The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

New Beginnings
Chapter12
Written by Morgan

Lucas looked out the kitchen towards his son's home, a mischievous grin crossing his face.

“Don't even think about it,” Milly ordered as she wheeled herself towards him.

“Think about what?” Lucas innocently asked.

“You know very well what you were thinking,” Milly declared as she pointed a finger at him. “You will give your son and his wife some privacy. They know they're welcome for breakfast, and will come down when they're good and ready.”

“Maybe they overslept; we wouldn't want them to miss the train…”

Milly smiled as she rolled her eyes, knowing her husband was teasing.

“Lucas, would you mind handing me the bowls?”

Lucas nodded and retrieved them from the cabinet.

“I think we need to do a little rearranging,” Lucas commented.

“It would be nice to have more things at my level. When you and Mark aren't around I find myself in a predicament.”

“How are you feeling today?”

“... I'm here,” Milly replied with a gentle smile.

“I know, and I'm thankful for it. But I want to know what's going on so I can help you.”

“Don’t worry, I'll be fine.”

“I'll feel better if I know you're telling me everything. Please Milly, no secrets. Let's not start that again.”

“... I've had worse days, but I've also had better. The pain medicine just doesn't seem to be working the way it use to.”

“We'll talk to Doc after we drop Cassie and Mark off at the train station.” Lucas let out a slight chuckle. “It was strange, not hearing him bang around the kitchen this morning or chop wood.”

“I know what you mean. Their house has been there for so many weeks, but until we came home last night and Mark wasn't here… it hadn't sunk in that this wasn't going to be Mark's home anymore. It's bittersweet… but I'm excited for Mark and Cassie. It's time for them to start their own life.” Milly paused before continuing, “What do you have to do today when we get back from town?”

“Not much. I'll check on the cattle, but that's about it. I figured today might be a good day for lunch at the hotel.”

“You're spoiling me too much.”

“What's wrong with taking my wife to lunch?”

“I know you're trying to be sweet, and I appreciate it, but you know as well as I do that those medical bills were not cheap. We need to save the money.”

“We’ll be extra careful about spending for a while, but we'll make it; one meal out isn't going to break us. Mark and I have been building this ranch for almost ten years and had money set aside for such an event. The Good Lord's done a lot of blessing, and we're going to be fine, I already paid the bills.”

“...Lucas, I am sorry to have put this burden on you. Financially and… emotionally. Seems all I do is complicate your life...”

Lucas took his wife's hand in his own and gave her a gentle, loving smile.

“Never in a million years would you be a burden to me. When I asked you to be my wife, I asked you to let me take care of you, to love you in a way I hadn't before. No, seeing you so close to death wasn't easy… especially June third… but that day passed, as did the others. And now, you and I are here, together.” Lucas leaned forward and gave his wife a long, loving kiss.

“I hope we're not interrupting anything,” Mark stated with a sheepish grin as he walked through the door behind his wife.

Lucas and Milly looked up to see their son and daughter-in-law standing in the kitchen.

“Well it's about time you two got up,” Lucas teased as he headed towards the stove.

“Are you two ready for your trip?” Milly inquired as she began setting the table; Cassie soon assisting her.

“I think we have everything packed, although your son almost forgot to pack his tie,” Cassie replied.

“I didn't forget it,” Mark began to defend. “I just don't see why I need to bring one.”

“You will never outgrow your dislike for ties…” Milly mused.

“At least I wore one for the wedding.”

“Only because you knew a certain lady would tan your hide if you hadn't,” Lucas commented.

“Aunt Milly?” Cassie inquired.

“Lou,” father and son replied.

The foursome continued working on breakfast as laughter and banter bounced around the room.

Mid-morning, they all headed to town so Mark and Cassie could catch their train, as well as see Anna off on the stage coach. A fairly large group was on the platform in front of the stage, wishing Anna a good trip. Lou, Johnny, Maddy; Catherine, Ned, the McCains; Doc Burrage and Micah all gave the young lady a proper send off as she began a new chapter in her life.

As Cassie and Anna went to embrace, there were already tears in their eyes.

“Be sure to write,” Cassie told her sister. “... I'm excited for you… but this is going to be difficult.”

“I know,” Anna replied. “But I'll be back for Christmas in no time.”

Ned gave his sister a hug, and whispered, “I'm proud of you,” in her ear, before continuing at normal volume, “You make sure all those boys in Missouri know you've got a big brother who doesn't take kindly to their little sisters being courted.”

“You took kindly to Mark courting me,” Cassie replied.

“We had an… understanding…” Mark smirked.

Cassie looked back and forth between her brother and husband.

“Ned, just what happened between you two?”

“We’re good friends… that's all that matters.”

“I’m sorry to break this up,” the driver began. “ But we have to get out of here to make it to Newton in time for the train.”

The family bid their final goodbyes before waving to Anna as the stage coach took her farther away from home.

The small group continued on to the train station to say goodbye to the newlyweds.

“Have a good trip, Son,” Lucas said as he shook Mark’s hand before pulling him into an embrace.

The last person Mark went to hug was his Ma, who, as always, carried a gentle, loving smile on her face.

“Have a good time,” Milly said as she kissed her son. “...And Mark?”

“Yes, Ma?”

“Thank you for your letter.”

“I meant every word.”

“ALL ABOARD!” The conductor yelled.

Mark escorted Cassie onto the train, and the two waved to their family from their seats as the train pulled away.

Lucas stood, staring after the train for quite some time. He couldn't believe his son was leaving on his honeymoon...he couldn't believe the son he stood waving at was a man. He couldn't… no... as Lucas thought about it, he realized he could believe all of it; yet it was bittersweet as Lucas realized his son was experiencing the beginnings of a life without him.

1MC1

After several days of travel and multiple hours of trying to register, Anna sat alone in her dorm as everything finally sunk in.

“What am I doing here?” Anna thought.

She had just left her family and friends, and was going to spend the next two years with complete strangers. Why did she ever talk to herself into going to school? Was she smart enough? Was she competent? Was she-

“...Can I help you?” A woman asked as she entered the room with her bags. Anna guessed she was in her early twenties.

“I don't believe so…?”

“You must be waiting for a relative, then?”

“No, I'm not. I'm Anna,” she answered, offering her hand.

The woman stood there, a bit dumbfounded.

“You mean… you're enrolled here? You can't be more than sixteen!”

“I'm seventeen, actually,” Anna replied, dropping her hand. “And I assume you would be my roommate?”

“Ye...yes...” the woman hesitantly replied. “I'm sorry, forgive my lack of tact. You must be a very bright young lady to have been accepted. I'm Brooke Stanton, a pleasure to meet you.”

The women shook hands before Brooke placed her things on the bed opposite of Anna.

“I suppose seventeen isn't such a big deal, I'm only twenty-two myself.”

“One does do quite a bit of growing up in five years, but I suppose it's a little too late for me to wait.”

“Not that I believe you should, anyway. As I said before, you must be very intelligent… as well as mature to be accepted at such an age. I'm sure your family is proud.”

“Thank you.”

“Where are you from?” Brooke inquired as she began to unpack her things, Anna soon following her lead.

“North Fork, New Mexico.”

“New Mexico?” The woman asked with a bit of shock. “Don’t your parents find such a place…” Brooke stopped herself before continuing. “I'm sorry, again.”

“You've grown up in the city, haven't you?”

“Is it that obvious?” She asked, knowing it was.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but New Mexico is just like any state of America… It's just not a state quite yet. We have our fair share of crime, just like New York or Colorado, but it's not as bad as everyone makes it out to be.”

“What about the Indians?”

Anna let out a quiet chuckle.

“I've lived there for three years and never saw one. Can't say the same about Kansas or Virginia.”

“Sounds like you've been all over the place. This is the farthest I've ever been from home.”

“My father was a U.S. Marshal, so we traveled a lot. Where is your home?”

“Just across the border, in Kentucky.”

“Can I ask what drove you here?”

“...My mother was a nurse, a long time ago. After her passing… it just felt right. We had talked about me becoming a nurse… and I think it's what she would have wanted.”

“I'm sorry for your loss,” Anna offered, noticing the death still weighed heavily on the young woman's heart.

“Thank you.” There was a slight pause before she went on, “And what about you? You must be pretty sure about this if you're here at seventeen.”

“I don't really know how it happened… it just did. I wanted to do something in my life to help people… and this seemed like the best way for me to do so.”

“Well after we finish unpacking, why don't we try to find the dining hall?”

“Sounds good to me, I haven't eaten since breakfast.”

“Mercy, girl! You must be half starved!”

The two women finished unpacking and set out to find their way to supper.
Over the course of the evening, Anna got to know Brooke quite well and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly a friendship began to form. Although the woman had quite a few misgivings about life out west, Anna found it amusing and politely corrected Brooke’s thinking. She supposed she had once maintained the same fantasies before moving to Utah in her younger years.

Anna soon fell into the routine of the school and was well accepted and liked by almost everyone… although there were one or two women that Anna felt had taken a distinct disliking to her. Regardless, Anna tried her hardest to be polite and simply avoid them when possible.

Classes and work at the clinic kept Anna extremely busy, which kept her mind off home. Yet there were some nights she would wake and wouldn't be able to fall asleep again as she contemplated the loved ones she had left in New Mexico.

Her Ma, Ned… Lucas, Milly, Cassie, Mark; Lou, Maddy, Johnny… Micah… Doc Burrage; Lucy, Wendy… they all meant so much to her.

...Yet there was one name that still tugged at her mind. But how could she love him after all he had done? How could she forgive him for almost getting Mark and Cassie killed? Her father had hurt her more than she knew was possible. Why then, would her heart not dismiss him from her life?

2MC2

“Now will you tell me where we're going?” Cassie asked as she and Mark boarded their second train.

“No,” Mark replied with an ornery grin. “I want it to be a surprise.”

“Just a hint?”

“I can't do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because I married a smart woman, and she'd figure it out.”

“If I guessed it would you tell me?”

“Nope.”

“Mark McCain, you're impossible!”

“Yes ma'am,” Mark replied before stealing a kiss.

As the train travelled across the land, Mark and Cassie found themselves lost in conversation. They talked of their childhoods and of their future. They talked of home, and of family and friends who lived abroad.

The sun was setting and Cassie and Mark had finished the supper Mark had packed quite a while ago.

“Is the train stopping soon, or should I try to sleep?” Cassie finally asked, still unable to get Mark to divulge his secret.

“You'll want to get some shut eye, it will be a while yet.”

Cassie leaned against Mark as she closed her eyes, taking in the moment.

“I love you,” Mark whispered as he pulled a blanket over his wife.

