Moose Tracks-Highriders WHN by chrischime

Word Count 5964

Johnny is 18, Scott is 22. References to childhood abuse and war horrors, nothing explicit. Please pass if you don’t care for this type of story.

The old wooden chair by Johnny’s bedside had seen nearly constant use in recent days and creaked tiredly as Scott carefully leaned back in it. He had brought a book to read during his evening vigil, but he didn’t open it. Instead, he studied his brother.

The first thing that struck him was how very young Johnny looked as he slept. He looked more eight than eighteen, his long, dark lashes and soft, wild hair framing an unlined face.

It must be the absence of that “old soul” stare that makes him look so young. Scott thought. Johnny’s blue eyes reflected a sad wisdom that spoke of experiences no one so young should have endured.

The second thing Scott noticed was Johnny’s pallor and the dark circles around his eyes that looked like bruises. He looked exhausted even as he slept, turned slightly on his side, propped up with a pillow to keep him off the bullet wound in his back. Johnny had refused to wear a nightshirt as soon as he’d been awake and unfevered enough to do so, insisting on cut-off longjohns instead. He’d also demanded privacy to take care of his personal needs on his own, despite looking as though he couldn’t possibly have the strength to lift his head off the pillow.

Johnny had tried to put a stop to people sitting with him, as well, saying he couldn’t sleep with people gawking at him. Once he’d been fever-free for two days, Sam allowed him two hour stretches alone –cautioning Johnny not to use them to get out of bed– and just regular checks throughout the night. Murdoch completely ignored those boundaries, much to Johnny’s frustration.

Scott hadn’t paid them much mind either, especially in the early days before he started putting in ten-and twelve-hour days on the ranch. He had wanted to get to know his new little brother. More importantly, though, Scott hated the thought of Johnny being alone while in pain, especially now that he was adamantly refusing to take laudanum.

Murdoch and Sam assumed Johnny’s refusal of the medication lay in the nausea it brought on. They also suspected he couldn’t tolerate the loss of control that came with the laudanum’s effects. A gunfighter who couldn’t protect himself was a dead gunfighter. Consequently, they thought reasoning with Johnny that he was safe, especially when he allowed people to sit with him, would have convinced him to take the laudanum. Johnny remained steadfast.

