The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Damgerous Mind

 

 

 

Scott Lancer walked across the yard and stepped onto the veranda where his father sat. He removed his hat and wiped his brow as he took a seat beside the older man with a soft grunt.

"Hot?" Murdoch asked with amusement.

"Yes, quite. Looks like an early summer," Scott replied.

"I just hope we don't miss the spring rains."

Scott nodded his agreement then turned studious. "Murdoch, what's wrong with Johnny?"

The rancher turned to his elder son with a surprised expression. "You're asking me? He doesn't tell me anything. In fact, I was going to ask you the very same question."

Scott shook his head slowly. "He won't talk to me. Every time I try he about takes my head off. One minute he's fine, the next he's a bear. I've tried to figure it out but I can't come up with anything. Nothing has happened recently to make him behave this way. I think he may be ill."

This got Murdoch's attention. "Why would you say that?"

"Well," Scott sighed, "I've noticed him rubbing his temples a lot lately. As if he has a headache. Of course, he denies anything."

"Maybe Sam should take a look at him," Murdoch mused.

Scott snorted lightly at this. "Good luck."

Just then, the object of their discussion rode up and dismounted with a bounce in his step. He smiled widely at them both as he waved a greeting.

"How was your day, son?"

"Good. Real good. You?"

"Just fine other than the heat," Murdoch answered.

Johnny grinned at him. "Heat? This ain't hot, Murdoch. I'll let you know when it gets hot," he winked. Johnny walked on inside, laughing to himself.

"Well, he certainly is fine right now," Scott stated the obvious.

"Maybe whatever it is has passed," Murdoch shrugged and pulled his long frame out of the chair. "It's almost supper time. Think I'll get cleaned up," he explained.

"I'll be along," Scott said distractedly. He wasn't so sure Johnny was all right. This was typical of the past few weeks. He'd be perfectly fine; laughing and joking. Then, without warning, he'd be angry or sullen. Scott didn't like it. Not one bit.

*****

They gathered for supper and the usual conversation about ranch business ensued. Johnny and Scott reported on their day and any problems they'd encountered while Murdoch listened thoughtfully.

Once business was out of the way, they went on to other news of the day. Teresa was in high gear about the barn dance Saturday night. She went on about her new dress and made them all promise to give an honest opinion of it when she finished.

Scott kept watching Johnny surreptitiously. Johnny was holding his fork but making no attempt to eat his meal. He noticed his brother had grown quiet again. This seemed to mean something unpleasant was about to occur. He thought to head it off at the pass.

"Well, I'm stuffed. Anyone want to join me outside? Maybe it's cooled off some," he spoke up.

"Sounds like a good idea, son. Johnny?" Murdoch looked to his younger son.

"What?" he asked quietly.

"Do you want to go outside with us?" Murdoch restated the question.

Johnny looked up at him and Murdoch was surprised by the expression. He wasn't quite sure how to describe what he saw in his son's blue eyes. Pain? Fear? Worry? Confusion? Maybe all of them.

"Are you all right, Johnny?" he asked.

"I .... I'm a little tired. Think I'll just turn in," he answered in not much more than a whisper.

Murdoch stared at him for a long beat. "Tomorrow, I'm taking you to town to see Sam."

Johnny raised both brows. "What for? I ain't sick!"

"Something is wrong, son. You haven't been acting yourself lately. We've all noticed it," Murdoch replied, his eyes casting about the table at the others.

"You have seemed out of sorts lately, Johnny," Teresa agreed.

"You've been impossible at times, brother. Now, I know that isn't like you. What's going on?"

Johnny looked at each of them before turning his gaze back to Murdoch. "There ain't nothin wrong with me! I told you I'm just tired. Now, leave it!" he shouted and stood so quickly, the chair toppled backward with a resounding crack.   Johnny stormed up the stairs taking two at a time until they heard his bedroom door bang shut.

Silence followed as each of them alternately worried about him and tried to curb their own frustration at his behavior.

"That went well," Scott remaked softly after a minute.

"He's going to see Sam tomorrow if I have to tie him to the saddle," Murdoch proclaimed. He threw his napkin down and left the table, heading for the Scotch.

*****

When Murdoch came down for breakfast the next morning, Maria was crying into her dish towel.

"Maria? What is it?"

"Por favor, Patron. Juanito, he ....." she buried her face in the towel again and Murdoch could understand nothing else she said.

"Take it easy. Here, sit down and tell me about Johnny," he said gently, easing her into the chair.

"I only asked how he was feeling. I know he has not been himself lately," she sniffed.

Murdoch nodded his understanding.

"He told me to mind my own business. That his affairs were his own and I was to ..... stop interfering," she cried.

Murdoch sighed and shook his head.

"He said I was not familia. That I had no right," she went on.

Murdoch felt his anger rising and he rubbed the woman's back, trying to calm her.

"What's wrong?" Teresa asked as she walked in. She immediately went to Maria's other side and wrapped an arm around her.

"Johnny is what's wrong," Murdoch said through gritted teeth. "Stay with her, darling. I need to go find my son," he added. He stood and stalked to the living room, grabbing his hat and gunbelt then storming out the door.

Scott came down and when Teresa told him what she knew, he was hot on his father's trail. If Murdoch was half as upset with Johnny as Teresa said, this would get very ugly very fast.

He saddled Remmie in record time and galloped toward the east pasture where his brother was supposed to be working.  

*****

Murdoch reined in his steed and allowed the animal to walk the fifty feet to where Johnny was watching him ride in. Murdoch could see he'd been hard at it. Hammer in hand and shirt already shucked, Johnny glistened with sweat.

Dismounting, he ground-tied the animal and strode purposefully to his son. "I want an explanation, young man."

Johnny looked at him in confusion. Then he cocked his head to one side and placed his free hand on his left hip. "Well, I figured I had to put these posts in the ground in order to string wire to them."

Murdoch glared at him. "I am talking about Maria!" he bellowed.

Johnny frowned, then straightened his posture. "What's wrong with Maria? Is she hurt?"

Murdoch saw the expression of sincere concern in his son's eyes and he was totally bewildered. "Yes, she's hurt, Johnny."

Before he could say any more, Johnny tossed the hammer and headed for Barranca, grabbing his shirt as he went.

"Johnny, wait! Not like that. She's not physically hurt," he quickly explained.

Johnny turned and walked back to him. "Are you tryin to scare me? If she ain't hurt what's wrong with her?" His volume rose with his frustration.

Murdoch suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding. But frustration and anger won out quickly. Hands on hips, he regarded the younger man. "YOU are what's wrong with her. I came downstairs this morning to find her crying her eyes out. She said you yelled at her and told her to mind her own business. That she wasn't part of the family!"

Johnny felt like he'd been punched in the gut and he took a step back. Shaking his head in disbelief, he turned away.

"Well? Explain yourself!" Murdoch raged.

Johnny turned back with steel in his eyes. "I don't have to explain anything to you, Old Man," he hissed icily.

Murdoch was stunned by the transformation. There was nothing but pure anger in Johnny at that moment. It did nothing to temper the older man's ire. Murdoch stepped toward him and grabbed his arm.

"I don't know what's going on with you but whatever it is, you will not take it out on Maria or any other member of this family again! Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

Johnny wrenched free from the grasp. "I don't know what you're talkin about!" he shouted. His breathing was coming in shorter gasps as he backed away once more.

Neither of them noticed Scott as he rode into the middle of the argument but he could hear them shouting well before he arrived. He dismounted quickly and started toward them.

"I am talking about the way you've been treating everyone! Snapping our heads off for no reason! Making Maria cry! How dare you tell her she isn't part of this family?!" Murdoch took a menacing step forward only to be stopped dead in his tracks. He found himself staring down the barrel of a Colt .45.

*****

"Johnny!" Scott exclaimed.

Johnny looked past Murdoch to Scott who found his own progress halted by the display. Forcing himself to remain calm, Scott leveled his voice.

"What are you doing, brother?" he asked softly.

Johnny only stared at him for a long moment. His eyes then went to his father, then to his own hand. He stared at the gun as if he'd never seen it before. As if he had no idea why it was in his hand or why it was pointed at his father.

Johnny's hand began to shake and he released his grip, allowing the weapon to fall into the grass. He backed away from them both, staring blankly. Then, he turned and vaulted onto Barranca, digging in his spurs.

Neither man could find a voice to call to him; to stop him. Both wanted to, both tried but it was futile. They were too shocked.

They stood there for several minutes after Johnny had disappeared before Murdoch sat down in the grass. Scott walked over and joined him.

"Are you all right, sir?"

Murdoch shook his head. "No, I'm not. I never thought .... not for one second. Scott, my God, what is wrong with him?" His voice was a strangled whisper.

"I don't know but we need to find out and fast. Did you see his face? It was as if he didn't have any idea what he was doing," Scott said, his tone much the same as Murdoch's.

The rancher swallowed hard at the huge lump in his throat. "I know. We need to get Sam involved. Scott, I was ..... afraid of him," he choked out.

Scott hitched in a breath and nodded. He had to admit, for a second there, he had been afraid as well. Afraid Johnny would actually kill Murdoch. A deeper, unspoken and until now, unthought, idea beckoned to him. Johnny was losing his mind.

Johnny did not stop until Barranca stumbled and nearly fell under him. He reined the palomino to a halt and dismounted, allowing the reins to drop. He walked away from the lathering horse and staggered toward a tree, dropping under it like a sack of flour.

Pulling his knees up, he wrapped his arms around them and buried his head between them. Tears ran down his face and he couldn't make them stop. He tried but he knew it was in vain. Just like it had been for weeks. All of it. He couldn't make anything stop. He couldn't control anything.

Was he going crazy? Had he already? He leaned his head back and rested it on the rough bark. Closing his eyes he tried to bring a halt to the tears and the fear. So hard did he concentrate, he felt physical pain with the effort. His head began to throb again and he rubbed his left temple.

Johnny had one clear thought. He needed help and he wasn't going to get it sitting out here. It was time to put an end to the pretending. Whatever was wrong with him, he had to face it. If he really was losing his mind, so be it. He had to know and he had to find a way to either fix it or go away. He couldn't put his family through this any longer.

He stood up and sighed, taking his kerchief and wiping his face. He walked over to Barranca who had hardly moved and grimaced. "I'm so sorry, amigo. I'm even takin it out on you," he said softly. He grabbed his canteen and removed his hat, filling it and watering the horse. He then wet the kerchief and wiped Barranca down as much as he could.

"We'll stop at that stream nearby, okay?" He decided to walk with the horse. He'd meted out enough punishment for one day, he figured.

They made it to the stream and Barranca drank his fill as Johnny dunked his head in the cool water. Wiping his face on the sleeves of his shirt, he looked out over the water for a few minutes.

When he was convinced Barranca could make it home, Johnny mounted up and gave the horse his head.

******

He went straight to the barn and took an hour caring for Barranca. He was focused on the task, trying to keep other thoughts at bay. He didn't see or hear them come in.

"Johnny?" Scott called.

His head jerked up and he stared at them both for a split second before dropping his eyes.

Murdoch walked over and stood near him but not too near.

Looking up at his father, Johnny blinked several times. "I.....

Without warning, he grabbed his head on each side and went to his knees yelling in pain. Scott and Murdoch knelt beside him. They started asking questions but Scott stopped the barrage. Johnny wasn't able to answer. He was in too much pain.

After what seemed an eternity, he slowly allowed his hands to fall to his sides. Breathing heavily, he leaned forward resting his hands on his knees and trying to slow his respirations. They waited as long as he needed. Johnny nodded and they helped him to his feet, holding on as he weaved a bit. Sweat ran in tiny rivers down his pale face.

"Come on, son. Let's get you in the house," Murdoch said gently.

They walked beside him, letting their hands fall away but still ever watchful. Johnny walked on his own but he felt the ground a little too much. As if it was about to come up and say howdy any minute. He still wasn't sure he could speak. Whatever had just happened, it had exhausted him completely.

Murdoch guided him to the sofa and gave Scott a meaningful look. The other man nodded and headed to the kitchen. He returned shortly with cool water and a nod for his father. Yes, he'd sent for Sam.

"What happened out there, son?" Murdoch finally asked.

Johnny held tightly to the water glass, afraid his hands would shake too much if he lessened his grip. Still off kilter, he answered. "I don't know. All the sudden I had this pain shooting through my head. Never felt anything like it before."

"How do you feel now?" Scott asked.

"Worn out. Just .... worn out," he shook his head slowly.

"But, no pain," Scott asked for clarification.

"No, it's gone now."

"We've sent for Sam and I don't want to hear a word about it," Murdoch informed him in no uncertain terms.

Johnny chanced a glance at his father but only nodded his head in reply. "I'd like to lay down if that's all right?"

"Of course. I'll go with you," Scott said, holding out a hand in case it was needed.

Johnny grabbed hold of the hand and pulled himself up then stopped for a few seconds. With a deep breath, he released his hold and walked to the stairs. His legs felt like wet noodles. His muscles actually ached with each step. He'd never felt so weak before. So completely give out. He didn't know what had happened to him but he hoped it never happened again.

The headaches he'd been suffering for the past few weeks were nothing compared to this pain. He'd almost lost his mind with them sometimes. They'd gotten so bad once or twice, he'd felt physically ill and had to go off on his own until they stopped. Then there were the ones that lasted for two, three, even four days at a time. The nagging kind that hid just under the surface of conscious thought until you suddenly realized they were there. Now this.

He was sitting on the side of his bed before he even realized it. Scott was kneeling in front of him and he couldn't understand why for a minute. Then he felt the tug on his feet and looked down as his brother removed his boots for him.

"Okay, lie down, brother," Scott said gently.

Johnny looked blankly at him and shook his head slowly.

Scott stood up and gently pushed his shoulders and he laid back. The pillow was cool and felt wonderful. He felt very hot right now even though he'd stopped sweating.

Scott pulled only a sheet over him then sat on the edge of the mattress. "Okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks, brother," Johnny sighed and closed his eyes. He was asleep within a minute.

******

Murdoch and Scott explained what they'd observed over the past weeks and that morning to Sam when he arrived. The doctor listened carefully and with more than a little concern and asked some questions. Then he went to see his patient, gearing himself up for a battle.

Johnny was still asleep when he entered the bedroom. His breathing was deep and regular, Sam noted. He studied the young man for a minute before waking him. His color was normal now. There didn't appear to be any swelling anywhere that he could tell at the moment. He walked over and touched Johnny's shoulder lightly.

Johnny jerked his head up and blinked several times as Sam let him know who was there.

"Hey, Sam," he said sleepily.

"Hi, Johnny. Tell me what happened and don't leave out anything," Sam started right in.

Johnny told him about that morning and about the headaches that had plagued him for several weeks. He explained the various types he'd suffered through and tried to pinpoint a time of day when they occurred. That part he couldn't say. There didn't seem to be any trigger to the headaches. Sometimes, he would wake up with it; sometimes, it would come on him during the day. And sometimes, he would just suddenly realize he had one. He told Sam about the mood swings as well. He knew there was no reason for his angry outbursts but he'd been unable to control them.

He told Sam that sometimes he couldn't remember how to do things. Simple things like saddle his horse. It would take anywhere from several minutes to a whole day for him to remember the function. Also, he couldn't remember being told things right afterward. People would swear they had given him some information but Johnny could not recall hearing it. That part of it had just started in the past two days or so. The level of frustration in the young man's voice was clear to the doctor. He tried to reassure Johnny but he couldn't say much until he examined the man.

Sam went through a series of tests with Johnny. Everything from checking his vital signs to his balance. He had Johnny walk a straight line, stand on one foot and various other things. Johnny began to feel a little silly but he said nothing.

Finally, Sam allowed him to lie back down.

"Well, what'ya think, Doc?"

"Honestly, Johnny, I'm not sure. I want you to rest today. I'm going back to my office to look into a few things. I'll be back this evening. Hopefully, with an answer for you," Sam smiled.

