The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

The Storm

 

THE STORM

Thunder boomed across the skies of California followed within seconds by a crack of lightning. From the hacienda, the stock could be heard. The noise and light frightened them. Murdoch knew there wasn't anything that could soothe them until the storm passed.

Another loud teeth-shattering clap of thunder hit and Johnny jumped off the sofa where he had been dozing, a bit disoriented. Teresa laughed at him until she nearly jumped out of her own skin as the lightning crackled loudly across the sky. Johnny gave her a sidelong look.

Scott walked over to stand by his father, he was as jittery as the livestock. "Looks like a bad one," he observed.

Murdoch didn't reply, he was a little worried. He had seen plenty of storms and he knew they might lose a few head if they got too scared and took off in the night.

Johnny stood up and stretched. "Well, I like a good spring storm. Cleans everything off," he said.

Scott walked over to the fireplace then started pacing in front of it. He had a deep frown on his face.

"Worried about the cattle?" Johnny asked.

Scott just shrugged and started as another clap of thunder hit. "Guess I'm not as fond of storms as you are," he said with a small smile.

Johnny studied his face, there was more to it than that. He had gotten very good at reading his brother. Scott seemed ... scared? He walked over and gave him a playful tap on the shoulder. "You ok?" he asked, smiling.

"Oh yes, I'm fine. But, I think I'll turn in. Goodnight," Scott said with tension in his voice, and left the room.

Johnny wasn't convinced but he figured his brother was a big boy and could take care of himself, even if it was still pretty early to be going to bed.

He shrugged and poured himself a drink, then as an afterthought, he poured another and walked over to his father. "Here," he said, handing him the glass.

"Hmm, oh, thanks, Johnny," Murdoch mumbled.

"Geez, what's wrong with everybody? Haven't ya ever seen a thunderstorm before?" he asked.

Murdoch smiled at his son. "Sure, I guess they just affect people in different ways."

"Sometimes I like them but sometimes they make me a little sad. I don't know why really," Teresa offered.

Johnny thought about this. Rain didn't make him sad, in fact, he never really thought about it before. It's just rain. Something we need to survive. He never much cottoned to being on the trail when it rained, it could be pretty miserable, especially if it was cold too.

The wind was whipping around fiercely outside and the lightning hit his face as he turned away from the blinding electricity. He suddenly shuddered and Murdoch peered at him.

"Something wrong?" he asked.

Johnny shook his head and tried to shake off the feeling that had just consumed him. He knew why, too. "Just remembering something," he said nonchalantly.

Suddenly, Johnny didn't like storms anymore. They watched the torrent a while longer then Murdoch went over to his desk to do some paperwork. Johnny stood there watching the beast do it's worst and was lost in his thoughts.

He heard a noise over his head that definitely wasn't part of the storm and looked up. Murdoch heard it too, as did Teresa.

"What was that?" she said in a whisper.

"I'll go," Johnny said as he headed up the stairs. He walked down the hallway stealthily. He couldn't imagine anyone would be out in this mess trying to break into the house.

As he passed his brother's room, it occurred to him that Scott might be the culprit. He opened his brother's door quietly and peered in. As he did, another lightning bolt hit and blinded him for a second.

"Scott?" he whispered. There was no answer. He slipped into the room but without a light, he couldn't see very well. He struck a match and held it up.

"What?" Scott answered a little short.

"We heard something downstairs. Are you ok?"

"It was me, I was moving the chair next to the window," Scott explained.

"Are you sure you're ok?" Johnny asked.

"I'm fine, Johnny. Is it alright if I just want to sit here in the dark?!" he asked harshly.

"Fine by me, Boston. Sit there all damned night if ya want to!" Johnny shot and left the room.

Not long after, Scott came back downstairs. He had decided he didn't want to be alone anymore, especially since the storm was intensifying. He looked sheepishly at his brother as he came into the room.

"Johnny, I'm sorry about what I said."

"Don't worry about it, Boston," Johnny said a little unconvincingly. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but his brother's rebuke still stung a bit.

"Are you alright, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes, sir."

Murdoch hmmphed at this answer, though silently. Scott always said he was fine, just like Johnny, whether he was or not. Two peas in a pod, he thought.

No one spoke for long moments. They listened to the storm raging outside and Johnny began to think it was the result of a hurricane. He had seen one in Corpus Christi once and he wasn't thrilled about seeing any more.

"Ever seen a hurricane, Scott?" he asked.

Scott was deep in thought and jerked his head up at the sound of his name.

"I'm sorry, what?" he asked.

"Have you ever seen a hurricane?" Johnny repeated.

"Yeah, sure. In Boston once we got quite a storm off a hurricane from the coastline further south," he answered, distractedly.

"I saw one down in Texas once. Whew, it was fierce!" Johnny recounted.

"That's probably what we're getting now," Murdoch interjected.

"Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing. It's gonna be a real mess tomorrow," Johnny mused. "I guess no one's gonna get much sleep tonight," he added.

A particularly nasty bolt of lightning cracked across the sky and Johnny was reminded of his earlier thoughts, before Scott had gone off on him.

Scott noticed his brother get a little pale. "What's wrong, Johnny?" he asked with a frown of concern.

"Nothin," he clipped and started fidgeting. His right hand was at his side and his fingers were playing against his holster.

Scott had seen this before when Johnny was about to get into a gunfight, but he couldn't understand why he was doing it now.

Johnny was wandering the room, restless. He felt suddenly cold inside, as if something were trying to reach deep inside him and grab hold. He couldn't explain the feeling, he only knew he didn't like it, and that other feeling was there. The feeling he always got when he sensed danger. Something was wrong.

He tried to shake it but he knew better, his instincts had never failed him and he never ignored them. He walked over to the French doors and stared out into the blackness trying to see the yard and beyond, scanning the area with his keen eyes and looking for any sign of trouble. He could see Jelly's light on and he tensed unconsciously.

"Maybe I should go drag Jelly in here," he mused aloud.

"He's probably asleep, son."

"Nah, his light's still on. He's probably pacin around in there worryin about demons and devils."

Scott and Murdoch laughed at this but Johnny was serious. He headed for the front door and grabbed his coat.

"Be right back," he called behind him.

Jelly came running into the kitchen from outside drenched. He grabbed a towel and dried himself off as best he could before heading into the living room. "I think the world's endin!" he proclaimed as he hurried to get in front of the fire.

"Do you want one of my shirts?" Scott offered.

"Nah, I'll dry off purty quick right here in front of the fire. But thanks," Jelly answered.

Scott just nodded his head.

"Well, did you see any evil billygoats or horneytoads out there?" Murdoch teased.

"Taint funny. This is just the night fer it!" Jellifer huffed indignantly. "Sides, my joints is achin, specially my elbows. And I'll tell ya another thing! Them devils like this weather so's they kin move about unseen like," he said and rubbed his arms to make his point.

"Johnny had you pegged," Scott grinned.

"Yeah, where is Johnny?" Jelly asked.

"What do you mean? He went out to get you," Murdoch said.

"He ain't been to see me. I ain't seen nobody."

They exchanged worried looks then Scott relaxed. "I know where he is. He's probably in the barn checking on Barranca."

Murdoch relaxed and smiled. It was the best present he could have ever given his son. Even though he hadn't thought of it as a present. Johnny needed a horse when he arrived at Lancer, just as Scott did. He had been impressed with Johnny's equine abilities. He wondered where his son had come by the knowledge. He wished he had been the one to teach Johnny and Scott about horses and so much more. He sighed heavily.

"You know how independent he is, Murdoch," Scott said, mistaking the sigh for annoyance.

Jelly wasn't so thrilled with the thought of his friend out in this hullabaloo. Maybe he had gone to the barn, still he said he was comin ta get him. Now, why would he go to the barn first? 'Sides, Jelly thought, I already checked on the horses. Course, Johnny couldn't of know'd that. He figured he'd give him a few minutes then go check just to be sure.

Jelly's achin elbows was always a sign of somethin terrible about ta happen and he worried about his friend. Johnny was special to him. He respected Murdoch more than any man he'd ever known; Scott and Teresa were dear to him but Johnny, well there was just something about Johnny.Â

Thirty minutes passed and Johnny still hadn't come back. Jelly was about to go after him when Scott got up. "Now, where are you a goin?" Jelly asked.

"The barn," Scott clipped.

"I'll go with ya," he said.

"You two are worse than Teresa," Murdoch said shaking his head at their overprotectiveness.

"Murdoch he's been out there a long time," Scott said.

"He's a grown man, Scott. Besides, I'm sure you'll find him asleep in Barranca's stall," he teased.

"Then I guess he'll have tricked me into getting soaked, good joke," Scott smiled but it was forced.

He was worried and so was Jelly. Neither of them thought Johnny would pull a trick on a night like this. Especially remembering the look on his brother's face. No, Johnny had been worried about something and used Jelly as an excuse to go outside in the torrent.Â

They took off at a dead run toward the barn doors and swung one door open, closing it quickly against the wind threatening to tear it off it's hinges. The horses were skittish but not panicked. Johnny was nowhere to be seen. Scott called for him but got no answer.

"Now where is he?" he said more to himself than Jelly.

"You know I bet that devil's in the kitchen eatin Teresa's cookies," Jelly tried.

"Maybe, Jelly. I guess we had better check the house just in case, but."

"I know. I don't like it neither," Jelly finished for him.

They searched the entire house, even dragging Teresa out of bed to help. Johnny was nowhere to be found.

"I don't understand this. He has to be here somewhere. He wouldn't go off in a storm like this," Murdoch said, brows furrowed with worry.

They were all worried now as they agreed with Murdoch's assessment.

