The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link
subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link
subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link
subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link
subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link
subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link
subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Winj

 

La Vuelta

 

 

Second in the Grace series, following Fall From Grace
Warning : mention of child abuse

 

Johnny and Murdoch Lancer rode into Green River in the wagon for supplies. With Scott in Sacramento on business, Murdoch felt compelled to lend a hand to his youngest even though Johnny had told him it wasn't necessary. Johnny knew the real reason, however. Murdoch wanted his supplies back sometime before dusk and for some odd reason, he didn't trust Johnny to do that on his own.

Johnny had teased his father about stopping off in the saloon together and spending some time with the local females of a certain profession but Murdoch was not amused at the thought.

"Well, that's everything, I think," Murdoch said as they finished the last load.

"Yep, boy it's hot," Johnny said and grinned. "How about a beer?"

"Johnny...."

"Come on, Murdoch, just one. It won't kill you to be seen with me," Johnny said quite seriously.

"I .... I'm not worried about being seen with you. Why, you're ....." Murdoch stopped his blustering when he saw the smile playing on Johnny's lips. "You know that mouth of yours," he didn't finish the thought.

"I know, I know. One of these days it's gonna get me in big trouble," Johnny frowned and wagged his finger mockingly.

"Yes, it is. But for now, it just bought you a beer," Murdoch laughed and wrapped his arm around Johnny's shoulder, pulling him toward the saloon.

Every move they had made since entering town was being watched closely from a hotel window though neither could have known it. They were oblivious to the threat.

******

Johnny convinced Murdoch to spend a little extra time in the saloon but soon enough they were headed back to Lancer.

"Beautiful day," Murdoch commented as they rode along.

"Yep, summer is officially here," Johnny smiled and turned his face into the sun's warmth.

"Well, the winters could be worse," Murdoch said.

"Yeah, but they're bad enough up in the mountains. Never was that cold in Mexico. I do remember it snowed one year, though. You should have seen all the kids out in the street. None of us knew what it was," Johnny laughed at the memory.

"When did you see it snow really good the first time?' Murdoch asked.

Johnny squinted his eyes in thought. "Must have been about sixteen. I rode up into the Sierra's one year with a couple of fellas. Bout froze my ..... nose off," he grinned.

"Whatever possessed you to ride into the mountains in the winter?" Murdoch asked with amusement.

"Well, we decided we wanted to see the snow. Boy, did we see snow! Had a big snowball fight and before it was over, all three of us were sick. We didn't waste any time gettin out of there!" Johnny explained.

"You should have built a snowman. I always built a snowman with the first snow of the season in Scotland," Murdoch said, smiling at his memories.

"Guess so, but we didn't think about it. Too busy trying to kill each other with snowballs, I guess," Johnny said.

"Maybe this winter we can ride up into the mountains with your brother. I'm sure Scott has a lot of experience with snowmen and snowball fights," Murdoch suggested.

"Oh, I'm sure he'd be glad to teach us all his techniques, too," Johnny quipped.

*****

They were enjoying themselves, talking about snowball fights and such. So much so that neither noticed anything was wrong at first. Murdoch was going into a detailed description of his very first snowman when Johnny suddenly tensed, his hand going to his revolver.

"What?" Murdoch asked, seeing the move.

"Ain't sure," Johnny said softly.

He heard the rifle report a split second before his father fell back against the wagon seat. The horses bucked and took off, the reins dangling limply from Murdoch's hands.

Johnny grabbed at the reins as the buckboard swerved and just missed grabbing hold. He tried again as he looked up to see the bend in the road fast approaching. Try as he might, he was unable to get hold of the reins before the curve and the wagon careened onto it's side, sending both men and supplies flying.

Johnny felt himself flying through the air, then he landed hard on the packed dirt. His vision blurred just before everything went dark. His last thought was of his father.

*******

Johnny awoke with a freight train running through his head. His hand automatically went up to touch the dried blood that had plastered to the side of his face. Gingerly, he felt the wound, thinking it wasn't so bad. He sat up slowly as the world tilted on it's axis.

Holding his head with both hands to steady it, he waited for his vision to clear and his thoughts to unjumble. Finally, he remembered what happened and panic surged forth in his gut.

"Murdoch!" he yelled and wished he hadn't. His head exploded with new pain that threatened to rob him once more of his senses.

Taking a minute to still the throbbing, he slowly made it to his knees and looked around him. The supplies they had so carefully packed into the wagon were scattered throughout creation. He got one foot under him and lifted himself up, staggering a bit as the dizziness hit him again.

He stumbled over to the overturned wagon, the horses both gone. Looking around slowly, he tried to spy his father. "Murdoch!" he called not as loudly, but his father was not answering him.

Fear took hold of Johnny and he fought it like a banshee until he regained control. He half-walked, half-stumbled around the entire area but his father was gone.

"Where are you, old man?" he asked the wind.

********

The sun was setting quickly and he found himself in a mess. He was still a good five miles from home and even further from town. Johnny knew he had to get help to find his father. The man couldn't have disappeared. He could only assume that whoever had shot at them had taken Murdoch hostage.

Johnny suddenly remembered that his father had been shot in the attack. 'Dammit, come on, Johnny. Get it together,' he cursed himself.

He started walking toward home, praying he would come across one of the horses or a hand. He walked for an hour, fighting with every fiber of his being to stay on his feet. He heard someone riding toward him in the dark and he dodged to the side of the road in some brush.

It didn't take him but a second to recognize the rider who passed him.

"Jelly!"

Jelly pulled up and turned around. "Johnny! Where you been, boy? We was worried."

"We were ambushed. The wagon turned over. I ... I can't find Murdoch," Johnny said hurriedly.

"Whatya mean ya can't find 'im?" Jelly asked.

"I was knocked out. When I came to, I couldn't find him anywhere. Somebody must have taken him and he's hurt, Jelly. He was shot before the wagon overturned," Johnny explained, holding onto the older man.

"Okay, take it easy, boy. Looks like you got banged up purty good," Jelly said, taking a closer look.

"Never mind that! We have to get back to the ranch and get some men. We have to find Murdoch!" Johnny shouted.

"We will, Johnny. We'll find 'im," Jelly tried to placate.

********

Jelly convinced Johnny they could do nothing until morning and sent for Sam to check him out.

Johnny stayed on the sofa that night with Jelly standing watch, relieved the boy wasn't seriously hurt and worried sick over his other friend. He pondered the thought of sending for Scott and decided he would do just that first thing in the morning.

Johnny began mumbling in his sleep, becoming increasingly anxious and Jelly tried to calm him.

He bolted upright, breathing hard, calling for his father.

"Easy, Johnny. Take it easy. You're alright, now," Jelly said in a hushed tone.

