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Buckskin

 

 

Lies, Regrets And Sorrows

Thanks to Cat and Sandy for the beta
Usual disclaimers
Sure do wish they are mine, but they they aren’t

He’d been watching them closely for days, now. What had changed that he couldn’t take his eyes from them? He couldn’t put his finger on any one thing, but he felt… different somehow. They were the same sons he had a week ago, and he was the same man that he’d been a week ago. So, why did he feel so angry? Wait, was it anger? Was he angry? Yes, he was, but this unsettling feeling encompassed more than anger. The gamut of emotions seemed to range from guilt, rage, anger, sorrow, regret, betrayal, lust, terror, repulsion,
and… love.  And more he couldn’t put a name to.

He'd been quiet for days, out of sorts. He was quick-tempered when a conversation was required and knew he had to sort things out. He’d been unfair to his family. His family… he snorted at the implication of the word. Family, ha! His family consisted of his two boys, now grown men, and very fine men. But wasn’t that part of the problem? What had his contribution been to these two fine, young men? Other than in the act of conception, what had he done?

Dinner had been quiet. Both Scott and Johnny felt like they’d been walking on eggshells for a week now. The ol’ man had a burr where burrs really shouldn’t be. And it was a nasty one. With Johnny’s natural penchant for raising Murdoch’s ire, he’d been on the receiving end of sharp retorts, but he had to let them roll off his back. He knew an equal response would make things worse, much worse. Johnny was a patient man. He would wait his father out.

Scott had not been spared, either. Murdoch’s sharp glare and silence wounded as deeply as the words. So, the boys said their ‘good nights’ and left Murdoch alone with the emotions he’d been wallowing in all week.

He stared into the fire, drink in hand, listening to the grandfather clock ticking, and mulled it over, again. He'd loved Catherine, and they were ecstatic when they found out she was pregnant. They’d talked and planned and dreamed about the day the baby would arrive. That beautiful, precious day their baby would be born, be it boy or girl, it would have made no difference. It had been conceived in love and had been anxiously and dearly anticipated.

Murdoch was sick with worry when Catherine had to be sent away. He had given it every consideration and looked at every angle he could to make the right decision. And in the end, he’d lost, lost everything. His world seemed to collapse around him in suffocating grief. Catherine died, alone and without him at her side. The journey proved to be too much. And in his absence, Harlan Garrett, Catherine’s father came and took the baby boy claiming his right as her father and insisting to himself that it was in the best interest of baby Scott. Murdoch, alone on the frontier, couldn't raise a baby by himself, and with the law in his pocket, Harlan threatened financial ruin on Murdoch with his army of attorneys begging for Harlan’s attention. Harlan Garrett raised Scott and Murdoch lost his son before he even saw him. He never got to hold his baby boy, feel that precious bundle in his arms or soothe his hurts, or encourage, teach and support him. And Murdoch had been denied all of the parental duties and privileges a parent was meant to experience.

He’d been cheated, stolen from and at that moment he hated the father-in-law that had done this to him. Harlan had taken his most loved possession, his son.  He had absolutely no hand, no input on how this child was raised, and he had not been allowed to be there to help with any decisions Scott would have as he grew. He hadn't been consulted whether or not Scott joined the Union Army and went off to war. And he was not told about Scott's capture and subsequent imprisonment until after the fact. He could feel his head start to ache; the pounding between his eyes seemed to echo in his skull.

The issues Scott dealt with during his incarceration had been deplorable, and according to the Pinkerton's reports, he'd almost died. Died! To have fathered a child, had the child taken away and denied contact and then to have that child die was unthinkable. But Scott didn’t die. He’d instead grown into a fine young man. And Murdoch had absolutely nothing to do with it. No influence at all…

He returned to the sideboard, refilled the glass to the top, and took a long swallow. His eyes watered a bit but, no matter. Taking his place, again, behind the desk he turned to face out the large window, not seeing anything but the reflection of the room behind him and the flickering of the flames in the fireplace.

And then, it happened again! with Johnny. Murdoch’s beautiful baby boy he created with Maria. If Murdoch were to be honest, he had lusted after Maria. They had been happy, at first, and when Johnny arrived, they'd both been completely enamored with the dark-haired baby with jeweled sparkling eyes. The chubby, wildly active toddler had captivated their hearts with his sweet innocence and demanding ways.

