Moon and Rain
by Sammy Girl
Part 1 - 3 | Part 4 - 7 | Part 8 - 10 | Part 11 - 13
Sheriff Joe Taylor pulled himself out of his patrol car in front of the weekend retreat of Judge Riker, with a sinking feeling. The silent alarm had been triggered at 4:10 a.m., it had taken forty minutes for the patrol car to reach the isolated property; they were too late. By the time he arrived, it was clear the house had been stripped, it was as if a plague of locusts had been through the place. Long phone calls to the judge in Helena established that, as well as the usual things missing - DVD player, CD player, computer - all the food in the house was gone, a whole larder of tinned and dried food, not to mention meat from the freezer and a cellar full of wine, beer and spirits. Tracks outside indicated that as well as a truck - possibly Ted Russell's, that had been stolen the night before - there had been a large number of motor bikes at the house. That was unusual, and he would make sure to mention it in his report.
Even with the cast off, Buck was still confined to deskwork for at least another two weeks. He sat at his computer checking his messages. He had a special program on his computer, one not even JD knew about. It had taken several tries to get it working, following the online tutorial, but now it worked perfectly. The program would check through all the online reports sent to the ATF, as well as those from other agencies, various police forces, the Forestry Service, Wildlife and Fisheries, Park Rangers, even some conservation organisations and hunting groups, not to mention new reports, and look for certain key words. Now something caught his eye in the reports the program had flagged up. His brow furrowed as he searched through the reports with growing concern. Then he left his desk briefly only to return with a map of north west of the country. Finally he picked up the phone and made some calls.
His growing concern was first picked up by JD.
"You okay?" he asked. "Is your arm hurting?"
Buck looked up at the man now standing beside his desk. "No it's nothing like that. I I need to go out, I have to think, can you cover for me, with Chris?"
"Sure. Call me?"
Buck picked up his jacket and, returning JD's smile, headed out of the office.
Zac Miller sat astride his Harley and surveyed the vast vista before him. Behind him, sixteen other bikes roared up the winding mountain road and pulled into the same rest stop. A Norton with a sidecar, pulled up beside him. Kelly Downes pulled off her helmet and shook out her long black hair.
"Down there?" she asked, pointing down at the distant settlement, nestling in the valley bottom below them.
"Is that it?"
Zac looked past her and into the sidecar, where two small children slept, oblivious to the scenery around them. Kelly followed his gaze as he smiled at his offspring.
"Nah, just for a few days, get ourselves together, before we head for the forest."
"You sure about this babe?" Kelly pressed.
Zac lent over and gave her a gentle kiss. "Trust me hun, have I ever steered us wrong?"
She had to admit he hadn't, not once in all their years together.
Buck drove out to the ranch and saddled up his horse. Once high in the mountains, he dismounted and sat atop a rock, from where he could see the whole valley. Below him, he could see Chris' ranch, the small road that went past it, in the distance to his left the reservoir and directly in front of him the city - his city. After a childhood of permanent movement, living out of suitcases, in trailers and motels he had settled in Denver at the age of nineteen, and there he had been ever since. Denver was his home, his territory and he desperately didn't want to leave it. But if he wanted to keep it, he was going to have to take a huge risk. He was going to have to risk losing everything important in his life.
He sat there, staring out over the city, oblivious to the passing of time, remembering all that had happened to him in Denver, pack found, pack lost, home, permanence, comfort. He remembered the time before as well, always careful, always moving. He remembered how many times they had reached a new place, and he had secretly pleaded that this would be the last place, this would be home. In the end it was Steele, becoming restless as his feed time approached and was passed, that snapped him out of his reverie. By the time he got back to the ranch the Ram was outside the house, though Larabee didn't appear immediately. He was feeding and bedding Steele down, by the time Chris came into the barn. He leaned on the door to Steele's box, watching Buck methodically brushing his horse down. Three strokes of the brush, one on the curry comb, never varying his routine. Steele was enjoying the attention, as Buck moved to his right, the big grey bent his head around to do some grooming of his own, nibbling and lipping at Wilmington's old flannel shirt.
"I hope this was worth it?" Chris finally asked, as Buck finished. There was no accusation in his voice; if anything, the only discernible emotion was concern.
Once he had placed the feed in the loose box and given Steele one last pat, Buck stepped out of the stable, looked Chris in the eye and nodded. "Thanks for not getting all heavy about it, I'll need to talk to everyone else."
There was something ominous about that statement.
