The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Premonitions

 

 

 

Teresa O'Brien swirled around in her new dress, admiring it in the hall mirror.

"Well, you look pretty," Johnny grinned.

"Why, thank you sir. I'm wearing this to the celebration tomorrow. I just love Cinco de Mayo. It's so .... festive," she blushed.

"Yeah, guess so," Johnny mumbled.

"Now, Johnny, you're not going to get all sullen on me are you? Don't you like it? I mean it's a very important day to the Mexican people," she said.

"I know what it is, Teresa," he replied condescendingly.

"My goodness, don't you look lovely," Murdoch said as he walked upon the scene.

"Thank you," she beamed and swirled around again for him.

"You'll be the prettiest girl at the party, darling."

"Oh, Murdoch, you always say that!" she decried and kissed his cheek.

"Only because it's true," he defended.

Scott came in looking deep in thought and walked past them all into the living room.

"Uh, say there, Boston, don't you have something to say to Teresa?" Johnny asked.

Scott turned and looked at them confused, then realized what Johnny meant. "You look very nice, Teresa," he said unconvincingly.

"Something wrong, son?" Murdoch asked.

"What? Oh no, nothing. I'm sorry, I'm a little distracted," Scott replied.

"That's pretty obvious. What's wrong with you?" Johnny asked.

"It's absurd. I was on my way back from town and I came across this wagon on the side of the road. There was an old woman sitting outside the wagon and she waved me over. She said she was here for the celebration and would I like my fortune told," Scott explained.

"You didn't! I don't believe you fell for that, Boston," Johnny laughed.

"It was just for fun, Johnny. It's just that, well, she was pretty accurate about some things."

"Like what?" Murdoch asked, just as amused as his youngest.

"Well, like she knew I wasn't from here. I know, that was an easy one. But she knew I was raised in Boston and that I went to Harvard and that I was in the war."

"Wait a minute, son. Did she mention Boston and Harvard by name?"

"Yes, Murdoch, she did! That's what was so strange about it."

"So what? She got lucky. Why are you so upset about it?" Johnny shrugged.

"Something else she said was .... eerie. She said I couldn't trust someone I was close to because they were lying to me. She said the person I trusted the most was about to hurt me," Scott said and a shiver ran down his spine.

"Hurt you how?" Johnny asked.

"She didn't say. She said it wasn't clear how but it would happen tomorrow."

"I don't like all this talk, it scares me," Teresa interjected.

"Come on, you don't really believe in all that bull. Look, she could have found out about Boston and Harvard from anyone. It's not like you're a stranger around here. She probably saw you in town and thought you were an easy mark. It's crazy," Johnny said.

"I know you're right, Johnny, still, it is a little strange," Scott said.

"Well, don't you worry about it, brother. I won't let anybody hurt you tomorrow or any other day. Okay?" Johnny grinned and wrapped his arm around Scott's shoulders.

Scott smiled at his brother but the uneasy feeling he had would not go away and he found himself actually dreading the coming day.

***

Saturday morning shone bright and clear. It was a warm spring day and the breeze was perfect. The kind of day that made you feel just happy to be alive. Teresa nearly bubbled over with excitement as she went about gathering her contributions to the potluck dinner for the entire valley. Cinco de Mayo was more celebrated among the Mexican people than almost any other holiday and most of the vaqueros were looking forward to the day's activities as well as the night's.

Scott had dismissed his ridiculous thoughts of the previous day and put his efforts into helping Teresa with her goodies. Murdoch was also in an uncharacteristically good mood and had given most of the hands the entire day off. Johnny got up early and went to work just like any other day saying he would meet them all in town later.

"Murdoch, what's wrong with Johnny? You would think he'd look forward to today," Teresa asked.

"I know. I guess he has his own way of celebrating, dear," Murdoch said, worried about his son's seeming disinterest.

"Well, I'm sure he'll be along later. Shall we go?" Scott smiled and offered his arm to his 'sister'.

They all loaded into the surrey and headed for Morro Coyo in high spirits. As they neared town, Scott noted that the old woman's wagon was gone. Smiling to himself, he figured she'd gone into town to set up shop. He idly thought about visiting her again. None of them noticed the lone figure on the golden horse up on the ridge as he watched them make their way along.

***

Johnny watched his family from the ridge then reared Barranca toward the road when they disappeared from sight. He walked the horse slowly and noticed the recently abandoned camp site on the side of the road. Long forgotten memories flooded him and he tried hard to put them back where they belonged. He couldn't shake the feeling of doom that consumed him however and for some reason, he related it to Scott. Kneeing Barranca into a gallop, he joined up with his family so he could keep an eye on his brother.

"Glad you could make it," Scott teased.

"Just trying to stay out of the way. Didn't want to be tempted by Teresa's cooking," Johnny smiled back.

"No, you wanted to get out of any work," Teresa mocked.

"Well there's that, too," he smiled charmingly at her.

The celebration was already in full swing when they arrived and Teresa's

excitement tickled the men as they watched her join her friends. Knowing it would be the last they saw of her for awhile, they headed to the livery to stow the wagon and stall Barranca.

"Well, this is my first time. What do you suggest?" Scott asked either of them.

"Well, I guess Murdoch should explain the birds and the bees to you, Boston. I'm going to the saloon," Johnny teased.

"Oh, that's very funny, brother. If you don't mind, I'll join you," Scott laughed.

"You two go ahead. I want to visit Frank Hamilton," Murdoch said.

"Is that all you think about, business?" Johnny sighed.

"Go have fun. Don't worry about me and, uh, watch each other's back," Murdoch warned as he headed to the banker's house.

The brother's exchanged a woeful look and headed toward the saloon.

Scott saw her first and slowed his gait. "There she is. The old woman who told my fortune yesterday," he said quietly.

"Why are you whispering?" Johnny asked.

Scott looked sideways at him and shrugged.

"I guess you want to go over there," Johnny said with some exasperation.

"Come on, don't you want your fortune told?"

"No, I do not! What I want is a beer," Johnny said and started to walk off.

"Wait! Isn't that the Widow Sawyer coming out of her tent?" Scott said.

"Yeah, it is. Wonder if she got any good news," Johnny grinned.

"Like the name of her next husband?" Scott laughed. "Come on, Johnny, it'll be fun," Scott added, tugging at his brother's arm.

"Can I have a beer then?" Johnny asked.

"Yes, yes, I promise," Scott said and pulled him along.

***

"Ah, Senor, you are back. Welcome," the old woman said.

"Thank you, Senora. This is my brother, Johnny," Scott introduced.

"I know who he is, Senor," she replied.

Johnny smiled and shook his head. "I know who you are, too, Senora. Hey, maybe I have the gift," he said sarcastically.

"I doubt it, Senor Madrid," she replied in kind. "You want I should read your future?" she asked, her tone changing quickly.

Johnny laughed softly. "Wouldn't be much of a trick to tell me about my past," he said.

"You do not believe," she said flatly. "No matter. Many who have come to me were not believers in the beginning. All who left me soon were."

Johnny gave her a crooked grin and sat on the stool at the small table, shooting his brother a sardonic look.

"Your left hand, please," she said as she sat across from him.

Johnny extended his left hand and sighed softly. She looked at it for several seconds then closed her eyes briefly.

"You have led a violent life but not so any longer. You live more peacefully now. I see a woman with long black hair and dark eyes. She is not your lover, however."

"Too bad," Johnny mumbled.

"She is your mother? Yes. I see her holding you and .... now she is lying on the floor, her eyes staring blankly.."

Johnny jerked his hand away and glared at her. "I thought you told the future, Senora. I already know what happened in the past," he hissed.

"I see what I see, Senor. I will try again," she said and held her hand out.

Johnny relunctantly gave her his hand and watched her like a hawk.

"Ah, I see land. Much beautiful land. A ranch, your ranch. No wait, not your's, not all yours. I see the young man here, your brother, riding beside you, laughing. I see an older man, tall. Your father. He is a gringo. There is a girl, very pretty, young. Your sister? No, but like a sister."

Johnny was tiring of this quickly and looked bored to tears at this point. She put on a good show but didn't say much.

"Now, I see darkness all around you. Not the night. A man, dark, evil coming for you. He is coming to kill you. He is .... el Diablo," she whispered and let go of his hand.

Her face turned pale and she began to shake. "You must leave now. Please, go now!"

"Wait, what is it? What did you see?" Scott asked, concerned now.

"I told you all I saw. Please, go away. I do not want you here. He is coming for you, Senor Madrid. El Diablo is coming for you!" she warned.

Johnny looked at her in disbelief. "Come on, Scott. I've had enough foolishness for one day."

"It is not foolishness. Heed my warning!" she stated.

"Look lady, if the devil's after me there's not much I can do about it, now is there?" Johnny smiled sarcastically.

Scott and Johnny exited the tent and Johnny took in a deep breath of fresh air.

"What a nut!" he said.

Scott didn't think so and he felt a sense of foreboding engulf him. "Johnny, don't dismiss this."

"Come on, Scott. Do you really think the devil is after me?" Johnny asked, stunned that his brother would buy into this garbage.

"No, of course not. But, maybe she just saw him as the devil. Someone could be coming after you," Scott explained.

"Someone could always be coming after me. What do you want me to do? Hide under a rock? Come on, I'm ready for that beer you promised," Johnny patronized.

"Johnny..."

"Scott, listen to me. The devil's not coming after me anymore than me or Murdoch are going to betray your trust. She's just a crazy old woman trying to make a living," Johnny reasoned.

Scott smiled sheepishly. "You're right. I'm being foolish again."

"That's okay. You're entitled to be foolish at a party," Johnny grinned.

***

The Lancer sons entered a very noisy, smoke-filled saloon and made their way to the bar. The place was packed with cowboys, gamblers and saloon girls. A piano player banged away at some unidentifiable tune and one could not hear themselves think. Scott and Johnny exchanged a knowing look and took their beers outside to the relative quiet of the street.

"Whew!" Johnny exclaimed as he took a deep breath.

"Is it always like this?" Scott asked.

"Yep, it amazes me how people will celebrate anything. Most of those men are gringos, they couldn't care less about the fifth of May," Johnny laughed.

"Tell me about it. I mean it's like the fourth of July, isn't it?"

"Sort of, Boston. Cinco de Mayo, the day the Mexican people won independence from Spain by pummeling the French," Johnny explained.

"You're lucky, you get to celebrate both independence days," Scott grinned.

"Yeah? Exactly what are you doing right now?" Johnny asked.

"Touche`, little brother, but it isn't the same. I mean, I'm like an invited guest to your holiday," Scott shrugged.

"Hmmph! Ain't my holiday. I'll never understand why people get so bent out of shape over one day and turn it into a weeks worth of parties. Take Christmas for example. Do you know what Mexicans do at Christmas?"

"I didn't until last year but I think it's wonderful, Johnny. They really celebrate the birth of Christ. It's more than just a day to give presents for them. I think they do it the right way," Scott said with a nod of his head.

Johnny just shook his head, knowing his brother would only see the good in things and he was more adept at looking at the dark side. He figured that's what made them work so well, two sides of the same person almost. "Come on, let's see what they've cooked up for the day."

They walked around town, watching the children play and the adults as well. There were booths for all kinds of games but the one that caught Johnny's eye was the shooting booth. He grinned at his brother and nodded his head in that direction.

"Do you really think that would be fair?" Scott grinned back.

"Not me brother, you. Come on, show these yahoos how good you really are," Johnny said and grabbed his brother's arm.

Scott smiled at the compliment his brother bestowed on him and welcomed the chance to give his skills a try.

He missed his first three shots and frowned with disgust and a little embarrassment. He glanced at his brother but Johnny looked angry which only made him feel worse. He decided to try again but as he raised the rifle, he felt a hand on the barrel.

"Let me see that, Scott," Johnny said as he took the rifle from his brother.

Scott looked at the booth owner and smiled apologetically but he noticed the man looked pretty nervous.

"Sight's bent," Johnny said flatly. He looked hard at the man. "You want to maybe try giving us a rifle that works?" he scowled.

"Oh, yes. Of course, sir. I didn't realize it was bent. I, uh, yes here, try this one."

Johnny shook his head at his brother and smiled. "You're too trusting."

Scott looked sideways at him and grinned. He checked the new rifle himself and, satisfied it was in proper working order, he took out all the targets in quick fashion.

***

After securing the large stuffed animal in the surrey, the brothers once more started to walk around the town, this time they decided they would find their father and make sure he was enjoying himself, not working all day.

