The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

The Devil's Due

 

 

 

The wind howled its sad song as the trees swayed in its rhythm. The high pitched tone of its voice rose and fell in its intensity. The sky darkened to a purple and slate haze as the clouds rolled by at incredible speeds, a seemingly endless trek. Thunder rumbled in the distance as it made its hunger known. A hunger only satiated by the water held in those deep purple clouds. An eerie light engulfed the land; reddish, purple and orange hues. The cattle lowed nervously as they all stood in the same direction.

He sat on the hill and witnessed it all as it had transformed into this spectral. Once blue and clear skies threatened all the earth with its promise of tortuous weather. Suddenly, the wind was gone, leaving the eerie light and ugly skies behind. Silence permeated the land and he shivered though it was not cold. Memories long since buried crept into the edges of conscious thought. He closed his eyes and willed them away but they refused to go. Hanging just in the periphery of his mind, they teased him with full disclosure then skittered back just before he could grab hold of them.

A deep sense of melancholy overtook him with such intensity, he could feel it in his physical being. A sadness so deep, so tangible, he could almost reach out and touch it. With it came foreboding, an apprehension that was palpable in itself.   Once more he closed his eyes, as if by doing so, he could envision this prophecy of the doom that had overtaken his very being.

The wind began its song again, more intense in it's howling now. He had long since given up on his hat, letting it dangle in his hand, then clutching it more firmly as it threatened to blow away. He knew he should leave this place, knew it was dangerous to be out in the open, but he couldn't seem to move. It was as if he were a permanent part of the ground beneath him and it would not give up its claim.

He heard his name called, disbelieving his own ears as he knew there was no one there. Nothing but the wind. Was it calling him? Beckoning him to join the impending storm? He might have laughed at the ridiculous thoughts, but somehow, he knew there was more to it. Something or someone was calling to him from some distant place. In time or miles, he wasn't sure, but he knew what he had heard. Maybe it was the storm, calling him to ride with it through the heavens like the Indian belief of the spirit world that awaits all.

Briefly, he pondered how it would feel to ride the skies on some pale horse. He shuddered at the bible quote that leapt into his mind. 'When he opened the fourth seal I looked and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed him.'

Once more, the wind called his name and he looked all around, sure someone was there now, though seeing nothing but the increasingly swaying trees and the tall grass swoon at the rough caress of the wind. He could not shake the feeling though. Something was about to happen, something definitely unpleasant. He felt a tugging from deep inside himself, as if something were pulling at his very soul.

He made himself stand up, feeling the full force of the violent gusts that pulled at his clothes. Walking slowly and with determination, he reached the horse and mounted but the animal was frightened and uncooperative.

He spoke gently to it, reassuring him they would be home soon, it wasn't far, and he would find an extra treat for his friend, he promised. The horse would not be denied, however, and he had to tighten his hold on the reins, forcing the gait. Slowly, they made their way, the wind seemed to grow stronger, almost as if it did not want him to go. He tried to lose the sensation, the overpowering sense of fate that engulfed him once again.

The sky lit up in brillaint illumination that cracked violently and without warning as it snaked it's way to a tree not fifty feet from him. The horse whinnied and bucked as he fought for control, yelling to be heard over the forces of nature. The animal could not be stilled and reared up on it's hind legs while twisting sideways to get away from the threat.

He felt himself losing his grip, knowing he was about to hit the ground and he braced himself for the fall. He hit and rolled down a gentle slope, coming to rest with a hard bounce as his head exploded in pain. The sky became darker and the world turned upside down as he felt himself losing consciousness. The last thing he heard was the wind calling to him.

He awoke in a field of bluebells. The sun shone incredibly bright but it didn't hurt his eyes. There was a soft breeze kissing his cheeks and he smiled as he breathed in the sweet fragrance of the air. The sky was a magnificent azure blue. The mountains were so close, he thought he could reach out and touch them. The grass was such a deep and lush green, he was sure there was no color more beautiful. He wondered where this place was, he knew he'd never been here before, but he liked it.

She appeared out of nowhere. Long flowing blonde hair swept back by the gentle breeze. Eyes such a deep blue, it took his breath away. Her skin was milky white, her cheeks glowed. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen and he couldn't take his eyes off her.