Scott thought back to the afternoon five days earlier when he’d uncovered the real reason.

~~~~~~~~~~

Johnny had clearly been in deep pain, especially after shooing Scott out of the room to use the chamber pot in privacy. Scott had never seen anyone deal with a bullet wound as severe as Johnny’s with the stoicism that his brother did. No moaning or crying, no sighs or requests for help, no complaints during bandage or position changes.

–Oh, but the boy carried the pain in his eyes!– He couldn’t hide it there, or in his ragged breathing, or the tight way his fingers moved against –or sometimes clutched– the bed covers. It hurt Scott to see it, and he was close to joining Murdoch and Sam in their plan to overrule the youth and slip laudanum into his broth.

“So, I hear you gave Sam a hard time about staying in bed already.” Scott eased his sore body into the chair at Johnny‘s bedside having sent Murdoch off to get some sleep. Their father had spent most of the previous four days tending Johnny through the touch-and-go of blood loss, infection, and raging fevers.

“What did you hear?” Johnny asked grumpily.

“That you said, ‘I don’t do this bedrest thing!’” Scott recounted Johnny’s words with a heavy dose of mad.

“I didn’t say it like that.”

Scott raised an eyebrow. “Oh no?” He asked innocently to Johnny’s glare.

Scott held his stare until Johnny broke it, looking down, then back up with the hint of a grin. “Well, maybe I did.”

Scott smiled at the boy’s honesty.

“He and Murdoch are only trying to watch out for you.”

“Ain’t needed no one to watch out for me for a long time.”

“No, I don’t expect that you have.” Scott answered mildly, leaning back and stretching out his long legs. “Still, it’s good to take it when it’s offered.”

Johnny frowned.

“Why?”

“It takes a lot of energy to take care of yourself when you’re hurt. It’s better to put that energy into getting better. And it’s free.”

“Ain’t always.” Johnny muttered and started to push himself up to sit against the headboard. Scott leaned forward to help and to reposition the pillows. The effort left Johnny panting and trying to hide a grimace. Scott handed him a glass of water.

“Thanks, so what did you do today while I was keeping this bed warm?”

“I went with Cipriano to the west pasture to see how many cattle are left.”

“And?”

“Roughly 2,000.”

Johnny whistled softly. “2,000 head down from 10,000?”

“Cip estimates there’s another 2,500 scattered across the other pastures and roaming just beyond. The west pasture is in the best shape so he says the thing to do is to herd them over there, then fix up the fences of the others. So that’s what we’ve been doing.”

“And how‘s that going for ya?”

Scott grimaced, recalling the number of times Cip had basically told him to get out of the way.

“That good,huh?” Johnny laughed, hitching briefly from the resulting twinge. “You’ll get it. My first time driving beeves, I think I fell off my horse three times and I’d been riding since I was a baby.”

“How old were you though?”

“Thirteen, but that really had nothing to do with it. The same thing happened to all the… new guys,” Johnny had to stop for a moment from the pain. “Once you can read…them dang cows… there’s less surprises.”

Scott instinctively put his hand on Johnny’s knee to stay him through the spasms. Johnny looked at him in surprise, then away, as if he was embarrassed that he had let his pain show.

“Could I have some more water, please?”

Scott handed Johnny the water, knowing it was likely more a distraction tactic than thirst, and stood by to take the glass back when Johnny was done.

“I don’t think I’ll ever learn to read them. I’ve been trying. I watch how Cip and the others seem to know what cow is going to break out when we’re herding. I’ve been trying to guess but I’ve been wrong every time.”

Johnny shifted stiffly.

“Cows are about the dumbest animals on earth, so often they…do just the opposite of what would make sense. But, when you’re driving, look for the ones who are trying to shift to the edge of the group, or they pull back a bit from the ones in front of them. And it ain’t… usually the ones that are bawling…”

“Really? I was sure that the ones complaining the loudest would be the ones unhappy enough to try to get out.”

“Now you’re trying to make beeves logical, Boston, that will trip you up every…time. They can’t do more than one thing at a time. So if they’re thinkin’ about getting out, they ain’t got the room… in their brains… for hollerin’ about it.”

A fine sheen of sweat covered Johnny‘s face. Scott poured some water into the basin on the nightstand and dipped in one of the cloths from a pile set there for that purpose. “Did someone tell you that or did you have to figure it out yourself?”

