The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Sacrifices

 

 

 

He stood on the veranda staring out into the black velvet of the night. The sounds and smells of the ranch comforted him. Thinking back over the events of the day worked his nerves which were already frazzled. The doctor was still up there, still had not told them anything and he was pretty sure he couldn't take much more.

He figured he'd give it ten more minutes before going up there and finding out what the devil was taking so long. The image would not leave his mind. Try as he might, he couldn't get the picture out of his head.

He heard the French doors open and turned quickly to see Scott standing there. No words were spoken between them as he walked inside to find the doctor sitting on the sofa, coffee in hand with a strained look on his face.

When they were both seated, Sam began.

"It's his heart," he said.

"What?" Scott asked in surprise.

"He had a heart attack, Scott. It was mild but it was also a warning. He needs to take it easier, not work so much. He has you boys for that now. Convincing him of that will not be easy, however."

"But he's going to be alright," Johnny said.

"This time. He may not be so lucky again. He needs to rest for the next couple of days, and I mean bedrest. Do whatever you have to do to keep him down," Sam said and stood. "I'm heading back to town. Send if you need me but I'll be back tomorrow."

*****

Johnny and Scott went to Murdoch's room and sat quietly while he slept.

"Go to bed, Boston, I'll sit with him," Johnny whispered.

"I'll spell you in a couple of hours," Scott replied and left the room.

Johnny stood at the window staring at nothing and remembering the events of the day once more.

"When are you going to start listening to me, boy?"

"I do listen to you! You don't listen to me, Murdoch. I told you that stupid fence line is finished but you wouldn't believe it until one of the vaqueros told you. You believe a hand but not your own son!" Johnny spat.

"A hand that's been with me for ten years," Murdoch retorted.

"So, what? I have to wait ten years for you to start trusting my word? Well, let me tell you something old man, you just ride on down to the border and ask around. Ask what Johnny Madrid's word is worth!"

"I don't give a rat's behind what Johnny Madrid's word is worth!"

"That's pretty obvious," Johnny sneered.

Murdoch took a step toward him and stopped, an odd expression coming over his face. Suddenly, he clutched at his chest and groaned.

"Murdoch?"

He grabbed hold of a nearby chair and tried to stay on his feet but the pain tore through him again and he went to the floor.

"Murdoch!"

Johnny shuddered at the memory of watching his father collapse into a heap in front of him. He had frozen in fear for a second before coming to his senses and yelling for help. It had been Jelly who came to his aid.

He smiled at the thought of the old man. Jelly, so rock solid, so trustworthy. He'd do anything for any of them. He'd taken over then as Johnny was in a daze. He ordered one hand to get the doctor and another to find Scott. He then had four more men carry Murdoch to his room.

Johnny had sat with him, begging him to hang on. It was the most torturous two hours of his life before Sam arrived. Even with Scott there, he felt no comfort. Then, more waiting as Sam examined him.

Johnny felt drained of every ounce of strength in his reserves. He laid his head on the side of the mattress and closed his eyes.

He felt someone stroking his hair and he opened his eyes slowly, remembering where he was. His head came up quickly as he found his father watching him.

"Hey, how do you feel?" Johnny asked.

"I'm fine. Chest is a little sore," Murdoch answered.

Johnny tensed immediately and stood up. "Do you need Sam?"

"No. He said it would feel like this. It's not like before. Sit," Murdoch reassured him.

Johnny sat carefully on the side of the bed and Murdoch chuckled.

"I'm not injured, Johnny. You don't have to be so careful."

"Sam said you had a heart attack," Johnny said.

"A little one," Murdoch replied.

"He said you had to stay in bed for a couple of days," Johnny reported.

"Oh, I don't think that will be necessary."

"He said we were to do whatever it takes to keep you down. He also said you can't keep working so hard," Johnny continued.

"Sam had a lot to say," Murdoch smiled.

"Do you want some water?" Johnny asked.

"Yes."

Johnny helped his father drink until Murdoch indicated he was done. He watched the older man closely, trying to figure how to broach the subject without upsetting his father.  

"I'm sorry." Was all he could come up with.

"For what?" Murdoch asked.

"It's my fault, I shouldn't have been arguing with you," Johnny whispered.

"It isn't your fault, Johnny. Sam said it could have happened anytime, anywhere. It had nothing to do with that," Murdoch said.

"Still, when you .... I ... I was so scared," Johnny fumbled.

"I didn't mean to scare you."

"Thank God for Jelly. He took right over."

"Jelly's a strong man," Murdoch agreed.

"Yeah. Look, I want you to do what Sam says. I don't ever want to see that again, Murdoch. I .... I don't want to lose you," Johnny said softly.

"Johnny, listen to me. I'm not going anywhere if I can help it. I don't want you worrying about me."

"Can't help it," Johnny said, laying his hand on his father's chest.

******

Scott opened the door quietly and peeked in. Smiling, he entered and approached the bed.

"Good morning," he said. "You should have woke me, Johnny."

"Fell asleep myself," Johnny said.

"I don't need a babysitter, boys, I'm fine," Murdoch said.

"Not according to the doctor and he calls the tune this time. Now, Maria will have breakfast ready soon. I thought we could all eat together," Scott grinned.

"Sounds good, I'm hungry," Murdoch returned the smile.

"You look a little pale to me," Johnny said.

"I'm in real trouble with you two around," Murdoch said sarcastically.

"Yes, you are, so get used to it. No more drama like yesterday, Sir," Scott said, wagging a condescending finger at his father as if he were admonishing a child's bad behavior.

Johnny stood up suddenly. "I'm gonna get washed up. Be right back," he said and left the room quickly.

*****

Johnny half ran to his room and closed the door behind him. Leaning heavily against the oak, he felt his knees give way and he sank down on the floor. Resting his head in the cradle he'd made of his arms over his drawn up knees, he let the tears fall that had been threatening for so many hours.

