The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Rifle Shy
Chapter15
Written by Morgan

Cassie whipped around and looked at Mark in the darkness.

“What did you just say?” Cassie asked in disbelief as tears formed in her eyes.

“... I said… that… I love you, Cassie.”

“Is that what that concentrated look was for? You got your voice back and didn't tell me??” Cassie cried as the tears fell down her face.

Mark pulled Cassie close and gave her kiss before replying.

“I… wasn't sure if I had it or not.” Mark paused and thought for a few seconds before going on. “...Cassie, I love you. I'm sorry…” Mark paused again, still struggling to put his thoughts into words. “...Sorry to have put you through that.”

“Mark, this wasn't your fault!” Cassie exclaimed.

“...Could we talk a little quieter, please? My head feels like a… a... railroad spike was driven through it.”

“Sorry…” Cassie apologetically replied. “How else do you feel?”

“Sore. But it sure does feel good to be able to talk to you again.”

“...Do you remember what happened?”

“A little. I… I remember dropping clothes off for you and heading home. ...I worked on the barn chores for quite a while... and I heard someone come up behind me... I turned around just as they were swinging a gun butt at me. The first blow sent me to the ground. They turned me over and hit me again… and next thing I remember, I was in a doctor's office. ...Do you know what all happened?”

“After you didn't show up in town Sunday, I asked Micah to ride out here. He found your rifle and hat, and a note inside your parent’s home.”

“A note?”

“Someone wanted your Pa to come looking for you.”

“Who?”

“You'll have to ask your Pa… he hasn't really talked about it.”

“Cassie… has my Pa been up here at all? While I was... sleeping or something?”

“No, but I think after looking for you and then coming home to the ranch work, he's just been exhausted.”

“Well I certainly know how tiring the ranch can be.”

“Mark… truthfully… are you going to be alright?”

“Cassie…” Mark paused and did a little math in his head before going on. “...Almost three years ago I promised there wouldn't be any secrets between us. I… intend to keep that secret-”

“Secret?” Cassie asked.

“Promise.” Mark slightly chuckled. “I meant promise. ...I intend to keep that promise for a long time. I told you… or at least tried to tell you at Doc's, that it's going to be alright. I'm going to be alright. You'll see.”

There was a brief silence before Mark continued.

“Cassie, what happened to you while I was gone?”

Even in the dark, Mark knew his question had brought tears to his wife's eyes and he gently used his thumb to wipe each one away as it rolled down her cheek.

“I don't know, Mark,” Cassie finally replied. “I've been worried about you before… but this was different… I don't know how to describe it. I almost couldn't go on; the possibility of Uncle Lucas bringing you home in… in a casket haunted me. I felt like I almost died on the inside.”

“I accidentally overheard you and Ma talking the other day… what was she saying about you getting sick?”

“...Between the possibility of losing Ma, and then the possibility of losing you… and such little sleep… it took a toll on me.”

“is it still taking a toll?”

“...A little, but Doc says it should go away as everything gets back to normal.”

“You let me know if it doesn't, and I don't want you over doing it.”

“By the way you're talking, you'd think I was the one knocking on death’s door.”

“Please, take it easy..., Cass.”

“I will.”

Husband and wife talked long into the night. Every once in a while, Mark would struggle to find a word or found it difficult to communicate what he meant, but most of the time his sentences were coherent or Cassie would understand what he was trying to say.

The next morning, Cassie was fixing breakfast when there was a knock at the door.

“It's open, Rachael,” Cassie called from the stove.

Rachael entered the home and put the eggs and milk on the table.

“Flapjacks?” Rachael asked with intrigue.

“As soon as I add the eggs and milk. Thanks for bringing them up. And for goodness sake, you don't have to wait for an invitation to come in!”

“How's Mark?”

“Good enough to be asking for flapjacks.”

“Well that's good-” Rachael stopped short as she realized what Cassie had just said. “You mean…?”

“He and I talked for about four hours last night. You want to take the good news down the hill?”

“Well sure, but I gotta get ta school. Do you mind if I pop in real quick?”

“No problem.”

Cassie watched as Rachael eagerly went to talk to Mark. Her smile faded, however, as the nauseous feeling in her stomach intensified. Trying to put it aside, Cassie continued to work on breakfast. A few minutes later, Rachael headed back down the hill. A while after she had left, Milly entered the younger McCain’s home.

“I hear a certain young man is back to ordering his wife around?” Milly teased.

“Call it what you like,” Mark replied through the open doorway.

“Good to hear your voice again, Mark. I can't tell you how excited Lucas and I were to hear the news,” Milly said as she walked into the bedroom.

“...Did Pa not come up with you?” Mark asked.

“No, he said he had to meet Oat’s hands at the fence line and was running late. He'll be up later, I'm sure.”

“How are you doing?” Mark asked, knowing what his Ma must've gone through.

“Fine, now that everyone's almost back to where they should be.”

“Almost?” Mark inquired with curiosity.

“We still have to get you back on the range,” Cassie stated as she brought Mark's breakfast in.

“And I'm sure it won't be long before you're back on your feet,” Milly assured.


And Milly was right; within a week Mark was back to walking around and doing things fine on his own. Every once in a while Cassie would notice a lapse in Mark's attention or he would forget what he was doing, but overall Mark seemed to be almost back to his old self.

The night Doc Burrage gave Mark a clean bill of health, the McCain families invited him to stay for dinner. It was the first time in several weeks that the families had come together for dinner at Lucas and Milly’s, and everyone seemingly had a good time.

Lucas retired early, stating he was tired from a long days work, but invited everyone to stay as long as they wanted. Doc didn't stay much longer and bid the family a goodnight. Milly sent Rachael to bed shortly after due to it being a school night, but she, Mark, and Cassie stayed up visiting for quite a while.

After Mark and Cassie headed home for the evening, Milly straightened the front room a bit before heading to her bedroom, where she was surprised to find Lucas sitting at the desk.

“I thought you went to bed hours ago.”

“Couldn't sleep.”

“You should've joined us.”

“You seemed like you were having a good time,” Lucas replied with a shrug.

Milly looked down just as Lucas put a picture of him and Mark face down on the desk.

“Lucas… is everything alright?” Milly asked as she put her hands on Lucas's shoulders.

Lucas stared blankly at the wall for a long time.

“Lucas?”

“I'm sorry, Milly,” Lucas said as he shook his head. “Everything's fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Lucas reached back and patted her hand as he looked up at her with a smile.

“I'm just tired. Why don't we hit the sack?”


1MC1

Mark and Cassie walked into the barn to see Lucas just finishing up the morning chores.

“Pa, what are you doing up?” Mark asked.

“Work’s gotta get done,” Lucas replied with a shrug.

“Trying to put Cassie and me out of work?” Mark teased.

“...Guess I kinda forgot since you haven't been able to come down for a while. Extra eggs and milk are over on the porch, Cassie.”

“Thank you,” Cassie replied before heading back out of the barn.

“What can I do?” Mark asked.

“Go ahead and have breakfast with Cassie, I've got everything pretty much done here.”

“...Are you sure?”

“Of course. Then I was thinking we could split up for the day. If you want to take the south pasture, I can check over by the box canyon.”

“...Alright,” Mark replied, sensing finality in his father's statement.

Mark stood there for a few seconds, feeling like something was off.

“Pa, is everything alright?”

“Why do you ask?” Lucas inquired.

“I don't know, I just feel like something's… wrong.”

