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DISCLAIMERS: Standard disclaimers. Lancer and the characters are not mine, but the story is.
SUMMARY: After the disastrous visit from Murdoch's old friend, Johnny is left feeling unsettled.
"Something wrong, Son?"
Looking up from the cattle contract he had been reviewing with Murdoch, Scott's gaze was met by his father's concerned expression. The recently filled pipe was resting on the hardwood surface, and the match in Murdoch's hand remained unlit.
Scott had not realized his growing ill ease had become so apparent, but evidently Murdoch was becoming more perceptive of his older son's moods. He wondered if the same observations applied to the Scotsman's younger son, as well. There was only one way to find out.
"Sir, have you noticed that Johnny has been..." Scott struggled for the right word. "That he has been rather withdrawn for the past week or so."
The brow above the eyes staring across the desk became furrowed. "I can't say that I have. He seemed fine at dinner. And yesterday when we went to town, I don't recall noticing anything unusual."
"It's not all the time, Sir." Sitting back in his chair, Scott tried to explain more accurately what he had observed. "It's just every now and then; like something has him worried."
"Have you tried asking him if anything is wrong?"
"No," Scott admitted sheepishly. "I guess I wondered if it was just me. It's not like I have a long history of knowing him to draw on."
Striking a match, Murdoch lifted it to the pipe he had been packing with tobacco when Scott's pensive mood first caught his attention. After lighting the tobacco with a series of deep puffs, Murdoch gave him reassuring nod. "My suggestion is that you discuss your concerns with Johnny. Find out for sure, and maybe get to know a little more about each other at the same time."
*** *** *** ***
Johnny's reply was clipped. This told Scott that he had been right that something was indeed bothering Johnny, but also left him even more unsure at to whether or not he was intruding. As Murdoch had said, there was only one way to find out for certain. "Is something bothering you, Brother?"
"Should there be?"
Johnny noticeably stiffened, and Scott hoped that he was not overstepping his bounds. He didn't see how being concerned about Johnny's apparent ill ease would be doing so, but Johnny was still very much a mystery to him, as were the ways of the West, in general. "I don't know if there should be, but there seems to be. To me, anyway."
"If there is, it ain't none of your concern."
Taken aback by Johnny's abrupt response, Scott took a deep breath and turned away. "My mistake." He didn't get more than a few steps away when Johnny's subdued voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Scott, did you ever know for absolute certain that something was gonna happen, but then when it did happen, you still ended up being surprised?"
Very slowly Scott turned back around and studied Johnny closely. His brother was still leaning on the corral fence, his back to Scott. He looked no different than he had when Scott first walked up, so why did it feel like something very important had changed? With deliberate steps, he rejoined Johnny at the fence.
"I can't say that I've ever had such an experience," Scott admitted somewhat reluctantly. He wanted help, but wondered if Johnny would even let him try, now that it had been established that they had no common ground on this issue. "That doesn't mean I wouldn't be able to understand, maybe even help out, if you wanted to talk about it."
At first Johnny did not respond and his gaze remained fixed on something in the far off darkness. Finally, in a strained voice, he took a step of faith. "It was what Evans said."
"Johnny, you've got to stop beating yourself up over him. I know that had to have been unnerving, having a man beg you to save him from a hanging, but you need to keep in mind that Evans was not an innocent man."
"That ain't it, Scott." Johnny inhaled deeply, then allowed the air to flow slowly back out of his lungs. "You weren't there when Barker first arrived. When Evans..." Johnny shook his head. "I knew from the moment I decided to stay on here that it would happen. Never doubted it for a minute, or so I thought, but when Evans called me Johnny Madrid...it felt like I'd got gutshot."
Scott carefully absorbed Johnny's words, and had to admit that they made him feel slightly queasy. Johnny Madrid, gunhawk, one time associate of the likes of Day Pardee, womanizer, ruffian...a spectre from the past? "Is it really that bad, Johnny? I mean, being recognized as Johnny Madrid?"
Johnny's eyes closed. The only sounds to be heard were the infrequent snorts coming from the horses inside the barn, a distant bellow from the cattle on just over the rise by the lake, and the beginnings of the crickets' cadence as the sun faded away behind the mountaintops. That and the harsh sounds of Johnny's deep breaths.
"It could be," Johnny finally replied. He sighed heavily, shifting his weight and propping his right foot up on the bottom rung of the fence. "It will be...someday."
