Fences by Mary B

Word Count 2,560

PART ONE: Point of View

Scott pulled a fresh shirt from his wardrobe and put it on. He started to fasten the buttons, then stopped and flexed his hands. His fingers were still a little stiff and sore. To be honest, a lot of him was stiff and sore.

Back in Boston, he had considered himself to be in pretty good shape. Good enough to climb up and down trellises and sprint away from angry fathers at least. And he had been under the illusion that a weekly ride in the country had kept his horse skills polished.

Working from dawn to dinner, much of it in the saddle had proven he was vastly mistaken. But, he had to smile to himself, he was doing it. He had never shirked any duty asked of him or given any less than his best. He was proving his right to claim part ownership of this land.

Wandering over to the window, he moved the curtain aside and simply gazed for a moment at the view. Open pastures, rolling hills, magnificent mountains…and he was a part of it. He took a deep breath. He had never felt so free, and at the same time so connected to something.

He had believed himself to be passionate about his education, pushing himself to excel. He had felt committed to the cause of the war in general and to his unit and brother soldiers personally. He realized that he had felt obligated to perform competently at his grandfather’s business but had never even pretended to himself that his heart was in it. He recalled many times standing and peering out windows then as well. But it was not to view his world. It was to search for it.

“And I’ve found it.”

“Found what?”

Scott spun around at his brother’s voice. He hadn’t even realized he had spoken out loud. “As always, Little Brother, you are welcome to just enter my room without warning.”

Johnny grinned. “Thanks. So, what did you find?”

Scott tried to decide if their relationship was strong enough to confide personal feelings. Evidently, he paused too long.

Johnny’s face lost the grin. “Sorry.” He turned to go.

“My place in the world,” Scott blurted out.

Johnny turned back. “Come again?”

“My place. Where I belong. Where I am meant to be.”

If Scott was fearing a sarcastic retort at best and open scoffing at worst, he received neither. Johnny looked thoughtfully at him for a moment.

“You’re serious, aren’t you? “

“Yes, I am.“ He looked back out of the window at the ranch. “I have been looking my whole life for this, and I never even knew it.” Johnny came over and stood by him. Almost unconsciously he moved the curtain aside and looked out as well. “Have you ever wanted something so badly, but couldn’t put a name to it? All you knew was there was something missing from your life?”

“A lot of things were missing from my life, Boston. I never counted cows among them.”

“It’s not the cows. Or even the land they’re on. It’s all of it. The land, the openness the absolute freedom to be who I want to be.”

Johnny said nothing at all for several moments. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet and…wistful. “That’s what you see when you look out there? Freedom to be yourself?”

“Yes. What do you see?”

Now his voice was beyond wistful. Scott couldn’t tell if it was sadness or anger or something he would never understand. “I spent more than half of my life workin to be what I was. I chose it, I went after it and damned near died achieving it. What do I see out there? Fences. Fences keeping me penned in and away from who I am.”

Scott felt a deep sadness at the words and all they implied. “You’re not happy here.”

Johnny dropped the curtain and smiled sheepishly. “I’m okay. Just a lot to change, y’know?”

“Yes, I know. It’s the change that I’m grateful for.” He blew out a little laugh. “Here I had everything in Boston that a man should want, home, food, job, friends, money, social life, and I’m relishing the fact that I’m away from it all. You had none of that, yet you had everything you wanted.”

Johnny shook his head. “See that’s the thing. I worked the hardest at never wanting anything. A reputation for bein good at my trade was all there was to hope for. This,” he waved his hand at the window as if he was going to say more, but instead he just shook his head a little.

“You see the fences, and I see the spaces between them,” Scott stated.

Johnny glanced out one more time. “That about sums us up, Brother.”

“I hope,” Scott began, then once again wondered how what he wanted to say would be received.

“Hope what?’

A voice echoing up the stairs interrupted their conversation. “Scott! Johnny! This is a working ranch you know!”

Johnny shrugged and headed for the door. “Time for me to go build some more of those fences.” With a grin and a quick pat to his brother’s stomach, he was gone.

Scott watched him leave and gave a quiet sigh. “I hope someday, Little Brother, you can see the spaces.”


