The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Friend and Foe
Written by Morgan

“There you are.”

Ned looked up to see the last person he wanted to talk to.

“...I suppose you're here to finish our… “discussion”?”

Mark looked at his brother-in-law in confusion until he finally understood Ned’s comment.

“Is that why you've been avoiding me all week?”

“Isn't that why you've been looking for me all week?”

“Of course not,” Mark replied as he shook his head. “Ned, you were looking out for your little sister. I get it. But you also forgot the second half of our conversation.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you found out I was sweet on Cassie, yes, you said that if I hurt her, I'd have to answer to you. But I also replied and said that if I did hurt her, there wouldn't be any part of me left for you to deal with. Ned, I love your sister and wouldn't ever do anything to hurt her. ...I value my life.”

Ned and Mark broke into laughter as what had been tension between them dissipated.

“Mark, I am sorry.”

“Don't be. After all, I honestly wanted to punch you as much as you wanted to punch me.”

“Well I probably deserved it.”

“I'm just glad there were bars between us.”

“You and me both.” Ned briefly paused before going on, “But I'm not just sorry about threatening you. I'm sorry I doubted you.”

“You had every right to. It's in the past, why don't we forget about it?”

“...You want to meet the train with me?”

“I've got a few minutes; why not?”

The men began making their way to the train station as the whistle blew in the distance.

“There been a decent amount of travelers lately?” Mark inquired.

“Not particularly. With the mill being as unstable as it is right now, there are a lot more folks leaving than coming to visit.”

“What's exactly going on?”

“Not enough business, not enough money to pay enough employees, not enough employees to make deadlines.”

“You think it'll go under?”

“Well I certainly hope not, but if things keep going the way they are, I'd say she closes by next spring.”

“It's sad to see; North Fork was really growing. Now it seems I see a new for sale sign every time I come into town. Thankfully most of what made up North Fork five years ago will make it, even if the mill doesn't.”

“We certainly hope so.”

Once the train finally settled, Mark and Ned began greeting and directing the few passengers that stepped out onto the platform.

Ned had finished with a traveler when he saw a dark-haired man step off the train. The man caught sight of Mark first, and made his way towards him; however, Ned was shocked to see Mark cock his rifle and aim it at the man.

“Easy,” the man began as he raised his hands. “I'm not here to cause nobody trouble.”

“You should be back in jail where you belong,” Mark coldly replied.

“I served my time, and have papers to prove it.”

“Mark, what's going on?” Ned inquired, looking between the two men.

“If I may?” The man asked, gesturing to his coat pocket.

“Ned, check his papers.”

Ned pulled a few papers from the man's pocket and carefully read them before putting them back.

“What the man said is true. He served his time,” Ned told Mark.

“What are you doing back here??” Mark demanded.

“Look, I don't know who you are, or even how you know who I am. But I served my time, and a man's gotta right to settle down.”

“Not here, you don't.”

“Mark!” Ned exclaimed, shocked at Mark's behavior. “He's just as free to be here as you are.”

Mark spun his rifle and relaxed his hold before taking a step closer to the man and pointing a finger at him.

“I'll give you one warning. Get out of this town, and don't come near my family.”

As Mark turned to walk away, Ned called out to him.

“Where are you going?”

“To tell Aunt Lou and John Hamilton to guard their safes closely.”

Ned watched Mark storm away before he turned to the man.

“I take it you two have a history…?”

“If we do, I don't recall it. There's only two or three people I remember from this town, and he wasn't one of them. Who is he?”

“Mark McCain.”

“...Mark McCain? That explains a few things,” the man chuckled. “Boy, he sure has changed.”


1MC1

“Mark, we weren't expecting you home this early. What-”

“Where's Pa?” Mark interrupted his mother.

“...Out on the range,” Milly slowly replied. “Mark, what's wrong?”

“I'll explain later.”

Milly and Cassie watched Mark storm out of the house and mount BlueBoy again.

“What on earth was that about?” Milly asked her niece.

“I have no idea. He was fine this morning…” Cassie briefly paused before going on, “He was going to talk to Ned today, but I can't imagine that making him this upset. He… he looked so… bitter.”

“Whatever it is, I'm sure Lucas will be able to help him.”

“Did Sally and Micah send details about their arrival yet?” Cassie asked, trying to change the subject.

“I didn't tell you? They're getting in Saturday on the evening train. Sally's so excited to be coming.”

“Well I certainly hope we don't bore her to death. North Fork is so dull compared to Denver.”

“I'm sure she will immensely enjoy herself. Besides, you two never had a problem entertaining yourselves as children, I can't see that changing now.”

“But now we know better than to go exploring old mine shafts.”

“What?”

“...Sally and I… we did a lot of things we shouldn't have growing up.”

“We all did,” Milly laughed.

 

*****


A few hours later, Milly and Cassie heard a horse approaching the house. A few moments later, Lucas was entering the kitchen.

“Did Mark find you?” Milly asked.

“Mark? I thought he was running errands in town?”

“He was,” Cassie began, “But then he came home and asked where you were. He took off and we haven't seen him since.”

“Something wrong?”

“We hope not, but the look on his face wasn't a good one,” Milly replied.

“He was so angry...” Cassie commented, worry in her voice.

“I'd go after him, but there's no telling where he could be. I'm surprised he went to try to find me.”

“It seemed rather urgent,” Milly replied with a shrug.

“If he comes back to the house, I'll be in the barn.”

“Lucas, you're going to hurt your back…”

“I'll be fine.”

Milly sighed and shook her head as Lucas walked back out the door.

“Those two are so much alike…” Cassie chuckled.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Milly laughed.

As the two women began working on supper, Lydia began crying from the bedroom. Milly went to feed her just as Rachael entered the house.

“How was school, Rachael?” Cassie inquired.

