The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

The Return of Harlan Garrett

 

 

 

Johnny Lancer strolled into the white hacienda, whistling. He called out his brother's name and walked into the living room.

"Johnny, must you yell?" Murdoch Lancer scolded.

"Sorry, where's Scott?" he grinned.

"Right here, little brother. I could hear you bellowing in the south pasture," Scott admonished.

"Keep it up and I won't give you your letter," Johnny teased as he waved the envelope in the air.

Scott grabbed it from him and looked at the return address. He wasn't sure if he was happy or not. He had not heard from his grandfather in several months. Not since the debacle of his visit to Lancer. He glanced over at his father, then walked out to the kitchen. Murdoch raised a questioning eyebrow at his youngest.

"It's from the old man," Johnny explained.

Murdoch looked like a mother bear about to pounce to protect her cubs and Johnny had to laugh at the look on his face. Before Murdoch could ask him what was so funny, Scott reappeared looking a bit flush.

"Something wrong, son?" Murdoch asked.

"No Sir, nothing's wrong. Grandfather is coming for another visit," he said a bit sheepishly.

Murdoch groaned at the news and Johnny made an unpleasant face behind his brother's back. He quickly replaced it with a smile as Scott turned toward him.

"I'm sorry, there isn't time to respond. He'll be here tomorrow," Scott explained.

"Tomorrow?" Murdoch said, stunned.

"Why would you need time to respond?" Johnny asked.

"Well, to tell him not to come," Scott said.

"Don't you want to see him?"

"I suppose so, Johnny. It's just that the last visit wasn't very pleasant," Scott flushed.

"So? Maybe he's realized you not goin back to Boston and he just wants to see you. Isn't that possible?" Johnny asked.

"When pigs fly," Murdoch mumbled.

"Yes, well. I guess I'll pick him up in town tomorrow. Excuse me," Scott said and fled the room.

"You know, Murdoch, he is Scott's grandfather. You could be a little nicer," Johnny said.

"After what he pulled the last time?" Murdoch huffed.

"Do you want to hurt Scott?" Johnny asked point blank.

Murdoch glared at him then realized Johnny was right. He shouldn't berate the man to Scott as much as he'd like to.

*****

Scott set off for town the next morning, politely turning down his brother's offer to go with him. He didn't want Johnny subjected to his grandfather until it was absolutely necessary. Besides, he planned on having a nice little talk with the man on the way back to Lancer.

The stage arrived on time for once and Scott watched his grandfather disembark looking quite rumpled.

"Scotty! So good to see you, my boy," he exclaimed as he spied his grandson.

"Grandfather. I'll get your bags," Scott said rather shortly.

He was quick to retrieve the luggage and load it in the buckboard. He didn't want to waste any time making his point. They traveled in silence for a while then he decided it was time.

"Grandfather, I want to talk to you before we get to the ranch," he started.

"Scotty, I think I know what you are going to say and I promise you, I have no tricks up my sleeve, my boy. I am only here to visit you," the older man interjected.

"I hope that's true because if it isn't, it will be the last time you see me, Sir," Scott said poignantly.

They arrived in the yard and a hand took the luggage. Harlan stepped down from the buckboard and his attention was drawn to the corral.

"What's happening over there, Scotty?" he asked.

"Johnny's breaking in a new string of ponies. Would you like to watch for a minute?" he asked.

"Yes, I believe I would," Garrett said as he walked to the corral.

Scott was stunned, his grandfather had no use for western life and had never voiced any interest in it at all.

They stood at the fence and watched. Scott was mesmerized, as always, at his brother's ability with horses. Garrett kept asking him questions about what Johnny was doing and why. He seemed thoroughly interested in the proceedings. Scott was pleased his grandfather was taking an interest in his life on the ranch and answered his questions enthusiastically, making sure to point out Johnny's incredible sense with animals. Just then a very unhappy dark haired man went flying through the air and landed on his back.

"Oh my, is he alright?" Garrett asked.

"I'm not sure, wait," Scott said.

Johnny laid there for a minute, then he sat up, said something in Spanish which brought grins from the vaqueros, and stood up. He spied his brother smiling and walked over.

"That is one spirited animal," he said, a bit breathlessly.

"Are you alright, son?" Murdoch asked as he walked up.

"Sure, I'm fine. Hello, Mr. Garrett," Johnny said.

"Johnny, Scotty tells me you have a way with horses," Garrett replied.

Johnny laughed at this. "Well, not judging by what just happened," he grinned.  

"Well, it's not the first time and it won't be the last. Scott's right, though, Harlan. Johnny has a sense for good horseflesh," Murdoch intervened.

Johnny could never take a compliment, he blushed a little at his father's endorsement.

"Will you be working them tomorrow? I would love to watch some more but I'm afraid I'm quite tired now," Garrett asked.

"Sure, I'll be at it the rest of the week off and on. Stop by anytime," Johnny said amicably, though inwardly he was amazed at the man's interest.

*****

Harlan kept it up through dinner, asking Johnny a hundred questions about horses and related topics. Scott was stunned but pleased that his grandfather was even speaking to his brother. He was also learning a lot himself. Listening to Johnny explain horses from his perspective made Scott realize how much his brother really knew about them and he wondered where the wealth of information came from. He had never heard his brother talk like this before and he felt a bit ashamed he had never asked himself. It seemed all you had to do was find the right subject and Johnny would open up easily.

As they retired to the living room for brandy, Harlan continued his conversation. "Do you know anything about thoroughbreds, Johnny? A friend of mine is trying to convince me to invest in one in Boston but I'm afraid it is not my area."

"Well, they're fine animals but you do have to be careful about what some people consider a thoroughbred. It can be pretty easy to get taken. I couldn't tell you one way or the other without seeing the animal, though," Johnny replied.

"I see. Well, I certainly wish you could get a look at him. Perhaps, oh no that would take too long," Harlan said.

"What Grandfather?" Scott asked.

"Well, I was thinking if I could send for a photograph of the animal, would you be able to tell just from that?" he asked.

Johnny thought about this. "Well, maybe but I'd have to be able to see all of the horse. Sides, front, back, underbelly. One picture wouldn't be enough," he answered.

"I'll send a wire in the morning and ask my friend to send photographs of the horse. It can't hurt to see," Garrett said.

"Oh, be sure and tell him to get a picture of its teeth," Johnny said.

"It's teeth? Young man, are you joking with me?" Garrett asked.

"Not at all, you can tell a lot about a horse from his teeth," Johnny explained with a laugh.

*****

Jelly was roped into driving Garrett into town the next day to wire his friend. Johnny heard him before he saw him and he had to fight not to laugh.

"Oh, there you are. Is there anything else you would need to know about the horse, Johnny?" Garrett asked.

"Yeah, knowing the dam and sire's bloodline would help," he replied.

"I see. Well I'll ask for all the information he has and you can sort through it," Garrett said with a grin.

Johnny watched them drive off, still astounded by the man's friendliness. Scott was standing behind him, just as perplexed.

"I don't know, Johnny. I think that man is an imposter. That can't be my grandfather," he said.

"I know what ya mean, Boston. It is strange. But, you know what they say. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Johnny smiled and gave his brother a playful tap in the gut.

*****

Scott and Johnny returned to the hacienda from riding fence late in the afternoon.

"Good Lord, Scotty! What have you been doing?" Garrett asked, horrified at his grandson's appearance.

"I've been working, Grandfather," Scott replied bluntly.

"I have to get him dirty every so often, Mr. Garrett. Keeps him honest," Johnny said with a mischievous grin.

"Well, I am quite sure he is the most honest man in the country judging by his appearance," Garrett retorted.

"I'll get cleaned up before supper, don't worry," Scott said with humor glinting his eyes.

"Yeah, Teresa won't let us near the table dirty. She keeps a tight rein," Johnny added.

"Come on, brother. Let's get to the bath house," Scott said, grabbing his arm.

"What's your hurry, Boston?" Johnny asked, tugging playfully under his brother's grip.

"Well, if you want to smell that's your decision. I, for one, would like to be clean," Scott declared.

"I'll be right there. What's the matter, can't take a bath by yourself. Scared of the big old bath house," Johnny teased. He got a slap with Scott's hat for his trouble before Scott left for the call of hot water and soap.

"Johnny, may I ask you a question?" Garrett asked.

"Sure."

"Why do you call Scotty, 'Boston'?" he asked.

"Oh, that's just teasin. That's what I called him when we first met. Just kinda stuck," Johnny said, wondering if the old man was offended by the endearment.

Garrett smiled though. "I like it, it fits him," he replied.

He dropped another bomb at supper that night and Scott was more convinced than ever that this man was not his grandfather.

"What time do you go to work, Scotty?" he asked.

"Sun up, why?" Scott answered.

"I'd like to go with you. I want to see just what it is you do here."

Johnny nearly choked on his coffee and Scott's mouth dropped open. Murdoch stared at him as if he were just short of a madman.

"Is that a problem?" Garrett asked.

"Grandfather, it's rough land. I don't think it's very appropriate for you to ride herd with us," Scott explained.

"Well, I didn't intend to become involved in the work. I only want to watch, but if you don't want me to, then."

"I think it's a great idea. Give you a chance to see what Scott does all day. Of course, you're gonna be disappointed. See, right before we come in every day, he gets down and rolls around in the dirt so Murdoch will think he actually did some work," Johnny said quite seriously.

"Ah, I see. So, he has you do all the work. Well, I'm glad to see that Harvard education was not wasted," Garrett said.

Slowly he began to grin and Scott realized he was actually joking. Joking with his brother! This has got to be a dream, he thought. He was the only one not laughing at the joke, however.

"Come on, Scott. That was funny," Johnny said.

"Uhm, yes it was. I just ... Grandfather, are you feeling alright?" he asked.

"I've never felt better, Scotty. Really, my boy, you need to relax," Garrett said.

That did it! He was definitely going to have a talk with his grandfather that very night. Something was amiss, he just didn't know what it was. He's up to something, that's the only explanation.

*****

Harlan Garrett was up and dressed in his riding clothes at dawn. Scott came stumbling down the stairs but woke up quickly as he saw his brother and father having a civil conversation with his grandfather. He didn't get his chance the night before to talk as Garrett had begged off early to be rested for the early morning.

"Good morning, Scotty. Johnny tells me we will be moving the herd today," he said in greeting.

"We?"

"Well, of course I'll only observe," he corrected himself.

"Oh, I don't know, Mr. Garrett. You stick with me and I'll make a cowboy out of you yet," Johnny offered.

'This is too much,' Scott thought.

Off they rode, the three of them to the south pasture. They met up with the hands and Scott instructed them all to watch out for the old man. He explained why they moved the herd to Garrett and showed him how to keep the cattle in line as they drove them, but he would not allow his grandfather to get any closer than fifty feet to the back of the herd. Harlan was a bit frustrated with this and decided to find Johnny.

Before Scott knew it, his grandfather was riding with his brother. Johnny took him along as he went after a couple of strays and patiently showed him how to use the horse to move the cattle where he wanted them to go. Garrett even got a stray on his own, which brought huge praise from his instructor.

By noon, it was hot and the dust hung thick in the air. They decided to stop for lunch when they reached a stream where they could water the livestock. Scott sat his grandfather down on an old log and fetched him some lunch. Johnny joined them and sat on the ground beside the log, resting his back on it and stretching his legs out in front of him.

"Are you alright, Sir?" Scott asked.

"I'm fine, Scotty. A bit tired but did you see, my boy? Did you see me get that cow?" he asked, sounding almost giddy.

"Yes Sir, I saw," Scott said, and gave his brother an unpleasant look.

"I told ya. Stick with me. I'll have ya bustin broncs in no time," Johnny smiled.

"You will not!" Scott said indignantly.

"Oh, Scotty, he's only teasing you," Garrett admonished.

"Johnny, would you excuse us? I'd like to talk to my grandfather in private," Scott said.

Johnny shrugged and got up to check on Barranca.

"Alright, out with it," Scott said.

"Out with what, Scotty?" Garrett asked, a confused look on his face.

"Come on, Grandfather. You did not come here to learn to be a cowboy or get all friendly with Johnny. What are you up to?"

"Scotty, I don't know what you're talking about. I know my last visit was unpleasant, son, but I have learned my lesson. Now I want to see what it is that has captured your heart in this wilderness. I promise you, Scotty, I have no ulterior motives," he said sincerely.

"I would like to believe that, Sir. But, if you do anything to hurt my brother or anyone here..."

"Scotty, please have some faith in me."

"Alright, I will accept you at your word. Just do me one favor. No bronco busting," Scott said and allowed a smile to spread across his face.

Johnny heard them laughing and sighed with relief. He prayed the old man wasn't up to something that would hurt Scott again. Because this time, Johnny would not stand by and do nothing. As amazed as he was at the apparent change in the man, he wasn't easily taken in and he certainly did not trust Harlan Garrett.

*****

Two weeks went by and Garrett continued to be pleasant and friendly with them all, even Murdoch who was the least trusting of this man. He had his doubts and he kept a close watch over Scott, making an extra effort to spend time with his eldest so Garrett would not have the opportunity to sway him with more lies.

"Johnny, the photographs are here!" Garrett exclaimed with excitement.

"Well, let's take a look at this thoroughbred," Johnny grinned.

He examined the photographs carefully, taking his time even though he knew immediately what kind of animal it was. He wanted Garrett to have an honest opinion, not made in haste.

"It's not a thoroughbred, Mr. Garrett. Oh, it's a fine looking animal but not a purebred. I wouldn't buy him for racing," he gave the man his conclusion.

"That is disappointing. Show me," he said.

Johnny pointed out the inconsistencies that told him the horse had been crossbred with something short of a thoroughbred. He looked at the horse's papers but knew it was malarkey. He explained in detail what he saw and even though the horse was probably fast, if he intended to race in any real competition, he would not advise this animal.

"If you're really interested in buying a thoroughbred, you should go straight to the source," Johnny said.

"What would that be?" Garrett asked.

"Kentucky breeds pure thoroughbreds, some of the finest in the world. Plus, they're pretty serious about it so there's less chance of somebody robbin you. They have the best trainers, too," he explained.

"Why are you so interested in this? I've never known you to care about horses or racing," Scott asked.

"Oh, I thought it might be something to occupy me in my retirement. Not that I'm planning that too soon, still time does sneak up on you, Scotty," he answered.

"It certainly does," Murdoch chimed in.

************

Johnny saw the figure riding toward him in the late morning sun and shaded his eyes to see who it was. It took him a minute to recognize the rider, but he had to smile at the man's persistence.

"Scott's not with me today, Mr. Garrett," he said as the man dismounted.

"Yes, I know. I wanted to talk to you some more if you have a minute."

"Sure, have a seat," Johnny motioned to the back of the buckboard as he cleared a spot.

"No, thank you. I'd rather stand for a minute."

Johnny shrugged and jumped on the back of the wagon. "What can I do for you?"

"I've been thinking about that horse business. I'm afraid I'm not well educated in the matter. I wanted to be clear about what you were telling me last evening. Now, correct me if I'm wrong. The purer the breed the better. I mean, the bloodline should be one hundred percent."

"That's right. Mixing breeds brings down the value of the horse plus it changes their abilities. There are three studs that all thoroughbreds can be traced back to, their pedigree, that tells you if they're worth the effort. A thoroughbred is meant for runnin but if you mix it with some nag, you're not likely to get a good runner. Of course, some mixed breeds still run really fast but it's a crap shoot," Johnny explained.

"I see. I was wondering if I could ask a favor. I realize it would be something of a hardship. No.. I couldn't. I'm sorry, I should be heading back," Garrett stammered.

"Now, wait a minute. Ask your favor," Johnny said, jumping down from the wagon.

"Well, I have become quite interested in this thoroughbred business and I would like to purchase one but I'm afraid I haven't the expertise. Naturally, I couldn't ask you to travel to Kentucky, but I thought if there were someplace closer..." he stopped here, knowing Johnny understood.

"Let me check into a few things. I know they breed in Montana, but I haven't heard of any breeding of thoroughbreds here," Johnny smiled.

"Thank you, Johnny. You have been very pleasant considering my last visit," Garrett said a bit embarrassed.

"Well, I gotta tell you I am surprised. You seem to have had a pretty big change of heart. But, I'm the last one to question a man changing," he said.

*****

Garrett couldn't stop talking about the horse racing industry. He was so excited about the prospect of owning a racing horse that Scott was quite amused. He couldn't remember his grandfather ever being so excited about anything. Garrett was relaying his earlier conversation with Johnny to all of them at supper when Murdoch interrupted.

"Johnny, where did you learn so much about thoroughbreds? There aren't any around here and I know they don't breed them in Mexico," he asked.

"I met this man once who knew more about horses than anyone. He told me all about the history of the thoroughbred. At first I thought he was just loco, but he showed me this book he had. It was English, somethin written by some jockeys. It was like a history of the breed. It was really somethin to find out about 'em. I've never seen one closeup but I've seen pictures and he described them to me. They have pretty distinctive builds. It's hard to miss one, if you know what to look for," he explained.

"Who was this man?" Scott asked.

"Some Englishman. He said thoroughbreds originated in England when they started breeding their stock with Arabians and Scottish horses. Made 'em faster and stronger til they got the pure breed. He told me, and it was in the book, that all thoroughbreds can be traced back to three stallions. Can you imagine?" Johnny said, fascinated by the subject.

"Yes, I think I can imagine that, Johnny. It's a little like Adam and Eve," Scott said with a wry grin.

"Well, I consider myself most fortunate to have an expert to advise me," Garrett said.

"I'm no expert, Mr. Garrett. I know a good horse when I see it," Johnny said a bit flustered at the compliment.

"Grandfather, Murdoch and I were talking earlier. How would you like to go fishing tomorrow?" Scott asked. He saw his brother's discomfort and was trying to cover for him.

"Fishing? My goodness, I haven't been fishing since I was a lad. I think that is a wonderful idea," he replied.

"Good! Johnny?" Scott asked.

"Huh, oh sure Boston. I got plenty of ammo," Johnny said with a grin.

*****

The five of them headed for the lake the next morning. Scott, Johnny, Murdoch, Jelly and Garrett. Murdoch seemed to have the gift that day as he caught the majority of the fish. They decided they had enough and set about cleaning their catch for lunch. Well, after an interminably long discussion about who got to clean the fish.

As Jelly was cleaning and grumbling and grumbling some more, Johnny fetched the firewood and Murdoch built up the flame, while Scott gathered their poles and tackle.

"I hope you don't expect me to cook this, too!" Jelly groused.  

"Ah, come on, Jelly. You said you were the expert. How could you let us ruin a fine meal like this," Johnny teased.

"After all, we don't know a thing about fishing," Scott joined in.

"Well, I don't reckon you do but Murdoch here's the seaman, he kin cook!"

"I'd be happy to do the cooking, Jelly. You did a fine job cleaning those fish," Murdoch placated the grump.

Scott sat down next to his grandfather who was continuing to be quiet during all of this banter. "Are you sure you're alright, Sir?" he asked.

"Oh, I'm fine, Scotty. I am just enjoying the revelry. I might be a little tired," he confessed.

"And saddle sore," Johnny contributed.

"Yes, I suppose that as well," Garrett admitted. "I don't suppose you remember the name of that book you were talking about last evening?" he asked Johnny.

"Oh, somethin about studs. General Stud somethin. Sorry, it's been a while," Johnny replied.

"Well, I'm sure I can find it at the Boston library," he smiled.

"You sure got an itch for this," Johnny grinned.

"Yes, the more I hear, the more fascinated I become," he admitted.

Scott just shook his head, happy that his brother and grandfather shared an interest in anything. They sat in quiet camaraderie while Murdoch started frying the fish and they all started to anticipate the feast.

Garrett spoke up as if he had suddenly realized something. "What was that about having plenty of 'ammo' to go fishing?"

They all started laughing at the memory of Johnny's particular brand of fishing technique. Scott explained what had happened the last time they had gone fishing and Garrett laughed aloud.

"My boy, you are a paradox."

"A what?" Johnny asked.

"It means a puzzle, hard to figure out," Scott explained.

"Oh, if you say so," Johnny smiled at the man, a bit stunned at being referred to by the endearment he used so frequently with Scott. Murdoch didn't miss it either and he raised an unnoticed eyebrow.

Once they had eaten and all had given the much deserved compliments to the chef, they packed up their gear and headed home.

*****

As they walked into the living room after supper that evening, Garrett offered to pour the brandy. He noticed a look of displeasure cross Johnny's face.

"You don't like brandy?" he asked.

"It's alright, just not what I usually drink," Johnny shrugged.

"Well, what can I get for you then?" Garrett asked.

"Tequila's fine," Johnny said, stunned at being served by this man.

Garrett delivered the drinks all around and sat down next to Scott. "I thoroughly enjoyed this afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you," he smiled.

"You're welcome, Grandfather," Scott said. He was flustered by this man, the happier his grandfather was, the more fascinated he became.

"Are you on an extended vacation, Harlan?" Murdoch asked politely.

"Yes, Murdoch. I didn't intend it to be this long but I must admit, I am enjoying my stay here. Ready to get rid of me?" he grinned.

"Not at all, I was just wondering about your business," Murdoch said a bit too quickly.

"Ah yes, well I have a very good vice president. He is quite capable. Which reminds me, I need to send him a telegram tomorrow," Garrett replied.

"I'll take you to town, Sir," Scott offered.

"Scotty, I am perfectly capable of driving to town on my own. Besides, I'm sure Murdoch needs you more here."

Eyebrows went up all around the room, but no one commented.

*****

Harlan Garrett set off for town alone the next morning. He was beginning to think he would never get away from his grandson's watchful eyes. He smiled to himself, feeling Scott's appreciation for his efforts to become friendlier with the Lancers.

He walked up to the telegraph office and inquired if his package had arrived. Smiling as the man handed it over, he gave him a generous tip. 'Now it begins,' he thought. He then sent the telegram to Boston saying he would be further delayed and his return date was yet unknown.

As he was returning to the surrey, he noticed the storefront display window and smiled. He entered and came back out a few minutes later with his new parcel. Smiling to himself, he headed back to Lancer feeling quite pleased.

***

Scott and Johnny were struggling with the underbrush they were trying to clear. Scott was glad he wasn't too familiar with Spanish just then, he was sure even he would be embarrassed at what Johnny was saying.

"Let's take a break, brother," he grunted.

"Yeah, I'm gonna take a break, then I'm going to get some dynamite!" Johnny said, frustrated with the entire situation.

They sat quietly together for a while until Scott thought it was a good time to bring up what was on his mind. "Johnny, what do you think of my grandfather's attitude since he's been here?"

Johnny sighed and shook his head, but he was grinning. " I don't know what to make of it, Boston. It sure is a switch."

"I thought at first ... well, he seems sincere," Scott said. The pain was obvious.

"Listen, brother, maybe the old man has just accepted it. Maybe he just wants to make things right with you now," Johnny said softly.

Scott smiled, "Has he said anything to you?"

"Me? Why would he tell me anything?" Johnny asked.

"Well, I'm not sure, but the way he's acting, he might want to adopt you soon," Scott laughed.

"That'll be the day, Boston," Johnny laughed as well.

***

Garrett pulled to a stop five miles outside town and opened his first package. Smiling, he carefully rewrapped the contents, then stuffed it inside his coat pocket, patting it down so it wouldn't bulge conspicuously. He then proceeded to the ranch.

"Well, did you get your telegram off?" Murdoch asked as he drove into the yard.

"Yes, all went well. I'm sure Scotty will be surprised I made it back in one piece," Garrett smiled. "I am a bit dusty however. I think I'll just go get cleaned up," he added and headed upstairs.

Murdoch noticed the parcel he was carrying but thought nothing of it. He scanned over the surrey, still untrusting of his nemesis. He saw nothing out of the ordinary and went about his business.

***

That evening after supper, he asked Johnny to join him in a game of chess. Surprised at the acceptance, he smiled inwardly. Once more he offered to pour drinks for everyone. An hour later, Johnny had him in checkmate.

"Where did you learn to play so well?" Garrett asked.

"I picked it up," Johnny shrugged.

"Well, you are an excellent strategist. I concede," he announced as he laid down his king. "You are a paradox, Johnny. I cannot believe I didn't see it before," he continued.

"I don't know why you think that," Johnny said.

"I don't want to sound insensitive, but you did grow up ... well without many advantages. It is amazing that you have managed to become so ... self-reliant and knowledgeable in so many areas," Garrett commented with humility.

Murdoch thought he was laying it on pretty thick tonight and he couldn't stop that nagging feeling that something was very wrong with this new and improved Harlan Garrett. He decided to speak with Johnny about it privately.

"Johnny, could you come outside with me? I need to talk to you about those ponies," he said, breaking the uncomfortable silence created by Johnny's inevitable inability to take a compliment.

"Son, I'm concerned," Murdoch started.

"Why? Those ponies are doing real well," Johnny asked.

"It's not the ponies, it's Harlan. I'd like to think he's changed for Scott's sake but..."

"But, you think he's full of it. I know, I'm havin a hard time with it too. Listen, don't think I'm buyin into this sweet act for a minute. I'm just bein polite for Scott. If the old man wants to make nice, I'll bite but I ain't gonna get bit back," Johnny said with a grin.

Murdoch smiled with relief. "I'm glad to hear it, son. I was beginning to think I was the only one who doubted his intentions. But I am worried, Johnny. He's focusing all his attention on you and I get a bad feeling from that."

"Don't worry, I can take care of myself," Johnny reassured.

Garrett popped out the French doors just then. "Am I interrupting?" he asked.

"No, Harlan. We're all done here," Murdoch said.

"Ah, Johnny, would you come back in for a minute. I have something for you," Garrett smiled. "I asked Scotty and he thought it would be alright," he added as they walked back into the living room.

"What would be alright?" Johnny asked, a little apprehensive.

"I saw this in the window of that quaint little store in town and I thought of you. You've been so kind helping me and giving me such good advice that I wanted to show my appreciation," he said as he handed Johnny the parcel.

"Mr. Garrett, you didn't have to do that," Johnny said, stunned by the generosity. It only heightened his suspicions.

