This is a sequel to A New Beginning. It will be difficult to follow this story if you haven’t read the original. .
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!
A Vision of Hope
The journey had taken a week. It was a week of unrelenting pain, boredom and loneliness. Murdoch did his best, but Johnny missed his brother. Maybe, if he had been stronger they could have talked some more. If only Scott had agreed to come back with them. If only...no, there were too many of those. For as long as he could remember he had lived with regrets. Then, he had found his family and those regrets had started to diminish. The few months they had spent together were some of the happiest of his life.
He'd tried to keep his spirits up, mainly for the sake of his father. He could see how worried Murdoch was. Grimacing against the pain that had been his constant companion, he had to admit that he shouldn't have pushed so hard for them to set out when they did. Only, he couldn't have stayed in that house one day longer.
As the day wore on he tried to sleep, to let his mind rest. However, the constant jostling against the side of the wagon wouldn't give him the peace he craved. With a resigned sigh he opened his eyes and saw that the landscape had changed and that they were traveling through countryside that he recognized.
It was late afternoon when the wagon slowly trundled up the road that he knew so well. "Murdoch," he called softly. "Stop here."
"Are you all right, Son?"
"Si. Just help me to sit up. Por favor."
Murdoch pulled back on the reins and the wagon slowed to a stop. The wagon shifted as Murdoch climbed down from the driver’s seat and Johnny felt his father gently lifting him so he could look down on the sight he had longed to see for so long. The hacienda lay below, gleaming in the afternoon sun. Why did it not fill him with the pleasure he had been hoping for? He had only been fooling himself that being back at Lancer would make him feel better. He sighed sadly, resting his head against his father's broad chest.
"Let's go home, John. It’s been too long."
Feeling empty inside, he nodded and allowed himself to be lowered back onto his makeshift bed. Johnny longed to be in his own room - to shut himself away and deal with his pain the way he always had - alone.
The wagon continued its long journey down the steep hill to the valley below. Johnny could just imagine the preparations that had been made for his return. He almost sighed out loud at the thought of the fussing that would be going on around him. He was relieved that the journey was nearly over, but now, he had another journey to make. One that he hoped would eventually lead to his acceptance of Scott's actions.
He felt the wagon finally come to a stop and he saw Teresa and Maria standing in the courtyard, their arms entwined as if they were giving each other strength. How much did they know about what had gone on? He prayed to God that they didn't know everything.
The wagon rocked as Murdoch jumped down. He hurried over to Teresa and gave her a hug. Johnny saw his father speaking quietly to Maria, probably issuing instructions about keeping him in bed for an unacceptably long time! Val pulled his horse to a stop and gazed down. "I'd best be getting back to town. I hate to think what's been goin' on while I've been gone."
"Val..." Johnny raised his hand, dropping it by his side. He still felt so damn weak. "Thanks. For everything."
Val scrubbed a hand across his jaw, looking embarrassed. "Wasn't nothin'. Just what any man would do for a friend."
Johnny nodded. "I wasn't just thanking you for myself. You did good by Murdoch."
"Your pa's a good man. More than can be said for that brother of yours." Val hadn't troubled to hide his disgust for Scott's actions from either of the Lancers.
Johnny closed his eyes, turning away. "There's a lot you don’t know," he said softly.
"I know all I need to. Trust me, amigo, you're better off without him."
Johnny felt too tired to discuss Scott's actions with his friend. Maybe, when he had straightened out his own thoughts… He heard Val taking his leave of Murdoch, and his father expressing his heart-felt gratitude for the sheriff's assistance.
Then Teresa was there. "It’s so good to have you home, Johnny. We have your bed ready for you and Sam said he’d come by to see you as soon as he got word you were home."
"It's good to be back, Teresa." Johnny tried to sound sincere when, in truth, his thoughts were hundreds of miles away. "I've missed you."
Fortunately, Teresa didn’t seem to notice his hesitation as she looked past the wagon toward the path that led to the house. "Where's Scott?"
Johnny felt his breath catch in his throat. He looked imploringly at his father. Murdoch put an arm around Teresa's shoulders. "Scott stayed to keep an eye on things until the new owner arrives," he explained.
"Oh?” Teresa looked at them suspiciously. “That doesn’t sound like Scott.”
"The doctor said I'd be fine. I didn't need Scott when I had Murdoch and Val. Besides, I slept all the way. Now, how about that bed you promised?"
Teresa frowned as she took in the array of bandages covering Johnny's body. Before she could press the point further Murdoch intervened. "It's a long story, Sweetheart. And, right now, I think we need to get Johnny settled."
Teresa reached for Johnny "Oh, of course. You must be exhausted. Your bed's all ready and Maria has made some nice broth for you." She kissed his cheek then hurried off, calling to Maria to turn his bed down.
Now he heard the sounds of running feet. Murdoch threw out orders and soon he was gently lifted onto a litter. Johnny closed his eyes as he was carried into the house. This was going to be so hard. He had waited so long for this moment, yet it felt cold and empty. It wasn't the house he needed. It was his family - his entire family - whole again.
Scott sat at the top of the hill, looking down on the hacienda. Even the sun's soft colors could not lighten the house in his heart. It was not Lancer. It was not home. How he longed to be there. How he wished none of this had happened. But, it had and he had handled it badly. Now, he had no choice except to live with the consequences.
By now, Murdoch would have sent the telegram to Andrew Rawlings telling him that his mother was dead and that the ranch was his property. Scott wondered what he would do when Andrew arrived to claim his inheritance. Explaining the circumstances of Mrs. Rawlings death wasn't something he was looking forward to. He knew that many of the workers on the estate were also apprehensive. After all, they had been responsible for her death.
He touched his spurs to his horse and rode down the path toward the house. There was still an endless amount of paperwork that needed his attention. Maybe he could get lost in the facts and figures...and not think about Johnny, for at least one moment. Even his dreams were filled with his brother. Dreams? They were more like nightmares. Each time he closed his eyes he saw his brother's death. Sometimes, he was standing in the courtyard looking down into the grave. At other times, the images were entwined with older nightmares from his time in prison. It was only Consuela who was keeping him from slipping into insanity. Her warm presence and calming words had drawn him back from the brink of despair many times.
Scott handed off his horse to Manual, smiling sadly at the old horse wrangler. He wanted to feel that he was accepted here, for them to look upon him not as El Patron, but as a friend there to help. He knew that none of them understood why he was still here, rather than on his way home with Johnny and Murdoch. They tolerated his orders, having been conditioned for so long to accept authority. There was none of the camaraderie that he had begun to experience with the vaqueros at Lancer.
He walked through the archway leading to the courtyard. The place held a morbid fascination for him and he found himself returning to it more and more often. His eyes were drawn to the center of the yard and the memory of his horrible betrayal. Coming here had become like a penance. One day, he’d leave this terrible place. The question was - where would he go?
He took the stairway to the back door and stepped into the cooler hallway. He had asked the house staff to take down some of the somber reminders of the late Mr. Rawlings. And, in their haste, they had removed most of Mrs. Rawlings memories as well. At least, it made the house a little more tolerable. Everything had been packed away safely, ready for the arrival of the new owner. He hoped that would take only a few more weeks. Johnny had been gone for a week now, and he waited every day for a telegram telling him that they had arrived safely.
He found a plate of food and a hot cup of coffee waiting for him on the desk in the study. Consuela’s work, he knew. He didn't think he could have kept going without her help. She was a ray of sunshine in a world that had suddenly become very dark. And last night she had come to his bed. He hadn't expected it or done anything to encourage her. Yet, she had been there when he had needed her the most. For a moment, all the bad that had happened here had disappeared. He couldn't feel guilty about accepting her gift. His soul was already weighed down by more guilt than it could comfortably hold. Consuela had come to him freely and he wasn't going to turn her away. He could still smell the sweet scent of her hair flowing softly over his chest. He had been so lonely and she had been so giving. For a few hours, he had found peace.
Scott sifted through the papers on the desk. A telegram had been delivered and he grasped it eagerly, hoping that it would be from his father. He opened it, hoping to hear that their trip had been an easy one for Johnny, but instead, the words took his breath away. "Will arrive in six days. Andrew Rawlings."
Six days? He wasn't sure whether to be pleased or dismayed. Andrew's arrival would herald the end of his self-imposed exile, yet, he wasn't looking forward to having to explain all that had happened here. He stood up, his lunch forgotten. How could he tell a son of his mother's brutality? But it had to be said. Andrew had to know what the workers had gone through. What Johnny had gone through. It was only right, for both the victims and the son. And he suspected that much of what he had to say wouldn't be a surprise. Things that Mrs. Rawlings had said, led him to believe that Andrew had been on the receiving end of some of his mother's more extreme methods of exerting control.
He walked over to the window, looking down once again at the courtyard. There was no evidence of the grave that had nearly cost Johnny his life. But the spot would forever be damned by what had occurred on it. The workers avoided it. He turned away. While he remained here he couldn't escape the constant reminders. The trouble was, he couldn't escape them at Lancer either. Sighing heavily, he wondered if he’d ever be able to escape them. He sank into the chair and buried his head in his hands. Would the loneliness ever pass?
Sam Jenkins slowly made his way downstairs to Murdoch, who was waiting anxiously for his report. What he had seen on that young man's body was appalling. What he saw in his eyes was even more disturbing. Johnny seemed to have lost the will to fight. His wounds were healing and Sam's past experience suggested that Johnny should be chafing to be allowed out of bed. Instead, he had willingly taken his medicine and appeared quite content to stay where he was. A Godsend, considering the condition his feet were still in, but it worried the old doctor. He had seen patients in much better condition then Johnny, simply waste away from apathy.
"What the devil happened to him, Murdoch? And, where's Scott? I swear I've never seen Johnny so depressed, not even when he was recovering from the bullet in his back."
Murdoch sighed deeply and Sam saw the fatigue, and anguish, in the patriarch's face. His old friend had faced many set backs in his life, but whatever had happened this time, seemed to have nearly destroyed him.
"Scott stayed behind. I'm afraid he may decide not to come back. You see, Sam, he blames himself for Johnny's condition."
“Blames himself? My God man, that boy was tortured. How could Scott blame himself for something like that?"
Sam watched in horror as Murdoch paled and walked unsteadily to a chair. "Because he had a hand in it."
Sam felt himself sway and grabbed for a chair as well. "I can’t believe that, Murdoch. There is no way Scott would have a hand in that kind of abuse. Especially to his own brother. He loves Johnny.”
"Which is why he acted the way he did. It's a long story, Sam, and I don't think I know even half of what went on."
Sam walked over to the sideboard and poured two hefty glasses of Murdoch's best scotch. "Why don't you tell me what you know," he said, handing Murdoch a glass.
Murdoch gently lifted Johnny from his bed and carried him over to the chair beneath the window. His injuries were healing, but his feet were still too painful to put any weight on them.
"Sam's very pleased with the progress you've made over the last few days."
Johnny nodded, but didn't say a word. His son's silence was beginning to anger Murdoch. It was time he made an effort to get on with his life.
"In fact, he has recommended that you be allowed downstairs. He thinks, and I agree with him, that it's time you got back into the routine of family life."
Most of the bandages had been removed now, but Murdoch couldn't put from his mind the new scars on Johnny's back. However, it was the mental scars that worried him the most. "I almost forgot to tell you, I received a letter from Elana. She is doing well, and so is the baby. She also said she had dropped in on Scott."
Johnny looked up, the first emotion he had shown since coming home. "What else did she say?"
"That Scott was not looking very well. She doesn't think he's been eating or sleeping. I'm worried about him."
"Yeah, well, he's a big boy and he's got a whole houseful of servants to look after him."
"He doesn't have family."
"That was his choice."
"Johnny, you were both thrown into an untenable situation."
"You have no idea," Johnny snapped. "I ain't interested in feeling sorry for Scott. He sure as hell didn't show any feelings for me."
"You know that's not true, Johnny. I don't know exactly what went on there...but I know Scott well enough to know whatever he did, it tore him apart."
"Then why didn't he come home?"
Johnny bowed his head. "No," he whispered.
"I think he needs to hear that, Johnny - when you are feeling stronger. I see you sitting here, and how miserable you are. I can only guess at what Scott is going through.”
"I messed things up, didn't I, Murdoch? Back at the ranch...I didn't mean all those things I said. Trouble was, I didn't know what I meant - still don't."
Murdoch shook his head. "No one said what they meant.”
"I need time to think things through and I guess Scott feels the same. I keep trying to understand why he turned on me, but I can't. All I know is, I wouldn't have done that to him."
"Scott is the only one who can answer that question for you.”
"What if he decides not to come back?"
"That’s his decision. But, I hope Scott will change his mind when he's had time to think."
“You just gonna abandon him again like you left him in Boston all those years?" Johnny asked. "Only this isn't Boston, and he's not safe and sound with his grandpa."
Murdoch saw the anger flare in Johnny's eyes. At last, Johnny was reacting...and protecting his brother again. "I have no intention of abandoning him. But it is you Scott needs to talk to, not me."
"What if I make things worse?"
"Ah, Johnny, how could things get any worse?"
"I'd like to be alone for a while. Seems like I've got a lot of thinking to do."
"Yes. And before you ask...you will have to have Sam's blessing before you do any traveling."
There was a spark of Johnny's old spirit in his eyes as he managed a ghost of a smile. "Don't worry. When have I ever gone against doctor's orders?"
Murdoch patted Johnny on the shoulder. "When have you not?"
Teresa hummed to herself as she finished dressing. She loved Sunday mornings. It was the one day of the week when she didn't have to get up before dawn. She took her time washing her face and tying up her hair. Looking in the mirror, she turned this way and that, before deciding that tying up her hair made her look older and more sophisticated.
She was so happy to have Johnny and Murdoch home, and, for the last few days, Johnny had started to spend a little time downstairs. He was still very quiet and withdrawn, but she was planning a special dinner to try and cheer him up. Whatever had happened while he and Scott were away had affected him profoundly. She had never seen him so depressed.
She had tried to get him to talk about it, but he'd just turn away when she mentioned his brother’s name. It was hard to imagine what Scott could have done to make Johnny so angry with him. She knew a telegram had arrived from Scott, but didn’t know what it contained. When she had asked Murdoch if there was any news about Scott returning home, he had been evasive and Johnny's eyes had been filled with sadness, anger and guilt when told about the wire. She didn't know which emotion hurt Johnny the most....but there were all there, plainly written on his face.
Her good mood evaporated. She wanted to do something to help; only she had no idea what she was dealing with. Johnny was perfectly polite to her, although. she'd heard him and Murdoch arguing a few times. She knew that her guardian was worried that Johnny was shutting himself off from his family. Now, not so anxious to go downstairs and start the day, she opened her door and stepped out into the hall. She was bound and determined to find out what was bothering Johnny. If not today, then the next or the next. This house could not go on like this, with everyone walking on eggshells.
She stopped at Johnny's door. Maybe, before heading for the kitchen, she should check to see if he wanted her to bring him up some breakfast. She knocked softly and then pushed the door open without waiting for an answer. Just inside the room, she stopped. Johnny was tossing restlessly, fighting against the covers on his bed. He mumbled something and she tiptoed over to the bed. His face was glistening with sweat as he tossed his head back and forth. He was obviously caught in the middle of a terrible nightmare. She was about to wake him up when he breathed out, "Scott...no!"
Disconnected words followed. When he cried out, begging his brother not to let them bury him, she caught her breath in shock. She reached out with a trembling hand and, as her fingers touched his shoulder, Johnny's eyes snapped open. Only he wasn’t with her yet. He was still lost in some horrid nightmare.
"Scott - Dios, don't. You promised....you promised. Don't…too dark.”
"Johnny...." Teresa shook his shoulder gently. "Johnny, wake up."
He stilled beneath her touch, some trace of awareness returning to his face.
"Johnny, are you all right? You were having a terrible dream."
“Dream?” Johnny looked confused, the last vestiges of sleep still clinging to him.
She watched him trying to connect with reality. Suddenly, he seemed to realize where he was.
"Go away," he ordered sharply. "Leave me alone."
"Sometimes it helps to talk about it. Please, Johnny, let me help you."
His stark blue gaze softened. "There's nothing you can do, Teresa. And...and it's best if you don't know what happened."
"Don't shut me out, Johnny," she said angrily. "I'm not a little girl. Something awful happened. Something so bad that Scott couldn't come home. I want to know what it is."
"You want to know..." Johnny blurted out before stopping himself with a visible effort. "Trust me, Teresa, you don’t. I'm just trying to protect you."
"I'm not a child. I don't need protecting!" Teresa angrily whipped the covers off Johnny's feet exposing the bandages. "Something happened! I can't believe Scott was involved in this!"
"You want to hear about it?" Johnny's voice filled with anger.
"Yes," Teresa said softly. "I need to."
“Alright. We made the mistake of stopping someplace where my kind wasn't real welcome. The owner decided to teach me a lesson and Scott helped her. Is that what you wanted to know?"
"What do you mean Scott helped her?"
"She forced me to work and put Scott in charge. He took his duties seriously. It was his idea to put me in leg irons and to make me walk until my feet were torn to ribbons."
"No! I don't believe that. Scott wouldn't do that to anyone. He wouldn't do that to you."
"You calling me a liar? I'm not saying he enjoyed it, and he'd tell you he had his reasons, but all I knew was that it looked like my brother had turned against me."
"What reason would he have to punish you like that?”
Johnny shook his head, his misery clear to see. "That's what I keep asking myself. I thought he cared about me. If he'd given a damn, he wouldn't have sided with that..."
Teresa reached out to touch his arm. "Did you ask him why?"
"Didn't get much chance. After it was all over, he stayed out of my way. The one time we did talk - well, it wasn't real friendly."
"Johnny, you have to make this right. You and Scott both belong here."
"Ah, querida, sometimes things can’t be made right."
"Don't you dare give up on your brother! I just know there has to have been a reason for Scott to act like that."
Johnny looked up at the ceiling then turned his head away. "I won't give up, but I don't know about him."
"Scott isn't a quitter either. He loves you, Johnny. Give him a chance to explain. Promise me you'll talk to him."
Johnny nodded silently.
Teresa sniffled back an errant tear. "I'll bring you up some breakfast in a little while."
She was rewarded with a faint smile. "I'll be down for breakfast. I guess if I'm gonna talk to Scott, I need to start getting back to normal."
"I'll send Murdoch up to help you down the stairs. Remember, Sam wants you to use those crutches for a few more days."
"Sure, Teresa." Johnny looked at her seriously. "Are you gonna be alright? I didn't mean for you to hear all that."
"I’m glad you told me. I want to help."
"Gracias. Just don't tell the old man."
She leaned down and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "It will be our secret."
Scott smiled up at Consuela as she put a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him. "Gracias," he said, and was rewarded with a quick kiss on the cheek. Despite the appetizing smell, he still couldn't summon up much enthusiasm for the food. While he dutifully ate a few mouthfuls, he could see her studying him with a frown.
"You worry so," she said. "I am sure your hermano is growing stronger each day. Why don't you write to him? I'm sure he is as worried over you, as you are of him."
"I doubt if Johnny wants to hear from me." His remaining appetite fled, as it always did when reminded of the reason he was still here.
"That is not true. When he was sick he was calling out for you.”
Scott slammed his hand down on the table. “He was having nightmares – nightmares that I caused.”
“And what about your nightmares?” she challenged.
“They’ll pass.” Scott pushed his plate away, readying himself to escape from a discussion he was desperate to avoid.
She reached tentatively for his hand. “Won’t you rest today? Then later we have been invited to Elana's for supper."
Scott shook his head. "I have to get everything ready for Andrew. He’ll be here day after tomorrow."
"Everything is ready. It has been ready for days. You are just making excuses. It would be rude to ignore their invitation. Besides," Consuela looked smug, "I have already sent a message to say that we will be there."
Scott raised an eyebrow. "You did?"
"Si. I am looking forward to it. You wouldn't want to disappoint me, would you?"
"That's not fair. You’re playing dirty."
"And why not? You do nothing, except work and worry. Soon Senor Rawlings will be here and everything will change. What will you do when you are no longer the Patron? Will you go home to your family? Is it wrong of me to want to have a few hours with you to enjoy your company before you leave?"
