Author's Note: Revisit Joe the Bartender in this followup to "A Matter of Taste". Hope you enjoy!
Sighing deeply at the pitiful sight sitting before him, Joe O'Leary narrowed his eyes on the bald man as he said, shaking his head, "Laddie, don't you think you've about had your limit? Tis a shame to waste such good Guinness on a hangover in the making, you know."
"Joe, Joe, Joe," Derek Morgan muttered, his hand wrapped possessively around the neck of the beer bottle, his eyes bleary as he focused on the grey-headed man behind the counter. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's not enough until you can't remember any more? I can still think, man, so keep 'em comin' til last call."
Shaking his head as he reached out and pulled the heavy bottle from the younger man's hand, Joe said firmly, "Look around, my boy. Last call was half an hour ago."
Turning unsteadily on the cushioned bar stool, Morgan tried to focus on the green streamers in the almost empty bar as he muttered, "Hey! Where'd everybody go? It's St. Patty's Day! I'm here to party!"
"Ach, it appears your party might have ended earlier tonight, before you ever darkened my doors," Joe observed with a nod, tucking Derek's half-filled bottle out of sight under the bar as he deftly eased a cup of coffee in front of the confused man.
Wincing as the strong odor of the freshly brewed coffee wafted in his nose, Morgan propped his elbows on the polished bar as he muttered, "Shoulda never let her have the vanilla ice cream."
Wondering if the young man had imbibed far more than he had first thought, Joe stopped his evening clean up as he leaned in front of his long-time patron. "Derek? What's that you said, son?"
Raising his eyes slowly to meet the kind barkeep's, Derek asked almost sadly, "How could she choose vanilla over chocolate? How, Joe? How?"
"Come again?" Joe asked, furrowing his eyebrows.
"I'd give her any kind of sundae she wants. I'd even let her add the god-awful strawberry syrup she likes...but no...it's a plain old vanilla diet. Blech!" Morgan said, sticking out his tongue as he widened his eyes at the thought.
"You cark on me bar and you'll be feelin' my wrath, Derek," Joe said firmly, shoving the saucer and mug under his nose. "Drink that," he ordered sternly as he tapped the china, reaching behind him for his trusty address book. No way the lad could find his own way home this eve.
"She's a Rocky Road kinda girl, Joey," Morgan muttered, eyeing the dark brew in front of him broodingly, his eyes diving into the depths. "Occasionally, I've seen her dip into a little Berrilicious Banana...but never freaking vanilla, man!"
Sighing deeply as he shook his head, Joe tapped a finger against the saucer again. "Coffee, Derek, my boy. I'm calling you a cab."
"We gotta convince her that she needs the chocolate in her diet, Joey," Morgan continued rambling, ignoring the old bartender's commands. Scrubbing a hand down his face, he grumbled, heavily, "I know my Baby Girl; she can't exist on that bland vanilla flavor for long. She'll waste away. And I love those curves, man!"
Raising a bushy grey brow, Joe murmured, concerned, "Ye've just not gone round the bend, but o'er the mountain, too. What in the name of bloody hell are you talkin' bout, Derek?"
"Mama, dude! Penelope! She wants vanilla!" Morgan groaned, lifting bleary eyes to those of his friendly neighborhood bartender cum therapist. "Look at this body, Joey!" he said, holding his muscular arms wide, flexing his muscles. "I'm chocolate. The chicks dig chocolate. My baby girl always loved the chocolate. 'Til she had her head turned by fucking vanilla bean," Derek shuddered, the mental image of Penelope and Kevin Garcia once again horribly filling his besotted mind.
"Mayhap the chocolate gave the lass a toothache," Joe theorized. Leaning forward, he whispered conspiratorially, his eyes knowing, "And a heartache, too, aye?"
"Fuck!" Derek moaned, his head cracking against the polished surface of the bar with a thud. "Joe, man, I'm screwed. Fucking screwed. I was a fucking player. And I was good, too. I had mad skills. Now..."
Lifting Derek's bald head enough to slip a bunched rag underneath to cushion his hard skull, Joe sighed and looked down at his patron with compassion. "Buck up, Lad! 'Tisn't over 'til it's over. There's still time to convince the bonny lass that the chocolate ice cream is best."
"How, Joey?" Morgan whined, his words muffled by the towel beneath him, his head beating in rhythm with his pounding heart.
"Well, for beginners, quit callin' me Joey, lad!" Joe ordered, thumping the back of his black bald head in warning. Seeing the young man's noggin bounce against the padding, he continued, "And then, you get your arse to the lass and tell 'er how you feel. Quit bein' a whinin' coward and tell the gal true," Joe demanded with a frown. "You been skirt chasin' for years while the perfect lass waited for you. Can't blame her for gettin' a wee bit impatient, can you?"
"I need a 'nother drink, Joey," Morgan begged, his voice hoarsening as he tried to swallow against the sudden cotton that filled his mouth.
"Bah! You need a swift kick in the arse, is what you need!" Joe blustered, snapping Morgan's gleaming head with a towel. "Sit ye up and drink the coffee. I'm callin' ye a cab."
"Don't wanna go home," Morgan mumbled, rubbing his forehead against the damp bar towel.
"Oh, I'm not sendin' ye home," Joe muttered, reaching for his phone and dialing the familiar taxi service that had served him well in the past.
"Where am I going then?" Morgan asked, lifting his head wearily as Joe punched the buttons on his cordless.
"To hell if'n ye don't change those treacherous ways," Joe snapped succinctly, his tone brooking no argument as he remembered the suffering his little Penny had been subjected to at the hands of this man. "But in the short term, I'll be sendin' ye to the only person I trust to watch after ye. I've served my time in babysitting hell."
And thirty crazy minutes later, Morgan found himself staring at a familiar door. Had he really allowed Joe to convince him that this was a good idea? Shaking his head, he told himself to walk away, stumble back down the four flights of stairs that he'd just crawled up and make his way home. But staring at the brightly painted wooden door in front of him, he couldn't seem to make his legs work. Resting his forehead against the unforgiving wood, he barely resisted the urge to pound his head against it. He needed to leave her in peace. Allow her to enjoy whatever happiness she'd found with Vanilla Man. And he'd almost convinced himself to step away.
Only suddenly he found the stabilizing door disappearing from his grasp and he was falling. Was this his final descent into hell? But as he opened his eyes, he stared confusedly into the bright gaze of the only woman on the planet that had ever seen the real him.
"Derek Thaddeus Morgan! What the hell has gotten into you?" she growled, glaring down at his prone body sprawled across her pink fuzzy Hello Kitty slippers. Nudging him with a less than gentle foot as he stared up at her with wide eyes, she huffed, propping a hand on her neon pink hips, "Still waiting up here, Hot Stuff!"
"Choose me, Mama," Derek whispered, his eyes pleading with the only woman he'd ever truly loved.