hadn't just come to him.  Johnny had thought about them carefully.  However, Scott was annoyed; he had been for a while and the incident at the corral brought it all up again.  Johnny had always criticized him ever since they'd met.  At first Scott took it at as harmless teasing.  However in recent months, and prior to the Cassidy's visit, the words had at times been callous.  Scott had meant to call Johnny on it and then everything happened.  The past couple of weeks they had become close again and Scott didn't want to jeopardize that.

Johnny watched his brother and waited for him to answer.  In the past Johnny had often jumped to conclusions, not giving the person a chance to explain.  He decided he was going to give Scott the time he needed despite his growing anxiety.

Finally Scott spoke, "So, the tension between us the past few months is because you care about me?"

Johnny nodded and continued.

"After you were shot, I learned how much you really meant to me.  I was scared that night when Murdoch and I found you in the hallway.  At first I thought you were dead and was beyond words when I saw that you were breathing.  I don't remember the last time I was afraid of losing someone I cared about and having that feeling scared me even more.  After that I started thinking about things and the incident at the corral really made things clear.  I criticize you so much, because I'm afraid of losing you."

Johnny paused for a moment and before Scott could speak he continued.

"I get on you about your put'n your gloves on your gun because I'm afraid someday you're gonna get your head blown off."

"Johnny, I only do that on the ranch.  Like I've said a hundred times, it's no big deal."

"Oh yes it is, Scott!  Listen to me, it's becoming a habit and someday your gonna do that in town.  The wrong person could see that or something could happen and those damned gloves are gonna be in the way!"

Johnny was seething but Scott could also see the concern in his eyes.  A deep concern he'd never seen before.  Johnny went on.

"Look when we first met, I told you that you meant nothing to me, and, at the time, that was true.  But it isn't that way anymore.  You mean a lot to me; more than I ever imagined or wanted to admit until now."

Johnny's revelation didn't entirely surprise Scott.  He'd felt the closeness as well and had welcomed it.  What surprised Scott was the depth of his brother's feelings.  They'd only known each other a short period of time and Johnny didn't allow people to get close to him.  Scott knew this hadn't been easy for Johnny to say.  He wasn't one to express or talk about his feelings, but that had changed in the last couple of weeks.  Time after time, Johnny had demonstrated how much he cared for Scott, which had surprised Scott.

Anxiety grew within him as Johnny watched his brother.  The silence was unbearable.  Johnny's stomach tightened; he wasn't sure how much more of this he could take.  He wanted to speak but knew if he did it wouldn't come out the way he intended, so he clenched his jaw and waited.

Scott wasn't sure what to say.  He was still annoyed with his brother.  The incident at the corral had brought it all up.  However, in recent weeks things had changed between them and Scott didn't want to damage that.  Nevertheless, the argument they had was still unresolved.  Johnny was right, they needed to discuss it.  Scott began carefully.

"I have to admit this isn't what I expected, which makes this all the more difficult."  Scott rose from the desk and walked towards the French doors.  Johnny watched him; the knots in his stomach became tighter as his fears became a realization.

Scott looked out the doors and then continued.  "The past couple of weeks I've needed to lean on someone.  You and Murdoch have been there in ways I could never have imagined.  Words cannot express how much that has meant to me.  However, I cannot ignore what happened between us.  I knew something was bothering you the last couple of months, but I felt you'd eventually tell me what was wrong.  I never anticipated that it would result in what happened and would escalate to the level it did.  You're right, you crossed a line."

Scott stopped for a moment and then continued.  "In the past, that would have been the end of it.  I've never tolerated what you did from anyone and I don't intend to start now.  However, you are my brother.  Until a few weeks ago, I didn't know what that meant."

Scott turned and looked at Johnny, "I know how much this has affected you.  I've seen it in your eyes and I can see it now.  That makes the difference."

Johnny held Scott's eyes; Scott's eyes were bluer than he'd ever seen them.  His face wasn't as tense as it had been.

"Does that mean you're not angry with me anymore?"

Scott's face softened, "Well, I'm not angry but I'm still irritated."

"Because of what happened at the corral?"

"Yes."

Johnny thought for a moment and then looked back at his brother.

"It's just that I," Johnny's voice trailed as Scott interrupted him.

"Don't trust my instincts.  I understand you don't trust people easily.  I don't always either, but you have to understand, that sometimes I do know what I'm doing.  Johnny, I know horses.  Barranca is a fine animal, but not suited to me.  He's perfect for you and the two of you became one.  You two have a bond that is rare.  Niall is also a fine animal with qualities I appreciate and can handle.  I know how to use his high spiritedness to my advantage.  I had a similar mount in the army.  He never let me down, just as I know Niall won't either.  I know you don't trust him; but I do, and you have to accept that.  I know I have a lot to learn.  But I'd like to think I do know some things.  And I want to be accepted for the things I know and the person I am."

 

Scott said something else, but Johnny didn't hear him.  His sentence about being accepted hit him.  He realized he needed to accept his brother for the man he was.  Scott had accepted Johnny.  Scott never showed any kind of racism towards him.  As the two of them became acquainted, Johnny realized the good person Scott was. He was honest.  A quality Johnny admired in his brother.  Johnny always knew where he stood with his brother.  Johnny also knew he could rely on Scott, something he valued in him and respected.  Johnny's gaze fell to his brother as he realized Scott had said something.

"Sorry, I was thinking about what you said."

A look of puzzlement came over Scott's face, "I don't understand."

"Scott, I think finally understand.  I need to accept you as the person you are, and not what I want you to be.  I don't want to change you. I like the person you are and admire so many things about you."

Scott took a breath and swallowed.  "There are many things I admire in you too," Scott's voice was low.  Surprise came over Johnny's face.

Scott's face was serious, but Johnny could see the emotions in him.  Scott continued, "You have a lot of integrity, a quality I admire the most in a man."

Johnny walked to him and embraced him, "God, I'm so glad I have you in my life."

"Me too."  After a moment, Johnny pulled back and looked at his brother.

"You know, we probably will have another argument."

"I'm sure of it, and I'd be worried if we didn't.  But it should never get to the point this one did.  And if it does, next time, I'll dump you on your ass!"

Johnny laughed, "I'd like to see you try."

Johnny could see the grin on his brother's face as a sparkle danced in his eyes, an expression Johnny loved so well, "Oh, don't think I can't."

Johnny realized Scott probably could, after all he'd been in the army.  Someday, when Scott was better he might just have to see about that.

 

Murdoch and Johnny planned to ride into town to pick up supplies and take care of a couple of matters.  Murdoch was perturbed he hadn't heard anything from Sheriff Harry Adams.  Although Murdoch hadn't expected his friend to ride to the ranch to give the Lancer patriarch periodic updates, he thought he'd see him after Johnny's visit.  He then realized the sheriff was probably busy with other matters as well.  The two men made their way to the barn.  Construction had begun on the new buildings.  Scott was overseeing it and was standing nearby talking to Cipriano.  Murdoch walked over to his eldest son and placed his hands on his son's shoulder and peered at the sheet in his hand.

"So, how's it going?" Murdoch asked.

"Excellent."

"Johnny and I are headed to town.  Do you want me to order those items we were discussing last night?"

Scott nodded his head, "Yes sir, I have the list here."

Scott was about to tuck the plan under his sling when his father spoke, "Here son, let me take that from you."

Murdoch took the sheet and looked at it as Scott reached in his pocket, pulled the list out and handed it to his father.

"Thanks.  Are you going to take the items we ordered incorrectly into town with you?"

Murdoch shook his head, "Not this trip. I figured I'd order the new material you need and then wait before returning those other items.  I keep thinking we might be able to use them for something else."

Scott nodded his head.

"Hey Boston, things look good.  You keep mak'n this kind of progress and you may finish ahead of schedule," Johnny said as he joined his brother and father.

Scott smiled, 'Yeah, we might.  The men are doing a great job."

"We'd better get going."  Murdoch nodded.

"Hey Scott, you need anything from town?" Johnny asked his brother.

Scott shook his head, "No, just what's on the list I gave to Murdoch."

"Okay, we'll see you later," Johnny replied as he patted his brother on the back and looked at his father.

Murdoch handed the sheet back to his son, "See you later, son.  Now don't overdue it."

Scott looked at his father and sighed, "Don't worry, I'll be fine."

Murdoch smiled at his eldest son.  He was still worried about the young man but knew he was recovering well.  The elder man also knew he had to be careful not to be overprotective.  He turned his gaze to his younger son, smiled and the two men then headed to the corral.  Murdoch could sense something was on Johnny's mind.

"Something bothering you, son?"

Johnny looked back at his brother and then shook his head, "Nothing for certain.  I just have this nagging feeling something's going to happen.  I told Bart to be on the look out.  As if I needed to say anything to him.  We've both been on edge since we found that carcass and those tracks."

Murdoch nodded, "Well, Cipriano is here too.  Try not to worry."

Johnny nodded, but Murdoch could see he wasn't swayed.  The two men mounted their horses and headed for town.

Murdoch and Johnny finished their errands and decided to stop in and see Sheriff Harry Adams. They opened the door and entered, Sheriff Adams peered around the corner.

"Why Murdoch, Johnny!  Talk about timing; you'll never guess what's happened?"  He nodded his head the direction he'd come from.

Both men exchanged looks and hurried to the sheriff.  As they stepped through the doorway, they could see Dr. Ramsey in one of the cells tending to a man lying on the cot.  They couldn't see his face.

"Harry, what's going on?"

"Harvey Preston gave himself up!"

Johnny moved towards the cell for a better look.  Dr. Ramsey was examining the man's leg.  The outlaw's breathing wasn't good and he looked worse.

"He gave himself up, when?" Murdoch asked surprise in his voice.

"A little while ago.  Rode into town and fell off his horse right outside my door!  Said he couldn't stand it, he needed a doctor."

The sheriff nodded to the deputy standing near the cell door with a rifle in his hands.  The deputy returned the nod and returned his attention to the cell.  Sheriff Adams motioned to Murdoch and Johnny.  The three men left the room and entered the outer office.

"He isn't in good shape.  That leg looks bad; wouldn't surprise me if gangrene has set in."

"Did he say anything?"  Murdoch asked.

Sheriff Adams shook his head, "No, but I get the impression he wants to.  We'll see after the doc's done."

Dr. Ramsey walked into the room and joined the men, "Why hello Murdoch, Johnny.  I see Harry has filled you in."

"So doc, what's his condition?"  The sheriff asked.

The doctor shook his head, "Not good.  His leg has gangrene.  I told him I can't save it and must perform surgery.  He's refusing.  With the rest of his injuries, there's nothing else I can do for him.  He said he wanted to talk to you."  Dr. Ramsey looked at the sheriff.

The sheriff nodded and headed towards the cell.  Murdoch and Johnny followed him.  Sheriff Adams entered the cell.  The man looked at him and then noticed Johnny and Murdoch.

"I-I want to talk to them," he whispered as he looked at the Lancer men.  He coughed and both men knew he was close to dying.  They entered the cell and moved towards him.

"What do you want to say to me?"  Murdoch asked.

Preston coughed for a moment and then opened his eyes, "H-he's crazy and it's not over."

Johnny moved closer, "What do you mean it's not over?"

Preston started coughing again and couldn't stop.  Dr. Ramsey moved in past them to the prisoner.  Preston gasped and then his body went limp.  The doctor felt for a pulse and then turned to them, "He's dead."

They left the cell and walked into the outer office.

"What the hell did he mean, he's crazy and it's not over?" Murdoch asked.

"I don't know.  Scott said Preston was the one giving the orders the night of the attack," Adams replied.

"Unless he was doing all the talking and someone else was giving Preston orders," Johnny said.  The others looked at him and nodded their heads in agreement.

"That would explain why they hit Lancer instead of Miller's ranch," Murdoch added.

"May be the leader has a grudge against Lancer.  Does anyone come to mind Murdoch?"  Sheriff Adams asked.

"No, nothing I can think of.  How about you son, do you remember anything?"  Johnny was pleased at how Murdoch phrased the question.  He was relying more on the young man.

"No, I don't."

"Well then, I need to talk to Scott again.  The hands said Scott got a good look at the others," the sheriff stated.

Murdoch shook his head, "Being new to this area, he still doesn't know everyone."

Harry smiled, "Maybe not, but he can describe them and that might be all I need."

 

Johnny, Murdoch and Sheriff Adams rode to the ranch and dismounted their horses at the house.  Johnny entered through the front door.  He removed his hat and placed it on the hat rack as he entered the Great Room.  Scott was sitting at their father's desk looking at the ledgers.  He looked up when he heard Johnny enter the room.  He smiled at him and then returned his attention to the books on the desk.

"Hey, you're back early.  Did you get everything done that you wanted to?"

"Yeah, we did," Johnny's voice trailed as he stopped and turned his head at the sound of the main door opening.  Murdoch and Sheriff Adams walked in.  Murdoch closed the door behind him.  Johnny turned back and continued walking to his brother.  His attention was drawn to the large window behind his brother.  He saw a flash and started to yell.

"Sco..."

 

Chapter 11

Johnny never got the words out.  He propelled himself across the desk, reached out and grabbed Scott's shoulders.  The two men crashed to the floor as the large window exploded into the room.  They slid into the gun cabinet in the corner of the room out of sight of the assailants.  Johnny landed on top of his brother.  Murdoch and Sheriff Adams dove behind the sofa and chair respectively.  Mathis and Cipriano, who were walking towards the house to tend to the rider's horses, burst into the room with their guns drawn, staying near the French doors.

"Bart, tell the men to remain where they are, that gunfire is coming from a long range rifle !" Johnny yelled to his friend as he raised his head slightly up from behind the desk, his gun in his hand.  Bart nodded and yelled at the hands to stay put.

Johnny took quick stock of the situation, and glanced down at his brother who wasn't moving.  He could feel a sting in his right arm as blood appeared on the sleeve of his shirt.  The young man gave it quick look, a wound that would have to wait.  With his left hand, he rolled his brother over onto his back.  Scott moaned at the movement, his eyes were closed.  Johnny could see a red stain was forming on his shirt near his right shoulder.  Johnny opened Scott's shirt slightly and could see the bandage was becoming soaked from his blood.  Johnny shook his head.

"Johnny, are you and Scott all right?"  Murdoch yelled from his position.

"Yeah, I am.  I think Scott hit his head on the gun rack when we landed on the floor.  He's bleeding from the wound in his shoulder.  Are you two okay?"

Murdoch closed his eyes for a moment and was thankful both of his sons were alive.  He cursed softly at the thought of Scott re-injuring his shoulder.  Murdoch looked at Harry who was looking out where the large window had been.

"Harry and I are fine."

Johnny holstered his pistol, reached up and selected a long range rifle from the cabinet.  He cautiously moved towards the shattered window pushing the overturned chair out of his path.  He found a vantage point and focused the rifle's lens. Finally the patch of trees came into focus.  He could see two men looking this direction, both holding rifles.  Johnny tried to make out who they were but their forms were blurry. He adjusted the lens to get a clearer image.  He saw one of the men fire again and before he could say anything, he heard the shot ricochet off the patio wall.

"Bart!"  Johnny yelled as he readied the rifle.

"Dammit!  That nearly hit Jelly!  Get out down and stay there!" Bart yelled at the handyman.  Jelly jumped back towards the barn.

Johnny fired the rifle and barely missed the gunmen.  The site was off.  He cursed to himself.  //Shit, I'm not as accurate with this damned rifle as Scott is!  Scott wouldn't have missed!// Johnny shot a glance at his brother who was still motionless on the floor.  Johnny shook his head, he needed to stay focused, he'd have to worry about his brother later.  He turned his attention back to the gunmen and watched them through the lens.  They had ducked behind the shrubs and brush, and then headed towards their horses.  Johnny knew he had one more chance.  He realigned the site but it took too long and before he could fire again, the men reached their horses, mounted them and rode off.  Johnny cursed to himself and then yelled to the men in the room.

"Dammit, they made it to their horses!"

Bart, Cipriano and Sheriff Adams ran out the French doors.  Murdoch stood up from where he was, holstered his gun and hurried in the direction of his sons.

Johnny turned, walked back to where Scott was lying on the floor, placing the rifle on the desk as he moved past it.  Both men knelt beside the injured man; Murdoch noticed the stain on his younger son's sleeve.

"Johnny, you've been hit!"  Murdoch reached for Johnny's arm but the gun hawk pulled it away.

"I'm fine.  It's not serious."  He nodded towards Scott.

"We need to get him help."

Murdoch and Johnny's eyes met.  The elder man could see his son was torn between joining the others and concern for his brother.

"Johnny, go with the others, I'll look after him."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Milt should be along any time now.  He was coming today to check on Scott and the others."  Murdoch paused for a moment. "Johnny, be careful."

Johnny glanced at his brother as he got up.  His eyes met his father's.  Johnny turned and quickly left the room.  Bart and Sheriff Adams had rounded up some men and were ready to leave when they heard a buggy from the direction of town.  Dr. Milt Ramsey stopped his carriage and hurried to the men.

"Johnny, Harry,  what's happened?"

"Someone tried to shoot Scott," Sheriff Adams replied as he mounted his horse.

"My God, is he all right?"

"I think he hit his head on the gun cabinet when I pulled him out of the way.  His right shoulder's bleeding.  Murdoch is with him, you need to get in there and see to him," Johnny stated as he mounted Barranca.  The doctor noticed the stain on the sleeve of his shirt.

"Johnny, you've been hit.  Let me take a look at that."

"There's no time; take care of my brother,"  Johnny stated as he nudged Barranca and rode out with the others.

The doctor watched the group leave, then hurried to his carriage, retrieved his medical bag and made his way into the hacienda.

 

Johnny, and the others rode after the gunmen.  They soon discovered these were no ordinary men.  Their trail wasn't as easy to follow as they had anticipated.  However, they were able to stay on it.   After a few hours, Bart saw buzzards flying around a nearby ridge.  Johnny, Sheriff Adams, and Bart rode up to check it out.  The other men stayed behind, keeping a sharp eye as they took the opportunity to rest their horses.  When the trio reached the ridge, they dismounted their horses, drew their guns and carefully made their way to a grove of trees near some rocks.  The men then discovered a body.  It had been there several days.  Bart managed to identify the remains.

"It's Hanlon," he said flatly trying to keep his stomach under control.

"You know him?" Sheriff Adams asked the hand.

Bart shook his head, "No, not really.  He came to work here a few months ago when Mr. Lancer hired more men to help out dur'in the drought."

The sheriff holstered his gun, knelt by the body and looked through the pockets searching for identification.

Johnny knelt by the body also and studied it, "He's been shot in the chest."

"Looks like it was close,' the sheriff added as he looked at the young man. "Did you know him?"

Johnny shot him an icy stare.  He was sensitive about his past and wasn't sure what the sheriff was implying.

The sheriff studied him and knew why the young man had suddenly become hardened, "Look, I didn't mean anything by it.  I know you've become close to a few of the men and was wondering if he was one of them."

Johnny drew a breath, relaxed slightly and realized the man was doing his job.  "No, I don't know him.  Like Bart said, Murdoch hired him a few months ago.  He was a good worker, but kept to himself."

"When was the last time either of you saw him?"  The sheriff asked.

"The last time I saw him was a couple of days after the attack.  Then one morn'n he didn't show up for work.  Cipriano checked his bunk.  His things were gone, and Cipriano figured he'd moved on."

"Yeah, that's about the last time I saw him too," Johnny added.

The sheriff nodded. Nothing strange about that.  Many hands were drifters. They stayed for a while, usually during round ups and cattle drives and then would move on.  The drought had been tough on all the ranches.  Extra men were hired to help out with the herds.  All the ranches had been careful with the existing water supply, often working together to maintain it.  They'd managed to hold on until the rains came.  The sheriff finally located some papers and studied them.

"The papers indicate he's Hanlon all right.  Looks like he came from El Paso."

"El Paso," Johnny repeated staring away for a moment.

"Something familiar, Johnny?"  The sheriff asked.

Johnny looked at the sheriff, "Yeah, but I can't place it."  

The sheriff smiled at him and stood up.  "Well, we'd better get the body buried, but we need to keep moving.  I don't want to lose those damned bastards again."

"This is bother'in you too,  isn't it Sheriff?"  Johnny asked.

"Yes it is, dammit!  These bastards shot up a friend's ranch and nearly killed his son.  Then today,"  his eyes fell to Johnny's arm.

"Hey, how's that arm doing?"

"It hurts a little, but I'm okay."

The sheriff nodded, Murdoch's sons were tough young men, "Okay, we'll leave a few men behind to tend to this.  Come on boys, let's see if we can catch these bastards!"

The three men headed for their horses, mounted up and rode to the others.  Three Lancer hands stayed behind and the rest continued on the trail.  After riding for a while, they saw rocks in the distance.  Johnny, Bart, and Sheriff Adams had an uneasy feeling. They stopped their horses.

"Great place for an ambush," Johnny stated as his eyes scanned the rocks.

"Exactly what I was thinking," Sheriff Adams replied as Bart nodded.

The men dismounted their horses and developed a plan.  They put their plan into action and a gun battle ensued.  The two men had taken up an excellent position in the rocks and were using it to their advantage.  It became quickly apparent the plan wasn't going to work.  Johnny and Sheriff Adams managed to discuss the situation.

"Well, this isn't going to work. It's as if they know our every move," Sheriff Adams stated exasperation in his voice.

The sheriff's statement stuck in Johnny's mind.  //No these men weren't acting as ordinary men; they were smarter as if.// Johnny's thought trailed as he was jolted back by gun fire.

"Sheriff, I'm gonna see if I can get in behind them."

The sheriff looked at the young man.  He knew Murdoch's youngest son had excellent instincts.  "All right, we'll cover you."