"I know, but I wanted to. I hope you like it," he said.

Johnny opened the parcel and pulled out the pistol. He stared at it in awe. It was a beauty. "I don't know what to say. You really shouldn't have done this," he said softly.

"Do you like it? I can exchange it," Garrett offered.

"No, I like it very much. It's a real nice piece. Thank you, Sir," he said.

Scott was in heaven, his grandfather showing affection for his brother. He had always known if the old man would give Johnny half a chance, his brother could win him over like he did with most everyone else he met. He was smiling ear to ear as he put his arm around Johnny.

"It's very nice," he said.

"Yeah, it is. I don't know what to say," Johnny said, still in shock at the gesture.

"There's nothing to say. It's only a token of my gratitude," Garrett said. "Now, if you will all excuse me, I will retire. Goodnight," he added.

"Goodnight, Sir," Scott said.

"Goodnight," Johnny said, then lowered his voice, "A token? This is a lot more than a token. This is an expensive gun."

"It's a token to him, believe me. Don't look so stunned, brother. He likes you," Scott said, still smiling. He said his goodnights as well and left Johnny and Murdoch alone.

"Oh God, Murdoch. What's this gonna do to Scott if the old man really is up to something?" Johnny said miserably.

"It will kill him, Johnny. I can't believe Harlan is going to these lengths," Murdoch answered.

"Do you know how much this gun cost? How could he know I had my eye on it for weeks?" Johnny asked. "What are we gonna do?" he added the ultimate question.

"There really isn't anything we can do, son. Harlan hasn't done anything wrong....yet," Murdoch said.

****

Harlan Garrett sat in his room staring out the window. He was quite pleased with himself. Not only had he managed to befriend Johnny, but even Murdoch seemed to be relaxing around him. He smiled as he thought of putting his plan into action. The first phase, though exhausting, had been a complete success. Now, on to stage two.

***

Johnny woke up the next morning feeling sick to his stomach. He pulled himself out of bed and started getting ready for the day. Before he could finish washing his face, he made a beeline for the waste can and vomited. His stomach felt like a huge knot and he waited for the nausea to subside. Finally he felt a little better but he was sure he was coming down with something. He went downstairs and quickly made for the front door as he smelled the eggs and bacon cooking and his stomach rolled once more.

"Are you alright?"

He jumped a foot and spun around to meet his father's gaze. "Stomach's upset," he clipped.

Murdoch walked over and did the first thing all parents do, he felt Johnny's forehead. "No fever," he reported.

"I'll be alright. Think I'll skip breakfast though," he smiled weakly.

His stomach calmed down after an hour or so and he was feeling much better. He went about his work, figuring maybe something he ate hadn't agreed with him.

He was finishing clearing the creek bed, not much was left so he didn't need Scott. As he worked alone, his mind kept going over Garrett's visit. It seemed to him the old man was trying way too hard. He'd gotten a keen sense of Harlan Garrett on his last visit and, even though he'd never mentioned it to Murdoch, he had heard the old man call him a half-breed.

He was sweating much more than usual and he stopped to rest under a tree after an hour or so. It was hot and he couldn't seem to quench his thirst. 'What's the matter with me?' he wondered. He felt better after a few minutes and went back to work.

At noon, he returned to the hacienda, grateful his stomach was growling with hunger.

Murdoch was waiting for him when he walked in. "Feeling better?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Must have been something I ate," Johnny shrugged.

"Well, you should eat now, you must be hungry," Murdoch suggested.

"I am, think I'll just get a sandwich," he said and headed toward the kitchen.

"I heard you ride in, Johnny. Murdoch said you were feeling under the weather this morning," Harlan Garrett remarked as he met Johnny in the kitchen doorway. His face was a mask of concern.

"I'm better now. I was just going to get a sandwich," Johnny smiled.

"Good! Come along, Teresa and Maria are outside, but I'd be glad to get you a bite," he said.

"You don't have to do that, Mr. Garrett. I can fix my own sandwich," Johnny said. He was getting tired of all this friendliness.

"Nonsense, you were ill, you may still be. You shouldn't overdo. In fact, you just go right back in and sit down and I'll bring you a nice sandwich. Go on, don't argue with an old man," he said cheerfully.

Johnny dropped his shoulders in defeat and went back to the living room. "Mr. Garrett offered to fix me a sandwich," he said to his father's questioning look.

"This is getting a little ridiculous," Murdoch said gruffly.

"No kidding! I have to tell you, he's getting on my nerves. I wish he would yell at me or somethin!" Johnny said.

****

Scott rode toward home feeling as if he were floating on air. His grandfather was finally coming to realize he would not return to Boston. He was even making an effort with Johnny. Though it had completely thrown him at first, the man certainly was giving it his all. To buy Johnny that gun was the ultimate surprise. He couldn't be more pleased. Finally, I can relax and enjoy my home, he thought.

*****

'So much for feeling better,' Johnny thought as he sat in the great room with his family. His stomach was beginning to cramp again and he was getting that familiar feeling as it rolled and tossed. He got up and walked quickly out of the room without a word. Heading out the front door, he almost didn't make it as his supper made a return appearance.

"I'm taking you to see Doc in the morning," Murdoch said after giving Johnny time to recover.

"It's nothing," Johnny said breathlessly.

"Nothing, huh? Johnny, you're pale. I don't like this. You are going to see Doc, no arguments," Murdoch said sternly.

Johnny placed his hands on the column and leaned against it, laying his face on the cool stone. "Just comin down with somethin, I guess," he whispered, but he wasn't feeling any better. In fact, he was very dizzy at the moment.

"I think I'd better get you to bed," Murdoch said, brows furrowed with worry.

"I can make it," Johnny said stubbornly as he stood upright and swayed.

Murdoch grabbed hold of him before he hit the dirt. "Sure you can."

"What's going on?" Scott asked as Murdoch brought Johnny back inside.

"He's sick again," Murdoch said.

Scott immediately took hold of Johnny's other side and together they got him upstairs. Garrett jumped up and followed.

"Is there anything I can do to help, Scotty?" he asked as they laid Johnny on the bed.

"Maybe you could ask Teresa to make some mint tea? It might help settle his stomach," Scott replied.

"Yes, I'll be right back," he said and scuttled off.

Murdoch and Scott got Johnny undressed. No simple task when the patient is uncooperative and insistent on doing for himself, even when he can't.

Garrett returned with the tea and handed it to Scott who had to practically pour it down Johnny's throat.

"Yuk!"

"It's good for you," Scott said.

"Why is it everything that's good for you taste so bad?" Johnny asked tiredly.

"Go to sleep, brother. You'll feel better in the morning," Scott said softly.

****

He spent a horrible night retching every few minutes until he was sure his whole stomach was gone. His hands and feet were tingling as if they were asleep, but he knew that wasn't the case. Johnny was beginning to think he might die soon and he almost wished it would hurry up. His heart was jumping in his chest and it felt strange, as if something were wrong with it.

He thought more than once about calling for his father but chastised himself for being a baby. He tried to take sips of water but that wouldn't stay down either. Dawn finally broke and he was drenched in sweat by then. His breathing was harsh and labored.

Murdoch peeked in on him and saw the bed covers strewn about in disarray. He walked into the room and gasped aloud at the sight of his son. Johnny was pale, almost gray. He yelled for Scott and went to the bedside. He felt the cold, clammy skin and saw the dark circles under his son's eyes.

"Johnny?"

"What!"

"My God, son, what happened?"

"Murdoch, what's wrong?" Scott asked as he ran into the room. He stopped cold when he saw Johnny. "What happened to you?"

"I'm sick! Please kill me," Johnny pleaded. He was dead serious.

"Have you been up all night?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny simply nodded.

"Iâ€ôll send for Doc," Scott said and rushed out of the room.

"Good Lord! What's the matter with him?" Garrett exclaimed as he walked in.

"I don't know," Murdoch said.

"Murdoch, please do something. I can't take anymore of this," Johnny moaned. He had never felt this bad in his life. His worst bullet wound had never been this bad.

"Easy, son. Sam will be here soon. Do you think you could take some water?"

"No! I can't, I tried," Johnny groaned miserably.

Murdoch was at a loss. He stroked Johnny's forehead, trying to give some kind of comfort to his son. "Try to sleep a little," he whispered.

"I want Scott," Johnny said.

"I'm here, brother," Scott said as he returned. "I sent for Doc."

"Don't bother, just get the undertaker," Johnny retorted weakly.

****

An hour later, Sam walked in the room. "Good grief! What happened?" he exclaimed at the sight of his patient.

Murdoch explained the events of the past twenty-four hours then Sam shooed them all out. He examined Johnny thoroughly.

"Tell me what you've been feeling."

"Been pukin my guts out all night, Doc. My stomach's cramping and my hands and feet feel funny, like their asleep, all pins and needles, ya know? My heart feels like it's jumpin through hoops."

Sam listened to his chest and noted the irregular heart beat even now that Johnny was still and quiet. "Let me see your hands," he said and studied them closely, especially the nail beds. "Is your stomach still cramping?"

"Yeah, but I don't think I have anything left in there," Johnny smiled grimly.

"I'm going to give you some medicine to calm your stomach. Try as hard as you can to keep it down," Sam instructed and heaped a spoonful of liquid into Johnny's mouth.

He struggled against the rolling as the liquid hit his empty stomach. It took several minutes but he was finally convinced it was going to stay put.

"Yuk," he whispered.

"I know. Now, try and get some sleep. I'll be back in a little while," Sam said and left the room.

****

Murdoch and Scott paced the living room floor for what seemed like forever. Every so often one or both of them would stop and glance up the stairs, then resume their march. Garrett watched with some interest for a while, then got bored, then got frustrated.

"Scotty, you are going to wear a path in the floor, sit down," he snapped.

"I can't! I'm too worried," Scott retorted.

Garrett was surprised by the forcefulness of Scott's tone. He had never spoken to him that way before.

Sam came down the stairs then and they all three met him at the landing. "Well?" Murdoch asked.

"Murdoch, could I speak to you in private?" Sam asked.

"Wait a minute! I want to know what's wrong with my brother!" Scott huffed.

"And you will, but first I want to talk to Murdoch," the doctor said firmly.

Scott stared after them, stunned at Sam's behavior.

"Scotty, this doesn't bode well. You may want to prepare yourself for the worst," Garrett said as he put a hand on the young man's shoulder.

Scott turned and stared disgustedly at him. "Johnny will be fine. He's a fighter, he won't give up!"

Murdoch took Doc into the kitchen and closed the door. "What's wrong with him?"

"Murdoch, Johnny has been poisoned," Sam said simply.

"What?"

"Arsenic poisoning. He's had to have received two maybe three small doses as sick as he is. Anymore and he won't survive."

"How did he get arsenic?"

"Well, it's all around us but it's usually in such minute quantities, it doesn't affect us. The only thing I can think is either it got into a water supply, in which case you should all be sick, or..." Sam trailed off, not wanting to voice his suspicions.

"Or what?" Murdoch demanded.

"Or someone has been giving it to him purposely," Sam said in a hushed tone.

Murdoch's face turned beet red and the veins in his neck jutted out. He clenched his fists and stared toward the living room. "I think I know who that someone is," he hissed.

"Take it easy, you can't go around accusing people without any proof. Get control of yourself, man," Doc reasoned.

"How could he not know he was being poisoned?" Murdoch asked.

"Arsenic is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It could have been put in anything, even water and he couldn't tell," Sam explained.

"Or tequila." Murdoch paced the kitchen floor, trying with everything in him to calm down. His first and only instinct was to throttle Harlan Garrett, but he knew Doc was right. He had no proof, not yet anyway.

"Sam, I don't want you to breathe a word of this to anyone else, not even Scott. Come up with some other reason for Johnny being sick. I want no one to know until I can find out what's going on here."

"What about Johnny? Aren't you going to tell him?" Doc asked.

"I'll talk to Johnny. He needs to know what he might be up against. I certainly don't want him taking anything Garrett offers him! Tell Scott something, I'm going upstairs."

*****

Murdoch slipped quietly into the room and sat next to his son's bed. He knew in his heart what had happened to his boy and the anger rose once more.

"You look mad enough to spit," Johnny said sleepily.

"I thought you were asleep," Murdoch said.

"Tried, couldn't."

"Johnny, I have to tell you something and I want you to try to stay calm," Murdoch started.

The tone of Murdoch's voice brought Johnny wide awake. He raised up on his elbow and locked eyes with his father.

"Doc says you've been poisoned with arsenic," Murdoch said quietly.

He certainly wasn't expecting to hear this and his mouth dropped open but nothing would come out. He closed his eyes and made himself concentrate.

"Am I going to die?"

"No, as long as you don't get anymore, he said you would be alright. I don't want you to take anything from anyone, no water, no broth, nothing from anyone except me until I can find out what's going on here," Murdoch instructed.

"It must be Garrett. Wait a minute, what about Scott?" Johnny asked.

"Not even Scott. I'm not going to tell him until I have proof. We can't accuse Harlan without evidence, son. This is going to be hard enough on your brother."

"Youâ€ôre right. Okay, but how are you going to prove it?" Johnny asked.

"I need to search his room. I have to find some way to get him away from the ranch for a little while," Murdoch said and creased his brows in thought.

"Do you think he suspects anything?" Johnny asked, trying to think of a way to get the old man away from the house as well.

"No, but your brother isn't too happy. Doc wanted to see me alone to tell me. I told him to make up something to tell Scott about why you're sick."

Johnny heard the footsteps outside his door and laid back down on the bed. Murdoch took the hint and leaned back in the chair nonchalantly.

Scott opened the door and walked in smiling with Sam right behind him. He plunked down on the foot of the bed, causing Johnny to open his eyes.

"Well, I suppose I understand what the big mystery was now. Really, Johnny, you don't have to be embarrassed," Scott grinned.

Johnny's mind was whirling with what Sam might have told Scott about his illness until he was saved.

"I told Scott about the bad tequila you got hold of, Johnny. I hope I wasn't out of line," Doc covered.

Johnny breathed a silent sigh of relief and smiled. "Nah, guess it happens to even the best of us tequila drinkers," he said.

"Well, since youâ€ôre not dying, I think I'll get some work done, unless you need me," Scott said.

"I'm okay, Boston. I feel better already," Johnny smiled.

"Alright. Murdoch, don't be too hard on him," Scott grinned and left the room.

"Thanks, Doc," Johnny said.

"Just be very careful, Johnny. Your body can't take any more poison," Sam warned.

"He won't have to," Murdoch said tersely.

*****

Johnny felt well enough to get up later that afternoon. He sat in front of his window, enjoying the view when he heard a light knock on his door. "Come in."

"Hello, Johnny. How are you feeling?" Garrett asked as he walked in.

"Better," Johnny said softly, holding his tongue.

"I'm so glad. I brought you a little broth. Teresa said to make sure you take it all," he said as he extended the bowl to Johnny.

"Thanks, maybe later. I'm not sure I'm up to it yet," he dodged.

"Oh. Well, I'm afraid I'll have to face the young lady's wrath then. I was given strict instructions," Garrett smiled innocently.

"Harlan! What are you doing?" Murdoch bellowed as he came upon the scene.

"Easy Murdoch, he was just bringing me some broth Teresa made," Johnny said, glaring at his father to stay calm.

"I..I'm sorry, I guess I'm a little tired," Murdoch tried to cover.

"It's alright, Murdoch. Don't be angry with the boy, it wasn't his fault the tequila was bad," Garrett said.

Murdoch relaxed, thankful Garrett thought he was angry at Johnny.

"Yes, well, I'll make sure he takes the broth. Scott just rode up, maybe you'd like to greet him," Murdoch said pleasantly.

"Yes, I would. Now make sure he takes all of that or Teresa will have my head," he smiled and left the room.

"That was close. Remind me to play poker with you more often," Johnny whispered sarcastically.

Murdoch chuckled a little then turned serious. "I guess I should be more careful but when I saw what he was trying to do...."

"Do you think I would have drank that stuff?"

"No, of course not," Murdoch groused.

"He was laying it on pretty thick. We have to do something and soon. I don't know how much longer I can hold my temper either. I wanted to strangle him," Johnny said morosely.

Murdoch tossed the broth onto a flower pot outside Johnny's window. "Hey! I liked that plant," Johnny grinned.

"This isn't funny, Johnny," Murdoch said sternly.

"Are you still on him? It's not like he went out and got sloppy drunk, Murdoch," Scott said as he walked in. "How are you feeling?"

"Better, Boston. Much better," Johnny smiled.

"Good, maybe you'd care to do a little work tomorrow?"

"Mmmm, no I don't think I care to," Johnny teased.

"Too bad, because Grandfather just asked me to go into town with him in the morning. Unless you need me, Murdoch?"

"No, no you go ahead," Murdoch said, relieved he'd finally have Harlan out of the house long enough to search his room.

Johnny needed to talk to his father so he feigned a slight relapse. "I think I need to lie down for a while. I'm starting to feel a little sick again," he lied.

"I'll help you, son. Scott, could you get some fresh water?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes, are you sure you're alright?" Scott asked, concerned.

"Yeah, just a little weak still I guess. I'll be fine by morning," Johnny said weakly.

Scott left to retrieve the water and Johnny jumped in the bed.

"I'll search his room as soon as they leave in the morning," Murdoch whispered.

"What about tonight? I'm supposed to have drunk that broth. He'll get suspicious if I don't get sick again," Johnny whispered back.

"Well, you'll just say you didn't feel up to drinking it until later and I got you some fresh broth," Murdoch decided.

*****

The next morning Garrett knocked once again on Johnny's door, trying to hide the anticipatory smile stretching across his face. When he opened the door, the smile immediately left. Johnny was sitting up in bed eating breakfast with Murdoch hovering protectively nearby.

"Good morning, Harlan. I thought you and Scott were going to town this morning," Murdoch smiled.

"Oh, uh, yes we are. I just wanted to see how Johnny was doing," Garrett stuttered.

"Much better, Mr. Garrett. And don't worry, I cleared everything with Teresa," Johnny smiled brightly.

"I'm sorry?"

"I told her it wasn't your fault that I didn't drink the broth you brought me yesterday. I just wasn't feeling up to it," Johnny explained.

"Oh, I see."

"Well, I managed to get some down him last night," Murdoch stated.

"I tell ya, I think I'm gonna swear off tequila for a good long time," Johnny said, making a face.

"I should say so," Scott chirped as he walked in. "You look much better, brother."

"Feel a lot better, Boston. I'll be right as rain as soon as I get a little more coffee in me."

"Grandfather, we should be going," Scott said.

"What? Oh, yes, Scotty," Garrett replied in somewhat of a stupor as he followed Scott out. 'Drat! Well, I'll get another chance soon enough,' he thought.

****

Murdoch watched from Johnny's bedroom window as Scott and Garrett drove away in the buggy, waiting until they were past the gate before making a move.

"Wait, I'm goin with you," Johnny said as he jumped up and grabbed his pants.

They walked into the old man's bedroom and scanned the interior. Murdoch went to one side and Johnny to the other as they started a methodical search.

Johnny opened the bedside drawer and found a letter addressed to Garrett. It was from Scott. He thought briefly of reading it then mentally kicked himself and put it back.

"He has more junk," Murdoch mumbled as he rummaged through the dresser drawers.

"Yeah, rich people think they have to have a lot of stuff to be important," Johnny remarked off-handedly.

Johnny opened a small decorative box he found in the bedside drawer. It was empty which he thought was odd in itself, but as he started to put it back, the weight of it shifted. He examined it more closely and found a hidden drawer in the bottom. He played with it for a few minutes and managed to get it open. It contained an envelope which he pulled out and opened, discovering a white powder inside.

"Well, either I've found the arsenic or that old man has more problems than we thought," he grinned to his father.

Murdoch walked over to have a look and smiled. "Let's take a little and put it back where you found it. I'll have Sam check to make sure it's what we think it is before we face him with it."

"Well, just have Sam hurry up. I'm not too happy waiting to be killed by an old codger," Johnny said.

Murdoch headed for Green River with their evidence and Johnny decided what he needed was some good old-fashioned hard work to get rid of all the tension and anger he was feeling. He dreaded having to tell Scott about this but he knew he couldn't keep it from his brother. It was obvious to him that Garrett would never stop as long as he thought there was the slightest chance of getting Scott back. That meant that he and Murdoch would always be targets for the old man.

Murdoch headed straight for Doc Jenkins' office, being as clandestine as possible. He didn't want to run into Scott before he was ready.

"Sam," he called.

Sam Jenkins came out of the inner office and frowned. "Is Johnny alright?"

"He's feeling much better. I brought you this. Can you tell if it's arsenic?" Murdoch asked as he handed over the envelope.

"I'll take a look. I don't even want to know where you got this," he grumbled.

Murdoch waited in the outer office as Sam tested the white powder. Part of him wanted to be dead wrong about this, but part of him, he had to confess, knew this would be Garrett's biggest mistake of all. Trying to kill Johnny would turn Scott against the man forever.

Sam came back out a while later looking quite unhappy. "It's arsenic and it's a good thing whoever was using it knew what they were doing. It's very potent, too much just one time would have killed Johnny in a matter of a few minutes."

Murdoch felt cold chills run throughout his entire body, quickly replaced by the most intense anger he had ever felt in his life. "Will you put that in writing?"

Sam nodded and wrote out his findings thoroughly for Murdoch who stormed out of the office and headed for home.

***

"I'm sorry, Scotty, I don't know where my head is sometimes. I'm afraid I'm becoming senile," Garrett said on the way home.

"Nonsense, Grandfather. Everyone has lapses of memory at times. Just ask Johnny," Scott replied cheerfully.

"Still, I can't believe I forgot I had already sent that wire. Well, it was a nice ride anyway."

A totally unnecessary trip that he couldn't find a way to get out of. He had anticipated that Johnny would be dead by morning and had wanted to get Scott away before he found the body. This morning was quite a shock but he recovered quickly. He'd had enough of this playing around. Tonight, he would make sure he gave Johnny a lethal dose!

"Yes, it was," Scott concurred. He pulled up suddenly on the reins, lurching the old man forward a bit.

"What in the world?" Garrett asked.

"I'm sorry, Grandfather. I guess Johnny is feeling better," Scott said as he pointed toward the meadow where Johnny was rounding up strays.

Garrett looked where Scott indicated and his jaw dropped as he watched Johnny galloping around, smiling and laughing with the ranch hands. 'Not for long!' he thought vehemently.

When he turned back to Scott he had a smile plastered on his face. "I'm so glad he's feeling better, but if you don't mind, I'd like to get out of this sun," he said sweetly.

Johnny saw them on the road but did not acknowledge this as he watched from his peripheral vision. He smiled to himself, knowing Garrett must feel like he just swallowed a frog.

Fifteen minutes later, Murdoch rode down the same road and saw Johnny as well. He reared over to catch his son. Johnny joined him under a tree.

"Are you up to doing that?" Murdoch asked.

"To tell ya the truth, I've had about all I can take. What did Doc say?" Johnny was perspiring more than Murdoch was comfortable with and he was a little pale.

"It's arsenic. I had him put it in writing," Murdoch answered.

Johnny dropped his head and sighed, banging his fist against the bark of the tree. "Dammit! Damn that old geezer!"

"Come on, you need to get out of this hot sun and I want to get back before they do," Murdoch said.

"You're too late, I saw them about fifteen minutes ago," Johnny said.

"Well, it doesn't matter now," Murdoch mumbled.

*****

Scott saw them riding in together and waved, then frowned when he saw his brother's color. "You don't look too good, boy. Overdo?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Johnny smiled.

"Scott, where is Harlan?" Murdoch asked.

"He's taking a nap. I think it was too hot for him today," Scott answered.

"Your brother and I need to talk to you, son," Murdoch said grimly.

"I don't think I like the sound of that," Scott said.

"You'd be right. Come on, Boston."

Once settled in the living room, Murdoch fudged. He didn't know how to tell Scott about this. Scott waited patiently for his father, glancing at Johnny a few times.

"Do you want me to do this?" Johnny asked, knowing even now Murdoch had trouble badmouthing Garrett to Scott.

He had conditioned himself so strictly not to do such, it was difficult even knowing he was in the right. Murdoch only looked at him in response. Johnny smiled at him.

"Scott, we lied to you. I wasn't sick from tequila, I was sick from arsenic," he stated quite simply.

"Arsenic! How did that happen?" Scott exclaimed.

"Well, that was my question. Look, I know this is hard for you but ... well, I ..." Johnny found it more difficult than he thought.

"We suspected that Harlan was just being too nice to Johnny. It wasn't like him and I think you know that as well. I'm sure you've questioned it yourself. When you were gone this morning we searched his room. We found an envelope containing some white powder and I took it to Sam to get it tested. It was arsenic. Not only that, but Sam said it was extremely potent. I had him write it out for you," Murdoch spilled it out and handed Scott the paper.

He stared at the paper dumbfounded. He tried to read it but it was no use, he knew his father would not lie to him anyway. He swallowed hard.

"Where did you find it?" he whispered.

"It was in a little box in the bedside table. It had a false bottom and I played with it until I got it open. That's where the envelope was," Johnny said gently.

Scott sat quietly on the sofa, staring at the report from the doctor, trying to wrap his mind around what he was being told.

"Why? What good would it do him?" he whispered.

"I think he believes if Johnny .... dies, you won't want to stay here," Murdoch fumbled.

Scott looked at his brother with such pain in his eyes, Johnny thought he might just cry. Instead, he put his arm around his brother's shoulders and held tight.

"There might be another reason, Scott, but I don't know what it is."

"Have you told Val?" Scott asked.

Murdoch took a deep breath and Johnny shook his head.

"How do you want to handle this, Scott?" he asked.

"You're the victim, Johnny. It's your decision. Do you want to put my grandfather in jail?" he asked.

Johnny couldn't read the mixture of emotions shadowing his brother's face. All he knew was he couldn't hurt Scott, he just couldn't.

"All I want is for him to leave me alone, and Murdoch, too. I can't say I wouldn't like to make him pay for this, Scott. But you shouldn't have to go through that. I won't do anything as long as he leaves .... today," he replied.

