The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Nightmare

 

 

WARNING: Rated V for VIOLENCE, S for SEXUAL INUNENDO. OVERALL PG13 Rating

Teresa moved through the great room extinguishing the lamps. She sighed heavily at the thought of another night spent alone. The only thing to lift her spirits was the fact that the men would be home tomorrow. That is, if all had gone well on the cattle drive. She hated this time of year when they left her alone. Only a few hands stayed behind to keep the place up.

With Maria visiting her sister in Mexico, it made the solitude all that much worse. She ached with missing her family. A smile played on her lips when she thought of them. How she longed for their company!

It amused her that she would get so frustrated with any one of them and wish for time alone. Then, when she got what she'd wished for, she didn't want it. She laughed softly to herself for her silly thoughts. Still, they were all she had. There was only so much mending, cleaning and embroidering a girl could do.

Her hand paused on the knob of the last lamp as she cocked her head to the side. She listened hard for a full minute then shook her head. Now I'm hearing things, she thought. Sighing once more, she turned out the last lamp and allowed her eyes to adjust to the moonlight filtering in through the French doors before she moved toward her room.

She stopped after two steps. There it was again. It's probably an animal. A rabbit or raccoon scurrying about. That's exactly what it sounded like to her. She shrugged and headed toward the kitchen that would lead to her bedroom.

As Teresa swung open the kitchen door, she gasped at the man standing there. She turned to run but he grabbed her arm and jerked her around.

"Where you going, Missy?"

"What do you want?" she asked, trying to keep the quiver from her voice without success.

"You alone here?" he asked.

She looked at him but didn't answer.

"He asked you a question, girl. Are you alone here?" another man asked from behind her.

She nodded her head. "But they'll all be back first thing in the morning," she lied.

"Mornin's a long time off," the man holding her said. He grinned and she felt her flesh crawl.

"What do you want?" she asked again.

"Just a place to hide out for a few hours. See, we got this posse after us and they just won't give up. Just need to rest up," the second man explained.

Just then, two more men entered the dining area. "Nobody upstairs. She's alone."

"Good. Bob, Hank, stand guard first. Watch the main road and the back of the house. Me and Les will spell ya in a couple of hours," the obvious leader ordered.

"Hope so, Pete. I'm plumb wore out," Bob replied then left.

"Reckon we could do with some food, gal. Let's go in the kitchen and see what you can fix up," Pete said.

Les pulled Teresa into the kitchen and pushed her toward the stove. She shot him a death look and started cooking.

She made them breakfast and served them as they sat and talked about their planned escape route. She listened closely and made sure she remembered everything they said.

Pete looked up at her as she poured more coffee. "You listening to us, girl?"

"What?" she said innocently.

"Reckon she's got other things on her mind, Pete. Course, I got a few other things on my mind, too. She sure is pretty," Les grinned again.

Shivers ran down Teresa's back when she looked at him. His eyes took on a dark, hooded appearance that only lent to his evil demeanor. Her eyes went to Pete, pleading silently.

He looked her up and down. "Reckon she is a fine lookin filly at that."

Les stood up and took her hand, the one holding the coffee pot. "Just sit that right down there."

She did so and he grabbed her arms, turning her toward him.

Teresa tried to pull away but he was big and too strong. He pulled her to him.

"Les! Not here. Find someplace private. I don't wanna look at it!" Pete scorned.

He grinned again and pulled her toward the closed doors down the hall from the kitchen. He kicked open the first one he came to. To her horror, it was her bedroom. He pushed her inside and closed the door, locking it behind him.

Teresa backed away from him until she pressed against the wall. Her eyes darted wildly around the room, looking for escape. He advanced on her and she panicked. She ran toward the open window and tried to jump out but he was on her in a flash.

He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back, then shut the window with a bang. Turning, he pushed her shoulders so hard, she fell back onto the bed.

She tried to catch her breath but when she bolted, he jumped on top of her. His hands held her shoulders down and he leered at her.

"You're a feisty one alright. This is gonna be fun," he laughed.

"Please, please don't," she begged.

They took turns throughout the night abusing her. She could no longer discern one from the other and she no longer cared. Teresa simply stared unseeing at the ceiling and if one of them blocked her view, she would turn her head or close her eyes.

She didn't fight them, didn't even try. It was useless and she had no strength left anyway. Her mind was a blank page. She did not think about anything.

Dawn broke slowly and the men decided it was safe to move on. They untied her just before leaving, then set off on their way.

Teresa laid where she was, not trying to cover herself or clean herself. She couldn't move at all. She was in shock.

*******

The Lancers rode into the courtyard smiling. It had been a successful cattle drive and they were happy to be home. Johnny slid off Barranca and allowed a hand to care for his horse.

He entered the house first, calling Teresa's name. When she didn't answer the second time, he frowned and turned to his father.

"Was she planning on going somewhere?" he asked.

"No, she's supposed to be here. Maybe she went for a ride," Murdoch suggested.

"Maybe, but she knew we'd probably be home today. It's not like her not to be here," Scott said with concern.

A grin slid across Johnny's face. "Maybe she's takin a nap," he said mischievously.

Murdoch laughed. "Alright, go check. But don't startle her," he warned.

Johnny laughed and went to Teresa's room. He knocked softly and waited but got no reply. Certain she was napping, he eased the door open quietly and poked his head inside.

His heart stopped, he was sure of it. She laid there naked on top the disheveled bed, her eyes staring blankly into space. Johnny grabbed a blanket and covered her quickly. He sat beside her and made sure he didn't touch her.

"Teresa?" he whispered. She did not acknowledge him. Johnny swallowed hard and walked quietly out of the room to find his father.

"You didn't scare her did you?" Murdoch asked.

"Murdoch, she .... you need to ...." He couldn't even say the words.

"Johnny, what's wrong?" Scott asked, laying a hand on his stunned brother's shoulder.

"She's in her room. She was layin there .... naked. I ..... she didn't even look at me. Murdoch..." Johnny looked into his father's eyes with a pain Murdoch had never seen there before.

Murdoch felt his own heart skip several beats as he took in what Johnny was trying to say. He headed for Teresa's room with a knot in his stomach.

He sat beside her and called her name softly. His hand smoothed her hair and she didn't flinch. He noticed Johnny had covered her and sighed heavily at the thought of what his son had seen.

It couldn't have been helped, still ..... he shook his head. Not the most important thing right now.  

Scott stepped to the door. "Johnny's gone for Sam," he said softly.

Murdoch nodded and looked at his son. Scott was taken aback by the tears in the old man's eyes. He realized he was witnessing Murdoch's heart breaking and he choked back his own emotions.

"I'll get Mrs. Cipriano," he said throatily and left quickly.

Senora Cipriano came into the room and shooed them both away. She began washing Teresa, speaking softly to her in Spanish. Her eyes filled with tears for her chica.

By the time Sam Jenkins arrived, Teresa had been washed and dressed in a nightgown. He smiled appreciatively at Senora Cipriano and asked her to stay while he examined the girl.

The Lancer men stood silently in the great room. Shock was being replaced by pain, then worry, then anger. Johnny began to pace, tapping at his holster.

"They're dead. Whoever did this is dead," he mumbled.

"Agreed," Scott said.

"Where were the hands? That's what I want to know!" Johnny fumed.

"Johnny, try to calm down a little," Murdoch said gently.

"Calm down!?" he shouted as he turned on his father.

"We're all upset and we're all angry but we have to think of Teresa first," Murdoch explained, hoping to defuse his temperamental son.

Johnny took a deep breath and simply nodded his head.

They all turned as Sam walked into the room looking like a man who'd lost his best friend.

"How is she?" Murdoch asked.

Sam shook his head sadly. "She's been brutalized, Murdoch. She was raped repeatedly. There are bruises all over her and she's in shock. She hasn't spoken, her eyes are fixed. She isn't responding to anything. Even when I examined her, she never even flinched."

Johnny's jaw was clenched so tight, it was about to break.

Scott could actually feel his own blood boiling. He started to speak when they heard riders approaching the house.

Johnny was out the door in a flash, gun drawn. He holstered the pistol when he saw the badge. "What do you want?" he asked flatly.

"Name's Sheriff Marley from Twin Oaks. We been tracking a gang of bank robbers for a couple of days now. Was wonderin if you folks have seen any strangers," he explained.

"How many are there?" Johnny asked.

"Four."

Johnny nodded. "You know who they are?"

"Sure do. Pete Blanchard, Les and Bob Martin and Buck Trehorn. You know any of 'em?"

"Nope. Which way they been headin?"

"South."

"Reckon they're making for the border then," Johnny said nonchalantly.

"That's what we figure. Just hope we can catch up to 'em before then. We could, uh, use all the help we can get," he hinted as Scott and Murdoch joined Johnny.

"Sorry, Sheriff. We got our own troubles right now," Johnny replied.

"Anything I can help with?"

"No." Came the cold response.

The man stared hard at Johnny who stared right back. "Do I know you, mister?"

"Don't think so."

The sheriff nodded but he wasn't convinced. He waved and led his posse off.

*******

Johnny headed for the barn.

"Where are you going?" Scott asked.

"After them."

"Not without me, you're not," he replied firmly.

Johnny spun around and closed in on his brother so Murdoch couldn't hear. "Look, I'm not going to look for justice, Scott. I'm going to get revenge. If you can deal with that, fine. If not, don't get in my way."

"You have no fight with me, Johnny. I am going with you," Scott said, staring back into his brother's fiery eyes. "I'll grab some ammunition," he added and walked away.

Johnny nodded and headed to the barn to saddle fresh horses.

"I should go with you," Murdoch said.

"Teresa needs you here," Scott answered as he loaded up on bullets, grabbing a couple of rifles.

"Scott, bring them to the law."

Scott turned quickly and stared disbelievingly at his father. "We'll do what's necessary," he said coldly.

Murdoch took hold of his arm. "I'd expect this from Johnny but not you. Scott, if you cut those men down you're no better than they are."

"Why? I don't intend to rape anyone!"

Murdoch opened his mouth but no sound came out.

"You ready?" Johnny asked from the door.

"Don't do this, boys. You'll regret it for the rest of your lives," Murdoch warned.

Johnny hmmphed at this. "What's one more thing?" he said then turned and walked out.

"Take care of Teresa," Scott mumbled then followed his brother.

*****

Scott and Johnny headed out at a gallop. Lines of pure rage set on their faces. They rode for an hour before either spoke.

"If we're gonna catch up to them before that sheriff, we need to cut over the mountain," Johnny said.

"Right," Scott clipped and turned his horse.

That was all that was said between them until dusk settled around them. Johnny looked up at the full moon. "You want to stop?"

"No."

"Good."

And they rode on.

Johnny pulled up and reached out to grab Scott's arm. He stopped beside his brother who put a finger to his lips. Johnny slid off his mount and tethered it to a nearby tree. Scott followed suit as he started to smell the smoke now.

"Campfire," Johnny whispered and Scott nodded and pointed the direction he would go. He then pointed at Johnny and then to the opposite direction. Johnny nodded his agreement and they both pulled their rifles from the scabbards.

Moving soundlessly, the brothers flanked the camp. With no way to signal each other, one wasn't sure when the other would make a move.

Johnny watched the four men sitting around the fire. They didn't seem overly concerned about the posse that was less than a day behind them.

"We'll reach Mexico by nightfall tomorrow if we push it," one said.

"Yep, then we can get us some of them pretty senoritas," laughed another.

"Yeah, like that little gal at that ranch. She was some dish," a third piped up.

That was all the evidence Johnny needed and he stepped out of the brush with gun drawn. "Don't move," he ordered.

All four men startled at the intruder. One started to rise.

"You heard him, don't move," Scott said as he stepped from the other side.

"What can we do for ya, gents. Ain't got no money. Just a little coffee and beans if you're interested," Pete said.

"Overheard you say something about a pretty girl at a ranch. What was that about?" Johnny drawled softly.

"That? Oh, that was nothin. Just come across a gal who was real friendly, is all," Pete lied.

"Friendly, huh? Well, if she's that friendly, I'd like to meet her. Where is this ranch?" Johnny asked, keeping his voice even.

Pete cleared his throat and looked into Johnny's eyes. "I got a feelin you already know."

"Smart man. Too bad those smarts didn't kick in back at Lancer," Johnny deadpanned.

"Mister, it's gonna take a lot to get all four of us back to the law," Buck said with a smirk.

"Who said anything about the law?" Scott asked.

"Whatya mean? Whatya plannin on doin?" Les asked nervously.

"This," Johnny said and shot him dead.

Scott looked at him with utter shock on his face. Johnny turned to Buck and the man started to draw as he shot him down as well.

Pete and Bob went for their guns and Scott took them both out.

Gunsmoke filled the air and the acrid odor assaulted their senses as they stood there unmoving. Scott dropped his right arm to his side and began to shake. Replacing his pistol in the holster, he wiped his forehead.

"What's the matter with you?" Johnny asked as he noted Scott's shaky hands.

"I ... I've never seen you shoot a man down in cold blood," he said, his voice wavering.

"I didn't," Johnny said tightly. He walked over to Les and kicked his hand out, revealing a derringer in his palm.

Scott stared at it as relief washed over him. "I'm sorry, Johnny. I didn't see it."

"It wouldn't have mattered. They were dead anyway," Johnny said without emotion.

Scott chose to ignore that statement. "What do you want to do with them?"

"Leave 'em to the buzzards," Johnny snapped and walked back toward their horses.

Scott had no objection. They didn't deserve a burial. Besides, he wanted to get as far away as he could and back to Teresa.

It was midmorning when the brothers arrived home. Murdoch watched them ride in and walked out the front door, a deep frown lining his face.

"How is she?" Scott asked immediately.

"The same," Murdoch replied sadly. "What happened?"

"We found them," Johnny clipped.

"And?"

"And they're dead, Murdoch. Just like they deserve to be!" Johnny stormed into the house and headed for the kitchen.

"They drew on us, Murdoch. It was self defense," Scott explained.

"And if they hadn't drawn on you? What would you have done, Scott?"

Scott looked away. He couldn't honestly answer that question for himself. He knew what Johnny's answer would be and it gave him chills.

*****

Johnny sat at the table drinking his coffee when Scott and Murdoch joined him.

"Johnny, I want you to understand where I'm coming from," Murdoch started.

"I know exactly where you're coming from, Murdoch. We don't have to talk it to death. You expect everyone to live lawfully. Only problem is, they don't. Then you expect the rest of us to treat them like they got some kind of rights. Well, as far as I'm concerned, they gave those rights up when they attacked Teresa!"

"Those men were guilty. But what about the ones who are falsely accused? Don't they have the right to defend themselves?"

"Sure, Murdoch. As long as they aren't accused of raping Teresa! Look, we can sit here and argue all day. You don't like what we did, fine. But I have no problem with it at all."

Murdoch sighed and shook his head. "What about your brother?"

Johnny looked at Scott. "What about him? He don't look broken to me. Yes, I confronted them. And yes, I would have forced their hand given time. But, they decided to make a move. Would I have shot them down?" Johnny took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "In that moment, in that place, yes, I would have."

Murdoch felt a knot form in his stomach. Johnny was telling him the truth and he couldn't fault him for that. He felt the same rage as his son but age and experience had been good teachers. He could only hope they would be for Johnny as well.

"We won't discuss it again, son. Thank you for being so honest with me," he said quietly.

"I'm going to check on Teresa," Johnny said.

*******

Johnny tapped lightly on the door and opened it a few inches. " ¿Cómo es ella, tia?" he whispered.

"Ningún cambio," the older woman sighed.

Johnny gave his tia a sad little smile and stepped into the room. He sat in the chair next to the bed and watched her face.

