Moon and Rain
by Sammy Girl
Part 1 - 3 | Part 4 - 7 | Part 8 - 10 | Part 11 - 13
Buck pulled up outside Larabee's house in a cloud of dust and gravel; he then sprung from the cab. Vin waved at them from the front of the barn. Before he jogged over to Tanner, Buck stopped to sniff the air. The scent trail was faint but unmistakable; this was the third time he had encountered this pack's scent markers, from now on he would know them anywhere. He could now pick out a member of this pack even in a whole crowd of Two Blood. The tracks were still fresh; the pack had scouted the perimeter, and assured themselves that this was marked territory, but that the one they sought was not here.
Chris had watched the other two from the porch, coffee in hand. As they returned across the yard, he retreated inside, only to emerge once more with more coffee.
"It was them, I take it?" Chris asked, handing Buck his coffee.
"It was. If they don't make a move by Friday, I'll come out here for the weekend - if thats ok?" Buck looked at Chris.
"'Course it's okay. You think they'll come back here?"
"I'm sure of it, they won't want a confrontation in the city if they can help it. Now they've found this place, they'll check it out on a regular basis. You got any breakfast in there?" The lanky Two Blood brushed past him and into the house.
"How does he stay so calm?" Vin asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine."
Work was very routine, they had no big case on and spent most of their time compiling reports and updating files. Buck insisted they do everything as normal, so at the end of the day, it being Friday, they headed for the Saloon.
"Ah," Buck inhaled deeply as he crossed the parking lot. " home sweet home."
"I told you, don't mention anything to Inez about scent marking," Chris warned.
Buck just cast his eyes up and shook his head, but kept on walking.
Team Seven took their usual booth, and Inez brought over their usual drinks. It was an odd evening. To anyone watching, it looked like the men were having a good time, winding down at the end of the working week. But there was a nervous edge to the group, an undercurrent of tension and anticipation. They broke up the evening early, unable to sit there and not talk about what was on all their minds, but unwilling to talk about it in public, even though it was highly unlikely anyone in the bar could have overheard them, or indeed understood.
As they exited the saloon, all seven of them, Buck froze, his eyes scanning the dark parking lot and then zeroing in one dark, distant corner.
"Is it them?" JD asked. "Were they here?"
"Not were - are." Buck corrected softly, as he began to walk forward.
The others hesitated, then followed. In a few paces, Chris had caught up and was shoulder to shoulder with Buck. "What do I do?" he hissed.
"Just be yourself pal, be bad ass, pissed off Larabee. They're trespassing in our territory, remember," Buck advised.
By now, even the One Bloods could see the figures standing in the dark, four of them, dressed in black leathers. The one standing a little in front of the others, was Franco Henry.
Chris steeled himself mentally and stepped out to face him. Henry was in his early twenties, a burly man, with close cropped, dark blond hair that was wiry and tightly curled. Chris thought Josiah's hair must have looked like that, when he was young, and then wondered why he was thinking that at that particular moment in time. The apparent leader wasn't that tall, taller than Ezra but shorter than Vin, but he was stocky, and though it was hard to tell under the black motor bike leathers, Chris was willing to bet it was all muscle.
"What are you doing here?" Chris demanded, in his best 'scary as all hell Larabee' voice.
The young Two Blood looked at the men before him, he looked at Chris and then turned to Buck. "We're the Blood Moon Pack and we claim this territory."
"Hey pal, I'm the alpha 'round here! You talk to me and no one is claiming our territory."
Henry looked from Buck to Chris and back; a look of total confusion on his face. When he did speak it was still to Buck. "What the hell is this crap?"
"I told you who you talk to!" Chris snapped, stepping forward and jabbing the young man in the chest.
Instantly the other three moved forward, provoking the rest of team Seven to do likewise. With the tension rising, Chris continued.
"We're the Denver Pack and this is our territory, you tell your pack to move on, you're not welcome here." He kept his tone measured and even, never breaking eye contact with the Two Blood before him.
The young man was angry but also confused, and even indecisive.
"This is bullshit, One Blood can't be pack, and a loner can't claim a whole territory, you wanna stay here, you submit to us."
Even as he was speaking, Chris had a sudden moment of clarity. He just prayed he was right, because he couldn't exactly ask Buck to confirm his suspicions, at that moment.
"We need to get this settled, but not here and not now. You tell your alpha to meet me and my pack at the ranch, tomorrow, an hour after dawn. If you don't come and you don't move on, we'll be hunting you." He closed the gap between them even more; now he could see deep into the young man's eyes, eyes that betrayed total confusion. "Got that - boy?"
