The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

Razor's Edge

Missing scene from The High Riders/Homecoming
Thanks to Cat and Sandy for the beta

“I can make it.” The words were whispered as Johnny struggled to his full height. He let go of the stability of Scott’s arm as he fought for balance getting his feet under him. Pardee’s bullet sent shards of white-hot pain through his shoulder and down his back.

Unsteady steps caused Scott to keep his outstretched hand ready to catch his brother should he fall. But Johnny refused to give up. He turned toward the house, putting one tentative foot in front of the other as the edges of his sight turned blurry and black dots danced in front of his eyes. He began to sway on his feet. His steps became unsure, shuffling, near stumbles as he weaved a crooked path, and his head swam as he felt himself pulled under into the warm arms of unconsciousness.

Scott watched as his brother’s eyes lost all focus and closed. He quickly bent as Johnny pitched forward to fall across his shoulder. Straightening with his burden, Scott walked toward his father and ‘sister’, and together they carried Johnny up to his room.

<><><><> 

The bodies were taken from the Lancer property and buried with the dignity that they deserved. The damage would be repaired, horses rounded up, and injuries tended. Doctor Sam Jenkins had been sent for, and after assessing all, Sam set about treating the most serious first.

Murdoch secretly wanted him to start with Johnny before any others; he couldn't lose his son before he had the chance to know him but he knew that minutes were critical for some of his men. Brave men that had helped to save Lancer from the threat that had taken over several other ranches in the San Joaquin Valley.

A few men perished, and Murdoch mourned their loss. They had all been loyal to him during these last many months, and he couldn’t begrudge those wounded the help they needed after sacrificing themselves for the cause. He waited, though impatiently, until he knew Sam could remove the bullet and ease the pain from his son’s back.

<><><><> 

The bullet had gone deep, causing muscle damage and severe blood loss but after several hours Sam was reasonably sure Johnny would be alright. He stitched the wound closed and bandaged the shoulder tightly then stabilized it against Johnny’s chest to hold it securely. They settled the youngest Lancer on his side to a more comfortable position and wedged a pillow behind him to prevent him from turning on his back in his sleep. Dosed with morphine Sam was sure Johnny would sleep through the night and not wake until morning at the earliest.

 

After Johnny was grown there were violent accounts of the gunfighter, Johnny Madrid, a name that Johnny still used, and Murdoch sincerely hoped that those accounts were not true, for if they were, Murdoch had a killer in his house, in his family. Could he be guilty of all they accuse him of? Murdoch wondered as he watched his boy sleep. He certainly didn’t look like a killer now. He looked so young, so... innocent.

Murdoch had been deeply hurt when Maria left. He did love her and more, he loved Johnny. Maybe he would like to talk about it when he is feeling better…

<><><><> 

Johnny sensed he was not alone. There are some lessons in life that you learn the hard way; therefore you are not likely to forget them, such as never draw to an inside straight, always, always shake out your boots before putting them on and check to make sure the cinch you thought you tightened, was tightened. But there was another that he'd learned from experience, and that was, be sure of your surroundings and not give anything away. So before he opened his eyes, Johnny made sure that he was alone and if he wasn't, who was there with him. 

He listened and heard breathing, a soft snore, an ‘old' snore and knew that his father was with him in the room and that he was sleeping. Slowly he opened his eyes. It was still dark outside, but a lamp was turned low allowing Johnny a brief glance at Murdoch slumped in the chair. He looked old, worried. The lines were deeply etched in his face, and Johnny wondered if this man really threw him and his mother out of the house as she had told him all his life. Didn’t want a Mexican wife an’ half-breed kid? What’d ya call me back for, then? Oh, yeah. Ya wanted my gun.

Johnny moved and cause the stitches to tighten, and that produced a gasp and groan, all happening so fast he couldn’t call them back in time. Murdoch quickly sat forward in the chair, eyes suddenly wide that as of a second before had been tightly closed in sleep.

“Johnny! Are you alright? Can I get you something?” He reached for a glass and filled it with cool water. Coming around to the side of the bed, he gently raised Johnny’s head to take a drink and felt the heat radiating from his son’s body. Murdoch almost smiled. Even as a small baby whenever Johnny was sick there was a fever. Apparently, he hadn't changed, and Murdoch found himself anxious to talk with his boy. No, he was a man, now.

He'd proven himself long ago, and Murdoch never knew any of it, until the Pinkerton’s reports. Now he wished he’d never read them, or at least until he heard Johnny’s side of things.

Johnny finished drinking with a muttered ‘thanks’ and was out again in seconds. Well, we can talk later. There will be plenty of time in a few days after he feels stronger. I've waited twenty-three years for this; a few more days won't make that much difference.