As they walked past the old woman's tent, she called out to Scott. Johnny rolled his eyes and gave his brother a forlorn look.

"Senor, I must speak to you privately," she said, giving Johnny a disgusted look.

"Anything you have to say to me can be said in front of my brother, Senora," Scott replied.

"Are you so sure?" she asked.

"Madam, I have had enough of this. We have better things to do than listen to your proclamations of doom and gloom. Now, if you will excuse us," Scott clipped.

"He is the one, Senor," she said hastily.

"Who is the what?" Scott asked, clearly exasperated.

"Him, Senor Madrid. He is the one who will betray you and before this day is done!" she exclaimed.

Johnny laughed softly at the ridiculous accusation but Scott was not amused.

"Thanks for the warning, now if you don't mind?" he said sarcastically and strode off.

"Better clean off that crystal ball of yours, Senora. No way would I hurt my brother," Johnny grinned.

"I did not say you intended to betray him, only that you will," she huffed and walked back to her tent.

Johnny stared at her back, shaking his head at her hocus pocus, then went to find his brother.

"Can you believe that? How ridiculous!" Scott spat when Johnny caught up with him.

"I told you, it's a load of bull. She did say I wouldn't intend to betray you, if that's any comfort," Johnny laughed.

"Oh yes, that makes it all better. Come on little brother, I think I see a certain tall rancher up ahead."

Sure enough, Murdoch was helping himself to a plate of wonderful and diverse foods at the picnic tables. The men all filled their plates and sat together. Johnny filled his father in on Scott's most recent run-in with the seer. Scott returned the favor and told Murdoch of her warning to Johnny. The patriarch was quite amused by both tales of woe and admonished his sons for even playing around with such foolishness.

"Y'all ought not laugh about that. Some folks got the gift," Jelly said from behind them.

"Jelly, how did I know you would believe in that stuff?" Johnny asked without turning around.

"And would you mind not sneaking up on us like that?" Scott asked rhetorically.

"Weren't sneakin nowheres. 'Sides, you two's the only ones that jumped outta yer skins," Jelly retorted.

"Yes, well I guess we can't all have the hearing of a dog," Murdoch said grumpily.

"You calling me a dog, Murdoch?" Johnny asked, narrowing his eyes in mock anger.

"It was meant as a compliment, son," Murdoch explained.

"Anyways, ya ought not stick yer noses up at that woman. She told me things she had no way a knowin," Jelly said as he sat across the table from them and helped himself to Johnny's tortilla.

"Hey! I was gonna eat that!"

"Hush! Yer younger'n me, ya can get more!" Jelly gruffed.

"What did she tell you, Jelly?" Scott asked.

"Told all about my family, my boys, livin at Lancer. She knew all of it and there ain't no way she coulda known some of them things less she was for real," Jelly said with conviction.

"Well, in that case, I guess I'd better get ready for the devil and Scott, you should probably stay away from me the rest of the day," Johnny said, quite seriously.

"I suppose you're right, Johnny. I'll see you tomorrow then," Scott played along.

"Go on and make fun all ya want. Jest don't come cryin ta me when what she said comes true!" Jelly huffed.

"Jelly, for heaven's sake! This is supposed to be a party. Let's all just enjoy ourselves and forget about all this nonsense," Murdoch fairly ordered. "Now, there's a potato sack race in a few minutes. Could I interest either of you boys in joining me?"

"I don't think so."

"No, thanks."

"I happen to be very good at the potato sack race. Are you two afraid you can't keep up with me?" Murdoch teased.

"Well that's just it. You're good at it so if we mess up, you'll just get mad," Johnny said.

"Right. So why ruin a perfectly good day," Scott agreed.

"I would think I have more control than to be upset about losing a race. I cannot believe..." Murdoch stopped his rant as the boys burst out in laughter. Realizing they had been joking, he joined in as well. "Alright, you got me. By the way, has anyone seen Teresa?"

"Not since we got here," Scott said as Johnny shook his head no.

"Maybe we should check in with her. I don't want her wandering around alone," Murdoch said.

***

The four of them spread out to find the errant girl. Johnny headed toward the church, figuring it was the most likely place to find her. Having no luck, he checked the orphanage. No one had seen Teresa for a couple of hours there, so he started asking some of her friends. He was beginning to become worried when none of her friends had seen her recently either. Chastising himself for worrying over nothing, he continued his search figuring one of the others had probably already found her.

Scott, Murdoch and Jelly joined up with him an hour later. No one had yet found her and the concern was heightening. It wasn't like Teresa to go off without letting someone know. They decided to give it another go and check some of the more unlikely places.

Johnny started checking homes and stores, using the alleys to move between them. He stopped on a dime when he heard her voice.

"No, David."

"Please, Teresa. You know how much I like you."

"I know, but I'm not ready for that."

"So you were just teasing? Playing with me? You shouldn't do that to a man. You could find yourself in all kinds of trouble."

He grabbed her and pulled her to him. She fought to get away but he was too strong. "Stop it!" she cried.

"I told you, you can get into trouble for playing with a man's feelings," he said huskily as he tried to kiss her.

"You can get in a lot more trouble for not listening to a lady," Johnny drawled softly. "Take your hands off her," he ordered.

David Matheson released his hold on Teresa and turned to face the intruder. "This is none of your business," he said.

"Oh, it's my business. You okay, Teresa?" Johnny asked. She nodded her head and moved to stand behind him. "Seems to me you got a little carried away, mister. I think you better get along now before you take on more than you can handle," he said, turning his full attention to the man.

"I'm sure I can handle any trouble you think you can give out," Matheson said, eyeing him closely. He looked familiar to the man.

Johnny smiled at him. That smile he used so often to unnerve his opponent. His eyes were two blue icebergs as he stared the man down. "I doubt it," he whispered.

"Johnny, please let's just go," Teresa pleaded.

"Johnny?" Matheson asked, his eyes growing big as it finally dawned on him that he knew who this man he thought so familiar was. "Look, I don't want any trouble. I'll just go on my way now," he said nervously.

"That's a good idea," Johnny replied softly.

Matheson took off and rounded the corner out of sight. It was only then that Johnny turned to face the girl. "Just what did you think you were doing?"

"He seemed so nice. He asked me to take a walk with him. He was so charming," she explained.

"Charming like a rattlesnake," Johnny mumbled. "Come on, the whole family is looking for you," he said.

"Johnny? Are you going to tell Murdoch?"

"No, it's not my place. Teresa, you need to be more careful who you take walks with and where," he said gently.

"I will. Thank you," she said and kissed his cheek.

"Who is that man anyway? I haven't seen him around before," Johnny asked.

"He's new in town. He and his brother just moved here from Texas. His name is David Matheson," she explained.

"Well, stay away from David Matheson, okay?" he smiled and took her arm.

***

"There you are! We were starting to worry, young lady," Murdoch said as they met up again.

"I'm sorry, Murdoch. I didn't mean to make you worry. I just took a walk," she half-lied.

"Have you eaten yet?" he asked.

"Oh yes, I've been nibbling all day," she answered, grateful he didn't press for more information and for Johnny's silence.

"Okay, since we're all accounted for, I think I'll visit the cantina. Scott, wanna come?" Johnny said, wanting to get away before his better sense took hold.

"Sure, as long as you promise not to betray me," Scott grinned.

"Mmmm, oh okay, I promise," Johnny laughed as he grabbed his brother around the neck and pulled him away.

"Those two are like the opposite sides of the same coin," Murdoch remarked as they watched the two young men walk away.

"Well?" Scott asked.

"Well what?"

"Are you going to tell me where you found Teresa?"

"Nope," Johnny replied and kept walking.

"Secrets?" Scott teased.

"No, it's just not mine to tell," Johnny shrugged.

***

The cantina was more subdued than the saloon and both were grateful for a little quieter atmosphere. They sat at a back table and talked amicably for a while. A tall man in black walked in and scanned the room. Johnny watched him with some interest but dismissed him after a second. The man's eyes rested on him and he strode purposefully to the table.

"Got somethin to talk to you about, mister," he said. His voice was as dark as his clothing and Scott began to feel that sense of foreboding again.

"Do I know you?" Johnny was asking.

"Not yet, but I believe you know my brother, David," the man answered.

Johnny frowned for a second then remembered. "Oh, yeah. The letch. I remember. What about him?"

"You shouldn't interfere with another man's business," the stranger said.

"Your brother should have better manners. Besides, it was my business and it always will be. Now, if you don't mind, my brother and I were talking," Johnny replied and turned his attention to Scott.

"I do mind," he interrupted.

Johnny looked back up at him, giving him the same look he'd given the man's brother and knowing it would not have the same effect. "Are you sure you want to do this? You don't really know what happened," he asked.

"Why don't you explain it to me then," the stranger said.

Since he was certain David Matheson had put his own spin on things, Johnny decided he would oblige. He relaxed and sat back in his chair, looking the man up and down. "Have a seat and I'd be glad to tell you all about it."

The man looked suspiciously at him but sat down and waited.

Johnny turned to Scott first. "This is just between us, brother," he said. Scott nodded his head, totally unaware of what either of them was talking about.

"The young lady in question is my little sister, well sort of. As good as a sister, let's say. Your brother was trying to take advantage. She said no, he wouldn't listen, so I stepped in. That's it," Johnny summarized.

"That's it, that's all?" the man asked.

"That's all. Why, what did he tell you?" Johnny asked.

"That you threatened to kill him," the man said, narrowing his eyes.

Johnny laughed softly. "Well, I might have been a little threatening, but I never said I would kill him. Of course, if he had hurt her, he'd already be dead," Johnny said, his voice turning flat.

The man studied him for a minute. "Alright, Madrid. I believe you. Guess my little brother got carried away."

"Little brothers will do that," Scott commented.

"Name's Pete Matheson," he said, extending his hand.

Johnny accepted the handshake. "This is my brother, Scott. And it's Lancer now, not Madrid."

Matheson nodded his head and shook hands with Scott. "Well, I reckon I need to have a little talk with Dave. How old is this girl?"

"Seventeen," Scott answered.

Matheson's eyes grew wide, then narrowed with anger. "Excuse me, gentlemen," he said through gritted teeth as he stood and left the cantina.

"I wouldn't want to be his brother right about now," Scott said. "You weren't going to say a thing about this, were you?"

"Like I said, it's not mine to tell. She just got in a little over her head," Johnny shrugged.

"And if you hadn't been there?" Scott asked, shuddering at the thought himself.

"She would have probably gave him a good kick," Johnny grinned. "She can take care of herself, Scott."

"I know that, but it could have gotten really ugly, Johnny. I'm just glad you found her when you did. You realize that the day is almost over and no sign of the devil or any betrayal," Scott grinned.

"Hey, that's right. Maybe we should go see that old woman again. Let her know she was wrong," Johnny smiled.

"I'd rather not. Just between us, she gives me the willies," Scott shuddered dramatically.

Johnny laughed at his brother's antics.

***

A short time later, shadow emerged from the back room of the cantina.

"Madrid! You lyin snake! I got a score to settle with you," David Matheson yelled.

Johnny didn't move a muscle, never even flinched at the shouting. He stayed in his seat and refused to acknowledge the man.

"I'm talkin to you Madrid! Face me!" Matheson yelled again.

"What do you want to do?" Scott whispered.

"Hmmmm, let me think. I know, you take care of this," Johnny grinned.

Scott gave him an exasperated look. "Is that supposed to be funny, Mr. Madrid?"

Johnny laughed softly but still would not turn around. Matheson walked around the table to face him, just as Johnny knew he would. "Well, are you a coward or are you just plain deaf?"

"You're making a mistake, mister. Don't try me," Johnny said in a calm, cold tone.

"You're the one that made the mistake. You should have stayed out of it. Now, you're going to pay for that!" Matheson spat.

Johnny sighed and looked at the man with pity. "Mind doin this outside? Don't want any innocent people getting hurt," he drawled.

"Fine with me," Matheson replied and backed to the door, gun still drawn as it had been since he entered.

Johnny got up slowly and took a step toward the door.

"Wait a minute! This is crazy! Matheson, you do know who you're calling out?" Scott intervened.

"I know who he was and what he is!" Matheson clipped.

"Leave it, Scott. He's too mad to talk to," Johnny said.

"Then let me get his brother. You don't have to do this, Johnny. It's senseless," Scott tried.

"It's always senseless, brother," Johnny sighed sadly.

"Brother? This is your brother?" Matheson asked.

"Yeah, so?" Johnny shrugged.

