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Winj

 

What Happened In Between

 

 

Second in the What Happened series, following What Happened First and followed by What Happened In Between - Sequel

Some of you may read this and think, is this an AR? Well, I suppose it is an alternate reality to what we know happened in later episodes but for now, in this brand new family, this is a WHIB High Riders and the second episode, The Lawman. You may also think the characters are reacting differently. Well, yes, differently than what we are used to in fan fiction, but in my mind, not so much from canon. Anyway, hope you enjoy this somehwat different perspective.

Johnny became aware of his surroundings slowly. He listened closely to the sounds around him. He was lying on his stomach in a bed. A nice soft, warm bed. He wondered how that came to be until he was reminded. A sharp pain lanced through his lower back and he groaned. Oh, yeah, Day. He sighed and opened his eyes.

He focused immediately on the man sitting next to him. "Good morning."

"Mmmm," Johnny responded sleepily.

"How do you feel?"

"Sore," he clipped and started to turn over. Two large hands were immediately assisting in the effort, not releasing him until he was settled again.

"Better?"

"Yeah, thanks," he smiled. Johnny studied the face but could see no resemblance. Blue eyes but not as dark as his. They had a paleness to them. A big man. He wasn't, he was stout but not big. No, he could see nothing that would tell him right off that this was his father.

His eyes went to the man's hands. Absently, he flexed his own right hand as he took note. Yeah, I have his hands.

"Is something wrong, Johnny?"

"Huh? Oh, no, just thinkin."

"Are you hungry?"

"Not really. How is everything?"

Murdoch sighed and stood, walking over to the window. "A mess. But the men are working on getting things back in place. Scott's helping them. He pitched right in." Johnny noted a measure of pride in the old man's voice.

"I'll be up and about by tomorrow," he said.

Murdoch turned and looked at him. "Oh no you won't. The doctor said bed rest for at least three days then you still have to take it easy."

"This is nothing. I've had worse and I know how much I can handle," Johnny argued.

Murdoch frowned but didn't comment on the past pains of his son. "Working on a ranch is a lot different. It's hard work. I think you'll find you're going to need that rest. You should take advantage while you can."

"Just don't want to be a bother," Johnny said softly.

"A bother? You are hardly a bother, Johnny. You're my son and you risked your life for this ranch. I just wish ..... I wish I'd known what you had in mind."

Johnny dropped his eyes and sighed. "Guess I should've told you but ..... well, I got mad," he smiled a little.

Murdoch chewed the inside of his cheek. "As did I. I guess this is going to take some time."

"Yeah. So, Scott's out there gettin his hands dirty," he cocked a brow.

"He dove right in. Does that surprise you?"

Johnny shrugged a little. "Don't know, yet. He seems pretty sure of himself. Too much so."

Murdoch walked back over and sat in the chair. "I hope you two will take the time to get to know each other."

Johnny fiddled with the edge of the blanket. "It's strange. All the sudden finding out about him. I mean, all I know is that he's from Boston and he was in the army. Guess that's more than he knows about me, though."

It sounded like a question to Murdoch, so he answered. "I haven't told him anything and I'm not going to. That's up to you. There's plenty of time."

Johnny looked up at him, a quizzical expression on his face. "So you're still offerin the partnership."

"Of course. You both helped save this place. You've proven to me you're more than man enough to handle the responsibilites. I .... I just hope you realize how different it's going to be. It's a twenty-four hour a day job. There is always a lot to be done on a ranch, especially one this size."

"Are you trying to warn me about something?" Johnny asked.

"Prepare you. Johnny, I don't know much about how you've lived your life but I can guess. I'm sure you're used to just doing what you want when you want. It can't be like that here. I'm going to be depending on and your brother to help with the day to day operations. The vaqueros will look to you for leadership. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, I understand. It's not gonna be easy. I mean, changing everything so fast. You're right, I am used to bein on my own, bein my own boss. Like I said, I don't take orders too well. Guess I'll have to get used to a lot of things."

"I hope you're willing."

Johnny locked eyes with the older man. "Ain't got nothin better to do. Look, it's like you said, we're strangers. All three of us. Right now, I can't think about why that is. There's too much other stuff goin on in my head."

"Like what?"

"Like you and Scott and that little whirlwind of a girl. Just gettin used to being in a family ....." Johnny trailed off, shaking his head in frustration. This isn't how he wanted to say it.

"Tell me," Murdoch urged gently.

Johnny went back to playing with the blanket. "I've been on my own since I was twelve. I took care of myself and I got real good at it. But ....." he sighed heavily, then locked eyes with Murdoch. "Look, just tell me one thing. Was Teresa right? She said my mother ran off with a man. Is that the truth?"

