A Gentle Touch
The noisy thumping of booted feet distracted Murdoch Lancer from his labors over his ledger. When the thumping slowed and then resumed across the foyer floor, he looked up just in time to see the tail end of his youngest son heading for the front door.
“Johnny!” Murdoch called out, just as the heavy oak door thudded shut. Standing unsteadily to his feet in his rush to get to the window so he could see where his youngest was going, Murdoch cursed beneath his breath when his leg tried to give out on him. Grinding his teeth against the pain radiating from his back and down the left leg, he used his desktop to prop against as he made his way as fast as he could to the large window situated behind the desk.
Leaning against the window frame and brushing the drapes aside, his light blue eyes eagerly searched for and found Johnny as he trotted toward the barn. Smiling softly, Murdoch watched as his dark-haired son grinned broadly and then laughed at something behind him and quickly pivoted on his heel to continue his trek toward the barn backward.
Practically pressing his nose against the cold glass in order to see what had made Johnny laugh so lightheartedly, Murdoch’s smile gave way to a chuckle as his oldest son, Scott, stepped into view.
As if he were stalking his younger brother stealthily, Scott held his arms out to the side, his fingers crooked, He advanced quickly with long legged strides until his victim was close enough to reach out and grab. Long, slender arms swooped around the now chortling man and quickly wrapped tightly around the squirming body, effectively capturing Johnny’s arms between their bodies.
Suddenly the visible laughter died on Johnny’s face, to replaced by such an expression of panic that Murdoch was away from the window and hurrying toward the French doors without thought. Wrenching the glass paned doors open to slap against the wall, Murdoch hadn’t a care for the tinkling of glass as he rushed across the yard toward his sons. He knew that Scott hadn’t seen the expression on his brother’s face and Murdoch’s heart pounded with the need to forestall the coming confrontation.
“LET ME GO!” Johnny shouted as he fought his brother’s too-tight embrace. Feeling pinned in made his breath catch in his throat as he gasped for air. “GET OFF ME!” Panic-stricken, Johnny heard his blood rushing in his ears as he clawed at the constricting arms holding him tight.
“Oh, no you don’t. You’ve tried that trick on me before,” Scott chided laughingly as he ignored Johnny’s demands and simply tightened his hold even more.
The barrel of Johnny’s Colt pressing hard against his stomach suddenly took the humor out of the situation and Scott belatedly realized that his brother was gasping for breath and sweating heavily, despite the cold temperature. Dropping his arms from around Johnny’s back, Scott took a slow step back, away from the painful pressure against his stomach and really looked at his brother for the first time since Johnny had demanded to be released.
His face pale and sweat-drenched, Johnny’s eyes were impossibly wide, the pupils dilated to the point of almost obliterating the familiar deep blue of the iris. And he was shaking, though, perversely, the gun in his hand was held deathly still.
“I-I’m sorry, Johnny,” Scott whispered as he held out a placating hand toward his brother.
“Scott, be still,” Murdoch called softly out to his eldest son as he cautiously approached the two. “Johnny, lower your weapon, son.” Stepping gingerly around Scott, Murdoch situated his body between Scott and the gun.
“Murdoch!” Scott hissed from behind him, his right hand reaching out to grasp his father’s shoulder, as if to push him out of the line of fire.
Holding steady, despite Scott’s efforts to the contrary, Murdoch slowly raised his left hand toward the gun in Johnny’s right hand. “John, it’s Murdoch. Please lower your weapon.”
“M-Murdoch?” Johnny’s voice was so low that only Murdoch, standing so close to him, could hear.
“Yes, son. I’m right here.” The older man watched anxiously as Johnny seemed to recover somewhat, the blue of his eyes slowly reining over the dark of the pupil as they moved jerkily to look up at Murdoch’s concerned face. “Put your gun in the holster, Johnny.”
The deep blue eyes showed puzzlement for a brief moment before they dropped to stare at the Colt in his outstretched right hand. Then the gun dropped to the ground with a thud from suddenly nerveless fingers and the eyes slammed closed as the realization of what he’d just done struck home. Johnny’s knees buckled and Murdoch was there instantly to carefully lower him to the ground and held him upright against his chest. A keening moan rose from deep within Johnny’s chest.
