The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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BarbA

 

 

Letting It Stand

A sequel of sorts to “Measured Up”. This time Johnny needs to make a decision.

 

Today was the day.

The curtain dropped from Johnny’s hand and he settled back into the cushioned seat. He’d had some long nights before, this was just one more. It was a little past dawn and things were stirring on the ranch. He flexed his shoulders back until the bandages tugged on his skin. The burning pain was gone, but it was still sore enough that it mattered. A loose piece of gauze flopped over his belt. He fingered the bandage for a while, running the coarse threads through his fingers—then pulled it round and round, until it lay in a mangled heap at his side.

He managed to slide one boot on and was looking for the other when there was a sharp rap on his door.  

Scott.

He’d gotten to know that sound pretty well these past couple of weeks. One efficient knock—the man loved routine.

“Yeah?”

The door opened and Scott had his head halfway in before he could finish the word.

“Johnny?”

“I said ‘yeah’. What do you want?”

Scott walked into the room and settled a hip against the table by the window. From his slump in the chair, Johnny had to straighten his spine to look up—it hurt.

“Are you always so surly in the morning or is it just me?”

“Shut-up, Scott.”

“Ah, it must be me.”

“Don’t pride yourself.” He chanced another look upwards and saw the faded bruise on Scott’s cheek. If it wasn’t for the light coming into the window, he wouldn’t have seen it. He felt for Jackson, being on the receiving end of Scott’s fist. The tin-soldier was a puzzle. And he didn’t have time to figure out any puzzles.

“I think what you’re looking for is over there.” Scott bent away from the table and pointed. “Or under there, as the case may be.”

The boot was tipped over on its side, halfway under the bed, one white sock dangling out the top. He waited, but Scott leaned back on the table edge and crossed his arms.

“I imagine you must still be fairly sore.”

“A little.” Maybe he should have said something more, like why don’t you get the damn boot, because Scott just stared at him.

Sounds drifted though the house; they’d be by the room soon—Murdoch or Teresa—to check on him. For a house the size of the hacienda, you’d think there’d be more room to hide away and catch some quiet time. Where people didn’t fuss. 

Scott’s tone softened. “Are you staying, Johnny?”

He jerked at the question, but it was direct and he liked that. “A thousand dollars can keep me in a lot of beans and…well, it could sure help me get along.” Bullets. Beans and bullets. Money offered a way, better than the one he’d had. Isn’t that all Madrid ever thought about? 

“Get along…where?” Then Scott smiled—the same smile he wore back at the river, right before his fist went flying.

Quicker than he’d like, Johnny’s hand went to his jaw and rubbed. “Guess I haven’t thought too much about stayin’ and suckin’ up more of the Patron’s good hospitality.”

That was a lie. Staying wasn’t the only thing he’d been thinking of in these past few weeks, but it was real close. He eased back into his chair, letting his head drop while he picked at the red stripe in the fabric of his chair.

“You?”

It was Scott’s turn to get fidgety. “I told Murdoch I would.”

So that was it. Something changed between the two of them, he’d noticed it right around the time Scott came back to the house all banged up. His brother wasn’t so stiff, and Murdoch…well, he smiled a little more. He lolled his head further back and eyed Scott, wondering what happened between them.

His head came up. “He ask you?”

Scott nodded. Johnny didn’t want it to sting, but it did anyhow. And Madrid was there, snickering.

“You still have time to decide, Johnny. A few hours at least, before we meet the lawyer.”

It was a joke, or could’ve been, if Scott didn’t look so serious. Then stifling a yawn, he pushed off from the table and headed for the door. “I’m going after a cup of Maria’s coffee.” He got just beyond the threshold. “I’ll see you downstairs. He wants us to ride together in the carriage.” Scott’s voice held a hint of laughter as it trailed down the hallway. 

Johnny shook his head and got to his feet. Shoving the curtain aside, he fumbled with the clasp at the window before getting it open. It would be so easy to ride off. No looking back. Nothing lost—except a little time, some blood. 