And there it was already. Murdoch had hoped this topic wouldn't come up so soon. Truthfully, he'd hoped it would never come up. Still, he was too realistic to believe that would ever be. He kept the stare from his son. Those eyes crying out for some kind of peace. "Yes, it's true."

He was stunned at the pain that poured into those eyes. He found himself with an almost irresistable urge to comfort the young man.

Johnny dropped his eyes and nodded. "I believed her. I don't know why but I did."

"I tried to find you. That first year I must have traveled the entire country of Mexico. I hired the Pinkerton's off and on when I could afford it. It was .... frustrating to say the least," Murdoch explained.

Johnny smiled. "Well, they finally caught up with me. Their timing couldn't have been better either. Thank you for that. I was sure that was it for me."

Murdoch winced, remembering the final report of where Johnny had been found. He had actually shivered reading that document. It had been too close. And even if Johnny hadn't accepted his offer to meet, he would have at least known his son was alive. For that moment.

"Can you tell me what it was about?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny sighed. "A revolution. It was doomed from the word go but, guess I'm a sucker for a lost cause," he grinned.

Murdoch laughed. "Are you saying Lancer was a lost cause?"

"Could have been. Shoud have been. Plain dumb luck, if you ask me."

"I'd like to believe it was skill and intelligence," Scott said from the doorway. He stepped inside, a smile on his face and dirt covering the rest of him.

"Don't look so smarted up there, Boston. What happened? Ya fall down?" Johnny grinned.

"No, brother, I've been working." He sighed and dropped his shoulders. "Very hard."

Murdoch chuckled. "Get used to it."

"I'm trying. I thought someone might take pity and feed me some lunch."

"Lunch? What time is it?" Johnny asked.

"Noon."

Johnny was amazed. He didn't realize he'd slept that long.

"I'll have Teresa bring you something. Would you rather have breakfast?" Murdoch asked.

"No, don't go to any trouble. Whatever's easy," Johnny replied.

A few minutes later, Scott reappeared carrying a large tray. "I thought we could eat together if that's alright."

"Sure, I hate to eat alone," Johnny smiled, scooting himself up in bed.

Scott sat the tray down quickly and went to help him.

"I can do it," Johnny said softly.

"That sounds familiar."

He looked up and saw the smile in Scott's eyes. "You like to joke around."

"Beats being somber," Scott shrugged.

They ate silently, neither terribly comfortable.

"Do you want anything else?" Scott asked.

"No, I'm fine. Thanks." Johnny frowned, looking at the other man. "I don't know. You seemed to be the serious type to me at first."

Scott, recalling the earlier comments, shrugged. "I'm hard to get to know."

"Yeah? Me too. Guess we got our work cut out for us," Johnny laughed.

"You seemed to be quite cynical to me at first," Scott said.

"I am. Comes from experience." It was a simple statement without bitterness.

"Maybe we could talk tonight after dinner. Start learning about each other."

"Sure. Just ....."

"What?"

"Nothing. I'll see ya tonight," Johnny said, sliding back down in the bed.

Scott frowned, wondering what his brother had meant to say. Seeing Johnny was tired, he didn't push. He needed to get back to work anyway.

*****

Johnny insisted on sitting at the table for dinner. He made it halfway through before giving up the ghost. He went back to bed and waited for Scott. Part of him dreaded telling the dandy about his life. Part of him didn't give a damn what Scott Lancer thought. He wondered if and when that would change.

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts and he called out to enter. Scott peeked his head in and smiled. He immersed the rest of himself through the door holding a bottle of wine and two glasses.

"I thought you might enjoy this."

"Sure, I'll drink just about anything," Johnny laughed.

Scott pulled a chair next to the bed and poured two glasses, handing one off and sitting back to relax.

"Good stuff," Johnny commented.

"I agree."

"See? We're starting off on the right foot already."

Scott cocked a brow. "Are we? I mean, we didn't start off so well if you recall."

Johnny smiled, remembering the impressive punch he'd received from Scott. He rubbed his jaw theatrically. "Oh yeah."

They shared a laugh then became quiet again.

"So, you grew up in Boston."

"Yes, with my grandfather. My mother's father," he clarified.

"She died in childbirth, right?"

"Yes, that's right."

"What did your grandfather tell you about Murdoch?"

"Not much. That he couldn't be bothered with me and I was better off where I was."

Johnny considered this. "Well, it's pretty obvious he's a rich man."

"Why is that obvious?"

"From the way you were dressed on that stage. The way you talk," Johnny shrugged.

"The way I talk?"

"Yeah, you talk like an educated man."

Scott nodded. "I went to Harvard."

"Yeah? I've heard of that place. Some fancy college, right?"

"Yes, some fancy college. Where did you go to school?"

Johnny smiled slightly. "The street."

"I'm sorry?"

"I didn't go to school. Well, not much anyway. My mother taught me the basic stuff."

