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Winj

 

Truths and Consequences

 

 

 

Followed by Mending Fences

 


Murdoch Lancer paced the floor of the living room until Scott was sure he'd made a new trail. He would stop every so often and stare out the picture window or the French doors for a minute, then begin his march again.

Scott didn't want to be here, he would rather be branding than watch this. Still, he knew he had to stay. Otherwise, they just might kill each other. Why, he had no idea as Murdoch had refused to talk about it.

'Where is that boy! I can't believe after all these months he's still so damned irresponsible!' Murdoch thought as he paced. He looked up at the grandfather clock for the hundredth time in an hour and still he paced.

"Murdoch, will you sit down, you're making me nervous," Scott said exasperated.

"Then don't watch!" he snapped.

Scott rolled his eyes and resigned himself to a very long night of playing peacemaker. It was a role he had somehow fallen into almost from the beginning.

Murdoch walked over to the French doors to watch as Johnny rode in on Barranca. "Scott, I want to speak to your brother alone," Murdoch said.

"Oh, no, you don't. I'm not going to let you two kill each other!" Scott countered.

"No one is going to kill anyone! We are going to get this settled once and for all and I don't need you running interference for him," Murdoch said with his 'conviction' voice.

"Murdoch, just give him a chance to explain," Scott said, almost pleading. He was worried, more worried than any of the other clashes between his father and brother had made him. He had never seen Murdoch this angry before.

"Just leave us alone. I think we're both old enough to handle ourselves," Murdoch huffed.

Scott walked into the kitchen just as Johnny came through the front door.

"Murdoch?" he called.

"In here," Murdoch bellowed.

Johnny stopped short in the foyer. 'That doesn't sound good,' he thought. He took a breath and walked in to face his father.

"Hi," Johnny said with a smile.

All he got in return was what he could swear was steam coming from Murdoch's ears.

"Well?" Murdoch clipped.

"Well, what?" Johnny asked, confused.

"Explain yourself, young man!" Murdoch demanded.

Johnny frowned. "Uh, what is it you want me to explain?" he asked.

"Where have you been, Johnny?!"

Johnny frowned again, he was missing something he was sure, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was. "I've been working. Why, what's wrong?"

Murdoch was nodding his head. "Working? Exactly whom were you working for because it certainly wasn't me!" he scowled.

"Look, I don't know what "

"You were supposed to be driving the herd into the north pasture but obviously, that job didn't suit you. So tell me, just exactly what have you been doing?!" Murdoch yelled.

Johnny looked at him, stunned speechless. He couldn't think straight and he couldn't understand why Murdoch was so mad.

"Well? Are you just going to stand there?" Murdoch demanded.

Johnny glared at his father. He was so tired of this. It seemed nothing he did was ever right, ever good enough for the patriarch. Sometimes he felt like he would never break through the barrier between them. He thought about explaining but his temper was just as lethal as the old man's. He just couldn't help himself.

"Answer me!" Murdoch was shouting.

"No," Johnny said softly but deadly.

Murdoch looked at him and his eyes narrowed to mere slits. Johnny thought he might just bust a vein any minute, but he had to admit to himself, it was kind of funny.

"Johnny, if you're going to stay here, we have to get a few things straight. You agreed that I run the show. If that doesn't suit you, say so now," Murdoch fumed.

"It doesn't suit me when you're wrong, old man," he replied, still speaking softly, refusing to raise his voice.

"I've had about enough of this! Are you going to tell me where you were today or not!?"

"I was exactly where I was supposed to be, Murdoch," Johnny said, raising his voice now.

"Oh, you want to be cute, huh? You want to play games with me, boy?" Murdoch walked over to Johnny and grabbed his shirt.

Johnny was surprised by this show of force but he didn't try to get free, he didn't move. He just stared into the old man's eyes defiantly.

"Let me tell you something, boy. This is my ranch and I will run it the way I see fit. If you can't do a simple thing like move the herd, then maybe you should go back to what you do best! Killing!"

Johnny's reaction surprised them both. He dropped his eyes to hide the hurt his father just caused him and he couldn't look back at him to save his life.

"Ok, Murdoch. If that's what you want," he whispered. He felt a strange ache in his chest that he didn't recognize.

Murdoch was stunned by his own actions and words but his anger was ruling him now and he couldn't stop it. "What do you want?" he asked.