Teresa continued to stare blankly at the ceiling. The only evidence she was alive was the soft breathing and the occasional blinking of her eyes.

Johnny took her small hand in his, squeezing lightly. "Teresa? It's Johnny, honey. Can you hear me?"

She didn't respond and he felt the emotions welling in him. He dropped his head and got control of himself. He tried to think of a way to reach her, to break through the emotional barriers she'd built up to survive the attack.

Johnny bit his lower lip and sucked in a breath. "They're dead, miel. Scott and I tracked them down and killed them. They'll never hurt you or anybody else again.

"I know it's hard, honey. Don't you worry, you don't have to talk. You don't have to do anything until you're ready. We're all right here and we'll wait as long as you need us to. Just come back to us, Teresa. When you can, come back to us. We love you so much," his voice caught then and he swallowed hard at the tears that threatened.

Johnny Lancer seldom cried but this was tearing his heart out. Just thinking of what those animals did to this beautiful, innocent young girl nearly destroyed him. This could very possibly ruin her life and he knew it. He hung his head and started to leave when he felt her hand tighten slightly.

Johnny sat back down and watched her face. "It's okay, Teresa. I'm here."

A tear slid down her cheek and he brushed it away gently. She blinked several times in succession and he thought she was starting to come out of it. He waited.

Her grip tightened around his hand and he held on. "When you're ready, miel," he whispered.

She licked her lips and he grabbed the glass of water at her bedside. Gently loosening her grip on his hand, he slid it under her neck and raised her head. She drank slowly and he sighed softly with relief. When she was finished, he replaced the glass and once more took her hand.

Johnny was thankful she didn't seem afraid of him. He had known of women who were attacked who could not bear to have any man near them. He could only believe she felt his love and knew he would never hurt her.

"Can you look at me, miel?"

She sniffled and turned her head, meeting his eyes. He smiled gently at her and reached in his back pocket. Taking out his kerchief, he wiped her nose.

More tears spilled down her cheeks at the simple but kind gesture. She opened her mouth and breathed his name.

Johnny felt an overwhelming need to hold her but he fought it down. He knew he needed to wait for her to make a move. She did a few seconds later. She raised her arms and he embraced her tightly. He stroked her hair as she cried her heart out in huge gasping sobs.

He rocked her back and forth, whispering soft reassurances in her ear as he patted and rubbed her back.

She finally relaxed and he released his hold, easing her back against the mattress. He smiled at her and took her hand.

"I want out of here," she whispered.

Johnny frowned, not understanding the request at first. Then realization dawned on him. "Next door okay?"

She nodded.

He picked her up, blankets and all and carried her out the door. Senora Cipriano was sitting in the hall and stood quickly at the sight.

"She wants a different room," he explained.

Nodding her head, the older woman opened the door to Maria's room and Johnny laid Teresa gently on the bed. He pulled the covers up on her and tucked her in snuggly.

"Better?"

She nodded.

He sat on the edge of the bed. "Can I get you anything, honey?"

"No, thank you."

"You want Murdoch?"

"No," she shook her head. "I ..... I don't know what to do," she said miserably.

"You don't have to do anything, miel."

"I hurt all over."

Johnny gritted his teeth but said nothing.

"Can I have another blanket?"

He moved quickly to the cedar chest at the foot of the bed and grabbed a quilt. Placing it over her, he smiled. "You can have anything you want."

"Can I have my innocence back?" she asked, her lip quivering.

Johnny actually felt his heart break as he scooped her into a hug. "If it was in my power, miel, you could. I'm so sorry. God, I wish I'd been here for you."

She cried hard again, thinking she may never stop this time. "I prayed and prayed you'd come home early," she hiccoughed.

Tears burned his eyes and he blinked them away before allowing her to see his face again.

******

Murdoch walked down the hall and stopped when he saw Senora Cipriano sitting there and Teresa's bedroom door open. He looked quizzically at the woman.

"She did not want to be in there. Juanito took her into Maria's room."

"She spoke?"

"Si, to Juanito. He is with her now."

Murdoch headed toward the room when he felt her hand press on his arm. "Perhaps only one at a time, Senor. Too many visitors may frighten her," she suggested.

Murdoch sighed and nodded. She was right but he wanted to see his little girl.

Just then, Johnny slipped quietly out of the room and turned to face his father.

"She's sleeping now," he said quietly.

"How did ... how is she?" Murdoch faltered.

Johnny sighed and hung his head. "She's destroyed, Murdoch. I don't know what to do."

"Obviously, you did something. She at least spoke to you."

"Yeah, cried mostly. I've never seen Teresa out and out cry. Not like that. Not like her soul was dying," he said in a trembling voice.

"Johnny, I want you to go get some sleep. I've already made your brother lie down. Neither of you has had any rest," Murdoch said as he placed a supportive hand on his son's shoulder.

Johnny simply nodded, unable to meet his father's eyes.

"And Johnny, let it out, son. However you need to," Murdoch advised.

Johnny turned and walked away.

*******

Scott awoke some hours later. He estimated by the position of the sun it was nearly 5 p.m. He sighed and stretched his lean body then, with a heavy exhalation, sat on the side of the bed.

He hadn't bothered undressing and figured there was little need to do more than change his shirt at this point. He washed up quickly and went downstairs. Murdoch was sitting by the fire, staring into the flames.

"Sir?" he called softly.

"Yes, son."

"How is she?"

"Sleeping the last time I checked which was ten minutes ago," Murdoch replied.

"Has she spoken?"

"Earlier to Johnny. She asked to be moved out of her room. He put her in Maria's bed."

"Did she say anything else?"

"Johnny didn't say. He only said she cried her soul out," Murdoch answered with a quavering voice.

"I'll just stick my head in. I won't wake her," Scott said huskily, feeling the need to see her with his own eyes.

He opened the door quietly and Senora Cipriano looked up and smiled. She rose and passed him in the door, giving his arm a light squeeze as she passed.

Scott sat in the chair and watched her sleep. She was so young, so innocent. Not any more though, he thought morosely. They had taken something she could never get back. His anger began to rise again and he had to fight hard to quell the storm inside him. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment.

Scott looked back at her and she was staring at him. He smiled slightly. "Hi."

"Hi."

"How do you feel?" he asked and wished he could bite his tongue out. Stupid question.

"Sore," she mumbled.

"Think you could eat something?"

"No," she shook her head and grimaced. "Maybe later."

"Here, at least drink some water," he urged and put the glass to her lips.

She raised up and drank then sighed heavily as she rested her head on the pillow. "Where's Johnny?"

"He's sleeping I think. Do you want me to get him?"

"No .... no, it's okay."

"Teresa, if you want Johnny, I'll get him," Scott assured her.

She shook her head. "Let him sleep."

"Can I get you anything at all?"

"I'd like to be alone for awhile. Would you ask Senora Cipriano to give me some privacy?"

"Of course. If you need her, she'll be right out in the hall," Scott smiled and squeezed her arm lightly as he stood to leave. With the door open, he stopped and turned back. "We love you."

"I know."

********

She didn't like leaving the girl alone but she respected Teresa's wished. Senora Cipriano perched herself in a chair in the hall and waited.

When Scott walked back into the living room, Murdoch looked questioningly at him.

"She woke up and asked for some time alone," he reported.

"I don't think she should be left alone right now, Scott."

"It's what she wants, Murdoch. Senora Cipriano is sitting in the hall. Teresa knows she's right outside that door. She did ask for Johnny."

"She did?"

"I told her he was sleeping and she didn't want me to wake him. She's so ....."

"Quiet," Murdoch finished.

"Yes. I don't know what to do for her. Honestly, I'm at a loss," Scott confessed in a misery-laden voice.

"I don't either, son. I'm going to talk to Sam about it. Maybe he has some ideas."

"I hope so. She's never going to be the same girl."

Johnny walked in at that point.

"Did you get any sleep, son?"

"Some. How is she?"

"Awake. She asked for you then she asked to be alone. She wouldn't eat anything either," Scott said.

Johnny frowned and nodded his head. "I'll look in on her in a little while. She needs some time alone to sort through things."

*******

Senora Cipriano smiled as she opened the door for Johnny. He was carrying a tray full of food. He'd decided to bring multiple items in the hope that something would entice the girl to eat.

"Gracias, tia," he smiled.

Teresa was sitting up in the bed, her hands wringing the bed sheet tightly. Johnny ignored the white knuckles and sat the tray on her lap. He removed the napkin and laid it across her chest, being sure he didn't touch her.

"You have to eat something. Now, I brought everything but the sink so there should be somethin here you'd want."

She attempted a smile that ended up more a grimace. She looked at the food disinterestedly. "I'm not hungry."

"Don't matter. You still gotta eat. That's what you're always telling me when I'm sick."

"I'm not sick!" she lashed out.

Johnny looked at her calmly. He'd expected this sooner or later. "Okay, then hurt. Here, I cut an apple up just the way you like it." He handed her a slice put she made no effort to take it.

Johnny sighed loudly. "You're trying to take my crown, Teresa. I'm the worst patient in this house and I've worked hard to earn that title."

Her lip curved up for a brief second.

"Now, what's Murdoch gonna think if it turns out I'm not? I mean, he's gonna think I'm a daisy or somethin!"

She laughed slightly at that one.  

Johnny grinned and offered her the apple. She took it this time and bit off a small piece.

"That's my girl," he smiled.

Her face dropped as did her hand. She laid the apple back on the plate and hung her head.

"Teresa?" he asked with concern.

"I'm not your girl anymore. I'm not anyone's girl anymore," she said through the tears.

Johnny spoke softly. "You will always be my girl."

******

She had eaten nothing else and he couldn't charm her into it. Johnny finally gave up and left her once she'd fallen to sleep. He felt like the most useless human being in the world right now. All he really wanted at the moment was a drink.

He walked into the great room and headed for the side board. Grabbing the tequila, he didn't bother with a glass. He put it to his lips and turned the bottle up.

"Feel better now?" Scott asked.

"Not yet," he clipped.

"It won't help, son. Believe me," Murdoch said softly.

"Nothing will, I'm sure," Johnny remarked.

"I told Scott I'm going to talk to Sam tomorrow. I hope he has some ideas on how we can help her through this."

Johnny nodded and sat down on the sofa. "She's broken and I'm not sure we can fix her."

"You can't think that way, son. Teresa is strong. She will survive this."

"I have no doubt she'll survive it, Murdoch. The question is, who will she be?"

"He's right. There's no question this will change her. How, is what we can't know," Scott said.

Murdoch started to say something put the sound of horses in the yard stopped him. Johnny got up and walked to the French doors.

He nearly groaned. "It's Jelly and the men."

"God. Let me tell him, boys," Murdoch said.

Scott and Johnny went to the kitchen so Murdoch could break the news to Jelly.

Jelly walked in and started immediately. "Whew! Am I glad that's over. Me and the boys is plumb tuckered out. I sure hope Teresa's got some food left. Them boys leave anything? Oh, got everything taken care of, too."

"Jelly, come sit down. Something's happened that you need to know about."

Jelly's smile left, replaced by a worried frown. "Somethin happen to one of the boys?"

"No, it's not the boys. It's Teresa."

"Teresa? Is she alright?" he asked as he took a seat.

"No, Jelly, she isn't. Something happened while we were gone. The night before we got back, in fact. Four men who had robbed a bank in Twin Oaks broke into the house. They ...... they   ..... hurt Teresa," Murdoch faltered.

Jelly's back went up immediately. "Whatya mean they hurt her? Hurt her how?"

"The worst way a woman can be hurt. They .... raped her," Murdoch choked out.

Jelly flew to his feet. "No! You're a lyin!"

"Jelly! You know I would never lie about a thing like that! Sit down, please," Murdoch said.

Jelly slowly took his seat, trying to digest this horror. "How is she?"

"Devastated. She's been sleeping a lot. She's talked to Scott and Johnny a little but not much. Sam checked her out and Senora Cipriano has been here with her the whole time," he reported.

"Who was the devils? Where are they?"

"Johnny and Scott tracked them down after the sheriff of Twin Oaks came by. He told us about the robbery and the boys hunted them down."

"And?"

"All four are dead," Murdoch said flatly.

"Good!"

They sat there in silence for a while. Murdoch knew Jelly needed time to deal with the initial shock.

"Doc said she's okay?" he asked.

"He said she's bruised and she has some damage but it will heal," Murdoch told him.

"Murdoch? Did he say, well, I reckon he wouldn't know yet.." Jelly trailed off.

"What is it, Jelly?"

"Well, I was thinking about.... she might get ..... pregnant."

"Dear God," Murdoch whispered. The thought had not occurred to him. He sat there for a long moment. "We just have to pray she isn't."

"Isn't what?" Scott asked as he and Johnny walked in. They figured Murdoch had had time to tell Jelly by now.

"Pregnant," Jelly said in a low voice.

Johnny felt his knees go weak. He sat down on the nearest thing to him, the arm of the sofa. "Dios," he whispered.

Scott felt a knot as big as Texas form in his gut and he walked slowly to a chair, sitting down heavily.

"Sorry, reckon I shouldn't of brung it up," Jelly said remorsefully.

"No, we should have thought of it. We should be prepared," Murdoch said.

Johnny snorted at this. "Prepared? We ain't prepared for none of this. Nobody knows what to say to her, what to do for her. She probably thinks we're ashamed of her the way we've been avoiding her," he vented.

"No one is avoiding her, Johnny. She needs time and space. Besides, she needs a woman with her more than any of us," Scott deduced.

"Scott's right, son. And so are you. We aren't prepared for this. We don't know what to do for her. That's why I'm going to town tomorrow and ..." he stopped here with the sound of a buggy.

Jelly went to the door. "It's Sam," he reported.

"Good. Maybe we can get some answers," Murdoch sighed.

Sam walked into a room of eyes on him. He raised his brows. "Something else wrong?"

"No, Sam. We're glad you're here. We were just talking about how we can best help Teresa get through this," Murdoch replied.

"I see. Well, it's not easy but you know that. What she really needs is to talk about it with someone," Sam said.

"Who? She can't talk to any of us," Johnny asked.

"Maria, Senora Cipriano, anyone mature enough to deal with it. And just because you're men doesn't mean she might not want to talk to one of you. You need to be prepared for that. If she does, you have to let her," Sam said.

Scott shook his head. "I just can't see her opening up like that with us. Not about this, Sam."

"She may not, Scott. Just be ready if she does."

"Sam, Jelly brought something up that we hadn't thought about yet. How soon would you be able to tell if Teresa is ..... with child?" Murdoch asked gingerly.

"I have thought about that. It will be about two months before I know. Now, let's talk about how all of YOU are handling it."

All four men stared at him.

"What do you mean, how are we handling it? We ain't the ones who got attacked," Johnny said incredulously.

"No, but someone you love very much was. It will affect you all," Sam said.

"It already has," Murdoch acknowledged.

"How so?" Sam asked.

"Johnny and Scott went after the men who did this."

"Damned right we did!" Johnny spewed.

"What happened?" Sam asked.

"They're dead," Johnny replied icily.

"They drew on us," Scott explained.

"And if they hadn't?" Sam repeated Murdoch's earlier question.

"They'd still be dead," Johnny answered, still in that icy tone.

Scott dropped his eyes and no one spoke for long moments. Johnny stood ready for any challenge but none came.

"Well, I'm going to check on her now," Sam said and walked away.

Jelly walked over to Johnny and squeezed his arm, nodding his understanding. Johnny gave him a small smile in return.

Murdoch cleared his throat and asked, "did you boys eat?"

"Yes, Sir," Scott mumbled.

"Well, I ain't. Reckon me and the Boss should see what we can scrounge up. Come on, Murdoch," Jelly said.

"Alright," Murdoch murmured unenthusiastically.

