The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Answering The Call
My thanks to Judi for the prompt!

Scott Lancer wanted a drink. He wasn't particular about the type. The seductive warmth of champagne, or whiskey that would burn a line down his throat. But he wasn't going to get one until he went inside. After spending a pair of hours walking the streets, an inky daylight had come after all, bringing with it storm clouds off the sea. A harbinger of sorts? Having a drink, possibly many, sounded like just the thing to do.

He fumbled with the key against the metal plate, only slightly surprised when the door whisked opened from the inside. Skimmerhorn had been a fixture at the Tremont Street house for as long as he could remember. A good man, and an early riser, thank the heavens. Scott looked to the staircase, followed its thick, curved banister upwards. “Has my grandfather left for the day yet?”

Skimmerhorn shook his head with a long-suffering sigh. “He's late this morning. You should send word when you'll be detained.”

Scott accepted the admonishment as his due.

Peering up through the wire spectacles perched at the end of his nose, Skimmerhorn had the intense scrutiny of a terrier after a tender morsel. “What's wrong Master Scott?”  

He patted the missive in his pocket with more exuberance than he felt. “I've heard from my father.”

“The one in California?”

“Hopefully there's only one. Apparently he resides in a place called the San Joaquin Valley.”

“Well, I never…”

“That makes two of us.” He shrugged out his cape and jacket, leaving them with Skimmerhorn who stood in the foyer, mouth agape. The news would be whispered throughout the staff by nine o'clock, at the latest.

His booted feet felt heavy against the hallway carpet, and not just from the exercise along Canal Street. Everything had a new weight. Up until tonight, things had felt…light. Almost weightless in fact. Rote.

His grandfather's study smelled—cozy. Like musty tobacco and cologne. A well-mannered fire played in the hearth to ward off the morning chill, its flames shadowing his grandfather's downed black queen at the chess board. He was surprised that he suddenly felt so at ease. But this room always had that effect. He had sat by the study's window in the earliest stages of recovery after his release from the regimental hospital, swathed in blankets and foisted with willow bark tea—Skimmerhorn's doing—reading a favored Thoreau while Grandfather puzzled over the days events, strategizing for tomorrow. Here, he had known safety again, and happiness.  

Scott couldn't say why he was doing it. He had no business meeting Murdoch Lancer. He was perfectly content where he was, what he was doing. Eventually he would give up the gaming halls, even Barbara's boudoir if it came down to it, would set his mind to task.   

And that was it, the real reason. For the last six months—and why did it seem so difficult lately?—he'd been crossing a battlefield, waiting for the click of a rifle behind his back. Hoping, in fact, for the sound. The rest of life yawned before him like so much unwanted space. He stumbled in the shadows now, listening to it settle, readjusting itself without much effort on his part.

And yes, he was angry. Not exactly at him – but yes, at him.

He stared into the fire. In evening clothes he looked the part of Harlan Garrett's grandson, heir to Garrett Enterprises. Only in his eyes, when he caught his reflection in the flicker of flames against the brass plate, did he see the other paths he'd chosen, and the internal struggle afterward to find his true place. 

He sat in the miserably uncomfortable Louis XIV side chair beside the massive mahogany desk and reached for the brandy. Looking up, he lifted his full snifter to the portrait of the young woman in green damask above the mantel.

“So early, Scotty? Or is it late?”

Harlan was in the doorway. Sharp New England cheekbones were still ruddy from his pillow. Canny  eyes missed very little as they flicked over him, head to toe. His lips, though, curved downwards. Distaste.

“Grandfather.” And because it was expected, Scott stood.

“Pour me a drink,” he ordered, in a voice that carried more than a hint of Boston society. “That will give you time to tell me what you're doing.”

“We may need more than that.” But he turned to the decanter.

He remembered when Harlan had caught him filching from the same decanter nearly fifteen years ago. How he had insisted that Scott drink the brandy—and keep drinking while he watched, steely-eyed. And after, when he'd been horribly sick, his grandfather stood beside the bed, directing Skimmerhorn to make buttered toast. When you're old enough to drink like a man, Scotty, we will share civilized libations. Until then don't take what you cannot handle.

Jacket rustling, Harlan sat near the fire, accepted the crystal glass of brandy and swirled it in hand. “When are we going to discuss what's going on in your life?”

Scott shifted in his chair to face him, hesitated for the briefest of moments. “A Pinkerton agent stopped me tonight. He had a message…from my father.”

Harlan listened to the rest without interruptions. He sipped from the glass, his reaction showing only in the darkening of his eyes, the thinning of his mouth. There was temper, but also breeding.

And there, Scott thought, was where he had inherited his control. 

