Word Count 2,840
An episode tag for The Prodigal
SUMMARY: Not long after Mrs. Dane’s son arrives, Johnny leaves for town just as everyone else is heading for bed. He isn’t seen again in this episode. This is my version of ‘what happened next’.
It was well after dark when Scott entered Morro Coyo’s small cantina. Murdoch was still back at the ranch offering comfort to Mrs. Dane, and he was here, looking for his missing brother with the same objective in mind. However, his reasons were not quite as clear.
A quick glance around the dusky interior told him that the usually active establishment was unusually deserted. Even the bartender had disappeared, probably tidying up in the back room, or some such nonsense. The only patron was sitting alone at the table in the far corner, and since he was also the object of his search, that’s where Scott headed.
“Are you ready to talk about it, brother?” Without waiting for invitation or permission, Scott casually pulled out a chair and sat down. Johnny hadn’t answered him, but Scott hadn’t expected him to do so. In fact, if his brother had acknowledged him in any way, it would have come as a profound surprise.
Pouring himself a drink from the bottle sitting in the middle of the table, Scott studied the younger man sitting across from him with a knowing eye. Four months had taught him a lot about this young man: how he was only this quiet when he was doing some serious thinking, how he always hurt deeper than he liked to let on, how he still liked milk with his chocolate cake. But mostly, these past four months had taught him how very much he loved his brother.
A small smile tugged at Scott lips. His brother. Who would have ever thought when he left Boston, headed for the unknown in the wilds of California to meet a father equally as unknown, that he would also find the other half to his soul? A half he hadn’t even realized he was missing.
Half-brother? He almost snorted at the absurdity of that thought. There was nothing ‘half’ about Johnny: not as a brother, not as a son, and especially not as a human being. While it was true that Johnny Madrid Lancer possessed a cold stare that could freeze fire, inside he was possessed by a tender soul that was much more vulnerable than most people would ever believe. Johnny could be impenetrably hard on the outside, yet soft as a downy comforter on the inside.
Two extremes; one man.
“Talk about what?” Johnny’s low voice broke the silence, but his eyes remained pointed towards hands that were folded with deceptive calmness in his lap.
This time it was Scott who did not bother to answer. There was no need to because the question hadn’t been a real question. It was just Johnny’s way of letting Scott know that he wasn’t quite ready to talk.
Johnny knew exactly why Scott was there, and would explain his actions at his own pace, in his own time. JML time, Scott had mentally dubbed it not a week after first meeting his brash younger brother. JML time couldn’t…wouldn’t be rushed by anyone, for any reason.
Across the table, Johnny shifted in his seat. The wooden chair creaked in protest, but Johnny made no sound. Patiently, Scott continued his quiet observations, waiting for JML time to say ‘when’.
After a few minutes of deafening silence, Johnny looked up, but only long enough to grab the bottle and pour himself another drink. Scott said nothing, content to watch the fluid movements of his brother’s body as it completed a series of actions with which it was all too familiar. It was amazing how such a simple act could fill Scott with such awe.
Grace. That was the one word that always came to mind whenever he watched his brother in action, but even that usually telling word seemed inadequate to this task. Whether it was walking across a room, breaking a wild horse, or just pouring himself a drink, Johnny moved with a natural poetry and style that left any sane man in a state of envy, even if he didn’t have enough sense to realize why.
Flashes of pleasant evenings spent at the theater back in Boston briefly entertained Scott’s mind. The ballet was making its mark as the crème de la crème of artistry incarnate, but nothing he had ever seen on stage could compare to the intrinsic beauty of the performances he was now privileged to witness on a daily basis.
The grace of a ballet dancer? Scott didn’t think he should try to explain that one to his wild and wooly brother. It probably wouldn’t be the least bit appreciated, no matter how complimentary the intent.
Shaken from his revere, Scott looked up to find a pair of accusing blue eyes staring back at him. Evidently he had let his amused thoughts show too clearly, or maybe his ever-astute brother had simply picked up on some little something that most men would have let pass unnoticed. “Just thinking about a dancer,” was all he dared reveal.
Accusation eased into amusement. “Bet she was real pretty,” came a teasing reply.
Considering his words carefully, Scott gave an honest response, but veiled in enough ambiguity to save face for both of them. “Graceful. Noble. And, yes, I guess even pretty.”
Johnny snorted softly. “Sounds more like you’re talkin’ about a horse.”
The infectious gleam in his brother’s eyes soon had Scott grinning over his silent secret. If only he dared…but no, he couldn’t. Johnny would never understand. “No, definitely not a horse.” He could have added that he’d swear this particular dancer had smelled like a horse on a few occasions, however, since he would be unable to provide an adequate explanation for such a comment, he wisely kept this comment to himself.
