Author, Author
by  Kit


Disclaimer:  Definitely not canon.  What SF said for The Choice Made.  This is in answer to her answer to Carole’s challenge.   A challenge response to challenge’s response.  Confused yet?  I am.  If you look really hard you will see the connection. 

Or get a small glimpse into SF’s and my brains (brain’s, brains’?, where are the profesoras when you need them?)  and how they work.

I’m taking a little liberty with the issue of the fountain pen, patented in America in 1867.

Goddamn plot bunnies.  Between Grace and SF, they just keep popping up all over the place.


Author, Author 

It was raining; one of those early spring rains that was more ice than water; the kind of storm that rolled in from the mountains without warning.  Roiling, gun metal grey clouds pushed by a northwest wind carried the cold from the snow-capped peaks across the valley with a harsh vengeance.  The ranch had come to a virtual stand still; everyone seeking shelter after morning chores, confined to their quarters by Mother Nature.   Fires to ward off the chill had been laid at the hearths, chimney smoke adding to the grey mist that blanketed the entire estancia.

The fact it was a Sunday made it Johnny Lancer’s favorite kind of day.  No compulsory chores, no mucking about in the barns.  No mandatory church attendance.  And to add to his pleasure: Teresa -- because of the storm -- was stuck in town at the Pritchard’s.

Scott’s feelings regarding the day were ambivalent.  Having a restless, prone to mischief younger brother under foot always looking for something to do could be frustrating.  Although the hacienda had thirty-seven rooms, it was difficult -- no, impossible -- to find a place to hide from Johnny; no matter how hard he tried.

He had migrated from room to room the entire morning, finally giving up after lunch and deciding the Great Room would have to do.  Murdoch, being the tune-caller and having seniority, had announced he was going to take his dessert and his coffee in his own room; where he intended to spend the afternoon with a good book.  He also announced, in that tone, he had better not be disturbed.

Even Johnny knew what that declaration meant.  Unless the world was coming to an end or a Lancer beef decided it was going to meet an untimely demise, no one was to trespass even close to the Old Man’s private domain.

“What’cha doin’?”

Oh, the question was innocent enough.  It was the asker that caused Scott Lancer to close his eyes and take a deep breath.  He counted to ten in five languages (stumbling a bit over the Ancient Greek) before he even considered answering.  Seated at his father’s desk -- actually sitting upon Murdoch’s throne -- he had laid his supplies out carefully, meticulously neat.  “I’m trying out a new pen,” he answered.

Johnny moved closer to the desk, his eyebrows lifting as he silently took stock.  He was holding a piece of cherry pie in one hand; the other hand was ominously empty.  And hovering.

Scott smacked his brother’s fingers before the boy could pick up one thing.  “Don’t touch,” he ordered.

A petulant pout, accompanied by narrowed eyes, marred the younger man’s features.  “Why not?”

“Because I said so,” the weary answer came.  Somehow those words sounded so much better than ‘Because it’s mine.’   “And watch that pie, it’s dripping.”

Johnny’s gaze shifted to the chunk of crust and fruit he was holding.  Thick cherry juice was leaking from between his fingers.  He shrugged and crammed the entire piece of pastry into his mouth, sucking his fingers.  The lop-sided grin came as he realized that now both of his hands were empty.

“Don’t even think about it,” Scott warned.  He relented, just a bit.  “This,” he picked up a foreign looking object, “is a fountain pen.”  He put it down and began pointing to the other things that were lined up on the desk.  “This is an eye dropper,” his finger moved to the next item, a fairly good sized glass tube with a rubber bulb at its head, “this is a bottle of very special ink, and this…” he smirked, tapping the notebook “…is a journal.”

“Ha, ha,” Johnny snorted.  As if he didn’t know what a pad of writing paper was.  He dropped the attitude.  If he wanted to get his hands on anything, he’d have to be subtle; real subtle.  “So what’s a fountain pen?” he asked, his finger-tips marching across the desk.

Scott picked up the writing implement, snatching it away from his brother’s restless digits.  “It’s the latest thing in writing tools,” he answered.  “Grandfather is thinking of investing in the company.”

Johnny rolled his eyes; the way he always did when Scott mentioned his Grandfather.  He nodded towards the inkwell and the quill tipped pen Murdoch always used.  “What’s wrong with this one? Seems to work fine for the Old Man.”  That was true. Ol’ Murdoch was a regular scribe the way he wrote in those damned ledgers.

Scott, who had just finished reading the small instructional pamphlet, had taken the pen apart and was examining the barrel.  “The one Murdoch uses has to be dipped, tapped, used, and dipped again.  This one can be filled with ink and used over and over, without all that dipping.”

Dip, don’t dip.  What the fuck was the big deal?  Johnny thought.  Either way, you were still stuck behind a desk, and you still had to write.

“It’s a time saving measure,” Scott said, reading his brother’s mind.  “It’s also portable and more reliable.”  He sighed.  “I can carry it in my pocket, take it with me.  And then, when I need it, I can take it out and write whatever I want, whenever and wherever I want.”  When he saw his brother wasn’t convinced, he tried again.  “Suppose we’re out on the range, and I want to send you a message…”

“If we’re out on the range, you can’t just talk to me?”  Johnny interrupted.

Scott’s chin dropped against his chest and he let out a great sigh.   “Suppose I’m out on the range, and I want to send you a message…”

Johnny huffed out a sigh of his own; more dramatic than his sibling’s.  “You can’t just send Paco?  Or maybe tell Cip?”  Or maybe fire a fuckin’ gun three times so I know you need to see me?

The blond’s cheeks were beginning to color.  Feeling a need to keep both hands occupied with something other than strangling his brother, he opened the bottle of ink and laid the cap aside.  Concentrating, he picked up the eyedropper.  Carefully squeezing the rubber nub and then releasing the pressure, he withdrew what he estimated as a proper measure; tapping the fragile glass tip and careful not to drip.  “The point is, brother, I can fill this,” he picked up the pen, inserting the eyedropper into the chamber, “and be fully prepared to write volumes and volumes of…”

“Of what?” Johnny cut in.  His fingers, all eight of them, were drumming against the top of the desk.  That damned eyedropper had some potential.  He wasn’t certain of just what that potential was, but it was sure neat the way it sucked up the ink and squirted it out.  And it was a lot bigger than the ones Sam carried in his medical bag and was forever shoving in his ears when he had a cold.   Sometimes he thought the man was trying to oil his brain.

