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Raian

 

 

Hard Rock

Part 4 of the Home Again series

Many thanks to stupendous betas Starlit Drifter and StarGzer
It's not their fault if I tell and tell... it's what the voice in my head tells me to do...

Chapter 1

From his seat on the patio, Murdoch could see the boys grooming their horses after a long ride to check the north fence line. They were joshing each other about something. He could hear laughter, but couldn't make out words. It seemed to involve an exaggerated demonstration from Johnny on how to groom a horse.

Murdoch understood why Johnny was careful with his horse. A horse was a valuable asset for a man who spent life on the road. He wasn't sure why Scott did the same. It couldn't be something he was used to doing. Harlan would have hired someone to do those chores. Maybe Scott did it himself now because it meant more time spent with his brother.

Both of his boys were accomplished men – and he'd had no hand in making them that way. The thought made him grind his teeth.

The desire for them to stay at Lancer – and worrying they wouldn't – kept him up at night, sometimes. Yet he would honor a decision to stay – no matter for how long; or go – no matter when. They'd be his sons no matter where they were. Meanwhile, he wanted to learn all all he could about them.

He wanted to spend more time with each, one-on-one. That approach had worked well with Johnny already, starting with the talks they'd had while Johnny recovered from Pardee's bullet, and even more so after the Wes debacle. Murdoch treasured the memories made the day he and Johnny chased the wild horses. His relationship with his younger son had deepened, since. He was certain Johnny wanted to stay, now.

He hadn't had the opportunity to do the same with Scott, though they did spend time discussing the ranch and business, or books and articles in newspapers.

Murdoch re-read the letter Frank had brought in from town. Wilfred, a rancher farther up the valley, had finally gotten around to asking for the use of two of Murdoch's bulls. He and Wilfred batted around ideas of how to improve their cattle at every stockman's meeting. Swapping the breeding use of each other's bulls – bringing in new blood to keep the herds from getting inbred – made sense. Murdoch had used two of Wilfred's bulls two years ago. Wilfred was ready for him to return the favor, and wrote he'd be watching for them to arrive any time in the next few weeks.

It presented the opportunity to spend time with Scott. He'd send Johnny and a couple of ranch hands to deliver the bulls. While Johnny was gone, he and Scott would spend a few days working on a property Murdoch had bought a few months before Pardee's raids started. Using the time away from the ranch, Murdoch could ask questions and find out more about his eldest son.

******

Murdoch and Scott saw Johnny off a few days later. “Have a good trip, son.” It would do Johnny good to see he was trusted with the valuable animals.

“I plan to, Murdoch. Don't you get in trouble while I'm gone, brother. I won't be around to watch out after you.”

“Same to you, though I'm sure Walt and Jose will fill in for me. Make sure you mind your manners.”

Murdoch liked to see Johnny laugh. It was contagious. “Take care of those bulls, Johnny, they're a valuable part of our herd.”

“I'll be careful. With my third, at least.”

“Brother, you look out for all the old bulls.”

“You know me, Scott. I always watch out.”

Murdoch caught the winks they traded as Johnny turned to ride away. He wasn't sure what they found funny. Titan and Atlas were docile, traveled well and rarely gave anyone trouble. Later that day, he figured it out. Wilfred had a daughter about Johnny's age.

******

Before dawn the next morning, Murdoch finished loading the wagon which held fencing supplies, feed for the horses and items needed at the cabin. Scott got the horses hitched. He always pitched in for stable duties. His willingness to help and his abilities had surprised Murdoch when he'd first arrived at Lancer.

Murdoch supposed being able to ride and shoot had stood Scott in good stead when he joined the army … no, the cavalry. The Pinkerton report on Scott had only said he'd been a Lieutenant for the Union. Murdoch had seen the photo of Scott and Sheridan. During the war, he'd read about Sheridan's contributions to the cavalry fights.

News could be slow to reach California, back then. It still could be. Harlan had certainly kept him in the dark. No letters, no word. Not even a telegram to tell him his son had enlisted.

