The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

The Eyes Of Johnny Madrid
A big thanks to Cat for the beta

The slam of the heavy wooden door created a thunderous echo through the hacienda that prompted the windows to rattle and brought Maria out of the kitchen. Wringing her hands in the apron that covered her stout body, her dark glare turned to the Patrón as he stomped to the sideboard and poured three fingers of Scotch. She watched him then as he made his way to the massive window behind his desk and stared out over the range, the vast Lancer empire. His explosive demeanor told her it would be wise to return to the kitchen. Maria knew now was not the time to ask Señor Lancer anything.

Murdoch Lancer’s brain boiled as he looked out at the expanse of lush grasslands, dotted with cattle and horses as they grazed in the late summer sun. The sight had always soothed his troubles, and kept him grounded, focused on the things that mattered… except for today. What mattered was the trouble had to stop, now!  Things had been running without a hitch until the last several weeks, things that Murdoch could not control, and he did not know how to fix it. Madrid… What can I do about him?

It would be only a matter of time before an innocent bystander would be injured or killed because of Madrid, and Murdoch knew he couldn’t let that happen. But what could he do, ask his son to leave the valley? Ask this son that had been born here to give up his birthright and ride away? What was he to do? Damn you, Maria! Why did you take him from me?

The jangle of spurs that accompanied the slow footfalls announced to Murdoch he was no longer alone, yet he kept his back turned as if wanting to ignore the confrontation that was to come. Tension hung in the great room like a stifling thick cloud of smoke that waited to choke him. He knew the words would stick in his throat, and when they did come, they would be hurtful. He didn’t want to hurt his son, but this issue could not be allowed to continue. It had to stop.

“Alright, ol’ man, say it,” Johnny sighed as he threw his hat on the coffee table and flung himself onto the couch. He knew Murdoch was mulling over the words in his head, another argument loomed, and he was dreading it. Once again, he would be defending the actions that kept him alive. When would the ol’ man come to accept the fact Johnny had no control what so ever regarding other men wanting his reputation? Hadn’t he tried to talk the man out of drawing on him? He’d offered to buy the gunhawk a drink and talk things over, but the man wouldn’t back down. Even when Johnny told him that he was no longer in the game. Murdoch saw the whole thing play out; couldn’t he see that Johnny had attempted to defuse the situation before it could turn serious? What else could Johnny have done?

He waited for his father to speak, and after three long minutes of strained silence, he’d had enough.

“Well, if ya ain’t gonna say anything, I got work ta do,” Johnny muttered and hauled himself off the couch. He made it halfway to the door when Murdoch finally spoke.

“Come back here, John,” Murdoch growled as he turned around, leveling a sharp glare at his younger son.

John, he used John, and Johnny knew this would not end until Murdoch had his say. He stopped, sighing deeply again, and let his chin drop to his chest. He took a calming breath and willed himself to hold his temper in check. This argument would get them nowhere. Johnny stood where he was and did not turn around, indulging in a bit of disrespect. He shifted his stance, weight on one leg, and rested hands on his hips.

“Just what did you want me ta do, Murdoch? I tried ta talk him out of it. You heard it. He wasn’t gonna back down,” Johnny justified, tired of defending himself to his father. The temper he tried so hard to control was beginning to buck and run. The pain in his head pounded in sync with his heart as it battered his ribs. A gunfight had always been difficult to deal with. Nausea would plague him, sometimes for days, and the berating he laid at his own feet was worse than anything Murdoch could throw at him. He wanted to hang up his gun, but he knew he couldn’t do that. Not if he wanted to live. How’m I gonna make him understand?

Johnny closed his eyes and corraled the anger that was rapidly spiraling beyond restraint; the fuse was burning… and fast.

Madrid turned to face Murdoch, then walked a few feet closer and stopped, again, striking the insolent stance. He knew it was wrong, knew Murdoch would look on it as a challenge. You’re smarter’n that, Johnny, don’t make it any worse’n it already is… Johnny resumed his place on the couch and waited for his father to launch his attack. He sat quietly and desperately tried to gain control over his rolling belly and the stampede in his skull.