"I'm not going to like this, am I?" Chris asked
Buck took a deep breath. "Probably not. Tomorrow, I'll talk to you guys tomorrow, we're all gonna be here anyway." They had arranged a trail ride and barbecue weeks ago, it was meant to be a celebration of Buck's return to full fitness.
Chris had a nasty, queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, but this whole situation was so alien, he tended to feel like that whenever he thought about it. He didn't know what to expect, maybe it wouldn't be that bad maybe? But as he watched Buck walk away to his truck, there was no jovial banter, no jokes, no ready smile. Buck normally moved with such an easy fluidity, that as he walked away now, the tension was all to plain. Riding out for hours had always been his friend's way to think through personal problems, make decisions, or just find his equilibrium. Though now he wondered, had those long solo rides just been a way for Buck to get away so he could change? And if they were? Could he blame him? He and Vin had spent a lot of time since that fateful day, talking over the whole situation. Trying and failing to imagine what life for a lone Two Blood was like. There were days when Larabee thought or hoped or even prayed that he would wake up and find it was all a dream. He was living in his own personal episode of the Twilight Zone, and try as he might, he couldnt change the channel or find the off switch.
Kelly sat astride her bike in one of the seedier areas of Billings and watched as Zac made his way back to her, he was smiling.
"How did we do?" she asked.
Zac bent down to capture her lips before he answered. "We did good." He pulled a huge wedge of money from inside his jacket pocket, to show her.
"How much do we have now?" she asked, running a finger over the wedge of money.
"With this year's money and all the rest we have stashed, enough to get us some land, build a cabin and support all of us through the first winter."
Buck and JD arrived at the ranch the next day together. Chris already had the beer chilled and waiting. As soon as everyone had a beer they settled down under the shade of the big tree in Chris' yard, on benches, chairs, fallen logs or the porch steps. Buck took a long pull on his beer, and then turned to the others. He started to tell them about Two Blood society.
"My kind," Buck began, " we live in packs, well most of us do. In the old days it was easier, packs were nomadic there was lost of space, not too many people, but things changed. There was less space, more people, more control, paperwork. Two Blood cubs didn't go to school, lots of Two Blood were illiterate, things got very difficult around the time of the First World War." Ezra could well imagine how much more difficult it must have been to stay anonymous in the rapidly changing world of the twentieth century. "There aren't that many of us, you know, every cub is precious, and they were dying, while One Blood babies lived."
Ezra frowned. "Was there some pestilence?" he enquired.
"No, no, on the whole Two Blood cubs are very resilient with excellent immune systems, no, we had no doctors. I mean you can't have a doctor attending a birth, when the baby might not be a 'baby' if you get me, or come to a sick child, who might turn into a wolf while he's examining it."
"Yes, that would course something of a stir in the medical community," Nathan commented.
"Yeah, so some of the packs in the east got smart, started sending their brightest kids to school then college."
"To medical school?"
"Right, they got a real culture shock."
"Fitting in with One Bloods?" Josiah speculated.
"Well, yeah, I guess, no the real problem was that in Two Blood packs women are equal, always have been, sure the alpha is usually a male, but thats because he has to fight to become alpha and stay on top. But it never occurred to them that people would think it odd for a woman to go to medical school. And of course the whole touch thing, they weren't used to a world where people didn't touch or embrace much. Well, anyway, as soon as it became known that one pack had a doctor other packs started to ask for the chance to see him or her."
"Arent packs territorial?" Chris asked.
"Very, and there are some packs that keep their independence. But it was for the good of all Two Blood that cubs and mothers live, so alliances were made. Over the years these became more permanent arrangements, several packs would band together to form Clans. The Clan Packs realised they needed a safe place to raise their young, keep them out of sight, so they started to buy land, some place secluded, and heavily wooded, it's called the 'Home Ground'. They started to educate all the cubs, in their own school, until they were about ten or eleven, teaching them how to live with One Blood, so they could go to school, get jobs, live in the twentieth century."
Vin frowned. "Are you saying Two Blood arent nomadic anymore?"
"Well kinda, but within their own territory for the most part, but the young have to go to college, and things like that. Clan Packs are the majority these days. There is one dominant pack, and between six to twelve sub packs, the alpha of the dominant pack is the alpha of the whole clan, he - it's usually a he - is very powerful, he makes the rules, judge, jury "
"Executioner?" JD asked almost afraid to know the answer.
Buck nodded. "If necessary, Two Blood don't live by One Blood law, a Two Blood in jail, unable to make the change, cut off from his or her pack, is a dead Two Blood. You have to remember Two Blood don't live in a democracy, a pack is a dictatorship, if you don't like it you can't vote out the leader, you have to challenge him and fight, usually to the death. The members of a sub pack have to ask permission to cross into another pack's territory, but the clan pack, the pack of the clan alpha, can go anywhere within the clan lands."
