Word Count 2,527
Thanks to Cat and Rob for the beta And Chris for the beta, and hysterical laughter!
Sequel to “Son, Have You Been Drinking?”
Steam swirled up from the surface of the coffee like a tiny, gyrating ghost, then magically disappeared into thin air as Murdoch contemplated his sons. Last night’s episode had not happened often; no, that wasn’t right; it had never happened before, and the patriarch hoped it wouldn’t happen again. Well, that wasn’t right either. He hoped it wouldn’t happen often. There, that was fair. And he couldn’t help but smile as he thought of his sons, Scott, the Harvard educated, proper, and respected lieutenant in the Union Army and a veteran of the Civil War; and then, there was Johnny, the notorious Johnny Madrid, gunfighter, good at his trade and the best there was. Both sons were brave and strong, both trustworthy and dedicated to the other and to Lancer. And both still down with the mother of all hangovers.
Yes, Murdoch smiled as he recalled the images of the night before; Scott, giggling in his arms, asking him to read a story; Johnny sliding down the wall to settle in an undignified pile on the floor, then grabbing at his leg as he tried to carry Scott upstairs without breaking either of their necks. This was a side of his sons he’d never seen before. The regimented officer and the steely-eyed gunfighter, inebriated, near helpless, and completely out of character. Neither could stand, and neither could have found their way out of the rain, had it been raining. The father in him knew the only reason they were home was that the horses knew the way.
Murdoch couldn’t help but chuckle as he remembered the night before. It was funny… well, it was funny until he had to race upstairs to attend to Scott while sick, then back down and see to Johnny as their stomachs seemed to work in tandem, turning inside out at the same time. That part of last night he could do without.
The night produced a few unknowns for Murdoch as, during a brief rest, Johnny began talking in his sleep and rambled on, only slightly coherently, about Cindy, a working girl at Green River’s Angel’s Nest Saloon. Apparently, the young woman had soft, silky skin and very skilled and capable hands, and other talents, as well; talents that Murdoch really didn’t want to know about. Talents that should not be put to voice… ever!
A rough shake and a firmly spoken “Johnny!” put a stop to the mumbles and groans before Johnny revealed too many… secrets. Soon, Murdoch heard the unmistakable retching of his son upstairs. Leaving Johnny to his dreams of silky skin and capable hands, Murdoch left the great room with the pleas of “Cindy! Where ya… goin’?” to drift in the quiet warmth of the firelight. And so the night progressed… or not.
What would today bring? Thankfully, it was Sunday and a good day for Scott and Johnny to recuperate, at least for a while. Murdoch smiled when he thought of the dinner planned this evening and the guests that would grace their table. But until he could break the news and warn his sons they would be expected to be on their best behavior, he would have his morning coffee and enjoy the quiet of the hacienda… while it lasted.
Murdoch could not bring himself to lay fault at the feet of Scott and Johnny, well, not much fault. He remembered the times in his younger years when he, too, fell under the influence. But the difference was that Murdoch didn’t have a new brother to celebrate with or share the joys and bonds made as adults. There was a difference. It was new, but it wasn’t long before the gift of brotherhood had grown into a treasured tie between them, an alliance forged in steel and stone.
A sudden thump, followed by a mumbled ‘sonuva…’, reached Murdoch’s ears and signaled the morning, and whatever would follow had begun. A tortured “Owww!” then a groan broke the silence as the sound of feet dragging across the floor made contact with a piece of furniture, then Johnny shuffled into the kitchen.
It was with great difficulty that Murdoch held back the threatening belly laugh when Johnny staggered against the wall for support. Head bowed with his shaggy, thick hair hanging in a tangle over his forehead, Johnny seemed to balance for a minute, then slowly drifted to the side before he righted himself, squinted his eyes, and peered around the kitchen as another moan slipped between his lips.
The faded red shirt, tails flapping, and top toggles undone hung off one shoulder, but it was the sock hanging off Johnny’s foot, looking much like a lop-eared, one-eared rabbit that proved Murdoch’s undoing. Uncontrolled laughter rumbled in his chest and refused to be swallowed back.
“Good morning, my son!” Murdoch greeted in a voice too loud for inside use as it echoed through the kitchen. A hammer hitting an anvil couldn’t have sounded any louder or more annoying.