Murdoch was struggling. It was like catastrophic weather he could not control. He could handle any ranch crisis that he’d ever faced. But this was different; this  involved the safety of others, innocent townsfolk. And Johnny was at the center of the storm.

He met his son's stare and was struck, momentarily, by the emotions he saw there. He saw anger first, but the longer he watched the dark blue, he was able to pick out many more, with regret and sadness at the forefront. It was a mixture of self-defense and self-loathing. Conflict.

“These incidents in town have to stop before a bystander gets hurt. You saw the people that stood watching that debacle this afternoon! It could have easily gotten out of hand!” The longer Murdoch railed, the more fuel was added to the run-away fire. “It has to stop! And I want it stopped now!”

“Well, that’s just fine, ol’ man, that makes two of us. But it don’t work like that just cuz you or me wants it to. How am I supposed ta do that?” Johnny’s words surprised him, the edge wasn’t as sharp as he expected. But desperation was there. The announcement, infused with misery, and futility, wrapped in shades of hopelessness, hung like broken branches buffeting in the wind. Where was this trace of calm coming from? Because he certainly didn’t feel calm. He was boiling inside, emotions were running rampant, but he knew to let them loose as they were screaming to do, would only serve to deepen the rift.

“I don’t know! You’re the gunfighter! Figure it out!” The storm intensified, and that calm vanished in a spark of anger.

“What did ya think was gonna happen after you brought me here, Murdoch? You wanted my gun, now ya got it an’ ya can’t handle it. Just what do ya want me ta do?” The battles were wearisome. They’d been over the same argument before and had never come to a conclusion. Johnny felt that earlier control slipping away as that ignited spark exploded. He had to get this stopped before something was said that couldn’t be taken back.

“Murdoch, I don’t know what you want from me… If I coulda stopped it, I would have. You hafta know that…” Why can’t he believe me? Why can’t he trust me?

“What I know, John, is that sooner or later, someone will be hurt. What if it’s Teresa or Scott? Will you be satisfied then? Or are you waiting for it to be me?”

There it was, and Madrid was present in full force. If Murdoch thought for one second he wanted any of them hurt, the ol’ man was loco. There wasn’t anything Murdoch could have said to inflict more pain than that.

For a second, Johnny’s eyes widened as the stab of agony shot through his heart. He felt their fragile relationship begin to splinter, and it signaled the confirmation of what he’d always suspected was there. Murdoch Lancer did not trust him. Johnny found he was not able to respond. He had hoped they were beyond this point. Apparently, he was wrong. He was still fighting the same battles, and now he knew he always would.

With nothing more to say, Madrid turned to the door. Walking slowly, the spurs ringing out in defiance, shoulders held stiff, spine straight on the outside but wanting nothing more than to curl into a tight ball on the inside. Murdoch’s bellow that he come back and resolve the issue was ignored. If they hadn’t fixed it by now, what were the chances they ever would?

Johnny Madrid stopped then and chose his words carefully as glacial ice formed in his eyes. He slowly turned to face his father. Johnny’s face grew cold, then empty. But the argument, for this night, was over. Then he drawled, “Ya strike a match, ol’ man, ya get the flame.” The bold, cocky appearance, a façade disguising the internal conflict, enveloped him, and he headed for the door paying no heed to the demand he return and finish the argument.

Murdoch stood as if his boots had been nailed to the floor. The look in his son’s eyes froze the blood in his veins, and he felt the sharp crystals pierce his heart. It had gone from a plea for help to a cold, empty, deathly glare in a matter of seconds.

Maria stood at the door when she heard the Patrón raise his voice. Her eyes filled with tears as she listened to the hurtful words. The Patrón, he is a good man, but sometimes he is estupido like the mule! Then the ugliness spilled into the air. The Patrón wanted to know if Juanito was waiting for one of the familia to be hurt, and her heart broke for Johnny. She needed to find Señor Scott before it was too late. Maria made it out the back kitchen door just as dusk settled into dark.

Murdoch was stunned. He was left staring at the closed door. Johnny’s hot temper had boiled over, and again, he left without finding a solution for the contentious problem they faced. Irresponsible! That’s what he is! Irresponsible! He has to understand what could happen! Murdoch fumed. He knew Johnny loved them, all of them, but that didn’t change the fact that it wasn’t a matter of if trouble followed, but when it would follow.