"She's dead now?"

"Yeah, for a while now."

"How long?"

"Oh, about seven years."

Scott nearly choked as he sipped his wine. "I'm sorry," he excused himself. "Did you grow up with relatives?"

"No. I grew up with me. Took care of myself."

"How? You were just a child."

Johnny sighed. He'd hoped to glean a little more information about his brother before throwing him for a loop. "Fill this glass up and I'll tell you all about it. Might want to top yours off, too.

"My mother died suddenly. After that, everything happened really fast. I mean, she died, they buried her the next day and threw me in an orphanage. I gave myself a week to .... well, recover. It took less time than that to know I wasn't stayin there. Still, I figured I needed that week to figure out some things. I was twelve years old. One night, I got up, got dressed and took off."

"Took off to where?"

"Anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes, I took a job cleaning up in a livery or a cantina. I'd find someplace to sack in every night. Sometimes, I stole food so I could eat. It wasn't pretty."

"Why didn't you just stay at the orphanage? I mean, at least you had shelter and food there."

"Have you ever been in an orphanage, Scott? No, I didn't think so. It was ugly and dirty and the nuns were hateful. See, I was always pretty independent anyway. I did pretty much what I wanted and I saw no reason to change that."

"Your mother let you get away with that?"

"She wasn't a saint. She was too busy to be bothered most of the time."

"Johnny, I don't understand. At the stream that day you were so adamant about what Murdoch had done to her. You made it sound like she ...."

"Suffered? She did, Scott. I blamed Murdoch for that because she told me that story. I laid everything at his feet. It's been hard to realize it was all a lie. I still have a hard time with it."

"Maybe you should ask him."

"I did. What Teresa said was true. But that's not what you need to know about me."

"Oh? What do I need to know?" Scott asked, almost afraid to at this point.

Johnny took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "For the last five years I've been a gunfighter. I used the name Johnny Madrid. I was good at it, too. Better than most."

There, he'd said it. Now all he had to do was watch for the reaction. Scott's face told it all. He was shocked and bewildered.

"I don't know what to say. I don't know much about gunfighters," was all he could think of.

"Well, it's pretty simple really. We hire out to people who need us. People like Murdoch who are either being threatened or the one doin the threatening. Like Day."

"And it doesn't matter if it's right or wrong?"

"Not to most, it doesn't?"

"And to you?" Scott asked, his heart pounding.

Johnny smiled but it wasn't pleasant. "I used to take whatever came along. When I was starting out, I had to. Had to build my reputation. After that, I could be more choosy. I've done a lot of things that would curl your hair, brother. I ain't particularly proud of everything I've done but I'm not ashamed either."

"Why did you become a gunfighter?"

"Oh, I thought it was glamorous," Johnny laughed. "It was a way to survive. I guess I could have been a farmer or a vaquero, even a bronc buster. But those gunfighters, well, nobody messed with them. Nobody told them they weren't good enough. Everyone is afraid of them except for the other guns, that is."

Scott nodded his head, drinking it all in. "I assume Murdoch knows about this."

"Sure, he knows all about it. I'm sure the Pinks gave him an earful. I'm pretty sure my reputation preceded me," he laughed.

"Your reputation? You mean you're famous?"

Johnny laughed heartily at the question. "Boy, you could make a man doubt himself, Boston. Let's just say a lot of people know the name."

Scott fell quiet, deep in thought. Johnny was sure he wasn't going to be able to handle this. He really didn't know what to say to this man. He deserved to know the truth and the truth he'd gotten. Now, it was up to Scott to either deal with it or not.

"You got some thinkin to do," Johnny said softly.

Scott's head came up and he looked at Johnny, perplexed.

"It's not an easy thing to hear. You need to decide if you can handle it. If you can be around me."

"I honestly don't know what to think," Scott replied quietly.

"Don't expect you to right off. Give it some time. Think it over. Ask me anything you want. I might even answer," Johnny grinned.

He became serious then. "The thing is, Scott. Bein a gunfighter is what I was not who I am. I don't know if that makes any sense to you or not. There's something else you should know. I've made some enemies in my time. Not to mention Pardee's men, what's left of them. They ain't gonna be real happy with me turnin on them. I don't expect to walk away so easy. There will be times when people will challenge me."

"Challenge you? What does that mean?"

"There's always someone looking to gain a reputation by taking out a top gun. They figure if they kill him, they'll be top dog. And that's the way it works."

"I see. Well, if you don't mind, I think I'd like to give this some thought. Goodnight, Johnny," Scott said, his voice with a distracted edge.

"Night, Boston."

*****

Scott went to his room and laid on top the covers. Puting his hands behind his head, he stared at the ceiling. His mind was numb from the vast amount of information he'd received. He didn't even know where to start.