“It was school,” she shrugged. “It’s so… boring. I feel like it's a waste of time.”

“Well your geometry came in handy when you were trying to find those bullet casings.”

“I'm not saying learning is a waste of time; just sitting in the classroom all day.”

“You should ask Mr. Griswold if he could help you get ahead so you can finish earlier.”

“You think he would?”

“I'm sure he'd be happy to. Mark finished a year early, Anna finished two years in advance.”

“Really?”

Cassie nodded before going on.

“It takes work, but if you're determined, you can do it.”

A short while later, everyone was getting ready to sit down for supper when Mark came through the back door.

“There you are,” Cassie began, “We were starting to get worried.”

“Pa, I thought you were working the north pasture today?”

“I finished early,” Lucas replied, seeing the anger Cassie had talked about on his son's face. “Mark, what's wrong?”

“Your friend showed up in town today,” Mark replied as he took his seat at the table.

“Friend?” Milly asked in confusion.

“I have a lot of friends, Mark,” Lucas replied, not understanding why Mark was so upset.

“Not too many that try to rob our bank.”

Lucas realized who his son was talking about and nodded in understanding.

“... Let's talk about it after supper.”

Milly, Cassie, and Rachael were all thoroughly confused but sensed that this wasn't the best time to ask questions. As the conversation changed subjects, Mark didn't pay attention. He was too lost in his own thoughts.

After supper, Mark and Lucas walked out to the barn to work on the chores.

“Where did you see him?” Lucas asked his son.

“I met the train with Ned. He had absolutely no idea who I was.”

“You confronted him?”

“Of course I did. Unfortunately, he was released from prison.”

“What'd you tell him?”

“I told him to get out of town.”

“Mark, the man has as much right to be here as the next person.”

“Don't you remember what he did, Pa??” Mark asked, a little shocked that Lucas seemed to be defending him.

“Yes, I do. But he's paid his debt to society, and we were like-”

“You were like brothers. I know.” Mark picked up a pitchfork and drove it into the hay.

Lucas watched his son for a moment before taking a few steps forward and putting a hand on Mark's shoulder.

“Mark, I know you didn't like the idea of us being friends ten years ago. I doubt much has changed. But there's something else bothering you.”

“Something else?? Pa, he set the hotel on fire! They could've killed Ms. Jackson!”

“Ms. Jackson?”

“The bank teller they shot at!?”

“Mark, if he's back, something must have changed.”

“Or he's trying to use your friendship again.”

“We should at least hear him out.”

“Do what you want, he's your friend. Just don't forget that you could've ended up dead if you had made it to the bank.”

“Is that what's getting to you?”

“That's part of it.”

“Mark, I didn't make it to the bank, and I didn't end up dead. He went to prison for what he did, and they released him.”

Mark shook his head as he threw more hay into a feeding trough.

“Mark…”

Mark stopped and looked at his Pa. He sighed as he put the pitchfork down.

“Pa, there are very few things you and I don't see eye to eye about anymore. But we're both entitled to our opinions. If you feel like he's worth the risk, you have every right to talk to him. But you always say this ranch is as much mine as it is yours. In light of that, I'm asking you to not invite him out here. You may be willing to put yourself and your family at risk, but I don't trust him, and I don't want him anywhere near my wife.”

“... I understand, Mark, and I'll respect that. But you need to consider the possibility that he could've changed.”

“... I'll try.”


2MC2

Lucas halted Razor in front of the saloon and dismounted, pulling his rifle from the scabbard.

As he walked inside the establishment, Lucas scanned the crowd for Tom Birch. He found the man sitting alone at the end of the bar, and made his way towards the seat next to Tom.

“Thought I might find you here.” Lucas put his rifle up on the counter but kept his hand over it.

“...Good to see you, Lucas,” he hesitantly replied, unsure of what to expect.

“Tom, I want a simple, honest answer. We're not playing games like last time. What are you doing here?”

Birch looked at Lucas and tried to read his expression. As Tom looked at Lucas’s eyes, he thought he saw hope of trust there.

“I know you have no reason to believe me, but I'm telling you the truth. I'm here to settle down, hopefully, one day start a ranch. I'm here to start over, and I don't intend to cause anybody trouble.”

“Why North Fork?”

“To be honest, Lucas, because you're here. I know I have no right to expect this, but I was hoping… hoping things could go back to the way they used to be. I know I messed up, I know I did wrong. I'm hoping you can forgive me.”

“Too much has changed for things to go back to the way they used to be, Tom,” Lucas replied, letting a hint of frustration in his voice. Yet as he went on, he changed his tone. “...But I can forgive you, and we can move on from here.”

“Lucas, I know I don't deserve a second chance, but-”

“None of us do, but we all need them,” Lucas said as he cracked a smile. “How about giving me a second chance at beating you?”

“Well I'll give you a second chance, but don't get your hopes up too high. Ten years hard labor does a lot to a man.”

Both men stood and positioned themselves to arm wrestle. A few men soon found themselves circled around the two old friends as they went at it. At first, neither one made any progress; however, Lucas soon began losing ground.

“You may be willing to clean blood off your own floor,” Birch began, “But I'm not so sure your bartender will be so happy about it.”

“Don't worry, there won't be any to wash.”

In one clean swoop, Lucas pushed Tom’s arm down and pulled him to the ground.

“Alright, you got me,” Tom laughed as Lucas helped him up. “What’s your secret?”

“Changing diapers.”

“Diapers?” Birch asked in surprise. “You go and get remarried?”

“Two years ago. My daughter was born in August.”

“Well, congratulations on both. I'd like to meet your wife sometime.”

“Why don't you-” Lucas stopped himself as he remembered his conversation with his son. “Tom, I'd love to have you out to the ranch, but there's a bit of a situation. My son-”

“He didn't really appreciate me showing up. We had a nice “chat” this afternoon.”