"He seemed pretty tense just before he went outside," Scott recalled.

"What do you mean, tense?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, his fingers. You know how he plays them against his holster? He was doing that."

Now Murdoch was really worried. If Johnny had sensed danger, he would not have told them about it but taken it upon himself to protect them all as usual. "Damn, stubborn foolishness!" Murdoch hissed between clenched teeth.

"Well, what're we gonna do now?" Jelly asked.

"I don't know that we can do anything tonight, Jelly. We certainly aren't going to find him out there!" Murdoch growled.

*****

Johnny made a break for it and headed to Jelly's door. He stopped beside one of the columns as the lightning bolted its way across the sky and down toward earth a little too close for comfort. He stood there waiting for his heart to stop pounding when he could have sworn he heard somebody call his name.

He looked all around, as best he could, but could see nothing. He listened intently and tried to remove the noise of the storm from his field of sound. He heard it again, closer this time. Too close, he thought just before he felt something hard hit him on the back of the head and he lost consciousness.

*****

"Where is that boy?!" Murdoch asked to anyone.

He was beginning to feel very frustrated and more than a little worried about his youngest. Johnny could be headstrong but he wasn't a fool. He would never go off in a storm like this, at least not willingly. That thought was what made Murdoch Lancer so upset. If someone had been out there, they were already crazy. The thought of someone taking his son away from him again caused him such a surge of anger he thought he could match the wrath of anything this storm was throwing at them.

"Murdoch, this storm could last all night. If Johnny's in trouble, we need to find him now!" Scott said firmly.

"How, Scott? We know he didn't ride out. Barranca's still in the barn. How are we supposed to find him? We don't even know where to look!" Murdoch said, taking his anger and frustration out on his oldest.

"I don't know, but we have to do something!" Scott shot back.

"Alright! That'll be enough. We ain't doin Johnny no good standin here arguin about it. We need ta think this through," Jelly intervened.

Both Lancer men dropped their heads, ashamed of their words.

"Sorry," Scott mumbled.

"Me too, son," Murdoch reciprocated.

"He couldn't a gone far, even if he was on horseback. Not in this!" Jelly reasoned.

******

Johnny awoke tied in a chair. He looked around slowly but the only light was coming from the storm outside. He realized he was soaking wet and very cold. He also noticed his hands and feet were tied to the chair and his shirt was missing. He squinted into the darkness, trying to get his bearings but his head was spinning and pounding. It was hard to concentrate on anything and after a minute, he couldn't hold out any longer. He fell back into unconsciousness.

"That didn't take long," the younger man whispered followed by a cackle.

"Shut up, boy! I ain't ready for him to wake up yet," the older man whispered harshly.

"Just remember, you promised. I get a crack at 'im too," the young man said.

"I know what I said. You'll get your turn, but when I'm finished boy. Only when I'm finished with 'im," the older man said and grinned.

******

"There's no way we're going to be able to use the horses tonight. The best thing we can do is search the grounds first. I just can't believe he's gotten off very far," Murdoch surmised.

'Unless somebody took him off,' Scott thought.

They searched the surrounding grounds and corral and even checked the barn again.

"Where is he, boy?" Murdoch asked the palomino as he stroked his neck.Â

"If he answers you, I'm leaving," Scott said, trying to break the tension that still remained between them.

Murdoch smiled a little, just enough to tell Scott he wasn't angry anymore, just worried.

Jelly met them in the barn. "Well, I've looked everwhere. The bunkhouses, the corral and ... well, Mrs. Cipriano ain't gonna be talkin ta me anytime soon," Jelly finished a little embarrassed.

"Jelly, why did you bother her? What in the world would Johnny be doing there?" Murdoch asked.

Jelly stared at him. "He goes over there all the time ta talk to her. You didn't know that?" he asked.

"No, I didn't," Murdoch said, puzzled by this new information. There was so much he didn't know about Johnny, he wondered if he would ever truly know him.

The thunderstorm was relentless in it's vigil, determined to do it's worst damage. Murdoch stared out at the blackness and said a silent prayer for his son's safe return. He refused to believe that Johnny would have gone off without a word. Even if he had sensed some danger, he wasn't crazy enough to go out in this.

Murdoch astonished himself. A few short months ago, he would have thought this was normal behavior for his unpredictable son. But now, even in this short time that had passed, he knew better. His sense of Johnny was beginning to grow, he was more attuned to his son's perceptions of life. Oh, he knew they still had a long way to go but he had made himself a promise the day Johnny came back home after the debacle over the wild stallion. He had promised himself to be more patient. Teresa had been right. He never had to run his life by a clock before.

To his credit, Murdoch had to admit, Johnny was trying harder than anyone he'd ever seen. He smiled a little as he thought, or rather hoped, it was because of all his family. He had seen the bond between brothers grow stronger with each passing day. He knew both his boys loved Teresa as a sister. It was him. He was the one they both needed to come to terms with and he knew he wasn't making it easy. He was not the kind of man to show his feelings, hard as he had tried. Whenever he started to get sentimental or emotional, he would turn it to anger or frustration. Emotions he was much more adept at handling. It was no wonder his son was the same way.

******

The next time Johnny awoke there was a dim glow coming from somewhere. As he focused his blurred vision and tried to do the same to his mind, he realized a candle had been lit. He focused his eyes on that area of the room and slowly scanned the darker parts of the place.

It was a shack of some kind. Maybe a line shack. In his confused state he wasn't sure where he was. He sighed and commanded himself to think straight. He worked to make some sense of what had happened to him. He let his mind go back a little.

Let's see now, I was going to get Jelly. I stopped by a column. Someone called my name and, oh yeah, I got clobbered. Now that he remembered how it happened, he wondered why and by whom. His head was throbbing but he pushed aside the annoyance and concentrated.

He couldn't stop his body from shivering from the cold though. He knew he had seen something outside the house. Still, it was useless to try and think of who it was. He was sure they would make themselves known soon enough. He sighed again, realizing in that moment more clearly than ever before, that Johnny Madrid would always be with him, no matter what.

“Well, ya finally woke up did ya boy?” the old man sneered.

“Yeah, bout time,” the younger man chimed in.

Johnny strained in the pale light to see his captor's faces. “Stryker?” he asked, stunned.

*****

“Murdoch!” Scott called, breaking him out of his reverie.

He jerked his head up and stared at his son.

“What are we going to do?” Scott asked.

“There isn't anything we can do until first light,” Murdoch said glumly.

“And that might not come at dawn!” Jelly interjected.

“Well, I'm not just going to sit around while my brother is out in this!”

“And just what do you think you can do out there? You can't see your hand in front of your face!” Murdoch admonished.

“I can when the lightning hits,” Scott tried to use logic where there was none.

Murdoch looked tiredly at his eldest. “I'm worried about him too, son. But if we go off half-cocked, it isn't going to do your brother any good.” Â

Scott's shoulders slumped in defeat. He knew his father was right but he hated feeling so helpless! Johnny needed him, he was sure of it and he could do nothing. Nothing but wait. He paced the floor and shook his head, mumbling to himself about past lives and why “˜they' couldn't leave his brother alone.

******

“That's right, boy. Sam Stryker. You remember my son, Davy? I know you remember my other son, the one you killed!” he sneered.

Johnny stared at them both as the memories of a few short months ago descended on him. They tried to take his stallion. The Stryker kid had drawn on him and he'd shot him down. He had tried to get the old man to let them help but he wanted none of it. That damned stallion! He closed his eyes for a minute.

“I remember,” he said softly.

“Good! Hate to think you're the type to kill a man and forget it,” Stryker said, still sneering at him.

Johnny almost laughed. If the old man only knew who he was talking to, he thought. But he doesn't, he doesn't know! This thought was more powerful to him than any. They want Johnny Lancer! He was amazed, stunned even by this thought. Then he realized it didn't really matter what they called him. It was all the same anyway.

“So, why this? Why didn't you just shoot me?” Johnny asked, really wanting to know the answer.

Stryker nodded at him and seemed to think about it for a minute. “My boy suffered havin to ride that horse after you shot him. You're gonna suffer too,” he answered.

“I tried to get you to take him in the house. He might've had a chance if the doctor could get to him,” Johnny reminded him none too gently.

“Shut up! You killed my boy and you're gonna pay for it!” the old man yelled.

******

Dawn came finally at Lancer and with it the end of the storm but Jelly's prediction had come true. There wasn't much light to it. Still, the Lancer's had waited as long as they were going to before starting the search for Johnny. They all three saddled up and Teresa sent them off with sandwiches and a promise to find Johnny.

She worried about him so much. Scott always seemed to be in control, although Teresa knew it was a show sometimes. But Johnny wasn't so good at hiding his pain, at least not from her. Maybe it was because he didn't try so hard to hide it around her. She wondered why that was, why he felt so comfortable with her. She didn't know but she was glad to be his friend, his sister even his confidant if he needed that. She knew Murdoch would find him, no matter what. She felt a renewed energy and headed off to the kitchen to cook some of Johnny's favorite foods in anticipation of his return.

******

“It's time for you ta pay for what you did, boy,” Stryker sneered.

Davy laughed. He sounded like a braying mule to Johnny. He thought about commenting on this but figured it probably wasn't the best idea. For once he kept his mouth shut. He kept still, peering at the old man's face, trying to read how crazy he really was. His lips curved upward slightly, he just couldn't help himself.

Stryker stared at him, hate firing in his eyes. “You think it's funny? I'll show ya just how funny it is,” he said as he hit him cross the face.

