For personal use and select distribution only (c) March 1998 by Shannon

For a long time, I've been fascinated with the character of Hank and how he came to be the way he is. With all that's been going on this past season, I've been especially intrigued by his intense hatred of Daniel Simon, the newly-elected sheriff of Colorado Springs. That will be dealt with in another story. :-) I know, I'm mean to tease like this. This story will be the first of my version of Hank's past. I've already ideas for the next one. Who knows? I may even write more as it comes to me! Meanwhile, enjoy!

Brothers' Promises
by Shannon

Early morning, outside Colorado Springs....

Hank could smell the rain coming, and was glad he'd decided to head back home a day earlier than he'd originally planned. He'd just beat it in, avoiding the ruining of the furs he'd got himself on this trip.

Hank didn't like to admit much to enjoying himself, but this hunting trip and been good for him. He'd missed going off every so often, like he had in the old days, before Colorado Springs had been so settled. There were a lot of opportunities to be had by staying in town, and fur trapping around here was getting harder and harder. He wished people would be more particular about what they were doing out in the wilderness. He chuckled at the thought--it was one of the few things he and Sully would ever see eye to eye on.

Jake would sure be surprised when he showed up today. Not that Hank was gonna relieve him of his duties. Not a chance. He was going to spend the day relaxing; drinking and gambling, among other things. His grin grew broader. Having a partner wasn't so bad after all. So long as Jake stayed on the wagon and didn't drink up all the stock, things would be all right.

With those thoughts, he urged his horse forward, pressing on home.

Horace Bing and Dr. Michaela Quinn chatted pleasantly outside the telegraph office while waiting for the train from Denver to pull up to the station. Dr. Mike was in high sprits, as her daughter Colleen was coming home for spring break. Life in Colorado Springs had been so dismal, with the Indian raids and the diphtheria epidemic, that it was a relief to go back to a normal routine.

The train heaved its' last sigh as it lurched to a stop at the platform. A young, auburn-haired woman practically leapt off the train in her eagerness to be with her family. A smile brightened Michaela Quinn's face--her daughter, home again!

The two caught each other in a warm hug, laughing. "Oh, Colleen!" her mother exclaimed, not needing to say anything more. Colleen looked up at her, grinning. "Where's everybody else?"

Michaela was vaguely aware of two men standing nearby, but paid them no mind as she reported, "Sully went to hunt for some game, Brian's watching Katie, and Matthew is taking over Daniel's duties while he's in Manitou."

Colleen nodded in acceptance, then suddenly remembered, "Oh, Ma!" she turned to the men standing behind her. "You'll never believe who I met on the train!"

Michaela followed her daughter's gaze with a welcome smile on her lips--but her face froze in shock and surprise as she saw the men's faces. They were both tall and slender in build; their faces were not unhandsome, in fact, the faces looked exactly like--

"These are Hank's brothers, Ma!" Colleen burst in her train of thought excitedly. "Petter and Wilhelm Lausenstrom. Ma, they're identical triplets!"

Hank's doubles--triples?--both tipped their hats politely to the doctor, smiling brightly. One of them held out his hand to her. Dazed, she took it, shook, hearing, "Wilhelm Lausenstrom." She repeated the greeting with the other doppelganger exactly, except for hearing, "Petter Lausenstrom." Petter, she noted, had a tiny scar over his right eyebrow, but other than that and the shorter, more conservative hair style, could not be told from the brother she had known all these years.

Both brothers, she realized, sported shorter hair than Hank, their curls being more obvious as a result. They were clean-shaven, and dressed neatly, but their clothes seemed to be curiously out-of-date. They stood straight and upright. Their faces and bodies were identical, but the manner was completely different from their triplet. µ She realized, with some embarrassment, that she was staring at the Lausenstroms open-mouthed. She collected herself, apologizing, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare." Belatedly, she added, "I'm Doctor Michaela Quinn."

Wilhelm grinned charmingly at her. "Dr. Quinn, we've been stared at before, but you've been one of the few we wouldn't mind taking a second look." Petter cheerfully nodded agreement. Michaela smiled, blushing. They did have something in common with their brother after all, it would appear.