Johnny nodded and made his move.  Carefully, quietly he made his way over the rocks.  The sheriff, Bart and the others provided excellent cover and kept the gun men busy.  Finally Johnny came up on one of the men.

"Don't move, drop your weapons," he stated flatly.

The gun man froze.  The young gun hawk watched the gun man.  Johnny's blue eyes quickly scanned around for the other man.  The gun man dropped his weapons.  Johnny heard movement but was unable to see anyone.  He listened carefully and heard movement again, then the sound of a horse. He cursed to himself, knowing the other man had escaped.  Johnny motioned to his prisoner and the two men made their way to the others.

"Well, well, well, what have we got here?" Sheriff Adams asked as he holstered his pistol, brought out handcuffs and walked to the two men.  He handcuffed the prisoner and looked at Johnny.

"The other one got away,"  Johnny growled, irritation in his voice.

"I know, but this wasn't a total loss," the sheriff stated as he nodded at the prisoner.  Johnny looked at the sheriff and nodded.

"You know, it will be dark soon.  I think we should head for the ranch instead of town," Johnny suggested as he coldly eyed the prisoner.

"Good idea, you got some place we can lock him up?" The sheriff asked as he moved the man to his horse.

Johnny smiled wickedly, "Yeah, we do."

"I can't ride with my hands cuffed behind me," the prisoner snarled.

"Oh, don't worry about it," the sheriff replied as a few Lancer hands roughly put the man on his horse.

"Take it easy fellas, I want him alive,"  the sheriff said as he mounted his horse.  The others mounted their horses and the group headed for the ranch.

 

Murdoch had watched his youngest son exit the room.  He sighed and prayed for him and the rest of the men.  His attention was drawn back to his eldest son.  Scott was stirring and regaining consciousness.  He reached down, picked him up and held Scott in his arms.  Murdoch saw a bruise forming on his face and the stain on his shirt. Murdoch lifted him gently, looked at his back and was relieved when he saw no wound.  Scott moaned and Mudoch knew he was in pain.  Suddenly, Dr. Milt Ramsey was kneeling beside them.

"Murdoch, how is he?"  Dr. Ramsey asked as he moved closer.

"Milt, I'm glad you're here.  He hit his head when Johnny pulled him to safety and his shoulder is bleeding," Murdoch replied relief on his face at seeing his friend.

The doctor nodded as he opened Scott's shirt, 'Looks like part of the wound has opened up.  Let's get him over to the table."

Murdoch nodded, the two men helped Scott into a standing position.  Dr. Ramsey knelt down and picked up his medical bag.  The two men, with Scott between them, headed for the dining table.  Teresa and Maria entered the room having been given the all clear from one of the hands who had been at the back of the house when the gunfire erupted.

"Teresa, Maria, get some hot water and clean linens," Dr. Ramsey said.

Teresa let out a gasp and then joined Maria at the table removing the candles.  Maria hurried out of the room.  Teresa paused for a moment, a look of worry washing over her face and then left for the kitchen.   Maria came back with linens and placed them on the table.

"I'll be back in a moment with fresh bandages," she said.  She met Murdoch's gaze, smiled and hurried from the room.

The two men placed Scott on the table.  Dr. Ramsey placed his medical bag on one of the dining room chairs and returned his attention to his patient.  Scott opened his eyes and winced from the pain.

"Scott, take it easy.  The wound on your shoulder has reopened and I want you to lie still,"  Dr. Ramsey said.

"What happened?" Scott managed to say.

Murdoch gave Dr. Ramsey a glance, "Someone fired a rifle into the house," Murdoch replied.

"How's Johnny?"  Scott whispered between waves of pain.

"He's fine.  He went with the others to track the men who did this.  Scott, take it easy and lie still."  Murdoch placed his hand on his son's left shoulder.  Dr. Ramsey eased Scott's shirt off and examined the bleeding wound.  He then continued his examination and after asking Scott some questions, he finally spoke.

"Well, it appears he has no broken bones.  However, he has a concussion and I need to stitch that wound up again."

Murdoch nodded.  Maria entered the room with fresh bandages and placed them on the table and waited for the doctor's instructions.  Teresa then entered the room with boiling water.  Maria pulled out another chair and Teresa placed the kettle on it.  She looked at Murdoch and could see the concern in the older man's face and turned her attention back to Scott.  Dr. Ramsey pulled out items he needed, and then opened a bottle of ether.

"No," Scott said as he tried to move.

Murdoch placed his hands on his son, "Scott, it's all right.  Dr. Ramsey has to repair your shoulder.  This will help" his voiced trailed as Scott interrupted him.

"No!"

The smell immediately brought up horrible images.  Images of suffering, images of death.  The smell of death Scott had buried long ago.

Dr. Ramsey resealed the bottle and reassured his struggling patient.  "Scott, I won't use this.  Scott, do you hear me?"

Scott nodded his head.  "Good. Scott, I'm going to give you an injection.  It will put you to sleep."

Scott closed his eyes and didn't respond.  He winced again, and the doctor knew the pain was intensifying.

"Scott, listen to me.  I need to repair your shoulder.  I'm going to give you something to ease the pain and it will put you to sleep.  Do you hear me?"

Scott nodded his head. The doctor prepared the injection and then administered it.  As he waited for it to take effect, he gave instructions to Teresa and Maria.  Murdoch took his son's hand into his and stroked his hair.

"Scott, I'm right here," Murdoch said reassuringly to his son.

Scott's eyelids were heavy, but he managed to open them.  He met his father's gaze.

"Father," he murmured as he drifted off to sleep.

Murdoch was stunned and wasn't sure what he'd heard.  He glanced at the doctor who smiled at his friend. Dr. Ramsey had heard it too.   Murdoch took a deep breath, looked back at his unconscious son and wondered.

 

Chapter 12

Murdoch paced back and forth in the Great Room.  He was worried about his sons.  One was upstairs recovering, again, from an injured shoulder; the other was tracking the men who were responsible with a wound of his own.  The patriach stopped and stared at the wood planks that covered where the large window had been. He tried to comprehend the events that had happened.  Who was responsible for this and why?  The assailants had attacked the ranch and wanted the money for the bulls.  The money would have been worth their while, but Murdoch knew there was more.  Today they had purposely shot at Scott, again why?  Murdoch's mind drifted to his eldest son; and then to what he'd said.  Scott had called him father.  Murdoch wondered if he'd remember.  After all he wasn't totally conscious, and then the medication was taking hold.

Dr. Ramsey entered the room and walked to his friend.  Murdoch turned towards the footsteps.

"How is he?"

"He's sleeping and probably will for a while.”  Murdoch sighed.

"Murdoch, he'll be fine.  Like I said, the repairs went well," the doctor added as he sensed there was something else.  "Murdoch, what is it?"

"Oh, nothing.  I'm fine."

"Don't no nothing me.  We've been friends for a long time, what's the matter?"

Murdoch sighed, "I'm just worried about Scott, and about Johnny."

"I know, but they'll be fine.  There's something else isn't there?"

Murdoch smiled and nodded, "You heard what Scott said?"

"Yes, I thought you'd be happy."

"I am, but I wonder if he'll remember."  Murdoch's voice became quiet, "Or if he meant it."

"Why wouldn't he mean it?  I can see the two of you have become closer."

"Yes we have, but then he said something to me that I wasn't prepared for."

"What?"

"He asked me why I withdrew my court petition when he was a child."

Dr. Ramsey was surprised, "He knew about that?"

Murdoch nodded, "Yes.  He said he had the Pinkerton's do an investigation."

Dr. Ramsey thought for a moment and then responded.  "What did you tell him?"

"I didn't get a chance to say anything.  Johnny walked into the room and it ended the discussion."

"And I take it you haven't been able to talk to him since?"

Murdoch shook his head, "No.  Part of me doesn't know what to say to him and the other part doesn't want to talk about it at all.  I guess in some ways I've been selfish.  Scott and I have become closer and I don't want to lose that.  Depending on what I say, I could lose everything I have with Scott right now.  But I know I have to talk to him."

Dr. Ramsey nodded his head.  "Yes, you do.  You know, since the two of you have become closer he may not see things as he did when he first arrived."

Murdoch looked at his friend.  "Milt, I hope you're right."

"I know I'm right."

Murdoch sighed.  "Now, I just wish Johnny was home."  Dr. Ramsey nodded.

 

On the way back to the ranch, Johnny allowed himself a moment to worry about his brother.  Johnny had landed hard on him.  He imagined Scott would have numerous broken bones.  That's all he needed.  Scott had been recovering so well.  His supervising the construction on the new buildings seemed to rejuvenate him.  Murdoch had been keeping a close eye on Scott making sure he was resting.  Now this.  His mind trailed as the hacienda came into sight and Johnny came back to the task at hand; locking up the bastard who had shot at his brother.  Maybe he was one of the men who had shot Scott the night of the attack.  Johnny wondered if they'd get anything out of him.

When they approached the house, Johnny turned to Bart and the sheriff, "Bart, go with Sheriff Adams and lock that bastard in the guard house.  I'm going to the house, and then I'll be down."

Bart nodded.  "No problem.  Johnny, I hope Scott is all right."  Johnny smiled at his friend and then turned his horse towards the house.

Johnny dismounted his horse, and was about to tie him to the post, when one of the hands approached him.

"Here, I'll take care of him for you."

Johnny nodded.  "Thanks, I'll be down later."  The hand nodded and led the horse away.

Johnny walked to the main door, entered and saw Dr. Ramsey and Murdoch in the Great Room.  Wood had been placed where the large window had been, the room seemed dark.  Johnny took off his hat and walked towards them.

"Johnny, you're back.  How did everything go?" Murdoch asked when he saw his son.  He also breathed a sigh of relief that he was back in one piece.

"Not bad.  We were able to apprehend one of the gun men, but the other got away."

"Really?  Well, may be we'll finally get some answers."

"I'm not sure what we'll get out of him.  We brought him here since it was getting late.  Sheriff Adams is locking him up in the guardhouse."

Murdoch nodded, "Good thinking."

"How's Scott?"  Johnny asked.

Murdoch placed his left hand on his son's right shoulder.  "Scott is going to be fine.  He has a concussion, some bruises and part of the wound in his shoulder opened up.  Dr. Ramsey was able to repair the damage and says it will heal nicely."

"No broken bones?"

"No."

Johnny breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  Dr. Ramsey turned to him.

"Speaking of healing, young man, I am now going to look at that arm."

"No I," Johnny's voice trailed as father interrupted him.

"No, John. Dr. Ramsey is right.  You are going to sit down and let him take a look at that arm.  No arguments, you hear me?" 

Murdoch's voice was firm and before Johnny could respond, Murdoch led him to a nearby chair.  Dr. Ramsey retrieved his bag from the dining table and walked to the young man.  He placed his bag on a table next to the chair.  Johnny handed his hat to his father who placed it on a nearby chair.  Johnny started to roll up his sleeve.

"Here, let me do that," Dr. Ramsey said upon seeing how the dried blood had adhered the shirt to the young man's arm.  The doctor carefully removed the shirt from the wound and then pushed the sleeve up exposing Johnny's arm.  The doctor opened his bag and cleaned the large wound.  He expertly examined the wound and noticed Johnny flinched from time to time.

"Well, young man, you have a large piece of glass in that arm."

Murdoch winced to himself when he heard the doctor's diagnosis.  That was Johnny's right arm.  Murdoch wasn't sure what was worse, a bullet or glass.

Johnny looked at the doctor.  "How bad is it?"

"I won't know for certain until I operate."

Johnny didn't like the sound of this.  The doctor noted the expression on the young man's face and continued.

"Johnny, I need to perform minor surgery to remove the glass.  Let's get you over to the table."  Johnny nodded, stood up and followed the doctor to the table.  Dr. Ramsey retrieved the fresh linens from the other end of the table that Maria had left knowing they'd be needed.  Dr. Ramsey placed the linens on the table and motioned for Johnny to lie down.

"I'm not lying down," Johnny said.

"Johnny I need to remove the glass from your arm," the doctor protested.

"Yeah, I know.  I'll sit down on a chair and place my arm on the table."  The doctor glanced at Murdoch.  Johnny saw the expression and knew what was coming.

"You are not gonna put me to sleep," the young man stated firmly.

"Johnny, I'm not going to put you into a deep sleep.  I was going to give you something to relax you," the doctor's voice trailed as Johnny shook his head.

The doctor tried again, "Look, I don't care how tough you are.  The surgery will be painful and I need you to keep that arm immobile.  If you move while I'm performing the surgery, more damage could happen."

"Johnny, the doctor is right," Murdoch added trying to persuade his son.

Johnny looked at his father and Murdoch continued, "Johnny, Milt won't put you in deep sleep.  He'll give you the dosage he feels is necessary.  He's done an excellent job with Scott, and I'll be right here if that helps."

Johnny thought for a moment and finally resigned himself.  Murdoch was right, the doctor had taken excellent care of his brother.  Scott had never seemed overmedicated.  Finally Johnny nodded.  He sat on the table, took a breath and laid down.  Murdoch stood next to him and placed his hand on his son's shoulder.  The last thing the young man remembered was his father's face and the anxiety within him.

 

Johnny woke up and found himself on the couch.  A blanket was over him, a fire burned in the fireplace.  His arm was bandaged and sore, but the pain was tolerable.

"Hey son, how are you feeling?"  Murdoch asked noticing his son was awake.

"A little groggy.  How long have I been out?"

"A couple of hours."  Johnny moved to sit up.  Murdoch rose from his chair, walked to him and assisted Johnny into a sitting position.  Murdoch then sat down next to him.

"Thanks, Pa." Murdoch smiled to himself.  Johnny had started to call him that after they had talked.  Lately the young man seemed more comfortable addressing him that way; mostly when it was the just the two of them.

"So, how's my arm?"  Johnny asked as he looked at his father.

"Well, Dr. Ramsey said there was only one piece of glass that went in.  It doesn't appear to have caused too much damage.  He says that with proper treatment it should heal nicely."

Johnny nodded and then looked at his arm.  He moved his fingers.  The movement was painful, but was tolerable, a good sign to the young man.  He stood up slowly and stretched his muscles.  He wasn't as groggy as he was before.  He glanced at the clock and realized it was later than he thought.

"I think I'll take a walk to the guardhouse."

Murdoch stood up and faced his son, "Harry was here a while ago.  The prisoner isn't saying anything.  Harry decided to leave him alone and see what the morning brings."

Johnny nodded.  "When does he plan to move him to town?"

"Not until mid morning.  He wants to wait until more of his deputies arrive.  Are you hungry?  Maria left a plate for you."

Johnny nodded, "Yeah, but I think I'll go upstairs and clean up first."

Murdoch nodded knowing where his son was headed.

 

Johnny washed up and then pulled on a clean shirt.  He walked to the adjoining door leading to Scott's room and carefully opened it.  Teresa turned towards him from the chair she was sitting in.

"Hi Johnny, good to see you up.  How are you feeling?"  She whispered to him.

Johnny smiled at her, entered the room and walked towards her.  "I'm feeling better.  How's Scott?"

"He's doing fine.  He's stirred a couple of times and I think he might wake up soon."

Johnny nodded and approached his brother.  He saw a bruise on the right side of Scott's face and another on his right arm.  Johnny wondered how many other bruises Scott had from his landing on him.  He breathed a sigh of relief to himself that Scott hadn't been shot or injured more severely.  Scott stirred and then opened his eyes.

"Hey Boston, how are you feeling?" Johnny asked as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

"I'm fine," Scott replied as he stretched his muscles.  Johnny saw Scott wince as he moved.

"You in any pain?  Do you want us to fetch the doc?"

Scott shook his head.  "No, I'm all right."

Teresa moved around the other side of the bed.  "Are you hungry?"  She asked as she felt his head.

Scott shook his head which made the young woman frown.  Teresa knew Johnny hadn't eaten yet and remembered Maria was keeping a plate warm for him.  An idea came to her.

"Johnny, can you sit with him for a few minutes, I want to check on something?"

"Sure, no problem."  The young woman smiled and left the room.

"So, how do you really feel?"  Johnny asked his brother.

"I'm stiff and sore," Scott replied as he started to cough.

"You want some water?"  Scott nodded.

Johnny assisted his brother into a sitting position, then poured a glass of water and handed it to him.

"Thanks," Scott replied as handed the empty glass to his brother.

Johnny placed the empty glass on the table next to the bed and then Scott saw the bandage on Johnny' arm.

"What happened to you?" Scott asked concern rising in his voice.

"Oh, I cut my arm when the window shattered."

"Is it all right?" Scott asked as he sat up straighter concern washing over his face.

"Yeah.  Doc said it should heal all right."

Scott stared at his brother.  "Scott, really, it's fine."

Scott studied his brother and wondered if he was telling him the truth.  That was Johnny's right arm and any injury to it always concerned him.  Scott decided to press him about it later.

Scott finally nodded, "What the hell happened?"

"Someone shot at you with a long range rifle.  Sheriff Adams, Bart, I and some hands tracked them.  We were able to capture one of them, but the other one got away."

"Really?  Any idea who he is?" Scott asked his interest piquing.

Johnny shook his head.  "No, and the sheriff hasn't been able to get anything out of him yet.  He's gonna let him stew and try again in the morn'n before his deputies arrive."

"So, he's here at Lancer?"

"Yeah, he's locked up in the guard house.  It was getting late and it was easier to come here instead of going to town."

Scott nodded.  There was a tap at the door and Teresa entered followed by Maria.  Both women were carrying trays.

"Johnny, since you haven't eaten yet, I thought maybe you'd like to eat up here with Scott," Teresa said as she winked at Johnny.  Johnny understood and winked back at her.

"Hey, I think that's a great idea.  That way I can fill Scott in on a few things," Johnny replied as he stood up.

Before Scott could protest, Maria set a tray on his lap.  Johnny sat down at a nearby chair and Teresa handed him a tray.  Both women turned, smiled at each other and left the room.

 

Scott woke and rose from the bed and barely noticed the beautiful day.  He noted the time on the clock on his dresser and knew he'd better get moving.  His body was stiff and sore.  He stretched his muscles, walked to the wash basin and studied the bruises he'd acquired.  He washed up, dressed quickly and left the room.  When he reached the foyer, the house was quiet.  He knew where Johnny, Murdoch and the others were.  Scott made his way to the guardhouse and nodded to one of the ranch hands who was standing guard at the entrance.  Scott silently entered the guardhouse to watch the proceedings. Johnny stood at the far side of the room, his left foot resting on a stool his left hand rested on his bent leg.  Murdoch stood next to Johnny and the sheriff was on the other side of Murdoch.  No one saw Scott enter the room.  The prisoner was refusing to answer the sheriff's questions.  The sheriff shifted his weight and the prisoner suddenly had a clear view of Scott.  He blinked his eyes as he tried to comprehend what he saw.  He swallowed hard as an expression of shock crossed his face.

"I-I don't believe it, you're alive," he croaked.

The others turned in the direction the prisoner looked.

"There's no way you could have survived," the prisoner continued as he tried to convince himself of the vision before him.

Scott moved forward.  Johnny noted the nonchalance in Scott's gait and the cold icy expression on his brother's face.  An expression Johnny had never seen before.

"Whitten said the same thing yesterday when he lined up his rifle.  He said he thought that was you.  I told him he was crazy, that you were dead."

"Whitten, Carl Whitten?"  The sheriff asked surprise in his voice.

"Yeah," came the prisoner's response.

"Carl Whitten is responsible for this?"  Murdoch bellowed.

The prisoner nodded his eyes never leaving Scott.  A barrage of questions was fired off at the prisoner from the others in the room.   The prisoner didn't hear them as he held Scott's stare.  Finally the room became quiet as the sheriff demanded the prisoner's attention.  The prisoner finally stared at the sheriff.

"I asked you a question," the sheriff spat.

The prisoner looked at him.  "I asked you what your name is?" The sheriff asked again.

The prisoner studied the sheriff and then returned his gaze to Scott.  After a few moments he spoke.

"Suppose is doesn't make much sense now that you're alive, it's over for me."  The prisoner sighed heavily, "Name's Sanders," the prisoner stated.

"I want to know what the hell this is all about?  Why did you and the others attack my ranch nearly killing my son and the others?"  Murdoch bellowed.

Sanders kept looking at Scott the disbelief still registered on his face.  Sanders finally turned his gaze towards the Lancer patriach.  He swallowed his face becoming hardened again.

"Whitten hates you and the other ranchers for block'n him becom'n a deputy marshal and decided he was gonna get even.  It was supposed to be so easy," the prisoner's voice trailed as he looked down at the floor.  After a moment he continued.

"Hanlon rode out late Thursday afternoon to where we was holed up, told us things finished early at the ranch, said the hands had been paid and had left for town, and only six men were left behind to tend the ranch," Sanders paused and then looked up at Scott.

"and if you should show up it wouldn't matter, because it'd be like tak'n candy from a baby.  Whitten decided to move the plan up a day and hole up at Lancer and take out his revenge on the other ranches.  Then take some cattle and be long gone before anyone got back."

The sheriff and the others exchanged glances. Their attention was drawn back to the prisoner as he continued still holding Scott's stare.

"Only it didn't happen that way.  Whitten didn't count on you refus'n like you did.  Seemed to give those hands some guts too, damned if they didn't overpower Wilson and Nesbit and then took up positions.  We dragged you in the house and you refused to open the safe, so we dragged you back outside.  Preston threatened to start kill'n the hands one by one, and you still wouldn't budge.  Then Carter smacked you with his gun and you decked him.  I couldn't believe it, Carter was more than twice your size!  Preston dismounted his horse, fired after you when you made for the house and then all hell broke loose."  The prisoner averted his eyes and shook his head after a moment, and then looked back at Scott.

