The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Common Ground

 

 

 

Harlan Garrett walked into his study after a particularly long day. He headed for the bar and poured a snifter of Brandy. He took a moment to inhale the aroma before taking a sip.

"Hard day?"

Harlan whirled around at the voice and stared at the man seated in the easy chair. "What the devil are you doing here?" he demanded.

"Now what kind of welcome is that? Aren't you glad to see me?" he asked sarcastically.

Harlan studied the man closely, taking in his appearance. He was dressed in a suit but it was out of style. As if he'd made a special effort for the meeting. His dark blond hair was graying at the edges and his face was weather-worn. Too much time in the sun, he assumed. Crow's feet adorned the edges of his eyes but it only enhanced his appearance. Pale blue eyes stared back at him with amusement.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"I just dropped by to see you."

"After more than twenty-five years?" Harlan quipped.

The man smiled. "Okay, I came to meet Scott."

Harlan snorted at this. "Why now? You were never interested before."

"So, now I am," he shrugged.

"Well, he isn't here."

"Well, when will he be back?"

"Never, I imagine. He's run off to California to live with his father," Harlan said bitterly.

The man stood, obviously surprised by this revelation. "When did this happen?"

"Just over a year ago now."

He smiled then, an almost mischievous grin. "What did you do to run him off?"

"How dare you? You show up here after all these years and accuse me? I did nothing. He was summoned. I suppose his curiosity got the better of him," he sighed with the last sentence.

"And he obviously likes it there?" the man inquired.

"Obviously."

"Well, I guess I'll be going to California, then."

"Why are you so interested in Scotty after all this time?" Harlan asked suspiciously.

"I suppose as I get older, the simple things are more important to me. Like family, roots," he shrugged.

Harlan snorted again. "You'll get no support from Scotty. He is not a fool and will not be taken in by your schemes."

"I have no schemes, old man. I just want to meet the boy. Or, man, I should say."

Harlan frowned in thought. "He's been brainwashed out there. He's not the same person he was. He gave up everything, his legacy, to be a .... cowboy."

"Sounds terrible. Why would he do that?" he asked sardonically.

"Murdoch Lancer and that other son of his!" Harlan spat.

The visitor looked hard at Garrett. "Other son? What other son?"

"He remarried and had a son. A half-breed gunfighter. His second wife ran off and took the boy. He returned the same time as Scotty."

"And you knew about this son?" It was almost a statement of fact rather than a question.

"Of course I did."

"And, of course, you never bothered to mention to Scott that he had a brother," the man surmised.

"Why would I? He isn't fit to polish Scotty's shoes. Somehow he has managed to turn Scotty against me," he groused.

"I see. Well, if that is the case, perhaps I should check things out," he cocked a brow.

"If you could convince him to come home, I would be very grateful," Harlan said surreptitiously.

The man smiled again. "How grateful?"

"I'll pay your travel expenses and make sure you have enough funds to keep you comfortable while you're there. If you manage to bring Scotty home, there will be an additional fifty thousand dollars waiting for you."

The man whistled lowly. "Fifty thousand? That's a lot of money, old man."

"One thing. Scotty doesn't know you even exist. He won't easily accept your word," Harlan warned.

"Oh, I'm sure I can convince him. Or his father. I assume it's best if he doesn't know you and I have talked at such length?" he said conspiratorily.

"Agreed."

The man smiled. He walked over and faced Harlan. "Well, I guess I'll leave in the morning then. It was, as always, a thrill to see you again, Father."

"When will you ever grow up, Carlton?" he asked, a shadow of sadness creeping into his eyes.

He laughed softly at this. "Grow up? I grew up years ago. You just didn't see it."

"How could I? You ran off," Harlan sneered.

"Yes, well, let's not get into that again, shall we?"

"What have you been doing all this time, Carlton?"

"This and that. In fact, this won't be my first trip to California. I've spent considerable time in the west and southwest."

"Then you should feel right at home," Harlan clipped.

"I'll come by in the morning for those traveling expenses," he said, ignoring the quip.

"No need," Harlan said and unlocked his bottom desk drawer. He pulled out a wad of money and peeled off several bills. He also pulled out two files. Flipping quickly through the pages, he pulled out the more important ones. "This is information on Murdoch and Johnny Lancer. It should help prepare you. And this should more than take care of your needs. That is if you can manage to hang on to it."

"I'll try, Father. Honest I will," Carlton mocked.

Harlan shook his head sadly. "I don't understand you."

"I know and I don't understand you. So it's better that we never tried. We would have killed each other long ago, I imagine," Carlton replied with equal sadness. He could think of nothing else to say to this man so he turned and walked out.

Harlan watched him walk away - again. He sighed and took a long drink of brandy.

******

Carlton boarded the train west the next morning. He read through the several pages of information his father had given him. Eyebrows went up more than once. Murdoch wasn't terribly interesting other than his inability to stay married. But, Johnny Madrid Lancer was going to be quite a problem, it seemed.

He had heard of the gunfighter. Having spent time in that part of the country, it was nearly impossible not to have. He had never been terribly interested in the exploits of gunmen. As long as they didn't bother him, he had no qualms about their chosen career. He remembered now actually seeing Madrid in action once. He frowned at the memory. 'He's good,' he thought.

He read the information three times. Gleaning all he could from the pages. Something of interest jumped out at him. Having found out as much as he could about his nephew, there seemed to be a commonality that he was sure neither was aware existed.

He began formulating a plan on how this might serve his purposes. When they stopped in Denver, he sent a telegram to an old friend in Kansas.

The rest of his journey, Carlton thought about his father and sister. To say his relationship with Harlan Garrett had been tenuous would be putting it mildly. For as long as he could remember, his father had been grooming him. Pushing and cajoling and even bribing him. Preparing him to take his place in the business world alongside his father.

He'd never wanted it. Accounting had always bored him to tears. He spent many evenings talking with Catherine about this very thing. Although she was too young to understand much of it, Carlton's misery was plain to see. He recalled fondly how she'd tried to comfort him.

Sweet Catherine. The only freshness and light in his world at times. His one sanctuary. It was six years before he'd learned of her death. Hearing his father was raising her son had been a puzzle. At that time, he'd been in Europe and not inclined to seek out his father for an explanation. He assumed the boy's father was either unable or unwilling to care for the child.

Once he returned to the states, he began to look into the events. It had taken time, but he'd finally gotten all the pieces fitted together. He actually shuddered at the thought of Harlan raising another boy. Another legacy to continue the family name. But, it wasn't the family name. That part confused him. Why his father had not given Scott his name.

The stage arrived in Morro Coyo a week later. Carlton was now dressed in normal western attire and had been since he'd left Boston. He hated wearing suits. He stepped off the stage and took in the small town.

He had thought long and hard about this 'mission'. He had come up with a plan he thought might work. He wasn't above a little subterfuge to get what he wanted. Smiling, he thought he wasn't above much of anything to get what he wanted.

He headed to the livery and bought a horse and tack, then to the mercantile for a gun and gunbelt. He also purchased a bedroll and all the required equipment for a professional cowboy.

He stopped to check on his wire but nothing had come yet. He wasn't worried. He knew it would take time to get the information he wanted.

Tying down the bedroll, he smiled with satisfaction. He mounted up and headed south, toward Lancer.

Stopping along the road in a discreet area, he dismounted and rubbed dust into his clothes. It didn't take much thanks to the stage, but he wanted the right effect. Satisfied that he now looked the part, he mounted up and rode on.

As he passed under the arched gate that announced the ranch, he saw two men walking out of the barn. He wondered idly if one of them was Scott.

Pulling up and dismounting, he approached the two. A dark-haired man he recognized immediately was talking to a blond. He knew instantly.

"May we help you?" the fair-haired man asked.

"Hope so. I was lookin for work. Hopin you folks could use another hand," he smiled affably.

"I'm Scott Lancer and this is my brother, Johnny."

He shook hands with both of them, still eyeing the younger one.

"We're always looking for good hands. What kind of experience do you have?" Johnny asked.

"Well, I worked for Joe Hardy at the Lazy H down San Antonio way for two years. Been travelin around a bit since then. That was, oh, about six months ago."

Johnny nodded and looked at his brother who shrugged.

*****

"Okay, you can stow your gear in the bunkhouse. Pretty late in the day. How about starting first thing in the morning?" Johnny said.

"Appreciate that, Mr. Lancer. Name's Carl Smith."

"It's Johnny. You'll meet our father soon enough. You can call him Mr. Lancer," Johnny smiled.

Carl laughed. "Good enough, Johnny." He nodded and walked off to the bunkhouse.

"He seems nice," Scott noted.

Johnny simply shrugged and headed to the house.

"Who was that?" Murdoch asked.

"Carl Smith. We hired him," Scott replied.

"Experienced?" Murdoch inquired.

"He says he worked at the Lazy H in San Antonio," Johnny said.

"Well, we can always use another hand," Murdoch smiled.

*****

Scott introduced the new hand to Cipriano and turned him over to the segundo.   He was put to work on the new fenceline surrounding a pasture the brothers had finally talked Murdoch into using.

He worked alongside Walt, a seasoned veteran at Lancer. The man had been working there since long before the days of Pardee.

"Nice folks, the Lancers," Carl ventured.

"Yep, good people to work for," Walt replied.

"Those boys sure don't look anything alike," he laughed.

"Might be cause they had different mothers," Walt said offhandedly.

"Well, that'd explain it alright. Still, they sure seem ta work well together," he observed as he glanced down the line. Scott and Johnny had teamed up at the head of the crew.

"Oh yeah, they get along real good. Thick as thieves, them two."

"That's nice. I mean, sometimes brothers don't get along so good."

"True enough. Course, not knowing each other all them years makes a difference."

Carl feigned surprise and looked quizzically at Walt.

"Neither of 'em grew up here. Both came back about a year ago now, I reckon. Anyway, best get to work. Jawin ain't gonna get this fence up," Walt said, feeling he'd said too much.

"Sure thing," Carl smiled. He could see Walt was uncomfortable talking about his bosses. He decided he'd get more information elsewhere so as not to raise suspicion.

******

At lunch, the men gathered around the chow wagon.

"All right, you know the drill. Line up and wait your turn," Jelly instructed.

They all did so, Johnny and Scott standing off to the side deep in discussion. When Carl had his plate filled, he looked around for a place to sit. He spotted a young man sitting nearby and decided to give him a try. Younger folks were a lot easier to get information out of. They didn't have that suspicious nature yet. He chuckled at this thought and strolled over casually.

"Mind if I join ya?"

"Sure thing, mister," the kid said.

"Name's Carl Smith," he extended a hand.

"Billy Thorp," he replied, taking the proffered handshake.

"Been workin here long, Billy?"

"About six months now."

"Seems a good place, I just hired on yesterday."

"I like it. The Lancers are good bosses," Billy shrugged.

"Interestin story though," Carl said nonchalantly as he took a bite of beans.

"What's that?"

"About the sons, I mean. That they didn't grow up here."

"Oh yeah. That's some story all right. Scott grew up in Boston."

"Boston? That's a long ways off," Carl said. "What about Johnny?"

"Grew up in Mexico," Billy said, his voice becoming tense.

*****

Carl didn't miss it. "Mexico, huh? Yeah, I thought he was mixed. Well, seems real nice," he shrugged.

Billy relaxed. "Yeah, he is. Hard ta believe."

"Why's that?"

"Well, cause of who he is."

Carl looked perplexed. "What's that mean? Who is he?"

Billy looked around, then leaned closer to Carl. "Johnny Madrid," he whispered.

Carl's eyes widened in mock surprise.

"Hope that don't make ya too skittish. He's real nice," Billy was saying.

"What? Oh no, just surprised is all. So, Johnny Madrid's a rancher now."

"Yeah, but don't let that fool ya. I see 'im practicin sometimes. He's as good if not better than ever," Billy said with some awe.

"I'll keep that in mind. Not that I plan on challenging him about anything," Carl laughed.

Billy laughed too and Carl knew he'd found his fountain of information. He would make sure he and Billy got to be good friends.

******

He lay in his bunk that night rethinking his plans. He knew that it wouldn't be easy. Especially if everything he'd heard about Madrid was true and he was sure it was.

Then again, this may play well for him. If he could get Scott to doubt his brother. First, he needed to gain the young man's trust. From what he knew of Scott, admittedly not much, it wouldn't be too hard.

This was going to take some time but that was alright. The worst part of it was having to work so hard. Something he tried to avoid whenever possible. Couldn't be helped though. He sighed and closed his eyes, hoping for some sleep.

Daybreak came entirely too early as someone kicked his bunk to rouse him. He grumbled then remembered where he was and arose. Plastering a smile on his face, Carl washed up and joined the others for breakfast.

Cipriano came in to tell them today would be the same as yesterday with one change. He walked up to Carl and told him he would be working with Johnny.

Carl smiled charmingly. "How'd I get lucky enough to work with the boss?"

The men laughed, all but Cipriano. "Senor Scott has other business today."

Carl nodded, still smiling at the sour-faced segundo. When he left, Carl turned to the man on his right. "Is he always so friendly?"

"Cipriano is all business. Best to remember that. He don't joke around but he's fair and honest."

Carl nodded his understanding. A man to stay away from.

******

Johnny dug the holes as Carl planted the posts. He kept two holes ahead and they were working well together. They seemed to be in sync from the word go.

Near lunchtime, a rider approached from the road and Johnny stopped. He walked down the slight incline and Carl watched curiously.

He was an older man on a big bay and Carl had to assume it was none other than Murdoch Lancer. He watched the interaction between the two carefully. He noted Johnny's head bowed more than once as he listened to his father.

The two men started toward him and he went to work. "Carl, I want you to meet my father," Johnny called out. He made the introductions and the two men shook hands.

Murdoch studied him closely. "Have we met? You look awfully familiar."

"I don't think so, Mr. Lancer."

Murdoch frowned as if trying to recall. Something bothered him about this man but he couldn't put his finger on it. Something about his face and his voice.

"Well, Johnny tells me you're a hard worker," he smiled.

"I appreciate that but keeping up with him is tough," Carl smiled.

Murdoch looked at his son and nodded. "Yes, he's a hard worker, too." There was a measure of pride in his voice that Johnny did not miss and he smiled.

Murdoch left them to their chore and they stopped for lunch soon after.

*******

Carl took a chance and sat next to Johnny. "Your dad seems real nice," he commented.

Johnny nodded. "He is. Tough, too."

"Guess you'd have to be to build and keep all this."

"Yeah."

Carl laughed. "You don't talk much do you?"

Johnny looked at him and smiled. "Not much."

"Well, I have heard that actions speak louder than words."

Johnny's brow creased at this thought. He reckoned that was true enough. Still, words were nice sometimes. He smiled as he thought of his father's words just a while ago.

"Must be hard adjusting to such a different life," Carl said.

Johnny's head jerked up and his eyes narrowed.

"Sorry. I thought you looked familiar when I met you but I couldn't place you. It came to me yesterday," he lied.

"Have we met?" Johnny asked.

"No, but I saw you once in Nogales. Had to have been about two years ago."

"Good memory."

"Not likely to forget what I saw," Carl said, cocking a brow.

Johnny dropped his head. He wasn't likely to forget it either. "Seems like a very long time ago," he said softly.

"Guess it does. Lots changed for you," Carl said gently.

"For the better."

"Yeah, I'd say that's right," he laughed.

*******

Johnny smiled but made no comment.

"It's just incredible to me, is all. I mean, one minute you're a gunfighter and the next you're a rancher."

"Wasn't that easy."

"I'm sure it wasn't. I imagine it was a hard adjustment. Maybe, it still is?"

"Sometimes," Johnny said then grimaced. Why was he talking to this stranger about this? He wasn't sure but for some reason, he felt comfortable with the man.

Carl watched the conflict on his face. He felt strangely sympathetic. "I never had a family myself. Always felt the need to ramble. But lately, well I guess when you get older, you start thinking about those things."

"Guess so."

Carl laughed a little. "You wouldn't know about that. You're way too young to be thinking about your golden years."

Johnny chuckled. "Until lately, I didn't think I'd have any golden years."

"You got lucky. Not everyone does. Still, it takes work to make a family strong. I'm guessing it wasn't easy to come here and find a father and brother."

"No, Scott was a surprise that's for sure." Johnny laughed. "Can you imagine gettin off a stage with this fancy pants eastern dandy and finding out he's your brother?"

Carl laughed heartily. "Is that how it happened?"

"Yeah. Neither one of us could believe it," Johnny smiled widely at the memory.

*******

"It is hard to imagine seeing you two together. You look like you get along very well."

"We do. I guess we have a lot more in common than we thought. Scott's not like anyone I've ever met though. He's a lot tougher than he looks, pretty brave, too."

"Well, it's plain to see how much he means to you. I'm sure you mean as much to him," Carl said, feeling a pang of guilt.

Johnny felt suddenly embarrassed. This conversation had gotten way too personal. He cleared his throat and started getting up. "Best get back to work."

"You got it, boss."

Johnny turned to look at the man when he stood. He locked eyes and in a serious but nonthreatening tone said, "I don't like to be called that. Just so you know."

Carl was a little surprised but recovered easily. "You got it .... Johnny."

As they headed back to work, Scott rode up with a smile on his face.

"What's got you so happy, Boston?"

Scott dismounted and took in the fenceline. "You, brother. Look at all you've gotten accomplished today. And without me."

Johnny grinned. "Well, maybe that should tell you something."

"Oh? Are you saying I slow you down, brother?"

"Did I say that, brother?"

Carl watched the easy banter and his conscience kicked him. He was beginning to see why Scott stayed here and was doubting his purpose.

Two weeks went by and Carl watched the brothers together. Never had an ugly word passed between them. He'd seen them disagree and manage to come to a compromise easily. He was beginning to think this was all too perfect. He'd not spent as much time with Scott as he would have liked. It wasn't easy sidling up to the boss.