Johnny gritted his teeth and refused to respond to the pain. He'd felt worse but he knew before it was over he might not believe that anymore. He felt the blood running from his lip. It was warm and actually felt good. He was freezing from the night spent soaking wet, undressed from the waist up and uncovered against the chilled night air that had howled through every conceivable crack and cranny in the line shack.

At least he was pretty sure where he was now and he sure hoped his family could figure it out. How they would do that, he didn't know but it was all he had. He couldn't reach his boot knife and that was the only defense he had left. The ropes that bound him were tight enough to cut his wrist without him even moving against them.

*****

Scott, Murdoch and Jelly combed the countryside in futility. Any tracks that had been made in the night had been summarily washed away by the storm. The ranch looked like a dump. Tree branches, twigs, entire fence posts were scattered all over. It was hard enough to ride a horse through all the debris, let alone try to find any tracks.

“Murdoch, we're not going to find any signs out here,” Scott said sadly.

“I know,” Murdoch stated simply.

Scott sighed heavily. “Look, we're all pretty sure someone took him. Now, with that storm they couldn't have gotten far and they had to have shelter. So, where's the closest shelter?” he reasoned aloud.

Murdoch looked at Scott and realized he was right. They had spent all morning trying to find tracks instead of using their heads. Dammit, he thought. “If they knew where they were going, there's only two places they could be. Either the north line shack or the east line shack,” Murdoch surmised.

“Well, that's jist great! How're we gonna choose?” Jelly asked.

“Jelly, go back to the house and get Cipriano. The two of you head to the east line shack. Scott and I'll go to the north,” Murdoch decided. It would be just my luck, that's where they would be anyway Murdoch thought.

Jelly headed off at a quick pace and Scott and Murdoch reared their horses to the north.

“I didn't even know there was a north line shack,” Scott commented.

Murdoch remained silent and frowned deeply.

*****

Johnny was pretty sure he couldn't take much more. He had been successful at keeping the pain silent inside him but he couldn't stand it any longer. His face felt like a piece of raw meat and he could practically feel the bruises forming on his chest and stomach.

Stryker had stopped beating on him some time ago and pulled out a knife. He cut into Johnny's chest like he was carving a turkey, careful not to go too deep. He didn't want Johnny to die too quickly. He wasn't cold anymore. All he could feel was pain and a deep sense of being more alone than he'd ever felt in his life.

He was sweating profusely and it ran in rivulets down the sides of his face. He prayed to pass out but it wouldn't come. Each time he thought he might relax enough to slip into unconsciousness, fresh pain would sear through him. He could barely move in the chair with the ropes so tightly binding him but he had pulled against them so hard, he could feel the blood running down his hands and the sting as sweat ran into the wounds on his wrists.

"You ready to beg, boy?" Stryker asked, grinning.

Johnny looked up at him, his eyes steel blue ice and smiled. Stryker stared at him dumbfounded. His expression changed quickly to pure red rage and he pushed the knife deep into Johnny's left side and pulled it out slowly.

He tried to fight the scream threatening to come from him. He managed to keep it to a grunt as he closed his eyes and gritted his teeth once more against the pain.

Stryker stopped suddenly and Johnny waited, and waited, but no new pain came to him. He opened his eyes and saw the man standing over him. The look on his face was not what Johnny expected to see. He thought the man would gloat his victory but instead, he only looked at him with somber eyes. Johnny frowned as he tried to make sense of what was happening now.

“It's my turn, pa. You promised I could have my turn!” Davy said, enthusiastic to taste the power his father had reined.

“Later,” the old man clipped.

“Later! But, he'll be dead later. I want my turn now!” he demanded. What he got was a slap across the face and a growl.

“I said later! Now shut up and go outside!” He did as he was told and sulked away without another word.

*****

Jelly reared his horse harshly toward the east as he and Cipriano headed off on their quest. He prayed they would find Johnny, alive and well, but he had a deep sense of dread in his heart and he knew something was terribly wrong. He pushed these thoughts away and concentrated on getting to the line shack as quickly as he could.

Scott and Murdoch were not making very good time as their horses slipped and stepped over debris and mud left by the storm. Murdoch was quiet and Scott thought it was more than his worry for Johnny.

“You ok?” he ventured.

“Yeah,” was the short response he got.

“I get the feeling you would rather have gone to the east line shack. Am I right?” Scott tried.

“It's not important,” Murdoch clipped.

When we find Johnny and get him home safe, I'm going to have to ask Murdoch about this Scott thought as they trudged on. Right now, he was more concerned about his brother than his father's foul mood which was steadily growing worse as the minutes passed.

*****

Sam Stryker pulled a chair next to the one that bound Johnny. He watched him for a long time as Johnny slept. At least, he thought Johnny was sleeping, his chin rested on his chest and his eyes were closed.

He could feel the old man staring at him and wondered what he was up to now. He figured if he kept his eyes closed, Stryker would have to wait for him and he needed this time to rest and to think. He didn't see how he was going to get out of this mess now. He knew the ropes were loosening on his wrists but he wondered if that was it or if enough meat had slid off to cause them to loosen.

He almost shuddered at the thought but he fought for control once more and won. Even if he could get his hands free, he didn't think he was in any shape to take them both on. During the very brief respites when Stryker would take a rest from torturing him, Johnny would scan the room. But he never saw his gun or any guns. He figured they had them out of sight just in case but he saw no reason to hide them any longer. He was sure he didn't have the strength to raise his head, let alone put up a fight. No, he was going to die here, alone with a crazy man and his even crazier son.

Sam Stryker watched him. He wondered how Johnny could take so much pain. He knew his own son would have been begging for his life before his skin was ever broken by a blade. The very sight of the knife he displayed to Johnny would have caused his weak son to cry like a baby.

The wrong one died, he thought. He remembered the look on Davy's face when Johnny held the gun to his head during the gunfight at Lancer. He was terrified and ready to beg for his life. If this kid's old man hadn't called to him, he was sure Davy would have begged. It sickened him how weak the boy was. He had the odd thought that Johnny would have been a much better son for him than this pitiful excuse for a man. Even Eli wasn't as tough as this one. He started something he knew he couldn't win. But hadn't he himself urged the boy on?

“You started it, boy, now finish it,” he had said. No, Eli may have at least been a good thinker the way his old man was but he wasn't a very good fighter. Never had been. How he got stuck with sons like that, he would never understand. Murdoch Lancer had it all, two sons, both strong and brave. He remembered how the blond had been shot off his horse and then a few minutes later was out there battling it out with him and his men. His son would have been sniveling in a corner somewhere, whining that it hurt!

He glanced up at the boy and was startled to see two bright blue eyes watching him. He averted his gaze and suddenly felt very ashamed of himself. He had been so full of rage, pain and loss that all he could focus on was revenging his boy's death. But this wasn't revenge. He had never been a kind man, but he always considered himself to be pretty fair. Eye for an eye and such. But this wasn't fair, this was something entirely different.

Johnny watched the torment cross Sam Stryker's face time and time again as he sat there deep in his thoughts. He wondered just what the old man was thinking and if he might be able to take advantage of it somehow. Then he saw something that totally surprised him. Was it sympathy, pity? Johnny hated being felt sorry for but if it got him out of this alive, he thought he might as well play on it.

He closed his eyes and groaned softly and tried to reposition himself in the chair. The pain seared through him again and he moaned once more. He knew Stryker was watching him. He could feel the man's eyes on him.

******

“How much further?” Scott asked his father as he had never been to this particular line shack before. As a matter of fact, Murdoch had never mentioned anything about checking this spot before.

“About half an hour in this mess,” Murdoch growled. His mood certainly hadn't gotten any better, worse in fact. Scott was amazed that was even possible. He had never seen Murdoch quite so grumpy.

“I hope Jelly and Cipriano are making better time,” Scott offered.

Murdoch only grumped in answer.

Jelly and Cipriano dismounted from their horses just out of sight of the line shack. They moved toward the building as quietly as possible. It didn't look like anyone was there but they were taking no chances where Johnny's welfare was concerned. Jelly motioned for Cipriano to move to one side of the door as he positioned himself on the other side. On his signal, they burst through the door of the line shack, guns drawn and ready.

******

Stryker kept watching and Johnny knew it. He was beginning to think he had read the man wrong until he felt a light touch sweep back a lock of stray hair from his forehead. He didn't respond, waiting to see what might happen next. He heard the man get up and move about the shack but still he kept his eyes closed. Suddenly he felt a cool cloth on his forehead, then his face as Stryker wiped away some of the perspiration his torture had caused.

“When I first met you, boy, I hated your guts. You were pretty confident of yourself but I reckon that comes from havin a home and family. My boys ain't had much of a home. Guess that's my fault. But, when their ma died I just couldn't stay around there no more. Couldn't leave ‘em behind so we hit the trail. Ain't much of a life for kids I reckon, but I done the best I could for ‘em. Just wasn't enough,” he said then sighed.

“You got sand, boy, ain't no doubt. Mine never could've taken this much. Guess I let my hate and hurt spill over to my soul. No excuse for it, though. None at all. I never did think of myself as a cruel man. I love my boys, I guess I just weren't a very good father to ‘em. Not like yours. I reckon your old man treats you pretty well. Hell, big ranch like that makes it easier. Still and all, you sure as hell didn't deserve this.”

Johnny felt the ropes loosen then fall away from his wrist, he felt a tug as the ropes were cut from his ankles and the pain of stiffness and inactivity as his arms were brought to his sides.

“Reckon the law'll be after us now. Somethin else I messed up for my boy. Can't say I'm gonna help you no more'n this. Whatever happens now, well, I reckon that's up to you and God.”

