The Escape WHI by Sue H (Suz)

Word count 38,501

An episode tag to The Escape

Chapter One

Scott watched the young woman leave the room.  He smiled to himself as he remembered the tongue lashing she’d given him earlier when she found him still at work.  Scott had been taken aback at the young woman’s outburst.  It was the first time she’d ever talked to him that way.  Scott was unused to people voicing their concerns for his well-being so openly.  Although he was touched by her concern, his response had been, brief with a promise to turn in soon. 

Scott had decided to work on the books after dinner.  He wanted them up to date before Murdoch and Johnny returned from their trip to Stockton the next day.  They had left two weeks ago to purchase livestock from one of Murdoch’s friends.  Scott had secretly been pleased that Murdoch decided to take Johnny with him on this trip.  It not only demonstrated to Johnny that Murdoch wanted the younger man’s opinion, but it afforded the opportunity for the two men spend some much, needed time together.  Father and son had finally been able to put aside their differences and had started to build a relationship.  The two didn’t butt heads as often and disagreements were settled more peacefully. 

Scott was pleased when Murdoch informed him that he would be in charge of the ranch during his absence.  It was the first time Scott would be complete control and felt he was ready for the responsibility.  In the six months since coming to the ranch, he’d learned ranching quickly.  Both his father and brother were impressed with how fast he became adept at herding and performing his other responsibilities.  He’d also gained the respect of the men and women employed at the ranch.

Scott rose from the couch.  He’d been sitting in the same position for hours and felt a change of seating arrangements was in order.  He decided the blue stuffed chair near the dining table would be appropriate for his stiff limbs.  Normally he’d sit at his father’s desk, but this evening he had decided to sit on the couch allowing his long legs to stretch out.  Sitting at his father’s desk for any length of time was uncomfortable.  The large desk and leather chair fit his father’s larger frame.  Scott found he could only sit there for short periods of time.  The young man glanced towards the couch and saw the sandwich that Teresa had brought him on the nearby table.  He reached over and picked up the plate, then made his way to the chair stretching as he walked.  Scott laid the plate on the end table next to the chair and sat down.  He was weary, but he wanted to finish up this last task before turning in.  He opened the ledger in his hand and was studying it when suddenly he heard the front door open and then a voice from behind him.  Startled he rose to face it.  A man stood in the doorway leading into the room, a gun in his right hand.  Scott slowly recognized the man, a man he hadn’t seen in years.

“It’s Jed Lewis isn’t it?”

The man nodded, “Been a long time since Vicksburg.”

“What the devil are you doing here and what is that gun for?”

“Taking you to see an old friend.  Name is Cassidy, Dan Cassidy.”

Lewis’ words were threatening.  Seeing Jed and hearing Cassidy’s name brought up memories that Scott had long buried.  He swallowed in an attempt to bury them again.  He needed to keep a clear head, Teresa was still down stairs and he didn’t want to endanger her.  He was about to throw the ledger in his hands at Lewis in an attempt to disarm the man when the French door near him burst open.  Another man entered, also armed.  Scott recognized him as Rick Hardy who had served in the same army unit as Lewis.

“You remember Rick Hardy, don’t you?  Now let’s go and no yelling.”

Scott had to admit defeat.  He threw the ledger down onto the chair and walked out the open door.  The young man cursed to himself as he walked onto the patio. He could see three horses tied nearby.  He’d been too immersed in the books to hear the animals.  Hardy moved in front of Scott, stopping him.  Hardy was too far away from for Scott to try anything.  Scott heard Lewis behind him and cast a glance over his left shoulder to see the man jerk the French door closed, the sandwich in his hands.  Lewis walked past him.  Scott glanced towards the darkened bunk house and wondered if he should take the chance of causing a small commotion.  His thoughts were interrupted at being shoved by Hardy in the direction of the animals.  Hardy gestured at the horse next to the already mounted Lewis.  Scott noticed the reins of the horse were draped on Lewis’ saddle.  Scott complied and silently mounted the animal.  Before Scott could react, Hardy mounted his horse and Lewis handed him the reins to Scott’s horse.  The three men rode off into the darkness.

Scott figured they had been riding about a half an hour when they turned off the road and headed cross country.  The moon was high and bright in the darkened sky illuminating the terrain, telling Scott they had been headed towards Green River.  Another turn and the three men were now headed for Birch Creek.  The creek bed would be dry this time of year.  The young man wondered which direction they would be going once they reached the creek bed.  Since Hardy had the reins to Scott’s horse, he rested his hands on the pommel, grateful they hadn’t bound them.  This also gave him the opportunity to study the two men.  He could tell this was a predetermined route and their actions belied their unfamiliarity with the area.  Scott started to formulate a plan.  The young man knew they were out in the open which afforded no cover.  He decided to wait until they reached Birch Creek and would then make his move.

As they rode on, Scott suppressed the images and feelings that were welling up inside him.  He needed to keep a clear head.  Scott couldn’t help but wonder why Cassidy had enlisted Lewis and Hardy in this obvious plan of vengeance.  Vengeance for what, Scott pondered.  The young man remembered the last time he saw Cassidy.  Scott had been discharged from the army hospital he’d been in.  As Scott made his way out of the hospital, he encountered Dan.  He was on a stretcher waiting to be taken into one of the wards.  Dan’s face contorted in anger, his eyes were black and filled with hate at seeing Scott.  He hissed at Scott that he held the young man responsible for the deaths of those men and someday he’d make him pay.  Surely Dan knew that Scott was consumed with guilt at loosing, the men that had accompanied him on the prison escape.  After all they’d spent a year together in that hell hole.  The two men had become close and Dan had always considered the young man as a brother.  However, Cassidy’s reaction told Scott that the friendship was over.  Scott left the hospital and hadn’t seen Dan since.  He hadn’t taken Cassidy’s words as a threat, until now.  Scott knew he had to get away from these men and confront Cassidy once and for all.

The three men started down the creek bed.  Hardy was having trouble controlling his horse.  Scott smiled to himself knowing neither man was much of a horseman.  The three horses were side by side and the young man knew this was the time to make his move.  Scott suddenly reached down with his right hand and with an upward thrust managed to throw Hardy off of his mount.  Scott’s horse was now free, and he guided the startled animal towards Lewis’ horse.  Scott jumped from his mount onto Lewis toppling both horse and rider.  Scott belted Lewis across the face in an attempt to keep the man down.  As Scott scrambled away, he cursed to himself at seeing that his own mount had fallen when he had leapt from him.  He managed to get the frightened animal upright as he slid into the saddle and kicked the horse into a gallop.  As he rode away Scott could hear gunfire and then suddenly a white, hot shearing pain ripped into his left shoulder.  He kicked the horse harder as he fought to stay in the saddle.

“Dammit, Scott’s getting away!”  Lewis exploded at the disappearing rider.  He then turned to Hardy, “You follow Scott, I’m going for Cassidy.”

Hardy nodded as he placed the revolver in his gun belt.  He turned, hurried to his horse, quickly mounted and then kicked the animal into a gallop in the direction Scott had gone.

Lewis put his gun into his belt and ran to his horse.  He mounted and then looked in the direction that Scott and Hardy had gone.  He blew out an exasperated sigh as the turned his horse and headed for Morro Coyo.

Teresa entered the great room carrying a pot of coffee.  She was surprised when she didn’t find Scott.  She noted the empty plate on the end table next to the blue stuffed chair and smiled.  //Well, at least he ate something// She walked to the chair and noted the ledger on the seat.  Her attention was drawn to the open French door.  She placed the coffee pot next to the plate and walked to the door.  After shutting the door, she walked to the chair and picked up the ledger, then walked to the couch noting the location of the other books.  How odd she thought, Scott would never leave them on the table and ottoman like this before retiring.  She walked to the table near the couch and placed the ledger on top of the other books.  She blew out the lantern on the table, picking up the tray she had left earlier.  Teresa then walked to the fireplace to adjust the fire to let it burn out.  After picking up the plate and coffee pot, Teresa blew out the remaining lanterns in the great room and made her way to the kitchen.  After some tidying, she finally retired.

Jed Lewis reached the small town of Morro Coyo just before dawn.  The small shops were still dark which allowed Lewis to keep his horse at a steady canter as he headed for the hotel.  Riding this fast into a town such as Morro Coyo would be noticed and might cause a commotion.  Lewis couldn’t be bothered with that now, he had only one thing on his mind.  When he reached the hotel, he barely looped the rein of his horse over the rail as he raced inside.  He mounted the stairs quickly and nearly ran down the hall to Cassidy’s room.  Without knocking, he burst through the door.  Dan Cassidy and his wife, Sarah, were in the sitting area.  Cassidy turned towards the intrusion anger rising in him at seeing Lewis. 

“What the devil are you doing here?”  Cassidy bellowed as he tried to control his temper.  “I told you I’d meet you.”

“He got away,” Lewis blurted before he remembered Sarah was in the room.  Cassidy’s eyes became dark and before he could speak he felt a hand on his arm, then pressure from familiar fingers tightening around it, and then Sarah moved in front of him.

“Dan, what’ going on. Who got away?” Sarah asked, already knowing the answer.

Cassidy looked at his wife and then at Lewis.  “I’ll meet you downstairs.” 

Lewis didn’t move, and Cassidy spoke again barely controlling his anger.  “I said I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Lewis was about to say something, thought better of it and then left the room, closing the door behind him.

Cassidy turned to his wife.  For a moment his eyes were dark, and his face was tight with anger, a look she knew all too well and used to find comfort in it.  She released his arm, then turned and walked from him.

“Sarah,” he said in a pleading tone.

“Dan, I thought you told me we were coming out here to start fresh.  That the past was finally over,” she stated as she turned to face him.

“I did and I meant it.  Once this is done the past will be over.  Then we can start fresh.  I’m sorry, I know I lied about why we came to Morro Coyo.”

“Dan, I don’t understand why you’re doing this.”

Dan looked at her questioningly.  “You know why.  It’s up to me to avenge the deaths of those men.   Do you think I enjoy this?  Scott was like a brother to me, but because of him those men died, and he has to be made accountable.” 

Cassidy turned and walked to the armoire near the door leading to the bedroom.  He pulled out his gun and fastened it around his waist.  Next, he put on his hat and jacket.  He closed the door, turned and headed for the door.

“Dan, don’t do this,” Sarah pleaded.  Cassidy glanced at his wife and then walked out the door.

Sarah Cassidy walked towards the bedroom and considered what she should do.

After stopping at the livery to retrieve his horse, Cassidy and Lewis rode out of town to meet up with Rick Hardy.

Teresa was nearly finished making breakfast and there was still no sign of Scott.  She glanced at Maria.

“Scott hasn’t come down for breakfast.  Did you see him earlier?”

Maria shook her head, “No, I did not.  I hope he hasn’t left for the day without eating.  He was too thin before and lately he hasn’t been eating regularly.”

Teresa nodded.  She’d been concerned about that as well.  The past few days had been hectic for Scott.  There were problems with the herd and some other issues had come up.  He’d handled everything flawlessly but was putting in some long hours and was eating sporadically.  In addition, Murdoch had asked Scott to do some bookwork while he and Johnny were in Stockton.  Teresa knew the book work could wait and had tried to convince Scott of that to no avail.  The young woman knew that sooner or later this behavior would catch up with the young man.

“Well, I’m going up to see if he’s awake.”

Maria nodded, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful if he’d slept in?”

Teresa smiled and nodded but was sure that wasn’t the case.  Scott rose earlier than anyone.  It had surprised her being he was from the east.  She had expected him to rise later.  Much to her surprise it was usually Johnny who had difficulty rising early.  She smiled to herself as she made her way to Scott’s room.  She opened the door and then remembered Scott hated it when she entered his room without knocking.  Lately she’d been making a conscious effort to knock and wait for a reply before turning the knob. She waited for a moment and then called to him.

“Scott are you awake?” 

Hearing no response, she continued into his room.  It was as she left it yesterday morning when she’d changed the linens.  The bed looked as if it hadn’t been slept in, but it would if Scott had made it.  She walked to the wash basin and felt the towels.  They were dry, and she could tell they hadn’t been used.  She hurried from the room and made her way down the front stair case.  She hurried out the French door and crossed the yard colliding with another figure as she rushed into the barn. 

“Oh, Miss Teresa be careful.”  Cipriano stated as he collided with the young woman.  However, at seeing her face he became concerned.  “What is wrong?”

“Scott didn’t come down for breakfast and I wondered if he’d left for the day,” Teresa rushed between breaths.

Cipriano shook his head, “No, his horse is still here.”  Teresa’s face became pale.

“This isn’t like him.  He never leaves without giving the men their assignments for the day, nor does he leave the ranch without telling someone where he’s gone.”

“Si, this is not like him at all,” Cipriano replied and then hesitated as he remembered.

“What is it?” Teresa asked excitedly.

“I thought I heard horses on the south road last night, but it was only for an instant. I will take some men and look around.  Try not to worry, we will find Senior Scott.” 

Cipriano tried to be reassuring, but he had an uneasy feeling and wondered who he was trying to convince.

Teresa nodded and made her way back to the house.  She too was trying to quell the emotions that were starting to rise in her.

Chapter Two

Murdoch and Johnny made their way through the Lancer arch towards the main house.  Both men were tired from the long trip.  Each decided a long bath and then a nap after lunch was in order.  The trip had been uneventful but was prosperous.  They purchased some new stock that would help in strengthening the herd.  Father and son also had a chance to talk and settle some issues that had been smoldering between them.  Their relationship had improved dramatically, and both men had enjoyed their time in Stockton.  Johnny was eager to see his sibling and fill him in.  He also wanted to know how his brother had faired managing the ranch.  Johnny smiled as he glanced at the hacienda.  He’d teased Scott whether the building would be standing upon their return.  However, as they rode closer, it was unusually busy with activity.  An uneasy feeling crept up in Johnny as they neared the front door.  All of a sudden, the front door flew open and Teresa rushed out calling Murdoch’s name.  Both men dismounted and hurried to her.

“What’s happened?” Murdoch asked as he reached the young woman.  Both men could see she was distraught.

“Scott’s missing.  He didn’t come down for breakfast this morning.  When I went to check on him, his bed didn’t look like it had been slept in.  I checked with Cipriano and Scott’s horse is still here.”

Johnny placed his hand on her shoulder, “Calm down, we’ll find him.  Where has Cipriano gone to look for him?”

“He said he thought he heard horses on the south road and would start there first.   A while later he sent someone back informing me, they’d found tracks and would follow them.”

Johnny and Murdoch exchanged glances.  “Get some more men and we’ll head out there.”  Johnny nodded, mounted Barranca and headed for the bunkhouse.

Murdoch gave Teresa a quick hug, “Go inside and try not to worry.”

Teresa nodded and watched Murdoch mount his horse and then ride out with the others.

Scott was startled awake, momentarily forgetting where he was.  He laid there for few minutes until he had his bearings.  It was early morning and he was lying on the sand next to some rocks not far from the stream he’d managed to ride to last night.  He’d ridden hard and fast, loosing Hardy quickly in the dark.  Scott knew where this stream was and had headed for it.  He knew that it would be impossible for Hardy to track him to this area in the dark.  When he reached the stream, he cleaned out his wounds.  Luckily when the bullet entered into his shoulder, it had gone through.  Scott wasn’t sure what was worse, having the bullet still lodged in him or having to contend with an entry and exit wound.  Scott was thankful he could reach the wound in his back.  However, both had been bleeding which meant he’d lost a fair amount of blood.   After tending to his wounds as best he could, Scott had collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss. 

As he tried to move, an explosion in his shoulder halted his movement.  Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, he pushed himself upright and leaned against the large rock.  He sat there for a moment trying to catch his breath and settle the pounding in his heart.  He looked around and saw his horse standing at the edge of the small stream.  Well at least the animal’s still there he thought.  He shook his head as he looked at the horse.  If that had been his horse, the animal wouldn’t have fallen over when he’d launched himself at Lewis.  This animal was a skittish one, but Scott was thankful he had the horse.  The sound of hooves broke through the quiet of the early morning.  Scott grabbed the rock behind him and leaned on it as he rose to his feet.  He could see three riders in the distance.  He ran and stumbled as he reached the horse.  He grabbed the reins and quickly headed for the large boulders nearby knowing it would give both of them excellent cover.  Suddenly the horse Scott had been leading kicked his foot and dislodged a rock.  Scott steadied the horse knowing the sound could be heard by the three men.  The three men reacted quickly however they rode to the other side of the stream.  The young man watched them as they scanned the area closely.  Satisfied that it was falling rock they heard, the three men turned their horses and rode off. 

Scott watched the three men leave and leaned onto his horse thankful he’d been able to cover his tracks.  The three men were headed away from him which gave the young man some time.  Scott was having a hard time concentrating and could feel his strength waning.  He needed to make a decision quickly regarding his options.  The young man knew his wounds needed tending.  However, the three men were now between him and the ranch.  Scott fought to keep his mind clear as he weighed his options.  The closest town to him was Morro Coyo but it was a long ride and Scott was certain he wouldn’t make it there.  Scott also knew of one doctor in this area, Sam Jenkins, split his time between the three closest towns.  Today, if Scott remembered correctly, he was in Green River, the farthest of the three towns from the ranch.  The young man knew he had to leave this area.  It didn’t afford the cover he needed if Dan and the others returned.  Scott knew this was a likely possibility.  Although he’d covered his tracks well, they could still double back.  Returning to the ranch was the only viable solution.  One Scott didn’t want to take.  He’d managed to keep his time in the prison camp from his family and he intended to keep it that way.  He had to figure something out to explain this to his family.  Scott finally reached a decision.  He knew this area better than Dan and the others and felt if he could keep conscious, he could return to the ranch unseen.  Murdoch and Johnny would be home today thus lessening any threat to Teresa.  Scott sighed as he mounted his horse and headed for home.

Murdoch and Johnny reached Cipriano about an hour after leaving the ranch.  It was early afternoon and the sun was high in the sky.  After a brief discussion the party headed for Birch Creek.  These men had made no attempt to hide their destination and Johnny wondered why.  As they reached Birch Creek, the tracks led into the dry creek bed.  They rode down the dry stream, with Cipriano in the lead when he suddenly stopped his horse and dismounted.  Johnny followed suit and made his way to the Segundo.  Cipriano was looking down and Johnny knelt beside him.  From the disturbance of the soil, it was apparent a serious fight had ensued.  It was evident that two of the horses had gone down.  The tracks also indicated two horses rode off towards the hills and one horse was possibly headed for Green River or Morro Coyo.  After another discussion it was decided that Cipriano would take some men and follow the single horse tracks.  Johnny, Murdoch and a few other men would follow the other two horse tracks.

As Johnny stood, he noticed Murdoch was at his side.  Seeing the expression on his son’s face Murdoch spoke.

“I’m fine, let’s get going.” 

Johnny regarded his father for a moment and then followed him to their horses.

Johnny, Murdoch and the others hadn’t ridden far when one set of tracks nearly disappeared.  The second set of tracks stopped and then headed towards Morro Coyo.  Johnny had an idea and after hearing it Murdoch agreed with him.  They decided to press onward to Cascade Creek.  Upon arrival, the two Lancer ranch hands went to one side of the stream while Murdoch and Johnny looked around the rockier side.  The two men decided to water their horses and explore the area more closely on foot.  Murdoch noticed horse tracks and it appeared a horse had stood along the water’s edge for a period of time.  Johnny had only taken a few steps from the stream when he saw it, a large dark mass on the boulder in front of him.

“Murdoch, over here!”  Johnny yelled to his father.

Murdoch saw Johnny drop to his knees a few feet from the stream near a large boulder.  He rushed to him.

“What is it John?”  Murdoch asked and then he saw it too.

Johnny touched the darkened matter on the rock, knowing what it was.  Johnny’s fingers went to it, the substance was moist and sticky.  It was blood and every fiber in Johnny told him it was Scott’s.  His chest tightened when he saw the larger area in the sand.

“It’s blood,” Johnny said quietly, realizing he’d voiced his thought.

Murdoch swallowed trying to keep his composure.  He also felt that this was Scott’s blood.

“How long do you think it’s been there?”  Murdoch asked trying to keep control of his emotions.

“Not long,” Johnny said as he rose.  He glanced around, and when he looked into his father’s eyes, he saw what he was feeling.

A voice from across the stream told them there were more tracks from three horses and that it looked as if they were headed towards the ranch.  Murdoch yelled to the men to join them.

Johnny studied his father.  He could see the older man was tired and his stance indicated his back was bothering him.  They’d been in the saddle since before dawn.  The men had been making good time on their way back from Stockton.  They had retired early the previous evening and risen before dawn so they could be back to the ranch by late morning, early afternoon at the latest.  When they arrived at the ranch, they had turned and headed out immediately.  Johnny could see this, as well as his worry for Scott, was taking its toll on his father, Johnny thought about where his sibling would have gone.  An idea formed in his head.

“I’m not sure where Scott headed.  I have a few Ideas, but it…”

“It would be easier to do alone?”  Murdoch asked seeing the uncertainty on his son’s face.

Johnny smile and nodded.  Murdoch placed his hand on his son’s left shoulder.

“As much as I hate to admit it, my back is bothering me.  If you think you can reach him, then you should you go.  Someone needs to get to him and find out if he’s all right.”

The other two hands met up with Johnny and Murdoch.

“You two head back with Murdoch.  I’m heading out to locate Scott.”

“Do you want one of us to go with you?” one of the hands asked.

Johnny shook his head, “No, I need to do this alone.”

Murdoch watched as Johnny turned his horse and rode off.  He said a silent prayer that both of us sons would be safe.

Satisfied that his brother hadn’t headed for Morro Coyo, Johnny turned his horse and headed for the ranch.  This seemed the only plausible thing Scott would have done.  Johnny stopped for a moment he was unable to find any discernable tracks.  //Well brother, I guess you don’t want anyone following you, but why?  What’s this all about?//  Johnny pulled out his canteen and scanned the area as he took a drink.  His mind kept going back to the stream and to the blood he’d found.  He shuddered knowing Scott was in serious trouble.  Johnny shook his head, he needed to focus on what he was doing.  There would be time to worry about his brother later.

Johnny had managed to pick up a few signs that Scott was indeed heading to the ranch.  The few clues Johnny had been able to pick up led him to believe Scott intended to enter the hacienda unseen.  The farther Johnny went, the more agitated he became.  He was certain he’d meet up with his brother before now.  A little while later he heard it, a horse snorting amongst the thick trees he’d been riding in.  Johnny stopped his horse and silently dismounted.  He cautiously moved towards the sound.  He came into a small clearing and saw a horse tied a few feet in front of him.  He walked to the animal soundlessly, so as not to spook it.  As Johnny moved closer, he spoke to the horse in a mixture of Spanish and English that soothed the animal.  Johnny ran his hands across the animal and then moved to the saddle that was still on him.  He inspected the saddle and noticed the blood.  Just then he heard a twig snap behind him.  Johnny automatically pulled his colt and whirled around in time to see a very thick branch.  Johnny ducked before the branch came crashing down on him.

