A Temporary Ceasefire
Requested sequel to “Johnny’s Folly”. Please enjoy, and drink responsibly.
As Johnny raced his horse across the back forty, he leaned over the pommel of the saddle, his face stung by Barranca’s mane as it whipped about in the wind. There was a grin of utter enjoyment on his face.
He and Scott had talked back at the lake and Johnny felt, for the first time, that there just might be something for him here at Lancer. Since he had arrived weeks ago, he hadn’t been so sure of his welcome, especially after his actions with Pardee and his band of land pirates. And, of course, Murdoch had condemned Johnny as a turncoat even before he was aware of the details. Johnny hadn’t meant to deceive his newfound family, but it had all worked out in the end. If he had had to take a bullet in the back to show his allegiance to the man who was his father and the brother he’d often wished for, but never dreamed he’d ever have, then he was glad to have it all end the way it had.
Slowing the breakneck pace of his horse as they neared a stream, Johnny’s grin broadened as he felt the muscles beneath him bunch in eager anticipation of jumping the four foot wide ditch. With a soft chuff of breath, Barranca was suddenly airborne over the small stream and landing safely on the other side without so much as a break in stride.
Pure, unadulterated laughter rang out over the range and Johnny raised his head to gage the distance to the hacienda, a huge smile on his face. His hat flew off his head and fell down his back, held by its stampede strings, flapping there as the horse-made wind lifted it with each stride of his hooves.
Up ahead lay the adobe walls of the house, and racing down the road leading to the hacienda was Scott astride his bay. Leaning once more over Barranca’s withers, Johnny urged his tiring steed on to reach the barn before his brother. Their wager uppermost in his mind now, and disregarding Murdoch Lancer’s hard and fast rule to never run a horse within the confines of the immediate area surrounding the house.
At the same time Johnny saw Scott on the main road leading to Lancer, the blond saw his brother seemingly melding with his horse to become one entity. It was as if he were watching poetry in motion as Johnny urged Barranca over the fence to the corral beside the barn. With a broad smile, Scott eased back on his reins, knowing that if he’d requested it of his valiant horse, the animal would have poured on more speed in order to beat Johnny and Barranca to the barn, but he suddenly had no desire to best his brother. He watched with pride as Johnny slowed his horse to a lope as one of the hands quickly opened the corral gate at something Johnny had called out to him. Then there was the triumphant grin thrown Scott’s way as Johnny cantered Barranca to the barn door and dismounted.
Trotting his winded horse up to dismount beside his brother a few moments later, Scott grinned and clapped Johnny on the shoulder as the younger man’s blue eyes twinkled merrily.
“Well, I certainly didn’t know you had it in you, little brother!” Scott exclaimed as he shifted his reins into his left hand and walked side-by-side with Johnny into the bowels of the barn.
“Ya know, there’s a lotta things you don’t know about me, Boston,” Johnny informed his brother as he walked Barranca on through the main corridor of the barn and out to the paddock area beyond. There he began slowly walking his overheated horse around the periphery of the paddock. Scott joined him.
They were on their third cycle when Johnny looked up and saw their father standing in the entryway of the barn, his hands balled into fists and resting angrily upon his hips. Johnny had been laughing at something Scott had said, feeling the earlier camaraderie from the lake, but when he saw the thunderous expression on Murdoch’s face and the rigid set of his jaw, the laughter was choked off so suddenly that Scott jerked his head up to see what was wrong.
“Give those horses to Juan to continue cooling them off and then get into the house.” Said precisely and with a hint of the anger boiling beneath the rigid stance, Murdoch fully expected to be obeyed, and partly he was successful as Scott quickly handed over his reins to the waiting wrangler. Juan waited, a bit apprehensively, for Johnny to hand over Barranca’s reins and saw the minute the dark-haired man chose to resist the command.
The blue eyes froze, all semblance of humor instantly gone, as Johnny held the reins tightly in his fist. He glared at his father for a full minute, and then continued on his trek around the paddock once more.