*****

The next morning, Cassie and Mark were eating a late breakfast on the train with their window shade drawn. Mark was surprised that his wife hadn't asked about their destination yet, but she didn't fail him.

“How much longer until we arrive at… wherever we're going?”

“You've always wanted to see the ocean, right?”

“...Yes?”

Mark reached over and moved the blind so Cassie could see out the window.

Cassie was amazed as the large body of water came into view… never seeing so much in one place.

“Oh, Mark…”

“Are you still upset I wouldn't tell you?”

“Yes,” Cassie teased. “It's beautiful.”

The train took Cassie from the view and headed towards a city.

“We're staying at a hotel not too far from the beach. There are also several places for you to do some shopping, and a friend of mine told me about a wonderful restaurant out here.”

“Mark, this can't be cheap…”

“I have the money.”

“But how-”

“Trust me,” Mark said as he started gathering their luggage. “You don't want to know.”

Cassie gave Mark a disapproving look as she realized where the money for this was probably coming from. However, she couldn't hold it for too long when Mark gave her an innocent, boyish grin.

“Just promise me playing poker isn't going to become a regular habit of yours, Mr. McCain.”

“Only when there are criminals to track down.”

“Could you imagine if Hawz knew you were using his money to pay for our honeymoon?”

“It'd probably infuriate him to no end,” Mark slightly chuckled… but then he suddenly stopped.

“What is it?” Cassie asked.

“It’s nothing really… just the memory of Ma and Pa coming back home from your Aunt's.”

Cassie put her hand on Mark's arm in understanding.

“That's all in the past, Mark. Hawz is in prison now.”

“I wonder what would've happened if I hadn't left when I did…”

“But you did leave that night. And you found them. And they're back home… and we are going to have a wonderful trip; because I married the most wonderful man.”

“You better be careful… you keep talking like that and you might get another kiss stolen from you.”

“You’re not stealing…” Cassie said before giving Mark a quick kiss. “If I give it to you.”

The train came to a stop and the young couple followed the other passengers off the train. With the help of a few locals, Mark and Cassie found their hotel and were soon registered. They changed out of their travel clothes before deciding to walk the town together.

As evening drew near, Cassie and Mark walked down the pier, arm in arm. As Cassie looked out at the ocean in awe, Mark stared into his wife's eyes; seeing the life that shone within.

“There's just something about the fact that it just goes on and on…” Cassie commented in reference to the ocean. “And to think that on the other side… there are countries and cities and people with their own lives, their own stories. It makes one feel so small and insignificant.”

“So you're saying our story isn't worth beans?” Mark jested.

“Our story happened for a purpose, just like theirs,” Cassie replied, gesturing to the open sea. “I'm thankful there's Someone orchestrating the details of it all.”

“Chance didn't get us here, that's for sure.”

“Are you ready to eat?”

“I suppose it has been a while, sorry.”

“That's alright; the late breakfast has held me over fine.”

“Do you want to try the restaurant my friend suggested, or the one down the street from the hotel?”

“Surprise me.”

“I thought you didn't like surprises,” Mark replied with a grin as they began walking.

“I like them just fine… when I choose to be surprised.”

Mark kissed the top of her head and escorted his wife to supper down the street from the hotel, knowing going to the other restaurant would require them changing. Mark and Cassie enjoyed the well prepared meal, but had a surprise waiting for them when the bill came.

“I'm sorry,” Mark began in confusion. “Could you repeat that?”

“Your bill was taken care of,” the waiter replied.

“By who?” Cassie questioned.

“I was asked not to answer that question.”

“Well, thank you,” Mark said as he began to leave a tip.

“That was taken care of as well,” the man responded. “Have a good evening.”

“Who do you think would've paid the bill?” Cassie asked as they left the restaurant.

“I don't know; Pa and Micah were the only two that knew where I was taking you, and there's no way they could've known we were eating there this evening.”

“It's a little disturbing…”

“Don't fret, Cass,” Mark replied with a smile. “There's probably a perfectly good explanation. Who knows? Maybe Ned found out and had connections down here take care of it.”

“You're probably right. When do you-” Cassie's statement was interrupted by a voice behind them.

“McCain!”

The couple turned around as Mark protectively put Cassie behind him and cocked his rifle. They faced the setting sun, which made it impossible for Mark to make out the man's face.

“What do you want?” Mark asked as the man came closer.

“How about a chance to win some of my money back?”

Mark relaxed as the man came close enough for him to recognize.

“Mitchell, you know better than to call out an armed man like that!” Mark exclaimed as he shook the man's hand.

“Mark?” Cassie hesitantly asked.

“Sorry, Cassie,” Mark said as he put an arm around his wife. “This big lug here is Thomas Mitchell. I trained with him when I went to Denver this past spring. Mitchell, I'd like you to meet my wife.”

Cassie extended her hand and the man politely shook it.

“A pleasure, ma'am. McCain, you sure were right when you said you had a gal waiting for you at home.”

“Are you the one I'm to thank for supper tonight?” Mark asked.

“I saw you in there and made arrangements. I didn't want to interrupt. Are you two visiting?”

“Here for our honeymoon, what about you?” Mark replied.

“Working on a case. Whatever happened to you, anyway? Pinkerton said you declined the offer.”

“Wasn't the life for me.”

“I see you still carry the rifle. I thought it was just for show, seeing as how Bradley, Arns, and Andrews beat you.”

Cassie looked at Mark in surprise and askance.

“We had a lot of target practice over training,” Mark explained.

“And you didn't try,” Cassie replied with raised eyebrows.

“He as good as his Pa is with that thing, Mrs. McCain?”

“I've never seen them compete, but from what I've seen-”

“It doesn't matter,” Mark interrupted.

“You're too humble, Mark. Mark's an excellent shot.”

“Maybe sometime we can see you really try with that thing. I thought it was funny during training that the Rifleman's son was one of the worst shots.”

“You staying in town long?” Mark asked, trying to change the subject.

“A few more days. Maybe we can have lunch sometime, if you're not too busy.”

“It'd be a pleasure,” Cassie replied.

“Well, I'll let you two go, I'll be seeing you.”

“Have a goodnight, Mitchell, and thanks for dinner!” Mark replied as the couple waved and continued on to the hotel.

There was a long silence between the two, but as they entered their room, Cassie spoke up.

“Now Mark, what was that all about?”

“All what about?”

“Dancing around the subject of your rifle.”

Mark sighed as he set it against the wall.

“Cassie… I'm not proud of my ability with the rifle.”

“You should be. You have an amazing skill.”

Mark took his wife's hands and led her to the bed where they sat down.

“I saw it the same way when I was younger and people asked about my Pa. I never understood why Pa would try to hush me and why he wouldn't admit what a shot he was. Then one day I finally understood what my Pa was trying to tell me all of those years. The rifle is a tool. A very dangerous tool, capable of taking a life... just like a knife or a rope. It all depends on how a person uses those tools. A rifle can be used to get meat for the winter; a knife to cut it up; a rope to immobilize a calf while we try to brand it. But if anyone uses any of those things in the wrong way… things can go horribly wrong. When a man tries to use a firearm to define himself, there's no telling where he'll stop. Because if there's someone better, their identity is shattered. If there's someone better, they're either going to kill them or be killed.” Mark slightly paused before going on, “I saw plenty of people try to prove they were better than Pa, and he almost got killed. I one day understood that my Pa kept quiet about it for both of our protections. I learned that being able to use a tool well was nothing to take pride in, and nothing to show off. I promised myself I would never test myself against anybody, and the only time I ever broke that rule was to get Pa and Ma back. But I entered the shooting competition with the same ideals. My rifle was a tool to get my parents back. To this day I won't even shoot against Pa and the reason I pulled my shots during training was to protect myself and my family.”

“...Mark, I'm sorry. I hadn't known how heavy that weighed on you.”

“It's not your fault; I should've explained a long time ago. I carry the rifle for protection because of the past my Pa and I have had. I know where you were coming from, because that's where I was for a long time. But in the future, could you promise me not to talk about the rifle?”

“Of course.”

Mark saw a hesitance in his wife's eye.

“What is it?” Mark asked.

“...Do you ever think we'll be able to escape the past?”

“...We can keep living forward and move on from events… but our past has brought us to the present. I don't know if we can ‘escape it’... it's already happened.”

“ I feel though as if certain events plague me and won't let go. There are pieces of my life missing that won't be put back into place.”

“...But we can fill those voids with other things. No, they don't fit the exact same way as the original piece did… it can't replace it, but they bring on their own life and joy. Like my mother… she had left pieces missing for years. But her love and things in my life filled the hole in a different way. And when Ma came back to town, she didn't replace my mother, but fit that missing piece in my life a way no one else could.” Mark paused as he studied his wife. “...But you're not trying to fill a hole, are you?”

“I don't want to dampen the mood on our honeymoon… I'm sorry Mark, you've put so much thought into this trip and-”

“This week is about you and me being together. It's about learning about each other in ways we haven't yet. It's about learning to be there for each other all the time. It's about getting used to being a married couple. And discussions like this should happen between a man and his wife. I'd rather us talk through these things now, than later.”

“... It's not a hole I'm trying to fill… your Pa kinda filled it… in his own special way... he kinda has become a father figure to me. But what happened this spring still tugs at me. I still have the nightmares. My mind plays tricks on me and I think I see DeFord or John everywhere I go… Mark, I thought I'd be fine after the wedding. But I'm still scared. And when Thomas called you out this evening…” Cassie shuddered as she relived the scene.

Mark wrapped his arms around his wife in understanding.

“From what you told me, I know I wasn't the only one who didn't have an easy childhood… and I'm sure I don't know the half of it. Then we met… and our lives got even more complicated. Cassie, I don't know if life's going to get any easier. But we've made it through a lot
together. The memories of our past will always be there, but we have hope that faith will get us to our future. This week marks us beginning a new life together, and I meant what I said. Forty years from now, I want to look you in the eyes, and say, ‘we made it’.”

“Well, I'd say we have a pretty good start. We made it this far, Mr. McCain.”

3MC3

“Milly!” Lucas yelled as he walked into the house.

The sudden noise startled Milly, sending her off balance and back into her chair. She let out an involuntary groan as she landed.

Lucas rushed to his wife and knelt beside her.

“Are you alright?”

“Fine, you just startled me.”

“What were you thinking??”

“I was feeling stronger today. I thought maybe I could just try a little and…”

“Do you have any idea what you could've done to yourself!?”

“And do you have any idea how hard it's been for me to not try this until now??” Milly snapped. “Have you ever considered the fact that this might be hard on me? How sitting in a wheelchair all day, useless, incompetent, makes me feel? Do you have any idea what it is like to sit here and not be able to fulfill your duties as a wife? No, Lucas McCain, you do not! But when you do, you're welcome to come back and chide me like a child!” Milly forcefully replied as she re-positioned herself and tried to push away from Lucas.