Sam eased the door open and took in the sight before him. It was strange, now, to see Murdoch sitting at this bedside after he'd been alone for so long. To watch as Murdoch tenderly cared for his boy, well, had been too long in coming. Sam sincerely hoped this would be the start of a new life for them all, together as the Lancer family.

Murdoch had confided to Sam only some of what the Pinkerton’s reports contained and Sam, being the voice of reason, insisted that Murdoch give Johnny the benefit of the doubt before confronting him with the damning contents. He had already expressed his inability to know what to believe a few nights ago when Johnny left. His son had ridden away from Lancer the night before the raid on the ranch by Pardee and his gang, and Murdoch did not know if he would ever see his son again. And should this son return, which side would he be fighting for?

Johnny had seemed surprised that his father admitted not knowing ‘what to think’. Murdoch would never forget the hurt he saw in Johnny’s eyes before ‘the look’ covered the true feelings.

Sam noticed that Johnny's gun belt had been hung on the bedpost close to his head. The same gun that had taken many lives but had also protected many lives. Give and take. He came around to Murdoch's side and watched the gentleness in his old friend’s hands as he placed a cool cloth to his son’s face, wiping away the sweat to cool and comfort him.

“How has he been during the night?” Sam asked softly as he checked Johnny over; pulling the blanket and sheet away from the warm, lean body to peek at the bandage. No more bleeding. Sam sighed his relief.

"He woke a few hours ago, and I gave him a drink but he was asleep again in a minute or two." Murdoch sounded both relieved and edgy.

Sam looked into his old friend’s anxious eyes and searched for any signs that Murdoch got rest himself during the long night. “You look tired, Murdoch. Did you get any sleep?” Sam asked quietly.

“Enough. I’m just worried,” Murdoch said.

 Sam sighed deeply. “Go get some coffee, Murdoch.”

<><><><> 

Sam smiled as he finished his exam without waking Johnny, thinking that sleep was what he needed most right now. He quietly closed the door behind him and headed to the kitchen.

“Well, Murdoch, I think he should make a full recovery. As long as he rests like he should and Maria can fatten him up a bit.”

It was Murdoch’s turn to smile as the weight that had been on his shoulders through the long, lonely night seemed a bit lighter now except for the unanswered questions that scrambled in his brain.

"Let's leave him to sleep, and I will come back later, hopefully when he's awake."

<><><><> 

“I started a fight with him by the river. We traded a few punches before Teresa broke us up. Now I know why he did what he did by not helping me with the fight in town,” Scott murmured, admitting he’d been wrong about Johnny.

“Scott, don’t punish yourself about it. You didn’t know what was happening and Johnny couldn’t tell you. If Pardee or any of his men had found out that Johnny was a Lancer they'd have killed him and probably us, too. He and I need to talk, though. There's something that's eating at him, and I don't know what it is and worse, how to approach the subject." 

Murdoch set his napkin on the table mulling over in his mind about how he would begin to broach the subject. Johnny didn’t appear to be one for a lot of talk. And Murdoch knew it would need to be done with tact and more so, with the truth.

“Well, I might be able to help with that," Teresa spoke up as she finished her breakfast. She was suddenly finding herself the focus of Scott and Murdoch, each with eyes wide and full of wonder at what she knew that they didn’t. She cleared her throat and began to talk.

"When we were at the river and Scott, and Johnny were fighting, Johnny got on his horse after telling Scott that the money was the reason he came back, not…" and she stopped looking into Murdoch's eyes not knowing if she should continue because what had been said had the capacity to hurt Murdoch, deeply.
“It’s alright, Darling, go ahead. If it will help straighten out anything, it needs to be said,” Murdoch urged.

Teresa looked down at her hands, summoned the courage and forged ahead.
“He said it was the money that brought him back, not love or loyalty for you. He said that you threw him and his mother out. But I told him the truth that she left with… someone."

Murdoch ground his teeth together. Still, after all these years the thought of that other man could dredge up all the old furies, the feelings of wanting to kill someone… Murdoch shook himself clear of the ugly past; a past filled with lies all directed at him, and he was innocent.

“So, Johnny’s grown up all his life thinking that I threw them out. It’s no wonder I see the questions, the accusations in his eyes when he looks at me.” Murdoch’s thoughts scrambled in his brain, agonizing for a small boy that had been told his father didn’t love him, didn’t want him because of his mixed blood. The possible ramifications on a boy that small were endless and unfair, shading his thoughts and shaping the man he would grow up to be. It was ugly and desperately needed to be straightened out if that was possible. Having these thoughts for all of his life could be devastating, and Murdoch just might be up against an impassable wall. No, this is a mountain!

