The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Secrets In The Dark

 

 

 

The Lancers made their way to the south mesa and continued on higher to the old mines that still lay barren and empty at the edges of Lancer land. Murdoch had wanted to check the area to make sure no slough was threatening to slide into the grazing grasses and water supply below after the spring storms that had just ended.

It was a quiet trip, each man lost in his own thoughts as they made the trek up the hillside. Murdoch had insisted on all three of them making the journey as it was the first year the boys would make this annual check. Both Scott and Johnny were a little put off by their father's lack of trust in their abilities. They reached the first of the mines just after noon.

"We may as well have lunch before we start," Murdoch stated as he dismounted.

Johnny simply nodded and began gathering firewood as Scott took care of the animals.

Murdoch watched them both go about the simple ritual of making a camp and shook his head. It had been obvious to him, though neither had said a word, that they didn't want him there. He knew they thought he didn't trust them and that this may seem like scut work, but he looked at it as an opportunity to spend some time alone with his sons. Something that running a ranch left little time for. He was determined to get them both to relax and stop thinking he was only mettling.

Once the fire was going and Murdoch prepared the meal, they ate in silence. Afterward, Scott began cleaning up and Johnny followed suit silently. The older man's patience was growing thin by now and he'd had enough. When they finished the chore and sat back down to finish the last of the coffee, he cleared his throat and began.

"I know you both think I don't trust you to do what looks like a simple job."

No response.

"I was hoping we could take this time to get to know one another better. That's why I wanted all three of us to come here."

The boys looked at each other in surprise, then looked at their father.

"You couldn't have just told us that from the start?" Johnny asked, a bit perturbed.

"I didn't think it would be such a hardship on you to spend a little time with your old man, whatever the reason," Murdoch scowled.

Johnny dropped his eyes, ashamed of his behavior. Murdoch was right, they had both been insulted instead of taking advantage of the situation.

"Sorry," he murmured.

"I'm sorry, as well. I guess we just thought you didn't trust us. It doesn't seem to be that big of a job," Scott said.

"It isn't, but it is an important job nonetheless. You both do realize that, don't you?"

"Sure, we know how important it is to keep the sluice out of the water supply and pastures," Johnny admitted. "How about we just start over."

Murdoch smiled at his youngest. "I think that's a good idea," he responded with pleasure.

They spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the mines, satisfied there were no problems. Once more, they returned to their camp.

"We should be finished with the rest of the mines by noon tomorrow, then we can head home," Murdoch informed them.

Glances exchanged between his sons told him they had something up their collective sleeves.

"Well, we thought, once we got done, well..." Johnny trailed off, looking to his brother for help.

"We thought you might enjoy some hunting since we're up here anyway," Scott finished.

Murdoch was pleasantly surprised by the idea, but raised an eyebrow all the same.

"I guess you want to get back to the ranch, though," Johnny said, misinterpreting the look. The disappointment in his voice was not lost on his father.

"Actually, I think it's a great idea. I'm just a little surprised is all. I thought you two might want to get away from me as soon as possible," he said with a smile.

"I can understand why you might think that. We aren't exactly the most talkative bunch. I guess we feel uncertain how to talk to you," Scott explained.

"Yes, we all seem to have the same problem. I suppose we could try having a conversation instead of asking each other a lot of questions," Murdoch suggested.

Johnny's shoulders slumped with relief and Scott had to smile at this. They spent the evening talking about the ranch and it's future. All three men involved themselves in this battle-free subject. Murdoch even shared some of the hardships he'd been through while building the ranch. Scott and Johnny gained a new respect for their father's tenacity and maybe some understanding of why he seemed to be in a perpetual bad mood.

The next morning they set out early, eager to be done with the chore and do some hunting. Johnny was especially excited to show off his tracking skills, hoping his father would realize he could do more than shoot a gun. They reached the end of the line and began searching through the dark inner depths of the caves. By the time they reached the last one, Scott didn't look too good.

"What's wrong, brother? You look a little pale," Johnny asked.

"I must confess, caves are not my favorite places," Scott laughed nervously.

Johnny didn't know a lot about his brother yet, but he knew Scott didn't like dark, closed-in places.

"Why don't you stay out here with the horses. Me and Murdoch will check this last one," he suggested.

Scott looked at him gratefully. "You wouldn't mind?"

"Shoot no, we'll be back before ya know it," he grinned as he followed Murdoch inside.

"Where's Scott?"

"Oh, he's gonna wait outside for us. He's not too crazy about caves," Johnny shrugged.

Murdoch started to ask but thought better of it, Johnny probably wouldn't tell him anyway. Those two certainly did watch each other's backs. He was grateful for it but it irked him a bit that they confided in each other but not in him.

"As I recall, this is the deepest of the mines," Murdoch commented.

"Figures, save the best for last," Johnny grinned, holding the lamp close to his face so his father could see he was joking.

Murdoch smiled back and continued into the bowels of the earth.

Scott sat on a rock near the mouth of the cave and waited. He smiled thinking of how his brother and shown his concern without making Scott feel like a coward. Johnny was an enigma to him, one he was determined to solve. Each day, it seemed they grew closer and closer. Connected by a common fate and ignorance of each other's existence. He imagined that was the core of the bond they were forming but it was growing beyond that now. They had an honest respect for each other, a true understanding that Murdoch was unable, or maybe unwilling, to grasp.

He hoped it was the former, that his father was capable of reaching out, especially to Johnny. Scott had felt, almost from the first day, that Johnny would require much more attention from Murdoch than he. He understood and accepted that, but it seemed he and Murdoch were the ones able to talk things out while Johnny must feel like an outsider.   Always trying so hard to gain his father's approval and trust and always falling short in Murdoch's eyes. He resolved to stop sitting on his laurels and make a determined effort to get those two on some common ground.

"Boy, it's cold back here, and damp," Johnny commented as he closed his jacket around him.

"It shouldn't be too much further, son."

"I hope not, I sure would like to surprise Teresa with a deer or something."

Murdoch chuckled at this. Maybe it was his age that prevented them from bonding as easily. Scott, Johnny and Teresa never had any problem being with each other.

They heard the rumbling at the same time and locked eyes. Johnny was puzzled by the sound at first, but Murdoch knew what it was. They felt the ground tremble beneath their feet and Johnny's eyes widened with understanding as Murdoch flung himself on top of his son, propelling him to the floor of the cave, against the wall.

Scott realized it was suddenly very quiet; too quiet. Where were the birds, the chipmunks, the squirrels he'd been listening to? He felt the ground beneath him shake and saw the small pebbles at his feet jump and dance about. His heart leapt into his throat as he realized what was happening. Before he could move, the trembling got much worse and he headed for the mouth of the cave, pressing his body against the wall.

Rocks, support beams and dust tumbled to the ground, rolling in every direction as the rumbling got louder. It sounded like a train was running over top them as Murdoch stubbornly refused to get off Johnny, who was desperately trying to free himself from his father's weight.

“Hold still!" Murdoch commanded and Johnny found he was unable to move.

Lying face down on the floor of the dank cave, he felt raw fear surge up inside him. Fear for his father who was taking the brunt of the cave-in.

Suddenly it stopped. A silence terrifying in it's own right, filled the cave. They stayed where they were for a few minutes, waiting. Johnny realized that Murdoch's weight was heavier than it had been, as if he were no longer trying to hold himself off Johnny.

"Murdoch, get off me," Johnny struggled the words out, but Murdoch didn't move. "Murdoch?" No reply.

Johnny's fear heightened and he mustered all his strength to roll his father off of him.

Murdoch rolled to the side like a dead weight. Johnny jumped to his knees and put his head on his father's chest. He took a deep breath and blew it out when he heard the heartbeat. He started feeling his father for injuries and ran across a nice lump on the back of Murdoch's head.