Johnny locked eyes with his friend and his senses came back to him. "What time is it?"

"Almost dawn. I was just about ta wake ya," Jelly said.

"Let's get goin. I want to be there at first light," Johnny said as he sat up and started pulling on his boots.

"I'll roust the men and you get some food in you. You're gonna need it," Jelly instructed.

*

They arrived back at the site of the wreckage just as dawn broke over the mountains to the east. Jelly was surprised that Johnny survived at all, let alone was able to walk as far as he did. The wagon was nothing more than splinters and the supplies were scattered to the four winds near as he could tell. He shuddered at the thought of what shape his boss was in.

Johnny searched through the debris, turning over the larger pieces in a vain effort to locate Murdoch. He mounted up again and rode back to where the shooting had started and retraced their path. There was no sign of his father. When he returned to the rest of the men, Cipriano called him over.

"Here, Johnny. Horse tracks. Four, maybe five altogether," Cipriano pointed at the ground.

Johnny knelt down and studied the tracks, looking north where they lead, away from the estancia. He walked the path a ways and saw where they had ridden in. It was obvious to him that one of the horses was riderless on the way in, but not on the way out. Someone had taken Murdoch.

"Alright, mount up. We'll follow the tracks," he said decidedly.

"Johnny, you sure yer up ta this?" Jelly asked.

Johnny turned on the man. "Don't make no difference, Jelly," he hissed and mounted his horse.

*******

They rode for four hours, slowly making their way. Johnny picked out tracks where there were seemingly none to find. He was obsessed with following the ever decreasing signs. Cipriano and Jelly worried over him and kept a close eye out for any sign he was hurting himself.

Though he hadn't been seriously injured, he still had a mild concussion and Sam had said he needed to rest for a few days. He may as well have been talking to a stone wall.

"Johnny, we need ta stop and rest the horses," Jelly said as he rode up beside him. "Johnny?"

"What?"

"We need ta rest these horses," Jelly repeated.

"Yeah, okay," Johnny mumbled and pulled up near a water hole. He let Barranca loose and walked through the rock strewn hillside, looking for clues.

"He's gonna make hisself sick," Jelly whispered.

"Si, but what can we do? He will not stop until he finds his father," Cipriano whispered back.

"Wish Scott was here," Jelly said sadly.

Ten minutes later, Johnny could stand it no longer. "Mount up!" he shouted and resumed the search.

*******

It was nearing dusk when Jelly approached him again. "We can't go much longer. It'll be dark soon."

"I know," Johnny clipped.

"Should find a place to stop for the night," Jelly continued.

Johnny didn't reply.

"Are ya listenin to me?"

"I heard you, Jelly. Ride up ahead and find a good campsite," Johnny snapped.

Jelly did just that about a mile up the road and was waiting when they arrived.

"Here? We still got light to work with. Find someplace farther up," Johnny said.

"Johnny, the only light around here is the fire in your eyes, boy. We can't go no farther. We got to stop for the night," Jelly insisted.

"Jelly is right, amigo. We must stop now," Cipriano agreed.

"Fine! Set up camp. I'm gonna ride up a little more then I'll be back," Johnny said and spurred Barranca on.

Jelly could only shake his head. Johnny was blaming himself for something he had no control over but what else was new.

******

He returned a few minutes later in no better mood. "Not much up there but I found a few broken branches. I think we're still on the right track," he said as he squatted by the fire and accepted the coffee Jelly offered.

"Any idea atall who done this?" Jelly asked.

Johnny shook his head. "No, I didn't see anybody, just felt them there. Too late!"

"Ain't your fault, Johnny," Jelly said.

Johnny just shot him an angry look and said nothing.

"You must sleep, sobrino. You have not rested enough. Your father will need you sharp when we catch up to them, no?" Cipriano reasoned.

"Si­, tio," Johnny muttered. He rolled out his blanket and laid down, using his saddle for a pillow, but he could only stare at the stars and wonder if his father was still alive.

Johnny thought over the events of the previous day. He hadn't felt the danger soon enough. Was he slipping? Were his instincts failing him? It was his worst fear that, one day, he may lose that edge that had kept him alive for so long. Now, it was threatening to leave him just when he needed it most. When his father needed him most.

He turned onto his left side and closed his eyes, knowing he wouldn't sleep. Snow. They had been talking about snow of all things! He smiled as he remembered the easiness between them. The way his father described his childhood in Scotland. Murdoch seldom spoke of that time of his life and Johnny treasured those moments when he did.

It was important to him to know about his father's youth. He wasn't sure why but it was almost a need. Something to connect them, some similarities in the way they were as children. He thought it would bring him comfort to know his father might have been a little reckless at one time. A little like he was.

So far, Murdoch had not given any indication of any reckless boyhood behavior but Johnny couldn't help but think his old man had it in him. He was too strong, too hardworking not to have learned those lessons the hard way. Just as Johnny had learned them.

Their relationship had grown over the past year. It was so much stronger now that Johnny had no trepidation about talking about some of his past. Of course, there were things he wouldn't say, couldn't say. But before, it seemed he wasn't able to say anything at all. He would have never told Murdoch that simple story of going to the mountains with his friends a year ago for fear of eliciting a barrage of questions.

But Murdoch didn't ask the questions Johnny feared and maybe he wouldn't have then either. He would never know and it wasn't important anymore. He felt a strong trust in his father and a strong love.

*

It had been the longest night of his life, he reckoned, but finally the first rays of dawn slipped through the trees and Johnny was up and saddled before the others started to stir. He walked over and toed Jelly with his boot.

"You gonna sleep all day? Let's go!" he said.

"Huh? Wha? Leave me alone," Jelly mumbled.

"Jelly! Get up! All of you get up! It's time to get movin!" Johnny shouted.

Jelly raised up and remembered where he was. He jumped out of his bedroll and started to put on the coffee.

"We don't have time for that," Johnny said.

Jelly straightened up and looked him dead in the eye. "Look, the men gotta eat and so do you. Ya can't go without food and sleep, Johnny. I know you wanna find him but we gotta take care of ourselves, too."

"Alright, Jelly. You go right ahead," Johnny said in a low voice. He turned on his heel and walked over to Barranca. Mounting up, he looked back down at the older man. "Catch up with me when you're finished preening," he hissed and was gone.

Jelly stared after him in shock. He didn't know who that was that just rode out but it wasn't the Johnny he knew.

******

Johnny rode on alone, watching for any signs of a trail to track. The brush was growing scarce as he traveled and it was getting harder to find any clues. He figured they had kept to this trail so far so it only made sense they would stick to the general direction.

He knew where he was headed but it made no sense. The north line shack hadn't been used in years and it was a sorry sight. Not much shelter there if that's what they were hoping for. At this point he didn't know what to expect but it didn't matter.