<><><><> 

The pounding in his head woke him, and he pressed a hand against the throbbing that threatened to turn his stomach inside out. As he did, the door opened, and Sam walked in, glad to see the young man awake, although in a bit of distress. Taking a cool cloth, he laid it across Johnny's eyes and forehead.

“How are you feeling, Johnny?” Sam asked knowing that it would not be a positive reply. Actually, there was no reply, and Sam took the cloth from Johnny's head as the deep blue eyes closed and a groan escaped his lips. Knowing what was coming, Sam quickly reached under the bed for the chamber pot, holding the vessel with one hand and supporting Johnny slightly with the other.

"Breathe through your nose, Johnny, just breathe, it may pass, just breathe deep…" Sam murmured, and after a few minutes the boy's breaths grew even, and he seemed to relax on the pillows.

“It’s good to see you awake. Can I get you anything to drink?”

At a weak shake of his head, Johnny opened his eyes. “How long have I been out?” he whispered.

Sam put the glass of water to Johnny’s lips encouraging the intake, and when he had sated his thirst, Sam took a pulse reading. Satisfied, he peeled back the blankets and started to cut the bandages around Johnny’s chest.

“You’ve been up here a day and a half, now. Murdoch’s been worried sick. He’s been sitting with you most of the time…”

At this revelation, Johnny’s eyes swiveled to Sam with surprise and uncertainty. "Ya can tell him that I'll be leavin', soon as I'm on my feet. He don't hafta worry," Johnny whispered softly, and Sam had to strain to hear.

“Johnny, he doesn’t want you to leave. He’s been up here worried because he cares about you,” Sam divulged gently, knowing what Teresa had revealed about the things Johnny's mother had told him.

“That’s the truth, Johnny. He does care about you. He always has.”

Johnny's eyes slid shut, and Sam couldn't read anything in Johnny's body language to indicate a response, so he continued to carefully remove the old bandage away exposing the ugly wound. He cleaned it, drawing a groan from Johnny, applied salve and re-bandaged it, then settled Johnny again more comfortably on the bed.

"You're doing fine, Johnny. Everything is going to be alright, but I want you to rest for now."

“Yeah, I know, sleep an’ eat…,” Johnny mumbled.

Sam smiled. He’d seen all the scars on Johnny’s body, the young man been through a lot and knew what to expect.

"I'll have Maria bring you some broth, and I want you to eat it all." Smiling at Johnny, Sam left the room, and although the smile had not been returned, he knew that Johnny was thinking and that was a good start.

<><><><> 

He always cared? That ain’t what I was told… But he remembered the conversation, harsh words really, with Teresa, about his mother. Had she lied to him all those years ago? But why would she? Murdoch had thrown them out, why would she lie, but why would Murdoch want him here now? The trouble was over; the Ol’ Man didn’t need his gun now. Pardee was dead. Why would Murdoch care? The pounding in his head started to build again, so he closed his eyes, hoping that this Maria woman would stay away.

His luck didn't hold as the door opened and a stout, heavy Mexican woman carried a tray into the room, then toed the portal closed behind her. Her full colorful skirt rustled as she walked and came to the table at the side of the bed where she set down her burden. She pulled up the chair and settled her wide bottom, then proceeded to chatter in soft Spanish all the while, with gentle strokes, as she wiped his face and neck, careful not to get too close to the injured shoulder.

“Juanito, chico, do you hear me? I have something for you. You need to eat; you are too skinny!"

He wished she would go away for a while, maybe for the next several days but that wasn't going to happen. After all, she was only trying to help him.

Slowly he opened his eyes, he offered the beginnings of a smile and she beamed, the white teeth bright against the dark skin. “Juanito, it is good to see you again. This room has been empty all these years, and now you are back…,” her smile disappeared at the shock on his face.

“’Back’? What'd ya mean ‘back’?” he asked, suddenly wary.

She watched his eyes as he searched for clues, so she continued. “Home, chico, back home, in this room. This was your room as a baby. I remember…” Again she smiled, thinking about her Juanito, the beautiful baby boy she helped care for, helped raise, for two years, anyway.

Was she here then? Johnny wondered. “Wait, Señora, you were here…?” Johnny whispered.

“Sí, Juanito!I helped the night you were born; I was the first to hold you! Oh, how you cried, loud and strong!” Maria babbled proudly thinking back on that cold December night.

Johnny lay stunned as Maria described Dr. Sam with the delivery and her part cleaning baby Johnny. Then she settled him in his mother's arms with Murdoch perched beside them on the bed, beaming proudly at his new son and lovingly kissed his beautiful but exhausted wife.

