But I'll Call the Tune

By Kit 


Disclaimer:  The only thing colder than a Wisconsin winter are the hearts of those idiots at Fox; they abandoned the boys, we’ve kept them alive.  So there.


“But I’ll call the tune…”


Johnny Madrid was alone in “his” room, standing in front of the near-empty dresser; buttoning his almost-clean other shirt.  He smiled at his reflection in the mirror, the smile growing as he remembered his first meeting with his father.  Father!  Sanctimonious, lying, selfish sack of shit; he mused.  Not to mention the fact the Old Man ran the ranch like the place was a foreign country and he was the king.

So much so, that in spite of the trouble with the land pirates, life within the great house seemed destined to proceed with a rigid degree of normalcy.  After the fire, both sons had been dismissed and sent up to their rooms to clean up; the Old Man making a point of announcing they would be having dinner at the regular time: 6:00 o’clock, sharp.

Johnny’s eyes danced as he remembered how the Old Man had emphasized that sharp part.  From what he’d seen so far at the hacienda -- from the way the vaqueros and the others workers behaved -- no matter what, the place was pretty much run by the clock; Mother Nature’s and the Patron’s.   

The young man continued dressing.  He had wiped down the black leather calzoneras that had been rolled up in his saddle-bags, and given the black, silver trimmed short caballero jacket a good dry scrubbing with a brush he had found on the dresser.  And he had cleaned his spurs.  Not that he gave a damn about how he looked, he told himself.  At least where the Old Man was concerned.  The slow smile came again, one side of his mouth slightly higher than the other.  There was the girl to consider, he mused.  She was sure pretty enough, and -- if he played his cards right -- just about prime for the plucking.  Well, what he had on his mind rhymed with ‘plucking’.

He’d had a long, dry spell where the ladies were concerned; both before and after his rendezvous with that Mexican firing squad.  He shook his head to bring himself back to the here and now.

And then there was his brother, the dude.  His brother.  The thought caused him to fumble with the final concho at his right hip, and he swore, softly.  Once the metal button was fastened, he reached out for his gun belt.  The holster fit snuggly against his upper thigh; the leather molded to his slim frame.  He secured the rig in place, knotting the tie-down and making a series of quick practice draws before he replaced the Colt in its sheath.

His Mama sure in hell had never told him about a brother.  The frown came then; the one that caused his eyes to narrow and his features to age dramatically.  He wondered, darkly, if she had known; if his mother had actually been aware that his father had even been married before; that there had been another child.  Another son.  He felt a brief flash of intense anger, surprisingly not at his sire; but at his newly discovered brother, his shoulders drooping a bit at the irony.  Old Boston hadn’t done much better a job at choosin’ a Daddy than he had…

Dropping down onto the bed, he leaned back against the pillows, arms folded behind his head; his legs crossed at the ankles, one foot over the other, wincing slightly as he heard his right spur snag against the multi-colored quilt.  Maybe that was the reason, he brooded.  Maybe the Old Man had kicked them out because he wanted his first son back.

His lily-white son.

He levered himself upright, swinging his legs off the bed; sitting for a time on the edge of the mattress, his hands balled into fists and fingers digging into the thick coverlet.  Gotta stop this; he chided himself.  Absently, the fingers of his right hand went to his waist; to the thick wad of folded cash he had stuffed into his waistband.  The money was the only reason he had come, he thought; knowing he was lying to himself.  And now, here he was, with the cash stuffed into the front of his pants, and the offer of a third share in the Old Man’s ranch.  From an old man that called him ‘boy’.

Boy.  Fuck.  He hadn’t been a boy since he was ten years old.

There was a slight rapping at his door, and the young man was roused from his dark musings.  Pushing himself up off the bed, he crossed the few feet to the threshold.

Scott smiled as he saw the look on his brother’s face; his right eyebrow rising slightly.  Without waiting to be invited, he stepped inside the room.  “His majesty awaits,” he grinned, gesturing with a single backward bob of his head toward the hallway.  The grandfather clock in the downstairs Great Room had just pinged the half-hour.