The rancher grabbed the back of the wheelchair, keeping Milly from leaving.

“Lucas, let me go!”

“Doc told you to wait! He told you not to do anything until he was there to coach you, and then you try standing without anyone here! What if I hadn't come inside when I did!?”

“You wouldn't have startled me, and I wouldn't have lost my balance!”

Milly’s words hit Lucas hard enough to make him loosen his grip on the chair. Milly turned around and left the house, silence hanging in the room.

Lucas stared out the window as he saw his wife wheel herself into the barn. He wanted to go after her, yet he knew they both needed some time to cool down. Looking around, Lucas began to straighten the front room before heading into the kitchen to start supper.
He contemplated his wife's words, regretting the tone he had taken.

With supper simmering, Lucas slowly made his way out to the barn. He saw his wife in front of her horse's stall. He watched as she tenderly patted the horse's neck before nuzzling her.

“You miss riding her, don't you?” Lucas asked as he stepped closer.

“Doesn't really matter if I do. If you'll excuse me,” Milly stated as she started out the door.

“Can I please talk to my wife?”

Milly stopped, but didn't turn around.

“I'm sorry Milly. I was scared. I shouldn't have, and I'm sorry I yelled. I'm sorry I startled you, and I'm sorry I haven't been asking how you're doing emotionally. I want to see you fully recovered, but I don't want to rush things so we end up worse off.” A look of confusion crossed his face as Milly shook her head and started forward. “Milly, please?”

Lucas watched in defeat as his wife went back to the house. He continually kicked himself for what had happened inside their home.

Knowing she needed more time, Lucas went ahead and did the evening chores. After finishing supper, he tried knocking on their bedroom door and going in, but it was locked. He tried telling her that supper was ready, but no reply came. Lucas simply saved the food and washed the dishes… he really didn't feel like eating. He tried reading for a while, but his mind kept drifting. Finally, Lucas reached inside a cabinet and retrieved the key to the bedroom door. As he walked inside, Lucas found his wife staring out the window, eyes red from crying. Lucas cautiously walked closer to his wife, who gave no recognition of his presence until he knelt in front of her.

Milly looked her husband in the eyes and started crying again.

Lucas lovingly put and hand to her face and used his thumb to wipe away the tears.

“I'm sorry, Lucas,” she finally said. “I'm… I'm scared too... I'm sorry!”

Milly cried as Lucas took her in his arms and moved her to the bed where he held her for a long time, running his fingers through her hair. Finally, her tears slowed enough that she could talk.

“I finally had a little relief from the pain today. I felt stronger. I felt like I should try to get something done. All I was going to do was reach up for the feather duster, but as my knees began to buckle you came in. I was startled, and that helped, but I could tell I was already going
to fall. Even more than the physical pain… the thought of never being able to walk again hurts more than anything else. It wasn't fair of me to react to you the way I did. I know because of Margaret you're especially worried and… oh, Lucas, I'm sorry.”

“It's alright, darling,” Lucas said as he caressed her back. “Again, I know I was wrong and I'm sorry. We can try again sometime… but please, wait for Doc.”

“I don't think we should try-”

“Now Milly,” Lucas began as he took on a different tone. “After all we went through today, we can't stop now. We're going to get you back on your feet in no time.”

“But I fell, Lucas.”

“Yes. But first, you stood. You couldn't have done that a few weeks ago.”

“But what if I fall again? What if I can't get back on my feet?”

“Then I'll always be here to catch you. But we have to try. And Milly, I hope you'll forgive me-”

“Lucas, I love you, I’ll always forgive you.”

“What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“I can think of a thing or two.”

“Are you hungry?”

“I could eat a horse.”

“Even Amber?”

“Lucas McCain!” Milly exclaimed as she playfully slapped him.

4MC4

“Now Lucas, I know with Milly’s condition I have no business in asking this, but with Johnny out of town for the weekend…”

“You asked me to be your deputy, Micah. I can take care of my family and town at the same time.”

“Thanks, Lucas-boy.”

“... Actually, Micah, I think there's someone else you should ask.”

“What do you mean?”

“I'll stay in town and help out… but I've got a ranch to tend to as well. Why not ask Ned to help? It'd give him some experience and it will give me some time to check the cattle.”

“It's not that I don't trust the boy, Lucas… but I don't know how some of the townsfolk will react. They're still pretty wound up about what happened to Cassie and Mark.”

“And they also know Ned is not his father. And those that don't need a chance to see that they've wrongly mistrusted Ned. I'll be there if anything goes wrong.”

“I'll talk to him this afternoon. But Lucas, I want you with him walking the town the first few times.”

“Of course.” Lucas let out a slight chuckle before going on, “I guess Ned’s not much of a boy anymore. Twenty-two.”

“And Mark's not too far behind him.”

“Don't I know it. It's strange when your son becomes your equal.”

“Oh, you'll learn to love it.”

“I have, Micah. I guess it's just been a long time coming in me accepting it.” Lucas stood up and grabbed his rifle with one hand as he put his hat on with the other. “Guess I should get Milly and head back home to pack up a few things. We'll be back this evening.”

“Thanks again, Lucas-boy,” Micah said as Lucas headed for the door.

“Just don't forget to talk to Ned. This will be good for everyone.”

“I won't.”

Micah waved as he watched his friend leave the office. He knew what he needed to do; however, he found it more difficult than he liked to admit. Micah partially blamed himself for Ned getting shot back in Vendix. Sure, Ned was already working on getting inside the gang, but Micah should've known better than to let him go inside alone. But this time Ned wasn't going to be alone; Lucas would take care of Ned like he would his own son.

Micah collected his gear and made the walk over to Catherine's. He found Mrs. Osborne doing laundry around the side of the house, and she said Micah would find Ned inside.

The marshal knocked before entering the home and saw Ned working at the kitchen table.

“Micah, what brings you here?” Ned pleasantly inquired as he offered the marshal a seat.

“Seems I've been called away to help transfer a prisoner. I'm here to ask a favor.”

“What is it?”

“I need another deputy around to help Lucas out while I'm gone.”

“I don't really think that's such a good idea…”

“Why not?”

“Micah… the people of North Fork are mostly good people, with good hearts. But what my father did still weighs heavily in their minds and I don't believe having a Deputy Osborne
is such a good idea.”

“You want to been a marshal, don't you?”

“Yes, but that's different. That's a thousand miles away, in Denver.”

“Where your father trained and reported.” Micah paused before going on, “Ned, wherever you go there are going to be people. And whoever you are, people are going to judge. The first rule of being a marshal is learning not to care about public opinion, but doing right. I know North Fork is a little skittish right now, which is why I want you working very closely with your uncle over the first few days. But we need to teach North Fork to trust again; especially in the people they should have never lost faith in… if they have.”

“You sure about this?”

“I wouldn't be sitting here if I wasn't. What do you say?”

“Thanks for the offer, Micah. I'm honored.”

“Alright, let's get this over with. Raise your right hand.” Ned complied before Micah went on, “Do you solemnly swear to protect North Fork and uphold its laws?”

“I do.”

“Good,” Micah said as he tossed Ned a badge. “You're deputized.”

“That's it?”

“What'd you want, a flag raising and everything?” Micah quipped.

“No… I just thought there'd be more to it.”

“When you become an actual Deputy U.S. Marshal, there is. But right now, you're just one of North Fork’s deputies. And we are proud to have you.”

“Thanks, Micah. When do you leave?”

“Shortly after Lucas gets back this evening. I should be back in about a week. I wish I could make it back before Mark and Cassie returned… but such is life.”

“Do you know where they went?”

“Southern California; Mark wanted to take your sister to see the ocean.”

“I can hardly believe my little sister is old enough to be getting married… and the other one is in nursing school!”

“Well, by most people's standards, neither of them should be where they're at. But I see Osbornes like to break the status quo.”

“Micah, what about your family?”

“North Fork's my family. Has been for the last ten years, will be for the rest of my life.”

“...No blood relations?”

“As you get older, Ned, you'll come to understand that belonging is thicker than blood. When you all thought Cassie was adopted, that didn't change anything, did it?”

“No, sir.”

“In the same way, I belong in North Fork, and the ties I have here… especially with Lucas and Mark… couldn't be any stronger even if we were blood related.”

“I think I understand your meaning. Sorry to have brought it up.”

“Ned, you were… and still technically are a lawyer. You know better than to feel bad about asking questions, it's how you find answers. Never forget that,” Micah said as he stood to leave.

“Yes sir.”

“And Ned?”

“Sir?”

“Never forget who you are.”

5MC5

Mark woke to see that Cassie wasn't in bed beside him. He turned over to find her sitting beside the window, blankly staring out it.

“Something the matter?” Mark asked with concern as he came up behind his wife and began rubbing her shoulders.

“No… I'm just taking it all in,” Cassie replied with a gentle smile.

“It is a beautiful view,” Mark agreed.

“Yes… but that's not exactly what I meant.”

“Oh?”

“There's something almost surreal about this trip. A week ago I wasn't married… we had, in a sense, completely separate lives. But now we've begun spending the rest of our lives
together. I've enjoyed every moment of this week and in a sense, I don't want to see it end. I know when we arrive home tomorrow that we have to get back to reality where there's work to do and moments we have to spend apart. But on the other hand… I'm excited. I'm excited to get back home and be around family again… I'm excited to return to the ranch as your wife. The wedding night everything was so new… it hadn't sunk in yet. But now we get to return to our lives as husband and wife. We get to continue to build our new life together. Mark, I love you… and I'm so thankful that you asked me to marry you.”

“I'm thankful you said yes,” Mark replied before giving his wife a loving kiss.

“...We best get dressed and finish packing.We wouldn't want to miss our train.”

“...Would it be all that bad if we did?”

“Your mother would tan both
of our britches if we did. And take it from one who knows; she has a mean swing!”

Laughter filled the room as Mark and Cassie began to prepare for their trip home. As the two made their way down for breakfast, they saw Mitchell, the town sheriff, and two marshals talking in the lobby; meanwhile two men sat handcuffed to their chairs.

“I see you've been busy,” Mark told Mitchell in passing.

“Well somebody had to do something productive this week.”
By the time Mark and Cassie had ordered, Mitchell was done with the sheriff and marshals, and Mark invited him to join them. Mitchell stated he had already eaten that morning, but didn't refuse the offer to sit and have some coffee with the couple.

“Who were those men?” Cassie inquired.

“Just a couple of crooks who swindled a few towns out of a lot of money,” Mitchell answered.

“I didn't hear a ruckus this morning,” Mark began. “They must not have given you too much of a fight.”

