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Winj

 

The Devil and Johnny Madrid

 

 

WARNING: This story deals with satanic subject matter and torture. If these things offend you, do not read this story.
A word of thanks to my sister, Chris, for her advice.

Chapter 1

Scott Lancer headed into the woods that would lead him to Lancer's northern boundary. He was anxious to get home having been gone two weeks now. As happy as he'd been that his father entrusted him with the contracts for the beeves they were about to drive to Stockton, he was relieved he'd be off the trail this evening. Home. It sounded so sweet!

He was quite proud of himself as well. He grinned a little thinking of how tough a negotiator he'd been with Wallace Campbell. The man had been exasperated by the end and had told him to give his old friend Murdoch Lancer a message. Next time, send someone else. Scott laughed aloud as he thought of the look on the man's face.

He approached the small stream that ran through the wooded area and decided to stop for a minute. Just long enough to water Remmie and himself. He didn't want to dally. He wanted to get home. He missed them all and he'd been a bit surprised by that.

He dismounted and led Remmie to the water's edge, letting him loose. He then walked upstream a ways and squatted, cupping a handful of the cold water and sipping it. With a satisfied sigh, he repeated the process once more before filling his canteen. He stood and stretched out his back muscles as he took in the view.

It was quiet here and so beautiful. He closed his eyes and felt the light breeze on his face, heard the buzz of the bumble bees and a frog lapping about in the water. He smiled again as a memory came to him. Massachusetts in fall. He loved heading into the woods in the Autumn as the leaves began to change. Just a chill in the air, promising colder weather soon. He spent many hours alone in those woods, at peace.

Peace was something Scott relished. Though his life in Boston wasn't nearly as hectic as it had become, he still needed those respites from time to time. To just get away from all the trappings of city life was his lifeline in those days. These days, his lifeline was waiting for him at the house. His family.

He breathed deeply of the clean air and let it out slowly. Then, he headed back to his horse.

Scott stopped and turned quickly, his right hand moving to his hip. He watched as the man emerged from the tree line. He took him in quickly and relaxed only a little, curious now.

"Hello," the man called and waved.

Scott's eyes perused his waist and saw no gunbelt. He smiled and gave an answering greeting.

"I hope I didn't startle you, young man," he said as he grew closer and stopped.

"Maybe a little," Scott smiled. "I didn't hear a horse," he added and looked past the man.

"Ah, I'm camped about half a mile back there," the man indicated behind him with a toss of the head. "Just taking a stroll and enjoying the peace and quiet."

Scott nodded. "Well, I just stopped to rest my horse. I was just leaving."

The man nodded and took a step closer. "No need on my account, young man. No need at all."

"No, it isn't that. I'm a little anxious to get home, is all," Scott smiled amicably.

"Been gone long?"

"Two weeks," Scott said and an odd feeling overcame him.

The man had, at first, not really looked him square in the eye. Now he was and Scott felt chills consume him. His eyes were dark, almost black. Or maybe they were actually black. Scott couldn't decide. He noticed an odor suddenly. He wrinkled his nose. Rotten eggs?

The man smiled when he saw Scott's reaction. It was not a pleasant smile at all.

"You must be homesick," he was saying.

Scott blinked, realizing he'd been staring. "What? Oh, yes, I am. Well, I really should be going," he nodded once and turned, walking back to Remmie.

The man watched him until he had the reins in his hands. "Say hello to Johnny Madrid for me," he said, then laughed maniacally.

*

Scott's head jerked up and he blinked several times. He looked around himself and felt disoriented. Remmie sensed his confusion and became skiddish. Scott reached down unthinking and patted his neck to soothe the beast.

"How did we get here, boy? I don't remember traveling all this way," Scott mumbled to the horse as he pulled to a stop and looked down on the hacienda below.

He frowned deeply. The last thing he did remember was stopping at that stream for a quick break. Closing his eyes and taking in the sounds of nature. That was it. Had he fallen asleep in the saddle? He supposed it was possible but still, all that way? Remmie was a good animal and could easily find his way home but Scott had a hard time believing he'd slept for four hours!

He shook his head and dismissed it. What did it matter now? He was home. A smile lit his face as he clucked his tongue and started down the hill to the house. He couldn't resist running Remmie part of the way. As he rode under the gate, he slowed down though he didn't want to. Still, he didn't want his welcome home to be a scowl from Murdoch. First lesson - don't run full out into the yard. Unless, of course, you want every vaquero plus the family training guns on you. He laughed at that.

Still smiling, he dismounted and had the reins taken from him by a hand. He nodded at the man in gratitude then grabbed his saddlebags and headed inside.

Scott opened the front door and saw silver-conchoed legs on the stairs. Raising his head, he smiled even wider as he took in his brother.

"Scott! Welcome home, brother. Is Stockton still in one piece?" Johnny grinned as he shook hands and slapped his brother on the back.

"Just barely," Scott winked.

Johnny laughed and grabbed him around the neck, leading him into the great room.

"Scott! You made good time," Murdoch smiled.

"Yes, I suppose so although, two weeks was plenty long enough for me," Scott replied good-naturedly.

"What? You mean you didn't love sleeping under the stars every night? Listening to the crickets and snakes," Johnny teased.

"Oh, sure that part was fun," Scott rolled his eyes.

Murdoch cleared his throat. It was all that was needed.

Scott set his saddlebags down and pulled the contract out. He handed it to his father with a serious expression.

Murdoch wasn't happy with that expression but he didn't see what Johnny saw. A subtle lift at the corner of Scott's mouth. Johnny ducked his head and grinned, then sat on the arm of a chair.

As he read the papers, Murdoch's own face relaxed and a smile formed there.

"Good work, son."

"Thank you. Oh, and Mr. Campbell has a message for you. Next time, send someone else," he grinned.

Murdoch chuckled. "Why is that?"

"Well, apparently, I ... frustrated him," Scott said and Johnny had to laugh.

"It's good for him," Murdoch waved a hand.

"Well, you got back just in time for supper," Johnny said.

"Yes, just as I planned it. Where's Teresa?" Scott asked, suddenly realizing the girl was oddly quiet.

"She's at the Andersons for a few days. We were gettin on her nerves," Johnny answered slyly.

*

Scott settled into his place on Murdoch's right at the dinner table and he couldn't help the smile. He was a happy man. Odd, the simple things that could make a man appreciate just being alive, he thought. He looked over at Johnny then at Murdoch and sighed inwardly. This was what had been missing for so many years.

"I'm surprised Wally let you get away with that price, son," Murdoch noted.

"Yes, well, he wouldn't have if not for the newspaper article I read the morning we first met. It mentioned the price of beef was destined to go up within the next two weeks. He couldn't argue with that since it was a direct quote from the Secretary of Agriculture," Scott laughed.

"Well, you missed all the excitement, brother," Johnny grinned.

Scott looked at him then at his father, a bit wary. "What happened?"

"Nothing. Johnny is just being ... Johnny," Murdoch said with some chagrin.

"The old man fell off his horse," Johnny snickered.

"Are you alright, Sir?" Scott asked, not finding the humor in the situation.

"I'm fine, no thanks to your brother."

"Hey! I didn't make ya fall off!" Johnny protested.

"You didn't help matters either, young man," Murdoch grumbled then turned to Scott. "Once he was sure I was okay, he started in. He hasn't stopped yet."

"I just find it odd that an experienced rancher just falls off his horse for no good reason. One minute you're there, the next you're on the ground," Johnny shrugged.

"How did it happen?" Scott asked.

"I have no idea. Really, it was the oddest thing. Hannibal just shifted very suddenly under me. I wasn't expecting it. I was just sitting there watching Johnny turn a steer into the herd," Murdoch frowned.

"That is odd," Scott agreed. "And there wasn't a rabbit or snake or something that spooked him?"

"Not a thing, brother. I checked. Course, I guess it could have been a rabbit. Could have taken off before I got there."

"Maybe," Murdoch mumbled.

"Well, I'm just glad you weren't hurt," Scott said and shot his brother a disparaging look. Johnny only smiled.

Scott's shoulders slumped as he looked disbelievingly at his brother. "The things you find funny, Johnny. Murdoch could have been seriously injured. I suppose that would have been a real riot!"

Johnny stared at him. "I checked to make sure he was okay. But, you weren't there, Scott. His face turned three shades of red," he smiled at the end.

"I suppose you've never done anything that embarrassed you," Scott continued.

Johnny sat back in his chair and stared at his brother.

Murdoch was staring, too. "Scott, take it easy. It was nothing."

"It could have been," Scott persisted.


"And if it had been, I wouldn't be laughing about it. What's the matter with you?" Johnny asked.

"There is nothing wrong with me, Johnny. I just don't find our father falling from a horse funny."

"Alright, I think we should change the subject now," Murdoch intervened. While he was grateful for Scott's concern, he was perplexed by his reaction. It really had been funny from anyone else's perspective, he had admitted to himself.   

The rest of the meal was quiet. Johnny frowned at his plate, questioning if he was being a jackass for teasing his father. He stole a few glances at Scott but his own head was down, concentrating on his food.

Johnny excused himself once he felt he'd sat there long enough and went outside.

*

Johnny sat on the low wall and stared at the stars above him. He heard the door open and waited for the footfalls so he'd know who it was. He couldn't help feeling some disappointment.

"Was I out of line?" he asked.

"No, son. I can admit it must have been funny from your perspective. It's really alright, Johnny," Murdoch said as he sat next to his boy.

"Scott doesn't think so."

"Oh, I think Scott is just tired from his trip. I wouldn't think too much about that."

Johnny looked at him and smiled. "Guess so. He really did a good job, huh?"

Murdoch smiled, too. "He did. I'm very pleased."

"And we didn't kill each other while he was gone, either," Johnny laughed.

Murdoch chuckled a little and slapped his thigh. "We must have been drunk the whole time."

Johnny laughed harder at that.

Scott walked out then and felt himself becoming irritated. He had no idea why. Johnny was laughing at something. So what? Still, it set him off.

"Still teasing him?" he fairly accused.

Johnny sighed and looked over at him.

"No, he isn't. Scott, give it a rest," Murdoch sighed.

"Fine. I just came out to say goodnight," Scott replied cooly.

"Goodnight, son. Sleep well," Murdoch said, his voice softening.

Scott nodded curtly then turned on his heel and stalked back inside.

Johnny let out a breath. "I hope he gets some rest. He's a bear."

*

Scott didn't sleep well. His dreams were filled with horrid images. Images of Johnny laughing over Murdoch's dead body. Of Johnny shooting Murdoch and cackling about it. More than once, he bolted upright in bed as the dreams became more vivid. The argument that spawned the murder in his dream was silent to his ears. Yet, the voices were still there. Loud and angry; enraged.