Johnny immediately cringed, and another groan announced the rising level of his agony. Reaching a shaky hand to support the aching head as it was sure to fall off the slumped shoulders, Johnny grabbed for the chair with his other to guide the way and sit at the table. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Now, under normal circumstances, Johnny had a natural grace about him whether he was swinging effortlessly into the saddle or waltzing a pretty girl across the dance floor… but this morning, that grace fled like a stampeding buffalo. An errant foot collided with the chair leg, and the stubbed toe, the same toe that lost the battle with the furniture in the great room just moments before, sent the chair skidding. A sudden lunge for the seat was out of the question, and Johnny went to one knee; a white-knuckled grip on the edge of the table was the only thing that saved him from a fall to the tiled floor. Another tortured groan slipped between the tight lips, and a grimace stretched across the pale face.
Desperate fingers held the table edge in a life-saving grab; his son’s head, covered in wildly mussed hair, bobbed in time with labored breathing and was all Murdoch could see of the downed son; he waited, then heard as Johnny tried to gather himself, getting his feet under him, and he offered help.
“Can I help you, John?” Murdoch asked, using softer tones than he had before. After several seconds of silence, Johnny’s head bobbed again with his reply.
“Huh?” came from under the table.
“I asked if you needed any help.”
Another long silence. But a response was issued; a pathetic response reached the patriarch’s ears.
“Too late… for h-help. Mur… Murdoch— I ain’t… never asked ya for… nothin’, but…” another silence.
“What do you want, son?”
“I need for ya ta… ta shoot me… por favor?”
A chuckle reached Johnny’s ears. Laughin’… ‘M dyin’ an’ he’s laughin’…
“No, my son, I won’t shoot you, but I will get you coffee.”
Murdoch decided it was time. He pushed himself to his feet and rounded the table. Resting a hand on Johnny’s neck and shoulder, he gently massaged the tight muscles, then helped his son to his feet. He kept a steadying hand on his charge and dragged the stampeded chair noisily across the tiles and back to its place at the table. He felt the jolt tremble through Johnny at the noisy intrusion, then settled him on the seat. Immediately, Johnny leaned forward and cradled his head in his arms.
Turning to the cupboard, Murdoch retrieved a cup, filled it with coffee, and left it in front of his son. Now to check on Scott…
Murdoch could hear snippets of a muffled voice, partial sentences of inarticulate words as he walked to his elder son’s room. A shouted and slurred “Johnny!” made its way to Murdoch; he quickened his pace down the hallway to Scott’s room and pushed the door open. There in the bed, Scott wrestled the demons of his dreams as the sheet and blanket tangled the lanky son, holding him in their constrictive bonds.
“Johnny! Gemme… out! Where’s he… w-when I need ‘im? No… wonder Mur’och’s m-mad alla time…” The struggles ceased as Scott’s imprisoned body fell lifeless on the bed, and a snorted grunt signaled Scott was down for the count once again.
Murdoch stepped forward to inspect his son. “Scott?” he called softly. “Scott?” This time a bit louder, but the only response was another mumble— something about a worthless brother and a few words Murdoch knew were quite unflattering and very degrading about a certain younger sibling.
He stood amused as a wandering hand found its way out from the twisted blanket trap to rest on the sweaty forehead, and a loud groan interrupted the sleep that came to an abrupt halt. Blue-gray irises greeted Murdoch as Scott awoke, and an undignified belch rumbled from his throat.
Scott moaned again in mortified embarrassment that forced a chuckle from Murdoch.
“Are you awake now, son? How about you come downstairs and have some coffee…”
“ ‘s Johnny’s f-fault…” Scott defended himself, although no charge had been posted against him.
“What’s Johnny’s fault, Scott?” Oh, Murdoch couldn’t wait to hear this… or could he?
“Huh? Oh… Donn know, but it’s h… fault-t. W-wh-ever he t-tol you is… lie. Heee did it…”
Alright, something happened, and Murdoch needed to know what they could possibly be facing, and he hoped it wasn’t anything serious.
“What did Johnny do, Scott?” Oh, please don’t let it be too bad…
A grin turned up the corners of Scott’s mouth. “Window… No windowww at An-gel’s Nes’ any-any more. J-Johnny broke hic it, hic! An’ he m-made me… pay for… it, hic.. not f-fair.”
“Murdoch, what’s going on? Why is there so much noise?” Teresa’s soft voice asked from the open door. She sniffed, and her brow wrinkled, then she crossed the room and opened the window to let the stale air out.