Scott nodded his head and got up, heading for the stairs.

"Wait a minute, Boston. What are you planning on doing?" Johnny asked.

"What do you think? I'm going to confront him!" Scott said harshly.

"Then I'm going with you," Johnny said firmly.

****

Scott knocked once and opened the door, walking right in.

"Scotty! I know I've taught you better manners than that!" Garrett exclaimed. He was just changing his shirt at the time.

Scott didn't answer but headed straight for the bedside table and opened it, pulling the box out. He fiddled with it until the bottom opened. He pulled the envelope out and saw the powder inside.

"What are you doing? How dare you go through my belongings like this?! What is wrong with you?" Garrett huffed.

"What is this?" Scott demanded.

"Why.. it's, uh...it's medicine. My medicine," Garrett stuttered.

"Medicine? What kind of medicine?" Scott probed, wanting to see how deep the man would bury himself.

Johnny leaned against the doorjamb and watched in silence, Murdoch right behind him.

"That is none of your business, young man!" Garrett yelled as he tried to take the envelope.

Scott moved his hand away out of Garrett's reach. "I asked you a question!"

"Scotty, what's gotten into you?"

"This is arsenic, isn't it?!" Scott fumed.

"What? Oh, that's ridiculous," Garrett denied.

"Doc Jenkins doesn't think so. He tested some powder from this envelope and it is arsenic," Scott affirmed.

"Who told you that? Him?" Garrett spat, pointing at Murdoch.

"Why, Grandfather?" Scott asked. It was almost a plea.

This got Johnny and he took a step toward Scott only to be cut off by Garrett who stepped between them.

"Scotty, I don't know what you've been told, but I've done nothing wrong, son," he cooed reassuringly.

Scott moved away from the proffered hand of his grandfather. "Tell me the truth," he whispered.

"I am telling you the truth. I swear it!"

Scott looked into his grandfather's eyes and knew he was being lied to by the man. He shook his head, his face filled with sorrow.

"I want you to leave Lancer. Don't ever come back here," he said, barely audible as he pushed past the man and out the door.

Johnny stood his ground and glared at the old man who stood with hunched shoulders, staring at the floor.

"You never will understand, will you?" Johnny asked softly.

"Understand what?" Garrett asked.

"What it means to have a brother, a father, a family. I guess it's been so long, you can't remember. Maybe you never have known what loyalty means, what real love means."

"I love Scotty!"

"You have no idea what love is, old man. You want to own Scott like one of your little baubles there. He's just a possession to you. He's more than what you would turn him into. He's strong, smart, brave, loyal when it's deserved, he has a mind of his own, he knows what he wants and he goes after it. But not like you do, not like a coward! He does it like a real man, he works for it!" Johnny looked at him in disgust and turned on his heel, starting to walk out.

"What would you know about family? How could you know what breeding is? Though, you should know. All that talk about thoroughbreds. Did it once occur to you that you are not one. Scotty is a thoroughbred, you .... you are nothing! You are the crossbreed, Johnny, the nag you spoke of!" Garrett spewed.

Johnny turned slowly to face him with a crooked grin on his face. "Don't forget what else I told you. Some mixed breeds are fine animals. What's your breeding, Harlan? Who were your parents and where did they come from? You are right about one thing, Scott is a thoroughbred and you sure don't deserve him!" Johnny walked out of the room then.

Murdoch looked after his son with pride. "Do you see that, Harlan? Do you see how much they love each other? You will never break the bond between my sons. Nothing can. You had better pack. I'll have someone ready to take you to town in fifteen minutes. Oh and by the way, if you ever talk to my son like that again, I'll punch you right in the mouth myself." Murdoch turned and walked away from him as well.

***

Johnny found Scott in the barn sitting on a bale of hay. He walked over and jumped up next to him, dangling his feet. He said nothing and put his arm around Scott's shoulder.

"You suspected him all along didn't you?' Scott asked softly.

"I thought he might be up to something, but I didn't know what," Johnny confessed.

"And Murdoch?"

"Hmmph, you know Murdoch. He's never trusted Garrett," Johnny said. "I'm really sorry, Scott. I wanted to be wrong."

"Why? Now you can stop worrying if I'll ever go back to Boston. There's nothing left for me there now," Scott said bitterly.

"It's true, I do worry about that, but I never wanted it to be for this reason. I wanted you to stay because you had the choice," Johnny replied.

Scott jumped down from the haystack. "Oh, come on, Johnny. Admit it, you want him out of my life!"

Johnny stared in disbelief at his brother. It hurt to hear Scott accuse him of such a thing, but he knew his brother wasn't really angry with him. He didn't answer, he didn't have an answer.

"Well, it's true isn't it?" Scott persisted.

Johnny sighed heavily. "Is this what you want, Scott? You want to pick a fight with me now? I don't feel like it, I have to tell you. But if you need to yell, go ahead. Just know I ain't gonna yell back," he said calmly.

Scott chewed his lower lip and saw the hurt he had caused his brother. "I don't want to fight with you. I'm sorry, Johnny."

"It's okay. I'm sorry about everything. I guess he's just a lonely, bitter old man," Johnny replied.

"Don't. Don't make excuses for him. There aren't any. He almost killed you! I will never forgive him for that."

Johnny could see the misery his brother was in and he had no idea how to make it better. He wished his father would walk in.

In answer to his wish, Murdoch walked into the barn and Johnny sighed with relief.

"Scott?"

"Yes, Sir."

"I'm sorry, son. I hate what this is doing to you," Murdoch said.

Scott stared at him. "What it's doing to me? Don't worry about me. Johnny's the one who almost died," he said in astonishment.

"I'm fine, brother," Johnny smiled.

"Johnny isn't fine, but he will be. I'm worried about both of you. I just wish I knew what to say, how to make it better for you," Murdoch said, at as much of a loss as Johnny.

"You can't, Murdoch. I know you want to and I appreciate it more than you can know, but there isn't anything you can do right now," Scott answered.

Johnny hopped down and walked to his brother's side. "We're right here, brother, anytime," he said softly, just before he hit the dirt.

"Johnny!" Murdoch yelled. He ran over and picked Johnny's head up, resting it in his lap.

"I told you he wasn't alright," Scott said.

Murdoch picked him up and took him in the house, laying him gently on the couch. Scott got a cool cloth for his forehead and took hold of his hand.

"He tried to do too much as usual," Murdoch said, shaking his head at his boy's stubbornness.

Johnny opened his eyes and found his brother's, locking them in a stare as he smiled at the man. "Whew! I'm okay now," he said, trying to get up.

"Oh, no, you don't. Just lie back down. Doc needs to look you over," Scott said firmly.

"M ok," Johnny said sleepily and closed his eyes again.

*****

"Scotty? May I speak with you?" Garrett asked as he walked into the living room.

"I'm a little busy right now!" Scott snapped.

"What happened?"

"I guess he's not quite over almost dying!"

"Scotty, please. I'm leaving, can't I have a moment?" he pleaded.

"Go on, son. I'm here. You need to settle things with your grandfather," Murdoch said.

Scott sighed and nodded his head then walked outside, Garrett following.

"Scotty, I.."

"Don't call me that! I hate that! My name is Scott not Scotty. Scott Lancer and this is my home and I want you out of here. You lied to me, you tried to kill my brother. I know you planned this entire thing to get Johnny to like you, to let his guard down. But it didn't work and he didn't die and you had better be most grateful for that. Now, you have exactly ten minutes to get out. If you don't, I'll have you thrown out! I don't want to discuss this any further. I will not listen to anymore of your lies.

"Damn you! Damn you to hell! How dare you come here and try to take him away from me?! He's my brother and you tried to kill him. How did you think that would make me feel? Did you even care? No, of course you didn't. This has nothing to do with me. This is all about you getting revenge on Murdoch, isn't it? Well, let me tell you something. If anybody deserves revenge, it's Murdoch. You kept me away from him with your threats and your lies but you can't any longer. I cannot believe I forgave you the last time! I will not forgive this grand...Harlan! Get out!"

"You won't even give me a chance to explain?" Garrett asked, still hopeful of mending the rift between them.

"What is there to explain? Are you going to continue to deny what you've done?"

"No, I won't deny it. I need you Scotty, er Scott. Murdoch has a son, he has his ranch. What do I have? You are my legacy, you were supposed to carry on when I'm gone. What is to happen to everything I've built? Built to give to you someday. While you waste yourself in this God forsaken wilderness, everything I've built is dying, dying right along with me."

"That's what you care about. Your business, your empire. It wasn't for me, it was for you. Everything you do is for YOU! Do you think for one minute that excuses attempted murder? You had better be grateful all I'm doing is sending you away. I should let Johnny take care of this, but he wouldn't do anything either. He wouldn't because he knows it would hurt me and he loves me too much to ever hurt me!"

"No, that isn't true. I love you, Scott. How can you turn your back on me? I raised you, gave you everything you could possibly want and this is how you repay me? You spit in my face by coming here to live with him! The man who killed your mother by bringing her to this ... this lawless place! And worse, calling that half-breed 'brother'. I raised you better than that!"

"I never want to hear that name come out of your mouth again! Do you hear me? I don't OWE you anything. No one asked you to raise me and you didn't, if you want to be technical about it. You had the servants raise me because you were too busy! You didn't have to do that, you chose to so you could hurt Murdoch.

"You blamed him for my mother's death so you stole me from him! I never heard the truth from you. Anytime I asked about my father, you lied to me. Do you think I don't know about the letters he wrote to me that you hid? Don't you ever soil the beauty of this ranch with your presence again. I don't want to see you, I don't want to hear from you. Leave NOW!" Scott turned and walked back inside, slamming the door in his grandfather's face.

*****

Garrett stood on the veranda, staring after his grandson. He had lost him, lost everything to that lying Scotsman. No! He will not win! He raged to himself. He opened his bag and pulled out the revolver, looking at it for a moment. Everything he had, everything he loved had been taken from him the moment Murdoch Lancer came into their lives.

He was wrong, he shouldn't have gone after Johnny. It was Murdoch who had cost him all. He walked purposefully to the French doors and peered in. Scott and Murdoch were kneeling beside the couch, all their attention focused on Johnny. He slipped in and stood by the doors, pistol raised.

Johnny saw him first and raised up, spying the gun when he did. He moved like quicksilver, plunging himself off the sofa and onto his father, hurdling Murdoch back onto the floor. Scott stood and turned to face him, anger and disbelief coloring his face.

Garrett aimed the gun at Murdoch and squeezed the trigger. The blur of motion before him confused him and he wasn't sure what was happening. Scott was looking at him, his face looked strange. Suddenly, his grandson fell to his knees.

The anger and disbelief on his face turned to physical pain as he felt the burning of the lead that entered his body. Scott dropped to his knees and looked down at the blood seeping through his shirt. He didn't understand what had happened. He felt like he was in a dream and everything seemed to move in slow motion.

Johnny jumped up and drew his gun as Scott went down. He looked at his brother then at Garrett. The desire to fire was so strong in him, stronger than it had ever been. He fought with everything he had to stay focused.

"Drop it," he whispered.

Garrett stared at Scott, watching in morbid fascination as the blood appeared on his grandson's shirt. The gun fell from his hand as he heard the first words that had been spoken.

Murdoch jumped up and went to Scott, taking hold and leaning him back against his chest. He unbuttoned the shirt quickly and examined the wound. Repositioning himself, he laid his first born son on the sofa so recently occupied by his second born.

Johnny refused to take his eyes off Garrett as he took in the activity from his peripheral vision.

"How bad?" he asked, his voice trembling.

"Not too bad, I think. It's a shoulder wound, not bleeding a whole lot but he needs a doctor," Murdoch answered quickly.

Johnny walked over and picked up the gun Garrett had dropped. He walked past the man to the French doors and was nearly toppled over by Jelly running in with a rifle. He quickly told the older man what had happened and sent him after the doctor. He walked back over and faced Harlan Garrett.

"I don't know what to do with you," he spat. "Sit down and don't move or so help me, I'll put a bullet right between your eyes!" Johnny Madrid warned.

Garrett sat down and did as he was told, his eyes never leaving his grandson.

Johnny and Murdoch tended to Scott who had passed out when he was put on the sofa. More from the shock of who shot him, Murdoch was sure. He shook his head sadly as he tended his eldest, feeling his youngest anguish as well.

Doc arrived shortly having already been on his way to check Johnny. They took Scott to his room and Sam made them leave. As always, he didn't need Lancers hovering over his shoulder while he worked.

Standing in the hall outside Scott's room, Johnny finally asked the question. "What do you want to do with him?"

Murdoch's jaw tightened substantially as he considered the question. "I know what I'd like to do. Nothing is going to stop him, Johnny. The best thing we can do is let Val take care of this," he said through gritted teeth.

"And Scott? How do you think he'll feel about that?"

"The man shot him! Nearly killed you! I cannot let this continue, Johnny. It's time I took matters into my own hands. Harlan has got to be stopped, period!"

Johnny nodded his head, knowing his father was right but also knowing Scott was devastated. He didn't know how he was going to help his brother through this but he was determined that Scott would not face it alone.

They walked downstairs to face Garrett and stopped in their tracks as they reached the living room. He was gone. Johnny ran outside and scanned the grounds, then headed to the barn. He met Murdoch halfway back.

"He took a horse. What do you want to do?"

"Johnny, ride into town and tell Val what's been going on here. Let him track Harlan down if he can. There's no telling when he left or what direction he took. I can't worry about him right now," Murdoch said.

"I'll send for Val. I'm not leaving Scott. I'll ask the hands if they saw him leave, too," Johnny replied.

*******

Johnny sat beside his brother's bed, watching him sleep. The older man moaned then sighed.

"Scott?"

Scott awoke and looked into his brother's eyes.

"Hey, how do you feel?" he asked.

"I'm ok. Are you?" Scott answered weakly.

"Sure, I'm fine," Johnny said softly.

"Where is he?"

Johnny dropped his eyes and sighed. "He took off, we don't know where."

Scott closed his eyes for a second then looked at his brother again. "When?"

"Not sure. Murdoch and I brought you upstairs when Doc got here. We were up here a while, when we came back down, he was gone."

"So, he didn't even stay to see if I was going to live," Scott said and the sadness in his voice broke Johnny's heart.

"He did hear Murdoch tell me he didn't think it was too bad," he offered.

"Please don't," Scott said, turning his head away.

Johnny swallowed hard. "What can I do, brother?" he whispered.

"Nothing," Scott clipped. "Just leave me alone for a while."

"Ain't gonna happen, Scott. Someone needs to stay with you and I volunteered so I guess you're stuck with me," Johnny said, trying to sound light.

Scott turned and looked at him. "Lucky you," he said sarcastically. "You know something? We always worried about your past hurting you or one of us. That's always been the big concern. I find it ironic that I'm the one that nearly got you and Murdoch killed."

"Kind of takes me off the hook, this time anyway," Johnny smiled crookedly.

"Do you think this is funny?"

"No brother, it's not funny. It's sad and it's pathetic. You're pathetic at the moment. Tell me, how long is the self-pity going to last? Just so I have some idea," he shot.

"Self-pity? It isn't pity, Johnny. It's reality. Because of me..."

"Hold on! Stop right there. NOT because of you, Scott. You can't take the blame for this one. Your grandfather came here with one thing in mind, to get what he wanted. He pulled every trick in the book and when that didn't work, he tried it the old-fashioned way. You need to get this through your head. Harlan hates Murdoch. That's it and that's all. It's got nothing to do with you or me. You think he wanted me dead so you would go back to Boston. Well, I've been thinking about this long and hard. I told you there might be another reason but I didn't know what it was. Now, I do. It's Murdoch. Plain and simple, he's never gotten over the old man takin his daughter away.

â€úHe blames Murdoch for her death and everything else that's gone wrong in his life since then. Every hang nail, every business problem, every wart! It's all Murdoch's fault. Scott, listen to me because I know what I'm talking about. Hate and bitterness like that will destroy a man. Make him crazy with the thought of it. It drives you and everything you do. Every decision, every path you take is all because of that hate. I know, believe me, I know." Johnny finished his rant and leaned back in his chair, watching his brother's face to see if he'd gotten through.

Scott had watched his brother as he talked, knowing Johnny was speaking from experience. An experience he wished fervently his brother had not had to endure. He knew Johnny was right, as well.

"I guess you do know. The difference is, you saw what it was doing to you and somehow you stopped it. How did you do that?"

Johnny hung his head and thought about that for a moment. "I guess when you don't have anything or anybody, you have a lot of time to think about things. I didn't have a business to worry about or any family. I spent a lot of nights thinking, a lot of days on the trail, too. Somehow, sometime I just realized that my life was about nothing but hate. It defined who I was and ... I didn't like who I was. The difference is, I had nothing to lose."

"Only because you had already lost it all, or so you thought," Scott said, laying a gentle hand on his brother's arm.

Johnny smiled. "Maybe now, Harlan will be able to see it, too."

Scott's face dropped. "I don't care."

"I know. At least not right now. But someday you might again. Scott, he's your grandfather, your blood. You can't just turn off your feelings like that. I know you still love him and that's alright, you should. Maybe someday he'll realize what he's done and reach out to you. Maybe you'll be ready to talk to him then. If that happens, don't stop because of me or Murdoch. I wouldn't want that," Johnny said gently.

"How can you be so forgiving?" Scott asked in amazement.

"Me? I ain't forgiving nothing. But you can, if you want .... need to. I'm just saying, don't hold back for me. I don't want to be the reason you think you can't love that old goat," he smiled.

Scott looked at him, dumbstruck at the generosity of heart that, for some reason, always seemed to astonish him from this man. "How did you get so smart?"

Johnny laughed softly. "Life, brother. It teaches you more than any book could."

"Thanks, brother. I'm lucky to have you on my side," Scott said.

*****

He stopped after several hours, not sure where he was. He had ridden so fast and for so long, he had no idea how many miles he'd covered. He didn't know this land and he was suddenly afraid. He decided he had to find a town, a stage to get him out of this place.

He headed out again, following his original instinct to head east. He rode through an area of high rock walls and narrow trail. He began to shiver, from the sun being blocked he told himself. But he knew better, he got an eerie feeling of de ja vu. He heard a gunshot and his horse skittered beneath him.

Suddenly, he was surrounded by five men. Mexicans, he thought with disdain. They said nothing but stared at him. He pulled himself up in the saddle and stared defiantly at them.

"Well? What do you want?" he insisted.

"Usted es el dinero, todo el él," one replied.

"I don't understand," he said.  

"Adnos su dinero, ahora!"

"I don't speak your language, I don't understand," he tried. He felt himself being yanked from the saddle and hit the ground hard on his backside.

They began rifling through his saddlebags and his pockets, taking everything he had. When they had finished, the one who had spoken sneered down at him.

"Usted puede caminar de aquí. Ese caballo traerá un buen precio. Usted no debe viajar solo fuera aquí de viejo hombre. Es muy peligroso."

The five men bellowed with laughter as they mounted up and took the reins of his horse.

"Wait! You can't leave me out here alone with no protection! Please, at least take me to the next town," he begged.

"La ciudad siguiente está a cinco millas de aquí, viejo hombre. ¡Tenga una buena caminata!" he laughed as they rode off.

"Do you know who I am?" Garrett shouted after them. But they paid him no mind and rode away.

He stood in the road for several minutes, unsure what to do next. He had no choice, he had to walk. Hopefully, someone would come along soon and help him. How did I get in this mess?!

The sun was beginning its descent and he knew he would have to spend the night walking. He only prayed there was a moon to light his way. His thoughts went back to Lancer. How did everything go so terribly wrong? He had planned it all so well. When he received Scott's letter praising that half-breed's prowess with horses, a bell rang loudly in his head. He'd begun formulating his plan immediately. It had taken time and patience and he had no use for patience! It had taken every bit of resolve he possessed to put up with Johnny.

There were times when he was astonished by the boy's intelligence but he attributed that to Scott's influence. No education, no breeding, no sense of right. They had stolen Scotty from him and no one took from Harlan Garrett! He had vowed to reap his vengeance on Murdoch Lancer. The best way to do that would be to take his sons away from him again. To kill Johnny and take Scotty back to Boston where he belonged. The pretense was, of course, to give the boy time to grieve away from the ranch where he'd be reminded of Johnny daily. Once in Boston, he knew he could convince his Scotty to stay with him.

But Johnny had fooled him, and that doctor as well. Damn that man! Who would have thought a backwoods doctor would be able to detect the signs of arsenic poisoning? It was pure luck, that's all. The audacity of that boy had surprised him. Preaching to him about family and love! Things he knew nothing about and never would. He could never understand what Scotty meant to him. No one could ever understand that boy was his only chance. His only hope of carrying on the family legacy.

How he could have taken the Lancer name after all Harlan had done to discourage him from even speaking of his father, was beyond him. Scotty was stubborn certainly and he had a mind of his own. Ordinarily, that would make Harlan proud, but it had backfired miserably. He would never understand how Scotty could turn his back on the only person who had ever truly cared for him.

But he had turned his back and as far as Harlan Garrett was concerned, he was no better than the rest of them. Let them have their ranch, their 'family'. He knew in the end it wouldn't work. Murdoch had made too many mistakes, hadn't fought hard enough. He knew that sooner or later, Scotty would demand answers to those questions Murdoch would not answer. The other one as well. It was inconceivable to him how a man was unable to locate his own son in twenty years. If it had been him, he would have found the boy in a week!

In fact, five years ago when he decided he would locate Johnny Lancer, it had taken very little time. Finding out he was a gunfighter was most satisfying. He was convinced at that time that even if Murdoch found him, he wouldn't want the boy. He only sent for him to protect his precious ranch just as he had Scotty. Someday, they would both realize that and when they did, he was positive Scotty would come crawling back, begging his forgiveness. He would give it of course, but at a price.

****

It was nearly dawn by the time he made it to the town, if you could call it that. But they had a stage line and a bank and, at the moment, that was all he cared about. He sent a wire to his vice president that he needed money and sat in the stage office waiting. Three hours later, he had the wire in hand as he marched into the bank.

Explaining his unfortunate circumstances and gleaning sympathy from the bank president, he made out a bank draft and proceeded back to the stage office. There was no stage east until morning. He was nonplussed, but knew he could only wait. He went to the hotel to secure a room, then tried to find some decent clothing at the general store. Giving up on that idea, he purchased a simple shirt and pants and washed his own clothing out so it would be dry for the trip. Deciding he was more tired than hungry, he laid down for a nap.

When he awoke, the room was dark. He was disoriented at first, until he lit a lamp and remembered what he had been through. How he had been betrayed by his own flesh and blood. He went downstairs for a meal, still fuming and plotting how to make Murdoch Lancer pay once and for all! Knowing the one thing that meant more to the man than his own children, Harlan began devising a plan to ruin Lancer forever.

*****

"So he's just gone, is that what you're telling us?" Murdoch growled.

"That's what I'm tellin ya. He's probably halfway to Denver by now. Look, I can ask other sheriff's to help but if he's made it that far, it ain't likely we're gonna get him back," Val explained.

Murdoch paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. Johnny was perched on the arm of a chair watching his father rage. He gave Val an apologetic smile.

"Murdoch, you need to calm down. I know it's frustrating but there's nothin we can do about it now," he reasoned.

"It's not that easy, Johnny. That man has taken or tried to take so much from me," Murdoch stopped pacing and ran a hand though his hair.

Johnny got up and stood in front of his father. "He's hurt us for the last time. Stop worrying about Garrett and worry about Scott. He needs you now more than ever," he said gently.

"I know you're right. I know he can't ever hurt us again. I'm going to see Scott now," he said, sighing at the injustice.

"Thanks for trying, Val," Johnny said after Murdoch left the room.

"Woulda been a lot easier if ya'd told me in the first place," Val griped.

"I couldn't. Scott didn't want that," Johnny explained again.

"What's he want now?"

"I don't know, he doesn't know. He's too mad to think straight about all this. He needs time to sort it all out."

"Well, if ya need me, ya know where to find me. I ain't moved!" Val grumped and left the house.

Johnny smiled at his friend's back. He knew Val was only concerned for them all. He looked toward the stairs and sighed. "I just don't know how to fix this, brother," he whispered.

"Talkin to yerself now?" Jelly asked from the dining area.

"Guess so, Jelly," he answered with a small smile.

"Nothin ya can do. Ya know that, don't ya?"

"There must be something," Johnny said miserably.

Jelly walked over and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "All ya can do is wait. He'll come to you when he's ready. Ain't nobody can take his pain away for him, Johnny. Much as you'd like to, ya just can't. Now, what about your pain?"

"My pain? What are you talkin about, old man?"

"You know exactly what I'm talkin about. Bein used by that snake to hurt Scott. Bein poisoned. Watchin him shoot yer brother whilst aimin for your dad. That's what I'm talkin about!" Jelly proclaimed.

"I'm fine," Johnny mumbled.

"Horse feathers! Ya ain't fine and ya know it. Why does everbody else come first with you? Why can't ya just admit that it hurt ya, hearing them words from that old coot!?"

"Ain't the first time, won't be the last," he sighed.

"Mebbe, but not from a man who supposedly loves your brother. Not from a man you wanted to be able to like, for Scott's sake," Jelly stated.

"You're a smart man, Jelly. But I don't have time to worry about that. Scott needs me," Johnny smiled and went upstairs.

Jelly shook his head at the boy's stubbornness. He never thought he was worth the time of day!

*****

Johnny walked into Scott's room to find Murdoch speaking softly to his brother. He stopped at the door and listened.

"It started before you were even a gleam in my eye, Scott. You have to understand that. Harlan would have hated any man that took your mother away from him. She was his princess, he called her that all the time. He's been so bitter for so long, he couldn't appreciate what he had with you. He couldn't see you were the very best of your mother. She would be so proud of you, son, just as I am. You can't blame yourself for any of this. Blame Harlan, blame me, but don't blame yourself, Scott. It wasn't your doing."

Scott listened to his father's words, felt them deep in his heart. His eyes glistened with unshed tears as he looked into the face of the man who truly did love him. He knew that now, if he hadn't before, he was certain of it now. He heard it in Murdoch's voice, saw it in his face. His father loved him. It brought him a sense of peace for the first time in a very long time. Since before the war in fact.