'Great!' he thought as he continued his examination. He could find no broken bones for which he was most grateful. He tried once more to arouse his father.

"Murdoch, hey Murdoch. Wake up now. Come on, we gotta get out of here," he spoke softly, patting his father's cheek.

Murdoch groaned and turned his head from side to side, then opened his eyes and tried to focus. He couldn't see anything but blackness. Suddenly he stiffened.

"Johnny?"

"I'm here. Sshh. It's okay."

"I can't see you," Murdoch whispered.

"I know, I can't see you either. There's no light. I'll try to find a lantern," Johnny replied and started to move away. He felt a hand grab his arm.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Murdoch asked.

"Except for feeling a little squished, yeah I'm fine. You have a knot on your head, though, so lie still. I won't go far, believe me," Johnny said and through the darkness, Murdoch knew he was grinning.

Why was everything funny to that boy? Here they were, trapped in a mine and he's making jokes! Murdoch felt the anger rise in him and he fought it off. This was no time to get into a bout with his youngest.

***

Scott looked out from the mouth of the cave and saw several boulders strewn about. He checked the horses and they seemed to have come through without a scratch. He stopped, frozen in his tracks as he realized what had happened and where his family was. He grabbed a lantern, lit it, and ran into the cave, yelling for Johnny and Murdoch. He heard nothing but some creaking noises above him and the faint sound of water trickling from somewhere. He knew they were in trouble as he gingerly walked further into the mine.

He saw the mound of rock and debris that had closed off the mine and he shuddered. He tried yelling out again with no luck. Quickly, he went over his options. His only choice was to ride back to Lancer and get help. He called out his plan in the off chance they could hear him but were unable to respond, then he ran to his horse and bolted for home.

"I found it!" Johnny exclaimed as he grasped the lantern and crawled back to his father, feeling his way with his hands until they came to rest on Murdoch's shoulder.

Johnny lit the lamp and held it out. What he saw made him sick inside. They were trapped. Cut off from the world in this...prison. His mind flew back in time to another prison and he shuddered visibly, blinking away the memory and focusing on the problem at hand.

"Scott...Scott will get help," Murdoch said.

Johnny relaxed and sighed with relief that his brother had not come with them. He knew Scott would lose it if he were trapped like this.

"Yeah, Scott will bring help," he mimicked, hoping his brother had not been injured in the earthquake.

He shook his head hard and focused on Murdoch. He had to smile as he saw his father's filthy face. He ran the lantern the length of Murdoch's body, checking one last time for any missed injuries.

"Do you think you can sit up?"

"I'll try," Murdoch groaned as he tried to pull himself up.

He felt a supportive arm around him and smiled to himself. Johnny rarely touched him and it felt good. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes to fight off the dizziness consuming him. After a few minutes he was able to open them again to find Johnny watching him like a hawk.

"I'm alright, son."

"Sure. Listen, I'm going to check out the back of this mine. See if there's another way out," he said softly.

"I'll go with you," Murdoch said.

"No, you won't! I don't need to be lugging you around just yet. You need to rest." Johnny's voice was determined, but softened substantially with the last sentence.

Murdoch yielded for he knew Johnny was right. "Be careful, son. This place is unstable."

"That's an understatement," he replied sarcastically.

Before Murdoch could throw his own quip, Johnny disappeared into the blackness.

Murdoch shivered as a haunting thought broke into his mind. The image of his son disappearing into nothingness before his very eyes. He suddenly realized this fear was what stopped him from trying to connect with Johnny. He had always blamed it on the fact that the boy looked so much like his mother, but that wasn't it.

When he saw Johnny shot out of the saddle his second day home, it had affected him more deeply than he could ever have imagined. He realized now that was what he was so afraid of, losing Johnny to a bullet. So afraid that he wouldn't allow himself to get close to the boy, fearing the pain such a thing would cause.

'How stupid is that?' he thought. It wouldn't matter if they were tearing each other's heads off. If anything ever happened to Johnny, he would feel no less pain now than if they were as close as ... as close as his sons were to each other.

Scott galloped into the yard and jumped down before his horse could stop. Charlie was covered in lather and Jelly was about to berate the boy for the mistreatment until he saw Scott's face.

"What's wrong?" he asked in dread.

Scott stopped to catch his breath for a second and put his hands on Jelly's shoulders. "Earthquake," he stammered out.

"I know that. We felt it here, too," Jelly replied.

Scott shook his head. "Murdoch, Johnny ... trapped in a cave.." he huffed breathlessly.

"Good Lord," Jelly whispered. "Tell Teresa, I'll get the boys together. We'll be ready in five minutes. I'll get you a fresh horse, you'll hafta show us where," he dictated and took off toward the bunkhouse.

Scott ran into the house and told Teresa who was mortified. She quickly pulled herself together and began readying supplies. When Jelly came into the kitchen she told him to go ahead with the men and equipment and she would follow their tracks with her own supplies.

***

Murdoch was starting to worry. It seemed Johnny had been gone an eternity. 'Come back to me, son,' he thought as he closed his eyes against the throbbing in his head.

"Murdoch? You okay?" Johnny asked, concern flooding his face.

Murdoch opened his eyes and stared at his boy. "Johnny, you’re back. Find anything?"

"I'm afraid not. Looks like we got sealed up in this room. Everything else is caved-in. Look, I'm gonna have to turn this lantern out. We can't waste the oil and besides, there's always the possibility of methane."

Murdoch's eyes flew wide open. Dammit, he let Johnny light that lantern without even thinking! His head must be worse than he thought. But his eyes were so heavy and he only wanted to close them for a minute, just for a minute.

"Murdoch! Wake up! You gotta stay awake, old man. You got a nasty bump on your head. Do you hear me?" Johnny yelled.

"You don't have to yell, I hear you," Murdoch groused. "I'm not deaf you know."

"Then stay awake. Talk to me," Johnny said more gently as he extinguished the light.

Murdoch chuckled at this. "Talk to you? Oh Johnny, I don't have a clue how to talk to you."

Johnny was glad his father couldn't see his face. He swallowed back the lump forming in his throat and struggled to keep his voice even. "Just say anything that comes to mind. Anything to keep you awake," he whispered.

Murdoch's head felt like it would bust open any minute. He didn't feel like talking and he didn't know what to say. He began reciting a poem he had learned in Scotland.

Johnny's smile broadened as his father continued the poem. He noticed the brogue thickening as Murdoch spoke and he laughed softly.

"Something funny?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny's head snapped up in surprise. "No, nothing. It's just ... I never heard you recite poetry before," he covered.

"That was Robert Burns. He was a Scotsman, too."

"Tell me about Scotland," Johnny said.

Murdoch sighed heavily. "I don't feel like it, Johnny. I need to rest."

"NO! Listen to me, old man. You can't go to sleep, do you hear? Now tell me about Scotland or something!" Johnny's voice was filled with desperation and fear.

"I'm not going to die on you, son," Murdoch reassured him.

"No, you're not. So keep talkin," he retorted.

Murdoch sighed again and gave in. He started talking about Inverness. Johnny felt his own eyes growing heavy and shook his head to stay awake. He couldn't fall asleep now, not now.

***

"Alright, men. We have a lotta work ta do. Harvey'll be here any minute. Now, he's gonna tell ya'll exactly how ta do this, bein the expert on minin and all. So I want ya'll ta listen to 'im," Jelly instructed.

He began to set up a more substantial camp as he had no idea how long this was going to take.

Scott stood at the mouth of the cave, peering into the black depths. He shivered from the cool night air and, if he were honest, the fear he felt.

"Scott? Could use some help settin up camp," Jelly said quietly from behind.

"Sure, Jelly," Scott said absently and followed the older man.

"They're gonna be jest fine. You know them two, why they'll probably be so busy arguin with each other, they won't even notice they're trapped," Jelly chattered. He looked at Scott, embarrassed. "I mean, uh.."