Johnny couldn't believe what was happening. After all these hours of pain and torture, he was being set free. His anger toward the man was waning a bit. He understood the pain he had caused and he had felt guilty about it since he had killed Stryker's son. He hoped the old man could convince Davy though. He knew how he would feel if anyone ever hurt Scott. He didn't believe he would be so generous. Even if it was just a plain stupid thing to draw on a man over a horse! Stryker must have realized his son was no angel.

“Just gonna get ourselves a little headstart toward Mexico before anybody finds ya. Reckon they're a lookin for sure. I gotta give Davy that much, anyhow.”

Johnny opened his eyes and looked at the man who had tortured him all night and half the day. He saw the pain in the weathered, leathery face. If you only knew old man, he thought.

Stryker managed to give him a quick small smile as he stood up.

“Stryker?” Johnny whispered.

“Yeah, boy.”

“I'm sorry about Eli. I always have been,” he said.

Stryker just nodded his head and went outside. Johnny could hear him arguing with his son and knew Davy was still spoiling for a killing. He hoped to God the old man could talk him out of it. He tried to stand up but he was hit by such a sudden wave of nausea and dizziness he thought he might, finally, pass out. He fell to the floor with a thud.

*****

Scott and Murdoch topped the ridge and dismounted. They could just make out the shack beyond the tree line and they could hear voices. They moved quietly through the brush and into the trees. They could hear Sam Stryker arguing with his son.

“No! You promised, pa. He killed my brother! He can't get away with that. Nobody gets away with that! You promised me when we rode out of Lancer that day that we'd make him pay!” Davy shouted.

“He has paid, boy. He's paid plenty,” Stryker said more calmly than his son.

Murdoch and Scott both felt their hearts drop to their stomachs at this news.

“I ain't made'im pay. You got to have all the fun!” Davy insisted.

“It's done. Now I'm tellin you, we're lightin out a here right now before someone finds us.”

“You're too late,” Scott said in a low and deadly tone.

Murdoch was taken aback by the sound of his son's voice. For a minute, he could swear it was Johnny standing next to him. They moved out of the trees with their guns aimed dead center of the two Stryker's chests.

Davy stared in disbelief. “How'd you find us?”

“Drop your guns,” Murdoch answered.

Sam Stryker dropped his sidearm and his rifle. “Go ahead, boy, put it down,” he said to his son.

“No! No, he ain't gettin away with it. He's gonna pay!” Davy yelled as he bolted toward the door.

He fell on the steps leading up to the porch with a thud. Murdoch lowered his gun slightly then aimed it back at Sam Stryker, who went to his son and picked him up.

“You never did have much sense did ya, boy?” he said softly.

“Pa?” he cried.

“It's ok, son. Just close your eyes and it'll be ok,” Stryker said.

Davy did just as he was told and took his last breath. Stryker looked up at Murdoch. He couldn't say anything, didn't know what to say. "He's inside" was all he could manage and he went back to holding his dead son.

Scott picked up their weapons and steeled himself before going into the shack. Murdoch was doing the same thing and he held his breath.

Johnny heard the shouts and the shots as he came out of the darkness. He tried to sit up. He could have sworn he heard his father's voice, didn't he? Probably just a dream, he thought. He raised up and went right back down again as the pain re-ignited in his torso.

Suddenly, he felt a hand stroke his hair and touch his cheek. It's not a dream, he smiled as he opened his eyes to look into the face of his father. Scott stood dumbfounded at the sight before him. His brother covered in blood, dried and wet crimson caked his chest and stomach. His face cut and bruised. Rivulets of blood were oozing down his sides and his wrists were nothing more than raw meat. He thought he might lose his lunch at that moment. He approached cautiously and knelt beside his brother. His eyes were welled with tears that wouldn't fall.

“You're going to be alright, son,” Murdoch was speaking softly to him. “Scott, get some water for your brother,” he said.

Scott nodded his head and retrieved a cupful of water, handed it to his father, then went to get a pan to wash Johnny's wounds. Murdoch scooped his son up after helping him drink a little and laid him on the cot in the corner of the room.

They heard a horse riding away and Scott started out the door.

“No,” Johnny whispered.

“But he's getting away!” Scott said.

“Let him go,” Johnny replied. His voice was soft but his words were undeniably firm.

“Why, son?” Murdoch asked, just as confused as Scott over this generosity.

Johnny grimaced and said simply, “later,” as he closed his eyes again.

“We have to get him home, Murdoch.”

“How, Scott? He'd never survive the trip on horseback. One of us will have to go for a wagon in the morning. Hopefully the ground will be at least dry enough to travel on by then,” Murdoch explained.

“But we can't stay here, this place is filthy!" Scott glared.

“Stop fighting."

They both heard the soft spoken words and stared at Johnny who was looking back and forth between them.

“What's the matter with you two?” he asked.

“I guess we're both just worried about you. Sorry, brother,” Scott said remorsefully.

“Scott, go out and get my extra shirt from my saddlebag and be careful. We don't know for sure that Stryker isn't still out there.”

Scott nodded and slipped out the door. He retrieved his father's extra shirt and his own, found another pan and they both took a side and started cleaning the wounds as gently as they could.

Johnny moaned a few times but never fully awakened until they started on his wrists. He hissed air in through his clenched teeth as the raw meat stung from water being poured over them.

“Sorry,” the older two Lancers said in unison.

Johnny laughed weakly at this. “First decent thing either of you've said,” he smiled.

*****

Jelly was a nervous wreck. Murdoch and Scott would have been back by now if they hadn't found Johnny. That must mean they had found him and he was in trouble or hurt.

“Cip, we gotta git on up ta that line shack. Take a wagon in case they need it.”

“Jelly, we can't get a wagon through all this debris,” Cipriano answered.

Jelly thought for a minute then his face brightened with an idea. “Cip, git all the hands you kin find. Bring “˜em all together here in the yard. Quick as ya kin,” he directed.

He went to the barn and hitched a wagon to two of the strongest horses in the string and led it into the yard where the ranch hands were waiting for him. Teresa brought a pile of blankets almost as tall as she was and some pillows and laid them in the back of the wagon.

“All right, men. The boss and his boys might be in some trouble. Now, we need ta git this here wagon up ta the north line shack. And I mean in a hurry! Ya'll know what I'm a sayin so let's git to it,” he said with an air of authority he didn't really feel. He was worried sick about all three of them and he made sure he had a rifle in reach as he started driving the wagon north.

*****

Murdoch watched his son sleep for a long time while Scott found enough supplies to cook supper. He would glance over towards the old man every once in a while but Murdoch had not moved from Johnny's side. He smiled at the show of affection but it also saddened him to think it was the only time he could show he cared. When Johnny was hurt and too sick to argue with him. He spooned out the stew and sat two places at the rickety table.

“It's ready,” he whispered, not wanting to disturb his brother's sleep. He could tell Johnny hadn't had any of that for two days and he was exhausted.

Murdoch reluctantly left his boy's side and joined his oldest at the table. He stirred the stew around but didn't eat it.

“I know I'm not a very good cook but you could at least try it,” Scott said with a smile.

“I'm just not hungry, son,” Murdoch answered. He had been quiet for a long time now and Scott was worried about him too.

“What's wrong, Murdoch? I mean, besides Johnny. I know something else is bothering you.”

“It's nothing, son. Nothing at all,” he said, but he was somewhere else. Some distant place that Scott didn't know. The past.

Johnny moaned and cried out softly for his father. Murdoch jumped up and ran to his side. “I'm here son. I'm right here,” he whispered.

Johnny opened his eyes and didn't know where he was for a minute. He looked around the room and groaned as the memories flooded back.

“Damn, I was hopin it was a nightmare,” he sighed.

“I wish it were, son,” Murdoch said, misery in every word.

“Feel like you could eat something?” Scott asked as he joined them.

Johnny shook his head and grimaced. The thought of food made his stomach turn.

“No, I don't suppose you do,” Scott said.

“How bad is it?” Johnny asked, looking to his father for the truth.

“Well, son, most of the wounds aren't very deep. This one on your chest is pretty bad, it's going to need stitches. But this one here ...” he hesitated and touched the area just under Johnny's left rib cage. “This one I just don't know about,” he finished and frowned.

Johnny figured as much, that was the one that had got him. The one that had made him cry out. “Yeah, that one's pretty deep,” he said matter-of-factly.

Murdoch shook his head in awe at his son's ability to shrug off any injury.

“What?” Johnny asked.

“You just amaze me, Johnny. That's all,” Murdoch answered.

“Yeah, I am pretty amazing,” he grinned. It was the you-have-no-choice-but-to-smile-back-at-me grin and they both did just that.

“Can we do anything for you, your highness,” Scott teased.

“Yeah, you can help me sit up or turn over or something. If I don't get off my back pretty soon, I might just go crazy,” he replied.

“I don't know, son. I'm afraid if we move you, the bleeding will start again.”

Johnny frowned and stuck his lower lip out ever so slightly.

Scott stood up to ready himself and Murdoch looked at him questioningly.

“Well, come on. You know you can't say no to that look!”

“Yes, I can,” Murdoch said, but stood up himself.

Johnny grinned his victory as they helped him turn on his side. The relief washed over him like sunlight on a cool day as the pressure was removed from his back. He was surprised to feel strong calloused hands gently massaging his back, especially when he realized it was his father's hands.

“Feel good?” Murdoch asked.

“Uh huh,” he moaned.

*****

The hands were walking about 500 feet ahead of the wagon on a straight line, picking away debris and potential hazards for the wagon's wheels, making a path for Jelly to drive through. They laid down straw in the muddiest spots to help keep the wagon from getting bogged down in the mire.

