The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Evil Twin

 

 

 

"He couldn't have done it."

"I know."

"So, what are we gonna do, Murdoch?"

Johnny watched his father's implacable features as the man sat at his desk, staring into space.

"I don't know that there's anything we can do, son. He was convicted."

"That don't make it right, Murdoch!" He flung his hat across the room in anger and frustration.

"What do you want me to do, Johnny? Break him out of jail?"

A cocked brow and considerate face met the question. A slight twitch of the lips and gleam in the eye was Murdoch's answer.

"No! Absolutely not!"

"Oh, right! It was all done legal and proper so it must be the gospel truth! Well, we both know Scott ain't capable of cold-blooded murder so somethin went wrong with your precious *system* this time." Johnny took a breath and walked over, leaning across the desk and staring pointedly. "I'm not gonna let my brother hang, old man."

"Do you think I want that? Johnny, be reasonable."

"Reasonable? Reason is gone, Murdoch." He sighed heavily and walked away. He knew this was killing the old man, too, but he couldn't help it. He had to take it out on someone. "I'm goin to see Scott. Maybe, he can think of something else."

"He hasn't in over a month." Murdoch hated being the bad guy but Johnny needed to start accepting some inevitabilities, ugly as they were.

"There's still time," he muttered and picked his hat up off the floor.

"Son, don't you wonder? I mean, I don't believe Scott did this, either, but you have to admit, he's been acting strangely for a few months now."

Johnny wouldn't look at him; he just stared at the floor. Finally, he spoke softly, "I know he has. I'm goin now. Want me to tell him anything?" He looked at his father then.

Murdoch considered for a moment. "Just tell him I'll be in tomorrow. Check to see if there's been a response to my wire while you're in town."

Johnny nodded and headed out the door. He didn't think Jarrod Barkley could do them any good now. Where was he when Scott really needed him? Too busy!

*

As he rode toward town, Johnny thought about his father's comment on Scott the past few months. It was true, ever since he came back from that Modesto trip, he'd been acting strangely. At first, he couldn't seem to remember which way was up. Johnny had surmised some girl had turned his brother's head; made him stop thinking. But, Scott had settled down after a week or so. Still, there was something different.

Scott seemed to avoid spending any time with him; Murdoch either, for that matter. Seemed like most nights, he headed off to his room to read. As much as Johnny knew his brother enjoyed a good book, it was overkill in his estimation. Still, he didn't really worry about it. Not until Scott started gettin a might snippy when he pressed his brother to go out on the town with him.

It was as if he was pestering Scott - that's how he acted. Like he was put out most of the time. Like he had to work hard just to endure being around them. He shook his head and sighed. None of that mattered now. All that mattered was getting Scott out of this mess.

He knew his brother could not have killed Trent Jenson even if the man needed killin. In Johnny's mind, he did. He was a loud mouth who couldn't back up his tongue. He always pushed at Scott whenever they ran into one another. Usually, Scott made some really good quip that left Jenson with a screwed up face because he didn't get he'd been insulted. It always tickled Johnny to watch. He wasn't laughing anymore.

Scott had finally decided to go to town one Saturday but he'd left early, before Johnny got home. To say he was pissed at his brother was an understatement. He'd hurried to get cleaned up and join Scott if for nothing else than to tear into him about abandoning his so-called manners.

As a matter of fact, by that point, Johnny was ready for a good old-fashioned fist fight with Scott. Whatever was gnawing at his brother, he figured some man to man combat would be just the cure. Get out all that frustration everyone could see. Everyone but Scott, that is.

By the time Johnny had arrived in town, it was over and Scott was in Val's jail. Johnny inhaled sharply as he recalled how close he'd come to hitting his best friend. Val was never one to back down and this was no different. He was doing his job, friend or no. He just kept saying that.

Any time Johnny would pose the question "You don't really believe Scott did this?", Val would spout off he was doing his job. He frowned as he realized Val never had said he didn't believe it. He wondered if that meant anything.

*

For his part, Scott had remained silent for the first two days. Finally, Murdoch had gotten him to talk and Scott had given his account of what took place that night. Even though it was a little far-fetched, Johnny had never doubted his brother. The fact that it did sound a little off the wall told him Scott was telling the truth. A body would come up with something better than that tale if he was lying.

But, he'd never been able to prove Scott's story. He'd never been able to 'see' it as Scott told. How many times he'd stood in that street, right where Val had found Scott standing, he couldn't say. How many times had he tried to see it all in his mind? But, he couldn't and it drove him near mad.

For someone to have killed Jenson, they would have been standing behind and to the right of Scott in that street and Johnny couldn't make it make sense. Scott had seen no one yet, there was no place to hide, either. He and Val had talked it through, even played it out one night when the streets were empty but it just never worked. They'd gone so far as to come up with different scenarios. Maybe Scott had moved and hadn't told them.

The fact that Scott's gun had been fired was damning but he'd explained that. A rattler on the road as he came by, spooking his horse. He'd shot it but no remains were ever found. That didn't mean anything. Another animal could have come along and taken the snake. That Scott hadn't reloaded wasn't unusual to Johnny. It was plausible, he just couldn't prove it and unfortunately, the justice system liked proof.

Through it all, Scott had been less than forthcoming. He refused to talk to Johnny most of the time. It seemed Scott was angry with him but he didn't know why. He'd told Murdoch what happened once and answered precious few follow-up questions, even from his lawyer. It infuriated Johnny and he wasn't shy about letting his brother know that. Scott's response was to turn away from him.

And still, he stood by his brother.

*

After the sentencing this morning, Scott had grown pale and nearly passed out. Val had to hold him up as he led him back to jail. Murdoch couldn't handle it and had to go home and Johnny felt torn between the two men. He'd gone to Scott but the man refused to see him so he'd ridden back to the ranch.

Now, he hoped Scott had taken some time to let it sink in. Now, he hoped his brother was more willing to fight. It seemed to him Scott was perfectly comfortable letting his lawyer do all the work. Johnny reckoned he was confident he'd be exonerated. When that didn't happen, Scott felt the full force of what was happening hit him all at once. Yeah, Johnny figured that was it exactly.

As he entered Green River, he saw the stares. Some angry, some sympathetic and he sighed heavily. He didn't give a damn what they thought. He knew his brother and this was all a mistake. A huge mistake he was going to fix no matter what. He'd find the real killer somehow. And he reckoned he was going to get Val to help him whether the sheriff liked it or not.

They still had time. The hanging wasn't scheduled for a week and a half. He swallowed hard at the thought and lowered his eyes as he rode past where they had already begun building the platform, caddy corner to the jail.

He dismounted in front of Val's office and glanced over where the carpenter was hard at it. Take your time. Just a waste anyway, he thought wryly.

He received more stares as he headed to the door and his temper got hold of him. Johnny turned on his heel and glared at the gunsmith across the street watching him like he was about to burst into flames, or something. The satisfaction when the man turned and quickly went back in his store was fleeting.

*

"Figured you'd be back."

"Well, ya know me," Johnny replied glumly as he took his gunbelt off and laid it on the desk.

"Ain't sure he's changed his mind about seein ya." Val watched the young man and wished to God he knew how to help.

Johnny looked up slowly, his eyes simmering. "I'm seein him whether he likes it or not."

His first reaction was to negate that statement, but Val couldn't turn his friend away today no matter what Scott said. It was wrong, he knew but he didn't care, either. In Val's estimation, Scott Lancer had been quite an asshole since being incarcerated so he wasn't too inclined to offer the man sympathy. Leastways, not at this moment.

He grabbed the keys and unlocked the door to the cell room then went back to his desk.

Johnny nodded his thanks and took a deep breath.

*

"I don't want any visitors."

He let out that breath as he walked up to the bars and stared at his brother's back. Scott lay on the cot facing the wall and seemed to have no intention of moving.

"I don't want my brother to hang, either. Might want to stop feelin sorry for yourself and help me figure a way out of this." It was his lazy drawl. The one he used when he was angry or trying to suppress deeper feelings and he used it well. He saw the shoulders tense up and waited.

After a long beat, Scott rolled over then sat on the side of the cot and looked flatly at him. "Unless you plan on breaking me out of here, what is there to discuss?"

"Well," he sighed and leaned against the wall, "that would be the last resort."

"I think we're there."

Johnny smiled a little. "Not yet. Look, it's time to be square, Scott. You haven't opened your mouth but once through this whole thing. Mr. Fields said you wouldn't even discuss your defense with him. Now, that just don't sound like you, brother. So, I figure there's somethin you're not tellin. It's time to tell it, Scott. If you know something, say it now."

The older man stared at him for what seemed an hour before standing and walking to the cell door. He wrapped his hands around the metal and shook at it. "Get me out of here. That's what I have to say, Johnny."

"Tell me how." His voice was so soft, so full of desperation. The smirk he received surprised him.

"I'm sure you know how to break a man out of jail. I'm sure the sheriff would even help you since you're such good friends."

Sarcasm. He was getting sarcasm. He gawked at Scott and shook his head slowly. "What's the matter with you? Why are you actin like this? You act like it's no big deal. Just break you out. Then what, Scott? You gonna run forever?"

He shrugged and looked down at his hands. "Grandfather can get me out of the country."

The nonchalance, the attitude all got to Johnny somewhere deep down inside. "Don't you care about us at all? Are you so willing to give up your family, your life? Just shrug it all off like it means nothin?"

Blue eyes flashed at him. "No, I'm not willing to give up my life. That's why I need your help, *brother*!"

"I don't understand you. This ain't like you, Scott. What happened? Who are you protecting?"

He laughed sharply. "Myself."

Again, Johnny shook his head in disbelief. "When you're ready to tell me the truth, you let me know." He turned and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

*

Val watched Johnny pace around the room for while, watched as he worked on calming himself down and knew not to say a word yet.

"It's like I don't even know him, Val."

The sheriff closed his eyes for a second before looking up at his friend's back. He stood and walked up behind Johnny, putting a hand on his shoulder. "What'd he say?"

With a snort, Johnny turned, Val's hand slipping away from him. "He wants me to break him out. Said you could help me."

A cocked brow was his first response then Val turned almost thoughtful. "I hope you ain't considerin doin somethin that stupid. Cause if ya are, you'll be in that cell next to him."

"He's my brother, Val."

"Johnny, maybe ..." he stopped, wondering if he should even say what was on his mind.

"Maybe, what?"

Val turned and walked away, unwilling to be so close when he spoke his mind. A busted jaw was not in his plans for the day. "Maybe, he's guilty. You said yourself he ain't actin right. I done told ya what I saw that night. There wasn't nobody else on that street but Scott. I didn't hear anybody runnin or ridin off, nothing and I looked first thing when I saw who was standin there."

"You can't believe Scott would murder a man."

The sheriff turned to face him fully. "I wouldn't have before but the way he's been actin with you and your old man, I don't know. I just don't know, Johnny. I mean, all the evidence says he done it." To his surprise, Johnny didn't go off on a tangent. He just stood there and stared.

"You think he done it, don't you?" Val couldn't have been more surprised even though he was pretty positive himself.

Johnny turned to the side and bowed his head. "I don't know."

"I'm sorry, amigo. More sorry than I've ever been about anything just about. I can't let him go."

"I know and I wouldn't ask you to. Could I go back in? I just have to try one more time."

Val rolled his eyes and shook his head then jerked it toward the back room.

*

As Johnny walked back into the room, he stopped and turned to Val. "Let me in the cell with him?"

The lawman gave a cynical look but nodded and retrieved his keys, unlocking the door long enough for Johnny to enter then locking it back. He gave his friend one last long look then left the brothers alone.

"What's the plan?" Scott asked, licking his lips in anticipation.

Johnny frowned. "Plan?"

"Yes, the plan. That's why you're back, isn't it?"

"Iâ€m not here to break you out, Scott. I'm here to make you listen. There's got to be some way to get you out of here free and clear."

The older man's face reddened with ire. "The only way you're going to save me is to get me out of this jail, Johnny."

"That's what I'm tryin to do!" His hands went to his hips as he stared at his brother. "You don't make it easy, brother. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were guilty the way you're actin. Now, tell me what's goin on so I can find who really killed Jenson."

Scott looked at him for a half a minute before his face relaxed and he shrugged. "Okay."

They both heard the jingle of keys as Val stepped back into the room carrying a tray. "Supper's here." He finagled the key into the lock then swung the door open. He walked over to the small table next to Scott to set the tray down.

Johnny turned away, facing the wall as he waited for Val to finish so he could finally get the truth from his brother. The next thing he knew, black dots exploded before his eyes as pain attacked his head. He staggered then fell to his knees, grabbing at the bars and trying desperately to hold onto consciousness. The last thing he heard was a gunshot.

*

Johnny awoke to a train running through his head. He was in a bed, not his own, but it was comfortable at least. He groaned and his hand went to his forehead then he felt a touch. Slowly, he opened his eyes wider and focused on his father, not an easy task with all the blur.

"Take it easy, son. That's it. Just take your time, now."

Murdoch's voice was soft yet Johnny heard the worry there. He tried to piece his memory back together and slowly, things fell into place. "Scott," he groaned as his hand fell to his side.

Johnny waited for his father to speak but the very act of trying seemed to pain Murdoch. Finally, he could wait no longer. "What happened?"

"Scott's gone, son. He ran."

A frown creased his forehead as he thought about that. "He couldn't have. Val was ..." eyes widened as fear gripped his chest. "Where's Val?"

Murdoch sighed and lowered his eyes for a few seconds. "He's in the other room. Johnny, he's been shot and it's pretty bad. Sam's worked on him a long time. He's not sure ..." His hands pressed against the shoulders of his son as he kept the man from coming out of the bed.

"Let go of me! Who shot Val?"

"Stop it, Johnny! There's nothing you can do for him right now. Just calm down and I'll tell you what I know."

He looked into his father's frantic eyes and made himself relax then nodded his head.

"Steve Watkins heard a gunshot and started down the street toward the jail. He saw Scott run out and ride off on Barranca. When he went inside, he found you out cold and Val shot. Val's gun was missing. He got Sam and sent for me then a posse went after Scott."

How Murdoch managed to tell that tale without his voice breaking, Johnny didn't know. Misery took hold of him then anger reared up. "Scott shot Val and stole Barranca? Murdoch, I ... I'm starting to think maybe ..."

"Maybe your brother is guilty? Nothing else makes sense, son, but I still have to hold onto the hope that something else is driving him to this ... madness."

"NOTHING could cause this but Scott himself, Murdoch." Johnny closed his eyes and turned his head away. He didn't want to think about this anymore. "I want to see Val."

"I'll get Sam to look at you. He said you have a concussion." Murdoch's voice was flat and tired as he spoke then he left the room.

*

"Take your time, Johnny. You don't have to hurry," Sam advised.

Johnny sat on the side of the bed and blew out a breath as the dizziness fought a supreme battle. He wasn't so sure it wouldn't win until he found his grit lying beneath the pain. Slowly, he raised his head and opened his eyes then nodded gently. Murdoch was beside him, helping him to his feet, holding on for dear life.

Once standing, Johnny looked up at his father and wished he hadn't. He could see it all in the pale blue eyes and he looked away. He needed to focus on one thing at a time and right now, Val was more important.

As he eased into the chair next to the bed, Johnny took his friend's cold hand in his. Shocked by the lack of warmth, he looked closely at Val to ensure he was breathing. With relief, he tightened his grip and leaned in, grateful they'd left him alone with the man.

"I'm so sorry, Val. I never thought he'd do somethin like this. I don't know who that is anymore but I'm done with him. I can't do this. I just can't. It's one thing to want to run but, this is a whole other matter. I'll never forgive him for shooting you. I don't know if I want them to catch up to him or not. I'm not sure I ever want to look at him again.

"Please, just don't die, okay? I swear I couldn't live with myself if you died. It's my fault for trusting him; for getting you to trust him even a little. I know you never would've come into that cell like that if I hadn't been in there. You trusted me to watch your back and I didn't. I turned away like a fool. I hope to God you can forgive, amigo."

He bowed his head and rested it against the edge of the mattress and he prayed.

*

Three days passed and Val had not come around. Sam kept saying he was holding his own but Johnny could see no real improvement. His own wound was fine. The dizziness and headaches were gone. He was a little weak but he figured that was from the boulder he felt he was wearing on his back. A boulder of guilt.

"I want to take him to Lancer." He looked at Sam steadily, waiting for the argument that didn't come.

"You'll have to be very careful. Go slow with him. We'll have to pad the wagon bed down a lot to keep him from jostling around and someone needs to ride in the back with him to watch. I don't care if it takes all day, Johnny."

He nodded and looked to his father who smiled a little sadly. "I'll make the arrangements. I'm sure he'll be more comfortable at the ranch."

As Murdoch stepped out of the doctor's office, he pulled up short and grabbed hold of the railing as he watched the posse returning with their prisoner in tow. Scott sat Barranca with his hands tied to the saddle horn, his head hanging down and his clothes tattered. Murdoch couldn't see his face but he could tell Scott had been run ragged. He closed his eyes then turned and walked back inside.

"The posse just brought Scott back."

Johnny's jaw tightened, the muscle twitching. "Are you gonna get the wagon or you want me to?"

Murdoch stared at him, his shoulders slumped uncharacteristically. "I'll go."

"How's Barranca look?"

Murdoch stopped with the knob in his hand. He didn't turn around. "I'm sorry, I didn't notice." He left again with Johnny staring at his back.

*

Steve Watkins walked into the doctor's office ten minutes later. He was sorely put out by all this and wondering how heâ€d gotten into the mess. He worked the livery by trade and being a lawman wasnâ€t an aspiration. At six feet even, he was a handsome man with brown eyes and hair. His moustache was always trimmed and he was the kind of man everyone liked right off. He was also the kind of man who had backbone and didnâ€t walk away from trouble which is what had landed him here.

Sam responded to the bell ringing over the door and frowned when he saw who it was.

"How's Sheriff Crawford?"

"He's doing better but that's not saying much. He's alive, Steve. Johnny's taking him to Lancer to heal."

"Lancer? What the hell makes him think Val would want to be there?"

"Because he'll be safe and comfortable there," Johnny replied as he stepped through the curtain. "As far away from Scott as I can get him. What kind of shape is my horse in?"

Steve stared at him astounded for a second before blinking. "He'll need some rest. He was rode real hard."

Anger blushed the young man's face as he gave a jerky nod of the head.

"Reckon Lancer needs seein to, Doc. Nothin serious but he's got some cuts and scrapes. Ditched the horse and tried to scramble up over some rocks in the high country." He paused and seemed to consider. "Acted like he didn't know where the hell he was. I guess he was too desperate to pay any mind."

"Who the hell cares?" Johnny snorted in disgust. "I'll be over to get Barranca soon as Murdoch gets back with a wagon for Val."

"Yeah, okay. Look, I don't know who to talk to about this. I ain't no lawman and Val never could keep a deputy for long."

Johnny almost smiled at that. It was true. Val ran off everyone who tried to hold down that job. "Reckon you'd need to talk to the Cattlemen about that but not Murdoch. He's got enough on his plate. Maybe that useless mayor could handle that for ya."

Steve gave a smirk and a nod. "Tell Val we're all pullin for 'im. I'll go see the mayor."

"I'll be over to the jail as soon as Val's taken care of, Steve," Sam said.

*

Once Val was in the wagon bed to Johnny's satisfaction, he walked over to the sheriff's office and retrieved Barranca. He looked the horse over as he walked him and cursed under his breath.

"I'm gonna leave him in the livery, Murdoch. He shouldn't be walkin all that way today."

"Good idea, son. He doesn't look too good."

Johnny nearly growled at the condition of the animal. Rode hard was putting it lightly. If he had any doubts about Scott before, they were gone now. Not that he'd had any. What he'd told his unconscious friend was the truth. He was done.

Finally, they got underway. Murdoch drove as Johnny sat in the back close to Val and watching for any sign he might awaken. For three days, he'd prayed that would happen but now, he prayed it didn't until they got him home.

He glanced at his father's back once in a while, the shoulders still slumped, the head slightly bowed and Johnny decided he hated Scott. What he'd done to this family was unforgivable. What he'd done to Val was unbelievable. But, it was the basic betrayal that tore through Johnny. Betrayal from the word go. Scott refused to be truthful with him and now he knew why.

He almost wished he knew the reason behind the killing of Jenson but he found he could no longer care about that, either. It was over. The family that could have been, the love he'd held for that man had all been destroyed. And the one man who had bailed him out more times than he could count, the one man he truly did trust above all others, was lying here near dead.

He watched Val's face as they rode along. The trail was always a rough one but Murdoch was going slowly and trying hard to avoid any major ruts. Johnny knew he and his father would need to talk soon. They both needed to get through what was happening and what was still to come.

As much as he hated Scott, Johnny didn't want his brother to die. But, he couldn't help. There was nothing he could do now. Scott had made sure of that.

He broke off his ruminations as the wagon slowed to a stop in the front yard. Johnny released the tail gate then waited for his father to help him carry Val into the house. The front door opened and Teresa waved them in and to a bedroom on the first floor.

Silently, the two men settled the sheriff comfortably on the bed then Johnny sat beside him, testing for fever and grateful there was none. "Okay, amigo. We got you here so now it's time to wake up and start fighting back."

There was no response and he didn't really expect any. He felt the light touch on his shoulder and turned to look into Teresa's sad face.


"Let me take care of him now, Johnny."

He tried to smile at her then stood and backed away. A glance at his father showed him nothing but the same granite he'd been looking at forever it seemed. Johnny walked out of the room and headed for the liquor.

*

He heard the footsteps approach and poured a Scotch before turning to face his father and whatever was about to happen. His head ached fiercely and he didn't want to get into this now but, it seemed that wasn't an option. He simply handed the glass off and walked over to the French doors, opening them to let in some air. As he leaned against the frame and stared at nothing, his shoulders tensed even more.

"I'll send someone to town for Barranca tomorrow."

"Thanks." He tried to keep his tone easy but the bite of resentment at his horse's treatment came through.

"The only thing I can really hope for now is to understand why this happened."

Johnny turned to look at him. In that second, he saw the deep pain his father was feeling. The torment and heartbreak shone on the older man's face for a few seconds before Murdoch looked away.

"Will it help? I mean, knowing why he did this. Will it really help you?"

Murdoch sighed heavily and took a drink then shook his head slowly. "I don't know. I guess nothing will really help. I know what he's done is beyond redemption but ..."

"But, he's your son and you love him no matter what."

Murdoch could only nod.

"I understand, Murdoch. I don't expect you to hate him but I hope you don't expect me not to. What he did to Val ... I will never forgive that."

"I know how important Val is to you. I pray he survives this. I swear I can't believe any of this is happening. Scott is not this person. That's what I can't wrap my mind around!"

"Me neither which is why I went to see him in the first place. He was gonna tell me something - or said he was - when Val came into the cell with his supper."

Murdoch glanced at him before taking another healthy drink then plopping heavily into a chair. "It's one thing to think that your child might be in danger. To think there's a chance he might die. It's entirely different to know the exact day and hour and know there's not a damned thing you can do about it."

Johnny walked over and knelt beside his father's chair. "I hope you're not thinking of going and watching this."

Murdoch's stunned gaze fell on him. "No. God, no. I couldn't bear that."

"Johnny, Val is coming around," Teresa called softly from the doorway.

*

He eased onto the edge of the bed and took his friend's hand in his. "Val?"

The sheriff groaned and frowned then slowly opened his eyes and blinked several times.

"That's it. Take your time, amigo. You're at Lancer. I brought you here to heal so that's what you hafta do, okay?"

Val cleared his throat and Johnny poured water and helped him drink.

"Lento, amigo. But, drink as much as you can. You lost a lot of blood." Johnny kept his voice smooth and soft, fighting to keep the tremble away.

Val took several breaths before relaxing again and looking at his friend. "Thanks."

"De nada. How ya feel?"

He sighed and took stock. "Lousy but I reckon I'll live."

Johnny's smile lit the room. "That's what I wanted to hear."

Val had to smile back a little then, "tell me."

Johnny dropped his eyes and ran a hand over his face. "What do you remember?"

"Scott grabbed my gun and pushed me into the wall. When I turned around, he'd hit you on the head and I grabbed at the gun. We fought for a few seconds then the gun went off and that's about it."

"Steve Watkins found us and sent for the doc and Murdoch. Then, he and a posse went after Scott. They found him after three days and brought him back. He's in jail again."

Val nodded. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Johnny was surprised by the apology.

"Hell, for everythin, I reckon. Mostly, that Scott did any of this."

"Well, I guess there's no doubt he's guilty. Even if he didn't kill Jenson, he damned near killed you and he stole my horse." He felt Val's hand on his arm and met his stare.

"Wish there was somethin I could do, amigo."

Johnny smiled wanly at him. "There is. Get better."

*

Teresa stood in the doorway and listened to their conversation. She knew she shouldn't but they'd been trying to keep this from her and she needed to know what was happening. She was as stunned as the rest of them at Scott's behavior. She'd been completely confused with the man since he'd returned from Modesto a few months back. That's when Scott had changed.

Johnny stood to go as Val had nodded off again. When he turned and saw her there, he frowned in disapproval. Teresa blushed and lowered her eyes but she waited to walk out with him.

"I'm sorry but I wanted to know what happened and you and Murdoch seem to think I'll simply collapse from the truth."

He had to smile a little and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her in. "We shouldn't have done that to you, honey. You have a right to know, too. I guess neither of us was willing to believe Scott did this. I guess I'm still havin a hard time with it but you heard Val just now."

She stepped away and frowned at him. "Yes, I heard. It's just so strange. Since he came home from that trip, it's like Scott is a completely different person. Like it's not Scott at all."

"I know. I've tried, Murdoch's tried. He barely would talk to me at all and when he did, it was always just a few words. Angry and spiteful words. I swear sometimes, it was like he hated me."

"That was different, too."

Johnny looked at her in confusion. "What was different?"

"The way Scott was talking. The words he used were ... fancy, even for Scott. It's like he turned back into the man he was when he first got here but even more. Sometimes, when he'd say certain words, I could hear that accent more clearly than I'd ever heard it before. And the way he spoke, like he was ... I don't know, like he was belittling me. Like he was barely putting up with me."