“You know how feelings can be, Mark. Give it time, your feelings will catch up with fact. Now I don't know about you, but I'm hungry, so I'm going to see if your Ma has breakfast finished yet.”

Mark watched his Pa leave the barn and walk to his house before Mark shrugged it off and heading back up the hill.

When Mark walked into the house, he found Cassie bent over the sink, holding her hair back.

“Cassie?” Mark called as he made his way towards his wife. “What's wrong?”

“It's nothing.” Cassie stated as she stood up straight.

“Nothing?” Mark asked as he began pumping water to clear out the sink. “You're not doing better, are you?”

“I don't know…” Cassie replied as her eyes dropped to the floor.

Mark stopped and lifted his wife's chin up.

“What's going on, Cass?” Mark asked in concern.

“Just the same headache and nausea I've had since… since what happened.”

“You seemed a little dizzy this morning, too.”

“It'll pass.”

“Cassie, would you do me a favour and rest today, please?”

“I'll be with your Ma all day, I'll be fine.”

“Cassie…”

“I need to talk to her. I think it will help me put everything behind me.”

“I thought you said we had talked about everything we needed to?”

“Between you and me, yes. I'm coming to terms, but Aunt Milly just puts everything in a way that… I don't know… finalizes it.”

“I can understand. Still, just take it easy, please.”

“I will.”

“I'll get breakfast started if you want to clean up.”

“Thank you, Mark.”

Mark was glad to see that Cassie seemed to be doing a little better before he left for the range that day, but also dropped by his Ma’s to ask her to make sure Cassie took it easy.

Cassie was able to talk to Milly, and found comfort in her aunt's counsel. Yet Milly could sense that there was something more.

“What is it, Cassie? Something's eating at you,” Milly stated in concern.

There was a long pause before Cassie answered.

“...Aunt Milly, I'm sorry.”

“For what?” Milly inquired.

“For shutting you out while Mark was missing. For making things that much more difficult. I should've realized how hard that had to be on you, as well.”

“Cassie, it's-”

“Please don't say it's alright, because it isn't. I should've looked beyond myself.”

“Cassie, pain and fear are tricky things. I'm just glad you've seemed to snap out of it… your mother and I were both worried when you started reacting the way you did with Aiyana.”

“... I felt like it was Aiyana all over again… but worse. Finally, someone had been able to be that close… even closer to me. Mark broke down the walls I had built and I allowed myself to feel again. And then it was like he was gone… I thought that if I shut everyone out and didn't have to talk about it, it would hurt less…”

“But it ended up hurting more.”

Cassie nodded in response.

“Cassie, we can't go back. We can't change what we've done. But we can learn from the past and move forward. And now you've learned that you can talk about your hurts and pains to family and friends… that you don't have to shut down. Just live life… moving forward, not forgetting to learn from the past.”

“Thank you, Aunt Milly.”

“Now, Mark said you still aren't feeling well?”

“It comes and goes… but I'm sure I'll be fine. We're catching up on rest and things are finally getting back to normal.”

“Is there ever a normal around here?” Milly laughed.

“Well… things are getting as close to a normal as we can have.”

“Why don't we do a little baking… celebrate a little bit?”

“What'd you have in mind?”

“I think I still have some canned apples left, why don't we bake an apple pie?”

“Mark's going to miss being spoiled when everything dies down,” Cassie chuckled.

“Why not spoil him while we can? Let's get to it!”


2MC2

Mark rode up to Lucas and was surprised to see the slightest look of irritation cross his Pa’s face before it was replaced by a hesitant smile.

“I thought you were working the south pasture?” Lucas inquired.

“I finished up and figured I might as well come out and help you.”

“I'll be done in a while, why don't you head on home?”

“I don't mind,” Mark said as he dismounted and picketed BlueBoy. “Then we can ride in together.”

“Suit yourself.” Lucas shrugged.

It was a strangely quiet afternoon and ride back to the homestead. Mark tried starting multiple conversations with Lucas, but none of them went anywhere.

“Pa, did something happen on your trip?” Mark finally asked.

“What trip?”

“The one you took with Ma, to see Cora and Ben?”

“No.”

“Then what's wrong?”

“Nothing, Mark,” Lucas replied firmly.

As the homestead came into view, Lucas quickened Razor's pace and headed for the barn.

Everyone could feel tension that evening, but no one knew why it was there. There was a very strained silence between father and son… everyone could feel it.
Unlike times before, Mark and Cassie left shortly after dinner, Lucas hardly saying a word to them.

Over the next few days, this routine continued. Lucas would beat Cassie and Mark to the morning chores and was usually already gone on the range before Mark saddled up.

Finally one morning, Mark was able to get up before his Pa had everything completed. As he approached the barn though, he could hear raised voices coming from inside.

“You said I could ride with you when the weather got better,” Rachael stated. “Uncle Lucas, I want to learn how to work the cattle! I'm tired of spending my Saturdays around here.”

“Some other time, Rachael,” Lucas shortly replied. “Right now's not a good time.”

“When will it be a good time?”

“I don't know!” Lucas yelled.

Rachael nodded and quickly left the barn. Mark caught her arm before whispering to her.

“Have things been like this for a while?”

“Ever since you two got back. You see how it is at supper.”

“I figured it had something to do with Cass and me.”

“No, he's like that all the time. He hardly talks to Aunt Milly or me.”

“Thanks,” Mark replied. “Oh, and Rachael?”

“Yeah, Mark?”

“If my Ma says it's alright, you can grab my fishing pole from the house and hit the pond.”

“Really?”

“I spent my fair share of Saturday's around here, I know what it's like. You're more than welcome to it.”

“Thanks!”

Mark watched as Rachael sprinted into the house and gave a slight chuckle as he headed into the barn.

“What are you doing?” Lucas asked as Mark picked up a shovel.

“Trying to fulfill my responsibilities,” Mark replied as he started mucking the stalls.

“Mark, I think you need to take it easier.”

“Pa, Doc gave me a clean bill of health almost a week ago, I'm fine,” Mark assured.

“Mark, I don't think you realize what-”

“Pa, what's the matter?” Mark asked for what felt like the hundredth time that week.

“Nothing! I don't know why you keep asking me that! If you feel fine, then you feel fine! It's about time you started pulling your weight anyway!”

Mark stared after Lucas in confusion as his Pa stormed out of the barn. Mark turned back to his task as he tried to figure out what in the world was going on with his father.

After finishing the morning chores, Mark headed up the hill to let Cassie know that he was riding into town.

“What about your breakfast?” Cassie asked.

“Don't worry about it, I'll get something at Lou's. You could stand to go back to bed for a while.”

“Are you sure?”

“BlueBoy's already saddled. I'll see you when I get home tonight.”

Mark spent the ride into town trying to come up with answers, but he just ended up with more questions. He didn't know if he'd ever felt so far removed from his Pa, and didn't understand why their relationship was where it was at.

“Micah?” Mark called as he entered the Marshal's office.

“Sorry, he's not here.” Johnny replied as he came from the back room. “Taking care of business in Clive.”

“I guess you'll have to do,” Mark teased as he tossed his hat on the desk.

Johnny could sense something was off, and was concerned about the look Mark held on his face.

“What's wrong, Mark?”

“It's Pa.”

“What about him?”

“That's just it. It's not him.”

“What do you mean?” Johnny asked as he studied his nephew.

