The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Familia

 

 

 

WRITTEN FOR A FIC-A-THON CHALLENGE ON MY YAHOO GROUP SITE 'LANCERFANFICTION'
PLOT #6: an AU, where Scott is the bad rep guy (gunfighter or not is up to writer) & Johnny is the dandy-but he should be a cool dandy, no plaid pants, & still hispanic. Like maybe Johnny was raised as a well to do or aristocratic Mexican or Spaniard. Up to writer whether or not the basic plot is the same one with Murdoch offering them $ to come to Lancer. Angst is great, but no satire. It would be fun to see what someone could do with that, wherever it leads.
Well, this is definitely AR and I struggled with the ending. Although, I did do an alternate ending. It's at the end of the story. {vbg} This is actually an idea I had been playing with for a while so I thank the plot bunny submitter for giving me a shove.

 

Mexico

The young men howled with laughter as wine flowed freely. The elders looked over from their own group with amusement and only slight disapproval. Don Alberto shook his head but the pride in his eyes was easy to see. As the young men shifted positions, vying for attention, he spied his son right in the middle of them. As usual.

The party was going smoothly and the Don was pleased. He'd had a time convincing his son to have this celebration at all. He knew the boy would rather run wild with his friends. As he'd pointed out earlier in the week, the very reason for this party was to celebrate his twenty-first birthday. The day he became a man. The son had laughed at this plus the stern expression on his father's face.

Don Alberto had not held that visage long. He never could in the face of his son's mirth. The dancing eyes and charming smile always won the man over. Too many times, the Don frowned a bit with that thought. Still, he knew his son was not spoiled. Nor was he a snob. He was well-liked and easy going. Too much so at times and the man worried if he'd ever settle down. He was always looking for a new challenge. Something outside his realm of knowledge to explore. Always, he searched for adventure and sometimes it had gotten him into trouble. But the father always bailed him out and the son always learned a valued lesson. This had been the way between them and it was - right.

At one o'clock in the morning, the last of the guests finally left their grand hacienda. Don Alberto watched as his son pushed his drunken friends out the door with a laugh. He walked into the salon and fell onto the settee.

"Did you enjoy yourself tonight, my son?"

He looked up and grinned. "I did. Thank you, papa. It was a wonderful party."

Don Alberto smiled back. "If you are not too tired I have a telegram for you. I assume it is well wishes from some transient friend or another," the man teased.

The younger man laughed and took the envelope, tearing it open and shaking his head. His father would never approve of some of his friends but he had never forbid him from seeing them.

The smile faded as he read the words for the second time. His mind trying to register what was plainly before him.

Don Alberto watched as the expression changed to anger. "What is it, my son?"

"It's from *him*. He wants to see me," he spat the words.

The Don fell into a chair, his legs suddenly failing him.

"Why now? After all these years?" he asked aloud though he expected no answer.

Don Alberto looked at him with sad eyes. "I do not know, Johnny, but you should go."

*

Boston

"And stay out this time!" the pub owner roared as he tossed the drunken man into the street for what must have been the twentieth time by his reckoning.

The young man fell to his knees then staggered back to his feet, turning and leering at the man. "I'll buy this place and throw *you* out!"

"Yeah, yeah. You say that every time," the bedraggled man answered then slammed the door and locked it with a vengeance.

"I will!" he shouted, waving a fist in the air. Sighing at the closed door he turned and swayed yet managed to stay upright.

He began to walk down the cobblestone street, his feet slipping on the uneven surface as his equilibrium abandoned him. "I'll buy the whole damned block and toss him out on his ear," he mumbled to himself as he made his way.

He hailed a cab and, with a regretful voice, gave the address. He didn't want to go home yet but nothing was open. Well, it is late. I'm sure he'll be long to bed by now, he placated himself with the thought.

He had to try four times before getting the key straight in the lock then swung through the door holding tightly to the knob.

"Good evening, Sir," the butler said stiffly.

"Is it?" he replied snidely.

"No, it most certainly is not!" came the voice.

He turned quickly and lost his balance, finding himself rescued by the butler's quick response. He hung onto the man's arm for a moment before righting himself.

"Come into the study," the older man sighed, disappointment dripping from his voice.

The young man looked up at the butler and grinned. "Guess I'm going to get a spanking now."

"It would do you no harm, Sir," the butler replied and gave him a push in the right direction.

He scowled at the man and stalked into the study. "You need to fire him. He is so insolent," he demanded.

"Sit down and shut up. I have something to tell you," the old man ordered.

He plopped into a chair sideways and the older man rolled his eyes heavenward.

"I received a telegram today from your father. He wants you to come to California to see him."

Scott raised up with some effort and glared. "What for?"

"I don't know but you are going," Harlan Garrett stated.

"No, I am not!"

"Oh, yes, you are, Scotty. It's high time you changed your life or at the least had a change of scenery. Lord knows, I could use the peace and quiet. You'll leave in the morning. I've already arranged it."

"I don't want to see him. I hate him!"

"Stop acting like a child. When will you ever grow up, Scott? You cannot continue this life. Drinking and carousing and not earning a living," Garrett said for - he'd lost count now how many times he'd given this lecture.

"I don't have to work. I have my inheritance," Scott retorted.

"Yes, and if it were within my power you wouldn't. I tell you this now, however. If you continue to behave in such an antisocial manner, I *will* take measures to gain control of that inheritance. Now, you have a choice. Go to California or I'll contact my attorneys. Which will it be?"

*

California

Scott frowned as the coach came to a stop in the small town. He'd had a horrible and long trip out west. Both trains he'd ridden served no alcohol. He'd dried out in the last seven days and he felt miserable. He did find himself eating a great deal more than usual. He imagined he'd gained a good ten pounds on the way here. Well, that may be an exaggeration, he thought.

He stepped down and dusted himself off as best he could, straightening his cravat and resettling his bowler hat. He reached up and took the luggage as the driver passed it down. Uncivilized it what it was. Luggage thrown atop a stagecoach. He just knew everything in there would need to be washed before he could wear it.

He stood on the boardwalk and scanned the few people ambling about. He didn't know what he was looking for. He wouldn't know Murdoch Lancer if he came up and slapped him. Scott smiled wryly at that.

"Excuse me."

He turned to find a young, dark-haired man behind him. Scott took him in quickly. Younger than himself, blue eyes and dressed elegantly yet the clothes were strange to him. A short waisted jacket with silver trimming along the lapels, an odd looking tie with a clasp of turquoise, black pants with silver lining and highly polished boots. Immaculate.

"Yes?"

"I was wondering if you could help me. I'm looking for ....."

"I'm not from around here in case you couldn't tell," Scott interrupted sharply.

Johnny raised a brow. "Yes, I believe I can see that now. I'm sorry to have disturbed you," he said with a slight bow of the head.

They stared at each other for a long moment before both men turned at the sound of a female voice.

"Mr. Lancer?"

"Yes," they replied in unison.

Scott turned back and looked at Johnny with annoyance. "I believe the young lady was addressing me," he said sharply.

"I believe you are mistaken, Senor," Johnny retorted just as sharply. Turning his attention back to the girl, he continued. "I am Mr. Lancer."

"So am I," Scott balked.

She frowned then her face lit up. She pointed to the younger one. "You're Johnny."

He bowed his head.

"Then, you're Scott Lancer," she smiled.

"I beg your pardon, Senorita. Who is Scott Lancer?" Johnny asked.

"He is. We weren't expecting you both at the same time," she said.

"Perhaps you should start from the beginning, Miss," Scott said, clearly confused.

"Well, Mr. Lancer had two wives and two sons. You two," she explained.

Johnny stepped up and looked Scott up and down as Scott frowned at him.

"Are you telling me this is my brother?" Scott asked.

"Yes, that's right. I'm sorry, this must be a shock to you both. Perhaps I could explain on the way to the ranch," she answered.

*

Johnny had no idea anyone would be meeting him in town. Of course, no one was. Obviously, the young lady was meeting this Scott Lancer person. He was still trying to take in this information.

Scott had made himself comfortable in the seat beside the girl and Johnny climbed in back with a sigh. He sat on piles of luggage and made the best of it.

She had introduced herself as Teresa O'Brien, Murdoch Lancer's ward. There wasn't much talk on the ride. Both men were trying to come to terms with this new information.

"Do you know why my father, our father, wants to see us?" Scott asked, casting a glance back at Johnny.

She bit her lower lip. "Mr. Lancer will explain that to you." She pulled to a stop at the top of the ridge and smiled.

"There it is. The most beautiful place in the whole wide world. As far as the eye can see. Lancer," she spoke proudly and with affection.

Johnny stood up to take in the expanse. It was impressive and the hacienda was as fine a home as he'd ever seen. His anger began to rise and he dropped his eyes away from it.

Scott scowled at the words and the sight. A bunch of grass and cows did not impress him. And he'd seen fine homes all his life. That didn't mean the people who lived there were fine.

Much shouting was heard from the men around the ranch as they drove down the path to the front of the house. Johnny heard many welcomes in his native tongue but he didn't react to it.

Teresa assured them their luggage would be taken care of then showed them to the door leading to the great room and their father.

Johnny stood back and let Scott knock. He heard the voice and cringed a little then scolded himself for his trepidation.

Scott's shoulders became more tense as he heard the voice of his father for the first time ever. He opened the door and strode through, removing his hat and gloves.

Johnny stepped in behind him. He didn't remove his hat, he wasn't sure he'd be there long enough to bother.

*

The tall man stood and rounded the desk taking in one then the other of them.

"Drink?" he offered.

"Yes, thank you," Scott replied quickly.

Murdoch looked at Johnny who only shook his head. Once he'd poured two glasses of Scotch, Murdoch walked back toward his desk then turned to face them once more. He didn't see Scott down the drink in one gulp. Johnny did.

Murdoch looked at Scott. "You've got your mother's eyes."

"Do I?" Scott asked, his sarcasm hardly missed.

"If you have something to say, old man, say it," Johnny interrupted in a low voice.

"You've got your mother's temper," was Murdoch's reply.

Johnny took a step forward only to be cut off by Scott as he crossed in front of him to refill his glass.

Johnny inhaled deeply. "What do you want?" he asked.

Murdoch dropped his eyes briefly before meeting his younger's. "To meet you both. To get to know you."

"Why now?" Scott asked.

"Why not?"

Johnny smirked a little. "I would think a man who is anticipating seeing his sons for the first time has at least mulled over what he will say."

Murdoch glared at him then took in the fine clothes, the air of confidence and smiled. "This isn't the first time I've met either of you. I saw you into this world, John."

"I've never met you before in my life," Scott scowled.

Murdoch looked at him with a pained expression. "No, I don't suppose you would remember. You were very young."

Scott was intrigued with this. "We've met?"

"When you were five," Murdoch nodded.

"And you didn't like what you saw," Scott sneered.

"Don't be ridiculous. You were a child. Of course I liked what I saw!" Murdoch growled.

"Funny. I would think, if that were the case, you would have at least continued to visit from time to time," Scott shot.

"Yes, well, your grandfather had other ideas."  

Scott cocked a brow at this. "Odd that he couldn't wait to send me off to you now."

Murdoch stared at him, biting his tongue. Harlan Garrett had written to him about Scott's increasingly reckless behavior. One of the many reasons he had sent for his son. He hoped he could help Scott but knew it would not be easy. Still, he didn't want to get into that in front of Johnny.

"It must have been a shock to you both finding out about each other," he diverted.

"You could say that," Scott muttered.

"I would say that," Johnny piped in.

Murdoch walked up to Johnny and studied him closely. "You are quite the mustenero, I understand."

"Yes," was his reply.

Murdoch smiled a little. "Confident, too."

"Is there a point to this, Senor?"

Murdoch ground his teeth for a moment. "You don't have to call me that."

"What should we call you? Under the circumstances, Father hardly seems ...." Scott trailed off.

"Call me whatever you like. We're strangers to each other. Maybe that's my fault maybe it isn't."

"Maybe," Scott snipped.

"If the air needs clearing, lets clear it," Murdoch said as he walked over to his elder son. "Your mother's family thought she was daft to marry me. Not a year off the boat from Inverness. And maybe they were right. You were born, she died, I left you in their care. Right or wrong."

He turned to Johnny then. "A few years later I met your mother down in Matamoras. She ..... we got married. Two years later I awoke one morning to find her gone and you with her."

"That is not how I heard it," Johnny said sharply.

"I don't care what you heard! It's in the past. Done."

"Well, thanks for clearing that up," Scott clipped.

"Yes, you've tied it all up neatly. So, we stand here and what? Thank you?" Johnny shot.

Murdoch looked at each of them then slumped his shoulders. "Look, I've made some mistakes. Some bad choices. But, what's important is now. I can't change the past. All I can do is offer you both a future here at Lancer."