Seeing his son in uniform made him proud. Scott was good at organization, rules and schedules. Sheridan must have valued his skills, perhaps had used him as a staff officer for correspondence and for his tact and ability to negotiate. Staff officer was a good position. It meant Scott had been safe behind the Union lines. Perhaps he'd even spent the war in Washington.

Scott climbed up on the wagon seat. Murdoch wanted to ask about his war service, but this wasn't the time or the place.

Teresa came out into the pre-dawn light, carrying food in two armloads of baskets. “Do you think this will be enough for you both?”

“My dear, I think you packed enough to feed an army. We're only going to be gone a few days.”

“Better safe than sorry, Murdoch.” He helped her stow the baskets before climbing up to take the reins. She waved as Murdoch clucked and sent the horses forward. “Have a good time!”

Scott waved back. He leaned to look into the wagon bed. “That's quite a load. What exactly are we in for at this cabin?”

“Don't worry. Most of this will be left for a full crew to use later. We'll clean up and do some minor fixing to make the cabin weather proof. More can be done later to turn it into a usable line shack.”

“I don't remember you mentioning the property before. Had it been neglected long?”

“Not so much neglected as damaged. Pardee's gang destroyed the corral fence and knocked down the shed. They started to do the same to the cabin – there are holes in the roof, but that's the worst of it. They may have decided to use it for a shelter, though nothing inside was disturbed.”

Murdoch turned the team to follow a road along the edge of the hills and up out of the main Lancer valley. As the sun rose, he paused at an overlook to give the horses a breather. There was a glimpse of the hacienda through the trees. It looked very small at this distance.

Murdoch could never get enough of that view. The morning sun crept into the valley, revealing features of the land he loved. He realized he had been watching for too long when Bessie started to paw and Biggles fussed with his bit.

“I don't see smoke or an SOS.” Scott wore a sly smile. “I expect things will be kept well in hand 'til we return.”

“Indulge your old man, son. Your mother loved views like this. She liked to say all roads lead back to Lancer.”

Scott looked toward the ranch again, solemn now. “There was a view like that, on the way up to Sabina's.”

“It was her favorite part of that trip.”

“Sabina told me a little about my mother, and how she loved Lancer.”

Murdoch held his breath, panic rising at the thought Scott was about to ask him questions about the past; about Katherine – which would lead to Harlan. The horses tossed their heads, protesting his tight grip on the reins.

“I like these views as much as she did.” Scott leaned back against the wagon seat, wearing a happy smile.

Murdoch whooshed out a breath, masking his relief with a request for the horses to move on again. “I'm glad to hear it.” He shook his head. He was a foolish old man. Weren't questions the reason why he'd planned this trip with Scott? He wanted to ask his own, at least. Perhaps he should forget that idea, and focus on enjoying the time with Scott instead.

It took several hours to reach the new property. He and Scott talked about the land they passed through – where grass was good, where scrub or trees should be cut back. They saw areas where drainage needed improvement, or where a new dam would create a holding pond for the drier times.

Scott asked questions about the plants of the area: which ones the cattle could eat and which were marks of poor soil. When they crossed over onto the new property, they discussed the best locations for fencing and gates.

Murdoch pulled up at the cabin. “Paul and I used to have talks like this. You have a good eye for how the land lies.”

“I try to pay attention to places I may ride through one day.”

Perhaps Scott had been a courier during the war … Murdoch let the thought drift away as they got down from the wagon. Scott unhitched the horses and tied them to nearby trees, putting out hay and buckets of water to keep them occupied. The horses couldn't be turned loose until the corral fence was mended.

They unloaded the wagon, falling into an easy pattern of movement and coordinating without having to talk or think about it. Katherine had worked in tandem with him like this. He found it remarkable, but said nothing.

“What shall we do first?” Scott fished the canteen out from under the wagon seat. He took a drink and passed it to Murdoch.