“Ever since I woke up in Belen, Pa’s been… different.”

“Different how?”

Mark sighed and thought for a moment before replying.

“Take this morning for instance. I was trying to do my usual morning chores and he started saying I needed to take it easy. Then when I asked what was wrong, he practically blew up-”

“Mark, I'm sure he's just worried. I'm sure they all are.”

“This is different, Uncle Johnny. He then started yelling that if I felt fine, then I could start pulling my weight around the ranch… which I've been trying to do, but he won't really let me. He yelled at Rachael this morning over her riding the range with him; he's been short with everyone, and is avoiding me like the plague.”

“Mark, you're grown up, but I'm sure Lucas felt like he should've been here when Hazlitt showed up at the ranch.”

“Hazlitt’s the one?” Mark asked.

“Lucas didn't tell you?”

“No, I can't really get him to have any kind of a conversation with me.”

Johnny sighed before unlocking a drawer and pulling out a piece of paper. He let Mark read the poem Hazlitt had left. Mark cringed as he read it, now understanding more than ever what his wife had gone through.

“I'm sure your father is just worried,” Johnny assured as he sat down.

“...Uncle Johnny, I've seen worried. It doesn't look like this. Worried looks like him hovering over me like a mother hen. Worried looks like him making sure we talk about everything that happened. Worried looks like him keeping us together as much as possible. This last week, he's purposely separated us on the range. He has only been speaking to me if it's necessary. When we were in Belen, he got a hotel room. Although I heard him come in and check with the doctor, he seldom came into my room. When I was still on bed rest at the house, he didn't come up once. Rachael said he's hardly speaking to her and Ma. Something's wrong.”

“Mark, I-”

“Johnny, come quick!” Sweeney yelled as he entered the office.

“What's wrong?” Johnny asked as he and Mark stood.

“It's Micah, at Doc's!”

“Micah?” Johnny asked as he and Mark began to follow Sweeney down the street.

“I thought you said he was over in the next town?” Mark asked Johnny.

“The stage found him passed out on the road,” Sweeney replied. “Completely unresponsive, fever, chills, the whole bit.”

“What'd Doc say?” Johnny questioned.

“He said to get you while he examined him.”

The three men entered the office, waiting for Doc to come out. What only took a few minutes seemed to take an eternity, but Burrage finally joined them in the waiting room.

“Well?” Johnny asked.

“Influenza,” the doctor solemnly replied.

“How can you be so sure?” Sweeney asked.

“Because I have two more patients back there with it who came in this morning,” Burrage informed as he pointed to the hallway.

“Doc, this isn't good…” Johnny commented with concern.

“No illness ever is. We may be too late, but I think it'd be a good idea to spread the word and keep everyone home. Tell Griswold I said no school for the next week at least, and we definitely shouldn't hold a church service tomorrow. We should probably check up on the outlining ranches, too,” Doc suggested.

“Mark, Sweeney, could you give me a hand?” Johnny asked.

Both men nodded before Sweeney spoke up, “I can start spreading the word around town.”

“Good,” Johnny replied. “Mark, can you head north from town and I'll head south? We should be able to reach most ranches by dusk.”

“Sure, but what do we do if they've come down with it?” Mark asked.

“I'll send you with some medicine,” Doc began, “Have them start up on medication and tell them to stay away from town unless it gets really bad and they need my attention. Keep a list of anyone's been affected so I can make house calls.”

Within a few short moments, Mark and Johnny had rode out of town to check up on the outlining ranches. By evening, they both returned with a list of a few homes that had been hit and left it with Doc.
Johnny sent Mark home and thanked him for his help.

While Mark was unsaddling BlueBoy that night, Lucas came out to the barn.

“Where have you been all day?” Lucas asked angrily, with just a hint of concern.

“Influenza hit. Micah and a few other town folk are down; Johnny and I checked up on the outlining ranches… several families were affected.”

“...Micah?”

“Doc won't know for a few days which way it'll go.” Mark paused before going on, “Did you have supper already?”

“Yes, but Cassie took a plate up the hill for you.”

“She already went up for the night?” Mark asked in surprise.

“She said she was tired, and-”

“Pa, Cassie-” Mark didn't finish his statement and ran out the barn and up the hill, Lucas close behind.

Mark found Cassie shivering on the bed, still in her day clothes. He rushed towards her and gently placed his hand on her head. Mark could feel the heat radiating from her body.

“Pa, the buckboard!”

Lucas ran back down the hill and got the buckboard ready as Mark grabbed several blankets and covered his wife.

“Mark…” Cassie called through chattering teeth.

Mark knelt next to his wife and put a comforting hand on her arm.

“It’ll be alright, Cass. We'll get you to Doc's and it'll be alright. Just try to rest.”

“Mark…”

Mark ran his fingers through her hair.

“Just rest.”


3MC3

“Was that the last one?” Doctor Carr asked as he and Anna walked down a set of porch steps.

“No, there's one more. Dr. Wyatt asked us to cover it, two blocks over,” Anna replied.

“Lead the way.”

Doctor and nurse continued to talk as they headed towards the next home. The doctor knocked on the door and waited for it to be opened.

“Can I-” the pregnant woman on the other side of the door stopped short as she saw who stood in front of her.

“Priscilla?” The doctor asked in confusion.

“Jason, what are you doing here??” The woman demanded.

“My job,” the doctor replied, still in shock.

“Well you're certainly not doing it here!” The woman declared. “I can't believe you are still allowed to practice!”

“Priscilla-”

“Your nurse is welcome. You are not, and you better believe I'll be making a trip down to the hospital! I'll talk to the authorities at the school as well, to make sure you're not influencing the minds of the students!”

“...Anna, I'll wait out here,” Jason informed her. “You best go in alone.”

Anna nodded in confusion as Dr. Carr offered her his medical bag. She followed the woman inside, a hundred questions flooding her mind.

“That sorry excuse for a man shouldn't be allowed within two miles of a hospital!”

“He still has a license to practice medicine, I'm sure there's some sort of misunderstanding,” Anna assured.

“Misunderstanding?!” The woman declared. “There's no misunderstanding about a doctor misdiagnosing a case of Typhoid! He killed my husband!”

Anna stood there in awkward confusion, knowing the woman couldn't be more than seven months pregnant.

“Six months ago my husband and I were traveling in New York, when he came down with an illness. We went to the closest hospital and that sorry excuse of a doctor was there. We tried telling him it was more, but he and his cohort dismissed it as a case of indigestion. Indigestion!”

Anna didn't know what to think. Due to her previous experience with the doctor, she was inclined to believe the woman… but right now wasn't the time to figure that out.

“Please, ma'am,” Anna finally began, “You need to calm down, for your child's sake.”

The woman huffed as she laid down on the sofa.

“I suppose you don't believe me,” she replied.

“... I honestly don't know what to think. Please, just let me do my job.”

“So you can hurry along with the doctor so he can kill the next patient?”

“Please, ma'am…”

“Do what you need to do.”

Anna couldn't finish the check-up quick enough. She was relieved to leave the house… the way the woman's cold eyes glared at her made her feel extremely uncomfortable. Yet it was a very difficult walk back to the hospital. Neither doctor or nurse knew what to say to the other, leaving the silence to hang in the air.

Once they arrived back, Dr. Carr disappeared into the halls of the hospital. Anna finished her duties before returning to the school and collapsing onto her bed.
Even after his initial error, Anna had learned to trust the doctor and even began to enjoy his company. ...And now this? She didn't want to believe the woman, but why would she lie?