When she spoke to him, her mouth did not move, but he heard her words in his mind. It seemed natural, this communication between them and he knew she could read his thoughts as well.

'Where am I?' he asked.

'Isn't it beautiful?' she asked.

'It's the most beautiful place I've ever seen,' he replied.

'More beautiful than Lancer?' she asked.

He looked at her without comprehension. 'Where is this place?' he asked.

She smiled at him and his heart filled with such pure happiness and peace, it almost hurt. But there was no pain, no hurt, only a great sense of relief, of belonging, that he could not fathom.

'Please, tell me where we are?' he asked again.

'Come, I want to show you something,' she said and walked away.

He followed without question, knowing it was the only thing he could do.

She walked to the edge of a pond and looked in. 'See for yourself .'

He stood beside her and looked into the pool. He backed away, a sudden tug of fear in his heart.

'Don't be afraid. Look,' she encouraged.

He looked again and saw the ranch. Murdoch was standing in the yard looking into the distance as the storm built in intensity.

'What's he doing?' he asked.

'Looking for someone he's lost,' she replied simply.

'Who?'

'Look closely,' she said.

He did and saw himself lying there on the slope where he'd fallen, unmoving. He focused on his own chest and watched in fascination as he saw no movement. Moving to his own face, he saw the pale color, the bluish tinge around his own mouth. A crimson pool near his head. He looked back at her.

'Am I dead?'

'Nothing is that certain,' she said, reminding him of his own words once used in a dire situation.

'Please, I don't understand,' he said.

'You like this place?'

"Yes, I love it,' he answered.

'More than Lancer?' she asked again.

'No,' he replied without hesitation.

'There is no pain here, no sadness, only happiness and peace. Do you feel that?' she asked.

He closed his eyes. 'Yes, I feel it.'

'You could stay here if you like. You would never again feel the pain of a wound or of a broken heart. Never again would you grieve over a lost loved one, or be tormented by others. Never be berated or made to feel less than you truly are. Never feel the guilt and lonliness of your past. Your soul will be free here to love and be loved without questions or demands made of you.'

He looked into her eyes and felt her words in his heart. How many times had he longed for just those things?

'My family,' he said.

'They will grieve for a long time,' she answered.

'How long?'

"Some for years, some for rest of their lives,' she said.

'No, I don't want that. I want to go home,' he said, a surge of panic rising in him.

'Are you sure? It's painful there. So much pain,' she said sadly.

'And love. There's love there, too,' he countered.

'Yes, there is much more love there than you know,' she smiled.

'Can I see again?' he asked.

She smiled and nodded and he looked into the waters of the pond.

'You said there's no pain here, but I feel pain,' he said.

'If you stay, that will stop,' she explained.

'How can you know happiness without pain? How can you know love without hate?' he asked.

'All things are possible here.'

'I want to stop the pain. I want to feel loved. I want .... my family to love me,' he said.

'They do.'

'It's hard to choose,' he said.

'Yes,' she replied.

'I don't want them to hurt, but I hurt them,' he said sadly.

'No, they hurt themselves by not accepting who you truly are,' she smiled.

'Who am I?' he asked.

'You know. Search your soul, it will give you the answers you seek.' She looked away from him, to some unseen place, and her smile left. 'My time with you is done.'

'No, wait, I want to know more,' he pleaded.

'You will, but not from me,' she said, her eyes growing dark and distressed.

'Who then?'

'Him,' she said and disappeared as suddenly as she had come.

He looked all around but saw no one else. Suddenly, the sky grew dark with black clouds that blocked out the sun and the wind began to scream again. He looked at the mountains and they seemed to be moving away from him, disappearing into thin air. The grass turned from lush green to brown and the dust swirled around him. The trees lost their leaves and the dead branches swung crazily in the wind, almost as if they were trying to reach out and take hold of him. Gnarled fingers grasping and clutching to enclose him in their lifeless forms.

He found himself in a field of deadness. No living thing could he find. He turned as he felt a wretched presence behind him.

