The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Desperado

 

 

Part One of the Desperado series, followed by Goodbye Doc

Johnny Madrid stood in the dusty street, waiting. The man was standing 100 feet from him, trying for all he was worth to stare Madrid down. He knew it wasn't working. Why he thought it would was, at this moment, a mystery to him. He was beginning to think he had lost his mind to have ever started this and he knew just as surely that he was going to die today. He thought about his options, there weren't any. He couldn't walk away now, he had called Madrid out, challenged him. He took a deep resigned breath and mused that no one would miss him anyway. He started to draw his gun and felt the searing pain as the bullet exploded in his chest. He stared at the gunfighter and saw nothing in his eyes, then he saw nothing at all. Madrid stood where he was, slightly crouched and slowly raised to his full height. He watched as two men ran over to the body and called for the undertaker. He turned and walked back into the cantina and climbed the stairs to his room. He picked up his saddle bags and turned to leave.

"Where ya off to, Johnny?" Clint asked from the doorway.

Johnny smiled at his friend. "Time to move on Clint," he said softly.

Clint nodded, "Reckon I'll be goin with ya."

They rode out of town with no idea of where they were headed. "Ever wonder how it's all gonna end, Clint?" Johnny asked.

Clint shook his head. They'd had this conversation many times, usually after one of Johnny's gunfights. "Oh, I don't know Johnny. Reckon at the business end of a pistol," he smiled.

Johnny smiled too, but he didn't find it funny. The older he got the more he thought about the life he had chosen. Chosen? Probably not the best word for it. But then, what else was he going to do, be a farmer? Not likely, he mused. They decided to visit Sonora. Johnny liked the town, it was usually a haven for him. Nobody messed with Madrid there, or at least not very often.

********************

They rode into Sonora at sunset and headed for the livery. "Hola! Manuel?" Johnny called out. The old man walked out of the barn and smiled at his friend.

"Juanito! Buenos noches, amigo!" he called and waved. Johnny dismounted and shook his friend's hand. He had met the old man years ago when he was still a kid. Manuel had lived in Nogales then as Johnny and his mother had. The old man had taught Johnny a lot about horses and they became fast friends. Manuel often felt sad about the way Johnny's life had turned out. But he knew the boy had a heart of gold underneath his gunfighter's mask and he couldn't hold Johnny's choices against him.

"How are things?" Johnny asked.

Manuel nodded, "quiet," he said. Johnny grinned, that's exactly what he wanted to hear. They left the horses and walked to the cantina. It was pretty empty but that would change soon enough. The good times didn't get started til later. They ate and took two rooms upstairs, then returned to the bar. Johnny and Clint were invited into a poker game by a thin, sickly looking man with a southern accent. He spoke softly and was well-educated, but he didn't seem like a snob.

Johnny liked him immediately and they enjoyed the evening. He was relaxed for the first time in weeks and felt good. There was something about the man they played cards with that put him at ease. He knew in his gut, however, that it was a good thing the man seemed to like them because underneath the charm in his voice lay a deadliness that Johnny had recognized instantly. This man was not a simple gambler.

"If you don't mind me askin, where ya from mister?" Johnny asked.

"Georgia is my home, son, or it was at one time," the man smiled. "And you?" he asked.

Johnny laughed softly. "Well, just about all over but mostly I lived in Mexico. I was born in California," he answered.

The man looked at Clint and raised a questioning eyebrow. "Texas," Clint replied with pride.

"Ah, Texas. A beautiful state, but rather wicked I must say. Now California, very nice. I have never had any problems in California," the man stated.

Johnny grinned at him, he hadn't had any problems there either, he thought. Of course, he had never strayed too far north of the border. They ended the evening promising to play again the next night. Johnny went to bed and gave a sigh of relief for the peaceful evening, there were never very many of them and he was always grateful whenever they came along.

**************

Johnny slept late the next day. He had no reason to get up. Gunfighter's don't do much work in the morning. As he finished shaving and dressing, there was a knock on the door. Probably Clint, he thought, but he never assumed anything. With gun in hand, he opened the door slightly, standing to the side. An older man stood before him with hat in hand, he had a younger man with him. Work, Johnny thought. "Senor Madrid, my name is Rodriguez. May I have a word with you?"

Johnny motioned the nervous man inside and allowed his sidekick to enter as well. "What can I do for you Senor?" Johnny asked. The man paced around the small room, he was starting to perspire. "Relax. Just tell me what you want," Johnny said, a bit impatiently.

"Si, I..uh...I want to hire you."

"Well I figured that. Tell me about it," he said as he motioned for the man to sit in the only chair in the room.

He gratefully accepted. "I own a small ranchero outside of town. These men, they are trying to run me off my land. They have burned my barn, killed my vaqueros. They are animals!" the man finished with a nervous sigh.

"Why are these men trying to take your land?" Johnny asked. He never took a job without knowing all the facts.

"They work for a man who wants to take my land and others around me. He offered to buy us out, if you can call it an offer! It was a pittance. He said we could accept his offer or be run out," he finished.

"Who is this man?" Johnny asked.

"His name is Jose Himinez."

Johnny's eyes narrowed, he had heard of the bandit and he didn't like what he had heard. He thought for a moment. "How many men does he have?" he asked as he continued his investigation.

"Perhaps 15, but they are los diablos!" the man said.

Johnny smiled softly and nodded his head. "So, what you're telling me is that this man and his gang of 15 are trying to drive you and your friends off your land and you want me to stop him. By myself?" Johnny asked amused.

The man fidgeted a little and laughed nervously. "I have vaqueros, we all do, who are willing to fight. But we are ranchers, Senor. We are not gunfighters. We need someone who can lead us," he explained.

Johnny nodded his head again. "Senor Rodriguez, let me think about this. Come and see me again tomorrow and I'll have an answer for you," he said.

"Wait, we have not discussed your fee," the man said astonished.

"We can talk about that if I decide to accept the job," Johnny smiled reassuringly at the older man.

**************

Johnny went down to the cantina, he was hungry. He saw his new friend sitting at the same table as the night before, playing solitaire. "Mornin," Johnny grinned.

The man looked up at him and returned the smile. "Is it? I thought it was afternoon."

Johnny laughed. "Well, it's mornin to me."

Clint came in just then and greeted his friend. "That old fella find you?" he asked.

"He found me," Johnny said.

"Well?" Clint looked at him suspiciously.

"Well, what?"

"Johnny I swear, sometimes you can try a man's soul. What did he want?" Clint said exasperated.

Johnny laughed at his friend. "Now what do you think he wanted."

"He hire you?"

"I'm thinking about it," Johnny said as he sat down with the southern gentleman.

Clint joined them. "This one, he thinks about every job before he does it," he said pointing to Johnny.

"I admire a man who thinks things through. There is no point in going off half-cocked. That, my friend, is how you get yourself dead," the man drawled.

"Listen to him, Clint. You just might learn somethin," Johnny teased.

"I believe it is time for proper introductions gentlemen," the man said.

"Clint Harris and this is Johnny Madrid," Clint made the intros.

The man looked up from his game and stared at Johnny. "Well, well. The infamous Johnny Madrid. I had my suspicions. It is a pleasure gentlemen. You can call me Doc." It was Johnny's turn to stare although he too had had his suspicions.

Clint gasped and dropped his jaw. "Doc Holliday?" he whispered.

"The very same," Doc answered simply.

"I didn't think you ever got this far south," Johnny said, slightly amused at Clint's reaction.

"Weeelll, I needed a little breather," Doc said, conspiracy dripping from his voice. Johnny smiled knowingly. "Tell me about this job offer, if you don't mind?" Doc said. Johnny shrugged and told him what the old man had said. Doc seemed angry and Johnny was more than a little perplexed.

"What is it, Doc?" he asked.

"I have heard of such bandits and I must say, I am not at all amused by their deeds. I would be more than willin to offer my assistance if it were to be needed," he said with a slight bow of the head.

Johnny grinned, "Not even sure I'm gonna take the job, but I'll keep that in mind." Johnny ordered his food and they sat and chatted amicably the rest of the afternoon. The cantina was starting to fill up as they got into a serious game of poker. Johnny scanned the room from time to time. No one seemed to notice the slight movements, except Doc and Clint who was used to Johnny's cautious nature. No one bothered them, but Johnny was always aware of his surroundings and never took anything at face value.

"Johnny my boy, do your eyes ever get tired?" Doc asked amused.

Johnny smiled at his new friend. "Not often," he replied.

They all laughed a little. The cantina suddenly got quiet as Johnny eyed the newcomers. There were five of them and they looked mean. The crowd actually parted to let them pass and Johnny knew immediately who these men were, his 'job'. He watched them closely, though no one would have known it. One of them noticed him and nudged the one next to him, whispering to him. The man slowly turned and an ugly grin spread across his face. He walked over to the table.

"Johnny Madrid." It was a statement.

Johnny looked up slowly from his cards. "Do I know you?" he asked softly.

"No, but you should get to know me. You and I could do business together, I think," the man continued the sickening grin.

"I doubt it," was all Johnny said.

The grin disappeared for a second but then it was back. He pulled up a chair and sat down. Johnny looked at him like he was crazy. "Don't be so sure, Madrid. Hear me out first," he continued.

Johnny put his cards down and faced the man full on. "Mister, I don't know you and I don't want to know you. I didn't invite you to sit with me and I think it's time you left." Johnny stared at him with cold eyes.

The man was stunned at first, but this quickly turned to anger. "You do not know who you are dealing with Madrid," he hissed.

Johnny smiled at him. "Neither do you, but you will, and soon, if you don't leave," he drawled.

The man faltered then grinned again. "Very well, I see we will not be friends, that means we will be enemies. No?"

"I believe you're right about that," Johnny smiled but there was no warmth there. The man stood and returned to his friends.

"That was a beautiful thing, Johnny," Doc said with admiration. "Of course, you know who he is?" he said.

"Yep, and I just decided to take that job," Johnny returned the smile, this time it was warm and full of charm.

"Good!" Doc said enthusiastically.

*****************

Rodriguez returned to Johnny's room the next day as instructed. Johnny let him in and told him he had decided to take the job. The relief on the old man's face was almost comical. They discussed his fee. Rodriguez knew he wasn't cheap and he and the other ranchers had been prepared to pay twice as much as Johnny asked. More relief flooded his face. "How do we begin?" he asked.

"We? There is no we, senor. If I need anything from you I'll let you know. In the meantime, go home and go about your business. Don't spread it around that I'm working for you and make sure your friends keep their mouths shut too. I'll let you know when I'm ready. One other thing. Don't come back here to see me again. I'll contact you. And don't get impatient. These things take time." Johnny finished his instructions and saw the man to the door. He went to see Clint. "You want in on this?" he asked.

"Sure Johnny. I ain't doin nothin else," he grinned.

"Ok, let's go," Johnny said.

"Go? Go where?" Clint asked.

"To find Himinez camp. I want to scope out the enemy," he grinned.

It didn't take them long to find the camp. Himinez wasn't trying to hide, that was for sure. Johnny and Clint laid flat of their stomachs on the ridge above and Johnny sighed. Fifteen his foot! Either that old man can't count or he purposely lied. Looked more like twenty to Johnny. Oh well, he thought, it doesn't matter. There was really only one, Himinez.