“There were four of us and two of them… it would've been suicide.”

“So you actually got the law involved before trying to apprehend them?” Mark asked with a smug smile.

“Believe me, I've learned my lesson,” Mitchell replied. “You two are heading home today, aren't you?”

“We start the trip back. Won't arrive in North Fork until tomorrow,” Mark informed him. “You headed back to Chicago now?”

“No, I'm actually stationed farther up the coast. California is going to be my home for a while.”

Throughout the meal, conversation bounced back and forth between cattle ranching and Mitchell's work with the Pinkerton’s. They covered just a little more than they had the evening they had dined together, but it wasn't long before Cassie and Mark had to take their leave.

“Well, good to see you both again. I hope you have a safe trip home.”

“Thanks. And if you're ever out our way, stop in at the ranch.”

“Will do. Have a good day, Mrs. McCain.”

“You as well, a pleasure getting to know you.”

The young couple headed for the train station as Mitchell headed for his room. Within twenty minutes, the train was leaving the station and they were on their way home.

That evening, Cassie noticed Mark to be particularly quiet. She knew he had been thinking on something all day… but she wasn't sure about the subject.

“Mark, is something bothering you?” Cassie finally asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“You've hardly said two words to me all evening.”

“I'm sorry, Cass,” Mark said as he turned away from the window. “Guess I'm just thinking about Mitchell.”

“Are you regretting declining the Pinkerton's offer?”

“No, my life is at the ranch, with you.”

“There's something you miss about it, though.”

“It's not as important as you, Ma, or Pa. I wouldn't trade my life for the world… and had I opened an office in town… it just wouldn't be the same.”

“I know Mark. But I am simply curious as to what has your attention. There's nothing wrong with liking a different life style.”

Mark shrugged before responding.

“The training I suppose. Being tested and stretched… it felt good. There was a lot of mental training and I enjoyed it. Running into Mitchell reminded me of what life would be like if I had accepted. Sure, my office would be in town and I'd still do ranch work, but I'd also have a lot of paperwork to do and could be called away… for possibly months at a time. And that wouldn't be fair to you.”

“Well, regardless of what you do, you're my husband and I will love you regardless. Though I will say, I am glad you won't be tangling with criminals as a part of your vocation. We seem to get into enough trouble without a job that asks for it!”




The next day as the train pulled into North Fork, Mark looked out the window to see who was on the platform.

“Well that's interesting…” Mark commented.

“What?” Cassie asked.

“My Pa and Ned seem to be on duty. Wonder where Johnny and Micah are.”

“Your Pa and… Ned?!”

Mark could see the fire glowing in Cassie's eyes. The train couldn't settle fast enough, and Mark was soon following a very upset Cassie off the train.

“Ned Osborne!” Cassie's voice could only be heard by Lucas, Mark and Ned; however, no one missed the anger her voice held.

Lucas looked to Mark for answers, but he only shrugged in response.

“Cassie… Mark… welcome back…” Ned tried to offer.

“A word if you don't mind,” Cassie replied before the brother and sister walked to the end of the platform where no one else was.

“...Things not go too well on the honeymoon, Son?” Lucas asked in confusion.

“...The honeymoon went fine…” Mark replied, trying to understand why his wife was so upset… then it hit him. “I don't think Cassie was prepared to come back and find Ned wearing a badge.”

“...But what's the problem?”

“Pa… she's still trying to get over what happened this spring. And after hearing about what happened in Vendix... I don't blame her for being a little upset. Not only is her brother picking up the badge her father so disgracefully misused… he's putting himself in danger. At least I think that's the way she sees it.”

“But Cassie can't blame the badge for what John did.”

“I know, and I don't think she does… it's a psychological thing that might just take her a while to get over.”

“Well, I think Ned’s getting her there,” Lucas stated as he gestured to the siblings, who were now embracing.

“Where's Ma?”

“At the hotel. She didn't want to be stuck in the chair on the platform with so many people.”

Ned and Cassie rejoined the McCain men, all of Cassie's anger seeming to have been diffused.

“Good to see you, Uncle Lucas,” Cassie said. “I'm sorry for the-”

“Don't worry Cassie, I understand. Guess we should have been expecting it.”

“So why are you two standing shift?” Mark asked.

“Johnny left two days ago to run an errand for Micah out of town, on marshal business. Then Micah got a wire, saying he needed to help transport a prisoner,” Ned responded. “How was the trip?”

“It…” Mark started to respond, but then he looked to Cassie, unsure of what to say. “You'll understand when you're married.”

Lucas had a good laugh, understanding his son's lack of words.

“Why don't you two head to the hotel and see Milly, while Ned and I finish up here? Then we can all enjoy a good lunch.”

“Sounds good, Pa.”

Mark grabbed the bags and offered Cassie his free arm. The two were greeted by several townsfolk on their way to the hotel, all of whom offered a welcome home to the couple.

Mark and Cassie found Milly talking to Lou, holding Maddy. Lou gave Cassie a hug as Mark embraced his Ma, then Cassie went to hug her aunt.

“Mark Warren, ye aught ta be ashamed of yerself!” Lou declared. “Ye may be married, but that doesn't change the fact that ye can give yer aunt a hug.”

Mark went to embrace Lou, but couldn't help commenting on her accent.

“Worried about Uncle Johnny, or did something happen while we were gone?”

“And just what tis wrong with me accent?”

“Nothing Lou. To be honest… I was kinda missing it. Sure.. you'll never completely lose it… but your English just tends to get way too proper.”

Lou grabbed the newspaper off the counter and gave Mark a good smack on the backside.

“Mark, you better be careful,” Cassie warned. “She still holds our secret.”

“Secret?” Milly asked with raised eyebrows.

“Come on Cass, that was years ago. You're not still worried about that, are you?”

“Oh, I'm not worried. You might not be living under his roof anymore, but if your Pa found out you treated a lady like that…”

“Mark, why don't ye go redeem yerself and push a few tables together fer everyone?” Lou encouraged.

Mark dropped the bags behind the counter and went into the restaurant… Cassie right beside him.

“They make a marvelous couple, Milly. Ye aught ta be proud.”

“I am, Lou. I am.”

6MC6

The days turned to weeks, and September turned to October as the McCains settled into their new routine.

Mark and Cassie were often the first of the two couples awake, and would start the day by walking down the hill to the barn together. Cassie would milk the cow and collect the eggs as Mark tended to the other morning chores. By the time she was done, Lucas had come out to the barn to start helping Mark. Cassie would leave Milly with the milk and eggs she needed before returning to her own home and preparing breakfast for herself and Mark. The young couple would enjoy breakfast together and Mark would read a passage from his Bible before they tended to a few things around the house and finished getting ready for the day. Mark and Lucas would then start work around the ranch while Cassie and Milly would work on laundry or other tasks together, ultimately preparing the evening meal for the four. After supper,
Cassie, and Milly if she was up to it, would work on the dishes while Mark and Lucas tended to the evening chores.

Milly became stronger by the day, and although she still had bad days and Doc Burrage said she probably would always have them, the day finally came when Milly no longer needed her wheelchair to get around. That evening, the four celebrated with dinner in town.

Each night, Mark silently reflected on his day and what had happened. It was by no means an exciting routine that they had… but after the year they had all experienced, plain and simple were two very welcome words.

Finally, it came time for Mark and Lucas to leave on a long overdue hunting trip. Although Mark knew that extra meat would be needed that winter, he still found it difficult to leave. After two months of living with Cassie, Mark wasn't sure he could leave for ten days. Yet somehow, after settling Milly and Cassie in town for the duration of their trip, Lucas was able to drag his son away from his wife.

“Pa, how do you do it?” Mark asked as they reached the edge of town.

“You'll learn to let go, Son. She'll be there when we get back.”

“Will it always feel this way?”

“It should. And you and I are going to have some serious talking to do if it don't.”

“Doesn't.”

“What?”

“You said “don’t” instead of “doesn't”.”

“I do believe my nineteen year old is attempting to correct my grammar…”

“I'm just funnin’ ya, Pa. I remember you used to get on me all the time…”

“Me and Milly both. Those were some mighty fine years we had when Milly lived here, the first time.”

“And we're enjoying even better ones the second time around.”

Mark and Lucas spent the day remembering as they rode. They discussed events from Mark's birth to the present, laughing as they recollected Mark's despise for school… sobering as they remembered the hard times.

As they made camp that evening, Lucas could tell Mark wanted to ask something, but his son kept moving on to something else. Due to previous conversation, and simply knowing Mark, Lucas was pretty sure he knew what Mark was contemplating.

After finishing supper, the two sat by the fire, listening to the wild life around them. Finally, Lucas spoke.

“Mark, you've always been good about respecting me, and subjects that I tell you are off limits. I know you've had to fight your curiosity for years… and I don't regret making you learn how to do that. But I think it's time that you, as my equal… my partner… my son, learn what happened over those two months.”

“Pa, you don't have to if you don't want to. I know there are parts of your life that... I don't need to know about. I trust you and know there are secrets worth letting you keep.”

“Maybe some are. And maybe this one is. But I told you that when I thought you were ready, I'd tell you. And just like this trip… I think telling you is long overdue.”

“...Why did you go to Wyoming, Pa?”

“It all started one day, when I was talking to Micah in town.” Lucas let out a slight chuckle. “That old codger could talk anyone into anything…”

7MC7

Johnny Gibbs was returning from checking on some of the outlining ranches when he felt the first few drops of water hit his body.

“Well, at least this time I only have to ride for an hour in the rain,” Johnny thought as he shook his head.

Even with the rain falling harder, Johnny wasn't in a hurry to get home. It gave him the thinking time he often needed. Every day was a struggle for him. Johnny had no desire to return to his life on the other side of the law, but still felt as though he was running from his past. He knew he couldn't change the choices he had made, but instead only begin making the right ones. Johnny knew he had begun making the right choices when he moved back to North Fork… but he still regretted the way things had turned out. He felt like his past would forever haunt him.

Lou and Maddy were the main reason he kept trying instead of giving up. He loved them more than anything, and Lou accepted his past, never judging him or belittling him for his decisions in
life. And with Mark and Lucas there by his side as well… Johnny knew he could keep making steps forward from the life he had once lived.


By the time Johnny was halfway back to town, the rain was coming down so hard it was difficult to see what was in front of him. Johnny led his horse off the road and under a tree, waiting for the storm to let up. Looking around, Johnny suddenly saw the outline of a saddled horse with no rider.

Curious, Johnny tied his horse's reins around a tree branch and walked towards the horse. As the deputy got closer to the horse, it began walking away and Johnny followed until he saw a motionless body on the ground.