The man was dressed in black, his eyes hooded and dark. His face scarred, pale and ugly, he was grinning wickedly, showing yellowed and broken teeth that looked like fangs. His entire presence wreaked of a stench that was unidentifiable.

Johnny felt cold deep inside. A cold he had not felt for a long time now.

"It hasn't been that long," the man said. His lips moved when he spoke and Johnny found himself speaking aloud as well.

"What?"

"Since you've felt this cold," he grinned.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"It's been less than a year since you felt the cold in your veins. The firing squad?" he reminded.

Johnny shivered at the memory. "It seems so long ago," he whispered.

The man laughed aloud and the very ground trembled at the sound.

"Come and look," he said as he neared the same pond.

Johnny walked over and peered into the once lipid pool that was now a swampy marsh. He stepped back quickly, closing his eyes and turning away.

"You have to look," the man ordered.

He felt compelled to look into the depths, knowing what he would see but unable to ignore the command.

Images appeared to him, dark and ugly. Images of himself killing, fighting, in terrible pain and alone. His mother's face, twisted and tormented, an image completely opposite her natural beauty.

"No, I don't want to see that," he mumbled.

"It's your life. Why are you afraid?"

"It .... hurts ," he said.

"Does it? Or does it thrill you, excite you to your very core? Do you feel the tingling in your spine that runs to your hand? Your fingers are twitching," the man grinned.

"No! It makes me sick!" Johnny shouted.

"Liar! This is who you are and always will be," the man hissed. "Feel it, feel it in your soul," he spat and raised his hand.

Johnny watched him in fascination as he felt a growing pain deep inside ignite into a fiery explosion of agony that devoured him. He fell to the ground, clutching at his gut as he fought to control the scream threatening.

The man came to kneel over him and watched with a sickening grin as he reveled in the torture.

Johnny thought he had never felt such anguish and he could not control the cry that spilled from deep in his throat.

"This is it, Madrid . All the pain you have ever felt or caused. This is the culmination of a life's work. This is what you will feel for all eternity," he growled.

"Stop it! Please!" he begged.

As suddenly as it had begun, it was over and Johnny was left heaving to find some air for his lungs. The tears tracked down the dust on his face as he raised to his knees and fought the overwhelming despair. After several minutes, he managed to speak.

"Is this what becomes of me, then? To stay here alone forever with the pain?" he asked.

"Alone? You won't be alone. They will keep you company," the man replied.

"They?" he asked, looking up at the man.

"There," he pointed to the distance.

He looked and saw the riders coming toward him on their pale horses, their eyes dead, their faces blank. 'And Hell followed him,' he thought.

"Is there nothing I can do?" he asked the man.

"She told you what to do," the man replied haltingly as if he did not want to say the words but knew he must.

Johnny turned and the man was gone. He looked back toward the riders but they were gone as well. He stood up and took in the ugly, dead land. 'She told you what to do.' The words rang in his mind and he remembered his conversation with the beautiful woman.

'Search your soul. It will give you the answers you seek.' Those were her words and they resounded in his mind like a trumpet.

But he didn't know how to search his soul. His entire life he had run from it, hidden from the lies and the truths he held there. He didn't want to see inside that most intimate part of himself. Knowing what he found would be too painful to bear.

He thought about the vision in the pond of his father looking for him. He thought of her words. They love me. They would grieve for me. Why? What is it about me that makes them care so much? There must be something; something I can't .... maybe won't see.

Why do I hide from myself? Why can't I see the good without turning it to the evil. He trembled with the thought. Why had he used that word - evil? Was he evil? He had never thought of himself in that way. Hard, cold sometimes, but not evil. Evil was uncaring, unforgiving, unaffected by the feelings of others, immoral. He cared, he knew how to love, he did love. No, he wasn't evil, he was .... lost .

He fell again to his knees with this revelation. Lost and alone. But not anymore, right? He had his family now. He wasn't alone anymore but, was he still lost? The answer screamed in his mind and he closed his eyes tightly against it.

Yes, he did feel alone still. He would have asked himself why but he knew the answer. Trust. But doesn't trust equal love? And if he loved them, why couldn't he trust them? Maybe his fear was that they didn't love him. That was the crux of it. To him, they could only love who they thought he was, not his true self.