“Scott, no it’s me Johnny!”

Johnny looked at his brother.  Scott was pale and breathing heavily.  A large blood stain covered his left shoulder.  Johnny saw Scott start to weave the branch fell from this right hand.   Johnny replaced his gun in the holster and hurried to him.

“Johnny,” Scott murmured as he collapsed into his brother’s arms.

Chapter Three

Murdoch rode into the yard followed by the two ranch hands.  The main door to the hacienda opened, and Teresa hurried out to meet him.  Murdoch dismounted and handed his horse over to one of the hands who told him he’d take care of the tired animal.  Murdoch thanked him and turned towards his ward.

“Where’s Johnny?”  Teresa asked as she glanced around.

“He’s still out looking for Scott.  We picked up some tracks, and Johnny is going to follow them.”

Teresa nodded and then looked at Murdoch.  She could see how tired he was, his eyes were framed by lines from worry over his missing son.  From the way he was walking, she could tell the patriarch’s back was hurting as well. She walked towards him, and upon reaching him a smile crossed his tired face as he placed his left arm around her.  They walked into the hacienda through the open door.  Teresa closed the door as Murdoch entered the great room, slapping his hat against his palm in an attempt to shake the dust from it.  He hooked the hat on the back of one of the dining room chairs as he made his way to the table behind the sofa.  He poured himself a drink from one of the decanters, took a long swallow, and stared unseeing out the large window behind his desk at the opposite end of the room.   Teresa watched him for a moment not knowing what to say.  Her own fears regarding Scott welled up inside her.  She drew a deep breath in an effort to quell them once again.  She heard herself ask if he’d like something to eat, a sandwich perhaps and silently berated herself.  She had wanted to say words of comfort, instead of asking if he was hungry.  She saw him turn and start to shake his head then stop.

At first the thought of food didn’t interest him.  His thoughts were on his missing son, eating was the furthest from his mind.  However, he and Johnny had started out early this morning and it was now late in the afternoon.  A sandwich might be a good idea.  Perhaps some food would help put his thoughts in order.

“You know darling, a sandwich does sound good.  Have you eaten?”  She shook her head and he continued.  “Why don’t you join me?”

She nodded, then turned and left the room.

Murdoch watched the young woman leave.  He saw the concern in her face and was grateful for it.  Although he was certain the blood, they found was Scott’s, he didn’t want to worry her any more than she already was.  He drained his glass and poured another drink.  As he took a sip of the liquid, he walked to the large window at the other end of the room.  He loved this view and had always found it soothing.  Staring out and at the landscape now made him anxious.  His son was out there alone and possibly seriously hurt.  He prayed that Johnny would find Scott and bring him home.  Murdoch took another drink and wondered who had taken Scott at gunpoint and why.  Had Murdoch crossed someone who now wanted revenge and was using his son as a means to exact that revenge?

Sarah Cassidy walked to the window for the hundredth time.  She turned and glanced at the clock that hung on the wall near the door that led to the bedroom.  It was late afternoon.  Dan had been gone since early morning. With each passing hour, it could mean that Scott Lancer was dead.  Scott Lancer.  She’d heard that name time and time again.  Dan had mentioned it in his fevered ramblings after he was rescued from the horrid prison camp.

Sarah remembered the first time she’d seen Dan.  He was in an Army hospital, more dead than alive.  He was emaciated and was seriously ill.  The doctors had told her they weren’t certain if he’d make it.  Sarah sat with her husband, dabbing his fevered brow and listened to his incoherent ramblings.  She kept hearing the name Scott over and over again.  That name seemed to give Dan strength to fight.  As Dan began to recover, she learned that he hated Scott Lancer and how that hatred gave him strength during those grueling months of his recovery.  It was during this time when two men from the army came to see her.  There had been an inquiry into an attempted escape from the prison camp where Dan and Scott had been.  She learned just who Scott Lancer was.  Finally, Sarah made her decision, she had to end this one way or another.

Dan Cassidy wiped his brow and pulled up his canteen.  As he took a drink he glanced over at Lewis and Hardy.  Both were doing the same thing.  Dan had been happy when Lewis had looked him up a few months ago.  Cassidy was thrilled to learn his friend harbored the same feelings towards Lancer.

Cassidy and Lewis had become friends while they had been in basic training.  The two men had served together and managed to help each other through the horrors they’d witnessed.  Cassidy remembered when Lewis had learned his younger brother, Frank, joined the army to follow in his brother’s footsteps.  Frank had been assigned to the calvary unit because of his knowledge of horses.  Cassidy remembered how Lewis had constantly worried about his younger sibling.  It was during a battle at Vicksburg when Lewis and Cassidy met up with Frank.  It was then that Lewis and Cassidy got their first glimpse of Frank’s superior officer, Scott Lancer.  Both men had been surprised at how young Lancer was.  From Frank’s letters both men had assumed Lancer was much older.

A few months later Cassidy and part of his unit had been captured.  During those grueling months, Cassidy found himself loosing hope.  Then a new group of soldiers came into the camp, Frank Lewis and Scott Lancer were among them.  Scott had been defiant and stood up to the guards and their cruelty.  Cassidy found himself invigorated by Scott’s willfulness and determination to escape from their hellhole.  Cassidy saw this young man in a different light and the two men became friends.  Dan had felt a deep bond and considered Scott to be like a brother to him.  Dan started planning an escape and placed Scott second in command.

Dan’s reverie was interrupted by the sound of his horse.  Once more Cassidy’s agitation grew.  Dan knew Scott very well and thought he’d anticipated his every move.  However, Scott had managed to get away and now had been able to elude them despite the gunshot wound.  He replaced his canteen and after a brief discussion, the three men set out.

Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt.  He was tired and knew his horse needed a break.  Scott was leaning against his chest, still unconscious.  Johnny had his left arm around his brother’s lean waist to keep him upright in the saddle.  Once again, he checked his brother’s brow with his right hand and was relieved that there was no sign of fever.  He had found a small clearing in the dense trees they’d been riding in.  Although the denseness of the trees kept them well hidden from those looking for Scott, it also meant slow going.

Johnny wrapped the reins around the pommel and carefully slid off the saddle.  Scott leaned towards him and Johnny gently pulled him from the animal.  He half dragged half carried his brother a few feet from the animals and propped him up on a nearby rock.  Johnny couldn’t understand the words Scott mumbled.  Johnny studied his brother and wondered once more who had done this to him and why.  Again, Johnny pushed down the anger that was raging inside him.  This wasn’t the time to deal with it. 

He stood and walked back to Barranca pulling his canteen off of the animal.  He took a drink as he walked back to his brother.  When he reached Scott, he pulled out a bandana, tipped the canteen and wet it, then brushed his brother’s hair from his forehead and dabbed the wet bandana on his brow.  Scott stirred but didn’t wake.  Johnny checked the wound in Scott’s shoulder, which appeared to have stopped bleeding. Satisfied his brother would be all right for a few minutes, the young man stood and walked to the horses.  After tending to them he glanced at his brother, Scott hadn’t moved. 

Although Johnny was certain of where they were, a feeling of unease crept through him.  The men that had done this to Scott were still out there.  Johnny needed to make certain things were normal at the ranch.

As he made his way through the trees, they started to thin.  He stopped when he came to the edge of them and could see the buildings that housed the workers which were behind the hacienda in the distance and crouched down.  The relief he felt was momentary as he realized they still had five long miles to go and it would be more in the open.  He toyed with the idea of waiting for night fall, but cast that aside, realizing it would be too dangerous.  He watched the ranch for several minutes, then stood and walked back to his brother.

When Johnny reached his brother, Scott was awake.  Johnny walked to him and knelt beside him, placing his left hand on Scott’s right thigh.

“Hey, Boston you’re awake.  How do you feel?” 

At first, Scott had disliked the nickname his brother had proclaimed on him.  However, when Johnny had changed the inflection in his voice Scott knew the name was one of fondness. 

“As long as I sit here and don’t move my shoulder hurts, but when I try to move well…”

“Well then, let’s have you keep still for a moment.  Thirsty?”

Scott nodded.  Johnny reached over to his saddle that he had set near his brother and snagged the canteen.  He moved next to his brother and assisted him with the canteen. 

“Want some more?”

Scott shook his head. “How far are we from the ranch?” 

“About five miles.”  Scott nodded.  Johnny thought for a moment.

“We’ve got some open country to cover.  Would it be better if we waited until dark?”

Scott looked at his brother and inhaled. “No, the men that came after me don’t know this area.  Hopefully they’ve followed the tracks I left near the stream and once they’ve lost them, they’ll assume I’ve headed to town for help.”

“I almost fell for that myself.”

“What made you change your mind, or didn’t I cover my tracks well enough?”

No, you covered them very well.  It’s just that I have an advantage,” Johnny said with a grin on his face.

Scott looked at his brother questioningly.  “Which is?”

“I know you very well,” Johnny replied and lightly jabbed his brother’s ribs.  Johnny saw a quick expression of thanks on Scott’s face.  Johnny knew something was wrong and even though he wanted to ask, he could see Scott was tiring.  They needed to get moving as soon as possible.

“Johnny, I need to tell you what’s going on.” 

Johnny smiled at his brother and squeezed Scott’s forearm.  “Scott, you’re tiring.  I want to get moving and get you home before it gets too dark.  Whatever it is you want to tell me, it can wait.”

Scott studied his brother’s face and saw the understanding and loyalty he’d come to depend on.

“Thanks,” Scott said simply.

Johnny smiled again, “Any time brother, any time.”

The buildings behind the Lancer hacienda were nearing.  Johnny wasn’t about to let his guard down until Scott was safely tucked into his bed.  It had been a long five miles and Johnny was exhausted.  He took a deep breath which helped the young man stay focused.  He turned at the sound of approaching hooves, his right hand automatically moving to his pistol.  He relaxed when he recognized the riders. 

“Senior Johnny!” Cipriano yelled at him as he neared the young man.

“Hey Cip, am I glad to see you guys.”

Cipriano and four other Lancer ranch hands pulled up next to Johnny and Scott.  Cipriano was grateful to see that Johnny had found Scott.  However, his joy quickly changed to concern as he saw Scott’s limp form and the large blood stain on his shirt. 

“Let us help you with Senior Scott.  Is he hurt badly?”

“He’s been shot in the shoulder, looks like the bullet has gone through.  Hank, go into town and fetch Doc Jenkins.”  One of the ranch hands nodded, turned his horse and in an instant was gone.

Johnny turned back to the others.  “I can handle Scott.”  Before Johnny could continue, a ranch hand named Miguel held his hand out to Johnny.

“Here Senior Johnny, let me take care of this horse.  I will also ride ahead and let the hacienda know you are coming.”  Johnny nodded and handed him the reins of the horse Scott had been riding.

“Gracias, Miguel.”  Miguel nodded and headed towards the hacienda.

Cipriano and the two remaining hands stayed with Johnny until they reached the house.  Johnny was grateful for their presence; it gave him the energy he needed to continue on.

When they reached the main house, hands that were nearby hurried towards them.  The main door flew open revealing Murdoch and Teresa who hurried to them. 

Johnny slid down off of Barranca and Scott’s limp form fell into his arms.  Murdoch grabbed Scott’s right side and the two men carried Scott into the house.  Murdoch and Johnny carried Scott into his room.  Teresa had already thrown back the bedcovers.  Seeing the two men had things under control, she left momentarily to fetch fresh bandages and the water she had started to boil in the kitchen.

Murdoch and Johnny carefully removed Scott’s clothing which at times elicited a soft moan from the injured man.  Both men eased Scott onto the bed and Johnny covered his brother with the bedcovers.  Murdoch and Johnny exchanged glances when they saw how pale Scott’s face was.  Murdoch’s hand went to Scott’s forehead to check for a fever.

“Is it still cool?”  Johnny asked.

Murdoch nodded. “Yes, it appears to be.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and he won’t have to deal with a high fever as well.  Was he conscious at all during the ride back here?”

“No, not until I stopped about five miles from here to rest the horses.”

“Did he say what happened?”

“He wasn’t awake long.  He wanted to explain but seeing how tired he was, I thought it best for him to save what strength he had for the ride.  I told him we’d discuss it when we got back here.”

Murdoch looked at Johnny and saw the uncertainty in his face.  “That was a good idea.”

Murdoch studied his younger son’s face.  “Johnny, thank you for finding Scott.  I know how tired you were from our trip.  You must be exhausted.”

“I’m fine and I’ll rest once the doc has been here.”

Murdoch saw the determination in his face and knew not to argue with him.  Murdoch had to admit he felt the same way.

Johnny placed his gun belt on the rack near the front door after being shooed out of his brother’s room by Dr. Sam Jenkins.  Sam was adamant about treating his patients alone.  Maria was assisting the doctor while Teresa went to fetch more water from the kitchen.  Murdoch had entered the great room and poured them a drink while they waited for Dr. Jenkin’s final diagnosis.  Johnny took a step towards the great room when he heard a knock at the front door.  Johnny turned and opened the front door to a petite blonde woman.

“Yes, may I help you?” he asked.

“I’m here to see Mr. Lancer.”

Chapter Four

Sarah Cassidy discreetly asked around Morro Coyo about the Lancer family.  She learned they owned a large ranch a few hours from town.  Since she was an experienced rider, Sarah decided to rent a horse and ride to the Lancer ranch.  Knowing the family had money, gave Sarah an option she previously didn’t have.  She knew the Lancers could afford to send Scott out of the country.  She reasoned that with Scott gone, and with no possibility of being located, Dan would eventually forget about Scott and his mission.  Then she and Dan could finally put the past to rest and get on with their lives.  Sarah mulled over in her head what she was going to say to Murdoch Lancer.

When she rode through an arch bearing the Lancer crest, she was stopped by one of the hands.  After learning she wanted to see Murdoch Lancer, she was directed to the large white house in the distance.  Declining the hand’s offer to escort her, Sarah continued on her way.  She smiled to herself as she rode closer, they definitely had money, more than she thought, and this will work after all.  When she reached the house, another hand greeted her and informed her he would tend to the horse.  He then directed to the large front door.  Sarah walked to it, knocked and waited for a response.  The door opened to a dark-haired young man who looked like another hand to Sarah.  She was stunned at his response to her inquiry to speak with Mr. Lancer.

“I’m Johnny Lancer.  What can I do for you?”

Momentarily at a loss for words, Sarah quickly regained her composure.  Was this Scott’s brother?  Dan didn’t mention Scott had a brother, she wondered.  “I’d like to speak to Murdoch Lancer.” 

Johnny Lancer shifted his weight but continued to stand in the doorway.  He eyed her carefully, which annoyed Sarah.  She was in a hurry and couldn’t understand his hesitation.

“May I ask what this is about?”

Irritation grew in her.  She didn’t want to discuss this in the doorway and not with someone other than Murdoch Lancer. 

‘It’s regarding Scott Lancer and it’s very important.”  She heard another voice that came from inside.

“John, what’s this about Scott?”

Another man appeared in the doorway, an older gentleman that Sarah assumed was Murdoch Lancer.

“I’m Sarah Cassidy and I need to speak to you regarding your son, Scott.”

Both men exchanged looks and then moved aside to let her in. 

Johnny shut the door, turned and eyed Sarah Cassidy.  She was a petite blond with cold, dark blue eyes.  By the way she walked into the room, Johnny knew this wasn’t someone he’d trust.  He wondered what kind of connection a cold person like this had with Scott.  He entered the room lingering near the threshold. 

Sarah glanced at Johnny and then turned to Murdoch.  “Perhaps we could speak privately.”

Murdoch glanced at Johnny and then back to Mrs. Cassidy.  From Johnny’s stance, Murdoch could tell Johnny didn’t trust this woman.  Murdoch agreed with him.  Although he’d just met her, Murdoch didn’t like Mrs. Cassidy.  The manner in which she asserted herself made her cold and selfish.  He too wondered what connection she had to Scott.

“Mrs. Cassidy whatever you have to say regarding Scott, you can say to my son Johnny as well.”

//So he is Scott’s brother.//  Sarah turned and faced Murdoch.

“Mr. Lancer, it’s very important that you find your son and send him away from here.”

“How is it you know Scott is missing? And why should we send him away?”  Johnny asked as he walked further into the room.

Sarah glanced at Johnny and then back to Murdoch.  “Scott never mentioned the name Cassidy?”

“No, he didn’t.  Maybe you’d care to explain,” Murdoch replied. 

Sarah was surprised Scott hadn’t mentioned Dan to them.  She took a breath and continued.

“My husband and Scott served together in the Army.  There was an incident involving both of them which Dan holds Scott responsible.  He came her to.”

“To what?  What the hell happened?!”

“John,” Johnny flashed a look at his father and then back at Sarah.

“Your husband has waited all this time to finally settle some incident that happened when they were in the army.  I don’t buy that, there’s more to this.” 

Sarah was surprised by Johnny’s comments and needed a moment to compose herself.

All this time when Dan had talked about Scott it was only a name, not a flesh and blood person with family.  That had made it easier for her to accept Dan’s mission.  Now as Sarah looked at the two men, she was unprepared for the emotions that were welling up inside her.  She could see the tired lines around the older man’s eyes and knew he was worried; worried about his missing son.  Even though the younger man’s eyes were cold and dark, his words were filled with concern.  She moved towards the French doors and then turned, finding both men staring at her. 

She took a breath and decided to tell them everything.  “Your son and my husband spent a year together in a confederate prison camp.  My husband planned an escape and put Scott second in command.  The night before they were to go, my husband fell sick, and Scott led the escape.  My husband could hear the shots from his bed.  Then, the prison commandant came in and gave my husband the report.  Sixteen men, every last one of them except your son, had been killed before they reached the prison wall.  It was month’s later towards the end of the war when Dan saw Scott in the hospital.  Dan warned Scott that he held him responsible for those men’s lives.”

Murdoch was stunned.  He pushed his feelings away to be dealt with later.  He thought about what Sarah Cassidy said, now this was beginning to make sense.  He looked at Sarah Cassidy.  “So, your husband believes Scott sold out the escape?”

“He’s believed that every day of his life.   I think that is the only thing that got him through those first few months, when the doctors said he wasn’t going to make it.  He means it when he says he’s going to made Scott pay for every one of those lives.”

“Does he have help?”  Johnny asked finally finding his voice.

“I only know of one man, Jed Lewis.  He and my husband served together until part of Dan’s unit were captured.  Then after the war he looked Dan up.  There could be others, I don’t know.  I know Dan wrote some letters before we came out here.  Don’t you see, you have to send Scott away from here.  Far away where Dan can’t find him.  Maybe then, Dan can finally forget.”

“Mrs. Cassidy where should I send Scott where your husband won’t find him?”

“I don’t know, to the other side of the world if you have to.”

“Look, Mrs. Cassidy if your husband kills Scott, its murder.  I don’t care where he goes, I will hunt, him down and when I find him…”  Johnny said coldly.

“He’ll be brought to justice.”  Murdoch added.  Johnny glanced at his father.

Fear filled Sarah she hadn’t considered this.  If Dan did kill Scott it would be cold, blooded murder, a crime Dan could be hanged for.  She could tell the Lancer’s meant it when they said they’d find Dan.  Sarah felt her world coming apart.  She needed to find Dan and stop him, before it was too late.

Teresa entered the room from the doorway near the front door.  She’d come downstairs to fetch Murdoch and Johnny.  Sam needed them to assist him with moving Scott.  As she neared the great room, she heard everything Sarah Cassidy had said.  As shocked as the young woman was, she regained her composure as she entered the room.

“I don’t believe you. Scott would never do a thing like that.” 

All eyes turned towards her; surprised at her sudden presence and the calmness in her voice.  Teresa was unshaken as she stared at the blond woman.

Sarah Cassidy turned at looked at the young woman.  “I don’t care what you believe.” 

She then glanced at Johnny and Murdoch.  “I’m leaving.”  She turned and walked out the room through one of the French doors. 

Johnny followed her and then shut the door behind her.  He turned, looked at his father and his sister.  Each was stunned unable to speak.  Minutes passed.  The room was silent except for the ticking of the grandfather clock near the other end of the room. 

Johnny walked a few steps towards the dining room table and placed his hands on the back of the chair near the doorway.  Teresa had managed to walk to the stuffed blue chair a few feet from him.   Murdoch had been sitting on the back of the sofa and was still sitting there, staring unseeing out one of the French doors.   

Johnny looked at his father and saw the shock on his face.  Johnny heard himself ask a question he already knew the answer to.  “I take it this wasn’t in the Pinkerton report?”

After a moment Murdoch turned and looked at him. “No, it wasn’t.  All it said was that Scott was in the Army and the dates of service.  I had no idea.”  His last words were almost inaudible.

Teresa finally found her voice.  “I don’t care what that woman says, Scott would never do such a thing.”

Murdoch looked at her, his eyes softening.  “No darling, Scott would never do such a thing.  In fact, I’m not sure I believe her.  I think I’ll wait and see what Scott has to say.”

Scott, Teresa had forgotten.  “Sam sent me downstairs.  He needs the two of you to assist him with moving Scott.”

Both Johnny and Murdoch looked at her.  “I’m sorry, I..”

Murdoch walked to her and placed his hands on her shoulders.  “I know honey, this has shocked all of us.  Let’s go and see what Sam needs.”

When the three of them entered Scott’s room, Sam’s back was to them as he tended to the inured man.  Upon hearing them, he turned towards them.

“Bout time you got here.”

“Sorry Sam, we had an unexpected visitor,” Murdoch replied.  Sam looked at the three people.  They were pale.  He was about to say something when Murdoch continued.

“I’ll tell you later.  What can we do for you?”

Sam nodded and returned to the task at hand.  “I’ve got Scott on his right side and I need you to help me position him on his back.  However, I need to place some pillows behind him to lessen the pressure to the wound on his back.”

Teresa walked towards Dr. Jenkins to assist him in removing his instruments that he had placed on the bed.  Sam moved towards the foot of the bed to give her room which revealed Scott.  His exposed back was to them as he lay on his right side.  They saw them. The faint white scars on Scott’s tanned back.

Johnny and Murdoch exchanged glances at the same time Dr. Jenkins looked up at them.  He looked at Murdoch questioningly. 

Knowing his friend had seen these types of scars before, Murdoch whispered to Dr. Jenkins, “We just learned that Scott was in a prison camp.”