They scooted back down the other side of the ridge and turned to lay on their backs, watching the clouds pass by. Johnny was thinking and Clint didn't want to bother him. He was amazed at the way Johnny could figure out a plan and see it all the way through in his mind before he ever got started. He knew Johnny was planning strategy, figuring out every angle and every possible thing that could go wrong. Of course, Clint knew, the odds were never factored in for Johnny. It didn't matter to him if there were twenty or two hundred. That boy just plain doesn't care if he lives or dies. The only thing that matters is that he finishes the job first. Clint sighed out loud without realizing it.

Johnny looked over and smiled. "Penny for em," he grinned.

"I was thinking about you," Clint replied.

"Why Clint, I'm touched but you know I really do prefer girls," Johnny teased.

Clint gave him a cursory smack on the arm and laughed. "Ya know, Johnny. I never have been able to figure you out. You take more chances with your life and for no reason. None I can see anyhow. I just don't get it, I swear sometimes I think you just don't care."

Johnny stared up at the clouds, the sadness in his eyes hidden from his friend. He shrugged but didn't say anything. He got up and stretched. "Time to head back. I got some more thinkin to do," he said as he mounted his horse.

***************

Doc Holliday sat at his table waiting for Johnny to return. He had instantly liked the young man and he was already worrying about his new friend. He'd seen plenty of gunfighters in his day and most of them were just plain mean. But this one was different. This one cared and Doc knew that was dangerous in this profession. Johnny didn't show his emotions, ever, and Doc knew that wasn't good. A man has to get some of that anger and hate and even love out in the open once in a while or he'll explode. He wondered what kind of life this young man had lived. When they returned Johnny went straight to his room. Clint sat down with Doc. "What's wrong with him?" Doc asked.

"Oh, nothing. He just has some thinkin to do," Clint said.

Doc nodded. "Clint, may I ask you a question?"

"Sure Doc."

"What kind of man is Johnny? I mean I think I have sized him up pretty well and he does not fit the idea of your typical gunfighter."

Clint was considering whether to answer the question. He knew Johnny would not appreciate having his life lain out but he also knew Johnny liked this man a lot. He nodded his head. "You're right, Doc. He isn't your typical gunfighter. Johnny had a rough life. His mother died when he was ten and he's been on his own ever since. Completely on his own," he reiterated.

"No father?" Doc asked.

"He's got one somewhere but the old man evidently didn't want him. From what little Johnny's told me, he threw him and his mother out when Johnny was two."

"What a gentleman!" Doc hissed. "And his mother? What did she do when he threw them out?"

Clint sighed, hell he might as well go for broke. "She was...well..pretty much a whore from what I know. Always had to have a man around to 'take care of her' and Johnny was just excess baggage. If he got in the way, he got smacked around for his trouble. Look Doc, I'm not real comfortable talkin about this. If Johnny knew, he'd kill me."

"I'm sorry, I did not intend to put you in an awkward situation. I knew there was something different about him," Doc said in a far away voice. He snapped back and said, "He will not hear it from me," and smiled at Clint.

******************

Johnny had figured out his plan. It was one hell of an idea and he was pretty sure he'd end up dead this time. That didn't matter though. He thought about running it past Doc. He smiled at the thought of the man. For some reason, Johnny had instantly taken a liking to this soft-spoken southerner. He felt like he could talk to him, if he wanted. He went downstairs to find Doc involved in a poker game with some locals. He smiled at him as he passed and walked up to the bar. He ordered tequila and got comfortable, waiting for an opening at the table. To his surprise, it was Doc that cashed in first. Begging forgiveness for departing the table so soon, as only he could do, leaving no animosity from the other men. He walked over to Johnny.

"Let's take a walk, I could use some fresh air," he smiled.

They walked toward the closed businesses of the town where it was quiet. Doc sat down in a chair outside the merchantile and Johnny joined him. "Ah, peace and quiet. A man has just got to have peace and quiet now and then. Wouldn't you agree Johnny?"

Johnny nodded his head and smiled. He was beginning to think this was not just a casual walk. "What's on your mind, Doc?" he asked bluntly.

Doc smiled at him and laughed softly. "Am I so obvious?" he asked.

"Maybe just to me," Johnny said.

"I take it you have come up with a plan for your little job?" Doc inquired.

"I have," Johnny replied simply.

"But you're not going to share?"

"I was thinking about telling you but I have a feeling you're not gonna like it," Johnny said.

"Is it bold?" Doc drawled.

Johnny laughed softly. "It is that."

"Is it going to get you killed?" Doc persisted.

"Most likely," Johnny said quietly.

"Can you think of no other way?" The man was persistent!

Johnny sighed. "Probably, but not as good."

"I see," Doc said. After a long moment he continued, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Johnny shook his head. "This is my fight, Doc."

"Yes, but I did offer my assistance and I meant it."

"I know you did and I thank you but I don't think you can help."

"Who can help you, Johnny?" Doc asked.

Johnny looked at him perplexed. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean...who can help you decide to live instead of always looking for a way to die," he said bluntly.

The anger surged up in Johnny so quickly it surprised him. "What the hell are you talkin about?" he demanded.

"Calm down son."

"I ain't your son!" he yelled.

"No, but you are someone's son," Doc continued softly.

Johnny's eyes narrowed. "Sounds to me like Clint's been shootin his mouth off."

"He didn't say much, but enough to know you have a father Johnny. A family. Why do you ignore that?"

"A father? No Doc. Some man in California got my mother pregnant and then decided he didn't want a Mexican wife and a half-breed kid! That's what I got!"

"I see. So because of that fact and the kind of life you were forced to lead, you life is meaningless. Is that about it?" Doc said, still as calm and soft-spoken as ever.

"Look, you're not my priest, okay. I don't need this crap. I don't want to talk about it!"

"Do you ever? Talk about it, I mean."

"Why are you doing this?" Johnny asked bewildered.

"Because, Johnny my boy. I like you. I like you very much. A man doesn't make many friends in this profession. I have but one other true friend in this world and I would like to make it two and keep it that way. Johnny I have learned a few things in my lifetime. One of the things I have learned is, if a man keeps all his feelings locked up inside, it will destroy him. That is what is happening to you and I don't want to see you die at, what twenty years old?"

"Nineteen," Johnny corrected him.

Doc sighed. "Nineteen. Barely out of diapers. You have a lot to learn my boy. A lot of life still to live. How can you throw it away like this? Why, Johnny?"

"What have I got to live for? The next gunfight. The next border town. The next fool trying to make a name for himself by gunning me down. Do you know how many times I've caught a bullet?" Johnny asked.

"Too many I suspect. That is exactly my point. You have been shot many times? And you have survived each time. Why is that? If you're so hell-bent on dying, why do you fight so hard to live?"

Johnny was stunned. This man he had known for two days was seeing into his very soul. How can he know him so well? Why did a man like Doc Holliday even bother with the likes of him? "I'm not worth it, Doc. Stop trying to save my soul," he said quietly.

"You are worth it Johnny. Why do you think I even bother with you? I see something in you boy. Something much more than a hired gun. I saw it the moment we met. That's why I wasn't sure if you really were Johnny Madrid, because you are not what I expected," he explained. "I have known pain, Johnny. I have known sorrow. I was fortunate enough to be born into a well to do family and I was a brilliant dentist if I do say so myself. Then, this dreaded disease took hold of me and changed my life forever. That and an unfortunate misunderstanding brought me to the wilds of the west. I have not had your experiences but I know that you have to let it out. You cannot continue on this path Johnny. It will destroy you. It may not kill you, but it will destroy you. Have you any idea what I'm talking about?" he asked.

Johnny's head was hung low as he listened to his friend. He sighed and looked at Doc. "What am I supposed to do? It's not like I have a choice. I am Johnny Madrid, good at my trade. What else is there for me?" he asked, truly wanting an answer.

"Oh, Johnny. This life can take hold of you that is true. But if you really want to let it go, you can. It won't be easy, it won't happen quickly. But you can change your life if you are willing." Their conversation ended then. Not because either man wanted it to but because of the fracas coming from the saloon.

***************

They heard the gunfire and ran toward the cantina just in time to see Clint fly out the swinging doors and land flat of his back. As Johnny stared in disbelief, he saw the red stain spread across his friends chest and ooze from his mouth. "No!" he yelled as he went to Clint's side.

"S..ssorry Johnny," he whispered.

"No Clint, don't leave me," Johnny whispered back.

"Gg..ot to," he sighed as he took his last breath.

Johnny held his friends head in his lap and tried desperately to hold back the tears. His sorrow turned to anger and he jerked his head up looking at the crowd. "Who did this?!" he demanded.

"I did boy. You want some too?" Himinez said with that sickening grin.

"I do," Doc Holliday stepped out of the shadows to face the bandit.

"No Doc! He's mine!" Johnny yelled as he stood up and the crowd parted once again, this time for him.

Himinez kept right on grinning. "Anytime, half-breed. You just say the wor.." He didn't finish, Johnny gunned him down and he died before he hit the ground. His men looked as if they might want some too and Doc stepped over to Johnny's side.

"I wouldn't," he said deadly calm. They backed away, none of them wanting to go against two of the fastest guns who ever lived. Johnny knelt beside his friend again and petted his head. Doc put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "We'll put him to rest properly," he said.

********

Johnny buried his best friend with Doc's help. They made sure he had a proper tombstone. Johnny was sad that he couldn't have buried Clint in Texas, for he was sure that's what Clint would have wanted. They returned to the cantina and sat in silence. Johnny wanted to get drunk, but try as he might, it just wasn't working. Rodriguez walked in with two other men and approached him cautiously. He handed Johnny an envelope. "What's this?" Johnny asked.

"Your fee, Senor Madrid. With Himinez dead, his banditos have fled," he explained.

Johnny handed the envelope back. "I don't want it," he said.

The three ranchers looked at him bewildered. Doc reached out and took the envelope, opened it and counted out an amount. He handed the rest back to the man and folded what he'd taken, placing it in Johnny's pocket.

"For the burial. They owe you that much," he said in explanation of the look Johnny gave him. He shooed the three men away. "Let's go upstairs Johnny. I want to talk to you."

"I don't feel like talkin Doc."

"I know you don't. I said I wanted to talk, all you have to do is listen," he smiled and took Johnny's arm. He pulled the young man into his room and closed the door. Johnny sat down on the side of the bed, suddenly feeling very tired.

"Every time I start to care about somebody, they leave," he said morosely.

"It is the curse of this life, Johnny. Why don't you come with me to Dodge City. I have a good friend there," he suggested.

Johnny smiled a little. "That other friend you were talkin about?" Doc nodded. "I can't go to Kansas Doc."

"And why not?" Johnny looked at him and Doc knew the answer. "Oh," was all he said. "What are you going to do, Johnny?"

Johnny sighed and looked away from his friend's penetrating stare. "There's a revolution brewing down here. Thought I'd go join up with the peons," he said with a half smile.

"Johnny, are you ever going to come down off that fence?" Johnny looked uncomprehendingly at his friend. "You cannot go through your life wishing things were different. You have to make them different Johnny. You . You have to do it, no one else is going to do it for you. As much as I'd like to," he finished.

Johnny smiled full at his friend. "Sure Doc. All I gotta do is stop, right? Don't worry about me," he said.

Doc sighed. "I can't help it. I have gotten used to you in a very short time."

"I'm goin south Doc. That's all I can do. But first, I have to go to Texas. Clint had a mother and I need to let her know what happened to him," Johnny said, the tears very near the surface now.

"I'll ride as far as Texas with you, if you want," Doc said. Johnny nodded his head. He didn't want Doc to leave but he knew neither could follow the other.