"Setting fire to those build'ns didn't do any good either.  You told those men to hold their positions and let them burn.  Guess we figured wrong, the horses were in the other barn.  Then that hand got away and Whitten knew we didn't have much time.  Those two hands tried to get to the house and you managed to cover them until they got clear.  We tried to storm the house and lost a lot more men.  Then Preston got hit.  We figured we'd better get the hell out of here."  The prisoner shook his head.

Johnny looked at his brother.  Scott continued to stare at the prisoner.

"Where've you been hiding since?"  The sheriff demanded.

Sanders looked up, "Miller's ranch at first.  Then that damned bastard moved his herd.  So we moved in the hills here."

"How many men does Whitten have?"

"Three."

"What happened to the rest?"  The sheriff asked.

"A few took off after we left here, said they weren't gonna hang around, and be caught.  Then a few rode out when Whitten met with Hanlon."

"Hanlon met with Whitten again, when?"  The sheriff asked.

"A couple of days later.  Whitten met with him alone.  Whitten came back to the camp and said he'd taken care of him."

"Where's Whitten hiding?"  Johnny asked.

The prisoner shrugged his shoulders, "Dunno.  After you grabbed me, he probably broke camp and moved."  Sanders face became hardened as he looked at Scott, "This isn't over, now that Whitten knows you're alive.  He won't stop until one of you is dead."

The sheriff looked at Scott and then back at the prisoner, "Why?"

"When we made camp after leav'n here, the guys were angry with Whitten and a couple challenged him.  He shot one of them and then had a fight with the other.  Whitten killed him but not before the guy cut him pretty good in the face.  I've known him for a few years and he likes to brag about how handy he is with the ladies, but now with that scar, well" his voice trailed and then he continued, "he's gonna make you pay for that."  Sanders said as he looked at Scott.

Johnny looked at his brother who still held Sanders stare.  No emotions registered on his face.  Johnny noted how dark Scott's eyes had become. Johnny turned to Murdoch who looked at him.  Johnny motioned to him and the sheriff.  They turned and realized Scott had left.  Once outside, the men decided to go to the hacienda to discuss what they'd just heard.  Both Johnny and Murdoch wanted to check on Scott.  When they returned to the house, Scott was not in the Great Room.  Johnny went upstairs and found Scott's room empty.  He descended the stairs and returned to the Great Room.

"Didn't find him?"  Murdoch asked as Johnny shook his head.  Alarm grew in both men and Sheriff Adams.  Just then a French door opened and Scott entered the room.

"Where the hell have you been?"  Murdoch demanded.

Scott frowned and looked at his father.  "I was checking on the construction of the buildings," Scott stated as walked towards the desk.

"I do not want you going outside, do you hear me?"  Murdoch stated as he walked towards his son.

Scott turned towards him not understanding Murdoch's anger.

"What do you mean you don't want me going outside?"  Scott asked as the anger rose in his voice.

Johnny understood his father's concern for his brother, but Murdoch was going about it the wrong way.  This discussion was quickly becoming an argument and Johnny knew he had to step in.

"Scott, Murdoch is right.  You shouldn't go outside," Johnny added.

Scott shot his brother an icy stare, "Listen little brother," Scott's voice trailed as Murdoch interrupted him.

"Scott! You are not to go outside and that's final!" Murdoch yelled.

Scott looked at his father and Johnny could see Scott's anger.  Before he could say something, Scott spoke.

"I will not be treated as a child!"  Scott said angrily to his father as he walked past him.  Without thinking Murdoch grabbed Scott by the shoulders.  Scott pulled away and was flooded with pain causing him to wince.  Murdoch was filled with remorse and pulled his son to him.

"Scott, I'm so sorry son.  I wasn't thinking.  Are you all right?"  Murdoch said to Scott, his was voice soft and filled with emotion.  He moved Scott to the couch and then sat next to him.  Johnny poured his brother a drink, came around the couch and sat on the coffee table and faced him.

"Scott, are you all right?  Here take this it might help," Johnny said as he held the glass out for his brother.

Finally the rush of pain passed and Scott opened his eyes.  He looked at his brother, took the glass he offered and took a sip.  The liquid burned but it helped ease the pain.

"Thanks," he replied to his brother and then looked at his father.

"I'm all right."

"I'm very concerned for your safety.  I didn't mean for this to turn into an argument.  That bastard shot into the house and could have killed you or Johnny.

"He could have killed you too.  Sanders said Whitten wants revenge against you as well," Scott said to his father.

"Well, we now know what the hell happened and why.  Now we need to figure out what Whitten's next move is," the sheriff stated as he walked around the couch.

"He won't be able to get close again, not with the guards that have been posted," Johnny replied.

The sheriff nodded.  "No he won't, but you heard Sanders.  This is far from over."

 

Chapter 13

Johnny woke early.  He stretched his muscles, threw back the covers and rose from the bed.  He walked to the wash basin and washed up.  As he dried his face, he gazed out the window.  The sun was rising and it was promising to be another beautiful day.  The young man smiled, then hurried to his dresser and selected clean clothes.  After dressing, he walked to the adjoining door to his brother's room, and carefully pushed it open.  Scott was still sleeping. //Good, Scott needs to rest//  Johnny thought as he carefully closed the door.  Johnny had started to leave the door ajar between the two rooms when Scott's condition improved and no one needed to stay with him during the night.  Johnny remembered Scott had done that after Johnny had been shot by Pardee.  Scott came into Johnny's room one night when the younger man had started to cough, and then stayed with him until he fell back to sleep.  Johnny stood there for a moment and remembered how Scott's actions in those days, when Johnny was recovering, were a turning point for the young man.  He saw this man from Boston differently and had secretly hoped the two of them would become close.  In the months that passed, it's exactly what had happened.  It had amazed Johnny how fast the two of them had forged a bond.  The young man smiled again, then turned, walked to the door that led to the hallway and left.

Johnny was concerned about his brother.  Scott had been so quiet the previous day.  Johnny was certain he knew why.  It was after Scott had listened to Sanders.  Although Scott's demeanor was as cold as ice, Johnny knew something Sanders said provoked something inside his brother.  He knew his brother wasn't afraid but was possibly formulating a plan.  Johnny decided to take Scott away from the ranch for a while.  Not only did Scott need a change of scenery, but Johnny wanted to talk to his brother.  The major obstacle to this would be their father.  Johnny had an idea, but he needed to work out a few details.

 

Dr. Ramsey had stayed at the Lancer ranch overnight.  He had no pressing medical issues and always enjoyed the company of his close friend.  In the past few months he'd been able to get to know Murdoch's sons and could see the change their presence had on his friend.  Dr. Ramsey smiled.  The elder Lancer had confided in him many years ago about his sons and the reasons why they weren't with him.  The doctor knew how much Murdoch's sons meant to him.  Milt had told his friend he needed to speak to his sons regarding the past.  The Lancer patriarch had been adamant that the past should stay where it was.  The doctor had argued with Murdoch until he was finally able to convince his friend to speak to his sons when they were ready.

When Johnny and Murdoch had opened up to each other, they had become closer, but it wasn't so for Scott and Murdoch.  Milt knew how much Murdoch longed to be closer to his eldest son.  Scott's condition was helping to bring them together.  The doctor had heard what the young man had uttered before he had drifted off to sleep.  Dr. Ramsey knew medications could bring out subconscious feelings.  The doctor was convinced Scott was accepting Murdoch as his father, but the two of them needed to talk again.  Dr. Ramsey sighed hoping this discussion would come soon.  As he reached his destination, his mind fell to the task at hand, making sure Scott was back on the road to recovery.  Dr. Ramsey was concerned about the young man.  He suspected Scott might be suffering from depression over the new injury.  Before this had happened, the doctor felt it was time for Scott to start physical therapy on his shoulder.  The doctor sighed again and thought about his course of action.

 

Scott woke to a room filled with sunshine.  A breeze blew through the open French doors.  Scott laid there for a moment and enjoyed the aromas from the garden below his balcony.  He still didn't know all the indigenous flowers of the area; only that those in the garden were not only beautiful but smelled wonderful.  Finally he rose from the bed and glanced at the clock on the dresser, it was slightly after 7:00 a.m.  He was up much later than he normally would be. Normal, he thought, when would things be back to normal?  Scott walked to the wash basin and cleaned up.  His eyes dropped to the bandage on his shoulder.  He sighed knowing it was going to take longer to heal.  The one consolation was that the wound in his abdomen was healing.  It hadn't been affected when he and Johnny had crashed to the floor.  Johnny's quick reflexes had saved his life.

Scott thought about his brother as he crossed the room.  They truly were brothers; so different and, yet, so much alike.  Scott opened the wardrobe and selected clean clothes. He walked back to the bed and placed the items on it.  Scott winced in pain when he put his belt on forgetting about his shoulder.  He closed his eyes grimacing in pain as he balled his left fist.  He stood there for a few minutes and waited for the pain to subside. Finally, he opened his eyes, retrieved the shirt from the bed and walked to the window.  As he looked out at the landscape, he daydreamed of a long ride on Niall through the seemingly endless countryside.  Suddenly, he was aware of someone in the room.  He turned and saw Dr. Ramsey standing in the doorway.

"Dr. Ramsey, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."

"You were really concentrating on something outside that window."

"Yes, I guess I was."

"So, how are you feeling this morning?"

"I'm fine."

Dr. Ramsey studied Scott for a moment, "I thought I would take a look at that shoulder."

Scott nodded, headed for the bed and sat down.  After examining Scott's shoulder and abdomen the doctor re-bandaged them.  He then pulled a nearby chair towards the bed and sat down facing the young blond man.

"Scott, you've made considerable progress since my last visit."

"Thanks," Scott replied as he pulled on his shirt.

The doctor watched him and saw a gleam of frustration in the young man's eyes.

"Scott, I want to discuss something with you and you need to be honest with me."

Scott looked at the doctor and nodded as he buttoned his shirt.

"The re-injury to your shoulder has troubled you, hasn't it?"  Dr. Ramsey sensed his hesitation.

"Scott, whatever you tell me stays with me.  Even though your father and I are good friends, I will not mention anything you and I discuss to him unless you direct me to.  You are my patient."

Scott studied the doctor for a moment. "Yes, I am concerned about my shoulder.  You said it will take time to heal and now," his voice lapsed as Dr. Ramsey continued.

"It's going to take longer?"  Scott nodded.

"Let me assure you, that you are progressing according to schedule.  I know it seems like a long time to you, but it hasn't been.  These wounds take time to heal.  This new injury won't make too much difference."  The doctor noted the surprise in Scott's face.

"I was going to start you on physical therapy before this new injury occurred and after my examination this morning, I don't see any reason not to proceed."

The doctor's statements were unexpected.  Scott was sure he'd have to keep his arm stationary for quite sometime.

"This isn't what I anticipated.  I thought that since the wound in my shoulder opened up, I would have to keep my arm stationary for a while."

"Well, we will have to be mindful of that wound.  However, your arm has been inert for a long time and I want to start strengthening it.  You've been moving your fingers and using your hand as I specified?"

Scott nodded.

"Excellent.  Then let's discuss what I want you to do next."

The doctor discussed the regimen he wanted Scott to follow.  He was emphatic that Scott follow his instructions and not deviate from them.

"Good, we have that clear.  I need to discuss this with Teresa, Murdoch and Johnny before I leave today."

Scott's face was a mixture of surprise and anger as he looked at the doctor.

"Scott, listen to me.  Your family will be a large part of this therapy.  You cannot do this alone."

Scott rose from the bed, walked towards the dresser and then faced the doctor.

"They have been put through enough with my being wounded.  And now, there are other issues they need to be focusing on.  Johnny also has a wound of his own, and he needs to be concentrating on that."

"Yes, Johnny will be doing his own therapy.  There are some things the two of you can do together."

The doctor rose from his chair and walked to Scott.  "Scott, I know about Whitten and what is happening.  Yes, you all need to focus on that.  However, your recovery isn't going to stop because of him and it shouldn't.  You need to keep moving forward."

Scott's eyes met the doctor's, "You're very right about that."

"Besides, assisting you will be a nice distraction for your family," the doctor replied as he playfully jabbed Scott's ribs.

Scott chuckled and nodded.

 

Johnny reached the barn, looked around and finally saw his friend.

"Hey Bart, you got a minute?"

The hand turned around, a large smile came across his face upon seeing Johnny.

"Hey Johnny, what's up?"  Bart asked as he walked to his friend.

As mischievous smile crossed Johnny's face, "I have an idea and I need your help."  Bart tilted his head and smiled.

********

He shifted his weight, careful not to expose himself from the cover of the shrubs.  He'd made that mistake once and would not make it again.  Whitten watched the activity through the rifle's scope, and made mental notes.  The figure next to him moved and adjusted the sight on the rifle he was holding.

"They've posted guards," the man said not moving.

"I see that."

"Changes your plans doesn't it?"

"Yeah it does, and we're going to need more men."

"No problem, but it will take a few days.

"Fine.  How ever long it takes.

"You don't have a specific time table?"

"I do, but this will work into it."

"Okay.  I'll leave tonight then."

"Good."

**********

Johnny entered the kitchen from the back door.  He heard voices and walked towards them.  As he came further into the kitchen, he saw Scott sitting at the table.   Murdoch was sitting across from Scott, a cup of coffee in front of him.  Dr. Ramsey and Teresa were standing near a counter a few feet from Scott.  Johnny stopped and listened to the conversation.

"Scott, I want you to squeeze that," Dr. Ramsey stated.

Scott looked up at the doctor and shook his head, "I frankly do not see the point to this, but as you wish."

Scott picked up the dough that was on the table in front of him and squeezed it with his right hand.  A sharp pain went through his arm and into his shoulder.  The muscles in his shoulder felt as if they'd twisted into a knot.  Scott dropped the dough as he grimaced in pain; he turned in the chair and doubled over, holding his right arm with his left hand.  Johnny rushed to his brother and knelt beside him, Dr. Ramsey and Teresa hurried to them.  Murdoch rose and rushed over to where his sons were.

"Here Scott, give me your arm, this will help," Johnny urged as took Scott's arm into his hands and started to massage it.

Scott let go of his arm and slightly sat up in the chair.  His eyes were closed as the pain still registered in his face.  Johnny quickly massaged Scott's arm working his fingers up towards his brother's shoulder.  When he reached Scott's shoulder, he carefully pressed his fingers around the wound working the tightened muscles.

"Scott, is this better?" Johnny asked his voice filled with concern as he tried to look into his brother's face.  Scott sighed heavily and nodded his head.  After a moment, he lifted his head and looked into his brother's blue eyes.

"Yes, that's starting to feel better," Scott replied between heavy breaths.

A small smile came over Johnny's face as he continued to work the tightened muscles.

"Is there anything I can do?" Murdoch asked as he placed his left hand on Scott's left shoulder.

"Murdoch, can you get some water?" Dr. Ramsey asked.  Murdoch nodded and quickly went to the sink.

Dr. Ramsey turned to Teresa, "Can you fetch my medical bag?"

Teresa nodded, walked to the counter where the bag rested and brought it over to the table setting it near Johnny.  Dr. Ramsey smiled and nodded to the young woman as he opened his bag.  Murdoch returned with a pitcher of water and a glass.  He filled the glass and handed it to the doctor as he set the pitcher on the table.  Dr. Ramsey set the glass down on the table and pulled a small vial out of his medical bag.  He popped the top off and tapped a couple of drops into the glass.  He replaced the top on the vial and returned it to the bag.  He then picked up the glass, swirled the contents a few times and then walked to Scott.

"Here Scott, I want you to drink this."

Scott shook his head, "I'm fine, the pain is subsiding," he managed to say between breaths.

"Scott, this will help take the edge off.  I haven't put that much laudanum in the glass."

Johnny watched his brother take the glass from the doctor.  Johnny hated the stuff, but knew Scott was in pain.  Scott took a few sips, frowned and then handed the glass back to the doctor.  He closed his eyes and rested his head in his upright left hand.  Johnny was amazed at how well Scott controlled his emotions, hardly saying anything.  Johnny continued to work on Scott's arm.  Finally, Scott opened his eyes and stared into his brother's eyes.

Johnny smiled at him, "Better?"

Scott swallowed and returned the smile, "Yes, thanks."  Scott took a few more deep breaths and then Johnny stopped.

"You okay?"  Johnny asked as he rested his hand on Scott's right forearm.  Scott placed his left hand on his brother's, "Yes, much better.  Thanks, how did you know?"

"I had the same thing happen to me.  Luckily a doctor was nearby and massaged my arm.  It immediately eased the pain."

Dr. Ramsey looked at Scott and smiled, "Well, I hate to say this, but I didn't think you'd squeeze that dough as hard as you did.  I didn't think you had that much strength in your hand."

Johnny and Scott both laughed and then the others joined them.

***************

"Dammit Johnny, how many times do I have to tell you, this is not a good idea and the answer is no!"  Murdoch spat at his youngest son.

"Murdoch, you're wrong.  Listen to me, I've talked to Bart; Smith and Mason will also be there.  Trust me, this is going to work."

Murdoch eyed his son and shook his head, still feeling this was a mistake.

Scott came down the stairs and entered the Great Room.  His presence diffused the air between Murdoch and Johnny.  Before his father could say anything, Johnny walked to his brother, hooked Scott's arm in his, turned him around and walked back to the stairs.

"What's going on?"  Scott asked his brother as he was escorted to the stairs.

"Come with me and I'll tell you," Johnny replied as he led his brother up the stairs.

Scott looked at his brother and saw a mischievous expression on his face.  Johnny hurried them down the hallway.  They entered Scott's room and Johnny closed the door behind them.  Scott turned and faced his brother.

"All right, now do you want to tell me what's going on?

"I'm liberating you from this place.  But first, we need to make a few adjustments."

"Adjustments to what?"

"To your clothes," Johnny answered as he walked to the wardrobe.  He selected a shirt and turned to his brother.

"Here put this on," Johnny stated as he held out Scott's dark blue shirt.

"Johnny I just put this shirt on today.  I see no reason to change it."

"Yeah, but its white."

"Yes I know that, but why do I need to change it?"

"Because you need to wear a dark shirt."

Scott shook his head, "Listen, I'm not going to change until you tell me what's going on."

"I told you I'm liberating you from this place.  I thought you could use a change of scenery and I want you to wear this darker shirt so your sling isn't noticeable."

"Okay, we're leaving the ranch and you don't want prying eyes to recognize me.  And?"  Scott asked as he raised his brows, and shifted his weight.

Johnny smiled at Scott, crossed to the bed and plopped down on it, setting the shirt on the bed next to him, "You, I and a few others are going to leave under, what do you call it, a facade that we are ranch hands leaving to check the fences."

Scott stared at him, "Go on."

"Look, you've been cooped up in this house for a long time.  Like I said you need a change of scenery."

Scott studied his brother and knew there was more to this.  "Why do I get the feeling that you're not telling me everything."

Johnny looked at his brother, "I need to check on something.  If I'm right, I want your opinion."

Scott frowned and then thought for a moment.  Finally, he walked to the bed and unbuttoned his shirt.  A few minutes later Scott had changed shirts and replaced the sling on his arm. 

"All right, how does this look?"

Johnny frowned and shook his head, "I want to be sure.  Put on a jacket."

Scott rolled his eyes and walked to the closet.  He selected his two tone jacket and was met with his brother's disapproving look.

"What now?" Scott asked exasperated.

"Too fancy for a hand, wear your tan leather jacket."

Scott shook his head and exchanged the jackets.  "It's not that cold outside and how will it look if I'm the only one wearing a jacket?"

Johnny stood up.  "Not to worry, I'll wear mine too.  It will give the impression that we'll be gone for a while."

Johnny helped Scott into his jacket.  This jacket was looser on Scott and Johnny adjusted it until he was satisfied with how it hung on his brother.  He stepped back and admired his handiwork.  Scott watched his brother, shook his head, walked to the closet and pulled out his hat.

Scott adjusted his hat on his head and caught Johnny's expression. "Now what?"

Johnny started to say something.  "Don't say it!  Let's go before I change my mind," Scott exclaimed as he turned and walked out of the bedroom.  Johnny hurried out the door behind him.

They walked down the back stairs, as they passed through the kitchen, Johnny picked up his things and the two of them left the house through the back door.  The two brothers crossed the back patio to the waiting buck board.  Bart jumped down from the seat.  Mason and Smith were in the back.

"Hey Johnny, Mr. Scott, everything's set," Bart stated.  Johnny nodded and climbed into the seat.  Bart assisted Scott into the seat next to his brother and then climbed in the back with the other hands.  Johnny flicked the reins of the horses and the men set out for their destination.

 

Chapter 15

After eating the lunch that Teresa had packed for them Johnny, Scott and the others headed back to the ranch.  Scott had become tired and Johnny persuaded him to ride in the back of the wagon.  Johnny decided to sit in the back also under the pretense of talking further with his brother.  In addition to it being a better place for Scott to fall asleep, the wagon's high sides would provide excellent cover in case Whitten and the others were still watching the ranch when they returned.  Bart and Mason drove the wagon.  Smith, who was riding in the back, was tired himself and dozed off almost immediately.  After a short while, Scott did the same.  Johnny managed to get his arm behind his brother and carefully eased him close so Scott rested his head on Johnny's shoulder.  Johnny enjoyed the moment.  The young man knew how lucky he was to have an older brother like Scott in his life.  Johnny smiled at the thought.  Scott had been there for him from the start, never judging him because of his heritage or what he'd done in the past.  What had Scott said to him, "We all do things we have to, to survive."  Feelings welled up inside Johnny and he finally understood what it meant to have unconditional love.  He took a deep breath and then his mind drifted back to the day's events.