That lost little boy was who they wanted but he hadn't been that boy for so many years. Maybe he had never really been what they wanted him to be. Maybe he never could be, but didn't he need to know that? Once and for all, didn't he need to know if they could love who he really was?

Whoever that person was, he wasn't sure himself, but maybe in showing them his true self, he could find that as well. Maybe, if he could trust in their love for him, they could, in turn, love the real man inside. It scared him like nothing ever had before but he had always been able to control his fear. Yet, he'd never had so much to lose.

He laid down on the hard, dry ground and closed his eyes. So sleepy now as his mind tried to relax.

"You owe me," the voice said.

His eyes flew open and his head jerked up to focus on the black-clad man once more.

"I owe you?" he asked, stunned at the reappearance.

"Yes, you owe me. All this trust and love thinking won't get you squat. Do you really think the old man would cut you any slack if he knew the truth? I mean the real truth of who you are?" he smirked.

"I don't owe you anything. I don't even know you and you don't know Murdoch!" Johnny shot, jumping to his feet.

"You know me, Johnny Madrid. You turned your soul over to me when you killed your first man. Now, I want what's mine."

"I didn't turn anything over to you or anyone else. You can't have it!" Johnny yelled, his hand going instinctively to his side.

The man howled with laughter. "Do you think you can kill me? Go ahead, try it. Well, go on, shoot me," he snorted. He stepped closer until he was a breath away. "I will have what's mine, Madrid . I will not be denied."

"You think because you want something you can take it? It don't work that way. I figure you can't take what I don't give," Johnny hissed, a slight smile curving his lips.

"Do you see how easy it was to turn into your true self? Look at you, the stance, the look, the smile, it's classic Madrid . When will you realize that is who you are? Not someone who cowers before another man, but one who steps into the face of death itself and spits in it's eye!"

Johnny stepped back and stared at the man. He was suddenly quite sure it wasn't a man at all. He knew his gun would not save him from this. What was it? Something in the back of his mind knew what he had to do, but it was out of his reach. He frowned trying to remember and heard the deep, throaty laughter.

"It's time to pay up, Madrid . It's time to give the devil his due," he snorted.

The wind began to howl again and the dust rose in small swirls around his feet. The air was fiercely hot and seemed to burn his skin. He concentrated on his own thoughts, blocking out all that was around him and especially the 'man'.

" Madrid !" the man screamed, but Johnny paid him no heed as he closed his eyes and thought hard.

He opened his eyes and smiled, knowing what his weapon was now. It seemed so simple, almost too simple to work, but he knew it would and he didn't have to even speak it. All he had to do was feel it.

He thought about his father, his brother, his sister and his friends. He thought about his mother and long ago friends and lovers, all the people who had ever cared about him and he felt the love growing in his heart.

"Stop it!" the man cried.

"Leave me alone," Johnny said calmly and turned his back.

When he turned again, he was in the beautiful place once more. The mountains were back, the green grass and blue skies, the sun and sweet air. He sat in the grass and tilted his head back, feeling the warmth of the sun on his face.

'You've made your choice,' she said.

He smiled and opened his eyes to look at her. 'Yes.'

'It was the right one,' she smiled.

'I know. Thank you.'

She was gone again and he closed his eyes once more, feeling as if he were drifting away from this place. Knowing he would not see it again for a long time.

He felt the pain return in his head, the throbbing seemed unmerciful. Then he heard a voice; a voice so gentle yet troubled. A voice that made him smile . He opened his eyes slowly, adjusting to the low light and searched for the face that matched the voice.

He found it, watching him with an intensity that startled him. He looked questioningly into the blue eyes.

"Welcome back."

"Thanks, good to be back," he sighed.

Scott frowned curiously. "How do you feel?"

"Head hurts but I feel good. It's good to be home," Johnny smiled.

"It's good to have you home. I almost didn't find you," Murdoch said from his other side.

Johnny turned his gaze to meet his father's and smiled. "Barranca?"

"Of course, who else?" Murdoch chuckled. "He's fine, son," he added at the look of concern on Johnny's face.

"Some storm, huh?" he murmured.

"Storm? What storm?" Murdoch asked.

