The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

The Journey

 

 

Second in The Blood series, following Blood and preceding Mothers and Grandfathers

It had been three months since Johnny's grandfather died. The heaviest workload at the ranch was waning now and Johnny began thinking about the ranchero in Mexico. He had received several letters from Miguel updating him on any business transactions and they were quite detailed reports. Johnny was even more convinced he had chosen the right man for the job of running his grandfather's estate. Still, he wanted very much to see this place for himself and he thought, as he strung the last of the fencing in the south pasture, it was time to talk to Murdoch.

That evening after supper the three Lancer men settled in the living room with their coffee. Teresa had surprised them all with a delicious apple pie and they were all pretty content at the moment. Johnny thought he would wait a while before broaching the subject with his father but he didn't have to wait at all.

Murdoch had noticed his youngest seemed to be more deep in thought the past few days and had reminded himself to ask Johnny what was on his mind. He thought he could pretty well figure it out though.

"Alright, out with it son. What's on your mind?" he said bluntly.

Johnny looked at his father a bit startled as he realized Murdoch was talking to him. Then he smiled as he understood his father was getting a lot better at reading him.

"Well, Murdoch, now that it's nearly fall I was thinking of taking a little trip," he smiled.

"That trip wouldn't happen to be south of here, would it?" Scott chimed in.

"I was wondering when you were going to bring it up, son. When were you thinking of going?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, next week maybe," Johnny replied.

"Uh, excuse me but I think there's been a mistake. Perhaps it was only bad grammar on your part Murdoch, but I think what you meant to say is...When were *we* thinking of going," Scott offered with a bit of sarcasm.

Johnny looked appreciatively at his brother. He was not looking forward to making this trip alone and he was hoping he could talk them both into going with him.

Scott continued on his diatribe. "You don't really think I'm going to let Johnny go to Mexico alone do you? Let's face it, a piece of paper may be nice and legal but what if some of those federalies can't read?"

Johnny laughed softly at his brother. "Why Boston, you worried about me? Don't think I can take care of myself anymore?"

"It isn't that, little brother. I know you can take care of yourself, the point is you don't have to anymore. You've got me to watch your back now," Scott replied triumphantly.

Johnny balked at the idea of his eastern-born, Harvard-educated brother staring down a bunch of bandeleros.

"Alright you two, enough of this bantering. I had no intention of letting Johnny go down there alone. Besides, I'd like very much to see my son's ranch," Murdoch interrupted.

Johnny felt a little odd having his grandfather's ranch referred to as his. He had not been able to bring himself to look at things in that perspective. Any time he thought of the ranchero, it was always as his grandfather's. Still, he reckoned he should get use to it. He was relieved that they both wanted to go with him, he just didn't quite understand why they thought he might object. He voiced this confusion in a light fashion.

"I never said anything about going down there alone, did I? I fully expect you both to go with me! Why would you think anything else?"

"Oh, well, Johnny, I guess we both just thought that you might want to be alone," Scott explained.

"Why?"

"Because you usually do when something is....well painful for you," Murdoch interjected.

"I see. Well, not this time, ok?" Johnny said quietly.

"That's it then! We'll plan on leaving at the first of the week. I'd better let Teresa and Cipriano know," Murdoch stated as he rose and headed to the kitchen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The rest of the week went along without incident. Which is saying a lot at the Lancer ranch.   Johnny went about his work as usual but he was feeling a growing anxiety about his trip for several reasons.

Toward the end of the week, Scott picked up on Johnny's uneasiness. He wasn't sure exactly what was causing it but he had his theories. He finally decided Johnny was ready to talk so he approached him in the barn one day while Johnny was currying Barranca.

"Johnny?" he started.

"Yeah?"

"I get the feeling that maybe you're not looking forward to this trip all that much. Am I wrong?" he asked a bit hesitantly.

Johnny stopped currying his horse and turned to face his brother. He was smiling, which relieved Scott.

"I am looking forward to seeing the ranch but...I suppose you figured out I kinda have mixed feelings about going back," he said and Scott noted the sadness in his voice.

"Bad memories?" he asked with sympathy.

"Some, and some good ones too, I guess. It's just that I've been thinking about her a lot lately," he finished.

Scott knew he was talking about his mother. Since his grandfather arrived in his life and Johnny had his revelation, he had referred to his mother as 'her' or 'she' exclusively. This concerned Scott. He, more than anyone, knew the torture his brother had been through and he was afraid Johnny might start hating his mother.

Although she had done many terrible things, she was still his mother and Scott couldn't stand it if Johnny turned away from the good memories he had of her. He felt if that happened, it would rip a hole in Johnny's soul that could never be mended. He suddenly realized that the barn may not be the best place to have this conversation. He walked over and placed his hand gently on his brother's shoulder.

"Why don't we go up to my room and talk?" he suggested.

Johnny seemed relieved by the offer and nodded his head.

Once in Scott's room, Johnny plopped down on the bed and made himself at home. Scott grinned as he thought of how many times since he had arrived at Lancer, including his first full day there, that Johnny had barged into his room without hesitation or even knocking first. He sat at the foot of his bed and tried to think of just the right questions to bring his brother's worries to the surface.

He needn't have bothered, Johnny started right in. "We're gonna be traveling through a lot of my old stomping grounds on the way. I've been thinking it wouldn't be a bad idea if we stayed clear of the border towns and just camped out."

"Are you worried someone will recognize you?" Scott asked concerned.

"No, I'm not worried about it Boston, I know they will. It hasn't been that long. And...I've tried to think of a way around it but it would sure take us out of our way, maybe a week out of our way."

He saw the confusion on his older brother's face and continued to explain. "Sonora, Scott. And a few others that I spent a lot of time in and around. And then there's Nogales, there just is no way to get around going through Nogales."

"What's so bad about Nogales?" Scott asked.

"Nogales is where she died," Johnny stated matter-of-factly.

Understanding dawned on Scott's face. "And there's no other route we can take?" he asked.

"Not if we want to get there sometime this year. I don't want Murdoch to know. There's no sense in getting him all upset. It's just another border town," Johnny explained without emotion.

It was this lack of emotion that concerned Scott the most.

"Johnny, are you going to be able to do this? I mean, it has to be hard on you to say the least."

"It's not like I haven't been back there since she died. Look, Boston, it's my worry. Don't concern yourself with this. I know you're worried about me. To tell the truth, I'm more worried about getting through there without somebody recognizing me. I sure don't want to put that paper my grandfather left for me to the test."

He was referring to the letter Miguel had given him the day he took Ruiz body back to Mexico. It was from the Governor of Mexico City giving Johnny free passage through the area. Johnny wasn't too confident that piece of paper was gonna do him much good if, like Scott had said before, he ran into some rurales who couldn't or didn't care to read!

"Johnny, how do you expect me not to worry about you!? You are my brother," Scott said indignantly.

"Okay, okay. All I meant was, I'll be fine as long as we keep a low profile."

"But you don't want Murdoch to know about this. How are you planning on getting past that?"  

"I don't want him to know where she died, that's all. He's not stupid, I'm sure he realizes it's best if we stay off the beaten trail."

"Look, little brother, you can tell me youâ€re fine all the live long day if you want to...but I know better and I'm going to be keeping an eye on you," Scott admonished.

Johnny smiled his most dazzling and softly said, "I'm counting on it, brother."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday morning was hectic. Last minute preparations seemed to be never ending and as anxious as Johnny was about taking this trip, if he was going, he wanted to get on with it. Finally, an hour after dawn, they started saying their goodbyes to Teresa and the hands.

Senora Cipriano approached Johnny shyly. She gave him a hug and told him to be careful and to come home safely. Johnny was taken aback by this show of affection from the stalwart woman.   He had seen her angry with her husband before and was fervently glad he was not Cipriano! He smiled at her and promised to be careful and thought he saw the beginnings of a tear form in her eye. He reminded himself when he got home to try to become more friendly with this woman. There was something about the way she looked at him that told him she knew things that maybe he should know as well.

They started off on their long journey with two pack horses loaded with supplies. Murdoch Lancer was no fool, he didn't need either of his sons telling him they needed to keep a low profile once they entered Mexico. He knew this trip was potentially dangerous for his youngest and he had made sure he packed extra ammunition for their weapons.

The first two days of the trip were amiable. The three Lancer men were getting along well. Murdoch was glad to have this time alone with his boys. It always seemed there was more work to be done at the ranch, more decisions to be made that took up all their time with not much left to really talk.

They did talk on this trip. Johnny seemed to be in a good mood and Scott took the opportunity to tease his brother unmercifully about anything that he could think up. Of course, Johnny was no amateur, he gave as good as he got. Murdoch very much enjoyed watching his sons bantering back and forth and even felt the urge and joined in more often than not.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Everything changed on the third day. They would be crossing the Rio Grande shortly after noon. Johnny had become quiet, seemingly lost in his thoughts. Scott and Murdoch stopped their teasing as they realized Johnny was becoming tense. They could both see the change coming over him and both men were as surprised by the transformation as the first time each had seen it.

Johnny was turning into Madrid, ever watchful, looking over his shoulder, constantly scanning the landscape in search of any sign of trouble. Scott marveled at how still he could be. He had never seen a man stay so still for so long. Even on Barranca's back, he seemed to be unmoving. This was an illusion, Scott realized. Of course he was moving, at least his eyes were, always.