More than that, he could have sworn someone had called his name. It sounded as if they were right next to his ear but when he opened his eyes, there was no one there.

No, Scott had not slept well and he wasn't happy about it either. He slunk into the kitchen and plopped into his chair, his head down.

Murdoch raised a brow and looked at Johnny who only shook his own head, perplexed.

Murdoch cleared his throat. "Good morning, son."

Scott looked up slowly at him and nodded then grabbed the cup of coffee Maria set before him.

"Bad night, brother?" Johnny asked with concern.

Scott's shoulders tensed at the sound of that voice. In his mind, there was laughter in the question. He looked up with cold eyes.

"I suppose that's funny to you as well," he snapped.

"Nothing funny about it. You look like hell, Boston," Johnny responded flatly.

"Stop calling me that! I don't like it!"

Johnny stared wide-eyed at his brother. "Alright," he said simply.

"What's wrong, son? It's obvious you didn't sleep well but, is something else bothering you?" Murdoch asked, stunned at Scott's vehemence.

The man sighed and shook his head. "The only thing wrong with me at the moment is him," he spat, tossing his head at Johnny.

Murdoch looked over at the sudden scraping sound to find Johnny pushing his chair back and throwing his napkin on the table.

"Easily taken care of, Scott!" Johnny retorted and strode out of the room.

Murdoch stared at the space his younger son had just been for a beat then turned to Scott. "That was totally uncalled for!"

"Was it? First, he thinks it's so funny that you fell off a horse and now, he thinks it's hilarious that I didn't get much sleep!"

"He did no such thing! He asked if you had a bad night. It was a simple and sincere question, Scott. I don't know what's really bothering you but you need to deal with it and not take it out on your brother. Is that clear?"

Scott looked into the glaring eyes and felt an immense anger surge forth. He stood himself, knocking his chair to the floor with a clatter. "Crystal, Sir!" he yelled and stalked off.

*

Scott walked into the barn as Johnny was leading Barranca out. They locked eyes for a beat then Johnny walked around him and out the door. Scott grit his teeth and went to saddle Remmie. He stopped cold when he saw the horse already saddled in his stall.

He slumped against the railing and bowed his head. What is wrong with me? he wondered.

"You okay, Scott?"

He looked up to find Jelly watching him. "Did you saddle my horse?" he asked.

"Nope. Johnny did though he was mumblin under his breath the whole time. Somethin the matter?" Jelly asked, looking closely at Scott.

Too closely for Scott's liking and he turned away from the watchful stare. "No, nothing's wrong, Jelly."

He opened the stall gate and led Remmie out then stopped and sighed. "Except that I don't know what Murdoch wants me to do today," he said morosely.

Jelly raised both brows at this. "Reckon he wants ya on the crew fixing that bridge that collapsed couple of days ago. Bout everbody is."

Scott looked up at him. "Including Johnny?"

"Yep."

Scott nodded and walked out. He tethered his horse to the corral fence and went back inside.

Murdoch was sitting at his desk when Scott walked in. He stood there until his father looked up.

"What did you want me to do today?" Scott asked stiffly.

"I need you to survey the fence line in the south pasture."

Scott relaxed his shoulders, nodded and walked out.

Murdoch frowned as he watched the expressions fly across Scott's face. Relief was the last one. He shook his head and wondered what was bothering his son. Well, if he's not in a better frame of mind tonight, I'll have a talk with him, he decided.

Scott put his foot in the stirrup only to be stopped short.

"Whoa, there!"

He turned to find Jelly hurrying over.

"What is it, Jelly?" he asked.

"Now, you know good and well Johnny didn't tighten that cinch. Ya know he don't never till you're ready to mount up," Jelly explained.

Scott sighed and tightened the cinch. "I guess my mind is on other things," he said by way of explanation.

"Reckon ya better get it back here lessen ya wanna be eatin dust," Jelly berated.

Scott shot him a look but only nodded then mounted up and rode away.

Murdoch walked out and stood next to Jelly as they watched him ride off south.

"What's the matter with him?" Jelly asked.

"I don't know. He seems to be angry with Johnny but for the life of me, I can't figure out why."

"Wahl, he best get over it. He was about ta mount up without checking that cinch!"

Murdoch looked back out at his son's disappearing form. He decided he would most definitely have that talk with Scott this evening.

*

Scott spent the day riding fence. By afternoon, he was feeling better. Tired as all get out but better. He didn't know why he was acting this way and especially why he was directing it toward Johnny. He decided to head over to the bridge and ride in with his brother. That way, he could apologize for his reprehensible behavior.

The crew was packing up by the time he got there. He spied Johnny loading lumber into the wagon with Raul. Johnny said something as he rode up but he couldn't hear it. Raul started howling in laughter and Scott's eyes narrowed. He dismounted and walked up to the two men.

"Hola, Scott. Welcome home," Raul smiled.

Scott gave him a nod and glared at his brother. Johnny looked at him in complete confusion.

"You ain't been here long enough for me to piss you off. What's the matter now?" Johnny asked.

"What was so funny just now?" Scott demanded.

Raul looked between the two brothers, unsure if he should leave them alone. Scott looked mad as hell.

Johnny slid the wood into the wagon bed and turned to face his brother. Hands on hips and a grin on his lips, he started to explain.

"Well, there's this priest and a saloon girl..."

He never finished. Scott punched him in the mouth without warning and Johnny went to the ground.

He swiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, looking at the blood smear before finding his brother's eyes. Johnny got to his feet quickly.

"What the hell did you do that for?" he yelled.

"Don't lie to me, Johnny!"

Johnny stared at him then looked at Raul who was quite frankly, shocked.

"Raul, what was I saying?"

Raul blinked and looked at Scott, ready to duck if need be. "He was telling me a joke, Senor Scott. That is all."

Scott stared at the vaquero as if he could kill him.

"Raul, take the wagon on back now," Johnny said calmly.

The young man nodded and ran to jump onto the bench. With a quick flick of the reins he moved the wagon fast.

*

Johnny watched him for a minute then looked around to ensure the rest of the men were on their way. All of them were riding away, all of them looking back with surprise and concern.

Johnny turned back once satisfied the men were out of earshot.

"I don't know what your problem is and I really don't care. But, don't hit me again, Scott. You won't like it so much next time," he hissed.

"Won't I? I liked it fine this time!"

"What is wrong with you?! Ever since you came home you've been mad at me. Why?!" Johnny demanded.

"Maybe I'm just sick and tired of you laughing at me behind my back!"

Johnny took a step back, stunned speechless for a moment. "Laughing at you?" With a deep breath he took in the anger on his brother's face. There was something else going on here.

Johnny took two steps forward and reached out. "Scott, what is it? Talk to me," he said softly as he put a hand lightly on the older man's arm.

Scott jerked back as if he'd been burned. "Don't touch me!"

Johnny held his hands up in defeat. "Fine. But I wasn't laughing at you. I was telling a joke. Just a stupid joke."

"Why don't I believe that?" Scott fumed.

"You heard Raul ..."

"Oh, yes. I heard your *amigo*. I'm sure he'd go along with anything you told him to," Scott interrupted.

Johnny looked away for a second. "Okay, I'm done with this. I'm not even gonna get into the way you just said that word. I will tell you this. For the last time, I was not laughing at you. And for the last time, don't you ever hit me again, Scott!"

Johnny turned and walked over to Barranca. He mounted up and looked down at his brother. "Whatever your problem is, I didn't cause it," he said then rode away.

Scott stared after him, fists clenched tightly at his sides.

*

When Johnny rode in, Murdoch was standing in the yard waiting.

"Come inside, son," he called.

Johnny looked at him then felt the reins being taken. He sighed and walked after his father. No secrets around here, he thought.

Murdoch was standing in the middle of the room. "What happened?"

Johnny bowed his head and didn't answer. Murdoch walked over and lifted his chin, taking in the split lip.

"Well?"

Johnny pulled back and walked past his father. "Scott hit me."

"Why?"

"I have no idea," he sighed out.

"Johnny."

"I don't, Murdoch. I was telling Raul a joke when Scott rode up. He walked over and wanted to know what I was laughing at. I started to tell him the joke and he hit me. Out of the blue," Johnny stated, his hands out at his sides, at a loss.

"He thought I was laughing at him. What's wrong with him?" Johnny asked, turning sad eyes on his father.

Murdoch, deep creases in his forehead, shook his head. "I don't know, son."

"He's so angry with me. He was really ... hateful," Johnny said and bowed his head.

"What else did he say?"

"Nothing really. Just that Raul was lying for me when he backed me up about the joke."

Murdoch sighed. "I'll talk to him when he comes in."

"Yeah, well, don't expect me to be around. If he hits me again, I ain't gonna stand there and take it!"

"I wouldn't expect you to," Murdoch said.

*

Scott rode in two hours later. He bedded Remmie down then walked around to the back of the house, coming in the kitchen door.

There was no one there but Maria. She gave him a hateful look and took a plate out of the oven, setting it on the table noisily.  

He didn't look at her. He sat down and started eating. Only then did he look up. "Any coffee?"

"No," she stated.

"Would you mind making some?" Scott asked tersely.

She shot him another hateful look. "I am going home. The coffee beans are in the pantry," she said flatly.

Scott stood up and put his hands on his hips. "Maria, I want some coffee. It's your job to make it so do that!"

"Go home, Maria," Johnny said quietly from the doorway.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw him. Never had Scott spoken to her that way. Truthfully, she was frightened in that moment. She smiled weakly at Johnny and grabbed her bag then fled out the back door.

Johnny walked into the kitchen and stared his brother down.

"Whatever your problem is, don't talk to her like that. She ain't one of your Boston servants. She's family." His voice was soft but cold.

"She's paid to do a job and I expect her to do it," Scott shot.

"She did her job at suppertime. Ain't her fault you were too busy bein mad at me to come home," Johnny countered.

Scott's jaw twitched. "Fine." He sat back down and started eating again.

Johnny watched him for a few seconds before starting toward the door leading to the great room. He stopped short and, without turning back, said, "in the future, if you have a problem with one of the Mexican hands, take it up with Murdoch."

"I'll take care of my own problems," Scott said.

Johnny sighed. "If you mistreat one of them again, you'll answer to me, Scott. That's all." He walked on out with that statement made.

When Murdoch heard how Scott had spoken to Maria, he was livid. He gave himself some time to calm down before dealing with his son. He was almost there when Scott walked into the room.

*

"I want to talk to you, young man," Murdoch growled.

"About what?" Scott asked as he plopped down on the couch.