Matheson grinned devilishly and before anyone including Johnny, could know what was in his mind, Scott was propelled back against the wall where he slid to the ground.

Johnny moved like quicksilver, taking Matheson down with a bullet square in the chest. He jumped the table to get to his brother and took Scott in his arms.

"Scott? Hey, you okay?" he whispered. Scott didn't answer and with trembling hand, Johnny felt his neck for a pulse. It was there, barely and he picked his brother up and carried him outside and down the street to the doctor's office.

Johnny kicked the door open and barged in and to the back. The room was empty and he laid Scott down gently on the exam table, calling out for the doctor the whole time. The place was as quiet as a tomb and he started to feel panicked. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to calm down and checked his brother's wound.

The hole in Scott's right chest was pouring blood and Johnny grabbed a nearby towel, applying pressure to the wound. Scott groaned but did not awake. Realizing he needed help, Johnny ran outside and grabbed a young boy who was playing in the street. He sent him for Murdoch and to find the doctor then returned to his brother's side.

When Murdoch arrived, Johnny was still trying to stop the bleeding. He winced when he saw the amount of blood on Scott's chest and Johnny's hands.

"Where's Doc?" Johnny asked.

"He's coming, Johnny. He was at the orphanage. I sent that boy after him," Murdoch said, keeping his voice amazingly calm. He walked over and put his hand on top of Johnny's. "I've got this. Why don't you go put some water on the stove," he suggested.

Johnny nodded and released his hold on his brother, disappearing into the kitchen. When he returned a few minutes later, Doc Jenkins was there examining Scott.

"How bad is it?" he asked.

"Bad enough. Is the water ready?" Doc answered shortly.

"Almost," Johnny answered softly.

Teresa and Jelly arrived and she started right in helping Doc without a word. The men stood back feeling helpless.  

"Murdoch, you all go wait out front. You'll only be in the way here," Doc ordered.

Relunctantly, they did as they were told. Johnny sat down heavily in one of the chairs.

"What happened, Johnny?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny shook his head. "I'm not sure. This man was calling me out because   .... we had a disagreement earlier. He was mad as a wet hen and Scott tried to reason with him. I...I called Scott 'brother' and the man looked at him and just smiled. Then ... he just shot him, for no reason, he just shot him. He didn't even know Scott, he had nothing to do with this. I don't understand," he explained, misery in every syllable.

"It doesn't seem to make any sense," Murdoch agreed.

"My brother seldom made sense," Pete Matheson said from the doorway.

Johnny shot out of his chair, his gun drawn. "What do you want?" he hissed.

"Easy, I just wanted to know how your brother is doing. I heard what happened at the cantina. I am sorry, Johnny. My brother .... he was disturbed. He acted without thinking all the time and if he got mad, he usually handled it like this," Matheson explained, raising his hands to show they were empty.

Johnny lowered his gun and holstered it. "Why Scott? It was me he was mad at."

"Because killing your brother would have been more painful than killing you," he explained with sadness. "Like I said, he was ... disturbed."

Johnny sat back down feeling defeated. He rested his arms on his legs and buried his face in his hands. "Is that why you left Texas?" he asked after a minute of silence.

"Yes. I hoped things would be better here but..." Pete trailed off.

"Why don't you sit down? I'm Murdoch Lancer."

"Pete Matheson. I'm sorry about all this, Mr. Lancer. I talked to him about what happened earlier. I thought he was alright with it. He seemed to take it well."

"What did happen?" Murdoch asked.

"It doesn't matter, Murdoch," Johnny said in a voice that stopped Pete Matheson from explaining.

Two hours later, Doc and Teresa came out. All four men stood up and waited.

"Well, he lost a lot of blood. The bullet hit an artery. Now, I've repaired it and there's no more bleeding but he's very weak. It's touch and go right now. If he makes it through the night he has a fair chance," Doc explained.

Johnny felt the world spinning around him and he had to sit back down. Scott's tough, he kept telling himself. Murdoch felt his knees threaten to give way as he leaned against the wall. Teresa went to him and he folded her in his arms.

"He'll be alright. Scott's tough as nails," Jelly proclaimed quietly.

"If there's anything I can do, Johnny," Pete said as he rose to leave.

"Thanks, Pete. I'll let you know," Johnny mumbled. He looked up at Doc who thought he might lose it himself when he saw the pain in Johnny's eyes. "Can we see him?"

"Of course," Doc said.

****

Johnny sat down next to the bed on one side as Murdoch took up a seat on the other. Each taking a hand and staring at the bandage across the man's chest. Johnny leaned in close to his brother's ear.

"Hey, Boston. You sure are a lot of trouble. Don't you worry now, you'll be just fine. You just need to rest up some and you'll be fit as a fiddle again. I'm right here, I won't leave you," he whispered, his voice trembling with hurt and fear.

They sat there through the night, occasionally one getting up to stretch or just move around. Teresa and Jelly sat with them, feeding them coffee and words of comfort.

"Jelly, who was that man here earlier?" Teresa asked.

"Don't know exactly. Said it was his brother that shot Scott and he was real sorry bout it. Said his name was, uh, Pete Matheson," Jelly answered.

Teresa gasped aloud as her eyes went to Johnny then Scott. Tears fell in a flood as she realized what was behind all this. She got up shakily and went to Johnny's side. He saw it in her eyes, he didn't need to ask. He stood up and put his arm around her waist, leading her to the anteroom, away from Murdoch's ears.

"What have I done?" she cried.

He held her close and stroked her hair. "Nothing, miel. You didn't do anything. Matheson was crazy, his own brother said so. It wasn't your fault, honey," he spoke softly.

"Yes it was, Johnny. It was all because of my stupidity," she said.

"I don't think Scott would agree with that, in fact I know he won't. Teresa, listen to me. Matheson was loco, really loco. His brother said that's why they left Texas. If it hadn't been you it would have been some other girl who may not have been as lucky. You can't think about all that now. The only thing that's important is making sure Scott gets better and you're the only one who can do that," Johnny said, speaking in the soothing voice he used with the horses.

"What's wrong?" Murdoch asked as he walked into the room.

"She's just upset about Scott. It's okay, Murdoch," Johnny lied.

Murdoch walked over and petted her head. "He's going to be just fine with your good nursing, sweetheart," he said. "Now, you need some rest. Both of you. Why don't you go get us a couple of hotel rooms and we'll sit with him in shifts."

"No, I don't want to leave him," she protested.

"Murdoch's right, Teresa. Come on, Scott's going to need you rested and ready to take care of him," Johnny said and led her toward the front door. She nodded her head and let him guide her outside.

It was nearly midnight but the party was still in full swing. Neither of them noticed it much as they walked to the hotel. Johnny spied the old woman watching the doctor's office and he grew angry at her for some reason. He ignored her and got Teresa to the hotel and settled in, then he started back to the doctor's office.

***

"It was foretold. There was nothing you could do to change it," she said from the darkness of the corner.

He swung on her, eyes flashing in anger. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said harshly.

"I said you would betray him and you did. By telling that gringo he was your brother," she explained.

"That ... never mind. He sure wasn't the devil!" Johnny shot.

"Wasn't he? A devil?" she nearly smiled.

"Enjoying yourself, vieja bruja? My brother is near dead in there! Does that make you happy?"

"It does not but he will survive," she said.

Johnny took a step toward her and stopped. He wanted to strangle her though he knew she had nothing to do with any of this. "Is that what your bola cristalina tells you?"

"Si, he will survive. You, however, will not much longer," she said.

"Is that right?" Johnny sneered.

"Si, your days are numbered, pistolero. You will not live to see your hermano's children born," she predicted.

Johnny swallowed the lump in his throat despite himself. "I don't believe in magia negra, bruja. Your words mean nothing."

"Magia blanca, not magia negra. You believe you control your own fate, you do not. It is already written and nothing will change it, not where you live or what you call yourself. Johnny Madrid will die as I said, por el arma, as he has lived, créalo."

"When?" he asked before he could stop himself.

"Antes de usted están treinta años de viejo," she answered softly then turned and quietly walked away from him.

He stood on the street watching her disappear in the night. He shook off the fear she had managed to arouse in him. 'Well, if I die before I'm 30, then I die before I'm 30. Never figured to live that damned long', he thought angrily and walked back to the doctor's office.  

***

Johnny entered the sick room quietly and smiled to himself as he saw Murdoch with his head resting near Scott's on the pillow. It was pretty plain the old man had nodded off. He walked over and touched Murdoch's shoulder.

"What?" Murdoch said as his head jerked up.

"Nothing, ssshhh. Just wanted you to go get some rest. Room 2 is waiting for you," Johnny whispered.

"Oh, alright son. For a couple of hours," Murdoch mumbled sleepily.

Johnny then walked over to Jelly and gently shook him awake as well. "Hey old man, go to the hotel with Murdoch and get some proper sleep. There's two beds in the room for you."

Jelly stood up and yawned then looked over at Scott. "I'll spell ya in a couple a hours," he promised.

Johnny smiled as they stumbled out then turned his full attention to his brother. "Well, Boston, just you and me now. I just talked with that bruja, that witch of yours. She said you were gonna live. Guess I should tell Doc so he don't have to work so hard on ya, huh?" he laughed softly.

His expression turned sad then. "She said my days were numbered though. Said I wouldn't live to see your kids born. That means you're gonna have to get married a lot faster than you planned cause I intend to play with my nieces and nephews. So, you best get busy as soon as you're out of that bed."

He absently stroked his brother's hair as he talked. "You sure did get to me, Scott. Faster than anybody ever has for sure. Faster and ... deeper. I couldn't stand it if something I said or did caused you pain. I guess I did betray you without even knowing it. I put you in harm's way just by calling you brother. Just by being your brother. I'm so sorry, Boston. I never wanted that to happen, not ever. I can't lose you, ya know. I think you'd be okay if I was gone, but I wouldn't be. No, I sure wouldn't be. Te amo, hermano," he whispered.

Johnny leaned back in his chair a little, taking Scott's limp hand in his own, stroking the back of it. "My mother listened to the brujas. She believed in their 'gift'. I always thought it was a bunch of garbage myself. But, she said they were right about a lot of things. In fact, she swore by them. Made me go see one once. She told me I would be alone and I would be famous. That was pretty much it, not the how or why of it. That's how they get you to come back, by not telling you much at a time.

"She was right I guess but then, I guess you can hear what you want to hear, too. Can't say I buy into it but sometimes I wonder. Must be something to it or people wouldn't get suckered into going back time and again. I don't know, I always figured it was best not to know what was gonna happen to you. Keeps ya honest," he laughed at this last bit.

"Anyway, just in case the old woman's right and I don't make it to thirty, I just want you to know this has been the best time of my life and I expect it's only gonna get better. So, if I die young, well, I reckon I expected as much. But, knowing you has been worth all those years of hell that came before. You are the best thing that's ever happened to me, Scott. The very best," his voice trembled as he squeezed the hand of his brother.

"Me too, little brother," Scott whispered.

"Hey, how long have you been awake?" Johnny asked as he leaned forward.

"I heard you say I'm the best thing," Scott grinned weakly.

"Oh yeah? Well, tell anybody and I'll deny it. How do you feel?" Johnny said turning serious.

"Hurts."

"I know. Here, drink this water," Johnny said as he supported Scott's neck.

"Medicine," Scott whispered.

"Didn't think you'd be as touchy about it as I am," Johnny grinned.

"Not, just tell me first," Scott complained.

"Okay, I promise. Go to sleep now. You're gonna be fine,"   he said softly.

"Why?" Scott asked.

Johnny closed his eyes for a second, he had hoped Scott wouldn't ask yet. "His brother said he was loco, somethin wrong in his head. He said it was because killing you would hurt me worse."

"Brother mad?" Scott asked.

"No, he understood. Now, go to sleep. No more questions, that's an order," Johnny said firmly.

"Yessir," Scott smiled and closed his eyes.

***

Johnny awoke to someone shaking him and jerked his head up.

"Easy son, it's just me," Murdoch said quietly.

"Hey, what time is it?"

"Way past time for you to go to bed. You should have woke me, Johnny. You've been sitting here for hours," Murdoch said as firmly as he could manage.

"I don't mind. He woke up for a few minutes last night. I gave him some laudanum," he reported as his hand went automatically to his brother's chest.

"Good. At least one of you will take it. Now, go get some sleep. Oh, and Johnny, I'm going to want to know the whole story at some point," Murdoch said with a raised brow.

Johnny looked sideways at him for a second and simply nodded his head.