"What kind of future?" Scott asked.

*

"One third. Equal partners in all you see out there," Murdoch said as he nodded toward the window behind his desk.

Scott walked around him and stared out the glass.

"One hundred thousand acres and twenty thousand head of cattle," Murdoch described.

Scott turned back to him. He noticed Johnny had not moved. "Why?"

"Because I want my sons home. I want my family whole - finally," Murdoch answered sincerely.

Scott looked closely at him then nodded his head.

Murdoch smiled then turned to Johnny. "What about you, boy?"

Johnny looked up from staring at the floor, his eyes flashing with anger. "Senor, I am not a boy. I also cannot be bought. I have a family and a home and a ranch. Why should I give that up to stay here?"

"Because I'm your father, Johnny, not Don Alberto. I know he's a wealthy man. I know you've had all the advantages in the world. I know I can't offer you anything of substance that you don't already have. What I can offer you is a chance to get to know each other. And, to get to know your brother."

"Don Alberto is the only father I have ever known. He is a fine man and he loves me. Why would I betray him for a man who threw my mother into the streets because he could not be bothered with a Mexican and her mestizo!?"

"That is not true!" Murdoch shouted. "Who told you such lies?"

Johnny stared openly at the outburst. Scott had quietly walked over to the liquor table and refilled his glass.

Murdoch walked up to him quickly and grabbed his left arm. "Who told you that?" he demanded.

He heard the hammer being cocked before he ever realized the gun was in his face. "Take your hand off me," Johnny spoke in an icy voice.

Murdoch released Johnny's arm immediately and took a step back, his mouth hanging open.

Johnny released the hammer and reholstered the Colt. "She told me," he answered evenly.

Murdoch swallowed hard and in an uneven voice said, "Johnny, I swear to you that isn't true, son. I don't know why she told you that story. Maybe she was that angry with me. Maybe she hated me that much. I don't know. But, I swear on all that is holy, I *never* wanted either of you to leave."

Johnny looked into his eyes. He didn't see the initial fear the gun had produced. He saw sincerity and for the first time in his life, he doubted his mother.

"This isn't easy for me, son. She ..... she left with another man. He was a gambler who came into the area. I had no idea she was so unhappy. She seemed .... content. She loved you so much."

"I know that!" he spat and turned his back. A gambler? His mind whirled with confusion and faint memories. He closed his eyes and tried to get hold of himself. He felt a little dizzy and he began to question his father. Had he known the truth? Or had she told him the same story? His father. No, Don Alberto was not his father. He had always known that but it had never mattered - until now. Why did it matter now?

Murdoch watched his back as his shoulders hunched and he wrapped his arms around himself. Gone was the confident and brash young man. He felt overwhelming guilt for causing his son so much pain. But he had to know the truth. He had to.

"My goodness but this would make a wonderful novel," Scott said from the liquor table as he sipped his whiskey and smiled.

Johnny released himself and turned slowly toward the man, his eyes narrowed and dark. "I'm glad you find this so amusing, borrachin."

"What did you call me?" Scott asked.

"I called you a drunkard," Johnny replied arrogantly.

"Why you little ....."

*

"Gentlemen!" Murdoch intervened. "Could we get back to the subject at hand?"

Both men glared at each other before Johnny turned back to Murdoch and sighed.

"Well, son? Will you stay on? Be a part of this?" Murdoch asked hopefully.

"Do you need an answer now? I would like to think about it. It is never wise to enter into a partnership with strangers," Johnny said, giving just a hint of a smile.

"Of course," Murdoch agreed. Though not thrilled with the response he was at least still optimistic that he had a chance with both of them. It had not escaped his notice either that Scott was hitting the liquor pretty hard. He hoped that was just nerves but from what Harlan had written, he worried about the young man.

"Well, that was lovely. And now you'll tell me a story?" Scott asked snidely.

Murdoch sighed heavily and walked over to him. '"I'll tell you the truth. I sent your mother away for her own safety. She was very near her time and there was a range war going on then. The raids were getting closer and closer to the house so I decided to send her to her father until things were settled. She gave birth in a place called Carterville. By the time I got there she was dead and Harlan had taken off with you. I wrote to tell him I was coming for you but he said he would fight for custody. The ranch was hurting and I knew I couldn't afford the legal fees at that time."

"So, instead you found a lovely senorita to marry and start over with," Scott said, raising his glass in mock toast.

Murdoch ignored the jibe. "I came to get you on your fifth birthday. By then Maria had left with Johnny. Harlan knew about it and threatened to drag you through the courts. It would be a lengthy fight and well, you were being well taken care of. You had everything you could need."

"Yes, everything but a father."

"Scott, I'm sorry. I couldn't win a custody battle in Boston. You know Harlan is very well connected. What should I have done, son?" Murdoch asked.

Scott looked long at him. "I'm sure I don't know. Oh wait! Here's an idea. You could have contacted me. You could have written once in a while."

"Do you really think Harlan would have allowed that?" Murdoch asked.

Scott dropped his eyes. "No, I don't suppose he would have - then." He added the last word softly.

Silence hung in the air for long moments.

"Well, you both must be exhausted. Why don't you rest before supper?" Murdoch offered.

"Thank you, I would like that," Johnny said with a slight bow of the head.

Scott snorted softly.

Johnny glared at him.

Murdoch sat down heavily at his desk once they'd left him. He buried his head in his hands. They hated each other. He could only pray that would change and that Scott, especially, would find his way.

He didn't have to read the letters again. He had memorized the story. It had started when Scott returned from the war. The drinking and carousing every night, all night. He'd shown no interest in resuming his studies at Harvard. Nor had he shown any interest in working with his grandfather. Harlan had gone into detail about all he knew of Scott's imprisonment in the prisoner of war camp.

Murdoch's heart had broken for his boy. It was plain to him that Scott was in a great deal of pain and that he had not dealt with that pain at all. He could only hope that a new life would help the young man find his way. Scott had held such promise. So smart! So charming.

*

Johnny maintained his composure as the young girl showed him his room. He bowed and smiled at her then walked inside closing the door softly. Then, he slumped against it and blew out his breath. Closing his eyes, he slid to the floor and splayed his legs out.

A gambler? He remembered the man vaguely. He'd left when Johnny was .... five? Yes, five or maybe six. He couldn't recall. There had been many lean years after that. Years when he'd run wild in the streets of the border towns. Then, everything had changed with one chance meeting.

Don Alberto Madrid was wealthy, educated and incredibly kind. Johnny smiled as he remembered their first encounter. The Don was in town and Johnny had spied the fancy rig he rode around in. He knew who it belonged to but had never seen the owner. It was curiosity mostly that drove him to sneak inside the curtained carriage. Hunger had made him steal the gold crested walking cane. Fate had caught him out. Fate or providence. The latter most likely.

Don Alberto had, at first, seemed angry then suddenly his demeanor changed to sympathy. That change had made Johnny angry. He didn't need anyone feeling sorry for him. Sympathy was a mask, a tool men used to seduce his mother or try to make him do ..... things. It had never worked and it wasn't going to that time, either. Johnny had figured the man wanted a play toy. Well, he had made it crystal clear and in colorful language that was not going to happen.

Don Alberto has been genuinely shocked then disgusted at the thought. He'd grabbed Johnny by the arm and found out from a local where the boy lived. Johnny certainly wasn't going to tell him. And that's when his mother had met the man she fell in love with.

That she loved him Johnny had no doubt. That he loved her was as clear. Oh, it wasn't right away. Don Alberto was clearly smitten and pursued Maria with a vengeance. For her part, Johnny figured his mother was overwhelmed with the Don's attentions - and his fine gifts. From that first day forward, Johnny had never gone hungry again.

It had been a painfully slow process for him. Trusting this man wasn't easy. Trusting anyone wasn't easy for Johnny, even now. But, with time and patience, Don Alberto had taught him trust and respect. He'd taught him so much more, too. And he loved the man deeply.

Sucking in a breath, Johnny pulled himself to his feet and walked around the room. Comfortable with lots of light. He liked that. But, what of this father? Why should he turn his world upside down for this man? Had she lied to him? Did Don Alberto know? No! He couldn't know. He would have told Johnny. Of this, he had no doubt.

When Maria had died, he'd been devastated. His papa had been right there for him, comforting him and drying his tears. Holding him though the nights and keeping him busy during the days. He had grieved and gotten past it but never forgotten her. Now, he had to accept the possibility she had lied to him all those years. Why?

*

Scott fell across the bed and sighed then rubbed his forehead. After a week of sobriety, those few drinks downstairs hit him harder than usual. His brow wrinkled as he thought of all Murdoch Lancer has said. He could easily believe his grandfather threatened a custody hearing. Maybe even would have kept any correspondence from his father away from him. That didn't account for Murdoch not even trying. Even if he believed Harlan Garrett would not let those missives get into Scott's hands, he hadn't even tried.

Of course now, his grandfather couldn't wait to be rid of him. Scott snorted aloud. Things get a little unpleasant and off he's shipped. So what if he drank and partied a little? Who was he hurting? No one, that's who.

His grandfather just didn't understand, that's all. He needed to drink, needed the diversions of the flesh. How else could he sleep without the nightmares that plagued him? The blood and guts and smells; the pure carnage of war and the insanity of prison. It all haunted him without the freedom of unconsciousness.

He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. And now he was to what? Be a cowboy? He laughed aloud at that. He'd nodded his agreement to a partnership but he knew it wouldn't work out. He'd give it a go, a month or so, then head back to Boston. Most likely, with Murdoch Lancer's gratitude for his leaving. Or, and this was even more likely, his insistence.

Scott grinned. Yes, he imagined in a month the old man would be begging him to go back east.

The grin slid away as he worried over the story his father had told him. It still bothered him, truth be told. It seemed at one point or another in his life, someone hadn't wanted to be bothered.

There were those good years when he was still a boy. Good, but always with that dark cloud over him. The boy whose father had abandoned him. The boy looked on with sympathy and pity by adults, teased and humiliated by other children.

He'd spent many nights back then crying himself to sleep and missing a mother he'd never known with such intensity, it was a physical ache. Hating a father who couldn't be bothered. Murdoch could have written his grandfather for updates on his progress at the very least. Maybe he had. Scott didn't know that and hadn't thought to ask. Well, he would ask that and much more. In the past my eye!

He sighed again and rolled onto his side. Reaching back, he grabbed at the quilt and threw it over his shoulder then settled down for a nap. All the while praying the nightmares would be held at bay. He didn't need to awaken screaming in a house full of strangers.

*

A knock on the door, loud and insistent, snapped Scott from slumber. He sat up quickly and regretted the action as he groaned and held his head.

"Who is it!?" he demanded angrily.

There was a long pause before the soft and somewhat trembling voice answered. "It's Teresa. Supper will be ready in ten minutes."

Scott sighed and looked around, quickly remembering where he was. "Thank you," he called with less hostility.

Swinging his legs off the side of the bed, he pushed himself to the edge and rubbed vigorously at his face. He got to his feet and looked around spying a wash basin and pitcher. Scott splashed water on his face and looked at his reflection, grimacing at the sight.

Well, he thought, it isn't as if I'm trying to impress anyone. Unlike my brother. He gave a slight start at that thought. Brother indeed! What a joke that was! Scott may be an easterner but Johnny ..... he didn't know what to make of Johnny. He grinned then and revised that. He knew exactly what to make of him.

It was like the 'new money' in Boston. Trying to be refined but everyone knowing exactly where they'd come from. A little luck with finances did not make an aristocrat. Obviously, his brother's mother had grabbed a wealthy man but Johnny wasn't an aristocrat by any means. He walked and talked like one but Scott could tell. He always had been able to tell.

Well, he grinned, let's just see how smart you think you are, 'brother'.

*

Johnny opened the door in answer to the knock and found the young girl standing there looking uncomfortable. He gave her a smile and she seemed to relax then told him supper would be served soon. He thanked her and closed the door.

He hadn't slept. His mind would not rest. He hadn't been able to find any answers on his own so he resolved to write his father and ask him. Johnny shook his head. It was going to be awkward thinking of his papa and Murdoch Lancer both as his father.

The other one was pretty easy to figure out. Raised in wealth all his life and spoiled rotten. Scott Lancer was a drunk. That was pretty plain. He shook his head. Brother! Hmmph! Well, he didn't have time to ponder Scott Lancer. He had more important things on his mind.

Like, could he accept Murdoch's offer? And how would his papa feel about that? He knew very well he was Don Alberto's heir. His vast holdings would all be Johnny's someday though he'd never cared much about that. Money wasn't important to him and he had often wondered if that was because he had it now. He couldn't remember any time in his life when he aspired to be wealthy. Having enough for food and clothes had been all he ever focused on. How he gained that money didn't matter to him then.