But Murdoch had seen it. The pain in his son’s eyes. It was there for only a split second, but it was there. Johnny was heartbroken, Murdoch thought, and it didn’t matter that it was Madrid that glared back at him afterward, Murdoch had seen it, and now he could kick himself for saying what he did. Johnny comes by his temper honestly, and not all of it is from his mother, he admitted… to himself.

<><><><> 

“Señor Scott! Come! The Patrón and Juanito, they have words!” Maria huffed, her breath came in ragged gasps. “Por favor! Hurry!”

Scott charged out of the barn, running for the back door of the kitchen. He had a feeling after what happened in town this afternoon that his father and brother would clash, resulting in another blowup. It was a sure bet, and Scott hoped he would be able to defuse the situation before it exploded. He was there when the gunfight occurred; had seen Johnny try to back Mitchell off and knew there was nothing else Johnny could have done. And he also knew that Murdoch would not see it that way.

Unbeknownst to Scott, as he was running to the back door, Johnny exited out the front. The brothers completely missed each other. Scott made his way through the kitchen, the house strangely quiet. He walked purposefully into the great room to find Murdoch staring at the front door, and as he slid to a halt, Murdoch turned. Is that guilt I see on his face? Scott wondered.

“What happened, where’s Johnny?” Scott demanded.

“He just left…” Murdoch said, the guilt hovered and left him drained.

“He left, or did you push  him out? Yes, I know you’re never wrong. But did you even let him explain?” Scott’s mad was building. “Forget it. I’ll find my brother myself!”

“Now just a minute, Scott!” For the second time in as many minutes, Murdoch was left standing alone after having angry words with one of his sons.

<><><><> 

Johnny made it behind the barn before his belly exploded, sending him to his knees as his stomach tried to turn inside out. The wretching continued until his body was sore and sweat ran in rivulets down his face, into his eyes. His ragged breathing left him dizzy, his head was spinning, and lethargy grew, threatening to pull him under. Then, as if by magic, there were strong arms around his shoulders, and a soft voice coaxing him to take it easy, and take a deep breath. Scott… Don’t want ta put him through this again!

“Scott, ‘m sorry, didn’t mean for ya ta…,” the panting stopped further talking.

“Just take it easy, Johnny. Come on, let’s get you into the house, lean on…”

“No! Can’t go in there, jus’ lemme…” with breath still short, Johnny waited a minute, not sure his belly had emptied. “Just lemme out here for a while, por favor.”

“Johnny, I’m not going to leave you behind the barn! Jelly’s got a cot in the tack room. Let’s get you in there. Come on, I’ve got you, brother,” Scott said as he encouraged Johnny to stand. He slipped Johnny’s arm around his neck, and with Scott bearing much of his brother’s weight, he helped to get Johnny’s feet under him and into the barn.

As they stumbled into the small room, Scott leaned Johnny against the wall to light the lantern. The tiny flame ravenously claimed the wick, and a soft light spread across the cluttered area as Scott wrestled his brother to the cot.

“You’re in luck, Johnny, it looks as if Jelly just put a new blanket on this bed. He must be planning on snoozing away part of his day!” Scott’s attempt at levity coaxed a bit of a smile from Johnny only for it to quickly fade.

Johnny fell in a boneless heap, eyes closed as a groan escaped him.

“I’ll get some water, brother. Be right back.”

Returning a few short minutes later, Scott eased his arm under Johnny’s shoulders as he held a dipper of water for him to drink.

“Here’s a bucket, Johnny, rinse your mouth first.”

Scott got Johnny settled and sat to wait it out.  It could be an hour, or it could be all night. Regardless, he would be there when his brother woke. He knew what it took out of Johnny to face a man in the street. They had talked about it one day when they worked together repairing the line shack up on Cutter’s Mountain.

Scott would never forget the pain he’d seen in Johnny’s eyes, Madrid’s eyes. It was torture, plain and simple. Johnny revealed to him that a little of his soul died every time he was called out. He had even confessed he thought about letting himself lose, that maybe the pain would stop, but then he huffed, saying that even when he got to Hell, it would follow him there, and he would still be paying for the things he’d done. Scott had been mortified, and visibly shivered when he heard those words. And it was then he began to understand what exactly it took out of Johnny, what it stole from him every time he faced a man in the street.