Sam nodded. He had seen these types of scars before.  It was a reminder at the cruelty one man, can inflict on another.  He had to admit he was surprised to see them on Scott.  Dr. Jenkins had seen many men who’d survived the prison camps.  Most were shells of their former selves, something he’d never seen in this young man.  He knew Scott had served in the war.  However, the doctor was unaware of Scott’s imprisonment.  Scott had only been in California for less than a year, and there were many things he didn’t know about this fine young man. 

Johnny moved to the other side of the bed and crawled onto the mattress, moving close to his unconscious brother.  Teresa stepped aside as Murdoch moved to the bed and grasped his son’s back below the bandages.  Both men gently maneuvered Scott onto the pillows Dr. Jenkins had arranged.  After Scott was settled on the pillows, Johnny brushed an errant lock of hair on his brother’s forehead.  Scott let out a soft murmur.

“Easy Boston.  You need to rest,” Johnny softly drawled soothing his brother.

Johnny looked up at the others.  “I’m going to stay with.”

Teresa smiled at him.  “I need to start some broth. Do you want anything?”  Johnny shook his head as he looked back at his brother.  Teresa gathered the rest of her things and left the room.

Dr. Jenkins put the last instrument in his bag and closed it.  He walked to a nearby chair and retrieved his jacket.  Murdoch looked at him and the two men left the room.  They both cast one last look at the tired younger man, knowing it would be futile to get him to rest.

Johnny took off his left boot and dropped it quietly next to his right boot now lying on the floor.  He repositioned himself on the bed next to his sleeping brother.  Johnny wanted the close physical contact with his brother.  It reassured the younger man.  Fear had been creeping up inside him since seeing the blood at the stream earlier.  As he sat in the twilight now descending on the room, he began to deal with the emotions that had been welling up inside him.  As Johnny settled against the headboard, he took a deep breath and looked over at Scott.  He was propped up with pillows, his head level with Johnny’s chest.  Johnny studied his brother’s peaceful face, and for the first time really took in his brother’s features; the shape of his now closed eyes, the high cheek bones, the long nose and lips that would part into a broad grin when something amused him.  Johnny’s gaze fell to his brother’s hand lying next to him.  The long fingers that belied strength, the same strength that was found in his lean body.  Johnny had been surprised at his brother’s physical strength from the beginning.  Now he’d learned how much inner strength his brother had.  Johnny’s mind drifted to the conversation with Sarah Cassidy.

Scott murmured and Johnny looked at him.  In his reverie he’d absentmindedly picked up Scott’s hand and began fidgeting with it.  He placed his left hand on Scott’s forehead to see if there was a fever and to soothe him back to sleep.

“Hey Boston, just go back to sleep.”  Scott furrowed his brow at Johnny’s touch and eventually settled back to sleep.

As the room grew darker except for the soft glow emanating from the lamp sitting on the nightstand near the door, Johnny thought about this new revelation.  He was stunned and at first unable to speak.  Scott had hidden this so well and it, unnerved Johnny.  He had always been able to read people.  At times he had difficulty reading Scott which frustrated the young man.  A smile crept over his weary face as he realized why.  The difference was Scott was his brother, flesh and blood, not a stranger.

Chapter Five

Gunfire erupted all around him.  The sound was deafening, nearly blocking the screams of the fallen men. 

“NO!” he yelled. 

Suddenly a voice very familiar to him was calling him from a great distance.  The voice was beckoning him, and he felt himself drawn to it.  The horrible images faded away as the voice kept calling him.  The more he concentrated on the voice, the more he felt pain.  Although the pain was becoming more intense, he could still hear the voice calling to him.  At last he was able to understand what was being said to him.  Someone was it, Johnny, wanted him to open his eyes.  Why, he thought, I just want to sleep?  The voice was persistent, and the pain was intensifying.  Finally. he was able to open his eyes and looked into his brother’s vivid blue eyes.  Before Scott could speak, Johnny carefully placed his left arm behind his brother’s head steadying him as a glass was pressed to his lips. Immediately Scott tasted the bitterness but before he could pull away, the glass was empty, and Johnny pulled it from him.

“I hate that stuff.”

“It was only enough to take the edge off.  But if you need more.”

Scott shook his head, then eyed his brother as Johnny moved across the bed and placed the glass on the nightstand.  Johnny’s mass of black hair was mussed, he needed a shave and his clothes looked as if he’d slept in them.  Scott noticed the rumpled bedcovers next to him and knew Johnny must have stayed most of the night.  Scott was unused to this display of emotion.  Being cared for by servants and this new, found family were vastly different, it left the young man unsure of himself and how to react.  When he was finished placing the glass on the nightstand, Johnny moved to the foot of the bed and sat facing his brother.

“I seem to remember someone nearly taking my arm off as I tried to administer a little of that to him.”

Johnny smiled and chuckled.  “Well, that was different.”

“Oh, and how’s that?”

Johnny’s answer was interrupted by a soft knock on the bedroom door, which opened revealing Murdoch. 

His greeting was a whisper until he saw Scott.  “Good morning.  Oh Scott, you’re awake.  How are you feeling?”

“I’m all right. Just a little stiff and sore.” 

Scott moved to adjust his body and winced.  Johnny and Murdoch exchanged glances knowing Scott wasn’t being entirely truthful.  Both men noted the pallor in Scott’s face.  Murdoch moved closer and automatically felt Scott’s forehead.  Scott shifted his body, both unused and appreciative of his father’s gesture, and waited for his diagnosis.

“Well so far so good.  There’s no fever,” Murdoch proclaimed as he smiled at Scott.  Scott returned the smile and then his face became serious.  Both Murdoch and Johnny remained silent allowing Scott to collect his thoughts.

“Since you’re both here, I think I should explain what happened.” 

Murdoch pulled a chair closer to Scott’s bed and sat down.  Johnny stayed where he was and watched his brother, seeing the conflict within him.

“Two years into my military service during the war, my unit and I were captured behind enemy lines.  We were taken to a prison in Salisbury, North Carolina, where I met up with Dan Cassidy.  Dan was a captain I had crossed paths within Vicksburg months earlier.  Dan and I became friends and leaned on each other.  A few months after my arrival, Dan began formulating an escape plan, and placed me second in command.  During this time, we’d seen many failed escape attempts and Dan was determined that his plan would be successful.  We spent many hours discussing the details and finally set the date to leave. Throughout this time Dan had been getting sicker but kept assuring me and the others he’d be able to travel.  The day before the escape Dan became worse.  We tried to hide his condition from the guards but were unsuccessful, and they took him to the infirmary…” 

Scott’s voice trailed away as he remembered all those that had gone into the makeshift hospital and never returned.  Scott also recalled Dan’s panicked face as the guards dragged him away.  Murdoch placed his hand on Scott’s leg, knowing how painful this was for him.  Scott looked up into his father’s face and saw the strength he needed to continue.  Scott took a breath and went on.

“Before they took Dan away, he whispered an order to me to lead the escape as planned, no matter what.  The next evening before we left things didn’t feel right to me.  I couldn’t put my finger on it and thought about calling it off.  Since I had no tangible reason not to continue, I decided to proceed as planned.  As soon as we started out from our barracks, gunfire erupted all around us killing nearly half of our group.  During the second wave, I was cut off from the others and I watched as each one of them was gunned down even after they had tried to surrender.  In all sixteen men lost their lives.”  Scott’s voice quieted and then he continued.

“Dan has always held me responsible for those men’s deaths.  The night before last, two men that served in Dan’s unit, Jed Lewis and Rick Hardy showed up here and took me at gunpoint to meet Dan.  Jed Lewis’ brother, Frank, was in my unit, and died in the escape attempt.  The last time I saw Dan, he threatened me.  At the time I took that threat as one of anger and had no idea he meant to carry it out, until now.

During the ride to meet Dan, I saw an opportunity and I managed to get away.  As I contemplated my options, I realized the only viable thing to do was to return to the ranch, something I didn’t want to do.  I had no intention of endangering or involving anyone else.  This is between Dan and me.”  Scott’s eyes met Johnny’s and Murdoch’s.  He could see this wasn’t news to them. Before he could speak, Murdoch did.

“Scott, there’s some things you need to know.  First of all, anything that involves you, involves us.”  Scott was about to interrupt when Murdoch waved him off.

“Second, you need to know that Mrs. Cassidy came here yesterday afternoon and told us her version of what happened.”

“She did?”  Scott asked in an even tone as he stared at his father.

“Yeah,” Johnny added as Scott’s gaze turned to him.  Johnny held his brother’s eyes as he carefully continued.  “Scott, she told us that her husband not only holds you responsible for those men’s deaths, but he also believes you sold them out.”

As the words sunk in, Scott leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes.  It all made sense.  Cassidy’s vicious verbal assault at the hospital the last time they met, and Lewis’ threats as they rode out to meet Dan.  They believed Scott had betrayed the escape.  Because of the guard’s positions that night, Scott had always assumed one of the other prisoner’s had overheard them discussing their plan and informed the commandant.  Scott had seen so many men become desperate and sell each other out, in the belief they’d receive better treatment.  The commandant was a vicious and cruel man and once he had his information, the prisoner’s deceit was revealed leaving him ostracized from the others.  Scott had seen it happen too many times.  Dan of all people should have known that Scott would never betray them, ever.

“Scott?”

Scott opened his eyes and looked at his father.  Seeing Murdoch’s concern and belief in him, Scott took strength from it.

“I need some time alone,” he said softly.  Murdoch nodded as he squeezed Scott’s hand and then rose from the chair.

Scott felt Johnny’s fingers snake into his.  Scott’s gaze turned to his brother in whose face he found understanding and trust.

“I’ll see you later,” he softly drawled as he reluctantly disentangled his fingers from Scott’s and rose from the bed.  Scott closed his eyes and nodded his head as Johnny and Murdoch quietly left Scott alone.

Dan Cassidy couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  He stood and walked a few feet away from Lewis and Hardy trying to rein in his temper.  He and the other two men had found a place in the trees where they had been watching the activities of the Lancer ranch.  Dan was already angry that his initial plan had failed, and he had to formulate a new one.  Seeing his wife leaving the Lancer hacienda only added to his increasing frustration

“What the hell is she doing there?”  Lewis asked incredulously.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out!”  Cassidy bellowed as he mounted his horse.

“You and Hardy meet me at the campsite.”  Cassidy turned his mount and rode into in the direction of his wife.

Sarah Cassidy was startled when her husband cut her off on the road towards town.  They were still on Lancer land but were miles from the hacienda. 

“Dan, what are you doing?”

“I might ask you the same question.  Come with me, we need to get off this road.” 

Sarah turned her horse and silently followed her husband.  Perhaps meeting up with him now was better.  She could still convince him to stop his mission before it was too late.  They rode in silence until they reached a small clearing.  Lewis and Hardy were already there setting up camp.  The area was surrounded by thick trees and a few boulders.  This campsite wouldn’t be seen by anyone traveling the rode to Morro Coyo or by any hands returning to the ranch after completing their workday.

They dismounted their horses and Hardy strode to them informing Cassidy he’d see to them. 

Dan walked a few feet and then faced his wife.  “What do you think you were doing?” he demanded.

Lewis stood up from the campfire and listened.

“I was trying to talk to the Lancers.”

“About what?”

Sarah hesitated and looked at her husband.  “Sarah, I asked you a question, what were you doing at the Lancers?”

Sarah realized she needed to tell Dan.  “I went there to urge the Lancers to send Scott away from here, out of the country if necessary.”

“YOU DID WHAT?” Dan exploded.

“Dan, listen to me.  This mission has been eating at you and has consumed your life for the past five years.  I just want this to be over for you.  So, we can all start a new life.”

“Sarah we can’t start a new life until this is over.”

“Dan please, stop this now or…”

“Or what?”  Dan bellowed.

Sarah turned away and took a few steps.  Hardy had finished with the horses, joined the group and stood next to Lewis.

“Sarah?”

Sarah turned and faced her husband.  “Dan, if you kill Scott Lancer his family will see this as murder.  John Lancer has sworn he’ll come after you.”

“Who?”

“Scott’s brother.”

“Scott doesn’t have a brother.”

“Yes, he does, and he’s said he’ll hunt you to the ends of the earth.”

Dan couldn’t believe what Sarah was saying.  He and Scott had shared many details of their lives during their captivity.  Scott had said he was an only child.  Now Sarah said he had a brother.  Scott had also mentioned he despised his father however he was living at his father’s ranch.  This didn’t make sense.  Dan had wondered if the old man had been ill and that was the reason for Scott being here.  Now it seemed the people in town had been forthcoming when they’d stated Scott had been here for a while and was staying on.  This wasn’t the Scott Dan knew.  Dan felt his plans for Scott were unraveling.

Scott opened his eyes and realized he’d been asleep for a while by how the sun shone into his room.  As he lay against the pillows, his mind drifted back to the events of the past two days.  He had dealt with this so many years ago.  He’d worked hard to regain his health and put his life back together.  Although he had returned to his previous life In Boston, it wasn’t the same, he wasn’t the same.  He’d grown up and viewed things differently.  The young man had been in a transition of sorts when his father’s invitation, Scott chuckled it was more like a summons, had been presented to him.  The invitation held many possibilities for the future.

He’d only been at the ranch a little over six months, and they were still becoming acquainted.  Was that the reason why the words had flowed for Scott when he spoke of his imprisonment, because in some ways they were still strangers?  The young man knew it was more than that.  In his brother he’d seen understanding.  Johnny had told them he had been in a Mexican prison and was facing a firing squad when the Pinkerton agent had arrived.  In his father he had seen a man who had faced many hardships since his arrival here.  This place was still uncivilized, and Scott could only imagine how it had been twenty-five years ago.  Perhaps that was why he could tell them, in their own way they understood.  Scott hadn’t intended to say as much as he had.  The words seemed to flow from him.  Had time made it easier or was it the connection he felt to them?  A connection he’d never felt before, not even in Boston.

Scott was brought out of his reverie by a pain in his back.  He stretched, but the pain wouldn’t subside.  When he’d toppled Lewis from his horse, Scott had hit some rocks in the dry creek bed and had twisted his back.  Although he had been vehemently told by Dr. Jenkins to stay in bed until his next visit, Scott needed to relieve the pressure on his back and decided to get up.  The young man threw back the bedcovers and toyed with locking the door to his room since he wasn’t wearing any clothing.  As he swung his legs over the edge of the bed, he was hit with a wave of dizziness.  Scott sat on the edge of the bed for a few minutes until he regained his equilibrium.  He decided to head for the wash basin and throw some water on his face.  If Teresa walked in on him, so be it, this was after all his room.  Scott rose from the bed and carefully made his way to the dresser using pieces of furniture to steady himself.  He poured water into the basin and sloshed it on his face.  The water felt good and revived him.  He decided to wash up.  A few minutes later the young man crossed to his wardrobe stopping at his dresser to retrieve undergarments and socks.  He figured he’d sit in the chair he had facing the large window and read after he’d dressed.  If he became tired, he’d sleep in the chair.  The chair was large and comfortable.  It would also alleviate the pressure he’d felt on his back while lying down.  Scott remembered waking up in that chair many mornings. 

After he finished dressing, the young man started to close the doors to the wardrobe when his eyes went to a small trunk tucked into a back corner of the closet floor.  The trunk contained important papers Scott had brought with him from Boston.  Scott crouched down, pulled the trunk to him and opened it.  He flipped through a few envelopes and then he saw it, an envelope addressed to him from the army.  While he’d been in Boston recuperating from his imprisonment, he’d been informed there had been an inquiry into the escape attempt. Scott remembered two officers, a major and a captain, had come to his home, asked him some questions and inquired if he had anything to add to his initial report. 

Scott had given a report on the escape attempt while he was in the hospital after he’d made it out of the prison.  The army said they would notify the fallen men’s families.  Scott had managed to obtain the addresses of those men and when he returned to Boston, he wrote each family a letter of condolence.

A few months later the final report was delivered to him. The officers had informed him that he had done everything possible for his men and was cited for bravery and the matter was closed.  At the time Scott had barely scanned the cover letter to the report, the wounds too raw and painful.  

Scott opened the envelope and turned to the report.  He stood as he read the pages.  The army had managed to track down a few prisoners who had witnessed the attempted escape from their barracks.  Scott recognized the names of those who gave testimony, happy that they too had survived.  All accounts were basically the same.  Each had corresponded with Scott’s initial report.  Many had mentioned the lieutenant’s acts of heroics and bravery.  A lump formed in Scott’s throat as he read the statements.  He finally reached the last pages of the report, stopped and reread them, not believing the words on the page.

Chapter Six

Johnny walked to the house after finishing his and Scott’s chores.  The young man had decided to stay close to the hacienda.  The ex-gun hawk was edgy, certain Cassidy and his men would make another attempt for his brother.

Normally a change in work assignments would be addressed by his brother.  Johnny smiled to himself as he made his way.  In the six or so months that he and Scott had been at the ranch, Scott had become quite adept at ranching.  It wasn’t long before it was apparent that Scott was skilled at managing the many ranch employees, and Johnny had become proficient at knowing what work needed to be completed.  Scott, Johnny and the Segundo, Cipriano, would meet in the evenings to discuss the workload and then assign the appropriate men to the crews.  Murdoch was always present at these meetings, and at first, had guided both of his sons.  Now, the patriarch attended the meetings solely to be informed and would occasionally interject with a thought or an opinion.  Both Scott and Johnny worked alongside the crews on the numerous tasks it took to keep the ranch running.  Murdoch had been adamant that both his sons learn this way.  Not only was each man learning ranching, but they were gaining the respect of the ranch hands.

Today, many crews were out working on various jobs which left a few hands at the hacienda.  As Johnny walked across the yard, his eyes automatically scanned the area, and nodded a greeting to the hands he encountered.  He entered the hacienda through the front door and glanced into the great room.  Murdoch was seated at his desk looking at the ledgers.  He looked up when he heard Johnny enter the room.

“Hello Johnny, how’s your day going?”

“Not too bad.  I managed to get my and Scott’s chores done.”

“Good.”

It smells like rain doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it does.  And I hope it does rain, the ground could use a good soaking.  So, what do you have planned for this afternoon?” Murdoch asked.

“Well, there’re some things Teresa has wanted done, so I figured I’d do those.” 

Murdoch eyed him for a moment, knowing why he wanted to stay close to the hacienda.

“So, you’ve been going over the books, everything in order?” Johnny asked as he reached the end of the sofa and sat on the edge and faced his father.

Murdoch glanced down at the books before him on the desk.  “Yes, Scott brought everything up to date and even found the error that has been bothering me for weeks.”  Murdoch replied as he shook his head.

“What’s wrong?” 

Murdoch looked at him.  “Oh, I was just thinking about everything Scott did while we were away.  I wonder if that boy got any rest at all.  Teresa said she caught him up late the night…” 

Murdoch’s voice trailed as his gaze fell back to the ledgers.  Johnny felt a twist in his stomach.  Both men fell silent for a moment, lost in their own thoughts.

“You’ve been thinking about it, too haven’t you?”  Johnny asked quietly.

Murdoch looked at him and nodded his head.  “I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.”

“Me either.” 

Murdoch watched Johnny as he fiddled with the beads around his right wrist.  The patriarch knew that the news about his brother had stunned him, it had all of them.  They had been unable to discuss it earlier.

“Want to talk about it?”  Murdoch asked.

Johnny’s hand stopped.  He sighed heavily then brought his eyes up to meet his father’s.

In the last few months the two men had been getting along very well and were becoming close.  Johnny was starting to feel he could talk to his father.  Scott had played a significant role in that.  After the argument Johnny and Murdoch had over the stallion so many months ago, the younger man had decided to leave the ranch with no plans to return.  Scott had ridden into town and met with Johnny at the saloon.  Although Scott’s words had sliced into him like a knife, they had made the younger man think.  Scott was right it was an argument, period and Johnny nearly threw everything away because of it.  Scott had also pointed out to Murdoch that the patriarch needed to communicate better with his sons.  The older man, on occasion, needed to explain to his sons why certain tasks were more important than others.  Murdoch was also learning to relax and take a day off which made the older man more approachable.

“This news just shook me.  I’ve always been able to read people and I thought I was starting to read Scott pretty well.  Then this came out of the blue and it threw me.  I know he had a life in Boston and there are things he hasn’t told me.  I can understand and respect that.  He’s also mentioned he was in the army, the cavalry.  Despite the way he generalizes it, I know it was dangerous.  But to learn he was captured and spent a year in a confederate prison camp…”  Johnny’s voice trailed as he stood up to gather his thoughts.  He walked towards the French doors, then turned and faced his father.

“When I look at him, when I listen to him speak, I don’t see this in him.  I’ve seen men who were in the war and some who had been in a prison camp.  Most are bitter, angry men or some are just shells.  Scott isn’t like any of them.”

“No, he isn’t and it’s a testimony to his strength.  It explains his convictions, his compassion and his courage.”

Johnny nodded.

“Sometimes I’ve felt he’s jumped into things without thinking.  Now I realize he makes decisions quickly.  He’s had to.  Scott isn’t one to stand by and do nothing.  He has a strong sense of right and wrong.  Once he makes a decision he doesn’t back down.”

Johnny smiled at Murdoch.  “No, he doesn’t back down and that’s one of the things I admire about him.”

Johnny finished washing up and reached for the towel that was hanging on the peg next to the mirror.  He dried himself off, replaced the towel on the peg and picked up the clean shirt he’d left on the nearby chair.  As he put on his shirt, he walked to the adjoining door which led to Scott’s room that was still ajar from when Johnny had departed that morning.  He carefully pushed it open not wanting to disturb Scott if he was sleeping.  Johnny was momentarily worried when he saw his brother’s empty bed.  A quick glance around the room found his brother was sitting in the stuffed chair that faced the window. 

“You know, if Doc Jenkins or Teresa find you out of bed, you’re gonna get an ear blister’n.”

There was no reply as Johnny made his way to his brother, fastening the buttons on his shirt as he went.

“Scott, are you okay?”

“I’m fine Johnny,” Scott finally replied quietly.

“You shouldn’t be up,” Johnny said as he rounded the chair and faced his brother.

“Johnny, don’t,” Scott replied not looking up.

Johnny studied his brother.  Scott’s face was still pale and there were dark circles under his blue eyes.  The younger man knew his brother had a great deal on his mind, but Scott was still weak from the bullet wound and blood loss.  Johnny remembered Dr. Jenkins explaining Scott’s condition to them and how serious his injury was.  The doctor stressed that Scott needed bed rest.  Currently he had no fever and no infection.  The doctor had also warned them Scott could easily have a relapse that could prove to be very dangerous to his health.