A whimsical smile crossed his face. Maybe he wouldn't be the only heir. Papa was falling in love with Senora Alverez, he could tell. She was younger and certainly capable of having children still. Her first husband had died soon after their marriage leaving her well taken care of but alone. And she was enamored with his papa, too. Many women were. Don Alberto was a handsome man to be sure.

Johnny shook these thoughts off and slipped into his jacket then took a deep breath and opened his door.

*

Murdoch stared out the picture window from his desk chair. He couldn't help the jealousy he felt for Don Alberto anymore than he could help the jealousy he felt for Harlan Garrett. Two men who had raised his sons in his stead. It grated on his pride and his heart. He'd lost them both for so long. In part due to his own passiveness.

He'd always been a man of action but when it came to his boys, he was weak and he hated it. Now, he had to face some unpleasant truths. He knew they would not be satisfied with what they'd heard this afternoon.

Johnny had seemed stunned by what he'd told him. He'd been outraged at Maria's lies. He wondered if Don Alberto knew about that. All he knew of the man was in the Pinkerton reports. That he was a decent and honest man and people respected him. He supposed the same could be said of Harlan - to a degree. Don Alberto hadn't stolen his son, though. He'd raised him as his own because he'd married Maria. It was evident Johnny loved the man so the man must love Johnny.

Part of him was grateful, part of him angry. All of him in pain.

Most of him was angry with Harlan, though. It was a bitter battle that began long before Scott was even a twinkle in Catherine's eye. Harlan had made no qualms about his objections. He didn't think Murdoch was good enough for his little girl and Murdoch supposed that was true. Still, they loved each other and that's all that mattered. Harlan would never forgive him, though and always blame him for Catherine's death.

And now Scott was in so much trouble. And the brothers seemed to despise each other. Murdoch knew it was in large part due to Scott's attitude. He'd have to tread carefully there. He wanted to help his son but he knew pushing too hard would send Scott straight back to Boston. What would Harlan do then?

He gave a small start as he heard a noise.

*

Johnny stood in the middle of the room for several minutes just staring at the back of Murdoch's head. It didn't take long to realize the man was deep in thought. Either that, or he's not very aware of his surroundings. Johnny grinned a little then softly cleared his throat. The old man jumped a bit then turned his chair around.

"Good evening."

"Good evening, Johnny. Did you rest well?"

Raising an eyebrow, Johnny walked over to the desk. "No, I'm afraid not, Sen .... Murdoch," he smiled a little.

Murdoch smiled back at him. "Well, I hope you'll be able to rest tonight, then."

"I'm sure I will," Johnny replied and glanced around the room. "Is he down yet?"

Murdoch didn't miss the tone and he frowned. "Not yet. Johnny, I wanted to explain a little about Scott's attitude. Without getting too deeply into his private business, Scott has had a terrible experience and is having a difficult time coping with it. I hope that will help you be more tolerant."

Johnny's face remained impassive but he nodded once in acknowledgement. He finally decided to sit down since Murdoch wasn't offering. Well, maybe it isn't necessary here.

"Would you like a drink now?" Murdoch offered.

"No, thank you," he said as he scanned the room again.

"Do you drink?"

Johnny looked back at him, his eyes dancing. "Si, quite a lot at times."

Murdoch couldn't help but chuckle. There was devilment in those eyes and some stories he was sure. Before he could ask, Scott entered the room and the atmosphere plummeted.

"Good evening, gentlemen," Scott bowed his head slightly.

"Good evening, son. Did you rest well?"

"I did, thank you. Very comfortable room."

Murdoch smiled but Johnny didn't turn to face him. He could hear a smirk in Scott's voice and, even though he heeded Murdoch's words, it still grated on his nerves.

"Gentlemen, supper is ready," Teresa announced.

*

Murdoch sat his sons to his liking, Scott on the right and Johnny on the left.

"Is your ward not joining us?" Johnny asked.

"Not tonight. I thought it would be nice just the three of us," Murdoch replied. Truthfully, he didn't want Teresa stuck in the middle of a feud if things got ugly.

"She seems very sweet."

Murdoch looked closely at Johnny. "She is and young. Her father was my segundo. He died last year in a stampede."

"I'm sorry," Johnny said, true sympathy in his voice.

"Thank you. Paul was my best friend."

Scott sighed softly and they both glanced over at him but he was staring at his plate. Soon, Teresa and Maria began to serve and conversation came to a halt.

Murdoch kept casting looks at them both, unsure if he should try idle conversation. He didn't have to wonder long.

"I assume you grew up in Mexico, Johnny. What's it like there?" Scott asked congenially.

Johnny stopped with fork in midair. He laid it on his plate and gave Scott his full attention.

"Much as it is here. Our ranchero is beautiful. Many rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys and, of course, some desert. And Boston?" Johnny asked politely.

Murdoch cringed a little at the fondness in Johnny's voice when he spoke of Don Alberto's ranch. He shook it off and concentrated on Scott's answer.

"Boston is an old city and lovely. Museums, theater, libraries and some very lovely young ladies," Scott smiled.

Johnny smiled back with appreciation.  

"I would imagine it gets quite cold there in the winter being on the ocean," Johnny commented.

Scott raised a brow at this. He didn't figure Johnny knew where Boston was. "Very cold. Frigid, in fact. We have ice storms at times but I love the snow. It cleans everything."

Johnny nodded. "I've never seen snow."

"Never?" Scott asked with some surprise.

"No. I remember hearing it had snowed one year somewhere a little north of us but I've never seen it."

"We'll have to go up in the mountains this winter. It rarely snows much in the valley," Murdoch commented.

Neither young man responded to this. Neither was sure they would be there in the winter. Murdoch's heart fell at the silence.

*

"Does your stepfather have a big place?" Scott asked after a few minutes.

"Si, about the same as Lancer," Johnny replied feeling a twinge at the reference to his 'stepfather'. It was true he knew but he'd never thought of Don Alberto as anything but his papa.

"What does your grandfather do?" Johnny asked, feeling the need to ask some of his own questions.

"He's an accountant. A thoroughly boring profession in my opinion. But, he loves it."

Johnny only nodded. "Do you ride?"

Scott's face turned dark, a haunted expression coloring his features. "Not in a long time," he mumbled.

Johnny was taken aback at the reaction and looked at Murdoch who seemed most uncomfortable as well.

Scott reached over and took up his wine glass, draining it.

"What kind of theater?" Johnny asked, trying to divert the tension.

"I beg your pardon?" Scott snarked.

"You mentioned the theater," Johnny reminded him, trying not to clench his jaw.

Scott's face seemed to relax a little. "All kinds. Drama, comedy, opera, ballet," he shrugged.

"I didn't care for the opera," Johnny said.

"Oh? Why not?" Scott asked, leaning forward a little.

"Just not the kind of music I like. Spanish folk music, especially guitar, appeals to me."

"We have a couple of hands who play very well. Do you play, Johnny?" Murdoch asked.

"A very little. I'm not very good at it but I like to try," Johnny smiled.

"Perhaps you'll grace us with a concert sometime," Scott said, raising his glass.

Johnny only stared at him, not even trying to hide his disdain. The room fell quiet again for long moments.

*

"So, your stepfather has a cattle ranch, too?" Scott asked after a time.

"Cattle and horses. I take care of the horses," Johnny smiled with pride.

"There are some fine palominos here, Johnny. I'd love to have your opinion on them," Murdoch piped in.

"I look forward to it."

"I suppose I'll be the only fish out of water then," Scott commented.

"I'm sure you'll catch on quickly, son," Murdoch replied gently. He couldn't quite define the expression in Scott's eyes.

Johnny lowered his eyes and concentrated on his food. He had doubts Scott would catch onto anything that wasn't in a bottle. He was on his third glass of wine already and Johnny had seen how he threw back the whiskey this afternoon. Murdoch's words only confirmed what he'd seen with his own eyes. He had to wonder what had happened to make Scott so miserable.

His head jerked up when he heard his name called. "I'm sorry?"

Murdoch was staring at him, a little aggravated but more concerned. "I was saying I'd like for us to go to town in the next day or so and meet with my attorney for the partnership agreement."

Johnny stared flatly at him. "I haven't agreed to anything yet."

"Maybe by then you'll have made your decision," Murdoch replied, holding back his anxiety.

"Tal vez," was Johnny's only reply.

*

The rest of the evening was quiet. No one felt much like talking anymore and Scott was busy drinking. Johnny kept looking alternately between the two of them wondering if Murdoch would say anything. He doubted the man would, though. He had no right other than it was his whiskey Scott was guzzling.

He sighed lightly and shook his head then stood up. "I think I'll take a walk," he announced and strolled outside.

Murdoch was glad he was alone with Scott. There was no time like the present, he supposed.

"Don't you think you should take it easy on the liquor, Scott?"

The young man turned his gaze from the fire and looked at Murdoch, blinking a few times to bring him into focus. "I'll replace it."

"That wasn't what I meant."

Scott blew out a breath. "I suppose Grandfather has been writing to you?"

"He has. He's very concerned, son, and so am I."

"Are you? How sweet," he spat.

Murdoch ground his jaw. "Look, I know you've been through a terrible ordeal, Scott, but drinking won't solve anything."

"That is where you're wrong, Sir. It solves everything."

"How so?" Murdoch asked and saw the sneer. "No, I mean it. Please explain to me how getting stinking drunk every night, how throwing your life away, how snubbing all your friends and humiliating your grandfather solves anything."

Scott stood up too quickly and stumbled a little before righting himself. "I believe I could use some fresh air myself. Excuse me," he shot and stormed out the door.

He didn't get far, just the veranda where he found a chair and fell into it. His glass was only half full and he cursed softly as he examined it.

*

"Forget the bottle?" came the soft voice.

Scott looked around blearily. "Yes."

Johnny moved out of the shadow and sat on the low wall opposite Scott. "Does it help?"

"It does," he said tiredly.

"And the hangovers? Do they help?"

"Are you my priest?" Scott spat.

Johnny smiled a little. "Do you need one? I'm sure there's one around."

"Hardly," Scott sneered.

Johnny only nodded and looked up at the brilliant sky. "Es magnifico, si?"

Scott was watching his profile intently, jealous of the contentment he saw there. "What?" he asked.

Johnny looked back at him. "I'm sorry. I said it's magnificent. The sky, yes?"

"I caught the gist of what you were saying I just didn't know what you were talking about. I guess it is," he sighed out the last.

"Perhaps, if you came over here you could see it better," Johnny smiled and motioned him over with his hand.

Scott stood with a grunt and a roll of his eyes as he stumbled over and nearly sat on Johnny. He managed to find the adobe, though. He peered heavenward, his affect flat.

"Yes, indeed. Magnificent. Why, I don't believe I've ever seen a sky like that. Well, maybe once in Virginia." He caught his breath and turned his back to the man beside him then took a long drink of whiskey.

Johnny's irritation with his sarcasm died away suddenly with Scott's reaction to his own words. Clarity came to bear for the younger man.

"Were you in the Civil War, Scott?"

He only nodded and Johnny closed his eyes briefly.

"That must have been difficult."

"You know nothing about it," Scott said harshly.

Johnny shrugged though Scott didn't see. "At least you won."

Scott's head came up and he turned slowly to face the man beside him. Johnny was smiling a little, just a little and it didn't seem to be a spiteful or sneering type of smile.

"Yes, we won. Good for us."

The smile faded away but the eyes never changed. "Something happened to you then? Something that makes this necessary?" he asked, nodding toward the glass.

"It's none of your business!"

Johnny scooted back and leaned against the column behind him resting his head, his eyes never leaving Scott's. "No, it isn't. If you want to kill yourself, be my guest. It would be more polite of you not to make us watch, however."

Scott snorted. "Polite? I've been polite all my life. I'm sick of being polite. If you don't like it, don't look." The challenge was strong in his voice.

Johnny smiled again. "I have no intentions of watching."

*

"You're not staying, are you?" Scott asked.

"No, I don't think so."

"Why?"

Johnny rolled his head to the side and stared out into the inky night. "That man you keep calling my stepfather? He's more than that to me. He is my father. The only one I've ever known. He's good to me and he loves me. We have a good life together and we're happy. Why should I give that up to stay here with a man I don't even know and a ......" he paused and looked back at Scott. "And a drunk."

"Borr ....a ??"

"Borrachin," Johnny filled in.

Scott smiled. "Sounds better than a drunk."

"It isn't," Johnny said sincerely.

Scott's face fell and he lowered his head with a forlorn sigh. "No, I don't suppose it is."

"Can you stop or is it too late?" Johnny asked.

"I can. I did for a week on the way here. That was only because there wasn't any liquor on the trains."

"Do you *want* to stop?"