Scott watched as his brother became restless and knew that the nightmares were plaguing him now. Pulling his chair next to the cot, he leaned in and began speaking. The soft words had comforted his brother before, and hopefully, they would again.

<><><><> 

Murdoch Lancer knew he’d been right. There could not be any more incidents like there was this afternoon. Even though Val had been there and deemed it a fair fight, they just could not allow this to happen again!

But a flicker suddenly sparked in Murdoch’s head that brought his stubborn thoughts to a standstill. Just how would Johnny stop it? How could he stop it? In truth, Murdoch did hear Johnny try and discourage ‘the dance’, but he saw the lust shroud the challenger, a demand for Johnny’s reputation. And when Johnny came into the hacienda, what did Murdoch do? He threw it in Johnny’s face as if his son had control. He extended no help, no support for his younger son, and laid the entire sordid event at Johnny’s feet, his fault, his to fix.

Murdoch closed his eyes. What had he done? He had to clear this up with Johnny!

<><><><> 

“Are you with me, brother?” Scott asked softly as the long, thick lashes began to move. A groan slid between the lips, then they pursed, and a shaky hand lifted to rest on his forehead.

“Here, Johnny, take more water,” Scott coaxed as he handed Johnny the dipper. Johnny struggled to sit up, then took the water. He drank his fill and dumped the rest over his head. The cold trickle snaked through his hair and down his back, wetting his shirt as it cooled his sweaty hide. Then he pushed his legs over the side of the cot to rest elbows on knees and hung his head.

“Sorry, Boston. Didn’t wanna drag you inta this,” Johnny said as he ran his fingers through his tousled hair.

“No need to apologize, Johnny. Maria told me what was happening and when I got there, you’d already gone, but our father was looking at the front door. You must have just left. What did he say to you, brother?” Scott held his breath, waiting for Johnny to repeat the undoubtedly scathing and unyielding reprimand that sparked and detonated the explosion from their father.

Johnny sat still for a moment, hands tangled in his hair, trying to quiet the pounding that continued to slam inside his skull. He couldn’t tell Scott what Murdoch had said, that perhaps Johnny wouldn’t be satisfied until an innocent bystander had been hit by a stray bullet; that just maybe it would be Scott or Teresa that would be hit, or maybe Murdoch, himself. Scott would be in Murdoch’s face so fast, it would make the ol’ man’s head spin.

“Forget it, Scott. It ain’t worth the trouble…” Johnny tried a smile, but it fell flat. He quickly averted his gaze before it betrayed him, but it was too late.

Scott’s heart broke at the sadness in his brother’s eyes. “No, Johnny, this has to stop!”

Johnny couldn’t help but snort. “That’s just what the ol’ man said… it has ta stop.”

“And I can only imagine that he helped to figure out just how you are supposed to do that!” Scott cringed. “Did he offer a suggestion?”

“Nope, he said I was the gunfighter, so it was up ta me ta figure it out. Look, Scott, let it lay. I don’t wanna think about it anymore tanight. Just lemme sleep.  Maybe he’ll cool off an’ be better tamorrow…” Johnny stretched out on the cot again and settled down to, hopefully, sleep.

Scott didn’t miss the pain that dulled those eyes, the eyes that were ordinarily a vibrant blue, lively, and full of the devil. His brother was sick. Sick at heart. He pulled a blanket over Johnny’s shoulders and turned the flame down on the lamp.

“You rest, brother, and tomorrow, we’ll think of something. I’ve got your back.” Scott let his brother sleep… if he could.

<><><><> 

The light in the great room was dim as Scott opened the door and entered the hacienda. Murdoch sat in his leather chair behind his desk watching out into the night, or perhaps, Scott thought, to catch the reflection in the window of Johnny returning. Without a word, Scott walked to the sideboard and poured himself a drink, then took a seat on the couch, the place where Johnny usually sat, the small gesture in honor of his brother. He waited to force Murdoch to initiate the conversation.

When Murdoch spoke, his voice was strained, and he was tired and hurt by his own words and actions. “Did you find your brother?” He turned to face Scott.