He knew he'd be in sight of the shack soon so he dismounted and tied Barranca off, heading up the hill on foot. Using the trees, he weaved in and out deftly, making no sound as he approached.

He could see horses tied out front and he smiled. Edging around the perimeter, he made his way to the back of the shack. There were no windows but there were missing slats in the wall and he could see in.

He peered into the dusty room and saw Murdoch sitting in a chair, a rope binding him in place. His head was hung down on his chin as if he were asleep. Johnny couldn't see his face or the front of him so he couldn't tell how badly he was injured.

He figured there were four of them by the head count he'd made of the horses. Pretty good odds, he reckoned. As long as they didn't get between him and Murdoch. But he couldn't see any of them inside and there was no sign of anyone outside.

******

He tried to put the pieces together quickly and figure out where they were. The idea struck him a split second too late as he whirled around and was met with the butt of a rifle upside the head.

"Idiot! He ain't supposed ta get hurt," one of them said.

"Ain't gonna kill 'im. Might have a headache," the other sneered.

"Get him inside," another man ordered.

They dragged Johnny into the shack and laid him on the filthy cot near his father. They bound his hands to the railing at the top of the bed and took his gun, then left.

Johnny felt that train in his head again and wondered if it would ever leave him alone. He opened his eyes slowly, painfully as his vision blurred.

He focused after a minute and realized he was tied up, no big surprise. Then he saw his father in the chair next to him.

"Murdoch?" he called softly but there was no response.

He strained at the ropes around his wrists until he felt the bite of the hemp in his skin. He stopped and closed his eyes for a minute and made himself calm down.

Johnny looked around the shack once more and realized they were alone. He took stock of his situation and noted they'd left his feet untied. He lifted his right leg up over his head and, with a bit of finagling, managed to retrieve the knife.

Slowly and methodically, he cut through the bindings of his right hand then made short work of the left side. He sat up and waited for the room to stop spinning then went to his father.

*****

He realized he was afraid to look too closely. Afraid of what he would find but he knew he had to, so he gently lifted Murdoch's head. He closed his eyes and sighed as fear clutched at him once more.

Murdoch's forehead had a deep crease in it from a bullet. The blood had obviously poured from the wound but was now dried and sticky. Johnny examined the wound closely and was relieved the bullet hadn't penetrated the skull. Still, he knew that kind of wound could be bad. The fact that Murdoch was still unconscious worried him.

He tried to rouse his father to no avail. He didn't know how he was going to get them out of this mess with no gun, no horse and no help.

He edged to the window and scanned the yard but he knew they were out there somewhere. Just as they had been when he foolishly approached the shack. He really was losing it, he thought.

He heard a low moan and stepped quickly to his father's side. Looking around he found a bucket of fresh water. He removed his bandana and dipped it in the cool water, wiping Murdoch's face gently.

"Murdoch?" he whispered.

"Hmmm?"

*******

Murdoch opened his eyes to a world of white hot pain. His head felt like it had already exploded once and was ready to go again. He moaned once more then felt the cool cloth on his face.

"Easy, Murdoch. It's Johnny. You're gonna be fine," he spoke in low, soft tones.

"Johnny? What happened?" he asked, his speech slurred.

"Well, we were ambushed and the wagon overturned. I was knocked out and when I woke up you were gone. I started walking back to the ranch when Jelly found me and we've been looking for you ever since," he explained.

"Jelly?"

"Yeah, well they're not with me. I rode ahead and um, well, I'm sorry," Johnny said, hanging his head in shame.

"Why, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Cause I was stupid to come here alone. They got the drop on me and knocked me out. They're out there, somewhere, waiting to ambush the search party I imagine," Johnny said.

"What do they want?"

"I have no idea," Johnny answered.

*

"Murdoch, do you think you could stand long enough to make it to the cot?" Johnny asked.

"Sure," he mumbled.

Johnny ended up nearly carrying him to the bed and laid him down as gently as he could. Now, he could take care of his father better.

He cleaned the wound and used a sheet he found and shook out for a bandage. It was dusty but it would have to do for now. He tore it into strips.

Murdoch was out again and Johnny was grateful for the moment. He needed time to think of a way to get his father out of here. He petted Murdoch's head and spoke softly to him.

They watched through binoculars as he went about his ministrations. Positioned in the trees, they had a perfect view of the shack through the window.

Johnny could feel someone watching him but there was nothing he could do about it. If he tried to hide himself, they would only come in and he wasn't ready yet.

He sat beside Murdoch and wondered who they were and what the hell they wanted with them. He also worried about Jelly and the others riding straight into a trap. He knew he had to come up with a plan, he only wished he weren't so tired. His head pounded and he hadn't eaten and he was cursing himself for being so reckless.

******

Jelly and Cipriano headed up the search party an hour behind Johnny. They followed Barranca's tracks until they seemed to veer off. Pulling up short, Cipriano dismounted for a closer look.

"It is Johnny. He must have seen something that caused him to change direction," he reported.

"Can you see anything, Cip?" Jelly asked.

"No, but that boy, he has the eyes of an eagle," Cipriano replied.

"Well, you're right about that. Let's follow 'im," Jelly said and they headed east.

"I hope Scott gets back soon. If anythin's happened to Murdoch, won't be able to hold Johnny down," Jelly commented, his face frozen in the same worried expression he'd had since he'd found Johnny on the road.

"Si, he will go loco. I would not want to be the one who caused this when Johnny finds them," Cipriano agreed sadly.

"Johnny ain't no stone cold killer, though. Still in all, I hate ta think what he'd do," Jelly said and actually shuddered.

"A man can be driven to do most anything when his familia is threatened, amigo," Cipriano said flatly.

"Sounds like ya know what yer a talkin about," Jelly noted.

"Si, I know, Jelly. I know," was all he would say and urged his mount on.

*******

The man scooted back into his spot in the trees outside the line shack.

"Did ya get it done?" the leader asked.

"Yep. Found his horse and tracked it east of here for a good five miles. By the time they figure it out, it'll be too late," he grinned.

"Hmmph, it's already too late. Just don't want ta get into a firefight is all," the leader stated.

"When's the boss gonna be here?"

"Pretty soon, I think. For now, we just keep an eye on them and wait it out."

******

Johnny rooted around the shack and found some coffee beans. He wondered how old they were but he figured it didn't really matter. He went to the stove and cleaned it out. Not an easy chore but he hoped the stove pipe wasn't blocked. Then again, it might be a good thing.

Thankfully, there was wood inside and he placed it in the stove and struck a match.

The bullet whizzed past his ear and he hit the floor, rolling to his side. His hand went to the empty holster and he cursed.

"Johnny?" Murdoch mumbled.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Guess they don't want me to start a fire," he answered.

