Chapter Seventeen

Scott had been taken home, cocooned in a pile of pillows and blankets in the back of a wagon three days earlier. Murdoch himself drove, while Johnny rode with his brother, making sure he wasn't jostled any more than necessary.

The journey had been slow and harder on Scott than he was willing to let on. His head still hurt more than not; he was dizzy anytime he raised his head up; his neck and shoulder ached whenever he changed positions and sometimes when he didn't even do that much.

Murdoch and Johnny were sure he wasn't telling them the truth when he said he was fine, each one of the hundred or so times they asked him how he was feeling. He indulged them their questions and lied, knowing what they had been through on his account, and knowing how he would feel had it been one of them in his place.

They had finally reached Lancer in the early afternoon. The sight of it from the hill always gave Scott a feeling that he could only describe as peaceful. This time, after insisting that they stop so he could look out over his home, and with Johnny helping to lift him enough to see over the side of the wagon, the view that stretched out before him meant more to Scott than he could ever express in words.

He had lain back down with a heart full of joy, as the wagon descended and headed toward the arch. He watched with pride as the white adobe structure, framed by the brilliant blue sky above it, crossed over his head. He had come so close to losing it all, but now there was nothing and no one to stop him from rejoining his family in the place that he, like his father and brother, loved more than any other on earth.

Teresa, Jelly and Maria had been there to greet him, his 'sister' fussing over him as only she could.

Once he had been carried up to his room and settled in bed, he had been told, per Sam's explicit orders, to take some laudanum and go to slepp. The arduous journey had insured that he would follow those instructions without argument. He had slept for fourteen hours, almost causing worry among his family members.

During those next three days, no one had discussed what had happened to Scott or the reason behind it. No one wanted to. Scott knew, as did both Johnny and Murdoch, that he would need to regain more of his strength before the subject would be broached. There were no illusions from any of them that the discussions that hung in the air, just out of reach, were going to be difficult.

Both Teresa and Jelly were aware of the simmering tension that existed, at first attributing it to Scott's near-fatal experience. It soon became apparent, however, that the three Lancer men, with their overly polite and obviously superficial conversations, were 'walking on eggshells' around each other, and that there was more to it than Scott's condition. The atmosphere in the hacienda was like holding your breath while waiting for the other shoe to drop. And drop it did.

x x x x x

A soft knock sounded on Scott's bedroom door. It was obvious that whoever it was didn't want to wake him, if he was asleep.

"Come in."

Johnny stuck his head around the door. "I didn't wake you , did I?"

"No, Johnny, come on in."

When the younger man entered and closed the door, Scott grinned at him. "I guess it takes getting shot and almost dying for you to knock before entering my room."

Johnny lowered his head. "Don't joke about somethin' like that, Scott. It's not funny."

"No, I guess it isn't," the blond conceded. "But it isn't something that we should avoid talking about either."

"I don't think now's..."

"Well, I do. It's time we got a few things straight."

Scott's voice had taken on a very serious tone, and Johnny knew he was in for a no-nonsense, big-brother talk, probably the one he had been avoiding since Scott got home.

Scott patted the bed next to him, "Sit down."

Johnny gently lowered himself next to Scott, not sure how much his brother could still be hurt, if he wasn't careful enough. He stared down at his hands, as he entwined his fingers, refusing to meet his brother's eyes.

"You blame yourself for all of this, don't you?" He indicated himself and his bed.

Johnny now looked up and straight into the blue-gray eyes that were looking straight at him. "Come on, Scott. You can't tell me that after all that happened, you're gonna say it wasn't my fault. You're smarter than that!"

"Did you shoot me?"

"Of course not! Are you crazy?" Johnny said in a raised voice. More quietly, he said, "But those Flemings and Pony Deal were after me, Johnny Madrid, and you got in the way. If it weren't for me, you'd never have gotten hurt. It's as simple as that, and you can't argue with it."

"Oh, but I cam, little brother. I most definitely can.

"As for Johnny Madrid, he's only a small part of you. A part that is where he belongs - in your past. You are not responsible for what other people do."

"By other people, you mean gunfighters that want to take me down, no matter how small a part of me you want to believe Madrid is."

Johnny was playing with his fingers again, until Scott's hand moved to cover them.

"Did you blame me for Dan Cassidy?"

Johnny's head shot up. "Don't you start that psy... psyc..."

"Psychology."

