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Heather

 

 

Festivities ... and Reflections

All credit must go first to Sam Peeples, whose wonderful imagination brought us all Lancer. It is because of this, that I am now able to enjoy writing his characters, and so for that I must give him his due.
I must also give credit to Kit Prate. I am honored at being allowed to include her ideas in my writing, with reference to Johnny's Uncle Cip (who we never saw after the pilot mores the pity) his Aunt Elena, and his extended family at Lancer, and of course Val, and his probation. Thank you, Kit.
I make no profit and simply do this for the fun, and joy of writing. I hope you all enjoy this little ditty.
Thanks Kit for helping me realize, I don't always have to use these… !!!! LOLOL!! Ooops…my bad…snicker. 

Johnny is 19 and Scott is 25.

Scott and Johnny were looking forward to the day off. Normally they worked part of Saturday, but today was special, there was going to be a dance in the courtyard and barbeque at Lancer.

Maria and Teresa had been clucking in the kitchen for several days and Consuela, Maria's niece had even been roped in to join in the affray. But it was Teresa who was especially panicked. It appeared she always was, when it came to entertaining the locals, something Johnny found particularly amusing.

She had spent the best part of last week, swatting Johnny with one of Maria's many wooden spoons, when she had caught him, more than once, dipping his finger into the many sweet sauces, prepared for Saturday night's great feast. The chocolate fudge sauce seemed to be a particular favorite, and she had taken to hiding it, in the hope there would be some left for the expected guests!

However, Johnny was nothing if not persistent and it seemed he could sniff out a chocolate fudge sauce from as far afield as Morro Coyo! Either way, after chores, he was never too far from the kitchen and both Maria and Teresa's patience were wearing thin!

Teresa, as usual wanted the evening to be perfect and everything to go without a hitch. Which meant, she was at her absolute bossiest and in Johnny's opinion, ripe for some teasing!

He had watched her for days, amused at her antics and had teased her mercilessly, getting a roasting from both Murdoch and Maria but he'd been having far too much fun, at her expense, to listen to either of them. In fact much to the family's ire, annoying Teresa had become his prime source of entertainment, especially in light of the fact he had been confined to the ranch, for some time now.

Johnny was leaning against the sideboard, his hat hanging at his back by its drawstring.  As usual he was chewing it when she wheeled out yet another one of her many masterpieces. He was also grinning from ear to ear, as she proudly showed it off. Johnny had to admit, if only to himself, that it was a magnificent creation. Perfectly balanced and dripping in places it seemed, in toffee sauce and, he mused, just ripe for the plucking!

"Now then Johnny Lancer, what do you think of that?” She announced standing beside her creation, proud of her achievement. She had seen it in the cook book Murdoch had bought for her, only last Christmas and had decided to recreate it for the evening's festivities. 

It was in essence, a fruit display, in the shape of a pyramid. It had an array of tiny edible flowers, made entirely by hand, and wrapped intricately around every layer of fruit, decorated all the way to the top. The entire thing was liberally covered in toffee sauce; which had hardened, into a thin covering. Something that only served to make the display look even tastier and prettier.

Already in a mood at being forced to attend the celebrations, Johnny, arms wrapped around his upper torso, was still leaning against the sideboard, as he studied the pyramid. “Erm,” he said clearing his throat and canting his head to one side, as if he were trying to look at the thing upside down, “kinda pretty, in a funny kinda way.” Hell what do I know about fuckin food displays anyway ?  And what is she makin' fruit look like a pyramids for in California?!!

Scott had once shown him pictures of them in a place called Egypt, but California? What the fuck is that all about?!! And what the Hell have they to do with a barn dance in honor of the ‘ol man's re-election as Chairman of the Cattleman's Association?

“Oh poo, what do you know, Johnny Lancer! You have absolutely no culture or taste.” She snorted. “I sure do pity the girl that marries you!”  She announced, making a face at him and then sticking out her tongue, as she flounced back into the kitchen.