Johnny edged over to the bed and sat beside his father, wiping his face once more with the cool water.

"Still haven't said what they want?' Murdoch asked.

"Haven't said what they want, who they are or even howdy," Johnny grumbled. "I think they're waiting for someone," he added.

"Boss," Murdoch surmised.

"Yep. How do you feel?"

"Head hurts, dizzy," Murdoch said tiredly.

"Try to get some sleep," Johnny said softly as he stroked his father's hair.

*******

It was midafternoon when the boss finally made an appearance.

"Is everything in place?"

"Yep, they're both down there," the leader replied.

"Both?"

"Well, the kid came lookin and found us. We knocked him out and put him in with the old man," he explained.

"Idiot! I didn't want them together!" the Boss hissed.

"What was we supposed ta do with 'im? Ya said ya didn't want him hurt?"

"You should have made sure he didn't find you in the first place! Well, nothing can be done about it now," the Boss sighed.

"You want to go ahead as planned then?"

"Yes, you go in first and tie Johnny up. I don't want him wandering around. Murdoch is in no shape to move anyway."

*****

Three men entered the line shack and Johnny stood to face them, hate etched into his face. He relaxed his posture instantly though and a smile played at his lips.

"Bout time. We were wondering when the party would start," he drawled.

"Shut up and sit down," the leader hissed.

Johnny did not move but glared at the man, sending icicles into his very soul.

The leader dropped his eyes from that stare and motioned his men to take Johnny.

They sat him down roughly in the chair once occupied by his father and tied him securely with his hands around the back.

Johnny locked eyes with his father and smiled. Murdoch returned the affection in his son's face.

"Now what? I can't dance all trussed up. What kind of party is that?" Johnny asked.

"You think you're real funny don't ya, cowboy? We'll see how funny you think it is when this is all over," the leader smirked.

He felt the bandana being placed over his eyes and secured snuggly. His anxiety level went up a notch, not being able to see his father.

*****

Johnny heard shuffling and a moan from his father. His ears perked as he strained to listen to every sound. The cot creaked and feet thumped to the floor.

"Murdoch?"

"Shut up, boy!" the leader said.

"What are you doin to him?" Johnny demanded.

"Somebody wants ta see him outside. You just sit tight til we get back," the man shot.

"It's alright, Johnny," Murdoch said gently, trying to ease his son's worry.

Murdoch swayed as he rose to his feet, supported on either side by one of the kidnappers.

They led him outside into the yard and he winced as the sun hit his face. He tried to focus on the image before him.

Blinking several times, Murdoch's vision finally cleared. His mouth dropped open, but he found no words would come out.

Finally, he was able to whisper one word as he looked at the person standing before him, smirking.

"Maria!"

*

"Hello, Murdoch. Surprised to see me again?" she said mockingly.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, still unable to fathom her presence.

"Your little trip to see me in Mexico City cost me dearly, Murdoch. My husband found we were not legally married. He was not interested in resolving the problem," she said.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Revenge, of course," she smiled sweetly. She frowned then. "I did not expect Johnny to be here, however," she added as she shot a hateful look at her mercenary.

"Did you think he wouldn't look for me?"

"No, I didn't think he would find you. Evidently, I hired the wrong men for this job. But then, I certainly could not have hired one of such caliber as Johnny Madrid, now could I?" she spat.

"Now what?" Murdoch asked, ignoring the jibe.

"Now, you must die, Murdoch. And Johnny .... he will come with me," she answered.

Murdoch shook his head. "No, Maria, he won't. You should know that by now. You can kill me, but Johnny will never leave Lancer," he proclaimed proudly.

She scowled at him, then smiled. "Perhaps if he is properly enticed."

"Meaning?"

******

"Take him back inside," she ordered.

Murdoch was taken in and sat on the edge of the cot. Maria followed with a warning to be silent, enforced by a gun to his head.

"Murdoch, you okay?" Johnny asked.

"I'm fine, son," he replied.

"What's goin on?" he asked.

He felt the bandana loosen and slip away as he blinked a few times. Someone was standing behind him. Someone oddly familiar. The fragrance overpowered his senses and he found himself reeling back in time.

Johnny closed his eyes and fought off the nausea as it became abundantly clear to him who was at the root of this fiasco.

"Hello, mother," he drawled casually.

"How did you know, miel?" she asked from behind him.

"The stench," he spat.

She stepped in front of him and slapped him hard across the face.

"Maria!" Murdoch bellowed.

*******

Johnny looked up at her and smiled. "I take it your old man tossed you out," he said calmly.

"Si, he did, miel," she pouted.

Johnny laughed softly and shook his head. "So now what?"

She knelt down in front of him, placing a hand on each thigh and looked up into his eyes.

"Johnny, I have had much time to think about the things I've done. I am so ashamed of myself for leaving you. I know I can never make it up to you, mi amor, but I'd like to try," she said with sincerity.

"How? By shooting Murdoch and kidnapping him?"

"No, Johnny. By taking you away from this place. Somewhere we can start over, together," she said.

"No," he answered simply.

"I'm afraid you do not understand, Johnny. You are coming with me, nino. And you will stay with me," she said.

He looked suspiciously at her, then understood. "Or you'll kill Murdoch."

****

She smiled and nodded her head. "It is the only way to get you away from his clutches."

"What if I don't want to get away?" Johnny asked.

"He has brainwashed you with his lies, Johnny. He has used that gringo son of his to keep you here, to keep you from your true life," she said hatefully.

"My true life? What would that be?" Johnny asked.

"Why, Johnny Madrid, of course. With you by my side, there is nothing we cannot do. No one would dare cross us," she smiled.

"Unbelievable! You would use your own son, put his life at risk, to get what you want!" Murdoch exploded.

"Nothin new there, Murdoch," Johnny quipped.

Murdoch looked questioningly at Johnny and wondered just exactly what that meant.

"He does not belong to you! He never has!" she retorted.

"I don't belong to anyone," Johnny said softly.

"But you do, miel. You belong to me. Don't you know that by now? You do not hate me, Johnny. You want to, but you can't. I know what is in your heart," she cooed.

Johnny dropped his eyes from hers and swallowed hard.

"Perhaps we should explain it to Murdoch?" she asked.

Johnny's head jerked up and he glared at her. "You're wrong, Maria. So wrong. I've never hated anyone as much as I hate you. What makes you think I won't strangle you in your sleep?" he said, a twisted smile coming to his mouth.

She lifted her hand and caressed his lips. "Because I know the truth," she whispered.

********

"We will leave at first light. Let them have tonight together to say their goodbyes," she instructed and was out the door without another word.

Johnny hung his head and fought back the myriad of emotions she always seemed to evoke in him.

Murdoch watched him for a while before speaking. He stood up and walked over behind Johnny, untying his hands.