"Yeah, that psychology stuff on me. They weren't the same thing at all."

"And why not? Dan Cassidy came here to kill me just as much as the Flemings went to Green River looking to kill you. Pony Deal just took advantage of the situation, but he wanted you dead just as much. There is absolutely no difference between Cassidy and them, except for the reasons behind it, and that is inconsequential."

"What?"

"It means it doesn't matter, Johnny. We all have shadows in our past to deal with. If you felt guilty about all of them, they'd destroy you. So, you have to forgive yourself at some point. Since you didn't invite this trouble, you are not to blame for it." Scott grinned and repeated Johnny's earlier words back at him. "It's as simple as that.

"Look, Johnny, Madrid exists, no longer as a gunfighter, but as one of those shadows from the past. How people deal with that is their choice. It's sad that sometimes it encroaches on us here and now, but think of it like this: If if weren't for Johnny Madrid, you wouldn't be the man you are today. Every experience, good and bad, shapes us and makes us who we are. And I rather like the brother I have now."

Scott's smile was warm and affectionate when Johnny looked at him. He was close to being embarrassed when he looked away. "But you don't know some of the terrible things I've done."

In what seemed like a crazy change of subject, Scott asked, "What happens to a whole bucket of white paint when a few drops of black paint are mixed in?"

"Huh?"

"Think about it. What happens to the white paint?"

"Nothin'. I mean, you'd haveta put a lot more than a few drops of black in it to change the color."

"Exactly."

"Boston, is your head hurtin' you some more, 'cause you're sure not makin' any sense."

Scott gave his brother an indulgent smile. "My head's fine, Johnny. My point is that you did some bad things in your past, the black paint, if you will, but when that's mixed into the whole bucket of white paint, the man you are deep down, it disappears. It's there, but it doesn't show.

"I know that may be a strange example, but the point I'm making is..."

"I understand, Scott," Johnny interrupted.

"You do. Well, that's great, because I'd hate for you to go around always feeling guilty about those drops of black paint when you have so much goodness in you.

"I don't blame you for what happened to me. It was partly my fault anyway."

"Your fault? Now how the hell do you figure that?"

"You've always told me to stay our of your way whenever you get called out. I ignored your advice, made my own decision to help. That was not your doing. It was mine."

Scott reached up with his right hand and grasped Johnny's left forearm. "You see that what I'm saying is right, don't you?"

Johnny didn't answer for a few moments, once more regarding his fingers. After taking a deep breath, he reached up and placed his hand over Scott's. "Yeah, Boston, I do."

"So, you'll quit feeling guilty over what you couldn't control. Right?"

"I'll think about it."

"As long as you agree with me in the end, then I'll accept that."

Johnny looked at Scott and grinned. "You know, big brother, you really are somethin'."

"Yeah, I keep telling you that. Glad you finally believe me."

x x x x x

Murdoch walked into Scott's room with a tray on which rested a roast beef sandwich and a large glass of lemonade. "Here's your lunch, son."

"Thank you, sir," Scott replied, as he gingerly scooted up in the bed, so the tray could be placed on his lap.

"Anything else I can bring you?"

"No, sir. This will be fine."

Scot almost winced at his own words. Too detached. They had all been through a very emotional time, yet it seemed that any emotion was sorely lacking now.

When Murdoch turned to leave, Scott, out of the blue, asked, "Have you talked to Johnny yet?"

Murdoch stared at his eldest son. He knew Scott was too shrewd to buy an act of innocence about why he should talk to Johnny, so he simply said, "No."

"Well, you need to."

"Scott..."

The blond interrupted before the protest could be expressed.

"Look, Murdoch, Johnny and I had a talk this morning and got a lot of things straight. It's time the two of you did the same.

"I haven't been downstairs yet, but I can still feel the tension in the air. Talk to him, Murdoch, before your relationship suffers." Scott looked up into his father's eyes. "It might not be fixable in the future," he warned.

This business was between Johnny and Murdoch, so he was going to have to leave it to them to sort out.

Without another word, Scott turned his attention to the food in front of him and began eating his lunch.

x x x x x

Murdoch wanted to dismiss Scott's warning. He thought, or rather hoped, that the whole affair would just blow over. Once Scott was back on his feet, things would just go back to normal. Having deep, meaningful conversations with Johnny was just... He paused in this thought, trying to come up with the right word. Useless.