Johnny cocked his head to the side and looked closely at her. He could see the tears shining brightly in her eyes and it tore at his heart. "You should have told me or Murdoch about this, Teresa. He had no right to treat you like that. I know he pretty much ignored us but I didn't know he was acting like that with you."

She blushed and turned away, facing the wall and clasping her hands. "I suppose it doesn't matter now but there were a few times when he said some very inappropriate things, too."

Johnny took her arm and turned her back to face him, his own eyes shining with fire. "Like what?"

"Just things like I was pretty and I was wasting away here and I needed a real man to show me what life was all about. The way he looked at me ... it scared me."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"Oh, Johnny, it was Scott! I thought maybe something was wrong. He was sick or something had happened or ... I don't know. I just kept thinking he'd snap out of it." The tears fell down her cheeks then and Johnny hugged her tightly.

His mind was awhirl and he felt dizzy from all this new information. Teresa was right, this was not their Scott.

*

By morning, Johnny was even more confused. He hadn't slept much, just dozed off and on as he sat next to Val. His friend had come around twice in the night and each time, Johnny poured water into him like it was nectar from the Gods. Val's complaints that he was being drowned fell on deaf ears as Johnny insisted on adhering to Sam's orders this time.

Now, as he watched the sun rise from Val's window, Teresa's words continued to haunt him. Scott would never treat a woman that way especially that woman. A nagging fear worked at him throughout the night. Johnny stood up and looked at his friend then slipped out and headed to the kitchen.

Teresa was at the stove and he walked up and kissed her head. "Honey, I'm goin to town for a while. Tell Murdoch I decided to get Barranca myself."

"Are you going to see Scott?"

He hesitated then smiled at her. "Maybe."

He saddled Remmie. Why he chose Scott's horse, he wasn't really sure and didn't want to dwell on it. Maybe, he needed to feel close to his brother. The brother he knew and loved, not the man in that cell. As he rode toward town, Johnny's anger began to rise. By the time he reached the jail, he was near the boiling point.

He dismounted and took a deep breath then headed inside, all the while trying to keep himself under control. It wasn't really working.

Steve Watkins looked up in surprise then grew wary.

"I see they talked ya into stickin it out, Steve."

"For a while. Just til they can get someone convinced ta do this. Didn't figure on seein you again anytime soon. How's Val?"

"He woke up. No fever and he's got his wits about him. With a little luck and Teresa's nursing, he should be alright." Johnny inhaled deeply before going on, removing his gunbelt even as he spoke. "I want to see him."

"I don't know about that."

"I need to see him, Steve, and I need to be inside that cell with him. You can lock us up and stand there the whole time with a gun pointed at us if ya want. But, I need to see him."

Steve sucked in a breath and blew it out. "Dammit! I knew it was a mistake to say I'd do this. Alright, but I will shoot you if ya try anything."

Johnny had to cock a brow at the bravado but he figured it was easy to be brave with an unarmed man. He only nodded, unwilling to waste any time being upset with Steve. It was the man in the cell he was ticked off at so that's where he focused as he stepped into the back room.

*

Steve had his gun in his hand as he unlocked the cell with the other one. He stepped back then quickly slammed the door when Johnny stepped through, locking it and back-stepping near the doorway.

"What do you want?"

Johnny stared at the upturned face, scowling and sneering at him. Dear God! Could it be true? He found he couldn't speak. Didn't know how to even go about starting.

"Well? If you're here to exact revenge for the sheriff, there's no point. They're going to hang me anyway."

That was it. That was what he needed to hear and he knew. Not how it was even possible, but he knew. Rage entered his heart and Johnny walked over and grabbed him by his shirt, yanking him to his feet and locking onto his eyes.

"Who are you?"

Struggling against the fierce grip, the blond averted his gaze and refused to answer.

Johnny snapped. He took hold of the front of the shirt and ripped it open, buttons flying everywhere then, roughly jerked it down over the man's arms to below his elbows.

Steve gave a jerky start and took one step forward then changed his mind and stopped.

Johnny whirled the man around and pushed him into the wall, pinning his shoulders. He stared at the perfectly smooth back for several seconds. His throat felt dry, sticking together and he tried to swallow but found he couldn't. He let go and backed away as far as he could get, his eyes wide in astonishment.

"What the hell do you think you're doing? Is this some sort of prison practice? Am I to be abused now?" He huffed indignantly as he dressed himself, having no choice but to simply tuck the shirt in the front with no buttons to use.

Johnny found his senses. It seemed that voice always brought him back to himself. Only, it wasn't the same voice. He could hear it now. Why hadn't he before? Probably because the manâ€s defenses were down. But, he could hear the difference now and it shocked him to the core.

"Who the hell are you because you are NOT Scott Lancer!"

"Don't be ridiculous!"

Johnny took a menacing step forward. "You ain't Scott. My brother has scars on his back. Scars I've seen a dozen times so don't stand there and claim you're him!"

The man stared at him, his eyes widening, his mouth agape. Suddenly, his face changed to one of pure antipathy with a healthy dose of arrogance. He smiled wickedly.

Johnny saw Steve move forward but he paid no mind. "You best start talkin, mister."

"I'd be glad to, brother."

*

"You ain't my brother!"

"But, I am, Johnny. I am your brother and Scott's brother. Garrett Lancer is the name." The smile widened as if he'd just revealed the most delicious of secrets.

Johnny shook his head slowly to negate this insanity.

"I'm Scott's twin brother. You didn't know about me. I figured that much out once I arrived out here. Scott didn't remember me, either. It was very disappointing and hurtful, you know."

"Just tell me where Scott is." Johnny hissed the words, unable or maybe, unwilling, to allow this to sink in.

"In a moment. First, I want to tell you the story of my life. Oh, don't worry, it won't take long." The sentence ended with a harsh bite. He walked over and sat back on the cot, scooting back and propping himself against the wall. "Now, don't be concerned. Scott's still the oldest. By almost two whole minutes, I'm told."

Steve cleared his throat and Johnny almost left his skin at the sound. He'd forgotten the man was even there.

"Johnny, maybe I ought to leave."

He just stared for a few seconds. "No, you need to hear this, Steve. I need a witness because no one is going to believe this."

Garrett snorted with laughter. "Very true, brother, very true."

Johnny's jaw twitched, his teeth grinding at this man calling him brother. "Just get it said."

He smiled again, relaxed and calm. It was unnerving. "My grandfather sent me to live on an island off the coast of Massachusetts when I was four years old. I was raised by caretakers. I had tutors, a fine education, and all the comforts. I had everything but freedom of choice. I wasn't allowed to leave the island. I wasn't allowed to talk to or see anyone other than my keepers. Six months ago, I escaped on a supply boat. Oh, it took many months to plan out. I watched and noted the timing of the arrivals and they were quite precise. Then, I made my move and it was so much easier than I could have imagined.

"Once free, I made my way to Boston and broke into Grandfather's house. It was a little hard to find the place but I discovered all I need do was ask simple questions. Everyone knew Harlan Garrett and everyone was most helpful. Two people mistook me for Scott and I had a time working my way out of the questions I was asking." He stopped to laugh at that.

"Anyway, I found all the files he kept on me. All the progress reports. It was all so very touching. Then, I discovered a file marked Lancer. My goodness! What a plethora of information that contained!"

He leaned forward a little and grinned. "You have had a very colorful past, brother. I was quite envious of you at first. All that freedom. Now, all I see is a lot of hard work. Not exactly what I had in mind."

Johnny's anger was starting to rise again. The sheer gall of this man wore on his nerves. "What did you have in mind? How long did you think you could pretend to be Scott?"

Garrett cocked a brow. "I thought forever. Oh, I know it would take a little time to 'become' Scott but I could have pulled it off if not for that ruffian Jenson. He certainly hated our brother." He smiled again.

*

Johnny bowed his head then squatted down and propped his elbows on his knees, holding his head in his hands. "Why? Why didn't you just come and tell us who you are?"

"So you could turn your backs on me? That was not to my benefit."

He looked up slowly, frowning. "Turn our backs on you? That wouldn't have happened."

"Please! Think about it, Johnny. I appear out of nowhere with this story of being Scott's long lost twin who wasn't so lost. You all would have sent me packing."

"No, we wouldn't have. You should have done your homework better, Garrett. You would've known we would have welcomed you home." A thought that should have occurred to him straight away finally came to the fore. "Murdoch doesn't know about you, does he?"

"No, I don't believe he does. I can see Grandfather not bothering with that little detail."

"So can I," Johnny snorted. He received an amused if befuddled look. "He came out here about a year ago to blackmail Scott into going home. But, I don't get it. Why did he keep you locked away? That doesn't make any sense."

"It does if he believes I'm the spawn of Satan." He laughed harshly at himself. "I've never been quite clear on that point. I only know he believes me to be evil and certainly unsuitable to be the son of such a prominent member of society. Not like Scott. The perfect golden boy!"

Johnny watched him closely and made a conclusion. "You did this to get back at Scott, didn't you? You're jealous of the life he's had and you wanted to steal it. That's why you didn't come to us. You wanted him to suffer for something he didn't even know about."

"He should have known! We're twins, he should have *felt* something!"

There was pain there and anger but most of all, some sick torture in those eyes. Some agony Johnny could not fathom. He forced his voice to be soothe and calming.

"Maybe he did. He told me once he felt a part of him had been missing all his life. He always thought it was me but maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was you and he just convinced himself different. He couldn't know, Garrett. He was just a baby, too."

The older man dropped his gaze as he considered these words. Johnny felt panic rise in him. How far would this man go to exact his ill-focused hate?

"Where is he, Garrett? Where's Scott?"

"Probably dead by now."

*

Johnny rose to his feet quickly, his fists clenched as he stepped closer to the man. "What the hell does that mean?"

Tiredly, Garrett leaned back again. "It means I was holding him in a shack. I was going out there to feed and water him regularly before I got locked up but now, well, I couldn't exactly get away." A sick grin appeared on his face.

"You've been in here over a month! What were you plannin? Just let him die and what the hell?"

"I thought you'd get me out of here! You and Scott are supposed to be so close, after all!"

"If you'd been Scott, acted like him, things would've been a lot different. You can't expect help when you act like a jackass to the people who are trying to help you most. Damned idiot! Now, tell me exactly where you left him."

He crossed his arms over his chest. "Why should I?"

Johnny closed his eyes briefly and made himself remain calm. "Because, he's your brother and no matter what you say or how you act, that means somethin to you. If it didn't, you wouldn't have even come here in the first place."

He knew he'd hit a cord in the man by the look of remorse that flittered across the oh-so-familiar features. Johnny waited until he thought he'd just stop breathing.

"Five miles north of here there is a small, very small cabin. It has two windows that are covered over and just the front door. It's back off the road in a wooded area." He stopped and looked up with a smirk. "I could show you."

Johnny ignored the jibe. "Past a stream and an old oak tree hit by lightning about a million years ago, it looks like?"

"That's the one."

He nodded and walked to the cell door. "Let me out, Steve."

The deputy stared at him for a second before coming to his senses and standing up. He still used the same security letting Johnny out as he had when he let him in. This entire story was just too incredible to believe but, it was too crazy not to believe.

Johnny looked back through the bars solemnly. "What you've done is beyond anything I could do to help you even if I wanted to. Sheriff Crawford is my best friend and has been for years. You damned near killed him because of your jealousy and it was all for nothing. You could have had a home with us. You could have belonged to this family. None of us knew each other most of our lives but we made a place together. You could've been part of that. Now, you may have destroyed it."

*

Johnny rode like the devil was chasing him and he felt as though that were the case. He'd never prayed so hard in his life but he found he couldn't hold out much hope. How could Scott survive for so long with hardly any supplies? He didn't even know how much the man had been left with. He couldn't imagine what Scott had been going through. Seeing his own self staring back at him without the help of a mirror. Knowing all these months that he had a twin brother who had imprisoned him and taken his place.

Dios! How could he explain to his brother he didn't know the difference? Even though Garrett had been very careful about hiding those differences, Johnny should have known. It had taken Teresa's observations to make him see the truth. A truth he still had a hard time accepting. As he neared the cabin, his heart thundered in his ears and still, he prayed.

Damned near tears, Johnny slid off Remmie and decided to go slow. He really didn't think he could stand seeing his brother lying dead in some filthy place like this. How could he face this? Sucking in a breath, he tried the door but, of course, it was locked. As he pushed on it, he realized it was more than locked, it was nailed shut. Frowning, he wondered how Garrett got supplies to Scott.

He walked to the side of the building and to the window but it, too, was nailed down and covered completely. To the other side he went but this time, he saw no nails and the window gave a little as he tugged on it. Frustrated and anxious, he pulled his gun and broke the glass with the butt then cleared all the broken glass away with the barrel of the pistol.

Johnny stuck his head inside and stopped breathing. The stench was indescribable. It was too dark within the small abode and his usual instincts would tell him to take heed. But, if Scott was still alive, it was barely and he had to get in there. The thought that this was a wild goose chase, a ruse Garrett had concocted, occurred to him but he really had no choice. Johnny stepped through the window and nearly fell as he slipped on the shattered glass.

Cussing and trying to see in the dimness, he cautiously called out his brother's name. There was no answer and the odor was turning his stomach. But, it wasn't death he smelled at least. Human waste and maybe other animal waste but, not death. He tried taking short breaths as he fumbled around and found the door then pulled mightily on it but it didnâ€t budge. His foot kicked something and he strained to see a piece of wood. Using it as leverage against the door, he pried a few times before it finally gave way. He had to step through for a few seconds to breathe some fresher air.

There was more light now and he scanned the small room, finding the cot and the form lying upon it. Johnny's heart rate increased even more as he slowly walked to the cot. He could smell his own fear now and that sickened him more than the odors.

He reached out with a shaky hand and touched the shoulder, grateful it wasn't ice cold. Gently, he turned the man over and gasped at the sight before him.

*

Johnny stared in horror at his brother, beard down to his chest, hair to his shoulder, eyes sunken and skeleton thin. His face was gaunt and drawn, the eyes closed. Tears sprung into Johnny's eyes and he couldn't stop it. His only thought was to get his brother the hell out of here. But as he went to pick the man up, he heard the jangle of a chain. Johnny looked down and saw the shackle around his brother's ankle. Now, he knew why Scott couldn't break out as he'd just broken the window and door. He moved around the room but, of course, there was nothing to break the chain so he tried the bed.

The iron wrought foot board was bolted to the frame. Incensed, Johnny pulled at it but it wouldn't give. Panic started to rise in him and he fought to quell it. Bile rose in his throat and he pushed aside all these thoughts. He walked outside and rummaged through the saddlebags until he found a small hammer Scott carried in case of loose horse shoes. Hurrying back in, he beat the iron into submission, finally releasing the frame from the foot board and sliding the chain off.

Johnny wrapped the chain around his forearm and scooped the man up, ignoring the stench of him and walked outside.

Scott's eyes squeezed shut from some automatic reaction, Johnny supposed, because he wasn't coming around. Blinking rapidly himself, he looked around the area then headed for the stream. He walked right into the water with Scott still in his arms and submerged the man to his neck. The water level was low enough so he could let go and Scott floated, his neck supported by Johnny's crooked knee.

He reached behind Scott's head as the current rolled downward and cupped his hand then dribbled water on the dry, cracked lips. Slowly, those lips moved and sucked the moisture in. Johnny repeated the action over and over until Scott began to swallow a little better. Then, he allowed more water to pour from his hand into his brother's now open mouth.

Scott accepted the water greedily each time and Johnny didn't think he'd ever get enough. But, he had to stop at some point before Scott got sick so he did. He now cupped the water and hand-washed his brother's face, soaking his hair. They stayed in the water for over half an hour until Scott began to shiver. Johnny picked him back up and stumbled to land then laid his brother on the soft grass.

He went to Remmie and rifled through the saddlebags, finding an old shirt. He ripped it up and grabbed the canteen then returned to his brother and washed his face again, then unbuttoned his shirt to inspect for injuries. Johnny gasped when he saw the ribs so clearly defined. He could literally count each one. Scott had always been trim but this was a man starved.

There were no physical signs of trauma, he was simply emaciated. Being starved to death. Anger raged in Johnny's veins but he fought it down for now. He had to help Scott. He had to, somehow, get the man home and explain this all to their father.

He suddenly felt overwhelmed at that prospect. What would Murdoch think if he rode in there with Scott in this shape? Johnny couldn't face the myriad of questions Murdoch would not be able to hold back. Scott needed help and he needed it now.

He looked at the sky and figured, riding slowly as he'd have to, he'd make it back to town with his brother after dark. He could get to Sam's unseen, he knew. He had no intentions of letting anyone see his brother like this and he knew Scott would be mortified to be seen in such condition. He knew it didn't really matter for looks were not the most important thing right now. But, it was his brother's pride he worried about. Scott was such a proud man and with every right.

He made himself stop all this thinking and swiped his face, surprised at how wet it was. It wasn't from the stream, either. He sniffed and shook his head then lifted his brother and walked to Remmie.

*

Johnny pushed himself off the back of the horse then quickly went to the side to grab Scott as he leaned to the left. Easing his brother into his arms he walked to the front door of Sam's office and simply kicked it in. He took Scott to the back room and laid him on the table then lit a lamp as he waited for the doctor to storm in.

And storm he did. Sam entered the room looking like a bear disturbed from its hibernation. Johnny turned to face him and Sam immediately stopped any onslaught he'd been thinking of unleashing. Johnny quickly walked to the doorway and took his friend by the arms.

"This is going to shock you and you're gonna have a ton of questions but it'll have to wait, Sam. All I can tell you right now is the man in jail is not Scott. This is Scott and he's almost dead and I need you to help him now."

Sam took two seconds to register the information then nodded his head and Johnny stepped aside. Sam Jenkins walked to his examination table and gawked in horror.

"Dear God in heaven," he whispered. Shaking himself, he managed a quivering voice. "I need hot water." He heard Johnny walk out of the room then set about his ministrations.

Together, they stripped the filthy clothes and washed the man down then dressed him in one of Sam's nightshirts. Other than a few bruises, one fading on the back of his scalp, there were no physical injuries.

Johnny had to look away as Sam inserted a tube. He explained its purpose and Johnny could only nod. Once the tube was in place, Sam began hydrating his patient. "There's soup on the stove. Warm it up a little, just lukewarm and bring me some broth from it."

Johnny did as he was told, his head hung like a lost dog and Sam wondered what the hell was going on.

Finally, the doctor had done all he could for the time being and he took Johnny's arm, leading him to a chair and sitting him down. "Now, tell me."

Once he'd heard the whole incredible story, Sam sat quietly in contemplation. Sighing loudly, he looked at Johnny sympathetically. "Why don't you get some rest?"

"I can't, Sam. I have to go home and tell Murdoch. I don't know how I'm ..."

"Just tell him like you told me, son. And bring him here. He's not likely to believe it until he sees it himself. While you're gone, I'll shave him and cut most of that hair off. It won't be perfect but it couldn't look any worse. I also need to treat his lice."

Johnny grimaced and nodded. He almost hoped Scott wouldn't wake up until he was free of the vermin. He couldn't imagine his brother's reaction to all of this. He really didn't want to be around for it and he knew he was a coward for the thoughts.

*

Murdoch Lancer sipped his coffee and frowned. He'd been frowning since yesterday afternoon when Johnny hadn't yet returned and he was still frowning. He supposed someone would have come to tell him if his younger son had broken his brother out of jail. Murdoch didn't think that likely given Johnny's state of mind and Val's state of health. At least the sheriff was doing better. He stared at the food in front of him, disinterested.

Teresa watched him and shook her head. "He'll be home, soon."

"He probably spent the night at the saloon drowning his sorrows." He couldn't help feeling resentful. He needed Johnny's support, not to be worrying after him, too.

"How are we going to get through this, Murdoch? I just will never believe Scott would commit murder."

"He didn't."

They both looked at the door where Johnny stood looking rode hard and hung up wet.

"Where have you been?" Murdoch's growl was in fine form even as his heart lightened it's worried load a little.

Johnny looked at him with more sorrow than the man had ever witnessed in his life, he was sure. The young man walked in and fell into a chair beside his father as Teresa poured his coffee. He took a few sips and let out a sigh.

"Sit down, honey. I've got something to tell you both and you ain't gonna believe me."

"You said Scott didn't do it. Did you find some evidence?" Murdoch asked with hope.

"Yes, I did but not exactly what you'd think." Johnny glanced at him then looked at Teresa and smiled weakly. "What you told me about how Scott treated you got me thinking. I went into town yesterday to confront him once and for all. It just wasn't like him at all. We all kept thinking that over and over. I got this crazy notion so I got Steve to let me in the cell."

Johnny told the rest of his story, stopping a few times to answer his father's questions. He could see Murdoch growing more and more distressed with each word he spoke. When he told them he'd found Scott and the shape he was in and where he was now, Murdoch bolted from his chair.

Johnny jumped up and grabbed his arm, receiving a murderous glare. "Frank's saddling us some horses now. I just don't know how to prepare you, Murdoch. When you see Scott ..."

"I'll deal with it. He's alive and that's all I care about right now."

"What about Garrett?"

"What about him!?"

Johnny flinched a little from the bellow. He was bone tired and drained in every way. "He's your son, too."  

Murdoch stared at him as if this information had not occurred to him and it hadn't. His knees began to weaken and he stumbled back into his chair, burying his face in his hands.

Johnny looked at Teresa, tears streaming down her face and he couldn't tell if they were happy tears or sad. Both, he imagined.

"I can't, Johnny. I just can't think about that right now. I have to see Scott."

"I know. It's okay. I just don't know for sure what Scott knows."

"I pray to God we find out from him," Murdoch mumbled then found his legs and headed for the door.

Johnny held back. "How's Val doin?"

"Better. He's getting grumpy." Teresa tried to smile a little.

"Don't tell him anything, Teresa. I'll do it. Just tell him I had some things to do but I'll be back in a few hours to talk to him."

*

As they rode down the street, people stopped to stare. Johnny got the sinking feeling everyone knew the truth by now. He knew it would have to come out. Scott's name would have to be cleared. He just couldn't deal with it at the moment. He looked at his father and saw nothing but grim determination.

There'd been no change in Scott's condition. He was still unconscious and Sam reported he probably would be for some time. He'd treated the lice, cut the man's hair shorter than it had ever been and shaved him. He looked better to Johnny but he knew how horrible an impression it made on Murdoch.

The rancher just sat there and stared at his son's skeletal form. No one would hazard a guess as to his feelings in that moment. Johnny stood back and waited for what, he didn't know. Suddenly, Murdoch stood and stormed out of the room. Johnny was hot on his heels.

He headed directly to the jail and crashed through the door. Steve Watkins bolted from his chair then slumped his shoulders, giving the man a most aggravated look.

"Gun," Steve clipped.

Murdoch yanked it off then, without a word, walked in the back room.

Johnny made it to the door as Murdoch disappeared to the cell area. "Think I'll just hang around the doorway."

"Good idea. How's Scott?"

"Damned near dead," Johnny spat then leaned against the wall and hung his head.

*

Murdoch Lancer stood at the cell door, gripping the bars and staring at the young man staring back at him. He didn't know where to start but his anger waned a little as he looked at his unknown son.

"Harlan kept you a secret for a lot of years."

"And would have continued to do so until one of us died, I'm sure."

"He'll pay for that."

Garrett laughed. "Will he?"

Murdoch's stern visage didn't falter. "Why would you do such a thing to your own brother?"

"Why do you care? I'm as dead to you now as I've been all these years."

"You weren't dead to me, Garrett. For that to happen, I would have had to know you were even alive." He sighed and shook his head. "I wonder if your mother knew." His voice was distant in that moment, memories of his first wife vivid in his mind's eye. She had been large during her pregnancy. But, he couldn't have guessed.

"I don't know. That information wasn't in the files."

He looked back at the young man so callous, so heartless, it seemed. "So, you decided to take your brother's life, figuratively and almost literally."

"He's alive then."

"Barely."

Garrett only shrugged.

Murdoch's eyes narrowed. "Johnny has a unique ability to read people. He told me he thought there was something redeemable about you. I can only trust his instincts."

Garrett looked at him, stunned. He stood up and approached the bars. "He's wrong. There's nothing redeemable about me, Murdoch. I'm evil. Just ask Grandfather."

"I wouldn't ask him for water in the desert." Suddenly, he reached out and caressed the young man's face.

Garrett flinched and backed away, turning aside.

"My son," he whispered. "Why did you kill that man?"

"He provoked me. He was drunk and running his mouth."

"He didn't draw on you."

"No, he didn't. I drew on him. And, no, I'm not sorry."

*

Murdoch stared at him and tried to see something in those eyes which were challenging him. Something caring, something like Scott. But, he couldn't see whatever Johnny had seen. "I wish you'd come to us. Just told us the truth. Things could have been so different, so much better. Now, you've ruined your life, destroyed it and maybe, Scott's, too. Did he realize who you were?"

"He was too shocked to be looking at his mirror image. Of course, I didn't bother to tell him. I just knocked him out. I thought it would be more fun to explain myself after a few months. After I'd settled in and taken over his life. Then, I was going to tell him how I'd fooled you all and taken what should have been mine all along."

"Did it ever occur to you to share that life with both your brothers?" Murdoch's anger was back, the cruel plan stinging his heart.

Garrett smiled coldly. "And what? You would have divided Lancer into fourths? One big happy family, right?"

"Yes, Garrett. That is exactly what I would have done once you proved it was the life for you."

The young man stared in disbelief. "It's easy to make those claims now."

"You've been around me a little while now. Do you think I'm lying to you? I have nothing to gain now. I've already lost you before I could ever begin to know you." His voice trembled but he couldn't help it and he couldn't be concerned with it now. Not now that he was going to lose this boy.

"So, you are going to let them hang me."

Shaking his head, he answered sorrowfully. "You're guilty, son. You've admitted that to me. There's nothing I can do for you now. I wish to God there was."

He swallowed hard as he watched the older man. "I think you mean that."

"I do mean it. You're my son."

He snorted then. "So? You don't know me. How could you care about someone you don't even know?"

"I didn't know Scott or Johnny but I've always loved them because they're my sons. And so are you. I guess I can't blame you for being cynical after what you've been through."