Doubts crept into his mind. Doubts about the bond between them. He wondered if it had ever really been challenged. He thought not. Before he could decide on carrying out his plans, he had to know for sure.

He rode into town after work one evening, picking the middle of the week. He wanted to ensure none of the other hands would be there. He checked to see if his letter had arrived. To his delight, it had. Walking to the saloon, he settled at a table and opened the envelope from Kansas.

A wide smile spread across his face. It was exactly what he needed. He drank his beer and decided how best to convey the information. He had to be sure Scott would see it first. He also had to make sure no one knew where it came from.

That night, he slipped out of the bunkhouse and headed to the outhouse as a diversion. 'Just in case anyone is awake,' he thought. He rounded the small outbuilding and crept silently to the hacienda.

Easing open the kitchen door, he slipped in and shut it quickly. There was no light and being unfamiliar with the layout, he made his way slowly. He found the table easily enough and laid the envelope in the center. He then silently left the house and returned to his bunk.

********

Murdoch came downstairs the next morning and picked up the envelope. Shrugging, he placed it in front of Scott's place at the table.

A few minutes later he heard his sons noisily make their way to the kitchen. He frowned at them both and they sobered. Sitting down, they both had grins on their faces. Murdoch wondered how they could be so happy so early in the morning. Youth, he supposed.

"What's this?" Scott asked as he picked up the envelope.

"It was lying on the table this morning. Has your name on it," Murdoch shrugged.

Scott looked curiously at it. He didn't recognize the handwriting. He opened the envelope and pulled out the contents. As he read, his expression changed from curious, to perplexed to angry.

Johnny was concentrating solely on his breakfast and paid no mind to his brother.

"Scott?" Murdoch asked, seeing his son's myriad of emotions.

Johnny looked up then and found himself gazing into eyes alight with fire. "What's wrong, Scott?"

Scott struggled to maintain his decorum and find his voice. He shook his head and handed the papers to his brother.

*******

Johnny read them and looked back at Scott. Shrugging, he simply said, "so?"

"Is that true?" Scott ground out.

"Most of it but you know how them newspaper men are. Wasn't all that dramatic."

"Is that all you have to say?"

"What's the matter with you, Boston?" Johnny asked, totally confused by his brother's anger.

"Would someone let me in on this?" Murdoch interrupted.

"It's some newspaper articles about an Indian massacre in Kansas and a letter from somebody I don't know," Johnny explained simply.

Murdoch took the papers that Johnny handed him and read them thoroughly. "This letter says you helped some of the Indians escape. How did that come about?"

Johnny sighed. He hated telling stories about himself. "I was there. A friend of mine lived in the village. We were supposed to go huntin that morning. The cavalry attacked at dawn. I managed to get some of them out."

"I see," Murdoch said. He turned his attention to his eldest. "Why are you so upset about this, Scott?"

"Those articles said a lot of cavalrymen died in that fight. It lists the names of the dead. One of my best friends from Boston is on that list," Scott explained, still angry.

******

The room was silent for a long moment as the brothers locked eyes. Finally, Johnny broke it.

"If you're asking did I kill him, I have no idea. If you're asking did I fight back, hell yes!"

"So you killed cavalrymen," Scott said flatly.

"It was a massacre, Scott. They had no warning. They weren't even at war with the army."

"How do you know that?"

"Because, like I said, I was there. I spent a good amount of time with those people. They weren't at war with anyone. All they wanted was to live their lives."

"Do you know who was in command of the 7th cavalry? General Phil Sheridan."

Johnny shrugged. "Well, I guess he ain't so much a hero after all," he replied sarcastically.

"He's a fine man and a good commander," Scott argued.

"Maybe, maybe not. Never met 'im. All I know is what happened to those people was wrong," Johnny stated adamantly.

"I realize you don't have any experience with the military, Johnny. You don't know all the facts," Scott said placatingly.

*******

Johnny's jaw clenched. "I know what I saw. There was no war. There WAS a massacre. Women, children, old men. They didn't give a damn who they killed. They cut those people down like cattle at a slaughterhouse. They didn't have any guns. They had no real means to protect themselves. Now, if they were at war, I would think they'd be prepared."

"Maybe they had done something to instigate a retaliation," Scott countered.

"Sure, Scott. They had spent the entire month readying their winter camp. Yeah, they were pretty aggressive!"

"I think you both need to settle down. Scott, you weren't there. You don't know what happened," Murdoch intervened.

"I know General Sheridan and I know he isn't a butcher!"

"Wouldn't be the first time a bunch of soldiers didn't follow orders," Johnny said softly.

Scott's eyes seared into his brother's. "What would you know about it?"

"I know more than you think. But, then that's always the case, isn't it?"

"What does that mean?"

"Nothing! For your information, Scott, I was in the Mexican army."

"You were?" Murdoch asked, totally stunned.

"Yeah, I was. Now, if you're done being self-righteous, I have work to do," Johnny stood and threw his napkin down. He turned and stalked toward the living room.

*******

Scott was still fuming and Murdoch wasn't sure how to defuse the situation.

"Why are you so upset about this, son?"

"Why? Murdoch, he killed soldiers!"

"Sounds to me like it was self-defense. Scott, not every soldier is as honorable as you. A lot of people hate Indians, including people in the army. You don't know what really happened. You don't know what those men's orders were or if they followed them. Would you have rather Johnny lay down and die?"

"Of course not!"

"Then, try to see it from his perspective, son."

Scott took a deep breath and made himself calm down. He nodded his understanding of his father's words then silently left the house.

Murdoch sat there, looking over the documents again. He wondered who had left them for Scott and why. Why would anyone bring this up? And why now, after all this time?

He didn't like this. He hated to see his sons at odds with each other. He could only hope Scott would see reason. He was sure his eldest was quite capable of that. Shaking his head, he thought about Johnny.

There was still so much he didn't know. He had been blown away when Johnny said he was in the Mexican army. When? He had to have been just a kid. And this business of spending time in an Indian village? He said he was with a friend. Murdoch smiled, Johnny made friends with the oddest assortment of people.

*******

Scott tried to work out his anger but it was futile at the moment. When he arrived at the nearly finished fence line, he'd made sure he worked toward the back of the line. He didn't want to talk to Johnny just then. All he could think of was those soldiers. The word ambush came to his mind. Whether he thought it was the army that did the ambushing or the other way around, he couldn't say.

His thoughts and feelings were in turmoil. He didn't want to think about Johnny squaring off against the cavalry. He didn't want to think of General Sheridan having anything to do with such a thing. If that is what had happened. The man he had known would never order such an assault. Then again, Johnny had said it. It wouldn't be the first time soldiers disobeyed orders.

His thoughts turned to his friend, Jason. The one who'd died in the fight. They had grown up together, were the best of friends. Had even joined up together. Though they had been assigned to different units, they had tried to keep in touch. After Scott returned from the prison camp, Jason had come to visit.

That's when his friend told him he was staying in the army. That he was reassigned to General Sheridan. Scott recalled being pleased Jason would be with the general. Knowing Sheridan always took care of his men. He couldn't believe Jason would have been involved in a massacre. He couldn't remember his friend ever being prejudiced against anyone.

Even after the war, he'd had sympathy for southerners. He and Scott had discussed the topic many times before Jason received his orders to move out. Scott had thought he'd try to look him up when he decided to come to California. Then, he'd received word shortly after arriving. Jason was dead.

It had been over a year before and he was saddened the news was so old. He felt a deep hurt over losing his friend. But with this new life taking all his attention, he'd not really been able to grieve.

*****

When Johnny rode up to the fence line, he noticed Scott had changed positions. Frowning, he worked with Carl again.

Carl would have to be blind not to see the animosity. He figured his plan was working and Scott had argued with his brother this morning. 'Now, we'll see how close they really are,' he thought with a slight smile.

He tried to engage Johnny in conversation all morning without success. At lunch, Johnny sat under a tree alone and Scott sat with some of the men. Carl walked over and sat beside Johnny silently.

He watched the young man from his periphery. Johnny played with his food and glanced at Scott more than once. Carl could see the anger was there. He started to wonder about Johnny's temper. Just how lethal was it?

For the first time, he wondered if he hadn't made a mistake. Maybe he had put Scott at risk with this stunt.

Johnny sighed heavily and stood up, taking his plate back to the chuckwagon.

Jelly scowled at the mostly uneaten food. "What's the matter with it?"

"What?"

"The food. What's the matter with it?" he reiterated.

"Nothin, Jelly. Just not hungry," Johnny mumbled.

Jelly twitched his mouth. "What're ya'll fightin about?"

Johnny looked questioningly at him.

"I ain't blind, Johnny. Nobody else here is either. It's pretty plain you and Scott butted heads."

Johnny's face tightened and he leered at the older man. "Don't worry about it." He turned and walked away, down to the little stream nearby.

Jelly stared after him then rolled his eyes and went back to his chores.

******

Carl watched all this, then followed Johnny. He walked up behind him quietly.

"What?" Johnny asked, not turning around.

"You okay?"

He turned to face the older man. "I'm fine."

Carl nodded. "Hope I never see you when you're not fine. Want to talk about it?"

Johnny stared at him for a long moment. "Why would I talk to you about anything?"

Carl saw the mistake he'd made. He tried to cover. Shrugging, he said, "sometimes, it's easier to talk to a stranger. Gives you perspective."

Johnny nodded his head. "And sometimes, people should mind their own business," he stated flatly.

Carl put his hands up in front of him. "Message received." He turned to walk away.

"Wait."

He smiled, then turned to face Johnny his face now impassive.

"Look, I'm sorry. I had no call to talk to you like that. It's just ..... personal."

Carl smiled at him. "I understand. Don't worry about it. Some folks have said I'm nosy," he laughed.

Johnny smiled. "Guess we better get back to work."

******

When they reappeared, Scott shot his brother an aggravated look and went back to work. Johnny felt his anger rise but he refused to argue with Scott in front of the men.

He went back to work, no longer able to push back the memories of that day. He'd been looking forward to the hunting trip. He and White Dove were going to try and lay in enough meat for the tribe to survive the winter.

They'd been good to him. Taking him into their fold. He had met White Dove in Wichita. Some of the locals were giving the Indian a rough time and Johnny couldn't stand it. He'd intervened and White Dove was not happy about it. But, Johnny explained his position and the man seemed to understand.

After that, they'd spent a lot of time together. Learning about and from one another. White Dove had enfolded him into the tribe. The chief even accepted him. He reckoned it was because he wasn't really white.

The smile on his face left as he remembered that morning. It had been chilly with a light ground fog. Perfect weather to hunt. He'd arisen early and was almost ready to leave when it happened.

Johnny and White Dove had both heard it at exactly the same moment. Locking eyes for a long second, Johnny saw the worry in his friend's eyes and sprung into action.

They grabbed up the children and ran to hide them in a copse of trees. Mothers and grandmothers followed but most didn't make it. Johnny realized he couldn't save them all like this. He started fighting back.

The tribe only had a few rifles. Added to his own weapons, it was pitiful defense. The cavalry had stormed in, setting fire to the abodes and shooting anything that moved. Including women, children, horses and dogs, along with unarmed men.

When the smoke cleared, the cavalry was gone. Five children and two women had survived the onslaught. White Dove was dead and Johnny was injured. He'd taken the survivors deep into the woods and the women had tended his wounds.

Once he was healed, he took them to a reservation. He didn't know what else to do. They didn't want to go but he knew they would never survive on their own. The army would cut them down without a second thought.

*****

Johnny felt a hand on his arm as he worked. His head jerked up and Carl was looking oddly at him.

"Sun's goin down, Johnny. Think you might want to call it a day?"

Johnny looked around and saw the men were almost packed up to leave. He looked at the sky, surprised by the late hour. Straightening up, he took in a deep breath.

"Sure," he smiled a little.

Carl studied him closely. "Changed your mind?"

"About what?"

"Talking."

Johnny looked back at him. "No, but thanks." He went about cleaning up.

Carl helped him and as they put the last of their tools in the wagon, they both looked up in time to see Scott ride away.

Johnny stood at the back of the wagon and watched his brother leave. He dropped his eyes and went to Barranca.

Guilt poured over Carl. He actually felt sorry for Johnny. Knowing he was the reason for it only made it worse. Shaking his head, he made himself remember why he was here. He had to know for sure that this is where Scott wanted to be. That it wasn't some sense of duty that bound him to this place. That he wasn't afraid of Johnny. Carl was pretty sure that was not the case. If they'd argued so heatedly that they weren't speaking, he had to conclude Scott had stood his ground.

This thought actually brought a measure of pride in the young man to him. He could see so much of his sister in Scott. It almost hurt sometimes to look at him. He had many regrets where Catherine was concerned. He felt he'd abandoned her to the clutches of their father. Evidently, though, she had done fine on her own. Stood up to the old man and married the man she loved.

"You ready?"

Johnny's question broke him from his reverie. "Sure, I'm starvin," he smiled.

Supper that night was tense. Murdoch watched both his sons with discouragement. It was obvious they had not resolved their differences. He tried to get them to talk about anything. He was met with grunts and clipped replies.

After supper, Johnny started toward the front door.

"Johnny, wait. I want to talk to you," Murdoch called.

Johnny stopped and slumped his shoulders. He turned back and glared at his father. He knew exactly what Murdoch wanted.

Scott did as well and he headed to the kitchen.

"You, too, Scott," Murdoch said in a commanding voice.

He turned and walked back to the living room, sitting in the red leather chair in the corner.

Johnny stood at the opposite end of the sofa from where his brother sat. Murdoch looked back and forth between them and sighed.

"I think you two need to talk this out, don't you?"

His question was met with silence.

"Alright, I insist you talk it out."

Nothing.

"I should have been a dentist. Pulling teeth couldn't be this hard," Murdoch said with exasperation.

This statement elicited a smile and a glance from Johnny. It only lasted a split second, though.

Murdoch wasn't looking at him, however. He was watching Scott.

*******

"Scott, would you like to discuss why you're so angry?" Murdoch asked in a calm tone.

Scott looked up at him in disbelief. "I should think that is quite obvious, Sir," he replied tightly.

"You're angry that your brother killed soldiers."

Johnny crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the reply. There wasn't one.

Murdoch said no more and stared at Scott expectantly.

"Jason Malone was my best friend. We grew up together. We enlisted together. After the war, we met up again in Boston before he got his orders. We knew each other's thoughts. We knew what each other would say before it was said. We were closer than......"

Johnny raised a brow when Scott stopped. "Brothers?" he asked.

Scott glared at him. "Yes."

"I'm sorry you lost such a good friend, Scott. But, I have to wonder what that has to do with Johnny."

"He was there. He fought them!"

"Sorry, I didn't get a chance to get their life stories, Scott. They didn't give us a chance!" Johnny threw back.

Murdoch felt sadness come over him. "Johnny, could you tell us what happened?"

******

"I already told you. They ambushed us. Showed up at dawn and started shooting and setting fires. Over a hundred Kiowa were in that tribe. When they got done, there were five left and me. Two women and three children. That's it."

"And there was no warning at all?" Murdoch asked.

"None. I spent the night with them. I sat with the chief and we talked about winter camp. He never said a word about any trouble with anyone. He would have told me out of courtesy."

"Courtesy?" Scott hmmphed.

"Yes, Scott. Courtesy. He would have felt it was my right to know if I was in danger by being there. The man was a gentleman."

Scott rolled his eyes but said nothing.

"What would you have me do, Scott? What should I have done?" Johnny asked.

Scott turned his head and didn't answer.

"Well? Come on. You're the expert on military operations. Should I have waved a white flag? Should I have run? Should I have tried to talk to them while they were putting two bullets in me? How would YOU have handled it, Scott?"

"I wouldn't have been there in the first place," Scott spat.

"Right! You said you lost a good friend, well so did I! In fact, I lost a lot of good friends! Don't you sit there and tell me I was wrong to defend those people. You weren't there!"

"You had no business being there either! I cannot believe the army would just ride in and start killing without provocation. Maybe your chief wanted you there. Maybe that's why he didn't tell you. Maybe he thought they could use a good gunfighter!"

"Maybe you've lost your mind. Or maybe you can't see the truth because that would mean the great General Sheridan is not a saint! Maybe he's just a plain bigot! I have an idea. Why don't you write to him, Scott? Yeah, ask him about it. Ask him if his orders were followed. Ask him why they killed those people. Because I'd really like to know."

"General Sheridan hardly has to answer to me," Scott sneered.

"Guess he don't have to answer to anybody else, either."

********

"This is getting us nowhere," Murdoch said disappointedly.  

"Nowhere to get to. He's got no business judging what I did," Johnny clipped.

"I know the 7th cavalry and I know General Sheridan..."

"Knew, Scott! You knew him. How long has it been? Five years? Six? You don't know anything about the Indian Wars except what you read in the paper. And that's a bunch of bull!"

"What are you saying now? That all attacks on Indians are unjustified?" Scott asked incredulously.

"All I know is this one was. All they wanted was to be left alone. But, let me ask you this? Should I have laid down and died?"

"Did it ever occur to you to surrender?" Scott retorted.

Murdoch stared at him in disbelief.

"Surrender? For what? I didn't do anything. The old man, the medicine man you'd call him, stood in front of that cavalry with his hands up in the air. He shouted, begged for them to stop. You know what they did to that man? That 80 year old, unarmed, dangerous savage? They shot him in the head! The only surrender was death, Scott."

"Enough!" Murdoch bellowed. They both jerked their heads toward him, having forgotten he was even there.

"You're right about that," Johnny said and stormed outside.

*******

"Typical," Scott snorted.

"How dare you?" Murdoch gasped.

Scott looked at him. "How dare I what?"

"How dare you assume so much? How could you expect Johnny to just lay down when his life was in danger? Or maybe you missed the part when he said he had two bullets in him."