“Things,” Scott answered testily, laying the eyedropper aside.  It was still half full.  “Random thoughts about things I’ve seen, want to remember.”  His frustration was growing.  “Or to compose a letter.”  His eyes narrowed as he appraised his younger brother.  “You know.  Jot down some pertinent information, leave a note regarding exactly where you’re going and why you’ve decided to run away from home.”

Johnny would have had to been a complete idiot to not catch the sarcasm in that last remark, and he raised a single finger in mock salute.  His rather coarse response to the snide comment was muffled by a fortuitous rumble of loud thunder.

Unfortunately, Scott had incredibly sharp hearing.  There was nothing the matter with his eyesight, either.  He straightened in the chair, his tone paternal.  “Even better, perhaps sit someone down, pen in hand, to write ‘I will not use foul language or make crude gestures when addressing my elders’ a few hundred times, until they’ve learned their lesson.’”  His cocked right fore-finger was tapping ominously against the top of the closed journal.

Johnny snickered.  “Phhtt.  Like that’s got a chance in Hell of happenin’.”

Scott’s right eyebrow arched as he came forward, the big chair creaking as his weight shifted.  “Really?” he responded, drawing out the word.  He picked up the fountain pen, efficiently joining the pieces together and thrusting it out towards his sibling.

Instinct prompted Johnny to accept the gesture.  He realized his mistake immediately and dropped -- tossed -- the pen back.   It landed hard on the desk.  Funny thing about fountain pens, he instantly noted.  They kind of acted like fountains when they got tossed.  A seemingly fine mist of jet black ink spurted from the gold-tipped nib with surprising force, spraying a perfect cluster of dots that penetrated Scott’s impeccably white shirt, dead center of the right hand pocket.  Damn.  The pattern was as tight as a really fine, single-shot sixteen gauge shotgun!

Scott’s face instantly flamed a bright red.  Bolting up from his seat, he reached out a long arm across the desk and grabbed a handful of his baby brother’s shirt, yanking him forward until they were nose to nose.  “You did that on purpose,” he growled.

“Did not!” Johnny flung back.  His right hand shot out, picking up the eyedropper.  He squeezed.  The ink splashed across Scott’s forehead and began to dribble down his nose.  “Did that on purpose,” he snorted, laughing.  Using the advantage of his surprise attack, he tore free from his brother’s grasp and backed away.  In his hasty retreat, the bottle of ink tipped and flooded across the surface of the desk. 

Nimbly, Scott vaulted across the large piece of furniture.  The chase was on.


Upstairs in his quiet inner sanctum, comfortably sprawled in his large, leather upholstered chair, his feet propped up on the matching ottoman, Murdoch Lancer unconsciously moistened his fingertip and turned the final page.   He had read this book before; in its original as first published in 1836, and the later annotated version, almost twenty-five years after the events had occurred. ‘Two Years Before the Mast’ -- a reminder of his own time at sea -- remained a favorite.  It was one of Scott’s favorites as well.

He canted his head slightly, the glasses he now used for reading slipping down on his nose as he read the final sentences.  ‘Sail after sail,  for the hundredth time, in fair weather and in foul, we furled now for the last time together, and came down and took the warp ashore, manned the capstan, and with a chorus which waked up half North End, and rang among the buildings in the dock, we hauled her into the wharf.  The city bells were just ringing one when the last turn was made fast and the crew dismissed; and in five minutes more not a soul was left on board the good ship Alert but the old ship-keeper, who had come down from the counting-house to take charge of her.’

Sighing, the tall rancher quietly closed the leather-bound volume, and laid it across his lap.  Quiet Sunday’s like this were rare on Lancer, and he was actually grateful for the storm that still raged outside the thick adobe walls.  Smiling, he picked up the tumbler of Glenlivet that had remained at his elbow almost untouched, and took a leisurely sip.

And then he heard it.  He thought at first is was a sudden gust of wind funneling through the courtyard; strong enough to blow open one of the French doors in the Great Room, but that assumption was cast aside.  Yes, he’d heard the muted breaking of glass, something not unexpected during high winds; but that sound had come almost one with the raucous burst of Johnny’s laughter, Scott’s bellow, and…

…above it all, the sharp rapid-fire reprimand of one very irate housekeeper.

“What now,” he muttered, levering himself up from the chair.  He crossed the room in three great strides, flung open the door, and headed down the hallway.

He reached the bottom of the stairs just in time to collide with his youngest son, who was obviously in a hurry and heading for the front door.  Hauling the boy up short just as his fingers closed around the doorknob -- my God, he doesn’t have sense enough to stay out of the rain! -- he held on tightly to the boy’s upper arm.  Before he had a chance to chastise the youth, he was aware of Scott’s presence; and immediately turned to face his elder son.

Although he made a valiant attempt, there was no way Murdoch Lancer could suppress the myriad of emotions that swept across his face.  His mouth trembled as both corners quirked up in an amused smile; the expression quickly going up-side-down into a more appropriate grimace. 

Scott hadn’t missed his father’s near smile.  He pulled himself ram-rod erect in a futile endeavor to muster whatever dignity he could.  It wasn’t working.  Johnny had collapsed against his father in almost hysterical laughter.  “Sir,” he greeted through clenched teeth, his jaws flexing.

Murdoch swallowed in a further attempt to quell the growing amusement.  Scott -- the same young man who could and did look elegant even after a long day’s work -- had the disheveled appearance of a mad scientist whose experiments had gone terribly wrong.  His once pristine white shirt, now un-tucked, was peppered with black spots at his right breast pocket.  A larger, still spreading stain was stark black on the outer thigh of his left tan pant leg; and on his face…

It was almost too much for the Lancer patriarch.  He did not smile, but there was laughter in his pale eyes.  Dead center between Scott’s blue eyes, above the bridge of his nose was a large splotch of jet-black, apparently indelible ink; the dark liquid leeching down the young man’s aristocratic nose to drip from the very tip.   Their eyes met; Murdoch the first one to break contact as he purposely swung his gaze elsewhere.  “What happened here,” he muttered, spying his ink-covered desk and the broken ink-bottle that had smashed against the floor.  Maria was busily attempting to clean up the mess.

“Grandfather sent me a new pen,” Scott answered.  “A fountain pen.  He’s thinking of investing in the company.”

Murdoch Lancer was a well-read man and an unabashed fan of mechanical technology; with a clock-maker’s curiosity about how things worked.  “I see,” he nodded.  “And?”

Scott’s posture had eased, but not that much.  He was standing, his left hand cupped, his right fist grinding against the palm.  “I was filling the pen,” he answered.

“I see,” Murdoch said a second time.  Johnny’s head was pressed against his chest, and it was clear from the way the boy’s shoulders were shaking he was still laughing.  Murdoch could feel his shirt growing wet as Johnny’s unrestrained laughter increased in tempo and in volume.  “Am I to assume from this…” he nodded towards the desk, “…your brother was…” another pause, “…helping?”