The scene Maria talked of was not the story he’d been told. Who was telling the truth? He wondered. He didn't know, but he would find out. Wait, just what does it matter? What’s done is done. I ain’t plannin’ on stayin’ here… And almost immediately a spark went off in Johnny’s brain. What was that?

Maria continued to talk of him as a baby, telling him things that only one who had been there would know. She told Johnny of how sick his mother was following the birth but regained strength to nurture her baby boy, at first. Then she changed, gradually but she did change and was not happy with ranch life. Startin’ ta sound more like her now. Maybe this Maria can help shed some light on all a this.

Maria, suddenly remembered why it was that she was here in Johnny's room with him, and stopped her chatter.

“Lo siento, Juanito! I am here to help you eat! You need to put some meat on your bones,” she said and clucking her tongue she added more pillows behind him amid his protests that he wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to eat. But Maria would not hear of it. Soon there was a napkin tucked under his chin and a spoon with, now only warm soup, was held to his lips.

It does smell good but don’t think it’s gonna stay down!  

She successfully got a spoonful into him. The salty broth not only smelled good but tasted better. It settled in his belly and did not reappear, much to his surprise. After several more mouthfuls, Johnny raised his hand for her to stop. Questions were swirling around in his head; questions that maybe this woman would know.

Maria sat back and watched as Johnny seemed to relax more into the pillows, a little food in the belly and more sleep, sounded like just the thing he needed right now.

He rolled his head in her direction and smiled at her. “Gracias, Maria, ‘preciate your help.”

She beamed back at him. “De nada, Juanito. But you need to eat more. Here…” And she started to dip the spoon in the bowl for more broth.

Again, he held up his hand to stop her, and she frowned. “Por favor, maybe later. Can you answer some questions for me, Señora?” he asked with another smile that she could not deny.

“Sí…”  She spoke softly, wondering what he would be asking.

When she replied, Johnny began with his questions. “How long has Murdoch been havin’ trouble with Pardee, an’ his gang?”

Relieved that Johnny had not asked about his mother, for Maria did not think it was her place to talk about that puta, she told Johnny what he wanted to know. “It has been many months, now. A bullet from that bandito almost killed the Patrón, and SeñorPaul was murdered last fall, November, I think," Maria stopped talking, collecting her thoughts. Paul O'Brien was a good man and a good friend to the Patrón. She missed him dearly.
“Bad things have happened here, Juanito, and it is good that you and Señor Scott are here now. The Patrón should not have to handle this alone.”

“The Patrón, he’s a good man?” Johnny asked, and Maria looked at him with a frown. This was a strange question coming from this boy, asking if his father was a good man. Then it hit her. That puta has filled his head with nonsense! That’s what this is all about…

“Juanito, your father is a good man, no matter what anyone has told you. But I know that you will see for yourself if you give it a chance. Talk with him, niño, por favor.Maria set the bowl on the tray, picking it up she headed to the door. “I will be back later. You rest now.”

Johnny watched as the door closed quietly behind the woman, and wondered who was lying to him but he was getting the feeling that it wasn’t his father. Why, mama?
<><><><> 

Murdoch sat behind his desk, the ledgers open in front of him, but he didn't see them. The long columns of numbers were left untallied. His mind was on the young man upstairs in bed. The young man with the violent past, a past so filled with death and destruction it was a miracle the boy was still alive. How did he survive all those years, first without his mother, then living by a gun? Is he that good? Murdoch thought back to some of the reports he’d read about Johnny Madrid.

They’d been chilling and nothing short of horrific circumstances that most men wouldn’t have lived through. But Johnny not only survived, he excelled. Who is this man that is my son? Murdoch wondered, and how do I approach him? What can I say that he will not take as another lie or excuse? I have nothing to lie about, but he doesn’t know that. This could be like walking on a razor's edge if Madrid decides to do the talking instead of Johnny Lancer. But he doesn’t know Johnny Lancer. I wonder if he will give it time…

The columns of numbers were still not figured, the ranch accounts long forgotten. Murdoch rubbed his eyes as he turned and stared out the large window behind him. He looked out over the vast range, lush green grass; the hills dotted with cattle and as far as the eye could see was Lancer. Bought and paid for with hard work, and lives, his late wife, Catherine, Scott’s mother, many friends like Paul O’Brien and loyal hands and now with the blood of his youngest son.

As Murdoch surveyed this land that had been so fiercely defended, he saw in his mind again, the golden flash of Johnny’s palomino as he swiftly cleared the fences, with Johnny astride as Pardee and his gang closed the distance behind and chased him down into this pasture in front of the hacienda. Then Pardee, himself, took aim and pulled the trigger. The bullet found its target and knocked Johnny out of the saddle to slam into the ground. And afterwards he rolled onto his side and lay still looking for all practical purposes… dead.