Anna tried to forget the situation and go to sleep, but it turned out to be a long night of tossing and turning.
Morning finally came, and Anna put aside what had happened the day before to focus on her studies.

When she arrived at the hospital that afternoon, however, she was surprised to see Doctor Stanley waiting for her.

“Where's Dr. Carr?”

“Something… came up. He won't be able to do house calls this afternoon. Looks like it's you and me again.”

Anna returned the doctor's polite smile and followed him out the doors. As they walked, she gave him a brief summary of changes in different patients; thankful for something to occupy her mind other than her questions.

The next several days made Anna lean towards believing the woman's story more and more. No one she asked had seen Dr. Carr, and she noticed that he no longer was written down for any shifts.
By the end of the week, word had spread around the hospital that the doctor had accepted a position elsewhere and was needed to come at once.

Anna couldn't help but question the truth of the story… it was mighty convenient.


4MC4

Mark sat in a chair beside his wife, holding her hand as Doc Burrage came into the room.

“How long ago she'd fall asleep?” The elderly man inquired.

“Probably ten minutes after you gave her the medication.” Mark paused before going on, “Doc, how could I have been so stupid? I knew she hadn't been feeling well. I didn't think anything of it until Pa said that she went up the hill saying she was tired.”

“Don't blame yourself, Mark. You had a lot on your mind, trying to help Johnny out. Besides, we thought her symptoms were from stress.”

“I just wish I would've considered it sooner.”

“The good news is that we have medicine, and she should be fine in a few days.”

“Doc, her fever though…”

“It is high, but as long as we keep enough food in her so her body doesn't wear out, she'll be fine.”

“...Have you seen my Pa?”

“He said he was going back to the ranch and that someone would be back tomorrow.”

“Figures…” Mark mumbled.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” The doctor inquired with a raised eyebrow.

“I don't know, Doc. I just don't feel like he cares.”

“Hold it just one minute, Mark McCain. Not too long ago he risked his neck to bring you back home.”

“I'm sorry, it's not exactly what I meant.”

“Not exactly?”

“I know he has to care… in some way. But he's been so… distant. He hardly talks to me… hardly looks at me.”

“Mark, a father's love for their child can do strange things at strange times. Just give it some time.”

“This doesn't feel like love, Doc,” Mark bluntly stated.

“Give it time.”

“How would you know? You're not even-” Mark stopped short as he read the look on Burrage's face.

“Every man is entitled to his secrets, Mark. Give it time.”

Mark slowly nodded as Doc Burrage left the room.

He sighed as he leaned back in the chair, stretching out his long legs. As much as Mark fought it, he couldn't help but fall asleep. He slept for several hours before being woken by Cassie stirring in the bed.
He lovingly looked down at her and swept a few strands of hair out of her face. He could hear her mumbling something, but couldn't quite understand it. Then her mumbles became louder and louder until she was calling out in her sleep.

“Mark!” She yelled. “Please, please don't!”

Mark put one hand on her shoulder as held his other hand to her face, speaking softly in attempt to calm her.

“Shh, it's alright, Cassie…”

Doc Burrage was soon in the room and standing across from Mark.

“The fever have her talking?” The doctor asked.

“I think so… Doc, is there a sedative or anything you can give her?”

“I don't think that would be wise in her condition. If we give her any more medication there's no telling how long it will be before she wakes again. I'll bring you more water and towels, if you wouldn't mind trying to cool her down some.”

“Of course.”

Doc picked up the empty bowl beside the bed, left to fill it up, and grabbed some clean cloths.When he returned, he handed them to Mark and watched as the husband tended to his wife. She slowly began to calm, but was still restless.

“Just keep doing what you are, Mark. I'll be back to check on her in awhile.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

It was a long night and Doc was concerned that Cassie didn't seem to be responding to the medication at all. In fact, she seemed to be getting worse. He apprehensively increased the dosage, not wanting to overdo it. He was even more hesitant to leave to make house calls, but he didn't really have a choice.

As Doc left the office the next morning, he saw Milly and Rachael pulling up in the buck board.

“You two should be back at the ranch,” Doc stated.

“We've already been exposed,” Milly replied. “How's Cassie?”

“... We're waiting for the medicine to do something besides make her sleep. Give it time.”

“How's Mark handling it?” Rachael asked with concern.

“He's worried, but keeping a level head. Either of you or Lucas experiencing any symptoms?”

“No, and hopefully won't,” Milly answered

“Where is Lucas?” The doctor inquired

“Rachael and I haven't seen him since last night. He may be giving Johnny a hand.”

“Wouldn't surprise me. Now, I know you've been exposed, but there's no use in exposing yourself more. Why don't you head on home?”

Milly hesitated before turning to Rachael.

“Could you please run that dish back to Lou?”

“Yes ma'am.”

Rachael jumped down from the buckboard before running down the street.

“Doc, I need some more medicine.”

“Things flaring up again?”

“A bit.”

“Hold on one second.”

The doctor went back inside the office and came out with a bottle.

“Have you talked to Lucas about it?” He asked as he handed her the medicine.

“No, things have been… well, he's under a lot of stress. I don't want to worry him. It'll pass.”

“Just make sure you tell him before he finds out, or I'm sure he won't be too happy.”

“As long as you don't say anything, he won't find out before I talk to him about it,” Milly answered.

“Just be careful, and don't overdo it. Don't forget you still have that handy wheelchair around the house, too.”

“I don't think it'll get that bad,” Milly laughed. “But thanks for your concern.”

“I'll see you when this whole epidemic is over.”

“Alright. Please tell Mark and Cassie we dropped by.”

“I will!”


5MC5

“Where have you two been?” Lucas asked as Milly and Rachael entered the house.

“We rode into town to check up on Mark and Cassie, and to drop a dish off at Lou’s,” Milly replied.

“How are they?” Lucas inquired.

“Cassie's not doing any better, but Doc says Mark's handling it fairly well. Where were you this morning?”

“I went for a ride.”

“Is everything alright?” Milly asked.

“Why does everyone keep asking that?!” Lucas snapped.

Milly was shocked by her husband's reaction and slowly turned to Rachael.

“...Could you please… run up the hill and make sure all the lamps are out at Mark and Cassie’s?”

Rachael nodded before heading to the back door. Milly waited for her to get out of ear shot before continuing.

“Because, Lucas McCain, you haven’t been acting like yourself for the last few weeks. You've shut everyone out and and are practically destroying your relationship with your son!”

“Well, maybe it's best that we don't have one!” Lucas yelled back.

“Lucas, listen to what you're saying! This isn't you! Something's eating at you, and I think it's high time that we talk about it!”

“Milly, leave this one alone.”

“I can't! You're my husband. I can't stand by and watch you destroy our family!”

Lucas turned around and stormed into the bedroom, Milly right on his heels.

“What are you doing?” Milly asked as Lucas grabbed a carpet bag from underneath the bed.

“Going where I can't destroy our family!”

“Lucas, please! This isn't the answer!”

“I need time, Milly!” Lucas replied as he threw a few shirts into the bag.

“Time from what? Responsibility? Family? People who care about you?”

Milly followed Lucas to the kitchen where he threw a few canned goods into the bag.

“I need time from people I care about!”

“Lucas, you're making absolutely no sense! Calm down and think about what you're saying!”

“I have thought about it, for weeks!”