“I think the other vaqueros were having too much fun… watching me fall on my ass… or getting rammed into trees and fences to want to teach me anything.” Johnny gave kind of an embarrassed grin. “But I watched and figured it out. Course, by the time… I did, I was so covered in bruises and scratches I could barely sit my horse.”

Scott expected that Johnny might refuse his attempt to wipe his face but, while the boy’s eyes became wary, he didn’t pull away. “So how come you’re telling me and ruining the ranchhands fun?”

Johnny‘s eyes fell closed at the simple comfort being offered.

“Brothers got to look out… for each other, right, Boston?”

Scott smiled fondly at that.

“Right, little brother.”

He ministered to Johnny in silence for a moment. As he re-dipped the cloth and wrung it out, he dared quietly,  “Along the lines of brothers looking out for brothers, I hate to see you in such pain when laudanum could help.”

Johnny‘s eyes opened and that self-protective glare was back. Scott didn’t let it deter him.

“Would you tell me why you won’t take it? And…”  he quickly added as Johnny prepared to throw out his pat answer, “‘It just doesn’t agree with me’ is not enough. What doesn’t agree with you, the nausea? The loss of control? Feeling like you can’t protect yourself?”

Scott kept his voice very quiet and non-confrontational. He could see Johnny gearing up to fight as he had needed to with Sam and Murdoch. Scott wanted to give Johnny another choice, to be able to confide in him. “I’d like to be able to support your decision, but I’d have to understand it first.”

Johnny’s stare broke for the briefest moment. Scott could tell he was stunned by the offer. Now, to see if it would be enough to cut through the boy’s impressive, defensive barriers. Johnny closed his eyes and turned his face away. Scott feared he’d lost their moment of connectedness.

But then Johnny opened his eyes, his gaze on the wall, his voice very quiet. “Were you in here when they gave it to me those first few days?”

Scott answered carefully, not wanting to break this fragile tendril of insight that Johnny was allowing. “Yes, sometimes.”

“And what did you see?”

“It helped you sleep but when you woke up you’d be sick to your stomach.”

Johnny shook his head just slightly, showing that was not it. Scott concentrated harder.

“You got a high fever…”

Johnny got very still, his breathing so shallow Scott could barely see it. He was close…

Scott thought back to the horror of those early days – how deathly pale Johnny had been after Sam had finally arrived and struggled for nearly 2 hours to remove the bullet lodged between Johnny’s shoulder blade and back rib, and then to control the bleeding. Scott had feared he would lose his brother scant days after finding out he had one. Then the fevers had come on and the terrifying delirium that had given him and Murdoch heart-crushing insight into the nightmare that had been Johnny’s childhood.

Then Scott knew.

“It gives you nightmares.” He said quietly. A shudder coursed through Johnny as his only answer. Scott squeezed his uninjured shoulder. “Or more accurately, flashbacks, because they’re not just dreams. It makes you relive horrible things that really happened to you.”

Scott was only whispering now. The more the devastating truth unfolded for him, the more strangled the words became.

He’d had flashbacks himself for months after Libby. Thankfully, they were very rare occurrences now. But he knew he would fight with his life to avoid experiencing even one more. And Johnny had endured days of it…

Scott cleared his throat so he could find his voice. “I’ll make sure they don’t give you any more,” he said with conviction.

Johnny looked at him then with wide blue eyes that spoke of pain and fear –and something else Scott suspected they’d rarely shown– the start of trust.

“But you can’t tell them why, especially Murdoch.”

“I promise not to tell Murdoch. And I’ll only tell Sam if it’s absolutely the only way I can keep him from sneaking it to you. I’ll make him promise not to tell Murdoch. Sam will understand about flashbacks, Johnny.”

Johnny’s dark eyes searched his. “How come you do?”

Scott felt his mouth go dry. Johnny had asked it gently, seeming to know how hard it might be for him to answer. Looking into the boy’s soulful eyes, Scott knew he had to be honest. “I’ve had them.” It came out like a croak.

“From the war?”

Mostly Libby, but he definitely didn’t think he could talk to his hurt, teenage brother about that. He nodded briefly. Libby was, after all, a horrid part of the war.

“Does shooting trigger them?” Johnny asked worriedly.