Silence fell on the room after the two older men left. Johnny and Scott wouldn't look at each other.

"Well, go on, say it," Johnny said curtly.

"Say what?"

"That you wouldn't have killed them if they hadn't drawn on us. That I'm the cold-blooded killer in the family. Say that it didn't matter what they did. Say they still deserved a trial," Johnny fumed.

"Johnny, please. This has been hard on all of us. I simply don't know what I would have done. I feel torn in two. I wanted revenge, yes. But, when we caught up to them, I ..... I don't know. I just don't know," Scott said miserably.

"You'd make a lousy gunfighter, Scott. You worry about the other guy too much. You see them as people. Those weren't people, they were animals and they needed killin. I won't apologize for it and I'm not sorry they're dead."

"I'm not sorry they're dead either. And a trial would have destroyed Teresa. It's hard when your principles are challenged like this. I really can't deal with this right now," Scott answered.  

Johnny swallowed hard. "Fine. But when you are ready to deal with it, we're gonna have to. It has to be settled between us at some point, Scott," he said and walked outside.

Johnny took a deep breath of the night air. He closed his eyes. God help him, but he was glad he'd killed them. He knew he would have no matter what.  

He felt sick inside, like his heart was being ripped to shreds in his chest. He would never get that image out of his mind. Teresa lying there nude and in shock. The look on her face chilled his soul. Part of her had died and he knew she would never be the same.

Johnny did something then he hadn't done since he was seven years old. He got down on his knees and prayed. He prayed for Teresa's soul. He prayed she would get past this somehow. He prayed for the strength to help her however he could and the knowledge of how to help her.

Scott watched his brother drop to his knees. He started for the French doors but stopped when he realized Johnny was praying. He was astounded at the sight, watching in fascination. He watched until he saw Johnny cross himself and get up.

He walked outside and put a hand on Johnny's shoulder. His brother turned to him and Scott swallowed hard when he saw the torment there, knowing it reflected his own.

"This can tear our family apart if we let it, Johnny. Let's not let it," he said softly.

Johnny nodded and placed a hand on each of his brother's shoulders. "Lancer takes care of it's own."

"That's right, brother," Scott smiled and hugged him briefly. "Now, I know you didn't get anymore sleep than I did. As soon as Sam let's us know how she's doing, we should try to get some rest. Teresa will need all our strength."

"Thanks, brother," Johnny smiled and they walked in the house together.

Sam walked out with Murdoch and Jelly and they both waited.

"She's resting. She's still in shock but she's starting to come out of it slowly. I gave her a sedative so she'll sleep through the night. My advice is to get her out of bed tomorrow. Get her moving around some. I'm going to check out some things and see what we can do to best help her."

"Thanks, Sam," Murdoch said.

*******

Scott came downstairs the next morning looking no better than when he'd gone to bed. Johnny sat at the kitchen table with his coffee.

"How long have you been up?" Scott asked.

Johnny shook his head. "Never went to bed. I sat with Teresa so Tia could get some sleep."

"Why didn't you call me? I would have sat with her for you."

"I couldn't sleep, Scott. Looks like you couldn't either," Johnny explained, raising a brow.

"Did she, sleep that is?"

"Yeah, all night. Still is I think. Whatever Sam gave her did the trick. Tia's with her now. You want some breakfast?"

Scott looked toward the stove.

"I can scramble some eggs," Johnny offered.

"Sure, just no spicy extras, please," Scott smiled.

Johnny returned the smile and got up. He made quick work of the eggs, scrambling a dozen or so. Murdoch stumbled in just as he was serving Scott.

"Hungry?" he asked.

"I guess," Murdoch mumbled.

The sons exchanged a worried look. Murdoch looked like an 80 year old man. Johnny grabbed a plate and filled it, then poured his father some coffee.

"Thanks, son."

"Sure," he murmured and started to sit back down. He didn't make it as a blood-curdling scream pierced the halls of the house. All three men took off toward Maria's room. Throwing the door open, Scott made a bee line to Teresa's side.

Senora Cipriano was holding her, rocking back and forth and whispering softly in her ear. They stood there watching helplessly.

"It was a nightmare. It's alright, we are alright," she assured them.

"Sam said maybe she should get up today," Murdoch said haltingly.

"Si, Senor. We will handle it. Won't we, chica?" With a nod of her head, she dismissed the men.

They returned to the kitchen, all appetites gone now. They sat in silence, drinking coffee and frowning.

Jelly walked in the back door and took in the sight. "How is she?"

"She just had a nightmare. Senora Cipriano is with her," Scott answered.

"That all ya gonna eat?" he asked, looking at the now cold eggs.

"I guess we aren't very hungry, Jelly," Murdoch said.

"I reckon ya ain't but ya still gotta eat. How ya expect ta care for that child if you're all starved?" he gruffed and went to the pantry. Before long the smell of bacon frying and biscuits baking filled the room.

Jelly served breakfast and all three ate heartily, surprised at themselves. Scott smirked a bit. He was amazed at the body's insistence on having its needs seen to when the world around them was falling apart.

*******

Teresa appeared in the doorway with Senora Cipriano. She was in a long dress, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her eyes downcast, her face pale as a cloud.

She was guided to her usual seat and sat next to Johnny. He smiled at her but she wouldn't look at him, at any of them.

"Now, chica, you must eat," the Senora said.

"I ain't as good a cook as Maria, but I ain't that bad neither. Here ya go, honey," Jelly said as he sat a plate of food in front of her.

She nodded and picked up the fork, feeling all their eyes on her. She took a small bite of eggs and sat the fork down.

Without warning, she was up and out the backdoor in a dead run. Johnny was hot on her heels.

Murdoch dropped his head into his hands and shook it slowly. He felt Scott's strong hand on his shoulder and reached over to pat it.

"Senora, what can we do?" Scott asked.

She shook her own head sadly. "Time, Senor Scott. All you can do is give her time. She will come to you if she needs you."

"And if she doesn't?" Murdoch asked.

"You must have patience, Senor."

********

Johnny found her standing in her garden staring out past the meadow beyond. He pulled a rose off the vine and quickly removed the thorns.

Standing to her left, he offered it to her. She took it but didn't face him.

"Who do you need to talk to, Teresa?"

She shook her head. "I don't know." Her voice was as soft as the breeze and difficult to hear.

"I know you can't .....talk to me or Scott or Murdoch. One of your friends, maybe? Tia or Maria?"

"I don't know," she said more forcefully.

Johnny took a step back. "Okay, I'm sorry."

"Did you kill them all?"

"Yes."

"Did you make them beg?"

Johnny didn't answer and she turned on him, her eyes flashing. "Did you make them beg? Did they beg you not to do it?" she insisted.

"I didn't give them time, querida," he answered softly.

"Don't call me that!"

Johnny dropped his head and nodded.

"You should have made them beg. You should have made them hurt first," she continued. "You should have tied them up and horse whipped them!"

"You're right, I should have," he responded, his head coming up, his own eyes flashing with anger.

"Did you kill them all or did Scott help?"

"Scott killed two of them."

"Good!"

Johnny didn't like this. He knew she was serious, that she meant every word but the venom in her was too much. Still, he thought she should get some of the anger out.

"We made sure they knew why," he tried. "They were plenty scared."

"It was better than they deserved."

"Yeah."

She turned away again, staring out over the land.

Johnny chewed his lip, trying to come up with something to say, to do. "Do you want to go for a ride?"

She whirled around again. "I'm a little sore, Johnny!"

He closed his eyes and cursed himself. "I'm sorry, I don't know what to do."

"There's nothing you can do. There's nothing you can do because you weren't here! Why weren't you here?!" she screamed.

He stared disbelievingly at her, unable to speak.

"Why weren't you here?" she repeated. Then she slapped him across the face so hard, his head snapped to the side.

Teresa turned and ran back to the house. Johnny sank to his knees feeling utterly useless.

*********

She tore through the kitchen, slamming the bedroom door hard enough to jolt the pictures on the walls. Three men and a woman gawked at her.

Murdoch's jaw clenched and he walked out of the house. Senora Cipriano went to Teresa and Scott and Jelly sat there, stunned.

Murdoch found Johnny kneeling on the ground. "What did you do to her?" he demanded.

Johnny looked up and Murdoch immediately lost his anger. He knelt beside his son. "What happened?"

"She asked why I wasn't here then she slapped me," he said, his voice trembling.

"Oh God, son. She's hurt, angry, sad. She didn't mean it, Johnny."

"We always think she's so strong. That she can take care of herself. Someone should have been with her, Murdoch."

"And if one of us had been here? What then? There were four of them. Do you think any one of us could have stopped them?"

Johnny jumped to his feet. "You're damned right! Or die tryin!"

"And Teresa would have still been attacked," Murdoch said more calmly than he could believe.

Johnny dropped his head. "I'd rather have died trying to protect her than find her like that," he whispered.

Murdoch grabbed him by both shoulders, forcing Johnny to look at him. "Any one of us would have. Right now, all we can do is try to help her ..... and you."

"Me?" Johnny asked, astonished.

"You found her, Johnny. You saw ...... everything. You can't tell me it hasn't affected you."

Johnny tried to pull away but the strong hands held fast. "Johnny, you need to talk about this."

"I can't."

"You have to. You can tell me or Scott or anyone you want but you have to tell someone."

Johnny shook his head stubbornly. "I can't talk about it. I don't even want to think about it!"

"But you've thought of nothing else, have you? I know you, Johnny. You're going to let this rip you apart inside. You're going to blame yourself for something you had no control over."

Scott Lancer set his jaw and stepped back into the house. He walked purposefully out the front door to the barn. He saddled his horse and led it outside.

"Where'ya goin?"   Jelly asked.

"To find some help for my family," he replied tightly.

"Good!"

Scott mounted up and with a nod for Jelly, set off at a mile eating gallop toward Green River.

********

Johnny headed out the front door and was met by Jelly. "Where's Scott?"

"He went ta town. Said he was gonna find some help. Bout time! Johnny, I..." Jelly didn't get to finish as they both turned to see a group of men riding in.

"I'll handle this, Jelly," Johnny said softly. Jelly heard the ice in his voice and could only wonder 'what now?'

"Sheriff," Johnny greeted coolly.

"Well, we found 'em," Sheriff Marley said brusquely.

"That right?"

"Yeah, all four of 'em. Dead as doornails. Layin by their campfire, guns part the way out of the holsters. Well, 'cept for one of 'em. Had a little derringer layin near his hand. Reckon what ya make of that?" the sheriff asked.

Johnny eyed him and simply shrugged.

"You get that trouble of yours taken care of?" Marley continued.

"Yeah, it's all taken care of, Sheriff."

"Well, reckon somebody made my job easier. Won't have to hang 'em now. Did I mention they killed a clerk at the bank?"

"I don't remember if you did or not," Johnny said honestly.

"Good man, three kids and a wife. Well, reckon we'll be headin back now."

"Goodbye," Johnny clipped.

Sheriff Marley tipped his hat and motioned his men to ride. He turned his horse back to face the two men once more. "Goodbye, Mr. Madrid."

*********

The day dragged on seemingly forever. Teresa had not come out of her room again. Johnny and Murdoch pretended to work on the books but neither had made one bit of progress.

Utmost on their minds at the moment was Scott. When Jelly told them he'd left and why, both Lancers wondered what kind of help he would find. Both praying he would accomplish his goal.

They looked up as the front door opened and Scott walked in.

"We were starting to worry, son."

"I'm sorry. I didn't know it would take so long."

"What did you do?" Johnny asked.

"I talked with Sam then I sent a couple of telegrams. I waited for the replies before coming home."

"Are you gonna make us drag it out of you?" Johnny asked, a bit irritated.

"No. Remember my friend Ben Walters?"

Johnny frowned in thought for a moment. "The doctor from San Francisco. The one that was here last year."

"That's right. I wired him and asked him to come here. He helped me so much I thought he could help Teresa."

"Scott, that was an excellent idea. As I recall, he was very helpful to you and Johnny," Murdoch praised.

"Yeah, made you see why you were bein such a jackass," Johnny grinned.

Scott smiled back but he found nothing amusing about that time. He had blamed his brother for Murdoch being shot when it had been Murdoch's own past that caused the trouble. After their father had recovered, Scott found himself harboring anger toward his brother but didn't know why. That's when he'd gone to the city to seek help. He had found it in Dr. Ben Walters. The man had agreed to come to the ranch and help him explain why he'd behaved as he had toward Johnny. In the end, it had nothing to do with his brother, but his own demons from the past - from Libby Prison. It was as close as he ever cared to come to losing his brother's friendship and respect.

"You said you sent a couple of telegrams," Johnny's inquired.

"Yes, the other was to Victoria Barkley. I hope you don't mind, Sir. I know I don't know her that well but Teresa seems so fond of her. And, well, she is a woman and I thought she might be able to help as well," Scott explained.

Murdoch smiled. "Of course I don't mind, son. Can she come?"

"She'll be here in two days. It will take Ben a week."

"Well, brother, looks like you've covered everything. I just hope they can help her," Johnny said.

"Scott, what did you tell Victoria?" Murdoch asked.

"Only that Teresa needed her desperately. She must have been in Stockton because I got her answer within an hour. She said to hang on, she was on her way."

Murdoch chuckled. "And if there isn't a stage, she'll buy one to get her here."

"I checked on that as well. The stage will arrive in Green River at 10 a.m. day after tomorrow," Scott informed them.

"I'll pick her up," Johnny offered.

"Good. Well, Maria is due back tomorrow so that will help, too," Murdoch said.

"I hope so," Johnny mumbled.

* ****

Maria did indeed return the next morning. After overcoming the horror of the news, she immediately went to Teresa. Senora Cipriano returned to her own home with explicit instructions to call her if needed.

Scott and Johnny took it upon themselves to ready rooms for their pending guests. They also readied another room for Maria. While they were at it, they threw Teresa's entire bed out and ordered a new one.

They opened up the room two doors from hers. A room that had not been used in over twenty years. They cleaned it, painted it and moved her furniture in, rearranging everything completely different than in her old room.

"Whew! Well, it looks pretty good don't ya think?" Johnny asked when they had finished.

"I do indeed, brother. I wonder why this room has been closed up so long?"

Johnny shrugged his shoulders.

"It was the nursery," Murdoch said from behind.

"Nursery?"

"Yes, Johnny. When you were born your mother couldn't manage the stairs for a while. We stayed in what's now Maria's room and this was the nursery," he explained.

Silence filled the room for a while.

"I closed it up after ...... it hasn't been used since," Murdoch went on.

"We could use a different room," Scott offered.

"No, son. This one is fine. Besides, you two have put a lot of work into it. Teresa always used to ask me about using it but I ..... well, anyway. It looks good."

Johnny mumbled something about horses and left the room quickly.

"He'll be alright," Scott said.

"I'm not so sure about that, son," Murdoch frowned.

******

Teresa spent every morning and afternoon in her garden alone. She took her meals in her room and spoke to no one except Maria.

Maria reported that she wasn't saying much. Only what was essential. The mood of the house remained pensive.

Johnny set off to pick up Victoria Barkley in town, grateful to get away for a while but feeling guilty as well.

For once, the stage was on time. The silver-haired gentlewoman disembarked and straightened her dress. Johnny had only met her once but she had made quite a lasting impression on the young man. He liked and respected her instantly.

He walked up behind her and softly called to her.

She turned and smiled. "Johnny, so good to see you again."

"You too, ma'am. Did you want to rest up a while before heading to the ranch?"

"No, let's get going. You can tell me what's happened on the way," she replied.

Johnny dropped his eyes and nodded then retrieved her luggage. They were on their way in less than ten minutes.

