Thanks to Viki for her patience and help as my beta.
An episode tag for Chase a Wild Horse
Word count: 760
There it was, stretching to the distant mountains, afternoon sun glinting off the river, just as it had been that first day when Teresa stopped on the ridge. Lancer. The man he had hated for as long as he could remember—the father who discarded his mother and him. The land and the name he had paid for with his blood. Home. Family. A life instead of an existence destined to end violently and soon. “It’s the only good thing that’s ever happened to you in your whole life.”
His slender frame shuddered. His gun was gripped in reflexive defense and his golden horse jibbed at the fisted hand on the reins. Shame slashed his soul at the memory of how he had hunched before the scythe of his father’s disappointment. Anger he could deflect, returning it with scarlet intensity. Judgment he met with insolent indifference. Johnny Madrid’s will gave way to no man . . . until a few months ago. He had bowed everything that made him Madrid in his pains to be Johnny Lancer, to win his father’s approval. For nothing. “All for nothing.”
Only the man who had uttered those words could have hurt him more than his sire’s disdain and he had pushed his brother away; ripped ruthlessly at the fast-spreading roots of friendship—even trust—that had somehow wormed their stubborn way past his rocky barriers. His brother’s words grated like chisel blows on a tombstone. “All for nothing… all you’ve got going for you from now on.” Pure, ironclad pride had momentarily held him in his seat while his brother walked away, leaving behind a dull emptiness that neither rage nor self-hate could fill. And, Dios, he’d tried.
Moments later, when he’d closed his eyes, all he could feel was the weight of the gun in his hand. Just pull the trigger and the source of all his grief would be dead and gone! The black stallion—his defiant freedom the demon call that sparked the whole disastrous chain of events—would be as dead as his friendship with Wes; dead as his chance at a life and a family. The rampaging storm threatened to engulf him, mind and soul. He tightened his grip on the gun. When had it gotten so heavy? Steady equine eyes, wary and innocent, had stared back at him. In their depths, he’d seen everything that was wrong . . . with him.
Disquieted by Johnny’s roiling emotions, Barranca stirred under him. Wrested back to the illusory peace of the hilltop, he chewed on his lip, vainly seeking the focused calm he always carried with him into a fight. Scared. Johnny Madrid was scared. He could turn around and ride away; gather up the anger and the shreds of his dignity and go. “You’ll be dead before you’re thirty.” His mouth hardened. He wouldn’t go down easily—the man who took Madrid would have to earn it. He would leave a few ripples, too.
Or he could ride all the way . . . home. And what? No man had ever heard Madrid beg. Wouldn’t the simple act of returning be just that? Begging for another chance? What if his father turned him away again? Was there no give at all in the man or—be honest, Johnny Boy—had he himself been too sideways to see anything but his own anger and hurt?
Far worse, what if his brother had finally had enough of Johnny’s fits – tired of being the rod between the oak that was father and the lightning that was Johnny? He would be laying himself open as surely as extending his gun hand for a hammer blow. They could shatter him. Oh, he would summon a wall of icy fury and ride away, but the hollow husk of his life would matter even less than when he faced the firing squad . . . from which his father had saved him. And he had no one to blame but himself. He’d known better, but he let himself try to believe in them and in a dream he hadn’t dared admit.
“All for nothing…”
But . . . what if . . .
His golden horse shook his mane with impatience. Johnny recognized the hint. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, squaring his shoulders and drawing in a shaky breath. No one had ever called Johnny Madrid a coward. “All or nothing, Brother.” He urged his horse forward, home.
And a gunshot ripped through the summer stillness of Lancer.
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