“YOU ASKED ME!” he shouted after her, only to be flashed a sudden ‘look' by his old man, who had appeared from nowhere, and told not to yell in the house!  ‘ Jeez!

Once his father had gone back into his study, Johnny looked around covertly to make sure he was still alone and then, wickedly helped himself to a toffee laden grape, or two, off of the display.

Purposely, and on hindsight, perhaps spitefully, well she had it comin' , he plucked them from the bottom of the pyramid! They were good, so he risked taking some more, and then, even more. Until the thing started to tip.

‘Shit!'

He tried to straighten it, by eating some fruit from the other side, snickering wickedly, when his efforts only made it worse. Then, giggling, he turned tail and ran, his mouth full of juicy, sweet, toffee covered grapes! Giddy with the excitement he always felt when his back was to a wall, he almost ran into his brother, Scott.

“Hey Johnny! What's your hurry?” Scott asked, laughing and holding onto his little brother.

‘Shit!' “ Eh, not in a hurry, brother.”

Just then Teresa strolled out of the kitchen with Maria, and yet another masterpiece. She stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh Maria, look its tipping! Oh no….!!” she shrieked

Upon seeing Johnny swallow something, Scott was immediately suspicious.  “Johnny, what have you done?” 

He was in no doubt Johnny was the reason Teresa's pyramid was now leaning, like the leaning tower of pizza, and now close to toppling!

Teresa overheard her older brother and immediately zeroed in on Johnny and bellowed, “You!!! You!!!....Murdoch! Murdoch!” Johnny closed his eyes as if that one act would make him disappear.

Teresa was now sobbing. 

Murdoch had been sitting at his desk, trying to concentrate on his books; his shoulders tensing, as he heard Teresa yell. He rubbed his face and groaned. ‘What's that boy gone and done now'? It was then, the door to his study was flung open and in rushed his ward. He had hardly got to his feet when she fell into his arms! “What is it, darling? What has Johnny done this time?” he patted her back, knowing without a shadow of doubt, it was Johnny who had upset her… ‘Who else?'

‘Time to really disappear.' Johnny thought, turning on his heel.      

 Quick as a flash, Scott reached out and cupped his upper arm. “Where are you running off to in such a hurry, little brother?” Scott asked, holding on.

“Lemme go, Scott,” he was looking over his shoulder now, slightly panicked. He could almost feel the eyes of his family on him.  “Lemme go! God-dammit!”

It was all the time Teresa, Murdoch and Maria needed to move into the hallway to catch up with him. Immediately, the girl laid into him.  “Johnny, you pig! You've ruined my creation! You're so mean,” She yelled. “Murdoch, tell him.” She demanded, all but stamping her foot.

Murdoch sighed, “Did you,” he dipped his head to one side as he studied the pyramid, “.. do that?” he pointed to the tipping display, cringing as it slipped some more.

“No.” he lied, quickly licking toffee from his upper lip.

Murdoch sighed, “Johnny, don't lie. That was mean.” He scolded.

Johnny sighed, “Well, it wasn't deliberate. How was I to know takin' some fruit would do that to it?” he pleaded.

Scott quirked an eyebrow, “From the bottom, little brother? You're not stupid!”

“Fuck off, Boston!” he rasped, quietly.

Scott merely smiled, and slapped him on the back of his head.

Maria was trying to salvage it, all the while trying to reassure the girl, that not all was lost.

Murdoch simply looked primed for bear. He was also trying his hardest to think of the shittiest job he could demand his younger son to…….. Then grinning, it came to him, in a flash…shitty…Yes, that's it!

Summoning his most commanding voice, he addressed his son. “John, Jelly tells me the outhouse is near full. I think you should undertake the job of emptying it and digging out a new pit for a new outhouse.” He declared; a hint of a slight smirk appearing at the corners of his mouth.

Johnny glared hard at his father, “Eh Murdoch, you gotta be kiddin', right?”

Murdoch wrapped his arms around his upper torso, mirroring his son's earlier move, but doing the move for an entirely different reasons. Hell Murdoch was already tall, but when he crossed his arms, his back went ram rod straight and he seemed to gain another inch or two. Consequently, he now towered over his younger son, like the statue of fucking liberty!