Jelly heard horse's hooves behind him and turned in his seat to see Teresa riding up with more hands, horses and a white sack.

“Now jist what do you think you're a doin, gal?” he huffed.

“Don't worry, Jelly, I'm going back to get ready for whatever you might find. I just wanted to bring more help and this,” she said as she handed him the heavy bag.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Bandages and medicines, just in case,” she said with a frown. “Now, you give those men a rest at intervals. You have enough now to work in shifts so no one gets too tired,” she explained.

“Thanks, Teresa. You always was the smart one,” Jelly said with a smile of gratitude.

She smiled at him but it was a sad little smile, then she rode back to the house. He just shook his head at the courage in her heart.

“Cip, break “˜em inta groups and start lettin ‘em get some rest,” he yelled out to Cipriano.

*****

Johnny opened his eyes a few hours later to find his father had not moved from the side of the cot. Murdoch's head was hanging down on his chest and his breathing was slow and even. He was asleep.

Johnny smiled a little to himself. He was so sure he was going to die in this filthy rundown shack that he was stunned when they had found him or even how they had found him.

Murdoch stirred and jerked his head up, blinking away the sleep. “Sorry, son. I must have dozed off,” he whispered.

“You should lay down and get some real sleep. I'm ok,” he answered.

“Are you? Johnny this isn't going to be easy to forget,” he said with concern.

“I know,” was Johnny's only answer. “You don't like this place,” he ventured.

Murdoch just looked at him then averted his eyes.

“Why not?” Johnny persisted.

“Not now.”

“Yes, now. Tell me.”

“God, you're stubborn!” Murdoch said, raising his voice a little.

Johnny shushed him so as not to wake Scott. “At least I come by it honest,” he grinned.

Murdoch chuckled at this truth.

“Does it have something to do with my mother?” he asked.

“How could you know that?” Murdoch whispered in astonishment.

“I just had a feeling.”

“This was the first line shack I built on the ranch. It's been here since before Scott's mother died. This is where you were ... conceived,” he explained with some embarrassment.

Johnny blushed a little but smiled. When he looked at his father again, his concern grew. “There's more to it than that.”

“You don't need to hear about it,” Murdoch said.

“Yes, I think I do. Please?” Johnny asked.

"Not now, Johnny."

"If not now, when? When's a better time?"

"There is no good time. Look it's past, just forget it."

"I don't want to forget it. You haven't or else you wouldn't have kept this place a secret from Scott," Johnny persisted.

"From Scott? I never told either of you about it," Murdoch said, surprised by his son's choice of words.

Johnny lowered his eyes. "I knew about it. I found it a while ago."

Murdoch looked at him suspiciously. "You never said anything."

Johnny shrugged his shoulders a little.

"Why not, son?"

"I came up on it one day and I came inside to look around. It was a mess but you know me. I can be nosy when I wanna be," he grinned then and Murdoch reciprocated with a knowing smile.

"Anyway, I was pokin around and I found a shawl and a little blanket. It's funny, I could still smell her scent on that shawl. After all that time," he trailed off as if remembering something else.

Murdoch watched him but said nothing, hoping he would stop now and not ask any more questions. He should have known better.

"Did she bring me up here? That blanket looked like it belonged to a baby," he asked, watching his father's reaction intently.

Murdoch cringed and stiffened a bit and he wouldn't look Johnny in the eye. "I suppose she did," he mumbled.

Johnny sighed, he knew the answer to the next question but he had to hear it said. Once and for all , he had to hear the words. "She met him up here, didn't she?"

"Johnny, stop."

"Murdoch, just say it. Yes or no."

"Yes! Are you happy now?" he growled.

Johnny felt like he'd been slapped in the face. It wasn't his father's tone of voice that hurt, it was hearing the truth from the man himself.

"I'm sorry, son. I didn't mean to.."

"It's ok. I just had to hear it, you understand."

"I guess I do, but, Johnny, it was so long ago."

"Murdoch, it wasn't that long ago for me. I didn't know about him until Teresa told me."

Murdoch was stunned, he stared at Johnny in disbelief. "Teresa! What did she tell you?" he whispered the words as his voice seemed to be failing him.

"She told me my mother ran off with a gambler. That you didn't throw us out like I'd been told."

"Who told you that!"

"Shhhh. You'll wake Scott," Johnny said in hushed tones.

Murdoch glanced over at his eldest lying on his bedroll, but Scott didn't move. "What did Maria tell you?" he said, quieter but in his demanding-to-know voice.

Johnny searched his father's face and wished he had never started this whole thing. How could he tell him she had lied about him all these years? "She said you didn't want us, that you didn't want ... me," he mumbled.

Murdoch shook his head slowly, the sadness in his eyes hurt Johnny and he knew for the first time, really knew, the truth.

“Try and get some rest,” Murdoch said after a long silence.

"Murdoch?"

"It's alright, Johnny."

"No, no it isn't.. I'm sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry for, son."

"Yes, I do. For hating you all those years. For wanting so bad to kill you that day Scott and I came back. You have no idea how close I came," Johnny explained as his heart starting aching all over again.

The memories of his mother had for the most part been good ones, but now he felt confused and betrayed by her. He just wanted to get out of there.

"I'm glad you changed your mind about that, but Johnny, don't be sorry for how you felt. Anyone would have felt the same believing what you did," Murdoch said and placed his hand on his son's arm. "Now, I want you to rest. We need to get you home as soon as possible."

"I'm all for that," he smiled and closed his eyes.

*****

Morning came with the threat of more bad weather. Dark clouds loomed overhead and Jelly frowned. The wagon had gotten stuck in the mud and they had been forced to make camp for the night even though they were just a few miles from the line shack. By daybreak, the ground wasn't much drier and they weren't able to free the wagon and get on their way.

“Jelly, do you think it is a good sign that we have not met them on the trail?”

“I dunno, Cip. Reckon it depends on what's goin on up there. We best try and git this danged wagon loose again,” Jelly said, frowning with worry over his ‘family'.

*****

Scott awoke a dawn. He moved about as quietly as he could not wanting to disturb the two sleeping men. Murdoch was still sitting in the chair and Johnny seemed to be resting well. He went out to saddle his horse for the ride back home for help. What he saw in the morning sky made his stomach churn. He went in to wake his father.

“Murdoch,” he whispered, putting a light hand on the old man's shoulder.

He jerked his head up once more and his eyes immediately sought out his youngest son.

“You had better come outside, sir.”

Scott's tone made Murdoch feel more dread. “What now?” he mumbled. He stared at the sky and shook his head in disbelief. Just then the rumbling began as did the rain. Within minutes it was pouring down in buckets. Murdoch heard Johnny call for him and went back in.

“Where's Scott?” he asked immediately.

“He's outside.”

Thunder rolled in from far away and grumbled across the sky. Johnny looked at Murdoch. “Not again.”

“I'm afraid so, son. I don't know how we're going to get you out of here,” Murdoch said, worry etched in every line of his face.

*****

Jelly had never cussed so much in his life. They were all getting drenched in the downpour. He hoped it was only a quick storm but inside he knew better. The skies were as black as onyx and the clouds seemed quite content to stay where they were, which was right over his head.

“We must turn back, Jelly,” Cipriano said.

“Turn back! We caint turn back! Murdoch and the boys need our help and we're gonna give it to “˜em!”

“How, amigo? We cannot move the wagon. We must return to the hacienda and wait out the storm.”

Jelly knew his friend was right. He felt completely defeated and helpless. Finally he nodded his head and sighed deeply. He was letting them down and he had never done that before. He prayed they would be able to hold out until he could reach them.

“Well, at least we got the wagon this far. We kin leave it here and dig it outta the mud when we come back,' Jelly compromised.

*****

The storm raged on throughout the morning. It was a repeat of the previous evenings performance. Scott thought it should get a standing ovation. The lightning was intense in it's savagery and the thunder seemed even louder to him as they were on higher ground now. He realized it was probably his imagination, but Scott hated thunderstorms intensely and it was taking everything he had to keep his focus on the problem at hand. How to get Johnny home must be utmost on his mind right now. He pushed back the memories and concentrated.

“Any ideas?” he asked Murdoch.

“I'm afraid not.”

“Rabbit,” Johnny whispered. They both looked at him with perplexed expressions.

“What did you say?” Scott asked.

“I said rabbit. In the bushes. They hide there when it's stormin if they ain't got a hole to go in,” Johnny explained.

Still missing the point of the conversation, Scott needed some clarification. “You feeling alright?” he asked as he felt his brother's forehead.

Johnny smiled. “We need food,” he stated simply.

Murdoch finally understood. “It's going to be awful hard to catch a rabbit in this, son,” he said.

“Nah, just get me up and I'll get one,” he said.

Scott was trying to get his father's attention without alerting Johnny. He finally succeeded and pointed to Johnny's forehead. Murdoch frowned and placed his hand where indicated. Johnny was on fire. “˜God, he's delusional,' he thought.

“Where's my gun? I'll catch us some rabbits. I make a pretty mean stew, if I do say so myself,” he said as he started to rise up. He went back down as the pain in his side ripped through him. He looked up at his father with total confusion.

“Stay still, son. You're hurt,” Murdoch said softly.

“Hurt? What happened? Scott? What happened to me?” He was starting to feel panicked and his breathing was coming harder.

“Easy, Johnny. Just calm down. You'll be alright. You have a fever and you're a little confused right now but you're going to be just fine.”

Scott's soothing voice had more effect on his brother than any medicine ever could. Johnny relaxed and closed his eyes.

When he opened them again he seemed himself.

“You ok?” Murdoch asked.

“I've been better,” Johnny retorted.