"He shouldn't have been there!"

"Whether or not he should have been there is not the point, Scott. He *was* there. He did what he had to do. You can't possibly blame him for something that wasn't his doing. What is wrong with you?"

Scott stood and faced off with his father. "There is nothing wrong with me. Except I'm shocked you're defending him. It's certainly a first!" Scott walked off then, headed out the back.

Murdoch stood there, frozen in place as he stared after his son.

*******

Johnny walked out to the corral and leaned heavily against the fence.

"Hey, Johnny. Want to play some cards with us?"

He turned to see Carl walking toward him. "No, thanks."

"Still in a bad mood, huh?"

"Don't worry about it!" he snapped.

Carl approached cautiously and leaned against the fence near him. "Look, I was just concerned, is all. Looked like you could use a friend."

Johnny pushed off from the fence and turned to face him full on. "And you think that would be you? A stranger I don't know from Adam?"

Carl dropped his eyes. "Thought we were getting along."

"Yeah, well, gettin along don't make us friends. Why are you pushin so hard?" he asked suspiciously.

"I didn't know I was pushing. I'm sorry, Johnny. I won't bother you anymore." He turned and walked away and Johnny felt relieved.

Carl spotted Scott coming from the back of the house. 'Maybe I'll have better luck with him,' he thought. He watched as Scott walked into the barn and followed.

Scott was saddling Remmie and he sauntered over. "Scott, evenin."

"Hello," he replied curtly.

"Goin to town?"

Scott stopped for a minute. "I don't really know. Just going for a ride."

"I know it's none of my business but I couldn't help notice you and Johnny seemed to be at odds."

Scott's jaw tightened. "I'm sure it would be hard not to notice."

"Just seems strange. You two always seem to get along so well."

"Looks can be deceiving," Scott replied then dropped his head for a second.

"Well, if you want to talk. I'm not very smart or philosophical but I'm a good listener. Least, that's what my old lieutenant used to say," he smiled.

Scott turned. "You were in the army?"

"Yeah."

Scott studied his face. "Would you like to go for a ride with me?"

Carl's face broke out in a smile. "Sure thing."

*****

He saddled up quickly and they led their mounts out of the barn. Johnny watched as they mounted up and rode away. He frowned as he thought it odd that Scott was with Carl.

He felt someone behind him and knew who it was. "That's strange."

"What, son?"

"Scott and Carl just rode off together. Carl was trying really hard today to get me to talk to him about me and Scott. And just now, he tried again."

"You think he's up to something?" Murdoch asked as he leaned next to his son.

"I don't know. Maybe he's just plain nosy."

"You know, Johnny, I have been wondering where that newspaper article came from. It's strange that it just appeared on the table like that."

Johnny turned and looked at his father. "You think Carl did it?"

"I don't know. What reason would he have? What reason would anyone have?"

"There's only one I can think of. Someone wants us at each other's throats."

"I guess they got what they wanted," Murdoch said with a pained expression.

Johnny dropped his head. "Think I'll go for a ride."

Murdoch smiled. "Sure, son. They went south."

Johnny looked up and smiled. "Yeah, I know."

*******

Scott stopped at the lake. He dismounted and ground tied Remmie. Then he sat at the water's edge and started skimming stones.

Carl watched his every move. So much like Catherine! He joined the younger man and waited.

"What unit were you in?" Scott asked.

"Second Massachusetts Infantry."

"Massachusetts? I grew up in Boston."

"I had heard that, so did I."

Scott turned and faced him. A smile flitted on his face. "Do you miss it?"

"Sometimes, but I like it better out here. You?"

Scott turned back to the water, "I don't know. Sometimes I think I don't really belong out here. It's so different. People think differently out here than back east."

Carl laughed. "Yes, they sure do. None of that grace and elegance. Just spit it out."

Scott smiled. "Exactly. And, God forbid you admit you're wrong about anything." The smile fell from his face.

"Is that what you and Johnny are fighting about? He did something wrong and won't admit it?"

Scott bit his lower lip. "He doesn't think it was wrong."

"But you do?"

Scott didn't answer right away.

"Scott?"

"I don't know. One of my best friends was killed. It's hard to forget that."

"Can you tell me about it?"

******

Scott relayed the part of the story Carl already knew then told him Johnny's side of things. This was the information he was missing. Why Johnny had been there in the first place. When Scott finished, his anger was back with a vengeance.

"Well, that is a hard one. You lost a good friend and your former C.O. was in command. A man you respect and trust. I'm glad I told you I'm not a philosopher."

"I don't need one of those."

"What do you need, Scott?"

"I need for my brother to understand why I'm angry. He doesn't seem to even care that I lost a good friend in that fight!" Scott threw a stone into the water with a resounding plop.

Carl glanced sideways at him. He could see how much this was troubling Scott. How much pain he was in.

"Scott, I know you didn't ask for my opinion....."

"Go ahead."

"Well, I think you are absolutely right. Johnny had no right to fire on the cavalry. I'm surprised they didn't hunt him down. Maybe they didn't know who he was or maybe they didn't know anyone survived. I can't see the army just ambushing innocent people like that. They had to have done something to instigate such harsh retribution. If Johnny got himself in the middle of it, he should have taken it like the rest of them."

Scott's head jerked up and his eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"

"Well, I don't want to seem heartless, but he should have given himself up. He really didn't know what was going on, why the order was given. He assumed those people were innocent. He had nothing to base that on but their word."

"Johnny is very good at reading people. He can tell when he's being lied to," Scott pointed out.

"Then he got what was coming to him. He allowed himself to get suckered in," Carl said with finality.

"Now, wait just a minute. If Johnny said that tribe was innocent, then they were innocent!"

"Then why are you so angry with him?" Carl asked in a soft voice.

Scott stared at him. He opened his mouth then closed it again. Dropping his head, he closed his eyes for a moment. "You said you weren't philosophical. You never said you were a psychiatrist."

Carl laughed aloud. "Me? That will be the day. You just needed someone to defend your brother's actions to. A way for you to see his side of things."

Scott frowned at this. "Why can't he see my side?"

"Are you so sure he can't? Did you ask him if he understood your view?"

Scott inhaled deeply and shook his head. "No, I didn't. I stated it as a fact and that was that. And people call Johnny stubborn," he smiled.

"Scott, are you ...... are you afraid of Johnny?"

Scott could not have been more shocked. "Afraid of him? Why in the world would I be afraid of him?"

"Well, he has a temper and he is, or was, a gunfighter," Carl shrugged.

"He is my brother, period. I am not afraid of him!"

"That's good to hear."

They both turned to find Johnny standing behind them by a tree. He was leaning one shoulder against it, one foot crossed over the other.

"How long have you been there?" Scott asked.

"I have a better question. Why would you even ask my brother if he's afraid of me?" Johnny retorted as he glared at Carl.

"This was a private conversation, Johnny," Scott said tightly.

"Oh, well, excuse me. I thought if I was the topic, maybe it wasn't so private," he shot.

"I don't know how your father stands you two," Carl said as he stood up. "It's bad enough you're mad at each other over one issue. Then, you have to argue over every detail of every other thing."

"Who the hell asked you anyway, Smith!? Just what is your business here and why are you so interested in me and Scott?"

"I'm just trying to help," he shrugged.

"No one asked for your help. And while we're at it, just exactly how much 'help' have you been?" Johnny inquired.

Scott stood as well and looked inquisitively at his brother. "What does that mean?"

"Haven't you wondered who sent you that newspaper and letter?" Johnny asked him.

Scott frowned. "I hadn't thought about it."

"Well, neither did I until Murdoch brought it up. So, Carl, do you know anything about that?"

Carl looked at him, then at Scott and decided he may as well fess up. "Yes, I do. I sent it."

Scott turned on him. "Why?"

"So I could see how strong your relationship with Johnny is. So I could know if you were afraid of him. So I could be sure you really wanted to be here, Scott."

He looked uncomprehendingly at the man.

"Garrett sent you, didn't he?" Johnny surmised.

"Why is it you immediately assume...."

"Scott," Carl interrupted. "He's right, in a way."

*******

Scott tightened his jaw and set his mouth. "Explain."

Carl took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "This isn't exactly how I wanted to tell you this. Maybe we should go back to the house first. Murdoch will want to hear this as well, I'm sure."

Without another word, they mounted up and rode back to the estancia. No one spoke on the ride, thoughts flying in every direction. They walked into the house to find Murdoch standing by the fire, lost in his own thoughts. He turned and raised a brow as Carl stood there.

"Seems Carl here has somethin he wants to tell us," Johnny explained.

"I see. Alright, go ahead," Murdoch said warily.

The three Lancers stood near each other and Carl faced them all. "This is harder than I thought," he smiled nervously and cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose the best thing is to just get it said. My name is not Smith, it's Garrett. Carlton Garrett. Harlan Garrett is my father."

Three sets of eyes narrowed in disbelief.

"Why have I never heard of you?" Scott asked, still not convinced.

"When I was sixteen I left home. Catherine was a few years younger than I. My father and I had a falling out, I guess you could say. Anyway, I couldn't stay there any longer. I've been wandering the globe since. Dabbling in all kinds of things."

"That's why you were so interested in me and Scott," Johnny surmised.

"Yes, that's why. You see, I went back to Boston over a month ago to see you, Scott. I'd been feeling, well, lonely I guess. I wanted to connect with my family. I knew Father and I would never see eye to eye but I'd hoped to have a relationship with you. He told me you came out here."

"I'll bet he did," Murdoch grumped.

"Yes, well, he wasn't happy about it."

*****

"So you came out here to meet Scott. Why lie?" Johnny asked.

Carlton dropped his eyes and reddened a bit. "I'm ashamed to say, Johnny. Father asked me to convince Scott to return to Boston. No, that's not completely true. He offered to pay me. He paid my expenses out here and a healthy sum to live on. He promised me fifty thousand dollars if I returned with Scott in tow."

Johnny whistled. "Fifty thousand. That's a lot of money."

"Yes. He told me you had a strong hold on Scott, Johnny. He said you had brainwashed him or something."

Johnny laughed softly at the thought.

"So, why tell us now?" Scott asked, his anger unmasked.

"I saw you were happy here. I watched you with your brother. I realized Father wasn't exactly truthful in his assessment of the situation. He made it sound like you were a prisoner here. I'm sorry, Scott. I should have known better. I guess I had forgotten how manipulative he can be."

"Murdoch, is what he says true? Did Grandfather have a son?" Scott asked.

"Yes, Catherine told me about him. She said they hadn't heard from him since the day he left. She said they had no idea if he was even alive. I guess I had forgotten about him until just now."

"I can understand that, Sir. I can't understand Grandfather conveniently forgetting to mention his own son," Scott fumed.

"Well, he did disown me, Scott. It doesn't matter. Even if you had known about me, I wasn't there. I will always regret that. I didn't know for many years what happened to my sister. When I found out what Father did ..... well, that's water under the bridge."

"I want proof you are who you say you are," Scott said.

Carlton reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope. He handed it to Scott without a word. Inside were his birth certificate, a picture of him with Catherine just before he ran away and a picture of him with Harlan.

Scott looked at these with shaky hands. He handed them to Murdoch.

"That's Catherine," he sighed.

"So, you sent the newspaper article," Johnny restated for his father's benefit.

*****

"Yes, I did."

"How did you even know about that?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, Father gave me some papers on you and Johnny. I read through them on the way here. They were private investigator's notes. When I read about the incident in Kansas, and knowing Scott's military history, I could see the potential."

"Potential for what?" Scott asked.

"For a way to put the two of you at odds. I wanted to see how strong your relationship was."

Johnny clenched his fists and pressed them hard against his thighs. It was the only way he could keep from hitting the man at the moment.

"So, this was a little test? A game?" Scott said angrily.

"I suppose you could call it a test," he said, ashamed.

"Seems that kind of thing runs in your family," Johnny said coldly.

"Johnny," Murdoch warned.

"What? I want to know what you would have done if me and Scott hated each other over this. I mean, what was the plan?" he spat.

"To talk Scott into returning to Boston," Carl replied honestly.

Johnny laughed at this. "You don't know my brother very well. No, you don't know him at all. If you think Scott would tuck his tail between his legs and run back to Boston, you don't know anything!"

"Easy, son."

"No, I won't take it easy," he yelled and walked up to Carl. "You took a piece of ancient history that no one ever needed to know about and threw it in our faces. You hurt Scott just to play your game. And it *was* a game. Now, you stand here and say you're sorry? What the hell is the matter with you? Are you stupid or crazy?"

"Johnny!"

He turned to face his brother, his eyes afire. "What?"

"That's enough," Scott said more calmly.

He stared at Scott for a long heartbeat. "Of course it is, Scott. Why don't you go have a nice long chat with your uncle? Maybe he can compare notes on how to treat you like a child. The fine art of blackmail and manipulation. I'm sure it will be an interesting conversation. One that will end with you forgiving him, naturally." Sarcasm dripped from his voice.

"Stop it, both of you!" Murdoch said. "I don't want a repeat of Harlan's visit."

"Father was here?"

"Yes, he was and we don't need to get into it," Murdoch replied flatly.

*******

Johnny turned his back and paced off, trying to control himself.

There was a long silence left in Murdoch's wake. No one seemed to know where to go from here.

"Scott, I am sorry I hurt you. It wasn't my intention. I didn't know about your friend. I only knew about Sheridan," Carl finally spoke.

"It's not like you bothered to find out, either," Johnny scowled.

"I just don't understand why you people seem to think I am so easy to manipulate. Why I spent all that time in the war and at Harvard is beyond me. Obviously, I didn't learn a thing! I must be some kind of idiot!" Scott fumed.

"You are not an idiot, son," Murdoch said, his voice calm though he was anything but.

"I must be. I can't think for myself. I'm incapable of making life decisions. I should be locked up somewhere!"

Johnny started laughing softly and watched his brother. He seldom saw Scott so angry and it always tickled him to a degree.

"This is not funny, Johnny!" Scott yelled.

"No, it's not, but you are. Sorry, brother, but you are not an idiot. Your uncle and grandfather? That's a different story." He ended with a sarcastic note.

"This is getting us nowhere and fast. Scott, what do you want to do about this situation?" Murdoch asked, tired of the angst.

"Do? I don't know what to do. Perhaps I should wire Grandfather and ask him," he retorted snidely.

Murdoch rolled his eyes and sighed. He sat down in a chair, feeling very tired.

"I'll leave. Don't put all the blame on my father, Scott. I didn't have to go along with him," Carl said.

"Oh, believe me, I don't put it all on him. But, you aren't going anywhere just yet. Your explanations are lacking. I want to know what you were thinking. You said you watched Johnny and me. What did you think you saw?"

Carl raised a brow at the question. "Well, you seemed to get along very well."

"But you couldn't leave it at that," Johnny interjected.

"I hadn't seen any real altercation between you. No real challenge to your relationship."

"So you decided to make one, that it?" Johnny sneered.

*******

Carl swallowed and bowed his head. "I'm not proud of what I did. I'm more troubled by the consequences to the two of you than myself."

"So am I," Murdoch spoke.

Scott and Johnny looked at each other for a long moment. Neither sure what the outcome of all this would be.

"Whatever happens between me and Scott, it's none of your business, Carl. It never was."

"I realize that now, Johnny. But, I hate to think I've caused a rift between the two of you. I've seen how well you get along under normal circumstances."

"We were doin alright under abnormal circumstances til you came along," Johnny shot.

Carl looked at him without understanding.

"Do you think we've never disagreed, never argued?" Scott asked.

"Heck, the second day we were here, Scott punched me," Johnny added.

"You got your shot in, brother," Scott reminded him.

"It was self-defense," Johnny grinned.

"Right, along with that nice compliment that I meant nothing to you."

"At the time, you didn't," Johnny shrugged.

They all turned when they heard Murdoch sigh unusually loudly.

"Why do you have to rehash all that now? Can we please just deal with what's right in front of us?"

"Sorry, Murdoch. Just walkin down memory lane," Johnny grinned.

Scott laughed a little at this then turned serious. He focused on Carl. "When you went to Boston, it was to see me. That's what you said. I have to wonder how you would have treated me if I'd still been there. Why it was so different, as I suspect it was, because I live here?"

"I had hoped to connect with you, Scott. Talk to you, get to know you. I let Father's money lure me in. I'm ashamed of my actions. I'm not a particularly moral man but I do have some scruples. Father always did bring out the worst in me. But, I can't blame him. He didn't exactly twist my arm. I got caught up in the intrigue. The subterfuge. It was a game until I saw what I had really done."

Scott regarded him skeptically. He wasn't sure he believed any of it. But, the man seemed genuine. He was thinking of just chucking the lot of them. Harlan, Carl and Boston. He was so tired of people trying to run his life.

Johnny was watching Scott's face, trying to figure what his brother was thinking. He saw the hurt, the uncertainty. It made him angry all over again. He wanted to shoot Harlan Garrett and he wouldn't mind takin Carl out to boot!

"I'm going to need some time to think this all through. I think it's best if you stay in town if you want to stay at all," Scott finally decided.

"I'd like to stay. If there's even a chance for us, I'd like to take it. I'll wait in Morro Coyo," Carl said, then left quickly.

*****

They stood there, the two of them, in silence. Neither would look at the other. Murdoch was pretty sure he couldn't take anymore tonight. He stood up and stretched his back.

"I suggest the two of you spend some time thinking things through. I'm going to bed and I don't want to hear any shouting down here." He gave them both his most stern look and walked to the stairs.

Johnny couldn't help the grin that slid onto his face. "Yes, daddy," he mumbled.

"What was that?" Murdoch flashed.

"I said, goodnight," he covered.

"That's what I thought you said."

"You just can't help yourself, can you?" Scott asked, half-amused, half exasperated.

"Guess not. Well, I'm goin to bed, too. Look ......"