Scott sighed and did not meet Murdoch’s stare. “Yes.”

Knowing Scott was intentionally going to make this difficult, Murdoch continued. “Is he alright?”

Scott’s glare hardened, and he slowly turned to face Murdoch. “Now, what do you think? He’s just had his heart ripped out of his chest, oh, but you already knew that. You did it.”

Murdoch’s control fled. “ENOUGH! I will not have you talking to me like that!”

“And I will not have you talking to my brother like you did!” Scott returned fire, his weapons the words in his throat, primed and ready. “There was no excuse for the things you said to him! None, Murdoch! That was completely unfair, and you know it! What would you have him do, not wear his gun, be a target, and not able to defend himself? Do you want to see him dead? Because that’s what it sounds like!”

Murdoch stood and walked around the desk. He stopped in front of the fireplace to stare at the red embers that glowed, flickering as they cooled and re-heated. He knew he was right, wanting the violence to stop. But he also knew he was wrong for what he said to Johnny and now he couldn’t take it back.

When he first confronted his son about the problem, Johnny was willing to talk, he seemed ready to work toward a solution, that is until Murdoch lost his temper, and even after Murdoch’s blistering words, Johnny had stayed. But when Murdoch launched the next salvo, insinuating he wouldn’t be happy until one of them was hurt, well, that’s when the tide changed.

Murdoch witnessed the Madrid glare, but not before he saw the hurt, the pain that shredded Johnny’s heart. Those eyes… they were tortured, the eyes of his lost little two-year-old.

“No, of course, I don’t want that! You have to know that!” Murdoch argued, having lost some of his fight.

“And you have to know that Johnny tried to control what happened today. You were there and saw it! And yet, here you are, condemning him for another’s actions.”

“No, I am not condemning him, I told him to get it stopped… and I was wrong, how I said it was wrong,” Murdoch finally admitted aloud. “I saw there was nothing he could have done, but that doesn’t stop the worry, the concern that an innocent person could have gotten hurt, or worse today.”

Scott thought that Murdoch had aged twenty years in the last few hours. He knew Murdoch’s concerns were valid but certainly not at the expense of Johnny’s guilt. He knew Johnny blamed himself far more than anyone else. Still, it wasn’t his fault.

“But he was willing to stay and talk with you about it, that should have told you something. He wants it stopped, too! I’m going to tell you something, Murdoch, I’m going to betray my brother’s trust and tell you a little secret, then you tell me if you’re still bound and determined to blame him. Last spring, when we worked on Cutter’s Mountain together, he was opening up about Madrid, about some of the things he’d done and he talked of his trepidations regarding his past and his family, us! Murdoch, he confessed to thinking about letting himself be killed in a gunfight, and maybe his pain would finally be over! Think about that, Murdoch! Johnny gave serious thought to getting himself killed!

“Now, if you want to blame him, you go right ahead, but know this, I will not stand by and let anyone hurt my brother, and that includes you.” Scott stood, back ramrod straight, shoulders squared. As he got to the door, he stopped and turned to Murdoch. “I’m going to sit with my brother and would appreciate it if you left us alone. I’ve already seen him go through nightmares tonight and won’t allow anymore to plague him. And that means you, too.” 

Then Scott left Murdoch standing alone to contemplate the embers.

<><><><> 

The night was long for all of them. Murdoch agonized over the facts of his gunfighter son. He found himself blaming Maria for starting their son on a journey into violence and danger that would eventually lead to his death. What could he have done? Maria was a grown woman, and if that was the life she wanted, he had no control over her. If she had only left Johnny at Lancer… And a thought slammed into Murdoch’s brain with the force of a tornado. He had no more say over his wayward wife than Johnny did over the events in Green River. He was asking the impossible from his son. Asking Johnny to ‘figure it out’ was the same as asking Murdoch why he let his wife run away, and why he’d never found Johnny. Then Murdoch spent the rest of the night struggling to find the right words he would need to apologize to his son. And hope that his son would forgive him…

<><><><> 

Scott watched as Johnny slept. A pitiful attempt to grasp at the shreds of fitful sleep would leave him vulnerable in the upcoming battle that tomorrow would inevitably bring. But, Scott had vowed his brother would not be alone. He would talk again with their father and hope that the long night’s dark hours had changed the irrational thoughts in the old man’s head.