"It's alright, Jelly. You can say it, they are trapped. And we are going to get them out and they are going to be just fine," Scott said emphatically.

Jelly smiled, he had been worried about this one. Hoping Scott wasn't feeling guilty for not being with them, but curious as to why he wasn't. Still, it was a good thing. Otherwise, they wouldn't have known anything was wrong for at least a couple of days.

Harvey Rhodes arrived a few minutes later and Scott filled him in on what had happened. He had no idea how deep inside the cave they had been when it collapsed. Harvey simply nodded his head at Scott and took a lantern into the cave. He returned shortly and started laying out a plan for the rescue. Fortunately, he was familiar with the mines here and was an expert on cave-in rescue operations.

Teresa arrived with a wagon full of food and medical supplies and began cooking immediately. Hot coffee would be the main nourishment, she knew, so she started making strong pots of the bitter brew.

By the time all the lanterns had been lit, one couldn't tell if it was day or night outside the cave. Harvey broke the men into teams and scheduled shifts so they could work around the clock. Time was of the essence as the air supply inside was unknown.

***

Johnny jerked his head up and looked around, disoriented. Then he remembered why he couldn't see and he immediately reached out for his father. "Murdoch?"

"Hmmm?"

"Wake up!"

"What? What's the matter?" Murdoch said a bit groggily.

"I'm sorry, I must have drifted off. Fine story teller you are," Johnny teased, relieved his father was responsive.

"That's okay, son. You needed to rest," Murdoch replied.

"I also need to do something besides sit here. I'm going to see if I can't dig us out of here from this side. At least maybe it'll help Scott and the others."

"No, Johnny, you can't."

"Why not?"

"Air. We don't know how much air we have. You can't spend your energy like that. You're going to have to sit still," Murdoch explained and he knew it was the hardest request he could make of this son.

"Damn!" Johnny cursed, knowing his father was right. He settled back against the rock he was propping himself on and sighed. "How do you feel?" he asked.

"Mmmm, head still hurts but not as bad. I'll be fine. Just cold right now."

Johnny was cold, too. Caves were always cool, he knew, but the dampness made it worse. He chewed on his lower lip as he thought of what he was about to do. They had to keep warm somehow. He only hoped the old man wouldn't knock him into next week.

"Umm, Murdoch?"

"Yes."

"It is cold, too cold. We need to get warm," he tried.

"Johnny, you can't build a fire in here," Murdoch said a bit nonplussed.

"I know. I was thinking if we, uh, well if we got closer together, we could, uh..."

"Use our body heat. That's a good idea, son," Murdoch finished.

Johnny was shocked at the response, he was sure Murdoch would never go for such intimacy. He moved over closer to his father until their arms were touching.

"That won't do it, son," Murdoch said and raised his arm to fold Johnny close to him.

Johnny's heart was pounding in his ears as he laid his head on his father's chest. The emotions threatened to overwhelm him and he fought with everything he had to stop it. He had nothing to do with his other arm so he laid it across Murdoch's chest, resting his hand on the muscular shoulder opposite him.

Murdoch pulled Johnny close to him, holding him tightly. He hoped the boy couldn't tell his heart was beating so fast as he relished the feeling of having his youngest so close. Tears sprung up in his eyes and he was astonished at the flood of emotions coursing through him. Johnny laid his hand softly on his other shoulder and this brought on another rush. He was fiercely grateful for the darkness then and allowed the tears to fall down his face into his ears.

Concern leaped forward in Johnny's mind as he heard the rapid beat of his father's heart pounding in his ear now. He wondered if Murdoch was hurt worse than he would admit. He knew better than to ask, though, so he bit his lip and kept quiet. He thought of another way to test his concern.

"Is this too much weight for you?" he asked.

"No son, not at all," Murdoch said in a strange voice. Johnny thought he sounded strained and didn't believe he wasn't putting too much on the man.

"Maybe if I just move a little..."

"No, Johnny, you're fine right where you are," Murdoch said, his voice stronger now.

This reminded him of when Johnny was a baby and he would hold him in his arms. He was so small then, so fragile, Murdoch thought. The warmth in his heart ran through his body and he knew it had nothing to do with body heat.

Johnny relaxed and settled in, convinced his father was alright. He allowed himself to enjoy this closeness, he was certain it would never come again. His cheeks glowed with contentment that raced throughout his body, warming him from the inside out. Who needs body heat?

***

Nine hours had passed since the earthquake hit. The men were working hard to rescue their boss and his son. So many of them were totally loyal to Murdoch Lancer and just as many considered Johnny a good friend. Scott took his turn as well. He pushed any thoughts of where he was working out of his mind and concentrated on the task at hand. He had to get them out. He couldn't bear the thought of losing either one of them.

Jelly was finally called in to pry him away for a break as he had refused any suggestions from the others. The hands were gaining a new respect for the easterner who was so willing to get his hands dirty and so determined to retrieve his family.

Cipriano joined Scott at the chuckwagon for a cup of hot coffee. "Senor Scott, you must pace yourself. It will not help if you fall asleep on your feet," he advised.

"I know. I just want them out of there," Scot replied tiredly.

"Si. As do we all. We will get them out. I swear it!"

Scott studied the face of the segundo closely. He knew Cipriano was fiercely loyal to his father. He suspected the man had a soft spot for his brother as well.

"I know how much Murdoch means to you," he ventured.

"Si. He is a fine patron. The best. And Johnny, he is..." Cipriano choked back the emotions playing on his face.

"This may be a none of my business but, why does Johnny mean so much to you?" Scott asked.

Cipriano bowed his head. "It is a private matter, Senor."

Scott swallowed hard, he didn't understand the connection. Was it because Johnny was half Mexican? Surely that couldn't be all of it. No, something else was at play here and it was obvious this man was not going to tell him. He let it go and promised himself to ask Johnny about it.

"I understand," he said instead.

Jelly came out of the mine and joined them. "Well, Harvey says we're makin good progress. Says we might break through early as dusk," he smiled.

"It's been nine hours, Jelly. How long can they last if there's no air?" Scott asked point blank.

"Well, I don't rightly know, Scott. But they're both smart, they know what ta do ta keep theirselves alive," he replied with a determined nod.

"Jelly's right. They know what to do. They'll be fine Scott, you'll see," Teresa imparted with a strained smile.

"Honey, why don't you go rest? You're dead on your feet," Scott said.

"I'm fine, Scott, really. I want to be here when they bring ... when they come out," she said as the tears welled in her eyes.

Scott put an arm around her shoulder and hugged her close. "Keep the faith, Teresa."

***

Johnny had no idea how much time had passed since the cave in. He wondered idly what Scott was doing right now. Was he digging or taking a break? Was Jelly driving them all crazy? That brought a smile to his face as he thought about the gruff old man.  

He listened as his head bobbed with the even rise and fall of his father's chest. He wasn't sure he wanted to be rescued. He had never felt so close to Murdoch and he was scared he never would again. He sighed at the insanity of it all.

Why couldn't he talk to this man? Why couldn't he open up, just a little? But he knew why. He couldn't face the disappointment he knew would come if Murdoch ever really knew the things he'd done in his past. But then, Murdoch was already disappointed in him most of the time and he knew it was because he wouldn't open up. Damned if I do and damned if I don't.

"Johnny, are you alright?"

Murdoch's voice breaking through the silence startled him a bit. "Yeah, you?"

"I'm okay. You seemed to tense up, I thought something was wrong."

"No, just thinking," Johnny replied.

"About what? I hope you aren't giving up," Murdoch said a bit sternly.

"Giving up? No, I wasn't thinking that at all. Scott will get us out, just takes time," he said resolutely.

"Right. So what were you thinking about?" Murdoch pressed.

'Hardhead,' Johnny thought. "You, if you must know," he replied shortly.

"And?"

