A little late-night chat between Scott and Johnny. Many thanks to my awesome betas Suzanne L and Margaret P for their patience, help and encouragement, and to Terri (doc) for her much-appreciated advice. All characters are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended. Thanks for reading! Cristy


Anytime, Brother

'We do not so much need the help of our friends as the confidence of their help in need.' Epicurus

Scott was sitting up in bed fighting to keep from dozing off, even going so far as to keep his bedside lamp blazing, but he was losing the battle. His wrist throbbed and sleep pulled at him like a siren's call, but there were times, like now, when he felt compelled to wait up for his brother. It was a new experience he was still getting used to.

Down the hall he could hear the muffled thunder of Murdoch's snoring, not to mention the crickets outside and a steer lowing somewhere in the dark. He snorted. Much as he loved a symphony…

He really should stay awake, but his eyes just wouldn't stay open. And then he was floating and Murdoch's snoring and the crickets and the cows were sounding further and further away…

Wait—what was that noise?

His eyes sprung open.

He listened hard. That had to be Barranca trotting through the courtyard on his way to the stables.

Within a few minutes a door closed somewhere below, followed by the sound of metal crashing to the floor. That was strange—Johnny usually took his time tending to Barranca. From the resounding crash, at least Johnny was making his usual stop at the kitchen before bed.

It wasn't long before he heard spurs jangling on the stairs. He just had time to prop himself up a little straighter against the pillows when Johnny came sauntering into his bedroom munching on something wrapped in a tortilla. The scent of cigar smoke and whisky followed him.

'Hey, big brother. Saw your light on—how's the wrist?' His tone was light, but his eyes narrowed as he looked Scott over.

'All right. Just aches a little.'

'You should be sleeping after the day you've had, falling off Blue like that. When're you gonna learn that old dust-kicker ain't nothing but a lost cause. Any horse that rears up at the sight of its own shadow—'

'Blue's a fine animal. He just needs time.'

Johnny smiled. 'No-one's got that much time.' Pulling a chair close to Scott's bedside he plonked himself down and swallowed the last of his midnight snack. 'So, you waiting up for me?'

Now it was Scott's turn to smile. 'Only to satisfy my curiosity. How much did you lose tonight?'

Johnny's eyes twinkled. 'Who says I lost?'

'Well, let's put it this way—I've seen you once before when Russian Lil was dealing. She was dealing tonight, wasn't she.'

'Oh yeah, she was dealing.' A slow smile spread over his face. 'I wish you coulda been there. She was fine as cream gravy, all decked out in that red dress that shows off her…' He made a vague swipe at his chest.

Scott chuckled. 'Yes, I know the one. I also know why she wears it. So indulge me, how much did you lose?'

'You'll be proud of me, Scott. This time I didn't touch the gold piece in my boot.'

'Which means you lost all your pay.' He shook his head, 'Johnny…'

'I figured it out, though. It's the dress combined with that accent that just grabs hold of a man till he's not sure what he's doing.' Johnny leaned in: 'Dahlink, you simply must raise your bet or I will be so…deesappointed."

Scott was impressed. It was an almost perfect impersonation of Russian Lil.

Johnny grinned at Scott then returned to his normal voice. 'I mean, you got no choice but to raise your bet, even though you know the hand you're holding's not worth the paper it's printed on.'

Scott raised an eyebrow. 'Well, there's no choice for you, anyway.' His voice caught on the last word. He gripped the quilt with his good hand, a grunt escaping before he could stop himself. It felt like shards of glass were scraping every bone in his wrist.

Johnny was on his feet in the space of a heartbeat. 'What's wrong? Did I hit the bed or something?'

Scott squeezed his eyes shut. He could feel sweat start to bead on his forehead as he waited for the pain to give way to a bearable, dull throbbing. 'No,' he finally managed. 'I just have a twinge every now and then.'

Opening his eyes, Scott found himself pinned under the penetrating gaze of Johnny Madrid; it took everything he had not to squirm.

'That's some twinge.'

Scott felt like a ten year old caught in a lie.

Wiping away a drop of sweat that was threatening his eye, he looked away from Johnny to his wrist. 'I'll tell you what would help. Can you loosen the bandage for me? I think it's too tight.'

'Murdoch said it had to be tight to keep the swelling down.'

He looked up at Johnny. 'Yes, but not to the point of cutting off my circulation.'