<><><><> 

Dawn broke, washing the valley with fresh, cool air. If Scott believed in signs, he would have hopes for this day, but he wasn’t foolish enough to think that a beautiful dawn would signal a solution to the issue they faced. He eased out of the barn and made his way to the house, stopping only to wash up in the basin at the back door.

Walking into the kitchen, he was greeted by a worried Maria as she held out a cup of coffee when he entered. He saw the red-rimmed eyes of the cook and reached out to wrap a comforting arm around her plump shoulders.

“He’s sleeping, Maria. And don’t worry, I promise you, if it can be fixed, we will do it today. Has Murdoch been down yet?” Scott asked. His gentle tones soothed Maria’s fears, and she offered him the beginnings of a smile.

“Sí, Señor Scott, he was up when I got here. I do not think he slept at all last night.” Maria sniffed, then returned to the stove.

Scott sighed deeply. “Where is he, Maria? I need to make sure he’s cooled off before I let him anywhere near Johnny. He’s not going to treat my brother again like he did last night.”

“He is at his desk.” Maria crossed herself as she stood at the stove and offered a silent prayer as Scott left the kitchen.

<><><><> 

Murdoch sat in his chair. He turned to look out the window behind his desk. The magnificent view spread out before him; the mountains fairly glowed as the warm morning sun caressed the peaks like a lover in the boudoir. The green of the timber against the purple-gray rock was stunning in brilliant contrast. And Murdoch never tired of the sight. But, today, he didn’t see it. Where ever he looked, all he saw was the tortured look in Johnny’s eyes.

What have I done? And what can I do about it? He would give anything to call back the words, the insinuations, and insults that had hurt his son so badly. He cursed Johnny’s mother for hurting their son, and what had he done but added to the misery. In some ways, he was worse than Maria had been. Her drinking and deteriorating mental state created a toxic environment for Johnny. But what was Murdoch’s excuse? Demanding that Johnny put down his gun, ordering him to fix a situation there was no ‘fix’ for. To command  his ideas to be put into action, and dictate on his time and schedule would be ludicrous. But that’s what he had done.

Calling his sons home was the right thing for him to do. With their help, they had defeated the enemy. But Murdoch Lancer’s mistake had been demanding his boys dance to his tune. That wasn’t going to happen, he could see that now. They were grown men. Grown men with their own ideas, their own ways. He was not there as they grew, he had no influence in their lives, and where he grieved that fact, there was nothing he could do about it now. Except to treat them as the men they were. And that included dealing fairly with Johnny Madrid. And though he never wanted to accept the fact, Johnny Madrid was as much his son as Johnny Lancer.

Murdoch huffed. If he had any sense, he should be thanking Madrid for protecting his son, not crucifying him for his violent ways. His ways had kept Johnny alive, and all Murdoch could see was the danger that followed. But wasn’t Murdoch, in some way responsible for that danger? He brought Madrid here…

“Have you come to a decision, sir, or are you content now that you have probably run Johnny off the ranch?” Scott asked of the back presented him.

Murdoch’s head turned slightly as his spine stiffened. He forced himself to relax and slowly turned the chair to face his older son.

“He’s still here, isn’t he?” Murdoch asked as if it never occurred to him that his younger son could have left in the night.

“Yes, he’s still here… for the moment. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he decided to leave. It’s not as if he is welcome here any more.”

Scott’s words were cold, and Murdoch knew he had no one else to blame but himself.

“There’s no need to remind me how wrong I’ve been. That’s all I’ve thought about since last night.” Murdoch was tired, more tired than he’d been in a long, long time, and he wondered if Johnny had gotten any rest.

“What are you going to do about it?” It might be too late, but at least he’s thinking and knows he was wrong, Scott thought.

“About the only thing I can do. Apologize and hope he can forgive me.”

<><><><> 

Why did I ever think this would work? Ha, Johnny Madrid, settled down, a rancher. Shoulda never came back, shoulda let the ol’ man handle his problems. But he knew in his heart that wasn’t true. When he came to Lancer, he discovered he had a brother. And Scott was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Now that he had gotten to know Scott, Johnny didn’t think he could live without him. Ha! Can’t live with the ol’ man an’ can’t live without Scott. Where does that leave it?

