The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Intentions

 

 

 

Scott stared out the French doors for a while then stepped back and looked at the clock then returned to his post. It shouldn't take this long and he should have waited. Johnny shouldn't have gone to town. Scott should have been the one to do it. Why couldn't they have waited for him?

He verbalized his thoughts. "Why couldn't you wait for me?"  

Murdoch looked up from his paperwork and fought not to roll his eyes. "I've told you we didn't know you'd be back this soon. Should we have left the man stranded?"

Scott turned to look at him, seriously considering that as an option.

"Son, it was a surprise and the telegram only got here yesterday. We just thought *someone* should meet him at the stage."

"Yes, but Johnny?"

"Would you rather it have been me?"

Scott shuddered at that thought. "No, Sir. Too bad Teresa and Jelly aren't here."

"Funny, your brother said the same thing." Murdoch smiled a little. "I'm sure Johnny won't shoot him before they get back."

"I'm not," Scott muttered then turned back to the doors. His shoulders tensed and he swung the door open, quickly stepping out then stopping in his tracks.

Murdoch made to follow him and nearly ran into Scott. "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing is wrong with me. What's wrong with them?" Scott pointed at the two men in the surrey laughing their heads off.

Murdoch's brows rose as he gawked at the sight.

*****

Stepping into the yard, Scott approached the now halted surrey whose occupants had made no move and were still laughing like school boys.

"Grandfather?"

Harlan turned to him, fishing a handkerchief out and wiping away the tears streaming down his face. "Oh, Scotty, you are here!"

"When'd you get back, brother?" Johnny was wiping his own eyes with the back of his hand.

"A couple of hours ago."

"Well, good! I'm glad I didn't miss you, my boy. Help me with my luggage, won't you?"

Scott nodded numbly and started pulling the bags from the back. He was beginning to think he'd never get to the end. "Sir, are you moving in?"

Harlan laughed heartily and Johnny snickered. "Perhaps!" Slapping Scott on the back the old man turned to Johnny. "Take me inside and finish that story." As he passed by, Harlan gleefully hailed, "hello, Murdoch!"

Both older Lancers turned slowly to watch the two of them walk inside, their own mouths hanging open.

"What the devil?"

Scott cocked a brow. "I hope not. Well, are you going to help me? It looks like he packed up the entire house!"

Murdoch looked at the multitude of bags then at the trunk still in the back and shook his head. "Get some of the hands, son. We need to find out what they've been drinking."

Immediately, Scott waved two men over and gave them quick directions then walked inside with his father. Howling laughter was heard as they opened the front door and stepped warily into the living room.

Harlan was doubled over, holding his sides as Johnny leaned against the wall beside the fireplace trying to stay upright.

"What is the meaning of all this?" Murdoch's voice boomed over the room effectively cutting the two men into silence.

"Good grief, man! What are you going on about?"

"Harlan, what is happening here? You don't even like Johnny yet you're standing here laughing your heads off!"

Johnny dropped his head and crossed his arms over his stomach.

"That's a terrible thing to say, Murdoch. I never said I didn't like Johnny. Oh, alright, I'll admit I didn't give the young man the time of day when I was here last year. I was rather preoccupied."

Johnny snorted at this. "I'll say."

Harlan shot him a look. "Nevertheless, that doesn't mean I didn't like him."

"Grandfather, why are you here?" Scott enunciated each word clearly and with some frustration.

"Why, to see you, Scotty. I have some business in Sacramento in a few weeks but it was a golden opportunity. Now, don't worry. I have no nefarious schemes planned. Johnny has already threatened my most valuable physical attributes if I so much as blink the wrong way."

This set Johnny off again but he cut short after a scathing look from his brother. "Just watchin your back, Boston."

"I don't understand any of this." Murdoch ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Scott, get your grandfather settled in."

"Yes, Sir." Scott continued frowning as Harlan started toward the stairs.

"Oh, Johnny. More later?"

"Sure thing, Mr. Garrett. I got tons of 'em."

"I'll bet you do." Harlan grinned.

*****

"What the devil is going on?"

"I was just telling him some stories, Murdoch. Once we reached an understanding, that is." Johnny couldn't keep the grin from his face. "He made a remark that reminded me of something that happened once and I told him about it. Before I knew it, I was tellin him all kinds of stories. Had him rollin, too."

Murdoch was not amused, he was a little hurt and that shocked him. "Stories about what? Your past?"

"No, no. Not like that. I mean, just funny things that have happened. Some of them right here on the ranch. He's got a good sense of humor. Shocked the hell out of me."

"I can imagine. I can't ever remember Harlan laughing about anything, much less so enthusiastically."

Johnny eyed his father then ambled toward him. "He said he was just takin the chance to come see Scott. I believe him."

"I hope that's all it is, son."

*****

"Well?"

"Well, what, Scotty? Oh, you mean Johnny. Well, I must confess, I was surprised. He's a very funny young man. Oh, I saw it just a little the last time I was here but I didn't realize how amusing he is. He has a way of telling a story."

Scott gave him a sidelong look as he hefted a bag onto the bed. "Grandfather, I hope you're not going to try and talk me into going back to Boston."

"I will ask, Scotty, but that is all."

"My answer will be the same."

"Very well, son." Harlan went about unpacking and Scott watched him, unconvinced.

"Well," he sighed as he walked to the door. "I'll leave you to settle. Supper is at six o'clock."

"I remember. I shan't be late." Harlan glanced up and smiled at him before going back to his chore.

*****

"Alright, Johnny, what did you threaten him with?"

He looked up as his brother stormed into the room then cocked a brow. "Told him I'd shoot off his cajones if he tried anything. Then, I had ta tell him what that was." A grin slid on his face and he heard his father's muffled chuckle.

Scott's eyes widened. "You ... you did not ..."

"I did, Scott. After that, everything was fine. I don't think he was gonna try anything anyway but, I couldn't say nothin."

"Yes, you could have. Let me handle my grandfather."

Johnny shrugged and picked up the paper. Scott watched him, completely thrown by the events. He looked at his father who was as baffled as he, judging by the look on the man's face.

"Reckon this is what the old man's goin to Sacramento for. The railroad's makin some big plans."

"Probably. He likes to have his hand in several different pots. Why don't you ask him since you two are best friends now?"

Johnny returned his brother's smirk and went back to his reading.

Murdoch looked at his older son then to his younger and considered his thoughts for a long moment. Well, they'd come too far to keep anything from each other now, he surmised. "Johnny, are you really being nice to him or just trying to get him relaxed?"

Deep blue eyes looked over the paper, the rest of his face hidden as he regarded his father. "Getting him to relax for what?"

"In case he is up to something, he might slip up."

"Ohhhh. Nope." With that, he dropped his eyes back to the print. He heard a growl and smiled a little then realized it wasn't his father's. Sighing, Johnny laid the paper down and watched his brother walk about the room slowly.

"Is it so hard to believe we had a pleasant ride home?"

"Yes, it is. You don't like him. Why would you joke around with him?"

Johnny stood and faced his brother who'd come to a halt near Murdoch's desk. "Because I believe in second chances, Scott. The man made a real effort when I picked him up in town so I did the same. Do you want me to be rude to him?"

"Of course not! I just ... I don't know if I can trust him." Scott lowered his eyes, unwilling to share this pain any more than he already had.

"Then don't trust him. Does that mean I can't be friendly with him?"

Scott's eyes came up again and he looked hard at his brother. "I'd prefer if you two didn't become buddies."

"Why?"

"Because I don't want you hurt, Johnny."

"He can't hurt me, Scott. Unless he hurts you then it wouldn't make any difference how nice we'd been to each other." Johnny stepped closer to them both. "Look, maybe he has changed or maybe he's realized you're not going anywhere. It could be he just wants to see you when he can. He probably knows, if you ever did go back for a visit, it's gonna be a long time. So, why not give him the benefit of the doubt? Seems to me, you do that with most strangers."

Scott thought about his brother's words for a long while before relaxing his shoulders with a shrug. "You're right. I shouldn't look for trouble without some evidence. But, the minute he tries to pull anything..."

"He's all yours," Johnny interrupted with a grin.

Scott smiled at him. "Well, I'm going to freshen up before supper."

*****

Murdoch waited until Scott had left the room. "Do you really believe all that or was it for your brother's benefit?"

"Boy, Murdoch, I thought I was the cynical one."

"When it comes to Harlan Garrett, I wouldn't trust an angel to tell me that man isn't up to no good."

Johnny looked at the desk top, rubbing a finger across the surface, his face squinched in a frown. "I don't know anything for sure. I'm just saying he was real nice to me. I could tell he was trying. I guess I'm really hoping he's sincere for Scott's sake." He looked up at his father and cocked his head to the side. "Aren't you?"

Murdoch didn't answer right away. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap. "Things would have been a lot different if he could have given Catherine and me his blessing from the start. But, he didn't do that and we've been at war ever since. I have a hard time believing that man could ever change his tune."

"And he lied to you last time he was here. Started lyin from the word go. I understand but I'd like to give him this chance."

"Why, son? I mean, is there more to this than Scott?"

"Like what?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

"Well, there's not. I just think he learned a lesson, is all."

Murdoch sat forward, clasping his hands on top the desk. "I never told you this and I wasn't going to but he said something the last time he was here that may change your mind."

Johnny sat down across from his father.

"He called you a name, son. Half-breed."

Johnny smiled a little and shrugged. "He's not the first. He made a remark when me and Scott picked him up about my mother being a foreigner."

"Then, why would you give him the time of day?"

Johnny sighed and sat back in the chair. "Because, he's Scott's family which makes him sort of my family and I try to give my family a break."

Murdoch shook his head with some awe. "You have a remarkable ability to forgive, son. Sometimes, too much so."

He was tired of this conversation. He couldn't really explain why he was cutting the old man any slack because he wasn't sure himself completely. "Maybe I just know how easy it is to mess up. Anyways, I'm gonna go clean up, too."

*****

Harlan arrived for supper at precisely six o'clock and took the seat his former son-in-law indicated at the opposite end of the table from himself. There was thick tension in the room and his eyes roved over the Lancers. He didn't have to by a mind reader to know they'd had some conversations about him since his arrival.

"I suppose there's some distrust issues going about here. That makes it nearly impossible for any of you to take me at my word. I can't blame you so I'll just have to prove myself with time and effort."

"Trust has to be earned." Murdoch's voice was flat as he stared at the man.

"And broken trust must be regained with perseverance and hard work."

Johnny smiled at the rejoinder though his head was down and no one saw.

"That's very true," Scott said.

"Perhaps, we could at least relax a modicum with each other. I can't regain your trust if you're unwilling to give me the opportunity."

Murdoch dropped his eyes to the wine bottle, picked it up and poured then handed it off to Scott. Johnny glanced toward Garrett who was watching his grandson closely. Johnny watched, too, as Scott poured the wine with fierce concentration.

"I think it's prudent to give things some time before making any decisions about opportunities," Scott said as he passed the bottle to his grandfather and locked eyes with the man.

Johnny sat back in his chair, a little annoyed with his brother. Scott had seemed more understanding last year when Garrett left than he was now. Maybe time had hardened him against the old man. Time to really think about what Garrett had done and almost done to him. It was the opposite for Johnny. He'd thought about it, too, but was more inclined to try and see the old man's fear rather than his hatred. He reckoned Harlan had been afraid since the day Scott left Boston.

"Very well, Scotty. As you wish." The disappointment was clear in the man's voice. He passed the bottle to Johnny who sat it down. "No wine, Johnny?"

"Not tonight." He smiled weakly.

The meal passed in near total silence. Everyone stared at their plates looking up only to retrieve a bowl or some bread or pour more wine. Murdoch seemed to be drinking the major portion and, at one point when he refilled his glass, Scott and Johnny caught each others concerned gaze.

Maria entered the room and sat a pie plate next to Murdoch. Knife in hand, she waited to see if he wanted a piece. No one seemed to want dessert so she set the knife down with a flourish and stalked off to her kitchen.

"You better eat some of that later." Johnny grinned at his father who only scowled in answer. Johnny swallowed back his irritation and tossed his napkin atop his plate. "Think I'll get some air. Excuse me."

*****

Twenty minutes later, Harlan approached Johnny by the corral. He said nothing but leaned against the fence and looked in the direction where Johnny was staring. After a minute or so, he spoke.

"What do you see?"

Johnny smiled, his arms crossed on the top rail. He turned his head and laid his cheek on his arms as he looked at the man. "Most beautiful place on earth."

Harlan shook his head. "I don't understand how that can be. You haven't seen the whole earth, Johnny. How can you know this is the most beautiful?"

He straightened up then leaned his right side against the fence as he regarded the man. "When you're standing on land that you love enough to die for, it's easy to say. Thing is, I don't have to see the whole world, Mr. Garrett. I've got everything I want right here."

"When did you know for sure?"

Johnny frowned as he thought about that. "I'm not sure, really. Just seemed to happen. It wasn't when I first got here, for sure." He stopped and laughed. "I didn't know what to make of that cityslicker of yours. And, then, well, Murdoch was a whole other rooster."

Harlan cocked a brow. "I'm sure he was."

Johnny gave him a smirk. "Did Scott tell you about that?"

"Not much. Just that you didn't know everything that happened until after you got here. He did tell me how you met on the stage."

He grinned again and his eyes danced. "Yeah, I fell right on top of him. Bet he was wishing he could just get out of that stage and into a bath."

"He didn't say that. He only spoke of how crowded and hot it was which I can relate to."

Johnny nodded and lowered his head for a moment, thinking hard. Then, he looked back up. "My mother told me the old man threw us to the curb when I was a baby. Said he didn't want us around anymore. That's what I believed all my life and I hated him. I wanted to kill him until I met him face to face."

Harlan's eyes had widened at the statements. He found his decorum. "What changed?"

Shaking his head, Johnny answered, "I'm not sure, really. When I saw him, I just ..." he stopped and turned to lean his back on the fence, facing the house. "When I saw this place, I was ticked off. I mean, from up there on the ridge. Well, you've seen the view. I just thought how nice it must've been for him living like a king all these years. I never thought of what he had to do to get here. Still, I didn't know the truth then. When I walked in that room I was madder than a wet hen. Then, I looked in his eyes and ... I don't know what the hell happened."

Harlan smiled sympathetically a little as he watched the young man's face. "You laid eyes on your father for the first time you could remember. That had to be overwhelming."

"It sure was." Johnny fairly breathed the words out. "But, there was no time to really talk at first. Everything happened so fast. I got shot in the back."

"Scotty told me."

He looked over and nodded. "Just seemed like there was never any time and it wouldn't have mattered if there was. Murdoch had no intentions of talking about the past. If it hadn't been for Teresa, I'm not sure that old man would still be breathing. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have stuck around."

Johnny turned to fully face the man again. "See, that's been the whole problem all along. You two are so bent on keepin your mouths shut, so afraid you might look bad or something that you don't ever think about me and Scott. And we're just as bad because we let it go. It's different for me, though. Murdoch can't tell me what I want to know. No one can now. But, I do know he tried to find me and that helps. Scott's different. He still doesn't really know what happened."

Harlan was dumbfounded and he could only gawk at Johnny, swallowing dryly.

"You okay?" Johnny saw the dismay on his face and had no idea what caused it. He reached out and held the man's arm, worried he might fall out right there.

Harlan blinked and ran a hand over his face as he tried to breathe slowly. "I always assumed when I left last year ... I thought Murdoch had told Scotty everything. I thought that was part of the reason he's been so distant with me."

*****

Johnny let go of his arm and sighed. "Well, he didn't and Scott didn't push it. I don't know why really. Maybe because he was so disappointed in you. I'm sure he figured out that you threatened the old man somehow then, too. Maybe he doesn't really want to know the details. It's enough to know you kept him from his father."

Harlan nodded, reasoning Johnny was exactly right.

"Might be Scott's just waiting for you to say you're sorry about that."

"But, I'm not, Johnny. I know it was wrong to keep a son from his father but I can't be sorry for raising Scotty. I can't be sorry for having him in my life."

"Maybe, if you said that to him, it would help some."

"Perhaps. What puzzles me is you, young man. That you're being so open with me about your life. Why are you being so nice to me?"

Johnny laughed softly and turned, leaning against the fence once more and crossing his arms over the rail. "I've been explaining that one all day but no one seems real satisfied with my answers. I guess I wasn't sure either but I think I figured it out."

Joining him, Harlan said, "I'd really like to know."

"Like I told Scott, I believe in second chances. I wouldn't be here without one. But, I think you were plain scared of losing Scott. He was the only thing left of your daughter. I think you've been afraid for a long time and fear can drive a man to a lot of things he wouldn't ordinarily do. Now, takin Scott to Boston in the first place, that was anger and grief and you blamin Murdoch for the whole thing. Same reason you kept him. You hate my old man."

Harlan said nothing for a minute or so. "Hate is a strong word but it's true. I did hate Murdoch for years. It's easier to hate from a distance, though. I don't like to admit this but, your father is an honorable man, Johnny. He kept the bargain we made when I was here before even though I broke it immediately."

"Murdoch always keeps his word. I found out that much about him pretty quick."

"You seem to be able to read people well. I suppose you had me pegged fairly quickly."

He smiled a little. "I didn't trust you but then, we all knew why you were here. Just didn't know what you had in mind. And, yeah, I can read people pretty well. Had to learn to do that pretty early on."

"Life hasn't been kind to you, has it?"

Johnny shrugged. "Not until lately but, a lot of people have it rough."

"Yes, and it makes them bitter for the most part. I don't know why you aren't."

Johnny turned to look at him. "Sometimes, I have been bitter. Real bitter. But, I found out pretty fast that doesn't get you anywhere. Doesn't fill an empty belly or keep the rain and cold off. I had a harder time gettin used to this place. All this ... finery, I guess you'd call it. I reckon it's not as fine as you're used to but, to me, this is over the top."

Harlan smiled. "For the wilderness, it is a fine home. Very comfortable, in fact."

"Should have seen me the first few weeks, steppin light, tryin not to break anything. Teresa finally told me there's nothing here that can't be replaced. Guess that helped some." He looked over when the older man fell quiet. His head was down a little and Johnny could see he was frowning. He waited to see what the man would say if anything but he didn't speak and looked back out over the valley.

*****

"Where did he go?" Scott asked as he looked around the room.

"He went outside while you were upstairs," Murdoch answered from his chair by the fire.

"Johnny's outside."

Murdoch looked up then. "So? Scott, you're brother is quite capable of handling an old man."

"I'm not so sure he can handle Grandfather, Murdoch. Johnny isn't used to this type of ..."

"Of what?"

"Duplicity."

"You really are angry with him. I don't understand, Scott. You didn't seem so upset when he left last time. In fact, you were very courteous and drove him to town yourself."

"I've had time to think things through now." He walked over and sat near his father. "We've never discussed it but after what he tried to pull here last year, it got me thinking. I can imagine whatever he used to keep me from you was equally diabolical."

Murdoch raised a brow at that word. "He did threaten court action and pointed out that I stood less than no chance. He said it would ruin me financially and he was right. Then, I would have had no home to bring you to. No way to support you for a while, at least. In the court's eyes, that would have been enough compared to what he could give you."

Scott just looked at him apathetically. "Why couldn't you tell me all this before?"

"I made an agreement with Harlan not to try and sway you."

"He didn't keep his end of that bargain, Sir."

"I gave my word."

"And afterwards?"

Murdoch lowered his eyes. "There didn't seem to be any point. You didn't ask again and I ... I suppose I didn't want you to think I'd let him bully me."