"I understand," he whispered.

"I hope so, son. I truly hope so. Now, you get some rest. I'll check on you later," Murdoch smiled and petted his son's head.

Johnny pretended he had just walked in and smiled brightly at them both. "How's the patient?"

"Better," Scott said.

"Tired," his father countered.

"Well, you just get some sleep then. I'll sit with you," Johnny said pleasantly.

"I'll spell you in a while," Murdoch said on his way out. Johnny nodded and sat beside his brother's bed.

****

Scott closed his eyes and sighed. Johnny thought it was a good sigh. Murdoch must have gotten through to him. He would never be able to say how good it felt to hear his father speak to his brother that way. At the same time, he felt a strange aching in his heart. Murdoch had shown Scott his love for him, Johnny saw it and he knew the blond did as well. Part of him was happy, part of him sad. Knowing his father may never be able to express those feelings to him.

He had been so protective while Johnny was sick but never once did he feel that same love he'd witnessed just now. He knew they were both concerned about Scott's emotional health through all this. He kicked himself for having these thoughts. They were petty and small and he was better than that. Still, he felt a twinge of jealousy for his brother and it wasn't the first time.

Johnny wondered why it was so, but then he knew why. The difference between them was palpable and nothing would ever change that. He had changed, so much. He had turned away from everything familiar to stay here, to be part of something bigger than himself. He had wanted it, needed it so desperately and he hadn't even realized it. The emptiness that had been in his heart since the day his mother died was gone now. Replaced with a fullness so strong, it scared him. A love so deep for this man lying before him and the one downstairs. He wished he could say the words, but he couldn't. He had tried before but they wouldn't come.

"What are you so deep in thought about?" Scott asked.

Johnny's head jerked up and he smiled. "Nothin. Thought you were gonna get some sleep."

"No, watching you is more entertaining. You certainly had a serious look on your face to be thinking about nothing," Scott pressed.

Johnny looked at him sheepishly. "I was thinking about you. How much you mean to me," he said softly.

Scott smiled at this. "Me too, brother."

"How are you feeling, Scott?" he asked.

"Better, Johnny, really. I had a good talk with Murdoch."

"I'm glad. If you ever need to talk some more, well, I'm not much on giving advice but I listen real good."

"I'll remember that. Same goes for me, you know that," Scott said seriously.

"Yeah."

"So, what's on your mind, little brother?"

"I told you," Johnny said.

"Why do I think there's more to it than that?" Scott asked, brow raised in suspicion.

"Well, I'll tell ya, brother. Sometimes a man just needs to be alone with his thoughts. That okay?" Johnny grinned.

Scott nodded his head knowingly. "Yes, it's very okay. Just know the offer's good anytime."

"I know, mine too. Now, get some sleep."

*****

He settled into his hotel room and took in the surroundings. This was more to his liking. It wasn't Boston, but it would do quite nicely. Actually, it may do very well indeed. Harlan made a few discreet inquiries and located the Cattlemen's Association in the town. He strolled down the street looking in the shop windows with a smile on his face. He checked his pocket watch and hurried on his way. Entering the cool inner sanctum of the Cattlemen's Association, he sighed as he left the heat of the day behind him.

"May I help you, Sir?" a man asked.

"Yes, I am here to see Mr. Richards. Harlan Garrett, I have an appointment."

"One moment, please," he replied and disappeared through the oak doors to the right.

He reappeared shortly and escorted Garrett into a rather large office full of cherry furniture. The man behind the desk stood to greet him and Garrett was impressed at the civility of the place.

"Mr. Garrett, I'm Henry Richards. It's a pleasure to meet you. Please, sit down. May I offer you some coffee or perhaps some lemonade?"

"No, thank you, I'm fine," he replied, taking a seat opposite the man.

"Well, what can I do for you?" Richards asked.

"Ah, yes. I am looking for information. I want to purchase a ranch here in California but the owner is reluctant to sell. I wondered if you might be able to help me," Garrett began.

"I see, well if the owner doesn't want to sell, I really don't see what I can do," Richards replied, rather perplexed by the odd request.

"Come now, Mr. Richards. I understand there isn't much law in most areas of California. Surely there are other means of acquisition?" Garrett smirked.

Suspicious, Richards decided to play along. "Perhaps if you gave me some more information about this ranch, I might be able to help," he said.

"I thought as much. Well, it is a large piece of land in the San Joaquin Valley...."

"Lancer?" Richards asked incredulously.

"I see you've heard of it," Garrett stated.

"I should say so, Mr. Garrett. I can also tell you if you intend to own Lancer, you'll have a firefight on your hands. Murdoch Lancer will never sell that ranch!"

"Even if there's nothing left of it to sell?" Garrett asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I understand about a year ago someone tried to take Lancer. It was only by luck that Murdoch was able to hold onto it," Garrett explained.

"Is that what you call it? Luck?" Richards asked.

"What would you call it, Mr. Richards?"

"I'd call it Johnny Madrid, Mr. Garrett. I'm sorry there is nothing I can do to help you. Good day, Sir," he said and stood.

"Are you sure? I would make it well worth your while," Garrett said snidely.

"Mr. Garrett, I'm afraid you have been misinformed. The Cattlemen's Association is not in the business of raiding ranches!" Richards said, insulted by the man's impertinence.

Garrett stormed out of the building feeling deflated. Why is everyone so afraid of that half-breed? Very well, if he's the problem, I can find a solution. A more direct solution this time! He headed to the nearest drinking and gambling establishment and began making inquiries.

It didn't take him long to find out a few names, now all he had to do was find the men they belonged to. He was told he would have to come back in the evening if he wanted to discuss business with those men.

He returned to his hotel room for a nap. He needed to be refreshed and clear-headed for this type of business. Unfortunately, sleep was elusive and he stared at the ceiling for hours. Working it all out in his mind, he realized there was one flaw to his plan. Scotty could get hurt. Well, he would just have to chance that. Scotty had made his decision and he would have to reap what he had sown.

Henry Richards sent for his aide, Bart Miller. He instructed the man to find out all he could about Harlan Garrett's comings and goings and report anything untoward immediately. He sat down at his desk and sighed. The man obviously knows nothing about ranching or ranchers. He certainly knew nothing of the Cattlemen's Association. The gall of the man stunned Richards and he knew his friend was in for some trouble.

****

That evening he made his way back to the saloon and approached a man sitting at a poker game that had just started. "Excuse me, might you be Ben Foster?" he asked.

"Who's askin?"

"Your future employer, if we can agree on terms."

Foster looked the old man up and down and figured that was about right. He nodded to the men at the table and stood up, jerking his head toward the back of the room. Sitting at the back table, he indicated a chair which Garrett took.

"Who, when and how much?" he clipped.

"You come right to the point, I like that. But just so we are clear, I want to hire you to kill a man," Garrett said flatly.

"Didn't figure you was invitin me to a church social," Foster smirked.

"Good. I'll pay you one thousand dollars. Half now, half when it's done. There's a small town south of here called Morro Coyo. Have you heard of it?" Foster nodded. "Fine, there is a ranch twenty miles south of that called Lancer. The man I want dead lives there," Garrett explained.

"Okay, I'm sure I can find it, who is he?" Foster asked, looking bored.

"Johnny Madrid," Garrett said.

Foster's eyes widened as he looked more closely at the man seated across from him. "You crazy, mister? Ain't no way."

"You're a gunfighter aren't you?" Garrett asked sarcastically.

"Yeah, and I'm good but I ain't that good. Look, if you got the .... nerve ... to hire somebody to go after Madrid, well good for ya. But it ain't gonna be me, no sir!" Foster declared and returned to his poker game.

Garrett sat there shocked and angry. He didn't understand what the problem was. Johnny didn't seem that dangerous to him. After all, he'd nearly succeeded in killing him once! He walked over to Foster's table.

"I don't suppose you could recommend someone?" he asked.

"Nobody I know's that loco, mister. But, here let me ask around." Foster stood up. "Hey! Anybody know a gunhawk willin to go against Madrid?" he shouted.

The room exploded in laughter and Foster took his seat once more. "Reckon not," he laughed.

Garrett turned red and, fuming, he stalked out. Another man followed him out the door and went in the opposite direction.

*****

Scott was up and moving around, his shoulder wound healing nicely. His mood wasn't much improved however. His father's words rang true in his mind but his heart was another matter. The anger was still there as was the sadness. He realized he was grieving and it surprised him a little at first.

He sat on the veranda, deep in thought. His mind went back to his childhood. The good times when his grandfather would come home at a reasonable hour, when he was still awake and could spend a few precious moments with the man. The Christmases, birthday parties and socials when he was older. These memories brought a smile to his face. Then there were the other memories. When he needed to talk with his grandfather but was told he was too busy. When he had a problem with another boy in school or needed advice about a certain girl or the other. It was the servants who talked with him, advised him, soothed his broken hearts.

The first time he could ever remember having a real disagreement with his grandfather was when he enlisted in the army. He thought the old man might have a heart attack right there in the den. He'd been so angry but Scott stood his ground because he believed what he was doing was right. He thought that was probably the very moment that he grew up.   He had told the elder man of his beliefs in what he was doing and that it was his duty to contribute to the cause. He also reminded him he was now of age and didn't need his consent. He'd been proud of himself that day, standing up to his grandfather.

When he returned from the prison camp, his grandfather had welcomed him happily, grateful to have him back and had even made sure he got the help he needed dealing with the trauma he'd experienced. It was the first time Scott could remember his grandfather being truly worried for him. Worried about his state of mind at least. Maybe he was just worried that Scott would be in no shape to carry on the family business. This thought brought him back to his previous sullen mood. He sighed deeply and tried to push thoughts of his grandfather from his mind. It proved to be an impossible task. Until he was given a diversion.

He felt a light tickling on the back of his neck and swatted absently. A second later it was back. He swatted again then turned to find the pest. The pest was his brother and a bird feather. Johnny was grinning ear to ear and Scott gave him a swat of his own in the belly.

"Hey, whatcha doin?" Johnny laughed as he sat beside his brother.

"Just thinking," Scott replied.

Johnny studied his brother's face and didn't like what he saw. "You feel like talking?"

"Not really."

"Okay, how about a ride, in the buggy that is," Johnny suggested.

"I don't think so. Maybe later," Scott replied.

"Scott, you need to get out of this house. Get some sun on your face," Johnny tried again.

"I'm sure you're right, Johnny. I just don't feel like it right now," Scott replied.

Johnny said nothing more and sat beside his brother in silence. Finally he sighed and looked at the man. "Well, whenever you're ready," he said softly, patting his brother's leg as he got up.

"Thanks," Scott mumbled.

Johnny went back inside and walked to the edge of his father's desk.

"What do you need, John?" Murdoch asked absently as he read the paper.

"Nothin. Just worried about Scott," he replied.

Murdoch looked up from his paper. "He needs time," he said simply.

"He needs more than that."

"Like what?" Murdoch asked.

"I don't know, something to do. Get his mind off things for a little while. He's thinking himself crazy," Johnny said with concern.

"He's not ready to go back to work yet," Murdoch reminded him.

"I know. There must be something he can do though," Johnny replied, twisting his mouth in thought.

Murdoch scrutinized his youngest. "Are you alright?"

"Huh?"

"Well, you're not still feeling the effects of that poison, are you?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny looked at him in bewilderment. It had been a good week since Scott had been shot and all the sudden he's asking? "I'm fine," he mumbled.

Murdoch made a noise resembling acknowledgement and went back to reading his paper. Johnny's anger was rising quickly and he decided he best get out of there before he said something he'd regret.

****

He found Jelly in the barn, currying Scott's horse. "Hey, Jelly."

"Hey, yerself," Jelly replied.

"Listen, I need to find something for Scott to do. Get his mind off his troubles. Got any ideas?" Johnny asked.

Jelly stopped his currying and thought about it. "Ain't much ta do round here don't require two good arms," he said after a moment.

"Yeah, that's the problem. Hey, maybe he could help you out. Maybe lend a third hand on some things," Johnny suggested.

"Such as what? Mendin corral gates or wagon wheels?" Jelly huffed.

"No, I guess that wouldn't work either," Johnny said disappointedly.

"Have ya tried just talkin to him?"

"Yes, Jelly. I have tried just talking to him but he says he doesn't feel like it. He looks like a lost pup."

"Just give 'im some time, Johnny. All ya can do," Jelly said.

"You sound like Murdoch," Johnny groused.

"Should tell ya somethin then," Jelly stated.

*****

Less than a week later, Scott went back to work, though still a bit sore. He reasoned he could work it out a lot faster if he were doing something. It was Saturday and he and Johnny were heading to town for supplies. After an interminably long discussion with Teresa about what she wanted, they were finally on their way.

"Beautiful day, ain't it, Boston?" Johnny announced.

"Yes, it is," Scott said.

"Now, the way I figure it, you go take care of Teresa's supplies while I take care of things at the general store," Johnny assessed.

"That's how you figure, eh? Why is that, brother?" Scott asked, somewhat amused.

"Well, I don't want you do any heavy lifting. It's too soon, Scott. You wouldn't want to have a set back," Johnny explained.

"No, I wouldn't want that. And you wouldn't want to be caught dead in that dress shop either," Scott grinned.

"That's not true. Hey, I'm trying to be nice to you, but if you wanna pack away all those heavy flour and sugar sacks, well...."

"Perhaps you have a point," Scott said.

"Thought you'd see it my way," Johnny grinned.

So Scott went to take care of Teresa's list and Johnny took care of the ranch supplies. He was just finishing up when Mrs. Baker called to him from the stage depot. He waved and walked over.

"Mornin, ma'am," Johnny smiled.

"Good morning, young man. I have some mail for you," she replied.

"Well, thank you, Mrs. Baker. May I say you look mighty pretty today," Johnny charmed the old woman.

"Johnny Lancer, you behave yourself," she giggled.

"Yes, ma'am," he grinned and tipped his hat before walking back to the store.

"Any mail?" Scott asked.

"Yep, uh let's see. Nothin for you. Guess ya got no pretty girls droolin over ya this week, brother," Johnny drawled. "Letter for Murdoch, some catalogs for Teresa, oh and the newspaper. That should brighten your day," Johnny said as he perused the mail.

"Good, can we go home now?" Scott smiled.

"Yes sir, right away sir, anything you say, sir," Johnny chattered.

Scott climbed into the buckboard and Johnny tossed the mail up beside him. He was about to join his brother when he was stopped cold.

"Madrid!"

Johnny turned slowly to meet the voice. "Yeah?"

"Callin you out," he said.

"Why?" Johnny asked.

"Why? Don't matter why, just am," the man said.

Johnny studied his face. "Do I know you?"

"Nope, but after today, everybody else will," he said with a smirk.

"I doubt it," Johnny drawled softly.

"Why is that?"

Johnny shrugged slightly. "Nobody remembers a dead man."

The man went for his gun and cleared the holster before he felt the steel plummet into his chest. He looked down in surprise, then looked back at Johnny.

"Guess you're right," he managed to squeak out, then he fell to the ground dead.

Johnny reholstered his gun and hung his head with a sigh. He walked over and checked the stranger to be sure.

"I saw the whole thing, Johnny. Nothin you could do," one of the locals commented.

Johnny only nodded his head.

"You go on home, boy. We'll take care of this," another piped up.

****

Scott had watched in fascination as his brother gunned the stranger down, never moving from his seat. If he had learned anything about his brother it was to stay out of his way when this type of thing happened.

Johnny was silent on the way home, lost in his thoughts and his past. Scott didn't know what to say. There was nothing to say. As always, it was senseless, no rhyme or reason to why a man would put himself in the position to be killed. Money, fame, glory, none of it would ever make sense to him.

"You okay?" he finally asked.

"Yeah," Johnny mumbled.

"There wasn't anything you could do," Scott tried.

"I know."

"I won't say anything to Murdoch," Scott offered.

"I'll tell him. Been too long since he's yelled at me anyway," Johnny said sardonically. There was no humor in his voice though.

They pulled up in the yard and unloaded the supplies in relative silence. Jelly came out to lend a hand and kept looking back and forth between them. He hoped they hadn't had a falling out, but they were both quiet as church mice.

Once finished, Johnny retrieved the mail and glanced at his brother. "You might want to steer clear for awhile," he said, then headed inside.

"What was all that about?" Jelly asked.

"Some fool called him out in town," Scott explained.

"He ain't hurt is he?" Jelly asked.

"No, Jelly. But would you like to place a bet on that being the first question Murdoch asks?" Scott said grumpily.

Johnny didn't make it to the door however as he felt and heard the bullet whiz by his head. He dove for cover behind a column, drawing his gun as he went. He glanced toward Scott and Jelly and saw they had taken cover as well.

Murdoch came out the door and crouched behind Johnny. "Did you see them?"

"No, not yet," Johnny said. He took a tentative half step into the open and got a boot full of dust for his trouble as another shot skipped the ground an inch from his foot.

"Please don't do that again," Murdoch said bluntly.

Johnny shot him a wry grin.

"Madrid! Come on out. Nobody else has to get hurt!" a voice from the past shouted.

Johnny closed his eyes as he recognized the man. He took a deep breath. "What's this all about, Clyde?"

"You got a price on your head, Johnny. I'm just a man tryin to make a livin!" he shouted.

"Dyin ain't much of a livin, Clyde!" Johnny shot back.

"I don't want to hurt nobody else, Johnny, but I will if it gets you out in the open," he warned.

Johnny weighed his options. He knew where Clyde was hiding and he knew where his brother and Jelly were. He figured as long as they stayed put, they'd be safe. He played his ace.

"Let's do this the right way, Clyde. No call to bushwhack me like this!"

"Just playing the odds, Johnny. I ain't stupid!"

"Really? Then how come you don't know that about forty cowboys are gonna be riding in here any minute? What's that gonna do to your odds?" Johnny yelled out.

There was no answer. Johnny waited, he counted three minutes pass by without a sound. He started to take a peek and felt an iron hand on his shoulder. He turned and frowned at his father, shaking himself loose.

Johnny stepped out into the open, ready for anything. He stared at the spot where Clyde had been, then scanned the surrounding area. He jumped up on the half wall of the veranda and could see a single rider running hard. He grinned to himself as he thought how well the bluff had worked. The cowhands weren't due in for another hour at least.

Scott and Jelly joined him as did Murdoch.

"He lit out," Johnny said simply.

"Well, that's twice in one day, brother. I hope that's a record," Scott said wryly.

"Not even close, Boston," Johnny replied, his voice melancholy.

"What did he mean, there's a price on your head?' Murdoch asked.

"I have no idea."

"Are you sure and what was that about twice in one day?" Murdoch said gruffly.

"Had a little trouble in town, too. And, yes, I'm sure!" Johnny shot.

"Well, it must be a good amount of money. They're crawling out of the woodwork!" Murdoch fumed and strode back inside.

Johnny sighed and shook his head. 'Here we go,' he thought.

"You gonna listen to me?" Johnny asked.

"You need to see this," he said in answer.

Johnny walked over and took the paper from his father. He read it and his shoulders slumped in defeat. He sat on the arm of the couch and let the paper dangle from his hand.

"Who sent this to you?" Johnny asked his father.

"A friend of mine in Sacramento. He sent a letter with it but I haven't gotten around to that yet," Murdoch said, glaring at his son.

"Well, maybe you should," Johnny clipped.

Murdoch shot him a look and unfolded the letter. He sat down heavily in his chair and rested his head in his hand. "Unbelievable," he whispered.

"What?" Johnny asked.

"Read this," Murdoch replied, handing it over.

Johnny read the letter and shook his head. "He'll never stop," he whispered.

"Scott has to be told," Murdoch said.

Johnny winced at this. "No, not yet."

"Johnny, he has to know," Murdoch said incredulously.

"I know, but not yet. You have to give me at least a day's head start," Johnny said calmly.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm goin to Sacramento, Murdoch. And as soon as Scott finds out about this, he'll be heading there, too. I need at least a day to handle this my way," Johnny explained.

"You're not going to kill him?" Murdoch asked.

"Not unless I have to," Johnny replied coldly.

"This is not your mess, Johnny. Why can't you see that?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes, it is. From the word go it's been mine. I'm the target, Murdoch and I'm gettin damned tired of it! I will not live my life waiting for that bastard to have me cut down!" Johnny took in a deep breath. He was shaking from the rage storming inside

him.  

"It's all because of me, Johnny. You know that. He's after you to get to me," Murdoch explained.

"Well, he sure messed up then, didn't he? Maybe he'll get that some time. Maybe he'll realize killin me ain't the way to hurt you!" Johnny yelled, his voice a husky tremor. He stalked out of the room and headed upstairs.

Murdoch stood in stunned silence. He couldn't believe what he had heard. Where had this come from? He was about to go after Johnny when Scott walked in.

"What happened?" Scott asked.

"Nothing, son," he mumbled.

"Where's Johnny?"

"He went upstairs," Murdoch replied. "No, Scott, let me talk to him first," he added as Scott started toward the second floor.

"If you think you can manage it without taking his head off," Scott said sarcastically.

"I think I can manage," Murdoch retorted. He climbed the stairs, his stomach in knots.

******

He tapped on the door and entered to find Johnny packing his saddle bags.

"You gonna give me that day?" he asked as he turned to face his father.

"I'd like to talk to you before you take off, John. What was all that about downstairs?" Murdoch asked.

"Nothin," Johnny sighed. "Just everything's got me edgy, I guess."

"I can understand that. I don't like keeping this from your brother. He has the right to be involved in this," Murdoch voiced.

"No, Murdoch. I'm the one he's gunnin for. I'm the one with a price on my head. A thousand dollars will bring every two bit wannabe gunhawk out of the woodwork. Don't you think that gives ME the right to handle this?"

"And exactly how are you going to handle it, Johnny?" Murdoch asked.

"I'm gonna talk to him. Really talk to him, without Scott or you around. Maybe I can make him understand, maybe I can't, but I have to try. Murdoch, please give me just one day. That's all I ask," Johnny explained.

"I don't like the idea of you riding to Sacramento alone, Johnny. Especially now," Murdoch said.

Johnny smiled. "I can take care of myself," he whispered and gave his father a questioning look.

"Alright, one day. Your brother is going to be mad as a hatter," Murdoch said, dreading the confrontation he knew would occur.

"Just keep him occupied so I can slip out."

Murdoch returned to the living room and his waiting son. Scott looked expectantly at him.

"I could use a cup of coffee," Murdoch said and headed to the kitchen.

Scott rolled his eyes and followed him, sitting at the table and waiting.

"We didn't fight. Johnny's going to find out what this is all about. I agreed to let him handle it alone," Murdoch explained then took a drink of coffee.

"Are you crazy? You can't let him ride off alone with a price on his head!" Scott exclaimed.

"As your brother reminded me, Scott, this isn't the first time and he can take care of himself. Besides, he had that look in his eyes and you know there'll be no stopping him."

"Maybe not, but we can at least go with him," Scott said.

"No, son. He asked me not to and I gave my word," Murdoch said.

"How can you be so calm about all this?" Scott asked incredulously.

Murdoch shrugged, keeping up the nonchalance. "I trust Johnny to take care of his own affairs."

******

While Murdoch distracted Scott, Johnny slipped out the front door and to the barn unseen. Or so he thought.

"Where ya goin?" Jelly asked.

"Don't you have anything better to do than hang around in here?" Johnny snapped.

"Not right now, no. Ya gonna answer me?" Jelly shot back.

"I'm going to find out about that price on my head. And before you ask, yes Murdoch knows. Jelly, I don't want to hear it. I'm going and I'm going alone, period," Johnny said firmly.

"Hmmph! Sound like your dad! Well, reckon ya know what yer a doin. Just be careful, Johnny. Money's got a way of makin a man not think right," Jelly advised.

"No kidding," Johnny murmured as he mounted Barranca and walked him out. Looking down at Jelly, he said, "take care of things for me, Jelly. Watch out for Scott, okay?"

"I will. You just make sure ya come back," Jelly said sadly.

Johnny grinned at his friend and set out at a gallop toward the gates of Lancer.

*****

Johnny arrived in Sacramento two days later. He stabled Barranca and headed for the Cattlemen's Association. Entering the darkened foyer, his eyes adjusted quickly to the dim lighting and he saw the man approaching him.

"May I help you?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm here to see Mr. Richards," Johnny drawled.

"Your name, Sir?"

"Johnny Lancer."

"Oh yes, one moment please," the man replied and disappeared through the door at the right of the hall. He returned seconds later and ushered Johnny in.

Henry Richards was waiting for him outside his office door. "Johnny, good to see you again. Please, come in," he greeted with a handshake.

Johnny entered the lavish office and sat in front of the huge cherry desk. "I hear you had a visitor recently," he started.

"Yes, a rather disturbing visit, it was too. I'm not sure exactly what's going on but the man was definitely determined to have Lancer," he replied.

Johnny smirked at this. "He doesn't give a rat's .... he doesn't care about Lancer, he only wants to destroy Murdoch," he explained grimly.

"How can I help?"

"Do you know where he's staying?" Johnny asked.

"Yes, at the Savoy. He's been there for nearly two weeks now," Richards answered.

Johnny got to his feet then. "Well, that's all I need. Thank you, Mr. Richards," he smiled.

"That's it? Are you sure there's nothing else I can do?" the man asked, astonished at the brief visit.

"Nope, I'll take it from here," Johnny said with a smile and extended his hand.

*****

Johnny walked to the front doors of the Savoy Hotel and peeked inside. Seeing no familiar faces, he entered and procured a room. While the clerk was distracted by an impatient client, Johnny stole a look at the register and found Garrett's name and room number. He smiled to himself then waited patiently for the clerk to give him his key.

"Your bags, Sir?" he asked.

"Just these," Johnny smiled and held up his saddlebags. "Short visit," he added then went to his room.

He was pleased his room was one floor up from Garrett's. He always liked to have the higher vantage point, even inside a hotel. He laid down on top of the bed and stared at the ceiling. He knew he didn't have much time. Scott would be no more than a day behind him.