Scott wrapped his arm around her waist. "I don't know where I’ll be going after this."
"Well, Senor, tonight you are accompanying me to see Elana and her family."
"I guess I have no choice."
It was nice to sit in the shade, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon air, rather than being cooped up in his room. A cool glass of sweetened lemonade rested on the small table beside him. Sam had given him the go ahead to spend some time downstairs and the natural progression was a trip to the chairs out on the patio. His feet, still covered in bandages, rested on a soft pillow covered chair. According to Sam, the worst was over now. It was still uncomfortable to put any weight on his feet, but they were no longer painful. He looked over at the crutches leaning against the wall. As soon as he could throw those away, he planned to have a talk with his brother. He hadn't had a night that he didn't wake up in a sweat after a dream about Scott. But, it was going to be hard to go back to that place, and he felt a flicker of resentment that he should be the one forced to seek out this meeting. Why couldn't Scott just have come home?
He'd replayed their last meeting over and over in his mind. He'd said some hurtful things that he now regretted with all his heart. Did his brother have the same thoughts - the same regrets? Dios! Would they ever be friends again? He'd tried to imagine the conversation. No matter how strong his resolve to remain calm, his bitterness had always erupted, leaving him fearful of the outcome.
Settling back into the chair, he didn't fight the fatigue. He had plans to make and he needed a clear head. Tomorrow, he would talk to Maria about fashioning a pair of moccasins for him. That would get him back on Barranca before he could slip his feet into a pair of boots. Somehow, he didn't think anyone would try to talk him into delaying this journey. Scott was missed, and he knew that Murdoch was desperate to have the family reunited. The only fight he would have would be to convince Murdoch that he needed to do this alone. Things needed to be said that their father shouldn’t have to hear. And, if he failed, there would be no one else there to witness his despair. Sleep pulled at him and he drifted off, hoping, this time, the dreams would leave him be.
Scott pulled the buggy to a halt outside the front door of the De La Vara hacienda. A lot of progress had been made with the house since he and Johnny had first seen it. There had been no shortage of volunteers among the men at the Rawlings’ ranch, who had all wanted to assist this family which had suffered so greatly at the hands of Mrs. Rawlings. The door opened and Scott heard the wavering cries of a young baby.
He felt Consuela standing at his side, her arm threaded through the crook of his elbow. If not for her, he would not be here, and now, he wished he had stood his ground and refused to come. Arturo made his way out onto the porch slowly, a genuine smile of welcome on his face. Scott noticed that the heavy splint on his leg had been replaced with a lighter version, evidence that the break to his leg was finally healing.
"Halo, Señor, it is good to see you again. Por favor, come in. Elana has been cooking all day for your arrival."
Scott stood aside to let Consuela walk ahead of him. He looked around, wondering where Miguel was. He hadn't seen the boy since Miguel’s outburst the day of Murdoch’s arrival.
Perhaps seeing his indecision, Arturo ushered Consuela inside and walked carefully down the steps. "Would you like to see the horses before we go in? I'm sure the women will be making a fuss over the baby and Miguel will be waking from his siesta shortly."
Scott nodded gratefully. "How is your leg?"
"Much improved, gracias. Elana is an excellent nurse and the doctor has been stopping by to check on all of us. I see that Consuela has been good for you as well.”
Scott felt the color rush to his face. "She is a very determined young woman. I'm not sure what I would have done without her."
"I believe that the worst brings out the best in people. I only hope that you and your brother will eventually see that."
Mention of Johnny caused Scott to draw away physically and emotionally. He reached the corral, leaning his arms along the top rail. "They are fine animals. Are you intending to breed them?"
"Si, when we have settled in more, but I believe there is something muy importante we should discuss. I know it is not my place to say anything..." Arturo began.
Scott held up his hand. "Not today. I just want to have a good dinner with friends. I don't mean to be ungrateful for your concern."
"Of course. Please forgive me."
Scott shook his head. "I know you mean well, but I’m not ready to discuss this with anyone."
"There are many in this place who care what happens to you and want to see you happy."
Scott reeled at the words. He had been trying so hard to distance himself from his feelings. He didn't think for a moment that he would find all his demons waiting for him, here at this house. "I find that hard to believe after the things I did."
"You did many things that will be hard for you to live with. And you are not the only one. But, Señor, you cannot carry the burden alone. It was not your fault. You were forced to do those things, and I carry much of the blame myself. I should never have brought my family here to a place where they were in such danger. You were only trying to protect them and your hermano."
"I put your family in danger when I first brought Johnny here. You were caught in the middle. And...and I didn't do a very good job of protecting them. Miguel saw things that no young child should be faced with."
Arturo laid a firm hand on Scott's arm. "You had no way of knowing what would happen. Pardon, Señor, but I must say this. It is easy to accept the guilt and live under its shadow. It takes a brave man to come out from beneath that shadow. I believe you to be that man, Scott."
"I used to believe I was. Now, I am not so sure."
"Si, you have been tested. But the truth lies here," Arturo put his hand on Scott's chest. "You and your brother will find the path, and you will be stronger for having walked it. I only wish I could walk it with you, make it easier. But it is a path you must take alone."
"I know." Scott sighed. "And, I will, but not yet."
Arturo nodded. "I know you will. Now, shall we join the women inside? If we leave them alone too long, there is no telling what they will come up with. Elana has the glint of a matchmaker in her eyes."
Scott dipped his head, uncomfortably aware that they might suspect the truth. He turned back toward the house. As they reached the door, he was struck with the comforting smells coming from the kitchen. It reminded him of the days when Maria cooked her special meals for Johnny. A wave of homesickness washed over him. He had been eating plain Boston, influenced food, which Mrs. Rawlings had demanded and hadn’t realized until this moment how much he missed the spicy Mexican food that Johnny loved so much. Change came slowly – even in the kitchen.
After taking a steadying breath he walked into the house. Elana looked up from her chair where she held Esperanza. Somehow, through all the hell she had been through, it seemed that she had survived unscathed. He only wished he and Johnny had been that lucky.
Consuela smiled happily when she saw him. "Come and see the baby. She is beautiful." Her face was flushed with happiness. "Si, Scott, come see Esperanza." Pulling on his arm she led him over to the chair.
Scott's view was that all babies looked alike, but he dutifully did as he was told, murmuring the appropriate sentiments. But, as he really looked at her, he was overcome with emotion. So much had happened and yet, this child was well loved and cared for. She would be protected by her parents. Something that his brother had lacked. Johnny had been betrayed time and again by the people who should have given everything, even their own lives, to keep him safe.
He turned away, not able to hide the tears that blurred his vision. He couldn't stay here, not in all this happiness. He was doomed to the life he had shaped by his actions. The only way he could be whole again was if Johnny was at his side, and that was just not something that could happen. "I'm sorry. I don't belong here. I'll send someone back to collect you later."
"No!" The word froze everyone. Elena stood up, handing the baby to Arturo. "You will not leave this house...not until I have had my say. If you continue to feel sorry for yourself, and guilty about your actions, you will never find peace. Neither will your brother and you owe him more than that."
"I owe him more than I could ever repay. But he deserves better than what I can offer. You saw what happened. Please, I don't want to bring this kind of grief into your home.”
"You will only bring grief here if you leave without allowing us - all of us - to help you."
Could what they say be true? Scott turned back to look at them. Then, the door opened and his world spiraled back into hell.
"Mama!" Miguel raced across the room to cling to his mother's leg. "Make him go away! Don't let him hurt me."
"Miguel." Elana pulled her little boy into a tight embrace. "He will not hurt you, he is a good man.
Miguel's sobs filled the room. "No! He hurt Johnny! He hurt his hermano. He is a bad man - a bad gringo."
Scott looked at the child, the dark head buried fearfully in his mother's skirts and took a step backwards, stunned. The pain of hearing the innocent child’s accusation took his breath away. He felt guilt closing around his heart, squeezing the life out of him. He had to get away from Miguel’s hatred and fear, and the pitying looks of the adults. "Thank you for trying, but this isn't going to work," he rasped and stepped out of the house.
Johnny saw the familiar buggy driving beneath the arch and knew Sam was back for his weekly visit. He considered trying to sneak back to the house from his unauthorized visit to the barn to see Barranca. However, he knew it was no good. Grabbing the crutches, he was forced to still use, he slowly made his way back to the house just as Sam pulled up to a stop amid a plume of dust. "Hi, Sam," he said sheepishly.
A good natured smile softened the lines on the elderly doctor's face. "I see you're pushing yourself too hard as usual. I can't say that I'm surprised."
"I'm doing better everyday. In fact, I'm thinking of heading out soon." Johnny tried to hide the emotions that still threatened to overwhelm him when he thought about his brother. "Got to have a talk with Scott...can't go forward without it.”
Sam nodded. "I'm glad, Johnny. When you first came home - well, I wasn't sure you'd get to this point. Come inside and I'll check you over. See if you're going to be leaving with my blessing."
Johnny lowered his head, hiding a smile. "I'm afraid Murdoch won't be so understanding." Looking up his face sobered. "He knows I've got to do it, he just doesn't understand that it has to be now. Everyday that goes by, I think I'm losing my brother forever."
"You're father understands that. I do know he's worried about you going alone."
Johnny sighed. "Some things have got to be done alone. Murdoch wouldn't mean to, but he'd get in the way."
"Have you heard any more from Scott? Murdoch told me about the letter from that family you helped. It didn't sound as if he was doing very well."
Johnny shook his head. "I plan on seeing them first. I want to know what Scott's thinking. Sam, I know how I'd feel if I had been forced to do those things. Don't know how anyone could live with that. But, I hope I can at least get Scott to accept I understand why he did it. Don’t know if I’ll ever be able to completely forgive... that’ll take time.”
"It hasn’t been that long yet, Johnny. You both have a lot to come to terms with, but I believe that if you can talk, it will help you. It's encouraging that you can see now that Scott had no choice."
Johnny nodded. "I wouldn't a come to that so easily if I wasn't here at home. Family, friends, they helped me see things differently. But Scott is by himself. I need to get to him...even if he doesn't want me there."
"Why on earth would you think he didn't want you there? Surely, that is exactly what he needs."
"He sure didn't want to face me after..." Johnny swallowed painfully. "He was avoiding me. Ain't got no reason to think that'll have changed."
Sam nodded sadly. "Well, let’s have a look at you. If...and I mean if...I think you are ready to leave, I will tell Murdoch to back off.”
Sam shook his head as he finished rewrapping Johnny's feet. "Well," he said, sitting back. "If it were not so important for you to travel, I would have to say you aren't ready. The cuts have healed and all the infection has cleared up. But, there is a lot of scar tissue and tenderness. It wouldn't take much to open up some of those deeper wounds again."
"Does that mean I can go?" Johnny asked tentatively.
Sam nodded. "But I want you to take it slow. You need to stay off your feet as much as possible. I guess it would be too much to ask that you take the wagon instead of riding?"
Johnny grimaced. "I had enough of that wagon on the way back. If I’m goin’ it has to be on my own terms, and that means takin’ Barranca."
Murdoch stood up from the chair he had been sitting in, watching. "If Sam thinks you should take the wagon, then I think you should. In fact, I think I should drive you."
"No, Murdoch. We've been over this. I have to go alone and I ain't going in the wagon."
Sam raised his hands. "All right. You can ride, but I expect you to take it slow. No boots for awhile, though. And when you get to the first town I want you to stay at a hotel."
"Whatever you say," Johnny conceded. "When can I leave?"
"It's Friday. Give yourself two more days. But, I expect you to be resting the next two days."
"Sam, I'm not happy about this," Murdoch interjected with a worried frown. "I know he's doing better, but you don't understand how dangerous that area is for him. He should either be fully healed or have someone with him."
"Johnny has made up his mind, Murdoch. He either goes with your blessing or without."
"I'd rather have your blessing," Johnny said quietly. "This is going to be hard enough and it would sure help to know you're on my side."
"I am. You know that. Johnny, I'm just worried."
"I can take care of myself."
"Murdoch, leave it be," Sam advised. "Johnny knows what he's doing and I'd say the sooner he and Scott can meet, and talk, the better. You told me yourself that you were worried about Scott's health," Sam continued. "The longer he is left on his own, the worse he's likely to become."
“I should have gone back there myself, after that letter came.”
Johnny shook his head. "He doesn't want any of us there. That's why I have to go alone. I don't want him to feel like we’re trapping him into coming back." He watched the emotions in his father's face and knew this was just as hard for him. "I promise to take it easy. But, I’ve got to go. If I don't, Scott could slip away and we'll never get him back
The effort Murdoch made to pull himself together was all too visible. "I know. It's just hard to sit back and do nothing. I thought those days were over when the two of you came home."
Johnny hung his head. He hoped he could bring Scott back home, but he just didn't know.
Scott was swaying with exhaustion as he rode up to the house. Since his disastrous encounter with Miguel, he hadn't slept for more than an hour at a time. The little boy's accusations were running round and round in his head, refusing to give him any peace. He shouldn't have left the house that morning - he knew that. Andrew Rawlings was expected to arrive at any minute. But, he had needed to get away from the furtive looks of the servants and Consuela's well-meaning words. Stopping in front of the house, he looked up the front stairs not knowing if he had to strength to climb them. And, what was waiting for him anyway? Apart from Consuela, he had no one and nothing waiting for him anywhere. All his hopes for the future had been dashed when he'd looked into the frightened, angry eyes of a child.
One of the elderly servants hurried toward him. "Señor." The man bowed his head respectfully. "Señor Rawlings is here. He is waiting for you in the study."
Scott froze. What could he say to the man? Your mother was a murdering bitch? That she had nearly killed his brother, and for all intents and purposes, she had killed him? He battled the urge to turn around and ride away. Andrew deserved an explanation and he was the only one who could provide it.
He looked up at the top of the stairs and saw Consuela walking to the edge of the porch. She was his rock, a place of stability in a world gone mad. With a slight nod, he began the long climb to the top. He left his hat and gloves on the stand in the hall and futilely brushed at the dust covering his jacket and trousers. It had been a long time since he had felt this nervous, and never before had the situation been as serious. How would Andrew react to the circumstances of his mother's death? Would he demand that those responsible pay with their lives? The responsibility weighed heavy on his shoulders.
Consuela threaded her arm around his elbow and gently nudged him toward the office.
At the door, he removed her hand, bringing it to his lips. "I have to do this alone."
"Si," she said. "I will wait here. You need only call for me. Scott." She laid her head against his chest. "I have talked with him and he seems to be a fair man."
"I hope you’re right, because I need someone to explain to me what drove her to hate as much as she did." Scott cursed himself for taking out his feelings on the one person who had been by his side, never wanting anything more than to help. "Consuela...I…"
"Go." She pushed him toward the door. "I will be here if you need me." She leaned around him and opened the door.
As he entered the room, he recalled the first time he had been here. Johnny, injured and ill-treated, had treated their captor with defiance. It was here that he'd denied his brother for the first time. If he could have that day back again he would have chosen a different course. But, he could not take it back. And worse, that day now defined how he would spend the rest of his days on this earth. Lonely. Despondent. Forever separated from those he loved.
Looking around he caught his breath. The man turning from the window to look at him was a spitting image of the portrait of Mr. Rawlings that used to hang on the wall. Younger and less heavily built, it was nonetheless clear who he was. Scott took in the light brown hair, blue eyes, skin tanned by the sun. This was the man that Mrs. Rawlings, in her delusions, had mistaken him for.
Silence hung like a solid wall between them. Finally, Andrew sat in the heavy leather chair behind the desk. To Scott, it was a gesture of ownership and it left him floundering. He'd expended most of his energy on running this ranch and now he had no place.
"Mr. Lancer?" Andrew Rawlings asked, looking no more comfortable than Scott.
"Yes." Scott pulled out the chair on the other side of the desk. He had no intention of standing like an errant schoolboy.
They looked at each other, neither one knowing what to say to the other.
Finally, Scott cleared his throat. "I'm sorry for the abrupt nature of the message about your mother. I assumed you would want to know as soon as possible."
"Yes. Thank you." Andrew looked down at the desk, as if it would offer him the words that he needed to say. "I spoke with some of the staff before you got here, and I honestly don't know what to say. How to mend the trouble my mother caused."
"There's nothing you can do except make sure that your employees are well treated from now on."
"I intend to do that, I assure you. Mr. Lancer, I had no idea what was going on here. I distanced myself from my mother several years ago, but I never thought she would descend into the insanity I have heard about. I feel partly responsible."
"It's not your fault. Even if you had been here, I doubt if you could have stopped what happened."
"I will live with the guilt the rest of my life."
"Then it appears were have a lot in common."
Andrew nodded and another uncomfortable silence settled over them. "How is your brother," he finally asked as if he could look right into Scott's soul.
Scott pushed himself to his feet, walking quickly to the window. "I don't know. Our father will be making sure he's well cared for, but there are some scars that even time won't heal."
Andrew turned the swivel desk chair around to follow Scott. "You don't know? Haven't you been in contact with him?"
"I don't think you understand. My brother made it quite clear that he wanted nothing to do with me. I don’t blame him. He was quite right. I betrayed him after all."
Andrew stood up slowly, joining Scott at the window. "Is that the place?" he asked, his voice catching in his throat.
Scott nodded, not trusting his voice.
"I can't believe the pain my mother caused. What she forced you to do was beyond inhuman."
"She was obsessed, believing Johnny had come here to destroy her. I tried to warn her, but she wouldn't listen. We were just passing through..." Scott's words trailed off, eyes darkening with the pain of remembrance.
"I understand your brother is half Mexican."
Scott stiffened. "Does that matter?"
"Yes. Mr. Lancer, my mother was not punishing you or your brother. She was punishing me. You see, I committed the cardinal sin. I married a Mexican woman and had a child of mixed race. It was the ultimate insult to her."
"She said some things that made me think that was what had happened," Scott admitted. "It was only afterward, when I found a letter you had sent her that I knew for sure."
"My mother was always a hard woman. Discipline was her way of showing love. My father was just the opposite. When they were together they off-set each other. When he died....when he died, she turned mean. I didn't know what to do, but escape.”
"She was convinced your father was still alive and there were times when she thought that I was you. She was a very sick woman."
"I knew that. I was a coward for not coming back. But, I honestly didn't know things had gotten this bad. She stopped writing once I married Rosa.”
"Well, you're back now and this is your home. If you don't mind, I’d like to stay for a couple more days. I have some people I'd like to say good-bye to before I leave."
"You're going home?"
Scott continued to look out the window. Would he ever see anything but that open grave out there? He shook his head. "I have no home to go to. I burned my bridges behind me. There is no going back."
"Then I have a proposition for you. Stay and help me. I know these people see me only as my mother's son. They will not trust me for a long time - if ever. Take your time before deciding what you want to do. You have a home here. It's the least I can do and it would be a great help to me."
"Thank you. I will think about it."
"I don't want to interfere between you and your family."
Scott lowered his head. "You're not. I destroyed my family long before you got here."
"I hope you're wrong about that. I was never lucky enough to have a brother, but if I had, I wouldn't have wanted to part like this."
Scott felt his stomach plunge. Dear God, neither did he. He would give anything to turn the days back, to have by passed Serenity and never heard the name Rawlings. He straightened his shoulders. "There is a lot you need to know about the running of this ranch. We can start by going through the books after supper if you like."
"Actually, I am quite tired. I had a long trip. I would rather just sit and talk if you don't mind. I want to know more about your brother. There must have been something special if my mother hated him so much.”
A familiar weariness settled over Scott. "No disrespect, but I really don't feel like discussing Johnny with anyone."
Scott was surprised at the hand that suddenly rested on his shoulder. "No disrespect taken, but you are not going to start healing until you start talking. You know, sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger."
"Not this time. I should check on the work crews,” Scott replied and stepped away from Andrew. “I'll see you at supper?"
"Yes, of course."
Scott left the room with mixed feelings. Uppermost was the relief that he still had someplace to stay.
‘Ten miles to Serenity.’ Little had he and his brother known the trouble that awaited them in that tragically misnamed town. Johnny stared at the sign, remembering when they had stopped by an identical one on the road leading from the south. All they’d wanted was a bath, a hot meal and a cool drink. Instead, they’d ridden into a nightmare, which had torn their family apart.