"You're obviously here to visit..." she trailed off, suddenly uncertain as to whether to say "Hank" or "Hans". Did the brothers know what Hank did for a living, or were they ignorant to their brother's life as their grandmother had been?

"Yes." Petter agreed anyway, sensing her awkwardness. "Maybe you would show us where he works?"

"Of course." She smiled, then suddenly, "He didn't come to meet you?"

Petter and Wilhelm gave each other a look. "Hank doesn't exactly know we're coming." Wilhelm explained. "It's kind of a surprise."

Michaela knew how well Hank took to surprises, but refrained from comment. This was between the brothers. "If you'll come with us then," she invited.

The foursome walked down the street to the Golden Nugget, with Wilhelm and Petter attracting the lion's share of the attention as they walked past. Most people were surprised enough to see what appeared to be identical twins, but were outright shocked when they realized that the faces were eerily familiar. The lookalikes didn't even seem to notice, but Michaela supposed that they were used to it.

She felt a surge of excitement as she realized that she couldn't wait to see all three of them together. Finding out that Hank had brothers was interesting enough, but finding out that he was one-third of a matched set was thrilling!

They entered the saloon, all eyes turning to them out of bored curiosity at first, which quickly turned to gasps and mutterings when the patrons realized who had entered. Jake Slicker stood with his back to the door, wiping a glass while turning around at the commotion. He took a quick glance, saying, "It's about time--"

The look of shock coincided with the glass hitting the floor and shattering. Michaela couldn't help but grin. "Jake, I'd like to introduce Wilhelm and Petter Lausenstrom--Hank's brothers. Wilhelm, Petter, this is Mayor Jake Slicker. He and Hank co-own the Golden Nugget."

Jake quickly composed himself. "Uh--yeah." He reached out, shaking the hand of each brother, gripping harder than what was necessary to make sure they were real. "Hank didn't say anything about you comin'." He said, his voice confused.

"He didn't say anything about them at all." A voice spoke up. They turned to see Loren sitting at a table, staring unabashedly at the two triplets.

"Hank never said nothing about having brothers."

For some reason, this remark caused Wilhelm and Petter to look at Michaela for an explanation. "Well, I'm afraid it's true." She admitted. "In all the time I've known Hank, he never so much as hinted he had brothers--let alone identical brothers."

"I see." Wilhelm replied. "I guess this comes as quite a shock to everybody then."

"We didn't mean to cause trouble." Petter added, in the same lazy drawl that his absent brother had.

"It's not your fault." Michaela assured them. Inside she was amazed that Hank could be so cold as to never mention his siblings to anybody.

As if he'd read her mind, Petter said softly, "Dr. Mike...Hank has his reasons. You'll understand soon enough."

Tightly, she said, "I imagine you're used to your brother and his reasons, Mr. Lausenstrom, but--" she broke off. "I have to apologize again. Your relationship with your brother is none of my affair."

Petter shook his head. "Don't apologize. It's good that you care."

There was a long, tense silence, that Jake finally broke by saying, "Well...lemme get you a room. It'll be on Hank, seeing as you're his kin and all...I guess there's no doubt of that."

"Hank's not here?" Michaela asked in surprise.

"Nope." Jake answered. "He went out huntin'. He'll be back tomorrow. It'll give you two a chance to rest up I guess." Neither Jake nor Michaela noticed the looks the brothers exchanged at that. "So," Jake continued, "I'll show you to a room. Where's your bags?"

Up until then, Michaela and Colleen had not realized that the brothers had been empty-handed the entire time. Wilhelm shrugged, a mannerism that made him look more like Hank, and replied, "We were in a hurry to get here, so we're gonna pick 'em up from the station later."

Jake looked askance at this, but kept his mouth shut as he led the two men to a room.

The blue sky had started to turn more leaden, the air began to gust and chill around him. Hell, Hank thought, it figures.

He was still a long ways away, but he could probably make it if he could get up to a good gallop. He kicked the horses' flanks, spurring it to a run as he tried to outrace the dark overtaking the sky.