At the edge of the great river they stopped. Johnny sat in his saddle for a long time staring across to the other side. He seemed to be unsure and this worried his father and brother. They exchanged concerned looks but both remained quiet, waiting for Johnny to make the first move. Murdoch thought perhaps he should say something, Johnny had been sitting there a long time. But suddenly he straightened himself in the saddle and gave Barranca a squeeze with his knees as they entered the cool waters of the Rio Grande.

Scott and Murdoch looked at each other again and followed him silently. On the other side, Johnny stopped again. He turned in his saddle and looked at the other two men. A grin started spreading across his face.

"This is where it gets interestin," he said.

"Great! I can hardly wait!" Scott grinned back.

"Well, son it's up to you now. Which way?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny turned back and began the journey into his past that he never thought he would take. He actually loved Mexico, it had been his home for most of his life. The thought that he would never be allowed to come back here had saddened him more than he could ever explain to his father or brother.

To them, it was the place where he had nearly lost his life in front of a firing squad. But to Johnny, that was one moment mixed in with a thousand other moments and memories that made up his very existence. How could it not hurt to think he could never return here?

How would Scott feel if he was never allowed to return to Boston? He shook his head and sighed quietly, he knew they were worried about him. How could he show them how he really felt, how happy crossing that river had made him and how sad at the same time?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nogales was notorious for it's lawlessness. It seemed to draw every type of criminal element. Gunfighters, bank robbers and just plain mean, ornery brutes. It was close to the border so there were as many gringos as Mexicans at any given time. This was a place where you could hide if you needed to. It was also a place where you could die for winning too many poker hands. If there was one place in all of Mexico Johnny hated, it was Nogales. They were no more than five miles from the town when Johnny stopped.

"I think we should camp here tonight," he said.

"But Johnny, it's still early. We can make a lot of miles before dark," Murdoch said. He didn't understand Johnny's hesitation, but Scott did. He just couldn't come up with a good reason to back up his brother's suggestion.

"Murdoch, I don't want to go into Nogales while it's still light and I sure don't want to go in when it's dark. We can start out at first light in the morning and ride right through before anyone knows we've been there," Johnny explained.

Murdoch was not easily convinced. Whether he just didn't understand what Johnny was trying to tell him or he was only thinking of making good time, what he said next he knew was a mistake as soon as it came out of his mouth.

"How many more towns are we going to have to ride through at the break of dawn before we get to Mexico City?"

Johnny's mouth drew into a tight line and his jaw twitched. He turned to face his father full on.

"You knew this would happen. If you can't handle it, Murdoch, maybe you should just turn around right now and go home! Or maybe you'd rather I ride right into the middle of town and announce myself!" he spat.

"Johnny, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking, son. You're right, we should just camp here tonight. The moon will be full tomorrow night. Maybe we can ride through some of the way then." He tried to placate Johnny and redeem himself as well.

Johnny sighed heavily and walked away to start setting up camp.

"Nice going Murdoch," Scott said, not too happily.

He joined his brother and helped him take care of the animals. Murdoch stood there a moment longer, mentally kicking himself for being so unthinking. He could only imagine what Johnny was going through right now and he certainly hadn't helped matters any.

They ate supper in silence. Afterward, Scott volunteered to clean up and Johnny walked off into a stand of trees nearby.

Murdoch took the opportunity to talk to him so he followed. "Johnny, I am sorry, son. I wasn't thinking. I know this is hard for you, being back here."

"Why Murdoch? Why do you think it's hard for me. This is my home, it's where I grew up. You think I hate being here? I don't! Yeah there are some places I'd just as soon not go near and there are some I wish I could, but I can't. That's what's so hard about it. I do have friends here ya know. Not every damn body wants my head on a platter!"

He finished venting and sucked in a deep breath of air. "Look, I'm sorry but you have no idea what I'm feeling. So, don't tell me you understand, ok?" he said softly.

Murdoch approached his son and put his hand on Johnny's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. "You're right son, I don't know how your feeling. Why don't you tell me."

Johnny hung his head and tried to turn away but Murdoch kept his hand gently but firmly on his shoulder.

"No, not this time, son. Don't turn away from me, please. Talk to me," he pleaded.

Johnny looked up at his father and Murdoch almost gasped at the pain and torture on his young son's face. A man three times Johnny's age shouldn't have experienced this much pain in his lifetime, he thought. It wrenched at him to see in Johnny's eyes what he thought he would never hear come from his mouth. His prayed at that moment for some miracle to help him take it all away from his boy. If he could have put it all on himself he would gladly do so if it would stop the hurt in his son's eyes.

Johnny finally spoke, his voice low and husky with emotion, "I don't know how to explain it. I...I feel...happy and sad at the same time. I'm glad to be back here but I'm not. It doesn't make much sense, I know. I have so many good memories and so many really bad ones, Murdoch."

"Are you saying you miss your old life, Johnny?" Murdoch asked with dread for the answer.

"God, no!" Johnny laughed softly. "Still, I do have friends here. There are people I'd like to see again and I know I can't. That's what's so bad about it. I have to hide out like some kind of animal! I know it can't be helped. I know it has to be this way. But knowing doesn't make it any easier," he sighed and added, "but Murdoch, the most important thing for right now is, I can not be seen in Nogales! Do you understand?"

"Yes, I understand. Again, I'm sorry for being so pigheaded earlier," Murdoch said.

Johnny smiled at his father, "What's so different about today?" he laughed.

They both laughed and walked back to camp together. Scott had never been so relieved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They managed to ride right through the middle of Nogales at dawn. No one was awake at that time of the day. Most hadn't been asleep very long, in fact. Still, Johnny felt an almost irresistible need to ride through in full gallop. He managed to curb this instinct for he knew the sound of horses being ridden hard through the streets would inevitably get someone's attention. He hoped Murdoch hadn't noticed that he did knee Barranca on a little faster as they passed the cemetery at the edge of town.

Murdoch may not have noticed, but Scott did. He knew why too. It took everything he had to keep his promise to his little brother. He wanted to see her gravesite too. But Johnny didn't appear to have even looked in the direction of the small graveyard as he rode past.

Once they were well away from Nogales, Johnny relaxed a little. This was not the worst of it, though it was bad enough. This part of Mexico was wrought with banditos and pistoleros and Johnny knew he needed to be on full alert. He conveyed this to his brother as subtly as he could.

Scott saw the look his brother gave him and knew instinctively what Johnny wanted. He slowed his horse ever so slightly so he would be at the rear of their little group. With Johnny riding point, Scott felt more secure that they would be able to spot any trouble and protect their father from harm.

'I guess they think I'm just an old fool who can't take care of himself' Murdoch thought as he noticed the looks and the move Scott had made. 'Do they think I'm stupid or just blind?'

His anger wavered as it suddenly dawned on him what his boys were really doing. He was more than a little stunned by the protectiveness they displayed. It touched him deeply that his boys were willing and ready to take the brunt of any trouble that came their way to protect him. He smiled a little to himself as he started to think once again what it would have been like to have his boys with him all their lives.

Unfortunately, they weren't making very good time. One of the pack horses had developed a slight limp and they stopped to rub the horse down, discovering a stone in his shoe. Murdoch removed it, but the hoof was bruised so they waited several hours before starting out again. They had to move slowly so as not to permanently lame the animal.

Johnny was not happy that they were still so close to Nogales. They had managed to get only a few miles from town with all the delays. As dusk approached Johnny started looking for a good campsite. He knew this area well and there was a cave not far ahead that would suit him just fine. It provided good cover and the entrance was pretty well hidden. If you didn't know where to look, you'd miss it altogether.

Murdoch rode up beside his youngest and suggested they start looking for a good place to stop for the night. Johnny smiled at him.

"I was just thinking the same thing. I know a good place about half a mile ahead."

As they neared the cave entrance Johnny stopped. He dismounted and held up his hand to indicate the other two should wait. He quietly approached the cave, moving stealthily through the brush with his hand always near his holster. He disappeared into the thicket and Murdoch felt uneasy. He didn't like not being able to see Johnny.

They waited for what seemed an eternity to Murdoch until Johnny suddenly reappeared, mounted Barranca and started toward the cave without a word. They followed him, confident that all was well. The cave was perfect. Scott and Murdoch never saw the entrance until they were on top of it.

"How did you ever find this place, Johnny?" Scott asked as he started building a fire.

"Found it when I was a kid. I used to wander around up here a lot. I don't think anybody else knows it's here," he replied. Then thought, 'I hope not anyway'.

Murdoch was feeling a goodly amount of guilt by now. Watching his son agonize over being back here was hard and he didn't know how to make it any easier. He felt it was his fault. If he had tried harder, searched longer to find him, he could have kept Johnny from living this life he seemed to fall back into so easily. He was still amazed at the transformation he had witnessed at the Rio Grande. It broke his heart to know his son made this change through pure instinct for survival. He was certain Johnny did not realize it had even happened. It was so natural for him...so natural!

Suddenly, Murdoch realized the implication of what Johnny had told Scott about finding this cave. He had wandered around here a lot when he was a kid?! No, it wasn't possible. Murdoch had searched this part of Mexico thoroughly when Maria had run off. Maybe he had heard Johnny wrong.

"Johnny? What did you say about wandering around up here when you were young?" he asked.

Johnny stiffened, realizing his mistake. "Uh, yeah we lived here for a little while," he lied, trying to cover the truth.

"When?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny avoided his father's stare. He was beginning to realize he wasn't going to be able to lie to Murdoch much longer. He had never been any good at lying anyway. He had always thought it took too much effort and telling the truth was always a lot easier.   Still he thought he'd give it a shot.

"I don't remember," he mumbled.