Skirting around his father, Scott dropped to his knees on Johnny’s other side. He lifted his arms to wrap them protectively around his brother and father, but at the memory of what that had triggered earlier, Scott quickly dropped his arms back down to his side as he watched his brother anxiously.
“Come on, John,” Murdoch murmured softly into Johnny’s ear. “Let’s go inside, son.” Gently, with tender loving care, Murdoch and Scott carefully lifted Johnny to his feet and started toward the open French door, Johnny’s booted feet almost dragging along the hard-packed dirt.
Gently placing Johnny on the couch, Murdoch gestured with his chin toward the side table that held several bottles of alcohol, and though it was still early in the morning, Scott knew that a shot of whisky was needed. He quickly poured a small glass of Murdoch’s finest Scotch and brought it back to his father. He then helped to raise Johnny’s head up as their father held the glass against his brother’s lips and urged him to drink.
Draining the glass, Johnny lay back against the couch cushions and clenched his eyes closed as the memory of what he’d almost done crashed through his mind. He moaned as nausea burned the back of his throat. Surging to his feet, he startled his father so much that the older man dropped the glass in an attempt to keep Johnny from getting to his feet.
“You need to lie down, Johnny,” Murdoch crooned softly as he clasped Johnny’s shoulder in his large hand and attempted to guide his heavily breathing son back down onto the couch.
“NO!” Johnny cried out as he struck out at the hand trying to help him, gaining his feet and lurching from the room before either startled man could stop him.
“Johnny!” Scott called after his brother as he scrambled to his feet and raced after Johnny, with Murdoch right on his heels. Scott almost stumbled over Johnny as he ran out the French doors.
Johnny had gone as far as he could before the nausea sent him to his knees to heave his breakfast into the flowers planted just outside the door. He felt Scott ease down onto his knees beside him, one long arm wrapping comfortingly around his back, the other hand gently wiping Johnny’s mouth with a handkerchief when he was done.
Breathing heavily against another round of nausea, Johnny closed his eyes and allowed Scott to gently pull him back against his chest, his dark head falling back to rest against Scott’s shoulder. A cool cloth was handed to Scott and was smoothed across his sweat-slicked face. Johnny moaned softly as he gave himself up to the soothing gesture.
“You can’t be comfortable.”
Johnny heard Murdoch’s voice as if from afar and realized that he had, amazingly, drifted off to sleep sitting on the stone walkway in front of the French doors, his brother’s arms the only thing keeping him upright. “Let’s get him back onto the couch, Scott.”
He thought to offer some protest when he felt himself being lifted into those very same arms, but a strange lethargy had befallen him and Johnny found that he couldn’t even lift an eyelid as he was carried back to the couch and placed carefully down in a reclining position again.
The cool cloth was once again smoothing across his heated face and Johnny felt himself drifting somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, the loud ticking of the grandfather clock the only sound in the room.
“What went on out there?” Scott whispered desperately as he continued plying the cool cloth across his brother’s heated face and upper chest. He had waited until Johnny had fallen into a deep sleep to speak. As a precaution Murdoch had retrieved Johnny’s Colt and had placed it in his desk drawer for safe keeping.
“He panicked,” Murdoch said just as softly. His watched Scott’s hands lovingly care for his brother. “I was watching you two from the window and saw the exact moment when it happened.” Murdoch exchanged a worried glance with his son. “When you held him tightly with your arms, it was no longer a game for him.”
“Damn!” Scott spat, then regretted the impulsive curse when Johnny’s eyes shot open to gaze at him in something resembling fear. “Shhh, Johnny, it’s all right. Close your eyes and go back to sleep.”
“What happened?” Johnny asked quietly, his eyes darting from Scott’s somber face to his father’s as Murdoch leaned around Scott’s shoulder to look down at him sadly. “What’d I…”
Both Scott and Murdoch saw the moment the truth hit Johnny, as the tanned face paled measurably and the blue eyes turned to look at Scott in horror before clenching his eyes closed tightly.
