The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link
subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link
subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link
subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link
subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link
subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link
subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Winj

 

Discomfiture

 

 

 

Scott grunted as he dragged the limb from the dry wash. It wasn't particularly heavy but it was big and awkward. He went to one knee and nearly fell atop the limb. His hands grasping branches, he braced himself and rested a moment, head hung.

Johnny rolled the sizeable rock away from the wash a safe distance. He stood and arched his back feeling a satisfying crack in his lower spine. He relaxed and turned back to the task. Spying his brother on the other side, a grin slid onto his face as he strolled back and jumped into the creek bed.

"Prayin?" he asked in that drawl.

Scott's shoulders tensed and he pushed himself off the limb, finding his balance as he took two steps back. "Probably not a bad idea," he remarked as he turned to see Johnny smiling. He gave a short smile in return, not in a happy mood himself.

It perplexed him how Johnny could smile through this drudgery. It was hot and humid. His clothes were drenched with sweat and he was a grimy mess. Dirt and dust clung to his skin making it crawl and itch. He peered out over the grassland which shimmered in the heat of the day and sighed.

Johnny offered a canteen as Scott rejoined him. After taking a long pull, Scott started to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand then thought better of it. All that would accomplish would be to smear more grime around.

"Thanks," he mumbled as he handed the container back. He knew Johnny was eyeing him. Johnny was always eyeing him. Sometimes he didn't mind, today he did. But he said nothing and went back to work.

Johnny slowly capped the canteen then tossed it up on the bank. He wanted to laugh but he couldn't. It wouldn't be polite, after all. He knew Scott hated this part of ranch work. He wasn't fond of it himself but it was a necessary evil. Still, it tickled him seeing his blue-blood brother filthy. He bit the inside of his cheek and went back to the job.

After an hour, Scott felt a tap to his left arm. He looked up and into Johnny's eyes.

"Lunch?"

Scott nodded and tossed the debris in his hands aside. He shook his head a little when Johnny turned his back. He doesn't say much, that's for sure, he thought.

*

They sat quietly eating. Scott could sense Johnny had something to say. He imagined it would be only one word that he was supposed to decipher. He frowned with irritation as he waited for that word.

"Not the best job," Johnny finally remarked.

Scott thought he might go into shock. Four whole words! He sucked in his cheeks to keep from laughing then made himself reply seriously.

"No, not the best." There, he'd matched his brother word for word.

"You can have the bath first tonight."

Scott slowly thought it through. Seven words. A record. Then, he realized what Johnny had just said.

"Why?"

Johnny looked over at him with a puzzled expression then shrugged. "Why not?"

Scott looked in his eyes but could see only sincerity. He didn't always know if Johnny was teasing with him or serious. He still didn't. He gave a shrug of his own. "Thanks."

Johnny nodded his head once. Scott sighed silently. They finished their lunch just that way.

Once he'd gathered the remains of his lunch, Johnny repositioned himself under the tree they leaned against and pulled his hat down over his eyes. Scott watched this with curiosity.

"What are you doing?"

Johnny raised his hat and looked at his brother. "Siesta." At Scott's questioning gaze, he grinned. "A nap."

"A nap?" Scott smirked.

The light in Johnny's eyes went out so quickly, Scott almost gave a start.

"In Mexico, it's tradition," he explained icily then pulled his hat back down and crossed his arms over his chest.

Scott watched him for a minute sure he was joking. Soon enough, Johnny's breathing eased and Scott realized he was asleep. He frowned. Am I supposed to wake him? The irritation was back and he adjusted his own position, staring out over the land.

*

Two months. Two long, hot and arduous months he'd been at this ranching business. He still felt like he didn't know a thing. He was just now able to get out of bed in the morning without groaning in pain. Getting out of bed before dawn was still a struggle. He wasn't used to going to bed with the chickens, as they said around here. He certainly wasn't used to getting up before the sun rose.

It was a ridiculous notion to him. He still didn't understand the why of it. Yes, there was a lot of work to be done but it never seemed to be completed. Just as he finished one thing, another would come up.

How was he supposed to learn anything about the business when all he did was work the range? Murdoch hadn't been very excited about showing him the books when he'd suggested it. He'd only said that would come in time. Scott wondered if the man simply did not want to give over any of the responsibility of the operation. After all, he called the tune.

Scott snorted at this. Who will call the tune when you're no longer able? he'd wanted to ask. But propriety had prevented him from speaking it. Then again, he seemed to be the only one worried about that. He wasn't used to the casual ways out here either. He knew it would take time but it wasn't easy.

This one beside him was by far the hardest chore. He wanted to know his brother but Johnny didn't seem too enthusiastic about the notion. Every conversation Scott started was met with one or two word replies if any. Sometimes, Johnny would just grin that damned grin and walk away.

He didn't seem interested in learning about the business, either. He just went to work every day. For not the first time, Scott wondered about his education. He knew Johnny could sign his name but he hadn't read the partnership agreement that Scott knew of. Could he read? he wondered.

Such a simple thing, it seemed, yet Scott didn't know. He didn't know anything about either of them after two months. Usually, he got a sense of a person right away but not these two. Laconic was the word that came to mind. Neither of them said much at all. Neither seemed interested in discovering anything about the others.

He wasn't a chatterbox himself but he could hold his own in a conversation. Even a discussion about current events would be better than what he got from them. He found himself feeling quite lonely much of the time. He didn't come all the way out here to be a cowboy. He came to know his father or at least get some answers. None of that was happening. Murdoch scowled most of the time. The only time Scott had seen the man smile was a few times when he was talking to Johnny.

He sighed loudly in frustration.

*

Johnny moved a little then his hand came up slowly and he pulled his hat off, blinking at the brighter light. He rubbed the other hand across his face and sat up with a light sigh.

"Well, guess we should get back to it," he said then stood up, placing his hat firmly back on his head.

Scott stood as well but he didn't move. He was trying to make a decision. Was this the right time for a real talk? Quickly, he decided not. They had a job to finish so he followed Johnny back to the dry wash. But when didn't they have a job to finish? When would there ever be a good time? Never, he surmised.

He jumped down into the creek bed. "Johnny, wait a minute."

Johnny turned and looked at him, waiting.

"I thought we should talk."

"About what?"

"Ourselves." Scott saw the tension immediately appear on his brother's face. "Look, we've been here two months and I don't know anything about you. I know it's busy here and there's a lot of work to do but that's not all there is to life," he spilled out.

Johnny put his hands on his hips but never broke the eye contact. A grin slid up one side of his face. "Try tellin the old man that. Maybe it's better to just ease into it, Scott. You can't know a man in a day."

"No, you can't but you can start. Tell me something about yourself and I'll do the same," Scott pressed.

Johnny cocked his head to the side and considered. "Like what?"

Scott's frown deepened and he quirked his mouth. "Like ...... what kind of books do you like to read?"

That question garnered him a scowl and a twitching jaw.

"Never had much time for that kind of thing."

Scott's face fell and he swallowed hard before asking gently. "Can you read?"  

"Yes, Scott, I can read. In two languages. Is that what you wanted to know?" Johnny spouted angrily.

"It's one thing of many. I'm sorry if I offended you but I don't know anything about you. Not even something that basic."

Johnny hung his head and sighed then looked back up. "Best way to know a man is by working with him, living with him and just being."

Scott thought about this for a minute. "That sounds reasonable but there are some things you can't know if you don't ask. Is there anything you want to ask me?"

"Nope," Johnny clipped then turned away and went to work.

*

Scott's fist clenched as he glared at his brother's back. "Do you want to know me at all, Johnny, or is this just a job to you?"

Johnny stopped and stood up straight then turned slowly to face Scott. "Whatever I need to know, I already know, Scott."

"Such as?"

"Such as you hate doin this kind of work. You want to know the business of ranching not work a ranch. Well, you can't know one without knowin the other. The only way to understand and appreciate the land is to work it, Scott. Until you understand that, there ain't much point in learnin the other."

Scott just stared at him. Partly stunned by the amount of words, partly because he realized his brother was right. That part, the being right part, was what stung. He reined himself in and nodded. "How long does it take to learn and appreciate the land?"

Johnny relaxed and shook his head. "Years maybe. Never for some. Look out there. What do you see?" he asked, tossing his head toward the grasslands.

Scott looked. "I see grass, flowers, cattle, mountains. I see beauty."

Johnny smiled and stepped up to him. His demeanor turned serious then. "When you see the beauty of the land and are willin to protect it, that's when you start to appreciate everything."

Scott smiled and looked back out there. "I've always appreciated nature. I've never had to work it with my hands. It's hard but I don't mind that. I suppose I'm just anxious to start this new life."

Johnny looked quizzically at him. "You already have."

Scott ducked his head and turned, walking away a few paces. "Not with you or Murdoch. I don't seem to be able to connect with either of you."

Johnny sighed loudly. "What do you want to do? Sit down and tell everything about ourselves? That ain't gonna happen, Scott. If it's answers from the old man you want, that ain't likely to happen either. Best to leave it alone and just go on from here."   

"How?" he asked sharply as he turned back. "How can you let it go, Johnny? He doesn't seem to think he has to be held accountable for his actions. It's in the past! Well, so is yesterday. So is an hour ago but you can bet he'll want an accounting about that!"

To Scott's surprise, Johnny started laughing softly.

"Reckon that's true enough but that's something you'll have to talk to him about."

"Talk to him? When?"

Johnny stepped up to his brother again. Scott's anger and frustration was not to be denied. "I don't know what to tell you about that. It's between the two of you. Sit him down, I guess. Make him listen to you."

"He never listens to me. He won't even show me the ledgers. How do you do it? I see the two of you laughing and talking."

Johnny shrugged. "I haven't challenged him about anything - yet. One thing you do need to do is calmm down. He won't listen if you come right at him. He don't like anybody gettin in his face."

Scott sighed. "That's exactly what I'm talking about. How do you know that about him?"

"I watch and listen, Scott. That's your problem. You wanna sit down all nice and civilized and talk things to death. You can find out a lot more by watchin and listenin. That's what Murdoch does, ya know. He watches us." There was a glint in his eye with the last sentence.

Scott cocked a brow at this, wondering what his father saw when he watched.

*

"Can we get back to work now?"  

Scott's head came up, jerked from his thoughts by the question. He smiled and nodded and started to walk past Johnny. He felt his brother's hand on his arm and turned with the question in his eyes. Johnny put a hand up to stop him from asking.

"Listen."

Scott did listen and his brows drew together. He looked up at the clear blue sky. "Sounds like thunder."


"Yeah, but it ain't," Johnny said then tightened his grip and pulled Scott out of the creek bed.

He looked at the horses out in the pasture growing nervous as the ground shook beneath them. They'd never make it to the animals, they'd strayed too far away and now they were too skittish to be of any use. He sighed and thought at least they weren't tethered.

"Ever climbed a tree?"

Scott looked at him dumbfounded.

"You wanted me to ask a question. Have you ever climbed a tree?" Johnny asked anxiously.

"Well, sure, when I was a boy I ...." he didn't get to finish as Johnny pushed him over to the oak.

"Climb," he ordered.

"Johnny, what in the world ...."

"Scott, get up that tree now!" he shouted and shoved his brother over then started lifting him.

Scott grabbed the lowest branch and scrambled up onto the limb, scraping his arms on the rough bark. To say he was confused would be putting it mildly.

"Higher!" Johnny shouted as he jumped to grab the limb, barely wrapping his fingers around it.

Scott scrambled again to get higher and that's when he saw it. A huge cloud of dust was coming right at them. A split second later, he saw the horns through that dust. Scott cursed under his breath and got to the next limb. He wrapped one arm around it then leaned down as low as he could and reached out for Johnny.

*

Johnny's legs were swinging as he tried to pull himself up.

"Grab my hand!" Scott yelled.

Johnny looked up, their eyes locking for a second. Scott thought he seemed to be searching for something in that split second before he let go of the limb with his right hand and grabbed onto Scott's wrist.

Scott pulled hard, leaning back and using the limb to brace himself. He could feel his work glove sliding off his sweat-soaked hand and, with it, Johnny's hand sliding down as well.

Johnny had pulled up enough to bend his elbow and was trying to find better balance for the rest of his body. His legs were still swinging back and forth as he tried to gain momentum. He couldn't look down but he didn't have to. He could feel the cattle thundering beneath him. Johnny sucked in another breath and pulled.

Scott tightened his grip on Johnny's wrist and, with one mighty heave, pulled back with all his might. But he felt resistance and quickly wondered how that could be. Then, before he could fathom what was happening, Johnny wasn't there anymore.

Scott leaned down over the limb he now straddled but he couldn't see his brother at first. His gut clenched painfully as his eyes searched the ground below. The last steer had passed by, leaving a swirl of dust in its wake.

"Johnny!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. He could still hear the hooves pounding the ground on the other side of the rise. Scott shimmied down the oak tree, his legs giving way as he hit the ground hard.

With a slight groan born more of annoyance at his less than elegant descent, he raised himself to his feet and took a lungful of air. "Johnny!" he called again. Still there was no response.

Scott couldn't understand it. If Johnny had fallen or, more likely, been dragged down, he should still be right there. Only he wasn't. Scott swiped at his forehead and stepped around the huge trunk only to be stopped in his tracks.

*

Johnny lay in a heap on the side of the trunk. Scott's legs felt rubbery as he stumbled to his brother's side. He dropped to his knees and laid a hand on Johnny's shoulder. Leaning over, he looked for injuries and saw blood on Johnny's forehead. He moved his hands down his brother's side, feeling the ribs in particular but found nothing unusual. His hand then went to Johnny's left leg and he stopped.

His glove was long gone and he quickly removed the other. He saw the blood pouring from a wound on Johnny's calf and cursed under his breath. He didn't think he should move his brother without help yet, he needed to stop that bleeding.

Scott removed his gunbelt then his pants belt. He wrapped that around Johnny's thigh and tightened it into a tourniquet. He then untied his kerchief from his neck and gently wrapped the head wound.

He leaned back and sighed heavily. He looked around the area but saw no one. He thought that odd. Someone should be chasing after that stampede. His eyes dropped and he spied his gunbelt. Taking the revolver out, he fired it three times in the air. Johnny had told him if ever he was in trouble to do this. He only hoped Johnny wasn't the only one who knew what it meant.

Within a few minutes, he heard horses coming toward him fast. Scott's shoulders sagged with relief as he stood shakily and stepped from behind the tree. He waved at the two men coming toward him. Frank and Walt.

"We need a wagon and the doctor. Johnny's hurt," he called when they were close enough.

Frank turned to Walt and said something Scott couldn't hear but the man reined his horse and galloped away. Frank rode up and dismounted then followed Scott to Johnny's side.

"I almost had him up the tree but a steer must have gotten him," Scott explained.

Frank only nodded and gently rolled Johnny over, exposing more of his chest and head. Scott was relieved to find no further bleeding.

"I had to apply a tourniquet to his leg. It was bleeding heavily. I don't think the head wound is too bad," he continued.

"Not much we can do til help arrives, Sir," Frank noted then proceeded to feel along Johnny's body for any broken bones or other hidden wounds. "Looks like there's nothing more. Can't feel anything broken."

"I'm worried about that leg. He needs a bandage on it."

Frank only nodded again and went to his saddlebag, producing a shirt. He tore it into strips as he knelt again. "If you'll hold that leg up, I'll bind it."

Scott nodded and did so. He couldn't see the wound very well but he knew it was deep. He almost shuddered thinking of what it really looked like.

*

Once they'd done all they could, both men settled on opposite sides of Johnny. Scott worried that he hadn't regained consciousness. Maybe the head wound was worse than he first thought.

He'd never seen anything like the stampede. He'd heard of them, of course. Some of the men had even teased him a little about them. But, nothing could have prepared him, he knew. No words could describe the carnage left in their wake. The ground was turned up, as if it had been plowed only the pattern was much more erratic.

He stared at it for long moments still coming to terms with what happened and what could have happened. His anger surfaced and it surprised him a little. Then, he started to question the sequence of events. Turning, he found Frank staring at Johnny. His own eyes went to his brother but he saw no difference in his condition.

"Johnny told me to climb the tree. We could have ridden out," he said suddenly.

Frank looked up slowly and shook his head. "Reckon Johnny figured that tree was your best bet."

Scott looked into the black man's eyes, searching for an accusation but could find none. He only nodded his understanding but he didn't really. A horse was fast, especially those two horses. He still believed they could have gotten away safely. He kept his thoughts to himself, reasoning he could ask Murdoch about it at a later date. Once they were sure Johnny would be alright.

Scott's head came up as he heard the wagon approaching quickly. He stood and dusted himself off a little as he waited for his father to climb down.

Murdoch moved quickly to the trio and knelt wordlessly beside Johnny. His hand rested on his son's shoulder. All he said was, "Frank?"

"Hit his head. He's been out the whole time. His leg's really messed up. Scott put a tourniquet on and we been watching it. Couldn't feel anything broken," the man reported.

Murdoch nodded. "Alright, I've got hay in the wagon bed. Let's lift him - gently now." He didn't wait for a reply, positioning himself at Johnny's head and sliding his hands under the young man's shoulders.

Scott went to Johnny's feet and Frank readied to support his middle. On a count of three they lifted him easily and walked to the wagon. As soon as Johnny was inside the wagon bed, Murdoch jumped onto the seat. He turned and waited until Scott was settled next to his brother then started the wagon toward home.

*

It took an hour to get back to the ranch. Murdoch drove as fast as he dared, actually a little grateful Johnny was out cold. At least he wasn't in pain for the moment. His stomach had been in a tight knot since Walt rode into the yard like his hair was on fire. As soon as he'd told his boss the news, he'd taken off to get the doctor.

Now, they eased Johnny out and Murdoch simply picked him up. "Watch his leg, Scott. Hold it up for me," he ordered.

Teresa was waiting upstairs with hot water, bandages and everything else she could think of. She didn't know what was wrong only that it had to be bad.  

Murdoch laid his son on the bed and turned to the girl. "Give us a few minutes to get him undressed, sweetheart."

She nodded and left, closing the door behind her.

"We need to loosen the tourniquet for a minute." It was the first time Scott had spoken since his father's arrival.

Once the tourniquet was replaced, Johnny undressed and his wounds re-bandaged with clean cloths, Murdoch sat on the side of the bed and placed a hand on his face.

"No fever yet."

"Are you sure there will be?" Scott asked.

"I can't imagine there won't. It looks like a steer gouged his leg. Their horns aren't the cleanest things in the world. Anyway, Sam should be here soon," he sighed out.

Scott sat in a chair he'd pulled to the bedside. "You sound tired."

Murdoch glanced up and him and shrugged. "No, just ..." he stopped, unwilling to confess his fear for his son. Fear? Try terror, he thought grimly.

Before Scott could question the unfinished sentence, the doctor opened the door, Teresa with him.

Murdoch quickly reported all he knew and Sam nodded then ordered both men from the room. He wasted no time in getting to work. Teresa had everything he needed including more hot water she'd brought this trip.

*

Once downstairs, Murdoch headed for the sideboard. He poured two whiskeys and handed one to Scott. "What happened?"

Scott took a long drink before sitting in a chair and sighing loudly. He related the entire episode dully, his body beginning to feel the effects now the adrenaline had left him.

Murdoch watched his shoulders sag more and more, his face become lax and his voice soften. He knew Scott was exhausted but he needed to know.

"What I don't understand is why we didn't use the horses," Scott ended with some frustration.

"I'm sure I don't know, son. I wasn't there and I don't know what your brother was thinking. I have some men out looking for them, by the way."