Johnny decided to press his brother.  “Look I can see how tired you are.  You have dark circles under your…”  Johnny’s voice trailed when he saw he brother yawn.

“See?  Come on, out of that chair you need to get back to bed.” 

Johnny moved towards Scott and grabbed the upper part of his right arm.  Scott looked up at his brother.  “You’re not going to give up, are you?”

“Nope,” Johnny replied as he started to lift Scott’ right arm.  Scott’s eyes locked on Johnny’s and then a smile appeared on his face.  Scott removed his feet from the ottoman in front of him and allowed his brother to haul him to his feet.  Johnny then started to lead Scott over to the bed when the older man wrestled his arm free.

“Okay, okay, I’m going,” Scott stated as he continued towards the bed. 

Scott had to admit he was tired.  He hadn’t slept at all while he was sitting in the chair.  His mind kept going to the words on the paper.  Then his mind drifted back.  Back to another time, another place that seemed a lifetime ago.  He sat down wearily on the bed and swung his legs up onto the bedcovers that he’d pulled up to the pillows earlier.  Johnny pulled a quilt out of the trunk at the end of the bed and held it in his hands as he watched his brother settle himself, then placed it on him.

Scott’s eyes met his brother’s and again he saw understanding.  “You’ve become quite adept at this haven’t you?”

A smile crossed Johnny’s face as his eyes sparkled with mischievousness.  “Yeah well, I had a good teacher.  Now go to sleep.”

“Yes sir,” Scott replied as he closed his eyes.

Dan Cassidy stood in the clearing where his and the other’s horses were tied up.  It was a few feet from the campsite where the others lay sleeping.  Dan went over in his mind what his wife said to him the night before.  She had tried to talk him out of what he knew he needed to do.  Those sixteen men, many who were from his unit, needed to be avenged and no one was going to tell him differently.

Dan remembered vividly when the commandant of the prison camp had come into the infirmary.  Dan was more coherent than he’d been.  The commandant smiled wickedly as he recounted the escape attempt.  How the guards and stopped the men cold.  The commandant also stated how fortuitous it had been that he’d been given all the details of the plan and how he’d rewarded the man responsible for the information. 

Dan had been waiting for five long years to make the man responsible pay, and no one was going to stop him.

Cassidy heard a voice from behind and turned to see Jed Lewis.  “Morn’n Jed.  Sorry I didn’t hear you.”

“No problem.  Something wrong?”

“No, nothing is wrong.”

“I thought maybe after what Sarah said last night, you’d changed your mind.”

Dan looked at his friend, then glanced over his shoulder and briefly watched his wife.  Sarah was preparing breakfast. 

“No Jed, I haven’t changed my mind.”

“Good.”

“Despite what Sarah said, nothing has changed.  I don’t care what the Lancers told her I will make Scott pay for those men’s deaths.”

“What about that threat from Scott’s supposed brother?”

Dan eyes met Jed’s.  “If he gets in the way, we’ll take care of him.

Jed nodded and relaxed.  He’d been nervous that Dan had changed his mind.  Sarah Cassidy had tried to convince Dan the night before to stop his plan.  Their discussion went well into the evening with the two of them leaving the camp.  Lewis and Hardy had been unable to decipher what exactly had been said, but both men knew from the raised voices, they were arguing.  Jed knew that Scott was responsible for his brother’s death. 

“So, we know Lancer’s in the house.  Now we have to figure out how the hell we get him out.  It’s not going to be easy like before.”  Lewis stated.

Cassidy looked at Lewis.  “I know, I’ve been thinking about it and I have a plan.”

Johnny and Murdoch had a map of the south range spread out on the desk when the French doors burst open.  Three men entered the room with their guns drawn.  One of the men, with dark hair and mustache had a gun pointed at Cipriano’s head.  Another man with lighter hair stood to his left and a third came though the other French door.  Johnny’s hand immediately went for his gun.  The blond man fired his weapon at Johnny.  The bullet ricocheted off of the floor near him.

“Drop your gun, or I’ll kill him!” The dark-haired man yelled as he pressed his gun harder into Cipriano’s cheek which elicited a groan from segundo. 

Johnny dropped his weapon.  The gun landed on the floor near him.  Murdoch was not wearing a gun.  However, his right hand hovered near the desk.  The rancher kept a revolver in the middle drawer.  He decided to wait.  Johnny cursed to himself as he studied the men.  This was the reason he had stayed at the ranch.  He should have stayed outside.  Being in the house doing the things Teresa had wanted done had made him complacent.  Then Murdoch suggested they go over the south range.  The two men had become immersed in their discussion.  His attention was drawn to the men when the dark-haired man nodded to the shorter man next to him.

The man nodded and moved quickly across the room disappearing through the doorway that led to the kitchen.

“What the devil do you want!”  Murdoch bellowed.

“Shut up old man!”  The dark-haired man yelled.

The shorter man returned from the kitchen.  “Those women are taken care of.  I locked them in a cellar near the kitchen.

“Good.” 

The dark-haired man replied as he whirled Cipriano around and faced the open French door.  “Tell those men that if any one of them comes near this house, I’ll start shooting the occupants of this house!”  Cipriano nodded slightly and issued orders both in English and Spanish for the men to stay away from the hacienda and not to try to surround the building.

Scott woke with a start.  He’d heard a gunshot.  The young man threw back the quilt and quietly opened his bedroom door.  He could hear loud voices coming from downstairs.  Scott shut the door, quickly pulled on his boots and ran through the adjoining door into Johnny’s room.  The older man knew his brother kept a gun in his room.  Although Scott had no idea where Johnny kept the piece, common sense told him his brother would want it nearby.  Scott headed for the bed and carefully pulled the bedcovers up with his left hand.  He quickly slid his right hand along the frame.  Finding nothing, he then moved to the headboard.  Scott slid his right hand behind it and immediately felt the gun resting on a peg.  He pulled the weapon from its location and automatically spun the chamber open.  He shook his head.  Old habits die hard he thought realizing the gun would naturally be loaded.  Scott stood and hurried from the room.  He carefully descended the main staircase.  He could hear Dan’s voice booming from the great room issuing orders.  Scott drew a breath and headed toward the side door that led to the patio near the front door.

Scott needed to know who was in the great room and their locations. He carefully made his way past the front door towards the French doors.  He’d heard Cipriano yell to the men to stay where they were.  Scott glanced towards the corral and barn.  He could see the hands had taken up positions behind the buildings and stone fence.  He caught the eye of one of the men and made a gesture with his right hand to wait.  The man nodded and exchanged glances with the men near him.  Scott also saw that one of the hands had managed to slip away and was riding towards the north range, and for help.  Scott returned his attention back to the French doors.  Both sets were open.  As he neared the first set, he took in the scene before him.  Dan had a gun to Cipriano’s head, both men’s backs were to him.  Jed Lewis moved to Dan’s right.  Johnny and Murdoch were standing near the desk at the far end of the room.  Perfect Scott thought as Rick Hardy entered the room from the door that led to the kitchen and took up position near Lewis.  Scott’s plan was now complete.  As he turned, he noted the location of Johnny’s gun on the floor.  Dan was staying true to form Scott thought as he went back the way he’d come.

Sarah Cassidy stopped her horse.  The argument she and Dan had the previous night had been replaying in her mind all morning.  She’d been unable to convince Dan to give up his mission; his mission.  That’s what he’d called it all these years and she’d come to see it that way as well.  Sarah had been grateful for Dan’s hatred of Scott Lancer.  It had given him the strength he had needed to overcome insurmountable odds.  She never thought of Scott Lancer as a person of flesh and blood until now.  Scott Lancer had been an abstract image all these years.  Now he really was a person, with a family who cared for him.  Sarah thought for a moment, then turned her horse knowing what she had to do.

Jed Lewis looked at Rick Hardy as he moved near him.  He then turned his gaze back to Dan.

“Everything is secure.”

“Good.  Now we’ll get Scott and get out of here.”  Dan stated to Lewis.

“All right, where is he?”  Cassidy barked at Murdoch.

“Right behind you Dan.”

Cassidy whirled around nearly sending Cipriano to the floor.  Both men stumbled.  Their movement also caught Lewis and Hardy off guard.  The two men turned towards the direction of the voice.  Both Johnny and Murdoch seized the opportunity.  Murdoch yanked the desk drawer open and grabbed his revolver.  Johnny quickly reached down, grabbed his gun and cocked the trigger placing his left hand over the top of the gun in anticipation of rapid fire. 

Dan Cassidy faced Scott Lancer.  Scott was standing in the doorway leading to the front door.  It had been a long time since Dan had seen Scott.  The last time he’d seen the young man was in the army hospital Dan had been transferred to.  While waiting to be settled into a room, he saw Scott in the hallway of the hospital.  The lieutenant stopped to see him.  Scott was gaunt, and the uniform he wore hung loosely on his frame.  His face was pale, and his eyes were a dark blue grey were deep due to the gauntness.  Scott had been happy to see him.  Dan had wanted to tear the uniform from him.  How dare the lieutenant wear the uniform of a solider after betraying those men.  He’d warned Scott he’d come after him and now that day was here.

Dan studied the man before him.  It had been five years since Dan had seen Scott.  The man he’d considered like a brother.  Scott wore no expression on his face, his blue eyes were crystal clear and seemed to stare through him which unnerved the ex-captain.  Scott was older but still looked young to Dan.  The ex-lieutenant had gained most of his weight back, but Scott was still thin; a thinness that belied a strength that could match most men.  Dan’s eyes then traveled to the gun that Scott held in his right hand.

“Drop it Dan and let him go.”

Dan cast a quick glance around the room and saw that the other two men who he guessed were Scott’s father and supposed brother were now armed.  Dan looked back at Scott.

“I don’t think so.  It seems we have what they describe out here as a Mexican standoff.”

“Let him go Dan, this is between you and me.  We are going to settle this once and for all.”

Chapter Seven

The first issue Scott needed to address was to get Cipriano released.  The Segundo had no part in this.  The young man would have preferred that neither his father nor his brother were involved, but circumstances had evolved differently.  Murdoch’s words came to him, “Whatever involves you, involves us,” and Scott had to admit he was grateful for their presence and imminent assistance.

Scott stood in the doorway leading to the great room and fought the lightheadedness that threatened to overtake him.  The young man wondered if this was the early signs of an oncoming fever.  A cool breeze came in from the open French door near him, which touched his face and lightly fingered his mussed blond hair.  The air helped quash the dizziness and made him feel steadier.

Scott studied Dan carefully.  The man hadn’t changed much in the last five years in appearance or in temperament.  With all of the ex-captain’s meticulous planning, he’d so far played right into Scott’s hand since the night of his attempted abduction.  Scott remembered the kind of leader Dan was.  He was excellent at planning, and having contingencies, but was unable to think on his feet and make decisions quickly if the situation suddenly changed.  His commanding officers had kept him off the battlefield for this very reason.  However, a situation had occurred, and Dan had been ordered into the field.  When he and part of his unit were faced with being cut off, the ex-captain couldn’t come up with a strategy fast enough.  They had been overrun and eventually captured.

The night Lewis and Hardy had come for him was no exception.  Scott knew Dan had methodically planned his kidnapping.  The ex-captain also figured Scott would ride along with Lewis and Hardy to confront him.  Scott had looked for an opportunity to escape thus impeding Dan’s plans.  Scott figured it would take Cassidy at least a day to come up with a new plan, what the young man hadn’t anticipated was being seriously wounded.  Between the blood loss and the laudanum, Scott had felt weak when he awoke the next day.  However, he knew he needed to inform his father and brother as to what was happening.  Then when he learned what Cassidy believed he’d done the information had hit him hard and he’d succumbed to the exhaustion.  Scott had been unable to warn his father and brother of what to expect.  The ex-lieutenant’s mind was now clearer, and he was ready to face this man.

“Dan, Cipriano has nothing to do with this and besides, you don’t need him,” Scott stated calmly.

Dan eyed him for a moment.  The calmness Scott exuded unsettled him.  However, Scott was right; he didn’t need this man anymore.  He’d served his purpose.  Besides, the men in this room could be used as leverage against Scott and, if needed, he could use the women.  Dan released his grip on Cipriano and shoved him towards the open French door.

“Get out of here, and make sure no one comes near this house, or tries to shoot at us.  I mean it when I say we’ll start shooting the Lancers.”

Cipriano’s eyes darted around the room.  Finally, his gaze fell onto Scott, who nodded slightly.

“Go Cip,” Scott directed.

The Segundo nodded.  “Si, Senor Scott.”  He then turned and hesitantly left the hacienda.

“Dan, you can’t do this.”

All eyes went to the sound of the woman’s voice.  Sarah Cassidy rushed through the open French door to her husband.

“Sarah, I told you to go back to town,” Dan said angrily.

Sarah cast a quick glance at Murdoch and Johnny and saw their guns were drawn.  It made her remember what they had said earlier.  She turned back to her husband, and realized she had to get through to him.

“Dan, please,” Sarah implored, placing her hand on Cassidy’s right forearm.  He pulled away from her.

“You don’t understand!  I have to do this for those men!”  Dan said forcefully to his wife.

“Killing Scott won’t bring those men back!”  Johnny added firmly.

Cassidy and Jed cast angry glances at Johnny.

“No, it won’t, but it will avenge them!”  Lewis seethed.  He then turned to Cassidy.

“Come on Dan, let’s get Lancer and get the hell out of here!” Lewis snapped.

Sarah suddenly remembered Scott Lancer.  She looked past her husband to the man standing in the doorway.  So, this was Scott Lancer, she thought.  The man Dan had cursed in his fevered ramblings.  He looked younger than she thought he would be. He was tall with a thin frame.  He had blond hair and high cheek bones.  His face was pale, and his blue eyes were dark.  Scott Lancer was no more an enigma, this was a person of flesh and blood.  Her reverie was broken as her eyes traveled to the gun in his right hand, the gun that was now pointed at her husband.

“Dan,” Sarah tried again but was cut off when Cassidy walked from her closer to Lewis.

“Don’t listen to her.  We both know what needs to be done,” Lewis stated impatiently.

“I know what needs to be done.  Scott will pay for betraying those men,” Cassidy responded sharply.

“Men I betrayed.”  Scott retorted angrily.  Cassidy’s head whipped around at Scott.  He was about to say something when Scott continued.

Scott stared at Cassidy. “Dan, you of all people know I’d never betray anyone.” 

The tone in Scott’s voice silenced everyone in the room.  The two men stared at each other.  Johnny and Murdoch’s eyes met briefly.  They knew there was more to this, as did Lewis and Hardy who also exchanged glances.  Everyone’s attention was drawn back to the two former friends.

Cassidy felt as if Scott’s stare was boring into his soul.  His chest became tight and he was the first to look away.  A forgotten incident clouded his vision.  He took a few steps towards the back of the sofa, his grasp on the gun he held in his right hand loosened as he brought up his balled left hand to his forehead.  His eyes were closed tightly as the episode played out in his mind.  Confused, Lewis took the few steps to his friend and placed his left hand on Cassidy’s right shoulder.  He could feel him trembling.

“Dan, what is it?  What the hell did Lancer mean?”  Lewis asked.

Cassidy shook his head.

 “Dan, tell me.”

Cassidy opened his eyes and looked at Lewis.  “Frank, Scott intervened on Frank’s behalf,” Cassidy responded in a soft broken voice.

Lewis’ grip on Cassidy’s shoulder tightened.  Frank was Jed’s younger brother, the only family he had.  The younger Lewis had followed his brother into the army.  Frank had always wanted to be like his older brother.  The younger Lewis had a way with horses and had been assigned to the Calvary unit and eventually Lancer’s command.  Jed remembered he had doubted Lancer’s capabilities when he’d first met him.  Partly because of the man’s age and the fact that Scott Lancer came from a wealthy family in Boston.  Lewis had always assumed Lancer had bought his commission.  However, Frank had adamantly refuted those claims.  Lewis had relented in his opinion of the young lieutenant trusting his brother’s judgment.

Lewis was devastated when he’d learned of his brother’s death.  Jed was proud of his brother and the many commendations he’d received.  The young man had even been cited for bravery.  Lewis had drifted after the war, not knowing what do without his brother.  Anger had built up in Lewis; anger at not having his brother with him and anger for being unable to make those responsible pay for his death.  It was then that he’d decided to look up his old friend and commanding officer, Dan Cassidy.  Dan had told him more about the attempted escape than the army.  Lewis had been livid and shared Cassidy’s hatred of Scott Lancer.  Lewis had contacted Hardy who was also drifting.  The three men decided to find Scott Lancer and avenge the deaths of those sixteen men.

Lewis was now confused.  An incident, other than the escape, had occurred involving his brother in which Lancer had intervened.  What did that mean?  Lewis was desperate to know. Before anyone else could speak, Cassidy continued, the words rushing from him.

“Frank and another prisoner were discussing a plan to steal food.  The commandant had been withholding part of our daily rations.  They had worked out a plan when a guard overheard them talking.  The guard asked Frank what they were discussing.  When Frank refused to answer him, the guard started to viciously beat Frank and Scott intervened.  The guard decided that Scott had to know about the plan since Frank had served under his command.  He was whi…”  Cassidy’s voice cracked and trailed away as he turned from Lewis.  No one else said anything as they all thought about the word Cassidy had tried to say. 

Johnny looked at his brother.  Scott’s gaze was downward, and if Johnny hadn’t been watching his brother, he would have missed the slight tremble in his body.  Johnny continued to watch as Scott then swallowed and gathered himself.  When Scott raised his eyes, a mixture of emotions crossed his face, and then Johnny saw the wall rise.  Johnny remembered Murdoch calling it a façade.  A fitting word for his brother the younger man thought.  Johnny also felt great empathy for his brother.  The younger man understood all too well how secrets of the past could loom over the present.  Johnny also understood the private person Scott was.  It was another thing the two men shared, and it strengthened an already deep bond.  Johnny could see that Scott’s face was paler and he was trying to control his breathing.

Johnny’s attention was drawn to Hardy as the man slipped his gun into its holster.  The ex-gun hawk saw his expression change as well.  Johnny briefly cast a glance at his father.  The young man saw a mixture of pain and anger on his father’s face, feelings shared by the younger man.

Lewis stood numbly trying to comprehend the drastic change in events.  If Lancer had intervened on his brother’s behalf and had endured a whipping for it, could he have betrayed the escape?  It didn’t seem possible, but Lancer was the only survivor.  Lewis knew there was more.

“Dan, what the hell happened that night?”  Lewis finally demanded.

Cassidy said nothing.  He was confused and needed to collect his thoughts in an effort to regain control of the situation.  This wasn’t supposed to be happening.  Scott was to blame.  All his plans were now falling apart.  This wasn’t how he envisioned his plan to unfold.  He walked a few steps and then looked at his wife.  He couldn’t believe what he saw in her face.

He shook his head as he bellowed “NO!”

Sarah hurried to her husband placing both of her hands on each of his forearms.  “Dan,” her voice trailed off as Dan moved out of her grasp.

“Dan, listen to me.”

“NO! You don’t know anything about this!”  Dan exclaimed interrupting his wife.

“Oh yes, she does,” Scott stated firmly.

Sarah looked at Scott and was confused at first, then realized that of course he knew.  She turned her gaze back to her husband.

“NO, I don’t believe this.  It was you!  It had to be you you were the only one who survived!”  Cassidy spat at Scott.

Scott stared coldly at Dan and knew what he was implying.  “Do you really think I’d lead an escape and then allow myself to be captured?!”   Scott said angrily as he walked towards the blue stuffed chair.

“They never brought you to the infirmary.”

Scott held Dan’s stare that once again seemed to bore into the ex-captain.  “No, they didn’t.  MY men convinced the guards to let them come out after me.”  Scott retorted.

Dan tried to grasp what had been said.  This couldn’t be true; no, it didn’t happen that way.  Cassidy looked at his wife, and realization came to him.  “How you could possibly know?”

“The army told me.”  Dan’s eyes became wide.  He shook his head as Sarah continued.

“Dan, you were sick with fever.  A hospital orderly overheard you.”  Dan turned away from her.

“Dan, listen to me.  The Army said that under the circumstances you weren’t responsible, and they closed the book on it.  I’ve never wanted to tell you because of what it might do to you.  I’ve never wanted to hurt you this way.  I thought that with time, you’d forget about Scott.  I was wrong.”

Cassidy stared unseeing out the open French doors trying to comprehend all of it.  He thought back, trying to remember, to put all the pieces together.  He remembered the commandant’s remark to him about rewarding the man who had given him the information.  Then Dan remembered he’d been more coherent when he’d spoken with the commandant.  //Damn that bastard!  He gave me medicine that he’d been withholding!//  His mind went over everything, every detail, and then he remembered.

Johnny had been watching the scene carefully.  His eyes were now on his brother.  Scott had maintained a firm grip on his gun.  The ex-gun hawk knew something wasn’t right.  When Cassidy turned towards the French doors, Johnny decided to make his move.  Quickly and silently he made his way between the sofa and fireplace to his brother.  Lewis noted his movement but did nothing.  After a moment Lewis stared at his gun and then holstered it, knowing this was over for him.  Johnny reached the end table next to the sofa and stood between it and the dining room table and waited.  Although his brother didn’t look directly at him, Johnny could tell Scott knew he was there.

Rick Hardy was disgusted with Dan Cassidy.  He’d accused an innocent man of betrayal, a man he’d considered to be a brother.  And then he’d believed the word of the enemy over the word of a fellow soldier   Cassidy had broken a code.  Hardy wanted nothing more to do with Dan Cassidy.  Hardy looked over at Lewis.  He could tell Lewis was out of this as well.  But Hardy also knew that because the two were friends, Lewis would forgive Cassidy.  Not so Hardy.  Cassidy had been his commanding officer during the war and had respected him.  Now he knew that respect had been misguided.  His gaze traveled to Scott Lancer.  Hardy had been wrong about him as well.  When he’d met Lancer briefly all those years ago, he too had thought the man had bought his commission.  Now he had learned that was far from the truth.  Lancer had more than earned his commission.  Hardy glanced at the old man near him and the gun hawk now near Scott.  Hardy didn’t want to tangle with either of these men.  All he wanted to do was leave, and maybe head back east where he belonged.

The adrenaline that had been coursing through his veins had subsided, leaving him weak and on the verge of collapse.  He had been fighting to stay conscious and was now losing that battle.  He had been contemplating his next move while he continued to watch Cassidy.  A familiar expression crossed Cassidy’s face and Scott knew what Dan had remembered.  Scott cocked the trigger of the gun in his hand to stop Cassidy from advancing further.  The sound stopped Cassidy and once again brought silence in the great room.  Cassidy swallowed as a look of surprise crossed the ex-captain’s face. 