At the Sully homestead, Michaela and Colleen excitedly filled in Brian, Sully, and Matthew about the Lausenstrom brothers while they prepared supper for eight--Michaela had invited Wilhelm and Petter over, since Grace was closing her cafe due to the inclement weather arriving.

"And it's a good excuse to examine identical triplets up close--at least two of them, right?" Sully smiled as he bounced Katie on his knee.

Michaela sputtered for a moment, then realized that Sully did perhaps have a point. "As a doctor I suppose I am naturally interested in such things." she confessed. "But I find it more interesting that Hank's never mentioned them before."

"Doesn't Hank like his brothers, Ma?" Brian asked in bewilderment.

"They seemed to be real fond of him." Colleen interjected before Michaela could answer. "The way they talked about him on the train."

"What did they tell you?" Michaela asked, her curiosity piqued.

Colleen looked blank for a moment. "That's strange...I can't remember anything specific." She murmured. "But they sounded like they love him a lot."

"I don't think it's any of our business." Matthew added quietly. "Hank ain't obliged to tell us about his family if he doesn't want to."

"I wish I was a triplet." Brian said. "Or even a twin! That would be great!"

"I wouldn't be so sure, Brian." Sully advised. "People have a funny way of looking at twins as being one person in two bodies--not two individuals who happen to look alike. I wouldn't be surprised if that's why Hank went his own way a long time ago."

"I still think it would be fun." Brian answered.

Sully half-smiled. "Well, maybe sometime you could talk to Hank about it. I have a feeling he'd have a different take on it than you."

Michaela sighed. "I guess that makes sense." She said aloud. "Hank's far too much of an individual to want to be confused with somebody else--even his own brothers. The way everybody--including myself-- stared at Wilhelm and Petter in the streets today. As if they were part of a freak circus act instead of human beings."

Brian looked downcast. "I never thought of that."

"Just be glad, Brian, that there's just one of you." Sully smiled.

Matthew grinned and ruffled his younger brother's hair. "I know I am!" He kidded. Brian grinned at him and set the table.

Hank's long blond curls whipped about his face, blinding him as he struggled to get the spooked horse back under control. He sawed on the reins desperately, but the animal paid no heed in its' panic. The saloonkeeper cursed the creature, and deep down, himself, for having taken this chance.

He couldn't let himself be thrown. He was out here alone, nobody knew where he'd gone. He'd get busted up for sure at this rate, and help would arrive too late, if ever.

The horse shrieked and lurched hard to the right, throwing the rider off balance. Heels down!--flashed through his mind, his feet automatically responding, slipping out of the stirrups as he tumbled off the mount. Rock and soaked earth rushed up at his face as he flung his hands out blindly. The impact stunned him too badly to feel anything except a blessed numbness that he knew would hurt like hell quick enough. The momentum flung him down the hillside in a dizzying tumble, breaking bones as he went, but too quickly for the pain to register. He only avoided going into the flooded creek by striking a tree stump with his head, jerking his helpless body to a halt and rendering everything dark.

Hank Lawson of Colorado Springs lay in the mud, bloody, broken, and unconscious in the downpouring rain.

The knock on the door was urgent, startling the family. "I guess they're hungry." Michaela joked, as she went to the door.

She opened it and Wilhelm and Petter nearly fell over trying to get in out of the rain. Michaela quickly shut the door behind them. Brian breathed in sharp surprise, despite the preparation. And one would think Sully saw doubles all the time, given his lack of reaction.

She went to take their coats, noting oddly enough that they were bone-dry, and their clothing free of mud. They didn't seem to be carrying oiled slickers. She opened her mouth to comment, Wilhelm interjected, "Hank's in trouble. We have to find him fast!"

"What?" She asked, bewildered.

"He's hurt." Petter explained. "Please--you have to help us find him." Sully was already up and moving. "I'll get some horses ready."

"I'll go with you." Matthew followed him outside.

Michaela went for her bag. "Colleen, Brian, stay here with Katie." A thought suddenly struck her, and she turned to Petter. "He's not due back until tomorrow. If you don't know where he is, how do you know he's hurt?"