The boy’s honest concern for how Scott might fare out west, where shootings happened almost weekly, made Scott smile. “Luckily, no.”

“Laudanum?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never had it since, just once as a boy. It didn’t cause any problems then.” Of course, there’d been no flashbacks to trigger in his childhood.

Johnny frowned in concentration.

“What do I need to not do then?”

Scott realized what the question meant and was touched. “I haven’t had one for a while, sometimes even I don’t know what will trigger one.”

Johnny nodded knowingly. Scott filed that away. It wasn’t just laudanum that triggered Johnny’s flashbacks.

“Don’t feed me corn.” Scott offered. That had been their main food –when there’d been food.

“Tortillas?” Johnny asked in horror. Scott laughed.

“Well, flour tortillas are a better choice. Now the spices that you like could give anyone nightmares!”

Johnny smiled, the tension of the conversation broken. He closed his eyes, seeming to find some pain relief in Scott tending to him with the cool cloth. Scott could see Johnny’s tight muscles starting to ease and hoped he was falling asleep.

Just before he did, Johnny whispered, “I’m sorry you had to go through that stuff in the war, Boston.”

Scott’s throat swelled.

“Thank you. I’m sorry you’ve been through awful things too.” He swallowed dryly. “We’ve got each other now, brother. Nothing is going to hurt us like that again.”

Johnny nodded and fell asleep with a smile on his face.

The ensuing talk with Murdoch and Sam about the laudanum had been a difficult one, with Murdoch insisting that Johnny was a minor and would take the laudanum or have it given to him.

“You can’t treat him like the child he hasn’t been for eight years.l” Scott warned. “He’ll leave.”

“He can’t.”

“He can and he will, sir. Likely right from his sickbed. He has been on his own for a long time without anyone to care what he does…”

“You don’t have to remind me of that, Scott!” Murdoch interrupted. “I know damned well how long he’s been uncared for. But that’s not the case now. He doesn’t have to be alone anymore. I am the one making decisions now.”

Sam intervened, hearing Murdoch’s anger. “Scott isn’t disputing your parental authority, Murdoch. He’s trying to explain that Johnny isn’t going to see caring that takes away his independence as caring. He’ll see it as rigid authority and he’ll balk.”

“He can’t be allowed to do things that harm him, like refusing laudanum when he has a bullet wound in his back.”

“Johnny has confided in Scott the reasons he is refusing it.” Sam continued. “That’s a very positive thing, as you know he’s not about to confide in either of us. Scott believes Johnny‘s reasons are valid. And I, for one, trust Scott’s judgment.”

Sam’s good. Scott almost chuckled to himself. Turn the argument into whether Murdoch trusts me or not.

Murdoch threw Sam a murderous look. Sam was unrepentant.

As he watched his father pace off his tension and indecision, Scott felt a pang of sympathy. Murdoch really had minimal experience being a parent, especially the parent of an adolescent gunfighter. He was trying to show his caring the only way he knew how, through concrete, no-argument rules.

Sadly, a method bound for failure with Johnny. Taking pity, Scott approached Murdoch.

“I know we don’t know each other very well yet, sir, but I promise that I would do nothing to harm Johnny. I don’t like seeing him in pain anymore than you do. But please trust that there’s a good reason he won’t take the laudanum.”

Murdoch turned his careworn gaze to his elder son. “I do trust your judgement, Scott. But what are we going to do about his pain?” An accusing gaze was aimed at Sam.

The kindly doctor sighed. “The options are limited, I’m afraid. Whiskey, or in his case tequila, can be offered when it’s very bad. Don’t give me that look, Murdoch, Johnny‘s been drinking for years –not that I condone that anymore than you do. His body can tolerate it where most boys his age wouldn’t. Will he take the sleeping powders, Scott?”

“I haven’t asked.”

“Well, if he’s willing, they could help. Not during the bad pain, though, as all it will do is lower his defenses for managing the pain. And not if he’s had tequila. But if he’s achy and restless, the powders can help him get some deep sleep which is the best thing possible for him.”

“All right, all right! We can try it.” Murdoch ran his hands through his hair. “But the final say will be mine. If the pain is too bad, Johnny will take the laudanum.”

That was the best Scott would get. It had been close several times, but Scott had been able to keep his promise to Johnny about the laudanum.