 Murdoch could not wait to come home off the range and spend a few hours with this little boy, the little boy that couldn’t wait for Papi to get home and take him for a ride. Johnny would giggle and laugh until he lost his breath, the laugh bubbling up from the tips of his tiny toes in anxious anticipation, knowing he could be with his beloved horses! Knowing that this was what he’d waited for all day, for Papi to come and get him… and then he was taken, whisked away in the night and again Murdoch was a man without his son. And he’d had no say at all. It had happened twice! Once was too much, but twice he’d been denied what should have been his right, his privilege! his obligation to raise his son! And it had been taken away, again.

But there was a difference this time, and it had been worse. Johnny hadn’t the luxury of a grand house with servants and money and… food. Much of the time Murdoch’s son had nothing to eat and felt the sting of starvation and deprivation, and Murdoch couldn’t do a thing about it, simply because he hadn’t known. Again, no influence.

He'd been denied his baby boy, and for the second time, he had not been around to help with decisions or problems or plans or advice, or anything else a father should have been there for!  Johnny had grown up fighting for his life but had come out of the tribulations and strife a strong and good man. But what had Murdoch contributed? Except for the act of conception, he’d given nothing because his gorgeous little boy was taken from him!

Would I have been that bad of a father that I couldn't have raised my children?  Still looking out the window, he raised his eyes heavenward as if in question. There was no answer, no sign. Fury was rising in Murdoch's soul, in his brain. He took another deep swallow; the alcohol fueled his rage. The glass was now half empty. But the rabid and bitter thoughts now rampant, swirling in his head, overpowered any reason, should any reasonable thoughts have entered into his head at that moment. He lived for well over twenty years without his boys, and they, without him. But having grown without his influence, they’d both turned out exceptionally well. Was that what had stung so badly? That both of them turned out so well? The fact that he didn’t have a thing to do with it left a hole in his heart the size of the moon.

His emotions were wild, his heart pounding painfully in his chest, his breathing ragged. Raising the glass to his lips, he suddenly turned and savagely threw it into the fire. The flames flared with the alcohol and died away after it burned off. But the flames in Murdoch’s head exploded in a fireball of hot, burning resentment at the renouncement cast upon him, damning him to a life without Scott and Johnny. He stumbled back to the sideboard for another drink. Taking another glass, he slammed it down and re-filled it, spilling much of it onto the drink cart.

The clock struck two. The chimes rang like cannon fire as Murdoch opened blurry eyes. He realized he had the proverbial hammer and anvil pounding in his brain; he’d fallen asleep with his head on his desk and knew he would pay for his actions in spades, not only the hangover that would plague him but the pulling he could now feel in his back. It was a sure sign he wouldn’t be doing much physical activity tomorrow. Or the next. Trying to get his feet working in sync, he looked down at the desk and noticed, for the first time, that he’d spilled the remainder of his drink on the ranch ledgers. The boys were not going to let him live this one down. No, not for a long time.

<><><><> 

Murdoch made himself scarce all day. The headache had dimmed during the afternoon but dinner was, again, a quiet affair. Both Scott and Johnny talking in low tones kept the nonsense and tomfoolery to a minimum, and for tonight, Murdoch was grateful. He passed on the after-dinner drink and left the boys to their libations and discussion of the workload for the next day.

Murdoch pulled himself out of his chair and wandered out to the patio. Looking up at the sky he noticed it was unusually beautiful. The velvet midnight-blue was clean and clear, and the stars looked as if you could reach out and grab one in your hand. The flickering made them seem like they were dancing.

The soft voice at his shoulder made him start. Not having heard the approach, Murdoch slightly turned to see Johnny standing beside but slightly behind him. How does that boy do that without those spurs giving him away? Murdoch wondered.

"Sorry, Murdoch. Didn't mean ta startle ya." Johnny's soft voice was like a soothing balm to Murdoch's troubled spirit. A lopsided grin appeared on Johnny's face, and he gracefully hopped up on the wall next to his father and slowly swung his foot.

“Ah, Murdoch? Can’t help but notice ya been a little outta sorts lately. Anything I can help ya with?” Johnny asked, and watched what kind of reaction he would get.

Murdoch turned away for a few seconds, then back to his youngest son and searched his handsome face and those deep blue eyes and saw nothing but concern. And he began to feel guilty. Guilty that his actions of the last several days had affected his boys, the boys that had absolutely nothing to do with the issues Murdoch had creating havoc in his head.