It was as if a candle had been lit behind Scott’s eyes.  “Yes,” he said, lying through his teeth.  “That’s it, sir.  Johnny was helping.”  He smiled, something evil glinting in his pale orbs.  “In fact, that’s just what my little brother and I were about to discuss.  How much he helped me.”  He reached out, intending to grab his brother by the throat.

Johnny had caught the movement out of the corner of his eye.  He skillfully -- wisely -- avoided his brother’s hand and disappeared behind his father’s back.  Only Murdoch was still holding on.  He risked a peek, peering out around his father’s broad shoulder and staring directly at his sibling.  Scott had a smile pasted across his kisser, but even a tonto could see the man was pissed; royally pissed.  And Johnny Madrid Lancer was no fool.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Murdoch said, catching his younger son by the collar just as the youth attempted for a second time to squirm free.  “Scott, I’d appreciate it if you would fetch a bucket and some water for Maria; perhaps find something in the kitchen to soak up the remainder of that ink.”  He hesitated before saying the next, mainly because it was getting harder not to laugh.  Solemnly, he dug into his back pocket and withdrew a neatly folded handkerchief, which he offered to his first born.  “And, son, wash your face.” 

Johnny snickered.  “Yeah, brother.”  The quick, smart-ass smile appeared.  “You might want to think about changin’ that shirt, too.”  God, he loved saying those words.  Scott was always ragging on him about cleaning up; about making himself presentable.

Scott’s eyes seemed to go from blue to cold, gun-metal grey; his gaze so intense his younger brother instinctively attempted to back up.  If looks could have killed, Johnny Madrid Lancer would have been dead where he stood.  It appeared for a time Scott was actually angry enough at his brother he was willing to ignore his father’s suggestion.  Then, his expression easing, he simply nodded.  “We will be discussing this, brother,” he grumbled, “soon, very soon.”

Johnny was still standing behind his father.  He was working hard to resist sticking his tongue out at his elder brother, but he couldn’t stop the smirk.  The ink spot on his brother’s forehead was so out of place, so foreign to Scott’s usual immaculate appearance.  He watched his brother’s stiff-backed departure.  “Well,” he chuffed, stepping away from his father and clapping his hands together as if he were dislodging some dust, “since you got that all taken care of, guess I’ll just…”

“Don’t…move,” Murdoch murmured.  He cast a quick look at Maria, who was bent down over the puddle of ink, and decided to follow his own advice.  From the way Maria was muttering, it seemed prudent to keep some distance.

Murdoch hands were busy as he patted at his shirt pockets, a sigh of relief coming as he located the cellophane wrapped cigar he had placed there earlier.  He unwrapped the cheroot, crumbling the thin paper and putting it in his vest pocket; and then withdrew a match.  “I want…” puff-puff  “…you to tell me exactly what happened…” puff-puff  “…in here.”

Johnny was standing with his arms clasped behind his back, rocking a bit on his feet as he contemplated an answer.  “Accident,” he said finally.

A cloud of blue smoke surrounded Murdoch Lancer’s head.  “What kind of an accident?” he pressed.  It was obvious from his tone he was suspicious.

The boy’s brow furrowed.  “The pen exploded?”  Damn!  He hadn’t meant for it to sound like a question.  

Murdoch’s eyes narrowed as he pondered the explanation.  He stroked his chin, thoughtfully, as if he was actually buying the theory.  “Well,” he began, “I suppose that would explain the ink spatter on Scott’s shirt.”

Johnny’s head was bobbing up and down in agreement.  “Yep.”  This is going to be a lot easier than I figured, he thought smugly.

There was another puffing sound as Murdoch took a second long pull on his cigar.  He held the smoke in his mouth for awhile before exhaling, his lips pursing as he blew a series of perfectly round smoke rings.  They drifted on the air, one of them forming a tarnished halo above his younger son’s head before it dissipated.  “And the ink on his left pant leg?” he asked.

That one Johnny had to think about.  “The explosion tipped over the bottle?” he ventured.  He knew he needed more.  “When Scott was comin’ around the desk, trying to get away from…” he hesitated, “…from…”

Murdoch was staring at the burning tip of his cigar.  “The explosion?” he interrupted.  Oh, this was getting good.  His right eyebrow arched as he stared down at his boy.  “Let’s see.  You’ve explained the spatter on your brother’s shirt, the stain on his pant leg.”  He paused just long enough to take another puff on the cigar.  “Now would you care to explain the ink on your brother’s forehead?” 

Not really, Johnny thought.  He leaned forward slightly.  “It was a big bottle of ink, Murdoch,” he said, his expression as serious as a parson delivering a Sunday sermon.  “And that fu…damned pen…!  He’d just filled it, ya know.”  His lips parted in a wide grin, his teeth showing and the skin behind his ears crinkling.  “Ol’ Harlan is goin’ to lose his a… butt on that one.”  He laughed.

The ash on Murdoch’s cigar was quite long now, and the big man was looking for an ashtray.  He side-stepped a bit to deposit the burnt tobacco in the ashtray sitting on the long drink table behind the couch, smiling a bit as he realized Johnny had followed along behind him.  Johnny’s back was to the arched doorway.  He smiled indulgently at his younger boy.  “So let me see if I’ve got this straight,” he said.  “You were in here, helping your brother; the ink bottle exploded, your brother got ink all over him and,” he reached out, smoothing the boy’s collar, “you escaped without so much as a bit of ink hitting you anywhere.”  As if intending to check for damages, he leaned in, studiously examining the young man’s shirt.

Johnny’s lips parted slightly, the tip of his tongue appearing at the corner of his mouth.  “Well, it is Sunday, Murdoch,” he breathed.  “Could’a been a milagro.”

Murdoch’s eyebrows rose significantly; as did his gaze.  He looked over the top of his younger son’s head.  “Is that what you think, Scott,” he asked, addressing his eldest son who was standing in the archway; a pail of water, spare toweling and brush in hand.  “That Johnny experienced a miracle?”   Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his younger son visibly wilt.

Scott stepped down into the Great Room.  He crossed the room, offering the cleaning supplies to Maria before answering.  “The only miracle that has occurred in this room, sir, is that he hasn’t been struck by lightning for the gilipollez (bullshit) he’s been shoveling.”  He reached out, patting Maria’s arm.  “Lo siento, Mamacita,” he murmured, apologizing for the obscenity.  She waved him away.  Right now, she had a few choice words of her own tip-toeing across her mind.