He was quiet for a while, not sure how to say what he had to say. He didn't really know this woman and wasn't sure but he thought she could handle about anything.   But then, he'd always thought that about Teresa, too.

"What is it, Johnny?" she asked.

He knew he couldn't just blurt it out. He pulled the surrey to the side of the road and turned to face her.

She was startled by the pain in his eyes. She laid a comforting hand on his arm. "Just say it."

He took a deep breath and blew it out. "It ain't that easy, ma'am. We were away on the cattle drive. Teresa was alone in the house. Four men broke in the night before we got back. Bank robbers on the run from a posse. They ..... hurt her."

"Hurt her how?"

Johnny looked at her and she knew. Her hand went to her mouth in disbelief. "No," she whispered.

Johnny could only nod his head. "When we got back, I went looking for her. I found her in her room. She was ......" he couldn't say it.

"Take me to her, Johnny."

He relaxed his tense shoulders and slapped the reins.

******

As soon as he stopped the surrey in the yard, she jumped out. Murdoch was there to greet her.

"Where is she?" she asked immediately.

"In the garden," he answered.

She gave him a quick hug and walked around the side of the house. Murdoch smiled weakly at Johnny and went back inside.

"Your garden is as beautiful as always, Teresa," she said softly.

Her head came up with a jerk and she stood from the bench. "Mrs. Barkley! What are you doing here?"

She smiled. "Your family thought I might be needed."

Teresa stared at her for a moment as tears welled in her eyes. She sat back down heavily and could only nod.

Victoria went quickly to her. Sitting beside her, she pulled the girl into her arms. "There now. I know, dear. We'll get you through this somehow."

Teresa shook her head. "How? I don't know what to do. I don't know how to feel. I'm so angry all the time," she cried. "I slapped Johnny. I asked him why he hadn't been here. I can't even apologize to him. I can't look at any of them."

"Why can't you look at them, Teresa?"

"I don't want to see the pity in their eyes. The shame."

Victoria pulled back and looked into her face. "Shame? No, Teresa, there is no shame in their faces. Only pain, pain for you and helplessness. They don't know what to do for you and well, they are men. They always need to feel in control."

Teresa snorted. "I know that," she said bitterly.

"You blame them for not being here to protect you." It was a statement, not a question.

"I know it's wrong. I've been here alone many times. I just can't help it. I know if they'd been here it wouldn't have happened."

"No, probably not," Victoria agreed. "But they weren't here. Had they been, any of them would have died to stop it. You know that, too."

Teresa nodded.

"What did happen, Teresa?"

The girl dropped her head and began to cry. Victoria held her until the tears slowed. The older woman waited patiently for the girl to begin, knowing she would.

"I was about to go to bed. I was thinking how glad I was they'd be home the next day. I was planning a special dinner in my head. When I opened the kitchen door, a man was standing there. He grabbed me and then another one appeared behind me. Two more came from the living room. They had searched the house and knew I was alone. I told them the men would be home in the morning but they didn't care. They said there was a posse after them and they needed a place to rest for awhile. Two of them went outside to stand watch and the other two made me feed them."

She stopped and took several breaths. Victoria said nothing, just waited.

"One of them kept looking at me. He kept saying I was pretty. Then he stood up and grabbed my arms and tried to kiss me. The other one told him to take me someplace else. He dragged me into my room. I tried to get away, tried to jump out the window but he was too fast, too strong. I couldn't fight him. He .... tied my wrists to the bed."

"He tore my clothes off and ..... started kissing me all over. He said some vile, ugly things. I begged him not to, but he just laughed. He got on top of me and ....."

"Sssshhh, it's alright, you don't have to say anymore."

"When he finished, he got up and left. A few minutes later the other one came in and ..... did the same thing. They all four did ....... all night!" she sobbed into Victoria's shoulder.

Victoria held tightly to her, anger rising from deep inside her. She rocked Teresa in her arms like a baby, cooing softly while the girl cried.

"Have they been caught yet?" she asked after a long while.

She nodded and replied in a muffled voice, "Johnny and Scott went after them and killed them all."

She tensed a little then relaxed and nodded. Two more souls wounded, she thought.

Teresa pulled away and dried her eyes and blew her nose.

"Did it help to get it said?" Victoria asked.

She nodded and smiled a little at the woman. "I just can't seem to make myself do anything. If I could just DO something."

"You need to get away from the house for a while. Why don't you and I go for a ride in the surrey?"

Teresa started crying again.

"What is it, child?"

"I'm sorry. Johnny asked me to go for a ride the other day and I slapped him."

"Oh honey, I'm sure he understands."

"I don't. I'm so angry with them all."

"No one blames you, Teresa. They know your emotions are all over the place. Why, you could probably shoot one of them in the foot and they just say 'it's alright'," she laughed.

Teresa laughed at this as well. "Probably. I would like to get away from here for a while."

"Good! I'll go see if Maria can pack us a lunch and see about getting a buggy ready. Why don't you go wash your face?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Barkley. Thank you so much for coming," she said and hugged the older woman.

******

The Lancers were greatly relieved to hear Teresa had agreed on an outing with Victoria. Johnny hitched up a buggy for them and brought it to the yard. Maria packed a lunch for the ladies and smiled softly at her chica.

Victoria climbed aboard with a helping hand from Johnny. He hesitated when Teresa stepped forward but she accepted his hand up. He felt something hard and heavy in her skirt and looked quizzically at her but said nothing.

As they drove away, Scott put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I'm a little surprised she'd want to get far from the house."

"Don't worry, she's prepared," Johnny said.

"What do you mean?"

"She's packin," Johnny shrugged.

A little more every day, Teresa became more involved in the household. She started helping with the meals and doing the wash. Victoria stayed with her most every minute. She even smiled once in a while.

By the next week, the Lancers were beginning to have some hope that she would come back to them.

She still would not sit at the table with them and Victoria had not been able to get her to that point yet. Nor would she speak directly to any of the men.

Monday morning Scott headed to town to pick up Ben Walters. He felt good about what Victoria had accomplished but he still felt Teresa needed a professional. So did his brother, so did they all.

******

Scott and Ben arrived at the house. Ben had been told what happened on the drive and was preparing himself for the challenges that lay ahead. He seldom had an entire family to counsel but he was at least familiar with this one.

"Ben, thank you so much for coming," Murdoch greeted with an extended hand.

"It's my pleasure, Mr. Lancer. It's nice to be back, I only wish the circumstances were better."

"Yes, well come in," Murdoch said.

They filled him in on what had happened thusfar. He was introduced to Victoria Barkley and she told him of her conversations with Teresa. She made sure that information was given in private, however. She would not break Teresa's trust but she felt it was alright to confide in the doctor.

At dinner that night the mood was no better. Ben watched the family sans Teresa who had still refused to sit with them.

"Everyone's so quiet," he commented.

Scott looked over and smiled but no one else acknowledged the statement.

"No wonder you need help. If you can't talk to each other...."

"We've talked it out, Ben," Murdoch clipped.

No one looked very convinced by this so Ben forged ahead. "Yes, I can see that.   Must be why I feel all this love and support oozing through the place."

"You're here to help Teresa," Murdoch reminded him.

"You're wrong, Mr. Lancer. I'm here to help you all. Teresa is only part of the problem. How you are all dealing with this is an issue as well."

"You just concentrate on Teresa. Don't worry about the rest of us," Johnny spoke up.

Ben decided now was not the time but at least he was sure of his methods now. He had elicited the response he'd hope for.

********

He decided not to see Teresa until the next day. She was more open now, thanks to Victoria Barkley and he found her ready to talk.

They spent a great deal of time together over the next few weeks. Victoria returned home with a promise to come back as soon as she could. Murdoch had known this would take some time. He was beginning to wonder how long now. He voiced that question to Ben.

"She's doing well, Mr. Lancer. Still, there's something she's holding back from me. Until I can get her to talk about whatever it is, I can't feel easy about leaving her."

"Well, I must admit, you've been a godsend, Ben. Whatever she needs, whatever it takes," Murdoch replied.

Ben looked at him for a moment before replying. "And the rest of your family? Are you going to ignore their pain?"

"Teresa is the one ...."

"Who was hurt," Ben cut him off. "But she isn't the only one. The rest of you may not have any visible scars, but the pain is so obvious to anyone."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Don't you? When is the last time you heard either of your sons laugh? When is the last time you laughed? How long has it been since you've all spent any time together when the subject wasn't Teresa? Have Johnny's nightmares gotten any better?"

"What nightmares?" Murdoch asked, astounded.

Ben sighed. "The ones I stand outside his room every night and listen to. The ones where he's calling Teresa's name. Apologizing over and over to her."

Murdoch sat down, a look of bewilderment on his face. "I knew .... I should have....."

"Knew what?"

"Johnny's the one who found her laying there ..... naked," Murdoch explained.

"Don't you think that's something I should have been told about before now?" Ben asked angrily.

"What are you getting so upset about?"

"Mr. Lancer, am I correct in assuming that Teresa is like a sister to Johnny and Scott?"

"Yes."

"And if you found your sister in that state, how do you think it would affect you?"

Murdoch opened his mouth then closed it again. Sighing, he looked at Ben. "I suppose you should also know that Scott and Johnny tracked those men down and killed them."

Ben rolled his eyes in astonishment. "I don't think I have ever met a family so ..... close-mouthed!"

"What's going on?" Scott asked from the door. He and Johnny stood there staring. They had heard the last sentence from Ben.

"Oh, nothing. I just found out some things I should have been told weeks ago."

"Like what?" Johnny asked.

Ben got up and walked over to them. "Like that you are the one who found Teresa."

Johnny dropped his head and nodded.

"And that the two of you exacted revenge," Ben continued.

"They drew on us first," Scott defended.

"Wouldn't have made no difference," Johnny responded coldly.

"Johnny, you and I need to talk," Ben said.

Johnny smiled at him. "No, we don't. I don't need no soul-bearing session, Doc."

"I disagree."

"So do I. I should have told him everything. I've been worried about you, Johnny. But with everything happening with Teresa, I let it go. That was wrong," Murdoch spoke up.

"I'm fine," Johnny asserted.

"Is that why you're having nightmares?" Ben asked.

Johnny narrowed his eyes and looked icily at Ben. "You came here to help Teresa. Do it! And stop buttin into my business!" He turned on his heel and walked out.

Ben started to go after him but Scott grabbed his arm. "How badly could this affect him?"

"He's feeling guilty, Scott. It could get very bad if he doesn't deal with it. I know Johnny has his own way of dealing with things but he's not doing that either. He's pushing it away, refusing to look at it. He's like a stick of dynamite just waiting for the right spark. And before you ask, no, I don't know what that spark might be. Anything could set him off."

"Let me talk to him first, Ben," Scott said.

"Alright, Scott. I know you two have a special bond. I just hope he listens to you. After that, you and I will have a talk as well," Ben replied with a cocked brow.

Scott ducked his head and smiled then went to find his brother. As suspected, Johnny was in the barn, grooming Barranca.

"Hi," Scott said.

"Hey."

"Want to talk?"

"Bout what?"

"About what Ben said in there and how true it is. Johnny, I know you deal with your feelings but Ben's right. You aren't dealing with these feelings. I'm worried about you, brother," Scott said gently.

"You think I'm gonna lose it, Scott?"

"Maybe."

"Maybe I will. I'll try not to make a mess, okay?" Johnny smirked.

Scott walked up beside him and laid a hand on his arm. "Do you feel like you're 'losing it'?"

Johnny turned and faced his brother. "Sometimes."

"Talk to Ben, Johnny. He helped us before, I know he can help us now."

"He helped you, Scott. Look, I don't go for all that talking to strangers about your problems."

"Then talk to me or Murdoch," Scott encouraged.

"You got enough on your plate."

"Not when it comes to you."

Johnny sighed and walked over to sit on some bales of hay. "I feel like I didn't do enough. That killin those animals wasn't enough. I can't help her. I just made things worse."

"You're talking about that day in the garden. Yes, I heard you tell Murdoch about it. That's when I decided to send for Ben. But then, well Teresa was in such need."

"She still is. No Scott, Teresa comes first, period."

"I think Ben can handle both of you," Scott smiled.

Johnny chuckled. "Don't be so sure, brother." He sobered then. "I wouldn't know what to tell him. Hell, I don't even know how I feel. Everything is just so ..... messed up!"

Scott sat beside him, not knowing what to say.

"Murdoch told me that day when we got back to let it out however I had to. But I didn't. I didn't know how, Scott. I still don't. What am I supposed to do, cry? Beat my head against the wall? Shoot somebody else? I just so damned ...."

"Frustrated," Scott finished.

"Yes!"

"I know, Johnny. I feel the same way. There's nothing we can do to help Teresa. It makes us feel ..... I don't know ... unmanly, maybe? Or at least, useless."

"That's it exactly. I feel so useless. She needs me and I can't help her."

"You think she needs you?"

"I know she does. Not just me, Scott. All of us. It's like she's shut herself off from us. She won't talk to us. She won't even sit at the table with us. She blames us, you know."

"I know what she said, Johnny. But she was angry and hurt and she had been through hell. She didn't mean any of it."

"Didn't she? I wonder, Boston."

"You can stop wondering, Johnny," Ben said as he walked into the barn. "She doesn't blame you, any of you. She feels very bad for hitting you, too. It's just that right now, she can't tell you that."

"Seems she can't tell any of us anything. Not even hello," Johnny said morosely.

"No, but she's getting there. She really is. Your patience, all of you, has been a blessing to her. She does appreciate and acknowledge it," Ben said.

"It sounds like she's making great progress, Ben. So, what's left?" Scott asked.

"There's something she isn't telling me yet, Scott. I hope that once she does, she can take bigger steps toward coming back to you all."

"Well, you're the expert, Ben," Scott smiled.

"And as such, I hope that you'll both talk to me while I'm here," Ben suggested.

"I'm going inside," Johnny mumbled and walked out.

"He just needs some time to think about it. He'll come to you when he's ready," Scott said.

******

The next day, Ben took Teresa out for a buggy ride. She directed him to a small hill overlooking a valley of bluebells. As they pulled to a stop, Ben saw the grave.

Teresa got down and walked over, sitting next to the headstone. He followed her slowly.

"Your father?"

"Yes," she said softly.

"You come here often?"

"When I can and on special occasions. I miss him," she said in a trembling voice.

"Especially right now," Ben concluded.

"Yes, especially right now."

"What about your mother, Teresa? I understand she's alive."

"She is but she doesn't care. No, that isn't true. She just isn't very good at being a mother," Teresa confessed.

"I see. Would you like to tell me what's been weighing so heavy on your mind?"

Teresa laughed a little. "You mean besides all we've talked about?"

He sat beside her then. "Yes, that's what I mean."

She turned to look at him, her eyes filling with tears. "No man will ever want to be with me now."

"Any man worth his salt would see what a treasure you are. If they can't, they aren't worth your time. Teresa, you're right. There are a lot of men who wouldn't be able to get past what happened to you. But not every man is like that. Is there someone in particular you're worried about?"

"How do you see so much?" she asked sincerely.

"I'm good at my work and I care," he shrugged.

She was silent for a while so he asked again. "Is there someone, Teresa?"

"Yes, but he doesn't know how I feel."

"Why not?"

"I've never told him. I always thought there would be time. Now, now everything has changed."

"Yes, everything has changed. You've changed. You're afraid he won't like that."

She shrugged her small shoulders. "I don't even know if he liked me to begin with. Not that way, anyhow."

"Maybe you'll be able to tell the next time you see him. If you want to tell him about what happened. You don't have to, you know."

"He knows," she fairly whispered.

Ben's eyebrows went up at this. "Which one of the Lancer brothers is it?"

She dropped her own eyes. "Johnny. How could he even think about me in that way now? Especially since....."