Johnny's plan had worked.  Getting Scott away from the house had made him relax.  Johnny had managed to coax his brother into speaking about his suspicions without the fear of Murdoch walking in.  Johnny sighed as he thought about how he and Scott would have to tell their father.  Danvers wasn't a good friend, but Johnny couldn't help wondering what his father's reaction would be.  Johnny and Scott didn't have solid proof, only their suspicions.  Even if Whitten was caught, it was unlikely that he would implicate Danvers.  Johnny closed his eyes and thought about the days ahead.

 

Johnny's eyes snapped open when the wagon hit a hole in the road, and realized he'd dozed off.  As he looked around, the white arch of the ranch was coming into sight.  He glanced at his brother, the lurch of the wagon had also woke him.

"Hey Boston, 'bout time you woke up.  We're almost at the hacienda.  Thought I'd have to carry you in the house," Johnny said with a mischievous grin on his face.

"That, I'd like to see you try to do," Scott teased as he stretched his muscles realizing Johnny's arm was behind him once again.  "You taking care of me, little brother?"  Scott asked, matching his brother's grin.

"Yeah I am.  Better get used to it.  So, you don't think I can pick you up?"

Scott shook his head, "Nope, don't think you can."

"Oh I could, and I should do it just to set you straight."

"Better not try little brother or you'll find yourself in a heap on the ground."

Johnny eyed Scott, the smile still on his face, he kept thinking it was so good to have his brother back.  "Yeah, you said you could dump me on my ass.  I'll have to try you sometime."

"Any time little brother, any time."

Bart brought the wagon up behind the house.  Johnny and Scott got out and Bart turned the horses towards the barn and left with the others.

"Thanks a lot fellas!"  Johnny yelled after them.  The men turned, waved at the brothers and then continued on their way.

Scott and Johnny entered the house through the kitchen.  Maria and Teresa were busy baking.  Johnny walked over to the counter next to Maria.  His outstretched hand was quickly slapped by the wooden spoon she was holding.

"Ouch, Maria that hurts!'

"Go away Senior Johnny, we have much work to do."

Johnny smiled at her as he put his arms around her and gave her a hug.  She smiled at him and gave him a quick wink.

Murdoch had entered the room when he saw the wagon return.

"It's about time you two returned," he said as he looked at his sons.

"Not to worry Murdoch, I had everything under control," Johnny replied as he snatched some cookie dough from the bowl in front of Maria.  His action was rewarded with a stern look from the cook.

Scott laughed as he watched his brother's antics.  Murdoch's gaze fell on his older son. Although Scott looked tired, he was relaxed and his face had more color than it had since he'd been shot.  The elder man knew his son wasn't back to normal, but was well on his way.  Murdoch noted how good it was to hear his oldest son laugh.  It was something Scott hadn't done in a long time.  The patriarch realized a large smile was on his face and he drank in the scene before him.

Teresa looked over at Scott.  "Scott, you look tired.  Are you feeling all right?"  she asked as she approached him.

The smile disappeared from Scott's face as he waived her off, "Teresa, I'm fine."

Murdoch was almost disappointed Teresa had said anything, but Scott's health was still a major concern.  Dr. Ramsey said that this was the time to watch Scott carefully, and to make certain the young man didn't over do it.  Scott could easily relapse.

Johnny noted the exchange.  "Boston, she's right.  You do look tired," Johnny agreed and then took a bite of the cookie dough still in his hand.

Scott looked at his brother.  "Listen you two, I'm fine."  Scott started towards the back stairs as he removed his jacket.  Johnny noted how well Scott did that one handed.

"Scott, perhaps you should lie down," Murdoch added.

Scott rolled his eyes and turned to face them.  His face softened when he saw the expression on their faces.  "Fine, I'll lie down for a while, but I will be down for dinner."  His voice was firm as he shot a look at Teresa, a small smile crossing his face.

Teresa cocked her head and returned his smile, "All right, if you insist."  With that Scott turned and headed upstairs.

 

Johnny managed to dodge Murdoch's questions regarding the trip.  He and Scott had decided to discuss their suspicions with their father together.  Johnny felt uncomfortable not telling Murdoch what had transpired.  The two of them were forming a close bond and the young man didn’t want to damage it by keeping things from him.  He told Murdoch there were some chores that he needed to do and promised to talk to him later.  Johnny also informed his worried father that Scott had slept on the way back to the ranch.  The young man noted how this had eased the older man’s concerns that Scott was doing too much so soon after the latest strike against the ranch.

Murdoch reminded his younger son that he needed to be careful too, Johnny’s arm was still healing.  The dark haired man smiled and promised his father he would only perform those chores that had been approved by Dr. Ramsey.  Johnny was glad to be out of the house.  He wasn’t sure how long he could dodge his father’s questions about the trip he and Scott took.

Murdoch for his part tried to work on the ledgers.  However, his mind kept drifting back to what Sanders had said.  Whitten had attacked the ranch for revenge against him.  Murdoch sat at his desk staring at the papers.  This was his fault and he had nearly lost Scott.  Johnny had also been injured.  He closed his eyes and shook his head.  Both boys hadn’t been with him for very long and now he’d nearly lost both of them because of the ranch.  The Lancer patriarch remembered what he said to both of them the first day they arrived.  //How could I be so stupid?//  The most important things in his life were his sons and Teresa.  He also cared very deeply about Jelly and the rest of the men and women who worked at the ranch.  He opened his eyes, rose from the desk and crossed the room.  He ran his right hand through his gray hair as he stopped and stared into the fireplace.   Murdoch wasn’t sure how long he’d been there but he was suddenly aware of someone else in the room.  He turned and saw Johnny had entered the room through one of the French doors.

“I’m sorry, Johnny.  Did you say something?”

“Yeah, I said hello and was wonder’n what you were thinking about?”  Johnny asked as he walked towards his father and removed his hat.  He let it dangle in his fingers as he studied his father.

“Oh, nothing much, just had a few things on my mind.”

Johnny observed his father’s actions and knew there was more.  Johnny could see the guilt in his father’s eyes.  He was going to say something when Teresa entered the room from the kitchen and announced that dinner would be ready soon.  Johnny had an idea what was bothering his father.  He decided to bring this up with Scott to get his brother’s views as to what they should do.  Johnny had an idea what Scott would say.

“Well, guess I’d better get cleaned up.  I’ll see if Scott’s awake,” Johnny said as he started to turn.

Murdoch nodded.  “Okay.  I think I’ll freshen up as well.”  Murdoch walked towards Johnny and both men headed upstairs.

 

Johnny finished dressing, then walked to the adjoining door leading to Scott’s room, and pushed it open.  The room was becoming dark and Scott was sound asleep.  Johnny walked to the lantern near the window, lit it and turned the handle so a soft light radiated in the room.  Johnny turned and watched his brother.  Scott looked peaceful.  Since Johnny had managed to persuade Scott to open up about the escape from the prison camp, Scott had been sleeping better.  Johnny hadn’t noticed any more nightmares.  Scott’s demeanor had changed as well.  The young man knew Scott hadn’t told him and Murdoch everything about his time in the camp and probably never would.  Johnny understood why, but had made it clear to Scott that if he ever wanted to talk, Johnny would be there for him.  Johnny walked to the bed and sat on the edge.  Normally Scott would feel his presence and wake up but he didn’t even stir.

Johnny glanced at the nightstand and saw the water glass and small bottle on it.  Johnny had wondered if Scott had been in pain while they were out and now he knew for certain.  The young man toyed with letting his brother sleep, but knew Scott wanted to be present for dinner.  With Scott lying on his left side, Johnny placed his left hand on Scott’s hip, and called to him as he gently shook him.

“Hey Boston, wake up.”

Scott stirred and then finally opened his eyes.

“Johnny, what time is it?”

“A little after five.”

Scott started to stretch his muscles.  Johnny stood up, allowing his brother to sit up.  Scott sat on the edge of the bed.  Johnny could see he was having trouble waking up.

“You okay?” he asked watching his brother.

Scott stretched again and then looked at him.  “I’m fine.  I had a glass of water and decided to put a drop of laudanum in it to ease the soreness before I laid down.  Between that and the fresh air, I guess I really fell into a deep sleep.”  Scott noted the concern on his brother’s face.

“Really Johnny, I’m fine.”  Scott smiled at him as he stood up and walked to the wash basin.

“The trip today really hurt you didn’t it?”

Scott turned around.  “No, it didn’t.  Just a few of the ruts we hit hurt.  I also haven’t been out for a while so, I guess I’ve softened up a bit.”  A slow grin came across his face.

Johnny laughed and plopped down on his brother’s bed and leaned back on his left elbow.

“So, what did you do for the rest of the day,” Scott asked as he removed his shirt and washed up.

“Well, let’s see, I finished up some of your chores and then helped Cip reorganize the barn.  It’s gonna be great to have the new one soon.”

Scott sighed heavily.  Johnny glanced up and saw Scott’s expression.

“Hey, Scott, lighten up.  I was teasing.  There is no way you can do any of them right now.  Your supervising the construction on the new buildings is more than enough for you.  In case you haven’t noticed, Murdoch has been keep’n a close eye on you.  Making sure you’re not overdoing it.”

Scott smiled, “Yes, I have noticed Murdoch has been keeping close tabs on me.  He isn’t the only one.”  Scott smiled at his brother in the mirror as he reached for a towel and dried his face.

Johnny laughed, “Yeah well, someone has to keep you in line.”  Johnny looked down at the bed, his voice became serious.  “It’s been kinda nice tak’n care of you.  Feels nice for a change thinking of someone else.”  Johnny lifted his head to see Scott was facing him, the towel in his hands.

“Johnny, I appreciate all that you’ve done.  I know I haven’t expressed that enough.  Guess I’m not used to having a brother around looking out for me.”

Johnny felt the emotions rising in him, “Me too.  It still surprises me how fast we’ve become close.  It’s really nice to have someone to share things with.”

Scott’s gaze fell to the floor, “Yes it is.”  Scott took a breath, turned and replaced the towel on the rack next to the basin.  He then turned and as he crossed the room, he glanced at his brother.

“What else bothering you?”

Johnny looked over at him, “I was just thinking about Murdoch.”

“Oh, has he said something?”

“Nothing specific.  I think he feels guilty about what’s happened.”

Scott nodded as he turned and opened the wardrobe.  “Perhaps we should discuss our suspicions with him as soon as possible.”

“I was thinking the same thing.  Maybe we’ll have a chance before dinner.”

Scott nodded as he finished dressing.

 

Chapter 16

Scott and Johnny entered The Great Room.  With the large window still replaced by wood, the room was dark even though the lamps throughout the room were lit and a fire burned in the fireplace.  The dining room table was set for dinner.  Scott crossed the room to the desk.  Johnny followed and stopped at the table near the desk, which served as a bar, to pour himself a drink.

“I’m going to have a drink before dinner,” Johnny said as he reached for the tequila bottle.

“Sounds good, pour me one to,” Scott answered absent-mindedly as he read the paper he’d picked up from the desk.

A wicked smiled crossed Johnny’s face as he held the tequila bottle in his hand.  He glanced at his brother who wasn’t paying attention to him.  He poured a shot and before he could pour the second, he nearly dropped the bottle when Scott suddenly spoke.

“Don’t even think about pouring me a shot of tequila.”

Johnny shot a glance at his brother.  Scott was still reading the paper he held in his hand.  Disbelief still registered on Johnny’s face as Scott looked up from the paper he was reading, a grin on his face.

“Oh don’t look so startled, little brother.  I still remember the last time you pulled that on me.”

Johnny smiled as he shook his head and replaced the bottle on the table.  He remembered all too vividly the time he poured Scott a shot of tequila and handed it to him.  Like now, Scott wasn’t paying attention as he took the glass from his brother.  He was working at their father’s desk.  Scott had taken a swallow of the drink as he dunked the pen he was writing with into the ink well.  He’d shaken his head and shuddered, not expecting the tequila, and knocked the ink well over spilling ink all over the desk.  In his haste to save the papers he was working on, Scott had managed to shake ink onto his shirt and pants.  Johnny had laughed hysterically at his brother making matters worse.  Scott’s stare had burned through Johnny as Scott had promised he’d get even.  Johnny still laughed at the memory.

 “Good evening boys," Murdoch greeted as he entered the great room and walked towards his sons.

"How about pouring me a drink?”  Murdoch asked as he neared Johnny.

“Sure, no problem,” Johnny replied as he poured another drink.

“Well, I checked on dinner.  Seems there is a problem with something.  Teresa said it would be a while.  From the mood of both Teresa and Maria, I felt it was best to not ask any more questions and I left.”

Both Johnny and Scott laughed.  Each remembered from experience to stay away from busy kitchens and cooks preparing meals.

Johnny turned and handed a glass to his father.  Murdoch took it from him.  "Thanks, son.  Is that for Scott?  Here I'll take it."  Murdoch took the other glass from Johnny and walked towards Scott.

Scott placed the sheet of paper he was reading back onto the desk.  He turned as Murdoch reached him and accepted the glass from him.

"Thanks."

"You slept for quite a while.  Are you feeling all right?"  Murdoch asked as he took a sip of his drink then placed his right hand on Scott's left shoulder.

"Yes, I'm fine," Scott replied as he took a swallow of his drink.

Johnny took a swig of his drink as he walked to the couch and sat on the arm and faced his father and brother.  The brothers exchanged glances.

"Murdoch, there's something Scott and I would like to talk to you about."

"Oh, has this got something to do with your trip today?"

Johnny nodded and rose from the couch, "Yeah it does.  I took Scott away from here because I wanted to show him something and I needed to, well, compare notes with him."

Murdoch said nothing and continued to look at his younger son.

"Murdoch, when I was out tracking the gunmen with Sheriff Adams, we came across Hanlon's body.  Harry found out, looking through Hanlon's papers, that he was from El Paso.  Not too long after that, we caught Sanders but lost the tracks of the other man.  It didn't hit me until later how close we were to the border of one of the other ranches north of here.  Then when I heard Sanders talking to Scott, I saw something register in Scott's face."

"Seems Johnny and I have reached the same conclusion about a few things only from different angles," Scott added.  Murdoch turned his gaze to Scott.

"Which is?"

"That one of your neighbors has been harboring Whitten and his men,"  Scott stated.

Murdoch stared at Scott, "I don't believe that.  Who would do such a thing?"

"Danvers,"  Johnny stated.  Murdoch shot Johnny a glance.

"Danvers?"

"Murdoch, we lost Whitten's tracks not too far from the border between Lancer and Danvers' ranch.  Then when Sanders was talking to Scott he used an expression I've only heard one other person say to him."

Murdoch looked at him questioningly.

"Whitten said that taking over this ranch would be like taking candy from a baby.  Murdoch, Danvers has said that to Scott a few times in town.  He's always thought that Scott was this helpless eastern dude and has made several comments to that effect."

"Paul Danvers is a friend.  I've never heard him say that."

"He says it when he knows you're out of earshot.  Murdoch, they're all from El Paso--Danvers, Whitten and Hanlon," Johnny continued.

Murdoch was having trouble believing that someone he considered a friend would be involved in something like this.

"I just can't believe this.  Why would Danvers have been involved in an attack on Lancer?  It doesn't make any sense."

"I don't think Danvers had anything to do with the attack on the ranch.  Whitten wanted revenge against you and the others for blocking his becoming a deputy marshall.  Whitten found an ally in Preston who'd been fired from the Miller's ranch.  Whitten also enlisted his old pal Hanlon to help.  Murdoch, think about it, who got Whitten his job in Green River?"  Scott asked.

Murdoch looked at his eldest son.  "Danvers did," he finally answered.

Murdoch walked to the fire place and stood there looking into the flames.  This was incredible.  He and Paul weren't close, but Murdoch had considered him a friend.  How could Danvers do such a terrible thing?  One thing Murdoch knew for certain, his sons wouldn't make accusations against someone else unless they were sure.  After a few minutes he turned and faced his sons.

"I believe both of you.  I just can't understand why Paul would be mixed up in this sort of thing."

"He blames you for his son's death," Johnny said quietly.

Murdoch looked at Johnny and then looked out the French doors.  "Paul said he didn't, but a small part of me has always wondered if he did. It was a feeling I'd get whenever I was around him.  I didn't want to believe it."

The Patriarch sighed heavily, "God, I never thought it would come to this."  Murdoch ran his right hand through his hair.

Scott walked to the back of the couch and faced his father, "Murdoch, I think you should know, we don't have any proof of this.  These are Johnny's and my suspicions."

Murdoch looked at his sons, "In the time that you've both been here, I've learned that neither of you would make accusations against another person unless you were certain."

Scott and Johnny exchanged glances, a feeling of pride surged within them.

Maria entered the room, "Seniors, dinner is ready."

"Thank you, Maria," Murdoch replied as he smiled at her.  He then turned to his sons.  He could see sorrow on both of their faces.  He knew this had been difficult for them.

"I can see this wasn't easy for either of you.  But I want you to know that I appreciate your being honest with me."

Maria and Teresa entered the room carrying serving trays.  "Well men, shall we?" Murdoch asked as he gestured towards the table.

Scott and Johnny looked at their father, nodded and followed him to the table.

 

Chapter 17

Scott stood on the patio and drew in a long deep breath allowing the fresh air to fill his lungs.  The aroma was a mixture of the flowers that were hanging in baskets along the arches and from the various pots that adorned the border of the patio.  Scott’s left hand automatically reached into his pant pocket and pulled out the gold medallion.  He absent mindedly turned it over in his long fingers as his eyes gazed upward towards the moon and stars.  Blue grey eyes then traveled to the lane between the main house and outbuildings.  Scott couldn’t get the night of the attack out of his head.  He’d replayed the moment, when Smith was shot trying to reach the house and then when Manny was hit, over and over in his mind.  Scott closed his eyes as the vision of his friend being shot flooded through his mind.  So many times he’d wondered if only, if only.

The blond's thoughts then drifted to Preston and Whitten.  Whitten, was a man Scott would never forget.  He was tall, about Murdoch's height, dark eyes, dark hair, with a solid almost husky frame.  Scott would never understand men like Whitten; blaming others for their mistakes.  The reasons for the attack were now clear.  Everything had fallen into place.  Why the attack happened, who the perpetrators were , but when.  When would the next attack come?

Johnny made his way to the hacienda from the barn.  As he approached the house, he noticed his brother on the patio.  Immediately he headed towards him.  As Johnny neared his brother, he saw the gleam of gold in Scott’s hand.  Johnny slowed his pace watching Scott as he played with the piece in his long fingers.  Johnny continued on, becoming more intrigued.  He didn’t remember seeing Scott with it before.  As he drew closer, Johnny saw that it was a gold medallion.  His interest piqued when he reached Scott.

Scott heard approaching footsteps and turned towards them.

“Hey Boston, you sure looked a hundred miles away from here,” Johnny called.

Scott was about to replace the medallion when he noticed Johnny staring at it.  Scott glanced down at his hand, “It’s a catholic medallion.”

Johnny moved closer and Scott handed it to him.

"Yeah, I've seen this before," Johnny replied as he turned the piece over in his hand.

“Munson ripped from this throat and thrust it into my hands as he was dying.  He wanted me to have it.  He said the saint would protect me.”

“Yeah, that's what its supposed to do.  This is a very beautiful piece.”  Johnny smiled as he looked into his brother’s blue grey eyes, seeing the emotion in them.  Johnny could sense there was something else. "What?"

Scott shook his head and looked away.  "Come on brother, tell me," Johnny implored his brother.

Scott turned his head back towards his brother, “As you know I’m not catholic, but whenever I don't have the medallion with me, things don’t feel right.  It's as if something’s going to happen.  I know it sounds strange, especially coming from someone like me.”

Johnny held the medallion out for his brother, “No, it doesn’t,” he said quietly.  As Scott took the piece from his brother, Johnny placed his hand on Scott’s left shoulder.  “I think this saint has been watching out for you.  And personally I'm very grateful.”

Scott smiled as he held his brother's gaze.  "Thanks."  Scott hesitated and then continued, "I know I should have said this to you earlier,"

"Scott, you don't have to," Johnny said as he looked into his brother's.  No words needed to be said between the brothers as both men could feel the bond deepening.

After a few quiet moments Scott finally spoke, "Johnny, I need your help."

Johnny stared at his brother questioningly and then he saw the expression on Scott's face.  Johnny knew that look all to well, that determined look which meant Scott had made a decision, a decision that was nearly impossible to change. "Scott, you need to follow the doctor's orders."

Scott's face became tight as he walked a few feet from his brother. "Johnny, I need to strengthen this arm, and I need your help."

"Why?"

Scott turned, faced his brother and Johnny knew.  Johnny walked to him, "Look Scott, I mean it.  You need to do what the doc says."  Scott started to move and Johnny grabbed him.

"Listen to me.  That wound in your shoulder isn't like last time.  You can't push yourself as hard as you did before.  If you want my help, you're going to do this my way!  You hear me?" Johnny's grip was firm and Scott was unable to break away.  Scott stared into his brother's blue eyes and knew he couldn't do this alone.

"All right," Scot replied softy.

Johnny nodded, "Okay, we'll start tomorrow."  Johnny released his grip. 

"So, how are things at the barn?"

Johnny smiled, "Everything is fine.  The new one looks great.  The men really got a lot done on it today."

"Oh that reminds me, I meant to ask Murdoch about the windows."

"I've been wonder'n how he's doing.  Can't be easy to hear someone he's known for a while has been harboring the criminals who attacked his ranch."

Scott nodded, "Yes, I've had the same idea.  I was thinking of speaking to him."

"I think that's a good idea."

"Do you want to come along?"

Johnny shook his head, "No, if you don't mind I need to see if Teresa has her list ready."