Unable to help himself, Johnny laughed; remembering his own earlier thoughts about Murdoch and his kingdom.  He took a quick look at his brother.  Scott was wearing a cream, almost ivory colored suit, with another one of those white ruffled shirts.  Biting his lip, he risked an observation.  “If he’s the King…” he made the word drag out, “…does that make us the princes?”

“More like the knights,” the other countered; considering the reason they had been summoned.  Scott’s smile reached all the way to his eyes.  “The white knight,” he thumped his own chest with a rigid forefinger, “and the black knight.”  His finger was now thumping against the younger man’s chest.

Instinctively, Johnny grabbed the other man’s wrist; surprised when Scott didn’t pull away.  He didn’t show any fear, either.  “Kinda,” he agreed.  Considering how they were dressed, the comparison wasn’t out of line.

“You play chess,” Scott ventured; liking the idea.  You could learn a lot about a man from how he played the game.

Johnny let go of his brother, trying to read not only the older man’s expression, but also the tone of his voice and his words.  The man sounded hopeful.  Like other men he’d heard, pistoleros who were actually stupid enough to think they could beat him.  “Yeah, I play,” he answered, cocking his head.  “How many of them suits you got, Boston?” he asked.

“One or two,” Scott answered, the humor evident in his voice; wondering if his brother hadn’t forgotten his name.  He watched as the younger man sauntered back towards the bed; Johnny’s fingers skimming lightly over everything he passed: the dresser, the trunk at the foot of the bed; trailing along the top of the quilt.  There was a grace in his younger brother’s movements that was undeniable, the older man observed, along with an obvious air of seeming indifference.   His brother, he surmised was very good at hiding his true feelings.   “My turn.”  He kept his tone light.  “You plan on wearing that to the dinner table?”

Johnny did a slow about face before realizing Scott was pointing to the holster on his right hip; not making a remark about how he was dressed.  “Why the Hell not?” he answered.  Suddenly, the middle fingers of his right hand were tapping the walnut grip. “You got a problem with that?” he asked coolly.

Scott was shaking his head.  “I’ve dined fully armed,” he said, the words coming softly. He smiled a bit, the corners of his mouth lifting, but there was no humor in his eyes, only sadness.  “But not in such opulent surroundings.”  His eyes warmed.  “However, I have this feeling that when our father suggested we dress for dinner, he didn’t mean we should arrive at his table looking as though we were prepared to go to war.”

Damn!  Johnny couldn’t help but wonder at the man’s unspoken meanings.  “Yeah.  Well, maybe the Old Man should remember those land pirates he’s so worried about don’t drop off no callin’ cards before they come visitin’.”  He was standing directly in front of his brother now, and -- using the back of his hand -- gave the man’s flat stomach a pat.  Scott’s reaction was a sudden bunching of his right shoulder.

He felt the pressure almost at the same time he heard the noise; the faint -- very faint -- sound of the mechanism.  Instinctively, Johnny sucked in his belly, only to know the annoyance of having the cold barrel of the derringer still pressed against his gut.

“I may be from Boston, Johnny,” Scott smiled, his mouth close to his brother’s left ear, “but I didn’t fall off the turnip wagon just yesterday.”  He took a step back, holding up his right hand to display the lower portion of the pistol rig; allowing Johnny get a good look before he slid the small, double-barreled pistol back into his sleeve.

Surprised, but not showing it, Johnny lowered his head a bit; the dark curls falling across his forehead, hiding his eyes.  “Seen a lot of them,” he murmured, a cheekiness in his tone that grew as he continued, “down below the border.  Card sharks and pimps, mostly.”

Scott didn’t act even the least bit offended by the suggestion.  “Well, there’s poker and then there’s pok-er,” he joshed.  “About dinner.”  This time he had taken his watch out of his pocket.  He was tapping the crystal with his forefinger, holding up the watch so his brother could see.  It was now 5:40.

Johnny smiled up at his brother; a glimmer of mischief firing the sapphire orbs.  “Old Man said six.  Sharp.”