Johnny is a hired killer. The sentence sent chills down his spine. His brother, his flesh and blood, sold his gun to the highest bidder. Killed for money.

What was he supposed to do with this? Scott knew all about killing but this .... this was different. Wasn't it? Yes, of course it was. He had killed during war. And here was no different, it was a war as well. The thought occurred to him that if circumstances were different, he may have been facing his own brother's gun.

He shivered in the warm room. That thought was as distasteful as any he'd ever had. He knew nothing about the man across the hall. Nothing more than Johnny himself had told him. Scott had to give him his due. He had told the truth. Laid out the entire scenario and left the conclusions up to Scott. There had been no trying to make him understand dire circumstances. Johnny had conveyed this information as if telling a story about someone else.

Okay, he thought. What do I really know? He has a sharp tongue. He is angry and can be rude and disrespectful. He's cocky, that's for certain. What was it he'd said? He didn't give anybody too much credit. Bitter words from such a young man.

Young. Yes, he was young but still a full grown man. Scott suspected he'd been full grown for quite some time now. What kind of life had that been? Fending for himself. A child alone in the world. No one to turn to. No one to care.

Scott sat up. All this was true but, as Johnny said, he could have chosen other paths. He had chosen to be a gunfighter and he wasn't about to apologize for it. Not only that, but evidently he was quite good at it.

The real question for the principled man was; can I live with this? He sighed heavily and decided he needed more information. He got up and left his room.

Murdoch was sitting at his desk working on a budget to get the ranch back in full swing. Scott hesitated to disturb him. He remembered his grandfather hated to be disturbed when he was working.

He stood in the doorway, watching until Murdoch looked up.

"Am I disturbing you?"

"Yes and thank you. I could use a break," Murdoch smiled.

Scott smiled back and approached the massive desk. "I just spent some time talking with Johnny. He told me about his life."

Murdoch's eyebrows raised. "He did? What exactly did he tell you?"

Scott sat down and looked at his father. "He told me his mother died when he was twelve and that he'd been on his own since. He told me he was a gunfighter."

Murdoch's expression never changed. He looked at Scott expectantly. "Anything else?"

"Not really. Just that he wasn't going to apologize for his choices."

Murdoch smiled. "I wouldn't expect him to. It bothers you."

"Of course it bothers me! Doesn't it bother you?"

"I suppose I've had more time knowing about it. Scott, I can't tell you how to feel. I can tell you that Johnny and I have talked. He knows how different his life will be here. He wants to try. I hope he can succeed but it would make things a lot easier if you could accept his past."

"His past? You make it sound like something that happened years ago. He's still Johnny Madrid, Murdoch. I .... I don't know about this."

Murdoch was worried about Scott's tone. He sounded as if he were rethinking his choices. "Are you going to leave?" he asked point-blank.

"Leave?"

"If you 'don't know about this', will you be able to live under the same roof with Johnny?"

"I need some time to think about it."

Murdoch leaned forward across the desk. "Scott, use that time to get to know Johnny. Really get to know him. That's what I intend to do. I'm hoping with both of you."

*******

Cipriano took Scott under his wing. He'd been impressed with the young man and decided it was his duty to teach the patron's hijo. He worked long hours showing Scott the ins and outs of ranching.

Scott was beginning to think he would die from exhaustion soon. But slowly, over the next two weeks, he found it easier to arise so early. He was less stiff and sore. He also noticed his pants getting a bit tight. He was filling out in all the right places and this pleased him. He also noticed a tan and his hair was lighter from being in the sun.

Cipriano was proud of the young man. He learned quickly and easily. He was already looking more like a vaquero. He shared this with Murdoch, who smiled widely.

Johnny took longer to heal than he could imagine. He was beginning to think he was getting soft already. Well, he wouldn't have that. The doctor had refused to let him ride the first week out of bed. Instead, he found a spot a short distance from the house where he could practice in peace.

His back muscles pulled painfully at first. But as time went on and he persevered, the pain ebbed. By the second week, he was beginning to feel like himself again.

He spent a lot of time talking with Murdoch. It wasn't easy but they were both trying at least. One thing that bothered him was Scott. The eastener seemed to be avoiding him. He voiced this concern to Murdoch the day Dr. Jenkins was due to arrive for his final examination.

"He's been working very hard with Cipriano. He's been exhausted trying to learn so much," Mrudoch explained.

"Yeah, I know. I hear he's doin good."

"Yes, I'm very please," Murdoch smiled.

"I just wonder if he's thought anymore about what I told him."

"We've haven't discussed it. Maybe tonight we..." Murdoch trailed off when he heard the buggy pull up. "Sam's here."

"Good!" Johnny proclaimed.

Murdoch chuckled. If there was one thing he'd found out, it was that Johnny was a restless sort.