“Nope, I'm deadly serious, my boy. You'll begin the job tomorrow, after church.”

“But it's gonna be late ‘fore we all get to bed tonight, Murdoch, what with the festivities an' all'. There's gonna be dancin' and drinkin'! Hell, I ain't gonna be feelin' like church first thing in the mornin', never mind workin' in the afternoon!!” he frowned, thinking of the major headache he was probably going to be sporting.

Inspired by one of Murdoch's own rules he ploughed on. “And it's Sunday. Thought you told me, it was Gods day. A day of rest. That we shouldn't work and we especially shouldn't play on a Sunday'?” he said, pleased as punch with himself, for remembering that particular rule!

Murdoch smiled,  “Yes, you are right, my son. I did say that, but if you'll remember the good book also tells us, ‘Earthly sons, obey their fathers' and I quote. Do you really want to incur my wrath, by disobeying our heavenly father?”

Johnny frowned and desperately tried to think of something to say, “But, but…”

“No buts, son. You'd better not get to worse for wear tonight, because you're going to have a very long, tiring day ahead of you tomorrow. In fact come eleven o'clock, I think I'll just make sure you're safely tucked up in bed, my boy.”

“Aww Murdoch, c'mon!! If I got to attend these, these, fest..ivi..ties, least you could do, is let me enjoy myself. An' if I got to do all this work, do I still gotta see Val and the Reverend McIntyre after church? It'll mean we won't get back till much later, probably well after lunch?” he hinted, deeply concerned that his Sunday was going to be filled with all his least favorite things to do. His brow furrowed,  “Then there's Aggie! You know how she normally invites us all back to her place for Lunch.” That was one of the brighter aspects to Johnny's Sunday. The woman was good company and her food great. He was desperate to sway his father concerning his plans for him to work. What concerned him though was he couldn't quite believe, he was actually arguing in favor of going to church, as an excuse for having little time to do what his father was actually suggesting!  ‘That's a turn up for the book.'

Murdoch was thinking the same thing as he rubbed his chin. “Well now, you know, you make a very good point, Johnny.”

Johnny grinned.

He turned to Scott, “Doesn't he, Scott?”

Scott nodded, hiding the smirk with his gloved hand. “Yes sir, he does.”

“Well it's settled then, you will attend church, as usual; you will speak to the Reverend and tell him how you've behaved towards your sister and then, if were invited to Aggie's we will attend, whilst you make your apologies explaining to her why you have to ride back to the ranch, to get stuck into the outhouse.” He laughed at his choice of words… “Not literally, you understand!” He chortled.

Johnny huffed, “Well now, that's just great. The only one thing I do enjoy on a Sunday! I don't get to do!! Ain't that a bit rude? I mean to Aggie?” he tried.

“No, not at all. You simply excuse yourself and apologize, telling her you have necessary work to do and why. She's a rancher, she'll understand,” Murdoch sniffled.

“Well ain't this just great!”  He held up a single digit.

“First I gotta sit in a church, all gussied up, bored outta' my fu…he reconsidered, “…mind.” He amended, quickly holding up another digit before Murdoch pulled him up on his bad language. “Then, I get to hear the right Reverend, not to mention Val,” he paused, “lecture me about my manners and how it ain't Christian to be mean to my little sister and how I'd better stop, or else!” 

Another finger rose into the air. “Then, I get to apologize to Aggie for refusing her offer of a good meal and good company.”

Murdoch found himself stifling a smile, secretly pleased that his younger son saw Aggie in such a way.

Another digit rose into the air; he was fast running out of digits! “Then, I get to haul ass back to Lancer, so's I can spend the rest of my fu, eh damned day, diggin' out a new cesspit for you, to all to shit into!” he rolled his eyes.

“Well that's about sum total of it, son.”  Murdoch sniffed, suppressing the laughter.

“Great, just fu….” He took another peep at his father and his single look of disapproval, told him to mind his language. “Great!” He all but yelled. “Why not? Sunday's got to be the shittiest day of the week anyways! It figures!”