"Since he is the one who found you."

"Yes."

Ben blew out a breath. "Well, you'll never know if you continue to avoid him. Is that why you've stayed away from the whole family?"

"It's one reason. I don't want to see the pity on their faces."

"It isn't pity, Teresa. It's love, sorrow, sadness yes, but not pity."

"I don't know if I can ever let a man .... touch me. I don't know if I could ever .... make love," she confessed.

"I don't either. You won't know until that moment comes. But making love is entirely different from what happened to you. You were attacked, hurt in the way men know is the worst way to hurt a woman. It isn't about love, it isn't even really about sex. It's about power and rage, Teresa."

"But if I won't know until the time comes, it will be too late. Don't you see? I could never be with a man I wasn't married to. How can I marry anyone without knowing if I can be a wife to him?"

"That will be something for you to decide and deal with when the time comes. If he loves you and you love him, I think you'll be able to. Knowing what I know of you, I'd say, yes, it may be hard at first. But that love will win out in the end."

She reached over and quickly squeezed his arm. "Thank you. You have no idea how much you've helped me."

Ben actually blushed a little. "There's still work to be done. And I think the next step is for you to talk to Johnny. You don't have to tell him how you feel about him, but you need to apologize. That has been wearing on you for weeks, Teresa."

"You're right. I just can't do it in front of everyone."

"You don't have to. As a matter of fact, luck seems to be with us. There's Johnny now," he said.

She looked down the little hill and saw him riding past. She tensed immediately at the sight of him. "He doesn't see us."

"Doesn't he?" Ben asked and stood up. He whistled shrilly, one to compete with Johnny's own. Johnny pulled up and looked at them and Ben waved him over.

He dismounted near the buggy and walked over. "Hi."

"Johnny, we were just talking about you. Teresa needs to say something to you. I'll be right over by the buggy if you need me," Ben smiled and walked away before she could protest.

Johnny stood there, unsure if he should sit, stand or what. He fidgeted a little with his hat string as he waited for her to speak.

What he heard was music to his ears. Teresa was laughing. It wasn't her usual heartfelt laugh but it was still beautiful.

"What's so funny?" he smiled.

"You are. You don't know what to do with yourself," she smiled.

He laughed softly. "Guess not."

"Please sit down, Johnny."

He did so, being sure not to get too close but not too far away either.

Her face took on a serious expression as she thought of what to say to him. He waited for her, not willing to push anything.

"I wanted to apologize," she said.

"Apologize? For what?" he asked, totally stunned. He had not expected this.

"For yelling at you, for blaming you and for hitting you. I'm so sorry, Johnny."

"Miel, you have nothing to be sorry for. I shouldn't have pushed. I should have left you alone. Or maybe I should have told you to beat the tar out of me. Whatever you needed."

She smiled at this. "I wanted to, believe me. It wasn't you, it was the anger, the .... pain."

"I know. It's alright, it really is," he said earnestly.

She reached out and took his hand in hers. "You've always been so good to me. I know you would do anything I asked of you."

"I would. Do you need me to do something?"

"No, just be patient like you have been. I know this has been hard on everyone."

"Teresa, please don't worry about us. Focus on yourself, what you need. That's all that any of us care about."

She smiled again and nodded. "Johnny, do you remember that night when I asked you if that's how it was supposed to be?"

He dropped his eyes and nodded.

"You told me it was supposed to be beautiful, that it was beautiful when you loved someone."

"That's right, querida," he said, then looked at her quickly.

She only smiled, knowing he felt he'd made a mistake. "It's alright. You can call me that. I've been talking to Ben about that. I feel like I'm never going to be able to ....." she trailed off, suddenly embarrassed and wondering why she'd brought this up with him.

"Listen to me, okay? When you find a man that loves you the way you deserve to be loved, he will understand. He will treat you with respect. When you love someone completely, it makes things easier. I know I'm not saying this the right way," he said, frustrated.

"No, you are. Really," she encouraged him.

"Well, it is something you have to tell him about. A man expects his wife to be ..... untouched. But if he loves you like he should, it won't matter to him, miel."

Her eyes filled with tears once more as she looked at him. "Sometimes, I feel so .... dirty," she gasped out.

Johnny pulled her into an embrace without even thinking. "No, no you aren't. Never, Teresa, never," he whispered.

She clung to him fiercely, wrapping her arms around his neck. It felt so good to be in his arms. She was amazed she was so calm.

Johnny pulled away and looked sheepishly at her. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It felt good to be held," she said truthfully.

"I didn't want to scare you."

"I know. I've seen how careful you've been. I do appreciate it, Johnny. You are always so considerate."

He hung his head then as she knew he would. "Did you want to say anything else?" he asked.

She hesitated, looking over at Ben. "Not now, maybe sometime, later."

He nodded and smiled. "I guess I should let you get back to the good doctor."

"He is a good doctor. He's helped me a lot."

"I'm glad for that. I'll see you at the house, okay?"

"Yes, okay," she smiled.

She stood up and watched him ride away. As always, awed by his grace and agility with a horse. She was smiling when Ben walked up.

"It went well," he said.

"Yes."

"How did you feel when he hugged you?"

"Good. Warm and .... safe."

He smiled. "Teresa, I think you are going to be just fine."

"Is that your final diagnosis, Doctor?" she asked.

"It is. It doesn't mean you're rid of me yet, however."

"As far as I'm concerned, you can move in permanently," she smiled.

"Are you up to another test?" he asked.

"That depends. What is it?"

"Dinner with your family tonight."

She frowned a little and turned away from him. Taking a deep breath she nodded firmly. "Yes."

"Good. Ready to go back now?"

"Yes, I'm ready to go back. I'm ready to start living again."

**********

Teresa took her place at the table that evening. Johnny pulled her chair out for her with a big grin on his face.

She returned the smile and took them all in. "Thank you for being so patient with me. I appreciate everything you've all done. Scott, thank you for bringing Ben and Mrs. Barkley here."

"You're very welcome, Teresa," Scott replied graciously.

"Murdoch, thank you for being a father to me when I needed one most."

"You're welcome, sweetheart," he replied with a bit of a blush.

"Johnny, thank you for having the courage to hug me today."

"Thanks for not knockin my head off when I did."

Teresa laughed heartily and the Lancers joined her. It was a glorious moment for the entire family.

"Ben, if you ever decide to leave the big city, you are most welcome here," Murdoch said.

"Thank you, Mr. Lancer. Teresa has already invited me to move in," he laughed.

Maria brought dinner out then. Teresa's favorites of course. The meal went well and she seemed to be relaxed. None of them could stop from stealing little glances her way from time to time.

After desert, she spoke. "I'm afraid I'm very tired. I think I'll call it a night." She rose to leave and they all stood.

Saying her goodnights, Teresa left the room.

"That went well, don't you think?" Scott asked.

"Yes, I'd say it did," Ben concurred. "She still has a little work to do but I think I'll be free enough now."

"Free enough?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes, to start work with the rest of you," Ben stated.

Johnny sighed heavily and walked into the living room. They joined him there.

"Anybody want a drink?"

"No, I think I'd like a clear head," Scott said.

Getting no's from the rest, Johnny poured a glass of whiskey and sat down.

"Someone's missing, gentlemen," Ben said.

"I'll get him," Scott offered and walked out.

He returned a few minutes later with a very disgruntled Jelly.

"What's goin on now?"

"Jelly, Ben would like to talk to all of us. Teresa had dinner with us tonight," Murdoch explained.

"She did? Well, that's great!" he exclaimed as he took a seat next to Johnny.

"Teresa is going to get through this. She's made fantastic progress and will continue to do so. Now, it's time to focus on the rest of the family," Ben announced.

"Focus what?" Jelly asked.

"He wants to get inside our heads, Jelly. He's gonna wish he'd hightailed it out of here before long," Johnny snipped.

"Well, I don't know that it ain't a good idea, Johnny. Considerin everythin that's happened," Jelly stated.

"I'm glad you agree, Mr. Hoskins," Ben smiled.

"Ain't no need to stand on ceremony. It's Jelly."

"Right, Jelly. Well, what I'd like to do is have each of you recount the moment you realized what had happened to Teresa. I want you to tell me everything you felt at that moment."

No one spoke, no one wanted to.

"It really is better to do this as a group, gentlemen. Scott, why don't you go first?"

"Me?" Scott swallowed hard, looking quite uncomfortable. He squared his shoulders and repositioned himself in his chair. "Well, um, we came in and Johnny was calling for Teresa. She didn't answer and we were wondering where she might be. Johnny thought she might be napping so he went to check. Murdoch and I were standing here when he came back."

"Do you remember how he looked?" Ben asked.

"I'm not likely to ever forget it. It was more than one thing. Shock, definitely. He could hardly speak. But, there was more. Hurt and anger."

"What did Johnny say?" Ben asked, holding a hand up to shush Johnny from answering the question.

"Murdoch asked if he'd startled her and Johnny shook his head. He told Murdoch he needed to go to her. That he'd found her lying naked on the bed. That's when Murdoch took off and I followed right after Johnny told me he was going for the doctor."

"What happened then?" Ben asked.

"I stood in the doorway of her room. Murdoch was talking to her quietly but she was just staring into space. When he looked at me ....." Scott grimaced at the memory.

"Please go on, Scott," Ben encouraged.

"I've never seen my father in so much pain. He looked like he'd aged fifty years."

"How did you feel, Scott?"

"Like someone had taken everything I care about away from me. It ... broke my heart and then I ..... I've never felt that kind of rage before. I wanted to kill someone."

"And you did."

Scott looked up at him. "Yes, I ..... I did."

"You and Johnny went after them," Ben said.

"Yes, we tracked them down."

"And then you killed them."

"Yes."

"How did you feel afterwards?"

Scott sighed heavily. "I still don't know how I feel about it. I wanted them dead. I'm glad their dead. Yet, if they hadn't tried to draw on us ..... I don't think I could have killed them in cold blood."

"Thank you, Scott. Murdoch, you're next," Ben said, using the man's Christian name for the first time.

"When I saw Johnny's face I knew something was terribly wrong. Teresa was just staring into space like Scott said. I felt like I could have died right then. It hurt, what can I say?"

"When you turned and looked at Scott in the door, what did you see?"

"Shock, pain, anger."

"What did you feel you should do about it?"

Murdoch shook his head. "I knew he needed me but I couldn't leave her. Senora Cipriano arrived and we left. I should have said something to him then. We waited for Johnny to get back with Sam. That's when the sheriff arrived looking for the men. He gave us their names and my sons went after them."

"Did you try to stop them?"

"Not very hard. I didn't want them to go but part of me did. I admit I wanted revenge for my little girl but I was worried about my sons, too."

"When they returned and told you what happened, what was your reaction?"

"I was glad it was self-defense, relieved is a better word. I knew it would haunt them both whether they admitted it or not."

Ben nodded his head and turned to Jelly. "What about you, Jelly?"

"Well, it ain't no big surprise I was stunned. Madder than a hornet, too. By the time I got here, the boys had already gone after them devils. I was glad they killed 'im and I ain't gonna say no different. Broke my heart what happened to that child. Broke my heart for the rest of 'em, too."

"Did you want to say anything else?" Ben asked.

"Like what? I'm sorry it happened. I feel plain awful about it. Can't change it. All we can do is be here for Teresa."

"Johnny?"

"What?"

"It's your turn," Ben said.

"Is it?"

"You'll be surprised how much it helps," Ben nudged.

"You're right about that. Feel any better Scott? How about you Murdoch? Jelly? Are we all warm and cozy inside now?" Johnny shot sarcastically.

"You're very angry still."

"You're damned right I'm angry! I plan on stayin that way for a while. That is, if you don't mind, Doc," he spat.

"Not at all. When you opened that door and saw Teresa, what was the first thing you did?"

"I covered her up."

"And then?"

"I went to get Murdoch."

"You didn't speak to her?"

"I think I called her name."

"How did you feel about it?"

"Madre del Dios. Este hombre es insano. ¿Cómo que me sentí? ¿Cómo el infierno usted me piensa se sentí?"

"I'm afraid I don't speak Spanish, Johnny," Ben said calmly.

"Tough!"

"Johnny...." Murdoch started.

"No, Mr. Lancer, please. It's alright. Let Johnny say what he wants," Ben interrupted.

"I said you're loco. How do you think I felt? I was madder than I've ever been in my life. And that's sayin something. I wanted revenge and I got it. Before you ask, I don't feel one bit of regret for it, either. Unlike my brother, I couldn't care less if they drew or not. As far as I was concerned, they were dead as soon as I found out who they were. Yes, I would have shot them down in cold-blood. No more than they deserved, better than they deserved."

"Johnny Madrid was in full mode," Ben stated. There was no sarcasm or judgment in his voice.

"That's right!"

"And about Teresa. How have you dealt with that?"

Johnny took a deep breath. "By giving her space. By giving her whatever she needs."

"What do you need, Johnny?"

Johnny got up and walked over to the sideboard. "Besides a shot of tequila? Nothing!" he declared as he poured the drink. He downed it in one gulp. "You want to know what I need, Doc? I need you to stop asking me a bunch of stupid questions. I need to erase the memory of what I saw in that room. I need one night of sleep without waking up in a cold sweat. That's what I need!" He yelled. Johnny turned toward the fireplace and launched his glass into the flames.

He turned back and stood there breathing heavily and glaring at Ben. His body trembled and he couldn't seem to make it stop.

Ben didn't rise to the bait. He looked at Murdoch expectantly. Murdoch didn't look up, his eyes cast down as he listened to his son rant. Ben shook his head.

"What do you hear in his voice, Mr. Lancer?"

Murdoch jerked his head up and stared at Ben. "Anger."

"What else?"

Murdoch shook his head.

"What else?" he repeated insistently.

"Pain."

"What do you think Johnny needs, Mr. Lancer?"

"I don't know."

"Why don't you go over there and ask him?" Ben suggested.

Murdoch stood up and approached his son who had by now turned away from them all. His arms wrapped around himself, the trembling had turned into shaking.

"What do you need, Johnny?" he asked quietly and heard a sniffle. Murdoch put his hands on his son's shoulders and Johnny turned and stepped into his arms.

Ben smiled then looked at Scott. "What do you need, Scott?"

He was staring at his father and brother in some sort of daze. "To be over there."

"Then go."

Scott got up and walked over to them. Murdoch moved one arm to bring him into the embrace and Johnny wrapped an arm around his brother.

Ben heard another sniffle closer to him and he looked at Jelly who was wiping his eyes. "Jelly?"

"I'm alright. Just ain't never seen them three like that. Feels right good."

The three men finally pulled away from each other and stood there rather embarrassed.

"You get what you wanted, Doc?" Johnny asked.

"Did you?"

"Damn doctors. Always answering a question with a question. You and Sam would get along real good."

"It's taught in medical school. How to be evasive 101," he laughed.

"Johnny, I want you to come get me if you have another nightmare," Murdoch said.

"I don't need a babysitter."

"I'm not offering one. Just come get me no matter what time it is. Promise me," Murdoch replied.

Johnny nodded his head.

"Say it."

"Alright, I promise. Boy, you're tough," Johnny said, then grinned.

"And don't forget it," Murdoch smiled.

None of them saw her lurking in the shadows by the kitchen door but she'd heard it all. Tears ran silently down her face as, for the first time, she understood how much this had affected them all.

Teresa quietly returned to her new room and sat in the rocking chair by the window. She wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and stared into the night.

This could destroy them if they let it. She determined at that moment she would not allow that to happen. Somehow, someway she would deal with this and go on. She had to accept the fact that she may never have the life she had always dreamed of. Married with a house full of children. All with dark hair and brilliant blue eyes.