Johnny returned the smile though he didn't feel like it. He watched as Sam closed the door quietly then stared at the ceiling. He had known something was going on but couldn't put a name to it. The feeling of being out of control was not one he was used to having. His anger, sometimes even rage, would erupt for no reason whatsoever. Usually to be spilled over the closest family member to him at that moment. And, of course, that was usually Scott.

His brother's concern had only fueled the anger but why he couldn't say. Afterward, he would always feel guilty. He felt himself changing somehow. As if he was becoming a different person. Sometimes, he'd tried to reason it out; think things through logically but that never worked. Mainly because none of it made any sense to him.

If his family knew the whole of it, he was sure they'd have him locked up somewhere. Luckily, he had been able to hide the majority from them. It wasn't only anger that consumed him at times. Other desires would drive him nearly insane at times and he had to get relief. So, more than once, he'd found himself in Spanish Wells at the bordello.

That's when he knew something was really wrong with him. His behavior with the girls there was all over the place. He had come very close to hitting one of them once. That was the last time he'd visited the place. The violence he'd felt well up had shaken him badly. He'd never treated women with anything other than total respect no matter what life they'd chosen to live. It just wasn't in him. Except, that night it had been and he'd torn out of there like he was on fire.

His eyes grew heavy then and he allowed himself the rest. Pushing all of it away, he slipped into sleep.

******

Sam returned that evening. The look on his face when Scott answered the door told the young man it was bad news. He tensed unconsciously.

"Sam," Murdoch greeted his friend.

"Hi. Where's Johnny?" Sam asked.

"He's still sleeping," Scott answered and received a worried frown from the doctor.

"What is it, Sam?" Murdoch asked.

"Sit with me, both of you. I've been through all my medical books and journals and quite frankly, I don't know what's wrong with Johnny. The tests I did on him today along with the things you've all told me have led to only one conclusion." He stopped there, hesistant to even think it, let alone speak it.

"What?" Scott asked a bit tersely.

"Johnny's symptoms lead me to believe that this is a problem with his brain or his mind," Sam spilled.

Murdoch shook his head, confused. "Isn't it the same thing?"

"No, I mean it's either a physical problem or an emotional one. Either way, I don't have the expertise here."

"Wait a minute. Are you saying Johnny could be crazy?" Murdoch asked, flabbergasted at the thought.

Sam smiled a little. "I'm saying I don't know what's wrong with him but I think the problem is his head. He needs to see a specialist."

"Fine. Where do we find a specialist?" Scott asked.

Sam stood and paced to the hearth then turned to face them. "I read some articles on brain surgery fairly recently. They're doing marvelous things at Massachusetts General Hospital."

Scott stood up at this. "Boston? You want us to take Johnny all the way to Boston to see a doctor?"

"Yes, I do. I know it sounds .... extreme, but if you want the very best, that is where you'll have to go. Now, there are surgeons in Chicago that are studying ....."

"No," Murdoch interrupted. "If the best is in Boston then that's where Johnny will go. I don't care how far away or how much it costs."

Sam smiled at his friend. Was this the same Murdoch Lancer that counted every penny? He almost laughed out loud but the potential seriousness of the situation caused him to refrain. "There's a doctor there you'll need to see. His name is John Elliot. I'll wire ahead to let them know you're coming."

"Thank you , Sam. I suppose we could leave in a day or two," Murdoch said.

"The sooner the better, I'd say. You don't want to put this off. Johnny may have another recurrence of that pain. His symptoms will only worsen and there is a possibility he may even have a seizure."

"Seizure? What do we do if that happens?" Murdoch asked. He was coming to understand there was an urgency here.

"Nothing except don't let him hurt himself. I can't say how severe it would be. You shouldn't try to hold him down but put something between his teeth if it is violent. Be careful with that. If he gets hold of your fingers, he could bite them right off," Sam warned.

*****

Murdoch saw his old friend off then returned to the living room.

"Well, do you want to tell him?" Scott asked.

"No, but I will," Murdoch sighed. "Scott, ride into town tomorrow first thing and arrange our travel. Get us a private train car if you can. If anything happens, I don't want Johnny to be embarrassed in front of a bunch of strangers."

"Murdoch? How serious do you think this is?"

He looked at his elder son and wished he could put his mind at ease. "Sam wouldn't suggest this if he didn't think it was very serious, son."

Scott nodded. Inside, he wanted to scream. This couldn't be happening. Not to Johnny. He was so healthy, so young, so full of life. He stared after Murdoch as the older man ascended the stairs. How would he tell Johnny about this? Scott shivered a little.

Murdoch's hand froze in midair as he made to knock on the bedroom door. He let his hand drop as well as his shoulders and leaned heavily against the wall. He just needed a minute, he told himself. Just to get himself together. He certainly couldn't fall apart now. Johnny was going to need him.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, the big man rapped lightly on the door. He heard a soft "come in" and opened the door wide. Johnny was sitting with his back against the headboard, a pillow cushioning it.

"You're awake," he said, feeling silly for stating the obvious.

"Yeah, just a while ago. What time is it?"

"Nearly six o'clock," Murdoch answered.

Johnny shook his head. "I'll never sleep tonight. Hope you don't have anything big planned for me tomorrow," he grinned a little.

Murdoch smiled wanly and walked over to sit on the side of the bed. "No, nothing big. Sam just left. Johnny, he doesn't know what's wrong with you but he wants you to see a specialist."

Johnny frowned. "What kind of specialist?"

Murdoch opened his mouth then closed it. He hadn't even ask what it was called? "I'm not sure the proper name but this doctor specializes in the brain."

"So, there's somethin wrong with my head?" Johnny asked.

"Sam thinks so from the symptoms. He wants you to see this doctor as soon as possible."

Johnny nodded thoughtfully. "Where?"

Murdoch cleared his throat and couldn't make eye contact. "Boston."

Johnny sat straight up and stared at his father, slack-jawed. "Boston? Is he crazy? That's too far away. Look, it'll probably clear up on its own. No need to go traipsin across the country."

"Yes, there is a need. Sam was very serious, Johnny. He wants you to go and you're going. Period." Murdoch gave him that 'do as I say' look.

Johnny leaned back against the headboard and sighed. "That's gonna cost a lot of money. And it's a bad time of year. We should wait til the fall."

"I know you're worried, son. But, I want you to do this now. I don't want to wait and take the chance of things getting worse. Something is wrong, Johnny. You know it and I know it. So, let's get it taken care of and get on with our lives, okay?" Murdoch smiled and placed a hand on his son's knee.

Johnny dropped his eyes and nodded. "Okay. Just ......"

"What?"

He looked back up into his father's eyes. "Just don't leave me there," he whispered.

"Never," Murdoch vowed.

Johnny nodded then frowned. "Murdoch? I'm ... I'm really sorry about today."

Biting his lip, Murdoch nodded. "I know, son. I don't know what happened to you out there but we'll get it fixed. I promise."

Two days later, the Lancers were on the stage to Stockton and the train. Murdoch had spent that time preparing Jelly for taking over the ranch. He'd gone over everything so many times, the grizzled wrangler was ready to choke him. All Jelly kept saying was he knew what to do and for Murdoch to just see to it that Johnny came home in one piece. He threw in an "and Scott, too" each time.

 

Jelly still remembered the trouble Harlan Garrett had brought with him on his visit last year. He was not happy Scott was returning to Boston no matter what the reason. But, trying to keep the man from his brother's side was an exercise in futility that Jellifer Hoskins was not inclined to attempt.

So he kept his opinions to himself but not his concern. He had a long talk with Johnny the night before they left. One that nearly had the old man in tears.

Johnny had seemed more subdued since learning of this trip. He was almost apathetic. He stayed to himself so he didn't act like a lunatic around everyone. Scott had tried all he knew to vivify his brother but nothing worked.

The first leg of their trip went well. Once in Stockton, there was only a short wait then they were on the eastbound train. Johnny's mood had not improved so the elder two Lancers conspired to imbue him with some kind of interest in the world around him.

Scott sat next to him in their private car as Johnny looked out the window, seeing nothing.

"How long is this going to go one, brother?" Scott asked.

"What's that?" Johnny asked distractedly.

"This sulking," Scott replied flatly.

Johnny turned his head to look at him then, anger in his eyes. "I ain't sulkin!"

"No? What would you call it then?" Scott retorted.

"Just thinking. Is that all right with you?"

"Yes, it's all right. What are you thinking about?" Scott asked calmly.

Johnny turned his whole body around then and looked at Scott as if he were insane. "Well, first, I was thinkin maybe I won't be coming home breathin from this trip. Then, I thought what a great chance this would be to see where you grew up. Now, I'm thinkin about gettin off this train at the next stop and goin home! Especially, if you're gonna talk to me like I'm two years old the whole way!"

Scott's face never changed. His expression remained impassive. An impressive feat considering how he was feeling inside right now. Several thoughts flew through his head until he settled on one.

"I know you're scared, Johnny. So are we. But, there's no sense in worrying until we know what, if anything, to worry about. I know that may seem impossible given what you're going through. I just want you to know you aren't alone, brother. Just talk to us, Johnny. Let us in."

Murdoch, who had remained silent through it all, smiled a little at his son's tactfulness. "He's right, you know. We're right here, John. You aren't going through this alone."

Johnny dropped his eyes and closed them for a second. He massaged his left temple and sighed. "I know. Look, I'm sorry. I just hate not knowing what's the matter with me. And yeah, I'm scared. I can handle a bullet wound, a knife wound, just about anything as long as I can see it. I can't see this and I can't make it stop!" he finished in frustration.

****

There was a long silence after this last statement. Murdoch got up and wagged a finger at Scott indicating he should change seats with his father. Once sitting beside Johnny, Murdoch put his arm around his son's shoulders.

"You have a headache, don't you?"

"Yeah, a little," Johnny sighed.

"Do you want to rest your head on my shoulder?" Murdoch asked gently.

Johnny nodded and leaned over, sighing again as the weariness brought on by constant worry overcame him. At that moment in time, he felt like crying. He didn't, couldn't, in front of them. He knew well they would say nothing, even understand it. Still, it wasn't in him to put on a display like that. At least, while he was still in some semblance of control.

"How long do you think it'll be before that doctor can see me?" he asked.

"I don't know, son. Soon, I hope."

Johnny opened his eyes and looked across at Scott. "Well, if we have any time, I'd like to see some of this fancy city of yours, brother."

The slight smile and dancing eyes looking at him nearly drove Scott Lancer to tears himself. He simply smiled back and nodded his head though.

"At the very least, you'll get to see where I grew up. Grandfather will be expecting us."

Johnny raised his head off Murdoch's shoulder. "We're staying with your grandfather?"

"That's right. He offered when I wired to tell him we were coming," Scott answered, trying to keep the laughter back at the look of disbelief he got.

"But, he don't like me, Scott," Johnny protested.

He felt the rumbling beneath him as Murdoch chuckled and craned his neck to see his father's face.

"I don't think that's true, son. I think Harlan just didn't like anything having to do with the ranch. I think he understands things better now, though."

"I hope so," Johnny mumbled as he laid his head back again. He was not convinced.

Scott smiled but he, too, wondered if his grandfather would be as welcoming once he learned of the reason for their visit. Scott had been explicit that Murdoch and Johnny were coming as well and still the man had invited them into his home. Scott hoped that was a good sign.

********

Boston's South Station was a busy place - and noisy. People hurried about in great rushes and Johnny wondered where they were all going that was so important. He didn't like all the bustle about him. He'd never liked crowds as they always put him on edge. Here, he was totally disadvantaged.

The argument he'd had with his father lasted almost the entire trip. But Johnny knew he wouldn't win. He just wasn't giving in easily. Now, here he stood, unarmed. He had come close more than once to repeating his actions in the east pasture and that was enough to convince him to leave the gun packed away. He knew his family had no idea how bad it really was. Whatever reserves he seemed to have, he was sure he'd used them up on that train.

Murdoch saw the scowl and sensed the anxiety in his son. He maneuvered through the throngs as quickly as he could. A hand in Scott's back as he led them ushered the younger man along.

Scott hailed a cab and they climbed in. Johnny relaxed a little as he relished the air he could now breathe. Scott gave the address and they pulled away from the bustling rail station.

It was a short trip. Shorter than Johnny would have thought. Scott pointed out The Common as they drove past and promised they'd at least get to visit there while in the city. Suddenly the cab stopped.

Johnny climbed out and looked around in awe. The tree-lined street was immaculate. Not one stray piece of trash could be found. Flowers adorned the windows, porches and landscaped lawns of the huge homes. He had to crane his neck to see the tops of the houses around him. Wrought iron fences surrounded many of the properties.

Murdoch looked around as well but he was unimpressed. He never thought he'd be here again and it automatically put him in a bad mood; remembering his former father-in-law's less than hospitable manners whenever he came to visit Catherine. He shook it off, determined to not make this about the past.

"Well, there it is. My grandfather's home," Scott announced as he looked up the driveway.

"It's .... big," Johnny said.

Scott laughed a little. "Yes, it is. Come on, let's get in there before we're arrested for loitering."

Murdoch and Johnny fell in behind Scott as he strode purposefully to the front door and knocked. Immediately, the door opened and an austere looking man in a tailored suit looked down his nose at them.

Scott frowned and cocked his head to one side. "Who are you?"

The man raised his own brows. "I am Billings, sir. And who might you be?"

"I'm Scott Lancer."

The snooty look disappeared and the man relaxed his face an iota. "Welcome home, Mr. Scott. Mr. Garrett is expecting you. Please, come in. I'll have someone care for your luggage. Mr. Garrett instructed me to tell you he would be home as soon as is possible."

As the man yammered on, Johnny stood in the middle of a foyer the likes of which he'd never seen. Again, he looked up, this time to see the crystal chandelier hanging over his head and he immediately moved away.

"Where's Roberts?" Scott asked.

"He and his wife have retired, sir. Just a few short months ago, in fact," Billings answered.

Scott's face fell in obvious disappointment.

"Would you gentlemen care to rest before dinner?" the butler asked.

"I think we would," Murdoch replied stiffly. He had always felt tense in this house, as if he shouldn't move about too much lest he broke something.

*******

Johnny wandered about the huge bedroom aimlessly. He picked up trinkets and set them back down. He wasn't tired and he couldn't rest here. It was too ....... cold. Oh, the temperature was comfortable. It just seemed like no one lived here. Why did one man need so much room? Even when Scott lived with him, they wouldn't have needed all this. Wealth, he snorted. People get a little money and they have to spend it.

He supposed he shouldn't cast stones, he thought with a smirk. Lancer was enormous in it's own right. He wondered idly which was bigger. It was hard to tell since the layout was so different. He reckoned if a man worked hard all his life, he should enjoy some comfort. Only this wasn't comfortable. He couldn't imagine himself plopping down on Garrett's couch with his feet up. He almost laughed out loud at that one.

Johnny had to admit to himself, it wasn't the house, it was the man who resided here. Despite what Murdoch had said, Johnny knew Garrett had no use for him. Well, he was sure once the old goat knew why he was here, it would brighten his day. He grinned to himself.

Tiring of the solitude, Johnny left his room and sought out his brother. Ambling down the hall he tried to remember which door Scott had disappeared into. He stopped in the middle of the corridor and looked straight ahead for a long time. A frown creased his forehead as he tried to remember what he was doing in the hall.

"Scott!" he shouted.

A door swung open and Scott ran into the hallway. "What? What is it?"

Johnny looked at him like a lost child. "I .... I couldn't .... I didn't know where you were," he stammered.

Scott walked up and swung his arm around Johnny, guiding him into his own bedroom. Johnny seemed to settle down.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah. I just couldn't remember what I was doing," he shook his head.

"We'll get it fixed, Johnny," Scott replied gently.

Johnny nodded and meandered about, duplicating his gestures in his own room earlier. Scott watched him and a flash of memory came to him. His first morning at Lancer, Johnny had come to his room and unceremoniously began rooting through his possessions; even trying on his feather-capped hat the wrong way. Scott laughed.

"What?" Johnny asked.

"Nothing. I was just remembering that first full day at home. Do you remember?"