Murdoch reached out an angry hand and smacked him on the ear and, as his hands were occupied rubbing his now hot ear, for good measure he swatted his son's leather clad rear end as well! Just once, but the forcefully enough to send him flying; arms akimbo as he tried to gain purchase!

“Sometimes father,” Scott smirked watching Johnny skid, “… you simply do not know your own strength!” He mused, as he watched Johnny desperately try to gain purchase, on his stocking clad feet; the floor slippery, from the years of polishing, by the ladies of the household!

Now, unfortunately for Johnny, the newest display, recently trolleyed into the hallway; a three tiered chocolate cake, was in his way, and he careered into it and sent it flying. He did try, valiantly it had to be said, to save the top most layers, but failed miserably.

Teresa's right hand went to her mouth; her other covering her eyes, “OH NO!! Please God…NO!”

Johnny was on the floor now, nursing a sore backside, from landing hard on the wooden surface. He glanced up, just in time to see the cake, fall on top of him and smash into a million pieces! Covered from head to toe in chocolate cake, he grinned like a jackass, and began to lick his fingers, amongst other things!

It was unsalvageable.

Grabbing the biggest piece, now strewn on the floor, Johnny shoved it into his now chocolate covered mouth and was chewing merrily, when he remembered his manners!  “Thanks.” He said, with a wicked grin. 

Murdoch was far too busy trying to console his adopted daughter to worry about his son, who was obviously having the time of his young life. However he did growl, “I'll deal with you, later.”

“Yeah, I'll be here.” Johnny answered, insolently “I ain't goin' nowhere.”

It was then, out of the corner of his eye, that he saw Maria and swallowing he thought again.  “Hey… mamacita,” he grinned, a tad nervously.

She was mumbling choice words in Spanish and he decided, in spite of the fact he could've eaten a whole lot more, that it might just be a good idea to get up and get the hell out of her reach! She had already managed to get in a pretty solid lick to his upper thigh, with her wooden spoon, and it had stung like holy Hell. He didn't want to chance it landing elsewhere so he scrambled to his feet; his feet slipping and sliding on the cake covered floor as he tried to gain purchase. “I'll …eh…just be goin' then.”

With that one statement, he got onto his feet. For a brief moment he looked like a fawn caught on ice, his legs splayed to gain his balance and then, he was but a blur, as he spun around and ran like Hell! All that was left, was the mess on the floor and a single chocolate hand print on the drape now floating in the wind, at the now open French doors.  

Still sticky, Johnny had actually taken a quick dive into the nearest watering trough. The thought of getting wet, not bothering him in the least. On account of the unusually warm weather they had all been experiencing.  In fact, he had actually enjoyed the cooling feel of the water on his body. 

Already, as he marched double time in the direction of the barn, he could feel the intense heat of the sun, drying the clothes on his back. Despite the fact he was bootless, he was still determined to get away, even if it was only for a couple of days. 

‘Till things cooled down and the festivities are over anyway.' He thought grinning to himself. He knew there would be Hell to pay when he returned, but figured a sob story told the right way, would sway his old man into feeling sorry for him, given his fear of crowds, which made him feel vulnerable.

Using guilt was a tactic Johnny had learned to use a long time ago and he used it well. He figured it might just save his ass when he returned. After all he wasn't lying, crowds did make him feel vulnerable they always had. He briefly wondered if his father would ever understand. ‘ Yeah,' he thought, recovering from his dark thought. ‘Play on the man's guilt; always works a treat when I bring up my past. Like it was all his fault he didn't manage to find me sooner.' Johnny had learned from an early age to use every tool at his disposal and words were a particular weapon, he used to good effect.

Recently he and his father had got comfortable enough with each other to talk.  Not that it had been easy for either men, young or old, to open up about the very painful past that they both shared but they were learning fast that when they did, it was beneficial for both parties. Laying, past anger, betrayal and pain, to rest. It had also made his almost nightly nightmares, all but go away. Not that he had conveyed that to his old man as yet, but Scott had noticed and unknown to Johnny, had shared that piece of information with their father.