Scott smiled a little and shook his head then he laughed. "I suppose I can understand you not wanting to look bad in my eyes but, that wouldn't have been the case. It doesn't matter anymore."

Murdoch took in the tired sigh and slightly glazed eyes. "You had a long trip today, son. Why don't you get some rest?"

Scott stood up and looked toward the front door. "I want to check on Johnny first."

"It looked like Harlan was heading to the garden."

Scott nodded and left the room to Murdoch's worried frown following him.

*****

The garden was empty so Scott made his way around the house, past some outbuildings as he made a wide circle, searching for his brother. It was hard to tell where Johnny might end up at any given moment. He spied them at the corral as he rounded the barn and sucked in a breath. As he approached, he heard Harlan.

//"But, I'm not, Johnny. I know it was wrong to keep a son from his father but I can't be sorry for raising Scotty. I can't be sorry for having him in my life."//

Scott stopped and stepped behind a tree, listening shamelessly to their conversation. He was appalled at his brother's forthright words, sharing anything so personal with his grandfather. He was also fascinated by his grandfather's replies and questions but, moreso, the tone of his voice. There was no sarcasm, no arrogance just seemingly sincere curiosity.

He wanted to believe that his grandfather truly was interested in his brother but Scott could not equate that with the man he now knew was capable of so much deceit.  

He listened to his brother's theory on his grandfather's motives and was surprised to find them making sense to him. Still, Scott couldn't quite allow himself to believe Harlan Garrett had seen the light. It was his grandfather's admission of hating their father that floored him. More than that, hearing him say he didn't anymore. What game was he playing? Why drag Johnny into it?

Of course! Befriending Johnny to get to him. Admitting his misdeeds instead of trying to justify them would show Johnny he was being honest. And Johnny would in turn become his supporter. Then, he could swoop in for the kill. Convincing Johnny that Scott would be better off in Boston.

It was nonsense for Johnny would never get sucked into such a scheme but, if Harlan thought he could pull it off, he'd give it his best. He'd heard enough and stepped forward to make his presence known.

*****

"Good evening, gentlemen. What has you both so captivated?"

Johnny turned to face him and cocked a brow at the way too polite tone but he only shrugged. "Just talking."

"Oh?" Scott smiled but it wasn't pleasant. "What has Grandfather been filling your head with now?"

"Scotty, please. There's no need for rudeness."

Johnny's eyes narrowed at the attitude. "No, there sure ain't."

"Well, have you won him over already, Grandfather?"

Harlan pulled at his jacket and straightened his posture. "It seems you aren't fond of my company tonight, Scotty. I will turn in and tomorrow we will have a serious discussion about what's happened to your manners." He walked off without waiting for a reply.

Scott smirked as he passed then turned back to his brother.

"I don't think I'm too fond of *your* company tonight, Scott."

"He's playing you, Johnny. Surely you can see that."

"Maybe he is and maybe he's not but that's my problem. If you don't want to have anything to do with him, that's your business and I reckon it'll drive him on his way. If that's what you want, okay but don't talk to me like that again. I'm not a kid and you can't tell me who I can talk to and who I can't."

Scott's face hardened. "He's using you to get to me."

Johnny sighed and dropped his head for a second. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm goin to bed." He started to walk past then stopped as he came abreast of Scott. Looking straight ahead, he added. "If he is using me then you're playin right into his hands."

Scott stayed where he was for a long time, thinking of what his brother had said and his own behavior. He was angry with Johnny for being so friendly with Harlan while he couldn't seem to stand being in the same room with his grandfather for very long. He inhaled deeply and walked over to the corral fence. Laying his hands atop the rail, he could still feel the warmth of his brother's presence there.

Can I forgive him? Do I even want to? Scott stood there for half an hour and never came up with the answer.

*****

Scott wasn't surprised his grandfather wasn't at the breakfast table. He imagined the man would be hours yet arising. He took his seat and glanced at his father. "Where's Johnny?"

"He's in the barn with Buster. He's pulled a muscle or something."

"Did he eat already?"

"Of course not! Es caballo muy importante. More than his belly!" Maria stated as she set a plate on the table disagreeably.

Scott leaned in to his father. "She must really be angry if she's speaking both languages."

Murdoch's lips turned up in a semblance of a smile as he looked at his son. At least, Scott seemed in a better mood even if Johnny didn't.

"Did you have words with your brother last night? He wasn't very happy this morning."

Scott sipped his coffee before answering. "I'm afraid so. I owe him an apology for my behavior."

Murdoch nodded even as Johnny walked in the back door to a flurry of Spanish directed at him. He rolled his eyes and sat down, unwilling to go ten rounds with Maria. He only mumbled, 'si', a few times and hoped it placated her. Once she stopped, he addressed his father.

"The next time she makes a pie, someone better eat some of it."

"How's Buster?"

"He's lame but I think he'll be alright. I put a poultice on it and I'll take him down to the river later. Wish Jelly was here."

"He'll be back in a few days."

Johnny nodded and started eating his breakfast. He had yet to look in his brother's direction and had no intentions of doing so. Scott waited patiently until he was finished, unwilling to ruin his brother's appetite. When Johnny emptied his cup and pushed his plate back, Scott spoke.

"Johnny, I'm sorry about last night. I shouldn't have spoken to you like that and it won't happen again."

He looked across the table and into his brother's eyes then nodded. "Okay."

Murdoch just shook his head. It didn't take much for them to forgive each other. "Well, boys, I have to go to the bank this morning and then see Fred."

"I have that surveying to finish," Scott reported.

"I thought I'd go fishin." Johnny laughed when they both looked at him. "After I finish that creek bed and take a look at the fencing on the north range and check the alfalfa fields."

Murdoch smiled. "Maybe, you could fit in checking the barn roof? It's been a long time."

Johnny pulled a face.

"I'll do it. The surveying won't take long. I'll check the water holes on the east range first."

"Alright, boys. Have a good day."

*****

Johnny was pleased the creek bed went so quickly and he headed out to the north range more than surprised he found only a few problem areas which he quickly repaired. He headed over to the alfalfa fields just after noon and smiled at the healthy crop. It wouldn't be long before they could harvest it for feed and he glanced at the clear blue sky.

"Reckon this is my good day for the week." He laughed as he patted Barranca's neck then headed for home. He guessed he'd have to check the barn roof after all then he remembered Buster.

He headed for the barn as soon as he got in and checked the horse's front left foreleg. The swelling was better but not gone so he removed the poultice and slipped a halter on before leading the animal outside.

"Good morning, Johnny."

He looked up to see Garrett heading toward him and he smiled. "Afternoon," he called back and laughed at the look he got.

"Well, yes, I suppose I was more tired than I realized. And, I suppose you've already put in a full day."

"Not really. So far, it's been a good day. Very few problems except for this fella."

Harlan looked at the chestnut. "What's wrong with him?"

"He's got a swollen leg. I was just taking him to the river to soak it."

"You aren't going to ride him, I hope."

Johnny gave him a look that told how silly that was and shook his head. "We're walkin. It's not too far if you wanna come along."

"I'd like to stretch my legs. Thank you."

As they strolled, taking their time, Harlan kept looking over at him. "I'm surprised you're even talking to me today. I would have thought Scotty warned you off."

Johnny's face was hard as he looked straight ahead. "He tried."

"I don't want to be a bone of contention between the two of you."

"Don't worry about it. He apologized this morning."

"I'm rather disappointed in him. I can understand his anger toward me but not his behavior. I taught him better than that."

Johnny's face relaxed into a smile. "Well, maybe that's my fault. Maybe, I've corrupted him."

"Maybe you have." Harlan said then smiled when Johnny looked at him.

"You're kind of funny, old man. I mean, Mr. Garrett."

Harlan grimaced at the term, glad Johnny had corrected himself. Somehow, it didn't come off as an insult, though. Still, he wasn't about to encourage such a thing. "Thank you."

*****

They said no more and arrived at the river's edge. Johnny tied off the reins to a low limb then removed his boots and socks. Taking up the lead rein, he guided the horse into the water.

"Whooee! That's cold, Buster. Bet it feels good on that leg though, huh, boy?" Johnny smiled as he stopped the horse midstream. The water here was high enough to submerge the swollen part of the leg but he was sure his own feet would be blue soon. Glad the day was warm enough, he glanced to the bank and his mouth fell open.

Harlan contemplated for a few seconds then decided, even if anyone found out, they'd never believe it. He dropped to the ground and pulled off his shoes and socks then rolled his pant legs up. Feeling more youthful than he had in years, he gingerly dipped a toe in the water and thought Johnny must have been exaggerating. It felt fine to him so, he stepped right in. He walked about ten feet before he felt the colder water where the sun couldn't reach. He looked up and saw Johnny smiling widely so, with a shrug, he headed over.

Johnny watched him make his way slowly for a bit then reached down to rub the horse's leg, cupping water in his hand and pouring over the exposed horseflesh. "How's that feel, Buster?"

"If he answers you, I may drown trying to get away."

Johnny laughed and looked up at him before continuing his ministrations. "Me too. You're full of surprises."

"No one will believe you if you tell on me so I thought it a safe bet. I haven't done this since I was a lad."

"No, they wouldn't believe me and I can't picture you as a kid."

Harlan chuckled a little. "I'm sure."

Johnny stood up straight, flicking the excess water from his hand before wiping it down his leg. He took in the sight before him fully. Harlan Garrett dressed in a suit, tie, the whole works plus hat, standing in the middle of the river barefoot with his pant legs rolled up. He started laughing. "Wish I had one of those photograph takers around here."

Harlan smiled tightly then looked at Buster who was drinking his fill. He ran a hand down the horses withers. "That's a beautiful animal."

"He's gonna breed real well. He'll be ready soon. I'd wager he'll make some pretty babies."

"You have a great fondness for horses so Scotty has said. He's written to me about your prowess."

Johnny ducked his head then went back to Buster's leg. "I do alright."

"Boy, look at me!"

Johnny's head snapped up as he rose to stand straight, his eyes hard and ungiving. "Excuse me?"

He ignored the icy tone. "Why can't you simply take a compliment without acting as if someone has just embarrassed you to death?"

"I did."

"No, you bowed your head and shrugged it off. The simple response is 'thank you'. There's no need to get flustered, Johnny. Unless, you don't think the compliment was deserved."

Teeth clenched, Johnny hissed at him. "I don't need some eastern dandy tellin me how to act, old man."

Unswayed, Harlan trudged forth. "Obviously, you do. It is impolite to address your elders as "old man" and I don't appreciate it. Murdoch may abide it but I won't."

A slow smile came to Johnny's face as he drawled. "Well, if you're my elder then you *are* an old man."

Harlan's mouth twitched and it was evident he was biting his cheek. "Be that as it may, one does not like to be reminded."

To his surprise, Johnny started laughing softly and shook his head. "You sure are a rattler, old ... Mr. Garrett." He even gave the man a slight bow. "How would it look if such an elder gentleman were seen standing here arguing with me in the middle of a river?"

Garrett blushed slightly. "It would not be dignified. Fortunately for me, there's no one about."

Johnny's smile grew wider. "Think again." His eyes went past Garrett.

*****

Harlan didn't know if he was teasing but he prayed so. Slowly, he turned to see his prayer gone unanswered as Scott sat the saddle staring at them both with a dumbfounded look on his face. Clearing his throat and trying to don an air of dignity, Harlan Garrett trudged out of the water. His last step proved his undoing as he slipped in the mud and fell face first onto the grassy bank.

Johnny pulled at Buster's reins as Scott dismounted to get to him.

"Grandfather! Are you alright?" Scott knelt beside the man, hands on his shoulders as Harlan got to his knees.

Johnny tied Buster off and joined his brother, kneeling on the other side. "Can you stand?"

"Of course I can stand! I'm alright, just winded." He struggled to get to his feet, Scott's firm grip guiding him erect. Shrugging his shoulders and running a hand through his hair, Harlan straightened his jacket then looked down at his bare feet. Appalled, he looked at Scott whose face showed only grim worry then he looked at Johnny whose face mirrored his brother's. Harlan began to chuckle then a full belly laugh erupted as he sat down properly in the grass.

"Has he been drinking?" Scott asked.

Johnny laughed and shook his head then sat beside the man, handing him his socks and shoes. Scott knelt in front of Harlan and waited for the fit to be over. It finally subsided and Scott started.

"What in the world were you doing out there, Sir?"

"I was wading, Scotty."

"Wading? Why?"

Harlan looked up at him with a twinkle in his eye. "Because it's fun, my boy. You should try it sometime."

"I've done it before." Scott's voice was flat and unimpressed.

"I'll bet not for a long time."

Sighing his exasperation at the whole situation, Scott pushed his hat back on his head. "I don't remember but you shouldn't be doing such foolish things at your age."

Johnny raised both brows at that and looked away.   

"This is precisely the age I should be doing foolish things, young man. I've spent my whole life working hard. Now should be the time to reap the benefits." Harlan took on a reflective expression. "Yes, this is exactly the time." He said no more and began donning his footwear with some difficulty over his wet feet.

"I have an extra shirt in my saddlebag. Why don't you dry off first?"

"Thank you, Scotty."

"Thank you, Johnny," he said when Scott walked away.

"For what?"

"For letting me have fun and not calling me foolish."

"He didn't mean anything. You scared him, is all. Scott gets mad when he's scared. Didn't do much for me, either, by the way."

Harlan chuckled at this as Scott returned with a clean shirt.

*

As they walked back to the house, Scott kept watching his grandfather. "You may be bruised by nightfall."

"I'm sure I'll survive it."

"You shouldn't have been out there. I don't know what either of you were thinking."

Johnny couldn't stay quiet to that. "Don't know what he was thinkin but I was bathing this horse's leg. Ain't used to tellin a grown man what he can and can't do. That'd be Murdoch's job."

Scott smirked at him.

"He's right. I was standing on the shore and decided it might be refreshing to dip my toes. I haven't done such a thing in years and, since I thought no one else was around, I saw no harm. Now, am I to be sent to my room without supper?"

Johnny snorted and Scott rolled his eyes.

"Certainly not, Sir."

"Then perhaps we could all three forget the entire incident."

"You mean, don't tell Murdoch."

"That is precisely what I mean, Johnny."

"I don't know if I can promise that. It's too funny to keep to myself."

"Johnny, it was not funny. He could have hurt himself."

Scott's voice grated his nerves. He felt like he'd just been reprimanded. He sighed heavily and wondered when his brother would ever loosen up and take things as they came. He worries too damned much about what could happen. He didn't say anything, figuring any comment he made would be sliced in half so, he walked Buster to the corral and let him loose.

"How does he look?" Harlan asked as he came alongside.

"Better. He just needs to work out the kinks now."

"Well, I'm sure it won't impede his ability to stand stud."

Johnny grinned as he lowered his chin onto his crossed arms. "Nah, take a lot more than that."

"You should lie down a while, Grandfather."

Harlan sighed as he turned to face his grandson. "I appreciate the concern, son, but I'm really fine now. The walk back worked out all the kinks." He did feel a deep warmth for Scott's worry. It was the first time he'd shown any consideration. Maybe he's easing up on me a little, he thought.

Johnny grinned at the words but stayed where he was and watched Buster prancing about.

"Well, if you're sure. I need to check the barn roof." Scott started to turn then stopped as he looked at his brother's back. "Why are you back so early anyway?"

Johnny turned then and relayed his very good morning to his brother who smiled unkindly. "Then, you can help me check the roof."

Considering the generous offer, Johnny twisted his mouth to the side for a second. "No, thanks." Before he knew it, he was being yanked by the collar toward the barn. He pulled a little, playing at resistance before giving in and grabbing his brother around the neck. They wrestled for control of the headlock the rest of the way.

Harlan watched it all with a smile on his face then realized he was indeed smiling. Perplexed by this feeling of contentment and moreso, his ability to stand being around Johnny, even enjoying his company, he decided perhaps he did need a rest.

*****

"I'm tellin ya there's some kind of angel smiling over this place today." Johnny emptied his lemonade glass and sighed as he set it down.

"I think you're right, brother. I can't believe that roof was in such a good state of repair."

"Well, don't worry. Disaster is sure to strike any minute."

Murdoch chuckled at his son then looked around the table at three smiling faces. Even Harlan was enjoying himself which astounded the man. But then, Harlan had been astounding him since his arrival. Befriending Johnny had been the greatest shock of all but now, it seemed Scott was relaxing around the man, too. He wondered if something might have happened. He also still wondered if Harlan was pulling another trick. If he was, it seemed to be working on Scott's battle-fatigued walls.

He brought himself out of his reverie as Maria placed a pie beside him. He looked up into her fierce brown eyes, smiled and nodded. A glance at his younger son told him it was appreciated. Maria worked hard and not eating something she made sent her into ten different kinds of bad moods. Someone always paid for it and Johnny didn't want to be the one again. Though it may have seemed nothing to an onlooker, her growling at him this morning made him edgy. If he were honest with himself, he'd admit she'd hurt his feelings. He smiled a little at that.

He played with his fork as the pie was served all around.

"Don't you like pie, Johnny?" Harlan asked innocently.

Maria harrumphed and Johnny closed his eyes, dread engulfing him. She stalked away before he answered.

"Thanks a lot. Now, she'll be after me with a spoon or somethin."

"I'm sorry, what did I say?"

"I don't like pie or cake or any of that stuff and she just can't understand it."

Harlan raised a brow. "Well, I must say I've never met anyone who doesn't like some sort of sweets."

He shrugged. "Sugar makes me sick. I can handle a little like in lemonade but not too much. I've always been that way."

"It's really rather sad. He doesn't know what he's missing." Scott teased him as he popped a forkful of cherry pie in his mouth.

"If I don't know then I can't miss it, Boston. I like fruit. Does that count?"

"It counts, son. Scott, leave your brother alone. There are things you don't like either."

Johnny grinned at his brother's extremely mild chastising and Scott sneered at him. Harlan chuckled at the whole scene.

*****

The next four days passed without incident. Each evening, Harlan took a walk in the gardens. Half the time, he managed to find his way to the barn or corral. If he were honest, he'd know it wasn't by accident. He had been seeking Johnny out more and more. It perplexed him but, Johnny was the only one who would have a civil conversation with him. He wondered when the young man would finally grow tired of him.

Johnny came out of the barn in time to see Harlan stretching his arms and twisting his back to and fro. Frowning, he walked over. "You're still hurtin."

"Just a little sore. Don't tell Scotty! He'll have me endure some horrendous backwoods treatment."

He laughed a little. "Just a little horse liniment. The smell goes away in two or three days."

"Lovely. Though, I should be grateful he showed any concern at all."

Johnny frowned at that. "I think sometimes it takes somethin like an injury or gettin sick for people to realize they care. Scott gets wrapped up in his troubles so much sometimes, he needs a good smack to wake him up to what's important."

"Have you been smacking my grandson around, Johnny?"

"Only when he needs it."

"Oh, well, that's fine."

They both laughed a little then fell quiet. Harlan was thinking hard and Johnny let him be, seeing a bit of Scott's mannerisms in the old man. He wasn't sure how he felt about that but he reckoned somethin had to rub off. Long as it was good things, he was okay with that.

"Something is happening to me, Johnny, and I don't understand."

"What is it?"

"Well, I'm not sure I can put a name to it. I feel ... at ease around you. I'm beginning to feel at ease being here at all. The other day when I berated you, it seemed natural. As if it was something I had the right to though it hardly was. I do apologize."

"It's okay. I mean, I wasn't really mad about it." He smiled a little.

"I'm glad but could we sit down? I am a bit sore."

Johnny nodded and they walked over to the veranda settling into the chairs.