"Sam, come on in."

"Thank you, Murdoch. Well, young man, how have you been feeling?" he asked.

"Good, Doc. Good enough to start doin somethin besides pacing," Johnny grumped.

"Well, let's go upstairs and have a look."

Sam palpated Johnny's lower back and got only a slight twinge in response. "Well, you're going to feel this for several weeks but I think it's safe for you to go back to normal activities."

Johnny cocked a brow. "Normal activities?" he grinned.

Sam laughed. "Well, start your new life. How's that?" He had been totally stunned by this young man. When he'd been called after the melee with Pardee, Sam was sure he wouldn't like the gunfighter. Before he knew it, Johnny had won him over. He wasn't like those others and it had surprised the doctor.

"You okay, Doc?" Johnny asked.

"What? Oh, sorry. I was daydreaming."

"Hope you didn't do any of that when you were diggin that bullet out of me," Johnny smiled.

"Not much. Now, listen to me. Oh, good, Murdoch, come in. I want you to go slow at first. Not too much physical activity. Half days for the first week then increase that as you feel you can. Don't push yourself."

"I'll make sure he takes it easy, Sam," Murdoch said.

"Oh, and don't let him work alone. He might get it in his head he can do more than he actually can."

"Who me? I got no problem with doing as little as possible," Johnny grinned.

"I think I'd better put you with Cipriano," Murdoch said.

Johnny shrugged as if it made no difference.

********

Johnny was about to find out that it did indeed make a difference. His first morning on the range, in fact.

He decided to free a steer from some brambles by himself. He was struggling with the task, sweat breaking out on his forehead, his back muscles singing.

Cipriano and Scott rode up and watched for a minute before the segundo dismounted. Scott stayed put, interested in what might happen.

"You are not supposed to be pushing yourself so hard," Cipriano said.

Johnny crooked his neck and looked at the man. "Well, then why don't you give me a hand?"

Cipriano shook his head and helped free the wayward cow. Once finished, he stood and faced Johnny, a stern look on his face.

"What? You gonna rat me out now?" Johnny challenged. His hands were on his hips and he was breathing too hard.

"¿Por qué debe usted ser tan obstinado? ¿Usted desea terminar para arriba detrás en cama? Haga por favor como digo, Juanito." (Why must you be so stubborn? Do you want to end up back in bed? Please do as I say, Johnny.)

Johnny's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Don't call me that!"

Cipriano's eyes widened in surprise at the vehemence of the statement. Scott was also taken aback.

As quickly as the anger had come, it was gone and Johnny was reticent. "Perdóneme, por favor. No se pensó ningún desacato, Senor," he whispered. (Forgive me, please. No disrespect was intended.)

Cipriano's face relaxed and he smiled at the young man. Placing a strong hand on Johnny's shoulder, he said, "está bien. Sé." (It is alright. I know.)

********

No more was said about the incident until lunch. As Johnny settled down under a tree, Scott came to join him.

"How are you feeling?"

"A little sore and tired but not bad," Johnny shrugged.

"May I ask you something?

"Sure."

"Why did you get so upset with Cipriano earlier?"

Johnny sighed, wincing a bit. "Sorry about that. I don't like being called that."

"Called what?" Scott asked.

"Juanito. It's my Mexican name, or a form of it."

"It sounds nice. Why don't you like it?"

"It's a kid's name. My mother called me that. I didn't like it then, either," Johnny said flatly.

"I see. My grandfather calls me Scotty. I hate that."

Johnny looked at him and laughed. "Scotty? Can't blame you."

They sat quietly for a while eating their lunch. Once finished, Johnny felt his opportunity was slipping away.

"Scott? We haven't had any time to talk about things."

"I know. I've been so busy."

"Do you want to?"

Scott chewed his lower lip for a second. "Yes, but not now. How about tonight?"

"Sure," Johnny whispered. He got up and replaced what was left of his lunch in his saddlebags. He was about to mount up when he saw a rider.

Murdoch dismounted and walked over to his youngest. "Johnny," he nodded, "it's noon."

"Must be why we just had lunch," Johnny replied, not understanding his father's meaning.

"Sam said half days and you've been out here long enough," Murdoch announced.

Johnny glanced around to make sure no one had heard. "I ain't a kid. I feel fine," he said.

"You promised," Murdoch reminded.

Johnny sighed. "Yeah, I know."

Cipriano walked up and nodded at his boss. "It is time for Jua...Johnny to go back, si?"

"Si, Cipriano. Has he been behaving himself?"

Johnny ducked his head at this question, waiting.

"Si, he has. Still, he is tired."

He sighed in relief that the segundo hadn't snitched on him. He looked up and smiled gratefully.

On the way home, Murdoch's curiousity got the better of him. "Did you get a chance to talk with your brother?"

