By Kathy W.
This piece was inspired by Dori Beller’s delightful story “I’ll Watch Your Back…side”. She suggested that it was big brother’s turn for a little exposure, and I was happy to oblige. There is a new little epilogue tacked on, a few people were interested in Murdoch’s reaction.
PG13 for mild language and nudity.
Scott took a gasp of air then dove once more down into the water. He could see his objective in sight, right there in front of him. Grasping on to his brother’s unguarded ankles, he tightened his hold, then pulled strongly. With a satisfying yelp, Johnny went down and disappeared into the clear depths of the pool.
Flush with victory, Scott popped up to the surface, searching warily for any sign of his brother. After two rather long months of eating crow, he had finally found something at which he could best this new younger brother. Scott had grown to maturity in a city surrounded by water and he had swum competitively at both Exeter and Harvard. There was no way that anyone raised in the dusty towns of the Mexican border was going to beat him in the water.
Johnny rose to the surface a few moments later. He shook his sleek black hair, sending a spray of water into the air. “Okay, Boston, I give,” he struggled to catch his breath, “you win.”
“What was that you said, Johnny?” Scott had heard his brother perfectly well. He was just unsure when or if he might ever hear those words again. He moved his hands rhythmically as he spoke, easily maintaining his position in the cool water.
The younger man gained his feet and slowly began to make his way to the shore. “I said you win, Scott!” he shouted. “That loud enough for you?” Johnny moved up the bank of their newly discovered swimming hole, the droplets cascading off his lithe bronze form as he emerged from the water. He grabbed his faded pink shirt off the ground and began vigorously toweling himself off with it.
Scott grinned in triumph. This had to go down as one of his best days at Lancer since arriving two short months ago. He had to admit he had been reluctant to agree to a dip when they happened upon this nearly pristine pool of water earlier in the day. They had any number of endless tasks which their father expected them to have accomplished before dark—he was fairly certain that going for an impromptu swim was not what Murdoch Lancer had in mind when he sent them off together this morning.
Attention to the work at hand was not the only thing that caused him to pause. He’d done some skinny-dipping as a child, usually when he was on holiday with friends and out of the stern eye of his Puritan-minded grandfather. Still, stripping down in front of a virtual stranger was not the most comfortable of situations for him. In the end, Johnny’s enthusiasm had won the day, and Scott had to concede that it had been a good idea.
Scott easily made his way to shallower water, and then worked his way on shore to the pile of discarded clothing. He was quite pleased with the effect that the long difficult hours of ranch work had had on his body. He was still thinner than he would have liked, but his upper body was beginning to display a definite contour and he felt a firmness in his thighs and a tightness in his rear end that had been absent since his days in the cavalry.
Grabbing his own shirt, Scott followed his brother’s lead and began to wipe off the excess moisture. He had to admit the cool air against his body felt better than he ever could have imagined after a long hot morning in the saddle. From the corner of his eye, Scott spied his brother, not yet dressed, making his way over to where Barranca stood patiently waiting.
He was a little perplexed as Johnny untied his bedroll and opened it, spreading it across the lush green grass surrounding the water hole. “What are you doing, Johnny? We need to get dressed and get back to work.”
Johnny turned and faced his brother, a slightly crooked smile on his face. “You think I can get into those leather calzoneras while I’m still damp, brother, you got another thing coming. I need to air dry for a bit.” With that, Johnny flopped down on his stomach and stretched out, the sun caressing the firm muscles of his deeply tanned torso and buttocks.
Scott dropped the edge of his shirt until it provided him with some semblance of coverage. He felt his brother had displayed an appalling lack of modesty while he was recovering from Pardee’s bullet, but at the time he had put it down to the large doses of laudanum that they were spooning into him. Now he had to wonder if maybe this was a chronic state. “Are you out of your mind, Johnny? What if someone comes by?”
“Boston, there’s no one around for ten miles, we got nothin’ to worry about.”
Scott hesitated. He had to admit that the area was very sparsely populated in comparison to the East. You could ride for days, it seemed, without ever meeting another living soul. “I don’t know about this, Johnny. I still think we’re taking a chance.”
Johnny rolled up on his side, revealing an astonishing nest of black hair. He cast an appraising look at his older brother. “You know what your problem is, Scott?”
Scott blushed to the roots of his blond head and fought an almost overwhelming urge to glance down at his own body. Neither man could have failed to notice that the difference in their appearance extended well beyond the collars of their respective shirts. He just couldn’t believe that even this brash young brother would be so indelicate as to mention it. Scott narrowed his eyes and allowed the shirt to drop from his waist. “No, brother, why don’t you tell me what my problem is.”
“Too many rooms.”
That was about the last response that Scott expected. “Come again?”
“You grew up with too many rooms in that house of your abuelo. Too much privacy ain’t a good thing. If you had to use an open pit toilet with half a village watchin’ your business, you wouldn’t be so worried about someone seein’ your equipment.”