Garrett paced around the small cell, his hands clasped behind his back, so reminiscent of Scott. It was quiet for long moments and Murdoch waited for him. When he turned back, the rancher saw what his younger son had seen in those pale blue eyes.

"If you want to do something for me, make that old bastard pay for what he did."

*

Johnny had listened to the whole conversation, his heart breaking with each word spoken. He knew his father loved him but to hear the man admit it to anyone had astounded him. He stepped into the room. "If he doesn't, I will."

Garrett smiled a little. "I believe that."

Johnny had to smile back because it was like looking at Scott. That smile changed Garrett's whole face and made him so much like his twin, it was scary. He walked over to stand beside his father.

"I still think you're rotten. There's somethin broke inside you and I ain't so sure it can be fixed. Like I said before, I can't forgive what you did to Val or Scott."

"If it's any consolation, it wasn't my intention to shoot the sheriff."

"Didn't bother you none, though."

Garrett shrugged. "No, it didn't. I suppose I don't know what caring about someone feels like. You're right about me, Johnny. It's better if you both just go home and forget about this."

"That's not going to happen. I can't forget about my son no matter what you've done. I can't condone it or even understand it but that doesn't matter. You see, a parent doesn't abandon his child no matter what he's done wrong."

Johnny dropped his head and closed his eyes but Garrett only stared.

"You can't conceive of that, can you?" Murdoch asked.

"No, I can't. It doesn't matter now, Murdoch. What might have been is best not thought of now. I really don't want you there when they hang me."

Johnny's head came up and he stared at the man. The flatness, the lack of any emotion in his voice when describing his own impending death sent a chill through him.

Murdoch faltered, his eyes dropping for a second before finding his lost son's again. "I'm sorry, son. I'm sorry for what's been done to you and that I didn't know about it. I can't watch them ... I can't watch you die."

Garrett smiled a little and stuck his hand through the bars. "Then, let's say goodbye now."

Murdoch took his hand and held tightly, trying to feel this son, trying to find something redeemable there. It was impossible but he still felt the loss deeply. His son was going to die and he didn't even know him. How many times had he tried to face this possibility before with the other one standing so close at his side?

Garrett pulled back after a few seconds, discomfort with the contact evident on his face.

Murdoch swallowed hard and whispered, "goodbye, son. God bless you." He walked out quickly.

Johnny sighed and leaned his head against the bars.

"Aren't you worried I might knock you out again?"

He looked up into the teasing eyes and smiled a little. "Reckon not. I wish things had been different but that won't get us anywhere. I meant what I said about Harlan. One way or another, he'll pay for this. Anything you want me to tell Scott?"

He shook his head. "What's to say?"

Johnny sighed again. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. "Nothin, I guess. Goodbye, Garrett."

As he turned to walk away, Garrett called out to him. Johnny turned back and waited.

"Could you call me brother just one time? I mean, to me and not thinking you're saying it to Scott."

He wasn't sure he could and he thought about it for a second. The man was about to die. He walked back and extended his hand. "Goodbye, brother."

*

Murdoch was sitting beside Scott when Johnny returned. He knelt beside his father and put a hand on his knee. Murdoch looked like he'd aged a hundred years.

"I sent a telegram to Harlan."

Johnny's surprise was evident. "What the hell for?"

Murdoch's face turned to stone. "I told him Scott was very sick and he needed to come here right away. I want to look in his face when he tries to explain this outrageousness!"

Johnny pressed his knee a little firmer and glanced down. "Has Sam said when we can take Scott home?"

"He had to go look in on someone. He said we'd talk when he got back."

Bowing his head, Johnny swiped a hand over his tired eyes and blinked. "I know you don't want to talk about Garrett. I just wanted to say I'd like ... I mean, I think we should take care of him. He should rest on Lancer land."

The older man closed his eyes tightly for a minute but could only nod.

"I'll take care if it. You don't have to do anything." After a few seconds, he broached another subject. "If Sam won't let us take him home today, I need to go back to the ranch and talk to Val. I told Teresa not to say anything to him. I wanted to be the one to explain all this craziness."

"Of course, son. I can't imagine Sam will let Scott leave today anyway. As much as I want to take him home, I don't think it's a good idea for him to be too far from Sam right now. Why don't you go on ahead? One more day isn't going to matter."

Johnny grimaced. It would matter because tomorrow was Saturday. The day Garrett Lancer would die at the end of a rope. Johnny quickly decided to go home and talk to Val then come back and get Murdoch to leave. He could stay with Scott and take him home. He didn't want his father in town tomorrow. It was going to be one big party with all the gawkers hanging out all day, drinking and eating and being loud. The only thing he wanted to make sure of was that everyone knew exactly who it was on the platform. Scott's name would be muddied no longer.

"I'll be back soon. I'll bring you something to eat."

Murdoch only nodded again and Johnny wasn't too sure he'd even been heard.

*

Johnny left the doctor's office and headed for the courthouse. He knew the judge should be there since he always tried to attend when he sentenced a man to death. Judge Michael's always felt it was his duty to be present. Johnny imagined the condemned man couldn't care less and would probably just as soon the judge wasn't around. He shook the thoughts away as he walked into the man's office.

"There's nothing I can do about it, Johnny," his Honor started in.

"I'm not here to plead Scott's case, Judge. I'm here to make a change in the name. Scott Lancer is not in your jail." Johnny plopped tiredly into a chair and began his long and sorry story. By the time he finished, Judge Michael's was staring at him as if he were insane.

"Steve Watkins heard the whole thing in the jail and Scott's over at Sam's office right now damned near dead. Garrett locked him in a shack and left him to starve. If you don't believe me, go over there."

Shaking his head a little to clear his mind, the judge stood up. "I'll have to verify it all, of course. I certainly want to make sure the right man is being hanged. And you say this Garrett Lancer confessed to you?"

Johnny lowered his eyes and nodded. He still couldn't believe the man was his brother. He stood up and walked out with the judge then left him to attend his business. He had some more of his own at home. He reckoned Val was going to laugh in his face. He'd laugh, too, if it wasn't so blasted pathetic.

As he rode toward home, Johnny let his thoughts turn to his father. Of everyone involved, it was Murdoch's heart he worried most about. How could the man ever get over this? It was one thing to lose your sons to other people, but to lose one in death ... he shuddered at the thought, knowing how close Murdoch had come to that with him.

He suddenly pulled off the road as he came to Cold Creek and jumped down, walking over and dropping to his knees at the waters edge. Johnny splashed cold water on his face, trying to revive himself and ease some of his own pain. He was exhausted. How long since he'd slept through the night? Slept at all? How long since he'd eaten? Damn it!

He stood up and drew his gun, firing off six shots at nothing but the air. He wanted to hit someone. He wanted to rant and rave and strangle someone and he knew exactly who that someone was. He might even do it, too, when the old man got here. That Harlan would come was a given. If Murdoch didn't kill the bastard, he wasn't promising anyone he wouldn't.

He reloaded his gun and slid it in the holster then ran his hands through his hair. Taking several long, deep breaths, he tried to get control back. He felt himself sliding down into a black hole. Someplace where he couldn't see or hear or feel anything. It was a welcome place sometimes but, he couldn't afford to go there right now. There were too many people to consider, too many to take care of and he simply felt overwhelmed.

He mounted up and headed home, dreading every second.

*

Val was feeling much better and Johnny was more than happy about that. He was eating and alert and grouchy. He was almost back to his old self. He still had some pain but he swore it was nothing. Johnny could tell it was something but it wasn't intolerable. He sat in a chair by the bed and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs, his hands dangling between his knees, his head bowed.

"You look like somethin the cat dragged in." Val didn't have to be told why. He knew what tomorrow was and he hated it.

"Feel that way. Look, I have somethin to tell you. It's kind of good news but bad, too."

Val repositioned himself more comfortably and gave Johnny his full attention.

"You ain't gonna believe this, Val, but I swear it's the truth."

"You ain't never lied to me, Johnny, and I know you wouldn't. Just say it."

When he finished, Johnny looked up. Val had his head back and his eyes closed and Johnny hoped he hadn't fallen asleep because he didn't think he could tell this again. He waited to see if Val was awake.

"Well, you were right. It is good and bad news. Reckon the judge will figure it out and set the record straight." He opened his eyes then and looked at his friend. "I'll keep a good thought for Scott. At least we know you were right all along about him. This other is just ... I don't know what the hell that is."

"I just ..." Johnny sighed and stood up, pacing about the room like a caged animal, his fists clenched tightly. "I keep thinkin if he'd come up to the door and knocked. Said, 'howdy, I'm your brother. Surprise!' If he could've just done that, Val. Now, I don't know what the hell to think. He's my brother but I can't feel it, ya know?"

"Did you feel it with Scott when you first met him?"

Johnny looked at him and frowned. "No."

"Then, why would ya with this one? Johnny, the man has got some real problems. I mean, there's gotta be somethin wrong inside him. Somethin broke."

"Yeah, and I know who broke it. I want to kill that sonofabitch!"

"You don't know the whole story, yet. Best you listen to what the old man has to say. There might be more goin on than you know about. Seems even Garrett don't know why the old man sent him away. What I'm sayin is, Harlan might have had good reason. It's pretty plain he's mean as a rattler. Killin Jenson, takin both of us out and stealin your horse not ta mention what he did to Scott. You said yourself he acted like it didn't matter to him if Scott died. All that other you say you saw; all that pain, might've been him tryin to play you again. Get you to help him."

Johnny wanted to be angry with his friend's words but he found he couldn't. He didn't know if Garrett was playing with him because he didn't know the man at all. Maybe he did see what he wanted to see. Some redeeming quality to the man. Something to show he was a human being. But, maybe it just wasn't there. But Harlan Garrett was a whole other rooster and Johnny wasn't so sure he could listen to the man.

As if reading his friend's mind, Val spoke gently. "It ain't right what he done. Keeping them two brothers apart all those years. But, you need to let him tell you why, Johnny. You need to give him that one chance."

His shoulders slumped and he nodded.

"And get some sleep. You look like hell!"

"I will later. I'm goin back to town. I have to get Murdoch to come home tonight. I don't want him anywhere near Green River tomorrow."

"Sure, but it's okay if you're there?"

"Someone has to stay with Scott. I have no intention of leaving Sam's until Scott can come home. Besides, I forgot to get Barranca from the livery."

Val cocked a brow then frowned deeply. It was worse than he thought and he had no idea how to help Johnny through this mess. What was clear was the man was about to fall over from exhaustion but it didn't matter. He was going and that's all.

*

It was nothing short of a miracle in Sam's estimation. When Murdoch Lancer left his office that night, he was simply stunned. How Johnny had gotten through to his father, Sam didn't know but he was grateful for it. He just wished Johnny would go home, too. He'd tried to get the boy out of there but there was no doing that.

Saturday morning broke sunny and clear. Johnny stared out the window as the town began to awaken. The saloon and restaurant were already setting up tables outside, readying for the big event and his stomach turned over. He heard the front door open and almost hoped it was some gawker so he'd have someone to hit.

Steve popped his head through the curtain separating the exam room from the front office. "Sorry, Johnny. He wants to see ya. Said he knew you'd be here with Scott. I told him not to hold his breath but he damned near begged me."

"Did the judge straighten everything out?"

"Yeah, he saw Garrett then came over here and saw Scott. He changed all the legal papers so they had the right name."

Johnny stood up and stretched his back then glanced at his brother. Scott still had not stirred and that tube was starting to look like a snake coming out of his face to Johnny. He grimaced then picked up his hat and put it on.

He felt the eyes on him as he walked to the jail. Johnny looked straight ahead, his jaw muscles twitching with strain. He walked on in and laid his gun on the desk then went to the back room.

Garrett stood and walked to the cell door, holding onto the bars as he approached.

"Steve said you wanted to see me."

"How's Scott?"

"Do you care?"

"Strangely enough, I do."

Johnny turned away sharply and walked to a bench against the wall then sat down. "He's still unconscious. Doc's doing everything he can. Murdoch sent for Harlan."

Garrett was astounded by this. "Why?"

"So he can face the old bastard when he tries to lie his way out of this, I reckon."

Garrett watched him closely for a second. "Have you slept?"

"What do you want?"

He lowered his eyes briefly then shrugged. "To say goodbye, I suppose."

Johnny narrowed his eyes. "Did that yesterday. If you're tryin to make some last ditch effort to make me feel sorry for you, don't bother. I already do. That don't mean there's a damned thing I can do to stop what's gonna happen today."

"I know that. I mean, I didn't know you felt sorry for me. There's no need. I thought, perhaps, if I made you understand that I really can't feel anything much for anyone, you'd be able to forget about me and move on."

"Not likely to happen anytime soon. It ain't just you, ya know. It's Murdoch, this is killing him and Scott ain't even started to know anything yet."

"And you, Johnny? I can see how worried you are for them. What about you? How do you feel about all this?"

"Look, I'm not gonna sit here and pour my heart out to you, Garrett. I feel the same way about you as I did about Scott when I first met him. Not much of anything. Let's just clear the air. I hate this. I hate what that old man did and I hate what you did. Most of all, I hate what it's doing to my father. I think we could have helped you if you'd given us the chance but you didn't. That's done and there's no changing it. I've learned the hard way that wishing things happened differently is a waste of time. This is what we have to deal with now."

Garrett smiled softly. "You're a realist. Given your former profession, that was inevitable. I do wish I felt sorry for what I've done. I don't know if that's the same as actually feeling sorry or not. I do appreciate that you tried to see some good in me. No one else ever has."

"Murdoch did. Remember that. He's your father and no matter what, he cares for you." Johnny sighed lightly then stood up and approached the cell. "Look, if it's alright with you, I'd like to lay you to rest at Lancer. There's a real pretty spot that looks over the house. Murdoch's fine with it."

The hands on the bars tightened into white knuckles. Garrett looked up in surprise when he felt a warm hand covering his. He met Johnny's eyes and saw sincerity there. He swallowed hard. "Thank you. That is most generous. Maybe I can finally find some peace there."

"I hope so. I have to go now."

"You won't ... watch, will you?"

"No. I can't do that."

Garrett nodded and smiled thinly. "Thank you, Johnny. You've been kinder to me than you should have been. Thank Murdoch for me, too. What he said to me yesterday. Well, tell him I'm grateful."

"I will. El dios de mayo tiene misericordia en su alma."

Garrett frowned curiously and Johnny smiled then translated. "May God have mercy on your soul."

*

He started back to Sam's then changed direction. Johnny walked to the undertaker's with a heavy heart. More than ever before, he believed they could have helped Garrett become a good man. Could have shown him how to respect people and care about them. It was too late now and he had to accept that.

He'd been lucky to find Scott so he figured he was ahead of the game. But, another brother would have been nice. Well, maybe. He smiled a little at his own quirky sense of humor. The smile died quickly as he stepped into the undertaker's office.

He guessed it didn't really matter but he couldn't think of anything special to put on his brother's tombstone. Nothing personal, really. He'd thought briefly to ask Murdoch but that idea fled his mind as quickly as it had come. Well, it was done now and he needed to get back to Scott.

The streets were filling now. Everyone was filing into town as if it were election day. Some had already gotten a good start on their drinking and Johnny avoided the saloon. He knew someone would say something to set him off and he figured one hung son was enough to last Murdoch a lifetime. More than enough. Once again, his stomach turned as he glanced over at the noose now swaying in the light breeze above the platform.

He increased his gait and made it to Sam's without confronting anyone. As he slipped inside, he noticed the clock. In thirty minutes, his brother was going to die and he found himself thanking God it wasn't Scott. Guilt poured over him, thick as molasses, suffocating him until he felt he couldn't get a breath. Johnny leaned against the wall and tried to suck in air. He felt hands on him and heard Sam's voice though he couldn't understand the words. He allowed the man to lead him to the back but when he realized Sam was taking him past his brother he pulled away.

"Johnny, you have got to get some sleep!"

"I can't go to bed! My brother is about to be hung, Sam! How do you expect me to sleep through that?"

Sam actually blushed a little. "I'm sorry, son, I wasn't thinking. But, you do have to rest and soon before you simply collapse."

Johnny walked unsteadily to his brother's side and sat down heavily, resting a hand on Scott's arm. "I went to see him then I went to the undertaker and arranged my brother's burial. Not a funeral. There won't be a funeral. Just put him in the ground and forget it. Murderers don't get funerals."

Sam closed his eyes and shook his head. How could he help them?

"He almost seemed sorry. I guess he can't really feel anything much. There was a minute there, though. Like before, there was a minute and I really think if he'd just given us a chance ..." he trailed off, too tired to think about it any more. Too battered in his heart to try.

Sam laid his hands on Johnny's shoulders and started to massage the knots there. Johnny's head dropped as he stretched his neck and allowed the touch. He watched his brother from under his lashes, part of him wishing Scott would wake up, part of him hoping he wouldn't yet. He jerked suddenly as he realized he was about to nod off. He stood up, Sam's hands falling away and walked into the front room and opened the door.

Johnny stood on the porch and breathed deep. He couldn't see the hangman's platform and he was grateful but he heard the noise die down around the corner and he held his breath.

Three minutes, maybe, passed and then he heard a roar of cheers. Johnny stumbled quickly to the side of the house and threw up.

*

He climbed onto the wagon seat and looked down at Sam once more. "You're sure?"

"If I need to leave, Mrs. Foster has agreed to watch him."

Johnny nodded, loath to leave Scott alone but he had little choice. He'd waited for the late morning, half hoping his father would come to town but he hadn't shown yet. He glanced in the wagon bed at the box and felt sick again. Taking a deep breath, he turned to face forward when he felt a hand on his knee.

"I want you to hear me now, Johnny. You send someone else to stay with Scott. You *have* to sleep."

"I slept last night," he argued weakly.

"Oh, yes, for a whole hour." Sam wasn't usually a sarcastic man but this one brought it out in him.

Johnny only smiled a little. "I have to get goin now. They'll have the grave dug by the time I get there."

Sam stepped back and he started the wagon rolling, picking up speed as he left town. Johnny had never wanted to get anywhere so fast in his life. Goosebumps rose on his arms and stayed there. He half expected Garrett to start knocking on the inside of that pine box, telling him it was all a big joke and boy, hadn't they gotten his goat. Well, that's what he wished would happen. He could take the fright of that a lot easier than he could take the reality he was living in.

He could only be grateful Murdoch hadn't come back last night. He was also grateful no one was blaming Scott for any of this. Sometimes, people were downright stupid in their thinkin. He figured he owed a lot to Steve Watkins who was turning out to be a darned good lawman despite his claims of the opposite. He vaguely thought of talking to Val about the man but that only reminded him of what his brother had done to his friend.

He slapped the reins and hurried along his way, thinking he'd stop by the house after all this and check on everyone. He could only hope Teresa was being her normal strong self for Murdoch. She was the least affected by all this but not by much.

"You sure as hell knew how to mess people up, didn't you, brother? I'm not too much on prayin, but I prayed for you yesterday. I prayed you'd find some peace now. I sure hope God was listening and in a charitable mood. At least it was quick and clean from what Steve said. I'm real glad about that."

He felt guilty for not being there. Not looking in his brother's eyes and offering some sort of support but it just wasn't in him. Garrett had said he didn't want him there and he hoped the man had meant it. Still, facing death alone ... Johnny knew all about that and it was about the scariest thing there was.

He arrived at the burial site, three ranch hands standing there waiting for him with the hole dug. Johnny jumped down and went immediately to the back of the wagon. Frank and Isidro walked over and helped him carry the coffin as Mike waited by the grave. They lowered the box into the ground and the hands stepped back.

Johnny stood there for a minute and found he had no words. He sighed lightly and just nodded at the men, never looking at them then watched as they buried his brother. But, before they could finish, Johnny walked away to the edge of the mountain and looked down on the hacienda below. It all looked so peaceful, so serene from up here. No one could guess the hell going on inside that house. Inside his father's heart.

He felt Frank beside him and looked over.

"It's done."

Johnny nodded and turned to the mound of freshly turned earth. "Thanks for doin this boys. You can go on home now."

"You comin?" Frank asked.

"In a minute. Go ahead."

*

He stood there for several minutes just staring and trying not to think of what could have been. Finally, he set his hat back on his head and rounded the wagon, patting Barranca's neck as he went. "Time to get you home, amigo. You been through it, too. Hell, at least I remembered to get you this time. Reckon I ain't gone completely over the edge yet."

As he rolled into the yard, Murdoch walked outside and Johnny cringed at the looks of the man. Worse than he'd been, Murdoch was drawn and seemed lost. He let the hands take care of the wagon and Barranca then walked up to his father.

Nodding toward the palomino, Murdoch asked, "how is he?"

"Better. Just needed some rest."

"Is it done?"

"Yeah, I just came from there. The headstone will be ready in a day or two. Ollie's gonna take it up there and set it. How's Val doin?"

"Much better. He's getting loud about coming out of that bed."

Johnny smiled a little. "Scott ain't come around yet."

"I was about to go to town."


"Maybe you should wait til tomorrow. Get some rest."

Murdoch surveyed his youngest son. "I could say the same about you. When's the last time you had any decent sleep or anything to eat for that matter? You need to take care of yourself, Johnny."

He looked in his father's eyes and heard something different than the words said. 'I need you to take care of me' is what he heard. And he knew Murdoch was right. "Guess I could stand a bath and a good meal at that. Sure wish Jelly was here."

"He is. He came back yesterday. I've been filling him in."

Johnny sighed with relief. "Then, let him go see to Scott while we both rest. You know soon as we get him home it's gonna take all we've got to get him well. Then, there's dealing with all the other."

Murdoch seemed to consider but appeared wary with the notion.

"I already told Sam someone's to come get us if Scott comes to."

"Well, that sounds like the best course of action. I'll go talk to him now."

"I'm gonna see Val then take a bath."

*

Johnny sank into the tub and, for the first time, really understood how tired he was. His muscles ached from the strain he'd been under and he felt something stunning. Resentment. He resented Garrett but he resented Scott, too, and that didn't make any sense. Still, his brother had always been there to help him through rough times like this. Now, Scott wasn't there for him. Logically, he knew he wasn't making a bit of sense but, since when was he logical?

He closed his eyes as the steam of the water swirled around his face, making him sweat. His eyes stung and he rubbed them hard. He was done with this. Scott was gonna make it, he was positive. Mostly, because he wanted it to be so. But there was part of him that knew that wasn't a certainty. His brother could still die and he didn't think he could stand that. He wouldn't be able to help Murdoch through that - or anyone else. He figured he'd just go crazy if he lost Scott. He didn't feel too far from there as it was.

Suddenly, he sprung up like a coiled spring, spurting and coughing. Looking around a bit disoriented, Johnny sighed as his senses returned. He'd damned near drowned himself. The water was cooling and he wondered how long he'd been asleep. Almost too long, he reckoned as he stood up with a grimace. He was still sore though it was better and his stomach was growling at him.

Quickly, he dried off and dressed then headed downstairs to the kitchen. The sun was waning and he reckoned he'd been in there over an hour. Teresa was at the stove and he walked over, hugging her from behind and leaning around her to the steaming pots.

"Smells good."

"It's almost ready."

He heard the tears she was trying not to spill and kissed her head. "We'll get him through this, honey."

She sighed and turned into him burying her face in his chest. "How, Johnny? He's so lost. He looks awful. He's not sleeping, not eating much. I'm so worried about him."

"I don't know how but he's the strongest man I've ever met. Now, what about you?"

"I'm alright, really, except for worrying about Murdoch and Scott."

Johnny's mouth tightened into a thin line but he only nodded his head. "Jelly's going to stay with Scott for a while so I can talk to Murdoch."

"He's in the living room. But, wait until after supper, please? I'm hoping with you here, he'll eat something."

"Alright, sweetheart."

*

Murdoch did make a decent showing at supper. Johnny inhaled his food, once more unaware how hungry he'd been. But then, he'd been feeling pretty unaware of anything lately. As they retired to the living room, he wanted nothing more than to excuse himself and go to bed for a week but that wasn't going to happen. He declined the offer of a drink knowing he'd never stay awake with even the smallest amount of liquor in him.

Murdoch sat heavily in a chair and regarded him before taking a sip of whiskey. "Go to bed, son."

"I will in a minute. Thought we'd talk things out."

Murdoch nodded. "Sam will let us know what we need to do for Scott. If he's going to be down a long time, we may have to get a nurse part of the time. We'll all need some rest and the ranch can't run itself."

"Uh huh. I wasn't really talking about taking care of Scott; that's a given. I was talking about you and how you're dealin with all this." He locked onto his father's eyes, mentally willing him not to look away or refuse to talk.

Murdoch held the stare. "I'm doing the best I can."

"And how good is that? You ain't eatin or sleepin too well. Anybody can see that."

Shock adorned the rancher's face. "That's the pot calling the kettle black. Have you looked in a mirror lately?"

Johnny had to grin. "Nope. Didn't want to scare myself. Look, neither of us is holdin up too well, Murdoch. But, somethin has got to give here and before Scott comes home or old man Garrett shows up."

"What do you want me to do, Johnny?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. The other day when I came home, I stopped by Cold Creek and shot up the air. It helped a little bit. I don't have any answers, Murdoch. All I know is I'm really worried about you more than anyone right now."

"I appreciate that, son. I'm trying. It's not easy. One son is dead and the other one is half-way there. All I can do right now is focus on Scott and Harlan."

"Forget Harlan for now. You have to grieve for Garrett. Maybe you should go up there tomorrow for a little while."

Murdoch stared into his glass. "Did you watch?"

"No!" Agitated, he stood up and paced about the room. "He sent for me. I talked to him for a while yesterday morning. He thanked me and told me to thank you for trying. He said to tell you he was grateful for what you'd said to him."

"Did he seem ... remorseful?"

Johnny hung his head and walked to the French doors. "No, he didn't. He said he wished he could feel sorry but he didn't know how. He didn't know how to feel much of anything, Murdoch. There was something broken inside of him."

"Maybe ... maybe if he'd come to us we could have helped fix that."

Johnny squeezed his eyes shut and laid his head against the glass pane. The pain in his father's voice tore at his heart. He didn't think he could take much more of this.