"When I listen to the three of you talking so comfortably, teasing each other, it feels ... good, I suppose. I feel like I'm a part of something. It's foolish!"

Johnny studied him a minute as he chewed his lower lip. "Mr. Garrett, can I tell you somethin just between us?"

Harlan turned to fully face him and nodded.

"When I first came here, I didn't know how to act. It had been so long since I was around family and even then it wasn't real ... stable, I guess you could say. Like I told you before, I was worried I'd break somethin. It wasn't just things I was worried about, though. It was this family stuff. I figured I'd break that pretty fast but, Scott and Murdoch weren't about to let me do that. Oh, we had some rough times especially, me and the old man. Then, one night we were sittin around after supper and Scott started in on me about somethin then Murdoch got in on the deal. By the end of the night, I felt something I'd never felt before and I didn't know what the heck it was."

"What was it?" Harlan was captured in the story, hoping for some insight.

"I talked to Scott about it later and he said he felt it, too. He said he figured it was family. The feeling of family, that is. When you get comfortable with people enough to let loose; to be yourself. It makes you feel like you belong to somebody. That they want you in their lives and, I gotta tell ya, it's a great feeling. Almost like you're a little drunk, kind of warm and settled. Is that what you felt?"

Harlan blinked and looked away then rubbed his eyes. "Yes, a little drunk and warm and settled. Content. That's what I felt. Content."

"Happy?"

"Yes, happy. It's ridiculous, of course."

"Why?"

Harlan looked back at him. "Come now, Johnny. Me a part of your family? It's preposterous!"

"Only because you make it that way. You are a part of this family. You're Scott's blood kin. Our father was married to your daughter. That makes you family. In Mexico, everybody becomes part of the whole family no matter how they got together. Marriage, in-laws, it don't matter."

"Do you really believe your father would want me to be part of his family? He can't wait for me to leave."

Johnny heard regret in that voice or, maybe, disappointment. Yes, that was it. "Well, you got to me. Maybe you can get to him, too, if you wanted to try. Thing with Murdoch is, you have to be straightforward. You have to tell the gospel truth even if it makes you sound bad."

Harlan took a deep breath. "I love Scotty. He's all I have. I don't want to lose him completely."

"Then, you have to take the whole package. Me and Murdoch, Teresa and the whole ranch, really. We're all family here. And," he stopped and looked pointedly at the man, "you have to accept there are as many Mexicans around here as whites."

Harlan had the grace to blush - furiously. "Yes, I know I've had unkind thoughts but no one here has treated me with anything but respect."

"Then, what have you got to lose?"

"Not one thing." He sighed and stood then looked back down. "Thank you, Johnny. I don't know what in the world is going on here but, I find myself liking you."

Johnny laughed a little. "Well, Scott says I grow on people."

"Scotty is a wise man. Goodnight."

*****

Murdoch stared into the inky black through the picture window behind his desk. He couldn't see a thing but he wasn't looking, either. He heard a noise and swung his chair around to find his nemesis watching him.

"I didn't want to disturb your thoughts." Harlan explained.

"It's alright. Couldn't sleep?"

"No, I'm afraid I have too much on my mind. I was thinking through a conversation I intended to have with you at some point in the near future. I hadn't intended it be so soon."

"If you need more time." Murdoch did not want to talk to this man. Didn't want to hear his pompous reasons why Scott would be so much better off in Boston again.

Harlan waved a hand toward a chair in askance and Murdoch just nodded. He settled across from the man and smiled. "Is this where you hold court with your sons?"

He smiled and cursed himself for it. "I suppose that's one way to put it."

He looked around the room, his foot tapping on the rug beneath it. "Well, Johnny tells me I should be completely honest with you if I want your benevolence."

Surprised beyond measure, Murdoch raised a brow. "My benevolence?"

"Murdoch, your son is surprisingly insightful. He is also very good at giving sound advice. And he has a temper."

Chuckling, he couldn't disagree. "Did you two have words?"

"It was minor." Harlan dismissed it with a wave of the hand. "My point is, I know you don't trust me and I know you have good reason. What I don't know is how to dissuade those feelings in you and convince you I mean you and your family no harm. I have accepted Scotty is not coming home - ever. It saddens me but I've been watching the three of you and I must admit, you seem to be doing very well together."

"We are. It hasn't always been easy."

"And part of that is my fault, I know. Keeping Scotty from you was wrong but I truly believed I was doing what was best for the boy. I wanted him to have every advantage and I wanted him with me. I was afraid of being alone, I'll admit. Having Scotty with me all those years was a blessing on my house and a curse on yours. Had I been a better man, I would have realized what I was doing."

Murdoch sat back in his chair and tried to gauge the man's sincerity. Harlan was duplicitous at times but, he usually told what he thought no matter how harsh it came across. In fact, he could only remember one time when the man had manipulated him and that was last year. He'd kept his promise as best he could when Catherine died and took Scott to safety. He'd told Murdoch he had no intentions of giving the boy up and exactly what he would do to keep Scott.

"This past week has opened my eyes, Murdoch. Spending time with Johnny was been enlightening and no one is more surprised than I. The other day I felt an almost parental emotion for him which is what led to our disagreement." He stopped and smiled, remembering Johnny's anger at being berated by him of all people.

"Scotty seems to be more accepting of me though I'm not sure that will last. I worry most about that. I want to repair our relationship but I think he feels he may be betraying you were he to allow me back into his life. Simply put, what I want is for us all to get along. I'd like to be welcomed into your home for visits and I'd like us all to enjoy those times. Thus, I'm asking for your benevolence."

*****

Murdoch just stared at him for a long time, the clock ticking in the corner resounded loudly to both men's ears. Harlan held his breath as he awaited the man's decision.

"Tell me about last year."

He nodded. "I was desperate, obviously. Almost a year had passed and Scotty showed no signs of giving up on what I thought of as a pipe dream. His letters to me were full of enthusiasm for this country and this new life. He expounded a great deal about Johnny and how much I would like him. Naturally, when I arrived, I was determined not to like him. I devised my plans and set about it like I would any business deal. Ruthlessly.

"When I told you I wasn't sorry for what I tried to do only how I went about it, I was telling the truth. Were Scotty to decide to come home in a year or ten years, I would welcome him happily. But, that isn't going to happen. I will always make sure he knows he is welcome but I realize now it is a fruitless dream of mine. This is where he wants to be and I've come to accept that as much as I ever can. I will never forgive myself for nearly getting him killed." Deep regret resonated in the man's tone.

"He forgave you that. It's the years of deceit he has trouble with." Murdoch managed to contain his anger somehow. All the old feelings were coming to the fore as they always did when he spoke with this man.

"Yes, I know. What I don't know is how to get past it. How to help him get past it."

Murdoch sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. "Harlan, I don't know what to tell you. I was suspicious of this visit and I'm not sure if you're sincere. I'd like to believe you are. But, I worry and it's Johnny who I'm worried about right now. He seems to be warming up to you and I don't want either of my sons hurt again. He had nothing to do with any of this and it's not fair to put him in the middle. I don't want my boys pulled apart fighting over you."

"All I can do is swear to you I mean Johnny no harm, Murdoch. I mean none of you harm. I don't want Scotty hurt again and if that means I have to give him up, then I'll have no choice. But, I will fight for him before that happens. What you have here is precious and I'd like to be a part of it. Believe me, it isn't easy for me to come to you like this, hat in hand as it were."

Murdoch smiled a little. "I know the feeling."

"Yes, you do." Harlan chuckled a little remembering the Scot coming to him in just that way - literally with hat in hand to ask for his daughter's hand. "I hope you're more gracious than I was."

"I suppose all we can do is try but it's Scott who has the last say in this matter."

"Fair enough."

*****

He leaned against the dining room wall and looked heavenward. He'd heard part of the conversation. The part about last year. How could he be sure the man was being honest? He realized he couldn't and that's what tore at Scott's heart. He wanted to believe with everything in him. He wanted his grandfather to be a part of his life, all their lives, but could he risk it? Could he risk the safety of his family? Scott slipped back into the kitchen and headed upstairs.

Standing outside his brother's room, hand raised in the air to knock, he faltered. It was late and Johnny was asleep, he was sure. While his brother would not mind the intrusion, Scott decided he'd had enough intrusion into his life since the old man had arrived. Even though, miraculously, Johnny didn't seem to mind Harlan Garrett hanging around him like a lost pup.

Scott shook his head. That right there was the crux of it. His grandfather was using Johnny even if he wasn't aware of it. And he should be aware. He was an astute man and knew what he was doing at all times. So, he surmised, the man knew he was manipulating Johnny to his own ends. Scott knew those ends could lead to nothing but misery at the very least.

He couldn't risk his family, not even for this. For he was beginning to forgive Harlan for all his sins just as he'd forgiven his father. No one was right in the situation. Everyone handled it badly. Still, he couldn't trust the old man and that was what he'd have to do to allow Garrett back into his life. Scott sighed and lowered his head then turned and walked to his own room.

*****

Johnny bounded into the kitchen that morning, hopeful Maria wasn't still miffed about Harlan's question the other night. He hadn't yet paid for it but he was taking no chances. It was silly, really, but he had no intentions of pointing that out to her. He knew better than to argue with a Mexican woman about anything having to do with her kitchen. His eyes rested on her back as he walked in and he approached her, wrapping his arms around her and giving her a squeeze. She laughed and smacked his hand and he heaved a sigh of relief then settled at the table.

Scott's eyes danced as he watched his brother charm the lady. He was always most grateful when Johnny could head off one of Maria's moods and he gave his brother a quick thumbs up.

Johnny grinned then frowned at the empty chair to his right. "Where's Pops?"

Scott nearly choked on his coffee as Johnny laughed at him. Regaining his decorum, he answered. "He'll be right in and I'd pay a month's wages to hear you call him that to his face."

"Call who what to his face?" Murdoch asked as he walked into the room.

"Nobody and nothin. Good morning." Johnny smiled brightly at his father and prayed for his brother's kindness to shine through this morning.

"Good morning, son. Scott?"

"Morning, Sir. It was nothing."

Johnny saw the look that told he owed his brother and nodded his acknowledgement of the debt.

"John, I need you to stock the east line shack this morning for the crew."

"Good morning!" Harlan greeted cheerily.

Everyone hailed him, Scott less enthusiastically and no one missed it. Johnny drew his brows together in worry. He’d thought Scott was easing up on the old man but evidently not.

Harlan heard it, too, but he decided to ignore it for now. "How is Buster today?"

"Fit as a fiddle. That water really helped. He's back in form." Johnny smiled then had a thought. "I'm goin up to the east line shack to lay in supplies for a crew today. Want to come?"

Scott's mouth dropped open and Murdoch raised a brow.

Harlan was not above surprise either. "Well ... why not? It's a beautiful day."

"Great. We won't be gone all that long."

"I assume laying in supplies means using a wagon."

Grinning, Johnny replied. "Well, we could use pack mules but a wagon would be easier."

Harlan gave him a sharp look then smiled.

Scott knew that look. It was meant as a silent reprimand he'd used on his grandson many times. He was astounded by this turn of events but more concerned than ever for his brother. He could not help but worry that his grandfather had some nefarious reasons for sidling up to Johnny. He wanted to talk to his brother but knew that wouldn't be happening this morning but he resolved to have that talk tonight at the latest. He knew he should have awoken Johnny last night. There was nothing to be done about it now, though. At least, he reasoned Harlan wouldn't have a chance to pull anything today since he hadn't been privy to the unexpected trip.

*****

They bounced along for a while, Harlan gripping the seat the whole way.

"He's not letting it go."

The sudden voice caused Johnny to pull back on the reins a little then he glanced at the man. "Don't seem like it."

"I spoke with Murdoch last night. He was up late and I couldn't sleep."

"How did it go?"

"Well. I took your advice and laid all my cards on the table. I was honest with him and he was receptive to a degree. In the end, he agreed to allow me to visit as long as Scotty agrees. He did voice his concern for you."

"For me?" Johnny looked at him again briefly.

"He said he was worried I was using you to get to Scotty."

"Oh, yeah, they both said somethin like that when you first got here. I told them then I can take care of myself. I'm not stupid." His irritation with his family was evident in his tone.

"I'm sure neither of them think you are. One worries for one's family even if they are most capable."

He smiled and shook his head. "I don't know if I can get used to the way you talk."

"Likewise." Harlan retorted lightly.

"Wouldn't hurt to try talkin to Scott again. Tell him what you told Murdoch."

"It's difficult to talk with someone who can't stand to be in the same room with you."

"Yeah, he's been pretty hard on you but you gave him good reason."

"I gave you all good reason yet, you and Murdoch seem to be able to talk with me."

"We ain't blood. You didn't raise us. That's the difference. Scott loves you and he's havin a hard time because he doesn't want to right now. He wants to hate you but he can't and that ticks him off."

Harlan frowned thoughtfully. "I wonder if he truly does - love me, I mean."

Johnny turned to look at him. "He does."

"How can you be so sure?"

He shrugged. "Because I know him."

*****

"I know him. He's going to pull something. He won't pass up this chance."

"Scott, you have to stop this. If you're that worried, ride up there."

He looked away from his father's intense gaze and wandered about the living room. "I can't. Johnny won't appreciate it."

"No, he won't. He can take care of himself. What you need to do is sit down and talk to the man."

Scott stopped walking, his back to his father and his shoulders drooping with a heavy weight. Murdoch rounded his desk and approached his son, hands laid lightly on those shoulders.

"Listen to me. I had a long talk with Harlan last night. I want to believe him when he says he only wants to be welcome here. I think he finally does understand, son."

Scott pulled away and turned to face his father. "I heard you. I was in the dining room and heard voices. I know it was wrong to eavesdrop but I wanted to hear what he said without knowing I was listening."

"And what was your conclusion?"

He sighed and shook his head, lowering it for a moment before looking back up. "I wanted to believe him but, I can't. If it were just me, I might be able to but, it isn't. It's you and Johnny, especially. I couldn't stand it if I forgave him and he did something to hurt either of you."

"The issue is trust, just as Harlan said the other night. You can't trust him. The only way for him to earn your trust back is to prove it to you. That takes time, son."

"Yes, and meanwhile, he's becoming Johnny's best friend. I don't understand that at all."

Murdoch smiled a little though he wasn't exactly ready to throw Harlan Garrett a parade, either. "Your brother is good at reading people, Scott. Maybe, you could trust him?"

He looked up with an uncertain gaze. "I'm afraid Johnny is doing this for me. If that's the case, how can I know if he really does like Grandfather?"

"Ask him. He won't lie to you."

Scott nodded, knowing that was true. His brother had already told him but Scott needed to hear it again when he wasn't berating his brother. Johnny's reactions could have been out of anger toward him and he wouldn't blame his brother. No, they needed to talk calmly and honestly. He knew Johnny would tell him exactly what he thought.

*****

Johnny pulled back on the reins and set the brake. "Well, this is it."

"When you said shack, you were serious."

He grinned and nodded. "We use these for the men when they stay out on the range sometimes. It's a place to store supplies closer to them mostly."

"Do you and Scotty ever stay out here?"

"Sure. Not the best job. Usually, you're out here at least a week. Well, better get to it if we wanna get back before dark." He jumped down and headed to the back, dropping the tailgate.

Harlan climbed down more slowly and met up with him.

"There's a real nice rockin chair on the porch. Why don't you go sit while I do this?"

"I'm sure I can help in some way. Perhaps some of the lighter supplies?"

Johnny stopped and looked at him with a gleam in his eye. "Now, as much as you think Scott's mad at you, he'll be ten times worse with me if I set you to workin."

"There must be something I can do, young man. I may be old but I'm not in the ground yet. Now, I think I can handle some of those flour sacks." He set his jaw determinedly.

Taking a deep breath and shrugging, Johnny gave in. "Well, how about gettin the door open for me. There's a pantry just to the right of the stove you can open up, too. It'll give us a clear path."

Harlan nodded and set off as Johnny shook his head. He wondered if Scott really had gotten all his stubbornness from the Lancer side.

An hour later, Harlan wiped the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief as he stood on the porch watching Johnny pull the last of the supplies from the front of the wagon bed to the end. He looked to the heavens for a little strength and vowed not to let his pride sway his good sense again.

"That's enough. Go sit down. This stuff is too heavy for you, anyway."

He was taken aback by the anger coming from the younger man and raised a brow.

"Look, I appreciate the help but a smart man knows when to stop and rest. Don't argue with me."

A quirk of the lips was all Harlan showed but as he turned to dutifully do as he was told, his mouth spread into a smile.

Johnny watched him, angry at himself for letting the man do so much. Knowing Scott would cook his liver for supper if he found out. He sighed and went back to it, glad the chore was almost done.

The last crate was the heaviest and he wondered why he'd loaded it first. Not thinkin straight, I imagine. He smiled to himself and pulled on it but the crate was stuck along the side of the wagon bed. Johnny climbed over and got behind it, seeing the loose plank and almost cussing at another job. Well, it would wait until tomorrow, he decided as he pushed on the crate with his left leg.

Harlan watched him work out the problem with a slight smile of satisfaction for having accomplished something this day. The smile disappeared and he lurched forward in the rocker when he heard Johnny yelp.

*****

"Mierda! Hijo de puta! Damn del dios el al infierno!" Johnny stumbled back against the seat and grabbed hold as he turned the air blue. He looked at his left leg, gawking at the amount of blood pouring out. No, not pouring, spurting.

Harlan ran to the end of the wagon. "What happened?"

He looked up, feeling a little light-headed and licked his lips. "Cut my leg on somethin." Looking down, he saw the nail jutting from the wood with something he was sure used to be a part of him hanging off the end. He felt sick to his stomach and closed his eyes.

"Well, come down from there and let me see!"

Clumsily, he stepped forward, hopping to keep the weight off the leg. He eased down to sit on the end of the wagon and clamped his hand over the wound. "It's bad. Real bad. It's bleedin a lot. Help me inside."

Harlan looked at his face, soaked in sweat and pale as a cloud. Then, he looked at the leg. Without thinking about it, he wrapped his handkerchief around the wound tightly.

"Wait. Take this." Johnny worked to loosen his gunbelt then his pants belt. He handed the latter to Harlan. "Make a tourniquet."

He nodded and did so then, grabbed the younger man's arm and helped him to the ground. He made Johnny lean on him as they slowly made their way. He could tell Johnny was getting weaker by the second and knew this was indeed very bad.

A million thoughts flew through Harlan's mind as he eased Johnny onto the only cot in the shack. He had no experience with anything remotely like this.

"What should I do?"

Johnny took a few seconds to just breathe then raised his head and looked at the now red cloth. "There's bandages in the cupboard. Need to wrap it up real tight."

Harlan moved quickly, pushing aside anything in his way as he rummaged through the cabinet and found what he sought. He quickly wrapped the leg and started to tie it off.

"No, really, really tight. Tight as you can." Johnny's voice was soft, whispery and he fought to keep his eyes open. He knew if he passed out now, he'd die.

"That's good. Now, listen to me. Go over there and start a fire in the stove. Put some water on to boil and take this." He gritted his teeth, groaning as he reached into his right boot and pulled out the knife. "Stick it right in the flames."

"What on earth for?"

"Just do it! Please, don't argue. You have to hurry."

Harlan swallowed dryly but did as he was instructed. Somehow, he managed to start the fire even though his hands were shaking badly. He filled a pot with water then put the knife in the fire under the burner lid then, he found a cup and filled it with water.

Johnny was fighting with everything he had to stay conscious. What he was about to have Harlan do was terrifying to him. He didn't know if the man would do it or if he would refuse. He felt a hand slide under his neck and looked up.