Johnny rubbed his shoulders for a minute but otherwise, he didn't move.

"Johnny?"

"What?"

"Talk to me, son," Murdoch said gently.

"What do you want me to say?"

"I'd like to know what that was all about. Why does she think she has such a hold on you?" Murdoch asked.

"Because she does," Johnny spat.

*

Murdoch sat back down on the cot and waited but he knew Johnny would say nothing more.

"Tell me about it," he finally said.

"I can't," Johnny whispered.

"What did she do to you, son?"

Johnny stood up and walked to the window, wrapping his arms around himself.

Murdoch recognized the stance immediately. Johnny was protecting himself. He walked over and laid his hands on the tense shoulders.

"You know she has every intention of having me killed," he said gently.

"Yeah."

"Maybe we should be trying to figure a way out of this," Murdoch suggested.

"Got any ideas?" Johnny asked.

"First, I need you to work with me, son. I know you're hurting but we have to get through this together," Murdoch urged.

Johnny turned and looked into his father's eyes. "I love you," he said softly.

Murdoch hugged his son close, rubbing his back slowly. "I love you, too, son. Please let me help you."

******

Johnny pulled away and his face was a mask. Murdoch's heart fell as he recognized the facade. But he knew Johnny needed this to get through the moment, so he said nothing.

"Okay, we know they're out there watching. Probably got the place surrounded. That means we need a diversion," Johnny figured, his voice steady as a rock now.

Murdoch was astounded by the transformation and had to take a second to digest it. "Um, right. Let's see, how do we get one of them in here," he said, deep in thought.

"I know. We'll have a fight," Johnny smiled.

"About what?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny laughed at that question. "Does it matter? I'm sure we can come up with something. I know, my past. That'll be convincing," he said.

"Okay, but anything I say, Johnny, it's just for effect," Murdoch said with a smile.

"Understood. Now, let's see. I'll make sure I'm behind the door and you stand in the middle of the room so they can see you," Johnny planned. He found an old plank that had been broken and kicked it toward the door.

"Ready?" Murdoch asked.

"Guess so, let me have it," Johnny grinned.

*******

Murdoch took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. His head still hurt and yelling wasn't going to help but it was their only chance. He winked at Johnny then lit into him.

"I'm sick of it, that's all! Every time things start to settle down around here, your past comes along to throw us all into danger!" he bellowed, then winced at the pain in his head.

Johnny gave him a sympathetic look. "This is your past too, Murdoch. You married her! It ain't my fault you bred with her!"

That one got Murdoch but he knew he had to keep up the game. "Yes, and I wish I never had!"

The look of hurt on Johnny's face was more than he could stand. "I'm sorry, son," he whispered.

Johnny shook his head and smiled. "So do I, Murdoch! Between the two of you, it's a wonder I'm not loco by now! Maybe I should go with her. Go back to what I know so well as you like to remind me!"

"Fine! I knew someday you would. I knew I couldn't count on you for anything. After all this time, Johnny, you still have no sense of responsibility, no sense of the land or what it means. You'll never amount to anything! Go on! Go back to the puta!"

The door swung open then and the leader stormed in, slamming the door behind him.

"That's enough of ...."

He didn't get to finish as Johnny whacked him on the back of the head with the board. He fell with a thud and Johnny quickly retrieved his own gun and the man's.

He stepped back behind the door and waited to see if anyone else would come in.

*****

Murdoch moved out of sight of the window, standing beside Johnny. There was no sound outside and they waited.

"Guess they ain't too inclined to check on their friend," he grinned.

"Maybe or maybe they're waiting for him to come out," Murdoch replied.

After a few minutes, Johnny heard footsteps outside and put a hand up to warn his father.

The door opened slowly and a gun appeared. Johnny slammed the door on the hand and heard the howl of pain. He moved with lightning speed and grabbed the man's arm, pulling him inside.

Murdoch gave him a right hook and sent him spilling next to the first man as he grabbed the gun from his hand.

"That's two down, two to go," Johnny whispered.

"Yes, but they know for sure now," Murdoch pointed out.

*****

"Murdoch, Johnny," Maria called from outside. "This will do you no good. I can just as easily send these men to the house and kill your gringo son," she called.

Murdoch smiled at this. "Wasted trip, Maria. He isn't there," he called back. He could have sworn he heard her cuss.

"Give it up, mother. Neither of us will go down without a fight. You might want to remind your men I have a gun now. Which one of them wants to go up against me!" Johnny shouted.

Silence was the reply and they waited.

"Well? What about it, boys? Ya wanna dance?" Johnny shouted.

They heard the sound of horses riding out fast and Johnny moved to the window to get a look. The two remaining gunmen were riding out fast as the first rays of dawn broke through the cloudy sky.

Maria was screaming at them in Spanish and Johnny shook his head at her antics. He opened the door and stepped out, watching as the dust kicked up under the retreating horses.

******

Thunder rumbled in the threatening skies above as Johnny approached his mother.

"Well, you played your hand and lost. What now?" he asked.

She looked at him with tears brimming in her eyes. "Why can't you understand how much I love you?" she pleaded.

"Maybe because you've never showed me," Johnny shrugged.

"I did the best I could," she argued.

"Then I feel sorry for you," Johnny said sadly. He turned and walked to his father who wrapped his arms around Johnny and pulled him into a hug.

Maria exploded at the sight and began screaming at Murdoch venomously.

Johnny had had enough and he strode purposefully up to her, grabbing her by the arms. "Stop it! Just stop it! It's done, over! Leave us alone!" he hissed in a low tone as threatening as the sky above.

Murdoch came up behind him and gently pulled him away from her. "Let's go home, son."

"You never deserved him. He is too good, too sweet, too loving to be ruined by your black heart, Murdoch!" she spat.

Murdoch looked at her and wondered what happened to the girl he had loved so. This woman was nothing but a shell, the darkest side of a human being. All that was left of his beloved Maria. He turned his back and walked away.

*****

Her scream pierced the thunderous air around them and both men cringed at the sudden sound. Johnny turned first as Murdoch tried to get him to keep walking.

He heard his son yell out and turned.

"Mama, no!" Johnny yelled and jumped in front of Murdoch.

Johnny drew his gun and fired without thinking as he fell on top of his father. Maria lay on the ground with a gun in her hand.

Johnny stared in shock at her, then regained his senses and ran to her side. He picked her head up and rested it in his lap.

"Ma?" he whispered, tears flooding down his face.

She opened her eyes and smiled at him. "Miel."

"I'm so sorry, mama," he said in a whisper.

"¿Usted realmente lo ama, no usted?" she asked.

"Si, mucho."

"Perdoneme, mi amor," she sighed.

"No muera, por favor,"   he said.