Without bothering to wait for a response Chris turned away and led his pack to their cars on the other side of the lot.
Once he reached the Ram Chris finally spoke. "They still there?" he whispered to Buck.
"Can they hear us?"
"Not at this volume, no."
Chris released a long breath. "I have never been so nervous in my life," he admitted. "Was that right - I mean about him not being the alpha?"
"Spot on, pal." Buck slapped him on the back.
"Guess it takes one to know one." Vin was grinning.
Ezra was shaking his head. "An hour after dawn - what was wrong with high noon? Is that not more traditional?"
"Ez," Buck put his arm around his friend. "It isn't like we're gonna be doing much sleeping tonight."
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of motor bikes being fired up. As they watched, the four Two Bloods rode slowly toward them. Franco Henry stopped next to the Ram, his helmet resting on the fuel tank of his big Kawasaki Vulcan. He was tucking a cell phone into his jacket.
"Tomorrow it is," he confirmed tersely, then he locked eyes with Buck. "You better say good bye to this place, 'cause by tomorrow morning you're gonna be homeless, or dead." With that he pulled on his helmet, gunned the bike and roared away in a cloud of dust, the other three following on behind him.
Buck watched him go and then turned back to face the others, a big grin on his face. "Guess the waiting is over boys."
JD looked positively ashen, the others not much better, even Ezra's poker face had slipped to reveal his concern.
"Don't panic, kid." Buck crossed to JD. "I'll be fine, you know what you have to do?"
JD nodded. Buck looked over at Josiah and Nathan, who also nodded. "Great, so I'll see you guys at the ranch. Just before dawn?"
"Buck, I " JD whispered.
Before he could finish, Buck enveloped him in a huge hug. "Trust me, okay?"
"We'll be there," Nathan confirmed. "Come on, Josiah, let's go." Nathan was trying to sound calm, but mentally he was going through the contents of his emergency kit and hoping he had everything he might need.
Josiah gave Buck's shoulder a reassuring squeeze as he passed the Two Blood on the way to his car. Ezra smiled at him and then followed Sanchez.
"Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow?" Vin finally called, as he headed to his jeep. "Yeah coming cowboy?"
"In a sec." Chris turned to Buck. "You are sure about this? Last chance to call a halt."
Buck nodded. "I'm sure," he confirmed.
Buck slid into the driver's seat of his old Chevy truck, pulled the door closed and took hold of the wheel. JD gazed at him then placed a hand over his friend's.
"Buck, are you alright?" he asked worriedly.
"Sure I am, I'm "
"Buck," JD interrupted. " you're trembling." He could feel the tiny tremors running through the hand under his.
"I know, I don't seem to be able to stop it - stupid, ain't it?"
"No, no it isn't. I'm scared shitless. Would it be an idea if I drove tonight?" JD asked softly.
"Yeah, it might at that," Buck admitted. "Thanks."
The pack assembled an hour before dawn. They stood in silence as Buck stripped and made the change. Then they watched the huge wolf lope off into the night. Long after the wolf had been swallowed up by the darkness, JD still stood there.
"He'll be alright," Chris assured, coming back out onto the porch, with a mug of coffee.
"I know, I know, I just wish " JD was still looking away toward the mountains.
"You wish you could be with him, at least see him," Chris finished for young man.
"We all do."
Buck ran freely, with great, ground eating strides, eating up the mountainside. He needed to make a kill; Vin had offered to take a rifle and a night scope and shoot whatever he needed. But that was no good, this had to be his kill, and his alone. Not that he wasn't up for some help. Along the shore of a small lake that was really not much more than a pond, Chris had put out some feed; this was where the local deer came to drink, normally just before dawn. It was a good half hour's run up to the lake and it would take him twice that, dragging a carcass, to get back. When he reached the lake, he found a spot downwind where he was well covered; there he settled to wait. The local deer were used to finding cattle feed around the lake. Chris - displaying a sentimental side he would deny existed to his dying day - would bring up a sack or two in particularly bad winter weather.
Sure enough, just as the sky began to pale, the deer came down to drink. Buck watched them intently; he wanted a lame one, partly because it would make the kill easier and partly because it would be doing the poor thing a favour of sorts, a swift bite to the neck had to be better than slow starvation in a Colorado winter. Finally he spotted the perfect quarry. A yearling from the size of it, which was also good - he had to get the body back to the ranch on his own. It was limping heavily, there was no way to know why and he didn't care, injured it would never survive the winter anyway. Keeping himself low to the ground, hidden behind the long grass and downwind, he edged sideways until he was in line with the hapless animal. Then he began to creep forwards. There was no way he could ambush the deer, but that was not his plan. Suddenly one of the other deer raised its head and sniffed the air, others followed, finally one looked around and, seeing a huge wolf sneaking up on them, took off at full speed. Once one went, they all went, as Buck knew they would.