"Just some water, Johnny. Drink slowly now. The water will be hot soon. I'm afraid you're going to have to take me through this."

He sighed as the cold water slid down his throat and nodded. "This is gonna be hard. You need to find a sheet or somethin. Look in the chest at the end of the cot. You'll need more bandages, too."

Harlan gathered his supplies and laid them on the cot. He looked expectantly at Johnny, fear causing sweat to run down his face.

"Loosen that belt for just a few seconds then tighten it right back up." His back arched as the blood rushed back into his lower leg. It took several minutes before he could speak again. He kept blinking hard to focus.

"Please, try to stay with me, Johnny." Harlan's voice shook as he watched the man grow whiter by the second.

Johnny nodded and took a deep breath. "Okay, bring the water over and the knife. Scoop some coals out of the fire to keep the blade in. Should be a pot or skillet or somethin over there to use. Find a towel or heavy cloth to carry it so it doesn't burn you."

Once Harlan returned to the bedside and Johnny saw the red glow of the knife's blade, he almost lost his nerve. "You need to listen real close because once you do this, I'm gonna pass out, guaranteed. Take the belt off and unwrap the wound. Don't pay any mind to the blood." He stopped and grabbed the man's arm. "Put the blade of the knife right in that wound and hold it there for five seconds. If it don't stop bleeding, do it again. If that doesn't work, just take the wagon and go on back to the house."

Harlan turned gray as he openly gawked at the man. He started shaking his head slowly. "I ... I can't ..."

"You have to! I'll die if you don't!" Reining himself in, he spoke more softly. "I'll die, Harlan. Please, just do it. Don't worry about me screamin out. Don't listen to that. Just do it. Please."

He saw the raw terror in the young man's eyes and knew Johnny was putting his life in his hands. He nodded numbly and squeezed the man's arm then went about the task.

*****

Tremors wracked his body as he sat back in the chair at the bedside, the knife still tightly in his fist. He simply stared for long moments then shook himself and took a stuttering breath. Harlan opened his hand and let the knife drop to the floor as he watched Johnny's face. Unbelievably pale, the features were relaxed in unconsciousness. His eyes roved to Johnny's chest as he watched the shallow movement.

'He didn't tell me what to do afterward,' he thought then cursed himself. 'I'm a capable man, I am intelligent. I just have to think this through. Now, I need to wrap that wound up. Clean it and wrap it. Yes, then ... I have to get help.'

As he went about cleansing the wound with the hot water and bandaging it, he thought how best to proceed. Sometimes, it helped if he thought out loud when he was alone. He was as alone as he'd ever felt in his life right now. "It took two hours to get here in a loaded wagon. Possibly an hour and a half to return. Then, Murdoch and Scotty will have to come back for him, send for a doctor and bring him home. That is well over four hours. If I take him back, I can cut that time down and get him a doctor sooner."

He straightened himself and looked around the room. "I'd have to get him in the wagon somehow and the wagon will need to be moved closer. If I can do that within thirty minutes, that's a good amount of time taken off. Yes, that is what I should do."

He was exhausted and unsure if he could manage but he was going to try. Harlan walked out to the wagon and climbed in, taking the reins and moving it as close to the porch as he could. Once on the ground again, he looked around the shack and found a plank leaning against the side of the building. He tested it and found it seemed sturdy so he carried it over and positioned it against the tail gate like a ramp. The wayward crate was still against the side of the bed and shouldn't be in his way.

He went back inside and stood over Johnny, calculating his moves. He grabbed the cot's footboard and found he could scoot the whole thing fairly easily. Maneuvering as he pulled, he turned it headfirst toward the door then pulled it out to his ramp. Stopping to gather his reserves and remove his jacket, Harlan took some deep breaths.

With fierce determination, he got the head of the cot moved alongside the plank so the headboard would not impede him. Then, he grabbed Johnny, mattress and all, and slid him onto the plank. For one terrifying moment, it seemed Johnny would simply flip off the other side but Harlan held tight, his fingers numb, and balanced the young man.

With more agility than he thought he possessed, he moved quickly to the wagon bed and jumped in then pulled the mattress up and into the bed. Plopping down on his backside, he wiped the sweat from his face and rested for just a minute.

*****

Scott had not relaxed all day. Working hadn't helped as it usually did when he was worried about something. His mind wouldn't rest and he kept thinking up scenarios, some wild and fanciful, of what his grandfather might try to pull. He had to wonder how Johnny would react to it. He knew his brother and he would feel betrayed. That thought shocked him even more than the thought of his brother and grandfather actually getting along well.

As he walked out of the barn and toward the house, he spied his father coming toward him. Murdoch didn't seem upset or worried but that only fueled Scott's anger.

"How did it go, son?"

"Fine. Just fine."

Murdoch took in the face, the muttered words and the tone and saw his son hadn't let this go. He refrained from growling at the young man, knowing how difficult this was for Scott. "Well, why don't you get washed up for supper? Johnny and Harlan should be coming in anytime now."

Scott snorted a little but said nothing. As they started toward the house, both men stopped and thought they heard something. Murdoch looked down the road and saw the wagon coming in at a fairly fast clip. He stepped forward even as Scott matched his gait.

"I knew it!" Scott ground out as he saw Harlan driving the wagon with Johnny no where in sight.

Murdoch didn't want to believe it, had hoped Harlan was being genuine this time but he couldn't deny his own vision. His heart raced at the thoughts running rampant in his mind.

Garrett's shout broke thought. "Murdoch! Help me!"

Scott ran forward and grabbed at the harness to help stop the wagon as Murdoch approached Harlan.

"What happened?" the rancher demanded gruffly.

Harlan was trying to get a decent breath and pointed toward the wagon bed. "He's hurt. He needs a doctor."

Scott stepped up beside his father. "What did you do to him?!"

Harlan just stared in disbelief as Murdoch hurried to the wagon bed, jumping inside. He quickly saw the bandage on Johnny's leg. It was dirty from the ride spurring dust but he saw no blood.

"What happened, Harlan?"

The older man turned in the seat, ignoring the accusation from his grandson and explained Johnny's injury quickly, leaving out the details for now.

By this time, a few hands had gathered to see what the commotion was and Murdoch barked at one to go for the doctor. He ordered a fuming Scott to help him and they carried Johnny inside.

Harlan sat in the wagon seat and nearly melted with exhaustion. So intense was the entire experience, he felt a tear slide down his face. Swiping at it with annoyance, he stayed where he was, unsure if he could make it to the ground without simply falling into the dirt.

He saw a black hand extended to him and looked into the eyes of a ranchhand. He nodded and allowed the man to help him down then faltered. Frank grabbed him and walked him inside, sitting him on the sofa and pouring him a stiff whiskey. He never said a word as he handed the drink off then disappeared outside.

*****

Scott's face was stone, his lips a tight white line as he helped his father tend the wound. That stone crumbled when he got a look.

Murdoch sucked in a breath and leaned closer to inspect the area. He gingerly touched the burnt flesh then stood and walked to the door. Opening it, he shook the rafters calling for Maria then went back to his son's side.

"He's warm. There's a fever starting."

Scott walked over and opened a window then stood there, staring at his brother's pale face. He looked up as Maria entered the room and went to Johnny.

"We'll need hot water and bandages for Sam, Maria."

"Si, I will have everything ready," she whispered then ran a hand down the side of Johnny's face before leaving.

Murdoch sighed and sat on the mattress, just staring at his son.

"We need to know what he did to that leg." Scott didn't wait for a reply. He headed for the living room until he was stopped.

"Have him come up here, son. I want to hear this, too."

*****

Harlan's head came up off the cushion as he heard the footsteps. "How is he?"

"Out cold. Murdoch wants you upstairs to explain what happened to his leg." Scott turned on his heel and walked out.

Harlan sighed and struggled to his feet, setting the whiskey glass down as he went. Slowly, he made his way upstairs feeling like a hundred year old man.

As he entered the room, his eyes went to Johnny and he sighed again, seeing no change. Without waiting to be asked, he started explaining.

Scott found a seat as he was sure his legs would not support him while Harlan described what Johnny had made him do. It escaped neither Lancer's notice that Harlan had walked over to sit on the bed opposite Murdoch as he talked, his hand resting on Johnny's arm.

"I've only been so frightened once before in my life." He finished with a glance toward Scott.

Murdoch sat silently through the telling, his head bowed, his eyes closed much of the time as he envisioned the scene; thought about Johnny telling this man what to do and then, enduring it. Finally, he whispered, "dear God."

Scott felt like a fool for jumping to conclusions. He could see his grandfather was telling the truth. The man was still visibly shaken and frightened. "I apologize, Sir, for assuming."

"Apology accepted." Harlan wasn't sure he did accept it but he didn't want to argue, either. He just wanted the doctor to arrive.

"You did a good job, Harlan. I can't imagine what you went through to get him home."

"I thought it would be a little faster than going for help. It wasn't easy. He's heavier than he looks. Looking back, I don't know how I managed."

"Well, I'm grateful. You saved his life."

"I hope so, Murdoch, but he's far from safe. He feels warm to me."

*****

Sam arrived soon after and began a thorough examination shooing everyone but Maria from the room. Downstairs, the three men waited silently in the great room.

Scott paced before the French doors, his eyes going to the staircase every so often as Murdoch sat at his desk and stared at nothing. Harlan went back to the sofa and fought desperately to stay awake. His eyes drooped every few minutes and he would blink several times, widening them as if this would keep the exhaustion at bay. Finally, Murdoch noticed.

"You should lie down a while."

He looked over and shook his head. "After."

"He's right, Grandfather. You look terrible." Scott walked over and sat on the coffee table in front of the man, a concerned frown on his face.

"I feel terrible, Scotty, but I want to hear what the doctor has to say first. I'll rest then, I promise."

As if speaking the words brought them to fruition, Sam walked down the stairs and joined them. Murdoch walked over to the group and settled in a chair.

"I've cleaned the wound. It was an artery that was nicked badly. It's going to take quite some time before he's up and about again. The wound is infected and he has a fever though it isn't very high but that could change. You'll need to watch him closely until it subsides. He's not out of the woods yet."

Sam sat back and leaned against the cushion as he settled his gaze on Garrett. "You did a fine job cauterizing it."

Harlan shook his head, his stomach flipping with the memory. "I thought he was out of his mind when he told me what he wanted me to do. I wasn't sure I could but, he said he'd die otherwise."

"He was right. He would have bled to death before you got him anywhere near home."

Murdoch's brow furrowed even deeper and Scott swallowed hard.

"You should rest now, Sir."

"Yes, Scotty, yes, I believe I will." Harlan stood slowly and with a slight grunt as he noticed his appearance for the first time. He managed a small chuckle. "Well, my goodness, I am a mess, aren't I? Excuse me, gentlemen." He gave a nod of the head as he left them.

Scott watched him walking a bit awkwardly and wondered if it was just tiredness. "Are you staying the night, Sam?"

"I thought I would."

"Maybe, you could have a look at Grandfather before you leave in the morning? He needs rest, I just hope that's all."

"I'd be glad to. Right now, I'd be glad for some coffee."

Murdoch gave a slight start. "Sorry, Sam. Come on in the kitchen. We might even feed you."

*****

Scott paused outside the slightly ajar door to his brother's bedroom. He heard a voice and leaned in, seeing his grandfather at the bedside.

"Well, who would have thought one small nail could do this much damage? I will confess this since you can't hear me. I was scared nearly mindless out there, Johnny. I didn't think I could do what you asked. Even when you told me what would happen, I just wasn't sure. It isn't that I didn't want to but I was afraid I might pass out and then, where would we be? Well, it all worked out. That's all that matters now. I'm going to lie down for a while then I'll come look in on you again. Hopefully, you'll be awake and that fever will be gone."

He squeezed the young man's hand and contemplated. "I don't quite know what's happened here. I told Murdoch I had some unfamiliar feelings toward you at the river. Almost fatherly feelings. Perhaps, I'm growing senile, eh?" He smiled a little and patted the hand. "Part of me thinks I must be but another part of me, I will confess, is enamored with the idea of getting on with you. I find myself thinking of you very differently than when we first met. Maybe, I'm starting to see the man Scotty is so fond of. Maybe, I'm starting to get to know you. Rather, giving myself a chance to know you.

"Well, that's neither here nor there at the moment. The important thing is that you recover. After all, we can't let all my good doctoring go to waste, now can we?" He smiled again and gave Johnny's hand one more squeeze before getting to his feet and sighing heavily. "However, if you intend this relationship to be one of wearing me out, I may have to reconsider."

Scott smiled a little as he listened, more stunned than anything. But, he wasn't prepared for what he witnessed next.

Harlan leaned over and pushed Johnny's hair from his forehead then let his hand linger for a few seconds before starting to turn.

Scott managed to recover and pushed the door open. "I thought you were going to lie down."

"I'm going, son. I just wanted to look in. I suppose I feel a responsibility for him now."

With a smile, Scott answered. "I think it's an old Chinese proverb that once you save a man's life, you're indebted to him or something like that."

Harlan grimaced. "I'm glad I'm not Chinese."

"Nice try but I'm not buying it, Sir."

He tried to look irritated, almost pulled it off and huffed. "Goodnight, Scotty."

*****

Johnny's fever did not abate and Murdoch spent a long night bathing him down and trying to soothe his restless son. Though he hadn't awakened, Johnny tossed and turned most of the night. The sheets were soaked by dawn and Murdoch changed them as quickly as possible.

The sweating hadn't lowered the fever but Johnny was calmer now. Spent, most likely, Murdoch surmised as he drew the curtains back to let in the pre-dawn light.  

He heard a soft creak and turned to watch the door open wider, a white head popping into the room. "How is he?" Harlan whispered as he stepped into the room.

"Wracked with fever all night. He just now started to settle."

The older man took in the weary face of the man he once hated. Compassion sprung up in him and caught him by surprise. "Why don't you try to rest a while? I'll sit with him."

"Well, I ..."

"We'll be fine, Murdoch. Get some sleep. I'm sure Scotty will be in soon."

Studying the lined face, Murdoch thought over this idea. Finally, he nodded and looked once more at his son. "For a few hours. Sam should be in soon, as well. Tell him about last night?"

"Of course." Harlan gave a small smile. "Try not to look so suspicious, Murdoch. If I wanted to harm him, my opportunity has passed."

The rancher grimaced. "Old habits, Harlan."

"I know you still aren't sure if you want to trust me. I suppose I deserve that. No one is more surprised than I about all that has happened."

Giving the man an ever so slight nod of acknowledgement, Murdoch left the room but stopped short of closing the door tight. He couldn't help it. No matter how well Harlan Garrett behaved, it was true; he still didn't trust the man. And what did that say about him? The man had saved his son's life and been nothing but gracious during his visit. Murdoch only wished he could wipe away the memories of the past but they wouldn't die an easy death. Like Catherine, they suffered, gasping for the breath to stay alive. How long before the soft sigh of acquiescence?

*****

Scott stared at his reflection and argued with himself. Last night, he'd felt more affection for his grandfather than he had in a very long time. Now, in the harsh light of day, his doubts crept back in. Had his grandfather known he was at the door last night? Is that why he was so concerned for an unconscious man? How devious could a man be? Would he save a life only to gain trust then turn around and squash it with some ploy? Was Harlan Garrett capable of letting a man die? He didn't think so which would explain why he'd saved Johnny. But, he'd also gone to great lengths to get him home. Lengths that were to his detriment, certainly.

It would have been completely understandable if he'd left Johnny and come for help. No one could have blamed him. That is what most people would do. Especially someone of his age. Scott was in awe of what the man had done. The very logistics, the muscle it had taken to move Johnny was astounding. He knew well how deceptively heavy his brother was. A small smile flew across his face.

It all came down to faith. His faith in his grandfather had been ripped away by the man himself a short year ago. Never would he have thought Harlan capable of blackmail yet, it had happened. Desperation drove men to greater lengths than that. How desperate he must have been. Was he still? Enough to ingratiate himself into Johnny's life?

And what did that say about Scott's belief in his brother? Johnny had an uncanny ability to read people most of the time. Seldom was he wrong about anyone when it came down to it. His brother had allowed this ... relationship. Still, Johnny would go to greater lengths than even Harlan Garrett to give Scott what he thought he wanted or needed. The difference was, Johnny did it for selfless reasons. His grandfather not so much.

He felt guilty for having these thoughts yet, he couldn't deny them, either.

Sucking in a breath, Scott knew he'd resolved nothing in his mind or heart. He still didn't trust his grandfather. He wasn't sure he ever would. Maybe if he only had himself to consider, he could take that leap. It was that lack of faith he struggled with and he didn't know how the man could prove himself. Time, he supposed, was the only thing that really could heal.

Grabbing his jacket, he left his room and headed across the hall.

*****

"Well, his fever is down now, thankfully. All we can do is wait for him. Make sure he drinks plenty of fluids. That's most important and change the bandages like I told you."

Scott listened to the doctor's instructions as he leaned against the door jamb, surprised his father was nowhere to be seen.

"I'll relay your instructions, Doctor. Thank you."

"Good morning." Scott greeted the men even as he made a beeline for his brother's bed. "What's this about a fever?"

"He was pretty bad last night, I understand. Murdoch was with him the whole time but, he seems to be past it for now."

Scott frowned as he listened to Sam. "He should have come and got me to take over."

"You know how he is, Scott. He'll growl at you until you're sick. Then, he won't leave until you're growling back."

The young man laughed a little, knowing how true that was. Murdoch wasn't very good at showing his affections. None of them were, really, but he had them all beat hands down.

"I'll walk you out, Doctor. I have a feeling Murdoch may be in the kitchen. He's not very good at taking advice." Harlan walked to the door and held the handle as he waited for Sam to join him.

"We should have an evening when Johnny's better. Sit around and talk about how obstinate that man is." Sam patted Scott's shoulder and the younger man looked up and smiled at him.

""That would be a long night, Sam. Thank you for staying."

"Anytime, Scott." Sam looked at his charge and shook his head slightly then left the brothers alone.

*****

Johnny awoke an hour later and thought he was going to drown. Scott poured so much water down him, he wondered if his brother thought him a fish.

"Why don't you tell me what happened instead of tryin to kill me?"

Scott gave him a sidelong look as he sat the empty glass down. "You aren't going to believe it, brother." He went on to tell Johnny of Harlan's adventures as the younger man stared in wide-eyed shock. Once Scott finished, the room fell quiet for a long while.

"I can't believe he did that. I mean, I can't believe he was able to do it but, that he did it at all ... Why didn't he just come for help?"

Scott smiled and shook his head. "He's an accountant. He figured out the time delay and decided on the most prudent course of action. He was right but ..."

"Yeah, but! He should be thrashed for pullin a stunt like that. What if he'd keeled over?"

Scott didn't want to think about that.

"I may be getting along in years, but I'm far from ready for the grave, young man. Yes, it was difficult but I managed." Harlan stood in the doorway and frowned his displeasure.

"Still, Mr. Garrett, it was ... well, crazy."

He walked over to the bedside and looked down at his patient. "Crazy. Well, that is the first time I've been accused of that. It really was the logical thing to do, Johnny. I will admit, I was exhausted by the end of the trip but, the important thing was getting you to help. I accomplished my goal and we both survived. Now," he stopped and sat in the chair Scott had abandoned. "It is up to you not to ruin all my efforts. You need to get well."

Johnny lowered his eyes and stared at his hands. "Sounds like that's gonna take a good long time."

"I'm going to get you some lunch," Scott interrupted.

"Lunch? You already filled me up with water!"

