The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Fallout

 

 

 

Johnny wasn't sure how he'd gotten himself backed into this corner but he was feeling a seed of panic rise up and knew he needed to get out. With Murdoch towering over him, yelling, it wouldn't be easy. He couldn't concentrate on his father's words, all he knew was he had to get out of the corner of the living room. He had no means of escape this way and that was something he always afforded himself.

He moved forward suddenly and skirted past the patriarch, coming to a stop in front of the fireplace. Leaning against it, he sighed with relief. Now he could focus on the argument Murdoch was bound and determined to have with him.

"Are you listening to me?" Murdoch asked.

"Not really," Johnny mumbled.

"You are unbelievable! What is the matter with you?"

"Stop it! Just stop it, Murdoch! I don't know what you're so blamed mad about," Johnny shot.

"Alright, since you obviously weren't listening, I'll repeat myself. When are you going to grow up?" Murdoch bellowed.

Johnny just shook his head, he still didn't know what was wrong but he was sure he was about to find out.

"You have responsibilities here, Johnny. Running a ranch is a full time job. You can't just take off whenever you feel like it. Now, I'll ask you again. Where were you this morning?"

He had gotten control of himself now and turned to face his father. "I went up to the south mesa."

"Why?"

"I thought I saw a flash of light up there. I wanted to check it out. Nobody's supposed to be up there right now. Is that alright with you?"

"Why didn't you tell anybody? Would that have been too much effort?"

"Yeah, it would have been since there wasn't anybody around to tell!"

"Well, did you find anything?" Murdoch pressed, unwilling to curb his anger.

"Yes, I found an old miner up there pannin the stream. I talked to him for a few minutes. He seemed harmless enough so I let him be. Ain't gonna find anything up there anyhow," Johnny replied, leveling his voice now.

Murdoch stared at him for what seemed forever. Johnny had had enough.

He narrowed his eyes. "Sooner or later, old man, you're gonna have to start trusting me. If you can't do that, this won't work."

"When you've earned my trust, Johnny, you'll get it. Until then, I expect you to do as you're told!"

That got Johnny's back up and he glared at Murdoch. "When do you earn my trust? Or is that just supposed to be a given?"

"I haven't done anything that requires earning trust, Johnny," he sneered.

"Must be nice to be so perfect. Guess we can't all have lived in fairytale land," Johnny hissed as he started toward the door.

"I'm not done with you yet. I have worked hard all my life to build this ranch. Don't you dare dismiss that! "

"Sure! You didn't have anything better to do. Like worry about your kids!" Johnny spat.

" Dammit , that's not true!"

"What is true, Murdoch? You tell me. For once, you tell me something I want to know!"

"Johnny..."

"Why did she leave!?" Johnny shouted.

"I don't know! Maybe you should ask yourself that question. Why do you leave all the time? Things get a little rough and you head for the door. You're just like her," Murdoch yelled.

Johnny walked the few feet between them to face off with his father. "No, I'm just like you, old man. Things get a little tough, and you just throw up your hands and say 'oh well' and move on," he hissed softly.

"How dare you? You don't know what you're talking about! You have no idea what I went through when she left. The months I spent riding through border towns, looking for you, always hoping, praying that I'd find you somehow. I looked for you for almost a year nonstop until I couldn't take anymore disappointment. That's when I gave up and hired the Pinkerton's!"

"Yeah, you had it real rough, didn't you? A whole year. Wow! So let me ask you, since you're being so honest now. When did they find me?"

Murdoch's eyes dropped then and he was silent.

"When, Murdoch? How long before you sent for me did you know who I was? Tell me!" Johnny shouted.

"Two years," Murdoch whispered.

Johnny's eyes grew big, he'd had suspicions but they were only that. To hear the truth from his father's mouth was too much. "Why?" was all he could croak out.

Murdoch turned away from him and took a few steps. "I..." he stopped and shook his head.

"You didn't want Johnny Madrid for a son. Not until you needed me, that is," Johnny finished for him.

Murdoch could only nod his head.

Johnny swallowed hard and held his head up. "Well, don't reckon you need me now," he said softly and walked up the stairs.

Murdoch leaned forward, resting his hands on his desk and slumped his shoulders. "Yes, I do," he whispered.

*

Johnny sat on the bed and sighed heavily. How could he have been so stupid? Why would he think Murdoch actually wanted him here? He should have taken off as soon as he was able to ride after getting that bullet dug out of his back. Was it really only six weeks ago? It seemed a lot longer to him. All the awkward silences and misunderstood words, all the times he tried to hold his tongue.

It wasn't easy not hating a man you've hated all your life. Now he knew he had good reason just maybe not for the same reason. Still, he could see how finding out your kid is a gunfighter might be hard, but he didn't even try. That's what hurt so bad, he didn't even try to find out what kind of man his son was. He just took it for granted that Johnny was a cold hearted killer.

He sat there a while longer, holding back the pain that threatened to rip him apart inside. He stood up and retrieved his saddle bags and threw his few belongings in them. He opened the small ornate box on the dresser that Teresa had put there and pulled out the deed. He sat down and wrote the note, placing it on top of the deed and looked around the room once more.

Something caught his eye, something he had not noticed before. Near the baseboard by the head of the bed was some sort of writing. That's what he thought until he took a closer look.

Johnny grabbed the lamp and sat it on the floor, peering at the markings on the wall. He sat back on his heels in shock as he recognized the simple, disorganized drawings of a child. Did he do that? He couldn't seem to take his eyes off it and he sat where he was. This was his room then, all those years ago? He leaned forward until he was on his knees and lightly traced the picture with his fingers.

Tears sprung up in his eyes and he couldn't stop them. He turned to sit down, leaning his back against the wall beside the artwork and closed his eyes. The tears slid down his face as he thought of all he had lost. All he could have had all these years and all he did, or rather didn't, have instead. He pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, burying his head as the tears streamed freely now.

He heard a knock on his door and his head jerked up. He realized it was darker in the room and wondered how long he had been sitting here. The knock came again and he quickly wiped his face and stood up. "Who is it?" he called.

"It's Scott. Supper's ready."

"I ain't hungry, Boston . You go ahead," Johnny answered, praying his brother would not push.

It was a futile prayer as Scott opened the door and stepped in. "Not hungry? You? I find that hard to believe."

Johnny walked quickly to the door to prevent Scott from coming in any further. "Well, I snuck some cookies earlier. Don't tell Teresa, she'll have my head," he smiled. "Go on, I'm fine. I'll see you later."

Scott looked suspiciously at him but shrugged his shoulders. "Alright, but she's going to wonder why you're not hungry."

"Just tell her you checked and I'm fine. I'll see ya later," Johnny said as he practically pushed Scott out the door.

Alone once more, he stood and stared at the room. He retrieved the lamp and turned the wick up to brighten the place and took a long hard look at every inch of it. His mind whirled as he tried to remember even a minute of living here as a child. Try as he might, he could not remember and it only added to the despair he felt. He had to get out of here and he figured there was no better time than now while they were all eating.

Johnny left the house by the upstairs balcony, easing down the stairwell quietly. He walked casually to the barn, knowing this would not raise any eyebrows even with his saddlebags. He figured the hands would think he was off on a job for the old man and not question him. He saddled Barranca quickly and headed out at a walk, not wanting to alert the house by making too much noise. The sound of a horse walking along was more than common, it was expected. Once he reached the gates of Lancer, he kneed the palomino into a gallop and was gone.

*

Scott went upstairs immediately after supper, unable to rid himself of the nagging feeling that something was wrong. He knocked twice without getting an answer and opened Johnny's bedroom door, calling his name. The room was dark save for the moonlight streaming in the open window and he walked to the bedside table and lit the lamp. The room was empty and for some reason, Scott shuddered in the warm summer air. He scanned the room and his eyes came to rest on the dresser. He walked over and picked up the note and deed and read.

Scott,

I'm sorry I Ieft this way, but I knew you'd try to talk me out of it. I can't stay here anymore. I found out the truth from Murdoch so there's no point in acting like everything will be alright. I don't know if it's legal, but I signed my deed over to you. I'm taking Barranca as payment, I'm sure you won't mind the tradeoff. Don't come after me, it's useless. If you have any problems with the deed, go to Doc. I'll check with him in a month or so and take care of it then. It was nice knowing I have a brother and I couldn't have asked for a better one. We don't know each other very well but I can tell you're a good man, Scott. Stay at Lancer, it's where you belong. We both know that. Thanks for trying.