Wiping the tears away fiercely, she made a vow to herself. Tomorrow, she would start living again.

*******

Johnny and Scott walked into the kitchen together the next morning and stopped short. Murdoch was sitting at the table as usual and Teresa was at the stove.

Looking to their father, he simply shrugged. Warily, the men sat down.

"Good morning," she greeted with a smile.

"Good morning," they replied in unison.

"Breakfast will be ready in one minute," she said as she poured their coffee.

"Smells good," Johnny smiled.

She smiled back and went on with her cooking. The men exchanged glances then turned to stare as Ben walked in. He was as surprised as the rest of them.

"Well, good morning, Teresa," he said.

"Good morning, Ben. Have a seat, breakfast is ready," she replied.

"Thank you, I'm starved."

She laughed softly. "You sound like Johnny."

"Then I must be spending too much time around him," Ben bantered back.

Johnny opened his mouth to make a remark then thought better of it. He didn't want to break Teresa's good mood.

*****

They all tried to behave normally but there was a decided tension in the air nonetheless. Murdoch discussed the days chores with his sons then they all left the house.

"How are you feeling, Teresa?" Ben asked.

"Fine and you?"

"I'm fine. You certainly seem chipper this morning," he commented.

"I've decided to reclaim my life, Ben," she explained as she sat down. "I'm tired of spending all my time in that room."

"I'm very glad to hear that. Just don't expect things to be as they were," he cautioned.

"Oh, I know they won't be. But, I have to DO something. I have to start somewhere."

"Yes, you do and you started when you talked about the attack. You'll have good days and bad. The bad days might sneak up on you when you least expect it. Don't be too surprised if you snap at someone or start crying suddenly. It's to be expected."

"And them?" she tossed her head toward the door. "Will they be alright?"

"I hope you're not doing this for their sakes, Teresa. This has to be for you and you alone."

"It is, Ben. Believe me, it is," she said confidently.

********

For the next week, Teresa seemed to be her old self again. The nightmares were slowly easing and she found she had slept all night two nights in a row. She was working in her garden this day, weeding some flowers. She looked up and found Johnny watching her.

"Hi," she said.

"Hi," he replied and walked up, his hands behind his back.

"What are you up to?" she asked suspiciously.

"Me? Nothin. I was just taking a break. I've been fixing the barn roof," he explained innocently.

"Uh huh. What's behind your back?"

"What? Oh, just this," he said and pulled his right hand out. He extended it toward her with the rose he offered.

She took it and dropped her eyes, inhaling the sweet scent. "Why?"

"No reason," he shrugged.

She sat there a moment longer, her head down. Then she sighed and stood to face him. "Thank you," she said flatly.

Johnny's face dropped. "I'm sorry, was it wrong?"

"No, it's fine."

"Teresa?"

"It's alright, Johnny!"

She turned away from him and clutched the petals in her fist.

"What's the matter?" he asked softly.

She shook her head. "I don't know. It just reminded me of the last time you gave me a rose. I slapped you."

Johnny sighed. "Yeah, I forgot about that."

She turned to face him, her eyes flashing. "Well, I'm so glad it made an impression!"

His eyes widened in surprise as he looked at her. "I ....."

"Forget it! Just leave me alone!"

"No, I won't," he said calmly. "Not until you tell me what's really bothering you."

"What's bothering me?! Oh, not much, Johnny. My life is over, that's all. I have no future, no chance of having a family of my own, no ...." she trailed off and ran to the corner of the house.

Johnny started after her then stopped. He waited until she was done, then wet his kerchief in the water bucket and offered it to her.

"How long have you been throwing up?" he asked.

"A couple of days. Must be getting a cold or something," she fairly whispered.

His stomach lurched into his throat as he stood behind her. "Teresa? Maybe you should see Sam."

She turned to face him then. "I'm sure it's nothing."

He bit his lip but knew he had to say it. "Maybe, maybe not. Have you thought that you might be ...... with child?"

Her eyes opened as wide as silver dollars at the thought. Before he knew it, she had fainted in his arms.

He picked her up and carried her into the house, into the living room where he knew Murdoch would be.

"What happened?" he demanded as he rose from his desk.

"She fainted. Right after she threw up. Murdoch, she needs to see Sam."

"Why? What ...... oh God, no," he finished miserably.

"I hope not but it could be," Johnny replied in much the same tone.

"Well, I don't want her to have to go to town," Murdoch said.

"I'll go after him. I ..... I shouldn't have suggested it to her," Johnny said softly.

"You what???" Murdoch bellowed.

Johnny flinched at the volume then frowned. "Quiet! She should at least know it's a possibility."

Murdoch closed his eyes and his jaw. "Just get Sam," he ground out.

Johnny dropped his head and left the house, kicking himself the entire way.

He ran into Scott outside and explained what was happening. Scott groaned audibly and squeezed his brother's shoulder in support.

He walked in to find Murdoch laying a cool cloth on Teresa's forehead. He walked over to the sofa where she lay and covered her with the throw.

"I saw Johnny," he said in way of explanation.

Murdoch nodded then shook his head. "How much more does she have to deal with?"

She moaned and turned her head, working to open her eyes. "Johnny?"

"No, darling, it's me. Johnny went to get Sam," Murdoch explained softly.

She sat up and looked at them both. Tears welled in her eyes. "What am I going to do?"

"Nothing until we know for sure. Then we can decide," Murdoch said.

*******

"You can get dressed now, Teresa," Sam said as he turned to wash up and put his equipment away.

She sat on the side of the bed and began getting herself together. "Well?" she asked in a shaky voice.

He said nothing until he turned back to face her. Seeing she'd finished dressing, he smiled forlornly. "You are pregnant."

Teresa gawked at him for a second then sat back down heavily. In a voice so hard, he didn't recognize it, she said, "Get rid of it."

"Teresa...."

"Get rid of it! Get it out of me, Sam," she said harshly.

"Give yourself some time to think about it first," he tried.

"Think about what? There is no way I'm giving birth to ...... the devil's spawn!" she spewed.

"I can't do it, Teresa," he replied calmly.

"Why not?"

"Not without Murdoch's permission. You're under age," he explained.

"No one needed his permission to ......" she stopped and buried her face in her hands.

Sam sat beside her and put his arm around her but she jumped up and turned on him. "Well, if you won't do it, I'll find someone who will!" she declared and stalked out of the room.

*******

The Lancers and Jelly were waiting in the living room for word. They heard her coming before they saw her. Teresa bolted into the room looking much like a rabid dog. Wild-eyed and desperate. Her eyes found Johnny and she ran to him.

He closed his arms around her and immediately felt the warm, wet tears on his shirt.

"You know someone, don't you?" she mumbled.

"What?"

She looked up at him. "I know you know someone to take care of this. Surely you've heard of doctors or someone," she said, her eyes pleading with him.

Sam came in then and nodded his head at their unasked question. Murdoch walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Teresa, sit down."

"No! I don't want to sit down! I want it out! Please, Murdoch. I can't do this, I just can't!" she cried and backed away.

"We need to talk about it, honey," Murdoch said gently.

"No, we don't. Just tell Sam to do it. He needs your permission. Just tell him."

"Teresa, stop it!" They all turned and stared at the harshness of Johnny's voice. He ignored them and walked up to her. "You need to calm down and think about this. I know you're upset right now. You're scared. But you can't make a decision like this based on fear," he explained more calmly but just as firmly.

Her eyes widened in astonishment. "Don't start getting religious on me now, Johnny. I don't want to hear it's a sin!"

"I ain't saying nothing about that! There's a child inside you. An innocent child that's done nothing wrong!" he said, raising his voice.

"No, it's not! It's not a baby, it's ugly and awful and I don't want it!" she shouted.

"Then I'll take it," he said softly.

"Oh? Will you carry it for nine months, too?" she asked sarcastically. "This is my body and for once, I'll decide what happens to it!"

"That's enough both of you!" Murdoch bellowed.

"Can we all just sit down and calm down, please?" Scott said in a rational voice. One that sounded completely foreign to his own ears, given the way he was feeling.

Murdoch walked over to Teresa. "Please try, sweetheart."

She looked into his face and acquiesced. He guided her to a chair and scowled back at Johnny.

"Sit down, son."

Johnny sat but he was still angry. He was trying but he didn't want to hear this.

Murdoch and Scott exchanged glances and both looked completely lost as to what to do next. Scott walked over and sat next to his brother.

"Look, this is a big shock. So why don't we all just take a few moments to let it sink in," he suggested.

"I think that's wise," Sam said as he joined them.

Scott chanced a look at his brother. "Maybe Maria could make some coffee?" he directed toward Johnny.

He received a scowling nod as Johnny stood up and went to the kitchen.

He returned in a few minutes. "She's gettin it," he clipped.

"Alright now, let's just think about the implications of this," Murdoch said.

"The implication is that I'm pregnant and unmarried," Teresa said coldly.

"That's not the baby's fault," Johnny mumbled.

"Please, let's not fight about this. There's plenty of time to decide, Teresa," Scott said.

"Scott, what would you have me do?" she asked beseechingly.

"I don't know, honey. We've only just found out. Let's talk about the pros and cons. The pros are that the child will have a good home, be well taken care of..."

"And the cons are it will be illegitimate and unwanted," Teresa finished.

Johnny got up and walked to the fireplace with these words.

"How do you expect me to feel, Johnny?" she asked.

"Angry, hurt and scared. Everything but mean, Teresa. If you're that worried about it, I'll marry you."

She stared at him and swallowed hard, tears welling in her eyes. "I don't want your pity, Johnny Lancer," she hissed.  

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Johnny!" Murdoch yelled.

"What?! She's been through hell, I know. But now there's someone else to think about and she can't be bothered. Just get rid of it, throw it away like so much garbage. Is that it, Teresa? Is it that easy?"

"Easy?! How dare you?" She stood and walked up to him. "You have no right to talk to me like that. None. You don't know what I've been through or what I'm going through. You couldn't possibly know."

"You're right, I don't. That doesn't mean you have to take your revenge on that child!"

Murdoch started to intervene, but Scott's hand on his arm and a quick shake of his son's head stopped him.

"Revenge? This has nothing to do with revenge, Johnny. This child was not conceived in love. It's the result of evil! How can you expect me to love a child like that?"

"Because part of it is from you and I know how much love you're capable of," he replied softly.

"Do you?! Then you know more than I do. I can't do this, Johnny. I won't!"

"Why? Why are you so hellbent on killing a baby?"

"Stop it!"

"No, I won't. You aren't thinking of that child as a human being, Teresa. You're thinking of it as a thing and that's not right. He has a right to be born. It's not his fault who his parents are!"

She took a step back and glared at him. "This isn't about you," she hissed lowly.

His eyes widened in surprise. "I know that. It isn't about you anymore, either. The minute that baby was made, it was all about him. You just didn't know it yet."

"You want me to bring this child into the world knowing I can't love it?"

"I told you I'd take it," he responded.

"There's a solution. I don't have to raise it just look at it everyday, right?"

"Not if you really can't. I'll take him away," Johnny said.

"Why are you so bent on this, Johnny?" The sound of his brother's voice broke through the stand off.

"Because, Scott, every child has a right to at least have a chance in life. You don't get to pick your parents."

"You can stand there and argue the point all you want. I've made my decision. Murdoch, if you don't give Sam permission, I'll find another way," she stated, turning to her guardian.

"Will you give me a week, Teresa? Just one week," Murdoch implored.

She sighed and closed her eyes. "Fine, but don't think I'm going to change my mind. And I don't want to discuss it any further," she said, jutting out her chin and walking out.

The room fell silent for several minutes.

"Well, let me know what you decide. There's nothing more I can do for her right now," Sam sighed and rose.

"Thank you, Sam. I'll let you know," Murdoch replied, rising to his feet as well.

Jelly had remained quiet through the entire ordeal. Only after Sam left did he speak. He walked over to Johnny, still standing by the fireplace, and laid a hand on his arm.

"You're a fine young man," he said then dropped his head and shook it. Jelly left the men alone, knowing things might get ugly about now. Also knowing he shouldn't get in the middle of it.

"Well, son, that was quite a stand you made."

"I won't apologize for it, Murdoch," Johnny said defiantly.

"I don't expect you to. I agree with your position if not your methods," Murdoch rejoined with a cocked brow.

Johnny sighed in relief. "Thank God. So, how are you gonna talk her out of it?"

"I'm not sure I can, Johnny. I'm hoping with some time she'll change her mind."

"And if she doesn't?" Scott asked.

Murdoch shook his head. "I don't know. If I don't agree, she'll go elsewhere. I don't want her hurt anymore."

"Murdoch, if she goes through with this she'll regret it for the rest of her life," Johnny said.

"Would you like to tell me what has you so adamant about this, John?"

"I just know Teresa. I know she'll hate herself," Johnny shrugged.

Murdoch knew that wasn't all of it but he didn't push. He knew he would get nothing else from Johnny.

*******

Teresa spent the next few days either avoiding or ignoring Johnny. He found himself wishing Ben had not gone back to San Francisco. He didn't try to talk to her, though. He hated fighting with her. It was a new experience and one he'd just as soon not had.

She slept in every morning, the sickness leaving her exhausted and pale. She wondered how anyone could get through this. Well, she didn't have to much longer. Just a few more days, one way or the other.

On the fourth day, she walked into the kitchen to find Johnny stealing a biscuit. He turned and looked at her briefly, then turned his back. She walked past him, grabbing the coffee pot and sitting at the table.

He stood there, unsure for a minute, then started to leave.

"Don't leave on my account," she said snidely.

"I wasn't. Just taking a break."

"Hmmph! You take enough of those."

Johnny stopped and turned to look at her. "I guess you hate me now."

She didn't answer and he waited. "I said....."

"I heard you!"

He sighed heavily, dropping his eyes. "Okay," he whispered and walked outside.

She dropped her head into her hands and cried again. 'Seems that's all I can do anymore', she thought.

Johnny paced the garden for a minute then threw the biscuit to the birds.

"Good bread ta be wastin on the birds," Jelly said.

"At least someone will enjoy it," Johnny smiled faintly.

"What happened?"

"Nothin, why?"

"Cause ya look like ya just lost your best friend," Jelly huffed.

"One of them, anyway."

"Teresa. Give her some time, Johnny."

"It won't do any good, Jelly. She hates me now. She expected something I couldn't give her."

"Seems ta me you offered her a lot. Sayin you'd marry 'er and all."

"Yeah, well, lot of good it did me," Johnny smiled a little. "I'll see ya, Jelly," he added and walked away.

******

Jelly watched him, thinking he looked like a lost pup. He rubbed his whiskers and decided someone needed to help those kids. He made the decision and set off to find the man he figured could help.

Scott rode in half an hour later and dismounted as Jelly walked up.

"Need ta talk to you," he started.

"Hi, Jelly. What's on your mind?" Scott asked as he tethered his mount.

"What'ya think? Teresa and Johnny! Look, you gotta do somethin, Scott. Johnny's convinced she hates 'im and I ain't so sure he's wrong right about now."

Scott sighed. "What can I do, Jelly? She won't talk to any of us about the baby."

"Then talk to 'er about Johnny. At least make 'er understand what he's feelin."

"What makes you think I know what he's feeling?" Scott asked, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Now if that ain't the silliest remark you ever did make. Course ya know! Who else knows better'n you."

Scott smiled at the older man. "Alright, Jelly. I'll try but I can't promise anything."

"Good enough," Jelly said with a firm nod. "She's in her garden," he related then walked away.

Scott sighed once more and headed around the side of the house wondering what he would say. He found her sitting on the bench with a basket of mending. He couldn't help but notice that she had laid all of Johnny's things to the side as if dismissing them.

"Hi," he smiled.