"Go to bed, son."

"Yeah, think I will," he mumbled. "You too, huh?"

"In a minute."

Johnny turned to look at him expectantly.

"I promise," Murdoch smiled a little.

"You're a man of your word. Goodnight." He almost said it. Almost called him 'pa' but the word just would not push through his throat. Besides, he figured that would just about do Murdoch in. But, he felt it and maybe the old man could see that. Johnny headed upstairs, seriously beginning to doubt his sanity.

*

As Johnny passed Val's room, he slowed then turned back. Staring at the door, he sighed heavily then walked back. Opening the door just enough to see if Val was awake, he smiled when his friend waved him in.

"You look better."

"Feel better, too. Doc can cut me loose anytime as far as I'm concerned."

Johnny forced a small smile and sat on the edge of the bed. "Gettin tired of us already? I figured you'd lap up all the attention Teresa's givin ya."

Val frowned. "Reckon a man could get used to it if he didn't have nothin better ta do than lay around."

"What have you got to do? Besides, Steve's doin a good job. You ought to offer that man a job. You always seemed to be able to stand him."

Rolling his eyes, Val snorted, "don't need no deputy."

Johnny only shook his head, not in the mood to argue the point.

"Hey, ya know what we oughta do soon as Sam lets me up? We oughta spend the day up at that lake of yours. Maybe do some fishin or swimmin or plain nothin for a day."

"I can't go laze around now, Val! My brother's layin at the doc's half dead and the old man is ... I don't know what the hell he is."

"And what about you? Everybody's worried about Scott and Murdoch. What about you, Johnny? Seems ta me you're the one carryin the load, doin all the heavy liftin. Look, I know you're worried about 'em and ya should be. But, you gotta take care of yourself, too. Otherwise, there ain't gonna be nothin of ya left! When's the last time you slept good?"

"I'm goin to bed now," he mumbled.

"Yeah and how long will ya stay there? You done buried one brother and saved the other. Took care of all the arrangements and got Murdoch away from town. Now, Scott'll be home soon and I know you ain't gonna leave him when that happens. So, you tell me, amigo. When is there time for Johnny?"

He stood up quickly and walked to the window, hugging himself and staring out into the night.

"Then there's Old Man Garrett on his way. That'll be a real hoot! I'm just sayin, you're gonna keel over."

"Enough, Val."

"Johnny, you..."

"I said enough!" He turned as he shouted, anger coloring his face. "I don't want to hear anymore. I'm not going to abandon my family when they need me."

"Fine! Let's see how quick you're the one stuck in this bed!" Val held up a hand. "I'm done! Go to bed before somethin else happens to keep ya out of it."

Johnny strode purposefully to the door and jerked it open. He stopped for a second then turned half-way back. "I appreciate you tryin," he whispered then left quickly.

*

The sun forced him to turn his head. He sighed and opened his eyes, rubbing the sleep from them. Stretching out, Johnny figured he felt a hundred times better than he had last night. He raised up on an elbow and looked around, scratching his head and frowning. Something didn't seem right but he couldn't figure it out. He got up and started his daily routine. He was half-way through his shave before it dawned on him.

Stopping with razor hovering in midair, he turned and looked out the window then walked over to the bed. Picking up the old pocketwatch, he opened it and stared disbelievingly. Ten o'clock! Angrily, he snapped the watch closed and went back to finish his shave quickly then dressed and stormed out of his room.

In the kitchen, he found Teresa kneading dough. "Why didn't someone wake me up?"

She raised a brow at the demanding tone then shrugged. "Murdoch threatened physical harm to anyone who gave it so much as a thought."

In two seconds, he deflated and dropped his tense shoulders, giving her a half smile.

"Sit down. I'll have your breakfast in no time." She held back a laugh as she went about preparing his food.

"Where is Murdoch?"

"He went to town. He couldn't stand it any longer. He had to see Scott."

Johnny figured as much. He supposed he'd better hurry it along. He didn't want Murdoch alone right now. There still had been little talk about what his father was going through and Johnny reckoned that wouldn't change anytime soon.

True to her word, in little time, Teresa placed a plate in front of him and he devoured it, surprised by how hungry he was. He figured he was catching up then he thought of Scott and how hunger must have gnawed at his belly those long days and nights. Suddenly, he pushed the plate away and stood up.

"Tell Val I went to town, okay? I'll see when Sam's planning on coming out to see him."

"I'll tell him. I hope Scott can come home soon. I don't like him being so far away from home and so sick."

Johnny kissed her forehead and smiled. "I know you want to take care of him. We all do. I'll try to talk Sam into springing him."

She looked as if she wanted to say more and he smiled at her again.

"I'll look after the old man, too."

*

Murdoch knelt beside the grave and stared at the dirt. He thought to throw some grass seed about, speed things up and maybe plant some flowers. Shaking his head, he realized his thoughts were hardly where they should be. It would be nice for his thoughts to be on something pleasant. Instead, he was thinking of how to make his son's grave pretty.

His son! Anger tore through him as if it were a living, breathing entity and he sucked in a sharp breath. Twenty-six years Garrett had been on this earth and he had not a clue. Had no idea he had a third son. He closed his eyes and hung his head as tears fell. He couldn't hold them back any longer. He didn't want to.

Sniffing and pulling out his handkerchief, Murdoch wiped his nose and stared at the ground again. He laid his hand atop the grave then fisted it, holding the dirt tightly.

"Dear God, please help me through this. I don't know what to do. It's said you never give us more than we can handle but I think you got it wrong this time. I'm not so sure I can handle this. It would be hard enough to lose him without everything he's done, all the pain he's caused. What happened to him, Lord? What caused my boy to be so inhuman? Was it Harlan's abandonment? Garrett's imprisonment? I don't think he went without. He was well-educated, that was easy to see. Johnny said he'd been tutored, had the best of everything. Everything but his freedom and his family.

"At least Scott was cared for by his own blood. Garrett was tossed aside like an afterthought. Why?" He raised his eyes skyward. "Why, God? Why was my son treated so hatefully?"

The tears ran once more as Murdoch's heart raged at the injustices done his boy. Finally, after ten or so minutes, the tears subsided and he sat back, exhausted.  

Closing his eyes he sniffed and wiped a hand down his face. There was only one man who could answer his questions and he would make sure they were answered. He didn't care how he had to go about it, either. If Harlan wasn't forthcoming, he'd choke it out of the man. There would be no civilities, no politeness. No 'gentleman's' agreement. Drawing in a stuttering breath, Murdoch struggled to his feet and looked back down.

"I can't bring you justice, son, but I promise you Harlan will pay for this no matter how long it takes."

*

As anticipated, Murdoch was at Scott's side, holding his hand and rubbing a thumb over it. Johnny watched from the doorway for a while until Sam appeared from the back room. He tossed his head and Sam walked out front with him.

"When can we take him home?"

"I still don't like that he hasn't woke up yet but that's no reason to keep him here. He is stronger, his blood pressure is up and he's holding his own. I'll have to teach you both about the tube but that won't take long."

"I'll go get a wagon ready first. Sam, about him not wakin up."

"I don't know, Johnny. There are just so many things that can go wrong with something like this. His body could shut down. There may even be some brain damage. At this point, all we can do is wait for Scott."

Johnny locked onto one part of that. "Brain damage?"

"Don't go crazy, son. It could be nothing more than a little forgetfulness or nothing at all. Don't put the cart before the horse."

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I hafta tell ya, Sam, I'm not lookin forward to telling him about Garrett. I'm not so sure we should right off."

"I know you shouldn't. When he wakes up, I want someone to come get me. I don't want him told anything until I've had a chance to examine him."

"Okay, Sam. Well, I'll get a wagon. Tell Murdoch, will ya? Before he worries himself into an early grave."

Sam took hold of his arm. "I'm worried about him, too, Johnny. I don't know what to do for him. You know how your father is, keeping everything locked up inside."

"Yeah," he sighed out. "Thing is, I'm afraid of what he'll do when the old man gets here. Well, reckon I won't put that cart up front, either." He smiled a little then left for the livery.

*

Johnny returned with the wagon and Sam showed him and Murdoch how to work the tube. Both men could see Murdoch was growing impatient to get his son home but Sam would not let them go until both showed him they could do this. He'd written out explicit instructions. Finally, they were ready and gently carried Scott to the wagon bed.

Murdoch climbed in the back with him and Johnny tied their horses to the tail gate.

"When are you comin out to look at Val? He's chompin at the bit."

"I'm glad to hear that. I'll be out later today unless something happens. Tomorrow for sure."

"Let's go." Murdoch's growl made both men cringe a little and Sam smiled but Johnny didn't. He glared at his father for a moment before climbing onto the seat.

Grabbing up the reins, he stopped himself from starting out with a jerk, mindful of Scott and pushing aside his anger. He kept his mouth shut tightly as he headed out of town.

Johnny glanced back a few times as they made their way home. Murdoch was holding Scott's head in his lap, careful of the tube. Once, he caught Johnny's eyes but the younger man quickly turned away.

Once home, Teresa came out and took one look at Scott then hurried inside to prepare his bed, holding back her tears at his emaciated figure.

"Be careful of his back and watch his head," Murdoch ordered.

Johnny stopped for a second and closed his eyes. He didn't know why his father was getting on his nerves so badly. He said nothing and they carried Scott inside. Murdoch kept up the barked orders to be careful, ease him down gently and cover him up.

Once Scott was in bed, Johnny stood back. Teresa was sitting on one side and Murdoch the other. He suddenly felt out of place here and that perplexed him. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the paper.

"Sam wrote down some things we need to do, how to fix his food and the like," he explained as he handed the instructions to Teresa.

"I'll take care of it. Did he say when Scott would come around?"

"No, he said it was pretty much up to Scott now. Reckon he'll wake up when he's ready."

"He'll wake up now that he's in his own bed," Murdoch said assuredly.

No one responded to that. What was there to say? Johnny cleared his throat. "Maybe we should think about taking shifts so someone's with him all the time."

"Yes, we should do that. I'll sit with him at night," Teresa offered.

"No, darling. You need your rest to run this house. I'll sit with him at night." Murdoch's tone brooked no argument but Johnny was immune.

"No one should sit all night. I mean, break it up so we don't get too tired. Wouldn't do to be fallin asleep if he wakes up. I figured we could go in three or four hour shifts."

Murdoch stood up and faced his younger son. "Just so we're clear on this. I'm not leaving this room until Scott wakes up."

"Murdoch ..."

"The matter is closed, Johnny."

He shook his head slowly back and forth then threw his hands up. "I'll have a cot brought in for you." He turned to leave and muttered, "stubborn damned fool" on his way out.

*

Sam didn't make it out until the next morning but he was there bright and early. He checked Val out and let him out of bed as long as he took it easy and didn't tear his stitches. Val reminded him the stitches were about ready to come out but that didn't sway the doctor. After a few minutes of light arguing, both men growled at each other and Sam left the room.

He examined Scott and reported no real change. He seemed to be getting stronger but still, he had not awakened. Johnny listened to the same words he'd heard the day before and watched his father's face fall in disappointment once again. Then, the fireworks started.

"Murdoch, you need proper rest and you aren't going to get it on that cot. What good will you do Scott if you fall over?"

"As soon as he wakes up, I'll do that, Sam."

"Why are you being so stubborn about this? Johnny and Teresa can sit with him just as well as you can. Are you worried you won't be the first person he sees?" Sam's ire was quickly growing as he stared down his friend.

"Don't be ridiculous! If you don't mind, I'd like to save one of my sons!"

"Nothing you do is going to save Scott. He will either wake up or he won't. It has nothing to do with who is in the room at the time!"

Johnny took a step forward as Murdoch advanced on Sam. He stepped between the men and faced the doctor. "How about some coffee, Sam? Teresa made it just the way you like it. It'll put hair on your chest. Come on." He wrapped an arm around the physician's shoulders and practically pushed the man out of the room.

Sam grumbled all the way down the stairs and even as he sat at the table. Johnny poured their coffee and joined him.

"What the devil is wrong with him?"

"He lost a son. He doesn't want to lose another. Whether it makes any sense or not, Sam, Murdoch thinks if he leaves Scott, he'll die. I don't know why and it don't matter that I do. Just leave him be. You ain't gonna change his mind. I think he's afraid Scott will wake up and he won't be there and Scott'll think Murdoch abandoned him."

"That's ridiculous."

"Maybe. But, that's the way it is and there's no point in fighting him on this."

Sam studied the young man beside him. "You seem to be taking this in your stride. I'd think you'd be fighting Murdoch for a place at that bedside."

Johnny shrugged. "Ordinarily, I guess I would but Murdoch needs to be with Scott. He's not doin so good and if he can focus on something besides Garrett, I can't take that away from him."

"Well, I just hope he at least listened to me about telling Scott about his brother before I get the chance to look him over."

"I don't think you have to worry about that."

*

Sam left and Johnny sat in the great room. There was no point in going upstairs. Murdoch wasn't going to leave that room. He was still tired himself though he figured he'd live now, at least. He heard a grunt and turned around then rolled his eyes as Val moved slowly into the room.

"That didn't take long."

Val sighed as he eased into a chair. "Got any of that coffee left?"

"Sure." Johnny poured him a cup and handed it off before retaking his seat and watching his friend.

"Changed your mind?"

Frowning, Johnny shook his head. "About what?"

"Gettin the hell out of here for a day."

"Nope. How about a year, though? Or ten?" He was irritable enough without Val diggin at him.

Val shrugged, a lop-sided grin trying to force its way on his lips. "Fine by me."

It worked and Johnny laughed a little and relaxed. Damn! He did it again. He knows me too good. Well, that's what happens when you trust someone, I guess. Scott knows me but Garrett didn't because he didn't try. Johnny figured that was what bothered him the most. It was all such a waste.

"Decided what you're gonna do when the old man shows up?"

"Keep him away from Murdoch long enough to hear his side of things." He wanted to smack the sheriff for that victorious look on his face. Sometimes, Val was a little obnoxious. "Yeah, I know that's what you said. Tell the truth, I wish he wouldn't come at all. Least ways, not til Scott's all better and on his feet."

Val nodded at that then turned pensive. "Reckon I should listen to Sam. You know, stay down til he tells me different. Wouldn't want to rush things and make myself worse." He eyed Johnny over the rim of his cup as he took a drink.

Johnny remained impassive and simply nodded his head once in agreement. Inside, he was relieved to have Val there to keep him sane. And he knew what his friend was doing. He thought, once more, he owed Val big time. He didn't think he'd ever be able to pay the man back. He was actually about to say something really stupid and embarrassing when he was saved by Murdoch shouting his name.

*

Johnny took off like a bullet up the stairs and ran into Scott's room. His eyes wide with worry, his gut clenched tight with fear, Johnny's eyes went immediately to his brother.

"He's coming around. He moved his head and made a noise."

Johnny's shoulders fell and he walked to the other side of the bed, kneeling down and taking his brother's hand. He leaned in close and watched for a few seconds. Sure enough his brother's eyes were moving under the lids. He suddenly found his mouth dry and his throat closing off. How was he going to explain to Scott that he couldn't tell the difference between the brother he'd known for these two years and the man who'd tried to take his place?

He lowered his head nearly to the mattress and took some long, slow breaths to quell his racing heart. Finding some resolve and guts, he looked back up just as Scott frowned and turned his head toward Murdoch.

"Scott? That's it, son. Nice and slow. Take your time." Murdoch's voice was soft as butter and Johnny had to look at him, unaccustomed as he was to hearing such a tone from the man.

Scott sighed out softly then twitched his nose, his hand raising slowly toward his face. Murdoch took hold and lightly pressed the hand down, away from the tube that was surely irritating the young man. Finally, the blue eyes opened, blinking rapidly several times.

Murdoch leaned in and waited for him to regain his senses, praying he did so. Sam's words about brain damage echoed in his mind.

Johnny took a breath. He forgot he had stopped. He held tight to his brother's hand, the pressure increasing without much conscious thought.

Murdoch smiled down on the face of his elder son then released his hand, pouring water and waiting for Scott to be ready. He slipped one hand behind his son's neck and eased his head up, placing the glass to his lips. "Slowly, son. Just a little bit at first. You might choke otherwise."

Still impressed with the soft tone, Johnny smiled a little as he watched the display. Never would he have believed Murdoch Lancer could be this gentle. Yet, lately, his view of his father had changed, he realized. The man was fragile at best and his worry reignited in the pit of his stomach. His thoughts were shaken away as Scott coughed a little and he refocused on his brother.

"Alright, that's enough for now, son."

Scott sighed and closed his eyes and Johnny thought he was going back to sleep. Suddenly, they opened again and he leaned in more.

*

"What happened?" His voice was raspy, like he'd been breathing in dust for a hundred miles. So soft yet so rough.

Murdoch looked over at Johnny with a worried frown.

"Hey, Boston." He didn't know what else to say but maybe he could fake it and distract his brother a little. But, he knew Scott and knew this wasn't going to work. For Murdoch's sake, he gave it a shot.

Scott slowly turned his head to his left and tried to smile a little. "Hey."

"You sure know how to get out of work, brother. Best thing for you to do is rest up some. Sam wants to see you before we wear you out any."

His brows knitted together as he pieced the words into some form of sense. All he knew was he was bone tired and weak as a kitten and he couldn't remember a damned thing. Well, he thought, Johnny will tell me soon enough. So, he nodded and closed his eyes, letting out a soft sigh as he relaxed into the bed.

Johnny lowered his head and closed his eyes, relieved beyond measure his brother didn't push things. Slowly, he looked back up at his father who was staring at the lax face.

"I'll go send for Sam." Johnny didn't wait for a response, wasn't really sure his father had heard him.

*

For the next two days, Murdoch didn't leave Scott's room. Johnny went back to work and ran the ranch coming home exhausted every night. He spent a few short minutes with his brother and father then would go to bed, many times not bothering with supper.

Val watched it all with a concerned frown. He felt fine but he wasn't going to tell anyone that. He'd decided he wasn't leaving Lancer until something gave. He wasn't sure what it would be but, as he watched Johnny walking around like he was in a daze, he figured it would be his best friend.

Sam came and Val conspired with him. The doctor agreed to the subterfuge and told Murdoch Val wouldn't be ready to sit a horse for at least a week. Murdoch didn't seem to be bothered by this news, his only focus on Scott who was starting to regain some strength.

He was able to stay awake for longer periods yet, he hadn't asked what happened again. Murdoch was a bit concerned but grateful as he had no idea how to begin telling his son this crazy story.

This third night after Scott's initial awakening, Johnny slipped into the room quietly. Scott was sitting up in bed a little but his head was back and his eyes were closed. Murdoch sat beside him reading a book. Johnny's eyes went to the cot his father had been sleeping on for a week and he sighed softly. He didn't know how the old man's back could stand that. He stepped to the other side of the bed and knelt beside it.

Whispering, he asked, "how's he doin?"

"Better. He's eating real food now though not much at a time. Sam said it was normal and that he's doing well considering."

Johnny nodded, his eyes glued to his brother's face. "Maybe it's just me but, he's got some color back, I think."

"Yes, he's not as pale. It will be quite a while before he starts gaining back the weight and his strength. Sam said we have to go slowly with the food or he won't tolerate it."

"I know." Johnny looked up quickly at his father, surprised he'd said that. Murdoch was looking oddly at him and he lowered his eyes again. "Things are fine as far as the ranch goes. No major problems. We're stocking the line shacks then we'll start branding next week."

"That's good."

"Has he asked?"

Murdoch frowned and closed the book he wasn't really reading anyway. "No, not yet. He doesn't stay awake very long. I try to feed him a little each time and that wears him out pretty fast."

Johnny nodded then looked back at his father. "Do you want me to tell him?"

He fidgeted in his chair, looking uncomfortable then found his son's gaze. "Maybe, we should do it together. That way, we'll be able to answer all his questions."

"I ain't so sure about that," Johnny mumbled then stood up. "Well, I'm goin to bed. You need anything?"

"No, I'm fine. Goodnight."

Johnny stood there a second longer watching as his father went back to his vigil then he left the room.

*

"How's he doin?" Val had been waiting for him in the hallway, determined to talk to his friend.

"Sleepin mostly, eatin better. Sam says he's comin along. He still ain't asked."

"Well, takes time. Come on, I waited to eat til ya got here."

"I'm goin to bed, Val. Ain't hungry. You go ahead, though."

Val rolled his eyes and put his hands on his hips. "You eat anything at all today? Johnny, you're losin weight. I can see it and ya look like ya been dead for three days but ain't got the sense to lie down."

"I'm fine, just tired, is all." Johnny's tone was harsher than maybe he intended but he didn't need this right now.

"You know, if ya was any finer ..."

"Enough, Val! Stop motherin me!"

Scott's bedroom door opened and Murdoch stepped out. "What the devil is going on out here? Scott is asleep and I don't want him wakened!"

"Well, long as Scott's alright." Val sneered.

"What does that mean?"

Val looked into the rancher's eyes and pulled his shoulders back. "In case ya ain't noticed, you do have another son."

"Val, stop it. I appreciate your concern but I'm fine. Now, leave it and go get your supper, okay?"

Val looked at his friend, heard the pleading tone Johnny got when he just didn't want to fight anymore and he relaxed his shoulders. Without another word, he turned and stalked down the stairs.

"What's gotten into him?" Murdoch mused.

"Reckon he's gettin itchy. He's just got cabin fever. He's got nothin to do so he's making problems where there ain't none. Sorry I yelled. Sometimes, we go at it like that. Don't mean a thing. Anyways, I'm goin to bed."

Johnny retreated quickly to his room and Murdoch rolled his eyes. He wondered how much longer Val Crawford would be stuck here. Seemed to him, if the man had this much gumption, he should be fine to go on home. Maybe he'd ask Sam again if he was sure the sheriff really needed to be hanging around.

He still didn't know much about the man and hadn't been terribly inclined to find out. He did a good job even if he didn't exactly conform to society. Still, Murdoch thought the man was getting a little too intimate with their family. A little too nosy, in fact. He shook his head and stepped back into the bedroom.

*

Johnny sat down heavily in a chair on the front porch and wiped the sweat from his face once more. He didn't think he'd ever felt so miserably tired in his life. Of course, that wasn't true but, at the moment, it felt that way. He didn't even have enough energy to make it all the way inside. Too exhausted to even care for Barranca. Well, just this once, he told himself. Just this once someone else can do it. What was the point of being an owner if he couldn't let someone else take care of his horse once every two years? He smiled a little at that.

A light breeze wafted his way and he sighed his appreciation of it. It had been a very long week but at least, things were running smoothly outside. He knew it wouldn't be long before that changed inside the house. Scott was getting better every day. Last night when he'd visited, his brother had been awake for once. Johnny had almost left the room, afraid Scott would ask the question. But, he didn't. He was barely hanging onto wakefulness as it was.

They'd spoken very briefly. How are you and I'm better was about the extent of it. Johnny had done some teasing but Scott wasn't up for the banter so he let it go and waited for his brother to close his eyes before walking across the hall and falling on the bed.

Val hadn't spoken to him much for days. Not since the almost explosion in the hallway that night. He knew his friend was worried about him and it was nice someone was but, he just couldn't deal with anything more than he had on his plate. And that was running this place without his father and brother.

He leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes. He was almost asleep when he felt someone watching. Johnny opened his eyes and was taken aback a little as Frank stood on the other side of the low wall looking like he'd rather be anyplace else.

"What's wrong, Frank?"

He looked up from staring at the dirt and seemed nervous. "Sorry to bother you but Jelly wanted to me tell you somethin."

Johnny waited but the man was not forthcoming so, in an exasperated tone, he asked, "what is it?"

"Well, it's Remmie. He's got colic. Now, Jelly said he can handle it but he thought you'd wanna know."

It took what strength he had left not to shout at the man but Johnny managed to curb his tongue. "Okay, I'll come out in a while and check him. Thanks, Frank."

The man nodded but he didn't move. He played with the brim if his hat which he was holding in anxious fingers.

"Was there somethin else?"

The hand sighed loudly and nodded. "Yeah, but I don't wanna get yelled at."

Johnny smiled a little then. He made sure his voice was soft. "Tell me."

"It's just that we been worried, Johnny. All of us. About you, that is. I mean, ya been mean as a rattler but, hell, we can take gettin yelled at all day, sort of. It's just that, well, you don't look too good. We was wonderin if maybe ya needed to try and take it easy a while." He sucked in a breath when he'd finished and waited to get shot.

Johnny stared at him in shock. He knew he didn't look all that great what with the saddle bags he'd been wearing under his eyes but he hadn't realized he was being obnoxious to the men. That they'd even send Frank to talk to him meant it was really bad. A sudden thought occurred to him. "Did Val send you to talk to me?"

"You mean the sheriff? No, why?"

Seeing the man was being truthful as always, Johnny relaxed his shoulders a bit. "I'm sorry I've been so prickly. To be honest, I didn't realize I was doin it. It's just that so much has happened and still is happenin ... I have a lot on my mind, Frank."

"It ain't just that, Johnny. I ain't seen you eat nothin in over a week and I been workin with ya every day. I ain't your mama or your pa but, damn! You gotta do better than this." To Frank's utter amazement, Johnny smiled at him. Something else he hadn't seen lately. Then, the smile faded and that sadness was back.

"Iâ€m doin the best I can, Frank. I'll work on it, okay? Tell Jelly I'll check on Remmie later."

Frank nodded and though unsatisfied with the answers but knowing he'd done all he really could, he walked away.

*

"Pretty damned bad when the hands are on ya." Val stood beside a column, leaning against it.

"How long you been there?"

"The whole time. Is it startin to sink in now?" He walked over and sat next to Johnny. "Or are ya just hellbent on killin yourself? And don't tell me it ain't none of my business!"

Johnny stared at his lap and was quiet for a little while. "I can't eat, Val. Every time I put food near my mouth, I feel like pukin."

Val leaned forward a little and nodded. "Talk to the doc, then. Said he was comin out sometime today."

"Yeah, okay."

He reached over and grasped his friend's forearm, feeling the difference. Val grit his teeth then reached over further and stuck a finger in Johnny's waistband, tugging at it. "Look at that. Do ya even see it?"