Johnny slipped his feet from the stirrups and slid gently to the ground. He’d kept his word to Sam, traveling slowly and even going out of his way to find a proper bed most nights. Even so, he was exhausted and it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the sharp pains shooting up from the soles of his feet. The closer he’d come to his destination, the harder it had been for him to continue. This had nothing to do with his physical discomfort and everything to do with the ache in his heart and a resurgence of his anger. He had been tempted, more than once, to turn around and head home.
He didn’t even know if Scott was still here. This would be a wasted journey if his brother had already left. He couldn’t see Scott returning to Lancer, but it wasn’t hard to imagine the easterner deciding to go back to Boston. After all, Scott had been quick enough to accept the comforts offered by Mrs. Rawlings – had been quick enough to torture his own brother. Johnny caught his breath in shock at the direction his thoughts were taking him. However much he tried to rationalize his thinking, sometimes his emotions ran out of his control.
He turned to Barranca and began to rummage in his saddlebags, hauling out his boots. If his father had known of his intentions, he was sure that he’d never have been allowed to leave Lancer. He’d already passed the turn leading to the De La Vara ranch. Common sense argued against his plan to ride into Serenity, but his anger at the townsfolk was too raw to permit him to turn away. It was vital to his damaged self esteem that he face this challenge and show everyone that he wasn’t afraid. Looking around, he spotted a boulder and walked slowly toward it. He had no intention of stopping in the town, anyone seeing his unsteady gait would know that he was still not entirely fit. For the same reason, he couldn’t ride in wearing the soft moccasins.
He massaged his feet, feeling the raised scars even through his thick socks. His boots felt restricting and uncomfortable. He swore softly to himself as he hobbled back to his horse. Barranca waited patiently as he hauled himself into the saddle. Johnny patted the golden neck. “You’re a good boy.” With his mouth set in a hard line, he turned onto the road leading to the town.
The main street was busy. Johnny straightened his back, pulled his hat down lower and raised his head. He kept his left hand on the reins, resting his right on his leg, close to his gun. He allowed Barranca to walk at a sedate pace while keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead. A man, wearing a badge, watched him from outside the jail. Sheriff Rayner had been replaced according to Val, and had been sent to the County seat for trial on corruption charges. The men who had survived the uprising at the Rawlings’ ranch had also been arrested and charged. Johnny had been coldly amused to hear that they had spent a couple of nights in the cells at the ranch before Murdoch had found out and had arranged to have them moved to the town jail.
There had been a subtle shift in the atmosphere in Serenity. Johnny saw a few Mexican faces, something that would have been unheard of during Mrs. Rawlings reign of terror. He passed the saloon, ignoring the urge to stop and go inside. He’d learned long ago to hide his weaknesses and injuries, and it would be foolhardy to undermine the impression he knew he was creating.
He passed the horse trough he had been tied to, degraded and taunted. He wasn’t sure he was ready for this. His stomach clenched at the thought of seeing the Rawlings’ ranch again. So much had happened there. Even from the grave, Mrs. Rawlings held him captive.
He had almost reached the end of the street when he heard someone calling his name. It took a moment for him to recognize the doctor’s voice. His first impression of Dr. Jamieson had been unfavorable. The man had treated him with disdain, not bothering to conceal his contempt for the injured half-breed that he had been called upon to tend. The examination had been brief, painful, and had culminated in the forcible and humiliating administration of a sleeping draught. If he’d been able, Johnny would have refused treatment from the doctor after his rescue. Murdoch had told him that Scott had forced the man to provide care. However, as the days had progressed, the doctor had proved himself to be a competent physician and a far more decent man than Johnny had expected. The doctor had offered an apology for his earlier behavior, without seeking to make excuses. They would never be friends, but Johnny had started to feel a grudging respect.
He reluctantly reined Barranca up and waited for Jamieson to reach him.
The doctor nearly stood at eye level at the end of the boardwalk. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon. How are you?”
Looking at Johnny’s boots, the doctor raised an eyebrow. “A little soon for those. They can’t be comfortable.”
“I don’t plan on doin’ a lot of walking.” Johnny raised an eyebrow as a young Mexican woman scurried past them and disappeared into the General Store. “Looks like things have changed a bit.”
Jamieson nodded. “Didn’t take long once the sheriff and his men were gone. It’s still taking more time for some than others.”
“And you?” Johnny asked softly.
The question seemed to truly amuse the doctor. “I had little choice. Your father was a very persuasive man.”
“Don’t remember. But, Murdoch can be a bear when it comes to his cubs.” Johnny thought fondly of his father. He had never experienced such tenderness and loving care, as he had received from the man who had seemed cold and distant at their first meeting.
Suddenly, all the humor faded from Jamison’s face. “You here to see your brother?”
Johnny nodded, every muscles tensing at the thought of confronting Scott. “If he’s still here. We haven’t heard from him in weeks.”
“He’s still here. I go out to the Rawlings’ place about once a week.”
“How is he?” Even now it wasn’t an easy question to ask and Johnny was not sure he was prepared for the answer. Elana’s last letter was the reason he was here, and now the shadow he saw roll across Jamieson’s face told him he had reason to be concerned.
“He barely eats or sleeps. He is a man driven, Johnny. No one seems to be able to get close to him. He’s even pushing Consuela away. I believe he is getting ready to leave. But, I know it’s not back to Lancer.”
Johnny took a long deep breath. Thinking the truth was always easier than hearing it. He didn’t know if he had the words to change Scott’s mind, but he had to try. No matter what happened, they were still brothers and the bond they had, though frayed nearly to breaking point, still held by a single strand. Like the cinches he wove back together, he hoped he could weave their lives back together.
“Gracias.” Johnny tipped his head and kneed Barranca, feeling a dozen set of eyes watching him ride out of town.
He had been riding for some time before the significance of the doctor’s words penetrated his preoccupation. He remembered Consuela, and her kindness. When had Scott started a relationship with her? That didn’t sound like the actions of a man torn apart by grief over his betrayal. His head started to throb in tandem with the ache in his feet. Why was it so hard to hold on to his resolve to give Scott the benefit of the doubt – to extend the hand of brotherly friendship? The bitter answer followed quickly. He had broken his own rules to offer trust, only to be betrayed and it had almost destroyed him. Another blow like that would shatter his belief in family, driving him back to a rootless existence. Did he have the strength to take that chance? Did he have the strength to refuse it? Tired, still nursing a deep hurt, he headed for Elana’s house.
Scott leaned heavily on the saddle horn, his normally upright posture overtaken by weariness. In the days since Andrew Rawlings’ arrival, he had spent a lot of time in the man’s company, not through choice, but rather through necessity. It was becoming harder and harder to stay in this place. Some mornings, it was all he could do not to saddle his horse, ride away and never look back.
Andrew was trying to forge a friendship, something that Scott wasn’t ready to do. Thanks to long discussions with the staff, Andrew now knew everything that had happened, and he was making great strides in getting the workers to trust him. Some, who had worked at the ranch for years, remembered him and the trouble that had followed his elopement with his future wife. Scott squashed a surge of resentment. Maybe, if Andrew hadn’t defied his mother, she wouldn’t have turned into the bitter, cruel woman who had tortured Johnny so badly.
He wanted to see his brother, to reassure himself that Johnny was recovering. After a prolonged silence caused by guilt, he had finally sent another telegram to Lancer asking for news. That had been several days ago and he returned each night hoping to find a reply. The disappointment at the lack of response was crushing him, even though he knew that there could be a dozen or more reasons why Murdoch hadn’t wired an immediate answer.
He looked down the hill. Andrew was on his knees tending to a cow that was in the midst of a difficult delivery. He’d been taken completely by surprise by Andrew’s announcement that he was a trained veterinarian. Somehow, he’d never imagined anyone who shared Mrs. Rawlings’ blood being prepared to get his hands dirty. As the calf finally slid free, Scott saw the look of pure pleasure on Andrew’s face. How he envied him at that moment. Apart from brief moments of relief while lying in Consuela’s arms, he hadn’t laughed or allowed himself to enjoy life since he and Johnny had been hauled away from the De La Vera ranch as helpless prisoners. How much worse must it be for Johnny, who had to contend with severe injuries in addition to the belief that his brother had abandoned him to his fate?
He couldn’t leave things like this. He wasn’t a coward and it was time to stop hiding from the consequences of his actions. If he ever hoped to find peace, he would have to talk to Johnny. He couldn’t imagine living at Lancer again, being a constant reminder to his father and brother of what he’d done. Neither could he see himself settling anywhere else with this on his conscience. He had to take the first step. If Johnny rejected him, well, that was his right. At least he would know that he’d tried.
As Johnny came within a quarter mile of Elana’s house he drew Barranca to a stop. Was he ready for this? Barranca shuffled nervously beneath him, feeling Johnny’s unease. He had thought he was ready. Convinced himself that he could overcome any physical discomfort if it meant putting an end to this chasm between him and Scott. And even though his feet throbbed with every step Barranca took and he fought to stay in the saddle as waves of dizziness threatened to unseat him, it was the pain in his heart that overwhelmed him.
As Johnny Madrid he had simply gone to ground to heal. No one to fuss over him or worry if he were dead or alive. No one to care. “No one to care…” The words slammed into him like a physical blow. Scott didn’t care. That was what hurt so bad. The man he had come to trust, to love, had turned his back on him. The memory of his last glimpse of Scott as the wagon he was lying in drove further away from the Rawlings’ house hurt even more now. His brother had watched, silently, before turning away. Scott didn’t care.
He almost turned around; almost abandoned his quest. If Scott didn’t care, why should he? But, the doctor’s words drummed in his head. Scott was ready to leave, but wasn’t returning to Lancer. Johnny couldn’t allow that to happen. Not until he had a chance to talk to him first. Lancer would never be the same without him.
Johnny clicked his tongue and Barranca began to walk slowly toward Elana’s again. In all those years, when he had been alone, he had wondered what it would be like to have a family. He had never thought it would be so painful.
On his last visit, he hadn’t been in any condition to notice much about the De La Vara ranch. The hacienda wasn’t large and he could see that there was still work to be done. Nonetheless, it had a welcoming feel to it. The small kitchen garden was well tended and the horses in the corral would warrant a closer look.
“Johnny! Johnny!” A small figure rushed out of the barn, shouting excitedly.
Barranca skittered sideways, stopping when Johnny tightened his grip on the reins. Johnny slid out of the saddle, carefully hiding the pain he felt as his feet hit the ground. Bending down, he held out his arms. “Miguel. You’ve grown a foot since I last saw you.”
The little boy flung himself against Johnny’s chest, fingers gripping handfuls of his shirt. “Papa said you’d be back if you could. I knew you would.”
“I had to come see my best amigo. How are your Mama and Papa? Is your hermana being a good nina?”
“She doesn’t do much. She sleeps a lot and when she wakes up she cries until Mama feeds her. When is she going to play with me?”
“Before you know it, she’ll be following you everywhere and gettin’ underfoot.”
Miguel looked up at him, his brown eyes serious. “Is that what you did with Scott?”
“Scott and me, well we didn’t grow up together.”
“Is that why he hurt you? Doesn’t he love you? I love Esperanza.”
“I don’t know, Miguel. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m here.” Johnny straightened up, taking hold of Miguel’s hand. “How about we go inside and see if your Mama’s makin’ supper ‘cause I’m real hungry.”
Miguel rushed off, slamming the door open in his excitement. Elana turned from the stove, startled, stirring spoon in her hand.
"Johnny's back," Miguel shouted. His excited voice woke the baby who began to cry.
The sounds of the baby's cries drifted into the background for just a moment as Johnny and Elana stood motionless. Everything came rushing back to Johnny and he felt the ground swell beneath him. This child had come so close to never being born.
"Johnny," Elena said in a hushed whisper.
Johnny pulled off his hat, twisting it uneasily in his hands. "I got your letter."
Elana nodded. "Si. I was expecting you. But, not...." her eyes went to his feet, and he knew she could see by the way he stood there that he was in pain, "this soon. Come in. Come in and sit." Suddenly she was in control again. "Go and get your Papa, Miguel. Johnny sit down and take the weight from your feet."
A delighted grin spread over Johnny's face. "You gonna boss me around again?" he teased, making his way over to the chair and sitting with a barely suppressed sigh of relief.
"Someone needs to take care of you. You should not be riding so soon. Ay! You haven't changed a bit."
Johnny waited until Miguel had left the room. "I was worried if I waited too long Scott would be gone. And,” he added defensively, “the doc said I could come."
Elena raised any eyebrow. "I think you hear only what you want to hear. But, I am glad you have come back. Your hermano needs you."
"Like I needed him?" Johnny regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. Did he really feel that way? Clearing his throat he asked, "How is he?"
Elana picked up the squalling baby, holding her against her chest and rocking gently from side to side. "He is not well," she replied. "He misses his family."
Johnny looked up at her. "His family include me?"
"You most of all. Oh, he does not say anything, but his silence tells me more than any words."
Johnny sat back in the chair, his exhaustion suddenly rising up and taking all his strength away. This is what he wasn't sure that he could face. Either need or rejection, they would both hurt. "I just don't know, Elana. So much has happened. I thought…I thought when I left Lancer that I would be able to do this. But now...Hell, I could face a dozen gunmen in a strange town easier than meeting my brother face to face. Does that make me a coward?”
"It makes you a man who has been deeply hurt. Scott carries as much hurt inside him. It will not be easy for either of you to meet again, especially here where all the bad memories live."
"You are not a coward and I will not hear such words in my house!" Both Elana and Johnny turned to see Arturo standing in the doorway, Miguel at his side.
Johnny stood up, grimacing at the pain in his feet. "It's good to see you again."
"It is good to see you again, mi amigo. But, I wish you had not come. Elana went against my wishes and wrote to you. The memories of that place," he crossed himself and said a silent prayer, "they are too much for you."
"Yeah, trouble is they followed me all the way back to Lancer. Elana was right. The only way to make them go away is to face them." Johnny sat back down. “Have you seen Scott?”
"Si, your hermano has visited us a few times. And, some of the men have been helping us. They say he has made a big difference to the conditions there. But, he does not do fine. I worry, Juanito that his troubles will become your troubles and you will both be hurt by them.”
"Can't hurt any more than it already does. If he tells me to leave, well then, I guess I'll know where I stand."
Elana swiftly crossed the room and put the baby in Arturo's arms. "She needs her Papa now. You see that Johnny takes his boots off and I will get water to soak his feet, then we can talk."
Arturo took Esperanza into his arms, bending to kiss the top of her head. When he looked up, his eyes were solemn. "There is something else you need to know. Mrs. Rawlings' son now lives at the hacienda."
Johnny closed his eyes in disbelief. How far did the fruit fall from the tree? Nothing had changed. Scott was still working for the enemy. He had come all this way for nothing. Tomorrow he would head back to Lancer. To hell with Scott!
Johnny winced as he pulled off his boots and socks. The air felt good on his tender feet. What he wouldn’t give to have one day free of pain and of the accompanying memories.
"Ay! You should not have worn boots so soon. Your feet need to heal much more." Elana guided his feet into a pan of tepid salted water and he grimaced as the still raw skin hit the liquid.
"Thought I needed to get here to see Scott," he replied, unable to mask his hostility.
Elana looked up. "You are still angry with him?"
Johnny gritted his teeth and looked away. He was beyond angry. How could his brother betray him all over again?
She patted his knee as she stood up. "Juanito, anger is the first step in healing. Like a baby - you must take small steps at first."
He kicked irritably at the water. "I'll be heading home tomorrow."
"Why?" Arturo asked, pulling a chair out to sit in. He still favored his leg and the pain showed in his eyes. "You have come this far. What has changed?"
"It's pretty damn obvious," Johnny snapped, before realizing that he was taking his temper out on the wrong people. "Lo siento. Just never thought Scott would side with that puta's son against his own family."
"Johnny! We do not talk like that in this house," Elana reprimanded him severely. "Even if she deserves the title,” she added in a softer voice. “Now, tell us, what has changed since you rode in a little while ago?"
"How can he stay in the same house as that man? He told us he was only staying to look after things ‘til the owner arrived. Looks like that was just an excuse."
"An excuse?" Arturo looked from Johnny to Elana, visibly confused. "An excuse for what? I believe you have come to the wrong conclusion, Johnny."
"An excuse not to come home." Johnny stood up, intending to put an end to a conversation he didn't want to pursue. He needed solitude to digest this further evidence of Scott's disregard for his feelings.
"Sit!" Elana demanded. "Your feet still need to soak."
"They're fine," he shot back irritably.
"No they are not! You had no right traveling so far in this condition. And you will travel no further until I say you can." She held up her hand at the expected rebuttal. "You have traveled all this way on a mission. I - we - will not let you leave until you have finished it. Now, por favor, relax; have some dinner and we will talk this evening. There is much you do not know. Oh, Juanito! So many lives have been damaged. I just pray that we can mend them in some way."
Elana's plea touched him on a level that few could have reached. It would have been easy for him to turn his back on them and walk away, but he owed them more than that. Although it was still his intention to leave in the morning, being civil for one night wasn't going to hurt him.
"All right. I am hungry." He reached out and grabbed Miguel's sleeve pulling him closer. "Miguel, can you see to it that Barranca is well taken care of? He is my closest amigo, next to you."
"I will help," Arturo offered, hauling himself clumsily to his feet. He gave Miguel a hug. "I have a feeling your mama wants to give Juanito a scolding and would prefer for us not to be around when she does."
Miguel's smile widened. "Si." He leaned closer to whisper in Johnny's ear. "Papa says to nod ‘yes’ to everything she says and it will go easier on you."
Johnny laughed as he sat back down. "Yeah, that used to work with my mama as well."
Miguel smiled, a secret shared between friends. Johnny watched him run out of the house followed by his father. "He is a good boy, Elana. I am sorry he had to go through so much."
"He is strong, like his father. But, all we ever wanted was to protect him. I sometimes think we should have stayed in Mexico."
Johnny shook his head. "You will be happy here. Give it time. Some things are meant to be."
"Perhaps. We will see. Now, do I have to give you that scolding or are you going to tell me why you've changed your mind?"
Johnny looked down at his hands. "I never thought Scott would stay under the same roof with her son."
"Why not? Andrew Rawlings is a good man."
"A good man?" Johnny spat.
"He is nothing like his mother. He cares for his workers, and the land. He is married to a Mexican girl and they have a son."
Johnny's head snapped up. "He does?"
"Yes. That is why he left. His mother would not approve of the relationship, so they ran away to get married."
Johnny sat back in his chair, his world rocked off its axis. If the old woman hated what her son had done, then - "She was punishing both of us for what her son did."
"It seems she became even more bitter after he left. She had lost her husband and her son, and blamed the whole Mexican race for that. Consuela told me that she believed, at times, that Scott was her son."
"It still didn't give him the right...." Johnny looked up at her. "I know why he did what he did...but it doesn't make the hurt go away. I want to forgive him, but I don't know if I can."
"Do you think it is any easier for him to forgive himself?"
Silence filled the room like a living entity. "God - Scott, what are we going to do?" he whispered.
Andrew Rawlings carefully set on his desk, the framed daguerreotype of himself sitting with a Mexican woman and a young dark haired boy. The picture failed to show his son’s deep blue eyes, the thing Andrew loved most about him. If only his mother could have seen past her prejudices. He missed his beloved Rosa and Antonio. His decision to come alone had been prompted by fears for their safety. Now that he had seen the situation for himself, he was edging closer to the moment when he would be able to send for them.
On top of the desk sat a key. He had seen Scott finger it, as if he were both drawn to it and loathed it. He was almost afraid to find out what it had been used for. There was a soft knock on the door, before it opened to admit Consuela. His welcoming smile faded when he saw the concern on her face. "You know what this key was used for, don't you?" he asked.
She bowed her head. "It won't make you feel better to know."
"Do you think there is anything you could tell me that would be worse than the things I've already heard?"
She looked up at him slowly. "Madre de Dios, I am sorry, but there is. That key, it was the key that locked the collar around Johnny's neck. Your mother treated him like an animal. And Scott was forced to - Señor Andrew, what he was made to do would rip any man's heart out. I don't know how to make him whole again."