Johnny Madrid

Scott plopped down on the side of the bed and stared at the note. He looked briefly at the deed and saw Johnny's signature. Sadness threatened to overwhelm him but it was quickly replaced with anger. He stood up and stomped out and down the stairs.

Murdoch was sitting by the fire with a book in his hand. Scott walked in and threw the note at him without a word. He looked up, annoyed at first, but saw his son's face and read the note. Murdoch dropped his head and his shoulders in defeat.

"What is he talking about? What truth?" Scott demanded.

"It's between your brother and me, Scott."

"No, it is not, Sir! My brother just left forever and I want to know why. I think I have that right!" Scott retorted.

"Well, you would be wrong! It's not your business!" Murdoch shouted.

"Fine! Johnny will tell me when I find him," Scott declared and stormed out of the house.

Scott headed to Morro Coyo and straight to the saloon. He was surprised to find his brother wasn't there. He questioned the bartender who said he hadn't seen Johnny in over a week. He headed to the only hotel in town and was greeted with more bad news, no Johnny. He stood on the boardwalk outside the hotel and thought. With a determined nod of his head, he headed to Spanish Wells.

In Spanish Wells, Scott had no better luck. No one had seen his brother that night or any other in the recent past. He reasoned his only other option would be Green River so he headed there. He was met with more disappointment in that town as well. Disgruntled and angry, he decided it was too late to ride any further and spent the night in the hotel. He thought he would retrace his steps in the morning and try to find Johnny's trail. He probably headed south but what worried Scott the most was the fact that his brother really didn't seem to want to be found.

*

Johnny rode into Hard Rock around midnight and settled in at the hotel for the night. He knew Scott would not think to look for him here and he had planned on going to Green River in the morning. He needed money and, contrary to what the old man thought, he hadn't spent the thousand dollars he'd been paid for his services. He tried to sleep but it was elusive. He kept thinking about that stupid drawing on the wall in his room. It was definitely the work of a small child so who else could it have been but him? He draped his gunbelt on the bedpost and closed his eyes but all he could see was Murdoch yelling at him over something so stupid and inconsequential.

He sat up on the side of the bed and stared into space, thinking about what he had lost. Scott and Teresa had come to mean so much to him in such a short period of time, he was amazed. He had never before allowed anyone to get that close, not since his mother. He shook any thoughts of her away though, it was too painful. Now he knew why he had kept his distance as best he could. He always lost.

Johnny Madrid, who never lost a gunfight, always lost something much more important, love. Now, he had lost the family he never even knew he had. All because of who he was. That was the core of it; Murdoch could not accept a gunfighter for a son. Okay, he might be able to understand that, but then he should never have sent for him. There were a lot of good guns out there for hire. Guns that didn't come attached with the emotional baggage of this particular job.

Why did he even offer? Maybe he was so sure Johnny would turn him down, he didn't worry about the risk that he would actually accept his old man. He might not have, if not for Scott, if not for what Teresa had told him that day.

He had believed her, even though he didn't want to. He knew she was telling the truth because he knew his mother better than anyone. Better than Murdoch did for sure. Even after what she had done to him ten years ago, he loved her, accepted her for what she was. Hearing Teresa's story only lent to what he knew of Maria.

But what hurt most was losing Scott. The man he didn't understand, but wanted to desperately. The man who had accepted him from the first, never questioning his motives, never thinking ill of him. The man who had so easily fallen into a life so completely foreign to the eastern dandy. He gave everybody the benefit of the doubt and he was loyal to both him and Murdoch. Not an easy task, for certain.

Scott was a puzzle alright, one he had hoped to figure out. Now that wouldn't happen, now it was all over. He hung his head and tried to keep the tears at bay. He gave into them though, figuring he may as well get it out of his system so he could go back to being Madrid . Go back to his life, a life he hated more and more with each passing day.

He knew he would have to forget about them all and it would not be easy. Even Murdoch had gotten under his skin. He had a unique ability to push away hurtful things but he knew this would not go away quickly. He knew he would need much more time to pack them all away in that place he kept hidden and locked in his mind.

He figured he could function as Madrid . He knew he could push anything out of his mind long enough to do a job, but he also knew that this, they, would come back again and again between those jobs. He noticed with some surprise that daylight was breaking. He had sat there all night. Shaking his head, he got up and threw some water on his face, then headed downstairs for breakfast before he rode back to Green River . No one knew he was here and he would like to keep it that way until he could get out. He didn't want any confrontations, he couldn't handle it yet.

*

Scott arose early from a long, sleepless night and headed out again after a quick breakfast and a shave. He headed back to Lancer, at least as far as the road, and picked up the tracks he thought would be his brother's. He wasn't the best tracker, he had to admit, but Johnny had shown him some things in the short time they'd had together.

He sighed deeply as he thought of all that could be if Johnny and Murdoch could only come to some kind of understanding. He wondered again what had happened, what truth Johnny was referring to in his note. The fact that he mentioned nothing about saying goodbye to Murdoch or even Teresa, led Scott to believe he was hurting badly. He cursed his father's stubbornness and the anger fueled him in his search.

Scott was a bit surprised that the tracks seem to be heading north. Maybe Johnny knew he would follow and was trying to throw him off the trail. Maybe he went north first only to turn south again along the coast road. It seemed to make sense, so Scott headed to Hard Rock. He arrived just before noon and went to the hotel first.

The clerk seemed a bit nervous when Scott asked after Johnny Madrid. He smiled at the man and assured him he wanted no trouble. He told him Johnny was a friend and they had missed connecting up where they were supposed to. The clerk seemed to accept the lie and admitted that Johnny had spent the night but had left early that morning. No, he had no idea where he was headed and had the good sense not to ask.

Scott took the south road out of town. There were a lot of prints in the soft dirt by this time of day, but he would not allow that to discourage him. He continued south, knowing his brother would head for the border and silently prayed that he caught up with him first. Scott had no knowledge of Mexico and knew if Johnny made it that far, he would never find his brother.

*

Murdoch rode into Green River early that morning and headed to Doc Jenkins office. He walked in and was greeted by the man himself.

"Good morning, Murdoch. Who's sick or shot?" Sam asked with a smile.

Murdoch was not amused and ignored the pleasantries. "No one. Have you seen Johnny?"

"No, not lately. Why?"

"I thought he might have stopped in to see you yesterday."

"Is he still having problems from that bullet wound? I told him he'd be feeling it for quite a while yet," Sam inquired with concern.

"Feeling it? He's alright isn't he?"

"He's completely healed but scars have a way of making themselves known for weeks after an injury. Why are you looking for him? Don't you know where your own son is?"

"No, I do not. He left last night. He left Scott a note and said he would check with you if Scott needed anything. I thought he might have stopped to let you know that," Murdoch answered, disgruntled.

Sam Jenkins looked at his old friend and shook his head. "What did you do?"

"What makes you think I did anything?"

"Because, I know you, Murdoch Lancer. You are the most bullheaded jackass in the valley, possibly the entire state! That boy has been through hell and I'm not just talking about his latest injury!" Sam shot.

Murdoch sat down heavily in the nearest chair and sighed, rubbing his hand across his face. "I told him the truth, Sam. I told him I knew about him."

"My God, why would you do such a thing?" Sam asked, shocked.

"Because I was angry and he asked me. He came right out and asked me! It was like he knew."

"Maybe he sensed it. He's not stupid, you know. Maybe he got a look at that Pinkerton report," Sam surmised.

"No, he couldn't have. I keep it locked up. I would have known if anyone had been in there."

"Then it's just his smarts. You don't give that boy enough credit. His instincts are excellent, Murdoch. You can't lie to him or keep anything from him. I learned that pretty quickly when I was treating him. Did you explain?"

"I didn't get the chance. He walked out on me," Murdoch said softly.

"Well, I guess you had better find him and set things right. That is, if you want to."

Murdoch jerked his head up and looked angrily at Sam. "Of course I want to! What do you think I'm doing here?" He took a breath then and calmed himself. "Has Scott been here?"

"No."

*

Johnny rode into Green River just after noon and headed for the bank. He sauntered in as if he hadn't a care in the world and asked to see the bank president. He was shown to the man's office and offered a seat.

"I want to withdraw my money," he said simply.

"All of it?" Mr. Hamilton asked.

"That's right, all of it."

"That's a lot of cash to be carrying around, Johnny. Are you sure?"

"I can take care of myself, Mr. Hamilton. Is there a problem?"

"No, no, of course not. I'm sorry to be losing your business is all."

Johnny laughed softly. "Never heard a banker say that to me before. Don't worry, Lancer is still in business with you. I'm sure that's a better deal for you anyway."