"About your abhorrent behavior the past two days. First, you hit your brother without provocation or reason, then you mistreat Maria. Scott, tell me what's bothering you and tell me now," Murdoch ordered.

Scott stared at the cold fireplace for a long moment. "I don't know. I feel so much anger but I don't know why. I went to the bridge site today to apologize to Johnny. But, then I heard him laughing with Raul and I just lost it. Then, Maria was so ... belligerant ."

"Why do you think she was belligerant ?" Murdoch asked.

"I suppose she's heard what happened with Johnny," Scott sighed.

"Yes, the whole ranch knows about it. What no one can figure out is why. You were fine when you first got home. You were happy. Then, you got angry with Johnny for poking a little fun at me and you've stayed that way. I don't want to hear that you don't know, Scott. I want a reason."

Scott rubbed a hand over his face and shook his head. "I am sorry, Sir. I didn't sleep well at all last night. I kept having the most horrible nightmares. When I'm alone, I can see how despicable I've been behaving. But, when I get around Johnny, I ... Murdoch it's like I hate him. It doesn't make any sense to me. I can think about him and know how I really feel but it's when I see him. I think I'm losing my mind," he sighed at the end, unable to make sense of these feelings.

Murdoch didn't like this. He had to admit it was a little crazy. Maybe it was the lack of sleep that was affecting Scott. He prayed that was the case. He walked over and sat next to his son.

"I want you to go to bed. Get some proper sleep. If you have these nightmares again, I want you to come and get me. I don't care what time it is. Understand?"

Scott looked at him as if he were the crazy one. "You want me to run get daddy when I have a bad dream?" he asked sarcastically.

"Don't get smart with me, young man. I'm not as understanding as your brother. Which, by the way, you're very lucky he is so understanding. Otherwise, the two of you would be very sore and bruised."

Scott dropped his head and nodded. He couldn't deny that and had to wonder why Johnny hadn't knocked his head off today. "Alright, I'll come get you. I'll feel like a fool, but I'll do it."

Murdoch smiled and patted his shoulder, ending in a squeeze.

*

Scott panted as he looked wild-eyed around the room. The shadows played with his mind and he saw something moving in the corner. His heart was thundering in his ears and sweat matted his hair to his head, dripping down his face. He reached over and lit the lamp, turning the wick up high to chase away the shadows.

When he looked at the corner again, there was nothing there and he sighed with relief. He got up and splashed water on his face then sat in the chair by the open window.

He remembered his promise to Murdoch but he felt ridiculous waking the man because he'd had a bad dream. He couldn't bring himself to do that. Mostly, because he knew Murdoch would want to know what the dream was about. He couldn't tell him the truth.  

How could he? Murdoch would think he really was crazy or worse. Maybe he was. What sane man would have a nightmare so vile and sickening? So torturous and ... evil. What sane man would see those things happening to his own brother, *do* those things and feel ... glad? No, it was worse than that. It was pleasure. Perverse pleasure.

Scott shook his head hard, trying to rid his mind of the images. But try as he might, he was unable and he knew he'd never sleep again tonight. Tears stung his eyes and he swiped angrily at them. Why was he thinking these things? Why did he feel such hatred for his brother? And he did. Right this minute, alone in his room and for no rational reason, Scott Lancer hated Johnny Madrid.

Scott sat forward with a start. Why did I think of him as Johnny Madrid?

His eyes darted about the room, certain he'd heard someone whispering. He knew there was no one there. He could see there wasn't. But, he'd heard it, hadn't he? Heard the whisper but not the words. A chill engulfed his entire being. The room temperature dropped dramatically and Scott could see his breath in the air.

He stood on shaky legs and started for the door only to be stopped in his tracks by ... something.

"Who's there?" he asked aloud, knowing someone - something - was in the room with him now.

The whispering started again and still, he couldn't discern the words. But it grew louder and louder and he clamped his hands against his ears, closing his eyes and breathing hard. He heard the words then, distinctly heard every one of them.

His eyes popped open and he felt a calm come over him. A warm and soothing feeling that quieted his harsh breaths and pounding heart. Scott smiled and nodded, knowing what he had to do and exactly how to do it.

He turned and looked into the mirror. The eyes looking back at him were black as silt.

Scott dressed quickly and left his room through the window, shimmying down the trellis and landing quietly on the earth.

Johnny sat sullenly at the table the next morning and played with his food. Murdoch watched him, wishing he could say something. Scott hadn't come to him last night and he hoped his son had gotten some much needed rest. Hoped he was in a better frame of mind as well.

Scott bounced into the room with a smile on his face. "Good morning," he rang out.

Both men looked warily at him but he paid it no mind and went directly to Maria. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her in.

"Maria, I'd like to apologize for my behavior last night. I wasn't myself but that's no excuse for treating you with such disrespect. I hope you can forgive me."

She smiled at the sincerity in his voice and gave him a peck on the cheek then shooed him away from her.

Scott laughed and walked over to Johnny, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I want to apologize to you, as well, brother. I don't know what got into me and I wouldn't blame you if you hated my guts. Hitting you was unforgivable. My only defense is lack of sleep and maybe temporary insanity."

Johnny looked up at him and smiled a little. "It's okay," he said quietly.

"No, it isn't but I appreciate your kindness more than you can know," Scott smiled and squeezed his shoulder. He sat in his chair and looked at his father.

"My apologies to you too, Murdoch. I don't know what happened."

"I'm just glad you're feeling better, son. I take it you slept well last night?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes! I slept like a baby. I feel so much better now. Like a new man!" Scott exclaimed.

Johnny laughed a little. "I kind of liked the old one."

Scott smiled at him. "And he you shall have, brother."

There was a knock at the kitchen door and Jelly walked in.

"Good morning, Jelly," Scott smiled.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, morning. Boss, I got some bad news. There was a fire up at south mesa last night. Don't know how it got started but the line shack was damaged."

"How bad?" Murdoch asked with dread. That line shack would be crucial to the ranch come winter.

"Ain't sure yet. Frank spotted the smoke this mornin and rode up. Fire's out but I figured ya'd wanna know right away."

Murdoch sighed heavily. "Alright, Jelly. Boys, you'd better get some supplies together and ride up there. Fix what you can and let me know what can't be repaired."

"It could take a week or so, Murdoch, depending on how much damage there is," Scott imparted.

"We don't have much choice. I'd feel better if you two took care of it."

"No problem. Still, wonder how that fire got started," Johnny said with a thoughtful frown.

"Coulda been some fool campin up there last night. Frank didn't see no camp but he said he didn't take the time to look neither," Jelly theorized.

"Probably," Johnny mumbled.

*

The brothers filled a wagon with everything they might need to make repairs, including extra food in case the shacks supply was lost. Murdoch walked out as they were finishing the loading.

"Take as much time as you need," the rancher said.

Johnny grinned at him. "Yeah? You mean like maybe a month?"

Scott laughed and slapped him on the back.

"No, I do not mean that," Murdoch groused, then smiled. "Be careful, too," he added as they climbed aboard the wagon.

"I'm always careful," Johnny said.

"Sure you are, brother. Sure you are. I'll keep an eye on him," Scott promised.

Murdoch smiled, pleased beyond measure that his older son was himself again.

The brothers drove off, Scott at the reins, Johnny slumping down in the seat and pulling his hat low.

Scott smiled at him, his eyes turning black as he pulled his own hat down lower.

When they arrived at the shack, Johnny immediately began to survey the damage.

"Shucks," he said.

"What's wrong?" Scott asked as he started to unhitch the team.

"Don't look too bad. Guess we won't get that month away after all," Johnny grinned.

Scott laughed at him and went back to his chore. "Don't be too disappointed, Johnny. Murdoch doesn't know how bad it is, now does he?"

Johnny raised a brow and walked over. "You sayin what I think you're sayin? Cause if you are, brother, I think I really do like this 'new you'."

Scott shrugged. "Well, there's nothing wrong with taking a little extra time to enjoy the pleasures of life."

"Now, you're talkin! Of course, some of those pleasures are in town," Johnny laughed.

"And some of them are right here. Come on, let's get to work. The sooner we get done, the sooner we can ... oh, I don't know, go hunting?"

Johnny grinned again. "Sounds good to me."

*

There really wasn't much damage. A few singed shingles to replace. The shack needed airing out from the smell of smoke but it wasn't too bad. Not bad enough to be uninhabitable and the smell would clear with time. Johnny replaced the shingles and Scott opened all the windows.

While Johnny was on the roof, Scott took a look around the old abandoned mine nearby. He used his foot to clear the traces of footprints he'd missed the night before in the dark. With a satisfied smile, he walked back to the shack.

"Find anything?" Johnny called down.

"No. Nothing," Scott said. "I'm going to check the stove if you're well enough away from the chimney."

"I'm fine," Johnny replied.

"Yes, I know you are," Scott mumbled under his breath.

By the time Johnny was finished with the roof, storm clouds were gathering overhead. Thunder rumbled in the distance and he looked at the sky. It was green. Not a good sign.

He walked in to a wonderful smell. "Looks like we're in for some real bad weather. Guess it's a good thing we got up here. What smells so good?"

"Stew. I heard the thunder. What's it look like out there?" Scott replied.

"Bad. The sky is green. And where'd you learn ta cook?" he grinned.

Scott smiled over his shoulder as he stirred the pot. "Well, I guess I finally picked up a thing or two from Maria and Teresa. Wash up, it's almost ready."

Johnny walked back out and washed his hands in the bucket of water his brother had readied. He smiled to himself. It was good to have Scott back.

Scott reached into his pocket and pulled out the small vial of powder. He dumped half of it into a bowl then ladled the stew over it, stirring it well with a spoon and placing it at Johnny's seat.

"Hey, I brought a bottle of whiskey with me," Johnny winked as he came in and sat down.

"I knew you were good for something, brother," Scott laughed as he sat down with bowl in hand.

*

Johnny washed the dishes as Scott closed all the windows. The wind had picked up and the thunder was closer. He smiled when he looked outside.

Johnny dried his hands and walked over to the fire Scott had going. He grabbed up his saddlebags and pulled out the bottle, waving it in front of him with a mischievous grin.

They settled in and Johnny poured. He watched Scott stare into the flames for a minute.

"What're you thinking so hard on?" he asked softly.

"You. Tell me something about yourself I don't know, Johnny."

Johnny looked over then sat forward in his chair, glass dangling from his right hand. Suddenly, he yawned. With a laugh he answered.

"Right now, it's that I'm tired. What did you want to know?"

Scott looked over at him, noting the drooping eye lids and the beginnings of that glazed look in Johnny's eyes. He smiled.

"Tell me how you could walk away from such an exciting life to be a rancher."