Due to the jeans, boots, and Stetson hat, Johnny first thought the figure to be a young boy; but as he turned the person over, he realized he had come across a fourteen or fifteen year old girl.

Placing his ear to her chest, Johnny realized the girl was still alive. Seeing the blood on her head and the rock she had hit, Johnny knew he needed to get her into town quickly. Johnny ran over to his horse and brought it back to the girl before pushing her up into the saddle and mounting up behind her. Johnny grabbed the reins of the other horse and carefully, but quickly started towards town.

Once Johnny arrived at Doc’s, he carried the unconscious girl inside and followed Doc's orders to put her in room one.

“What happened?” Doc asked as he began cleaning the wound.

“I was riding back from town and decided to wait for the rain to calm down when I left the road. I saw a horse with no rider and a short distance away I found her like that.”

“Do you have any idea who she is?”

“No, but from her attire I'd say she's had a rough past. I don't know too many mothers who would let their daughters go around dressed like a man.” Johnny paused for a moment before going on, “Is there anything I can do, or can I take care of the horses?”

“Go ahead and get them out of the rain. She hit her head pretty good and it'll be a lot of stitches. I won't know how she is until she wakes up.”

“I'll be back when I'm done.”

Johnny left the doctor to his work and took the horses down to the livery. After unsaddling, brushing and feeding them, Johnny began going through the girl’s saddle bags.

In one, he found a few canned goods and a Bible. He opened it and saw the name “Klarissa Davis" written on the inside of the front cover. Opening the other saddle bag, he found a few flannel shirts, a brush… and a Colt Double-Action Revolver.

Johnny threw everything back into the bags and placed them over his shoulder before heading to the marshal's office. After locking the gun in a drawer, Johnny headed back towards the doctor’s office. When he re-entered room one, Johnny found Doc finishing up the stitches.

“Find anything worthwhile?” Doc asked.

“A Bible with the name “Klarissa Davis” written in it. I'm assuming that's the girl's name.” Johnny said as he took a seat.

Doc Burrage turned away from his patient to look at Johnny.

“...What else? Something's troubling you.”

“The girl had a revolver in her saddle bag.”

“What business does a young woman have carrying a handgun?”

“I wish I knew…”

Doc went back to the stitches as Johnny reached for the girl's hat. Johnny fiddled with it, worried that a girl so young was starting down the path he had so many years prior. Suddenly, Johnny came across an envelope stuffed inside the hat. Pulling it out, Johnny saw “Lucas McCain” written on the outside.

“Doc, what do you make of this?” Johnny inquired.

Burrage cut the string and put his tools down before turning towards Johnny. He took the envelope and read the name several times.

“I think we best get Milly.”

As Doc cleaned everything up, Johnny ran across the street to the hotel. He found his wife at the front desk, sorting mail.

“Lou, have you seen Milly?”

“Johnny, when did ye get back into town? I was startin’ to get worried,” Lou said as she walked from behind the desk and wrapped her arms around her husband's neck.

“Not now, Lou,” Johnny said as he put his hands on her shoulders. “Have you seen Milly? It's important.”

“She was having an early supper with Catherine and Cassie a while ago-”

Johnny started towards the restaurant, Lou right behind him.

“Johnny, what's wrong?” Lou asked with concern.

Milly, Cassie and Catherine all looked up as Johnny and Lou came up to their table.

“Sorry to interrupt, ladies, but I need Milly to come to Doc's with me.”

“What's wrong?” Milly asked.

“Uncle Lucas and Mark-” Cassie began with worry.

“No, they're still on their trip. I found a young woman unconscious on the side of the road, and she had a letter for Lucas in her possession. I thought Milly might know who she is.”

Milly excused herself and began walking with Johnny as he continued to explain.

“There's a Bible with the name “Klarissa Davis” inside of it, I'm assuming that's her name. I’m more wondering if you know of what her connection with Lucas is.”

“The name doesn't sound familiar… but there's so much of Lucas’s past I'm still not aware of.”

“But anything you don't know, I should. The name almost sounds familiar… but I can't place it.”

Johnny escorted Milly to the room and asked if she recognized the girl.

“No… but it looks like the girl went through quite a bit… do you know what happened?”

“It looks like her horse threw her and she hit her head on a rock.”

“Milly,” Doc began. “Would you mind changing her into some dry clothes? I wanted to get her wound taken care of first and with Anna no longer around…”

“Of course. I'll get something from the general store and be right back.”

Milly left and returned with a plain dress for the girl. Having seen the Stenson sitting on the chair, Milly’s suspicions were confirmed when she pulled back the sheet and saw the girl wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. It brought a slight smile to Milly’s face, remembering back to her own adolescent years. Milly quickly changed the girl and lovingly tucked the sheet around her before joining the two men in the front room.

“...Doc, did you see the bruising?” Milly inquired.

“Bruising?” Burrage replied.

“Her arms, ribs and back have faded bruising… as well as old scars and a welt on her back.”

“I'll check them over…”

“I don't mean to be so blunt, and I'm sure there could be other possibilities… but it looks like someone beat her… several times.” Milly paused before going on, “I'll wash her clothes over at Catherine’s. Doc, what are your plans for her?”

“Well, I can't really do anything until she wakes. I don't know how much damage was done and need to assess her as soon as she wakes.”

“I'm going to send a wire out, inquiring about any missing young girls. Hopefully the storm doesn't knock the lines down,” Johnny added.

“Milly, do you want the letter?” Doc asked.

“... I'll hold onto it, but it is addressed to Lucas. I'm not going to open it,” Milly replied as Doc handed her the envelope.

“I'll escort you back to the hotel,” Johnny offered. “Doc, let me know if anything changes.”

Milly returned to the hotel and soon was answering Cassie, Lou and Catherine's questions.

“...It looks like the poor dear went through so much before
the horse threw her…” Milly concluded, concern and tenderness in her voice.

“I'll make sure we have a pot of broth on the stove in the kitchen, in case she wakes,” Lou said before heading for the kitchen.

“I still can't fathom how the girl knows Lucas…” Milly commented.

“Maybe someone from their hometown?” Catherine inquired.

“No; even though Johnny thought the name sounded familiar, he couldn't place her… although there were a few years Johnny didn't live in Enid. Regardless, he's wiring around to see if there's any missing young girls from nearby towns.”

“Hopefully we find the family soon. I know all too well what it feels like to have a daughter missing,” Catherine stated as she squeezed Cassie's hand.

After the three finished their meal they went back to Catherine's for the evening. They retired early; however, Milly couldn't fall asleep. The images of the girl's bruised body plagued her, and Milly couldn't help but worry over what the girl had gone through. It was early the next morning, after only a few hours of sleep, that Milly rose and got ready for the day. She left a note for her sister before walking to the clinic.

Just as Milly came into the waiting room, Doc Burrage came from the hall.

“Thank goodness you're here, Milly,” Doc said, desperation in his voice.

“What's wrong?”

“She woke up, but won't let me near her. I ask questions, but her replies are all warnings to leave the room. I understand her other injuries were probably sustained from a man… perhaps if you talked to her first…”

“I understand.” Milly’s heart ached for the girl, waking up in a strange room in a strange town… only to have strangers greet her. 

“I told you-” the girl stopped short when she saw Milly come into the room instead of the man.

“Hello,” Milly cheerfully greeted as she closed the door behind her. “My name is Milly McCain; my brother-in-law found you on the road yesterday evening.”

Milly held eye contact with the girl, waiting for a bit of trust to shine in the girl's eyes before continuing.

“I know this all is rather frightening; strange town… strange people, but I promise you that no one here will hurt you and that we want to get you back to your family. Do you understand?”

The girl slowly nodded her head.

“What's your name?”

Milly saw a look of confusion and shock come over the girl's face. Milly took a tentative step forward, not wanting to scare the girl.

“What is it?”

“I don't remember.”

“Remember what?”

“My name.” The girl locked eyes with Milly; fear could be seen deep within them. “I don't remember… anything!”

8MC8

Lucas returned to the camp with an arm load of firewood, only to find his son gone. Lucas looked around and called his son's name, expecting a response… but none came. Using the light from the setting sun, Lucas quickly began looking for any trail his son could have left. Once he found it, Lucas followed it… pushing away the memories that had brought about their first encounter with the Skull Ranch.

Lucas let out a sigh of relief when he saw his son sitting alone on a rock, staring farther into the forest.

“There you are,” Lucas said as he walked up behind his son.

Mark jumped, but then relaxed.

“Sorry, followed a doe,” Mark pointed to a doe and buck about thirty yards away.

“Any reason you don't shoot the buck?” Lucas asked, a bit surprised.

“I don't know. We've got plenty of meat. I couldn't bring myself to do it.”

Lucas took a seat beside his son.

“You've changed a lot the last two months, but your soft spot for animals won't ever go away.” Lucas looked towards Mark and saw something in his son's eyes that he couldn't quite identify. “Something on your mind, Son?”

“Kind of. I don't know what it is, really. But I'm confused. Pa, I love being married to Cassie. I learn to love her more every day… in ways and depths I didn't know were possible. Yet when we were leaving on our honeymoon… as the train pulled away from the station… I had this feeling come over me that I haven't been able to shake. It feels like a heavy weight… yet not
quite burdensome. As my love for Cassie grows… this other feeling grows alongside it… and although I'm not quite sure what it is or why I'm feeling it… I know something wouldn't be right if the feeling disappeared. Does that make any sense?”

Lucas put an arm around his son's shoulders as he contemplated Mark's statement.

“...Yes, it does. And I know what you're feeling… but before we cover that, I want to back up to the beginning of this summer. Mark, nothing went the way I wanted it to this summer. I had all these plans… I was going to sell the cattle early so you and I could go on a camping trip so we could talk about all this before you got married. But then your Ma got ill and we hardly saw each other at all. By the time the three of us were together again, we had less than two weeks until the wedding and were busy planning and preparing. I'm sorry things turned out the way they did, but it was out of our control… and there's nothing we could've done.”

“I know Pa. I mean, I didn't know what you were planning to do this summer, but what happened to Ma was out of everyone's control. I never would've wished the summer to go the way it did, but it's what happened and I know the Lord used it to teach me that I had some final steps to take before growing up all the way. I wasn't where I thought I was, and it pushed me to be where I needed to be before I got married.”

“...It taught me some things as well. But again, I am sorry we never got to really talk about what to expect. I guess now we just have to talk about it as you experience it.”

“I understand.”

“Now about that “weight” you feel… it's responsibility, Mark.”

“Responsibility? It hasn't ever felt like this before.”