"No puedo ahora pararlo. Est¡ para el mejor. Sea feliz, mi hijo," she said and closed her eyes.

"No!" he yelled and buried his face in her silken hair.

(Click here for translations )

Murdoch knelt beside his son, rubbing his back gently. "Johnny?"

"Leave me alone," he said.

"Please, son. Let me help," Murdoch said.

"No! You hated her! Leave us alone," he said miserably.

Murdoch was taken aback by the words. He stood up and walked back to the shack and waited. He watched the sky as it opened and the rain poured down.

Johnny didn't move, he held her closer and rocked her in his arms.

Murdoch could see his entire body shaking, racked with pain and guilt. God, how was Johnny ever going to get past killing his mother?

******

Scott looked up at the ominous skies and sighed. He glanced at Jelly with worry.

"We'll find 'em, Scott," Jelly said.

"We'd better and soon. That sky looks bad," Scott replied.

The search party had returned to Lancer for fresh mounts and found Scott about to go after them. They had returned to the last place they'd seen Johnny but had to stop for the night.   Now, with the weather turning, Scott felt an urgency more fierce than anything he'd felt before. He had to find his family. They decided the tracks they'd followed were a hoax and headed north.

They saw two men hellbent for leather and stopped them short with rifle fire. It didn't take long to find out what they needed to know.

"Let's go. God knows what's happening up there," Scott said and kneed his horse on.

*******

Johnny stayed there with her for an hour, rocking her and speaking softly to her. Finally, he laid her down but stayed kneeled over her, protecting her from the rain.

Water dripped off his hair onto her face and he still sat there, reliving his entire childhood. The anguish, the loneliness, the feelings of worthlessness, the loveless existence all engulfed him and he was sure he would lose his mind.

He looked up at the sky, the rain splattering on his tear-soaked face and shouted at the injustice. "I hate you, you bastard! Why? Why did you let me live?"

Murdoch had had enough and he ran to Johnny, grabbing him and pulling him close.

Johnny fought it, tried to pull away but Murdoch held tight.

"Stop it, Johnny. I won't let you go," Murdoch yelled.

"Let go of me. I hate you! I hate you all!" Johnny cried. "Why, Murdoch? Why?"

The tears slid down Murdoch's face as he felt the pure hell his son was going through, knowing he could do nothing to stop it.

"I love you, Johnny. I love you." He knew nothing else to say.

******

Scott and Jelly rode into the shack's yard and witnessed father and son. Scott leapt down and ran to them, looking at the woman on the ground. He knew instinctively who she was.

"Scott, please help me," Murdoch said, his eyes begging.

Scott was shocked at the pain on his father's face but he knelt beside them both and offered a supportive hand on Murdoch's shoulder.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I killed her!" Johnny wailed, pulling loose from his father's hold.

He got up and walked away from them, head hung in defeat.

"We have to help him, Scott," Murdoch said and Scott saw the tears on his face and fought off his own.

Scott walked over to Johnny and tried to touch him but the younger man jerked away.

He managed a weak whistle and heard Barranca answer him. He walked toward the palomino, tethered in the tree line.

"Where are you going, Johnny?" Scott asked.

Johnny turned and faced him. "Away. Away from here and away from all of you. Don't follow me, Scott. I don't want to see you, ever!"

"You don't mean that. Let us help you, brother," Scott said.

******

Johnny whirled around and drew on Scott. Pointing the gun square of his brother's chest, he spoke in a voice that actually frightened Scott.

"I should have died in front of that firing squad. That's how it was meant to be. But you, all of you sucked me in with all that talk about family and love and belonging. I don't belong anywhere except in hell with her!"

Scott was frozen in place by Johnny's tone. He couldn't think of anything to say as he watched Johnny mount up and ride away.

"Johnny!" Murdoch shouted. "Where's he going?" he asked Scott.

"He ....he said he belonged in hell, with her," Scott repeated.

Murdoch lowered his head and prayed. He then focused on what needed to be done. "Cipriano, I'm sorry to have to ask you, but..."

"Si, patron. I will take her to the funeraria. And you will see to Johnny?" Cipriano half-asked, half-told him.

"Si, we will see to Johnny. Come on, son. I'm going to need you," Murdoch said.

He and Scott rode out on Johnny's trail.

********

Johnny tore into Green River and headed to the livery. Walt stared in disbelief as Johnny tossed him a few coins and walked away without a word. Barranca was covered in mud and had obviously been ridden hard. Something was very wrong with Johnny Lancer, he surmised. He would never leave that horse in such a state.

"Hey, Johnny! Some weather we're havin. Wanna grab a beer with me?" Val called as his friend walked toward him.

Johnny kept his head down and ignored Val, passing by him without so much as a nod.

"Johnny?" Val called after him and watched as he went into the hotel.

"Room," he clipped.

"Sure thing, Johnny. Some storm, huh?" Shelby the clerk smiled.

Johnny grabbed the key and headed upstairs without another word.

He opened the door and slammed it shut behind him. He threw himself on the bed.

Lying on his left side, he curled up and let the tears flow.

*******

Murdoch and Scott rode into Green River fifteen minutes later. They went to the livery and Walt wasted no time telling them about Johnny's odd behavior.

At the hotel, they were told the same thing by Shelby. Something was awful wrong and he was glad they'd showed up. He directed them to Johnny's room.

Murdoch stopped outside the door and listened. He could hear nothing and he looked at Scott.

"Well, are we going in or not?" Scott asked, not really wanting to.

"I don't suppose it would do any good to knock," Murdoch said.

"No, I don't suppose it would," Scott agreed.

Just then they heard a loud thump, as if something had fallen or been thrown on the floor. Murdoch grabbed the door handle and found it turned easily in his hand. Johnny hadn't bothered locking the door.

He opened it slowly, not wanting to startle his son into doing something they would both regret.

"Fraid I'll shoot you down, too?" Johnny asked from the bed. "You two make lousy thieves, too much noise."

"We weren't trying to sneak up on you, son."

"Weren't you? What do you want?" Johnny clipped.

******

Murdoch walked to the middle of the room, Scott by his side. "You, Johnny. We want you."

"Let's go home, brother," Scott said softly.

"Ain't got no home. Don't want no home. Get out," Johnny said. There was no anger in his voice, only exhaustion.

Murdoch noticed the gun on the floor and surmised that was the noise they'd heard. He walked over and sat on the bed.

"I know you're hurting. I can't imagine all you're feeling right now. But you can't deal with this alone, son. Come home, let us help you," he said.

"I can deal with anything alone, Murdoch. That's how I deal with things or haven't you noticed. It's too late now," Johnny said simply.

"Too late for what?" Scott asked, sitting on the other side of the bed.

"Too late for me, Scott. I'm hopeless, a lost cause. Stop tryin to save me."