Reaching out, Murdoch grabbed Johnny’s arm and escorted him towards the couch.  “Sit,” he instructed.  “I want to know what happened.”   He dropped down into his leather chair, nudging the ottoman out of the way as he leaned forward; his elbows on his knees.

There was the soft chatter of glass against glass as Scott paused at the drink table to pour two stout measures of Glenlivet.  Handing off a tumbler to his father, he circled around the far end of the couch and eased down onto the soft cushions.  Where to begin? he thought.   “I came in here,” he gestured with the glass, “looking to find a little solitude while I tried out the fountain pen…”

“If you were lookin’ for solitude, brother,” Johnny interrupted, “you could’a just hid out in your bedroom, like you did after breakfast when I tryin’ to get you to play some chess.”

Scott sighed.  “I told you I had things I wanted to do, Johnny.  When you barged into my bedroom, when you followed me into Murdoch’s study, and the dining room, and the tower room, and…”

Murdoch held up his hand.  “There are thirty-seven rooms in this house, Scott.  I’m quite sure I don’t need to hear the entire inventory.”  He turned his gaze towards his younger son, inwardly proud of himself for his self-restraint.  “We’ve had this discussion before, Johnny.  Your brother is entitled to some privacy, and if he chose to use the Great Room when it wasn’t occupied…”

“I was here first,” Johnny grumped.

Scott turned to face his brother.  “I beg your pardon?  You were not in this room when I came in here.”

Johnny found it difficult to face his brother’s sudden scrutiny.  There was still some ink residue on Scott’s forehead, a light grey smudge just above the bridge of his nose, and it was making it hard not to laugh.  “I came in here before breakfast, when Maria was after me for snitchin’ some bacon.  That makes me first.”

Both Murdoch and Scott raised their free hands to their foreheads, their movements identical as they swiped their faces in frustration.  Johnny’s logic -- if it could be called that -- often left them questioning their sanity.  Or his.  Behind them, Maria snorted.  She picked up her cleaning supplies and headed back towards the kitchen, never breaking stride as she smacked the back of Johnny’s head.

“Hey!!”  Johnny frowned, rubbing a spot just above his right ear.  “She hit me,” he complained.

“Not as hard as she should have,” Scott muttered.

Murdoch’s teeth clenched, his jaws tensing.  “I asked a simple question,” he ground out, carefully annunciating each word.  “I would like a simple, truthful,” he stressed the word, “answer.  What…happened?” 

Johnny shot his brother a look, hoping Scott had missed that truthful part.

Scott had leaned back.  His long legs were extended, ankles crossed.  “I had just filled the pen.” He cut his eyes at his brother.  “With the eyedropper.  I was trying to explain to Johnny the practicability of a fountain pen as opposed to the standard desk pen…” he hesitated long enough to take a swig of his whisky, shaking his head.

Murdoch sensed Scott’s frustration.  Johnny had an annoying tendency to turn an explanation into a major debate: loving the verbal sparring.  Show him a globe, and he would still insist the world was flat; if someone else said the world was flat, Johnny would scoff and declare the world was round.  “Continue,” he ordered, reaching out to put a staying hand on his younger’s son’s left knee to stop the up-and-down dancing.

“I attempted to give him some logical examples of how useful the pen could be,” Scott turned to face his father fully, “suggested how handy it would be to compose a letter, write a short note explaining where he might be going and why.”

Johnny winced as Murdoch’s fingers closed around his knee, but wisely kept his mouth shut.  His late night departure and three day absence from the ranch after an argument with his father was still a sore point that hadn’t been entirely resolved.

“And?” Murdoch prompted.

Scott was looking at his brother.  Johnny looked miserable; he was definitely waiting for the other shoe to drop.  “And things simply got out of hand, sir,” he answered finally, saluting his father with his empty glass.  “I’ll apologize to Maria for the chaos we created, and if there’s any damage to the flooring because of the ink, I’ll make it right.” 

Johnny looked at sibling in disbelief.  What the hell was this?  Here he was with his head on the chopping block, and big brother just stepped in and took the hit.  Damned if that didn’t lever up the guilt a notch or two.

“Johnny?” Murdoch prodded, knowing full well there was more to the story than his elder son was disclosing.

Aw, shit!  The next thing he knew, the words were pouring from his mouth and he was babbling like some vieja solterona (old maid) spilling her guts to the priest after losing her cherry to the hired help.   He took a deep breath.  “I did this,” he gestured with his finger, immediately regretting the move, “told him ‘fuck you’, tossed the pen on the desk and squirted him with the eye-dropper.”  He risked a look at his father’s face, and immediately dropped his head.  Confession might be good for the soul, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t going to do much for his ass.

Scott visibly cringed.  Murdoch’s face was a remarkable shade of plum and getting darker.  Scott, hoping to defuse the situation, addressed his brother.  “But only after I threatened to sit you down and make you write ‘I will not use foul language or make crude gestures when addressing my elders,’” he declared, as if the words would make difference. 

Suddenly, Murdoch Lancer levered himself up from his chair; towering over both sons.  “Enough!” he thundered.  He raised both hands to stop any further nonsense.  “Scott, I’d like to see that fountain pen.”  His eyes narrowed as he surveyed his younger boy.  “And as for you, young man…”

Johnny’s head came up slowly.  Here it comes, he thought.  “Yeah?”

Scott buried his face in his hands.  He exhaled, slowly.  Johnny could make even the simplest word sound insolent.

Murdoch frowned.  “You can march yourself over to that desk, take out a stack of paper and start writing.  ‘I will not use foul language, make crude gestures, or be impudent when addressing my elders.’”

Johnny’s mouth dropped open in disbelief.  “Aww, c’mon, Old Man.  You gotta be kidding!”

The skin below Murdoch’s right eye was twitching.  He raised his right arm, his index finger rigid as he pointed.  “Go.”

Muttering under his breath, Johnny rose up from his seat.  Making as much noise as he could, he stomped across the room; pulled out the high-backed leather chair, plopped himself down and wrenched open the top, right hand drawer.  Yanking a single sheet of paper, he slapped it down atop the desk.  He reached out, his hand hovering above the desk.

“Not that one,” Scott said, picking up the fountain pen.  “Murdoch wants to see it.”

Johnny glared up at his elder brother.  He opened his mouth to speak, changing his mind when he saw the frown that was still pasted on his father’s face.  Grimacing, he picked up the pen from the inkstand.  He jabbed the point into the rubber topped inkwell, scraping off the excess ink and began to write.  Dip, tap, scratch.  Dip, tap, scratch.  Dip, tap, scratch.  The fact his father had crossed the room and was now standing beside the desk didn’t help to improve his mood.