Scott had been the one to go to him, when he was caught in the grips of some nightly terror; his room closer than Murdoch's. Not to mention he slept with his door slightly open. Johnny figured, just in case little brother needed him. It might be new to Scott, this big brother thing, but he didn't half take the responsibility seriously. Scott was every bit the older brother, Johnny had always dreamed of. A protector from the hurt the world often threw at him. So much so, Johnny had come to rely on him, even though he would never admit it if asked. It bonded them in ways that neither could explain, they just knew it existed. They had come a long way, since that first day when they had realized they had been travelling together for ten miles in a stagecoach and that they were in fact brothers.

Johnny had witnessed the pain in his father's face and eyes, as he had told him, one harrowing story after another, and despite his pain, he had to admit if only to himself he had found it strangely comforting. To see that kind of concern; that kind of love for him in his father's eyes, had been enough to tell him his mother had lied. To know his father worried about him; cared about him; hurt for him, had all been strangely comforting and reassuring. It had created a bond so strong, he knew nothing would break it. There was no turning back.

The fact that Johnny had led a painful life, whilst growing up, was something no one could deny. Johnny had learned to use his gun in order to survive but he had also learned to use words, and he was good at both. Now despite what he knew about his old man, he still fell into the old familiar arrogance and insolence that had served him to well when he used to be a gunfighter. He figured it was because he still harbored some anger and if it saved him from his father's wrath, then so be it. To Johnny it was simply another tool to bring out whenever he needed it. Was he proud of it? No, if he was honest, he wasn't, but he saw it, as a necessity when he got into trouble with his old man.

Johnny had learned, recently in fact, that a simple word tossed in to the affray, when Murdoch was angry, could often leave the man gasping. It deflected his anger nicely enough, that Johnny could then escape his intended punishment and Johnny was nothing, if he wasn't resourceful and the ultimate survivor. Like any child when dealing with an angry parent, he would do anything to escape an ass roasting.

Another useful tool, was when he'd let his eyes fill as Murdoch admonished him. Often this one simple act, would make the man stop all the yelling and move in to simply hold him. Something Johnny had grown to like, but if he was asked, would never admit to enjoying.  

“Are you alright, son?” His father would then ask, and a simple, quiet, guilt ridden apology, telling him something was bothering him, would make Murdoch all fatherly and forgiving and then all would be well again. He'd figured, rightly, that Murdoch was genuinely interested in helping him deal with his all too, often dangerous and painful past and he wasn't averse to using every tool at his disposal.

However, he had noticed, the longer he lived at Lancer, the harder it was getting, to con those around him, especially his old man and his older brother, Scott.  He closed his eyes and swallowed the bitter pill of guilt and ignored his conscience. Telling himself, it was better than the alternative. After all, Murdoch had more than made it clear, he would if necessary use his belt, to make his point and Johnny like any young man, about to be taken to task, used every available tactic, to avoid that kind of consequence!

He was going to miss the celebration. He shrugged, ‘kind of what I wanted anyway,' he thought smirking to himself.  His father would be angry since he had lectured, it was necessary for him to attend parties and festivals, so that their neighbors, got to know the ‘real' him.

‘Whatever the fuck that meant!'

After all, he had argued, they needed to see that he had indeed turned his back on his past life. Johnny was his son, and Murdoch felt it was necessary for him to socialize with their friends and neighbors in the valley.  They needed to know he was no threat to their existence and that he was not just some persona that seemed to follow him, wherever he went! “Besides,” he had gone onto say, “it gives you a chance to meet other young people in the valley. You met the twins at a social didn't you?”

Well he hadn't been able to argue with that logic, because he had, and they had turned out to be good friends.

All this said and done, Johnny was still uncomfortable around relative strangers; choosing only a select few to let into his circle of trust. He would commonly hide in the barn, or up in his room, when the good folks of the valley would appear and Scott would have to be sent to root him out, and fetch him back.   