The grin on the younger man's face indicated he did indeed remember. "Oh yeah, when you had all them fancy duds layin all around. And that picture of you and Sheridan. You sure were a dandy back then."

Scott cocked a brow. "But not anymore?"

"Nah. You're a full-fledged cowboy now, Scott. Your grandfather will have a heart attack," he laughed.

Scott threw a shirt at him but he laughed as well. He'd become even more westernized since his garndfather's visit to the ranch. He did wonder how the man would react.

******

Harlan did not make it home early. In fact, he was not seen until the dinner hour. As the Lancers awaited him in the study, Scott poured drinks all around.

"Scotty!" the older man proclaimed as he entered the room.

"Hello, sir. You're looking well," Scott smiled and shook his hand.

"Thank you, I am well. How are you, my boy?"

"Fine, sir."

Harlan nodded. Still smiling, he turned to the side. "Murdoch, how are you?"

"I'm well, Harlan," Murdoch replied and shook hands.

"And Johnny. Good to see you again," Harlan turned to the last Lancer and extended his hand.

Johnny accepted it, wondering if he'd still have it when he pulled back. Stop that! he thought. "Mr. Garrett, good to see you," he smiled.

"Well, gentlemen, I trust your trip was not too unpleasant," Garrett went on.

"No, not too," Murdoch answered.

"Good! Now, why don't we go into dinner and you can tell me to what I owe this honor," Harlan clapped his hands together then linked his arm through Scott's, guiding him to the dining room.

Johnny felt like a frog was in his throat when he took in that dining room. Another chandelier graced the ceiling in the middle of the table. Fine china and silver adorned the place settings along with crystal wine and water glasses. Candles flickered at each end of the table and the centerpeice of Mayflower petals set in greenery finished the setting. Garrett seated them to his liking with Scott on his right.

Johnny took his seat beside his father but felt very uncomfortable in all the finery. He watched his brother and mimicked his movements, unsure what he should be doing.

Garrett rang a small silver bell beside his plate and servants appeared. One with a soup tureen and one with a bottle of wine. Once served, they ate in silence.

The main course arrived and Johnny looked at it curiously. His brows went up as he sought his brother's attention.

"It's lobster, Johnny. It's a bit tricky but well worth the effort," Harlan explained.

"Oh, okay," he answered simply.

Garrett made a show of the proper way to eat the beast and Johnny followed his lead. Harlan began the conversation then with light talk of Boston society and the orchestra and such.

Dessert was served and Scott smiled. It was one of his favorites - tapioca pudding. During this course, Harlan asked the question.

******

"Now, what has brought you all to our fair city?"

Johnny laid his spoon down and not just because of the question. He decidely did not like tapioca pudding. "Guess I am," he said softly.

"You? I'm confused," Harlan frowned.

"Johnny has been ill, Harlan. Our doctor suggested we bring him here to the hospital," Murdoch explained briefly.

"Oh, I am sorry to hear that. But, I'm afraid I still don't understand. Not that Massachusetts General isn't one of the best in the country; but there are closer hospitals."

"Well, Grandfather, Johnny needs a specialist and Dr. Jenkins felt he could get the best here."

"Specialist? What kind of specialist?" Garrett persisted.

Johnny had to smile a little. "Well, seems there's something wrong with my head."

Murdoch cleared his throat. "Yes, Sam said this Dr. Elliot is one of the best in the field."

"John Elliot?" Garrett asked.

"Do you know him, Grandfather?" Scott asked with great interest.

"Yes, I do. Socially, of course. He is definitely a leader in the field of neurology."

"Could you get Johnny in to see him quickly?" Scott asked hopefully.

Harlan regarded his grandson for a beat. "Of course. I'll speak with him first thing in the morning," he smiled.

"Thank you, Mr. Garrett."

"You quite welcome, Johnny. I do hope he can help you."

Johnny thought the man actually sounded sincere just then. He decided to reserve judgement, however. Harlan Garrett wasn't going to pull him in.

Their host invited them into the study once more where they had brandy and talked for a while. Harlan sat in an overstuffed chair and Scott was in its twin beside him. Johnny and Murdoch sat on the sofa opposite.

"How is that lovely Teresa?" Garrett asked.

"She's growing up quickly," Murdoch answered almost painfully.

Scott and Johnny laughed at this.

"She'll be married and ........."

All three looked at Johnny as he'd stopped speaking. He stared into space unblinking.

Murdoch touched his arm and called his name but got no response. For several minutes this continued. Scott was ready to send for a doctor or take his brother to the hospital when Johnny's head jerked and he blinked rapidly several times.

He looked around and noted they were staring at him. "What?"

"You went away on us, brother," Scott said gently.

"What do you mean?" Johnny asked in confusion.

"You started to say something about Teresa then just stopped in mid-sentence, son. You just stared into space for a long time," Murdoch frowned.

Johnny looked at his father as if he were speaking a language he didn't understand. "I did?" was all he could think to say.

"I think you need some rest. Come on, I'll go with you," Murdoch smiled.

"Okay. Goodnight, Mr. Garrett, Scott," Johnny said dully as he stood beside his father.

Once they were out of the room, Harlan turned to his grandson. "Has that ever happened before?"

"No, not that I'm aware of," Scott said in a distant voice. "I'm scared for him."

"I know, son," Garrett said and squeezed his arm.

Harlan Garrett was not a fan of Johnny or Murdoch Lancer but he had seen what happened to the young man the night before. He was determined to get Johnny help for his grandson's sake. If something happened to Johnny, Harlan knew Scott would be devastated. Realizing that fact had not been easy, accepting it was even harder. But he had accepted it and now he was on his way to see his friend, Dr. John Elliot.

Scott was up and dressed at his usual time. He'd gone down to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee, knowing the staff would not yet be awake. Soon after, Murdoch found his way there as well.

"I was going to bring it to you. Oh, and good morning," Scott smiled.

"Good morning, son. I can't believe I remembered where the kitchen was," Murdoch smiled back.

Scott pulled three cups out and brought the pot to the table, setting it on a hotplate. "Did you check on Johnny?"

Murdoch nodded as he inhaled the aroma of the coffee. "He was still sleeping."

"What happened to him last night?" Scott asked.

"I don't know, son. It was strange," Murdoch grimaced as he took his first sip. "Ach! I remember something else now."

"What's that, sir?"

"You can't make coffee, son," he said apologetically.

Scott laughed aloud but he had to agree. Somehow, he had never quite gotten the knack of making western style coffee. A style that was much stronger than he'd grown up with. It had taken him some time to get used to it and now, he had to admit, this weaker brew was like drinking hot water.

Johnny stumbled in and muttered a good morning before sitting at the table. He grabbed the pot and poured a cup then proceeded to take a long drink. His face was almost painful. "Damn! Murdoch why did you let him make the coffee?"

"He beat me to it. Sorry," Murdoch shrugged.

Johnny got up and poured it down the sink along with the rest in the pot. He rummaged about noisily as he looked for some beans. Grumbling under his breath, he started a fresh pot and the aroma filled the room within a minute.

Scott and Murdoch remained silent. Both could tell Johnny was in a bad mood and neither wanted a shouting match in the Garrett kitchen.

After a few minutes, Johnny returned to the table with the pot and poured coffee all around.

"Would you mind teaching me to do this? It's really good," Scott smiled.

"Why didn't you watch me just now?" Johnny snapped.

"Because there are knives over there," Scott answered back.

Johnny glared at him then dropped his eyes. "Sorry."

"Oh, my! Gentlemen, I will get your breakfast right away," Mrs. Standish said as she came upon the intruders in her kitchen.

"It's all right, ma'am. We're just used to getting up early. We'll get out of your way," Scott said and tossed a nod toward the door.

The men made a quick retreat, Murdoch grabbing the coffee pot as he went.

******

Now in the study, Scott lit a fire. It was still chilly in Boston even though there was a heat wave going on out west. Johnny kept rubbing his arms briskly so Scott took the hint.

"I wouldn't live in this big ole house alone," Johnny commented.

"It can get lonely at times," Scott admitted then looked up. "Well, I spent a lot of time with my friends," he added.

"Your grandfather should sell it and get a smaller place. Or get somebody to live with him. Something," Johnny continued.

"I can't see Grandfather inviting anyone to live in the family home."

Johnny snorted. "Family? How can it be a family home if he's the only one here?"

"Johnny, that's enough," Murdoch said firmly.

He looked over at his father and shrugged. "What did I say?"

"It's not your place to say anything. Harlan can live however he likes," Murdoch answered.

"Sure. I hope he remembers Scott can too," Johnny sniped.

"I know you're in one of those moods, Johnny, but that really is enough," Scott imparted.

Johnny took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. Seems I ain't fit company right now."

"Does your head hurt, son?"

"No, I'm just .... mean," he laughed at himself.

Scott chuckled a bit as well.

"Where is the old man? Figured he'd be up at least by now," Johnny asked.

"So did I. Maybe Billings knows," Scott frowned and walked over to the curtains. He yanked on a satin rope hanging there and the butler appeared shortly.

"Is my grandfather up yet?" Scott asked of the man.

"Oh, yes, sir. Mr. Garrett was up and out early this morning. He said to tell you he had gone to see a friend. He said you would understand," Billings informed him.

"Thank you. That's all," Scott smiled. "I guess he went to see Dr. Elliot."

"I ain't in that much of a hurry. No sense in gettin up with the chickens," Johnny grumped.

"The sooner the better, remember, son?" Murdoch raised a brow.

"Yeah, yeah. Well, why don't you show me this town of yours, brother? I'm sure that doc won't be able to see me today."

"Maybe we should wait just a while longer, Johnny. Grandfather has a way of getting people to do what he wants," Scott suggested.

Johnny had to almost bite his tongue from commenting on that. But, he managed to control himself. He figured if he tried hard enough, maybe he could get himself in a better mood, too. Maybe.

******

An hour later, Garrett returned home just as the Lancers were finishing a large breakfast. He joined them for his own meal.

"Dr. Elliot can see you at nine o'clock tomorrow morning, Johnny. I'm afraid that's the best I could do. He has surgery all day today," he reported.

"Well, thanks for doing this. You didn't have to go to any trouble," Johnny smiled.

"No trouble at all, young man. Now, what are the three of you going to do today?"

"Johnny wants to see Boston. So, I guess that's what we'll do," Scott grinned.

"Excellent. Be sure to show him all the historical places, Scotty."

"I will, Grandfather," Scott laughed. Harlan was a proud Bostonian to be sure.

"Are you coming with us, Murdoch?" Johnny asked.

"You two go ahead. There are some places I'd like to visit and I'm sure they aren't on the tour. Why don't we meet for lunch?"

"Good idea. Fanueil Hall at noon?" Scott inquired.

Murdoch nodded his agreement and the three of them readied themselves for the day.

Scott and Johnny started with a walking tour since the Common was close by. They walked along Beacon Hill and Scott was sure Johnny's neck would break as he took in all the houses.

By lunch time they were both worn out. They'd seen quite a bit of the downtown area and Scott had shown Johnny the hospital. It was a huge brick structure of several floors. They decided to take a cab for the rest of the tour.

Murdoch joined them for lunch and went with them for the rest of the day. Johnny's mood had indeed improved and he was very interested in the sights and the history involved. He was amazed that so much could have happened in one city in such a short amount of time. He'd never paid much attention to that sort of thing. It had never seemed important. But, listening to his brother describe the places and events, he understood how much was given for the freedom they all enjoyed.

They ended their day at Harvard. Johnny was grinning ear to ear when they crossed the Charles River. If there was one thing from his brother's life he wanted to see, this would be it. Johnny was proud of Scott. Of all his brother had accomplished in his life. A war veteran and college graduate, to Johnny, was a feat. Especially considering Scott was still a young man. He knew his brother had to have worked hard for his education with the war interrupting that process.

They stood in front of the buildings as Scott pointed out each one by name and what was taught there. Johnny listened intently until he suddenly found himself sitting on the ground. He looked around dazedly at his father and brother kneeling beside him.

"What happened?" Johnny asked.

"You fell down," Scott deadpanned.

"No kidding," Johnny shot. "Well, help me up!"

They did and he dusted his britches then looked around to see if he'd been noticed. No one was about and he was grateful.

"Did you get dizzy, Johnny?" Murdoch was asking.

"No. I was listening to Scott then suddenly found myself on the ground. God! I'm so tired of this!" he spat.

"All right, son. Let's head back now. Tomorrow, we'll find out what's wrong and get it fixed," Murdoch said soothingly and wrapped his arm around Johnny's shoulder.

******

It was quiet at the dinner table. Johnny stared at his plate and pushed the food around. Scott ate silently and focused on that task. Murdoch frowned through the whole meal.

"I've never seen such a sad bunch. What is wrong?" Harlan asked.

Scott glanced at him then back at his plate.

"Well?" Harlan pressed.

"It's me, Mr. Garrett. I had some kind of ..... thing today," Johnny waved his hand in the air.

"Oh? What happened?"

"I was standing on the street in front of Harvard and all the sudden I was on the ground. No warning, no dizziness, nothin." He was feeling that frustration again and more than that the fear. He hated the fear, always had. Had always been able to conquer it before, too. But he'd always known what caused it then.

Harlan was looking hard at him. He started to wonder if he had some food on his face or something.

"Johnny, I just want to say that whatever you need, you shall have. Now, I don't want to insult you, Murdoch, but, if finances are an issue, I'd be glad to help," Harlan finally said.

"That's generous of you, Harlan, but....."

"No buts," Harlan interrupted Murdoch. "Scotty is the most important person in my life. If someone he cares so deeply for needs help, I will give it. I will make arrangements at the hospital should you need to be admitted there. Hopefully, of course, that won't occur. But I must say I doubt it won't. Even if they only want to observe and test you for a few days. At any rate, you'll have a private room and anything you need." Harlan finished his dialogue with a wave of the hand as if dismissing the subject.

Scott smiled affectionately at the older man. "Thank you, sir."

"Posh! It's the least I can do. Now then, shall we adjourn to the study?" Harlan rose from his seat and awaited the others.

"You all go ahead. I think I'll go to bed early. Goodnight," Johnny said quietly and left the room swiftly.

Murdoch stared after him wanting to follow. He almost did but held back. Johnny probably wanted to be alone right now. That's how it seemed to him. He was getting better at reading his son so he relented and went to the study.

******

The next morning, the Lancers attempted to sleep in but it was useless. Each man did stay in his room longer than usual so the staff could get on with their own routines.

Scott paced the length of the floor several times, his hands clasped behind his back. He didn't know what this day would hold for them and he was frightened.

Two doors down, Murdoch was mimicking his son as he tread over the thick carpet. He glanced at his pocket watch every minute or so then sighed and gave up the pretense. Steeling himself, he left his own room to seek out his boy.

Johnny opened the door a split second after Murdoch's knock leaving the older man staring in surprise. He smiled softly. "Mornin."

"Good morning, son. It's still a bit early for these city folk," Murdoch smiled.

"Yeah, but if I don't get some coffee soon, they'll all be runnin out of here screamin," he grinned wider.

Murdoch chuckled and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "I know what you mean. Let's corral your brother and go make a nusiance of ourselves."

Scott appeared in the hallway before they made it that far. "Well, good morning. Did you both sleep well?"

"Sure, brother," Johnny snorted.

Scott cocked a brow. "Shall we?" he asked as he waved his arm toward the staircase.

Once downstairs, they found breakfast within minutes of being ready. It seemed Mrs. Standish had arisen early to accommodate the guests. They sat at the table and ate their fill, no one in the mood for idle chatter.

"What time is it?" Johnny asked.

"Just now eight o'clock. We should get going," Murdoch replied and dropped his napkin on his plate.

Scott nodded, grabbed one last drink of coffee and stood as his father did.

Johnny still sat staring into the black brew and they waited. After less than a minute, he sighed and stood up as well.

They stood in the foyer donning their light weight coats as Harlan Garrett descended the stairs. "Good morning all. Are you leaving now?"

"It's eight o'clock. We want to be there on time. I'm sure the doctor is a busy man," Scott explained.

"He is indeed," Harlan said then smiled at his grandson. "Always considerate of others, aren't you, Scotty?"