Murdoch sighed with relief and Johnny looked at him quizzically. He was suddenly very cold though, so he didn't really question his father's expression. He started shivering again.

“It's freezing in here,” he said.

Murdoch got his blanket and covered Johnny. Scott fed the fire to warm the damp shack as much as he could. Nothing seemed to help though. Johnny kept saying he was cold over and over and shivering uncontrollably.

“Scott, let's move the cot closer to the fireplace,” Murdoch suggested.

“Good idea,” Scott affirmed.

They moved as gently as they could but Johnny moaned at the slightest jarring. Thunder crashed and Scott nearly dropped his end of the cot.

“What's the matter with you?” Murdoch asked.

“Nothing. I'm sorry. It just surprised me,” Scott said, his face a little red.

Murdoch went back to tending Johnny, trying to cool him down with a wet cloth. He was restless, trying to move about on the cot and Murdoch was afraid he'd hurt himself again. He spoke softly to Johnny but it wasn't helping. Finally he gave in, even though it hurt his pride a little.

“Scott, come talk to him. Maybe you can get him to settle down.”

Scott took his father's place at Johnny's side and talked to him in a calm quiet voice. Johnny started to settle down as he heard his brother's voice and felt his touch.

The fever raged on and they took turns trying to cool Johnny. Nothing seemed to be working and they were both growing more anxious by the minute.

“¡No, sale de me solo! ¡No me toque! ¡Párelo!” Johnny shouted.

Murdoch put his hands on Johnny's shoulders to keep him in the bed. “Easy, boy. It's me, Johnny. It's just me,” he spoke softly but Johnny didn't seem to hear him.

“¡Estancia lejos de me! ¡Mama hace le estancia ausente!”

Murdoch felt his blood run cold as he realized that Johnny wasn't hallucinating, he was having a nightmare. A nightmare that had been very real. He stared at Johnny, unable to speak, to try and calm his son.

“Murdoch?” Scott asked the question with just that word.

“I...I don't know. He's remembering something, I think. Dear God,” Murdoch said as he lowered his head.

“Ningñan mama. No deseo ir. Haga que él sale. Tomaré el cuidado de usted. Prometo. No me envÃe afuera otra vez, por favor mama, él es oscuro.”

Murdoch could take no more of this and he stood up and walked to the door. There wasn't anyplace he could go but he couldn't listen to this anymore.

“Johnny, it's Scott. Johnny, wake up. Wake up!” Scott yelled at his brother to come back to him. To bring him out of this nightmare. He wished fervently that he had made Johnny teach him Spanish. He kept promising to but somehow they had never gotten around to it. He shook Johnny hard, it was all he had left to bring his brother out of this hell he was in.

Johnny opened his eyes and groaned at the pain.

“Sorry, brother,” Scott said.

“What happened?” Johnny whispered.

“You were having a bad dream, that's all,” Scott lied.

Johnny frowned and looked at him, then his eyes sought out his father standing at the door, his back to him. “Murdoch?” he said as loudly as he could manage.

Murdoch straightened himself and turned slowly to meet his son's gaze briefly. He walked back over and sat down beside the cot and smiled. Johnny thought it was a pitiful smile.

“What's the matter?” he asked, concerned for his father.

“Nothing, son. Nothing at all. Just try to rest and, here, drink some water.”

He covered for the moisture still in his eyes by avoiding Johnny's gaze and busied himself with the water and cup. Johnny thought it was the most drawn out cup of water he'd ever had to wait for. He knew something was wrong and that it had to do with his dream but he couldn't remember the dream. He wondered if he should ask but thought better of it, maybe he'd ask Scott later.

Suddenly, the door flew open and a sopping wet figure stood against the torrential downpour, holding two bags.

“Jelly!” Murdoch shouted in surprise.

******

“Well who'd ya think it was, the Easter bunny?” Jellifer huffed. “Here take these,” he told Murdoch as he made a beeline for the fireplace.

It was then that he saw Johnny. He gasped aloud at the mess that was his face.

“That's not the worst of it,” Scott said.

“Come on, Jelly. You have to get out of those wet clothes before we have another patient on our hands,” Murdoch instructed.

“And jist what am I supposed ta put on?” Jelly asked indignantly.

“Wrap a blanket around you if you're so shy. At least until your clothes dry,” Murdoch said with a slight grin.

“What did you bring us?” Scott asked. “And how did you get here?” he added.

“Well, I brought bandages and medicine and food. And I got here on a horse, whatya think, Mr. Smartypants! We was on our way when the storm hit agin and the wagon got mired down. The men went back ta the ranch ta wait it out but I figured ya needed some help so I decided ta come on ahead. Cip'll get ‘em goin agin soon as he kin,” Jelly explained.

“Let's change these shirt rags for some real bandages,” Murdoch said as he looked through the ‘medicine bag' Jelly had brought.

There were salves he could use as well and he knew he had Teresa to thank. He pulled out a brown bottle of liquid and hmmphed. Now, she knows better. Johnny won't take this stuff, he thought as he sat the laudanum aside.

Murdoch and Scott redressed Johnny's wounds. He did little to protest, he was getting weaker and Murdoch was worried about the fever that still raged. Jelly shuffled over in his blanket and surveyed the wounds.

“Good Lord! Who did that to him?!” he demanded.

“Sam Stryker,” Murdoch mumbled.

“Who?”

“Never mind that. I'll explain it to you later,” Scott said rather shortly.

Jelly huffed over to the stove and put on the coffee. “This keeps up, we kin swim out,” he muttered.

Murdoch came over to him then and fumbled a thank you. Jelly just rolled his eyes and asked him what he expected him to do. Ranting about having to take care of them all and what would they ever do without him.

Johnny groaned and started getting restless again. Jelly went to his side and put the wet cloth on his forehead. “Why he's burnin up!”

“Jelly? That you?” Johnny whispered.

“Course it's me. Figured I'd better git up here and take care a ya,” he said, gently.

“Start buildin the ark, amigo,” Johnny smiled.

“Reckon there's plenty a trees around, barns in fair shape. All's we need is some nails, a ax and a saw and we're ready,” Jelly teased.

Johnny tried to laugh but it turned into a cough and he held his left side as the pain flared once more. “¡MaldÃgalo ese los daños! ¡Mierda!” he hissed.

“Easy now, boy. I don't know what ya said but I kin guess.” Jelly tried to sound light hearted but he wasn't fooling anyone and he held Johnny's hand through the pain.

Johnny relaxed finally and blew out a deep breath. “How'd you get here, Jelly?” he whispered.

“Now, why does everbody keep askin me that! And it weren't easy, I kin tell you! Why I nearly drowned a gettin here. I don't know what I'm gonna do with you, Johnny. Goin out in that mess t'other night. Why it was just plain foolish!” he reprimanded.

Johnny grinned at him and closed his eyes, once more succumbing to sleep.

****

“How is he, really?” Jelly asked Murdoch as they stood by the fire.

“Well, the fever has me more worried than the wounds and that cough didn't sound good either,” Murdoch answered.

“Yeah, I sure hope he don't get the pneumonia.”

“Keep good thoughts, Jelly. We're very glad you're here with us,” Murdoch smiled and patted him on the shoulder.

“Reckon I'll start cookin somethin. Guess you're both about starved. I'll fix up some broth too,” Jelly said as he went about fixing his meal.

Scott stood at the small window watching the rain. He was a million miles away but Murdoch and Jelly didn't seem to notice. They were arguing over the ingredients in Jelly's vegetable soup.

Johnny opened his eyes and watched his brother for a long time. Thunder boomed once more and Scott nearly jumped out of his skin. They could hear the horses in the stable, whinnying their fear.

“We had better check those animals, Jelly. The last thing we need is for them to go running off,” Murdoch said.

“Oh, sure jist when I git dry,” Jelly huffed as he followed Murdoch outside.

“Scott?” Johnny whispered.

Scott continued his vigil at the window.

“Boston!” Johnny said louder.

Scott jerked around to face him, startled.

“Come over here,” Johnny said softly.

Scott came and sat by his brother. “Do you need something?” he asked.

Johnny nodded his head. “Yeah, you. What's wrong?”

“Nothing's wrong, unless you want to count the fact that you're hurt and”

“No, uh uh. You know that's not what I'm talkin about,” Johnny interrupted. “You about came out of your skin when that thunder hit and the other night you were just as skittish. Now I want to know what's going on,” he said firmly.

Scott locked eyes with him for a long moment, trying to decide if he should burden his injured brother with his own demons. “It's nothing, really,” he finally said.

Johnny drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “Why can't you just tell me? Just this once stop worrying about me and tell me what's wrong,” he said, almost pleading with his brother.

Scott smiled at his ability to read his mind. “I just don't like thunderstorms. They remind me of cannon fire,” he said.

“The war. Yeah, I kinda figured that was it. I'm sorry, Scott. You've all been worrying over me and you needed to talk. So talk, brother.”

“Johnny, there really isn't anything to say. It's just that sometimes the memories come back and it throws me. I've been so wrapped up in this new life that I had actually forgotten to think about it. That never happened until I came here. Until I had someone else to worry about. I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. In Boston, I tried to forget it with liquor and women, but it didn't help. Nothing seemed to help until I came here,” Scott poured out.

“Until I came along and kept ya on your toes,” Johnny grinned.

“That's right, brother. I got a whole new job just watching your back,” Scott laughed.

“Well, if it's women ya need,” Johnny smiled.

“Oh, no. Don't go thinking about that. You need to stay calm and get well,” Scott teased.

“When I get back on my feet, I'll show how to have a really good time. You won't remember nothin!”

“That's what I'm afraid of,” Scott said.