Murdoch remembered the sight as if it had just happened; it played over and over in his brain, thinking that he’d lost a son before he even had the chance to know the man he was. His breath caught in his throat, hoping and praying that Johnny would move, but he didn’t. He lay still as death, but then Murdoch knew why. As one of Pardee's men ran past, Johnny quickly aimed and shot the outlaw; he'd been waiting. And Murdoch remembered to breathe. His son was alive.

Then Scott ran out to drag Johnny to cover, and that was when Scott put the killing shot into Pardee. Then it was over. The surviving outlaws scattered, ran for safety, with their leader dead they disbanded, scattering into the hills and no longer a threat.

Murdoch watched as Johnny struggled to get to his feet and quickly let go of Scott’s arm, anxious to be without help, not wanting to depend on anyone, not showing any weakness. But Scott stayed near as he saw his brother finally falter and ultimately collapse. Scott bent to get his shoulder down and let his younger brother fall across then carried him to the house.

How many times would this play out in Murdoch’s brain? How many times could he watch Johnny fall from the saddle again and again not knowing if he was alive or not? It was something that would have to run its course and hopefully fade.

Catherine’s loss had been devastating, then baby Scott taken away had sent him into a rage of phenomenal proportions, but when Johnny's mother left in the night taking Johnny with her, Murdoch felt defeated. The loss so great, it left him feeling as if the life had been squeezed out of him and he was destined to wither and die a lonely and broken man.
Scott was cared for, with the best of everything, Johnny had been taken away with nothing. His mother, Maria, apparently had only known the man she left with for only a few days. Indeed, there had been no thought given to the life that Johnny would lead after leaving Lancer. Murdoch's belly began to churn at the thoughtlessness of taking the chubby, beautiful baby boy from his rightful home… and from his father, the father that had wanted him, had searched for him but never found him. That is until years later, as a gunfighter with a reputation. A reputation that was unfair.

“Patrón, por favor, can I speak with you?” the cook asked, standing in front of Murdoch’s desk, nervously wiping her hands on her apron.

Murdoch turned to her and smiled, but the smile vanished as he saw the turmoil on Maria's broad face, her bottom lip quivered as if she would burst into tears. Murdoch rose from behind his desk and quickly took her by the arm, leading her to sit on the comfortable couch in front of the fireplace. He stopped by the sideboard, poured her a small portion of brandy and coming to sit by her side, handed her the glass and urged her to drink.

"What is it, Maria? Are you alright?" Concern for this woman ran deep, as she had been with him almost from the beginning of Lancer, and she meant a great deal to him.

“Sí, I am fine, but I worry about Juanito.” She took a breath and hiccupped.

At the mention of Johnny, Murdoch's stomach flipped, and he made to race up the stairs thinking his son had taken a turn for the worse, but Maria grabbed his arm to sit beside her.

“No, Senór, he is alright but… I do not want to tell you what to do, it is not my place, but I think he needs you to talk to him… About his mama. I think she was not honest with him.” Maria finished the brandy, and held the delicate glass in her hand; she watched Murdoch’s eyes as they settled down, losing the panic that had consumed them only moments before. Maria took a ragged breath.

“I thought about this all day. It is not for me to tell you things, but I could not let this go on without you knowing. He has grown up not knowing the truth of what happened. I thought you needed to know,” she whispered, obviously heartbroken at the torment she’d seen in Johnny’s eyes earlier in the day.

Murdoch put his arm around her heavy shoulders and gently squeezed. Her loyalty and concern were evident with her tears as they traced shiny paths down her round cheeks, and Murdoch was touched with the kindness in her heart.

"Thank you, Maria. I plan on talking with him soon. Very soon."

“Sí, Patrón, gracias! And with that, she heaved herself from the couch and shuffled into the kitchen.

<><><><> 

It was dark. He didn't know the time but knew it was late. Risking a glance to the side, he didn't see anyone sitting in the chair and knew he was alone. Dios! Ain’t no little kid that I need someone ta be there with me all a the time... He saw a very dim light coming from under the door and knew that everyone had gone to bed. The dim hall lamps left only enough light should someone need to get up before dawn. It was strange, having a large, soft bed to sleep in every night instead of a bedroll on the ground or a lumpy two-bit hotel mattress with smelly blankets.

The food here, what he had of it so far had been cooked to perfection, hell even the broth had been good. The few meals he'd eaten before things broke loose, were probably the best he’d ever had. The cook here knew what she was doing, that was for sure.