“That’s l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e,” Murdoch corrected, peering over his shoulder.  “And i-m-p-u-d-e-n-t.  And there are two d’s in addressing.”  He was struggling hard not to smile.  To add insult to injury, he reached into the still open desk drawer and took out more paper to lie at his son’s elbow.

Scratchhhhh.  Johnny drew a line through the misspelled sentence.  He was seething inside, but he wasn’t about to say anything.  Hell, no.  The Old Man had a stack of paper at least an inch thick in that fuckin’ desk drawer.

~*~ *~ *~*~*~*~*~

The storm had let up, the rain reduced to a minor but constant drizzle, hints of sun light coloring the western horizon.  There was a pleasant pattering of raindrops against the clay roof tiles; filling the Great Room a sense of homey tranquility.

Murdoch was reading in his fireside chair, the week old issue of the Sacramento Bee lying open in his lap; his reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose.  Scott -- who had changed into a clean shirt -- was sitting across from his brother in companionable silence.  Johnny was still writing with Murdoch’s pen, Scott using the fountain pen to write in his open journal.

Johnny was the first one to speak.  Pausing in his writing, he put down the pen and laced his fingers together; flexing his arms, his knuckles cracking.  He frowned a bit at the smudges of ink on his fingertips; both hands.  “So how long you think he’s gonna make me keep writing?” he murmured.

Scott had just tapped a period against the paper.  There was not one mote of ink on his fingers.  “Until he thinks you’ve learned your lesson,” he answered, smiling.

“That long?” Johnny drawled, sighing.  He cast a covert look at his father, and then swung his gaze back to his brother; to the journal his brother was writing in.  Scott was right handed and from his position, Johnny couldn’t make out what the man was writing.  He tried, though, frowning when Scott caught him looking and dropped the daybook to rest against his right knee.  “What’cha writin’?”

Scott’s cheeks dimpled slightly at the question, remembering the ‘What’cha doin’ that had started the whole ink fiasco.  “A book,” he answered slyly.

The sound of Murdoch clearing his throat prompted Johnny to pick up his pen again.  “What kind of book?” he whispered, his interest piqued.

“A book of rules,” Scott responded without looking up.  He continued to write.

Johnny’s eyes narrowed.  He stared down at his own pen, which had gone dry again.  “What kind of rules?” he asked suspiciously, dipping the pen in the well and tapping off the excess.  There might be something to that fountain pen thing after all.  Not that he’d ever admit it to his smart-assed brother.

Scott’s smiled was growing.  “A Big Brother Book of Rules,” he answered.  He lifted the book slightly, but not enough that Johnny could see what was written on the page.  “I’m already on page ten.”

There was a harsh sound as Johnny bolted up from the chair and leaned forward across the desk.  “Is that right?” he snapped, making a grab for the journal.

This time, Murdoch not only cleared his throat, he spoke up.  “John.”  His right eyebrow arched.  “Sit down and keep writing.”

Johnny dropped back into the chair.  “Jesus,” he groaned, his voice lowering.  “My fingers and my a.,. butt are goin’ to sleep.”  He leaned forward, whispering.  “There anything in that book about my big brother talkin’ to my Old Man and tellin’ him how he shouldn’t chain me to a chair and make me write the same stuff over and over until my fingers are fallin’ off?”

Scott’s eyebrows rose slightly.  Johnny was not usually so verbose.  “I do not see any chains, and your fingers are not falling off,” he replied.  His chin lifted and he smiled across at his sibling.  “I am putting a rule in here about teaching my brother to say his bedtime prayers, though,” he teased.  His expression changed, taking on a more somber demeanor, but his eyes were filled with humor.  “You do believe in prayer, don’t you?”

Johnny’s mouth quirked up in a lop-sided grin.  “Sure,” he answered.  “Asked God for a horse once, when I was a kid.”

Scott had stopped writing and was tapping the pen against the pad.  Johnny, in his opinion, was still a kid.  “And?” he asked.

The younger man shrugged.  “After about a week, I asked the padre why I didn’t get my caballo.  He told me it don’t work that way; that prayin’ isn’t about askin’ for things, it’s about askin’ for other stuff, like redemption.”  The blue eyes were dancing.  “So I stole his horse, and asked God for forgiveness.”

The laughter exploded from Scott’s lips, shattering the quiet. 

“Boys,” Murdoch chided, looking up from his reading.  He removed his glasses and stood up.

“Oh, oh,” Johnny murmured, exchanging a worried glance with his brother.   He swiped his fingers beneath his nose, one time, and then used both hands to rub at his eyes.

Murdoch had seen the move; something he had seen Johnny do as a toddler when he was fighting sleep.  Rub his eyes and then attempt to hold them open.  Assuming his stern father countenance, he approached the desk and picked up the paper Johnny had been writing on, fighting the smile as he watched his son fidget.   “How many times?” he asked, laying the paper back down.

Johnny’s expression meandered between consternation and confusion.  “I was supposed to number ‘em?” he asked.

Scott had closed the journal and was now capping his pen.  “There are three pages,” he pointed out.  “And he’s spelled everything correctly.”  When he saw the look on his brother’s face, he grinned.  “I learned how to read up-side down at Harvard,” he confessed.  “It came in handy when the dean was writing a note to Grandfather.”   He didn’t volunteer any more information. 

Murdoch cocked an eye at both of his sons.  “Have you learned your lesson, John?” he asked.

Johnny didn’t hesitate for even a heart beat.  “Yes, sir,” he answered.  He looked up to see both his father and his brother smiling at him.  All friendly, too; like he had remembered to say ‘excuse me’ after he farted.

Maria padded into the room.  “Dinner, Patrón,” she announced, gesturing towards the table.  “Ten minutes.”  Consuela had already placed all the china and the silverware; and was now filling the water glasses.  Maria’s head canted slightly, a smile playing on her lips as she surveyed the younger Lancer son.

Johnny, figuring all was forgiven, smiled back at the woman; his most angelic smile.  The woman giggled.  So did Consuela.  Maria turned, shushing the girl and shooing her into the hallway leading to the kitchen.

Murdoch clapped his younger son on the shoulder.  “Well, that gives you time to wash up in the kitchen if you hurry,” he suggested.

Scott failed to stop the chuckle.  Johnny, who was fastidious about caring for his pistol or his horse, was rather lackadaisical about his personal habits.  Closing his journal, he stood up.  “Sounds like a plan to me, sir,” he grinned.

Johnny turned to glare at his brother.  “Jeez, Scott.  We’ve been in the house all day long.  It’s not like we done anything to get dirty.  Washin’ up now makes about…”

“…about as much sense as making your bed every morning?”  Scott finished.