"Johnny," Scott interrupted, "let's just leave it alone for tonight."

Johnny nodded and went upstairs.

Scott stood where he was for a long moment, trying to get his mind to even work. At this point, it was a blank. Too much information had caused him to shut down. It had happened before and he recognized it for what it was; a defense mechanism.

He walked over and poured himself a healthy glass of whiskey, then proceeded outside to clear his head.

Scott took a long swallow of the amber liquid, wincing a bit as it burned smoothly down his throat. He let out a sigh and perched on the adobe wall. Staring out into the dark, he allowed his mind to think of all that had transpired.

Somehow, his grandfather had come to the conclusion that he had no sense. He wasn't quite sure when that happened. He was perfectly fine when he was living in Boston. It must have occurred on the trip west. He smiled wryly. Yes, perhaps he'd lost his mind in Denver or Chicago.

His mood sobered once more. The man had audacity enough for ten men. And his uncle. A man he never knew existed. How ironic! He wondered idly if he had any more unknown relations lurking about. He was quite sure he couldn't take any more surprises. He'd had enough to last his lifetime, certainly.

But this was getting him nowhere fast. What was he to do with all this information? His uncle had come looking for him, ostensibly to form a relationship. He'd been coerced, though it didn't take much, into trying to manipulate him into returning to Boston. That manipulation had caused a rift between Johnny and he. Of all that had happened, that made Scott angrier than anything.

It was bad enough that his grandfather was hounding him. But to involve Johnny, to cause discord between the brothers, was too much. Scott made one decision. He would write to his grandfather and let him know what had happened and exactly how he felt about the situation. But that was only one resolution.

Carl had seemed sincere in his confession. Still, he had seemed sincere all along. That was the problem. How could he trust this man now? He wasn't sure he could or even wanted to at this point. The most important thing right now was to fix things with Johnny.

He thought through everything that he'd learned and all that had been said between them. Scott realized Johnny had no way of knowing Jason was in that unit. And even if he had, he didn't even know Scott existed at that time in his life. It really was a moot point. Scott knew it but it was hard to let go. Jason had been such a good friend. His logical mind told him this might have happened anyway. That it wasn't for certain that Johnny had anything to do with his death. He knew it had been his grief that caused his anger. He knew it wasn't his brother's fault.

For all this he knew, it still hurt deeply. He had to admit that to himself at least. What he needed to do was grieve for the loss of his friend. He should write to Jason's parents. Perhaps share some fond memories. Scott shook his head sadly.

There was something else he knew as well as he knew his name. Johnny would forgive him. He would understand. It would take less than five minutes to explain himself and Johnny would just smile and tell him it was all right. That kind of confidence in a relationship was something he had never before experienced. It brought him a huge measure of peace and happiness. He hoped there was nothing that would ever happen to make Johnny not be able to forgive him. He would make certain of that.

Scott realized it didn't matter if he and his uncle could get past this. Not in the grand scheme of things. He had his family. His father and brother were what he had always needed in his life. Now that he had that, he was content. There was only one other relationship that would mean so much to him. He wasn't ready for that kind of intimacy in his life.

Feeling better than he had in days, Scott drained the whiskey glass and went up to bed. Secure in the knowledge that tomorrow, he would set things right with his brother.

******

Carl rode into Morro Coyo late. He headed for the saloon and a much needed drink. Once that was obtained, he asked about a room.

He should eat, he was sure. But he had no appetite. He couldn't stop thinking about all the problems he'd caused for Scott. He lay on top of the bed, hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling.

Idiot! He should have known better than to listen to his father. If he were honest with himself, he would know it didn't matter. The lure of that much cash was too enticing. He'd let his greed overshadow his initial reason for even being in his father's house.

Oh, it had been such a grand thought! An admirable objective. Deciding to finally settle down. Plant some roots and develop a bond with his nephew. He was a fool to believe that would happen anyway. He wasn't the type of man to ever settle down. He'd had opportunities before. Steady work, even a good woman or two interested in him. But he had shied away. Ran away was more like it. He supposed he just wasn't a family man.

So why had it seemed so damned important to wriggle his way into Scott's life? And why did he feel the need to nearly ruin his relationship with his brother? Carl frowned. Johnny wasn't what he thought he would be. He actually cared. A rarity in that particular profession. But then, he'd walked away from that life. From what little Carl had gleaned, he'd run away as fast as he could. Who could blame him though?

And Scott. He was so comfortable with his family. So settled. Maybe he was jealous? He saw what his nephew had and knew it wasn't meant for him to have that very thing. He supposed there was a part of him that wanted it after all. Just not a big enough part. Still, it would have been nice. And a hell of a lot easier if he'd just rode in there and introduced himself. Instead, he had played with their lives. Something he had no right to do. Even if he'd known Scott all his life, he had no right. He remembered they'd said Harlan had visited. Obviously that went over like a box of rocks.

Carl grinned a little. He wondered what stunt his father had pulled. It didn't matter for it hadn't worked. Brainwashed! And he bought it! Yes, he had forgotten how controlling his father was. How power hungry and determined to have his way. He wondered how Catherine had managed to get away. But, he was sure she had a stronger hold on the old man than anyone else ever could. Wrapped around her little finger, he was quite sure.

He wondered if he could ever settle down in one place. He was pretty sure Scott wouldn't care what he did. He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. Drifting into sleep fully dressed.

Scott hadn't slept well. He was up before dawn, dressed and ready. He opened his bedroom door and pulled a chair into the hall. Closing the door, he settled himself across from Johnny's room and waited.

Johnny stood by the door and hesitated. He didn't want to go downstairs. He didn't want to face Scott. Whatever his brother had decided, if anything, he was tired of fighting. He opened the door, stunned to see his brother sitting there.

"Good morning," Scott greeted pleasantly.

"Mornin. What are you doing?"

"Waiting for you. I didn't want to interrupt you."

Johnny nodded. "I see. And you couldn't wait until I came downstairs?"

Scott stood up. "No, I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to apologize, Johnny."

His surprise was not hidden as he stared at his brother.

"I know I was unfair. I treated you badly. I'm sorry, brother. My only defense is, well, it brought back the memory of Jason's death."

"You two were close," Johnny stated.

"Yes, we were. I didn't hear of his death until I got here. I was so occupied with everything else, I pushed it away."

Johnny nodded again. "You didn't grieve," he said softly.

Scott could only shake his head, no.

"Maybe you should, Scott. I am sorry you lost such a good friend."

"I'm sorry I blamed you for something you had no control over. It was ...... stupid of me."

"It was human of you. So, are we okay now?"

Scott looked at him with deep affection. "We are very okay, always."

Johnny smiled and wrapped an arm around Scott's shoulder. They headed to breakfast side by side.

******

Murdoch could not have been more relieved when his sons walked into the kitchen together. He watched them, smiles on their faces, and knew they were all right once more.

He let that good news settle over them all before broaching the subject. They were almost finished eating when he spoke.

"Have you given any thought to your uncle, Scott?"

He stared at his plate, pushing the eggs around. "Not really. I was more concerned with thinking about Johnny."

The youngest Lancer smiled at him as did the eldest.

"I'm sure he'll stick around as long as you want," Johnny said.

"Are you? Seems he doesn't do well with staying in one place."

"Would that bother you? If he left?" Murdoch asked.

"At this moment, no, it would not. I'm still angry with him. I don't know what I want, if anything, from him. All I know is I don't want to think about it right now," Scott said rather tersely.

Johnny dropped his napkin on the table and stood up. "Well, hard work always takes my mind off my troubles," he grinned.

"Sounds like a plan, brother."

"Scott, you go ahead. I want to talk to your brother for a minute," Murdoch interrupted.

Scott shot Johnny a you're-in-trouble grin and left the kitchen quickly.

Johnny retook his seat and waited for his father to begin.

"I'm not sure how to ask this, son. What happened in Kansas - would the army be after you?"

Johnny's eyebrows went up. "I doubt it. They didn't know I was there as far as I know. I've never heard anything about it. Why would you ask me that?"

Murdoch shook his head. "It just occurred to me. If that person who wrote the letter knew you were there, why wouldn't the army?"

"Murdoch, that was two years ago. I would think if they wanted me, they'd have made it known by now."

"You have a point."

Johnny reached over and laid a hand on his father's arm. "Hey, stop looking for trouble where there isn't any. Don't we make enough for you?"

Murdoch chuckled. "Yes, you do. Go to work."

Johnny patted his arm and left to catch up with Scott.

*******

Scott managed to stay busy enough all day so he didn't have to think about his uncle. It was just what he wanted and needed. He'd had enough to deal with in the past few days. Fighting with Johnny was always hard. This time had come too close though. He never wanted anything to threaten them again.

Sadly, he knew his grandfather was not one to give in easily. He didn't know what it was going to take to get the man to back off. He idly thought of sending a certain hired gun after the old man. Scott laughed a little at that thought.

Johnny stayed close all day, watching him like a hawk. He felt a deep sense of contentment knowing his brother was so concerned. Scott still wondered though. He'd said some pretty hateful things to his brother. It was hard to believe Johnny could get over it that easily.

As they were packing up the remnants of the finally finished fencing, he approached his brother.

"Got a minute?"

"Sure, Boston."

Scott smiled and walked to the edge of the stream. Johnny followed, figuring he was ready to discuss his uncle.

"I was curious about something," Scott started.

Johnny nodded his head. "Shoot."

"Well, you were pretty easy on me this morning. It seems you forgave me awfully quickly."

Johnny stared at him for a long time. Long enough to make Scott think he should have left well enough alone.

"I know you were hurting. Being reminded of losing a good friend. Then, your uncle pulling that stunt."

Scott shook his head and frowned. "Wait a minute. Are you saying you felt sorry for me? That you decided to give me a break?"

Johnny put his hands on his hips and cocked his head sideways. "Is that what I said? All I meant was, I understand why you were mad."

"Johnny, I said some terrible things to you. Things I meant at the time. How can you just brush it off?"

He shook his head in disbelief. "So, you don't want me to forgive you. Is that it? I don't understand, Scott. What are you gettin at?"

"I do want you to forgive me. I just want it to be for the right reasons," Scott explained.

"Whose right reasons? Yours? Shouldn't it be up to me why I forgive you?"

Scott considered this.

"Listen, brother. You think too much. You worry a problem to death then resurrect it and worry it some more. Leave it alone, Scott. Stop trying to solve all the mysteries of life. Things are what they are," Johnny shrugged.

Scott laughed softly at this. He knew Johnny was right. He did tend to analyze things too much. "I think I like your life philosophy much better, brother. Let's go home."

Johnny smiled and grabbed him around the neck. They pushed and pulled on each other all the way back to their horses.

*******

The Lancer sons rode into the yard smiling. Both noticed the buggy in front of the house but paid it no mind. They headed to the barn and took care of their mounts before going to the house.

Johnny was expounding on the attributes of the newest saloon girl in town. He had Scott laughing so hard at his hubris, tears were in his eyes. Scott was turned sideways, watching his brother when they walked inside. He stopped laughing at the look on Johnny's face and turned.

"Grandfather!"

"Hello, Scotty. What was so funny?" Harlan asked, a smile plastered on his face.

Scott's face fell into a scowl. His mouth tightened and his jaw set. Johnny watched in tension, wondering how Scott would handle this.

"Come to check on your son's progress?" Scott asked sarcastically.

Garrett feigned surprise. "My son? Carlton is here?"

"Don't," Scott hissed. "Don't lie to me again. I will not tolerate it."

Garrett set his own jaw. "YOU will not tolerate it? How dare you speak to me in that manner?"

"I would say I've earned that right, Sir," Scott retorted tightly. "You sent your son here to haul me back to Boston. Well, it didn't work. And his little ploy didn't work either. As you can see."

"What ploy? What are you talking about, Scotty?"

He closed his eyes briefly, trying with everything in him to keep from throttling the man. "Trying to come between my brother and me. It didn't work."

"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied indignantly. He shot a quick but hate-filled look at Johnny who reciprocated.

"Perhaps you don't. Perhaps he didn't explain his means. But you are well aware of what he intended the end result to be. You and your fifty thousand dollars."

Harlan turned a bit red at this. 'So, Carlton had spilled everything. What a surprise,' he thought sardonically.

"Well? Have you nothing to say, Grandfather?"

The tone of Scott's voice caused Johnny to cringe. He could hear the pain there.

As could Murdoch, who had remained silent this long. Most likely because he was too angry to speak.

******

"Scotty, Carlton came looking for you. I told him where you were and he decided to come and see you. How was I to know he would do something to cause problems?" he asked innocently.

"Because we planned it."

They all turned to find Carl at the door, listening.

"I've already confessed to both our parts in this fiasco, Father. There is no point in trying to deny it now."

"As usual, you will do anything to cause me heartache and trouble, Carlton," he shot. Turning to his grandson, he softened his voice. "Scotty, I really knew nothing of any of this."

Carl snorted and shook his head.

"What are you doing here?" Johnny asked him.

"I came to visit my grandson. If that's alright with you," he spat.

"You just showed up, huh? No letter, no telegram to let him know you were coming?" Johnny cocked a brow.

"I was in Denver on business and decided to visit," he explained unconvincingly.

"Uh huh," Johnny said.

"It doesn't really matter. You aren't staying," Scott intervened.

"What are you saying? You wouldn't throw me out into the middle of nowhere, Scotty."

A rather sad smile crossed Scott's face. "I would and I am. You aren't welcome here, Grandfather. You have done nothing but cause problems for me since I left Boston. You will never accept my decision to stay here. You can't accept that I have made up my own mind so you invent these ..... theories of brainwashing and such hogwash."

"Hogwash? Scotty, do you hear yourself? What kind of language is that?" Garrett asked in astonishment.

"Harlan, it's time for you to leave," Murdoch spoke for the first time. He had decided to stay quiet and let Scott handle this on his own. Now that his son had said the words, he could act on them.

"Don't be ridiculous, Murdoch. Scotty didn't mean that."

"I most certainly did mean it. Now, you can either go quietly or ......" Scott trailed off, refusing to give voice to what he really wanted to say.

"Or what? You'll have me horsewhipped, I suppose?" Garrett sneered.

"No, I will have you physically removed."

"Can I do it?" Johnny asked.

*******

Once more, Harlan glared at him. "This does not concern *you*!"

"Oh, but it does, Grandfather. It concerns him a great deal. You see, Johnny doesn't try to speak for me. He doesn't try to run my life or make decisions for me. He realizes I'm a grown man with a mind of my own."

"A pretty stubborn mind at that," Johnny chimed.

Harlan shook his head. "What have they done to you?"

Johnny rolled his eyes and stared disbelievingly at the man. He would never get it. He tossed his hands into the air and paced over to the fireplace near his father.

"Father, it's time to go. Say goodbye and I'll ride back to town with you."

"I am not going anywhere with you, Carlton. I came here to see Scotty only to find you've been spreading vicious lies about me!"

"You'll never change, will you? All my life you tried to control me. You did everything, made every decision about what my future would be. Now, you're trying to do the same to Scott. How in the world did Catherine stand it for so long?"

"Don't you speak her name! You never had any ambition. Never any interest in doing anything with your life. You were lazy and cavalier and you worried your poor sister to death. If you had cared anything about her, you would have stayed to protect her from him!" Garrett shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at Murdoch.

"Watch yourself, old man. I don't give two hoots about you, but shut up about my father," Johnny hissed.

Murdoch laid a hand on his arm and squeezed, a slight smile on his face mixed with a frown.

"It was you she needed protection from! I'm glad she married and got away from you," Carl retorted.

"You're glad? Are you also glad that she came to this god-forsaken wilderness to die? She was too fragile for this brutal life and he should have known that!"

"Stop it!" Murdoch bellowed. "Neither of you knew anything about who Catherine was. She had more guts and more strength than both of you combined."

"I knew my daughter...."

"You knew an image, Harlan. An image you made up in your head. An image of a perfect angel. Well, she was close but she was human. She loved this place. She loved me and I will not regret nor apologize for loving her!"

Both Scott and Johnny stared at their father in total awe. Murdoch rarely showed his emotions, other than anger. They were stunned by this confession.

Scott smiled at his father's vehement defense of his mother. "This whole conversation is pointless. I want nothing to do with you, Grandfather. You will leave my home," he said, turning stiff once more.

Harlan walked over to him, pleading in his eyes. "Scotty, I raised you. Don't you think you owe me some respect?"

"I used to respect you a great deal, Sir. I loved you. But you've destroyed any good feelings I had for you. You caused this, Grandfather. No one else but you." Scott's voice grew husky as he spoke. His eyes betrayed his pain.

Johnny walked over to them both and laid a supportive hand on his brother's shoulder.

"What have you done to him?" Harlan scowled.

Johnny sighed heavily. He was so tired of this. "Nothing. If anyone has done anything to anyone, Scott did it to me. He changed me not the other way around. He's the same person he's always been, Harlan. That's what you don't want to believe. You thought you could control him. Run him like you run your business. But, you never would have been able to do that. Even if he'd stayed in Boston. Don't you see? It would never have been what you wanted. Scott has always been his own man. I don't understand how you cannot be proud of him. I don't understand how you couldn't see that."

"You know, you keep talking about what's best for Scott. Well, this is what's best for him. And you want to know why? Because it's what he wants. If he wanted to be an accountant, then that would be what's best for him. If he wanted to be a gunfighter, that would be what's best for him. Nobody has the right to tell another man what to do with his life. All you can do is offer him choices and accept the choice he makes. All you can do is let go."

Scott was a proud man at that moment. Proud of his brother's eloquent and obviously heart-felt speech. He only prayed it would make a dent in his grandfather's thick skull.

"Perhaps I could accept his choice, Johnny, if it weren't such a dangerous one," Harlan said stiffly.

"Dangerous? Living is dangerous," Johnny stated.