Scott smiled. He wondered, and not for the first time, just what kind of childhood this bewildering half-Mexican brother had survived. He did have a point. Lack of privacy was one of the hardest things for him to adjust to in the army. The sanitary arrangements at Libby had been excruciating for him as well, but that was not something he was willing to share, even with the man in front of him. “You may have a point there, Johnny.”
With that, Johnny rested back on to his stomach, his eyes closed. A quick nap probably wouldn’t do any harm, Scott supposed. He brought his shirt down to the water’s edge and rinsed it thoroughly, then placed it on a branch to dry. Crossing to Charlemagne, Scott grabbed his own bedroll and carefully opened it in the one shady spot in the vicinity. He eased himself down and allowed himself the luxury of stretching out. A short nap might be just the thing.
“Wake up, Scott!”
Scott became aware of the jostling against his right shoulder. He popped his head up off the bedroll to see his brother frantically hopping on one foot, desperately attempting to force his other leg into his pants. “What happened?”
“About three hours happened, near as I can figure. The Old Man is gonna skin us alive!”
Undoubtedly, Johnny was right. The sun, which was looming directly overhead as they started this little adventure, was now sitting low in the western sky. It had also invaded his small enclave of shade which he had so zealously sought out when he first placed his blankets on the ground.
Scott lifted himself on his forearms and he became aware of a frighteningly familiar tingling across the top of his shoulders. “Johnny,” he called to his brother who was now buttoning the last of the toggles on his shirt. “Come take a look at my back.”
Johnny sank to his knees beside Scott. “Dios,” he muttered. “Scott…”
Scott tried in vain to swivel his head around. “What?” He wriggled his shoulders in an attempt to assess the damage. He’d had worse before, certainly. “My back, what’s it look like?”
“It ain’t your back you need to be worrin’ about, brother.” Johnny had never seen a color like that on a human being before. The firm round contour of his brother’s buttocks was a flaming scarlet red. It was like one of them lobstas that Scott was always going on and on about. He reached out and tapped the inflamed area lightly. “I think it’s gonna blister on you.”
“Stop touching it!” Scott ground out between gritted teeth. This could not be happening. This could just not be happening to him. He levered himself up on his knees, then stood to rise. He couldn’t help but notice the rather bemused looking expression on the other man’s face. What he’d give to knock that smirk right off of there. “Hand me my clothes, Johnny.”
Johnny eyed his brother skeptically. “I can hand them to you, but I don’t see how your gonna manage to wear em.”
“Do I have a choice?” Scott shot back. “I can’t very well ride back to Lancer stark naked, now can I…brother?”
Johnny helped ease the beige shirt onto his brother, then looked cautiously at the brown trousers. “I might be able to slit the sides. That’ll give ya a little more breathing room.”
Scott nodded and watched attentively as Johnny made some well-placed openings along the seams of the pants. Cautiously he eased one leg, then the other into the narrow space. He grimaced in pain as he buttoned the front of his trousers. “Do me a favor and shorten the stirrups on Charlemagne.”
Johnny looked puzzled. “What’s that gonna get ya?”
“Half-seat,” Scott supplied. “I’m going to ride home with my, my you know, off the saddle.” At least all those years of equitation lessons would finally pay off.
“You gotta be kiddin’” Johnny replied. He shook his head. “It’s your funeral.”
The sun was setting as the pair finally approached the hacienda. Scott managed to stifle a gasp as he slid from Charlemagne’s back. He gratefully handed the reins over to a waiting vaquero and followed his brother across the yard. If he could only manage to get up the outside back steps to his room, he’d be home free—at least for tonight. He couldn’t imagine how he was going to be able to justify this to Murdoch. He already suspected his father thought of him as a pathetic greenhorn, he didn’t even want to think about what Murdoch would have to say about a son who managed to fry his own ass.
Scott reached out and snagged Johnny’s arm, effectively preventing his brother’s entry into the back door of the kitchen. “Where do you think you’re going?” Scott managed. The pain had started in earnest during the trip home. His entire posterior felt as though it were on fire.
“To get T’resa,” Johnny answered. He was still shocked by the thought of his brother’s rear end. Who would have thought that being so pale could carry such a high price? “You need to get fixed up.”
Scott thought back to the seemingly endless sunburns he had as a child. He clearly remembered the hours spent on his stomach with the kindly old Mrs. Jefferson gently placing cool soothing compresses on his back and shoulders. He thought of the young and lovely Theresa O’Brien doing the same thing for his burning buttocks now. “No!” It came out as a shout. He grabbed Johnny by the front of the shirt and shook him. “You have to help me, Johnny; you have to come up with something else!” It was on his lips to lay the whole unfortunate episode at his brother’s feet, but he’d hold off on that unless he had no other choice.
“Like I know one damned thing about treating a sunburn, Scott!”
Scott looked carefully at his brother. Johnny had spent at least as long in the sun as he had, probably longer. His skin was maybe a shade darker than it had been this morning, but no more than that. He clenched his jaw in frustration. Apparently his brother had won again after all. “It’s like any other burn—now think of something!”
“Aloe,” Johnny muttered, thinking hard.
