by  J. M. McClure

Rating: PG for a little language

Set after: Chase a Wild Horse

Summary:  Murdoch considers his son
     I keep seeing him there against the corral fence, falling backwards into a sleek crouch, graceful as a big cat, his gun in his hand before I even saw him reach for it.  I was too far away to really see his features clearly, but I sure can’t remember seeing anything.... steely, murderous, whatever the hell it is you’re supposed to see in a gunfighter’s face.

    If anything, he looked like he was in pain, so much so that it took me a long, useless minute of near-panic before I could respond and run toward the man writhing on the ground.  It had only been a month since I’d watched Johnny shot out of the saddle as he tried to make it back to Lancer ahead of Day Pardee’s band of hired guns.  Now to risk losing him again... over a wild horse!

    I very clearly remember what he looked like later in my study, his arms wrapped around his body like he could protect himself from the world, wrap his pain inside, block the rest of us out at some safe distance where we couldn’t touch him and cause him pain.  The shy, uncertain looks he turned on all of us, a boy lost in finding a place for himself.  What had happened to the ruthlessly talented gunfighter in the Pinkerton reports?  Had he ever really existed?

    Then his eyes when he looked at me just before he turned and walked away...  Away.  From Lancer.  From Teresa.  From Scott.  God help me, though I could never admit it, from me.

    I couldn’t even say his name until he’d already cleared the room and shut the heavy door behind himself.  And even then, it was no more than a whisper.  I wanted to go out there, drag him back inside and shake some kind of sense into his stubborn, confused head, but I couldn’t do it.  Because I’m just as stubborn.  Just as confused as that lost kid who can’t decide if he’s still a gunfighter or now a rancher.

    I can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that he’s basically been living his life by the gun for almost ten years now.  And he’s only 22.

    It’s a hard life.  I know that.  My own hasn’t been easy.  I’ve lost two wives, and for a while, two sons.  I built this estancia literally out of my own blood and sweat, investing my entire life into the ground that I was now trying so hard to protect, to hold long enough to be a legacy for two boys I hardly know.

    But when I read the Pinkerton report, read that Johnny Madrid had killed the man he’d watched murder his mother... and he’d only been 12 years old when he’d been forced to do it... I almost lost hope, almost lost all trust in a world I thought I had made peace with long ago.


    Okay, okay, he chastised himself, enough melodrama.  Johnny was home.  Scott was safe, his wound only superficial, never had been life threatening except in the realms of his father’s overactive imagination.  This time, it was another man who had lost his son, not Murdoch Lancer.  Perhaps there should be guilt in that, but he couldn’t find it, couldn’t even make himself regret it.  He’d EARNED the right to have his children here, under his roof, fairly safe beneath his protection.  And at least in Johnny’s case, he knew the boy was eating three meals a day, as Teresa often pointed out with a sweet blend of pride and exasperation.

    Still, it would be so easy to lose them...

    He could sit here and stew on it, worry at it until memories festered into an impossible morass, or he could put his mind back on track, aimed toward the future where it belonged.  And there was going to be a future here at Lancer.  Oh, they might have to tie Johnny to a chair on occasion to keep him from using what Murdoch now knew was his typical flight response... but there was steadiness and strength in Scott, enough to balance a hot-headed kid brother and a rigid father.

    It would take all of them but that was fine.  That was exactly how Murdoch Lancer wanted it.

April 28, 2002




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