Andrew looked at the key in disgust before dropping it back onto the desk. "I can't imagine standing by and watching someone I cared about being treated that way. It's a wonder he is able to function at all. The guilt must be destroying him."
“Si, it is.” Consuela lapsed into an awkward silence.
“Something is troubling you,” he said gently.
She hesitated a moment. "I have some news, and I do not know if it is good or bad. Pedro has just returned from town and he said he saw Johnny."
"Where is he?"
"According to Pedro, he rode through town without stopping. He has not come here, so I believe he is probably with Elana and Arturo. I have told Pedro to say nothing to anyone else. I do not know how Scott will take the news that his brother is here and has not come to see him."
Consuela walked past Andrew to look out the window. "He stands there," she said sadly. "He is drawn to that terrible place like a moth to a flame. Por favor, Señor, please help him. I care about him so much, but I can't help him any longer. Each day I feel him pulling further away from me, from everything. I fear that he will just disappear into himself and be lost forever."
Andrew joined her at the window. Scott stood in the center of the courtyard, shoulders slumped. He spent hours there, just staring down at the place where his brother had almost died. "I wonder if it would do any good for me to speak to Johnny. He deserves an apology and an explanation for my mother's hatred."
She turned to look at him, hope lighting her eyes. "Would you do that for them? It is not you who has to apologize. It was your mother who hurt them so badly."
"I am the only one left; the only one who can tell Johnny the truth. For him to have come back took courage. Perhaps, I can help him before he speaks to his brother."
Consuela put her hand on his shoulder. "If only your mother had shared your kindness.”
"I will go to Arturo's in the morning. In the meantime, I think it would be best to say nothing to Scott about Johnny being here. He's been hurt enough."
"Si. I fear that he will leave if he knows his brother is so close."
Scott looked at his food without interest. He forced himself to take a few bites, only to postpone the inevitability of his having to tell Andrew that he was planning to leave in the morning.
Even worse, was the thought of telling Consuela. He had grown very fond of her and owed her a debt he could never repay, but there was no future for them - not while he felt like this.
Andrew cleared his throat. "I was going through some of my mother's correspondence and saw a few things that I may still need help with. You know so much more about running a ranch. I must admit I’m at a loss at times.”
Scott laid down his fork, feeling uncomfortable. "You'll do just fine on you're own. I've decided that it's time for me to move on." He was surprised to see Andrew looking almost panicked at his news. He'd thought the man was more self-reliant than that.
"I was hoping for a few more days at least. I know I am asking a lot, but I feel I owe the workers here. I want to make this a home for them."
"You don't need me for that. It's time I faced up to my part in what happened. I'm leaving tomorrow to return to Lancer, to speak with my family. Then," he hesitated. "Then I have to find someplace to start over."
"You are in no condition for a long trip, and you know it. Please, stay until you are stronger."
"I know that every day it gets harder to think about going back. If I don't go soon, I'll never go and Johnny deserves an explanation of why I turned my back on him."
Andrew reached over and patted Scott's hand. "He will never know if you pass out and die on the way back. If you truly want Johnny to now how you feel, rest until you are stronger."
Scott was torn. One part of him wanted to get this over with; yet, common sense told him that Andrew was right. He wasn't fit enough to make the long trip alone.
Nodding, Scott pushed himself away from the table, his food once again untouched. "All right. A few days. But by the end of the week, I will be gone."
Andrew nodded with satisfaction. "I want you to have a few days rest before you leave. Spend some time with Consuela and relax."
The thought of spending time with Consuela was appealing. Perhaps, he could leave with a few good memories, rather than the unrelenting, painful ones that ate at him every minute of the day.
Johnny relaxed in the comfortable armchair, his feet propped on a low stool and Miguel curled up on his lap. Elana was in the bedroom feeding Esperanza, while Arturo was checking the horses before turning in for the night.
"Johnny...?" Miguel looked up, his unruly hair reminding Johnny of his own. "Are you going to stay here and help mama and papa? Papa's leg still hurts him."
"I wish I could, but I have to get back to my own family."
"Why can't you stay?" Miguel asked plaintively. "You're my only amigo."
Johnny ruffled his hair. "And a proud amigo. But you won't be on your own for long. I know the town is different now, and you, your mama and papa will be going there more often. I bet you'll make friends real quick."
"Will Scott be going home with you? I don't want him to stay. He scares me."
"He's not a bad man, Miguel. He did things that he didn't like. Like you, when you had to bring water to the workers. You didn’t want to do it, but we’re all real grateful that you did."
Miguel lowered his head. "I saw you and my papa in that dark cellar. Why did Scott not make them let you out? It smelt bad and my papa was scared."
Johnny froze. The idea that Miguel had seen the filth and horror in that place disturbed him deeply. No matter what happened, Scott should have protected him from that. Every time he thought he could forgive Scott for what he did, every time he thought he would be able to get past this, something else happened.
"You shouldn't have been down there. But, Miguel, it is over now. No one is going to hurt you or your family again."
Miguel wrapped his arms around Johnny's waist. "You will look after us. You are a good gunfighter. I heard the men talking at the rancho after Esperanza was born."
Johnny felt a cold chill run down his back. "Miguel, I'm not a gunfighter anymore. I just own a ranch like this one."
"When I get big I am going to be just like you."
"No!" Johnny felt Miguel flinch in his arms. "No...” he said, softer. “It's not a good life. You will be a great man like your papa. I have more respect for him than any gunfighter I ever met."
"Will you shoot Scott because he hurt you?"
The innocent question cut through Johnny. "¡Dios, Miguel! I never want to shoot anyone ever again." Johnny pulled the boy into a tight embrace. How could he explain to him what he didn't understand himself? Would he shoot Scott? No, of that he was certain. But could he face him again? Could he get past what happened? He was afraid to face the answer.
The door opened and Arturo limped into the room. He looked curiously from Johnny to his son. "I think it is time for bed, Miguel. Johnny needs his rest as well. He has come a long way to see us."
"Si, Papa. But can Johnny come tuck me in?"
"If he doesn't mind."
"Of course not." Johnny hefted Miguel back down to the ground and stood up, making his way slowly behind the boy. Once Miguel was settled in bed, Johnny reached over to turn down the lamp. He saw the little boy tense up. "What's wrong? You get nightmares? I mean..."
The boy looked up at Johnny, appearing hesitant to admit his darkest secret. "I thought the gringo was going to throw me in the grave with you....and the sand ...and..." Miguel's voice came to a shattering sob. "And, your hermano helped throw the dirt in the hole. I thought you were going to die."
Johnny grabbed the boy in his arms, squeezing him so hard he feared he would break the little boy’s ribs. "Miguel, it’s over. Listen to me…no one can hurt you anymore. Your papa would not let that happen and neither will I."
"Promise?" Miguel whispered.
Miguel wriggled in Johnny's tight embrace. "You can let go now."
"Sorry, Amigo. Now you get under the covers and get a good night’s sleep. I want to hear about good dreams in the morning."
"Johnny? Do you ever have bad dreams?"
Johnny bent his head. "Sometimes. But not when I'm with my family. I know they will protect me." He hoped God would forgive him this lie. He knew the horrors of nightmares, and Miguel was too young to carry such a heavy burden on his shoulders.
Miguel nodded sleepily. "You have good dreams too, Johnny."
“Gracias. I will. Sleep tight." Johnny couldn't let go of the boy. He felt a wave of protectiveness wash over him. He would die to keep this child from any more hurt. ¡Dios! Was this what Scott felt as he abided by Mrs. Rawlings’ orders? Was he protecting them all in the only way he could? He gave Miguel a quick kiss on the cheek, trying to hide his confused feelings from the boy. "Good night, Amigo."
Consuela appeared in the doorway to his room a basket cradled in her arms. "The cook just made a huge lunch, and I cannot possibly eat it all by myself. Would you take a ride with me? The fresh air would do you good.”
Scott looked up from the letter he was trying to write. He'd decided it would be only fair to warn his family of his decision to return to Lancer. He'd been trying to get the words down on paper for hours. As a result, he was tired and not much in the mood for company.
"Thank you, Consuela, but I'm busy at the moment. Maybe another time."
She dropped the basket carefully onto the bed. "We may not have another chance. I understand you are leaving in a few days."
Scott ducked his head. “I’m sorry. I meant to tell you. I wanted to finish writing a letter to my family to tell them that I am coming. They need to know ahead of time that I am not coming home to stay."
"So, you have made your decision. Has it not occurred to you that they should have some say in this?"
Scott folded the letter and slipped it into the top drawer of the end table next to his bed. "There are some things that are not open to a family discussion."
"Why not?" she challenged. "You are not the only one who has been affected by what happened here."
"No, I'm not, but I am the cause." He sighed deeply. "Consuela, I know you’re trying to help, but I’m not in the mood to go on a picnic."
"You are not the cause," she retorted angrily. "You had no more choice than Johnny did."
"Didn’t I?" Scott jumped up and charged over to the window, yanking the curtains back. “I could have chosen to have that collar removed from Johnny’s neck. I could have found a punishment that didn’t leave his feet cut to ribbons. I could have stood by him rather than walking away. So, don’t tell me I didn’t have choices!”
Her anger dissipated in the face of his agonized words. Even his choice of room reflected his torment. He had insisted upon moving when Andrew returned home and had been equally insistent about taking a room overlooking the courtyard. She had woken several times in the middle of the night to find him standing, staring out the window. "Tell me," she asked more gently, walking to join him at the window. "If you had not obeyed Señora Rawlings that first night, what would have happened?"
Scott shook his head, tears of anger and guilt, and overwhelming fatigue shining in his eyes.
"Then, let me tell you. You would both have been confined to the cells and, in the morning, once she knew that you had not contacted your father, she would have had you both shot."
"Better that than...." Scott began, heatedly.
"You would prefer death to knowing that you saved your brother's life as well as your own?" she interrupted.
Scott couldn't answer. His legs trembled. He felt her arm wrap around his waist and he allowed her to lead him back to the bed. How could he tell her that Johnny's face haunted him every minute of his life? Waking and sleeping, he could see those eyes pleading with him to stop.
He lay back and closed his eyes. He could feel her fingers gently stroking the hair from his forehead. If he couldn't control his words and emotions with her, how was he going to manage when faced with the condemnation of his brother and father? By now, Murdoch would know the whole sordid tale...would be aware of the depths of his betrayal. Andrew had been right. He wasn't ready to make the journey back to Lancer. Unless he could start to come to terms with his actions, he never would be.
He felt her soft breath on his face and suddenly wanted nothing more than to lose himself in her arms. He moved over on the bed, craving her gentle touch. The mattress dipped as she came to lie by his side, cradling him in her arms. He relaxed for the first time in longer than he could remember and slipped into a deep sleep.
Andrew rode up to the De La Vara ranch, his stomach knotted in apprehension. If he couldn't find a way to reach Johnny he might end up doing more harm than good and wind up driving the brothers even further apart. He had almost turned around twice on his way over. Even though Consuela's directions were perfect, he thought of feigning ignorance and not finding the ranch. But now he sat facing the front door and saw the curtain slide away from the window. Someone had seen him. Berating himself for his cowardice, he prepared to dismount.
He would have recognized the woman who opened the door anywhere. Consuela's description was perfect. He hoped her judge of character was the same. "Señora De La Vara," he greeted her. "I am Andrew Rawlings."
"Señor," she said, her expression giving nothing away. "What can I do for you?"
Andrew pulled back on his fidgety horse. Even the animal could feel his uncertainty. Would Johnny talk to him? Did he have the right to ask him? "I was hoping to speak to Johnny."
"What makes you think he is here?"
Andrew smiled. "Johnny is a bit of a hero...it seems everyone but the person that means the most to him, knows he's here."
Elana frowned at him. "You know, yet you have kept it from Scott? Why?"
Andrew started to dismount then thought better of it. He would need this woman's full cooperation if he was going to get anywhere. "Because I wanted to talk to Johnny first. Señora De La Vara...it was my mother's hand that nearly destroyed these two brothers. I have to, somehow, make things right. "
"It was a misunderstanding that drove them apart. It is not wise to lie to either of them. I believe you have made a mistake."
"Ma'am, Scott is ready to ride back to Lancer and tell them that he is moving on. If he doesn't talk to Johnny first, I have no doubt that is exactly what he will do. I only want to try to help...and if not telling the whole truth right up front helps, then I'm willing to lie my head off."
A small smile crept over Elana's face. "You are very persuasive." Her mood quickly darkened again. "Johnny has been badly hurt and I do not just mean his physical injuries. He will need very careful handling and he isn't going to trust you."
"I didn't expect him to. I just want him to come to the ranch with an open mind."
"You are asking a great deal. And, even if you can get him there, how do you think Scott will react?"
Andrew took a deep breath. "I don't know. He is so full of guilt and self-loathing, I don't know if anyone will be able to bring him out of it. I just know if Johnny doesn't at least try, then Scott is as good as dead."
The door opened wider and a young dark haired man stepped out onto the porch. Andrew was drawn to the deep blue eyes that would have been so reminiscent of his son's had they not been filled with anger.
"Who the hell invited you into our problems?"
"Johnny," Elana said placating. "He is here to help."
"His mother already did enough," Johnny spat.
"Yes, she did, and I thought it might help you to know why."
"Why?" Johnny laughed, but there was no humor there. "I know why. She hated you for taking up with a Mexican whore and having a mestizo. Is that about right?"
"Don't you ever speak about my wife and son like that," Andrew snapped in response.
Johnny shook his head and turned back into the house. Andrew saw him falter from the pain in his feet before the door slammed closed.
Andrew looked at the door, stunned by the way Johnny had turned the conversation. The disparaging remarks about his wife and son angered him, and he knew it would be all too easy to turn round and return to the ranch. Ground tying his horse, he headed up the stairs. He didn't bother to knock. Johnny would certainly not answer the door.
"Get out," Johnny snarled, turning to face the door with his right hand resting on the handle of his gun.
"Not until we've talked. If the only way you can talk is with that gun, then I guess it’s going to be a short conversation."
There was no change in Johnny's hard, unyielding expression, but he did move his hand away. "I don't need my gun to do my talking for me. I don't know why you're here, but you ain't welcome."
Andrew looked toward the sink where Elana had returned to her dinner preparations. He sensed that she was listening intently and that she was ready to protect Johnny from further hurt. "I was hoping that you would be willing to listen to what I had to say. Not really sure why I thought that as I don't know you from Adam, but I've gotten to know your brother and despite himself, I like the man. You do too or you wouldn't be out here."
“You have no idea what my feelings are about Scott. And, I don’t know how well you think you know him. We lived together as a family for three months and it turns out that I didn’t know him at all. If I have any business here, it’s with him – not you.”
Andrew shrugged. "True. But I guess I feel a little responsible for what happened between you two. I should have kept in touch with my mother. I just never thought her bigotry would turn so hostile and dangerous. I left for the same reasons you and Scott were punished. For that, I am truly sorry."
"Fine," Johnny ground out. "You've apologized. Now, you can leave."
Andrew slowly walked across the kitchen, pulling out a chair and swinging it around so he straddled it backwards. "Can I ask you why you came? The real reason? I know…” He held up his hand. "I have no right to an answer, but I want to know,"
"And, I guess you're used to getting what you want.” Johnny’s tone remained unfriendly. “Why does it matter to you? Will it make it easier for you to sleep at night? Why don't you just get on with your life and let us get on with ours?"
"Because you aren't getting on with yours. Johnny, whatever you think of your brother and what he did, you have to know that it is killing him inside. And I mean just that. If he goes on like this, he will be dead within a year. A man can't live with the amount of guilt your brother is carrying around right now. And, forgive me, but I think you are carrying a pretty good size load yourself."
For the first time, there was a trace of uncertainty on Johnny's face. "I ain't got anything to feel guilty about." He turned away and walked to the armchair by the fireplace, sitting with a barely audible sigh. "Is Scott really in that bad a way?"
"I dare say you would not recognize him."
"I don't believe you. Scott's stronger than that."
Elana walked across the kitchen, her hands wringing her apron. "Listen to him, Juanito. Your brother is in much trouble. He feels responsible for everything that happened at that hoyo del infierno. He does not eat. He does not sleep. He is a man possessed by the demon of guilt. I fear that he will never find peace...Dios! I fear he will not even find peace in death."
"What do you expect me to do?" Johnny almost begged. "I'm the one who was buried alive! I still can't walk properly because of what he did. How can I make Scott feel any better when I don't even know what I feel about him?"
Andrew saw the first glimmer of true hope. If Johnny was asking the questions, it proved he cared. "I can't give you the answers, Johnny. I can only ask that you, at least, go to see him. There is nothing either of you can do until one of you says the first word. Johnny, I don't know you, but I have to hope you are the Johnny Madrid the people at the ranch talk about."
"Being Johnny Madrid is what got me into all this trouble to begin with.” He raked his hand through his hair, his face agonized. “Scott didn't want to see me before I left the first time. What makes you think he'll speak to me this time?"
"Because he calls out your name in his sleep…because he stares down at the center of the courtyard from his room, hour after hour…because there is still a bond there. You just have to find a way to strengthen it enough for both of you. I know, I am asking a lot. But, Johnny, how do walk away from a drowning man? Believe me when I tell you that Scott is drowning."
Johnny's head dipped, a barely suppressed sigh passing his lips. He looked back up. "I don't know if I can save him. Hell, I don't even know if I can save myself."
"Juanito, you can only try. Por favor, if you walk away now, you will never forgive yourself."
"I didn't come all this way just to walk away without seeing him. But, the truth is, I'm afraid of what I might say. What if I make things worse rather than better?"
"You can't make things worse. Johnny, don't let my mother win. Don't let her have the final laugh. I left when I fell in love with a Mexican woman and married her. We had a son, blue eyes just like yours. Somehow, she saw me in Scott and everything evil in you. Think of where that put Scott. He tried to help the only way he knew how, and when he found that his plan wasn't working, it was too late. All he could do was to try to keep you alive, until you both could escape or be rescued."
"You make it all sound so nice and easy," Johnny said wearily. "How did putting me in leg irons help? Or making me work until I collapsed from exhaustion? I didn't need that kind of protecting. What I needed was my brother by my side."
Elena sat down beside him. "He was. In the only way he could be. What was he to do, Juanito, when she threatened to put my Miguel in that hole instead of you? What would you have done? Please, try to remember, you begged your brother to take you and save my boy. It was the act of a brave man. And Scott acted just as bravely by agreeing. What do you think it cost him to put you in that coffin and nail it shut?" Elana wiped away the tears that streamed down her face. "You tell me what you would have done. Tell me! Would you have buried a little boy?"
"You know I wouldn't," Johnny protested. "I know, in here…" He placed his hand over his heart. "That Scott did what he thought was right. That doesn't make it any easier to forgive."
"We know that," Andrew said softly. “But, it has to start somewhere. Many of your wounds have healed, have already begun to scab over. Scott's have just gone on festering. He needs your help, Johnny."
"Just like I needed his?" Johnny snapped, then lowered his head. "I'm sorry, but I don't know if I can give him what he needs to heal. I don't know if I can give him forgiveness."
Andrew stood up. "If you don't try, you will never know. Take the first step. Please." He had decided against telling Johnny of Scott’s decision, feeling strongly that it was not his place to do so.
The indecision on Johnny's face was painful to see. Then, he stood up and nodded. "I came here to see him. Don't reckon I'll ever be at peace with myself if I back away now."
Elana took his arm. "It is the right thing to do, Juanito. If you need help...know we are here for you."
Johnny kissed her on the cheek. "Gracias, Elana." He grabbed his hat and turned to Andrew. "Is Scott at the hacienda?"
"Yes. Do you want me to come with you?"
"No, I'd like to do this alone. And, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have insulted your wife and son."
Andrew smiled. "We are all under a lot of pressure."
"It took guts to come here. Elana and Arturo were right. You're nothing like your mother."
A flush came over Andrew's face and he had to turn away. "Thank you. Now, you had better be on your way."
He and Elana followed Johnny out onto the porch. They watched him walk to the barn with a renewed determination. After he had ridden away, Elana took Andrew's arm. "Come, Señor Rawlings. If we are going to be neighbors, we should get to know one another better. Let me introduce you to my family."