"Geez, Murdock, I was just wondering if you were okay. Is that alright?" Johnny mentally kicked himself for his anger. The old man was just asking a question. Why did he react to him like this?

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

"For what?" Murdoch asked.

"For takin your head off. It's funny really. I was just thinking about why I have such a hard time talkin to you and as soon as you ask me something, I get mad. I don't know what's the matter with me," he said, frustrated.

"Johnny, it isn't just you, son. I know I push too hard sometimes. I ... I think I'm afraid to get too close," Murdoch admitted.

"To me, you mean," Johnny said, barely above a whisper.

"Yes."

Johnny felt the tears forming in his eyes, the ache spring forth in his chest as it had so many times since he came home. He rolled away from Murdoch and sat up.

"Too much trouble," he mumbled.

"What?"

"I said, I'm too much trouble," he sneered and stood up.

Feeling his way, he found the wall and paced away a few steps, using the black velvet to escape. "You said earlier that you didn't know how to talk to me," he whispered. "I don't know how to talk to you, either."

"I guess we don't know what to expect from each other," Murdoch said.

"I've come to expect nothing most of the time," the gunfighter sighed.

"Why?" his father asked, surprised.

Johnny smirked in the dark. "You know, I feel like I'm always standing beside the table, waiting for you to throw me a crumb. Leftovers from Scott and Teresa. And, on the rare occasion that you do, I lap it up like a stray dog. It makes me feel like ... like I'm ten years old again," he said angrily.

"Johnny, I don't know what you’re talking about. I never..."

"Don't, Murdoch. Don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm not stupid, you know. I have eyes, I see what's going on. I've just shut it out, ignored it, hoping that ... maybe you'll get past it some day."

"I really don't know, Johnny. What do you mean?"

"Come on, old man. 'You have your mother's temper'? That's what you said to me that first day. What did you say to Scott? That he had his mother's eyes. Sweet, fragile Catherine's eyes. All I got was a crazy, mixed up woman's temper. Did you even think about how that made me feel? Did you even care?"

Murdoch swallowed hard as he felt the heat rise in his cheeks. He couldn't deny it, it was painfully true. He knew as soon as he had said it that day, but he couldn't take it back. He didn't know how and he didn't know Johnny.

"I know how it sounded. I didn't mean anything by it. You were just so insolent, so angry. I reacted in kind. It was wrong, I know that."

"Yes, I was angry. Of course I was! But you never even asked me why. You've never asked me why. You don't ask me anything, you just tell me. Do this, do that, don't argue, don't disagree, don't question. God, by all means, don't question anything! You throw this ... this five second story of my life at me the minute I meet you and I'm not supposed to wonder what the hell happened!"

Johnny paced the small area he had found that was free of debris with his arms wrapped around him protectively.

Silence once more filled the small room as Murdoch struggled to find the words to explain himself. For the life of him, he didn't know what to say to this outburst.

"I know you can hardly stand to look at me. I know I remind you of her. I can't help that. I can't change what she did or what you did. It's got nothing to do with me! That's what you don't seem to be able to see," Johnny continued as if he hadn't stopped, spilling his frustrations and hurt into the echoing acoustics of the cave. "Don't bother to deny it. You think I don't see, but I see a lot more than any of you think I do."

"You're right. I can't deny that it's hard to look at you sometimes. When your mother left, Johnny, it devastated me. More than anything, that she took you away from me. For the second time I had lost a son. I didn't think I could survive. The only thing that kept me going was..."

"Lancer. I know," Johnny interrupted.

"Was the hope that I'd get you back. Yes, Lancer sustained me and after a while, it was the only thing I had to hold onto. That's why it's so important to me. After months of searching and coming up empty, I threw myself into the land, building the ranch. It's all I had left."

"No, it wasn't. It was the easiest way. You had Scott, but you wouldn't fight for him. That's something I will never understand. I don't care how much money Harlan Garrett has, you're not the kind of man who runs from a fight, Murdoch. That's why I know there's more to that story than you're telling, too.

"You think we won't understand or that your reasons won't be good enough for us. That may be true, but while you hide the truth from us, all we're left with is what we know. That ain't much. If you think Scott doesn't think about it, you're wrong. I don't think anything you tell me can be worse than what I think."

"What do you think?"

"I think you just didn't give a damn! That's what I think!" Johnny spat.

"Then I guess you're right. The truth can't be worse because I do give a damn, Johnny. I'm not the best father, I know that. Maybe that's because I never got to be one for long. I did look for you all those years. I paid the Pinkerton's to find you. It was as if you fell off the face of the earth.

"Sometimes, late at night, horrible thoughts would fill my head that you were dead and I'd never even know about it. When they found out about your mother and that you had disappeared, those fears haunted me again. I admit, I'd all but given up on ever finding you. But here's a truth you won't want to hear. They found you a year before I sent for you," Murdoch said and braced himself.

Johnny stopped breathing, he thought his heart might stop beating for a minute. He leaned against the cold, damp wall and closed his eyes.

"Why?" was the only question he could utter.

"Fear mostly and regret. I didn't know what to expect. I've seen a few gunfighters in my time, I had even heard of you. I didn't think I could handle having you for a son. I didn't ..."

"Want me," Johnny finished flatly. "But then you needed me to fight Pardee. I guess you were hoping I'd leave."

"Honestly, part of me did at first, before I even saw you. Then, when I looked at you, looked in your eyes, I knew it wasn't right. I thought there must have been a mistake. You looked so ... young and vulnerable. I thought you couldn't possibly be Johnny Madrid, until you opened your mouth," Murdoch said the last a bit sardonically.

"I hated you. All my life, I hated you. I was having a hard time deciding if I would kill you or not. I kept thinking I'd take the money, do the job, then put a bullet between your eyes and ride on. I didn't expect ...." Johnny trailed   off, unwilling to impart his true feelings to a man he wasn't sure even cared about him at this point.

"Johnny, I know this hurts you, but you wanted me to be honest. The truth now, today, right here, is that I do want you. I don't want you to ever leave here again. I know we fight, we agree on very little, but that doesn't matter as long as we're both willing to take up the fight.

"If we can get past our differences, find some middle ground, I know we can have a good life together. I'm ashamed of the way I felt about you without even knowing you. I guess I let myself fall into the trap of presuming who you were. I never expected ... to be so incredibly wrong," Murdoch's voice fell to a whisper as he choked back his emotions.

"You spend a lot of time harping about my past, Murdoch. Sometimes I feel like that's all you care about. But if you really do want me at Lancer, you can't expect me to tell you everything if you won't tell me everything. You can't have it both ways. Bury the past, that's what you said, but you won't bury mine. You think because it gets in your face sometimes that it's alright to question me about it, but your past is in my face everyday of my life and it always has been because I've lived it every day. So the one question I want answered more than anything is this. Do you know why she left?"

"No, son, I don't. That's the God's honest truth. Like I told you, I woke up one morning and you were both gone. We had problems, we fought, but I didn't think it was that serious. I didn't think she was that unhappy. She never said anything to make me think she would even consider leaving," Murdoch explained.

"I don't know the answer either. She told me so many lies, I can't figure out what was real and what wasn't. I spend a lot of nights trying to figure it out. I knew her better than anyone, I think, and I can't answer that question," Johnny said dejectedly.

"So, what's the one question you want answered more than anything?" he said suddenly.

"What?"

"You answered my question, what's yours?" Johnny explained.

Murdoch sat in silence, unsure what one question he wanted to ask. Finally, he decided on what was really important. "Did she hurt you?"

Johnny grimaced, sucking in his breath slowly. "Sometimes. She would get drunk and, if she didn't have something to occupy her attention, she would focus on me. It usually wasn't good. Sometimes she would cry and hug me until I couldn't breathe. Sometimes, she would   ... yell and curse me, call me names, hit me," he whispered.