Murdoch took a drink and grimaced. The water had gotten warm during the ride up. He pushed his hat back and wiped his forehead. “The basic structure of the cabin is sound. That makes the roof the priority. Rains will be coming hard soon. Nothing will ruin a building faster than a leaky roof.”

Scott lowered his head and smiled. Murdoch wondered what he was thinking. He hoped the smile wasn't because Scott thought the observation was silly. Anyone would know a roof shouldn't leak. He shouldn't state the obvious like that.

Scott clambered up to the roof. Murdoch handed up materials and took the damaged pieces that Scott tore off to the scrap heap. Scott was quite able with hammer and nail – most of the time. Murdoch chased down more than a few nails that went flying, and made himself useful straightening those and others he rescued from the scrap, so they could be reused.

When they took a break for lunch, Murdoch drew a fresh bucket of water from the well. He refilled the canteen and gave it to Scott. “There's a nice spot to eat, around back of the cabin.” Carrying the lunch sack Teresa had packed for them, he led the way up a faint trail, climbing to the top of the knoll and a flat rock big enough to sit on.

“This is a peaceful spot. Why would someone want to leave it?” Scott pushed his hat back and took a drink.

“It was owned by a man named Mel, originally from Texas.” Murdoch handed Scott two of the sandwiches and a handful of cookies. “He was more interested in mining than ranching or farming, and was sure he'd hit the mother lode in these rocks. He had to sell when he found nothing and couldn't pay the mortgage.”

“Sad, to think of someone having to give up on a dream.”

“Gold fever is more a disease, son.”

Scott rubbed the back of his neck and raised his eyebrows. “That is true.”

Murdoch wondered what had really happened to Scott and Johnny while they were in Gold Creek. Sam had told him the head wound Scott brought home would have caused a bad concussion. Perhaps the boys had told him the whole story. Johnny said he'd gotten into a scrape with a group of miners. Scott helped him out of it. When Murdoch asked Scott to elaborate, Scott had shrugged and said he didn't remember.

They kept sneaking each other looks, though. His own father must have felt like this, when he and his siblings kept secrets.

They ate the sandwiches and made a dent in the cookies. “I wonder how Johnny's getting along.” Scott brushed crumbs off his lap.

“Do you miss your brother?”

“Yes, I do. I've gotten used to having him around.”

“I miss him, too. It's odd – you two are at an age when brothers usually go out to live separate lives.”

“Well, our lives have been an odd separation, 'til now. We're making up for lost time.”

Murdoch gathered the tins and napkins and put them back into the lunch sack. Scott was waiting for him to respond, but Murdoch didn't want to continue a conversation along the lines of brothers being apart, because it would lead to why. “That roof won't fix itself. We'd best be back at it. We should be done by this evening.”

Scott bowed his head for a moment. He got up and pulled his hat brim down.

“Are you all right?”

“I'm fine, sir.”

“Are you sure you can continue on the roof? It makes for a long day in the sun. I don't want you to get another headache.”

“I really am fine. As you say, a job done now is sooner finished.”

Scott walked past him. Murdoch wanted to kick himself. Once again, he'd let an opportunity to ask Scott questions slip away. He needed to figure out how to encourage Scott to talk, without bringing up subjects he himself didn't want to explore.

Murdoch hurried to catch up with Scott. His heel slipped on the rocks. He lost his balance and fell – hard.

******

Inside the cabin, Murdoch sat on a cot, fuming over his clumsiness.

“Are you sure you don't want more cold water?” Scott helped him lift his foot from the basin, wrapped the ankle in a towel and got him settled with the leg elevated on a chair.

“I'm fine. It's just a twisted ankle, Scott.” It hurt, but not as much as the bruise to his ego. He wasn't used to a son helping him this way.

“What about your wrist?”

“It's fine, too. See?” He wiggled his fingers, ignoring the stab of pain the movement brought. The wrist did feel better, now it was wrapped.

“Do you need anything? Some water for yourself, maybe? Some coffee?”