As Johnny approached the Rawlings ranch, he wasn't sure if he could do this. The last time he was here, he was draped over the saddle with his hands tied. He felt every bit as much a prisoner now as he did then. This was a place he had never intended to return to, yet, was drawn to it by his need to make things right with Scott. The memories were too deep and painful. He had passed several of the workers on his way up the drive. Each had given him an encouraging smile. It was very different from the atmosphere that had existed when they had been forced into labor – no more than dirt beneath Madeline Rawlings’ shoes.
Years of practice had made him a good judge of character and he had found himself warming to Andrew. In the past, if he was wrong, he was dead. So he felt that Andrew had spoken the truth...the way he saw it. If Andrew were only half right, then Scott was in big trouble. But, did he have the right words to help his brother when he didn't have the answers himself? All he knew for certain was that he had to try, not just for the sake of Scott' s sanity, but also his own.
He reached the hitching rail outside the front door, grateful that no one had stopped to talk to him. He dismounted and looked around. Before he confronted his brother, he had to confront his deepest fear. The hacienda was beautiful in the late afternoon sun. The whitewashed walls gleamed; the flowerbeds and grass were perfectly tended. Johnny took it all in, not having noticed any of it the first time he was here. He walked with resolute steps down the gravel pathway toward the stone archway leading to the courtyard. The hot sun did nothing to dispel the chill in his bones. He was headed toward the entrance to his own personal hell...and Scott's. It had always been Scott’s.
Nothing in his life had prepared him for the ordeal he had gone through in that courtyard. And he knew it was not just his own suffering that made it so horrible. The man he had come to love as a brother had been put through his own hell. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that Scott had had little choice in what he did. But, knowing and forgiving were worlds apart. He prayed he would find a way to forgive.
He walked through the archway, steeling himself for the moment when he would see the spot where he had been buried. His heart pounded painfully in his chest and he wiped his sweaty palms down the side of his trousers. After taking a steadying breath, he raised his eyes and stopped dead at what he saw before him. If there was a hell on earth - he had just walked through the door. Everything hit him at once, everything that had been done to him - the beatings, the filthy cell, the degrading collar and worse...far worse...the suffocating darkness of the sealed coffin and the sound of the earth being shoveled onto it. As he struggled to control his breathing, he realized he wasn't alone. Scott was standing with his back to him, looking down at the place where the devil had almost won.
He saw Scott stiffen. "Johnny!" Scott replied, but the voice sounded so raw that Johnny barely recognized it.
Scott turned slowly, his face pale. Johnny gazed in silence at the shell his brother had become. There was no life in Scott's eyes and his lips were set in a hard line. His face was gaunt and his clothes hung loosely on his body.
Johnny took a step back. This was not his brother. This was but a shadow of the man he knew. Dios! He feared that if he breathed the wrong way the man would collapse. "Scott...?"
Scott took several steps back, widening the physical distance between them. "What are you doing here?" He sounded lost and tired, so unlike the man that Johnny knew.
Johnny shrugged, hiding his shock at the change in his brother. "Teresa was worried about you. You know how she gets when she's worried."
A slight smile appeared on Scott's face. "She’s always worried about someone."
“We sure haven’t made life easy for her.” Silence fell between them. It seemed to Johnny that Scott didn’t even have enough energy left to continue the conversation. Johnny looked around the empty courtyard. "What are you doing out here?"
"Thinking. It's peaceful here now. No one else ever comes out here."
A chill ran down Johnny's spine. "Peaceful?" The only thing he felt was loathing for the place.
Scott sighed. "What do you really want? If you've come to tell me that I'm not welcome back at Lancer, you're wasting your breath. I've already worked that out."
"You have?" Johnny took a step closer, noticing that Scott took an equal step back. He had to be careful here. Scott was as spooky as a wild horse. His instincts told him to go slow and cautious. "Kind of a big decision to make on your own, don't you think?"
"Not really. Can you honestly tell me you'd welcome me back? And what about Murdoch? I bet he's really proud of my achievements," Scott said bitterly.
Johnny bent his head. "Truthfully Scott, all I know is that I feel all torn up inside. I know that Murdoch loves you and wants you to come home...we all do. I was hoping we could talk...find some answers."
"I don't have any answers. I did what I thought was right and it turns out I couldn't have made a worse decision. I should have stood up to her. I ended up doing more harm than good and there aren't any words to tell you how sorry I am."
"I didn't come here for an apology. I came to find out if you still care, seein' as you didn't even try to find out how I was."
Scott looked to be on the verge of collapse. "I didn't think I had the right to ask."
"Didn't have the right to ask!” Johnny clenched his fists, fighting down his anger and despair. It he let loose his feelings now, he'd drive his brother away forever. "I know you did what you thought was right, but can't you see how much it hurt when you didn't come home with us? I thought I'd lost the brother I'd only just found. While I was in the wagon I kept hoping that you'd change your mind, saddle a horse and come after us. I hung onto that hope, until it was clear it wasn't gonna happen. Damn it, Scott, that hurt more than anything you did here."
A look of profound shock settled on Scott's face. "I didn't know. I didn't think you would want me anywhere near you."
Johnny’s voice caught in his throat. "How could you not know?"
"You made your feelings very clear, remember? That night when we were locked up together you made your feelings very clear, and I couldn’t blame you." A spark of anger lit Scott's eyes. "I'm not a mind reader. If you hated me then, I'm sure you loathed the sight of me after I nailed down that coffin lid."
A wave of anger swelled within Johnny until he could barely breathe. "I didn't hate you then!" he shouted. "But I couldn’t understand why…why you didn't have the balls to come see me the day after! This isn’t only about you, Scott! It isn't all about how guilty you feel for what happened here. It's about us! Us! We went through this together. What right do you have to take on all the guilt? I know…” Johnny held his hand up. "It's easier than facing the truth. That you were afraid I would forgive you." He couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
"What are you trying to say? Do you think I enjoy feeling like this? Alright! I made some bad decisions, but I did it because I care about you. So don't you dare accuse me of being a coward! It would have been a damn sight easier to defy her and get locked up in the cells with you. But what the hell would that have accomplished?"
Silence filled the courtyard for a long minute, then Johnny asked softly. "I don't know. Why don’t you tell me? Help me to understand, Scott."
"We'd have been dead, and right now that doesn't seem like such a bad option."
Johnny stopped breathing at his brother’s declaration. The pain in Scott's face froze him in place. "I can’t believe you really mean that. Scott...I won't lie to you. I don't know how we are going to get past this. But, if either one of us wants a life beyond this ranch, then we're gonna have to find an answer."
Scott’s pale complexion turned a ghostly white as he swayed on his feet. Johnny took a step forward, but before he could go any further Scott's eyes rolled up into his head and he silently corkscrewed to the sandy courtyard that had been the damnation of both of them.
“Scott!” Johnny cried out, dropping to his brother’s side, gently pulling him onto his lap. “Help me. Someone help me!”
Cradling Scott’s head, he carefully ran his fingers through the filthy blond hair. This was not the man he knew. This was a stranger, and he yearned to have the brother he remembered back. But could they ever get past this? He looked around the courtyard and a shiver went up his spine.
Johnny didn’t fight the hands that reached down and gently lifted Scott from his lap, or the other hands that helped him to his feet and guided him toward the house. He was so tired of fighting. And he couldn’t do it alone. He needed Scott to meet him half way or they would both lose.
Johnny sat on the bed in the room next to Scott's massaging his sore foot and wrestling with his thoughts. The doctor had arrived an hour ago and the time he was taking worried Johnny all the more. He had not been prepared to see Scott in the condition he was in...and now, along with his anger, he was ridden with guilt. Maybe there was something he could have done before he left. Unable to bear the waiting any longer, he began to pull on his socks.
The door opened and the doctor walked in. A myriad of emotions poured over him...but worry was the strongest. "How's Scott?"
"He's still unconscious. He'll wake in his own good time."
Johnny glared at him. "That's not much of an answer."
"No, I don't suppose it is." The doctor set his bag down on the dresser and sat on the armchair by the window. "He's malnourished. I'm sure you could see that for yourself. Lack of sleep and food has put a severe strain on his heart. If he doesn't start taking proper care of himself, he could do irreparable damage.”
Johnny ran his hands through his hair. “I don’t know what to do for him."
“I think you might be the only person who can reach him, although I still think you’re a damn fool. You don't belong on a horse any more than I do. What were you thinking riding all this way?"
"I had to do something, Doc. We had something special, you know? I'd never trusted anyone more than him. Now...I don't know him any more. Maybe I never did."
"You'll find a way. I know you will. Meantime - I want you off your feet as much as possible. I don't want to be tending two patients."
"I wasn't plannin' on staying here."
"Hmmm...." The doctor raised an eyebrow. "I think you may want to change your mind. Scott needs you here with him...he needs to know that you care."
"What about when I needed him?"
"Son, I may not know everything that happened out here to you and your brother, but I do know that right or wrong, your brother did everything he could. Now he needs you.”
Scott awoke, wondering if it had just been another cruel dream. He had imagined Johnny returning here in so many ways…and it had always ended the same. Words were spoken that could not be taken back and Johnny had turned and remounted Barranca, both horse and rider disappearing in the glare of sunlight. He saw Consuela sitting by the bed.
“The doctor wasn’t sure when you would waken. He was very concerned about you.” Consuela stood up and helped ease him into a sitting position. He would have shrugged off her hands, except that he felt so weak he could barely move.
“I had a dream Johnny was here.”
She smiled softly. “It is no dream, Scott. Your hermano is here. He is resting in the bedroom next door. You have been sleeping for more than a day. He sat with you for a long time, but he is so tired in the mind and the body, and the doctor finally sent him to get some rest. He hurts like you, Scott. You need each other.”
“I don’t know if I deserve him,” Scott said as the door swung open.
Johnny stood in the doorway, his hands gripping the door frame too hard. “I heard voices. You all right, Scott?”
Scott could only nod.
“Mind if I come in?”
Consuela hurriedly dragged a chair over to the side of the bed. “Por favor, sit. You should not be standing.”
Scott saw the wince of pain in Johnny’s eyes as he padded carefully across the floor. He had done that to Johnny. He had done that to his brother. He dragged himself over, giving Johnny room to settle his feet on the edge of the bed. Johnny dropped into the chair, taking the unspoken offer, and lifted his feet onto the mattress.
Scott cleared his throat. “How is everyone? Murdoch and Teresa hovering like mother hens over you?”
Johnny nodded. “Jelly did his fair share too.”
Consuela filled a glass with water for Scott and poured a second glass for Johnny. “It is hard to talk with dry throats,” she said. “Drink, and I will return soon to see if you need anything.”
As the door closed behind her, Scott saw something flash across Johnny’s face. They felt like strangers facing each other. No, worse than strangers….a stranger could not twist your heart with this kind of pain.
Scott set the glass of water on the nightstand next to him and he saw Johnny eye the still full glass.
"Teresa wouldn't let you get away with that."
"Teresa isn't here." Scott sighed as an awkward silence fell over the room. He felt at a disadvantage, facing his brother while sitting up in bed. He eased the covers off his legs and sat shakily on the edge of the bed…
Johnny caught Scott's shirt by the collar with his finger and threw it toward him. There was no malice in the act; just a brotherly gesture and it hit Scott's stomach hard. It was the little things he knew were going to kill them. He turned away to get dressed, realizing too late that he had presented Johnny with a clear view of his back, where the old marks of the lash mingled with the newer ones inflicted at Mrs. Rawlings' order.
When he turned back he could see the line of Johnny's lips taut with seething anger. "You want to tell me how you got those?"
"You know how.”
"Not all of them.”
“It was a long time ago,” Scott replied wearily.
Scott had never spoken to his brother about his experiences during the war, but now he felt he owed Johnny an honest answer. "I was captured and sent to a Confederate prison camp. I was there for a year before the war ended. I got those marks the night sixteen of my friends died."
"Sixteen men. That's a heavy load to carry."
Scott nodded resignedly. "I was in charge of the escape. Somehow, the guards found out and were waiting for us. I was the only survivor. They whipped me and put me in solitary confinement. But, the load I carried that night wasn't as heavy as the responsibility I felt toward you."
Johnny dipped his head. "Then, how could you treat me like you did when you know what it's like?"
"I stopped the whippings. That was why I accepted the chance to oversee the work."
There was a bitter chuckle and Scott’s hands froze as he began buttoning his shirt. "Sure, you stopped them taking the whip to my back, but what you did was worse. How d'you think I felt having to wear leg irons and that damn collar? And that day you made me walk - you damn near crippled me. So, don't fool yourself into thinking you were doing me any favors."
"Trust me, Johnny, I’m not. I tried to persuade her to remove the collar, but she refused. And do you think it was easy, watching you walk in that hot sun? Johnny, you've got to know that I did what I thought was the only thing I could do. If I’d let anyone else mete out your punishment I thought they might kill you."
"Is that how you justify it to yourself?" Johnny asked softly. "Let me tell you something, Brother. It might not have been easy to watch, but it was a hell of a lot worse having to do it."
Scott's hands fell still. "I can't undo what was done, Johnny. Nothing will ever make up for it. I think...I think it would be best if you headed back home tomorrow. Some things ....some things can't be fixed once they're broken."
"Is that all you've got to say? Are you still not prepared to fight for what we had?"
Scott grabbed for the nightstand to steady himself. "Damn you, Johnny Lancer...don't you understand that I betrayed you...that I betrayed my only brother? There is no way to forgive that! I don't expect it from you, and by God, I won't accept it from myself! Now get out! Get out!"
"If I leave now, I ain't coming back. Is that what you want?"
Scott stared Johnny straight in the eye. "No, it isn't what I want, but sometimes things don't work out the way we planned. Go home. Get on with your life. I..."
Johnny voice cut through the room slow and dark. "I thought you were a lot of things, Scott...but a quitter wasn’t one of them. D'you remember that day in Morro Coyo when you took on three of Pardee's men? You never stopped fighting. They were the ones who walked away. You think what we had isn't worth fighting for just as hard? Then you just go back to Lancer and see what you are leaving behind. What you giving up is doing to them…to me.” Johnny jumped to his feet, tossing the chair toward the door. The sound of it crashing against the door echoed in the room. "I thought I could trust you. You promised me you'd always have my back. Damn it, Scott, don't you see? I'm not some stupid mestizo like the old lady said. I knew what you were doing....most of the time, when I could think straight...but it was you not coming home that hurt the most. I felt like you were burying me all over again."
"Don't twist the truth, Johnny. When I came to tend to your feet, you said you'd rather kill me than let me help you. Maybe there was a time in the beginning when you understood. When did it change? When did you start to believe I'd turned against you?"
Johnny stared at him. "Never..."
Anger sparked in Scott's eye. "Don't lie to me. For all your fine words, you believed that I'd turned on you to save my own neck."
Johnny punched his fist into the flat of his hand - hard. He began to pace. "I tried to believe. I tried to hang on. But, I was afraid...Dios! I was afraid." He kept pacing. "All that finery, everything that reminded you of Boston...everything that I wasn't."
"Do you think any of that mattered to me? You don't give me much credit if you're willing to believe I'd sacrifice my own brother for a comfortable bed and good food. If I could have traded places with you, I'd have done it in a heartbeat."
“I wanted to believe you…and I did, at first…but then you and her…” Johnny suddenly stopped and stared at Scott. “What I said earlier…I didn’t hate you…not in the beginning. But, as time passed…as things got worse…I didn’t understand…Couldn’t understand why… God forgive me, Scott. When everything came crashing down around us…the plans to protect the workers, the De La Vara’s…the trust we shared…suddenly, it wasn’t enough anymore and I never hated anyone else as much as I hated you.”
"And how do you feel about me now?" Scott looked away. His shoulders began to shake as his emotions overwhelmed him.
Johnny leaned forward, his hand resting on his brother's knee. "Do you really think I'd have come back here if I still hated you? I want to make things right. I want my brother back. But, I can't do it alone."
Time passed slowly for Johnny. Scott remained in his room, finally following the doctor's orders to rest and eat. According to him, it was a wonder that Scott had kept going for so long. At least the daily reports were encouraging.
After three days confined to the house, allowing his feet to recover from his journey, Johnny felt like he was going to go crazy. He’d never been one for sitting and doing nothing. He slipped on his moccasins, thankful for the soft leather around his still painful feet, and headed for the door. He walked down the hall, stopping at Scott's closed bedroom door. He'd looked in on his brother a few times, always making sure first that Scott was asleep. To force the discussion between them, while Scott was so weak, would be disastrous and he hadn’t come this far only to fail now.
He opened the door just wide enough to see into the room and Scott sleeping soundly in bed. Rest was the first medicine Scott needed, the easy medicine. The next dose would not be much harder. They had to talk. He knew, now, that he could not turn away and leave his brother here without first fighting for both of them. Both of them...how long had it been that he’d thought that way? For a month, two months? It seemed like years, and this distance between them hurt more than any wound he could remember.
It was the uncertainty that was eating away at him. He could fight all he wanted, but if Scott didn't do his part they would both lose. There had been moments during their first meeting when he'd thought Scott still had the will to try and overcome what had happened. Now, having done nothing except think for the last few days, he wasn't so sure.
Closing the door quietly, he headed down the hallway, not sure where he would end up. He just walked, taking in everything he had missed his first time in the house. But everything brought back memories that he had tried so hard to forget. It may have been a mistake to stay here. Maybe he should go back to Elana's and rest there until Scott was ready to talk. He shook his head. That would be a cowardly decision. He had to see the ranch as it was now, under the care of Andrew Rawlings, not as it had been. He found himself in the kitchen, staring at the door leading to the cellar where he had been confined. Did he have the guts to go down there?
"Not an easy decision.”
Johnny whirled around to see Andrew standing in the kitchen doorway, looking at him. False bravado had no place any more in this house. His defenses had been stripped away from him. "You have no idea what it was like." There was no censure in Johnny's voice. It was simply a statement of fact.
"I think I have a pretty good idea. I've talked to a lot of people here. I know it means little to nothing....but I am sorry for my mother's actions. If I had known..."
"It wouldn’t have made any difference,” Johnny interrupted. "No one could stand up to her." He walked slowly toward the door leading to the cellar, turning to look back at Andrew. "Coming?"
Andrew looked surprised at the offer, but silently followed the younger man down the stairs.
The cellar was dark and there had been no lessening in the smell that Johnny remembered. He took his time descending the stairs to allow his eyes to adjust. It was an effort to control his breathing as the metal bars came into view. The gloom closed in on him, suffocating him.
He stopped at the bottom step, feeling Andrew behind him. How could he explain to anyone what he had experienced down here? No retelling of the story would ever come close to what he had felt. The anger...no hate...he felt for Scott. And that anger flared again. Would there ever be a time when he didn’t feel like this?
Walking forward to touch the cold metal, he allowed fragments of memory to surface. The first few hours down here had been hard. It had angered him that he'd been treated like an animal, while his brother was treated like a man with rights and feelings. After that, the memories all blurred together – hate, anger, fear and the constant pain, all combining to break his will. No man had ever broken him before. No man had ever had the power. But his brother did.
He felt Andrew's hand on his shoulder and started to shrug it off before he realized that he needed the support. "You know, in my head I know why Scott did what he did. And I know that neither of us would still be alive right now if he hadn't. But, Madre de Dios! I can't forgive him."
"I don't think that's entirely true. If you believed that forgiveness was impossible, you wouldn't be here."
Johnny slammed his hand against the iron bar, the sound echoing in the cold dampness. "You don't know. You don't know what it was like. Damn it, when I think with my head, I can understand why he did it. But when I think with my heart....Mierda! I can't do this!" Johnny pushed past Andrew and rushed up the stairs. He didn't stop until he was free of the house, standing in the fresh air, taking deep breaths to try and clear his head of the smell of fear, and despair, that now clung to him.
Finally, he looked around. Things had changed since he last saw the place, albeit he had not been in the best condition to remember everything. There was a peacefulness here that had not been present before. The ranch was busy with workers, but now they seemed to be doing a job, not forced into slave labor. If they could get past what had been done to them for so long, then how could he not try to get through what had been done to him and Scott? Him and Scott...he had to remember that Scott was hurt every bit as badly as he was. Maybe not physically....but, Johnny knew, all too well, that those scars that didn't show on the skin could be even more painful.