He didn't know how long he sat there but he figured he'd better get up before Scott came looking for him. He walked over to the dresser and splashed the tepid water on his face, leaning over the basin and letting the water drip from his chin.

He dried his face and looked in the mirror. He needed a shave but he didn't feel like it. He didn't feel like doing anything but crying. The terrifying previous day had left him with so many emotions, fear being at the top of the list. Fear of losing the man who could enrage him so easily, whose approval he desperately sought but rarely got.

It really surprised him that he cared so much. He knew he had feelings for his old man but until yesterday, he would have never guessed just how strong those feelings were.   He felt the emotions surging forth again and fought them off. Plenty of time for that later. Right now, all he wanted was to be with his father. He changed his shirt quickly and headed back to Murdoch's room.

"We thought you might have fallen asleep," Scott said when he came back in.

"I thought about it, but my stomach said different," Johnny forced a smile.

Murdoch saw the strain on his face. "Are you alright, Johnny?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Let's eat," he said, slapping his hands together and rubbing them in anticipation.

Murdoch wasn't buying it though and thought he would talk to Johnny later. He knew the boy had been upset by what happened, but it just seemed there was something else going on here.

Scott chattered away, keeping their minds busy as they ate. "Well, I think we should send for Teresa," he said.

"No, son, leave her be. There's nothing she can do anyway, it's over," Murdoch said.

"It's not over! Sam said ..."

"Oh, Sam!" Murdoch interrupted Johnny with a dismissing wave of his hand.

The boys exchanged a look.

"We better get her back here. She's the only one that can sit on him without making him mad," Johnny said.

"What's this about making me mad?" Murdoch asked.

"Sam said not to let you get upset," Scott explained.

Murdoch chuckled at this. "Not in my nature, son." Johnny fidgeted a little and it caught Murdoch's notice. "Go to bed, Johnny. I know you're exhausted."

"Maybe I will lay down for a while. Just a couple of hours, then I'll head out to the south pasture," Johnny said.

He went back to his room and flopped on the bed. Let's see, that was twice he called Scott ‘son’ in less than ten minutes. He felt ashamed of himself for having those thoughts, but Murdoch had never called him son, not once. He would have noticed that.

He fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of his father falling and falling into a deep black hole. Murdoch was yelling for help, yelling for Scott, not him. In his dream, Scott was nowhere in sight. It was only him, yet Murdoch called for Scott all the same.

He awoke drenched with sweat. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he sat up and rubbed his face. He stood and walked to the window, staring out at the activity. He idly wondered what time it was.

Johnny went to Murdoch's room to check on him. The door was ajar and he could hear Sam's voice. He stopped and listened.  

"I mean it, Murdoch. You have got to reduce the tension in your life. That means you need to stop worrying over this ranch so much, let others do the work and stop arguing with Johnny!"

He backed away and slipped down the back stairs and out of the house.

*****

Murdoch's recovery was quick. He was back at his desk in three days time. He was restrained with orders for no undue physical activity and that meant staying off his horse. Why Sam couldn't understand that it was more disturbing for him to rely on the reports of others than to see to the work himself, was beyond him.

Johnny walked in the house then and stopped mid-stride when he saw his father.

"Sam okay that?" he asked.

"It's about all he okayed," Murdoch grumped.

"The branding's done, managed to finish up early. I, uh, need to talk to you about something if you're up to it," Johnny said hesitantly.

"Please, talk to me about something, anything," Murdoch said.

Johnny walked over and sat in front of the desk, hat in hand. "Well, it's just this. Now that the branding is done, things will get a little more back to normal for awhile, so I thought I would ... take off."

"Oh, Johnny, now is not a good time to take a vacation," Murdoch said.

"No, that's not what I meant. Look, I've been here nine months and I think I've put in a good effort, but well, it's just not for me. I plan on leaving, for good," Johnny said, watching his father's reaction.

"Just like that?" Murdoch said gruffly.

"Don't get upset, okay? Look, I'm not cut out to be a rancher. I tried, I really did, but it's just not for me," Johnny said gently.

"I see," Murdoch said, lowering his tone. "What do you plan to do?"

"The only thing I'm good at, I guess," Johnny shrugged.

"You mean throwing your life away?" Murdoch sneered.

"You're angry."

"You're damned right I'm angry. I don't understand you, Johnny. You've been given a second chance here, a reprieve, and you're just going to throw it all away," Murdoch yelled.

"Calm down, Murdoch. I never meant to upset you."

"Don't you tell me to calm down, boy!" Murdoch shouted as he stood up.

Johnny was up and around the desk in a heartbeat. He took his father's arm and squeezed gently. "Please don't, please," he pleaded. "Sit down," he said softly.

Murdoch sat back down and Johnny kneeled beside him. "Try to understand, it's got nothing to do with you or Scott or the ranch. It's me, I'm the problem. I know how much you've offered me and I'm grateful. I just can't accept it, that's all. You still have Scott, you still have your dream. I just can't be a part of it. Murdoch, please understand."

Murdoch shook his head, but he took a deep breath and calmed himself. "I don't understand, Johnny. I don't understand you at all, I guess I never have. I thought you cared about Lancer."

"I do. I care about all of you but that doesn't change anything. I still have to follow my instincts and they tell me to leave. I'll come back and visit when I can," he said.

"Visit," Murdoch snorted.

"You know, a lot of families go off on their own. You did it. I just have to follow a different path."

"A path to nowhere. Johnny, what kind of life is that? A drifter, a gunhawk with no roots, no stability. What kind of future do you think you'll have?"

"None, maybe. I don't know, all I know is I can't stay here anymore. I .... care about you, Murdoch. More than I ever could have imagined, but it doesn't change the way I feel. I'll leave in the morning if that's alright," Johnny said and stood up.