“He said you didn't recognize him.”

“I didn't, I asked your marshal who he was. He never was too fond of our relationship. I could tell that the first time I showed up at your ranch.”

“Mark's usually very hospitable, it's just-”

“I was the head of a gang, Luke. I understand.”

“I'm sure he'll warm up to you in time. In the meantime, I'll have to bring my family out for supper sometime.”

“I don't want to cause any division-”

“Mark and I respect our differences of opinion. He may not agree with me, but that doesn't mean there has to be division between us. Besides, Milly's been hinting at him making dinner for Cassie for weeks. They could use some alone time without spending money on supper in town.”

“Cassie? Don't tell me Mark's married!”

“They celebrated their first wedding anniversary at the end of August. Once things settle down, you'll have to meet her. She's a wonder.”

“So you're married, your son's married, you've got a daughter, what else has changed?”

“My niece has been living us since last fall. She's brought a lot of… spunk, into the family.”

“She give you all those gray hairs?” Birch teased.

“Mark did that.”

The two old friends continued talking for hours, reminiscing about old times and making up for lost time. Lucas definitely sensed a change in Birch; a good change, and he was glad to see it.

It was late when Lucas walked Tom back over to the hotel before he went to the Marshal's office, where he was glad to find Micah.

“Ned told me your friend was back in town,” Micah said with raised eyebrows as Lucas sat down at the desk.

“He's not here to cause trouble, Micah. He did his time, and he's here to start over.”

“I certainly hope that's all.”

“He's different, Micah, believe me.”

“Well, we'll just have to wait and see.” Micah briefly paused before going on, “I heard Mark wasn't too thrilled about his arrival.”

“No, he wasn't,” Lucas freely admitted. “But he's entitled to his opinion; one that I hope to see change over the next few weeks.”

“Just be patient. Lucas, don't forget that you have a history with Birch that no one else in this town does. It may take those who were here last time Birch came to town a while to get over what happened.”

“I know.” Lucas shifted his gaze out the window as he let out a sigh.

“What is it, Lucas-boy?”

“I don't know if Mark ever will. I want him to, but… I just don't know. What happened last time affected Mark more than I realized.”

“What do you mean?”

“We talked about it a little because I knew he'd hear the town gossip and I wanted him to know the truth. What I didn't realize was that he heard a lot more than I ever knew, and he felt like Tom put my life in danger.”

“In a way, he did.”

“It's not like Mark to hold a grudge though.”

“We know he's capable of it.”

“Osborne nearly got him and Cassie killed, I can understand that one.”

“You're his family, Lucas. Before Milly and Cassie entered the equation, you were solely his world. Birch rocked that world. It'll take time, just be patient like I said.”

“What are your feelings about it, Micah?”

“I don't trust him right now, but he has as much right as anyone else to be here.”

Lucas nodded in understanding as he stood to leave.

“I better get on home before Milly starts to worry.”

“Oh, Lucas, I had a favor to ask.”

“What is it?”

“Can you help out for a week, starting Thursday?”

“What happened to this being temporary?”

“It is temporary,” Micah replied with a grin.

“Sure. Where's everybody going to be?”

“Ned got an assignment to transfer a prisoner and needed Johnny to go with him.”

“And where are you going to be?”

“I got called to Denver for some convention.”

“I thought they didn't waste time on teaching the old dogs new tricks,” Lucas teased.

“You better watch it. This “old dog” could ruin “The Rifleman's” reputation in five minutes flat.”

“Have a good night, Micah,” Lucas chuckled.

“Tell the family I said hello.”


3MC3

“Cassie, could you hand me the scissors?” Milly asked as she gave her needle and thread on last pull.

Not hearing a response, Milly looked up to see Cassie staring out the window.

“Cassie?”

About ten seconds passed before Cassie looked at her aunt and replied.

“Yes?”

“Where did you go?” Milly chuckled as she reached over to grab the scissors.

“...Sorry, did I miss something?”

“Never mind,” Milly laughed. “You seem quite deep in thought this morning.”

Cassie shrugged as she looked back down at the curtain she was sewing and began working again.

“...Cassie, are you alright?”

“Of course,” she replied with a weak smile. “How’s Lydia's blanket coming?”

“I just have the initials to put on there, then I'm done. What sounds good for supper?”

“Anything, really.”

“Why don't we have fried chicken? It's been a while.”

“Sounds fine,” Cassie replied, staring back out the window.

Milly shook her head in confusion and went back to work.


Several hours later, Rachael arrived home from school shortly before Mark and Lucas got back from working the cattle. When Lucas entered the kitchen, he was pleasantly surprised by the aroma that greeted him.

“Well Mark, looks like it's your lucky day,” Lucas said as he went to kiss his wife. “It's been a long time since you've made your friend chicken, Milly.”

“I figured it was about time, wouldn't you say, Mark?” Milly asked.

Mark replied with a shrug as he went to give Cassie a long kiss.

As Lucas went to change, Mark started to set the table.

“Don't worry about it, Mark,” Milly stated. “Rachael already set the table in the dining room.”

Yet Mark kept working on his task.

“Mark.”

“Yes, Ma?”

“I said Rachael already set the table in the dining room.”

“Sorry,” Mark replied as he started putting the plates back in the cabinet.

“Long day?”

“It wasn't too bad.”

Milly watched Mark walk beside his wife and take her hand. Neither one said anything, but Milly knew they were communicating; she could see it in their eyes.

After supper and the evening chores, everyone sat out on the front porch; Lydia in Lucas’s arms. It was a strangely quiet evening, void of the banter that could almost always be heard on the McCain property.
Shortly after Rachael went to bed, Mark and Cassie went home for the evening, leaving Lucas and Milly alone with their sleeping daughter.