The two of them had come to an unspoken understanding a long time ago, or so Murdoch had thought. If Johnny didn't mention Madrid, he wouldn't either. When trouble came because of Madrid, they dealt witth it and moved on. That way they could continue to put their energy into the activities of daily living. However, the ghost of Madrid always hung around, never exorcised, never put in its place.

By the time Murdoch had reached the bottom of the stairs, he knew he was probably fooling himself. But, what else could he do but ignore his son's past? It wasn't going to change. The Madrid issue didn't come up that often, not really. Just let it blow over, he told himself again. Don't borrow trouble.

The problem was that trouble was already on their doorstep, pushing its way into their lives.

As he entered the Great Room and headed for his desk, Murdoch spotted Johnny, sitting alone in the room.

"Murdoch, we need to talk," his son said without looking up.

So much for letting the issue blow over. Then again, maybe Johnny just wanted to talk about ranch business.

Murdoch walked over and sat down on the sofa. "What is it, Johnny?"

"You blame me for what happened to Scott."

"I blame Madrid," the eldest Lancer replied bitterly.

"Come on, Murdoch," Johnny said incredulously, as he got up and walked over to the fireplace, then turned around to face his father. "I am Madrid."

"That's in the past, and you know how I feel about dragging out things that should be left there."

"That's just it, it shouldn't be left there, not 'til it gets dealt with, here and now."

Murdoch stood up and faced his son. "All right, Johnny. We'll deal with it. I've accepted you as my son, a son I love dearly." There he had said it. "It isn't you, the man you are now, but the man you once were, Johnny Madrid, that I have trouble with.

"People keep showing up to challenge you, call you out, as you put it. Your brother almost died this time because of it."

"Yes, he did." In contrast to Murdoch's raised voice, Johnny's tone was soft, almost too soft to hear.

"How am I supposed to handle that, John? How am I supposed to live with knowing that next time Scott might be killed, or you might face someone faster than you, and...?" He stopped himself and took a deep breath. "Can you promise me that either of those things won't ever happen?" Murdoch was fairly yelling by now.

"No, I can't promise that. From the beginning, I never said they would never happen," Johnny yelled back.

His voice only dropped a bit when he said, "Scott's always accepted me for who I am, which includes who I was. Why can't you?"

Then Murdoch did something that he never in a million years thought he ever could. He said, "Because I'm scared."

Johnny's mouth dropped open, and he stared at his father. That was an admission he never believed possible from this man.

Now that he had come clean, Murdoch continued. "I just got the two of you back. I'm scared that one, or both, of you will be taken away from me again, because of your past." He lowered his voice. "I don't know that I could survive that."

Johnny was dumbfounded, but he couldn't stop now. "Scott said we all have shadows in our past. None of us can be sure that past won't come back to haunt us. He mentioned Cassidy."

Murdoch's head came up. He had never once, back when the man had shown up, or since, connected Madrid and Cassidy as being similar in what they could have cost him, or in the case of Madrid, still could.

"Look, Murdoch, I told you I can't promise anything. I can only tell you I'll do the best I can to protect all of you. That's all I can do."

Realizing that his own position wasn't all that different from his son's, Murdoch sighed. "You're right, Johnny. That's all any man can do."

x x x x x

When Scott had heard the raised voices below in the Great Room, though the words were indistinct, he had closed his eyes and prayed that his brother and his father wouldn't do irreparable damage to their relationship.

He had hoped that they could work things out peacefully, or at least as peacefully as was possible while butting heads.

After a few moments of complete silence had descended, he became worried. He hadn't heard a gunshot or even a door slam, but the quiet was disturbing.

Putting on his robe, Scott got out of bed and waited only long enough for the room to stop spinning before making his way to the stairs. He paused at the top and listened. There was still no sound.

He held onto the banister with his right hand and began the descent, right foot down, left foot down beside it, right foot down, left foot down beside it.

His progress was slow, but he finally reached the bottom. Fear gripped his heart, fearful of what he might find, as he rounded the corner.

He came to a sudden stop, when he looked at the scene before him. Johnny and Murdoch were holding each other in a tight embrace.

Scott waited only long enough to make sure he wasn't hallucinating before smiling and quietly turning to begin the slow climb back up the staircase.

He was still smiling when he entered his room and closed hte door behind him.

Johnny Madrid may not be laid to rest never to rise again, but it appeared he had finally been put in the past where he belonged.

Now Scott could truly rest, because all was well in the Lancer household.

The End