Murdoch could only nod his head as Johnny turned to leave. Scott was standing in the door with his mouth hanging open when Johnny walked up to him.

"Well, I guess you heard," he said.

"Most of it. Are you sure about this, Johnny?" Scott asked, his mind numb.

"I'm sure. I'll see ya later, Boston," Johnny smiled and went to his room.

******

"Murdoch, why?" Scott asked.

"I have no idea. He just came in here and announced he's going back to his old life. He said he wasn't cut out to be a rancher," Murdoch said sadly.

"That's ridiculous. Why he's a great rancher!" Scott exclaimed.

"If he's not happy here, Scott, I can't to force him to stay," Murdoch said.

"Did you two argue about something?"

"No! I haven't even seen him much the past few days. It just came out of the blue. I don't understand him," Murdoch said with a sigh.

"Neither do I," Scott mumbled.

Johnny closed the door and leaned against it, closing his eyes. He began packing what little he planned to take with him. Not much, as he always traveled light. Johnny Madrid always traveled light, that is. He knew it would take him some time to get back into that frame of mind.

He sat on the bed and slumped his shoulders, leaning over with his arms on his legs, he buried his face in his hands. He wasn't too sure he could do this. Not too sure he could get away with what he knew he had to do. His eyes grew hot and wet from the tears that fell but he didn't care. He was alone now and forever, as it was meant to be.

*****

Johnny joined his family for one last supper together. To say it was a somber affair would be putting it mildly. Jelly kept looking at all three of them wondering what was wrong. Not one to hold his tongue, he spoke up.

"Ya'll look like ya lost your best friend," he said.

"Well, I did, anyway," Scott said and shot Johnny a look.

"What in tarnation is that suppose ta mean?" Jelly asked.

"Johnny is leaving us, Jelly. In the morning," Murdoch explained.

"Leavin? Where to?"

"Wherever the wind takes him, isn't that right, Johnny?" Scott shot sarcastically.

Jelly looked from Scott to Johnny who was staring at his plate. "What's all this about, Johnny?"

"Time to move on, Jelly," Johnny mumbled.

"What'd ya say to 'im this time?" Jelly accused, glaring at Murdoch.

"He didn't say or do anything, Jelly. This is my decision. No one asked me to leave," Johnny interjected.

"Did anybody ask ya ta stay? Cause if they didn't, I will," Jelly pressed.

"Won't do you any good, mi amigo," Johnny smiled wanly. "Think I'll turn in," he added and stood up.

"We will see you in the morning?" Murdoch asked.

"Yeah, you'll see me, goodnight," Johnny smiled and left the room.

*******

"So yer just gonna sit there? The both of ya? Go talk to 'im," Jelly demanded.

"I have talked to him, Jelly. There's no changing his mind. I just wish I knew what brought this on," Murdoch said.

"Evidently, nothing. He said he'd been thinking about it for a while now," Scott said.

"Unbelievable! That's what it is, just plain unbelievable! Well, I'll get ta the bottom of this!" Jelly said and threw down his napkin. He stormed up the stairs as they stared at his back.

Jelly barged into Johnny's room without knocking and Johnny jumped up and turned his back.

"Ain't no tryin ta hide it, boy. Now suppose you tell me why you're a doin this?"

"I ain't in the mood to talk, Jelly," Johnny said and sniffled.

"Right. Ya thought it over and decided it was just time ta move on. That why yer sittin up here bawlin?"

"Leave me alone," Johnny said, clearly drying his eyes.

"The hell I will!" Jelly yelled and walked over to stand in front of him.

Johnny started to turn away but Jelly grabbed his arm and jerked it. "You listen ta me, Johnny. You ain't goin nowhere til I know the real reason you're doin this," he said angrily.

Johnny jerked free of the old man's grasp and walked over to look out the window. "I told you, it's time to move on."

"No, Johnny. Somethin happened. Somethin's got ya thinkin ya gotta leave here. Why now? Why all the sudden?" Jelly persisted.

"It's not all the sudden. It's been coming on for a while, now. I've been feeling restless, Jelly. I tried to ignore it but I can't. I just can't stay here anymore. Especially now," Johnny said.

"Whatya mean, especially now?"

"Nothin."

"Do I hafta pull ever word out of ya? Talk to me, Johnny," Jelly said, his voice softening.

"There's nothing to say. Look, it'll be fine. Hey, at least it'll be a lot quieter around here," Johnny turned and smiled.

"Hmmph! Who said I like it quiet? Yer just gonna go down there and get yerself killed, that's all!"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Johnny laughed.

"I oughta turn ya over my knee, is what I oughta do. Ya ain't got no more sense than a rock! Yer just gonna give all this up and for what? Nothing, that's what! Well, fine! You just go on and do what ya want to but let me tell you somethin, boy, you ain't gonna make it. No sir, Johnny, you ain't gonna make it," Jelly said, his voice failing him and his eyes misting.

"Jelly...."

"Nope, I'm done with ya," Jelly said and stormed out of the room.

*****

Johnny was up early the next morning. Truth be told, he hadn't slept at all. He had Barranca saddled and ready to go by the time the family assembled in the yard.

"Don't you want some breakfast, Johnny?" Murdoch asked.

"Nah, I'm not hungry," he mumbled.

"You're sure about this?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure. I left the deed in my room for you, Murdoch. Figured you got a bargain for Barranca here," Johnny said with a weak smile.

"He's your horse, John. I gave him to you," Murdoch said.

"Yeah, well, guess I'll get goin," Johnny said and extended a hand to his father.

Murdoch shook hands with him, lingering for an extra second. He seemed to want to say something but the words wouldn't come.

"Scott," Johnny turned to shake hands with his brother.

Scott slapped his hand away and hugged him tightly. "Take care of yourself, hear me? You always have a home here, brother," Scott whispered.