They continued their banter until Murdoch and Jelly came barreling back in, soaking wet. This gave them something new to laugh about and, though he tried not to because it hurt, Johnny couldn't help but laugh aloud at the sight of his father dripping wet.

Thunder and lightning crashed and cracked around them but Scott didn't seem to notice anymore. Johnny noticed that he didn't notice and he smiled to himself. It felt good to be with his family, even if he did feel like hell.

An overpowering feeling of dread moved through him as he realized how sick he was. He could feel the fever raging in his body, he knew they couldn't get out of here and he worried about them being trapped here with him if he should die. He shuddered and Scott looked at him, asking with his eyes. Johnny forced a smile but Scott could tell he felt miserable.

“How do you feel, son?” Murdoch asked as he awoke from a long nap.

Johnny looked at him, his eyes bright with fever but didn't answer.

“Johnny?” Murdoch tried again.

Johnny reached out and grabbed his arm. He smiled and tried to say something but he was too weak. His mind was working at a whirlwind but he couldn't voice what he was thinking and it frustrated him. He started shivering again and Murdoch knew they had to get the fever down soon. They had used all the blankets, the fire was roaring but still Johnny shivered.

Murdoch laid down behind him and wrapped his arms around him tightly, trying to warm him with his body heat. Johnny tried to relax in his father's arms, he wanted desperately to relax but he couldn't stop shaking.

He was trying to tell Murdoch something, but Murdoch only shushed him and talked to him in whispers. Slowly, his body responded to the additional heat, or maybe something else, and he was able to relax as the trembling subsided. He was so tired, so weak but he had to say what he needed to say to his father before it was too late. He had to find a way.

He took hold of Murdoch's hand and squeezed as hard as he could to get his father's attention. Murdoch turned him slightly to his back so he could see Johnny's face. He looked up and smiled, but he couldn't speak. He tried to say it with his eyes but he knew that only worked with Scott.

Johnny frowned, closed his eyes and concentrated on the two words he needed to say. Finally, he summoned the energy to speak, barely at a whisper.

“What is it, son? What are you trying to say?” Murdoch asked, seeing the desperation in Johnny's eyes.

“Te amo,” he said and fell quiet.

Murdoch felt the tears welling in his eyes. Johnny had worked so hard to say something. Murdoch knew it had to be very important for Johnny to use up so much energy. He never would have dreamed his son spent all that energy to tell him what he had needed to hear for twenty years, what he had yearned to know for so long. He pressed his cheek to his son's head and whispered through the lump in his throat. “I love you too, son.”

Scott had been watching this exchange from his bedroll and he too felt a lump in his throat. He swallowed hard and got up, moving quietly to Johnny's side. He looked into his father's eyes.

“What were the words he used?”

“Te amo,” Murdoch answered.

Scott smiled.

“It sounds so pretty. Te amo, Te amo,” he repeated. “Murdoch, is he going to ...” he couldn't finish the question as the tears welled.

Murdoch reached over and gripped Scott's shoulder. “You know Johnny. He won't give up,” he said determined.

“I can't lose him,” Scott whispered as he laid his head against his brother's. “Come on Johnny, fight. You have to fight. Who's going to worry about me if you're not around, who's going to pester me and tease me? Who's going to call me Boston?” He squeaked the words out, unable to control his emotions and not even wanting to now.

Scott awoke with his head still lying on the cot next to his brother. He raised up and saw his father still sleeping with Johnny wrapped in his arms. Then he looked at Johnny.

In the dim light of predawn he couldn't really see him but something was different. He lit a lamp and drew it near his brother's face. Johnny was wringing wet. His hair was drenched as were the bedclothes.

Scott hesitantly, hopefully laid his hand on Johnny's forehead and smiled. He sat there for a moment allowing himself this time alone to give thanks before waking his father. He dried his eyes and reached over to gently shake Murdoch's shoulder. He awoke immediately to Scott's smiling face.

“His fever broke.”

Murdoch double checked for his own sake and sighed with relief.

“I'm here, brother,” Johnny whispered.

Scott looked at him and noticed the change. He was his old self, well almost.

None of them had noticed that the storm had ended during the night. By dawn the sun was promising to make an appearance. Jelly went outside and sniffed the air.

“Yep, storm's over now,” he said with authority.

Still the ground was so boggy, they knew it would take a couple of days before the men could reach them with a wagon for Johnny. They spent that time feeding broth into Johnny until he thought he might burst or start squawking like a chicken.

Murdoch wished he could find some time alone with his son to talk to him about the nightmare. He wasn't sure how to broach the subject and he felt sure Johnny would shut down again.

Scott was hoping for a little time alone with his brother, as well. Johnny always helped him when the memories of the war intruded on his happy life at Lancer. And even though he was so sick, this time had been no different. Still, there was more Scott needed to tell him. He thought it might be better to wait until Johnny was well though. He didn't know how he would bring it up again out of the clear blue.

Jelly played mother hen as usual and argued with Murdoch over almost every point of Johnny's recovery. At night, when he sat with Johnny and the others were asleep, they would talk sometimes for hours about anything. Just so Johnny knew how much he meant to him, Jelly made extra attempts to spend this alone time with him.

Johnny knew exactly how Jelly felt, or so he thought. He considered them the best of friends. What he didn't know was how much Jelly loved him, like the son he'd never had.

*****

Cipriano arrived midmorning two days later with the wagon and they took Johnny home. He had never been so glad to leave a place in his life. Murdoch rode in the back of the wagon with him.

“Murdoch?”

“Yes, son.”

“Do me a favor.”

“Anything, Johnny.”

“Tear that damned building down.”

“First thing tomorrow, son. First thing,” Murdoch said and smiled at his boy.

******

Two weeks later, Johnny sat on the veranda watching the ranch at work. It still amazed him how busy the place always stayed. Especially now when they were finally clearing away the last of the debris from the storm. It had been a huge undertaking and he was actually a little guilty that he couldn't help out. He smiled to himself thinking that Murdoch probably wouldn't buy that, Scott either for that matter.

He was worried about Scott. He had been so busy with the clean up and so tired every night that they hadn't had a chance to talk much. He could sense his brother wanted to talk and he knew what it was about. He had already promised himself he was going to broach the subject of the war when they did get some time alone. He knew Scott would have trouble starting that conversation so he had already decided he would do it for him.

Dewdrop squawked and Johnny frowned at him. "Why do you have to make so much noise?" he asked the goose, who just squawked in reply.

"Dewdrop, leave Johnny alone. Caint ya see he's restin?" Jelly chastised the goose and shooed him away. "How ya feelin?" he asked.

"Oh pretty good, Jelly. Just a little sore still, and stiff," Johnny smiled.

Jelly sat down next to him and wiped his brow with his kerchief. "Whew, it's hot! I shore am glad all this mess is finally cleaned up."

"How much damage was there? Murdoch seems to think talking about anything serious will kill me," Johnny laughed.

"Ya caint blame 'im Johnny. We almost lost ya," Jelly frowned.

Johnny reached over and laid his hand on Jelly's arm. "Gonna answer me?" he asked.

"Lots of fence line down, we lost about fifty head of cattle. I reckon that ain't too bad considerin. A lot of the streams and creeks is still got to be cleaned out but nothin's dammed up. The barn roof lost a few shingles but the house is fine. Oh, and uh, Misty, she didn't make it."

Johnny's eyes widened. "What happened?" he asked.

"Well, she got so upset in the storm that she just plum miscarried that foal. They both died. It's a shame. I'm sorry, Johnny," Jelly said sadly.

Johnny lowered his eyes, he had mated her with Barranca. She was a beautiful golden palomino, almost the same coloring as Barranca and he was looking forward to seeing what their baby would look like.

They sat quietly for a while, then Johnny sighed. "Well, I guess we're pretty lucky, it could have been a lot worse," he said.

"Well, I should say so! We almost lost YOU!" Jelly huffed.

"Jelly, I never thanked you for what you did for me, for us. You took a big chance riding through that storm. I appreciate it."

"Now do you think for one minute I'd let you down? Course I was comin. Why I'd never leave you hurt or in trouble, Johnny. I mean, er, all of ya," Jelly stuttered, embarrassed.

Johnny looked up at him and smiled softly. "I know," he whispered.

"Yeah, well I got work ta do," he said as he hurried off.

******

He sat there quietly for a while with his eyes closed, listening to the world around him. He felt more at peace than he had in a long time. He opened his shirt and tried to peek under the bandages still wrapped around his chest and abdomen. He felt like one of those mummies Scott had told him about.

"Caught you."

Johnny looked over his shoulder to find his father watching him from the door. "Sneakin up on me?" he grinned.

Murdoch smiled and sat next to him. "Someone has to keep an eye on you," he answered.

"And you got the job, sorry about your luck," Johnny teased.

Murdoch chuckled. "I guess I got the job when you were born," he smiled then the smile left his face.

Johnny smiled at him to let him know it was okay.

"Jelly told me about Misty," Johnny said, changing the subject.

"I was going to tell you, I just didn't want to get you upset," Murdoch explained.

Johnny laughed at this. "When were you going to tell me? When I went out to the barn and couldn't find her? I swear Murdoch sometimes you treat me like a two-year-old," Johnny stopped his teasing as he realized what a stupid comment that was. Neither of them said anything for a while.

Murdoch thought maybe it was as good a time as any to talk about the nightmare, especially since neither of them seemed able to say anything today that didn't bring up the past.

"Johnny, I wanted to ask you about something."

"What is it?"

"Well, when you were so sick, you had a nightmare," Murdoch stated.

"Yeah, I remember Scott telling me that," Johnny affirmed.

