Johnny Lancer sat quietly; watching as the life on the ranch bustled all around him. He was confined to a chair per doctor’s orders after sustaining a small concussion from hitting his head on the fence. It had been a stupid accident -- his own fault for bein’ cocky and walkin’ the top rail just to scare the bejeebers outta the Old Man -- and he had only himself to blame. Still, he felt as if both Sam and Murdoch were being way too cautious. Every since his bout with blindness, it seemed that everyone would panic if he even got a headache. He did have to admit that for two days his vision was a bit of a concern: but not because he couldn’t see; but because he tended to see way too many. Too many Murdoch’s, too many Scotts, too many Teresa’s, and way too many Jelly’s.
He never really suffered with a headache from the concussion, and his vision was clear as a bell now. Still he had been forced to stay quiet far too long in his opinion, not that anyone seemed to care about his opinion, especially when it came to his health.
After persistent complaining and – finally -- outright begging, he had been allowed to come down stairs and sit in a chair so he could feel as if he were a part of all that went on during the long day. It really didn’t ease his need to be on his horse riding through the pastures; but at least he was out of the house. Not that he hadn’t been thoroughly threatened to further confinement in his room if he so much as raised his rear end off that chair a mere inch. Nope. The Old Man had sure set him straight on that one; in that no nonsense tone even Johnny Madrid knew better than to challenge. So here he was sitting as patiently as he could, trying to remember that he was not to move.
He wouldn’t be here now if his father hadn’t taken pity on him and decided to brave Sam’s admonishments when he found out Murdoch had allowed his son the little fieldtrip outside. He was pretty sure Sam would understand though. After trying to keep Johnny down on several other occasions during a recuperation period, the good doctor knew that small compromises went a long way in the boy’s recovery.
Murdoch had strategically placed Johnny’s chair so that he could watch his son while he took care of the business of the day. He could see his boy from almost any point he chose, and was secretly pleased Johnny was aware of his scrutiny. More than once, he had caught the youth’s eye, feigning a frown and cocking a brow in an unspoken ‘not one inch, John’; hiding the smile when he saw the boy sigh and sink even further into his chair.
Johnny watched amazed at all the hustle and bustle that went on in running the ranch. He knew what it took to keep it going; but when you are a part of that hustle and bustle you really don’t notice how fast and furious the work can be. He mainly focused on his father. It seemed that someone was constantly seeking the big man out for advice or instructions. He admired how his father treated everyone; no matter how important or trivial the issue was. Murdoch made them feel as if what they needed was the most important thing at that moment and all of his employees were treated with dignity and respect.
Johnny also noticed something else as he looked up into the sky and watched the clouds float softly across the sun. His father seemed to cast a very large shadow. This fact made the young man proud and, at the same time, a little uneasy. He was convinced he would never measure up to his father or be the man he was. After all, who would want to take orders from someone who used to be nothing more than a hired gun?
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
Murdoch headed for the barn, carrying a bundle of tangled tack that was in need of repair. Eyes hidden by the brim of his grey Stetson, he stole a glance at his son to be sure there were no signs of flight from the hyper active young man. He was still patting himself on the back on how he had handled Johnny’s constant complaining of being cooped up in the house. Wisely he had made sure that the boy was positioned in a spot where he could be closely monitored by not only him but Cipriano and Jelly as well.
As he made his way back and forth around the ranch, Murdoch noticed that Johnny seemed to be watching him closely. It was almost as if the boy was studying him. He didn’t seem to be in any distress, but instinct of being a father told him that something was bothering his son. Before he could make his way over to where Johnny was sitting, one of the hands caught his attention needing approval on some work that had to be done immediately. The whole time he was discussing the move of some of the cattle to another pasture he could feel Johnny’s eyes watching him. Once the matter had been resolved, Murdoch made his way over to where Johnny was sitting; determined to find out what was on the boy’s mind.
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
“How are you doing?” Murdoch asked as he pulled a chair up and set it so he could watch his son without it being obvious.
Smiling before ducking his head, Johnny quietly replied, “I’m fine.”
He knew his father was watching him; trying to evaluate how he was truly doing. By now everyone expected his standard answer for everything. He knew those two words -- I’m fine -- annoyed the Hell out of them all; just as he knew they would keep asking and watching until they ferreted out the truth.