Johnny lay back and relaxed against the mountain of pillows and remembered what the cook had said about him being ‘back’. This was a very strange thought that this had been his room as a baby. He had been in this very room before. Why had things changed? Did Murdoch throw him and his mother out as she had always told him? Or had she lied to him… again? As Johnny grew, he was able to come to terms that she had lied about some things. Could this be another of them? Did she lie to cover her failures and turn them back on Murdoch, making him out to be the villain?
Johnny also remembered the way she would be happy and loving, and in a minute time span, she could be yelling and throwing things as if someone had pulled a shade sending her into darkness filled with violence and hate. Had there been something wrong with her?

Johnny didn't know, but now that he thought about it, it had gotten progressively worse. As a boy he didn't know what the matter was, just the Mama was ‘sick again' but he wondered about it now. And hearing from the cook, Maria, that Murdoch was a good man and well respected, it was entirely possible that his father had not thrown them out. Memories of his childhood came flooding back, some good, some… not. Now, as Johnny lay in this bed, he could recall them with clarity and watch in his mind as time went by, the worse she became. The Ol’ Man an’ me are gonna hafta have us a talk…

<><><><> 

The next day passed much as the first three had. Johnny rested, slept and pretended to sleep, depending on who was there to check on him. He ate a bit more than he had the days prior and in truth, he was feeling better.

Scott had stopped in and again they sat talking, getting to know the other and, indeed, started to feel comfortable in the other's presence. Being an Easterner, Scott had, in truth, wondered about having Johnny Madrid as a brother. If everything that had been told was true, Lancer was in for trouble of enormous proportions, but with time, Scott began to realize that most of what had been told and retold about Madrid was fabrication of the most outlandish and unfair sort.

This newly found brother was not the murdering outlaw that had been written about in books and newspaper articles. Scott found him to be honorable and true, intelligent and with an excellent sense of humor. And as important as all the rest, Johnny was brave without the bravado of many well known Western figures. Where they were all qualities to be proud of, Scott was not foolish enough to disregard the violence of which Johnny was capable. Having been in the war, Scott knew that pushed far enough any man had the ability to commit horrific acts. And Scott knew that Johnny had been pushed to the limits for much of his young life and still came through the trials with much dignity and humility. Johnny was indeed an extraordinary man.

Johnny was thinking much the same of his new Eastern brother. They talked, getting to know the other and Johnny found Scott likable and with many of the qualities that Scott had discovered in Johnny. Johnny had watched as Scott ran out into the fray to his rescue when lying on the ground after taking Pardee's bullet. Scott ran from cover to drag him to safety. That was the mark of a brave man, just as Scott thought Johnny brave undertaking the chance he did in bringing the situation to closure, albeit, recklessly, but closure none the less. They began to bond as brothers should, even if they’d just met.

<><><><> 

The sun was setting, and Johnny was wide awake. This was about all he could take of lying in bed. He had spied his clothes in the large wardrobe when Maria opened it to retrieve more pillows to stuff behind him when he ate. His calzoneras had been cleaned along with the rest of his things, his boots polished, though scuffed and well worn, and even his favorite bolero jacket that he had on when he took the bullet had been cleaned and mended. So now the only problem was getting out of bed, getting his clothes and putting them on without falling on his face. Hell, I can do it...

Left arm still strapped to his chest to keep stable, Johnny wrestled his way, slowly, to the edge of the bed and swung his feet to the floor. With only marginal dizziness, he scooted off the soft mattress and stood cautiously. The room swayed, but he managed to stay vertical with his right hand ready to catch himself if he fell. This is takin’ too long. Someone comes in I’ll be standin’ here with my bare ass hangin’ out. Get movin’, Madrid…

Slowly putting one foot in front of the other, Johnny successfully made it to the sturdy wooden closet and opened the heavy doors. Taking his pants, long johns, and shirt, he made it back to the bed. He sat down again as sweat began to bead on his face. It had been more strenuous than he thought it would be, but with infinite patience, he pulled on his long johns with one hand, then his pants. Buttoning them proved to be impossible with only a single hand, so he pulled on his shirt, not tucking in the tails, so the open buttons of the leather pants were covered. The boots would have to wait, but there beside his bed were soft leather moccasins. He stuffed his feet into them and, once more gaining his balance, he headed to the door.

Out in the hall, he listened. Voices were coming from the great room but nothing from the back passage down to the kitchen. The narrow stairs provided him with not only the rail but he could also lean against the opposite wall should the need arise. He hadn’t realized the extent of his weakness until, the further away from the room he got, he could feel his legs begin to shake and he almost stumbled.

‘K, Madrid, jus’ slow down, you can do it... And finally, he was at the bottom of the stairs and out the back door.