***************

They left Sonora the next morning, early for both of them. Johnny was only going as far as Corpus Christi and Doc knew he didn't have much more time to try to get through to this confused young man. As they rode, both keeping a close watch on the landscape, Doc decided he'd try again. "Johnny my boy. Texas doesn't sound so bad. I could stay in Texas awhile. How about you?"

Johnny smiled. "No Doc, where I'm goin you can't go and where you're goin I can't go. Best we part ways in Texas."

"Well, I see you have grown tired of my company already," Doc grinned.

"Not at all, Doc. Not at all," Johnny sounded sad to Doc. They set up camp shortly before the sun set. Johnny killed a rabbit and fileted it quickly with his boot knife.

"I see I don't have to worry about you taking care of your fundamental needs," Doc said with a smile. He was rewarded for the compliment with a smile and half a rabbit. They were silent for a while. "Desperado," Doc said suddenly.

"What?"

"Desperado. That's what you are Johnny," Doc said thoughtfully.

"If you say so," Johnny replied.

"What do you wish for, Johnny?"

"What makes you think I wish for anything?"

"Everybody has wishes, dreams. What are yours?"

"Why are you starting up with this again?"

"Because in a few short days we shall part ways and I fear I will never see you again," Doc said.

Johnny thought about this and knew it was true. "I used to wish I had a brother. Sometimes I still do. I used to wish my mother hadn't died or that she hadn't taken me away from my father. Now...I don't really wish for anything," he said softly.

Doc shook his head sadly. "I wish you could see what I see in you," he said quietly.

"What do you see in me Doc?"

"I see an intelligent young man with many gifts. Talents, if you will and not just with that gun. You care Johnny. You care about the plight of others. That is astounding to me, considering no one has ever seemed to care for your light. I see a man with much love to give and no one to give it to. I see a man full of pain and anger until it is spilling over and no way to rid himself of it. I see a man in great need of receiving love. I see a desperate man. Desperado," he finished and Johnny's eyes filled with tears.

Damn him! He turned away from Doc then, unable to stop the flow of tears. Doc waited.

Finally getting himself under control, Johnny said, "You see a hell of a lot, Doc."

"In this business Johnny, you have to know how to read people. You know that of course and your very good at it, except when it comes to yourself. When it comes to reading yourself, you're a blind man."

"Stop it, okay. I don't want to do this."

"No of course you don't, it hurts too much. But someday, Johnny. Someday you will have to, not for yourself but for someone else. You will meet someone someday who expects and even demands it of you and you will have to do it. You will have to bear your soul to that person or lose them. And whoever it may be, it will be someone you are not willing to lose. When that day comes Johnny, remember what I've said here and open your heart, even if it hurts like hell. That someone will be worth the pain you suffer and once it's done, you'll be free, at last."

"Free?"

"Yes Johnny, free. Free of the past, the pain, the disappointment, the unjusts done to you in your life. You will be free once you open yourself to that person."

"Doc? How'd you get so smart?"

"Life, Johnny my boy. Life is the greatest teacher of all."

"You're not old."

Doc laughed. "No, I just feel old and I have lived more than most men three times my age. So have you."

***************

Once they arrived in Corpus Christi, Johnny set out to find Clint's mother. It wasn't hard, she worked at the saloon. He found out where she lived, he didn't want to give her the news at work. Besides, he wasn't sure she would even care. Clint never talked much about her. Doc went with him and he was grateful for the support. When he told her, she fell apart. He held her as she cried it out and he was surprised at how deeply she felt the loss. He wondered if his own mother would have cared as much. Johnny told her what a good friend and man Clint had been and how much he would miss him. It seemed to help her to know her son was not alone. They left her after a time and went back to the saloon. They had planned on spending the night then parting ways the next day.

The next morning, Johnny was up early. He hadn't slept well anyway. He was going to miss his new friend. He knocked softly on Doc's door in case he was still asleep but heard him move to the other side almost silently. Johnny smiled, "It's me Doc."

He opened the door and smiled. "Up early aren't you?"

"Yep, I was thinking I would get started. I...uh..just wanted to come and say...goodbye," he said with his head hung low.

Doc wondered how much of his life he had spent with his head hung down. "I will miss you my friend," he said softly, suddenly feeling emotions he hadn't expected.

"I'm proud to be your friend Doc. I want to thank you for that and for everything you tried to do for me," Johnny said barely above a whisper.

Doc laid his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "You made me a promise last night, son. I know you are a man of your word."

Johnny nodded his head. "I remember." He wanted to hug this man but men don't do such things and he turned to leave. Doc turned him back around and embraced him as a father would embrace his son.

Johnny felt the emotions surging once again and could not look into Doc's eyes. He whispered goodbye and left quickly. He never saw Doc Holliday again.

Johnny Madrid headed south once more. Saying goodbye to Doc Holliday was much harder than he'd thought it would be. The man have given him a lot to think about, but Johnny doubted that anyone would ever matter so much to him that he would bear his soul to them. He smiled at the memory of his talks with Doc. It surprised him that this man would take such an interest in his well-being. He thought about Doc's words to him over and over on his trip. Free, he had said. Johnny had never known true freedom. He had been in a prison his whole life. In fact, his prison was his life and the loneliness he felt so very often.

He arrived in the small village two days later. These were the people he had come to help. The had finally decided it was time to voice their protest of the Mexican government. They had been planning the revolt for months and now that Madrid was here, they were ready to begin. He thought about this path he had chosen. He wanted to help these people but he also knew as soon as he had done his job, they would no longer want him there. He felt the loneliness wash over him and shuddered a little.

The days were as long as the nights. The federalies came as anticipated and Johnny had to give the peons credit, they were fighting hard. Well most of them. A few had run scared but for the most part, the village acted as one. But Johnny knew they would lose this fight. The rurales were determined to win and had brought in the extra men to ensure their victory. They were outgunned and out-manned once the federalies arrived. They managed to hold them off for two more days. On the third day, they were overrun. Johnny took to the dusty streets of the village. He fought as hard as he could and he knew he was going to die. Suddenly, he felt a white hot pain in the back of his right shoulder and fell to the ground. He couldn't raise his right arm, so he switched to his left. It wasn't as accurate but he was able to take down three of the rurales before they overpowered him. El capitan had issued specific orders to take Madrid alive.

************************

Johnny awoke on a cot. A man was leaning over him and whatever he was doing hurt like hell.

Johnny tried to push him away and at the same time, instinctively tried to reach for his gun but the pain stopped him cold. He couldn't move his arm much at all and he wasn't sure, but he thought his hand was numb. The man was talking to him quietly in Spanish. Johnny strained to hear him but he couldn't stay focused and drifted back into sleep.

When he awoke again, his head was clearer and he knew immediately where he was. Somewhat surprised to be alive, he started to get up off the cot and felt that mistake. He rolled over on his left side and tried again. This time he managed to sit up on the side of the cot. His head was swimming and he felt dizzy. He held his head on his shoulders until the room stopped moving and stood up slowly. He finally made it to the door which was two feet away and craned his neck to try to see down the hall. He heard footsteps getting closer and steeled himself.

Rurales were not known for their decent treatment of prisoners. El capitan stood in front of him with a smirk on his face.

"Well, I see you have come around finally. Now I can read the charges against you," He his throat and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. Holding it out in front of him, read. "The charges are treason, murder, attempted murder, and a few minor charges that were dismissed." he said victoriously. "You have been found guilty on all charges," he finished.

Johnny smiled at him, he knew there would be no trial, no jury. They had their trial before he had ever been captured. "Gee, it was a nice trial, wasn't it? Think you could go over the details for me since I seem to have forgotten the entire thing," he said in a soft drawl.

El capitan was not amused by the sarcasm. He leaned forward until his nose was touching the metal bars. "You will be executed by firing squad tomorrow morning. Now we will see your machismo, eh?" he laughed all the way back down the hall.

Johnny sighed and sat back down. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will die. The thought of this didn't really disturb Johnny as much as he thought it might. He certainly didn't want to die but he wasn't afraid either. Part of him always knew it would end like this, no one would ever know he had even been on this earth. That's what he was going to die knowing and that may have been the only real regret Johnny Madrid would take to his grave. He smiled to himself.

Well, mama, I'll see you soon. Guess you were right after all, what you told me when I was three. Remember you told me I'd never be able to survive without you? You said I wouldn't last a minute on my own. You were right, huh? Too stupid to listen to my own head tell me not to get mixed up in this mess. Now look at you Madrid, you're gonna die tomorrow and nobody gives a damn. Well, maybe one man.

One man he had known for a week might remember him. Maybe if he thought about it hard enough, Doc would be able to sense what was happening and he would care. He smiled again as he remembered his friend.

Hey Doc, I hate to tell you but you were wrong, my friend. There never is gonna be someone to demand to know my soul, someone I care about more than I'd be ashamed of my past. Nobody is ever gonna get a chance to care about me. Not that Johnny had believed Doc's analysis of what was to be for him. He was surprised it was going to end so soon after meeting a man who made him think beyond tomorrow and dying. Sure, now ya come along! He thought sarcastically and had to laugh at himself. He remembered Doc's parting words to him, 'you made me a promise last night son and I know you are a man of your word'. He sighed as he realized he would not be able to keep that promise.

Suddenly, he found it oddly hilarious that he was in this place at this time. He found it so funny, he was laughing hard enough to fall off his cot and kept on laughing even after his shoulder reminded him of the bullet so recently there. The guard ran to see what was wrong and found Johnny on the floor laughing his head off.

He shook his head, "Loco," he decided and walked away.

**************

Johnny thought morning had come awful soon. He hadn't slept the night before. How can you sleep on the last night of your life? The hell with it, I'll sleep when I'm dead. He could tell dawn was just about to break by the changing shadows on his cell wall. He thought back to other sunrises and sunsets he had watched. Like the one sunset on the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

That had to be the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. He allowed his mind to wander in whatever direction it wanted to take. He thought a lot about his mother but something was nagging at the back of his brain. A memory? A man, a very tall man holding a little boy with black hair and blue eyes. He jerked up on his cot, breathing heavily. Was that his father holding him against him so close and laughing with him? Or was it a dream? Johnny had never dreamed of Murdoch Lancer before and he wondered why now, now at the end of his life would he feel...regret? Yes, he was feeling regret!

He was stunned by this realization and began to wonder if maybe it had been a mistake to take his mother's word for what happened. He knew she had loved him but it wasn't a strong love or she wouldn't have allowed him to suffer at the hands of her men so many times. Could she have lied to him? Maybe, but if so then why had his father not come for him? These thoughts plagued him. Could he have ever let somebody love him? Could he have ever loved himself? He would never know, it was too late now.

He kept thinking back to what Doc Holliday had said to him in the few short days they had known each other and the name he had used, Desperado. "Are you ever going to come down off that fence?" That particular question was eating at him now more than before. And something else, too. When he told Doc he used to wish for a brother.

He wondered why that kept popping back in his head over and over again. He paced the tiny space of the cell with his arms wrapped around himself protectively. This was a stance Johnny had learned early in life, make yourself as small a target as possible. He realized that something .. no someone.. had been missing from his life. This feeling was overwhelming for he didn't have a clue what it meant. Who was missing, his father? He didn't really think so, it felt even closer than that, like a piece of himself was missing. This was starting to drive him crazy. Well, he thought, ain't no sense in worrying about memories of a man that hates me plus feeling miserable and empty. I'll be dead in a few minutes.