"The storm we had. The one that caused Barranca to buck me?" Johnny said.

"Johnny, there hasn't been a storm for several weeks," Murdoch said, concern flooding his face.

"Yes, there was. The lightning hit close and spooked Barranca. He threw me and I hit my head," Johnny argued.

"I don't know why he threw you, but there was no storm, son," Murdoch said gently.

Johnny looked at him in disbelief, then closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.

"Are you alright?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, I had a really strange dream. At least, I think it was a dream, maybe not," he replied, his voice low and distant.

"Want to tell us about it?" Scott asked.

"Maybe later, Boston . I'm just glad to be home," Johnny smiled.

"Sam said you need lots of rest. He said you have a concussion but nothing's broken," Murdoch said.

"I am tired," Johnny said.

"Well, I think we should let you sleep then," Scott smiled and stood up.

"Scott? Could you stay for a while?" Johnny asked.

"Sure, brother," Scott said, shooting a concerned look at his father.

"I'll check on you later, son," Murdoch smiled and patted his arm, then left the brothers alone.

"Johnny, are you sure you're alright?" Scott asked, laying his hand on his brother's arm.

"Yeah, I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry," Johnny replied.

Scott wasn't expecting an apology, nor did he think he needed one, but Johnny's behavior concerned him deeply.

"Sorry about what?" he asked.

"For not letting you in. For not trusting you like I should."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Johnny," Scott said.

"I know. I can't explain it right now but I just wanted you to know, I am sorry," Johnny said with a small smile.

"Well, if it's that important to you, I accept your apology, though I have no idea why," Scott said and tried to return the smile. "Try to sleep. Maybe you'll feel up to talking about it in the morning."

"Okay," Johnny said.

"I think Sam should check him again," Scott said as he walked into the living room.

"Why is that?" Murdoch asked.

"He's acting strangely, Murdoch. He just apologized to me for nothing. He said he couldn't explain it right now. I don't know, I think maybe this is more serious than we thought," Scott frowned.

"Do you think I should send for Sam now?" Murdoch asked, his own concern heightening.

"No, he doesn't seem to be in any distress but first thing in the morning," Scott replied.

First thing the next morning, Scott and Murdoch were in Johnny's room, watching him sleep. He was restless and moaned a few times and Murdoch was ready to wake him.

His eyes opened suddenly and he took in his surroundings in less than a heartbeat, relaxing visibly as he realized where he was.

"Bad dream?" Murdoch asked.

"Guess so," he murmured.

"Ready for some breakfast?" Scott smiled.

"Sure, that'd be nice," he answered softly.

Scott left to get him a tray and Murdoch settled on the bed beside him.

"Your brother is worried about you. He thinks you're acting strangely," he reported.

Johnny smiled a little. "I'll bet he does. I'm okay, I just wanted .... I wanted to talk but my head hurt too bad ," he said.

"How is it now?"

"Much better," Johnny reported.

"Well, maybe after a good breakfast, you'll feel like talking to him," Murdoch smiled.

"I wanted to talk to both of you. I just didn't know if I should do it at the same time," Johnny said a bit shyly.

"Johnny, what's going on?"

"I'm not sure, all I know is I have to do this. I have to tell you," he said, frustrated that he couldn't express himself.

"Tell us what?" Murdoch asked.

"Who I am."

"Who you are? We know who you are, son," Murdoch said, totally confused and very worried about Johnny's head injury.

"I'm not crazy, Murdoch. You don't have to look at me like that. Something happened that I can't explain to you but all I know is I have to do this. I'm never going to feel like I belong here unless I tell you," Johnny said.

"Tell us what?" Scott asked as he carried Johnny's breakfast tray in.

"He wants to tell us who he is," Murdoch said.

Scott set the tray down on the bedside table and sat next to his brother. "Are you sure? You don't have to," he said.

"Yes, I do, Scott. I do have to. I want you to .... trust me and you can't trust someone you don't know," Johnny explained.

"I don't understand any of this," Murdoch said, frustrated.

"Eat your breakfast, first. Then, we can talk," Scott smiled and motioned his father to the door.

"What is going on?" Murdoch asked once they were downstairs.

"He wants to tell us about his past," Scott explained.