"A little, well, I asked about it. He said we'd talk tonight. Guess he didn't want to get into it with all those people around," Johnny answered, trying to convince hmself that was the reason.

"Johnny, how would you feel if Scott isn't able to accept your past?"

"I been thinkin about that. I figure it's his problem if he can't. Nothing I can do about it."

"I was hoping you two would have the chance to get to know each other better."

"Don't look like he's all that interested," Johnny shrugged.

"You don't seem to be bothered by that."

"What do you want me to say, Murdoch? Yeah, sure I wish we could be friends. But if he can't get over this, we don't stand a chance."

Murdoch nodded. He knew the truth of that statement. He could only hope his older son could understand how hard Johnny's life had been. If he couldn't, Murdoch decided right then, he would make him understand.

It had taken him a while to come to terms with it himself. But at least he'd had the time to think things through. The Pinkerton reports were unsettling to say the least. But Murdoch read between the lines. He'd made the agency dig deeper once he'd found out who his son was.

What they had uncovered shook Murdoch Lancer to his soul. It had taken long, sleepless nights to try and come to terms with the life Johnny had lived. He'd had nightmares about it, in fact.

Murdoch knew he would never tell the sordid details of what he'd discovered. That was up to Johnny. But he knew enough that he felt he could make Scott understand. At least, he hoped so.

His older son seemed to be a reasonable man. He could see no signs of the pompous arrogance of Harlan Garrett in him. Scott tended to look at things logically, he had noticed. He hadn't really seen much emotion from the man.

Murdoch hated the idea niggling at the back of his mind. That Scott would not have the capacity to understand or accept his brother. He refused to believe that. To do so was to put an end to his dreams.

His dreams. What about Scott and Johnny's dreams? What were those? He hoped they would be similar to his own. That they would love this place as he did. It was too soon to say and he couldn't fault that. There was much more than the land to be considered.

He had wanted to talk to each son separately when they arrived. He never considered they would end up arriving together. When he'd watched the surrey roll into the yard that day, his heart dropped to his stomach. His anger soared as his plan fell apart. He had taken that anger out on his sons. Fool!

At least they didn't seem to hold it against him. Maybe they understood. Maybe they were feeling overwhelmed as well. Of course they were. Finding out about each other that way had to be a shock. Add to that, meeting him for the first time either could remember. Murdoch wondered once more at the absurdity of life.

******

Dinner was quiet. Scott pushed his food around on the plate, deep in thought. Murdoch noticed and he felt tension building in his shoulders. In his heart he knew Scott wasn't coming to terms with Johnny.

Still, he decided it was best to let them talk it through alone. Then he would step in if need be.

Suddenly, Johnny stood up, dropped his napkin and mumbled "excuse me."

Murdoch watched him stalk up the stairs, knowing he had read his brother's mood as well.

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

"I guess he's wondering about the talk you said you'd have tonight," Murdoch answered.

"He told you?"

"Just that you said you'd talk to him. That's all."

Scott sighed. "Well, I suppose I should get on with it then."

"Try to contain your enthusiasm, Scott," Murdoch shot sarcastically.

Scott glared at him but said nothing as he left the room.

"Murdoch?" Teresa asked.

"I don't know, honey. I just don't know."

Scott knocked on the door and it opened of it's own accord. He pushed it all the way and found Johnny staring out the window.

"Figured you'd be along," Johnny said as he turned. "So, tell me what you think about all this."

Scott closed the door behind him then turned to face Johnny. "I'm not sure what to say. I'm not sure what you want from me."

"I don't want anything from you, Scott. Except one answer. Just so I know if I'll be wasting my time trying to get to know you."

"It's hard to come to terms with, Johnny. It isn't like it happened long ago."

"No, it isn't. Are you telling me you need more time or that you can't deal with me?"

"I just don't know yet. Maybe, if you tell me some things....."

"What things?" Johnny asked, becoming defensive.

"What made you decide to choose that .... career?"

Johnny turned back to the window, his arms crossed in front of his chest. "I killed a man in self-defense when I was twelve. The same man who killed my mother and then came after me. I felt no regret for it. None. I was glad I killed him. I hated him with everything in me. I figured since I didn't feel anything after killing him, it would always be that way." Johnny spoke softly and intensely.

"You had every right to kill that man but what about the others? What right did you have to kill them?"

Johnny turned back and faced Scott. His face blank, his eyes cold. "Only the right to live. To be the one left standing. To survive for the next fight, the next job."

"Did you feel the same as you did when you killed that first man?" Scott asked.

"No."

"Why keep doing it?"

Johnny laid his hands on the window sill and leaned over, hanging his head in seeming defeat.

"I needed it."

"Why?" Scott asked.