“Yes,” Scott agreed.  He was smoothing his sleeve, using his forefinger to flick away an imaginary piece of lint.  “But proper decorum requires a conscientious guest to arrive sufficiently prior to the required deadline, in order to get the social amenities out of the way.”  He grinned across at the younger man, his own eyes twinkling.  “Besides, I’ve had a pretty good look at the Old Man’s supply of liquor, and I could use a drink.”

Johnny snorted. “Anybody ever tell you, Boston, that you can be a ” he searched for the proper word, as usual thinking first in Spanish, then in English, “…pompous pain in the ass?”

Scott laughed; heartily.  “Not quite so well as you, Johnny!”  Then, growing serious, “He meant it when he said he intends to ‘call the tune’; and I get the feeling he means within the house, as well as without.”

“We’ll see,” Johnny breathed.  He reached out, clamping a hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “You go on ahead, Boston.  Get that drink.”

The older man canted his head.  “Johnny…” he cautioned; not quite knowing why he should care if his brother got in trouble or not. 

Johnny was already heading back towards the bed.  He waved the older man away.  “Later,” he said; the single word sounding somewhat like a promise.  Once again, he lay back against the pillows; this time choosing to hide his face beneath the Stetson that had been hanging on the bedpost.  His entire body seemed to relax, and within seconds, it seemed as if the young man was sleeping.

Scott shook his head.  He turned on his heel and headed back into the hallway, carefully pulling the door shut behind him.

He knew when he entered the Great Room, his father would be waiting.  He wasn’t wrong.  Murdoch was seated behind the massive desk.

“Drink?” the older man asked, gesturing toward the decanters that sat on the table behind the large, over-stuffed sofa.

Scott nodded.  He headed for the table, pausing only slightly to decide.  He picked up a leaded glass tumbler and proceeded to fill it with scotch.  Taking a sip, he wondered at the smoothness of the liquor; immediately sensing the quality.  “Talisker’s,” he declared, turning to face his father.

Feeling a strange sense of pride he didn’t quite recognize, Murdoch nodded.  “You’ve had it before?” he asked, hopeful.

“Yes.”  Scott approached the desk.  “Someone sent me a bottle for my twenty-first birthday.”  The smile was touched with sadness.  The woman who had been the housekeeper when he was growing up had given it to him; and had, before she could say anything, been promptly discharged by his Grandfather.  “It was waiting for me when I was released from Libby.”

Murdoch was frowning.  I sent it to you, he thought bitterly.  He shook the thought away.  “You don’t have to be invited to sit down in your own home, son,” he said, nodding to the chairs in front of the desk.

Scott laughed.  He gestured towards the chairs his father had just indicated.  “Grandfather has chairs very similar to these in his inner sanctum,” he stared up at the big Scot, “office,” he explained.   “They were designed to be intentionally uncomfortable.”

Murdoch’s manner was suddenly brusque.  “Discourages persistent salesmen, unwanted callers and…”

“Willful sons?” Scott interrupted.  He took another drink of the scotch.

“The sofa, then,” the big man answered, avoiding his son’s eyes as well as the question.  “You looked in on your brother?” he asked, leading the way.

The query surprised Scott, but it didn’t show on his face.  “Yes,” he answered truthfully.  He watched as his father eased himself down into the big leather chair that flanked the fireplace, and then his took his own seat at the corner of the couch.  “He cleans up rather nicely,” he smiled.  It was true.  His younger brother cut quite a figure in clothes that seemed tailored to fit his slim build.

“He favors his mother,” the older man responded quietly.  He cast a quick look at the ornate Grandfather clock standing against the far wall.  “He’s got just five minutes to make it downstairs,” he intoned.

Scott finished his drink.  He turned slightly, his long arm stretching to put the glass back on the silver tray, turning the tumbler upside down.  “I don’t think Johnny is accustomed to living his life by a clock, sir.”  At least your clock, he thought, remembering what he had seen in his brother’s face this very morning before the fire bell.  He resumed his original position, his back erect as he faced his father. 

“I’m well aware of what your brother is accustomed to,” the other retorted, cryptically.  He levered himself up out of the chair, wincing a bit at the pain in his leg and grabbing his cane.  “Shall we?” he asked, using the cane to point to the dining room door.