Murdoch's face dropped in shock. "Why now?"

"I don't know, sir, but whatever it is that happened to him makes him feel the need to do this. I think we should seize the opportunity. There is one thing. Whatever Johnny tells us, you can't judge him for it. This will be hard enough for him," Scott warned.

Murdoch shook his head in amazement. "I don't know how you two seem to just know what the other is thinking. You knew exactly what he was saying."

"Maybe I was just listening with an open mind. That is something you are going to have to do when we go back up there," Scott said.

"I won't let him down, Scott. I know how hard it is for him to talk about the past. I'd given up on ever getting him to open up. I can almost be grateful for the accident, almost," Murdoch said, a little whimsically.

They returned to Johnny's side an hour later, pleased he had eaten. Scott moved the tray to the dresser and looked long and hard at his brother.

"How do you want to do this?" he asked.

Johnny smiled, his heart warm with the knowledge that his brother understood him so well. "I'm not sure. I guess I'll just start talkin ," he shrugged.

"We won't interrupt," Scott said and gave Murdoch a look of warning.

"Whenever you're ready, son. Take your time," Murdoch smiled, not catching Scott's look.

Johnny took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, closing his eyes and gathering his thoughts.

"I'm not going to tell you about all the details. I don't think that's really necessary. I've done some bad things. I've stolen and lied just to get something to eat or a place to sleep. When I was a kid, I did that all the time. I used people, scammed and cheated, whatever I had to. I've been in prisons and jails, sometimes for months at a time. It wasn't bad, at least they fed you. I've killed a lot of men for money. I didn't care at first who was right or wrong, only who paid the most. I spent a lot of time honing my craft. I wanted it so bad, I wanted to be the best. I didn't care about the consequences, I didn't even think about it.

"That first year after I earned a reputation, I worked a lot, took any job that offered a decent sum. I never thought about the people. I kept to myself always. Then, one day, I killed an innocent man. An old man who was in the wrong place. He was a storekeeper and a stray bullet got him during a firefight. I wasn't sure at first it was mine, but when I thought back over it, I knew it couldn't have been anyone else." Johnny stopped here, fighting back the tears and the pain. He got himself under control and continued in a shaky voice.

"After that day, I went off by myself for a long time. It must have been at least a month. I guess I was trying to come to terms with what I'd done. I decided then that I would never be on the wrong side again. I would always know the whole story before I took a job. It never occured to me to quit. It's who I was. I defined myself by how well I could use a gun.

"I started letting myself get to know the people I worked for. It wasn't that I was looking for something, I don't think, just that I didn't want to hurt innocent people anymore. Some of them seemed to care about me, though I didn't know why. Usually, they fall all over themselves for you when you get there, then when the job's done, they can't get rid of you fast enough. There were a few that asked me to stay around, but I couldn't let myself.

"When my mother died, I swore I would never care about anyone ever again. It just hurt too much and I knew, especially when I became Madrid , that I could never have that kind of a life. I could never settle down in one place, it just wasn't possible. But, there were people I cared about, some I even loved, but in the end I always left. I was too dangerous to have around, I guess. Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring about myself. I don't know when it happened, maybe when I became a gunfighter. I just didn't care if I lived or died and I wasn't afraid of dyin '. I'd come to terms with it, accepted it and, after that, it was just so easy.

"That day I was about to walk in front of that wall and face the firing squad, I wasn't afraid. I was almost .... relieved . And when I rode away to come here, I knew I was going right back to my life. There was no other choice for me, whatever happened here. I never expected .... I never even thought about any of that changing.

"When I accepted your offer, I still wasn't sure. I felt so many things all at once, my head's been spinning for a year. I thought I could just leave the past behind, no talking about it, no thinking about it, just pretend it never happened. But I can't do that because it's who I am. I know now that I am Johny Madrid and Johnny Lancer because they're the same person. Two sides of the same man. Whatever I've done in my life, it doesn't change who I am inside today. It's made me who I am now.

"I know you think it's Scott that keeps me here, but that's not all of it. Both of you are what keeps me here. All of you, my family, my friends. I don't ever want to leave that. But it isn't fair to expect you to just accept me because I say so. It isn't fair of me to expect you to care about someone you don't even know. That's why I'm telling you all of this. I hope it's enough for you to understand me better. There's more, so much more, but I don't know how to say it.