“Get in the house, Scott!” Murdoch growled lowly even as his eyes followed his recalcitrant younger son around the wooden enclosure. When Scott didn’t immediately comply with Murdoch’s edict, the older man turned his full attention on him. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll do as I say.” There was nothing but pure fury in the words and the look Scott received, and he felt fear for his brother, not that Johnny couldn’t handle whatever Murdoch Lancer might throw his way, but that Johnny’s newfound contentment might be quickly and efficiently squashed before it could ever grow.
“Sir…” Scott said quietly, so as not to anger him further. However, Murdoch wasn’t in a mood to listen to reason or explanations.
“You’ve got ten seconds to get through that barn and into the house. AM I UNDERSTOOD?” Murdoch ground out as his slate-gray eyes turned the full force of anger toward Scott.
Having served in the Cavalry Division of Sheridan’s regiment during the Civil War and a prisoner during the last year of that war, Scott was no stranger to intimidation. He stood his ground, his stance that of a soldier facing an official reprimand or a prisoner awaiting the lash of a whip, his shoulders squared and his boot heels precisely two-inches apart. He returned Murdoch’s expression glare for glare.
“I will not be spoken to as if I am a child,” Scott rebuked the angry man, knowing that he was intentionally tweaking the devil’s tail with his words, but he was making a stand, for himself and for Johnny. “I am a grown man. I will not be ordered about without a satisfactory explanation.” If Scott had said he was planning a ride to the moon, he couldn’t have shocked Murdoch more than did his open defiance. He could see his father’s rigidity falter slightly and then Johnny was suddenly there between them.
“What’s goin’ on?” He demanded as he stood close to Scott, his hand resting almost too casually on the butt of his Colt, thankfully still in its holster. Johnny’s deep blue eyes darted from Murdoch to Scott as he waited for someone to answer him.
“You draw that weapon and it will be the last time you do so on this land,” Murdoch snarled lowly, mindful of Juan who was now walking both horses on the opposite side of the suddenly too small paddock.
“Johnny,” Scott hissed in a low whisper that carried only to his brother, his eyes detecting a slight change in Johnny’s defensive posture. “Please don’t.”
With a disgusted sigh toward Murdoch, Johnny dropped his hand to his side and swiftly turned to stride out of the paddock and through the barn without another word, with Scott right on his heels.
Murdoch stood as if in a daze as he glared at the ground where his two sons had been only moments earlier and wondered absurdly just when he’d lost command of the situation. Or perhaps he’d never had it at all. Pivoting on his heel he marched resolutely toward the hacienda, his anger not abated one iota.
Striding purposefully into the hacienda, Murdoch listened for any sound that might tell him where his sons had gone. He knew that he hadn’t been so far behind them that he wouldn’t have heard them heading for their respective rooms. Deciding to have a drink and cool off a bit, Murdoch walked into his study and stopped short at finding both Scott and Johnny sitting on the couch, drinks already in hand, as if they were merely waiting for him to arrive to begin a scheduled meeting.
He hesitated only a moment, but it was long enough to see that, though he appeared cool, calm and collective, Johnny was far from it. The younger man was fairly thrumming with tension as he circled the bottom of the glass of whisky in his left hand on his leather-clad thigh. Flicking his eyes quickly over Scott’s composed features, Murdoch was stunned to find that not only were his sons sitting side by side on the couch, they were sitting so close that their shoulders were brushing up against the other.
Turning to the side table where the drink decanters sat, Murdoch almost smiled at seeing their determined unity, though it did nothing to abate the anger he felt at witnessing their reckless behavior within the confines of the hacienda proper. Pouring himself a glass of his best bourbon, Murdoch quickly raised the glass to his lips and tossed the drink back with a quick tilt of his head. He then refilled his glass and turned to confront his sons.