Murdoch let the pain and his bad temper take over his tongue. “What I need is for that roof to get fixed. And the other jobs. That's why we're here, after all. Don't let me keep you.”

Scott, crouched by the cot, gave him a look that almost made him squirm. “I'll get back to it, then. Give a yell if you need anything.”

The pounding of the hammer gave a rhythm to Murdoch's thoughts. He was a stupid, stupid old man. Why did he dismiss Scott like that? Because he was a stupid, stupid old man. He didn't want to look weak in front of his son. He called the tune. He hated to ask for help. He was too used to doing it all himself.

What was he trying to prove? He should have let Scott help him walk to the cabin after he fell. Now he had a sprained wrist as well as a sprained ankle. He'd lost his temper and yelled at his son. No father wanted to look helpless in front of his son, but accidents happened. And in the end Scott had to help him, because even Murdoch realized crawling to get back to the cabin under his own steam would be pure lunacy.

Scott had kept his temper through it all. But it was too late. A man like Scott wouldn't want to get to know a doddering, weak old fool.

Because Murdoch knew he was weak. He couldn't say the words he wanted to say. He couldn't find the strength to say it: I want you to stay, son. I need you to stay. Here, with me, at Lancer. Not having you and your brother here tore my heart out.

He couldn't ask Scott to stay. The thought of begging made him quail, but that's what he wanted to do. Please, son. Please. Please stay with me at Lancer.

He couldn't say it. The words choked him. He couldn't say I love you, son. Because he was afraid to find out how Scott would answer.

He'd lost all chance for a pleasant few days with Scott. He'd left it all back there in the rocks – dead and useless.

 

Chapter 2

Murdoch sat twiddling his thumbs, with nothing but thoughts of the past to keep him company. There were so many things he regretted … it was difficult to let the past die, when his sons had brought it to Lancer with them.

From his seat on the cot, he followed the sounds of Scott's progress across the roof until he got to the last hole at the far side of the cabin. When the sound of hammering stopped its steady pace there, Murdoch held his breath, worried. But there was no noise of sliding or of something hitting the ground; no yell for help. It was getting dark. Scott must be done for the day.

Murdoch wanted to get up. He had tried standing earlier, though, and the ankle was still too painful to hold weight. Perhaps there was something he could use as a cane.

Scott came in, carrying a length of wood, his hair and collar wet from washing up. Murdoch took the wood when Scott held it out. “It's not the best crutch, but it could help you keep weight off that ankle.”

The piece was about the right size and shape. Murdoch leaned forward and lifted his foot down from the chair, waving Scott away when he stepped forward. He didn't want to be more of a burden to Scott. “I don't need help. The day I can't make it to the outhouse and back by myself is the day you can bury me.”

“I'll get supper started, then.”

The piece-of-wood cane worked, though it would have been easier if he hadn't injured the wrist on the same side as the ankle. By the time Murdoch made it back inside, he was hot, sore and frustrated again.

He hated being immobile. It reminded him too much of getting shot the day Paul died. He hobbled to the cot and could have cried with relief when his leg was back up on the chair, next to a cup of cold water Scott had put out for him. The water was just what he needed.

Maybe Scott had been part of the quartermaster corps. He was adept at keeping work and supplies moving, at keeping his temper when things went wrong. The thought of a job like that – one that would have kept his son away from cannon and guns – was comforting. An army at war needed support staff, and Murdoch was sure Scott had done the job well.

Someday, he would quit guessing and ask his son about his experiences.

******

“Supper is ready. Would you like me to bring it to you?”

“I'm not an invalid. It's just a swollen ankle. I can make it to the table.” He didn't want Scott to have to serve him his meals, too. Scott put the plates on the table while Murdoch hopped over with his chair.

The food was simple, but tasted good. It could easily be eaten with a fork, one handed. “You're a fine cook, son. I have to say I am surprised. I'm sure you had a cook, growing up?” He could have slapped himself after asking the question. It would lead right to talk of Boston. Which would lead to Harlan. Which would lead to things Murdoch didn't want to talk about.