"Oh, that's right you're going to town for supplies tomorrow."

"Yeah, she asked me if I could pick up a few things for her.  I'd better go take a look to see which wagon I need to bring," Johnny said with a smile on his face as he playfully slapped the back of Scott's shoulder and started towards the rear of the house.

Scott laughed, "Good luck."

Scott entered the great room and saw his father standing at the fireplace, a brandy in his hand.  Murdoch turned when he heard the door shut. "Hello Scott."

"Good evening.  I didn't mean to disturb you."

"You didn't.  Actually, I could use the company. Would you like to join me in a brandy?"

Scott smiled as he crossed the room towards his father.  "Yes, that sounds good.  May I freshen yours?"

"Yes please."

Scott took the glass from his father and walked to the bar.  He poured the drinks and joined his father.

"Thank you, son."

Scott smiled.  He still wasn't used to being addressed that way, but was pleased to hear it.

"I thought I saw your brother outside a while ago," Murdoch said.

"He was.  He went to speak to Teresa regarding a list of things she wanted him to get for her in town."

Murdoch smiled, "Last time I looked, the list was getting long."

"That's what he was afraid of."  Both men laughed.

"I meant to ask you about the windows.  Did you get the chance to order them?  Scott asked.

"Yes, I ordered the windows for the new buildings.  They should be here very soon."

Scott nodded, "Good, I'll ask Johnny to check on the status when he goes into town tomorrow."

Murdoch nodded his head as looked away and took a sip of his drink.

"Thinking about what we were discussing earlier?" Scott inquired.

"Yes, among other things.  It's just so hard to believe."

"Like we said, we don't have proof."

"I know, but your suspicions are sound.  It all makes sense.'

"It doesn't make it any easier does it?"

"No, it doesn't.  Scott, like I said earlier, I appreciate you and Johnny telling me this.  You weren't sure what my reaction would be, were you?"

"Well, the three of us haven't known each other for very long.   You've known Danvers longer than you've known Johnny and me."

"Like I said, you boys are my sons.  You both have integrity and I know you wouldn't make accusations against someone else unless you were sure."

"Thanks," Scott replied as he took a swallow of his drink.

Murdoch sipped his drink and watched his son.  He took a deep breath and prayed the words would come to him.  "Scott, you asked me a question that I wasn't able to answer.   I'd like to answer it now, if that's all right."

Scott looked at his father and nodded, "Yes, it is."  Scott sat down on the edge of the large table in front of the fireplace.

Murdoch took a few steps towards the dining room table, then turned and faced his son.

"Scott, when I arrived in Boston, I decided to visit your grandfather to speak to him regarding my taking custody of you."  Murdoch walked towards the fire place.  Visions of a young Scott rushed before him.

"Harlan agreed to meet me at the house.  He informed me that he had obtained guardianship of you."  Murdoch turned and faced his son.  "He also informed me that he knew of my petition and would fight me in court."

Scott's face tightened.  Although Scott had suspected this, hearing the words still made it difficult knowing what his grandfather had done.  Scott rose and turned towards the desk.

His mind raced back to a conversation he'd had with a great aunt regarding his mother and father.  She was the only one in the family who would talk openly with Scott regarding his mother.  Aunt Emily was his grandfather's youngest sister.   Despite the fact she and his great uncle lived in New York, Aunt Emily and Scott's mother had been close.  They corresponded frequently and Catherine had visited them often before she married.  They had been unable to attend his parents wedding.

However, during a visit Aunt Emily had told Scott that his father must have been a wonderful person.  Otherwise Catherine wouldn't have fallen in love and married him.  Scott's aunt had always told him that his mother was a sensible, level headed young lady.  Scott missed his aunt and now realized how right she'd been.  Scott turned and faced his father.  He sensed there was more.

“There’s more to this isn’t there?” Scott asked controlling his anger.  He was angry at his grandfather but needed to be careful not give his father the impression Scott was angry with him.

Murdoch decided to keep to this particular subject.  He knew how much Scott loved his grandfather and was determined to keep it that way.  If Scott was ever to learn what a despicable man his grandfather was, it would be because Harlan had shown him.  Murdoch would never hurt his son that way.  The elder man could also see Scott was reining in his anger.  At first Murdoch thought Scott was, again, angry at him.  However, the expression in his son’s eyes told him something else.

“The guardianship made it more difficult, but I was prepared to fight him.  He then,” Murdoch looked into his son’s face.  He couldn’t do this.  Not because he as afraid of losing Scott, but because he never wanted to hurt him, not then and certainly not now.

“Then what?”  Scott asked bringing Murdoch back to the present.  Scott could see the emotions in his father’s face.  He knew this wasn’t easy but what was he holding back?

Murdoch took a breath, “He said he’d drag the custody fight through the courts, it would be years before a decision was reached and he’d put you on the stand.  Scott, you were five years old and I could see how happy you were.”

“What are you talking about?  You could see how happy I was?”  Scott managed to say as he controlled his emotions.

“Scott, you were celebrating your fifth birthday.”

“You were there?”  Scott asked incredulously.

Murdoch nodded.  He saw the expression drain from Scott’s face before he whirled around and faced the fireplace.

Scott’s emotions were in turmoil.  He looked into fire trying to comprehend what he’d just heard.  Scott was unprepared for this.  He continued to stare into the fire not seeing the flames.  As incredible as this was, Scott knew Murdoch was telling the truth.  He wasn’t the man his grandfather had said he was.  Scott had learned that these last few months and especially during the past few weeks.  Now he knew Murdoch had come for him, had wanted him.  Scott knew his grandfather could be ruthless when it came to business, but it never occurred to him just how vicious he’d been towards his father.  Scott was seeing him in a different light.  It was also apparent that Murdoch had made the ultimate sacrifice.  Scott threw his glass into the fireplace.  The remnants of his drink causing a small explosion as the liquor met the flames.

“Damn him!  He had no right to do that!”  Scott exploded.

Murdoch walked to his son and gently placed his hand on his shoulder, “Scott, I never wanted to hurt you this way.”

Scott turned his head and blinked back the water in his eyes as he looked at his father, “You’re not the one who hurt me.  You’re the one who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Murdoch pulled Scott into an embrace and felt son’s hesitation.  Undaunted, Murdoch tightened his grip and finally felt Scott relax.

“I am so glad you’re here right now.  That’s all that matters.  I love you son.

“I love you too, father.”  Scott replied softly.

 

Chapter 18

His hands were bound tightly behind him.  He struggled against the binds feeling them dig into his flesh as he helplessly watched Whitten menacingly move the hunting knife with its large blade up and down his brother's face.  The young man took a quick glance at his father who was sitting bound in the chair next to him watching the scene, his eyes full of hatred as he glared  at the man now threatening his son.  It was the same hatred the young man felt.  The younger man's attention was drawn back to the scene near the fireplace.  Whitten had stopped the knife on this brother's right cheek bone laughing at how easily he could slice into the flesh, forever marring the handsome face.  Whitten was nearly twice the size of his brother and held his prey in a death grip.  Whitten moved the knife slowly down his brother's face finally stopping at his throat.  The young man could see the hatred in his brother's blue grey eyes as Whitten pressed the edge of the knife into his throat.

"No!"  Johnny yelled.

His breathing was rapid and he was unable to catch his breath.  His body was covered with sweat as he shook violently.  It took him a moment to realize he was sitting up in his bed.  Shakily, he pushed himself to the edge of the bed and sat there for a moment.   Finally, he pushed himself to his feet and walked unsteadily towards the wash basin.  He poured water into the basin, and then splashed some of the cool liquid on his face.  He stood there trying to comprehend the nightmare he'd just experienced, not understanding where the images had come from or what had provoked them.

Suddenly his attention was drawn to the door leading to his brother's room.  He quickly walked to it.  The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he silently and quickly pushed the door open.  As he stood in the shadows, he quickly glanced around the moonlit room.  He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw his brother's sleeping frame and he knew Scott hadn't heard his cry.  Scott's slumber was deep, the day had been long and tiring.  Johnny lingered in the shadows looking around the room.  The gun hawk's instincts told him something was amiss and he cursed to himself that his gun was on the other side of his room.  Carefully, he entered the room his senses heightened as he continued to look around.  He stopped.  Did he hear a sound outside?  He moved quickly to the open French doors that led to the small balcony outside Scott's room.  Johnny cautiously stepped onto the balcony and peered down to the patio below, using the shadows to shield him.  He saw nothing, but couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.  Finally, he went back into his brother's room and stopped near his bed.  Johnny toyed with staying with him until morning.  However, that would mean moving the chair from its location in front of the window.  The movement and sound could wake up his brother.

Scott had moved the chair back near the French doors after it was unnecessary for someone to stay with him during the night.  Maria and Teresa didn't like the way Scott positioned the stuffed chair, ottoman and matching chair near the French doors.  Scott had tersely Informed both women that this was his room and to leave the furnishings alone.  What they didn't know was that Scott would sit in the chair facing the French doors while Johnny sat in the chair along the adjoining wall between the two brother's bedrooms.  Both men could then share the ottoman.  They would talk for hours or sit silently savoring each other's company.  Johnny always enjoyed the fact that Scott didn't feel the need to fill up a quiet evening with useless chatter.  After a moment, Johnny turned and walked back to his room, casting a final glance at his brother, satisfied that he was safe.

 

Johnny pulled up the wagon outside the general store.  He and Jelly had made excellent time into town.   Johnny usually enjoyed the handyman's company, however, today Jelly's incessant chatter had started to wear on the young man.  He found his mind drifting back to the previous night, but was unable to concentrate on it as he wished.  After tending the horses, Johnny walked into the store.  Jelly was already busy discussing Teresa's list with Mrs. Baldomero, the owner's wife.  Johnny casually walked into the store.

"Well, hello Johnny," greeted Mr. Baldomero.

"Hey Mr. Baldomero.  How are you today?" Johnny replied as he walked to the counter.

"I'm fine, and how are you this fine day?"

"Not too bad."

"Miss Teresa has quite the list this time, doesn't she?"

"Yeah she does.  I just hope we can fit all of it into the wagon."  Both men laughed.

"Mr. Baldomero, Scott wanted me to ask you if the windows for the new buildings had arrived."

"I think they have, let me check."  Baldomero pulled a folder from under the counter he was standing behind.  Johnny tipped his hat back on his head as he leaned on the counter and watched the store owner flip through the invoices.  Finally, Baldomero stopped.

"Well, a partial shipment came in.  The windows for the bunkhouse arrived, but the windows for the barn haven't.  Oh, that reminds me, I have some good news regarding the window in the great room.  Here let me pull that invoice."

"Oh," Johnny responded with interest.

"As you know, they are a special order and weren't supposed to arrive for a few more months.  Let's see, ah here we are, seems another order at the glass company fell through.  The panes from that order matched those for the great room and were used to complete your shipment."

"Meaning?"

"Which means the replacement panes have been shipped and should be arriving in a couple of weeks or sooner."

"Great, that will make Murdoch happy.  It will also be nice to have the window back again."

"Yes, I bet it will.  Oh remember, we'll be sending the shipment to the ranch.  The glass company is sending a crew along to install the window."

"Oh, that's right.  I remember Murdoch mentioning it took guys with special skills to put in that window."

Baldomero nodded, "Yes, it's a bit trickier than normal windows."

Johnny's attention was drawn to Jelly and Mrs. Baldomero.  It looked like they would be a while.  The young man decided to duck out of the store before they got him involved.  Besides, the young man wanted to check in with the sheriff.  Johnny filled the sheriff in on his and Scott's suspicions.  After listening to the young man, Sheriff Adams agreed with them.  He  told Johnny he'd do some checking and would get back to them with his findings.  About an hour later, Johnny left the sheriff's office.

Johnny found himself on the boardwalk, uncertain if he should continue with his next task.  /Oh ta hell with it, if he gets mad, he gets mad./  Johnny shook his head, turned and walked down the boardwalk stopping outside the gunsmith' shop.  He entered the shop and was greeted by the owner, Otis Portman.

"Why, hello Johnny what brings you by?  Need more ammo?"

Johnny smiled as he walked to the counter Portman was behind, "Yeah I could use a few boxes.  I also want to look at a revolver."

"Don't tell me you're in the market for a new one?"  Mr. Portman asked surprised.  He knew of the young man's past and appreciated his knowledge of firearms.  The two men had often discussed them when the young man came in for ammunition.  The older man also knew Johnny would never part with his colt.

Johnny smiled and drawled, "Nope, it's not for me."

"Oh, then who's if for?"

The store owner knew that a man's revolver was as personal as his boots and shouldn't be picked out by anyone else.  The young man before him knew this better than anyone.  Portman was intrigued.

"It's for Scott.  When we found him the night of the attack the one in his hand wasn't his since it had been taken earlier.  He's getting stronger and soon he'll be ready for target shooting.  Besides, I never liked the one he picked out from the guns Murdoch had at the ranch when we first came and I know he didn't either.  He just never got around to picking out a new one."

"Ah yes, he still doesn't regard his revolver as a necessary tool, does he?  However, if it was a rifle,"

"That would be different!"  Johnny added laughing.

"But do you think it wise to pick it out for him?"

Johnny thought for a moment, "Yes I do," he said quietly remembering the night he held Scott's hand after he was shot.  Johnny had been sitting with his brother and had absentmindedly picked up his hand.  As Johnny placed their palms together noting how much longer Scott's fingers were than his, Scott's fingers had closed around Johnny's hand bonding the two brothers.  Johnny sat in an emotional silence the remainder of the night feeling the lifeline between them.

"Well then, I know you have something in particular in mind, don't you?"

Johnny smiled as he tipped his hat onto the back of his head as the two men moved to another case.  An hour later, Johnny left the gunsmith's shop with boxes of ammo and a suitable revolver for his brother.

 

It was close to dinner when Johnny and Jelly retuned to the ranch, the wagon heavily loaded with supplies.  Jelly shooed the young man away insisting he'd only mess up the order in which the supplies had been loaded and now would be unloaded.  Johnny made his way to the great room after encountering an irate Teresa in the kitchen, who muttered something about one of Jelly's critters being in deep trouble.  Scott was sitting at their father's desk, open ledgers seemed to surround him.

"Hey Boston, how's your day been?"  Johnny asked as he walked to his brother.

Scott didn't look up as he wrote something down in a book in front of him, "Just fine as long as I stay out of the kitchen."  When he was finished he looked up at his brother.

"Yeah I noticed she's hot about someth'n.  Any idea what it is?"

"Seems one of Jelly's animals trampled some flowers that Teresa and Maria planted along the back patio.  Maria has been muttering in spanish all day and I thought it wise to stay in here away from the inevitable explosion."

Johnny's stomach tightened and he was able to conceal his edginess from his brother.

"Sounds like a good idea.  So, you're doing the books, huh?"  Johnny asked as he regained his composure.

"Yes, seems they're off and I've been trying to locate the error."

"Are they off a large amount?"  Johnny asked grateful for the change in topic.

"Enough.  I just can't seem to find the error. It's been driving Murdoch crazy so I told him I'd take a look."

"Which reminds me, here are the receipts for the supplies," Johnny replied as he walked to his brother and handed him the papers.  Scott smiled at him as he took the papers.

"So, you did some shopping yourself?" Scott asked pointing to the sack in Johnny's hands.

"Yeah, I did and I bought something for you too."

Scott watched with a look of surprise as Johnny reached into the sack.

"Since yours was taken, I bought you a new revolver." Johnny stated as he held out to his brother the package which contained the new gun.  Scott rose from the chair and walked to his brother.  The blond took the package from the young man.  He carefully opened it to find a new Smith & Wesson revolver.  Scott turned the piece over in his hands.

"Johnny, I don't know what to say."

Johnny had been anticipating the angry words that never came, instead he saw emotion in his brother that took him off guard.  Scott looked up and saw the expression on his brother's face.

"What?"

The young man regained his composure, "I wasn't expecting this reaction from you.  You nearly took my head off the last time I mentioned your gun wasn't suited for you."

"Yeah well, I didn't know then, what I know now," Scott replied quietly.

"Which is?"

"Your reason."

Johnny looked into his brother's blue grey eyes and felt the bond between them, the bond Johnny cherished.

"Well, since we got back so late, we won't be able to try it out today.  How about we go out tomorrow morning and give it a good workout?"

Scott smiled and nodded, "Sounds good to me."

Johnny returned the smile, "We'll just have to be careful not to over do it."

Scott rolled his eyes.  "Look Scott, your shoulder is healing nicely.  The last thing you want to do now is have a setback."

Scott eyed his brother, "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you sounded just like Dr. Ramsey.  You're really enjoying this role reversal, aren't you?"

A mischievous grin flashed across Johnny's face, "Yeah I am."  His face then became serious. "It's really nice to have a brother to care about."

Scott held Johnny's gaze and then smiled, "Yes it is."
 

Chapter 19

Johnny walked into the hacienda through the front door.  He threw his hat on a peg on the hat rack standing in the foyer.  He then unhooked his gun belt, hung it next to his hat and hurried up to his room to wash up, lunch at the hacienda was served promptly at noon.  Up since daybreak, Johnny had been working with a crew to clear some undergrowth that had threatened to clog up one of the streams that ran on the Lancer ranch.  The job had been dirty and arduous.  Most days, he'd have lunch wherever he was working.  However, his father told him that if the job was done early, Johnny could take Scott out target shooting in the afternoon.

He hurried down the hallway and upon reaching his room, stripped off his dirty clothes and made his way to the wash basin.  After washing up, he dressed in clean clothes, and headed out the door, taking the back stairs to the kitchen.  The smells that met his nostrils as he descended the stairs made his empty stomach growl more.  As he entered the kitchen, Teresa had picked up a serving tray and was about to leave when she heard Johnny's approaching footsteps.

"Hi Johnny, you made it back."

"Yeah, we managed to finish the job this morning.  So, where is everyone?"

"Murdoch decided not to go over to Miller's ranch today.  So we are having lunch in the great room," she replied as she motioned towards the other door way.

"Oh, okay, do you need some help?"

"Would you mind bringing the coffee pot?"

"Sure you don't want me to take the tray?  It looks heavy."

"No, thanks.  I've got a good hold on it."

"Okay, but I feel kinda stupid just carry'n the coffee pot."

Teresa smiled at him, "You are such a gentleman."

"Yeah, Scott must be rubb'n off on me."  Johnny grinned mischievously as he picked up the coffee pot and strode towards Teresa.

"It's about time!"  Teresa teased.

"Thanks a lot!"  Johnny laughed as he reached Teresa.  Teresa giggled and the two of them walked towards the great room.

When Johnny and Teresa reached the great room, Maria was busily arranging the dishes on the table.  Upon seeing them, she smiled and nodded.

"Please put those items over there," she motioned with her hand.  Johnny and Teresa walked past her and placed their items where she indicated.

"Hello Johnny, I didn't know you were back," Murdoch called from his desk.

"Yeah, I just got back a little ago," Johnny replied as looked up at his father.

Murdoch finished reading the papers in his hand, then placed them on the desk, rose, and joined the others.

"Hey, where's Scott?"  Johnny asked.

Maria muttered in Spanish as she arranged some dishes on the table.

"Maria, what do you mean Scott isn't eating?"  Johnny inquired.

Maria looked up at Johnny and shook her head, "Oh, I shouldn't have said it that way. Senior Scott isn't eating enough.  He's too thin."

"Maria, is that what you and Scott were arguing about this morning?"  Murdoch asked.

Maria looked at the patriarch with a concerned expression, "Si, he's not eating like he used to.  He's much too thin."

"Maria, ever since Scott came here, you've always thought he was too thin.  You nag him about it all the time," Johnny replied as he nudged Maria, a large smile on his face.

"I do not nag him!  Yes, he's always been too thin!  And now he doesn't eat like he used too, and I'm very worried about him."

"Maria, Scott's not working up the appetite like he did.  I'm sure he if was loos'n weight, Doc Ramsey would say something to him."

"I agree, Maria, if Scott was loosing weight, Milt would not only say something to Scott, but he would have talked to you and Teresa about it as well," Murdoch added.

Maria thought for a moment and then nodded her head, "Si, you are right, Dr. Ramsey has been watching Senior Scott very carefully, but I still think he's too thin."

Murdoch and Johnny smiled.

"Well, just try convincing him of that," Teresa added.  Maria nodded her agreement.

"Which brings me back to my original question, where is Scott?"  Johnny asked.

"This morning after breakfast, Bart came into the kitchen.  He said there were some problems with the new windows and needed Scott's opinion," Teresa replied.

"Really, I thought they were what we ordered," Johnny added.

"I thought so too.  I didn't know there were problems.  So, he's been at the construction site all morning?"  Murdoch asked.

"He must be, I haven't seen him since breakfast.  Have you Maria?"  Teresa asked.

Maria shook her head, "No, I haven't seen him either."

"Well, I'll just go to the bunkhouse and drag him up here."  Johnny said as he walked towards the French doors.

Johnny made his way towards the bunkhouse.  Some of the hands were installing the new windows.  Johnny greeted the hands as he made his way through the building, unable to locate his brother.

"Hey Smith, have you seen Scott?"

"Hey Johnny, yeah he, Bart, and Mason are in the new barn measuring the windows."

"Thanks," Johnny replied and then made his way to the other building.

Upon entering the structure, he looked around but still did not see his brother.  He saw Bart and walked to him.

"Hey Bart, have you seen Scott?"

Just then Johnny heard his brother's voice.

"This one's the same as the other one."

"Got it," Mason replied as he wrote on the paper in his hands.

Johnny looked up and saw his brother standing on one of the beams near a window opening.

"Hey Boston, just what the hell do you think you're do'in up there!"  Johnny yelled at his brother.