Hesitantly at first, then with more determination, he began to walk from place to place, taking the time to talk to the workers. They all treated him with respect and, to his surprise, all asked about Scott. They seemed happy to share with him their memories of life under the whip of Mrs. Rawlings, and the very different conditions introduced by Scott and continued by Andrew.
As sick as Scott was, he had still taken time to see to the families who worked here. That was the brother he knew and respected. If Scott could reach out like that to perfect strangers, how could he not reach out to Scott? Andrew was right. If he had not cared, he would not be here. Looking back at the house, he decided he needed to make things right between him and Scott. And if Scott was not able to do it, he would do it for both of them. Hermano a hermano. Finally, he could see his path. He had to force Scott to confront the decisions he had made, and then defend them. Only by doing that, would his brother ever be able to ease the guilt he felt.
With a new direction in mind, Johnny felt a renewed strength within himself. He headed back toward the house with a clear purpose. Johnny strode into the kitchen, finding the cook preparing a tray to take up to Scott. "I'll do that," he said. He ignored the woman's startled protest, picking up the tray and heading toward his brother's bedroom.
Once upstairs, he carefully balanced the tray on his hip while he opened the door and walked in silently. He had to admit, he missed the sound of his spurs, especially when it was time to wake his brother. Putting the tray down on the small table by the window, he opened the drapes to let the sunlight flood in. "Time for breakfast, Scott," he called.
Scott stirred beneath the covers then turned his back away from Johnny. "I'm not hungry."
"The doctor left orders that you were to eat regularly and you ain't gonna get rid of me that easily."
"I'm tired. I'll eat later. Leave me alone, Johnny."
"Sorry, Brother, that ain't the way this is gonna work. You've been lying around in the bed for long enough. Eat your breakfast and get up."
Johnny saw Scott's body stiffen in anger. Good. Anger was a better emotion than self pity. "Get out of here, Johnny. I don't need you, or want you here. Now go."
Johnny picked up the tray and carried it over to the bed. "I’m not leaving here until you eat.”
"I said leave me alone." Underneath the anger was a deep weariness which left Scott's voice lacking its usual self-confidence.
As an answer, Johnny dropped the tray on the nightstand, the dishes and utensils clattering. "No, I won't leave you alone."
Scott turned over, his expression furious. "What are you trying to prove?"
"That you are not the only stubborn brother in the Lancer family. Now sit up or I'll hog tie you and feed you like a niño."
There was a slight softening in Scott's expression. "That won't be necessary." He pushed himself up to lean against the headboard.
"Just as well. I forgot to bring up any rope. Here." He placed the tray on Scott's lap. "The cook knows how you like your eggs, runny and tasteless. Now if I was cooking..."
"I've tasted your cooking, remember?"
Scott reached for his fork and Johnny could see that his brother's hand wasn't entirely steady.
Turning away to look out the window, he let Scott have his dignity. "I thought you liked my cooking. Never said anything about it when we were on the trail and I put a rabbit on the spit."
Scott sighed. "That was a long time ago. It feels like another lifetime."
Johnny looked down on the courtyard below and nodded. "A lifetime ago. But we’ve got to stop living in the past." He turned to look at his brother. "We’ve got to get past this, Scott. Neither one of us can go on like this."
"I know that, Johnny. I just can't imagine a day or night when I don't remember what I did to you."
Johnny hung his head. "It doesn't matter what you did here, Scott. It was your not coming back that hurt. And now...look, this isn't the time for this. You need to get your strength back. We'll talk in a few days, and I mean really talk."
"I thought...I thought you'd have gone back to Lancer by now."
"Not until we've had that talk...and not alone...I hope. Murdoch and Teresa want you back. We all do." Scott turned away, but not before Johnny saw a tear forming in his brother's eye. "I'll leave you to finish your breakfast."
"Johnny, wait. I...thank you for coming back."
"It wasn't easy, but most things aren't. And, I had too much to lose by not coming here."
Although Scott nodded, he kept his face turned away so that Johnny couldn't read his expression.
As soon as Johnny left the room, Scott pushed the breakfast tray away. He had no stomach for food, not when he had so many raw emotions running through him. He knew Johnny was trying, but he could not for the life of him figure out why. After everything that he had done to his brother, how could Johnny offer him the chance for reconciliation? He wasn't worth it. Damn it, why did Johnny always have to be so stubborn? He'd thrown away everything they had worked to achieve over the months before their ill-fated journey. Those had been some of the best months of his life. Could there possibly be a way to recapture the easy friendship they had shared? A momentary hope flared before his spirits sank again. Despite all of Johnny's efforts, it could never work.
He climbed out of bed. His legs felt weak from inactivity and not enough food. Looking back down at the breakfast tray he knew that his brother would not leave until he was satisfied that Scott was healthy. Unfortunately, that meant eating...but, if it got Johnny on his way home, it was worth it. Setting his mind to it, he started nibbling on the food. Once he started to eat he realized how hungry he really was. It had been weeks since he'd enjoyed food. His brother's unexpected visit this morning had done more for him than he would have thought possible.
That realization took him by surprise. Did he need Johnny that much? And if he needed Johnny...did his brother need him? Had he been thinking so much about himself that he was in danger of forgetting that Johnny was suffering just as much? What had Johnny said? It wasn't the treatment he had received here that hurt him the most, but his brother's abandonment. Did he abandon Johnny? The unpalatable truth was that he had. He'd allowed him to suffer alone and then, to hide his own shame, had refused to return to Lancer.
How could he ever make things right now? Johnny seemed willing to talk. Was that all they had to do? Talk? He highly doubted it. Johnny could be a stick of dynamite when provoked. There seemed no answer here. Yet, Johnny had provided the opening. It might not solve anything, but neither could it make matters worse. He looked around for his clothes, moving sluggishly as his limbs refused to obey his commands. How many days had he been in bed? He felt as weak as a newborn kitten.
Pulling his pants on and buttoning his shirt made him feel stronger, even if his legs still felt shaky. Somehow, he got his socks and boots on and headed for the door. He looked out cautiously into the hallway. If Consuela or Andrew saw him, he'd be ordered back to bed. It almost felt good, playing this game of hide and seek. He and Johnny had played it masterfully at Lancer, particularly when sneaking home after a Saturday night spent in town. Except that this wasn't Lancer and this was no game. He used the back stairs to reach the door leading to the rear of the hacienda.
He had a feeling he knew exactly where his brother was. Johnny had an affinity for horses, especially Barranca. They had been his only companions for too many years. And now, if Scott was right, Johnny had returned to the solace of his horse again. He exchanged brief greetings with the workers he passed on his way to the barn, relieved that none tried to engage him in conversation. As he grew closer, he saw Barranca in the corral with Johnny standing beside him.
Johnny was, as always, grooming the palomino, talking to him softly. He watched as Johnny walked around the horse, his steps short and hesitant. He hadn't even realized that his brother’s feet were still hurting him. He had said nothing. Scott walked up to the rail, leaning his arms along the top. Johnny was so engrossed in his task that he didn't know he had an audience. Watching his brother, so lost in the moment, finally brought home to Scott just how much he stood to lose. He realized, with a shock, that he had been thinking only of himself. He normally didn't think of himself as being a selfish man...but that is the only thing you could call it. He had become so immersed in his guilt that it had become all-consuming. How could he have been so wrong and could he now trust himself to say and do the right thing?
He cleared his throat softy and saw Johnny's shoulders stiffen. It was so unlike his brother to let someone get so close without him noticing. Johnny was hurting in more ways than one. He waited for Johnny to move closer, the reluctance clear. "You were right." He looked his brother straight in the eye. "I haven't been thinking of you, or Murdoch, or Teresa. The only person I've been worried about is me."
Johnny returned the look steadily. "It happens, but you hurt Murdoch and Teresa. They're real worried about you."
"I'm not the one they should be worried about. Besides, this is between you and me."
"You think so? You're the one who was always tellin' me how important family is." Johnny's voice trailed off, as if he had realized that he had said too much.
"Family is important...you're important." Scott's heart sank as Johnny acknowledged his words with only a shrug of his shoulder before returning to the task of grooming Barranca.
"The place looks a lot different. Heard you had a lot to do with that."
"I did my best." Scott couldn't keep the chill out of his voice. "I couldn't just abandon the workers and their families. They sacrificed too much for us."
Johnny's back stiffened again. "You abandoned us instead."
"That wasn't my intention."
Johnny sighed deeply. "I know it wasn't, Boston. But that's what it felt like. Look, we’ve got a lot to say to each other, but not here, not like this." Johnny looked around, his face paling. "I can't think here."
"There's a lake about an hour’s ride away. It's a beautiful place. If you want..." Scott hesitated, unsure how his suggestion would be received.
It seemed to take Johnny a long time to answer. Finally, he nodded. "You think you can handle a horse?"
"I can manage. What about you? Your feet...it looked earlier like you were still having difficulty."
"Whenever you're ready."
Scott turned away. Johnny was blocking every opening, every expression of concern. And who could blame him? They might succeed in clearing the air between them, but the friendship they had once shared had been well, and truly, buried in that coffin and nothing could revive it.
The brothers rode silently, side by side, as they made their way toward the lake. This was it and Scott knew it. He couldn't help remembering the journey which had ended when they made the mistake of stopping in Serenity. The mood, then, had been lighthearted and they had enjoyed each other’s company. Now they hardly knew each other. Would they ever trust each other again? Would their friendship survive in the end? Today would be the first step to answering those questions. In all honesty, Scott knew that if the first step was in the wrong direction, it would be the end of their relationship
He glanced over at Johnny. There was no indication in his brother’s expression as to what he was thinking. It was as if there was a wall between them. The question was - could they breach that wall, or even tear it down? He hoped, with every fiber of his being, that they could. He had been well on his way to convincing himself that he could never return to Lancer to live. But, truth be known, that wasn't what he wanted. He desperately wanted to be able to return home.
The gentle slope leading down to the lake lay just ahead. He urged his horse on, wanting to get to the water's edge before he lost his nerve. Johnny followed more slowly, as if now, having reached this moment he wanted to postpone their confrontation for as long as possible. Scott wouldn’t blame him if he did, but he hoped to God that Johnny would continue to fight for them because he knew that he had stopped fighting, had given up for some time. That was not like him and it was a terrifying feeling.
He guided his horse over to an old oak tree, dismounted stiffly and tied the animal in the shade. Johnny remained sitting on Barranca for a long moment before he, too, dismounted, a brief grimace crossing his face as his feet hit the ground. Still without a word, Scott walked to the lake, sat down on at the edge of the water and began to pull his boots and socks off. It was a tacit request for Johnny to join him. He waited...
Ignoring the unspoken invitation, Johnny stood looking out over the water. "I can see why you'd like it here."
"It's quiet. It reminds me a little of the lake on Lancer." Scott felt his stomach muscles tighten as he thought of the place he had come to love. That was what drew him here to this lake - a little taste of home. He looked up at his brother and saw Johnny looking out over the water, lost in thought.
When Johnny finally began to speak again, his voice was barely audible. "There was a time when I didn't think I'd ever see home again. After being locked in that cage and then," Johnny's voice caught, "shut in that coffin...A man sees things different when he’s seen life from the other side of the grave."
Scott could barely take a breath. He waited for Johnny's next words, not knowing if he could stand to hear them.
"At first, I believed in you. I understood what you were doing and I trusted you. Trouble was, as the days went by and I saw you there, being nice to that puta, I couldn't believe any more."
Scott hung his head. He had known what he was doing. It had been a conscious decision, because he had believed it was the only way to save Johnny's life. But at what cost? How could he explain his actions when, looking back at them now, they were indefensible? "I hoped that you knew me well enough to know that I would never betray you," Scott said miserably.
"How was I supposed to keep faith in you when you ordered them to put me in leg irons? Wasn't it bad enough that they kept me on a leash like some kind of wild animal? How could you stand there, day after day, and watch them humiliate me like that?"
Scott couldn't meet his brother's hard stare. "I tried to persuade her to remove the collar. She refused and if I'd pushed too hard she'd have become suspicious. I had to make sure she could trust me..."
"Oh, she trusted you alright. Putting you in charge, giving you back your gun. Trouble is you didn't think about what that trust cost."
Scott jumped to his feet. "I was willing to pay any price to keep you alive."
Johnny gave a harsh laugh. "Seems to me I was the one who paid the price. You made all the decisions and I was the one who suffered because of it."
Although his guilt was almost more than he could bear, Scott knew that he had to try to make Johnny understand or lose his family forever. "Johnny, you don't ask a drowning man if he wants to be saved.”
"No, you don't. You hold out your hand and you pull him out. You don't push his head back under.”
Scott turned back to face the lake, the truth of Johnny’s words cutting deep into his soul. "I'm sorry, Johnny. I can’t do this. I don't want things to end like this, but I can't ask you to forgive the unforgivable."
Johnny’s eyes blazed with fury as he rushed down the slope, standing inches from Scott’s face. "No, but you can damn well show some guts and stay to listen to what I have to say! You owe me that at least!"
"You think this is easy? You think standing here looking at what I did to you doesn't make me sick?"
"I know it does. Why the hell do you think I came back?"
Scott shook his head. "You came back to get answers, but I don't have any."
Johnny turned away from Scott, his whole body rigid with anger.
Scott's heart sank as he watched Johnny walk away. He didn't stop until he was under the canopy of the old oak tree. The physical distance hurt. What hurt more was seeing his brother leaning against the tree for support. He was the one who had drained all the life and energy out of Johnny. "I don't know what you want me to say."
Johnny's head sagged. “I don't know either," he said softly. "Maybe there isn't anything you can say. Maybe we just can't fix it."
"I wish it didn't have to be this way. I know it's too late to go back to the way we were, but at least..." his voice caught in his throat, "I hope we won't part as enemies."
"Scott...I hated you. I hated her too, but I’d seen her type before, been on the wrong side of them too many times. But I never thought my own brother would treat me the way you did. Some of the things you said, even if you didn't mean them, they still hurt. Dios, they hurt." Johnny turned around slowly. "They still do."
"I know. Damn it all to hell, Johnny! Do you think I'd have said what I did and treated you that way if I'd thought there was any other choice? You're my brother. You mean more to me than I can ever put into words. I would have done anything to keep you alive."
"Sometimes there are worse things than dying."
"Do you think I don't know that? I spent a year in a Confederate prison. I saw dozens of men just give up. I came close a few times myself. I know what it feels like to lose your freedom and your self-respect."
"Self-respect? You think that’s all I lost there? You spent a year in that Confederate prison...I've spent a lifetime in places like that. No one else could have done what you did to me. No one!”
Johnny's anger lashed at Scott and he took a step backwards. This was pointless. Everything he said was wrong and he was only making matters worse. "I think it's time for you to go back to Lancer."
"That's the answer? I go back to Lancer and you go where? Back to grandpa and tell him how awful things were for you out here? That's not the Scott I know. That's not the man I came looking for. Show me the brother I had before this all happened. Show me Scott Lancer!”
"I have no intention of going back to Boston or of discussing this with my grandfather."
“Then what’re you gonna do?”
"I...I don't know."
Johnny started back down the hill and Scott could see that his brother's moccasins were not protecting his tender feet against the tiny rocks and tree roots. He heard Johnny grunt in pain and mutter curses.
"Before you walk away from your family," Johnny said aggressively, "tell me this. If you had the chance, what would you do differently?"
"All the decisions you made - all the things you did to me. What would you change?"
Scott hesitated. There were so many things he regretted. "I never would have let Mrs. Rawlings put that collar on you. That was inhuman. I...”
"You didn't let her, and you couldn't have stopped her,” Johnny interrupted harshly. “What else?"
Scott bowed his head, unable to look at the man he had betrayed. "Making you walk that gauntlet. It was my idea."
"Talk to me, Scott. Help me understand. Why did you choose that punishment? Arturo tried to convince me that you had some reason for everything you did. I couldn’t see it then.” There was a pleading note in Johnny’s voice. “Tell me he was right.”
"I needed Mrs. Rawlings to believe that I was on her side. I thought it was the only way to keep you alive. It was after that that she let me send the telegram to Murdoch."
Johnny frowned as if he was groping for a memory. "You came to me afterwards with Consuela. I was so confused by then I wasn't sure what was real and what was a nightmare. You tended my feet. I remember now. You…you took off the leg irons!”
“Yes,” Scott whispered, eyes still downcast.
“But…but Tom put them back on the next day."
With a sigh, Scott raised his head, staring out over the water. "I tried to give you some peace, but Tom was watching my every move. I gave orders that you were to be allowed to rest the next day. I found out, too late, that Mrs. Rawlings had told Tom to put you back to work. I almost gave myself away when I saw you scrubbing the kitchen floor. If you hadn’t…” Scott stopped and drew in a shaky breath. He saw the pain on his brother's face and knew that Johnny had remembered the knife attack. He hurriedly continued before Johnny could say anything. “And when I knew I had gone too far, when I would have done anything to stop what was happening to you, she starting using Miguel. My God, Johnny, I couldn't let her hurt that little boy."
"She didn't give you many choices, did she Boston? You were on just as short a leash as I was."
Scott's shoulders sank. "No, my choices were limited. But..." and now Scott's eyes mirrored the true horror of their ordeal. "I broke my promise. I promised I wouldn't let them bury you...I broke my promise."
Johnny’s voice was gentler than Scott had expected. "It was a promise you shouldn't have made. We were surrounded by armed guards. There was never going to be a way for you to keep your word."
"You were in so much pain. I have never felt so helpless. How can you ever forgive me, Johnny? How could you ever again look at me and not remember that? I can't look at you and not see the look in your eyes when that coffin lid sealed you in. I'll die with that image branded in my mind."
"Don't you understand yet?" Johnny asked softly. "I have forgiven you. Neither of us will ever forget what happened, but I can see now that I'm not the only who that suffered. She hurt you just as much as she hurt me."
"No....no don't say that."
Johnny shook his head in frustration. "Do you think I came here to lie to you? If you can't - or won't - accept that I'm telling you the truth, then I have wasted my time.”
"How can I accept your forgiveness when I can't forgive myself?"
"Maybe accepting that I can forgive you is the first step."
Silence suddenly descended over them. Johnny carefully made his way down the rest of the hill until he stood before Scott.
“Do you want to know the thing I’d most like to change?” Scott whispered. “I shouldn’t have let you and Murdoch leave without me.”
"It’s not too late. All you have to say is that you want to come home."
Scott's leg trembled beneath him. He felt Johnny grab onto him, ease him down to the ground. His mouth was dry and it was an effort to push out the words. Despite everything that he had done, Johnny was still willing to offer him this one precious gift. "Yes, I want to come home."
Johnny pulled him toward his shoulder and held onto him. "That is what I wanted to hear, Brother."
Andrew rearranged his desk for the third time in the past hour. He had watched Scott and Johnny Lancer riding toward the lake and his anxiety over what might happen there had his heart pounding. So much was at stake. They were both decent young men who had suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of his own mother. He couldn't help feeling in some way responsible for that and responsible for trying to heal the scars she had left on both their bodies and their souls. Now, more than ever he missed his wife and son because Rosa always knew just the right thing to say to him when he was anxious or upset. He missed them desperately and it was time he sent for them.
Looking at her picture on the desk, he knew it would mean a lot to the brothers to meet her, especially Johnny. He sighed heavily. If he had not been such a coward, he would have stood up to his mother and forced her to accept his choice of wife. Perhaps then, none of this would have happened.
The sound of horses walking into the courtyard drew him to the window and he saw Scott and Johnny ride in together. They made no attempt to talk to each other. But it seemed they didn't need to. Each move they made was like a well rehearsed play, working together without effort, without thought. Andrew could only hope that they felt as easy as they looked. Johnny dismounted first, moving round to aid his brother. Scott looked even paler than he had that morning, but a shadow seemed to have lifted from him as he accepted the help.
He hurried from the study to find Consuela. The brothers needed something cold to drink. He found her in the kitchen, her face strained. "They're back," he told her. "And, I think they might have reached an understanding."
"Do you think so?" she asked, her eyes clouding toward tears. “I have prayed that they would find their way."