~~~~~~~~~~

As Scott watched Johnny coming awake now to a wall of pain, he prayed it would soon get better for his little brother. It had been nine days of raging pain and debilitating exhaustion for the boy. On top of it, more days than not, Johnny struggled with fevers in the late afternoon and throughout most of the evening.

This had become Scott’s time with him each day, as the chills and aches brought on by the fevers worsened the pain. It was the hardest time for Johnny to cope, and the times that Murdoch had threatened the laudanum. Scott found his presence helped. Partly because he could get Murdoch, and the laudanum threat, to leave, and partly because Johnny was less guarded with him.

In trade for the comfort Scott provided, Johnny offered helpful tips on various aspects of surviving out west: you herd sheep but drive cattle; don’t wear your gun low unless you want to be called out; don’t stick your hands in to places you haven’t checked for snakes first; and don’t ever get caught inside cattle being driven. Johnny taught Scott key Spanish phrases, as under stress, Cip tended to yell commands in his native language. Most of Johnny’s tips, though, were geared toward making the back-breaking, muscle-tearing, mind-numbing work of the ranch easier. Scott found himself thanking Johnny silently multiple times each day for saving him pain and humiliation.

“Heya, Boston.” Scott could hear layers of pain in Johnny’s quiet greeting.

“Hey yourself. I had hoped you would stay asleep a while longer.”

Johnny rubbed his eyes, grimacing as he shifted position. “Why, are you anxious to read that there book?”

“No, just hoping you would get a bit more of a break. Do you want some help to sit up?”

Johnny nodded and Scott helped him get settled against the headboard. The effort left him panting in pain and impossibly paler.

“Do you need a drink?” Scott held up both water and tequila.

“Water, please.”  After he had taken a few sips, Johnny asked Scott about his day.

Scott talked for a while, knowing it helped Johnny cope to listen to his descriptions. When a funny story about Herbierto and a wayward calf only got a half-hearted smile from Johnny, Scott got up and felt his forehead. It was a little warmer than normal but not distinctly feverish. He cocked his head at his miserable-looking brother.

“It seems like you feel particularly rotten tonight. Is something going on?”

Johnny shook his head. “Murdoch, Maria, and Teresa were in here most of the day so I couldn’t get up and walk around. Now I’m stiff. And Sam poked extra hard. He and Murdoch had an argument.”

Scott not only knew about Johnny sneaking out of bed for more than the up-to-a-chair that Sam allowed, he often supported Johnny‘s efforts to move around his room, knowing it helped both the pain and the boredom.

“What do you think they argued about?”

“Me.” Johnny sighed, trying again to shift to get comfortable but only making it worse. “The whole laudanum thing. I guess Teresa was in here while I was sleeping and I was making noises and stuff so she called Murdoch… Sam was mad that Murdoch wanted him to slip me stuff. Murdoch was mad that Sam wouldn’t. Sam was mad that I was hurting…”

“Sam was mad because you were in pain? Has he figured out that you’re doing more than you should?”

“Nah, that’s not why it’s been hurting. He’s mad because he says it’s hard to argue with Murdoch when he wants to make me take the laudanum too.”

Scott studied his brother for a long moment. “So why is it hurting so much?”

Johnny looked at him, confused.

“You’re confident that getting up isn’t what has made the pain bad. That means you know what did. So what was it?”

Johnny looked away, uncomfortably. Scott sat down beside him on the bed, waiting. Johnny picked out a loose thread on the quilt.

“I kinda wrenched my back last night…twice.”

Scott’s eyebrows rose. “Doing what?”

“… dreaming…”

Scott squeezed Johnny‘s leg. “Dreaming or having a flashback?” he asked gently.

“I think dreaming. I was asleep at the start of it. But when I woke up, I wasn’t real sure where I was. And it was storming…”

Damn, I knew I should’ve checked on him during the thunderstorm!

“You said twice. Did the same thing happen again later?”

Johnny shook his head, looking very uncomfortable. “The first time was when I kinda jumped out of bed grabbing for my gun…”

“Thunder has made me do that a time or two.” Scott tried to make Johnny feel less awkward.

Johnny nodded with a half smile which faded as he continued. “I’d gotten myself kind of worked up and my back was really hurting so I thought I’d try a shot of tequila… but it came back up almost as soon as it got down there. And once I started puking, it really hurt, which made me puke more…”

“Oh Johnny, I’m so sorry you had to go through that alone.”