“Yeah,” the younger man replied defensively.  “What’s the point?  Go to bed, get up, go to bed.  It ain’t like its goin’ anywhere.”  He grinned up at his brother.  “‘Sides, I thought that was T’resa’s job.”

Murdoch snorted.  “Not since you left that dead snake beneath your quilt,” he admonished.   He reached out, laying a hand on each of Johnny’s shoulders.  “So, you don’t feel the need to wash up before dinner?” he asked.

Johnny was already shaking his head.  “Nope!”  Completely missing his elder brother’s snicker, Johnny headed for the table.

They took their seats, Murdoch and the head of the table, Scott to his father’s right; Johnny on the left.

Johnny dropped his arm to his lap as Consuelo poured him a glass of milk; staring up at the girl as she bit her lip to stifle a smile.  A blossoming teen-ager, Consuelo tended to be flighty sometimes.  She was also given to fits of giggling when least expected; something Johnny found downright annoying, especially when she following him around like a puppy.  ¿Usted tiene hormigas en sus pantalones, niña?” (You got ants in your pants, little girl?) he asked.

Juanito,” Maria scolded.   She had just brought the large soup tureen to the table and was placing it before Murdoch. ¡Compórtese! Usted sabe que no es propio discutir tales cosas!”  (Behave!  You know it is not appropriate to discuss such things!)

Johnny’s gaze lifted to the ceiling.  “Lo siento,” he muttered, turning toward the young girl and forcing a smile that was about as genuine as a priest eulogizing a whore. 

This time the girl laughed, full out. “¡Mapache!” (Raccoon!)  She practically screeched the word, and then dissolved in high-pitched giggles.  Covering her mouth with her apron she ran from the room.

“What the hell’s the matter with her?” Johnny groused. 

Murdoch was ladling out the servings of soup, passing a bowl to Johnny first; the second bowl to Scott.  The soup was one of Johnny’s favorite, a clear chicken consommé Maria spiced with fresh peppercorns.  He began to eat with gusto, remembering the proper way to use the over-sized soup spoon; wishing he could just pick up the bowl and drink like he would from a cup.  Still he finished before his father and his brother.  “Hey, can I have more?” he asked lifting up the empty bowl.

Scott laughed; as did Murdoch, both of them remembering the orphanage scene from Oliver Twist.  “I think, Johnny, you can help yourself,” Murdoch said, moving the tureen a bit to the left.

Johnny stood up and leaned across the wide table; lifting the polished silver lid from the server, concentrating on the wonderful broth inside the pot.  He filled his bowl to the brim and sat back down.

Murdoch and Scott exchanged a bemused look, but said nothing.

A knock at the front door startled the men.  The rain had not stopped, and it was a surprise that anyone would have been willing to venture out.  Scott excused himself and headed for the vestibule. 

“Val!” he greeted.  Scott stepped out onto the patio and helped the man with his poncho; watching as the lawman took off his Stetson and shook off the water.  “Out and about enjoying our famous California sunshine?”

Val’s eyes narrowed as he surveyed the younger man.  “Last time you got smart with me, college boy, I deputized your sorry ass.”

Scott raised his right hand as if he were preparing to make parley with the local Chumash.  “Peace,” he grinned.  He turned and hung Val’s slicker across the chair that set next to the front door.  “And whatever it is you think Johnny has done, I can honestly tell you he isn’t guilty.”  His voice lowered.  “He’s been home,” he sighed, “all day.  With me.”

The lawman laughed.  He followed Scott into the house, stepping up into the hallway and hanging up his hat.  “Didn’t intend to interrupt supper,” he apologized, aware of the rich aroma of broth and roasted chicken.

Scott shook his head.  “I’m betting Maria has already set another place at the table,” he said, nodding towards the Great Room. 

Sure enough, there was a complete setting on the table next to Scott’s place; diagonally across from Johnny.  Val eased himself into the chair, nodding in Murdoch’s direction.  “Appreciate the hospitality, Murdoch.”  His gaze flicked toward Johnny; his first instinct to say something; changing his mind when he saw the expressions on Murdoch’s and Scott’s faces.  Obviously, the two men were enjoying some private joke.  “Johnny,” he greeted.

Johnny had finished his broth.  He took a drink of milk before responding to the lawman.  There was a thin frosting of milk on his upper lip and -- forgetting his manners -- he wiped it away with his sleeve.  “Sarah finally let you off the leash?” he drawled.

Val laid his napkin across his knees.  Johnny’s sarcasm was more than enough to make up the lawman’s mind: if Murdoch and Scott were content to keep their mouths shut, so would he.  “Sarah doesn’t have me on a leash,” he shot back.  “And that’s Mrs. Townsend to you, sunshine.”   He just as quickly dismissed the youth and got right down to business.  “I finally got a lead on that yahoo who’s been touting himself to the Cattle Growers Association,” he announced, addressing Murdoch.  “He’s got a long trail as far north as the Canadian line; same scam as the one he’s tryin’ to pull here.  That breeders’ syndicate he claims to represent might look good on paper, but I haven’t found one rancher who ever took delivery of any cattle.”

Murdoch was in the process of carving the first of the plump roasting hens Maria had brought to the table.  “So he approaches people, asks for good faith money…”

“…and disappears,” Val finished.  “Other part of the con is to hit on each rancher on the sly with a special deal, partnership in prime breeding stock some British Lord is shipping to the Colonies.”

Murdoch laughed.  “Let me guess.  A prize seed bull from Queen Victoria’s private farm at Balmoral.”


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Dinner progressed with little conversation, the men enjoying the bounty of the table.  Johnny, Murdoch noticed, hadn’t said another word to Val during the entire meal; and he was tempted to say something to his younger son regarding his manners.  In retrospect, he was almost enjoying the slight rift between the lawman and his younger son.  He knew the cause.  The woman Val was courting in Green River was a widow with two small children, and Johnny -- although he would deny it -- was jealous.

Maria and Consuela had just returned to the table, bringing with them a pitcher of fresh cream and individual bowls filled with still warm apple dumplings, the air sweet with the aroma of brown sugar and cinnamon.  Although she was trying very hard, Consuela was on the verge of yet another fit of girlish giggles.  It was a losing battle.  The niña managed to serve Johnny’s dessert, and then completely lost her composure.   Maria swiftly collected the girl and steered her out of the room; swatting her firmly on the bottom just as they crossed the threshold.