“What I saw earlier this evening was blatant stupidity,” the older man snapped as he moved to stand on the other side of the low table situated between his sons and himself. Holding his drink in his right hand, Murdoch used it to gesture toward the front of the house and beyond. He pinned both men in place with a glacial glare before taking a sip of his drink. “I have never seen such obvious disregard for horses…”
Scott tensed and turned his head to look at Johnny at the same time his brother looked at him. They both burst into laughter, spilling their drinks on the couch, but not caring in the least, as they fell against each other in gales of laughter.
He didn’t know what to do. Murdoch, always the epitome of composure, apparently except when it came to dealing with his 22-year old son, could only stand and stare at the two men who had suddenly lost their wits and were laughing hysterically, their arms wrapped tightly around each other as if to keep them from falling over. A corner of Murdoch’s lip twitched as the laughter continued and then a full blown smile bloomed across his face as a chuckle escaped his tight control. It was as if he couldn’t control himself as he set his glass down and simply stood drinking in the fact that his sons seemed to be bonding with each other right before his very eyes. A hint of sadness constricted his heart within his chest as he wondered if he would ever feel that close to his sons.
Finally their laughter died out, except for an outburst of occasional chortles from one or the other. Johnny fell back against the couch, exhausted from the long, tension-filled day, his eyes closed. He smiled appreciatively as his empty glass was plucked from his lax hand and quickly refilled before being placed back into his hand.
“Thanks, Boston,” Johnny said affectionately with a crooked grin. He opened his weary eyes slightly and was stunned to find that Scott had slipped out of the room leaving him alone with Murdoch, and it had been his father who had replenished the drink. Tensing up immediately, Johnny made as if to stand and leave, but Murdoch held up a staying hand.
“Stay, please, John,” the older man requested quietly. His earlier anger had fled and he simply wanted to find a common ground with his youngest son in order to stop the constant battles being waged between them.
Settling back against the couch, his body held as tight as a bowstring, Johnny watched his father warily as Murdoch sat on the coffee table and stared down at the glass he held in both hands. Frustrated with Scott for leaving him to face Murdoch alone, Johnny suddenly recalled his brother’s words while at the lake.
“You know, it’s not always going to be this difficult. Maybe you should talk to Murdoch and explain things to him.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Johnny forced his body to relax as he raised his eyes to look at his father watching him so closely.
“I ain’t makin’ no excuses, Murdoch, but you gotta know that you can’t walk up on a man like ya did, just sudden like,” Johnny told his father softly. He dropped his eyes and stared down at his right hand lying protectively atop his holster. “I-I have had to rely on my reflexes for too many years not to have reacted…”
“Son, I’m sorry,” Murdoch said apologetically as he set his glass down and gently took Johnny’s glass to set it aside, as well. Leaning forward, his elbows propped upon his thighs, he faced Johnny squarely, his hands held out as if pleading with him. “I just haven’t come to terms with the fact that my bab…my little boy had to…” He couldn’t continue and felt shame that he was unable to face the fact that Johnny had become a gunfighter in order to survive. Murdoch shook his head and looked down at his hands clasped before him, trembling slightly. “God, I wish more than anything that you had never had to make that decision!”
Johnny was stunned speechless as he gazed in wonder at his father’s trembling hands. Something within almost forced him to reach out and place his own, smaller, hands around his father’s. Murdoch raised his head at the touch and Johnny’s heart pounded hard within his chest at the sorrow in those blue-gray eyes.
“I wish your mother had left you here with me,” Murdoch whispered as he locked eyes with his son and the years between them seemed to roll away. As if it were second nature to him, Murdoch slipped his hands out from beneath Johnny’s and gently slid his arms around his son’s shoulders to drew him close, his large hand running soothingly up and down Johnny’s back, much as Scott had done earlier at the lake.
“I wish she had left me here, too,” Johnny said just as quietly as the last of his tension was released and he relaxed against his father’s chest for the first time he could ever remember. Suddenly it felt right. He felt as if he had finally come home.
Created August 12, 2007
Constructive criticism welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org