In his heart, Johnny knew that he didn’t want to leave Lancer. This was his birthright. This is where he belonged… without the confrontations with his father. How could he make this work so that they weren’t at each other’s throats?

The ache behind his eyes began to spread; it felt thick and heavy, like hot tar that had been left oozing down the side of the can.  He felt his belly roll. All he wanted to do was to sleep for about a week. Maybe the old man would get over his mad enough to leave him alone, but he doubted it.

Johnny rolled on his side then sat up slowly, and remarkably, his head stayed put without falling off his shoulders. He took the time to sit and gather a few scattered thoughts, then pushed himself to his feet and headed out the door. He delayed the trip to the house for a moment and stopped by Barranca’s stall.

The horse watched as Johnny came toward him, and knew his master was not alright. He offered a gentle whinny and stretched his neck around as if reaching for Johnny, and Johnny walked into the equine embrace as the great head folded down over his shoulder and back.

Johnny could not help but smile as he scratched the silky ears and muscular neck. He could hear the soft mewl in Barranca’s throat as if the animal had whispered to him, and the connection pulled him in. He hugged the horse, gathering its strength; he was going to need it… soon. With a promise to return and go for a hard, cleansing ride, Johnny left the barn and continued to the hacienda to, once again, face the wrath of Murdoch Lancer.

But as he walked across the yard, Madrid stepped in and took over, and Johnny  suddenly felt safe. He didn’t worry about the old man trying to hurt him, physically anyway. He just felt safer with Madrid there; it felt… comfortable and familiar. An old and trusted friend there to watch over him, to watch his back. Ha, got Scott an’ Madrid ta help… and it felt good. Trusted friends.

Quietly, he opened the kitchen door as Maria turned from the stove. Without a word, unusual for the woman, she went to Johnny and enveloped him in a fierce hug. He saw the red of her eyes and knew she’d been crying.

He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. “Todo estará bien (It will be alright), Mamacita,” he whispered in her ear. He then pulled away and kissed her cheek. With a sweet smile bestowed on her, Johnny left the kitchen with Madrid firmly in place and sauntered into the great room.

The first thing he saw was the shocked look on Scott’s face, then he looked to his father and tried to piece together what had been going on.

Murdoch suddenly stood as he saw Johnny enter the room but held off approaching him. He was looking into the eyes of Madrid. Hard, cold, and strong. Johnny Lancer is in there… somewhere. I have to find him! Murdoch thought. But he didn’t have any idea how to do it. Say something!

“Johnny, I want to talk to you… please.” Alright, that’s a start, not a good one but a start none the less.

Johnny stood where he was, not bothering to sit, and assumed the insolent stance he displayed the night before. Wrong or right, he wasn’t going to give in. Not this time. There were certain things he could not change, and there were things he did not want to change. Last night he’d been willing to talk, but last night all Murdoch could do was demand, and order, not discuss like Johnny had been willing to do. So, now he could deal with Madrid, and Madrid was not going to make it easy on him.

“Son, come in and sit, and we can talk,” Murdoch said with a calm he did not feel. He took a seat on the couch, then waited for Johnny to join him. He glanced at Scott as if asking him to leave the room, that this would be a private conversation between Johnny and himself. But, like Johnny, his stubborn streak kicked in, and Scott moved next to his brother, a gesture of solidarity, loyalty. Murdoch then knew neither of them would cut him any slack.

Johnny wanted to smirk but kept all emotion from his face. Hooking his thumbs on his belt, he did not move. The ol’ man looks like he thinks that smile will make things alright, that somethin’ good’s gonna come outta this.

“Seems like ya said about everything there was ta say last night, ol’ man,” Johnny said flatly.

There was no emotion in the words, and that unnerved Murdoch more than had Johnny vented them in anger.

“I said things last night that were uncalled for, Johnny, things I’m deeply ashamed of.” Murdoch stood. He didn’t want to be looking up at his sons.  He wanted them to know he was honest and truthful and to look into their faces when he confessed his wrongdoings and made his apologies. He desperately needed to break through that icy Madrid stare. “Please, come and sit. I would like to tell you some things.”