Scott lifted his head. "I have no reason to."

Johnny nodded his head slowly. "What would make you want to?"

"I have no idea. I do know I don't like this conversation anymore."

"Too uncomfortable?"

Scott glared at him. "Too personal."

Johnny grinned. "You've been asking me questions all night. All seemingly benign but you were fishing, mi hermano," he said, wagging a finger at Scott.

Scott's eyes narrowed. "What did you call me now?"

Johnny laughed aloud. "I called you my brother."

Scott stared at him, a lump forming in his throat and he was completely stunned at his reaction to the words. He felt his emotions slipping and looked away. Closing his eyes, he found his anger. It was so easy to do. He stood up slowly then turned to Johnny.

"We are brothers in blood but that doesn't give you any special rights to know anything about me."

"No, it does not. Only what you're willing to tell me. It doesn't matter to me, Scott, but it matters to him," he said, tossing his head toward the house.

"Please. He's feeling his age and wants to ensure the family business stays in the family. Though, one could scoff at calling this a family."

Johnny stood and faced him. "You're wrong. He cares. I'm not sure why or even how I know that, but he does. It's up to you if you want to care back. I've known men like Murdoch Lancer. He wants this to work but he will not hand it to you. You will have to earn this land. Now, if you will excuse me I'll say goodnight." He walked back inside leaving Scott staring into space and wondering what the hell just happened.

*

Johnny sat at the table in his room and wrote the letter. It was a long and painstaking effort. How to ask. What words to use to ease the accusation. For it felt exactly like an accusation to his own mind. Did you know the truth or did she lie to you as well? And if he knew the truth, why hadn't he told it? He closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed at his left temple. He didn't want the answer. Not if it meant even more confusion and pain. Truthfully, he was hoping his mother had lied to Don Alberto, too.

He straightened when the knock came. Suddenly, he felt exhausted. "Come in."

Murdoch opened the door and stepped inside, still holding the knob in his hand. "Do you need anything? There are extra pillows and blankets in the cedar chest," he nodded toward the end of the bed. "You should have fresh water here," he added and checked the pitcher on the dresser.

Johnny watched him noting how nervous he seemed. It was a little amusing, actually. "I'm fine, thank you."

Murdoch turned toward him, a tight smile on his face. "Well, my room is across the hall and two doors down. If you need anything don't hesitate to ask."

Johnny only nodded.

Murdoch spied the paper then and saw the pen still in Johnny's hand. He ambled over to the window. "It might get a little chilly tonight. This window sticks sometimes."

"I'm sure it will be fine," Johnny replied.

"Good, good. Are you writing to Don Alberto?"

"I am," Johnny said then looked closely at him. "If there's something you want to ask me, ask."

Murdoch walked over and sat across from him, resting his hands on the table top. "You probably miss him."

"Yes, I do but I've been away from home before."

Murdoch frowned. "Johnny, I ..... well, there's so much I want to say to you but I don't want you to feel pressured."

"Just say it. I'll let you know if I feel pressured," Johnny said softly.

Murdoch looked at him, still rolling things around in his mind. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at expressing myself with ... well, this type of thing. I've told you I want you to stay but I feel like maybe I didn't impress upon you how much it means to me. To have you back home ... to be a family again .... it's more than I've dared hope for all these years. You have no reason to really care how I feel or what I think ....."

*

"That's not true," Johnny interrupted gently.

Murdoch shook his head slowly, not understanding.

"I have reason to care, Murdoch. You are my father. It's not easy and there are things that ..... disturb me. Which is what I'm writing to papa about now."

"You mean about your mother," Murdoch stated.

"Si. I don't want to even think he knew this truth and kept it from me. He is not that kind of man. Still ...." Johnny left it there. The weight of all that had happened today lay heavy in his heart.

"He wanted me to come here. He said I should see you. I have to wonder ... if he was told what I was told, why he would want me to ever see you?"

Murdoch saw the pain in his eyes and his heart hurt for his son. "Maybe he thought there might be more to it than she said."

Johnny smiled. "That was generous of you. I know it can't be easy for you - hearing me call him papa. But, that's what he is to me and has been for many years."

"Son, I know you love him and I'm glad and grateful you had someone in your life to guide you. To teach you and love you. I won't pretend it's easy to take. Still, the alternative isn't something I like to think about."

Johnny nodded, his features darkening. "We were poor. My mother did whatever she could to make money but it was never enough. She didn't like to do anything ..... strenuous. I ran free. She never seemed to notice when I was gone or for how long. I was a thief, quite frankly." He stopped and laughed softly. "That's how I met Don Alberto. I tried to steal his walking stick."

Murdoch sat back and stared at him. "Why would you want to steal a stick?"

Johnny laughed aloud. "The grip was made of gold. He caught me and took me home. That's when he met mama. He courted her like a real lady and she loved that."   He looked up and saw the pained expression. "Forgive me. That was callous."

"It's alright. I want to know."

Johnny didn't think so but he wouldn't argue the point. He felt a need to tell this man the truth. "Well, six months went by and they married. He took me in and started treating me like a son right away. It didn't matter to him."

"What didn't matter?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny shrugged. "That I was a half-breed."

Murdoch lurched forward and Johnny was a bit startled at the sudden movement.

"I hate that word," he growled.

Johnny grinned. "I'm not fond of it myself. Still, that is what I was called for years. Even after we moved in with him the other children in school would taunt me. I'm afraid I got into many fights. Mama always wanted to punish me for embarrassing her but papa wouldn't allow it. He said I had every right to stand up for myself and he taught me to fight well. It wasn't much longer after that the children left me alone. Anyway, he sent me to school and taught me ranching."

"And horses," Murdoch smiled.

"No, not papa. His segundo. I always loved the animals. They responded well to me. Fredo saw this and began to teach me."

"When you were little you were always around the horses. It scared your mother to death," Murdoch said fondly.

"Was she unhappy here?" Johnny asked.

"Evidently," Murdoch sneered. He took a breath then. "I'm sorry, son. It's hard to talk about. I didn't know she was .... I thought it would pass. That she'd settle down."

Johnny nodded knowingly. "You expected her to cook and clean and keep a house."

"Yes, of course."

"Not mama. As I said, she didn't like anything more strenuous than ....." he stopped before he said too much. There was no point in hurting the man that much more.

Murdoch's cheeks reddened a little and Johnny knew he understood. His own cheeks felt a little hot.

"When she got sick and took to her bed we thought it was just one of her tirades. That she was upset and was protesting. She would do that when she was angry and papa had gone on a business trip that very morning. She wasn't happy about that. But, three days passed and she called me to her room. I knew when I saw her something was truly wrong. The doctor said it was pneumonia. I sent for papa but she died before he could get home. I know that has always been hard on him."

Murdoch chewed his lip. "Johnny, I don't suppose it matters now but well, your mother and I never got a divorce."

Johnny only nodded. "Papa had the marriage annulled by the church so they could marry. It may not have been legal here but it was in Mexico."

"You know a lot about this. You had to have been pretty young."

"Mama never tried to hide anything from me. At least, I never thought so," he said, anger clear in his voice now.

Murdoch grimaced. "I hope Don Alberto has some answers for you."

Johnny looked up at him. "For both of us."

*

Scott sat on the bed, pillows mounded behind his back to rest on as he took a long swallow from the whiskey bottle. He was still mulling over what Johnny had said outside. He could make no sense of the man, though. Well, never mind that. A little more of this and I'll be able to sleep, he thought as he dismissed the younger man from thought.

Or he tried to.

But the words wouldn't leave him. He cares. How did Johnny know he cares? What did Johnny know about anything? Anger rose up in him and he took another pull from the bottle. Murdoch Lancer had never cared about him before. Why start now? No, he thought. No, it was as he'd said. The old man wanted to ensure his ranch stayed in the family. No matter how disjointed that family was.

Arrogant. That's what his supposed brother was. He frowned and his eyes grew dark. Well, he doesn't know arrogant. I'll be more than happy to teach that whelp a thing or two about arrogance. He smiled a little at that as he took the last drink from the bottle.

He scooted down in the bed and sighed. It had been one of the longest days of his life, he was sure. Closing his eyes he didn't bother with undressing or even pulling the covers over him. He was asleep within a few seconds.

Scott frowned and swatted at the hand firmly gripping his shoulder. The bed bounced again as the hand shook him.

"Leave me alone!" he growled and tried to move away but the hand was insistent.

"If you're going to stay here, you need to learn we get up early. Come on, Scott. Breakfast is waiting."

He cracked open one lid then the other and turned slowly to find Murdoch towering over him. Scott didn't like the disadvantage so he raised up on his elbow then went right back down again with a groan. His hand went to his head.

Murdoch watched him with grim determination. "You'll have to either stop drinking so much or learn to live with the hangovers. Now get up. I'll be back if you aren't down in fifteen minutes," he decreed and walked out, slamming the door.

Scott sucked air through his teeth as his head rattled with the loud noise. He let the breath out harshly then, more slowly, he raised up again and waited for the room to stop moving. His stomach lurched and the very thought of food made him move faster - straight to the waste can.

*

Johnny stopped outside the door when he heard the noise. Recognizing it, he shook his head sadly and proceeded downstairs. He greeted his father and sat down as Teresa poured him coffee. He looked up and gave her a smile that drifted away as she left the room.

"Something wrong, Johnny?" Murdoch asked.

"Scott's sick," he replied flatly.

Murdoch sighed and shook his head. "He has quite a hangover."

Johnny looked over at him. "I know you said it was personal. I got a little from him last night. He was in the war. Is that when *it* happened?"

Murdoch raised a surprised brow and nodded. "I can't believe he told you that much."

"When you're drunk, your tongue loosens," Johnny shrugged.

"I'm not sure what to do about it," Murdoch said sadly.

"Well, I have little experience with that sort of thing and it wasn't anyone I cared about. I suppose you could try to force the issue."

"If I do that he might leave."

"And if you don't, what will happen?"

Murdoch stared into his coffee cup. "I have no idea. I haven't had any experience with this either. Maybe Sam can help."

"Who?"

"Oh, Sam Jenkins. He's the doctor around here. A good man and smart. He may have an idea," Murdoch explained, hoping his friend would indeed have a clue.

"It seems to me getting him to talk about the problem is needed. I mean what happened in the first place." Johnny watched his father and cocked his head. "You know, don't you?"

"I know what happened generally but no specifics. I think it goes deeper than ......" he trailed off, not wanting to reveal too much. It wasn't his place to tell Johnny. It was Scott's, if he wanted to.

*

Scott didn't show up for breakfast and Murdoch decided against making good on his threat of fifteen minutes. By the time the meal was over, Scott made it downstairs.

Johnny bit the inside of his cheek when he saw his brother. He definitely needed some new clothes.

"I thought we'd ride into town this morning and get some supplies," Murdoch said casually. "It will give you both a chance to meet some of the locals, as well."

"I'm not up to ....."

"You're going," Murdoch interrupted Scott firmly.

Scott shot him a most unpleasant look but didn't argue the point. His head was about to roll off any minute and he didn't want to rush it along. Then again, maybe it would help.

Maria walked into the room with a glass of something red and handed it to Scott who looked suspiciously at it.

"For your head, Senor. It will help, confieme en," she explained and returned to her kitchen.

Scott looked at it as if it were a rattlesnake, holding it up to the light.

"It does help," Johnny encouraged. "It doesn't taste so bad, really."

Scott looked at him then Murdoch who nodded. He took a deep breath and gulped the brew down quickly, fighting with everything he had to keep it there.

"I'll get the surrey ready, then," Murdoch said.

"What did she say? That last part?" Scott asked.

Johnny frowned in thought for a second. "Oh, she said to trust her," he smiled.

"Does everyone around here speak Spanish?" Scott asked snidely.

Johnny glared at him. "Many, I would imagine since this used to be Mexico," he replied with his own sarcasm and headed for the door. He stopped at the hat rack and grabbed his gunbelt, throwing it easily around his slender hips and adjusting the fit before buckling it snugly.

"I suppose I'll need one of those," Scott noted.

Johnny glanced at him then grabbed his hat. "Tal vez," he said, knowing it would irk Scott. He thought it wasn't the best idea, though. He'd probably shoot his foot off.

*

The ride to town was slow and silent. Scott had to admit by the time they reached their destination, he felt tons better. He made a mental note to ask the housekeeper what was in the remedy for future reference.

Murdoch pulled to a stop outside the general store. "Maybe you'd like to get some new clothes, Scott. Something more ..... appropriate for out here."

Scott turned once his feet were on the ground. "What's wrong with my clothes?" he asked indignantly.

Johnny looked him up and down and grinned. "It's not the style. I mean, look around you. Do you see anyone else wearing plaid pants and a feathered cap?"

Scott's eyes narrowed. "It is not a cap!"