“That's because you haven't had this kind of responsibility before. For the first time in your life you are truly responsible for someone. Before you were married, when Cassie was taken, you loved her… you worried about her… you did everything you could to get her back, and I'm not down playing that. But at the end of the day, she wasn't your responsibility. But when the train pulled away from North Fork… from her family and yours, it hit you without you realizing it, that she is now your responsibility. You described it well… a weight, yet not quite burdensome. That's because you love her, and would give your life for her. This feeling only grows when you add children to the mix, but so does your love. You'll come to understand what it's like to have sleepless nights over nothing. To worry at every cough or sniffle your infant has; you're experiencing withdrawals now as you worry about Cassie being in North Fork without you. It's all from becoming the head of your home. It's a great privilege to have a wife, and eventually, children… but with them come the weight of responsibility.”

“You know all those times growing up you said I'd understand when I was older?” Lucas nodded before Mark went on. “I think this is one of those times.”

There were a few moments of silence before Mark spoke up again.

“Ready to get back?”

“Sure,” Lucas said as the two headed back towards camp. “I saw you and Cassie out in the East meadow shooting the other day… she ask you to teach her?”

“Yes, but I was going to show her anyhow. I just figured with us living so far from town… it'd be safer.”

“How's she doing?”

“She's actually not that bad… a pretty good shot for an amateur…” Mark let out a slight chuckle. “A really good shot.”

“Have you two talked about Thanksgiving at all?”

“No, not really. ...I don't even remember what we did last year.”

“We didn't do anything… everyone was still trying to adjust to life… without you.”

“...Pa… I'm not upset or anything. I know you tried your hardest and there's no way you could've found me. ...But did you think I was dead?”

“The possibility taunted me… but deep down… I couldn't believe you were. Every day I held onto the hope… that I'd see you come riding into the yard. But I knew for everyone's sakes we couldn't sit there and mourn your absence.”

“If anything happens to me… ever… I know you'll have your time of grief. I had mine and mourned every day until you “came back to life”. But promise me you'll live a full life. That you'll be there to help Cass and Ma. That you'll take care of Cassie for me. Promise me that my memory won't carve your life down to nothingness.”

“It's a mutual request,” Lucas said as he offered Mark his hand.

Mark shook it in understanding before his father pulled him into a hug.

“I love you, Mark. I'm proud of the man you've become.”

“And I'm proud of the man who raised me.”

9MC9

“I'm ready to be home, but I will admit I've missed our hunting and camping trips,” Mark stated as he rode beside his Pa.

“Me too, Son. That's why I made sure we got one in this year. Thankfully the weather has been good.”

“I hope the long summer doesn't mean an even longer winter.” Mark paused before going on, “Do you remember when that blizzard stranded the stagecoach at the ranch?”

“That was one long night…” Lucas sighed. “Gave us plenty of memories though… for better or for worse.”

Mark let out a slight chuckle, which led to Lucas asking him what was so funny.

“Uncle Johnny told me about the one time you two were riding on a stagecoach to Mississippi and-”

“Johnny and his big mouth. I was wild Mark, and I didn't want you to turn out the same way. I'm glad you didn't.”

“You raised me well, Pa, and I appreciate it. I know I was difficult at times… and had you not raised me as you had… things could've turned out really bad.”

Lucas eyed Mark curiously; he knew Mark had, on occasion, willfully disobeyed during his childhood, but Lucas couldn't see Mark doing something illegal.

“What do you mean?”

“...I had a lot of anger pent up for a lot of years.”

“Anger toward whom?”

“You. God. ...Ma. Or so I thought. But just as I felt I was getting over it, Milly left and then I got angry again, but at her. Finally, as I started to accept Ma’s death, I realized the whole time I had been angry with myself. I felt I was to blame for a lot of things and let it harden my heart for a long time.”

“...But you were always so… gentle… so…”

“Much like Ma. Yeah, I was. The anger I felt often had to take the back burner because something was driving at my other emotions. It was always there though… lingering, but my other feelings took precedence… mostly because you knew how to draw them out. You never looked to draw the anger out of me because you didn't know it was there… most of the time. But had things gone differently… I don't know what would've happened. I finally reached the point where I decided not to let anger harden my heart. I finally learned to have a genuine care and concern for people that I didn't even know. You were easy… you were my Pa. But I watched you, on countless occasions, welcome complete strangers into our home and take care of people who had no connection with us. I wanted that kind of heart for people. I faked it for a long time, but when I stopped being angry with myself for not being able to keep Ma alive or for putting you in danger or for not being able to convince Milly to stay… it all became real. I was close, on several occasions, however, to striking out on my own.”

“Hold on, Son. First off, there's nothing you could have done to keep you Ma alive-”

“I know that now. And I understand that the other two were invalid as well.”

“...Not that I would have ever wanted you to, but what would've happened if you had, 'striked out on your own’?”

“...Uncle Johnny didn't leave looking to get into trouble. But he got there. I have a feeling Uncle Johnny and I would have a lot more in common had you not raised me on the values you had. The only thing that kept me from leaving when I felt that low was our bond. It bound me to staying with you. I mean, when I was younger obviously I wasn't thinking on leaving… but my early teenage years… coinciding with all the problems we encountered... it was almost too much. But you raised me to deal with life as a man, not a city boy.”

“Percy's a city boy,” Luas teased.

“Oh, you know what I meant.”

“...I'm glad the Good Lord got through to you, even when I didn't realize what was going on.”

“You and me both.”

Lucas and Mark came to a fork in the road and stopped their horses.

“Well Son, any other deep, dark secrets I should know about before we reunite with the family?”

“...Just one.”

“And what's that?”

“I think you're graying…” Mark said as he pointed to his head.

Before Lucas could react, Mark dug his heels into Blue Boy and took off towards the ranch.

“Mark, get back here! I have the pack horse!”

Lucas laughed as he followed behind his son. Mark eventually slowed and the two rode into the yard together, and began taking care of the horses and hung the meat to finish drying. Father and Son both took a quick shower before changing and heading to town with the buckboard to pick up their wives. They had just barely come to a stop when Cassie and Milly both came up to the buck board on either side and greeted their respective husbands with a long kiss.

“Did you two have a good trip?” Milly asked as the foursome started into the hotel.

“It was, but we're both glad to be home.”

There was a strange silence for a few moments; Mark and Lucas could tell something was on both of their minds.

“What is it?” Lucas finally asked.

“While you were gone, Johnny came across a young woman who had been thrown by her horse and knocked unconscious. She woke a few days ago… but Lucas, she has no recollection of who she is or where she came from… or why she has a letter for you.”

“A letter for Pa?” Mark asked in confusion.

“We found it inside her hat. The Bible in her saddle bags had the name “Klarissa Davis” inscribed-” Milly stopped short as Mark and Lucas looked at each other in shock.

“Who is it?” Milly asked in concern.

“Where is she?” Lucas desperately asked.

“Room one at the clinic. Lucas, how-” Again, Milly stopped speaking when Lucas and Mark wheeled around and ran to the clinic.

Cassie and Milly quickly followed, trying to understand what was going on. They arrived at the office to see Mark and Lucas coming back into the waiting room. A look of despair shadowed Lucas’s face as he headed for the door.

“Lucas?” Milly called as her husband left the clinic. She began to go after him, but Mark gently pulled her back.

“Ma, he needs a minute. He'll be back.”

“Mark, who is she?” Cassie asked.

Mark motioned for the two women to sit, trying to finish piecing everything together in his own mind.

“That young girl isn't Klarissa Davis. Her name is Rachael Davis, Klarissa is her mother.”

“How do you know her?” Milly asked.

“Klarissa Davis… she was born Klarissa McCain. She’s Pa’s sister, and the girl in there…” Mark said as he motioned to the door. “That's Pa’s niece, my cousin.”

Milly and Cassie could both tell there was something weighing heavily on Mark's heart and simply waited for him to go on.

“I was four years old, so I hardly remember what happened… but Pa and I used to talk about it… before the letters stopped. This also happened when Johnny was doing a whole lot of jumping around, which would explain why he doesn't remember the name. The Davis family had moved to Enid and everyone knew they were bad news. It was Walt Davis and his two sons. The sons were trouble makers, and no one liked them. Pa’s baby sister, Klarissa was seventeen or so at the time and took a liking to the younger Davis. Pa and his family told Aunt Krissy to stay away, but she wouldn't listen. They eloped and quickly got pregnant… or the other way around… and moved out of state. Aunt Krissy sent letters for several years, even while we were traveling around she kept up. I suppose because we were the only family members who would talk to her. But eventually… and very suddenly, the letters came to an end. Pa looked into it, but they had moved without a trace. Pa always kinda felt responsible for letting Aunt Klarissa run away… not that he exactly let her… but now with Rachael here… it's gotta be difficult. It's probably bringing up a lot of buried memories. I'm glad she was asleep when we arrived.”

Milly pulled the letter out of her pocket and stared at it.

“Are you alright, Mark?” Cassie asked as she put a hand on his.

“... I will be. I didn't know Aunt Krissy like Pa did… neither one of us ever met Rachael… but still… they're family and I love them like I've known 'em my entire life. What did Doc say about her memory?”

“Hopefully it will return,” Doc answered as he came in from the hallway. “I don't want anyone telling her who she is… I hope she'll remember it on her own. If a substantial amount of time goes by and we're pretty sure she won't remember… then we can tell her.”

The three nodded in understanding, unsure of what to do. After several minutes, Milly finally stood and made her way out of the office. She looked down the street, hoping to see Lucas, but he wasn't there. Milly checked the hotel, then the marshal's office. Finally, Milly made her way towards the saloon. She looked inside and saw Lucas in the corner, an untouched glass of beer in front of him. Hesitantly, Milly stepped inside and walked towards her husband.

“Lucas, nothing here is going to solve anything,” she gently whispered as she approached the table.

Lucas nodded, took his wife's hand, and left the saloon without saying a word.

The two continued down the boardwalk and made their way to the outskirts of town. Milly knew she needed to be gentle and patient, but seeing Lucas like this was worrying her.

“... I'm assuming Mark explained?” Lucas finally asked.

“Yes, he did.”

“Milly, I'm sorry I left like that…”

“You don't need to apologize, Lucas. I'm sure it was quite the shock.”

“She's the spitting image of her mother. All I could see was my baby sister telling me she was running away with “the man of her dreams”. All I could hear were the family arguments that erupted over the next days. All I can feel… is remorse.” Lucas let go of Milly’s hand and turned away. “I should have stopped her.”

“Lucas, I'm sure you did everything you could. But in the end, it was your father's decision to make her stay or let her go. And if she didn't listen to you, I'm sure she would have ended up running away no matter what was said, by anyone. We can't change what happened, and now we get the chance to get to get to know your niece.”