"So how many clans or packs are there?"
"Who knows? There are Two Blood all over the world, wherever wolves are indigenous, including most parts of the US, a clan territory can cover hundreds of square miles, all full of One Bloods who have no idea they are in a clan territory."
"I'm guessing Denver isn't in a clan territory?" Chris ventured.
Buck shook his head.
"So there are these clans all over the place?" Vin asked.
"Yup," Buck confirmed. "Hey!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Chris, you remember that survivalist group we had to check, out over in Nebraska, last year, you were gonna send Josiah, but I made you send me?"
Larabee nodded, he vaguely remembered. "Well, they're a pack, right on the edge of a clan territory."
"Shit! They're everywhere," Chris commented good-naturedly.
"Well, not quite. The thing is," he hesitated. " there is one other kind of pack, apart from clan packs and traditional packs there are rogue packs."
"Rogue?" Nathan asked, not liking the sound of it.
"Yeah. See Two Blood society, it's quite ridged, in it's own way, and some of the young rebel. Most just want to see the world, see what's beyond the clan territory."
"Can't they see that when they go to college?" Josiah asked.
"Well, not everyone gets to go to college, sending the young away goes against everything pack hold dear, if possible they will attend a local school, even if it means passing up a better school. So basically they only send the brightest and best to college."
"And some of the other youngsters want to spread their wings?" It wasn't really a question, Josiah understood the problem, other 'closed' groups like the Amish had the same difficulties.
Buck shrugged. "The modern world is mighty tempting. And there is the dominance thing. Young male Two Blood, pumped up on hormones and testosterone, sometimes try to assert dominance over older and stronger members of the pack. If they stay in the pack they are likely to end up dead, so it's better if they get out for a few years, work off some energy, gain some self-control. A few go it alone, but not many, Two Blood don't really know how to function alone."
"You do," Chris pointed out.
Buck looked up and gave a sad smile. "I wasn't raised in a pack, I'm used to being alone."
"You arent alone anymore," Ezra assured from behind him.
"Yeah, you got us now," JD chimed in.
Buck knew that, they had been his pack for more then two years, even if they didn't know it. "I know, guys, believe me I know, and it means more to me than I can tell you."
"Buck?" Chris voice was strangely soft and hesitant.
"Why weren't you raised in a pack?"
Buck seemed to freeze; he had been on his feet the whole time as he explained Two Blood society to his friends, some of the time he had paced; now he was totally still.
"It's complicated," he finally admitted. Before anyone could ask him more he pressed on with his explanation of rogue packs. "See these young ones, the ones that don't go it alone, they form their own packs."
"Rogue packs," Vin supplied, seeing how much Buck didn't want to be pressed on his past.
"They're nomadic, travel mostly on bikes. To the outside world they look like any other biker gang. But they still act like a pack, there's still an alpha, the trouble is, it's very volatile, lots of challenges. People join a pack for a few years, find a mate and go back to their pack, or their mate's pack. Things are always changing."
"How do they live, pay for gas and stuff?" asked JD.
"Same way other bike gangs do."
"Casual work, thieving, extortion?" Chris offered.
"Among other things, yes," Buck admitted.
"Interesting as this is, why are you telling us all this now?" Chris asked.
Buck turned to face him; dark blue eyes held forest green for a long time. "Because there is a rogue pack heading this way and there is a good chance this pack is looking to settle down."
The pack needed to rest up and lick their wounds, figuratively and literally. They pulled off the road and headed up into the forest, below Blad Mountain. Taking the bikes as far as they could then they quickly and effectively, hid them before they made the change, the babies changed instinctively into cubs, as they subconsciously sensed the charged atmosphere the changing of the rest of the pack created all around them. Now free and unencumbered the pack roamed deep into the forest seeking game and a safe place to rest, mourn, and play with the cubs. It had been a rare defeat, the deaths a hard lesson well learned.
Zac lead his pack with confidence despite the disaster, his strategy had been sound, his luck was bad, no one could control their luck. The pack wanted to settle down and had their eye on an abandoned territory in the Custer national forest. The plan was to settle next to an existing clan and hopefully be accepted into the clan. The local Clan however, took exception to a new pack so close to its territory. The Big Horn Clan was one of the biggest and most powerful, and despite a brave stand, the small rogue pack had no chance.