************

Dawn broke and almost immediately he heard the outer prison door creak open and footsteps coming ever nearer. The rurales stood outside his cell as the jailer unlocked the cell door. They did not speak and as soon as the door was open, they came in and grabbed him, forcing him out of the cell. Johnny did not resist, he went with them willingly, yet they still seemed to find it necessary to treat him roughly. They brought him out in the sunlight and walked him over to where three other men knelt on the ground just to the right of a stone wall. They pushed him down on his knees and tied his hands behind him. One of the rurales put a sombrero on his head and laughed.

El capitan strolled up a minute later and ordered his men to form in a single line. Johnny watched everything from under that sombrero. He saw El capitan walk over to him, so he figured he was first to go.

"Well, Senor Madrid. We have finally caught up with you. Today you will die. Is there anything you would like to say? Any final words?" he said with a wicked grin on his face.

Johnny looked up at him and smiled. "Nada," he said softly.

"You're a hard one, eh?" El capitan said as he straightened up and turned on his heel to join his men.

The first man was about forty but looked much older, his hair and beard were gray and he walked to the wall without resisting. He took it well, Johnny thought, just like I plan to. The second man was still a teenager, he started fighting and crying and finally begging for his life. El capitan looked over at Madrid to see if the desired effect had been obtained. Johnny's face was expressionless which infuriated El capitan even more.

When they came for him, he was ready. He had steeled himself for this and he knew exactly what he was going to do and that was nothing. Nothing at all. He stood up as El Capitan yelled at him repeatedly to do just that. He got to his feet and turned to meet his fate, his eyes were cold and no smile nor even a grin was seen on the face of Johnny Madrid.

**************

The sound of a carriage being ridden to the breaking point got all their attention. Johnny watched the man drive up. He was dressed in a suit and looked incredibly out of place. He heard the man say he was looking for Johnny Madrid.

"I'm Madrid," he said, curious. What the hell is goin on now?, he thought.

The man paid El capitan a wad of money then came over and cut the ropes binding his hands behind him.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked.

"Your father wants to see you."

The words stung, and yet he felt his heart leap into his throat.

A few days later, he found himself without a horse. He was so close, but the animal had stumbled and broken his leg. Johnny put him out of his misery and walked up to the road. The stagecoach almost passed by before he could climb up the hill. He flagged it down.

"You goin to Morro Coyo?" he asked, breathless.

"Unless I'm lost," the driver replied.

"Mind if I get a lift?" Johnny half smiled at the man.

"Sure, climb on. We'll just take care of that gun for you," he added.

Johnny looked at him for a minute and licked his lips. "Sure," he said and tossed the gun and his saddle up to the driver.

He climbed into the crowded coach and fell on the man in front of him as the stage lunged forward.

"Sorry, didn't mean ta mess up your outfit," he said to the dandy, quite amused by the suit the man was wearing.

"Can't be helped," was the short reply he got.

Johnny smiled and wondered what this easterner was doin out here.

When they arrived in Morro Coyo, Johnny got out after the dandy and retrieved his gun and saddle from the driver. He glanced around the small town and wasn't impressed. As he put on his gloves, he heard someone call his name.

"Yeah?" he answered in unison with the dandy as he turned to see the brunette girl.

"I'm sorry, which one of you said?" she looked at them both, confused.

"I did," they answered in unison again.

She looked at them with comprehension lighting up her face. "You're Johnny?"

"That's right."

"Then you must be Scott Lancer."

"No ma'am, my mother only had one kid and that was me," Johnny said softly as he approached the other man.

"Likewise," the dandy answered, a bit aggravated.

"Well, you're both right. It was Mr. Lancer that had two," she said with a smile.

"Two what?" the dandy asked with dread.

"Two wives. And two sons. You two."

Johnny looked the dandy up and down, laughing softly. This fancy pants was his brother?! Not a chance in hell. There must be some mistake. But the girl was confident of the facts and she explained a little more as they drove in the surrey.

The words came back to him like a flood. "You made a promise last night son and I know you're a man of your word." Doc's voice lilted into his head.

No, it couldn't be! This is who has been missing from my life? Johnny kept eyeing the man seated in front of him. He could see the sharp features of his face. He looked closely but could see no resemblance. He wondered what his father looked like. The memory he'd had in the prison cell was so fleeting, he couldn't see the man's face. He tried to convince himself that this wasn't a dream and he wasn't about to wake up in a prison cell. Could this be what he had been missing all his life? Johnny was not convinced and being a man naturally suspicious, he decided he wasn't going to get roped into anything. These people, whoever they were, weren't gonna pull him in just to trample on him like everybody else. He resolved to keep his emotions in check and be himself...Johnny Madrid...good at his trade.

He had never been so wrong in his life.

Johnny Madrid felt as if he'd been holding his breath for the past month. It hadn't taken him long to recover from the bullet Day Pardee had put in his back and he was trying to settle in at Lancer. He had decided to give the place a try. After all, one third of a huge ranch had to be the biggest payday he had ever seen.

That's exactly how he thought of it, a payday. The old man had made it clear that first day that he'd brought Johnny there for his gun and that was fine with him. Except for what Teresa had told him about his mother. Was it true? Part of him wanted to believe it. Wanted to believe he hadn't been born to such a hard and emotionless man who would throw his son away like trash. But being around Murdoch Lancer had not proven anything different to him so far. Every so often the old man seemed to soften just a little. More than anything, it was confusing the hell out of him which in turn just made him angry. He questioned why it was so hard for this man to talk to him and then he would laugh at himself. He sure wasn't being a chatterbox either!

And Scott was another question. He seemed to fit in so easy here. He didn't know a thing about ranching but he was catching on quick, which impressed Johnny. He found himself liking the easterner and that was a whole other surprise. Boston sure didn't have any problem talking to him and talking and talking. Johnny smiled at the thought of his brother. His brother! God had he been taken for a spin! Half the time he felt so dizzy from all this new information, he had to stop and catch his breath.

He shook his head as he headed the strays in toward the rest of the herd. He felt the blond's eyes on him and wondered what Scott thought of him. He had never cared what people thought of him before, except for a very few. He caught his brother's stare and held it until Scott looked away, then he grinned to himself. Maybe he's afraid of me, he thought whimsically.

***************

Night time was hardest for Johnny, when they would gather for supper and especially afterwards. He felt very uncomfortable around these people and always had a burning desire to go outside or to his room to get away from them. Yet he usually didn't, he usually stayed in the great room with them. It was no party, they were all uncomfortable with each other and talk was always centered around the day's work or the next day's. Teresa was the only one who seemed to take it all in stride, but then what did she care? She had nothing to do with this strange and tenuous treaty.

This night though, was different. Murdoch seemed to be in a foul mood, more so than usual and Johnny didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. He couldn't think of anything he'd done to anger the old man so he figured it wasn't about him and tried to relax. He didn't see the look Murdoch gave Teresa as she stood and quietly left the room. "Boys, I think it's time we had a talk.", Murdoch suddenly blurted out.

Johnny blew out his breath. He didn't have to hold it any longer.

"Alright, what about?" Scott asked. Johnny wouldn't have.

Murdoch stood up and paced in front of the fireplace, seemingly deep in thought. "I know this has been hard on both of you. All this is so new. I have to admit, it's been difficult for me as well. I...well, I don't know quite what to say to either one of you. I think it's time we got to know each other," he said.

Johnny kept his eyes low, not wanting to reveal anything to either of them. He was reminded once again of his conversations with Doc Holliday and he squirmed inside at the thought of baring his soul to these men. He wasn't ready for this and he wasn't sure just what it was Murdoch wanted to know.

Always direct, he decided to just ask. "What do you want to know?" he asked softly.

Murdoch looked at him and smiled, he had expected Scott to ask that question. He seemed to be more open than Johnny. "Well...." he laughed softly. "Everything, but I guess we should start slow."

"I think that would be wise," Scott interjected. Somehow he could feel his brother's ambiguity. "Otherwise one or all of us may run screaming from the room," he continued with a grin. All three men laughed at this but all three agreed it was probably true.

"Scott, tell me about growing up in Boston. You went to Harvard, I'd like to hear about that," Murdoch said and Johnny sighed with relief.

"Well, Boston is a beautiful city. It's very busy. There are so many things to do, theatre, parks, restaurants, parties. Growing up I, of course, spent a good deal of time studying but my favorite thing to do was have a good snowball fight," Scott reported.

Johnny smiled, he had had a few snowball fights in the high country himself. Murdoch remembered his own snowy battles with his older brother back in Scotland.

Scott laughed, "I remember one fight I had with a friend of mine named Harry. We were nine years old and had been out in the snow all day. We were already soaking wet when we decided a snowball fight was in order. We set up our camps and built snow walls for cover, then we went at it. I got some really good hits in until...(laughing) Mrs. Peabody walked right in the middle of the battle lines and I clobbered her."

Johnny laughed out loud at this. He, of course, didn't know who Mrs. Peabody was but he was sure she wasn't amused. "What did she do, Boston?" he asked.

"Well, Johnny. Once she got control of herself, she grabbed me up by the ear and hauled me home, pounding on the door until Jenkins answered. She started telling him what I had done when grandfather walked up to the door. I can tell you, I wanted to crawl under a rock just about then. He apologized for my behavior and placated her."

"What did he do to ya?" Johnny asked.

Scott's expression darkened somewhat. "He told me I was acting like a child and sent me to my room to dry off," he replied.

Murdoch Lancer's face turned red with anger. It was all he could do to hold his tongue, but he didn't want to berate Harlan Garrett to Scott. He was afraid Scott would defend the old man too much.

Johnny wasn't so diplomatic. "Acting like a child! Hell, you were a child. What'd he expect?" Johnny asked stunned.

"Grandfather believes one should behave as a gentlemen at all times."

Johnny snorted at this. "Well, I guess he wouldn't take to me much then would he?"

Scott smiled at the thought of Harlan Garrett meeting Johnny Madrid. He thought Johnny would be able to hold his own against the tower of power that was his grandfather, quite easily in fact. Murdoch decided to try and turn the subject away from his nemesis.

"Tell us about Harvard, Scott. I saw it when I was there. It's quite a sight," Murdoch said.

"It certainly is, when I first entered those hallowed halls, it was intimidating to say the least. Once I got acclimated, it was probably the best time of my life. I made some very good friends there. Oh, and of course I learned a great deal," Scott smiled mischievously and Johnny made a mental note to ask about college when they were alone. He was sure there were some stories to hear there!

Murdoch chuckled. "What about the army?" he asked.

Scott's face darkened once again. "It was...a good learning experience," he said quietly.

"It was a hard time for the whole country, but it had to be hardest on the men who fought in that war," Murdoch said, trying to ease the subject for his son. It was obvious to both Murdoch and Johnny that Scott's memories of the war were not pleasant at all.

Scott looked at his brother and decided it was time to avert attention from himself.

"What were you doing during the war Johnny?" he asked.

Johnny looked up startled. Damn how did this get to be about me?, he thought. He looked at his brother with something less than love or even liking. "Wasn't my war. I was fighting my own," he said softly.

The tension in the room rose a couple of notches. They were silent for awhile. Murdoch wanted desperately to ask his youngest about his childhood, but he was afraid Johnny would shut down.

"So how did you become a gunfighter?" Scott asked bluntly.

Johnny stared at him in disbelief, he wasn't prepared for such a straightforward question. Then he allowed a smile to slowly spread across his face. "Practice," he said.

Scott looked at his brother with a mix of amusement and exasperation. "I take it you don't want to talk about this," he said.

Johnny sighed aloud and looked from his brother to his father. Both men were watching him, waiting. "What do want me to say? I woke up one morning and decided the best thing to do with the rest of my life was be a gunfighter. I just couldn't wait to get started," he said sarcastically.