“Comes from a plant, kinda like a cactus. Works real good on burns. I can get some from Maria. That should fix you up.”
The word cactus always caused him to be suspicious, and never so much when it was mentioned in the same sentence as burn. Still, it wasn’t like he had much of a choice. “You won’t tell her about this?”
It wasn’t like she’d believe him anyway. Who’d think a body could get so pink and bubbly from just a couple of hours in the sun? “She won’t know, Scott, don’t worry. You head up and I’ll meet you in your room.”
Johnny slid the door open, mason jar in hand, and stepped into his brother’s room. Scott was on the bed, just a light sheet covering him. The clothes he had worn were strewn the length of the floor. He thought the whole thing was a little funny at the water hole, but now he began to feel the first stirrings of real sympathy for his brother’s plight. In spite of his own bravado earlier, he knew it was no picnic to have your ass sticking out for all to see.
Johnny sat down on the bed beside his brother’s still form. “Hey,” he said softly. “I got it.”
Scott dug his face into the pillow. He was hurting, he was angry, and he was humiliated beyond belief. He’d bet this cocky, tough-as-nails, gunfighter brother of his just couldn’t wait to spread the news of this all over the bunkhouse. “Just get it done,” he ground out. He felt the waft of cool air as his brother peeled back the sheet covering his lower body; the indignity of his position painfully obvious to them both. Scott jumped at the first touch of his brother’s hand but relief from the aloe was almost immediate as Johnny efficiently applied the cream across his inflamed bottom and back with smooth strokes.
“All set,” Johnny informed him as he pulled the sheet back up in an attempt to restore his brother’s dignity. He climbed off the bed and sat on the floor, meeting his brother’s eyes directly. “I’m sorry, Scott. I never meant for anything like this to happen.”
Scott met his bother’s gaze evenly. There was no derision there, only an empathy he’d not seen before in those sapphire eyes. He truly believed that his brother was sorry for the way things turned out.
“I’ll square it with Murdoch. Make him realize it was all my fault.”
“And just how are you going to manage that, Johnny?”
A sad smile reached Johnny’s lips. “Oh, I think Murdoch believes I’m capable of just about anything, don’t you?”
“Johnny,” Scott reached out and touched his brother’s arm lightly. Murdoch did have the unfortunate habit of being rather narrow-minded when it came to this young man. “You didn’t make me do anything. I chose to go swimming, just as I decided to lie out there without a stitch on. I should have known better—I’ve been getting sunburns like this my whole life.”
Johnny offered Scott his best smile. “Just like this?”
“Well, maybe not just like this.” Scott returned his brother’s grin. “Besides, I had fun.”
“Yeah,” Johnny responded enthusiastically. “Me too. I haven’t been swimming since…since…well; let’s just say it’s been a long time.”
Scott was certain there was a story there, somewhere. He just wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know what it was. “Then we’ll have to be sure and do it again, won’t we, little brother?”
Johnny nodded his head and stood to go. “Anything I can get you, Scott?”
“I’m good, at least for the time being. Thanks, Johnny.”
Scott rested his head back down against his pillow. He was in for some uncomfortable days ahead—he knew that from past experience. Still, if he’d managed to get one step closer to that errant little brother of his, maybe, just maybe, it would be worth it to be sunny side up for a while.
Murdoch Lancer grabbed two glasses and his best bottle of Scotch as he crossed the great room floor before finally settling into the chair behind his desk. He splashed a generous amount of the liquid into each of the glasses, and then slid one across the oak surface to his old friend. “You heard?”
Sam Jenkins met the other man’s gaze and took a healthy sip from his drink. “I think they heard you in Morro Coyo, Murdoch.”
“I can’t have them taking off like that, thinking they can do any fool thing that pops into their heads.” He shot a glance at his closest friend. “Scott is going to be all right, isn’t he?”
“The worst damage was definitely to his pride,” Sam affirmed. “That aloe was just the thing. Of course he does need to keep the pressure off for a couple of days. You wouldn’t want those blisters rupturing prematurely—otherwise infection might set in.” Sam shook his head. He’d never seen anything quite like it in all the years he’d been practicing medicine.
“Well, he can tend to those ledgers lying on his stomach just as easily as he can do them sitting on his ass.”
Sam looked deeply into the amber fluid in front of him. “Pretty wonderful, isn’t it?”
A broad grin lit up the rancher’s face. “If you had told me a couple of months ago that those two would be swimming in the buff together,” Murdoch shook his head. The eastern dandy complete with ruffles and a belligerent, angry gunfighter--he never thought they’d find ten words to say to one another. “I wouldn’t have believed it was possible. Did you hear the way they defended each other?”
Sam nodded. “I did, Murdoch, I did.” Sam could barely contain his amusement. “So I guess this means you’re not going to tell them that the same thing happened to you that time you went—um--swimming with Maria. Same waterhole, wasn’t it?”
“No I’m not!” Murdoch thundered. He pointed a finger at Sam’s face. “And neither are you!” Murdoch settled back in his chair, still uncomfortable in the memory. There were worse things to burn than your backside.
The end J