He set off after the young wounded deer. His long, ground-eating stride was remarkably economical and he could run at the same speed for long periods of time. Little by little he would simply wear his victim down, pouncing when it dropped from sheer exhaustion. This, however would be a short hunt. The wounded animal began to falter after only a few minutes, Buck began to gain rapidly after that, just seven minutes after the deer first began to run he was beside his chosen victim. Once, twice, three times he tried to close his powerful jaws around the slender neck and three times it evaded him, but not the fourth. Hanging on for all he was worth, Buck sank his razor sharp teeth into the soft flesh under the deer's neck, and punctured the main artery. With a heavy wolf hanging from her neck, and haemorrhaging blood, the doe didn't last long. As she stopped struggling and dropped, he prepared to deliver the kill bite. With lightning speed he released the throat and snapped his teeth down on the back of the deer's neck. As he bit down, he felt and heard the animal's spine break. Instantly the last vestiges of struggle left his prize and it slumped, boneless and lifeless. For a long minute Buck held on, savouring the power of life and death that he held in his jaws, then he slowly lowered the doe to the ground. He stood over his kill, lord of all he surveyed, and throwing his head back, he howled.
Down in the valley, six men looked up from their coffee, as they sat on the porch and waited for Buck to return.
The blood, warm and fresh, tasted good, sweeter than he remembered. It had been a long time since he had hunted to kill and he had forgotten the potent, intoxicating flavour of fresh blood. He was tempted to sink his teeth into the sweet meat on the deer's flank and feast - but he didn't. Digging his teeth once more into the already ravaged neck of his kill and straddling it, he began to drag the carcass down hill. It was hard going; even though it was only a yearling and a doe, the deer was heavy and the terrain rough. It didn't help that he didn't hunt often, and wasn't well practised at dragging a dead animal for the best part of five miles. As he struggled on, it occurred to Buck that in recent years he had become more and more distanced from his Two Blood heritage. He almost never hunted, he only sang to the Hunter's Moon two or three times a year, and making the change was something that had to be carefully planned and done in secret. All that was wrong; sure, all Two Blood lived secret lives to a degree, but Buck had almost abandoned his wolf side. No one should deny what he was, especially something that was at the very core of his being.
Zac Miller was seriously pissed. How the hell had it all suddenly become so complicated? What the hell did this loner think he was playing at? Loners were rejects, outsiders, cripples, and sell outs - Two Blood who denied their wolf side and lived as One Blood, never changing. No feeble, lone reject was going to stand between him and his ambition to claim his own territory, maybe even form his own clan. Denver was the juiciest vacant territory in the whole damn country, and how was this loser trying to keep him from it? By calling a bunch of mangy, weak, feeble One Blood pack! How dare he? Sure, some packs had One Blood, but they were mostly females, mothers of cubs. There was no way you could have a pack with only one Two Blood.
Well, if the poor fool wanted to fight, let him try. Zac had fought for dominance so many times he couldn't remember them all and yet here he still was, and if the One Bloods didn't like the result, well, they'd find out just what a pack could do. He smiled to himself as he rode along. That was the wonderful thing about living under One Blood law, no one came looking to lay a murder charge on a wolf, you could just leave the evidence of your handiwork lying around.
He turned his Harley off the road and up the driveway to the ranch house. The rest of the pack, minus the youngest female, who had remained behind with the cubs, followed. As the track widened out, the pack spread out into an arrowhead formation and sped up so that they arrived in a cloud of dust, with a great roar of engines.
The six One Blood members of the Denver Pack stood in a line in front of the house. Ezra waved a hand in front of his face and coughed dramatically, as the dust cloud wafted over them.
"There seems to have been a shift in the wind," he commented as the bikes all came to a stop, though their engines continued to rev loudly.
Zac surveyed the men before him. The tall blond, dressed from head to toe in black, was the alpha, no mistaking him, and he posed some threat. The tall black man was impressive physically but his body language was not that of a dominant, he would wait and then react, he wouldn't initiate. Beside him was an imposing older man, he was clearly a threat, tall, strong, experienced. To the right of the alpha was a slightly shorter, younger man, his hair and body language was that of the People; his stance, though apparently relaxed and slouched, was actually tight with tension, his eyes taking in every detail. He was a credible threat. Beside him was a smaller man, who, though wearing casual clothing, had an air of money about him; he was groomed and neat. Fear and apprehension radiated off him, Zac dismissed him as a weak peacock. Lastly there was a boy, an adolescent, not much more than a cub, too young and too small to be a threat. But there was no Two Blood.