"Johnny, we just want to understand," Scott said.

"Understand what, Boston? How a man comes to be what he comes to be? I don't know. Circumstances, life experiences, just plain bad luck," Johnny offered.

"And what were your circumstances?" Scott persisted.

Johnny's eyes narrowed. He was feeling like he was on trial. "Alone and broke," he said flatly. "I've had about all I can take of family hour," he added sarcastically as he stood up and headed for the stairs.

"You know, at some point we are going to have to talk about it," Scott said over his shoulder.

"That's your opinion," Johnny shot back as he climbed the stairs.

****************

Murdoch let out a sigh and shook his head. "Well, that went well," he said.

"I guess I shouldn't have pressed him so hard," Scott said regretfully.

"You have a lot of guts, son."

Scott looked puzzled. "Why do you say that?" he asked.

"To question Johnny like that. If you weren't his brother, he probably would have belted you long ago," Murdoch said with a slight smile.

"He does have a quick temper," Scott agreed.

Murdoch mused that he knew where that temper came from and that Johnny had come by it honest.

"Murdoch, what happened with him? I mean, he lived here for a while, right?" Scott asked.

Murdoch's face hardened. "Yes, until he was two, then...they left," he said with a tone of finality that told Scott the subject was closed.

Scott felt like he was caught between these two men. He wanted to know both of them but he knew these two would be at odds for a long time and he had a feeling he was going to be caught in the middle most every time.

"You don't have to talk to me about it but at some point you're going to have to talk to him," Scott said and nodded as he headed upstairs himself.

Murdoch stood in the middle of the great room alone and knew his oldest was right. Any talk of Maria always irritated him. He had such mixed feelings about that woman. He loved her and he hated her for taking his son away from him. He had asked himself so many times why she had done such a thing. It was so extreme. There had been times when he wished he had never met her but then he would berate himself for he knew if he hadn't then there would be no Johnny. And even though this boy was a mystery to him and could make him mad so easily, he was starting to feel that love coming back for his son. Coming back....or was he just allowing himself to feel it again after so many years.

************

Johnny lay on his bed fuming. Why did he let them get to him? He should have just told them the truth. Boy, would that've left em with their tongues wagging! Suddenly Doc's words came flooding back vividly.

"What do you see in me Doc?"

"I see an intelligent young man with many gifts. Talents, if you will and not just with that gun. You care Johnny. You care about the plight of others. That is astounding to me, considering no one has ever seemed to care for your plight. I see a man with much love to give and no one to give it to. I see a man full of pain and anger until it is spilling over and no way to rid himself of it. I see a man in great need of receiving love. I see a desperate man. Desperado. You will meet someone someday who expects and even demands it of you and you will have to do it. You will have to bare your soul to that person or lose them. And whoever it may be, it will be someone you are not willing to lose. When that day comes Johnny, remember what I've said here and open your heart, even if it hurts like hell. That someone will be worth the pain you suffer and once it's done, you'll be free, at last."

"Free?"

"Yes Johnny, free. Free of the past, the pain, the disappointment, the unjusts done to you in your life. You will be free once you open yourself to that person."

Johnny sighed, was this it then, were these the people who could make him open his heart? Johnny had his doubts. He liked Scott well enough and he was beginning to feel a 'need' to know his father. There was something there that he felt was worth all this aggravation. Something in the man that made him want to hold onto this life. He didn't think he would be able to, he didn't think his past would allow it. His past! Yeah it was in the past alright, a whole month in the past! He hadn't felt real heartache in a long time, not since his mother had died. But when he stood in front of his father in Scott's room and asked

"Is that what you think of me?" and Murdoch had shook his head and said "I don't know what to think of you.", it had hurt. That surprised him more than anything. That a man he had met only the day before could have such an impact on him. He thought of Doc again, he had known him all of a week and that man had a definite impact on him.

***************

Johnny Madrid had never wrote a letter in his life, He had never had a reason to, but tonight he felt a definite need. It wasn't that he wanted Doc Holliday to come riding to the rescue or any such nonsense like that. He knew if anyone could help him figure all these jumbled up feelings out, it was Doc. He hoped the man wouldn't feel put upon but, damn, he needed someone to talk to! Doc, how are you? .. No that was stupid. He took another piece of paper and started again.

Doc,
I guess you never thought you'd hear from me again. I guess I never thought it either but something has happened to me and it's made me think about you and the talks we had. I hope you don't feel like I'm putting you out, if you're too busy, I'll understand. I feel like we became good friends in the short time we knew each other so I think I can tell you about this. I've met my father. He sent for me a month ago and offered me part of his ranch. It's a big place and it's real nice. I thought I'd give it a try. You know, like we talked about, just walking away. The biggest surprise is that I have a brother, well half-brother, but that don't matter. It seems Murdoch was married before and had another son that he didn't raise. Murdoch Lancer, that's my father's name. I don't think I ever told you that. Anyway, his name is Scott and he was raised in Boston. He's a real dandy but he's really a good guy and he's decided to stay here too. So here we are, just one big happy family. I guess you can see how this is just about to drive me crazy. I'm havin some real problems dealing with all this and I keep thinking about the things you told me. Still, it's hard for me to open up to these people. I mean, what if I tell them what they really want to know and scare em so bad they don't want anything to do with me? I don't know what to do, Doc. I have to tell you, I'm just about ready to hit the trail. I don't know why I'm bothering you with this, maybe I just needed to tell someone away from here. Ya know? Well, I hope your feelin ok and I hope you're still in Dodge cause that's where I'm sendin this.
Your friend Johnny Madrid.

Johnny looked over the letter and decided it was pretty pathetic but he couldn't think of any other way to say what he needed to say and he hoped Doc would be able to figure it out like he had figured Johnny himself out. He put the letter in an envelope, sealed and addressed it and thought he'd mail it next time he went to town. He thought about giving it to one of the hands when they went into town but he wasn't sure if he could trust them not to tell Murdoch about it and that would be all he needed. Murdoch finding out Doc Holliday was his friend!

***************

As luck would have it, the fence mending had been a bigger job than anticipated and supplies had run low. Johnny and Scott went to town for more supplies and Johnny grabbed the letter and mailed it. He took a deep breath when he handed it to the mail clerk, who glanced at it and tossed it in the bin. Johnny was glad he didn't look too closely. He was starting to feel paranoid and tried to shake it off.

As he walked back toward the lumber mill, the hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention. His instincts were on high alert and he knew something was bad wrong. He kept walking, listening closely to everything around him and keeping his head low so he could watch from under the brim of his hat. He reached the wagon and Scott was waiting for him. He saw the look on Johnny's face. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothin. Let's just go," he answered as he started to climb up in the wagon. He didn't make it.

"Madrid!"

Johnny froze and cursed under his breath. He turned slowly to face the inevitable. "Johnny, don't," Scott said as he placed his hand on his brother's arm.

"Stay out of this Boston," Johnny whispered. He saw the man standing near a water trough in the street but he didn't recognize him. "Yeah?" he answered softly.

"I was hopin I'd run into you one of these days," the man said flatly.

Johnny looked the man up and down with steel in his eyes. "Is that right?" he said.

"Uh huh," the man answered.

"Well, you found me," he said simply, then grinned a little.

"You know me?" the man asked.

"Nope."

"Well, you will," he said with a sneer.

"Why is that?" Johnny asked pretending to be uninterested and getting a little more than fed up with this banter.

"Cause I'm gonna kill you," the man said and grinned sickeningly.

Johnny stared at him with a look that could kill on its own. He didn't say anything. He didn't have to. He just waited. It suddenly occurred to him that Scott was standing right beside him. "Move away before you get hurt," Johnny whispered as he pushed Scott gently back with his left hand, never taking his eyes off the man in front of him.

"Well?" the man asked.

"Well, what? You called it," Johnny answered and allowed a grin to curve on his lips, but not in his eyes. The man looked at him with hatred in his eyes and moved his right hand slightly toward his holster. Johnny drew and fired before the man could move any more and he fell to the ground clutching his gut.

Scott stared in disbelief at the scene he had witnessed. After a moment he collected himself. By now, half the town had gathered and witnessed the gunplay.

"Johnny?" Scott said barely above a whisper.

Johnny Madrid turned and looked at Scott Lancer and Scott saw his face change before his eyes. He changed from Johnny Madrid to Johnny Lancer in an instant. Scott was stunned at the transformation for it was the first time he had seen his brother as Johnny Madrid.

What?" Johnny asked. Scott shook his head slowly but said nothing.

"Fair fight," someone in the crowd said pointing to the gun just barely out of the man's holster.

Johnny turned and climbed into the wagon. "You comin?" he asked his brother. Scott snapped out of his shock and climbed up next to his brother.

************

The trip home was quiet. Johnny was in no mood to talk and Scott could sense it, in fact he could cut it with a knife. He replayed the scene over and over in his mind and he still couldn't remember seeing the man start to draw. He couldn't even figure out the conversation between the two of them. It was some sort of code, he thought. Gunfighter's code. Clipped questions and answers not meant to reveal any deep insight but to give each man time to size up the other. He couldn't get over the change he had seen in his brother. This brother who, admittedly, he didn't know very well, but who he had worked with and teased with. This brother whose smile was infectious and who, at times, seemed almost innocent in his humility. This brother who was a cold-blooded killer? No! That wasn't how it was. Johnny did not look for this fight, it was brought to him. Yet he didn't try to walk away from it either or even try to talk the man out of a confrontation.

Scott wondered why it was so easy for him to draw down on a man without even knowing his name. He couldn't stand it any longer. He had always been a curious sort, always asking questions, always wanting to learn something new. He really wanted to know about this man sitting beside him and he knew the only way to do that was to ask because Johnny certainly wasn't going to volunteer anything. Still, he was hesitant and he cleared his throat to warn his brother he was about to start. "Johnny?"

"What."

"Could you explain to me what just happened back there?"

Johnny looked at Scott through narrowed eyes. "Did you suddenly lose your sight, brother?" Johnny asked.

"No, but it happened so fast. I mean I didn't even realize he was calling you out," Scott said patiently. "And you knew something was going to happen when you came back to the wagon, didn't you? I could see it on your face. Did you see him coming?"

"Nope."

"Then how?"

"You are like a cat with a mouse in your teeth, just can't turn loose," Johnny said exasperated.

"I'm just trying to understand," Scott said a little sheepishly.

Johnny pulled up on the reins and stopped the wagon. He put on the brake and turned to face his brother. "It's like this Scott. I've learned to never let my guard down. I have instincts and I always listen to them. They've never failed me. I knew something was up but didn't know what. What happened between me and that man, it's the same as always. He was lookin to make a name for himself and he figured he could do that by drawing down on Johnny Madrid. That's what my life was like, ok? Now, can we just drop this?"

"No Johnny, I don't want to drop it. You said that man was trying to make a name for himself. Is that how you made your name?"

Johnny sighed, he knew Scott wouldn't drop this. "No, Boston. I worked for it. Some men try to take the 'easy road' but not me, I earned my reputation," Johnny said with a cold voice. He locked eyes with his brother and tried to almost physically drill understanding into Scott's head.

Scott nodded, "But"

"No buts, Scott, that's enough questions. Let's just go home and do me a favor. Don't tell Murdoch about this."

"Don't you think he's gong to hear about it?"

"Probably," Johnny answered.

"Then don't you think it would be better for him to hear it from you?" Scott asked.

Johnny thought about this and realized Scott was right. "I guess so," he answered with a sigh. They pulled the wagon up next to the supply shack and jumped down.