To this, Scott had no response. He was still trying to come to terms with the way his brother had once lived, gleaning the facts from the fiction, all the while keeping his focus firmly on the good he knew was inside the man standing next to him.
The truth was that he did not know his brother very well — yet — but he knew enough to realize that Johnny was a decent man; a good man who could be hard as nails when life forced his hand, but who could also be exceedingly gentle with a new born kitten, appreciate the splendor of a brilliant sunset, and make the most of the second chance life had given him. Johnny was someone Scott would not hesitate to back, in any situation. "You have a family now, Johnny. You don't have to fight these battles alone anymore."
In the moonlight, Johnny smiled a sad smile. "Bein' called out ain't a family affair, Scott. When it happens, it'll be just me an' him, and only one of us will be left standing when it's over. I..." The anxiety in Johnny's heavy sigh gave a sense of foreboding to his unspoken statement.
"I'm not so sure it's gonna be me, anymore. Wasn't ever a guarantee before, but now..." The smile was gone, and Johnny looked frustrated. He sounded that way, too. "I ain't got no time for any real practicing, not with working fourteen hours a day and then...well, Murdoch caught me at it once. Let's just say he wasn't too thrilled. He don't want that kind of stuff around here." A resigned snort accentuated his next thought. "He can want that all he likes, but it will come."
Without having to be told, Scott knew that there had been heated words exchanged between father and son over the touchy subject. On one hand, Scott could understand Murdoch's thinking, how he did not want to admit that his son had lived by the gun, but on the other hand, Scott could also see how those denials could end up costing them something that was not worth losing.
"If someone were to call you out—"
"Ain't no if's about it. Evans may be beyond talkin', but them deputies ain't. Word's gonna get around that Johnny Madrid's hung up his gun. They'll come. You can count on it.
Reluctantly, Scott made this concession. "Okay, when you get called out, it's going to be between just you and him. There won't be anything any of us can do to help you?"
"That's right." Johnny snapped a bit tersely, but that was understandable given the gravity of the subject matter.
"Then let me do my helping now, Brother. Before the time comes when I can't."
Johnny looked at him for the first time. The moon had yet to rise and the sun had set too low to give much light, but there was just enough to see the surprise, and uncertainty in his tight features. "What kinda help?" Johnny asked suspiciously.
"You take time out do whatever it takes to keep your edge, and I'll clear it with Murdoch."
The corner of Johnny's mouth twitched as a slight grin began to form, and the tension seemed to flow away. Not entirely, but enough for Scott to know that this little talk was what exactly what Johnny had been needing. Nothing had really been settled, and he was not sure how he would accomplish his end of the bargain, but Johnny no knew that there was someone there for him.
Growing up as he did, Johnny probably had no concept of how to ask for support, or even that he had the right expect it. Scott decided right then that he would have to keep a more vigilant eye on his younger brother. At least until Johnny got a little more acclimated to being part of a family.
"And just what is so amusing, Brother?" Scott teased when the grin on Johnny's face got a little bigger.
"Just tryin' to imagine you steer-wrestling the old man into seeing things your way."
A brief image of that particular encounter flashed through Scott's mind, and he couldn't help but chuckle. Clearing his throat, he attempted to regain his composure. "I would like to believe that it wouldn't come down to that, but if it does, I'll be ready. After moving the herd to the summer pasture, I feel like I've wrestled every single head of beef on this ranch."
Johnny laughed and turned a sly smile in Scott's direction. "You know something, Brother. Maybe you and I should ride into town Saturday night and find us something a little less ornery to wrestle."
An eyebrow raised high on Scott's forehead. "And less tough?" he asked suggestively.
"Oh, yeah, a whole lot less tough." With a gleam in his eye, Johnny wrapped his arm around Scott's shoulder and the two headed back for the house. "Somethin' real soft, like. And that smells a whole lot prettier than any nine hundred pound walking beefsteak."
"You know something, Brother Johnny, you just might be on to something."
"I was hopin' you'd see it that way, Brother Scott."
A gratifying sense of satisfaction settled over Scott as he and Johnny walked toward the hacienda; a place that he was beginning to think of as his real home. A major gap had been bridged tonight, and Scott was looking forward to bridging many more in the days to come. For now, though, he was content to bask in the afterglow of this accomplishment, and simply enjoy the affectionate camaraderie that was the result of patience and understanding.
The problem of Murdoch could wait until tomorrow.