Johnny pulled away and swallowed hard. He turned to Jelly but the older man turned his back. Johnny hung his head and mounted Barranca.

"Johnny, come back whenever you want," Murdoch said.

"Sure. I'll see ya. Bye, Jelly," he said but Jelly would not look at him.

*****

"Was that necessary, Jelly?" Murdoch asked as they watched him ride away.

"I told 'im last night if he weren't gonna tell me the truth, I was done with 'im," Jelly said and blew his nose.

"What do you mean, tell you truth?" Scott asked.

"You really think he just all the sudden decided it was time to move on? Somethin made him do this, Scott," Jelly explained.

"Did he give you any clue, Jelly? Anything at all?" Murdoch asked.

"He said he couldn't stay here no more, especially now. But he wouldn't tell me what he meant by that. Then he said somethin bout it bein quieter around here with him gone. Don't know what he meant by that, neither. Onliest time it ain't quiet is when you two are a goin at it," Jelly said.

Murdoch furrowed his brows in thought, trying to think what might have happened to make Johnny leave. He sighed heavily and went back in the house.

*****

The silence was deafening to Murdoch Lancer. Scott sat on the sofa reading and Jelly dozed by the fireplace. There wasn't a sound in the room, save that damned grandfather clock. He'd thought more than once over the years about throwing it out but Catherine had loved it so.

He stood up and walked to the French doors, peering out into the night, wondering where Johnny was right now. Too restless to sit still, he wandered into the kitchen then up the back stairs.

Murdoch walked into Johnny's room and thought it felt too cold, too empty. He lit a lamp and sat on the bed, fingering the quilt. Sighing to himself, he stood up and noticed the deed on the dresser.

Grimacing, Murdoch picked it up and another paper fell to the floor. He picked it up and looked at the envelope with his name written neatly across the front. He sat back down on the bed and opened the letter with trembling fingers.

Murdoch,
I know you don't understand why I left and I can't explain it to you. I just wanted you to know that I will always remember my time at Lancer. I have no regrets. Tell Teresa I'm sorry she wasn't there so I could say goodbye but I promise to write to her. Tell Scott to remember what I told him about always being aware of his surroundings. That dandy never pays attention. And tell Jelly, I'm sorry he's mad at me and that I'll miss him. I'll miss you all. I never was any good at writing, worse at saying how I feel. Just promise me, Murdoch, that you'll take care of yourself. Listen to Sam, okay? I'm sure things will be better for you. Let Scott take some of the load, he's more than capable. I hope I see you again someday.

Johnny

Murdoch stared at the words on the page for what seemed like forever. He didn't even notice the tears that trickled down his cheeks. He read the letter again and again, staring at the beautiful cursive handwriting. He had always been amazed at Johnny's hands. They were big and strong, yet as gentle as a kitten when he wanted to be. Murdoch often thought he could probably be an artist, the way his hands worked. He had spent many stolen moments admiring his son's hands.

He reached in his back pocket and pulled out his kerchief, wiping away the tears. He stood and looked around the room, pulling out dresser drawers to see if Johnny had left anything of himself behind. There was nothing there, though. Nothing to signify that Johnny had ever even spent one night in the room. How could an entire house full of people seem so empty so quickly?

"I miss him, too," Scott said softly from the door.

"He left me a letter, here read it."

Scott read the letter, smiling at one part, saddened at another. He could not fathom what had set his brother on this road. He read it again, looking now for hidden meaning more than content.

"What does this mean? "I'm sure things will be better for you"?" Scott asked.

"I suppose he meant my health," Murdoch shrugged.

"But, why would he say he's sure things will be better? Why not he hopes they'll be better?" Scott asked.

"What are you getting at, son?" Murdoch asked.

"I don't know, really. I just think it's an odd way to say it. I mean, it sounds like he's almost begging you to take care of yourself. Like here, when he says for you to listen to Sam....what did Sam tell you exactly?"

"He said for me to stop worrying so much about the ranch and to let you boys take some of the load and he told me to stop...." Murdoch stopped suddenly, feeling a wave of dizziness come over him.

"Murdoch? Here, sit down. Are you alright?" Scott asked, concern masking his face.

"Scott, do you think Johnny could have overheard Sam talking to me that day in my room?" Murdoch asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Well, he was upstairs for quite a while but I thought he was sleeping the whole time. I suppose it's possible. Why, what did Sam say?" Scott asked, completely confused.

"Sam told me to stop arguing with Johnny," Murdoch replied.

Scott's face dropped as he began to realize what his brother was trying to do. "He left to keep from upsetting you. He blames himself," he whispered.

"I told him it wasn't his fault and it wasn't. Sam was only joking but if Johnny only heard that part ...."

"Then it convinced him he couldn't risk you getting sick again and he felt like he had to leave," Scott finished the thought.

"Dear God, he must feel ...." Murdoch couldn't really imagine how Johnny felt just then. As if his father's life depended on him leaving, he supposed. Too much burden for one man to carry, the responsibility for a life. He was sure Johnny had felt that before but never with his own father.

"We have to find him, Scott."

"We? Oh, no! Sam said no riding, Murdoch. I'll find Johnny," Scott protested.

"No, I have to go, I have to convince him it's not his fault. He won't believe you and you know it," Murdoch countered.

"And if you fall flat on your face trying to find him? That will reassure him," Scott retorted.

"There's no point in arguing about this, Scott. I'm going and that's all there is to it!" Murdoch said in a commanding voice.

"Goin where?" Jelly asked.

"To bring Johnny home," Murdoch answered.

"Bout time! I'll have the horses ready ta go first thing in the mornin," Jelly said as a smile spread across his face.

*****

As promised, Jelly had three horses saddled before breakfast. They ate quickly and gathered supplies, hoping they wouldn't need them. They figured Johnny headed south so they decided to stop in Spanish Wells first.