Scott nodded, still unsure of this explanation. "But ..." he stopped at the knock on the door.

Murdoch simply called out to come in, too tired to bother.

Cipriano walked in and bowed slightly. "Senor, we have found the horses. The bay, he is injured. It is not serious," he added the last as he saw Scott come to his feet. "I will tend to him, Senor. It looks like he ran into something sharp, a rock perhaps."

Scott swallowed hard and nodded. "Thank you, Cipriano. Please keep me informed."


"Si, Senor," he nodded then left.

"I imagine they were pretty panicked," Murdoch remarked, his brow raised a little.

Scott sat back down and drained his glass. "I suppose," was all he could think to say. Was he ever going to be right about anything around here? he wondered.

He'd been struggling since day one. Well, day one after the battle with Pardee. While Johnny recovered from his bullet wound, Scott had enthusiastically begun to learn ranching. His enthusiasm hadn't lasted long. He didn't mind the hard work but it had taken some getting used to. Add onto that the brand new family he found himself thrust into. Trying to learn about them and ranching had become an almost insurmountable task in his mind.

"So, Johnny was knocked out of your grip," Murdoch commented, bringing Scott back to the moment.

"Yes, I almost had him. I was pulling back as hard as I could then, suddenly he wasn't there. When I looked down and couldn't see him, I thought he'd been swept away with the herd."

"That must have been frightening."

To Scott's ears it sounded like a question. He frowned. "I admit I was very concerned. When I found him it was ... well, I wasn't sure what I could do. The horses were gone, the canteens as well. Then, I remembered Johnny telling me if I ever needed his help to fire three shots in the air, so I did."

Murdoch smiled a little. It didn't last long as he heard footfalls on the stairs. He and Scott stood and watched Sam enter the room.

*

"Well, the head wound isn't bad but he has a concussion. I'm hoping he'll awaken soon. His leg is another matter. The wound goes to the bone. I cleaned it out thoroughly but there's no way it can be sewn up. I've packed it and it will have to be changed twice a day. That's going to be very painful for him, I'm afraid. I've shown Teresa how to do it so she can show you both. Other than that, he's got a lot of bruising and will be very sore for several days. He needs to stay in bed for at least a week. There's no fever right now but you'll have to watch carefully. How long before you got him home?"

"About two hours," Scott answered.

Sam sighed and nodded. "Well, there's most likely infection already so watch the bandage for any drainage, too. I'll stay the night to monitor him."

"What about the concussion, Sam? What if he doesn't come around soon?" Murdoch asked as he waved his friend to a seat.

Sam settled on the sofa. "That would be a problem. It could indicate a more serious injury. There's really nothing we can do but wait at this point."

Murdoch's brow deepened even more. "Scott, would you see to Sam's supper? I'm going to sit with Johnny," he mumbled and walked away before the young man could even answer.

Scott watched his father wearily climb the stairs. "He's exhausted but he won't admit it."

Sam smiled a little. "He's not very good at admitting any weakness."

Scott looked at the man for a long moment. "You've known him a long time, haven't you?"

"About fifteen years now."

"What else can you tell me about him?"

Sam looked at the younger man with surprise. It took him a few seconds to regain his composure. "Well, Scott, Murdoch is very tough. He's honest and fair but he has his beliefs and they are unshakeable. Solid is the word I'd use to best describe him."

Scott nodded his head, his eyes lowered as he took in the information. It was as much as he'd come to know himself, basically. "I'll have Maria get you something to eat."

"Why don't you join me? I'm sure you haven't had your dinner yet, either," Sam suggested.

As Scott nodded and went to the kitchen, Sam couldn't help but wonder about the man. He knew the brothers had only been home a short time but he was surprised by Scott's question. Surely he's gained some knowledge of his father by now. Then again, he sighed out, Murdoch was as tight-lipped as they came. He shouldn't wonder that either of them were having a hard time getting to know the man.

He himself knew next to nothing about the sons. Only the little Murdoch had divulged when he'd sent for them. Plus, what he'd seen of Johnny during his recovery from that bullet wound. He'd known right then, that one was going to be a regular customer. The scars on his body were numerable and not all of them from violence. It seemed Johnny was a bit reckless with his health and welfare. Sam smiled remembering Johnny's story about that scar on his left elbow. It seemed definitely accidental to Sam and Johnny had confirmed that.

Falling out of a tree saving a frightened cat for an old woman. That had told the doctor volumes about Johnny's character. But what of Scott? He'd had no opportunity to talk to this one until now. Sam decided he'd like to give it a try. Murdoch was a good friend and he'd like to be able to say that of the man's sons as well.

*

Murdoch gave Teresa a smile and a hug and sent her off to rest. The surgery had taken its toll on her, that was clear. She informed him she'd written down detailed instructions on changing Johnny's bandages but it wouldn't be necessary again tonight.

He lowered himself into the chair beside the bed and sighed out heavily. Leaning forward, he rested his hand on Johnny's cheek. He felt a little warm but nothing alarming. His hand lingered longer than necessary before he let it fall away.

"I'm proud of you, son. You did everything right today and saved your brother's life," he said gently.

Sitting back in the chair, Murdoch frowned. Why couldn't Scott see that? Maybe, once things were a bit more settled, he would. Instead of being grateful to Johnny, he'd questioned his brother's actions. Surely he wasn't resentful? Murdoch didn't understand his older son. He didn't seem to be very happy here.

Oh, he knew it was going to take time but Scott was being awfully impatient with them. It seemed to him the young man wanted to gain all the knowledge he needed about ranching in one day. It just wasn't possible. Murdoch had been watching and he'd seen Scott's frustration building. Especially when he had put the man off about looking over the books.

It wasn't that he didn't trust his son. He knew Scott was very intelligent and would take it up easily which is the very reason he didn't feel it was a priority. The most important thing to Murdoch was that Scott learn the physical side of ranching. And, in doing so, he hoped his sons would learn about each other as well.

He knew he hadn't spoken his reasons to either of them but Johnny seemed to understand. Or maybe, Johnny didn't care to question his methods. Whichever it was, his younger son was going along with him. This had pleased Murdoch a great deal. It seemed to him that once the mess with Pardee was taken care of and Johnny had recovered to the point of working, the two of them had gotten along well.

Johnny even teased him which had thrown Murdoch for a loop at first, quite honestly. He hadn't been too sure at first if Johnny's witty remarks were jokes or criticisms. Then, he'd discovered the way to know. He simply looked into his son's eyes whenever he wasn't sure. Sometimes, he'd wondered how Johnny had ever been a gunfighter if he let other men read him as easily as he let his father.

Maybe he didn't though. Maybe he only let Murdoch see. An astounding thought to be sure. But, it made sense to him as Johnny and Scott didn't seem to be connecting as he'd hoped they would. Johnny was quieter around Scott, not revealing much and not joking with his brother as he did his father.

Murdoch rubbed a hand over his face. Teresa had told him of their conversation by the stream. He had been stunned at Johnny's beliefs and even more stunned by his ward's knowledge of the events. But, he'd also been grateful she'd spoken up for him. He wasn't too sure he would have been able to without disparaging Johnny's mother.

He shook his head sadly. How could she lie to a boy like that? How could she make a son hate his father so? If she'd only told him the truth, Johnny could have come home when she died. Now he knew why his son had never sought him out. He had always assumed it was because Johnny didn't know who he was but that wasn't true.

That Johnny had accepted Teresa's words was a little surprising to him. But, Teresa had told him she thought she saw something in Johnny's eyes when she mentioned the man was a gambler. Maybe, Johnny had remembered something from his childhood? He didn't know and probably never would and all because of his own fears. It's in the past. Yes, it was but could he keep it there? He didn't think so. Especially with Scott.

Murdoch had come to believe Scott's attitude stemmed from that past and his own refusal to discuss it. But Murdoch was afraid, even if he only admitted it to himself. He felt Harlan Garrett had a strong hold on Scott's affections. Anything he told his son would put the other man in a very bad light. His greatest fear was that Scott would not believe him, become outraged and go back to Boston. He didn't think he could stand losing his son again.

*

A soft moan from the bed broke through his thoughts. He looked up and leaned forward, waiting for Johnny and relieved he seemed to be waking. Sam's words about that concussion had troubled him.

Slowly, Johnny's eyes opened halfway. Murdoch leaned closer so his son didn't have to work at seeing him. He saw something akin to panic come into Johnny's eyes and he quickly laid a hand on his son's arm.

"It's alright, Johnny. You're home and safe. I'm right here," he spoke softly.

Johnny relaxed and tried to smile but it was an effort. His eyes opened fully and he looked at his father then grimaced.

"I'll bet you feel like you've been run over by a stampede."

Johnny actually chuckled a little. "Yeah, somethin like that," he whispered then licked his lips.

Murdoch took the hint and poured a glass of water then helped him drink. It took a lot out of Johnny, just that small chore, and he closed his eyes. Murdoch was beginning to think he'd fallen asleep until he spoke softly.

"Scott okay?"

"He's fine, son. No one else was hurt."

"How bad?"

Murdoch sighed softly and regarded his son. Johnny opened his eyes and looked expectantly as his father.

"You hit your head. You have a concussion. Your right leg was gouged deeply by a steer's horn, we imagine. Sam's here and he fixed you up but it's going to be a long road," he answered honestly.

"Infection?"

"Not yet. You're a little warm but I wouldn't call it a fever. Sam cleaned it out but ..."

"Yeah," Johnny breathed out. He knew the implications. No one needed to spell it out for him. "Sam's still here?"

"He's staying the night to keep an eye on you. But, I'm sure he'll be pleased you're awake."

Johnny smiled a little and nodded then decided not to do that again anytime soon. He groaned a little. "My leg."

"There's laudanum," Murdoch offered.

Johnny looked at him, seeming to consider the idea before answering. "Not yet."

Murdoch frowned but didn't push. He knew from experience Johnny didn't like medicine of any kind. He didn't know why and that bothered him, too. "Well, it's here if you change your mind."

"Barranca?"

Murdoch smiled now and shook his head. "He's fine. Remmie got scraped up but it's nothing serious."

Johnny's expression was missing before he frowned again. "Why is my foot so cold?"

Murdoch got up and pulled the bottom portion of the linens back. He felt the foot. "It's like ice. I'll have Sam take a look. Be right back."

"I'll be here," Johnny said and smiled a little.

*

Scott played with his food more than he ate. Sam watched the bowed head for quite a while before speaking.

"Johnny should be alright."

Scott looked up and nodded then went back to his previous position.

"Is there something else troubling you, Scott?"

He looked up again and smiled wryly. "Plenty is troubling me, Doctor."

"You'd do me a favor if you'd call me Sam."

"Alright."

"So? What's bothering you?" Sam pressed.

Scott considered the man. He was a friend of Murdoch's. Should he?

As if reading his thoughts, Sam smiled sympathetically. "Nothing you say to me will go any further unless you want it to."

After a brief hesitation, he spoke. "I suppose I'm just frustrated. I know it takes time to learn the ropes, as they say, but I feel so out of place here. I don't seem to be able to make the correct decision about anything. There's so much I don't understand and I feel I can't ask without being made a fool of."

Sam raised a brow at that last part. "Has someone been making you feel foolish?"

Scott frowned. "No, not really. Well, the men tease me but Johnny said it was just their way with any ... greenhorn." He grimaced at that word. He hated it.

Sam chuckled a little. "They can be hard on a man. But, what about Murdoch and Johnny? Surely you can ask them?"

Scott almost snorted. "Murdoch doesn't discuss anything and Johnny rarely says more than a word or two. Today, we talked for a while before the stampede. It's the most he's ever said to me at one time."

Sam nodded thoughtfully. "Have you considered they are as worried as you? That they aren't any more sure of how to go about this family business than you are?"

"Of course, I have. It just seems they get along well with each other. But then, Johnny doesn't seem to question anything." His voice had taken on a slightly sarcastic tone.   

"Maybe that's because Johnny knows something about ranch work already. Maybe he simply hasn't come across anything he feels the need to question. I'm sure Murdoch expects you to ask about things."

"I asked about the ledgers and he pretty much dismissed me."

Sam sat back and thought about that. He couldn't give Scott an explanation for he didn't know why Murdoch would not want to show Scott the books.

"He's a hard man to know. He's run this ranch alone for so many years, I suppose he's not used to having to explain himself. Maybe he just needs some time to adjust. My only advice would be to try and get him to discuss his reasons with you. Don't let him just say no and leave it at that. Sometimes, you have to push Murdoch a little to get results. Sometimes, pushing him only makes it worse. And before you ask, no, I couldn't tell you how to distinguish the two. You may have to accept that the two of you are going to lock horns from time to time, Scott."

"Sam, Johnny's awake and I need you to take a look at him," Murdoch interrupted.

"How is he, Sir?" Scott asked.

"He seems clear-headed but he's in a lot of pain. It's his foot, though. It's like a block of ice."

*

Sam walked in and smiled. "Johnny, how do you feel?"

"Hey, Sam. Pretty lousy, I hafta say."

"Well, that's progress. You didn't say you're fine." The doctor grinned more widely.

"Didn't figure you'd fall for that one," Johnny teased.

"What's this about your foot?" Sam asked, getting down to business.

"Don't know. It's just real cold," Johnny shrugged. Something else he needed to not do again, he thought as his head protested.

Sam went to the foot of the bed and pulled the covers back further than Murdoch had. He quickly saw the problem.

"Your leg has swollen some which isn't surprising but the bandage is too tight now. I'll have to rewrap this. Scott, give me a hand?"

Johnny saw his brother lingering at the door for the first time. Scott moved into the room and went to stand next to Sam.

"How's Remmie?" Johnny asked softly.

Scott looked at him harshly. "Cipriano is looking after him. I haven't had a chance to see him yet," he replied flatly.

Murdoch's shoulders tensed at the tone and Johnny stared stonily at Scott.

"Hold his leg here and here and lift straight up when I tell you," Sam interrupted.

Johnny started to tell him where to go but he didn't. He didn't feel like fighting and didn't know why they would be in the first place. He didn't have a clue why Scott seemed angry with him. At the moment, he didn't care. He decided to just ignore the situation.

"I guess this is gonna hurt, huh?" he directed to Sam.

The doctor gave him a sympathetic smile. "I'm afraid so, John. Do you want some laudanum? I'm afraid I can't wait, though. We can't leave it like this."

"No, go ahead. Be done before it starts making me stupid anyway," Johnny mumbled.

*

Murdoch grabbed hold of this clue. For one, to find out what his son meant and another, to distract Johnny. He moved the chair so it was parallel to the bed and sat facing his son.

"What do you mean, make you stupid?"

Johnny looked at him and smiled a little. "Just that. It makes me feel all fuzzy in the head and I have strange dreams. Start talkin all crazy, not makin any sense. Stuff like that."

"That's not unusual," Sam relayed.

"Maybe not. Don't mean I like it one bit," Johnny said then hissed as Scott raised his leg.

"If that's why you don't like to take it, son, I understand. But, if it eases the pain, it's worth feeling that way for a little while, isn't it?" Murdoch asked, leaning over to block Johnny's view of the men at the foot of the bed.   

Johnny sucked in a deep breath and bit his lip for a second, then let out his breath before answering in a grunt. "It never has been."

Murdoch smiled a little. "And now?"

Johnny dipped his eyes before looking back at his father with almost a blush. "Reckon it's a little different now. I mean, you seem to be able to handle a rifle pretty good, old man. Ain't never seen you with a six-shooter though."

And there it was. That look in his eyes that told Murdoch he was messing with him again. He could also see how hard Johnny was working at controlling his response to the pain right now. But the fine beads of sweat that were appearing on his son's brow told him just how much Johnny was hurting.

"Well, I'm no Johnny Madrid, but I can hold my own," he smiled.

Johnny appreciated that answer and tried to laugh. It ended up sounding choked and Murdoch grabbed his hand.

"Just hold onto me, son."

"A little higher now, Scott. That's good," Sam instructed as he reapplied a bandage as quickly as he could. He knew how much this hurt and he hated putting Johnny through it but there was nothing to be done about that now.

He glanced over at Scott and noticed the intense concentration on the other man's face as he held up his brother's leg. Sam finished and sighed.

"Alright. Gently, let's lower that leg onto the pillows. We'll need to keep it elevated to get the swelling down. How's your foot feel now, Johnny?"

Murdoch moved a little so Johnny could see Sam.

"It's startin to warm up now, Doc. Thanks," he smiled. "Both of you," he added quickly.

"You're welcome. Now, let me take a look at your head. Not that I'm concerned, mind you. Lord knows, it's too hard for much damage to have been done," Sam joked as he headed to the side of the bed.

*

Scott seemed to appreciate that quip and relaxed a little. He had no idea why Johnny's enquiry about Remmie had set him off. Maybe he was feeling guilty because he hadn't seen to the animal yet . Or maybe, he was still smarting over everyone telling him Johnny did right not trying to outride the stampede. None of it made a bit of sense to him.

He wasn't a petty man. Never had been. He thought of himself as generous, to a fault at times. But, out here, he simply felt inadequate. Gone was the sure and confident Bostonian. The grandson of Harlan Garrett didn't mean squat here. The Harvard man, the officer, none of it seemed to matter here. So, who was he? An incompetent twit? No! He wasn't that. He was learning, he knew that.

So, why was it so hard for him to admit that he needed to learn? Maybe because he'd been set on his career in Boston. He'd known what his future was then. He hadn't really been happy about it but it was a certainty and Scott liked order in his life.

'Well, you accepted the offer and readily. You had no clue what you were in for then and yet you jumped in with both feet'. The answer to that 'why' was crystal clear to him, though. He didn't want to be an accountant. Boston had begun to bore him and he was unsettled and unhappy there. Much as he was here, he thought morosely.

More than any of that, he'd been enamored with the idea of having a brother and a family. But, it wasn't working out as he'd hoped. What exactly did he think was going to happen? He almost smiled. He had thought Johnny would be as overjoyed as he about the prospects. He'd thought Johnny would welcome him with open arms. Why he'd thought that, he hadn't a clue now.  

Johnny didn't seem to care one way or the other if they became friends. Scott had to admit to himself, it hurt. His brother's nonchalance rubbed at him, irritating him like a raw and festering wound. He just didn't understand why neither of them wanted to talk to him about all this.

Maybe the doctor was right. Maybe they were as unsure as he and were simply better at hiding it.

His head jerked up as the sound of his name being called broke through his reverie. Scott looked confusedly at Murdoch then around the room. How did he get to the door? He had been standing at the foot of the bed. He hadn't even realized he'd moved away.

Clearing his throat and trying to regain his composure, he answered. "Yes?"

Murdoch walked over to him. "Are you alright? I called to you three times."

"I'm sorry. I guess I was lost in my thoughts," he said with some embarrassment.

Murdoch's stare unnerved him as the silence lengthened between them.

"He's probably worried bout his horse," Johnny offered, noting the tension.

Murdoch looked back at his other son and Scott took the opportunity to take a deep breath.

"Yes, I ... well, if you don't need me, I'll go look in on him," he said, wondering if Johnny really did think he was worrying about Remmie.

Murdoch turned back. "Of course, go ahead. I'll stay with Johnny."

"I'll spell you soon, Sir. You need to rest," Scott said, nodded and slipped out the door.

Murdoch stared after him for a moment then shook his head. He returned to the bedside.

"Well, I believe I'll turn in now. Just give a call if you need me," Sam said.

"A little early, isn't it, Sam?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, I was planning on stealing one of your books, Murdoch," the doctor answered cheekily.