He swung back to the bureau, taking a misstep with his bare foot, and landed against its side. Her picture rattled and swayed, he caught it by the barest of fingertips and set it right.

Heavy boot heels sounded, Murdoch was doing rounds. 

The door opened wide and his father stepped in, taking up most of the space. He glanced at the bandages in the chair and frowned at him. “I heard voices…yours and Scott’s. It sounded like you were awake.”

“Been up for a while.”

Sighing a little, Murdoch hitched to the bed and sat, his long legs bending sharp as the mattress gave way under his weight. He stretched one leg out in front of him, angling the foot to the side. Looking over to the chair again, worry creased between his eyes.

“How are you feeling?”

“Tolerable.”

He figured he said the wrong thing when Murdoch’s lips clamped into a thin line. The old man looked damn uncomfortable, but it didn’t have anything to do with the bed.

“Johnny, about today…”

“What’s the matter? You change your mind?”

Murdoch’s eyes went wide then narrowed. “Have you?”

He ducked his head and concentrated on the wood grain in the bureau. Maybe he’d played his cards too close to the vest with this Pardee thing. But it was done now.  

You can leave at any time. Not a damn thing to hold you. He thought about the folded-up envelope hidden under his mattress. He’d take the thousand and run...just like old times.

“We had that picture made after we found out your mother was going to have you.” Murdoch’s gaze dropped to the folds of the blanket he was sitting on. “They say a woman glows when she’s with child. Your mother certainly did.”

Mama. The scalloped ridge of the silver frame caught the light from the window, making it seem shiny and new.

Teresa told him the old man put it by his bed—there on the small table—the night after Pardee’s bullet was dug out. The remembrance was hazy….he was so hot that night, he figured seeing it was part of the fever. Until Teresa wrapped his fingers around the frame. It’d felt solid and familiar somehow.

“I should have known something was wrong.” The deep timbre of Murdoch’s voice made the bed jiggle with every word. “Then when I did, it was too late. She was gone. You were gone.” He raised his hand to swipe a wisp of hair away from his forehead. “I missed a lot of things back then.”  

Johnny wanted to jump on that yellow horse and ride as far away as he could. But his feet wouldn’t obey. Bare foot slapping the planked floor, he made his way back to the chair. He dropped into it, sending a spasm across the wound and down his spine. 

“She said you threw us out.”

“I didn’t.” A hushed sigh escaped. “It was a miracle that I even met Maria.”

“You didn’t hate her?”

“Hate? No. But I was worried and angry—almost sick with it.”

“For her runnin’ out on you.”

Murdoch sagged on the bed and shook his head. The creases lining his face went deeper, making him look old. “I wanted my son back.”

Johnny was afraid if he looked toward the bed, everything he was ever told about Murdoch Lancer would go up in puff of smoke.

“I searched. Here, and across the border…for a long time. The fact I couldn’t find you was my only regret.”

And his old man was lighting the fire.

Murdoch heaved himself to his feet, and in two steps was standing by the bureau. He stared at the tintype, then nudged it back from the edge. “I want you to stay, son.”

A lump sat heavy in Johnny’s stomach. Moving on. The notion raised his spirits, at first. Gave him a way out. But now it didn’t seem so clear.

“It’s your choice, Johnny. Stay or go. But know that I’m asking.”

He could up and leave, as he had in the past when things got too hot, and trouble came too near. But for some reason, he didn't want to go this time, didn't want to leave. He realized he was staring at the old man. Did Murdoch know what he was thinking?

The old man blew out a long breath, did a slow turn and headed for the door.

There were sounds coming from the courtyard below the open window. Johnny strained to hear them…a buggy was pulling up to the front, or maybe a carriage.

Murdoch was almost to the hallway.

"Wait..."

His father stopped, but didn’t turn.

"I need my boot."

Murdoch twisted around to look at him. "Your what?"

"My boot. It's under the bed. I'll be needing it…if we’re goin’ to town."

 

~ end ~

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