PART TWO: Instead of a Fence
(A Tag for CAWH)

Murdoch sat at his large desk, his back to the window, staring straight ahead at nothing. Nothing that was still there anyway. What he was seeing was his son’s face – the look of hurt and betrayal trying desperately to hide behind the anger.

The Strykers were gone, Scott’s injury had been properly attended to, and they had survived an awkward , silent dinner. Johnny had fled the table, first to tend to his horse, and then to bed. Teresa had cleaned up after the meal, sighed in his direction and had also headed to her room.

And he sat here in the darkened room, wishing he knew how to be a father.

Scott came in and headed to the drink tray. He poured a glassful of something and then waved the bottle in his father’s direction. “Nightcap?”

It took Murdoch a second to register the invitation. “What? Oh. No. No thank you.”

With a look of some surprise at the answer, Scott recorked the bottle. He picked up his own drink and took a sip.

“How’s the arm?”

Scott looked down at the bandage. “A bit sore. I’m sure it will heal fine.”

“Good. Good.”

Scott leaned back against the table. “Is something wrong, Sir?”

Wrong? It was all wrong. It had all gone so terribly wrong. But how could he explain it? “I hope not. But…”

“But..?” Scott echoed.

Murdoch looked at this son’s face. This calm, patient son. He stood up and went to the window, looking out over his domain. He knew what every inch of the view looked like, even with darkness hiding it. “I said things to him.”

“So I heard.”

He turned back around at the emotionless response. “Johnny told you?”

“No. Teresa did. In detail. She is…confused.” Scott hesitated before taking another sip. “So am I. If her description was accurate it seems rather harsh things to say to someone you want in your life.”

Murdoch sighed at that truth, but didn’t answer.

“What were you thinking, Sir?”

He grimaced at the number of ‘Sirs’ in this conversation so far. A sure indicator of Scott’s tightly reined disapproval. “I don’t know. I don’t think I was.” He turned back to the dark window, playing back the scene again in his mind. “I heard the shot and knew you were out there. Then Teresa said Johnny was coming and all I could think about was keeping him away from the danger.”

“And that was the only way you could think to do it?” Scott’s voice was not as tightly reined now, the angry sarcasm leaking through. “Perhaps if you had explained that you were trying to protect him it might have been a better tactic. Not to mention you could’ve sent him right out into a trap…”

Murdoch spun around to him. “Don’t you think I know that!” he snapped. He dropped wearily back into his desk chair. He shook his head. “It all started with those damned horses.”

“What started?”

“All of it. He was supposed to be building a fence and he goes off chasing wild horses!”

Scott looked down into his drink. “Did he tell you why?”

“No. No explanation. No apology. He didn’t see any problem at all with running away from his responsibilities. He was happy about it!”


“And he thought I should be happy and excited right along with him.”

“Did he, now. How strange. What would make a young man think his father should be proud of his accomplishment?”

Proud? Murdoch thought back to the moment. Johnny coming up to him with a bounce in his step and a grin on his face. Like a kid. A kid trying to share something with his old man.

“What happened then?” Scott’s question pulled him back.

“Stryker came and demanded the horses. Johnny was mad I gave him the mares. I really didn’t have time to deal with it, but I said Johnny could keep the stallion.”

“You said he could keep the stallion. The stallion that he had caught.” Scott’s pause lasted just long enough for Murdoch to see the irony. “But they tried to take it.”

Murdoch nodded. “Your brother punched him. The boy drew on him and Johnny turned and fired without a moment’s hesitation.”

Scott blinked as if trying to picture it. “The boy’s gun was out. You said Johnny turned, so I assume his back was to him. And he still drew, aimed and shot faster.”

“Yes. It was…” Murdoch looked down at his hands. “…pure Madrid.”

“I see.”

His head jerked up. “Do you? I don’t want him to be Madrid! I want him to be Johnny Lancer! Is that so hard to understand?”

“And what exactly is the difference?”

“Johnny Madrid’s heart is out there…” Murdoch’s hand waved toward the window for emphasis. “…with whatever was so important to him. I want Johnny Lancer’s heart to be here. With us.”

“Have you talked to him about this?”