He made quick work of saddling Barranca and grabbed up his bedroll, intent on leaving the ranch, just long enough for all the festivities to be over with, and for life to return back to normal. It was summer, and so very warm. So he figured he could live without his boots for a couple of days. ‘Hell it wouldn't be the first time. ' He thought as he worked.

 “Going somewhere, Johnny?”

 Johnny closed his eyes, he knew the voice, and so without turning said, “Ain't none of yer business, Boston.”

 Scott smiled, but only with his mouth, “No…? Well now, I seem to remember telling you, many a times in fact, that what you do; where you go, is my business, little brother.”

 “Yeah?” Johnny smirked, “… and I seem to remember telling you, to go fuck yourself, Boston.” He sneered.

 Scott was having none of it and unknown to Johnny, and knowing the boy would be set on fleeing, he had roped in the help of his Uncle Cipriano.

 “Jaunito, que no es manera de hablar con su hermano mayor!” (Johnny that's no way to talk to your older brother).

 His back to the man his shoulders tensed.

 “A medida que su hermano major le merece su respeto.” (As your older brother he is deserving of your respect. “El esté a cargo cuando su padre no esté alrededor. Ya es hora de que aprendas a ests niño.” (He is in charge, when your father is not around. It is High time you learned this, child) He smiled as Scott nodded, apparently understanding every word uttered. Cipriano had long since suspected Scott knew more Spanish than he let on.

Johnny spun around, his face now flushed red, with anger, shock and then, resignation and embarrassment. Taking on his brother was one thing, but Cip?

His usual bravado kicked in however making him feel invisible as it usually did. Hell he could pack a wallop, and Scott knew it. That said he also knew Scott could pack one too. He frowned at that, and glanced at his Tio. Cipriano, his mother's older brother, (a man he had known nothing about, until his return to Lancer) was an entirely different matter. The man was built like a fucking bear and almost as big as his old man! Not to mention, he was as strict if not more strict, than even Murdoch!

Shit!

When he saw how close Cip was to him, he panicked and backed up a pace, cursing inwardly. ‘Christ I'm gettin' soft. I didn't even hear him come up behind me!'

Cipriano believed that young men, should, at all times, be respectful to their elders and obey them. Something Johnny had yet to learn, but he was about to teach him, Mexican style!

                                                       ******** 

It was a very subdued Johnny that attended the festivities later that very evening, and a very apologetic Johnny, who more than made up for his bad behavior earlier, by willingly helping Teresa and Maria in the kitchen.  

Maria was indeed impressed at how Cipriano had handled Johnny, but she had seen for herself the affect the old vaquero had on his own sons and had figured it was only a matter of time, before he set Johnny straight on a few things too. After all, the boy needed to know there were others on the ranch, who also cared, enough to teach him the ways of family.

And that's what they all were now to one another, family.

It pleased her no end, to know Murdoch had the kind of support he needed to raise Johnny correctly.  She truly believed, Jaunito needed to know, that he had more than just his father, watching out for him.  

                                                ~*~*~*~*~

Scott and Teresa had retired to their rooms, tired from the day's events, with a goodnight wave that Murdoch and Johnny had returned, leaving Johnny and Murdoch alone in the great room. It was late, but bathed in the warmth of the room, neither men young or old were in a hurry to leave it. After what seemed like an age, listening to his father puff on his pipe, Johnny took in a deep breath.

“Papi?”

Murdoch smiled contendedly, “Yes, my son.”

“You hear what happened with me and Cip earlier on today?”

Again Murdoch smiled. “Yes, I did, as it happens.”

“And, you're alright, that he took it upon himself to…well act like my daddy?” he frowned, “Ain't that your job, Murdoch?”

Murdoch found himself all but laughing. The boy was actually arguing for him to do the punishing!  “Yes, I am John.  Cipriano's your Uncle. He's family. As is Maria. Elena and your cousins. I don't have eyes at the back of my head and I don't always have the time to chase after you when you're intent on disobeying or misbehaving…”

He laughed. “I was, and am, very grateful to him for corralling you this afternoon.”