He walked out into the cool night air and stood looking up at the stars. The festivities had finally died down in these predawn hours and the quiet was soothing to his nerves. He thought about all that had happened during the previous day. How everything could turn so bad so fast. He ambled slowly toward the hotel, tired but not really wanting to sleep. Sleep brought dreams and the events of the day had him stirring with old memories; unwanted memories. He sat down on the hotel porch in a rocking chair and slowly rocked back and forth. The soft creaking was the only sound save the occasional nightbird chirping. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, tried to will the memories away.

***

Someone was calling his name from far away. The sound got closer and as he came up from the depths of sleep, he recognized Jelly's voice. Opening his eyes slowly, he peered into the old man's face.

"You sleep out here all night, boy?"

"Guess so, Jelly. I was just going to sit for a few minutes. What time is it?"

"Time to get some food in yer belly," Jelly ordered.

"Later, I want to check on Scott first," Johnny said as he stood and stretched his cramped muscles.

"Well, what're ya waitin on then?" Jelly asked.

Johnny smiled at the old man and shook his head. No one could grouse like Jelly, not even Murdoch. They walked to the doctor's office together and Johnny felt his heart drop to his stomach for some unknown reason. He quickened his pace to reach his brother's side.

Walking into the sick room, he saw Murdoch sitting beside the bed, head on chest asleep. He moved quietly to Scott's side and relaxed as he saw his brother sleeping easily. Laying a hand on his forehead, he smiled at the normal temperature he felt.

"He's doing very well," Doc said softly as he came in the room.

"That's good news. When can we move him?" Johnny asked.

"I know you want to get him home but he can't be moved for at least a week, Johnny. It depends on how fast he heals and recovers."

"You might not know this, Doc, but my brother is pretty stubborn," Johnny grinned.

This brought a snort from the doctor and a sorrowful shake of the head. "No kidding? I thought he managed to escape that particular family trait!"

"No such luck," Scott whispered.

"Mornin, brother. You're gettin a bad habit of listening in on other people's conversations," Johnny said, straight-faced.

"Then stop talking in front of me," Scott smiled weakly.

"What is it?" Came a sleepy voice from the other side of the bed as Murdoch awoke suddenly.

Johnny laughed softly at his father. "You were just saying how you were gonna give me a week off," he told the man.

"Must have been a nightmare," Murdoch retorted. "How do you feel, son?" he asked, turning his attention to his eldest.

"Sore and tired," Scott frowned.

"That's it then. You two out. Go have some breakfast while I tend to my patient," Doc ordered.

"We'll be back soon, Scott," Murdoch said gently and patted his arm.

***

Sitting in the dining room of the hotel, Johnny managed to start feeling human again after a couple of cups of coffee. Murdoch had been unusally quiet but he didn't want to push his luck by commenting on it.

"Are you ready to tell me about it?" Murdoch asked suddenly.

"I told you what happened," Johnny said, not meeting his father's gaze.

"You said you had a disagreement with the man earlier. It must have been pretty serious," Murdoch said.

"Not really. You heard his brother, he was loco."

"You're keeping something from me, Johnny, and I want to know what it is," Murdoch said, his voice growing terse.

"He's trying to protect me."

Johnny's head jerked up and Murdoch turned in his seat to see his ward standing behind him with red rimmed eyes.

"Protect you? I don't understand."

Teresa sat down at the table and sighed deeply. "It's all my fault," her voice quivered.

"No, miel. I told you it isn't," Johnny said softly.

"Maybe someone should tell me what happened," Murdoch interceded.

"I met him at the party. He told me how he was new to town and asked me to show him around. He was so nice, so sweet. We went for a walk and ended up in an alley somehow..." she trailed off, shuddering from the memory.

"He was trying to take advantage and I stopped him," Johnny finished for her. "His brother came looking for me later. Said the man told him I threatened to kill him. I explained what happened and he was fine with it. When I told him how old Teresa is, he took off to find his brother. I figured he'd give him a good talking to and that'd be the end of it," Johnny shrugged.

"But it wasn't," Murdoch pressed.

"No. He came in the back of the cantina, gun drawn. He called me out. I tried to get him outside then Scott tried talking to him. Then, I messed up. When he realized Scott was my brother, he shot him. No warning, nothing," Johnny said miserably.

"I see," was Murdoch's first response.

They all fell silent for a while, waiting for the other boot to drop.

"Teresa, I think it's best if you go back to the ranch. Johnny and I will stay here and take care of Scott. I'll send Jelly back with you to take care of things at home."

She didn't argue, she only ran out of the room and up the stairs.

"She wants to help take care of him, Murdoch. She needs to," Johnny said.

"What she needs is to think before she runs off with the first man that looks twice at her!" Murdoch scowled.

"Maybe if you didn't treat her like some china doll, she would! You can't keep her locked up on that ranch forever, Murdoch. She has no idea what's out there or what to expect," Johnny said, his anger rising.

Murdoch bit down hard on his lip and glared at his son. "I don't think this is the appropriate place to have this conversation, John," he hissed through clenched teeth.

"Maybe not, but at some point you're gonna have to face the fact that Teresa is not a little girl anymore," Johnny hissed back, then stood and stormed out.

****

Johnny found Teresa in the hotel room. She opened the door with a sniffle. Her eyes red and swollen already. He smiled and hugged her.

"Don't worry about him, Teresa. He just can't stand that you're growing up."

"It's my fault Scott was hurt," she cried.

"No, it isn't and Scott would be the first to say it. If it's anyone's fault, it's mine. I shouldn't have let that nut know Scott was my brother."

"That's silly, Johnny."

"So is blaming yourself for what some lunatic does. I'm just glad you got away from him in one piece. But maybe you should go home. I don't want you staying here feeling miserable every time you see Scott."

"I'll go but I won't be any less miserable," she said with a pout.

Johnny smiled. "I know but I can't stand to see you cry so I'm being selfish, okay?"

This got a small smile from the girl and she nodded her head. Johnny saw her off with Jelly, who promised to take care of the ranch and bring Scott some clothes in a few days.

He finally made it back to the doctor's office to find Murdoch sitting beside Scott.

"How's he doing?" Johnny asked.

"Sleeping a lot. Did Teresa leave?"

"Yes, just now with Jelly. He'll bring Scott some clothes in a couple of days. Not that he'll need them for a while." Johnny stood there, uncertain for a moment. "It really isn't her fault."

"Who's is it, then?"

"Oh, I don't know, Murdoch. How about the man that shot him?" Johnny spat sarcastically.

"And would that man have been anywhere near either of you if not for Teresa?" Murdoch retorted.

"I can't believe what I'm hearing. How can you ...." Johnny trailed off when he heard the low moan from the bed. He walked over and knelt beside Murdoch.

Scott opened his eyes and blinked several times to focus on the blurry images in front of him.

"Hey, brother. How's it goin?"

Scott tried to clear his throat but wasn't very successful. Murdoch poured a glass of water and helped him drink.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, son. How do you feel?"

"Dandy," Scott said snidely then grimaced. "What were you two arguing about?"

"We weren't arguing, Scott," Johnny lied.

"Oh? Must have been a dream or a memory," Scott smiled slightly.

"I'm going to get Sam. He wanted to know when you woke up," Murdoch announced, laying a quick hand on Scott's shoulder before he left.

Johnny took the seat he vacated and smiled. "So, I guess you think this is gonna get you out of work for a while."

"Hadn't thought about it," Scott sighed.

"You should go back to sleep. You need to rest," Johnny said as he laid a hand on Scott's arm.

"I am tired."

"How's he doing?" Johnny asked after Sam had finished.

"Good. He's resting well and he's been drinking well. He should be fine."

"Should be?" Murdoch asked.

"Nothing is certain, Murdoch. Barring infection or any other problems, he will recover. It's going to take some time."

"How much time?" Johnny asked.

"You know better than to ask that. As long as it takes, Johnny. Everyone heals at different rates. I don't have as much experience treating your brother as I do with you," Sam said.

Johnny gave him a quirky smile.

"I need to make my rounds. I'll be back later tonight. Give him the laudanum every four hours if he needs it."

"Thanks, Sam," Murdoch said distractedly.

He sat back down beside his son, a deep furrow in his brow.

"He'll be okay," Johnny said.

"You know that for a fact?"

"That's what the bruja said," Johnny shrugged.

Murdoch shot him an ugly look. "What else did she say?"

Johnny dropped his eyes. "Nothin," he mumbled.

"Johnny?"

"Just a lot of foolishness, Murdoch. You know how they are. Always trying to suck you in."

"As long as you don't buy into it," Murdoch warned.

"Not me," Johnny grinned.

****

Murdoch made him leave, told him to go get some rest so he could spell him later. Johnny went, though unwillingly. He walked out into the sunshine and took a deep breath of the spring air.

"He will recover," the old voice said.

Johnny whirled around to find the bruja watching him. "Ain't you got nothin better to do than bother me?"

"I go where the spirits tell me," she shrugged.

Johnny sighed and dug into his pocket. "Here, tell your spirits to take a hike." He tossed a coin at her.

She allowed it to fall on the ground. "You cannot buy your life, pistolero. My words have been true and remain true," she warned.

"And you want me to do what about it, exactly? I mean if it's written in the stars...." He waved his hand toward the heavens.

"All things can be changed before they happen. Your brother need not have been shot if things had occured differently," she explained, ignoring his sarcasm.

"You mean if he hadn't been with me," Johnny said flatly.

"No, if the girl had not gone with ese hombre loco. If you had not found them. If his hermano had stayed with him. Many things could have changed the events."

"You speak in riddles, old woman. You say one thing then the exact opposite. Well, I can see you're just itchin to tell me so go ahead, bruja. Tell me how and when I'm going to die."

She smiled sickeningly at him. "How is not how you would expect. When, I cannot say."

"Can't or won't?"

She shrugged. "Your choice."

Johnny gave her his own icy smile. "Well, once again you've talked a lot and said absolutely nothing. Do me a favor. Next time the spirits send you my way, tell them to come themselves. Otherwise, you might just end up a spirit sooner than you'd planned." With that said, he turned to walk away.

"Wait, pistolero. You must come to see me again."

He stopped and turned back, his shoulders sagging tiredly. "Lady, I wouldn't come see you if I was on fire and you had the only water for miles," he sneered and walked off.

She watched him go. "You will come to me, Johnny Madrid."

******

Scott spent a week at Sam's office and his recovery was going well. Sam was impressed but not surprised. It seemed resilience was in the bloodlines of this family.

He announced the good news that Scott could go home the next day with strict instructions for bedrest. Johnny promised to hogtie him if need be and got a look of disbelief from Sam.

So the next morning, Johnny pulled up in a wagon to take his family home. As he jumped down and started inside, his hackles went up. He stopped, sighed and dropped his head.

"What now?" he asked.

"You did not come to me." She stood at the corner of the doctor's house.

"I told you I wouldn't. Why can't you leave me alone?" he asked in disgust.

"Nothing would please me more. The spirits are restless for you, pistolero. One in particular has been very persistent."

"About what?" Johnny asked and couldn't believe he did. 'Maybe if she gets it off her chest, she'll leave me be,' he thought.

"The spirit warns that you take heed. You must be prepared for a danger nearby."

Johnny sighed again. "What, when, who?" he clipped.

"I do not enjoy this, Senor."

"Just spit it out, old woman. I want to take my brother home!"

"Before the next full moon your life will be at risk. If you do not change the events, you will surely die."

"What events are those? Wait, don't tell me, it isn't clear," Johnny smirked.

"It is not. Only that it will be at your home, in your home."

Johnny narrowed his eyes and studied her wrinkled face. "Is this another one of those 'someone close to you will betray you' riddles?"

She shook her head vehemently. "No, not your familia, not your amigos. A stranger who is not a stranger."

The corner of his mouth curved as he regarded her. "Okay, bruja. Now, will you leave me in peace?"

She shook her head and her finger at him. "Do not disregard this, Senor. Unless, you hold no value for your own life." She turned and disappeared around the corner.

Johnny stared after her for a minute. Shaking his head at her foolishness, he went inside to get his father and brother.

"Took you long enough," Murdoch grumped.

"I was delayed," Johnny clipped. "Okay, brother, you ready?"

"I sure am."

Johnny and Murdoch carried him to the buckboard, easing him gently into the back. Murdoch climbed in and made him comfortable as Johnny took up the reins.

The trip home was quiet. Murdoch intent on Scott who was dozing off and on, Johnny deep in his own thoughts. They pulled into the yard to Jelly and Teresa anxiously waiting.

