Alternate Universe "Two Blood"
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: This fic is in Joe Lawson's Two Blood AU, and all kudos to her for this wonderful playground. My thanks to Kerry for all the beta work, and Charlotte for all the help. A short drabble I posted on the 7H 7C Obsessions list reappears in this fic, though not word for word.
While the days are blisteringly hot, the desert nights are bitterly cold, so the two young men were more than happy to curl up next to the warm, thick fur of a large wolf. The three of them, Buck, Vin and Ezra had slept that way for the previous two nights and this was to be no exception. They had safely delivered two prisoners to Yuma and were now on their way home. The Yuma road was well travelled, so Vin was guiding them home 'cross country', not following any recognised trail. This way they were sure of some privacy. In the morning they pushed the horses hard, in the afternoon they rested, ate, and as night fell, combined their three bedrolls to sleep together by the campfire.
Today was no exception. Once they had stopped for the afternoon and had something to eat, Buck changed into wolf form and went for a run, while the other two rested and saw to the horses. Vin went in search of firewood. That sixth sense of his that let him know when he was being watched made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He couldn't see the hunter, but he knew he was out there, tracking him, stalking him the way he stalked a deer. Suddenly out of the corner of his eye he detected a flicker of motion, but had no time to react, there was a blur of movement and suddenly he was propelled backwards to land on his ass, a huge wolf looking down at him, tail wagging.
"Damn it Bucklin!" Vin swore. "I suppose you think thats funny?"
Buck yipped happily.
When the man and the wolf strolled back to camp there was just no mistaking the slightly goofy smile on the young tracker's face, not to mention the happy lope of the wolf, his tail still wagging happily. Nor the total lack of wood.
"I believe Mr Tanner, that you were on a mission to collect fuel, not play about with Buck?" Ezra commented. "How do you intend we cook these?" Standish held up the string of six fish he had caught in the creek."
"Now Ez " Vin stared to explain, but any explanation was cut short as the wolf rubbed itself against Ezra's sturdy leg, tilting its head and gazing up at the gambler.
"Now Mr Wil Buck, you know what that does to me, please?" But it was too late; the wolf's big pleading eyes had melted his heart and his reprimands died on his lips.
Buck's ears twitched, and Ezra grunted.
"Come on guys, I need t' ask you guys something."
"So ask," Ezra muttered, he was lying on his back, Buck's shaggy head resting on his chest, his cool, wet nose making a damp patch on Ezra's silk shirt.
Vin was wrapped around Buck, his chest pressed up against the wolf's back. "Need Buck to be able to answer me."
Before either man could move Buck changed back into human form. "What is it?" he asked lazily, without bothering to look around.
"Well, the thing is, if we'd stuck to the trail we'd be home tomorrow noon time. But if we push on tomorrow, don't stop, we'll be back before midnight, otherwise we'll be a whole day late and Chris 'll be pissed."
Ezra groaned. "You deprived me of my bed warmer for that?"
"Hey!" Buck protested, "I thought you liked me for my dazzling conversation, not my bed warming?"
"Never underestimate the power of bed warming."
"Well?" Vin prompted.
Buck finally looked around. They were all missing their friends, their pack. More each day, but they had each other, and Buck's anxiety at the separation was still no more than an 'annoying itch'. They all knew that if he was separated from his pack for any length of time it affected him badly, but a few days in the company of some of the others was easy to bear. That said, avoiding the wrath of Larabee, or at the least lessening it, was always a good thing.
"Sure, why not," Buck agreed lazily.
Ezra sighed dramatically, not seeing why two days easy riding, should be replaced by a full day's hard riding.
It was just past eleven when the three of them rode into Four Corners. The watch fires were crackling in the street, spreading their dancing orange light out into the dark town. The riders pulled up outside the saloon, which was full of light and noise. Ezra dismounted quickly, the faster he had Chaucer taken care of the faster he could get inside, back in his natural habitat. Vin and Buck were still mounted as Chris and a stranger came out to meet them.
"Where the hell have you been?" he demanded.
"Are we late?" Ezra asked innocently.
"You know well damn well you are!" Larabee fumed.
"Ah hell Chris, we ain't but half a day overdue, stop fussin' like an old mother hen," Buck protested, then he spied the stranger. "You got company?"
The man was a little shorter than Larabee, maybe five or six years older, and slightly heavier, much more than that, under his hat and in the deep shadows of the night, it was hard to see.
"Guys I'd like you to meet Francis Haig, he was my C.O. in the war, turned up here yesterday." Larabee's demeanour changed, he clearly liked the man and was eager for his friends to meet the first man he had given his loyalty to, way back in the dark days of war.
"Come on in and have a drink boys."
As the man watched, the other two dismounted, he watched Vin, taking in his hide coat and long hair, he was so interested in Tanner, that he barley registered Buck, only glancing at him as he tied up Steel and turned to mount the step on to the sidewalk.
It was an odd evening, what there was left of it. Haig had left the army but was still working for them, in a way, his company made and supplied army blankets. He had decided to go on a fact-finding trip to visit some of his 'customers'. Vin was even more monosyllabic then usual, clearly hoping lack of conversation would encourage the man to take to his wagon. Buck was his usual gregarious, loud self. He was interested in tales of the young Chris, but though Haig did share some tales he seemed distracted. Finally, sometime after one, long after Josiah and Nathan had headed for their beds and JD had started nodding off in his chair despite his claims he was 'fine', the 'party' finally broke up. As usual when they were together, alcohol was flowing freely and everyone was talking, Buck had done more than his fair share of the talking but had said very little. As Vin left the saloon and Ezra and Buck headed up to their rooms, the former army captain turned to Larabee.
"Wilmington?" he asked.
"Buck? What about Buck?"
"So you've known him a long time?"
"Yeah, he's a good man."
"I know he's loud and well crude, but that man saved my life, he stood by me when most men would have walked away. Buck, well it takes a long time to get to know him, the man has " Chris smiled ruefully, " hidden depths."
The two of them had been walking and talking and had reached the hotel. "I'll say good-night then Christopher, I'm leaving in the morning."
They shook hands. Chris had been surprised how much he wanted this man's approval. When Chris met Haig, he was a scared, wet behind the ears, so green he positively glowed, junior lieutenant. Captain Haig had taken Larabee under his wing and taught him, given him leadership, a role model, helped him control his temper - well control it marginally better than he had before. He looked up to the man, it was Haig, far more then his father, who had taught him what it was to be a man. Much as he had begun to worry about the missing pack members, much as he wanted to greet them when they returned, Chris had enjoyed his time with his old comrade, they had retold tall tales of war time exploits - with JD listening in rapt wonder. They had remembered fallen comrades.
Haig remembered Chris 'hidden depths' comment, and a strange smile spread over his face as he headed to his own room.
Mid morning, Ezra sauntered into the saloon and ordered some breakfast. JD and Josiah were already out on patrol when Chris came looking for Ezra and Buck.
"You know you're on jail duty in half an hour?" he asked curtly.
"And good morning to you too Mr Larabee," Ezra responded, lifting his coffee cup.
Chris just glared. He was in a bad mood, Haig had left early without saying goodbye and this had put Chris out of sorts.
"Where is he?" Chris demanded to know.
"Of whom do you enquire?"
"You know damn well, Buck, you two are on duty together you know."
Ezra smiled serenely. "Mr Wilmington and I parted company at the top of the stairs last night, I have not seen him since."
Chris frowned, he left Ezra and crossed to Inez, who told him Buck hadn't been down for breakfast yet. That was worrying news. Instantly Chris strode up to Buck's room and pounded on the door, suspecting that the inveterate ladies man had found comfort in the arms of a saloon girl.
"Buck! Come on open up - you got duty!" he bellowed, but there was no response. No curses, no scurrying of feet, no desperate scramble to get dressed, nothing. After several more shouts, Chris decided to venture in. He was surprised to find the door open. The bed had been slept in, but Buck's boots lay on the floor, as if he had just dropped them.
A quick check of the town proved only that Steele was still in his stall, but there was no sign of Buck. Vin circled the town on foot, eyes cast down, searching desperately for a sign. The sun was almost at its zenith when he suddenly dropped to his knees.
"What is it?" Chris prompted.
"Here, a man, barefoot, walking beside a horse, that way." Vin pointed south-west.
Now he had the trail it was easy for Vin to follow it. Leaving Nathan in town, the other three set out to find their errant Two Blood. The trail led them out of town towards a bluff. Once at the bluff, about seven miles out of town, the trail should have been harder to follow, instead it was easier, for now it became a blood trail. Footprints, big bloodstained footprints, appeared on the rocks, this was a trail even Ezra could follow. As the footprints became increasingly bloody, and more erratic, the more worried the men became. Buy now they were on foot themselves, Chris and Ezra trailing behind Peso as Vin led him over the sun baked rocks. Suddenly the Texan stood up and beckoned to the others.
"There," he pointed down to a shaded clearing below them.
The angle and the trees made it impossible to tell who was down there but a horse, a bay, was clearly visible. Silently the three men secured their horses and splitting up, skirted the clearing. It was never clear who saw him first, but almost as one the three men emerged from the shadows and bushes and gun's levelled at Francis Haig. "Don't move!" the three men shouted as one.
Haig spun around to face Vin, his head swung wildly, taking in Chris and Ezra, gun drawn, barrel pressed in to Buck's temple. The Two Blood lay at his feet, inert and clearly unconscious, his bare feet, nothing but a bloody mess.
"Put the guns down!" he shouted, clearly panicked. "Put them down or I kill him."
The gun was fully cocked and could go off with only the slightest movement. Vin and Ezra both cast a glance at Chris who eventually holstered his gun. The other two followed his lead.
"He better still be alive," Chris warned darkly.
"You don't understand, I'm saving your life, all of your lives." The gun swung wildly covering all three of them.
"Just step away from him," Chris worked at keeping his voice calm and low.
"You don't understand, I saw, that night he rode in, I saw his eyes."
The three of them frowned.
"Eyes?" Ezra asked.
"In the darkness, they shone, shone like hot coals, like a dog or like a wolf - he's a werewolf, a demon, a creature from hell, I know, I've seen his kind before."
The way Buck's eyes reflected light at night, like a dog or a wolf, was something they were all so used to, none of them even noticed it anymore. Just then Buck moaned and shifted. Everyone was distracted for a second and in that split second Haig's gun moved to point at Buck's head.
"Captain, Francis, I can assure you, I can swear on everything I hold dear, that Buck is not a werewolf," Larabee assured.
"I too can attest that he is not a Loup Garou," Ezra assured.
"Can't say as I know what a werewolf is, Buck is just as human as you or me," Vin agreed.
"Oh no, no he isn't. They are good at it, hiding it, but they - he - is an evil creature of the night. Just like the one who stole my son."
The fully cocked gun he waved was shaking as he spoke. Haig told them how his nineteen-year-old son had fallen in love, the girl was no good, a drifter. She stole his heart and left him, then out of the blue she turned up and told him she was carrying a child.
"Who knows if it was his or not, but he was besotted with the girl, so he ran away to be with her. I wasn't going to let him throw his life away on that little tramp, so I set out to find him, it took me a while, but a year later I found them, my son, that girl and her 'family' - who they really were I have no idea. Camped out like some bunch of gypsies." With his free hand, the distressed man raked his hand through his thinning hair. "If it had been gypsies, that that would have been easier. You have to understand," He looked up imploringly. "Francis junior, he's all I have, his mother died giving birth to his baby sister, just after the war, I lost Hope to Scarlet Fever two years later, nearly lost my boy."
He told them how he had finally tracked his son and the girl down to a clearing, they were with her 'family' seated around a campfire. "I could see him, with her and the baby, she suddenly lay the child down and unwrapped it and it was that is it wasn't a child - I know this all sounds crazy to you, but you have to believe me - it was a wolf cub! Then she, she stood up and undressed, the woman took all her clothes of, in front of everyone, men, women, children - shameless hussy! Then she changed, right before my eyes, I swear to God she changed into a wolf - a God damn wolf! That was bad enough, but the wolf then lay down and suckled the cub and my son, my boy," there was clear disgust in his voice. " he stroked and fondled it, the wolf. He is so bright, he has such a future - did I tell you he was going to go to West Point?"
Chris shook his head. All the time Haig had been speaking, Chris and Ezra had given the appearance of listening intently, while Vin moved slowly and silently, attempting to get far enough behind the man that he couldnt cover all of them.
"He could have been a general, but now what kind of life will he have with those creatures?" Haig seemed to have stopped speaking, this attention back on the still unmoving form below him. "Creatures like you!"
The anger was back, and he used his boot heel to deliver a blow to Buck's kidneys, producing another groan from his victim. Ezra took a step forward, almost unable to contain his own anger and need the to protect his packmate. For once it was Larabee who kept his cool, stopping Ezra with a single glance.
"I must have made a noise, because they all turned and looked at me, their eyes, all of them, all except my boy, glowing like hot coals, like the fires of Hades was within them and they came after me, as one they just took off after me, so fast. I ran as fast as I could, one moment there were men and women chasing me then it was wolves, big wolves! They just kept coming, I could hear them, they seemed to be all around me." The whole experience had clearly terrified the poor man. "I was just damn lucky my horse was so close and he's a thoroughbred"
"Please listen to me," Chris started, he could see Vin, moving silently in the shadows, he had to keep Haig talking a while longer. "What you saw, whatever you think you saw, it has nothing to do with Buck. Maybe his eyes did catch the light when he came in last night, but he isn't a monster. That man has been my friend for more than a dozen years, he was my best man, he was my son's Godfather."
"No!" Haig bellowed. "You think you know him but you don't"
Ezra bristled, his eyes shooting jade green daggers at Chris, imploring him to do or say something. But Chris had his eye on Vin, and was keeping him talking.
"Put away the gun, if you hurt him I'll arrest you - I my even have to kill you. I don't want to do that. How do you think this will all sound in court? Do you really think a judge and jury will believe you or hang you?"
"But he's not human, they can't hang me for killing an animal," the desperate man reasoned.
Vin was now within two strides of the man and if everything had stayed as it was he would have covered those two strides in a second and snatched the gun up, but Buck chose that moment to begin to come around. Worse, instead of moaning or groaning as the pain registered, he growled. Buck had been lying on his side, with Haig's legs straddling him, as he tried to roll over on to his stomach he pressed against the man's legs, making him stumble. The barrel of the gun Haig had been pointed at Wilmington's head, flashed in the sunlight, and crashed into the Two Blood's temple. The small measure of consciousness Buck had managed to regain was snuffed out and he slumped back down in a boneless heap. This all coincided with Vin's lunge for the gun, instead of grabbing the gun, with the intent of flicking it up, Vin now found himself clutching at air, but his momentum propelled him forward to body charge Haig out of the way. Hitting the ground and instinctively rolling away from the body that had just charged into him, Haig now had both hands on the gun, his finger on the trigger. He brought the pistol to bear, Buck clearly in his sights, his finger closed on the trigger and there was the explosion of a gun.
Ezra stood still, his Derringer still smoking in his hand. Chris' pistol was in also in his hand but he hadn't had time to get a shot off.
Vin rolled over and scrambled to the body, pulling the gun from the lifeless fingers and making it safe. Then, and only then, did he look for signs of life - there were none. The Derringer was small but at less then six paces it was lethal, and Ezra was a very good shot, a neat hole drilled through the man's head attested to that.
"Well?" Chris demanded of Nathan as he watched the healer work on the Two Blood.
"He'll be fine in time. Got a nasty lump on his head here." Jackson pointed to his own head, just above his left ear. "An' another one above his eye. His feet are all cut and bruised, so he's gonna have to stay here for a few days so they can heal. That man really did some damage to his back, mostly round his kidneys, did he kick Buck?"
"Well he's been pissing blood and he will for a few days yet, but other than that just cuts and bruises. He's gonna be real sore, and I'll need to keep him here and relatively still for a few days, but God willing, there's nothing that won't heal, given some rest."
"Thank the Lord," Ezra breathed.
Vin muttered some Comanche prayer of thanks.
Chris said nothing, but inside he was shouting his joy and relief. Whatever Haig had been to him, whatever the man had lost, it was nothing compered to Buck's life.