"But you don't remember what it was about?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny shook his head.

"You were talking out loud, in Spanish," Murdoch watched his son for any sign of recollection, there was none. "You said some things that .... disturbed me."

Johnny narrowed his eyes. "What things?" he asked.

"You were saying something like 'don't touch me, leave me alone, I'll kill you.'

Johnny shook his head again, not able to remember and not understanding. That could have been anything, he thought.

"Then it was as if you were talking to your mother. You said 'make him leave me alone. Make him leave. I'll take care of you. Don't make me go outside, it's dark," Murdoch stopped again when he saw Johnny's reaction.

He stiffened and turned his head away.

"Johnny, please," he said as he held his son's arm.

"It was just a dream, Murdoch," he whispered.

"Was it?"

Johnny shook his head slowly and closed his eyes, hanging his head. Murdoch ached in his heart. He wanted Johnny to open up to him, to tell him what happened to him as a child. He wanted to understand his son desperately.

"Nothing you ever tell me will ever go any further. Nothing could ever make me ashamed of you," Murdoch said gently.

Johnny looked up at him, surprise written all over his face. "Nothing? Don't be so sure about that," he said in a flat voice.

"What happened, Johnny?" Murdoch persisted after a long moment of silence.

Johnny sighed, suddenly very tired, but he knew he wasn't going to be able to avoid this. Murdoch was dead set on hearing it and he resigned himself to that fact.

"I got knocked around some," is all he said.

"By whom?"

"By whoever she was with at the time," Johnny answered sarcastically.

"She let that happen?!" Murdoch asked, shocked that Maria would allow anyone to hurt their son.

"Sure, why not? It kept them there a while longer," Johnny answered bitterly.

Murdoch closed his eyes and fought to control his anger.

"Ashamed yet?" Johnny snipped.

"No, son. Not of you," Murdoch replied.

"You should be."

"Why? You didn't do anything wrong."

"I did everything wrong. I didn't keep my mouth shut, I didn't stay out of it when they were slappin her around. She told me to stay out of it. She even got so mad at me one time..." he trailed off, unwilling to finish the venting Murdoch had started.

"What did she do?"

"Murdoch please, what's the point?"

"I want to know what she did, Johnny?"

"She hit me. Happy now?" he yelled.

Murdoch said nothing, he didn't know what to say.

"She had never hit me before, never. I ran away for two days. She looked for me, I watched her running all over the town like a crazy woman. Asking everybody if they'd seen me. Most of them told her not to bother, that she was better off without a half breed kid hanging on her skirts."

"How old were you?" Murdoch asked.

"Seven," Johnny shrugged as if age was of no importance.

Murdoch reached over and caressed his hair, trailing his hand down to Johnny's shoulder and squeezed it gently.

"Look, it was along time ago. Just forget about it," Johnny said.

"No, I don't think I can. Come on, you need to lie down," he said, seeing that Johnny had grown pale.

*****

He awoke sometime later in the evening, bolting straight up in the bed. The nightmare had been vivid and he had to wonder if it was the same one he'd had when he was sick in the shack. 'Probably, talkin about it again', he thought.

He got up slowly and washed his face, then stared at himself in the mirror. He tried to remember himself as a boy, but he couldn't picture it. It had been so long ago, a hundred years it felt like. Had he ever really been that young? He doubted it.

Scott popped his head in and broke the trance. "Supper's ready, you ok?" he asked.

"Yeah sure," Johnny mumbled.

He played with his food, feeling no desire to eat.

Scott talked about the progress they had made in the cleanup and the little bit left to do. Murdoch tried to listen but he was worried about Johnny, who wasn't listening at all.

"Johnny!"

He jerked his head up and stared at his brother.

"I asked you a question. What's the matter with you?" Scott said.

"Was that the question?" Johnny asked, trying to sound light.

"No. I asked you when the doctor said he was coming back."

"Oh, tomorrow," Johnny mumbled.

Scott looked at him and frowned.

"Well, let's hope he has some good news," Murdoch said, trying to keep Scott from asking anymore questions.

Scott looked at him and Murdoch shook his head, indicating he should let his brother be.

"I'm goin to bed," Johnny said as he got up and walked away from the table.

"What's wrong with him?" Scott asked.

"He's got a lot on his mind," Murdoch answered.

"In other words, don't ask," Scott clipped and left the table.

*****

Johnny lay in the bed but he couldn't sleep. He couldn't stop the memories from coming back now and he wondered why. He had always been able to push them away, most of the time. But this time, he couldn't stop it. He decided maybe if he just let his mind do what it wanted, he might be able to get through it. So he allowed himself to remember it all. It came back to him in flashes of violence, screaming and crying.

He kept his eyes closed as the scenes played themselves out in his head one right after the other. All the men, all the times they had hurt her and him. All culminating in that last night. He could hear the gunshot in his head and he jerked up in the bed. He blinked his eyes to make it go away and saw his brother sitting in a chair in the corner.

"Scott? What are you doing?"

"Watching you," Scott replied simply.

Johnny frowned at him then noticed he was sweating. He got up and washed his face, then turned to his brother.

"Well? Do you want to tell me what that was all about?" Scott asked.

"Not really," he whispered.

"Johnny.."

"Scott, please. I can't, not right now."

Scott sighed and got up to leave.

"Wait," Johnny said.

He turned back to his brother.

"I do want to talk about something," Johnny said.

Scott smiled and walked over to sit at the edge of the bed. Johnny joined him.

"What do you want to tell me?" Scott asked.

"Oh I don't want to tell you anything. I want you to tell me. Out with it, Boston. I know there's more about the war you need to say," Johnny smiled and wrapped his arm around his brother's shoulder.

"You're kidding right? Now?" Scott asked, astounded that his brother could concentrate on anything when it was obvious he was very troubled.

"No, I'm not kidding, right now," Johnny said firmly.

"Johnny."

"Scott, stop stallin. Out with it!" Johnny said, losing his patience for a second.

Scott sighed and looked at Johnny with admiration. "Ok, well I just wanted to tell you a few things that I haven't told anyone before," Scott started.

Johnny said nothing, he just waited.

"It's about Libby. I was there for a year, I guess I told you that much. Sometimes I feel like it's going to overwhelm me. I want to scream but I can't. I still have nightmares about it. Not as much as I used to, but still. It was a poor excuse for a prison, if there is a good excuse for one. Anyway, it was a tenement. Three buildings were used to house thousands of men. Most of the floors were used for the offices and the kitchen so there wasn't much space left for us. Most of us were kept in the basement. It was always wet, even in the summer. The smell was ... indescribable. There were no facilities, no baths, no outhouses.

“They would throw a pot of something I still can't recognize down to us once a day. Men would kill each other for a handful of food. We tried to organize, finally we did. That's when the escape attempt happened. You know about that. What they did to teach the others a lesson is something I've never told anyone," Scott stopped here, seemingly unable or unwilling to continue.

Johnny stayed quiet, he knew he needed to give Scott time to deal with the memories and he wasn't all that anxious to hear what they did to his brother.

He held onto Scott's shoulder as they sat side by side on the bed. Scott was struggling and Johnny knew it. He pulled Scott closer to him and held tighter as if to brace his brother against anything and everything that might threaten to hurt him.

Finally, Scott continued. "They tied me to a tree and horsewhipped me. I was sure I was going to die there. I'd never been so sure of anything in my life. When they finished, they threw me back down in the cellar. They were all afraid to help me, they had been warned not to go near me. I don't know how long I laid there on my stomach. I couldn't turn over, I couldn't move. I just waited to die.

“I'm not sure, like I said, how long it was but sometime in the next few days Richmond was taken and we were freed. I was in an army hospital for weeks before I was discharged. April 3rd was the day they freed us, 6 days later Lee surrendered." Scott finished his story and sat there with his head resting on his brother's shoulder. He hadn't even realized he had laid it there or when.

Johnny held him, saying nothing. His heart was ripping to shreds inside him imagining his brother in that hell.

"I'm so sorry, Scott. I wish I had been with you," he said.

Scott jerked his head up. "With me? I wouldn't want you with me, Johnny. Not there, not in that place!" Scott exclaimed.

Johnny laughed softly.

"What is so funny?" Scott asked.

"Nothing, Boston. Nothing at all. Big brother," he added in a mumbled voice, not wanting to tell Scott he knew exactly what kind of hell he had been in because he had been there himself.

"Johnny?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"Anytime, Boston, anytime."

*****

Johnny lay in bed later that night thinking about the events of the past three weeks, starting with the storm. He would never have imagined things would turn out as they did. He thought about what Murdoch had said to him about it not being easy to forget the torture he had been through. He couldn't imagine it being any harder to forget than anything else he'd suffered through in his life. He knew Murdoch couldn't understand that because he didn't know. He didn't know anything, really.

The little Johnny had told him was nothing compared to what happened to him after his mother died, or even before she died. What he had been put through because of her inability to be alone was something he would never tell another living soul. Not even Scott. He pushed those memories far away before they had a chance to fully materialize in his mind. No, he would not think about that. He never allowed himself to fully think about that, it would be a flash, a passing flutter of something that he would push away immediately.

He decided to stop thinking about the past at all. All he cared about now was the present and the future. His future, something he had never thought about before because he never figured he would have one. He had always thought he would be dead by now. If not for Murdoch, that would have been the case.

He imagined the future at Lancer, married, a ton of kids running around, all his and his brother's. His family. That was what mattered now and forever more, his family. He fell asleep and dreamed of love instead of hate, good instead of evil, his brother instead of his enemies, his father instead of his mother, and the bigger family he would one day have for himself.

 

 

~end~
2003

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