Dios, it feels good ta be out! But he didn’t dare look up at the sky until he sat on the bench next to the adobe wall. Carefully he tipped his head upward and watched the stars twinkle as if they were winking at him and welcoming him back to their soothing performance. He breathed deep and closed his eyes. The slight breeze ruffled his hair, cooling him as the exertion caused from the trip from his room had been more than he expected. The stitches in his shoulder were starting to pull and itch, and he raised a hand to gently scratch the irritation.

But the movement did not go undetected, and the door to the great room opened as Murdoch stepped out.

“Johnny! You shouldn’t be out here! It’s too cold; wait I’ll get…” Murdoch began before Johnny raised a hand to stop him.

“I’m fine,” he said, and Murdoch heard the term for the first time not aware that over the next several years that it would be repeated… and repeated.

He stopped, and then came to sit by his son’s side. “How did you get down here by your self?” he asked, only now beginning to get an idea of how determined and self-sufficient Johnny was.

The young man smiled. “Just took it slow.”

As Murdoch met the dazzling blue that sparkled in the reflexion of the indoor lights, he remembered the little boy with the same jeweled eyes that had him, Murdoch, wrapped around his little finger from almost the minute he was born. Johnny had grown into a handsome young man, looking very much like his mother.

Murdoch found himself wondering, no, hoping that Johnny would stay. But, Murdoch also knew that the possibility was strong that he wouldn’t. It would depend on if he could tell Johnny the truth about the woman that gave him life.

“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it? The stars are always bright out here. Sometimes they’re so close you could almost reach out and touch them.” Chancing a glance at his son, Murdoch could tell that Johnny enjoyed the view, even seemed to lose himself in it. The father watched his son’s eyes as they sought out the exquisite splendor and the diamond stars suddenly took on a whole new meaning for Murdoch. The fact that this wild boy took solace from this sight gave him another insight to the complex person his boy was.

“Yeah, always liked lookin’ at ‘em from as far back as I remember. Seemed like if I could jus’ touch one it would take me away from…” then Johnny stopped as if he were about to reveal too much. After all, Murdoch was a stranger, father or not.

Was this the opportunity that Murdoch was waiting for? He wasn't sure, but he was going to take it just the same. “Johnny, are you up for a talk?” Murdoch leveled his stare and Johnny met it without backing down. There was a flicker in Johnny’s eyes that Murdoch couldn’t read. Was he getting ready to bolt? Would he want to listen, to hear the awful truth? But, sooner or later, they would have to talk about it unless Johnny decided to leave and chose not to listen to what Murdoch had to say. Johnny’s response was somewhat of a surprise to him.

He looked down at his hand in his lap and sighed. “Guess we better, huh?” and met Murdoch’s eyes again and saw the relief on his father’s face.

“I looked for you for years, Johnny. I didn’t throw you and your mother out. I loved her, and I loved you. I still do." Murdoch began softly.
At first, it was uncomfortable hearing declarations of love, sentiment from another man, but Johnny watched his father's face. The eyes could tell a lot about a man if he was lying or not. Johnny heard someone once say that the eyes held the sight into a person's soul. Didn't know if that was true or not, but he did learn to read what was in them. There was no muscle tick to indicate his father was lying, no nervous gestures, just the cold truth and pain of what had happened on Murdoch’s weathered face.

“There were many times I'd hear of someone that fit your descriptions, and I left to try and find you, but it was always a dead end. Everywhere from southern California to Texas and into Mexico. Paul O’Brien would run the ranch for months at a time while I was off chasing down any lead that I heard about. It seemed that the two of you were always one step ahead and vanished right before I’d get there. I’m sorry, Johnny. I should have tried harder…” Murdoch’s voice trailed off to a whisper.

“Wouldn’t a been anything else ya coulda done, Murdoch. That’s jus’ the way she was. I used ta think she’d make everything alright for us. She’d ‘work’ but never had enough money ta buy much. Beats the hell outta me why she'd wanna leave a place like this but after I got older, I understood better. She liked her… company.” And from the corner of his eye, Johnny saw Murdoch cringe.

“Ya know, now that I think back on it, the last couple a years were pretty bad for her. One minute she'd be singin' an' happy an' the next she was throwin' things, she went hot an' cold with her temper, her moods. An' I remember her cryin' a lot, for nothin'. An' it got worse, till she died."

Listening to Johnny talk, Murdoch was almost shocked; the tone Johnny used was matter-of-fact, not tortured or full of anguish or self-pity.

“How did you manage, Johnny? How old were you when she passed?”

“Ten. Ya ain't gonna like this, but ya asked. I stole a lot. Had ta eat an' times were tough on everyone. Nobody had anything extra for a brat, ‘specially a mestizo, an’ when I was big enough, I’d clean out a stable or some other job nobody else wanted ta do. Sometimes I got paid for it, sometimes not.