Scott spoke with the bartender at the cantina and learned Johnny had indeed stopped by and had been seen leaving Sam Jenkins office the day before.

"Sam!" Murdoch bellowed.

"Good grief, man! What are you doing here? I told you to stay down!" Sam admonished.

"Never mind that. Johnny was here yesterday, what did you talk about?" Murdoch waved off the concern.

"You. He wanted to know the specifics of your problem," Sam shrugged.

"Did he say anything to you about leaving?" Scott asked.

"Leaving? No, he didn't say a word. He wanted to know how Murdoch should be treated mostly," Sam replied.

"Treated?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, he wanted to know about keeping you calm and getting you to slow down."

"Dammit!" Murdoch cursed.

"Will someone tell me what's going on?" Sam asked.

"Johnny announced he was leaving Lancer. He said it was time to move on. We think now that he left so he and Murdoch wouldn't argue. He thinks it's his fault that Murdoch got sick and he heard you tell Murdoch to stop arguing with him," Scott explained.

"But, that was a joke!" Sam said in dismay.

"Johnny didn't think so. Come on, let's find him," Murdoch said.

"You shouldn't be riding, Murdoch," Sam warned.

"I shouldn't be doing a lot of things that need done, Sam!" Murdoch shot and stormed out.

*****

"Where to?" Jelly asked.

"South, Jelly. It's all I know to do," Murdoch said, the lines on his face even deeper with worry.

They rode south most of the day, stopping to rest only when Scott or Jelly insisted. They finally convinced Murdoch it was getting too dark to continue and they stopped for the night.

"Reckon we'll catch up to 'im tomorrow," Jelly commented.

"I'm sure we will. I can't imagine he's in too big of a hurry," Scott agreed.

"Why would he do it, Scott? Why would he give up his whole life?" Murdoch asked, staring into the flames.

"I would think that's obvious, Murdoch. He thought he was saving you," Scott replied, a bit surprised at the question.

"I didn't think he cared that much," Murdoch mumbled.

"Well, that figures! Ya ain't got a notion about that boy, not on purdee notion what he thinks or feels! Murdoch, for a smart fella, ya ain't got much common sense. That boy loves you," Jelly huffed.

Murdoch looked skeptically at his friend.

"Yeah, go ahead an look at me like that! Durn fool! Ya think he'd a hung around all these months, gettin yelled at most ever day, never gettin a slice of support er trust from ya if he didn't love ya? Think about it! I shore wouldn't hang around. Why, I'd a been gone so fast, yer head would still be a spinnin from it."

"He's right, Murdoch," Scott said.

"And ya just sit there an think about what yer a doin out here. Why you goin after him anyways? How come ya don't just let 'im go?" Jelly asked.

"I can't!" Murdoch fumed.

"How come? Ya don't care nothin fer 'im. All ya ever do is yell at 'im," Jelly continued his rant.

"I do not always yell at him!" Murdoch said in his defense.

This comment brought on a bit of a choking fit from Scott, as he was just taking a sip of coffee at the time.

"You aren't serious? You do it all the time, Murdoch. Nothing Johnny does is ever good enough for you. If he finishes a job early, you question if it was done right. If he finishes late, you question why it took so long. You don't believe what he tells you until you verify it with me or one of the hands. You don't trust him, Sir," Scott expounded.

"I .... well, he's irresponsible!"

"Is he? When's the last time he was 'irresponsible'?" Scott asked.

"Well, he um ..."

"Right. One time, Murdoch. One time and you threw him out for it!" Scott said, his anger rising at the injustice bestowed on his brother.

"I did not throw him out. I told him if he couldn't adjust he should leave before ...."

"Before what? Before you started to care about him?"

"That's not fair, Scott. I've always loved Johnny," Murdoch said, more quietly.

"Hmmph! Coulda fooled me!" Jelly declared.

"Look, this is pointless. We just need to find Johnny," Murdoch said.

"It's not pointless, Murdoch! What are you going to say to him when we do find him? Have you even thought about that?" Scott retorted.

******

Johnny rode into the small nondescript town, scanning the one main street and keeping an eye on the dark corners and alleyways. He had spent these two days alone beckoning Madrid. It had been a slower process than he would have thought and part of him was glad about that. Another part told him to keep his mind on business and forget about the past nine months of his life.

He rode up to the saloon, such as it was, and slid off Barranca. Looking around once more, he headed inside. It was small and pretty dead, save for the perpetual town drunk. The barkeep eyed him suspiciously from the batwings, then dropped his gaze when he recognized the man sauntering up to him.

"What'll ya have?"

"Tequila."

He set up a glass with lime and salt and went back to cleaning the beer mugs.

"Get any action in this town?" Johnny asked.

The man snorted. "Bout all the action we get is when old Henry over there wakes up," he replied flatly.

"Yeah, I figured," Johnny smiled.

"Lookin for work?" the barkeep ventured.

"Nope, just passin through."

The man relaxed visibly and Johnny fought the laugh down as he watched, his eyes dancing with humor.

"You serve food here?" Johnny asked.

"Could find ya a steak, I reckon," the man replied.

Johnny nodded, grabbed the tequila bottle and sat at a table, his back to the wall.

He had just finished eating when a couple of cowboys walked in and took up space at the bar. Johnny dismissed them out of hand and went back to his tequila.

They stood there, talking quietly together for a while until one nudged the other and he nudged back. Their laughter filled the empty room, echoing off the rafters.

They both turned and looked Johnny up and down. "Hey, Pete, will ya look at that?"

"What's that, Larry."

"Why it's a walkin chili bean," Larry said and burst out laughing.

"You boys don't start no trouble in here, especially with him," the barkeep warned.

"Trouble? Why there ain't gonna be no trouble, is there chili bean?" Pete guffawed.