Murdoch studied his son and noticed how uneasy Scott had become as well. His suspicions were raised by Scott's reaction for he knew Johnny must have confided in his brother.

"You remembered where this cave was and that you spent a lot of time here. Now you're saying you don't remember when it was? That doesn't seem logical, son. How could you not remember?" He sounded like one of those Pinkerton's to Johnny just then, always digging into your past.

He sighed heavily and resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to fess up to the old man. He gave Scott one last look, searching for any help his brother could proffer, but he only got a miserable look in return for his effort.

'Thanks a lot, Boston' he thought.

"Sit down, Murdoch, there's something I need to tell you."

He sat next to his father, half turned toward him, half turned to run. He figured he'd state simple fact first and see if Murdoch was willing to pry, always trying to figure a way out of the inevitable.

"I was twelve when we lived here," was all he offered and he watched as he saw realization dawn on Murdoch's face.

"Lived where, Johnny?"

"In Nogales."

"Where is she?" was all he could manage to whisper.

Johnny hung his head, suddenly ashamed for his deceit. "You have to understand, I didn't want to cause you any more pain. I just thought we could get through it without... "

"Without what? Without knowing the truth? Is that it, Johnny? You couldn't tell me the simple truth of where your mother is buried?"

"No," was all he could say.

Murdoch stared at Johnny in disbelief. "Why?"

"What good would it do, Murdock? What good could come from it?" he pleaded.

"I'd know the truth, Johnny. That's what good would come of it," Murdoch said with growing anger.

Johnny just looked at his father miserably. Scott decided it was time he intervened.

"Murdoch, don't you think this is hard enough on Johnny without you getting angry with him?"  

"I'm not angry with him!" he yelled.

"Oh, that's good because I'd hate to see what you look like when you are angry!" Scott fired back.

"Stop it!" Johnny said quietly but firmly. "It's not his fault, Scott, it's mine. I should have told him she died here," he said almost in a whisper.

Scott hadn't seen his brother so miserable since the night he had learned the truth about his mother's illness. He had hoped he would never see that look on his brother's face again.

No one spoke for long moments. Scott didn't know what to say, Murdoch was trying to get himself under control and Johnny...Johnny just wanted to crawl under a rock for the rest of the night.

Finally Murdoch spoke again, calm now and there was a certain amount of regret and concern in his voice now. "Johnny, I'm sorry. I know this is hard on you but you have to understand. She was my wife and I loved her."

Johnny stared at the ceiling of the cave trying desperately to control his emotions, he wasn't having much luck. The tears were there, just below the surface with all the pain and humiliation he had felt in his young life. He tried to speak but couldn't seem to find his voice for a long while. It took everything he had to control himself and he wasn't about to break down, not here, not now.

"I know you loved her, Murdoch. That's why I didn't want to tell you in the first place. I guess that was wrong. I just wanted to protect you is all," he whispered.

"I appreciate that, son, but you don't have to protect me from the truth. And you don't have to protect me from this place either. I know what you two were doing today. It really isn't necessary. I can take care of myself. I've been doing it all my life," he smiled as he finished and looked lovingly at both his sons.

Scott smiled back at him and blushed a little at being found out. Johnny still couldn't look at him, but his mouth curved up in that crooked grin of his despite himself.

"When we're finished at the ranch, I'd like to visit her grave if you think you can handle it, son," Murdoch said.

"I can handle it," Johnny replied. He wasn't too sure his father could though and he wasn't thrilled at lingering anywhere near Nogales for long but he knew, too, that Murdoch needed to do this and he would stand by his father no matter what the cost.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They rode the next two days without incident. They were getting very close to their destination. Johnny wasn't entirely sure where the ranchero was but he had Miguel's directions and from his grandfather's description he was sure he could find it.

The landscape was changing from scrub brush and weeds to lush

green grasslands. The air even smelled sweeter as the scent of flowers began to make themselves known. They could see the mountain range in the distance and streams and lakes were starting to pop up on the way.

Johnny knew they were getting close and he started getting that anxious feeling again. He wished he knew what was causing it, but he just couldn't figure it out. They saw two men riding toward them on the road. Johnny seemed relaxed but he was anything but, his hand automatically went to his side to check his holster. Scott wasn't taking any chances either and checked his own weapon. Murdoch made it unanimous.

The men approached and stopped. "Buenos dias, Senors," the taller man said.

"Buenos dias," Johnny replied with a friendly smile. "Could you tell us, how close are we to the Ruiz ranchero?" Johnny asked.

"Si senor, you have found it. In fact, I believe you have been on the ranchero for some time now. The hacienda is five miles from here. You have business there?"

The shorter man did not speak but Johnny watched him closely as he listened to the directions.

"Yes," was all he answered to the man's question.

"Do you work there?" Scott asked.

The man looked him over closely and answered slowly. "Si senor, we work there. Perhaps, we can help you?"

"Gracias. But we're here to see Miguel Riveras," Johnny answered.

"Ah, Senor Miguel. Si, he is at the hacienda now. You are his amigo, perhaps?" the man asked, still trying to find out what business these men had with the ranchero.

"I am. I'm Johnny Lancer. This is my father, Murdoch and my brother Scott," Johnny introduced his family, tiring of the prying questions but knowing the men were probably just trying to protect the ranch from any trouble.

The taller man stared at Johnny then broke out in a grin. He explained to the shorter man who they had encountered in Spanish, then he too grinned at Johnny. Relieved that the men recognized his name, he continued.

"Would you mind escorting us to the hacienda?"

"Si, Senor Lancer. It would be an honor," the man replied and turned his horse to lead the way.

Johnny, Scott and Murdoch looked at each other with relief. Only five more miles and they could get out of the saddle and off the trail. It had been a long journey and one fraught with much emotion for Murdoch and especially for Johnny. Scott wasn't all that plum either, feeling his brother's tension in his own muscles the whole way.

They turned off the main road onto a path lined with trees and bushes. As they went along the scenery changed to flower beds and rose bushes. Suddenly, in the clearing they could see the house. House wasn't exactly the word for it; mansion might be more correct. Johnny's mouth dropped open in disbelief. He knew his grandfather had a large spread but he wasn't expecting such a large house.

It was bigger than Lancer. It spread out across nearly an acre of land. Two stories of white adobe with intricate carvings along the facade, ivy grew up the sides of the portico and the roof looked like a fort with croppings that spiked in the center. There was a flower garden at each end of the structure and outside stairs leading up onto a wraparound balcony. It was peaceful even though there was activity all about. Johnny could see no barn and wondered what that might look like!

Scott was amazed as well. He had seen many fine mansions in Boston, had lived in one of them himself, but he'd never seen anything this beautiful in the city.

Johnny thought the place reminded him of somewhere he had seen but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. They rode up to the house and dismounted. They stood there staring at the place as the two men they'd encountered took their horses around the back of the house. The double oak doors swung open and Miguel strode out to greet them.

"Johnny! Welcome, amigo. Welcome home," he said with enthusiasm.

Johnny shook hands with his friend and smiled. "This is some place, Miguel. I wasn't expecting it to be so..." He was at a loss.

"Big?" Scott offered.

"Si, it is a large place. Please come inside and have a cool drink," Miguel said.

They entered the portico and into the foyer. The winding staircase was the first thing they saw. It was carpeting in heavy dark red fabric. To the left was a large room and to the right was a larger one. Miguel ushered them into the larger room and offered them a seat. It was elaborately decorated in rich fabrics, fine art and antique furniture. Johnny just shook his head in disbelief. This wasn't for him. Lancer was a beautiful place but this! This was too much.

He was afraid to sit or touch anything. He suddenly felt overwhelmed by it all and felt it was too much to handle. How could he own all this! It wasn't possible, a half-breed gunfighter with a crazy mother, he thought. No, he was definitely dreaming. He was going to wake up any minute and find himself in his bedroll still on the trail. Miguel had been rattling on and he suddenly realized he'd been asked a question.

"I'm sorry, Miguel, what did you say?" he asked trying to clear his head.

"I asked if you had a good trip."

"Oh, yeah, it was fine," he answered distractedly.

Miguel smiled knowingly. "Perhaps you need time to adjust to your surroundings. Why don't I see about those refreshments and give you all some time alone?"

Johnny smiled appreciatively at his friend as Miguel left the room.

"My God, Johnny! This is ridiculous!" Murdoch stated.

"It sure is," Johnny agreed.

"My grandfather would be jealous," Scott interjected with a grin.

Johnny walked around the room trying to take it all in, he wasn't too successful. He shook his head in denial.

"I can't deal with this, Murdoch. It's too much. What the hell am I supposed to do with all this?" he asked as he swept his arms around in a circle engulfing all to be seen and all that had yet to be seen.

"I don't know, son. It is a bit much," Murdoch understated.

"A bit much!? It's the Taj Mahal!" Scott exclaimed.

Johnny didn't know what the Taj Mahal was and he really didn't care. He figured it must be some fine place for Scott to compare it to this.

"Okay, let's all just try to get hold of ourselves. It's just things, Johnny. Very beautiful and expensive things," Murdoch said trying to rein in his sons.

Johnny took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, getting himself under control.

"You're right, Murdoch. You're right, it's just a house. A really big house with a lot of really big things that I just happen to own!"

They all sat down at the same time, drained by the trip and the shock they had received.

Miguel came in with lemonade and cookies. "We eat a little later here than you are used to, I'm afraid. But if you like, I could have the cook serve dinner earlier," he explained.

"No, Miguel, that's fine. I don't know about these two but I'm pretty tired. I think I'd like to rest for awhile if you don't mind," Johnny said.