Murdoch came out to greet them. "Were you able to get everything?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. It's all here," Scott replied.

"Good," Murdoch nodded.

Johnny approached his father, his head hung low. "Uh, Murdoch? I need to talk to you," he started.

"Alright, what is it?" Murdoch asked suspiciously.

"Well, there was a little trouble in town. I..uh..well."

"It wasn't Johnny's fault Murdoch. The man called him out," Scott interceded.

"What man?" Murdoch said raising his voice.

"I don't know who he was. He didn't introduce himself," Johnny said defensively. The look of disappointment on Murdoch's face told Johnny all he needed to know and he felt the defensive anger rising up. "I'm sorry. Next time I'll just let em shoot me!" he yelled and stormed off.

"Nice, Murdoch. Very nice," Scott said and went after his brother.

Johhny Madrid stood at the window of the bedroom in the Lancer hacienda. He stared out at the panorama before him. He loved this view of Lancer, it always seemed to give him a little peace. There were storm clouds forming over the mountains in the distance and he thought how appropriate it was. He hadn't bothered closing his door tight as he had stormed away from his father's disappointment. Scott stuck his head in through the opening. "Johnny? You ok?"

Johnny didn't turn around, he kept staring out the window. Scott came into the room and stood behind his brother. "I'm ok, Boston," he said feeling the man's presence and concern.

"Look, I'm sure Murdoch feels bad for reacting the way he did. I guess he was just surprised," Scott said.

"He better get used to it," Johnny replied snidely. "Look, Scott, if you don't mind, I'd like to be alone for awhile," he said gently.

"Sure, brother." Scott didn't know what else to say anyway, nothing he had run through his mind seemed to be very comforting. He had never dealt with anything like this before and he was stumped. He quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

**************

Two hours later, Johnny had moved a chair in front of his window and was sitting there staring at the same scenery. He wasn't really looking anymore, he was wrapped in his own thoughts. There was a light knock on the door and Scott popped his head in again. "Supper is ready, are you coming down?" he asked.

"Nope."

"Johnny, you have to eat," Scott admonished.

"I know this may be a shock for all of you Scott, but I don't usually eat a big meal after I've just killed a man!" he spat the words.

Scott dropped his head, ashamed of his lack of consideration for his brother's feelings. He left the room without another word. Johnny berated himself for yelling at his brother. He certainly didn't deserve it, he was only trying to help even though Johnny knew he didn't have a clue how. What he didn't know was that Murdoch was standing outside the door and had heard them. There was another knock on the door, this one stronger, and he heard the door open. "Look, Scott I said I didn't want to eat, ok," he said, softly this time.

"It's not Scott," Murdoch answered. Johnny tensed immediately at the sound of his father's voice.

He stood and faced him, ready for a fight. Murdoch just stared at him.

God I hate it when he does that!, Johnny thought. "Well, go ahead. Tell me what a mistake I was," he said stonily.

The look of surprise on Murdoch Lancer's face was genuine. "Mistake? What are you talking about?" he said astonished.

"Come on Murdoch! I saw the look on your face when Scott told you what happened."

"And what look would that be?" Murdoch asked.

"Disappointment," Johnny said flatly.

Murdoch nodded his head. "I suppose that's true, but not disappointment in you John. I was sorry it happened is all. I wish things were different," Murdoch explained.

"Well, they're not different. This is who I am and if you can't deal with that, I understand. But don't make excuses for me and, more than anything, I don't want your pity!" Johnny was fighting with everything he had to keep himself in check. He couldn't break down in front of this man, not ever! He waited for Murdoch to tell him to pack up and leave. He waited and waited.

Murdoch looked at his son and tried to read the mixture of emotions he knew Johnny was trying to hide. He didn't know this man, not at all.

"Johnny, it will get better as time passes. I mean, they'll forget about Johnny Madrid."

Johnny hmmphed at this. "You think it's gonna be that easy? It's not. You think this won't happen again and again. It will. Tell me now Murdoch. I can't put myself into this...thing just to have it jerked out from under me. So tell me now. Can you handle having Johnny Madrid for a son?"

It was the hardest question he'd ever been asked. He wanted his son back, Johnny Lancer that is. Finally he answered. "I don't know if I can handle it, Johnny. I have to be honest with you, but what I do know is, I want to try."

Johnny sighed and nodded his head. His face softened as he said, "Ok, we'll both try. Look I don't know if this is gonna work. That's all I'm sayin."

************

No more was said about the gunfight and two days later Ben Johnson rode into the yard of Lancer. Murdoch greeted the neighbor as he dismounted. "Come in for awhile, Ben. How's your father?"

"He's fine Mr. Lancer, but I can't stay. Roy down at the telegraph office caught me and asked me to deliver this telegram to your son, Johnny."

Johnny came out of the house in time to catch the last of the conversation. "A telegram for me?" he asked surprised.

"Yep, Roy said he thought it might be important. Don't know why," he said as he handed the paper to Johnny. "Well, I gotta get goin. I'll tell my pa you asked about him. Bye."

Murdoch said goodbye to the young man and thanked him.

Johnny opened the folded paper. 'Do not hit any trails. More to come. DH', the message read. Johnny smiled and folded the paper, sticking it in his shirt pocket.

Murdoch was watching him and was relieved to see a smile on his son's face. "Everything alright?" he asked.

"Hmm, oh yeah, everything's fine. I guess I better get going if I'm gonna catch up with Scott," he said as he mounted Barranca and began his anticipation of a letter from Doc Holliday.

***********

Another week passed peaceably except Johnny wanted to get to town to check the mail. Saturday was town day, as the family went in for supplies and the boys looked forward to some time in the saloon. Johnny had been trying to teach Scott the fine art that was tequila but his brother was having none of it. He just couldn't get past that worm.

They finished loading the supplies in the wagon and Johnny announced he was going to check the mail. He was disappointed to find no letter from Doc and wondered what was taking so long. Was he writing a book!? As he started for the saloon to meet up with his family, he was approached by a thin older man he knew to be the town barber.

"Johnny!" he whispered conspiratorily as he took the young man's arm gingerly.

"What is it, Rex?"

"Somebody's been asking about you. Got in town last night and he's been askin for Johnny Madrid," he reported.

Johnny's eyes narrowed. "Describe him to me," he said.

"Well, I ain't never seen him before. He's kinda tall, not like your pa, but taller than me and real thin and he's wearin a fancy black suit. He's got a goatee, too."

Johnny stared in disbelief. "Is this man in the saloon, Rex?" he asked a little apprehensively.

"Yeah, he settled in there around noon."

"Thanks, Rex."

"Sure, Johnny. Is there gonna be trouble?" the thin man asked almost hopeful.

Johnny smiled at the pathetic figure. "No, no trouble at all." He stood on the boardwalk trying to think of a way to get his father and brother out of the saloon without going in after them. He suddenly had an idea and he headed to the barbershop. "Rex, can you do me a favor?"

"Sure, Johnny what is it?"

He took a piece of paper and pencil from the man's pocket and scribbled a note. "Give this to the man in the saloon. Don't say my name just tell him it's for him and leave. Ya got that?" Johnny asked. His eyes told the man to obey the instructions to the letter. He nodded and ran to the saloon. Johnny waited were he was.

**********

The door to the barbershop opened slowly. All that could be seen was a thin yet oddly strong looking hand. He entered and, seeing no one, took a step to the side of the door and waited. Johnny rolled into the room, leaning against the doorframe of the back storage area. He had a grin on his face. "Johnny my boy! I was beginning to think I had been led astray," Doc proclaimed.

Johnny laughed and approached his friend with his hand extended. Doc knocked his hand aside a gave him an affectionate hug. "How are ya, Doc?" he asked when the man released him.

"I have been better but then again I have been worse, Johnny. More importantly, how are you?" Doc asked with a knowing grin.

"A little better than when I wrote to you. But Doc, I never expected you to come here!" Johnny said, guilty he had made his sick friend feel the need to take such a long trip.

"Why didn't you meet me in the saloon, boy? Afraid to be seen with me?" Doc asked with false suspicion.

"Did you happen to notice a tall, older man and a young blond man come into the saloon?" Johnny asked.

Doc thought for a second and slowly nodded his head. "Yes, but I.." Understanding exploded on his face. "Your father and brother?"

Johnny nodded. "I didn't think they were ready for you," Johnny grinned.

"I understand now. No, I don't suppose they would be," he returned the grin. Becoming serious, Doc said, "Now you need to get rid of them so you and I can have a little chat."

"How am I supposed to do that?" Johnny asked.

"Well, I could scare them out," Doc said, mischief adorning his face.

"They don't scare easy, Doc. Besides, I'd just as soon they not know you're even here yet," Johnny said.

"Yet? You mean you intend to tell them about me?" Doc was stunned, he hadn't expected Johnny to spill those particular beans and he certainly didn't want to cause his young friend any trouble.

Johnny shrugged, "Why not? They keep sayin they want to know me. Anyway, are you staying at the hotel?" Doc nodded and took Johnny's arm as he led the way.

**************

Scott was wondering where Johnny had gotten off to and voiced his concern to Murdoch who didn't seem to be so worried. "He probably saw a pretty girl," he offered. Scott grinned, knowing Murdoch was probably right. Just then Johnny walked into the saloon and joined them.

"And just where were you?" Scott asked teasingly.

"I met an old friend and I'm gonna hang around and catch up with him so don't wait for me if you want to head home."

"Johnny, is everything alright?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny saw the doubt on the old man's face and could practically hear the thoughts racing through his mind. He smiled, "It's fine Murdoch, really. He is an old friend and there's not gonna be any trouble. In fact, we're gonna hang around in his hotel room, just talk...that's all," he explained.

Murdoch nodded his head and Johnny left for the hotel. "Wonder who this old friend is," Scott mused.

"Well, he'll tell us if he wants to. You ready?" Murdoch said. They left and headed home.

************

Johnny watched from Doc's hotel room window as they rode out of town. He was relieved Murdoch didn't push any harder. "Well, are they gone? Can you relax now?" Doc drawled in his southern twang.

Johnny turned to face his friend and smiled. "You want to go to the saloon?" he asked.

Doc shook his head. "Later, right now we are gonna have a talk," he said.

Johnny sat down and stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles. "I still can't believe you came all this way because of a stupid letter I wrote," he said.

"First of all, it was not a stupid letter and second of all, why wouldn't I come. It sounded like you were getting desperate again."

Johnny's head snapped up at the use of the word. He shook his head woefully at Doc. "Don't start that again."

"Why not? You said in your letter you had been thinking about the things we had discussed before. That is what we discussed."

"I know Doc. But I was thinking more about the other things. About opening up to someone that I didn't want to lose. I swear I think you're some kind of prophet. It wasn't a week after we parted ways, that he sent for me. I was ready to take the money he paid for my time and run but..." he trailed off.

"But when you met him face to face, you wanted more?" Doc finished his thought.

Johnny nodded his head slowly, a sad haunted look on his face. "When I found out I had a brother, everything changed, Doc. I still feel dizzy from it all sometimes. I look at Scott, this man who is completely different from me, who was raised in Boston by his rich grandfather, who had everything, and I can't believe we have the same blood running through our veins. But, he's not what you'd expect. He doesn't look down at me, he doesn't think he's better than me. He accepts me or at least he tries hard. He tries really hard. I have to wonder why."

Doc looked at him with amazement. "You have to wonder why? Johnny, he is in the same predicament as you, son. He never knew he had a brother, did he?"

"No."

"Well, I am sure he feels dizzy too, at times. Maybe he wants you to accept him," Doc observed.