"Michaela..." Petter drawled nervously, "Please, it's--just something we know. It's something we always know about each other--when we're hurt...we can feel it. I don't expect you to understand, but please believe us."

Michaela was convinced by the worry on Petter's face. So be it. She grabbed her long coat and hat and ran out the door, with Petter and Wilhelm behind her.

Outside, Sully and Matthew had three horses saddled. Sully saw the brothers and called out, "Where'd you tie your horses?"

"We don't have any." Wilhelm answered him. "We don't ride."

They couldn't have walked here! flashed through Michaela's mind. She glanced at Sully, and saw the questioning look on his face. He eyed Wilhelm oddly, and said, "Just as well. We need someone to go back to town and sound an alarm. You two wouldn't know the area anyway and might get lost."

Wilhelm nodded. "We'll take care of it."

Sully nodded his acknowledgment and aided Michaela onto her horse. "I know Hank was going on a hunting trip, so I've got a good idea of where to look."

"Michaela?" Petter called to her. "May I ask a favor of you?"

Mike turned and looked at the brothers, seeing the worry and fear on their faces. She immediately felt sorry about her doubts. No matter what she thought of them, it was obvious that they were deeply concerned about their triplet. "Of course."

"When you find Hank, tell him..." Petter looked at Wilhelm for support, then continued, "Tell him that all his brothers miss him...we'll always be here for him, no matter what. We promise."

"Don't worry," she comforted. "We'll find him." With that, she prompted her horse forward, with Sully and Matthew close behind.

They weren't even twenty yards away when something made her look back over her shoulder.

Wilhelm and Petter were nowhere to be seen.

He woke with a start, choking on the water and mud pouring into his open mouth. It hurt--any movement was sheer hell. He weren't a doctor like Michaela, but he knew that he wasn't in a good way.

He tried crawling out of the muck, but it was too heavy, and he couldn't seem to coordinate his movements. His head felt funny--the way it did when Sully'd hit him in the head. What'd Michaela call it? A concussion. That's what was wrong with him.

Cold and pain seeped into him, making him painfully aware of his situation. He couldn't move, and he was out here in the cold and wet. Nobody was gonna come looking for him...nobody knew he was in trouble...I can't die...I have to live for them....

He frowned. He'd tried not to think of them, ever since...

Jake, Loren, and several townsmen sat around a table in the Golden Nugget, smoking cigars and enjoying a game of poker. The topic of conversation for the evening was the appearance of Hank's lookalikes. "It sure is a strange sight." Loren remarked. "Seeing that sort of thing. Unnatural if you ask me."

Jake took a puff of his cigar and threw out two cards. "I dunno." He replied. "I thought it was kind of interestin'. I was thinkin' maybe we could get them to stay on and Hank could advertise 'em all. People might be interested to take a look."

"Which might get them to stay and drink, right Jake?" a man laughed.

Jake grinned. "It's good business to bring in a crowd."

The swinging doors of the saloon swept inward, bringing Sheriff Daniel Simon into the room. He caught sight of Jake at the table. "Jake, I need to talk to you."

"Nice to see you're back, Sheriff," Jake replied lazily. "Whaddya want?"

"Where's Hank?" Daniel half-snapped.

Jake sighed in resignation. Daniel Simon and Hank hadn't gotten along from the first moment they'd met. Hank was Jake's friend, and Jake had no problems with Daniel. Whatever was going on now, he didn't want to get in the middle of it. "He's out hunting. He should be back tomorrow."

Daniel took off his hat, shaking the water off of it. "If that's the case, then we've got a problem. I just came into town, and I met Hank's horse outside wandering around, loaded with trapping gear and furs. But I didn't see a sign of Hank."

Jake's manner changed instantly. "I'll get some men together and we'll go lookin'." He said. "You gonna go on to Dr. Mike's and get her?"

"I'll do that." Daniel agreed. "We'll wait for you there."

Loren shook his head as he rose from the table. "I knew nothin' good was gonna come of those two visiting." He muttered.

Daniel overheard the remark. "What are you talking about?"

Before Loren could answer, Jake said, "Oh, Hank's brothers came to visit, and Loren here thinks they're a bad sign."