“Lucas-”

Lucas suddenly grabbed Milly and gave her a long kiss. He slowly let her go and looked deep into her eyes.

“I love you.”

Then, he suddenly turned and walked out the back door.

“Where are you going?” Milly asked as she followed Lucas to the barn, tears starting to form in her eyes.

“I don't know. But I promise I'll be back,” Lucas replied as he mounted an already saddled Razor.

“When?”

“I don't know.”

“Lucas, please!” Milly cried as she watched her husband ride out of the barn. “Lucas!”

Milly stared after him in defeat as Lucas rode farther and farther away. Soon, he was just a dot in the distance… and then he was gone.

Milly stood there crying for the longest time. Why did she say so much? Why didn't she approach him differently? What-

“Aunt Milly…?” Rachael hesitantly called as she came up beside her aunt.

“Yes?” Milly asked as she wiped away the tears.

“Where's Uncle Lucas?”

“...He had to take care of something. He has to settle some business with someone.”

“You mean with God?”

“...I suppose it's no secret to you.”

“I can't imagine this being the way he normally handles things…?”

“Rachael, this is the complete opposite of the man I've loved for eight years. I don't know what in the world is happening to him.”

“Do you think he'll be alright?”

“I… I hope so.”

There was a long silence before Rachael turned towards her aunt again.

“Aunt Milly… would you mind teaching me how to quilt?”

“I don't believe for a second that you want to quilt,” Milly laughed.

“...You can't blame me for trying.”

“Come on, playing a card game will keep my mind just as preoccupied. We don't have to torture you with quilting.”

“Actually… I really wouldn't mind… that much.”

“Alright, but just remember- you asked me,” Milly replied with a smile. “Let's head back inside.”

Rachael tried to keep her aunt's mind off of things that afternoon, but she had little success. Even though Milly tried to smile, the worry and concern she held for her husband was evident.


The next evening, Milly was in the front room when she heard a horse ride up to the house. Milly looked through the window and saw Johnny coming up the porch steps. He hardly had knocked on the door before she opened it.

“Evening Milly,” Johnny greeted as she let him inside. “Lucas around?”

“No… he's not. Is something the matter?” Milly replied, confused as to why Johnny would ride out to the ranch so late.

“Well, with Micah down I'm sorta short handed in town; I was hoping he could help me out.”

“Sorry, he left yesterday afternoon and I don't know when he's getting back.”

“Left?” Johnny asked curiously. “Where'd he go?”

“Out of town… on business.”

“Milly, what's going on?”

“Nothing…”

“He's my brother-in-law, I have a right to know.”

“...Lucas needed to do some… soul-searching.”

“Then Mark wasn't over reacting…” Johnny sighed.

“Mark talked to you?” Milly asked.

“Yeah, and I thought he might just be taking things wrong. If things weren't so chaotic in town, I'd go give Lucas a piece of my mind!”

“... I don't think that's what he's needing right now. Don't worry, he said he'd be back.”

“Well I hope he gets back soon. The town's falling apart at the seams. More and more townsfolk are getting sick, and everyone's going stir crazy. The last three days have felt like a week… and Lou came down with it this afternoon.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Milly asked with concern.

“Stay here and don't get sick,” Johnny sighed.

“Have you heard anything about Cassie or Micah?”

“Micah's fever broke this afternoon. Cassie's keeps spiking. She wakes up here and there… but she's absolutely miserable when does.”

“Please, have someone let us know if things change. And if there's anything I can do to help, let me know.”

“... Actually, there is something. Could you keep Maddy for me? Catherine has her now, but I'd feel better if she wasn't in town.

“I'd be happy to watch her for you.”

“I'll bring her by first thing tomorrow morning. Thanks, Milly.”

“No thanks necessary. You make sure you get a good night's rest; we don't need you coming down with it, too.”

“I'll try. See you in the morning?”

“See you then.”


6MC6

Johnny looked out the office window and saw a stranger riding up to the hitching post. The man dismounted and made his way inside.

“Marshal?” The man called.

“Deputy Gibbs,” Johnny introduced himself. “How can I help you?”

“Well I'm sort of passing through, but was wondering if you could help me find someone.”

“You may want to come back at another time,” Johnny informed. “This town’s been hit by influenza, and it’s been spreading like wildfire.”

“So has every other town I've been to the last week. If I'm going to get it, I'm going to get it.”

“Suit yourself,” Johnny shrugged. “Would you like some coffee?”

“I'd be much obliged.”

Johnny poured the man a cup and offered him a seat.

“Now who's the person you're looking for?”

“A man by the name of McCain, Lucas McCain, if I'm not mistaken.”

Johnny eyed the man carefully, knowing too many men came looking for his brother-in-law with bad intentions.

“Name sounds familiar. What's your business with him?”

“Familiar?” The man asked in confusion. “Considering what that man had to go through to live here, I didn't think he'd ever pack up and leave.”

“How do you know him?”

“He saved my life once, nearly ten years ago.”

“Sorry, but I had to be sure you weren't here gunning for him.”

“I understand, with a man of his reputation. He does still live in here, then?”

“Yes, but he's not here now. He left a few days ago.”

“What about his son… Mark?”

“Like I said, influenza has hit the town. He's at the doctor's office caring for his wife.”

The man let out a long whistle.

“Little Mark's married?” The man laughed. “Last time I saw him, he hardly came up to Lucas's waist!”

“Well he's not so little any more. He shot up like a weed.”

“... I am sorry to hear about his wife… maybe it would be best if I came back another time.”

“If you'd like, I'm about to make my way out to their ranch now to drop my daughter off to stay with Lucas’s wife. You're welcome to follow me out there.”

“Thank you, I'd sure appreciate it.”

“I'll be back in ten minutes.”

Johnny left to pick up Maddy, as well as saddle his horse. His daughter sat in the saddle in front of him while Johnny and the man rode out to the McCain ranch.

Milly and Rachael were outside hanging laundry when the two men rode up.

“Morning, Johnny,” Milly called. “Who's this with you?”

“Milly, I'd like you to meet-” Johnny stopped short and turned to the man, realizing he didn’t know his name.

“An old friend of your husband's,” the stranger finished for Johnny.

“...Well it's nice to meet you.”

“I won't trouble you long, ma'am,” the man stated as he dismounted, followed by Johnny. “In short, your husband saved my life once… in multiple ways.”

“Saved your life?” Milly asked in surprise.

“It's a rather long story. But, I would like to ask you to give this to him.”

The man pulled an envelope from his pocket with Lucas’s name on it.

“What is it?” Milly asked.

“A… note of my gratitude. I wish I could give it to him personally, but I must be on my way and this is ten years overdue as it is. Perhaps I'll be able to come back sometime when he's around.”

“Well would you like a meal before you go? Maybe a little time to rest?” Milly invited.

“Thank you, but I really have to be going.” The man tipped his hat to the women. “Thank you for your help, Deputy.”

And with that, the man mounted up and rode off.
The three stood there, a bit confused at what had just happened.

“Johnny, do you know what that was all about?” Milly inquired.

“Not a clue.”

Milly shook her head and sighed before putting the envelope in her pocket.

“Well, can I take her off your hands, or are you going to hold her all day?” Rachael quipped before Johnny handed his daughter to her.

“Thank you both for watching her.”

“It's no trouble,” Milly assured. “You didn't happen by the doctor's office, did you?”

“Of course I did. Micah's doing better, and Lou is still running a fever, but keeping liquids down.”