"And now, I'm going to fill you with soup. Sam said lots of fluids, Johnny." Scott didn't wait for further argument nor did he hear the next remark.

"Nag."

"Now, is that any way to show your gratitude? Scotty is only trying to help you."

Blue eyes came up with a look of disbelief. Then, he relaxed and changed that expression to one of humor. "You sure are gettin familiar. That's more than once you've set me down for my manners."

Harlan leaned back. "I think I'm entitled now."

Johnny's grin exploded on his face. "Yeah, I'd say so but that only goes so far, too."

*****

Harlan only nodded his acceptance then watched as Johnny grew sullen. "What is it?"

"Nothin. I just hate being laid up. I get kind of restless."

"Well, it's better to stay down now than suffer the consequences."

"The only consequences are those two." He tossed his head toward the door.

"No, the consequences could be more severe if you don't let that leg heal. Dr. Jenkins said it will take time for that artery to heal so trying to do too much could cause some serious circulation problems."

"Yeah, I know. I'll just have to find somethin to occupy myself."

"Perhaps, I could bring you something from the city. What do you like to do?"

He looked hard at the man. "The city?"

"Yes, I must be leaving tomorrow for Sacramento if I'm to make my meetings."

Disappointment flashed across the young man's face before he looked away. "You gettin caught up in that railroad buy-in I was reading about?"

Harlan cocked a brow. "I'm looking into it, yes."

He nodded then picked at his hands. "Guess that'd be a good investment. Lancer bought some stock a few months back."

"I didn't know that. Maybe we'll be business partners."

Johnny smiled a little. "Yeah, that'd be somethin, huh? So, you're gonna stop back by then?"

"I was hoping to, yes, if that's alright."

"Of course it's alright. You save a man's life, you're pretty much welcome in his home ... anytime."

Harlan nodded, trying not to smile. "That's generous of you though I'm not sure how the other occupants feel."

He looked up again, his eyes hard. "What'ya mean? Scott's not still mad at you, is he?"

"He doesn't appear to be but we haven't talked. It's hard for him to forgive me. No, it's hard for him to trust me even now. But, that isn't something you should concern yourself with. You need to recover."

"All I'm gonna be doin is layin around. Reckon I can work my mouth instead." He grinned wickedly but Harlan frowned.

"I don't want Scotty to forgive me because I saved your life, Johnny. It has to be his decision and he must make it on his own. I don't want his gratitude, I want ..." He stopped, realizing he was about to say something embarrassing.

"His love and trust."

"Yes." He cleared his throat and stood, pacing to the window and staring out. "It's funny. This land does grow on you. I can now see it for what it really is and not as some horrible wasteland I envisioned in my mind. I refused to look at it much when I was here before. Too set on my plans." He shook his head ruefully. "I can see Scotty has a good life here and, even though I will always want him to come home, I understand better why he stays."

He turned back to see Johnny watching him closely. "Thank you for allowing me this time. I think you have been instrumental in my stay here. Had you not made the attempt, I'm sure Scotty would have thrown me out without a chance."

"I'm not so sure about that. In fact, I know he wouldn't have. Maybe I eased things a little but not by much. Scott's his own man and he makes his decisions based on what he thinks and feels not what I say." Johnny smiled a little. "I guess that's exactly what you were sayin a minute ago. Still, he wouldn't have tossed you out on your ear."

"I will always cherish the years I had with him. It isn't easy to let go. But, I realize I must in order to have a chance with him now. Perhaps, I've done some growing up." Harlan smiled a little at this epiphany.

*****

Scott drove his grandfather to Green River to catch his stage. The ride was quiet for most of the way and Harlan was desperate for the young man to say something. He didn't want to start the conversation, fearing Scott would think he was pushing.

"I don't think I expressed to you how very grateful I am for what you did for Johnny. Nor did I apologize well enough for thinking the worst."

"I can't blame you for that."

"You should. I've realized that, while you have done some things I'm not happy about, I don't think you capable of truly hurting another person."

Harlan turned in his seat and looked at his grandson's profile. "That makes me very happy, Scotty. I know I must accept your decision to stay here but I want you to know that you are always welcome back home. Any time you want to come for a visit or to stay."

"Thank you, Sir. It helps to hear you say that. This is where I belong. It's ... in my blood."

Harlan nodded. Saddened as he was, he'd expected such an answer. Part of him would always yearn for Scott's return to Boston but most of him knew it would never happen.

"I'd also like to thank you for being so kind to Johnny even before his injury."

"You were suspicious of that. I don't blame you but I must say I am still quite surprised. I never would have believed Johnny and I could get along but, he's very easy to talk to once you allow it."

"He's a good listener and hardly ever offers unsolicited advice." Scott smiled as he thought of a few times his brother had given that unwanted advice in the most fervent of ways.

"Scotty, I hope someday I will regain your trust. I know I haven't yet. It will take time but, hopefully, we'll have that."

"Of course there's time! Don't even talk like that."

Harlan was taken aback by the vehemence but, part of him was heartened at the response. Scotty still cared for him. He hadn't ruined everything after all. There was hope.

They pulled to a stop at the stage depot and Scott unloaded the luggage then pushed his hat back on his head.

"Well, the stage should be here soon. You're coming back first, aren't you?"

"I'd very much like to. I'd like to know how Johnny is faring as well."

Scott still couldn't get over this interest and he smiled.

"Oh, I told him I'd try to find something in the city to occupy him but he never told me what he likes to do. Does he have any hobbies?"

"Besides target practice? He draws sometimes but I haven't seen him do that in a long while." Scott frowned as he realized this.

"Perhaps some supplies then. Is there anything you need or want?"

"No, Sir. Unless you happen to see any new books out that you think I'll like."

Harlan smiled, happy Scotty still enjoyed reading. They'd spent many winter nights by the fire in the study discussing the latest novel. Perhaps they could do that a time or two when he returned. Perhaps, Scotty would spend some time with him now.

The stage arrived in a plume of dust and Scott helped load the bags then assisted the older man into the coach. He watched until the stage was out of sight then headed home, pondering all that had happened and wondering if he couldn't finally trust the man again.

*****

For the next week and a half Johnny lay around, sighed and slept and pestered every moving thing that came across his limited path. He'd even read several of Murdoch's books but would never admit to enjoying them. Still, if he had his druthers, he'd be outside. Sam had graduated him to crutches and he'd damned near killed himself a time or two on the stairs. Luckily, no one had caught him out.

He would also never admit that he almost, sort of missed ole Harlan. He smiled at this thought as he lay on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. A book lay across his chest, rising and falling softly along with his breathing. He was pretty sure he'd be as mushed as a rotten melon before too much longer. He figured when he did get to go back to work, it would be a hundred times worse than when he'd first arrived here. That had been about the hardest thing he'd ever had to get used to. The early mornings, the back breaking days and the feeling of being trapped like an animal in a cage.

That was all gone now but he knew, the back breaking work part would be tough. If he could just DO something. He'd go outside if he didn't know he'd have two irate women all over him before he made it off the porch. When Teresa had finally come home a few days ago and found out all that had happened, she'd been on him like a flea on a dog. Jelly, too, for that matter.

At least, Jelly wasn't around during the day. Of course, he probably wouldn't be as bad as the womenfolk. Well, maybe. He grinned at that thought. Raising his head off the cushion, he stared at the crutches and sighed - again. Well, no sense tempting fate. Besiides, Maria had made him a promise this morning and he wasn't about to do anything to tick the lady off. He wanted those tamales too badly.

He picked up the book which wasn't very interesting and decided to try it again until he heard a rider coming in. Slowly, he eased to a sitting position and grabbed the crutches then got to his feet. He hobbled over to the French doors and smiled. Now, he'd have someone with some sense to talk to.

Johnny opened the door and hailed his friend. "Get in here, Val. I'm goin loco!"

The sheriff of Green River trodded into the living room and took his hat off then looked around. "Anybody home?"

"Gee, nice ta see you, too, buddy."

Val turned to look at him and Johnny's heart skipped a beat. "What's wrong?"

"Sit down first. Don't want ya trippin over them sticks." Val walked to the kitchen door and called to Teresa. They spoke quietly and Johnny couldn't hear what was said.

"It won't work. You ain't gettin my tamales." He grinned a little but Val still had that look so he sobered. "Tell me, amigo."

Val settled on the edge of a chair near him and twisted his hat. "I asked Teresa to send for Scott and Murdoch. Think it's best if we just wait so's I can tell ya all at once."

"Must be bad, then."

Val wouldn't look at him and he knew the answer. His head buzzed and he couldn't imagine what was so terrible. He didn't have to wait long as the front door opened.

"Val, Teresa said you were looking for us." Murdoch walked in with Scott just behind him.

"Yeah, best sit down folks." He waited for that to happen before beginning. "There was a stage coach robbery this mornin not far outside town. I caught up with 'em and they're in my jail but, there were some injuries."

No one spoke, wondering why this had anything to do with Lancer.

"Thing is, I'm still gettin all the particulars from the passengers. There was some tusslin and well, I don't know how ta tell ya this." He stopped and looked right at Scott. "Mr. Garrett was on the stage and he got shot. He's at Sam's now and it looks pretty bad."

Scott took about two seconds to register the information before he was on his feet and heading out the door. No one tried to stop him but Murdoch called out he'd meet up with him.

"Get the buggy, Murdoch. I'm goin with you."

"No, Johnny. You aren't able to ride." The eyes that met his were stone cold.

"Well, you go on ahead then. But, I'm goin so you can either help me or not."

Murdoch's jaw twitched as he studied his son then, he sighed. "Fine."

*****

By the time they got to Green River, Remmie had already cooled down. He stood outside Sam's office, his reins loosely flung over the hitching post. Murdoch helped Johnny get his crutches straightened out then looked dourly at his son.

"This was your idea so you can take Sam's lecture."

"Fine. Let's just get in there."

His voice was husky, a little shaky and Murdoch knew it had nothing to do with fatigue. He wondered how much had to do with worry for Scott and how much was for Harlan.

Sam was leaning over his patient, Scott sitting on the other side and neither noticed the other two Lancers standing in the doorway to the exam room at first. When Sam did raise his head, one could almost see the smoke coming from his ears.

"Dammit, Johnny!" It was a low whisper, almost a hiss and Scott turned to them both.

"How is he, Sam?" Murdoch decided diversion was necessary for the moment, especially when he looked into his older son's eyes. Fear and pain warred in the pale blue depths.

Sam managed to rein in his anger and respond professionally. "He's lost a lot of blood. I got the bullet out but it's going to be touch and go for a while."

Murdoch walked over to stand behind Scott, a supportive hand on his shoulder as Johnny hobbled toward them. Sam rounded the table and stepped in front of him, talking low.

"You shouldn't be up, Johnny. How's your leg feel?"

"Aches some, Sam. I'm not puttin any weight on it."

Sam glanced around, spying a chair by the wall near the exam table. "Sit there and I'll get another chair to rest your leg on."

"If you need to do somethin for him, I can wait."

"No, son, not right now. Just do as I tell you - for once."

Johnny grimaced and went to the chair, leaning the crutches against the wall. "He's tough, Scott. He'll make it."

"He's so pale."

Murdoch looked at Johnny and shook his head but the younger man glared at him. "Where was he hit?"

"Right side," Sam answered as he carried a chair over and eased Johnny's leg on it. "Stay put."

"Take care of the old man, Sam. I'm alright."

"I've done all I can for now. All we can do is wait."

"I don't understand. Why didn't he wire to tell us he was coming?" Scott asked the room.

"Maybe he wanted to surprise you, son." Murdoch could think of no other viable explanation.

Scott only nodded and went back to his vigil where he remained the rest of the night.

Murdoch acquired a hotel room and finally managed to get Johnny to it. He slept a few hours then went back to Sam's but Scott refused to leave the older man so he sat with his son while the dawn broke.

*****

When Johnny awoke to an empty room, it didn't take long to figure things out. He managed to get downstairs and talk with the hotel manager, arranging breakfast for his family. He walked outside and looked up and down the street, thinking of heading to the jail. He quickly decided against it, not wanting to tick Val off so early in the morning. As he started for Sam's he saw his friend emerge from his office and waved at him.

Val met up with him across the street and they walked silently together. Johnny looked over once then decided not to do that again as he almost lost his balance on the crutches. He'd never been so tired of anything in his life but he couldn't think on it very long. He was more than worried about the old man and how Scott would take it if he died. He idly wondered how he'd take it.

Murdoch looked up when Johnny and Val entered but Scott didn't. The two Lancers spoke with their eyes and Johnny only nodded.

Finally, Scott noticed the difference in the air and looked up. Standing, he nodded at the new additions and addressed Val.

"Have you found out anything more?"

"Yeah, I sure did and it's the dangedest thing."

"Let's step into the other room. Just for a minute, son." Murdoch quickly added the last as Scott opened his mouth to protest.

"What is it, Val?" Johnny asked as he sat on a bench.

Val scratched his head and shook it. "Well, one of the passengers was tellin me about the robbery. Seems them hombres pulled everybody out of the stage. There was three of 'em. Anyways, this fella's daughter was with him and one of the robbers took a likin to her. He started makin some remarks and Mr. Garrett didn't like it much. He stepped up and started tellin 'em all how they was behavin bad and shouldn't talk to a lady like that. Well, there was words exchanged and threats and Mr. Garrett ..." Val stopped and smiled a little, beyond perplexed.

"What? He what?" Scott demanded.

"This fella said Mr. Garrett got all puffed up and says 'You don't know who you're messin with. My grandson is Johnny Madrid.' Or somethin like that."

They all looked over at the choking sound coming off the bench as Johnny strangled on his own tongue. He coughed and looked at Scott with eyes as big as silver dollars.

Scott had his own look of shock then, suddenly, he started to laugh. He bent over, holding his sides as he tried to hold it in but it was for naught.

Murdoch scowled at him until he quieted a little then looked to Val. "Why in heaven's name would he say a thing like that?"

Val, who was enjoying this as much as Scott, continued his story. "Well, maybe he was tryin to scare 'em off. This fella says they all looked at him real funny then decided he was lyin. Mr. Garrett told 'em he had no reason to lie and, how would he know the name anyway if he *was* lyin. Pointed out that he wasn't exactly from around these parts and they'd better believe him cause when Johnny heard about this, he'd be after 'em. Said something about the hounds of hell.

“Anyway, reckon they did finally believe it cause they got in a all-fired hurry all the sudden. Grabbed what they could. But, that one decided he liked the girl more than he was scared and tried to go at her again. That's when Mr. Garrett stepped between him and the girl and they tussled. Mr. Garrett managed to push him to the ground and the gun went off."

Scott's smile left at the end of the tale and he grew solemn.

*****

Johnny watched his brother's head bow then Scott turned and went back to his grandfather.

"Well, that was a fool headed thing to do."

"It was a gamble alright. Reckon it woulda worked, though." Val scratched his beard. "Well, I hope he does okay. The judge will be here in a few days. I'll let ya know what's happenin."

"Thank you, Sheriff. We appreciate it." Murdoch saw him to the door then turned to his son. Johnny had his head back against the wall, his eyes closed. "Are you alright?"

He opened his eyes half-way and looked at his father. "No, I'm not. I'm gonna blister that old man's ears as soon as he can hear me. What the hell was he thinkin? He coulda gotten himself killed pullin a stunt like that. May still."

Brows raised, Murdoch regarded the angry man. "Why are you so upset?"

"Why? Murdoch, that was a stupid thing to do. You know that."

"Yes, I do know that but I still don't know why it upsets you so much."

He raised his head and stared. "Because, I don't want him to die! I ... kind of got used to him bein around ... a little."

Murdoch smiled and sat beside him on the bench, laying a hand on Johnny's knee. "I hate to admit it but, so did I. He was very pleasant during his stay plus, he saved your life. I have to cut him some slack for that."

"I'd think so." A grin slid up his face then slowly dissipated. "I'm just glad Scott thought it was funny. This is tough on him. I don't think he'd made up his mind about the old man yet."

"Well, he'll have more time now. As soon as Sam says, we'll take Harlan home and get him well."

Johnny frowned then looked up at his father with eyes that reminded Murdoch of a boy. "He will get better, won't he?"

He wrapped an arm around his son's shoulders and squeezed. "We'll see to it, son."

*****

Scott barely slept and ate little for two days. No one, not even Johnny, could cajole him into leaving his grandfather. The old man had barely awakened, just enough to take the precious fluids he needed then fell back into slumber. Sam kept saying he was getting better but no one else could tell. Still, they trusted the doctor and held onto his words.

Finally, on the third day, Sam said they could take him home. Murdoch readied a wagon then he and Scott carried Harlan to it. Johnny managed to get in the back with him, stretching out his leg. It was killing him, the constant pain shooting down into his foot, but he said nothing to anyone except Sam.

The physician leaned against the side of the wagon bed next to Johnny as Murdoch climbed aboard and Scott mounted Remmie.

"Remember what I said. No sitting up with him for hours on end. You need to rest that leg, John. I don't want this to get out of control. I've told you what could happen."

"I know, Sam. I promise I'll take care of it. Thanks for keeping this between us."

"If I had my way I wouldn't but, I have to abide by your wishes since you're grown - according to the law anyway."

Johnny smiled at the rejoinder and shook his head.

"All ready back there?"

"All ready, Murdoch." Johnny patted the doctor's arm as he stepped away then turned his attention to Harlan.

"Any sign he's uncomfortable, give a yell," Scott said as he walked Remmie to the side.

"You got it, brother."

They were on their way and Johnny waved back at Sam who stood in the road watching and whispering. "Please God, make him do like I say. I don't want him to lose that leg."

*****

Harlan didn't awaken during the trip and Scott was most happy about that at least. He and Murdoch settled him in a downstairs bedroom as Teresa fussed his covers just right.

"He should sleep a while longer. Sam gave him a dose of morphine before we left."

Teresa nodded her understanding. "Get some rest, Scott. I'll take care of him now. I'm sure you're all exhausted." She stood and turned, looking around the room. "Where's Johnny?"

"I thought he was right behind us. I'll check."

Murdoch opened the bedroom door, surprised Johnny was there and sleeping. He eased the door closed and left his son to rest then went to the kitchen.

"He's asleep."

"He shouldn't have been there in the first place," Scott grumbled.

"I didn't have much choice other than to tie him to his bed, son. He would have come after us."

"I'm not blaming you, Murdoch. I'm just saying he should have stayed home."

"You know your brother. He has to be in the thick of things." Murdoch almost smiled as he sipped his coffee then frowned at the cup. "I shouldn't drink this. In fact, I'm going to lie down a while and I suggest you do the same."

"I will as soon as I'm finished here. I didn't realize how hungry I was."

Murdoch raised a brow but made no comment as he pushed away from the table and went to his room.

Scott finished his stew and stared at the bowl letting his mind relax for a few minutes. He was so tired, bone tired and all he wanted was his bed. His mind tried to start working him, wondering how all of this had come to pass but he pushed it back and headed to his room, determined to sleep for a while.

*****

Harlan groaned even as his hand went to his right side. He squeezed his eyes tightly for a moment then felt a cool cloth on his forehead. Sighing at the refreshing comfort, he pried his lids open and blinked Teresa into focus.

"Lie still now. You've been badly hurt."

Her voice soothed his worry and he did relax. "What happened?"

She settled in the chair and observed him. "You were shot in a stagecoach robbery."

Memory came forth in increments until the full picture developed in his mind's eye. He nodded. "Yes, I remember now. How did I get here?"

"You've been at the doctor's office for two days. They brought you home this morning. Scott never left your side until we got you settled in here. He's resting now as are Murdoch and Johnny."