An odd look crossed Daniel's face. "His brothers?" Then, with suspicion lacing his voice, he asked, "Do they have proof?"

Jake snorted. "They got all the proof they need. They look just like him. Said they were identical triplets. Only one who looks any different is what's-his-name, Peter or something. Has a scar over his eye."

"A scar? Over his right eye?" Daniel asked, his face pale.

"Yeah." Jake didn't notice the other man's reaction. "I asked him about it. He just laughed and said something about the Aamodt sisters and I should ask Hank."

"Yeah..." Daniel answered distracted. "Speaking of which, let's go look for him."

Matthew and Michaela followed Sully as he traced the path that Hank would have taken, observing any branches for breakage and looking for tracks. He studied a patch of earth carefully, then looked up. "I think he's around here somewhere." He gestured at the mud. "The rain's washed away a lot, but I can see horseshoe prints, and they're going back and forth over themselves."

"His horse must've gotten spooked by the storm." Matthew commented.

"It's about what I figure." Sully agreed. "I bet he got thrown, so we're gonna have to look sharp. Best way now's on foot." Matthew and Michaela took the cue to dismount, holding onto the reins of their horses.

"He's around here somewhere." Sully said.

"I just hope we're in time." Mike murmured. Loudly, she called out, "Hank!"

The rain swallowed up the sound of her voice. She gave Sully a look of despair.

"Don't worry." Sully advised her. "He's gotta be nearby." He took a closer look. "Here," he said, pointing. "The grass here got crushed by something."

"Like a man rolling down the hill." Matthew put in. He pointed further on down. "I can see some bushes that got flattened. He must've gone head-over- heels down to the creek."

"Oh no." Michaela whispered. She quickly went running-slipping down the hill, with the two men on her heels. "Hank!" she cried out again. Sully and Matthew added their voices to her own against the wind and rain.

He lay half-asleep, dozing to escape the anguish. He dreamed of something, he couldn't tell what, but his name was repeated over and over...Hank, Hank, Hank....then suddenly, in his own voice, "Hank!"

His eyes opened briefly, and he saw his own face peering down at him. No, not quite, something wasn't the same, but he couldn't figure out what. His reflection whispered, "Hang in there..." and turned away. He heard his voice cry out, "Here! I'm over here!" but he couldn't remember making his mouth form the words.

The rescuers heard it clearly. "Here! I'm over here!" They followed the sound, pushing through the brush.

Hank lay there by a tree stump, looking dead to the world. Michaela knelt down by him, doing a quick cursory examination. "Concussion, broken arm, multiple lacerations, not to mention laying out here in the cold and damp for who knows how long," she muttered. "We have to get him back to the clinic."

Sully and Matthew worked together to carefully lift the bartender to the back of Sully's horse and secured him. The transportation arrangments were not ideal, but the important thing was to get him to shelter quickly.

"You think he'll be all right?" Sully asked.

"I believe so." His wife replied. "But I don't like to think what might have happened to him out here if we hadn't started looking today. If Petter and Wilhelm hadn't warned us...nobody would've noticed for two more days at least. And then it could have been too late."

Sully cast a worried glance at Hank. "It must've taken the last of his strength to call out to us."

Michaela nodded doubtfully. "Let's get him back."

Urgently, they led the horses back up to the trail.

Halfway back to town they met the second rescue party. Sully saw them first and waved a hand in greeting. Daniel waved back and held his postion, waiting for them. "You find him?" He called.

"Worse for the wear, but he'll be alright." Sully replied, coming up beside him. A quick look of relief crossed Daniel's face, but Sully was too busy holding on to Hank to notice it.

Michaela however, saw it, and puzzled over it, but put it aside for the time being as Jake came up alongside her. "Where's the other two?" He asked.

"I'm sorry?"

"His brothers." Jake explained.

Michaela stared at him. "They didn't summon you for help?"

Jake shook his head no. "We haven't seen 'em since they went to your place."

"How'd you know to come looking?" Matthew asked.

"Daniel here found his horse. I could ask you the same question." Jake shot back.