"I'll get one of my tellers, just a moment," he said and walked to the door. After whispering to an employee, he returned to his desk. "I know you're a grown man, but ... does Murdoch know you're doing this?"

"It's none of his business. Nothing I do is any of his business," Johnny said, leaning forward and glaring at the man to make his point.

"Yes, of course. I'm sorry, I'm just surprised is all. When you made the deposit I got the feeling you meant to keep it here. Hands off sort of," Hamilton fished.

"Guess that was the plan, but plans change. I'm leaving here and I don't intend to come back. Is that what you wanted to know?" Johnny smiled at the man's curiosity.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Johnny. I really am. I hoped you would be happy at Lancer. Your father was so glad to have you both back."

"Was he? Both of us? I don't think so. Anyway, it doesn't really matter anymore. I'm sure you don't care to have Johnny Madrid's money hanging around your bank," he said with a slight sneer.

Hamilton cringed a little at the referral, but he was not a cowardly man. "You're wrong about Murdoch. Whatever happened between the two of you, he wants you, Johnny. Believe me, I know. I've been friends with him a long time now and I know how much it meant when you and Scott signed those deeds and decided to stay with him.

"Oh, he's hardheaded and tough, doesn't show his feelings, but inside, where it counts I guess, it matters to him. It's too bad really, that he can't show you or tell you how much you mean to him."

Johnny listened to the man but he knew he didn't have a clue what was really going on here. He figured Hamilton just wanted to try and help. Nice but unnecessary and futile. The clerk came in then with the money and a piece of paper.

"I'll need you to sign this to close the account."

Johnny signed the paper and winced. He had signed it Johnny Lancer without even thinking. Well, that was the name on the account so he figured it was natural to sign that way. Hamilton counted out the money for him, all one thousand dollars and stuck it back in the envelope, handing it over.

"Thanks," Johnny said as he stood to leave.

"Johnny, wait. Talk to him again. Try once more, won't you?"

"I appreciate your concern, Mr. Hamilton, but no amount of talk will change what's true. It was nice knowing you. You're a good man," Johnny smiled and tipped his hat, then walked out.

Frank Hamilton walked out of the bank and looked for Johnny. He saw him riding out of town to the south and shook his head. He was about to head back inside when he spied Murdoch leaving Sam's office. He ran across the street and called to his friend.

"Are you looking for Johnny?"

"Have you seen him?" Murdoch asked, hopefully.

"He just left the bank. He withdrew his money and closed the account. I tried to talk with him, Murdoch. I'm afraid it didn't do any good. He just now rode out of town on the south road."

"How much money did he have left?"

Hamilton fidgeted a little. Revealing a customer's personal business was against his principles but this was different. "All of it. One thousand dollars."

Murdoch raised his eyebrows at this information. He was sure Johnny had blown nearly all that money by now. He thanked his friend and headed for his horse, determined to catch up with his son.

*

Johnny rode at a canter as he was in no real hurry. He figured he'd reach Mexico in three days at this pace and that was fine with him. He didn't need a job at the moment and he didn't really want one anyway. He reached down and stroked Barranca's neck, smiling.

"You'll like Mexico , amigo. It's drier there and I'll always take care of you. Things will be different though and I'm counting on you to be by my side when things get dicey. I'll need you, mi amigo, if I get myself in a tough spot. I know you'll take good care of me, won't you?"

Barranca nickered and tossed his head and Johnny laughed at the horse. "That's right, we're compadres through thick and thin. You're the best horse I've ever had, Barranca. You and me, we were meant for each other, huh?"

Johnny pulled up and cocked his head, listening. He heard a rider behind him and headed for the cover of some boulders on the side of the road. He pulled Barranca out of sight and hunkered down, gun drawn, and waited.

Murdoch rode at a quick pace down the road. He figured it wouldn't take him long to catch up with Johnny. He rode right past the boulders and kept going, thinking he should have met up with the boy by now.

Johnny watched as the rider passed him, surprised when he recognized the figure of his father. 'Wonder what he's doin out here,' he thought. He pressed his body against the boulder and closed his eyes briefly. 'Surely, he's not looking for me.'

He stayed where he was, figuring Murdoch might turn back in a bit. Realizing that, from this direction, he was exposed he took Barranca's reins and climbed up the embankment to the hills above, using the trees for cover. He settled in to wait for Murdoch to return, then he would continue on his way.

A half hour later, Murdoch realized he would have caught up with Johnny by now. Thinking his son had heard a rider behind him and hidden out, he turned around and headed back the way he came. He watched the road, seeing only his own tracks until he came to a spot near some boulders. 'How could I have missed that?' he thought with chagrin.

The tracks headed off to the boulders and he dismounted and looked around. He saw the footprints and horse prints at the boulder that disappeared. He could feel someone watching him and he took a chance.

"Hard to believe Johnny Madrid would hide from a man, any man," he called out. "I guess I misjudged you. I never would have believed you'd be afraid of me," he tried. "We need to talk about this, John. You need to understand things from my point of view."

He was looking up at the tree line on the hill above, waiting for an answer or the sight of his son. He jumped three feet when he heard the voice behind him.

"Ain't hidin from nothin and we have nothin to talk about," Johnny said softly.

Murdoch turned to find his son standing behind him with a smile playing at his lips. He'd been outsmarted and out-tracked. "You took ten years off me," he said lightly.

"You took two off me," Johnny retorted. "Guess you owe me eight."

"Johnny, we have to talk about this."

"Why? Count your blessings, old man. You got a son out of all this, a good one. One that won't embarrass you or cause you any problems. One that you seem to find it so easy to call son."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about you, Murdoch. You and Scott. You call him son all the time or didn't you even realize it? You've never called me that, not once. Look, it doesn't matter. I understand. I really do. Who wants me for a son or a brother? You'd have to be loco. It ain't worth the effort, Murdoch," Johnny said barely above a whisper. He turned to walk away when he felt a hand on his arm.

"You don't make it easy, Johnny. You keep everything inside. You refuse to let us in. How am I supposed to deal with that? How am I supposed to treat you?"

"Like what I am, a hired gun. That's how you should treat me. I did a job and I got paid so now it's way past time to move on. You don't have to deal with me anymore, you never really did. You could have hired any one of a number of good guns, very good guns to help you and that's what you should have done. You could have told Scott some wonderful story of how you tried so hard to find me and just when you did, it was too late. You should have let me be, Murdoch," he said, his voice betraying him at the end.

"If I had let you be, you'd be dead."

"Exactly, then you wouldn't have had to deal with me at all. You wouldn't have felt obligated to offer me part of the ranch. I'm sure you didn't think I'd ever accept, did you?"

"I didn't feel obligated, Johnny. I wanted, hoped you'd stay. Start a new life, change."

"Change, right. Well, I'm not going to change. Oh, I could work on a ranch, hang up my gun, but I'll never change who I am, Murdoch. Don't ever think I'm afraid to die, I ain't. I came to terms with that a long time ago. Don't think you did me any favors," Johnny said harshly.

"I'd like to think I did myself a favor by saving you."

"Why? You didn't care for two years! God, you're such a hypocrite! You didn't want me then but, boy when you needed me, it was all sweet and roses! You bring me here to find out I have a brother, to find out my mother lied to me about you and then I find out you didn't give a damn until you needed Johnny Madrid! Well, you go to hell, old man. I don't need you, I never have and I never will! You're nothing to me, Murdoch Lancer, nothing!"

Johnny walked to Barranca and started to mount only to find himself being jerked with such force, he hit the ground on his backside.

"Now you listen to me! Yes, it was a shock and a disappointment to find out my son was a famous gunfighter. How would you have reacted? Yes, it took me two years to come to some kind of terms, to accept it as fact. I kept thinking they had made a mistake, that somewhere along the way they had screwed up their facts and it wasn't true. I didn't want it to be true. I didn't want to think my son was living by the gun. I didn't want to think about how you did survive all those years. It killed me, Johnny!

"The Pinkerton's compiled a report for me after that little revelation of who you were but I couldn't bring myself to read it for a very long time. When I was laid up from Pardee's bullet, I read it. What I read shocked me, I'll admit. But the most shocking thing was how wrong I had been believing you were some cold blooded, heartless killer! I found out that you weren't what I thought, that you cared about people, that more often than not, you took a job because it was right and not because it was profitable.

"I was wrong, dead wrong! How could I come to terms with what I had done? With what I had believed for two years? I had the information at my fingertips but my pride wouldn't let me read it. That's not an easy thing to live with, Johnny. Believing your own son was a killer for hire then finding out everything you believed was wrong." Murdoch stopped and took a long breath after finishing his rant then he turned away to hide his pain.