Johnny's head snapped up and he stared. "You funnin me?"

"Not at all. I'm very serious," Scott stated.

"What makes you think it was so exciting?" Johnny asked, wondering what the hell was going on in Scott's head.

The older man shrugged. "Well, you said it. You did what you wanted, went where you wanted. You were a free spirit, Johnny. Then, there's the gunfighting. It must have been a thrill. Never knowing if that day was your last on this earth. Facing a man down in the street with the surety that you would be the one standing. Or, the uncertainty. Squeezing that trigger and taking a man's last breath from him. It must have been an exhilarating feeling!"

Johnny blinked several times as his vision blurred. He rubbed his eyes with his left hand. "Are you trying to be funny or are you trying to make me mad?"

Scott shook his head. "I'm asking you what it felt like to have that kind of power. To be feared and reviled. To be used and abused by so very many people."

Johnny's hand went lax and the glass fell to the floor, breaking into a million pieces.

"Scott, I don't ... feel too good."

Scott stood and walked over, kneeling beside him. "I know, Johnny. And you're never going to. Not ever again," he smiled.

Johnny looked up at him and squinted. He could feel the world around him spinning but what got his attention was Scott's eyes. His last thought was that they were dead.

*

Johnny's head was pounding in rhythm with his heartbeat. It was a fast pace, too. He groaned as he came up from the well of unconsciousness and tried to figure out why he felt so bad. His eyes opened and he blinked at the blurry images surrounding him. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

He saw someone standing by the window staring at him. He knew it was Scott by the posture but he wasn't focusing very well at the moment. He licked his lips and tried to swallow but his throat was dry. Johnny closed his eyes and tried to make some sense of the situation. He still didn't realize what was wrong with this picture only that he was in some kind of trouble.

He felt the mattress sag and opened his eyes to see a glass in front of him. It touched his lips and he took a swallow. Whiskey. Not his first choice but it was at least wet.

The mattress. That was it, or part of it. He was on a bed. Why? He noticed at that moment that his arms were aching and he tried to move them without success. He looked to his right and saw he was tied to the bedpost. His eyes went to his brother sitting beside him.

"What?" was all he could manage.

"Your head will clear up in a minute. Let's wait until then. I don't want to have to repeat myself."

Johnny stared at him. Scott's voice sounded different. Low and cold and something else he couldn't pinpoint. He took slow, deep breaths and kept his eyes closed until, at last, his head eased and he could put together a single thought without too much effort. He looked back at Scott.

"What are you doing, Boston?" he asked.

His head snapped to the side as the sting settled in from the back of Scott's hand.

"I told you not to call me that!"

Johnny turned back slowly, absolutely flabbergasted by this turn of events. "What the hell is wrong with you?!" he shouted.

A slow smile spread across Scott's face and Johnny watched mesmerized as the color of his eyes changed from pale blue to pitch black. Cold chills ran over his body and for the first time, Johnny realized his shirt was missing. He took a moment to register that then realized with some horror it wasn't the only thing missing. He was completely undressed.

Panic started to rear it's ugly head and Johnny fought diligently for control. He won for the moment.

Scott stood up and began to pace a bit. Each time he passed the window, lightning popped outside followed by a loud crack of thunder. Johnny didn't think about that being odd. There was too much else to think about. Like how and why his brother had lost his mind.

"It's time for you to pay, Madrid. Time for your judgment day. Time for retribution," Scott said in a growling voice.

"Madrid? Scott, what's happened to you?"

Before he knew what was happening, Scott was sitting astride him. He could swear he never saw the man move.

"Scott's not home right now, Johnny." The laughter that followed that comment froze the marrow of Johnny's bones.

Scott leaned down, a hair's breath separating his face from Johnny's. The stench of his breath was insufferable and Johnny tried to hold his own respirations. It was impossible, though now that the panic was back.

"It's simple really. All these years I've watched and waited. Salivating every time you stood in some dusty street facing another gun. Every time you stood in the middle of a firefight. Every time you were shot and should have died but didn't! Why couldn't you have just died? Why did you have to fight so damned hard?"

*

Johnny swallowed but he had no spit. "Who are you?" he whispered.

The laugh again. Cold and maniacal.

"Your worst nightmare, Madrid. Your very worst nightmare. And I know you've dreamed of me. It's so sweet of you, really," he grinned nastily.

"You know exactly who I am. You've always felt me there. You've used me when you needed and ignored me the rest of the time. I will not be ignored any longer. It took me years to find the perfect person. And then, there he was. Your brother. Your Boston," he spat the word with venom.

Johnny turned his head away but felt an icy hand grab his chin and jerk his head back.

"I will not be denied what is mine. You can save yourself and your brother a world of torment right here and now, Johnny. Give yourself to me."

Johnny shook his head unable to find his voice at the moment. The voice speaking to him sounded as if it came from all sides and even from inside himself. His mind refused to comprehend that this was even possible. He was having a nightmare. That was all. A very bad nightmare and he'd awake soon. Scott would awaken him soon.

"It's not a dream, boy."

Johnny looked into the black eyes.

"I know what you're thinking. I've known you since the day you were spewed forth from that whore's womb! This is your destiny. Your fate, Johnny. You belong to me and I will have what is mine!"

"Go back to hell!" Johnny shouted as loudly as he could.

"I plan to and you're going with me," he laughed.

*

Johnny stared at him unable to fathom that any of this was really happening. Mostly because the face he saw was so dear to him. Scott. How could he ... no! It wasn't Scott. He had to stop thinking that way. Whatever this was, his brother was gone somewhere.

"I'm not giving you anything," he finally said softly.

Johnny's back arched as he felt the exquisite pain across his chest. He looked down to see the skin shredded as if he'd been clawed. He'd seen no weapon. He shook his head, trying to shake away the pain but he was on fire. He could feel the heat of flames though he could not see them. It was the most unbearable thing he'd ever felt. Then it happened again. And again. And again.

His screams of agony were lost to the world as the thunder boomed almost continuously now, the sky constantly bright with streaks of lightning. It was a concert of torture and the weather was the background music.

By now, the beast had dismounted him and stood beside his head watching with a grin of pure pleasure on his face.

Johnny went slack, his head lolling to the side and the creature sighed, the smile sliding away. He watched the rapid breathing, the blood running in fine rivulets down Johnny's sides and was fascinated by it. He knelt beside the bed and stroked Johnny's hair gently.

"So, have you had worse than this?" he snickered to the unconscious man. He ran a finger through one stream of blood and held his finger up to examine it thoughtfully. Sighing once more, he popped the finger in his mouth and sucked it clean.

It leaned in close to Johnny's face and watched the pain lines start to relax. He whispered softly in the ear several times.

Johnny's head jerked. Someone was screaming at him from very close by. Scott? Yes, it was Scott. He sounded in pain. Johnny struggled through the comfortable veil then recoiled when his own pain found its voice. He fought to go back to the darkness but Scott's voice was insistent, pleading to him. He had to come back. Scott needed him.

He opened his eyes and a groan emerged followed by quickening breaths and a heartbeat that threatened to explode from his chest.

"Welcome back," it sneered.

Johnny writhed in the bed as much as he could then found his brother's eyes. "Scott? Please, help me."

He thought he saw a flicker. Just for an instant and then it was gone. Johnny latched onto hope and tried again.

"Please, Boston. I need you."

But the eyes went dark and a growl rang forth, terrifyingly ferocious.

Johnny felt the ice cold hand on his throat, squeezing tighter. "Give yourself to me!" demanded the voice.

He struggled for air but found none. He only managed to shake his head in the negative, stubbornly refusing to give in. Suddenly the hand was gone and he coughed harshly igniting the fire in his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut for a few minutes until the pain eased slightly.

*

It was sitting beside him now watching with fascination. "I never get tired of watching you use pain as a friend. You have a real talent for that. You'll be needing it when you do come to me."

"I'm not going anywhere with you!" Johnny hissed.

That laugh again and shivers engulfed his body. He couldn't stop the trembling.

"Sooner or later, you will."

Johnny latched onto this as sounding wrong. "Then why are you in such a hurry?"

He received a backhand across the face for this. Hard enough to nearly snap his head off his neck. He felt a crack and a burning sensation shot up the side of his head. But he could move his neck and he looked back.

The demon bounced up and down, letting the bed ropes squeak loudly. "Remember this sound? The lullaby your mommy sang to you every night? She was a perfect whore, Johnny. Always willing and oh so ready for whatever was done to her. Still is, in fact."

"Get off me you bastard!"

"Something else we have in common then," it laughed as he slid slowly and deliberately off Johnny.

Whatever possessed his brother squatted beside him then. Crossing his arms and resting them on the mattress, he lowered his chin to rest on them. "When are you going to realize that this is what you were born for? Do you think it was by chance that you became a gunfighter? A very good gunfighter? Johnny, you were always destined for greatness. But you threw it all away and for what? Murdoch Lancer? He hates your guts. Oh, he acts all friendly and nice but inside, where it counts, he wishes you'd just go away. I know what's in a man's heart, Johnny. Even Scott knows it's true. I'm in here and I can feel what he feels, know what he thinks. He wishes you'd disappear, too. So why not oblige? It's time. Come with me, Johnny. Come with me and fulfill your glory."

The voice was soft and liltingly pleasant. Easy to listen to. Almost musical. Johnny felt the pain in his chest and his heart. He felt the old insecurities and the voice was so inviting, so accepting. He lolled his head to the side to look at his brother. But all he saw was the blackness. The ugly truth of his life.

*

"It's painful there, too. What difference if the pain is here or there?"

"Ah, but I can give you all the pleasures as well, Johnny. Do you want your mother to pay for her sins? I'll make it happen. Do you want her to be happy? I'll make that happen. All those men you killed. All the men who abused you. You will mete out their punishment, Johnny. You will decide what happens to them for eternity. Everyone who has ever hurt you in life. You will have that power. You will reign over a world indescribable. You will be a king among men, Johnny. Think about that."

Johnny closed his eyes for a moment then looked back at the evil before him. "Sounds like an offer you made to someone else a very long time ago. I think I'll turn it down, too."

The creature's head came up and he glowered. "You dare compare yourself to Him?"

"No, not at all. Still, I ain't interested. Let my brother go you son of a bitch! If you're so powerful, show yourself. Let Scott go and be who you are!"

It only stared at him.

"You can't, can you? You can't be here unless you're using someone else."

Johnny managed to raise his head a couple of inches and leaned over as far as he could.

"Scott, fight him. I know you can do it. You're stronger than him. You can do this, Boston. Please. I need you," Johnny beseeched his brother.

"Shut up!" came the putrid voice.