Scott dipped his eyes and shrugged. Johnny smiled fully at the unfamiliar gesture. Scott never had a problem taking compliments before.

"Will you all meet me for lunch today? I've set aside some time and I'd like to hear what Dr. Eliott had to say. If that's all right with you, Johnny," Harlan continued.

"Sure," Johnny replied softly.

"Noon then, at my office?"

"We'll see you there, sir," Scott smiled. He was happy his grandfather was taking an interest, even offering his help as he had.

They arrived at the hospital at eight-thirty and were shown to a waiting room. Murdoch was near the end of his patience as he watched his younger son. Johnny alternately sat drumming his fingers on his leg and shifting in his seat to pacing about the small room. He couldn't keep still.

Murdoch knew he was nervous but this wasn't helping anything. "Sit down and be still!" he ordered.

Johnny whirled around and glared at him for a second before returning to his seat. But his fingers started tapping again within seconds and Murdoch gave up.

Suddenly, a young woman appeared. "Mr. Lancer?"

Johnny looked up and nodded.

"The doctor will see you now," she smiled.

All three men stood to follow her and she looked curiously at them.

"Just the patient please, gentlemen."

Johnny looked at them both and shrugged then turned to follow her.

"Johnny," Murdoch called. "Be sure you tell him everything. Even the things you haven't told us," he said with a knowing tone.

Johnny dropped his eyes and simply nodded, a small smile lifting the edges of his mouth.

Once he was gone from their sight, Scott sighed loudly. "I can't stand this."

"I know," Murdoch mumbled.

"I wonder how long it will take."

"I don't know, son. I guess we have no choice but to wait." Murdoch began pacing himself now, his fists clenching. "I'm his father. I should be in there with him," he growled.

Scott laughed at this. "He's a grown man, Murdoch."

"He still needs me," he countered.

Scott smiled. "Yes, I suppose he does. Why don't we try to locate a cup of coffee?"

*****

The young woman led Johnny into a small office then through to a larger one. Books and papers cluttered the shelves and desk. Light from the high windows filtered in off to the side and a lamp glowed brightly on the desk. It smelled like medicine in there and Johnny wrinkled his nose.

There was a man sitting at the desk writing furiously. He didn't seem to realize he was no longer alone. He was older and well-dressed. The woman made a soft throat clearing noise and he looked up.

"Oh, Mr. Lancer, please come in," he said as he stood.

Johnny crossed the space and took the proffered handshake. He got a good look now. The man had warm brown eyes; friendly eyes. Johnny liked that. He was probably in his fifties, he guessed and looked fit. Slim but not skinny. Brown hair with just a touch of gray at the temples.

"Please have a seat. Now, I understand Harlan Garrett is a friend of yours?"

Johnny almost laughed out loud. He refrained but the smile couldn't be kept at bay. "Not exactly. He's my half-brother's grandfather."

"Oh. Well, no matter about that. Now then, tell me what you've been experiencing," Dr. Elliot replied as he took a piece of paper and pen in hand.

Johnny went into great detail about everything he had experienced. He remembered his father's warning with a small smile. He knew he had to be straight with the doc and was glad they were alone.

Dr. Elliot asked him what seemed like a million questions. Two hours passed before the doctor sat back in his chair and rubbed a hand over his face.

"Well, you have some pretty classic symptoms, Mr. Lancer. I believe you have a lesion in the temporo-parietal lobe of your brain. This area affects memory and personality. Also the increased libido."

"The what?" Johnny asked of the last, still trying to absorb all this.

"Oh, that's your sex drive," he said casually. "Now then, these episodes you've experienced recently where you stared off into space and found yourself on the ground were seizures. Light ones but seizures nonetheless. The best and only course of treatment is surgery to remove the lesion."

Johnny stared at him for long seconds.

"Do you need me to repeat that?" Dr. Elliot asked, knowing his patient may have forgotten everything he'd just heard.

But, he shook his head and shifted in his seat. "How dangerous is the surgery?"

"Well, I've done many of them and successfully. There is always risk involved especially with brain surgery. Infection is, as always, the most prominent concern. There are side effects to consider as well. You may have a memory defect."

"I already do," Johnny clipped.

Dr. Elliot smiled. "Yes, that's true. The good news is the headaches and all the other symptoms will be gone."

"So, what kind of memory problems would I have?" Johnny asked, still whirling.

"Usually, learning difficulties. You won't be able to learn things you hear or read as easily. But, memories of taste, touch and smell will be intact."

*****

Johnny leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and buried his face in his hands.

"Are you all right?" Dr. Elliot asked as he rose.

Johnny nodded and held up a hand to stay the man. "I'm all right. Just feeling ....."

"Overwhelmed?" the doctor offered.

"Yeah, very." He looked back up and resumed his previous position. "Sometimes, I feel like crying so bad I can hardly hold it in."

Elliot nodded. "That's part of the personality change. I take it you are not prone to crying?"

Johnny laughed a little. "Not since I was about ten. Okay, so I'll have trouble learning new things but what I all ready know will still be there?"

"Most likely. It really depends on where the lesion is located. If it's where I think, your symptoms are only going to progress. You may have problems with remembering names, for instance. Although your motor sensory would not be affected, remembering how to complete tasks might. Now, from your symptoms, I think this is a problem on the left side of your brain. That would affect the right side of your body."

Johnny's eyes widened. "Wait ..... just wait a minute. What you said about motor sensory? What does that mean?"

"The function itself would not be impaired. You will still be able to use your right arm, for example. But, you may forget how to use a fork or what it's even for."

Johnny blinked several times as this sunk in. "Are you tellin me that I might forget how to use a gun?"

Dr. Elliot was surprised at the question. "Well, yes that would be one thing. So, you see, Mr. Lancer, surgery really is the only option."

"Sounds like I'm gonna just go loco," Johnny mumbled. "So, when could you do this surgery?"

Dr. Elliot reached over and picked up a small book. He flipped through the pages and scanned the contents. "I can operate on you day after tomorrow at seven o'clock in the morning. You'll have to be admitted to the hospital tomorrow for routine tests and to prepare you for surgery. I would urge you not to think on this too long."

"Nothing to think about. I don't have any choice," Johnny sighed.

"Very well, then. I'll schedule you. Be here tomorrow by noon at the latest. They'll be expecting you," Dr. Elliot said and stood up.

Johnny stood as well and shook hands with the man. "Thanks, Doc. Guess I'll go tell my family now." His expression was pained at the thought.

"I'll check on you tomorrow so if they have any questions, I can answer them then."

Johnny nodded and left the man's office. He stood in the smaller outer office and looked around.

"I'll show you out, sir," the young woman said.

Johnny smiled softly. "I guess you get a lot of people in here who don't know what they're doin half the time."

She laughed lightly. It was a pleasant laugh. "You would be surprised how many people suffer from some form of brain disease."

She turned and walked through the door and Johnny stared after her for a beat. Disease? He hadn't really connected that word to it.

******

He appeared at the waiting room door and simply jerked his head backwards to indicate they should leave. Johnny didn't stop until he was on the street. He leaned against a lamppost and tried to find his composure.

"What happened, son?"

"Can we find someplace to sit down?" he asked whisper soft.

"Follow me," Scott said and crossed the street. A block away was a small park and they sat on a bench.

Johnny related everything the doctor had told him and what was about to happen.

All three men grew quiet for a time. The birds chirped particularly loudly and a soft breeze blew past. No one seemed to notice.

"And surgery is the only treatment?" Scott asked.

"Yeah. He said it would only get worse. He said I could forget how to use my gun," Johnny answered, his eyes downcast.

"Did you hear anything he said after that?" Murdoch growled.

Johnny looked up at him quizically.

"Of all the things that could happen, the one you focus on is your gun!"

Johnny stood up to face his father. "No, Murdoch, that isn't all. He said I might forget people's names or the names of things. He said I might not be able to remember a lot of things. He said I might turn into a blithering idiot! Are you happy now, Old Man!" he shouted as his breathing became harsher.

Scott took to his feet, ready to get between them at a seconds notice.

Murdoch stared into his son's eyes and faltered. His face crumpled and he looked away. "I'm sorry, son. I'm angry that this is happening to you. I shouldn't take it out on you."

Johnny relaxed immediately and walked away a few paces, his back to them, his head bowed. "I have to go in the hospital tomorrow before noon. I guess we ain't gonna get to see much more of Boston," he fairly croaked out.

Scott suddenly remembered his grandfather. "Johnny, if you don't feel up to lunch with Grandfather, I know he'll understand."

Johnny turned back. He had forgotten all about that. "You two go ahead. I'm going back to the house. I need some time to think."

"I should go with you, son," Murdoch offered.

"No, I need to be alone. Please, Murdoch. Just for a little while," Johnny implored.

"All right. You remember how to get back?"

Johnny smiled at his father. "No."

Scott rustled around his pockets until he found a piece of paper and pencil. He wrote down the address and handed it to Johnny. "Just get a cab and give him this."

"Thanks, brother. I'll be okay," he said for their benefit. It sure wasn't for his own because he wasn't sure at all that he would be okay.

******

Johnny watched as Scott hailed a cab and they drove away from him. He stared after them for a long time before sitting back down on the bench. He didn't sit long, not even five minutes before his restless nature had him on his feet.

He started walking across the small park and down a street. He had no idea where he was or where he was going. He also didn't care. He just wanted to stop thinking about this. He focused on his surroundings and realized most of the streets were awfully narrow. He idly wondered why that was.

It was nearly noon and the warm sun was making his jacket unnecessary. He shrugged out of it and threw it over his shoulder, hooking one finger under the collar. Each block he came to brought another decision. Right, left or straight ahead. He would close his eyes briefly then go whichever way his instincts told him. After all, it didn't matter.

Dr. Elliot's voice would not go away no matter how hard he tried. The conversation replayed in his mind over and over. He knew he'd told all to the man but he kept trying to think if he'd missed something. Anything that would make this not end up in an operation.

It wasn't that he was afraid of the surgery as much as he was afraid it wouldn't work. That he would stay this way or get worse. The symptoms the doctor had described that he'd yet to experience horrified him. He knew he wouldn't be able to stay home if this surgery failed. He couldn't do that to his family.

He figured he'd go off in the mountains somewhere. Maybe build a cabin. He could do that. Many men did. He was used to being alone, on his own, so that wouldn't matter so much.

He smiled fleetingly. Boy you sure can lie to yourself, can't you? How come it's so much harder to lie to other people?

He heard a loud and insistent shouting and looked up. Johnny jumped back out of the street just as a very large and laden wagon barrelled toward him. The driver was shaking his fist and cussing him all the way down the street. He took a deep breath and blew it out from puffed cheeks. Best watch where I'm goin or I won't have to worry about anything ever again.

He looked up at the street sign but the name meant nothing to him. Heck, he couldn't even pronounce it. Bowdoin? What kind of name was that? He shrugged and turned right for no particular reason. He crossed a few narrow streets then found himself at another, slightly bigger intersection. Johnny put his hands on his hips and laughed. Beacon Street. Of course!

He stood there for a while, casting a glance at the sun. It was still fairly early and he didn't want to go to that cold house right now. He turned right onto Beacon and strolled about, looking at the side streets until he found one that sounded nice. Park Street. Why not?

Then he looked across and saw something familiar, finally. Boston Common lay out before him and he smiled. He crossed and went into the park, following one path then another as he looked at the trees and flowers. He stopped and sat on a bench watching the squirrels play. It was quite entertaining and he figured he was just about gone now. If watching squirrels gave him a thrill, he really did need help, he thought sarcastically.

Johnny didn't know how long he sat there but he realized the shadows were lengthening. He looked up and was surprised it was so late. Standing with a slight grunt, he looked around and frowned. He couldn't remember which way he'd come now. Damn! He'd always been good at directions now he couldn't remember.

Frustration showered upon him in mass quantities. He was ready to hit something or someone but there was no one around. Even the squirrels seemed to have left him. Then he heard voices off to his left and felt relieved.

A well-dressed couple strolled toward him arm in arm. He stopped them and ask directions, though he hated doing it. Soon enough, he was on the right track and heading back to the Garrett house.

******

Scott paced the study, turning on a dime with each reversal. Murdoch watched him, counting the cadence. He was that bored. He was also worried but he knew Johnny could take care of himself. Well, under normal circumstances.

They heard the front door open and both men rushed into the foyer. Harlan appeared followed by Johnny.

"Good evening, gentlemen. Look who I found lurking outside," Garrett smiled.

"Johnny, where have you been?" Scott demanded.

Johnny looked at him a bit astonished by the harsh tone. "Just walkin around, brother."

"You said you wanted to be alone for a little while. That was hours ago! We were worried," Scott continued his rant.

Johnny shrugged. "Wasn't payin attention to the time. I didn't know I had a curfew," he retorted, a hint of sarcasm noticeable.

"Where did you go?" Murdoch asked in a normal tone of voice.

Johnny frowned and cocked his head to one side. "I'm not really sure. I ended up at the Common though."

"Well, I'm going to freshen up for dinner, gentlemen," Harlan interrupted the interrogation. "Perhaps, you should all do the same," he added with a glance at Scott.

Scott immediately straightened his posture. "Yes, sir, of course."

Harlan nodded and headed upstairs and Johnny nearly ran to the study. He flopped down in a chair and burst out laughing.

"What is so funny?" Scott asked, towering over him with hands on hips.

"You are. Boy, when the old man says jump you say how high," he cackled.

Scott rolled his eyes. "That is not true. I simply show him the respect he deserves. You might try it yourself sometime, Johnny. Being considerate of others is a good thing."

Johnny's smile melted away. "I'm sorry. I didn't know it was so late. I was sitting in the park. Didn't know it was a crime," he answered, mumbling the last sentence.

"We were concerned, son. After the day you've had," Murdoch intervened.

"Did you think I get lost and not have enough sense to ask how to get back?"

"I thought you might forget where you were and why," Murdoch came back gently.

Johnny sighed loudly through his nose. "Yeah, I guess there's a good chance of that happenin."

"How are you?" Murdoch asked.

He shrugged again. "Fine." Closing his eyes, he rubbed his forehead. "Feels like a headache coming on."

"Did you eat anything?" Scott asked, sitting across from him as he spoke.

"No, I didn't even think about it. Guess I am pretty hungry. I hope we don't have lobster again, though," he said and made a face.

It wasn't lobster and Johnny was thankful. Mrs. Standish had made a delicious pork roast and Johnny was sure he was going to bust wide open. He was hungrier than he'd thought.

Again, Harlan did not begin any serious conversation until dessert was served. Johnny thought to ask his brother about that. Must be some manners thing, he reckoned.

And again, he was pleasantly surprised by the apple pie. No pudding, thank you! It was different, too. Had a lot of cinnamon in it. He made a note about that, as well. Maybe he could get the recipe for Teresa.

"Johnny, I sent word to the hospital this afternoon. A private room will be awaiting you tomorrow," Harlan said.

"You didn't have to do that, Mr. Garrett. But, thank you."

"It's nothing at all. I'm afraid I'm not educated about this type of thing. I know Dr. Elliot has been quite pleased with his work. Of course, he doesn't get into particulars at parties," Harlan smiled.

"I hope not," Johnny laughed softly.

"Did he tell you anything about the surgery?" Scott asked.

Johnny shook his head. "No, and I didn't ask. He said if you had any questions you could ask him tomorrow. I guess he'll tell me what I need to know then. Just hope I can remember it," he finished a bit gloomily.

Murdoch winced at this statement. He had a lot of questions for the doctor. He hoped the man was prepared to spend some time with them tomorrow. Murdoch Lancer did not like being in the dark, especially where his sons' health was concerned. He decided to make a list so he didn't forget to ask something.

Harlan invited them into the study for after dinner drinks and they all settled in comfortably. Johnny sat near the fire which had been lit as the sun began to set. He doubted the heat would warm him much. His hands had grown cold in the doctor's office and had yet to warm up.

Scott sat beside him, watching his brother's profile. He knew this was weighing Johnny down but, so far, he hadn't erupted. Scott knew it would come though. Not that he looked forward to it; especially in front of his grandfather.