****

The afternoon after Johnny left, Murdoch waited for his eldest to return from the east pasture. Scott arrived looking none too happy. The same way he'd looked ever since he had learned that Johnny had left.

"Scott, we need to talk, son," Murdoch called.

"It's about time," Scott said curtly as he entered the living room.

Murdoch grimaced at his tone but held his temper. He knew this was going to be hard enough. "I've been trying to figure a way to tell you this. It's ... um .... well.... here, read this," he faltered and handed the wanted poster over.

Scott read the poster and his mouth fell open. "A thousand dollars?" he whispered.

"There's more, son," Murdoch said, his gut screaming at him. He handed over the letter from Henry Richards and waited, holding his breath.

Scott read the letter twice before its content sunk in. His eyes kept going back to the two words. Harlan Garrett. His soul was in torment and he felt his world spinning out of control. He suddenly felt very dizzy and he waffled a bit.

Murdoch was at his side, easing him down on the arm of the sofa. "Easy, son. Give yourself some time," he said gently.

It took a good ten minutes before Scott found his voice again. His eyes flashed with a sudden realization. "Johnny?"

"Yes, he's gone to Sacramento," Murdoch replied.

"You let Johnny go after my grandfather? Murdoch, how could you do that?"

"Scott, Johnny wanted the chance to talk to Harlan away from you and me. He feels he can make him see that you don't want to leave Lancer and that nothing he does will change that," Murdoch explained patiently.

"And if Grandfather doesn't listen? What is Johnny planning to do then?" Scott asked, standing to face his father.

Murdoch's eyes dropped from his son's glare. "We didn't discuss it in detail."

"I see. So your solution is to send a gunfighter after my grandfather. Is that what you're telling me, Murdoch?!" Scott fumed.

"Just a minute, young man. Your brother has no intentions of gunning Harlan down. For heaven's sake, Scott, this is your brother we're talking about!" Murdoch said, raising his voice more with each sentence.

"I know that! I also know Johnny has a temper! I can't stand around here talking about it any longer. I have to get there!"

"I have our things ready to go," Murdoch said.

****

Johnny waited until the next day to face Garrett. He needed the rest from the long ride and he wanted to be in full control of his emotions. He paced his room for several minutes, then took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Setting his shoulders, he left his room.

He walked down the flight of stairs and found the room easily. He stood outside for a few seconds, reminding himself again and again this was Scott's grandfather. Feeling he was ready, he knocked firmly on the door.

*****

Harlan Garrett opened the hotel room door and his mouth dropped open. "What are you doing here?!" he exclaimed.

"Surprised to see me, old man?" Johnny grinned, pleased with the reaction. "Aren't you going to invite me in? I rode all this way to see you."

Garrett looked past him into the hallway.

"Scott's not with me. Just you and me, gramps," Johnny sneered as he pushed his way into the room.

"How dare you?! I did not invite you in here!"

"Oh? Well, maybe I should come back later. Maybe with the sheriff," Johnny drawled.

Harlan fidgeted and his eyes darted around the room. "What do you want?"

"First, I want you to cancel the price on my head. Second, we need to have a nice civil talk," Johnny said, finding a chair by the window and relaxing into it.

Garrett snorted at his insolence. "We have nothing to discuss."

"Yes, we do and you'd do well to cut the attitude and listen to me before it's too late. That is, if it's not already," Johnny said, his anger rising.

"What are you talking about?" Harlan demanded.

****

Scott and Murdoch arrived in Sacramento about the time Johnny knocked on Garrett's door. They stabled the horses and retraced Johnny's steps of the previous day. They needed to find out where Garrett was and thus, find Johnny as well.

When they arrived at the Cattlemen's Association, Henry Richards was out. They were told he would return any time and they were welcome to wait. After getting no information from the few men there, they decided they had no choice. They settled down in the lounge and waited for Richards' return.

Scott was on his last nerve. It seemed to him it was longest trip of his life. He was growing more impatient with each tick of the grandfather clock in the corner.

"Will you settle down?" Murdoch whispered.

Scott shot him a warning look. Now was not the time to chastise him for his behavior.

Thirty minutes passed and Scott was ready to hit every hotel in the city until he found the two men. He was just about to suggest that very thing when Henry Richards walked into the room.

"Murdoch, I was told you were here. Hello, Scott," Henry smiled. The smile soon left his face as he took in the grim expressions of the Lancers.

"Henry, we don't have much time. I need answers. Have you seen Johnny?" Murdoch asked, coming right to the point.

"Yes, he was here yesterday. He asked what hotel that Garrett man was staying in," Henry replied.

"And your answer was?" Scott asked.

"The Savoy. What's going ..." he didn't get to finish his question as Scott bolted for the door with Murdoch hot on his heels.

****

"I gotta hand it to you, old man. You got guts. You're stupid, but you got guts. Not only did you try to poison me, you put a price on my head. Probably should have done that first. It might have saved you some grief. Not that it would have made any difference," Johnny said calmly, almost whimsically.

"Oh, I think it would do me a world of good to rid myself and Scotty of you," Garrett sneered.

"Hmm. But you're going about this the wrong way. That's what I came here to tell you. You're goal is to hurt Murdoch as much as possible. You really think killing me is gonna do that? Oh, he might have a minute of regret but it wouldn't slow him down. Of course, if you really wanted to hurt him, you would've gone after Scott. Oh, no that wouldn't work. Can't kill your only daughter's son," Johnny said with a crooked grin.

"You're wrong, Johnny. Killing you is the way to get to Murdoch. With you out of the way, nothing will stop me from destroying the only thing he truly loves, Lancer," Garrett smirked.

The dig got to Johnny but he wouldn't show the old goat. His expression never changed, his eyes never left the man.

"You don't think Scott will fight for Lancer? He will, he did. You should have seen him, Harlan. He was really somethin, fighting off Pardee. Scott's the one that killed him, ya know. Course, he did it to save me. You can't understand how much that land means to him now. He will fight you for it, he'll die to protect it."

"You think you know my grandson better than I do? With you dead, he'll want nothing to do with Lancer."

Johnny shook his head slowly. "You know, for an educated man, you sure are slow."

He got up and walked over to stand in front of Garrett. "It has nothing to do with me. Scott knows the truth about you, old man. He will never come back to you, no matter what happens to me."

****

Scott and Murdoch stood at the front desk waiting. Scott rang the little bell once more, more urgently this time.

"I wish you would calm down, son. I can't believe Johnny would hurt an old man. Even one that's trying to have him killed," Murdoch said.

Scott glared at him. "In the first place, we don't know for sure that Grandfather was behind that poster. Secondly, stop telling me to calm down!" he hissed.

The clerk finally appeared before Murdoch could reply.

"May I help you, gentlemen?" he asked.

"Yes, we're looking for my son. I believe he checked in yesterday. Johnny Lancer," Murdoch said amicably.

"Oh yes, Mr. Lancer did check in yesterday. Let me see, ah, room 314."

"My grandfather is also staying here. Harlan Garrett?" Scott inquired.

"Uh yes. Mr. Garrett is in room 220."

****

"I know Scotty won't come home now. I blame you for that. You've poisoned his mind with this ranch business!" Garrett spewed.

"Interesting choice of words, Harlan. Yeah, I figured this didn't have anything to do with Scott. It never did. All you care about is getting revenge. What I don't understand is, why? What right do you have to revenge? Murdoch was the one wronged. You stole Scott from him, threatened him. What did he do? Married your daughter. It's not his fault she died, it would have happened no matter where she was."

"Shut up! You don't know what you are talking about! You weren't there, you didn't see how sick she was! None of this would have happened if he'd left her where she belonged!" Garrett shouted.

"You know that for a fact, do you? Well, I was so wrong. I didn't realize I was in the presence of God! You want to blame someone, try blaming him! He's the one that took her. He's the one that left my brother without a mother! I'm tellin you right now, leave my family alone!" Johnny shouted back.

"I will never stop until Murdoch Lancer has paid for every second of misery he has caused me!" Garrett declared as he turned his back on Johnny and walked away toward the window. He stopped there, his back still turned.

"I don't know if you're loco or just plain evil, but I won't let you hurt my family again!" Johnny swore.

"You can't stop me," Garrett said as he turned to face Johnny.

Johnny saw the gun a split second before he felt the fire explode in his gut then he heard the hammer click back again. Instinctively, he drew and fired three times as he went to his knees. Unable to stay upright, he fell to his right side, his gun falling from his limp hand.

*****

The young bellboy had heard the loud voices coming from room 220. The door was ajar and he looked inside, worried someone might need help. He stepped through the door just in time to see an older man turn and shoot a man whose back was to him. He saw the other man draw and fire as he fell to his knees then over on his right side. He stood there frozen with fear, not knowing what to do.

Scott and Murdoch were almost to the second floor landing when they heard the shots. They took off at a dead run. They both stopped as they saw a young boy backing out of the room. He saw them but could only point at the door.

Murdoch drew his gun and entered. He saw Harlan first, his back propped against the far wall, he was in a sitting position. He saw the smear of blood on the wall above his former father-in-law and felt sick inside. He stepped in further and saw Johnny laying closer to him. He immediately went to his son.

Scott stood in the doorway, shocked into paralysis by the sight of his grandfather. He finally found he could move and rushed to the man's side. With trembling hands, he felt the man's neck for a pulse. He waited and waited but could feel nothing.

Murdoch turned Johnny over on his back and gasped at the blood pouring from his son's stomach. He mimicked Scott's actions and felt for a pulse. It was weak but it was there and he gave a silent prayer of thanks.

The hotel manager rushed into the room and stood frozen at the sight before him.

"My son needs a doctor," Murdoch said, his voice more steady than he could imagine.

"Yes, yes. Do you need help carrying him?" the manager asked.

"Is it far?" Murdoch asked. The man shook his head no. "Then just show me where," he said as he lifted Johnny's limp body from the floor.

The new hospital was just at the end of the street and Murdoch ran as fast as he could carrying his precious cargo. The hotel manager held open the doors and took charge of finding a doctor.

Murdoch was directed to a room and laid Johnny on the examination table gently. He stood back and gave the doctors room, staying close.

"We need to get him to surgery immediately," one said.

"I agree," another doctor confirmed. He turned to Murdoch then. "When did this happen?"

"Just a few minutes ago. How is he?" Murdoch asked in a daze.

"He's not good. Is this your son?"

Murdoch simply nodded.

"A nurse will show you where you can wait. We must operate immediately if he's to have any chance," he explained quickly. Even as he told Murdoch the situation, they were wheeling Johnny out of the room.

A middle-aged woman took his arm and led him to another room with several chairs. She told him to wait there and she would update him when she could.

Murdoch sat down heavily in one of the chairs, leaning forward and burying his face in his hands. He suddenly remembered Scott. He stood and walked into the hall, then stood there, unsure of what to do. He couldn't leave Johnny and he didn't know if Harlan was alive. He surmised if the man were alive, Scott would have brought him here as well. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. Relieved his family was no longer in danger but knowing his son would be crushed.

He went back into the waiting room and sat down again. 'Nothing to do but wait it out,' he thought glumly.

****

The sheriff arrived within minutes of the shooting and surveyed the bloodshed in the room. Harlan Garrett was still where he'd fallen. There was a young man sitting beside him, holding the old man's hand and speaking softly to him. The sheriff approached gingerly, kneeling down beside Scott. He reached up and felt for a pulse.

"There's no need. He's dead," Scott said blandly.

"Do you know him?" the man asked softly.

"He's my grandfather," Scott replied, his voice wavering.

"What happened here, son?"

"I .... I'm not sure," Scott fumbled.

"I saw it, Sheriff," the young bellboy said from the doorway.

"Well?" the man asked, standing and approaching the boy.

"That man there, he turned around and shot the other man. Then the other man drew his gun and shot that man there three times before he fell over. He was shot in the gut. It was awful," the young man said in a trembling voice.

"Alright, now Billy. Take it easy. Did you hear either of them say anything?"

"Yes, Sir. The other man said he wasn't going to let this man hurt his family anymore. That's when this man said that he couldn't stop him, then turned and fired," Billy reported.

"Now, you're sure the other man's gun was in his holster when he was shot?" the sheriff asked.

"Oh, yes, Sir. I'm real sure. I never seen anything like it. Never seen anybody draw and shoot that fast before! And him gut shot, it was somethin," Billy stated.

Scott listened to the retelling of his grandfather's death with detachment. He felt as if he were someone else, looking in on another person's life. Not really there, not really affected by it all.

The sheriff came back to him. "Do you know who this other man was?" he asked.

"My brother," Scott whispered.

"Your brother? You mean your grandfather shot his own grandson?" the sheriff asked in horror.

"No. He's my half brother. This is my grandfather, not his," Scott explained, still in a daze.

"I see. I'm Sheriff Harris, by the way. Where is your brother now?"

Scott looked up at him with a blank stare and shook his head.

"He's at the hospital, Sir. Another man took him there with the manager," Billy answered.

"Another man?"

"My father, our father," Scott offered.

"This is getting complicated. Alright, I'm going to the hospital then. I'll send some help for you to tend to your grandfather, young man. Keep yourself available, I'll want to talk to you again, Mr.?"

"Lancer, Scott Lancer."

The sheriff nodded and left the room.

*****

Murdoch paced the waiting room, his nerves in rags. He glanced at his pocket watch every few minutes wondering what the devil was taking so long. As he turned to pace to other end of the room for umpteenth time, he saw a man standing in the door.

"Mr. Lancer?"

"Yes."

"I'm Sheriff Harris. I just came from the Savoy. I have a few questions for you."

"Is Harlan dead?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes, Mr. Garrett is dead. Your son is with him," Harris replied.

"How is Scott?" Murdoch asked.

Harris shook his head slowly. "He seems to be in some sort of a daze. He answered my questions but .... he's obviously upset. I'd like some things clarified, Sir. I understand your other son is the victim?"

"Johnny. Yes, he's in surgery now. It's .... bad," Murdoch said, his voice a quiver.

"I realize this is a bad time, but could you answer some questions?" Harris asked, sympathetically.

"It's alright, Sheriff. I'm going crazy just waiting here. Why don't I just tell you everything I know," Murdoch said as he sat down and offered the man a seat as well.

He began at the beginning, feeling the need to tell someone how this whole thing started and also, needing something to occupy his mind. Even if that something was, at best, painful. He started with Catherine.

The sheriff listened, raising an eyebrow here and there. When Murdoch got to Garrett's latest stunts, he actually cringed.

"That's an amazing story," he said when Murdoch had finished. "And Johnny didn't press charges after the poisoning?"

"No, he knew it would hurt his brother too much," Murdoch explained.

"Sounds like those two are close. And your son is Johnny Madrid?" he shook his head.

"Was, Sheriff, was Johnny Madrid," Murdoch corrected.

"The bellboy at the hotel saw the whole thing, Mr. Lancer. Johnny was only defending himself. He didn't even draw his gun until after Mr. Garrett had shot him," Harris explained.

Murdoch sighed in relief. He was sure Johnny would not have instigated this, still it was good to hear it from someone.

"I'm sorry about your boy. I understand it was a gut shot," Harris continued.

Murdoch nodded, his stomach knotting up once more at the implications. It was a horrible wound, the worst. He was actually glad Johnny was unconscious, the pain of that kind of wound was excruciating.

"Well, I need to write my report. I'll check back later to see how he's doing," Harris said as he stood to leave.

"Thank you, Sheriff. I appreciate everything," Murdoch said, shaking hands with the man.

****

Five hours had passed and still no word on Johnny's condition. No Scott either. Murdoch knew his eldest was devastated but he couldn't imagine why Scott was not here to check on his brother. He thought he would ask the nurses if anyone had inquired as to Johnny's condition. He didn't get the chance as the doctor walked into the waiting room.

"Mr. Lancer? I'm Dr. Fenway. Well, we removed the bullet and repaired the damage. We had to remove a small portion of his stomach that was destroyed by the bullet. He's lost a great deal of blood and we had quite a time getting the bleeding under control. He's very weak, very weak. His blood pressure is too low and his heart is working overtime to compensate for the blood loss. It's not looking too good, I'm afraid."

"What are you saying? He's not going to die!" Murdoch stated.

"I'm not saying he's going to die but I'm not saying he'll make it either. I'm saying we just don't know. With this type of injury, his chances just aren't very good. I'm sorry, we'll do everything we can. I do need something from you, however," Dr. Fenway said.

"Anything," Murdoch replied.

"Johnny needs blood. He can't wait for his body to replace what he's lost. We need to give him a blood transfusion. Since you're his father, you have the best chance of being a donor," he explained.

"Take whatever you need, Doctor," Murdoch said.

"Come with me. We need to test your blood. If everything's alright, we'll start the transfusion immediately."

****

Murdoch sat beside his son's bed waiting for the results of his blood test and praying with every fiber of his being it would be a match. Johnny was more pale than he could ever remember. His eyelashes laid on his face like butterfly wings on a white lily. Only they didn't flutter like wings, they didn't move at all. Holding his son's hand, he began speaking softly.

"You said it wouldn't hurt me if you died. You were so wrong, Johnny. I can't lose you again, son. When your mother took you away, I broke. I closed my heart off from the world, vowing I would never let anyone hurt me again. I know I've been hard and cold to you. I've been so afraid you would hurt me again, I couldn't let you in. Forgive me, son. Please forgive a foolish old man for not seeing what was right in front of me. Give me another chance, Johnny. One more chance and I swear to you, I won't let you down again. I know I've hurt you with my hardness. I'm not a man who can show his emotions easily, but if you'll just stay with me, son. I swear to you, things will be different."

Dr. Fenway cleared his throat to let Murdoch know he was there. "The test is positive. We need to do the transfusion now."

"Thank God," Murdoch mumbled.

They had him lay on a exam table next to Johnny's bed and set up the equipment. Murdoch wasn't sure what was about to happen but he didn't care either. If he could help save his son's life, he would gladly give his own.

The procedure took more than an hour. Murdoch kept looking at Johnny, hoping to see some sign that he was improving as his blood ran into his son's body. He could see no change, however, and his heart sank.

"We won't see any visible signs at first. His blood pressure is coming up and his heart rate is slowing down. These are very good signs, Mr. Lancer," Dr. Fenwick explained, sensing the man's desperation. "We're lucky you're a big man. You can afford to give more blood than normal," he continued.

"Give him all of it if it will help," Murdoch said.

Dr. Fenway smiled at this. "Well, that won't be necessary. Just a few more minutes."

Dr. Fenway removed the needle from Murdoch's arm then proceeded to do the same to Johnny. He handed the used equipment to the nurse and checked Johnny again, smiling at what he heard.

"Good, much better. Now, the rest is up to him," he reported.

Murdoch smiled, he knew Johnny would fight, given the chance. He started to sit up and felt an overwhelming dizziness consume him.

"I wouldn't do that. You're going to be weak and dizzy for a while. The nurse will bring you some juice and something to eat. It will help a great deal so you need to take it," the doctor advised.

"I will. Think I'll just lay here a few more minutes," Murdoch said tiredly.

"Good idea. I'll be back in a while to check you both again," Dr. Fenway smiled.

Murdoch reached over and took Johnny's hand in his own, squeezing tightly. "You have to fight now, Johnny. It's up to you, son. I know you can do it," he said softly. Once more, he wondered where Scott was.

****

Scott entered the undertaker's office moving under some sort of underlying knowledge that he needed to keep going. He made the arrangements to have his grandfather's body returned to Boston for burial. He sent a telegram to the household in Boston as well as Harlan's vice president, explaining what had happened in as little detail as possible. He was told the train east would be leaving in the morning and the arrangements for keeping the body were explained in greater detail than he needed to know.

He took one more private moment with his grandfather, then left the undertaker's office. Stepping out into the late evening sun, he shielded his eyes by pulling his hat further down over them. He stood there, unsure what to do now. He knew he should check on Johnny. He didn't even know if his brother was still alive. A knot formed in his chest, thinking of what the bellboy had said. He headed to the hospital.

He approached the Savoy Hotel on his way and stopped, realizing there was something else he needed to do. He sighed heavily and went inside. Scott walked into the hotel room, unable to take his eyes off the blood stain on the wall and the floor. His eyes went back and forth between his brother's blood and his grandfather's. He shuddered and made himself look away.

"Mr. Lancer?"

Scott turned quickly to see the hotel manager in the doorway. "Yes?"

"Would you like .... we can pack for you," he stammered.

"No, I want to do it. Would you have any boxes I could use? I'm not taking his clothes. I thought maybe a church could use them?"

"Yes, of course. I'll get them for you," the man said and scurried off.

Scott began pulling Harlan's clothes out of the drawers, placing them respectfully on the bed. It took him less than an hour to pack the clothes away. He placed personal items in another box. As he was packing these, he saw the small ornate box. He stopped, frozen, and stared at it. He sank to the floor, leaning his back against the bed and wept.

*****

Murdoch awakened with a jerk. He had dozed off laying on the table next to Johnny. He sat up slowly, remembering the effects of the transfusion and was pleased he felt no dizziness. He sat in the chair next to his son and felt his forehead.

The nurse came in a few minutes later and smiled at him. "How's he doing?" Murdoch asked.

"His blood pressure is almost normal and his heart rate is much better as well," she replied.

"He feels a little warm to me," Murdoch frowned.

She felt his forehead and frowned herself. "Well, it could be from the trauma. I'll let the doctor know."

"What time is it?" he asked.

"Just past midnight. We didn't want to disturb your sleep," she smiled again.

"Thank you, I didn't realize how tired I was."

"It's no wonder with everything you've been through. I'll be back to check him," she said and left quietly.

*****

Scott walked up to the nurse's desk at one o'clock in the morning and inquired as to his brother's condition. The nurse explained all that had happened and he found himself once more detached. He thanked her and started to leave when she asked if he'd like to visit. He faltered a second then shook his head no, walking away.

He stayed in Johnny's room at the hotel that night. No sense in it going to waste. Sleep, however, was elusive. He ran through it all in his mind again. Anger, resentment and hurt flowed freely through his nerve endings. Harlan was a man obsessed, he knew this now. His hatred of Murdoch was so deep, so intrinsic to his very nature, he would never stop. Never be able to forget let alone forgive losing his daughter. Scott stared out the window at the sleeping city, his thoughts three thousand miles away.

He had made his decision and he knew he had to go. Had to escort his grandfather home. He would not leave that to strangers. Murdoch would just have to understand. He sat down and wrote the note to his father, sealing it in an envelope. This chore done, he went back to his thoughts.

Johnny. Why had he come here? Was it his intention to kill Harlan? He had heard what the bellboy said, the details of the shoot out. Still, it haunted him knowing Garrett never had a chance against Johnny. 'He should have let me handle this,' he thought. Johnny should never have come here. Did he really think Garrett would listen to him?

If he had waited, told Scott the truth about the bounty, this would have been avoided. His grandfather would be alive and his brother would be uninjured. Instead, Johnny had taken it upon himself to deal with things that were none of his business. It was Scott's job to take care of his grandfather's meddling. He didn't need Johnny's help or anyone else's.

He laid on top the bed covers, staring at the ceiling. He knew his brother had not intended to kill his grandfather. He knew Johnny was only defending himself. But if he hadn't been there, it would never have happened. If he had only been honest with Scott, Harlan would be alive. And Murdoch had lied to him as well, keeping the truth from him, giving Johnny the opportunity to face the man alone. What was he thinking? Did he want Harlan Garrett dead and knew sending Johnny here would result in that very thing? Scott didn't want to believe that was true but what other reason could he have?

Having more questions than answers frustrated him beyond reason. The answers would have to wait, though. Until Johnny was better and he returned from Boston. He wondered if he would be able to stay at Lancer, look at his brother every day knowing what he had taken from him. Scott fell into a fitful sleep.

****

Murdoch sat by Johnny's bed all night. Talking to him or simply holding his hand, stroking his cheek, letting him know he was there. He still felt too warm to Murdoch and he was concerned about infection. He found a washcloth and wetted it to place on Johnny's forehead, feeling totally useless as he performed the token ministration.

Johnny had not moved, had not uttered a single sound since Murdoch found him lying on that hotel floor. He shuddered at the memory of the blood, the realization of how bad and where the wound was. "Damn you Harlan Garrett! Damn you straight to hell!" he muttered through clenched teeth.

He closed his eyes and fought to bring his anger under control. It was useless anger now. Garrett was dead and, God help him, he was glad of it. He thought of Scott again, worried now that he hadn't shown at the hospital. 'Maybe he just can't handle seeing Johnny right now,' he thought. 'Lord, please don't let him hate his brother,' he prayed.

He turned the tepid cloth over and laid it back across Johnny's forehead, letting his fingers trace his son's cheek. He lingered there for several seconds, remembering a vividly blue-eyed spitfire whose tears he had wiped away and whose smile had melted his heart. Murdoch felt the moisture leave his eyes and drip down his cheeks and he didn't try to stop it.

"I'm so sorry, son. I love you," he whispered to his baby boy.

*****

He felt a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. Murdoch opened his eyes and looked up at Johnny, his heart dropping when he realized it was not his son awakening him. He sat up straight and looked to his left seeing Dr. Fenway smiling at him sympathetically.

"It's not easy, is it?" he asked.

"No, it isn't. He felt warm to me last night," Murdoch said.

"Yes, the nurse told me but he feels fine this morning," the doctor replied.

Murdoch felt of Johnny's forehead to assure himself and smiled with relief. The smile didn't last long as he frowned for his next question.

"Why hasn't he woke up yet?"

"Well, partly because of the anesthesia and partly because he's been so weak. His vital signs are better but the trauma itself was enough to put him out for a few days. I wouldn't be surprised if he slept the rest of today away," Dr. Fenway explained.

Murdoch laughed softly at this. "You don't know Johnny. He'll wake up soon."

"Well, if he does you need to prepare yourself. He'll be in a great deal of pain," the doctor said.

Murdoch nodded, he knew how much pain his son would be in but it wouldn't all be from his injuries.

The nurse entered the room then and handed Murdoch an envelope. "This was just delivered from the Savoy Hotel, Mr. Lancer. They said to tell you it was urgent," she explained.

Murdoch thanked the young woman and the doctor and opened the envelope.