"Where is he?" the leader of the Blood Moon pack demanded.
"Boy, you mind your manners," Josiah warned.
"Don't talk to me; in fact, don't even look at me - One Blood," Miller sneered.
Sanchez took a step forward, only to freeze and then step back in response to the slightest rise of Chris' hand.
"This is our territory, move on." Chris' voice was low, icy with implied threat. All the time he was eyeing up Miller. He was about Chris' height, broad shouldered; the jeans, white T-shirt and black leather jacket did little to hide a powerful frame. He had dark blonde hair, not dissimilar in colour to Vin's, but where Vin's was long, flowing and soft, this man's hair, while shoulder length, was lank and lifeless. His hooded eyes were hard to see, let alone read.
"One Blood can't be pack." Zac maintained eye contact with Larabee.
"They can if a Two Blood submits..."
The encounter stopped there, as the line of men behind Chris parted and Buck walked in, still dragging the dead deer. He dropped the carcass and padded back and forth in front of the men, eyeing the pack of Two Blood before him. Then he finally came to rest beside Chris with Vin on his other side; he sat down and made the change. Sitting naked beside Chris, he said nothing.
"As I was saying," Chris continued. " your law says if a Two Blood submits to One Blood, the One Blood can be Pack and the Two Blood can fight on their behalf, true?"
Zac kept his eyes on Buck, kneeling so still and docile beside Chris. "What's the matter with you?" he asked, but Buck just continued to stare at him. "You're a loner, if we liked you, we might have let you join us, you could have had a pack, a real pack." Zac said it, but they both knew he would never have let a dominant Two Blood of Buck's size and age join his pack. "You can't seriously want to be Pack with with " He waved his hand dismissively at the rest of Team Seven. " that! They're One Blood, weak, feeble, they don't understand our ways."
"That's enough!" Chris fumed, "Let's do this."
With that Nathan stepped forward and pulled a knife from his belt, Buck's knife. Chris had never given much thought to the fact that his friend always carried a knife. It was a full size, classic, 'Buck' - naturally - folding hunter's knife. Jackson opened it, locking the blade into position. All evening he had worked on the already sharp blade, first on a whetstone, then on a leather strop; it was now as sharp as any laser cut razor. He stepped up to the kill Buck had just dragged in and knelt down at the animal's haunches. With a deft hand he stripped away the hide and revealed the lean, tender meat below. Then he used the fine blade to cut a wafer thin strip of meat which he handed to Buck, who in turn stood and handed the meat, meat from his kill, to Chris. Nathan had cut the meat so thin it was all but transparent - none of them was too keen on eating raw meat, by cutting it so thin they could at least pretend it was sushi. As Zac and his pack watched, Chris ate the meat. As Nathan cut, Buck presented his new pack with fresh meat, after Chris, Vin, then Josiah, followed by Ezra, Nathan himself and finally JD; the order was no accident.
Buck once more knelt beside Chris; Nathan handed the knife to JD. With his back to the other pack, he gave the nervous young man a smile of reassurance. JD stepped up to stand behind the man he considered his surrogate brother. Buck responded by lifting his head and exposing his vulnerable throat. With a hand he was struggling to keep from trembling, he held the knife to the exposed jugular. Buck sat quite still, but his eyes rose to meet the alpha of the Blood Moon pack. JD glanced to his side and then handed the knife to Nathan. Once he too had held the deadly blade at his friend's neck he handed the knife to Ezra. As he took the blade, Ezra felt physically sick, the idea of holding a knife to the throat of the man he considered his closest friend was abhorrent to him, but it had to be done and he summoned up all his undercover skills to hide his true emotions. Ezra was followed by Josiah. Vin stepped up to stand beside him, he took the knife and repeated the move. When he was done he led the knife out. Ezra - not Chris - stepped up. He took out his flask and poured the contents over the blade, the he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the blade clean.
Now Chris stepped up. He took the knife as the other two melted back. He could feel his palms sweating but he didn't dare wipe his hands dry. Afraid it would be seen as a sign of weakness. His job was far more delicate than the others. He tried to remember everything Nathan had taught him and showed him. If he did it wrong he could kill Buck. He could feel his oldest friend trembling beneath him as he placed the razor sharp edge on the exposed neck. With deliberate slowness he drew the blade across with just enough pressure to draw blood. The cut was so shallow for a moment it didn't even bleed and Chris though he would have to do it again, but then a tiny trickle of blood seeped from one corner. Chris let go a breath he hadn't even realised he was holding, and lowered the knife.