"Of course, Johnny. I will show you to your rooms," Miguel answered.

"How many days is that going to take?" Scott asked sarcastically.

Johnny shot him a weary and put out look and Scott hung his head. They followed Miguel upstairs and Scott and Murdoch were shown to their rooms first. Miguel took Johnny to the end of the hall and hesitated at the door.

"This was your grandfather's room, Johnny. I wasn't sure if you would want to stay here," he said as he opened the door onto the suite.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Johnny stood in the doorway and stared. He shook his head and smiled softly at Miguel. "No, my friend. I don't think I can do that."

Miguel nodded his head understandingly and showed Johnny to the room next door. It was as elaborate as the rest of the house. He thanked Miguel and closed the door. He climbed up into the king-sized bed and tried to relax as best he could. The thoughts were darting through his mind so fast, he mused that he wished he was that fast on the draw. Laughing at himself he tried to stop his mind from working so hard and finally he was able to sleep.

When he awoke, it was nearly dusk. He wondered how long he'd been sleeping. He found fresh water and towels laid out for him and washed up before going downstairs where he found Murdoch and Scott admiring the artwork hanging on the walls.

"Johnny, you're not going to believe this! I think this is an original Monet!" Scott whispered as if he were in a cathedral.

"Who's that?" Johnny asked.

Scott looked at him like he had horns and sighed at his brother's lack of knowledge about the finer things in life. "Monet was a master artist, Johnny. His work is very valuable," Scott explained.

"Oh, okay," Johnny said with a shrug.

Scott was exasperated and Murdoch was amused at his eldest son's enthusiasm.

"What time is it?" Johnny asked.

"It is time for dinner," Miguel answered as he entered the room. "If you would all follow me, gentlemen."

They walked into the dining room and stared at the banquet sized dining table. There was a crystal chandelier over the center of the table that cast light on the whole room. It was exquisite. Miguel noticed Scott admiring it and explained.

"It was handmade in Spain for Don Ruiz by a master glass blower. Don Ruiz designed it himself and took the plans to Spain to find the right person to create it. It was a wedding present to his wife."

Scott stared, amazed at the craftsmanship and wondered at the hours it must have taken to create such a treasure. Johnny sat down in one of the chairs, not wanting to see anymore fancy things and Miguel quickly came to his side.

"No, Johnny, this is your seat," he said pointing to the head of the table.

Johnny stared at him for a second then looked at his father. Murdoch had always sat at the head of the table at home and Johnny felt very uncomfortable taking that position.

"He's right son, this is your table, it's your seat," Murdoch smiled at his son and put his hand under Johnny's arm to gently lead him to his rightful place. All Johnny felt was embarrassed.

"Where are you going?" Johnny asked Miguel.

"Well, yes, I eat here when I am alone but..." Miguel started.

"But nothin. This is where you'll eat tonight and every other night, comprende, amigo," Johnny said with a smile.

Miguel nodded and took a seat at the table.

The meal was wonderful, Johnny enjoyed it very much.

Scott wasn't as enthusiastic. He never had been able to understand why a man would think a meal that made you sweat was so good. He had never quite gotten used to the spicy Mexican dishes his brother enjoyed so much.

Johnny was amused at his brother's reluctance. When the maid came out again, he whispered something to her and she smiled and nodded. Soon after, she reappeared with a thick slice of beef and potatoes which she placed in front of Scott.

Scott looked at his brother and smiled gratefully. He was very hungry and had resigned himself to pretty much staying that way for the entire trip.

Johnny saw Miguel's quizzical look and explained to him, in Spanish, about his brother's delicate fortitude when it came to Mexican food. Miguel tried not to laugh but he wasn't totally successful.

"What did you say to him, Johnny?" Scott asked suspiciously.

"Oh, I just told him your not real fond of spicy foods, brother," Johnny replied innocently.

That was pretty much all it took. They all relaxed and the brothers went right into their teasing show as was usual during the dinner hour at Lancer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Johnny was anxious to get a look at the ranch. He had arranged for Miguel to give them all a tour of the place. Well, the high points anyway. Like Lancer, it would take weeks to cover all the land.

Miguel showed them the pastures and the stock, the barn and some of the outbuildings. He introduced them to many of the hands and showed them some of his personal favorite spots. It was a beautiful, clear sunny day, not too hot and not too windy. Johnny couldn't help but be reminded of the first time he saw Lancer. When Teresa had stopped the surrey at the top of the ridge and showed he and Scott the land that they would both soon own an interest in.

She had spoken so lovingly about it and it didn't take Johnny long to figure out why. The more he had seen of Lancer, the more he loved it. This place was the same. He was falling in love with it, too.

Miguel also showed them some of the problems they were having presently. Nothing too pressing, the usual ranch problems. Fences down, strays. But one thing that Miguel was obviously very concerned about was a section of pasture he was hoping to put to use. The problem was there was no visible water supply.

Johnny dismounted and looked the area over closely. He examined the vegetation growing there and nodded his head, satisfied. He looked up at Miguel and smiled.

"There's plenty of water here, Miguel. We just have to get to it is all," he said.

Miguel looked at him questioningly.

"Come here and look at this," Johnny said and he showed Miguel some of the vegetation and explained to him that these particular plants can only grow well like this with a direct water source, so there must be an underground river or stream here.

Miguel was amazed at this. "How did you know that?" he asked.

"Oh, something I picked up somewhere. Can't exactly remember now."

Murdoch smiled proudly at his son. He had encountered a similar situation back home and Johnny had been able to come up with the solution easily.

They headed back to the hacienda late in the day. Johnny spent the rest of the evening before dinner exploring the house with Scott. They felt like a couple of kids sneaking around someplace they shouldn't be and both were fully expecting to be taken to task any minute when they got caught. This was

silly, of course and they both knew it, but it did make things more fun. They were a little disappointed when they would come across some of the house staff and weren't reprimanded for their snooping. They found themselves in front of the door at the end of the hall next to Johnny's room.

"What do you suppose is in there?" Scott whispered conspiratorially.

"That's my grandfather's room," Johnny said and Scott could see a twinge of pain cross his brother's face.

"Oh, well we don't have to go in there," he said.

"No, I want to," Johnny said as he slowly opened the door.

They looked around the expansive suite of rooms. Scott was careful not to touch anything in what he felt was a sanctuary. Johnny wasn't so daunted, he examined the small figurines on the curio, he looked around the desk in the sitting room, thumbed through the books lying around. The room had not been touched. Nothing had been moved from where his grandfather had last left it. The place was like a shrine. He sighed heavily and Scott looked at him closely, trying to read his brother's emotions.

Johnny smiled at him, knowing Scott's concern. "I'm alright, Scott. It's sad is all. Look, tomorrow I'm gonna have Miguel show me his grave and well, I'd like to go alone. You understand, don't you?"

"Of course I understand, Johnny. But you know I'm here," Scott said and smiled at his little brother.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Johnny and Miguel set off early the next morning. Scott explained where they were going to Murdoch who nodded his understanding.

When they arrived at the little cemetery, Miguel left Johnny alone and headed

back to the hacienda. He walked through the wrought iron gate and looked at the headstones of his relatives. People he had never known and never knew even existed. He found his grandmother's grave and next to her, his grandfather. He sat down on the green sweet-smelling grass next to them and started talking.

He introduced himself to his grandmother and told her how sorry he was they had never met. Then he turned to his grandfather.

"Hola abuelo, te quiero," he said softly.

He brushed his hand across the headstone to wipe away the dust and found none. Someone was taking great care of this place, it was well-groomed. He knew who he had to thank for that.

"I was thinking about something, abuelo. I was thinking that she should be here with you. I know how much you loved and missed her. She isn't so very far away. I could do that for you, if you'd like. The only thing is, I'm not sure how Murdoch would take it. He might have other ideas. Anyway, I'm going to talk to him about it. Now don't worry, there's no need for us to argue about this. I know how you feel about that. If he feels so strongly about taking her home to Lancer, that's what we'll do, but I really think I can make him see that she belongs here with you."

He sat there for a long time thinking about his life, his mother and his family. He was coming to terms with her illness slowly. It was hard but in his heart he knew she couldn't help what had happened to her. He knew no one was to blame. After all these years, he finally knew that for certain. This certainty had given him a measure of peace, though he knew that wasn't the whole of it.

His past was much more than his time with his mother. At least he felt, if he could put a part of it to rest, maybe he could put it all to rest, someday.

"Someday," he whispered aloud.

He realized it was getting late. He was surprised at how long he sat there. With a last goodbye for his grandparents, he headed back to the hacienda.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Murdoch stood out on the veranda waiting. He was worried. Johnny had been gone a long time. He wasn't about to intrude on his son's grief, for he knew Johnny wanted to be alone. Still, his paternal instincts were on high alert and he wanted to see Johnny as soon as he got back so he could measure his son's mood firsthand.

Johnny rode in and dismounted. A hand was there to take his horse before he had gotten his feet on the ground. He smiled and shook his head as the man took Barranca to the barn for a rubdown. Murdoch was standing there, waiting. Johnny kept smiling for this tickled him too. Papa waiting up for his prodigal son.

"Are you alright, son?" Murdoch asked.

"I'm fine Murdoch, really. There is something I want to talk to you about later though," he replied.

Murdoch looked at his son and a sense of dread came over him though he couldn't explain why. They went into the house together in time for dinner.

The cook had obviously been instructed to serve dinner an hour earlier to accommodate the new patron. So young! She thought and shook her head. After dinner, Johnny took his father into the library. He hadn't spent much time in this room but it was a private place they could talk.