He was quiet for a moment then seemed to startle. "Johnny? He didn't go to town, did he? He isn't well enough yet, surely."

Teresa cocked a brow. "Yes, he went to town and no, he wasn't well enough but that's never stopped him before."

"Foolish boy!"

She almost laughed. "Well, I think you should give him a good tongue lashing when he's better. For now, you need some broth. I won't be long."

"Scotty never left me, you say?"

She smiled warmly at him which surprised her. "Not for a minute, Murdoch said. I'll be right back now."

He watched her leave, the door ajar and smiled to himself at the thought. It wasn't exactly how he would have liked to regain his grandson's affections but, Scotty must be warming up to him if he refused to leave him. Then again, it could have simply been a feeling of responsibility, of obligation on Scott's part. He hoped it was more but he sure wished he didn't have to get shot to know it.

He inhaled deeply and felt the pull of the stitches, wondering what the wound looked like and if Dr. Jenkins was really as good as Johnny proclaimed. A frown came to his face. And what of Johnny? What in the world made him do such a thing? Riding into town with that leg so bad. The doctor had said it would take weeks to heal completely. He shouldn't have been up like that. The young lady may have been joking but, he felt like giving that boy a good tongue lashing alright. Maybe lashing something else!

A chuckle escaped as he thought how ridiculous an idea that was then, a feeling of contentment came over him and he puzzled with that for a while.

He saw the door open wider from his periphery and looked up expecting to see Teresa.

*****

"It's nice to see you fully awake, Sir. I brought some soup broth for you."

"Scotty! Teresa said you were resting."

"I was and I feel better now. How are you feeling?"

Harlan thought his voice sounded strained, as if he were working hard on being polite. It didn't bode well and he was thinking his idea that Scotty felt obligated was truer than he'd hoped.  

"I must admit I feel badly."

Scott turned from arranging the tray at the dresser. "Are you in pain?"

"Some though it's not as bad as I would have thought getting shot would feel."

"Well, there's laudanum. I'll get you some after you've eaten. You need to start regaining your strength."

All the quicker to get me on my way, he thought bitterly. Why had he thought for one second Scotty would put aside all the anger and resentment? That he would be able to? Though he supposed he couldn't blame the young man, it still hurt to hear that same tone of voice now as when he'd left Lancer two weeks ago.

"Yes, of course." What else could he say to that?

Scott smiled a little and walked over to the cedar chest at the foot of the bed and pulled out some pillows. "We'll need to sit you up just a little," he explained as he went about the chore.

Harlan grunted and groaned a time or two until he was settled fairly comfortably. Scott fed him and he couldn't help feeling like an invalid. Not something he was used to, he thought and felt his cheeks warm.

"Johnny hates it when I do this for him, too. I'm not crazy about it myself but sometimes, it's necessary to have some help."

"I appreciate everything you've done, my boy."

Again, Scott smiled. "You're being a very good patient. Now, it's time for some medicine and a lot of sleep." He set aside the tray and picked up the brown bottle and spoon.

Harlan watched him closely but there wasn't much on Scott's face as he concentrated on pouring the medicine into the spoon and feeding it to him.

"Thank you, again."

"No need, Sir. I just want you to get better."

Was that compassion in his voice? Yes, Harlan thought it was. Of course, Scotty was a compassionate man. "How is Johnny? Teresa told me he went to town."

Instantly, Scott's face fell into an angry visage. "He did and it was a stupid thing to do. He's sleeping now and he'd better stay in that bed."

"I agree. I don't know what he thought he could accomplish."

Scott ran a hand through his hair. "He wanted to be there for me, I suppose. It will do no good to harp at him, though. Johnny is the most stubborn man I've ever met."

Harlan smiled a little at that. "I'm not so sure about that but I won't argue the point. I am getting rather sleepy now." As if to demonstrate the point, he yawned widely.

Scott relaxed his expression and stood, helping the older man to settle further down in the bed. "I'll check on you in a while."

"Goodnight, Scotty." Harlan barely murmured the words as his eyes slid shut.

*****

Johnny awoke the next morning to an odd sound. At least, it was odd until he realized what it was. Laughing a little, he shook his head. His stomach was very loud this morning but he shouldn't wonder. He'd missed lunch and supper and was surprised he'd slept the entire night through.

Cautiously, he sat up and pulled the covers off his legs, happy the swelling was gone. His leg and foot were very sore when he flexed but, that didn't worry him too much. Sam had told him he could move around a few times a day for short periods which was a good thing since his bladder was about to explode.

He eased his legs over the side of the bed and touched the floor with a hiss. Grabbing the crutches, he got to his feet and went about his morning rituals. He made it to the dresser and washed his face, pondering a shave as the door swung open. He sighed irritably.

"Well, it's about time."

He glared at his brother for a second then hobbled back to the bedside. "What time is it?"

"Nine o'clock. Maria has taken pity and promised to make you breakfast whenever you deign to make your presence known." Scott gave a slight bow as if addressing royalty.

Johnny bit his lip then glanced up at his brother sheepishly. "Think you could really butter her up and get her to bring it to me?"

Scott's alarms resounded inside his head as he walked over to sit beside his brother. "What's going on?"

"Well," he breathed out. "Sam told me to stay off this leg for a couple of days. Said I could get up for a minute or two when I had to but otherwise to stay down."

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"Tellin ya now."

Sighing heavily and loudly, Scott shook his head at the insanity of his family. "We would have come to check on you if we'd known, Johnny."

"Sure, and wake me up doin it. I'm okay, just need to rest this leg a while longer, is all. How's the old man?"

"Better. He ate a good breakfast and seems more alert though it doesn't take long to tire him out." Scott allowed the diversion for now, unwilling or, maybe unable, to go ten rounds with his brother today. Maybe Murdoch would take up that gauntlet.

"That's great! He'll be up and around in no time."

"At least someone will. Alright, back in bed then. I'm surprised you're listening to Sam for a change."

"I'm sure he will be, too." Johnny grinned then pulled that grin wider to hide a grimace as he got into bed.

"I'll let Murdoch know. Maybe he'll wait a while before thrashing you."

"I doubt it." He sighed tiredly.

"Try to stay awake long enough to have some breakfast."

"Oh, I will. My stomach is eatin my spine."

*****

Murdoch paced the great room while Scott waited for the explosion. He didn't have to wait long.

"I told him to stay home but does he listen to me? Of course not! I've just been on this earth quite a while longer and know a few more things than he does but that doesn't matter. He can take care of himself!"

The pure sarcasm of that last statement had Scott biting his lip furiously to keep from laughing.

"And all the sudden he's listening to Sam? Why now?" Murdoch stopped on a dime and slowly turned to face his son. "Why now?" he asked mostly himself.

Scott's head came up, suspicion and worry jockeying for a place in his expression.

Murdoch turned sharply and headed upstairs, Scott on his heels.

They entered the room and Murdoch's wrath melted as he watched his son sleeping. Now, he had to decide if he should wake Johnny and kill him now or later. He'd almost decided on later when the object of his anger and worry opened his eyes.

"Hey."

"Well, hello there."

Johnny's eyes went immediately to his brother and he knew the old man was pissed.

"How are you?" Murdoch continued his farce as he grabbed a chair and sat it beside the bed.

"Okay."

"Okay? Just okay? Don't you mean fine?"

"Murdoch..."

"Johnny, tell me everything. You wouldn't be adhering to Sam's instructions unless there was a very good, or bad, reason. Now, spill it!"

He lowered his eyes and let out a breath then started playing with the hem of the blanket. "My leg was hurtin pretty good. Sam said the circulation wasn't workin right and if I didn't do exactly what he told me ... I could lose my leg."

Murdoch leaned in to hear him then sat back, startled at the prognosis. "Johnny, my God. Why didn't you tell me?"

He shrugged. "You had enough on your plate."

"Enough on my plate!? Do you think Harlan Garrett's health is more important to me than yours?"

His head came up and he glanced at his brother's grim face. "No, but Scott needed you."

"Not as much as you did, brother. You didn't want anyone fussing over you. That's the reason, isn't it? Or maybe, you just didn't want to deal with it." Scott sat at the foot of the bed, careful of Johnny's leg.

"Why can't you let us help you, son? Why is it so hard?"

His brows knitted together and he swallowed hard before looking at his father. "I don't know."

"Find out," Scott said flatly. "It's been two years, Johnny. It's time to let go of that lone wolf garbage and be a full member of this family. I won't accept any less from you from this moment on."

Johnny looked at him, appalled for a moment until he realized Scott was right.

The look of chagrin on his face was endearing and Scott almost gave in. Almost. Then, he set his jaw and looked expectantly at his brother.

"Okay. I'll tell you everything from now on."

"Do we have your word on that?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny pulled a face. "Yeah, you have my word. I'll tell you whenever I'm sick or have a problem and I won't wait until it gets worse before saying anything."

"Thank you, brother."

"And you promise to do the same. Both of you." Johnny eyed each man and dared them to scoff at the idea they were any less guilty than he.

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other with a smile. In harmony, they replied, "I promise."

"Well, now that's settled and you're intent on following Sam's orders, he'll be out later this evening to check you and Harlan. Until then, you rest. Can we get you anything?" Murdoch stood as he spoke, replacing the chair.

"Right now, I'm still kind of tired but maybe something to read later."

"Between you and Grandfather, every book in the library will be read before it's over." Scott smiled and patted his good leg then stood to join his father.

*****

"I can't believe he's still keeping this kind of thing from us." Murdoch's tone was more one of pain and disappointment than anger as he wearily sat in a chair. It wasn't even noon yet and he felt drained.

"It's hard to change everything you've always known, the way you've handled your life. Two years really isn't all that long but I believe him. He gave us his word."

Murdoch nodded and smiled a little for his son. "Yes, he did. Now, as soon as Harlan is a little stronger, I want him to tell us what he thought he was doing out there. I hope you don't think I'm going to let that go."

Scott frowned and shook his head. "No, I don't expect you to. He needs to understand just how dangerous spouting off like that could be. Those men could have killed him for no other reason than they thought he was related to Johnny."

"Exactly. I suppose I can understand what he was thinking but he isn't used to the ways out here. Well, it can wait a while." Murdoch paused, considering his son seated across from him. "How are you feeling about him?"

Scott's head came up, surprised by the question. He didn't answer right away, allowing himself a moment's meditation. "I've been very worried. I never wanted him hurt and it's hard to see him so vulnerable. As for all the rest, I don't know how I feel now any more than I did. He seems so different, like a new man. I just have a hard time accepting that he's changed that much. All this concern for Johnny ... I don't want to think the worst, Sir."

"You still think he's trying to manipulate your brother. Gain his confidence but to what end? Johnny's no fool. He won't allow Harlan to hurt him or you. If he's truly come to understand Johnny better, he should know that."

"Unless he's playing us all and believes his strategy will work. He could become overconfident."

"If that happens, son, he'll show his hand sooner or later. Overconfidence is most often the cause of any man's fall." Murdoch licked his lips and repositioned himself in his seat before continuing. "There's always the possibility he's being sincere, Scott. I, for one, would very much like to believe that."

"You would? I'm sorry but, I would have thought you were hoping he was up to something."

"Why?"

"So he'd be out of my life forever."

Murdoch cringed at the flat, matter-of-fact tone. "I will admit at one time that was true. When I was younger and full of anger and hatred for Harlan and what he'd taken from me, all I wanted was revenge. Even last year, I was still very angry with him, very distrustful."

"As well you should have been."

"The point is, I believe what happened then has changed him. I think he's come to accept the way things are and only wants to mend the rift between the two of you."

"How? By buddying up to my brother?"

Murdoch smiled a little. "I really don't think that was intentional, son. They both seem to be very surprised by that turn of events. Maybe, Johnny even more than Harlan. But, think about this. You know your brother had no use for him and you know Johnny doesn't trust easily anyway. So, shouldn't that tell you something?"

"It tells me my brother is doing this for my benefit. I don't believe Johnny would do anything to put me in harm's way but I do think he'd go to some lengths to help me regain my relationship with Grandfather."

"I think he would as well. That doesn't mean he'd cozy up to Harlan. Johnny wouldn't act this way if he didn't feel this way. You know it's not in him to pretend he likes someone when he doesn't."

Scott knew that all too well. Johnny was polite around guests but if he didn't care for someone, his usual way out was to make himself scarce. He hadn't done that with Harlan. Just the opposite. He'd gone out of his way to spend time with the man and Scott knew it was so he could size Harlan up, find out what he was up to. Johnny seemed to genuinely like the man. Scott still wasn't sure what to make of it all.

"One more thing, son. I doubt your grandfather is such a good actor that he could keep up a farce after having been shot. You said yourself how upset he was that Johnny was in town."

Scott frowned even deeper as he acknowledged the sense his father was making.

*****

Sam came out that evening and was very pleased with both his patients. Johnny still had to stay abed for a few days and Harlan was nowhere near ready to be up and about but the doctor felt satisfied they were on their way to healing.

Johnny was not happy but he was also not going to buck. The truth he'd never admit to anyone was, Sam had scared the hell out of him talking about cutting his leg off. He was determined that was not going to happen so he did as he was told.

For the next three days, both patients were docile and compliant. When Sam made his next visit, he was almost pleased at what he heard before he even made it through Johnny's door. The young man was starting in on him before ever laying eyes.

"Will you stop caterwauling and let me at least look at your leg before you start making demands?" He groused and frowned and yanked a chair to the bedside, all the while holding back a smile.

Johnny growled one more time then crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

"Alright," Sam began as he adjusted the blankets. "Listen to me well. You still have to use the crutches but you can start moving around as much as you want. The pulses in your foot are nice and strong and that means the circulation is fine. The wound is healing very well but it isn't healed yet. That's why the crutches. Don't put any weight on that leg. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, Sam, I understand and thanks." Johnny smiled at the man, his gratitude loud in the still room as he locked onto his friend's eyes. "How's Harlan?"

"He's doing very well. Much stronger and he'll probably be up in a day or so. The stitches are fine and there's no infection."

Johnny nodded. "So, I can go downstairs?"

"Yes, but get someone to help you for a while. You're weak from lying in bed and you'll be a bit wobbly."

He snorted softly. "I'm always wobbly on those sticks."

Sam laughed. "Well, better those sticks than nothing at all. I'll tell Murdoch and I'm sure he'll be up to help you soon."

"Thanks again, Sam. I really appreciate everything."

*****

"Slowly, son."

"If I go any slower, I won't be movin at all."

"Just do like I tell you for once in your life."

Johnny stopped as Murdoch held him around the waist, waiting for him to balance on his right leg. He looked at his father with something akin to surprise. "I always do what you tell me."

Murdoch looked down at him, a slight smile tugging at his mouth. "Not always. You never stopped running through the house when I told you and you never put your toys away when I told you."

Rolling his eyes, Johnny smirked. "You can't hold anything against a little kid, old man. Ain't fair. Besides, no little kid does what he's told. Now, if you asked me to stop running through the house and put my toys away now, I'd do it."

Murdoch struggled to maintain his passive gaze but it didn't last long as he chuckled and pulled Johnny a little closer to him. "Just get your crutches straightened out. There will be no running for you for quite a while anyway."

Smiling, Johnny positioned the gruesome devices then nodded he was ready. Murdoch released him and he stood still for a few seconds then began moving. Two steps and he stopped, grimacing with pain. "Damn!"

"What? What's wrong?" He immediately came to his son's side.

"Just hurts a little, my leg hanging like this. Feels like all the blood's goin straight to my foot. It's okay. Did the same thing before."

"If you're sure but I'm right here."

Johnny nodded, his head still down and a slight smile there. Sometimes, it still hit him hard that his old man was, indeed, right here. He wondered if he'd ever get used to this. Sucking in a breath, he proceeded out of his room. It was the stairs that gave him pause and he knew he couldn't avoid having help with that. He found he didn't mind either. Funny, seemed like since they'd all given their word not to keep anything secret anymore, he didn't mind having them help him so much. Didn't mean he was gonna make a career of it though, he thought wryly.

Murdoch thought he should have just carried Johnny down. It would have been faster and easier but, he couldn't deny his son as much dignity as he could retain. No man liked to show weakness. He was pretty notorious about that himself. Still, it was hard not to intervene in their lives. He tried but sometimes, a father just had to step in when his child was about to do something foolish or dangerous. Shaking the thoughts aside and grateful they'd reached the downstairs landing, Murdoch unclenched his jaw.

"Where to?"

"Sofa."

He dipped his head to try and see Johnny's face but all he saw was a partial profile. One that was nearly dripping with sweat. "Johnny?"

"I'll make it," he grunted and went about proving the statement. Plopping onto the sofa, Johnny held the crutches out to his side for a second before leaning them against the end table. He swiped a hand down his face and closed his eyes, leaning his head back.

Murdoch took out his handkerchief and sat beside him, nudging him a little to take the cloth.

"Thanks," Johnny whispered as he wiped his face.

"Tell me the truth."

"I'm worn out. That's the truth. I just need to rest a little. Don't plan on goin anywhere else."

"Alright, then. I'm going to see about a few things and I'll be back in a couple of hours. If you need anything, shout for Teresa or Maria."

Johnny simply nodded, resuming his relaxed position on the sofa and resting his leg on the table. When he heard the door close, he moved that leg to the sofa cushions and melted.

*****

Harlan sat in a chair by the open bedroom window and watched the world outside. A busy world. Men were coming and going constantly, cattle moving noisily about, horses stomping, snorting and prancing, chickens and that goose chasing anything and everything. It was quite amusing to watch that goose terrorize the yard. He realized he must be losing his mind if this was entertaining. A smile came to his face.

Yes, he must be losing his sanity. He was enjoying being here. This simple, rustic life which he was beginning to understand wasn't really so simple. The management that went into running an operation of this size was monumental. It had to be and he was beginning to have some respect for Murdoch Lancer's business savvy.

Scotty and Johnny as well, he realized. They both had a hand in running this place, making decisions that could make or break the ranch. He raised his brows as this idea formed. How could he have been so blind? All these years, he'd pictured Lancer as no more than a farm. A small farm with a mud hut for a home with one room. He imagined the wind blowing through cracks in the walls, a dirt floor and many more unpleasant and uninhabitable visions. That is what he'd thought his Catherine had moved all this way for. He'd been so wrong and about so many things.

Wrong about Murdoch and Johnny and even Scotty. For he'd believed Scotty was here for an adventure and he would tire of it soon then come home. When that hadn't happened, he'd devised his ill-conceived plan of blackmail. Even now, he felt sickened at the depths he'd sunk. And if he felt that way, it was no wonder Scotty couldn't forgive him.

He'd seen the brothers together more this visit than last year but, even then, he could see it. It had frightened and angered him then. The friendship between them had threatened his relationship with Scotty. At least, that's what he'd thought. Now, things were different.

If only he'd taken the time to see things more clearly. Visited before coming up with his scheme. Would it have mattered? Scotty would have discovered the truth one way or the other. Harlan knew it wasn't the stunt he'd pulled last year that hurt Scotty. It was keeping him from his father all his life the young man was having trouble accepting. But, perhaps if he hadn't done what he had, that fact would have been easier to deal with. He didn't know and he didn't think Scotty knew either.

He was a patient man in business, waiting as long as he needed before closing a deal. With his grandson, that patience wore thin, always had, and he wasn't sure he could hold out much longer. If Scotty didn't come to a decision, he feared he'd lose his temper with the boy and that would be disastrous.

He sighed and lowered his head from the picturesque scene. It was then he realized he was no longer alone. Harlan turned his head, his eyes brightening and a smile coming to his face. "Come in, my boy."