“I can listen just as good from here.” Madrid, still in charge, would not relent.

Murdoch took a moment and stepped forward to face his sons. “Alright,” he said, managing to keep his temper in check. He knew these next few minutes would be critical, and he fought for control over the words that would hopefully convince his son how wrong he’d been and not drive him away.

The icy glare was gone, but now he was met with an empty stare, emotionless and unnerving, and the emptiness was as chilling as the glare. Where is my little boy? Could he still be in there somewhere?

“Johnny, last night, I said some things that I regret. And I want to tell you that I’m sorry. I didn’t mean them.” Alright, that’s good…

“In my line of work, that could get ya killed, ol’ man,” Johnny spoke low, not threatening, but more as a warning.

Your line of work?! You’re a rancher now, not a gunfighter!”

“You sure changed your tune durin’ the night. Ya had me painted as a cold-blooded killer! Ha! I remember you askin’ me if I was waitin’ for one of the family ta be hurt? An’ maybe waitin’ for it ta be you? “   

Scott’s eyes turned cold. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard! He knew Murdoch had said some incredibly stupid and hurtful things, but this was… this was beyond any reason!

“Johnny, I know what I said, and I was wrong! I can’t tell you how sorry I am! I was wrong, son. I’m just not used to things out of my control.” Murdoch was baring his soul, and he could see it in Johnny’s eyes.

“Control? Murdoch, there ain’t no control! There’s no control over any of this! I don’t have control over some gunfighter callin’ me out! All I can do is try ta talk them out of it; if I can’t, there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it!” Madrid's eyes turned fierce, the irises dark, dangerous. But something was happening inside, and Madrid felt weak.

Murdoch could only watch, fascinated in a morbid sort of way, as he saw the painful torture warring with gut-wrenching regret in those eyes.

Scott inched closer to his brother, should physical support be needed.

Johnny sighed deeply and let out a ragged breath. “What do you want me ta say, Murdoch?” Madrid was struggling. “Ya want me ta tell ya I liked killin’? That I went lookin’ for those easy targets, the stupid kids lookin’ for a name, wantin’ my reputation?” Johnny paused for a breath. Lancer was pushing in, edging Madrid back, and wanting to confront his father.

“You think that I like havin’ their blood on my hands? Well, lemme tell ya somethin’, with every kid I kill, a piece of me goes with them. Ain’t gonna be long before there’s nothin’ left. Maybe I outta get it over with an’ let the next one just kill me. But I don’t think that’d stop anything. It’d just follow me ta Hell, an’ I got no control!” Johnny’s voice broke, he panted as his starved lungs fought to pull in oxygen.

“What’d you see when you look at me, Murdoch? A killer? A gunhawk willin’ ta shoot a man down in cold blood? Do ya believe everything that’s been said about me?” Johnny questioned softly and waited for his father’s answer.

Murdoch stood looking into the pain glazed eyes of Johnny Lancer, the glassy blue now pleading for Murdoch to understand. And for the first time, he began to truly feel the depth of Johnny’s anxiety and despair. A thought suddenly flashed through his brain; Johnny’s beginning, his introduction to life dependant on a gun began when he avenged his Mother’s death; the beginning of Johnny Madrid. And it had been a noble cause.

“Johnny, I’m so sorry! What I said last night was out of line. Those words will haunt me for the rest of my life, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”

Murdoch finally saw the eyes of his little boy, the tiny whirlwind that had him wrapped around his little finger. The tiny whirlwind with the largest and most expressive blue eyes he’d ever seen, but now that little boy was a grown man, a man with those same intense, expressive eyes.

He stepped in front of his sons, his eyes welled with tears. Scott stepped aside but stayed close. Johnny’s eyes, still tortured, held his, and after a long moment, Murdoch reached out and pulled Johnny into his arms. He attempted a deep breath, but a hitch prevented the words. Trying again, he whispered, “I think I’m beginning to understand now, Johnny. We’ll find a way, I promise, we’ll find a way, together.”

Madrid stepped back but murmured I’ll be here whenever ya need me…  

 

 

 

~ end ~

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