"Got cheated a lot an’ that’s where a lotta the stealin’ came in. Took what I thought I earned.” He leaned his head back against the adobe wall, again watching as the stars shimmered in the velvet dark blue sky. Then Johnny started to laugh, surprising Murdoch how he could find humor in any of this tragedy but Johnny was laughing.

“Got caught a coupla times, too!”

However troubling the thoughts were it was good to see him laugh and it made Murdoch smile. He couldn’t help but ask. “What happened, son?”

Johnny rolled his head over the adobe in Murdoch’s direction and looked him straight in the eyes,still grinning. He wasn't sure if his grin stemmed from the story or hearing Murdoch call him 'son'.

“Got the hell beat outta me!" Johnny laughed again.

Now, Murdoch stopped smiling; he was appalled. A small boy was stealing to stay alive and was beaten on more than one occasion.

“Oh, come on, Murdoch, it was a long time ago an’ nuthin’s gonna change it. It happened an’ it’s over. Besides, I learned from it, learned how ta not get caught!” And when Johnny laughed again, this time, Murdoch did, too, the sound soothing to Murdoch’s ears.

Johnny’s grin faded a bit. “Look, Murdoch, I been talkin’ with Maria an’ Sam a little, an’ I heard your side an’ it makes a lot more sense than what Mama told me. Hell, ya can tell a kid anything an’ if his mother says it, the kid’s gonna believe it, truth or not. But I never got ta hear your side an’ now I did.”

Murdoch's heart began to hope. “Does that mean you’ll stay, stay here at Lancer with Scott and me?”

Johnny could read this man; in the short time they had all been in this house he was able to put together, piece by piece, the kind of man his father was. What he'd learned from Maria and Sam had only confirmed his own conclusion. But in truth, Johnny was troubled about being part of this family. He never had a family before and did not know what to expect or how to participate. And the thought scared him. Would he fit in?

“Dunno, Murdoch. In truth, I ain’t never had ta be up at dawn before an’ never done anything that required this much... discipline. Workin’ range wars are what I been used ta. Thinkin’ on it, it’s kinda like walkin’ on a razor's edge.”

Murdoch found himself smiling a bit, that was the exact term he’d used in describing this situation; a razor's edge.

“Give it some thought, Johnny. Serious thought. I don't want you to cheat yourself out of what is rightfully yours. One-third of one hundred thousand acres is a big decision. And I can tell you right now that being part of a family is something special and wonderful. Please think about it because we all want you to stay. You belong here, with us.” Murdoch looked at his son, the son he thought forever missing; the son that had been born on this very ranch and taken, stolen in the night, but, now returned, and Murdoch wasn’t about to let him go now without a fight.

“Come on, Johnny. I think you need to get back to bed. You’re starting to shiver and don’t say ‘you’re fine’. I know better!” Murdoch helped his son to his feet, lending a hand, a shoulder to lean on for the support that Johnny was too stubborn to admit that he needed. Together they went into the house, the house that was whole again.

<><><><> 

Two weeks later, Murdoch, Scott, Johnny, and Teresa stood in the office of Mr. Randolph, Green River’s attorney. Good to his word, with Pardee’s death, both Scott and Johnny were now going to be one-third owners of the Lancer ranch; however Murdoch did reserve the right to ‘call the tune'. The papers were ready to sign and handing the pen to Scott, Mr. Randolph stood back.

“Sign there,” he said and pointed to a line on the draft. Scott committed his signature to the document, and Mr. Randolph initialed, before handing the pen to Murdoch. Again pointing out the line as he spoke.

“Just above your name…” Murdoch tucked his cane under his arm and also put his signature to the document.

Johnny stood leaning against the cabinets containing files, chewing on the stampede string of the hat that had been slung down his back. Teresa watched the proceedings and was proud of her family. Then Mr. Randolph turned to Johnny.

“And you, sir.”

Johnny pushed off the wooden cabinets but was stopped in mid-stride when Murdoch spoke up. Uncertainty suddenly filled Johnny’s eyes.

“Mr. Randolph, that last name should read ‘John Madrid' not Lancer," Murdoch said as he looked at Johnny wondering, hoping for the reaction that he desperately wanted to see.

“One minute…” Randolph said as he started to correct the writing.

Murdoch held Johnny’s eyes. Was there a plea that Johnny saw on Murdoch’s face? What was he asking of Johnny?

Johnny watched as Randolph attempted the correction. Then he spoke.

“No… Let it stand," Johnny said softly and signed his given name. Murdoch smiled, his heart near to bursting with emotion. Finally his sons were home, and Lancer was complete.

 

 

~ end ~

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