"One can reduce the amount of danger. One does not have to sleep with the danger. YOU are dangerous to my grandson, Johnny. YOU are my worst fear."

"How dare you? Don't speak to my brother that way."

"It's alright, Scott. I don't think you really believe that. I think it's just your best argument. And it might work if Scott were totally stupid or incapable of taking care of himself. But he isn't either of those things. Don't you think it's time you started treating him like an adult?"

******

Harlan pulled his shoulders back. "Very well. If this is what you truly want, Scotty, I won't ask you again. In fact, this is your last chance. If you don't come home with me, I'll have no choice but to disinherit you."

"Father!" Carl gasped.

Scott smiled sadly. "I am home," he said quietly.

Garrett's face fell as did his head. "Very well. You are no longer my grandson." Taking a deep breath, he turned to his son. "Well, come on. Let's get out of here."

"No, I don't think so. You go ahead," Carl replied coolly.

"They don't want you here either, Carlton. You see, they don't want anyone around who doesn't have Lancer blood running through their veins," he shot.

"Now, that's not true. We just don't want you here," Johnny sneered.

"It doesn't matter, Father. I'm not going to stay but I'm not going with you either. I don't even know you. How can you stand there and throw away the one thing you profess means more than anything to you? You expounded on how much you love Scott. How he's your legacy. How you can't live without him. But, as soon as he defies you, you throw him away." He shook his head. "I had forgotten until witnessing this. I had forgotten that you did the very same thing to me all those years ago. Now, I want nothing to do with YOU."

He turned to his nephew then. "Scott, I deeply regret any pain I have caused you and your family. My memory failed me. It won't fail me again. I will never forget again what my father is really like." Shooting Harlan a disparaging look, Carl stepped out through the French doors and disappeared.

Harlan stared after him for a long moment. His jaw worked steadily as he fought to remain in control. Always in control. He turned and silently moved to retrieve his hat. He walked to the French doors and stopped. Turning back, he took one last long look at his grandson. "Goodbye, Scott." With that, he walked out.

There was a deafening silence in the great room. Three men stood quietly. Murdoch watched his eldest as he worked through what had just transpired. Johnny walked over and sat on the arm of the sofa so he, too, could watch his brother.

Scott stood with his head bowed, his mouth twitching. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. With a whispered "excuse me" he left the house through the front door.

Johnny stared after him, a deep sadness falling over him.

"Maybe you should talk to him, son."

"I will, later. He needs some time alone right now."

Murdoch smiled. "You know him well."

"Sometimes, not always. Right now, I don't know if he's sad or relieved. Probably a little of both."

"Probably. What about you? Are you okay?"

Johnny looked up at him. "Me? I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, Harlan blames you for all of this. It can't have been easy to listen to that."

"I don't pay any attention to what that old man says, Murdoch. It's just that, well, I worry about how Scott feels."

"You know he doesn't feel like you're a danger to him."

"I know. Still, I know hearing all that garbage had to affect him."

*******

Scott walked dazedly over to the corral fence. He could see the dust from Harlan's surrey as it drove away. Shaking his head, he dropped his eyes from the sight. Why couldn't the man understand? Maybe because he didn't want to. He didn't blame his grandfather entirely but he had to lay the brunt of it on the man's shoulders. If not for his offer, Scott's uncle wouldn't have pulled this stunt.

A stunt that may have caused more damage than he could know to his relationship with his brother. Even though he'd apologized and Johnny had accepted, this would be between them for a long time. Not to mention his grandfather's ridiculous accusations. It boggled Scott's mind that the man thought so little of him. A man who had raised him. A man he'd spent many hours having serious conversations with about world issues. A man who didn't really know Scott at all.

He had to wonder if Harlan had ever listened to him. Or had he simply placated Scott? That thought made him even angrier. He slammed his hand against the railing, lowering his head to rest on it. Too much had happened in too short a time. But, that was always how his life had been, it seemed.

At least, since the war. That's when everything had changed for him. His defining moment. Scott smiled wryly at the thought of something so destructive shaping him into the man he now was. Before the war, he'd been destined to work for his grandfather. A fate he had never questioned, nor did it revolt him as the thought now did. He raised his head, resting his chin on his hand.

Since that time, he had been forced to adapt to many changes in his life. Not the least of which was in the living room right now.

Johnny and Murdoch. The two most important people in his life. That thought came so easily to him. Talk about change! Nothing could have prepared him for this. No life lesson could have readied him for meeting his brother.

He thought he had an idea of what kind of man Murdoch was. That idea ended up being false but for some reason, he had adapted to his father easily. Johnny was a whole other matter. Never had Scott tried so hard with another human being. Never had he worked with such determination on a relationship. Never had anything been as important to him. He knew it was the same for his brother. He knew what Johnny had given up. His independence, his freedom, his youthful wildness. He knew it wasn't easy for Johnny to tame himself. But that's exactly what he had done, to a degree. Enough to let Scott into his life. And that was the whole point of doing it, giving up something. Compromise.

He smiled at the thought. When he first met Murdoch, he saw a man unwilling to compromise. That was incorrect as well, he soon found. No one had said the word. No one had asked it of the others. But they had all done it willingly. Scott decided that was a good definition of family. People who cared enough to compromise with one another and who didn't have to be asked to do so.

Harlan Garrett had never compromised in his life that Scott was aware of. The thought of his grandfather soured his mood once more. He was gone from Scott's life. It was a permanent thing. Harlan Garrett did not say anything he didn't mean. Scott knew he meant every word he'd said, including his ranting about Johnny. And there was the crux. It had hurt to hear his grandfather so outwardly hate his brother. To speak those unbelievable accusations. He'd made Scott choose and he hadn't liked the choice. So, in true Garrett fashion, he'd disowned his grandson. Well, so be it.

Scott found a measure of comfort in knowing his father would have never given him that ultimatum. He knew it as well as he knew ..... as well as he knew his family loved him. He would always love his grandfather. Always be grateful for everything the man had done for him. But his heart was here. In this very ground he stood on and in the house behind him. With resolve, Scott stood up straight and proud. He inhaled deeply of the sweet air and turned to rejoin his true family.

*******

He wasn't a patient man. Never had been. He knew it. He also knew there had been times in his life when he'd forced patience upon himself. This was one of those times. This was the hardest time, too. But idle he could not be. Not right now. Not in this circumstance. He had too much pent up anger. Too much energy to be still.

Johnny paced in front of the fireplace, a frown creasing his face. He knew he had to give Scott his time and space. But knowing didn't make it any easier to wait. He listened to the sounds of the house. There weren't any others. Murdoch was in pensive mode. Sitting in his desk chair, staring out that infernal window. The clock ticked loudly. The house creaked and groaned. It was driving him loco.

He had just about decided he needed to hit something. Or maybe shoot something. He glanced at his father in brief consideration then smiled at the ridiculous thought. Shaking himself out of his silliness, he went back to thinking.  

Thinking of how to help Scott through this. The old man had disowned him. No loss as far as he was concerned. But he knew it had hurt his brother deeply. Not for the first time, Johnny wondered what had really happened between Murdoch and Garrett. What had really kept his father away from Scott all those years? He'd gotten no answers with Garrett's first visit. He didn't see anything changing now.

It was Carl who kept coming back into his thoughts. A moral man he wasn't. But maybe that came from having no one who cared about him. Johnny knew all about that. Still, he'd always tried to do the right thing. Well, when he got older anyway. Carl had had many years to do the right thing. Apparently, he hadn't gotten around to it yet. So, Johnny was left wondering if the man had any redeeming qualities. If he was worth Scott's time and effort. More than that, if it was a risk worth taking. He would not stand for his brother being hurt by these Garretts again.

He had sought Scott out initially. Supposedly, wanting to reconnect with his family. Johnny didn't even know if that much was true. But the man had seemed very remorseful when everything was out in the open. He really seemed to feel deep regret for what he'd done to them both. He was too concerned about his brother to tell if Carl was being sincere. At the moment, he didn't care.

How to help his brother was what he needed to be thinking about. This wasn't his area of expertise. Or was it? He stopped pacing and leaned his shoulder against the wall near the mantle. He'd hated Murdoch all his life because he'd supposedly disowned him. It was close enough. Maybe that's how he could help. By sharing how he felt about that and how he'd come to terms with it.

But then, he hadn't really had to. In the end, it had been a lie. A lie he had yet to come to terms with and always pushed from his mind whenever it reared its ugly head. His mother's betrayal had been worse than thinking Murdoch threw them away. So, he hid from it. The mean and deadly Johnny Madrid hid from the truth. Stop it! This ain't helpin Scott!

He turned to ask his father a question when Scott appeared.

******

Murdoch turned his chair and stared at his son as did Johnny. Both waited for Scott to speak first. But he didn't really know what to say. He didn't want to talk about it. He lowered his eyes and stared at the floor.

"Want a drink?" Johnny asked softly.

"Please," he replied in much the same tone.

Johnny poured three glasses and Murdoch walked over near the fire as Scott moved into the room. He handed off the liquor and drained his own glass.

Scott smiled and took a sip.

"Nope, can't do it that way. This ain't a sippin moment. This is a gulping moment," Johnny said, just a hint of a smile threatening.

Scott tilted the contents of the glass into his mouth and swallowed, letting out a sigh. "You're right."

Johnny took his glass and refilled them both. Murdoch waved off a refill, not in the gulping mood himself. The brothers took this round more slowly. A silence covered the room as all three felt awkward.

"Are you alright, Scott?" Murdoch finally asked, knowing it was a lame question.

Scott raised his brows fleetingly. "I don't really know what I am at the moment. Except grateful."

"Grateful?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes, sir. Grateful - to have my family here to support me."

Johnny smiled and stepped over to him. "Bet you're all talked out, huh?"

"I certainly am," Scott sighed tiredly.

"Tomorrow's a brand new day, brother."

Scott's gratitude was palpable as he smiled at Johnny. "Goodnight, then. I'll see you in the morning."

"Goodnight, Scott."

"Goodnight, son."

Scott nodded and walked upstairs, leaving two worried men in his wake.

"Well?" Murdoch asked.

"Well what?"

"Do you have a plan or are you just putting it off?"

Johnny cocked his head to the side and looked up at his father. "Why to I have to have a plan? You're the father."

Murdoch grimaced at this truth. "You would use that, wouldn't you?"

Johnny laughed softly. "Don't worry, Murdoch. He'll be okay."

"How do you know?"

Johnny shrugged. "Because I want him to be. Goodnight," he smiled and went to his room.

*******

Scott skipped breakfast the next morning and was gone before Johnny and Murdoch came downstairs. The look he got from his father was all Johnny needed. In fact, he didn't need that much. He had every intention of talking this out with his brother.

Wrapping some biscuits in a napkin, he proceeded on his trek to find Scott. It didn't take long. As he rode toward the fence line, Johnny couldn't be sure. He would swear though that Scott had strung a good half-mile already. A smile flashed across his lips as he dismounted. When he turned to face his brother, he was all business.

He tossed the napkin without a word. Scott opened it and started eating voraciously.

"Hungry?" he asked wryly.

"A bit."

Johnny grabbed his canteen and sat on the gently rolling hill near the fence line. He waited until Scott joined him before passing off the water.

Scott inhaled the four biscuits and emptied half the canteen. Johnny never spoke during this time.

"Thank you, that was good."

"Welcome. Looks like you've been goin at it pretty hard this morning."

Scott nodded as he surveyed his work. "You said it. Hard work takes your mind off your troubles."

Johnny studied his profile. He had no idea what to say at this moment. So, they sat in silence for several minutes.

"Nothing to say?" Scott finally asked.

"Just waiting for you, brother."

A small smile lit his face. "What's the point? You were there. You know what happened. There's no sense in rehashing."

"Right, no sense at all. Well," Johnny stood up and stretched, "guess I should get some work done myself."

Scott stood and stared at him. "That's it? You aren't even going to try?"

"Do you want me to beat it out of you, Scott? If you want to talk to me, talk. I'm listening."

Scott raised a brow. "Thanks for your concern," he snipped and walked back to his work.

Johnny raised his eyes towards the heavens and sighed. "I thought you didn't like playing games, Scott."

He could see the older man's shoulders tense, but he said nothing and started back to work. Johnny watched for a minute before walking down to him.

******

"Scott," he called softly.

He turned and looked at Johnny. "What?"

Johnny smiled tenderly and took a step forward. He embraced Scott and held him tightly. "It's alright, honey."

Scott jerked and pushed him away and Johnny started laughing hard.

"I'm glad this is all so amusing for you, Johnny."

He sobered quickly but the smile wouldn't leave. "Sorry, I'm just trying to figure out what it is you want me to do. You don't want to start talking but you want me to get you to. You don't want me to beat it, twist it, guilt it or hug it out of you. So, you tell me, brother. How do I get you talking?"

Scott stared at him for a blink. "You didn't try kissing it out of me."

Johnny returned the blank stare. "I think you're gonna have to find someone else for that chore."

For a fraction of a second, they held the stare before both burst out laughing. They fell to the ground, laughing hysterically for long moments. Finally, both men calmed down and wiped their eyes.

Scott snickered a couple of more times then his expression saddened. "I just wish I could understand what drives a man to such lengths."

"Power."

Scott looked up quizzically.

"Men like Garrett are used to getting what they want. They don't much care how they go about it. Oh, they work within the law, but barely. It's a drug, Scott. As bad as opium and as destructive in the end. Because they always end up the same. Alone. It's sad but it's their own doing. Nothing you could do or say can change it. That's just how they are."

"But, people can change."

"Sure, if they want to. If they're willing to give. You have to be willing to give up something in return. It has to be more important than what you already have or think you have." He shook his head. "Blood. Family can be the greatest thing in the world. It can also destroy you. No one can hurt you as bad as family. No one can love you as much either. But it's give and take and some people can't give. All they know how to do is take. That's their definition of love. Control and power."

Scott pondered these insights. "How did you get so smart?"

Johnny shrugged. "Living and watching, I guess. I've seen the very best and very worst of people, Scott. It teaches you some hard lessons if you're willin to learn them."

"I've seen the best and worst, too. I don't think I've learned a thing," he sighed despondently.

"Yes, you have. It's only when you're too close that you can't see. Thing with you is, you always try to see the good in people. Even when there's none there to see. You think everyone has the potential for good. But they don't, Scott."

"That's pretty cynical, isn't it?"

"Maybe. But, it's the truth. I've seen evil. I know it's out there," he shrugged and a darkness fell over him.

*******

Scott shuddered a little, feeling a coldness envelope him. Johnny's sudden change in demeanor left him wondering what kind of evil his brother had witnessed or been trapped in.

Just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. Johnny looked up and smiled brightly. "So, did that help?"

Scott, stunned by the sudden change, had to blink twice. "It did. Thanks, brother."

"Anytime. Now, I really should get to that creek bed. Murdoch will have my head if it floods," he laughed and stood.

Scott joined him, laying a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Thanks again. It really did help."

"Sure. Get to work. I expect you'll have this pasture fenced in and the cattle grazing before the end of the day."

Scott laughed and hoped he wasn't serious. He no longer felt the need to break his back working. He watched Johnny gallop away with a renewed sense of belonging. And, maybe, even some understanding of what drove his grandfather.

Maybe some time and distance would help the older man see what he'd done. Maybe he would even regret his proclamation of disowning Scott. He could care less about inheritances and such nonsense. What he hated to lose was the bond he'd had with his grandfather all his life. He couldn't help feeling the loss. For all Harlan had tried to do, Scott loved the old man. He was his only family for twenty-four years.

He'd seen him through his first day of school. His graduation from Harvard. He'd helped him through returning from Libby. He'd been kind and understanding and worried. Scott had seen it, known it was genuine. He was beginning to wonder if Harlan wasn't afraid. Johnny said men like that ended up alone. Maybe his grandfather was afraid of being alone.

It had always bothered him that he'd left the man to that huge house. He'd even pictured him rambling the hallways, the epitome of sadness. It had always hurt that he'd been the cause of the painful expression on Harlan's face the day he'd left for California.

Truth be known, Scott had almost given in. Almost changed his mind about coming here. That would have been a true tragedy. For he had gained so much in the journey. He hadn't really expected to stay. He never expected the offer from Murdoch. That had been a complete surprise but a most welcome one.

For as soon as he'd left Boston station, Scott had begun to feel a freedom he had never known before. A sense of a new beginning in his life. One he desperately needed. He hadn't bargained on gaining a brother but that was the best part. The most challenging, the hardest, but the very best.

******

Johnny went straight to work in the dry gulch. He knew it wouldn't be long before the spring rains came and flooded out the wash. Well, it's better than some jobs, he thought. He smiled as he thought about Scott. He'd gotten him pretty good with that hug. He laughed a little as he dragged a tree limb out of the gulch.

As he dropped it on the ground, he went to one knee with it. That's when he heard it. The unmistakable sound of a hammer pulled back. Johnny turned slowly and looked up the hill. The sun was in his eyes and he squinted at the form standing there.

He stood up slowly, hands out to his sides. He was breathing hard from his labors and he licked his lips.

"Hello, Johnny."

"Harlan. What brings you way out here?" he asked amicably.

"You do, of course," he answered just as friendly.

Johnny noted the Colt in his hand and felt a tension build inside. He glanced past Garrett at Barranca and saw the empty holster.

"I thought it poetic that you die by your own gun. Just as you've lived," Garrett smiled.

"Never pegged you for the poetic type," Johnny retorted.

Garrett laughed a little. "No, I suppose not. But, how about an actor? Don't you think my performance last night was admirable?"

Johnny frowned. "Performance?"

"Of course! You didn't really think I would disown Scotty, did you?"

"He sure did."

Garrett laughed boisterously at this. "You think so, do you? Come now, Johnny. Scotty always told me you were much smarter than I gave you credit for. Don't disappoint me."