"Lo que, hermano. Lo que," Johnny shrugged.

Scott sighed and rolled his eyes then stepped onto the boardwalk and waited for his father to walk inside.

Senor Baldemero was in heaven. It had been a long time since anyone had made such a large purchase of clothing from his store. He tallied the total and handed the bill to Murdoch. Scott was restlessly pacing the floor and Johnny leaned against the door frame looking bored.

"Is there anything you need, Johnny?" Murdoch asked as he paid the man.

"No, gracias."

"What about a gun? Everyone seems to wear them out here," Scott asked.

Murdoch looked warily at him. "Yes, I suppose you will need one. There's a gunsmith down the street. Johnny, why don't you help Scott pick out a good piece. I need to see someone."

Johnny nodded, wondering if Murdoch was going to see the doctor.

*

"I can pick out a gun for myself, you know," Scott grumbled as they reached the gunsmith.

"Fine. But I'd like to see what they have if that's alright with you," Johnny answered flatly.

Scott pushed the door open and stormed inside. Johnny sighed and walked in then stopped, his hand still on the knob.

Two men stood leaning over the counter looking at the merchandise. The owner looked like he would pass out at any minute. Johnny closed the door and walked around them to the end of the counter. He leaned against it, his hand sliding down and flipping the thong off his own Colt. Scott was looking at the rifles on one wall.

"That one's too heavy," one man said.

"Yeah. Ain't ya got nothin else?" the other asked the owner.

The man only shook his head emphatically. "No, Senor. This is all I have in stock."

The second man sighed, obviously not liking the answer. "Ya gotta have somethin. Somethin ya keep in the back, maybe?" he asked, his eyes going to the curtain that hid the storeroom.

"No, Senor. My order has not come in. Next week, perhaps."

"This one might do for a while, Mike," the first man said.

"Reckon it'll have to, won't it?" the man sighed resignedly. "Alright, I'll take this one and a box of shells."

The owner hurried to grab the box, relieved they would be gone soon.

It was then the first man gave Johnny more than the cursory glance he'd received upon first entering.

"Well, will ya look at this, Mike," he grinned.

"What?" Mike asked grumpily.

"We got us a half-breed here."

Mike looked over and rolled his eyes. "Who cares? Let's just get this done and get goin, Hal."

But Hal wasn't ready to get goin. He slid closer to Johnny, the grin still on his face. Johnny hadn't looked up yet, still staring at the glass case. He felt the man close in and slowly, his head came up.

"Maybe he don't speak English. You speeky English, breed?" Hal sneered.

*

It took Scott this much time to focus in on the conversation. He turned to them as Johnny raised his head and he saw the slight smile on his brother's face.

"I speak English very well, Senor. Was there something you wanted?" Johnny said softly.

"Yeah, I wanna know what a half-breed is doin in here. You gonna steal somethin? Maybe steal a gun and kill a white man?"

Johnny's eyes lit and the smile lifted his mouth a fraction more. "Tal vez, Senor. One never knows when one may have to kill a white man. However," Johnny paused as he moved away from the counter, "as you can see, I already have a gun."

Hal glanced at his hip then back at his face. His own face grew red with anger. The words were pretty and softly spoken but he knew he was being made fun of. "Maybe I ought ta teach you a lesson or two, breed."

Johnny cocked his head, his expression never waning. "Oh? What lessons would those be, Senor? Perhaps you will teach me how to be crude and unwashed."

Scott snickered at that and Mike looked over with a glare. Scott didn't see it though. He was thoroughly enjoying the display.

"You got somethin to say about this, Mister?" Mike asked him.

Scott looked over and shrugged. "I see no need at the moment."

"Make sure ya keep it that way. Ain't your business," Mike ordered.

"Why don't you and me step outside so I can teach ya those lessons," Hal said, unconcerned with Scott or anyone else at the moment.

Johnny nodded his head once and extended his hand. "After you, Senor."

Hal backed to the door and opened it then stepped out. Johnny looked at Mike. "Senor?"

Mike backed out as well.

"Johnny?" Scott asked, no longer finding the humor.

Johnny glanced at him. "If you would be so kind as to keep an eye on his friend for me?"

*

The Lancers walked outside. Hal was in the street and Mike was on the boardwalk a good fifteen feet from the store.

Johnny stepped out and regarded the man. "Wouldn't it be better to settle this with our fists? I see no need for you to die today, Senor."

Hal's face went red again, a deeper rubor this time. "Ain't nobody gonna die today. Just a filthy breed," he spat.

Johnny shrugged and took his stance. Scott watched it all with his mouth agape. He wasn't really sure this was happening. It couldn't be real. It was like some dime novel. He was rooted to the boardwalk, his eyes fixed on Johnny's back. He never saw the gunsmith come out and stand behind him.

Johnny stood relaxed, his hands dangling at his sides as he set his gaze on Hal's eyes. He tried one more time but truthfully, it was only a gesture.

"Once again I will ask if you are sure you want to do this. We can face each other like men, mano a la mano."

Hal looked quizzically at him. "Speak English you son of a bitch!"

Johnny grinned and shrugged but said no more. Hal stood there for what seemed an eternity. Johnny saw doubt enter his eyes and waited for something more substantial.

Scott couldn't seem to breath. He heard the words said by both men then the silence that seemed to last forever. He still couldn't wrap his mind around what was happening though. Then, he jumped two feet with the noise.

It was over that quickly, or so he thought. Two loud reports and an acrid odor. Then, it happened again.

Johnny saw what he had waited for, drew and fired. He watched as Hal clutched at his chest then fell wordlessly to the ground. From his periphery, he saw more movement and turned to his right, firing once more as Mike took a shot at him. He felt the sting in his left arm then the fire but he didn't move. Not yet.

Finally, Johnny moved. He walked over to Hal and kicked the gun across the street then he approached Mike and leaned down, picking up the newly purchased weapon and tossing it aside as well.

He felt more than saw the presence coming upon him quickly. He stood and turned to find his father's eyes.

"What the devil happened?" Murdoch demanded.

Johnny holstered his gun, his eyes never leaving Murdoch's. "The man in the street called me out. I offered to fight him hand to hand but he insisted on a gunfight. When I won, his friend here took exception," he explained.

*

Murdoch couldn't seem to find his voice for a moment. "I see," he eventually said.

"It is as he said, Senor Lancer. These men are muy malo. Pistoleros," the gunsmith offered.

Murdoch's gut clenched with this information. He stared at Johnny. "And you took them on? They're gunfighters, Johnny."

"Were. Now, they are dead men," Johnny replied icily.

Murdoch opened his mouth then closed it. Then, he remembered. "Where's Scott?"

Johnny looked around and nodded. "Over there backing me up," he snorted.

Murdoch's eyes followed his son's and saw Scott sitting on the edge of the boardwalk watching them all. He walked over and stood before the young man.

"Are you alright, son?"

Scott looked up slowly and blinked. "I've never seen anything like that. Johnny ..... he just .... it was like he ....." he shook his head.

Johnny stood where he was, watching the exchange though he couldn't hear. He felt a hand on his arm and jerked away as he turned.

"I'm sorry but you're hurt. I'm Dr Jenkins. Let me take a look at that arm, young man."

Johnny took in the shorter, somewhat rotund man. His brown hair was thinning and his brown eyes were kind. He smiled softly and nodded.

"My office is just down the street."

"Gracias. I just need to tell my father," Johnny replied as he turned back.

"Your father? You're Johnny?" Sam asked, dismayed.

"Si, Senor. Uno momento, por favor," he said and walked over. Sam followed him.

"Murdoch?"

The rancher turned to his son and saw Sam beside him. It was only then he saw the blood on Johnny's shirt sleeve.

"My God! You're shot!" he exclaimed.

Scott looked up then and stood, his face paling even more.

"It's nothing. Only a scratch," Johnny said.

"Well, come with me. I'll fix you up in no time," Sam smiled.

*

Murdoch and Scott sat in the waiting room while Sam tended Johnny's arm. It was quiet for a while and Murdoch was watching Scott closely.

"He's very fast. I couldn't believe it was even happening. I wasn't sure what was going on. That man called Johnny a half-breed but Johnny wasn't even rattled. He poked fun at the man though I doubt he understood what Johnny was saying."

"Why is that?" Murdoch asked.

Scott looked up and a small smile lit his face. "Because, Johnny was using proper English and, well, he's very good at ambiguity."

Murdoch smiled a little himself. It didn't last long as he saw something akin to embarrassment on Scott's face.

"Is there more?"

Scott looked forlornly at him. "Johnny asked me to watch the other man but I ..... I was so shocked by what was happening. Maybe, if I'd done as he asked, the other man wouldn't have been able to shoot him."

Murdoch sighed. "Well, evidently your brother has more experience with this sort of thing than I knew. He shouldn't have expected you to understand the way things work out here."

"No one should have to understand that! I cannot believe men can just shoot each other down in the street like dogs! Where's the law?" Scott fumed.

"There isn't any. Out here, the big dog gets the meat," Murdoch relayed. He walked over and sat next to Scott. "I know how different this is for you, Scott. It's not uncommon but it's not a daily thing either. Some men just like trouble."

"The other one wasn't really interested in taunting Johnny. He didn't say anything to him, as a matter of fact. But, when his friend was shot, I guess he felt like he should do something."

"He shouldn't have. It was a fair fight by all accounts. The man started it and Johnny finished it. That's the way it's supposed to work. A man who tries an ambush is a coward."

"The way it's supposed to work? You make it sound like some sort of code or something."

Murdoch shrugged. "In a way, that's what it is. I'm still stunned that Johnny was in a gunfight. I don't know where he could have gained that sort of education."

"With practice."

Both men turned to find Johnny in the doorway with Sam just behind him. He walked on in and stood in the middle of the room.

"He'll be fine. Just a few stitches," Sam told.

Murdoch stood. "That's good news. And why would you practice something like that?"

*

Johnny looked over at the doctor. "Why don't we discuss this on the way home? I'm sure the doctor has better things to do," he suggested.

Murdoch nodded and thanked Sam then shepherded his sons to the surrey.

"Well?" Murdoch asked once they'd cleared town.

"I've always been interested in learning new things. I like a challenge. This was one of those challenges," Johnny explained.

"Learning to be a gunfighter is a challenge?" Murdoch asked incredulously.

Johnny laughed softly. "Not to be a gunfighter. To become proficient with a gun. Just as I learned about horses and ranching and everything else."

"Johnny, I'm sorry I didn't do as you asked. I was just so ..... well, shocked," Scott spoke up.

Johnny looked back at him from the front seat. "I should have realized you weren't used to this. I shouldn't have asked you. It was unfair."

Scott could only look at him but Johnny saw something else in his eyes. Something deeper and more disturbing. He turned back around and no more was said on the trip home.

As soon as Murdoch pulled to a stop, Scott jumped down and strode inside. Murdoch sighed and Johnny took the reins from his hands.

"You might want to get to him quickly," he advised.

Murdoch nodded and smiled his thanks then followed Scott. He found him at the sideboard gulping down a whiskey. Without a word, Murdoch walked over and took the glass from his hand, setting it down hard enough to rattle the bottles of liquor.

"That is not going to help anything!"

Scott turned to face him fully. "It's none of your concern," he said sharply.

"Yes, Scott, it is my concern. It's the concern of everyone who cares about you," Murdoch replied in just the same tone.

Scott snorted. "Well, then you are a majority of one."

"You poor thing," Murdoch said snidely. "When are you going to stop feeling sorry for yourself and act like a man?"

*

Scott's eyes narrowed but he simply stood there.

Johnny stopped at the entrance to the great room, unsure if he should be there but just as unsure he should leave them alone.

"Well? When are you going to stop hiding in that bottle, Scott? You're better than this!" Murdoch's voice grew louder.

"How would you know anything about me?! What do you know of what I've gone through?" Scott shot.

"You think I haven't been kept informed? Harlan at least had that much decency. He sent me regular reports on your life. As for what you've been through, how can anyone know if you don't tell it?" Murdoch took a breath and lowered his tone. "Scott, you have to talk about it. Don't you see, son? It's *never* going to get better if you keep it locked inside."

Scott took a step back from his father, his breathing was becoming harsher as he fought for control of his fear and the rage that was building inside.

Johnny made a decision in that moment. One that would either work well or end in disaster. He stepped quietly into the room and stood behind his brother. And he waited for what he knew was about to happen.

Scott's face reddened and he turned to escape. He was only able to take half a step as he found his path blocked.

"It's time to get it all out, Scott. Who better to do that with than strangers?" Johnny spoke with quiet resolve.

"It's none of your business!"

"That will no longer work, hermano. You can leave here and return to Boston and go back to destroying yourself. Or, you can face your demons and kick them out of your life forever. It's your choice, Scott."