Johnny's forehead wrinkled as he thought about this, it hadn't occurred to him that Scott wanted his acceptance. "But he always seems so confident, like he belongs here. From the first day in fact, he was ready to accept Murdoch and me and the ranch. It doesn't seem to bother him that his father gave him up. I mean at least Murdoch knew where he was all these years, not like me."

"Perhaps he has decided to concentrate on his brother. He knows who you are, what you are. He knows his life has been much more comfortable than yours. Perhaps he even feels a little guilty about that."

"It's not his fault!"

"No Johnny, of course it isn't, but he might not think that way. Tell me more about what kind of man this brother of yours is," Doc said.

"Well, I don't really know a lot about his past. He went to Harvard, he was in the army during the war. He's honest and a lot stronger than he looks and he can ride pretty good too. He's good with a rifle, but not so good with a pistol. He knows nothing about ranching, but he's really eager to learn and he's not afraid to ask questions when he doesn't understand something. Yeah, he loves to ask questions!" he finished with a soft laugh.

"Aside from being in the union army, he sounds like a good man," Doc said wryly and Johnny grinned at the taunt. "Johnny, the way you talk about your brother, it sounds to me like you have already started loving this man." Johnny blushed at the idea, but he knew what Doc meant. "Let me ask you this, what would you do, how far would you go to protect his life?" Doc asked.

Johnny didn't hesitate, "I'd give my life." This realization struck him like a fist in the face. He would give his life for Scott Lancer! A man he had known less than two months. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind but the truth would not go away and he knew it was the truth. "You always seem to know how to get me to see what I should already know. How do you do that?" Johnny asked.

Doc smiled at his friend. "Johnny, my boy. It's like I told you once before, I have lived more than any three men and have had as many experiences, but I have never met a gunfighter like you before. THAT is how I knew you were different," he said pointing his finger at the young man. "Now, tell me about this Murdoch Lancer," he said and Johnny thought he heard contempt in Doc's voice but he shrugged it off.

"Oh boy, Murdoch. Well, I don't know what to say. He's tough and stubborn as a mule! He built the ranch up from nothing, he loves it more than anything. He told us that the first day we met him. He's a hard man, he expects a lot."

"What do you mean, he expects a lot?" Doc asked. Johnny shifted in his chair, suddenly uncomfortable talking about his father. Doc sensed his discomfort. "Johnny, are we not friends?"

"Yes."

"Have you not told me things you would never tell another living soul?"

"Yes."

"Then tell me about your father. Specifically, what excuse did he give for kicking you out?" Doc was trying hard to control his temper.

"He didn't...kick me out I mean. It seems my mother was less than truthful about that. Turns out she ran off with another man. That's what Teresa told me and I believe her."

"Teresa?"

"She's Murdoch's ward. Her father was his foreman and they were good friends. When he died, Murdoch took Teresa in," he explained. Doc nodded his head, his disgust for this man was beginning to wane a bit. "He tried to look for us over the years, but we moved around so much...she was always worried he'd find us. I never really understood that, I mean, if he threw us out, why was he looking for us? Anyway, I'm starting to think maybe she was afraid he'd take me away from her," Johnny explained.

"Did he tell you all this?"

Johnny laughed. "Hell, no! He won't tell me anything. He says the past is the past, it's done and over."

"That, my boy, is the biggest bunch of malarky I have ever had the misfortune of hearing," Doc drawled. "Johnny, our past is as much a part of us as our present. Our past is what makes us who we are. How can we forget that? Just shove it under a rug? It's ridiculous."

"Yeah, well I wish you'd tell him that," Johnny said.

"I would be more than happy to," Doc replied and Johnny stared at him, knowing he would do just that.

"Maybe, he's right Doc. I mean, if I expect him to talk about it, then I'm gonna have to talk about it and...I don't want to," he finished, his voice dropping to a whisper.

"You're afraid to talk about it, you're afraid he will hate you." Johnny turned away from his friend, the truth of the statement was like a hot knife cutting a valley deep through his soul. He stood and stared out the window and Doc approached him quietly. He placed a thin hand on Johnny's strong shoulder and felt that shoulder quiver ever so slightly. "Johnny, remember what I told you," he said.

"That's just it, Doc. I do remember. That's why I wrote to you in the first place. You said before, when it happened it would hurt like hell, but...you never said it was nearly an impossible thing to do!" Johnny said miserably.

"Somehow, you thought it would be easy? Johnny...I want so much to help you through this but I can't do it for you. If it were that easy I'd saddle a horse and be at that ranch in an instant. I'd stand in front of your father and tell him the story of your life. Except I don't know the whole story and that is what he

wants to know. He wants to know the pain you suffered. He wants to know about the moving around constantly, the never having a real home and yes, even about the men in your mother's life and how they treated you. He wants...no needs to know all these things."

"Why? He can't change it! It can't be changed. Nothing I tell him would do him any good, it would only hurt him. Why does he want me to hurt him, Doc?!" Johnny cried out.

It occurred to Doc Holliday that he sounded like a wounded animal just then and he wanted desperately to take the pain away. He turned Johnny around to face him, laying his hands on the young man's shoulders.

"Because Johnny, he blames himself I think. He needs to feel your pain to deal with his own. And you need to feel his pain to deal with yours. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

The tears brimming his eyes threatened to spill over his long lashes as he stared at the man in front of him. He wished Doc was his father just then. He seemed to understand Johnny better than anyone ever had. More than anything else though, he wanted his own father's love and approval. "I understand Doc, I just don't think he's really ready to hear it all."

"Then don't tell him all of it, you can't just start talking and spill your whole life out in one sitting. Heaven's, you'd scare the man to death!" he said and starting laughing. Johnny started laughing too, he knew that was true. "Now, I think it's time we headed to that saloon. I don't know about you boy, but I could use a drink," Doc said.

*************

Johnny got home late that night. He was a little drunk and he tried to get in the house and to his room as quietly as possible. He took off his boots at the front door and tiptoed up the stairs. Once in his room with the door shut, he sighed with relief. Suddenly, that feeling was back and he sobered up instantly. He wasn't alone, someone else was in the room. His right hand went to his side automatically. "Don't shoot, it's just me brother."

Johnny sighed and relaxed. "You could get yourself killed like that Boston."

"Just wanted to make sure you got home safe. I was beginning to think you weren't coming home at all."

"Worried I might run off?"

"I guess, maybe, just a little."

Johnny lit the lamp on his bedside table and looked at his grinning brother. "Don't worry, Boston. I ain't goin nowhere."

"Well, I think you should...go to bed that is. You'll be sorry in the morning," Scott grinned as he stood up.

"I doubt that," Johnny said softly.

Scott looked at him questioningly. "Have a good time with this old friend?" he asked.

"Yep, we had a real good talk. Now, like you said, I'd better get to bed and so should you."

"Just one more thing, am I going to get to meet this friend?"

"Maybe Boston, maybe," Johnny grinned. "Now, goodnight," he said as he ushered his brother out of his room. He got undressed quickly and into bed. The cool sheets felt good and he knew Scott was right, morning would be here much too early. Still, it was worth it to get to talk to Doc again. He felt so close to the gambler, though he still couldn't understand how the man had gotten under his skin so easily and so quickly. He drifted off to sleep feeling better than he had in weeks.

*******************

Sunday was a day of rest, even at Lancer. Of course a day of rest at a working ranch meant only the most necessary jobs had to be done. Johnny had headed out to the south pasture early that morning, hoping to avoid any questions from Murdoch about his late night. He checked the fence line and looked for strays most of the morning. Finding no problems, he headed in a more northerly direction, always scanning for any problems for the ranch or, by habit, for himself.

Murdoch was walking out of the barn after checking on the mare about to foal when he saw a rider approaching. The man was thin and sickly looking but there was something about him that made Murdoch's hackles stand up. Scott came out of the barn soon after, Murdoch had been explaining the birthing process that would come any day now. He stood by his father and watched the rider approach and stop in front of them.

"Good day to you, gentlemen," the man drawled in a decidedly southern accent.

Murdoch was looking hard at him, he thought he recognized the man.

"Good day to you. Can we help you?" Scott asked.

"I certainly hope so, it is a hot day, isn't it? My goodness, a man could positively melt in this heat," he exclaimed sociably.

"I suppose, if you're not used to it, you could even get sick on a hot day," Murdoch commented, noting the pallor of the man. It was obvious to him the man didn't get out much in the daytime.

It was obvious to Scott the man was hinting for an invitation to come inside. If Scott Lancer had learned anything in the past two months, it was to be suspicious of strangers.

"What can we do for you?" he tried again.

"Ah yes, I am looking for a friend of mine. This is the Lancer ranch?"

"Yes it is, who are you looking for?" Scott asked.

"Johnny Ma..uh Lancer," the man replied. Murdoch and Scott both tensed instinctively to protect Johnny.

"You say you're a friend of his?" Murdoch asked suspiciously.

"Yes that is what I said. Is he here?"

"No, he's working," Murdoch said flatly.

"I see. Well, when do you expect him?"

"Are you the friend he ran into yesterday?" Scott asked.

"That is correct sir. I was hoping we could continue our conversation of last evening," the man drawled with a polite smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. This was intentional, of course, he didn't like being interrogated by anyone and he was holding his tongue only for Johnny's sake. Remembering his encounters with southerners during the war, Scott realized what the man was waiting for.

"Would you care to dismount?" he asked congenially.

"Thank you, I would," he replied and stepped down from his mount with surprising grace.

"Please, come in. May I offer you a cool drink?" Scott said. Murdoch looked at his son with evident displeasure.

"That is most kind of you. It is always a pleasant surprise to find genteel hospitality in this part of the country," he replied. They went inside and sat in the great room. He surveyed the room and was, once again, pleasantly surprised. You have a lovely home," he complimented.

"Thank you, we like it," Scott replied. They settled in with some of Teresa's lemonade and cookies for their guest. Murdoch wasn't being very hospitable, he kept thinking he knew this man from somewhere.

************

Johnny bolted in the door with his usual energy. "Murdoch? Hey I didn't find any problems with that fence line. It looks like it's gonna hold up real good," he said as he approached his father. He stopped short. "What's wrong?" he asked, seeing the look on Murdoch's face.

"I'm afraid I am, Johnny," Doc said as Johnny whirled around to see his friend standing in the middle of his father's living room. He would have gasped if he could find any air in his lungs.

"This man says he's a friend of yours, Johnny," Murdoch said, almost accusingly.

Johnny closed his eyes and found he could take a deep breath, he simply nodded and resigned himself to Doc's presence. He knew what the man was doing and he was more than a little unhappy about it. He opened his eyes and looked at Doc with fire practically shooting from his orbs. "What are you doing here?" he hissed.

"Now, Johnny. Is that any way to greet a good friend? I thought it was about time that I met this newfound family of yours," Doc said with a charming smile.

"You could have warned me," he shot back.

"Since when do you need warning that a friend is going to visit?" Scott asked, clearly confused by his brother's rudeness.

"Johnny....the time is now," Doc said.

"No!" Johnny answered.

"Yes. And if you won't introduce us, I will," Doc shot right back at him.

Johnny hung his head a sighed heavily. "Alright! Damn you I swear, if you weren't my friend..."

"If I weren't your friend, I wouldn't be here."

Murdoch had had just about enough of all this. "Johnny, who is this man?" he demanded.

Johnny, looking at his father, almost felt fear and that made him plain mad. "Fine. Whatever happens, happens. Murdoch Lancer, Scott Lancer, meet my friend, my very good friend , Doc Holliday. Doc, this is my father and brother."