"How's he doin?" Jelly asked.

"Not too bad," Scott answered.

"Welcome home, Scott," Teresa said a bit meekly.

"Good to be home, honey," he smiled.

They settled him in his room and plopped themselves down at his bedside. Scott laughed a little.

"Are you two going to hover over me?"

"Yep," Johnny replied.

"I'm fine. Just tired from the trip. I'd like to take a nap."

"Go right ahead, son."

"It's a little difficult to sleep when you're being watched," Scott grinned.

"In other words, get out," Johnny laughed.

"Oh, I don't know, those sound like the right words to me," Murdoch laughed. "I'll check on you in a while."

*****

Downstairs, Teresa paced anxiously in the great room. She stopped when Johnny and Murdoch entered. "How is he, really?"

"He'll be fine, honey. He's tired and still sore but he'll make it," Johnny smiled.

Murdoch walked over and sat at his desk, not looking toward the young woman.

She grimaced. "I'll look after supper," she said quietly and left the room.

Johnny sighed and glared at Murdoch. "How long are you gonna give her the cold shoulder?"

Murdoch looked up and considered his youngest. "I'm not ready to talk to her yet."

"Get ready. You're hurting her, Murdoch. Talk to her."

"What am I supposed to say, Johnny? Am I supposed to forgive her?"

"She doesn't need your forgiveness! She needs your understanding. Murdoch, she's led a sheltered life here. You have to know that."

Murdoch sighed. "Yes, I know that, son."

"Then talk to her. Your opinion of her means everything to Teresa."

Murdoch stood up without another word and headed for the kitchen. Johnny relaxed his shoulders and hoped his father would be able to control his sometimes volatile temper.

He sat on the sofa and stared into the fire. His thoughts went back to the bruja. Her statement that he would come to her. His mind knew better yet there was a part of him that remembered. His mother had seen the bruja many times in Sonora. He remembered well the woman's words about him.

He also remembered his mother being very troubled by those words. He was too young to reassure her. Probably best he hadn't tried. For her words had come to fruition after all. He sighed heavily, glad his mother never knew what became of him. Did she?

**********

Murdoch stood in the door and watched her move slowly about the kitchen. It was evident her heart wasn't in her work. He glanced at Maria and received a scornful look.

"Teresa?" he called.

Her small shoulders tensed as she turned to face him.

"Let's go outside and talk," he said gently.

In her garden, she walked a bit away from him, then turned. "I'm so sorry," she said.

"So am I, sweetheart. For the way I treated you in town. I was upset about Scott and the thought of what could have happened to you."

"He just seemed so nice," she said miserably.

"I'm sure he did. I know you haven't had any experience with this type of thing. I guess I've protected you too much. I'm just glad Johnny found you. It's not your fault, Teresa. The man was disturbed. His own brother couldn't fault Johnny for killing him."

"It was such a sudden change. One minute he was sweet and polite, then he was..." she shivered involuntarily.

Murdoch walked over and hugged her close. "It's alright, darling. Let's put this whole ugly mess behind us. I think we've all learned something."

She clung tightly to him. Relieved he was no longer angry with her.

******

Johnny went back to Scott's room. Sitting by the bed, he watched his brother sleep. His thoughts heavy with concern. Not for himself, but for Scott. He wondered if the bruja had anything to say about that.

He smiled, even thinking about going back to her was ridiculous. If for no other reason than because she said as much.

"What's so funny?" Scott asked sleepily.

Johnny's head came up and he found his brother's eyes. "Just thinking."

"About?"

"That bruja," he smiled.

"Oh, her. She was ..... strange."

"Yeah, but she was right, sort of."

"Hey, you okay? Did she say something else to you?" Scott asked, concern all over his face.

"It's nothing, brother."

"What did she say, Johnny?"

"Oh, just that I'd be dead before I was thirty. Then she came back with this garbage about how I could change that," Johnny laughed.

Scott wasn't laughing. Something akin to fear flashed over his face.

"Come on, Scott. It's a load of bull and you know it."

"You're right. It's been a strange week," Scott smiled.

"Yeah," Johnny sighed. "Murdoch's talking to Teresa now. Hope he doesn't mess that up."

"He didn't," Murdoch said from the door.

Johnny turned and grinned at his father. "Eavesdroppin?"

"Maybe. I thought I'd find you in here. Don't you think you should let your brother rest?" Murdoch asked paternally.

"I'm alright, sir."

"You are hardly alright, son. But, you will be, thank God. Now, I want you sleeping. That's an order," he admonished, pointing a finger at his eldest.

"Whooeee, guess he told you, Boston," Johnny grinned devilishly.

"Johnny, leave your brother in peace," Murdoch stated.

"No, Murdoch, I want to talk to Johnny."

"Not now, Scott. Murdoch's right, you need to rest. I'm not going anywhere. I'll check on you later." Johnny laid a hand on Scott's arm and squeezed lightly before he walked out, closing the door silently.

Scott stared at the door for a long time. He didn't like what that fortune teller was doing. As soon as he was able, he was going to have a little talk with the woman. If she was even still around.

He shifted slightly in the bed, bringing an intense but fleeting pain to his chest. Taking a slow, deep breath, he tested his fortitude. Still hurt a little but nothing like before.

Staring at the ceiling, Scott couldn't stop thinking about what Johnny had said. Before he was thirty. Johnny had laughed it off but Scott sensed something in his brother. Like maybe he believed it after all. Well, we'll just see about all this, he thought.

****

Three days passed and Scott's strength was slowly returning. He was sitting up in the chair when Sam came to check him.

"You're doing well, Scott. That's what happens when a patient listens and follows doctor's orders," Sam announced, shooting a frown at Johnny.

Johnny looked innocently at him.

Sam shook his head and turned his attention back to his patient. "You can start moving around. Take short walks but rest when you feel tired. Don't push yourself and no lifting yet."

"How much longer, Sam?" Scott asked.

"At least another week, Scott. You were badly wounded. It takes time."

"I know. What about riding in the buckboard?"

"Are you planning a trip, brother?"

"No, but I'm going stir crazy. I thought I could at least ride into town the next time someone goes."

"Well," Sam said, rubbing his chin. "I don't see a problem with that. As long as you're just a passenger."

"Thank you, Sam," Scott smiled triumphantly.

******

Saturday came and Scott was ready at first light. He was waiting when Jelly brought the buckboard around the house.

"Well, look who's up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!"

"Good morning, Jelly," he smiled.

"Goin somwhere, Boston?" Johnny asked as he walked into the yard.

"Yes. I'm going to town with you. It's supplies day and I've been waiting all week for it."

Johnny took a step back and looked his brother up and down. He placed a finger at the side of his mouth and tapped lightly. A frown creased his forehead. "I don't know, Scott. What do you think, Jelly? Think he's up to it?"

"Well, I ain't so rightly sure about that, Johnny. Looks a bit peaked ta me," Jelly replied quite seriously.

"Are you two quite through? You know Sam said I could go to town and I am going," Scott stated irrevocably.

"Is that right? Maybe you better ask Murdoch about that. See if he whistles a tune you wanna hear," Johnny grinned.

"Are you still here?" Murdoch asked from the door.

"Murdoch, Johnny and Jelly are giving me a hard time about going to town. Now, you know Sam said I could. Would you please tell them to stop fooling around?"

"Snitch," Johnny mumbled.

"Johnny, take your brother to town with you," Murdoch sighed.

"Aw, Murdoch. I never get to go anywhere alone," Johnny complained. He could barely keep his face straight.

Murdoch couldn't and he chuckled. "If you two don't get going, I'll turn you both over my knee!"

"Hey! I didn't do anything!" Scott protested.

"This time. I'm sure you've done something I just haven't found out about yet," Murdoch came back.

"That is not logical, sir," Scott frowned.

"Nobody said parents had ta be logical. Now git, the both of ya. Ya think I got nothin better ta do than stand around here listenin to the two of ya jawin?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Hoskins," Johnny saluted, then bowed.

"Smartaleck!" Jellifer huffed and stormed away.

Johnny laughed at his disappearing back before turning to his brother. "Well, get in."

Scott smiled and went to the side of the wagon. He reached up with his right arm and felt a slight pull but brushed it off. He lifted his right leg up on the runner and stopped. Chewing his lip, he pondered how to get onto the high seat.

"Anytime, Boston," Johnny called as he seated himself and took up the reins.

"I'm coming," Scott called, still puzzling over his predicament. He felt two hands on his waist and was lifted up. He scrambled into the seat and looked back down. Smiling appreciatively, he nodded to Murdoch. "Thanks."

"Say there, Murdoch. You gonna ride into town later and hoist him back in. Or maybe you think he should just stay in the wagon the whole time."

"Here's a thought, Johnny. You could help him," Murdoch retorted.

Scott sighed loudly. "Are we going or not?"

"Don't have a cow, Boston," Johnny smiled, winked at his father and flicked the reins.

*****

The trip to town passed quickly as the brothers teased each other unmercifully. Scott was feeling fine and the warm summer sun made him feel alive again.

As they entered Morro Coyo, he glanced to the side and noticed the old witch was sitting outside her little tent. 'Still here. Good,' Scott thought.

The bruja perked up when she saw the wagon. She smiled satisfyingly to herself.

The tension that filled Johnny did not go unnoticed by his brother.

Johnny jumped down and walked around the wagon. "Give you a hand, ma'am?" he smiled.

Scott slapped his hand away and climbed carefully down. Landing on his feet, he gave a victory smile. Several locals called out a greeting to the two young men, making reference to how good Scott was looking.

The brothers entered the general store and Johnny handed over his list. He leaned his back against the counter. "You okay?"

Scott looked up at him. "I'm fine, Johnny. I would like to take a walk, stretch out my legs."

"Well, I have to go to the bank. Meet you back here in half an hour?"

"Fine," Scott smiled, relieved his brother didn't want to go with him.

As soon as Johnny left the store, Scott headed out in the opposite direction. He walked purposefully up to the old woman. "I want to talk to you."

"I know, Senor. Come inside," she smiled and held back the canvass door.

Scott gave her a sidelong look and entered the tent.

It was warmer inside but not unpleasantly so. He sat at the small table with the crystal ball in the center and stared at it.

"You are looking well, Senor. I am pleased."

"Are you? I didn't come here to talk about me," Scott said tersely.

"No, you came to talk of the pistolero."

"My brother is not a pistolero, madam. He is a rancher. But, yes, I did come here to talk about him."

"Call him what you will. It does not change things," she shrugged, undeterred.

"I want you to leave him alone. Stop telling him all this nonsense about him dying before he's thirty!"

"It is not nonsense, Senor. It is what I see. I have not bothered your brother since he took you home and I will not. He will come to me, however."

Scott stood up, his fists clenched at his sides. "That will be a cold day in hell," he ground out.

She laughed and it surprised him. It was a mirthful laugh, not unpleasant to the ears. "Senor, there is no such thing as a cold day in hell. I see what I see. It is not up to me what happens. Your brother can change his destiny."

"You speak in riddles, madam. All designed to confuse and befuddle. Just so your customers will keep coming back for more. You never really tell them anything of sustenence because you know nothing. Oh, you are very good at reading people. But then, so is Johnny. It doesn't make him a soothsayer."

"If you are so sure, why did you seek me out?"

"To tell you to leave him alone. He doesn't need you whispering gloom and doom in his ear."

She looked thoughtfully at him for a second and nodded. "Senor, por favor, sit and listen to an old woman. Not a bruja, but a woman," she implored, waving a hand toward the seat.

Scott relaxed a little and sat back down, staring intently at her.

"I know your brother. Oh, we had never met before but I know him. All the women in my familia have the gift. My sister lived in Sonora many years ago. She told the fortune of a beautiful woman there. A woman who was troubled. My sister could give her no comfort. She could not lie. She told the woman her son would live a dangerous and dark life. A life filled with pain and misery and there was nothing this woman could do to stop it. That woman was your brother's madre."

Scott glared at her. "There was something Maria could do, she chose not to. She could have told Johnny the truth about our father. Didn't your sister see that in her crystal ball?"

"I know nothing of that. I do know the legend of Johnny Madrid. I know more than the legend as well. I know what he has gone through in his life. I know if he does not change something, that life will end too soon."

"Change what?"

"That I do not know."

Scott stood again. "Exactly! Just as I said. I would thank you for the warning if there were anything to thank you for!"

"Senor, I was right about you was I not? Do not dismiss this."