With the swiftness of an impending storm, the atmosphere instantly changed around them. The previously stilled tension was now swirling and building. As if Johnny had been alerted by some internal alarm, Scott watched his sparkling blue eyes lose their joyous gleam, only to become engulfed in a lackluster haze of despair. Contact was lost when the dark-haired head bowed forward.
JML time had just said ‘when’.
“I can’t help wonderin’ if it mighta been her fault.” Johnny’s voice was stiff and forced, in total contrast to his previous teasing flippancy. White knuckles griped the glass in his hands, providing evidence of his mounting tensions.
“If what was her fault?” Scott asked.
There was no need to ask which ‘her’ his brother was talking about. Johnny’s chilly and disapproving attitude towards Murdoch’s old flame had been pronounced and clear from the moment Mrs. Dane had been introduced to them.
Again, JML time asserted its dominance. The smoldering storm died out as quickly as it had begun. For several long minutes, Scott watched Johnny fiddle with the glass in his hand as if it had become the most fascinating object in the universe.
“You heard what Murdoch said. She coulda been my mother,” Johnny continued softly. “That means he and her were, you know, *them* before my mother came along.”
Chewing lightly on his lower lip, Scott pondered the logic and agreed that this was a plausible assumption. “Yes, that would seem right,” he nodded slightly.
“She hurt him.”
The accusing tone was back. Another thing the prior four months had taught Scott was that Johnny Lancer would never stand still for anyone he cared about being hurt. The defense reflex was as instinctual as breathing, and could be lethal if the threat were perceived to be dire enough.
“We don’t know that for sure.” There was no clear basis to support Johnny’s conclusion that Mrs. Dane had hurt their father, but Scott could tell simply by the Johnny’s aggressive stance that his brother was certain of his convictions. There was no point in asking him why, however. For Johnny to voice such personal observations would be considered a private invasion.
Unyielding honor. Scott made a quick mental note to add that to his list of the finer attributes of his favorite dancer. Right now, however, there more pressing issues to address.
“And what if she did?” Scott’s concession came in the name of strategy. Not to offer such would have effectively end the conversation, and there was still too much more that needed to be said. Too much Johnny needed to say, if he was ever to get beyond whatever was bothering him.
The previous defensive atmosphere became pensive, and Johnny’s head sank lower. “What if Murdoch was pining over her… maybe too hurt to realize he was just usin’… maybe my mother woulda known it, too. Maybe that’s why she left. Just ’cause the old man didn’t actually throw us out, don’t mean he didn’t want us gone just the same.”
The brunette head remained bowed; a telltale sign that Johnny was nowhere near as certain about these assumptions as he was about his assertion that Mrs. Dane had hurt Murdoch. However, at least now Scott had some inkling as to what was going on in his brother’s mind.
The little things that Scott had noticed, but had not prioritized as being of any significance, began to come together, and they painted a picture jealousy and fear that wasn’t very pretty. The distrust, the suspicious attitude, the refusal to accept Mrs. Dane’s good intentions or her son’s version of the events of his escape, but mostly the trepidation shown when Jeff was first introduced to them; all these things added up to only one thing.
Johnny felt threatened. He was afraid of being abandoned; afraid of being replaced in Murdoch’s heart by another, maybe more worthy, ‘son’. Although the subsequent discussion regarding Jeff’s actions should have dispelled any thoughts of this worthiness, Scott knew it hadn’t.
Jeff had supplied an explanation for the guard’s death, one that Murdoch seemed inclined to believe, and that was all Johnny needed. In Johnny’s mind, taking a life by accident in a moment of panicked fear would never come close to overshadowing the events in his own dubious past. Add to that Mrs. Dane’s presence and Murdoch’s sudden giddiness about her, and Johnny’s fears had become very real, at least in his mind.
Johnny already admitted that he saw this woman as a possible cause for Murdoch’s disappearance from his life all those years ago, and now Johnny perceived that the threat was there once again. That Johnny had felt threatened by the possibility of a relationship between Mrs. Dane and their father was now all too clear.
Across the table, a dark head bowed low against his chest, said it all. The fire would not be frozen tonight, and the downy comforter was in need of comforting. It would have to be done gently, though, so as not to spook the already spooked. “It still bothers you, doesn’t it? Not knowing for sure why she left Lancer.”
“Sometimes,” came the soft reply, but that was all.
What could Scott possibly say? How could he give reassurances when he had nothing to offer but empty words? There was only one option, and Scott took it. “Johnny, do you really think that Murdoch Lancer would ever tiptoe around something he really wanted? If he had actually wanted your mother to be gone, don’t you think he would have opened the door and shoved her out, just like you were told he had done?”