Zac stood on a fallen tree, looking down on his pack as they played with the cubs in the natural clearing he had found for them. Playing with the young always helped to heal the pack, and would serve to keep them focused on their goal. Travelling with young was difficult, his eldest was now nearly a year old. Keeping them hidden from prying One Blood eyes was increasingly becoming a problem, in a few years the cubs would need to start school, he wanted a territory and a home ground safely established long before that. Some of the pack, the youngest mostly, hadn't agreed to the change from rogue pack to settled pack, and had left. The pack that were left were loyal to Zac, he was a big wolf, at least 200 pounds, and he'd been the alpha for more than three years, this - compared to the average tenure of a rogue pack alpha of nine to twelve months - was testament to his strength, intelligence and ruthlessness. The alpha of the Big Horn clan had known this, there was no way such a powerful alpha would be content to submit to another, sooner or later he would challenge for dominance, this was the main reason they had been attacked and run out of the area by the other packs in the clan.
Chris took a moment to digest this statement, before he spoke. "Why do you think that?"
"I think we need to go inside so I can show you," Buck responded, already heading for the house.
The others, more than a little curious, followed him. Once inside he had Chris boot up his computer, into which he inserted a disk. The others gathered around.
"Ok this is a map of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, you see these red dots here?" he pointed to a cluster of dots near Butte. "These are all ski lodges that have been ransacked, they were all hit on the same night, all the food was taken as well as valuables: motorbike tracks were found outside the houses. Here," he pointed to a red dot near Helena. " was a weekend house belonging to a judge, also ransacked."
"So?" was Chris' response.
"See these dots? Fights between biker gangs."
Buck circled a large area on the Montana/Wyoming boarder encompassing the Crow reservation and Little Big Horn forest. "This is all clan territory," he explained.
The others leaned closer to see what he was pointing at. "All of it?" Josiah asked.
Buck shrugged. "Far as I know. See the line?"
The line of red dots led south.
"How do you know this is a pack and not just a regular biker gang?" Chris asked.
"These." Buck pulled up the police reports; he had highlighted sections of two reports. "The police reports mention that witnesses saw babies with one of the gangs. "I know some biker gangs do travel with small children. But how many?"
"Not many," Vin confirmed.
"But in this report, three witnesses who saw the gang pass through the town, reported a woman carrying a baby while a puppy followed behind her. But, one of the witnesses was a forest ranger, who says it wasn't a puppy, it was a wolf cub, a very young wolf cub that couldn't possibly have been weaned." He looked around to check that the others understood the significance of the report before he continued. "Rogue pack dont have cubs and Two Blood don't produce cubs by accident, so this pack is looking to settle. Normally if you're in a rogue pack and you want to settle, you go home, back to your pack, where you will be welcomed with open arms. My guess is that the alpha of this pack has no intention of going back and submit to another alpha, he's tried to settle next to a clan but they won't have it, chased them off. No, he's looking to settle his pack some where in a vacant territory."
"Like Denver," Nathan confirmed.
"Yeah, like Denver. Here," Buck pointed to a red dot on the northern boarder of Colorado. " a lone hiker reported hearing wolves. There are no wild wolves in that area."
"None of this proves they are going to settle here, they could go anywhere - couldn't they?" JD asked.
"A pack needs cover to raise the young, forest, they need running water and privacy, the Home Ground - the land they actually own - will be somewhere very remote, surrounded by public land, no power, no drainage, not much more than a single track access. But not so remote they can't get to a town or even a city. There are parcels of land, just like that, up for sale in this area - right now."
Buck stood up, leaving the map on the screen, the ominous line of red dots leading toward Denver. He paced the length of the large living room and then turned back to face them, running a hand over his face and back through his thick hair.
"The thing is, if they settle here, I can't stay - because there is no way I'm submitting to another Two Blood."
Suddenly a cacophony of voices erupted in protest.
"Guys, guys!" Chris finally cut through the conflicting voices. "No one wants Buck to leave. Besides how the hell are they going to know you're even here? I mean, you're just one man - right?"
Buck shifted uncomfortably. "Scent," he finally admitted.
"Scent? Oh come on Buck, a whole army of blood hounds couldn't pick out one person in a whole city," Vin protested.
"Um, well, see they're likely to go past this area." He waved his arm around to indicate the general area around the house. "Arent they?"
"Well, I guess," Tanner admitted.
"Well, I sort of think of this place as mine, so I marked it," he finally admitted.
"Marked it?" Chris wasn't sure he wanted to know what was coming next.
"Um, well scent marked."
"Wilmington, have you been pissing all over my land?"