In one fluid, graceful move Buck stood.
"Very impressive," Miller sneered.
"He submitted." Chris' voice was icy with threat and power.
"Fuck! It's gonna be a pleasure killin' you. Your kind are a disgrace to all Two Blood!"
"Hey!" JD blurted out indignantly.
"JD, hush," Chris warned, holding up one hand. "So," he turned to Zac. "You accept that we are a pack?"
"Much as it sickens me, yeah, I guess so." Zac stepped back to once more stand in front of his own pack.
"So?" Chris prompted. "You challenging or leaving?"
"Oh yes, I'm challenging! Fuck , yes!"
"Then Buck fights for me." With that Chris stepped back and left Buck standing alone facing the other alpha.
Miller looked at the man before him as an opponent for the first time. Buck was taller than him, but leaner, and while he looked calm the smell of fear was radiating off him.
"Well?" Buck asked, still standing there impassively.
"Let's do this." With that Miller started shedding clothes. The moment he dropped his undershorts Buck held his hand out to Chris, who still had the knife. Larabee handed him the weapon handle-first and stepped back with a nod.
Now naked Zac looked at the knife in puzzlement. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked.
"Gettin' ready to fight. What are you doing?"
"What's with the knife, ain't we gonna "
Buck swung his blade in a practice arch. "No."
"Damn, stupid, fucking, One Blood loving, loners! Shit!" Zac grabbed his boot and pulled out a knife.
Buck's knife had a moderate, straight, five inch blade. When Miller pulled a Bowie knife, JD gasped. Somehow JD no longer found it odd to see his friend naked, all he could think was how vulnerable Buck looked. Both packs moved back now, forming two shallow semicircles surrounding the two men. Buck swung his blade in a low horizontal arch, forcing Miller to bend and hop backwards to avoid being gutted, but he countered quickly, bringing his own huge blade back, aiming at Buck's forearm. It was a classic counter attack and Buck avoided it by spinning away. He continued to spin, bringing his arm around, knife in hand, to slice into the back of Zac's biceps.
"First blood, Zacky, wanna quit now?" Buck moved around his opponent who was trying to ascertain how bad the injury was and keep Buck in sight at all times.
While Buck had mobility and reach over Miller, the pack leader's larger blade cancelled out the extra reach and he was physically stronger. That said, some of the Denver Pack's fears were being allayed, Buck clearly knew how to fight with a knife. Chris even found himself wondering how he got to be so proficient. He said he'd never fought for dominance, so it wasn't fighting Two Blood, yet clearly at some time, he had relied on a knife to keep himself safe or even keep himself alive - not a nice thought. Beside him, Chris could hear Josiah; he was speaking quietly, if Chris concentrated, for just a second, he could work out that the big man was saying 'Hail Mary's' one after another under his breath. That Josiah had a strong faith they all knew, but he had long left his Catholic upbringing behind; that he fell back on it now was a measure of his fear. On his other side he could feel Vin moving with their Two Blood, anticipating the moves and instinctively weaving and turning in his head to avoid them, looking for openings. The movements were so small as to be all but imperceptible to anyone but Chris. Ezra stood rigid with tension, his face showed no emotion, his body radiated concern. And at the end of the line JD was all movement; like Vin he was shadowing Buck's moves, but unlike the Texan, he made no attempt to hide it, his shoulders bobbing and weaving with his friend's. Chris was about to look at Nathan when Zac dodged a sweeping cut of Buck's and managed to drag his knife along Buck's ribs just under his left arm.
Blood ran freely from the cut, making a great curtain of red, yet Buck didn't so much as flinch. Nathan was now moving, prowling along the line of men, trying to gauge how bad the injury was.
"Well?" Chris hissed as Jackson passed in front of him.
"Not bad, scraped the ribs I reckon, looks worse than it is." With that Nathan continued along the line to retake his position next to Josiah.
Chris looked over at the other pack. Though they looked relaxed and unconcerned, he could almost feel the tension building. They had expected this to be a very short fight.