Johnny sighed and looked up at the two idiots in front of him. "I take it you're talking to me?" he said softly.

"What's that, boy? Speak up, I can barely hear ya!" Pete said.

"Don't see no other chili beans in here," Larry said snidely.

"No, just a couple of jackasses," Johnny said with a half smile.

"Is that right? Well, let's just see who's the jackass, halfbreed," Pete spat.

"Not in here!" the barkeep said loudly. "And not with him," he added.

"Why not with him?" Larry asked.

"He's right. You are a couple of jackasses. That's Johnny Madrid, ya fool," he warned.

Both men turned and stared at Johnny who smiled and tipped his hat with his left hand. For the first time, they noticed they could not see his right hand.

"Um, well, we didn't know .... that is ta say...." Pete stuttered.

"Yeah, we didn't mean nothin. We was just funnin," Larry said with a distinctly hard swallow.

Johnny made one quick jerky movement that sent both cowboys flying out of the saloon and hightailing it home.

He sat back and nodded at the barkeep, then went back to his bottle.

*******

Murdoch, Scott and Jelly saw two riders coming at them as if the devil were on their tail.

"Wonder what's got them two in such a hurry?" Jelly said idly.

"I don't know but the way they keep looking behind them, you'd think the law was after them," Scott said.

So intent were they at looking behind them, that they almost ran head long into the trio.

"Hold up, there! Are you crazy or just blind?" Murdoch growled.

"Mister, I don't know who ya are but let me give ya a friendly warning. Don't go to the saloon," Pete said, gasping for air.

"And why not?" Scott asked.

"There's a gunfighter in there. The meanest, fastest hawk alive!" Larry explained.

The trio exchanged glances and Murdoch turned back to the two men. "Johnny Madrid?"

"Yeah! How'd you know?"

"Never mind and thank you," Murdoch said as he kneed his horse forward, Scott and Jelly in tow.

******

"Bunch of fools is what they are," Pete sneered.

"Yep, but we warned 'im. Come on, let's get outta here," Larry said, his voice still shaking.

*****

"It would be funny if it weren't so tragic," Scott commented as they rode up to the saloon and saw Barranca.

"What?" Jelly asked.

"Those two morons were shaking in their boots," Scott said with a hint of a smile.

"Scott, Jelly, wait out here," Murdoch said.

"Oh, I don't think that's such a good idea, Boss," Jelly said.

"I don't recall asking what you thought, Jelly," Murdoch sniped and headed inside.

It took him about a second to spy his son, head down, bottle in front of him. He wondered if this was the perpetual picture for the last five years.

"Buy you a drink?" he asked as he stood over Johnny.

"Sure," he mumbled, not looking up. "Barkeep," Johnny called then looked at Murdoch questioningly.

"A beer, please," Murdoch replied. He turned his attention back to his son. "You don't seem surprised to see me."

Johnny smiled. "Don't I? I am."

"You hide it well."

"Yeah," Johnny said, a sadness crossing his face.

The barkeep sat the beer in front of Murdoch and left hurriedly.

"We just ran into two cowboys hightailing it out of town. They warned us not to come in here," Murdoch said then took a long drink.

Johnny laughed at this. "Is that right? We?"

"Scott and Jelly are with me."

Johnny nodded and sat silently staring at his glass.

Murdoch watched him, barely able to see the lower half of his face, something that had always annoyed him about Johnny.

"You shouldn't have come here," Johnny finally said.

"Why not?"

"Shouldn't be on a horse," Johnny explained, looking up at his father.

"Well, I couldn't figure another way to get here except walk," Murdoch replied lightly.

"Are you writing this down? Wouldn't want ya ta miss nothin!" Johnny glared at the bartender who was most interested in their conversation.

The man shrunk a foot and skulked away.

"Feel better now?" Murdoch asked sarcastically.

"Wasn't feeling bad," Johnny shrugged.

"Ready?"

"For what?"

"To come home, Johnny," Murdoch said gently.

Johnny smiled, his eyes dancing with humor. "I didn't come all this way to turn right back around."

Murdoch watched in fascination. Johnny could find humor in the strangest situations. "Well, I did and I'm not leaving without you."

"Why?"

"Why did you leave?" Murdoch countered.

"I told you," Johnny said, casting his eyes down again.

"You're a rotten liar, Johnny. I talked to Sam. I also know you overheard us in my bedroom that day. What you didn't hear was the laughter that followed. Sam was only joking with me, Johnny. He didn't mean it when he said not to argue with you," Murdoch explained.

"Don't matter," Johnny whispered.

"Do you really think fighting with you is what made me sick?" Murdoch asked.

"Nothin else to think. You always get so fired up. I'll bet you never had a problem before I came there," Johnny replied.

"Johnny, I didn't have a problem after you came home. Not until that day. If I had been out riding the range when it happened, we wouldn't be having this conversation. It could have easily been that way. Don't you see, son? It wasn't your fault," Murdoch implored.

Johnny's head shot up and he gave his father a look that Murdoch couldn't identify.

"What did you call me?" he asked in surprise.

"What are you talking about? I didn't call you anything," Murdoch said, totally confused by the turn.

Johnny shook his head slowly. "Never mind, it was nothing. Look, there's no sense in going on with this. I'm not coming back, Murdoch. It's bad enough that my past is always there, but I can't, I couldn't ...." he couldn't finish the thought, his emotions were coming very near the surface now.

"Do you think you're being gone is going to help me? It isn't, Johnny, because I hate it. I want you home, with me. I don't care how much we fight, I need you," Murdoch said.

"Need me? For what?" Johnny asked.

"I need my son, not a ranch hand. I can get another hand, I can't get another son."

"You have Scott."