"We'll know soon enough. Can you bring some cool lemonade to the parlor?"
"Si. I will bring it right away." Andrew knew a bit of her history and what she had gone through with his mother, but she never once complained, never once blamed him for what happened. How could that be? How could she, and the Lancer brothers, not hold him to blame in some form? He didn't know if he could be that understanding.
As he walked back down the hallway, the front door opened. Scott entered first, but Andrew saw immediately that Johnny was keeping a close eye on him.
"How was the lake?" he asked, his heart pounding in his throat as he waited for an answer. But the answer didn't come right away. Both brothers stood in silence, as if one word spoken would break a spell they had worked so hard to achieve.
Scott shot Johnny a look, as if seeking reassurance. "I've decided to go back to Lancer."
Scott lowered his head. "That will be up to the rest of my family."
"I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that. Will you both join me in the parlor? I've asked Consuela to bring some cold drinks."
Johnny hesitated. He had suddenly looked overwhelmingly tired. "Maybe later," he began.
"Please. You must be thirsty."
"I could go for something cold," Scott said.
Scott looked toward Johnny and Andrew saw the longing in his eyes. He needed Johnny to take this next step. Such a simple request, just a cold drink, but it meant going back into that parlor and reliving what? What horrors had happened here? Was there a single place in this house that didn’t hold terrible memories for these two brothers?
"Alright," Johnny conceded. "I could use one myself.”
"Come in then. Are you hungry? Can I get either of you something to eat?"
Both men shook their heads. Scott looked dead on his feet, so Andrew hurried to usher them toward the comfort of the parlor. He watched them take seats opposite each other. While it appeared they had made a beginning, to regaining their trust and friendship, there was still a long way to go.
Easing himself into a chair, Andrew looked at the two men, noticing subtle changes. But, there was no doubt that they had made progress. Just how much remained to be seen. He knew it would take time to heal after the things his mother had done. But, he had to believe that they would, because to believe otherwise was not something he could live with.
"Your mother used to come in here every night after dinner," Scott began, his eyes unfocussed as his thoughts drifted back. "Sometimes, she acted as if your father were still alive."
Andrew nodded. "She took my father's death hard. She felt isolated here, away from her friends and family in Boston. I pleaded with her to go back after his death, but she was determined to make this ranch work, even without him. I had no idea what lengths she would go to in order to do that." Looking at Johnny he said softy, "I'm so sorry, Johnny."
"What she did wasn't your fault. I don't reckon she was quite right in the head at the end. There wasn't anyone here who could stand up to her. Tom did whatever she told him to do and that sheriff was on her payroll."
There was a soft padding of feet and Consuela walked in carrying a tray of glasses and a pitcher of lemonade. As she laid the tray on the table her gaze turned to Scott. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
Andrew didn't miss the slight blush that brightened Scott's cheeks.
"I'm feeling much better, thank you. And thank you for the lemonade. We could all use it." As Consuela turned to leave Scott reached out and caught her hand. "We will talk later?"
"Si," she said demurely, and walked out the door.
Andrew turned to see Johnny smile briefly. So it was as obvious to Scott's brother as it was to him. Another white man and Mexican woman...that is what his mother hated about her son.
"She's a fine looking woman, Brother."
Scott looked up, his eyes warning Johnny to back off. "Yes, she is."
Andrew watched their interaction. Even this was progress. They were communicating.
Johnny read the warning signs and sipped at the lemonade. "This is good. Could use some more sugar though."
"How long will you be staying?" Andrew asked. "Please don't think I'm anxious to get rid of you. I had hoped that you would stay long enough to meet my wife and son."
A haunted look crossed Scott's face and Andrew wondered what had provoked it. There was so much he still didn't know about what had happened.
"Did my mother mention them?" he asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"She made it clear that she didn't approve of them."
Andrew dropped his head. "I can imagine."
Johnny looked up, his voice harsh. "Nothing your mother did had anything to do with you. She was crazy.”
"I wish I could explain why she acted as she did. I know she took my father's death hard and she felt that I'd betrayed her, but I can't find it in me to make excuses for her."
"It isn't your place to make excuses for her," Scott said softly. "You had no control over her actions and you shouldn't feel accountable."
"No one is accountable." He looked at Scott. "No one."
Silence seeped into the room like a chilly fog. It would be like this, Andrew knew, steps forward and steps backward for all of them. But it was important that they were both at last taking those steps.
"I'm sure you're both tired,” he continued. “I want only want you to know that you’re welcome to stay as long as you like."
"Thank you," Scott said.
Johnny nodded and said softly, "Gracias."
Andrew could see the strain on their faces. The forced politeness was wearing them down as each chose his words carefully. Would they ever return to regain their close bond of brotherhood?
Scott cleared his throat and stood up. "I believe Consuela is waiting for me."
"I hope I will see you both at dinner."
Johnny's head dipped as he worried the cuff of his sleeve. "You let the hired help sit at the table with you?"
Scott shot his brother a hard look. "We all owe her a lot."
"Don't mean nothing by it, Scott." Johnny's blue eyes lifted to look over at Andrew. "I'm just happy to know that everyone is welcome here. This house has been filled with so much hate for so long...sometimes it seems to become a part of the house. Good to know Mrs. Rawlings didn't win after all."
"I'm sorry," Scott rubbed his hand across his eyes. "I'm tired and I jumped to the wrong conclusion."
"You are both tired." Andrew stood up quickly. "Why don't you rest until dinner? I'll have someone wake you when it’s ready."
Scott nodded, not looking at his brother. Andrew found it almost painful to watch. Time. Time was what they needed. And that is what he would offer, if they accepted. Time to talk, time to heal. Once they were back home there would be more pressure on them to rekindle their friendship. If these two brothers were to survive, they needed to build a strong foundation here.
As Scott walked down the hall, he heard a soft humming coming from the dining room. The sound brought a smile to his face. Consuela had been his anchor when he'd felt as if he was being swept away by his feelings of self-loathing and guilt. He didn't know how he could ever thank her. He entered the room and watched for a moment as she set the table, each utensil set in perfect placement; Mrs. Rawlings’ influence here. But Consuela seemed happy at her job. That thought brought with it a stab of remorse. What did the future hold for them? He was fond of her, and grateful beyond measure. In fact, if he was being honest, he was more than a little in love with her. But how did she feel about him?
"Consuela," he said softly, seeing her shoulders soften at the sound of his voice. She turned to look at him, a smile brightening her face.
"You and your hermano talked? Things are better between you?"
Scott nodded. "We talked. There is still a lot to say, and I'm not sure if it is the right thing to do, but I'm going back to Lancer with him."
Her smile wavered just for a moment. "It is the right thing. You belong with your family."
"I would...I would like to think of you as family too," Scott said, feeling like a school boy talking to a girl for the first time.
She crossed the room to take hold of his hand. "You do not owe me anything. I made my choice to come to you and I do not regret it."
He pulled her into his arms. "Consuela I wouldn't have made it, if not for you. I have to return to the ranch, to try and get my life back together again. I would like it very much if, when I am settled, that I could come back here and start over again the right way."
"For both our sakes you have to be sure that you say this for the right reasons. I do not want to tie you to me only because you feel gratitude toward me."
Scott gently combed his fingers through her long black hair. "I feel so much more than just plain gratitude. Please let me prove it to you."
She tilted her head up to look at him. "Make your peace with yourself and your family. When you are ready, come back to me."
Scott leaned down and kissed her gently. "Te Amo...I think those are the right words."
"I love you too," she whispered.
Johnny was feeling restless. Now that he had brought Scott round to admitting he wanted to go home, he wanted to set off before his brother could change his mind. The problem was that Scott was clearly not well enough to face the journey. He wondered if he would be able to persuade Scott to see the doctor again before they left. The warning about the strain placed on his brother’s heart by his illness worried him deeply. Stretching out on the bed, he forced himself to relax. They had come so far today, yet it had been one of the hardest things he had ever done. He had said some hard words, necessary so that they could both begin to heal, but hurtful nonetheless. He was finally drifting off to sleep when he heard the clatter of wagon wheels and excited voices.
One voice rang out among the rest, a child’s voice raised in delight. Curiosity overcame his exhaustion. Getting up from his bed he made his way along the hallway. As he passed Scott's door it opened and his brother stepped out, one eyebrow raised.
"Sounds like Andrew's got visitors."
Johnny nodded. "I guess it wouldn't be polite to eavesdrop."
The faintest of smiles appeared on Scott's lips. "But, we're going to anyway?"
Johnny couldn't help but smile as the light banter came back to them so easily. If only they could continue like this. "Sure. Why not? You coming?"
Together they made their way down the hallway in stockinged feet. At the door leading to the front porch they both stepped out, surprised to see Andrew spinning a woman around in his arms, a little boy clinging to his legs, laughing as he was dragged in a tight circle. Johnny came to a sudden halt. There was no doubt that these were Andrew's wife and son. The woman was attractive, her face, alight with happiness, but it was the boy who drew Johnny's attention.
His throat constricted as he saw the ghost of who he had always wanted to be. A little boy safe and loved. The child, still holding onto his father's leg, had turned to stare curiously at him and Scott. It was almost like looking at Miguel, except that this boy had deep blue eyes. And, it was his own eyes that had condemned him to a life of misery as a child and the hatred of this boy's own grandmother. Johnny felt Scott stiffen as he too saw those eyes. Then Scott gently laid a hand on his shoulder and he briefly closed his eyes in gratitude. This was what they had almost lost.
Andrew was coming over to them, his arm around his wife's waist and his son's hand held firmly in his own. "Scott, Johnny, I would like you to meet my family. My wife, Rosa and my son, Antonio."
Johnny half turned away, unable to cope with the memories of growing up without a father to love him.
Scott's hand tightened. "I'm here, Brother," he said softly.
And there it was. The words Johnny had thought he would never hear again. Dios! No matter what had happened, he still loved his brother. Johnny nodded, not trusting his voice.
Scott stepped forward. "I am very pleased to meet you, Senora. Your husband has often spoken about how much he has missed having his family with him."
"I am pleased to meet you both. I'm afraid this is a bit of a surprise for poor Andrew. We weren't planning to arrive for another week, but Antonio couldn't wait to see his father." She reached out to shake hands with Scott and Johnny, still keeping her arm around Andrew's waist.
The little boy was still staring at Johnny. Then, he turned to his father. "Papa, he has blue eyes like mine."
Andrew smiled. "Yes he does. His mother was Mexican like your mother. It is a gift you can wear with pride."
With his brother back by his side, Johnny could finally believe that.
Rosa looked past the brothers and Johnny could see her hesitation in entering the house. He gently reached out his hand and took hers. "Su marido ha ahuyentado los fantasmas.”
Rosa gave Johnny a questioning look. Before she could say anything, Andrew intervened. "There will be time enough for talk once everyone is settled."
"Yes, gracias. It has been a long trip. We will see you at dinner, no?"
"Yes." Johnny stood aside so that Andrew and his family could enter the house. Antonio ran ahead, calling out questions.
Still a little unnerved, Johnny turned to follow. "It seems hard to believe Andrew was the son of such an intolerant woman," Scott said.
"Yeah. At least his little boy will grow up in a loving home. I hope he never finds out what happened here."
"I'm sure he won't. After all, the ghosts are gone."
Johnny stared out of the window. He could understand now why Scott had been drawn back to the courtyard over and over again. It held a morbid fascination for both of them. Memories flooded him and no matter how hard he tried, he could not turn away. He saw the ground where he had nearly taken his last breath and wondered what would have become of Scott if he had not made it. Judging by Scott's inability to eat and sleep it wouldn't have been long before his brother would also have ended up in a cold grave.
The sudden light touch on his shoulder surprised him and he spun around to see Rosa standing behind him, her face filled with concern. "Are you all right, Señor? You were shaking. Are you ill?"
"I didn't hear you come in." He took a deep breath to calm himself. "You must be happy to be reunited with your husband."
"Si. He departed so suddenly. I know we had planned for him to come and escort us here, but I could not wait. I had this feeling." She touched her breast. "A wife knows when her husband is troubled, even when they are miles apart. I can see it in his eyes that he is worried. Over you and your brother, I suspect."
Johnny looked away. "He has a lot of responsibilities. Losing his mother..." he choked on the words. Damn that puta to hell for all that she had put them through! "Scott and me'll be leaving in a few days."
"Not before you have had a chance to rest. You both look very tired. And I noticed you favor your feet. I have no right to ask this of you, but please tell me what happened? My husband carries a heavy load on his shoulders. I know he feels, in a way, responsible for what his mother did here. If I knew, then perhaps I could help him get through this."
"It would be best if you didn't know, Señora. Some things are better left in the past."
"Si. Some things. But others...they fester if they are kept hidden and dwelled on. I only ask because I want to help my husband. And you. I saw your face when you saw my Antonio."
"It ain't my place to come between a man and his wife. Not wishing to be rude, but you should ask Andrew. As for your son...I guess he just reminded me of a time in my life when I wasn't so lucky."
Rosa's head tilted to the right, just a little. "I have a feeling that you had a hard time trying to live in two worlds, neither one accepting you. Is that true?”
"I'll always live in two worlds. So will your son, but he'll have his parents there to help him."
"And you did not?"
"I had my mother." Rosa lifted her hand to settle it gently on Johnny's shoulder and he felt a comfort there, one he had not felt in a very long time. "You make sure you love that boy, always. I don't want to see him take the same wrong road I did."
"What of your hermano? He does not share your Mexican blood."
"Our father married twice."
"You and your hermano are close?"
Johnny lowered his head. "We were. Now....things have happened."
"Yet, you are both here. Can things be made right between you?"
Johnny's smile was bittersweet. "I don't know, Señora. I hope we can have a little of what we had before we came here. I think we are making a good start...But ghosts...."
"Ah, I understand. Despite what you said to me outside, the ghosts come to you in the dark."
"They always have. But they are not here for you, or your husband. They are my own ghosts. And until we got here, I thought most of them were gone." Johnny looked up, suddenly aware that he had said more than he had intended to. "I'm sorry, Señora. My troubles are my own. They aren't for anyone else to shoulder. I just want to you to take care of that boy. He has a good chance in life with you and your husband.”
"Antonio will always be loved. I am sorry if I spoke of things that are none of my business. I should go and see what mischief my son is getting into."
As she turned to go, Johnny reached out and held her arm. "Thank you for caring. That is what this house needs. Someone who can give it life."
"Andrew told me many things about his mother. I never met her, and for that I am glad. We will make sure this is a happy home, and we will try to undo the damage that comes from prejudice."
"Then this house will be a real home."
Scott hesitated outside the door to Johnny's room. He was relieved that dinner was over. The formal meal had reminded him too vividly of the nights he had sat at that table with Mrs. Rawlings. Nights when he had eaten good food, knowing that his brother was starving, alone and in pain.
He tapped on the door and heard Johnny's voice. "Yeah?"
"I thought you might like some company." Scott's heart sank at the silence that greeted that offer. He'd seen how sad Johnny had looked every time his eyes had settled on Antonio and had hoped to be able to offer some support and companionship. He was on the point of turning away when the door opened.
Johnny looked tired, his hair mussed from lying on the pillow.
"Sorry," Scott apologized hastily. "Did I wake you?"
"No, just restin'. I thought you and Consuela might want some time alone." A smile fluttered across Johnny's face. "She's a pretty lady. You got plans, Brother?"
Scott bowed his head. "I don't know. Right now doesn't seem like the time to be asking her to marry me."
Johnny's jaw dropped a little. "Marry..." Johnny hung his head for a moment before looking up at Scott again. "Waiting might be hard, but it’s the right way to do it. A lot happened here...hard to tell what’s real and what ain't."
"That's what she said. Look, Johnny, I...I just wanted to check that you were alright. I'll see you in the morning."
"No...wait. Come in. We got to talk."
Johnny walked back into the room. Scott could feel his reluctance tugging at him, but he was the one who had sought out this discussion.
He slowly closed the door behind him, seeking time to figure out what to say. How long ago was it since he could walk into Johnny's room and feel completely comfortable? How long ago was it since he could say nothing and still have a conversation? Now, even words were hard to come by. "Andrew's got himself a nice family," Scott eventually said, hoping to find an opening.
"He's a lucky man. I think they'll be happy here once they settle in."
"I'm sure they will. And, the people who work here will have a better future to look forward to."
Johnny looked up, his blue eyes capturing Scott. "Do you think we'll ever be happy again?"
"I hope so." Scott turned away, unable to face the truth of what he had done.
Johnny cleared his throat. "You know...Damn it, Scott. We got to get past this. I want, more than anything, to get back what we had. We need to go home. Soon. We need to start fixing what the old lady broke.”
"I know. If you want to leave tomorrow I can be ready."
Johnny shook his head. "Not so fast. You ain't going anywhere until the doc says you're fit to travel."
"I'm fit. But if it makes you feel better, we can stop in town on the way out."
Johnny cringed inwardly at the thought of revisiting that town once again. If he never saw it again in his life, he could be happy. "How about we do a deal? We'll stay here for a couple more days and then head home. Besides, it'll be kinda nice to see how a real family lives."
Scott heard the wistfulness in Johnny's voice. He knew that his brother had no memory of a time when his mother and father had lived together. The need he saw in his brother, so carefully hidden, suddenly made him aware that he was not the only one hurting. "I saw you watching Antonio during dinner."
"I didn't think a mestizo could ever really be happy. But that boy is."
"Do you really think so little of yourself?" Scott asked, sickened by the use of the derogatory term. "Murdoch and your mother loved each other. They were proud and happy to have a son. It didn't matter to them what your heritage was."
“It's not the parents that do the hurting, Scott. It's everyone else. I hope they can keep the boy safe from that kind of hurt."
"I should have been there to stop you hurting. I won't let you down again."
Johnny looked up slowly, his long lashes hiding the pained look in his eyes. "You did all you could, Scott. I know that now. It's time you knew it too. What happened to us - it wasn't our fault. You got to put the blame where it belongs - on that puta."
"I did what I thought was right. Along the way, though, I forgot what it is brothers should do for each other. They should face the good times and the bad, side by side. I left you alone, and I don't think I can ever forgive myself for that."
"You have to because, if you can't, then we don't have a chance in hell of getting through this. I need you, Scott. Thought for most of my life that I didn't need anyone. Didn’t want to need anyone. But I was wrong. I don't want to go back to the way it was for me. And I don't think you want to go back to the way it was for you either. But, we’ve both got our ghosts..." Johnny's voice caught in his throat. "I don't want to face them alone anymore."
Scott's hand was shaking as he reached out to grip his brother's shoulder. "You won't be alone again. I promise. All my life, growing up in Boston, I felt as if something was missing. Now I know I was feeling the lack of a brother. I don't want to feel that way again." Scott saw Johnny's hesitation but, to his surprise, his brother didn't make a move to brush his hand away.
Johnny nodded. "Good." He took a deep breath. "I could use some air."
Scott dropped his hand, sensing a dismissal in Johnny's words.
"I wouldn’t mind some company," Johnny continued. "If you're feeling strong enough."
Scott felt Johnny's support as they walked out of the room...but, inwardly, he smiled. The support was going both ways. Maybe they did have a chance after all.
Johnny carefully made his way to the stables. His feet were feeling the effects of too much walking, but he wanted to look in on Barranca. A lot had happened yesterday and his talk with Scott had been one of their best since this nightmare began. He heard the excited whinny of the palomino as he neared Barranca's stall and was surprised to see Antonio standing in front of it.
The little boy smiled up at him, happy and unafraid. "Is this your horse, Señor Johnny?"
Johnny smiled back. "Si, his name is Barranca."
"My papa says that he will give me my own pony if I am good."
Johnny chuckled. "Then you had better be a good hombre."
Antonio turned solemn, his blue eyes wide. "I try. Only sometimes I do the wrong thing."
Johnny reached down and ruffled the boy’s hair fondly. "Sometimes, it’s just the trying to do the right thing that matters most. Your Papa knows how hard you try."
"He never shouts at me." Antonio reached up to stroke Barranca. "Mama says that Scott is your hermano. He looks different."
Johnny nodded. "After Scott's mama died, our father married my mother."
"Did you get teased when you were little? Some of my friends make fun of my blue eyes."