“You disappoint me, Scotty.”

A phrase he rarely used, it had more bite than a dozen recriminations from a company commander. 

“And I think you'll disappoint yourself. Going to that wilderness.”  He set his glass down and studied it. “This is a major decision in your life.”

“You make it sound as though I was keeping this from you.”

“Your life,” he repeated with stinging emphasis. “Why should you bother to tell me?”

Scott sat silently for several heartbeats and watched the distance grow between them by leaps and bounds. “I hoped you would understand.”

“You've been making your own choices for a long time. School. Enlisting in the Army. At least the former risked no more than a modification of political views,” he settled back in his chair, “rather than your life.”

He barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Such an old bone, circa 1863, put upon the shelf in order to be taken down and chewed thoroughly when the situation arose. 

Harlan lifted his eyebrows, pushing them together in one bushy grey line. “You'll walk out on everything I made for you here?”

“I'm not walking out.” He struggled for calm. “He asked me to come, Grandfather.”

There was that time when Private Tommy Harkens had fallen off his cavalry mount, a horse borrowed from another company. It had been big at eighteen hands, and roughly broke. Tommy couldn't work the reins properly, and it all ended badly. Scott had watched, then tried to move, in slow motion, as the horse had come tearing down the hill and Tommy had been tossed, sailing across the animal's neck into an ancient wagon. Scott hadn't made it halfway down the slope before Tommy was curled in a ball beside the wreckage.

That sensation, of one thing moving fast and the other very slow, was enough to make him ill. Right now, his own thoughts, his sense of what was right, what he should do, was moving too fast. And Grandfather? This time, Harlan was the one moving slow.

“It's wrong, Scotty,” Harlan murmured. “Everybody needs something, even Murdoch Lancer.” He shook his head. “A thousand dollars. You have a fluid sense of compassion for a man who gave you away and is now trying to buy you back again.”

Scott hooked his drink off the desk, avoided his grandfather's look and strode to the window, his eyes flitting from wet cobblestones to rain-soaked carriages. Well used to Harlan's machinations, verbal sparring was a game best played at night with cigars and full glasses, but this was beneath even Grandfather's particular methods of persuasion. Perhaps it jangled a nerve so brutally because, at least in part, there was some truth to the statement. 

Embers of an old anger flamed. “This is my decision.”

“Yes, it's yours,” he agreed. “But it's the wrong one.”

He wanted to hit something. The feeling came over him all too often. And because of it, he took a measure of solace in drink, and Barbara. And before her, Julie. Something backed up in his throat. Guilt was as bitter as bile.

“Give yourself more time before you do anything irreversible.” Harlan's voice became soft. “It's been months since we took an adventure. Spring is here, my boy, time to open up the country house.”

“I appreciate the invitation, Sir, but I have plans. I'm packing and making train reservations.”

“Train reservations.” Harlan's words were ripe with annoyance. “Really, Scotty, there's no need for that nonsense. The firm has more than enough duties for you, or immerse yourself in your books. Buy another horse, if you must, but don't bury yourself in that miserable place out west. It killed your mother; I won't have it do the same to you.”     

He was surprised he could still smile. “They say the sun shines in California, almost the entire year around. That doesn't sound miserable.” 

“I don't want to see you turn your life upside-down, for the wrong reasons.”

He slouched back to glance towards his grandfather. “And my father is part of those reasons?”

Harlan rose from his chair. He looked like what he was, a successful businessman on his way to the office. But his eyes, as blue as his own, were filled with something akin to concern.

“I have had reservations these past few years, you seemed so restless. And for a while, it appeared you'd made the right choices. Including the Dennison girl. But this time your solution is to leave, throw it away for someone you've never met.”

“Yes.” He couldn't break through the wall that was thrown up between them, but the old man's hurt could. It snuck through the cracks and battered him. “What do you want, Grandfather?”

“You. To stay where you rightfully belong.”

“I can't do that.”

“Can't or won't?” Harlan sighed, sounding defeated. “I only want what is best for you—home.”

Scott considered the road outside the window, you stayed on it long enough and reached the Commons, a good canter north and Grandfather's firm appeared at the corner of Third and Benson. You reached someplace. He blew out a breath.  “You always did, Sir.”

The period after he came back from the war had simply blurred from one image into the next. Had set him on a trajectory as sure as the clouds brought rain, but he hadn't seen this coming—not California. Yet it seemed the right step to take. He'd always kept an eye to the future, another of those inherited Garrett traits, but now it was a bit more frightening.

He wondered if his father ever got frightened, and Scott thought that after all this time, he'd earned the right to ask.  


March 2012  

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