Murdoch turned as the smile deepened. “Oh, nothing, darling. Your brothers seemed to have overindulged and aren’t functioning very well this morning, that’s all.”
Returning to the hallway, Teresa stopped to note Scott’s half-opened eyes and sickly pallor. “Oh, my! I’d better get breakfast started! They’re going to need something in their stomachs, and quick! Is Johnny any better?”
Murdoch laughed loudly; the noise made Scott begin the curl into a ball that would hopefully protect him from whatever harm was to come, making Teresa muffle a giggle behind her hand. Then, not waiting for an answer, she backed out of the room and took the back stairs down to the kitchen.
A soft, warm glow from the lamps lit the way as Teresa rounded the corner and skidded to a halt at the sight that greeted her. Johnny sat leaning forward with his head on his arm as it stretched across the table. A frown creased his brow but was barely seen under the mass of dark hair that had fallen over his face.
“Johnny?” She couldn’t resist the tease, “Would you like some breakfast? Maybe some nice… fried eggs? I have some bacon, but it’s quite fatty and will be very greasy…” She took great pleasure in the pathetic groan of response.
Her whisper was intentionally soft, offering comfort and healing, as she witnessed his struggles to maintain the shred of dignity he had left. Then she launched the final salvo, the attack that would deliberately send him to his knees as she crooned the words ‘fried’, ‘fatty’, and ‘greasy’ that pierced his brain like shards of broken glass.
Johnny’s belly rolled, his head thundered, and he had no control over the tortured moan that escaped him. Drawing his arm up to cover his head in an attempt to hide from threatening visions of nasty food that would send him bolting for the privy out back, he could only mumble a pitiful defense. “T-T’resa, stop…” He lifted the other hand to lay it atop his head as if to hold it secure and not topple off his shoulders.
“Johnny, there’s coffee for you; why don’t you drink it before it gets too cold?”
Hmmm, he tried. “You tried? What happened?”
With arms wrapped around his head, Johnny’s muffled words sent another giggle through her. “Couldn’t pick it…up. Cup wouldn’t s-stay still.”
The day Johnny Lancer couldn’t pick up his coffee cup would be a very bad day, indeed! Teresa decided it would be a good move to get a pot of oatmeal cooking. A soft, bland dish of oatmeal would be good for them both, and Scott hadn’t sounded any better than Johnny, so she’d better hurry.
Teresa wondered what was taking Murdoch so long to get Scott downstairs. The oatmeal was almost done, the dishes were set, and Johnny finally raised his head, but he sat still as a stone with elbows on the table and hands covering his face. Finally, noise from the stairs alerted her that the rest of the family was on their way.
With a steadying hand on Scott’s slumped shoulder, Murdoch steered the lanky, wobbling son to the table to sit across from his equally incapacitated brother. Neither son looked at the other but mumbled a duet of “Your fault” as if rehearsed.
Murdoch snorted and smiled. Teresa’s giggles couldn’t be contained as she dished up the oatmeal, put a spoon in each bowl, and then set them on the table in front of the suffering Lancer sons.
Scott’s face paled a shade lighter, which in itself was something as it resembled a piece of crisp white paper before he saw the unappetizing mush. Johnny had yet to remove his hands as they shielded his face and protected his eyes from the glowing lamp.
“I think it only fair to warn you boys,” Murdoch began his announcement, and garnered the attention of Scott and Johnny as they turned toward their father, “that we will be having guests for dinner tonight. The Reverend and Mrs. Murphy will be here, and I want you two on your best behavior while they join us.”
Scott’s hand fell on the table. That in itself wouldn’t have been bad but said hand hit the spoon buried in the mush in front of him, flipped it out of the bowl to send it spinning upward across the table, and landed with a splat on Johnny’s head. Once there, the large dollop of mush dripped through the thick mass of unruly hair and trailed down along the sullen, green-tinged face as the spoon clattered noisily on the table. Blue eyes narrowed as he slowly turned his head from Murdoch to fix Scott with his piercing Madrid glare that came very close to sobering Scott on the spot. Not a word was spoken, and the silence was unnerving… until Johnny picked his spoon out of the mush in front of him and aimed it at his brother’s face across the table.
Murdoch looked skyward, rolled his eyes, sent up a prayer, and stepped into the fray. It was going to be a very long day.
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