"Oh, hello, Scott. How was your day?"

"Good, good. I, uh, I was wondering if I could talk to you," he hesitated.

"Depends on what you want to talk about," she eyed him.

Scott smiled a bit nervously and sat beside her. He picked up one of Johnny's socks and held it in the air. Cocking a brow, he looked meaningfully at her.

Teresa smirked and went back to her sewing.

"I guess you're still pretty angry with Johnny," he ventured.

"Yes."

"He came on pretty strong."

"I would say so."

"You expected him to support you no matter what," he persisted.

"Just as he would have done for you," she replied.

Scott nodded. "Yes, I suppose that's right. Then again, maybe not. We haven't had any major disagreements but that doesn't mean we won't. It's just that nothing that important has come up."

"You mean you haven't allowed it to come up," she said.

"I'm sorry?"

"If you talked about it, then you would disagree."

"What are you talking about, Teresa?"

"Those men. You killed them. But you wouldn't have if they hadn't drawn first. Johnny would have. So, you see, it could become a major problem."

"How did you know about that?" Scott asked, surprised.

"I hear things. I'm not deaf, Scott."

He pondered this for a moment. "Well, I didn't come to talk to you about that."

"No, you want me to forgive Johnny."

"I want you to try and understand his point of view."

"I do. I just don't agree," she shrugged.

"I see. So, since you don't agree, he must be wrong," Scott surmised.

"Don't put words in my mouth. The fact is none of you know how I feel. You couldn't possibly know," she said harshly.

Scott considered this. "You're right. And you can't know how we feel. That's the difference between us, Teresa. Men and women look at things much differently. But this is about something else as well. This is about a human being. You know how Johnny is about children."

"Scott, I don't want to talk about this."

"I'm not trying to tell you what to do about the pregnancy. I'm only trying to make you see how much this is tearing you and Johnny apart," Scott tried.

She leapt to her feet, spilling her sewing basket to the ground. "There is no me and Johnny!" she protested vehemently.

"Easy, Teresa. All I meant was your friendship is in danger," Scott said in a soothing tone.

"We don't have one of those either!"

Scott rose and faced her. "I can't believe it! I didn't even see it," he said in astonishment.

"What?"

"You're in love with him," he proclaimed.

"That is ridiculous, Scott Lancer. I could no more love him than I could a jackass! In fact, I'm quite sure a jackass would be preferable!" she declared.

He continued as if he hadn't heard her protestations. "And the other night when he said he'd marry you ......" his eyes brightened with realization and he looked at her with amusement. "How long have you felt this way?"

"I told you I don't!" she yelled and stormed into the house.

Scott stood there stunned with this revelation. This soon turned into deep concern for he knew Johnny had no such feelings toward Teresa ... did he? He decided he had best find out and the sooner the better. He headed for the barn to find his brother.

*******

Johnny was climbing down the ladder when Scott walked up.

"Almost done?"

"Just about. Should be finished in the morning. I wish Murdoch hadn't waited so long for those repairs. That roof was about to fall in," Johnny frowned.

"Come into the barn with me. We need to talk," Scott said seriously.

Johnny sighed and followed him, thinking, 'what now?'.

"What's wrong?" he asked with dread.

"Johnny, I was just talking to Teresa," Scott started.

"Great! And she told you she hates my guts, right?"

"No, she didn't. She's not crazy about them right now, though. But something else happened. Something I was quite shocked by."

Johnny sat on the hay bale next to his brother. "Well?"

"I made a discovery. Johnny, Teresa is in love with you," he stated simply.

Johnny jumped to his feet and turned to face his brother full on. "Are you loco? Did ya get too much sun today, Boston?"

Scott smiled indulgently. "I'm telling you the truth, Johnny."

"And what did she say?"

"She denied it, of course. A bit too vehemently, I might add."

"In other words, you made this up in your head. Scott, you really are crazy," Johnny shook his head.

"Believe what you want. But I'm telling you, Teresa is in love with you," Scott said and stood. He patted Johnny on the back, then walked out of the barn.

He stood there with his mouth open as his brother's words sank in. It wasn't possible and he knew it. Scott misunderstood something. He had never thought of Teresa that way. He never would.

*******

She kept up the cold shoulder during dinner. Making sure she spoke pleasantly with Murdoch and Scott. She ignored him completely and he was even more quiet than usual. For some reason, her behavior hurt more than it had before.

Maybe it was because of Scott's crazy theory. He reckoned that was it. He didn't even notice her get up and go in the kitchen, he was so deep in thought.

"Are you alright, son?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, Murdoch. Just thinking," he smiled wanly. He ventured a glance at Scott and saw the smirk.

Teresa returned carrying a lemon pie. She sliced three pieces and served Murdoch, Scott and herself. Johnny didn't notice, he was somewhere else.

Murdoch shot her a disparaging look but she only raised her nose at him. He sighed and sat his pie in front of Johnny.

The movement caught his attention and he glanced down. "No thanks," he murmured. Then got up and with a quick "excuse me", walked outside.

"I think this has gone on long enough, Teresa," Murdoch chastised.

"Tell him. When he apologizes, I'll consider accepting it," she said flatly.

Scott smiled and shook his head. "I think Johnny has other things on his mind right now," he offered.

She glared at him. "You didn't."

"I did," he retorted.

"Scott, how could you?"

"He deserves to know the truth," he shrugged.

"If it were the truth, it wouldn't be yours to tell," she shot.

"What are you two talking about?" Murdoch asked, obviously disgruntled.

"Nothing!" she exclaimed and stalked to the kitchen.

"Scott?" Murdoch asked, stunned.

"I'm sorry, Sir. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything to Johnny. I think I should just keep quiet."

Murdoch frowned deeply. He was worried about the rift between the two of them. He figured it was more of the same. He stood up suddenly and headed for the veranda.

"Johnny, are you alright?" he asked.

"Sure."

"I know she's angry at the stance you took. Give it some time, son."

"Anymore time and you might find me runnin around without a head soon," Johnny said morosely.

Murdoch chuckled softly, then turned serious. "Just a few more days."

"Yeah. I don't think she's changed her mind either."

"I don't want you to argue with her, son. However we may feel, this is her decision to make and hers alone."

"I won't," he said softly.

*******

She lay awake all night thinking of Scott's discovery of her secret. How could he have guessed? Well, it didn't matter. She would deny it to her last breath. She knew now that Johnny did not love her as she loved him and never would. Something else she had to come to terms with.

Teresa felt very alone just then and her hand went absently to her stomach. She stroked at it for a minute until she realized what she was doing. Tears filled her eyes and fell down her cheeks as she finally allowed herself to feel something other than hatred for the life growing inside her.

She sat up on the side of the bed as the early dawn broke. She thought about everything Johnny had said to her. Everything they had all tried to say and she understood. She knew all along but she hadn't been able to let herself admit it.

Now, for some reason, she could. Maybe it was the knowledge that this may be the only source of pure love in her life now. She was convinced no man would want her and the one she wanted wasn't within her grasp.

She began to see through new eyes. Eyes that could see past the next few minutes, the next hour. Eyes that could see the future with her son or daughter. It would be up to her to make sure they grew up healthy, happy and strong and with a sense of decency that was hers alone to give.

She laughed a little. Suddenly feeling excited about the future for the first time in months. Drying her eyes, she got up and started to dress. She looked at herself in the mirror. She could swear she saw the tiniest pudge in her tummy and she laughed with delight.

She went out and started breakfast, feeling a new energy. She smiled, she felt ..... happy. Maybe this would be enough to sustain her now. Maybe this child was all she really needed. And who knew? Maybe one day she would meet a man she could love almost as much as ...... she stopped as a feeling of despair overcame her. Shaking it off, she resolved not to let those hurtful thoughts fill her head.

******

Johnny was the last one to come down for breakfast. He was still feeling out of sorts. When he saw Teresa, his jaw dropped open.

She was smiling and laughing at something Scott had said.

"Good morning, Johnny," she greeted.

"Mornin," he replied with trepidation.

"Sit down, I have an announcement to make," she smiled.

Johnny took his seat, keeping a wary eye on her. 'Any minute, she's gonna slam a skillet upside my head,' he thought.

But she didn't. She was standing between Scott and Murdoch. "I wanted to tell you all that I have decided to keep my baby."

Silence greeted her statement for a long moment. Long enough to make her nervous, in fact.

Murdoch finally spoke. He stood up and embraced her. "That's wonderful, darling. You're sure?"

"Very sure," she smiled.

"I'm very happy for you, honey," Scott said as he stood and hugged her as well.

Johnny had not looked at her. He kept his head down.

"Johnny, don't you have something to say?" Murdoch asked.

He looked up and locked eyes with her. "Why did you change your mind?"

"I thought about it. About what you said and I decided you were right. This is my child and I'm going to love him or her with all my heart," she beamed.

He smiled a little at her. "Congratulations," he said softly.

"Well, young lady, I think we had better get you in to see Sam and start preparing for a new addition to the family," Murdoch grinned.

******

Murdoch took Teresa to town that very morning. Scott caught up with his brother as soon as they left.

"You don't seem too happy about Teresa's decision."

"I just hope she made it for the right reasons, that's all," Johnny mumbled.

"You think she's compensating?"

"What?"

"That she's focusing her love on the baby because she can't have it from you," Scott explained.

"I don't know, Scott. Maybe you better ask Ben a question like that," Johnny said shortly.

"Hey, what's wrong?" Scott asked with concern.

Johnny shook his head. "I think I need to get away for a while, Scott. I can't deal with this. I can't stand ....."

"Johnny, you are not responsible for Teresa's feelings. It isn't your fault."

"I didn't say it was. Doesn't make it any easier, though. I just feel like I need some space. Look, tell Murdoch I took off to check the line shacks. We need to do that soon anyway. I'll load up a supply wagon."

"Alright, brother. But if you want to talk, I'm right here," Scott smiled.

"I know. Thanks, Boston."

"What do you mean, he's gone?" Murdoch demanded when they returned from town.

"He took a supply wagon to check the line shacks," Scott explained calmly.

"Why now?"

"He needed some space and some time alone."

Murdoch relaxed a bit. "Well, I guess I should be glad he's at least working while he's gone."

"That's looking on the bright side," Scott grinned.

********

Teresa's morning sickness lessened as the weeks slipped by. She was most grateful for this but more grateful to Maria for her special teas. They helped settle her stomach in the mornings so she could get on with the day. She spent a lot of time knitting. Booties and blankets abounded. All in pink, rose and yellow. She had convinced herself it was a girl.

Murdoch noticed the color back in her cheeks. She seemed to be glowing at times and he was reminded of Catherine and Maria during their pregnancies. Poor Maria had a rough first three months. She was sick morning, noon and night. Catherine never had the first hint of nausea though. Murdoch wondered idly if that had anything to do with his sons' temperaments.

Scott was more worried about his brother at this point. He hoped Johnny would come to terms with Teresa's feelings and understand there was nothing he could do about it. He watched the girl go about her business, seemingly happy. Scott had to wonder if she was as settled as she appeared. More than once he thought of asking Ben to come back and check on her.

It had been three months since the rape and he just couldn't reason that she was that 'over it'. He decided to write to Ben, fill him in on recent events and ask his opinion of the situation. He also decided the doctor should know about Teresa's feelings for Johnny.

*****

It was Friday night, two weeks after Teresa's decision and Johnny's departure. They were sitting down to dinner when they heard the front door open.

Teresa's heart leapt and she quickly admonished herself. She had come to realize she needed to turn off her feelings for Johnny. It was a little easier since he wasn't there. But she knew in her heart, he had just returned.

He walked in and smiled a little at them all. "Hey."

"Welcome home, son. How are the line shacks?" Murdoch smiled.

"Not bad. The east shack needs roof repairs but I didn't have the materials I needed. I'll go back up next week," he reported.

"Sit down, Johnny. I'll get you a plate," Teresa said amiably and went to the kitchen.

Johnny took his place and faced his brother. "How is she?"

"Happy as a lark, it seems," Scott replied though his tone was unconvincing.

"Seems?" Johnny cocked a brow.

Scott didn't have time to answer as she returned with his dinnerware. Maria came in behind her and sat a glass of milk in front of him.

"Gracias," he smiled.

She squeezed his shoulder and disappeared without a word.

There wasn't much conversation after that and Johnny felt his presence was the reason. He sighed inwardly and wondered what it would take to get things back to some semblance of normal.

Teresa excused herself right after the meal, stating she was tired. Johnny noticed for the first time, the slight pooch to her waist line.

"She's been going to bed early. Sam said it's normal," Murdoch explained as they walked into the living room.

********

"Scott, come outside with me?" Johnny asked.

Once on the veranda, he came right to the point. "What did you mean she *seems* to be happy?"

Scott shook his head, frowning. "I don't know, Johnny. She's smiling and going about things normally. She's been knitting an entire wardrobe for the baby. It just seems ..... too easy."

Johnny sighed and turned to look out over the yard. "She say anything about me?"

"No, in fact, she hasn't mentioned your name at all. I think she's trying to .... well, forget about you. You know what I mean," Scott said hesitantly.

"Hard to do with me in her face."

"I wrote to Ben. I told him everything that's happened since he left. I was hoping he could tell me it's all fine and normal."

"I guess you haven't heard back," Johnny surmised.

"No, not yet."

"What am I going to do, Scott?" Johnny asked, turning to search his brother's face for the answer.

"I don't know, Johnny. I swear I don't. I don't even know if you should try to talk to her about it. This is not my area."

Johnny smiled a little at this. "What's that? I thought they taught you everything there was to know at Harvard."

Scott laughed. "Almost everything, brother."

"That's a nice sound. And one that's been missed around here," Murdoch said as he joined them, handing off a drink to each son.

"What's that?" Johnny asked.

"You two laughing."

The two young men smiled and Johnny shot Scott a questioning look. Scott responded with a negative shake of his head. No, Murdoch didn't know.

"Alright, what's going on?" the rancher asked.

"Nothing, Sir," Scott shrugged.

"Secrets between brothers, I assume," Murdoch stated.

Johnny started to say something rather colorful but he was stopped cold by the scream. All three men took off at a dead run to Teresa's room.

She was sitting on the side of the bed, all the color drained from her face. Murdoch went to her, dropping to one knee.

"What is it, darling?"

"I ..... I'm bleeding," she whispered.

"I'll get Sam," Johnny said and took off.

"Murdoch?" she asked pleadingly.

"Scott, get Maria and Senora Cipriano."

"Yes, Sir," Scott breathed.

"It's alright, honey. Just lie down here. Sam will be here soon. Try not to worry," he spoke softly and eased her onto the bed. He placed a pillow under her feet and sat beside her holding her hand.

"It may be nothing, Teresa. I remember Maria started bleeding once but it stopped and everything was fine."

"Really?" she asked, wide-eyed.

"Yes, really. It was just a little bit. She was scared to death but it all worked out as you can see," he smiled.

Maria came in then and shooed him from the room so she could examine the girl. Murdoch retreated to the living room as Scott returned with Senora Cipriano. The woman had a grave look on her face and Murdoch cringed.

They stood there silently, neither man knowing what to do or think. Scott began to pace and Murdoch knew he couldn't stand that.

"Maria did this early on. It stopped, nothing to worry about," he said.

Scott stopped and looked at him. "Please don't tell me this means that baby is going to be like Johnny," he said seriously, then broke into a smile.

Murdoch chuckled at this. "Would that be so bad?"

Scott smiled. "Not at all considering the alternative ....." he trailed off, feeling like shooting himself in the foot. "Sorry, that was crass."

"It's alright, son. We're both on edge."

What happened next nearly sent them both to their knees. The blood-freezing scream of one word.

"Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!"