Johnny laughed and Murdoch growled a little for effect.

"Nite, Doc."

"Rest, Johnny. Plenty of fluids and call me if he develops a fever," Sam prescribed and left them alone.

"Rest sounds good. Only you don't have to sit here all night, old man. I'm okay now. Just tired."

"I'm alright, Johnny, and you do need someone with you. Don't argue with me, it won't do you any good," Murdoch warned.

*

Scott walked into the barn and headed straight for his horses stall. He saw Cipriano stand up as he neared. "How he is?"

"Muy bien, Senor. He will heal well."

Scott nodded and stepped into the stall, his hand running along the bay's neck. "I always thought he was about the fastest thing around here. I guess he wasn't fast enough."

Cipriano's moustache twitched a little. "Nothing can outrun a tornado, Senor. A stampede feels much the same to anything in its path."

Scott smiled wanly. "I must admit, I've never seen anything like it. Thank you for taking care of him, Cipriano."

"De nada, Senor. How is Juanito?"

Scott stepped out of the stall with the segundo following. Cipriano latched the gate and leaned against it.

"The wound to his leg is very deep. The doctor packed it and he's worried about infection. So far, there's no fever. He's resting now."

"Bueno."

"I should go spell Murdoch. He's pretty tired."

"Buenos noches, Senor. Please tell Juanito we are all praying for him."

Scott started to say he knew his brother would appreciate the thoughts but he wasn't sure. He didn't have a clue how Johnny felt about God or anything else. "I'll tell him," he said simply.

He walked back toward the house slowly, taking his time as he tried to compose his thoughts. He knew he was being snide. If not in word then thought and he didn't think there was much difference. He only wished he knew why he was feeling such hostility. Logically, he told himself he needed time to adjust. But, his thoughts and feelings were not logical most of the time. It was only when he gave himself these moments to think rationally he understood that.

He stood in front of the door and stared at it for a minute then sucked in a breath and walked inside. Upstairs, he found his father sitting beside Johnny just watching him. Johnny's words of earlier came back to him. 'He watches us.'

Scott cleared his throat but Murdoch gave no indication he'd heard.

"Murdoch?"

Murdoch's head came up and he turned in the chair. "How's your horse?"

"He's fine. Cipriano says he'll make a full recovery."

"That's good. Now, for this one." Murdoch smiled a little.

Scott returned it with soft chuckle. "From what I've seen of him, he's pretty tough."

Murdoch's face fell into a frown. "Yes," he muttered.

"Why don't you lie down a while? I'll sit with him," Scott offered, wondering what he'd said wrong.

"I think I will. Watch closely for fever, Scott. It could spring up fast. Sam's here if you need him. I'll be back in a few hours," the rancher said as he stood and stretched his back.

"We'll be fine," Scott replied and waited for his father to close the door before settling down.

*

Scott settled beside the bed, glancing over at the table to assure himself he had any supplies he might need when Johnny awakened. He reached over and turned the lamp up as the night was fully upon them. Then, he didn't know what to do with himself. It had been the same after the gunshot wound. Johnny slept a great deal those first couple of days and Scott would sit there. At least then, he'd entertain himself with grand thoughts of how wonderful this new life was going to be. He pulled a face as he realized his dreams were just that.

There you go being impatient again, he chided himself. Still, what were they supposed to be waiting for? Some grand epiphany from the heavens? He smiled a little at that thought.

No, they didn't seem to be waiting for anything. It felt like ... a job. But, that's not how it was supposed to be. That much he knew. Exactly how it *was* suppose to be, he was unsure. These men were his family, his blood. Why were they so determined not to try? Was it really him? Was he the one being unreasonable? He didn't think so. There was nothing unreasonable about wanting to know your family. Wanting to stop feeling like a guest and start feeling at home.

His thoughts went to the relationship between Johnny and Murdoch again. He wasn't really sure it qualified as a relationship but they were at least getting along well. He admitted to himself now, in the silence of the room, he'd felt some jealousy. It was just a twinge but it had been there when he'd seen the two of them laughing together. Seen Murdoch even put a gentle hand on Johnny's shoulder. Seen Johnny slap his father lightly in the gut after some quip or other.

At those times it appeared as if they had always been together. As if the last twenty years had never happened. How could Johnny let it go? Simple, he surmised. Johnny had been lied to all his life. Murdoch hadn't abandoned him. In fact, it seemed their father had spent a considerable amount of time looking for Johnny over the years. And Scott felt something about that, too. Anger and resentment.

And those unanswered questions began to haunt him once more. Why did he leave me in Boston? That was the starter. It was also the one he knew he may never get to ask. Could he live with that? Could he stay here without some sort of explanation from the man? He didn't know. Which is why he was so determined to try with them both but, especially, his father.

Murdoch was the one who held his answers and the one who refused to talk about the past. Scott shook his head. He was going around in circles again. He'd thought about all of this over and over. He felt his determination waning as the days passed and that angered him still more. Soon, they would *have* to talk or he wouldn't be able to stay here. There would have to be a time when there was nothing more pressing. It had to be the most important topic of the moment or Murdoch would brush him off.

Well, he thought, it won't happen again. When I pick my time, we *will* talk, Murdoch. And on my terms.

With that vow, he felt at least some relief. Scott glanced over at Johnny then picked up a book someone had left in the room and began to read.

*

Scott sighed and put the book down, carefully marking his page then stretching his arms over his head and yawning. Leaning forward, he stretched his back muscles while he was at it then rubbed a hand down his face. Blinking several times, he knew he was about to fall asleep so he stood and went to the window, sticking his head out to catch a refreshing breeze.

The night air wasn't exactly crisp but after the heat of the day, it was better than nothing and there was a slight breeze wafting about; enough to lift his hair from his brow. He smiled in appreciation before exiting the perch and pulling out his pocketwatch. Almost midnight. No wonder he was so tired. He thought he'd wake Murdoch now before he fell asleep on his watch. That would never do.

He walked to the bed and leaned over his brother, lying there still as death. Johnny was pale, his features relaxed but there was something else not quite right. Scott touched his forehead and softly cursed. For some inexplicable reason, he felt angry. Perhaps it was the injustice or simply that his brother was now suffering more though he didn't know it yet. He was tired of Johnny having to go through so much illness. Yes, he decided as he applied a cool cloth; yes, he was angry his brother had to endure even more now.

Straightening himself and pondering this feeling of sympathy, he left the room and knocked on the door down the hall briskly. Sam opened it after a few moments as he shrugged into his vest.

"He's burning up."

Sam looked after him, a bit taken aback at the anger from the young man. He grabbed his bag and went to his patient, watching as Scott knocked on Murdoch's door as sharply as he'd just done to Sam's.

*

Sam replaced the blankets over Johnny's legs and went back to his side. Gently shaking the young man's shoulder, he slowly brought Johnny up from sleep.

Sighing and moaning a little, Johnny opened his eyes and immediately focused on Sam. He brought his hand from under the covers to rub away the sleep from his face. A small smile was Sam's reward for patience and he returned the favor.

"Hey, Doc."

"Johnny, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you," Sam replied seriously. He knew this would awaken Johnny fully and it did. The young man's eyes cleared and all his attention was on the physician.

"You're running a high fever now, John. I'm going to have to clean that wound out again. That means I'm going to have to sedate you."

Johnny shook his head briefly. "No, I can handle it."

"No, you can't and you don't have to. I'm afraid laudanum or even morphine won't be enough to handle this pain," Sam argued.

Murdoch put his hand on his son's shoulder from behind and squeezed. "Don't worry, Johnny, I'll be right here."

Johnny turned his head partially but he couldn't see his father's face. He smiled all the same for the man then turned back to Sam. "Is it really that bad?"

"I can't be sure until I remove the bandage but there's a lot of drainage on it and the odor is pretty unmistakable," Sam explained.

Johnny sighed heavily as he fought the frustration. He was thinking hard and fast. Clearing his throat, he spoke. "Murdoch, could I talk to Sam alone for a minute?"

Murdoch met Sam's eyes and let the objection stall in his throat. "Of course. I'll let Teresa know what's happening then Scott and I can start gathering supplies." He squeezed Johnny's shoulder once more then, with a hand laid lightly on his older son's shoulder, they left the men alone.

Johnny waited until he heard the door click closed to ask. "Is it gangrene?"

Sam frowned and shook his head a little. "I don't think so. At least, not yet."

Johnny swallowed hard. "Sam, no matter what happens or what you find, I want you to promise me something."

The doctor felt a knot in his stomach as he guessed what he was about to hear. He could only nod his head.

"Don't take my leg."

"Johnny..."

"I mean it. Even if it means my life, don't take it," Johnny spoke with icy harshness.

"Think about what you're saying, Johnny."

"I am, believe me. I've been thinking about it since yesterday. I've seen ... well, I know what can happen, Sam. This is what I want. No matter what happens or what Murdoch says, you have to promise me. If you can't do that, you might as well just leave it alone."

*

"All clear?" Murdoch asked as he opened the door.

"Yes, we're done. Does Teresa have my water?"

"It should be almost ready now," Murdoch nodded as he set his load down next to Scott's on the dresser.

"I'll take my instruments down then. Shouldn't be too much longer, Johnny," he smiled and left them.

Scott stood at the foot of the bed as Murdoch sat next to Johnny. "I don't suppose you'll tell me what that was all about?"

"Just discussing my treatment," he answered noncommittally.

Murdoch nodded slowly. "Is there anything I should know in case you can't tell Sam yourself?"

Johnny gave him a crooked grin and laughed softly. "Nice try." He noticed his brother loitering at the foot of the bed. "How's Remmie?"  

Scott smiled. "Cipriano assures me he'll be just fine. It wasn't deep and he was doing very well last night."

"You should give him a treat for being so brave." His mouth twitched as he tried to remain serious.

Scott nodded once. "I'll do that. He likes carrots. What treat would you like for being so brave, brother?"

The twitch turned into a full out smile. "I'll have to think about that one."

Murdoch chuckled at the both of them until Sam came back in and all three turned solemn.

*

Johnny groaned softly as his head cleared a little. He opened his eyes and blinked to try and clear his vision but it didn't work all that well. His head felt full of cotton then he remembered why. Frowning, he tried to take stock but every thought was difficult to hold onto. He felt a hand on his arm and looked up into his father's eyes.

"How do you feel, son?"

Johnny let out a small breath and licked his lips. Murdoch took the hint and helped him drink a small amount. Johnny refused anymore as his stomach protested even the little he'd swallowed. He remembered that, too. The nausea chloroform brought. His lips tightened as his stomach flipped a couple of times but he thought he had it licked. He hoped so, anyway.

He glanced at Murdoch and could see he was waiting so he took the time to give himself the once over. His leg hurt like hell and he was pretty happy about it. That meant Sam had listened to him. A very good thing for the both of them, he thought grimly. Then, he moved his foot a little just to be sure. It hurt but that was alright, too.

"Leg hurts," he finally whispered.

"Do you want something?" Murdoch asked, pretty sure he knew the answer.

"Can't. Stomach's upset."

"Scott, would you ask Teresa to make some ginger tea? It's the best thing for an upset stomach."

Johnny looked past his father to find the owner of the voice. Sam stepped up and smiled at him.

"Is there anything special I should tell her about it, Doctor?" Scott was asking.

"No, she knows how to make it."

Scott nodded to the man's back and left the room.

"Well?" Johnny asked.

"I cleaned it thoroughly, Johnny. Your fever is down. The rest is up to you. So far, the infection has not gone into the bone." Sam stopped there. He knew he didn't have to explain what that meant to his patient. It was clear to him from their previous conversation that Johnny knew what could happen.

Johnny nodded. "How long?"

Sam cocked a brow and sighed lightly. "As long as it takes. You aren't out of the woods, young man. You have an infection to fight off and that leg has to heal, you know. It's going to take a long time."

*

Scott returned with the tepid tea and Murdoch helped Johnny sip on it. It helped and his stomach settled fairly quickly. He still refused the laudanum and drifted off to sleep.

"I'll come back tomorrow to check on him. Change the bandage tonight and make sure he takes the pain medicine first. He doesn't realize how painful it will be, I know," Sam instructed.

"We'll get it down him, Sam. Thank you." Murdoch extended a hand to his friend.

Sam smiled and shook hands then turned to leave, patting Scott on the back as he passed. "You two get some rest. Let Maria or Teresa sit with him a while."

Once Sam left, Scott settled beside the bed. "I'm glad he's doing better. I should get some work done unless you need me to stay here."

"No, I'm alright. Just check on things then come home, son. You didn't get any rest."

"Yes, Sir."

*

As Scott neared the barn, he heard his name called. Turning, he saw Frank and Cipriano walking up.

"How's Johnny doin?" Frank asked.

"Better. The doctor had to clean the wound out again this morning but his fever is down and he's sleeping well right now," Scott answered. "I'm going out to the south pasture to check in with the crew," he added.

"I will ride with you, Senor. I was headed there myself," Cipriano said.

"Alright. Frank?"

"Gotta finish the fence line repairs in the east meadow, Sir," he replied and nodded once then walked away.

Scott stared after him for a moment. This was the first time he'd realized it but now that he thought about it, Frank had always called him Sir. He called Johnny by his first name. It occurred to him all the hands did the same.

He turned and found Cipriano standing there with a roan gelding.

"Your horse is not ready to ride, Senor. Tomorrow."

"He's doing alright, isn't he?"


"Si, very well. Just one more day, Senor," Cipriano assured him.

Scott nodded and mounted up then waited for the segundo to join him.

*

He was still thinking about Frank and the way all the hands addressed him. Scott pulled to a stop and turned a little in the saddle to face Cipriano who was looking curiously at him.

Scott smiled a little. "May I ask you something?"

"Of course, Senor."

He took a deep breath. "Cipriano, why do the men call me Sir or Senor?"

Cipriano could not have been more surprised at this question. He stared at Scott for a long moment. "What should we call you, Senor?"

Shrugging, he answered simply, "Scott."

Cipriano's eyes darted to the side then down before meeting Scott's gaze again. "That is not appropriate, Senor. You are El Patron's hijo; his son."

"So is Johnny, yet everyone calls him by his first name," Scott pointed out. He could swear the man blushed a little.

"That is different."

"Why?"

The segundo looked directly at him. "He has told us this is what he wishes to be called. He was, in fact, very determined, Senor."

Scott's lips twitched a little. "I see. Well, I am also determined that everyone call me Scott. Alright?"

"Si, Senor Scott. I will tell the men."

Scott sighed. "Cipriano, just Scott. Not Senor Scott, okay?"

The man seemed to consider this. It was clear he was uncomfortable. Finally, he nodded. "Si, Scott."

*

Johnny hesitantly agreed to the laudanum when Murdoch was ready to change the bandages that night. He knew he could trust this man even though he didn't really know him well. His instincts were usually right and when they weren't, he always had some doubt. There was no doubt now and, even as he grumbled about it, he swallowed the foul stuff.

Scott watched it all with some humor. He was feeling a little better about this family business. He'd decided to give it the time it needed no matter how long that was. He stood at the bedside ready to help as soon as the medicine started taking effect.

Johnny's eyes slid closed and Murdoch removed the bandage. Scott sucked in a breath as silently as he could and his father didn't seem to notice.

"He should sleep for several hours. Maybe all night."

"I can sit with him, Sir."

"No, I don't think we need to now. The fever is nearly gone and he's comfortable. I'll check in on him before I go to bed."

Scott nodded. "Well, if I happen to wake up, I'll check, too."

"He'll be alright."

Scott didn't think that sounded very convincing and he knew Murdoch was worried.

"Why don't you both get some rest and let me sit with him?" Teresa asked as she stood at the bedroom door.

Both men smiled at her as she entered and sat beside the bed. "There's no reason for either of you to go without sleep anymore. He's doing better and I can handle him."

"Thank you, sweetheart. I suppose that is the best course of action."

She smiled up at him then her eyes fell on Scott. "How are you doing with the ranch work?"

"Better though, sometimes, I still feel like "¦ a greenhorn." He grimaced at using the word.

Teresa stood and approached him, placing a hand on his arm and speaking sincerely. "You'll get the hang of it, Scott. Why, I'll bet you're being too hard on yourself, anyway. Before you know it, you'll be running this place. That's what you need to focus on now. Johnny will be fine. I'll see to it."

She watched as he visibly relaxed, smiling softly at her. "That is excellent advice, Teresa."

*

Murdoch went back to work the next day, stopping in to check on Johnny twice before he left the house. Both times, his son was sleeping soundly with only a slight fever present and he was grateful the worst was over. He hated leaving Scott to his own devices so soon and knew the young man, though capable and willing, still needed a lot of guidance.

He smiled as he rode over the land, thinking Scott was settling down some now. He hadn't been so sure these weeks if his eastern-bred son would fit into the life out here. He was more than pleased to find Scott hard at it on the fence line.

He reined to a stop on the rise just above the road where the men were working and just watched. Scott's shirt was already stained with sweat as he worked alongside Frank.

Occasionally, Scott's head would turn to the man and Murdoch could see he was speaking. Frank would reply, Scott would nod and go back to it. He sighed with simple pleasure then kneed his horse down the gentle slope.

The only one to pause in the work was Scott as the horse approached. He gave his father a nod then turned back to the line. Murdoch stepped down and walked along the fence, nodding in satisfaction.

"Looks good, men," he called. Stopping by his son, he eyed the sky. "Must be about chow time."

Frank took the hint and stopped, dropping his hammer and rolling his shoulders. "You heard the boss. Lunch!"

Scott watched with amusement as they all dispersed toward the wagon. "You do swing a lot of weight, as Johnny would say."

Murdoch smiled and shrugged. "Well, it is lunch time. Ride back to the house with me."

Scott was hesitant. "Well, I thought it would be more prudent to stay here. The ride will eat up a lot of time that could be better used working."

"True. You seem to be settling in."

It was a question though not asked as such and Scott regarded his father. "Yes, I'm getting into a routine." His tone was less than enthusiastic.

"You don't seem to be too happy about it."

He looked past Murdoch then paced off a few feet before turning to face the man again. "Well, Sir, I suppose I'm just wondering what more there is to life out here. I am not afraid of hard work but, there has to be more than that."

"This land is unforgiving, Scott. Yes, there are times when we enjoy ourselves. There are barn dances and parties on occasion but, this isn't like Boston. There's not exactly a social calendar."

He smiled a little as he bowed his head then looked back up. "I didn't expect there to be. Just some reassurance is nice."

"As soon as Johnny is back on his feet, the two of you should go into town together some Saturday."

Scott rolled his eyes. "Do I have to take my little brother along?"

Murdoch's eyes widened until he saw the smirk then he chuckled. "Yes, you do and I expect you to look after him."

*

Scott arrived home just before dusk. After caring for his horse and washing some of the days grime from his body, he walked into the living room to find Murdoch, glass in hand and extended in an offering. He smiled and took the drink.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. How far did you get today?"

"About another half mile."

"A half mile? That's wonderful!"

Scott was a bit taken aback and surprisingly pleased at the compliment. "You've got good men working for you."

"Us, Scott. *We* have good men working for *us*."

"Of course. I'll get used to that soon, I'm sure. How's Johnny?"

"Sleeping a few minutes ago. He was asleep when I left this morning, too."

Scott frowned at that. "Is that normal?"

"He's been through a lot. I suppose his body needs to catch up. Teresa will keep a close eye on him. But, if he doesn't wake up, soon, I'll wake him. He has to eat."