Satisfied that Johnny wasn’t too tired, Murdoch relaxed a bit in his chair; content to share the companionable silence as they watched the activity around them. Murdoch’s instincts told him there was something going on with his son; but knew that outright prying would be futile, so he sat quietly and tried to be patient. Allowing Johnny to decide when he was comfortable for a serious conversation was always more profitable when it came to information.
Another few moments of silence went by and Murdoch began to worry that maybe Johnny had been sitting in the sun too long. ~~~“You aren’t too hot are you?” He asked.
Johnny shook his head. “No. Sun feels good.” To prove his point, he closed his eyes and turned his face up to the sun; enjoying the warmth.
Murdoch fell silent; once again determined to be patient and not push. He was rewarded a few minutes later when Johnny turned to him with a look of concern on his face.
The words came softly, filled with deep remorse. “You know, Old Man, I can’t fill your shoes. I will never be the man you are. I’m sorry but I just can’t. I wanna’ be but I can’t.”
Murdoch was rendered speechless by his son’s revelation. Before he could reply Johnny continued.
“Don’t worry though,” the youth drawled. He was smiling, but deep pain was evident in his eyes. “Scott fills them shoes just fine. I swear; Boston is a natural born leader and the men really like takin’ orders from him. He’s smart like you and knows how to figure things out real good too. He’s gonna’ make you real proud.” There. He had finished his speech and hoped his father wouldn’t think less of him for his inability to be as good a man as him or his brother. He let out the breath he had been holding.
Murdoch sat dumbfounded by what Johnny had just told him. What had he said that made his son think he was incapable of being a fine rancher or able to handle responsibilities? The boy had already more than proven his worth to the ranch. On more than one occasion Johnny had been forced to make some quick decisions that had saved them plenty of extra work and often disaster.
Johnny could see that once again -- in spite of his good intentions -- he had upset his father. “I’m sorry,” he whispered as he ducked his head; a habit he had yet to break. It was always the same when he was feeling ashamed; or unworthy. And unworthy was exactly what he was feeling right now; unworthy of the Lancer name, or his father’s respect.
Murdoch got up and walked inside the hacienda without saying a word. Johnny figured he had really messed up now. Why did he seem to always say the wrong thing to his father? But best Murdoch know now that he only had one son that would be able to run Lancer in the manner that he, himself, had run it since the beginning.
After a few moments Murdoch returned with something in his hands. He sat down and laid a pair of tiny little boots in Johnny’s lap. Murdoch pulled his chair around so that he was sitting directly in front of his son. He watched as Johnny studied the small boots; holding them almost reverently. They had a nice shine on them and looked as if they were almost brand new. Only the barest scuff marks on the toes could be detected.
Murdoch’s deep voice was remarkably soft when he began speaking. “Those are your boots. I bought them for your second birthday. Senor Baldemero had to special order them for me. No one could put them on or take them off of you but me. You wouldn’t let your mother or Maria touch them. That was your rule, not mine. You were a funny little fellow back then. You had a couple of rules that you stuck with.” Murdoch watched his son; hoping for a reaction. He was soon rewarded with a smile.
Murdoch continued with his story. “Every morning after your mother finally had wrestled you into your clothes you would grab those boots and come running down the hall to our room. You crawled up into my lap and would stick out first your right foot and then the left. We couldn’t even share morning pleasantries until those boots were on your feet. Once the boots were on then you would give me a hug and I would swing you up on my shoulders and down to breakfast we would go.”
Murdoch noticed that he had Johnny’s full attention by now. He knew how starved the boy was for any kind of information about his time before he had been spirited away by his mother.
“I guess I was kinda’ hard to get along with back then too.” Johnny said.
Soft laughter now, from the older man. “I wouldn’t say you were hard to get along with. You just had your own way of doing things, just like you do now. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Murdoch assured his son.
“You would follow me around everywhere I went. One day Paul noticed you hopping behind me, sometimes taking these little leaps. I thought you were just playing a game. Anyway, Paul asked you what you were doing.” Murdoch had to stop for a moment to swallow the lump that was stuck in his throat.