Johnny stood up and dusted himself off. He stared at his father's back for several minutes. "You believed it because you wanted to. It was just too much of a bother and it still is, Murdoch! It was much easier to believe what you wanted, that didn't take any work.

"Scott says we're too much alike, but you never considered that fact before. You never thought that I might be like you. All you could see was what you wanted to see and God forbid you are ever wrong about anything! It wasn't the Pinks that made the mistake, it was you. You and her! You should never have had me in the first place. All your problems would have been solved if you'd just thrown me in a river somewhere! She was right, you didn't want me, but not for the reasons she gave. You should never have sent for me and you know it!"

Murdoch closed his eyes and tried to gain control of his anger before turning back to his son. Before he could manage it, he heard the sound of a horse riding off at a fast gallop. He swung around and was met with the dust from Barranca's hooves as Johnny rode away at breakneck speed.

*

Scott Lancer came upon his father standing in the middle of the road south of Green River . He had backtracked after the hotel clerk finally told him he saw Johnny head in the direction of Green River . After talking with Sam and Mr. Hamilton, he had headed south. "What are you doing here?"

"I just talked to Johnny," Murdoch replied gruffly.

"Where is he?" Scott asked anxiously.

"He just took off that way," Murdoch said, indicating the road south. "I tried to talk to him, but he's so angry."

Scott dismounted and stood to face his father. "I think it's time you told me what's going on. I'm going after him, Murdoch, and it would help if I knew what I'm up against."

Murdoch sighed and acquiesced. He knew Scott was right. He had failed at talking to Johnny but maybe Scott could get through. He also knew his eldest was about to blow his top. He sat on a boulder beside the road and told Scott the whole story.

Scott paced in front of him, his arms crossed over his chest. When Murdoch finished, he stopped and glared at his father. "Before I say anything, I want to know what else you know that Johnny doesn't. Are there any more little secrets that will rip my brother's heart out?" he asked snidely.

Murdoch simply shook his head no.

"Well, glory be for that! I can't talk to you about this right now, I swear I can't. I'm going after Johnny. I have to catch him before he gets into Mexico . We both know it's impossible to find anyone down there. Oh no, that's not true, is it," Scott shot the hurtful words at his father and mounted his horse.

"You had better be prepared, Murdoch. You had better be ready to say whatever is necessary to make Johnny forgive you because if you don't, you'll lose us both." He turned and kneed the horse into a gallop.

*

Scott was ready. Murdoch had told him how Johnny got the drop on him earlier so he was ready for his brother's tricks. He rode at a quick pace but didn't want to go too fast, worried he might miss a clue if Johnny had left the road. Dammit ! How could Murdoch be so ... he couldn't even think of a word to describe his father's behavior. He was so angry he couldn't think at all and he sure didn't know what he was going to say to Johnny.

He slowed down after several miles, able to see Barranca's tracks clearly. Johnny had slowed down as well and Scott smiled as he thought of his brother's concern for the palomino. He still took a faster gait than he figured Johnny did so he could catch up with him before dark. A dark that was descending pretty quickly by now. Scott had no provisions with him and this further added to his negative mood. He looked up at the sky and frowned at the sun slowly dropping off the horizon.

"Don't suppose you brought any food with ya?" Johnny drawled.

Scott pulled to a stop and looked up on the hill above him where Johnny was perched. He shook his head, 'he did it to me, too'.

"Cute, very cute and no, I didn't."

Johnny disappeared for a minute then rode down off the side of the hill. "You're not very good at this," he grinned.

"Guess you'll have to teach me," Scott grinned back.

The smile left Johnny's face as he lowered his eyes. "Come on, there's a good spot to camp right up here," he said as he clicked his tongue at Barranca.

*

Johnny got a campfire going as Scott tended the horses. By the time he got back, Johnny had some beans heating over the fire and coffee ready. He handed a cup to his brother and settled back in front of the flames.

"Ain't much, just some beans and hard tack," he mumbled.

"Coffee's good," Scott replied.

"Thanks."

"Well, I just don't know what to say, Johnny. I've never been so angry with anyone in my life."

"Sorry, Boston , but I had to leave."

"I'm not angry with you. I caught up with Murdoch on the road where you left him and he finally told me what this is all about. I cannot believe he would do such a thing!"

"Well, he did and nothin's gonna change it now," Johnny sighed.

"You can't get past it?"

Johnny only shook his head.

"I understand. I guess I should leave as well. I mean, he knew where I was a lot longer than he knew where you were and he didn't send for me either. Now that I think of it, there is no reason for me to stay."

"No reason except you belong there," Johnny said softly.

"You said that in your note, too. What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. You belong at Lancer. It's like something you've been waiting for all your life. Something that was missing only you didn't know what it was. All you knew was , there was a hole inside you that nothing had been able to fill so far. When you came out here, you ... grew. You exploded into the man you were always meant to be. It was really amazing to watch, Boston . It was really somethin ," Johnny smiled.

Scott stared at him in awe. "You see more than anyone I've ever met, Johnny. It's funny how you can't see that Murdoch loves you."

Johnny jerked his head up and stared at his brother then dropped them quickly again. "Beans are ready."

*

They ate in silence, Scott watching his brother and trying to figure out how to make him stay. Johnny had a faraway look in his eyes as if he were already gone. It made Scott shudder to think that. He couldn't lose Johnny, he just couldn't. As much as Johnny was right about him belonging at Lancer, he also knew Johnny belonged with him. It wasn't just the ranch that had been missing from his life, it was his brother. He thought that might be an advantage so he decided to play the card.

"What you said earlier about me belonging at Lancer. It almost sounded like you knew exactly how I felt, like you felt the same way," Scott tried.

Johnny wouldn't look at him. He kept his eyes down and went on eating.

"That hole inside you were talking about has nothing to do with land but it has everything to do with you. You are what's been missing, Johnny. Surely you know that," Scott said sincerely.

Johnny did not respond.

"I know you're hurt and I don't blame you but would you answer a question for me?"

"Depends on the question," Johnny mumbled and Scott swore he saw a flicker of a smile.

"Do you really want to go back to being Johnny Madrid?"

Johnny took a deep breath and tossed his plate aside. He pulled his knees up in front of him and hugged them close to his chest, resting his chin on them. He stayed this way for several minutes before he spoke. "No."

Scott closed his eyes for a second with relief before preparing himself for the next challenge. "Then I have a proposition for you. ".

*

Murdoch Lancer rode up to the estancia feeling more tired than he had in years. He handed the horse off to a hand and trudged into the house through the French doors. Removing his hat, he looked up to find Teresa waiting for him, hands on her hips. He gave her a weak smile before he realized she was not returning it.

"Well?" she asked.

"Scott's gone after him," Murdoch mumbled.

"Scott? Why didn't you?" she insisted.

"I did, Teresa, I tried but he wouldn't listen to me," he defended.

She scowled at him for a moment. "I'll heat up your dinner," she said as she turned on her heel and strode out.

Murdoch walked over and sat down heavily at his desk. It was his favorite place to just sit and think. But he had been thinking since Scott rode off and it hadn't done him any good. He knew he had to find a way to get Johnny to listen to him, he just didn't know how he was going to make that happen.

Teresa walked in and sat a plate in front of him and a cup of coffee then walked out without a word. 'Her too,' he thought. Why can't anyone understand?

He looked at the food but pushed the plate away, settling for the coffee instead. His appetite had left him two days ago and had not returned.

He sipped the hot brew for a minute then sat it down and opened the top drawer of his desk. Retrieving a key, he unlocked the bottom desk drawer and pulled out a thick folder. He sat it down in front of him and exhaled loudly. Resignedly, he opened the file and began to read.

An hour later, his coffee long cold, Murdoch looked up from the tome and shook his head sadly. If only I'd read this. He remembered his father telling him that 'if only's ' didn't mean a thing when the fireplace needed wood. Be practical, he had said.

He was a hard man, tough and cold. Murdoch couldn't remember his father ever hugging him or telling him he loved him. He remembered how much he longed for some show of affection from the man, all for naught. His father had died and he never got to hear those words.

Johnny needs to hear the words. He needs to hear it so he can believe it. He's spent most of his life alone, fighting for every scrap, every day. No one to care whether he lived or died. Was that how he still felt? No, he knows Scott loves him, doesn't he? He remembered his son's words on the road.

'You got a son out of all this, a good one. One that won't embarrass you or cause you any problems. One that you seem to find it so easy to call son.'