“Lucas, Cassie's been acting strange all day. I thought it might just be an off day for her, but when Mark came home… I don't know. Something is just off.”

“Mark wasn't himself today, either. He was extremely distracted while we were working. I couldn't help but notice how reserved and drab they both seemed this evening.”

“What do you think is wrong?”

“I don't know. ... I guess it could be about Birch.”

Milly nodded, not having considered the possibility before.

“You're probably right.” Milly paused briefly. “But did you see how little of their supper they both ate? Fried chicken is their favorite!”

“Mark probably has Cassie worried. I'm sure it'll be fine after they have a chance to get to know Tom.”

“I hope so.”

Lucas looked down at the child in his arms and smiled.

“She's going to have such an easier childhood than Mark. Milly, sometimes I wonder if I should have stayed in Enid. Raised Mark there, let him grow up around family…”

“You and I both know that wouldn't have worked; not with Klarissa's situation.”

“...And then I wouldn't have met you, either. Still, I wonder what I could've done to make his childhood easier.”

“No childhood lacking a mother is easy. You did your best, Lucas, and you did a wonderful job. Here… there… anywhere, people like Birch or Neff would've showed up. Whether it be North Fork or New York, you still would've always stood up for what was right, and there still would have been situations we would much rather not have seen Mark go through. But it molded him into a wonderful man, and he doesn't regret his upbringing.”

There was a brief silence before Lucas changed the subject again.

“How were you feeling today?”

“It wasn't one of my best days, but it wasn't my worst, either.”

“Is that medicine Doc gave you for the nerve pain still helping?”

“Lucas, I can't take it while I'm nursing Lydia!” Milly replied, shocked.

“How long have you been off your medication?”

“Since I found out I was pregnant. I wasn't going to take any risks, Doc said some medicines can affect newborns.”

“How are you handling it? Before, you could hardly go one day without it.”

“I've healed quite a bit since last summer; the pain isn't as intense. I am looking forward to when I can take it again, though. Some days a little relief would be very welcome.”

“Anything else I should know?” Lucas asked, a little irritated.

“Lucas, I wasn't trying to keep anything from you,” Milly assured. “I assumed you had picked up on it based on what Doc said at the appointments.”

“You didn't marry the smartest man alive,” Lucas said with a smile before leaning over to give his wife a kiss.

 

“What do you have to do tomorrow?”

“I'm helping Tom look at a few spreads before I pick up some supplies in town, and then Mark and I are building a corral for the yearlings.”

“Wasn't Mark just in town yesterday?”

“The order wasn't in yet, they said it'd be there tomorrow.”

“How does he feel about you helping Tom?”

“He's not keen on the idea, but he respects that I believe Tom has turned over a new leaf.”

“That's good. I certainly hope he has.”

“...You and me both, Milly.”


4MC4

“Sally, over here!” Milly called as she waved to her niece and husband who were getting off the train.

The two quickly made their way to the large group awaiting them and greeted the family. When Sally was done greeting Cassie and her aunts, she said hello to Lucas before turning to Mark. She was a bit taken aback at how much he had changed.

“Is that really you, Mark?”

“In the flesh,” Mark replied with a shrug.

“My, how you've…”

“Grown?” Mark suggested.

“I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude-”

“It's been years, we've both done a lot of changing. I see the years have been kind to you. And this must be your husband…?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Sally replied. “Mark, this is my husband, Micah. Micah, this is Cassie’s husband, Mark, and his father, Lucas McCain.”

“I've heard a lot about both of you, it's a pleasure.”

“Pleasure is ours,” Lucas replied with a charismatic smile.

“And who's this?” Sally asked, referring to a young woman towards the back of the crowd.

“This is Rachael,” Milly began. “She's Lucas’s niece and is living with us. Rachael, this is my niece Sally, and her husband, Micah.”

Sally immediately went to give Rachael a hug, shocking her a bit, but she quickly returned the embrace.

“Why don't we get your luggage in the buckboard, and then head over to the hotel for supper?” Lucas suggested.

“Sounds wonderful, I've been wanting to eat there again. I don't know what it is about it, but I'd say your hotel has better food than any of the restaurants in Denver.” Sally replied gleefully.

As the group headed towards the hotel, Sally asked where Ned was.

“...I thought he was based out of North Fork?”

“He is,” Catherine began to reply. “But he had to transport a prisoner and couldn't get out of it. He should be back in about a week.”

“I certainly hope we can see him before we have to leave. Micah wants a rematch.”

“Rematch?” Catherine inquired.

“Last time we played, he cheated,” Micah said.

“Played what, exactly?” Catherine asked with raised eyebrows.

“...Just a little bit of poker.”

“I knew those camping trips weren't a good idea...” Catherine replied as she shook her head.

“Don't worry, your husband always made sure we took our money back at the end of the night.”

“Well I'm glad about that,” Catherine replied.

“You all grew up together?” Mark asked curiously.

“We all lived in the same town for several years.” Micah let out a chuckle before going on, “Cassie and I were convinced we were going to marry each other.”

Mark stopped walking and looked at his wife; her cheeks turning a dark red.

“You little-”

“You mean she didn't tell you?” Sally asked before chuckling along with Micah, Catherine, and Milly. “I think it's hilarious.”

Cassie couldn't help but crack an embarrassed smile as Mark realized he'd been worried about nothing the last few months.

“Well that makes me feel a lot better,” Mark replied as he joined in the laughter. “Micah, I assume you know about Sally's visit a few years ago?”

“She told me all about it when the two of you got engaged.”

With a jovial tone having been set for the evening, the family had an enjoyable dinner filled with light-hearted conversation and banter. After dinner, Mark drove everyone else back to the ranch while Lucas headed to the Marshal's office for the night.