"Yes, as do I. I'm starving!"

Murdoch laughed and slapped him on the back then turned and went to a chair. Scott stared after him, surprised again by this giant of a man. A simple slap on the back may not have been much but he wasn't used to displays of "¦ affection? Yes, he supposed that's what it was. Perplexed but unwilling to chance speaking of it, he joined his father and relaxed.

Thirty quiet minutes passed but they were comfortable minutes. Scott didn't feel obligated to make conversation. Both men content to just be. Teresa walked in to announce supper and they settled at the table.

"Has Johnny slept a lot today?" Murdoch asked.

"Off and on. I found a book for him to read though he didn't seem too interested in it. I guess it's better than staring at the ceiling."

"He's eating, though, isn't he?"

Teresa smiled. "Oh, yes. He's already had his supper in fact. I took it up half an hour ago. I'll check on him after we eat."

"I don't want you wearing yourself out, young lady. Just because you've taken over his care doesn't mean you have to do it all alone. Scott and I will help out."

"Of course we will. I'll keep him occupied for a few hours tonight," Scott offered.

"I really don't mind and it's not wearing me out. Besides, it's good practice for when I get married someday."

Scott blinked then regarded his father. "Has she always been this practical?"

"I'm afraid so." Murdoch sighed and shook his head lightly at her. She really was too practical.

*

After supper, Murdoch made his way to Johnny's room to find Teresa coming out, covered tray in hand.

"Did he eat?"

"Every bite," she replied airily. "I've already changed his bandage tonight. He just nodded off so don't wake him."

Murdoch watched her walk to the stairs then stepped into Johnny's room. Seemed he wasn't going to get even a minute with his son today. Every time he went in there, Johnny was asleep. Bad timing, he surmised as he watched the young man lying bonelessly in the bed.

Suddenly, Johnny's right hand twitched and Murdoch sat in the chair beside him, waiting to see if he awoke. Johnny frowned then muttered something unintelligible. He seemed a bit restless and Murdoch decided he was dreaming.

From the look on his face, it wasn't a good dream. He reached over and shook his son's arm a little. Johnny's eyes opened for a second and Murdoch peered at him but his eyes closed again almost immediately. Frowning, Murdoch thought something didn't seem quite right about that but he didn't get the chance to linger on the thought.

Scott came tearing into the room. "I'm sorry but Frank wants you in the barn. Zanzibar is sick."

*

Murdoch and Scott spent the majority of the night in the barn with a colicky Zanzibar. Scott had learned fairly quickly that Murdoch valued this animal above most others and he wondered at this fondness for their mount.

As a cavalry man, he knew the importance of a good horse but he never got close to one. In fact, he made a conscious decision not to become attached to any animal he rode. Not since he'd lost Harvey.

He smiled fondly at the thought of the pony he'd received as a birthday present in his sixth year. Grandfather had taken him for riding lessons every Saturday that summer and, before the school year started, Scott was an accomplished rider.

His instructor had said he was a fast learner and rode better than many adults he'd taught. He remembered the man fondly, even if he did poke a little fun for the naming of the animal. But, Harvey just fit the horse and Scott loved it. Then, Harvey died in a barn fire and Scott vowed to never care for any animal like that ever again.

Even now, as a grown man, he found it hard to understand how Johnny treated Barranca. Oh, he cared for Remmie but it wasn't the same. And he still didn't get the name which Johnny wasn't exactly willing to explain to him. Of course, he'd only asked once but since all he got as a response was that damned grin, he hadn't asked again.

Maybe, he'll tell me now, he thought as he watched Murdoch with Zanzibar.

By the time Murdoch was willing to turn the horse's care over to a hand, it was nearly one o'clock. Scott was blinking and rubbing his eyes, exhausted and ready for bed. He looked over at his father as they walked toward the house and saw he was spent as well.

Neither said a word until they reached the upstairs landing and even then, it was only a murmured goodnight.

*

The next morning, Murdoch was up early as usual and looked in on Johnny. Of course, he was asleep. He sighed and went downstairs, wondering when his son would start feeling lively again. Well, Sam would be out in a day or two. He'd get his answers then.

Scott stumbled into the kitchen a few minutes later and Murdoch gave him a sympathetic look. "You could have slept in, son. We were up so late."

"I'm alright, Sir, but I'll remember that for the future."

Murdoch smiled, very happy to hear Scott talking about the future in any sense. Funny, how he seemed to flourish since Johnny had been hurt. Maybe, putting them together wasn't such a good idea. He'd hoped the brothers would get to know each other better if they worked together. Murdoch was beginning to see the flaws in that plan. Well, once Johnny was on his feet again, he'd have to reorganize a little.

Teresa took it all in from the stove, a smile on her face as she heard Scott's voice. He seemed so much more relaxed now. She'd been worried about him feeling comfortable here after living in the city all his life. He hadn't done too well up to this point but that was all changing and she couldn't be more pleased. She thought Scott a wonderful young man with intelligence and manners and loads of charm. A perfect son for Murdoch.

A perfect man, really. She blushed slightly then berated herself for such foolish thoughts. Loading a platter with flapjacks, she served the men then joined them.

"Will you be home today, Murdoch?"

"No, sweetheart. I have a lot to do today. I hate missing Johnny again but I can't wait for him to wake up. Tell him I'll definitely see him tonight?"

She smiled and nodded. "Of course. I'll keep him occupied. Don't you worry about Johnny."

"I know he's in capable hands but remember what I said; I don't want you wearing yourself out."

"We'll be fine. Maria can help me if I need her."

Scott smiled at the girl. That word popped in his head again. Practical. It seemed to him Teresa didn't do much else but work. He thought to talk to Murdoch about that. The old man was protective of her but she was pretty self-sufficient.

*

Murdoch Lancer's face was granite as he surveyed the damage. Scott waited almost breathlessly to see how the man would react but his father said nothing for a long time; just turned and started walking around. Thinking, Scott surmised.

"We can't leave it this way. We'll have to start repairs right now. Frank, go back to the ranch and get some more supplies and food. We'll have to stay out here tonight, maybe tomorrow, too. Oh, and let Teresa know."

The ranch hand simply nodded then vaulted into the saddle and rode off.

"Did the stampede cause this?" Scott asked.

"Yes. The cattle tore right through the fence. If you look here, you can see the hoof marks right next to the bridge support. It's not a big bridge but we have to have it to access the rest of the ranch here."

Scott nodded as he examined the area his father pointed to. He leaned over and rubbed a hand over the splintered wood then shook his head. "That's a lot of damage for cattle to make."

Murdoch had to smile a little. "Think of it in weight, Scott. Tons of weight slamming into that support."

"Well," he sighed as he stood up, "I haven't slept under the stars in quite a while. Should be interesting." He smiled at Murdoch but the man was frowning again. "What is it?"

"Oh, nothing. I just ... I'm sure he'll be fine."

"The doctor was coming out soon, wasn't he? Teresa can handle Johnny with one hand, I'm sure."

"I'm sure she can." Murdoch patted him on the back then walked over to talk with the men.

*

Scott held the wooden plank and dug his heels in as Frank leveled the other end and began hammering it into place. His feet were soaking and cold in the water and he prayed he wouldn't lose his footing. He almost smiled as a vision of Frank careening into the creek came to his mind. The smile faded as he thought of the man being possibly injured and he quickly refocused his attention.

Frank tested his work then nodded to Scott who relaxed and repositioned himself to hammer his end into place. They'd been at it all day and there had been many pitfalls to consider. It was a slow job due to the danger. The water wasn't terribly deep but the run off was rapid. He hammered the nails in then tugged on the board. There was no give and he nodded to Frank who sighed and trudged toward him.

Scott stepped out of the water and walked over for another plank. As he started back, he spied his father on the other side of the creek and smiled. Murdoch Lancer standing in two feet of water was a sight to see.

Frank saw his face then followed his gaze, a slight smile coming to his own face. "No one works harder than Mr. Lancer."

"Yes, I see. He's pretty tough."

"Never met a tougher man or a fairer one."

Scott looked at the man and smiled. "Well, we should have just enough light left to get this one set."

As they settled by the fire that night, Scott stuck his feet as close to the flames as he could. Murdoch sat on the log his son had found and dragged closer.

"Feet cold?"

"I don't know. I can't feel them anymore." Scott looked over at him and laughed at the frown. "I'm alright."

"You did a fine job today, son."

"Thank you. So did you although, I must confess, it was a sight; watching you wading around."

Murdoch chuckled a little. "Last year I fell in the river during the drive. The year before that, I found a nice mud hole. I can't seem to make it through a cattle drive dry."

A wicked grin came to Scott's face. "When is the drive?"

"Not for a few months."

"Good, I wouldn't want Johnny to miss it."

Murdoch gave him a sidelong look. "Don't get any ideas about making sure it happens."

"Who me?" Scott gave his most innocent look, almost wounded, at the implied accusation.

*

Two days later, Murdoch and Scott returned to the house exhausted. It was nearly six o'clock and Scott wasn't sure what he wanted more. His supper or a bath. His back was aching from the hard ground he was no longer used to sleeping on. He grimaced at the thought that he'd ever grown used to it before but, he had. As he dismounted, he winced and rubbed at his lower back.

"Sore?" Murdoch was amused but proud of his son. Scott worked as hard as any man and never complained.

"A little. I was thinking a bath sounded very good right now."

Murdoch opened the front door and stepped inside. "Well, you may have time for it. I'm sure Teresa didn't cook much supper. Go ahead and I'll let her know we're home then ..."

"You want to check on Johnny. Tell him I'll be up to see him in a while." Scott smiled then headed up the stairs.

As he watched his son ascend the staircase, Murdoch felt an overwhelming sense of relief for being home. Working side by side with Scott had been a remarkable experience and he'd gained some insight into his son. Though, he would have preferred not having to sleep outside for it. With a chuckle, he headed to the kitchen and found Teresa at the stove.

"Oh, you're home!" She walked over and hugged him. "Is everything alright?"

"The bridge is back in operation. Scott headed up for a bath."

"How did he do?"

"Very well. I couldn't be more pleased." Murdoch squeezed her shoulder, pulling her closer.

"I'm so glad. I was worried but he's settling in well now."

"How's Johnny?"

She pulled away and returned to the stove, stirring a pot. "He's fine."

"Not chomping at the bit to get out of that bed?"

"Not yet."

"Has Sam been out yet?"

"No, I haven't seen him."

Murdoch frowned at this. "He was supposed to be out by now."

"I'm sure he just got delayed. You know how it is, Murdoch. Why don't you sit down? I have soup ready and I can make you a sandwich. I wish I'd known you were coming home today but I just wasn't sure."

"This is fine, dear. Soon as I eat, I'll check on Johnny."

"Alright but I already fed him a little while ago."

*

Scott fairly melted into the steaming water, sighing as his muscles loosened. He wondered how long he could stay in before the water cooled on him and decided the timing would be just about right. He was pretty hungry already so, by the time Teresa fixed a meal, he'd be ready to get out.

It had been a good two days with Murdoch. Working with his father was a new experience and he had to admit, he was impressed with the man. He worked as hard as anyone plus oversaw every facet of the work. There'd been no time for much conversation, both too tired each night to talk. But, he'd learned a lot about Murdoch, he thought.

Johnny's words came back to him. 'He watches us'. Scott smirked. And I watched him and I did learn some things. It seemed his brother was pretty insightful. He realized he'd missed Johnny these past few days. Missed working with him even though the younger man's silence sometimes got on his nerves. He imagined he got on Johnny's nerves, too, though.

Of course, he couldn't expect they'd all get along all the time. Three very stubborn men living under the same roof, working together, was bound to cause friction. So far, it had been minor but that would change, he was sure. Once they became more comfortable with each other; more apt to really speak their minds. He smiled at the thought of going a few rounds with his brother or his father.

A frown formed on his face as he realized the water was cooling. He grabbed the soap and scrubbed his skin then washed his hair. He gave himself another minute to relax then, with a regretful sigh, he grabbed the sides of the tub and stood up. Water splashed over the edge and he grimaced at that.

Scott stepped out of the tub onto the small area rug and began toweling himself dry. He caught his reflection in the long mirror and paused. Was that him? He stepped closer and stared at himself. His biceps were more pronounced as were his thigh muscles and chest. He smiled, pleased with the changes taking place in his body. He had to admit even though there were days when he was still sore, most of the time he felt really good. He found he had more energy for certain.

Maybe this life isn't so bad, after all. No, there's no maybe about it. I like it here. Once he allowed himself to admit that, he realized he had the patience to make this work with his family. He'd always had the desire so now, he imagined things would go much smoother.

Energized, he dressed quickly and made his way to the kitchen.

*

Murdoch sat in the chair by the bed and sighed out his frustration. This didn't seem right to him but, he had been gone a couple of days. Maybe it was bad timing but something told him to be wary. He reached out and shook Johnny's arm. He can always go back to sleep, he decided.

It took a few more shakes to rouse the young man who frowned and pulled his eyes open. "Well, hello there. Are you going to sleep your life away?" Murdoch grinned as Johnny yawned. The grin slid away as his son's eyes closed again.

"Johnny? Come on, wake up for a few minutes."

"Can't," he mumbled.

"What do you mean, you can't? Johnny, wake up."

He muttered something Murdoch couldn't understand but his eyes never opened again. Murdoch sat back and watched him, perplexed. He shouldn't be this tired. He'd been in that bed for a week now. No, something was wrong. He decided right then to send for Sam.

"How is he?" Scott asked as he walked in the room.

"Something's not right, Scott. It took a long time for him to wake up then he went right back to sleep. When I asked him to wake up again, he said he couldn't then just mumbled something. It's like he really can't wake up. I'm sending for Sam."

"He hasn't been here yet?"

"Teresa said he hasn't shown. That's not like him unless something's got him tied up. I'm sending for him."

Scott nodded as his father left the room then sat beside his brother. He reached out and shook Johnny's arm. Past experience told him his brother would wake quickly when disturbed but Johnny didn't budge. Scott tried again to no avail and knew his father was right. Something was very wrong.

After the firefight with Pardee, Johnny had been bed bound for a week from his gunshot wound. Every time Scott tried to enter the room quietly so as not to disturb him, Johnny would wake right up. As sick and hurt as he was then, Johnny slept lightly, it seemed. Now, he couldn't awaken.

Scott left the room in search of Teresa.

*

"Well, he has been sleeping a lot but there's not much else for him to do, Scott."

"Has he been eating alright?"

"Yes, mostly soups. I've made sure he gets plenty of fluids. What's wrong?"

"What's wrong? Teresa, he can't wake up."

She quirked her mouth and gave him an unconvinced look. "Well, he wakes up for me. Maybe he really is just very tired."

"I hope so but it doesn't seem likely. He didn't act this way when he was hurt before. He doesn't have a fever. It doesn't make any sense."

She watched him as he worried his lower lip. "Scott, what are you so concerned about?"

He looked up slowly, stunned at the question. "There is obviously more wrong here than a hurt leg. Why can't you see that?"

She simply shrugged. "I think you're overreacting. He'll be alright."

Scott just stared at her. There was no sympathy, no concern there at all. Was he overreacting? "Well, Murdoch has sent for the doctor so he'll be able to tell us."

She turned her back and walked toward the kitchen. "I'm sure it's nothing."

Scott shook the thoughts from his head. He didn't want to think Teresa hadn't been taking caring of Johnny as she said. She'd have no reason not to and why would she lie anyway? It was crazy, he decided.

*

"Come on, son. You have to drink." Murdoch held Johnny's head up, a glass to his lips but the young man was having none of it.

Scott watched from the foot of the bed, concern growing like a living, breathing thing in his mind. "Is he even awake?"

"A little, I think. He's closing his mouth whenever he feels the glass there."

"Teresa said he's been eating and drinking for her. Maybe he just isn't thirsty."

Murdoch sighed and eased his head back on the pillow then set the glass down. He leaned in when he thought he heard Johnny. "What, son? What did you say?"

"No mas."

"No mas? No more what, Johnny? Please, try, son."

Johnny only shook his head slightly and sighed out then fell quiet.

Murdoch stood and paced the room. "What the devil is taking Sam so long?"

"Was he in town?"

"No, he was at the Peterson's but he told Walt he'd be right here. Scott, let's take a look at that wound."

Scott rewrapped the bandage as he spoke. "It's healing well, nice and clean."

"I just don't understand what's going on here."

"That's why you're the rancher and I'm the doctor," Sam said from the doorway.

"It's about time you got here. Where have you been?"

Scott gawked at his father's outburst. He'd never heard him speak that way and especially to Sam Jenkins.

Sam glowered at him. "I've been doing my job, Murdoch. You are not the only family I have to tend to, you know. This is a big valley and Lancer doesn't own all of it!"

The two men just stared at each other for a few seconds until Scott lost his patience. "Never mind that! Sam, please take a look at Johnny."

*

Sam walked over to the bed. "Tell me what's been going on."

"We're not sure. Murdoch and I were out on the range the past two days. We just got back tonight. He won't wake up, well, only for a second then he falls right back to sleep. We just checked the wound and it's clean. He doesn't have a fever. Teresa said he's been fine with her."

"He won't drink for me, either. He was just awake a little but all he said was no mas," Murdoch added.

Sam frowned as he took it all in then he tried to wake Johnny without success. All he got was a slight moan for his trouble. He rubbed hard on Johnny's sternum and elicited a frown and a weak wave of a hand as the man tried to make him stop. Sam went on with his examination and checked the wound again.

"That head injury could have been worse than I first thought."

Murdoch sat on the bed opposite the doctor. "But, he was fine after that. Still, I haven't talked to him in three of four days now. He was asleep whenever I came in but I didn't think anything of it."

"His pupils are a little sluggish as are his reflexes." Sam frowned and shook his head. "I can't find anything else wrong with him. His heart rate is a little slow but he's been lying about. I'm afraid it could be that hit he took to the head. It usually shows sooner but head injuries are very hard to predict."

"What can we do?" Scott asked.

"Nothing but wait, I'm afraid." Sam turned to look at him. "And you say Teresa hasn't had any problems?"

"She said he'd been sleeping a lot but she figured it was boredom."

"He's been eating and drinking?"

"That's what she said." Scott's doubts began resurfacing. "Sam, wouldn't she have noticed if something was going on?"

"I would think so, Scott. This had to have started a few days ago from what you've told me and I really don't think the concussion would have taken this long to manifest problems." He scratched his head. "I must say, this isn't typical."

Once more, he did a sternal rub and got a little more reaction this time. Sam leaned in and took Johnny's shoulder, shaking vigorously. He leaned in and shouted the man's name directly in his ear.

Johnny frowned and turned his head and all three men held their breath.

*

Slowly, the blue eyes opened and Sam watched, noting Johnny couldn't seem to focus on anything. He blinked several times before the lids began to close again. Sam shook his shoulder once more and Johnny opened his eyes.

"Johnny, I need you to stay with me, now. Here, drink some water." Sam grabbed the glass and held it to his mouth.

Johnny clamped his mouth tightly and turned his head away. "No more," he whispered.

"No more what, Johnny?"

He sighed and licked his lips. "N'more mecin."

Sam frowned at the slurred speech and took a few seconds to interpret. "No, Johnny, it's not medicine. It's just water."

Johnny shook his head again and closed his eyes. "Mecin."

Sam sat back, perplexed. Then, he looked at the glass and raised it to his nose, taking a whiff. Not completely satisfied, he took a sip of the water and grimaced.

"Who put laudanum in this water?" he demanded.

Murdoch straightened his back. "What are you talking about? I just poured that water a little while ago. There's no laudanum in it."