*****

Sam came out of the room looking dejected. He faced the three men reluctantly. "There was nothing I could do. She miscarried."

"Why?" Johnny whispered.

Sam shook his head. "Sometimes there is no reason, Johnny. She was doing well. It could have been ..... the damage she endured in the attack. I just don't know for sure. I've sedated her. She'll sleep the rest of the night. The women will stay with her."

"Sam, will she be alright? I mean, later .... will she be able to ....?" Murdoch trailed off, unable to give full voice to the thought.

"It's too soon to say right now. Once she's healed, I'll examine her again."

Hearing this, Johnny grabbed a bottle of tequila and walked out of the house. Scott started after him but his father's voice stopped him.

"Let him go, son. Give him some time alone."

Scott nodded his agreement. "I think that's a very good idea," he said and walked upstairs.

"Murdoch, don't let this tear you apart. You've all been through so much hell. Now is not the time to lose your family," Sam warned.

"I won't, Sam. But I know my boys pretty well now. They need tonight. Tomorrow, we'll be together," he said but it was more a vow.

*******

Johnny stormed to the barn and plopped down in an empty stall across from Barranca. The palomino nickered for attention and Johnny sighed.

"I can't right now, boy. You don't want me over there."

"What's happened? I seen Sam's surrey out front," Jelly asked as he entered the barn.

"Where have you been?" Johnny asked.

"Town. What's wrong?"

"Teresa lost the baby. She miscarried."

Jelly walked over and sat beside him, his jaw on the floor. He said nothing but grabbed the bottle from Johnny's hand and took a long drink.

"Lordy, is anythin ever gonna be right around here again?"

"That would be a no, Jelly," Johnny snipped and took the bottle back.

"I'm a startin ta think somebody's put a curse on this house," Jelly whispered.

Johnny snorted at this. "Sure, take your pick. Could be any one of a hundred people. Hey, maybe Weir did it," he chortled then slammed the bottle back.

"Wouldn't hurt ta bless the place," Jelly observed and took the bottle again.

"Wouldn't hurt," Johnny agreed much to Jelly's surprise.

"Is she alright? I mean, physical?"

"Don't know yet. Sam said he'll have to examine her when she's healed. See if she can ever have another baby."

Jelly shook his head sadly and sighed.

"If you're gonna drink with me, you better go get another bottle. This ain't enough, not by a long shot," Johnny quipped.

"I'll be right back."

********

Scott sat in the chair in his room and stared into space. His mind was numb and he liked it just fine. He heard the soft knock and quickly got up to answer. He was a little disappointed to find Murdoch there.

"Expecting Johnny?" Murdoch asked.

"No, but I hoped he'd come to me."

"He needs tonight, son. What do you need?"

"Someone to wake me from this nightmare would be an excellent start."

Murdoch moved over and laid a hand on his shoulder. "I wish it were a nightmare, son. I wish to God it wasn't happening."

"I'm sorry, Sir. I know how hard this is on you as well. Teresa is like a daughter to you."

"Yes, she is. I wish you could have known her father. He was a fine man, a good man. I know right now she misses him terribly."

"Do you think it would help her if her mother were here?" Scott suggested.

Murdoch tensed at this thought. "No, son. The last thing she needs is to be reminded of more unpleasantness. Angel isn't the maternal type," he said a bit sarcastically.

Scott bit his lip from saying what he wanted. "How do you want to handle this in the morning?"

"I have no idea. Just be there for her. Get her whatever she wants or needs. That's all I know to do."

********

Murdoch didn't sleep much and he was up before dawn. He took a walk outside and ended up in the barn. He walked over to Barranca who seemed to want him.

Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. He turned to find two sleeping men in the empty stall. He almost laughed out loud at the sight.

Jelly had his head on Johnny's shoulder. Johnny had his head back, mouth open, breathing softly. Two empty bottles were nestled between them.

Murdoch shook his head and walked over, shaking Johnny's shoulder.

"What?!" he jerked awake.

"Easy, it's just me. You two slept here last night."

"Huh?" came the sleepy grumble beside him.

"Wake up, Jelly, and get off me," Johnny said grumpily.

Jelly sat up and rubbed his face. "Well, excuse me! Oh, my head."

"Mine too. What time is it?" Johnny asked.

"Almost daybreak," Murdoch smiled.

Johnny got to his feet and wished he hadn't. He made a beeline for the door and headed around the barn.

"Do you need to join him?" Murdoch asked.

"Think I'm old enough ta handle my liquor, thank you very much. 'Sides, he outdrank me good."

Murdoch frowned and gave his son a minute before going to him. He grabbed a towel near the water pump and wet it then proceeded around the barn.

Johnny was leaning against the building, breathing heavily, his head hung. He saw the proffered towel come around from behind and took it gratefully. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Come in the house and get cleaned up, son."

"Aren't you going to yell at me?" Johnny asked as they walked inside.

"No, I'm not. I am going to get you some coffee. Sit down and relax. I'll be right back."

Johnny sat on the sofa and laid the towel over his face.

"You are quite a sight, brother," Scott smiled.

"No worse than I feel, I'm sure."

"How do you feel?"

"Sick, my head hurts and I'm mad as hell at Jelly for lettin me drink so much," he clipped.

"Oh, I see. It's all Jelly's fault," Scott laughed and sat beside him.

"Yeah, sure. Why not? How is she?"

"She slept all night I'm told. Still asleep. I just checked with Maria," Scott reported.

"Whatever Sam gave her, I sure wished he'd passed it around."

"Me too. At least you slept," Scott noted.

Johnny removed the towel and looked at his brother for the first time. "I'm sorry, Scott. I should have been there for you."

Scott's surprise couldn't have been hidden. "I was thinking I should have been there for you."

Johnny turned to the side a little and looked at him full on. "Why? Because you're older? That's crazy."

Murdoch returned with a pot of coffee and three cups. "I thought you'd be down soon," he stated.

"That smells good, thank you," Scott replied and accepted the cup of hot liquid.

Johnny winced a little but he knew he needed it so he sipped the steaming brew cautiously.

********

Breakfast was not an option any of them chose and they sat in the great room waiting for news from Maria. A knock on the door startled them all out of their reverie.

Scott opened the door and stepped back. "Ben!"

"Good morning, Scott. May I come in?"

"Of course, I'm just surprised to see you."

"Ben? This is a surprise," Murdoch said as he rose.

"So I've been told. I received Scott's letter and became concerned."

"I wrote to tell him how things were going," Scott explained to his father.

"Well, I can't tell you how glad we are you're here now," Murdoch said sadly.

"Why? Has something happened?" Ben asked.

"Sit down and have some coffee. We'll fill you in," Scott stated.

Once Scott told him of the most recent events, Ben's face fell dejectedly.

"I don't think it's a good sign when the doctor looks that lost," Johnny observed.

"I'm sorry. That poor girl. I am very glad I decided to come now," Ben apologized.

"So are we," Murdoch concurred.

"Well, as soon as she's awake, I'll go see her."

"She is awake now and it is good you are here, Doctor," Maria said from the dining area.

"Why?" Murdoch asked.

"She is like she was before. Staring at nothing. She will not speak," Maria explained.

Ben sighed and nodded his head. He excused himself and went to her.

She didn't respond to the knock, though he knew she wouldn't. He opened the door and walked straight in, sitting in the chair beside the bed.

"Well, Teresa, how much more do you think you can take?" he asked.

Her eyes focused and she looked at him but simply shook her head.

"Yes, I agree. No more. I'm sorry about the baby, truly I am. But at least that's one less worry. I mean, you won't have to explain to people over and over why you have a child and are unmarried," he said bluntly.

Her head jerked around and she glared at him. "I don't care about that! My baby is dead!" she exclaimed and began to cry.

He moved to the side of the bed and held her, rubbing her back as she let it out. When she'd slowed down, he spoke again. "That's good, Teresa. Get it all out. Don't lock it inside. Now, tell me what you need right this minute."

She pulled back and took the handkerchief he offered. Drying her eyes, she looked up. "Johnny."

Ben was surprised by this answer. After reading Scott's letter, he knew Johnny did not return her affections. "Are you sure about that? I understood things weren't so good between the two of you."

"You asked me what I need. I need Johnny."

"Alright. I'll go get him," Ben said simply.

All eyes fell on him when he returned to the living room. He wasted no time. "Johnny, she wants to see you."

"Me? Why?"

"I asked her what she needed right this minute and her answer was you."

"What am I supposed to say to her?" he asked, feeling a fear he didn't recognize.

"Nothing. Just listen," Ben advised.

Scott touched his brother's arm. "Go on, Johnny."

Johnny nodded and went to her, his stomach churning again.

"Why Johnny? I mean they haven't been exactly close lately," Murdoch asked.

Scott exchanged a look with Ben and sighed. "Maybe you had better sit down, Murdoch. There's something you should know."

*******

Johnny opened the door and slipped in. Teresa was sitting up in the bed, her head propped on pillows. She was pale and her eyes were swollen and red. He wanted nothing more than to hold her and comfort her. He was at a total loss though, and he stood there unsure.

"Please sit down," she said softly.

He sat in the chair and took her hand. "How do you feel?" he asked and wished he hadn't.

She ignored the question and stared into his eyes. "I think I need to go away for a while. I need some space."

"I understand."

"I knew you would. I hate that we've been so distant lately."

"Me too."

"I love you so much, Johnny," she confessed and the tears spilled once more.

He moved next to her, wrapping her in his arms and holding on tight. "I'm so sorry, Teresa. God, I'm so sorry."

"Don't be. You can't help how you feel anymore than I can. I just wanted you to know Scott was right," she mumbled into his chest.

"When isn't he?"

She laughed a little through the tears and looked up at him. "I think San Francisco is a nice city, don't you?"

"Yeah, it's nice. Ben's there, too."

"Yes, I thought of that. He's been so good for me. He's helped me so much. I hope ......"

"He'll help you through this, too, querida."

"It's so hard to fix a broken heart, isn't it?" she cried.

Johnny swallowed hard. "Si, very hard, but not impossible."

"That's what I'm counting on. That's what I have to believe."

"Do you want me to tell Murdoch?"

She nodded her head. "Please. I know he'll understand."

"Of course he will. I'm sure he'll agree it's the best thing for you right now. We sure are going to miss you, though."

"I'll miss you, too. All of you. I'll be back, someday."

******

When Johnny walked back into the living room, he noticed Murdoch looking at him hard. His eyes found his brother and he knew by the guilty look, Scott had spilled his guts.

Sighing heavily, he felt now was not the time to get into that. "Teresa has made a decision. One I agree with. She wants to go away for a while, to San Francisco," he announced.

"I think that's a good idea," Ben agreed.

"So do I," Murdoch concurred.

"I'll make it unanimous. She'll have you there to help her as well, Ben," Scott said.

"Yeah, that's why she chose the city. You've helped her a lot and she knows that. She thinks a lot of you," Johnny said.

"She's an extraordinary young lady. I'm glad I've been able to help her. I'll escort her myself when she's ready," Ben replied.

"Well, I'll make some arrangements for her. I know a woman who lives there. I'm sure she'd be glad to have Teresa stay with her. Maybe when she's feeling better, she may decide to get that schooling I've wanted for her," Murdoch said.

"It's going to be so strange around here without her," Scott said.

"Yeah," Johnny sighed.

"Johnny, I want to talk to you outside," Murdoch said suddenly and walked out the French doors.

Johnny shot his brother a death look. "Thanks a lot, Boston. Murdoch, I...."

Murdoch held up a hand to stop his son. "I'm not angry with you, Johnny. I just wanted to talk to you about Teresa and your feelings for her."

Johnny relaxed his shoulders. "My feelings are the same as always. I love her like a sister."

"This speculation of Scott's...."

"It's not speculation. She told me just now," Johnny interrupted.

"She told you?"

"Yeah. And she understands I don't feel the same. God, how did all this happen? I mean, of all the people for her to ..... why me?"

Murdoch frowned. "Why not you?"

"Come on, Murdoch. I ain't no prize. I'm ......."

"You're what? Caring and considerate? Compassionate and fun? A little wild and dangerous? I can't believe it never occurred to me, actually."

"Did you hit your head?" Johnny asked quite seriously.

Murdoch chuckled. "I'll admit my first reaction was shock. But that didn't last long. Johnny, any woman would be honored and, quite frankly, lucky to have you love them."

Johnny scrutinized his father. "Okay, where's the lump? I know you hit your head."

"Stop that. I know how hard it is for you to take a compliment. Just be gracious and accept this one. Now, I'm going to town to wire that friend of mine and make some arrangements for Teresa. I think she'll need some new clothes. Come with me?"

"Sure," Johnny smiled.

******

For the next week, Teresa prepared for her departure from Lancer and talked extensively with Ben. Part of those conversations were about Johnny, part about the baby and part about how hard she found leaving her home.

It was Monday morning and time for her to leave. She had talked with Murdoch about how this would happen. She finally convinced him it was best to say their goodbyes at the ranch. She would go to town with Ben to catch the stage.

Johnny and Scott loaded her luggage into the buggy, taking their time. Neither wanted to face the moment that was rapidly approaching. But soon enough, it was time.

They all stood in the yard with her. Ben was waiting in the buggy, giving her the time she needed with her family.

She went first to Jelly who was looking like a dog without a bone. She smiled and hugged him, kissing his cheek. "I'll miss you so much. You've been like a grandfather to me."

Jelly sniffled and smiled. "I love ya, gal. You take good care. And watch out for them low lifes in the big city. Just stay close to the proper side of town."

"I will, Jelly, I promise." She stepped to Scott next. He grabbed her and hugged her tightly.

"Take care of yourself, honey. We'll miss you," he whispered through the lump in his throat.

"I love you, Scott. I'll write, okay?"

"You'd better," he warned with a brotherly tone.

She found Murdoch's eyes and noted the moisture there. "Oh, this is so hard," she cried and fell into his embrace.  

"Now, now. You'll be back and I bet we won't even recognize you. You'll be all elegant and citified," he laughed.

"That's right. I'll be quite the socialite," she joked through the tears. She kissed his cheek then patted it. "Thank you for being a father to me."

"Thank you for letting me."

She turned to find Johnny standing near the buggy, his head down. She walked over and touched his arm.

He looked up and smiled, taking her hand. "You're gonna meet some fancy pants up there and forget all about this dump," he said, barely above a whisper.

She smiled sadly. "No girl ever forgets her first love. I will never forget you and I will always love you. You're in my heart, querido."

Johnny hung his head. "I'm sorry."

"No, Johnny, no. Don't be. I don't want you to be sorry. I'm lucky to have ever known you. It's not like we'll never see each other again."

"Yeah, and I'll be kicking myself for not recognizing a good thing, right?"

"That's right." She placed her hand on the side of his face, then reached in and kissed his lips. "I'll miss you most of all."

Johnny embraced her tightly. "I love you, Teresa," he whispered.

She pulled away and smiled through her tears. Then she climbed into the buggy next to Ben and nodded. He waved and flicked the reins.

They stood there watching her ride out of their lives. Johnny had an unbearable feeling he would never see her again and it broke his heart.

None of them were able to keep the emotions at bay. Each fighting valiantly as they could. Jelly was the first to speak.

"Ain't gonna be the same round here no more," he said, then wiped his eyes and walked away.

"Sure ain't," Murdoch agreed and walked into the house.

Scott walked up and wrapped an arm around his brother. "I could use a stiff drink."

"It's nine o'clock in the morning, Scott."

"I really don't care."

"I know you'll tell me the truth even if it hurts. Is this my fault?"

"No, Johnny. No, it isn't."

"She'll be back," Johnny sighed.

"Yes, she will, someday," Scott said and led his brother into the house.

 

 

~end~
2003

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