Murdoch,
I'm escorting my grandfather back to Boston for burial. My train leaves at 8 a.m. I couldn't see myself letting him travel all that way alone. Also, I'll have to deal with his business and personal affairs so I'm not sure how long I'll be there. I'll write you again when I know of my return date.
Scott

Murdoch sighed and crumpled the note in his hand. Not one mention of his brother, no message for Johnny at all. He figured he had his answer to how Scott felt and he knew he wouldn't be able to keep it from Johnny. At least he said he was coming back, that was a good sign. At least, he hoped it was.

He leaned over and touched Johnny's cheek. "I'll be back very soon, son. I'm just going to grab a bite to eat and wash up. I won't be long, I promise," he whispered.

*****

Scott's train pulled out of the station at 8:05. He watched the city disappear through the window. He felt numb, unable to feel anything. Regret, worry, grief, none of them would come to him now. He had wept for his grandfather in the hotel room, raged at him for destroying so much of his life. His anger at Johnny was gone as well though he knew all these emotions would come crashing down on him eventually. He knew this in his logical mind which was the only thing working at the moment.

Part of him felt guilty for leaving his brother but another part knew he couldn't send his grandfather home alone. Whatever else Harlan Garrett had done, he had raised Scott the best he could. Scott believed his grandfather had loved him in his own way. It was his obsession with Murdoch that had driven him to such horrible lengths. He shook his head at the senselessness of it all. He couldn't help wondering what his mother would have thought of all this. He was certain she would have been mortified by her father's behavior.

He tried to understand why Johnny had gone after Harlan alone. He reasoned if it were anyone else, someone from his own past, Scott would have understood. But he couldn't separate that from the fact that it was his grandfather in that boxcar. He couldn't wrap his mind around what had happened and make sense of it. He leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to push it all away for a few minutes.

*****

Murdoch arrived at the train station ten minutes after the train had left. He sighed in defeat. 'I should have gone after him last night,' he thought ruefully.

Nothing left to do, he headed for the hotel for a bite to eat and hopefully, a bath. He stopped, suddenly realizing he needed to send a telegram to Lancer. He dreaded it, knowing how upset Teresa would be. Still, they had a right to know what was happening.

Once he finished sending the wire, Murdoch headed for the hotel. He asked to see the manager who promptly appeared.

"Is my son's room still available?" he asked.

"Why, yes, Sir. The other Mr. Lancer stayed there last night. We held it, thinking you would need a bed," the manager replied.

"Thank you, that's very considerate. What about Mr. Garrett's belongings?" Murdoch asked.

"His grandson packed everything. He insisted on doing it himself. He donated the clothing to a local church but I'm not sure about the rest. Mr. Lancer, is there anything I can do to help?"

"No, thank you. You've been very understanding. I apologize for all of this. I'm sure it's not something you're used to having happen here. You've been most gracious," Murdoch said, attempting a smile.

"No, it certainly isn't. We feel just awful that your son was attacked in our hotel. The room will be available as long as you need it."

Murdoch nodded and climbed the three flights of stairs to Johnny's room. His back was screaming at him and he needed to soak in a hot tub. He knew he couldn't dawdle however, he had to get back. It wouldn't do for Johnny to wake up in a strange place all alone. No, that could prove disastrous.

*****

Ben Johnson rode into the yard of Lancer and reined to a halt. Teresa watched with interest as the young neighbor dismounted. He seemed to be in quite a hurry.

"Hello, Ben," she smiled.

"Miss Teresa, telegram for you. Mrs. Baker said to bring it right out, sounded important, poor old woman was near in tears," Ben reported.

Teresa felt her heart drop to her stomach, but she managed a smile and thanked the young man. She watched him ride away, wanting to read the wire and not wanting to read it. She shook herself for her silliness and opened the envelope.

"Jelly!" she screamed.

"What in tarnation's all the shoutin about, girl?" Jelly asked as he rounded the house.

Teresa was shaking head to toe as she handed the telegram to him, tears streaming down her face.

Jelly read the wire quickly and took her in his arms. "Alright, honey, let's just try to stay calm. Johnny's alive, he's hurt but he's alive. We got to concentrate on that. Now, I'm goin to help Murdoch."

"I'm going with you," Teresa said.

"No. You need ta stay here and look out for the ranch. Sides, Johnny's gonna need you when he comes home. Now, them doctors and nurses at the hospital can take care of 'im til we can get 'im home. Murdoch's gonna need some help watchin over 'im is all.

'Specially since Scott left 'im high and dry!" Jelly huffed.

"Oh, Jelly, what's going to happen? Garrett's dead and Scott's taken him back to Boston. Do you think he'll come back to us?" she asked, the pleading in her eyes too much for the old man.

"Shore he'll come back! No reason for 'im ta stay there. It's gonna be alright honey. I'll head out soon as I can get my gear together. We'll let ya know how things're goin," he said calmly. Inside, his heart was breaking.

******

After checking with the nurses and finding out Johnny had not awakened, Murdoch took up his spot beside his son's bed. He wished Johnny would wake up but at the same time, he dreaded it. He knew the boy would want his brother and he was not looking forward to telling him Scott was gone.

Murdoch prayed harder than he had ever prayed in his life. He prayed for Johnny's recovery, for his sons to be able to mend the rift this was sure to cause between them. He prayed they would both forgive him for his part in all this. He prayed Catherine would watch over their son on his journey.

He sighed deeply, feeling every miserable second of the past month in his bones. He rubbed his face and looked up to see startling blue eyes watching him.

"Hi there," he said softly.

Johnny tried to smile but it turned into a grimace as the pain made itself known in his gut.

"Easy, son. You've been through a lot."

"Where ...."

"You're in the hospital in Sacramento. You were shot. Do you remember?" Murdoch explained.

Johnny nodded his head but he couldn't speak, his stomach was on fire. He grabbed the cover and held it in a death grip. Murdoch got up and walked quickly to the door, signaling a nurse.

She walked in and saw he was awake, then disappeared again. She returned a moment later with a syringe. "Alright now, we going to help make that pain go away," she said softly as she took his left arm.

Johnny didn't fight her, he wasn't capable of it at the moment. All he wanted was for the pain to stop.

She injected the medicine slowly and he felt the cold liquid in his veins followed by a warmth that consumed his entire being. His eyes rolled back in his head and he closed them, giving in to the euphoria.

"The morphine helps the pain but it also makes him sleepy. He'll be groggy but at least he won't hurt," she explained to Murdoch.

He nodded his understanding, grateful Johnny would not be too clear headed. He felt ashamed but he couldn't face the hurt he was going to cause his youngest by telling him about Scott.

Johnny surprised them both by opening his eyes a few seconds later. Murdoch smiled at him though he felt the clutching in his heart.

"Better?" he asked.

"Yeah, much. Tell me," Johnny whispered.

"Not now, Johnny. You need to rest, son," Murdoch hedged.

Johnny's mouth twisted in a crooked smile. "I can take it," he said.

'No you can't,' Murdoch thought.

"How much do you remember?" Murdoch asked.

"Got shot, fired back, that's it. Is he dead?" Johnny answered.

"Yes, son. Harlan is dead."

Johnny closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He didn't want to ask the next question but he knew in his heart Murdoch wouldn't offer. "Scott?" he whispered.

"We arrived just after the shooting. In fact, we were on the stairs at the hotel when we heard it," Murdoch said.

Johnny bit down hard on his lower lip. He didn't have to look around the room, he could sense his brother was nowhere near him. "Don't make me ask, Murdoch. Just tell me."

"Scott .... I brought you here right away. He stayed behind with Harlan. You were in surgery for five hours, I couldn't leave you."

Johnny's eyes shot open. "You didn't go to him?"

"I couldn't leave you, son! I didn't know he was going to ...." Murdoch stopped, not wanting to just spew it out. He calmed himself before continuing. "Scott took Harlan's body back to Boston this morning."

"Does he know what happened?" Johnny asked, his voice tight.

"Yes, he knows everything. There was a bellboy outside the room. He walked in and saw the whole thing. He told the sheriff and Scott what happened," Murdoch explained.

"Did you talk to him at all before he left?" Johnny asked.

"No, he sent me a note telling me he was leaving. By the time I got to the train station, he'd already left. Please understand, Johnny. I had to make sure you were alright first. I thought you needed me more right now," Murdoch said.

"Why the change?" Johnny mumbled under his breath.

"What?"

"Nothin."

Silence hung thick in the room for several minutes as they both kept their thoughts to themselves. Finally, Johnny spoke.

"Well, you'll just have to go after him."

"What do you mean?" Murdoch asked.

"Go after Scott. Go to Boston, Murdoch. If you leave now, you won't be far behind him," Johnny said nonchalantly.

"I can't just leave you here alone! No, Johnny, it's out of the question," Murdoch declared.

"I'll be alright. Reckon I ain't dyin. Scott needs you, don't make him do this alone. Don't make him bury his grandfather alone, Murdoch. It's too hard, he shouldn't have to face that by himself," Johnny explained.

"I want to help him, Johnny. I want to be there for him but ...."

"No buts! I'm alright or I will be," Johnny interrupted.

Murdoch watched him, knowing his son was in so many different kinds of pain. How could he leave Johnny alone? How could he leave Scott alone? God, help me. What should I do?

*****

Murdoch sat by Johnny as he drifted off to sleep. As soon as he was sure his son was indeed asleep, he went to find the doctor.

"Well, I don't think he's in any real danger. The only problem we have to worry about is infection. He hasn't shown any signs of that yet. I must tell you, Mr. Lancer, I have found that patients recover much better and more quickly when they have loved ones to support them," Dr. Fenway said.

"I understand that, Doctor, but you don't know Johnny. He wants me to go and if I don't, I'm afraid it will only hinder his recovery. I swear I'm at a loss as to what to do," Murdoch sighed.

"I can certainly understand your dilemma. Is there anyone else who could be with him?"

Murdoch looked at the man as if he had suddenly come up with a brilliant idea. "Of course! Excuse me, Doctor, I need to send a telegram," he said and left the hospital.

Murdoch sent the urgent wire and stopped to find out when the next train east was leaving. He purchased a ticket and hoped he would receive an answer to the wire before the train left.

*****

Murdoch returned to the hospital and sat beside his son once more.

"Well?" Johnny asked.

"I sent for Jelly and I bought a ticket on the next train. It leaves at 8 p.m. That's twelve hours after Scott's train left," Murdoch reported.

"Good, that's good," Johnny said tiredly.

"I hate this, son."

"I know, me too. Could you .... talk to him. Tell him how sorry I am. I didn't want this. Dios, I didn't want this," Johnny sighed, closing his eyes.

"Johnny, listen to me. This is not your fault. He gave you no choice. Everything that's happened has been Harlan's doing, not yours. Scott will see that once he's had some time. He just needs time to grieve and understand," Murdoch said.

Johnny looked at his father. "What did the note say?"

"Note?"

"You said Scott sent you a note before he left," Johnny reiterated.

"It said he was going to Boston for the burial and to settle Harlan's estate. He said he'd write when he knew his return date. He is coming back, John."

"That's all it said?" Johnny asked.

The hurt in his son's eyes was obvious. "Yes," Murdoch mumbled.

"I see. I'm tired now," Johnny said, closing his eyes and turning his head away.

*****

Murdoch was beginning to worry. It was 6:30 and no response to his wire. He knew Jelly would come but he didn't want to leave until he got confirmation. It came five minutes later.

"Johnny?" he whispered.

The black eyelashes fluttered then opened. "Huh?"

"Jelly's on his way. He should be here in the morning. My train leaves in a little over an hour," Murdoch said.

"Train?" Johnny mumbled sleepily.

"Yes, to Boston, remember? Do you want me to stay here?"

"No, go to Scott. He needs you," Johnny said, then clenched his teeth and grabbed hold of Murdoch's hand.

"Easy, I'll get the nurse," Murdoch said.

"No, it'll ..... pass," Johnny gritted.

"Look, if you want me to go to Scott, you have to promise not to lay here and suffer," Murdoch bargained.

The pain eased some and Johnny grinned a little. "Blackmail?"

"Yep."

"Okay," he said, trying not to laugh.

****

Johnny settled down after the morphine and slept peacefully. Murdoch sat at the desk in the room and wrote a long note to Jelly explaining all that had happened and why he was leaving. He could hear the old grump now.

He walked back over to the bed and gently nudged Johnny's shoulder. "Are you awake, son?"

"Yeah."

"I have to leave now. I wrote a note for Jelly explaining everything. You know how he is, wanting to know all and I didn't want him pumping you with questions," Murdoch smiled.

Johnny smiled back, his head felt like it was full of cotton and he had to work at concentrating on Murdoch's words. "Okay," he whispered.

"Johnny, I .... I'll bring Scott home as soon as I can. Promise me you'll be alright," Murdoch said, his throat tight as a drum.

"Promise," Johnny whispered.

"Hey, can you look at me for a second?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny looked up into his father's eyes questioningly.

"I love you, son," Murdoch choked.

Johnny stared at him for several seconds, trying to keep the moisture in his eyes at bay. "Te amo, pa," he whispered.

Murdoch smiled and kissed his forehead before leaving abruptly.

Johnny closed his eyes and allowed the tears to fall silently.

*****

Murdoch stopped by the hotel to let them know another family member would be taking up residence the next day and to let them know his destination in case of .... he didn't know in case of what. He had already spoken with the doctor and told him where he could be reached. He had explained Jelly's pending arrival as well. He felt he'd done everything he could think of; everything except stay put.

He still struggled with leaving Johnny so sick and in so much pain, knowing his stubborn son would rather not take medicine. But Johnny had promised him, so at least he knew the boy would take something for relief.

His heart was in his throat as he boarded the train. Looking back toward the hospital he could not see, he prayed once more for his youngest.

* ****

Johnny wiped the tears away and smiled. He had finally said it. Granted, it took a bullet in the gut, but Johnny would have sacrificed almost anything to hear those words from his father. And he had meant it, too, he saw it in the blue gray eyes. He saw the pain of leaving him and it warmed his very soul. He didn't want Murdoch to go, he wished he wouldn't but he also knew Scott needed him desperately.

Gritting his teeth against the pain in his stomach, he remembered his promise and sighed. When did they figure out his word was his bond? It was becoming a real problem for him. All they had to do was make him promise. Damn! Well, nothing to do about it. He smiled again at the thought that they were beginning to know him so well.

He thought of Scott again and the pain was no longer in his stomach but his heart. Would his brother ever forgive him? Could he? Johnny wasn't sure he could, were the tables turned. Even though it was self defense, Scott might not see it that way. He regretted ever coming to this city but he knew there was no other way. It was his life on the line, not Scott's. His brother was safe; at least his life was.

The nurse walked in then and frowned. "You're in pain," she stated.

"A little, how'd you know?" Johnny asked.

"It's all over your face, young man. I'll be right back," she said.

"Wait. Is there somethin you can give me that's not so .... strong?" Johnny asked.

She thought for a minute. "I'll ask the doctor," she replied and left the room.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Lancer, but the doctor doesn't want you to have anything by mouth yet. It will have to be the morphine but he did cut the dose so it shouldn't make you quite so groggy," she explained as she reentered with a syringe in hand.

Johnny sighed and nodded as he extended his bruised arm.

"May I ask you something, Mr. Lancer?" she asked.

"Only if you call me Johnny," he replied with a grin.

"Alright, Johnny. It's none of my business but, why did your father leave?"

"My brother needs him," Johnny answered simply.

"More than you do?"

"Yeah," he said softly.

"Well then I'm sorry for your brother if he's in worse shape than you right now," she said sympathetically.

Johnny dropped his eyes and didn't respond so she left him alone.

*****

Johnny awoke in the predawn hours of the next morning with a fierce agony in his gut. Something was wrong, this was a different pain and he felt like his entire body was on fire. He looked around but the room was empty. It took him a few seconds to remember where Murdoch was. He couldn't call out, the pain was too intense, and he wondered how he could get someone's attention. He was in trouble and he knew it, this was something other than the gut shot.

He spied a glass on the bedside table and thought it ironic it was there since they wouldn't let him have any water. He reached over and up and felt it at his fingertips. Trying to get a grip on it was almost more than he could stand. He cursed himself for being so weak. He finally finagled it to the edge of the table and pushed it off. The glass shattered and the sound resonated through the quiet halls of the hospital.

The nurse ran into the room and stared at him. "What's wrong?"

"I'm hurtin," he whispered.

"I'll get you some morphine," she replied flatly as she turned to leave.

"No, this is different," he gasped through the pain.

She frowned and walked over to feel his forehead. "I'll be right back," she said and ran out of the room.

Ten minutes later, Dr. Fenway walked in. "Johnny?"

He half opened his eyes and looked at the hazy figure standing over him. "Doc?" he mumbled.

"Tell me what you're feeling?" the doctor asked as he placed a hand on Johnny's forehead, feeling the heat there then proceeded to take his pulse.

"Fire .... different than before .... not right....Dios! Hurts!" he strained.

Dr. Fenway pulled the covers back and grabbed a pair of scissors from the nurse. He unceremoniously cut the dressing from Johnny's abdomen and palpated.

Johnny sucked in air through his teeth and arched his back against the pain, cursing under his breath in Spanish.

"I'm sorry, Johnny," he said. "Can you concentrate on what I'm saying for a minute?"

Johnny nodded his head.

"I think I know what's happened and we need to take you back to surgery. Even if I'm wrong, I need to get in there and see what is going on. Do you understand?"

"What do   .... ya thhhinkk...."

"I think you have an abscess. A pocket of infection in your stomach where we removed the bullet," he explained.

More words in Spanish that the doctor didn't understand, then he simply nodded his head.

****

Jelly arrived in Sacramento in record time. He had ridden the poor mare as hard as she would go and he felt bad but he had more important things to tend to. He left the horse at the livery and paid extra to give her a good rub down then headed straight for the hospital.

He walked in and asked for Johnny's room. Not knowing the patient's condition, the receptionist sent him down the hall. Jelly walked in to find an empty bed and his gut cramped in fear. He walked back into the hall and found the nurse's desk.

"Where's Johnny?" he demanded.

"I'm sorry, who?" the nurse asked, taken aback.

"Johnny! Johnny Lancer!" Jelly nearly yelled.

"He's in surgery," another nurse replied.

"What? Why?" Jelly was totally confused.

"Are you a family member?" she asked.

"Course, I am! Whatdya think?" he huffed.

"Come with me, Sir. I'll show you where you can wait. The doctor will be with you as soon as he can," she said and started walking.

He sat down in the waiting room and felt real fear for the first time in a long time. Why was Johnny in surgery? And where was Murdoch?

****

Jelly was ready to spit nails if he didn't get some answers right quick! He paced the waiting room, growing more anxious as the moments passed. Finally, the nurse came in.

"Are you Mr. Hoskins?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am. How's Johnny?"

"I haven't heard anything yet but it shouldn't be much longer. I brought you this letter that Mr. Lancer left for you," she explained.

"Letter? Where's Murdoch?" Jelly asked in surprise.

"Johnny said he had gone to be with his other son. He left last night."

Jelly stared at her in disbelief. "I can't believe he left Johnny in such a state!" he exclaimed.

"He wasn't like this last night, Sir. He was doing fairly well when his father left," she said, hoping her soothing tone would calm the man.

"Hmmph! Well, I should hope not! Uh, thank you, ma'am," he said.

She left him alone and he sat down to read the letter, his eyes growing wider as he read of the events of the past few days. Garrett dead, Scott gone back to Boston and Murdoch on his trail leavin Johnny here alone. That about summed it up and he was madder than a wet hen about it, too.

Thirty minutes passed before the doctor appeared in the waiting room. "Mr. Hoskins?"

"Yeah, Doc, how is he?" Jelly asked anxiously.

"Let's sit down. He had an abscess in his stomach. A pocket of pus formed and he was running a high fever. We had no choice but to go in and drain the infection. Now, I've put a drainage tube in so this won't happen again. Right now he's very weak. He's been through quite a lot in a short amount of time." The doctor finished and waited for the news to sink in.

Jelly rubbed his beard, nodding his head, then looked in the doctor's eyes. "Is he gonna make it?"

"At this point I really can't answer that. He's young and strong and otherwise healthy. These are all in his favor but...."

"What?"

"He's also been shot, lost a great deal of blood, had two surgeries and a blood transfusion. He's at risk for further infection. I put a feeding tube in his nose down to his stomach so we can keep him hydrated. I'm afraid the rest is really up to him."

Jelly swallowed at the lump in his throat. "What can I do fer 'im?" he asked.

"Be there, give him lots of support and encouragement. That's really all you can do," Dr. Fenway replied.

Jelly shook his head sadly. "I can't believe Murdoch left," he mumbled.

"I believe Johnny insisted he go," the doctor said.

"Course he would! That boy don't never put hisself first!" Jelly nearly raged. "Sorry, Doc, but this whole things got me tore up. Can I see 'im?"

"Of course. He'll probably sleep through until tomorrow though. You might think about getting some rest. You'll need it."

Jelly walked into the room and stood mouth agape as he stared at the form in the bed. He would have thought he was in the wrong room if it weren't for the shock of black hair wisped across the man's forehead. The boy was pale, white as a sheet and his eyes sunk back like he hadn't slept in days. He walked over and sat down, taking Johnny's hand in his own.

"Don't you worry none. Ole Jelly's here ta take care a ya now. Why, I'll have ya fit as a fiddle and flirtin with them nurses in no time flat," he said in a quivering voice.

He stroked Johnny's cheek and petted the back of his hand.

"Are ya listenin' to me, boy? Can ya hear me? Shore ya can. You just need a lot of rest right now. That's just all there is to it. I'll be right here with ya til your dad gets back. Shoot, we'll probably beat him back ta Lancer! Yessir, we'll be sittin right there on the porch when him and Scott ride in and ....."

Jelly stopped, his voice failing him as his eyes brimmed with tears. He hung his head and shook it slowly, wondering why it was always the good ones, the caring and loving ones that suffered the most.

*****

Scott disembarked the train in Denver for some fresh air. The train was taking on passengers and water so he had some time before the journey continued. He looked toward the back to the boxcar that carried his grandfather and shuddered. It didn't seem real to him. He was sure he would wake up any second and be back in his bed at Lancer. He still felt as if this was someone else's experience, that he was an outsider looking in.

He turned away and stared at the snow-capped mountains. He could definitely feel the higher altitude. The view was magnificent, though. He remembered his last stop in Denver, heading the opposite direction. He'd been excited, curious and apprehensive all at once. He had been ready for a change, bored to tears by the social life of Boston. It was always the same. The same people, the same parties, the same dalliances. He was feeling very closed in when that Pinkerton agent approached him. Suspicious of any man who would approach him at night on a dark street, he'd been cautious at best. Hearing the proposal had thrown him for a loop.

It hadn't taken him long to decide. Whatever happened in California, at least he'd be somewhere else, somewhere different if only for a while. It had been quite a trip, watching the landscape change so dramatically as he got further away from familiar surroundings. People changed as well. By the time he'd gotten to Morro Coyo, he'd felt extremely out of place. And then that cowboy, or what he thought was a cowboy, had fallen on him in the stage coach. Scott smiled at the memory of his first meeting with his brother.

His mood swung suddenly from fond memories to dark reality. He decided he would send a telegram and check on Johnny. Murdoch could send the reply ahead and it would be waiting for him in Ohio. That should be plenty of time so he wouldn't miss the missive.

*****

Murdoch awoke with a jolt as the passenger next to him, a rather elderly man, slumped over onto his shoulder. He pushed the man back to his side of the seat but he never awakened. Murdoch wondered if he was asleep or dead so he took a closer look just as the man snorted. Murdoch quickly moved back and settled into his own seat, watching the world outside race by. His thoughts were of Johnny and he wondered if the boy was taking the pain medicine. He had promised so Murdoch felt reasonably sure he would honor his word. 'Someday', he thought, 'I'm going to have to find out why he hates medicine so much.'

The porter walked past and Murdoch asked him where they were. Frowning that his nap hadn't lasted longer, he was annoyed at the slow passage of time and miles. He thought of Scott and deduced he must be in Denver by now if not further east. He wondered how his son was holding up, traveling alone with his grandfather's body. He sighed heavily at the situation as a whole. His anger toward Harlan was relentless and he would never forgive him for what he'd done to his family time and time again.

He figured once they got to Denver, he would send a wire to Jelly to find out Johnny's condition. He'd had a disturbing dream during his brief nap and he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong with his youngest son.

*****

Jelly spent the night at the hotel, figuring the doctor was right and it would be his only chance for any decent rest for a while. He ate a quick breakfast then walked to the hospital. Sucking in a deep breath and dreading what more he might find wrong, he entered the building.

Jelly walked into the room warily. Johnny was asleep but he wasn't sure if that was good or bad. The nice young nurse he'd talked to yesterday was standing beside the bed.

"Mornin' ma'am. Has he woke up yet?" he asked.

"Good morning and no not yet, though I wouldn't expect him to for a while," she replied with a smile.

"Yeah, Doc said it could be awhile but that's good, right? I mean, he needs the rest," Jelly said hopefully.

"Yes, he definitely needs the rest," she concurred. "If you need anything don't hesitate to ask," she added then left the room.

Jelly took up his post beside the bed and took Johnny's hand once more. He studied it now, turning it over to the palm then back again. Big, strong hands but gentle as a kitten when he wanted to be. He thought about the way Johnny handled horses and smiled. He was always so easy with them, always concerned about their fear. Calloused palms, but the fingers were so nimble. Even in sleep, Jelly could see the flexibility that Johnny constantly worked on. He remembered watching him at rest, or as much at rest as Johnny ever was awake. He was constantly working those fingers, not even aware of the action as it had become second nature.

*****

Jelly stood up and walked over to the window, numb from sitting so long. He stared out at the city going about it's business and wondered how anyone could worry about anything else right now. He smiled to himself, why would they care, they didn't know what was happening behind the brick of this building.

He stretched out his back muscles and worked his shoulders before turning back to his charge. He got halfway across the room before he realized Johnny was watching him. His face burst into a big grin as he hurried to the bedside.