Seeing the look of total confusion on Johnny's face, he went on. "I thought Scotty performed very well himself. Tell me, how did the 'talk' go this morning? Did you convince him I was simply evil and he shouldn't feel bad? Was he feeling so much better when you left him? Did you revel in being able to make him feel all better?" he threw the questions snidely.

A smile curled up Johnny's lips. He put his hands on his hips and watched the man. "If you think I'm gonna believe that load of bull, you really have gone over the edge."

"It doesn't really matter what you believe. It never did. It was Scotty's idea to play you. He thought it would be quiet funny.   I must admit, he was right. And Murdoch! How he went on about my Catherine! Oh, that was priceless. Of course, Carlton played right into it as well."

"Uh huh. And the point would have been?" Johnny asked, knowing he was lying.

"To show you what a fool you've been. And, to exact some revenge on Murdoch. Haven't you ever wondered why Scotty hasn't asked him about the past? Why he wouldn't wonder why Murdoch stayed away? Do you really think a man like Scott would let something that heinous go?"

There was truth in there somewhere and Johnny dropped his eyes for a second.

"You see, we've planned this all out perfectly. Scott couldn't believe our good fortune when Murdoch offered that partnership."

******

"And your last visit was .... what?" Johnny had to ask.

"A ploy. A decoy, if you will. A way to make you all feel nice and secure in your relationship. It worked beautifully, I must say."

"You realize I don't believe a word of this," Johnny shot.

"I didn't expect you to; at first. Scotty has written to me about you. How you've opened up to him. How you trust him with your life. It was all quite amusing. He got a great laugh from it. He said there were times when he wasn't sure he could keep a straight face. How you would go on about your childhood. About your miserable existence. I must admit, while Scotty found it humorous, I found it quite boring."

"Sorry, if I'd known, I would have made it juicier for you," he retorted.

"The best part was making a fool of you. The great Johnny Madrid. Taken in by an eastern dandy," he laughed heartily.   

Johnny was tiring of the charade. "So, now what's the plan?"

"Why to kill you of course. You've served your purpose but now, well, you are just in the way."

"In the way of what?"

"Our true goal. To destroy Murdoch. This will be the beginning. He'll be grief-stricken at your passing. It will be the perfect time to move in and destroy Lancer once and for all!"

"Whatever you're planning, Scott won't let you get away with it."

Harlan gave a patronizing sigh. "You refuse to believe. Well, it doesn't matter. Scotty and I will prevail. We will crush Lancer. Wipe it from the face of the earth. There will be nothing and no one left to even continue the name. It's been an exhausting trial, I must say. That's what happens when you rely on others to do the work for you. I was most disappointed in Pardee. Had he triumphed, none of this would be necessary. You would be dead from that firing squad; Murdoch would be dead as well. And Scotty would not have had to endure this miserable place for so long. Well, he's been a good sport about it, though."

Johnny's anger reached boiling point and he took two steps toward Harlan before being stopped by the gun pointed at him. "You hired Pardee?" he seethed.

"Of course I did, boy! I promised him Lancer in return for killing Murdoch. Of course, he botched the job as we both know. Don't you think it was odd? He had the drop on Scott but didn't pull the trigger. You really thought you saved Scotty's life," he laughed again.

Johnny shook his head slowly. The man was totally deranged. His mind whirled, trying to figure his best chance. Garrett couldn't be much of a shot but he wasn't going to count on that. His eyes scanned his surroundings. The only cover was the tree limb he'd just dragged off and a sapling; pitiful relief.

"Trying to figure an escape? Looking for some cover? There isn't any. No, Johnny, you will die today. Right here, right now," he said and squeezed the trigger.

"Father!"

Harlan's hand twitched as he whirled toward the sound. The bullet skipped the dirt an inch from Johnny's foot.

He took the opportunity to make a run for a small sapling twenty yards away. Harlan turned back and fired again. Johnny hit the dirt, rolling a few feet before coming to a stop.

Carlton moved to his father just as Harlan squeezed the trigger again. Slapping his hand down and grabbing hold, the two men grappled for the weapon. Carl finally wrenched it free and staggered back a few steps as he stared in horror at the older man.

"What is wrong with you?" he gasped.

Harlan looked over his son's shoulder and smiled wickedly. Carlton turned and saw Johnny lying on the ground unmoving. He ran down the hill to check the man. Harlan retreated, disappearing over the rise.

Carl barely registered the surrey driving away as he slowly turned Johnny off his left side onto his back. "Johnny?" he called, taking his wrist and feeling for a pulse.

Johnny's eyes fluttered then opened. He bolted up and looked around.

"Easy, easy. He's gone. Are you hurt?" Carl asked, checking the young man over.

"Shoulder," Johnny whispered, then looked down. He saw his gun still in Carl's hand and grabbed it before the other man knew what was happening. "That's mine!"

"Okay, okay. It's all right, Johnny. We need to get you home and looked after. Can you ride?"

"Yeah, I can ride. Just help me to my feet," he said, a grunt escaping as he started to rise.

Carl grabbed him around the waist and steadied him while Johnny weaved a bit. After a moment, a shrill whistle emitted from Johnny and Barranca moved toward them.

Carl helped him into the saddle. "My horse is over the hill. Wait for me, okay?"

Johnny only nodded as he held tight to the reins. He was pretty sure he wasn't going anywhere alone right now. He felt like he wasn't going to be in the saddle very long anyway.

Carl reappeared and noted Johnny's pallor had grown. He grabbed Barranca's lead rein and moved off at a slow gait. He chattered incessantly as they traveled. Desperate to keep Johnny conscious. He had to reach over more than once and grab the younger man's arm to keep him mounted. With great relief, he spotted the white arch and picked up the pace just a bit.

******

Scott rode into the yard that afternoon feeling much better than when he'd left. He smiled as he walked his horse into the barn. Noting Barranca was not in his stall, his smile was replaced by a frown. Now, where was Johnny? He should have been done long before now.

Shrugging, he figured his brother would be along soon. He took care of his horse and walked toward the house. He heard his name being shouted and turned toward the road. Scott stood perplexed as he saw Carl and Johnny together. Confusion was replaced with worry as he saw Johnny slump over and Carl grab hold of him.

Scott shouted for his father then took off running to the two men. He grabbed Johnny and slid him out of the saddle. He felt the sticky fluid on his hand as he touched Johnny's left shoulder. Carl dismounted and took Johnny's other side as they half walked, half carried the injured man to the house.

Murdoch held the door open as they passed through then took Carl's position and helped his sons. They got Johnny in bed and sent for the doctor then began tending to the man. Neither spoke much as they did what they could for Johnny.

Once the bandages were applied, they could only wait for Sam. Scott and Murdoch headed downstairs to speak with Carl.

"What happened?" Murdoch demanded practically before getting into the living room.

Carl turned to face them. "How is he?"

"He's unconscious and bleeding!" Murdoch shot.

"What happened?" Scott repeated the question.

Carl stared at him then swallowed hard. "Father shot him."

"I'm sorry? What did you say?" Scott asked, leaning forward, certain he'd heard wrong.

"Father shot him, Scott. I saw it. I stopped him from shooting Johnny again. I took the gun from him."

"Where did this happen?" Murdoch asked.

"Johnny was clearing out a dry creek bed, I guess. Father had his gun. I'm not sure of the details. I was riding out here when I saw the surrey. I recognized it as the one Father had rented so I went to see what he was doing. I heard their voices and walked over the hill. Father was standing above Johnny with a gun aimed at him. He pulled the trigger as I called out to him. I guess I startled his aim because he missed. Johnny went for cover but before I could get to Father, he fired again and hit Johnny. I was able to knock his arm down as the third shot went off and get the gun from him."

Murdoch stared incredulously at Carlton. "Where is he?" he ground out.

"I don't know. I went to help Johnny. I heard him ride off but I don't know where he went."

Murdoch sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He turned to speak to Scott but all he saw was the front door slamming shut.

******

Scott Lancer strode purposefully to the barn. He saddled his horse and walked back out to a waiting Murdoch.

"Don't try to stop me," Scott stated.

"Stop you from what? Where are you going?"

"After him! He has to pay for this, Murdoch!"

"Scott, calm down. He will pay. Let the law handle it, son," Murdoch spoke gently.

"I'll let Gabe know but I am going to find him myself," Scott stood his ground.

"And what? What will you do when you find him? IF you find him? Turn him in? Scott, please let Gabe do this."

"I appreciate your concern, sir, but it isn't necessary. Any feelings I had for Harlan Garrett died in that living room a few minutes ago."

Murdoch shook his head slowly. "I can't believe that, son. Yes, you're angry with him, as you should be. And right now you may even hate him. But Scott, Johnny wouldn't want you to do this. He needs you here, son."

Scott's jaw twitched as his eyes flashed with anger. "That isn't fair. Using Johnny to keep me here."

"Maybe not. But if it works, I'll use it."

"Why are you so determined to let him get away with this?!"

"I'm not!" Murdoch shouted. "I don't want YOU to take him in. Don't you see, Scott? You'll regret this. It will eat at you for the rest of your life. Let Gabe do his job. Your job is here, taking care of your brother."

"If I had taken care of my brother in the first place, this wouldn't have happened," Scott spat and mounted his horse. "Don't try to stop me," he added in a cold voice. Kicking his heels, he galloped out of the yard.

Murdoch watched him ride off, knowing this was a mistake yet unable to stop it. Johnny needed him here. He sighed and turned toward the house, finding Carl watching.

"I'll go after him. Scott won't have to do this, Mr. Lancer. I'll be the one to take my father to the law." He walked past Murdoch and mounted up. Looking back down at the rancher, he spoke again. "I'm sorry. I'll pray for Johnny."

******

Sam arrived and removed the bullet. There was a lot of bleeding but not life threatening and Johnny would recover. Murdoch said a prayer of thanks and went to sit with his son.

"Where's Scott?"

Murdoch's head jerked up as he met the blue eyes of his second born. "I didn't know you were awake."

"You gonna answer me?"

"He and Carl went after Harlan," Murdoch sighed. "Can you tell me what happened?"

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed. He felt very tired but he had to tell his father what happened.

"I was clearing the creek bed. I took my gunbelt off and hooked it on the saddle. Didn't think a thing about it. All the sudden, he was standing on the hillside with my gun." He swallowed hard. "He started spoutin all this stuff about how he and Scott were in on it together. How they'd planned it all out before Scott ever came here. That he'd gotten us to trust him so he could destroy Lancer."

"What rubbish!" Murdoch grumbled.

"Yeah. I told him I didn't believe him but he didn't care. He kept up the lies all the way through. He might have even believed it himself. He's loco enough.   He said it was a shame that Pardee had messed up cause Scott had to come out here. He said he hired Pardee. I don't know if I believe that either. Anyway, he was just talkin away then all the sudden he fired. But then Carl was there yelling to him. Guess that rattled him cause he missed."

"Carl told us the rest of it."

"Wish he hadn't. Least not Scott. He must be really upset."

"He's livid. Said he was going to bring Harlan in himself." Murdoch closed his eyes for a second. He was seething with no place to vent. "So, he shot you with your own gun."

"Yeah, that part really pissed me off."

Murdoch smiled a little. "Get some rest, son. Sam said you'd be fine."

"I am tired but I want to see Scott as soon as he gets home," he sighed and closed his eyes.

*******

Scott stormed into the house, Carl on his heels looking grim. Murdoch was walking out of the kitchen and he didn't like what he saw.

"What happened?"

"He's gone!" Scott said and threw his hat on the table in frustration.

"We think he got to the train in Cross Creek. The sheriff is sending out wires to all the stops but it doesn't look good. He said he'd need a statement from Johnny then he'd contact the State's Attorney," Carl explained.

"How is Johnny?" Scott asked.

"He'll recover. He wants to see you," Murdoch replied.

"He's awake?"

"I don't know. He wasn't a few minutes ago but he wanted to see you as soon as you got back," he explained.

Scott slumped his shoulders. "You told him where I went."

"Yes, I did. He was curious as to why his brother didn't hang around to see if he'd live or not," Murdoch grumbled.

Scott glared at him. "I'm sure he'll understand," he flashed and stomped upstairs.

"He's got Catherine's temper. A very long fuse but packed with TNT when it does ignite," Carl said.

Murdoch thought about this and realized it was true. His words to his second son flitted through his mind. 'You've got your mother's temper." Murdoch sighed and sat down. "There's food on the stove of you're hungry."

"Thank you. I could use a bite. Scott could too if he'd stop long enough to realize it."

"Johnny will settle him down. He always does."

Carl nodded, feeling the pang of his guilt once more. He said nothing and went to the kitchen.

*****

Scott slipped quietly into the room and stood by the window, staring at nothing. He leaned his slender frame against the wall and sighed softly.

Johnny studied him for a long moment. "Holdin up the wall?" he asked softly.

Scott looked up at him and smiled weakly. Pushing himself off, he walked over and sat next to the bed. "I'm sorry, brother."

"Nothing to be sorry about."

"Yes, there is. Plenty. If it weren't for me....."

"If it weren't for you, I'd be in Mexico or somewhere near it. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have a home and a family."

"What are you talking about?"

"Scott, when I came here, it was for the money. That's all. I didn't want anything to do with Murdoch and you know why. Even after Teresa told me the truth, it was still hard. Hell, it still is hard getting along with him sometimes. I stayed because of you. Because you're my brother and I wanted to know you. So, you see, if it weren't for you, I'd still be a gunfighter or dead."

Scott stared into the blue eyes and saw the truth of it. Still, his own guilt felt like a crushing weight on his chest. "I'm glad, very glad you stayed, brother. But, that doesn't mean you have to take my grandfather's wrath. It doesn't mean you deserve what happened."

"Never said I did. I'm just saying it's not your fault. Look, we made a pact, you and me. We said we'd have each other's back - always. Whatever came along from my past or yours, we'd stick together. Ain't that right?"

"Yes, that's right."

"So, why is it okay for you but not for me? You've been through a lot because of Madrid. Never once did you blame me for it. I have no reason to blame you for this. It really is that simple, Scott," he said, placing a hand on his brother's arm.

Scott smiled. "It's all black and white for you."

"No, that's not true. But this is. This is real simple. Right and wrong. A man has the right to make his own decisions. To live where he wants. Ain't that what you fought for, Scott? Freedom?"

Scott nodded his head. "Yes, that is exactly what I fought for. Thanks, brother. I guess I needed a reminder."

"You're too close to it. Hard to see the whole picture up close. I know what that's like. I never did like Garrett. Now, I hate his guts. But, that's got nothing to do with you. That's between him and me." Johnny laid his head back against the pillows and sighed lightly.

"You should rest now."

*****

Johnny was up and about two days later. He spent most of his time downstairs. Either in the living room or on the porch watching the ranch at work. He was feeling that growing sense of restlessness. He knew it wouldn't be much longer before he'd buck. It wasn't something he could really control. He knew none of them understood that. They all thought he just had to make himself take it easy.

But Johnny was not one to sit on his laurels. No matter what he was doing, he simply had to be 'doing' it. Sitting on the veranda, feeling the sun warm his entire being, his fingers drummed the armrest. Eyes closed, a smile graced his lips.

"Come on out."

"Well, I'm glad to see your instincts are intact," Murdoch chuckled as he walked on out the French doors and took a seat.

"I'm gettin that feelin," Johnny warned.

"I know. I can see it. You're restless."

He opened his eyes and looked over at his father, the smile still there. "You're getting to know me pretty well."

"Yes, I guess I am," Murdoch said, returning the look and the smile. He laid a hand on Johnny's arm and squeezed lightly.

It was all that was needed between them. A simple gesture that spoke volumes. Men didn't say the words. Their actions showed their feelings. How they interacted meant more than anything they could speak. A touch and a smile replaced those three words. And it was all right. It was understood.

"Sam should be here soon. I'm sure he'll let you start doing some light chores."

Johnny laughed at this. "Light chores? What would that be?"

The rancher's eyebrows went up. "Well, I don't have a clue," he laughed.

"You two look relaxed," Scott smiled as he approached. "Having a nice day?"

"Yep. It's a real nice day, brother."

Scott joined them, pulling off his work gloves and wiping his brow. "It's a bit warmer when you're actually *working*."

Johnny's retort was left unsaid as they all watched the rider approach. All stomachs tightened as Gabe walked over.

He didn't bother too much with pleasantries. He started right in. "State's Attorney is contacting the Boston Police. An arrest warrant has been issued for Garrett."

No one replied. There was nothing to say.

"I expect it'll take about two weeks to get him back here. Maybe longer if his lawyers can help it," Gabe went on.

"He has the best attorneys. I'm sure they'll drag it out as long as possible," Scott commented flatly.

"Unless he runs," Johnny stated.

All three men looked at him in surprise. The thought not having occurred to anyone else yet.

Walter Johnson stepped off the stage in Morro Coyo and attempted to brush the dust from his well-tailored suit. He looked around and almost shivered. He was not used to these small towns. He'd been born and raised in San Francisco before moving to Sacramento to take the job of assistant to the State's Attorney.

He'd discovered some unpleasant tasks went along with that position. This had to be one of the more unpleasant ones. Traveling to places like this to interview witnesses made him rethink a position in government. Sighing, he decided there wasn't anything he could do about it. He was here now so he may as well get started.

After securing a hotel room, he headed for the sheriff's office. Gabe greeted the man and, after an hour of conversation, procured a surrey to drive him to Lancer.

"Tell me about the victim, sheriff," he said as they drove.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what sort of man is he?"

Gabe hesitated long enough that Johnson turned to watch him.

"Well, Johnny's a good man. He's fair and honest. Hard-worker. He's real ..... protective of his family."

Johnson nodded. "Sounds like a good witness."

"Yeah, he don't lie," Gabe said, wondering if he should tell the man everything. Deciding it wasn't his place, he dropped the subject.