Scott managed to maintain a firm grip on the back of the chair with his left hand as he leaned into it.  He could feel his strength waning and wasn’t sure how long he could hold on.  He was grateful Johnny had moved closer to him and knew he’d need his brother’s support very soon.

“Don’t look so surprised Dan,” Scott said unemotionally.

Dan smiled at Scott, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, yes you do.  You’ve been angry that I carried out your orders and led the escape without you.  You’ve been incensed all these years that I had the audacity to leave without you.  That anger made it easier for you to believe the commandant.  It’s also what fueled your vendetta.”

Cassidy was about to argue further when he thought about what Scott had said.  He slowly admitted to himself, that Scott was right.  Dan had been angry with Scott all these years for seemingly leaving him behind. The ex-captain acknowledged that Scott had followed his orders and had no alternative but to leave without him.

Dan swallowed and finally realized there was no point in going any further.  He holstered his gun, as he understood that everything, he had believed was a lie.  He had become ill the commandant had withheld medicine from him and then told him lies.  Dan knew he couldn’t help it.  It wasn’t his fault, and surely Scott could see that.  He and Scott had been close, like brothers.  Scott would understand.

“Listen Scott, all these years I believed a lie and now for the first time I know the truth.  I’m sorry for what’s happened.”

At first Scott thought he was dreaming and then realized that this was true Dan Cassidy.  Nothing was ever his fault.  Now he was trying to make amends, as if nothing had happened.  Scott knew Cassidy had expected him to forgive him.  It was not to be, at least not tonight.  Cassidy had believed the word of the enemy over his and then crossed a line when he’d endangered his family.  Scott didn’t take any of this lightly.

“It’s over Dan,” Scott said with a quiet even tone.

“Scott, please.”

“Just …”

Scott didn’t finish his thought.  He turned towards Johnny as a wave of dizziness overtook him.  The room began to spin, and he heard voices.  He felt an arm snake around his waist and was about to pull away when he recognized his brother’s voice.

“I’ve got you Boston.”

Scott then heard his father’s voice.

“Cipriano!”  Murdoch yelled as he hurried across the great room to his sons, tucking the gun into the front of his belt.

Cipriano and three Lancer hands ran into the room through the French doors, each carrying a rifle.

“Si Patron?”

“Please release Teresa and Maria, they’re locked in the cellar near the kitchen, and tell Teresa I need her.”

“I’ll go Mr. Lancer,” replied one of the hands as he headed towards the kitchen.

Murdoch went to the other side of Scott.  He heard his son release the hammer of his gun, and Murdoch took the piece from him.  Mindful of Scott’s injured shoulder the Patriarch assisted Johnny in guiding his older son to the sofa.

He helped Johnny lay Scott down on the sofa and retrieved a pillow from a nearby chair, placing it behind his son’s head.  Scott winced from pain in his back as he settled into the couch

Cassidy came near them offering help.

“We don’t need your help!  You’ve all done enough!”  Murdoch snapped.

“Murdoch, don’t waste your time, they’re not worth it,” Scott murmured to his father.

Scott’s words cut into Dan like a knife and he said nothing more.

Suddenly there was a crack of lighting, followed by thunder and then it started raining. Murdoch looked down at Scott into his tired eyes and then nodded his understanding.  Teresa entered the room followed by Maria and went immediately to Johnny and Murdoch, receiving a quick hug from both and assurances they were all fine, she then knelt down next to Scott.

Murdoch glanced at the group and then spoke to Maria.  “Maria, please ask Rosalita to put some linens in the east guest rooms.  These people will be spending the night and then will be leaving in the morning.

“Thank you, Mr. Lancer,” Cassidy replied.

Murdoch eyed him coldly and then spoke.  “Listen and listen hard, all of you can spend the night.  Then I expect you to leave this area tomorrow on the first stage.  If I hear that any one of you is still around, I’ll send for the sheriff and convince Scott to press charges for attempted murder!  Do I make myself clear?”

Cassidy and the rest nodded their heads.  Rosalita appeared in the doorway from the kitchen and led the party to their quarters.

Murdoch looked at Cipriano and smiled.  “Thank you for standing by.  Can you send someone for Dr. Jenkins?”

Cipriano returned the smile, “I already did Patron.  Do you want me to have some guards keep an eye on them?”

Murdoch nodded, “Yes please.”

Cipriano nodded then gestured to the other two hands and the three men left the room.

Scott closed his eyes and smiled to himself at what his father had said and the protectiveness in his voice.  He felt someone brush the hair on his forehead and couldn’t remember anyone ever doing that before; it felt strange and yet comforting.

Chapter Eight

Dr. Sam Jenkins passed through the Lancer arch and saw the hacienda in the distance.  He had finished the last of his calls and was heading home when a hand from the Lancer ranch had intercepted him with a message from Murdoch Lancer to come immediately.  When the doctor had inquired as to what was wrong, the hand had replied that Scott Lancer had collapsed.  Upon hearing this disturbing news, the doctor quickened the pace of his horse towards the Lancer ranch. 

He had seen Scott Lancer yesterday after he’d been brought home by his younger brother, Johnny.  Scott had been shot in the back, left shoulder.  The bullet had gone through and had exited out the front.  The wound had caused some damage to muscles in the young man’s shoulder.  Scott had also suffered considerable blood loss which compounded his condition.  The doctor had instructed the family that Scott was to have bed rest until his next visit.  Now it appeared that Scott had not heeded his instructions. The doctor frowned as he drove on, his mind on his patient.

The doctor had met Murdoch’s older son when Johnny had been shot during the final attack by Pardee’s men.  He’d been impressed with the young man.  Scott was well educated with impeccable manners.  Although he’d been raised in the east, he didn’t possess the pretentious attitude the doctor had encountered by so many Easterners.   Sam had been surprised to learn that it was Scott who had gone out after his injured brother during the attack.  A man Scott barely knew.  The doctor was also surprised to learn it was Scott who had taken Pardee down. 

In the days that followed, it was Scott who volunteered to sit with his new, found sibling during the evening hours.  Scott was learning ranching at that time and put in many long arduous days.  Each night he sat with his brother keeping a watchful eye on the young man.  The doctor had been concerned about Scott’s health, but soon learned that the young man had managed to get the proper rest.

In the following months, the doctor had been fortunate to witness the deepening bond between the brothers.  Murdoch had told the doctor on several occasions, he was surprised and thrilled at the two men’s closeness.  The doctor also noticed that having his sons, home, reinvigorated the Lancer Patriarch.   

Sam had figured that of all the Lancer men, Scott would be the more cooperative patient. The doctor had come to the ranch a few months back to check up on the young man after he’d been shot in the shoulder.   Scott had been ambushed when he was tracking a criminal a former friend of Murdoch’s had been transporting to prison in Sacramento.  The young man had followed the doctor’s instructions without much fuss.  He’d also learned from Teresa, Murdoch’s ward, that Scott had listened and followed her instructions with only an occasional roll of the eye.

Dr. Jenkins was saddened to hear this news.  The young man had not heeded his instructions and probably had a relapse which could prove to be very dangerous. The doctor’s thoughts were halted as he reached the hacienda.  He had no more than stopped his carriage outside the main door when a hand appeared informing him that his horse and rig would be seen to.  The doctor grabbed his medical bag, departed his carriage and managed to hurry under the veranda without becoming soaked.  He walked towards the front door, and before he reached it, the door opened revealing Murdoch Lancer.  Sam Jenkins immediately saw the concerned look on his friend’s face.  The doctor’s feelings of unease intensified Murdoch Lancer didn’t panic easily after the many years living in this vast open country.  The doctor knew this wasn’t a good sign.

“Sam, I’m so glad you could come,” Murdoch greeted as he stood back from the door, allowing, the doctor enter.

“Not a problem.  I was on my way home.  What’s happened?”

“Scott collapsed.  We have him resting on the couch.”

“And why was he up?  I left specific instructions…”

Murdoch interrupted the doctor.  “It couldn’t be helped.  I’ll explain later,” Murdoch replied as he closed the door and gestured towards the great room.

The doctor nodded and said nothing.  He knew Murdoch very well.  This could wait, right now his first priority was tending to Scott.  Dr. Jenkins turned and quickly made his way to the couch.  Johnny was kneeling beside his brother, his left hand intertwined in his brother’s right hand.  Scott’s eyes were closed, and his face was paler.  Sam also noticed that Scott’s shirt had been unbuttoned revealing a bloodstained bandage. 

“Hey Doc.  Teresa has gone to fetch clean bandages and to see if the water is ready.”  Johnny replied as he stood and reluctantly let go of his brother’s hand.  He backed away a few steps allowing the doctor access to his brother but stayed close as did Murdoch.

After a moment, the doctor stood up and turned to the anxious men.

“We need to get him upstairs immediately where I can do a more thorough examination.”

Both men nodded and approached the couch.  Johnny and Murdoch carefully lifted Scott into a sitting position.  As they started to turn him, he called out in pain.  Murdoch and Johnny stopped immediately but kept a firm grasp of the injured man.

“Scott, what is it?”  Dr. Jenkins asked.  Scott’s eyes were still closed as they had been when the doctor had briefly examined him.  Scott’s head was bowed, and he was unresponsive to the doctor.

“He complained earlier that his back was bothering him,” Johnny interjected.

“I’d better take a look.  Let’s turn him and swing his legs down.”

The three men carefully maneuvered Scott into a sitting position.  Johnny sat down on the couch next to his brother’s right side and held him in his arms.  Dr. Jenkins sat down on Scott’s left side.   Murdoch remained standing facing the three men.  The doctor pulled Scott’s shirt from his waist and as he eased the garment from the young man’s back, he saw the mass of contusions on the left side his back.  As Dr. Jenkins probed Scott’s back, he let out a few moans. 

“From what I understand, Scott launched himself at another man and toppled him off his horse in Birch Creek,” Murdoch added.

Dr. Jenkins nodded.  “I saw the beginning of these contusions yesterday.  Scott wasn’t conscious when I examined him and was unable to talk to him about them.  I was going to check on this when I saw him tomorrow.”

As Johnny held his brother, his glance fell to his brother’s back.  His eyes traveled to the faint white marks on his tanned back and then to the mass of bruises and swelling on the left side. 

“You said he’s been complaining about his back?”  Dr. Jenkins asked snapping Johnny out of his reverie.

Johnny nodded.  “Yeah, earlier I caught him sitting up in a chair in his room.  I managed to get him to lie back down, but I noticed he was moving slowly. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was in pain.”

Dr. Jenkins thought for a moment.  “Get him to his room, and I’ll meet you there.  I’m going to go and speak with Teresa for a moment.”

An explosion erupted which shattered the darkness that had enveloped Scott.  A flash of light and the sounds of battlefield were once again upon him.  Screams of fallen men filled the air and death was all around him.  He tried to move, to take cover from the deadly cannon fire.  A sharp pain lanced through his shoulder which halted his movement.  Disembodied voices called to him as hands firmly gripped his wrists and held him to a bed.  How could he be pinned to a bed he thought as he shook his head in an attempt to comprehend what was happening to him.  More explosions, no thunder he thought, added to the confusion.  Suddenly, he felt the white, hot pain in his back as the whip dug into his flesh.  Reflexively he pulled against the binds that tied his wrists.  He tried to bite back the pain, but a cry escaped his lips.  He clenched his jaw, determined no other cry would escape his lips.  He wouldn’t give them that satisfaction.  The pain intensified in his back with each crack of whip.  And then again, he felt linen.  His mind was out of control as images of the past melded with those of the present.  He fought to gain control of his mind, afraid of falling into the black abyss that had threatened him before.  He needed an anchor something that would keep him in the present.  Once again, he tried to move in attempt to control the pain that was engulfing him.

“Boston, the doc needs you to stop struggling.  Come on brother, hold on to my hand, he’s almost done.”

Suddenly the horrific images disappeared as Scott recognized the name only one man called him.  His brother.  Scott stopped struggling and moved his head towards the sound of the familiar voice.  He opened his eyes to his brother’s worried face.  Johnny’s hand went to Scott’s forehead and brushed the hair that had fallen across it.  Once again, the touch felt strange and yet comforting to the injured man.  Johnny tightened his grip on Scott’s right hand, looked away and nodded.  Before Scott could turn his head in the same direction, a sharp pain lanced through his left shoulder.  He felt his body begin to rise and then the gentle pressure of his brother’s hand on his right shoulder pressing him down onto the bed.  Scott closed his eyes and breathed deeply as he felt the needle enter into him.  He swallowed and gripped his brother’s hand tighter as the pain intensified.  As the muscles tightened in his body, a spasm erupted in his back.  Pain engulfed him and Scott was unable to control the shaking in his body.

“I’m finished.  Hurry get him on his side.  Teresa bring that over here!”  Scott heard Dr. Jenkins command.  Suddenly Scott felt his body being moved onto his right side.  The movement caused more pain to course through his body and Scott could endure no more.

A moan passed between his lips.  “Please stop,” he managed to utter in between heavy breaths.

“We’re almost done.”  Scott heard Johnny say to him.

Scott smelled something strong but was unable to identify what it was.  “What is that?”

“Something that is going to help the pain in your back,” his brother replied.

Before Scott could protest, he felt his body being rolled to the left.  All of a sudden, he felt his back begin to burn.  Sweat formed on his brow and he arched his back in attempt to move from the oppressive heat.  He felt hands pressing him down into the searing heat.  He then felt a needle plunge into his left forearm and then blackness engulfed him.

Chapter Nine

Johnny and Murdoch listened intently as Dr. Jenkins explained Scott’s condition to them.  Johnny’s gaze kept traveling to his brother’s immobile figure on the bed on the other side of the room.  He observed Teresa as she finished tending to Scott.  Her maturity during these times continued to impress him.  He watched her as she picked up the soiled bandages and basin.  Their eyes met as she turned her head towards the three men.  They exchanged worried and tired smiles.  Teresa then turned and left the room.

Johnny looked at the doctor as he crossed his arms over his chest.  “So, this herbal thing that you had Teresa make up is going to help Scott’s back?”

Dr. Jenkins nodded.  “Yes. I’ve used it before.  It will ease the pain that Scott is experiencing and will also help decrease the swelling.  I know it smells awful, but it works.”  Dr. Jenkins watched Johnny as the young man, again, looked over at his brother.

“And this concoction is too hot for him to lie on, so that’s why you knocked him out?”

“Yes, the herbs are too hot for patients to tolerate.  You saw how Scott immediately moved from it.  But it’s that heat along with those herbs that will help the sore muscles.  And I have found that, in some cases, the swelling goes down as well. The longer we can keep Scott on it, the better for him.  I guarantee that when Scott wakes up, his back will be much better.”

Johnny nodded and returned his gaze to his brother.  “How long will he be out?”

“Hard to say, medications work differently on each person.  However, given his weight and the fact he’s exhausted, I’m estimating he’ll be out at least 10 to 12 hours.”

Johnny turned sharply towards the doctor his face tight.  Before he could speak, Dr. Jenkins continued.  “It’s necessary Johnny.  Scott needs this rest.”

Johnny relaxed and nodded. 

“Scott seemed to be in so much pain, do you think he may have broken some bones in his back?” Murdoch asked.

“No, I don’t think he’s broken any bones.  He may have cracked one or two.  At this point, I can’t be certain with all the swelling.  Once the swelling lessens, I can do a more thorough examination and then determine a diagnosis.”   

The three men fell silent and after a moment Johnny turned his head towards the doctor. “Scott’s condition is bad, isn’t it?” he asked quietly.

Dr. Jenkins eyed the young man and understood where these questions were coming from.  The young man was trying to grapple with his brother’s condition, the events that had led to Scott being injured, and Johnny’s feelings regarding it.

“Johnny, I’m not going to lie to you. This relapse is very serious.  However, Scott is a healthy and strong young man.  I have every reason to believe that he will recover from this.  However, his recovery will take time, and he needs to follow my instructions.”  Dr. Jenkins’ tone was forceful as he tried to assuage the young man’s concern.

“Oh, he will, I’ll make sure of that.”

Although a smile appeared on Johnny lips, which lightened the mood, both Dr. Jenkins and Murdoch noticed that the trademark sparkle was gone.  Once again Johnny looked towards his brother.  As he uncrossed his arms, he momentarily rubbed his left hand across the beads on his right wrist.  Both men knew how worried the young man was and had been ever since he’d brought his brother home.

“I’m gonna sit with him.” Johnny stated quietly as he glanced at Dr. Jenkins and Murdoch. 

He then headed for his brother, pushing a nearby chair next to Scott’s bed and then sat down.  Both Dr. Jenkins and Murdoch exchanged knowing glances and then started across the room.  Dr. Jenkins continued out the door while Murdoch stopped when he reached his younger son and squeezed his shoulder.  Johnny looked up at him and the young man saw understanding in his father’s face.  Murdoch then looked at his older son’s pale form.  He sighed heavily, and then walked out the door, leaving his younger son alone with his brother.

Murdoch Lancer poured himself and Dr. Jenkins a drink.  He crossed over to the couch where the doctor was seated and handed him a glass.  The patriarch then moved to his favorite leather chair and wearily sat down.  Both men remained silent for several minutes.  Eventually Murdoch looked up from the drink he’d been staring into and told his friend what had transpired the last few days.  When Murdoch was finished, he was spent, and took a large swallow of the golden, brown liquid.

“You don’t seem too overly surprised,” Murdoch said after a few minutes had passed.

The doctor sighed and then looked at his friend.  “I saw the marks on Scott’s back several months ago when you asked me to check on the gunshot wound, he received from Evans.  It was only briefly but I saw the faint scars.  I knew what they were and where he likely got them.  I’ll admit, at the time I was shocked.”

“Shocked.  That’s how we all feel.  We’re still reeling from the news.”

Dr. Jenkins watched his friend knowing how difficult this was for him.  “Have you been able to talk about it?”

Murdoch took a swallow of his drink and stood.  “Johnny and I spoke about Scott’s imprisonment, but it was only briefly.  This has really, shook Johnny.  Not only that Scott was in a confederate prison camp but that he hid it so well.  Johnny feels he should have been able to see it.  We’ve both encountered those who fought in the war and those who were in prison camps.  So many are angry, bitter men who take their anger out on whoever they encounter.  Then there are those who are unable to get back to any kind of life, and they drift aimlessly.  Scott is neither which is why this is so hard to comprehend.”

Dr. Jenkins nodded his head.  “If I hadn’t seen those scars I would never have known.”

“At first I thought Scott had buried it, but now I know that isn’t true.”  Murdoch’s voice cracked and trailed off as he looked into his glass and drained it.

“He’s faced it?”

Murdoch looked up.  “Yes.  Lord only knows how, but yes, he’s faced it.  I could see it when he spoke with Cassidy and heard it in his voice. I don’t know how, but he’s managed to put it behind him and move forward.  I stood there unable to say or do anything when he faced off with Cassidy and the others.  It was as if I was watching it from afar.  I was in awe of his courage and strength and then for the compassion he displayed later.”  Murdoch stared into his empty glass remembering what had transpired in this room earlier.

“Scott is a remarkable young man.”

“Yes, he is.  I don’t know how he managed to survive being in the war and then being imprisoned.  He was so very young to have endured so much.”

“Perhaps his being so young is one of the reasons he’s been able to recover from this,” Dr. Jenkins said empathetically.

Murdoch sighed heavily.  “That and an incredible strength.”

Johnny studied his brother’s form.  Scott was sleeping peacefully, the lines finally gone from his face.  The herbal brew the doctor had concocted emitted a strong aroma that took Johnny a few minutes to become accustomed to.  As he watched his brother, he let his mind drift to the day’s events.  Johnny was surprised at what had unfolded.  He had still been reeling from the news that Scott had been imprisoned during the war.  Then he learned that Scott had endured a whipping on more than on one occasion during his incarceration.  And one was because he’d stepped in for someone who’d been under his command.  He shuddered when he thought of his brother enduring that twice.  Scott was indeed a brave man.

And then there was the betrayal.  Scott had been betrayed by someone he had trusted. Most men would have a difficult time trusting again, if ever.  However, Scott had trusted Johnny early into their relationship and with each passing day that trust deepened as did their bond.  When his strength finally left him in the great room, Scott had turned to his brother.  Johnny would never forget the look in his brother’s eyes.  Complete and utter trust.  It had touched Johnny deeply.

It was Johnny’s voice that his brother had responded to when Dr. Jenkins was trying to repair the stitches that Scott had ruptured as he hastily pulled on his boots earlier.  Scott had stopped struggling as soon as Johnny had called him Boston.  Somehow his voice had penetrated through the torment Scott was experiencing.  Scott’s eyes had opened and had locked on Johnny’s, their hands clasped together.  Johnny stood and walked towards the window as emotions coursed through him.  The sound of rain tapped against the window. He placed his palms on the back of the chair that stood facing the window and leaned into it as he closed his eyes.  After a moment he lifted his head and stared into the rain.

Murdoch carefully opened the door to Scott’s room.  He didn’t want to make any sound, nor did he want to spill the steaming coffee in the two mugs he held in his right hand.  As he entered the room, he noticed that Johnny was standing near the window.  When he’d left Scott’s room to fetch the coffee, Johnny had been talking to Dr. Jenkins near the doorway.

“You okay?”  Murdoch whispered as he crossed the room to his son.

“Yeah, I just needed to stand and stretch for a few minutes,” Johnny replied in a quiet voice.

Murdoch nodded and handed him one of the steaming mugs.  “This is fresh.  Maria made it for us before she went to bed.”

“Thanks, how is she doing?”  Johnny asked as he accepted the mug from his father.

“Better.  She and Teresa were pretty, shook up but they’re all right.”

“How is Teresa holding up?”

“She’s been a pillar of strength. That girl constantly surprises me at times like this.  I managed to talk to her about all that has happened.  She’s better but now is worried about Scott as is Maria.”

A small smile crossed Johnny’s lips as he blew on his coffee and then took a drink. “They’re not the only ones.”

“Sam says he’s doing fine.”

“I know, but he feels warm.  Sam wasn’t sure if it’s from the treatment or if he’s developing a fever.”

“I hope not.  That’s all he needs.”

Johnny nodded.  “Doc sure was upset when we told him we were both going to stay with him.”

“I know, it took some talking but he finally went to bed as well.”

“I just want to stay with him.  I can’t explain it.”

Murdoch smiled.  “You don’t have to.  I feel the same way.  Sam has a point though.  As Scott gets better, he’s going to need all of us.  I suppose we should talk about some sort of schedule.  That way someone will always be with Scott and we’ll all get the rest we need.”

Johnny walked over to the chair near the bed and moved it towards the window.  “Okay, then let’s discuss a schedule,” Johnny said as he plopped down in the chair and kicked his boots off.