"What?"

Scott's head jerked as the question brought him out of his reverie. He looked at Johnny who was watching him closely.

"Just thinking," he smiled wanly.

"About what?" Johnny inquired suspiciously. He knew his brother all too well.

"What else would be on my mind, brother? I was just wondering when you were going to let it out," Scott shrugged.

"Nothin to let out. What would be the point anyway," he sighed.

"Might make you feel better."

"You want me to go off in front of your grandfather, Scott? Is that what you really want?" Johnny asked, his tone becoming hard.

*****

"Is something wrong?" Murdoch asked as he came nearer.

Both young men looked up at him and shook their heads no. Murdoch was unconvinced, however.

"It appeared you were arguing," he half-asked, half-stated as fact.

Scott smiled but Johnny turned back to stare at the fire.

"Disagreeing is more like it," Scott replied.

Murdoch simply nodded. "When do you want to go to the hospital tomorrow, son?"

Johnny glanced up at him then back to the flames. "Doc said to be there before noon so I figured five minutes before was soon enough for me," he said flatly.

Murdoch smiled, he'd figured as much. It suited him fine. The less time Johnny had to spend there, the more he liked it. He was quite sure his son agreed. He knew this would be torture for the young man and he tried to prepare himself for the brooding he would likely witness. A heavy sigh from the youngest Lancer brought a crease to the rancher's forehead. He looked around and grabbed a small chair, sitting it near his boys.

"Why don't we talk this out now?"

"Talk what out?" Johnny asked softly.

"How you are feeling. I assume that's what your father meant," Harlan intervened. "Surely, you must be having all sorts of thoughts. None of them pleasant, I'd wager."

Johnny shrugged. "What difference does it make? It won't change anything."

"No, it will not. But, it might help you deal with what you are facing," Harlan pointed out.

Johnny stood up suddenly and rounded the chair, coming face to face with Garrett.

"What are you trying to pull here, old man? I know you can't stand me but ever since we got here you've been all sweetness and light. Real accommodatin. I know some of it's for Scott's sake but come on, how much of this garbage do you think I'll swallow?" His hands on his hips, Johnny glared at the man.

"Johnny!" Scott exclaimed as he came to his feet as well.

"It's all right, Scotty. This is what you were waiting for, isn't it? Go ahead, Johnny. Take your anger out on me if that's what you need. I understand your skepticism after my visit to the ranch. But, I have come to understand that Scotty is where he wants to be. And I have always respected his choice in friends. I know how important you are to him and my only goal is to help him as much as I can. That means helping you." Harlan kept his voice level and calm.

Johnny stood there staring at him, suddenly unsure. Why had he gone off on old man Garrett anyway? He closed his eyes and dropped his head, turning away from the man. "I'm sorry."

Murdoch was beside him suddenly. "We know, son. That's why we wanted you to talk it out. So this wouldn't happen. You get angry and say things you don't mean. People get hurt by that. I know, I've done it too many times myself."

He glanced at his father, then at Garrett. "I am sorry. You've been nothing but kind to me. Maybe I should go to bed now."

"It's quite all right, Johnny. No offense taken. Try to get some rest," Harlan replied with an understanding smile.

******

Johnny stared at the ceiling as the first hint of the new day crept softly through the open window. He'd lain there all night, eyes wide open, unable to close them and unable to stand thinking about this day. The subtle shift from night to day was not lost on him and he sighed forlornly.

His eyes tracked to the window as the velvet turned gray then brighter until it was a pale yellow. Birds started chirping in the tree outside his room. He thought to get up but couldn't see the point. Soon enough he'd be stuck in another unfamiliar bed in another unfamiliar room. He'd bet his bottom dollar it wouldn't be as grand as this. Johnny smirked.  

He turned onto his left side and stuck his hand under the pillow. Curling up a bit, he stretched his back muscles, then stretched out his legs before pulling them toward his chest again. He ended up almost in a ball without realizing it. He pulled the covers over his bare shoulder and closed his eyes. A light knock on the door had him opening them again minutes later.

He thought to ignore it. Maybe they'd go away. He didn't want to see anyone just then. Didn't want to talk about how he was feeling. Didn't want any idle, meaningless chatter in an attempt to assuage the tension he felt.

There it was again. It had to be Scott. Who else would be that patient? Johnny raised his head and looked toward the door then lowered it again. Go away. Please, just go away, he thought.

A slight, almost indiscernible squeak announced the turning of the doorknob and he tensed. They just weren't going to leave him be. So, he waited to see the blond head appear through the opening.

There he was, smiling brightly. Too brightly, in fact. Here we go with the sunny disposition. The fake good mood. All for his benefit and it was all for naught. Too bad, really. A waste of a perfectly good acting job. Johnny knew that's exactly what it was. Scott no more felt cheerful than he did.

"Good morning, brother."

Johnny tried to smile back and was sure he failed totally. "Mornin."

"Are you going to lay there all day?" Scott asked as he pulled the drapes wider then turned and faced his brother.

"Can I?" Johnny snorted.

Scott was not dissuaded. He kept the smile plastered on his face as he walked over and sat on the foot of the bed. "I suppose you could if you really wanted to. I thought you might like some breakfast."

Johnny frowned. His stomach reacted before his mouth to that suggestion. He was hungry. "Sure, why not?" he answered flatly.

"Good! Get up and dressed and I'll meet you downstairs," Scott proclaimed as he stood and headed for the door. "Five minutes," he cocked a warning brow as he disappeared.

Nice try, brother. Thanks, Johnny thought as he threw back the covers and raised up.

*****

Johnny walked slowly down the stairs and into the dining room to find himself the center of attention. All eyes had turned to him and he smiled weakly before taking his seat next to Murdoch. Morning pleasantries were exchanged quietly as the meal was served.

"Is there anything you would like to do before going to the hospital, gentlemen?" Harlan asked.

"Yeah, go home," Johnny mumbled.

"I can't think of anything, sir," Scott answered, ignoring his brother's remark.

"Neither can I," voiced Murdoch.

"Well, I thought a little shopping might be in order. Some reading material for Johnny while he recuperates and for the two of you while you're waiting. Perhaps a deck of cards. You'll need something to occupy yourselves. I understand these things can take hours," Harlan suggested.

Ever practical, Scott thought and had to smile. "That is a good idea, sir. There's a wonderful book store not too far from here.

"Can we walk there?" Johnny asked.

Scott thought about this. "I don't see why not. It's a bit of a walk but the fresh air will do us all some good. Will you join us, Grandfather?"

"Oh, I'm afraid I can't. I have a meeting this morning. If I may, I would like to visit this evening."

Johnny raised his brows briefly at this but simply nodded at the older man.

The rest of the meal was completed in relative silence. Soon, Harlan had left for work and the Lancers were off. Scott guided them through the streets of Boston and Johnny noticed a strange expression on his brother's face.

He took a couple of longer strides to get to his brother's side. "Memories?" he asked softly.

Scott turned with a melancholy wisp of a smile. "Yes, a lot of memories."

"Good ones, I hope," Johnny said softly.

"Mostly, very good," Scott replied.

"So, do you have to go through the Common to get everywhere?" Johnny grinned as they entered the park.

Scott laughed. "Well, in this part of town, I guess so."

They walked across to Tremont Street then on to Washington where Scott headed to the Old Corner Bookstore. By the time they finished browsing the large collection, Murdoch was laden with books as was Scott. Johnny just smiled and shook his head.

"You'll be glad we have these soon enough," Murdoch chastised.

They walked out into the bright sunshine and Johnny looked up at the sun with a sigh. "Guess it's time," he said whisper soft.

"We have a little time. Why don't we get a cab and take these books back to the house before we go?" Scott suggested.

******

Johnny stood in the foyer waiting for his family to stow away their purchases. His head was throbbing and all he wanted was to lay down. He was feeling the sleepless night all too tangibly. He began to feel restless and ..... angry. Chastising himself, he attempted to force the emotions at bay but past experience told him that wouldn't be happening.

When Scott and Murdoch reappeared, he turned on them.

"Took you long enough," Johnny hissed.

The other two men exchanged knowing glances but remained silent.

"Well, let's get this over with!" Johnny went on.

Murdoch walked over and placed a hand on each shoulder firmly. "You're having one of those moods, son."

"I know that, Murdoch!" Johnny spat and pulled away. "You think I can make it stop? I can't! I can't control it!" He backed away until he felt the door behind him.

Scott stepped forward, putting forth his question in a calm tone. "What will make it ease up?"

Johnny glared at him for a long beat then turned aside. He rested his head against the doorframe and closed his eyes. Tears sprung forth and he cursed himself to hell. He felt more than saw Scott approach and held a hand out to ward him off. He brought the hand to his face and pinched his nose to stop the tears he couldn't control.

"Just give me a minute," he mumbled and headed for the study.

Scott took one step before Murdoch's voice stopped him.

"No, son. Leave him be."

****

Johnny went into the study then through another door he knew held ante room. Its purpose was unknown to him. Right now, it served his purpose; privacy. It was a smaller room and was rich with dark colors. Deep oaks and mahogany that matched his mood to a tee. Dark velvet drapes kept the bright sun at bay.

He stood in the middle of the room and bent over, resting his hands on his knees. Breathing hard he choked back the sobs that wrenched from somewhere inside him and for no apparent reason. His mind told him why this was happening. He could no more master this than he could the anger that overwhelmed him at times. No more than he could rule the headaches he suffered. No more than he could make himself stop breathing.

"Por favor, Dios, le hace la parada," he prayed. (Please, God, make it stop)

He raised up and wiped his face with both hands, drying the tears, then sat on the settee near him. Resting his head on the cushioned back, Johnny raised his eyes to the ceiling.

"¿Por qué usted está haciendo esto a mí? ¿He sido a través bastante?" (Why are you doing this to me? Haven't I been through enough?)

He lifted his hands upward as if pleading for some answer, then dropped them resignedly to his lap.

He knew he had to go. He knew he'd be late if he didn't leave now. With one more sniff, he stood up and shook his head vigorously. Pulling back his shoulders, he turned toward the door and set his face in stone. He may be losing his mind but he still had Madrid. It was time to start using him for something worthwhile. He only hoped it wouldn't fail him as everything else seemed to be at the moment.

Johnny walked into the foyer and headed for the door. He hesitated with the knob in his hand. "I'm okay now," he said simply before opening the door and walking out.

They followed, hoping he really was okay and deciding not to try talking about it. That would only upset Johnny and neither wanted a repeat performance. Besides, it wasn't a good idea to have him so angry when the doctor came to see him. It was impossible to tell what Johnny might do if the man pushed.

So, they arrived at Massachusetts General Hospital a sorry looking trio.

A flurry of activity ensued as Johnny was admitted and shown his room. The nurse brought him a gown to put on and Johnny tossed it aside when she left. He circled the room, checking drawers and closets, tapping his fingers against his thighs and alternately clenching his fists. He stopped at the window and looked down to the street below. Unimpressed, he went back to his pacing.

Scott and Murdoch watched him like hawks both amused and concerned. No one spoke as there was nothing to say. Then the door opened.

"Mr. Lancer, your timing is excellent. I just finished my rounds."

"Yeah, well, I've always had good timing, Doc," Johnny smiled fleetingly. He introduced his family and perched on the edge of the bed.

"Do you have any questions?" Dr. Elliot asked.

"Yes, I do," Murdoch said and pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. He smoothed it out as he sat in a chair.

Johnny rolled his eyes and Scott suppressed a laugh, ducking his head to hide the grin that was left behind.

"How long will the surgery take?" Murdoch started.

"It's impossible to say until we get in there and have a look. Generally speaking, about four to five hours," the doctor replied.

"What exactly are you going to do?"

Dr. Elliot looked at Johnny who shrugged as if he didn't care whether he heard it or not.

"Well, putting it simply, we will open the skull and find the lesion then remove it."

"What side effects might he have?" Murdoch continued.

"He may have trouble with his memory. His ability to learn verbal information will most likely be affected. That does go away in time, however."

"What do you mean by verbal information?" Scott asked.

"The ability to learn from reading or hearing something. If you told Johnny something, he wouldn't be able to retain that information."

Scott frowned as he absorbed this. "So, if I were to say to him, the sky is blue?"

"No, what he already knows won't be affected," Dr. Elliot clarified.

Scott nodded, grateful of that.

"A better example would be if you were to tell him President Grant is running for reelection," the doctor went on.

Johnny snorted at this. "I wouldn't remember that now cause I don't care."

"You said his memory would be affected," Murdoch spoke.

"To a degree. I don't think there will be any marked lapses. As I said, it really depends on where the lesion is located. If it is where I suspect, there should only be a minimal amount of loss. Now, I need to ask a question," the doctor turned to his patient.

"Have you had any more seizures?"

"No."

"Good, and what about your mood?"

Once again, Johnny snorted in disgust. "This morning I about took their heads off," he answered, nodding toward his father and brother.

"Tell him all of it, Johnny," Murdoch fairly ordered.

Glaring at his father, Johnny locked his jaw.

"What else happened? I need to know," Dr. Elliot urged gently.

"I started bawlin like a baby!" he stated, crossing his arms over his chest and dropping his eyes.

"We talked about that. Do you remember?" the doctor asked.

"Yeah, I remember. Don't mean I have to like it any."

Dr. Elliot smiled sympathetically. He walked over and sat beside Johnny on the bed. "In the morning, the nurses will come in and prepare you for surgery."

"How do you mean?" Johnny asked, suspicion in his eyes.

"I'm afraid we'll have to shave your head."

He was on his feet in a split second, standing over the doctor and glaring at him with his iciest stare. "I don't think so," he said flatly.

"John," Murdoch said firmly. Seeing his son's distress, he tempered his tone. "It will grow back."

Johnny had that look in his eyes. The one Scott recognized all too well. He got up and rounded the bed to stand behind his brother. Resting his hands on Johnny's shoulders, he increased the pressure slightly.

"You have to do this, Johnny. I know it's hard but Murdoch is right, it will grow back. The most important thing is to get you well and back home."

Scott's voice worked like it always did when Johnny was ready to buck. His shoulders relaxed and he sighed and dipped his head. Looking back up sheepishly at the doctor, he asked, "all of it?"

Dr. Elliot kept a straight face though how he managed that he didn't know. "Yes, all of it. Your head will be swathed in bandages for quite some time. We usually see some regrowth by the time they're removed permanently. It depends on how fast your hair grows normally."

Murdoch chuckled at this. "In that case, it will be back like it is now in a week."

*****

The rest of the evening passed painfully slowly. They talked and played cards but it wasn't helping. Johnny's anxiety level was rising with each tick of the clock. Scott and Murdoch were at a loss as to how to ease his nerves. Both knowing, if they were in this position, nothing would calm them either.

A knock on the door and Harlan appeared. "Good evening," he smiled.

"Good evening, Grandfather."

"Harlan," Murdoch greeted.

"Johnny, how are you?" Harlan asked the quiet man.

"Edgy," Johnny clipped.

"I can't imagine what you must be going through so I won't even try to empathize," Garrett replied.

"Thanks, I guess," Johnny mumbled.

There was an awkward silence until Harlan spoke again. "Have you eaten?"

Everyone shook their heads no.

"Good, Billings will be here soon with your dinner. I see no reason for you to endure hospital food."

"Thank you, Grandfather. You've been incredibly generous," Scott smiled warmly at the man.

That smile was all Harlan Garrett needed as a thanks. After the monumental mess he'd made on his visit out west, he wasn't sure he would ever regain his grandson's respect and affection.

Johnny watched the exchange and it warmed his heart. Emotions familiar from earlier in the day began to rise within him and he jumped up from his chair.

"What's wrong, son?"

Johnny looked at him blankly for a second. "I ... I need ...."

"Johnny? Did I say something?" Harlan asked.

"No, no, I just ...." he closed his eyes and cursed himself. He couldn't think of the words. He knew what he wanted to say but it wouldn't come out.

