The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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MaryB

 

 

Faded Photograph

Johnny sauntered into the hacienda, whistling softly to himself. It had been a good day.  Things out on the fence line had gone smoothly for a change and the job was finished ahead of schedule. So now unless someone came up with  some other little chore for him to do, he was looking at a bit of free time until dinner.

When he saw his father sitting behind his large wooden desk in the great room, he almost didn’t go in.  Then he noticed the wistful expression on his face and the objects in his hands

“Hey Murdoch.”

“John.”

Johnny  came into the room and closer to the desk, trying to see what held his father’s attention so fully. “Whatcha got there?”

Murdoch paused a moment. “Pictures. I don’t get them out as often as I should.” Another pause. “Maybe with you boys home, now, I should set them out.” He held them out to his son. “Here.”

Johnny’s hand hesitated as he realized what the pictures must be. “The two Mrs. Lancers, eh?”  He looked at the woman’s likeness in his left hand and gave a genuine smile. “Well, you were right. Scott sure does have his mama’s eyes…and her smile.” When his eyes turned to the picture in his right hand, his smile froze. His stomach clenched and he stopped breathing.

Without looking at Murdoch, he set the pictures down carefully and backed away.

“Johnny?”.

Johnny  heard the surprise and puzzlement in his father’s voice, but he didn’t answer. He mutely waved a hand  back  toward the desk. He didn’t want to talk.  He couldn’t.

And he didn’t for several more days.

* * * * *

The family sat near the fireplace after dinner as usual. Also, as usual, at least lately, Johnny did not join them. He had, in fact, been avoiding almost  all family time for a couple of days.

Scott looked up when he heard the jingle of spurs  heading their way. Hopefully, Johnny had worked out whatever had been bothering him lately. But when his brother finally came into view, Scott raised his brows in surprise. Johnny looked…distraught. He couldn’t tell if that was fear or pain, or both , clouding his face.

Murdoch looked up at him, registering surprise as well. “John?”

Johnny stood behind a chair, absently running a finger over the top of it. “You, ah…” he began, then stopped and swallowed. “You still have those Pinkerton reports?”

Murdoch and Scott both blinked at the request.

“Yes,” Murdoch answered slowly. “Why?”

“Can I see them?”

Underneath the pain, or whatever it was on Johnny’s face, Scott recognized the determined set of his jaw. He knew  there would be no argument or explanation coming. Murdoch evidently figured the same thing. He  got up from the couch and went over to the desk. Unlocking the bottom drawer, he opened it and pulled out a folder. Johnny followed him over, and even though he had requested it, paused, as f reluctant to take it from Murdoch’s hand.

Taking a breath, he opened it and began flipping through the pages silently. A time or two he  winced at what he read, but kept on. Then he frowned. “Nothing earlier? When I was younger?”

Murdoch shook his head. “They seemed to catch up to you when you were about eight, then lost you for a few more years. The earlier reports were all negative. Regrets and so on. I didn’t keep them.”

Johnny sighed and closed the folder. Leaning  on the desk with his head down, he looked as if he might be ill. Scott came over and put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder in concern.

His brother jerked away as if burned.

“Johnny, please,” their father pleaded. “What is it?”

Slowly, Johnny straightened up, but still would not look anyone in the eye. He pulled an old photo out of his pocket. He looked at it for a moment, then handed it over.

Scott leaned closer to see as well. It was a young Mexican woman. “She’s lovely! Who is she?”

Johnny  looked right at his father. “You ever see her before?”

Murdoch studied the picture again,  but he had to shake his head. “No, I’m afraid not.” He tried to hand the photo back, but Johnny wasn’t looking at him anymore.

“Her name was Maria Consuela Vega y Rodriguez.”

Scott raised a brow. “Another Maria? A common name out here.” Indeed it seemed half of the women he had met since coming to California had the name.

“Yeah, common.” Johnny paced away from them and flung his arms out wide. “You wanna know why I don’t remember bein’ here when I was little?”

Murdoch frowned at this new direction. Scott felt the same puzzlement. How did Pinkerton reports, a woman’s picture and now this all connect?

“You were only two…”

“I don’t remember,” Johnny overrode him angrily, “because I was never here.”

“What are you talking about?” Murdoch managed.