"Good day, madam," Scott said though gritted teeth. He was afraid to say any more. His temper was at its peak and he had to get out of there. Scott stepped out into the fresh air and took a deep breath. He looked around, suddenly wary that someone might see him. Stepping away quickly, he made it to the boardwalk just as someone rode past and waved.

He felt weak suddenly, as if all the life had been drained from him. He leaned against the building and closed his eyes.

"Scott?"

His eyes popped open and he found himself looking at a neighbor. "Hello, Mr. Wilson," he smiled wanly.

"Are you alright? You look pale," the older man asked.

"Yes, I'm fine, sir. I was just taking a rest."

"Well, take it easy. I can see you aren't fully recovered yet."

"I will, I promise," Scott smiled and waved as the man departed. 'Great! He'll be sure to mention this to Murdoch the next time he sees him.'

He pushed himself off the building and headed back to the store to meet up with Johnny. As he neared the entrance, he heard gunshots from the direction of the bank. Without a thought, Scott took off at a dead run.

As he neared the building, he saw Gabe pressed against a building caddycorner to the bank. He slid up behind him.

"What's going on?"

"Bank's bein robbed," the sheriff replied curtly.

"Johnny's in there!" Scott proclaimed, drawing his weapon.

"He is? Good!"

"Gabe!"

"I mean, it might be an advantage for us."

"If he's alive, you mean," Scott shot.

******

Johnny walked into the bank to a long waiting line. He sighed softly and took his place, wishing he had gone to the cantina first.

He was second in line when he saw them come in. He watched from the corner of his eye as the taller one stood in line and the other hovered at the door. He idly thought the man was as tall as Murdoch. His senses were alive and he knew something was about to happen.

Johnny turned his head slightly and took in the room. Sally Monroe was waiting for Jim, the teller and her husband. She was holding their newborn daughter in her arms.

Mrs. Macafey was standing with her, cooing over the baby. The woman was eighty if she was a day. The man in front of him in line was old man Duffy. Johnny sighed and cursed to himself. This was not going to be pretty.

As this thought left his brain, he heard the bank door close. He didn't move a muscle.

"Okay, folks, listen up! This is a robbery. Now, do like we say and no one will get hurt. Understand?"

Johnny turned then and looked at the man speaking. The one who'd stayed back by the door. He didn't recognize him but that was probably a good thing.

"Now, everybody over against that wall with the women," he commanded, waving his gun towards Sally and Mrs. Macafey.

Johnny hesitated, letting the others move over first so he could stand in front of them.

Jim Monroe went to his wife and wrapped protective arms around his family. Mr. Hamilton, the bank president, was pushed from his office into the outer room. He was forced to the safe and ordered to open it as the rest watched.

Johnny calculated the odds. He knew he could take them but he didn't want to risk a stray bullet hitting one of the women or, God forbid, that baby. He heard Old man Duffy whisper whiskey-sodden breath in his ear.

"Do somethin, Johnny!"

He may have thought he was whispering, but the bank robber heard the old man and looked over. It was then he saw Johnny's gun, slung low on his hip. He looked into the cold eyes and felt a shiver down his spine.

"Hand over the iron, mister," he said.

"Who, me?" Johnny asked innocently. A slight upward curve lifted the corner of his mouth.

"Yeah, you!" the man spat and leveled his pistol at Johnny's chest.

Johnny took a step to the side and the barrel of the gun followed him.

"Don't move!" the robber hissed.

"I'm just doin what you said. Give a man some room," Johnny shrugged.

"You don't need no more room. Just take that Colt out really easy like."

Johnny stared into the man's eyes for a long moment. The man watched him, sizing him up. While he was doing that, Johnny drew and fired and the man went down.

He rolled to his left, away from the others, and took a position behind a chair. It was piss poor cover but it was all he had.

"Drop it or I'll drop him," the man said.

Johnny peeked over the chair and saw Frank Hamilton with a gun stuck in his neck. The robber was well-hidden behind him and Johnny couldn't get a clean shot. Dropping his head in defeat, he threw the Colt toward the man and stood up slowly.

"Now, get over here, cowboy."

Johnny sauntered casually over to stand in front of Hamilton who was sweating profusely by now. Johnny smiled slightly at the man.

"Put your hands on that counter and don't move again or I'll put a bullet in your brain!" he spat.

Johnny shrugged and did as he was told. He laid his hands flat on the counter and spread his legs parallel to his hips.

He turned his head and watched as Hamilton emptied the safe. He knew someone had to have heard that shot and that Gabe was outside. Most likely, Scott, too. That part worried him. Scott was in no shape to be fighting it out with a bank robber. He figured he'd play one last card before he did something desperate.

"You really think you're just gonna walk out of here?" he asked.

"That's exactly what I'm gonna do," the robber scowled.

Johnny shrugged. "Well, if you wanna get yourself killed, it's none of my business."

The man smirked. "I don't think so. Now, get over there and sit on the floor. You too, banker," he ordered.

"All of you, sit down!" he yelled. "Not you, Missy. You're comin with me."

"No!" Jim Monroe decried.

The robber grabbed Sally's arm and pulled her into him. She tightened her hold on her baby.

"Please, mister, my baby....."

"You and your baby are gonna make sure I just walk right out of here," he replied, sneering at Johnny.

"You should take me," Johnny spoke softly.

The robber laughed. "Should I? Now, why is that?"

"My old man is the biggest rancher in these parts. Nobody's gonna take a shot at you as long as you've got me."

"And they ain't gonna shoot with this little lady and her kid with me, either."

"No, but she'll slow you down. And the baby will start cryin. Give you away," Johnny reasoned.

The robber seemed to consider this. "Ya got a point there. But not you, fast draw." He looked over the other hostages. "You, banker man."

Johnny cringed inwardly. Well, it could have been worse. Could've picked Mrs. Macafee or the town drunk. His expression never changed as he seemed disinterested in the man's choice. He caught Jim Monroe's expression of gratitude though.

"Are you just going to stand here all day?" Scott asked in frustration.

"What would you like me to do, Scott? Rush in there and get those people killed?" Gabe retorted.

Scott tightened his jaw and leaned against the building. Beads of sweat had formed on his lip and forehead and he felt clammy and cold. Black dots danced in front of his eyes and he wondered if he'd pass out soon.

"Scott, you get over to Doc's. You don't look good. Let me handle my job," Gabe said with less irritation in his voice.

"I'm not going anywhere until I know Johnny's alright," he insisted.

Before Gabe could argue, he heard someone shout at him from across the street.

"Sheriff! I'm comin out and I ain't alone! If you want your banker man to stay alive, you keep that gun holstered. That goes for anybody else out there, too!"

They saw the door open and Frank Hamilton emerge from within. The man was as white as a sheet. His hands trembled and he looked like he might lose control of his bladder at any moment.

Scott was both worried and relieved. Worried for Frank, relieved it wasn't Johnny and still worried more about his brother's condition.

"What was that shootin about?" Gabe called back.

The robber laughed. "Some hotshot in here took out my partner. Not that I mind. More for me! Course, he ain't gonna be doin that again!"

Scott's heart fell to his stomach when he heard that statement. His anger rose quickly and Gabe had to restrain him.

"Scott, take it easy. We don't know if he's tellin the truth or just blowin smoke!"

"Alright, cowboy, stand up," the robber ordered.

Johnny got to his feet, thinking the man had changed his mind about his hostage of the day.

"Walk over here and stand in front of banker man, back to me," he said.

Johnny did so and assumed this was the plan. Use him instead of Frank. It suited him fine. He didn't want his father's old friend hurt. He could hear shuffled footsteps behind him. He heard Hamilton grunt as he sat down.

Johnny prepared himself, going over his options in his mind. When he would make his move would depend a great deal on the situation outside. How patient Gabe and Scott would be. He was not prepared for what did happen.

The robber wrapped his left arm around Johnny's upper chest, grabbing his right arm tightly and pulling it across Johnny's diaphragm. His face was less than an inch from Johnny's as he leaned over.

"Now, I ain't the sentimental type but you killed my partner. And good partners are hard to come by. Course, it means I get all the money to myself but now, I gotta break in somebody new. That's just a pain in the ass, boy."

"Yeah, that's real rough," Johnny said snidely.

"How old are you?"

Johnny was surprised by the question but he figured it didn't matter. "Twenty-two."

"Young, fast and loose, huh?" the man laughed. "Well, you just made your last mistake, kid."

Johnny realized a split second too late what was happening. He felt the knife plunge into his gut and he inhaled sharply in surprise. He staggered back into the man who tightened his hold. He heard a collective gasp from the others as his left hand tried to reach the robber's tight grip.

"Hurts, don't it?" he asked and pulled the blade out.

Johnny fought down the bile rising in his throat and swallowed hard. "It don't feel good," he whispered.

"Well, hell. This will really hurt then," he said and stabbed the blade into his chest.

Johnny's legs gave away and he leaned heavily on the man who released him and stepped back. He fell to the ground with a thud, rolling to his side as his hand went to his belly.

*******

The man pushed Hamilton off the boardwalk into the street and guided him to the horses tied to the hitching post. He kept Hamilton between him and the sheriff as they slowly made their way.

Gabe turned to say something to Scott, but he was gone.

Scott Lancer moved swiftly and quietly through the back alleys of Morro Coyo. He weaved between the buildings as easily as he rode a horse. He crept up the side of the bank building and sighted his quarry.

Wiping the sweat from his eyes, he blinked several times to bring his vision into focus. He watched the man backing toward him. Watched as he made Hamilton mount up on the horse nearest Gabe. He watched until the man moved to the left side of the second horse.

"Don't move," he said tightly.

The robber swung around and dropped to his knees in an explosion of fire and gunsmoke. He looked up at Scott, stunned. "Kid was right," he grunted then fell to the ground, face first.

Scott thought it an odd last statement but he moved over to check the man. He was dead.

Gabe approached then. "That was a fool thing to do! But, good shootin," he smiled.

Scot's head jerked up at those last words. He rose to his feet and headed into the bank with Frank Hamilton on his heels.

"Johnny tried to save us. He killed one of them. No one could have guessed that animal would have ...."

His words trailed off in a haze as Scott took in the sight before him. Johnny lay in the floor near the door, a pool of blood beneath him. He dropped to his knees and rolled his brother on his back. A shaky hand went to Johnny's carotid artery. Scott felt tears well in his eyes as he felt the faint thump.

"Get Doc," he managed to croak out. He ripped his brother's shirt open, buttons flying everywhere. "Get me something!" he commanded.

A handkerchief appeared in front of his face and he grabbed it. Placing it over the stomach wound, he pressed hard to staunch the flow. Another hand appeared and pressed a kerchief on the chest wound.

Scott looked up into Gabe's eyes. "Send someone for our father," Scott whispered.

"Frank! Send someone to Lancer to tell Murdoch. Now!" Gabe ordered.

"Johnny?" Scott called softly. "Hey, little brother, wake up. How do you expect me to get back in the wagon without your help? Johnny?"

****

Murdoch Lancer ambled toward the hacienda, talking to Jelly about the cattle drive next year. He stopped short at the sound of a horse being ridden too hard.

Shading his eyes from the blinding sun, he strained to see who it was. His stomach turned into a knot, knowing it couldn't be good news.

"Mr. Lancer, Johnny's been hurt bad," young Chris Williams reported as he pulled the horse to a halt.

"What happened?" Murdoch asked.

"Bank was robbed. Don't know all the details but Johnny was stabbed," the young man said.

"I'll saddle the horses, Boss," Jelly said as he hurried away.

"We're on our way, Chris," Murdoch dismissed the young man as he headed to the house. He informed Teresa and Maria and had to take the time to settle Teresa down. He convinced her she needed to stay home until he knew what the situation was.

As he headed out to the horses, he worried about Scott as well. Chris hadn't mentioned the elder brother. Murdoch could only hope that meant there was nothing to report.

He mounted up, Jelly at his side, and set off at a ground eating gallop.

******

Two men carried Johnny to Sam's office as Scott and Gabe kept pressure on the wounds. He had not stirred. They laid him on the exam table and quickly left.

"Scott, step back. In fact, sit down before you fall down. You're pale and sweaty," Sam ordered.

Gabe took the young man's arm and put him in a chair near the table. "You gotta get out of Doc's way, Scott."

Scott nodded dazedly. His eyes could not leave his brother lying so still and pale.

Sam set to work on his patient, shaking his head as Gabe filled him in on the events. The chest wound was deep but he thought the stomach wound was worse. It was bleeding heavily.

"Gabe, get Mrs. Foster. I'll need her help."

"I can help," Scott offered.