"Nothing. I don't want nothing," Johnny said, his voice trembling.

Murdoch let go of him and said, "That's what you've always had and that's what you'll always be!"

"Yeah, what you made me," he answered quietly.

Murdoch's anger reached an apex and he did something he could not take back. Johnny felt the sting of his father's hand across his face and he stared up at him in pure unadulterated shock. He turned his back to his father and tried to get himself under control.

"I'll get my gear together. To answer your question, we had planned on moving the herd tomorrow. I was up on the north ridge checking the line shacks today. Everything's fine there," he said in a husky low voice. His throat felt tight as a drum and it was hard to speak at all. He walked up the stairs to his room, fighting the tears.

Scott had waited as long as he could stand. He'd heard Murdoch yelling but he never heard Johnny's voice. He wished he could have heard what Murdoch was saying but he couldn't make it out. He walked into the living room just as Johnny ascended the stairs.

"What happened here?" he asked.

"Scott, when did I say we were going to move the herd?" Murdoch asked, dreading the answer.

"Tomorrow, Sir, why?" Scott replied.

Murdoch suddenly felt his legs turn to mush and he sank down in the chair nearest him.

"What did you do?" Scott asked.

"I just made the biggest mistake of my life," he replied.

"Murdoch?" Scott implored.

"I was wrong, Scott. I was wrong and Johnny was right and I didn't even give him a chance."

Scott breathed deeply and shook his head at his father's stubbornness. "Well, I suggest you go tell him that," he said softly.

"It's too late. I said something, I did something I never should have. God, what have I done?" he said miserably.

"Murdoch, go after him! You have to try!" Scott yelled.

********************

Johnny packed quickly, he didn't have that much in the first place. He laid the pocket watch and the picture of his mother on the bed. They didn't belong to him any more than he belonged here. He stood there for a minute, unsure. Then he sank to his knees and buried his face in the bedspread. He had never felt like this before. He never had anyplace that he really wanted to be until now. In the past four months he had fallen in love with this land and he didn't want to leave it. He didn't want to leave Scott either.

He smiled a little thinking of his brother. His brother. The thought was still foreign to him sometimes but Scott had made it so easy. He had accepted Johnny easily and completely. This easterner was a puzzle to him, how he adapted out here so readily, how he was able to get along with their father. They hardly ever had a disagreement. Boston was so easy going it amazed Johnny. He had to admit he was jealous sometimes, too, at how Scott could talk to Murdoch so comfortably. All he ever seemed to get from the old man was criticism and mistrust.

That was the crux of it; trust. Murdoch didn't trust him and he never would. Johnny could understand at first, his past was black and ugly. Murdoch didn't know the half of it but Johnny was sure his imagination was painting the picture for him. But he had tried so hard and still the old man wouldn't give an inch.

Johnny tried to make himself angry so he could get through the leaving, but he couldn't. He hurt too much and that surprised him too. How could this grumpy, hard old man get to him so fast?   He wanted to hate him again, like he had all his life. He tried but since he had found out the truth from Teresa about his mother's leaving, he couldn't feel that hate anymore. He guessed Murdoch was better at that too... hating him. He knew why but knowing just made it harder, impossible in fact.

He had tried not to think about that and just stick it out but it was more and more evident every day that Murdoch would never get past the hurt Johnny's mother had caused him and looking at him just reminded Murdoch of that pain. He knew the only thing about him that was of his father were his eyes and his stubbornness. Everything else was of his mother. Even his temper he couldn't owe to Murdoch. He knew he got that from the both of them. More her than him though. He'd even said that when they first met. 'You've got your mother's temper.'

He had to get out of there and he steeled himself for what he knew he would have to endure. Scott and Teresa would not stand by quietly and watch him leave. That at least gave him some solace even if it was going to be so hard.

He walked down the stairs stealthily and out the door before Scott saw him. He ran after him.

"Johnny, wait!"

He stopped but could not face his brother. "Scott, don't ok? It's over, just let it go," he said.

"You mean let you go, don't you?" Scott said.

He just nodded his head.

"I can't, Johnny. You're my brother. I want you to stay," Scott pleaded.

"I can't," he answered, his voice giving him away.

"Johnny, please. Come inside and talk to Murdoch. We can straighten this out. He feels badly. He knows he was wrong," Scott said.