“...What about Cassie?” Milly asked.

“The same, I'm afraid. Don't worry, Doc will figure it out.”

“Well, again, let us know if you need anything,” Milly offered.

“I see how it is,” Johnny replied.

“See how what is?” Milly asked in confusion.

“You offer a complete stranger a meal and place to stay, but send your own deputy off empty handed,” Johnny teased.

“Well that's because you're family and never wait for an invitation. I expect you to take what you want before it's offered!”

“See you two later!” Johnny said before kissing the top of Maddy's head and saddling up.

“Have a good day!”


7MC7

Mark was sitting at his wife's bedside talking with her when a look he couldn't identity crossed her face.
Cassie held her hand to her back as she tried to sit up a little.

“Cassie, what is it?” Mark asked worriedly.

“I… I don't know. Mark… I'm feeling more nauseous…”

Mark quickly grabbed a bowl and held it for his wife. A few moments later, Cassie let out a loud cry as she clutched her stomach.

“Cassie?!”

“Mark… get Doc!” Cassie yelled before another pain hit her.

Mark ran out of the room to find the doctor, desperate to get Cassie some help. He could hear another yell coming from his wife's room as he ran out of the office. He looked up and down the street, trying to figure out where to go. Doc was making house calls again; he could be anywhere!

Mark ran into the marshal's office yelling for Johnny.

“Mark, what's going on?” The deputy asked as he looked of from the desk.

“It's Cassie, she needs Doc! Where's Doc?!”

“Mark, calm down, it'll be alright. I just saw him over at the Lane’s.”

Without saying another word, Mark hightailed it out of the office and ran for the doctor. He pounded on the Lane's door, wishing someone would hurry up and answer.

Doc was the one who came out, and was surprised to see Mark standing in front of him.

“Mark, what are-”

“It's, Cassie! Please, Doc! She said she was getting really nauseous and then something happened in her stomach... she was crying out it pain.”

The Doctor quickly gathered his supplies and the two ran to the clinic. When they entered the room, Cassie was screaming in pain and there was blood on sheets.

Mark rushed to his wife's side and took her hand, brushing her hair off her forehead.

“Doc??” Mark asked over his shoulder.

Burrage didn't say anything, he simply set to examining Cassie.

“Doc, what's wrong??” Mark demanded through Cassie’s cries.

“Cassie, are you experiencing back pain?” The doctor inquired.

“Back pain? Doc-” Mark's statement was interrupted by another of Cassie's screams as she nodded. “Doc, do something!”

“Mark, get out of here!” Doc ordered as he pointed out the door.

“I'm not leaving-”

“Mark, I'm trying to help your wife. Get out of here and go to the waiting room!”

Mark angrily grabbed his hat and rifle and went to the waiting room. He paced back and forth as he played with his hat for several minutes before Johnny entered the room.

“Mark, what's going on?” Johnny asked as he heard a scream coming from the hallway. “That sounded like Cassie…”

“It is. Doc ordered me out there. When we came back there was blood on the sheets and she was holding onto her stomach for dear life…”

“Did Doc say anything?”

“Yeah, he asked her if her back hurt,” Mark replied bitterly as he collapsed into a chair.

“I'm sure he has a very good reason. You trust Doc, Mark. Let him do his job.”

“... How's Aunt Lou?” Mark asked, wincing as he heard another cry.

“She's improving. Boy, when I told her that your Pa left town, she was just about ready to get up and go after him to give him a piece of her mind!” Johnny chuckled at first, but the smile faded as he saw the look on Mark's face. “... Didn't you know?”

“Like I told you, Pa and I haven't exactly been having the greatest communication lately. When did he leave??”

“Two days ago. Your Ma said he left to do some soul-searching.”

“Uncle Johnny, what did I do? Why is he mad at me?”

“Mark, I don't think he's mad at you. Sometimes a man needs time to clear his head.”

“Well I don't think when your son is about to lose his wife is the best time to go do it!”

“You want him here?”

“Of course I do! I've missed having my Pa around since I woke up in Belen. He just wasn't the same.”

“Mark, I think you need to reevaluate a little.”

“Are you saying I'm the one at fault here??”

“No, Mark,” Johnny said as he sat down and put a hand on his nephew's shoulder. “I'm saying you're hurting, and need to make sure you don't get bitter about it. Your Pa has a lot of demons to fight, and every once in a while he's not going to be here to help you with yours. That's reality. But you have me, and I'm willing to be here and help you, if you want it. But don't get so angry at your father that you shut everyone else out.”

“I'm sorry, Uncle Johnny.” Mark paused before going on. “It's just not like Pa to run away. I'm worried about him, but…” Mark glanced to the door; Cassie's screams still coming from behind it. “Right now, Cassie could be… dying or who knows what. Right now I need him, and he's not here.”

“I know this is hard Mark, especially when you don't know what drove him away. But for the time being, try focusing on getting Cassie better. Then we'll worry about your Pa.”

Mark nodded as Johnny gave him a good slap on the back. They nervously waited, Cassie's cries becoming louder and more intense. Finally, they stopped.

Johnny and Mark stood as the doctor entered the office, the look on his face was grave.

“Mark, first off, Cassie is going to be fine. I've given her some medicine to make her sleep for a while.”

“What was that?” Mark asked with worry.

“Cassie did have influenza… but there was another thing that I didn't recognize. Her influenza masked it… and her body didn't know how to react to the illness or medication because of all the changes that were going on.”

“Doc, what are you saying?” Mark asked, trying to get Burrage to just come out with it.

“Mark, Cassie was pregnant.”

Mark let himself fall into a chair as the words hit him.

“...Was?” Mark finally asked, doubting the doctor had misused the word.

“I'm… I'm afraid so.”

“Did she know?” Johnny asked.

“Not until a few minutes ago.”

“How did… she seem to… handle it?” Mark slowly inquired.

“She acknowledged what I said, but did not react. She fell asleep fairly quickly.”

“Doc, can I go back there now?” Mark asked, his eyes pleading with the doctor.

“Yes.”

The two men watched as the rancher slowly got up and walked out of the room.

“Doc, how far along do you think she was?”

“Two and a half, three months maybe.”

“Do you know why she lost the baby?”

“There are several possibilities. Cassie's healthy, she should've carried to term. Part of it could be the stress of the last month… and I'm afraid some of the medication I gave her to treat the influenza… might have caused it.”

Johnny could see the shame in the doctor's eyes.

“You can't blame yourself, Doc. You didn't know.”

“I wish we would've known… I could have treated her differently…”

“We all wish things could be different in life, but a lot of the times there's nothing we can do.”

“You should've seen Mark's face when I ordered him out of her room. He was infuriated. I wish he could've stayed… but he was causing too much tension.”

“They'll understand, Doc.”

“I hope so.”


8MC8

That evening, Doc was relieved to find that Cassie's fever had broken.

“How long until she wakes?” Mark asked as Doc headed for the door.

“I'm not sure, but hopefully in the next few hours or so.

“Thanks, Doc.”

“Get me if anything changes.”

“I will.”

As Doc left the room, Mark began a silent prayer, thanking God for the broken fever. He continued to sit with his wife, waiting to see her open eyes again.

Mark was reading aloud from a Bible when he was interrupted by a very welcome voice.

“... I'm never going to get tired of hearing your voice.”

Mark looked up from the pages to see Cassie staring back at him with a weak smile on her face.