"Well, yeah, and beyond, up into the forest and well, and "
"Um, well, around the fed building, and the condo." He could see they were both incredulous and amused. "Look I was just marking out my territory, did you even notice, any of you?" he defended his actions.
"You pissed on the condo?" JD asked.
"Well, around the building - late at night, very late at night," Buck admitted sheepishly.
"Anywhere else?" Chris asked. "Come on," he pushed, seeing more hesitation.
"Okay, I have a word of advice."
"Do not tell Inez youve been pissing on her bar."
"Around her bar," Buck corrected.
"Is that it?" Chris prompted.
The Two Blood shifted uncomfortably, looking at the floor.
"Buck?" Chris growled.
"Coors Field," he finally admitted.
"You claimed Coors Field as your territory?" Josiah clarified.
Buck nodded, looking up at them with an impish grin.
"Mighty ambitious, ain't it, Bucklin?" Vin asked, barely hiding his amusement.
"I see it as the ultimate act of support for the Rockies," Buck explained proudly.
"I'm surprised you didn't claim the Broncos while you were at it." Josiah grinned at him.
Buck returned the grin. "It was next on my list."
"Whatever, the point is this pack is gonna know you're around," Chris cut in, wanting to get back to the matter at hand.
"Yeah, I can't live in their territory and not be part of the pack."
"I'm getting the feeling there is a way out of this," Josiah ventured.
Buck nodded hesitantly. "If this wasn't vacant territory, if there was a pack here already, then no pack could even pass through the territory, without asking permission, if they try to stay, their alpha would have to challenge for dominate. There are One Bloods in packs, it's happened before."
Chris was now on his feet and approaching his oldest friend. "Tell me you're not saying, what I think you're saying."
"We could be a pack, a real pack. You guys gotta understand, if this pack comes here, and I'd bet the farm they will, and I don't leave, they will find me, and I either fight or submit. If I submit, I'm part of that pack from then on. What we have now, hanging out together, it's all gone."
"And if you fight?" JD asked.
Buck took a deep breath. "Dominance fights are usually to the death, I don't wanna die and I don't wanna kill anyone. I would have to challenge him, so he gets to choose how we fight, that means as humans with knives or as wolves. Two Blood don't use guns on each other - ever - only knives, they equate to claws and teeth. I have never fought as a wolf, and that is probably what he would choose."
"Well I say do it, let's be a pack," JD announced enthusiastically.
"JD," Ezra warned.
"There's a bit more to it than just say 'hey, we're a pack'," Buck explained.
They moved to the living room, where Chris, at Ezra's suggestion, broke out the whisky.
Buck explained a bit about being pack, about the honesty, the openness, the closeness of pack, before he moved to the issue of submission.
"If we become pack, Chris becomes the alpha," he stated, looking at Chris. "Youre the boss, pal, we all know that, ain't no one else could be the alpha." Chris nodded his agreement, he had questions but they could wait, hopefully Buck would answer some of them.
"What does this submission actually entail?" Chris asked.
Buck explained what would happen.
"You have to understand, becoming a pack is an all or nothing deal. I know this a lot to deal with and a big decision, so I - that is we - have a proposal."
He pulled twelve marbles from his pocket, six red and six blue, then he went to the mantle and picked up a small wooden box and placed it on the coffee table having removed the spare window keys that it normally held and left them on the mantle.
"Let's say midnight, you put the marble in the box, blue means yes, red means no. This is not gonna be a by majority vote, universal or nothing. No one knows how the others voted. Fair? I'm gonna stay here, you got any questions, you ask, whatever it is - okay?"
The others nodded, picking up two marbles each. Buck withdrew to the porch to give them some privacy. The first person to leave the house was Ezra, he smiled at Buck and sat himself down on the swing seat. Ezra had been alone too long to give it up know, he would never be able to say why, but it felt right, so for the first time in his life he went with his first instinct and didn't analyse what he was doing. Vin strode out and across the yard toward the barn, never looking in their direction once, followed - predictably - a few moments later by Chris.
Zac folded his cell phone and stowed it back in his pocket. He'd found three parcels of land in Gilpin county, the last three in a long winding line leading deep into public and state forest. They had no power, no drainage and only a rough dirt track for access - perfect. The pack's communal savings would just about cover the purchase - this kind of land with no services, no agricultural value and, so deep in the forest not even a good view were relatively cheap, and these had been discounted after not selling after many months on the market. It was more than they would have spent in Montana, but they would just have to work hard and fast to make the money to set up a home. There were ways to make fast money - not ransacking lonely houses - not so close to the Home Ground, but there were bears on the forest, and he had contacts who would pay good money for bear liver, bile, claws and fur. There were butchers only too keen to buy cheap beef, fresh from the high mountain pastures, where they grazed all alone, and, much as he disliked the idea personally, there were legitimate jobs to be had as well. In fact, the more he thought about it, Denver was a better option than Billings.