Scott waited as his father took the lead.  Beyond them, in the dining room, he could see Maria and Teresa laying out the table; the aroma of roast beef and assorted vegetables reaching out to tempt him.  It had been a long time since he had enjoyed a home-cooked meal and he intended to enjoy it.

Murdoch took his place at the head of the table.  “You’ll sit here,” he announced, gesturing to the chair on his right.

Teresa was standing in back of the chair next to the one Murdoch had indicated would be Scott’s.  The Bostonian nodded slightly, and then pulled out Teresa’s chair; waiting until the girl had settled in to seat himself.  Immediately, Murdoch decanted the wine; pouring a glass for Scott, another for his ward.  The Grandfather clock in the great room begin to toll.  One, two, three…

“Shouldn’t we wait for Johnny?” Teresa asked as the clock chimed the final time.

“No,” Murdoch answered.  Immediately, he set about carving the large roast.  The blade of his knife had been well honed, and he made several swift cuts, slicing the beef thinly; carefully preserving the juices as he placed the portions atop the first plate at his elbow.  He passed the dish to his son, who passed it on to Teresa.

Maria was serving the coffee when Johnny strolled into the room, the soft jingle of his spurs preceding him.  He was smiling, at least with his mouth, his eyes betraying a sudden discomfort when he saw the vacant place-setting at his father’s left.  Inhaling, he changed directions; made a point of hitching up his gun belt, and then took his seat.  He was filling his wine glass when he felt his father’s hand on his right wrist.  “You got something to say, Old Man…”

Murdoch’s grip tightened.  “In the future, John,” the big Scot interrupted, “I expect you to come to the table on time,” he growled.  “I also expect you to leave your pistol on the rack with mine.”

Johnny stabbed at a piece of roast with his fork, pulling the meat onto the plate Scott had just handed him.  “You also expect Pardee to knock on the door when he comes callin’?” he asked, making no effort at all to hide the sarcasm. 

“Pardee follows a pattern,” Murdoch snapped.  “He’ll pull something like firing the fields, or a raid at one of the smaller ranches, and then he’ll sit back to watch and see who runs, who stays. 

“I’ve posted guards.”

The younger man snorted.  “Hell of a lot of good them guards did when they fired that field,” he declared.  He snagged a biscuit; making himself a quick sandwich; beginning to regret he hadn’t come to the table when the food was still warm.  “I’m wearin’ the rig.”

Murdoch’s jaws tensed.  “You will not,” he responded.

Scott was closely watching his brother’s face; his eyes.  The anger he saw in his sibling’s eyes didn’t alarm him -- he had seen it earlier when they had first arrived -- but the intensity, the level of that rage, did worry him.  “We agreed, Johnny,” he said quietly.  “One-third share each, but Murdoch calls the tune.”

Teresa cleared her throat.  “If you’ll excuse me,” she murmured; almost pleading.

Johnny’s planned response to his father’s pronouncement died unspoken.  Instead, he turned his gaze on the girl.  “For what?” he smiled, winking.  “You done anything wrong?”

Murdoch’s eyes shifted from his youngest, to his ward.  “Please tell Maria we won’t be having dessert, darling.”  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his younger son’s frown.

The young woman knew instinctively she had not only been excused, she had been dismissed.  “I’ll make fresh coffee,” she volunteered.  She smiled as Scott stood up and pulled out her chair.

Johnny had finished his sandwich.  Using his tongue, he flicked a bit of bread from the corner of his mouth.  Elbows on the table, he leaned forward.  “So, about that tune you figure on callin’…”  He smiled a bit.  “Anything that’s fit for dancin’?”

Murdoch immediately recognized the euphuism; the pistoleros code for a one-on-one gunfight.  He chose to ignore the challenge.  “First and foremost, about Teresa.”  He leaned back in his chair, toying with his wine glass.  “She is more than my ward.”  His words were intended for both of his sons.  “She was born here on Lancer, not all that long before you and your mother…” this time, he looked directly at Johnny, “…disappeared.”  He ignored the sudden dark look his younger son shot in his direction.  “I helped Paul raise that girl, and she’s like a daughter to me.  I expect you two to treat her as if she were your sister.”  He remained quiet for a time, letting the words sink in.