“Enjoy your dinner?” Micah asked as he got up from the desk.

“Of course, Lou had the night off.”

“One of these days you're going to go too far and she'll have Johnny throw you into jail.”

“What about you?”

“I'll be right beside you.”

Lucas laughed and said goodnight to his friend before deciding to make the rounds. As he walked, Tom came up beside him.

“What are you doing out here?”

“I'm helping Micah out while the rest of his deputies are out of town.”

“How many deputies does the town need?”

“One,” Lucas laughed. “But it's kinda complicated. You decide on a ranch yet?”

“I like the spread about five minutes out of town. Looks like it was used for horses, but it'll work fine for cattle, too.”

“It was, but you're right about it working for cattle.”

“It was strange though, I went to check out the barn a little more, and I found a small sack of wilted rose petals in the corner of a stall.”

“Rose petals?” Lucas asked curiously before he realized why they were there. “Those… those have been there for nearly a year and a half. Mark must've forgotten about them.”

“Why would your son have rose petals?”

“He proposed to his wife out there.”

“Of all places, why there?”

“She lived out there for about two years and they made a lot of memories in that barn.”

“That makes sense then,” Tom replied with a shrug. “Anyway, that's the one I'm hoping to get, just as soon as I can get enough money for a down payment.”

Tom walked with Lucas as he made the rest of his rounds before leaving for the boarding house. Lucas returned to the jail and turned in for the night.

Although the town was fairly quiet throughout the evening, Lucas had a hard time staying asleep. When he was on duty, he never got a good night's rest, and this week had been no exception.

The next morning, Lucas was pouring himself coffee when the door to the office opened. He looked up to see Rachael standing inside the door.

“What are you doing out here so early?”

“I wanted to talk to you before church if that's alright.”

Lucas could hear the hesitancy in Rachael's voice. He motioned for her to close the door and take a seat before sitting across from her.

“Something the matter?” Lucas asked with concern.

“Uncle Lucas, I had an absolutely miserable existence one year ago. Hiding, cowering, having to sneak everywhere I went. The only thing that made life worth the living was my Ma. And then my father took her away from me. I... I still have nightmares about what he did to us. I don't know if I'll ever get over it. Even though he's dead, it's like he haunts me. Everywhere I go, everything I do; I feel like he's still there… in a strange way, still a part of me. And I don't want him there. You and Aunt Milly have given me a new life, a new hope. And I can't thank you enough for it. I'll miss my mother my whole life, but I want to move on. I want to let go of the past. I don't want to live in fear of the life I once had. And part of how I'd like to move forward… well, I would like your blessing to take on my mother's maiden name. My mother, you, Aunt Milly, Mark… you've all made me who I am. And I'm not a Davis.”

Lucas took a moment to process everything his niece had just told him. It was clear she had thought long and hard about this, and he was glad to see her taking steps forward.

“You don't need my blessing, Rachael…”

“But I'd like it. Uncle Lucas, you've been more of a father to me this last year than my own father had been over fifteen years. I value what you think, and I want to know you approve.”

“Of course I do, Rachael. I think your mother would be honored that you chose to take on her maiden name. But no matter what you choose to go by, you're a part of this family, and we love you.”

Lucas came around the desk and gave his niece a long hug. As he let go and looked down, he could tell there was more on her mind.

“Something else you want to talk about?”

“...One day, I'll ask for it back...” Rachael pulled her revolver from her saddlebag. “...But until then, could you hold onto this for me?”

Lucas took the handgun and put it on the desk. He gently smiled as he took the gun from Rachael, understanding it was a difficult decision for her to make.

“I'd be happy to.”


5MC5

“And this is after the cattle drive?” Micah asked in amazement as he looked out at the McCain herd.

Mark laughed at how taken aback the man was.

“This is small compared to our neighbor’s herd.”

“How do you do it all?”

“A lot of long days,” Mark chuckled.

“Just you and your father?”

“We hire hands for the cattle drive, and my Uncle Johnny helps out here and there, but most of the time it's just the two of us. Sometimes Rachael will help check on the cattle.”

“Ever thought about hiring some hands?”

“We used to hire the occasional hand when I was younger and couldn't really be much help, but we haven't really needed help until recently. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until next year to hire someone.”

“How can you wait with this much cattle?”

“We've had our fair share of difficulties this last year, don't have the money to hire one. But we'll make it through.”

“Sounds like ranching requires as much faith as doctoring.”

“You better believe it.” Mark paused briefly before changing the subject. “So how'd you and Sally end up together?”

“As I said, we all grew up with each other. By the time I was thirteen, Cassie and I realized we were simply good friends and decided to leave it at that. As I got older, I started taking an interest in medicine and spent a lot of time at the clinic, where Sally often helped her father. This simply aided our friendship, at first. But after I came back from my first semester of college, we both realized it was more. After years of courtship, I proposed with two and a half years of schooling left. It was a long wait, but worth it. I don't know how I got so lucky.” Micah shook his head as he smiled. “What about you and Cassie? I only heard things here and there.”

In an instant, memories of the good and bad flooded Mark's mind. He tried to quickly reply to Micah before he got lost in the details of everything that had happened.

“I… I helped out around their place, working with horses for Marshal Osborne. Cassie, Ned, Anna, and I all became good friends, but Cassie and I held something deeper. We started courting two years after they moved here, and celebrated our first wedding anniversary in August.”

“I didn't realize how far ahead of us you were, congratulations!”

“Thanks.” Mark briefly paused before going on. “Just don't get so caught up in looking to the future that you miss the now. I can't believe the first year of our marriage is gone. Take it in while you can, and enjoy every stage of life while you can.”


Mark spent a little while longer showing Micah around the property before they returned to the homestead. The two rode up to the barn just as Johnny was pulling his buggy to a stop. He let Maddy down before walking around the buggy and helping Lou down, who held a sleeping Madison on her arms.