Murdoch smiled as he turned the chair away from the window and moved it next to Johnny’s. The two men drank their coffee and talked well into the early morning keeping a close eye on their patient.

Jed Lewis woke up with a start, momentarily confused at his surroundings.  Slowly he realized where he was, a guest room at the Lancer house.  He sat up, swung his legs down to the floor and faced another matching bed.  It looked as if it hadn’t been slept in and he wondered where Rick had gone.  The two men hadn’t said much after they had exchanged words last night.  Jed was surprised that they were able to stay.  The storm had been a rough one and he was grateful that Murdoch Lancer hadn’t thrown them all into it.  Lewis figured Sarah Cassidy was probably the reason for the act of kindness.

Lewis thought about what Rick had said.  Hardy had been disgusted with Cassidy and told Jed he’d lost all respect for the ex-captain.  Lewis had jumped to Dan’s defense and their discussion had quickly escalated into an argument.  Hardy finally told Lewis he was tired and had sat down on the other bed facing away from Jed.  Lewis had decided to leave things be and would try talking to Rick in the morning.  Lewis rose from the bed and walked to the window.  It was raining again, only not as hard as the previous evening.  He walked to the nearby dresser and picked up the small clock that lay on it.  It read a little after 5:00 a.m.  He sighed and decided to finish dressing.

A few minutes later Lewis opened the door of his room and stepped into the hallway.  Two Lancer hands were at one end and stopped talking when they saw him.  They said nothing to him as the men watched him closely.  Lewis’ attention went to the door across from him.  That was the room occupied by Dan and Sarah Cassidy.  He walked to the door and knocked on it.  He heard commotion from behind the door and then it opened revealing Dan.  He smiled at seeing Lewis.

“Morning Jed. Come in.”

Lewis entered the room.  It was about the same size as his and Hardy’s, only this one had a dressing room, and the door was closed. 

“Morn’n.  Have you seen Rick?”

Dan’s expression turned serious.  “No, I haven’t.  Maybe he’s up already.”

“Maybe, but his bed looks like it hasn’t been slept in.”

“That seems strange.  Jed what is it?”  Cassidy asked noting the faraway expression on Lewis’ face.

Lewis looked at him.  “Oh noth’in.  He and I had a few words last night, but I didn’t think it was all that serious.”

“Words about what?”

Lewis hesitated and then responded.  “About what went on here last night.”

“Oh, what did he say?” Cassidy asked.

“I don’t want to go into it until I’ve talked to Rick. I think he was blowing off steam.”

“Okay,” Cassidy replied and then turned as the door leading to the dressing room opened.  Sarah stepped into the room, a large smile on her face.

“Good morning Jed,” she greeted as she made her way to them.

“Morn’n.”

“Well, let’s see if we can find our way to the kitchen,” Cassidy said.

“Oh, I don’t think we’ll have any problems,” Lewis said as he opened the door and gestured down the hallway.

Perplexed, Cassidy stepped into the hallway and looked in the direction Lewis gestured.

“I think they’ve been there all night,” Lewis stated.

The two hands standing at the end of the hallway were watching them intently, rifles laid across their arms.

“Well, I wonder what this is all about,” Cassidy stated.

Sarah Cassidy stepped into the hallway and stood beside her husband.

“Dan, what is it?”

“It seems there have been guards at the end of the hallway all night.”

Sarah looked down the hallway and saw the two men.  “Do you know why they are there?” she inquired.

“No, I don’t, but I have a feeling we’ll find out.”

The three people started down the hallway under the glare from the Lancer hands.  Each of the two men stiffened as the party neared them.

“We’d like to know where the kitchen is,” Cassidy asked.

“This way,” the shorter of the two men said. 

The two Lancer hands parted.  The hand that had responded turned and led the way.  The three people passed the other hand who said nothing and then moved in behind them, not getting too close.  They walked down a few hallways and it was apparent to Cassidy and the others that they had been placed in rooms far from the main house.  As they proceeded down a hallway, smells of breakfast food and fresh coffee filled their nostrils.  Another turn and they were led into the massive kitchen. 

A short Mexican woman was stirring something in a pot on the large stove that took up one wall of the room.  She looked up and eyed them carefully but said nothing.  A small brunette woman, who was checking a tray in the large oven, cast a glance at them.  She closed the door, then stood and stared at the three arrivals.  Anger rose in Teresa when she saw Sarah Cassidy and the two men with her.  She figured the taller darker man was Dan Cassidy.  The blond man standing next to him must be Jed Lewis, the man who had shot Scott.

Teresa and Murdoch had talked the evening before.  The patriarch had explained what had transpired.  He also told her that these people would be spending the night due to the inclement weather.  After that, they were leaving the hacienda and the area.  The young woman had appreciated being able to discuss her feelings with Murdoch.  Now all she wanted to do was to care for her injured brother.  She wanted nothing to do with these horrible people.

“Is there something you need?” she asked flatly.

Teresa chose her words carefully.  She had no intentions of waiting on these people as she would if they were house guests.  She’d share the prepared food and coffee, but it was up to them to fend for themselves.  She had things to do.

Sarah Cassidy noticed the young woman’s aloofness and wondered if she would offer them food and decided to start by asking for coffee only.

“I was wondering if it was possible for us to have some coffee.” 

“Yes, there is a pot over there,” Teresa gestured to a nearby counter.

“If you want food, plates are stacked next to the cups.  The pots on the nearby warming burners have food in them.”  

Teresa turned abruptly away from them when Maria said something to her in Spanish.  The two women spoke quietly amongst themselves.  Teresa then filled two mugs with coffee and walked to the hands that were standing nearby.  Each took a steaming mug and thanked her, retuning their gaze to Cassidy and the others.

Without a word the three people walked to the area indicated by Teresa.  Each took a plate and then proceeded to the pots.  As they opened the lids, they found scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes and biscuits.  The food smelled wonderful and each couldn’t help but pile the food on their plates.  They saw a nearby table and three people silently sat down.  They were lost in their breakfast and didn’t see the dark-haired man who had entered the kitchen from the back stairs.

Johnny headed for the kitchen having been kicked out of Scott’s room when Dr. Jenkins had entered to examine the injured man.  Johnny reluctantly left his brother’s side and had been ordered by the doctor to have breakfast.  As Johnny neared the kitchen wonderful smells tickled his nostrils and his stomach growled loudly.  He then remembered he hadn’t eaten anything since lunch yesterday. The young man was looking forward to eating in the kitchen with Teresa and Maria.  As he entered the kitchen his mood changed suddenly when he saw the Lancer hands that had been assigned to guard Cassidy and the others.  The two men nodded a greeting to Johnny as his attention was drawn to the table.  Cassidy, his wife and Lewis were seated eating.  He eyed them coldly and then continued towards Maria.  He greeted her in Spanish and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  Teresa had taken a large tray out of the oven and turned to him when he reached her.  He greeted her in Spanish and also kissed her cheek. 

Teresa reached for another smaller coffee pot on the stove and picked up a mug from a small preparation table nearby the stove.  She filled the mug and handed it to Johnny.

“Thanks Teresa,” Johnny replied as he accepted the mug from her.  He blew on the steaming liquid and then took a tentative sip.

Dan Cassidy wiped his mouth with his napkin and rose from the table.  He took a few steps in the direction Johnny was standing.

“I was wondering how Scott is.”

Johnny regarded him as he took another swallow of his coffee.

“How do you think he is?”  Johnny answered calmly, no emotion registering on his face.  Cassidy was unsettled by the cold edge in Johnny’s voice.  He swallowed as he looked into Johnny’s dark eyes. 

Johnny glanced outside and then turned back to Cassidy.  “The rain has stopped.  I want you and the others to leave immediately.”

Cassidy was going to speak, but Johnny stopped him. 

“The only reason you were allowed to stay here was because of Scott.  Since he’s unconscious, I’ll handle this.  Like I said the rain is stopped so there’s no reason for you to stay.  When you get to Morro Coyo, get on the first stage.”

“You can’t.”  Cassidy sputtered

“Oh yes I can.  Remember what my father told you?  If you don’t leave, we’ll convince Scott to press charges against all of you.  There is no reason for any of you to stay in California. “

“Please you must understand.  I was sick and wasn’t thinking clearly.”  Cassidy’s voice trailed.  “Scott was like a brother to me.”

“Well Cassidy, Scott may have been like a brother to you, but he is my brother.  I’m not going to say this again, get out.” 

Fear gripped Cassidy like a vice as he looked into the cold dark eyes of Scott’s brother.  Cassidy looked away as tried to gather his courage.  He heard Jed and Sarah rise from the table.  He glanced towards them and saw the slight nod of Lewis’ head.  Cassidy took a breath and walked to them.  Then Cassidy, his wife and Lewis left the kitchen.

Chapter Ten

Scott shivered and tightened the bedcovers around him in an attempt to warm up.  He felt moisture in his hair and knew he had a fever.  As he continued to shiver, he felt a hand on his forehead and opened his eyes to see Dr. Jenkins sitting on the edge of his bed, his father stood behind him.  Murdoch’s features were edged with lines of concern which softened when his eyes met Scott’s.

“Hello Scott, how do you feel?” Dr. Jenkins asked.

“Better,” was all Scott managed in between shivers.  His response had been out of reflex, borne from many years of being cared for by nannies and servants.  In truth, Scott felt like hell.  Every joint ached and he wanted to curl his body into a ball to alleviate the discomfort.

Many years of practice told the doctor his patient wasn’t being entirely truthful and tried again.  “Scott, I need to know exactly how you feel.”

Deep down Scott knew that if was to get back on his feet, he needed to be candid.  Finally, he relented, “In all honesty, I feel terrible.”

Scott felt something being laid on top of him.  He turned his head towards his right and saw Johnny place another quilt on top of him. 

“Maybe this will help,” Johnny added.

“Thanks,” Scott replied still shivering.

“How does your back feel?” Dr. Jenkins inquired.

Scott had forgotten being rolled on top of the burning linens.  He looked over at the doctor.  “It feels better, what did you do?”

Dr. Jenkins smiled.  “It was something I learned many years ago.  I had Teresa heat a mixture of herbs and other medicines.  Then we laid them out on some towels and rolled you on top of them.  The heat along with the herbs and medicines helped alleviate the pain, it also reduced the swelling.”

Scott nodded.

“Do you have any sharp pains in your back?”

Scott shook his head slightly.  “No, there’s only a small ache now.”

“How about when you move?”

Scott looked at him questioningly.  “I’m trying to determine if you’ve cracked any bones in your back.”  Dr. Jenkins added.

“No, it’s sore, but better than it was.  When I toppled Lewis off his horse, I twisted my back rather sharply.”

Dr. Jenkins nodded.  “I see, you didn’t fall on it then?”

“No.”

“Good.  Now that you’re awake, let’s give you a thorough examination,” Dr. Jenkins stated as he reached for his stethoscope.

Johnny looked up from the rug he was studying in the hallway outside of Scott’s room.  Both he and Murdoch had been ordered out of the room while Dr. Jenkins performed his examination.  Johnny sighed to himself.  Normally he was calm and disciplined from years as a gun fighter.  However, the young man found himself tense and his nerves were stretched to the limit.  It had been a long time since Johnny had felt this way.

Years of being a gun fighter had kept him from being close to anyone.  After his mother died when he was young, Johnny had closed himself off from people.  He had carefully built walls to conceal emotions and feelings.  No one had ever been able to penetrate those walls until now.  Never would he have imagined that the well-dressed man he encountered on the stage, in what seemed a life, time ago, would be the one to break through his walls and defenses.  What had intrigued Johnny was that Scott never forced his way in.  Scott had let the relationship develop slowly.  The two men became friends first and then a deeper bond emerged, catching them both, off guard.  Although Scott was only a couple of years older than he, Johnny had come to regard him as an older brother and found himself seeking out his new, found sibling’s advice.  At times, Scott had come to his defense with their father.  Scott possessed a level of maturity that had Johnny forgetting how young his brother really was.  Johnny sighed as he realized just how fast Scott had grown up.  Another thing the two men shared.

The young man glanced over at his father.  He could see the worry on his face, a feeling Johnny shared with the man.  Scott’s relapse had scared the family.  His color had paled dramatically, and Scott was close to losing consciousness when he’d fallen into Johnny’s arms.  Johnny could feel Scott’s strength drain from him as he helped him to the sofa. 

“How long has it been?”  Johnny asked.

Murdoch looked at him.  Johnny’s voice had jerked him out of the reverie he’d been in.  He pulled his watch out of his pocket and looked at it.

“Not very long,” Murdoch replied quietly.

“Sure, seems like he’s been in there a long time,” Johnny responded.

“Yes, it does.”

Johnny shifted his weight.  “Guess I’m not too good at this type of wait’n.”

Murdoch smiled.  “Me either.”

The door opened snapping both men’s attention in that direction.  Dr. Jenkins stepped into the hallway, pulling the door closed, but not latching it.

“How is he Sam?’  Murdoch asked.

“Not good.  This fever is the last thing he needed in his weakened condition. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to contend with it.”

Johnny swallowed.  “Is there an infection?”

Dr. Jenkins looked at him.  Johnny had changed so much in the short time he’d been at the ranch.  Gone was the angry young man who didn’t care for anyone.  Now before him was a young man who cared very deeply for his new family, especially for the man who was his brother.

“No.  The wounds are still clean.  Scott came into contact with someone who had a viral infection.”

“What do we do now? Murdoch asked.

“As of now he is on complete bed rest and no visitors except for family.  We’ll need to get plenty of fluids into him and make sure he gets enough sleep; which brings me to another matter.”  Dr. Jenkins replied shaking his head.

“What?” Johnny asked.

“Scott is refusing to let me administer morphine.”

“Is that necessary?”  Johnny asked as he straightened.  He didn’t like the sound of this.

“Yes.  Scott is in considerable pain, which will prevent him from sleeping soundly.  His getting enough rest is vital if he’s going to be able to fight this fever.  He’s going to need every ounce of strength he can muster.”

Johnny looked at the door to his brother’s room.  “Let us try talking to him.  And if necessary, we’ll bully him,” Johnny replied as he glanced between the doctor and his father.

Dr. Jenkins smiled.  “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but you might have to.”

Johnny and Murdoch exchanged smiles and turned towards Scott’s door.

Johnny entered Scott’s room, with Murdoch following behind him.  Scott opened his eyes and turned towards them. 

“What’s this all about?” Scott asked as he watched the two men.

“We need to talk,” Johnny said as sat on the edge of Scott’s bed.

Scott said nothing and eyed his brother.

“Scott, the doc says you need to let him give you the morphine.”

Johnny saw Scott bristle.  “No,” Scott said firmly.

“Scott, listen to me.”  Scott cut him off.

“Oh, you’re a fine one to talk.  You nearly sent me across your room when I tried to get you to take a little laudanum after you were shot.”

“That was different.”

“Oh, and how so?”  Scott retorted.  His growing irritation caused him to move suddenly which elicited a wince from him.

“Scott, we can both see you’re in a lot of pain.  Sam said that it’s very important for you to sleep.  He said we need to get your strength up to fight this fever.”

Scott’s response was halted when he saw the expression on both men’s faces.  He was unprepared for the depth of concern in his brother’s vivid blue eyes.  Scott looked away and shut his eyes as tried to gain control of the emotions welling up inside him.  Their concern overwhelmed him, and he was uncertain what to do.  The young man had always been able to control his emotions, but the weight of the past few days were descending upon him.  Scott thought back to his conversation with Dr. Jenkins and his refusal of the morphine.  He’d been given morphine in the army hospital after his imprisonment and remembered the nightmares the drug had brought about.  Scott hadn’t experienced any nightmares in years and none since his arrival at Lancer.  That is until the other night, when he’d collapsed in the great room.  Seeing Dan and the others had brought all the horrific images back to him.  He remembered Johnny’s voice had brought him out of the nightmare he’d been in.  Now Dr. Jenkins wanted to administer morphine which would plunge him into an abyss he felt he would not be able to return from.  Scott was contemplating what he should do, when he felt Johnny’s hand on his.

“Scott, what is it?  Talk to me.”

Scott opened his eyes and sighed heavily. 

Johnny had been watching his brother and felt the anxiety grow in him.  Scott’s breathing was becoming deeper and more labored.  Scott’s face was becoming paler and Johnny saw a flash of emotion which heightened his anxiety.  Defeat briefly washed over Scott’s face.  In all the time he’d known his brother, Johnny had never seen defeat in Scott.  Scott had always been confident, resourceful, and courageous.  Johnny knew those traits had enabled his brother to survive his ordeal.

“Scott, let us help you,” Johnny said.

Johnny’s words were simple and heartfelt.  Scott was unable to resist any longer.  He felt his strength waning and knew he couldn’t do this alone.

“It’s the nightmares,” Scott said simply, his words barely audible.

Johnny was about to speak when Murdoch placed his hand on his shoulder.

“Scott, when Johnny called to you before, you were experiencing a nightmare weren’t you?”  Murdoch asked.  Johnny glanced at his father questioningly.

Scott nodded as his eyes met his father’s.

“I thought so.  I’ll be right back,” Murdoch turned and hurried from the room.

The two brothers looked at each other and before they could speak, Murdoch returned with Dr. Jenkins.

“Johnny, move to the other side of Scott,” Dr. Jenkins said as he went to his bag.

Johnny didn’t know what was happening but did as the doctor said.  Scott looked at his brother who shrugged as he made his way to the other side of the bed and sat down near Scott.

Dr. Jenkins turned around, with a syringe in his hand.  Scott was about to protest when the doctor interrupted him.

“Johnny, I want you to talk to Scott as the medication takes effect.”

Johnny understood what the doctor had in mind and moved closer to his brother, taking Scott’s right hand into his.  Panic suddenly shot through Johnny.  He wasn’t one to chatter and talking to unconscious people seemed strange to the young man.

Dr. Jenkins looked at Scott who finally nodded.  Dr. Jenkins swabbed Scott’s arm and then plunged the needle into it.

“I don’t know what to talk about,” Johnny stammered.

“Tell me about the best sunset you’ve ever seen, all the fine qualities that Barranca has, the best Mexican meal you’ve ever eaten, the first time you were with a woman,” Scott replied sleepily.

Johnny smiled mischievously.  “Well Boston,” he began.

Chapter Eleven

Johnny looked up from the rug in the hallway outside Scott’s room and stared at the closed door to his brother’s room.  He and Murdoch had been banished to the hallway as Dr. Jenkins examined Scott.  Johnny sighed to himself in an attempt to ease the edginess that had invaded him.  Years as a gunfighter had taught him patience and restraint.  Never had the young man entered into a gunfight recklessly.  Johnny Madrid had always been in control of his emotions, not so Johnny Lancer. 

Johnny sighed again and had to admit, he actually enjoyed caring for his brother.  Not that he would ever want anything to befall his brother, but it was nice to care for another.  To put someone else’s needs before his own.  In the months since returning to the ranch, Johnny had felt that Scott was taking care of him starting with the raid by Pardee and his men against Lancer.  Although Johnny had supported Scott on many occasions since then, this was the first time Scott had been seriously injured and it gave the young man the opportunity to care for his brother.  It had been a long time since Johnny had taken care of anyone or had become close to anyone he’d want to care for.  The edginess rose in him even more.

Johnny crossed his hands across his chest as he continued to lean against the wall.  His gaze traveled to his father who stood to his right.  Murdoch was staring unseeing down the hallway.  As Johnny studied his father, he noticed that Murdoch’s blue eyes seemed paler, and days of worry were etched into his face.  It was days ago that both men had stopped hiding their concern for Scott from each other.  They had talked openly about Scott’s condition and his time in the prison camp.  Teresa had joined them in a few conversations, which had brought all of them even closer.  Once again Scott had been the catalyst.

Dr. Sam Jenkins stood in the Great Room of the Lancer hacienda, studying the faces of the tired and worried family before him.  The past ten days had taken their toll on each of them as well as the young man upstairs who was fighting for his life.  To the Lancer family the doctor was calm and had a vast knowledge of treatments that he had prescribed for their loved one.  Dr. Jenkins, however, was near his wits end as he tried to determine the cause for Scott’s still raging fever.  Whatever remedy the doctor had tried, it had failed.  And now the doctor felt that he had failed this family that meant so much to him.

Although the morphine had been stopped days ago, the nightmares that were a side effect were still plaguing the young man and sapping him of whatever strength he could muster.  Sam Jenkins was running out of options and was contemplating trying something radical when Murdoch interrupted his thoughts.

“Sam, what are we going to do?”  Murdoch asked, his voice tinged with fatigue and anxiety.

Dr. Jenkins looked at his good friend, wishing he had good news.  Before he could answer his friend, Maria hurried into the room.

“It’s Senior Scott,” she rushed.  “His fever is breaking!”  She then turned and ran from the room.

Everyone dashed after her with Johnny in the lead.  He sprinted up the stairs and ran down the hallway almost missing the open door to his brother’s room.  He burst into the room and managed to stop near Maria with the rest entering seconds later.

Scott was covered in sweat as Maria tended to him.  She backed away when Dr. Jenkins came near the bed.

“Sam?”  Murdoch asked after a tense moment.

“Maria’s right, the fever has broken,” Sam stated as he straightened and opened the medical bag, he’d left on the nightstand next to the bed.    Thank God, he sighed to himself as he pulled out the stethoscope.

Teresa turned and hurried from the room at hearing what Dr. Jenkins had confirmed, knowing what she needed to do.  Johnny breathed a sigh of relief to himself as did Murdoch.  Maria glanced upward and murmured her thanks as she assisted the doctor.

Time stood still for Scott as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Faces of his family would appear before him and he could see their lips moving but was unable to discern what they were saying.  The times he was awake were brief, and then the exhaustion would pull him back under.  Whenever the nightmares threatened to plunge him into the abyss a voice or a touch would prevent him from falling over the edge.  

Johnny placed the cloth he’d been using to wipe the sweat from Scott’s body on the nightstand next to the bed.  He stood up and stretched his stiff muscles as he walked towards the door that joined Scott’s room to his, stopping near the dresser located on the other side of the room.  After a moment he glanced down and saw papers lying on it.  He picked them up and flipped through them finally coming to a letter.  As he scanned the letter, he realized it was regarding an army report.  Johnny read the letter over and then turned to the pages behind it.  The letter had stated an inquiry had been made at the behest of a family member of one of the slain men from the attempted escape.  Johnny knew he should place the letter and accompanying report where he had found them out of respect for his brother’s privacy, but the report beckoned to him and before he knew it, Johnny was reading the report in earnest.  As Johnny read the pages, feelings of pride and then overwhelming anguish for his brother flowed through him.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing looking out the window of his brother’s room.  Johnny suddenly turned at the thought of his brother.  He was supposed to be caring for him not dwelling on the visions that had invaded his thoughts.  He turned and looked at his brother’s still form.  Feelings of guilt washed over him at what he had done.  How could he ever look his brother in the eyes again.