“Cassie…” was all Mark could manage to say as he put a hand to her face and ran his thumb across her cheek.

“Mark… Doc said I was pregnant… the baby…?”

Mark shook his head no as a tear fell down his own cheek.

Cassie rested her head back against the pillow as more tears fell. Mark climbed into the bed beside his wife and held her, letting himself cry with her.

“Mark, I'm sorry…”

Mark lovingly looked at Cassie and gave her a kiss.

“This isn't your fault, Cassie.”

“Mark… I lost your baby.”

“You carried our baby. Sickness took our baby away. We can thank the Lord it didn't take you away, too.”

“But Mark…”

“Cassie, there's nothing you could've done. Please don't go blaming yourself… this isn't a load you need to carry.”

Cassie rested her head on Mark's chest, tears still falling. She felt so much shame, so much grief. She hadn't even known she was pregnant… but she had lost a life. There wouldn't be a baby in her arms a few months down the road.

Some time had passed before Cassie managed to talk again.

“...How are things between you and your Pa?”

“...Maybe we should discuss this another time.”

“Mark?” Cassie asked, knowing something had happened.

“...He left home a few days ago. No one's seen him.”

“He left?”

“He promised Ma he'd be back, but didn't say when.”

“Does anyone know where he went?”

“No… but I have an idea.”

“Maybe you should-”

“Cassie, not now. I can't leave you now.” Mark replied, not only feeling his own grief, but fearing what might happen to Cassie if she left her only at the time.

“But your Pa-”

“Made his decision. Let's get you feeling better, first. We need to… deal with our grief, first.” Mark paused before going on. “Do you want me to get your Ma?”

“Mark… I don't know if I could face her, or your parents to tell the truth. How could I tell them I lost their grandchild? Besides, I don't think it would be a good time to tell your parents…”

“What do you mean?”

“Mark… I'm pretty sure your Ma’s expecting. I wouldn't want to… dampen their joy or worry her with the possibility. She's wanted a baby for so long...”

“You think my Ma’s pregnant? How can you tell?”

“I've always been able to tell when someone's pregnant… I guess everyone else except me. If I would've paid attention, if I would've-”

“Cassie, please don't go there.” Mark said as he fought his own tears. “This isn't your fault, and you can't blame yourself. But if you want to wait, I'll make sure Doc and Uncle Johnny don't say anything to anyone.”

“Your uncle knows?” Cassie asked, ashamed.

Mark picked her chin up and looked deep into her eyes.

“Cassie, I love you whether you can give me children or not. Our family loves you whether you can have children or not. Uncle Johnny cares a lot about us, and wouldn't even tell Lou if we asked him not to.”

“...Mark, I want to go home...”

“Soon, Cass. Soon.”

------

Two days later, Mark and Cassie were borrowing Lou and Johnny's buggy to return home. Milly was relieved to have the two back home, and helped them get settled up the hill.

That evening, Mark was working on the barn chores when Milly came out to talk with him.

“Mark, about your Pa…”

“...What about him?”

“I know you're angry. I know you've been rightly trying to take care of your wife. But she's home now… and I think it's time you and your Pa settle some things.”

“Even if I did find him, he wouldn't talk to me.”

“Mark, he's hurting just as much as you are right now.”

“He abandoned his family, he'll come back when he's ready to face things again. He always comes back. He… has to come back.”

“Mark, I know he wants to come back, but I think it might just take someone going out there to bring him back.”

“What makes you say that?”

“He left his rifle.”

Mark stopped what he was doing and turned around to face his mother.

“He what?”

“Left his rifle, right inside the door.”

Mark walked past his Ma and began running to the home in which he had once lived. Mark swung the door open and stared blankly at his father's Winchester.

“Pa, what happened?” Mark whispered.

“Mark?” Milly called as she came up beside him.

“...I'm going after him.” Mark stated as he picked up the rifle and walked back to the barn where he began saddling Blue Boy.

Milly followed Mark without saying a word.

“Ma, please take good care of Cass for me.”

“I'll take care her, don't worry.”

“Thank you. You take it easy, too.”

“I will.”

Mark finished getting ready before walking up the hill to explain to his wife.

“...I wasn't going to go, I don't want to leave you, Cassie... but he left his rifle behind. Something is seriously wrong.”

“Mark, I understand. Your Pa belongs here, with the family. I can make it through a few days without you.”

“I'll be back, soon.” Mark assured. “And Cassie, don't forget that what happened isn't your fault.”

“Ride careful.”

Mark gave his wife a kiss before whispering, “I love you,” and leaving his home.


9MC9

Mark rode for several days, hoping he was headed in the right direction. He spent a lot of time praying for the right words to say to his Pa. Each night as Mark made camp, he spent time wondering what he should have done or said to keep this from happening. He wondered if there was anything he could've done. He had never seen his Pa like this, and was extremely concerned and confused by the fact that Lucas had left his rifle. Mark seriously wondered if there was someone wrong with his Pa’s mental state.

Finally, on the fourth day, Mark came upon a campsite that looked like someone was still using it. Mark had dismounted to look at some tracks when he heard a horse neigh from a short distance. He looked around and breathed a slight sigh of relief when he saw Razor picketed several yards off.

Mark made his way to the horse and patted his neck before unsaddling BlueBoy and letting the two friends reunite. He knew his Pa would be back before too long and waited around camp for him to return.

It wasn't too long before Mark heard someone walking up behind him. He stood and turned around, coming face to face with Lucas.

There was shock written all over Lucas's face, intertwined with anger. But as Mark looked into his Pa’s eyes, he could only see fear.

“What are you doing here!?” Lucas demanded.

“Well, you forgot your rifle.” Mark replied, picking the Winchester up.

“You know I didn't forget it.” Lucas spat back.

“... What'd you expect to do if you ran into trouble? Or ran out of food?”

“I can manage. Now I suggest you get back on your horse and get out of here.”

“And waste a four day ride?”

“Mark, you get back on BlueBoy and ride out of here!” Lucas yelled as he pointed towards the horses.

“... I can't.”

“That's an order, Son.”

“I'm sorry, but that's an order I can't follow.”

“Excuse me?” Lucas asked, not believing what he had just heard.

Mark hesitated before replying. It hurt to even think about what he was about to say.

“I'm sorry, but I only follow orders from my father… and the man I'm talking to right now isn't the Lucas McCain that raised me.”

“Mark McCain-”

“Nothing you're going to say is going to make me change my mind. I'm afraid you're stuck with me until we clear this up.”

“There's nothing to clear up.”

“You don't believe that for one second! There's something eating at you, and we need to get it settled! I don't know what you're trying to avoid. You have a family that loves you and wants you back home; a town full of friends who care about you!”

“I'm trying to avoid that hurting you!” Lucas yelled as he gestured to the rifle.

Suddenly, it all began to fall into place. Mark understood his Pa’s flawed thinking.

“Pa, your rifle hasn't ever hurt me!”

“Mark, that rifle symbolizes who I am. It gave me the ridiculous reputation that's gotten us into… I don't want to know how many scrapes! Because of that rifle and the reputation it gave me, you were kidnapped by Indians at ten years old!”

“What are you talking about?”

“They picked you, because I was one who was “known to be a brave man.” I was asked to ride shotgun with the stage when Milly was here the first time because of my ability with the rifle, and as a consequence, you and her could've gotten killed! Need I go on? Because I have plenty of examples to-”

“Pa, you can't blame the rifle!”