"Yes. But, now I know that I have something special. So do you. In fact," Johnny grinned, "when you get a little older you'll find that the ladies like the blue eyes." Antonio looked so confused that Johnny began to laugh. It felt good to be able to find pleasure in the simple things in life again.
"How about you help me feed Barranca then, maybe if your papa says it’s okay, I can take you for a short ride. Barranca needs to stretch his legs."
"Really?" Antonio began to hop up and down with excitement.
"Really. Now get some oats from over there and then we'll talk to your papa."
Scott reached for Consuela's hand as they strolled through the garden. It was a pleasantly warm morning and his mood was lighter than it had been in weeks.
"You seem happy, Scott. You have made peace with yourself and your brother?"
"We are making progress." Scott smiled as he thought back to the previous evening when he and Johnny had sat for hours under the stars, just enjoying the fact that they could be there together.
"I am glad. I was worried for you. Will you be returning home soon?"
"As soon as the doctor says I'm fit enough to make the journey." He stopped and turned to her. "I wish you could come with me."
She raised her hand to his cheek, caressing it gently. "So do, I mi amor, but it is best you go home and heal first. If...if, when you are once again settled and you still want me, I will be here for you. But...but if you do not come, I will understand. I really will."
"I will come back for you, never doubt that."
She looked up into his eyes and smiled. "I will never doubt it. How does your hermano feel about us being together? And, your father - what will he think?"
"Johnny will be happy for us and I think he will enjoy being an uncle."
She looked up at him, worry in her eyes. "You would bring a child of mixed race into the world? After what happened to Johnny?"
"Because of what happened to Johnny. He needs to see that such a child can have a happy and secure life."
She melted against his shoulder. "I hope someday to hold that child in my arms. He will be loved and know nothing of the hurt Johnny has seen. He will be as happy as Antonio."
As they spoke, they heard the happy shouts as Antonio and Johnny rode past them, the boy sitting in front of Johnny.
"As happy as Antonio," Scott promised. He pulled her into a firm embrace. "When I return, it will be with a ring," he said softly.
Four days passed with the brothers spending a little more time every day in each other’s company. They also made time to get to know Andrew’s family. The doctor had visited the previous afternoon and had given his consent for Scott to return to Lancer. Now, it was time to say their goodbyes and resume the journey Scott had thought he might never make.
He buckled his saddlebags, aware that Johnny was waiting for him downstairs. He still sometimes felt that returning to Lancer was a dream. But he was heading home. What he would find there, he didn't know. Johnny's assurances that everyone there wanted him home could have been a product of Johnny's own desires. But he had to find out. He owed it to himself and he owed it to his brother.
He looked around the room. He had shared happy times here with Consuela and dark times when he would have welcomed death to free him from his memories. He looked at his reflection in the mirror above the bureau. He had regained some of the weight that he had lost in the past month. Still, it was not the same man who looked back at him. He had changed. Had he changed too much? His time in Libby had changed him, too. But this was different. He had had to face a side of him that he didn't know existed. A side no man should have to see in himself
He shivered. When he was with Johnny, he could believe that everything would work out. His brother was guardedly optimistic. However, he hadn't missed the times when it had all become overwhelming and Johnny had turned away to avoid saying too much. It was when he was alone that the doubts still rose up to plague him
Hefting the saddle bags onto his shoulder, he looked around the room one last time and stepped into the hallway, closing the door on that part of his life. He had to believe that he would find the strength to move forward, and that meant returning home and hoping for the welcome Johnny had promised him.
Johnny waited impatiently on the porch. Until they were on the trail, he wouldn't be able to truly believe that Scott was returning with him. The sound of the door opening behind him brought a lop-sided smile to his face. Scott was looking stronger now and there was a renewed determination on his face. They were still being careful what they said to each other but, occasionally, they found themselves slipping back into the easy conversations they had once shared.
"Time we got on the road," Johnny said. "We still have to say our goodbyes to Elana."
They had discussed this and Johnny had felt Scott's reluctance. He had no doubt that it related to Miguel. When he'd pointed out that seeing them together might be just what Miguel needed, Scott had acquiesced.
Johnny patted his brother on the shoulder and pushed him gently toward the two stairs that would lead them to the horses and the family they were now ready to say goodbye to. What would have happened to them if it had not been for Andrew? And for Johnny, Antonio had been the balm his soul needed. A child of mixed race, who knew nothing of the cruel world that he had grown up in.
"Have a safe journey." Andrew offered his hand to Scott and then to Johnny. "I hope one day you will visit us again."
"We will," Johnny promised. "And we just might bring Murdoch and Teresa with us. Besides," he added mischievously as he looked over to Consuela. "I think Scott has a good reason for coming back."
Andrew and Rosa chuckled, Rosa threading her arm through Johnny's elbow. "A momento, Juanito?"
Johnny nodded and gave Scott a quick grin. He suspected that Scott wouldn't mind having a few more minutes with his young lady. Consuela was trying to be brave, but tears were glistening in her eyes.
Rosa drew Johnny away. "I wanted to thank you for all you did for Antonio. I know...I know, you would believe that you have done nothing, but you have done so much. He, too, has grown up in a world where he is not the same as the other children and though he has never been hurt by them, he has often asked why he is different. Now he knows that he is not the only one with dark skin and blue eyes, and he sees that you are a good man. If we are lucky, he will be much like you, Johnny."
"Believe me, you don't want him to be anything like me. I've done a lot of things in my life that I ain't proud of. Antonio is a good boy and he's lucky to have two loving parents to raise him."
"It is not what you were. It is what you are now."
"Life ain't that simple. Sometimes the past just won't let you go."
She patted his arm. "Life is what you make it. You and your hermano have been given a new beginning. Accept it and use it. It is a gift few of us ever get. In a way, we have been given a new start as well. We will stay here and run the ranch. Andrew is happy here and so am I."
"I'm glad for you. And for the people who work here. If it hadn't been for them, neither Scott or I would be going home." Johnny heard the sound of little feet running toward him and turned just in time to catch Antonio as he ran past him to reach his father. "Hey there, you going to say goodbye to me and Scott too?”
"I don't want you to go. Why can't you stay?"
"Scott and I have to get back home to see our papa. He misses us."
"I missed my papa when he left us. Do you miss yours?"
Johnny looked behind him and saw Scott talking with Andrew. "We both miss him very much."
"Johnny," Scott called. "We should leave, otherwise we won't get any further than Elana's before it gets dark.”
Johnny nodded, taking Antonio's hand and walking back toward Scott with Rosa beside him. He hadn’t expected it to be so hard to say his goodbyes.
Scott kissed Consuela before walking to his horse and securing his saddlebags. His face was pale as he took a last look around.
Johnny stood beside him. "Serenity it wasn't."
That brought a wan smile to Scott's lips. "No, it wasn't. Maybe now it will have a chance to live up to its name."
Glancing toward Consuela's tear-stained face, Johnny said, "I have a feeling you’ll find out sooner than you think. Can't stay away from something like that for too long."
"I think you're right." Scott swung up into the saddle. "Let's go home, Brother."
Johnny tipped his hat to Andrew and his family and swung into the saddle. Touching his spurs to the palomino, he rode away with Scott at his side.
Elana draped the clean sheet over the washing line, humming to herself. Esperanza was sleeping quietly in her crib in the shade, while Miguel and Arturo were tending to the horses in the barn. It was a beautifully peaceful day. She looked out over their land, which was free now of the shadow cast by Mrs. Rawlings and others like her. There were still some in Serenity who would never tolerate Mexicans but, with a new sheriff in place, the overt hatred and persecution had ended. This, she decided, was a good place to raise their children. A trail of dust drew closer as someone rode toward the house. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the sun. Johnny's palomino was instantly recognizable and her heart jumped at the sight of Scott riding next to him. Could it be?
No word had reached them from the Rawlings' ranch since Johnny had ridden to confront his brother. The uncertainty had been hard, but she and Arturo had decided that it wasn't their place to intrude. They had, however, prayed every night for the brothers to find the strength to move past the horrific events that had torn them apart.
She waited, holding her breath. Johnny's easy smile told her everything. Scott, as she had come to expect, looked more reserved. "It is good to see you again," she said sincerely. "Please, come in and rest. You will join us for lunch. I insist."
"We can't stay long," Johnny told her as he dismounted. "We're heading home today."
Home! "I am happy for both of you."
"Thank you." Scott dismounted more slowly, looking uncomfortable.
"Arturo," she called happily. "We have visitors."
Arturo was already at the barn door, alerted by the sound of approaching horses. His face broke into a full grin as he recognized Johnny and Scott. "Welcome, my friends. It is good to see you." His movements were still awkward, although the heavy cast on his leg had been replaced with a lighter one and would soon be removed altogether.
"Gracias," Johnny said. "We are on our way home, but wanted to stop to thank you for everything, and to say goodbye."
Miguel ran out of the barn after his father, sliding to a halt when he saw the brothers. The smile disappeared from his face. Elana saw her son's expression when he recognized the "Gringo" as he still called him. Nothing they had said could change his mind when it came to Scott. He saw things in black and white, too young to understand what had motivated Scott’s actions and nothing could take that nightmare away from him.
Elana turned to look at the brothers. Scott appeared devastated by the clear hatred on Miguel's face. It was Johnny who made the first move, walking over to Miguel. Elana watched as he leaned down to make eye contact with her son.
“How ya doing, Amigo?”
Miguel nodded, his gaze still resting on Scott. "Why is he here?" the little boy whispered, clutching the front of Johnny's shirt.
"Because he is my hermano," Johnny explained softly, “and I love him just like you love Esperanza. I know it’s hard to understand and even us adults don't understand all of it. But, what happened at the mean lady’s ranch was not Scott's fault. He was trying to save you and your mama."
"He hurt you."
"He had to. Mrs. Rawlings was making him. Do you ever have to do something that you don't want to do, but you know it’s the right thing? That is what Scott had to do."
"I was scared," Miguel confided, his dark eyes fixed trustingly on Johnny’s face. "Do you think Scott was scared too?"
"I know he was very scared. But, now it’s over and he wants to tell you that he’s sorry. He never wanted to hurt you or me."
Elana saw her son dart a quick look at Scott, although he still stayed close to Johnny.
"You trust me, right? Well, I trust my brother. I guess that means you trust him too," Johnny smiled gently.
"I trust you, Johnny." Miguel still sounded doubtful although he now took a hesitant step toward Scott.
Elana held her breath as Miguel let go of Johnny and walked hesitantly toward Scott. She could see so much need in Scott's expression. Her son could do so much to help him escape the horrors he had experienced. She prayed Miguel would do the right thing.
Scott squatted down as he had seen Johnny do and waited. Miguel stopped a foot away, his hands tapping his legs nervously. "I'm sorry," Miguel said softly.
"You have nothing to be sorry for. You were very brave and I'm sorry for the way I treated you and Johnny." Although Scott appeared awkward and uncertain there was no doubting the sincerity of his words.
Miguel nodded then retreated back to Johnny silently. Elana gave her husband a relieved smile. It was a start. "Por favor, come inside. You must eat before your long journey." She watched the brothers exchanging glances and saw Scott's slight nod of agreement.
Soon, they were sitting around the table. Scott was drawn into the conversation each time he seemed to lag behind. Elana knew there was still much work to be done between the brothers. Hurts like theirs did not heal after one conversation. But she had hope that they would find their way. They had too much to lose if they didn't.
An hour later, it became clear that both were becoming restless. With mixed emotions she and her family stood on the porch to wish them farewell. They had a long journey ahead, not just in terms of miles. With luck they would make that journey together. Arturo wrapped his comforting arms around her shoulders. What would have become of them if it had not been for those two brothers?
The ride home, the name conjuring up feelings of relief and disquiet for Scott, was harder than he had expected. They kept to a slow, steady pace and it was almost a week before they finally crossed onto Lancer land. As they rode up the hill heading toward the lookout that always stunned him with its beauty, he wondered if he was doing the right thing. He wanted this to work. He wanted it for Johnny as much as he wanted it for himself. But, there had been long silences between them as they rode side by side. Hidden thoughts would rear their ugly heads when neither man was prepared to deal with them. Is this how it would always be?
There was a hard knot in his stomach as he wondered how Murdoch would react to him. Their father had seen for himself the damage done to Johnny, and there had been times when Scott had seen Murdoch's puzzled looks - as if he couldn't believe that a son of his could have been responsible for all that suffering.
Johnny seemed to sense his unease and reached over, tapping the back of his hand. "From now on, it's only going to get better."
"I don't know," Scott admitted. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea." He regretted the words the minute he said them as Johnny's expression became closed and hard.
"This ain't any easier on me, you know. I thought we had an understanding. But, if you're not willing to try, then I made that trip for nothing."
"I'm sorry." God, how he hated this. Would there ever be a day when he didn't feel that he had to constantly apologize? "It wasn't a wasted trip. I'm just not looking forward to facing our father."
Johnny slapped him on the thigh. "Better you than me, Boston," he laughed. "Come on, if he's going to bite your head off, we'd best get it over with."
"I suppose that's the least I deserve." Scott hid his discomfort behind a weak smile. He tapped his horse lightly and they started their descent.
Murdoch couldn't settle to anything. He threw his pen onto the untidy desk and stretched his back. It had been days since he'd received word that his sons were coming home, yet, still there was no sign of them. He turned his chair around and looked out the huge window. The view never ceased to amaze him, only since he had returned from the Rawlings house it had lost some of its magic. He hoped with the return of his sons all of that wonder would return.
He straightened as he saw a cloud of dust in the distance. Was it too much to hope for? Soon he could make out two horses, one of which was unmistakable. He hurried to the front door, arriving just in time to see the sight he had been praying for. Side by side, his boys were riding up to the house.
"Teresa!" he yelled. "They're here!"
Johnny's face was lit up by a huge grin, but it was Scott that made the breath catch in his throat. His son looked pale, so tired and so very wary.
"Son," he said softly, approaching Scott slowly. "It's good to have you home. Both of you."
Still, Scott made no move to dismount, his eyes turning to Johnny as if for reassurance.
Teresa suddenly raced out of the house, passing Murdoch before he could catch her. She was crying and laughing and trying her best to hug the legs of both men.
Scott's withdrawal was subtle and Murdoch would have missed it if he hadn't been studying his son so closely. It was clear that Scott no longer knew what his place was in the family. Johnny's intervention had brought Scott home. Would they be able to persuade him to stay?
"Teresa," he said, gently pulling her back. "The boys have had a hard ride. Why don't you go and make them some lemonade and maybe something to eat? You're hungry, aren't you, Boys?"
"I could eat a whole cow," Johnny said happily. "And Scott here needs fattenin' up."
There was no denying that. Scott was still rail thin. In fact, he looked worse than when Murdoch had last seen him. "Then you have come to the right place. Maria will be here any minute and when she finds you two are back, I can only imagine the feast we will have tonight. But," he realized Scott was looking down at his hands rather than at him, "you both should rest first. Your room is ready for you Scott. We've been waiting, Son."
"Thank you, Sir. It's good to be home."
Murdoch had to force himself not to react to the formal politeness. It was like talking to a stranger.
Cipriano appeared and held the horses’ reins as both brothers dismounted. "It is good have you both home," he said awkwardly.
There was no missing the tension in the courtyard. Scott nodded before walking toward the house with his head down. Murdoch reached out to catch his son’s arm. "This is your home, Scott.”
Scott acknowledged his words with a nod. Johnny's smile had disappeared as he walked behind Scott into the house, patting Murdoch's arm as he passed. He could only imagine the tightrope Johnny had been walking since he went to the Rawlings’ house. Time was the only healer here and he just hoped they had time enough. As they entered the house, Murdoch saw Johnny's arm swing around Scott's shoulder. To his surprise, he didn't see Scott pull away. Maybe there was hope yet.
Murdoch sat on the hill overlooking the hacienda. It felt good to have his sons sitting beside him. It had been a tough road they had all traveled since Johnny and Scott first arrived home. But today....today was the first day he felt they were truly a family again. The last two months had been harder than the first few weeks when they had been strangers to each other trying to be a family.
Now, the division between the brothers hurt so much more because they knew what they had lost. It had been hard, as a parent, to stand back and let them find their own way. There had been days when he had thought that one or other would ride away and never return. There had been arguments and silences, but, underlying it all had been a determination to succeed.
He looked from one son to the other. They had come so far. Lesser men might have walked away, but they had stuck it out. Though they might never have exactly what they had before, Murdoch knew from experience that hardship and pain sometimes made a man better. Johnny and Scott had looked into the deepest darkest parts of each other’s soul and now were ready to begin a new chapter in their lives. And what better way to begin than to celebrate their first Thanksgiving together?
He had suggested inviting Sam and Val to join them for dinner. At first, he had been hesitant as Val and Scott were still not on the best of terms. But, it was another step for all to take and each one seemed a little easier. Scott had agreed quietly, still more subdued than Murdoch would have liked. Last night he had taken Johnny aside, after Scott had turned in early and asked his youngest son to tell him truthfully how Scott was doing. The answer had helped to reassure him. Johnny told him that Scott no longer spoke about the possibility of leaving Lancer. In fact, he was now talking positively about returning to Serenity to fetch Consuela.
Learning about his son’s relationship with Consuela had, at first, concerned Murdoch. He feared that what his son felt for the young woman was gratitude, rather than love. But, after hearing Scott talk about her, he was sure the feelings were true. How could something like the precious love between a man and a woman grow out of the horrendous ordeal his sons had been forced to endure? He had wondered how Johnny would feel, having yet another reminder of his captivity and torture. It hadn’t taken long for him to see that Johnny was happy to accept the relationship. Maybe it wouldn’t be too long before they had another happy occasion to celebrate. He was looking forward to meeting her again so that he could thank her for her part in persuading Scott to come home. He tapped his spurs against his horse and headed toward the house, feeling more certain of the future than he had in a long time.
The house was filled with a festive mood. The turkey had been cooking in the oven all day and the aroma was making everyone hungry. Teresa and Maria had outdone themselves on the Thanksgiving meal. They had a lot to be thankful for, and this was their way of showing it.
When Scott walked into the great room, Murdoch went to the liquor cabinet and poured three glasses of fine malt whiskey for the occasion.
He stood before his sons, at a loss for words. So many things had happened. He had almost lost them both. Now, with time, he felt sure that they would once again find happiness.
"I would like to propose a toast before our guests arrive. These last few months have been difficult and I want you both to know how proud I am of you."
Both young men bowed their heads. Scott looked up first. "I didn't think I'd ever be standing here again with both of you." He turned to Johnny. "I have you to thank for that, Brother. If you hadn’t come after me, I wouldn’t have come back to stay. Sorry, Murdoch. That is the truth." He raised his glass toward Johnny. "Here's to you, Hermano."
"You'd have come back," Johnny replied with a smile. "It might've taken you some time, but you'd have come home. All I did was help you make up your mind a bit quicker."
Scott nodded. “And help me fight off a few of my ghosts. But, what about you, Johnny? Have you slain your ghosts?”
"I don't think a man ever loses his ghosts. Having family around him just makes it easier to forget about them."
Family. Murdoch smiled. It was good to hear that word and even better to see his sons finally at ease and open with each other.
The sound of a buggy pulling up to the house made all three men turn to look out the window. Their guests had arrived. Murdoch stood back to let his sons go ahead of him. They all owed Sam a great debt and Val had been a good friend to Johnny throughout this ordeal. He saw Johnny put his arm around Scott's shoulder and lean over to whisper something. Scott gave a slight nod before the two of them walked outside. When Scott held out a hand to Val, Murdoch waited with baited breath to see what the sheriff would do.
A moment of hesitation, then Val accepted Scott's hand. "Good to see you home where you belong," Val said earnestly.
"Thank you, Sheriff." Scott visibly relaxed.
Johnny put an arm around Sam's shoulder. "I hope you got plenty of empty room in that stomach of yours, ‘cause there's enough food in there to feed all of Morro Coyo and some left over for Green River."
"Then why are we standing out here?" Sam asked with mock severity.
"Beats me," Murdoch grinned. "Let's eat!"
As the Lancer family and their friends sat around the table, each one gave silent thanks for what they had. Good family, good friends, and, a future that held promise.
Linda & Caroline