“We did give the kitchen staff time off, occasionally. Nothing like going hungry to teach you how to cook.” Scott looked up from his plate and smiled.

Murdoch couldn't imagine Harlan letting his grandson in the kitchen to do such menial labor. Was Scott handing him a bill of goods? He stared at his plate. Harlan ran a strict and organized household. Scott was neat and organized, too – Harlan's stamp, put onto his son. His son. He should have been the one to teach Scott to cook. He should have been the one to teach him to ride and shoot, too.

“Are you all right, Murdoch?”

Murdoch looked up. Scott's smile faded. Murdoch realized he was scowling. “Yes, yes. A bit put off by lolling around all day. Tomorrow I'll get up. Moving will help the swelling go down.” He stabbed up another forkful of food.

“I'll bring in more cold water to soak your ankle and wrist.”

“Yes, that's a good idea.”

They ate in silence, heads down. Murdoch stole glances at his son. He had changed since getting to Lancer. His hair was longer, his manner more at ease. He was more comfortable with Johnny, at least.

Blond hair, blue eyes and refined bones. Scott was very much like his mother. And Johnny, with his rounder face and dark hair the sun could turn russet – both boys looked like their mothers. Sometimes the sight of his boys made Murdoch's throat swell, and he'd have to choke down a well of emotion brought by thoughts of his wives. He'd loved them both.

That was in the past. It was all in the past. Johnny had returned to Lancer, alive and somehow still with his youthful self intact. Scott had come back to the home Murdoch and Katherine had built for him, but one he'd never seen – all due to her father's interference.

Harlan. So many of his heartaches and troubles could be laid at Harlan's feet. He tossed the fork onto the plate with a clatter.

“Can I get you something else, sir?”

“No! No. I'm fine.” Still, the thought of Harlan coiled his belly tight and overrode the pain he felt from his injuries.

Scott put down his own cutlery. “I'll do the dishes, then check the stock before turning in.”

“I can do the dishes. I'm not debilitated. You go check on the horses.” He clashed the dishes together into a pile, and his anger at Harlan made him glare at his son.

Scott pursed his mouth and pushed his chair back. “As you wish.” He picked up an empty water bucket, grabbed his coat off the hanger by the door and went out.

Damn, damn, damn. Murdoch slapped the table. Damn that Harlan. Harlan had sent him home with his tail tucked between his legs when he'd gone to Boston to get Scott. Harlan had left him with nothing. He'd put his stamp on Scott. He'd done all of the things it was Murdoch's right to do for his own son.

He should know all about Scott. He shouldn't have to guess or ask questions!

Scott was polite and polished – and reticent. He could have stayed at the table. They could have talked before the dishes were done and stock checked. Why couldn't the boy talk to him and say what was on his mind? Why did he have to be so agreeable?

Murdoch took out his frustration on the dishes, using his bad hand to hold them and good hand to scrub. It wasn't as satisfying as a session at the forge, but it helped douse the anger fired up by thoughts of Harlan.

He changed into a dry shirt afterwards, and pushed the chair ahead of himself as a crutch to make it to the cot. Sitting with his leg up on the chair gave the ankle immediate relief. Seems he'd pushed too much today. But tomorrow he'd get up, as he'd told Scott he'd do, and help with the work they needed to do.

The best way to get over an upset was to forget it, get up and go do something.

This whole situation wasn't Scott's fault. Thinking of Harlan always made Murdoch cross. He should be able to get over it, after all this time, but the anger refused to leave. It still burned bright, every time he thought of his father-in-law.

Scott was at Lancer now. Harlan had lost. Murdoch needed to focus on that. He wanted a good conversation with his son. By the time Scott returned, he'd thought of several opening gambits.

Scott brought cold water for him to soak his foot and wrist and made him a cup of coffee. He did have a good bedside manner. Maybe he'd been involved with hospital work during the war.

Murdoch had read soldiers often had to step in to help with the sick and injured, but he hoped Scott hadn't. He hoped his son had never seen the horror of so many broken and wounded men.