"Poured it from where?"

"From the pitcher, of course."

Sam picked the pitcher up and smelled it. "There's laudanum in here, too. Who brought the water up?"

"Teresa did. She was setting it down when I walked in. Sam, this is ridiculous. Why would anyone put laudanum in a water pitcher?"

"To keep Johnny drugged." Both older men turned to Scott who continued. "There's no other reason, Murdoch, but to keep Johnny asleep. Why, I have no idea."

"But, who, Scott?"

He looked a little sadly at his father. "Only one person has been taking care of Johnny."

Murdoch stood slowly and rounded on his son. "Teresa would never do such a thing!"

"Then, let's ask her if anyone else has been in here." Scott's calm demeanor was a facade. He felt every nerve in his body sing at the implication and prayed he was dead wrong.

*

Teresa stared at her guardian, eyes wide as she took in the question. Slowly, she shook her head back and forth.

"If you thought he needed to rest, if he was getting too hard to handle, I might understand that, honey. Someone put laudanum in his water pitcher, Teresa. Who else has been in the house?"

"Just Maria. Murdoch, I didn't do it."

Scott watched her closely. Her fists were clenched and her whole body was shaking. He didn't know her well and maybe that was a plus right now. She seemed to be very nervous and frightened. If she was innocent, what reason would there be for fear? But, he knew he had to tread carefully. Speaking the facts was much different than making an accusation. An idea formed in his head.

"You said he's been fine with you."

She turned to look at Scott and nodded. "A little sleepy maybe but that's all."

"And you've been talking to him? Having conversations?"

"Yes, Scott."

"What did you talk about?"

Murdoch turned to him. "What difference does that make?"

"It will help us determine what his state of mind has been, Sir." Looking back to the girl, he pressed on. "What did you talk about?"

She shrugged and looked down then clasped her hands together. "Mostly I talked and he listened. He asked me about my father and growing up here. He asked me about Murdoch a little."

"What about me?"

She glanced at him briefly. "Just what you're like, really. He was just trying to get to know you, I think. He asked about things you like to do, books you like, that sort of thing. Most of the time it was just me chattering, Murdoch."

Scott cocked a brow at this. He didn't think it likely Johnny would ask her about Murdoch since he'd told Scott talking things to death wasn't the way to know a man. And he couldn't picture Johnny caring what kind of books Murdoch read. That was something he could easily see for himself. This wasn't adding up in his mind.

"Did you give him laudanum before changing his dressings?" Scott asked.

She glanced at him then turned and paced close to the sofa. "The first day then he wouldn't take it anymore. He said he didn't need it. I don't know how the medicine got in his water, Scott."

"Where is Maria?" Murdoch asked.

"She's with her sister, remember? Anita's grandson has been sick."

Murdoch nodded, remembering the cook telling him she'd be gone a few days before the bridge debacle. "Alright, sweetheart. Why don't you go to bed? We'll sit with Johnny tonight."

She opened her mouth then closed it, nodding and quickly leaving the room.

"There was no one else in the house, Murdoch."

The rancher turned and glared at his son. "I know you don't know Teresa well yet, Scott, but she doesn't lie."

Scott bit his lip and refrained from stating the obvious again. "Alright then, we need to set a trap."

*

Sam looked up when they returned to Johnny's room. "Well?"

"She doesn't know anything. Sam, what can we expect?" Murdoch walked over to the other side of the bed and watched his son sleep.

"It depends on how long this has been going on. If it's been the few days you told me about, it's not going to be pleasant but, it won't be as bad as it could be. He'll sleep through tonight most likely. He'll be sick to his stomach so be prepared. He won't feel like eating for a while. Don't force him but try and get some fluids down him. He might have some cramping and the pain will seem greater to him than it normally would. His body will crave the laudanum."

Sam sighed and shook his head. "You know, we're just now seeing the true effects of overusing this drug. It's so easily obtainable."

Scott listened closely and thought his brother had been through enough with his leg; now this? "What about his leg, Sam? It's still going to hurt when those bandages are changed."

"I know, Scott. I can give him something but it won't be as powerful a painkiller, I'm afraid. He's going to have to suffer through." He frowned more deeply then looked at his old friend. "He may ask for the laudanum, Murdoch. Might even plead for it but you can't give into him."

"Johnny won't do that, Sam. He knows what's happened to him."

"That won't stop the physical and emotional reactions. I'm just trying to prepare you."

Scott walked over and placed a hand on the doctor's shoulder. "Stay the night?"

"I'm afraid I can't but I'll come back in the morning."

*

Scott sat in the corner of the pitch black room behind the door trying his best to stay awake. It had been a battle with his father but he'd won this time. If it wasn't Teresa and, he prayed it wasn't, someone had done this. Johnny certainly didn't drug himself. He hated laudanum and only took it when practically forced. It didn't surprise him when Teresa had said he started refusing it. But, that only lent to his suspicions of the girl.

If he was wrong, he would have a lot of apologizing to do and he hoped that was the case. If he was right, Murdoch would be devastated. Still, Scott could think of no one else with free access to the house, the kitchen and Johnny's room. What puzzled him most was how anyone could get Johnny to drink the laced water if he were aware. The taste of laudanum was bitter and not easily hidden, especially in plain water. He surmised Johnny had agreed to take it for the bandage change then had been getting it on a routine basis since. He didn't know how his brother had the presence of mind to refuse it from Murdoch tonight.

Maybe, Johnny knew who was there and knew he had the chance to tell someone what was happening to him. Yes, that was probably it. He knew it was Murdoch and trusted their father to help him. This idea gave him comfort. He'd seen the two of them together through this whole injury and he'd recognized the relationship building between these two men. It helped him immensely while he was struggling for his own place in this family.

What helped more than that was the two days he'd spent with his father on the range. There'd been no eye-opening revelations, not much talk at all but he'd *seen* his father clearly for the first time. Scott had liked what he saw. He grimaced a little as Johnny's words came back once more. Talking wasn't going to cut it. He almost laughed aloud and wondered how his brother had gotten so smart.

Suddenly, he heard a small squeak and peered through the darkened room. He thought he saw the doorknob turn and he readied himself.

*

Scott found he couldn't breathe as he watched and listened as her skirts rustled softly against the wooden floor, muffled as she reached the throw rug by the bed. She turned and looked at his brother's sleeping form then pulled something from her pocket. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears as he watched her uncap the bottle and pour the contents into the water pitcher. Watched in stunned silence as she recapped it and replaced it in her pocket then used one finger to swirl the water within the pitcher then shake the excess into the air.

She leaned over Johnny, her face a mere inch from his own and whispered something Scott couldn't hear. He wasn't sure he would have heard it had she shouted. The pulsing in his ears had turned to a ringing sound. He shook his head, demanding his senses return to him and stood slowly, silently taking a few steps to the end of the bed.

She turned and gasped as her hand went to her bosom, her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide with fright. Then, her mouth began working though no sound came forth.


Scott's face was a picture of rage, blushed with an overwhelming sense of vengeance. But the only word that would come to him was a strangled, "why?"

She backed away only to find the table as she knocked into it, rattling the glass and lamp there. Shaking her head, she didn't answer only kept the same look of a trapped animal desperate to find an escape, her eyes darting to and fro and beyond him to the door.

Scott advanced, taking two more steps, his fists now clenched tightly at his sides, the truth of his eyes struggling to overwhelm his good sense. He was disturbed by the amount of anger but he couldn't think about that right now. "I asked you a question." His voice was stronger now, brooking nothing less than a truthful answer.

Suddenly, the room became lighter. Scott was aware of a presence behind him and he could smell the pipe tobacco that identified his father and see the flickering of the lamp against the wall. He didn't turn around, unwilling to let her out of his sight. She still looked like she would bolt at any moment and she wasn't going to escape his interrogation.

Murdoch stepped up to his son's side, casting a glance at his other son still sleeping. "What's going on here?"

"It was her!" Scott hissed, pointing an accusatory finger. "I watched her pour a whole bottle of laudanum in the water pitcher just now."

Surprised did not begin to cover Murdoch Lancer's reaction. He had no words for a moment. He was mortified and could only stare at her. After an achingly long pause, he inhaled a deep breath and allowed his mind to work. "Let's take this downstairs. I don't want Johnny disturbed."

Scott nodded and approached her, taking her arm firmly in his hand and guiding her out of the room. Murdoch hesitated then grabbed the water pitcher and followed.

*

In the living room, Scott was still holding her arm as Murdoch walked in. He then reached into her pocket and took the bottle out, confirming his accusation as he held it up for inspection.

Murdoch, face grim, walked over and set the pitcher down, took the bottle and looked sadly at her. "Why, Maria? Why would you want to hurt my son?"

Scott let her go as her eyes filled with tears. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

"I had to. I had to."

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other, the words difficult to make out for a second through her crying.

"Why?" Voice strong and demanding, Murdoch stepped closer to her.

She looked at him, her face wet. "He told me to. I had no choice."

Scott joined his father. "Who told you to? You aren't making any sense. Now, tell us the truth!"

Her lips quivered as her eyes went upward and she made the sign of the cross. "God," she whispered reverently.

Scott snorted and rolled his eyes. "Playing crazy won't get you out of this, Maria. How dare you drug my brother?"

In a flash, her face calmed and she looked steadily at him. "Your brother? Now, he is your brother? He holds you back, Scott. He keeps you from learning of your father, of this life. He will destroy you. His sinful ways will destroy you all!"

Murdoch shook his head at her gall. "How dare you? You have no right to make decisions for this family."

"I did what I had to do, Senor. Scott is in danger. I see him try so hard only to be pushed back down by the pistolero. His sins will follow him here. His ghosts will come to ruin this house."

"That is ridiculous! My brother is not keeping me held back! And, even if he were, it's none of your concern."

"But it is, Senor. I am only His vessel. I only do His bidding."

"And the ultimate plan, Maria? What was that? To kill Johnny?"

She shrugged indifferently. "I do not yet know. He has not shared that with me."

Murdoch fairly growled as he held tight rein on his anger. "Get out of here. Leave this ranch and never come back!"

"You're letting her go?" Scott stared at him.

Sighing heavily, Murdoch lowered his voice. "What should we do with her, son? There's no law here."

Scott's jaw tightened even as he realized Murdoch was right. They could lock her up but for how long? No, it was better if she left. He nodded his understanding.

Murdoch turned back to Maria, solemn eyes regarding the woman. "I trusted you for years to run this house. I trusted you with Teresa and you betray me like this. If I see you on our land again, I won't be as charitable next time. Do I make myself clear?"

Eyes filling again, she nodded her head and walked toward the door. Suddenly, she stopped and turned. "Por favor, Patron. Heed my words. The pistolero will bring nothing but grief to this house and your heart. Do not trust him." Before either man could answer, she left.

*

They both just stood there staring at the front hallway. Scott was the first to move and he headed to the sideboard, pouring two whiskeys. He returned to his father and handed one off then took a large gulp of his own drink.

"How are we going to tell Johnny?"

Murdoch glanced at him before sipping from his glass. "Straightforward. She's obviously crazy. God told her to do it. What nonsense!"  

"Do you think she'll leave?"

"She'd better!" Murdoch walked around the room, his head slightly lowered. "I thought I knew her. She's been here for fifteen years. Teresa is going to take this hard."

Scott groaned a little then looked almost sheepishly at his father. "I owe Teresa a big apology."

"Yes, you do but it can wait for morning. I'm going to sit with Johnny. Try and get some sleep, Scott."

Scott watched his father ascend the stairs and thought he'd not be getting much sleep tonight. He was perplexed by the emotions that had engulfed him. He was livid with Maria, fearful for his brother and more than willing to protect a man he barely knew. With a smirk, he realized 'barely knew' was generous.

Yes, he knew Johnny was a gunfighter but he really hadn't given that much thought before. Why, he couldn't fathom. It was surely a huge part of who he was. But, if his brother's past caused problems, they'd face it together. In the past week, more than the preceding months combined, Scott had become acutely aware that this was his home. He'd fought for it and he intended to keep it and his family. The past would not tear them apart no matter what that crazy old woman thought.

He took a deep breath and walked around the room, extinguishing the lamps. He felt cloistered suddenly and decided to step out into the garden to, hopefully, clear his mind.

*

Murdoch settled in a chair next to his son's bed and watched Johnny sleep. His face was so relaxed, there were no lines of laughter or worry or whatever else went through his son's mind when he'd notice a frown or wince in the expressive face. He was surprised how well he and Johnny got along. This one surprised him period.

What he'd expected was not what he'd gotten. It seemed Johnny settled in here fairly easily. Seemed that way. But, he was easy going and comfortable around his old man. Old man. Murdoch shook his head a little. The first time Johnny had called him that it was not as an endearment. But, not since that first day had he used the words as a weapon. There was a softness to his voice whenever he referred to his father with that moniker now.

Murdoch couldn't fathom the why of it. How Johnny could forgive all the past transgressions he'd been assaulted by. Murdoch wouldn't take all the blame for that but he still felt a measure of guilt for the life his son had lived. But, he'd tried so hard to find the boy. And failed. Now, he was a man. Well, most of the time. A small smile came to the rancher's face. There were times when he saw the boy still inside that man and he cherished those moments.

The very thought that Maria would take it upon herself to 'rid' him of this 'danger' brought forth such a rage of injustice, he found it hard to quell. How many times had injustice been reined down on his son's head? Well, no more. Not now that he had him home. Not now that they were finally becoming the family they should have always been. He would protect his sons from any and all threats until he drew his last breath.

*

Scott ambled around the garden, taking in the slight breeze and the aromas it carried. He'd been so sure Teresa had been the culprit. Even though she wasn't, he still thought it odd she hadn't noticed anything. Johnny didn't get this way overnight. It was obvious Maria had been at it for a couple of days at least because he'd been out like a light for days. Why would she pretend to leave the house, say she was going to her sister's if she hadn't? No one was any the wiser at that point.

Maybe she had planned to sneak back tonight and finish Johnny off. Then, she'd have an alibi. But, she hadn't. She'd only dosed the water pitcher again. It made no sense to him. This garbage about God telling her to do it didn't wash either. He'd been around her enough to know she wasn't insane. There had been no indications prior to this she had any problems at all. And Murdoch would have surely seen something over the years. A person didn't suddenly get crazy and start hearing voices, did they?

He stopped walking and cocked his head to one side. Listening closely, Scott thought he heard someone talking then, it was quiet. He smirked a little. Maybe he was hearing voices now. But, there it was again. Quietly, he made his way to the corner of the house, toward the back as the sounds grew a little louder.

They were whispering, whoever it was. He stopped and peeked around the wall. He couldn't see anyone but he could still hear them. Slowly, he eased forward, using the trees as cover. It was too strange, someone being out here so late at night, whispering and hiding in the shadows. He didn't want whoever it was to discover him before he discovered them.

With a stealth born of hard learned army lessons, Scott moved through the trees making sure his feet found soft grass, not dried twigs or leaves. He leaned against the elm, stretching his neck to peer through the darkness. He head Maria's voice then and his blood began to boil. Finding his reserve, he waited to hear the other voice. He couldn't see them really, just two shadows against the wall of the house but Maria's voice reached his ears clearly.

He saw her reach out and grab at the other person, pulling them closer. Scott's heart stopped when that person stumbled forward into the scarce light of the half moon.

*

"You must finish it!" Maria hissed. "We agreed if the drug did not work, we would go to the next plan. Well, it did not work and I have been thrown out of the only home I have known for fifteen years! It is up to you to finish what we have started, nina."

Teresa struggled against the firm grasp of the older woman. "I can't, Maria! They'll know it was me! Besides, it's not working anyway."

"In time, Senor Scott will grow into the man he is meant to be. El Patron. That cannot happen as long as the pistolero lives in that house!"

"I know but nothing has worked! Nothing has happened like you said it would. He wasn't supposed to die, Maria. He was supposed to get addicted to laudanum, like you said."

"It is too late for that now! Senor Lancer will not believe he is worthless. We have no other choice now. All you have to do is use the arsenic. Use all of it. He cannot survive that. They believe the danger has passed and won't be watching so closely now."

Eyes wide with astonishment, she shook her head vehemently. "No, I can't. Johnny's past will die down, just like Murdoch said."

Maria snorted and shook her head. "He is blinded by his love for that puta! He cannot see the bastard child as he truly is. He will not hear the truths of Madrid's deeds. They talk of his courage in Mexico but they are speaking from fear. I have told you how he is, Teresa. Soon enough, he will come for you when they are not here to protect you. And now, I will not be here either. Listen to me, nina, and listen well. Madrid will take you for his own just as I have told you. El Patron will not believe you, either. He will banish you as he has banished me! You must rid this family of the evil in this house and you must do it tonight!"

Teresa paled at the words once more thrust at her. She had a hard time believing Johnny capable of such things but Maria was like a mother to her and would not lie. "He's always been so nice to me, so sweet."

"Si. He lies in wait like a mountain lion. Waiting to strike when the opportunity comes. Our plan to shame him before his father's eyes was not enough. He must die."

"No, I won't do it! I can't! Please, don't ask me!"

*

Scott had heard enough and he stepped out into the clearing, his strides long and purposeful as he approached the two women. Never in his life did he think he'd been so angry, so beyond livid and he wasn't sure he trusted himself in that moment. He needed every ounce of self-restraint he possessed not to throttle Maria.

"Teresa! Get in the house and wait for me in the living room."

She stared blankly at him, her color drained even further at being caught out. His glare propelled her into action and she fled the scene.

Scott grabbed Maria's arm and walked her quickly to the front of the house but he didn't stop there. He kept going until he'd reached the bunkhouse, all the while wondering how the men would react. At the moment, he didn't much care and was ready to fire anyone who spoke up for this hateful woman.

Maria struggled against his hold, terrified at his intent but Scott only tightened his grip on her bicep as he opened the bunkhouse door.

It was late but he didn't care. He kicked the first bunk he came to and roused Frank Jackson.

The hand shot up and looked around, wild-eyed and ready for a fight.

"It's me, Frank. I need a guard."

The hand rubbed his face to wake up then came to his feet. "A guard? What's goin on?"

"I don't have time to explain. I want you to lock Maria in the guardhouse and keep her there until you hear from me or my father. Understand?"

The man could only nod as he didn't seem able to close his mouth. He grabbed his gunbelt and boots and quickly donned both then followed Scott to the only jail for miles around.

Once satisfied Maria was well ensconced, Scott's exhaustion peeked out from his tense shoulders. He sighed tiredly as he thought of his next task and wondered if he shouldn't just throw Teresa in here, too. Grimacing, he knew that would not go over well with his father. He wondered how Murdoch would react to all this. As he walked to the house, he pondered the conversation he'd overheard.

It seemed to him Maria was manipulating Teresa, frightening her with warnings of rape and pillaging, apparently. Admittedly, he didn't know his brother very well but he couldn't imagine Johnny as the type who would force a woman. His brother seemed very easygoing and charming in a rustic sort of way. The type of man who would use that charm to gain favor with a lady rather than the brute force he knew Johnny capable of when facing dangerous men.

In fact, every encounter he'd witnessed between Johnny and these women, the man had displayed a great amount of respect. He teased with Teresa and usually referred to her as a 'girl' never a woman. That's how Scott thought of her as well. Just a girl.

He paused at the front door and pulled in a long breath before walking into the house.

*

Teresa sat in a chair in the dark corner of the living room twisting a handkerchief in her hands. Tears stained her cheeks and she sniffled then tensed as she heard the front door open. Slowly, she stood to face Scott's wrath and to, hopefully, try to explain.