"You sit right there and don't move. You should be lying down. Confound it! You two are ....." Sam stopped his tirade and concentrated on the task at hand.

Gabe returned with Mrs. Foster and none too gently urged Scott from the room. He sat the man down in the outer office. Scott buried his face in his hands.

"Why?" he muttered.

"Because your brother can't stand by when people are being hurt," Gabe said gently. "Frank said that robber was gonna take Sally Monroe and her baby hostage but Johnny talked him out of it. Offered himself in exchange. Only the robber wasn't buyin it. That's why he took Frank. But, Frank says he did this because Johnny killed his partner."

"He did it out of pure meaness. He didn't care about his partner! He said as much," Scott declared, looking up at the man.

"Scott?"

Scott stood, wavering slightly, as his father walked in.

"Easy son, sit down. What happened?"

Gabe explained the whole ordeal as Murdoch and Jelly listened. When he got to the part of Johnny being stabbed, both men were appalled.

Murdoch took a seat next to his son, suddenly feeling weak-kneed. "What does Sam think?"

"He thinks Johnny and I are hellbent on getting ourselves killed," Scott said morosely. "Nothing yet," he added to really answer the question.

"Reckon all we can do is wait, then," Jelly said.

The curtain to the exam room flew open and Sam's head popped out. "Murdoch, get in here!"

The rancher was on his feet in less than a second and headed for the room. Scott stood to follow and felt Jelly's grip on his arm.

"Is your name Murdoch? Sit down til Sam needs ya. You'll only be in the way, Scott," he explained, softening his tone with the last sentence.

Scott looked helplessly at the old man and nodded, taking his seat once more.

A few minutes later, Sam reappeared and called Scott back. He walked in to find his father lying on a table next to Johnny. Sam quickly explained the need for a blood transfusion and the risks involved.

Scott listened but his brain would not make the connection. Sam sat him next to Johnny and he took his brother's hand in his own. Miserable eyes locked onto Murdoch's. The older man could only try and give an encouraging smile but he failed.

As Sam began the transfusion, his words hit home. Johnny could be dead in five minutes, maybe less. His grip tightened and he leaned in close to his brother's ear.

"Don't even think about leaving me, Johnny. Don't even think about. I need you right here."

The minutes ticked by more slowly than Scott could ever remember time passing. As if it had stopped in that place, in that moment. As if this was all he had left with his brother. He shook his head, refusing to believe that was possible. The bruja's words came back to him and he shuddered.

******

Sam noticed Murdoch turn pale and touched his arm. His skin was clammy and cool. He stopped the transfusion immediately.

"What are you doing?" Murdoch asked.

"You can't give any more."

"No! Keep going!"

"I can't, Murdoch. I can't risk your life no matter how much you want me to!" Sam stated firmly.

"What about me?"

"No, Scott. It's too soon. You're still recovering yourself."

"What can you do, Sam? Did he get enough blood?" Scott asked.

Sam sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "No, it wasn't enough. I'll put a tube in and give him fluids. That might help. All we can do is wait and see."

Murdoch started to get up but Sam pushed him back down. "You try that and you'll be on the floor. Unbelievable. All three of you!" he shook his head in exasperation.

Murdoch frowned but said nothing. He looked from one son to the other. "Scott, you need to lie down."

"I'm alright."

"You are not alright and Murdoch's right. Have Jelly pull a bench in here. I'll fix it up so you'll be comfortable."

While Jelly and Mrs. Foster settled Scott, Sam put a tube down Johnny's nose to his stomach and gave him an ample dose of sugar water along with medication. At least he didn't have a fever - yet. But that could change very quickly. While he worked, Sam wondered how much more this family had to endure.

********

Scott fell asleep despite his best efforts. His dreams were filled with ghosts and witches, gloomy premonitions and death. He awoke with a start and his eyes darted around the room. He felt a hand on his arm and heard his father's voice.

"Easy, son. You're at the doctor's office."

Scott focused on his father for a second before his eyes fell on Johnny. He started to sit up and felt a supportive hand on his back.

"How is he?"

"Still fighting," Murdoch said tiredly.

Scott moved to the chair next to Johnny and took his hand. He noticed how cold it was and felt his brother's forehead. "No fever but he's cold."

"I know. Sam said it was from the blood loss."

"Has he been awake?" Scott asked.

"Not one flicker," Murdoch sighed.

Scott looked up into his father's bedraggled face. "You should get some rest. I feel much better, I can sit with him."

"Jelly will be back soon and I want you to rest more. You'll do Johnny no good if you have a relapse," Murdoch insisted. "I'll be at the hotel if you need me."

"Yes, sir," Scott nodded. He focused his attention back on his brother.

"You know this is the perfect opportunity to dispell all those foolish words from that old woman. She said you could change how things happen. Time to change this, Johnny. Don't leave me," he whispered.  

There was no response, no movement other than the shallow rise and fall of his chest. Scott noted the pallor, the vivid contrast of those black lashes against the cheeks. Of the bandages on the chest and abdomen to the natural tan. The black hairs on his chest curling around the cloth.

He watched Johnny's face for any sign of movement, of awakening. He didn't know how long he sat there, still as a summer day, watching, waiting. When the hand touched his shoulder, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Sorry," Jelly said.

"Is this how it was for him when I was lying here?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, it was."

"We sure can get ourselves in some fixes."

"You sure can. Good thing is ya got each other to help ya through," Jelly noted.

"Sometimes I wonder how he survived as long as he has," Scott said, mostly to himself.

Jelly didn't like that kind of talk. "Go get some rest. I'll sit with 'im."

"Alright, Jelly. I won't be long."

Scott stepped out into the fresh air and took an appreciative deep breath. As he started toward the hotel, he felt someone watching him. Turning, he saw the old bruja. He hung his head and sighed.

"He will not survive," she said bluntly.

"Shut up! I'm sick of listening to you! Johnny will survive and when he does, I never want to hear from or see you again!"

"As you wish, but he is not done suffering yet. There is one who seeks to do him more harm now that he is vulnerable," she said.

Scott almost asked then chastised himself. He turned and walked away from her.

She watched him go, shaking her head sadly. The pistolero was in trouble and none of them knew or would believe it.

********

Scott walked into the hotel lobby and stopped. Her words rang in his mind and he couldn't stop them. He could ignore her warnings, should ignore them. Still, if there was even the slightest chance ....

He turned back around and headed to the doctor's office.

"Thought you was gonna get some rest," Jelly said, surprised to see him back.

"I will, Jelly. Right now I want you to go back to the ranch and bring some men here. The best shots we have only. I want two men guarding Johnny at all times," Scott said determinedly.

"Why? Someone after 'im?"

"I'm not sure, Jelly. But he's hurt and he's vulnerable and he's not at home. Someone might get the idea that now would be a good time to take out Johnny Madrid," Scott explained.

Jelly stood up. "Sure am glad ya thought about that. I'll be back soon as I can," he said and left without hesitation.

'I only wish I'd thought of it,' Scott thought. He sat back down next to his brother.

"You make it hard sometimes, brother. Think you could wake up and talk to me? I sure could use a calm voice to listen to."

Scott laid his head on the bed next to Johnny. After a minute, he felt someone stroking his hair. Thinking he'd drifted off and Murdoch had returned, he raised his head to find Johnny watching him.

Scott's smile spread across his face and danced in his eyes. "About time."

"Hey," Johnny whispered.

"How do you feel?"

"Tired, weak."

"You lost a lot of blood. Murdoch gave you some of his but Sam wouldn't let me."

"Not well yet," Johnny mumbled.

"So he says. Just hang in there, brother."

"Robber?"

"Dead."

"Okay," he sighed softly and closed his eyes.

Scott stroked the back of his hand with his thumb. Relieved he had awakened but disturbed by the weakness. Still, he'd woke up. He was alive. That's all that mattered right now.

An hour later, Murdoch returned, frowning. "Why are our men outside?"

"I sent for them. Johnny needs protection," Scott explained.

"From what?"

"Anyone who thinks he's an easy target right now. Until he's home, I won't feel he's safe."

Murdoch considered this and nodded. "Alright, son. Go get some rest."

******

For the next week, they took shifts. Teresa came for a few hours every day but Murdoch insisted she return to the ranch before nightfall. Johnny rallied and fought his way back to them. He was still weak and pale but Sam was encouraged nonetheless. He removed the tube when Johnny demonstrated he could hold down water and broth.

Sam decided he could travel to the ranch as long as they went slow. As with Scott, not so long ago, they made a bed for him in the back of the wagon.

She watched it all with great interest, wondering if she should even bother trying to warn them. The sons had not listened. Perhaps the father would, though she doubted that. Truthfully, she wanted to leave this place. But the spirits had other ideas.

She saw Murdoch at the wagon. He was alone. It was her only chance. She approached him carefully.

"Senor."

Murdoch turned. Not knowing who she was, he smiled. "May I help you?"

"Por favor. It is I who wishes to help you. Your sons would not heed my warnings. I can only hope you will."

Murdoch studied her. "You're that bruja Johnny was talking about."

"Si."

"I think you've spread enough doom and gloom, madam," he said tersely.

She sighed heavily and shook her head. "Muy obstinado," she huffed. "I warned the pistolero but he would not hear me. This was not the event I spoke to him about. He is still in danger. He will be attacked in his own home."

"First of all, Johnny is not a pistolero. Secondly, Lancer is the safest place for him," Murdoch ground out.

"No, it is not.   He will be attacked and by someone he knows and trusts," she said adamantly.

"I don't suppose you have a name for me?" he asked sarcastically.

"I do not. I only know it will happen soon, before he is able to recover. I see him in a large room. There is a grandfather clock ticking. This is when the attack will come. He is alone there. Unable to defend himself. He is lying on a sofa."

"And how is he attacked? Shot?"

"No, Senor," she shuddered. "Much more brutal than that."

Murdoch felt a chill cover his body as he listened. "What?"

"I cannot speak it. The one who does this is full of hate and rage. He is seeking revenge for a wrong done to him. It was not done by the pistolero's hand though he believes that is the case." She turned and walked away then, leaving him staring after her.

"Murdoch?"

He turned to find Scott watching him.

"Are you alright, sir?"

"Yes, let's get Johnny home," he said distractedly.

They laid him in the wagon and took him home. Sam had given him morphine for the trip after much argument.

Settling him in his own bed, Murdoch felt a coldness pass through him that he had never experienced before.

"How's that, brother?"

"Much better. It's good to be home," he smiled.

"You still have to do what Sam says," Scott warned.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. You're starting to sound like Murdoch," he grinned and looked to his father.

Murdoch was staring into space, ugly images flying through his mind.

"Murdoch!"

His head snapped up and he stared at his eldest.

"Are you alright? I called to you three times," Scott asked.

"I'm sorry, I must have been daydreaming," he said feebly.

"Must have been a nice dream," Johnny said, quite amused with his father.

Still distracted, he only smiled weakly. "Get some rest, son."

They watched him walk out of the room, perplexed by his behavior.

*****

The next several days were quiet. Johnny improved substantially once home and Sam was even allowing him to sit in a chair for a few hours a day.

On this visit, the doctor told him he could start walking with assistance. Johnny's smile warmed Murdoch's heart. Sometimes, he was still very much a very young man.

"Well, I guess you want to get out of that bed and on your feet," he said when Sam left.

"You bet. I'd like to see somethin besides these four walls."

Murdoch helped him dress and get downstairs. He sat him on the sofa and Johnny blew out a breath.

"Hard?"

"Yeah, some. But it feels good. I'd like to go outside," he said with the most innocent look he could muster.

"Sam said nothing about outside," Murdoch informed him.

"He didn't say anything against it. Just on the veranda, Murdoch. I'm goin stir crazy in this house."

"Alright, son. But just for a little while," Murdoch acquiesced. Somehow, he couldn't say no to Johnny right now.

He settled him in a chair and joined him. Johnny laid his head back and relished in the warmth of the sun.

"Feel good?"

"Oh, yes," Johnny smiled.

Murdoch laughed a little as he watched his son become more alive in the fresh air.

"You'd think you had been born outside as much as you enjoy it."

Before Johnny could say anything in reply, a hand ran up to them.

"Mr. Lancer, there's trouble in the south pasture. There was a stampede and one of the men got hurt."

"Who?" he asked, his heart dropping. Scott was in the south pasture.

"George," the man answered.

"Alright. I'm on my way. Johnny, let me get you back to bed first."

"Aw, Murdoch, I just got up. I'll be alright," he protested.