The way the lamplight caught his son's face, highlighting the dark circles under his eyes, Murdoch did not protest when Scott said he was going to bed. Scott had been hurt too many times since coming to Lancer. He had been stubborn and self-sufficient in his recoveries, but always gracious and kind. Murdoch needed to try and be the same.

Children should be seen and not heard. That had been his world, growing up. It was the New England way as well. It was hard to overcome a lifetime of training. But he was the father. He should be able to show the way and encourage his son to talk to him.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow he'd crack open his son.

******

Murdoch woke the next morning to the smell of coffee. A cup, wrapped in a towel to keep it warm, sat on the nearby chair. Murdoch rolled out of bed. Bumps and bruises from the fall made themselves known. The only way to help the stiffness was to get moving. His ankle felt better, though still too swollen to get his boot back on and still unable to bear his full weight.

Scott was up and at it already. Murdoch made a trip to the outhouse, and saw he'd made a good start at cleaning up the shambles of the ruined fence and shed.

Murdoch went back in to wash up. Scott had left a plate of beans, eggs and bacon on the back of the stove to keep warm. Murdoch made short work of his breakfast, threw together some food for lunch in a sack and with his cane went out to join his son. “Morning.”

“Morning. You're walking better today.”

“A good night's rest does wonders. You didn't need to get started right away.”

Scott swung the board he was holding before tossing it onto the scrap heap. “The work needs to be done, and I don't mind doing it.”

Early morning yet, and Scott was already sweaty. But he didn't look upset. He seemed to enjoy the physical labor. That was another mystery. Harlan would not have encouraged Scott to work with his hands.

Murdoch scooped up water from a bucket by the well and carried the ladle to Scott, managing to spill only a little along the way. “Here. Take a break and have some water.”

Scott nodded his thanks and drank. He poured the rest of the water onto the back of his neck before handing the ladle back. “Some of these posts are too deeply buried. I can't work them loose. I need to do some excavating before they can be replaced.”

“Don't you do that. A full crew can finish the job.”

“All right. I'll do what I can. I should be finished by noon.”

Scott seemed set on completing the job. He tended to do that – nose to the grindstone until a task was done. Maybe they could talk at lunchtime. “There's no rush. Where are the horses?”

“I put them on a high line over the hill there. They were restless after being tied short all night. It will be good to get this corral fixed.”

“Yes. Well, don't let me keep you.”

Scott gave him a little smile and went back to work.

Murdoch wanted to contribute to the job. He puttered over the scrap wood, making neater piles and sorting pieces by size. Some could be used as firewood, others were large enough to repurpose. By noon, his small aches and pains had subsided, but his wrist and ankle were throbbing again. Scott was looking over the remnants of the corral, hands on hips, sweaty and dirt-streaked.

“Time to eat, Scott. Go on down to the creek to clean up. I'll get our lunch and meet you there.”

Scott peeled off his gloves and started toward the creek, hesitated, and turned to give him a measured look.

“What is it?”

“I was about to ask if you could make it that far, but I don't think I'll dare.”

Murdoch might not understand his son, but it seemed his son understood him. “A good soak in cold water is all I need. Go on. I'll bring you a clean shirt.”

******

The water flowed deep in the shade of the trees. The creek widened and splashed over rocks farther downstream. Murdoch picked a large rock to sit on, near another rock he could rest his leg on in between dips for his ankle. His wrist appreciated the cold water, too. Scott kept his feet in the water while he ate, and stretched out on the bank when he was done.

Scott was tall and lithe, like his mother. His son was a sight – arms up over his head, hair still damp, shirt untucked and partly unbuttoned, pant legs and shirt sleeves rolled up, and bare feet. Murdoch would bet Harlan had never seen Scott like this.

Flashes of sun on water took him back to a bitter-sweet memory of Katherine. She laughed and danced through sun-dappled clearings in the old redwood forest. That forest was the soul of Lancer. His beautiful wife, skirts lifted up to her knees and feet bare as she skipped, golden hair shining as she teased him and invited him to follow.