"Oh, my. I certainly didn't expect this," Johnson stated as the hacienda came into view.

"The Lancers are well to do by our standards. Got a big spread, lot of cattle."

Johnson relaxed. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all.

As they drove up, a tall man appeared. "Who's that?"

"Murdoch Lancer. Johnny's father," Gabe answered and waved at the rancher.

******

Murdoch escorted the men into the living room where Johnny and Scott were playing checkers. Both young men rose.

Johnson walked over with hand extended. "Mr. Lancer, I'm Walter Johnson from the State's Attorney's office. I'm here to talk to you about your testimony."

Scott shook hands with the man but had a confused look on his face. "It's a pleasure, Mr. Johnson. But, I'm Scott. This is my brother, Johnny," he clarified.

Johnson flushed. "Oh, I'm sorry."

"Please, sit down," Scott said graciously. He shot his brother a shrug and Johnny grinned.

"Well now, I suppose we should get started," Johnson said.

"Would you like some lemonade, Mr. Johnson?" Murdoch asked.

"That would be very nice, thank you. I'm afraid the ride was quite dusty," he smiled. Turning to Johnny he took a closer look. "I must say, you look quite healthy, Mr. Lancer."

"First off, call me Johnny. Too many Mr. Lancers around here. Second, it happened almost two weeks ago."

"I see. Well, Johnny, why don't you just tell me exactly what did happen."

Johnny sat back and studied the man. He couldn't be more than twenty-five. Small-framed with sandy blond hair and what Johnny assumed he called a moustache. It reminded him of a kid just starting to need to shave. Wasn't much to it.

"Where do you want me to start? It's a long story," he asked.

"I'll need to know everything," he answered, taking out a pad of paper and pencil.

Johnny's eyes lit up. "You'll need more paper than that."

Two hours later, Johnson was alternately massaging his cramped hand and wiping his brow with his kerchief. After the fourth lemonade, he asked. "Is that everything?"

Johnny cocked a brow. "No. Can you stand anymore?"

"I'm not sure I can, Johnny. Perhaps we should stop for the day."

"I think that's a good idea. Mr. Johnson, would you like to stay the night?" Murdoch asked as he rose and stretched his legs.

"No, thank you. I have a hotel room. I'm quite sure the sheriff would like to get back now."

"Don't worry about Gabe. He could spend the whole day talking to Teresa," Scott smiled.

******

Once the company had left, Scott turned quiet. Johnny watched him as he had been doing through the whole meeting.

"I'm alright," he said softly without looking up.

"Sure," Johnny said.

"He just told me the State's Attorney thinks Harlan's lawyer will ask for a change of venue. Most likely to Sacramento," Murdoch interrupted.

"Makes sense. He won't want it in our back yard, so to speak," Scott commented.

"Well, that's just great!" Johnny stood and started pacing. "I'm the one that got shot but we have to go all the way to Sacramento cause it's better for him?!"

"Settle down, son."

"You settle down!" he shouted as he turned. Johnny dropped his head and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I don't know what's the matter with me," he said quietly.

"This is going to be a strain on all of us. We need to try and stay as calm as we can," Murdoch said.

Scott stood and walked over to his brother. "Don't start feeling guilty about this, Johnny. Don't worry about me. I'm fine. Really. This has to happen. He can't get away with almost taking you away from me; from us."

Johnny nodded and looked up with a sheepish grin. "Might need you to hold a tight rein on me, brother."

"I've got you, brother," Scott smiled softly.

Johnson returned to the ranch the following day. More prepared than he had been. He thought he was ready to hear anything. He was wrong. By the time Johnny finished telling him the condensed version of the Lancer family, the man was quite sure he would be seeking employment elsewhere. He didn't want to be around for this trial. He left for the state capital with a growing unease. He knew if Garrett had a lawyer worth his salt, this would get ugly.

*****

Four days later, Gabe rode out to the ranch. He dismounted and approached the door. Rapping quickly, he sucked in a breath. Scott answered and noted the sour expression on the lawman's face. His stomach turned. This wasn't good.

"Gabe, what brings you out here?" Murdoch asked as he and Scott stepped into the living room.

Gabe nodded and scanned the room. "Is Johnny here?"

"He's in the kitchen. I'll get him," Scott said.

Murdoch studied the sheriff's face. "Sit down, Gabe. Can I get you anything?"

"No, thanks, Mr. Lancer. I'd like to just get this done."

Before Murdoch could ask what he meant, Scott and Johnny walked in followed by Carl.

"What's wrong?" Johnny asked immediately.

"Well, Garrett's gone."

"Gone? What do you mean, gone?" Scott asked.

"He boarded a ship for England four days ago," Gabe explained.

Scott stared at the man, trying to digest the information.

Johnny sat down on the arm of a chair and slumped his shoulders. "Well, that's it then."

"Guess so. State's Attorney said there's nothing he can do unless or until Garrett comes back."

Johnny laughed softly, then more loudly as he stood and paced away.

"What's so funny?" Murdoch asked, a bit irritated.

"Oh, I was just picturing ole Harlan sneakin around the back alleys of Boston. Working his way to the docks for his great escape," he answered with a light in his eyes Murdoch hadn't seen for a while.

He had to smile at his son's sense of humor. "I'm sure he rode right up in a fancy carriage, not a care in the world," he retorted.

"Yeah, probably."

"How can you two joke about this? He got away!" Scott exclaimed. His tone effectively wiped the smiles away.

*****

"Look at it this way, brother. Now we don't have to go to Sacramento," Johnny shrugged.

"He's getting away with almost killing you, Johnny. How can you be so glib?" Scott shot.

Johnny looked hard at his brother. It seemed to him Scott wanted vengeance. "He's not the first to get away with that, Scott. He's on the run. He can't come back. He gave up everything."

"Don't think for one minute he won't be living in style. My grandfather wouldn't live any other way."

Gabe cleared his throat, reminding them all he was still there. "The, uh, Boston police said he transferred most of his money to the Bank of London."

Scott threw his arms in the air. "Of course he did."

"What do you want to do, Scott? Go over there and drag him back?" Johnny asked.

"Yes! That is exactly what I want to do!"

"Alright, boys. Let's settle down. There's nothing we can do unless he comes back," Murdoch said calmly.

"What is the statute of limitations on attempted murder, Gabe?" Scott asked, trying to control his volume.

"There isn't one. Any crime punishable by death or life in prison has no statute of limitation," he explained.  

"Well, I guess we won't be seein him again, then," Johnny mumbled.

"Well, I'll be headin back now. If I hear anything, I'll let ya know," Gabe said as he made his way to the door.

"Thanks for coming out, Gabe," Murdoch said.

The sheriff nodded, sure that thanks wasn't exactly heartfelt. But he understood.

******

Scott paced in front of the fireplace and Johnny watched the myriad of expressions that crossed the handsome face. Most substantially was anger. He looked to his father who was also watching his elder son.

"Scott, would you like to get this off your chest?" Murdoch asked.

He stopped and turned to face them both. "Get what off my chest?"

"Don't be glib, son."

"What do you want me to say, Murdoch? I'm angry and disappointed," he shot.

"And hurt?" Murdoch offered.

Scott stared at him for a beat then turned away. Murdoch approached him, laying a hand on his arm.

"Son, talk to us."

"There's nothing to say. I don't even know him anymore," he said softly. "That is not the man that raised me, Murdoch. That's not the man with whom I spent most of my life."

Carl listened to the conversation, wanting so much to set Scott straight on a few things. But, he didn't feel it was his place. Not right now, anyway.

"People change, son. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. We may never know what drove Harlan to these lengths."

Scott turned then, fire shooting from his eyes. "I know. Power. Pure and simple power. He needs to control me. He wasn't able to control either of his children and he hates to lose at anything!"

Murdoch sighed, knowing there was truth there. "When I first met him, he was arrogant. I wasn't good enough for Catherine. I doubt anyone would have been. But he gave into her and stopped fighting us seeing each other. He was almost pleasant to me when we announced our engagement."

Scott snorted lightly. "I'm surprised he didn't try to pay you off."

Murdoch dropped his eyes and turned aside.

"He did, didn't he?" Scott asked flatly.

Murdoch could only nod.

Scott closed his eyes and shook his head. "I must have been deaf and blind. He is the same man I just never wanted to see it, I guess."

"He was good to you. He loves you."

"No, Sir. He does not. If he loved me, he would let me go," Scott stated firmly.

"This is a lot to deal with, son. I hope you can come to terms with everything you've learned. I never wanted you to hate your grandfather. I truly believe, in his own way, Harlan loves you."

"His way is sick and twisted. I don't need nor want that kind of love," Scott said, his voice hitching now. With a shaky sigh, he added, "I'm going for a walk."

******

Neither of them said anything as he walked out the door. Johnny had taken a seat on the arm of the sofa as he listened to his father and brother. Carl slipped back into the kitchen silently, feeling like an intruder.

"That was nice," he commented.

"I only hope it helped," Murdoch mumbled.

"He'll be okay. Just gonna take some time."

Murdoch looked at him then. "What about you, son?"

"Me? I'm fine," Johnny shrugged.

"I don't believe that for a minute."

"Ain't my grandfather," he said nonchalantly.

"No, but he hurt your brother and you," Murdoch countered.

"Look, I never did like the old goat. Nothing new there. Yeah, I'm mad as hell for what he put us both through. All of us. But, there's nothing I can do about it now."

"What about you and Scott? That whole mess about Kansas hasn't been resolved."

Johnny sighed. "I guess we've had other things on our minds. Best to leave it be."

Murdoch shook his head slowly. "No, son. You have to deal with it eventually. It will always be there, between you like a silent plague. Growing and building until it wreaks havoc in your relationship."

Johnny looked up at him and smiled. "Think you're pretty smart, don't ya?"

Murdoch chuckled. "Some days. Others, I don't think I have a clue what I'm doing."

Johnny opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by Jelly running in. "One of ya best come to the tack room. Scott's gone plumb loco!" he exclaimed.

******

Johnny stood in the doorway and watched as his brother threw tools and leather about. There didn't seem to be any pattern to the melee and it amused him to see this side of Scott. That amusement didn't last long. He knew his brother was deeply hurt by all that had transpired. He wished he had some magic cure.

"I hope you know who's gonna be cleaning that up," he said softly between the noise of flying objects.

Scott whirled around, drawing his gun.

Johnny threw his hands up in the air. "Whoa, brother!"

Scott's eyes were wild with anger and he breathed heavily as he stared at Johnny for a second. He replaced the pistol and stood there.

"Leave me alone," he finally breathed.

"Sure thing. Only, could you find something else to destroy? That old shack up by the east pasture needs to be torn down. You could go do that."

Scott looked at him as if he were mad. "Don't worry about it!"

"Not worried. Just don't want a lot of good tools ruined," he shrugged.

"Fine! I'll find someplace where I won't disturb you or cost the ranch a dime!" he spat and headed to the barn.

Johnny sighed and followed, watching as he saddled Remmie roughly.

"What did the horse do? Or is he not worth anything?" he asked.

Scott turned, fuming. "Johnny, in case you hadn't noticed, I don't want to talk!"

"I noticed and that's fine. But if you don't slow down, you're gonna hurt yourself or someone else. Is that what you want?"

"What I want, if anyone cares, is to be left alone!"

Johnny raised his hands in defeat. Without another word, he walked out of the barn.

Before he could get back to the house, Scott galloped out of the barn at full speed.

"Where's he going?' Murdoch asked.

"I don't know. Just hope it's somewhere he can't hurt himself."

"He wouldn't talk to you?"

"Nope. Yelled but he wouldn't talk."

"Maybe one of us should go after him," Murdoch thought aloud.

"Leave him be, Murdoch. Give him time to cool off."

******

Scott rode hard all the way to the east pasture. He finally reined in when he reached the dilapidated shack. Dismounting, he felt guilt wash over him. Remmie was lathered and breathing heavily.

"I'm sorry, boy. Come on, let's get you some water then I'll clean you up," he whispered.

Scott watered the animal then rubbed him down, leaving him ground-tied in the tall grass under a tree. He walked around the shack, inspecting it. "Johnny was right. It needs to come down," he said to himself.

He walked over to the lean-to used for a stable and found and axe and sledgehammer. He went to work with a fervor. Breaking windows, tearing down walls. He went at it for three solid hours before he finally stopped, exhausted.

Stumbling to the creek, he kneeled down and simply stuck his head in the cool water. Coming up for air, he shook the excess away and sat down heavily. Scott drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin. He stared out at the scenery before him. The beauty he had come to love so very early on.

It hadn't taken long at all to appreciate the land. Especially with Murdoch's obvious love and devotion spilling over him every day. Johnny's seemingly inborn appreciation for all things in nature complimented his own sense of the importance of the land. He had seen it raped of its beauty in war. He knew how devastating that loss could be to those who depended on it for their very existence.

Now, he too depended on the land. He had gained a strong appreciation during the war, strengthened even more when he came here. His grandfather never understood that. He recalled conversations they'd had after he returned from Libby about the scars left on the land. Harlan had dismissed it out of hand. Saying there was plenty of land. But there wasn't. There was only a limited amount in this world and they couldn't grow more certainly.

Scott sighed loudly as he remembered those and other conversations with his grandfather. It seemed as he grew older they didn't agree on much. His views of the world had been changed during the war and at Harvard. He'd become more aware, he supposed. No longer did his world only include Boston society. He'd seen death and destruction. He'd learned about bravery and cowardice. Most of all, he'd grown into his own moral values and principles. Things he believed in completely and would fight for.

Things like freedom and justice. Not the law necessarily. He'd learned, too, that justice and law were not always the same. Sometimes, they were totally opposite. Sometimes, the law was just plain wrong. Slavery had been legal; it was also wrong. Using the law to take a man's property was legal; it was also wrong.

When had his grandfather become so cold and unfeeling? Had he always been that way and Scott just never saw it. Maybe hadn't wanted to see it. He didn't understand the man's thought processes. How he could deem taking a life to gain what he wanted was beyond Scott.

He didn't know and thinking about it gave him a headache. He knew two things only right now. He was starving and he had no provisions. Gruntingly, he got to his feet and walked to Remmie. He mounted up and headed for home no closer to any answers than when he'd left.

Maybe there were no answers. Maybe it was what it was, as Johnny would say. He knew he needed to talk to his brother. He was not looking forward to that conversation. Mainly because he didn't know how it would end or how he really felt about this whole debacle. He rode under the arch with a heaviness in his heart. He wondered if it would ever go away.

Scott entered the foyer and removed his hat and gloves, then his gunbelt, before stepping into the great room. The smells hit him and his stomach grumbled. Johnny was there, waiting by the fireplace.

"Hey."

"Hi."

"Have any luck with that shack?" Johnny asked, a smile dancing in his eyes.

Scott returned a small smile of his own. "We'll need a wagon to move out the debris."

Johnny nodded. "Hungry?"

"Yes, I am."

"Come on. Maria held supper."

"Where's Murdoch?" Scott asked.

"In the kitchen. Probably snatching a cookie. You know his stomach runs on its own clock," Johnny laughed.

"Sorry. You shouldn't have waited."

"No big deal, brother," Johnny replied as he stuck his head through the door and shouted that Scott was back and starving.

Murdoch came out carrying a platter of fried chicken, Maria right behind him with two steaming bowls. The rancher took his place at the head of the table and smiled at his elder son.

Nothing more was said and they ate supper in relative silence.

******

"Where's Carl?" Johnny suddenly asked.

"I haven't seen him since this afternoon. I keep forgetting he's here, truthfully," Murdoch frowned.

"He has been pretty quiet through all this," Johnny agreed.

"I'm sure it's his guilt," Scott snipped.

"You're still mad at him," Johnny stated.

"Aren't you?"

"Well, Scott, he did save my life. If he hadn't shown up," Johnny didn't finish. He had no desire to drudge up their earlier conversation.

"I suppose he did. Nothing less than what he owes you," Scott retorted.

"He doesn't owe me anything," Johnny responded, confused by the statement.

Scott looked at him and cocked a brow. "He's the reason this whole mess started, Johnny."

"Now, wait a minute. That's not true. Yeah, he came out here with a plan. But, he changed his mind. He turned his back on Garrett's money and told the truth. Besides that, he went to Boston lookin for you in the first place. Wasn't like he had any agenda then."

"That we know of. Who's to say what his intentions were then? All we know is what he's told us."

"Look, it's up to you, brother. If you want him gone, he's gone. I just don't hold any hard feelings against the man is all," Johnny said softly.

Scott dropped his head. He didn't know how he felt about his uncle. Quite frankly, he hadn't given the man much thought. He did save Johnny's life. For that, Scott would be eternally grateful. But, did he trust him? He didn't know.

They all looked up at the sound of a throat clearing to find Carl standing at the end of the table.

"You missed supper. Maria can warm something up for you," Murdoch offered.

"No, thank you. I just wanted to say goodbye."

Johnny stood up and approached the man. "Where are you going?"

Carl looked at him then at Scott. His eyes hardened. "I'm going after my Father. I'm going to convince him to return and face the charges against him."

Scott came to his feet then. "And just how do you propose to do that?"

"I'm not sure. I may have to kidnap him," Carl smiled a little. Becoming serious again, he looked searchingly into his nephew's eyes. "I know you don't trust me and you have no reason to. I am sorry for my part in all this, Scott. It was never my intention to hurt you. I'll let you know if I'm successful." He turned to leave then.

"Wait," Scott called and walked over to him. "I don't know how I feel about you. I do want to thank you for saving my brother's life. Maybe, someday, when things are more ..... settled, we could talk."

Carl smiled his relief. "I would like that very much, Scott. I will come back with or without my father. It means a great deal to me that you're willing to even give me a chance." He reached out a hand and Scott shook it.

"And you, Johnny. Thank you for being so good to my nephew."