*****

Johnny smiled from the doorway. "You seemed a million miles away. I didn't want to startle you." He hobbled in and sat across from Harlan. "Whatcha lookin at?"

"Oh, I was watching that goose wreak havoc for a while."

"Dewdrop. Yeah, he's a terror, alright." Johnny grinned wickedly. "Scott and I've threatened to cook him more'n once."

Harlan smiled back and shook his head. "How are you?"

"Better. Still hurts and the wound ain't healed yet but, it's comin along. You?"

"Much better, thank you. Dr. Jenkins is only allowing me to the chair for now."

"He's a hard taskmaster but, he's usually right."

"Usually?"

Johnny shrugged. "Okay, he's always right."

Harlan nodded at the satisfactory answer. "At least, he's allowed *you* out of your room."

"Well, he'll cut ya loose soon enough. Still, he's gonna have rules, you can count on that." Johnny's smile wavered as he looked at the man. Then, he drew his brows together and swallowed hard. "I want to ask you somethin."

"Of course."

He sighed and looked at the man. "I want to know what the hell you were thinkin tellin them robbers I was your grandson."

Harlan sat back in the chair, stunned as much from the harsh tone of voice as the fact that Johnny knew about it. "Who told you?"

"The sheriff. One of the passengers told him. The father of that girl you were protectin. So?"

"Well, I thought it would scare them off, quite frankly and it worked - almost."

"Almost. Well, let me tell you what very well could have happened. The minute you said my name, they coulda shot you dead, old man. Coulda thought if they let you live, I'd come after 'em just like you promised. If you were so sure my name would have 'em wettin their pants, didn't it occur to you they might do something stupid? And, by the way, I do not strike fear into the hearts of men!"

He was still shocked by the anger which seemed to be growing with every word. But, Harlan Garrett was not above his own irritation. "I took a calculated risk, Johnny. I sized those men up and found them to be more than lacking. They were cowards, every one of them. They were also letches. Salivating over that poor girl. It was sickening!"

"I'm sure it was but, you can't go throwin my name around like that, Mr. Garrett. You don't understand. You don't know what you're doin. It was dangerous and stupid."

*****

Harlan's face turned three shades of red. "Young man, I believe we've had this conversation before. The one where you show your elders some respect!"

Johnny now slumped back in his chair. "Are you kiddin me? If you want respect for bein my elder, act your age. Out there actin like some kind of hero. Are you crazy? You almost died. You coulda died!" His voice shook and he clamped his mouth shut and lowered his head, rubbing his face vigorously with his hand.

Harlan deflated and stared at him, mouth hanging open for a moment. "You were worried."

"Of course I was worried! You scared me half ta death!" His head came up as he realized what he had said. "Scott ... I mean, you scared Scott and that scared me."

Harlan smiled at the back-peddling. "Of course. I knew that's what you meant. It was all for Scotty."

Johnny sighed and studied him. "Not all of it, no. I was gettin kind of used to you, is all. And it would've killed Scott if you died."

He frowned and shook his head sadly. "I'm not so sure about that. Oh, I know it would have upset him but, I'm beginning to think Scotty will never forgive me."

"Has he said something?"

"No, and that's why I believe as I do. He's been very polite and concerned. And very reserved."

Johnny sighed again, tired of the constant drama. "Well, I don't know what to tell you. We haven't talked about you."

"It isn't your problem to fix, Johnny. I do appreciate your concern. All of your concern." He smiled then his face took on a look of sudden apprehension. "My bags. Do you know what happened to my bags?"

"No, I didn't even think about it. Scott might know or Val. I can send someone to town if it's important."

"It is but don't take anyone away from their work. Perhaps the next time someone needs to go."

Johnny nodded then remembered something. "How come you were on that stage anyway? You weren't gone long enough to do all your business, were you?"

"My business fell through, I'm afraid. I had the opportunity to catch a stage and didn't have time to wire. I was going to send a message once I got to town."

"Sorry. I mean, you seemed to be looking forward to it."

"Truthfully, as soon as I met those men I knew I wanted nothing to do with them. They do not conduct business as I'm used to which is civilly. They spent the entire meeting drinking, smoking cigars and telling bawdy stories."

Johnny laughed softly. "Met a few of those. Drives Murdoch crazy, too. He can't stand to be around people like that. He's so serious about business."

"As well he should be. I was thinking earlier that I misjudged his business acumen. To have built all this and keep it running must be a huge responsibility."

"Yeah, it is. He's done an incredible job, still does. Murdoch is one of the smartest men I've ever met."

"Thank you, son. And, thank you, Harlan."

*****

They both looked up to see the rancher in the doorway. Johnny smiled. "Spyin again."

A small smile shadowed Murdoch's lips. "I'm afraid so though I don't think it's necessary anymore." He moved closer to them, sitting at the foot of the bed. "Lunch is ready. I was hunting for you. I figured you'd be in here."

"I got lonely." Johnny grinned a little and Harlan laughed.

"Well, why don't I have lunch brought in here? You can keep each other company."

"That is a wonderful idea, Murdoch. Thank you. I don't particularly like eating alone."

Johnny shrugged. "Never bothered me long as there's food."

Neither man laughed at his 'joke'. Murdoch cleared his throat then nodded and walked out.

"What did I say?"

"Nothing at all, Johnny. What did he mean it wasn't necessary to spy anymore?"

He grinned and leaned in as if it were a secret. "He's been spyin on you, keepin an eye out. You know."

Harlan made a silent Ahhh and shook his head, smiling. Ridiculously happy that his once son-in-law seemed to trust him; saddened his grandson still didn't.

"But, it wasn't nothing," Johnny said, wanting an answer to his father's odd behavior.

Harlan frowned for a moment before understanding the statement. "I suppose it reminded him there've been times when you didn't have any food."

Johnny's eyes widened then he slumped down and shook his head. "Can't say nothin without bringing out bad memories," he muttered.

Harlan leaned forward and rested a hand on his arm. "He feels guilty, Johnny, and there is nothing that will change that. I'm sure it will get better but there will always be times when Murdoch is reminded that he couldn't find you. Even though it wasn't his fault, he's a father and it is a burden on his heart that you had a difficult childhood. One that you can do nothing about because it isn't your fault, either."

*****

Scott stood in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest, a look of pure antipathy on his face. "I must say it is astonishing to hear you giving out advice on how a father feels."

Johnny glared at his brother, his eyes going to Harlan as the old man lowered his head and leaned back. "Mind not eavesdroppin on private conversations, brother?"

"My apologies, brother. It wasn't intentional but I could hardly believe my ears." Scott's sarcasm shone through above his anger. He regarded his grandfather for a beat. "I mean, how could you possibly know what Murdoch thinks about anything?"

"Whether you care to remember or not, Scotty, I was a father. I had a child. I know what it is like to worry over that child even when they're grown. I also do not appreciate your tone."

Johnny looked back and forth between them. He wasn't about to leave.

"I find it ridiculous, Sir, that you are trying to tell Johnny how Murdoch feels about his childhood when you know little to nothing about it yourself. It is a bit hypocritical, don't you think?"

"What's the matter with you?" Johnny asked.

"Please don't interfere, Johnny," Harlan said then turned to Scott. "I can only imagine what Johnny's life was like growing up alone, Scotty. It doesn't take much to conjure the image, however. Why are you so angry?"

"Because it's none of your business and very presumptuous of you to hand out advice when you don't know what you're talking about!"

"That's enough and no, I won't stay out of it if you're gonna fight over me." Johnny came to his feet then quickly shifted his weight to the right, wobbling for a second as he found his balance. "Scott, this ain't your business. We were having a private conversation. I asked your grandfather a question and he gave me his answer. Whatever is goin on with you, that's what you need to hash out. Don't use me to show him how pissed you are." He took a deep breath. "Now, there just ain't no graceful way to do this so you're gonna just have to be patient while I leave!"

He grabbed his crutches and made his way to the door then stopped. Turning around wasn't such a good idea so he didn't. "Just get to the truth of it, Scott. Both of you. Whatever you're feelin and thinkin, get it said, brother." He went on his way, angry he couldn't slam the door behind him but he'd probably fall on his face. Instead, he headed to the kitchen to warn his father not to go in there.

*****

Scott watched the space where his brother just was for a long moment before going over and closing the door. He turned and stared at his grandfather.

"I know you can't forgive me, Scotty, and I'm sure it upsets you that I'm getting along with your family. I don't know what else to say to you, son. I don't know how many different ways I can apologize for what I did. I am sorry, dreadfully sorry for the way things happened. I wanted you and I can't feel badly for that but, I had no right to you. I realize that now. I should have done things very differently but I simply cannot change the past. You are going to have to either accept it or not. That's all I know to do."

Scott walked over and took the seat his brother had vacated with a heavy sigh. "I know. I'm sorry, Sir. I don't know what got into me just now. I was fine then I heard you explaining Murdoch to Johnny." He stopped and rubbed his forehead. "I suppose it reminded me that you never told me anything about my father as a child."

The old man grimaced. "It's probably a good thing I didn't. Back then, anything I told you would not have been very pleasant or flattering to Murdoch."

"I suppose." Scott raised his eyes and locked onto his grandfather's. "I want to believe you but I won't have you hurt Johnny. It's as simple as that."

Harlan nodded his understanding. He felt an odd flutter in his chest seeing Scott so protective, so ... paternal almost. "I don't want to hurt him and I do like him very much. I'm also starting to see Murdoch differently. I never spent any time with him all those years ago when he was courting Catherine. I didn't approve so I had no reason to give him the time of day. I was sure it was a fancy on your mother's part and she would tire of him. I wish my ability to see people as they are was as good as my business sense." He paused as he considered his own words.

"But, I'm learning, Scotty. I'm letting myself see there is more in this world, there is more to people than what I've allowed into my own world. I think that has been the problem all along. I wanted to fit people into my world and if they didn't fit, I had no use for them. Murdoch certainly didn't fit and neither did Johnny."

Scott listened and thought but how could he know for sure?

"It all really comes down to faith, I suppose. How much faith you place in people. Because, without that, there can never be trust. You placed your faith in your brother and father and it paid off. Your faith in me failed. Perhaps, I don't deserve a second chance. But, I'm asking for one, just the same."

Scott looked up from his ruminations. A second chance? That's what Johnny had said and hadn't his brother been given a second chance at life? And look how they had all reaped the benefits of that second chance.

"I love you, Scotty, if that means anything to you. I want to be in your life. Can you get past this?"

He closed his eyes and rubbed them with two fingers. "I want to but it will take some time. I feel like I need to get to know you all over again."

"As long as there is some hope. But, I have a feeling you really don't like me spending time with Johnny."

Scott looked up, frowning. "Like I said, I don't want him hurt."

"And you don't think he has the sense to tell if I'm up to something?"

A small smile lit his face. "Murdoch pointed out the same thing. I'm protective of him, I can't help that. I know he can take care of himself and read people better than most. That doesn't mean he doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, Sir. Johnny *can* be hurt and I don't mean just physically."

Raising a brow, Harlan smiled. "That part is obvious but I also know he has a heart. I've seen it especially, when he talks about you."

Scott actually blushed fractionally. "He's come to like you."

"I've come to like him, as well."

"I hope so."

Harlan frowned at the pain he saw in those eyes. It broke his heart to be the cause of it. "Scotty, I have a proposition for you." He smiled when he saw the suspicious look. "I'd like to stay on here for a while and give us all some time to really know one another. Give you the time to decide if you can forgive me. There is no other way. Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder."

The young man quirked his lips. "Why is it I think this was what you wanted all along? You brought enough clothing with you for six months."

"It is exactly what I had in mind. I wanted to be prepared if you were willing to give me another chance. If not, well..." he shrugged.

"And you couldn't just tell me that?"

"Tell you I've packed to move in? That would not have gone over well, would it? As I said, I wanted to be prepared for the hope I had. I told you when I first arrived I would ask you to come home. You gave me the answer I expected but that, too, was hope. So, I suppose you could say this old man has started believing in something besides money."

Scott cocked a brow at that but he knew his grandfather and he always prepared for any eventuality. It wasn't something he wanted to quibble over. "I'll talk to Murdoch and Johnny. If they agree, then yes, I think it would be a good idea for you to stay."

*****

"Now, there's one more matter we need to discuss." Scott's voice had that firm, no-nonsense tone. "I realize you aren't familiar with the way things work out here but surely you could have guessed."

Harlan shook his head in confusion and Scott sighed.

"What in the world did you think you could gain by proclaiming to those highwaymen that Johnny Madrid is your grandson?!"

Relaxing back in the chair, Harlan waved off the question. "I thought they would run off and they almost did."

"Sir, they could have easily killed you just for that. Don't you understand? They could have decided leaving you alive to identify them to Johnny was too great a risk."

"Then they would have had to kill everyone."

"And you think they wouldn't have? Grandfather, those kind of men have no morals. They don't view life and death the same as we do. They have no conscience!""

Harlan watched his face and saw the fear, the worry. He bit back a smile as warmth spread through him. "You're right, my boy. I didn't think of that. It was more of a gut reaction, I suppose, than anything. I don't know anything about Johnny's past as a gunfighter. I can see now it wasn't the most sensible move to make. I ... I hope you weren't offended."

Scott frowned then relaxed his face. "Actually, I thought it was rather funny at first. Until I thought through the possible consequences. If you're asking if I was jealous, the answer is no. I understood what you were trying to do. I just want you to understand how dangerous it can be to throw Johnny's name around like that."

"He's already chastised me for it, you know. He said his name did not strike fear in the hearts of men but I disagree. Those three were quite frightened. Unfortunately, one of them didn't seem to have a very long attention span for such details." His fists clenched as he pressed them into the arms of the chair. "Despicable! The things he said and implied to that poor girl."

Scott laughed softly and shook his head. "My grandfather, the hero."

*****

"Do you need a pillow for that leg?"

Johnny looked up from his sandwich. "It's fine." He glanced at said leg propped on a chair beside him. It was a little awkward sitting sideways at the table but it was better than eating in bed. "Ain't heard anymore yellin."

"That's a good sign, I suppose." Murdoch glanced toward the hallway leading to Harlan's room.

"Scott coulda stabbed him. That's quiet."

Murdoch's head jerked around as he stared at his son. Johnny started laughing and he gave him a frown. Both men turned when Scott entered the room and sat in his usual seat.

It was quiet as the man stared at the table top until Maria set a plate in front of him. He gave her a wan smile but made no attempt to eat.

"Well, what happened? Is the old man still breathin?"

"Johnny."

"What, Murdoch? He can't just come in here and sit quietly."

"I'm trying to figure out how to start this conversation." Scott stared hard at his brother. "We had a long talk and, while everything isn't resolved, I want to give him a chance. The only thing is, in order to give him that chance, I have to be around him."

Johnny sat up straight, his leg shifting to the edge of the chair. He tightened his lips to keep from hissing then glared at his brother.

"How have you worked that out, son?" Murdoch's heart thundered in his chest. Not again. Dear Lord, not again.

"He's asked to stay on here indefinitely." Scott looked up as both men relaxed back in their seats and sighed. "Did you really think I would leave?"

"Who the hell knows, Scott? The way you've been actin lately, I've been wantin to send you packin a time or two myself. Just not all the way to Boston, is all."

Scott gave him a half-smile, half-grimace. "Look, it's not that easy, Johnny. It's not like I can just shrug off what he did. I also know nothing will change it." He stopped when he felt his father's hand on his arm.

"Harlan is welcome to stay here as long as he likes."

"Thank you, Sir."

"You bet. He can move in if he wants." Johnny smiled wickedly, casting a glance in his father's direction and receiving a scowl. "Oh, by the way, he was askin after his luggage."

"I'll bet he was. I didn't even think about it. Well, I can ride into town, see if Val has it."

"Said he had some important things in there but he didn't want anyone making a special trip."

Scott shook his head. "Maybe he is changing. Grandfather would have insisted on that very thing a year ago. Well, I'll take him some lunch and talk to him about it. I talked to him about that stunt he pulled on the stage, too."

"I already gave him what for over that, too, brother. He wasn't real impressed when I yelled at him over it."

"He's never impressed with yelling. He'll have to get over that if he stays around here." Scott smiled. "I think I made him understand how foolish it was."

*****

After lunch, Scott rode to Green River and retrieved his grandfather's luggage. Smiling, he was glad he'd had the foresight to use a surrey. The back was laden though the man hadn't taken everything with him to Sacramento. Still, Scott was sure there was an extra bag there.

Harlan smiled as he carried it all in. "That one, Scotty. The new beige one."

Scott brought him the item then sat down. "It's heavy. What's so important?"

Harlan pulled out three books and handed them over. "I found these in a bookstore. Just released two months ago in New York."

"Thank you, Sir. It will be nice to have something new to read."

"You're welcome. Where is Johnny?"

"Right here. Saw Scott come back and I had to see what was so important." He hobbled into the room and sat in the chair Scott gave up for him. "Thanks, brother."

"Well, I got you something, too, Johnny. I hope it wasn't presumptuous but Scotty gave me the idea."

Scott only shrugged when Johnny looked up at him. Harlan pulled a package out and handed it over.

With a sidelong look of suspicion, Johnny unwrapped the package and stared at the tablets of drawing paper. Finally, he spoke softly. "Thank you. I ran out months ago. Never got around to getting anymore."

"Why didn't you say something, Johnny? I thought you'd just stopped."

"Wasn't important, brother."

"You'll need these, Johnny," Harlan said as he handed over the pencils.

He whistled lowly. "Never had anything this fancy. I always just steal one of Murdoch's pencils."

"That's where they go." Murdoch smiled as he entered the room.

"This is for you, Murdoch." Harlan handed over a pouch of pipe tobacco.

"You didn't have to do that, Harlan. Thank you."

"They're all bribes, I can assure you."

"Yeah, right. Takes more than this to bribe me, Mr. Garrett. You're gonna have to do better from now on." Johnny grinned at him.  

*****

For the next month, Scott spent more and more time with his grandfather and, after some long evenings alone, they came to an understanding. Scott wasn't upset anymore when his brother talked to Harlan. He no longer felt the man was trying to use Johnny.

During the day, Johnny and Harlan continued to spend time together while Johnny was healing but now that he was back to work, Harlan found it hard to occupy himself.

He went for long rides and felt he knew Lancer well by now. He'd explored some interesting and beautiful spots on the ranch and found himself calm and content for the first time he could remember. He understood why the Lancers loved this place so and he wasn't really missing life in Boston all that much. At first, he would set the calendar by the social seasons. It was opera opening then the debutante balls. Now, he no longer thought of those things. He did miss the culture some, he couldn't deny that.

He'd turned his business over to his vice president and received bi-weekly reports from the man. All was well but he wasn't terribly concerned about it. A notion that surprised him immensely. Was he ready to retire? No, he didn't think so. As much as he enjoyed the country, he was getting bored. He needed a distraction.

He ambled across the yard, scowling at that infernal goose squawking and was ready to shoot it himself while wondering what had ruffled its feathers. As he made his way back to the house, he saw Johnny's horse tethered and thought it odd. Too early in the day to be home from work. He stepped on the veranda then pulled up short as he heard the loud voices.

"Johnny, this is not a good time. We'll discuss it later."

"When, Murdoch? You always say that but we never do."

"When the cattle are rounded up, when the drive is over, when a hundred other things don't need our attention! Son, I know you want to work with the horses but, this is a cattle ranch and that is our priority."

"Ya know it's real funny how you managed to run this place all by yourself for twenty-five years. Now, all the sudden, you can't do it without me? Come on, Murdoch. The fact is you don't think I can do this."