Murdoch had been watching Johnny since they arrived at the ranchero. Johnny seemed different here. Murdoch couldn't put his finger on it but he seemed somehow, more mature, confident.

"Let's sit down," Johnny said.

As they sat, a thought suddenly occurred to Murdoch and he felt the cold squeeze of fear in his heart. He thought his son was about to tell him he was staying here, that he wouldn't be returning home with them. He held his breath as he waited for the decision.

"Murdoch, I wanted to talk to you about my mother," Johnny began.

Murdoch let out his breath with relief.

"What's the matter?" Johnny asked as he heard his father's sigh.

"Nothing, son. I just thought you were going to say something else."

"Oh, like what?" Johnny persisted.

"Like you had decided to stay here permanently," Murdoch admitted.

"Oh, I see," Johnny said softly. "You're worried I might want to do that, stay here?" Johnny asked.

"I couldn't blame you, son. It's not easy to walk away from all this," Murdoch said with a tone in his voice that Johnny didn't recognize.

He sighed. "I don't want to stay here anymore now than I did when it was first offered to me. I went to the cemetery today. I guess you already knew that."

Murdoch nodded.

"It's a pretty place, all fenced in and well taken care of. It's a family cemetery. There are quite a few graves. I guess I'm related to them all but I didn't know who any of them where except for my grandparents. Anyway, it occurred to me that someone was missing."

Johnny stopped here and watched his father's face. He saw as understanding crossed Murdoch's face, but then turned to something else. Johnny braced himself for what he knew was about to come.

"Don't you think it would be more fitting to have your mother at Lancer?" Murdoch said none to gently.

"I didn't know how you would feel about that. All I know is my grandfather would want this and I want it, too. It's not that I think you didn't love her, I know you did. It's just that she's been away for so long and I just think it's time for her to come home. She didn't belong at Lancer, Murdoch. She didn't want to be there. For whatever reasons, she left. I don't blame you for that. I know it's not what you wanted. But that's how it was. This was her home for fourteen years. I think that's the longest she ever stayed anywhere. It just feels right to me. But if you don't agree, if you want to take her back to Lancer, I won't fight you about it. I'll accept whatever you decide." Johnny finished his thoughts and waited for his father's response. It was not quickly forthcoming.

"I'm going to have to think about this, Johnny. You've made some good points. Just give me a little time," Murdoch said.

"Sure, Murdoch. I understand." He stood and left his father to his thoughts and walked out to the barn to see Barranca.

Whenever he was upset or unsettled, he would seek out his friend for comfort. Barranca never tried to give him unwanted advice or scold him about doing the wrong thing. He just stood there and let his master vent his feelings, giving him the occasional nudge with his nose when he thought it appropriate.

Johnny curried him until he shone. The stable boy was a bit insulted that the new patron did not trust his abilities and he showed his disgust nonverbally. Johnny picked up on this, he would have to be blind not to, and explained himself to the young man. The stable boy nodded his understanding and decided his new patron was a bit loco for treated an animal better than most humans he had seen treated. When he came back in, Murdoch was waiting for him.

"I've thought about what you said, Johnny, and I agree with you. I think we should make the arrangements tomorrow. But, uh, maybe we should let Miguel handle it," Murdoch said with some trepidation.

Johnny understood all too well what his father was saying and he agreed it would be better if he was not directly involved.

"I'll speak to Miguel about it now. And, Murdoch, thank you."

Murdoch felt an overwhelming desire to take his son in his arms and hold him but Johnny had walked away already and the opportunity was lost. He sighed and went to bed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~  

Miguel was sitting at the desk of the room that had been Ruiz office. He was engrossed in some paperwork and Johnny stood in the doorway watching him with some amusement. Miguel started when he realized Johnny was there.

"Oh I did not see you there, Johnny. You gave me a start!"

"I'm sorry, Miguel, but you were so focused on what you were doing I didn't have the heart to interrupt," Johnny said and smiled as he walked over to the desk.

"Is there something you need?" Miguel asked as he started to stand.

Johnny waved him back into his chair. "Yes, Miguel, there is. It's very important and I know I can trust you to get it done."

Johnny explained what he wanted and gave Miguel the details he would need. He explained that there should be no problems as long as Miguel presented the local authorities with his mother's birth certificate to prove himself. He doubted they'd care one way or the other. Miguel nodded his understanding.

"I want this taken care of first thing in the morning. After that, I think it's time we sat down with these books of yours and discussed ranch business," Johnny stated.

"Of course, Johnny. I will let you know how things go in Nogales."

"Just remember, Miguel, Nogales is not a very...cordial town," Johnny said with a grin then bade his friend goodnight. Miguel was up and gone at first light the next day.

Johnny decided he didn't need to wait for his friend's return so he started going over the books himself. He asked Scott to help him and they were both quite impressed by what they saw. Miguel kept meticulous records of every peso spent and earned at the ranchero. Everything from cattle feed to flour was documented.

Murdoch came to the door and Johnny waved him over. "Take a look at this Murdoch. I think we could learn a thing or two about record keeping from Miguel."

Murdoch was as impressed as his sons. "I think you're right Johnny. I've never seen such detailed records. Scott, you need to look these over carefully," he said.

"I already have. Hey! Why do I have to look them over?" Scott exclaimed.

"Because older brother, you are the older brother," Johnny teased.

"Great! So I get to do all the paper work and you get to what?" Scott asked.

Johnny hmmphed at his brother and said, "well, I get to do all the real work, I guess."

They smiled at each other knowing full well this was exactly how it would be when Murdoch finally decided to "retire".

Their antics were interrupted by Miguel's return. Johnny's mood darkened a little as did Murdoch's. Scott was confused by the sudden change as Johnny had not yet told him about their plan.

"How did it go, Miguel?" Johnny asked.

"All is well, Johnny. Everything has been taken care of. She will be brought here tomorrow," Miguel answered.

There was a joint sigh from Johnny and Murdoch as Scott decided he'd had enough of being in the dark.

"Who will be brought here tomorrow? Would someone like to let me in on what's going on?" he asked to anyone.

Johnny put his arm around his brother's shoulder and explained what was happening. Scott looked at Murdoch with surprise. He didn't think his father would agree to this. Murdoch reassured him that Johnny had left him to make the decision and he had made it. Scott nodded, accepting his father's words. Then he had an inspiration.

"Miguel, is there a priest around here?" he asked.

"Si Senor, Padre Antonio," Miguel answered.

"Scott, why do you need a priest? You're not even Catholic," Johnny asked.

"I don't need a priest, Johnny, but you do. I think if we're going to lay your mother to rest, we should have a service for her, don't you?" he explained.

Johnny was stunned, he hadn't expected to have a funeral. He just stared at his brother speechless.

"Well, it makes perfect sense to me. Murdoch never got to say goodbye to her, Johnny. This is his chance," Scott went on.

"Johnny, we don't have to do this if you don't want to. I understand. Burying your mother twice is a lot to ask," Murdoch said.

"No, Murdoch, you don't understand. I didn't bury her the first time. I....I wasn't there," Johnny admitted.

Now it was Murdoch's turn to be stunned. "Why, Johnny?" he whispered.

Johnny turned away from his father, too ashamed to face him. Fearing he was going to have to, after all, explain what had happened to his mother.

Murdoch came over to his son and put his arm around Johnny's shoulders. "It's all right, son. You can tell me. I'm not angry. I think maybe it's about time you told me all of it anyway, don't you?" he asked gently.

Miguel quietly left the room.

"Alright, but if I'm gonna tell it, I have to just do it. You can't interrupt me," he said more to his brother than Murdoch.

Scott always had to ask questions when someone was explaining something. They both agreed and Johnny took a deep breath. He felt the need to reiterate himself.

"I mean it. No questions, not til I'm done," he said and looked directly at Scott.

"I promise, Johnny," Scott said.

Knowing his brother's promise was his honor, Johnny accepted this and began, hesitantly.

"I'm not gonna get into everything leading up to it, just to say that the man we were living with was a......bastard. He came home that night drunk, as usual. They started fighting, as usual, but then it started to seem different to me. It wasn't their usual yelling and screaming. She was angrier...angrier than I'd ever seen her. I guess she had just gotten fed up. Anyway, I was standing in the corner, staying out of the way like she'd told me. Then she went at him, scratching his face and hitting him, he pushed her away and hit her hard across the face. She fell and he jumped on top of her and started choking her before I knew what was happening.

â€I tried to pull him off her but he hit me and I went flying across the room. Then he stood up and stared down at her. I ran to her, begging her to wake up. Then he said 'your next' or something like that and he started toward me. I stood up and backed away toward her bed. All I could think about was the derringer she always kept under her pillow. I grabbed it and pointed it at him but he just laughed at me and asked me what I thought I was gonna do with it. He took one more step toward me and I squeezed the trigger.

â€The bullet hit him right between the eyes. You should have seen the look on his face. He was pretty surprised right before he fell to the floor dead. I went back over to her but it was pretty clear she was dead and that I had just killed an unarmed man. I packed up what I could and left and I never looked back. That's the day I really became Johnny Madrid," he finished and sat down heavily on the sofa.

Murdoch and Scott stood still and silent. Both were deep in their own thoughts. Scott was fuming. He was furious at Johnny's mother for putting him in that dangerous situation. He was quite sure it hadn't been the first time this man, whoever he was, had hit Johnny. The way Johnny had said it so matter-of-factly let Scott know it was a common occurrence. He didn't know what to say to his brother, how to comfort him. This was too much for a twelve year old boy to take. No wonder Johnny had become a gunfighter. What choice did he have after that?!