“Stop it, Johnny,” Scott ordered harshly when the blue eyes were shuttered and Johnny turned his head toward the back of the couch. “Open your eyes and look at me!” Grasping Johnny’s chin in his hand, Scott gave his brother’s head a gentle shake. “Look at me, brother.”
His breath escaping his lungs in harsh gasps Johnny fought against the hand holding him in a gentle, long-fingered grip. He couldn’t open his eyes as Scott was demanding of him as he couldn’t bare to see the condemnation in those light blue depths. He shuddered as the realization of drawing a loaded pistol on his brother hit him full force and the nausea churned in his stomach once again. The cool cloth was back, which helped calm the nausea, and Johnny heard himself actually sigh brokenly, feeling that he didn’t deserve the comfort.
“Hey, what’s this?” Scott’s voice crooned softly from beside him. Gentle fingers brushed through Johnny’s dark hair, dislodging dust and twigs gained from his tumble in the yard. “Talk to me, brother.”
“I-I coulda…s-shot you,” Johnny stammered out, his throat suddenly as dry as the desert. Swallowing convulsively past the lump in his dry throat, Johnny opened his eyes a slit, to find his brother gazing down at him, a tender light in his pale blue eyes.
“But you didn’t,” Scott countered as he accepted the glass Murdoch handed him. “Could you use some water, brother?” At Johnny’s nod, Scott slipped an arm around his brother’s shoulders and gently levered him up enough to be able to drink the water and smiled softly at Murdoch when the man carefully wedged a pillow behind Johnny so that he was sitting up slightly.
Johnny watched Scott as his brother dropped the cloth he’d been using to cool Johnny’s face into a basin sitting beside him on the coffee table and then swirled the cloth around in the cool water before retrieving it and wringing it out. Closing his eyes and savoring the cooling moisture being smoothed over his face and chest, Johnny felt as wrung out as the cloth Scott was using.
“Scared me,” Johnny whispered softly, his eyes clenched closed at the admission.
“What scared you?” His brother asked quietly, his fingers slowing their ministrations with the cloth as he concentrated on Johnny’s furrowed brow.
“Wh-When you h-held on…on to me,” Johnny finally admitted after several long minutes when it appeared he wasn’t going to answer his brother’s question.
“I’m sorry, brother,” Scott apologized gently, his hands automatically dipping the warmed cloth into the water basin and wringing the water out before returning to their duty.
“Ain’t…your fault,” Johnny mumbled as he forced his eyes open to look at his brother. He saw compassion in Scott’s eyes and that emotion that was still hard for the young man to believe anyone could show so freely for him, pure, unconditional love. “’s my problem…not yours.”
“Hey, whatever bothers you, is my problem, brother.” Gazing earnestly in his brother’s eyes, Scott smiled fondly. “It’s what big brothers are all about…but, you wouldn’t know that, because you’re the little brother.” A fond smile lit Scott’s pale blue eyes and spread slowly across his face and Johnny was helpless against its pull.
Smiling crookedly at his brother, Johnny lowered his lashes over his eyes, unable to gather in all the love shining from Scott’s dancing eyes. “’s that the rule?” He asked quietly.
“Rule number two,” Scott agreed as he raised his fingers and gently smoothed them across Johnny’s cheek and on into the thick hair above his ear. Johnny almost purred, the gentle, loving touch felt so good.
“What’s rule number one?” Johnny asked, because it was expected of him to do so, and he never wanted to disappoint his big brother. He opened his eyes in anticipation of hearing Scott’s brother rule number one.
“You have to do whatever your big brother says, and right now your big brother says you need to come with him upstairs and lay down in your own bed to rest for a while.” Scott’s hand slipped from Johnny’s hair and hovered in front of the younger man, inviting assistance in sitting up.
“What about them other rules?” Johnny inquired, even as he slipped his hand into Scott’s to accept the assistance to his feet.
“There are no other rules, little brother,” Scott informed him as his long arm slid around Johnny’s shoulders to steady him and help guide him on his way.
As the sound of booted feet slowly climbed the stairs, Murdoch stood in the study doorway watching his eldest son work his magic over his brother. It still amazed Murdoch that all it took to calm Johnny was Scott’s soothing voice and gentle touch.
Created August 27, 2007
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