“That does it!”  Johnny snapped; shoving his chair back and standing up; only to feel Murdoch’s fingers close around his wrist.  Half in/half out of his seat, he turned to face his father.  “That little muchacha loca is gonna tell me what she thinks is so damned funny, or I’m gonna…”

Val had just dug into his dumpling, his full spoon hovering above his bowl.  This was just too good to pass up.  “Maybe she’s curious about those shiners you’re sportin’,” he drawled.  “What the hell happened to you, boy?”  His lips were twitching.  “Scott get a little fed up with your pesterin’?”

Johnny’s brow furrowed, befuddlement marring his features.  “What shiners?” he demanded.  “You’re as loco as Consuela!”

Putting his spoon down, Val’s eyes narrowed as he rose up slightly and leaned across the table to take a better look at the youngest Lancer boy, his scrutiny intensifying.  He reached out to cup the youth’s chin in his palm, his thumb rubbing at the dark smudge beneath Johnny’s right eye.  The stain spread.

Murdoch was chuckling; hiding the laughter beneath his napkin as he patted his lips.  “Remember when I asked you if you needed to wash up before dinner, son?”

Johnny had pulled away from Val’s grasp.  “Remember when I said ‘nope’?” he snapped back.

Oh-oh, Scott thought, recognizing the belligerence in his brother’s tone.  Hoping to avoid a major disaster, he rose up from his chair; gesturing for Johnny to join him.  “Don’t argue,” he warned, moving around the end of the table behind his father’s chair.  “Just come with me.”  He helped his sibling to his feet.

Protesting, Johnny felt himself being pulled across the floor towards the mirror that hung on the far wall. 

Johnny’s mouth dropped open as he spied his reflection.  He blinked, twice, the action doing nothing to change what he was seeing.  Staring back at him was a blue-eyed, tousled haired, gigantic raccoon in a red shirt; black ink smudging his eyes and the tip of his nose.  He looked like a fucking idiot.  His gaze lifted to see his brother’s mirror image; Scott’s lips parted in a wide smile.

“Think it’s funny?” Johnny ground out without turning around.  Instead, he planted a well-aimed elbow into his brother’s midsection.

Scott had expected the retaliation and quickly back-stepped.  “You thought it was funny when I had the ink on my forehead,” he countered.  He snickered.  “And if you think you’re face is a mess, did it ever occur to you to look at your hands?”  With that, he grabbed Johnny’s wrists.

Johnny’s head came forward suddenly as he head-butted his brother in the chest.   This time, Scott wasn’t so fast on his feet.  There was a soft ‘ooooff’ as Johnny’s head collided with his chest, the impact knocking the taller man back.

Val was sipping his coffee.  He looked at his dinner companion.  “You going to stop this?” he asked, nodding toward the younger men.

Murdoch shook his head and added a bit more cream to the remainder of his apple dumpling.  “No,” he replied.   “I am going to enjoy my dessert.”

The sound of the two young men scuffling was reasonably subdued at first; the usual huffing and puffing accompanied by the occasional grunting and groaning and punctuated by the sporadic sounds of measured punching.  Murdoch continued to relish the taste of his pastry, as did Val; both men smiling as a strangely silent Maria refilled their coffee cups.

A tinkling of glass and the chattering of crystal decanters suddenly rose above the clamber of battle; the noise enough to rouse Murdoch Lancer from his sugar-induced reverie.  Val watched as the older man visibly tensed.


The single word thundered above every noise within and without the great house; rumbling with more intensity than the sudden downburst of wind and rain that touched down in the front yard.  Total and complete silence followed.

The tops of two disheveled heads -- one blond, one brunet -- slowly rose up from behind the couch.  Scott was the first to lever himself up fully from the floor, a tenuous smile playing at the corners of his mouth.  Johnny, who had been on the bottom, was slower in rising; his smile a bit cockier as he landed a final knuckle-punch to his brother’s left bicep.

Murdoch said nothing.  He simply shook out his napkin, pausing to dunk it into the pitcher of water sitting to his right; wringing it out with one hand.

Val was leaning back in his chair, enjoying the show.  Grinning, he watched as Murdoch -- wet napkin in hand -- rose up from his seat and strode purposely across the room to where his sons, who had not moved, were standing at full attention.  Then, deciding he wanted a front row seat, the lawman cat-pawed behind the rancher to park himself on the back of the couch.

Murdoch towered over both young men.  “Scott,” he began, remarkably calm, “I would suggest you get yourself over to my desk and amend that book of rules you were working on.”  He smiled at the flicker of surprise on the younger man’s face.  “It would appear you need to add one regarding how -- as the elder brother -- it would behoove you to set a good example.”  He turned his gaze to his younger boy.  “And as for you…”  Without another word, he reached out, his thumb firmly locking on the button of the youth’s chin.  Using the napkin, he began to scour the young man’s face.

Johnny tried to back up and failed.  Not only was the water cold, but the damned napkin was still soaking wet and dripping all over his shirt; and not all that soft.  At least, not with the way the Old Man was scrubbing his face.

It didn’t help that Val was laughing like a jackass.  Johnny attempted to turn away from his father’s tight grasp, failing miserably; unable to move anything but his eyes.  He tried glaring at the lawman, but that didn’t work either.

Val laughed harder.  “Could’a been a spit wash,” he crowed, saluting the youth with his coffee cup.

Johnny cursed; not the wisest thing under the circumstances.  He was rewarded with a quick, wet swipe across his mouth and tongue.   “Jesus, Murdoch!”

Pausing to survey his handiwork, Murdoch decided to give up.  He shoved the soiled handkerchief into his son’s hand.  “You,” he growled.  “Get yourself into the kitchen and use some soap on that face; and those hands.”

Bowed, but not defeated, Johnny made a series of phhtt sounds in an attempt to wash the cotton taste out of his mouth.  His foul mood and the fact his father was treating him like a two year old gave him a bad case of the stupids.  “That sounds a lot like an order, Old Man.”

Big mistake.

Murdoch’s back stiffened.  “I am not in the habit of making suggestions, John,” he snapped.  “And that last instruction I gave you could certainly be followed by ‘and then get ready for bed.’”  He physically turned the young man around, pointed him in the direction of the kitchen, and gave him a solid smack across his rear end to help him on his way.

Val watched as Johnny marched out of the room.  “Just your usual Sunday afternoon, Murdoch?”  he drawled.

Murdoch’s gaze was locked on his elder son, who was uncharacteristically hunched over the desk and pretending to write.  “Pretty much,” he muttered.  “At least when it rains.”


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Johnny opened his brother’s bedroom door, peering around the edge before opening the portal fully.  Not wanting to risk the noise of the latch catching, he left the door slightly ajar and padded across the room to plop down on the foot of the bed.  He used the toe of his right foot to nudge his sibling’s rump.  “Still writin’?” he asked.