"I see it. I said I'd talk to Sam." Irritable now, Johnny glared at Val a little.

Satisfied for the moment, Val leaned back in his chair. "Might want to talk to your old man, too."

Johnny snorted. "When? The only time I see him is when I go visit Scott at night."

"Yeah, there's something wrong about that, too. Wonder if Sam can fix him."

"Nope. Murdoch's ate up with guilt even if it don't make sense. He won't leave that room until Scott knows the truth. Maybe not even then. I hafta tell ya, I ain't lookin forward to that conversation."

Val nodded then frowned as a thought occurred. "How come Garrett ain't here yet? Did he ever even reply to the telegram?"

"No, he didn't, but it'd be just like him to come without sayin. I figured he was just tyin things up at home. Of course, he may be out looking for his grandson."

Val snorted at that. "Maybe. Well, how about I see if Maria can fix you up some soup? That won't be too hard on your stomach."

Johnny only shrugged disinterestedly.

"You're gonna eat tonight, Johnny. Even if I have to feed ya!" Val stood up and walked purposefully into the house.

He sat there, a light smile on his face as he watched the sun dip lower on the horizon. With a sigh, he stood up slowly and awkwardly then headed for Scott's room.

*

Johnny pushed the slightly ajar door wider open and walked into Scott's room. Immediately, he felt the tension in the air and his instincts sang to him. He looked between the two men. Murdoch had turned to look at him with a scowl on his face and Scott had that jaw of his set hard. He was wide awake, too. Johnny sighed and knew the moment of truth was at hand. He wasn't ready for this but then, he never would be. He forced a smile.

"Well, you look a sight better. Must be gettin some strength back."

"Yes, I am feeling *much* better and I'm ready for some answers now." Scott's face held the stern visage, putting Johnny in mind of their father. The fact that the man was still way too thin and looked like a marzipan skeleton did nothing to dissuade his determined expression. At least, that ugly tube was gone now.

"Murdoch insisted we wait for you so now, we can start."

Coward, Johnny thought then nodded his head. He thought to grab a chair then decided to just sit at the foot of the bed near Murdoch. No sense in making Scott look back and forth between them. He'd get dizzy, which probably wasn't such a bad thing. Johnny forced himself to focus.

The room grew quiet as Scott sat up in bed, his arms folded across his chest with an expectant look on his face. Murdoch was staring at the floor and Johnny was staring at his leg.

"Anytime you're ready, gentlemen."

Johnny smiled a little as he looked at his brother. It was good to hear Scott's voice so strong and sure. Too bad it wasn't gonna last all that long. "You sure you're up to this cause I gotta tell ya, brother, it's gonna be real hard to hear."

Scott faltered, his eyes dipping for a second before finding his resolve and setting his chin. "I'm sure."

"Well, how much do you remember?" Johnny figured he'd start easy.

"I remember going to Modesto and starting home. That's it."

Eyes widening, Johnny just gawked. Murdoch's head came up as he, too, stared at his older son.

"You mean you don't remember being ... accosted?"

"I figured that was the case but no, Murdoch, I don't."

The man turned and looked at his other son. Johnny had his head down and was shaking it slowly back and forth.

"Well, I suppose we should start with when you came home." Murdoch fumbled with the words.

"No, Murdoch." Johnny lifted his head and looked at his father. "No, let's start at the beginning." He turned to Scott then and gave him a sympathetic look that only made the other brother ill at ease.

"That's always the best place to start." Scott felt the need to give his brother some reassurance so he smiled at Johnny. But, he wasn't smiling back and Scott felt his heart jump into his throat. How bad could it be?

*

"When you were born..."

"What? Look, when I said the beginning, I didn't mean that!"

"That *is* the beginning, brother. You need to listen to me." Johnny's eyes flashed with anger then it was gone as suddenly. When Scott nodded his head, he started over.

"When you were born and your grandfather took you back to Boston, you weren't alone. Scott, you had a twin brother."

Scott snorted. "Johnny, that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Don't you think I'd know if I had a twin?"

"Not if Harlan sent him away."

Scott stared, open-mouthed at him. Then, he settled. "Go on."

Sighing tiredly, Johnny continued, looking over to Murdoch who didn't seem to have any intention of helping out here. His frustration leapt forward but he knew he couldn't stop now.

"I don't know why Harlan sent him away but he did. He had him livin on some island off the coast with people takin care of him, schoolin him. He had everything he needed except he wasn't allowed to leave the island. Some months ago, he escaped. He broke into your grandfather's house when he wasn't there and went through his files. He found out about you and me and Murdoch and he came here.

"Scott, it was your twin that kidnapped you. He chained you to a bed in some old shack and kept you there while he was here pretendin to be you. When you came back from Modesto, we knew somethin was wrong. You kept to yourself and wouldn't talk to us. You seemed to be havin a hard time with work for a while but that settled down. I thought maybe you had a lady or somethin like that on your mind. But, you wouldn't talk to me. In fact, you pretty much ignored all of us for a couple of months."

Scott's frown deepened as memory played with the corners of his mind. He blinked and focused on what Johnny was saying.

"Then, you, I mean he went to town one night and Trent Jenson got in his face so he killed Jenson. He murdered the man and Val locked him up. We still thought it was you only you wouldn't say anything. Murdoch finally got a story out of him but it didn't make any sense. I tried to figure it out, thought maybe you were protectin someone but you wouldn't talk to me still. I mean, you, he, refused to see me at all most of the time. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. We were about out of our minds tryin to figure it out.

"I went to town and got Val to let me in the cell to confront you, I mean, him. He was real cocky and arrogant at first but then he said he was gonna tell me what really happened. Then, Val brought his supper in." Johnny stopped, the memory of that day so fresh in his mind. The pain of his friend almost dying raw in his heart. He swallowed hard and went on.

"He grabbed Val's gun and hit me on the head then shot Val and took off on Barranca. When I came to and found out what happened, I ..."

Scott looked closely at him. Johnny had his head down but he could still see his brother's face. He was working his lip, his breathing was fast and Scott knew something awful had happened. "It's alright, Johnny. Tell me."

He looked up at the soft voice so full of compassion and figured he'd lose it pretty soon. "I gave up on you. I washed my hands of you. If you could do that to Val, to me, then I didn't know what to think. He almost died, Scott. He still ain't completely well." He took a deep breath and blew it out.

"So, a posse went after him and caught up three days later in the high country. They brought him back but I didn't care anymore. I brought Val home and made Murdoch come home, too. Then, that night, Teresa told me how he'd been treatin her, things he'd said to her. I knew you'd never say anything like that to Teresa. You'd never treat her like that. Then, she said how funny you sounded. How your accent was stronger than it ever had been and I got this crazy idea.

"I went back to the jail and made Steve Watkins let me in the cell and I confronted him. Asked him who he was cause I knew it wasn't you then. He wouldn't admit to it so I ... I pulled his shirt off and looked at his back and I knew without a doubt then. That's when he finally told me everything."

*

Scott's mind was reeling, he felt like he was on a runaway wagon going down a long, winding road and he couldn't stop it. He closed his eyes and rubbed a hand down his face roughly a few times. He felt Murdoch's hand on his leg but he didn't look at his father. He had questions, tons of questions but he knew the story wasn't done yet. After a few long, torturous moments of silence, he looked back at his brother and simply nodded.

Johnny watched him, knowing this was too much for anyone. He knew all too well how Scott was feeling. He saw his brother nod and his gut tightened.

"His name was Garrett Lancer. He told me about that island and how he'd escaped and come here. He said Harlan thought he was evil and that's why he sent him away. I ain't sure if that's the truth or not but he wasn't right. There was something missing in him. Like he didn't have any heart or something. He told me everything and it was like it was all some big joke. I finally got him to tell me where you were. He said he'd been goin out there and feedin you but he'd been locked up for a month. I didn't know what the hell I was gonna find when I got there."

"And what did you find?" Scott's memory was becoming clearer now but he wanted to hear the rest of this.

Johnny dropped his head lower so Scott couldn't see his face. He closed his eyes and cleared his throat but it was still husky with emotion when he spoke. "You were locked in, chained to the bed and out cold. You had a real long beard and your hair was down past your shoulders and you were thin as a rail. Once I got the chain off, I took you to the stream and walked you right in. Got you to drink a little water and cleaned you up best I could then I took you to Sam.

"You were almost dead. We still don't know how long you went without food but Sam said you had to have had water almost to the end. I didn't look around the shack that much but I saw a canteen by the bed. Anyways, we washed you up and Sam looked you over. There were some old bruises, one on the back of your head, but other than that, you didn't have any injuries. He stuck that tube in you and cut your hair, shaved you, treated the lice." Johnny glanced back up at this and saw Scott's face redden a little.

"I came home and told Murdoch what had happened and we went back to town. It was a couple of days before Sam let us bring you home."

"What happened to Garrett?"

Johnny looked over at his father and watched the man's head lower. "They hung him. I buried him up on South Mesa. Everybody knows it wasn't you now."

*

Silence hung thick in the room, smothering the air and, seemingly, the life out of the men who occupied it. Scott stared into space, not able to truly comprehend all he'd been told. Slowly, he caught glimpses of that day in his mind's eye. Then, he remembered seeing his own face for a few seconds before everything went black. He sucked in a breath and closed his eyes as it came back to him fully.

"I remember now. I saw him when he grabbed me. It was just a minute but I was so shocked, I froze up. That's all he needed, I guess. He knocked me out. When I woke up, I didn't know where I was and it was dark. And, yes, I remember the chain now. I tried to break free of it but I couldn't even move off the cot. I'm not sure how much time passed before he came back but I never saw his face again. He threw food and water to me through the window then closed it again. I couldn't reach the window. I tried once to break it by throwing the canteen but, when he saw that, he left me without water a couple of days.

"The last time he came he said something odd. Something like it was harder than he'd thought and was going to take more time. I didn't understand what he meant."

"Fitting in here, maybe."

Scott glanced at his father and nodded then stared at his lap. "Maybe. He wouldn't tell me who he was or why he was doing it."

"He told me he didn't get the chance to tell you his plan."

"What was he like?" Scott looked to his brother.

"Like I said, cold, heartless. Only, there were a couple of times when I thought he might ... I don't know, Scott. He didn't seem to care that he was gonna die. I think he almost wanted it. He said he hoped he found some peace afterwards. When I look back on everything, I can see the differences. But, he had your face. He was a dead ringer. Who the hell thinks, that might not be my brother?"  

"But, he was your brother."

Johnny looked at Scott and nodded then glanced at Murdoch before lowering his eyes. "And yours."

"And you never knew, Murdoch?"

"No, son. I had no idea. Harlan kept him a secret." Murdoch's voice started out soft yet when he mentioned Harlan Garrett, the anger was clearly defined.

"Yes, about that. He has some things to answer for."

"Murdoch sent him a wire and told him to get here cause you were sick. We haven't heard back but I figure he's either lookin for Garrett or just jumped on a train."

Scott sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair, grimacing at the shortness. He didn't know why Sam didn't just shave it all off if that's all he was going to leave. "I'd like some time alone now. I need to work through all of this."

Johnny stood up, more than ready to get out of there but Murdoch stayed his seat.

"I don't think you should be alone, son."

"I'm not going to die and I'm not going to leave, Murdoch. Please, I want to be left alone."

Johnny closed his eyes briefly then walked to the door. "I'll check in on you later."

"Go to bed, Johnny. You look like hell."

A grin lifted his mouth, reminiscent of better times. "Yeah? You don't look too pretty either there, Boston. Nite."

*

Val was pacing the dining room area when Johnny descended the stairs. He glowered at the man. "Where the hell you been?"

"Talkin to Scott. There was a lot to tell."

Val's face fell and he relaxed a little. "So, he finally asked, huh?"

"Yeah, they were waitin for me. Of course, Murdoch didn't say squat!" Johnny walked to the fireplace then paced before it. Exhaustion, anger and frustration all playing with his last nerve.

"So, you had to tell it all. Well, don't that just beat everything! What the hell is wrong with that old man?"

Johnny glanced at him then resumed his pacing, his fists clenching and unclenching. "Ya got me. I need to check on Remmie. Jelly thinks he's got colic. Then, I'm goin to bed."

"No, you ain't. You're gonna sit at this table over here and eat this soup I got Maria ta fix for ya then you can go to bed. I'll check on the damned horse."

Suddenly, Johnny stopped pacing, his back to Val. His shoulders began to shake and he went to his knees. Val was at his side in a heartbeat, hand on shoulder and waiting.

In a voice so low, Val could barely hear it, Johnny spoke. "I'm so tired, Val. I can't believe I'm so damned tired. I can't even think straight anymore. Scott just sat there for the most part. He started remembering what happened to him a little but I kept waitin. Kept waitin for him to yell at me. Ask me how I couldn't tell the difference. Ask how I could believe he'd ever commit murder. But, he didn't. He didn't say nothin like that. He just asked to be left alone."

"He's in shock, ya know? All this is comin down on him at once and he needs some time to work it all out. That's all it is, Johnny. He ain't gonna blame you. Nobody could tell the difference especially the way Garrett was keepin so close-mouthed and makin you stay away from him. See, Garrett knew you'd figure it out if he hung around you too long."

"I guess. I don't know. I just want it to stop. I just want things to go back to the way they were. But, it ain't ever gonna be the same now. Nothing will ever be the same." His voice shook badly and he hitched in a breath.

"Somethin like this happens, people can't help but be affected by it. No, it ain't gonna be the same but you can all get past it if ya start actin like ya got some sense. And that means takin care of yourself, Johnny. You can't go on like this, amigo."

"What's going on in here?"

Both men jumped a little at the booming voice of Murdoch Lancer. Val looked over at him standing there, scowling at them and he scowled right back. He stood up slowly, a twinge of pain hitting him in his side but, he ignored it as he faced the man.

"Johnny's dyin. That's what's goin on here."

*

Johnny's head came up as he gawked at Val's proclamation. He got to his feet unsteadily, Val's back now to him.

"What are you talking about, Sheriff?"

"I'm talkin about your son. You do remember you have another son, don't ya? Look at him, Mr. Lancer. Take a real good look. He's lost a good ten pounds and he won't eat. He's gonna die if somebody don't do somethin."

"Val..."

"No, Johnny. You won't say nothin about it so I will. You won't take care of yourself cause you're too busy worryin about Murdoch and Scott and the cows. Well, ain't none of them worryin about you, are they?"

"Now, wait just a minute, Sheriff. I think you're overstepping here." Murdoch actually pointed his finger at the man.

"You think so? Let me tell you something, Mr. Lancer. Somethin you don't know because ya don't wanna know. The fact of the matter is, I know him better than you do. Maybe that gets your goat, I don't know and I don't care. But, I see what you won't look at. You been so busy feelin guilty about somethin you had nothin to do with, you're ignoring everybody and everything except Scott."

Val stepped to the side and took Johnny's arm. "Look at him! Set your pride aside and look at your boy!"

Murdoch's mouth was a thin, white line as he glared at Val Crawford but, the words seeped through his outrage and his eyes went to Johnny. From where they stood, Johnny was bathed in the warm glow of the large lamp near Murdoch's favorite chair. His head was down but then, Val jerked his arm and Johnny looked up, shooting a deadly glare at his friend. Then, he looked at his father who sucked in a breath.

Murdoch walked slowly to his son, disbelieving his own eyes. He was just with Johnny in Scott's room. Why hadn't he seen this then? "My God, son. What have you been doing?"

"Working sun up to sun down, not eatin and not sleepin worth a damn is what he's been doin. He's been runnin this place alone and that's alright except for worryin over you and Scott every second of every day. But, that's okay. He can take it." Val couldn't help himself. He'd held it back so long now, the venom flew from his mouth. The one other time he'd tried this, Johnny had shot him down. Well, no more!  

Murdoch held his tongue somehow but he was quickly growing weary of the sheriff's sharp mouth. He managed a few words through his gritted teeth. "Val, would you send one of the hands for Sam?"

No where near satisfied, Val simply nodded his head once and walked out of the room, leaving father and son alone.

"He shouldn't have done that. He's worse than any mother hen. Always has been with me. It's just that he can't see everything else goin on."

"Stop it, Johnny. He's right. You're sick and you need help. God forgive me for not seeing it. I can't say I care for his attitude but I can take it. Now, come with me. You need to eat then you need to sleep until Sam gets here."

Murdoch took hold of his arm and took one step before stopping and looking down at his own hand. He stepped in front of Johnny and put his hands on either side of his son's torso, feeling the prominent ribs.

"You're almost as bad as Scott was and I'm not exaggerating. When are you ever going to think about taking care of yourself?"

That tone of voice set Johnny off. He didn't want to hear this ... chastising. He felt like a child being punished and he stepped away, his brows knitting together, his voice low and husky. "I'll take care of myself, old man. I don't need you babysittin me. Go back upstairs. That's where you belong."

He backstepped away from his father, all the while shaking his head in awe. "Damn you," he spat then turned his back and went to the kitchen.

*

Murdoch stared after him, wondering what he'd said that was so terrible. He felt eyes on him and turned back to see Val there, still glaring.

"What did I say?"

"You want me to tell ya that or what Johnny heard?"

Murdoch shook his head uncomprehendingly.

"He heard you say that he was botherin you and why couldn't he just stay out of the way and stop causin more problems."

"That is not what I said!"

Val cocked a brow. "No, but it's what ya meant, ain't it?"

Murdoch inhaled deeply. "I know you and Johnny are friends but you really are overstepping your bounds here, Sheriff. Johnny is MY son and I will deal with him. I don't need you sticking your nose in our business."

"No? Then how come you was so shocked just now when ya finally bothered to notice him? You were just with him ten minutes before but all the sudden you realize he looks like hell. Of course, I gotta wonder if you woulda noticed at all since you're so busy wallowin. I don't care what you do, Mr. Lancer, but that man is my business and he always will be. He don't want me sayin nothin cause he loves you and he don't want to be that bother ya make him feel like he is. But, if you won't help him, I damned sure will."

"You seem pretty fit, Sheriff. All this blustering doesn't seem to be causing you any discomfort. Maybe it's time you left."

"If he goes, I go." Johnny stood by the dining room table holding a biscuit, his eyes narrow and icy.

Murdoch turned to him, his face reddening with anger at the ultimatum.

"Reckon that's alright, too, now that Scott's been told the truth."

"Johnny, stop it. I can't deal with this right now. Don't you understand? I've already lost one son. Scott needs me. I thought you knew that."

"Yeah, I do know that. It's okay, Murdoch. You don't have to worry with me none. I'll be fine. I'm always fine. You go on and do what you hafta do and I'll do the same." There was no emotion in his voice or on his face.

Val sighed and looked to the heavens. Johnny's shield was up, protecting him from any and all harm.

"Son, I'm just worn out. I can't handle anything else. You see that, right?"

It seemed to Johnny as if his father were almost begging his leave. Asking to be allowed to ignore him. He couldn't deny Murdoch anything so he managed a small, fleeting smile as his face relaxed.  

"Yeah, I see. It's okay, really. Go on. I'm gonna eat now."

"You promise?"

"I promise, old man."

Murdoch sighed then glanced over at Val. "I didn't ... stay as long as you like, Sheriff." With that, he went upstairs, leaving Johnny to face the wrath.

But, he wasn't about to do that. He turned and walked back toward the kitchen, throwing a "leave it," over his shoulder.

*

Sam didn't make it out until the next day and it was late morning before he arrived. Val sat on the porch waiting for him. When he saw the surrey, he walked out into the yard.

"I hope it wasn't anything too serious, Val. I was at the Dennings place all night. One of their hands got trampled by a horse."

"You look pretty tired, Doc. I hate to do this to you."

Sam studied him for a beat. "Did Scott take a turn?"

"Yeah but it's for the better. Johnny told him everything last night. He's pretty shook up. Of course, I ain't seen 'im but I can imagine. It ainâ€t Scott I'm worried about."

Sam raised his brows at this information. "Johnny? What's happened?"

"He's killin himself and nobody seems ta care. I had it out with the old man last night but Johnny let him slide."

"You had words with Murdoch over Johnny? That couldn't have gone well."

"It didn't. He was ready ta throw me out for a minute. Anyways, the boy is sick, Sam. He won't eat, won't sleep much and he's workin like a crazy man. I know why but if we don't do somethin, he's gonna be as bad off as Scott was."

Sam took a step back and stared at him. "I've never known you to exaggerate, Val, but ..."

"I ain't and he ain't gonna come home just to see you. We're gonna have to go to him unless you can wait."

"If you think *he* can wait then I can. I'll run up and check on Scott. Let me know."

Val nodded and went back to his perch on the veranda. Maybe Johnny would come home for lunch to check on Scott now that he was makin sense. He hoped so.

*

Sam walked into the bedroom and noticed the tension in the room. Murdoch was looking out the window and Scott had his eyes closed but something told him the man was not asleep. He coughed lightly and both men looked at him.

"Hello, Sam. I hope you're ready to let me out of this bed."

Sam returned the smile he'd received although he didn't think it looked very genuine. He certainly understood it. "Well, let me take a look. Perhaps, your father would give us a minute?"

Scott snorted and Murdoch looked indignant but he left the room anyway.

Sam examined him then sat on the edge of the bed. "You're doing very well. If you feel up to it you can sit in the chair, take a few steps with help. You're still very weak, Scott, and you've lost some muscle. I'm afraid it's going to take quite some time before you're back in shape again. Now, I understand you've been told everything."

Scott sighed heavily. "I hope so. It's been very confusing and ... overwhelming."

"I can imagine. We were all thrown, that's for sure. Have you been able to make any sense of it yet?"

Frowning, the younger man thought about that. "Some, I suppose. But, until I talk with Grandfather, I don't think Iâ€ll really know everything. He has a lot to answer for. But, there are two things I need from you."

"Name it."

He smiled a little. "First, I need you to tell Murdoch I don't need a twenty-four hour nurse. Second, and most important, you need to check Johnny out. Last night was the first time I've gotten a really good look at him. Sam, he looks horrible."

"Val was just telling me the same thing. I'm going to stay until he gets home and check him over. What's your take?"

"He's lost a lot of weight and he looks like he hasn't slept in days. He looked like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders."

"He does, Scott. Johnny did everything he could to protect Murdoch from dealing with Garrett's hanging. He took care of the burial arrangements and took your brother to the grave sight. He made sure your name was cleared and, of course, I'm sure you know it was Johnny who found you. Plus, he's been running the ranch because Murdoch has not left this room since they brought you home. I don't know how Johnny got him to leave town before the hanging, but that was the only time Murdoch left you.

"He's dealing with a lot, too, you know. He's lost a son he didn't even know he had and he's been worried sick over you."

"I understand that, Sam. But, who's been taking care of Johnny?"

"Val's trying but you know how Johnny is. The only person he'll listen to is Murdoch and, I'm afraid, he's been unavailable."

Scott's face twisted in anger and he clutched the blanket in his fist.

"The best thing you can do for Johnny is get well. That will take a great load off his mind."

"I'm getting better every day but I don't suppose it helped that he had to tell me about Garrett last night. By the time he got in here, I was so angry with Murdoch for refusing to talk about it, I barely noticed how ill he was. It wasnâ€t until he was leaving the room that I realized it."

"Murdoch wouldn't tell you?"

"He said we had to wait for Johnny. They'd decided to do it together." Scott snorted lightly. "Of course, Johnny did all the talking."

Sam frowned, he was really worried now. Not just for Johnny's physical health but his emotional health as well. He knew very well, the young man would shrug that off as they all did. That didn't mean it wasn't very real.

*

Murdoch wasn't convinced but he was hedging on his insistence Scott needed him. Sam was adamant that Scott was past the critical stage and, though his recovery would be a long one, he was on his way and he needed some freedom from the constant hovering. Sitting at the kitchen table, the doctor knew the next subject was going to be a difficult one.

"I understand you went a few rounds with our good sheriff last night."

Murdoch looked up from his coffee cup and frowned. "He's pushing me too far."

"By telling you to wake up and pay attention to Johnny? From what I've heard from him and Scott, Johnny is in trouble, Murdoch. Serious trouble."

"Scott? He didn't say anything to me."

"Well, he did to me. He noticed how bad Johnny looks and, I dare say, you have too. You're just too damned stubborn or proud or both to let someone else point it out to you. Does it really matter that it was Val who said something or did you just not like the way it was said?"

Murdoch growled a little, refusing to entertain the idea.

"For heaven's sake, man! I know you've been through hell, Murdoch. I know what this is doing to you but, believe it or not, between the three of you, you're in the best shape. It's time to set aside your grief for a while and focus on the children you still have."

His shoulders fell and he slumped forward a little, pushing the cup away and hanging his head. "Sam, I feel so damned lost. Like I'm in a fog and I can't find my way out. I can't think, I can't function. All I can do is sit with Scott, feed him and bathe him like he was a baby. And now, I can't even do that anymore."

Sam sat back in his chair, his mouth falling open as he drank it all in. Miserably, he spoke gently to his friend. "It's so much easier when they're babies. That's all you have to do for them. That and love them. And they don't talk back, either. That's all you had to do with Johnny but you never got to do that with Scott - or Garrett. So, now, you're trying to regain what you lost all those years ago and trying to make it that simple again. I don't blame you for wanting to escape, Murdoch, but you can't do that forever.

"Johnny told me you were the one he worried about most. That it was you who would suffer most from all this and, emotionally, I think he's right. Any death in a family takes its toll on the survivors, Murdoch. When that family let's itself fall apart, this is the result. If you don't do something and fast, you may find yourself minus another son one way or the other. What you need to ask yourself is this. Is it worth losing Johnny to feel this misery? Or to feel some solace in the simplest form of parenting? Because that's gone now. Scott doesn't need that anymore. He still needs your love and support but as a man, now. So does Johnny."

Murdoch stared at the table, taking it all in and knowing Sam had pegged it even if he hadn't realized himself what he'd been doing. How could he make this right? Johnny's face last night had haunted him ever since he'd left his younger son to go to his older. It was as if Johnny had given up on him and it broke his heart. Was it too late?

"I went to Garrett's grave before going to get Scott that day. The headstone wasn't there yet. Just a mound of dirt where my son lay. I prayed so hard, Sam. I cried over that grave. I ask God to help me but I don't see that prayer being answered. I don't know what to do anymore. I feel like I'm drowning and I can't pull myself out."