He said not a word as he lit a lamp, turning the wick up high to brighten the room. Scott walked over and poured himself a drink, tossing it back and setting the glass down before turning to face her.

"Please, let me explain."

"I intend to but not without Murdoch in the room. I'm sure you don't want to have to do this twice. Just stay right there." He left the room and she shuddered with fear at the thought of facing her guardian.

Scott paused outside Johnny's room for just a second before tapping on the door and opening it. He simply tossed his head to indicate Murdoch come to the hall. When his father closed Johnny's door, Scott's knees went a little weak.

Quickly, he explained what he'd found, leaving the conversation he'd overheard for downstairs. He watched his father's face turn to stone and knew the man was fighting not to believe this. Without a word, Murdoch walked past him and to the stairs. Scott closed his eyes briefly and joined his father.

A bit to his surprise, Teresa was exactly where he'd left her. He watched, staying close to Murdoch as the man came to a stop ten feet from the girl.

"Sit down. Start from the beginning and don't leave anything out." It was a demand Murdoch Lancer fully expected to be followed.

Teresa fell into the chair and hunched forward, still wringing the lace handkerchief in her fists. "I'm not sure when it began exactly. While Johnny was still recovering from the firefight, I think. Maria made a couple of remarks about him but I told her Johnny wasn't like that. She stopped for a while then started again a few weeks ago when Johnny went to work."

"What remarks?" Murdoch ground out the question.

She glanced at him before lowering her eyes to her hands again. "That he was dangerous and had a bad reputation. Nothing specific. Then, she said how Scott was having such a hard time. Well, I could see that as well. I wanted so much for Scott to feel at home here. Maria said it was because of Johnny. Because Scott didn't trust him since he was a gunfighter and that Scott wasn't safe here. She said Scott was too brave to back down from Johnny and it would get him killed. That Johnny would lose his temper and hurt Scott and that would hurt you, Murdoch.

"She said you seemed to trust Johnny too easily and the two of you were getting along where you and Scott seemed to be struggling. She said Johnny was worming his way in so he could get you to send Scott away or worse." She stopped and wiped her nose, swallowing hard before going on. "She came up with a plan to make Johnny look bad in your eyes, Murdoch. She said you needed to see him as he truly was. She started the stampede. I told her it was dangerous, that both Johnny and Scott could get hurt but she didn't listen. She thought she could make it look like Johnny's fault only it didn't turn out that way.

"Then, she thought of the laudanum. She said she had a nephew who was addicted to it and he'd shamed the whole family. She said that would show you who Johnny really was."

"And when that didn't work, she wanted you to kill him with arsenic." Scott supplied the information with full sarcasm.

*

Murdoch's head jerked toward his son, his mouth hanging open in shock.

"He was never supposed to die. I couldn't do that! But, she said he'd come after me. He'd ... hurt me."

Again, Murdoch's head turned, now back to Teresa but he still couldn't comprehend what was being said. Could not fathom any of it.

"Maria told her Johnny would rape her when we weren't around. She said he was evil, basically." Scott laid it out plainly, all the while feeling deep sympathy for his father. He knew this was killing Murdoch. Two people he'd trusted had betrayed him.

"How could you believe any of that, Teresa?" Murdoch's voice was a whisper of its usual tone as he stared at her.

Her eyes filled with tears again and she blinked, letting them spill over. "She's been like a mother to me, Murdoch. Maria wouldn't lie to me. She said she knew all about Johnny Madrid. All about the horrible things he's done."

"She told us God told her to do it. Does that sound like a rational woman to you?" Scott stood up, his fists clenched tightly as he tapped them against his legs, working to calm himself. "What was that word she used? About Johnny's mother?"

Teresa's cheeks flamed and she shook her head, unable to speak it.

"Puta? Was that it?"

Murdoch came to his feet and glared at Scott then Teresa. "Did she call Maria that?"

Teresa only nodded.

"She called Johnny a bastard as well. What does it mean, puta?" Scott asked.

"It means whore," Murdoch ground out.

Scott dipped his eyes then shook his head. So much for talking to God if she could spew such filthy words.

"How could you do this to me, Teresa? You knew how much it meant to me to have my sons home. Why would you try to destroy that?"

"I didn't know him..."

"And you had no intentions of trying to, either!"

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't want to believe those things about Johnny. I wanted everything to work out. But, Maria kept telling me how horrible a man he is, how wicked and ... I didn't know what to do!" She buried her head in her hands and sobbed.

Murdoch was unfazed by her tears and he turned away from her, at a loss as to what to do.

"Perhaps you should go to your room now, Teresa, and stay there until we send for you." Scott's calm voice made it through her sobs and she ran from the room.

"I don't know what to do with her."

"Neither do I, Sir. Right now, I'd like you to try and get some rest if not sleep. I'll stay with Johnny."

"No, son. I can't ... I have to be with him. I have to protect him." Murdoch looked up quickly and grimaced. "I know you would protect him, I just meant ..."

"I know what you meant. He's your child. I understand." Scott forced a small smile which evaporated as his father turned and headed for the stairs. Wearily, he sat down and wondered how the hell they'd gotten to this place.

*

Scott found it ironic as he sat in the quiet living room of the predawn. He'd experienced so many new and challenging things since coming here but he never expected to face attempted murder and, supposedly, on his behalf. Had he made Maria and Teresa believe he was so miserable they would feel the need to go the these lengths? No, he shook his head. He was not going to blame himself for the rantings of a crazy woman.

He was beginning to see that Maria was indeed disturbed to some degree. That didn't mean she wasn't fully aware of what she was doing. She'd manipulated Teresa, using fear to goad the girl into this insanity. Who knew what else she'd said to the girl that Teresa may not have been aware was meant to instill fear in her.

Scott found it hard to believe Teresa could be afraid of Johnny. His brother was always gentle as a lamb around the girl which had, at one time, surprised Scott a little, truth be told. Johnny's actions when he'd first arrived didn't bode well for a friendly environment but Scott hadn't known what his plan was at the time. A dangerous plan to be sure. Infiltrating behind enemy lines was risky business at best. Lethal at worst.

She was just a child, after all. He couldn't help wondering how Johnny would see it, though. The very thought of explaining all this to his brother gave him a physical pain in his gut. Maybe it should be up to Johnny how they handled both females. He was the victim, after all. Would Johnny be altruistic? Scott didn't think so; didn't think he'd be able to under the circumstances.

Still, what he'd learned about his brother was they were quite different in how they viewed the world.

Knowing he'd get no sleep tonight, Scott headed to the kitchen to make coffee. He thought he'd check with the hands in a while and see if anyone knew how to cook, as well.

*

Murdoch watched closely as Johnny became restless. It had been nearly twelve hours since they'd discovered the drugging. He felt for fever and found none but he knew that was only one problem to watch for. What Johnny was about to endure was going to be agony and he knew nothing that would help his son get through this. Sam had explained the withdrawal symptoms in detail and it seemed they were in for a long haul.

Scott walked in with a coffee pot and two cups. "I don't think we'll be getting any sleep anytime soon."

"He's starting to get restless. I have to tell you, I'm dreading this."

Frowning at the thought of what was about to begin, Scott nodded. "I'm more worried how he's going to deal with it afterward. He seems to be a proud man to me. He won't like being so vulnerable."

Murdoch turned and looked at his older son. "That's an astute observation and very true. I don't know how to explain it all."

"I don't think we should until he's past this. I doubt he'll care much until then."

"I suppose," Murdoch mumbled as he reached over and took Johnny's twitching hand. "Easy, son."

Johnny frowned then moaned and opened his eyes, blinking away the long sleep and rubbing his face vigorously. He focused on his father.

"Good morning."

"Is it?" Johnny shot the question irritably.

The older men exchanged a wary look before Murdoch dug in. "I need you to listen to me, son. You've been getting laudanum regularly for a few days now. Sam said you're going to have some withdrawals and it's going to be hard but I know you can get through it." He stopped and waited for the reaction.

Johnny closed his eyes and let it sink in. "Why?"

"That's a long story, brother. We thought it best to wait until you get over this before dealing with the rest."

He opened his eyes and looked at Scott dispassionately. "You been ridin Barranca for me?"

Surprised by the change in subject, Scott took a minute to respond. "Yes, he's doing fine."

His hands clenched the bed sheet, his entire body trembling. He couldn't make it stop and he felt cold. Sweat popped out on his forehead but still, he was chilled.

Scott poured water in a basin and grabbed a cloth, wetting it to place on his brother's forehead.

Johnny opened his eyes as the man neared then shook his head. "No, I'm cold."

Scott nodded then went to the cedar chest at the foot of the bed. Before he could open the lid, Johnny sat straight up in bed, retching convulsively.

Murdoch jumped to his feet then moved to the bed, his hand on Johnny's forehead as the younger man's agony continued. There was nothing either of them could do but wait for it to end and it seemed a very long wait.

Finally, Johnny fell back, limp as a dishrag, onto the pillows and groaned loudly. He was saturated with perspiration now yet, still, his body trembled as if he were freezing.

Murdoch stayed where he was and extended an arm toward the water basin, nodding to Scott to indicate his want. Scott handed the wash cloth off then went back to the cedar chest, digging for fresh linens and fighting his own stomach's protests.

*

As he wiped his son's face, Murdoch watched a very little color return. Cheeks flushed more brightly though there was no fever.

"Cold," Johnny whispered then opened his eyes, blinking rapidly. One shaking hand came up and he rubbed at his eyes, trying to clear his vision without much success. Giving up, his hand flopped to his side.

"I know, son, but we need to clean you up first." Regretfully, Murdoch spoke the words, his voice shaky and unsure.

Johnny did little but moan and groan as they changed the bed linens. Goosebumps erupted on his skin as the old sheets were removed. At last, they had him covered in a blanket and quilt. Scott found two towels and laid them across Johnny's lap in case of further problems. And still, he shook.

He grabbed at his stomach and grimaced. Scott grabbed a waste basket and held it at the ready until Johnny turned and leaned over the side of the mattress. There wasn't much left but he endured the dry heaving for several minutes until his abused stomach gave up. Gingerly, Scott held a glass of water in front of his face and spoke softly.

"Just rinse your mouth out now, Johnny."

He nodded and did so, all the while fighting back another round. Rolling back on the bed, Johnny kept his eyes closed and licked his lips.

"Kill me, please."

Murdoch closed his eyes and bowed his head, praying for his son's release from this hell. It was so unfair, his anger began to build but he fought it back, unwilling to take the time away from caring for his son to indulge in thoughts of vengeance.

"Try to sleep, brother. It will make the time pass more quickly."

Murdoch looked over at his elder son and thought he might lose control. Scott's voice was gentle and full of concern; maybe even love. Murdoch thought so; prayed so. They hadn't had much time together yet to form a relationship. They deserved that and so much more.

Johnny's breathing evened out and it seemed he'd fallen into slumber. Scott sat back on his heels and let out a breath then pushed himself up and took the waste basket from the room without a word.

*

Once he'd cleaned the basket and washed up a bit himself, Scott went out to the bunkhouse. His eyes roamed to the building that housed Maria and anger flared deep inside him. Steeling himself and not swaying from his intended destination, he thought there'd be plenty of time to deal with the woman later.

He spoke to Frank once more, giving him some information but not all of it. He also arranged for someone to do the cooking then spoke with Cipriano about the ranch work. Scott didn't know exactly how long it would take for Johnny to recover from the withdrawals but he had no intentions of leaving either his brother or father until the crisis was over.

As he headed back to the house, he saw the buggy coming and sighed with relief. Maybe the doctor would have more information for them. He waited for Sam to step down.

"Good morning, Scott."

"I'm afraid it isn't. Johnny's having a rough time of it, Sam, and I'm glad you're here."

"Well, tell me what's happening while we walk." Sam grabbed his bag and set off to the house.

Johnny still appeared asleep when Sam and Scott walked into the room so the doctor kept his voice low. "Remember what I said about fluids. I know it's going to be hard but we can't afford to let him get dehydrated."

"I know, Sam. He said he wanted us to kill him. He's so miserable, I don't know what to do."

Sam looked at his long time friend with deep sympathy and a little relief. He'd worried how Murdoch would get on with his boys but it looked like, at least with Johnny, things were going well. "Ginger tea will help his nausea. Just make it lukewarm."

"Charlie is going to do the cooking, Murdoch. I told Frank a little of what's going on and gave he and Cipriano orders for the day. They'll report to us if there are any problems."

Murdoch smiled up at his son and nodded. "Thank you. I must be tired. I didn't even think of any of that."

"No one expects you to worry about anything else, my friend. But you both do need to try and get some sleep. This will go on for three days or so, I'm afraid."

"Three days? He's going to be puking his guts out for three days?" Scott's question was rent from his mouth. Johnny couldn't survive that. It would kill him.

"No, no. Not the vomiting. That should subside though it may be sporadic which is why the fluids need to be pushed at every opportunity. He's going to have chills then be hot. He'll..."

Johnny shot up in the bed, his eyes wild and panicked, his arms flailing. "Let go of her! Stop it!"

*

Murdoch grabbed his right arm just as it flew within an inch of his head then moved behind Johnny to hold him still. "Scott!" It was all he could say at the moment.

Scott grabbed his legs, nearly sitting on them to stop the almost running motion. When he looked up, Johnny's eyes were on him but it seemed as if he were looking right through Scott.

"Johnny, stop it! Calm down!" Murdoch shouted in his ear.

"No! Don't you touch her again! I'll kill you, you sonofabitch! I'll kill you! Mama, run!"

Murdoch tightened his hold even as his heart thumped painfully in his chest. He forced his voice lower and leaned in further. "Johnny, it's Murdoch. Calm down now. It's a dream, son. It's only a dream."

Instantly, Johnny slumped back against his father's chest but his eyes hadn't changed. His voice was a raspy whisper. "I'll kill you if it's the last thing I ever do. I swear to God, I will. I swear to the devil, I will."

Scott bit his lip until he thought it would bleed. His brother's eyes were still open, still staring at something Scott could never comprehend. Witnessing his mother's murder.

Johnny stirred again and looked down at his lap. He started to squirm and shout and Murdoch was nearly tossed off the bed.

"Get them off me! Get them off me!" He swatted at the blankets, scooting back, trying to get away.

Scott grabbed his face between his hands. "What, Johnny? Get what off you?"

"Bugs! Get them off me!"

"He's hallucinating," Sam explained when Scott gave him an odd look.

The young man turned back to his brother. Forcing Johnny's head up, he stared his brother in the eye. "Okay, Johnny, okay. I got them all. They're all gone now."

Sweat-soaked and nearly hyperventilating, Johnny seemed to focus on Scott's face. The pure misery there left Scott with a lump in his throat, then he saw something else. Grabbing the basket, he held it in front of Johnny just in time.

*

For three days it continued. The nausea had settled but the nightmarish hallucinations, chills, cramping and sweating raged on. Murdoch was exhausted but he refused to leave Johnny's side. Scott found a cot somewhere and dragged it into the room. They napped at intervals but neither got any decent sleep.

On the fourth morning, Johnny opened his eyes cautiously, distrusting of the calm in his body. Slowly, he raised his right hand and watched as it trembled slightly.

"Better?"

His eyes went immediately to the owner of the voice and he saw the worry and the weariness in his brother's eyes. He nodded, knowing his voice wouldn't work right and sure he couldn't swallow either. His mouth was full of cotton. He couldn't even seem to lick his lips.

Scott smiled a little and poured a glass of water. Slowly, he helped Johnny drink small sips until the younger man was worn out from the effort. Scott eased him back then washed his face gently.

"Thank you."

"Anytime, brother."

Johnny looked up at him, a small spark of his former liveliness evident in the blue eyes. The lines around his eyes crinkled slightly and his lips turned up. "I'll remember that."

Cocking a brow and regretting the off-handed remark already, Scott tried to use a firm tone. "Don't get carried away." His reward was a somewhat wider grin but it didn't last long as the young man closed his eyes and frowned. Scott touched his arm. "You okay?"

"Just wrung out and ..." he paused, still frowning and opened his eyes as if just realizing something. "Dios, I stink!"

Scott cleared his throat and sat back a little. "Yes, well, propriety kept me from mentioning it."

"You didn't have to."

"Maybe you'll feel up to a bath soon. I don't suppose you're hungry?"

Grimacing at even the thought, Johnny shook his head. "No, but I think I could handle some more water."

"Water? Get the water, Scott." Murdoch raised up on the cot, his eyes darting around as he tried to regain his equilibrium.

Johnny stared at him in stunned silence while Scott tried not to laugh too loudly.

"It's alright, Murdoch. Come over here. Someone wants to see you."

He looked at his elder son with confusion for a second before it dawned on him. Murdoch moved quickly to the bedside, sitting on the mattress and inspecting his younger as if he were a prime bull on the auction block. "How do you feel?"

"Tired, kind of sore and smelly."

Murdoch smiled and held his hand. "I think we can handle all of those things."

"He needs a drink, Sir." Scott stood at the foot of the bed most amused by Murdoch's behavior and simply relieved the worst seemed to be over. While his father tended his brother, Scott made for the door. "I'll be right back." He saw his father nod toward him then quietly left the room.

*

Johnny closed his eyes again and laid his hands across his chest, his fingers pressing against each other, twitching and nervous. He felt the hand on top his own and smiled a little, knowing how his little tics bothered the old man sometimes.

"You're going to need to eat pretty soon. Just some broth to start."

"Okay, in a little while. My stomach feels funny."

Murdoch's hand tightened on his own. "Are you going to be sick?"

"No, just like it's wore out. I can't explain it."

"You've been very sick, son."

He looked at his father, his eyes emotionless. "Yeah. I just want to try and sleep now."

Murdoch nodded and patted his hands before moving off the bed. He walked over and slid the window open then sat on the edge of the cot.

Johnny knew he was there and it bothered him to have someone watching him sleep but, he figured it was better than being totally alone. He tried to let himself go but he wasn't being too successful. Sometimes, you just can't put a thing off. He knew he couldn't stand this much longer. With a heavy sigh, he opened his eyes and looked at Murdoch.

"I can't stand this. It's one thing to be dirty from workin but this is much worse. I have to get washed up."

Murdoch was a little taken aback but he understood. As much as Johnny had been though the past three days, the young man was reeking and the room was faring no better. "Well, why don't I draw you a bath in another room then I can change your sheets."

"I don't want to put you out."

"You aren't, son. It's no bother at all. I'll be back in a little while." He walked to the door then turned back just to see once more. It was silly, he supposed but he didn't want to leave Johnny alone after all he'd been through. With a soft sigh, he walked out.

*

Murdoch headed down the hall then stopped short. Frowning, he walked to Scott's door and heard thumping then a bang of metal on wood. He knocked once and opened the door.

Scott looked up and smiled. "Is he asleep?"

"He said he can't sleep because he smells so bad."

"I thought as much. I decided if he did go back to sleep, I could always use a bath myself." Scott grinned a little and Murdoch chuckled.

"I was about to draw him a bath. His room is ... stuffy, as well."

"Murdoch, you do have a way of understating at times."

"That was very thoughtful of you, son."

Scott lowered his eyes for just a moment before facing his father with a shrug. "I just know how I'd feel if I'd gone through something like that."

The rancher walked closer and put a hand on Scott's shoulder. "You've been incredible. I don't know what I would have done without your help. I just want you to know how much I appreciate how you took charge like that."  

Embarrassed by the praise and surprised by his reaction, Scott felt his cheeks grow a little warm. "I've had some experience with taking charge."