Johnny heard the sound of a whip cracking and shouted more in surprise at first, then in pain as he felt the fire across his hips. The ropes fell away from his battered and bloody wrists and he felt his body being lifted then violently flipped. He landed hard on his stomach as the whip lashes struck his back over and over until he thought he would lose his mind.

Through it all, the thunder resounded overhead and the lightning cracked deafeningly. His body jerked with each slashing as skin was ripped open. The burning sensation was by far the worst of it. He smelled sulfur and felt a hot wind swirling around him as the fury only intensified over his back, buttocks and legs.

Sometime during this torture, Johnny lost consciousness. The demon wasn't clear when it happened exactly but he didn't care either. Soon enough, he'd come to. That was a certainty. So he waited an hour, pacing the floor, his anger building. When he decided it was time again, he walked back to the bed, leaving a blackened tread in the wooden floor planks.

Johnny heard the insistent voice again, screaming inside his head and his body jerked, eliciting a searing pain from everywhere. He cracked his eyes a little and saw Scott's face close to his own.

"Time to wake up. How much longer are you going to let this go on, Johnny? You can stop the pain right here and now with a simple nod of your head."

Johnny shook his head and felt himself once more being flipped over. His back hit the mattress and he shouted as the fire grew. The blood on his chest was partially dry but the cuts were ripped once more as the sheet pulled away. He sucked in as deep a breath as he could and fought to stay awake.

*

It jumped on top of him again and placed a hand on each shoulder, pushing him into the mattress. Johnny found he couldn't fight against it. In fact, he couldn't move at all. Something held him in place. Some invisible force. Still the pressure came and his shoulders screamed.

"Give yourself to me," the voice insisted.

"Stop," Johnny whispered.

"Say please," came the taunting reply.

His strength was gone. His resistance nearly depleted. But when he heard that insolent voice and looked into the face of his beloved brother, Johnny found his resolve. He was going to die, yes. But he would not give in.

"No!"

The creature pulled his right arm away and struck Johnny across the face once more before bounding off the bed. The whipping began again across his torso, hips and legs. Everywhere there was skin, a lash struck home. Johnny was beyond screaming his agony. He no longer had a voice strong enough for that. Nor was there time to register one pain before another assaulted him.

It stopped suddenly and he struggled to get air into his lungs. He opened his eyes when he felt the weight once more straddle his hips.

It grabbed each side of his face and stared into his eyes. Johnny couldn't look away. What he saw broke his heart. In that stare was the epitome of evil and anguish.

"You will be mine and this will be your everlasting hell!" spat a voice more horrific than any he'd yet heard.

"Dios, por favor," Johnny whispered through dried lips.

"SHUT UP!" decried the voice and the icy hand once more grabbed his throat.

Johnny was unable to struggle any longer. He knew this was the end of his life and though his voice had been squeezed closed, his mind had not.

'Please God, save my brother. Please let him be alright. It's not his fault, God. Please save Scott,' he prayed.

The hand squeezed tighter and Johnny saw pinpoint black dots dance across his vision. His lungs shouted for air that wasn't to be had. He felt death closing in and, oddly, a calm swept over him. He relaxed his body and welcomed it take him. He felt sure God had heard his prayer and would not punish his brother. Believing Scott would be safe, he accepted his fate.

Murdoch hoped this was a good idea. He hoped his sons wouldn't be upset with him. They had made peace with each other so he felt fairly comfortable coming up to the shack to surprise them. A couple of days alone with his sons had been an idea that bolted out of the blue into his mind. He wasn't really sure where it had come from but it didn't take him long to decide it was a good one.

It was a glorious day and some fishing seemed in order to him. He smiled as he dismounted.

He walked into the shack and froze at the sight before him. His heart stopped for only a second before he was able to move again.

Johnny felt the hand release him and started coughing spastically.

"Scott, what the hell are you doing?" Murdoch shouted as he flung his son across the room. His eyes went to Johnny and, once more, his heart stopped.

He took one step toward Johnny and stopped as he heard a growl so low he wasn't sure it wasn't in his mind.

Johnny was holding his throat and whispering something Murdoch couldn't hear and as much as he needed to get to his boy, that voice stopped him cold.

"GET OUT!"

Murdoch turned to see Scott rise from the floor without so much as bending a knee. He stared in unmitigated horror into the eyes of evil.

"Dios, por favor," Johnny chanted over and over.

Scott took one step toward Murdoch then looked upward. The storm had stopped without warning. A bright light appeared through the windows and every crack in the shacks walls. A pure white light that filled the entire cabin with its brilliance. Soft and warm.

Scott screamed and spoke in a language Murdoch had never heard before. Then, he collapsed into a heap on the floor.

Johnny watched the whole thing as he repeated his mantra again and again. When Scott fell to the floor, he fell back onto the bed unconscious.

Murdoch stood where he was and stared at Scott then looked at Johnny whose chest was rising and falling rapidly. He moved to Scott quickly and checked for a pulse. Finding one easily, he rushed to Johnny's side. Whatever had happened, it seemed Scott was no where near as badly hurt as his brother.

*

Murdoch's hand hovered over Johnny's chest. There was no way he could discern where one injury stopped and another began. His son's entire body was a pulsing mass of raw meat. He turned and ran to the door, barely making it outside before losing the contents of his stomach.

He eyed the bucket of water and splashed some on his face then grabbed it up and took it inside.

Scott moaned and opened his eyes, blinking rapidly as his head pounded nearly off his shoulders. One hand went to the side of his head as he looked around. He saw Murdoch sitting on the edge of the bed doing something. Then, he looked around at the shack.

"Where are we?" he asked in a confused voice.

Murdoch jerked around and glared at him. "Where the hell do you think we are?"

Scott shrank away from the venom in his father's voice.

"He doesn't remember."

Murdoch turned back to the strangled sound that was coming from his younger son.

"It wasn't Scott. He don't remember anything. Leave him alone," Johnny managed.

Scott hauled himself off the floor and stepped closer to the bed. An audible gasp emerged from somewhere inside. "My God! What happened to him?"

Murdoch looked up in dismay then back at Johnny. "What happened here, son?"

Johnny shook his head slowly side to side. "Can't ... just ... it wasn't Scott," was the only cohesive thing he could or wanted to say.

Murdoch forced himself to hold back the questions. He'd seen what he'd seen and he still didn't understand it. Could not comprehend it. At that moment, however, there was only one thing he needed to focus on.

"Scott, get the wagon hitched up and clear out the bed. We need to get Johnny home now!" he barked.

Scott hesitated a moment then ran from the room. He stopped as he approached the horses and bent over quickly as he lost control of his stomach.

Murdoch searched the shack and found some sheets in a chest. He gently covered Johnny's naked body then looked down at his son. Tears welled and he shook his head. "The best way is to pour water over the sheet, son."

Johnny smiled as best he could and nodded. It couldn't possibly be any worse, he thought.

Murdoch tipped the bucket, trying not to simply douse his son. He could not imagine the suffering his son was enduring and his heart broke over and over.

Johnny groaned loudly, no longer caring about pretense.

Murdoch finished as quickly as he could and sat beside his boy again, taking in the bruising that covered most of his face.

Johnny finally opened his eyes and gave his father a pitiable look. "My back, too," he said.

Murdoch's stomach clenched tightly but he tried to hold himself together. "Alright, son. Let's give you a minute first, though."

"Thirsty," Johnny breathed out.

*

Murdoch helped him to drink then eased him back down. Scott came back in to report the wagon was ready.

"We need to turn him over and lay another sheet across his back and wet it down, too," Murdoch droned. He was working automatically now, desperate to keep his emotions in check so he could tend his son.

When they did turn him over, both men were once more sickened at the mess they found. Murdoch quickly repeated the process he'd applied to the front of Johnny.

"Take some time, son. Scott and I are going to take a look at the wagon and figure out the best way to get you in it," Murdoch said as he soothed Johnny's hair away from his brow.

"Don't worry about the how, just get me home. I'm not gonna make it anyway," Johnny tried to smile.

"Hush that kind of talk, young man," Murdoch said, trying to sound stern.

Johnny gave him a look of disbelief. "You know I'm dying, Murdoch. There's no way I can survive this. All I want is to be in my own bed. Please."

He said the last word so softly and with such emotion, Murdoch had to drop his eyes. He could only nod and turn away. Taking Scott's arm, he led him outside.

Johnny closed his eyes and let out a breath. "Gracias, Dios. Thank you for not letting Scott remember and for saving him. I'll be okay with this as long as I know my brother won't ever remember any of it."

The light returned then, brilliant and warm. Johnny looked at the ceiling as what he thought were clouds swirled above him. This is it, then. I'm not gonna get to go home first, he thought. The idea saddened him beyond any other thought as he closed his eyes and waited to be taken.

But it didn't come. What he felt; he wasn't sure what it was but the light faded away slowly, leaving him with a sense of peace and with no physical pain.

Murdoch and Scott walked back in just as the light disappeared.

"What was that?" asked Scott.

Murdoch shook his head and went to his son's side. His eyes widened as he looked at the sheet, dry and clean, covering his boy. Murdoch carefully lifted the linen and gasped at what he saw.

*

There were no cuts. No blood. No bruises on Johnny's body anywhere that he could see. He turned the young man over and found the same. Murdoch sat back completely stunned.

Scott felt his knees go weak and he leaned against the bed post, grabbing it tightly.

Johnny lifted the sheet and looked then raised to a sitting position warily. Testing for himself as he didn't believe his eyes. The wounds had disappeared, no pain left behind from them. Yet, there was a pain so deep inside him, it sucked his breath away. He bowed his head as his eyes stung wet.

"Johnny," Murdoch whispered as he laid a hand hesitantly on his son's shoulder.

He looked back up with a sadness Murdoch Lancer had never witnessed in another human being's eyes. His heart ached all over again. He thought he would never not feel that pain in his own chest and could only imagine what Johnny might be feeling.

"Take me home," Johnny said.

"How do you feel?" Scott asked.

Johnny raised his eyes to his brother briefly before dropping them again. "Tired, weak," he whispered.

"Alright, son. Let's get you in the wagon." If Murdoch expected an argument, he was to be surprised. Johnny only nodded and started to get up then stopped when he raised the sheet.

"Where are my clothes?"

Scott looked around and found the clothing scattered about the room. He retrieved it all a piece at a time and handed it silently to his brother. After one quick look from Johnny, both men stepped outside.

*

"What happened in there, Murdoch? And why can't I remember any of it? I was with him, wasn't I?" Scott asked. There was nothing but utter confusion in his tone.

"Scott, I just don't know. I ... I'm not sure of what I saw. I think we need to let Johnny tell us when he can but ..."