When Scott opened his eyes, it was near dusk.  Varying shades of pink from the setting sun were casting a glow in the room.  A slight breeze was also coming from the window which filled the air with wonderful floral aromas.  Scott took a deep breath, savoring the wonderful fragrance.  Although he’d just awoken, Scott was exhausted.  His arms and legs felt as if they were weighted down.  The pain in his shoulder had ebbed and his back was stiff.  He wondered how many days had passed.  The young man wanted to stretch his limbs but felt too tired to try. He was suddenly startled by a voice that came from the direction of the window. Scott started to turn his head and saw his father sitting in one of the stuffed chairs he kept in his room.

“Scott, you’re awake,” Murdoch said, his voice mixed with surprise and gratefulness.

Normally both chairs would be facing the window, however, both chairs had been turned around and were side by side.

Murdoch placed the ledger that was in his hands on the vacant chair next to him and rose.  In two strides he was at the side of the bed.  He automatically felt Scott’s forehead as he continued.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m all right.”  Scott silently berated himself at how absurd his reply had been.  His father’s touch had caught him off guard.  Scott wasn’t used to this type of open display of concern, especially from his father.

Murdoch watched his son and saw the uneasiness in his face, and knew it was partly due to his upbringing and partly because they were still strangers.

Murdoch had realized his initial comments to his sons, when they had first arrived, regarding the past were unfair.  Johnny had made that clear when he was recovering from the gunshot wound, he’d suffered from Pardee’s men.  Johnny had asked some tough questions and expressed his feelings regarding his father.  In time, the young man came to realize he’d been lied to by his mother and eventually saw his father in a different light and decided to stay.

When Murdoch decided to speak with his older son, the conversation had quickly become heated with Scott abruptly leaving the room.  Murdoch haddecided to let the young man come to him when he was ready.  A couple of months later, Scott had broached the subject one afternoon while he was assisting Murdoch with some paperwork.  The two had talked at length all afternoon.  Scott had been direct and also asked tough questions.  Murdoch had been straightforward in his responses.  At times Murdoch could see the anger rise in his elder son.  Then Scott would take a breath and the anger would seem to dissipate.  Murdoch knew the younger man would contemplate the many revelations later in the privacy of his room.  After their discussion Scott had still remained reserved, however, Murdoch felt a door had opened.

“Would you care for some water?”

Scott nodded and Murdoch poured his son a glass of water.  Scott made an attempt to sit up but was unable to from the stiffness in his limbs and the exhaustion that was now threatening to overtake him.  Murdoch placed the glass on the nightstand and went to his son.

“Here, let me help you,” Murdoch offered. 

Before Scott could respond, Murdoch placed his hand behind Scott and lifted him from the pillows.  With his free hand he picked up the glass and brought it to his son’s lips.  As Scott drank from the glass, it felt as if the water had been absorbed into his mouth, never reaching his dry throat.

“Would you like some more?”  Murdoch asked.

Again, Scott nodded.  “Yes, thank you.”

Murdoch gently laid his son against the pillows and then poured another glass of water.  As Scott moved, Murdoch rearranged the pillows behind him. The older man watched as his son then settled against the pillows and noticed him wince in pain.

“Is that more comfortable?”  Murdoch asked.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Are you in any pain?”  Murdoch asked and then saw the hesitation in Scott.

Scott looked at his father and realized how closely Murdoch was watching him.  “A little.” 

Before Scott could continue, Murdoch picked up the small brown bottle, removed the cap and tapped a couple of drops into the water glass.  He replaced the cap on the bottle setting it down on the nightstand as he swirled the glass before finally giving it to Scott.

“Here, I’ve only put a few drops in to take the edge off.”

Scott eyed the glass then drank its contents and handed the glass back to his father. 

Teresa entered the room, carrying a coffee pot in her hands.

“Hi, I’ve got some coffee,” she whispered to Murdoch.

“Scott’s awake,” Murdoch replied. 

Teresa moved closer to the bed.

“Oh Scott, it’s so good to see you’re awake!”  Her voice was filled with emotions as she continued.  “How are you feeling?”

“Not too bad,” Scott replied, as he fought the tiredness in him.

“Hey, I hear voices, what’s going on?” Johnny asked from the doorway that led to his room.

“Scott’s awake,” Teresa responded. 

“Is that so?” Johnny asked as he walked into the room, stopping by the trunk at the foot of the bed.

“Hey Scott, how ya feel’n?”

“Better,” Scott replied.

“You look a lot better,” Johnny responded as Scott yawned.

“I think we should let Scott get some sleep,” Murdoch stated.

“Oh, I wanted to bring up some broth,” Teresa added.

“Maybe later darling,” Murdoch added as he looked at Scott.  Scott nodded as he yawned again.

“Well I’d better get cleaned up. I’ll see ya later Scott.”  Johnny said.  He then turned and left the room.

Scott watched his brother leave and wondered if he’d imagined it that Johnny had never looked him in the eye the entire time, he was talking to him.  Scott couldn’t shake the feeling that something had changed between them as he drifted to sleep.

Chapter Twelve

Teresa quietly opened the door to Scott’s room.  She was on her way to bed and wanted to check on Scott one last time before she retired for the evening.  It had been a week since Scott’s relapse.  Although he was doing well, the young woman was still worried about this man she considered a brother.  As she entered the room, Johnny looked up from the paper he was reading.  He smiled to her as he shifted his weight in the blue stuffed chair, he was sitting in.

“Hey, I thought you’d gone to bed,” Johnny whispered.

“I was, but I forgot to set some things out for the morning.  How are you doing?”  Teresa replied in a whispered voice as she walked to the bed.

“I’m fine.”

Teresa smiled as she looked down and gently brushed the hair from Scott’s forehead.

Scott felt someone brush the hair from his forehead as they checked it for a fever.  To him, it was an unusual gesture and one he was not accustomed to.  He couldn’t remember anyone ever doing that when he was growing up.  And yet, in the past few weeks it had been done several times whether or not the person was checking for a fever and he had found it to be strangely comforting.  He frowned and then heard voices.

“He always does that,” Teresa stated.

“Does what?”  Johnny asked.

“Frowns whenever I brush the hair from his forehead,” Teresa replied.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that too,” Johnny commented.

“That’s because no one has ever done that before,” Scott replied sleepily as he shifted his weight.

“Oh, I don’t believe that.  With all the servants you had while you were growing up,” Teresa rushed, startled that Scott had heard her.  Before she could gather her composure, Scott continued.

“Being cared for by family is far different than being cared for by paid employees,” Scott murmured as he fell back to sleep.

Teresa found herself smiling as she tucked the covers around Scott.  As she turned to leave, she glanced at Johnny who was also smiling. 

Once again time had drifted away from him.  The days had melded together, and he had no idea what day it was.  He sighed deeply as he glanced out the window in his room.  He wondered what time of day it was.  As he lay there, he determined it was mid-morning due to the position of the sun coming into his room and there were no faint smells of breakfast.  He then stretched his back that was sore from lying on it for so long.  Gone was the pain from twisting off an unsteady horse.  His muscles were stiff from inactivity.  As much as he wanted to rise and cleanup he stayed put, not wanting to endure any more, harsh words or another prolonged confinement. 

Murdoch looked up from his desk as Dr. Sam Jenkins walked through the foyer and dropped his medical bag on the blue stuffed chair near the long dining room table.  At seeing his friend, the patriarch rose and walked to him.

“How is he, Sam?”

“Much better.  The fever hasn’t returned, and his color has improved.   He needs to get his strength up and being confined to bed isn’t going to achieve that.  I’ve decided he can spend a few hours downstairs each day.  Weather permitting, he can sit on the veranda, getting some fresh air will be good for him.  However, the remainder of the time, I want him resting in bed.  If he, dozes on the couch that’s fine, however his amount of rest needs to be monitored.”

Murdoch smiled and nodded.  Although he knew that Scott had been improving, hearing it from Dr. Jenkins made it official and a weight seemed to lift from him.

“This is wonderful news.  Seeing that he’ll be downstairs, he’s going to ask.”

Dr. Jenkins nodded knowing what his friend was saying.  “No bookwork until my next visit.  Let’s see how this new routine goes first.  Then I’ll determine what else he can do.  I’m very impressed that he’s stayed in bed and followed orders.  I do know that his being tired had a lot to do with that.”

Murdoch smiled and laughed.  “That and being threatened with a prolonged confinement to bed!”

Dr. Jenkins laughed as he studied his friend.  He could see that Murdoch had been sleeping better.  The worry lines were still present but had faded.  Hearing Murdoch laugh was wonderful, and the doctor hoped it would continue.  The doctor then sighed to himself as he remembered that no one had spoken with Scott about the events that had led to his being wounded and the aftermath since his relapse.  It couldn’t be helped.  Scott needed to focus on recovering from his relapse.  However, the doctor knew the ordeal had brought up memories and feelings the young man needed to deal with.  The doctor knew that if this was handled correctly, it would assist in Scott’s recovery.  He decided to broach the subject with Murdoch.

“Murdoch, there’s something else I wish to discuss with you.”

“What is it, Sam?”

Dr. Jenkins took a few steps towards the sofa and contemplated his words.  He then turned and faced Murdoch.

“I wanted to discuss what led to Scott being wounded and the aftermath.”

“His imprisonment,” Murdoch stated and let out a deep breath.

Sam nodded.  “Yes.  I know this has affected the family.  And we both know it has brought up memories and feelings that Scott needs to address.”

Murdoch turned and walked towards the large window behind his desk.

“Whatever he needs, Sam,” Murdoch said quietly.

“I’ve seen how close this family has become in the past few months and I’m confident that you’ll get through this.  And Murdoch remember, he’s dealt with this before.”

Murdoch turned and faced Dr. Jenkins and before he could say anything Dr. Jenkins continued.  “Whenever people have learned that he was in a prison camp and then his dealing with their reactions to it.”

Murdoch nodded.  In the months since Scott had come to the ranch, Murdoch had learned that his son had a knack for putting people at ease.  The patriarch wondered how many times Scott had done that since returning from the war.

“I promise we won’t let him bury this nor will we push him either.  We’ll take this one step at a time.”

“That is the best approach.”

“And one more thing,” Dr. Jenkins added.

Murdoch looked at his friend. “What?”

“Scott can also assist you and the rest of the family in dealing with this.”

Murdoch shifted his gaze towards the French doors, and after a moment he glanced at the grandfather clock near him.

“Sam, since it’s nearing noon, would you like to stay for lunch?”

“Yes, I would.”

What about Scott?”

“I told Scott he could join you for lunch downstairs if he isn’t too tired.”

Murdoch looked at him questioningly.

Dr. Jenkins smiled. “I told him he could take a bath.  I figured it would make him feel better to get cleaned up.

Murdoch smiled again, “I’m sure it will.”

Scott took the last bite of his sandwich, dabbed his mouth with his napkin and then placed it on his lap.  As Scott reached for his water glass, he became acutely aware he was being watched.  He lifted his eyes as he drank from the glass and saw Teresa and Murdoch staring at him.   Both suddenly became startled as they realized what they had been doing.

“Sorry Scott, we didn’t mean to stare,” Murdoch said.

“It’s just so good to see you up and sitting at the table.  It hasn’t been the same with your chair empty.  We’ve missed you,” Teresa added.

Scott’s gaze had been downward as he placed the glass on the table.  A small smile crossed his face as his eyes came up.

“Thanks, I’ve missed being here too.”

Murdoch had been staring at Scott again.  The patriarch couldn’t help himself.  It was wonderful to him to see Scott dressed and sitting at the table.  His face had better color but was still pale.  Murdoch noticed that Scott looked tired.

“Scott, you look tired.”

Scott looked at his father.  “Actually, I am a little tired.  I think Dr. Jenkins was right, this was a lot for me to do today.”

Dr. Jenkins smiled.  “Then you should lie down for a while.  And later on, you can decide if you want to come down for dinner.  Just remember,” Dr Jenkins’ voice trailed as Scott finished his thought.

“Not to overdo it,” Scott smiled as he rose from his chair.  “And I won’t.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lie down for a while.”  Scott started to leave then stopped and turned his head, “Oh, and Teresa, lunch was delicious. Thanks.”

Teresa smiled at Scott as he turned and headed for his room.

Scott had finished dressing and was about to leave his room when he saw the sling lying on the bed.  The young man sighed as he walked to the bed and retrieved the sling.  He carefully slid the black cloth over his head, being careful not move his shoulder.  As Scott adjusted his arm in the sling, Dr. Jenkins’ words ran through his head, “The wounds are still healing, but with a proper convalescence you should regain full use of your shoulder.”  The sling now in place, Scott was ready to go downstairs and join the others for dinner.  He felt refreshed having slept for a few hours after lunch.

Scott descended the stairs and was greeted with delicious aromas from the kitchen.  As he neared the bottom of the stairs, he could hear voices coming from the great room but was unable to discern what was being said.  Scott rounded the corner from the foyer to the great room, and found Johnny and Murdoch standing near the fireplace.  They held drinks in their hands, and at first, didn’t notice him.  Murdoch took a swallow of his drink and then noticed Scott standing near the table.  Johnny noted his father’s gaze and turned towards it.  Scott immediately felt the awkwardness and could guess what they had been discussing.  He once again reached for the façade that placated people once they had learned about his imprisonment; Scott, the consummate gentleman, the disarming host, the charming guest, the dashing bachelor, and the perfect grandson.

“Smells like rain,” Scott commented as he glanced out the French doors.

Johnny and Murdoch exchanged glances realizing what Scott was doing. 

“Scott, don’t do that,” Johnny said as he took a few steps towards Scott.

Scott turned from the door and looked at the two men.  “Do what?”

Chapter Thirteen

Before either man could respond, Teresa entered the room to inform them that dinner was ready.  The three men walked to the dinner table and took their places.  All through dinner Scott was his usual charming self.  And although Johnny and Murdoch both felt this was a façade, they couldn’t help but to be drawn into it.  This was the first evening Scott had dinner with the family since he’d been wounded and then had his relapse. His presence at the table made the family feel festive, forgetting the worry they all felt for him.

Scott wandered out to the patio, wanting the solitude it afforded.  How many times had he done this in the past?  Too many he thought.  He shook his head as he silently berated himself for falling into an old routine.  Scott walked along the patio taking in the fragrance of the flowers in the hanging pots, thinking about the past few weeks.  Rumbling took his attention to the western sky, it smelled like rain and he wondered if it would.  He then heard familiar footsteps behind him and sighed to himself, uncertain he wanted the intrusion.

“Scott, we need to talk,” Johnny said quietly. 

For days Johnny had been mulling over what he was going to say to his brother.  The two men had built up a solid relationship during the months they had been at the ranch.  Johnny also felt a strong bond with his brother.  Hopefully that bond would enable him to communicate his feelings to his brother.  As Scott turned, the words finally came to the younger man.

“I did something I’m not very proud of,” he began.

Scott was confused; he thought Johnny was going to discuss what happened earlier before dinner.  As Scott watched his brother, he decided to remain silent and listen to what Johnny had to say.

“I invaded your privacy.  I read the report the army made regarding the escape,” Johnny admitted looking into his brother’s eyes for the first time in weeks.

Scott said nothing as the words sunk in.  He was surprised and then remembered where the report had been left.  Scott studied his brother’s face seeing emotions that hadn’t been there in the past few weeks and now understood Johnny’s behavior.

“I see,” Scott began.

“I’m sorry Scott.  I was walking around your room and I absent-mindedly picked up the papers from your dresser.  As I flipped through them, I found myself drawn to what was written.  I know it’s no excuse, it was none of my business,” Johnny said interrupting his brother.

Scott could see this wasn’t easy for his brother.  He could also see the guilt on Johnny’s face.  Guilt the ex-gun hawk had been hiding, except for his inability to look Scott in the eyes.

“Well in other circumstances I would agree with you.  However, it’s not as if you didn’t know what happened, and the papers were on the dresser in plain view.”

“You’re not angry?”

Scott shook his head. “No, I’m not angry.”  Scott’s voice was quiet and sounded far away.

“But you wished I hadn’t seen them,” Johnny said quietly.

Scott nodded, and then turned towards the barn.  Johnny stepped to his brother and placed his right arm across Scott’s shoulders.  Johnny felt Scott lean into his arm and the two men stood in silence as the storm rumbled in the distance. 

Scott entered the kitchen in search of a cup of coffee.  It was mid-morning and he had been reading on the couch in the great room.  As Scott entered the kitchen, he didn’t immediately see anyone but was halted by the sound of sobbing.  He glanced around the seemingly empty room and finally saw Teresa near the pantry door.  Her back was to him, but he could see she was shaking.

Teresa gathered the remaining ingredients for the dish she was going to prepare for dinner.  She had wanted to make something special for Scott.  She had been delighted with his presence at the previous evening’s meal.  The meal had already been planned but tonight she had wanted to make Scott’s favorites.  She smiled at the thought of the blond man she had become so very fond of.  As she closed the door to the pantry, emotions from the last few weeks caught up with the young woman.  She started to sob uncontrollably as her mind went over everything that had happened.  The items in her hands fell to the floor, and then she felt a hand gently squeeze her right shoulder.  She felt herself turning into the arm, a strong arm that went around her shoulders and then she brushed against the sling on the left arm.  She meant to pull away but the arm around her shoulders held her firmly and she found herself being comforted by it.  Her arms went around the lean waist and she rested her head against the firm chest.  After a moment she pulled her head away and began to wipe the tears from her eyes.  She then felt a handkerchief being offered to her, and as she took it she looked into the concerned blue grey eyes.

“Thank you and I’m sorry,” Teresa said as she wiped her eyes.

“For what?”

“Falling apart like that.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Teresa shook her head.  Scott was the last person she could tell what she was feeling.  She stepped away from him and then knelt down to retrieve the items she had dropped.  He knelt down beside her, picked up the remaining small sack, walked to the counter where Teresa was standing, set the item on it and then faced her.

“Teresa,” he began.

Teresa moved from him.  “I can’t Scott.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t’ want to hurt you, to bring back painful memories.”  The words tumbled out of Teresa.  She rubbed her hands on the front of her skirt, distressed that she had said too much.

Scott was deeply touched by the words Teresa had spoken and the emotions that played across her face.  He’d known that she was fond of him but until this moment, he had no idea how deep those feelings were.

“Teresa, what happened during the past few weeks has affected everyone.  We need to talk about it in order to move past this.”

Teresa looked into Scott’s eyes.  The young woman was pulled into the strength she found in them and the openness she had never experienced with him before.

“Okay,” she answered quietly and then noticed the empty coffee cup.

“Want to talk over some coffee?”  she asked as a small smile crossed her face.

Scott returned the smile and nodded.  “Yes, I would.”

Teresa stared at her coffee as her fingers played with the handle of the cup.

“I’m not sure where to begin,” she said softly.

“Why don’t you start with how you are feeling,” Scott prodded.

She straightened and Scott could tell she was angry.  He couldn’t help but smile to himself at the emotion and the feeling it gave him.

“I’m so angry with the Cassidy’s for all the horrible things they did!”

Scott raised his eyebrows at the depth of the anger that came through in Teresa’s words.  Before he could respond Teresa continued.

“And I’ll never understand Sarah Cassidy.  She was all smiles the morning they left as if nothing had happened.  Cassidy was no better.  He had the audacity to try and convince Johnny of his sincerity.”

“That must have been interesting,” Scott remarked as he took a sip of his coffee.

Teresa laughed a little and Scott smiled.

“I just don’t understand,” Teresa said as she took a drink of her coffee.

“Understand what?”

“Why Sarah let Dan hate you for all those years.  Even after he recovered, she never told him about the Army report.  All of this could have been avoided if she’d just told him.  You were nearly killed because of her silence.” Teresa’s voice cracked and Scott placed his hand on hers.  She wrapped her fingers into his.  Both were silent as they dealt with the emotions that had welled up in them.

“I’ll never understand people like the Cassidy’s. They’re so cold and uncaring.  I can’t imagine anyone ever being their friend.”  Teresa looked at Scott and realized what she had said. 

“Oh Scott, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean for that to come out that way.”

“It’s all right.  In normal circumstances Dan and I wouldn’t have been friends.  We don’t share the same views.  I knew that the first time I met him.  Then when we met up again, well, we had a common ground,” Scott’s voice was quiet.

“I’m sorry.  The last thing I wanted to do was bring up painful memories for you.”

Scott saw the anguish on Teresa’s face, and was grateful for it.  “You didn’t.  And sometimes it helps to talk about them.”

Teresa smiled at Scott and felt a closeness she’d never felt with him before.

Murdoch stood in the hallway leading to the kitchen. He’d heard the last part of Scott and Teresa’s conversation.  He quietly turned around and headed back towards the great room.  Murdoch stopped at the fireplace.  The conversation between Scott and Teresa seemed to flow easily between them.  Dr. Jenkins’ words rang through his head “he’ll be able to help you too.”  Murdoch stood there for a moment and then walked to his desk.

Scott walked into the great room to retrieve his book.  His father was sitting at his desk studying the papers he held in his hand.  As Scott watched his father, he could see that Murdoch wasn’t reading them.  The younger man’s movement towards the couch caught his father’s attention.

“Oh Scott, I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“That’s all right,” Murdoch replied as he watched Scott pick his book up from the couch.

“I was going to do some reading outside,” Scott stated as he glanced out one of the French doors.

Murdoch continued to watch his son, as a range of emotions raged within him.  Suddenly Scott turned and caught Murdoch staring at him.  Murdoch became uncomfortable and looked down at the papers he still held in his hands.

“Murdoch, is something on your mind?”

“No, this paperwork distracted me.  Sorry I didn’t mean to stare,” Murdoch replied as he looked down at the papers still in his hand.

Scott watched his father.  Murdoch’s response had been quick, too quick.  Scott had an idea what was on Murdoch’s mind.  He decided not to dance around the subject and confront his father.

Chapter Fourteen

Murdoch’s renewed concentration on the documents in his hands and the shift of his body in the leather chair was dismissive to the younger man.  Scott watched his father for a moment and then decided to let the matter drop.  Perhaps it wasn’t best to force the issue.  He then turned and departed the room through the open French door.

Once outside, Scott made his way to the patio near the front entrance.  He selected a chair and then pulled another in front of him to use as an ottoman.  As he settled himself into the chair, he drank in the aromas of the flowers in the small garden and those in the hanging pots.  It was a warm day and a gentle breeze blew into the patio.  Scott closed his eyes and finally allowed his mind to drift over the events that had occurred the past few weeks.