"Now was that so hard? It is a pleasure to meet you both," Doc said with a slight bow.

Murdoch glared at him and then at Johnny. The muscles in his jaw were twitching as he gritted his teeth. If looks could kill, Doc Holliday would have dropped dead right there.

Scott's mouth dropped open as he stumbled to greet the man. "How...do you...do?" he stammered.

"I do very well, thank you for asking," Doc said with a grin. He walked over to Murdoch and extended his hand. Murdoch just kept glaring at him. "It is impolite to refuse an offered hand Mr. Lancer. Were you raised in a barn?" Doc leered at him.

Johnny's mouth dropped open now. "Doc!" he hissed.

"I do apologize Johnny. I'm sure your father is quite taken aback by my presence."

"You can say that again," Murdoch said, finally finding his voice.

There was an uncomfortable silence that fell on the room. Johnny was suddenly glad Teresa had gone to visit friends overnight, she sure didn't need to see what he was sure would happen. It was going to be ugly!

"Mr. Holliday, I don't think it's appropriate for you to be here," Murdoch said.

Johnny stared at his father. "Why not?!" he demanded.

"Johnny, he's a..."

"A what? A gambler? A gunfighter ?" Johnny sneered.

Murdoch realized his mistake, but it was too late. He locked eyes with his youngest son and was once again at a loss for words.

"Gentlemen, there is no need for all this hostility. I simply came here to see my friend. Now, if your father has a problem with that, I'll leave," Doc said graciously.

"If my father has a problem with that, then he has a problem with me and we'll both leave!" Johnny spat, staring at Murdoch. Silence once again.

Scott couldn't stand much more of this tension and he decided he had better intercede before things got anymore out of hand. "I'm sure Murdoch doesn't have a problem with it at all. In fact, I'm sure he would be happy to have you join us for supper Mr. Holliday. Johnny, why don't you show your friend around the house and grounds a little before supper. I'll let Maria know we have a guest."

"You are a true gentleman, Mr. Lancer. Though I expected as much, from what Johnny has told me of you," Doc replied and gently took Johnny's arm to lead him outside.

*****************

"Have you lost your mind, Scott! Why in heaven's name did you invite that...that man to supper?" Murdoch bellowed.

"Because he's Johnny's friend and he hasn't done anything wrong," Scott replied calmly.

"Hasn't done anything wrong?! That's Doc Holliday, surely you've heard of him?!" Murdoch exclaimed.

"Yes, and I've also heard of Johnny Madrid. How could I invite him to supper, or into my life?" Scott said, still speaking calmly and hoping his father would take his lead.

Murdoch was stung by his son's words, knowing he was right. Still he didn't want his home to become a haven for gunfighters, even if his own son used to be one.

He shook his head and sighed. "Who's next? Billy the Kid?" he mumbled and Scott had to smile.

"Have you lost your mind?! What do you think you're doin Doc?!" Johnny exclaimed.

"I am helping you, Johnny. Now you just take my lead and everything will turn out just fine," Doc said calmly.

"Take your lead? What lead? What are you up to?" The questions tumbled from Johnny. "Look, Doc. If you think you're gonna get Murdoch and me to have a heart to heart, you're in for a real disappointment. It ain't gonna happen just because you want it to."

Doc looked at his friend with sympathy and wrapped his arm around Johnny's shoulders. "Of course not boy. Don't be ridiculous. I am only here to get the fire smoldering. It will be up to you to start the flames," he smiled as only Doc could and Johnny just shook his head in disbelief.

"This is gonna be some supper," he mumbled.

**********

Supper was a quiet affair, in fact it was silent for the better part of the meal. Johnny pushed his food around on his plate. His appetite was missing in action. Scott, always a gentleman, tried to start some light conversation. "Mr. Holliday, I understand you're from the south," he ventured.

"Yes, I am and you may call me Doc. I am from Georgia. Have you ever been to Georgia?" Scott nodded his head. "It is a beautiful state, Mr. Lancer. Very green," he smiled congenially.

"Please call me Scott." Doc nodded his head slightly in reply. "I'm afraid my time in Georgia was not so pleasant," he continued.

"Ah, yes. Johnny told me you were in the army. How unfortunate," Doc said. Scott smiled at the inference but he had never had any ill feelings toward southerners in general.

Johnny ventured a glance towards his father and wished he hadn't bothered. Murdoch was fuming. Johnny waited for the smoke to start coming out of his ears.

"This is a delicious meal," Doc announced.

"Well, I'll let Maria know you approve," Scott said with a smile.

Murdoch grunted.

"Very nice wine, too. Do you have a wine cellar?" Doc asked, trying to follow Scott's attempt at civility.

"Yes, we do. Perhaps you'd like to see it later?" Scott said.

"That would be lovely, Scott. I have always enjoyed a fine wine. I must tell you I am pleased to be able to have a civil discussion. Out here, it seems most people are content to live as ruffions."

"Well, why don't we retire to the living room for a brandy," Scott suggested.

"Wonderful," Doc replied.

Johnny did not miss the look his father gave him as they rose from the table and he averted his eyes.

************

Once they settled into the great room, Doc decided he'd had enough of Murdoch Lancer's rudeness. "So, Mr. Lancer. Johnny tells me you built this ranch practically single-handedly."

"I had some help," Murdoch clipped.

Doc sighed and looked at Johnny who shook his head and begged with his eyes. "I suppose it would have been much easier if you'd had your sons here to help," Doc said bluntly. Murdoch looked at him through narrowed eyes. "But then, we don't always get what we want. Life is a paradox, isn't it?" he continued. Murdoch said nothing. Doc tried again. "I understand you spent a certain amount of time looking for Johnny. It must have been difficult with a ranch to build. Yes, I suppose you couldn't put too much effort into a search. Of course, you knew where your other son was all the time. Isn't that correct?" he said whimsically.

That had done it, he finally got a rise out of the man. "I don't know who you think you are, but this is none of your business. No matter what Johnny has told you!" Murdoch said through gritted teeth.

"Oh, but it is my business, Mr. Lancer. Johnny is my business," Doc said.

Johnny was staring back and forth at the two of them. He was dumbfounded.

Murdoch's eyes narrowed even more. "What does that mean, he's your business?" he asked.

"It's quite simple. I have but two true friends in this world and Johnny is one of them. I will do whatever is necessary to ensure his happiness. It is apparent to me that he is not happy, although he is trying very hard. How hard are you trying, Mr. Lancer? What will you do to ensure his happiness?"

Murdoch was dumbstruck. He was also furious that this man, this stranger, would have the nerve to come into his home and accuse him of...he wasn't sure what he was accusing him of, but he wasn't going to stand for it. He turned to Johnny. "Are you just going to sit there? Did you bring this man here to try and humiliate me?!" he demanded.

"No! I..." Johnny was at a loss.

"He didn't bring me here at all. He wrote to tell me about finding his family and what a difficult time he was having adjusting to his new life. I'm sure you can understand that. The question you should be asking yourself is, why couldn't he tell you how he's feeling?" Doc said, the anger barely controlled. He would not have this man turn on Johnny!

"I don't have to listen to this! Especially from a....from you!" Murdoch said as he started to leave.

"Well, I can certainly see what Johnny meant. Is that your answer for dealing with difficult problems? Just walk away? I hope you are not surprised by Johnny's tendency for doing the very same thing, then," Doc said, calmer now as he had gotten his anger under control. Murdoch stopped dead in his tracks.

"Stop it, Doc! That's enough! You're not helping anything!" Johnny yelled. He wanted to stop this, he wanted to protect his father. "I want you to leave," he said softly.

Doc stood up to face his friend. "Why Johnny? Why do you want me to leave?" He was trying with everything he had to pull the truth out of Johnny.

"Because...look you wrong, ok? It's not his fault. He did the best he could. You don't know. You don't understand," Johnny said, trying to defend his father.

Murdoch turned and stared at his son.

Doc smiled and laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Yes Johnny, he did the best he could. And so did you. But I do understand, more than you know," he said gently.

Johnny stared at Doc and understanding crossed his face along with something else. Something gentle and caring. Doc recognized that he was looking through two sapphire windows. Johnny dropped his head and slumped his shoulders in defeat. Doc always won these battles they had with his inner self. Slowly, he looked up at his father hoping against hope that Murdoch understood too. What he saw there was startling. He saw pain and...love? Doc saw it too and knew it was time for him to go. He gave Johnny's shoulders a gentle squeeze and quietly walked outside and rode away, leaving the two men staring at each other.

*******************

Scott was exhausted by this entire evening. Doc may not have known it, but he wasn't just helping Johnny understand, he was helping Scott as well. For the first time, he saw his father in a different light. He too, realized that Murdoch was not perfect, that he had done the best he could with what life had dealt him. He also understood how much it had cost his father. He and Johnny weren't the only ones slighted, Murdoch had suffered too. He stood and walked to stand slightly between the two of them. "Smart man," he simply said.

Johnny dropped his eyes from his father's gaze. "I'm sorry, Murdoch. I didn't know he was gonna do this. He just...he just wanted to help."

"You must have told him a lot about yourself," Murdoch said softly.

Johnny nodded. "He seemed to understand me better than anyone ever has. It was almost easy to tell him .. things," he whispered.

Murdoch walked over to his son and tried to see his eyes. "Easier than telling me, you mean. Johnny, why do you always hang your head like that?" Johnny looked up and Murdoch knew the answer, so no one could see the hurt. He put a hand on each of his son's shoulders. "I guess we should start trying a lot harder to understand one another." Scott and Johnny both nodded their agreement.

*******************

Johnny rode into town the next morning to find Doc. He headed straight for the saloon. Even this early, he knew he'd find the gambler there. He walked over to the table and sat down. Doc didn't say a word and he didn't look up. "Mornin," Johnny said. Doc nodded his head. "You mad at me?" he asked. Doc shook his head. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I just couldn't stand anymore," he said softly.

Doc looked up at him. "Are things better at home?" he asked.

"Yes, and I think their gonna get even better, thanks to you," Johnny smiled.

"I'm glad. No need to apologize, son. I was waiting for you to stop me. I suspected you would not stand for anyone dishonoring your father. It just took some hard language to get your back up. I have also been waiting for your arrival here. It's time to say goodbye."

"So soon?" Johnny asked sadly.

Doc looked surprised and laughed. "Don't you think your father will be glad to see me go?" he asked.

Johnny smiled. "Probably, but I won't. I'm really never going to see you again, am I?"

Doc looked into his eyes, his expression was serious and sad. "No Johnny. You won't. But I will make sure you are told when I...retire permanently," he said slyly.

"That's not funny, Doc."

He just smiled. "Walk me out," he said as he stood from the table. Johnny followed him outside where his horse was saddled and waiting.

"Are you gonna be ok on this trip?"

"Johnny, my boy, I will be just fine. I must tell you, I will miss you deeply. I think of you as a son," he said with genuine feeling. Johnny hung his head and Doc sighed, exasperated. "Boy, look at me! Stop hiding! You have nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, you should be very proud of yourself."

Johnny smiled, "Yeah, ok Doc."

Doc shook his head, this wasn't going to happen overnight for sure. He embraced his young friend and to his surprise, Johnny didn't flinch like usual. He returned the hug tightly. "Yes, well, I'm off. Remember, Johnny, you are no longer a desperado." Doc smiled his most charming southern smile and Johnny returned in kind. He watched until Doc was out of site then headed home. Home, to Lancer.

 

 

~end~
2003

To Goodbye, Doc --->

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