Maddy started slowly walking to Lucas and Milly’s front porch and calling for, “Cass”.”

Mark and Micah greeted Johnny and Lou before the three men started taking care of the horses. Lou followed her daughter up the porch and opened the door so they could head inside.

“I thought I heard horses,” Milly said as she came into the front room. “I'm glad you could make it.”

“Johnny and Ned got home this afternoon, later than expected. Sorry we're late.”

“No worries, dinner will be another half hour yet, and I still don't know where Lucas is.”

“Maddy, stop right there,” Lou called after her daughter who was headed for the kitchen.

Maddy stopped and turned around with a confused look on her face.

“Cass?” She innocently replied.

Milly let out a chuckle before picking her niece up.

“Cassie is up the hill using her oven. She'll be down in a while.”

“Me go?” Maddy asked as she pointed towards the general direction of Mark and Cassie’s house.

“Not now,” Lou began. “Cassie will be here in a while.”

Milly offered Lou a seat before the two sat down.

“It amazes me that she remembers Cassie so well,” Lou commented. “She hasn't spent a lot of time with her the last year and a half.”

“But Cassie was spending almost every day with her,” Milly reminded.

“I suppose. Do you need any more help with dinner?”

“No, Cassie and Sally did most of it. We just needed a second oven for dessert, and the girls are up there now.”

“I have a feeling it's apple pie?”

“Mark, Sally, and Cassie insisted that Micah try my apple pie before he and Sally leave. I haven't had time until today to make one.”

“I can't believe they leave tomorrow; it seems they just got here.”

“I was hoping they could stay longer, but they have to visit some of Micah's relatives before they return to Denver. Samuel has to take a trip in less than two weeks and Micah has to be back to take care of the clinic.”

“Well, I'm glad they made the trip. They're a wonderful couple, and it was wonderful meeting them.”

As the evening pressed on, family members began to trickle into the house. Ned and Catherine showed up shortly before Lucas.

“Where have you been?” Milly asked as she set supper on the table.

“Just a little trouble in town, and then I had to put Nils in charge before I could leave.”

“That's the one problem with having the three of you as deputies,” Milly chuckled.

“What is?” Johnny asked.

“Having a family get together is near impossible.”

“Having a family get together is nearly impossible, period, with our family,” Mark laughed.

Lucas said grace before everyone sat down for dinner. Halfway through the meal, Micah asked for everyone's attention.

“Sally and I have an announcement to make…”

“You're moving to North Fork?” Ned joked.

“No, not quite,” Micah laughed. “Sally and I found out a few weeks ago that we're expecting.”

The room exploded with congratulations and light-hearted banter, as Milly asked Sally when she was due. As conversation continued, Mark looked at Cassie to see how she was handling it. She had a gentle smile, and Mark could tell she was happy for her cousin.

Later that evening, everyone sat in the front room conversing. Ned asked how Sally’s father was handling the fact that he was going to be a grandpa.

“Oh, he's ready for grandchildren,” Sally replied with a smile.

“Speaking of grandchildren,” Lucas began. “Mark, when am I ever going to see some running around here?”

Shock came over Johnny’s face as he looked from Lucas to where Mark and Cassie sat. Cassie gave a polite smile as Mark gave her hand a slight squeeze.

“You'll have to take that one up with God,” Mark replied as everyone gave a slight chuckle.

Johnny quickly changed the subject to get the subject off Mark and Cassie. He could see the discouragement in their eyes, but they kept strong smiles on for everyone else.

As the evening drew on, Johnny announced that the Gibbs family needed to take their leave.

“Mark, would you mind helping me with the team?”

Mark nodded in reply and followed his uncle out the door, grabbing his rifle on the way.

Once they got inside the barn, Johnny stopped and turned towards his nephew.

“You haven't told them yet?”

“Cassie's not ready.”

“Mark, I'm sorry. You and I both know that if your Pa had known-”

“It's not your fault.”

“You two seemed to handle it fairly well…”

“It's not the first time someone has brought it up.”

“Mark, your parents, especially your Pa would understand if you told them.”

“I know, but Cassie says she can't face them. She hasn't even told her mother.”

“Why not?” Johnny asked in confusion.

“Uncle Johnny, you know how most of the world sees it. They base a woman's value on how many children she can have. They say she is to blame when she loses a baby. No matter how many times I try to tell her otherwise… Cassie still feels ashamed.”

“Are you two coping alright, besides that?”

“As well as can be expected. ...I never had a chance to thank you for doing that cross.”

“It was the least I could do. If there's anything else, let me know.”

“Thank you, but I think we just have to give it time.”


6MC6

“No, Pa,” Mark firmly stated.

“Mark, he needs the money, he's willing to work for it, and doesn't mind waiting to be paid until the cattle sell. You and I both know we need a hand.”

“We've handled it fine so far, we can wait until the right person comes along. Uncle Johnny doesn't mind helping out, either.”

“Mark, why won't you give the man a second chance?”

“We've been over this, Pa. I don't trust Birch. I honestly don't understand how you can after what he did.”

“Because he's my friend.”

“Well, he's not mine.”

“Mark, will you at least just talk to the man?”

“Pa, you don't understand.” Mark started out the door as Lucas let out a frustrated sigh.

Lucas stood in the barn for several moments, debating what to do. Finally, Lucas walked after his son.

The tall rancher caught up with his son and caught Mark’s shoulder, turning him around.

“What don't I understand, Mark?”

“You may not see Birch as a threat, but I do.” Mark held up his hand, holding his thumb and index finger an inch apart as he continued. “Pa, I've come this close to losing you, Ma, and Cassie in the last eighteen months. I'm not ready to be optimistic about someone who's hurt us before. Please, I'm asking you to give me time. Things are finally settling down. Please don't stir them up again.”