She had worked so hard to get him to open his heart and talk of his feelings. And he had, to her. The door had slammed shut when she died, though. It had been nailed tight, by later events. But his sons were tearing those nails away. He could feel them pulling free – could hear them screeching. He had forgotten how painful it was. How difficult.

Fear of more loss, fear of more failure made it hard to ask. But he had to know. “Are you happy, Scott?”

Scott lowered his arms and sat up, squinting at him. “We had a good morning and got several jobs done. I'm satisfied.”

“No, no. I mean are you happy here, at Lancer?”

Scott lowered his head, rubbed the side of his nose with a bent finger. “Yes. Yes, I am.” He smiled and looked up again. “I wasn't sure what I'd find when I came here. To see it was you, Johnny and Teresa … well, that made me happy. More than happy. I've found a part of myself here I thought I'd lost forever.”

His brilliant, articulate son. He would talk, if given the chance. Murdoch berated himself for all the times he'd cut Scott off since he'd arrived at Lancer. “I'm glad to hear it, son. And I'm sorry we haven't had the chance to talk properly.”

“It's a lot to take on board, Murdoch. Making a family from scratch isn't easy.”

“I'm finding that out.” Murdoch looked down at his ankle. The water rolled by in a never-ending flow. Water was patient and persistent. It could wear down the hardest of rocks.

He found the courage to ask the question he most needed to ask. “Do you want to stay at Lancer?”

“I do. I like it out here.”

Murdoch couldn't believe Scott would stay for long. He must realize how limiting life on Lancer was for a man with his knowledge and skills. “What about what you left behind, back East?”

“My family and my home are here now.”

That couldn't be all Scott was looking for. “But there must be things you miss. We must seem like a bunch of uneducated louts out here.”

“That's not true. Everyone has knowledge to share, and book learning doesn't make a man wise.” Scott put his feet in the water again. “I will admit I miss some things. But San Francisco and other large cities aren't far away. The nearby towns are growing. Soon we'll have the amenities, what you could call the hallmarks of a civilized society, nearer to hand.”

“Would you like to visit San Francisco?”

“I have, and I would like to go back. I've promised Johnny I'd show him the big city.”

“I wouldn't have guessed he'd want to spend time in such a crowded place.”

“He'll go to the music halls with me, at least.”

Johnny listening to music? Murdoch couldn't believe it. “How on earth did you get him to agree to that?”

Scott pulled at the grass. “He said he'd give it a try. Perhaps he'll like it, and we'll have a new shared interest.”

“Oh.” Murdoch didn't know what else to say to that. He wanted to be included in their plans. But they hadn't gone there, yet. Maybe they'd let him go along. “I'm glad to hear you plan to stay.”

“I do own a third of Lancer.” Scott gave him a cheeky grin as he shook the water from his feet. “It would be foolish to leave such a good investment.”

That smile was all Katherine. Scott wasn't Harlan's. He was his own man, somehow grown up well and good through everything that had happened. His sons continued to surprise him with their generous hearts, kept intact despite all they'd been through. “I'd be disappointed if a son of mine didn't know the value of a dollar.”

“Lancer has always been more to me than the money, Murdoch.”

Scott held his gaze. Murdoch looked away first. He gathered the lunch items and stuffed them into the sack, using the movements and a cough to hide a quick swipe at his eyes. He kept his eyes averted while Scott helped him rewrap the ankle and wrist.

Scott pulled on his socks and boots and gathered his things together. “What do I need to do this afternoon?”

Murdoch thought of all he wanted to know about Scott. What right did he have to ask questions? He didn't understand how he could have earned Scott's trust, let alone his love. The look in his son's eyes had shaken him. He did not deserve it, after the way he'd been treating Scott and after the long years of neglect. He had tried to get Scott back. Lord knows he'd tried, but would Scott know about that? He'd said nothing about meeting him in Boston at the birthday party all those many years ago. He must have forgotten, and Harlan would never have reminded him.