Murdoch was fuming too. The thought of his son having to defend himself against some worthless piece of...that his mother had picked up off the street, no doubt. And she let it happen, she let him be treated that way! He was as convinced as Scott that it wasn't the first time Johnny had been hit by this man and probably many more. He thought he might just explode and he fought hard to keep himself in check. Johnny didn't need him going off on some tangent right now. The only solace he could find in this entire story was that he was glad he had given Maria that derringer and that she had taken it with her. If not, his son would be dead, too. No, Johnny was not to blame for this and he needed to know that.

Murdoch walked over and sat next to his son. "Johnny, it wasn't your fault, son. You were only defending yourself. He was armed. He was bigger than you, stronger. You did what you had to do," he said gently.

"Then why couldn't I have done it sooner? Before he killed her?" Johnny said miserably.

"It all happened too fast. Johnny, you did what your mother told you to do, right? You were just a boy. You couldn't have known it would go that far," Murdoch tried to comfort his son.

Scott joined them, having gotten his anger under control. "Murdoch's right, Johnny. It wasn't your fault. You have to know that now," he whispered as he put his arm around his brother.

Johnny understood the meaning of Scott's words. That he knew now that his mother was out of control that night because of her illness. He knew that she would not have become so violent otherwise and that was what had started

everything spinning out of control. He nodded his head to let his brother know he understood what he was telling him.

"Do you want to do this, Johnny? Have the service for your mother?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes. I think I'd like to say goodbye to her, too. I never had the chance before."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The coffin arrived the next day and Miguel had it taken to the cemetery where a grave had been dug next to Johnny's grandfather. The stonesmith had worked quickly but with great craftsmanship. The headstone matched his grandparents exactly.

Johnny thought this was fitting. They stood at the gravesite as the priest presided. He made a shortened version of the funeral mass that was really very nice.

Murdoch and Scott stood on either side of Johnny ready for the first hint that he might not be able to handle this. But Johnny stood there, as still as the night. He didn't move, he didn't speak, he was barely breathing. He stared down at the coffin as if he were trying to bore through it with his eyes. He longed to see her once more the way she used to be, beautiful, laughing and hugging him. This was the way he wished he could remember her, but he knew he would never be able to again. Now that he knew the truth, he would never be able to see his mother as the woman done wrong by her husband and condemned to suffer for it the rest of her life.

This was the picture that she had painted for him when he was so young, so willing to be the man in her life if she would just let him. But she never would, she always chose the wrong ones and he couldn't make her understand that she didn't deserve that. That he didn't deserve that. It was done now, she was home at long last. He prayed he could put her to rest in his mind once and for all. The priest threw a handful of dirt on the coffin, breaking his reverie.

He looked up at the old padre, who was shocked by the absence of any emotion seen in his face. He had turned to Johnny Madrid to help him cope with this final goodbye. He thought it fitting that that's who he should be right now since that's who she made him to be. He felt angry at her, sorry for her, he hated her and he loved her and he couldn't deal with all those conflicting emotions so he shut them all down as only he could do. He had had plenty of practice at it in his life. It was his defense mechanism and it had served him well.

Once everyone had left, he stood there alone with her for the first time in over ten years. He tried to make Madrid leave but he wouldn't, couldn't allow himself to be that open and vulnerable. Could he? Now that he had his family, did he have to be so closed off? He pondered on this until he heard familiar footsteps behind him. It was only then that he knew the answers to those questions. Yes, he could.

As his father wrapped his arm around him and held tight, he knew he could finally let go of his old friend and give in to the love being offered him. They stood there hanging onto each other and he wept softly for what should have been and what had been.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Johnny decided it was time to leave. He'd had about all he could take of his past and he was convinced the ranch was in capable hands. He spoke to his father and brother about this and they agreed it was time to go home. Everyone was getting a little homesick by now and they were missing Teresa.

Johnny spent most of the day with Miguel, talking about the ranch and what Johnny wanted him to do. They discussed how to find that water running under the pastureland and worked out a plan to get the job done.

Miguel was impressed with Johnny's knowledge of ranching. He suspected he hadn't learned all of it from his short time at Lancer.

When they returned to the hacienda that afternoon they found Scott and Murdoch lounging on the veranda with lemonade and cookies.

"Well, if this ain't a sight! You two just sittin around here relaxing while I'm out workin!" Johnny said indignantly. "That's how it is at home too, Miguel," he

added.

"Oh, now wait a minute. You don't expect a smart fellow like Miguel to believe that load of bull, do you?" Scott said.

Miguel shrugged his shoulders and said, "I believe whatever my patron tells me, Senor."

Scott stared at the two men, shocked at this statement and knew he was outgunned. Johnny and Miguel looked at each other and started howling. When they were finally able to pull themselves together, their sides aching, Johnny suggested that the two slackers might want to start packing since they were leaving first thing in the morning.

"And what about you? Aren't you going to pack, brother?"

"Oh no, Scott. You see, I have someone to do those things for me," Johnny said with a snide grin.

Scott shook his head and stomped off upstairs to pack his things. Murdoch laughed aloud at Johnny getting the better of his brother and headed off himself.

Johnny turned to his friend and smiled. "I'll be back in a little while."

Miguel nodded and went inside. Johnny mounted Barranca and headed to the cemetery. He spent the rest of the afternoon sitting between his mother and grandfather, trying to find some final peace for her. He became very quiet and still, closing his eyes and cocking his head as if he were listening to something.

He had learned this from an Indian he'd known. This was how the Indians found peace for their loved ones who had gone on. By listening to the sounds of the earth around them, they said they could hear the laughter of the one that had crossed over.

Johnny had always thought it was a crock, but right now he was willing to try anything. He thought he did hear something. Whether it was his imagination or just a memory, he didn't know, but he could hear her sweet laugh. He'd swear it to anyone, he'd heard it.

At that moment he didn't care if it was his imagination, he decided he was going to believe he could hear her and that she was finally happy now. He smiled to himself and felt his own sense of peace for her. He thought he could finally let go of that part of his life. Maybe now, he could work on the rest of it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Murdoch and Scott mounted their horses the next morning, Johnny discussed last minute details with Miguel. When they had finished, he joined his father and brother.

Miguel looked up at him. "You will be missed here, patron," he said softly.

"Miguel, I asked you not to call me that," Johnny admonished.

Miguel shrugged and said, "it is respect, my friend."

Johnny smiled back. "I know, amigo. I'll look forward to hearing from you."

"Adios, have a safe journey," Miguel called out as they rode away.

"Well, son. What do you think of your ranch?" Murdoch asked after an hour of riding in silence.

Johnny looked at his father, "I think you and my grandfather had a lot more in common than we knew." He smiled and kneed his palomino into a gallop.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On the second day of their journey home, Scott decided he would approach his brother about the change he'd seen come over Johnny their last day at the ranchero. Johnny seemed to be more at peace than Scott had ever seen and he wanted to know how his brother had managed this feat. He rode up next to Johnny but he didn't get a chance to ask his question.

Johnny looked at him and said, "what are you doing? You're supposed to be in the rear."

Scott looked surprised and Johnny continued.

"Scott , we're not out of the woods yet. We need to be careful."

"I understand that, brother, but I think Murdoch can watch our backs. Besides, nothing's happened so far."

Johnny sighed. "I wish you hadn't said that."

"Why, Johnny Lancer, tell me you're not superstitious," Scott exclaimed.

Johnny shook his head slowly. "Let's just say I don't like to test the devil. Look, just humor me okay? Get back there."

"Okay, okay!" Scott said and headed back to the rear of their little group. He figured he'd just have to wait until they camped for the night to find out what he wanted to know.

Shortly after this, Murdoch called Johnny's name, barely above a whisper.

Johnny turned his head slightly and answered softly, "I see em."

The two men sat on their horses at the top of a ridge overlooking the trail. Johnny had an almost irresistible urge to turn and give his brother an 'I told you so'. But he curbed this desire and kept moving, watching the men as they followed on the ridge above.

Murdoch whispered, "do you think they're alone?"

"I don't know, but I'd wager not. Aren't too many that would travel that light in this territory," Johnny answered, wishing he could get a good look at the two.

Scott had spotted them by now and was straining to hear the conversation between his father and brother.

"What should we do?" he asked.

"Nothing for now," Johnny replied.

The men followed them for an hour. Johnny didn't like this, not at all. If they were alone and decided the odds were against them, they would have given up long ago. He figured they were scouting for a bigger gang and had gone back to report and plan their attack.

He had made sure they couldn't get a good look at his face, no sense in getting them even more interested. He decided it was better to start making some plans of their own. He pulled up on Barranca's reins and stopped. Murdoch and Scott joined him.

"They're gone. What do you make of it, Johnny?" Scott asked.

"Nothin good, Boston," Johnny sighed. "I think we should change direction, head west for awhile. It'll take us out of our way but if we stay on this trail, we'll be sitting ducks in about half an hour," he explained.

They nodded their heads remembering the narrow trail ahead with rock croppings on either side. Perfect for an ambush.

"There's just one problem," Johnny said.

"What's that, son?"

"We'll we can't go east, that'll take us to Sonora. But if we do go west, that'll take us into the badlands. I'm not sure which is worse," he explained.

Murdoch knew all about the badlands and they had earned their name. It was a rough, craggy desert area that outlaws used as a hideout. It was not a place he wanted to take his sons into. Still he thought, what choice did they have? If they stayed their course, it was certain trouble.