“...Alright, Mark.”

“Thank you.”

Mark started to walk away, but Lucas stopped him and put his hands on his son's shoulders.

“Mark, we may not see eye to eye on this, but I want you to know that I will respect your position, and I love you, Son.”

“I love you too, Pa.”


7MC7

October turned to November and the McCains anxiously awaited the arrival of Lucas’s brother and his family.

The day finally came when they would arrive, and Milly watched as Lucas nervously ran his hand up and down his rifle.

“Lucas, it's going to be alright,” Milly chuckled. “What are you so nervous about?”

“I don't know,” Lucas said as he let out a frustrated sigh. “Where is that train?”

Mark laughed at his Pa as he put an arm around Cassie.

Several minutes later, the train pulled into the station and began to settle. The first few passengers were apparent businessmen, but suddenly several children spilled out onto the platform. A man and woman came out behind them, calling several names. Finally, the man had their attention.

“Best behavior or I'll have to borrow your uncle's woodshed for a few hours.” The man opened up to scan the platform, revealing a sleeping toddler on his shoulder.

“Dan??” Lucas called as he made his way towards his brother.

“Lucas!”

The two men met and shook hands, wide smiles on their faces.

“Too long, Lucas. It's been much too long.”

“I can see that,” Lucas laughed. “These can't all be yours?”

“They are, and we're missing two. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Let me introduce you to my family.”

Lucas and Dan both took steps towards their families before bringing the two together.

“This is my wife, Milly, and our daughter Lydia. Dan, you'll remember Mark.”

“Of course,” Dan replied as he shook Mark's hand. “And this must be your wife?”

“Uncle Dan, Aunt Hannah, I'd like you to meet Cassie,” Mark replied.

“It's wonderful to finally meet you, all of you,” Hannah said with a smile.

“... Where's Rachael?” Dan suddenly asked.

“She's in school, but she'll be out in a few hours.”

Dan nodded before going on, “Wel,l I suppose you're all wondering about this side of the McCain clan.” Dan turned to look at his family. “This is my wife, Hannah. Next to her is Julia, then Carson, Caleb, Jacqueline, William, and then Little Henry here decided to fall asleep five minutes before we arrived. Rebecca and Lee wish they could've come, but they had prior engagements.”

“We understand,” Lucas replied. “Why don't we… try, to load up in the buckboard and head to the ranch? It may be a little tight.”

“Sure, just let us stop by the hotel first.”

“We won't hear of it,” Milly replied. “You are our guests, and we expected to have you out at the ranch.”

“We couldn't ask you to put up eight people!” Hannah replied.

“There's plenty of room between the two houses,” Mark told his aunt.

“I'm not going to let you pay for a hotel room,” Lucas insisted.

“But-” Dan began.

“You best not argue with him, Uncle Dan,” Mark started. “He has authority to lock people up in this town.”

Dan gave in, and soon everyone was attempting to load up in the buckboard. Mark had ridden BlueBoy into town and offered to have Julia ride in front of him.

“Why does she get to ride the horse?” William, who Mark guessed to be six or seven, asked.

“Because I need you to be in charge of the back of the buckboard and make sure nothing falls out,” Mark replied. “But if you can't do it, I'm sure Julia-”

“Oh, no, I can do it!”

Mark smiled as he kicked BlueBoy and urged him forward.

On the way to the ranch, sleeping arrangements were discussed. It was decided that the girls would stay in Rachael's room, while Dan and Hannah stayed in what would eventually be Lydia's room. Mark and Cassie invited the boys to stay in their guest room, so they didn't take over Lucas and Milly’s sitting room.

It took a while to get everyone organized, but eventually, the families were settled. Mark took care of the horses, knowing his Pa and uncle needed some time to talk.

Lucas and Dan left the homestead and started a long walk on the property.

“Lucas, I'm sorry,” Dan simply began. “I had no right to blame you, I had no right to cut Klarissa off, and I had no right to distance myself for so long. I was young, foolish, and arrogant… and my little brother showed more maturity than I did. ...I'm sorry I wasn't there for you the way I should've been when Margaret died… and I hope you can forgive me.”

“Of course I can. Dan, we all attributed to the arguments, and I'm sorry for my part in them. I'm also sorry it took me so long to reach out to you.”

“Considering I'm the one that walked away, you shouldn't have needed to reach out. I should've come to you years ago.”

“It's in the past and the important thing is that we're here, now, brother.” Lucas offered his hand to Dan who gladly accepted it.

The two men continued walking a little farther before Dan finally asked the question that had been plaguing him for months.

“...What happened to Klarissa? Your letter was rather vague.”

Lucas let out a long sigh before turning towards his brother.

“Davis killed her. Apparently, their first few years of marriage were alright, but it didn't end well. He would beat both Klarissa and Rachael, threatened to kill them if they tried running. One day… he came home drunk and Rachael watched her father... throw Krissy into a wall. It killed her.”

“How'd Rachael end up here?”

“Klarissa told her that if anything ever happened, she needed to find me. Klarissa sent Rachael with a letter for me. Dan, Krissy knew she did wrong, she admitted it, and apologized for it. But she asked that I not hold what she did against Rachael, and give Rachael a home.”

“How did Rachael get here?”

“She rode the whole way. Outside of town, her horse threw her and she hit her head. For a long time, she didn't remember who she was. It finally came back to her.”

“...What aren't you telling me, Lucas?”

It may have been over ten years since they had seen each other, but Dan knew when his brother was holding someone back.

“Rachael's father came looking for her. He almost killed her. He would've if she… she hadn't shot him, first.”

“How old was she?”

“Fifteen.”

Dan shook his head in disgust as he turned away from Lucas.