Johnny held his breath as he waited for the decision. That he gave a damn at all had stunned him to his core. But, he found himself praying Scott would make the right choice.

"It's not that easy, Johnny," Scott said breathlessly.

"I didn't say it would be easy, only necessary. Unless you enjoy living in fear," Johnny replied calmly.

Scott scowled at that and started to reply then thought better of it. Wasn't that exactly what he'd been doing for the past five years? Five years! He swayed a little and felt the big hands take hold of his arms for support. He flinched a little under the touch but the hands did not falter. Scott couldn't remember the last time he'd been touched by anyone other than a prostitute. Bought and paid for comfort. And cold comfort it had always been.

He allowed himself to relax a modicum and really feel the touch. It was warm and he shivered like a man who'd been out in the cold and come inside to a warm fire.

Murdoch stepped closer to him, pulling Scott back against him to steady the young man and, truthfully, to allow the simple joy of touching his son to last as long as possible. His grip loosened almost imperceptibly but he squeezed the arms lovingly.

*

"I don't know if I can," Scott finally spoke so softly, it was almost missed.

"Will you at least try, son?" Murdoch asked.

Scott could feel the rumble of the man's chest as he spoke, so close was he. Again, he shivered as the warmth of that touch enveloped him like a thick quilt. He'd been so cold for so long. He hadn't thought he'd ever be truly warm again. Not in his soul where the torment lie. He could only nod but he saw the smile that lit Johnny's face at the gesture and a few more icicles melted.

Murdoch guided him gently to the sofa and sat him down then joined him, sitting so close their shoulders touched. Johnny pulled the chair closer and sat in front of them, leaning his forearms on his thighs and giving Scott his full attention.

Scott licked his lips and tried to swallow but his throat was like sand.

Johnny stood and walked to the sideboard, pouring him a glass of water and handing it off as he retook his seat.

Scott inhaled half the glass before sighing heavily and taking a few deep breaths. "Thank you."

Johnny nodded. He had resumed his prior position, intent on listening to every word said.

Scott couldn't look at him, either of them, so he dropped his eyes and stared at the glass in his hands. He had a tight grip on it.

"It was October 19 at Cedar Creek. The battle was brutal and we had to retreat. The company was separated and some of us were using a dirt road, heading north. They ambushed us. We fought but it was useless. I was shot in the arm and taken prisoner."

Murdoch used all his strength not to react at all. To let Scott finished. He knew the general aspects of what had happened but no specifics. His mind had conjured up enough nightmarish scenarios to last a lifetime.

"I was taken to the infirmary where I healed enough to be put in the general population. It was an old warehouse and the prisoners were put in the basement. It was terribly overcrowded and the stench was ..... indescribable. After a couple of months, another officer was brought in. He was full of vigor and ready to plan an escape. I was all for it, of course. We dug a tunnel all the way outside the gates.

"We'd planned it down to the second. Then, the night before the other officer fell ill and was taken to the infirmary. He told me to go ahead with the plan without him. I didn't want to but I had to think of the men. There were seventeen of us in our group. We made it out of the tunnel but they were waiting for us. I was the only one who survived."

Johnny raised a brow at the last statement but he knew nothing to say. He saw Murdoch lean into Scott and put a hand on his knee.

"My punishment was a flogging in front of the whole prison. Then, I was thrown back in the basement cell. No one tended the wounds and they became infected. No one would help me. They were afraid to come near me for fear of retribution. A week or so later, the war ended." Scott shook his head. "Just a few more days and we would have all been free. Those men didn't have to die. That haunts me more than anything."

"Did you know the war was ending?" Johnny asked softly.

"I had no way of knowing. We weren't given any information. Occasionally, one of the guards would taunt us and say the union was losing the war but we never believed it."

*

Silence covered the room for several seconds before Scott continued.

"I was taken to a hospital where I stayed for three weeks. Then, I was allowed to go home since my tour of duty ended while I was in prison."

"Did ....."

Scott glanced over at his father. "What?"

"Did your grandfather try to get you help?" Murdoch asked, trying not to sound like he felt. Like he wanted to tear Harlan Garrett's head off.

"He tried but I refused. I stayed in my room for a week then I started going out at night. I found some other veterans and we did a lot of drinking. Some of them stopped coming around after a while and some didn't."

"How did they find out about the escape attempt?" Johnny asked.

Scott shook his head. "I have no idea."

"I'm so sorry you had to go through that, son. I wish to God it hadn't happened. Do you feel any better for telling it?" Murdoch asked, prayed.

"I don't know how I feel. Not as bad as I thought. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to tell it but once I started, it just came out."

"I think it's been wanting to for a long time. It's not easy to talk about something so personal especially with people who don't know what it was like."

Scott looked at his brother. "Yes, that's exactly it. I didn't think anyone could understand if they hadn't been there. But, I couldn't talk to those who had been. I feel so guilty about all those men who died. I always thought I'd be blamed and shunned by the very people I felt I needed to stay connected with."

Johnny smiled softly. "I don't understand how you felt, Scott. I can try to imagine it. I do know what it feels like to be locked away but it sounds as if your experience was so much worse. Still, I'd like to help if I can."

Murdoch looked hard at Johnny, unable to fathom when his son had been locked up. He'd been with Don Alberto from a young age. Now was not the time to ask but ask he would - later.

"Why?" Scott asked.

Johnny raised his brows at the question then grinned. "Why not?"

Scott laughed softly at that then grew somber. "I don't know what you can do; what anyone can do."

"The main question is can you get past it, son? Can you put it where it belongs and live your life? Because, I think you do your brothers in arms a disservice if you don't live as fully as you can. For their sake as well as your own."

Scott frowned at that thought. "I've never looked at it that way before. I've always felt I shouldn't be alive. I still don't know why I am. Why me and not them?"

Johnny sat back in his chair. "That is a question for God, hermano. I doubt he is willing to share it with you right now, though."

Scott looked warily at him. "And when will he be willing to share it?"

Johnny shrugged and gave him a crooked grin. "When you see him."

"Which is not going to be for a very long time," Murdoch interjected. "What about it, Scott? Are you willing to reclaim your life?"

Scott looked over at him and saw his father for the very first time. Saw a man who did care and wanted him. Really wanted him in his life. He was stunned and a little uncomfortable with the emotions that felt so raw and vulnerable in him right then. He swallowed hard and nodded.

"It won't be easy but I want to try," he whispered.

*

Two harrowing weeks passed and Scott had not had a drop of liquor. He was irritable and short with them all and Murdoch more than once had to rein him in when he got out of hand. Scott felt like he'd never apologized so much in his life but he knew it was his fault. He worked every day and it seemed to be getting easier. At least, he was able to rise with the sun now, well, nearly every day. Yet, every day was a struggle for him. Every day he wanted a drink. He wondered if he'd ever be able to drink alcohol responsibly again.

Still, he was feeling better. His appetite had returned and he noticed he was actually tasting the food now. He'd put on some weight and some muscle. And he'd been talking some about the war with Murdoch mostly and some with his brother. Johnny had come home one day with a new gun and gunbelt for him. Before, Scott would have taken his head off for such an act of consideration. That day he'd simply thanked his brother and actually asked him for some lessons. A rifle he had no problems with but handguns had never been his forte.

This day, Johnny took Scott out to a pasture behind the barn for some practice shooting. It was going well now that Scott's hands had stopped shaking. A problem that had caused the young man some embarrassment.

Smoke rose lazily toward the sky as quiet reigned supreme once more. Johnny started out to set up the targets again when Scott stopped him.

"I was wondering something," he started hesitantly.

Johnny said nothing but waited for him to go on.

"I feel much better than I have in years. I feel like I'm getting the hang of ranch work now."

"You're doing very well," Johnny said.

"The hands don't seem to like me much," Scott said, looking away.

Johnny chewed his lip for a second. "Well, it takes time. To them, you are an eastern dandy. A greenhorn."

"Greenhorn?" Scott asked, looking back at him.

Johnny smiled. "A novice."

Scott nodded his understanding. "How long do you think that will go on?"

Johnny sighed out softly. "Oh, a few more months. One day you'll notice a change. And it may have started long before you really notice. Then, you'll know they've accepted you. It will happen, Scott."

"I hope so. I like it here. You said before you weren't staying. Have you changed your mind?"

Johnny looked away this time. "Murdoch keeps looking at me as if he wants to ask." He laughed a little at that. "I suppose I should just make up my mind. It's not easy. I miss home." He turned and walked away a little distance.

"And your stepfather," Scott said gently.

"Si, I miss him very much," he admitted softly.

"I miss grandfather, too. But, this is so different for me. It's not the same for you, I mean, you've known this kind of life. And I'm finally feeling like I belong somewhere."

Johnny turned to look at him with a smile on his face. "I'm glad of that. You aren't so bad after all."

"Thanks, I think," Scott laughed. He grew serious then. "Look, I know you have a wonderful life in Mexico and you love your stepfather. I just hope you'll stay. I'd like to get to know my brother now that I can see him for the man he is."

Johnny cocked his head to the side questioningly.

"Before, I could only see you through a haze," Scott said, his cheeks blushing a little.

Johnny laughed at that. "Well, I think we should go in now."

"You didn't answer me," Scott pointed out.

Johnny looked hard at him. "I need to think about it more. I promise to let you know as soon as I do. Alright?"

"Alright," Scott said with disappointment. He understood Johnny's dilemma but he still wanted the young man to stay.   

*

Murdoch answered the door and sucked in a breath. He didn't have to ask, he knew who it was standing before him. The well-dressed Mexican looked up at him with proud brown eyes. His bearded face almost stoic. He removed his hat showing salt and pepper hair, each strand perfectly in place.

"Senor Lancer?" he inquired though it wasn't necessary.

"Don Alberto," Murdoch responded with a statement. "Please, come in," he waved as he stepped aside to allow the man entry. His stomach rolled into a huge knot.

Don Alberto walked into the house and stepped inside the great room. He looked around with an impressed expression then turned back to Murdoch, his face now implacable.

"Welcome to our home, Senor. Please, have a seat," Murdoch offered. He thought his voice sounded choked but how could it sound any other way with that lump lodged in it?

"Gracias, Senor. I suppose it is evident I am here to see Johnny," he replied as he took a chair.

"He should be here any minute. He's um, teaching Scott to shoot a pistol," Murdoch explained, unable to hide a small smile.

Don Alberto gave him an astonished look. "They are getting along then?"

The knot tightened. What had Johnny written in that letter? he wondered. "Yes, they're doing much better. It was a rather rocky start."

"I should imagine," the don said dryly.

Murdoch stared at him for a beat. "Would you like a drink?"

"A small sherry if you have it, por favor."

Murdoch nodded and walked to the sideboard thinking he'd just have himself a large something. He took a deep breath then returned to sit opposite the don as he handed off the drink.

"I hope you had a good trip?" he asked as he took a long sip.

"It was not too bad. A long way to be sure," he replied and sipped his own sherry. He wanted to throw the whole glass back. He wanted a bottle of tequila but manners held him in check.

They sat there silently, both wanting to size the other up yet both worried about saying the wrong thing. Murdoch cleared his throat and repositioned himself in the chair. He was about to say something when the front door opened and the knot twisted.

*

Scott was laughing as they stepped into the room. Johnny had a devilish smile on his face. He made it almost to the center of the room before he noticed. He stopped in his tracks and Scott looked at him then followed his gaze.

Don Alberto stood and turned to face him. There was a long pause before Johnny burst out in a huge smile and walked hurriedly to the man.

"Papa!" he exclaimed as he embraced Don Alberto.

The don wrapped his arms around his son and hugged him tightly. "Johnny, mi hijo," he whispered, tears springing up in his eyes. He blinked several times and pulled himself together a little before they separated. But his hands stayed on Johnny's biceps in a firm grip.

Scott looked at Murdoch and his heart went out to the man who was obviously struggling. He gave his father a sympathetic smile. His own heart was racing with the prospects.

"What are you doing here?" Johnny asked, still smiling.

"I am sorry I didn't let you know I was coming but it was a sudden decision," he said.

"That's alright, papa," Johnny said then frowned. "You came all this way alone?"

"No, Don Emilio accompanied me. He is staying in town."

Johnny grinned. "And how is Senora Alvarez?"

"She is well, I am sure," Don Alberto replied, giving him a wary look.

"Well, we must send for Don Emilio," Johnny said, giving his stepfather a sidelong look for the noncommittal answer.

Don Alberto's gaze strayed and Johnny followed it.

"Forgive me, papa. This is Scott, mi hermano," Johnny introduced.

Scott stepped forward and shook hands with the man. "A pleasure, Sir."

Don Alberto bowed his head once. "Senor."