"It's too big a gamble."

"For who? The horses are free; wild and running free out there and all I have to do is catch them."

"And break them and sell them."

"Murdoch, people always need horses especially, the army. Are you telling me you don't think there's any profit in it? Because you're wrong!"

"How much profit?" Harlan asked from the open French door. "I'm sorry but I couldn't help overhearing. No one within a mile could help overhearing." He smiled a little as he stepped into the room.

"Harlan, we're discussing business. If you don't mind."

"We ain't discussin nothin. You have to listen to discuss," Johnny shot.

"If the discussion is over, I'd like to talk to Johnny about this business venture."

Both men looked at him, one with suspicion, one with excitement. Johnny moved toward him.

"Yeah, we can talk about it."

"Just a minute. Johnny has responsibilities here. He can't just shun his work to go chase after wild horses."

"Murdoch, I have found there is nothing to be lost by listening to a proposal. More often than not, there is much to be gained. Now, if this venture doesn't sound viable, I have no problem telling Johnny that. What harm is there in talking?"

Grim faced, Murdoch nodded his head. "Talk til your blue in the face, if you want. I have things to do." He stormed past them.

*****

Johnny lowered his head and walked away. "Thanks for tryin."

"I still want to talk about it, Johnny."

"He won't go for it. I've tried a dozen times over the past two years and he won't even listen."

Harlan frowned. He didn't like it when Johnny was sullen. It always gave him a measure of grief that he couldn't explain. "Then, you really aren't interested. You just like arguing with your father?"

He turned around. "No, I don't like arguing with my father. I hate it! And I am interested but if he ain't willin to listen then what's the point?"

Harlan clasped his hands behind his back. "Johnny, would you consider me a successful businessman?"

"Sure. Scott says you're a crackerjack."

"Then, perhaps what you need is a different perspective for Murdoch to listen to. Someone who can be objective and who won't shout."

Johnny pulled a face. "If you want to waste your time, it's up to you. I'll tell you my ideas and how I think it could work."

"Excellent! Let's sit down." Harlan almost rubbed his hands together in enthusiasm. Finally, something to occupy him and, perhaps, help out this new-found family he still felt a little distant with. He was an outsider, he knew, but he felt that changing a little more every day. He would love to be more involved in their lives and that meant being involved in the ranch somehow. This just may be his 'somehow'.

By the time Johnny was finished, Harlan knew more about catching, breaking and selling horses than he really wanted but he was intrigued.

"I'd like to do a little research into this, Johnny. Give me a week or so to crunch some numbers. I find that having a bottom line always entices people if it's sound. I know from Scotty of your prowess with horses so I have faith in your abilities."

"Glad someone does."

He looked at the glum face and smiled sympathetically. "I don't think it's you Murdoch worries about. It's financial. Once he can see some actual numbers, he can better make a decision. I can't promise what that decision will be, however."

"I appreciate you even being interested."

"Well, to tell the truth, I've been a bit bored and looking for something to occupy my days. This is the perfect type of thing for me. Family business is hard sometimes, Johnny. It's easier to argue with your father than your partner and you're both more likely to say hurtful things even if it isn't intentional."

Johnny considered this and reckoned it was true enough. "Still, how can you not get personal?"

"There is no way when you care about each other."

*****

Murdoch rode toward Scott and he was seething. This had to stop. It was one thing for Harlan to get back his relationship with Scott, it was another to interfere.

Scott watched with interest as his father neared. Something must be amiss for the man to ride out here. He walked to the wagon and took a drink from his canteen as he waited.

"Scott, it's looking good." He dismounted and walked over to the fence line.

"It's coming along. What has you out this way?"

Murdoch sighed and turned to face him. "Your grandfather. Scott, I don't mind Harlan being here at all but, he needs to stay out of my business."

Surprised and confused, Scott just looked at him and shook his head.

"Johnny brought up the horses again today."

"He said he was going to."

"Well, we were talking about it and Harlan walked in. He wanted Johnny to tell him all about his ideas." Murdoch waved a hand about dramatically, frustrated.

"Talking or arguing?"

"What difference?"

"Has it occurred to you that Grandfather may have been trying to defuse the situation? He isn't used to you and Johnny going at each other. He may have thought it was worse than it was. Or, he may have rightly assumed it was bad."

Murdoch waffled, his eyes shifting away from Scott as he considered this explanation.

Scott smiled a little. "Is it so bad that he's taken an interest? You aren't so why shouldn't he?"

"I don't want him encouraging Johnny with this ridiculous scheme!"

"It isn't a ridiculous scheme and you know it. You're just worried Johnny might actually make a go of it and become a little more independent. Although, I don't know how he could be any more independent. What is it exactly that bothers you about all this, Sir? It's a good idea and could prove quite profitable for the ranch. Are you afraid Johnny will make us money? That he won't need your guidance anymore?"

Murdoch blew out a breath and turned toward his son yet, he still wouldn't look directly at Scott. "I don't know. He is independent. He doesn't need me for anything else, Scott. Running the ranch, well, he doesn't know everything about that yet. Maybe, I am worried about him spreading his wings. I know he could make a go of it I just ... I'm not sure about diversifying."

"Murdoch, I know it's hard for you but it isn't like he wants to move away. All he wants to do is what he truly loves. Working with horses. If he's happy, that's a sure-fire way to keep him close to you. Johnny isn't going anywhere no matter if he's working horses or pushing cattle. I know you won't or can't believe that, but it's true. So, why not make him happy and seal the deal for yourself as well?"

The rancher just stood there, taking it all in.

Scott sighed his frustration. "Two years and you still can't relax around him. We made Johnny promise not to keep anything from us anymore and he gave his word. I was all over him for that after all this time. Seems I should have been all over you, too. He is not going to leave. Not of his own volition. If you can't trust him, trust me."

"Trust has nothing to do with it, son. At least not like that. It's myself I don't trust. I'm always worried I'll say or do something to hurt him when we fight like we do. There have been many times when I've almost blurted out something that would cut him to the quick. So far, I've managed to stop myself."

Scott was shocked by this revelation and he took a moment to think it through. "The two of you hardly ever argue anymore. The likelihood of that happening is becoming less and less. And the anger isn't there like it used to be, either. Did you think of something today?"

"No."

"Then, maybe you can start trusting yourself a little now."

Murdoch smiled and finally looked at his son. He walked over and put a hand on Scott's shoulder. "Thank you. Someday, soon I hope, you're going to make a wonderful father. I think you've taught me quite a bit about it."

Scott watched as his father rode away and shook his head. If being a father was this tough, he wasn't sure he wanted it as a full time job. Laughing a little, he went back to work.

*****

Johnny, of course, did not broach the subject of horses with his father again. But, he wasn't sulking at least and Murdoch was happy about that. It was Harlan he was watching. The man had been to town several times this week and he and Johnny were seen with their heads together more than once. Why was he having such a hard time seeing that? He knew Johnny had enough caring in him for a boat load of people so why did it bother him to see his son getting on with Harlan?

Murdoch inhaled deeply of the sweet night air as he thought about these things. Just then, he heard laughter from the side of the house and recognized his son's voice. He waited where he was as they appeared. Johnny and Harlan. No surprise there. He gritted his teeth.

"Hey."

"Son. Where did you two get off to?"

"Just takin a walk in the garden."

Murdoch nodded and watched the two of them exchange a look.

Harlan took a step forward. "Murdoch, I wonder if I could talk with you about something."

He eyed the older man then Johnny and he knew. "If this is about that horse business again..."

"That is precisely what it's about. I have some figures for you to look over if you're willing." Harlan was wearing his businessman's visage.

"Then, we should all hear it." He turned and walked inside, fully expecting them to follow and they did.

Scott looked up from the newspaper warily.

"Alright, Harlan, what have you come up with?" Murdoch seated himself and Johnny stood behind the sofa and his brother.

"Please, everyone sit down and we'll talk business." There was a light in Harlan's eyes and his excitement tickled Scott.

Johnny walked over and sat beside his brother, close. He wasn't afraid of his father but he didn't want to hear a lot of hollerin either. He figured Murdoch wouldn't talk so loud if he was nearer to Scott. Why he thought that, he didn't know.

"I've done some research into this horse breaking business and found that the army does use a large supply of the animals. It seems they go through quite a few every month. There are also several ranches just in this area that buy horses already trained as cowponies. In fact, there are over fifty ranches in this part of the state which rely on others to supply the animals. Now, I've accounted for Johnny's time in catching and training and I feel he can't do it alone. But, if he had help, I see a real profit." Harlan stopped and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, offering it to Murdoch.

"This is the total cost and the bottom line profits you can expect in the first year. Now, the profits will be lower the first year as you incur set up costs. Building corrals, travel costs and so on. After that, that bottom line will go up."

"Travel costs?" Scott interrupted.

"Yes, Johnny will have to travel a bit. Meet with the army and other customers to set up contracts."

"What if they won't contract with him?" Murdoch asked.

"I see no reason they wouldn't. The Lancer name is quite well known and respected, Murdoch. Scotty's service in the army will be a plus and Johnny's ability to charm a rattlesnake will come in quite handy."

Scott and Johnny grinned at each other and shook their heads.

"The first thing you must do is have a selection of horses on hand so, you need to start the business before you have those contracts. Just a small string to show what you have to offer. Of course, as with any business venture, there is the chance of failing but you will never know if you don't try."

"And who is going to put up the money for these start up costs?" Murdoch asked.

"I will. I've already voiced my interest in a partnership with Johnny. I will handle the accounting and contracts and Johnny will handle the horses and we will both be in on negotiations."

*****

Murdoch's eyes fired and he looked at his younger son. Scott's eyes widened as he took them all in then focused on his father. He started to open his mouth but it was too late.

"This is a family decision, Harlan. This is not Johnny's to do alone. The profits will be shared by the partners in this ranch."

"Why? You aren't willing to do a thing to help him."

"Grandfather..."

"Because this ... dream of his will take him away from his responsibilities to this ranch and that will cost US profit!"

Harlan remained calm and thought about it. "You're right, Murdoch. I hadn't thought of that. It must be being away from the business world. I can't believe I didn't consider that eventuality. Well, we can certainly revise the partnership to include you and Scotty. I'll rework the numbers."

Johnny watched his father and knew. "Forget it, Mr. Garrett. He'll just think of some other reason not to do it." He turned to address his father. "All you want from me is a cow hand. You don't think I can do anything else. Well, almost anything else."

"Johnny, that's not true. I know you can do it."

"Then, what's the problem? Is it that he wants in on it? What's wrong with that? He did all the work." Johnny nodded his head toward Harlan.

"Son, it just isn't that simple."

"Murdoch..." Scott said softly, his eyes drilling his father. "Remember what we talked about?"

He came out of his chair and began to pace, thinking hard and wondering why he was being so difficult. Was it Harlan's involvement? That was probably part of it. Mostly, he was having a very hard time letting go of what he hadn't had very long. "Scott, Harlan, would you excuse us?"

Harlan opened his mouth but Scott was up and at his side, shaking his head. "Come on, this is between them."

*****

Alone with his son, he faltered. Unsure how to explain himself and a little afraid to.

"You called this my dream. Well, you were right. But, wasn't Lancer just a dream once? Did you let anyone stop you from building this ranch?" His voice was soft and his words were sensible.

Murdoch sighed and walked over, sitting on the coffee table in front of his son. "It has nothing to do with horses, son. It's me. It's my problem and I thought I had it licked. I thought, after talking to your brother, I understood. I guess it just takes me a lot of time to let go."

Johnny frowned. "Let go of what?"

"Of you." He looked into the blue eyes and saw the confusion. "It's been two years, son. Two years we've been back together working side by side. Fighting to keep this land and watch it grow. Fighting to hold onto each other and fighting to break free for you, I suppose. I understand why you want to do this. I know it's nothing to do with us as a family. Still, part of me feels like you're rejecting me and this life, I suppose."

He cocked his head, surprised at his father's words. "Murdoch, I love Lancer. I just want to see it prosper."

"I know, son. I know. Throwing Harlan in the mix is a little hard to swallow, too. I have no doubt his intentions are good but sometimes, those old resentments come to the fore. It's crazy but ... well, anyway."

"No. But what?"

Murdoch glanced at him, ashamed and embarrassed but he owed it to Johnny to be honest. "Sometimes, I feel like he's horning in. I guess I feel a little jealous."

Johnny stared at him, shocked to the core. "No one could ever take your place. No one. Don't you ever think that, do you hear me?"

Murdoch looked up, locked onto those eyes and smiled at the vehemence of his son's statement. "Yes, I hear you."

Johnny returned the smile then lowered his own eyes. "It's just that having someone back me up on this has been nice and, well, I like the old man. I kind of look at him like ..." He shrugged, too abashed to say the words.

"Like an abuelo?"

Johnny nodded.

"It's alright, son. Don't let my foolishness interfere with your friendship with Harlan. I'm so very glad and relieved he's had this change of heart. For Scott's sake but for ours, too. I'm surprised to say but, I think he's been a fine addition to this family and it's about time I started acting like it."

"Yeah, it is." Johnny looked up and grinned. "I don't think he really meant to slight you or Scott. I think he really just didn't think about it."

"I know, son. He's excited. He's got something to do now."

"Yeah, I just wonder, though. I mean, what happens when he decides to go back to Boston?"

"Well," Murdoch sighed, "I suppose I'll have to take over his responsibilities in this partnership."

Johnny smiled widely at that. "Thank you."

*****

Johnny stood at the newly built corral fence and smiled at his string of ponies. They were high quality and he was pleased beyond belief at how things were going. Now, they had to start finding buyers. That part worried him a little. He was just glad Harlan was going to be there. He thought he was a good businessman in his own right but, it never hurt to have some back up.

"How do they look, partner?"

He smiled as he turned to the man. "Real good. We're ready."

"Excellent!" Harlan clapped him on the shoulder. The past four months, he and Johnny had spent a great deal of time together and he'd relished it and reporting their progress to Scott and Murdoch. Everyone was happy about the potential, even Murdoch.

"Well, I'll send a letter to the army then we can begin with the surrounding ranches."

Johnny nodded his head then looked at the ground. "I have to ask you something and I probably should've done it before now. I guess I just didn't want to think about."

"What is it, my boy?"

He smiled a little and looked up. "What's going to happen when you decide to go home?"

Harlan's face fell and he looked away, across the expanse before him. "I hadn't considered that."

Cocking a brow, Johnny put his hands on his hips. "Some businessman you are. You haven't thought about runnin this little operation from three thousand miles away?"

"No, I meant, I hadn't considered going ... home."

Johnny just stood there for a few seconds then dropped his hands and relaxed, a smile coming to his face. "Then don't. Stay here."

With a soft snort, Harlan replied. "What? Forever?"

"Yes, forever. Why not? You like it. Ain't like you've been hankering to get back to Boston."

"Isn't like." He shook his head. "Sorry. What would your father think of that idea?"

"I think he'd be fine with it. He's real pleased with you, ya know. You've been a good boy for six months now. Besides, I figure your vice president has about given up on you anyway."

He chuckled at that. "Yes, I imagine he has."

"You want me to ask Murdoch?"

"I'm perfectly capable of groveling, I think."

Johnny smiled. "Won't be necessary. Just tell him you want to stay here, live here and work with us."

Shaking his head, he gave a sidelong look. "I don't know, Johnny."

He sighed in frustration and turned around, pacing away then coming back. "Harlan, you love it here and you know it. You couldn't stand living without Scott."

"I couldn't stand living without you, either. That's something you don't seem to understand, Johnny. I feel ... very close to you, as well."

"Me too." He bowed his head and spoke softly and Harlan swallowed hard.

"Well, I'll speak to him after supper tonight."

The dark head came up, a smile of delight on his face.

*****

Scott couldn't read the signs tonight. Maybe he was too tired or maybe he'd lost the ability. He didn't think that was it but he couldn't tell what had Johnny so fidgety at the supper table. Finally, it dawned on him. The horses must be ready. He's going to start traveling now. That must be it because Grandfather was acting a bit anxious as well. He smiled the next time Johnny looked at him.

Harlan watched Murdoch, waiting until he was finished. When the rancher tossed his napkin on the table, he spoke. "I wonder if I might have a word with you outside, Murdoch."

"Of course." He looked at his sons, one looking innocent, the other not looking anything with his head down.

As soon as the older men were out of sight, Johnny breathed out.

"He knows you two have to start making the rounds soon. I'm sure it will be fine."

"That's not it, Scott. I wish Harlan had told you first but I reckon he still thinks there's a chance Murdoch will say no."

Scott shook his head. "What are you talking about?"

Johnny smiled. "He wants to stay here permanently."

Scott sat back in his chair and stared incredulously. "When did this come about?"

"Today. I was asking him how he thought this would work when he went back home and he said he didn't want to think about goin home so I invited him to stay."

"What about all his businesses in Boston? His house? His staff?"

Johnny shrugged. "I don't know. He'll work that out. Don't you want him to stay?"

"I'd love it! I've thought about asking him but I didn't think it would be fair of me."

Johnny laughed. "Well, I'm not fair."

Scott threw a biscuit at him. "Thanks, brother. I really couldn't have put him in that position."

"I know. It couldn't come from you. You'd never know if he was doin it out of obligation and love for you. But, I have to tell ya, brother, he really likes it here."

*****

"I'll come right to the point, Murdoch. Feeling a fool as I do for saying it like this, I know no other way. I'd like to move in with you on a permanent basis."

Murdoch turned sharply and stared at the man, stunned.

"I understand if you turn me down but I've come to love this ranch and I've come to look upon Johnny as a grandson, too. I can't imagine walking away from those boys and the life I've become comfortable with here. I realize what I'm giving up in Boston but it just doesn't matter to me anymore. I..."

"Harlan! Stop talking for a minute." Murdoch shook his head at the man then smiled. "Of course, you can stay. We're very glad to have you."

"You are? I mean, YOU are."

Murdoch chuckled. "Yes, I am as the boys will be, I'm sure. We're family, Harlan. As for Johnny, he thinks of you as an abuelo."

Harlan frowned in thought. "He's used that word a time or two and when I asked what he said he just shrugs and turns away."

Murdoch smiled warmly. "Abuelo is Spanish for Grandfather."

Harlan just looked at him blankly for a moment then his eyes shone brighter in the low light. He turned away and felt a hand on his shoulder. "I told him today I cared for him and he said he did, too. But, I never suspected he felt that way."

"He has for quite a while. When he and I talked after my stupidity about the horse business, he told me then."

Harlan sighed then sniffed and cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose I have some things to take care of now."

"Will you have to go back to Boston?"

"No, I shouldn't. My vice president is quite capable. I am going to liquidate quite a few businesses but I'll keep some. He can run that for me. He can sell the house for me and find suitable employment for my staff. There's not really that much I'd like to have from there. Photographs, a few mementos of Catherine and my wife."

"Things I'm sure Scott would love to see again, too. Memories he can share with his brother."

Harlan smiled sadly.

"Well, let's go tell them."

"Johnny knows. He actually invited me to stay."

Murdoch chuckled. "Of course he did. My son can't turn away a stray."

Harlan looked rebuffed then began to laugh as they walked inside together.

They celebrated the new addition to the family that night. A relationship that only grew as time went on. After some years, no one could even remember the time when Harlan Garrett was an enemy, a man to be scorned, rebuked and distrusted.

The horse business thrived under Johnny and Harlan's close supervision and hard work. Lancer was not only known for its quality beef but its fine horses, as well.  

 

 

~end~
August 2007

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