“Oh, Johnny, I guess there are times that I can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Johnny’s puzzled look brought a sad smile to Murdoch’s face. “I’m afraid I owe both you and Scott an apology. I’ve been wallowing in self-pity and… didn’t realize… I’d, well, I let myself be consumed by it.”

Again the concern filled Johnny’s eyes, and he repeated: “What’s wrong, Murdoch? Can I help?”

And with this offer, Murdoch decided to come clean. He leaned forward, and placing elbows on the wall beside Johnny, he looked up at the stars again and searched for the right words. Then, he let his head fall a bit, staring at his fingers laced together.
 
“For a while now there’s something that’s been bothering me. It’s been building, smoldering inside.”

Johnny was getting confused. “Well, whatever ya did, Murdoch, it can’t be all that bad…”

“No, son, it’s not what I did, more like what I didn’t do.”

Johnny cocked his head and gave a slight chuckle, not following.

“I watch you two, you and your brother, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of both of you! The fine men you are. It is an honor to have you two claim Lancer name, and it hit me that… I had nothing what-so-ever to do with that!” The words came out in a rush as if they were waiting for the chance to spill out and break free. “I should have been the one to teach you to ride and take care of the horses; I should have been there for your questions, whatever they might have been! I should have been the one to tell you about the birds and the bees…”

Johnny laughed. “Ah, can’t talk for Scott but that one came kinda natural for me, ol’ man!”
Murdoch smiled. “I guess, I’m just feeling my age, being a silly, aging man,” and used this slight rebuke for Johnny's use of old man. "But suddenly, it became painfully obvious to me that I had no influence in either of your lives and now I feel that I have been denied a most precious right. The right of being a father to my own sons.”

Johnny heard the anguish in Murdoch’s voice and was surprised at the effect it had on himself. Wanting to relieve the stress, Johnny interjected his Johnny Madrid Lancer humor, longing for Murdoch to smile a bit.

“Are you kiddin’ me, Murdoch? Look at all the trouble ya avoided! Do you realize how many times you woulda had ta bail me outta jail? An’ what about the drinkin’ an’ brawls? An' girlfriends? An' what about the time I got into trouble doin’… Well, ya don’t wanna hear about that now, but there woulda been a bunch of stuff, that…  aggravatin’ stuff that was really bad… for a lotta years. Took me a while ta get all that crap outta my system. Bet ya woulda wore out your hand whoopin’ me!”

Murdoch watched as Johnny rattled off scenario after scenario and smiled. “I’d have been glad to do it, Johnny.”

“I know, just tryin’ ta make ya smile, haven’t seen much of that lately.” Johnny looked at his father and awarded him 'the' smile.

Murdoch watched that sweet grin, the one he remembered on that wild little boy that had been his world, and his heart overflowed with emotion.

"Well, Murdoch, we weren't tagether for a lot a years, so we all lost out, but I gotta tell ya if ya hadn't sent for me when ya did, I’d be dead right now.” The memory of the firing squad still vivid in his mind.

Murdoch jolted as he thought about his young son facing that traumatic and violent end, alone.

Johnny continued the defense as he turned on the wall to face the mountains as Murdoch was doing.

“An’ Scott, well, he told me when the Pinks finally got ta him, he’d just jumped off some girl’s balcony when her father was breakin’ down her door. So, ya were there when we needed ya.”

“But I wasn’t there to teach you things that should have been my right to teach my sons!”

“An’ ya saved yourself a lot of aggravation!” Johnny laughed again doing his best to lighten the troubled thoughts he saw plaguing his father.

“But that’s what a father does!” Murdoch argued.

“I know, listen, Murdoch, ya were there when we needed ya the most…” Johnny softly countered.

“Yes, you were. And all that is behind us now. And what is behind us is just that. Behind us and now we move forward.” Coming to stand between his brother and father, Scott put an arm around each of them.

“Like I said, Murdoch, we all lost out, ‘cuz we didn’t get the father that we shoulda had an’ you got to avoid all that frustration.” And after a brief minute added: “So, we gonna make up for lost time, Scott? Ya wanna bail me outta jail, Murdoch? I’m kinda overdue for a rowdy night out!”

Scott, looking at Murdoch with a twinkle in his eyes and a smirk on his lips said, "I'd leave him sit there, Murdoch!" and wrapped his arm around Johnny's neck in a headlock. Murdoch looked at the heavens. The stars sparkled, shimmering with spectacular light. This was his sign!

 

 

~ end ~

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