Suddenly there was a flurry of movement; Zac brought his arm up to block Buck's knife arm while swinging his body around to give him clear access to Buck's vulnerable belly. Quick as a flash, and with a move that Vin would have been proud of, the tall Two Blood swung away from the blade and kicked out with one long leg, catching Miller mid-thigh. The stockier man staggered but didn't drop. Seizing the small advantage, and using his extra height, Buck darted forward and grabbed his opponent's right wrist. Even as Zac was registering what had happened, Buck pulled, off-balancing his opponent. As Zac stumbled forward, he brought the heel of his right hand, with the butt end of his knife handle in it, into Miller's shoulder with such force that his knees buckled. Buck drove home his advantage, swinging his fist over in an arch to impact with his opponent's jaw with a sickening crack. Miller's head snapped back and he dropped back on to the dusty ground.
By now Buck was straddling Zac, holding him down with his knees. He might be able to fight with a knife but he preferred his fists. He tossed his own knife toward his pack. Keeping hold of Miller's wrist, smashing it against the ground a few times until his grip slackened and the knife fell free, this too, he tossed away.
"I do not want to kill you," Buck snarled. "Do you understand that?" There was no response from his opponent. "I said, do you understand?" His fist slammed into the younger man's jaw once again.
Zac understood alright, understood all too well that living as a One Blood had made this loner weak, in mind if not in body. He understood he was down, but he was not out and he would not yield. So, desperate as he was not to lose, for to lose would mean losing everything, not just the territory, he used the only weapon he had left. He knew it was wrong, Pack Law forbade it, but he didn't care. In his mind, Buck was so far beyond the Two Blood pale, that he was no longer under the protection of Pack Law.
Before Buck or anyone could register what had happened, it was a wolf below him, a huge, black, shaggy-coated wolf. Buck was so shocked, that as the wolf struggled and squirmed to get out from under him he lost his grip, and it got free.
"He can't do that!" JD bellowed, taking two steps forward even before he realised he had done it.
"JD!" Chris warned, then the alpha of the Denver Pack turned his gaze not on man and wolf, but on the Blood Moon Pack. They looked as shocked as his men, horrified even. A girl took a step forward.
"What are you doing?" she called to the wolf, but it was too late. In its struggle to get free from Buck, it had raked its long claws over his chest and now, having rolled free, it charged.
Buck was still in shock, trying to get his confused, pain and fatigue befuddled brain to take some action when the wolf lunged at him. Buck swung at him, bringing both his hands together in one clenched fist. The wolf took the impact on the side of the head, but it didn't throw him off completely. As he fell away, his snapping jaws found Buck's thigh and his needle sharp teeth tore down into the naked flesh, gouging out great chunks of meat and muscle as they did. Buck threw back his head and screamed in agony; no longer able to block the pain, he dropped and instinctively wrapped a hand around the ragged open wound.
"Stop this or I will!" Chris bellowed at the other pack.
"Buck!" Ezra's voice was unmistakable and Buck registered the alarm in it at the same moment and saw Zac getting ready to charge at him again, teeth bared in a snarl, blood - his blood - making the dark fur around the muzzle glisten. Buck was on his knees, his injured leg all but straight, one hand clamped around the wounded area, trying in vain to stem the flow of blood. His other hand was on the ground, helping to keep him from keeling over all together. It had come to rest on something hard. Instinctively he closed his hand around the object as someone, a woman, shouted,
Buck turned and lifted his arm just in time. For a millisecond the low dawn sunlight glinted on the polished metal and then Zac Miller impaled himself on his own Bowie knife.
Buck remained where he was, his arm outstretched, the huge knife buried to the hilt in the wolf's chest. Zac raised his yellow eyes; there was no hatred, no malice or revulsion in them, only surprise. And then they closed and he slumped, the dead weight dragging Buck's arm down.
"No!" the girl shrieked. She ran forward and sank to her knees beside the wolf.
Buck slowly let go of the knife and pulled his hand back. All the time he kept his eyes on the young woman. Her hands explored the wolf's body, searching for a sign of life.
"No, no, no, no," she wailed.
Buck found the scent of the man he had just killed all over her and the unmistakable scent of cubs. He hadn't, he realised, just killed her mate but the father of her children as well.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean this isn't how it was supposed to happen, I only " he stammered out. All he had ever wanted to do was make Zac back down, he had never intended to kill him. By now the rest of the Rogue pack were gathered around their former leader.
"Is he...?" Franco asked.
"Yeah, I think so," Buck replied. "Nate?"
The Denver Pack were standing behind Buck, Jackson bent down slowly, wary of the Two Bloods watching his every move. His skilled hands quickly searched but found no sign of life. Dark brown eyes, eyes that were filled with compassion, looked up at the young woman before him. Seeing her desperation, he wanted very badly to give her some good news, but there was none.
"I'm sorry my dear, he's gone."