"What names?" Murdoch asked.

"Bastard, half-breed, whatever," Johnny shrugged as if it meant nothing. "It was only when she was drunk. When she was sober, she was good to me and she always apologized the next day."

Murdoch shook his head sadly, as if apologizing made it alright. "Did anyone else ever hurt you?" he ventured.

"One question, remember?" Johnny said glumly.

"Right. Your turn," Murdoch frowned.

"What did Garrett have on you?"

"That should be something for Scott to ask," Murdoch said warily.

"Yeah, but he won't and you know it."

"And if I tell you?" Murdoch asked.

"It stays between us, unless you say otherwise," Johnny affirmed.

"Alright. He said he would ruin me, take the ranch and send Scott away where I would never find him. Then, he said he would find you and make sure I never knew where you were either. He even threatened to have Teresa made a ward of the state. He said he would accuse me of ... vile things. He showed me some documents he'd had prepared that said as much. Sworn affidavits from people I had never heard of before. I'm ashamed to admit it but, I let him intimidate me."

"My God," Johnny whispered in the dark. "Wait a minute. He knew about me?"

"Yes, he knew everything about my life. He hired some Pinkerton's of his own. They kept him well informed," Murdoch explained.

"Muerta! What kind of a man...? And he raised Scott? It's a wonder my brother survived! I'm sorry, Murdoch. I thought..."

"You thought I didn't have the guts to fight him," Murdoch said for him. "It's alright, Johnny. I don't think even Scott knows how diabolical his grandfather is," he added with a tinge of anger.

"I hope he never does, for his sake," Johnny said.

"My turn now. Why did you become a gunfighter?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny smiled in the darkness, he knew this was coming. "I thought it would be glamorous."

"Johnny," Murdoch said in his best paternal voice.

"It's the truth. I spent a few years scraping by, stealing food, hiding from the rurales so they didn't throw me in jail for it. I watched them, the gunhawks. People got out of their way, they were feared. Nobody stood against them and if they did, they didn't live long. It seemed like a great life to a fourteen year old kid. I decided it was a hell of lot better than what I was doing, so I watched and learned. I stole a gun and practiced for months. Some days, I had blisters, I practiced so much.

"When I knew I was ready, I found the fastest gun around at the time and I called him out. Oh, he laughed at me at first, this scrawny, loco kid. Soon enough he figured out I was serious. He was a name and I beat him. That day I became Johnny Madrid. It was August 10th, 1864. I was fifteen years old." Johnny finished his story to be met with total silence.

"Not what you expected to hear, I guess," he said softly.

Murdoch sat there stunned. It certainly wasn't what he expected. He realized then that Johnny wasn't forced into that life but had chosen it as his means of survival. He was simply to young to understand the ramifications of that choice.

"Did you ever regret that decision?" he finally asked.

Johnny almost reminded him it wasn't his turn to ask a question but thought better of it. "Sure, but it was too late then. I was in and there didn't seem to be any way to get out," he answered.

"You wanted out?" Murdoch asked, surprised.

"That surprise you? Yes, I wanted out. I didn't like being a gunfighter, Murdoch. Oh, at first it was great. Everybody loves you when you're on their side. They all want you around when there's trouble but as soon as it's over, they want you gone, pronto! It's a lonely life. No friends, none you can completely trust, anyway. You can never stay in one place very long. Always looking over your shoulder, sleeping with one eye open. God! I still do that! I probably always will. Some things become second nature. I guess it can be useful at times, but mostly, it's just plain hard," Johnny finished with a slight tremble in his voice.

"I, uh, I know I've used up all my questions by now, but just one more. Would you mind sitting back over here with me?" Murdoch stumbled.

"Why, ya gonna slug me?" Johnny asked and Murdoch heard the laugh in his voice. He felt his way along the wall until he was once more beside his father and sank down to the ground to find an open arm waiting for him.

Murdoch wrapped his arm around Johnny and pulled him back to his previous position when they were sharing their body heat.

"I must say, this is the most interesting imprisonment. I think I understand more about you now. Some things I already knew and some that were simply strengthened."

"Like what?" Johnny asked.

"Oh, like how much you care about people, how hard your life has been and how much you deserve to be happy. Johnny, I know we will probably always fight, I only hope it's not so much that we can't love each other," Murdoch said quietly.

"Do we? I mean ... well, somehow along the way, you got under my skin. I still don't know when or how but you managed it. I found myself caring what you think of me. I found myself caring about you, period. I ... realized that I love you, Murdoch. I just didn't know if ...."

"If I loved you back? Johnny, I realized something, too. That I never stopped loving you and I never will. I remembered this spitfire tearing through the house, getting into everything and begging me to take him riding. That's who I thought of when I thought of you. It took me some time to realize that sweet, energetic, smart toddler had grown up into a fine young man with so much to give. I want him now. I'll always miss that child, but I don't want to miss another minute with the man beside me now."

***

Scott awoke with a start, jerking back the blanket and sitting straight up, he looked around slightly dazed. He quickly remembered where he was and why and he got up to check on the progress.

"Here, drink this first," Teresa said from behind him. She handed him the steaming cup of coffee.

"Thanks. Where's Jelly?"

"Inside. You need to eat, Scott."

"It's after dusk. I thought Harvey said we would break through by now," he replied, ignoring the doting concern.

"They ran into a few problems. It seems the was more debris than he first thought."

She sounded tired to him and he scrutinized her closely. "Have you slept?"

"A little," she replied with a weak smile.

"That's it. You are going to lie down right now. How do you think you're going to help Murdoch and Johnny if you can't even see straight?" he admonished.

"I know you're right but every time I close my eyes..." her voice trailed off as the tears threatened again.

Scott took her in his arms and held her tight. "I know, Teresa. But you have to try, honey. Now I'm going to talk to Harvey and I want you to at least try to sleep."

She smiled and nodded and retreated to the back of the wagon.

Scott headed for the cave, feeling that deep sense of dread once more. He would not allow it to stop him however and he forged ahead. Finding Jelly and Harvey just inside the cave, he asked the ultimate question. How much longer.

"Shouldn't be more than an hour, Scott. We had some trouble but I'm pretty sure we're close now," Harvey replied.

"Teresa told me about the problem, Harvey. My problem is this. My father and brother have been trapped for well over 15 hours now and we have no idea if they have an air supply!" Scott spilled out his frustration over the engineer as Jelly stood by with his mouth hanging open.

"Scott, I understand how you feel. I'm doing everything I can," Harvey replied, remaining even-tempered.

"You have no idea how I feel!"

"Scott! It ain't gonna make things go no faster with you yellin at Harvey! He ain't stopped, ain't slept since he got here. He's a doin everthin he can!" Jelly intervened.

Scott took a deep breath and hung his head. "I'm sorry, I know you are. I didn't mean.."

"It's alright, Scott. Let me just show you where we are on this map. Maybe you can take a guess at how far back they are."

They put their heads together and began reading the map as Scott's insides turned over and over, tightening at the same time. He didn't think it was possible to be this frightened, yet he was and he was glad he had nothing in his stomach but coffee at the moment.

***

"Johnny?"

"Yeah?"

"You okay?"

"Yeah, it's just getting a little hard to breathe in here."

"I know. We don't have much air left."

"What's taking them so long?"

"I didn't want to say anything before, son, but it's possible your brother was hurt during the earthquake," Murdoch said with trepidation.

Johnny shook his head vigorously. "No! He's fine and he's out there right now with a crew workin on getting us out of here."

"I'm sure you're right, son. Guess I'm just tired."

"Hey, don't give up on me now. Murdoch?" Johnny's voice rose an octave as he called his father's name.

"I'm here, Johnny."

"Don't leave me," Johnny said softly. "Don't ever leave me again."

"I didn't leave you!"