Murdoch sighed. “I tried to. I tried to tell him about what it takes to be a rancher. But he said I was pushing him too hard.”

“Are you? Are you expecting him to learn everything about ranching in a couple of months? Did you learn in all that quickly?”

“I learned quickly because I had to! There wasn’t time to go off chasing every wild notion that came along! If I had there wouldn’t be a Lancer today!”

“So you’re angry that Johnny doesn’t take it as seriously as you did.”

“He can’t be half in. He has to decide.”

“Isn’t that why he came back? Do you know what it took for him to do that? And all you could do was lash out at him.”

“I told you I wasn’t thinking. It was just a gut reaction.”

“A gut reaction. An impulse. Like chasing a beautiful horse.”

Murdoch thought again of the look on Johnny’s face and slumped back against the chair. “I want him here. I want him at Lancer. I want him in my life.”

“But you don’t want to be in his.”

The simple words took his breath away. He blinked. In his? “What life? The life of a gunfighter?”

“Is that all he is? Is that the sum of John Lancer to you? It appears he is also a rather fair horse wrangler. And probably a whole lot more.” Scott finished his drink and set the glass down. “By your own account he took three probably painful steps toward you and your life. What are you going to do with that?” When there was no answer, he pushed up from the table. “Perhaps you should think about it. Good night, Sir.”

Murdoch watched him leave the room, and heard his quiet, steady steps up the stairs. ‘What am I going to do with that?’ He let out his breath in a frustrated huff. He got up from his desk and paced to the fireplace, peering into the dying embers. ‘What can I do? Scott’s right. Maybe we’re too much alike. I reacted without thinking after blaming Johnny for the same behavior. How can I repair the damage done? Or is that bridge too far gone to fix?’.

The grandfather clock ticked away the night as Murdoch paced from the fireplace to the window and back again. ‘Perhaps I can’t fix it. Perhaps I just have to build a new one. Build a step toward his life.’

His pacing ended up at the table holding the decanters and glasses. After a moment, he gave a hint of a smile and poured himself that nightcap. Then he raised the glass in the direction of the stairway. “Tomorrow, Son. Tomorrow we begin construction on a bridge…instead of a fence.”


PART THREE: On the Fence
(A Tag for CAWH)

Johnny jammed the shovel into the ground, trying to purge the memories of the past few days with physical labor. But the images rolled past heedless of his efforts. Wes, teasing him about being “broke to the plow”. That damn horse. That beautiful damn horse.

Stryker. Murdoch’s anger. Stryker’s boy reaching for his gun…He took a breath and wiped his brow. In a way that single moment hurt worse than all the rest. For that was the moment that he lost it all. In an instant, three months of being Johnny Lancer went up in smoke.

It had taken three months to even try to feel like a Lancer. It took the blink of an eye to become Madrid again. Murdoch’s rejection, Teresa’s tears, Wes’ death, Scott’s injury – all because he was, and always would be, Johnny Madrid.

He grabbed a fence post and put it in the hole, packing dirt around it with the shovel and his boot. His thoughts turned to the awkward dinner they had endured since the Stryker’s and their men left. Murdoch had hardly said two words to him. Not throwing him out, but not being welcoming either. So what was he now? Johnny Madrid, ranch hand? A hired worker in a big house?

Could they start from scratch again? Did he want to? Yes, dammit, he did! He wanted this. Maybe it wouldn’t take three months this time. He snorted to himself. No, maybe it would take longer. His father had merely been cold the first time. Now he was cold and angry.

The sound of hoof beats broke into his thoughts. He was surprised to see that it was Murdoch riding up. He was even more surprised when the man attempted to make small talk.

A nice day? Rub salt in my wounds, why don’t you. That had actually happened to him once. It was not pleasant then either. Now what was the man talking about? Horses? Taunting him with wild horses? Enough, old man.

Post holes. More to life. Train whistles….wild horses.

Johnny blinked and looked at his father. Was he saying what he thought he was? He had never seen this look on Murdoch’s face before. Friendly, open, accepting. Accepting him. His father wanted him. For a moment he wanted nothing more than to run into those strong arms. Instead, he returned his father’s smile. “Black mesa, huh?”

~ end ~


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