Johnny shook hands with the man and smiled. "That's the easy part. Take care."

"Murdoch, I owe you an apology as well," Carl turned to the rancher.

Murdoch shook the man's hand. "We all make mistakes, Carl. As long as we learn from them," he said meaningfully.

Carl nodded his understanding and took his leave of them.

******

They all stood there, silently watching the now closed front door. Murdoch was the first to move, heading for his favorite chair by the fire.

Scott took in a deep breath and walked in, sitting on the sofa.

Johnny lowered his head, tapping his fingers against his thigh. Something was bothering him. Besides the usual. He wandered aimlessly about the room. His spurs making a soft jingle with each light step.

"Johnny," Murdoch called.

His head came up and he looked quizzically at his father.

"Sit down, please."

Johnny gave him a forlorn look and perched on the arm of the sofa near his brother. His fingers kept tapping, though.

"What is it, son? Something is on your mind."

" Nothin. Well, think I'll get some air," Johnny smiled a little and headed out the door.

Scott glanced his way then went back to staring into the flames. Murdoch watched him for a long while.

"Are you going to talk to him?"

"Who?" Scott asked distractedly.

"Johnny."

He looked up, not understanding. "About what?"

Murdoch gave him an exasperated sigh. "About Kansas, Scott. Or had you forgotten?"

"No, Sir. I didn't forget. I just don't think I have the energy right now. I'm going to bed," he said and stood up. "Tomorrow will be soon enough."

Murdoch shook his head at his son's back. He hoped it would be soon enough. He got the distinct impression Johnny expected his brother to join him outside. He stood and stretched out his back, figuring he'd let Johnny know that would not be happening.

*****

He found his son sitting on the wall, knees drawn up, staring at the stars.

"Beautiful night."

Johnny turned and smiled softly. "Yeah, nice breeze."

Murdoch sat down beside him. "Scott went to bed."

Johnny looked at him, the disappointment obvious to the older man. He said nothing, though.

"I thought you wanted to talk to him. He said he was tired," he went on.

"It can wait I guess," he whispered and stared out at the night.

"So much has happened. It's worn me out, I know," Murdoch sighed.

Johnny looked at him with a sympathetic smile. "Yeah, me too."

"Johnny, I know this has got to hurt you, son."

He sighed and looked away again. "Hurt goes away."

"Not without resolution. It just sits inside you for months or years until you explode."

Johnny stood up suddenly and paced away. Wrapping his arms around himself, he faced the opposite direction.

"I've said something wrong?"

"No, no. It's just ...... I don't know what to think anymore. It just seems like ...." he stopped, unwilling or unable to express his thoughts.

Murdoch stood and walked up behind him. "Talk to me, son."

"It just seems like he doesn't care. Like it's not important to him. Maybe it isn't."

"Scott loves you."

Johnny closed his eyes and bowed his head.

"You do know that, don't you, son?"

He turned and looked at Murdoch briefly before finding something else to lock his eyes on. "No, I don't."

Murdoch sucked in a breath. "Well, I do. He loves you and maybe he thinks things are all right between you."

"Maybe they're as all right as they're gonna get," Johnny mumbled. Taking a breath, he raised his head and smiled. "Think I'll turn in. Goodnight, Murdoch."

"Goodnight, son." He watched Johnny walk inside. He was reminded of a lost pup. Murdoch said a prayer for his family then headed inside himself.

******

Scott was up and gone before anyone the next morning. When Johnny came downstairs and heard, he said not a word. He left the house without breakfast and started his day.

He decided to return to the scene of the crime. He topped the hill above the dry creek bed, surprised to find his brother there. Johnny rode down and dismounted, hanging an arm on Barranca's neck. He watched wordlessly while Scott toiled and waited.

Scott was in the middle of moving a rather large limb and was in no position to drop what he was doing, so to speak. Once he'd cleared it, he bent over with hands on knees to catch his breath.

"Tough job, ain't it?" Johnny remarked.

He nodded and walked over to Remmie, retrieving his canteen and quenching his thirst. "I thought I'd finish up for you."

"Why?"

"Well, I didn't think you'd want to come back out here," Scott shrugged.

Johnny nodded and pushed his hat up slightly. "You got an early start."

"I couldn't sleep," Scott explained and dropped his head.

"Are we ever gonna talk about this, Scott?"

"Talk about what?"

"All of it. Any of it!" he declared and began to pace. Barranca didn't like the emotions he perceived from his master. He became skittish and sidestepped. Johnny laid a hand on his neck and stroked him distractedly.

"You said you forgave me," Scott spoke.

"I have. But, I don't think you've forgiven me."

"Forgiven you? For what?"

"That's what I'd like to know, brother. Seems like you blame me for something. What is it? Harlan, Jason, the clouds in the sky? You won't talk to me. You won't admit there's a problem. Yet you destroy the tack room and yell at me when I try to talk to you. You want to work this out on your own? That's fine, Scott. But don't treat me like dirt! Don't treat me like I don't matter!" Johnny worked to control his rapid breathing, glaring at his brother with an anger that surprised him.

"I don't blame you for anything, Johnny. Yes, I do want to work it out on my own. I didn't ask you to come to the tack room!"

"You knew someone would. Or did you think you could tear up a room and no one would notice?"

"I ..... I didn't really think about it. I didn't intend to do that. I needed to hit something," Scott explained quietly.

"Or someone?" Johnny asked, hands on hips.

*******

"I'm not angry with you, Johnny. I have no reason to be."

"Sometimes, reason has nothing to do with it. Sometimes, you just get mad at a person for no reason."

"That doesn't make any sense," Scott frowned.

Johnny threw his hands up in the air. "Well, welcome to the world, brother! What the hell has made sense around here lately?"

Scott's mouth curved upward a little. "Not one thing."

"Just say it, Scott. Whatever you're thinking or feeling. Just say it," Johnny challenged.

Scott took a deep breath and let it out hard. He paced about for a bit, bringing his thoughts together.

"Now, brother. Don't stop and think about how you want to say it. Just get it said," Johnny growled.

He flashed a stony look at his brother. "All right, I will. I'm angry with Grandfather and Carl for trying to manipulate me and for hurting you. I hate that you suffered, nearly died, because of me. And don't say it wasn't because of me. It was. I'm also hurt by what they tried to do. I have loved my grandfather all my life. I've tried to be the kind of man he could be proud of. For a lot of years I lived my life to please him. Then, I grew up and found my own values. I thought he was proud of me. I thought he loved me. But, that isn't love. It's manipulation and control. Like you said. I want to be able to forgive him but I never will. I know I'll never see him again and it saddens me.

"I'm going to miss having him in my life. The way he used to be. I wish none of this had happened but that's useless. I wish it would all just go away. And every time I think of Jason, I see you. Standing there in the middle of that Indian camp shooting soldiers down. Shooting him down. I can't help it. I know you did what you had to do but that doesn't help."

"I understand," Johnny said simply.

"You understand what?" Scott asked, a bit surprised by the other voice. He'd been so wrapped up in his diatribe, he'd forgotten anyone was there.

"I understand that you still blame me for Jason's death. It doesn't have to make sense, Scott. It is what it is. It'll take some time before you can stop seeing it in your head like that."

"Will it? I wonder about that. It worries me that I'll never come to terms with it," Scott spoke softly.

Johnny nodded. He bit his lip to keep in control. "Where does that leave us?"

"I don't want to be at odds with you, Johnny. I know in my heart and my head you did nothing wrong."

"Still, if I weren't here, Garrett couldn't have shot me. He wouldn't be on the run and you could see him again."

Scott turned his back, unable to face his brother.  

Johnny swallowed hard and hung his head. "Is that it, brother? Was I right when I told Murdoch I didn't think you cared?"

Scott turned back, astonished. "You think I don't care about you? No, Johnny. That's not true. You're my brother, my friend. Of course I care about you!"

He nodded and smiled a little. "Just not enough. It's okay, I understand."

"Wait a minute. What do you mean by not enough?"

"Just that Garrett means a lot to you. And he should, Scott. He raised you. He was your only family for a long time."

Scott took the five steps between them in one second. He grabbed hold of both Johnny's arms and shook him. "You listen to me, Johnny Lancer. NO ONE means as much to me as you do. NO ONE is more important to me than you. I love you!"

*******

Scott stopped as if someone had punched him in the gut. His hands slid off Johnny's arms and his face turned pink. He dropped his eyes and took a half step back.

Johnny stared at him, shocked to the core. He couldn't seem to find his voice as his mouth opened and shut a few times.  

Finally, after an interminable silence, Johnny Lancer spoke. "Well, that tears it." His hands went to his hips and he cocked his head to one side. A smile curved up one side of his face.  

Scott looked sheepishly at his brother.

"I guess there's nothin left to do but get hitched," Johnny grinned.

Scott's face went from pink to deep red and Johnny burst out laughing. He stepped back and turned away, knowing he wouldn't be able to control himself and look at his brother at the same time.

Scott began to chuckle, then laughed aloud himself. He crossed his arms over his chest and worked to get himself under control as well.

"Would you like to set a date or do you prefer a long engagement?" he asked.

Johnny held out a hand, still laughing. "Oh, a long engagement. A *real* long one."

They both finally got control of themselves and were able to face each other again. Scott grew quiet and reticent.

"I hate that you would ever think I don't care about you, Johnny. I haven't handled any of this well at all," he sighed and plopped down in the grass.

Johnny joined him, sitting cross-legged opposite his brother.

"I guess I wanted to believe Grandfather had come to terms with my being here. After the stunt he pulled last time. He seemed to accept it then. I can't live my life for anyone else," he shook his head.

"No, you can't. No one can. It's a misery you don't need. But you have some accepting to do, too. You have to accept that he did what he did, Scott. Try to move past it."

"How? How do I move past it?"

Johnny saw the pain; the turmoil in his brother's eyes and it broke his heart. "One day at a time, brother. One day at a time," he whispered and reached out, grasping Scott's shoulder.

"And us? How do I fix that?" Scott asked.

Johnny smiled and shrugged. "Nothing to fix. We're fine."

"Are we really? It scares me, Johnny. I couldn't stand losing you."

He dropped his eyes and smiled. "You won't. Not ever."

"Thanks for putting up with me, brother," Scott smiled.

"What choice do I have? Not likely to get any more brothers out of Murdoch," he laughed.

Scott frowned then. "I'm hungry."

"Yeah? Me too. What's say we go home and get Maria to fix us some breakfast?"

"Home sounds exceptionally good right now," Scott agreed and rose.

Johnny got up as well, watching as his brother headed for his horse. "I love you, too, Scott," he whispered softly.

7 months later:

Christmas Day:

Johnny sat on the floor, his back leaned against the sofa cushions as he stared at the flames. The warmth that spread through his entire being had nothing to do with the fire, however. He was content. Satisfied. At peace. He smiled.

Scott sat on the sofa, his legs stretched out beside Johnny. The same smile adorned his face. The same feelings glowing within.

Murdoch sat in his favorite chair and alternated between his three children. Noting their smiles with one of his own. Yes, it had been a glorious Christmas.

Teresa spied him spying them from her spot in the corner chair. Her smile widened as their eyes met and her love was palpable from across the room.

The day had been active; near chaos. But filled with laughter and love. Presents had been exchanged, dinner was a feast and now they were all quiet and satiated.

That was disturbed by a sudden rap at the door. All frowned and wondered who could be visiting so late in the evening and on Christmas. So many neighbors had visited, all were sure no one had been missed.

Scott sighed and stood to answer the door. A bit irritated by the intrusion into their peace. His irritation was replaced by surprise when he opened the front door.

"Carl!"

"Hello, Scott."

Scott stared at him for a beat. "Come in, it's freezing out there."

Carl smiled and walked through the threshhold, removing his hat and gloves. Scott took his coat for him and ushered him into the great room.

"Carl?" Murdoch asked, as surprised as his son.

"Hello everyone. Merry Christmas," he greeted.

*****

"Hi, Carl," Johnny greeted and shook hands.

"Johnny, how are you all?"

"We're fine. Sit down, please," Murdoch offered.

"I'll get some coffee," Teresa smiled and headed to the kitchen.

Carl settled on the sofa as Scott leaned against the back of it. Johnny perched on the arm and Murdoch resumed his seat.

"How are you, Carl?" Murdoch asked.

"Oh, I'm alright, Murdoch."

"Where've you been all these months?" Johnny asked.

Carl's face shadowed and he dropped his eyes. "England."

Johnny felt like a heel and flashed a look at Scott. He couldn't read the expression on his brother's face because there wasn't one.

"I hate to bring news like this on Christmas. But, I didn't think it was fair to wait any longer," Carl was saying.

Scott frowned then and walked around the sofa. He sat next to his brother and waited.

Teresa brought out the tray laden with a serving set and poured coffee for everyone. No one spoke until she had finished and settled again.

"What news?" Murdoch finally asked.

Well, it's about Father," he started, then glanced at Scott, noting the scowl.

"I'm afraid he's dead."

*****

"What?" Scott jumped to his feet. Standing over his uncle, he could only stare in shock.

Johnny stood behind him, a hand on his shoulder.

"How did it happen?" Murdoch asked quietly.

"We were on our way home. It took three months but I finally convinced him to come back. It was the most exhausting time, I have to say. I talked until I couldn't talk any more, then talked again. I finally got him to see the truth about himself and what he had done. It was ..... very emotional."

Johnny guided his brother back onto the sofa as Carl spoke.

"He really thought he had been the one harmed. It took a great deal to get him to the point of even listening to me. Then, we both did a lot of soul searching. In the end, he understood. He was remorseful. He wanted to come back and face the charges, serve his time and try and repair the damage he'd caused with Scott."

Johnny bit hard on his lip to keep quiet. Somehow he managed to do it.

"Did he say anything about my brother? Was he the least bit remorseful about trying to kill him?" Scott asked with venom.

"He .... he said he would have to work on that part," Carl imparted hesitantly.

Johnny snorted softly.

"What happened, Carl?" Murdoch urged, still not quite believing Harlan had seen the light, any light.

"There was a terrible storm at sea. I was in my cabin reading, or trying to. The alarms began ringing and I went topside. Everyone was shouting "man overboard". I did what I could to help the crew. No one knew who had gone over. The next morning when the storm passed, they did a head count. Father was the only one missing." Carl's voice began to tremble as he spoke of his father's demise.

They were all quiet after that. There didn't seem to be much to say. Johnny and Murdoch watched Scott closely but his face was blank.

Suddenly, he stood and walked from the room. Johnny made to follow him but Murdoch took hold of his arm. "Let me," he simply said.

******

Murdoch found his son in the kitchen sitting at the table alone. He walked over and joined him.

"I suppose I should feel some ..... grief, or something," Scott said after long moments.

"You should feel whatever you feel, son."

"I turned my back on him and for good reason. I should hate him. I should be glad he's dead," he went on, his voice growing husky.

"You wouldn't be the man I know you are if you felt that way."

Scott looked into his father's eyes. Pain, anger and anguish all present in his tumultuous stare. "I did love him," he confessed in whispers.

"I know, son," Murdoch said sympathetically, laying a hand on Scott's arm.

"Is that wrong?"

"No, Scott. He was your grandfather. He raised you to be a fine young man. Even with his many faults, I have to give him that much."

Scott's jaw flexed. "It wasn't because of him. Maybe in spite of him," he spat.

Murdoch frowned at this. "Why do you say that?"

"Because!" he stood and began to pace the room. "Everything he was; manipulative, power hungry, control-crazy. Everything I'm not. How could he have raised me to be the exact opposite of him? He never spent much time with me as a child. He was always too busy working. I spent more evenings than I can remember in the kitchen with the staff. They raised me more than he did. They made sure I did my homework and studied. They made sure I had my costumes for Halloween. They bought the Christmas presents and put his name on them." Scott stopped and turned his back, his shoulders shaking.

Murdoch was up in a flash, grasping those shoulders and leaning Scott back against him. He said nothing. What could he say? This only confirmed what he had always believed. The Harlan Garrett he knew could not have single-handedly raised this son. Not the way Scott had turned out. Not the man he held here today.

Scott took a hitching breath and sighed heavily. His shoulders relaxed against his father's chest and he stayed where he was. Relishing in the touch he had longed for all his life.

*****

Neither of them heard Johnny. They couldn't know he'd heard every word. He appeared in the doorway and approached them. Placing one hand on his brother's arm and one on his father, he smiled softly.

"Did you want to have a memorial?" he asked gently.

Scott looked surprised. "No. Who would come?" he asked wryly.

Johnny smiled a little more. "The only ones that need to. You and Carl."

Scott's face softened. "Thanks, Johnny, but I don't think so. Maybe ...... maybe some of his friends in Boston will do that. But, not here. He hated it here." The face fell once more.

Johnny only nodded. "Well, if you change your mind."

"I'll let you know. I think I'll go to bed. Would you mind seeing to Carl?"

"Sure, brother. I'll take care of him."

And he did. Johnny settled Carl in a guest room and spent long hours in front of the fire talking with his father. They discussed Harlan, Carl and Scott. Worked out their own feelings about the whole mess and decided the only thing they could do for Scott was simply be there.

Scott lay in his bed and stared at the ceiling all night. He slowly worked through his feelings about his grandfather. All the love, anger and even hatred he'd felt toward the man. He also thought about Carl. He had to be some sort of miracle worker to have convinced Harlan to see the error of his ways. Scott had to wonder exactly how he'd done it. From his tone and expression, one could see it had been a painful exercise for both men.

He sighed and a smile flirted as his thoughts turned to his father and brother. Always there. Always supportive. Always concerned for his wellbeing. He had been very lucky. To have this family he loved so much. They truly were exactly what he needed in his life and always had, though he couldn't have known it.

Scott closed his eyes and began to drift away as the soft pink hues lit the world around him.

 

 

~end~
2004

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