“You wouldn’t have wanted to watch me puke!” Johnny said with a level of horror that made Scott laugh.

“I’ve seen worse. It wouldn’t have bothered me. But maybe if I’d been here when you woke up, it would have settled you before you got sick.”

“Or maybe I would have shot you.” Johnny countered, but the small smile was back.

“You think so? Perhaps we shouldn’t leave you with a loaded gun.” Murdoch had argued against Johnny having one but it became clear quickly that –once Johnny’s delirium had abated– Johnny could only relax enough to sleep if it was there.

“Nah, you ain’t built nothing like…” Johnny stopped himself. “As long as you announce yourself, I couldn’t mistake that Boston accent.”

Scott suspected that the man, or at least one of the men, that abused Johnny had been built like Murdoch. He wondered if that was part of Johnny’s uneasiness around their father.

“Maria didn’t find you out when she emptied your chamber pot?”

“Nothing in there.” Johnny answered sheepishly. “I emptied it.” His eyes went briefly to the window. “Luckily it was raining pretty hard…”

Scott shook his head with a grin. “Remind me not to eat any green beans from that part of Maria’s garden.”

“I don’t eat green beans so I figured I didn’t have to worry.” Johnny smirked.

“Okay, so now that we know why you’re hurting so bad, let’s figure out what to do about it. I assume Sam didn’t find any ripped stitches?”

“No, he said it was very… flamed?”

“Inflamed. That means swollen and red. Did he do anything for it?”

“You mean besides poking and jabbing at it trying to see if he could get pus out?” Johnny gave a little shiver indicating how much that had hurt on top of everything else. “No, nothing that made it better anyway. He wiped it with carbolic acid. That made me yell and curse which made Murdoch madder at both of us.”

“Oh boy, you have had a rough day.” Scott tousled Johnny‘s hair. “So what’s it feeling like now? Burning, pulling, aching, stabbing?”

“Kinda all of those, depending on the spot, but it’s lots better, Boston. You don’t need to worry about me as long as you don’t go poking at it. Did you bring your lariat?”

“Don’t change the subject. Do you think it would hurt too much for you to get up to a chair for a bit?”

“No, I think it would help.”

Scott helped Johnny up to the chair. He pulled the nightstand over in front of Johnny, laid a pillow on it, and motioned for Johnny to fold his arms under it. “Try laying your head down, if that doesn’t pull too much. I want to see if rubbing your neck and shoulders will help.”

Scott proceeded carefully, able to feel how tight the muscles were. Occasionally, he hit a spot that made Johnny yelp or jump, but for the most part it helped enormously.

“Do I want to know where you learn to do this?” Johnny’s question was muffled by the pillow.

“A combination of places.” Scott smiled. “The barber shop I used in Boston had a masseuse.”

“A what kind of moose?”

“Not moose.”  Scott laughed. “A masseuse. Someone trained to give massages.”

“A girl moose or a boy moose?”

Scott gave the back of Johnny’s head a little swat. “There it was a female, but in Europe most were males.”

“It didn’t bother you to have guys touching you like that?”

“Maybe a little the first time. But it was their job, kind of like a doctor, but for your muscles.”

“Did you ever think of becoming one? You’re pretty good.”

“Honestly, no.” Scott laughed. “This is the first time I’ve been on the giving rather than the receiving end.”

After a bit, Johnny sat back. “Teresa is coming, probably bringing supper.” He shoved the pillow in Scott’s direction. “Can’t let her see me up and I need pants.”

“No time for pants, little brother.” Scott whisked a quilt off the bed to cover Johnny’s lower body, slid the nightstand back in place, and drew the dropside table over. He met Teresa at the door to help her with the tray.

“Johnny, what are you doing up?” she admonished. “Sam said you were to stay in bed all day today because he didn’t like how your wound looked.”

“I did stay in bed all day, Querida, it’s evening now.”

Teresa planted both fists on her hips. “Now you know darn well that’s not what Sam meant, John Lancer.”