Scott looked over at him. "But what?"

"I'm not sure he will be able to talk about it. Not for a long time. We have to be patient with him, son. We can't push him. Not on this."

Scott frowned as he searched his father's face for some clue. He'd been stunned when he found himself lying on the floor of that shack. He didn't remember going there. He didn't remember even getting home from Stockton. The last thing he did remember was riding home, entering the woods. That was it.

"It just doesn't make any sense. One moment he's ... torn to shreds, the next there's not a mark on him. It's crazy!" Scott let out his frustration.

"I know. I..." Murdoch trailed off when the door opened behind them. He turned to find Johnny holding tightly to the doorframe. Murdoch stepped to him and started to put an arm around his son, but Johnny pulled away.

"I can do it," he said softly and staggered to the wagon bed. He stood there staring at the tailgate and wondering how he was going to haul himself up there. He felt like a dishrag, not an ounce of strength left in his body. The wounds were gone on the surface but only there.

Murdoch stood behind him, unsure what to do. It was obvious Johnny didn't want to be touched but he knew his son would not be able to get himself in the wagon.

"Let me give you a hand up," Murdoch offered.

Johnny bowed his head and nodded, allowing Murdoch to lift him by two hands on his waist. As soon as he was an inch inside he moved away quickly. Scuttling up, he pressed his back against the bench and drew his knees up, holding them tightly in his arms.

"I'm ready," he spoke quietly and kept his eyes down.

Murdoch tied Hannibal to the back then he and Scott climbed onto the wagon. The trip home was made in total silence as Scott glanced back every two minutes.

*

Johnny didn't look up once until the wagon came to a halt. As soon as it did, he scooted to the end and reached over, unlatching the tailgate. By the time Scott and Murdoch rounded the back, he was standing on his own two feet, albeit a bit shakily.

Neither said a word and Johnny started toward the front door while they followed closely. He stopped with his hand on the knob and lowered his shoulders and his head for a second before pushing on through.

All three men walked into the great room. Johnny went to the fireplace and leaned against the mantle, Scott stood near the sofa and Murdoch between the two of them.

"Would you like to lie down for a while, son? I think Sam should look you over," Murdoch suggested.

Johnny glanced at him then lightly kicked at the hearth. "Yeah, sure. Only, I don't need Sam. Not a scratch on me, right?" he smiled sourly.

"It wouldn't hurt anything," Scott imparted.

Johnny didn't answer, he was deep in thought. Suddenly, he sighed and lifted his head, turning to face them both. "I'm gonna lay down but I need to see someone first."

"Who?" Murdoch asked without even thinking.

"Cipriano. Won't be but a minute." Johnny's voice was tight and terse and he hadn't meant it to be but he was feeling the walls close in. Feeling that need to buck. He walked past them both with a confident stride that fooled neither man.

He stopped outside the door and leaned against the wall for a minute before straightening and walking toward the home of the Lancer segundo.

He didn't get that far as Cipriano emerged from the barn and, seeing him back, walked over with a smile.

"Welcome home, Johnny."

"Thanks," he mumbled.

Cipriano looked hard at him, deep into his eyes and frowned. "What is wrong, sobrino?"

Johnny looked away, out at the pasture and stayed silent for a long beat. "I need a favor, Tio."

"Anything."

Johnny turned back and smiled a little at the quick response. "Tomorrow, I need you to ride into Morro Coyo and ask Padre Antonio to come see me."

Cipriano raised one bushy eyebrow at the request. "Padre Antonio? Are you sure?" he asked for clarification.

It was well known that Johnny had not much use for priests in general and he and Padre Antonio had actually had words in the past. The priest was especially hard-nosed and looked on Johnny as the very heart of sin.

"I'm sure, Tio."

"And what should I tell him?"

"Tell him he's going to have his prayers answered."

Cipriano's face showed his total confusion at that statement but Johnny couldn't appreciate the humor right then. He turned and walked back into the house and straight to his room.

*

Scott turned back around to face his father after his call to his brother went unanswered. His frustration was easy to see and feel.

"What happened out there, Murdoch? Tell me what's going on," he demanded.

Murdoch watched his son and wished he could tell Scott the truth. Only, he wasn't really sure what that was. The more time that passed, the more unsure Murdoch became of what he'd really seen. Was Scott really strangling Johnny? Did he really hear that horrid voice and smell that incredible stench? His mind was going into protective mode and sorting out the terror his eyes had witnessed.

He could only shake his head slowly. "I don't know how to make you understand this, Scott. I really don't know. I'm not even sure of what I saw or heard. All I know for a fact is that Johnny was injured so badly he was dying. Then, he wasn't. Right now, however, I'm going to check on him."

"He doesn't seem to want any company," Scott answered morosely.  

"He's the only one of us that really knows the truth of it. What we saw, he lived. Still, he needs to be tended," Murdoch replied and made his way upstairs.

Scott stood in the middle of the room for a moment then headed to the kitchen to fix his brother a meal. He wasn't sure Johnny would even want it but he felt useless otherwise.

*

Johnny stood still by the window and stared at the glass, unable to focus on anything beyond. His body shouted for rest, his mind terrified of what sleep might bring. That soothing cloak he'd felt from the bright light was gone now. He had to wonder the why of it all but mostly, why God had saved him. For he knew that was what had happened. There could be no other explanation. He shivered at the thought for some reason then prayed he could feel that calm once again.

He heard the light knock and the turn of the doorknob and his spine straightened, shoulders locking up tight. He turned to find his father in the doorway.

"Do you need anything, son?"

Johnny shook his head.

"You should sleep," Murdoch tried.

"I know. I'm just ..."

"Afraid?" Murdoch queried gently.

Johnny could only nod his head and bow it in shame. Murdoch walked over and put a hand on his arm only for Johnny to jerk away. He moved away quickly and wrapped his arms around himself.

"I'm sorry, I just don't want to be touched right now," he mumbled.

"I understand," Murdoch said and he did. "If you want, I'll sit with you until you fall asleep."

Johnny looked shyly at him and a small grin threatened. "Gonna keep the bad dreams away?"

"I would if I could," Murdoch answered sincerely.

"I'll lay down but I don't ... I can't ... I'll just take off my boots," he finally got out.

"Fine."

A quick nod was the response and Johnny sat on the edge of the bed and removed his boots then laid down atop the covers on his back. Murdoch grabbed a quilt off the foot of the bed and laid it across him.

"Need anything else?" the rancher asked.

Johnny chewed his lip in thought. "In the bottom drawer of the dresser is a box. There's a rosary in there if you don't mind."

Murdoch tried to hide his surprise by turning quickly to retrieve the item. Though why he was surprised after the day's events, he didn't know. He found the rosary and handed it to Johnny who wrapped it around his left hand in a firm grip.

"Don't know if it'll help but it can't hurt," he smiled fleetingly.

*

Scott walked through the open door with tray in hand. "Are you hungry?" he asked, trying to smile.

Johnny grimaced at the thought of food and shook his head.

"Well, maybe later," Scott said softly and set the tray on the dresser. He walked further into the room and took note that Johnny was fully dressed. Shivers engulfed him though he knew not why.

"I asked Cipriano to ride into town for me tomorrow," Johnny said suddenly.

"What do you need, son?" Murdoch asked as he settled himself into the chair he'd moved closer to the bed.

"A priest," Johnny said statically.

Neither man had a comment for that though Scott had to bite his tongue to stop from asking why. He felt an unease that was growing in intensity with each passing second. There was something he should know or remember, he was sure. What, was the question no one wanted to answer. That fact only increased his anxiety level. As much as he wanted to help his brother, he had no idea how.

"Try to get some sleep, Johnny," Murdoch repeated after an interminable silence.

Johnny nodded and looked at them both. "I need to be alone."

Murdoch didn't want that, didn't think it wise, but how could he demand anything right now? And so, he didn't. He studied Johnny for a long moment then nodded.

"Would you mind if I left the door cracked just a little? That way, if you need us you can just give a yell," he compromised.

Johnny smiled gratefully and nodded his agreement. As soon as they left him, he got up and lit the three lamps in his room. Though it was still daylight, he didn't want to awaken to a dark room full of shadows. He slipped back under the quilt and pulled it up under his chin. Holding the rosary in a death grip, he drifted off quickly.  

*

Johnny awoke the next morning feeling a great deal better. There'd been no nightmares, no dreams at all and he was relieved. As he stretched his muscles he noticed the rosary still in his hand. He opened the fist and let the beads drop to his chest as his finger traced the outline of the crucifix embedded in his palm.

The stigmata came to his mind which made him think of Padre Antonio. He wasn't sure about this anymore. Now, in the clear light of a brand new day. It didn't take long, however, for him to keep his resolve as the memories washed over him. Goose bumps broke out on his arms and he jumped from the bed still fully clothed.

He sighed heavily and undressed then washed quickly and put on fresh clothes. His mind went to Scott and what he must be thinking. Not much but complete confusion, Johnny was sure. But, he would never tell Scott the whole truth of it. He knew his brother and knew Scott would blame himself even though he'd had no control. Scott Lancer would never believe that, either. That he had not been in control of his own faculties. It was better that he not know, Johnny convinced himself. No good could come of it.

He headed downstairs with trepidation, knowing he had to face them both. Murdoch was just as confused as Scott. He knew his father and the logical man would deny to himself what he'd seen before too long. That was alright with Johnny. No one else needed to suffer the memories. None of this was their fault.

He stopped on the next to the last step, his grip on the banister tightening. He shook his head, willing away the words said to him in that shack. That his father and brother didn't want him. It was all lies, he knew. Still ... no, he wasn't going to do this to himself. He needed some answers not to load on more questions and insecurities. Taking a steadying breath, he entered the kitchen.

*

"Good morning, son. I trust you slept well," Murdoch greeted.

"I did," Johnny answered and took his seat. He glanced up at his father's face and smiled. "Really, I did," he affirmed.

Murdoch nodded and smiled back then returned his attention to his breakfast.

"Where's Scott?" Johnny asked.

"The barn. He'll be in soon."

"How is he?" Johnny asked, not sure he wanted an answer.

"Confused and, I think, a little angry with me for not telling him everything," Murdoch sighed.

Johnny only nodded. "You know it's best."

"I suppose I do, son. That doesn't make it any easier. I have to say I'm more concerned about you right now."

Johnny looked at him with a thoughtful frown. "I don't know what to say to that."

"As long as you don't say you're fine," Murdoch raised a stern brow.