She gave a great hitching sob and buried her head in the thick coat of her mate. Chris was now standing beside Nathan.
"Nate, get Buck inside. Josiah help him." The order was clear and the tone made it plain this was no time to argue. "Ezra, go with them," he called over his shoulder.
Ezra looked over at the young woman, hanging on so desperately to the dead wolf. He hated himself for it, but he was glad it was her mourning and not them. Almost as if she had read his mind she looked up, and she understood.
"It's not your fault," she whispered, looking at Buck, then she looked at Ezra. "It's our way."
Ezra nodded his understanding; Buck turned away from his handiwork.
"Come on, let's get you outta here," Nathan encouraged.
"JD, see if Nate needs anything set up inside," Chris instructed.
JD's raven black hair bobbed once and he darted over to Jackson. There was a brief conversation and then he sprinted for the house. Josiah helped Buck to stand and then, with Ezra in attendance and supported between Josiah and Nathan, he limped into the house. Only as he mounted the steps to the porch, did he look back - briefly, then he disappeared inside.
Chris, with Vin beside him, was now the undisputed alphas of Denver, faced the intruding pack. The stocky blond whom they had spoken to outside the saloon stepped forward.
"We'll be going now," he stated simply.
Chris said nothing.
Two young men picked up the dead wolf and carried him to the Norton, placing him in the sidecar, where they covered him up. The girl, now more composed, climbed onto her bike beside her dead mate. The man, who appeared to have assumed the role of alpha, walked over to the pile of abandoned clothing and picked it up. As he did, he pulled a simple black leather pouch from inside the jacket.
"To the victor the spoils," he said bitterly, tossing the pouch to the ground at Chris' feet.
Once inside the house Buck pulled his arm from Nathan's shoulder and wrapped it around JD and pulled him into an embrace.
"I was so scared, when he changed and charged I didn't " JD knew he was babbling, but he couldn't seem to stop, he was just so relieved to have Buck safe, he couldn't stop. Buck rested his chin on JD's head, holding the younger man against his chest.
"Come on, we need to get you laid down," Nathan's words were soft but there was no disguising the urgency in his voice.
Nathan helped him on to the bed. "I'm gonna take care of you, don't worry," he promised.
Buck smiled, turning his head a little to get more contact with the large, yet tender hand. "I know."
By the time Chris and Vin walked in, Buck lay on the bed, under a sheet, his legs raised up on a stack of pillows; he was looking distinctly pale.
"How is he?" Chris asked.
Nathan looked worried. "The scrapes down his chest I can deal with, I've closed the knife wound to the ribs with closure strips - for now, but it needs stitching. However "
"That leg needs to be closed by a doctor, he needs antibiotics and a drip, he's already in mild shock."
"Hello? I am here you know?" Buck muttered, but in truth, he felt so rotten he didn't have the energy to protest more.
Chris looked at his friend, taking in the red stain on the sheet covering his legs; if the blood was seeping through with whatever dressing Jackson had applied, it had to be bad. "Right, so we're on our the way to the hospital." Chris turned to leave.
"No," Buck called.
"No?" Chris asked.
"How the hell am I gonna explain these injuries to the hospital - let alone the ATF? Nate, can't you do it, please?"
Buck was right, they could claim a dog attacked him, but that wouldn't explain the knife wound. Of course Ezra could not doubt come up with some story, but he didn't want to go to hospital; he wanted to be with his pack, his family, not stuck in some sterile hospital room, the very smell of which would make him feel sick.
Nathan looked back. "I'm sorry Buck, but that leg needs to be seen by a doctor and I can't prescribe the medication you need. And doctors don't make house calls these days."
"Vets do." Everyone turned to face Vin, who was leaning against the doorframe.
Rachel Levy's Explorer skidded to a stop outside Chris' ranch house. Larabee was a good customer and he had said the dog was bleeding badly so she had driven over immediately. It didn't hurt that Larabee, who was standing on the porch waiting for her, was drop dead gorgeous. She wasn't a beauty and she would never grace any catwalk, so reckoned her chances of winning a man like him were zero. But, she also knew she was good at her job and that was what mattered.
"In here." Chris called, as she pulled her bag from the car and mounted the porch steps.
As they approached the guestroom, she got the first impression something was wrong. When she saw her patient, she stopped dead.
"That is not a dog."
"I know, he belongs to an old buddy of my fathers, I look after him sometimes." Chris could see she wasn't convinced. "He's totally tame, lived as part of the family since he was a cub - honest."
She regarded the huge wolf on the bed. He wasn't looking good, an IV running into his left foreleg and a huge, blood soaked dressing across his left upper hind leg.