“Ouch, not just two-naming me but with a John.” Johnny winced at Scott. “I guess I’m really in for it.”

Scott laughed until Teresa extended her glare to him. “And don’t think I don’t know who helped him out of bed, Scott Lancer! Look at how pale he is!” She slapped a hand to Johnny‘s forehead. “And he’s got a fever!”

Johnny reached up and caught her hand in his. “Don’t be mad at Scott, Teresa. I always get a fever this time of night. Getting out of bed didn’t cause it. And Scott didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to get up, because I didn’t tell him. I promise I’ll go back to bed after I eat. It’s hard to enjoy your wonderful meal when I’m trying to balance it on a tray.” He gave her hand a soft kiss.

“Well…all right, but you keep your promise and you…” She pointed an accusing finger at Scott. “Make sure he does.”

Scott made a cross-my-heart gesture and then held both hands up in surrender.

After one last glare, Teresa swept out the room.

“Whew.” Scott breathed. “She’s going to make a great general someday.”

“Or doctor. Come join me, Maria has sent enough food for an army and I’ll be in trouble with her too if there’s any leftovers.”

There was a plate for Scott, as he’d been taking supper in Johnny’s room during his evening vigils. Johnny was right that there was enough food for the entire household.

“Thanks for fixing up my neck and shoulders. It’s the best I felt all day.” Johnny said after they’d eaten for a while.

“But not well enough to eat?” Scott pointed his fork at the small dent Johnny had made in his mashed potatoes. Johnny shrugged.

“My stomach is still rocky.” He then smiled as he flicked a carrot onto Scott’s mostly clean plate. “At least she didn’t send green beans.”

Scott chuckled and moved the sliced beef from Johnny‘s plate to his own. He couldn’t believe how much he ate these days with his long hours on the ranch. If he’d eaten like this with his lifestyle in Boston, he would have weighed 300 pounds.

“Is there something else you could eat?”

“Nah, mashed potatoes are fine.” When Scott had finished the extra helping of beef, Johnny said, “Okay, get out your lariat and let me watch you rope.”

“You promised you’d go right back to bed.”

“After supper, I’m still eating.” Johnny poked his fork in his potatoes.

Scott made a face. “With my luck, I’ll break every lamp, mirror, and glass in your room.”

Johnny angled himself to be able to see where Scott stood. “Luck don’t have nothing to do with it.”  He said with a crooked smile. “I’ll protect my glass.” He picked it up and pointed with it to the bedpost. “Lasso that.”

Scott made sure he had room, swung the lariat, and let it fly. It fell short of the post by a foot.

Johnny’s lips twitched. “Again.”

Scott sighed, reeled the rope in, and threw it again, this time landing off to the right side by a foot and a half.

“Again.”

“Johnny…”

“Again.”

Johnny made Scott throw four more times, the closest he came was hitting the bedpost 8 inches down from the end.

“I hope you enjoyed the show.” Scott said morosely as he looped the lariat up. “The hands sure seem to. Unless, of course, they really need me to rope a steer, then they’re just disgusted.”

“Don’t go giving up, Boston. We ain’t got started yet.”

“Come on Johnny, admit it, I’m hopeless.”

Johnny just shook his head. “Come here.” He held out his hand for the lariat. “First, you need to hold it further up, like here.” Johnny showed him. “And see how my ring finger is bent? That will help open the loop when you throw. Try it that way for a bit. Don’t worry if you don’t hit what you’re aiming at yet. Just try to get it to land in a loop.”

After five tries, Scott was able to get the rope to land in an open loop. Johnny made him throw four more times until it looped three times in a row.

“Good… Oh shoot, Teresa’s coming back” Johnny quickly tossed some mashed potatoes under Scott’s cast-off gristle on his plate. “Hide the rope and come look like you’re getting ready to help me back to bed.”

Scott was just leaning over when Teresa burst into the room.

“I knew I couldn’t trust you!”