Scott’s stomach dropped as the puzzle pieces could be fit to mean…

Johnny pointed to the picture still in Murdoch’s hand. “Maria Rodriguez was my mother!”

The  color drained from Murdoch’s face. “No. Maria Dolores Santiago…”

“Was your wife. Not my mother.”

“Son, I don’t…”

With an angry swipe Johnny knocked the folder and all the papers onto the floor. “Your damn Pinkertons  got the wrong damn kid!”

Shocked silence followed his outburst. He let out a heavy sigh and wrapped his arms around himself in a postured of distress.

Teresa had been making her way over to them. She took the damning picture from Murdoch and looked at it with a frown. “But your name is Lancer. You knew your name was Lancer.”

Another sigh. “She only told me that when I was about 7 or 8. She probably just wanted a name for a bastard kid. Lancer could’ve been known enough to seem respectable but far enough away to not find out she was usin’ it. Probably told me that story about bein’ thrown out so I wouldn’t come here and…” His voice broke. He swallowed hard and forced himself to look up. “What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I signed a name on your paper that wasn’t mine to sign.”

Scott held up a hand. “Slow down, Johnny. There has to be an explanation. It has to be a mistake.”

“It’s a mistake alright. And I’m it.”

“Stop it! The Pinkerton’s are professionals…”

Johnny jabbed a finger at the picture in Teresa’s hands. “Don’t you get it Scott? Maria Santiago was not my mother! And you’re not…”

“Don’t say it! I don’t care who is in what picture. You’re my bother and I’m your brother and nothing…nothing changes that.”

“Johnny,” Teresa’s voice was gentle. “Murdoch is not my father. We’re still family.”

Murdoch came around the desk and put his hands on Johnny’s shoulders. “It doesn’t matter, Son.”

Johnny jerked away from him as he had  from Scott. “It does matter! Don’t you see? I had something I was somebody.”

Murdoch reached for him again. “My name is yours. My home and my love is yours. This is your home and family Johnny. No matter what.”

Johnny looked up at him. “And what about him?”

“Him?”

“Your wife took your son. You still have a kid out there.”

Scott looked at his father. Murdoch looked back in equal disbelief.

Johnny looked at both of them . “Right.” He pulled away from Murdoch. With only a quick glance in Scott’s direction, he hurried out and up the stairs.

Scott collapsed onto a chair. “Sir, how could this happen?”

Murdoch sank down into his desk chair as well. “I don’t know. I don’t understand.”

“He’s making a lot of assumptions based on one faded photograph.”

“He knows his own mother.”

“I know but…” Scott rubbed his face. “Ten minutes ago I had a brother.”
 
Murdoch looked up at him. “You still do. Maybe more than one.”

Teresa leaned against Murdoch for support. “I can’t imagine how he feels. It took so long for him to feel like he belonged here and now…”  she shook her head in frustration.

Before anyone could say anything more, Johnny came back down with his hat and saddlebags.

Scott jumped up out of his chair. “What are you doing?”

“I gotta find him.”

“What? Right now?”

Teresa ran over. “No! Don’t leave Johnny!”

“Teresa…”

“No! I’m afraid if you leave…Let the Pinkerton’s look again.”

“I gotta do it.” He gave her a hug. “Look, I promise I’ll be back when I find…what I’m looking for.”

Without another word, and without so much as a glance in Murdoch’s direction,  he fled the house.

Scott followed him out to the barn and watched him saddle Barranca. “Johnny.”  There was no response. “Look at me.”

“I’m goin’ Scott.”

“I can see that.” He put a hand on Johnny’s arm and turned him around. “If you find we have another brother out there, I am sure I will learn to love him, as well. But that will have nothing to do with you and me.”

Johnny looked down. “Scott…”

“I understand you’re in pain. I am too, even if it’s different than yours. Don’t dismiss what we have built because of it.”

“I know what you all are sayin’.  I just feel like my guts have been ripped out. And if I stay here, lookin’ at Murdoch and thinkin’ about what I almost had…I can’t do it.” He took Barranca’s reins and led him outside.

Scott frowned in concern as he followed. “You promised to come back.”

“I’ll bring him home.”

“It took the Pinkerton’s twenty years.”