"I'll try to answer any questions but I want you both to know that if you can't handle this, if you can't live with me, knowing who I really am, I'll understand. If you don't want me here, just tell me. I won't be angry. I guess I'm done now."       

No one spoke for long moments. Two men trying to absorb what they'd heard , one waiting for the condemnation he was sure was to come.

"Thank you, Johnny. I think I understand you better than I ever have," Scott said softly.

Johnny felt a light touch on his arm and turned to face his father. What he saw nearly sucked the breath from him.

"Twenty years ago, I lost my son. Today, I found him again and you know something? He's the same loving, caring, bright young man I always knew he would become. Nothing you've said shames me, son. Nor does it make me think less of you. In fact, I'm very proud of you. No matter what happens or has happened, you are my son and this is your home and I want you here, always," Murdoch said.

Johnny couldn't hold back the tears any longer but, this time, he didn't hang his head. He looked into his father's eyes and smiled.

Murdoch folded him into a hug and reached across to take hold of Scott, pulling him in as well. "I love you both so much," he whispered.

"I love you, too," they said in harmony.

This brought on a laugh and a confirmation for Murdoch Lancer that his son's were meant to be together.

"I do have one question, Johnny," Scott said after they had disentangled.

"Go ahead," Johnny said softly.

"What made you feel the need to do this now?"

Johnny took a breath and sighed. "I had a dream, no, that isn't right. It wasn't a dream, it happened. There was a storm, at least, where I was. When I hit my head, I woke up in another place. Someplace I didn't know. There were .... people there that I talked to. One was ... a woman, like an angel and the other .... wasn't . They made me look inside myself for the first time. It made me realize that I was living a lie. That I couldn't really feel like I belonged here until I was straight with you both. I've always been so .... afraid that you'd hate me if you found out the things I've done, I couldn't talk about it."

"Don't you know we could never hate you?" Murdoch asked.

"No, I didn't, but I do now," Johnny said.

"Well, I'm not sure what happened to you but I'm glad you talked to us, brother. I'm glad you trusted us," Scott smiled.

"That's it exactly. It was the trust. I thought you could just love me but I was wrong because it's the same thing. Trust is just another word for love," Johnny explained.

Scott rolled this around in his mind and realized his brother was right. He nodded his understanding and smiled affectionately.

"You never cease to amaze me, Johnny. You have a lifetime of wisdom locked in that head of yours," Murdoch grinned.

Johnny had to laugh at that statement. "Sometimes, I feel like I don't know anything at all."

"Sometimes, I think you know more than any of us ever will," Scott said. "And sometimes, you're a real pain in the neck," he added with a sly grin and a pillow slapped to his brother's gut.

Murdoch stepped back to the safety of the corner as he watched his boys engage in their first ever pillow fight.

 

Epilogue

She looked down on the scene in the bedroom and smiled lovingly.

"You did an excellent job with him," the voice said.

"Thank you. It was easier than I thought," she replied.

"Easier than he thought, as well."

"I'm glad you accepted this challenge," she said.

"So am I. Of course, there will be others. He won't give up. He is unable to see the good in any of them. And there are those times he will win," the voice countered.

"No, he won't give up. But this time he lost and I'm grateful," she answered.

"That one was questionable. I wasn't sure he could see his true self," the voice said sadly.

"He has had a hard time. I know I'm not to ask but..." she trailed off.

"His quest is not finished, nor will it be for many years. He has much work to do there, much I need from him," the voice said gently.

"I'm glad. He will be happy, won't he?" she asked.

"He will and he will be sad again at times. But the happiness will be more now, more than he had before."

"He had to live that life to make him who he is now so he could do the things you need him to do," she said.

"You are becoming wiser as time passes, Maria."

"I only wish he could have known it was me," she said forlornly.

"It could not be," the voice replied.

"I know. At least I was so close to him once more," she said, the tears brimming in her dark eyes.

"And you will be again. For him the time will pass more slowly, but for you it is but a blink of the eye."

 

 

~end~

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