"So that's all I'm entitled to? That's like you dying and someone saying, well you still have another son. It's doesn't matter. Johnny, when you came home, I can't tell you what it meant to me. I was so worried you wouldn't stay but you did and I've done nothing but push you away since. I apologize for that. I was always so afraid you would up and leave so I didn't want to get my hopes up. I guess I really ended up pushing you away. But, believe me, it was never my intention."

*****

Scott and Jelly paced back and forth on the boardwalk, passing each other every ten paces or so.

"Whatya think's goin on in there?" Jelly asked.

"Well, I haven't heard any gunfire, no shouting or breaking glass. That has to be a good sign, don't you think?" Scott said.

"I don't know. There's always stranglin. That's purty quiet," Jelly said and they both burst out laughing.

"Sneak a peek, Scott," Jelly said when they'd recovered themselves.

"Oh no, I'm not sticking my head in there! You look," Scott said, holding up his hands.

"Coward!" Jelly huffed and stuck his head over the batwings, just to his eyes. "They're talkin. Looks peaceable enough," he reported.

"That's good, right?" Scott asked, unsure.

********

"Your brother and Jelly read me the riot act last night. They both have decided that I'm a fool, and they're right. I've spent so many years building up walls around me, it's hard to tear them down. I know you have walls, too."

Johnny shook his head sadly. "Tell me something, Murdoch. How come you don't have any walls against Scott?"

"What do you mean?"

"What do I mean? I mean you never have any problem talking to him like a civilized human being. You never have any problem taking his word as the gospel about anything. You never have any problem calling him son," Johnny said in a trembling voice.

Murdoch was stunned by the accusation, but it wasn't an accusation, it was the truth. He just never thought Johnny felt that way about his brother.

"Scott .... Scott's a lot different than you, Johnny. He's not so ... hot tempered. I know I treat him differently, it's just that you are both so different," Murdoch said, stumbling over his words.

"Yeah, he's got a college education so that makes a difference. And let's not forget, he's filthy rich and doesn't need anything from you," Johnny said sardonically.

"I never knew you felt that way about your brother."

"I don't! But, you do. It's easy to play nice when your authority is never questioned, Murdoch. Yeah, Scott picks his battles and he thinks things through before opening his mouth. He's smart like that. Me, I just say whatever comes to mind. The fact is you love him," Johnny said, somewhat terse.

"I love both of my sons, Johnny. Equally," Murdoch said.

Johnny looked him in the eye, his expression blank. "I don't believe you," he whispered.

Murdoch was shocked by that statement, he was sure Johnny would react positively to his words. "Why not?"

"Because you never have before. Why did you come here, really? Did Scott guilt you into it?"

"Scott didn't want me to come at all. He wanted to come and get you himself. I was under the mistaken assumption that my presence would mean something to you," Murdoch spat.

"Wouldn't be the first mistake you ever made," Johnny said calmly.

"Why are you acting like this?"

"Like what?"

"Like .... Johnny Madrid!"

"That's who I am, Murdoch. Get used to it," Johnny shrugged.

"I need a trumpet to fell these walls, I guess. Maybe some dynamite. What will it take, Johnny? You tell me because I've been as honest as I know how to be and it doesn't seem to matter to you."

"Go home, Murdoch," Johnny whispered.

Murdoch stared in stunned disbelief at the stranger sitting across from him. This was not his son, this was .... a gunfighter. He looked sadly at Johnny then got up and walked out.

"Well?" Jelly asked.

"What happened?" Scott asked.

"I told him I wanted him to come back and that I loved him and he told me to leave," Murdoch spat and walked away down the sidewalk.

Jelly and Scott looked at each other amazed.

"Wait a minute. Are you telling me you really said those things and Johnny told you to leave?" Scott asked for clarification.

"He said he didn't believe me," Murdoch said hoarsely.

"Is that right? Well, he'll believe me!" Scott proclaimed and started toward the door.

"Wait, Scott. Don't," Murdoch said, grabbing his arm.

"Why not?"

"Because, it won't do any good," Murdoch said. He felt completely defeated.

"Won't know til he tries. And if it don't, I'll talk to 'im," Jelly said.

"Jelly's right. We're here, we may as well all get a shot at him," Scott said and walked to the saloon.

******

Scott walked over and sat down unceremoniously. There was a fresh beer in front of him on the table.

"Drink up, Boston. It's a long hot ride," Johnny drawled.

"Pretty certain I'd come in, weren't you?" Scott said.

Johnny smiled at his brother. "Yeah, well I guess I know you pretty well."

"Better than you know Murdoch," Scott commented as he took a sip of beer.

"Suppose so."

"He opened up to you, Johnny, and you shot him down. Why?"

Johnny took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, leaning back in his chair. He pushed his hat back on his head and looked intensely at Scott.

"You shouldn't have let him ride down here," he said.

"Let him? I didn't let him do anything! I came with him in case he needed help but I couldn't have stopped him if I wanted to. You know how he gets when he sets his mind to doing something. He's just like you," Scott expounded.

Scott leaned over the table and locked eyes with his brother. "And just in case you were wondering, he does want you home. Now, stop avoiding my question."

Johnny smiled warmly at his brother. "I'm not avoiding it, Scott. Look, you can say whatever you like, the simple fact is, I get on his nerves. It ain't healthy for either one of us, especially him."

Scott sat there for a minute trying to think of something to say to convince Johnny to come home. He took a long drink of his beer, stalling for time.

"Suppose you get a telegram, say in a month, that Murdoch keeled over dead. Is that what it would take to make you realize it isn't your fault?"

"That's a lousy thing to say!" Johnny shot.

"Maybe, but it's the truth. But try this on for size; let's say you stay away. Go back to being Johnny Madrid with everything that comes with it. Do you think for one minute, Murdoch isn't going to be worrying about where you are, what you're doing or if you're even alive? Do you think that would be easier on him than having you home, safe where he can see you everyday? How do you think HE'D feel getting a telegram that you've been killed?"