Johnny shook his head slowly. He turned and looked at his brother. "I can't explain that. Look, I've told you more than I have ever told anyone about my life. It's enough. I've explained myself though I'm not sure why. You either deal with it or don't, Scott. I don't have anything left to tell you."

Scott nodded. "Thank you for telling me. It will go no further. I'll see you in the morning." Without another word, he left.

Johnny leaned back against the window sill and stared at the closed door. 'Why do I care what he thinks?' he wondered. But he did care. It mattered. Scott mattered.

My brother. My family. No, not mine, not yet and maybe not ever. Tomorrow they would sign the partnership agreement and still, he didn't know what was in Scott's head.

Maybe Scott didn't now either. Johnny realized it was a heavy burden. He knew all too well what his life meant. The repercussions could be deadly. He supposed the morality was a big factor for the blond as well.

Johnny smiled sardonically. The hell with it. If he wants to turn his nose up at me, so be it. I don't need him.

*******

At breakfast, Murdoch went over the partnership terms once more. He wanted to make sure there were no misunderstandings. Both young men nodded their understanding but there was little other conversation.

They headed for town right after breakfast. Murdoch and Teresa in the surrey. Scott and Johnny on their mounts. The brothers rode side by side behind their father. Both looking straight ahead, no words passed between them.

The attorney once more went over the contract. Johnny was sick of hearing it, he just wanted to get it over with. Mr. Richards handed Scott a pen and indicated where he should sign.

Scott dipped the pen in the inkwell and leaned over the desk. His hand wavered above his printed name. He glanced at the other two names. Murdoch Lancer and John Lancer.

Standing up straight, he sat the pen down. "I'm sorry but I can't do this."

"What do you mean? Just sign your name, young man," Richards said.

"Mr. Richards, would you mind giving my son and I a moment. Johnny, Teresa, please," Murdoch said calmly.

The three left the room. Out in the hall, Johnny kept on walking.

"Where are you going?" Teresa called.

"I need some air," he grumbled without stopping.

"What's the problem, Scott?"

"I'm sorry, sir. I thought I could do this. I thought I could sign that paper and everything would be alright. But, I can't. I can't enter into a partnership with a man I don't respect."

Murdoch's shoulders tensed.

"I don't mean you," Scott explained.

"I know who you mean!" Murdoch bellowed. Taking a deep breath, he lowered his voice. "Sit down, Scott. It's time you knew some things about your brother."

Scott sat down. "Murdoch, I doubt there is anything you can say ....."

"Just hear me out. And this goes no further, understand? Tell me exactly what Johnny has told you."

Scott went through the two conversations he'd had with Johnny. He repeated, almost ver batim, what Johnny had told him. When he'd finished, Murdoch nodded his head.

"I didn't think he'd tell you all of it. That man he killed did murder his mother. He killed her right in front of Johnny. That was after he'd beaten your brother mercilessly. Maria interceded and he hit her. She fell and struck her head. He then turned back to Johnny, ready to finish the job. The details of this part are vague but apparently, Maria had a gun and Johnny grabbed it and used it."

"He told me about that," Scott said flatly.

"He told you he killed the man. Not that Maria died in front of him or that he was beaten badly. Think about it, Scott. Watching your mother be killed? How would that affect you? There's more."

Scott nodded that he was ready to listen.

"On the street, he survived however he could. I know of one time when he was thirteen, he spent a month in jail for stealing a pie. There's something else you have to realize. Johnny is half Mexican. White people look down on him for that and Mexicans look down on him for being part white. Mestizo is the Spanish name. Half-breed. Your brother has been the victim of prejudice his entire life. I imagine he always will be. He's had a very hard life, Scott. Yet, you can't tell from looking at him, can you?"

"No."

"Amazing, isn't it? I've been watching him and talking to him. He's gentle, caring. He needs us. He needs a home, roots and more than anything, love. Something he's been without for a very long time."

Scott stood up and walked to the window, staring out into the street. "I understand what you're saying. There are a lot of people who have had hard lives. They don't turn to killing for a living."

"How would you know?"

Scott turned and stared, dumbfounded, at his father.

"How would you know, Scott? How many poor people have you known in your life. How many poor people are there on Beacon Hill?"

"I've seen many men in the war ....."

"How many of them have you kept in contact with?"

"None, but...."

"Then you have no idea how they turned out. Boston is a far cry from the Mexican border, Scott. Those towns are a haven for the worst kind of people. Men and women. People who would kill you for your boots. Not because they need them, just because they can. Those are the people Johnny grew up around. Those were his influences. Who were your influences? Harlan Garrett? A wealthy self-made man. Your college friends? More fortunate young men. Young men who've had every opportunity handed to them.

"I'm not condemning you, son. I'm trying to make you see how different Johnny's life was. You can't have the perspective he's had anymore than he can have yours. You can't know what it was like to be stepped on at every turn. To be ignored or worse, noticed. To be treated like less than dirt because of your parents." Murdoch stopped, his throat constricting.