"Well, bout time! How're ya feelin' boy?" he asked.

Johnny swallowed and grimaced. Something was stuck in his throat. His hand went up to his neck and Jelly took it gently, patting it as he lowered it back down.

"You got a tube in your throat down to your belly. Doc said it was so's they could give ya water and the like. Ya had to have another operation. Do ya remember?"

Johnny nodded and tried to clear his throat. "Yeah," he whispered. "Infection," he squeaked out.

"That's right but they think they got ya all fixed up now so's all ya gotta do is rest and get better," Jelly said, more confident than he felt.

Johnny grimaced and held his breath as his jaw clenched tight. Jelly grabbed his hand and waited until he got through the worst of it.

"Okay, now I'm goin to get the nurse, no arguments!" he announced.

"No ... arguments," Johnny breathed heavily.

Jelly raised a suspicious eyebrow before he went for the nurse. He returned a second later and said she was on her way.

"Read the letter Murdoch left," he said warily.

"Letter? Oh, yeah," Johnny replied.

"It's okay, ya don't have ta talk. I know it ain't easy on ya," he said sympathetically.

"It's okay. Just hurts some," Johnny whispered.

"I know it does, boy. You just rest, that's your job. I'll do the watchin, that's my job."

The nurse came in and gave him laudanum through the tube in his nose, then felt his forehead. "How do you feel, Johnny?" she asked.

"Like I been run over by a mule," Johnny mumbled, trying to smile.

"Dr. Fenway will be in a little later to explain what happened. Can I get you anything?"

"No ma'am, thanks."

Jelly thanked the nurse as she left then turned his attention back to Johnny. "Now, like I said, ya don't have ta talk, just listen. I know you, boy. I know you're blamin yourself for what happened ta that old fool but it ain't your fault. He did everthin in the world ta push you right into this. Only thing you got to do is work on gettin better. Sooner ya do that, sooner we can get ya home where ya belong."

"Jelly, Scott...."

"Scott'll be just fine once Murdoch catches up with him. He knows you'd never do nothin ta hurt him if'n ya could help it. Johnny, that boy loves you. Shore he's hurt and mad, that's ta be expected. Once he calms down and has time ta think, he'll see the whole truth of it. He'll understand, I know he will," Jelly replied.

"Hope so," Johnny mumbled sleepily.

"I know so. Now you go ta sleep. I'll be sure ta wake ya when the doc comes," Jelly said, tucking the covers in as he spoke.

"Thanks, Jelly. Thanks for everything," Johnny smiled, then drifted off.

*****

Johnny slept through most of the day, waking at intervals, then going right back to sleep. Jelly was grateful he could rest, still he wouldn't stop worrying until Johnny was standing steady on his own two feet again. He was worried about more than his physical state. He had heard that sometimes a man who'd been gutshot changed afterward, that he was never the same person. He didn't want that to happen to Johnny. He loved the boy just the way he was.

Dr. Fenway came in late in the evening to check on his patient. Jelly nudged Johnny gently to awaken him as promised. Johnny opened his eyes slowly, blinking at the fuzzy image in the white coat.

"How do you feel, Johnny?" the doctor asked.

"Sleepy," he smiled.

"I hear you've been taking the laudanum, that's good. I do have to take a peek under your bandages now. It might be a little uncomfortable. While I'm doing that, I'll tell you what happened in surgery." Dr. Fenway removed the bandages, talking the entire time.

He explained the details of what they had done and about the tubes protruding from the man's body. He kept his voice smooth, almost lilting as he spoke and Jelly had to smile as he watched Johnny. He was so intent on listening to the doctor, he never paid any attention to what was being done.

"Okay, all done. Everything looks very good, young man," he smiled.

"Good, can't take much more bad news," Johnny said a bit glumly.

"My orders are sleep, sleep and more sleep for the next few days. We'll reduce the amount of laudanum you're getting as we go. Do you have any questions?" Dr. Fenway asked.

Johnny only shook his head no, as did Jelly when the doctor turned to him.

****

Sheriff Harris entered the room and stood beside the door until Jelly noticed him standing there. He walked over to the lawman.

"Where's Mr. Lancer?" Harris asked.

"Gone ta Boston. I'm Jelly Hoskins, friend of the family. Can I help ya, Sheriff?"

"I wrote up a copy of my report on the shootings. Mr. Lancer wanted to see it so I figured I'd just give him one. He didn't say anything about leaving, though," the sheriff explained.

"Reckon he wasn't plannin on it. Johnny made 'im go. I'll make sure he gets the report. I don't imagine he'll be back 'fore Johnny gets outta here," Jelly offered.

"Alright then. How is Johnny?"

"Had a bad turn. They had ta operate agin but he's doin better now," Jelly explained.

"Who's that?" Johnny asked.

"Oh, hello. It's Sheriff Harris, Johnny. Just came by to drop off a copy of my report for your father."

"He's not here," Johnny replied.

"Yes, your friend was just telling me. I'm sorry to hear you had a set back. I hope you're feeling better soon," he said.

"Don't worry, I'll be out of here soon as I can," Johnny said.

"Now is that anyway ta talk? The man come over here ta do you a favor," Jelly admonished.

"It's alright, I understand. There is still a problem if you feel up to talking for a few minutes," Harris answered.

"What problem?" Johnny asked, more awake now.

"The wanted posters. They're still out there, Johnny. I spoke with the printer and he told me Garrett had fifty made. Then I went to the post office and they gave me a list of the towns he sent them to. There's still a lot of people out there who think it's good," the sheriff explained.

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "I forgot about that," he mumbled.

"Ain't no wonder with everthin else's been goin on," Jelly piped in. "What can we do about it, Sheriff?" he asked.

"I don't know that there's anything we can do, Mr. Hoskins. I've never heard of a wanted poster being rescinded before," Harris replied.

"Can't we send out posters saying that one ain't no good no more?" Jelly asked.

"Yes, I suppose you could but I don't know how much good it would do."

"Won't do any good," Johnny said.

"Well it's worth a try!" Jelly huffed. He turned to the sheriff again. "Reckon you could come up with a good way of sayin it and I'll have them posters made? Then I can send 'em out to the same towns Garrett did."

"Yes, I can do that. Come to my office in the morning and I'll have something ready for you. I'll get that list of towns for you, too. Well, I should get to my rounds. Goodnight," the sheriff replied and left.

****

"You know it won't help. There'll be somebody who didn't bother to read the new poster or won't believe it," Johnny said when the sheriff had left.

"Maybe, but it's better ta have one or two than a hundred," Jelly reasoned.

"Guess so. Jelly, do you know where my gun is? I'd feel better if I had it close."

"I'll ask the nurse if they got your stuff. It weren't in the hotel room. Reckon Murdoch didn't think about it."

"No, he had too much on his mind," Johnny half-smiled.

"Seems ta me he shoulda had only one thing on his mind. You!" Jelly clipped.

"I told him to go, Jelly," Johnny said.

"I know ya did. Don't mean he had ta listen."

"He told me .... he said ...." Johnny felt the moisture building in his eyes and he had to stop for a minute. Once he was in control again, he continued. "He told me he loved me," he said softly.

Jelly's face broke into a wide grin. "Bout time!" he exclaimed. Softening his voice he leaned closer to Johnny. "I told ya he did, just had a hard time sayin it is all. I'll be right back. Gonna see if that pretty nurse knows anythin about your stuff."

He patted Johnny's hand and walked into the hall. Jelly returned after a few minutes with a box. "They had it stored for ya. Now, let's just make sure we got everythin," he said as he started rooting through.

"Let's see now. Uh, well your shirt's done for, here's your pants, boots, gunbelt. Ah ha, here it is!" he said as he walked over and handed Johnny his pistol.

He gripped it for a moment, turning it side to side, then slipped it under the pillow. "Anything else?" he asked.

"Yep, your money pouch," Jelly replied.

"Good, use that to pay for those posters. Oh, can you do me a favor?"

"Anything," Jelly said.

"Check on Barranca for me. He's been in the livery stable all this time and I want to make sure they're taking good care of him."

"I'll stop by on my way to the sheriff's office first thing in the mornin," Jelly promised.

"Now, go get some rest. You look awful," Johnny grinned.

"Ya don't exactly look like a breath of fresh air yerself! You sure you're alright here?"

"I'm sure. I plan on sleepin the rest of the night," Johnny assured him.

*****

When Jelly arrived at the post office with the posters to send, he received the telegram from Scott. Reading it, he decided it wouldn't be fair to tell him about Johnny's set back. He had enough on his mind. He sent the wire to Ohio saying Johnny was recovering slowly and little else. He sent out the posters and prayed it would work.

When he arrived at the hospital, the nurse told him Johnny had slept well through the night. At least some good news, he thought. When he entered the room however, the blue eyes locked on him.

"Mornin," Johnny said.

"Mornin. How ya feelin?"

"Pretty good as long as they keep pumpin that laudanum in me," Johnny replied snidely.

"Teach ya ta promise things ya don't wanna do," Jelly retorted. "Barranca's fine, misses ya though. I told 'im you was gettin better and you'd see 'im soon as ya could."

"Thanks, Jelly."

"Sent them posters off and got a telegram from Scott," Jelly continued.

"Scott?" Johnny asked, trying to raise up.

"Here now! Lay back down there! Yes, Scott. He wanted ta know how you was doin. I told him you was gettin better but it was slow," Jelly replied.

"You didn't tell him about the second operation, did you?" Johnny asked.

"No, figured he had enough ta deal with. Since you're a doin alright and all, didn't see no point in upsettin 'im," Jelly answered.

"Good," Johnny said, sighing with relief. He didn't want his brother worrying about him.

*****

Scott arrived in Ohio and went to see if his wire had been answered. Relief flooded him when he got Jelly's note. He wondered why Murdoch didn't send it but he supposed it didn't matter. At least Jelly was there and Murdoch had some help.

He would arrive in Boston the next evening so he sent a telegram making sure the arrangements were taken care of for his grandfather. Once that was done, he boarded the train again and waited. He was given periodic updates from the porter on the boxcar situation and all had been going well. He had made sure they did everything necessary to keep his grandfather's body preserved.

There had been no delays in his journey and he was grateful. The trip was long enough as it was. He didn't recall it being this arduous when he had gone to California but that was a different situation altogether. He had done a lot of thinking on this trip and he had come to some conclusions. His brother had some things to answer for as did his father. He understood them wanting to protect him. He understood Johnny's life was in danger. What he couldn't understand was that they had lied to him for a full day.

They had kept the letter and the bounty poster from him, lying to him about Johnny's whereabouts and the source of the bounty. It saddened him deeply to think his grandfather would go to such lengths for revenge. He knew in his heart it really had very little to do with him and everything to do with Harlan's hatred for Murdoch. He hadn't wanted Johnny dead to get Scott back, he had only wanted to hurt Murdoch. A thought occurred to him but he shook it away. He would find more answers once he got to Boston.

*****

Murdoch arrived in Denver and breathed a sigh of relief as the old man sitting next to him had reached his final destination. The constant snoring and the battle to keep the man from using him as a pillow had deprived him of any rest. He took the opportunity to send a telegram to Sacramento to check on Johnny. He still had that feeling something was wrong. He tried to attribute it to parental worry but that was something he didn't have much experience with so he couldn't recognize it as such.

He hoped he would receive a reply by the time he arrived in Ohio. He sat down on a bench at the train station and watched the people come and go for a while. He was in no hurry to get back on the train. He figured two and a half more days and he would be in Boston. A place he had not seen in twenty years. He thought he would never see it again and that had suited him just fine. Once Scott had come home, he saw no reason to ever return there.

He thought back to that time when he had tried to get Scott back. The boy was so young then, barely out of the toddler stage. Harlan had been ruthless as usual, threatening him with court action and promising to ruin Lancer in the bargain. He had been angry with himself then and still now for letting the man intimidate him. He was not a man to be trifled with in business but he had let Garrett manipulate him and use Scott as the pawn. Well, nothing to do about it now. He had made his mistakes and had been given a second chance. He only hoped that chance would last.

******

The train pulled into Boston station in the early evening hours. Scott went immediately to the porter who had helped him so much on the trip. He watched as the undertaker's men took charge of the coffin. He tipped the porter generously for his help then followed the coffin to the black, curtained hearst. Last minute instructions were confirmed and Scott watched as they pulled away with his grandfather. He stood there for a few long moments then turned and hailed a carriage to take him to the home where he'd grown up.

He walked up to the front doors of the mansion and thought about knocking. Silly, he thought and opened the door. He walked into the foyer and was overcome by de ja vu. He nearly called out for his grandfather. He removed his jacket and hung it in the closet as he had done every day for twenty some years.

"Mister Scott, welcome home," Bryant the butler called as he appeared in the hall.

"Thank you, Bryant. How are things here?" Scott asked.

"Everything is just as you instructed, Sir. The staff have all been informed and Mr. Darcy stopped by today to check on things. The funeral has been scheduled for day after tomorrow," the man replied. "I am so sorry, Mr. Scott," he added.

"Thank you, Bryant. I think I'll go to my room and have a bath then I'd like to have a light supper," Scott instructed.

The butler nodded and left him.

Scott climbed the stairs to the second floor and went into his old bedroom. It was just as he'd left it. He sighed and headed for the bath wishing he could be anyplace else right now.

He looked through the closet after he had bathed and found some of his old clothes. He had not even thought of needing clothes before he left Sacramento. He picked out a suit and began to dress. Frowning as he stood in front of the full length mirror, he scrutinized himself. His clothes were too tight now, the result of hard work and hearty food had caused him to bulk up.

Bryant knocked on the door and he opened it with a wry grin. "I think I'll need some new clothes, Bryant. Could you take care of that for me tomorrow? Just a few things and a suit for the funeral," Scott said.

"Of course, Sir. I could tell you'd put on a few pounds. Your dinner is waiting unless you would rather eat up here," the butler replied.

"No, I'll be right down," Scott said and closed the door. He took off the tight jacket and settled for being a bit uncomfortable for now then he headed downstairs.

******

After dinner he roamed around the rooms downstairs for a while, reliving memories. He ended up in his grandfather's study where he'd spent many hours under the desk as a boy. Harlan liked to work here at night and Scott would always be underfoot, hoping for some recognition of his presence from time to time.

He sat behind the desk and began a systematic search of the drawers. Most of what he found was dry business correspondence and documents. The bottom left drawer was locked and this piqued his curiosity. He searched around for a key and, finding none, decided it didn't matter so he forced the drawer open with a letter opener.

Scott pulled the stack of papers out and read through them. His stomach tightened more with each reading. Reports on Murdoch that went back more than twenty years. Garrett had evidently put an investigator on retainer. He stopped and read one report over and over. Murdoch's marriage to Maria and Johnny's birth. The report was dated one month after Johnny had been born. His grandfather knew about Johnny even then. He closed his eyes and dropped his head. "Why Grandfather?" he wondered aloud.

He continued reading the reports, each one describing some milestone in Murdoch's life, mostly business. After the report that Maria had run off, there wasn't much more personal information. Then he found another report on Johnny Madrid. Five years before his father had sent for him, five years before he found out he even had a brother, five years before Murdoch even knew where Johnny was, Harlan Garrett knew. Knew and said nothing to either of them.

Scott was getting a clearer picture of his grandfather's obsession now, his relentless quest to ruin Murdoch Lancer. He sat back in the chair and stared into space. He knew Scott had a brother almost from the day he was born, he knew where Johnny was five years before Murdoch did. It must have pleased him immensely to have this information, knowing Murdoch didn't. Scott wondered why his grandfather hadn't sent someone to kill Johnny before he returned to Lancer. Maybe he didn't think Murdoch would ever find him or, if he did, that Johnny wouldn't come home. He didn't care that Johnny's life was so miserable, so painful. In fact, Scott was sure at this point that the man relished in the thought.

He left the room and went upstairs, hoping he could get a little sleep before the events of the next day began. The reading of the will. He wondered what new surprises would be in store for him. He almost hoped Garrett had left him nothing. He didn't want the responsibility for the man's business, for he had already decided what he would do if that was the case. Scott settled into the bed and closed his eyes.

*****

Murdoch arrived in Boston in the early morning hours. He looked around, noticing how much the city had changed since his last visit. He hoped he could still remember how to find the Garrett house. He hailed a carriage and asked the driver if he knew the way, grateful when the man replied in the affirmative. As they drove along the streets he realized something; he had no extra clothes with him, so he asked the driver to find a store.

It took longer than he expected to find something suitable that he could stand to wear. He also purchased a dark blue suit. He wasn't sure Scott would even want him to go to the funeral but he wanted to be prepared. He wondered if his son would even allow him to stay at the house. He had no idea what frame of mind Scott was in and this worried him more than anything. Getting the telegram from Jelly that Johnny was recovering had been a huge weight off his mind. Feeling confident about his younger son, he concentrated on his elder one.

******

Scott awoke early as was his habit now. He wandered down to the kitchen which was as quiet as a church. He knew no one would be up at this hour so he put on a pot of coffee and settled in at the table. He was dreading this day, knowing it would be long and complicated. He tried to keep his mind free of thoughts but it was a nearly impossible task. His mind was working overtime, jumping from one thought to the next. He thought he might check on Johnny again but then he was sure Murdoch would let him know if anything was really wrong.

He heard the loud rapping on the front door and frowned. It couldn't possibly be the lawyer this early. He thought about getting his gun, then remembered where he was and shook his head at how much he had changed in such a short period of time.

He opened the door and his mouth fell open. "Murdoch!"

"Hello, son. May I come in?" Murdoch replied.

"Uh, yes, yes of course. What are you doing here? Is Johnny..." he couldn't finish the question.

"Johnny is fine the last I heard, or getting there," Murdoch quickly answered.

"What are you doing here?" Scott asked, still befuddled.

"I'm here to be with you. Your brother insisted I come," Murdoch explained.

"You shouldn't have left him," Scott said.

"I didn't think so, either, but he was adamant. Could I get a cup of coffee while we discuss this?" Murdoch asked, dying for some caffeine.

Scott led him into the kitchen and poured them both a cup of coffee, then sat down next to his father and waited.

Murdoch took a long drink of the hot liquid, allowing it to register in his stomach before saying anything.

"When Johnny woke up and found out I hadn't had the chance to talk with you before you left, he was very upset. He told me I had to come after you. He said no one should have to go through this alone. He was hurt that you didn't even mention him in your note," Murdoch said, eyeing his son.

Scott's eyes dropped to the table. "I checked on him," he said quietly.

"I know, the nurse told me. Scott, I wish you could have talked to me before taking off like that. I should have come to you but I was afraid to leave Johnny. Turns out it's a good thing I didn't," Murdoch continued.

"Because he needed the blood transfusion," Scott nodded. "Maybe I didn't handle things right, Murdoch, but I wasn't thinking too clearly."

"I understand that, son. I just wanted to talk to you is all. I wanted to say I'm sorry for lying to you. I really never thought things would get so out of hand. I should have gone with Johnny," Murdoch said, shaking his head sadly.

Scott took a drink of his coffee and was quiet for a minute. "I'm still upset with both of you about that. I don't understand why you would think either of you could get through to my grandfather. You're the two people he hates .... hated most."

Murdoch grimaced as he watched his son struggle with the concept of talking about his grandfather in the past tense. "Johnny was sure he could make Harlan understand, Scott. I don't know exactly what he had in mind but I had to trust him. It was his life on the line, son," he said as gently as possible.

"I realize that, Sir. Maybe you should come with me. I found some things last night that you should see," Scott said, not wanting to get into his feelings about all this right now. He got up and headed for the front of the house.

Murdoch raised his brow but didn't push. He was curious as to what Scott might want to show him.

Scott walked into Harlan's study and simply pointed at the pile of papers on the desk. "Read those," he said.

Murdoch looked at him then at the desk and proceeded to sit in the chair. He picked up the pile and started sorting through.

Scott stood by the fire gazing into the flames as he waited. Murdoch slammed the papers down loudly on the desk and stood up, knocking the chair back against the wall.

"Did you want me to comment on this?" he asked gruffly.

"If you feel the need to," Scott replied.

"What do you want me to say, Scott? Harlan hated me, so much so that he kept the whereabouts of your brother from me. Enough to keep the existence of your brother from you. Enough to threaten me with every legal action in the country to keep me from you!" Murdoch stopped, realizing he'd said too much.

"It's alright. I understand now. I know he cared more about revenge than me," Scott said softly.

Murdoch walked over and placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "Scott, I'm not his biggest fan but I do know he loved you in his own way."

"Don't defend him, Sir. There is no excuse for this! None whatsoever! He used me to get to you and Johnny. He kept my brother from me all these years. I ...." Scott stopped, unable to continue his rant as the emotions overwhelmed him.

Murdoch took hold and pulled him close, rocking slowly back and forth in an effort to soothe his son's pain. "I know, son. I know how much it hurts. I'm so sorry about all of this."

Scott pulled away after a minute and turned. "It's not your fault. I have to get dressed now, the lawyer will be here soon," he said and walked away quickly.

Murdoch watched him go, his heart breaking for his boy.

*****

At exactly nine a.m., there was a knock on the door and Bryant answered. He showed the visitor to the study and introduced him.

Scott walked over and shook hands. "Mr. Darcy, I'm Scott Lancer and this is my father, Murdoch Lancer."

Mr. Darcy shook hands with Scott then looked questioningly at Murdoch. "I understood this would be a private meeting," he said.

"My father's arrival was unexpected but it doesn't make a difference. Anything you say to me will be relayed to him anyway. Shall we get started?" Scott said in a tone that left no doubt Murdoch would be staying.

Mr. Darcy nodded and sat in one of the chairs near the fire. "I read over the will when I got the news. I am sorry for your loss, Mr. Lancer. The terms of the will are very succinct. If you will allow, I'll simply explain it instead of reading the entire document." He stopped until Scott nodded his head.

"Very well, simply put you are to inherit all of your grandfather's holdings. You are the sole heir, with a proviso," he said.

Scott looked at him and fought to keep from smiling. He knew this would not be cut and dried. "Go on, Mr. Darcy."

"The proviso is that you stay in Boston. If you refuse, you are to receive nothing," the lawyer explained.

Murdoch shook his head at this, Harlan was still trying to control Scott even from the grave. "And if he doesn't stay in Boston?" he asked.

"The entire inheritance will go to one William Haldeman," Darcy answered.

"Grandfather's vice-president," Scott explained after receiving the questioning look from Murdoch. He turned back to the lawyer. "Well, Mr. Darcy, I'm sure Mr. Haldeman will be most pleased as I have no intentions of staying in Boston. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to attend to the final arrangements for my grandfather's funeral," Scott said as he stood.

"Mr. Lancer, I don't think you understand what you're giving up. Mr. Garrett's estate is quite large," Darcy said, astounded at the refusal.

"You are the one who doesn't understand. My grandfather has tried everything to get me back here. I refused him when he was alive, I have no intention of giving into him now. Good day, Sir," Scott said firmly.

Scott sat back down heavily once the lawyer had left. He buried his face in his hand and leaned over on the arm of the chair.

"I'm sorry, son," Murdoch said.

"Seems that's all you can say to me lately. Honestly, I'm glad. I didn't want to be responsible for his business. I never wanted it," Scott said.

"I hope this means you plan on coming home," Murdoch ventured.

"It does. I never intended to stay away. I said I was coming back in my note," Scott explained.

"I know but I wasn't sure. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No, I just have to check with the undertaker that everything is in order. The funeral is in the morning. I suppose I'll have to sign some legal papers for the will. After that, I guess there won't be anything left to do here," Scott said.

Murdoch thought he sounded very tired. "Do you want me to go to the funeral with you?"

Scott looked up at him and tried to smile. "Yes, I'd like that."

Murdoch smiled at him, relieved Scott was going to allow him to give the support he knew his son needed. "Well, if you don't need me I think I'd like to rest for awhile."

"Of course. I'll have Bryant show you to a room. I'm glad you're here," Scott said and left to find the butler.

*****

Scott and Murdoch attended the funeral of Harlan Garrett the next morning. It was a pitiful event. Less than twenty people showed up and the minister was at somewhat of a loss, never having known the man. He did the best he could but it was generic. Scott didn't really care, he just wanted it over with. He was grateful for one thing, well two actually. The weather was nice and his father was with him. He couldn't help himself, he was grieving for the man who had raised him. He let the sorrow out during the graveside memorial and felt the secure, strong hand of his father around his waist throughout the entire morose business.

Everyone gathered at the house afterward, mostly business associates and a few friends. William Haldeman approached Scott about an hour into the drudgery.

"Scott, I'm so sorry for your loss. I wonder if I might have a minute of your time in private," he said.

"Of course, Bill. Let's go in the library," Scott said.

"I'll come right to the point," Haldeman said once Scott had closed the door. "I don't feel right about this, Scott. This is your inheritance, I'm not family."

"Bill, the will was very specific and I do not intend to stay in Boston," Scott explained.

"Yes, but, you could contest it in court," Haldeman suggested.

Scott approached the man and smile. "I appreciate your concern but I really don't want the business or the house or any of it. It all belongs to you now. That's how it should be anyway. You were very loyal to him. Now that I think of it, this is your house now. I hope you don't mind if my father and I stay another day or so?"

"Of course not!" he exclaimed.

******

Everyone finally left and Scott was exhausted. He slumped into a chair in the study with a brandy in hand. He didn't even hear his father enter the room.

"Tired?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes. Thank you for today," Scott replied.

"I'm glad I could be here, son."

"I needed you today but that doesn't mean I need you to take care of my problems all the time," Scott said flatly.

"Scott, I..."

"Just let me say this, Murdoch," Scott interrupted. "I know you wanted to protect me, save me from getting hurt, but you didn't. The simple truth is if Johnny hadn't gone to see my grandfather alone he would still be alive. If you had just told me the truth right off, this whole thing could have been avoided. Now, my grandfather is dead and my brother is in the hospital."

"You're right, we should have told you. I just felt confident Johnny wouldn't hurt him," Murdoch tried to explain.