Johnny’s head jerked up and a steely gaze bore into Scott. Confusion clouded the usually confident blue eyes, but Johnny’s expression reflected only anger. However, before the bitter words could form, the anger faded away, leaving behind only the confusion. It was now or never.
“Johnny, I can’t tell you why your mother wasn’t satisfied having Murdoch for a husband and Lancer for a home. She wasn’t, though, or else she never would have taken up with another man and gone away with him. Maybe it was because of something Murdoch did, or maybe even because of something he didn’t do. Or maybe it’s because she never really loved Murdoch, or because she simply quit loving him at some point.
“What I can tell you is that these are things you’re never going to know, Johnny. Not for sure. Murdoch doesn’t have the answers you want, and your mother, the only one who could help you understand, is beyond your reach. You’re going to have to let it go, brother. If you don’t, it’s going to eat you alive.”
The chair creaked again, almost as if crying out over Johnny’s pain. “You make it sound so easy, but it ain’t. You don’t know-“
“No, I don’t,” Scott emphatically agreed. “I never got the chance to know my mother, but I do know the truth. She died. She wasn’t given the opportunity to discover Murdoch was lacking, or to be pushed away. She died and Murdoch was free to take up with Mrs. Dane, or your mother, or whomever else he chose. For whatever reason, he chose your mother, not Mrs. Dane. In my opinion, it’s the same reason he’s never found anyone else since your mother left.”
The blue eyes staring at him from across the table were suddenly filled with hope and longing.
“Johnny, I don’t doubt Murdoch loved my mother, but when she died, Murdoch found someone else with whom he could share his life and his dreams. That someone was your mother. Then your mother left him. Legally, he had been abandoned, and therefore he was free to find someone else, yet he didn’t. Doesn’t it make you wonder? If you’re truly that uncertain about how deeply Murdoch loved your mother, why do you think he’s still alone? Mrs. Dane is here, and apparently willing enough to commit to him, so why is Murdoch finding it so hard to accept her into his life?”
Johnny’s head ducked slightly, but immediately rose again. When blue eyes met blue eyes, there was a slight hint of a smile in both, and the tension lessened, though it didn’t fully disappear. When Johnny spoke, his voice was fully of playful mischief. “You know somethin’, brother, you’re supposed to be givin’ me the answers to all my questions, not tossin’ even more into the pot.”
Scott chuckled at the sudden turn of Johnny’s mood, although it was nothing short of what he had hoped would happen. “And where’d you come up with that ludicrous theory?”
An impish grin took up its normal place on Johnny’s face. “Well, you’re older’n me, and you’ve got that fancy dandy education and all. I’m just a simple kid who needs guidance from his older, wiser brother.”
This was too much. Scott could do nothing but roll his eyes in amazed affection. “Let’s get out of here before some decides you’ve gone totally insane. Besides, it’s late and we’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow. Us ‘old’ folks need our sleep.”
Standing, Scott stretched his tired muscles, and waited while Johnny grabbed up his hat and the half-empty bottle of tequila from the table. With an arm draped over Johnny’s shoulders, the two men headed for the door.
While nothing had really been settled, a start had been made. Outwardly, Johnny was settled and content; inwardly, the battle raged on, only now it has some new options to consider.
Still two extremes; still one man.
There were still issues to be settled, but time alone might solve some of them, without having to dredge up any more bad feelings. Hopefully there would come a time, when Johnny was more comfortable with his position at Lancer and in Murdoch’s heart, that he might not feel threatened by any relationship in which Murdoch might feel the desire to explore. One day, Johnny might even be able to feel the same pleasure and amusement Scott had experienced while watching their normally stoic father get all tongue-tied over a woman.
Gathering his horse’s reins, Scott paused long enough to watch Johnny vault effortlessly into the saddle. He couldn’t hold back his smile. No, the word ‘grace’ was definitely insufficient to describe his younger brother.
“Whatcha grinnin’ about,” Johnny asked, then answered his own question with a knowing look. “You’re thinkin’ about that dancer again, ain’t you?”
“Yes, I was,” Scott admitted in all honestly as he mounted Charlemagne.
Barranca pranced anxiously next to them, but Johnny kept his seat with ease. “That musta been some special lady for you to be thinkin’ about her so much.”
Thankful that his sly grin went undisclosed by the sparse moonlight, Scott voiced his final comments on a subject that would from now on be relegated only to his thoughts. “I wouldn’t put in exactly those words, but yes, brother, that dancer will always be very special to me.”
Spurring Charlemagne into a gallop, Scott led the way back home, smugly anticipating the prying questions he knew would soon begin in earnest. They would eventually lessen with time, but Johnny would never fully give up trying to discover the identity of the mysterious dancer he thought was lurking in Scott’s past.
If Johnny only knew.
\\\ End ///
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