"Well, should we take a vote?" Johnny asked with a grin.

"Wait a minute, I'd like to talk about this a little more. Tell me about Sonora, Johnny," Scott said.

Johnny puffed out his cheeks and blew his breath out slowly. "Well, it's a pretty little town, Boston. Tree-lined streets, good God-fearing Christian folk..."

"Alright, that's not funny! Look, I know I'm not an expert on this, but I would appreciate not being treated like a child!" Scott stated indignantly.

Johnny laughed softly. "I'm sorry, Boston. Okay, Sonora might actually be a better choice. I have some friends there, or at least I used to, if they're still around."

"And if they're not?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, if they're not, I guess at least we'll have more cover," Johnny grinned.

"You know, little brother, I don't find any of this amusing. I, for one, would like to get home in one piece. So could we cut the chatter and make a decision here!?" Scott said angrily.

Johnny stopped grinning and got serious, he sat for a moment deep in thought.

"Ok, this is how I see it. We could stay on the trail and take a chance that those two gringos decided we weren't worth the effort, we could head into the badlands where we just might run into some much nastier fellas, or we could head to Sonora and hope nobody recognizes me and wants to start trouble. Now, if we go to Sonora, we'll at least be closer to the border than if we went to the badlands." He nodded his head as if he had made up his mind. "I think we should go to Sonora," he announced.

Murdoch pondered Johnny's take on the situation for a moment and nodded his head. "I agree with Johnny," he stated.

Scott looked at the two, not knowing what the hell to do and sighed. "Sonora it is," he said and they headed east.

~~~~~~~~~

As they came to the edge of town, Johnny seemed deep in thought. Murdoch rode up beside him and put his hand on Johnny's arm to stop.

"What?" he asked.

"Johnny, have you thought of what we're about to do?" Murdoch asked.

"Sure, we're gonna ride right through town nice and slow."

Scott had joined them and Johnny looked at both men with a seriousness that made Scott uneasy.

"Look, don't look at anybody. Don't glance around and don't decide to sight see. We're gonna ride right through here and keep on going," he said.

They both nodded their understanding but Johnny wasn't so sure they completely understood what he was telling them. Still, there wasn't time to give them a lesson on manners in a border town. They were going to have to take their chances.

He started through, riding at an easy gait. To anyone who noticed, they looked like three men sauntering through without a care in the world. It almost worked, they were more than halfway through before the world stopped.

"Johnny! Johnny Madrid!"

He heard his name and tensed, though no one would have noticed under his relaxed demeanor.

"Mierda!" he whispered.

He turned to his right and saw a smiling face that he instantly recognized.

He couldn't help but smile back. His old friend Buck was walking toward him from the livery stable. Johnny dismounted and greeted his old friend.

Scott and Murdoch weren't so happy, they were looking around to see if anyone else had heard the man bellow Johnny's name. A few people had looked their way but seemed disinterested.

"Buck, you old dog. How are ya?" Johnny said.

"Boy, I thought you were dead!" Buck exclaimed.

"I am, didn't ya hear?" Johnny laughed.

"Ahem, uh, Johnny," Murdoch interrupted.

Johnny looked at his father and suddenly remembered. "Oh, Buck, I'm sorry but I can't stay. We were just passing through, as quietly as possible," he said in a conspiratorial voice.

Buck ahhed and nodded his understanding. "I'm sorry, Johnny. I was just so surprised to see ya," he apologized. "I sure wish you could stay though. I've missed ya, boy," he said sadly.

"Me too, Buck, me too. Listen, I really have to go but if you're ever in California, look me up. Lancer ranch near Morro Coyo," he said as he mounted Barranca again.

"I surely will, Johnny. Matter of fact, I'll make a point of it. I gotta hear this story!" he exclaimed nodding his head toward Murdoch and Scott and grinning ear to ear. Johnny smiled at his friend as they rode off.

"Well, it didn't look like anyone was paying much attention, Johnny. I guess we got off lucky," Scott said as they left town.

What he didn't see was the man standing outside the saloon behind a post watching everything going on at the livery stable.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They found a secluded area to camp for the night. Murdoch's mood had been sullen since they left Sonora. Johnny didn't have to wonder why. He sat down next to his father. He was getting pretty tired of the tension that sprung up between them anytime Johnny's past presented itself in human form.

"Well, go ahead," he said simply.

"Go ahead with what?" Murdoch asked grumpily.

"Go ahead and say it!" Johnny shot back just as grumpily.

"There's nothing to say is there?"

"Gee, Murdoch, I'm sorry I have friends that are actually happy to see me," he said sarcastically.

"And just what does this friend do for a living?" Murdoch shot back.

"Well, he's the most notorious blacksmith in Mexico. Oh, yeah, he's shoed more horses than anybody and he's the fastest I've ever seen. Faster than me!" Johnny said with sarcasm dripping from his voice.

Murdoch reddened a little but he wasn't about to give in. "And before that? Before he was the fastest smithy in the west?" he asked with just as much sarcasm.

"Well, now I'm not sure. You see, he's been a blacksmith for as long as I've known him. But I think I remember hearing how he was a real mischievous kid. Yep, I remember now. He used to run the streets terrorizing all the gunfighters. They ran whenever they saw old Buck comin. Course he was seventeen at the time so I guess they had every reason to be scared of him. His father was the blacksmith then and he was almost as good as his kid became," he finished with disgust.

Murdoch got even redder. Scott decided there was no way he was getting in the middle of this one. Johnny had Murdoch and Murdoch knew it. Scott was quite amused by it all, in fact.

"You know, not all my old friends are killers, Murdoch. Why do you have to assume the worst of me?" Johnny said quietly.

Murdoch started at this question and realized Johnny was right. He sighed.

"Johnny, I don't know. I guess I've just always had this image of what your life was like then. I admit it's not a very pretty image."

"Well, a lot of it wasn't pretty but not every minute of my life was gunfighting. I don't want to shock you too much, Murdoch, but I even have a really good friend who happens to be a priest," he said with a grin.

He wasn't angry anymore. Johnny could get unmad quicker than anyone.

"A priest? I don't believe that one myself. Tell us about him," Scott interjected, ready to join in now that the argument had waned.

He didn't get a chance, Johnny stood up quickly, his hand at his side.

"What.." Murdoch started but Johnny shushed him with a wave of his hand.

He stood there quite and still, listening. Scott and Murdoch didn't move, they knew instinctively that Johnny had heard something and was still listening, so they stayed quiet.

"You can tell them about me, Johnny," a voice said from the trees. "I'd like to hear that story myself."

He stepped out into the campsite with his hands slightly out in front of him to show they were empty. He was grinning, and it turned Scott's blood cold.

"Jake?" Johnny whispered.

"Nice to know you ain't been forgotten," the man said still grinning.

"Some things are better forgotten," Johnny replied in a deadly voice.

Murdoch recognized it immediately and knew this man was no friend of his son's. Johnny Madrid was back.

"What are you doing here, Jake?" Johnny asked.

"I saw ya in Sonora. Thought I'd come out and say hello," he said, trying to sound innocent.

"Hello. Now, goodbye," Johnny said evenly.

"Aw, come on, Johnny. I heard ya tellin your friends here about your old compadres. I'm hurt you didn't include me," he mocked.

"Jake, what do you want?" Johnny asked again, exasperated by the man's joking.

"You never could take a joke, Madrid."

"Oh, I can take a joke. But you're just plain not funny and, by the way, you're not my friend and you know it. Now, it's time for you to leave."

"Not just yet, Madrid. In case you forgot, we have some unfinished business to take care of."

Johnny looked at the man with narrowed eyes, his fingers were playing next to his holster. Murdoch and Scott were ready to move at the first signal.

"We don't have any business, Jake. We never did," Johnny said.

"Well, I guess when you've killed so many men, you tend to forget. But I didn't forget my partner, Madrid."

Johnny sighed. "I didn't forget him either. Seems you forget, he called me out. It was a fair fight, Jake."

"Fair?! What was so fair about it? He didn't stand a chance against you and you know it!" the man spat.

"Like I said, he called me out. If he couldn't handle it, he should've kept his mouth shut," Johnny said in a voice as cold as death. "What about you, Jake? Think you can handle it?" Johnny asked with a smile playing on his lips.

Murdoch could see his son's profile by the campfire light. It chilled him to see this side of Johnny, so cold and deadly.

"I think I got a better chance than Charlie did. That is if your friends here stay out of it."

"They'll stay out of it," Johnny assured him.

Scott couldn't take anymore of this. "Just a minute, mister. Why are you doing this? I don't know about anybody else, but it's plain to me that you don't stand a chance in hell of walking out of here if you go up against Johnny. You know he'll cut you down, so why bother? Just get on your horse and ride out of here and we can all forget about the whole thing," he said in a voice that surprised Johnny.

He sounded pretty good, cold and calm. Johnny felt a little bit of pride at his brother's bravado, but he didn't turn to look at Scott, his eyes never left the face of the man challenging him.

Jake looked at Scott though and when he looked back, Johnny thought he saw a flicker of uncertainty in the man's eyes. But he knew this man and he had challenged Johnny, he couldn't back down now. Johnny knew this and had resigned himself to the fight. He was pretty sure he could take him. Although he had never really seen Jake in a gunfight, he had no reputation to speak of.

As he was thinking about these things, he saw what he was waiting for. That slight, almost unnoticeable look that he always waited for in the other man's eyes as he decided it was time to make his move. Jake fell back onto the ground before Murdoch or Scott could take a breath.

For a moment, Scott thought his brother had made the first move, but when he walked over to the body, he saw the gun half out of the man's holster and realized he had started to draw. Scott hadn't even seen the slight move and he didn't see Johnny draw either. It was over before he knew it had happened.

Johnny stood his ground, not moving, his head hung low, his gun in his hand at his side. He sighed and slid the weapon in it's place and walked over to where his brother knelt.

"He's dead," was all Scott could say.

"I know," was all Johnny would say.

Together, they placed the body across the saddle of Jake's horse. Scott would lead the horse to the edge of town and leave it. There was no point in getting any further involved, it had been a fair fight. Murdoch said nothing during the entire ordeal. When Scott had left, he finally spoke.

"Is that how it always happens, son? Some fool thinks he has the right to take your life for no reason?" he asked.

He had witnessed, firsthand, Johnny Madrid's life as it had been and he finally understood what his son had tried to explain to him. He realized now why it was so hard for Johnny to make him understand. Murdoch had lived out west most of his life and he knew how things were handled in this lawless land, but to put that knowledge together with his son's past was something he had never been able to manage until now.

"Pretty much," Johnny said softly.

Murdoch came close to his son. "I think I finally understand now, Johnny," he said as he put his arm around his son.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Scott returned they bedded down for the night although no one slept. Johnny got tired of lying there and got up to get a cup of coffee. Murdoch sat up too and joined his son.

"Guess there's not going to be any sleeping tonight," he whispered and smiled.

"Guess not," Scott piped up. They turned to see him getting up to join them.

"Well boys, I guess we might as well fix a little breakfast and hit the trail," Murdoch said.

By the time they broke camp and were ready to begin the journey, it was still a good hour before dawn. The moon was half full so they had pretty good light. Murdoch was anxious to get back over the border as quickly as possible. Johnny knew this but he also knew it wouldn't make much of a difference. Their original trail would have led them away from most of the border towns on the American side, just as it had on the way down. Now that they had altered that route, Johnny knew they might have more trouble. In fact, he was more worried about the towns in Texas now.

He was thinking about how to avoid all this when he looked up and suddenly stopped. All the color drained out of his face as he stared at what was ahead of him. With everything that had transpired the night before, he had totally forgotten where they were headed.

"What is it, son? Do you see something?" Murdoch asked as he scoured the area.

He saw an old dilapidated wall and what looked like an abandoned outbuilding just below a rise. He thought maybe Johnny had seen something or someone on the rise and was focusing his attention there. But Johnny wasn't looking at the rise, he was staring at the wall.

He slowly walked Barranca near and dismounted. He walked over to the wall and ran his hand over the rough bullet-hole drilled surface and visibly shuddered.

Scott and Murdoch looked at each other with confusion as they joined him. His eyes were closed tight as if he was trying to physically remove something from his mind.

Murdoch stared at him then glanced down at the wall Johnny still had his hand on. He came to the cold and deathly realization of where they were and he shuddered as well.

Scott didn't understand what was happening, he watched both men standing so still and felt unsure of whether he should interrupt them.

"Johnny?" he whispered.

Johnny started as he was brought back to the present. He looked at his brother with empty eyes and walked over to the structure that was now about to fall over. He walked around it, looked inside from the doorway and walked away to stand at the foot of the small hill. Staring out into the distance, he tried to control his feelings.

So much had happened on this trip. He had kept so much of it locked up inside himself, he was sure this would be the one thing that would break him and he didn't know how to stop it. He fell to his knees and starting shaking.

Scott ran to him and held him without a word. They sat there for a long time, not speaking, until Johnny finally stopped shaking and seemed to have gotten himself under control. He looked up at his brother and saw the deep concern and the love in the older man's eyes. It only served to fuel his misery. He knew Scott wanted desperately to know what was wrong, to help him, but he couldn't speak it. He couldn't make himself say the words.

Scott had always thought of Johnny as being fearless. How could he explain how afraid he had been in this place? How could he tell his brother what they very nearly did to him here? That it was this place that had come closest to breaking him?

Murdoch had been watching his sons, leaving Scott to comfort his brother while he got his own emotions under control. He was standing behind them though neither realized it. He came to kneel next to them and Scott looked to him for help, the misery in his eyes reflecting his brother's pain.

Murdoch smiled at his eldest and laid a hand gently on his shoulder. He looked at Johnny and saw the pleading in his eyes to explain to his brother because he knew he couldn't himself. Murdoch nodded at Johnny and Johnny nodded back, then he stood and walked away from them so Murdoch could explain things to Scott.

"What is it, Murdoch? My God, what is this place?" Scott pleaded for understanding.

Murdoch kept his hand firmly on Scott's shoulder, he knew it would be needed. "This is where they nearly killed your brother. This is where the firing squad was," he explained softly.

Scott's jaw dropped as he realized what he had heard. He looked over to where Johnny was standing and started to get up and go to him.

"No son, let me," Murdoch said.

Scott nodded his head and sat back down on the hard dry ground heavily, trying to wrap his mind around what his brother had gone through in this place.

Murdoch stood just behind Johnny and waited.

"Will it ever stop?" Johnny asked, pain dripping from his voice.

  Murdoch felt his heart breaking once more for his young son. He put his arm around Johnny, but he didn't answer him, he didn't have an answer.

Johnny turned to his father and laid his head on the man's chest. "I'm so tired, Murdoch. How can I be so tired?"

"It's alright, son," he whispered. "It's all over now. They'll never hurt you again, I swear it."

They stood there together for a long time until Scott joined them, standing by his brother's side. "Johnny, can I say something?"

Johnny looked at his brother and smiled a little. "Have I ever been able to stop you?"

Scott smiled back. "I just wanted to tell you that you will never be alone again. We'll always be here for you and one more thing. I love you, brother."

Johnny stared at Scott. This was the first time either of them had verbalized what they both knew.

Johnny felt overwhelmed, "You just had to say that, didn't you?" he asked as the tears fell down his cheeks.

Scott hugged his brother and felt his father's strong arms wrap around them both. After drinking in his family's love a moment longer, Johnny pulled away and wiped his face.

"I'd really like to get out of here now," he smiled.

"I don't think we need to take a vote on that idea," Scott said and smiled at his brother.

They rode away from the place that had come so very close to keeping them apart forever.