"Then, let your family pull you out, Murdoch. Let Scott and Johnny help you. All you have to do is hold out your hand to them."

*

"I'm the father, Sam. Or I'm supposed to be. I haven't been one to Johnny lately. He's done with me. I saw it in his face last night and I can't blame him at all."

"That's not true."

Murdoch's head jerked around, his eyes settling on his younger son standing in the doorway.

Sam gawked openly at the visage before him. Val had not exaggerated at all. He started to come to his feet but Johnny moved into the room, his eyes on his father as he knelt beside the man's chair.

"I know how hard this has been on you. I didn't want to be one more thing for you to worry about. I guess I'm just not doin a very good job of it but I'm tryin, Murdoch. I don't want to feel this way, act this way. I don't know how to make it stop." His voice shook badly as he tried to explain himself. Johnny swallowed hard as he worked to master his emotions.

Sam slid out of his chair and left the room, heading for his medical bag and working things out in his mind. He had no true idea how bad off Johnny was but he was going to fix this if he could.

Murdoch's hand came up and he caressed his son's face as Johnny leaned into the touch. "I'm so sorry, son. I've been so ..."

"I heard what you and Sam were sayin. It makes perfect sense to me now. I guess I was just feelin a little ..."

"Neglected? You were neglected, son. That's my fault, not yours. You had every right to feel that way."

"No, I didn't. It was stupid and selfish. Scott needed you really bad and I knew that. That's why I took over the ranch so you'd have one less thing to think about. But, I can't seem to make myself stop thinkin about everything that's happened and I don't know what's gonna change that."

"Before we can fix your heart, we have to fix your body," Sam said as he came back. "Sit down, son."

Johnny slid into a chair and sighed. "If you're gonna tell me to just eat..."

"I want you to tell me what happens when you try to eat," Sam interrupted.

"Feel like I'm gonna puke if food gets too close to me." The nonchalance of the statement tore at Murdoch more than the words themselves.  

Sam closed his eyes for a moment, understanding what was happening even if Johnny didn't. "I think this is a reaction to what happened to Scott. You're feeling guilty that he was nearly starved to death so the thought of food makes you sick."

Johnny frowned, completely unconvinced since it sounded crazy to him and, as unsettled as he'd been, he didn't really think he'd gone over the edge to insanity.

Sam listened to the young man's heart and lungs and scrutinized his overall appearance. Without a word, he began rooting through his bag and pulled out several small white packets. He walked over to the stove and put on a pot of water then rejoined the men at the table.

"You can call it tea if that makes it go down any easier but, this medicine will calm your stomach so you can tolerate food. Drink one pack in a cup of hot water half an hour before eating. Start with light food, nothing heavy or spicy for a week and eat at least three meals a day."

"How bad does it taste?"

Sam smiled. "Actually, not bad at all. It has a minty taste to it. You need to get eight hours of sleep a night as well so, I'm going to give you sleeping powders and you will take them. They won't put you so deeply asleep that you can't wake up but they will help relax you." He pulled out seven small brown envelopes. "Thirty minutes before bed time."

"Shouldn't he go to bed now, Sam? He needs to catch up."

The doctor shook his head. "There's no such thing as catching up on sleep, Murdoch. He needs to stay on a regular routine. Otherwise, his body will get so turned around, he won't know if it's day or night." He got up and fixed the 'tea', placing it before Johnny and looking expectantly at the young man.

Johnny sighed and sipped it then raised his brows. "Not bad."

"There's soup on the stove and I want you to eat."

"You're startin to sound like Val." Johnny smiled wanly at the doctor.

*

Scott stared out the window, trying to make some sense of everything that had happened. He'd missed most of it so it was hard for him to wrap his mind around. He had another brother. A twin. Someone he should have shared his childhood with, pulled pranks with, gotten into all kinds of mischief with. Someone who would know what he was thinking without having to speak it. Someone who could feel what he felt.

He closed his eyes and shook his head. Why had he been denied that connection? It wasn't as if Garrett were three thousand miles away like Johnny and Murdoch. It wasn't as if he were a scourge as his grandfather regarded his father. Garrett had done nothing to hurt his, their, grandfather. How could he have? He had to be just a baby when he was taken away or Scott would have remembered him.

How old was he that he could recall things? He remembered being six years old. Maybe those were the first true memories he had which meant Garrett was gone before then. Still, his brain wasn't exactly working at full capacity these days.

His heart ached. All his life he'd felt a part of him missing. When he'd come to Lancer and discovered Johnny, he had assumed that he was the missing piece. Maybe not. Hadn't he still felt that ... disconnection even after becoming friends with his brother?

Yes, he admitted, he had. But, he hadn't dwelled on it, putting it down to still learning about his brother, he supposed. Now, he knew better. Now, he knew there was a part of him much closer. Someone he'd shared the womb with. This thought caused him to suck in a short, harsh breath. The very idea had him flabbergasted.

It was too late now, though. Whatever Harlan had done to his brother, it had driven the man beyond compassion, beyond any feeling, it seemed. Why hadn't he come home? Why hadn't he simply come to them, let them help him? It was obvious Garrett knew they were clueless as to his existence. Was he that bitter? Scott supposed he was. He couldn't blame the man, either.

His thoughts turned to Johnny and the telling of this impossible tale. From what he could gather, Garrett had stayed away from them all as much as possible. Except for Teresa, evidently. Maybe he thought she'd be least likely to notice anything. He wondered if that were true. If, had Garrett actually spent any real time with his father and brother, they could tell the difference.

Johnny had said he could see it once he allowed himself to believe in the possibility. As crazy a notion as it was, at least his brother had considered it - finally. Scott realized part of him wanted to blame his family for their lack of insight. But, a bigger part, the logical part, knew no one in their right mind would think he had a twin.

He heard a soft knock on the door and sighed irritably. If that was Murdoch, they were about to come to blows. "Come in!"

*

Val stuck his head through the opening, looking almost timid. "Am I botherin ya?"

Surprised by his visitor, Scott found his manners. "No, Val, not at all. Please, come in. I'm sorry, I thought it might be Murdoch."

Val stepped through, chuckling a little. "Gettin pretty sick of his face, I'd imagine."

Scott had to smile. "I'm afraid so."

"Well, he's in the kitchen with Johnny and Sam."

"It's about time. How is Johnny? He looks like a train wreck."

Val cocked a brow and shook his head. "Nice ta know someone noticed. I about had to knock your old man over the head to make him see."

Lowering his eyes, Scott nodded. "He's spent so much time up here, I suppose he's completely ignored Johnny."

"And everythin else. That'd be alright if Johnny was alright but, he ain't. I just hope Sam gets through to him."

"If anyone can, it's Sam."

Val nodded and walked idly around the room, rubbing his hands down his pant legs. "Well, I figured I'd just stop in and see if ya needed anythin while Murdoch's not here."

"Have a seat. There is something you can do for me but, first, how are you feeling?"

Val plopped into the chair opposite Scott and waved a dismissive hand. "I feel alright. Still get a twinge now and then but Sam don't want me ridin."

Scott gave him a knowing look. "I'd like to hear things from your perspective as a lawman and not as Johnny's friend."

"You sure about that?"

"I think so." Scott didn't like that question but he was determined.

"Well," he sighed out, "at first, I was with Johnny on this. I couldn't believe you'd do nothin like that. So, I tried to help figure it out but Garrett wasn't sayin nothin. He didn't talk to nobody for two days then he told Murdoch some cock and bull story about another shooter behind him. Thing was, there was no place to hide and he claimed he didn't see who it was. Me and Johnny stood out on that street more'n once tryin to figure a way it happened like he said but we never could. Just didn't make no sense. Then, when Murdoch got 'im a lawyer, he wouldn't talk to him either. Once they found 'im guilty, he just expected Johnny to bust 'im outta jail."

"And what did Johnny think of that idea?"

Val glanced over at him. "He was thinkin on it, I could see, but I told him not to try it. I'd lock him in the next cell."

Scott nodded, a wry smile on his face then it faded. "Then, he grabbed your gun and almost killed you both."

Val winced at the memory. "Yeah. See, I still thought it was you and I didn't think nothin of goin in that cell armed."

"It's nice to know you had that much faith in me, still."

"Well, I'll tell ya the truth, Scott. I never would've done it if Johnny hadn't been in there. I reckon neither of us figured on you pullin such a stunt."

"You thought I was guilty."

"I knew you was. Or, he was. Whoever the hell it was in that cell. Reckon Johnny was startin to believe it, too, the way he was actin. Look, it was just the damnedest thing, Scott. You wasn't yourself. Course, now we know why but, it was killin him. I wanted to let ya go but I couldn't. You wouldn't talk to him. Wouldn't even see him most of the time."

"I appreciate your candor, Sheriff."

Val looked in his eyes and saw a measure of humor, something of the old Scott. He shook his head, still having a hard time distinguishing the two as separate men.

"I'm also very sorry you were put through this."

"Wasn't your doin, Scott. You got nothin to be sorry for."

"That doesn't mean I'm not sorry it happened. I know how important you are to Johnny. Some day, I'd like to hear the whys of it. I'm sure there are some good stories in there. Right now, I'm having a very hard time accepting this."

"Can't blame ya for that. It's all been pretty damned loco, if ya ask me. Reckon there's really only one man that can shed some light."

Scott's face darkened and he looked toward the window again. "Yes, if he bothers to show up."

*

For the next three days, Lancer quieted. Johnny was following doctor's orders and starting to feel better. Scott was eating more heartily and gaining more strength each day. Murdoch had backed off his older son though he turned that attention toward his younger. And Val hung around, cynical and suspicious that things were returning to normal. He'd taken to riding out with Johnny, claiming he'd get his strength back faster if he was doing some work. Murdoch was beginning to think they had another boarder at the house who would never leave.

The rancher sat at his desk this day, thinking of his sons and of Val Crawford. He'd come very close to punching that man in the mouth more than once but, he had to admit, Val had been right. So, he couldn't blame the man for not trusting he'd look after his boys and staying close to Johnny. He still didn't get that friendship and didn't think he ever would. He knew very well had he thrown Val out, Johnny would have gone with him even if he had to crawl, which wasn't out of the realm of possibility at the time.

He also knew Val was there, making sure Johnny did no more than supervise the men. Keeping him from doing anything too strenuous yet and probably pestering Johnny to death. His son was a patient man at times but he couldn't understand how Johnny put up with Val. Maybe, they're different when they're off together. Maybe Val wasn't so blasted annoying out of his presence. He smiled a little, thinking the sheriff must not like him very much.

A movement caught his eye and he looked up to see Scott moving quietly down the last few stairs and heading to the door. He took a few seconds to decide if he should but he figured he'd steered clear long enough. Scott must be over being sick of him by now. He stood and walked over to peer out the French doors.

Scott was easing into a chair on the veranda and Murdoch sighed relief. At least he's not as bullheaded as his brother about being sick. Well, he reconsidered, that wasn't really true. Scott was still dealing with everything and that didn't lend itself to the desire to punch cows. Sucking in a breath, he stepped outside.

"You're looking better every day." He sat beside his son and smiled.

"I feel better."

Murdoch noted the flat voice, no anger or annoyance, just nothing at all. "I've been trying to give you some room, son, but I hope you don't think I'm just tired of you."

Scott looked over then and smiled a little. "No, I don't think that at all. I appreciate you backing off some. I've had a lot to think about and I still can't believe it all really happened." After a few quiet moments, he spoke again. "Johnny seems to be doing better."

"He is and Val is keeping a close eye on him."

"Those two are quite a pair but I'm very glad Johnny has him. There's something between them I don't think I'll ever understand fully. Something that happened maybe that bonds them forever."

Murdoch frowned at this, pondering what that could have been. "I haven't handled things very well with either one of you."

"It's not an everyday occurrence, Sir. None of us knows how to handle it. We're all just doing the best we can."

"Yes, that's what Johnny said, too."

"Shall we speak of he who hasn't bothered to show?" Scott had to smile a little at his sarcastic quip.

Murdoch ground his teeth and looked out over the yard. "I don't know what to say, son. I haven't heard a word from him."

"He's probably out looking for Garrett."

"I thought of that, too."

"If he doesn't show up, I'm going after him."  

*

Murdoch didn't have time to respond to that as Johnny and Val rode in. He stood up and walked to the edge of the veranda, an eagle eye scrutinizing his younger son. Nothing seemed out of order but he wasn't taking things at face value, either.

"Well, look who showed his face. How ya feelin, Boston?" Johnny grinned widely when he saw his brother somewhere other than his room.

"Pale," Scott retorted. "And you?"

Sighing lightly, Johnny took his hat off as he stepped onto the bricked porch. "Better. Appetite's back."

"It sure is! Can't get 'im to stop eatin long enough ta do nothin!" Val didn't manage to hide the grin completely.

"Good. He doesn't need to be do much of anything." Murdoch smiled at the lawman and Val almost choked.

"Yeah, that's why we're back. Ran outta food. What about it, Scott? Want some lunch?"

Scott shook his head slightly as he stood up and smiled at his brother. "You are as subtle as a sledgehammer, brother. I suppose it all balances out, though. You worry about me eating and I worry about you eating and we should both be back in form in no time at all."

"That's the plan." Johnny wrapped an arm around his brother and Scott nearly blubbered. It had been a very long time since he'd felt this warmth with Johnny, this closeness.

Murdoch and Val stayed behind as the brothers walked inside together, both just happy at the sight.

"I owe you an apology, Sheriff, and a gratitude I can never repay."

"Mr. Lancer, I think I know what you think of me and that don't bother me none. It's just when it comes to Johnny, I feel a certain obligation."

"Why?"

Val cocked a brow at the direct question. "Reckon that's between us."


"Something that happened in the past. Something specific." Murdoch knew it was true but for some reason, he needed that validation.

"Yeah, somethin real specific." Val said nothing more and walked inside.

*

Lunch was almost normal with Johnny and Scott teasing at each other. It was gentler, more reserved with more thought to the words than ever before. Both still felt a little uncertain, unwilling to say anything to bring forth memories they had yet to squelch. Once the meal was over, Val spoke.

"I was thinkin it was time to get back to work. That is, if I still have a job. Reckon ole Steve's gettin mighty tired of lookin after things."

"He's doin good with it, Val. Like I told ya before, you should deputize him. I know you can stand to be around him." Johnny's eyes held a glint that Val had missed seeing but there was also a rare bit of panic there.

Murdoch saw it, too. "There's no rush, Val. As long as Steve doesn't mind watching the store, you're welcome to stay." He looked at Johnny and saw what he'd longed to see for some time now. Affection. True affection without the tiredness, the edginess and tension his son had carried for far too long.

Val Crawford nearly fell out of his chair as he stared openly at Murdoch. His eyes went to Johnny who was looking at his father, then to Scott who was trying to hide a smirk behind a napkin. "Well, I don't know..."

"Aw, shut up. You're stayin, that's all. Besides, one of these days, we might make it up to that lake for some fishin." Johnny pulled a face at him.

"You should do that tomorrow. You deserve it, certainly."

"Well, I was thinkin maybe we'd wait til Scott's feelin up to it."

"No, brother. I think Murdoch's right. You and Val should go tomorrow and relax. I'll go next time."

"If you're sure."

"I'm sure. Besides, I'm not up to all that noise." Scott smiled teasingly.

"Funny, brother. Can't a man live anything down? Okay, we'll go tomorrow. Happy now, Sheriff?"

"I'm walkin on clouds," Val snorted. He was still a bit stunned by Murdoch's change in attitude. Maybe there was hope for the old man afterall, he thought sarcastically.

*

That evening, just before supper, Scott joined his family in the living room. Val and Johnny were in an all out war at the checker board. Scott was content to read a light-hearted novel and Murdoch was going through the mail. The room was quiet and the smells from the kitchen were enticing as they all anticipated the supper meal. A knock on the door broke the calm and Johnny sighed with some annoyance.

"Probably Sam come to poke on somebody. Don't he ever get tired of doin that?" Disgruntled, the younger Lancer went to let the doctor in, already planning how he would not be the one to get poked on tonight.

He opened the door, a less than charming remark on his lips when he was stunned silent for a few beats. His face then darkened as he glared at the man before him looking quite dusty. "About damned time you showed up."

Harlan Garrett gave a surprised look. "Is that how you welcome people to your home? I came as soon as I could. How is Scotty?"

"Much better." Johnny grinned charmingly and even gave a little bow as he opened the door wider. "Come on in and join the party."

Harlan gave him an odd look. "You look terrible, young man. Were you injured, too?"

"We all were, Garrett. You might as well be part of that, too." Johnny turned and walked back inside ahead of him, knowing he couldn't warn them much. "Scott," he called, a look of pure sympathy on his face.

Scott looked up then past his brother at the man standing just inside the doorway. His face fell into an angry frown as he slowly stood. Murdoch's ascent was much quicker as he came to his feet and glowered.

"Well, so nice of you to join us, Grandfather. I hope it wasn't too much of an imposition."

Val got up and started toward the kitchen until Johnny grabbed his arm. "Hell no, amigo. You ain't runnin out on this."

"Ain't my place, Johnny."

"Yeah, well, I'm makin it your place. We're all in this together now."

Harlan took it all in with trepidation. He decided to focus on what was easiest in his mind. "If this some distant relative?"

Scott advanced on the man. "Interesting you bring that up, Sir. Let's sit and talk about relatives."

"Scotty, you look positively skeletal. What has been going on here?" Harlan walked in but he didn't sit. His heart was pounding at his grandson's words and he still held out hope he had misunderstood the meaning.

"Sit down, Harlan. This may take a little while. There's a lot to answer for." Murdoch's tone indicated the barely controlled rage he was feeling at the moment. It took all he had not to strangle this man.

He finally took a seat in one of a matched set of chairs, across from where Scott had been sitting. Murdoch sat back down on the sofa as Scott retook his seat. Johnny and Val moved to near the fireplace, both too edgy to sit.

"Where shall we start?" Scott asked sardonically. "Oh, I know. Why don't you tell us why you kept my brother from me, locked him away like a criminal and never bothered to tell his father he even existed?"

*

The Grandfather clock ticked the seconds away more loudly than usual. Scott was staring Harlan down as the oldest man fidgeted a little in his seat, his eyes roaming left and right of his grandson. Anywhere but directly into those blue depths so ready to explode all over him. So, his suspicions were correct. Garrett had made it all the way to California and done what exactly? Obviously, wreak havoc on Scotty if his appearance was any indication. The other one as well though he was hardly bothered by that. How could he make them understand?

"I'm waiting." Scott's impatience had reached its apex.

"I will explain myself if you are willing to listen. At the moment, it doesn't seem you are." There, thought Harlan, time to regain the proper positions in this relationship.

Scott's eyes narrowed momentarily then, to the surprise of all, he relaxed and smiled faintly. "Certainly, Sir. I am most willing to listen."

Satisfied he'd defused his grandson, Harlan nodded. "It wasn't an easy decision to make, Scotty. In fact, it may well be the hardest thing I've ever done but, I felt I had to. Garrett was unstable and he was dangerous. He almost killed you. I had to send him away."

Flummoxed, no one spoke for long moments. It was Johnny who first found his voice. "He was a baby. How could he be dangerous?" The question wasn't asked in anger, more shocked disbelief. Johnny moved from his spot beside Val and took a seat on the arm of the sofa near his father.

Harlan frowned. "When he was four years old, he pushed Scotty down the stairs. If I hadn't been there to catch him, the fall would have killed Scotty. That wasn't the first incident but it was the last." His eyes settled back on Scott. "He burned you once in the kitchen and hit you over the head with a toy so hard, you needed stitches. I tried to believe they were accidents but the stairs was the last straw. I saw his face just before he pushed you. There was nothing but pure rage to the boy. It was no accident. Yes, he was only four but I believed then and now, Scotty was in danger."

"Why didn't you get him help, Grandfather? Why just send him off to an island and ignore him?"

Harlan's eyes widened and he shook his head slowly. "I did get him help, son. I took him to several doctors. As for the island, it was safer. There were only a few servants and they were all well aware. Even with that, over the years, I had to replace some who couldn't handle him and some who were afraid of the boy. As he got to his teenage years, he broke the arm of one cook and nearly caused his tutor to drown. The boy was evil. Plain evil."

Murdoch stood quickly, towering over the easterner. "Did it *ever* occur to you to tell me about him? Did you think even *once* of sending him to me?"

"Good grief, man! Why would I send him here in the middle of nowhere? No one to give him the proper supervision. He needed twenty-four hour care. Someone had to be awake at all times or he would have burned the place to the ground. He tried it enough times!" Harlan came to his feet and faced his former son-in-law. "This wasn't to do with you, Murdoch. I was trying to keep everyone safe and salvage some sort of life for Garrett. He wasn't capable of living in society. And, quite frankly, I was afraid of what has evidently happened. That he would come after Scotty."

Murdoch took two steps before Johnny got up and stood between the two men, facing his father. "Don't. He's tellin the truth, I think."

The quietness of his voice captured Murdoch's attention, swaying him from his target. One he was ready to kill with his bare hands. He looked into his son's eyes, surprised Johnny was defending this man.

Scott sat and took it all in for a long few seconds. When his brother moved, he focused on him. Standing slowly, he faced his family. "I think so, too. I'm not saying he was right or wrong. I'm saying I believe what he's told us."

"And what? Just forget about the whole thing?"

"No, Murdoch. Sit down and talk it through. There ain't no point in attacking the man. We need to know everything and I guess he should know what happened here."

*

Waffling, Murdoch looked from one son to the other. He went back to his seat mumbling about Garrett not deserving to know a damned thing.

Fearful for a few seconds as Murdoch advanced on him then, stunned at Johnny's intervention on his behalf, Harlan made himself regain control of his thoughts and focus on his remaining grandson. "I would like to know what transpired."

"Then, you'll have to ask them. I was held prisoner through the whole thing." Scott's sarcasm, though well-deserved, only sparked anger in the oldest man.

"Prisoner?"

Johnny sighed heavily and sat beside his father, leaning back against the cushions and regarding Garrett with a studious frown. "Why didn't you tell Murdoch about Garrett before you knew he was so evil?"

"The same reason he kept Scott from me. To make me pay, right, Harlan? It must have been immensely satisfying to know you'd taken not one, but two sons from me."

Johnny was so over these two he was close to losing his control. It wouldn't take much to begin with. Why he was even bothering, he didn't know. He should just take Scott and Val and leave these two to kill each other, or yell each other to death. Remembering his unusually silent friend, Johnny cast a glance at Val. His expression was closed and Johnny cocked a brow to which Val gave an answering shrug.

"How about this? How about we just ask each other questions and let the other answer without all the bullshit? Would that be alright?"

Scott snorted. "It would be fine if it were a possibility. But, that isn't going to happen with these two, Johnny."

"I have tried to answer your questions but I see no need for that sort of language." Harlan's indignation was a living thing.

Johnny stared at him for a beat then burst out laughing. He saw Val turn his back on the lot of them then saw his shoulders start shaking which only made him laugh more.

"There is nothing funny about this, young man! For perhaps the first and only time, I agree with Harlan. There's no need for profanity."

Scott looked back and forth between these two men. The one who raised him and the one who should have. If all they cared about were the words used, this whole conversation would be pointless. "Profanity aside, it's an excellent suggestion. I, for one, would like to get this hashed out without anyone coming to blows or using their bitterness and hatred of one another to shy away from the truths we all need to hear. Johnny can cuss a blue streak if he wants to. Just get it said."

Johnny did stop laughing then and looked at his brother with pure relief at the grit of the tone. Scott was back, at least part way, and he was grateful for it. No matter how painful the arising had been, was going to be, yet. He settled down and, without remorse or apology, tried again. "So, why didn't you tell Murdoch?"

Harlan once more looked uncomfortable. "I suppose I wanted the leverage. If, by some miracle, he managed to take Scotty away, I'd still have one grandson."

Murdoch's lips twisted into a sneer of satisfaction.

"Now, may I know what happened here?"

*

The Lancers looked at each other as if silently discussing who should speak. Before anyone could say a word, a different voice sounded.

"I'll tell ya," Val said and walked over behind the sofa, standing near his friend.

"Who are you?"

"Sheriff Crawford from Green River and most of it happened in my town."

Harlan nodded and listened as the sheriff began the story, his eyes going alternately to Scott then Johnny then Murdoch. To hear this from a stranger was perhaps even more painful. When Val got to the parts he didn't personally know, the parts that involved Johnny, Garrett and Murdoch, he let his friend take over. Surprisingly, Murdoch did tell of his own conversations with his son.

Johnny described in detail the state in which he'd found Scott. He wanted Harlan to know the extent of his silence; what his anger for Murdoch and his fear of being left alone had cost the person whom he supposedly loved most in this world. Bitterness dripped from each word as Johnny told of his brother's condition and the long battle to keep him alive and begin regaining his health.

By the end, all were exhausted and the wounds were reopened, live and pulsing.

"That's not all of it," Scott said softly, embarrassed with the telling of how he'd been found. Though he didn't blame himself, his pride had been deeply wounded, too. "The worry and, maybe even undeserved guilt, made Johnny almost as sick as me. He's still recovering, as well. Still yet, our father's suffering while not as physical, has certainly taken its toll. So, you see, Grandfather, your little secret has caused more damage than imaginable." Voice as flat as his expression, he watched and waited for Harlan to say something.

It was a long wait as the elder tried to take in all that had transpired. He cared less about Johnny or Murdoch but he couldn't say that. He didn't know what to say. Finally, he inhaled deeply and slowly let it out as he found his grandson's eyes once more.

"Scotty, I realize I've made mistakes. I know my ... anger with Murdoch had a great deal to do with my earliest decisions. But, once I saw what Garrett was capable of, I truly believed I was protecting everyone involved, especially you. My boy, I was at a loss. There was no point in telling you about him. I knew you would insist on seeing him and the very idea frightened me. What was I to do?"

Scott shook his head back and forth slowly. "I don't know, Grandfather. I was never asked my opinion or given the chance to help with the situation. Whatever was wrong inside my brother, I'd like to think there was a modicum of humanity in him. Perhaps, I'm just fooling myself but the fact that you refused to allow me the opportunity is what I can't get past." He stood then and walked toward the stairs.