Scott was in his usual spring time sleep apparel; shirtless and wearing only a light-weight pair of cotton cut-offs.  “Doesn’t anyone around here know how to knock?” he answered back.  It was an old joke; one that had started that first morning after their return.  He closed the journal.  “I thought after Maria found you prowling about the kitchen for more dumplings, Murdoch was going to tie you to your bed,” he chuckled.

Johnny was still dressed; his red shirt open to the waist, his leather pants unbuckled and hanging dangerously low on his slim hips.  “Nah,” he grinned.  “He was just kiddin’.”  The words didn’t come with quite as much conviction as he intended.  His eyes narrowed.  “I want a look at that book of rules,” he frowned.

The blond was shaking his head.  “No,” he said.  “It’s not done yet.”  He bit his lip to stop the smile.  “I have a feeling it will never be done.”

“That right?”  This time, Johnny nudged his brother’s backside a little harder.  He was rewarded with a sharp thwack to his stockinged foot.  “I think you better be addin’ a rule about not hittin’ your brother, unless you’re lookin’ to get knocked on your ass.”

Knees cocked, Scott held the closed journal pressed against his slim thighs.  Crossing his arms and resting his elbows atop his knees, he leaned forward slightly.  “I think you’ve misunderstood the concept of this book of rules, Johnny,” he said, feeling a need to clarify.  “I’m writing a Book of Rules to establish guidelines for the Big Brother,” he thumped his chest with his forefinger, “-- me --, as they relate to those things I am honor bound to do in my endeavors to teach my baby brother,” his finger swung back to tap Johnny’s chest, “-- you -- how to behave.”  He paused.  “And to keep you out of trouble.”

Johnny swatted the rigid forefinger away.  “Oh, yeah, you’re real good at that one; keepin’ me outta trouble.”  He began ticking off his own list of personal favorites.  “Took me to a whorehouse; same whorehouse where the Old Man was havin’ dinner, about killed me with those damned fireworks…”

Scott held up his hand.  “Please.  If you would just once actually stay the course without deviating from the original plan…”

Phhtt,” Johnny scoffed.  “Hope you ain’t plannin’ on puttin’ that in your book of rules, ‘cause there ain’t a snowball’s chance in Hell it’s gonna happen.  Most of your plans are for shit!”    

It was Scott’s turn to be insulted.  “I’ll have you know, little brother, I am held in high esteem for my logical approach to the most difficult situations, and my tactical skills are beyond reproach; even legendary!”  He took a swipe at his brother’s head.

Johnny snickered, and then laughed aloud.  “Sure takes you a Hell of a lot of words, Boston, just to say you can get Rachael Fairchild to screw you for free.”  He shook his head.  Suddenly, he made a quick lunge for the book that was nested between Scott’s chest and knees.  The quickness of his move caused Scott to grip the journal even tighter, and he backed away from the force of his brother’s attack with such haste the head of the bed banged hard against the wall; twice.

Both young men became instantly still; holding their breaths.  Murdoch’s bedroom was across the hall and two doors down.

From the bowels of the Great Room, the grandfather clock tolled two.  Relaxing just a bit, Johnny again leaned back against the footboard; Scott mirroring his action and lounging back against the higher head board.  They lay quietly for a time before Johnny asked the question that was on both of their minds.  “Think he heard that?” he whispered, nodding towards the wall.

“I hope not,” Scott murmured.  A slow smile touched his lips, his cheeks dimpling.  And then his expression completely changed, his eyes going wide as his gaze lifted.

Johnny caught the sudden transformation in his brother’s face, instinct prompting a quick shifting on the bed.  His back had been to the door -- a rare thing -- and in his rush to correct his disadvantage, he attempted to turn around.  The suddenness of the move caused him to lose his balance, his leather pants sliding across the smooth comforter as he pivoted to his left.  There was an abrupt thud as his compact butt collided with the hard floor.  “Owww!”

Wearing his custom tailored robe, Murdoch Lancer stood silhouetted in the open doorway, a grim frown adding to the severity of his expression.  Striding forward, he grabbed his younger son’s arm and bodily lifted him up from the floor, dragging him along as he approached his eldest.  With his free hand he grabbed the journal that was lying atop Scott’s right thigh.  “I think its time, boys, to remind you there is only one Book of Rules here at Lancer,” he growled, “and it’s mine.”  He tossed the notebook onto the bedside chair.  “And to make it simple for you, there is but one rule.”  To prove his point, he held up a single finger.  “I call the tune, and you two dance.”  He turned to his younger boy.  “And you are still dressed why?”

Johnny was thinking up an answer.  It had been a good four hours since he had been ordered up to bed. He cast a nervous look in his brother’s direction.  “Uh…he was makin’ me listen to his book of rules?”  Shit.  The words had sounded stupid even before he said them. 

Scott laughed.  He sobered very quickly when his father speared him with a particularly harsh glare.  Averting his eyes, he stole a glance at the small clock on his bedside table; noting the time.  It was 2:30 in the morning; three hours away from the usual start of the long work day.  “Good night, sir,” he murmured, swinging his gaze to his brother; “Johnny.”

Murdoch raked his long fingers through his grey hair.  “More like good morning,” he muttered.  Dropping his hand to the small of Johnny’s back, he ushered him towards the hallway.

Arms behind his head, Scott listened to the voices of his father and brother.  Johnny, of course, was arguing; or trying to.  Murdoch was having none of it, but at least he wasn’t yelling.  No, Murdoch’s tone -- while weary -- was actually, in a strange way, quite comforting; like the soft rumble of distant thunder after a spring storm.  Reaching up to extinguish the bedside lantern, Scott let out a blissful sigh and began to drift off.

“Aw, Murdoch!  C’mon.”  Johnny’s voice suddenly cut into the quiet.  “Not a night shirt!!”


Scott’s eyes opened wide; his body momentarily tensing.  He stretched like a great cat before easing back against the mattress to snuggle against the down pillows.  A slow smile came as he heard Murdoch firmly closing Johnny’s bedroom door before crossing the hall to close his door; his footsteps fading as he retreated down the hall to his own bedroom and shut that door as well.  The house was now completely quiet. 

Rule One Hundred Twenty Eight, the blond mused, smiling.  Tuck baby brother into bed before Murdoch retires: with at least the bottom half of his underwear modestly in place.  And then, if Johnny was good; very, very good, he would read him a bedtime story.  Othello, perhaps, or Moby Dick.

He might even forego the locking of the bedroom door when he was done.  






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