Murdoch looked up from the papers in his hands to an empty room.  He sighed heavily as he realized Scott had left.  He wondered if he’d just closed a door between, he and Scott.  The patriarch rose from his chair and faced the large window behind the desk.  After a moment, he turned and left the room through the same open French door Scott had departed through earlier.  Murdoch found Scott sitting on a chair on the patio near the hacienda’s main entrance.  His long legs were stretched out onto another chair that faced him.  The book he had been reading was resting on his lap, his head was resting on the back of the chair, and his eyes were closed.  Murdoch was unsure if Scott was sleeping but decided not to disturb him.  Dr. Jenkins had stressed how important rest was to Scott’s recovery.  Murdoch turned and quietly left Scott alone.

Scott wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep.  He stretched his muscles and looked across the yard towards the barn.  The crews were returning from their day’s work.  Scott watched as his brother crossed the yard towards the house, and then changed direction when he saw him on the patio.

“Hey Boston, see you’re out enjoying the weather.  You look mighty lazy.”

“You know, I could get used to this,” Scott teased.

Johnny smiled at his brother as he removed his hat and ran his hand through his hair.  It was wonderful to see Scott up.  His face had some color and it was good to see the lighter side of his personality reemerge. When Johnny had first met his brother, he’d found him to be serious.  It wasn’t long before Johnny found his brother had a devilish sense of humor very similar to his own.  It was another trait the younger man appreciated in his brother.

“Yeah, I bet you could.  Enjoy it while you can.  It won’t be long before you’ll be toiling in the hot sun getting dirty like the rest of us,” Johnny teased back as he cocked his head to one side, and then a grin appeared on his face.

“What?” Scott asked seeing his expression.

“You’ve got that good for nothing look about you.  I’m gonna have to watch you like a hawk and make sure you don’t milk this,” Johnny teased again which made Scott smile.

“I’m sure I have no idea what you are talking about,” Scott replied as he slightly raised his eyebrows.

Johnny laughed at his brother’s expression as he walked to Scott and extended his arm.  “Come on you lazy ass, you need to freshen up for dinner.”

Scott took Johnny’s outstretched hand and allowed the younger man to haul him to his feet.  Johnny’s smile broadened as he slipped his arm around Scott’s shoulder and led his brother to the front door.

Scott descended the stairs a short time later.  He had left his brother soaking in a hot tub that had been placed in Johnny’s room.  As Scott entered the great room, he found Murdoch standing in front of the cold fireplace, both hands resting on the mantel, staring at the floor. Upon hearing footsteps Murdoch straightened taking his hands off the mantel and then turned towards Scott.  

Scott saw the conflicting emotions in his father’s face and once again Scott found himself in familiar territory, dealing with someone when they’d learned of his imprisonment.  How many times had he done this? Too many to count he reasoned.  Scott thought back to how he’d dealt with this in Boston.  Boston society would never understand what he’d endured, nor did they care.  Whenever someone hadcallously brought up the subject, Scott answered them briefly and would then seamlessly change the conversation.  However, this wasn’t Boston.  This was his father; a person who knew some of the details of his imprisonment and a man who had demonstrated how deeply he cared for him.

Murdoch cleared his throat.  “Would you like a drink?” he asked as he moved away from the fireplace and then proceeded towards the bar that was located on the table behind the couch.

“Yes.”

Murdoch poured two drinks, and then hesitated for a moment before he picked up the glasses.  He then turned towards his son.  Scott crossed to him and accepted the glass.  Murdoch walked towards the French doors as he took a swallow of his drink.

“Smells like rain,” Murdoch remarked as he looked out the door unseeing.

“Yes, it does.”

“Is Johnny still cleaning up?”

“Yes, I left him soaking in a hot tub.”

Murdoch smiled and then took another swallow of his drink and was certain he’d managed to bury his feelings once more. 

“How are you feeling?”

“I might ask you the same question.” 

Scott’s words and the firm concern in them tore into Murdoch.  Suddenly Sam’s words flooded through him.  Murdoch turned and walked towards his desk in an attempt to regain his composure.

“Murdoch?”

Murdoch shook his head.  “I don’t have a right to these feelings,” Murdoch said quietly, and then was startled that he’d uttered them out loud.

“Yes, you do,” Scott replied taking a step towards his father.

“I wasn’t there,” Murdoch began.

“No, you weren’t,” Scott interrupted.

“BUT I SHOULD HAVE BEEN!” Murdoch yelled as he slammed his fist on the desk.  He then turned and faced his son.  “Scott, I’m your father.  I should have tried harder and fought for you with every ounce of my being.”

Scott walked a few steps towards his father.  “Do you really think that had you brought me out here, this would never have happened? That I wouldn’t have enlisted and wouldn’t have been captured?”  Scott replied intensely.

“No, of course not, but I would have been there when you returned home,” Murdoch said quietly as he looked into Scott eyes.

Scott looked down at the drink in his hand.  “We can’t change the past,” he said quietly.

“No, we can’t.”

Scott was unprepared for Murdoch’s response.  When he met his father’s gaze, he’d never seen the emotions that were reflected in his father’s eyes before; the regret, the pain and then the love.  He was unaccustomed to the open display of emotion and it was overwhelming to Scott.  His staunch upbringing left him unprepared for this and he turned towards the table behind him.

Murdoch saw the emotions in his son’s eyes before he turned away.  Emotions that he’d never seen until now.  Murdoch felt another barrier was disintegrating and decided he wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass.  This was his chance to be the father that Scott needed.

“Scott I’ll never understand what you’ve been through, but I know what it’s like to be betrayed by someone close to you.”

Scott’s head went up and then he took a few steps towards the table behind the couch.  

“Scott,” Murdoch implored.

“He’s right Scott. You can’t do this alone.”

Scott looked over and saw Johnny standing in the doorway that led to the great room from the foyer.  Seeing his brother abruptly turned the tables.  Scott swallowed, now he was in unfamiliar territory. Uncertain what he should do, Scott finally turned and walked around the couch towards the fireplace.  Murdoch could see Scott was shaking.  The liquid in the glass he held in his right hand was sloshing and was close to spilling.  Scott stopped in front of the cold fireplace.  He took a drink from his glass in an attempt to quell the emotions churning inside him.  He drained the glass, the brandy burned as it slid down his throat.  Scott then threw the glass into the fireplace, shards smashed against the cold log.

“Damn him,” Scott said angrily.

Johnny glanced at his father.  A small smile came over Johnny’s face as he then turned.  Murdoch watched as Johnny moved fluidly to Scott.  It was a wondrous sight, nothing he’d ever imagined could happen or could have hoped for. Two men from disparate backgrounds had formed an indelible bond.  For one brief moment Murdoch was happy, and then he remembered the task at hand.  His son’s need for him.  Murdoch then started towards Scott.

“Scott,” Johnny said quietly.

“I’ll never understand,” Scott responded.

“Probably not.  But in the words of our esteemed father, what we have is here and now,” Johnny answered.

Scott nodded and took a deep breath.  What he wanted and needed the most were here in this room.  He suddenly felt a hand snake, around his waist and then pull him into an embrace.  A moment later he felt a hand on his right arm that then made its way to his hand.  The grip was firm and comforting.

Chapter Fifteen

Scott opened the French door and walked onto the veranda.  He still felt emotionally raw from the actions of his father and brother earlier that evening and needed a moment alone.  No one had ever embraced him that way, not even his grandfather.  It was strange to Scott that two men he’d known less than a year knew instinctively what he had needed.  Scott thought about his father and brother, two men who had come to mean a great deal to him.  These two men had also learned more about him than those he had known a lifetime in Boston.  And now with Johnny and Murdoch knowing a few details of his imprisonment it had left Scott feeling exposed, another feeling he was unaccustomed to.  Scott walked further outside and gazed at the darkened hills.  He was intrigued that this place seemed to hold so many answers for him.  Perhaps he truly did belong here.  As Scott continued to reflect on the events that had happened the past weeks, it started to rain.  A smile crossed his handsome face as he looked up at the pitch-black sky.

Johnny poked the logs in the fireplace until he was finally satisfied with how they were burning.  The evening had become cool due to the rain clouds that had formed, and it had been decided by the Lancer men to have after dinner drinks in front of the fireplace.  Johnny stood admiring his handiwork, and a moment later was joined by his father.  Murdoch had gone to the wine cellar to retrieve a special bottle of cognac he wanted to share with his sons.  He knew his eldest son enjoyed cognac and after what had happened before dinner, the evening had a special feeling.

“Where is Scott?” Murdoch asked as he walked to the sideboard to retrieve three glasses.

Johnny looked around the room puzzled by his brother’s sudden disappearance.  “He was right here a moment ago.”

Johnny walked to the open French door, and found Scott standing on the veranda.

“Murdoch,” Johnny called quietly to his father and then gestured towards the open door.

Murdoch joined him.  As they watched Scott, they noticed his right arm was outstretched in front of him allowing the soft rain to fall on his hand.  He seemed a million miles away.  Both men exchanged puzzled looks and then stepped outside.

“Scott?”  Johnny called to his brother the concern evident in his voice.

The rain was falling lightly.  It was the kind of rain that gently cleansed and renewed the earth.  Scott turned his hand over allowing the droplets of rain to fall from his fingers.  The gentle caress of the water brought him back to a painful night so long ago.

Scott had been awakened by water.  As he licked his lips, he tasted clean water.  Something he hadn’t tasted in nearly a year, and he savored every drop.  As he became more aware of his surroundings, he realized he was outside, and it was raining lightly.  He was in a crouched position, and the tips of his boots touched the ground.  Each hand was stretched over his head, and Scott realized he was still tied to the two posts where the whippings in the prison camp took place.  Scott was too weak to stand but he didn’t care.  The rain fell down his naked torso and extinguished the raging fire that burned on his back.  The clean, wondrous rain was intoxicating to the young lieutenant.   As Scott reveled in this magnificent gift, he could see it was close to dawn which meant he’d been there all night.

The commandant had wanted to make an example of him, to deter the others from attempting to escape.  There had been no preset number of lashes.  This whipping was intended to break him, not that it mattered, because Scott already felt broken from the loss of lives in the escape attempt.  Scott wasn’t sure how many, lashing he endured before he lost consciousness.  He remembered at least ten but then they came at a rapid succession and he’d lost count before succumbing to the darkness.  Suddenly a face appeared before him, a face he hadn’t seen in a long time.  Before he could say anything, he felt hands around his waist lifting to him to his feet and then steadying him as his hands were untied.  Scott was then gently and swiftly moved away from the posts, and away from the clean glorious water.  He remembered protesting as he was rushed away from the healing and soothing rain.

As he entered an unfamiliar building, he saw more faces he hadn’t seen a in a long time.  His men, the ones he’d been separated from since their capture.  He would later learn they had talked the guards into letting them go out into the yard for him; convincing them that Scott was a broken man.  The guards had relented, not caring about the prisoner’s condition.  To Scott’s men, however, it worked perfectly into what they had planned.

Scott’s men had watched the escape attempt carefully and were elated that the lieutenant hadn’t been killed.  They had watched with sickening anger as he had been whipped for his part in the escape.  As they watched the horrific scene, they were in awe of his courage and the strength he still had after being thrust into this nightmare for so long.  The men then cared for their injured lieutenant keeping up the pretense that Scott was indeed a broken man to any interested guard.  The ruse worked, and the men were able to keep Scott with them instead of him being returned with the other officers.  They were also determined not to let Scott be taken to the infirmary where so many had never returned. 

Then a couple of days later, his men broke out of the camp taking their injured lieutenant with them.  Scott’s men knew the commandant and guards wouldn’t be prepared for another escape so soon after the other.  Scott was told by his men they had formed their own plan and had also made allowances to bring the injured lieutenant with them.  They had gotten away clean, and a few weeks later the group met up with a union patrol.  During their time on the run, Scott’s men had renewed him, giving him hope and a reason to continue on.  Now Scott had learned that the deaths of those men in the first escape hadn’t been his fault.  They had all been betrayed.  Scott’s own men had tried to speak to him, to explain why they didn’t partake in the first attempt.  Scott didn’t want to discuss it, that night too painful for him.  Now Scott wondered if his men had been suspicious.  Although he found some comfort in knowing he was betrayed, the loss of those men was still heartbreaking to him.  Scott looked at the rain dripping from his hand and was once again grateful for the gifts that it bestowed.  After a moment, Scott then heard his brother’s concerned voice.

“I never liked the rain,” Scott began quietly as if talking to himself.  “I always saw it as a nuisance that got in the way of my plans.  And then I experienced what it truly was.  How it cleanses and renews everything it touches.  I remember awakening to its soothing and healing powers.  It had been so long since I’d tasted clean water and I didn’t want it to end.  From that moment, I’ve looked at rain differently.”  Scott’s voice then became quiet and he continued to look at the rain as it dripped from his fingers.

Murdoch and Johnny watched as Scott turned his hand over in the rain allowing the droplets to fall from his long fingers.  It was the one and only time Scott had made a reference to his imprisonment.  Father and son knew they had been allowed to see into a door before it closed.

Johnny walked into the great room after finishing his day’s work hoping to catch his brother.  It had been nearly a week and Dr. Jenkins had stated that Scott could perform light duties.  Scott’s elation quickly faded when he learned what the doctor had meant.  Scott was able to work on the books, but nothing more strenuous.  Johnny knew his brother was going stir crazy and thought he may have an activity they both could partake in after dinner that would still be within the doctor’s guidelines.  As the young man walked into the great room, he noticed that the mail had been placed on the table behind the couch.  As he glanced at the stack of mail on the table, he noticed an envelope addressed to his brother that caught his attention.  Johnny picked up the envelope and felt the anger rising in him.  He was holding a letter from Dan Cassidy addressed to Scott.

What the hell does he want? Johnny thought as he read the envelope again.  Scott was recovering nicely and now Johnny was holding in his hand what could be a threat to that.  He doesn’t need to hear from this bastard, Johnny thought.  Besides what could he possibly say to Scott?  Johnny was tempted to tear up the letter or burn it, but it wasn’t his place.  That was Scott’s decision.   He may have already seen the letter but had chosen not to open it.

“Hey brother, I didn’t hear you come in,” Scott said from the doorway leading to the kitchen.  He then crossed to Johnny.

Scott had startled Johnny and now he was unsure what to do with the letter.  “I just got home,” Johnny answered as he placed the envelope back on the table where he’d found it.

“What’s that?”  Scott asked as he stopped next to his brother.

Johnny wished there was another answer.  “It’s a letter for you from Cassidy,” Johnny replied as he felt the anger rage within him.

Scott nodded as he moved to the other side of Johnny.

“Then you saw it?”

“Yes.”

“I told that bastard to leave this area and to leave California, and I reminded him of what Murdoch said to him!  I can’t imagine what he could possibly want to say to you!”

Scott was surprised at the anger in Johnny’s words.  He also found it comforting to have the younger man being protective.  Seeing the agitation in his brother, Scott decided to wait for the younger man to continue.

“I’ve never wanted to strangle someone with my bare hands as much as I wanted to strangle Cassidy.  His attitude that morning added to my hatred of him.  He had no remorse for the things he put you through.  He acted as if nothing had happened!”

“Well, that’s Dan for you,” Scott replied.

Johnny looked into his brother’s face.  In Scott’s eyes Johnny saw gratitude and the acceptance of his protectiveness.  Never before did he feel as close to Scott as he did at that moment.  As the anger receded in him, Johnny truly felt like a brother to Scott.

“Are you going to read his letter?” Johnny finally asked.

Scott took a few steps towards the French doors.  “I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain what it says.”

“Maybe we should just burn it in the fireplace,” Johnny suggested.

Scott smiled.  “Well, that’s an idea, but not right now.”

Johnny heard the hesitation in Scott’s voice and decided to let the matter drop.  He then remembered why he wanted to see his brother.  He walked to Scott, placing his left hand around the older man’s shoulders.  “Hey, I’ve got an idea what we can do after dinner.”

“You want a rematch to our chess game?”  Scott suggested.

Johnny shook his head and smiled.  “Not tonight.  How about we play a game of horseshoes?”

“Horseshoes,” Scott repeated as he looked at Johnny.

Johnny looked at Scott.  “Yes, don’t tell me you’ve never played?” 

Scott started to shake his head when Johnny continued.

“Oh, come on, what on earth did you people do for enjoyment in Boston?”

Scott started to answer him, but Johnny put up his hand, stopping his brother.  He then led Scott outside.

Murdoch settled into his chair and took a sip of his cognac.  He and Teresa were sitting on the veranda watching Johnny and Scott as they played horseshoes.  It was a beautiful evening and both he and Teresa were interjecting comments regarding each brother’s skill.

“Now you’re getting the hang of it,” Johnny commented as the horseshoe Scott threw clanked on the side of the stake.

“Well, brother let’s see you do better,” Scott replied as he took a step back allowing Johnny some room.  Johnny grinned at his brother and then threw his first horseshoe.  It landed in the dirt shy of the stake.  Johnny then threw the next which was a ringer.  He punched Scott in the right arm as the two men walked to the stake.  Murdoch and Teresa clapped.  Johnny gave them one of his winning smiles as the two men reached the stake.

Scott picked up his horseshoes and then Johnny reached down and retrieved his with a satisfied grin on his face. 

Scott threw his first horseshoe, which was a ringer.

“Nice one brother!” Johnny exclaimed.

Both Murdoch and Teresa clapped their hands and cheered.  Scott nodded in acknowledgment of their applause.  He then threw his next horseshoe, which also was a ringer.  Johnny smiled broadly as Murdoch and Teresa applauded louder and cheered again.

“Thank you.  Now let’s see you beat that!” Scott teased to his brother and moved a few steps.

Johnny threw his first shoe, which was a ringer.  Murdoch and Teresa again clapped and cheered.  Scott smiled at Johnny and then retrieved his glass of cognac from the nearby hitching post.  Johnny then threw his second shoe and scored another ringer.  Murdoch and Teresa again clapped loudly.  Johnny did a small bow and then turned around as a large smile appeared on his face.  He then joined his brother and picked up his glass that had been next to Scott’s.

Scott raised his glass. “Well done brother, well done,” Scott toasted as he took a drink of his cognac.  Johnny smiled, and then knocked back a swallow of his cognac reciprocating his brother’s toast.

“You know, I really like this.”

A mischievous grin appeared on Scott’s face.  “Just stick with me brother.  I’ll introduce you to all sorts of wonderful things.” 

Scott tipped his glass back again and the replaced it on the hitching post.  Johnny matched his brother’s grin and then set his glass next to Scott’s.  The two men then crossed to the other stake.

“I have a feeling you’re not going to be so easy to beat at this game,” Johnny replied as he retrieved his horseshoes.

“Well, I thought I’d give a little more competition this round,” Scott remarked as he picked up his horseshoes.

Murdoch laughed and then sipped his cognac.  He smiled as he watched his sons, enjoying their banter, reveling in their closeness.  He realized how precious these moments were.  Since their arrival, he’d nearly lost both of them.  He was once again thankful that they were here with him now.  Never would he have ever imagined this to be possible and he savored every minute.

Epilogue

Johnny tapped on the door to Scott’s bedroom.  Hearing no answer, he opened the door.  Johnny shook his head and was surprised that his sibling had beaten him in getting washed up for dinner.  When Johnny had returned to the ranch, he found Scott knee deep in mud in one the pastures behind the main corral.  Part of the herd was being moved to another pasture and a few steers had managed to break free from the drovers and wound up in the mud and became hopelessly stuck.  It had taken Scott and most of the hands the rest of the afternoon to free the frightened animals.  Johnny knew that his sibling viewed these animals as the stupidest he’d ever encountered.  This knowledge and the sight of his brother were too much for the young man.  Johnny laughed and then took delight in teasing his sibling, flinging relentless remarks in Scott’s direction until the older man flung some mud at his brother.  It had hit Johnny squarely in the chest and then had splattered onto his face.  As Johnny wiped the mud from his face, he saw the grin Scott’s face and then heard his laughter.  He was soon joined by a few of the hands that had been watching nearby.  Johnny had toyed with the idea of dismounting and teaching his brother a lesson but thought better of it once he saw how quick Scott was able to move in the mire. 

As Johnny turned to leave Scott’s room, his eyes were drawn to the wastebasket and the wadded paper in it.  The wad was of the stationery Cassidy used on the letter he’d sent to Scott several weeks ago.  Johnny stared at the paper noticing how tight the wad was and envisioned Scott’s hand clamping around the paper.  Whatever Cassidy had written, it had upset Scott.  Just as Johnny thought the letter would.  Damn that Cassidy! Johnny thought angrily and then left the room to find his sibling.

When Johnny entered the Great Room, he found Scott and Murdoch discussing something.  Both men were smiling as they noticed him enter the room.

“Evening Johnny.  How was your day?”  Murdoch inquired as he walked towards his son.

“Fine.  We managed to get the fence up.”

“The entire fence?” Murdoch asked surprised.  “I thought we estimated that job would take a couple of days.”

“We did, but the crew and me got into a rhythm and before we knew it, it was completed.”

“That’s great Johnny,” Scott remarked.

“Yes, it is.  Well done,” Murdoch added clearly impressed with his son.

Johnny beamed and then Teresa entered the room announcing dinner was ready.

Johnny studied his brother across the table and knew something was different about his sibling.  Scott wasn’t upset by Cassidy’s letter.  In fact, the relaxed ease that had emerged during his recovery was still present.  Johnny felt this incident was finally over and Scott had moved on once again.  As Johnny watched Scott, he smiled to himself.  Before this had occurred, he hadn’t really felt like a brother to Scott.  For so long he’d felt the relationship to be unbalanced.  Now the roles were reversed, and Johnny had been there for his brother.  Emotions still rose in Johnny when he thought back to the night Scott had confronted Cassidy.  When Scott’s strength had finally drained from him, he had turned to Johnny and collapsed in his arms.  In the days that followed, Scott had leaned on Johnny.  Johnny remembered how his voice had brought Scott out of a terrible nightmare and then kept him anchored in the present.  All those years when he was a child Johnny had wanted a brother, and now he truly had one.

Murdoch had also noticed a change in Scott.  The polite stiffness was gone.  Murdoch knew a wall had come down, and he felt the young man seated next to him now was the true Scott Lancer.  Murdoch also noticed that Scott’s smile seemed to cross his face more often and his laughter mingled with the others.  The patriarch also saw the bond between two widely divergent brothers had deepened.  Murdoch sighed to himself, having his sons with him now was more than he’d ever dared to dream possible.

The End

Written 3/07 and archived July 2022

.

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Suz directly.

.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: