by Sammy Girl
AU - Hunter's Moon
"Can't we just go in there and bust him out?" JD demanded.
"No we can't," Chris stated firmly.
"But we don't know what theyre doing to him in there, I mean to them he's just an animal!" JD pleaded. Only he and Josiah had heard the first, lonely howl before Buck had heard them and begun to sing rather than howl.
"JD, they need him alive, and reasonably fit, until they want him to fight they will look after him, at least they won't hurt him. Yes, they think he's just a wolf, so if we go in there and something goes wrong they're gonna have no compunction about killing him, and you know there is nothing we could do about it, because they will have killed a wolf, and that ain't no crime," Josiah tried to explain to the distraught young man, "I know you want him out, we all do." Sanchez glanced at the others. "But for Buck we have to be strong and patient, he knows we're here, he knows he's no longer alone. Be strong John Dunne, take your strength from the pack, only together are we strong enough to do this."
JD nodded, bowing his head to hide just how distressed he was by this turn of events. With the increased guards around the ranch it wasn't possible to return without possibly blowing their cover stories. All of them hoped Buck understood that they had not abandoned him.
The days leading to Friday dragged. Ezra resorted to cheating to get the remaining money they needed, not because he needed to but because he just couldn't be bothered not to, they needed the money and the quicker the better.
Come Friday all of them, especially Ezra, were nervous. Normally the Southerner never got edgy before a con, but never had so much been at stake. Never had he been trying to save a friend's life. But he put his nervousness to the back of his mind. In this operation he was the leader, the others, even Chris, would look to him for a lead. As the six of them rode toward the ranch, Ezra reminded them to stay in character, characters they had been rehearsing daily since Ezra had explained them. He cautioned them on over-reacting, warned them not to give the game away until Chris gave the signal to act. He told them, and prayed he could do the same.
The building they had suspected of being the venue of the so-called 'sport' did indeed prove to be a semicircular dog pit. The steep sides were lined in wood, white washed and ominously splattered with what had to be blood. The top edge was over hung to stop any animal, most likely the mountain lions Ross had mentioned, jumping out. Around it there were seats, actually little more than benches in two banked tiers. Powerful lamps were suspended over the pit and lined the walls. Off to the side was an opening leading into what appeared to be a private bar.
"It's very impressive," Chris breathed in Ezra's ear.
"It's barbaric," Nathan commented.
Their host welcomed the new 'players' and introduced them to some of his friends and fellow dog owners. The fights were brutal, and sickening. So much so JD had to leave rather than watch when a brave white bitch, who, having lost, lay down and submitted, as she tried to save herself, but the other dog just kept ripping at the poor thing. Her pathetic whimpers and yelps were too much for the young man and he fled the building. Luckily his behaviour fitted into his persona of the eastern educated boy who needed toughening up. Vin walked up to him as he stood staring at the half moon in the clear sky of another sweltering night.
"You all right kid?" he asked.
"No! I am not all right! I I am, God that is just how can people call that sport?" JD stammered out.
"Nature is cruel JD, animals fight to the death all the time."
"If they have to! Not just so some rich guys cant feel so bored cos, they have so much money and nothing to do!"
"Yeah, yer right, but we have to do this just a bit longer, just until we find Buck. Can you do that?"
JD took a deep breath, cleared his eyes and nodded. "I can make it, I won't let Buck down."
Disappointingly there was no wolf baiting on Friday, Chris, Josiah and Ezra had made some small bets but nothing big, none of them had lost badly. Chris was slightly up on the night, Ezra more or less even and Josiah was only slightly down. Ross came over to Ezra as the evening wound up.
"Did you enjoy the sport, Mr Sands?" he asked brightly.
"Indeed sir most entertaining and diverting. The sport continues tomorrow? Ah was most intrigued by your mention of wild beasts."
"Of course, your entry is already paid, we will be very happy to have you, you and your friends. They too had a good time?" he enquired.
"Ah believe so, yes."
"I noticed the lad go a little green about the gills, he recovered?" Ezra nodded. "I see why the father wanted to bring him out here, boy needs to toughen up some!"
"Quite." If you only knew just how tough that boy really is! Ezra thought. Well you will, you will!
It seemed unbelievably cruel to have to wait another day, they were all too well aware that Buck must have known they were there, so close he must have smelled them with no difficulties. Chris knew he had to keep his men occupied until the second visit to the dog pit. They set up camp just outside the ranch boundary. JD gave Steel some gentle exercise, Ezra took out Buck's crumpled clothing and washed it, before doing his best to dry it flat and brush some shape into the jacket. Vin went out and hunted down some game, returning with a freshly shot small deer. The other three were, by nature, much calmer and more able to sit out the agonising wait, but even for them the last few hours dragged.
And the waiting wasn't over. It seemed wolf baiting was to be the highlight of the evening and the very last event. Finally, when even Chris though he couldn't stand the wait any longer; Ross called for attention.
"My friends!" he began, "As is traditional we end with a spectacle. My prize dog, Sultan and Tom Liner's King will open against a worthy opponent. As before, once you have viewed the foe you may place bets with the house as to how long the contest runs and how many dogs it takes to end it. You will not be disappointed my friends, this one is magnificent!"
"What does all that mean?" asked Vin.
"It means," Ezra explained. "That once we have viewed the wolf Buck, we can place bets as to how long and how many dogs it will take to kill him."
"So Buck has no chance, no matter how hard he fights he dies?" JD clarified.
"No!" Chris stated firmly. "Because we are here. Spread out and watch for my signal. Go!" he commanded.
The six men dispersed into the throng, as the other patrons crowded the sides of the semicircle to catch sight of the night's sacrificial lamb. There were gasps as the truly huge wolf was released into the pit. Once in there the big creature stretched and cast his eyes up and around the sea of faces gazing at him, it was almost as if he was searching for someone. The patrons were now clamouring to make bets based on the size of the creature. Chris had no intention of letting the fight even begin and in readiness drew his gun.
"Don't move." Chris obediently froze, feeling the unmistakable pressure of a gun barrel pressed into the small of his back!
Ross came to stand beside Ezra. "Enjoying yourself Sands?" he asked.
Ezra felt his blood freeze in his veins, there was just something about the tone of voice, years of conditioning told him something was very wrong!
"I'll just take this." Ross pulled out Ezra's Remington before he could do anything about it. "I was never sure about you, there was just something not right, and your friends so conveniently close at hand. You know if you are going to earn your living deceiving people you have to work on your act!"
Ezra was well aware this had been a hastily put together plan and he was so worried and distracted he was off his usual game, and now his lack of professionalism had put Buck - all of them - in jeopardy. Chris had given him the responsibility of leading the mission and he had failed all of them and his failure might cost Buck his life or worse, because if he were forced to change, here, now, in front all these strangers, who knew what would happen to him!
"What was the plan, wait until the very end, until all the money was in one place and then take it all with your gang? Well Sands if that is your name - I'm afraid not tonight. Now I don't want any trouble, we will just stand here and wait until it's over then you and the others will be escorted out of here." Ezra's eyes darted around trying to pick out the others. "Oh don't worry, they are all taken care of as well. So Mr Sands, lets just enjoy the show."
Ezra's right arm, complete with its hidden Derringer, was trapped against his side as Ross stood close beside him with a gun jammed up under his ribs. As Ezra looked around the room he picked out the others. Cole stood just behind Chris, all the others had a man beside or behind them, and he could tell by their expressions they were as helpless as he was.
"I assure you sir, neither I nor my friends had any intention to rob you or any of your group, we are merely seeking a friend who has been missing for some time, that is all," Ezra explained.
"Really," Ross commented sarcastically. "Well you know, I don't care. Now you hush because I have a good deal of money says my Sultan will get the kill and it will take three to bring him down, so you just be good and I won't have to throw you in there with them!"
Suddenly a huge cheer rose from the crowed as two dogs entered the arena. Both were Bull Terriers, the smaller one was mostly white with a few black points, the large was brindle with part of one ear missing. Both dogs wore thick leather collars to protect their vulnerable necks. The two dogs split up as soon as they entered the arena, snarling and snapping at the wolf, who in truth looked bewildered, looking up every now and again as if seeking help.
Oh Lord, Buck's never had to fight like this before, Two-Bloods fight one on one! Ezra suddenly realised.
Indeed the wolf looked unsure how to deal with the twin attackers coming at him from two different angles snarling and snapping. He snarled back, his hackles raised, ears back, swinging his head from side to side to try and keep track of them.
"The wall! The wall!" Vin's voice cut though the cheers and shouts. "Git yer back against the wall!"
The wolf lifted his huge head and then began to back away from his tormentors until his vulnerable rear end was pressed up against the wall. Now the dogs attacked each flank, first one then the other would come in. To begin with they just worried at him, small bites here and there, but little by little the attacks got stronger, the wolf, big though he was, wasn't quick enough to stop them; only occasionally did his powerful jaws find a target and when they did he seemed unable to deliver a real bite, as if he didn't want their blood in his mouth.
"Attack brother, attack is the best form of defence!" Josiah's voice was instantly recognisable as he shouted advice to the beleaguered wolf.
Ross spoke to Ezra. "Can it be that some of your friends actually bet upon the wolf, do they not understand how this works?"
"Oh they understand all right, it is you who do not understand."
The wolf suddenly came to life. Ignoring the damage being done to his shoulder by the Brindle he suddenly swung his head at the white and since the neck wasn't an option because of the collar, he grabbed the side of the head, ripping into the flesh as he lifted the dog into the air and swung it across the arena, blood pouring from a wound where his ear had formally been.
"King!" Ezra heard the owners cry of distress.
King landed against the wooden wall in a heap and began to pull itself unsteadily to his feet.
"Jack!" Ross bellowed close to Ezra's ear.
"Yes boss!" came the response.
"Send in Vicky!"
Almost as soon as he had spoken the door in the middle of the back wall opened a fraction and a third dog was in the arena, this was a bitch, but she too was a brindle.
"Thats Victoria, my queen and my sultan, together they are going to found a dynasty," Ross told a sickened Ezra proudly. King was now on his feet again, despite the blood pouring from his lost ear.
JD was going mad with frustration, he was held not just by the man with the gun in his ribs but by the same man's powerful grip on his arm, both his guns were in the man's belt. Every time he saw another set of jaws rip into the wolf he felt sick. Unable to watch anymore he looked up and across at Vin. The normally calm Texan, who was adept at hiding his emotions locked gazes with the youth. Those blue eyes, usually so clear and bright were clouded with emotion, there was a hard set to his jaw that was rare in the young man as he held JD's gaze, trying to give him the courage to see the thing through for Buck's sake. Josiah prayed, he implored God and every other deity he and ever heard of for strength, for something to help them. Nathan tried to keep track of the injuries Buck was picking up because if he did that, he didn't have to think about what was really going on.
Chris felt he was alone in this hot, noisy room, with a gun pointing at his back. His weapon had been taken from him, he was helpless. He didn't like the feeling.
The noise around him faded away - the people, even his captor - were distant as he tried through sheer force of will to give Buck strength, as the wolf tried to fend off three dogs. And as if he could indeed draw strength from his pack, Buck suddenly turned on the wounded King and, taking the opportunity as it presented itself, he once more attacked the dog's head. Despite the fact that the two brindles were attacking his vulnerable rear and flank he mercilessly attacked he white dog - ripping into it again and again, until this time the dog did not move when it crashed into the wall after the wolf tossed it.
"NO!" King's owner cried out desperately, this was not how it went, it was the beast that died not the dogs, these dogs were the best, the breeding stock for the next generation, this is why they no longer fought each other.
Now Buck turned on Vicky, still ignoring the torments Sultan was inflicting. Desperate not to see his king and queen hurt, Ross shouted at Jack to let in another dog, one named Pirate, a black dog with a white chest blaze.
"Seems you lose your bet," Ezra commented idly.
"Only half of it, I ain't riskin' my two, to that thing!" With that Ross moved toward the edge to see better.
With Ross moving ever closer to the edge Ezra's right arm was almost free. The wolf appeared not even to notice the trail of blood he was now leaving in his wake as he relentlessly pursued Vicky, ignoring the new dog and Sultan. She faltered and the wolf managed to get his massive jaws on to her hind leg. Picking her up he dashed her skull repeatedly against the wall until she was just a lifeless hunk of meat.
Ross forgot about Ezra as he watched his precious queen die, he forgot to hold the con man close and in a flash the derringer was out and jammed up against the man's groin.
"You know what this is Mr Ross?" Ezra asked with menacing slowness. The rancher nodded. "It may be small BUT at this range it will destroy what little manhood you have and even if you don't bleed to death you will never be a MAN again. Do I make myself clear?" Ross, now ghost white, nodded vigorously. "Call your men off, I promise you we do not intend to rob you, we never did, as I told you we just want our friend back."
Ross gave the signal and his men backed off, once free the six gunmen quickly regained the upper hand and disarmed their erstwhile captors - then, as they backed away, now all carrying a gun in each hand, the six men edged closer to the ring side. Once they were all in position and to the amazement of the crowd, all six men jumped over the lip and down into the pit! Once they landed there was a moment of inactivity from both men and beast. Then the new dog Pirate, turned on Chris, who shot him dead with no compunction. He would have done the same to Sultan but Ezra waved him off; this was Buck's kill. The men formed a line with their backs to the straight wall. Each with two guns drawn, they covered the astonished near silent crowed. The wolf advanced on Sultan who didn't appear to be backing down, but then the wolf began to snarl, his blood stained jaws dripping with saliva as he bore down on the dog no matter how much aggressive posturing the dog put up.
"Call him off!" Ross shouted down in desperation.
"Not mine to call!" Chris shouted back. "Not in this at least."
With the vindication and permission of his pack leader still ringing in his ears Buck lunged at the dog, catching its hind leg as it tried to flee. The wolf paid no mind to the dog's display of surrender, it pinned it and, as a horrified Ross looked on, the Wolf proceeded to use its teeth and tongue to undo the buckle on the collar and, once it was free, toss the leather strap away.
"God no! No, that thing it ain't natural, stop it!" Ross begged.
But the men with the guns did nothing and said nothing, as the wolf took hold of the dog in his powerful jaws and dragged the whimpering Sultan back to the men to stand in the centre of the line, flanked by three men either side of him. The wolf never once let go of Sultan as it raised baleful yellow eyes to Ross, as he stood trembling above them looking down. Then in a room that was now silent except for the dogs whimpers. There was a yelp that was cut off half way as the sickening sound of a powerful pair of jaws breaking a neck pierced the silence.
Sultan's body hung limp and lifeless in the jaws of the huge wolf. Then, still maintaining eye contact with Ross, the wolf contemptuously dropped the body. Ross looked on helpless and horrified as he mourned the loss of his favourite dog. Then the wolf threw back his head and howled in defiance and triumph and as a cold chill spread though the spectators each of the men in the arena joined him in the howl.
Finally the eerie noise died down and Chris spoke. "We're Four Corners Pack, touch one of us again and you all die!" No-one in that place doubted it for a second. "Nate, 'Siah, door."
The two biggest men needed no second bidding to shoulder in the door behind them. Everyone in the room was too stunned to react, as the six men and a wolf disappeared through the small door. The wolf was elated, overjoyed to be back with his pack but he had one more thing to do before he could celebrate. Following his nose he found Jack hiding in a storeroom. The door handle proved no match for the skilled mouth and the wolf quickly had the door open.
"Oh sweet Jesus!" the man gasped as the wolf approached. Suddenly the terrified human lost control of his bodily functions. As he looked on in horrified silence the wolf cocked his head on one side at the sight and smell of the man, then as he advanced and the man turned to try to climb the shelves, the wolf took a huge bite out of the man's ass! With that accomplished the wolf guided his pack to the big doors that lead to the outside, he paused as he passed the tiny cage he had been held in.
"That where you've been all this time?" Chris asked, eyeing the filthy state of the tiny cage. The wolf just lowered his head a little.
"The bastards, I should have killed 'um," Chris breathed.
Once they were outside the wolf made his joy at being back with his pack known. He yipped and barked, jumping up and down to lick their faces. JD knelt down to hug the huge shaggy neck and having his face well licked.
"Jeez I missed you!" he gasped out. "Guess you did too?" this just produced more licks.
Ezra dropped to his knees beside JD. "I'm so sorry I couldn't find you sooner," he confessed, but he didn't get to say much more because he too was covered in licks.
"We don't have time for this guys!" Chris cut in. "Buck, Steel's over the ridge, past the scrub and across the creek, thats outside the ranch boundary, we'll cover your back," he ordered.
Buck yipped, bouncing up at him.
"Me too pal, me too, now go, go " Chris pointed to the distant ridge just visible in the light of the half moon.
Ross and his men suddenly came to life after the shock wore off. "Get them!" Ross shouted running for the front of the building.
As Ross and his men came around the building a hail of fire met them that kept them back but hit no one. As he took cover Ross could just make out the fleeing wolf as it raced into the night.
"You did all this to set a wolf free?" Ross bellowed at the six gunmen.
"Yes!" six voices bellowed back.
"You're on my property!"
"Don't wanna be," Chris called out. "Just wanna leave, an' never come here again."
"So why ya shootin'?"
"So you don't shoot the wolf."
"It killed my dogs!"
"He is our friend and since you were planning on killin' him. I don't see what yer problem is? You're just lucky we don't take offence to the way you treated him! And just how much money of ours you got." With that Chris signalled his men to pull back. To discourage further pursuit, Vin took a shot at Ross blowing his hat off. With that the six mounted and rode off into the night.
The chase was half hearted. No one wanted to get shot for a wolf!
Buck found Steel using a mixture of Chris' directions and his nose, he greeted the horse with a little bark, which faithful Steel answered with a whinny. Buck quickly changed back into human form, and dressed, eager to return to the others and help. He was in so much of a hurry and so high on worry and the joy of being reunited with his pack he didn't notice his own injuries or how odd it felt to once more be a biped after so long on four lags. Steel had been happy to have JD take care of him but it wasn't the same as having his master back. Man and horse flew over the ground retracing his tracks back to the ranch. He was just cresting the ridge when the others came racing toward them, Cole leading the pursuing group pulled up his men following suit.
"Why did you stop?" Ross demanded.
"Look!" Cole pointed at Buck on top of the ridge, rifle in hand aimed at them as the other six got further away. "You remember that night we heard the wolf pack?" Ross nodded. "It had to be them, we never did find any wolf tracks, but remember I said we found tracks for seven horses? Well look there's the seventh one!" Cole looked at his boss, he knew how much the dogs meant to him but they weren't worth dying for. "It's not worth it sir, it's not worth risking the men's lives "
Eventually Ross nodded his agreement and turned back.
Buck was now in the lead, with his superior night vision he lead the others in the general direction of Four Corners, in the moonlight it was easy for the others to follow the big grey in front of them. Powered only by a desire to get as far away as possible from the place of his captivity Buck just kept going, even as dawn broke he didn't stop.
"Hey Buck hold up!" Chris called.
But the Two-Blood didn't even seem to hear him. He just kept riding. Chris shook his head and spurred Pony to bring him beside Steel.
"Buck wait up! Now Buck! STOP!" Finally Buck seemed to hear and rained Steel in. Only now he just sat there looking down at the saddle. Chris noticed that he was not sitting in his usual lazy comfortable style, with one hand tucked into his waistband, both his hands were wrapped around the saddle horn, gripping so tight his knuckles were white.
"Buck?" Chris tilted his head down to get a look under Buck's broad brimmed hat. "Nate! Get up here!" he yelled suddenly.
Nathan appeared on the other side of Buck. After one look at the big Two-Blood he shouted over his shoulder. "Vin, we need to camp, shade and water! And we need it now."
"I'm on it!" the Texan responded.
It took just twenty minutes for Vin to find a campsite. Buck didn't so much ride there as sit on Steel who just followed the other horses. When the horse stopped he just sat there.
"Buck we need to you to get down now," Chris said softly.
Buck looked at Chris and nodded, he made an attempt to move, to swing his leg over the saddle but as he moved his vision blurred and the darkness that had been edging it for some time enclosed it completely and he began to slide out of the saddle. Chris was only just able to steady him long enough for Josiah to come to his side and together they lowered him to the ground. Once they had him safe on the ground Nathan took over. In no time Buck was stripped of blood-soaked clothing and laid on a pair of bedrolls. Now they could all see what the wolf's heavy coat had covered. Bites all over, some big, some small, and dozens and dozens of bruises. The worst two wounds, the ones responsible for the blood loss that had caused him to black out, were on his shoulder and hip. Huge open wounds, that were still bleeding, the one on his shoulder was so deep the shoulder blade was clearly visible. Except for some claw marks on his chest all the wounds were on his back or sides.
"I have to get these all cleaned out before I can even think of stitchin' them, I'm gonna need a hell of a lot of water and rags, how many clean shirts we got?" Nathan asked.
"Sometimes Mohammed needs to go to the mountain," Josiah said enigmatically.
"Would it not be easier if we took Buck to the creek, it's deep and running quite fast, looks clean, we could lay him in the stream and let it clean all the wounds in one go. He fevered?" the preacher asked.
Nathan lay a hand on Buck's brow and nodded.
"Might help with that as well, what do you think?"
Nathan thought and than nodded.
"You get him down there, I'll take him from you," Sanchez offered, already striding towards the creek.
While Chris and Nathan got Buck upright again, Vin and JD started collecting firewood while Ezra took care of the horses.
"Vin, I want a ring of small fires around Buck's bedroll, that way I won't need to put a blanket on him." Nathan instructed.
"No Nate, not all around," Vin corrected, "he'll feel trapped, he's gotta have a way out or he'll panic."
JD frowned. "Buck ain't afraid of fire."
"No he ain't, but wolves are, he's been a wolf fer near ten days, don't reckon he's been one fer more than a night before this it's gonna take him some time to adjust I reckon, is all."
"Youre right, do what you think is best Vin," Chris instructed, Nathan nodding his approval as the two taller men moved their unconscious friend toward the creek.
Josiah had stripped off most his clothing and waded into the creek. The melt water from the mountains was so cold he thought his feet would drop off and he hated to think what would happen to the more sensitive part of his anatomy, when he waded deeper! But it was what was needed. He reached out to take Buck's dead weight from the other two. Supporting the taller man under his armpits.
"Come on Buck, let's get you cleaned up." Manoeuvring out into the deeper stream he lowered Buck into the fast flowing water, supporting him under his neck as if he were conducting a total immersion baptism. He watched as the younger man shivered and made a feeble effort to get away from the cold water.
"I'm sorry Buck, just a little longer, we gotta clean them wounds. God knows what's got into them," he whispered into the injured man's ear.
Almost as soon as he was in the water Nathan said it was enough and he was out and lying face down on the bedroll. With the help of Ezra's whisky the fires were already burning and Vin and JD were adding fuel all the time. The effect was to surround Buck with warm air, so Nathan didn't need to cover him and risk the small puncture wounds getting dirty again. This meant he could concentrate on the wounds that needed stitching. When he was done he had used all the thread he carried, and Buck had nearly a hundred stitches in his back and sides. The fever Nathan had detected hadn't got any worse, if anything it had dropped a little, but he was still restless.
"Well Nate?" Chris asked as the exhausted healer finally stood up.
"If I can keep the infection an' fever back he'll be fine with some rest. He's gonna have a few more scars but notin' worse than that I'd say. 'Cause he'll have to take things slow fer a bit, 'specially while he's got the stitches in."
"Buck won't like that," Chris commented.
"Well that ain't nothin' new, fer any of you!" Nathan snorted.
Ezra sat himself down and lay a hand on the tall mans head. He bent down and spoke into Buck's ear.
"This is my fault my friend, if I were not so helpless in the wilderness I might have tracked you more efficiently. If I had been more alert we would not have been captured and that barbaric fight would never have started, forgive me.
"He don't blame you." The voice startled Ezra. "Buck ain't like that, you know that," affirmed JD.
"I know, but sometimes I wish he would, sometimes I wish he would just accept that he deserves to be apologised to, that people do him wrong and he doesn't deserve it. Sometimes it's good to be just a little selfish." Ezra looked down again at Buck. JD reckoned Buck wasn't the only one who needed to be a little selfish some times.
Sometime after dusk Buck passed from unconscious to asleep and the dreams came. As normal he twitched and yipped and growled but mostly he growled, his hands began to claw at the ground.
"Buck?" Chris was sitting beside his oldest friend. "Come on now pal, hush now, you're safe."
The growls got louder and more intense.
"We gotta get close to him," Vin stated.
The others looked on puzzled.
"When wolves sleep, the pack all sleep together, touching. I think we need to get close to him so he can feel us, know he's safe, home."
And they did, placing all the bedrolls around Buck and bedded down with their injured pack mate. They lay around and beside him, all of them in some kind of contact with the troubled Two-Blood. And like this, they settled down for the night. To the surprise of the One-Bloods, it was a very comforting, safe feeling. And it had the desired effect on Buck, who quietened down almost instantly.
It took them two days to get back to Four Corners. Nathan had wanted to send Vin and JD ahead to get a wagon, but Buck would have none of it. Once they were back Buck agreed to stay in the clinic until the last of the fever was gone. This proved to take longer than Nathan had hoped. Two-Bloods while blessed with exceptionally good immune systems, are not invulnerable and despite appearing to be recovering well, the long ride home had weakened him and the fever came back with a vengeance. They took it in turns to lie beside Buck, because it helped to calm him, as he tossed and turned in the grip of fevered dreams. Nathan forced him to drink fever reducing tea - though he was barley aware of it - and applied poultices to the infected bites and claw marks.
Ezra was lying beside Buck, the big Two-Blood was on his side, almost on his stomach. Ezra lay behind him, one arm draped over Buck's broad back, listening to his friend's breathing, which was slightly too fast. He still felt guilty, felt that he had failed to find Buck and failed to stop the fight, everyone, including Buck, had told him it wasn't his fault, but he still felt guilty. Nathan had left Ezra with Buck, while he went to get some much-needed rest, he had barley slept since they had found Buck. Ezra felt a change in his friend. A low groan escaped from Buck that was almost like a growl. Ezra slipped off the bed, momentarily depriving Buck of the physical contact he needed and producing a whimper from the still semi-conscious Two-Blood.
"Buck can you hear me?" Ezra asked as he came around the bed to face Buck.
"Mmmm." Came the mumbled response.
"Come on Buck open your eyes" Ezra placed a hand on Buck's brow. He wasn't an expert but it seemed to him, Buck was no longer radiating the kind of heat he had been.
"Come on now, I know you can hear me, open your eyes," Ezra commanded, he was rewarded with the sight of bleary but welcome dark blue eyes. "Hello".
Buck blinked several times, then a small weak smile spread across his face.
"Are you thirsty my friend?" Ezra enquired.
Buck nodded, licking his parched lips involuntarily.
Ezra rose and crossed the room, to return with a mug of cool water. He helped Buck to sit up a little and then steadied his hand as he drank greedily. Once he had drained the cup, Ezra eased him back down onto the bed.
"I'm sorry Buck, I let this happen I..."
"It ain't that bad Ez, it's over."
Ezra remembered the sight of Buck, as they had stripped off his clothes, that first night they had revealed the injuries, he remembered the sick feeling in his stomach as he watched the dogs attack.
"It's bad enough bad enough," he stated.
"It's over," Buck breathed again.
"Yes, you're right." For all Ezra's words he knew it wasn't over, not yet. Buck was hurting, and not just physically. "Your fever seems to have broken I need to get Nathan to check you over, I'll just be a little while, alright?"
"Yes, sure, I'll be fine, I "
"What's wrong?" Ezra asked worriedly.
"Nothin', nothin' I just I can't explain "
"I won't be long, really," Ezra assured.
"I know, I'm being stupid, go I'll be fine." But Ezra could hear the plea in his voice; he didn't want to be alone. Ezra could understand that. He wondered how Buck had coped all those years, hiding his true nature form everyone, unable to find the physical closeness his kind needed to feel safe. It was no wonder Buck went form one woman's bed to another.
Ezra was almost at the door when he heard Buck's voice. "Please don't leave me "
Ezra turned. "Buck I would never leave you, we the pack, we will never leave you, ever!"
He decided Buck needed not to be alone, more than he needed Nathan, so he returned quickly to his stricken friend's bedside. Kneeling on the hard floor, heedless of the dust, he placed a hand over Buck's, noting it was still clammy with perspiration.
"I do not have Mr Tanner's patience, I don't know you as well as Mr Larabee, and I would never claim to be as wise as Mr Sanchez, but I can listen, and I am - I hope - your friend."
"'Course yer my friend Ezra."
"So as your friend I'm here to listen, if you want to talk about it."
"It's just I killed them dogs! I mean they didn't ask to be there, they were just doing what they do. It wasn't their fault and I killed them. It was the last one it was begging for mercy and I killed it, I... Oh God! I took its collar off and killed it just to get revenge on that man! What kind of animal am I?"
"One who was forced to fight for his life, one who was kept in a tiny, dark, filthy iron cage on short rations and stale water. Cut off from his pack, his family, fearing he would never see them again, fearing he would die or be forced to reveal his true nature and be kept as some kind of circus freak! You did what any man would have done if pushed hard enough. He was going to breed them, the two brindles, he would have bred whole new dynasty of killers from them. You are one of us, not Two-Blood, not One-Blood, us! Four Corners pack. You are not an animal, you are not a wild beast, you are not a freak and you are never alone!"
Ezra watched as Buck took in all he had said. Unlike most of his kind, Buck considered him self to be a man who could turn himself into a wolf, not the other way around. Being forced to be the wolf for so long, had made him look deep into a part of him, that he had mostly kept hidden. His wild side, the animal he kept locked up, to look into the heart of the beast within him. He hadn't liked all he'd found, some of it had scared him. He looked up at Ezra, he had heard the truth in all his friend had said, he wanted to believe it, believe that had he been in human form, he would have acted no differently. He let Ezra's words of reassurance, of belonging, wash over his battered soul, and took comfort from them. Finally he smiled and gave a little nod.
"Thanks Ezra, yer a good friend, I'm proud t' call yer friend, partner pack mate."
"I'm honoured Mr Wilmington." Buck yawned, Ezra watched his friend's eyes flutter and close. Nathan would be back soon enough, right now Buck needed a pack mate close at hand and so he returned to the other side of the bed.
"Sleep my friend, rest, heal. I will be here when you wake."
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