Was it true? Did he favor Scott? He thought back over the past weeks since they had come home. Scott seemed to accept him without question, where Johnny questioned everything. Scott was so easy to talk to, so affable. Johnny was like a rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike at anything that threatened him. At anything or anyone who threatened him. Murdoch suddenly realized Johnny had been protecting himself, keeping a distance to avoid further pain from his father. It hadn't worked, sadly. Sam said it, he's too smart.

Murdoch stood up and stared out the picture window behind him into the night. He couldn't see anything but still he stared. He wondered where his sons were or if they were even together. He prayed so, that Scott had caught up to Johnny, or rather, that Johnny had allowed him to catch up. He wondered what Scott would say. He was so angry when he rode off after Johnny.

The threat stabbed at Murdoch's heart as he remembered the words so vividly. 'You had better be ready to say whatever is necessary to make Johnny forgive you because if you don't, you'll lose us both.'

He couldn't lose them, either of them. How did it get this bad? Why did he tell Johnny the truth? But he knew why, because Johnny would have known if he tried to lie about it. Sometimes he felt that boy could look right inside of him, but he couldn't. If he could, he would see the truth there.

He's scared, scared to chance caring and scared I won't care back. I do care, Johnny. I love you so much, son. He dropped his head and sat back down in the leather chair, leaning forward to bury his hands in his face. Tears sprung so suddenly to his eyes, he couldn't hold them back and he cried for the heartbreak he had caused his son.

Some time later, he didn't know how long, he looked up again. Staring at the empty room, listening to the deafening silence interrupted only by the ticking of that infernal clock. He felt more alone than he had ever felt in his life. Even after Catherine died and Scott was taken away, he hadn't felt this lonely. It was almost unbearable and he knew if his boys didn't come back to him, he wouldn't survive it.

He wasn't good with words of emotion. He could bark orders and argue with the best of them but when it came to showing his feelings, Murdoch Lancer was a statue. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Opening his desk drawer again, he took out paper and pencil and began to write. He knew no other way to express what he wanted, no needed, to say to Johnny. Maybe if I just put it down on paper, I can tell him.

*

Johnny looked up at him and smiled. "A proposition? What would that be?"

"Will you hear me out? Let me finish before you answer?"

"Yeah," Johnny whispered.

Scott got up and stretched his legs before settling back down closer to his brother. By the time he got comfortable, they were shoulder to shoulder.

Johnny fought to keep from cringing away. The closeness felt too good and he didn't want to give in to his feelings for Scott.

"When we accepted the partnership in the ranch, it was kind of a 'throw everything in the pot' deal. It doesn't have to be that way. You own one third of that land, Johnny. That's a little over thirty three thousand acres. You could stay at Lancer and take your part."

"What are you talking about?" Johnny asked suspiciously.

"I'm just saying you could take your third. Map it out, make an agreement with me and Murdoch on what section you want. Build yourself a house. You also own a third of the cattle. You could start your own ranch. You'd still be close enough that we could see each other and I wouldn't have to worry every minute of the rest of my life if you were still alive," Scott reasoned.

"That's a nice dream, Boston , but he won't go for it," Johnny said glumly.

"I think he will, Johnny. I know you think he doesn't want you, but you're wrong. I'm not saying I like what he did, I hate it and I'm still angry. But, Johnny, I want you, too. Teresa wants you. Murdoch will agree to this, I guarantee it," Scott said confidently.

"Oh, you guarantee it, huh? What makes you think you're in the catbird seat?" Johnny asked with some humor.

"Because, I told Murdoch he had better find a way to make this up to you or he'd lose us both," Scott said flatly.

Johnny looked away for a minute. "Well, that should do it. He sure doesn't want to lose his son," he whispered.

"Don't you mean 'sons'?"

"No, I don't, Scott. I mean 'son'. He accepted you at first sight. He's never questioned you about whether you did a job or why you were late or where you've been or anything," Johnny said harshly.

"Johnny, I don't..."

"It's not your fault, Scott. It's the difference between us. The way we grew up. It don't matter to me and I don't think it matters to you but it sure matters to him!" Johnny stood up and paced off a few feet, keeping his back to his brother. "I know you probably don't see it, but I do."

"Johnny, I know he treats us differently. And you're right, the difference in our upbringing doesn't matter to me. I don't really know what to say. I can't deny it, I just don't know why he does it," Scott said gently.

"I know why. You're responsible, smart, you have good manners, you're ... what'ya call it, sophisticated. You also know how to hold your temper and keep yourself under control around him. I can't do that. I can stay calm in any other circumstance, but when it comes to Murdoch, it's pointless. He sees a gunfighter, that's it and that's all. Maybe that's all I really am."

"You don't really believe that. I know he hurt you deeply, Johnny. It hurts me, too. But, can I tell you something? I spent most of my childhood wondering why my father didn't want me. Why he never wrote or came to see me. I had a lot of anger over that. Sometimes, I still do but I've learned that people have faults, many faults and they aren't perfect and their choices are horrible sometimes. They end up regretting those choices for the rest of their lives. Some people try to make amends while others simply push it away and try to go on with their lives. Murdoch says it's all in the past and should stay there. We both disagree with that, I know. How do you make amends for the things you've done that hurt your children?"

"I don't know, Scott. Maybe you can't. Maybe there is no making up for it. And maybe I could understand it, if ... forget it," Johnny sighed.

"No, if what? Tell me," Scott said, standing to move closer to his brother.

"If things were different, but theyâ€re not. He still doesn't want me, he still can't stand to look at me," Johnny said softly and Scott could hear the pain in his voice.

"I think you're wrong about that, brother. I think it hurts him to be with you because he knows what he did. He knows it was wrong and he shouldn't have needed a report to tell him," Scott said as gently as he could but the anger was rising in him once more.

"Well, you know Murdoch. It's all gotta be in black and white before he'll believe it," Johnny said with a smirk.

"Yes, he's too practical sometimes. He treats us like he treats business," Scott said, only half joking.

"How do you do it? I mean, how do you just let it go, Scott?"

"I guess I want to be here more than I want to be apologized to. I want to know you and him and maybe, in knowing him, I'll understand why he did the things he did," Scott explained. "I guess we both have issues with him. But, Johnny, that doesn't mean we can't work them out. Give him one more chance, please, for me. I don't want to lose you."

"Ain't gonna happen, Boston . Look, you need to go home. Don't worry about me, I do just fine," Johnny smiled but his eyes were sad.

"No, Johnny. If you don't go back, neither am I," Scott stated defiantly.

"Oh really? Where you planning on going?" Johnny asked with amusement.

"With you, of course! We're brothers and we need time to get to know each other. I don't care if it's at Lancer or in Mexico ."

Johnny laughed softly at this and watched his brother with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes. "You want to go to Mexico with me? YOU want to go to Mexico ? Scott, are you crazy? You wouldn't last ten seconds in a border town!"

"Yes, I would. As long as I'm with the infamous Johnny Madrid!" Scott proclaimed.

Johnny didn't smile like Scott thought he would and he realized they were right back where they started.

"Johnny, I don't want you to go. Take me up on my offer. Come back to Lancer and hash out the details with Murdoch. Doesn't it sound good? Your own ranch to run any way you want. You could break horses all day long if you wanted. You could just raise horses instead of cattle, whatever you wanted to do. What do you say?" There was a tinge of pleading in his voice that Johnny did not miss.

"Yeah, sure and you're gonna come over and do the books for me right? I don't know, Scott. It sounds okay, better than going back to selling my gun, but being so close to Murdoch ... I don't know," Johnny said apprehensively.

"It will work, Johnny. We'll make it work. Just say you'll try it. If you change your mind, you can always sell the land back to us."

"Let me sleep on it, Boston . I'm pretty tired right now.”

Scott consented to ending their talk and they bedded down for the night. Johnny stared at the stars for a long time before he fell asleep. He knew Murdoch would never agree to splitting up Lancer. Scott and his pipe dreams!

*

Scott awoke as the sun's first rays hit his face. He stretched his muscles and looked over to his brother but Johnny wasn't there. Panic struck him and he bolted straight up, looking around a little wild-eyed until he spotted Barranca. He sighed with relief. Two seconds later, Johnny came out of the brush with his canteen.

"Thought you might sleep all day, Boston . Breakfast will be ready in two shakes," Johnny smiled.

"I just want some coffee and don't do that to me again!" Scott groused.

"Do what?"

"Disappear like that!"

"Sorry, brother, but I didn't think you'd want me to invite you go along. What a grouch!" Johnny teased.

Scott smiled and stood up. He rolled up his bedding and disappeared into the brush himself for a while. By the time he got back, the bacon and coffee were ready.

"Smells good," he smiled.

"Yeah? Thought you just wanted coffee," Johnny grinned.

"Can't a man change his mind?"

"Every other second, Boston , every other second," Johnny said a bit sadly.

Scott frowned, he knew who Johnny was referring to. "Have you thought anymore about my proposition?"

"Yeah, I just don't think the old man's gonna buy it."

"But you'll give it a try," Scott said apprehensively.

"Nope. You give it a try. It was your idea. I'll just grab a hotel room in town and wait it out," Johnny grinned.

"Coward," Scott grinned back.

*

Johnny and Scott rode into Green River together just as Sam Jenkins was leaving on his rounds. He smiled at the boys and relief washed over him. 'Figures, Scott would be the one to get him back,' he thought ruefully.

"Well, brother, I'll just get myself a room and wait to hear from you," Johnny smiled.

"You're serious about this. You won't come back to the ranch with me," Scott said a bit surprised.

"No, Scott. I don't want to see him. I can't. If he agrees to this, and I doubt it, but if he does, I don't want to deal with him, only you. Okay?"

"Okay, Johnny. I'll be back as soon as I can," Scott said dejectedly.

"No hurry, I'm gonna go up there and get myself some real sleep. Haven't had much for a couple of days," Johnny smiled.

"Oh sure, you get to sleep and I get Murdoch!" Scott over-dramatized.

"You're idea, Boston ," Johnny called back as he walked Barranca to the livery.

"Thanks," Scott mumbled as he reared his horse toward home.

*

Murdoch stood on the veranda and watched the hands going about their business. He kept looking to the road and feeling disappointment each time. He was startled back to the present by a familiar voice behind him.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"I said, is Johnny coming home?"

"I don't know yet."

"Do you not think you should have gone after him yourself?"

"Cipriano, I did go after him. He won't listen to me!" Murdoch raised his voice in frustration.

"Perhaps you did not say the words he needs to hear," Cipriano suggested.

"I'm sure I didn't. I'm sure I don't know what words to say to make him understand me!"

"Understand you? Why should he understand you?"

"I mean to understand what I was thinking then, why I did what I did," Murdoch elaborated.

"Ah, I see. Has it occurred to you that Johnny does not want to hear your reasons, only that you are sorry?"

Murdoch looked at him with a stunned expression.

"It is so easy to say, you would be surprised, mi amigo."

"Saying you're sorry isn't all that easy, Cipriano."

"Perhaps not, but that is not what I am talking about. Two words, mi amigo. Te amo . Very simple, yes?"

Murdoch swallowed hard. "And if he doesn't say it back?" he croaked, looking away.

"Then he does not. You do not say it to have it said back to you, only because it is what you feel. You have used those words before, it is time to use them again. It is time to tell your nino those words once more," Cipriano said gently.

"I...I'm afraid he doesn't love me. That he can't," Murdoch faltered.

"¿Mi amigo, usted me confías en?"

"Of course I trust you."

"Then you must believe me when I say that Johnny does love you. He always has deep in his heart. He may not know this has always been true but he knows it now. He loves you now. I am certain of it," Cipriano said authoritatively.

"What am I going to do if I lose him, my friend? How can I live with losing him again?"

"Perhaps you should ask the one who comes to you now. Senor Scott is riding in," Cipriano said as he tossed his head toward the road. "Remember what I say, Murdoch. Johnny does love you, él le ama mucho."

*

Murdoch walked out to meet Scott as he dismounted. "Where is he?" he asked immediately.

"He's in Green River waiting for me. Come inside, we need to talk, Sir," Scott said and headed to the house without waiting for an answer.

Murdoch followed him but he was having a hard time containing the relief he felt that Johnny was at least close by. He stood and waited for his son to speak.

"Johnny won't come here. He said he doesn't want to see you. I made him a proposal and I hope you'll agree with it. It's the only way to keep him close and away from that other life," Scott said flatly.

Murdoch swallowed the lump that had so quickly surged into his throat and found his voice. "What is it?"

"I told him he should take his share of Lancer. That we could divide the land and he could have his own ranch."

Murdoch winced at the thought of cutting up the land he had worked so hard to build. He turned away from Scott and thought it over. "And there's no way to convince him to come home?"

"No, I tried."

"Maybe I should try talking to him one more time."

"He ... he said he only wanted to deal with me. I'm afraid if you go to see him, he'll take off again," Scott fumbled.

"I can't just pretend he isn't here! This is ridiculous, cutting up the land and acting as if we don't even know each other! No, Scott, we have to work this out somehow. Johnny has to stop running some day. Today is as good a day as any." With that Murdoch walked out of the house and headed to town.

*

Murdoch stood outside the hotel room for a good five minutes. He felt the breast of his jacket, patting the envelope there. Not much frightened the towering rancher, but the thought of losing his son sent shivers down his spine. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

Johnny opened the door and looked up in surprise. "What are you doing here?" he whispered, all the air seemingly gone from his lungs.

"I need to talk to you, Johnny. May I come in?"

Johnny sighed and opened the door wider to allow his father entry. He walked over and plopped down on the side of the bed. "What?" he asked shortly.

"I spoke with Scott this morning and he explained his idea. We discussed it and, well I don't agree," he finished and took a deep breath, holding it.

Johnny was looking at him closely. He suddenly felt very uncomfortable under that stare and walked over to the window to look out. "Before you say anything, son, I want you to know I want you to come home. There has to be a way for us to work this out."

"Have you ever bothered to ask yourself, or me for that matter, what I want?"

Murdoch turned to look at him. "What do you want, Johnny?"

Johnny dropped his eyes and shook his head slowly. "More than I deserve, I guess."

"You deserve everything, son. Everything good in this life," Murdoch replied quietly.

A crooked smile flitted across his face but it was brief and replaced by a deep sadness. "Let's just get this over with."

"Is that how you think of it, as getting it over with?"

"All we're gonna do is argue so what's the point?" Johnny said tersely.

"You're still angry with me, I understand that. But, Johnny, we have to able to talk to each other," Murdoch said gently.

"Since when? We never have been able to. Look, this is pointless. You don't want me here, that's fine. Just admit it and we can both move on," Johnny shot.

"I do want you here! How many times do I have to say it, Johnny? How many times before you believe I am telling you the truth? If you think about it, I've never lied to you. There are things I haven't told you but I haven't lied. That may be splitting hairs, I don't know. All I do know is you are the hardest person to talk to I have ever met!" Murdoch stated, raising his voice toward the end.

Murdoch turned back around after an interminable minute of silence. Johnny hadn't moved , he sat on the bed, his head down. He wished he could see his son's face, to know what he was feeling.

"I guess you were right, we always end up arguing. I don't know why that is, maybe we're too much alike. Both too stubborn to admit our feelings. I know I am. I, um, well I've never been very good at talking about my feelings or showing them. I've been trying to figure some way to get you to understand. Of trying to get you to forgive me. I know this isn't the right way, but it ... it's the only way I've been able to come up with. I wrote you a letter. Will you read it?" Murdoch asked, stumbling over his frustration with his own inadequacies.

"You wrote me a letter?" Johnny asked, looking up in surprise.

"I hope you'll read it and then maybe we can talk. I seem to get so defensive when I try to explain myself to you, it all comes out wrong. I don't know what else to do, son. Please, just read it," Murdoch explained and reached into his coat pocket to retrieve the letter. He handed it to Johnny, who accepted it with some trepidation.

"I'll give you some time alone. I'll come back in, say an hour?" Murdoch said and headed to the door. He walked out into the hallway actually trembling.

*

Johnny stared at the envelope in his hand for a long time. He found his hands were shaking and he chastised himself for being foolish. It was just a piece of paper! He scooted back on the bed and sat cross-legged then opened the envelope and unfolded the pages.

Johnny,

This may be the coward's way out. I can't blame you if that's what you think. I have such a hard time talking to you. I guess that's because you won't let me get away with anything. I realized, sitting at my desk tonight, how lonely it is here. Scott has gone after you and Teresa isn't speaking to me. I sit here and listen to the clock ticking and I know more surely than I ever have, that I need you. I don't need your gun or your reputation, I need my son. That little boy who brought such joy and light into my life so many years ago is gone. I have to confess I've had a hard time dealing with that. But that is how I remember you.

When I found out who you were, it devastated me. What I did about it was simple, I ignored it. I pretended it didn't exist. I was so wrong, so very wrong. I've made many mistakes in my life but the two biggest mistakes were what I did to you and not fighting harder to get Scott back. I don't think there is any way I can make amends for either of those mistakes. I let you down, I disappointed you and I hurt you. When you were little, you looked up to me, you thought I was the best thing going. Nothing was better than being with pa.