Johnny snorted. “Hell, he did a whole lot more than ‘corral' me, Murdoch!” he snorted ruefully rubbing his backside without thinking.  

Murdoch laughed out loud this time. “I know exactly what he did, John, and I approve whole heartedly.”

Johnny narrowed his eyes, Madrid seeming to appear as naturally as the sun rising in the morning. “You do, huh?”

“Yes son, I do.”

“How about when Scott does the teachin', Murdoch? You approve of that too?”

Again the older man smiled. “Yes Johnny, I actually do. After all, he's not only you're older brother but he is, if you remember, your appointed legal guardian, when I'm not around.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “Been meanin' ta talk to you about that too, old ma….er Murdoch.”

Murdoch ignored his, ‘old man' reference, for once. “Is that so?”

“Murdoch, how come you chose him, I mean over, Cip?”

Murdoch had to think about that for a moment. “At the time, Johnny you were closest to your brother and since he is six years your senior, I thought it appropriate. I also thought it was something you would accept more readily, since you seemed to be close. You and Scott seemed to bond very quickly, something that pleased me no end and continues to please me, by the way.”

Johnny smiled, dipping his head shyly.

“…So Jonathan and I agreed, Scott was the best choice to act as your legal guardian, should anything happen to me, before you reach your majority. At the time this, was all relatively new to you and you hardly knew your Uncle. We discussed it, and felt it would be easier for you to accept, if it were Scott we asked to fulfil the role as your legal guardian.”

Johnny nodded, that he could accept. “Don't much like thinkin' ‘bout stuff like this, Papi.” said Johnny shuffling his feet. “Hell, I only just started to get to know ya!”

Murdoch smiled. ‘Papi, then Murdoch.' Sometimes it confused him, how Johnny would swing from one to the other, in one conversation. “I don't plan on going anywhere, Johnny.” He rubbed his son's dark head affectionately.

Johnny nodded,  “Murdoch, I need to ask ya somethin' else?”

“Go ahead, son.”

“Do you sometimes regret me comin' home? I mean, I know you don't regret askin' Scott, but me, well sometimes I think it might've been better if I'd just stayed away, ya know? I mean, I know I ain't the most amiable type…to have walked on God's green grass. I was a gunfighter; a kil…”  

Murdoch looked his son in the eyes and without hesitation said, “Don't even go there. You were no killer Johnny. I know that much. You did what you had to, to survive. So don't you ever say that about yourself you hear me?”

Johnny swallowed, “Sure Murdoch, but…”

“No Johnny, no buts.” Murdoch all but roared, leaning forward. “I don't want to ever hear you say that son. The one thing I hold onto is your kindness, your good heart and you have a good heart, boy. Hell everyone in this valley was scared to death at the thought of Madrid moving in, but your compassion and desire to help others has won them over. They no longer simply see Madrid. No, what they now see is John Lancer, my younger son and a mischievous boy with a whole lot of growing still to do. You must notice how they treat you?”

Johnny nodded. No way did they recoil in fear as others had done in his previous life as Madrid. Hell folks like the widow would typically smack him whenever he passed, now. That would never have happened before. He hadn't thought of it that way. “I guess.” He shrugged. 

“Your integrity remained intact through it all my boy and you ought to be very proud of that. I know I am, do you hear me?”

“Yeah…” he glanced at his old man, who shot him a sterner glare as if to emphasize the point.

He sat up straighter, “I mean, yes sir.”

Murdoch smiled and relaxed a tad, “To answer your other question. I don't regret one day spent with you, not one. Of course that's not to say, I couldn't do without your mischief boy or you're insolence.” He scowled as if contemplating something, “…but that said, in some ways it brings me comfort.”

“Huh?”

“Yes comfort, because I'm getting the chance to be the father I had always dreamed of being; I can still give you guidance. Guidance you absolutely need, Johnny.” He intoned. “It isn't too late. Your still very young, son. In many ways you're very mature for your age, positively old in fact.  For instance your survival skills are second to none and I know you can look after yourself, but there's still a lot of the boy in you. And the more you relax into your role, as my son, the more boy I am seeing.” He smiled.