"I'm sorry but I'm very tired now. I'm going to bed." He stopped and looked pointedly at his brother. "I'd like to be alone the rest of the night."

Johnny nodded though he didn't like the idea but he would respect his brother's privacy even if he had to sleep outside the man's door to keep anyone else from disrespecting Scott's wishes.

*

"Was no one with him when he died?" Garrett asked into the silence.

"I was in town, saw him that morning but he didn't want us there and, tell the truth, I couldn't have watched it anyway."

"I don't suppose he mentioned me?"

Johnny looked at the old man and smiled a little. "Yeah, he wanted me to make you pay for what you did to him."

Harlan sighed. "Well, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. He always thought I was punishing him. Garrett could never see what he was; only that everyone else was afraid of him."

"Were you afraid of him?" Murdoch's voice held no antipathy.

"Yes, I was. Afraid of what he was capable of especially, as he grew older. It just seemed to get worse."

"Maybe, if he wasn't locked away, he wouldn't have gotten worse."

Harlan looked at Johnny curiously. "Perhaps but, I didn't think I could risk it. Tell me, Johnny, what would you have done?"

The young man raised a brow at the question. "I don't know. One thing I do know is, Murdoch should have been told about him. If the two of you could've seen past your hate, maybe you could've helped him together. Either way, a man has the right to know he's a father. Has a right to *be* a father to his kids if he's worth a dime doin it. I think you know Murdoch would've been a good father to Scott. You just couldn't stand the thought of losin to him again."

Harlan had no retort for that. It was the truth, he supposed. "I'm sorry this affected you, Johnny."

The young man clenched his fists, pushing them into his thighs. "Did you think it wouldn't? He was my brother too, ya know!"

It was as if the notion had just occurred to Harlan and he swallowed hard. "Yes, of course, he was. I suppose I still have a hard time thinking of Lancer as having anything to do with my family. Even now, it's hard to reconcile."

"Lancer doesn't have anything to do with your family anymore, Harlan. I want you out of here and you are not welcome on this ranch ever again." Murdoch stood and stalked out of the room, heading up the stairs.

Johnny started to go after him, keep him from bothering Scott, but he faltered at the look on Harlan's face. Like he'd been punched in the stomach. It wasn't the first time he'd seen the expression on the old man's face tonight but, for some reason, it got to him now. He felt Val's hands squeeze his shoulders and the man leaned down to him.

"I'll check. If he's in with Scott I'll come get ya. If not, I'll leave ya to it unless you want me to come back."

"No, it's okay. Thanks, Val." Johnny craned his neck and smiled at his friend who nodded and left the two alone.

*

"He hates me even more, now."

"Can you blame him?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Why'd you do it? I mean, was it really because you love Scott or was it to keep Murdoch from having his son? Or, maybe, simple revenge for taking your daughter away?"

Harlan gave a fleeting smile. "All of that, I suppose. My anger has waned over the years, Johnny, but I will admit, I still believe Catherine would be alive today had he left her in Boston."

"Maybe she would have but, would she be as happy as she was with him?"

Brows knitting together, Garrett studied Johnny. "Why are you so certain she was happy with him?"

He shrugged as if it were simple. "She married him, came out here with him. I take it the woman wasn't stupid. She knew what this land would be like or, at least, had some idea. Ya know, I never really got how Murdoch caught himself a society lady like that so I have to believe she really loved him. I know he loved her. Must've taken after her own mother or somethin cause she couldn't have been a snob like you."

To his surprise, Garrett actually chuckled a little. "No, Catherine was nothing like me. She had a soft heart and she would always show up at home with some stray. It was amusing when she was a child, bringing in a starving puppy or kitten or even a squirrel once. But, when she got older, it was people. She volunteered at the hospital and churches helping the poor. She'd leave the house with pounds of clothing, blankets, even food at times as if it were nothing."

"It was nothing for her to give those things away because she had every *thing* she could ever want. I can see a woman like that taking on a challenge like my old man. Must have seemed like heaven comin out here to the wilderness. She liked adventure and wasn't afraid of anything. That's my take from what I've heard of her which ain't much, I'll admit. Still, I admire the lady."

"That's generous of you."

"I just say it the way I see it. But, about Murdoch, don't worry on that. He won't throw you out, he's just mad and this has been really hard on him." Johnny lowered his eyes and played with his hands.

"I know what it's like to lose a child."

"Yeah, you do. But, Murdoch spent almost twenty years thinkin about this. See, he always wondered if I was alive or dead and, I guess when he found out what I'd become, that made it even harder. So, this is like a nightmare come true for him even if it ain't the son he thought he'd lose." A quirky grin came to his lips as he looked at the other man. "Course, I bet you wish it had been."

Harlan gawked at him. "That isn't true, Johnny. No, I don't approve of you but that doesn't mean I wish you dead. It's obvious Scotty has become quite attached to you. I will never understand it but that doesn't matter. Still, I wish you no harm."

"Thanks, I guess. I just think you should ask yourself somethin. If Scott cares about me, maybe there's a reason. You know him pretty well so you should probably know he's a good judge of character. I'm not sayin I'm a prize but, I'm not that bad either." He smiled teasingly at the old man.

Harlan returned the smile though fleetingly as he fell somber. "I suppose you're much better than having a brother he couldn't trust not to slit his throat, or starve him as the case turned out."

Johnny nodded. "You made some mistakes, there's no doubt in my mind about that. But, as far as Garrett is concerned, I think you did the best you could. It's not something you come across every day. I've seen fellas who sit around talkin to no one, havin whole conversations with the air. I've seen some pure evil sons of ... well, anyway, itâ€s different when it's blood kin."

"Yes, it is very different. I loved that boy when he was little. I tried to hold onto that feeling as he grew. Part of me will always feel that connection but, I had to let go of him. I suppose that's why I was so adamant about keeping Scotty, as well. I felt I'd failed Garrett. I couldn't help him."

"But, you tried. He didn't think so but I believe you did. Maybe we should both try and get some sleep. This ain't over."

"I am exhausted. I'd like to visit his ... grave."

Johnny nodded then stood up. "I can take you tomorrow. I'm not sure Murdoch's been up there yet and I know Scott hasn't."

*  

Johnny sat at the kitchen table. Evidently, he was the only one who hadn't forgotten about supper, late as it was. Maria had left the stew on the stove. He figured she knew this could go on all night. Well, it's for sure Murdoch and Scott ain't thinkin about their stomachs. He sighed lightly as he took a long drink of water. His eyes peered over the rim of the glass when he heard the bootfalls. He didn't even want to guess who it was. That's what I get, he thought morosely as he readied himself for another bout.

Much to his relief, it was Val and maybe he should feel guilty about thinking that way but he wasn't going to. He was just too tired to have another long talk about this whole mess.

The sheriff said nothing as he went about spooning up a bowl of stew and grabbing the coffee pot from the stove, bringing it to the table with him.

"Plannin on stayin up all night?"

Val shrugged as he poured the black liquid. "Don't never keep me up, you know that."

"Yeah, I do. Must be that cast iron stomach." Johnny grinned a little at the frown he got.

"I didn't come through the livin room. Any blood on the carpets?"

Johnny laughed at that and shook his head. "Not a drop. Miracles still happen, I reckon." He grew solemn as he stared at the table. "I hate what I'm about to say but, I think the old man did the best he could at the time. He was wrong but, I don't think he was tryin to hurt anybody."

"From what I heard, I'd say that was right. Don't let him off the hook but, with any luck, the rest of your family will be able to see that much."

"I don't know, Val. I told him Murdoch didn't mean it when he threw him out. I hope I don't regret that in the mornin. Did you look in on Scott?"

"Nope. Man said he wanted to be left alone." Val shoveled a bite of stew in his mouth as he looked at his friend.

"Thanks. I don't wanna get all sweet or nothin but, I couldn't have made it through all this craziness without you."

Val stopped eating and gave an exasperated sigh. "You're welcome and that's the end of that. Now, how're you gonna keep Murdoch from killin Garrett?"

"He won't have to."

They both looked up at the tall rancher standing in the doorway. Perturbed he hadn't heard the approach, Johnny's brows drew together as he regarded his father.

"I guess we all forgot about eating earlier." He continued into the room but before he made it around the table, Johnny was up and to the stove, ladling out some stew.

"I've got it, have a seat."

Val cocked an amused brow which Murdoch mimicked as they shared a smile. Johnny served his father, giving a questioning look toward the coffee pot to which Murdoch simply nodded. He grabbed a cup and poured the brew wondering if anyone would sleep tonight.

"I suppose you told him I didn't mean it when I ordered him out."

"I did." Johnny ignored the gruff words, knowing his father was trying to find a graceful way out of his temper fit earlier. "Don't worry, though. He knows how much you hate him."

"Wonderful."

*

"Wonderful? Whatever it is, I'd like to hear it. I could use some wonderful about now." Scott walked into the room trying to sound cheerful but he missed by a country mile.

"He didn't mean it, brother. Have a seat." For the second time, Johnny served as waiter and dished out a bowl for his brother. Trying to feel like he still had some sense for Scott, he pumped a glass of cold water and set it before the man.

"Thanks, Johnny."

"There's coffee." Val couldn't resist. He was tired of the grief of this house. Even though it couldn't be helped, he thought maybe it was time to try and bring some life back to this crew.

"No, thank you. I'll be up all night." Scott forced a small smile for the sheriff and noted Johnny's wider grin. He'd missed something between the two men again, he was sure. He was also getting sick of it. He knew he was already irritable and it was probably nothing at all but, everything seemed to put him out of sorts these days. He swallowed it down with his stew.

The room grew quiet save the multitude of sighs rounding the table. Val watched them all stare at their food and rolled his eyes. He wasn't the most patient man in the world and he tried to stay away from getting too involved in other people's troubles, long as it was legal. This he couldn't stay out of but that didn't mean he was any better equipped to handle it. Truth be told, he wanted to box all their ears. Instead of yelling at each other like they wanted to, everyone was trying so hard to be civilized. It was Johnny who surprised him most. The one person he expected to lose it and he hadn't - yet. Well, not much. Instead, he'd let it make him sick. To Val, that was a hundred times worse.

Johnny slid out of his chair and went back to the stove. No one paid much mind, assuming he was still hungry which was a good thing. After a couple of minutes, Val looked over and saw him fixing up a tray. His shoulders tensed as he darted a look at Murdoch but he was paying no mind. Of course, that wouldn't last. Val knew that. Would stake a month's wages, in fact. Maybe he was about to get that yellin. Or maybe not. The old man surely wouldn't take him to task for feedin Garrett especially, with Scott right there.

"Going to bed, son?"

"No, I'm gonna go see if old man Garrett is still awake. I don't imagine he could find the kitchen without a bloodhound." He turned and grinned widely at his little joke. To his surprise, Scott laughed a little.

"I'll take it to him."

"I've got it, brother. Finish your supper. Lord knows, you need it."

"You don't have to be nice to him, Johnny." Scott's face was flat but there was a glimmer of steam there.

"Not tryin to. Just bein a good host. Ain't that what you're always on me about. My manners? Besides, I really don't mind."

They just looked at each other for a few beats before Scott simply nodded his head and focused on his food again. Johnny's eyes roved to his father but he saw nothing resembling one of those volcanoes he'd read about so he walked quietly from the room.

*

As soon as Johnny left, Scott threw his spoon into the bowl with a clatter. Murdoch reached over but the younger man snatched his arm away before being touched. He sat back in his chair and looked like he might growl at any second.

"I don't understand him. Grandfather can't stand that he's on this earth and yet he feeds the man and talks to him as if nothing had happened."

"I think you're exaggerating a little, Scott. Johnny hasn't treated Harlan with kid gloves."

Scott glared at his father. "He shouldn't even have to be in the same room with the man."

"Then blame me for it. I'm the one who sent for him."

Dissatisfied, Scott turned to Val. "I don't know why he didn't shoot the man on sight. At the very least, break his jaw."

"Sounds to me like that's what you wanna do, Scott. Or, maybe, what you want Johnny to do for ya since he's your grandpa and it ain't right for you to do it."

Val's calm, seeming indifference grated on Scott's fragile nerves. "You know nothing about me, Val, or what I want."

"Scott..."

"It's alright, Mr. Lancer. You had your shot. Might as well let him have his, too. I reckon neither one of ya is too thrilled I'm here. The only problem I have with that is, Johnny asked me to stick around. If I gotta sleep outside to do it, that's what I'll do but I ain't leavin til he tells me it's alright. Simple as that." He leaned forward in his chair and squared off with Scott.

"You wanna talk to me about it, that's fine. You wanna try and yell at me about it, that ain't gonna wash. You wanna take all this out on somebody, I reckon it's about time, Scott. But, it ought not be taken out on folks that don't deserve it. I can't stop you if you wanna yell at your old man or Johnny but, I won't like it. Yell at the one you're mad at. He ain't gonna break. Seems ta me he's tough as rawhide."

Scott simply stared at the man, his mouth slightly open.

"Reckon I'll go to bed now. You both know me and Johnny are friends but I reckon ya still ain't figured out what that means to us. What he'd do for you is what I'd do for him, Scott. We're brothers, too, of a sort. That's all I'm gonna say about that. G'night."

Scott stared at nothing as Val stalked from the room. Murdoch watched his son and wondered if anything Val said had gotten through. He wasn't the most eloquent man but he made his points crystal clear and Murdoch couldn't disagree. He was beginning to see the man his son cared so much about. Slowly, yes, but he was getting there. And maybe it didn't matter that he knew any of the stories or that one thing that had sealed their friendship. Maybe it was enough to know Val Crawford had been there and still was there for Johnny no matter what the cost.

Softly, Scott finally spoke. "He's right. I do want to yell at someone, even hit someone. I'm so angry."

Murdoch chanced reaching out again and this time, his son didn't balk. "I know and you have every right to feel that way, son. Val was right about that, too. You need to talk with your grandfather. We both do. Right now, I think it's best to try and get some rest. You need all you can get."

"I'm sorry, Murdoch. I know I haven't been very receptive to you lately. I just ..."

"Scott, whatever you need is alright with me. All I want is for all of us to heal and try to get our lives put back together somehow."

The young man nodded, looked at his father and offered a small but genuine smile.

*

Johnny set the brake on the surrey and stared at the mound of dirt. He felt the seat sway as Harlan stepped out and rounded the rig. Slowly, he joined the man at the grave side. The marker was there now, plain and simple.

Garrett Lancer
Born December 19, 1845
Died July 17, 1871

Johnny took his hat off and bowed his head. "I didn't know what else to put on it. I didn't know him. I wasn't sure ... I ain't too good with sentimental stuff."

"What was there to say? An unaccomplished life. He never had a chance. My fault, I suppose."

"Accident of birth, maybe. I mean, maybe somethin happened while he was bein born. She was sick as it was." Johnny shook his head, not knowing what the hell he was saying.

"You did all this?"

"I couldn't ask Murdoch to do it and Scott was still unconscious."

Harlan looked over at him, studying his features closely. Then he looked around him. "This is a pleasant spot. Quiet and peaceful."

"Yeah, he said it was okay if I buried him on Lancer and he hoped he'd find some peace. I've always liked this area."

Harlan nodded and walked away, closer to the edge of the hill. He smiled wanly. "A view of the house. It's nice, Johnny, very nice."

"Thanks."

"I know he hated me. I don't suppose I can blame any of you for feeling the same way even before all this."

"I never hated you. I don't much care for you but I don't hate you. Keepin Scott away from home was always the biggest deal for me. Murdoch, too and Scott. But, as far as Garrett goes, I told ya, I don't blame you for that."

Harlan didn't answer or look at him. He stared out over the panorama for several long minutes. "One is supposed to become wiser as one ages. Learn from past mistakes."

"Reckon ya hafta admit they were mistakes first."

He turned then and looked at the slight grin on Johnny's face and his own stern countenance relaxed.   "Yes, I suppose that would be the first step. I never wanted any of this to affect Scotty. I never wanted to lose his love."

Johnny stepped up beside him and watched a hawk in flight for a few seconds. "I can't speak for Scott. I know he's madder than I've ever seen him. You're gonna have to talk to him alone about all this but, I'm not so sure you're the only one he's mad at."

"Who else is there?"

Lowering his head, he fairly whispered. "Me. I didn't know the difference. I should've been able to tell."

"Johnny, for heaven's sake! Who in their right mind would ever think such a thing? Well, Scott isn't behaving normally so it must not be him. It looks like him, walks like him but it must be someone else. Of course! It must be his twin! It's ridiculous. In fact, if it weren't so tragically sad, it would make a fine novel."

He gave a short laugh as he regarded the older man. "You're kinda funny sometimes."

Harlan smiled. "I didn't intend to be but it really is a ludicrous situation, isn't it?" Sighing heavily, he walked back to the grave side. "I pray you finally have some peace, son." He walked back to the surrey and slid onto the seat, staring straight ahead.

Johnny joined him, giving him a sidelong look and he could swear the old man's eyes were wet.  

*

Scott stood in the yard and watched the surrey approach. If Johnny weren't so worried about his brother, he'd be happy he was outside. But, he saw the grim look and his shoulders bunched. He could feel old man Garrett stiffen beside him. Well, I ain't gettin in the middle of this.

Before he could even get out of the surrey, Scott was at his side. "Where did you two get off to?"

Johnny looked at his hands still holding the reins. "He wanted to visit the grave." Clearing his throat, he went on. "Well, I'm gonna put this thing away now. I'll see ya later."

Scott stepped back so he could drive on to the barn, leaving Harlan standing there waiting.

"Well, son, did you want to stay outside a while or would you rather have this talk in the house?"

"Inside is better, don't you think? The hands don't need to know every single gory detail. I'm quite sure they know enough as it is." Scott turned on his heel and strode purposefully to the door.

Harlan held back a few seconds, curiously enough, wishing Johnny hadn't abandoned him to face his fate alone. He braced himself and walked into the house to find Scott standing by the cold fireplace.

"How did it look?"

"Sad. But, Johnny picked a very nice spot, very peaceful."

"Yes, Johnny would. It's just unfortunate we couldn't have had a normal funeral. Then again, this whole mess if unfortunate. Would you have ever told me about him?"

Harlan tried to keep his wits about him but Scotty seemed to be going in ten different directions. He concentrated on the question. "I honestly don't know. I considered it many times especially as the years passed. I suppose I would have had no choice at some point. I assumed he would outlive me."

"Perhaps he would have given a chance!" He started to pace then stopped, shaking his head. "I'm trying very hard to see things from your perspective, Grandfather. I've spent my entire life doing that. I usually end up stumped, however. And I usually just accept that this is how you are. But, some things cannot be accepted so easily. You kept me from my father for years and that kept me from knowing Johnny even existed. All my life I've felt there was something missing. Some part of me that wasn't fulfilled. When I came here, I thought that part was Johnny but, the feeling didn't go away. I put it down to it all being so new, needing time to get to know him but, it turns out, that wasn't the case at all. What was missing was the other side of myself."

"Perhaps he was the other side of you, Scotty. We all have a dark side. Garrett was yours but that left you free of that darkness and you have become an outstanding young man. Perhaps your brother was a sacrifice so you could become who you are."

"Please don't wax philosophical! I don't want to hear that nonsense. There is no point in my asking why again, is there? Why you kept him from me or why you kept me from my father?"

"I have told you why I did what I did with Garrett. As for your father, my answer would be I couldn't bear to lose you. I'd lost Catherine, then Garrett and I couldn't survive losing you as well."

"Oh, I think you would have survived, Grandfather. Your life would have been different but you could have done without me. Murdoch managed to live through it. I'm sure you could have, too."

"We've all had many losses, Scotty. I am to blame for keeping you from your father. I threatened him with all manner of court action, dragging you along. I told him I could give you everything he couldn't; a fine home, an excellent education, all the luxuries of life and I told him you would be happy with me. All those things were true, weren't they?"

Scott stared at him for a long moment. "For a time, yes. You gave me everything I could want; everything I could need except my father and my family. I don't know how different I would be had I grown up here. I don't think my principles would have been any different nor my beliefs."

"Perhaps not. We'll never know that. But, Scotty, you're a remarkable young man and I think that is in part due to my influence."

"I'm doubting that right now. All I see before me is a selfish, greedy man willing to do whatever it takes, destroy whomever he needs to gain what he wants."

Harlan grimaced at this attack, his heart had not stopped pounding since he'd returned from the grave. Now, he didn't know what to say in response to this accusation. He lowered his head, his hands clasped behind his back then inhaled deeply and faced the irate young man.

"Perhaps. I did what I did and I can't take it back. I can't change anything that's happened. You have your family now. I suppose that's all you really need. If you can stand it, I'll spend the night and leave in the morning."

Scott clenched his jaw and turned, walking out. "Fine."

*

Johnny walked across from the corral as his father rode in. He waited for Murdoch to dismount and tie off his steed.

"Hi."

"Son. The headstone's been set."

"Yeah, I know. I took Harlan up there earlier." He could hear his father's teeth grinding.

"Where is he now?"

"I don't know. Scott was waiting when we got back. They went inside to talk and I've been out here the whole time."

"Hiding?"

Johnny smirked. "Just stayin out of the way."

Murdoch nodded then looked him up and down. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good. Still get a little tired but I'm eatin like Sam told me. I'm gettin there. How are you?"

He blew out a forceful breath as he looked toward the sky for a second. "Better, I think. I'm still angry and I imagine I will be for a good long while. It helps to go up there."

They stood there a while, neither really wanting to go inside. "It may be time."

Johnny looked up questioningly. "For what?"

"For that day of lazing about Val has been haranguing you about. Why don't you two go to the lake tomorrow and take it easy?"

He cocked his head to the side and regarded his father.

"What?"

"Nothin, just ... I thought you didn't like Val."

Murdoch grimaced. "It isn't that I don't like him, Johnny. I don't really know him well but I have to admit, I'm starting to understand a little. I realized it doesn't matter if I know the particulars. The fact is that man would do anything to help you and I can't begrudge you a friend that devoted to your wellbeing. He may be rough around the edges, well, more than the edges, but the man makes sense."

Johnny grinned widely and decided to refrain from spouting off. He was just happy his father was easing up. But, there was a frown on that face now and he thought maybe the old man had thought of some reason not to like his friend after all.

"You okay?"

"Yes and no." Murdoch walked over and sat on the low wall of the veranda. "I'm not above admitting I was wrong about someone but it isn't easy to admit ..."

Johnny moved closer, leaning against the support column next to his father.

"I suppose I felt a little left out. The two of you seem to share a great deal of knowledge about one another. Things I don't know about you, he just seems to understand. You're the same way with Scott but not as much even with him."

He crossed his arms and lowered his head. "I've known him longer, Murdoch. We've been through hell together. It takes time to know another person like that. You and me just haven't had that time yet."

Murdoch nodded his understanding even though the words stabbed at his heart. It was true but that didn't mean he had to like it.

"It's not Val you need to be worrying about right now. Scott's hurtin and I don't know how to fix that."

"Neither do I, son. Time is the greatest healer but that doesn't make it any easier."

"Yeah, I hate waitin. Well, reckon we should go in there and see if there's anything to clean up."

*

They walked into the living to find a solemn Harlan Garrett sitting in a chair, his chin resting on his fist looking like a lost pup. Murdoch took one look around the room and headed upstairs. Johnny watched him go for a minute then turned back to the old man.

"Looks like it didn't go too well."

"No," he muttered distractedly. Then, his head came up and the frown deepened. "You didn't have to leave me to the lion's den like that."

Surprised, Johnny laughed as he took a seat in the chair beside Harlan. He turned serious as he regarded the man. "You wouldn't have wanted me in here. What did he say?"

"Goodbye and good riddance, basically. He's been generous enough to allow me to wait until morning to leave."

Softly, Johnny asked, "you surprised?"

"I suppose, a little. He forgave me last year."

"You didn't really hurt anyone else last year. You hurt a lot of people by keepin quiet. Keepin secrets." Johnny shook his head sadly. "Secrets can kill sometimes."

"Why is it you can understand but he can't?"

He cocked a brow. "Ya know it's not just Garrett. It's everything. His whole life you been lyin to him in one way or another. Like I said, secrets. They cause more damage than the truth every time."

Harlan sighed tiredly. "Then, it's too late. There's nothing more I can do or say to make him understand."

"It ain't understandin, old man. It's forgivin. Maybe he can't do that. Maybe, someday he'll be able to but right now, you can't expect much from Scott. He's not the same man and I don't know if he'll ever come back all the way. He's tryin but, it's a lot to get past."

"Too much, perhaps. I wish I could help him."

Johnny sprung to his feet and clinched his fists, tapping them against his thighs as he paced off a few feet. He turned sharply back and faced the man. "Why did it take you so long to get here?"

Startled by the sudden movement, Harlan took a moment to gather his wits. "I was on the island heading the search for Garrett. It was two months before I found he was missing. When I got home, the telegram was waiting. I knew as soon as I read it that Garrett had made his way out here. I didn't want to admit the possibility to myself even after I discovered the break-in. I don't know how he managed."

"He was pretty resourceful." Johnny sucked in a breath. He didn't want to fight with this man or anyone else. He just wanted to wake up from this nightmare. Then, the words struck him. "Two months?"

Harlan grimaced. "I was out of town the first month but when I didn't get my regular report the second month, I sent someone to check. He found the bodies of the caretakers in the basement. They'd been murdered."

Johnny found his knees shaking and he fell into a chair. In that split second, he decided he wouldn't tell his father or brother about this right now, they had enough to deal with. Later was better. "Do me a favor and don't mention the bodies to Scott or Murdoch."

"Shouldn't they know?"

"Don't you think they have enough on their minds?" He couldn't help the anger nor did he try helping it. "I'll tell them but not right now."

Harlan nodded after a brief hesitation. "Johnny, I don't want to argue anymore. I can only apologize for my misjudgment. And that includes misjudging you. I half expected you to gun me down on sight when I arrived. All I can do now is honor my grandson's wishes and pray he can find a way to forgive me at some point."

"I wouldn't hold my breath." Murdoch stood in the doorway to the room glowering.