*

There was a knock on the door then and Murdoch got up to answer it.

"Must be a party," Johnny sneered.

"Cipriano," Murdoch said, surprised to see the man.

"Senor, I must speak with Johnny," he said.

"It's not a good time, you know that," Murdoch hedged.

"Come in, tio," Johnny called. "Might as well get in on the fun. Go ahead, let me have it. I killed your niece," he said sharply.

Cipriano entered the room and sat in the spot Murdoch had just left.

"No, Johnny, she did it to herself. You know that. You know about her, si?" he said gently.

Johnny swallowed hard and dropped his eyes as they filled once more.

"Johnny, you saw it. I know you did, long ago. Will you not admit to it now?" Cipriano pressed.

"I ... saw it," he mumbled.

"It has been a long time in coming. It is not your fault, nor was it hers. Her mother, her grandmother, it was the same but not as bad," he explained.

*******

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other in confusion. Scott got up and walked over to his father to give the two men some semblance of privacy.

"It was not always so. We hoped, prayed she would not be afflicted. When you came home, I could see the truth in your eyes and I knew she had not been spared. You could not know what it really was, sobrino," Cipriano continued.

"It started when I was about nine," Johnny whispered.

"Johnny, would you have rather she killed your papa?"

"No, I'd rather she'd killed me," he answered.

"You do not mean that, nino. You are hurt now. Your heart is broken but you did what you had to do. She would not have stopped. She would have killed you, Johnny," he said.

"How do you know that?"

"Please, sobrino, it is enough that I know it to be true. You must trust me."

"Tell me the truth, tio," Johnny insisted.

"You and the truth. It is like a badge you wear. But I know why it is so, chico," Cipriano sighed sadly. "Your tia, she told me once Maria had confided in her. She said if you ever left her, she would kill you."

"She left me!" Johnny exclaimed.

"Si, but she would not allow you to leave her. It is the sickness, Johnny. Ella no tuvo ningún sentido."

******

Johnny could listen to no more of this. His heart told him his tio would never lie to him and he knew there was something wrong with her from an early age. Still, it didn't matter, he had taken her life. The woman who had given him life. He could not forgive himself.

"Alright, gracias, tio," Johnny said.

"It has not made a difference to you. You will blame yourself as you always do. Obstinado! Es justo como su padre!" Cipriano huffed and stood to leave.

"Tio? Gracias por intentar ayudar," Johnny said with a small smile.

Cipriano smiled at him. "Es el muy mejor de esta familia, Johnny. El muy mejor."

Murdoch followed Cipriano into the hall.

(Click here for translations )

*****

"What was that all about?" Murdoch asked.

"Maria had a sickness, the women in the family, they all had it. We thought she had been spared because it had not shown itself in her. When she left Lancer, I knew it was starting," Cipriano explained.

"Why didn't you tell me? Johnny was in danger!" Murdoch exclaimed.

"Would it have made you look any harder than you already were? You did all you could to find that boy, mi amigo. Why would I burden your heart with even more worry?"

Murdoch stared at him but understanding took hold. Cipriano was right. If he had known about Maria's illness, it would have drove him mad as well with worry for his son.

"I'm sorry, old friend. I see your point. But Johnny, why won't he let himself off the hook?" Murdoch asked.

"Has he ever? He takes responsibility for all he does and all that is done to him. It does not matter to him that the heavens have written it to be so. To him, it is his doing, his fault. I do not know what more to do for him, patron. This may destroy him."

"No. No, I won't let it," Murdoch vowed.

******

Murdoch went back inside and resumed his previous position. Johnny was wiping his eyes at the moment but Scott gave him a look that said he hadn't talked to his brother.

"Scott, why don't you get us another room and maybe something to eat?" Murdoch suggested.

"Good idea. I'll be back soon," Scott said, smiling at his brother.

"Why did you come to town, son?"

"Too tired and cold to ride," Johnny shrugged.

'At least he's still got some sense,' Murdoch thought.

"Well, you've really done it this time haven't you?" Murdoch said.

Johnny looked up at him in surprise. "Whatya mean?"

"Well, I mean, you've managed to save my life, keep your brother safe and lay waste to some pretty mean hombres. A full day, I'd say," Murdoch shrugged.

"It ain't funny, Murdoch," Johnny shot.

"No, son, it isn't. What you did out there was amazing. You gave no thought to your own safety. You just forged in there to rescue me, getting yourself whomped on the head in the bargain. You didn't know who or what you were up against but it didn't matter. What were you thinking?"

"I .... you were in trouble. I ..."

"You had to save me," Murdoch finished for him.

"Yeah."

******

"Pretty heroic for such a lowlife," Murdoch said.

Johnny dropped his eyes but Murdoch took hold of him, laying a hand on either side of his face and lifting it.

"You are an amazing young man, maybe because of all you've had to endure instead of despite it. Cipriano was right, you are the best of this family. Johnny, what you did was out of pure survival instinct. It wouldn't have mattered if it were me or Scott with that gun anymore than it mattered that it was your mother. You had to teach yourself how to make it in this world. Now, you tell me why that was," Murdoch said.

Johnny looked into his father's eyes and knew what he was saying. "Because I didn't have anyone to help me."

"And why was that?"

"Because my mother was too sick to take care of me," Johnny answered.

"And who's fault is that?" Murdoch asked.

"Nobody's," Johnny mumbled.

"What was that? I didn't hear you," Murdoch said, turning his head sideways with an ear to Johnny's face.

"Nobody's," he said louder.

*****

Murdoch smiled at his son. "So, who's fault is it that you had to defend me and yourself?"

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed. "Please don't."

"Who's fault was it, Johnny?" Murdoch said more strongly.

Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked pleadingly at his father. "Nobody's," he croaked out.

Murdoch repositioned himself so he was sitting on the bed with his back resting on the headboard. He took Johnny and pulled him close, wrapping a protective arm around his son.

Johnny relaxed into his father's arms and cried openly. "I did love her," he said.

"I know, son. So did I," Murdoch replied, laying his cheek on top of Johnny's head. "It's going to take time, Johnny. Time and love, but you will get through this, son. With our help, your whole family, you'll get through it. As long as you understand this was not your doing. You were the victim here, son, as your mother was."

Scott came back loaded with sandwiches. He smiled at the scene before him and laid the food down on the dresser. He gave Murdoch a look and quietly left the room.

**

"Was that Scott?" Johnny asked.

"Yes, he left again. Can you tell me about it, son?" Murdoch asked.

"What?"

"What hold she had on you," Murdoch replied.

Johnny tensed under his embrace. "What difference does it make now?"

"All the difference, son. You can't keep this locked up inside you. Whatever happened, you can tell me," Murdoch spoke softly, gently.