Milly offered Lucas the envelope she had held onto for days. He accepted it, but didn't open it right away.

“Those stitches didn't look good. I guess most of all I was afraid of losing my little sister's daughter. She apparently got hurt trying to reach me…”

“Lucas, please don't beat yourself up. You had nothing to do with Rachael’s injuries.”

“What was the extent of them?”

“You saw the stitches… and as I said, she can't remember anything. That's all… from her riding accident.”

“What do you mean?”

“...We discovered bruising. Some fairly recent, some old. It… it appears that whoever she was with last abused her… often.”

“Klarissa would have never-”

“I'm not saying it was her parents. Lucas, would Klarissa have let Rachael wear jeans?”

“... I honestly don't know. Probably not though. Klarissa was young and immature, but she still wore her dresses and rode side saddle. Why?”

“We found her in what you or Mark would wear to go work on the range. Stetson hat and all. From what we found in her saddle bags… I'd say she's been on the trail, running from someone.”

“What makes you say that?”

“A Colt Double-Action Revolver.”

“She had one?”

Milly nodded in response. Finally, Lucas didn't know what else to do besides open the letter. Milly watched the expressions change on her husband's face from confusion, to grief, to anger, to grief again, to determination.

After he was done reading the letter, Lucas's hand dropped back to his side as he looked into the distance.

“Lucas?”

Lucas handed his wife the letter, not knowing what to say.

Silently, Milly read the words.

“Dear Lucas,
I don't know where to begin. I suppose saying I'm sorry would be a good place to start. I should have listened to you, I should have known that you were doing what a big brother does: protect. But instead I yelled and threw a tantrum like a little girl. I was wrong and I know that. I will forever regret my actions and sincerely apologize for tearing our family apart even more.

Rachael doesn't know what this letter contains, all she knows is that I told her if anything were ever to happen to me she was to find you and deliver it. If you're reading this, that means my worst fears have come to pass and I've died, leaving my daughter alone with her father. Lucas, you were right. Henry Davis is nothing more than a self centered boy. The first few years of marriage were wonderful. But then everything changed. He had to know my every move. He was convinced I was flirting with every man in town. Supper wasn't warm enough when he came home, or I served it too late in the evening for his liking. My vows became my prison sentence and my home became my prison. Often I wished for an escape in death, but I couldn't leave Rachael with him. I tried to run once, but he found us… I couldn't try it again; I couldn't bear to watch him beat Rachael like that again because I wanted to run away. He threatened to kill her if I tried to run, and when I tried convincing Rachael to go… she said if she did she'd be killing me. So for years, we've endured this torture together. Now, I can only assume she's facing it alone. Lucas, I have no right to make any requests of you, but please don't blame Rachael for what I did. She's innocent and paying for my mistakes, please, I beg you to help her. I'm asking you to do everything you possibly can to remove her from Henry's custody; he
will come after her. I'm asking you to do what I failed to do as her mother- protect her. I know I have no right to ask this of you either… but I know you can give her the love she needs to be set free from the pain of her past. Lucas… I'm asking you to raise her as your own. She needs a family that can love her, that can care for her, that can give her a proper home. I know you can give it to her… and I pray you can forgive me enough to do so.

Lucas, thank you for always being there. I'm sorry I wasn't.

With Love, Klarissa”


“Oh, Lucas…”

Milly touched her husband's face as the tears fell down his cheeks.

“I should've done more to find her…” Lucas struggled to whisper.

Milly held Lucas’s face in her hands and looked into his eyes.

“None of this is your fault, Lucas McCain! But right now, we have an opportunity to rescue Rachael from the life she's lived. I have a feeling Henry Davis isn't going to be too far behind his daughter.”

“Milly… you're alright with us… taking her in?”

“Of course I am. She's our niece. You know as well as I do that family is what you make it… especially in this family.”

Lucas wrapped his arms around Milly and gave her a long kiss.

“Thank you for coming after me.”

“Lucas, I'm your wife. I'm here for better or for worse. I'm here to love you, and I know the Lucas McCain I married doesn't turn to alcohol to solve his problems.”

“I think we need to pay a visit to Ned… he should know how to go about the whole custody thing. Meanwhile… I think it might be best to move Rachael to the ranch.”

10MC10


“I can't thank you enough for taking me in while I'm waiting for my memory to return. This town has such wonderful people,” Rachael stated after dinner with the McCains her first evening at the ranch.

“It's our pleasure. I'm sure having your own room in a home will be a little more comfortable than staying at Doc's,” Lucas replied as Milly began to take care of the dishes.

“Please, Mrs. McCain, you made such a wonderful meal. Let me take care of the dishes,” Rachael stated.

“I don't mind-”

“Aunt Milly, I'll help her. You did all the work while I was running errands, why don't you relax for a while?” Cassie suggested.

“But-”

“Ma, you need to take a break,” Mark joined in.

Milly looked to Lucas for help, but he just gave her a look telling her to take it easy.

“Alright, I know when I'm not wanted,” Milly teased.

Rachael and Cassie cleared the dishes as the men made their way to the barn to do the evening chores and Milly went to sit on the front porch.

As the two were cleaning, Cassie could tell something was on the girl's mind.

“Is something wrong?” Cassie finally inquired.

“... I hope you don't find me rude… but do you find it strange being married to your cousin?”

Cassie laughed as she realized what Rachael must have thought. First cousin marriages weren't unheard of… but they were being looked down upon more and more.

“I'm sorry,” Cassie began to apologize. “Our family tree is quite complicated. I'm not related to Mark by blood. Mark's biological mother died when he was six, his Pa married Milly when Mark was eighteen. My step-mother is Aunt Milly’s sister.”

“I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-”

“Oh, it's quite alright. Around here, you have to speak your mind and ask question or things may never get explained.”

“So whose side of the family is the hotel owner and deputy on?”

“The deputy is Mark's biological mother's brother. He moved to town a few years ago and married Lou. Which also complicates matters.”

“You were right, your family tree is complicated.”

The two laughed as they continued working on their task.

Later that evening, the McCains and Rachael were sitting in the front room when they heard someone ride up to the house. Lucas answered the door to find Ned on the porch.

“Evening, Ned. What brings you out here tonight?” Lucas asked as he opened the door for his nephew to come inside.

“... Can I talk to you privately?”

Lucas nodded, grabbed his rifle, and left the house. The two men walked towards the barn as Ned began to explain.

“I was able to get ahold of a judge, but it'll be a few weeks until he can get here. Hopefully by then Rachael’s memory will return… we don't really have a strong case.”

“What do you mean? According to Milly she's bruised all over the place, and the letter-”

“Lucas, I believe the letter, but in a court of law it just won't stand. Anyone could've written it. And as unlikely as the case would be, there are other ways a person can get bruises that bad. I'm sorry, but unless Rachael can say for herself that her father has been abusing her... all we can do is hope that Davis doesn't show up.”

“...Thanks Ned,” Lucas sighed. “Is there anything else we can do?”

“Pray, but I know we've all been doing that.”

“You want to join us inside?”

“Sure would. Say, Aunt Milly doesn't have any of her famous apple pies lying around to be eaten, does she?”

“By some miracle I think there's part of one left. Between Cassie and Mark, pie doesn't stick around here for very long.”

The two made their way back inside and joined the rest of the family. Ned got his pie, and around eight-thirty he left to go back to town. Mark and Cassie took their leave and soon everyone was in bed for the evening.

Lucas, however, was having a difficult time falling asleep. He didn't know what to expect from Davis, and after reading his sister's letter, he could only anticipate the worst. Shortly after midnight, Lucas heard Rachael's door open and close. Concerned, Lucas left his room and went to check on her. He didn't have to go far; Lucas found Rachael sitting on the couch, staring out the window.

“Everything alright?” Lucas asked as he took a seat across from her.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you…”

“I was already awake. You seem disturbed, what's wrong?”

“Nothing, I'm sure.”

“Please, my wife and I want to help you.”

“...It sounds silly, but I had a dream… a nightmare.”

“Do you remember what it was about?”

“...Bits and pieces. I think there was a man with a gun… he was going to shoot someone… I heard the gun go off… but that's it.” Rachael paused before going on, “But it almost seemed different from a dream. It was…”

“...Almost a memory?”

“Maybe.” Lucas saw fear enter into the girl's eyes. “... I certainly hope not. I'm sorry to trouble you.”

Rachael stood to go back to her room, but Lucas put a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“It's no trouble. My wife and I want to help you, and I hope you know that you're safe here.”

“Thank you. Have a goodnight, Mr. McCain.”

11MC11

Two weeks later, the McCains and Rachael were in town running errands. Lucas and Milly were finishing up at the general store and suggested that Rachael head over to the hotel and meet up with Cassie and Mark.

“We'll be over in just a few minutes,” Milly stated.

“Alright.”

Milly watched as her husband's eyes followed their niece out of the store and a grin came over his face.

“What is it?” Milly asked.

“...She is so much like her mother was. Innocent. Care free. It pains me to know how much of that she'll lose when her memory returns.”

“...But we'll be there to help her.” Milly paused before continuing, “Oh, Lucas I left my gloves over at the dress shop.”

“Well, I guess we'll head back that way then.”

After paying for their purchases and putting them in the buckboard, Lucas and Milly went back to the dress shop to get the gloves. To Lucas’s dismay, Milly got caught in a conversation with
the seamstress and Mrs. Smythe. After about ten minutes, Lucas was finally able to cut in and pull his wife away from the shop.

“Sorry Lucas,” Milly apologized after they left the building. “Once she gets going…”

“I know,” Lucas chuckled. “I've had the pleasure of addressing her complaints when I'm filling in for Micah. Thankfully Johnny gets to deal with that now.”

Husband and wife made their way to the hotel and found Cassie and Mark at one of the tables.

“Where'd Rachael run off to?” Milly asked as she and Lucas took their seats.

“What do you mean? I thought she was with you,” Mark said.

“...We sent her over here fifteen or twenty minutes ago,” Lucas replied, worry beginning to show in his face.

“We haven't seen her…” Cassie stated as all four began to stand.

“Ye aren't staying fer supper?” Lou asked as she walked up to them.

“Have you seen Rachael?” Lucas asked.

“Not since this afternoon. Why?”

“We sent her over here a while ago to join Cassie and Mark…” Milly began. “Lucas, you don't think…”

“I don't know what to think. Milly and Cassie, go check at Doc's. She was complaining of a headache earlier. Mark, check the livery and I'll start from the train station. Lou, if she comes by here-”

“I'll send someone for ye right away.”

“Thank you.”

The McCains spread out and quickly searched around town for Rachael. To their horror, no one seemed to have any idea where the girl was.

Mark was the last one back to the hotel, and could read the defeat in everyone else's faces.