"Stop it, Scott," Johnny mumbled.

"No, I won't stop. I want to know what makes you think this is such a grand idea, Johnny. Did you even think it through or did you just decide that everything bad that happens must be your fault?!" Scott yelled.

Johnny's eyes flashed angrily and he leaned over to his brother, their faces mere inches apart.

"Murdoch wouldn't agree, but I take responsibility for the things I do, Scott!" he hissed lowly.

"Don't give me that look, Johnny. I'm not afraid of you and you can't intimidate me like some gunhawk. You don't belong here anymore, you never did! Now, are you coming home or do I have to turn you over my knee?!"

Johnny burst out laughing at that statement. "I'd ... like ta see ya... try it, Boston," he said through the laughter.

Scott burst out laughing as well when he realized how ridiculous his threat was. "Don't try me, brother."

They both settled down after a minute and grew quiet. The bartender wasn't sure what to make of the famous gunfighter behaving so uncharacteristically, but he wasn't pushing his luck. He stayed as far away from them as he could.

Johnny smiled as he watched the man slink further away and reckoned he thought they were both loco.

He grew serious again, though. "I'd like to talk to Murdoch again. Think he'd mind?"

Scott smiled full out. "No, I don't think he'd mind at all, brother."

Scott left and sent in the patriarch who was feeling more nervous than he could believe at the moment, which in turn, irked him to no end.

"I feel like you're holding court in here," he said as he joined Johnny again.

"Usually where I do it," Johnny smiled. "Scott's gonna turn me over his knee," he laughed.

Murdoch chuckled at the thought. "I'd like to see that."

"What you said before .... about how you feel about me .... I need to ask you something," Johnny said, his voice faltering.

"Anything, son," Murdoch said softly.

"Well, if it's true then, well... what I want to know is ... why are you so hard on me?"

Murdoch closed his eyes and sighed. "Oh, Johnny, I wish I knew. I guess part of me still sees you as the little boy I knew and part of me sees you as the gunfighter who never had to answer to anyone. I can't seem to .... blend the two."

Johnny nodded his head in understanding. "I'm neither, you know," he said.

"Yes, I do know that. It took me a long time to see it, but I know it now. I know you love Lancer as much as I do, I see it in your face. I know how much your brother means to you, as well," Murdoch replied.

"But, do you know what you mean to me?" Johnny asked with a shaky sigh.

"I'd like to think you care about me," Murdoch said.

"I spent the better part of my life hating your guts. Then, I got hit over the head with the truth and I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it. Every time I think about .... my mother, I don't know what the hell I feel. It's like everything you believed was true in your life all the sudden isn't. And every time you start in on me, I have to wonder if I really do know the truth, Murdoch. I have to wonder if Teresa was right because you sure don't seem to want me around," Johnny said.

"I guess it must feel that way. I can only say how sorry I am I made you feel I didn't want you, Johnny. I have always wanted you home with me. I never wanted you to leave in the first place. I hope you can believe that."

"I want to. It's just so hard between us and I don't know why," Johnny said miserably.

"Scott says we're cut from the same cloth," Murdoch smiled.

"Yeah, well he sure got his part of that cloth!" Johnny laughed.

"Do you have an answer for me, son? Will you come home?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny bowed his head and didn't answer for a moment. "There's something I have to do. Something I've been needing to do for a while now. If I told you I'd come back when I'm finished, would you trust that?"

"Can you tell me what it is, maybe I can help?"

"No, you can't, but thanks, anyway," Johnny smiled.

"When can I expect you then?" Murdoch asked.

"A week?"

"Alright, son. I'll see you at home in a week," Murdoch said assuredly.

"That's it? I mean, you're not gonna demand to know what I'm doing?" Johnny asked, shocked it was so easy.

"No, I'm not. I trust you, John," Murdoch smiled and stood up. He walked over and laid a hand on Johnny's shoulder and squeezed lightly.

Then, he leaned down and whispered, "Of course, that doesn't mean you can convince your brother or Jelly."

Johnny rolled his eyes and smiled. "I don't suppose I could convince you to handle that for me?"

"I don't know. What are you offering?" Murdoch grinned.

"Um, what'll you take?" Johnny countered.

"You. Home. One week."

"You got it," Johnny smiled.

*****

Scott and Jelly were not happy about the situation but they were more apt to take Johnny's word for it so they begrudgingly headed home with Murdoch.

"And ya didn't ask 'im what he was gonna do?" Jelly asked.

"No."

"Or where he was going?" Scott piped in.

"No."

"Well, I'd a never believed it," Jelly said, stunned.

"I don't know what you're both so surprised about. I trust Johnny," Murdoch said with a smirk and kneed his horse forward.

Scott and Jelly watched his back with their mouths agape.

******

Johnny headed south to Mexico to attend to a long overdue task. He was not looking forward to it, but it was something he had let go too long and since he was so close, he figured he should take the opportunity. He arrived in Nogales the next morning, early. He headed straight for the church at the end of the main street and dismounted.

Walking inside the cool, dark building, he shivered. Not from the cold, but from the memories it evoked.

"May I help you?" the priest asked, glancing at the gun on his hip.

"Yeah, I'm looking for Father Angelo," Johnny replied, ignoring the obvious indication the man was making.

"Padre Angelo is no longer with us. Perhaps I could be of some help. I am Padre Salvio."

"Yeah, okay. There's a grave in the cemetery out back without a headstone. I want to put one up," Johnny explained.

"I see. Well, that should not be a problem. Whose grave is it?"

"My mother's," Johnny said.

Johnny stood staring at the headstone with his mother's name engraved on it. He knelt down next to her and sighed.

"Resto en la paz, madre. Le espero estoy con los Ãngeles. Te amo," he whispered.

 

 

~end~

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