"I know. And you did it after the firefight with Pardee and his men, as well." Murdoch swallowed before going on. "I'm proud of you, son."

Scott knew he couldn't take much more of this. His entire being flushed with a warm comfortable feeling. He concentrated on the empty pail in his hand. "Well, one more should do it." He stepped around his father and headed to the door.

"I'll get him ready. Thank you, Scott."

"You're more than welcome, Sir." With that whispered comment, Scott was out the door, a smile a mile wide on his face.

*

Johnny slept the rest of the night. Body and bed clean, he melted into the mattress and was gone before his head fully relaxed into the pillow. Scott watched with amusement but more concern. Now, his brother had to be told the truth of what had happened to him and he wasn't at all sure how Johnny would react.

For all they'd been through lately, he still didn't know this young man very well. Johnny had been so ill most of the time, there'd been no chance to talk. Scott was sure, even if there had been opportunity, Johnny would remain as close-mouthed as he'd been before the stampede. He supposed the only way he would get to know his brother was by watching his reactions to things, listening to the few comments he made and trying to read the sometimes unreadable face.

Somehow, that seemed alright now, though. It wasn't as important to him that they talk and talk. Maybe his brother had been right. Maybe the only way to know each other was by just being together. At least, he felt more comfortable with them now. Long hours watching over Johnny with Murdoch had shown him his father's true mettle. For that matter, it had shown him Johnny's, as well.

His brother was fiercely determined to live. The fight had been tortuous but, other than that one comment about killing him, Johnny had fought the good fight - and survived. Scott wondered how many times that had happened in his young life. He shook that thought away, knowing he may never have an answer. Did it really matter? They were all here together now; right now and right here. That's all they could really count on.

He thought back to his father's comments to him earlier and smiled without at first realizing it. How good it had felt to get that acclamation from his 'old man'. Scott laughed softly into the darkened room. Feelings of contentment wrapped him in a cozy web and he leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes.

Stunned was the best word, he supposed. Stunned by his own ability to conquer this ranching business. It seemed once he was left to running things himself, he'd had no problem making decisions; sound decisions. He supposed he'd been so worried over what seemed insurmountable, he'd let himself feel defeated before really trying. Not his usual way but then, there was nothing usual about this whole situation. Oh, he knew there was more, so much more to learn but it didn't seem so impossible now. In fact, it seemed almost a given and he felt more relaxed and confident in himself. More like his old self.

He looked forward now to working with Johnny, getting his brother back on his feet and healthy. He knew they had a long way to go. Johnny's leg was healing, at least, and he was over the worst of the withdrawals. But, he still had to deal with the root cause and that wasn't going to be pleasant. Scott hadn't given much thought to Maria or Teresa the past three days. He knew they were being fed and watched and he couldn't deal with them while Johnny was so sick. Now, they'd have to be dealt with only, by Johnny. His brother would have to be the one to make this call. Scott frowned, wondering if Murdoch would allow that especially where Teresa was concerned. He didn't know his father's feelings on the subject yet. Had no idea what Johnny would want done. Well, maybe, he didn't.

He allowed himself to imagine Johnny's reaction and subsequent actions then decided to wait and see if he was right about it. If he was, he thought he'd feel much better about the prospect of knowing his brother well. If he was wrong, he supposed he'd have to start from scratch.

*

"Okay, old man! Just ease up!"

Murdoch stopped on the stair and looked down at his son's dark head. "You're not as strong as you think you are, Johnny."

"I know how strong I am. You're gonna bust my ribs if you don't ease up, though."

Murdoch's lips quirked as he eased the grip on his son's waist. "Lead the way," he said with a wave of his free hand.

Johnny looked up at him and smirked then started down the staircase again. By the time he reached the bottom, his legs were shaking badly and his left was throbbing. He leaned into his father, breathing hard and trying not to show it.

"I know you hate this but I can carry you if you need me to."

His voice was so soft, so ... careful, Johnny had to smile. He shook his head but wouldn't look at his father. "Not this time but, you never know. I'm okay. Just go slow."

Sucking in a breath and clamping his jaw, Murdoch ordered himself to hold it together. He helped Johnny to the sofa and sat him down then swung his legs around. Grabbing a throw blanket off the back of the sofa, he covered his son then knelt next to him. Johnny's eyes were closed, sweat beaded his forehead and his breathing was heavy. Murdoch said not a word until Johnny opened his eyes again.

"Water?"

"Please."

Once sated, Johnny relaxed on the sofa and watched his father watching him. It tickled him to see this side of Murdoch. It seemed the old man was more attentive now than he'd been the first time. Well, they were both unsure of each other then. Hell, Johnny, it was only a couple of months ago. Ain't like we've been living together for years.

Seeing a change in Murdoch's expression, Johnny grew more alert. Curious as to what the old man was thinking, he waited a few seconds but, not surprisingly, Murdoch wasn't saying a word.

"What's on your mind?"

He blinked then looked at his son. Moving to sit on the coffee table and leaning forward, he hung his hands between his knees and shook his head. "A lot."

"Yeah, but Scott's doin really good running things, isn't he?"

The man's smile lit his face. "He's doing a wonderful job."

"Then, what's troubling you?"

"You. Rather, what happened to you and why."

Johnny tensed and drew in a breath. "I have a bad feeling I don't want to know. Maybe we could wait a little while on that. If I'm gonna be mad, I want to be able to move around."

Murdoch had to chuckle a little. He patted Johnny's knee. "Alright, son. When you're ready."

*

In the two days since he'd gone back to work, Scott was having trouble concentrating. He couldn't get his mind off Johnny, Maria and Teresa and he wondered when Murdoch would tell his brother the truth. It wasn't like Murdoch to hold back, that was certain. As he rode in hot, tired and hungry, he almost hoped they hadn't had that conversation yet. He wasn't sure he was up to dealing with the fallout.

Uncharitable thoughts, perhaps, but he couldn't help it. Every time he thought of that woman he wanted to wring her neck. Frank had kept him updated on her. Evidently, she'd been doing a lot of pacing and talking to herself in that cell. Scott still didn't think she was crazy unless she was crazy like a fox.

As for Teresa, she'd been quiet as a mouse. Not a peep came from her room. Charlie took her meals to her and left them at the door, giving a knock and walking away as instructed. Scott didn't know what to expect from her. He kept the hope that she'd been used in all of this and that she wouldn't have tried poisoning Johnny but Maria was working hard on her that night and he wasn't sure she wouldn't have given in to the older woman in time.

He knew he had to talk to his father about all this and, preferably, without Johnny in the room. He wanted a plan before they told Johnny. He knew they'd need some sort of idea of what to do with these women. They couldn't stay locked up forever.

As he reined to a stop by the barn, Scott lowered himself from the saddle still deep in thought. He handed the reins to a vaquero and walked slowly toward the house with his head down.

"Gonna trip over somethin."

Scott's head came up and his eyes searched the porch until they lit on Johnny sitting in a chair with his leg propped up and an empty plate beside him. He smiled and walked over. "Hard day?"

Laughing softly, Johnny waved toward a chair. "Yeah, it's been pretty rough. Looks like you been takin it easy though."

"Oh, yes. Just sitting under a tree all day." Scott lowered himself gratefully into a seat. "Should you be out here so soon?"

Johnny dropped his head and shook it slowly, a small smile on his face. "It took half the morning to get to the living room. Should have seen me talkin the old man into letting me outside."

"If anyone can talk him into anything, it's you, brother."

His head came up quickly, a look of disbelief on his face. Scott had to laugh.

"Johnny, don't you know the baby of the family can always get away with murder."

Frowning at the description, Johnny leaned his head back and regarded his brother with half-closed eyes. "Murdoch wanted to tell me what happened today. I don't think I want to know."

"Probably not. It can wait until you're stronger, for sure. There are going to have to be some decisions made."

He nodded but said nothing else. He'd rather forget about it but he knew that wouldn't happen. He wasn't blind. There were people missing from this house and his chest hurt every time he thought of the why of it. Still, he'd never run from anything and knew he had to face this. Just not yet.

"I'm going to get cleaned up. Do you want to go inside?"

"No, not yet. I'm sure someone will come check on me in a day or two." He grinned when Scott smacked his arm. The grin fell away when his brother went in the house.

*

"How do you want to handle this, Sir? Are you going to let Johnny decide what to do with them?" Scott stood by the fireplace, whiskey glass in hand as he watched his father brood. The man had been quiet throughout supper, spending most of his time with an eagle eye toward his younger son. Once Johnny had done as much as he could with the meal, Murdoch had insisted he go to bed. There wasn't much of a fight, none really. Johnny was exhausted, it seemed.

"I don't know," he mumbled.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to know, Murdoch. We can't keep this from him forever nor can we keep them locked up much longer."

Sighing, the rancher drained his glass and settled it on his thigh as he leaned into the chair back. "I will take his feelings into account, Scott. It's just that Teresa was left in my care when Paul died. I feel responsible for her."

"You've given her everything you could including love. We really don't know what she was thinking. I've been very angry but I would like to hear what she has to say. I don't believe Johnny would be malicious or vengeful."

Murdoch looked up at him with consideration. "I don't know that I wouldn't be. A man can only take so much betrayal."

Scott grimaced, knowing this was hurting Murdoch deeply. "We should talk to him soon."

"He didn't want to hear it."

"That's what he said but he's not stupid. Don't you think he's noticed Maria and Teresa are nowhere to be seen?"

"I'm sure he has. Tomorrow then?" Murdoch stood and stretched his back while awaiting a reply. Scott simply nodded his agreement. "Well, I'm going to bed."

"Goodnight, Sir. I'll check on Johnny. You get some rest."

*

Johnny made it downstairs on his own the next morning, determined to start living again. Neither other man said a word about it but Murdoch's heart was in his throat as he watched his son make those last few steps into the dining room.

He waited for them to finish the meal then, quietly spoke. "Guess it's time to tell me what Maria and Teresa did."

No one spoke or looked at each other for a long beat. Johnny stood up and walked to the living room where he sat himself in a chair and waited for them.

"Just tell me all of it at once."

Scott found his father's eyes and nodded slightly then began the long tale as they both settled on the sofa. Through it all, Johnny never spoke, never showed any sign of surprise or hurt or anything else. He kept his head down through most of the telling. When Scott stopped talking, he glanced at his brother with a small smile of thanks.

"Neither of you have talked to them?"

"No, son. We've been busy taking care of you and the ranch. Quite honestly, I didn't trust myself."

"Well," he breathed out then stood, "reckon I'll take on the crazy one first."

Murdoch took to his feet as well. "You don't have to do it right now, Johnny."

"And not alone," Scott added.

He looked at each of them and shook his head. "Yeah, I do have to do both those things. I don't want anyone else there, Scott. I want her to say what she wants to say without worryin about how someone else will take it. She'll tell me the truth because she hates me. Sounds strange but there it is."

"At least let me walk down there with you."

He smiled at the compromise, grateful to his brother. "Fine. Let's just get it over with."

*

Pedro came to his feet when Johnny walked in the guardhouse. Happy to see the man in one piece, he smiled and bowed slightly then his face fell as he glanced toward the cell. Shaking his head sadly, he left Johnny to it. He didn't know what was happening but he'd watched the woman lose her grip on the world for days and he could only guess at what she'd done to incur the wrath of El Patron.

Johnny made sure the door closed soundly behind the hand then walked slowly to the cell, opening the small door to expose the barred window and the woman within. She was standing near a corner, her back to him, mumbling something he couldn't hear.

"Maria."

She froze, her shoulders rising up her neck as she slowly turned. Eyes wide, she crossed herself and mumbled again.

Johnny rested his hands between the bars, letting them dangle within the cells confines as she approached him.

"You live," she whispered.

"Takes more than a little laudanum to put me down, old woman. So, why don't you tell me what this is all about and not that bull you tried to lay on Murdoch and Scott."

She frowned and shrugged. "You are a plague on this family, on this ranch. You will destroy them all."

"You can do better than that, Maria. Come on, tell me what it's really all about. God didn't tell you to do anything. You want me dead for your own reasons. It's just you and me here now so tell me the truth." His kept his tone neutral, almost disinterested as if it didn't matter. As if her actions meant nothing to him.

Her fists clenched tightly at her sides, she stepped closer to him. "You are a murderer, Johnny Madrid. You kill for the pleasure of it. Oh, you are very charming. You show yourself as a victim as if you are not to blame for your actions. But we both know the truth. I know who you really are. You are evil and you must be stopped before you bring death to this house."

He never even blinked, just watched her grow more and more distraught. "Who was he?"

Eyes filling with tears, Maria's face flushed red. "You shot him down in cold blood! He never hurt anyone. He was so sweet and gentle and loving and you killed him for nothing!"

"Who?"

She drew her head up, chin jutted out, eyes shooting fire and hatred. "Mio hijo. Jesus Vasquez."

*

Johnny's arms fell limply to his sides as he staggered back a little. Turning away from her, he stumbled to the small table and leaned heavily against it. Breathing rapidly, he closed his eyes and shook his head. Sweat broke out on his face and he eased himself into a chair.

Maria watched it all through the small window, the heat of her anger radiating throughout the room. "He was but a child. Eighteen years old! You cut him down in the street then just walked away! When I saw you here, I wanted to plunge a knife through your black heart!"

"Shut up! Just, shut up!" He stood quickly, knocking the chair back then turned on her. Advancing quickly, he grabbed the bars with white fingers, shaking them violently. "He was my friend, you witch! I didn't kill him!"

"Liar! Mio sobrino told me what happened. He saw it all!"

Johnny forced his voice lower, nearly hissing the words. "I don't know who your nephew is but he didn't see me kill Jesus."

"Antonio had no reason to lie."

"Antonio Romero?" Johnny snorted in disgust. "That bastard! He's a lyin, thievin snake! That's how he makes his living. Stealing from people who have nothing to begin with. He's a rurale, Maria!"

She shook her head, refusing to believe his words and backed away a little.  

"And *that* is who killed Jesus. The rurales. Antonio wasn't even there." He closed his eyes briefly before looking at her again. Forcing a calm veneer, he spoke quietly. "Jesus was walking down the street, that's all. Just walking down the street to the cantina. I was standing outside watching him, waiting for him to join me. They rode in, about ten or twelve of them and headed straight for him. There was nothing I could do. I fired back but there were too many of them." He turned and walked away from her again, arms wrapped around himself.

"There was nothing I could do but bury him. I took him to Sonora because it wasn't safe in Nogales. They wouldn't have let me get anywhere near the cemetery with him." Turning back to her, he added, "Antonio could have stopped it or warned him. He rode with that crowd. He had to know what they were planning."

"No, he would not have let them kill his primo. He had no reason."

"No reason? Jesus hated the rurales as much as I did. He gave them the devil whenever he could. He was fearless. He stood there and fought while they were pumpin him full of lead. He killed three of them before he fell." Pride in his friend resounded in Johnny's voice.

"It should have been you!" she shouted.

Eyes full of pain fell on her. "Si, it should have been me. I don't know why they didn't finish me off. They could have easily." He walked back over to the cell door. "He was my friend and I would have died for him. I did the best I could and I've never been sorrier about anything but I didn't kill him."

She stared at him blankly and he sighed aloud.

"Believe what you want, old woman." Johnny turned toward the door and walked out.

*

Scott stood by the cracked window at the back of the guardhouse and listened unashamedly to the conversation. He knew there was more to this than Maria had said and now, he knew the truth. He also heard the torment in his brother's voice and it broke his heart. He didn't know how to help Johnny or if the man would even accept help. When he saw Johnny leave, he headed around the building.

Johnny leaned against the wall of the guardhouse, his eyes closed. Scott walked softly up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Hear everything alright from out there, Scott?"

He cringed a little at the angry tone and steeled himself. "Yes, I heard everything. I'm sorry, I know it was wrong but I guess I needed to know why she betrayed this family."

"Well, now you know. Because of me."

"That's not true, Johnny. Because she believed a lie and didn't bother trying to get your side of it."

"Don't matter. She didn't believe me anyway. But, I don't care, either."

"What do you want to do with her?"

Johnny looked up and sighed. "Send her back to Mexico or wherever she wants to go. I don't give a damn." He walked away then, toward the barn.

Scott watched him, the drooped shoulders, the hanging head and wanted to throttle Maria. With a tired sigh, he headed to the house to fill Murdoch in. There was still the matter of Teresa. Did she know the true reason for Maria's treachery? He hoped not for, if she did, that made her as guilty as Maria.

*

Johnny left the barn and headed to the back of the house. Through the kitchen and down the hall, he stood before Teresa's door and stared at it. He wasn't sure he could do this. Wasn't sure he could handle hearing anything like he'd just heard from the sweet young girl.   

Sucking it up, he knocked on her door. It took a minute for her to answer and when she did, he heard her gasp.

"Surprised?" He couldn't help a bit of sarcasm.

Her eyes darted behind him and everywhere else but his face. "I ... I didn't know you were ..."

"Alive? Sorry to disappoint you. We need to talk. You want to do it in here or someplace else?"

She looked at him then. "Where?"

Johnny only shrugged, he could care less.

She bit her lip then asked, "the garden?"

"Yeah, sure." Johnny turned and walked back down the hall.

Teresa walked outside for the first time in a week and inhaled deeply of the fresh air, a slight smile on her face.

"Having fun?" He felt so angry, moreso than with Maria but he knew why.

Her face fell immediately. "I'm sorry. I haven't been out of my room in so long."

"Really? I can't imagine what that's like. Oh, wait, yes, I can."

She bowed her head and hugged herself.

He could see her trembling and wondered if she was afraid of him. Must be, he imagined. "Well, I talked to Maria now, I want to hear your side of things. And I want the truth, Teresa. Whatever you told Scott and Murdoch, forget that. You're gonna tell me the truth and if you don't, I'll know you're lyin."

She glanced up at him, tears already falling but his face held nothing but anger. She walked toward a rose bush. "I'm not sure how it got so ... crazy. All she wanted to do was get you out of the way for a little while. For Scott."

*

"I need you to look at me."

She turned to him with a grimace and nodded. "She said you were holding Scott back. That he wasn't growing here like he should. That he felt left out and like maybe he couldn't handle this life. She said he'd leave and go back to Boston if we didn't do something to make him feel welcome here."

"And that something was killing me?" He cocked a brow and waited.

"No, Johnny! She never said anything about that until that last night when Scott found us talking. I couldn't believe she wanted me to poison you. It was just supposed to be for a little while. Just until Scott found his bearings. She said once he felt more comfortable, nothing could stop him from becoming El Patron."

Johnny frowned and walked over to a bench. He had to sit down before he fell down. It didn't surprise him that they thought Scott would become the head of the family. That was the way of things. It was tradition. "How did the stampede start?"

She lowered her eyes for a minute. "I didn't know until it was over. She said she'd done it but I don't know how, honestly. I thought it was so dangerous. You both could have been killed. It didn't make any sense that she would put Scott in danger like that, either. All she would say was it turned out exactly as it should have."

"Teresa, I'm havin a hard time buying this. I mean, if you were worried about Scott, why didn't you talk to Murdoch?"

She rocked back and forth on her heels for a few seconds, chewing her lip. "Maria said he wouldn't listen because you were his favorite."

Not much surprised Johnny after the life he'd led but, this did. He chuckled a little at the thought. "That's crazy. Murdoch's not the kind of man to play favorites. You should know that."

"I've been thinking about everything all week. All the things she said that didn't seem right. At the time, she was so convincing. She made it make sense to me. Johnny, you have to understand something. Maria practically raised me. I've known her all my life. She's like a mother to me."