“Hey, you gotta knock, Teresa!” Johnny complained. “You almost saw me in my longjohns because Scott was just helping me back to bed.”

“Would have served you right as you shouldn’t be out of bed. Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Don’t remind me.” Johnny said with true embarrassment. “Supper was sure good, Teresa.”

Scott tried not to smirk.

“Well, you did better than you have been.” She narrowed her eyes. “Unless Scott ate some of yours.”

“I swear he only ate the food on his plate.” Johnny twisted the words with such guilelessness that Scott had to look away so as not to laugh.

“Did you save room for cake?” Teresa gave Johnny’s brow a gentle touch, testing for fever, showing her love. “I made chocolate.”

“Aw now, Querida, you gotta let me know something like that upfront before I fill up.” Johnny pouted, then he smiled. “Can I have it for breakfast?”

“Oh you.” Teresa piled the plates onto the tray and carried them to the door that Scott held open. “No cake for breakfast. But if you eat a good one, maybe you can have some for a midmorning snack.”

After she left, Scott held his laughter in for about 20 seconds. “You are something, little brother. Let’s get you back to bed.”

“Hell no, you’re not ready to be throwing that rope at my bed with me in it yet. Time to move on to phase two.”

“Johnny, I appreciate the lessons, I hope you know how much I do. But it’s enough for tonight. Your stomach doesn’t feel good and I can tell the pain is bad.”

“And you somehow think that being confined to that lump of a bed is going to make either of those things better?” Johnny snorted. “This is what helps, having something else to concentrate on and being off my right hip which is starting to hurt almost as much as my back from having my weight on it all the time. So, the next step is fixing your stance…”

Johnny worked with Scott for another hour, adjusting his swing, his release, even his breathing. When he finally lassoed the bedpost, Scott whooped so loud he feared Murdoch would come running. Johnny laughed at him but the boy’s blue eyes shone with what looked like pride. Once he was sure they wouldn’t be caught, Johnny had Scott repeat his trick until he landed two out of three.

“You keep this lariat in your room for practicing. You can use mine on the range until I’m back out there. Just remember, before you even think about throwing a rope, make sure you’re safe, that you’ve got a good seat in the saddle, and you ain’t in line of a stampede. You’re gonna probably still miss a lot this week, maybe every time, because throwing from a horse ain’t like throwing from standing. Don’t get discouraged. Tomorrow, we can work on what you do once you’ve gotten it over a steer’s head.”

“I guess I won’t need that for a while.” Scott was grinning ear to ear. “ Thank you so much for the help, little brother. Now it is truly time for you to go back to bed.”

“After a little privacy…”

Scott brought the chamber pot over. “I’ll wait out in the hall.”

When that was taken care of, Scott opened Johnny’s bed and turned to help him back in.

“One last thing…” Johnny stalled.

Scott planted his fists on his hips, mimicking Teresa. “And what might that be, John Lancer?”

Johnny smiled and ducked his head.

“Maybe another neck rub from my favorite moose?”

Scott laughed and readily agreed. “Just make sure this stays between us. I don’t think Murdoch would approve of my new sideline.”

“No worries there, Boston, I’d be the last to tell.”

The End
October 2018 (posted June 2021)

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15 thoughts on “Moose Tracks-Highriders WHN by chrischime

  1. Thanks, Crystle, I appreciate the review. I think we all have our own Highriders WHN —even if it’s only in our heads— because the series left so much unsaid between the first few episodes.

    Like

  2. Hey, Sis Chris! I love this story! Only Johnny would call it a moose. Very endearing! And, this is an excellent brother bonding story. Great job!

    Diana

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Big Sis, I appreciate your kind words and your on-going support. I might not have posted this if not for your shove…I mean, help.

    Like

    1. Why thanks, Lesley. It seemed to me the brothers became close quickly, and I think a part of that was their shared appreciation of dry humor. I appreciate the comments; they made a rainy day sunny.

      Like

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