"I know. But you weren't there all the same. I know it ain't your fault, I just don't want to lose you," Johnny nearly croaked the words out.

Murdoch could feel his strength waning, yet he hugged Johnny tighter to him all the same and smiled when he felt his son relax in his arms. "We're in this together."

"Hell of a way to get closer," Johnny said sardonically.

Murdoch chuckled softly. "Whatever it takes, son."

"Hey, you didn't 'arrange' this did you?"

Murdoch could actually hear the grin on Johnny's face and he squeezed him a little tighter. "I don't know how you manage to find the humor in any situation."

"It's easy. You either laugh or you cry and gunfighters don't cry," he said with a slight shrug.

"Do they .... wait! Did you hear something?" Murdoch asked as he tensed.

Johnny strained through the darkness and concentrated on listening. "Yeah, I do. It sounds like ... digging!"

"Thank God! It won't be much longer then," Murdoch said with relief.

"So? Want to go huntin now?" Johnny laughed.

***

Cipriano shouted so loud, Scott thought someone had gotten hurt. He ran to the back of the mine.

"What? What is it?"

"Look, Senor Scott. There is a break, a hole here!" he said enthusiastically, pointing to the spot.

Scott slapped the man on the back and joined in the digging. As soon as the hole was big enough to get a hand through, he started calling out for them.

Johnny heard someone calling his name. Was that Scott? He felt a slight breeze wisp across his face and found he could breathe a little easier. But he was too weak from lack of air and dehydration to call back.

"Murdoch, I hear Scott. Murdoch!" he whispered as loudly as he could manage. All he heard was a groan. "Hang in there, old man. Help is on the way."

Scott kept yelling out the whole time they dug. The crew was revitalized by the breakthrough and worked with renewed energy to rescue their boss and friend.

Large hunks of debris began falling and Harvey had to stop them before they caused another cave-in.

"We have to go slow here. Be careful or we'll end up worse than when we started," he cautioned.

It was a difficult order to obey but the crew followed it reluctantly. They slowed their efforts, watching intently for any sign of another onslaught of debris. Scott chewed his lower lip fervently as he worked. Jelly was beside him frowning deeply with frustration. They were so close.

"Johnny! Murdoch!" Scott continued to shout, hoping, praying for an answer.

Finally, they had made an opening large enough to step through and Scott was the first one to go in. Lantern in hand, he swept the room from left to right, straining to see through the black curtain of darkness. His lantern came to rest on an almost heartwarming sight. His father and brother lying together.

Jelly was right behind him and saw the spectacle as well. Swallowing hard, he approached the prone men slowly. He knelt down and put a shaky hand on Johnny's shoulder.

"Johnny? Time to wake up, boy," he said more softly than Scott ever imagined he could.

He stepped over them and knelt beside Murdoch, shaking him gently as well. "Murdoch? Murdoch, wake up," he called.

A soft sigh and a turn of the head set Jelly's shoulder's off his neck. He smiled as the bright blue eyes looked up at him.

"Jelly?"

"Well, who'd ya think it was, an angel?" the old man cajoled.

They heard a groan and something resembling a growl next to Johnny. They both looked at Murdoch who was awakening.

"Hello, Sir. Would you like to go home?" Scott grinned widely.

"I certainly would," Murdoch said grumpily but smiled. His eyes opened fully and he tensed, "Johnny?"

"Right here, Murdoch."

"Scott, get your brother out of here," he ordered, not very strongly.

"No, Murdoch's hurt, got a bump on his head. He needs to get out of here," Johnny disagreed.

"How bout we get ya both outta here! Cip!" Jelly called.

Cipriano was beside Johnny in a flat second. "Come, nino. It is time to get you home," he whispered softly.

Johnny locked eyes with the segundo and smiled affectionately. "Sounds good, tio."

Cheers resounded through the hills as Johnny and Murdoch walked out of the cave, with some help. Teresa ran up and wasn't sure which one to hug first. Tears glistening in her eyes, she hugged Murdoch, then Johnny.

"I have everything ready for you," she announced.

"I would expect nothing else, my dear," Murdoch smiled.

***

It had been eighteen hours since the ordeal began. Johnny lay snuggled in his bed with extra blankets to warm him from the cold dankness of the cave. He opened his eyes to find Scott watching him.

"I was beginning to think you would sleep the rest of the day away," Scott grinned.

"How's Murdoch?"

"He's resting. Doc says the bump on his head isn't serious. Murdoch told him how you made him stay awake. Doc grumbled something about hard heads and left," Scott reported.

Johnny smiled tiredly. "Thanks, brother. I knew you would get us out."

"I'm just grateful to have you both back. That was quite a scene, the two of you lying there together," he ventured.

"We were trying to stay warm. Body heat, ya know?" Johnny replied with embarrassment.

"Of course, that was smart of you," Scott replied. "It must have been awful in there. So dark and cold and closed in." His face darkened as did his eyes and Johnny knew what he was thinking.

"Actually, it wasn't so bad. I mean, I ain't in no hurry to do it again, but, it wasn't too bad." Johnny said.

"I've never seen men work harder, Johnny. We have the best hands in the country. Especially Jelly and Cipriano, they never gave up, not once. Cipriano was almost obsessed with getting you out," Scott said, hoping Johnny would offer an explanation for the close relationship.

Johnny only yawned though. "Sorry, guess I'm still pretty tired."

"Go back to sleep. I'll check on Murdoch," Scott smiled and stood to leave.

"Scott? Make him stay in bed, okay?" Johnny said, concern written all over his face.

"Sure, Johnny," Scott answered, frowning.

He walked out and closed the bedroom door gently. Standing in the hallway, he began to wonder just what had transpired between those two in the cave. He hoped it was good and all the evidence indicated it was. They had both been more concerned for the other when they'd been found. And the first thing out of Johnny's mouth when he awoke was to ask about their father.

Still, that was natural. Even if they had found those two strangling each other, their behavior would have been the same. But something was different, Scott could feel that. He also felt it was something good for a change. He smiled to himself as he headed for his father's room.

"How are you feeling, Sir?" he asked as he entered.

Murdoch sat up in bed, frowning. "I'm fine, perfectly fine. I don't know why you all insist I stay in this bed," he groused.

"Because, Sam said you needed to rest and rest you shall. Besides, I promised Johnny I'd keep you down. You don't want me to break a promise to my brother, do you?"

"How is Johnny?" Murdoch asked, his voice softening notably.

Scott smiled at this. "He's fine, just tired."

"Then he wasn't hurt? I kept thinking he might be and not tell me. It would be just like him to keep something like that from me under the circumstances."

"Yes, it would be just like him. But he isn't hurt, not a scratch. I swear it, okay?" Scott affirmed.

Murdoch relaxed and nodded his head.

"May I ask you something?" Scott began.

"Of course, son."

"Well, while we were working to get you out, I talked with Cipriano for a few minutes. He was upset, naturally, about the situation. He said you were the best patron around. I know he's been with you a long time, so of course he is very loyal, but... well, he was so worried about Johnny. I mean, more than you would expect. What do you make of that?"

"Did you ask him?" Murdoch asked, eyebrows raised.

"Yes, he said it was a private matter," Scott blushed slightly.

"Then I guess you'll just have to leave it alone, son."

"You know why, don't you?"

"Scott, whatever Cipriano feels for Johnny is his business. I don't expect him to stay away from either of you." Murdoch replied.

"Why would he stay away? Murdoch, what's really going on here?"

"Leave it alone, son."

Scott's jaw muscles tensed. He didn't like secrets, especially when it had to do with his brother. He figured he would get it out of Johnny. He started to leave, then turned back. "Maybe you could answer this. What does 'tio' mean?"

"Tio? It means uncle, why?"

"No reason, I just heard it somewhere," Scott said and left the room.