Murdoch pushed down his emotions and set the memories aside. The past was in the past. The here and now mattered more. He pointed up the path back to the cabin. “I think by the time I make it up the hill, you'll have the horses harnessed and the wagon ready to go.”

Scott had the good grace to look disappointed. “We're going home, then?”

“No, son.” It pleased Murdoch to see that Scott still wanted to spend time with him. “There's a good fishing hole about five miles downstream. I have a hankering for fresh fish for supper.”

A smile spread across Scott's face. “So do I.” He bounded up the path, lunch sack swinging.

The walk up to the cabin on uneven ground was too much for his ankle, even with the use of the makeshift cane. But it was worth it, to have the chance to see his son so carefree.

 

 

Epilogue

Murdoch was sitting on the patio of the hacienda, enjoying lemonade with Scott and Teresa, when Johnny and the ranch hands rode in. “Johnny! I didn't expect you back this soon. I thought you three would want to take the long way home.”

Johnny dismounted at the house as the others waved greetings and continued to the barn. “Jose and Walt wanted to get back. I guess I did, too.”

“Don't tell me you missed us, brother.”

“All right, I won't.” Johnny looped Barranca's reins on the end of the hitch rail and strode up to the patio with a bounce in his step – until he got closer. “Murdoch, what happened to you?” Johnny pointed at his leg, propped up on a stool.

“I twisted an ankle.”

“You got a wrap on your wrist, too.”

“Hurt that as well.” He wiggled the injured wrist. It gave a small twinge in protest. “I don't bounce as well as I used to.”

Johnny's head went back and his eyebrows went up. He glanced at Scott.

“It's nothing.” Murdoch stood and shifted his weight to the injured ankle. It was much better, too. “You see? It's almost healed.”

“Johnny, sit down and have some lemonade.” Teresa got up to pour a glass. “Supper's almost ready.”

“Thanks, Teresa, but I'll take care of Barranca first.” Johnny took a few steps backward, looking at Scott, before pivoting to go and untie his horse.

Scott put down his glass. “Wait up, Johnny. I'll give you a hand.”

“Sure, brother.”

Murdoch put an arm around Teresa and gave her shoulders a squeeze. She was a petite bundle of energy – the heart of Lancer. Teresa gave him a hug and a kiss, and went into the house as the boys walked toward the barn, heads close together. Scott waved his hands around. Johnny let out a whoop and grabbed his brother in a head lock.

Murdoch and his siblings used to make jokes about their father, but they'd had the courtesy to do it behind his back. The sound of his sons' laughter soothed any irritation Murdoch might have felt. He didn't know what Scott and Johnny were laughing at, but the thought of himself trying to maintain his dignity while falling tail over teakettle down a hill made him chuckle, too.

He sat and waited for the boys to return for lemonade. The part of him that worried when people were unaccounted for had gone silent. He looked forward to supper; to all of his children being together again. The hacienda had never felt so welcoming.

 

 

 

~end~
2-5 March, 2018

Author's notes:

Canon is annoying. Trying to stick to it is even more annoying. This story is set early in the series, which means trying to fit with what's coming in later episodes. In particular, from Legacy:

Harlan: That's all in the past.
Murdoch: Not to me it isn't! No, sir! It's right now!

Harlan: I've no doubt, Murdoch, that you could sway Scotty by revealing your sordid version of the past. Unless, of course, you've already done so.
Murdoch: I never thought I had to.

Not to mention how gut-shot Murdoch looks when he hears of the prison camp in The Escape (along with the infamous line “Of course, my son … there's a lot of things about him I don't know.”), and the hanging plot shards of Yesterday's Vengeance where Scott's story is concerned.

According to Google, SOS was adopted as a world-wide standard for maritime radio distress calls in 1908. Even so, the writers of Child of Rock and Sunlight had Scott knowing the signal. I always knew he was a man ahead of his time.

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