Johnny flinched at this information. He knows he was wrong. How nice for him? Well, there it was... the anger he was unable to find earlier. He turned on his brother, his eyes flashing.

"Does he? Well, ain't that somethin? You better write that down in that journal of yours, Boston. The day Murdoch Lancer was actually wrong about somethin!" he spat sarcastically.

Scott looked at him confused, he didn't understand what was wrong. Then he saw Johnny's cheek.

"What happened to your face?" he asked.

Johnny could see the utter confusion on his brother's face so he decided he would explain it to the greenhorn. "Did you hear anything he said to me?" he asked.

Scott just shook his head no.

"I didn't think so. Well, Scott, your father seems to think I'm nothing but a killer. So that's what I guess I'll go back to being. See ya around," he said and headed for the barn. He stopped short and turned back to Scott.

"Oh, by the way. Give this to your father. It's the deed to my third of the ranch. I'll take Barranca in trade," he said as he threw the paper on the ground.

Scott stared after him, frozen in place by what Johnny had just told him and the red whelp he'd seen.

*********************

He saddled Barranca and said a silent thank you to whoever had kept Teresa away from him just now. He took the reins and started to walk the palomino out when he saw Murdoch standing in the barn door. He saw the paper in the old man's hand.

"What's the matter, the horse worth more to you than that?" he sneered and pointed to the deed. "Well, name your price. Cause I ain't leavin without him."

"I don't want you to leave at all, son," Murdoch said softly.

Johnny laughed and shook his head. "You are really somethin. Did you know that? Make up your mind old man! Never mind, it's done anyway."  

He started out of the barn and Murdoch caught him by the arm.

"Johnny, please."

"Please what? Please let me say anything I damn well please to you? Please let me make you feel like dirt? Please let me abuse you whenever I feel like it? Sorry, Murdoch, I had enough of that garbage when I was a kid. I ain't takin it from you or anyone else anymore. I don't have to now. Nobody talks to me like that, nobody!"

"I didn't mean it, son."

"Oh, so, now I'm your son. When you mess up I'm your son. When I mess up I'm nothing but a killer! Is that how it works? No thanks. I won't do that anymore. If I want to feel like nothing, I can just head south and go back to my life." His voice betrayed him again as he couldn't hide the hurt anymore. "You've got Scott. He's the son you always wanted. You don't need me screwing everything up. Forget about me, I plan on forgetting about you!" he said, and he couldn't stand another minute of this.

He tried to break free but Murdoch held tighter to his arm.

"Let go of me!"

"No! I can't let you go again!" Murdoch yelled and he grabbed him holding him close.

"No! Stop it! I can't do this. Don't you understand? Please, let me go," Johnny cried out.

"Make me understand, Johnny. Tell me."

Johnny could take no more of this, he broke down in his father's arms. They both sank to the ground together and Murdoch would not let go of him. He rocked Johnny like a baby and stroked his soft hair, trying to comfort his son, trying to take away the pain he had caused.  

"Oh, Johnny, forgive me. I'm so sorry. I should never have hit you, let alone say those terrible things to you," Murdoch whispered, still holding his boy tight.

Everything that had happened to him as a boy had been catapulted to the forefront of his memory when his father slapped him. He couldn't stop the anger and pain, he couldn't hide it anymore. He pulled away from his father and stood up with his back to him.

"I guess I know why you two got along so well in the beginning now. You both sure do like to think you know everything and if somebody challenges you, you just knock 'em into next week. Is that how it would've been, Murdoch? If I'd stayed here, grown up here? How would that have been any different than what I had with her?"

Murdoch stood up, stung by his son's words. "Are you saying your mother hit you, Johnny?" he asked barely above a whisper.

He laughed softly. "No, Murdoch. She was a vision of motherly love. A real angel," he said sarcastically. "Ya know somethin? I've had enough of this crap to last a lifetime. I never thought you of all people could ever have that kind of power over me. I never allowed anyone to hurt me after her. How'd you do it? That's what I want to know. How could I give a damn about you? How could I possibly have loved you?" he said and the tears fell once more.

Murdoch reached out to him but he jerked away. When he finally turned to face his father, his eyes were dry, cold and empty.

"No, sir. Never again," he said and he walked out and mounted Barranca.

Johnny rode away from Lancer that day and he never came back

 

 

~end~

To Mending Fences

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