Matthew, Sully, and Michaela exchanged glances that said, What the hell. "Wilhelm and Petter...had a feeling something was wrong." Mike noticed Daniel flinch at the names.

"Well, where are they?" Jake demanded.

"Perhaps they missed you." Michaela suggested. "Let's get Hank back to town and worry about his brothers later. I'm sure they're fine." She snuck a quick glance at Daniel, and noticed his face was deathly pale. He must be exhausted,is all, she thought sympathetically, remembering that he'd been out of town.

The next day was clear and sunny, with light streaming into the room at the clinic where Hank was laid up. Michaela had kept him awake all night, to avoid his going into a coma like he had last time he'd suffered a head injury. He seemed to be doing better, answering her questions about the accident.

There was a knock on the door, and Colleen poked her head in. "Ma?" she quiered. "Jake's downstairs. He says he needs to speak with you."

"All right." She stood up. "Colleen, will you sit with Hank for a few minutes?"

"I don't need to be watched over," Hank protested wearily, "I'm fine."

"Just humor me, Hank," Michaela smiled.

Hank smiled faintly back. "I ain't up to arguin' with you Michaela, so I'll let you have your way this once."

She laughed softly and shut the door behind her. Jake was in the examining room, pacing anxiously. He stopped when she came in. "How's he doin'?" He asked.

"He'll be fine." "Good. Good." Jake hesitated, and said. "I can't find his brothers. Their beds haven't been slept in, no luggage ever arrived, nobody's seen 'em."

Michaela became alarmed. "Has anybody told Daniel? He should form a search party."

"I went to him." Jake said. "He told me..." the mayor shook his head and looked into her eyes. "He said we might want to speak with Hank first before we went looking for them. He was real insistent about that."

"I don't hardly want to upset Hank now with the news that his brothers are missing!"

"Dr. Mike, he's gonna hear from somebody soon enough." Jake softened a little. "And he usually takes bad news best from you."

Michaela sighed. Unfortunately, Jake was right. Hank was going to find out sooner or later, and she'd rather that she told him. "I'll let him know."

With a heavy heart, she made her way back up the stairs and opened the door. Hank must have been quizzing Colleen about his condition, for she was in the middle of an explanation when Michaela entered the room. "Colleen, would you excuse us please?"

Colleen seemed confused, but assented, and left the two alone.

"Why the long face, Michaela?" Hank asked. "Something more wrong with me than what Colleen's sayin'?"

"No. You're going to be fine, Hank. But I'm afraid I do have some bad news."

Hank gestured with his good arm. "I can take it."

Michaela looked down at her hands folded in her lap and said, "Your brothers came to town yesterday, and ...they're missing."

She felt, rather than saw, Hank go still at that. "You're mistaken." Hank said flatly.

Michaela looked up at him, surprised. "Hank--"

He cut her off. "Michaela, if somebody came to town claiming to be my brothers, then they were lyin' to you."

She lifted an eyebrow. "Then they did quite a job of it. They looked exactly like you, and said that they were your identical triplet brothers, Wilhelm and Petter."

Hank's face went ashen. "What?"

Michaela felt fear emanating from the man. "Hank, there was no question about it. If it weren't for their shorter hair and that scar over Petter's right eye, I could have never told you apart. He told Jake that it involved the Aamodt sisters--" she broke off as she realized Hank was trembling violently.

In a shaky whisper, he said, "Only the three of us knew exactly how Petter got that scar. Nobody else." Desperately, he reached for Michaela's hand, gripping it with his own, seeking support and comfort.

"Hank," she whispered, sensing something was very wrong. She squeezed his hand.

He swallowed, and said, "Michaela...Wilhelm and Petter..." he closed his eyes tight, "...when I was nineteen, there was a fire. I got out, but Wilhem and Petter..." he stopped, breathing in deeply, a sob half-racking his voice. "...they were found two days later. Do you understand?"

In a rush, all the little oddities clicked into place for her, and the blood drained from her face as she realized what Hank was trying to say....and Petter's last words to her came rushing back...

"All his brothers miss him...we'll always be here for him, no matter what. We promise."

The End