He studied her face for a long moment then sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Did you know Jesus?"

*

At first surprised by the question, memories soon flared. Teresa smiled sadly and nodded her head. "We grew up together. He was a sweet boy. Then, one day when he was fifteen, he left. Said he was going back to Mexico where he could do some good. I didn't understand. I must have been about twelve or thirteen then. Why did you ask about him?"

"What did Maria tell you about his death?"

"She said he was killed by a gunfighter." Her eyes widened in realization and her hand went to her mouth. "No," she whispered.

"No," he smiled sadly. "Maria thought I killed Jesus but I didn't. We were good friends." He frowned in thought. "He never mentioned his family to me. Never said a word about Lancer."

"You mean that's why she ..." she trailed off, the thoughts buzzing in her brain. Unable to comprehend the full extent of what had happened, Teresa walked over and sat beside him. "She said it was all for Scott."

Johnny didn't move except to look over at her. "And that's why you went along. Because maybe Scott's *your* favorite?" The blush on her cheeks was all the answer he needed. He fought back a smile. He didn't know a lot about his brother but he was pretty sure Scott wouldn't rob the cradle.

"I never would have given you that arsenic, Johnny. No matter what she said about you."

"What did she say?"

Again, she blushed furiously and looked away. He waited for her, knowing she would tell him eventually.

"She said you would ... take me." She felt him move and looked up to see him pace away, his fists clenched at his sides. "I couldn't believe it, Johnny. You've always been so sweet to me. So kind. She just scared me so much. That was the moment when Scott appeared. I've never seen him so angry."

"Good to know my brother thinks better of me than the women around here."

"Scott loves you. He just doesn't realize it yet."

He turned slowly and looked incredulously at her. Women! Always thinking about love and all that emotional crap! He wasn't about to say anything to that comment. "Do you trust me, Teresa? Can you trust me? Can you live in this house with me without being afraid?"

She stood and walked up to him, breath held with fear he would rebuke her. She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him. "I know I don't deserve your forgiveness but I'm asking for it anyway. I'm so sorry, Johnny. I've never been so sorry in my life. I asked you to think of me as a sister but I've done nothing to deserve that. I'm not afraid of you, Johnny. I've been so afraid *for* you this past week."

He didn't know what to do with all this. The girl was hanging onto him like a lifeline. Girl. That's what she was, alright. Just a kid. One who'd been used by an unstable woman. A grieving mother, yes. Still, trying to kill him and using Teresa to do it was, well ... loco. He found his arms going around her, his chin resting on her head and he sighed.

"All I've been able to think about was what you must be going through and everything she said to me that makes no sense now. I've been such a fool."

"You love her. It's hard when your mother lies to you. I know what that's like." Gently, he pushed her away a little and looked down in her eyes. "I don't know what to do, Teresa. I don't want you to go away. I'm just not sure I can trust you. It's gonna take some time. That's all I know to do."

"I swear on my life I'll earn your trust, Johnny. I don't care how long it takes or what I have to do, I never wanted you hurt like this. I wish I'd thought it all out and understood what giving you that medicine would do. I don't deserve to be here." She sniffled even as more tears threatened.

Johnny stared at her for a beat. "Go back to your room and wash up. I need to talk to Murdoch and Scott about all this."

*

Murdoch stared out the window behind his desk. He didn't see the vaqueros hard at work, didn't see the livestock or his grass or anything else. All he could see was what was in his mind's eye. Teresa as a baby and a little girl then growing and changing and so close to being a woman now. It had been hard for him when she was born. All he could think of whenever he saw or heard her was Johnny. The only child of his he'd ever seen as an infant. When she cried, he had to stop himself from going to Johnny's room more than once back then.

Scott watched his father's back for a while then turned to his brother. Johnny sat in the chair, chin on fist and staring at the floor.

"Did you believe her?"

Johnny raised his head, dropping his arm in his lap and studying his brother. "Yeah, I did."

"Are you going to be able to have her here, son? I'd understand if you can't."

Johnny never broke eye contact with his brother as his father spoke, his back still to them. It was a little disconcerting, this conversation he seemed to be having with Scott. It was as if he could see what his brother was thinking. Scott smiled a little and Johnny nodded.

Turning to look at his father's back, he answered. "I told her it wouldn't be easy for me to trust her. I don't know if I ever will but I'm not going to make her leave her home. I can understand how she was used so easily. Maria is like a mother to her."

Murdoch closed his eyes and lowered his head, unbelievably relieved at the response. Part of him wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, though. He thought he was prepared to send the girl away if Johnny wanted. Maybe, he still would for a little while. He didn't know what to do.

"I understand you want to give her a chance, Johnny, but I'm not so sure I can believe she went along with this because Maria was a mother to her."

Johnny bit his lip, glanced at his father then sucked in a breath. "Kids will do anything for their parents if they think it will make them happy. I don't think it makes much difference how old you are, either. Some parents use that to get what they want no matter if it hurts the kid in the process. Even when that parent lies to you well, you can't just stop loving someone."

Murdoch turned and stared at his younger son, sitting there with his head down and wanted nothing more than to comfort the boy. "That's a relationship more important than any other. When there's betrayal of a child, the hurt never really goes away."

"Maria betrayed Teresa. She used her to get her revenge. She ain't ever gonna get over it."

His voice was rough and husky and Murdoch walked over to sit beside him. "Neither will you."

Scott looked between the two of them and didn't know what to say. Wasn't sure he should say anything. He decided that would be best. It wasn't something he had a lot of experience with. He'd had his grandfather but it had never felt the same. He'd never thought of the man as his father. Like one, yes, but it was just different.

"Well, you should probably talk to her, Murdoch. Do whatever you think is best. Think I'll go upstairs for a while. I'm kind of tuckered." He stood up slowly and grimaced then limped toward the stairs.

Scott was on his feet and following. He glanced behind him and gave his father a nod and a sympathetic look.

*

Johnny stopped outside his door, knob in hand and looked at his brother with a small smile. "Gonna tuck me in?"

Scott smiled back. "If you like."

"I don't but, thanks just the same."

"I wanted to ask you something if you aren't too tired."

Johnny watched his face, the hesitation and discomfort and knew his brother was about to bring up the past. With a sigh, he opened his door and walked to the bed, sitting on the side. He started removing his boots as Scott lingered in the doorway. "You can ask me anything. Don't mean I'm gonna answer."

Quirking his mouth, Scott refrained from rolling his eyes and stepped into the room. He stood beside the bed as Johnny swung his feet up and sat with his back against the headboard.

"You want a pillow for that leg?"

"Yeah, sure. Thanks."

Once he thought Johnny was comfortable, he sat on the mattress. "Something you said to Maria struck me a bit odd. You said you didn't know why the rurales hadn't finished you off. I got the distinct impression that meant you hadn't escaped the attack unscathed."

"What's the question?"

He did roll his eyes then. "Were you hurt in the attack?"

Johnny smirked a little. He couldn't help it, he liked riling his brother for some reason. "Caught a couple of bullets. Nothing too serious."

Scott ground his jaw and calmed himself. "What do you consider serious?"

He laughed softly at that. "Well, I was still on my feet, sort of. I was able to ride."

"I see. So as long as you can sit a horse, it's not serious."

"I guess so."

"You do realize how exasperating you are, don't you?"

Johnny's eyes lit up as a small smile played at his lips. "You're easy to exasperate sometimes."

Scott smacked his arm then they both fell quiet. He watched as Johnny began playing with his hands and knew his brother had something to say. Finally, he spoke it.

"What do you think that was downstairs?"

He didn't need an explanation, Scott knew what he was referring to. He'd felt a deep connection in that moment with his brother; eyes locked onto each others, it had nearly taken his breath. "I think we clicked."

Johnny looked up, eyes dancing. "Yeah, thought I heard somethin."

*

Teresa opened the door, her heart pounding as she looked up at Murdoch. She fought the urge to fling herself at him opting to bite her trembling lip instead. She stepped aside to allow him entry then clasped her hands to try and stop the shaking.

"I've been thinking long and hard about all of this, Teresa. Johnny doesn't want to send you away but he doesn't trust you, either. He's asked me to make the decision on what's best but I'm still not sure what that might be."

"I wouldn't blame you if you threw me out. I've never been so sorry in my life. I'll regret what I did forever. I should have come to you at the beginning. I should have trusted you to know what to do. I understand Johnny is your son and his feelings have to come first. I only wish I'd thought that way before. I can't believe Maria wanted to kill him." Her voice broke in the end, tears flooding her face once more as she buried it in her hands.

Affected by her tears, he fought the instinct to comfort her. "I've had many dreams in my life. Some of them came true, some didn't. Those that didn't were the hardest to take. But, having the boys home has been a dream for years and you knew that. When they did agree to stay, I found myself with another dream. That we would all be one happy family. The four of us living here together. I hoped they'd come to care for me. I thought you did care for me."

"I love you, Murdoch. You've been so good to me. I think that's why I let Maria talk me into helping her. I was worried Scott would leave and I knew that would break your heart. I never, ever meant for Johnny to die. I pray you believe that. It's so easy to see the truth now."

He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. "Yes, it's easy to see our mistakes afterward. Things are going to be very tense around here. The last thing I want is for either of my sons to feel ill at ease. I want them to feel at home here, think of this as their home. I'm not sure either of them can right now and that isn't fair to them. Teresa, I've decided to send you to that school in San Francisco we discussed last year."

She nodded her head, swallowing convulsively as she tried to hold back a sob unsuccessfully. "I understand. I'm not sure how I can regain their trust, your trust, but I want to try, Murdoch. I love Lancer and I don't want to leave. But, if that's what you've decided, I'll accept it."

"I think it's for the best right now."

Lowering her head, she sniffled once more. "I'll start packing right away."

*

Cipriano was an unhappy man as he pulled the surrey in front of the guardhouse. Murdoch had explained everything to him and had never seen his segundo so angry. But, the man insisted on being the one to take Maria away from the ranch forever. He promised not to harm her though he wanted to - badly.

Murdoch had packed her things himself and loaded them in the buggy then stood back as Cipriano went to get her. He heard shuffling footsteps behind him and nearly growled.

"Go back inside, son. You don't have to watch this."

"I'm not goin anywhere. I want to see her leave."

Murdoch turned and the glare immediately left when he saw the look on Johnny's face. Lost. That was what he saw. A boy lost.

She walked out, Cipriano holding onto her arm and pulled up short when she saw them. Johnny walked up to her and looked in her eyes.

"When you get there, go find your precious sobrino. Listen to his lies some more but watch his eyes, Senora. When Antonio lies, his eyes go everywhere but your face. He's a lousy poker player."

She pulled her shoulders back and looked away from him.

"Yeah, like that," Johnny said bitterly and turned away.

Cipriano urged her into the surrey and slid in beside her as Murdoch walked up. "If I see you again, there will be hell to pay."

"Your hell stands behind you, Senor. One day, you will realize it and know I spoke the truth."

Cipriano slapped the reins and drove away, his speed increasing as they rode under the arch.

Murdoch watched for a moment then turned back to find Johnny watching her as well. He walked up and laid a hand on the tense shoulder. Johnny turned and started to walk away from him.

"Son?"

He paused, trying to decide then turned back to his father.

"What is it?"

Johnny sighed and looked at his boots then stared out over the land. "Just thinking she might be right, is all."

"No, Johnny, she isn't."

He didn't move, just kept staring, the frown deepening with each passing second. Finally, he breathed out, "yeah."

"That didn't sound very convincing."

Shaking his head, he looked at his father. "You don't know ... you just don't know."

"Then, explain it to me."

"I can't!" He turned on his heel and walked back to the house.

*

Murdoch sighed and followed him, determined to get this hashed out now. When he walked in, Johnny was standing at the hearth, staring at the wall.

"Why not?"

"Because it's too much and not enough. I've done things, Murdoch. Things I'm not proud of."

"We all have."

He shook his head, angry and frustrated. "Not like this."

Murdoch moved to stand beside him. "I've spent the last few months watching you and talking to you and I know the man you are. I know there are things you'd rather forget, things you wish hadn't happened. I don't care what happened then, Johnny. What we have now is what matters."

Silence fell around them as Murdoch waited with held breath for an answer.

Johnny rocked back and forth a little, chewing on his lip and struggling to find his center. He wished he'd kept his big mouth shut. Wished he'd never gone out there to see her. Wished he'd never met the woman in the first place. Wished his father really meant what he said.

"Whatever it is, Johnny, if it's forgiveness you need, you have it. Right here and now, you have it."

His shoulders slumped and he hung his head, closing his eyes and praying it was all real. Not some dream he'd concocted in some delusional state. He sucked in a breath and steeled himself, then turned to face his father. When he looked into the pale blue eyes, he saw the man meant what he said. He couldn't force sound through the lump in his throat. All he could do was nod his head.

Murdoch smiled and squeezed his shoulder then ran a hand down Johnny's cheek.

*

Another week of house arrest, as he'd come to think of it, had passed and Johnny was more than restless. He spent most of his time outside, away from Teresa. He'd watched her surreptitiously as she went about her daily chores. There was an awkwardness to her movements, as if she was unsure where in the house she could go.

Then, he'd seen her standing outside his bedroom door yesterday with a basket of clean clothes. She looked down the hall at him, her eyes widening with something like fear. He hadn't said a word but simply turned and walked downstairs. But, then, he hadn't spoken to her at all since the day in the garden.

Neither had Scott, he realized as he leaned against the corral fence and watched the ranch at work. He frowned as he considered his brother. Scott was thriving now, more confident and he hadn't said a word about getting to know each other since before the stampede. Johnny wondered if maybe Teresa and Maria had been partly right. That it was he who had been holding Scott back.

He didn't know how that could be, though. It wasn't like he wasn't trying with Scott. He knew his brother's idea of trying was a lot different than his own but he couldn't help that. He couldn't stop being who he was just because Scott wasn't getting things as quickly as he'd like. None of them knew what the hell to do anyway, he surmised.

It was then he felt the presence behind him. Knowing there was no threat, he turned slowly to face her. She was watching him but now, her head was down and she stood there like a statue.

"Did you need somethin?"

Teresa looked up almost shyly and nodded. "I'm sorry to bother you but I wondered if you had any mending you needed done."

Johnny sighed softly. She'd left the basket of clothes just inside his bedroom door yesterday. He'd laughed a little about it then but, he knew there was nothing funny about the way the girl was feeling. Like an outsider in her own home. And it was her home, he knew. He wasn't at all sure it was right to send her away yet, he could hardly stand being around her, either. If he were completely honest, he'd admit it was more than hard. And eating the food she prepared was a daily battle of fear against guts. He couldn't say she wouldn't try something again. Even though he believed she'd been used, she still had a hand it what happened. Then again, he thought as his head began to ache, she was just a kid. One who had believed her 'mother's' lies and he knew all about that.

"Well, I haven't really done anything to cause any damage lately." It was the wrong thing to say. He saw pain flicker across her face. He hadn't intended to remind her. He just wanted things to ease up some. He decided to try again. How much worse could he do? "Of course, if you're really hard up for some sewing, I guess I could find a nail to get hung up on or maybe Barranca could chew off one of my buttons here." He smiled a little at her and waited.

Her mouth twitched and when she chanced a glance, her eyes were alight for a second. "No, I'm sure I can find something else to keep me busy."

Johnny hooked his right arm on the top rail and leaned against the fence, crossing one ankle over the other. "Are you sure? Cause, I don't mind."

She smiled and nodded then turned to walk away.

"Teresa, wait a minute."

She paused, her eyes closing as her stomach clenched. Slowly, she turned back, fighting to keep tears away.

*

She watched him watch her and her anxiety grew with each passing second. Just when she thought she might scream, he spoke.

"Mind takin a walk with me?"

He doesn't want me crying in front of the hands. She nodded and followed him around the house and into the courtyard. Johnny sat on the bench and waved a hand in invitation to join him. She settled but kept her distance.

"I know you've been avoiding me and I'm thinking it's because you think that's what I want."

She could only nod. She wasn't going to cry, she just wasn't going to.

"When do you leave?"

She swallowed hard. "Next week."

"Well," he sighed out, "I figure if we're ever gonna get over this, we might want to try being able to stay in the same room together while you're here. I don't mind if you go in my room looking for mending or putting the laundry away. I don't mind if you sit at the table with us. Might help to get things back to some kind of normal, whatever that is."

She smiled a little and looked at him.

Johnny raised his brows and quirked his lip. "I don't even mind if you actually speak to me." He grinned then and she relaxed, giving him something resembling her old smile. It faded soon enough as she once more bowed her head.

"I'm afraid I'll say or do the wrong thing."

"You can't spend the rest of your life like that, Teresa. This is your home and I know how you feel about Lancer. Knew it that first day up on the ridge. It was easy to hear in your voice and see on your face."

"It's your home, too, Johnny. It always has been and I wish you'd grown up here with me."

He smiled a little sadly at her. "Well, I'm here now. Just try to act like your old self, huh? I'm tired of all the tension and I know you are, too. I know you don't want to go away, either. That was Murdoch's decision and he made it." He paused as he considered if he really wanted to go on. "I can talk to him if you want; about staying, I mean."

She relaxed her shoulders and stood up then leaned over and kissed him quickly on the cheek. "That's too kind of you, Johnny. I don't want to go but I think it's for the best. At least for a while until things settle down. I think it will be easier on all of you to relax and get to know each other if I'm not around to remind you how close you came to losing everything."

Johnny smiled at her then looked past her. Teresa turned and saw Scott walking up. She left the brothers alone, quickly going inside.

*

"That looked promising."

"I told her to be herself. Have a seat. You look done in."

Scott sat beside him and sighed loudly. "I am." He rested his head against the bark of the tree behind him.

"It's been a long month, for me anyway. You seem to be doin better."

There was a question in his voice that Scott didn't miss and he looked sidelong at his brother. "If you mean I no longer feel the need to talk things out, then, yes, I'm doing better. I suppose you were right about that. I've learned a great deal about you and Murdoch by watching."

Johnny grinned. "Uh, oh."

A playful smile crossed Scott's face as he looked full on at his sibling. "You, my young friend, are an enigma. Not many men would be so forgiving of what Teresa did."

Johnny's face fell and he lowered his eyes. "I don't think she did anything except believe in a woman she loved. She was betrayed, too. She's just a kid, ya know."

Scott nodded, feeling uncomfortable but needing to know. "Like your mother did with you?"

"Yeah," he breathed out. "Like that."

"Have you ever talked to Murdoch about her?"

Johnny shook his head firmly. "No, and I'm not going to. Nothing either of us can do about it now. All I want is to get cut loose by Sam. Get back to work and start livin again."

"And Teresa?"

Johnny cut him a glance then shrugged. "Things will settle down. She needs to relax around me. Around all of us, really. She's gonna get sick if she keeps this up."

"Is it so easy to forgive the people who've hurt you, Johnny?"

"Easy? No, it's not easy. But, you either forgive or keep bein mad all the time. I don't like bein mad. Gives me indigestion." He stood up and looked down at his brother. "Now, what are we gonna do about that noise?"

Scott's eyes widened in surprise and confusion and he shook his head. "What noise?"

"All that clickin that's been goin on between us lately, brother."

The older man laughed and came to his feet. "I suppose we'll just have to get used to it, like everything else." He wrapped an arm around Johnny's shoulders and led him into the house feeling more at ease than he had since before the war.

 

 

~end~
October 2007

Want to comment? Email Winj