Johnny mounted up and gave his brother sad smile. “Good thing I’m a whole lot smarter than they are.”

Scott put a hand on his brother’s leg. “Let us know where you are.”

“I’ll try. Most villages don’t have a wire office.”

“Figure it out.”

Johnny paused a moment, looking at the house. “See you later, Boston. Take care of the ol’ man.” And with that, he rode away.

Scott watched him until he disappeared. “Guts ripped out. Right.”

* * * * *

Johnny drove Barranca hard for several miles, putting as much distance between himself and Lancer as he could. Eventually, concern for his beloved horse won out over his heartache. He pulled back to a gentle canter and then a walk.  It would be dark soon. He began half-heartedly looking around for a viable campsite. He seemed to recall staying in this area once when he and Scott…

Blocking out the memory, he pushed his horse on further until darkness obscured any recognizable features. At last he pulled off of the road and made a quick camp just behind some rocks. Giving Barranca an apology and enough rope to graze for awhile, he settled down on his blanket to wait out the night.

Lying back with his hands behind his head he looked up at the stars. He remembered the stars in Mexico. He had stared at them all night when he thought he was going to be executed the next morning. But he hadn’t been. Murdoch had…dammit!! He sat up and put his face in his hands.

He had never felt sorry for himself. No matter what. His mama’s lack of concern for him, her men beatin’ the shit out of him, goin’ for days without eatin or havin’ a place to lay down safely…And even later, as Madrid. When a job went south, or a friend was shot down in front of him, or he was accused of who knows what simply because he looked a little too Mexican, or a little too Anglo. No matter what, he kept his head. This was no different. Just another of life’s little jabs at him. Tryin’ to break him. Well, it wouldn’t.

He would find Lancer’s kid, take him home and than wash his hands of the whole damn place and everyone on it. He hadn’t needed them before. He would survive without them now.

Johnny sighed and shook his head. Even out here alone, with no one to hear his thoughts, he couldn’t lie to himself. He couldn’t even say  he didn’t need them. Just that he couldn’t have them. He would survive without them. But that was all.

Until the bullet with his name on it found him.

Assuming he went back to selling his soul for a living.

He got up and collected some wood for a fire. At least it would give him something to look at until dawn.

When morning came he made some coffee, drank a little of it, then packed up and headed south. Yesterday, his overwhelming emotions had pushed him to move as quickly as he could. Today, he didn’t care if he moved at all. He and Barranca plodded along the road, stopping now and then for a drink of water, a bite of jerky or grass, the necessary needs of the body and then more plodding.

Some days he ate. Some, he didn’t care. Some evenings he emptied his gun over and over again at a makeshift target. Some he  sat and stared at the fire. Or the stars. Or the distant hills.

Once he cried.

* * * * *

Eventually he found himself on a small hill, looking down on a village he had hoped to never see again. He rode slowly through the square, past adobe houses, the cantina, the stable…the shack. Shit. Why was it still standing? Who would’ve wanted it for anything after…He shook his head, forcing the echoing screams back to the past where they belonged.

In front of him was the village church. And the adjoining cemetery.

He dismounted and walked in. It took several minutes to find the right grave. Scott was right. There were a lot of Marias. But he did find it.

Kneeling down, he pulled a couple of weeds, then sat back on his heels. “What the hell’s going on Mama? Who am I?”

As he sat, lost in his misery, an ancient priest shuffled into the graveyard , mumbling prayers to himself. He paused in surprise at seeing someone here.

“Hola, mi hijo.”  When Johnny turned his blue eyes up to him, the old man gasped in shock. “Juanito?  Juanito Rodriguez?”

He got to his feet and dusted his knees off with his hat. “Haven’t been called that for a long time.”

“Si. I heard.” The old priest sighed and shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Padre. Do I know you?”

“You did. When you were but a baby, and then again for awhile when you were about ten.” He nodded at the grave between them. “I knew Maria from when she was a baby as well.” He sighed again, crossed himself, then seemed to remember his manners. “Come, come into my garden and have a drink.”

Reluctantly, Johnny let himself be led by the old man over to a bench under some trees. He had to admit the cool shade was welcome. So was the cold cup of water he was handed.. “Gracias, Padre.” He took a long drink. “You said, you heard. What did you hear?”