“What now?” Mark asked Lucas.

“I suppose the only thing left to do is get a couple men together and search the countryside.”

“I don't mean to intrude,” a man said as he came up behind the family. “But who are you looking for?”

“A girl about fifteen. Brown hair, small build.” Lucas replied.

“She don't happen to have a scar across her forehead, does she?”

“Yes, yes she does!” Milly exclaimed.

“Do you know where she is?” Lucas anxiously asked.

“Well I was riding into town and I saw a man driving a buckboard the opposite direction. I think the girl you're looking for was with him. She was asleep in the back, but I got a good look at the scar.”

“Do you remember what kind of dress she wore?” Cassie asked.

“Don't rightly remember, I'm sorry.”

“Thank you for your help. What way was he driving?” Lucas asked.

“He was taking the road South.”

“Thank you!” Several McCains offered as they rushed out of the building and towards the marshal's office.

Johnny, Micah, Lucas, and Mark were soon following the trail they hoped to be Rachael's. Although they wanted to go along in the buckboard, Lucas and Mark sent Cassie and Milly back to the hotel where they spent the rest of the evening worrying.

12MC12

“Excuse me, miss?”

Rachael turned around to see a man in-between two buildings walking towards her; the shadows making it impossible to make out his face.

“Can I help you?”

“My horse fell lame and I need a hand, my wife is injured in the buckboard. Could you help me?”

“Of course.”

The man quickly turned around and started walking.

“Just behind here, across the road.”

Rachael followed the man and soon saw the buckboard and two horses. But as she came up to the side of the buckboard, she didn't see any sign of the man's wife.

“Sir-” Rachael stopped short as she turned around.

She was suddenly very confused… she knew she recognized this man, and everything in her told her to run. Bits and pieces of memories flooded her mind, but before she could clear her head, the man had one arm around her waist and was holding a cloth over her mouth and nose. Rachael struggled to break free… but felt herself getting weaker and weaker. After a minute of fighting Rachael couldn't even think clear enough to keep struggling. She felt dizzy… her vision was becoming blurred… things around her were beginning to spin.

In front of her, Rachael thought she could see a woman, suddenly being thrown against the wall.

“ I love you,” the woman mouthed.

“Ma, please!” Rachael could hear her own voice sobbing in her head. “ Why did you have to kill her?!”

“ Don't you dare try to run. I will find you,” a cruel voice echoed in her mind. “I will find you.”
Suddenly, all was black.

*****

As Rachael slowly opened her eyes, she struggled to get her bearings. Finally, she recognized the feeling of a wooden floor, and her wrists remembered all too well what it felt like to be bound by course rope.

“I was hoping you wouldn't regain consciousness,” the man who had stopped her in town stated.

Rachael stared across the room at her father, hate filling her being. She didn't know what to say or if she could respond. Years of memories flooded her brain as she began to remember the life of terror she had lived.

“Doesn't make much difference either way,” Henry Davis eventually continued.

The man crossed the room and began to cut the ropes that bound Rachael's wrists.

“What are you doing?” Rachael asked.

“Well I can't exactly have your death looking like a murder, can I?”

“Why?!” Rachael suddenly yelled. “Why did you have to kill her?? She never did anything to you!”

“That woman was the worst mistake of my life! And you… I should've done away with you a long time ago, you worthless brat! I'm gonna throw you into the river like I should've done the day you were born!”

Henry began dragging his daughter towards the door as she kicked and clawed at him. Suddenly, Rachael saw the pistol in his holster. As she grabbed for it and pulled it from the holster, he grabbed her wrist. They struggled with the gun until finally Rachael pulled the trigger and a bullet struck his leg. Rachael pulled away and aimed the gun at him; at the same time Henry grabbed the knife from the table and pointed it towards her.

“You may be good with a gun, but you couldn't kill your own flesh and blood.”

Rachael's hands shook as she tried to place her finger over the trigger again… and as Henry came towards her with the knife, she couldn't help but hesitate.
 
13MC13

Hearing the gun shot and seeing the cabin it came from, the four men urged their horses to go faster.

Lucas reached the building first, only in time to hear a gun go off again.

Kicking in the door, Lucas rushed inside and was shocked by the scene that greeted him.

Rachael stood pointing the gun at a prone body on the floor. Her eyes had locked onto the dead man in front of her and she didn't give any indication that she was aware of Lucas's presence.

As Micah, Johnny, and Mark came running up behind Lucas, he motioned for them to stay back. Lucas ever so carefully made his way towards his niece. Her eyes were glazed over… her face had no glow… no life… no innocence to it.

Lucas knelt down next to Rachael and tenderly put a hand on her shoulder. She slowly looked to Lucas, then the man, then the gun she still tightly gripped.

“Rachael… it's alright. You can let go.” Lucas took hold of the top of the gun, noticing that his niece's knuckles were white from holding the gun so tight. “Rachael, give me the gun.”

Ever so slowly, Rachael released her grip before finally looking at Lucas. Her blank face broke as devastation took over.

“I remember…” Rachael whispered. “Oh, Uncle Lucas, I remember!”

Rachael began to sob as she collapsed into her uncle's arms. Lucas picked her up and carried her out of the cabin, away from the horrid scene.

Following Lucas’s gesture, Micah and Johnny went inside the building as Mark followed his Pa at a distance.

Mark watched as his father comforted his cousin; he could see the compassion and love Lucas was pouring out to her.

Mark's heart ached as he could only imagine what she had gone through. How he wished people like Henry Davis weren't born into the world.

Some time later, Rachael felt composed enough to head back to town, but didn't think she could handle a horse. No one dared ask her if she wanted to ride back in the buckboard; Johnny and Micah had already loaded the covered body in the back. Rachael rode in the saddle behind Mark, tightly holding on. Mark could feel the fear Rachael felt due to the grip she had on him, and again he ached for her.

Milly, Cassie and Lou rushed out of the hotel and ran towards the group, but kept their distance from Rachel when both Mark and Lucas subtly put their hands up.

As Johnny and Micah dealt with the body, Mark and Lucas saw Rachael to Doc’s; Milly, Cassie and Lou close behind.

After a quick examination, Doc suggested Rachael lie down and rest for a while in one of the rooms. She quickly fell asleep and the three men joined the women in the waiting room.

Lucas explained what they had found, and also explained that although Rachael seemed to have her memory back, she understandably hadn't shared any of the memories with them.

“She's beyond lost in trying to cope with everything… I just hope we can get her through it.”

14MC14

They had returned to the ranch the day after Henry died and Rachael simply went to her room without saying a word. She seldom spoke and only ate when Lucas and Milly made her. The third evening home, the four McCains sat in the front room, all wishing Rachael would come out of her room.

“Lucas, I'm worried. She can't keep this all inside,” Milly commented as she laid her head on Lucas's shoulder.

“I know, but I've dealt with enough situations like this in the war to know we need to give her time.”

“But she's fifteen, not a grown man!”

“I know, Milly. But she still needs time.”

“Uncle Lucas, what if I tried talking to her,” Cassie began. “Maybe-”

“Actually, I'd like to talk to all of you if that's alright.”

The McCains looked up to see Rachael enter the room. Lucas and Mark stood and waited for her to take a seat before they did the same.

“... I'm sorry to have shut you all out for so long…”

“Rachael,” Milly began. “You have nothing to apologize for. As your family we're worried about you, but we understand that until a few weeks ago, we were strangers to you.”

“Thank you. I want you to know though, that I see you as family as well… and I need to say thank you… especially to Uncle Lucas… for accepting me as your family.”

“It's what you are,” Lucas replied. “You're my sister's daughter. And I've loved you both since the days you were born.”

“I'm sure you all know about my mother running away with my father.” Rachael paused and waited for them to nod. “I don't remember much arguing when I was little. In fact, I remember a very strong relationship between my parents. Maybe it was real. Maybe I imagined it because it's what I wanted. But somewhere along the line my father… he started beating my mother. It started out with ‘just’ a blow here or a slap there. But it got to the point where he was throwing things at the both of us, beating us till we were nearly unconscious. I can't tell you how many times one of us were thrown into the wall. And then one night he came home drunker than ever… he threw her into the wall one last time. He killed her.” Rachael's voice had died down to
a whisper, and she sat there for several minutes unable to go on. Finally, Rachael found her voice again. “He buried her and I grabbed what I could and I ran. Ma told me where you lived and had showed me a map several times of how to get here. I just didn't realize how long it would take. Then Liberty threw me when the storm spooked her. I've been thrown many a time, but I guess I hit my head a little too hard. You know what happened from there. Then you sent me to meet Mark and Cassie. And he called me over from the ally. By the time my mind could make the connection of who he was, he had put a cloth over my face and it made me pass out. Almost like smelling salts in reverse… but it took a few minutes. Then I woke up in the cabin. He started to untie me and tell me he was going to kill me… like he should have the day I was born…”

The pain and shame was evident in Rachael's voice; Cassie reached out and put a comforting hand on Rachael’s.

“...He started dragging me outside, I saw the gun and I grabbed it. We struggled… I was able to get a shot off at his leg. I backed away as he grabbed a knife… he lunged towards me… and I hesitated.” Rachael briefly paused in confusion. “He killed my mother… he was trying to kill me… and I hesitated.”

“Rachael, taking another person's life… whether they deserve it or not… is never easy. In a sense, I'm thankful you hesitated. It shows that you aren't numb to the consequences of death,” Lucas tenderly stated.

“...But I still killed him.”

“Because you had to,” Mark reminded.

“...Next thing I knew, Uncle Lucas was there… and it was finally over.”

“And he will never touch you again,” Milly assured.

A tear escaped the corner of Rachael’s eye and Cassie reached out to give her a long hug.

After several minutes of silence, Rachael spoke up again.

“I suppose I should get my things together.”

“Why on earth would you say that?” Lucas asked in confusion.

“... I've burdened your family enough-”

“Rachael, this is our family. Your mother wanted you to have a safe home with a family who loved you, and that's exactly what we want to give you,” Lucas replied. “You need time to grieve, to cope, to be a girl. We've already been trying to work out the paperwork, and in a few days Milly and I will be your legal guardians. It's what your mother wanted, it's what we want, and it's what we hope you want. Every member of this family- Lou, Johnny, Ned, Micah, Anna, Catherine, Mark, Cassie, Milly, me, you- adds something to the bond we have. And we'd lose so much if you weren't here with us.”

“You'd really want to take me in?”

“We already have. The question is, are you willing to stay?”

“...On one condition.”

“...Which is?” Lucas asked, a bit confused.

“Aunt Milly, you have to teach me how to make your apple pie.”

“I think I can manage that.”


Reunions & Goodbyes

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

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