I was so proud of you. I still am. I bragged about you to anyone within earshot. I guess I still carry that image of you in my head and I have a hard time dealing with the man you are today. I tried to tell you on the road but the words came out all wrong. I told you once I didn't know what to think of you. It was true then but in these few short weeks, I do know what to think of you. You are brave, strong, honorable, honest, trustworthy, stubborn, intense, true to yourself, caring and softhearted. I am so proud of you. I am ashamed of myself as well.

I cheated us both, Johnny. Cheated us out of being together sooner, of knowing each other longer and better. It was my loss and I will regret it for the rest of my life. I don't want to lose you again, son. I don't think I could bear it, to be honest. I am being honest with you, Johnny.

I stopped and wrote this part just this morning as I was on my way to see you. A very wise and good friend told me I needed to tell you what is in my heart, even if I'm afraid you won't feel the same way. He said I should say it because I feel it and not to have it said back to me. He's right. I've been trying so hard to explain why I did what I did, that I haven't said what is really important.

I am sorry and I love you very much, son. I hope you can forgive me someday. If you can't, I will have to accept that somehow. More than anything, I want you close to me and I don't want you to leave Lancer or your brother. If we can't get past this, at least you will have Scott. He needs you as much as you need him. I need you, too. I want you as I always have. Forgive a stubborn old fool for his damnable pride. I wish I could say these things to you. Maybe someday I will be able to but for now, this is the only way I know to say what I really feel. Te amo, hijo.

*

Johnny stared at the pages, having read them three times. He wanted so much to believe the words, words his father couldn't say to his face. He couldn't be angry about it though, he knew he was the same way. He couldn't have said those things either. The irony did not escape him. The very things about Murdoch that angered him the most were the things he himself wasn't capable of.

His first thought was to write his reply but he thought better of that. Murdoch would be back soon and it was time to stop this. It was time for them to really talk to each other, not at each other. His heart ached at the thought of losing his father again, so much so that he could feel the physical pain of it. More than anything, he knew they had to listen to each other.

He heard the knock on the door and his throat went tight, his mouth suddenly dry. 'God, am I really afraid of him?' He stood up slowly and walked to the door, his hand lingering on the knob a few seconds.

*

Johnny took a deep breath and opened the door wide, turning around and walking back to the bed immediately. Murdoch stood in the doorway, unsure what the move meant but it didn't look encouraging. He stepped inside and closed the door, bracing himself for an onslaught.

Johnny was still holding the letter in his hand and he looked up at his father with a mixture of emotions on his face.

Murdoch was totally confused and he felt like there was a boulder sitting in his stomach. "Is there anything you want to ask me?"

"I don't know. I'm trying to ... wrap my mind around everything. It's ... not easy. You say one thing and do another. I never know what you really mean. It confuses me, Murdoch, and I don't like being confused."

"What I wrote in that letter is the truth, son. I know I'm not the best father in the world. I haven't had much experience at it. I didn't have much of a role model myself."

"What does that mean?"

"My own father was a hard man. Work was all that was important to him. Providing for his family."

Johnny nodded his head and bit his lip. "Maybe we can both learn from his mistakes."

"I hope so, son. I want, no, I need for you to believe me, Johnny. More than I ever thought possible, I need for you to understand that I love you."

Johnny stood up and walked to the window. He stared out into the street for a long time. "I hate being inside. I feel so closed in sometimes. I'm used to doing whatever I want, going wherever I want and never answering to anybody. It's hard to get used to something so different. It's hard to get used to having to answer to anyone. I've been fighting that since the day I came here. Like a wild horse, buckin ' for all I'm worth and knowing ... in the end, I'll be broke.

"Difference is, a wild horse doesn't want to be broke. I used to think I didn't want to be either. I didn't want to be tied down to anyone. Truth is, I didn't know how, I still don't. I know I don't talk about my past and you don't understand that. But the very things you were afraid of two years ago are the things I'm afraid of you knowing about me. The things I've done just to survive one day to the next, it ain't pretty. I guess I thought you had figured those things out and that's why you didn't want me here. But you were really afraid of what you didn't know and still don't.

"Scott said he thinks if he gets to know you, he'll understand why you've done the things you have. That he'll understand you. Makes sense. Maybe if I get to know you and you get to know me, we'll understand each other better, too. Do you think that's possible?"

Murdoch closed his eyes briefly and hoped his voice would work. "Yes, I believe that is very possible, son," he managed to croak out.

Johnny nodded his head and continued to look out the window. "I believe what you wrote in the letter. I understand more than you might think. I wasn't ready to listen to you yesterday, I couldn't hear you. I was hurt and angry with you and myself." He stopped and swallowed hard, trying to finish before he lost it altogether. Taking a shaky breath he continued. "I take it that friend you talked about was Cipriano. He's a real smart man. A good man. Yeah, I talk to him a lot. I was afraid of you, well, of how you felt about me. I didn't know, I couldn't tell. You're so suspicious of me, everything I do. You seem to have a need to know every move I make. I don't know if you're afraid I'll mess up again or do something to hurt you. I don't know why you can't trust me.

"I've spent the last ten years of my life as an adult. I know what responsibility is but I've never been a part of something that was mine. Something that mattered so much to me. Lancer matters to me, Murdoch, and I would never do anything on purpose to hurt it or you. I hated you for so long you started not to matter at all. Then, there you were back in my life and I ... didn't know how to handle it. It surprised me so much, the feelings I was having, I didn't know what to do with them. You always seem so ... far away from me that I can't seem to reach you." Johnny stopped here, he couldn't go on any longer and he leaned heavily against the window.

Murdoch walked quickly to him, laying a shaky hand on his shoulder. To his surprise, Johnny turned and laid his head against his chest. He pulled his boy closer, wrapping his arm around the quaking shoulders.

"I know how you feel, Johnny. I feel the same way about you. I never know what you're thinking or feeling. Sometimes, you feel very far away from me, too. You're right about something else. I do treat you with suspicion. I guess I ... I'm so worried that you'll leave me, I'm afraid to get close, to take that chance. I'll do better, if you'll let me. I can't let you go, son. I'm so happy that Lancer matters to you, but more than anything, I'd like to matter to you," Murdoch said with a trembling voice.

"You do matter to me. That's why it hurts so much. When I talk about Lancer, I think about you. It's like you're one and the same. I didn't want to love you, I wanted to hate you. Somehow, I thought I was dishonoring her by caring about you. I tried so hard, but I couldn't help it. When I looked at you that first day, something happened. Something I fought so hard. I needed you, I wanted you to need me, to love me. God, you tore me up inside! Everything I had ever believed about you went into the trash." Johnny wrapped his arms around his father and held on tight.

"So much has happened that had nothing to do with you, Johnny. Whatever happened with your mother, it wasn't because of you but you ended up paying for it over and over. I'm so glad you don't hate me. I was afraid you would, did. All I want, all I've ever wanted, is to have you by my side. You and your brother mean the world to me."

"I won't speak for Scott, though I think I could, but just so we're clear on this. I love you, Murdoch," Johnny whispered.

"I love you, son. So very much," Murdoch whispered back and kissed the top of Johnny's head.  

Johnny pulled away a little, releasing his hold on his father and looked into the man's face. He saw it then, there in the blue-gray eyes. He saw the truth he had longed so for, but he knew they weren't finished. Not by a long shot. He smiled and turned away, walking over to the bed again. This time, Murdoch followed and sat down beside him.

"Those things I said to you on the road about Scott, I don't want you to think I said it because I was jealous. I really feel that you treat us differently. You respect him and you trust him. As far as I can see, you don't have any reason to, no more than you do me anyway. I guess what I want to know is ... why?" His voice was gentle, without malice.

"I've been thinking about that, too, and you're right. I do treat him differently. I suppose it should really be the other way around. You're the one who's lived in this country all your life. You know how things work here. Scott doesn't have a clue how a ranch works. He's learning and quickly but still it takes time. I'm afraid I've relied on him too much. I guess it's because of ... well his upbringing, his education and the fact that he seldom argues with me. He's so polite!"

Johnny laughed at this. "Yeah, he is. I figured it was because he's so smart and confidant. He has all the qualities of the perfect son."

"So do you, Johnny. In a different way, yes, but you do. You two are like night and day, it amazes me how well you get along."

"Well, we do have something in common. We've both always wanted a brother and we both spent a good amount of time being mad as hell at you. We're kind of like opposite ends of the same thing, if that makes any sense," Johnny shrugged.