Scott had sat back down.  He was refilling his wine glass.  He was also doing a bit of mental calculation.  “How old is Teresa?” he asked, as if simply making conversation. 

“Seventeen,” Murdoch answered.  “Last December.”  He was quiet for a time.  Johnny had turned nineteen the same month; and before that…  Before that, his eighteen year old son was in a Mexican jail, awaiting his turn before a Fedérale firing squad.

The blond Lancer stopped mid drink.  He took a long, covert look at his brother.  Johnny not only looked young, he was young; far younger than Scott had first surmised.  He’s a boy, he mused.  A boy grown too old before his time.  Forcing a smile, he lifted his glass.  “To our sister,” he saluted, nodding at his kid brother.

Johnny stared across at the other man.  Then, grinning, he picked up his own glass.  “Salud,” he toasted, “a nuestra hermana (to our sister).”  What the hell.  Morro Coyo wasn’t all that far away.

Murdoch didn’t know if he should feel relieved or not.  He thumped the table with a rigid forefinger; staring straight ahead, seemingly at a fly on the wall.  “One.  I will call the tune.  Two.  You will come to the table at the appointed time, and you will come unarmed.  Three.  Outside of this house, when I am not around, Cipriano makes the rules and he will be obeyed.”  He heard Johnny shift in his chair.  It was going to take something more than words to get his youngest son to yield to a stranger’s orders.  “He’s your uncle, John; your mother’s half brother.  If for no other reason than that, you will respect what he tells you.”  Without any further explanation, he continued counting.  “Four.  When Pardee is done,” he said the words as if he already knew they would prevail, “you will remember this is a working ranch, and you will be expected to pull your share of the load.  Just because you are my sons doesn’t mean you won’t carry your own weight around here.  Understood?”

Scott’s face betrayed absolutely none of what he was feeling.  “Completely,” he answered.  “Sir.”  He exchanged a look with his younger brother, giving a subtle single shake of his head when he saw the argument forming.

“John?”  Murdoch again, just the one word; softly spoken.  He swung his gaze to his youngest.

Intending to stand up, to leave, Johnny had shoved back his chair; only to find himself pinned -- half-risen -- in place.  Not knowing why, he dropped back into this seat.  But there was no way in Hell he was going to kiss this man’s ass.  He’d leave that up to his elder brother.  “And if that don’t happen?”

Scott closed his eyes briefly; thinking about how many times as a child he had wished for siblings, a slow smile coming as he remembered somewhere, someone cautioning him to be careful what he wished for.  Still, he mused, this could prove interesting.  He sensed that his father wanted him to leave, but ignored the thought; content to watch.        

Murdoch’s tone matched his son’s.  “Then, boy,” he emphasized the word, speaking directly to Johnny, “you will learn the hard way there are consequences for your actions.”  He thumped the table again.  “I will call the tune and you -- rather you like the tune or not -- will learn a new dance.”  He smiled grimly, and pointed directly at the younger man.  “And if you don’t, you will pay the piper.”  With that, Murdoch pushed his chair back and stood up.  “Tell your sister to bring the coffee into the Great Room,” he ordered.  Without so much as a backwards glance, he strode across the room and down the stairs.

Scott poured himself a third glass of wine; reaching across the table to refill his brother’s glass.  “That went well,” he smiled.

Johnny stared at the wine glass.  He dipped the tip of his right forefinger into the red wine, tracing a damp line around the rim; the glass singing.  “What the hell does he mean, ‘pay the piper’?” he asked.

A-flat above middle C, Scott thought absently.  “It means, little brother,” (how easily the words slipped out), “you’d better learn to mind your elders.”  He was smiling when he said the words; a warmth filling him that didn’t come from the wine.

There was a soft guffaw from the other side of the table.  Johnny had leaned back in his chair.  The wine was sneaking up on him; something he hadn’t expected.  His arms were crossed, and his bottom lip was pursed, just a bit.  “We’ll see,” he groused.

Unable to help himself, Scott laughed.  His brother was actually pouting; and quite masterfully, too!  He spied Teresa coming from the kitchen.  “Murdoch said to…”

“…tell me I should take the coffee to the Great Room.”  Her brow furrowed.  “I hope you two didn’t do anything to upset him.”