"I think maybe Murdoch can handle this. Grandfather, take a walk with me," Scott said, grabbing the older man's arm and guiding him quickly out the door.

Murdoch approached his son with trepidation. The thought that he might kill his elder son for this flashed through his mind quickly.

"Sit down, son. Try to calm down and tell me what's wrong," he spoke softly and put Johnny in the chair. Kneeling beside him, Murdoch waited.

Johnny sat with his head down, leaning slightly forward in the chair. Murdoch saw tears running down his cheeks and understood. Johnny had wanted them to leave. He knew this was coming and wanted his privacy. Murdoch was torn between knowing how Johnny felt about anyone witnessing this display and leaving his son alone to deal with it. He decided to stay and take the chance of facing the wrath of Madrid. A fleeting smile crossed his lips.

"It's all right, son. I know you can't help it. Just let it happen, Johnny. It's just us here now."

With no warning, Johnny leaned heavily on his father's chest and sobbed like a child. He hated this, hated his father seeing it, but he couldn't stop it. He tried to tell himself it was the illness but that didn't make it any better.

Murdoch wrapped both arms around his boy and held tight. He knew this was killing Johnny but part of him couldn't help but relish the rare contact. How pathetic was that? he thought.

After several minutes, Johnny pulled away and swiped at his face. Murdoch produced a handkerchief and handed it off. Johnny nodded his thanks and stood, walking to the wash basin and splashing water on his face.

Murdoch waited patiently for Johnny to face him but the younger man didn't turn around. With a soft sigh, Murdoch walked over and rubbed his back.

"It's hard when you're out of control. When your body does things you don't want it to do. Sometimes, it's embarrassing. But, you never have to be embarrassed with me, Johnny." Smiling a little, he leaned in closer to his son. "You know, I changed your diapers."

Johnny started and turned around, a look of pure shock on his face. "Don't tell me that! God, I don't wanna know about that stuff, Murdoch!"

A deep rumble emerged and Murdoch Lancer fell out in a fit of laughter. Johnny kept staring at him, stunned for several seconds. Then, he too started laughing.

****

Out in the hallway, Harlan pulled out of Scott's grip. "What just happened in there?"

Scott sighed. "I think Johnny was having another mood swing. He doesn't like people seeing it," he explained.

"It isn't as if I haven't seen it before. I saw those seizures and he nearly shouted my head off last night," Harlan replied.

"This is .... different, Grandfather. He gets emotional sometimes. Very emotional," Scott gave a meaningful look.

Harlan studied his face for a moment, then made a silent "Oh" with his mouth and nodded. "Well, I can understand that. This has been so difficult for him but I worry about you, my boy."

"Me? I'm fine," Scott replied, a bit surprised.

"Are you? I think not. You have been so busy focusing on Johnny. Have you for one moment thought about how this is affecting you? You haven't been sleeping well, that's evident. You haven't been eating as you should, either."

Scott smiled and ducked his head for a second before meeting his grandfather's concerned gaze again. "Thank you for noticing. I'll be fine once this surgery is over and I know for sure that Johnny will recover."

Harlan frowned at this statement. He was about to ask - what if Johnny doesn't recover? He was stopped by the sound of laughter coming from the other side of the door.

Scott looked at him curiously and Harlan could only shrug his ignorance. They moved cautiously toward the door and opened it.

They found the two men laughing their heads off and Scott idly wondered if this ailment was suddenly contagious.

"Is everything all right in here?" he asked.

Murdoch turned and wiped his eyes, bringing himself under control. "Everything is fine, son. Come on in."

Johnny used the kerchief his father proferred earlier to wipe his own eyes. He smiled gratefully at Murdoch and fell into a chair.

"Perhaps, you'd care to share the joke?" Harlan asked.

This brought on another fit of laughter. Johnny nearly fell out of his chair as a vision of Harlan Garrett changing a baby Scott's diapers leapt into his mind.

Murdoch simply shook his head as he tried to stop. "No, I don't think so, Harlan," he managed to sputter out.

Scott smiled brightly and gave his grandfather a shrug as he came further into the room. Harlan just stared at them all wondering if his grandson was safe with these lunatics. He started from a noise behind him and turned to find Billings standing there, arms loaded.

"Dinner is here, gentlemen," Harlan announced, a bit of sarcasm used on the 'gentlemen'.

Murdoch and Johnny settled down and had a wonderful meal. As they finished, Harlan made to leave.

****

"Just a minute, Mr. Garrett," Johnny called down the hall. He stepped out of the room and joined Garrett near the stairwell.

"Is something wrong?" Harlan asked.

Johnny glanced around before answering, ensuring his brother hadn't followed. "No, I just wanted to thank you for everything you've done and ask one more favor."

Harlan nodded his head and simply waited.

"It's just this. If something goes wrong tomorrow and I .... well, I don't make it..." he hesitated, not wanting to insult the man. "Look, it's Scott I'm worried about. I just don't want any demands made on him if ....."

Harlan got it and stopped Johnny by raising a hand. "I can assure you I will do nothing to cause Scotty any grief. If, God forbid, you should not survive this surgery, I promise I won't pressure Scotty into staying here with me. That doesn't mean I will turn him away but if he stays it will be his choice with no coercion on my part."

Johnny relaxed and smiled. "I had to know for sure."

Garrett smiled back. "I can hardly blame you after my despicable behavior last year. Now, young man, spend your time with your family and I'll keep a good thought for you."

Johnny cocked his head to the side and studied the older man. "Ya know, I think you really mean that."

"I do, Johnny. I do," he smiled and retreated down the stairs.

To their surprise, Scott and Murdoch got the boot an hour later when they were informed in no uncertain terms by a rather strict looking nurse that visiting hours were over. Johnny grinned until Scott reminded him that he had to stay with her.

He suddenly found himself alone in the room. Johnny sighed and knew he wouldn't be getting much sleep tonight. Still, he changed into the gown they'd left for him and immediately decided it was not proper attire. If Teresa could see this, he thought with a wicked grin.

He climbed into the small bed and decided it wasn't any better than the gown. How did they expect people to feel better if they weren't comfortable? He laid back and closed his eyes and was asleep in seconds.

Johnny bolted straight up in bed and immediately turned to his right only to find that not only was his gun missing, so was his bedpost. He turned back and glared at the woman standing by the window tying back the curtain.

"What the hell are you doin?" he spat.

"Good morning, Mr. Lancer. It's time to prepare you for surgery," the nurse said stiffly.

"Geez, Lady. Let me give you some advice. Don't ever wake me up like that again," he grumbled as he swiped his face.

She ignored the threat and walked over to the dresser, filling the wash basin with water.

Johnny watched her walk over and set it on the bedside table. She then retrieved a towel and threw it on his lap. His mood grew darker as she produced a strop and razor.

"What're ya gonna do with that?" he asked.

"I'm going to shave your head. Didn't the doctor tell you?"

"Yeah, he told me. I just didn't think I was gonna get attacked," he clipped.

She gave him a scornful look and began sharpening the razor. Johnny was reminded of an old Mexican woman he'd known as a child. All the kids were afraid of her. She'd sit outside and wring the necks of chickens all day and laugh each time. She enjoyed her work.

"I can do that," he tried.

She smirked. "I'm sure you could but not as well as I can. Unless, of course, you have eyes in the back of your head."

"I reckon you'll find out soon enough," he shot back.

The door opened and his father's form filled the frame. Johnny sighed with relief.

"He can do it," he said, pointing at Murdoch.

"Do what?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny looked warily at the razor in her hand and Murdoch grinned.

"Visiting hours aren't until eight o'clock, sir," she informed him.

"I realize that but I wanted to see my son before he went to surgery," Murdoch explained politely.

"The rules are there for a reason," she stood firm.

Murdoch advanced and gently took the razor from her hand. "I'm sure you have a million things to do. I'll take care of this. That way, Johnny will be ready and I can spend some time with him. Everyone wins," he smiled.

She faltered, unsure of her position. Finally, she acquiesced and simply nodded and left the room.

****

"Thank you," Johnny sighed.

Murdoch chuckled a bit. "You're welcome, son."

"Where's Scott?"

"He'll be right along. He stopped to pick up a newspaper. Now, I think we need to cut some of this hair before just plunging right in," Murdoch said with a frown as he examined his subject. "I'll see if I can get a pair of scissors."

Johnny grimaced at this. He sighed and got out of bed, quickly grabbing the back of the gown. He walked into the small necessity room, taking the opportunity no one seemed to want to afford him while he could.

When he came out, Scott was there.

"Good morning," Scott rang out.

Johnny hmmphed and sat on the side of the bed.

Scott raised a brow and then averted his eyes. "Johnny, you may want to remember what you're wearing."

Johnny looked at him then down and quickly pulled the covers over his lap. "Sorry," he grinned.

"I found some scissors," Murdoch announced.

"You're shaving his head?" Scott asked, somewhat amused.

"It was either him or that nurse," Johnny shivered a bit. "She barged right in here, throwin open the curtains and makin all kinds of racket. She's lucky I didn't have my gun," he vented.

"Well, you get me now. Maybe you should sit in a chair, son," Murdoch said, still trying to figure the best way to do this. He hadn't cut Johnny's hair in twenty years. And that was just a curl or two; which he still had tucked in a bible in his room.

Johnny pulled a straight back chair into the middle of the room and sat down, wincing as his bare behind hit the cool wood.

Scott sat on the bed and got comfortable for the show. A smirk on his face as he waited for the inevitable complaining.

Murdoch stood over his son with scissors raised and an expression of fierce concentration.

Johnny looked up at him and almost burst out laughing. "You don't have to make it pretty, Murdoch. It's all gonna be gone anyway."

Realizing Johnny had a point, he started cutting away huge hunks of hair. It was actually kind of fun though he'd never admit that.

Johnny's teeth grinding could be heard in the hall, Scott was quite sure. He bit his fist to keep from laughing. Murdoch shot him a warning look that effectively wiped that smirk off his elder son's face and Scott sobered.

"All right, son, time for the razor," Murdoch said gently.

Johnny opened his eyes for the first time since seeing the first clump of hair fall. He looked at the floor around his feet and felt like crying again. He bit his lip hard and took a deep breath.

Murdoch wet a wash cloth and ran it over Johnny's head then grabbed the shaving cream from the dresser. He lathered his son's head generously. He had no idea how sensitive this would feel. Taking a breath of his own, Murdoch started an upward stroke with the razor.

Fifteen minutes later, Murdoch stepped away and surveyed his work. He choked back some emotions of his own as he looked at his youngest.

"How's it look?' Johnny asked in a husky voice.

"Actually, I think it looks pretty good," Scott said sincerely. He was pleasantly surprised though he would never have recognized his brother on the street like this.

"I've never seen you without hair. When you were born you had a head full," Murdoch smiled.

Johnny stood up and walked to the mirror. He stared at himself for a long time, trying to come to terms. It was silly, he told himself. It's only hair. It will grow back. Inhaling deeply through his nose, he turned to face them. With a shrug of indifference, he smiled.

*****

"It's almost seven," Scott said in a whisper.

They all grew somber then and stood about feeling awkward.

"It'll be fine, son," Murdoch smiled.

"Sure. You got the hard part. Havin to wait and all," Johnny smiled back.

The door opened and two men entered with a gurney. Johnny felt a surge of panic and fought hard to quell it. Scott was at his side, hand on his shoulder.

"It's going to be fine. I know it."

"Well, you're never wrong, Boston, so I'll hold you to that," Johnny smiled weakly.

"Mr. Lancer, we need you to lie down," one of the attendants said.

Johnny took one step and faltered. Murdoch's arm was around him in an instant, guiding him slowly and gently to the mobile table. His arm slid down around Johnny's waist as he turned him and sat him on the edge.

Johnny looked up into his father's eyes and found a huge measure of comfort in the steady gaze. It calmed him for some reason and he laid back on the gurney of his own accord. A sheet was pulled over him but his eyes never left his father's.

"Keep my room tidy for me," Johnny grinned.

Murdoch leaned down close to him. "You are going to be just fine," he punctuated.

Johnny closed his eyes briefly then smiled up at Murdoch. "I know - now."

Murdoch straightened up as they wheeled his son away. He said a silent but earnest prayer.

Both men stood stock still for what seemed eternity. Scott finally turned away from the door and walked to the window. Leaning heavily on the sill, he pressed his forehead against the glass.

He felt the steadying hands on his shoulders and came very close to turning around and just falling into his father's arms. Maybe I have a brain lesion, too, he thought with dark humor.

"I keep telling myself he's going to be fine. Why aren't I convinced?" he whispered, his breath fogging the glass.

"Because you're afraid for him and for yourself. All we can do is wait, son. Johnny said it; we have the hard part. He'll be asleep."

Scott smiled wanly and turned to face Murdoch. "Well, what are we going to do for four or five hours?"

******

They talked, played cards and tried to read. None of it lasted very long. Scott sat in front of the window with his feet resting on the sill. He slouched down in the chair and laid his head on the knuckles of his fist, staring at the blue sky outside.

He found it odd but he could swear the sky was bluer at home. He supposed it was the city pollution. All the smoke from the factories and such. Somehow, it looked pale out there.

A few wispy clouds floated by then either disappeared or dissipated. He thought the clouds were bigger back home, too. Bigger and .... closer. As if one could reach out and touch them. Much like the stars at night were more brilliant; nearer.

Well, that lasted about two seconds, he thought. What could he think about now to keep him occupied? Knowing too well he could keep it at bay no longer, Scott allowed himself to think about his brother.

He had never seen fear in the blue eyes before. He saw it today and yesterday and every other day since they had all faced the fact that Johnny was ill. It shook him to his foundation. Johnny was always so solid. So brave and true. So confident and, at times, so damned cocky.

Scott smiled a little at the last. Yes, Johnny was cocky. Born of a youth far too short and becoming an adult way too soon. He was quite sure it had started as a facade made of sheer necessity. Somehow, it had manifested as pure confidence. It seemed to exude from him. No matter what his brother was doing, he always *knew* what he was doing.

Yet, Johnny never had a problem admitting if he didn't know something and he would simply ask. That was another thing; he was inquisitive. Scott smiled as he remembered the many times Johnny would cock his head to the side and give that quizzical look when he used an unfamiliar word. It didn't take long to recognize the question about to be asked and Scott had gone to simply defining himself when he got that look.

A morose thought entered his mind. How many times would he receive that look now? What otherwise simple task or explanation would Johnny not be able to understand? And how aware would he be of the fact?

Scott knew his brother's frustration would reach all time highs if these disabilities the doctor had described came to fruition. He wanted to discuss the eventuality with Murdoch but felt he couldn't. His father seemed to think Johnny would be perfectly fine; his same self after the surgery. While Scott prayed that was true, he was a pragmatist.

He chanced a glance at Murdoch to find him with head bent over a book. He sighed silently. Shaking his head a little, Scott felt his own frustration with his father. Talk about hiding your head in the sand. For a practical man, Murdoch Lancer could bullheadedly ignore anything he didn't want to deal with. And when he did deal with it, things usually got very loud.

*****

Murdoch stared at the same page for an hour, unseeing. He'd given up concentrating on the words after about a minute. He couldn't keep his thoughts from straying back in time. Back twenty years to a much happier time in his life. When he thought he had the world in his grasp. Just before everything had been ripped away from him. His baby and his chance to bring his elder son home.

He could almost hear Johnny's baby laugh. A sound that would fill his heart with pure joy. The innocent and sincere laugh of a happy child. And he had been happy. Murdoch couldn't remember a time when Johnny wasn't a good baby. He started sleeping through the night at three months. Every morning, he'd awaken with a smile on his little face.

He started walking at nine months and from that time on, the house was a monument to disarray. Toys would be strewn in the most unusual places. Murdoch often wondered how the boy managed to get his things in those spots. Tiny crevices would be stuffed full. Maria would be at her wit's end most days. Ready to chain the boy to her waist to keep an eye on him.

But at night, when they put him to bed, he would see the tenderness in her face. The love in her eyes for their child and it would bring him peace and hope.