"Johnny, why don't you get Don Alberto settled upstairs? I'll send someone to town for his friend," Murdoch suggested.

"Oh, perhaps tomorrow, Senor? Don Emilio was very tired. I think a restful night would be in order for him," Alberto said.

"Good. We can go get him tomorrow," Johnny said and wrapped an arm around his stepfather's shoulders.

"I'll let Maria know we have a guest," Scott said somberly as the two men made their way upstairs.

*

Johnny grabbed the bags from the rented surrey and ran upstairs to his papa's room. He'd put him right next door to his own.

"How are you, papa?" he asked as he set the luggage down.

"I am well, hijo. And you? I had not heard from you again. Your father said you were teaching Scott to shoot?"

"Si, things are better with him. He has stopped drinking and is doing well."

"That is good news. Now, let us sit and talk," he replied, sitting on the bed and patting the mattress next to him.

Johnny happily complied still reeling that his papa was here.

"I've missed you so much," he said and laid his head on the man's shoulder.

Alberto wrapped an arm around him and pulled him in as close as he could. He kissed the top of his son's head. "I have missed you as well, my son. Now, we will talk about your letter."

Johnny raised his head and looked into the man's eyes then stood and walked to the window. Don Alberto knew it for what it was.

"I believed the same thing you believed, Johnny. Your mother told me the same story."

Johnny's shoulders slumped with relief. "I didn't think you would keep something like that from me. I was sure of it except ....."

Alberto stood and walked up behind him laying a hand on his back. "Except?"

"You were so adamant that I come here and see Murdoch."

"Si, for you, Johnny. Whatever was between your parents, for your own sake you needed to face this man. Tell me, son, why do you believe him?"

Johnny sighed and turned to face him, anguish in his eyes. "I saw it in his eyes. The pain of what she did and the anger at her lie. He said she ran off with a gambler and I remember him a little. I was so young but I do remember. Still, she lied to me, papa. Why did she do that?"

Don Alberto's chest squeezed tight at the wounded voice. "I wish I knew, Johnny. I wish to the heavens I knew. When I read your letter, I did not want to believe it. But, it seemed you did and I trust your instincts."

"Gracias, papa," he smiled and hugged the man.

*

Don Alberto walked back over to the bed, his head bowed. His next question stuck in his throat. He wasn't sure he could force it out.

Johnny sat beside him, concern etched on his face as he watched the man struggle. He knew to wait until his papa was ready to speak.

Inhaling deeply, Don Alberto raised his head and plastered a smile on his face. "So, hijo, you are staying here, si?" He hoped it sounded cheerful.

Johnny's eyes grew sad as he looked into those of the man who raised him. The man who taught him to be a man and loved him without reservation. "I don't know," he whispered.

"After almost a month you do not know? Why?" he questioned.

Johnny shrugged. "So much has been happening. Scott has had much to deal with and I've been helping him settle here. Truthfully, I don't know what I want."

The older man nodded and sighed. "Do you want to have this familia, Johnny? Do you want to know your father and brother?"

"Si."

"You cannot do that if you do not stay."

Johnny closed his eyes briefly. "What about you? How can I leave you? It would break my heart. I love you so much," he said huskily.

Pride and love swelled in the don's heart and he smiled through his tears. "I will always love you, Johnny. I will always miss you. But, I will not stand in your way. It was never a given you would stay at home. You are a grown man now. Your life is your own to live. Any father would know this and step aside for what makes his child happy. As long as it is what you truly want, son."

"I was happy with you," Johnny said.

"You can be happy here, si?"

Johnny shrugged, his heart ripping in two. "What would you do?"

"I do not understand," Alberto frowned.

"If I leave, you'll be all alone."

He took Johnny by the shoulders and turned him to be face to face. "A man raises his children and prays he has done well by them. They make decisions for their own lives and do what is best for them. This is as it should be. You cannot live your life for me, Johnny. You cannot worry if I will be alone. I am not so pathetic, am I? I am not without friends."

Johnny's eyes gleamed. "One in particular? Are you going to marry her, papa?"

"That is not your concern, young man!"

Johnny laughed. "You always say that when I'm right." His demeanor changed as he became serious. "I hope you marry her. She is a wonderful woman and she makes you happy. She is in love with you, papa. Everyone sees that." With a sideways glance he added, "besides, I would not feel so bad knowing you aren't alone."

Don Alberto sighed heavily. "I have changed my mind. I do not miss you at all." He looked sternly at Johnny for half a second then burst out laughing and hugged his son.

*

Murdoch's hand froze in midair as he stopped himself from knocking on the door. He heard the laughter from both men and stepped back. The knot turned into a razor sharp stabbing pain and he clutched his gut then staggered down the hall, leaning against the wall.

He was being petty, he knew, but his son called another man papa. Loved another man in his stead and it ripped at his soul. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths as the pain subsided. Standing straight he drew his shoulders back and set his face in stone. He turned and went back to the door, giving it a sharp rap and announcing supper then walked away.

Don Alberto politely refused the offer to sit at the opposite end of the table from Murdoch, opting to sit next to Johnny instead. He was losing his son and for all his bravado, his heart was crushed. He wanted to be as close to Johnny as he could for as long as he could. He wondered how long Murdoch Lancer would allow him to visit. He knew nothing of the man but he had to believe he was an honest and fair person. Johnny would not have stayed otherwise. Of this he was certain.

Scott looked longingly at the wine bottle sitting near Murdoch. He licked his lips as it was passed to Johnny who poured for the don. Taking a deep breath, he drank his water instead. This was his first true test. The first time anything had threatened his new and tenuous life.

Idle chitchat was made during the meal. Johnny felt the tension between these two men he called father. He didn't know how to make it better for either of them. He felt so many things all at once. Pain, happiness, loss and a sense of being wanted by them both.

"I hope you'll be able to stay for a long visit, Don Alberto," Scott said politely.

Johnny looked over at him with a mixture of humor and aggravation.

"I am not sure at the moment, Senor. Perhaps your father will tire of me and send me on my way," he smiled.

Johnny laughed a little but when he looked at Murdoch the man was seething. He suddenly realized the implication and was horrified. He caught Murdoch's gaze and shook his head, hoping the man knew Don Alberto meant no slight.

Murdoch only took it as a plea to remain silent and he did, for now, for Johnny.

Scott ground his teeth but kept the smile on his face. "Please, call me Scott."

"Shall we retire to the living room?" Murdoch asked as he stood, not waiting for replies. He tossed his napkin down and stalked out of the room.

Don Alberto stood and Johnny closed his eyes and took a breath then joined them.

"Brandy, Senor?"

"Si, por favor."

Johnny walked over to help Murdoch and leaned in. "He didn't mean it like it sounded. He knows she lied," he whispered.

Murdoch stiffened then relaxed and nodded giving Johnny a tight smile.

*

"How is the weather in Mexico, Don Alberto?" Murdoch asked pleasantly.

"Dry. We need rain soon."

"Is it serious, papa?" Johnny asked with concern.

"No, no. Not yet. I saw some dark clouds as I was leaving. I'm sure it will be fine. You have a beautiful rancho," he replied.

"We like it," Scott answered.

No one spoke for a while and Johnny was at the end of his patience. Not one to skirt an issue, he decided it was time to just say it.

"I have decided to stay here. Papa and I have talked things over. If your offer still stands, of course," he directed to Murdoch.

Scott's mouth fell open then he smiled with relief.

Murdoch's mouth twitched a few times as he tried not to jump out of the chair and grab his son in a bear hug. "Of course it still stands, son," he settled for.

"Perhaps now, we can all relax," Don Alberto smiled.

Johnny laughed and nodded his head. "Oh, papa, there is something I would like to show you if you aren't too tired."

"I am not. Do you think me an old man, hijo?" he asked grumpily then winked.

Johnny grinned and stood, grabbing his hand and pulling him out of the chair. "Not at all, Senor. Perhaps a little, eh, long in the tooth?"

For this he received a slap in the gut as he led his papa outside.

*

Scott let out a huge breath and looked at Murdoch who had his head down.

"Sir, are you alright?"

Murdoch sniffed and cleared his throat. "Yes, I'm fine. Just ..... grateful."

Scott smiled and walked over, kneeling beside him. "To Johnny."

"Yes and to Don Alberto. It's not easy to let go like that. He's a remarkable man. I know Johnny couldn't have made this decision without his blessing."

"Yes, I suppose so. I wasn't sure I liked him and just because he could have so easily taken Johnny away," Scott said thoughtfully.

"I'm guilty of that, too, son. It's not easy seeing how much Johnny loves and respects him."

"No, it isn't. But, he's staying so maybe we can just let them be together. Even though that crack at the table ..."

"No, son," Murdoch interrupted. "Johnny told me he didn't mean anything. That he believed Maria lied to Johnny. It wasn't meant as a slight."

Scott nodded and smiled then grew pensive. "I wonder what Johnny is showing him?"

"I don't know but I'd like to tell you how grateful I am you're staying as well, Scott. How happy I am you're doing so well. I know it's still a struggle for you."

Scott bowed his head and felt a hand on his hair. "I still want a drink every day. I only hope I can get to a point where I can control it, not the other way around."

Murdoch stroked his soft hair, so much like his mother's. "It will, son. I'm sure of it. You're too strong to let it take you over again."

Scott looked up at him. "I have too much to lose. I'm grateful to you both for helping me with .... all of that."

"Just remember, you can always come to me or your brother. We'll both always be willing and ready to listen."

"I know that, Sir. It means so much to know I have support. I guess I really always had it though. It just took some tough hombres to get through to me."

Murdoch chuckled. "Hombres? The hands are rubbing off on you."  

Scott laughed as well. "I suppose they are."

*

Johnny leaned against the corral fence, folding his arms over on the top rail. He nodded toward the animal. "What do you think?"

Don Alberto took in the golden coat and white mane in the dusk and smiled with appreciation. "He is a fine animal, son. Un caballo magnifico!"

Johnny grinned with pleasure. "His name is Barranca. He's mine. I tamed him and he chose me."

Don Alberto looked at him with pride. "Ah, I see. And how close have you become?"

Barranca decided to answer that question and walked over, nuzzling his nose against Johnny's head. Don Alberto laughed aloud and Barranca nickered a little. Johnny stroked his neck and spoke softly to him.

The older man's face fell for a moment when Johnny turned to the horse. He painted a smile on his face when his son looked back at him.

"It is a fine rancho, Johnny. Your father seems to be a good man."

"He is. They both are."

Don Alberto raised a wary brow.

"Scott is doing much better, papa. He had a very difficult time in the war but we have talked and he hasn't had a drink in two weeks," he spoke sincerely.

Alberto nodded. "Bueno. I see strength in him. We will hope he can hold onto that."

"He will. I have faith in him," Johnny said with certainty.

"Well, I believe I will retire now, hijo. It has been a long trip."

Johnny nodded and gave Barranca one last pat on the neck before walking back inside.

After seeing to Don Alberto's comfort, Johnny went back to the great room, sure his father had some questions.

"Is he settled?" Murdoch asked.

"Si."

"This hasn't been an easy decision for you, I know. I am very happy you're staying, son."

"So am I," Scott imparted.

Johnny smiled at them and ambled around the room. "Thank you."

*

"Who is Don Emilio?" Scott asked.

Johnny's smile widened. "He is the father-in-law of Senora Isabella Alvarez. I think papa will marry her. She is a widow of five years."

"Really?" Scott asked with amusement.

"Si. Of course, he denies it and tells me it is not my concern," Johnny laughed.

"Are you sure then, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Oh, I'm sure. Whenever he reacts in that manner, I know I've gotten it right. He is in love as is she. Everyone can see it."

"And you're alright with it?" Scott asked.

"Why wouldn't I be? She's a very nice woman. Beautiful and kind and she has a wonderful sense of humor. If she were younger, papa would have me vying for her affections," Johnny grinned wickedly.

Murdoch chuckled and shook his head. "You aren't thinking of marriage are you, John?"

"No!" he responded quickly then blushed a little. "Not anytime soon," he added.

"Smart man," Scott winked and stood. "I think I'll turn in now. Goodnight."

"Buenos noches," Johnny said, suddenly feeling nervous. He was about to be alone with Murdoch and he didn't know how the man felt about Don Alberto.

"Goodnight, son. Sleep well."

Scott nodded, gave Johnny a quirky grin and left them to it.

*

Johnny continued to stroll around the room, picking up knickknacks and setting them back down. Murdoch watched with some humor and a sense of deja vu at the familiar mannerisms.

"I want you to be sure about this, Johnny. As much as I want you to stay, I also want you to be happy," he said suddenly.

Johnny looked at him. "That is very much what papa said to me earlier. He said a father knows when to step back and let their child live his own life. As long as I'm happy, he's happy."

"He's a wise man."