This time it was Johnny who laughed.  “Who, me?” he asked, the pout easing into a smile that radiated nothing but innocence.  “Him, maybe,” he said, pointing at Scott, “but sure in Hell not me.”

Scott almost choked on the wine.  “Right,” he sputtered.  “Never you.”

Teresa eyed them both suspiciously through narrowed eyelids.  It was, she thought, a conspiracy.  Turning her back on both of them, she headed for the Great Room.

“Coffee?” Scott asked, nodding in the direction the young woman had taken.

“Tequila,” the other answered.  “Place like this, there’s gotta be a least one bottle of tequila.”

Scott pushed back his chair.  He was shaking his head.  “I don’t think he’s going to be offering us anything but coffee,” he surmised, “or perhaps a longer list of rules.”  He shot a quick look at his sibling.  “Of course, we can just pretend to listen,” he suggested, moving out.  He had perfected the skill when his Grandfather was lecturing him.

Johnny fell in behind his brother, resisting the urge to place his arm around the other man’s shoulders; wondering why he had been stirred to even consider such a thing.  “Don’t know about you, Boston, but I’m havin’ tequila.”

“We’ll see,” the other man responded, perfectly mimicking his brother’s words of only moments before; grateful Johnny couldn’t see the smile.

They had no more than crossed the threshold when the older man addressed them.  “Sit,” he ordered, nodding to the two chairs directly in front of his desk.  He was already pouring the coffee.  Teresa was no where to be seen.           

Scott eased himself into the chair on his father’s right hand side, putting out his hand to accept the proffered cup of coffee.  He waited, knowing Johnny would take his time.  But then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw his brother sit down.  Well, slouch, into the other chair

Immediately, Johnny crossed his right leg, his ankle resting on his left thigh; his fingers busy.  His left foot was bobbing up and down in a hurried tempo to some music only he could hear.  Dark ringlets fell across his forehead, the hair at his ears and the nape of his neck sweat damp and beginning to curl.

Murdoch eyed both young men; amazed at the marked physical differences between his sons.  Fair-skinned, Scott was possessed of the cool aristocratic bearing of his mother’s Puritan stock, and Johnny…

Johnny was Maria reborn in complexion, stature and temperament.  Even his restlessness was his mother’s, and it worried the older man.  Maria had run away.  He grimaced at the thought.  Even when he had first met her, she had been running away.

Discipline, the big man thought, his eyes narrowing; Maria had been totally lacking in discipline.  Harlan Garrett and the military had taught his eldest son control and restraint; but no one, obviously, had taught Johnny…

He pushed the thought away; filling the second cup and holding it to his younger son.  “Johnny.”

The younger man’s head snapped up, but he made no move to accept the cup.  “You got any tequila?” he asked, no small degree of insolence in his words or his sudden change of posture.

Scott reached out to the desk for the sugar.  Calmly, he dropped two cubes into his cup, replacing the sugar tongs and picking up the creamer.  There was no noise at all as he stirred the coffee.  His head was slightly down, the smile hidden as he concentrated on his cup.

“What?”  Murdoch’s tone matched his younger son’s.  He felt like a fool, standing there with the cup and saucer in his hand; Johnny steadfastly refusing to take what he was being offered.

“You got any tequila?” Johnny repeated, raising his voice slightly, as if his father was hard of hearing.

Murdoch put the cup down on his desk.  “Yes, I have tequila,” he answered, the words coming through clenched teeth.

Johnny stood up in front of his chair.  “Great.  Where is it?”

Scott took a long drink of his coffee; sincerely wishing he had dosed it with a stiff shot of bourbon.  Suddenly, it seemed like a good idea.  Without so much as a by-your-leave he rose to his feet, crossed the room to the drink table, picked up the decanter of whisky, and topped off his cup.  When he turned around, his father was glaring at him.  He simply smiled and returned to his seat.

Johnny turned to face his brother; something akin to awe in the blue eyes; which were now dancing.  “You didn’t think to tote back the tequila?” he drawled.