“You know what, Mark? You're right. I can only blame myself! Because of me, you were almost murdered three weeks ago! Because of me, outlaws come looking for trouble! Because of me-”

“Because of you, I'm alive! I remember when Charlie was killed, and all I wanted to do was blame your rifle. But you reminded me that without that rifle, I wouldn't have been born. Without you, Pa, I wouldn't be alive! Rachael would probably have been killed by her father by now, Lou would still be at the Jackman's, and Micah would be a good for nothing drunk- if not dead! Without you, Ma would have married Harry Chase and be absolutely miserable! Pa, you can't blame yourself for what happened to me growing up or even three weeks ago. All you ever did was protect me and the laws of the land, and you did a pretty good job of doing both at the same time!”

“Mark, you don't understand!”

“I understand a lot more than you think. You're afraid of not being able to protect your family. You're afraid of putting us in danger. But what you don't understand is that it's not your responsibility to keep us out of danger.”

“Not my-”

“Fear is the result of assuming responsibility God never intended for you to have! Right now, you're assuming the responsibility of deciding when it's time for us to go or not. That's not your job. Just like your rifle is your tool, God uses you as a tool to protect, but you can't make decisions for him. He knows when the best time is to bring us home, not you, and you've got to trust that. Or have you lost all faith?”

“Mark, this isn't a matter of faith.”

“Then what is it?”

Father and son looked deep into each other's eyes, waiting for the other person to back down.

Finally, Lucas turned around and started walking away.

“Where are you going?” Mark called after him.

“To think.”

Mark was fairly confident he had gotten through to his Pa, and let Lucas go. However, it was an extremely long two hours as he waited for his Pa to come back. He wasn't sure what exactly to expect.

Mark was stoking the fire once again when he heard his Pa coming back from his walk. He decided not to say anything, and simply kept pushing the logs around as he waited for Lucas to say something.

Lucas sighed deeply as he sat beside his son. He took off his hat and briefly toyed with it before putting down beside him. He thought about what to say for a long time, and finally came to the conclusion that there were only a few words he really needed to say.

“Son, I'm sorry. I love you and our family more than anything else in the whole world... and I was wrong to leave.”

Mark looked up at his Pa, almost feeling like he was ten years old again without a care in the world.

“I love you, Pa.”

“I'm asking you to-”

“Forgiveness is a given, Pa.”

“...Mark, thank you for riding out here.”

“All part of the job description.”

“As partner, or son?”

“Both. Although I do have to admit, I had a partially selfish motive for coming out here.” Mark teased. “There was no way I was going to let you leave me to deal with Trouble over calving season by myself!”

“Why don't we hit the sack? We've got a long ride ahead of us-” Lucas stopped short as he realized something. “Mark, how's Cassie?”

“She's back at home, recovering. Her fever finally broke about a week ago.”

“Mark, I'm sorry I left when I did… I should've been there for you.”

“Uncle Johnny explained that you have your own demons to fight, and won't be there all the time to help me fight mine. But I'm thankful that I am surrounded by family and friends who can help when burdens become too big for just the two of us.”

“And I'll make sure I go to them instead of coming out here next time.” Lucas promised.

“Let’s get some shut-eye.”

“Mark?”

“Yeah, Pa?”

“I love you.”


10MC10

The days spent traveling back to the McCain ranch gave father and son time to repair some of the damage that had been done over the last few weeks. Mark was thankful to have his Pa back, and enjoyed every moment of the ride home.

Milly was the first to see Lucas and Mark ride in the yard and hurried out of the house and towards her husband.
Lucas dismounted and took his wife in his arms as he whispered into her ear.

“I'm sorry… I'm so sorry.”

Milly looked up into Lucas's face and gave him an understanding smile.

“You're here, that's what's important.”

Knowing his parents would need a few moments, Mark took Razor's reigns and led both horses to the barn where he unsaddled and bedded them down. As he was doing so, Cassie walked into the barn.

“Cassie, you should be back in the house.”

“I'm fine, Mark.” Cassie replied before wrapping her arms around him and giving him a kiss. “How did things go?”

“He's back to his old self.” Mark said with a grateful smile. “...Cassie, how have you been?”

There was a long pause before Cassie replied.

“... I don't know. It hurts…”

Mark wrapped his arms around his wife again as a tear slid down her cheek. After a while, they separated and Cassie helped Mark with the horses before they headed into Lucas and Milly’s home.


That evening, Lucas apologized to the whole family for leaving and promised it wouldn't happen again.
Everyone put the situation behind them and moved forward in their conversation, Rachael speaking up first.

“Aunt Milly, the envelope?”

“Envelope?” Lucas and Mark asked in confusion.

“Oh, yes.” Milly replied as she stood to retrieve it from a drawer. “Lucas, we had a visitor while you were away. A well dressed… peculiar man. He said you had saved his life, gave me this envelope, and said he had to be on his way.”

“Said that I saved his life?” Lucas asked in confusion.

“He said in more ways than one.” Rachael added.

Lucas took the envelope and opened it. He pulled out a stack of bills as Everyone stared at the money in shock. He handed it to Rachael to count as he took out and read a note.

“Dear Lucas,
You not only saved my life in the shootout, but also saved me from the life I would've lived with my uncle. I'm forever indebted to you and will never forget the lessons you taught me in the short time we knew each other. I wouldn't dishonor what you did for me by trying to put an amount on it, so all I can offer is a most sincere thank you.

The money enclosed is your prize money, I never could let myself spend it.

-The wet nosed, two bit punk who still can't whip you.”

“What did that mean?” Cassie asked.

Mark and Lucas began to tell of their first day in North Fork. When they were done, Lucas turned to Rachael.

“Five hundred dollars?” He inquired.

“Exactly.”

“Well Pa, what are you going to do with it?” Mark asked.

“I'm not rightly sure. We'll have to see.”

Milly almost made a suggestion, but decided to wait until she and Lucas could talk privately.

It was late when Mark and Cassie finally headed up the hill, and it didn't take long for the rest of the family to turn in.

As Milly sat braiding her hair, Lucas could tell something was on her mind.

“What is it?” Lucas asked curiously.

“Well, I was just thinking. With all that money, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to add onto the house again.”

“Why? We've got plenty of room.”

“Well, Rachael's going to be here for several years still, and I think we'll want our bedroom to ourselves after a while.”

“Why wouldn't we have it to ourselves?” Lucas asked in confusion.

“Because, I think it's about time we let another member of the family… move in.”

“Milly… I respect your father, but I thought he was living with your sister?”

“He is. That's not who I'm talking about.” Milly said as she smiled and took Lucas’s hand.

“Then who?”

“Your second child, Lucas.”

“My… what?” Lucas asked as he stared blankly at his wife.

“I'm pregnant, Lucas.” Milly replied with a smile.

“You're pregnant?” Lucas echoed. “You're pregnant… oh, Milly!”

Lucas gave Milly a long kiss before putting a hand to her stomach and looking back up at her eyes.

“When are you due?”

“Beginning of August. I know that's bad timing with the cattle, but-”

“I don't care, Milly! You're pregnant and that's wonderful! Milly, I can't tell you how much I love you. You've been a wonderful mother to our son, and I know you'll be an amazing mother to this baby.”

“Let's just hope this one takes to school a lot better than Mark did.” Milly laughed.

“You better start praying now.”

The Suitor

Morgan's Corner

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

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