"Johnny didn't intend to hurt him. I know he was acting in self-defense but that doesn't make it any easier for me. I still lost the man who raised me. How am I supposed to deal with that? Tell me, Murdoch, because I don't have a clue how I'm suppose to face my brother now!" Scott said, his anger rising.

Murdoch's anger was threatening to overtake him now. "I don't know, Scott. Perhaps you'd feel better if it were Johnny that died!"

"That's not fair! I know you hated him but he was my grandfather, my mother's father. The only link I had to her! Don't you understand that I loved him?" Scott spewed.

"Yes, I do understand that. He wasn't your only link to your mother, Scott," Murdoch said, trying to calm down.

"I'm sorry, I'll elaborate. He was the only one who would talk to me about her," Scott clipped.

"If you want to know something, just ask me. I never wanted you to feel you couldn't talk to me about her. Harlan was the sore spot, Scott. I didn't want you to know the truth about how things really happened," Murdoch explained.

"Once again, you kept the truth from me. How is that any better than him lying to me? Don't you see, Murdoch? You keep trying to spare my feelings and all you end up doing is causing more problems. That's why you can't talk to Johnny either. You're so afraid we'll see you in a bad light that you say nothing at all." Scott was tempering himself now, knowing a shouting match would resolve nothing.

Murdoch considered this idea for a moment. "Maybe you're right, maybe I don't want to look bad in your eyes. What do you want to know?"

"Right now all I want is for you to stop treating me like a child who has to be protected from the world. Stop keeping things from me that affect my life," Scott said tiredly.

"No matter how much it hurts?" Murdoch asked.

"No matter how much it hurts," Scott affirmed.

*****

Johnny slept a great deal for the next four days. The laudanum was keeping him in a haze even though the doctor was making sure they titrated the dosage down each day. When he was awake, Jelly would chatter away about whatever came to mind to keep him occupied. He slept well through most nights, awakening occasionally for a few minutes then drifting off again. On this fourth day after the second surgery, Jelly noticed he seemed more alert.

"Well, now you look a little more bright-eyed," he observed.

"Yeah, feel better, too," Johnny replied, rubbing his face.

"Think yer up ta a shave?" Jelly asked, raising an eyebrow.

Johnny rubbed his face and grimaced. "Definitely," he grinned.

Jelly obtained the needed items from the nursing staff and an orderly helped him sit Johnny up a little which he appreciated immensely. He had been flat on his back for way too long.

Jelly went about the chore, talking away the entire time about Dewdrop's bad behavior. He had to stop a couple of times as Johnny chuckled at the bird's antics. Jelly beamed when he heard Johnny laughing, it was a sound he had missed terribly.

"Now then, yer lookin human again," he smiled.

Johnny rubbed his face and nodded. "Feels good, thanks, Jelly. I seem to be thanking you a lot these days."

"No need. Just helpin out. Ya know I'd do anythin for ya," Jelly said, fidgeting a little.

"I know, me too," Johnny smiled.

Dr Fenway stepped into the room and stopped mid-stride. "Well, don't you look nice?"

"He shore does, best watch them pretty young nurses of your'n, Doc. They ain't got a chance now," Jelly grinned.

"How do you feel today, Johnny?" the doctor asked.

"A lot better. Feels good to sit up for a while. So, when do ya think I can go home?" Johnny asked. The look of hope on his face was almost comical.

"Let's not get crazy here. I'm not ready to cut you loose just yet. It's going to be several more days, I think," he replied.

Johnny's face dropped, then he tried again. "It's not that far to the ranch and Jelly could get a wagon, lay me down in back. We have a real good doctor at home to look after me," he said.

"I'll make you a deal. When you can keep semi-solid foods down on your own, I'll consider that idea," Dr. Fenway compromised.

"Great! So, give me some food," Johnny smiled.

"We'll start out with liquids first, see how you tolerate that. Is he always like this?" he asked Jelly.

Jelly rolled his eyes, "always."

*****

Johnny started taking liquids that very day. Although they hit hard at first, he was able to keep everything down. It didn't take him long to graduate to semi-soft foods and after two days of this, he waited anxiously for the doctor.

"Well, you kept your part of the bargain. Let me take a look at your incision," Dr. Fenway said, pleased with the progress his patient was making. He saw no signs of infection and the drainage tube had produced nothing for two days.

"Alright, I'm going to remove this tube. It won't be pleasant but it will be quick," he said even as he pulled the tube out.

Johnny sucked in a breath and held it for a second, then exhaled slowly with his eyes closed. He opened them and looked at the doctor. "That wasn't so bad, now what about the stitches?"

Dr. Fenway smiled and shook his head. "Those I want to stay in for a few more days. Having to reopen the original surgical site means it will take a little longer to completely heal. But," he stopped here for effect. "I'm sure your doctor can remove them," he smiled.

"You mean it, Doc? I can go home?" Johnny asked excitedly.

"Yes, Johnny, with a few conditions," he replied.

Dr. Fenway wrote out his instructions and made a copy of Johnny's medical record for Sam Jenkins. He spoke with Jelly at length about the trip home, practically lecturing him on caring for the patient.

"I'm sending this laudanum with you just in case the trip gets too much for you," he told Johnny.

"I don't need it, Doc. Haven't had any in three days," Johnny said, raising his hand against the foul medicine.

"Well, take it anyway, for me," he said.

"Okay, but I don't need it," Johnny insisted.

"Well, I'll be on my way to the livery now. Guess I'll send some of the boys back for all these horses we gotta leave behind," Jelly said.

"But not Barranca," Johnny reminded him.

"I know, I know, he's goin with us," Jelly said with a roll of the eyes.

"Who is Barranca?" Dr. Fenway asked.

"Johnny's horse. Ya'd think he was a human the way that boy treats 'im," Jelly huffed then left.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye. I can't say it was a pleasure to meet you under the circumstances, but I am glad to have known you, Johnny."

"Thanks, Doc. You've been really good to me. I won't forget it," Johnny smiled and shook the man's hand.

*****

Scott took one last look at the house he'd grown up in, then stepped up into the carriage beside his father.

"Are you alright, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes, I guess it's just harder than I thought to leave forever," Scott said softly.

"Well, you have a home with me ... us," Murdoch said, laying a hand on his son's arm.

"Yes and I'd like to get back to it as soon as possible," Scott smiled.

They arrived at the train station half an hour before time to leave and boarded the train. 'At least I'll not have my arm used as a pillow,' Murdoch thought with some humor.

"Something funny?" Scott asked.

Murdoch explained his travel companion up to Denver and for the first time, Scott laughed. The sound was like sweet music to Murdoch.

The train pulled out of Boston station and Scott stared out the window at his former home. He thought it odd that he wasn't sad, in fact, he felt relieved.

*****

"Alright, ya comfortable back there?" Jelly asked.

"I'm good, Jelly. Let's just get going," Johnny replied, winking at Barranca.

"Well, if yer done kissin all over that horse, I'll be glad to!" Jelly said and flicked the reins.

The wagon lurched forward and Johnny felt a slight twinge in his stomach. He was

pleased it wasn't any worse than that, he didn't want Jelly to know how he really felt. He knew he'd do just fine at home and he wanted to be there when Scott came back.

The ride wasn't bad and he managed to nap throughout the day. They were making good progress and he thought they would be back by early afternoon the next day at this pace.

The sun began to set and Jelly looked for a campsite. He found one to his liking and pulled up. "Well, this is bed for the night," he said. "Johnny?"

"Yeah."

"You okay, boy?" Jelly asked.

"Yeah, I'm okay, just nodded off for a minute," Johnny lied.

"Well, I'll get a fire goin. You just stay put til I come back. Unless ya need ta take care of business first," Jelly inquired.

"I'm okay for now," Johnny said.

He sighed and relaxed once Jelly was out of sight. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the brown bottle of laudanum. Looking disdainfully at it, he struggled with the decision. He made up his mind that he didn't need any help and tossed it into the bushes across the road. The sudden action was instantly regretted as it pulled on his stomach muscles. He clutched at his gut and fought off the pain.

*****

Sleep was elusive for most of the night as Johnny stared up at the stars. He didn't want to sleep, he wanted to enjoy the outdoors. He always felt better when he was outside, hating being imprisoned in any building for too long.

His gut was aching but it wasn't too bad, nothing he couldn't handle and he had managed to fool Jelly into thinking he'd actually ate the beans he'd fixed for supper. He had snuck a peek under the bandages and was glad to see no signs of infection. Everything seemed to be working out well.

He went back to his star gazing, finding the constellations he'd memorized over the years. So many years spent sleeping on the ground. He sighed heavily.

"You alright?" Jelly asked.

"You have the hearing of a dog. Yes, I'm alright, just can't sleep," Johnny replied.

"Need anything? Are ya hungry?" Jelly asked, sitting up in his bedroll.

"I'm fine, Jelly. Are you gonna be like this all the way home?" Johnny said, a bit annoyed.

"Yep, so get used ta it," Jelly retorted and laid back down.

****

Johnny had drifted off sometime during the night. He awoke to the sound of clanging pans.

"Mornin. Breakfast will be ready in a jiffy," Jelly said pleasantly.

"Ain't hungry," Johnny replied sleepily.

"What's that? Ya gotta eat, Johnny. I promised the doc."

"Okay, Jelly, but just a little. Didn't get much sleep," Johnny conceded.

"Well, reckon ya got used ta that bed," Jelly said, watching him closely.

He managed to choke down some bacon and coffee and Jelly broke camp. They were on their way again within the hour.

Johnny felt a sense of calm come over him as he realized he would be home today. Almost two weeks since he had left and he couldn't wait. He nodded off though, exhausted from the constant bouncing of the wagon and the lack of sleep.

He suddenly realized they weren't moving and opened his eyes cautiously. He looked at the back of the wagon and saw Barranca was no longer there. He raised up a little and then he saw her. She had moved to the back of the wagon and was smiling at him like an angel.

"Johnny!" Teresa cried as she climbed into the back of the wagon and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Welcome home," she whispered.

"It's so good to see you, Teresa," he said, feeling like he might just cry.

"Alright now, we gotta get him up ta bed," Jelly said, but the smile on his face denounced the firm tone.

*****

Johnny settled into his bed and sighed happily. His bed, his room, his home. Gracias, dios, he thought. Teresa sat beside him grinning ear to ear and he couldn't help but laugh a little.

"Feels good to be home," he said.

"I'll bet. Murdoch and Scott will be back by the end of the week," she told him.

Johnny's smile left. "So soon? I thought I'd have a little time to ..."

"Johnny, Scott will be alright. You have to trust him to work this out and come to terms with what his grandfather did," she said.

"I'm just worried about him coming to terms with what I did," Johnny said morosely.

"I can't see how that would be so hard. All you did was defend yourself," Teresa said.

"You know it's more than that," Johnny replied.

"I know but I can't believe Scott won't understand and accept it. I know it will all work out for the best," she smiled sweetly. "Now, you need some rest. Jelly told me you didn't sleep well last night. It's no wonder with all that traveling. Sam will be here this evening to check on you and Jelly has the doctor's report all ready for him. So all you have to do is rest."

Johnny smiled at her and closed his eyes until he heard the door close behind her. He stared at the ceiling and prayed she was right. Prayed that his brother could forgive him.

*****

The days passed and Johnny was allowed up in a chair. He graduated to the sofa near the end of the week where he usually dozed off and on through the day. He spent some time on the veranda but he wasn't really interested.

Jelly was getting concerned. Johnny seemed withdrawn, he didn't smile, didn't tease with him. He watched his boy closely.

Saturday morning Johnny took up residence on the sofa again. His mood was sullen and, if he were honest he'd admit, he was scared. Scott was coming home today and he almost dreaded it. He had not prepared himself as he had hoped and he wondered again what was wrong with him. He didn't seem to have any energy or any interest in much of anything.

After sitting up for a few minutes, he laid down and covered himself with the blanket that had become as much a part of the furniture as he had in the past week. It didn't take him long to fall asleep.

****

Murdoch and Scott stepped off the stage in Morro Coyo and were met by Jelly.

"Welcome home," Jelly called and waved.

"Jelly, how are things?" Murdoch asked.

"Things are fine. Ranch is still standin, hands ain't run off," Jelly grinned.

"I meant, how's Johnny?" Murdoch said.

Jelly glanced over at Scott who was gathering their small amount of luggage. "Not good, Murdoch. Oh, he's healin alright but somethin ain't right. He jest ain't hisself. He's all sad all the time, can't get 'im ta smile fer nothin," he reported.

Murdoch didn't like the sound of this. "Do you think he's worried about how Scott will react to him?"

"That's part of it, but I don't think it's the whole story," Jelly replied.

Scott joined them then, cutting the conversation short as neither man wanted to worry him too soon. Both thought Johnny's spirits would improve when he saw his brother.

"Are we ready?" Scott asked.

"Yep, jest waitin on you," Jelly smiled.

"Jelly, how is Johnny doing?" Scott asked once they were clear of Morro Coyo.

"Alright, took some time ta get 'im healed up after that second operation," Jelly said.

"What? What second operation?" Murdoch asked, stunned at this information.

"Well, seems the mornin after you left, he got real sick. Had ta operate again. Doc said he had a abscess and they had ta go back in. It was touch and go for a while but he pulled through alright," Jelly explained.

Murdoch turned sideways so he could look directly at Jelly. "And you didn't think I would find that bit of information interesting?"

"Figured ya would. Figured ya'd turn right around and head back, too. By the time I got the telegrams ya both sent, he was outta the woods. Didn't see no call ta worry ya none. Reckon ya had enough on yer minds," he answered.

"Doesn't feel very good being kept in the dark, does it, Murdoch?" Scott asked dryly.

Murdoch shot him a look and turned back to Jelly.

"Don't give me that look. Johnny didn't want ya ta worry bout him. He said ya needed ta pay attention ta Scott and I agreed," Jelly said before Murdoch could scold him.

No one spoke again until they arrived home.

Teresa ran out to greet them, giving both equally huge hugs. Jelly took the wagon to the barn without another word. He didn't want to see this reunion.

"Johnny's on the sofa napping. He's been spending a lot of time there the past few days," she reported.

Scott faltered a little hearing this. He wasn't quite ready to face his brother yet. "I'll take our things upstairs. I'd like to take a bath and rest a while."

Murdoch nodded his understanding and walked quietly into the living room. He stared down at his sleeping son and a smile played at his lips. A memory flashed through his mind of a sleeping baby he'd held close to him. Johnny stirred and Murdoch knew he could sense someone in the room. He knelt down beside the sofa and stroked Johnny's hair.

Johnny's eyelids fluttered then he opened his eyes slowly. Seeing his father, he smiled.

"Hello, son. How are you feeling?" Murdoch asked.

"I'm fine. How was your trip?" Johnny asked.

"Good. I'm unhappy with you, young man," Murdoch said, trying to sound stern.

Johnny looked at him quizzically.

"Jelly told us about the second surgery," he explained.

"Oh, that. Well, you'll just have to be unhappy because I won't apologize for not telling you," Johnny said.

"This family needs to have a long talk about secrets," Murdoch said, shaking his head.

"Where's Scott?" Johnny asked.

"He's upstairs getting cleaned up. He wants to talk to you but I think he's going to be just fine, son. We talked in Boston and on the way home. Just listen to him and try to understand his point of view," Murdoch said.

"Just tell me, does he hate me?"

"No, son, he doesn't hate you. Not at all."

Johnny sighed and closed his eyes, nodding his head.

*****

Scott stayed in his room most of the day. He heard someone walking in the hall and he knew it was Johnny. He was shuffling his feet and he paused by Scott's door then continued down the hall.

Scott decided it was time and he wanted to speak to his brother alone. He gave Johnny a few minutes to get settled, then went to his room. He knocked on the door and opened it. Johnny was sitting on the side of the bed.

"Hey," he whispered.

"You okay?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, just need to catch my breath," Johnny replied.

Scott walked over and lifted his legs as Johnny laid down on the bed, sighing deeply. After a second he raised and scooted himself up so he was in a sitting position. They locked eyes and Johnny waited.

"I suppose I should start right in on you but you don't look too good, boy," Scott said.

"I'm alright, go ahead, I deserve it," Johnny mumbled.

"Yes, you do. I want to ask you a question and I want a straight answer. Why didn't you

trust me to handle this?"

"It wasn't about trusting you, Scott. It was about the price on my head. It was about keeping you from gettin hurt again," Johnny replied.

"I see. So you took it upon yourself to run my life, make my decisions for me. Johnny, lying to me to save my feelings only made things worse. It always will. I'd rather know the truth no matter how painful it might be," Scott said.

"It was my life, too, Scott. It still is. That bounty hasn't gone away ya know. Jelly sent out some posters saying it wasn't good anymore but it won't help much. Is that what you're mad at me about? Lyin to you?"

"Mostly. If you had told me the truth from the beginning, this could have been avoided. You didn't have to face him, you didn't have to kill him," Scott said, trying to control himself. "I know your life was, is, in danger, Johnny. I can't tell you how much I hate that."

"I didn't want to, I didn't think he'd .... Hell! I thought I could talk some sense into him. I thought he might listen to reason. I never imagined he'd shoot me, Scott!"

"Why not? He tried to poison you. He put a bounty on your head," Scott reasoned.

"I guess I didn't think he had the guts to do it himself. I underestimated him. I didn't want this to happen. I'm sorry," Johnny said, hanging his head.

"So am I. I'm sorry about all of it. I'm sorry my grandfather was consumed with hatred for our father, I'm sorry I didn't see it sooner, I'm sorry he didn't love me enough to let it go. But most of all, I'm sorry this touched you in any way," Scott said. "I'm also sorry for the way I behaved. I should have seen you in the hospital before I left. I just couldn't think straight," he added, knowing his behavior was inexcusable.

Johnny looked up into his brother's eyes. They held the gaze for an eternity. "I figured you were pretty mad at me then. Do you hate me very much?" Johnny asked finally.

Scott smiled at the childlike quality of his voice. "No, Johnny. I could never hate you ... very much."

Johnny returned the smile. "Can I say somethin?"

"Of course."

"You said you didn't want me making decisions about your life for you, that I shouldn't try to protect you. That goes both ways, Scott. You always try to protect me from things you think will hurt me. I know you don't lie to me, at least, I don't think you do. Still, it bothers me when you do it so I can understand how it hurt you. Let's just make a deal not to keep anything from each other anymore," Johnny said.

Scott thought about this and decided he was guilty as charged. "I think that's a very good idea. No more secrets. Maybe we should get Murdoch in on this," he smiled.

"I can't believe you're not mad at me," Johnny said.

"I'll tell you some things I found out about my grandfather that helped me a lot. But not right now. You need to rest. You might be able to fool Murdoch, but you don't fool me, Johnny. I know you're not feeling well. When you're ready to talk about it, let me know," Scott finished and motioned for Johnny to scoot down. He covered his brother up and pulled the curtain closed before he left.

*****

Johnny awoke the next morning still feeling tired. He sat up slowly and started to get dressed. Murdoch walked in as he was leaning over to grab his pants.

"Here, let me help you," he said.

"Thanks, I can do it," Johnny mumbled.

Murdoch handed him the clothes and walked over to the window. He opened the curtain a stared out while Johnny dressed. Using the glass as a mirror, he watched his son struggle with the clothes. When he got to his boots, Murdoch intervened.

"You wouldn't object to a little help with these, would you?" he asked as he helped Johnny into the boots.

"Thanks."

"What's wrong, son?"

"Nothin, why?" Johnny asked.

"Jelly said you weren't yourself, that you were sad all the time," Murdoch explained.

"Jelly worries too much," Johnny clipped.

"That's true but I'm seeing it myself. Is there something you want to talk about?" Murdoch pressed.

Johnny sat on the side of the bed with his head down. "I don't know what's wrong. I just feel .... I should be better by now but I don't have any energy. I don't really care about anything. It's like .... I can't really explain it."

"Have you talked to Sam about this?" Murdoch asked.

"No, think it's something physical?"

"Could be. It can't hurt to see what he thinks," Murdoch replied.

******

"Johnny, there is something else we need to discuss," Murdoch said.

"What?"

"The bounty."

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed. "Did Jelly tell you what he did?"

"He told me, I'm not sure how much good it will do though," Murdoch replied.

"None as far as I can see but I don't know what else can be done," Johnny said, then he smiled. "So, will Scott have to pay the bounty since he's Garrett's heir?"

"I don't find anything funny about this, Johnny. The thought of you having to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life isn't amusing," Murdoch said sternly.

"So what's different? Murdoch, I've been lookin over my shoulder all my life as it is. This is nothing new for me. You think Johnny Madrid is done? He ain't, never will be as long as I'm breathing. All I can do is know it's out there and go on. I can't hide every time some stranger rides in here or in town." Johnny locked eyes with his father to drive home his point.

"I know you're right and maybe Jelly's posters will help some. I just hate the thought of Harlan haunting us forever," Murdoch said.

"Only if we let him and we won't right?" Johnny smiled.

Murdoch returned the smile and pulled Johnny to him for a quick hug. "Talk to Sam, okay?"

"I will," Johnny promised.

*****

That afternoon, Sam Jenkins arrived for Sunday supper. His first mission was to check on his patient. Johnny was waiting for him in his room.

"Well, the incision is all healed up. I'd say you can start doing some light work. Nothing too strenuous yet," Sam reported.

"Can you talk for a minute?" Johnny asked softly.

"Sure, what's on your mind," he answered, sitting on the bed.

"I'm not sure. Murdoch said I should talk to you about it. I don't feel right, Sam. I don't have any energy, I can't seem to make myself do much of anything. I just don't seem to be interested in doing a thing. I feel .... down all the time," Johnny said.

"Is this about Scott?"

"No, Scott and I talked. We're okay. It's something else. I don't know," Johnny replied, the frustration evident in his voice.

"It sounds to me like you're depressed, Johnny. It's not uncommon after a serious injury like yours. Have you been thinking about .... ending it?" Sam asked delicately.

"What, you mean killin myself? No! I just feel useless."

"Johnny, how long has this been going on?"

"About a week now."

"Since you came home. I think you got yourself so worked up and worried about the possibility that your brother might turn away from you that you've made yourself sick with it. Even though you and Scott have made your peace, you still feel guilty about what happened. That feeling may stay with you for a very long time. I hope you know in your head that this wasn't your fault," Sam said.

"My head tells me that, but the fact is, I killed his grandfather," Johnny whispered.

"Yes, you did, and he almost killed you. You've killed to save your own life before. I know these are different circumstances but you managed to deal with it then. I think with some time you can come to terms with this. My best advice for the immediate future is that you get yourself out of that bed and have supper with your family. Start going back to your normal routine, slowly. Work and family will make all the difference in the world, Johnny. Trust me on this," Sam said.

"Okay, Sam. I'll try," Johnny said with a small smile.

****

Johnny did join the family for supper and he made a valiant effort to eat as much as he could. It wasn't enough to satisfy Murdoch however. He was worried. Scott did not miss his brother's lack of appetite either. He and Murdoch exchanged several glances through the course of supper.

When it was evident that Johnny wasn't going to eat anymore, Scott spoke up. "How about joining me for some fresh air, Johnny."

Johnny simply shrugged and followed his brother out the French doors to the veranda.

Scott leaned against a column and stared at the night sky for a while. "When I was in Boston I went through Harlan's desk. I found several reports from a private investigator   on Murdoch. They dated back more than twenty years. He knew about your mother and he knew when you were born. He knew I had a brother and he never told me. Six years ago, he had the investigator track you down again. He knew then where you were. The man should go to work for the Pinkerton's, he's very good. He left me everything in his will as long as I stayed in Boston. If I didn't, it was to go to his vice president who is a very wealthy man now. He spent my entire life trying to control me. Even in death, he couldn't let go."

Johnny listened to his brother, noting the flat tone of voice in which Scott relayed this information. He didn't know if Scott expected a reply but he didn't have one.

"I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that he would have never given up. He wouldn't have stopped until you were dead and Murdoch was destroyed. That's all he ever cared about," Scott went on.

"That's not true, Scott. I know he did some ... some terrible things but he did love you. I could see that. He just got mixed up between loving you and hating Murdoch and me, too, I guess.   It's not easy when someone you love betrays you. Someone you've spent your whole life believing in and loving. You try to forget all the bad things they did and remember only the good times. After a while, you start thinking maybe it wasn't as bad as you remembered. Maybe you can just push all that bad stuff away and then you can love them again even though they're not there anymore."

Scott turned and looked at Johnny in amazement. "Is that how you did it with your mother?"

"Yeah. I'd have gone crazy otherwise," Johnny said.

"I want you to stop blaming yourself for this, Johnny. It's making you sick and I can't bear to lose my brother," Scott said as he wrapped his arm around Johnny's shoulders.

"I love you, Scott," Johnny said. It was a simple statement filled with emotion that reflected in his eyes.

Scott was a little stunned at the suddenness but he smiled and never missed a beat. "I love you, too, brother."

Murdoch joined them then and Scott went back inside to give them some privacy. Johnny took Scott's place by the same column and stared into the blackness.

"Are you feeling any better?" Murdoch asked.

"Yeah, some. Sam said I was depressed," Johnny said with a small laugh.

"He told me," Murdoch replied, finding no humor in the situation. He stood behind Johnny and put his hands on the younger man's shoulders.

To his surprise and delight, Johnny leaned back against him. Murdoch wrapped his arms around his son.

"He said all I needed was my family and to get back to work. I've spent a lot of time being mad at you and I'm tired of it. What you said to me in the hospital, I want you to know how much I needed to hear that. How long I've needed to hear it. How much I've needed you all my life. I wanted to hate you, I tried so hard, but I couldn't, not after seeing you in the flesh. All I ever wanted was for you to love me, Murdoch. I don't care if we fight every day for the rest of our lives, as long as I know you care," Johnny said huskily.

Murdoch swallowed hard and hugged his boy tighter. "Oh Johnny, I do care. I'm so sorry you didn't know that. It's my own fault, I know. I had such a hard time with you and it really wasn't you at all, it was me. I don't want to fight with you, but I know we will from time to time and that's okay. I just want you to remember that I love you, son. So very much."

"I love you, pa, so very much," Johnny whispered.

 

~end~

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