He pulled himself together quickly. "Because I loved a Mexican woman, my son will pay for that the rest of his life. Did you know that babies have been killed in Mexico because they were mixed?"

Scott turned back to the window but not before Murdoch saw the pain in his eyes. He held his breath as he waited for his son. He could tell Scott more, so much more. He could tell him things that would reduce his stalwart son to tears. But he wouldn't. He wouldn't do that to Johnny. He'd said enough as it was.

******

"Why didn't he tell me?" Scott whispered.

"Pride. Simple pride, son."

"And you found all this out from the Pinkerton's?"

"Yes, that and a lot more. I've had nightmares, I confess."

"That's why you're so accepting of him," Scott deduced.

"That, and he's my son. Just as you are. Just as I would accept you no matter what."

"I'm ashamed of myself, sir."

"Scott, you just needed to understand some things. There are men who are plain evil. Johnny is not one of those men. I think you'll find that out as time goes by."

Scott nodded and walked over to the desk. Without hesitation, he signed the contract.

Murdoch smiled widely. "I'll get Johnny."

Johnny walked back in and the lawyer handed him the pen. He looked at the contract and saw Murdoch and Scott's signatures. He signed quickly and laid the pen down. He walked out without a word.

Murdoch sighed and followed him. They returned to the ranch in total silence. Johnny rode ahead of the surrey as Scott took the rear.

Inside the house, Scott called to his brother. Johnny stopped and turned slowly.

"May I talk with you?"

Johnny closed his eyes briefly and sighed. He crooked his head toward the kitchen and Scott followed him until they were in the garden.

Johnny leaned against the side of the house and waited. To all the world he looked beyond bored. But his eyes were alive with intensity as he watched Scott.

"I'm sorry I've been so difficult," Scott started.

Johnny only stared at him.

"It's been hard to come to terms with .... everything."

No response.

"I guess I just didn't understand. I don't have any kind of reference. This is all so new to me," Scott continued. He looked at Johnny and saw the same expression on his face.

"Look, I don't know what else to say. I'm sorry."

"You done?" Johnny asked softly.

"Yes," came the static reply.

"Am I supposed to thank you, Scott? Should I get down on my knees and kiss your feet? Bless you for having the grace to allow me into your life?" he shot.

"Johnny, I ......"

"What? You what?"

"You told me I had to figure this out and I have. I thought you'd be happy," Scott said, totally caught offguard.

"Why should I be happy, Scott? What did Murdoch say to you? What did he tell you that changed your mind?"

"I won't discuss that."

"Oh, you won't discuss that. I see. Did he make you feel good and sorry for me? Did he give you some sad song about my pitiful life? Poor Johnny, he only did what he had to do. Give me a break! You've been had, Boston."

"What are you saying?" Scott asked, puzzled beyond belief.

"Nobody put a gun to my head. Nobody put a gun to your head either. Well, your stuck with it now. I hope you're happy with yourself. Don't bother with me because I do just fine. I don't need you, Scott Lancer. I don't need your understanding. I sure as hell don't need your sympathy! You don't have to associate yourself with me." Johnny's voice started out strong but in the end, there was a tremble he couldn't hide. His breaths came with increasing rapidity as he continued his diatribe.

Scott stood stunned at the outburst. Then his father's words came to his mind. Pride, simple pride. He took a few steps toward Johnny but stopped when he saw the look on the younger man's face.

"You don't want my sympathy? That's good. Because I'm not giving it. I apologized for my behavior. I can't apologize for yours. I wouldn't even if I could. You are responsible for your actions. I simply wanted you to understand that it was my problem, not yours, and I have dealt with it."

Johnny deflated, his shoulders relaxing. "You mean that?" he asked.

Scott thought there was almost a childlike quality to his tenor at that moment. He smiled. "Yes, I mean that. One thing you have to know about me, I don't lie."

Johnny tilted his head as he considered this. "That's a good thing because neither do I. Too much trouble. Gives me a headache."

The genuine grin that spread across the young man's face melted Scott Lancer's heart. There was a playfulness in Johnny's eyes that Scott had not seen before. An expression he didn't recognize. He realized at that moment, with more clarity than ever before, this was his brother. His flesh and blood. A connection deeper than any other.

"Do you think it's possible for us to start over?" he asked.

Johnny shook his head. "No thanks. I can't deal with another bullet in the back. How about we just start from right here."

Scott laughed. "Good idea." Stepping closer, he extended his hand.

Johnny accepted it and placed his other hand on Scott's shoulder. "Welcome home, brother."

"Welcome home, little brother," Scott grinned mischievously.

 

 

~end~
2003

TO What Happened In Between - Sequel

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