Then, everything went horribly wrong. In one night, his world was torn apart; not to be mended again for twenty years. It was a slow healing wound that still had not completely closed. Murdoch thought it probably never would completely heal. But, they had made a good start. In the past two years things had gotten so much better.

Now, he was within a breath of losing half his heart again. Half his soul. A sardonic smile flitted across his face. If anyone ever knew how much he truly loved his children; if he could ever put those feelings into words; he was sure they'd think he'd gone totally soft. Yes, a real pushover. He almost snorted aloud at that thought. Him, a pushover? Not likely.

Maybe that's why he didn't say the words. No, he knew he simply wasn't capable of it. Men just didn't do that. It was ..... inappropriate, he supposed. Especially with two grown sons. When they were young, it would have been acceptable. But he missed out on that. Totally with Scott, mostly with Johnny.

He only prayed he would have many more years to somehow make it up to his younger son.

*****

Both heads jerked up at the sound of the door opening. Murdoch and Scott jumped to their feet as the gurney was rolled in.

The orderlies deposited their precious cargo gently into the bed and positioned Johnny, then covered him up. Telling the Lancers the doctor would be in shortly, the two men left as quietly as they could.

Murdoch stared at the pale face then his eyes dropped to Johnny's chest. Watching and waiting for the barely discernible rise and fall. He sat down at the bedside and put a hand on his son's bandage-swathed head. He dropped his own in a silent prayer of thanks.

Scott sat on the opposite side and took Johnny's left hand in his own. It felt too cold and he covered it with both his own. He, too, prayed.

Soon, Dr. Elliot appeared with a smile on his face and two sets of shoulders slumped in relief.

"He did very well. The operation was a success," he announced simply.

Murdoch stood and shook the man's hand enthusiastically. "And the side effects?"

"We won't know until he wakes up. Actually not for a few days after. He'll sleep most of today and quite a bit over the next two or three days. That's normal. He will be in pain, naturally. If he needs medication, just ask the nurse."

"So, you got the lesion? All of it?" Scott asked.

"Yes, we got it all. It was localized where I thought it would be. He should have no further recurrences," Dr. Elliot assured him.

At this point, Scott stood and shook hands with the man as well. "I guess we have some more waiting to do."

The doctor smiled sympathetically. "I'm afraid so. I think it's the hardest part for the family. At least now you can wait with happy news." He took his leave of them then and both men returned to their seats.

"Well, it's over, thank God," Murdoch sighed.

"I hope so. We still don't know what effects there will be," Scott reminded him.

"He's alive. That's all I care about," Murdoch retorted.

Scott nodded and realized that was the most important thing. It was probably the only thing Murdoch had been focusing on. While he considered all the ramifications, his father took a more simplistic view. Scott supposed it was wise to tackle one problem at a time.

He also realized something else. Now that Johnny was safely out of surgery, his stomach was making its needs known. He was almost embarrassed to bring it up but Murdoch must be starving too. Scott cleared his throat.

"Maybe we should get something to eat, sir. It will be hours until he wakes up."

Murdoch thought about this for about a second. "I am hungry now that you mention it. I guess our bodies have a mind of their own," he smiled.

"We can let the nurse know we're leaving for a bit. If you don't mind, I'd like to stop by and let Grandfather know what's happening."

"I don't mind at all, son. I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised by Harlan's generosity."

Murdoch stood and walked to the end of the bed, wrapping an arm around Scott's shoulders as they met. They walked out together and let the staff know they would return soon.

*****

Do trains scream? They must. That's what it felt and sounded like. A train stopping fast. Wheels squealing, steel on steel. The pain matched the sound so that must be it.

Someone was making an odd noise. A low, barely discernible groan. It sounded very far away and he wondered who was hurt. Was there a train wreck? That must be it. Must be why his head hurt so bad. He must have hit it when they crashed.

He tried to open his eyes but they didn't seem to want to do that. That's odd, too. Why wouldn't his eyes want to open? Maybe there was somethng they didn't want to see. Now, that's just plain silly. Come on now, open up.

Slowly and with great difficulty, eyelashes fluttered then stopped. A few seconds later they fluttered again. This time, there was a line of light. Okay, just a little more and I can see what's happened.

He looked straight ahead but saw nothing but a blur. Was it him or was that all there was to see? Had his vision failed again? He hit his head so maybe it had.

Blinking several times, he tried again. He heard more sounds. Someone calling his name. Murdoch? Yes, it was Murdoch. He turned his head to the right and the wheels screamed again. Nothing made any sense. He moaned. He knew it was him because his mouth moved a little.

The blur began to take form. A shape came into focus and he recognized his father. He tried to smile and wondered if he had. He couldn't tell. But Murdoch was smiling at him so maybe he'd pulled it off.

"It's all right now, son. You're going to be just fine."

He's talking so softly. He must know I hit my head. But, where am I? Everything is so white. And what's that smell? Medicine? Ugh!

"Johnny, can you hear me?" Murdoch asked again.

He thought to nod. Sure, I can hear you. Then he thought about his head and decided that wasn't such a good idea. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. Then, he felt a hand behind his neck, easing him up just a little. A cool glass touched his lips and he felt the water. He tried to inhale it, realizing he was very thristy. But the glass was taken away much too soon and he sighed his regret.

He cleared his throat and in a whisper said, "yeah."

Scott and Murdoch looked questioningly at each other, then Scott developed an understanding. "He's answering you."

Murdoch smiled, he'd almost forgotten what he'd asked. Turning back to Johnny, he positioned himself so his son wouldn't have to move his head.

"How do you feel, Johnny?"

He frowned and sighed. "Hurts. Tired."

"I know, son. The doctor said you'll sleep a lot for the next couple of days. He said it was normal so don't worry about it. Just close your eyes, son."

He still couldn't believe how soft and gentle his father's voice was. He liked it, though. It was nice, comforting and peaceful. Johnny smiled and closed his eyes, drifting back into blessed sleep.

Johnny slept most of the first day after surgery as predicted. He would awaken for short periods then drift back off again. Murdoch had to keep reminding himself the doctor was pleased with his progress. He certainly wasn't. Wasn't used to Johnny being so ..... out of it.

Whenever his son was hurt before, he would bounce back quickly. By now, he should be chomping at the bit, complaining about being stuck in bed. But, every time he awoke, he would only say it hurt and he was tired, then he would go back to sleep.

The waiting was what got to Murdoch. He hated being idle. Hated being helpless. It didn't sit well with him and he was at a loss as to how to handle it.

Scott was faring no better. He was ready to pull his hair out. All he wanted was for Johnny to wake up for more than a minute and joke with him. Insult him or something. He needed to hear more than two words. He needed to know if there was any side effect from the surgery. He needed ..... his brother. It was that simple.

Day two after surgery began much the same as day one. Harlan appeared in the morning to spend some time with Scott. He brought Billings and breakfast with him. He was shocked to see the state his grandson was in. It was evident Scott hadn't slept much if at all. He was pale and drawn and his eyes were dull.

Harlan knew better than to even suggest Scott leave the hospital and rest. Instead, he had a cot brought into the room. He explained the men could take turns resting while the other sat with Johnny.

If Scott was surprised by his grandfather's benevolence, Murdoch was stunned to the core. Where was the man who had blackmailed Scott into returning to Boston? Where was the man who threatened a lengthy custody trial all those years ago? Where was the man who, a year ago, had spat the word half-breed under his very roof?

Murdoch considered these questions and many more but it never lasted long. He was too wrapped up in his worry and fear for Johnny to give much thought to Harlan Garrett. He managed to be civil, even cordial, but that was the extend of his graciousness.

Scott walked his grandfather out this morning after much insistence by the older man. He needed at least a moment of fresh air. It wouldn't be long, he promised. The young man needed to feel the sun on his skin, Harlan explained. Murdoch had agreed and urged Scott to take the short break.

So, with reluctance, Scott escorted Harlan outside.

*****

A soft moan brought Murdoch to the bedside swiftly. He waited anxiously for Johnny to open his eyes; praying it would last just a bit longer this time.

As the long lashes fluttered and fought, Murdoch reached out and took his son's hand in his own. Frowning, he reached up and felt Johnny's face.

At his age, he was surprised he could move so fast. But, he was out the door and at the nurse's desk in two seconds flat. The nurse rushed into the room and checked the young man, then disappeared promising to find Dr. Elliot.

Murdoch stared after her for a moment, then retrieved a wash basin. Filling it with cool water, he wet a cloth and began gently wiping his son's fevered face. "Please, God. Please, no more. He can't take anymore," he prayed.

Scott walked toward the room and saw the doctor rush inside. His own paced quickened and he burst through the door. "What happened?" he demanded.

"He has a fever," Murdoch answered solemnly.

Scott cursed to himself and said a quick prayer, wondering how much more his brother would have to endure.

Dr. Elliot removed the bandages with practiced ease. Both Lancers winced as they got their first look at the large incision.

"Damn," the doctor said softly. He replaced the bandage loosely and turned to the family.

"He has an infection. I'm going to have to operate again."

"What are you going to do?" Murdoch asked, his heart in his stomach.

"It will have to be trephined - I'll make a hole in his skull to allow the infection to drain. It's much like using an awl to drill a hole," he explained quickly.

Scott swallowed at the lump forming in his throat. "How dangerous is that?"

"Not nearly as dangerous as doing nothing. If we don't get that infection drained, he'll die. I'm sorry but I warned you this could happen. There really is no time to spare. I'll need your permission, Mr. Lancer, as his father."

Murdoch could only nod his consent. He was reeling with the thought of more surgery on his boy's head.

Before they could absorb what was happening, Johnny was swept away on a gurney. Both men stood in stunned silence for a time.

Suddenly, Scott turned to face the dresser he stood near and, with one sweep of his hand, cleared the top of it. The sound resonated through the halls of the hospital as several items crashed to the floor.

Murdoch moved to him, wrapping his arms around his son and pulling him away from the mess.

*****

Two hours later, Johnny was brought back to the room followed closely by Dr. Elliot.

"I've placed a drain in the hole I made. We'll have to watch it carefully for at least the next twenty-four hours. His fever is lower but not gone. All we can do now is ...."

"Don't say it!" Scott fired at him. "I never want to hear the word 'wait' again," he slammed.

Dr. Elliot was not particular surprised by the outburst. Heaven knew he'd faced many an irate family memeber. Frustration, anger and fear were often served up to him in a cold dish. He was as used to it as he thought he ever would be.

"Scott, please. Dr. Elliot is only doing his job," Murdoch said with surprising calm.

Scott took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Rubbing a hand through his hair, he lowered his eyes for a second. "I'm sorry, doctor," he mumbled.

The doctor smiled and nodded. "I understand, believe me, I do."

"What can we expect now?" Murdoch asked.

"He'll sleep most of the time still. When he does awaken, he may be even more confused. The pain shouldn't be any worse, though. I've noticed he hasn't had any pain medication."

Scott snorted. "He hasn't been awake long enough. He won't take it anyway. He hates medicine."

"I see. Well, it's there if he wants or needs it. Tomorrow, I'll awaken him and see how he's doing. I was planning on that today but, well..." he didn't feel the need to finish the obvious statement.

Murdoch thanked the doctor as they both watched him leave. Scott scowled after him. He knew it wasn't the man's fault but he was handy.

"I can't stand this," he muttered.

"Scott, try to get hold of yourself."

"How can you be so calm?" Scott asked incredulously.

Murdoch sighed and sat back down beside Johnny. "What's the alternative? To rant and rave? What good will that do?"

Scott slumped into his seat and stared at his hands in his lap. "I don't know. Might make you feel better."

The rancher smiled a bit. "The only thing that will make me feel better is your brother waking up and saying something sarcastic."

******

Day three after the inital surgery and Johnny's fever was barely present. The drain was working well and Dr. Elliot was once more pleased. He entered the room just before noon.

"Well, gentlemen, let's wake this young man, shall we?" he smiled.

"Good luck. We've been trying all morning," Scott said dejectedly.

"Yes, but I have the secret formula," the doctor grinned. He reached into his pocket and retrieved a small item.

Scott couldn't quite tell what it was. But then the man snapped it it open and placed it under Johnny's nose and Scott figured that smell would wake the dead.

Johnny turned his head away from the offensive odor but he couldn't make it stop. He opened his eyes and blinked several times.

Dr. Elliot removed the ammonia and sat on the side of the bed. "Hello, Johnny. Do you remember me?"

Johnny's eyes fell on him and he simply stared for several seconds. Swallowing at the dryness in his throat, he spoke softly. "Hey, Doc."

Dr. Elliot's smile lit his face as Scott and Murdoch grinned along with him.

"How do you feel?" the doctor asked.

Johnny frowned at the question and took stock. "Head hurts some. Not too bad," he croaked out.

A hand appeared behind his head and lifted it as a glass came to his lips. He sipped for long moments before it became too much of an effort.

"I need to ask you some questions, Johnny. They may seem silly to you but indulge me," Dr. Elliot was saying.

"Shoot."

"Do you know who this is?" he asked, pointing to Murdoch.

Johnny looked at his father and, in a flat voice, stated, "never saw him before in my life."

*****

Murdoch's face fell as did Scott's. Then, a frown appeared on the older man's face, followed by a suspicious sidelong look. He was looking into Johnny's eyes and saw it. The very thing he'd said he wanted was biting him in the ....

"Johnny Lancer," he tried to scowl.

Johnny chuckled a little until his head made him stop. "Sorry, but you should have seen your face, Murdoch," he grinned widely.

"Very funny, young man. Would you mind being serious for a moment? I'd like to assess whether you've lost your mind or not," Dr. Elliot spoke in an authoritative voice.

Johnny dropped his eyes then looked back at the man with the grin returning. "You think you're pretty funny, don't ya, Doc?"

"I have my moments," the doctor laughed. "Now, evidently, any memory loss you may have suffered is not long term. You may still have trouble recalling things for a time. Like I told you before, that will improve in time."

"And the learning?" Scott asked.

"We'll test that in a few days when he's stronger. Those tests can be quite tiring. Right now, I'd have to say, things are looking very good."

"I feel so tired," Johnny said.

"That's to be expected, Johnny. It will pass. We'll start you on liquids today and graduate you to more solid foods as you can handle them. That's when you'll start feeling stronger," Dr. Elliot smiled and patted his arm.

"When can I go home?"

Murdoch and Scott Lancer felt more relief at that moment than they had since this nightmare began. Both were now convinced Johnny would be fine.

"Not for a few weeks and I want no argument about that," the doctor answered. This time, there was no humor to be found.

*****

One and a half weeks later, Johnny left the hospital to return to the Garrett mansion. Harlan had prepared for his arrival and instructed his staff according to the doctor's rules.

There were some problems. Johnny wasn't able to retain much new information. He couldn't remember what he read in the newspaper nor any unfamiliar objects he was shown. It frustrated him but he was trying very hard to be optimistic.

A therapist came to the house five days a week to work with him on techniques he could use to remember new things. He hated that, too. It made him feel stupid, like a backward child who needed tutoring.

Everyone kept reminding him why this was and how lucky he was and he knew it. He was grateful to be alive. That didn't help when his tolerance for any activity was so low. He tired too easily and needed to rest often.

Both Lancer men knew Johnny was heading for the dark place he sometimes went. The place where it was nearly impossible to reach him. Both felt powerless to stop it.

After much encouragement from the patient, Scott and Murdoch went out one day three weeks after the surgery to spend some time together. To take a break from the whiner, Johnny told them.

He found himself alone in the house and he ambled into the study. Standing by the cold fireplace, he rested his head on the mantle.

"Are you all right?"

He whirled at the voice, his heart thumping in his chest. "Mr. Garrett, I didn't know you were around."

"I'm sorry I startled you, Johnny. I decided to work at home today," he smiled as he closed the door to the anteroom he'd appeared from.

"Well, I'll get out of your way," Johnny nodded.

"Nonsense. You aren't in my way. Truthfully, I felt like playing hooky," Garrett winked.

Johnny smiled wanly at the man. "Scott and Murdoch took off for a while. Guess they're pretty sick of me by now."