“About you. About our little Juanito becoming John Madrid. It broke my heart. I always wished she had told me where to find your father. I would have taken you there myself.”

Johnny looked down. “I don’t reckon she knew.”

“Of course she did. Maria told her.” He shook his head. “She had had such a hard life as a child. Always looking for what she needed in the wrong places. I so hoped that having you would help her find her way. Give her someone outside herself to care about. I did not know until the two of you returned to our village years later that she had given you the same life she had. I am so sorry.”

Johnny’s mouth was suddenly dry, despite the water. “Maria told her? Maria who?”

* * * * *

He slipped unnoticed into the house. They were all sitting by the large fireplace the same as they had been weeks ago when it had all began. Murdoch held a ledger, Scott was engrossed in a book and Teresa was sewing. No one was talking. The fire crackled softly, sending a warm light over the scene.

Johnny stood frozen in place, drinking it in. If only…

“Johnny!” Teresa dropped her sewing.

Scott and Murdoch both came to their feet. They all stood in silence, staring.

After a second,  he walked over to them, standing once again behind a chair. “I found your son, Murdoch.”

The elder Lancer opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He closed it again and swallowed. “Where?”

“In Mexico. This tiny little village. Mama’s grave is there. I was sitting there and this old padre comes along. Recognized me from when I was a kid.” He moved into the circle of the firelight and sat on the arm of the couch. Scott and Murdoch sat back down as well and waited for him to continue.

“He told me he remembered when Maria Santiago came there twenty years ago with her little boy. There was a fever going through the whole village and she caught it and died. Her…” His voice caught. “…her friend, Maria Rodriguez took me in and raised me.” He looked at Murdoch , his eyes shining with tears. “I’m Maria Santiago’s son….and yours.”

Teresa’s hand flew to her mouth as she gasped. Scott’s head dropped in profound relief. Murdoch, however, still sat, eyes locked on Johnny’s.

“There’s more, isn’t there?”

Johnny nodded. Scott’s head came up.

“Before she died, she talked to the padre. Asked him if God would forgive her if she went home to her husband. But she got sick and…” He slid off of the arm down onto the couch. Tears spilled from his eyes. “She was coming back, Murdoch. She hadn’t wanted me to live like that. She was coming back.”

Murdoch reached over and pulled his son to him.

“And Mama, the mama I knew, she was a whore before she took me in. It wasn’t my fault.” He looked again at his father. “And it wasn’t yours.”

“Oh, Johnny…”

Scott came over and squatted down in front of them. “Little Brother, it’s what you’ve always wanted to be true.”

He blinked back the tears and took a breath. “My mother loved me.” And for the first time in a long time, he smiled.

Teresa came over and joined Scott on the floor at Johnny’s feet. “Oh, Johnny, I’m so glad you’re home…and that you found what you were looking for.”

“Me too, Querida.”

Murdoch finally found his voice. “It seems we owe this padre a great debt.”

“Yeah, I planned on sending him some money for this little orphanage he runs. I guess he tried to keep me there when Mama died, but I didn’t stay. Too many rules.”

Scott snorted. “I’m shocked.”

Murdoch gave Johnny a one armed hug. “Are you alright, Son?”

He smiled. “I think I am. In fact I’ve never felt more…at home.” His face dropped in regret. “I’m sorry for what I put you through, thinkin’…”

“I admit, it was too reminiscent of past pain. Thinking I had a son lost out there somewhere in Mexico…But it turned out better than I could have hoped for. Just to know that she was coming back…” He shook his head. “It changes everything.” The grandfather clock struck, reminding them all of the late hour. “In fact, I think I can go to bed and sleep better than I have in twenty years.” He stood up and looked down at his children who hadn’t moved. He smiled. “Don’t stay up too late. This is a…”

“Working ranch!” they chorused.

“And don’t you forget it!” Impulsively he leaned over and kissed the top of Johnny’s head. Then with a smile at the others, he went upstairs.

Teresa sat up on the couch next to Johnny and gave him a huge hug. Scott sat on his other side and gave him a playful slap on the back.

“Sorry, Boston. No more little brothers.”

Scott barked a short, relieved laugh. “That’s quite all right. I have to say…one of you is enough!”

 

 

~ end ~

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