There really wasn't room in there for all of them but Nathan hadn't even tried to get them to leave. They needed to be there, all of them, no doubt when the other two got back from patrol, they too would crowd the clinic, seeking reassurance that their pack mate was okay and needing to be with him. Buck began to stir after only half an hour. He shifted in the bed and then groaned, when the movement ignited the various injuries.
"Buck?" Nathan leaned over his patient. "Can you hear me?" Buck muttered something but didn't open his eyes. "Come on, open your eyes for me," Nathan encouraged. But his eyes remained closed and he settled down again. Reassured that Buck was on the road to recovery, Vin left to do jail duty and Josiah had finally left to find his own bed, since there was no room for him to sleep in the tiny crowded clinic.
When Buck did returned to the land of the living, it was dark and the room was quiet. His first sensation was pain, his head pounded, his first attempts at moving ignited a world of pain in his back and as he slowly forced himself to wake up the pain in his feet also made itself known. Discomfort was tempered when he first smelt, then heard, and finally saw the comforting presence of Ezra lying in the bed beside him, sleeping, one silk clad arm resting gently over Wilmington's chest. On the other side in a chair sat Chris, reading a book, the hand not holding the book resting over Buck's forearm. Nathan was dozing in the comfortable upholstered chair he had acquired after too many nights sitting up in the old hard chair Chris now occupied. Across the room JD was sleeping in the cot; having returned from patrol to be told the news, he had refused to leave.
"Buck?" Chris put down his book and turned to face the man in the bed. Glazed, unfocused, deep blue eyes blinked at him. "You with me here?"
Buck licked dry lips. "Yeah, I guess," he croaked.
"Here." Larabee poured out a mug of water and gently lifted his friend's head so he could drink. That done he eased the battered man back down on to the bed. "You remember what happened?" Chris asked softly.
Buck nodded. "He hates Two Bloods."
"You changed his mind?"
Buck sighed. "Damn, it wasn't his fault."
"He was trying to kill you," Chris growled angrily, keeping his voice low, not wanting to wake the others. "That man dragged you across the desert, with no boots!" Buck glanced down at his bandaged feet. "Clubbed you down, and was getting ready to shoot you in cold blood."
Buck had heard Chris speak of the former Captain before, there had been more than a little hero worship in his descriptions, he hadn't wanted to be the reason Larabee lost that, then there were Haig's motives. "He lost his son, Chris, his only child."
Forest green eyes met midnight blue and held them. Losing a child didn't necessarily mean the child died. Haig had dreams and hopes for his child, dreams and hopes that been snatched away. In all likelihood, if his son were now the member of a Two Blood pack, he would never see him again. Larabee remembered the raw pain of losing a child all too well. What would he have done to avenge himself in those first dark months? Loss and vengeance had driven Hank Connolly mad and innocent men had lost their lives, Buck himself had come close to being one of his victims. Grief was so powerful, there was no way of knowing what a man would do once he fell into its icy grip.
Chris had never had Buck's ability to forgive or his easygoing acceptance of other people's shortcomings. He supposed that the prejudices he had lived with growing up had given him a thicker hide than most. Buck always said of people who were trying to get a rise out of him, "They're trying to make you angry or unhappy because they are, why let them win by doing what they want?" Of course if you were to insult a woman, especially his mother or other women like her, a child or a friend that was a different matter; while personal insults were water off a duck's back to him - mostly - he would fight like a tiger to avenge others.
"So when do I get out of here?" Buck asked.
"Soon Mother," Ezra muttered in his sleep.
Buck winced, as he tried not to laugh. "Oh shit that hurts, don't make me laugh."
"I didn't, that was Ezra's fault," Chris corrected.
Nathan scowled as him. "Two, maybe three days."
"Ah come on Nate."
"Don't you 'ah Nate' me Buck Wilmington, you just lie there and do as I tell you."
Chris turned back to his packmate. "Best do as he says, for now."
Buck really was very sore, so he didn't protest, relaxing back onto the bed. "I'm sorry Chris, I know you looked up to him."
"I did, and I wish he had never come here, but it isn't your fault he's dead, and it ain't Ezra's, it was his fault, whatever he believes one Two Blood did to his son, it wasn't you. You are far more important than any deranged ex-solider, no matter who he is."
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