“How could someone try to do that to an innocent fifteen-year-old girl?”

“I don't know, Dan. I don't understand it, and I never will.” Lucas paused before continuing. “But you'd never guess she went through what she did. She's her mother's daughter alright, rambunctious and full of life. She doesn't let anything stop her.”

“I'm glad to hear it. Lucas… does she know what happened between me and Krissy?”

“Yes, she does.”

“How did she react when you told her I was coming?”

“Dan, she was the one who suggested I write to you.”

“What?” Dan asked in astonishment.

“She wanted to meet you. She didn't understand why you disowned her mother, but she didn't let it stop her from moving on. She was so excited when you wrote back; you should've seen the look on her face.”

“Really?”

“You better believe it. This morning she was beaming with excitement. I was the closest to letting her skip school I've ever been.”

“I'm glad to hear it.”

“Dan… how's Joseph?”

“Stubborn as always. He has a wife and two children; Adam and Audra. He's still bent against Krissy, even after your letter.  One of these days the three of us need to sit down and settle all this once and for all.”

“...Does he still live in Enid?”

Dan looked at his brother, a bit surprised.

“...You haven't been back since… since she died, have you?”

“No, I haven't.” Lucas sighed heavily. “But one of these days, I need to.”


8MC8

Mark watched as his father and uncle disappeared from view. He prayed their discussion would end well… too many years had gone by since they'd seen each other.

Mark went back to work and got the horses settled in their stalls before working on the rest of the barn chores.

Quite a while had passed when Mark heard a horse riding into the yard. He walked outside expecting to see Rachael… but instead found Tom Birch.

“What are you doing here?” Mark demanded.

“Look, I know I'm the last person you want to see. But I couldn't help it. Rachael got hurt in town and Doc said someone needed to get you or Lucas.”

“What happened??”

“Nothing serious, but her horse got spooked on the way home and threw her. Doc thinks she has a slight concussion and between that and her sprained ankle, he doesn't want her to ride home.”

Mark turned and started hooking the team up again. To his surprise, Birch was soon there, helping him.

After the team was ready, Mark went inside to tell his Ma what had happened.

“Where's Lucas?” Milly asked.

“He could be anywhere, I don't have time to find him if I want to be back before dark. We'll be home soon.”

Mark walked out of the house and climbed up into the buckboard. He urged the team forward and started towards town, Birch following close behind.

When he got to the clinic, Mark rushed inside calling for the Doctor.

“Room three!” Mark heard from behind the walls.

Mark hurried to the room to find Rachael on the bed, an annoyed frown on her face.

“Mark, what is it about you McCains and not following orders?” Doc Burrage asked, exasperated. “I can't leave her alone for one second.”

“I sprained my ankle, I didn't break my arm.”

“Young lady, you were unconscious.”

“What?” Mark asked.

“It's nothing,” Rachael assured.

“Mark, Liberty threw Rachael on the way home from school. Rachael was out cold in the middle of nowhere. Thank goodness Birch was out there, or she might have gotten pneumonia.”

“Can I go home now?” Rachael asked.

“I’ll check and see if your clothes are dry so you can change out of that nightgown.”

The doctor left the room, leaving the two cousins alone. Mark eyed Rachael curiously before finally speaking.

“You took the shortcut, didn't you?”

Rachael’s jaw dropped open as confusion covered her face.

“How- how'd you know?”

“I was looking for signs of trouble on the way out here. Liberty should have left signs of throwing you. But I didn't see any.”

“I just wanted to get home.”

Mark laughed as he shook his head.

“You sound like me eight years ago.”

“... I'll tell your Pa.”

“I think he'll appreciate that.”

The doctor came back in to give Rachael her clothes before he and Mark walked out to the waiting room. Mark was surprised to still find Birch there.

“Everything going to be alright?”

“She'll be fine,” Doc answered.

“...Well, I best be going.”

Birch started walking to the door, but Mark's voice stopped him.

“Tom…” Mark hesitated before going on. “Thank you.”

“Don't mention it.”

“Tom, I… I still don't know whether to trust you or not. But I guess you have been here a while and the town's still in one piece.”

“Mark, I know what I did was wrong. You have every right to be leery of me, but I appreciate what you're saying.”

Birch started to turn the doorknob as Mark's voice stopped him again.

“You know, they say to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Mark hesitated again before going on. “...You want to join us for supper at the ranch?”

“It's been a while since I've had a home cooked meal.”


9MC9

Everyone impatiently waited for Mark to return home with Rachael. When they finally heard the buckboard outside, Lucas and Milly hurried out the door.

“Rachael, are you alright?” Milly worriedly asked.

“I'm fine, I promise.”

Rachael started getting out of the buckboard, but Mark cleared his throat. Rachael sighed and retrieved her crutches before getting down.

“I invited a guest for supper, I hope you don't mind,” Mark told his parents.

They both finally looked away from Rachael and realized Tom was standing by his horse.

Lucas looked back and forth between Mark and Birch, confusion written all over his face. When Mark didn't explain, Lucas simply invited his friend inside as Milly helped Rachael up the porch stairs.

When Rachael entered the house, Dan was shocked. He made his way to her, tears beginning to form in his eyes.

“You… you look so much like her.”

Rachael could see he wanted to embrace her, but he hesitated.

“Could you do me a favor?” Rachael whispered.

Dan nodded in confusion.

“Could you hug me so I have an excuse to drop these crutches?”

As his brother and niece embraced, Lucas stepped back outside and found Mark putting the team away.

“What changed?” Lucas finally asked.

“I'm considering the possibility that he's changed.”

“Worst case, you'll get to keep an eye on me,” Tom stated from the barn door.

“Worst case,” Mark agreed. “But I'm hoping we'll do better than that.”
 

School Days

Morgan's Corner

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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