*

Murdoch stepped closer to Harlan and Johnny tensed. "Scott told me about your talk. I'll have someone ready to take you to town in fifteen minutes. Until then, I suggest you keep to your room."

More than surprised, Johnny turned and stared at his father.

"Of course, as you wish." Harlan gave a slight bow and started to retreat.

"Wait a minute. Murdoch, you might want to think on this."

"What is there to think about, Johnny? Scott has made his feelings quite clear."

"Yeah, for now. He's mad and he's hurtin now. I'm not sayin he's ever gonna get past this but it's not for us to say. You have to give him some time. He wants Garrett gone for now, that's fine but, that might not be how it is forever. You don't hafta throw him to curb this late in the day. It'll be dark before he gets to town."

Murdoch actually smirked. "He's a big boy. He can handle the dark."

"I appreciate your concern, Johnny, but it's best I go. I'll pack and be ready." With that, Harlan went to the stairs, shoulders slumped in defeat.

Johnny walked around the room, his head down.

"Why are you defending him?"

"I'm not! There just ain't no call to be throwin him out like that. He was plannin to leave in the mornin, Murdoch. It won't kill ya to let him spend the night."

"I'm not so sure about that."

Johnny stopped and looked at him, stunned by his own thoughts. "You're enjoying this, aren't you? Harlan's out of Scott's life forever. You never have to worry about him goin back to Boston."

"Nothing about this mess is enjoyable, John! I hate that man and it's about time Scott saw him for who he really is! He stole my sons, hid one's existence from me until it was too late to help him then comes in here acting contrite! Well, there is no contrition that will bring my son back. I can't believe you are taking up for that man!"

Keeping his voice calm as he could, Johnny addressed his father's tirade. "It's Scott I'm thinking about, Murdoch. No matter how you feel about Garrett, he's blood kin to Scott. That's never gonna change."  

"And I suppose if your mother walked through that door, you'd forgive her betrayal as well. Why is it you can forgive everyone but me, Johnny?"

He took a step back, eyes wide with surprise. "Forgive you? For what?"

"For whatever sin you think I've committed."

Raising a hand in a stopping motion, Johnny responded. "Whoa, old man. Back it up a step here. I don't know where this is comin from but that's not even what we're talkin about. I don't blame you for anything that happened to me."

Murdoch stood there seething for a few beats then, his face fell as he found his answer. "Then it's Scott you blame me for. Is that it? Because I know there's something, Johnny."

He turned his back and wrapped his arms around himself. "I did once but not any more. I understand now." Turning back, his eyes narrowed. "But, it took all this, Murdoch, to get there. It took losing one brother and almost losing the other to see what happened to Scott. To understand why you left him there. You said the past is past but, somehow, it keeps bitin us. It's too late now to come clean. Too late to talk it all through. The truth was yanked out by the roots! Well, you got what you wanted. Harlan Garrett out of your life forever. Nevermind what it cost Scott. Nevermind what it cost YOU!"

He'd gone too far, said too much and he knew it. Breathing was a chore for him and he felt a little dizzy but he couldn't back down now. He wasn't sure what it was he wanted from this man at the moment. Wasn't sure why in the hell he was speaking up for Garrett. It was his father's eyes that showed him what he wanted to know. He'd been right but he also knew Murdoch would have given anything, put up with the old man under his own roof forever, to not have to pay this price.

"I'm sorry," he breathed out.

Murdoch stood there, still, unable to speak. Johnny walked over to him, put a hand on his arm and tried again. "I'm so sorry, Murdoch. I know it was too high a price to pay. I know you'd never ..."

"It's alright, son. I pushed you to it. I can't seem to see what's right in front of my face anymore. You're right about Scott. You're right that I can't interfere between him and Harlan. As much as I want to, I have to let Scott do this." Taking in a deep breath, he went on. "And I'm sorry I brought your mother into this."

He nodded his head, offering up a small smile as he looked at his father. "I'll tell Garrett to settle in for the night."

*

He couldn't sleep. Try as he might, it was useless. He should be dead tired and he was but, for whatever reason, sleep was elusive. Sighing heavily from annoyance, he flung the sheet back and sat on the edge of the bed. Running both hands through his hair, he scrubbed at his scalp then stood up and walked to the open window.

Leaning on the sill, he inhaled deeply of the fresh night air. It was cooler out there, too hot in here. Simple solution, he thought and smiled. He pulled his pants on and headed down the stairs. Too late for Teresa to still be up so no sense bothering with a shirt. He headed out the back to the garden, barefooted and anticipating the feel of the cool, green grass between his toes.

Johnny stood in the grass and massaged it between those toes, smiling like a little kid. Funny how simple things gave you the most pleasure. It was nice to feel something good for a change. He watched his feet then starting walking around in a circle, changing up so the grass didn't warm on his soles. It was silly, something he'd figured out as a kid in Mexico where grass was sometimes pretty spare in those border towns. But, it required no thought; nothing more than a little movement and a smile. Easy, simple, craved.

Suddenly, it occurred to him he was not alone. He allowed the world back in and felt the eyes on him. He felt no threat but he was definitely embarrassed. Slowly, he looked up and his smile widened as he laughed softly.

"That looks like fun."

"It is. You should try it."

"Maybe, I will."

"No time like the present."

Scott considered this for all of a split second before walking over to a bench and sitting down. He removed his boots and socks and joined his brother in the lush grass. He watched as Johnny dug his toes in and he did the same and grinned.

"It feels good."

"Cools your feet off."

"It's not so hot tonight."

"Out here anyway. Couldn't sleep."

"Neither could I."

"Well, we're a pair, ain't we?"

Scott stopped and looked up meeting his brother's laughing eyes. His own were more solemn, more serious as he studied the younger man. "We are."

Johnny could only nod his understanding. Beyond relieved his brother wasn't angry with him, he found he had no words.

"You look a little too cool."

This snapped him out of his thoughts and Johnny shrugged. "Nah, feels fine."

Scott reached out and rubbed a hand quickly down his arm. "Goosebumps."

Looking, Johnny smiled. "Ain't the weather." Embarrassed again, he turned and idly walked off a few paces near a rose bush. He reached out and caressed a petal between thumb and forefinger.

*

"I've been distant with you."

"You've been sick and Murdoch's been doggin you."

"Yes, he sure has."

Johnny laughed and turned to face him. "He wasn't about to leave that room for anything less than the house bein on fire."

Scott walked closer. "Did that bother you?"

"I was worried about both of you. You bein sick and him gettin sick but, he didn't. He's pretty tough."

"So are you."

Johnny snorted at that. "Yeah, I'm tough as they come. Pretty stupid makin my own self sick like that."

"You didn't do that, Johnny." Scott's anger returned like a whirlwind and Johnny was a bit taken aback.

"I guess it's natural to lay everything at Old Man Garrett's feet."

"Where else would I lay it?"

Shrugging, Johnny looked at his brother. "Hell if I know. It's just ... I ain't so sure, is all. I mean, I know what he did was wrong. It was more than wrong but, I keep askin myself what I'd do and I swear I don't know."

Shocked, Scott gawked openly for a few seconds. "Are you kidding me? He has done nothing but lie to me my entire life. He admitted how he threatened Murdoch to keep him away. Made sure my father had no chance of ever getting me back."

"That's not what I'm talkin about, Scott. I'm talkin about Garrett. How he handled that. I know what he did to Murdoch and you was maybe unforgivable. I just think this whole thing with Garrett ain't so cut and dried."

"Maybe unforgivable? There is no maybe to it."

Johnny cocked his head to the side as he considered this. "Then how come you did? At least, it seemed like you did forgive him. Come on, Scott. All this time bein here with Murdoch, you had to figure he wasn't the kind of man to just leave you there, not bother with you all those years without a good reason."

Scott bowed his head and turned aside. "No, he isn't. He's not without accountability but, I knew there was more to it than either of them would say."

"And not knowin what made it easier to not think about what really happened."

He could only nod.

Johnny put a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry, brother. I don't know what to make of all this, of him. I've been talkin to him and ... well, I don't know. Seems like he ain't as bad as I first thought. Of course, I first thought he was the devil so anything might seem better."

Scott turned his head back to look at his brother. "Tell me what you think."

"Let's sit down. My feet are all cooled off."

*

Once settled on the bench side by side, Scott with his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, Johnny hitching one leg up and resting his arm on his knee, they fell quiet for a few minutes.

Scott waited, giving Johnny time to gather his thoughts.

"At first, before he ever got here, it was gonna be a race to see who killed him first. Me or Murdoch. Then, I got to thinking. Well, Val got me thinkin that maybe there was more to it than Garrett said. After all, he was pretty pissed at the old man and, there was somethin wrong with him. So, I decided to hear him out. The thing is, I've been talkin to him more and I believe him. He really thought your life was in danger and that Garrett was out of control even that young. He said he had all kinds of doctors trying to help Garrett through the years. I can see him doin that.

"He said it just got worse and worse. I thought that might be because the kid was locked up, didn't have anyone to talk to other than the help but maybe that ain't true. We'll never really know if there was a chance for our brother. That's the part that's so hard to swallow. Still, the times I talked to Garrett, there wasn't any real feeling there. He wasn't sorry for killing Jenson, he told me that. The only time he showed any feelin at all was when he told me he was grateful to me and Murdoch for trying. Scott, he wasn't even sorry about you.

"So, maybe he was born that way and maybe keepin him away from people made it worse. Or maybe, keepin him away only saved a lot of heartache and trouble. I don't know. It's done now and there's nothing we can do to change it."

"Did he say why it took him so long to come here?"

He heard the pain in Scott's voice and wanted nothing more than to give his brother a big bear hug but Johnny sensed now wasn't the time. "Yeah, he was lookin for Garrett. He said it took two months before he knew he was missing. He said when he got the telegram, he knew Garrett had made it out here somehow."

"Why didn't he tell Murdoch?"

Johnny puffed his cheeks and blew out a breath. "Said he didn't see the point in putting anyone else in danger. He told you that."

A soft snort was heard as Scott shook his head. "It seems to me it would be the perfect revenge. Here, you take the disturbed one and I'll keep the other one. Solomon would be so pleased."

Johnny laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezing firmly. "I think maybe he really was trying to protect everyone involved. He did a lot of things to keep you, Scott. Went to a lot of trouble for it. I know he loves you. Might not be the best kind of love but maybe it's the only kind he knows. I know one thing for sure. Harlan Garrett is a broken man. There's one more thing."

Scott waited but Johnny didn't speak, he was working on his lip and Scott had to give him a little nudge. Johnny closed his eyes. Secrets. Wasn't that what he'd told the old man ruined things? "It's not easy and I wasn't going to tell you right away but, well, here we are." He glanced up and Scott gave him a quick smile.

"Harlan said he sent someone to the island to check when he didn't hear from his people. They found the caretakers; their bodies in the basement."

Scott's head came up and he stared at his brother as the words sank in. His face melted into misery soon enough and he lowered his head again, closing his eyes. "Dear God." It came out as a strangled whisper. He sat there very still for a long time just trying to breathe.

"I remember it now. Seeing Garrett on the road and feeling so shocked, I couldn't move."

"I can imagine. Did he say anything?"

"Yes. He said 'hello, brother. Surprised?'. Then, he hit me on the head. When I woke up, I was alone in that shack and my head felt like it was coming off. I don't know how much time went by before I heard the window open and saw a sack being thrown on the foot of the bed. He never said a word. I called out but there was nothing for a few minutes then I heard a horse riding off. It happened exactly the same way three more times then nothing. I tried to figure out what was happening. Why I was being held and why whoever it was had stopped coming to feed me. I tried everything I could to get free but, nothing worked.

"Eventually, the hunger weakened me so much, I couldn't even lift my head off the bed. I tried not to drink too much from the canteen. It was getting pretty low. Then, I guess I just passed out for the last time. I remember thinking you'd find me soon. Any minute, you'd come tearing in there but, it never happened and I couldn't understand why. Why no one came looking for me."

Johnny closed his eyes as he envisioned his brother calling out for him, certain he'd find him. It tore at his guts to know Scott had so much faith in him and he'd let his brother down so miserably.

"You couldn't have known."

"I should have."

"Johnny, you said yourself, he kept away from everyone."

"Which is why I should have known something was wrong."

"You did know something was wrong but there's no way you could have known what. Come on, brother, give yourself a break."

Johnny smiled a little at that and shook Scott's shoulder gently. "Are you gonna see him before he leaves tomorrow?"

*

Scott's face fell again. "I don't know."

"You almost didn't have a choice. Murdoch was gonna throw him out tonight."

Cocking a brow but not terribly surprised, Scott had to ask. "What stopped him?"

"Me. I told him it was your call to make. We got into a real nice fight over it."

The smile did nothing to assuage Scott's concern. "You shouldn't be fighting with him over my grandfather."

"Hell, Scott, we hafta fight about somethin. Why not the old man?"

"I don't understand why you of all people are being an advocate for Harlan Garrett."

"Me neither. I guess I feel a little sorry for him. Believe me, no one is more surprised by that than me. I won't if you don't want me to."

"I can't tell you how to feel, Johnny. I wouldn't presume to tell you what to think or believe. I just don't know what to do about it."

"You don't have to do anything but give yourself some time to work it all out. Maybe you'll never forgive him, maybe you will or maybe you'll be able to accept it but it's up to you. No one can tell you what to think or feel either. All I know for sure is I wish it was all a nightmare and it was over and done with."


"Amen to that. How is Val, by the way?"

Johnny grinned. "He's fine, playin possum so he can hang around here. He's been ready to go for a week now but Sam's playin along."

"Why?"

He lowered his eyes, that blasted embarrassment back again. "Watching over me like a mother hen."

Scott smiled. "Someone has to. Murdoch hasn't been very attentive to you and I certainly haven't been in any condition."

"Yeah, that's why he did it. Him and Murdoch have had a couple of rounds. I gotta tell ya, I ain't never seen Val like this. I mean, we've always watched out for each other but he's so danged determined, it's ridiculous."

"I'm glad he's been here and I understand why. This isn't your typical scrape, brother. This is more than a gunfight or range war."

"Well, the old man ain't been too happy about it but he's easin up some now. He even told me to go take the day off. You know Val has been tryin to get me to go fishin for two weeks."

"Yes, and you should. You need to get away for a while. Sometimes, it helps to take a step back from things."

Johnny nodded. "I will. Just didn't want to go until you were back on your feet."

Scott stood up slowly then. "Well, as you can see, I am. I think I'll try going back to bed now."

Johnny joined him and rolled his shoulders. "Me too. You okay? I mean ..."

"I know what you mean and yes, I am. Come on, brother. Slumber is calling." Scott wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders and guided him into the house.

*

Harlan stood on the veranda and stared back through the open doorway as a hand loaded his luggage into the surrey. Johnny came around the side of the house and watched him for a few seconds then walked over.

"I don't think he's comin down."

Harlan nodded but he never turned around. "I suppose not."

"Well, whenever you're ready." He was more grateful Murdoch was missing from this little departure than he was worried that Scott wasn't there.

Harlan turned then, a deep frown on his face and gave one curt nod. He walked to the surrey and stepped in then turned to Johnny. "I want to thank you for listening to me, Johnny. You've been kinder than you probably should have been. I was very wrong about you and I apologize."

"I think I was a little wrong about you, too. Just a little." Johnny gave him a small grin.

Harlan managed a smile. "I'm going to stay in town a few days just in case. I suppose it's foolish of me but I wanted to give Scotty a little more time. I'll be leaving at the end of the week."

"I'll tell him."

"I ... would it ..." Harlan struggled for the words. He wasn't a man used to having to ask other's for favors. "Do you think it would be alright if I visited the grave again before I go home?"

"It's fine. Anytime you want."

Relief cascaded the man's face. "Again, thank you." He extended his hand and Johnny accepted with some surprise.

*

Val walked up with their horses saddled and ready, a large bag tied off to his own as Johnny watched Harlan disappear down the road.

"Ready?"

Johnny turned and frowned. "For what?"

"Your old man told me to take you fishin. Mind you, he didn't *ask*, he ordered." Val's sarcasm shone through.

With a smirk, Johnny looked back toward the open doorway, his face taking on indecision. "Maybe I'll just check on Scott first."

"Maybe you won't." Murdoch stepped from the veranda.

"Spyin on me?"

"No, not you." Murdoch's eyes went to the road then back to his son. "Scott's in his room. He said for you to get out of here."

"Well, sounds like another order ta me. Reckon you oughta be takin it." Val handed Barranca's reins over with an expectant look on his face.

Johnny took them, looked at his father and sighed. "Well, we'll be back tonight."

"Try to relax and enjoy yourself, son."

He bit his lip to keep the smart-assed remark locked away and nodded his head. "What are you gonna do?"

"Get caught up on the ranch, I suppose. Talk to Scott if he wants."

Johnny smiled. "Well..."

"Come on! Days awastin! Since when do I have to drag you kickin and screamin to go do nothin but lay around?" Val mounted up and glared at him.

Johnny rolled his eyes and swung into the saddle then looked back at his father with a grin. "Tell Teresa I'll try and bring her some fish to fry up."

"Just make sure there's something left of it after the bullet hits." Murdoch actually smirked at him and Johnny laughed then set Barranca into a walk.

*

Johnny and Val spent the day trying to fish but swimming mostly. They laid out under the sun to dry off as the afternoon began to wane.

"How come ya didn't tell your old man that Garrett is stickin around?"

"Because, I didn't want to see him have a fit. How come you're listenin to other people's conversations?"

"Wasn't tryin to. Just heard, is all."

Johnny closed his eyes and melted into the grass. Val looked over and smiled at the relaxed posture.

"I hate not bringin Teresa any fish."

"Well, you can try shootin some, I reckon."

"Boy, one lousy time and I have to hear about it forever."

Johnny's grousing didn't bother Val one bit. Mostly because he knew it wasn't meant. He kept the smile on his face as he soaked in the sun.

"I can't figure it out. Why I care one hoot about that old man."

Val looked over. Johnny was staring at the sky, not so relaxed now. "Reckon ya feel sorry for 'im. Nothin wrong with that."

"Maybe. Well, it's Scott's call now. Nothin I can do."

"Yeah? How about believin that and stop worryin over what ya can't fix."

"I'm tryin, Val. I'm tryin."

They grew quiet again for a while as the sun dipped ever lower in the western sky.

"Reckon I'll be headin home tomorrow."

Johnny opened his eyes and sat up. His longjohns were dry now, his hair still damp. He stood up and walked over to his clothes. As he dressed, he started talking. "Guess it's time. Ole Steve's probably sheriff by now, though."

Val snorted as he got dressed. "Good for him."

"You should be grateful to him, Val. He did a good job. I know it's hard for you to thank anyone but give it a try."

The older man said nothing, just kept dressing with more vigor now.

"Thing about that is, I need to thank you for everything you've done."

The sheriff paused then went back to buttoning his shirt. Johnny walked over as he buckled his gunbelt then watched his friend. "Val."

He looked up with a glare.

"Thank you."

Val swallowed hard and nodded his head. "Welcome."

"I owe you, amigo."

"You don't owe me a damned thing and ya know it!"

"Yes, I do. Whatever it is you think you owe me, you paid back a hundred times already. Anyways, we don't need to keep count. Just that anytime you need a hand, I'll be there."

"I know it. Don't have to talk it ta death." His voice fell soft as he spoke. Knowing this was the kind of thing they both hated, he also knew sometimes, it was necessary to remind themselves of what was at stake.  

"Right. Just puttin it out there. You ready?" Johnny watched him walk to the horses, smiled and shook his head then joined his friend.

*

The next morning after breakfast, Val saddled up and Johnny bade him adios. As he watched his friend ride away, he felt his father behind him. A sardonic smile crossed his lips.


"Reckon you've been waiting to see this."

Murdoch frowned and stepped up beside him. "A week ago, I would have said yes but not now."

"Yeah, he does grow on ya."

Murdoch chuckled. "Like a weed."

"Hey, now!" Johnny tried to seem angry but he couldn't pull it off, knowing his father was joking. It felt good to have a moment of ease between them after so much misery.

Murdoch wrapped an arm around his sonâ€s shoulders. "You seem more relaxed."

"I guess a day away did help but don't tell Val." The grin slid off his face as he sighed. "Well, what are we gonna do with Scott?"

"Do with him? Nothing, son. Let him come to us when he's ready. Sam should be out today to look you both over. I'm hoping he'll let Scott start doing some light chores. It will help him get rid of some of that anger."

"That's what he needs. That, or maybe, just to hit somethin."

"Are you volunteering?"

Johnny cast a sideways glance at him and spoke unenthusiastically. "If I have to."

"I appreciate the sentiment, brother, but it won't be necessary." Scott leaned against the door jamb, arms crossed over his chest with an amused look on his face. He stepped forward, into the yard to stand before them both.

"What I would like is for you to take me for a ride in the buggy."

Johnny looked hard at him then nodded. "Be ready in a few minutes."

Murdoch didn't have to ask where Scott wanted to go, either. He just wasn't sure his son was ready for it.

"I have to."

"Right now?"

"Yes, Sir. Right now."

Murdoch turned to him. "Alright, son. Just go slow."

*

Johnny sat in the buggy, giving Scott time alone with their brother. He'd stopped further away from the grave site this time, under some trees and out of earshot. If Scott needed to say something to Garrett, he was sure he didn't want to hear it. The minutes passed slowly and he tried to find something to occupy himself. He watched the trees, the birds, a rabbit scamper into a hole. Then, he found an old shirt under the seat and cleaned his gun.

After accomplishing all this, he stepped down and walked through the woods a short distance, relieved himself and slowly made his way back. Scott was still sitting there. Johnny pulled a leaf off a tree and shredded it then sat back on the bench seat. He pulled his hat low over his eyes and crossed his arms, stretching out his legs as much as he could and dropping his head.

He could hear Scott's voice but not the words. The tone was so soft, it was like grasshoppers. After a while, you get used to the sound and don't really notice it until it stops. His head came up and he pushed his hat back, watching his brother sit there still. He wasn't talking anymore. Scott's back was to him, the shoulders slumped forward like a man with the weight of the world on his back.

Johnny bit his lower lip, trying to decide if he should go over. He looked inside himself and shook his head. No, it wasn't the right thing to do. Leave him be. That's what his instincts said and he listened to them. He pushed his hat back down and went back to pretending to nap.

*

Scott listened to the breeze for a while, staring at the headstone; at the stranger with his own last name. A man he never knew and never would. A man who was his second self. They shared a mother, a womb and nothing else. He searched his memory but found nothing. No remembrance of a childhood friend, of a playmate suddenly vanished, of any kind of extraordinary sense. He'd known a set of twins when he was a teen and they seemed to be able to read each other's thoughts, know what the other was going to say or do beforehand. One brother had known when the other was hurt once even though they were miles apart at the time. Scott had been with him when he felt it.

He had known no such connection and he recalled a feeling of jealousy for this shared ... what? Shared mind? Maybe. He supposed he should be glad he hadn't shared Garrett's mind. He closed his eyes, guilt pouring over him at the idea.

"Well, brother, what have we done? I wish to God you'd reached out to me. That's all it would have taken. Together, we would have faced down Grandfather. I'm not sure what we could have done to make him pay for this but we would have come up with something. If only."

Scott smirked and blew out a breath. "I've spent most of the last two years thinking that same thought. If only. If only I'd known about Johnny. If only Murdoch had brought me home. If only I'd grown up here. If only Mother hadn't died. If only Maria hadn't left. It doesn't change anything but I can't help thinking it.

"Can you imagine what it would have been like? You and me and Johnny. We would have terrorized this entire valley. It would have been such a joy. We would have had so much fun, Garrett." He stopped and smiled a little. "Of course, we would have had to find you a better name. A nickname or something. Gary, maybe. I don't know. I can't say because it would have to fit you and I never knew you. You didn't let me know you and I'm angry about that, as well. I am so mad at you, Garrett!"

He closed his eyes as they began to sting then rubbed them with two fingers. "I know you hated him but you couldn't hate us, too. We didn't know about you. I guess you think I should have known. Maybe I should have. Still, there was Murdoch and Johnny to consider but you didn't, did you? You didn't think of them either. Maybe it wasn't in you. Johnny said as much and he's very good at reading people. Especially if he can look you in the eye.

"Well, brother, I don't know what to do with all of this. I have to forgive you. I want to forgive you. I don't think it was really your fault. If it's of any comfort to you, I will never forgive Grandfather. But, I can't let this anger keep raging inside me. I have to let it go somehow. If I don't, I'm afraid of what will happen and I don't want to lose this family I've just found. I just wish you'd been a part of it all. I need to go now. I need to start putting my life back together. Maybe, if I can live well and be a good man, it will help ease the pain of losing you."

Scott lowered his head and prayed silently for his brother and his family. He sat minutes longer just listening to the sounds of nature then he sucked in a breath and made it to his feet.

*

He smiled a little when he turned and saw Johnny acting like he was sleeping. He walked over and laid a hand on the bench beside his brother.

Johnny raised his head slowly and moved over so Scott could climb in. Without a word, he took up the reins and headed them home. After a few quiet minutes, he asked softly. "You okay?"

"Yes, I'm better now, I think. I just want to start living again."

"Sounds good to me, brother."

"Do you think it will ever stop?"

Johnny looked at him curiously. "What?"

"The wondering. What it would have been like if we'd all been together."

Johnny stopped the buggy so he could look fully at his brother. "Ya know somethin, Scott? What I wonder is what kind of man would you have been if things were different. What kind of man would I be? Not the same people we are now, that's for sure. And, well, I kinda like the man you are." He lowered his eyes.

Scott smiled and wrapped his arm around the back of the seat. "I kind of like the man you are, too. So, you're saying we had to have the experiences we've had to be the men we are today. I believe that but I also believe we wouldn't have turned out half-bad if we'd grown up here."

Johnny looked at him from beneath his lashes and Scott knew something sarcastic was coming.

"I believe ..." he drew the word out, "we would've killed each other a long time ago."

Scott grabbed the back of his neck and shook hard. "Most likely, brother, most likely. Now, how about getting us home before Murdoch sends out a search party."

 

 

~end~
2007

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