“Yeah, I noticed that to. It's kind of weird. Sometimes it seems I'm growin' younger, stead of growin' up.” He shook his head.

Murdoch smiled affectionately, “Nope, it's just that finally you feel safe enough to play. To let that long since suppressed boy out. You feel safe and that's a great thing for me to see son. God in his wisdom has given me some time; time to be your father; time for you to grow into the man you were meant to be. My prayers have been answered. Of course I wish he had answered them sooner.” He looked suddenly sad and so did Johnny.

“Me too, Pa.”

Murdoch's heart swelled at the use of the word ‘Pa'.

“Johnny, listen to me, there is nothing.. NOTHING… more precious to me than you and Scott. You and Scott belong here, you always have. I created all of this for you two and of course for the extending family. For all of us to enjoy for many years to come.” He shook his head, “No son, I don't regret a single day. In fact I get down on my knees every single night and thank God for giving me back my boys.” The affection in his old man's eyes, as he spoke, almost broke the boy, as he dipped his head to swallow the lump at his throat. 

“Thanks Pa.” he whispered.

“For what?”

“For givin' me my life back. For givin' me a brother, a family.” He whispered.

“You're very welcome son. Now can I thank you?”

“For what?”

“For being, who you turned out to be. I am so proud of you, Johnny. Oh you're a little devil, at times, I know,” he chuckled thinking of all the mischief his younger son had got into since coming home, “but I wouldn't have you any other way. I couldn't be more proud to call you son, if I tried.”

Johnny, who was sitting cross legged, on the floor, his back against his father's legs snuggled in. Never, had he ever felt he belonged anywhere as much as he belonged at Lancer, with his father and his brother, and now, his extended family.

‘Life was good.' He knew, without a shadow of doubt, that he was home and this revelation, was now precious to him. Like his father before him, Johnny vowed, he would fight tooth and nail to hold onto what he had.

                                                     ~*~*~*~*~

The crash when they heard it, had both boy and man running for the hallway. What they saw, had them stopping momentarily in their tracks, both of them wide eyed and open mouthed at what they were seeing.

Maria was sprawled on the floor, a tray of biscuits, and milk strewn across the floor! Broken glass, everywhere, but more importantly, perhaps a broken Maria!

“Maria?”  Both Scott, (who had appeared it seemed from out of nowhere), Murdoch and Johnny yelled in unison, as they rushed to her side.

“Are you alright?” Murdoch asked, truly concerned for her as he went to his knees despite the glass. Johnny was in the same position on the other side, and Scott, clad only in his nightshirt and long John's, was rubbing circles at her back. All three men's arms around her.

“I'm fine. I just tripped, is all.” She huffed, exasperated more than hurt. “Oh look at the mess!” She exclaimed, shuffling to her feet, assisted by Scott, Murdoch and Johnny.

“Never mind that…Are you sure you're not hurt, Maria?” Murdoch asked again.

“No,” she giggled pointing to her rear, “I have some padding,” she laughed, making Murdoch and both boys chortle too.

“It's late Maria why on earth aren't you in bed?”

“I thought you and Johnny would like some cookies and warm milk.”

Murdoch shook his head putting a protective arm around a woman he had come to love in a very special way.

Johnny was still holding onto her, when he noticed his discarded boots; the same boots, she had just tripped over!

Guilty now, he briefly glanced up at his brother, who hadn't as yet noticed and then at his old man, whose eyes were also now focused, on the same muddy discarded boots!

Johnny's eyes widened further, when he noticed Murdoch was now in the process of going that familiar shade of purple, he was getting to know, oh so well. The explosion he knew, was inevitable.

‘Shit!'

 “JOHN!”

Johnny didn't waste any time dawdling, not this time. The look of his father's face and his tone, was enough to have him scrambling towards the front door. Stooping to pick up his discarded boots along the way, as he ran for his life.

 

~ end ~

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