JD sat in unnatural silence staring at Josiah, desperate for someone - anyone - to tell him what to do. Sanchez rolled the two spheres in his hand, slipped one in his pocket and, lifting the box lit a fraction, place the marble in his hand inside.
"You already decided?" JD asked in a low whisper.
"I did, John Dunne."
Sanchez had been a Marine, he'd been around, seen stuff, done stuff, he had assessed the situation, considered the options and made a decision.
"What was it?"
"I can't tell you that, you must make up your own mind."
JD looked over at Nathan. "What about you Nate, what are you gonna do?"
Jackson took a deep breath. "I can't rightly say, I have to think on it." With that he stood up and crossed the room.
"I'm gonna take a walk."
JD watched Jackson leave before he turned back to Josiah. "I'm scared," he finally admitted.
"But you already made your mind up, you said yes."
"You don't know what I said."
JD gave him a wane smile. "Yeah, I do, I know you, you'd never break up the team."
"What scares you?"
"All of it, everything Buck said about openness, touching, the whole fighting for dominance - I don't wanna let Buck down, and I don't want to lose him.
Josiah regarded the young man before him, hazel eyes looking so wide eyed and innocent and so scared.
"JD, we will lose him anyway, if you don't go along."
JD through his head back and pulled in a long breath. "I know, God help me, I know." He pulled his head forward to look at the older man again. "Buck's my brother - you know?"
"I mean we may not be related by blood, we may have only met a few years ago, but that doesnt mean anything. He gave me a home - not a place to stay, a home. He makes me feel safe - when I first came here I was so so lost, alone, just going to work used to tie my guts in knots and then Buck decided to be my friend and it all changed. He made me feel safe, he made it okay to fuck up, I didn't need to be perfect. I can't see my life without him around, but "
"But you're scared."
"This a way to show Buck how you feel about him, to show how much you care." Josiah was well aware he wasn't being impartial, but he was sure what JD wanted to do, he just needed someone to tell him he was doing the right thing. None of us can know the future or how we will react in any given new situation. We can only look so far ahead and hope that we will do the right thing, in any given situation. Life is a calculated risk, you have to weigh up the odds and take your best shot - there is nothing more anyone can do, that is all Buck is asking you to do."
Chris found Vin, not, as he had expected, talking to Peso, instead he was up in the hay loft, looking out over distant mountains from the hayloft doors.
"Hello, can I come up?" Chris asked from the top of the ladder.
"It's a big ask."
"You and Buck?" Vin started. "What you does he mean to you?"
Chris regarded his friend, unsure what Vin was asking, nevertheless he decided to give him as honest an answer as he could manage.
"Buck has been my friend of nearly a third of my life, every important event in my life in those years has involved him - except one. The first time I was shot in the line of duty he was there at my bedside - course I'd been shot in the butt by some over eager rookie!" Vin smiled in spite of himself, he had seen the scar. "He was there when I secured my first solo conviction, he introduced me to Sarah, he was my best man, he was there the night Adam was born, he was his Godfather. It was Buck taught Adam to ride and hit a baseball, not me. He was with me when I found out about the bomb, he was with me in the hospital the whole time until Adam died. He arranged the funeral, he dealt with the paper work and the DPD. When I was trying to follow my family via a whisky bottle he kept me alive, he covered for me at work, he kept this place running - and all that time he was grieving himself. I was well, lets just say I treated him badly, pushed him away, vented my anger on him, blamed him, but he never left, he stuck by me when others would have turned tail and run. When I did finally get myself together and joined the ATF, he was the first one I recruited."
All this Vin knew already, but having it all listed like that some how brought it home to him, just how important Buck was to his friend. If he had doubts he put them aside. Chris was his friend, his best friend, but Chris came with a lot of baggage and Buck was part of all of it, without Buck there was no Chris.
Nathan didn't really known what to think. But one thing kept coming back to him. His parents' believed passionately in civil rights. They had fought for them, been beaten up for them, threatened with hanging and burning, and been imprisoned for them. Buck had civil rights, he shouldn't be forced to leave his home because of his 'race'.
In the gathering gloom, he rounded the house to find Buck and Ezra had got the barbecue stoked up and were preparing to start cooking. This involved Buck actually doing all the work, while Ezra offering advice and tossing the salad. Clearly Ezra had voted already.
"Are we eating now?" he asked.
"Josiah and JD are ready to eat, but you don't have to yet," Buck explained softly all the time looking deep into those chocolate brown eyes, and trying to gauge how the serious medic was going to vote.
"I could eat, in fact I'm in the mood for a nice big, fatty burger with all the trimmings," Nathan announced. With that he smiled and turned to enter the house.
Buck turned to Ezra to see if he too, believed Nathan had decided on a 'yes' vote. He received a smile of conformation.
Nathan was barely inside, when Chris and Vin strolled over from the barn.
The Blood Moon pack roared own down the highway, approaching Denver on the back roads to the west of the city. They had licked their wounds, rested and regrouped, now they were ready to take on new territory, and a whole new life as an independent settled pack. Zac saw a diner up ahead and since it was now almost dark he signalled to the riders behind him to pull in, so they could eat. As they dismounted and pulled off their helmets, those of them who were at the back of the parking lot, the ones closest to the surrounding forest, caught a scent, something both familiar and alien, something totally unexpected. Zac cursed loudly. This was one complication he had not anticipated.
"I thought you said this was vacant territory," Franco Henry accused. He was the next most powerful dominant in the pack, the only who could ever realistically threaten Zac for dominance. Franco was happy, in the most part, to go with the flow, really wasn't that interested in being an alpha, but he knew the others tended to look to him for a lead if they were unhappy with Zac's decisions.
"It is, I'm sure of it. How many to you smell?" Zac asked, distinctly irritated, and thus short tempered.
"One," someone confirmed.
"A loner, that's what he is, a loner," the young alpha confidently announced. "We find him, he joins us - if we like him. Otherwise, he leaves or I kill him. Simple." His pack just stared at him. "Right?" he prompted.
"Right," Henry finally admitted.
"I hired a cabin, we'll stay there until the land deal has gone through. In the meantime we find this loner and deal with him." With that, the undisputed alpha of the pack spun around and strode into the diner. There would be no more discussion.
Buck didn't need to wait until midnight. Josiah came out and called them in.
"We have all voted, brothers," Sanchez informed them in a soft, quiet voice, filled with understanding and compassion. Then he stooped to open the box and, without looking at the contents, scooped up the five marbles, and returned to Buck.
"Well?" Wilmington asked.
Slowly he held out his closed fist. Then, ensuring everyone could see his hand, he uncurled his fingers to reveal five blue marbles. Buck's hand came up to his mouth, covering it, just for a second. Eyes brimming with joy and gratitude scanned the room. The others smiled back, nodding their conformation. Whatever it took; they would do it, for him, for the team, for their pack.
In the end it was Nathan who spoke. "So what do we do now?"
"Now?" Buck responded. "Now we eat. I dont know about you guys, but I'm starving."
Buck insisted that the next move belonged to the other pack. All they could do now was wait; the rogue pack would find him soon enough. Since the next day was Sunday, they agreed to return to the ranch for the trail ride they had planed, but had never had. It wasn't just a pleasant way to spend the day; the horses were desperately in need of a good run, only Steele had had any significant exercise in the past week.
It was a good day; they all avoided the topic of pack and Two Blood, concentrating on neutral topics like sport, beer, cars and horses. A lot of the time they said nothing at all; words just seemed unnecessary. When there was the majesty of the Rockies to see and the sounds of the forest to listen to, who needed words? They were heading home as the shadows lengthened, tired, dusty, but happy, even Ezra was happy, in spite of his dust-covered state, when Buck suddenly leapt off his horse. Steele stood still and unfazed as his master walked forward along the well-used trail, then he froze, head raised, facing the slight breeze.
"What is it?" Chris called from Pony.
For a moment Wilmington didn't respond, then he turned to face them, a small smile on his face.
"They're he-e-re," he announced.
Vin's hand went instinctively to the stock of his trusty rifle, tucked into his saddle scabbard.
"Easy, Junior," Buck cautioned as he walked back toward them. "I mean, they're in the area, it's hard to tell how far, since I don't know how old the scent is."
"So we go look for them - right?" JD asked.
Buck shook his head and swung himself back up onto the ever patient Steele. "Nope, like I told you, we wait, it's their move. Hell, they might just decide to move on; you never know."
"Duck," Ezra instructed lazily.
"Why?" Nathan enquired.
"Low flying pig," Josiah supplied, sharing a wry smile with Standish.