Scott rolled his eyes and shook his head, "What does it look like, I'm measuring the windows."  Scott turned and walked along the beam then moved to another leading to a window on the other wall of the barn.

"Dammit, Scott,"

"I only have this last one to measure and I'll be right down."

Seeing Scott up on the rafters under normal circumstances made Johnny nervous.  Watching his brother now, made the gun hawk anxious.  It hadn't been that long since Scott had been shot, and he still didn't have much strength in his shoulder.  If Scott fell, Johnny shuddered to think about it.  Scott finished measuring the window.  He then moved among the beams with ease and finally jumped to the ground.  The younger man stared at his brother and heaved a sigh of relief to himself.  It was only in recent months that Johnny learned of his brother's apparent fearlessness when it came to heights.  Johnny wanted to wring his brother's neck.  Scott shouldn't be climbing with his injured shoulder.  Truth be told, Johnny didn't like it when Scott climbed into the rafters of the barn at any time.  The younger man approached his brother.  Scott said something to Bart and Mason who nodded, then waved their goodbyes to Johnny and headed towards the bunkhouse.

"What the hell were you doing climbing around up there?"

Scott looked at his brother, "Johnny, I've been in the barn's rafters before, I know what I'm doing."

"Yeah well, you didn't have two bullet wounds then.  Your shoulder doesn't have the strength in it and you shouldn't be climbing around!"

Scott stared at his brother and then placed his hands on Johnny's shoulders.  "Johnny, I appreciate the concern, but I know what I'm doing.  By the way, you're home early.  Did you get the undergrowth cleared?"

"Yeah we did, I came home for lunch and figured we could go target shooting this afternoon.  I came down here to tell you lunch is ready."

Scott smiled and started towards the house, "I didn't realize it was that late.  Come on, we'd better get going."

Johnny followed his brother.  As they reached the French doors he stopped Scott by placing a hand on his arm.  "Listen to me, no more climbing along the rafters until the Doc says you can."

Scott turned to his brother as he opened the door, "Johnny, you're being overprotective.  It's no big deal."

"I am not being overprotective and it is a big deal.  If Murdoch finds out,"

Scott cut him off, "Listen Johnny, I appreciate your concern, but you're making a big deal out of nothing,"  Scott replied as he opened the door and entered the great room followed by Johnny.

"Scott, this isn't over.'

Scott looked at him, "Yes it is."

Murdoch turned at hearing his sons.  "What's going on?"

Johnny glanced at his brother and then looked at Murdoch.  Before he could speak, Scott did, "It's nothing.  Johnny and I were having a disagreement, and the matter has been resolved," Scott said curtly as he crossed the room towards the table.

Johnny's face tightened.  He hated it when Scott became dismissive.  "No, the matter has not been resolved."

"Listen you two, what the devil is going on?"  Murdoch demanded.

Scott shot his brother an icy stare.  "This is between me and Johnny."

"Scott, I mean it.  Unless you promise me, I'll bring this up with Murdoch."

Murdoch looked between his sons.  Teresa and Maria stopped what they were doing and watched the scene before them.

Scott stared at his brother, his eyes a dark blue grey.  Johnny held his brother's stare and was not going to give in.  Finally, Scott spoke.

"Fine, you win."

"Promise?"  Johnny asked sternly.

Scott continued to stare at his brother.  "Promise."

Johnny's face lightened, satisfied he'd won this battle.  "Good, that's settled.  Shall we eat?"  he asked as a large smile came over his face.  He continued to smile at his brother as he walked past Scott and took his place at the table.  Scott followed his movements, a look of irritation on his face.

"Mind telling me what that was all about?" Murdoch asked as he walked towards Scott.

Scott looked at his father.  "As Johnny said, it's been settled."  He turned, took his place and eyed his brother.  Johnny smiled back at him, a look of achievement on his face.

Murdoch walked to the head of the table and sat down.  He eyed his sons for a moment then placed his napkin on his lap and spoke, "Well, shall we begin?"

 

Scott and Johnny rode out towards the south pasture.  Johnny had scoped out a perfect place for target practicing.  It was a quiet secluded place that would ensure some privacy.  Johnny and Scott would ride out with other hands thus giving the pretense of two hands checking the herd etc. and then would head towards their destination.  Since the second attack, it was encouraged that the hands and as well as other residents of the ranch ride in pairs or more.  It was assumed that Whitten was still planning another assault on the ranch.

Johnny had wanted to take a wagon but Scott had vetoed him opting for his own mount.  Both Johnny and Murdoch had reminded Scott that Dr. Ramsey didn't want him riding until his shoulder was healed.  Scott tersely informed his brother and father that the jostling of the wagon caused more discomfort than the walk of his horse.  Johnny and Murdoch had finally acquiesced figuring Scott should know what bothered him.

Johnny glanced at his brother with a concerned look as they rode towards their destination.  His concern quickly faded as he saw how much Scott was enjoying the ride.  It seemed to exhilarate Scott which Johnny found contagious.  They spent time discussing the herd, fence lines and other miscellaneous chores.  To Johnny it was like old times, times he'd missed.  They finally reached their destination.

Scott finished loading his revolver and glanced at his brother who'd finished setting up the targets.  A moment later Johnny was standing near him readying his own weapon.  Scott fired off his rounds and inspected the target, not liking what he was seeing.  Johnny noted the expression on his brother's face.

"Hey Boston, that's not bad for your first time out."

Scott eyed his brother, "I appreciate what you're doing, but you don't have to make me feel good."

Johnny glanced at his brother as he reloaded his weapon.  He smiled at Scott and then turned and fired, his aim true.

Scott reloaded and fired again.  He inspected his target.  This round was better.

Scott noticed his brother watching him, "Well, little brother spit it out."

"What?"

Scott reloaded his revolver as he spoke. "You've dying to say something to me," he spun the chamber shut and looked at his brother.

"Oh, let me guess.  Don't pull the trigger Scott, you have to squeeze it,"  Scott remarked to his brother with a playful tone in his voice.

"Well if you know, then why don't you do it?"  Johnny shot back at his brother.

Scott shook his head and once again aimed at the target and fired.  After a few rounds he stopped and inspected the target.  Since he wasn't wearing his gun belt, Scott slid the weapon down the small of his back into his belt.  He then reached down for his rifle and fired off a few rounds, a look of satisfaction crossed his face as he again looked at the target.

"Whooeee, when you let off steam brother, you let off steam!  How the hell did you do that without it bother'n your shoulder."

"Simple little brother.  I know the recoil on this rifle, and I don't have it resting on my shoulder."

 

"Hey, do you see that guy in the black?"

"Yeah."

"Do you know who that is?"

Whitten shook his head, "No, I don't, but whoever he is, he's very good."

"That's Johnny Madrid."

Whitten looked closer.  "Are you sure?  What the hell is he doing here?"

"Yeah I'm sure.  I saw him a little over a year ago in Mexico.  Get this, he's Murdoch Lancer's son."

Whitten shot his companion a look and thought for a moment.

"I'm not going up against Madrid."

"Me either."  Whitten replied as he looked back at the men.

"I have an idea of how we can disarm him.  We'll discuss it further when we get back tonight."

The other man nodded.

 

Chapter 20

"Okay Whitten what's the plan?"

Whiten looked around the room at the other men.  Norton was true to his word and had located four other men, the kind of men he needed to finally assist him in the fruition of his plan.  The plan he'd been meticulously developing ever since his other plan had been thwarted by the bastard Scott Lancer.  Whitten's blood ran cold at the thought of the man that night.  This time Lancer would pay.  Whitten smiled at the thought.

"We'll look for an opportunity to make our move.  Lancer is rich, we'll go for the money and then we get the hell out of here,"  Whitten answered.

"We're not hassling with the cattle?"  Norton asked.

"No, that would have worked before.  The ranchers were supposed to be in town for a few days.  Robbing their ranches, taking some of their prize beef, then covering our tracks and mixing them with Danvers herd until things cooled would have worked before but it won't now.  I don't reckon it will be too long before Sheriff Adams figures out where we're holding up."

"How about Danvers, can we trust him?" A red haired man named Ivers asked.

Whitten nodded, "For now.  He's not going to implicate himself."

A dark haired man named Wilson spoke next, "And after this is over?"

Whitten looked at him, "We'll see, Wilson."

A man named Tate spoke next, "I think this we'll give us the opportunity."  He walked to Whitten and handed him a paper.

It was a flyer from a glass manufacturer looking for installers for a job near Morro Coyyo.

Whitten looked at the man, "Tate, do you think you can handle this?  It's looking for workmen who can work with glass."

"Yeah, I did that for a liv'n before I did my time.  Some damn rancher accused me of steal'n.  That sonvabitch I was work'n with stole the money and framed me.  Norton's gonna help me."

Whitten nodded, "Good, that get's two of you onto the ranch.  Norton and I have been watching the ranch, but with the two of you inside, we'll either know when to make a move or we can force one."  All the men nodded in agreement.

"We need to remember, Madrid has to be disarmed.  He's too fast for anyone of us," Whitten informed the group.

"Either that, or we just kill him," Tate added sinisterly.

Whitten and the others nodded.  "Yeah, we just might have to do that," Whitten added.

"Just remember, Lancer is mine."

"No problem Whitten, we know you want Murdoch Lancer."

Whitten shook his head as he fingered the scar on his face.

"No, I want Scott Lancer, he's going to pay.  Murdoch Lancer can watch while I slowly kill his son before his eyes."  Whitten's face became hardened, his eyes cold with revenge.

**********

Sheriff Adams looked up from his desk when he heard the door to his office open.  Prosecutor Jacob Bryant stood in the doorway, a broad smile on his face.

Jacob Bryant was the prosecutor who handled the district where Morro Coyyo, and Lancer resided.  Bryant was in his late forties, a tall man with a medium build.  In addition to his dark hair and dark eyes, Bryant's stance made him intimidating to those unfamiliar with him.  To those who knew him, he was tough and fair minded.  He studied law back east and was an excellent lawyer.  He'd been persuaded to become the prosecutor for the area at the request of the circuit judge.  He and Sheriff Adams quickly formed a deep friendship.

"Hey Harry, thought I'd stop by before I leave.  What's with all the books?"  He asked as he noted several large books on the sheriff's desk. He swung the door closed behind and crossed the room to the sheriff.

"Hi Jacob.  Oh,I was just doing some reading."

Bryant picked up one of the books and then sat down in chair opposite the sheriff.

"These are law books.  What are you reading up on?" The prosecutor asked surprised.

Sheriff Adams knew the law better than most lawmen around this area.  He was thorough, fair minded and rarely made a mistake when it came to the law. The prosecutor was curious as to what the sheriff was researching.

"Oh, some information came my way and I was doing some reading," the sheriff answered as he leaned back in his chair.

"One of your famous hunches?"  The prosecutor asked as the placed the book back on the desk.

The sheriff smiled, "Yeah, something like that."

"Want to discuss it with me?"

The sheriff thought for a moment.  He'd discussed numerous situations with Bryant in the past and had always received sound advice from the man.

"Well, like I said I received some information that coincided with some conclusions I was making."

"Sounds intriguing.  Knowing you, sounds like you're making a solid case.  What's the problem?"

"The problem is that this is based on speculation.  The source nor I have any proof."

Bryant nodded, "That's the most difficult situation.  Knowing something but not being able to prove it.  Wouldn't have anything to do with the attack at Lancer?"

The sheriff laughed, "Damn Jake, like I've always said, you're good.  Am I that obvious?'

The prosecutor smiled, "No, but I've known you a long time.  That attack was a horrible thing.  You, like so many of us would like to see justice.  Murdoch Lancer is a fine man, and it really shook this community.  I've been meaning to ask, how is Scott Lancer?  I know he was wounded pretty badly."

"He's doing wonderful.  Doc says it'll take some time before he's completely healed.  God, that kid was something.  I still can't believe how he held off those men.  He's one quick and skilled young man."

"That's what you said."

Adams nodded his mind drifting back to the doorway leading to the kitchen.  He remembered looking at the badly mangled wood, imagining the battle that ensued.  It still amazed the sheriff.

"I just wish I had something more solid.  I want to bring these bastards to justice."

"I know you do.  I look forward to prosecuting those responsible.  This is really eating at you isn't it?"

"Yeah, I've come up against a stone wall.  That's why I'm reading these books to see if I can break down that wall one way or the other."

Bryant smiled, "Just be careful.  Don't bend the law so these criminals walk on a technicality."

The sheriff smiled back as he leaned forward in his chair, "Oh I have no intention of doing something stupid.  I want all of the men responsible, all of them."

**********

Lancer was bustling with activity.  New windows were ordered for the barn to replace the incorrect ones that were sent.  The bunkhouse was completed and the hands moved into their new quarters, excited to have more room.  Items were redistributed between the old barn and shed.

As things progressed, Scott started formulating a plan to express his gratitude to the hands for their hard work during the construction of the buildings.  There had been no mishaps or injuries.  Once he had things worked out, he'd enlist Teresa and Maria's help.

Johnny returned from town one day and informed Murdoch the glass for the large window would be arriving within a few days.  The glass manufacturer would be sending a crew to install the glass.  Unbeknownst to those at Lancer, the glass manufacturer was only sending a foreman and one craftsman.  The manufacturer was happy that they'd received numerous responses to the flyers they had posted in the towns south of Morro Coyyo looking for workmen.  The foreman was pleased they'd be arriving at their customer's home with all the workmen needed to complete the job.

 

Scott entered the great room from the doorway leading to the kitchen and stopped not liking what he saw.  Two of the workman who were supposed to be installing the glass on the large window were knelt in front of the large safe next to the window.  The men were talking in hushed voices and Scott was unable to make out what they were saying.  The hairs on the back of his neck tingled.

"What's going on in here?" Scott asked tersely.

The two men stood up, turned and looked at Scott.

"We need to move the safe and were talk'n about how to do it."  A man with red hair named Ivers responded.

Scott wasn't sure if he believed him.  He didn't like this man or the other one.  The young man couldn't explain it but whenever he was near these men, he felt uneasy.  Scott told himself he was overreacting, neither man had done anything to warrant this feeling.  In fact they were skilled at their craft and were doing an excellent job. 

"If you need help, I will have couple of hands come in," Scott replied cooly.

Upon hearing the conversation, the foreman came in through the French doors from the patio where he and the man from his company were working.

"Is there a problem sir?"  He asked politely.

"It seems the safe needs to be moved," Scott replied as he turned his gaze from the men to the foreman.

"Yeah, Norton and I were talk'n about how we should do it."

The foreman nodded and before he could speak, Scott did.

"Wait here.  I'll get some hands to assist you."

Scott crossed the room and headed out the other set of French doors, knowing his movements were being watched by the two men at the safe.  He waved to Cipriano who smiled and headed towards Scott.

"Hello Senior Scott.  What can I do for you?"

"Hello Cipriano.  Seems the safe needs to be moved.  Can you spare some men to move it?"

"Of course.  I remember the last time we moved it.  It took about four men.  I'll round them up."

"Cip, do me a favor."

The vaquero noticed the expression on Scott's face.  "What is it senior?"

"Put the safe in the closet in Murdoch's study and lock it."

"Something is bothering you?"

Scott looked at the vaquero, "Nothing specific, just a feeling I have.  Besides I think it would be best for it to be in there right now."

"No problem, we'll take care of it."

Cipriano waved and yelled at some hands.  Four men waved back and made their way towards the vaquero.  Upon reaching Cipriano, the vaquero spoke to the men who nodded and then the five men entered the great room with Scott following behind them.

"These men will move the safe," Scott informed the foreman and his crew.

The foreman nodded and motioned his men out of the way.  Within a few minutes the Lancer hands moved the safe through the door near Murdoch's desk.  Cipriano followed the men and closed the door behind him thus preventing anyone else seeing where they were going.  Scott noticed the slight exchange between Ivers and the man named Norton.

Scott looked at the foreman, "Next time you need something moved, please inform me or my father."

The foreman nodded, "Yes of course sir.  Please excuse my error.  It will not happen again."  Scott noticed the foreman glanced cooly at the two men.  He spoke quietly and they all returned to their work.

Scott turned and left the room unable to shake the uneasy feeling that was building up inside him.

 

After spending the morning locating strays and repairing some broken fence line, Johnny rode up to the hacienda close to lunch time.  He was hungry and looking forward to having lunch with his family.  He and Scott were going shooting again.  The brothers hadn't been able to go for a few days due to the snafu with the windows for the barn and work that needed to be completed on the ranch.  Johnny glanced at the barn as he strode towards the front door.  Johnny knew he'd come down hard on Scott about his climbing in the rafters of the barn.  The young man knew his brother was adept at walking the beams.  Johnny had been shocked the first time he'd seen Scott easily climb and then walk them to untie a snagged a rope from of the highest beams in the old barn.  Murdoch had been equally surprised.  When asked about Iater, Scott merely informed them it was no higher than the mast of a ship he'd sailed on the ocean near Boston.  Being that Scott's balance wasn't quite back to normal, the younger man had purposely made his older sibling promise to stay off the rafters knowing Scott was a man of his word.  Johnny shook his head and smiled to himself at how well he was beginning to know his brother.

 

The brothers arrived at their destination.  Scott checked his weapons as Johnny placed the targets and then joined his brother.  During the ride, Johnny sensed something was on his brother's mind.  Scott had barely said more than a few sentences since Johnny had met up with him at the hacienda.

Scott aimed and fired his pistol.  Johnny stared at the target.  It was the worst he'd ever seen Scott shoot.  He eyed his brother who was reloading his revolver, and shook his head.

"Nice shoot'n there Scott, probably the best I've ever seen, but you'd better be careful since you're hair is on fire."

Johnny stumbled back a few step, managing to catch himself before he fell.  He never saw his brother's arm as it slammed into his abdomen.  Johnny looked into his brother's face seeing the smirk on his face.

"Bout time.  I've been wonder'n where you've been.  Your mind obviously isn't here," Johnny teased nodding towards the targets.

"Sorry about that.  I know better than to fire a pistol without paying attention.  You're right, my mind definitely wasn't here."

Johnny fired his pistol satisfied with what he saw.  He reloaded his pistol as he spoke, "Want to talk about it?"

Scott eyed his brother, "What's your opinion of the workmen replacing the glass in the great room?"

Johnny looked up at this brother.  //Damn, we think a lot alike!//  "Well the foreman and the small guy look like craftsman as If they've been doing this for a while, but the other two men don't strike me the that way."

Scott nodded and Johnny could see he was mulling something over.

"You feel the same way don't you?"  Johnny asked.

Scott met his brother's eyes, "Yes I do."

Johnny sensed more, "Scott, did something happen?"

"This morning I caught those two men, Ivers and Norton, huddled in front of the safe talking."

Johnny's attention was now heightened as Scott continued.  "They said it needed to be moved, which it did so I had Cipriano and some of our hands do it.  I told Cip to move the safe into Murdoch's study and lock it in the closet."

"Good thinking.  The closet door is heavy and wouldn’t be easy to break down."

"My thoughts exactly.  I also instructed the foreman that if anything else needed to be moved to inform Murdoch or myself.  He was apologetic and I don't think he knew what the other two were doing."

Johnny eyed his brother, "Why do I get the impression there's more."

Scott held Johnny's gaze, "It's not something specific."  Scott turned and walked a few steps then turned and looked at Johnny.  "It's just this feeling I get whenever I'm around them.  Maybe I'm just being paranoid."

"No, I don't think you're being paranoid.  I've had the same feeling about them.  I was going to talk to you about it.  I want you to keep a watchful eye on them.  I'm also going to say something to Bart. "

"Dammit, when will this end?"

Johnny understood his brother's frustration.  Scott had been cooped up at the ranch with nothing but the construction of the buildings to distract him.  Some days it wasn't enough.  Dr. Ramsey said this would be the most difficult time for him.  Scott was feeling better and antsy to get back to work.  He also wasn't in any condition to do the work he had been.  Johnny needed to discuss this with their father.  Perhaps Scott could start doing some light chores.

Johnny walked to his brother and placed his hands on Scott's shoulders, "Listen to me, this is not your fault.  I know how much this is getting to you.  I remember a wise man telling me when I was recover'n, that things will get better.  And I as I recall, he produced a bottle of cognac, two glasses and the two us proceeded to get drunk!"

Scott laughed, "That was a lot of fun.  The hard part was keeping you quiet so we wouldn't wake Murdoch." Scott playfully jabbed his brother's ribs as he moved in front of the targets.

Johnny laughed at the memory, "Yeah that was great.  What the hell was that game we were playing?"

Scott shook his head and mock shuddered.  Then it hit Johnny, "Come on Scott it was a drinking game wasn't it?  My refined, Boston bred brother knows a drinking game?"  Johnny's face lit up from the large smile on his face.

Scott took aim at the target then shot his brother a mischievous glance, "Who says that's the only one I know?"  He turned and fired off a few rounds.  A look of satisfaction crossed his face.

Johnny eyed his brother, "And where did you learn these games?"

"Why Harvard, of course," Scott replied the grin still on his face.  He then turned and fired off a few more rounds.

 

Chapter 21

Johnny and Scott returned to the ranch by mid afternoon and tied their mounts near the back door leading to the kitchen.  The area they had been going to for target shooting was wet from the evening rain and their boots were muddy.  Both men wanted to clean them before they entered the house, and used the items left at the back patio for this purpose.  Johnny finished before his brother, and told not to wait, ventured inside.  As he walked through the kitchen, he thought it odd that Maria and Teresa were no where in sight.  //Well, maybe they're out at the garden in the back of the house.//  Johnny continued on his way towards the great room.  He came through the doorway and immediately his blood ran cold.  Standing next to the cabinet between the French doors and the foyer was man Johnny didn't recognize pointing a rifle at him.  Before Johnny could react he heard a voice.