~~~~~~~~~~~

After an hour or so, Johnny thought he'd better tell them the good news. He reined in Barranca and waited for the other two men to approach.

"You alright, son?" Murdoch asked, concerned.

Johnny nodded, then he shook his head. "Sorry, but I think I'd better tell you something."

Scott felt a cold dread in the pit of his stomach. What now? They waited for him to go on.

"We'll be crossing the border in about an hour. We'll be in Texas," he said simply.

"So?" Scott asked with a raised brow.

Johnny grinned sheepishly at them.

"Ok, what? More of Sonora?" Murdoch asked with no condemnation in his voice now. Johnny had been through enough.

"Fraid so," he sighed.

"Well, I have to say one thing for you, Johnny, you're not boring," Scott said with a laugh.

"I figure we should keep heading north til we cross the border then turn east again right away. We'll be skimming the shoreline so it shouldn't be so bad," he said seriously.

"You're the boss," Murdoch smiled at his son.

He had decided he would never condemn his son for his past again, never get angry with him when he felt Johnny was getting out of control. If he had learned anything on this trip, he had learned that he certainly wasn't doing his son any favors by being hard on him.

Johnny had proven time and again that he belonged at Lancer and every time the opportunity had arisen for him to leave, to go back to his old life, he had chosen his family. This time, he had chosen them over a life of ease and wealth and to Murdoch, that spoke volumes. Johnny was staring at his father in disbelief.

"Oh, I am huh? I'll have to remember that," he teased.

"For this trip only, young man!" his father teased back.

They laughed and Johnny lead them toward the border. This time he didn't hesitate, he dove into the river and crossed it in a blink. He stopped on the other side to let them catch up.

Scott had to do it. "So, is it going to get interesting again?" he asked slyly.

Johnny grinned and replied. "Ya never know, Boston."

They found a place to camp that night, feeling the excitement as they knew they would be home the next evening. Johnny seemed to be in a good mood and Murdoch was grateful. Still he worried and kept a close eye out.

"I'm alright, Murdoch," Johnny said out of the blue.

"I didn't say anything," Murdoch defended himself.

"No, but you were thinkin it," Johnny grinned.

That grin, that easy grin! It could melt the heart of the devil himself, Murdoch thought as he smiled back at his son. He felt closer to Johnny than he had since he was a two year old reaching up for his papa.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They managed to get through Texas without incident. Johnny was grateful, he'd had enough! He never wanted to go through this misery again and he sure didn't want to put his family through it.

Although there had been some very painful memories, Johnny had to admit he was glad they had made this journey into his past. He felt he could lay some of his ghosts to rest at least.

Just before dusk, they stood on the ridge overlooking the hacienda. Each man lost in his own thoughts, marveling at the sight before them as the sun was going down over the land they all loved so much.

Johnny took in a deep breath of the sweet air then turned to look at his family. They all shared a moment of quiet tranquility, then Johnny grinned. It was his mischievous grin and Scott recognized it immediately. He held out the reins of the pack horse to Murdoch.

"Would you mind?" he asked.

Murdoch took the reins and smiled at his boys. "Go ahead," was all he said.

They started down the hill at full gallop, racing toward the hacienda, whooping and hollering the whole way as they saw Teresa standing in the yard waving. It was a tie as they reached the yard together. Murdoch, still a ways away, had to think it was as it should be, his boys coming home together.

 

 

~end~

To Mothers and Grandfathers--->

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