“The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sitting up, he swung his legs out of bed. On most mornings Scott would be dressed and, with coffee cup in hand, headed outside to watch the reaching sun brush the first smattering of salmon on the night’s bluish-purple retreat. However, today his eyes appreciated the framed vista through a familiar open window while allowing time for final remnants of much needed relaxed rest to quietly slip away.

By God, it felt good to be home.


He spied that a cane had been denied travel, giving the slightest limp permission to accompany Murdoch Lancer to Stockton. Scott returned his father’s sweeping wave as the patriarch broke from the welcoming group of three and weaved a path among the disembarking passengers milling about on the train station platform.

Keeping pace a step or two behind, Phillip Westcott wore a heavily lined visage which displayed not only relief, but also spoke of the knowledge he would not have endured another loss in his life.

“Sweet Jesus, this almost killed him.” Like many of Seth’s observations, the whispered one regarding his grandfather was to the point and quite accurate.

Scott’s hand applied a quick reassuring shake to his business partner’s shoulder. “All is good. We’re home.”

Instinctively, the hand then drifted down to his little cousin at his side and pulled her in a bit closer for a moment. The young lady had knighted Scott an Overzealous Protector of the Universe soon after she’d stepped into his life. He wouldn’t deny it: the title comfortably fit. He’d kept a firm grasp on her reins in the beginning, but over time those reins had loosened. Now catching his watchful gesture, Scott blamed the wrecked Jupiter for turning back the clock.

“Son.” Like his telegram, Murdoch’s one word, followed by a handshake which quickly evolved into a worried father’s hearty embrace, was enough to relay his thoughts.

Scott drank in the emotions until finally stepping back, grinning. “It’s good to see you, sir.”

The patriarch shook his head and smiled. “An understatement if I ever heard one.” Elder eyes rested on the young lady and, again, only one utterance introduced an extended gathered reunion. “Bairn.”

“Where’s the wild pup?” Heads turned at Phillip Westcott’s gravelly query. A shirt sleeve swiped the old man’s cheeks before signaling that a hug demanded Kinsey’s presence. Obliging the request with her own tears, the young lady stepped from one homecoming to join another, leaving a single welcoming yet unspoken.

“Don’t let your brother’s indifference fool you.”

Scott’s focus settled on the casual pose of a distanced figure stationed in front of Stockton’s telegraph office. “It never has.”

“He refused to budge from that spot until we got good news. Almost got his backside thrown in jail for vagrancy.”

“Probably not the first time.” Mock seriousness held briefly before a smirk pushed it aside.

It was a fact that there were still a few aspects of Johnny’s personality Scott didn’t completely have a handle on, but the reoccurring camouflage of indifference wasn’t one of them. He’d pegged the then stranger’s need for it during their first shared ride.

Striding toward his little brother, Scott began a mental list of clues: lopsided stance, crossed arms, sloped hat. Yes, any signs of vexation were now neatly stuffed and hidden in Johnny’s back pocket.

“Word has it town council’s raising money to replace a few boards here.” Scott eyeballed the platform and stomped a foot for good measure. “Wise decision. Looks like a bout of worry-pacing has warped the wood.” A head cocked to get a better view of his brother’s shaded eyes. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

“I know I need a new pair a boots.”

“How do you figure?”

“Worry-pacin’.” Johnny removed his hat and slapped it against his thigh. “I came down with a bad case of it a few days ago”

“I hear it’s one hell of an affliction.”

“I don’t recommend it. Caused the heels to wear right off my boots.”

A raised palm measured empty space a foot above the victim’s head. “Indeed it did.”

“Goddammit, brother.” With a hoot and a grin, Johnny’s held hat slapped away the suspended jest while his other arm encircled the back of Scott’s neck. “Let’s say you stay put for a spell so I can be cured.”

“Agreed.” A quickly emptied back pocket deserved a broad smile.

Settling his hat back on his head with a customary tug to the brim, Johnny’s shifted attention targeted the current Lancer/Westcott reunions. “How’s Half-pint holdin’ up?”

Following his brother’s gaze, Scott spied Seth’s arm around Kinsey’s shoulders while accepting Murdoch’s handshake. “She’s fine” - an imaginary pebble was tossed into waters to detect any ripples - “considering the little magpie is where she belongs.”

A chin dipped.


A sly smile.


A tug on an earlobe.


“Guess I best go over an’ say hello before she decides to fly off again.”

The wrecked Jupiter can’t solely be blamed for turning back the clock.

Similar to Seth Westcott’s observations, the brain itch spoke accurately and to the point as Scott considered the skysill of Johnny’s open arms welcoming home the approaching young lady.


A two-finger whistle snagged Scott’s eyes from the daybreak horizon to the ground below his bedroom window.

“Ranch doesn’t run itself.” Mimicking his father’s rumbling mantra, Johnny stood grinning, the reins of their saddled horses in his hand.

Elbows rested on the sill while words cast down pointed out a lacking prerequisite to a man’s morning. “I haven’t had my coffee.”

“Then I guess you better get moving.”

Two biscuits rode in the pockets of a hastily donned shirt while gulps of brew kept time with the strides carrying Scott out the kitchen door and to his whistling taskmaster. “First on the list?”

“What list?”

“Murdoch always has a list.”

“There’s no list.” Johnny swung up to settle in Barranca’s saddle.

Realization lowered a brow as Scott’s thumb jabbed over his shoulder. “I just passed up a plate of Maria’s eggs and bacon. There better be a list.”

A Cheshire Cat smile shone with the sun’s first rays. “Come on. I want to show you something.”

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