"I'm not leaving you out here. I don't know how long I'll be gone."

"Well, then let me stay on the sofa," Johnny compromised.

Murdoch considered it and agreed. "Alright, but no trying to move around on your own. If you need anything, just yell for Maria."

********

Murdoch headed for the south pasture after securing Johnny on the sofa. He sighed with relief when he saw Scott on his mount. Even though the hand had said only one man was hurt, Murdoch wasn't satisfied until he laid eyes on his son.

"What happened, Scott?" he asked as he approached.

Scott's face told the tale. He was not a happy man. In fact, he was downright angry. "Well, sir, it appears one of the hands decided he wanted to go hunting. He fired his rifle and started a stampede!"

"Fired his rifle at what?"

"Who knows? He said he saw a cougar. I have a hard time believing a cat would be this far down in the valley."

"No, that doesn't seem logical," Murdoch frowned. "Who was it?"

"The new man, Rex."

"Where is he now?"

"Well, there's the other piece of news. By the time we got the herd back together, he'd disappeared. No one remembers seeing him leave but we were all a little busy," Scott reported. The frustration in his voice was evident.

Murdoch shook his head. The man had seemed to know his business. Had been a good hand so far. He voiced this to Scott who agreed with the assessment. None of it made any sense.

"Well, I see you have everything under control. Good job, son," Murdoch smiled.

"Thank you, sir. Still, it has put us behind a whole day," Scott explained.

"I suppose there's nothing to be done about it now. I sure wish I knew what...." Murdoch stopped, his throat constricting.

"Murdoch?" Scott asked, touching his father's arm in concern.

"Johnny," he whispered. "I left Johnny alone!" The bruja's words came back to him clearly. Alone on the sofa, still recovering, vulnerable.

"So?" Scott was asking.

"We've got to get home. Now!" he said and mounted his horse.

Scott looked at him in bewilderment but he mounted up as well and took off after his father. Trying to catch up to the man.

*****

He watched Murdoch Lancer ride away from the house and smiled. It had worked beautifully. Now, he had Madrid all to himself.

Johnny drifted off on the sofa. Lulled into sleep by the warmth of the fire and his own weakness. He didn't hear the front door open.  

He became aware of someone hovering over him and his eyes opened slowly, expecting to see his father. The name was half out of his mouth when he focused.

"No, Madrid. It ain't your daddy. He's off on a wild goose chase. Just you and me."

Johnny frowned, still drowsy, his mind cloudy. "Rex?"

"No!" he hissed. "It ain't Rex. It's Mick Clark."

Johnny scanned his memory but the name just didn't click for him. "Do I know you?"

"Figures you wouldn't remember. Why should ya? What's one more dead man to Johnny Madrid?"

"You don't look dead to me," Johnny shot.

"You killed my father. Jack Clark. Now do you remember?"

Johnny only shook his head. The name meant nothing to him. He felt a stabbing pain in his stomach as Clark punched him in his wound. He sucked in a breath and held it.

"I'll make you remember then. Soldana, two years ago.   There was a range war. You hired on for a man named McCallister."

Johnny nodded. "I remember," he grunted.

"My old man was on the other side of that fight. You killed him. Shot him in the back!"

Johnny's eyes widened. "You got the wrong man," he spat. "I ain't no backshooter!"

Clark glared at him. "Now why did I know you wouldn't admit to it? You yellow-bellied snake! I know you done it!"

"How?"

"My old man's partner told me all about it. How pa got in your face and you backed down. Then you waited until he was on the trail and backshot him. His partner was there. He saw it!"

"Did it ever occur to you that his partner might have killed him? I ain't never backed down from a fight, mister. If you know anything about me, you'd know that. Who was his partner?"

"Floyd Coley."

Johnny's blood boiled at the name. "Coley! That low-life! When did he tell you about this?"

"Two months ago. Told me right where I could find ya, too."

"Mister, he set us both up. Me and Coley don't get along, never have. We got into a fracas a while back. This is his way of payin me back. He lied to you," Johnny explained.

"Ain't got no reason to. Didn't have no reason ta kill my old man, either."

"Neither did I. I didn't know your father. If I did meet him, we weren't introduced by name. Like I said, I never back down from a fight!"

Clark pulled out a Bowie knife and turned it back in forth in front of Johnny. The light from the fire glowed off it's tempered steel in the now-dimming room. Johnny knew his family would be back soon but would it be soon enough. He was in no shape to fight Clark off and he knew it.   His only weapon now was his mouth.

"Listen to me, Clark. I didn't kill your pa. If I did, I'd own up to it. I got no reason to lie."

Clark snorted. "No? How about to save your hide? I wouldn't believe a word you said to me, Madrid. Now, you're gonna die and it's gonna be slow and painful." With that statement, he flicked his wrist and sliced through Johnny's shirt. The gash revealed the bandages already there but the blade had not cut through those.

Clark cursed. "Looks like I got some work to do."

Johnny grabbed his arm as it came toward him again. He could feel the unused muscles straining from the get go. His arm began to shake under the strain and he shifted his position. The movement brought on a hiss of pain but he ignored it. Now, his other arm was free and he grabbed hold with both hands.

Clark was strong and healthy and he was winning the fight. Johnny felt his hold slipping. He felt a surge of panic as he tried to keep control of himself. He wasn't able to move much and this only frustrated him.

Clark changed tactics and pulled away from him. The forward momentum for Johnny caused him to fall forward, almost off the couch. He planted a hand on the floor to catch himself and felt the blade cut into his back.

He grunted and pushed himself back, feeling the blood running down. Clark's hand went to his throat and pressed. Johnny pulled at that hand but his strength had all but left him. He struggled as best he could, feeling the need for air in his lungs. The sensation was enough to cause him to buck and turn, trying desperately to get away.

He felt his lungs burning, his throat aching. Pinponts of light danced in front of his eyes and blackness edged his periphery. He felt himself going, dying. He reached out and touched Clark's face, trying to grab hold of something, anything to hang on to. His hand fell away limply as he tried one more valiant effort to breathe.

Clark realized he was dying and he let go. He didn't want it to be that fast. He wanted Madrid to suffer.

Johnny gasped for breath, grabbing his throat and sucking in deep gulps of air as he coughed with each one.

Clark waited until he was calmer. When Johnny fell back against the couch, he leaned forward again.

"All better now?" he grinned.

Johnny opened his eyes and glared at the man. He tried to swallow but couldn't. He tried to speak but that wouldn't work either.

He felt the blade cutting through the bandages on his chest, then his stomach. His arms felt like wet noodles and he coudn't raise them to save his life.

"Well, would you look at that. All those nice neat stitches. I guess the doc spent some time on those. Well, he won't have to worry about doin 'em again. No need to stitch up a dead man."

He raised the knife far above his head and grasped the hilt tighter. As he began his downward thrust, he was jerked backward.

*******

Murdoch walked through the French doors with gun drawn, not knowing what to expect. What he saw caused his finger to squeeze the trigger of its own volition.

Clark fell back and to the side and Murdoch moved in, Scott right behind him.

"Johnny! My God, are you alright?"

He opened his mouth but no sound would come forth. Murdoch saw the red welp on his throat. He walked to the sideboard and poured a glass of water. Helping Johnny to sit up, he let his son drink his fill.

While he did this, Scott dragged Clark out of the room and onto the veranda where he left him. He then went to get help.

"How'd you know?" Johnny rasped.

Murdoch shook his head. "Never mind that right now. Did he hurt you?" he asked, looking at the healing wounds.

"My back," Johnny whispered.

Murdoch leaned over him and saw the cut. It wasn't deep but it was long. It had already stopped bleeding. "It's not bad, son. What about your throat?"

"Strangled me. I tried ...." he coughed again and Murdoch eased him back a little.

"Alright, Johnny. Just take it easy," he spoke softly.

"How is he?" Scott asked.

"He'll be okay. Get me some water and towels. He has a cut on his back. It's not bad but I want to clean it up. And we'll need to redress these wounds," Murdoch ordered.

"Right. I sent for Sam and the sheriff," he said and took off to the kitchen.

*******

Johnny closed his eyes for a minute. When he opened them, Murdoch was watching him closely.

"Sorry."

"No need, son. I'm just glad we got back in time," Murdoch smiled. He brushed the hair from Johnny's forehead.

"He thought I killed his father but it wasn't me," he explained.

The bruja's words came to Murdoch once more. // He is seeking revenge for a wrong done to him. It was not done by the pistolero's hand though he believes that is the case."//

"Someone from your past?" he asked without judgment.

"Yeah, so he said. I don't remember the man but I didn't shoot anyone in the back!" he proclaimed, causing another coughing fit.

"Easy, Johnny. I know you would never do that. It's alright, son."

Johnny looked in Murdoch's eyes and saw the affection. He smiled and relaxed, knowing he was once more safe under his father's watchful eye.

Sam arrived and took over his care as Scott and Murdoch waited anxiously downstairs.

"Would you like to tell me how you knew Johnny was in danger?" Scott asked.

"Not really," Murdoch mumbled. Seeing the consternation on his son's face, he sighed and gave in. "That woman told me."

"Woman? What wo .... you mean that witch?" Scott stared.

"Yes. She told me before we brought Johnny home he was in danger here from someone he knew and trusted. Johnny trusts all the hands."

"Murdoch, that doesn't explain anything."

"There's more. She said he would be alone in the house, lying on the sofa, still recovering and vulnerable. That's exactly how I left him. When you told me Rex had disappeared ..... well, I guess I would have felt pretty silly if nothing was wrong."

"I'm glad you didn't care about feeling silly," Scott said grimly. Shaking his head he added, "what is it with that woman? She will not leave this family alone."

"In this instance, I'm glad she didn't," Murdoch said.

******

Sam came down and announced Johnny would be fine. Luckily the struggle hadn't torn the stitches and the wounds were already near healed. The cut to his back was superficial and his throat suffered no permanent damage. He would have to whisper for a few days but since he was soft-spoken most of the time anyway, it shouldn't be a problem.

Relief flooded the Lancer men and Murdoch offered Sam refuge for the night. He declined the invitation, stating he'd be back to check Johnny in a day or two. He wasn't worried about driving back to town at night. Evidently, his horse was quite familiar with that road.

They headed upstairs to see him, easing the door open in case he were asleep.

Johnny watched with amusement at their attempt. "Come on in."

"How are you feeling, brother?"

"Better, thanks."

"Murdoch filled me in on Rex," Scott told him.

"Mick Clark," Johnny corrected. "So, how did you know I was in trouble?" he directed to Murdoch.

Murdoch actually blushed a little as he sat down. He explained the encounter with the bruja. Johnny wasn't amused. He wasn't angry, either.

"Well, I guess she was right, afterall," was his only comment.

"Get some sleep, son," Murdoch said, unwilling to get into this conversation.

"Think I will and thanks again for saving my life."

"It was my pleasure," Murdoch smiled.

******

After checking on Johnny the next morning and finding him still asleep, Scott walked out on the veranda for some air.

"He will be alright."

He whirled around, drawing his gun. Seeing her standing there, he dropped the Colt to his side. "Not smart to sneak up on a man like that."

"Your father is a wise man," she said.

"He's from Scotland. He's used to all those fairy tales," Scott deadpanned.

She laughed softly. "You still refuse to believe. No matter. It is done and I will be leaving."

"Wait," he said without wanting to. Looking a bit embarrassed, he knew he had to ask. "What you told Johnny about .... dying before he was thirty...."

She smiled sympathetically. "What your father did last night changed the directon of your brother's life. As I told him, all things can be changed. Sometimes, it takes the smallest adjustment. Sometimes, a larger one. Johnny will live long and well."

"Will he be happy?"

"Si, he will be happy. As will you, Scott Lancer. I see a long life for you as well. But you did not ask for yourself. You thought only of your brother. He is the same with you. This is why you will both enjoy your lives - together."

He smiled a little. "I don't suppose you see marriage in that crystal ball of yours?"

"Si, I do. But, that is not for me to tell you," she warned a bit whimsically.

"I don't think I'd want you to. I think I'd like to experience that on my own."

"You are a wise young man. You will prosper and grow," she smiled.

Scott watched her climb into her wagon and drive away. Part of him wished he'd never met that old woman. But part of him was very glad he had. He still wasn't sure he believed but there had to be something to it.   Sighing, he decided not to dwell on the subject. All it managed to do was give him a headache.

Instead, he looked out over the land and breathed in the clean air. Smiling appreciatively, Scott Lancer walked into the house to prepare for a brand new day.

 

 

~end~
2004

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