Johnny nodded, perched on the side of the bed, and worked at Teresa's sturdy knot. Once undone, he began to unwind the binding with the delicacy of someone handling spun glass. The sharp, piney-sagey scent of arnica salve made Scott think of Christmases in New England. Pine boughs, sage dressing…

Johnny's low whistle as he undid the last of the bandage brought him back. His gut tightened. Just how bad did it look? Murdoch said it was only a sprained wrist. The last thing he wanted was to be out of action for weeks all because of a stupid fall from a green horse. Of all the idiotic…

'Look at your fingers, Boston. Reminds me of them bratwurst sausages Miz Gerhardt sends over to trade for some of Juanita's tamales.'

'Very funny,' Scott ground out. He tentatively raised his arm to inspect his wrist. The angry, purplish bruising and swelling, once confined to his wrist, now fanned out to include both the lower part of his forearm and his hand. His wrist felt much stiffer, the joint grinding with the slightest movement. Dammit.

He breathed out slowly, easing it back onto the cushions at his side. The glass shards thankfully did not make a return appearance.

'You takin' anything for the pain?'

'No.' He sagged against his pillows. 'Murdoch left some powders in case I need them, but it really hasn't been too bad. In fact, it's starting to feel better now the dressing's off.'

'Yeah? I still think Sam needs to take a look at it. You might've broke it. Murdoch can send someone for him in the morning.'

Scott shook his head. 'Murdoch and Teresa say it's only sprained. I'm sure it will be better tomorrow.'

'You're sure, huh?'

'Well, maybe 'hopeful' is a more appropriate word.'

Johnny reached for the pot of arnica salve on the nightstand and with a feather-light touch began to spread a thick dollop on Scott's wrist. 'Seems you're always looking for the bright side.'

It was said innocently enough, but nonetheless an uneasy feeling curled around Scott's middle. 'I try to look at things optimistically whenever possible.'

'Tell me something. Last month, when I lit out with Wes, were you optimistic I'd come back?'

Wes? Why was he bringing this up? Scott looked down, his eyes studying the black and white pattern of his quilt as he chose his words. 'I knew you wanted to. Sitting in that saloon you looked like a man condemned to the gallows instead of someone who had, as you put it, started living again. Seeing you look like that…well, I just wanted to make something clear, something I hoped you already knew.'

Johnny stopped spreading the salve. 'Which was what?'

'That you were throwing away so much and getting so little in return. I couldn't let you leave without making sure you knew that.'

A door closed down the hallway and Johnny resumed applying the salve. He felt Johnny glance at him, but Scott kept his eyes glued to the quilt. Communication between them was fragile at best. He didn't want to sever it right now.

'You're right, I did know. I just needed to hear someone else say it. Then with Wes up and dying like he did with only me to grieve his passing—well, that was the end of the string. What you said about dying young and not leaving a ripple became clear as glass. Knew right then I couldn't go back to that life, Scott.' Johnny sighed. 'Also knew I had to come home and try to fix what I broke.'

'And in coming home, maybe give Murdoch a chance to fix what he broke? It wasn't all your fault, Johnny.' He looked over at his brother in time to see his head dip slightly.

'Maybe.' Scott had to strain to hear the word.

He watched as Johnny put the arnica pot away, wiped his hands, and began re-bandaging. 'When I left the saloon tonight, it felt really good to be going home. Not to some flea bag hotel or looking for a place to camp, but home. My home. It's been so long—guess you wouldn't know about that, would you.' Johnny fastened the bandage with a loose knot. 'You've always had a home. Somewhere to hang that fancy Eastern hat of yours.' He looked over at Scott, the corners of his eyes crinkling.

Scott returned the smile. Yes, he'd always had a home with his grandfather, but it didn't compare to what he had now. He understood more than Johnny realised. Maybe one day he would tell him.

The bandaging finished, Scott stifled a yawn and stretched out. 'Promise me something, Johnny. Promise me that if I even mention leaving Lancer, you'll do everything in your power to knock some sense back into me. You have my permission to use whatever means necessary.'

Johnny cocked his head and grinned. 'Whatever means necessary? You sure about that?'

Scott laughed. 'Well, within reason.'

Johnny reached over and turned down the lamp. 'Sure, Scott. I promise I won't ever let you leave Lancer without a fight.' Johnny's hand rested on Scott's shoulder for the briefest of seconds. 'I think I'll ride into town early tomorrow—maybe invite the doc over for breakfast.'

Scott didn't have the heart to argue. 'Thanks, Johnny,' he murmured, and then snuggled down into the quilts. Treating his wrist as if it was fine Meissen, he adjusted it once more on the cushions until he found a comfortable position. His eyelids were so heavy now that no amount of effort could keep them open. He felt Johnny smooth his quilt, then heard him walk across to the door.

And unless his ears were playing tricks on him, he thought he also heard a quiet 'Thank you, Scott,' just before his door clicked shut.

'Anytime, brother…anytime.'


21 January 2017