***

Later that night, Murdoch slept peacefully until he felt movement next to him. He awoke to find Johnny snuggled beside him on the bed. The room was almost as dark as the cave had been and he realized someone had drawn the curtains. He smiled and pulled one of the blankets across to cover his son.

"You're supposed to be in bed, young man," he said, trying to sound gruff but missing by a mile.

"I am in bed. Nobody said which bed," Johnny replied.

Murdoch chuckled. "You have a point. Are you alright?"

"Yeah, still a little tired is all. You?"

"I'm fine, son. My head doesn't even hurt anymore," he answered.

"I thought we could ... talk. If you feel up to it," Johnny ventured.

"Of course. What did you want to talk about?" Murdoch asked, grateful Johnny hadn't reverted to silence again.

"Well, I'm not really sure. I don't think you want to know every single gunfight I've ever been in. I think what you really want to know is ... how I lived. Am I right?"

"Yes, son, you're right. I know you've had a lot of gunfights and a lot of reasons for them. I know about all that. What I really want to know is ... who hurt you so badly?"

Johnny raised up and stared at his father in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"Someone hurt you, Johnny. Someone did something to cause you to be so distrustful, so afraid to open yourself up to others. I want to know who did that to you. You told me about your mother when she was drinking but there's more, isn't there?" Murdoch explained gently.

Johnny laid back down and was quiet for a while. "A lot of people, I guess. Mostly ..." his voice quivered and he stopped.

Murdoch felt his son's entire body shaking and he turned on his side and pulled Johnny close. "It's alright, son. You can tell me anything."

He heard the ragged breaths as Johnny fought for control and he waited patiently for his son to be able to speak.

"My mother," he finally whispered.

Murdoch closed his eyes against this affirmation of his worst fear. That Maria had hurt their son so badly, he was incapable of trusting or loving completely.

"You told me a little in the cave but, there's more, I know. How?" he asked quietly.

Johnny sighed. "Too many ways. She just ... she lied to me about you. She let people ... hurt me."

"How did she let people hurt you?"

"Please, I can't..."

"Johnny, I love you. You can tell me, please, son," Murdoch pleaded.

"Her men, they hit me ... threw me out all night sometimes to get rid of me. She never tried to stop anything!" Johnny started to bolt then but Murdoch held tight. "Let go of me!"

He struggled against the strong arms of his father like a wildcat.

"Johnny, stop it! I won't let go!" Murdoch said firmly.

Finally, he stopped and relaxed a little. "I want to leave," he whispered.

"Why? Do you think I'm ashamed of you?"

"Aren't you?"

"Johnny, no. God no. It wasn't your fault, son. You were just a boy. I didn't want to think she could let anything hurt you. I ..."

"You loved her. So did I," Johnny said flatly.

"Did? You mean you don't anymore?" Murdoch asked.

"I don't know. I don't want to think about that."

"I wish I could make this easier for you, son, but I can't. Johnny you have to think about it. You have to come to terms with what happened and let it go," Murdoch said fervently.

"Don't you think I've tried? Most of the time I don't think about any of it. But when you start asking me about my past, it's not the gunfighting I think about, it's her! It's what she did or didn't do that I .... I hate!"

"It's alright to be angry with her, Johnny. But you have to get it out and put it behind you," Murdoch said.

This time, Johnny moved too quickly for his father and was off the bed and on his feet like a cat. "How can I put it behind me, Murdoch? She's not here! I can deal with you and me but how can I deal with a dead woman? I have spent my entire life building her into some kind of a saint. Poor Maria, her husband threw her out and she did the best she could. But it's all a lie!"

He was shaking head to toe, his face, even in the dark, was twisted in an agony that reached the very depths of his soul.

Murdoch moved with more grace and speed than Johnny thought he possessed as he stood and neared his son. He grabbed hold of Johnny and held him tightly, unwilling to ever let go again.

"I don't know the answers, son. All I can do is love you, do a better job of being your father and hold you when you hurt."

Johnny lost all control then and fell against his father, crying openly. Murdoch guided him to the bed and sat him down, still clinging to each other.

Scott heard loud voices coming from his father's room and steeled himself for another row. He opened the door quietly and peeked inside. To his astonishment, Johnny and Murdoch sat on the side of the bed and ... Johnny was crying? He swallowed hard and closed the door, leaving them alone together.

***

Two days later, Doc allowed both men out of bed. Murdoch was grateful to get back to running the ranch and Johnny was grateful to be free. Scott made him take it slowly at first though, and he felt like he was being babied.

"Look, you went through a rough time. You're not ready to bust broncs yet. Just do as I tell you," Scott said determinedly.

"I'm fine. Never better and if I wanted to bust broncs, I could. And since when do you tell me what to do?"

"I am the older brother, Johnny. It's my job to watch out for you and to tell you when you're being foolish," Scott said, trying to hide the grin threatening to escape.

"Is that right? Listen, older brother, I've been takin care of myself my whole life. What makes you think all the sudden I need help? And another thing..."

"Johnny, hola!"

"Hola, Cipriano!"

"How are you feeling, chico?"

"I'm fine. I was just trying to tell this hard-headed easterner that very thing. He won't listen, though. He thinks I need to be babysat," Johnny grinned.

"Pienso que Senor Scott tiene razón. Usted no debería intentar hacer demasiado tan pronto" Cipriano advised.

"Lo se. I won't," Johnny said, dropping his voice and his head.

Scott stared at him in amazement. What is going on here? Johnny wouldn't listen to him, he was certain he wouldn't listen to Murdoch either. Now, suddenly Cipriano says something and he listens?

Cipriano smiled and patted Johnny on the back, then went about his business.

Johnny started to walk away as well.

"Wait a minute! Would you mind explaining that to me?" Scott said in amazement.

"Explain what?"

"What did he say that I haven't? Johnny, what is going on between the two of you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Boston. He just agreed with you is all," Johnny shrugged.

"Yes, but you listened to him !"

"Scott, don't you know you shouldn't argue with your elders," Johnny said with impudence. He strolled away whistling.

Scott stood there dumbfounded. He realized Johnny had deftly avoided answering his question and it irked him to no end. What is the big secret? And why hadn't he seen this connection before? He hated being in the dark and his resolve only strengthened against being kept that way. He would find out what this was all about, one way or another!

***

Johnny walked into the living room to find Murdoch concentrating on the books. He leaned against the doorframe and watched for a while, a smile playing on his lips as he watched the animation of his father's face.

Murdoch suddenly felt someone was watching him and looked up to find Johnny smiling at him. He reciprocated but had the feeling it was a smile of humor at his expense he saw dancing on his youngest's face. He marveled at the number of smiles Johnny possessed and how easily he used them in any situation. He wondered if Johnny was even aware of this talent.

"What are you smiling at?" he asked.

"You. You make a lot of faces when you work on those books," Johnny explained.

"Do I? I suppose it helps me to concentrate," Murdoch chuckled.

"Gotta use somethin I guess. That has to be the most boring job in the world," he said and made an unpleasant face.

"How are you feeling, son?"

"Murdoch, I'm fine. Stop babying me. I wasn't even hurt," he answered, exasperated.

"That's not what I was talking about," Murdoch said.

Johnny's face dropped and he looked away. "I'm okay," he mumbled.

Murdoch stood and walked over to his son. "Are you? I worry about you, Johnny. You have to face what's happened to you in your life, face it and put it where it belongs before you can truly be free."

"I will, I promise. It just ... it's gonna take some time, is all," he sighed.

"I understand that. Just remember that I'm here and I'll listen anytime. You do know that?"

"Yeah. Thanks, I ... I will. We, um..... we've come a long way," Johnny stammered.

"We certainly have," Murdoch whispered as he put a hand on each side of his son's face, raising that face to look at him. "Why do you always hang your head like that?"

Johnny searched his father's eyes and realized something he hadn't felt before. He trusted Murdoch. For the first time, he really trusted him.