Johnny almost laughed but found he couldn't. Nothing about this was funny. He wasn't sure he'd ever feel happy again. There was a sadness in his heart that he didn't understand. He hoped the padre could help him with that, too. More than anything, he felt a constant and nagging fear that only served to anger him. Maybe that was a good thing. The anger.

Scott walked in and stopped for just a heartbeat before settling at the table. He mumbled a good morning and picked up his fork. He stole glances at Johnny throughout the meal. The melancholy atmosphere that surrounded his brother disturbed him beyond measure. He contemplated questioning Johnny but thought it too soon.

A knock on the back door interrupted his thoughts. Maria opened it to find Cipriano standing there, hat in hand. His eyes locked on Johnny's and the young man walked outside with him.

"I will go to town now if that is what you still want," the segundo said.

"It is, Tio."

"May I ask why?"

Johnny frowned and shook his head. "I can't talk it about it, Tio. I'm sorry."

"There is no need, sobrino. I will return as soon as I can," Cipriano said with a nod.

*

Johnny watched him walk away then wandered through the garden and away from the house. He didn't want to go back in there. He'd felt Scott watching him and sensed the man was about to get started. Best to steer clear for a while, he thought. He knew he couldn't do that for very long but, for right now, it was all he could manage.

He idly thought just being on his feet was all he could manage at the moment. His shoulders tensed then and he turned quickly to find Scott watching him. Johnny relaxed and sighed.

"Don't do that," he said.

"Sorry, you looked deep in thought. I didn't want to disturb you," Scott responded as he stepped closer.

Johnny glanced up at him then dropped his eyes and turned his profile to his brother.

"You might be surprised to know that I can give very good advice. I've been known to even solve a problem or two," Scott said, trying to keep his voice light.

"No, that wouldn't surprise me at all," Johnny answered flatly.

"Why do you feel the need to talk to a priest, Johnny?" Scott asked, figuring he needed to just get it said.

Johnny turned to him with a shocked expression. "Because, something evil attacked me, Scott. I don't really think that's something you can help me with."

Scott raised a brow and stared at him for a beat. "Evil? Johnny, I don't remember any of this but I do know I was at least there. Why can't you tell me who did this?"

"I just did," Johnny said softly. "And I don't want to talk about it anymore."

Scott sighed, feeling more confused than before.

"You saw what happened, Scott. You saw those wounds heal."

"I saw but I don't understand it," Scott admitted.

"Then how do you think you can help me?" Johnny asked.

"So, you're saying this is something ... spiritual?" Scott frowned, unsure that was the right word.

"All I know is I need to talk to someone in the Church," Johnny answered, feeling more irritated than he should.

"Alright, brother. I only want to help."

"I know but you can't. I'm sorry, Scott. You just can't," Johnny said, true remorse in his tone.

*

Scott left him and Johnny felt guilty. He hadn't meant to be so rude to his brother but he couldn't talk to Scott of all people. He didn't want to talk to anyone but he had to. Knew he wouldn't be able to get past this on his own. This was more than anything he'd ever dealt with in his life.

His thoughts turned to Padre Antonio and the man's arrogance. Johnny grimaced at the thought of opening up to such a man but he knew this priest was the only one around he could talk with. Padre Antonio was old as dirt and he believed in the presence of evil not just in the hearts of men but in it's purest form.  

Johnny reckoned if anyone would believe him, it would be Padre Antonio. He figured it wouldn't be much of a stretch either. The man did not like him, period. But that didn't matter now and he hoped it wouldn't matter to the padre. If he couldn't see past his disdain for Johnny, he was truly lost.

He spent the next two hours thinking about his life and the things he'd done. He knew what happened shouldn't have been a total surprise but Johnny had never really believed in the devil in form. He knew evil, had seen it, but somehow, having it take shape before his very eyes was something he never thought would happen.

He heard footsteps and turned around. Murdoch was approaching him and he wasn't alone. Johnny sucked in a breath as his eyes met the priest's. Murdoch was holding his jacket and Johnny only then realized there was a chill in the air.

Well, it is November now, he thought. Then, it struck him with such force he staggered a little. Yesterday had been October 31st.

Murdoch stepped up his pace and grabbed Johnny's arm as he leaned backward. He pulled his son close to him and watched as the dull, confused look began to clear away.

"Are you alright?" Murdoch asked.

"Yeah, yeah. Sorry, I just thought of something. It's not important."

Murdoch hardly believed that. "I brought you your jacket."

"Thanks," Johnny muttered and slipped into it.

"I hope it was not my presence that caused you to feel faint, Juan," Padre Antonio spoke.

Johnny had to smile a little. "No, Padre."

Murdoch's frown deepened. "Well, I'll leave you do it then?"

Johnny nodded and gave him a quick smile.

*

Once alone with the priest, Johnny became fidgety. The man was staring at him with those brown eyes. Tufts of thick gray hair that had been slicked back now fell in disarray. The scrutinizing stare left Johnny ill at ease.

How can anyone confide in this man? he wondered.

"What can I do for you, Juan?" he asked.

Johnny blinked and sighed. "You can call me Johnny for starters."

The priest only nodded.

"There's a bench over here. Would you like to sit?"

"Thank you, I would," the priest answered and walked over.

Johnny watched him settle, not having a clue where to begin.

"This must be difficult for you. I've never known you to seek out the advice of a priest," Padre Antonio commented.

"It is very difficult, Padre. I'm not sure where to start so I guess I should just tell you what happened when Scott got home from Stockton."

The padre nodded and waited patiently.

Johnny told him the story as he knew and saw it. He stopped more than once as Padre Antonio gasped and crossed himself. Johnny was beginning to think the man wanted nothing more than to run screaming from him. He wished he found that amusing but he didn't.

He finished with coming home last night then waited for divine guidance.

Padre Antonio was quiet for a very long time. He reached into his robe and pulled out his rosary, working the beads absently. Finally, he spoke.

"I have never heard such a story of possession for this purpose. Usually, the possessed one is the object not a tool to be used against another. Juan, er, Johnny, what you experienced has surely touched your soul. To have such an intervention from heaven is a miracle."

Johnny stared at him for a long moment. "That's what you have to say to me? That it was a miracle?" he shouted.

Padre Antonio looked him in the eye. "No, that is not all I have to say. Tell me how you have been feeling since you returned home."

Johnny sighed and dropped down on the bench next to the older man. "Tired, shaky and ... very, very sad. I've never felt so sad about anything in my life and I don't even know why I feel it. I just ... I want to bust out cryin all the time."

"Perhaps you should. I mean, privately if you need to but it may help. The sadness you feel is not for yourself, Johnny. It is for all those who suffer sin. You have looked into the eyes of Satan."

Johnny swallowed hard. "Will it ever go away?"

"I'm afraid I cannot answer that. I can offer you guidance and prayer."

"What about Scott? He doesn't remember it. Will he ever?" Johnny asked in a voice that made the old priest pause.

"I doubt it. It was your prayer that he not and God answered your prayers."

Johnny nodded and bowed his head. Padre Antonio laid his hand on Johnny's head and stroked his hair. He started whispering a prayer and Johnny closed his eyes and crossed himself as he listened.  

*

They sat silently for a while before the priest spoke again.

"Will you come to the church and confess?"

Johnny leaned back and stared at the garden. "Can I do it here?"

Padre Antonio considered the request and all this young man had been through. He admitted to himself that he had misjudged Johnny Lancer. He would have to make his own confession when he returned to town. He had no right to judge the man at all but he had and now, he was ashamed of himself.

"Of course," he answered and pulled his purple stole from his pocket.

Johnny had to grin a little. "What else ya got in there?"

The priest chuckled a little. "Secrets of the church."

Johnny sobered and dropped to the ground on one knee. He bowed his head and started.

"Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It's been ten years since my last confession."

Padre Antonio looked up at the bowed head and sighed inwardly. This was going to take a while.

*

Murdoch watched for a moment as Cipriano drove the priest back to town then he headed for the garden. He hadn't been able to read the padre's expression at all and that worried him more than if he had.

He found Johnny sitting on a bench staring into space. He sat beside him and waited.

"He said it was a miracle," Johnny said after a good ten minutes.

Murdoch said nothing but he had to agree that the end had truly been a miracle.

"I gave my confession. I think I wore him out."

Murdoch could discern no humor in the statement so he didn't respond to it.

"He said I needed a good cry and he wasn't sure it would ever go away."

This got Murdoch's attention and he looked over at his son. "What might never go away?"

Johnny turned to look at him. "The sadness."

"Sadness?"

"Yeah, he said I was feeling all the sadness of everyone who had sinned," Johnny sighed out.

Murdoch felt himself becoming angry. How could a priest say such a thing? Even if he thought it was true, that was too heavy a burden for anyone to carry.

"I'm not sure I agree with that, son. I don't think you'd be able to function at all if you felt *everyone's* sadness," he replied, keeping his tone neutral.

"Maybe. Maybe it's just the people I've hurt. I don't know but I wish it would go away," he said almost wistfully.

"Maybe, it's your own sadness culminating, Johnny. All the things you've pushed away over the years."

Johnny nodded. "Yeah, that sounds better, or, right anyway. I think I really threw him. He said he'd never heard of someone being possessed to go after someone else. He said he didn't think Scott would ever remember so that's good."

Murdoch ground his teeth together. "Johnny, I understand you're worried about Scott. But, he's not suffering, son. You are. You need to focus on healing yourself. And, if you need to cry you should."

Johnny nodded again but he wasn't sure Scott wasn't suffering. Not knowing something that affects you can be as bad as knowing it sometimes. Though, in this case, Johnny knew that wasn't true. But Scott didn't know that and he hadn't been very open to the idea of evil playing a hand in all this. THE hand.

*

Johnny went back to work the next day over Murdoch's protest. He couldn't just sit around and think it to death. He needed to be doing something. He started early in the morning and didn't come home until dusk. Almost too tired to eat and sometimes, he *was* too tired to eat and would go straight to bed.

After a week of this, Scott asked his father how long he intended to let it go on. Murdoch was as concerned but he wasn't sure what to do. Certainly, he had no experience with this type of thing. He had thought the visit with the priest had helped and he supposed that was true. But, maybe one visit wasn't enough.

He found Johnny sitting on the veranda this night. He'd made it in time for dinner which was rare and had taken to sitting outside alone if he didn't head straight for bed.

"How are you feeling?" Murdoch asked as he sat on the low wall opposite his son's chair.

"Okay."

"You're working too hard, Johnny. You need to slow down."

Johnny raised both brows at this. "YOU are tellin me not to work hard?"

"Don't get smart. I'm worried and so is Scott. Do you need to talk to Padre Antonio again?" Murdoch asked, using his stern visage.

"I have. Rode into town a couple of times during the day," he confessed.