“I don’t drink tequila,” Scott answered, stretching out his legs and completely relaxing.

Murdoch had had enough.  He came around from behind the desk to tower over both young men.  “Sit down, John!” he ordered; feeling a great deal of satisfaction when the boy instinctively backed up and lost his footing to collapse back into his chair.  Turning to his eldest, he barked another order.  “And you,” he roared.  “Straighten up!  I expect you to set an example for your brother, not encourage him!”

In spite of the fact he desperately needed to laugh, Scott was cognizant enough to realize two things: he had had more than enough to drink, and he had just succeeded in pushing his father to the very edge of the older man’s limited supply of paternal patience.  However, he was also somewhat amused by what he had just heard.  Being an example for his younger brother had never occurred to him in the brief time they had known each other.  But something pulled at him.  Slowly, he got to his feet.  “My apologies, sir,” he said, offering his father his hand.  “Perhaps I have carried things a bit too far.”

Murdoch eyed his eldest; gauging the sincerity of what he was hearing before accepting Scott’s hand.  Not quite sure of the younger man’s true intention, he stalked between the two chairs and headed for the decanter of Talisker’s.

Johnny reached out, tugging at his brother’s sleeve.  “You think he can take us?” he asked, still overwhelmed by just how tall -- how fucking big -- his father actually was.

Scott was still on his feet.  He turned slightly, taking a good look at their father.  Murdoch was still at the table behind the couch; obviously collecting himself.  In spite of the game leg and the sore back, the older man’s spine was ramrod straight.  He looked like a mountain.  Or a grizzly bear about to have lunch, Scott thought, remembering the stuffed specimens he had seen on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.  “I don’t think I want to find out,” he answered.  “And you?”

The younger man had recovered somewhat.  “Still ain’t got my tequila,” he replied.

In spite of the absurdity of what had been going on -- the two of them toying with their father -- Scott chuckled.  “Give it up, Johnny,” he advised softly.

“Nope,” the other answered.

Murdoch turned back to where his sons were sitting; his eyes narrowing as he watched their whispered conversation.  It struck him then, the strange connection between the two; something he had seen that very morning when they had stood in the open doorway, Scott in the lead, Johnny right behind him at his left shoulder.  For the most part, they were both very good at hiding their emotions; but he had seen glimpses of what they thought, what they were feeling.  Scott, the calmer of the two, had proved to be the most easy going, but had shown his resolve and determination.  And Johnny

Johnny had withdrawn behind a mask of cold indifference, only to just as suddenly erupt into open defiance when confronted with a truth he hadn’t wanted to hear.           

The big man cleared his throat.  He was much calmer now.  “I think, boys, it would be a good idea if we continued this discussion in the morning.  It’s been a long day.”

Scott turned to face his father fully, his left hand resting lightly on Johnny’s shoulder.  “Sounds like a reasonable plan to me, sir,” he agreed.  He gave his younger brother’s shoulder a pat.  “In the morning.”

Murdoch watched as his eldest son left the room.  He took the final swallow of Scotch, his eyes settling on his youngest boy over the rim of the glass.  Placing the empty tumbler on the tray, he moved back to his desk.  “Johnny,” he said, keeping his tone neutral.

“Still ain’t had that tequila,” the younger man announced, eyes straight ahead; the corner of his mouth twitching.

Murdoch sat down and leaned back in his chair, the springs giving.  “And you’re not having any,” he announced.  “Go to bed, John.”

Johnny fought the smile, swiping his tongue across his upper lip.  “Not ‘til I get the drink.”

Upstairs, Scott stood at the threshold to his bedroom; hesitating before entering the room.  He was eavesdropping; his head cocked a bit as he listened to the voices of his father and his brother.

“You’ll do as your told!” Murdoch roared; his tone much the same as it had been earlier that morning when he had reprimanded Scott.

Johnny’s eyes were alight with a strange fire.  Maybe havin’ an older brother wasn’t all that bad, he thought; remembering.  “Will I?” he shot back, echoing his brother’s words.

Scott entered his room.  Laughing softly, he leaned against the door, closing it.  Not that it helped.  Already, he could feel the rafters shaking.




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