"Don't you think I've told you enough?" Johnny asked.

"I won't break, Johnny," Murdoch said.

"I might," Johnny mumbled and pulled away. He stood up and walked to the window, staring out at the rain.

Murdoch watched him, unable to imagine anything worse than what Johnny had already confided in him. He felt he had to push his son but he knew he also had to tread very carefully or Johnny would buck and run.

"You need to say it, get it out in the open and put it behind you. This nightmare will never end until you do," he said.

Johnny shook his head slowly, hiding his face from his father. "I can't," he said in a trembling voice.

"Johnny, listen to me. You've told me some things that were very personal, like what happened at that livery stable. Nothing could be worse than that, could it?"

"Depends on your definition of worse," Johnny remarked snidely.

Murdoch could hear it, Johnny's hackles were going up. His anger was coming to the forefront again but he couldn't stop, not now.

"How can I convince you that I won't think badly of you?" he asked.

"How can I make you understand there are some things I can't say? Some things I can't even think about?" he retorted.

"But you are thinking about it, that's just it, and if you don't tell someone .... I'm worried about you, son. Will you talk to Scott?"

"No!" Johnny said harshly.

"Then let me help you, please," Murdoch said, almost pleaded.

*****

Johnny sighed loudly and kept staring out the window. He was quiet for a long time and Murdoch knew he was thinking, hopefully, deciding to confide in him. He waited patiently for Johnny to begin.

A full five minutes passed, he knew for he was watching the small clock on the bedside table, before Johnny raised his head.

Still not looking at his father, he started speaking so softly that Murdoch had to strain to hear him.

"What I told you in Mexico City about that man? It wasn't the first time," he started.

Murdoch swallowed hard but managed to keep the pain and anger from his voice. "Go on, son."

"She got lonely sometimes. She didn't always have a man around so she ...." his voice trailed off into little more than a squeak.

"She what?" Murdoch pressed.

"Don't make me say it, Murdoch!" Johnny exploded.

"You have to, son," Murdoch said gently.

"She would make me get in bed with her. For a long time, I didnâ€t know any different. I didnâ€t know it was wrong. She said it was okay, that itâ€s how a mother showed her love. I just wanted her to love me but …. I never really felt right. It always made me feel so .... dirty. She got so angry when I told her what happened at the livery. She said no one had a right to me but her. She killed that man, I know she did. The morning she left me, I heard he'd been found shot in the head. I was scared. I thought somebody might find out so I ran away. That's why I didn't go to the orphanage at first. After that, I didn't see any point in it. I was doin okay on my own." Johnny spilled it out in one long breath, unable to stop once he'd started and unwilling to chance that he couldn't finish it.

The only sound in the room was the splatter of raindrops against the window pane he stared out. He waited for the explosion, waited to be told he was sick and twisted and didn't deserve to live. He waited and waited.

*****

Murdoch sat there, unable to think, his brain numb. The images too clear in his mind. Sickening images that were as bad as the ones he had pictured when Johnny told him his other horrible truth. He knew he had to say something, knew Johnny was waiting, but his tongue felt thick and his throat was too tight. What had he done? How could he have ever loved that woman? What was he thinking when he married her?

He shook his head. No, he didn't know, couldn't have known the awful truth. Was this a part of the sickness or was she simply so evil, so ugly inside that she didn't care. He understood her hatred for him now. She hated herself, him, even Johnny. Yes, she hated Johnny. Tears welled in Murdoch's eyes and he knew he could take no more.

He didn't think he would ever be able to ask his son about his past again. It was too black, too haunted, too painful. It was selfish, he knew. If he had found the boy all those years ago, he would ..... What would he be? Not the young man in this room. The young man with so much love to give, begging for someone to let him give it. Begging for someone to love him honestly and in the right way.

He could see the shoulders quivering, his entire body in fact. He could actually feel the pain scorching from Johnny's heart and mind. Screaming for help with no voice to make it heard. A heart that was broken, a mind that was ....

******

Murdoch jumped off the bed and went to his son. He turned Johnny around and enfolded him in his arms, tightening his grip until he was sure nothing could pass between them. No shadows or ghosts could tear them apart ever again.

He felt his boy go flaccid in his arms, exhausted. Carefully, he moved Johnny to the bed and laid him down. Before he could position himself, Johnny turned away from him and curled up.

"Don't, son. Don't turn away," he whispered.

Johnny didn't answer and he didn't move, the only thing he did was sigh.

What have you done to my boy? Why would you so willfully and purposefully try to destroy such a beautiful soul. Such a fragile yet incredibly strong soul. He wanted to scream his anger, his outrage at her. He wanted to kill her and wished he had. Wished fervently it had been him who killed her and not Johnny.

Murdoch rubbed Johnny's back gently. Touch was what he needed, someone to touch him the way he deserved to be touched. With love, not perversity.

"I won't let this destroy you, Johnny," he said. "I won't let her destroy you."

******

"She already has," Johnny muttered.

"No, I won't accept that. You've worked too hard, struggled too long to give into it now. You have so much goodness in you, Johnny. So much kindness and love. Too much to throw away. You are a shining star, son, and you light up every place you enter. People can't wait to see you and they're sad when you leave. You didn't know that, did you? You have no idea the effect you have on people."

"How can you even talk to me? How can you stand to be anywhere near me?" Johnny asked incredulously.

"Because you are my son and I love you. You did nothing wrong, Johnny. That's what you won't accept. You're like me, you hate not being in control. But a child isn't in control of his life, not ever. It's up to the adults to take care of them and when they don't, they steal something precious from all of us. Your innocence was stolen, Johnny. Taken from you before you even knew what it was. I wish I could say something to make it all go away. I wish I had some magic words to make you forget it ever happened. But I don't, I can't and I honestly don't know how to help you. All I can do is love you and that will never change, son."

"Scraped my knee," Johnny murmured.

Murdoch frowned, was Johnny delusional? "What?" he asked.

"I scraped my knee and you kissed it and made it better. When I was a kid," he explained.

"You remember that?" Murdoch asked, stunned.

"Just now."

*******

Murdoch smiled, he was sure Johnny would never remember his time at Lancer as a toddler.

"You said magic words and kissed it and it stopped hurting," Johnny continued.

"That's right, I did say magic words. I can't remember what they were now," Murdoch said, smiling at the memory.

"A kiss today takes the pain away," Johnny recited. "You waved your hand over my knee."

"A kiss today takes the pain away," Murdoch repeated and waved his hand over Johnny's heart at the same time as he kissed his son on the head.

Johnny turned toward his father and buried his head in Murdoch's chest. They stayed there, just like that, the rest of the night and Johnny finally succumbed to the exhaustion of the past few days.

 

 

~end~
2003

Want to comment? Email Winj