"Has it helped?"

"Yeah, I guess so. I still feel ... I don't know. Unsure, I guess. I feel..." he stopped, unwilling to share his shame.

Murdoch moved from the wall to the chair next to Johnny and sat down, putting a hand over his son's arm. "Tell me."

"Scared. I feel scared! I jump at everything, Murdoch. I can't stand this!"

Murdoch watched him and saw the fear. It clutched at his heart that his son, this man who would stand against any trouble was feeling such despair.

"What can I do, Johnny? How can I help you?"

Johnny shook his head. "I wish I knew. I wish there was something. I'm worried, Murdoch. What if something happens? What if there's a threat and I'm too scared to react?"

The rancher was surprised at this. He really had no idea Johnny was feeling all these doubts about himself.

"Have you been practicing?"

"Yes, a lot. I'm fine. I can shoot tin cans all day long but they don't shoot back."

"Are you afraid of dying, son?" Murdoch asked, trying to fathom this revelation.

"No!" Johnny said harshly and jumped from his seat. "I don't know what I'm afraid of. That's the problem."

Murdoch watched helplessly as Johnny began to pace the porch. Then an idea formed.

"When you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on. I think you need to face what happened," he said.

Johnny stopped and turned, a puzzled expression adorning his face. "What are you talking about?"

"The line shack."

Johnny felt a chill run down his spine and he took an involuntary step backwards. His eyes widened and he shook his head.

 

*

"I'll be there with you, son. Right there," Murdoch said, as he rose from his seat.

Johnny just kept shaking his head, his body beginning to join the motion.

Murdoch knew he was right. This was Johnny's fear and he had to face it head on.

"When have you ever run from a fight, John?"

"This is different," he whispered.

"Why?"

"Because! I can't fight this enemy!" Johnny shouted, his voice shaking.

"You did and won. YOU fought it, son. No one else," Murdoch said with surety.

"It wasn't me and you know it! It was ... something else," his voice trembled.

"You prayed for that help, son. Only you and you didn't pray for yourself either, did you?" Murdoch asked knowing the answer.

Johnny turned his back and wrapped his arms around himself.

Murdoch walked up behind him and laid a tentative hand on his back, rubbing slow wide circles between the shoulder blades.

"You prayed for Scott, didn't you?"

"How did you know?" The question was barely heard.

"Because I know you. Johnny, I don't know what else to do. I don't know how else to help you, son. You have to face it. We'll burn it to the ground if that's what you want but you've got to do something. This can't go on."

"What if ... it, he's ... still there?" Johnny asked.

Murdoch shook his head slowly. "We'll fight him together and we'll win. Do you know why? Because love always wins out."

Johnny turned, mere inches from his father. With his head hung low, he spoke his truth. "I'm afraid if I have to face it again, he'll win this time. I wasn't strong enough before. I couldn't even think to pray for a long time. I was so ... terrified."

Murdoch pulled him in, both arms wrapped protectively around the tense body. "How could you not be? He won't win. I won't let him take you from me. I won't let anyone take you from me ever again."

He felt a slight measure of relaxation in Johnny. Just enough to know he wasn't imagining it. Just enough to know his son could and would face this.

*

Barranca whinnied and sidestepped as they emerged from the brush and entered the clearing. The shack looked black and cold to Johnny and he knew his horse was reacting to his own fear. He tried to soothe the animal but it was hard when he felt no solace himself.

Murdoch dismounted and walked around his horse to take a firm hold of Barranca's reins. "Come on, son," he urged gently.

Johnny locked onto his father's eyes and took a deep breath then dismounted and allowed Murdoch to tether the animals. He then stared at the door fifty feet away and felt very cold and desolate.

Murdoch put an arm around his son and started walking toward the shack. When they got a few steps from the porch, Johnny starting pulling back.

He shook his head hard and tried to turn.

"Johnny, you have to," Murdoch said gently.

"No! I can't! Don't you understand I can't!?"

Murdoch took hold of both shoulders and forced Johnny to face him, getting a firm grasp on his own fears. "Yes, you can. I know you have it in you, Johnny. I know you can face this. You *have* to, son."

He saw the panic growing in his son's eyes and felt some of his own resolve slipping. Murdoch bore down and dug in his heels. He turned Johnny and, standing slightly behind him, pushed at his son to move forward.

Johnny did so though it wasn't all of his own volition. They stepped onto the porch and he leaned back against his father. He closed his eyes and brought his hand to his neck, holding onto the crucifix he'd taken to wearing since the last time he'd been here. He said a prayer then opened his eyes. They were hard and cold and he didn't care that it was Madrid. He didn't care because Madrid was who had to do this. The reason for it all in the first place. It was only fitting that he be the one to face the terror Johnny Lancer had been facing for the past weeks.

He sucked in a deep breath and pushed forward, away from his father's hold. Johnny opened the door, letting it swing wide and took one step inside.

Standing behind him, Murdoch saw the familiar casual stance and knew. He closed his own eyes for a brief prayer and watched his son closely.

Johnny walked inside and stood in the center of the room. His eyes scanned the familiar contents. Ordinary and boring as they were. He walked to the bed and stared at it. There was no blood, the linens were strewn about as if someone had suffered a nightmare there. He almost snorted. That someone was him.

He looked at the window and remembered the raging storm no one else seemed to have endured. No one else because it wasn't real. Not for them anyway. He walked closer to the window and picked up a straight backed chair. With a heave, he flung it through the panes, igniting an explosion of glass and light.

Murdoch tensed and threw one hand in front of his face although he was no where near the flying glass. He made himself stay still. There was nothing he could do right now.

Johnny walked back to the bed, raw anger awash on his face. He leaned over and grabbed the side then flung the bed halfway across the room. Then, he picked up the small bedside table and threw it against the wall, the lamp shattering on the floor.

Murdoch wondered if he shouldn't say something, stop the destruction but somehow he knew not to interfere. This was some kind of cleansing for Johnny and he could not deny his son.

Johnny stood there breathing heavily as he stared at the bed. His face grew redder and he pulled his gun, firing off five shots into the mattress.

*

Smoke swirled upward in the silent aftermath. Johnny's arm hung limply at his side. Slowly, he holstered the weapon and sank to his knees.

It was then Murdoch knew to act. He went to his son and knelt beside him. Johnny leaned into his father and rested his head on the man's shoulder. That's how they stayed for long, long moments.

"Bastard," Johnny finally whispered. Pulling away he stared at nothing. "Think you can destroy me? You think you can take away everything I worked so hard for? You think I'm gonna just let you win?" His voice rose with each question until, in the end, he was shouting at the top of his lungs.

"Stay in hell, you son of a bitch!" Nearly gasping for breath now, his voice died to a quiver. "Leave me alone."

He fell back against Murdoch once more and the rancher grabbed him tightly, holding him as close as he could.

"You're alright now, son. You're going to be alright now," he whispered.

Johnny nodded and raised his head though he didn't break the hold his father had. "Take me home, please."

Murdoch shifted his weight to stand and Johnny went up with him. They stood together, arms locked around each other for a minute.

"Ready?" Murdoch asked.

He didn't answer straight away then, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, he nodded his head.

Murdoch walked out ahead of him and Johnny stopped in the doorway. He turned back and walked to the side of the stove. There was a can of kerosene sitting there and he picked it up, shaking it to make sure it was full. Removing the cap, he began to pour the combustible liquid over everything in the room. Then, he threw the can against the back wall and walked to the door.

Reaching in his pocket, he removed a match and struck it on the door facing. With a flick of his wrist and not a second's thought, he tossed the match and walked away.   

*

As they rode up to the house, both men noticed the buggy outside. It wasn't Sam's and neither recognized it. Johnny and Murdoch shared a wary look and walked inside.

Padre Antonio was sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea and Scott to entertain him. Johnny tensed a little as the thought that the priest had revealed the truth to Scott entered his mind. As quickly as it had come, Johnny dismissed it. A priest wouldn't do that. Not ever.

The two of them retreated to the garden and Johnny told the padre what he and Murdoch had done.

"I think that was a wise move, Johnny. Your father is a remarkable man for a Protestant," he smiled a little.

Johnny laughed softly. "Yeah, I think he's pretty special, too. Smart and ..." he stopped as his feelings overcame him.

Padre Antonio laid a hand on his knee. "You are not the man I thought you to be. I have prayed many times for forgiveness since we have been talking. I only hope it has been granted."

Johnny turned and cocked a brow. "If you haven't been forgiven the rest of us don't stand a chance. Besides, I never gave you much reason to think otherwise. I never had much use for priests before."

"And now?" the padre asked hopefully.

Johnny grinned a little. "I guess I can stand you now."

Padre Antonio smiled softly. "Would you like to make confession?"

Johnny's face fell serious and he nodded.

*

Johnny went to his room for a while and lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. He had to admit he felt better after talking to the padre. The man had prayed for him and heard his confession and Johnny felt ... lighter. Some measure of peace anyway.

The offer to attend mass regularly had made him cringe a bit and he'd made no promises. He had always believed in God but he had never been a fan of organized religion. He just felt it too constraining. This is good and this is bad and there's nothing in between. Johnny had lived the in between his whole life so he knew it existed.

And now he knew for a fact God existed. He'd been touched by angels. He knew it was true and he was grateful. More than grateful but he couldn't think of a better way to put it. He'd been blessed and it confused him. He was no saint and didn't think he deserved this but, apparently, he was the only one who thought that.

He'd witnessed a miracle. More than that, he'd received a miracle. Johnny was determined it not be wasted. He was going to live his life the best he could and help people whenever he could. He figured that was the best way to repay the mercy shown him.  

He would never forget that night and morning. He would never forget the raw pain he'd felt, the fear, the sheer agony. He would never forget his brother's face or those dead eyes. But, he thought he could handle it better now. He'd prayed for guidance and forgiveness and he would continue to do so.  

He closed his eyes and, this time, he didn't see horrible images bearing down on him. This time, he saw his father's face. The concern and love there comforted him.

He frowned then as he saw Scott's questioning gaze. Asking without speaking. Wanting to help and to know the truth. But Johnny would never tell him. He could never cause that kind of anguish for his brother. For Scott would be destroyed if he knew he'd been the vehicle of that horrible act.

No, he sighed softly, no Scott could never know his role in all of this. Some time soon, Johnny thought he'd be able to tell his brother what had gone on in that shack. But, he'd leave Scott's part out because, really, Scott had no part. He figured it would be much kinder to tell his brother he'd been unconscious the whole time. And it wasn't really a lie. Besides, he smiled wryly, he figured God would forgive him that slight. For the greater good. For his brother's sanity.

 

 

~end~
2005

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