"I know. They needed a break. We all do sometimes. Come sit down with me, Johnny. You and I have never really talked." Harlan walked over and sat on the sofa.

With great trepidation, Johnny joined him.

*****

A frown creased the older man's face as he gathered his thoughts. "You aren't as I imagined you. When I learned of your existence and Scotty told me a very little about your past, I must admit, I was concerned."

"Can't blame you for that," Johnny answered.

"I can. I was prejudiced against you. I suppose you could tell that from the moment we met," Garrett said, remembering his unflattering comments.

"Well, yeah, I guess so."

"May I just say, it wasn't so much your ethnicity as it was .... well, you were a threat to me. A reason for Scotty to stay in California. Even though I did make a rather derogatory remark about you to your father," he admitted with a slight blush.

Johnny cocked a brow. "What remark?"

Garrett cleared his throat, embarrassed and wishing he'd kept his mouth shut. "I called you a half-breed."

Johnny smiled a little. "Oh," was all he said. After a beat, he added, "what did Murdoch have to say to that?"

"Nothing, actually. We were arguing about Scotty and his focus was on that."

Johnny dropped his eyes and nodded, unsure if this meant anything or not.

"What I'm getting at is this. I apologize for my behavior toward and about you," Garrett said.

Johnny raised both brows briefly before meeting the man's gaze again. "Apology accepted."

"Thank you. Now, would you like to talk with me about a solution to your problem?"

Johnny was even more surprised by this. "If you've got one, I want to hear it."

Garrett shook his head. "I'm not talking about the problems with learning. I'm talking about the way you are feeling about it. Scotty has spoken with me a little about this. He is very frustrated and feels he hasn't been able to help you."

For perhaps the first time, Johnny understood how much this man meant to his brother. That Scott would confide in him in this way spoke volumes to Johnny.

"I know they're both worried. I just feel so .... helpless! So stupid!" He slammed his fist against his thigh.

*****

Harlan was surprised, no, absolutely flabbergasted at his own reactions. He actually felt sympathy for this young man. Maybe he was getting soft, he thought. Or, maybe, he was learning a few things himself.

"You are hardly stupid or helpless, Johnny. You have an illness but it is one that can and will be cured completely. Time is your enemy at the moment. That and your own impatience."

Johnny stared at the man. He would have gone off on anyone outside his family for that last remark. But, he didn't go off on Harlan Garrett. He didn't because the old man was right. Johnny smiled a little.

"Yeah, I know. I'm not making things any easier for anyone. At least, before the operation I had an excuse. Now, I guess I've been a brat," he laughed.

"No, not at all. It's perfectly human, Johnny. You need a way to vent your frustration. Something more ..... constructive." Garrett frowned in thought and Johnny joined him.

"You got anything you need torn down?" Johnny asked after a minute.

"Hmmmm. No, I'm afraid not. I'm not sure you're physically ready for any manual labor anyway. Perhaps. No."

"What?" Johnny asked.

"Well, it may sound silly to you but, have you ever done any drawing or painting?"

Johnny's face relaxed and he smiled. "I like to but I haven't in a long time."

Harlan returned the smile and an idea popped in his head. "Johnny, would you like to go shopping with me?"

"No!" he exclaimed. Lowering his tone considerably, he added, "I don't want to go out like this."

Harlan could have kicked himself. "Of course, I wasn't thinking. Well, I will go out and get some art supplies for you. The backyard is quite private and you can paint or draw to help you relax."

"You shouldn't put yourself out like that," Johnny replied.

"It's no imposition at all. As I said, I'm playing hooky. This will give me a justifiable reason to do so. That way, I won't feel so guilty. So, you see, Johnny, you are really helping me," he smiled.

Johnny laughed at this rather lengthy load of bull. "If you say so."

*****

Murdoch and Scott returned late in the afternoon. The day out had done wonders for them both. Though they had both worried about Johnny throughout the day, they'd managed to have some time to themselves and even do a little souvenir shopping.

As they walked through the front door, both men tensed unconsciously. Wondering what they might find, they made their way to the kitchen. Scott felt the best source of information was always the staff, so he sought out Mrs. Standish.

The cook informed them Johnny was in the backyard with Mr. Garrett and they were both intrigued with this.

They found Harlan sitting on a park bench rather stiffly. His chin was jutted out and his back straight. He was staring directly ahead.

"Grandfather?"

"Ssshhh!" the voice came from behind a large rose bush.

They walked around and peeked over the bush to see Johnny with paint brush in hand, sitting before a canvass.

"What's going on here?" Murdoch asked, totally bumfuzzled.

"Johnny is painting my portait, Murdoch. Is it not obvious?" Harlan replied.

Scott and Murdoch looked at each other then burst out laughing.

Johnny sighed and dropped his hand then nodded at Harlan who relaxed his pose and stood to stretch his back.

"Somethin funny?" Johnny asked tersely.

"Oh, no, brother. Nothing at all. May we see this masterpiece?"

Johnny's jaw tightened and he started to say no. Then, he looked at Murdoch and Harlan and sighed. "Sure," he smiled.

Scott stopped laughing when he saw his brother's work. His mouth fell open as did Murdoch's. Harlan walked over after seeing their reactions and had a smiliar one himself.

"Johnny, this is very good," Murdoch said in a hushed tone.

"Thanks," he shrugged.

"It is good. Very good. I'm sorry I laughed at you, brother," Scott said with some shame.

"It is a remarkable likeness, Johnny. You must finish it," Harlan said, equally impressed.

"I will. It shouldn't take too much longer but you'll have to sit for me again."

"Oh, I will. I will," Harlan promised.

"What made you decide to do this, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, it was Mr. Garrett's idea. He was tryin to come up with a way for me to stop bein such a pain to everyone."

"That isn't exactly what I said," Harlan corrected.

"No, but it's what you meant," Johnny laughed.

Harlan had to chuckle at the truth of it. "Well, it's nearly time for dinner. I believe I'll get cleaned up."

******

Dinner conversation revolved around Johnny's painting and Murdoch threw a hundred questions at him. He was a bit tickled at his father's exuberance.

"When did you start painting, son?"

Johnny looked at him, then frowned. Dropping his eyes, he stared at his fork. "I don't remember," he said softly.

That statement brought the conversation to an abrupt halt for several minutes. It was the first time Johnny had uttered those words about a memory.

Scott cleared his throat. "Well, you were probably too young to remember."

Johnny glanced up and gave him a smile before going back to staring at his fork. Nothing more was said for the rest of the meal and they retired to the study.

Scott tried to start a conversation but it seemed the air had been sucked from the room. No one seemed to dare even breathe.

Johnny sighed softly and stood. "I think I'll turn in. Goodnight." He didn't wait for replies but simply walked away.

"Well, I feel like a jackass," Murdoch mumbled.

"You didn't mean anything by it. This was bound to happen and will happen again, I'm sure," Scott tried to reassure him.

"Well, I must say, I'm impressed, Harlan. What made you think of painting?" Murdoch asked, wanting to change the subject just a bit.

Harlan frowned a little then smiled. "Johnny asked if there was something he could tear down. I thought, why not build instead? Of course, he isn't able to do anything strenous. It just came to me," he shrugged a little.

Scott studied the man for a long moment. "Grandfather, may I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Is it just me or are you starting to like Johnny?" he asked, trying to keep a straight face. Only a trace of a smile danced in his eyes.

Harlan cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. "I will have you know, young man, that I am quite capable of learning from my past mistakes. As for liking Johnny? Well, he has his attributes."

Murdoch chuckled at this. "Well, I'm going to make sure his attributes are all right then I'm going to bed. Goodnight, gentlemen."

Dr. Elliot smiled as he rewrapped Johnny's head. He had to keep a laugh at bay, remembering Murdoch Lancer statement. Johnny's hair was already beginning to grow back and the young man was complaining about the itch.

"You could try some lotion, Johnny. That will help some. Just don't scratch. Even though the sutures are out now, I don't want to take any chances," he explained.

"Okay, Doc. Maybe Jelly's got something he can put on it."

"Jelly?"

"Yeah, back home. Speaking of which..." Johnny cocked a brow at the man.

"Speaking of which, you are released to travel," Dr. Elliot stated.

The man took two steps back when the whooping started. Before he knew what was happening, Scott and Murdoch rushed into the exam room.

"He said I could go home," Johnny laughed.

"Well, that's wonderful news, son. But, do you really think the entire hospital needs to know?" Murdoch asked with a huge grin.

"I don't care if they do or not!" Johnny pronounced. He became sober then and turned to Dr. Elliot. "Thank you, Doc. You saved my life," he said sincerely.

"Johnny, it was my pleasure. Now, you take care of yourself," the doctor said.

"I will, Doc. I will," he smiled.

****

Johnny's step had a decided bounce to it as they exited the hospital. Scott and Murdoch couldn't contain their mirth. Johnny got between them and wrapped an arm around each man.

"Well, let's stop at the train station and buy some tickets."

"Right this minute?" Scott laughed.

"Yep, right this minute."

And they did. When they returned to Harlan's home and told him the good news, the man was obviously disappointed.

Johnny and Murdoch made themselves scarce, leaving Scott with his grandfather.

"Well, I must say, Scotty, I am going to miss you. Even though this was a terrible circumstance, I've enjoyed having you home."

Scott smiled affectionately at the man. "Made tolerable by your altruism, sir. I can't begin to tell you how much it's been appreciated by all of us. Thank you, so much," he said, his voice weakening at the end.

"You'll write to me?"

"Of course, sir."

"More often this time, I can hope?" Harlan cocked a brow.

Scott almost blushed with embarrassment. "I promise, sir. I ...." His voice failed him then. Scott was not prone to displays of emotion but his grandfather's attitude had meant more to him than he could say.

"Now, Scotty. No need for all that. I love you, son. I'd do anything for you."

"I know, sir. I love you, too," he fairly whispered.

Harlan smiled. "We'll have a feast tonight to celebrate. Oh, but no lobster!" he laughed.

*****

The next morning, Johnny was up at dawn and packed. The train wasn't scheduled to leave until 8 a.m. but he didn't care. He wanted to go home. He didn't even care that he looked like somethin called a sultan, or so Scott said. Let them stare.

He surveyed himself in the mirror as he shaved, remembering that morning of the surgery well. A smile lifted his mouth as he thought of his father shaving his head. The pensive look on Murdoch's face was comical. As if he wanted to get it just right. Johnny figured he couldn't mess it up.

After a second of consideration, he made a decision and starting unwrapping the bandages. He leaned in close to the mirror and rubbed his hand over his scalp. Well, it is growing, at least. Guess it'll be a few more weeks before it looks anywhere near normal. He could still see the scar easily and he winced, hoping it would lessen with time. RIght now, it puckered out quite a bit.

His reverie was broken by a knock on the door and he sighed. Guess he wasn't the only one up before the chickens. He called out and watched from the mirror as Scott walked in. He almost laughed at the look of consternation he knew he would receive and did.

"Should you be doing that?" Scott asked firmly.

"Probably not. What do you think?"

Scott walked up to him, then circled around, taking him in. "Well," he sighed and rubbed his chin, "I guess it's not too bad. I can be seen with you." He firmly nodded his head at his assessment.

"Gee, thanks, brother. I wouldn't want to embarrass you," Johnny retorted.

Scott smiled and walked over to plop on the bed. "I see you're packed and ready. A little anxious, are we?"

"Who me? I never want to leave here," Johnny laughed. His smile faded as he joined his brother on the bed. "I guess you'll miss it a lot though, huh?"

Scott looked affectionately at his brother. "I'll always miss Boston and Grandfather but Lancer is my home."

Johnny grinned and threw an arm around his shoulder. "Good answer!"

*****

Agonizingly, the clock ticked away the minutes until it was mercifully time to go. Harlan rode with them in his personal carriage so he could spend every last second with Scott.

They stood on the train platform as the billowing steam was released from the engine and more water was fed to the beast.

Harlan stood in front of his grandson and smiled. "I suppose it's going to be a very long time before I see you again."

Scott's face was a monument to misery as he attempted to smile at the older man. "I'm afraid so. Unless, of course, you want to come visit again."

"I may just do that, Scotty." He frowned a bit then. "I must admit, my mind has been trying to think up plots to get you to stay."

Scott laughed softly. "That's all right. As long as you don't act on them."

"I promise," Harlan smiled.

"Excuse me," Johnny spoke softly as he walked up behind Harlan. "Scott, could I have a minute?"

The young man smiled and nodded and walked over to his father.

Johnny took a deep breath and smiled. "I just wanted to thank you, Mr. Garrett. You've been real kind and you didn't have to be."

Harlan appraised him for a beat. "As I said before, I didn't give you any credit, Johnny. I was wrong. I'm very glad you're feeling better. Perhaps, I'll take Scotty up on his offer to visit again."

"I hope you do. There is one thing," he paused, unsure if he should say anything.

"What is it?"

Johnny cleared his throat and leaned in just a little. "Why do you call him Scotty?"

Harlan laughed gregariously. "Well, I always have. Old habits are hard to break, Johnny."

"I reckon so," he laughed.

The train whistled and the conductor called all aboard. The old man's face fell and Johnny actually felt sorry for him. He walked away as Scott returned.

"Goodbye, my boy. Please, take care of yourself."

"I will, Grandfather. You take care as well."

******

THREE MONTHS LATER:

Murdoch walked into the great room and sighed in relief as the coolness hit him. It had been a long, hot summer and he was glad it was nearing an end. He strode to his desk to retrieve a needed map. As he was about to leave, he noticed Johnny standing in the far corner of the room. Just standing there, facing the corner and looking down.

"Johnny?" he called out.

"Yes?"

"What are you doing, son?"

Johnny shrugged his shoulders.

Murdoch walked over and stood beside him, trying to see his face. "Are you all right?"

Johnny pointed a finger at the corner floorboard. There was a gap no more than two inches at the corner. "I used to put my pony in there."

Murdoch felt like he'd swallowed a frog. He cleared his throat and tried to find his voice. "You remember that?"

A soft smile caressed the young man's face. "Funny, there's things I haven't been able to remember since the operation. But, now I remember something I couldn't before. What do you make of that?" The tone of his voice was odd to Murdoch's ears. A distant, soft - almost melancholy quality.

"I don't know what to make of it, son. Do you remember anything else?" Murdoch was watching him with an eagle eye, trying to gauge his son's emotions.

"Not really. It's like .... I don't know. Like something's there just on the edge but I can't grab hold of it. Sometimes, I'll walk through a part of the house and feel something."

"How long has this been going on?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny thought for a moment before answering. "Couple of weeks, I guess. But, this is the first time I've had an actual memory of something."

Murdoch nodded his understanding. "Do you mind if I ask why you always put your pony there? We never could figure it out."

Johnny grinned widely and looked up at his father. "That was his stable."

Murdoch cocked a brow at this. Of course, that made perfect sense. He began to laugh and wrapped an arm around his son. "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

"Guess you have to be a kid," Johnny shrugged and grinned.

Murdoch raised his hand and stroked the now fully returned head of hair. "You know, I think it's softer."

"Yeah, that's what I hear."

"Oh? From whom?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny looked cheekily at him. "Now, Murdoch, I can't tell you everything. You'd never be surprised if I did that."

"God forbid I not be surprised," he fairly groaned. "Will you tell me if you remember anything else about being here before?" he asked, growing serious.

"Yeah. It's kind of .... comforting. I always hated not being able to remember you," Johnny frowned.

"I didn't know you felt that way."

Johnny gave him a look of surprise. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, son," he sighed, "I wasn't sure you wanted to remember that time. I thought it might be too painful for you."

Johnny dropped his eyes and nodded. "I guess it is a little. But, it's more good than bad. Ya know?" he asked while upturning his face to his father's.

Murdoch smiled. "Yes, I know. You've been doing so well, John. Sam thinks you're almost back to normal."

Johnny laughed. "When was I normal?"

Murdoch joined the laughter. "When you were two."

"Oh great! You mean I'm gonna turn into a two-year-old?"

Murdoch pulled him closer and gave him a firm squeeze. "Come on. Let's take a little ride."

 

 

~end~
2004

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