"So you won't see what I really feel, I guess," he whispered. "I'll have to work on that," he added with a smile.

"Do that," Murdoch said and hugged him.

Johnny blushed a little. It was different having this conversation in the light of day when Murdoch could see all. He pulled away a little and cleared his throat.

"I have to go take care of Barranca," he said a bit nervously.

Murdoch smiled as he watched Johnny walk out, he knew exactly what his son was feeling. It was hard for him too but he had made up his mind that he was not going to let a little discomfort at showing his emotions stop him from connecting with Johnny ever again.

***

Scott worked on formulating a plan to find out what the big secret with Johnny and Cipriano was. He didn't have a clue really of how to find out without his brother's help. He thought of asking Senora Cipriano but that thought caused shivers to run down his spine. No more formidable woman had he ever met and he was certain she would not help him. She had demonstrated her own fondness for his brother once before though he had not thought anything of it at the time. He decided only one other person might know, so he began his investigation there.

"Something smells wonderful," he said as he entered the kitchen.

"I hope so, it's your supper," Teresa smiled.

Scott walked over and peeked in the pots steaming on the stove, then smiled his most charming smile. "Got a minute to sit with me?"

"Of course. How about some lemonade?" she asked.

"That would be wonderful," he replied politely.

Once she settled at the table with him, he started to lose his nerve. Steeling himself, he determined to go through with his plan. "This is good lemonade."

"Thank you."

"Teresa, I wonder if I could ask you about something."

"You can ask me anything. You know that," she replied sweetly.

"It's about Johnny. Actually, it's about Johnny and Cipriano," he stopped, waiting for some reaction but he got none. "They seem very close, more so than one would expect given the short amount of time we've been here. Do you know anything about that?"

"No. Johnny makes friends so easily, Scott. It doesn't surprise me," she shrugged.

"Perhaps I'm not saying this right. I think there's more to it than that. I think they have some other connection but I have no idea what it could be. Do you?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, Scott. I really don't know what you're talking about," she replied, puzzled.

Scott could see she really didn't know and his hopes were dashed once more. He decided he should make light of it and hope she forgot the whole thing. He certainly didn't want her mentioning this conversation to Murdoch or Johnny.

"Well, I'm probably just imagining things. I'm sure it's nothing. Just forget about it," he said lightly.

"Alright. Supper won't be ready for another hour," she said as she went back to her cooking.

***

He rambled into the living room, still trying to figure a way to solve this mystery and nearly walked into the chair in front of him.

"Something on your mind, son?" Murdoch asked, amused.

"Yes, there is," Scott clipped.

Murdoch raised an eyebrow questioningly. "And it has something to do with being rude?"

"I'm sorry, Sir. I just don't seem to be able to get any answers," Scott apologized.

"What is the question?"

"I've already asked you and you aren't talking either," Scott said, disheartened.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, son," Murdoch said, puzzled now.

"About Johnny and Cipriano," he explained, tired of the sleuthing that had failed.

"Are you still harping on that? Don't you have anything better to do with your time?" Murdoch growled.

"I don't like secrets," Scott said shortly.

"Secrets, Scott, are meant to keep nosy people out of other people's business."

"Anything that has to do with my brother is my business!" Scott shot.

"What about me is your business, brother?" Johnny asked as he joined them.

Scott whirled around, startled by his brother's quiet entry. "Would you mind not sneaking up on me like that!"

"I wasn't sneaking up on you. I just walked in the room. Is that a crime now?" Johnny retorted.

"Well, make some noise," Scott clipped.

"What's got your feathers ruffled, Boston?"

"You! You're keeping something from me, Johnny, and I don't like it one bit!" Scott huffed indignantly.

"What are you talking about?" Johnny asked.

"Cipriano," Murdoch interjected.

"Oh, that. What's the big deal?" Johnny shrugged.

"I find it hard to believe the man is that concerned about someone he's only known a few months. That's all." Scott explained.

Johnny smiled at his brother. "He knew me before."

"Before?"

"Yeah, when I was here before," Johnny said.

"So? You were a baby. That doesn't explain it," Scott said suspiciously. "Look, don't tell me if you don't want to but don't lie to me, Johnny."

Johnny looked at his father who shrugged.

"Your call, son," he said.

"Come with me, Scott," Johnny said softly as he headed upstairs.

Johnny sat on the edge of the bed and watched his brother close the door. Scott walked over and stood in front of him with his arms crossed. Johnny had to laugh at the stance Scott took.

"Sit down, Boston. There ain't no conspiracy going on here," he grinned.

Scott relaxed and sat next to him on the bed. "Alright, I'm listening."

"Well, it's simple really. He's my tio, my uncle," Johnny said nonchalantly.

"I don't understand. You mean he's actually your uncle? Your blood uncle?" Scott asked, stunned.

"Yeah. I didn't know it until I came here. Not for a couple of months, then he told me. I didn't believe it at first but Murdoch said it was true. See, my mother was his niece. I guess he's really my great uncle. His sister was my grandmother. He's told me a lot about that side of my family, things I never knew. We got close but he didn't want anybody to know because ... well, he has his reasons. Before you ask, no I'm not going to tell you what they are."

"Johnny, why didn't you tell me?"

Johnny shrugged. "I don't know, it didn't seem like something you needed to know. I guess I just wanted to keep it between him and me, and his wife of course."

"So, that's how he came to work here?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, when Murdoch and my mother married, he came here, too. Mexican families are like that, most of them. They like to keep the family close."

"Well, I have to say, I never expected to hear this. I wish you could have shared it with me, Johnny. You know you can trust me," Scott said, a bit of hurt in his voice.

"It's got nothing to do with trust, Scott. I trust you with my life. I would have told you sometime. It just never seemed to be a big deal until you made it one," Johnny said with a grin.

"Not a big deal? He's your family! Your blood, Johnny. Something you haven't had for a long time. Not only did you get your father back and a new brother, but an uncle as well. That's a lot to deal with," Scott said.

"I have dealt with it. My mother never talked about her family. I guess I just assumed she didn't have any. It was a surprise, but Cipriano has always been good to me. I just found out why. It was nice to find him here, but honestly, I've been so busy with you and Murdoch, it hasn't left much time for anything else. That's why he stays in the background. He told me that's how he wanted it. He wants me to build my relationship with you and Murdoch first, like it should be. Besides, I spend a lot more time with him than you know," Johnny explained.

"He's an exceptional man," Scott said with awe.

"He is that. Now, I hope you won't let on that you know about this. He's also a very private man. He doesn't believe in discussing family matters with outsiders and to him, you are one. It's not that he doesn't like you, that's got nothing to do with it. He's traditional, ya know?" Johnny finished and studied his brother for a reaction.

"I understand, more than you know. My grandfather is the same way. I won't say a word," Scott smiled.

"Good. Now is there anything else you want to know?" Johnny laughed.

"Well, yes as a matter of fact. I can't help but notice that you and Murdoch seem to be closer now. I hope that isn't my imagination," Scott said.

"It isn't. We talked while we we're trapped in the mine. Later, too. I guess we didn't have much choice since neither of us could walk out," he grinned.

"I wish I had thought of that. I could have locked you two up someplace and left you there. But, it didn't stop there, you said you talked later, too. Did you go to him?" Scott asked, already knowing the answer.

Johnny nodded and smiled. "I figured in for a penny... I just wanted him to know some things. He didn't react the way I thought he would in the mine so I guess I just went for it."

"I'm glad, Johnny. I knew if you two could stay in a room together for more than five minutes, you could make some headway," Scott said.

"Yeah, I have to admit, it feels pretty good to have some of that out in the open."

"So, do you want to tell me some things?" Scott asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

"You know what I like about Cipriano? He never asks me about my past," Johnny winked. "Now, I'm going to get some supper," he added and fled the room.

 

 

~end~
2003

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