Nothing happened that day or the next. Chris almost wished it would, his team was next to useless they were so wound up. Only Buck seemed relaxed. After the first day, a day that saw all but one of Team Seven acting like long tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs, Chris had asked Vin his opinion.
"The decision's been made, we're gonna be a pack, reckon that's all ol' Bucklin's ever wanted. You know, Buck could die, if he has to fight."
"I know, God help me, I know - except I ain't gonna let that happen, if it looks like that's gonna be how it ends, I'll stop it, no gun rule be damned!"
"Yeah, kinda thought you might feel that way, 'sept that weren't what I was gonna say. See, I reckon Buck's so happy now, he could die happy. He's no longer alone in the world, he's got a pack - wolves they ain't loners b' nature, ain't natural fer em - and he don't have to hide his true nature any more. Must have been hell all these years, hidin' like that. Shit! - Livin' with JD must have been murder, boy's got the curiosity of the devil as it is."
Chris smiled, he couldn't remember the last time Vin had said so much in one go, at least not of his own volition.
"Buck invited JD into the condo, hell, he practically hog tied him and held him at gun point 'till he said yes - as I recall!" Chris pointed out, remembering the way 'mother hen' Wilmington had taken it upon himself to teach the twenty one year old rookie when he first arrived in Denver, more than a little lost, alone and still grieving for his mother.
"Yeah, I know, and why? 'Cause before JD arrived it was Buck ragging on you day and night that he was too young."
"Okay Sherlock, tell me?" Chris prompted.
"'Cause he needs people, he needs physical contact. Thats why he chases the women. I don't know about these Two Bloods, but I seen wolves in the wild, an' m' granddaddy, he used t' tell me stories about them too." Chris knew Vin was referring to Red Feather, his Comanche grandfather. "Wolves are very close, they touch, they rub against each other, they all sleep together in one big heap."
"You're saying that's what he's been looking for all these years?"
"Don't you get it? He had it, he had a pack. He had you - you're his alpha, you always have been, that made Sarah his alpha." He watched the man in front of him stiffen. You two was pack to him, and Adam was his cub."
"And he lost them," Chris added so softly it was barely a whisper.
"Ya both lost them, but then he nearly lost you as well - didn't he?"
Chris thought about that, about Wilmington's tenacity, his unshakeable loyalty, his stubborn refusal to give up on him, despite everything Chris had thrown at him. No matter how often his kindness, patience, hard work and sacrifice was thrown back in his face, he never left.
"Shit, he didn't deserve that," Larabee finally admitted.
"No, he didn't, but it weren't your fault neither, we all grieve in different ways, deal with things differently. You were true to your nature, he was true to his. It's the way the world is, we have t' be who an' what we are. Yer try pretendin' t' be something yer not, it's gonna end up killin' ya, little by little. Reckon Buck was heading that way. To thine own self be true - ain't that what Shakespeare said? Smart fella Shakespeare."
Chris gazed at the man before him with renewed wonder. "Just when the hell did you get to be so smart?" he asked.
"Always been smart, Cowboy, I'm jist good at hidin' m' light under a bush is all."
"More like a whole fucking forest."
Nothing happened on Wednesday, nothing happened on Thursday until they were all heading down to the parking garage at the end of the day. Suddenly Buck froze where he was, lifting his head and turning to face the exit.
"Is it them?" Chris asked, coming to stand beside him.
"Yeah, they've been here, not right now, but recently." He looked over to the others, smiling. "They're getting closer guys," he warned.
"And we still have to wait?" JD asked, praying the answer was no, JD hated waiting, he wanted to go after them, confront these interlopers that were threatening the most important thing in his life.
"Yup, this is our territory, if they want to stay they have to come to us, we don't go looking for them," Buck confirmed, he threw an arm over JD's shoulders, giving his head a playful rub. "Patience JD."
"Hah!" JD pulled away. "Patience he says, this from the man who starts looking for his Christmas presents in November!"
JD gave him a pitying look. "Yeah, right," he muttered sarcastically.
The insistent ringing brought Buck awake slowly, he heard the machine cut in. And waited to see who was calling him so early on a weekend
"Buck, it's Chris, I know you're there, pick up it's urgent."
Buck lifted his head a fraction, and reached out his hand for the phone.
"You awake?" Chris asked.
"Some of me, wha's up?"
"Vin just came over, I swear that boy runs on energiser batteries, anyway, went out to check the stock. He's just run back in to say there's wolf tracks all along the perimeter of the yard, says they're fresh too."
"I'm on my way over," Buck stated, already hanging up and climbing off the bed.