"I can't say I'm thrilled with you two having anger at me in common, but I can certainly understand. And yes, it makes perfect sense, you are two parts of the same puzzle. Johnny, I want things to work out between us. I want you home with me, but I'll ask again. What do you want, son?"

Johnny closed his eyes and took a breath. "I want to belong to Lancer, to you and Scott. I want my family," he said firmly.

Murdoch's smile could have lit the room. "Then that is what you will have. Do you think we could head home now?"

"No, not yet. There's one other thing we need to talk about and I'm not leaving this room until we get it settled once and for all," Johnny said and Murdoch saw the determined set of his jaw.

*

"That sounds a bit ominous, son," Murdoch said warily.

"I guess it does but it's also the biggest problem between us and we need to talk about her."

"I figured that was it. What can I say?"

"Maybe nothing. You said you didn't know why she left. Do you have any opinion at all?"

"Johnny, your mother was awfully young when we married. I suppose she didn't realize what she was getting into. I worked long hours and didn't pay enough attention to her, I suppose. She liked to dance and go to parties. I was always too tired for any of that. I just didn't realize she was that unhappy, maybe I should have. I should have paid closer attention."

"I guess what I would really like to know is why she lied to me about you. I guess you don't know that though."

"No, son, I'm afraid I don't. I wish to God I did. To be honest, it made me pretty angry. Could you tell me exactly what she did say?"

"Not much and not all at once. The first I can remember I must have been about five when I asked about you. She ignored me then but I kept asking until she finally answered me. When she did, she was so mad. She said you didn't want me and to just forget about it. I didn't ask again for a few years. When I did that time she started crying. I didn't understand so I gave up for awhile. Sometimes, when she was ..." he stopped for a minute and dropped his head. "When she was drunk, she would call your name and cuss about the ranch. That's the only way I even knew your name, my name."

"She hated me," Murdoch said sadly.

"No, she didn't. That's just it, she would get so sad and when I asked her why she said she was missing you. None of it makes any sense to me to this day, Murdoch. One minute she was cursing the air you breathed and the next she was crying for you. It made me dizzy sometimes."

"I wish I had some answers for you, Johnny, and for myself. I guess we'll never really know the truth. It's a hard thing to live with, I know."

Johnny took and deep breath and blew it out slowly. "I figured you didn't know either but I had to ask. I guess we just have to put it behind us. Whatever her reasons, they stayed with her. Is there anything you want to ask me?"

"Yes, there is. It's about ..."

"Johnny Madrid," Johnny smiled knowingly.

Murdoch returned the smile. "I guess what I really want to know is why."

Johnny got up and went to the window again. He felt the need to stand for some reason. "You've been to the border towns, seen the gunfighters?"

"Yes."

"When I was on my own I watched them. I was usually trying to steal something to eat or find a place to sleep. They never had that problem. People were afraid of some of them, in awe of others. Their names were whispered in fear and reverence. People got out of the way when they walked or rode by. Nobody else could cause that kind of reaction.

â€I wanted to be like that, I wanted people to be afraid of me like I was afraid. I wanted them to move out of my way instead of walking over me. I wanted them to see me. I wanted ... the attention, I guess," he shrugged at the end. "All I ever felt then was hate. I hated everything and everyone and I didn't have much use for most people any more than they had any use for me. Dirt scratchers to Dons, they all treated me the same, like I was less than human."

Murdoch expected to hear anger in his son's voice, what he heard instead was pain and sadness. "You wanted to make them pay," he suggested.

"Yes, I wanted to make them pay. It's funny really. I'm the one who paid for it the most, well that's not really true. The men I faced paid for it most," he said and his voice had a hard edge to it.

"When did you realize that ... it wasn't what you wanted?" Murdoch asked hesitantly.

Johnny turned and looked at him, surprise written all over his face. "What I wanted? Never. I never thought about what I wanted. I couldn't afford to ... dream. Until I came here, I never allowed myself to think there was any other life for me."

Murdoch dropped his eyes from his son's astute stare. "I guess I just always thought part of you wanted to be Johnny Madrid."

"At one time, that was true. It was all I wanted to be, the best. I worked hard at it and those habits will stay with me forever I guess. Now, I just want to be Johnny Lancer. I just want to be ... ordinary, I guess," Johnny said with a small laugh.

Murdoch chuckled at this. "If there is one thing I know for certain, it's that you could never be called ordinary, son. That's a compliment, by the way."

"Thanks, I think," Johnny smiled. "Is there anything else you want to know?"

"Just one thing. Are you hungry? Because I'm starving!"

"Yeah, I could eat. Do you want to go home first?"

"No, I think if we want to actually eat, we had better do it here. Your brother will be waiting for us."

"Right. I'm not sure I have the energy to face him right now," Johnny said with a tired grin.

*

After eating the first decent meal either of them had had in two days, Johnny and Murdoch headed home. Riding side by side, they were silent for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.

"How much of this do you want to tell your brother?" Murdoch asked suddenly.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, we've talked about some pretty personal feelings, son. I know you're as private a person as I am about those things."

"You afraid Scott might think you're a nice guy?" Johnny teased.

"Yes, we couldn't have that," Murdoch rebutted.

"I'll talk to him, Murdoch. He deserves to know the truth. He's been through as much as we have with this. Some day, it's going to be his turn. I hope you know that," Johnny said, looking sideways at his father.

"I suppose so. I just hope it isn't too soon. I'm exhausted."

Johnny laughed at this. "That's what you get."

"What do you mean?"

"Having kids isn't easy. They tend to want to know everything from why the sky is blue to ... if you love them," Johnny said, his voice dropping at the end.

Murdoch reached out and squeezed Johnny's arm. "I don't know why the sky is blue but I do love you, John," he smiled softly.

"I love you, too. It gets easier to say with some practice, doesn't it?" he grinned.

Murdoch laughed aloud. "I guess it does at that."

"Maybe Scott knows," Johnny said, his expression turning thoughtful.

"Knows what?"

"Why the sky is blue."

Murdoch laughed and shook his head. "He probably does. Come on, I'll race you."

Murdoch spurred his horse into a gallop and Johnny let him have a little lead before leaning down and whispering in Barranca's ear. They took off, man and horse as one and passed the rancher at a neck breaking speed.

*

Scott stood on the veranda watching the sun make it's slow descent behind the mountains and wondering what was happening in town. There was a tight knot in his stomach as he thought of how his father had left this morning and Johnny's face when last he'd seen him. He prayed there would be some way for them to breach this seemingly unbreachable impasse between them.

He heard what he thought was thunder but that wasn't possible as there were no storm clouds in sight. Looking down the road, he saw the billow of dust swirling and knew immediately what it was. Someone was riding in fast and hard and his heart dropped as he thought of what bad news it could be now. His mind whirled with the possibilities.

He watched for what seemed an eternity but was only minutes as the two horses galloped into the yard, the golden one just ahead of the chestnut. Then he heard a sound that lifted his heart, laughter. He smiled wide when he heard them, laughing together, even wider when he saw them, arms wrapped around one another affectionately.

"Welcome home," he said, unable to stop grinning.

"Thank you, son."

"Hey, Boston , I have a question for you," Johnny said, turning serious.

"Alright," Scott said with some dread.

"Why is the sky blue?" Johnny asked and Murdoch bellowed with laughter.

Scott stood looking back and forth between them, totally perplexed by the odd question. But Johnny was waiting for an answer, that was obvious and he wasn't joking. "Uh, well it has to do with the atmosphere and..."

Johnny burst out laughing before he could finish. "I told you he'd know," he said to Murdoch.

"Okay, what is going on here? Are you two drunk?" Scott asked, a bit put off.

Johnny walked over and wrapped his arm around his brother, pulling him close. "No, we ain't drunk, brother. And before you start in on anymore questions, let me say that we're both tired and ready for bed so you're just gonna have to wait til morning."

"Have you eaten?" Teresa asked from the French doors. Her eyes were red from worry and exhaustion.

Johnny walked over and accepted her hug, kissing her lightly on the top of the head. "Yes, miel , we've eaten and everything is just fine, okay?"

She hugged him again and smiled up into his eyes. "I'm so glad you're home. I'm going to fix you the biggest breakfast you've ever seen in the morning!"

"I'll hold you to that but right now, I could use some sleep," Johnny laughed.

"Me too. Come on, son, let's go to bed," Murdoch said and put his arm around his boy's shoulders.

Scott and Teresa watched as they walked up the stairs together. "It looks as natural as breathing, doesn't it?" Scott asked quietly.

"It sure does," Teresa agreed and hugged him tight.

 

 

~end~
2003

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