"Hold it, Madrid!  Raise your hands, and don't even think about reach'n for that gun!  You do, and your father is a dead man!"

The voice came from Johnny's left.  Johnny slightly turned his head towards the voice still noting where the other man was.  Johnny raised his hands quickly, without moving his head any further, took stock of the situation.  To his left, Murdoch and Sheriff Adams were seated in the two chairs that normally faced his father's desk.  He could see both men's hands were bound behind them.  An empty chair was next to Murdoch.  Ivers held a pistol to Murdoch's head.  Another larger man was standing beyond the empty chair, a rifle in his hands pointed at Johnny.  The man near the empty chair walked towards him and stopped a few feet in front of him.  The other man who was standing near the foyer moved towards Johnny, disarmed him and then quickly backed away never giving Johnny a chance at him.

The larger man spoke again.  "Move over to that chair.  One false move, and your father gets a bullet in his head."

Johnny moved in the direction indicated, never taking his eyes off the man in front of him.  He walked past him and then made his way towards his father.  Johnny's mind raced as he looked for an opening.  When he reached the chair, he was shoved into it.  His hands were quickly grabbed, then pulled behind him, and bound together.  Johnny and Murdoch glanced at each other and then their attention was drawn back to the scene before them.

The man who had been holding the gun to Murdoch's head spoke first.  "That went smoothly.  Nicely done Whitten."

Whitten was the larger man who had followed Johnny. At hearing this, the man smiled, relaxed his rifle and then did a mock salute.  "Why thank you.  Told you it'd work.  Madrid just needed the right incentive," Whitten stated as he sneered at Johnny.

Johnny's face was devoid of expression.  He studied Whitten.  This was the man who held a grudge against his father and nearly killed his brother.  Whitten was slightly taller than Murdoch, with a chest thicker than his father's though Whitten was not overweight.  His hair was dark brown.  Whitten had a dark complexion, a long scar ran down his left cheek; his eyes were brown and cold.  Johnny guessed Whitten was in his early 30s.

The man across the room near the French doors was about the same age as Whitten.  He had dark hair, a lighter complexion than Whitten, and hazel eyes.  Ivers, who had red hair, was standing behind Murdoch

"Whitten," Murdoch began.

"Shut up old man!"  Whitten bellowed at Murdoch.

Johnny could see the rage within Whitten.  Whitten spun away from them when the man across the room spoke.

"I hear footsteps."

Whitten turned back and looked from Johnny to Murdoch.  "If either of you yells or makes a sound, Ivers will put a bullet in the other's head.  Then I yell for Tate to kill the little brunette.

"What the hell have you done with her and Maria?" Murdoch spat.

"They're fine, for now," Whitten retorted.

Whitten gazed at the man behind Murdoch and Johnny.  "When this is all done, then we'll see," he cackled.

Murdoch lunged at Whitten but his bound hands thwarted his movement, and he rocked back in his chair, his face seething with anger.  Whitten smiled menacingly at the patriarch.  Johnny heard the sound of his brother's approaching footsteps.  He could feel the adrenalin rising within him.  His heart started to race, his mind a flurry of thoughts.  Whitten nodded to the man across the room.  The man moved silently and stood to one side of the doorway leading to the kitchen.  Whitten moved and stood in front of the cabinet on the other side of the doorway.  Johnny wanted to yell a warning to his brother, but the words choked in his throat knowing it would be sudden death for his father.

Scott entered the kitchen, stopped for a moment and contemplated if he should go straight to his bedroom and freshen up for dinner.  He studied the rifle in his hands and decided to return it to the gun cabinet in the great room, then retreat to his room.  The young man thought it odd that Teresa and Maria were no where to be found.  As he glanced around the room, Scott could see that dinner preparations had started.  The blond figured the two women must be out back in the garden.  He turned and headed for the great room.  As Scott walked through the door way leading to the great room, he was immediately halted.

"Hold it Lancer!"  Whitten hissed as he stepped in front of Scott.

Scott stood motionless as he looked into Whitten's face.  Whitten's rifle was pointed at Scott's chest.

"Drop the rifle, now!"  Whitten bellowed.

Scott let the rifle drop from his fingers. He raised his arms level with his waist.  Another man from Scott's right stepped closer.  He moved his rifle underneath Scott's jacket opening it on the left and then crossed in front of Scott's chest and nudged the garment open on the right.  Satisfied he pulled the rifle away, leaving Scott no opportunity to grab for it.

"He ain't wear'n a gunbelt."

Whitten smiled sininsterly. "Oh that's right, you've got a bad shoulder and haven't been wear'n your gunbelt.  That's right, your shoulder is still heal'n and your arm is no where near normal."

Whitten shook his head has he pressed the barrel of his rifle hard into Scott's right shoulder. Whitten missed the wound, but Scott flinched giving Whitten a moment of satisfaction.  Scott stared into Whitten's face.  No emotion registered on the blonde Lancer's face which irritated Whitten.

Johnny felt the binds cut into his hands as he struggled to remain focused.

"Move over there." Whitten motioned toward the fireplace.

Scott moved as indicated, momentarily taking his eyes of Whitten.  He glanced towards his father's desk seeing Sheriff Adams, Murdoch and Johnny.  He noted all three were seated, their hands bound behind them.  Ivers, who was standing behind Murdoch, moved and stood near Johnny's left shoulder.  Scott and Johnny eyes met briefly.  Johnny noted Ivers was to his left but kept his eyes fixed on his brother, and waited.

Whitten moved around Scott placing himself between Scott and the others.  His motion stopped the blond.

Whitten studied the man in front of him.  No expression registered on his face, no hatred, not even fear in his blue grey eyes.  For a moment Whitten was nervous, however it quickly faded when he realized he finally had the man who had cost him so much.  Hanlon's words came back to him.  Scott had been raised in the east and knew little of the west.  The vaqueros told stories of the young man's prowess during the attack from Pardee and his men.  Hanlon, and many of the other hands that were hired after the land pirates had been defeated, had dismissed the accounts as stories and nothing more.  Scott Lancer was a green horn and would be an easy foil.  He'd crumble when faced with superior forces.  Hell is own brother even questioned him and in front of the hands.  Although Whitten heard the gunfire coming from the ranch house the night of the attack, he never saw Scott.  He and Preston had been pinned down.  In his mind, Whitten knew the fire power had to have been coming from the ranch hands and not this pretty boy.

Still, Scott Lancer was going to pay for defiantly refusing to open the safe.  That action had cost Whitten.  After he and his men had made it back to Danver's ranch, they had openly questioned Whitten's leadership.  One even had the audacity to attack Whitten.  Whitten easily defeated the man, but was left with an ugly scar.  Whitten was going to cut up Scott Lancer's face before he finally killed him.

"Well, well, well, we meet again.  Seems I, again, have the upper hand.  This time you're going to do exactly as I say," Whitten stated.

Scott studied Whitten but noted Ivers' movements and saw that he'd stopped next to Johnny.  //I can take advantage of that.  Now if you'll just stay there.//  Scott also listened and heard the other man move away from the door way leading to the kitchen.  Scott wasn't sure how far the man had gone.  He needed to know exactly where this man was.  Scott also needed to learn how many men Whitten had, and their locations.  Hopefully a couple of well placed comments would glean that information.

"Will I?"  Scott replied defiantly.

The defiance in Scott's voice angered Whitten.  Whitten hit Scott hard with the barrel of his rifle.  The barrel caught Scott's left cheek. The blow caused a blinding white light that temporarily blinded Scott as he felt his body twist to the right and then the sensation of falling to the floor. He felt his legs hit the floor and reflexively his arms shot out in front of him barely missing the large ottoman.  He landed on his hands and knees.  Scott shook his head.  His vision cleared enough for him to cast a quick glance around and spied the location of the other man.

Rage surged within Whitten.  It coursed through his body and blinded him.  He could only see one thing, revenge.  He reached down for Scott's jacket.  The three men lunged forward in their chairs but were halted by a voice.

"I don't think so," Ivers yelled as he cocked his pistol.  

The three men stopped.  A mix of anger and helplessness rose in each of them.  Johnny took a breath and brought the rage within him under control.  He'd be of no use to his brother if he gave in to his emotions.

Whitten hooked his large hand under Scott's left shoulder and hauled him to his feet.  His fingers quickly snaked around Scott's arm and dug into his flesh.  Whitten twisted Scott's arm behind his body.  Scott winced, but no other sound escaped his lips.  Whitten twisted Scott's arm tighter, and pulled the knife from it's sheath in his belt.  Scott saw the light flash off hunting knife's large blade.  As Whitten slowly brought the knife up, Scott's heart and mind started racing.  He fought for control and knew he had to stay focused.  Once again his blue grey eyes met cold, dark brown eyes.  Scott felt the blade against the skin on his right cheek.  Whitten smiled menacingly.

Johnny lurched in his chair, seeing his nightmare unfolding.  Ivers pointed his gun at him.

"Move again, and I'll put a bullet into you."  Johnny's eyes bore into Ivers.  Ivers shuddered as he looked into the face of Johnny Madrid.  Ivers swallowed and finally regained his composure remembering Johnny's hands were securely bound.  Johnny's face registered no emotions as he turned his attention back to his brother.

"Do you know how long I've waited for this moment?"  Whitten stated as he shifted his body blocking Murdoch's and Johnny's view.  Sheriff Adams could barely see Scott's face.  Movement from the other side of the room drew his attention.  Sheriff Adams saw the man across the room look out the French doors, the lawman's eyes followed.

"Whitten, when did you say the other hands would be back?" the man across the room asked as he stared out the French doors.

"Not for a while.  Why, what's the matter, Wilson?"  Whitten answered his eyes never leaving his prey.

"I thought I saw something move outside."

"Norton has the remaining hands securely confined in the bunkhouse.  I'm sure he has everything under control.  Tate has that old man and the two women locked in the wine cellar.  Tate made sure they couldn't get out before he threw them in there.  By the time the others return, we'll be gone.  They'll be too busy with what they find to follow us in the dark."

"Okay, suppose you're right."

*******************

Bart Mathis looked at the trussed and gagged man one more time before he turned to the others.

"Okay, we know Whitten has three other men with him.  It'll be a while before the others return, so it's up to us."

"What about one of us riding out and getting help from them or a nearby ranch?" a hand named Montgomery asked.

"Too risky.  If those men should see that from the hacienda, it could spell trouble for Senor Murdoch and the others," Cipriano replied.

Ramirez placed his hand on Bart's shoulder, "Look six of us plus Mr. Scott held off Whiten and his murderous band the last time."

"Yeah well, that was because he underestimated Mr. Scott," Mason added.

"Look, we need to be careful we don't do the same thing and underestimate Whitten.  Mr. Scott's life and the others could depend on us being ready for anything."  The others nodded.

The glass foreman spoke up, "You can count on me and Carlson to help also."  The other man from the glass company nodded his agreement.

"I sure wish I'd known sooner that that sob didn't know as much about glass as he told me.  I feel responsible bringing him and that other bastard here," the foreman named Franks stated angrily.

Cipriano smiled at him. "Listen Franks, you brought it to our attention soon enough."

"Yeah, because of you we were able to get the drop on him pretty fast," Mathis added.

"Thanks, what can we do to help?"  Franks asked.

"You and Carlson stay here and make sure our friend stays trussed up and quiet.  Try and keep an eye out.  If we need you, we'll yell."

The two men from the glass company nodded and took the rifles Cipriano held out to them.  Bart and the others headed for the door of the bunkhouse.  They spoke briefly and then carefully made their way outside.  They took up their positions and waited for a signal.

****************

Scott received the final piece of information he needed.  He now knew how many men Whitten had and their locations.  Scott's plan was now completed.  He stared into Whitten's eyes.

//Well, let's see if you'll live up to all my expectations.// Scott thought as he shifted his weight.

Whitten took the bait and shoved Scott hard against the cold fire place, exactly where Scott wanted to be.  Whitten continued to move the large hunting knife up and down Scott's right cheek then slowly moved it to the bruised left cheek.

//Damn, where the hell is it?// Scott thought as he kept his focus on Whitten.  Scott could see Wilson slightly beyond Whitten standing near the large dining room table.  Ivers was still next to Johnny.  Whitten moved the knife down towards Scott's throat and let it linger.

//Shit, not quite.  I'll have to bring Whitten in closer.//  Scott leaned back harder against the fire place.  Whitten smiled menacingly and assumed Scott was trying to move away from the knife.  Scott's movement had worked, and Whitten moved in closer.

//Finally!// Scott thought.

Tension rose in the room as Johnny and Murdoch stared at the two men at the fire place.  Whiten had shifted his weight after shoving Scott into the fireplace and they could barely see the blond's face.  The large blade of the hunting knife was at Scott's throat poised to cut into his flesh. Suddenly a shot rang out.

"Scott!", "No!" Johnny and Murdoch yelled respectively.

Scott saw the expression on Whitten's face turn into shock as the large man felt the bullet explode into his side from the gun in Scott's right hand.  Scott had finally been able to reach the pistol that was tucked into the back of his belt.  The range of motion in his right arm wasn't back to normal and Scott had had difficulty reaching to his back.  He'd tucked the gun in his belt with his left hand when he and Johnny had left the pistol range.  Scott's rifle had been his right hand, so he took the pistol in his left hand and slipped into the back of his belt.  Scott hadn't worn his gun belt.  Johnny has insisted on cleaning Scott's new revolver the night before and had it with him when he returned to the ranch earlier.  Johnny had been in a hurry to get going and Scott had barely been able to grab his hat and jacket from the coat rack near the front door.

Whitten slumped forward onto Scott.  The young man shoved the large man off of him sending the villain sprawling.  Whitten crashed into the table at the end of the couch near the dining table.  Johnny sprang into action and lunged at Ivers.  The two men crashed to the floor.  Scott turned and fired the pistol again hitting Wilson in the chest.  The man flew backwards from the impact of the bullet, the rifle fell from his hands.

Johnny, with his hands still tied, struggled with Ivers on the floor.  Scott rounded the couch passing the sheriff and his father as Ivers pushed Johnny off of him.  The red haired man jumped to his feet and lunged at Scott.  The young man moved quickly to his right and Ivers crashed into the back of the couch.  Ivers turned and faced Scott.  As he brought his gun up, Scott fired again.  Ivers crumpled back against the couch.  Whitten, his shirt stained crimson on his left side where Scott had shot him, scrambled to his feet and launched himself at Scott.  The two men crashed to the floor, Scott's pistol landing near the French door.  The two men struggled on the floor.  Scott eventually threw Whitten over his head.

The large man landed near Johnny.  Before the gun hawk could respond, the large man sprang to his feet and ran towards Scott.  The young man moved quickly and scrambled towards the body of Wilson, grabbing the rifle near his body.  As Whitten propelled himself at the young man, Scott held the rifle in both hands as the blade of the hunting knife came down into the barrel.  Scott managed to kick Whitten hard and the large man stumbled backwards a few steps.  Whitten again launched himself at Scott.  The rifle flew from Scott's hands.  The two men struggled and Scott managed to heave the large man off him.  Scott saw his pistol and dove for it.  He rolled onto his back as Whiten lunged at him again.  Scott fired and the bullet hit Whitten in the chest.  Scott moved away and leapt to his feet as Whitten's lifeless body fell to the floor.

Tate appeared in the doorway leading to the kitchen.  Johnny yelled at his brother who turned and fired again.  The bullet landed square in the man's chest, killing him instantly.  His dead body fell to the floor.

The adrenalin surged through Scott.  His heart was pounding and he was having a hard time catching his breath.  Suddenly the French doors burst open. Scott raised his pistol as he spun around to see Bart and Cipriano.  Scott lowered his pistol as he still tried to catch his breath.

"Mr. Scott are you okay?"  Bart asked anxiously.

Scott nodded.  "Yes, I'm fine.  Cip, please check on Teresa and the others, they're locked in the wine cellar," Scott managed between heavy breaths.

Cipriano smiled as he squeezed Scott's right arm, then rushed from the room.  Bart hurried to Johnny and helped him to his feet.  Within seconds Bart had Johnny free from the binds.  Johnny slapped his hand on Bart's back and rushed to Scott.  Bart then proceeded to untie Murdoch and Sheriff Adams.

Upon reaching Scott, Johnny placed his arms on his brother's shoulders and studied his face.  Scott's left cheek was bruised and his lower lip was cut and bleeding.

"Scott, are you sure you're okay?"  Johnny asked worriedly.  Scott nodded.

"That was some shooting brother," Johnny exclaimed.

"Yeah well, a wise man kept telling me I needed the proper tool.  Brother you were right, this feels much better than the other did."

Johnny looked deep into his brother's blue grey eyes, "I know you feel better with a rifle in your hands, but, Scott, that was excellent shooting."

Scott nodded and smiled.

Murdoch hurried to his son's and placed his arm on Scott's back.  Scott looked at his father.

"Johnny, let's get Scott to the couch."

"I'm fine," Scott replied quietly.  Murdoch and Johnny ushered Scott to the couch before he could protest.  Teresa, Maria and Jelly rushed into the room.

"Oh Murdoch," Teresa cried as she saw Murdoch and rushed to him.  Murdoch held her and reassured the frightened girl.

Maria quickly glanced around the room and then rushed to Johnny and Scott.

"Maria, are you all right?"  Scott asked.

"Yes, Senor Scott, but you are hurt.  I'll be right back."  She turned, grabbed Teresa's arm and the two women hurried from the room before anyone could say anything.

Jelly, Bart and some of the other hands removed the dead bodies under Sheriff Adams' supervision.  Maria returned and tended to Scott.  Johnny joined his father and Sheriff Adams near the French doors.

"Is he all right?"  Murdoch asked Johnny.

Johnny nodded, "Yeah, he's better.  I think the adrenalin rush has finally subsided.  I know how that feels.  It takes a moment for things to return to normal.  I tried to get him to take a brandy to steady his nerves but he wouldn't."

The other two men nodded.  Murdoch looked over to Scott and watched Maria as she tended to him.

"Well, sheriff you picked the right day to ride out here," Johnny said.

"Actually I came here to inform you that I rode out to Danver's ranch to confront him.  I found him dead in his living room, a revolver was in his hand.  Someone made it look like a suicide."

"Someone shot him?"  Murdoch asked.

"Yeah, the angle wasn't right for someone who'd shot himself.  So, I thought I'd better ride over here and let you know."

"And you stumbled right into it?"  Johnny replied.  The sheriff nodded.

"God, he was something," Sheriff Adams said as his voice trailed off.

Murdoch nodded, "Yes he was."  Johnny sighed and nodded as he remembered Scott's actions.

 

Scott sat on the couch for a moment after Maria got up and returned to the kitchen.  Maria had fussed over the young man until he'd convinced her that he was fine.  Memories of the night of the attack came back to Scott.  He closed his eyes as the images of Mason and Manny being shot flooded through him.  Scott remembered the bullet hitting him, the white hot pain exploding into his side and the strength ebbing from the wound.  He had retreated into the great room as the villains advanced finally using the doorway leading to the kitchen as his final shield.

Scott couldn't remember how many men had come at him.  He had kept firing his rifle until it was empty, making every shot count.  He remembered grasping the revolver in his hands.  Scott had only fired a couple of rounds before being hit in the shoulder.  His strength was nearly gone when the second bullet entered him and then he had succumbed to the darkness.  Scott shook his head and opened his eyes.  It was over.  He needed to push this into the past where it belonged and move forward.  Scott rose from the couch.  He needed air and open spaces.

Johnny spoke with Murdoch and Sheriff Adams for a few minutes and then turned to see if Scott was all right.  Not seeing his brother on the couch, Johnny looked around the room, a knowing look crossed the young man's face.  He walked out of the other French doors knowing where his brother was.

Johnny made it to the barn in time to see his brother kick his horse and urge him into a gallop.  Horse and rider quickly became a black speck against the green hills.

Johnny turned to mount Barranca who, along with Scott's horse had been brought down to the barn, and was stopped by his father.

"No Johnny let him go," Murdoch said.

"But Murdoch."  The patriarch shook his head.

"No, you and I both know he needs to do this."

Johnny turned and looked in the direction his brother had went, and knew his father was right.

"Go after him if he's not back in a few hours," Murdoch added.  Johnny sighed and nodded.

 

Chapter 22

Scott reigned in Niall as they reached the open range not far from a small stream.   He could feel the horse breathing heavily under him.  Both rider and horse needed the long, hard ride, finally able to unleash the pent up energy that had threatened to burst for so many weeks.  Scott dismounted, removed the glove from his right hand and ran it over the horses strong neck.  He made his way to the front of the horse.  Blue grey eyes looked into the dark black pools, Niall's eyelids slowly dipped as the coveted spot was massaged.  After a few minutes, Scott led the horse to the stream.  The chestnut lowered his head and drank from the blue softly flowing water.  Scott crouched near the horse, cupped a hand of the enticing liquid and drank the coolness.  Finally the young man stood and led the horse a few steps from the stream.  Within minutes, saddle and blanket were removed from the chestnut.     

After tending to his horse, Scott walked out into the open area and stopped.  He removed his hat and glove then tilted his head toward the sky, closed his eyes, letting his lungs fill with the fresh air.  He opened his eyes and drank in the scenery around him.  The beautiful green trees and the lush hills that surrounded him.  The area was quiet, and peaceful.  The young man tilted his head again and stared at the puffy, white clouds against the beautiful sapphire blue sky, finally allowing the visions and emotions that he had buried to flood through him. 

Scott wasn't sure when he had laid down or how long he'd been laying in the soft green grass contemplating the clouds.  Niall's nickering nearby brought his attention back to the present.  He rose slowly, feeling the aches in his side, shoulder and a few new places.  The young man remembered another time, another place for solitude and catharsis. 