Johnny smiled affectionately. "Si, he is that. I know it must bother you that I call him that."

Murdoch frowned. "I won't deny it's uncomfortable for me but I certainly understand your feelings for the man. He raised you, Johnny. You should love and respect him and call him whatever you want."

Johnny nodded and walked over to sit in the chair beside his father's. "It's difficult to ..... I want to call you something other than your first name. It just feels awkward right now."

"I hope someday you'll feel comfortable enough to call me something else." Murdoch smiled a little. "Well, something appropriate, anyway."

Johnny laughed softly at that. "I know gringo children sometimes call their father 'pa'."

Murdoch grimaced. "You know we never did really talk about that business in town a few weeks ago. Scott said that man called you a half-breed."

Johnny dipped his eyes. "I'm glad you brought that up because we need to discuss the very real problems I will face here. So far, that has been the only incident. There will be more and it may happen with people you consider friends. I've seen it with papa."

"Anyone who thinks of you in that way is no friend of mine, son. I'd like to tell you it won't happen but I can't. I wish people weren't so intolerant, so full of hate, but life just isn't that easy."

"If it ever becomes a problem for you, I hope you'll tell me," Johnny said.

"A problem?"

"Si. If my being here becomes too difficult"

"Stop right there, young man. You are my son. My flesh and blood. Nothing could make me want you to leave. Nothing! Understand?" Murdoch had leaned over and grabbed Johnny's arm while he spoke, holding on tightly.

Johnny looked wide-eyed at him and nodded. Then, he grinned. "I believe I did hear you."

Murdoch scowled then relaxed and smiled back. "I love you, son. I always have. I hope someday you'll have the same feelings for me."

Johnny swallowed hard and lowered his eyes. He hadn't expected such an admission from this man and it overwhelmed him. He didn't know what to say. Did he love Murdoch Lancer? He didn't know and that saddened him. Certainly he felt affection for the man. Had seen who he was and what he stood for. He respected Murdoch but love? Maybe not yet. Maybe ......

Murdoch realized the position he'd put Johnny in but he needed to tell his son this truth. He cleared his throat and leaned forward.

"Well, it's been a long day. I think I'll turn in now," he said and rose.

"Murdoch? I have a great deal of affection and respect for you," Johnny said as he came to his feet as well.

Murdoch smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, son. That means the world to me. Goodnight."

*

He sat back down and sighed. Could he have been any more insensitive? Affection? Affection was what you felt for a dog. He shook his head and buried it in his hands. Fool!

"Are you alright?"

Johnny's head snapped up as he found his brother standing near the dining room.

"I thought you went to bed."

"I did but I needed some fresh water. I've been drinking so much of it I think I'll turn into a camel," Scott smiled.

Johnny didn't return the smile nor did he answer. He looked at his lap then picked at his hands.

"Did everything go okay with Murdoch?" Scott asked as he sat on the sofa.

"Mostly. I told him I had affection for him," Johnny snorted.

"That was a good thing, right?" Scott asked, confused as to why this upset Johnny.

"Affection? I couldn't have come up with something better than that? He told me he loves me and all I could say was I have affection for him?" Johnny vented.

Scott's eyes widened then dropped as a grimace appeared. "He said he loved you?" he asked quietly.

Johnny stared at him and felt like a fool - again. "Well, it seems I've done it again. I'm sorry, Scott. I know he loves you, as well. We were just having an intense conversation. I think he felt he needed to tell me, to reassure me."

Scott nodded and looked up smiling. "He's had a hard time with Don Alberto here. But, he understands your feelings for the man and he's grateful you had someone. He likes him, really. So do I."

"I'm very glad to hear that. It's just so hard to have to choose."

"It's a matter of distance more than anything. It isn't like you really 'chose' one over the other."

Johnny considered that. "I suppose so. I just don't want him to be alone."

Scott grinned. "Well, you'll have to push for that marriage then, won't you?"

Johnny's face lit up. "Si, I will have to pester him into it. Papa can be stubborn sometimes."

Scott cocked a brow and Johnny gave him a warning look.

"Well, I really am going to bed now."

"Goodnight, Scott."

"Goodnight ...... brother," Scott said softly and left the room.

Johnny smiled and leaned back in the chair. That was the first time Scott had actually called him that. It felt good and ..... right. As painful as it was to leave his papa, he knew he'd made the right decision. This was home and it felt warm.

*

Don Alberto and Don Emilio stayed for a week. Scott gained a great deal of knowledge about his brother in this time. Ammunition for future teasing. Don Alberto had many stories of Johnny's rather adventurous youth and Scott thought he hadn't laughed so much in his entire life.

It felt good to laugh and joke with Johnny. It felt natural and real. Everything was beginning to feel more real to him now. Two nights ago, he'd had a small snifter of Brandy and to his surprise and pleasure, he hadn't felt the driving need for more.

And Murdoch had been more relaxed. He'd been enjoying the visitors, Scott could tell. He imagined that was due to Johnny's decision. He'd spent quite a bit of time wondering what would happen if Johnny left.

Johnny, too, was more at ease. Scott noticed his speech had laxed in the past weeks, not as stiff and proper. More natural and he liked that. Another mark of his brother's acceptance of this place and this family. But, last night he'd been quiet and somber. Scott knew why and he vowed to be close by when Don Alberto left this morning. Johnny was going to take this hard.

Johnny stood with his head bowed in the yard as the luggage was loaded into the surrey. His fathers were immersed in a deep conversation near the corner of the house and he knew it was about him. He had to smile a little but it was fleeting. He had too much sadness in his heart to smile much.

Last night, after he'd gone to bed, he'd had a few weak moments and he'd allowed them. Now, he had to be strong. He didn't want his papa feeling guilty for leaving him. If he had his way, Don Alberto would move right in. But, he knew that was impossible.

He felt the two men approaching yet he made no move to look at them. Not yet. He closed his eyes and drew in his breath, summoning his courage to say goodbye.

Scott stood near the surrey, watching Johnny closely for any sign. So far, he was doing fairly well.

"Well, mi hijo, it is time to go," Don Alberto smiled as he laid a hand on Johnny's shoulder.

He let out a shuddering breath and raised his head, a smile fitted in place on his lips, his eyes a stark contrast. "Have a safe trip," he managed to push out and felt like kicking himself for failing to keep his own vow.

Don Alberto shook his shoulder. "This is right, Johnny. We both know that."

"That doesn't make it any easier, papa. I love you," he whispered.

The don cupped a hand on his cheek. "Te amo, hijo," he answered and walked to the surrey with Johnny. "And now, I must go but we will see each other again. And you *will* write to me often, si?"

Johnny smiled more genuinely. "Si, papa, I promise."

He stood and watched as they drove away feeling as if he were losing something very precious. He felt the hands on his shoulders from behind.

"This is how it will be, Johnny. One of us will always be there to catch you when you fall. That is a promise we've made to each other," Murdoch said.

Johnny leaned back against him and sighed. "That sounds like an excellent plan."

Scott walked over then. "And don't forget that I'll be here, too. Just in case you all stumble a bit."

Johnny laughed and gave him a light punch to the arm. "We'll all catch each other. That's what family does."

"Exactly. Now, if you're both up to it, I'd like to take a little ride into town. There's a document I would very much like to have your signatures on," Murdoch said as he moved one hand off Johnny's shoulder and placed it on Scott's.

The brothers exchanged a smile and both nodded in concert.

"Sounds like another excellent plan," Scott replied.

The End or the beginning.

winj

2006

Alternate Ending - picked up after supper

"How is the weather in Mexico, Don Alberto?" Murdoch asked pleasantly.

"Dry. We need rain soon."

"Is it serious, papa?" Johnny asked with concern.

"No, no. Not yet. I saw some dark clouds as I was leaving. I'm sure it will be fine. You have a beautiful rancho," he replied.

"We like it," Scott answered.

No one spoke for a while and Johnny was at the end of his patience. Not one to skirt an issue, he decided it was time to just say it.

"I've made a decision," Johnny said suddenly and all eyes turned to him.

He felt the need to stand for this so he did and paced to the fireplace.

"I have decided to decline your offer, Murdoch. I'm going home."

The air felt like it had been sucked out of the room. Murdoch couldn't seem to breathe or think. He stared at Johnny, his eyes betraying his pain.

"Why?" Scott demanded angrily.

Johnny looked at him, slightly surprised. "It is my home, Scott. My family, my friends, everything I know and love is there."

"This is your family, Johnny. Your real family."

"Scott! Leave Johnny alone. He's made his decision," Murdoch growled. His face and tone softened as he looked at his younger son. "I can't say I'm not terribly disappointed, son. Terribly disappointed. But, I understand."

"Thank you," Johnny mumbled, bowing his head.

"Are you sure, Johnny? You seemed to have made a different decision upstairs," Don Alberto asked as he stood and walked to his son.

Johnny's head came up and a soft if sad smile appeared. "Si, papa. I have given it a great deal of thought. My heart tells me this is what I should do."

Don Alberto smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder. "And your heart never lies to you."

"No, papa. Never," Johnny said, sharing some private thing that was between them only.

Scott stood and walked toward the dining area, his face grim. His eyes wandered to the sideboard and he stared at the bottles, his throat arid suddenly.

*

"Does it take so little, brother?" Johnny asked.

Scott turned to face him, seething. "So little? I don't see this as a little occurrence, Johnny. You're leaving. Forever," his voice broke with the last word.

Johnny walked quickly to him. "You have a new life here. A new start. Don't throw it away. We are still brothers. That will never change. We will stay in contact, I swear it."

"It isn't the same."

"No, it isn't but a few weeks ago we did not even know the other existed. Can you say we were better off then?"

"I wasn't," Scott admitted. He looked into Johnny's eyes and thought he might go mad. "I don't want you to leave."

Murdoch joined them. "Son, I don't want him to leave either but we have to respect Johnny's choice. Knowing he's happy and loved is a blessing."

Scott sighed and knew it was a lost cause. "I'm going to bed," he muttered and stomped out of the room.

"Please watch him carefully," Johnny requested sincerely.

"I will, son. I'll do whatever it takes to keep him sober," Murdoch vowed. "I ..... I only hope your decision isn't based on something I've said or done."

Johnny smiled affectionately at him. "No, you've been very good to me. I have to follow my heart, Murdoch. My heart tells me I belong in Mexico."

*

Scott scowled at the surrey as he leaned against the hitching post, arms folded across his chest. Johnny loaded the last of their luggage then looked over at the corral longingly. It was empty and he frowned but shook his head and faced them.

He walked over to Scott. "Well, hermano, this is it. Take care of yourself, por favor," he said and extended his hand.

Scott sighed and shook hands. "I'll try. I'm going to miss you, Johnny. Thank you for everything you've done to help me."

"Just remember how good you feel now, eh?" Johnny smiled.

"I don't feel very good right now."

"It will pass, Scott. We will keep in touch."

Scott nodded his head and took up his previous stance. Johnny turned to go to Murdoch and Scott leered at Don Alberto's back as the man climbed aboard the surrey.

He wasn't so sure he could do this now the moment was here. Johnny's head was lowered, fighting his emotions and willing them to heed his commands. It was a losing battle. He looked up slowly as the hand lay softly on his shoulder.

"I ......"

Murdoch smiled at him. "Knowing you're happy will give me great comfort, son. Please know if you ever change your mind, we'll be here waiting for you. This will always be your home, your land, too."

Johnny swallowed hard and nodded. "I'll come and visit."

"Yes, please do," Murdoch said, his voice betraying him. He cleared his throat and smiled again. "Will you do something for me?"

"Of course."

"Take him. He won't be fit for anyone else to use," Murdoch said as he nodded behind Johnny.

The young man turned to find Barranca saddled and ready for travel. His face lit in a smile of joy as he turned back to Murdoch and hugged him.

The rancher was more than surprised by the display but he reciprocated fiercely. He wasn't sure he'd be able to let go now. He wasn't sure he'd be standing on his feet in another second. Then, Johnny released him and he knew, just knew, he would go crazy with grief.

Johnny took a step back, a little embarrassed at his behavior. He grinned shyly. "Goodbye .... pa."

"Not goodbye, son. Hasta la vista."

Johnny nodded. "Si, hasta la vista." He turned and walked to Barranca, mounting in one quick move. He looked down at Scott who was watching him like a hawk.

"Take care of yourself, hermano," Johnny said softly.

"I will, hermano."

Johnny smiled and looked over at his papa, nodding. Don Alberto slapped the reins and Johnny kneed Barranca into a walk, keeping pace with the surrey.

Murdoch walked over to his remaining son and wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they watched Johnny go.

"We'll see him again," Murdoch said.

Scott shook his head. "No, Sir. No, we won't." He turned and walked inside.

 

 

~end~
2006

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