Johnny noticed the pause in his father’s story and wanted to know what he had told Murdoch’s old friend. “What did I tell him?”
Clearing his throat, Murdoch answered very softly; unable to keep the emotions from his voice. “You told Paul you were walking big like your Papí.”
Johnny ducked his head again knowing his own emotions were about to betray him. After he was sure he could trust his voice he murmured, “I still want to walk big like my Pa.”
Murdoch felt his heart swell in his chest and the joy that his son’s words brought to him made him want to shout. When Johnny failed to look at him, Murdoch cupped the boy’s chin in his palm and lifted his face so that he could look his son in the eyes. “First of all Johnny, you aren’t like me in some ways; but in other ways you are. It took two people to make you, and from these two people you became your own person. You have your mother’s passion; and I’m afraid you inherited your temper from both of us. As for your stubbornness,” he hesitated briefly, “I have to admit came from me. If you tell anyone I admitted to that, I’ll deny it.”
Johnny smiled at that. More than once, he had overheard Jelly telling anyone who would listen he was as stubborn as his father, and both of them could beat out a Missouri mule any day. And no one who had heard Jelly’s opinion had voiced any disagreement. In fact, everyone had agreed.
Murdoch was encouraged by the smile he saw appear on Johnny’s face. He realized he was getting through the self doubts that were walled up around his son. “Johnny, you are your own man. A good man; and Scott’s no different. Neither of you are exactly like me, but you still have some of my characteristics, as well as your mother’s. I don’t want either of you to be just like me. The most important thing is that both of you have a love for Lancer and only want what is best for the ranch; and the people who help work it. That, my son, is just one of the things I am proud of you for. There are way too many things for me to list, but you make me proud every day. Just the fact that you are dedicated enough to get up and work from sun up to sun down makes me very proud. Your desire and passion to help others makes me very proud of you. Those are shoes that not many men could fill.”
Smiling shyly, Johnny looked up at Murdoch. He wasn’t use to getting compliments and he was thrilled that this one came from his father.
“Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny nodded, “Yes Sir, I understand.”
Murdoch patted Johnny’s knee and started to stand up. He knew it was time to get back to ranch business even though he would have rather sat with his son the rest of the day and talk. Before he could fully rise, his son reached up and grabbed him by the arm.
“Do you think it would be okay if I just walked around with you for a while? My backside is startin’ to take root in this chair.” Johnny asked.
Murdoch studied the boy closely. Johnny had been pretty shaky after his fall from the fence but seemed much better now. Sam had been adamant, though, about his care; and plenty of rest was at the very top of the list. Still, maybe just a little exercise might be a good idea.
Johnny could see his father trying to make up his mind and so hastily he tried to sway his decision by tossing out a shameless bribe. “I promise I’ll be good and do what you say.”
Murdoch recognized the mischief in the blue eyes; the same deviltry he had observed when Johnny was a toddler. “No more walking atop the corral fence?” he asked, raising his hand before the boy had a chance to bargain. “And you promise to stay right with me; and when I say you have had enough, there will be no pouting and no fussing?”
“I promise.” Johnny stood before his father with his hands behind his back looking like a picture of pure innocence. His fingers were crossed.
~*~*~*~*~ L ~*~*~*~*~
Scott stood and watched quietly from the French doors. He had come upon the conversation between his father and brother by accident. He had seen Murdoch walking out the door with something in his hands and when he went to follow he had over heard enough of the conversation to know that his presence would be an intrusion. He also knew it was wrong to eavesdrop on their conversation; but the little snatch he had heard had him glued to where he was standing. He had to admire the way Murdoch had handled his little brother’s insecurities. The older man had managed to reassure Johnny of his importance and worth both to the ranch and to their family. For a man who had not been able to practice his skills as a father for nearly twenty years the man was still a natural.
Teresa walked into the room and noticed Scott was starring out the door. She walked up to him; wondering what had him so mesmerized. Murdoch was walking around taking care of business as usual and right behind him was Johnny making overly long strides. After watching this for a few moments her curiosity got the better of her and she had to ask.
“What on earth is Johnny doing?”
Scott was smiling when he answered. “Johnny is just walking big like his Pa.”