Scott placed his hat back on his head, then removed the gloves he'd tucked between his gun and gun belt remembering his brother's words.  He sighed and then slipped them on his hands.  Upon seeing his master standing, the chestnut walked to him.  Scott smiled as the horse reached him.  His hand reached up, again finding the favorite spot.  Niall dipped his head up and down letting out a soft whinny, his black mane flowing in the wind.  Scott cocked his head as he ran his other hand over the horse's neck.

"I know what you want,"  Scott said to the horse.  The horse snorted and dipped his head again.  Scott laughed and walked to the saddle, the chestnut followed close behind.  After a few minutes, the chestnut was saddled and nodded his head in anticipation.  Scott mounted and then turned the horse.

"Okay, let's go," Scott said exuberantly to the chestnut.  Within what seemed like seconds the chestnut was galloping towards the fence.  His nostrils flared, the black mane flowed in the wind, the hooves pounded on the soft ground as they neared the fence.  The rider lowered himself in the saddle and the two became as one as the horse easily glided over the fence, the hooves barely tapping the ground as the mighty creature continued to gallop across the open pasture.  Scott spied a downed tree and urged the horse to it.

**************

Johnny sat on the hill and watched his brother.  When Johnny first spotted Scott lying in the grass, the younger man was concerned that his brother was hurt.  Only when Scott adjusted his body, did Johnny realize his brother had been staring at the clouds.  A few minutes later, Scott stood.  Johnny shuddered as the irritation rose in him when he saw Scott reach for his gloves.  Johnny watched as Scott's horse walked to him and dipped his head.  The young man saw his brother talk to his mount as he stroked the animal.  Again the horse dipped his head.  Johnny watched as Scott saddled the chestnut, mount him and turn the horse.  The horse quickly picked up speed as it ran at full gallop towards the fence line.  The chestnut easily glided over the fence with a grace and flow Johnny had never seen before.  Horse and rider then headed for and easily cleared a large downed tree.  Johnny watched as Scott turned the horse sharply and once again headed for the fence.  The young man saw the control his brother had over his mount.

As he watched his brother, Johnny felt as if he was intruding.  The young man realized this was something his brother and his mount did alone, but Johnny couldn't take his eyes off of them.  Johnny finally dipped his head and sighed heavily.  So many times he'd criticized his brother over this choice of mounts.  Johnny's words came back to haunt him as he realized just how deeply they had angered and hurt his brother.

As Scott turned Niall, he saw Johnny sitting on the nearby hill.  At first Scott was angry but it soon dissipated when he saw that Johnny's head was lowered.  The older man knew that stance all to well and urged his horse towards his brother.  He called to Johnny as he approached him.

"Hey little brother, you checking up on me?"

Scott saw surprise and then embarrassment cross his brother's face as the young man realized he'd been seen.

"Yeah well, you've been gone for quite a while.  The old man got worried so I figured I'd better ride out and see if you were okay."

Scott studied his brother, "Uh-huh, the old man was worried."

Johnny met his brother's eyes.  "What?"

"Oh nothing.  I guess it is getting late.  We'd better head back."

Scott kneed his horse and headed up the hill.  Johnny turned Barranca and followed his brother, eventually coming alongside him. The brothers let their horses fall into an easy, familiar walk.  They rode in companionable silence each enjoying the other's company.  After a while Johnny broke the silence.

"Scott, I-I," anger rose in Johnny and his grip tightened on the reins.  Barranca's head came back as the horse abruptly stopped, his front legs lifted from the ground as he half-reared and snorted.  Scott stopped his mount and turned towards his brother.

 

"Johnny, what is it?"

Johnny shook his head and looked down realizing what he'd done.  He released his grip on the reins, reached down with his left hand and patted Barranca's neck, which settled the palomino.

"Dammit, I shouldn't have walked into that today.  I knew something didn't feel right and I ignored it.  I just wished I'd been better help to you today," Johnny said angrily as he raised his head and looked directly into Scott's eyes.

Scott held his brother's eyes. "If it weren't for you, I might not be here.  Johnny you saved my life.  I've been trying to think of the right words to say to you, to express my gratitude.  Thank you just doesn't seem quite enough,"  Scott replied softly.

 

Johnny continued to look into his brother's blue grey eyes, unable to respond.

Scott continued, "In fact, I guess you could say you saved my life twice."

Johnny's expression changed to confusion, "I don't understand."

"If you hadn't moved when you did, my plan wouldn't have worked.  That and this."

Johnny's attention was drawn to his brother's hand as he tapped the butt of the revolver now sitting in the gun belt fastened at his waist.

"You were right, I needed a better revolver.  Because it fits better in my hand, I was able to shoot like I did.  Johnny, I've never been able to shoot fast with a hand gun.  I owe you my life."

Johnny felt the emotions rise in him as he struggled for a moment to regain his composure.  Not knowing what to say, he finally smiled.  The two brothers sat there for a moment; no words needed to be spoken.  After a few minutes, the two men headed for home.

******************

Two weeks later, Scott Lancer was frustrated.  He'd been allowed to perform light chores around the ranch.    It was annoying the young man that he was unable to resume his normal ranch duties.  He looked up and saw his brother approaching after a long day in the south pasture.

"Hey Boston, how's it going?"

"Fine," Scott replied tersely.

Johnny could see his brother's frustration and decided to try a different tactic.

"You know, since you supervised the reorganization of the barns and shed, it's easier to find things.  We may just have to make that a permanent job of yours.  You'd better be careful, Teresa may want your help reorganizing the hacienda," Johnny said teasingly as he walked by his brother.

"You think you're funny, don't you?" Scott asked as he eyed his brother.

"Yeah, problem with you is, you have no sense of humor," Johnny laughed as he pushed his hat backwards off his head.  The hat dangled down his back from the string.  Johnny's fingers fidgeted with the string as smiled at his brother.

"Oh, I have no sense of humor?"

Johnny shook his head. "Nope you don't.  No sense of humor at all," Johnny replied, a large smile on his face.

Scott was about to say something when Jelly approached them informing the two men that dinner would be ready soon.

Dinner progressed as usual until Teresa heard that Scott was going into town the next day.

"Scott could you,"

"Teresa, I'm going into town to do a few errands, and I'm going by horseback," Scott replied firmly.

Johnny smiled and lowered his head.  He had to hand it to his brother for his firmness.  Scott had won this round.  Both brothers had learned quickly not to always tell Teresa  when they were headed for town.  It seemed to the two men that she would magically produce a list that required them to hitch up a wagon to bring back all the items she wanted.  Teresa sat back in her chair and pouted.  Scott braced himself, waiting for his father's response.  Many times Murdoch would take the young woman's side.

"Teresa, Tom is going into town later this week.  I thought you told me you could wait until then."

"I did, but since Scott is going tomorrow I thought he could save Tom the trip."

"Teresa, in addition to the errands Scott has, I have also asked him to do some business for me at the bank.  He won't have time.  Tom can go later in the week as planned."

Teresa nodded. Scott breathed a sigh of relief to himself as did Johnny, thankful he didn't have to go into town and see the banker.  Johnny took a breath and then spoke.

"Murdoch, I'm going to take a crew up towards the north ridge and finish the fence line."

This was the area where Johnny and Scott had argued the day of the attack.  Scott had wanted the crew to stay and finish the small section that was left. Johnny hadn't seen the urgency and thought his brother was being unreasonable.  Johnny and the men had wanted to leave early for town.  The argument had quickly escalated between the two brothers.  When Scott had ridden off to finish the surveying farther up the range, Johnny decided to knock off early.  He felt the section could be finished the following Monday.  Due to the attack and the subsequent events, the fence line was never finished.  It now needed to be completed.

Johnny studied his brother and waited for his reaction.  Scott had been buttering a piece of his roll when Johnny had made the comment.  Johnny watched as Scott put his knife down on his plate and then took a bite from the roll.  Scott's movements were normal and Johnny realized his angst was unfounded.

"All right.  You take a crew up there first thing.  You'll  be back around lunch time right?"  Murdoch asked.

Johnny nodded, "Yeah, we should be back a little before noon."

"Good, then I need you to help Cipriano start to move the herd."

"Okay," Johnny replied.

 

Johnny woke with a start.  At first he thought he'd overslept.  He reached for the time piece Murdoch had given him and realized he was on time.  He rose and quickly dressed.  As he passed the adjoining door to his brother's room, he smiled.  Carefully and quietly he opened the door only to find the room empty.  Scott had already risen and was gone.  Johnny shook his head, one day he'd rise before his brother.

Johnny saddled an alternate mount having worked Barranca hard the previous day.  He led the horse outside, mounted him and joined the crew at the wagon.  After a few words, they headed out. When they reached the crest and looked at the fence line that needed to be finished, a look of bewilderment crossed Johnny's face.  Suddenly, realization hit him.

"I don't believe it!" he exclaimed.  Johnny shook his head. "I'll kill him!"  He turned his horse and spurred it hard and rode off towards home.  The crew looked at each other and smiled glad they weren't back at the ranch.  

**************

Scott finished his chores, then walked into the barn and saddled his horse.  He entered the house and went to his room.  After washing up, he then changed his clothes and headed downstairs.  He grabbed his gun belt from the hat rack and fastened it around his waist.  As he reached for his hat, Scott remembered that Murdoch wanted to speak to him before he left for town.  He entered the great room casting a glance at the grandfather clock; he needed to get going.

"Scott, are you listening?"

Scott looked at his father, "Yes, sir."

Murdoch noticed Scott's impatience and frowned.  "Okay, in addition to the bank, I need you to give this to Mr. Tollefson."

Scott nodded as he took the envelope from his father. "All right then.  You take it easy and I'll see you later."

Scott sighed, "I'll be fine."  Murdoch nodded and could see Scott was preoccupied.  Scott turned and headed towards the kitchen.  He needed to speak to Maria before he left.

Scott left the kitchen after speaking to Maria and headed for the barn.  Scott had enlisted Maria and the other women to assist Scott with his plans for a celebratory barbecue for the hands.  It was the young man's way of saying thank you for their hard work on the new buildings and their loyalty.  Murdoch, after hearing of his son's plans, thought it was a splendid idea and had lent his support.

Murdoch was at his desk working on some paperwork when he heard Johnny burst through the French doors.  He was shocked to see his son home so soon.

"Where is he?" Johnny bellowed between breaths.

Murdoch looked at his son questioningly, "Johnny, what are you doing home so soon.  Is everything all right?"

Johnny glanced around the room and then looked at his father, "Everything is fine.  Where is he, I'm gonna kill him!"  Johnny exclaimed.

Murdoch rose from his desk, "Where's who?  What do you mean you're going to kill him.  Johnny, what's going on?"

"Scott, I'm going to kill him."  Johnny turned and quickly headed for the kitchen.  Murdoch hurried after him wondering what was going on.

Scott had nearly reached the barn when a hand waved to him.  The young man waved back and headed towards him.  Scott entered the corral as the hand met him.  The two men spoke briefly.  Scott then continued through the corral and entered the barn.  He stopped immediately when he saw Johnny's mount standing next to Niall.  Suddenly Johnny's form appeared from behind his horse.

"Well brother, I'll bet you didn't expect to see me," he asked as he walked towards Scott.

"Johnny, what are you doing home?" Scott replied taking a few steps backwards.

"You know damn well why I'm home so soon," Johnny responded as he advanced towards his brother.

Scott continued his pace backwards in response to Johnny's advancing steps not realizing he was heading into the corral.  The hands, seeing the scene between the brothers, stopped what they were doing and watched.  Murdoch and Jelly were at the corral gate and watched the two men.  A look of amusement on their faces.

"Johnny, I have no idea what you are talking about," Scott replied keeping the distance between them.

Johnny studied his brother with a disapproving look, not believing a word Scott had said.  "Oh, you know what I'm talking about.  If you didn't, then why do keep moving away from me?"

"I'm walking away because you're advancing on me.  However, I still don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, you know.  You sent me and a full crew up to the north range on wild goose chase."

Scott looked at Johnny and said nothing.  Suddenly it dawned on the younger man.

"That's why you were late getting home that night.  It's always bothered me when the others said you'd returned to the ranch after dark.  I knew that surveying job wouldn't have taken that long.  When you rode back, you noticed the fence and you finished it."

Scott nodded, "Yeah well, I was still pretty angry."

"I can't believe you'd send a full crew out on the north range," Johnny' voice trailed as he realized what had happened.

With cat like reflexes he lunged at his brother.  Johnny grabbed Scott's shoulders and bent him over, in attempt to wrestle the older man to the ground.  Suddenly Scott's hands reached up and grabbed his brother near his waist.  Before Johnny knew what was happening, he felt himself lift off the ground as Scott threw his brother over his head.  Johnny landed hard on the ground, momentarily unable to catch his breath.  As Johnny was able to finally breathe normally, he looked at his brother who was still bent over.  Johnny, as well as his watching father and Jelly, suddenly became concerned until they realized Scott was laughing.  Finally Scott slowly straightened as he held his chest and caught his breath.  A large smile was on Scott's face, his eyes sparkled as he continued to laugh to at his brother.  Johnny's eye grew dark.

"Oh, so you think that was funny?"

"No little brother I don't think that was funny, I know it was funny," Scott replied.

A smile gradually appeared across Johnny's face.  By now the hands were laughing as well.  Bart Mathis, who had known Johnny for along time, shook his head knowing that only a brother could flip Johnny Madrid into the dirt.  Bart realized that Johnny wasn't Madrid anymore, he was Johnny Lancer.  Bart laughed as hard as the others.  Scott had skillfully gotten the upper hand on his brother.  Scott walked to his brother and offered his hand. Johnny could tell by Scott's stance there was no way for retaliation, at least not this time.  Johnny succumbed to defeat.  He took his brother's hand and rose to his feet and dusted himself off.

"You know your ass is mine," Johnny said to his still smiling sibling.

"Oh, I'm sure of it.  But brother, it was so worth it.  Tell you what, why don't you come to town with me and I'll buy you dinner."

Johnny reached down and picked up his hat.  "Do I get to pick the restaurant?"

Scott nodded, "I'll even eat ate Rosa's."

Rosa's was a small cantina in Morro Coyo.  It was a small restaurant that served very spicy Mexican food.  It was Johnny's favorite place to eat.  Even the mildest item on the menu was still too spicy for Scott.  After dinner was served, a band played music and the cantina became a lively night spot.

Johnny grinned at the thought of eating at his favorite restaurant.  He then spied Murdoch at the corral gate.

"What about the old man?"

"Don't worry, I'll talk to him.  Now go, get your gear.  We'll make a night of it and stay overnight."  Johnny nodded and ran to the barn.  He was greeted by one of the hands who was tending to his horse.  Upon hearing Scott, he told the young man he'd have Barranca saddled and ready to go by the time he returned.  Johnny thanked the man and ran to the hacienda.

Scott walked to his father who was entering the corral.

"Nice job of flipping your brother," Murdoch said still chuckling.

"Yeah well, he had it coming.  I asked him to go to town with me.  I figured we'd make a night of it and stay over.  Is that all right?"

Murdoch placed his hands on Scott's shoulders.  "I think that's a great idea.  I know how disappointed Johnny was when you couldn't go to Stockon.  Just don't let off too much steam and get into trouble."

"We won't and thanks."

***************

Scott left Mr. Wilburn's office and crossed towards the lobby of the bank and headed for the door.  A few people were standing near the door looking out the window.  Scott reached the doorway and his heart stopped.  Johnny was standing in the street facing another man.  Scott opened the door and carefully stepped onto the sidewalk.  Scott saw it was the former ranch hand, Rollins, who was facing his brother.  Ås Scott watched his brother, he saw it a flash of light behind Johnny.  Scott looked up and saw two men, one on the roof of the general store, the other on the roof of the dress shop.  Scott walked to his horse, pulled the rifle from the scabbard and entered the street. Johnny's words rang in his head.  Johnny had told Scott to never interfere with him when he was called out.  Although Scott knew Johnny was aware there was a man behind him by reading Rollins, the older man was certain the gun hawk didn't know about both of them or their exact locations.  Scott saw Johnny's expression darken as he moved out into the shadows.

"Both of you, drop your weapons now!"  Scott yelled.

Startled, both men dropped their rifles and stood up.  Sheriff Adams came around the corner having been on the opposite end of town and stopped near Scott.

"I just heard.  I'll go up and take care of those two."  Scott nodded and backed away from the two men in the street as he scanned the roof tops.

Rollins panicked knowing it was only him against Madrid.  He'd called Johnny out when he had purposely bumped into the gun hawk.  Rollins had figured he'd rid himself of the constant reminder of his failure at Lancer once and for all.  He'd hired two drifters to assist him in gunning down Johnny Madrid.  Rollins' eyes darted around.

"All right, all right, you win!"  He shouted.

Rollins reached down with his left hand, unbuckled his gun belt and let it fall to the street.  Two of Murdoch's neighbors, Jack Collier and Lance Miller, hurried into the street and led Rollins to the sheriff's office.  Scott walked to his brother.  Johnny looked over at his brother and noticed his gloves were tucked into the back of his belt.  Johnny smiled.

Scott looked at him quizzically.

Johnny pointed to his gloves and Scott smiled back at his brother.

"I know Johnny, you told me never to interfere and I wouldn't have if I hadn't seen two of them."

Johnny smiled and placed his hand on Scott's shoulder, "I know.  I figured there was one by the look on Rollins face, but not two.  Thanks for watching my back, brother.  Come on, I'll buy you a drink."  Scott grinned as Johnny led his brother into the saloon.

Scott glanced at the clock near the bar.  He and Johnny had been in the saloon for a couple of hours.  He was hungry and was starting to feel the effects of his beers.  Scott looked at his brother who looked about the same as he felt.

"I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry."

Johnny looked at his brother, "Yeah I am too.  I'm also starting to feel the tequilas.  How long have we been in here?"

"A couple of hours."

Johnny nodded.  "Let's get going."

Scott and Johnny rose.  Johnny threw some money on the table and both men tipped their hats at the bartender who waved as the Lancer men left the saloon.

"We need to get our horses bedded down," Johnny remarked.

"We should also get a hotel room before we go to dinner.  How about you get us a couple of rooms at the hotel while I take the horses to the livery?"  Scott asked when they reached their horses.

"Good idea," Johnny responded as took his saddle bags of off Barranca.

He walked to Scott and took his brother's saddle bags and handed him Barranca's reins.  Scott left for the livery and Johnny headed for the hotel.  Morro Coyo was busy even though it was the middle of the week.  Many ranches were hiring and many men had come into town.  The church also had a couple of committee meetings Wednesday nights.  Most people who attended those meetings stayed in town to have dinner and then headed home.  Johnny entered the hotel lobby and walked to the desk.

"Hello Mr. Lancer, how are you this evening?"

"Great Mr. Evans, how are you?"

"Busy, what can I do for you?"

"Well, I'd like to get a couple of rooms for the night."

"We're busy tonight, let's see what I've got.  I don't have two rooms, however, I have a larger room with two beds."

"That'll work, I'll take it."

 

Johnny reached the lobby and wandered to the dining room.  The staff was readying the room for the impending dinner crowd.  He sauntered towards the main door and as he stepped onto the street, he met Scott.

"Were you able to get us a couple of rooms?"

"No, but I got a larger one with two beds."  Scott nodded.

"Give me a minute to wash up."

"No problem, take your time."  Johnny responded as he looked down the street towards Rosa's.  The place was filling up and would be lively this evening.  A few minutes later Scott joined him.

"Ready Johnny?"  Scott asked as he moved towards the cantina.

"I've changed my mind, let's eat here at the hotel."

Scott walked to his brother. "Johnny are you feeling all right?  I thought you wanted to eat at Rosa's?"

Johnny nodded, "I did, but I've changed my mind.  Let's eat here at the hotel."  Scott studied his brother.  Johnny shrugged and the two men entered the hotel.  As they entered the dining room, they were greeted by one of the waitresses.

"Hello gents, how are you this evening?"

"Great Melinda, can we have that table over there in the corner?"  Johnny asked, pointing to a table in the far corner of the dining room near the large stone fire place.

Melinda nodded and led the two men to the table.

"Can I get you something from the bar?"

"I'll have a whiskey," Scott replied as he picked up his menu.

"I'll have one too," Johnny added.

Scott looked at his brother.  "Okay, mind telling me what's going on?"

Johnny looked up at his brother.  Scott was beginning to read him very well.  Johnny smiled.  "Well, let's just say that I don't want to share you with anyone tonight.  I want to have a nice quiet, uninterrupted dinner with my brother. Anything wrong with that?"

Scott smiled and shook his head, "No, not at all.  Frankly, I think it's a splendid idea."

A large smile came across the younger man's face as he picked up his menu.

"Hmm, they're serving trout tonight.  Now I'm not sure what to have.  Trout sounds good and so does a nice juicy steak."

Scott nodded, "Just what I was thinking.  You know, one of us could order the trout, and one could order the steak.  We could then share them."

Johnny's smile became broader, "You know brother, I really like the way you think."

Scott sat back in his chair and took a sip of his drink enjoying his brother's company.

"Scott tell me about the ships and the busy harbor."

Scott looked at his brother warily, "I thought you hated it when I talked about Boston."

Johnny shook his head.  "No, actually I don't."

"You never seem to be paying attention."

"Just because I close my eyes, doesn't mean I'm not listening."  To prove his point, Johnny rattled off a few details.

Scott took another sip from his drink and then proceeded to describe the harbor and the various ships.

Johnny settled more comfortably in his chair and looked over at Scott.  He smiled to himself realizing how fortunate he was.  He had his brother back and wanted to enjoy every minute of this evening; especially listening to the sound of his brother's voice.

 

~end~
Suz, 4/2006

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