"Who did the IV?" she asked.
"I did ma'am," Nathan admitted. "I'm a paramedic. He was as good as gold, stayed still, didn't so much as whimper. He's a good wolf. Arent you boy?"
In an attempt to look like the perfect canine patient, Buck managed to flick his tail a few times, though in truth he now felt very weak and more than a little sick.
"Well okay, but if he bites me, I'm gonna sue your ass off, Larabee."
"Fair enough Rachel."
"Do we know what happened to him?" She asked as she started to make a preliminary examination.
"No ma'am, he went off at dawn, to do what a wolf has to do, limped back in about an hour later," Vin explained.
Nathan and the vet worked together for over an hour. Since they weren't in a properly equipped veterinary surgery, Levy wasn't prepared to use a full anaesthetic, so Buck got by with just a local. The chest wound, as Nathan had told them, was fairly superficial, the leg wound wasn't, but once the worst of the internal bleeds were tied off, it was a simple - if time consuming - job to put in the numerous external stitches to close the ragged wound.
"Okay, that should do it, I've put the first dose of antibiotic in the IV, that will do him for today. Are you happy you can get a tablet down him, or do you want me to leave you suppositories?"
Buck heard that, he lifted his head and managed a weak growl at Nathan.
"Well ma'am " Nathan was trying not to laugh, "I reckon I can get the tablet down him, but if he starts to play up I'll give you a call, get the 'other' kind."
There was another weak growl when Doctor Levy said she was going to put a sedative in the IV as well. But this time the others were on her side. "Now boy, you need the rest, so just be quiet," Jackson scolded.
"I swear that wolf understands everything I say," the vet commented, as she finished adding the medication to the drip and started to pack up her equipment, shaking her head. "You do know that chest wound isn't a bite - don't you?"
"I know, reckon he got into a fight with a dog, the owner probably tried to break it up," Nathan lied smoothly.
"Must have been one big dog," she commented.
By the time she was at the bedroom door, Buck was asleep.
"Well Chris, that was not my usual call out, I give you that," she admitted to Larabee as he helped her load up the car. "I'll put the bill in the post."
"I appreciate you coming Rachel."
The vet turned to face the tall rancher. "Thats some wolf you have there - you know?"
"I know. He's very special - to all of us."
"So where's Buck today - wait, don't tell me - he's not back from last night's date?"
Chris smiled. "Something like that."
"Just not the same around here without him flirting with me all the time." Rachel shook her head; there was something going on she didn't understand, but frankly she didn't want to understand, so she just got into her car and headed home.
Since he had fallen asleep in wolf form, that was how Buck remained as he slept the day away. Only when the sedative wore off did he begin to stir.
"Hello," Ezra greeted as Buck opened one eye. Buck yipped feebly in response; he then gave Ezra's face a good licking. "Much as I appreciate it, I'd rather be speaking to you - Nathan thinks it wont pull the stitches out, but you know be "
Even before he had finished speaking Buck was before him, a little pale, a little battered, but there and alive and safe.
"How are you feeling now?" he asked.
"Yes, I would appreciate the truth."
"I'm sore, and thirsty, and hungry."
"I'll get Mr Jackson, do not try to get up until I return."
Nathan said Buck could be moved into the living room, on the couch. He had to keep the IV until the next morning but he could and should drink and eat, to build up his strength again.
"So, boys," Buck began from his new bed. " what are we eating?"
"Venison - what else," Josiah explained with a grin, as he headed to the kitchen, dragging Nathan along with him.
While they cooked, Chris brought the leather pouch Franco had tossed to him, over to Buck.
"They left this for you."
Buck frowned, but didn't try to pick it up. "What is it?"
"Papers on his Harley, it's in the barn, guess it's yours now."
Buck shook his head. "No, youre the alpha, I fought for you."
Chris looked down at his old friend. Somehow until then he hadn't really taken in what all this meant, how being the alpha was different to being the leader. As team leader he would never have accepted the bike - Buck had fought, he had prevailed, the bike was his. But as the alpha it was his by right, Buck didn't fight for himself, he was doing his alpha's bidding; he was serving the pack. The bike was not his, it wasn't Buck's, it was theirs. Slowly he nodded.
"Very well, it's our bike."
"Hey cowboy, we can go out together - matching bikes!" Vin exclaimed happily, throwing an arm around Chris.
"Together? That heap of crap you call a bike don't even go!"
"Now come on Chris, you know I got her to turn over only last mouth, you just gotta have a little faith, is all."
For all his bravado, Buck was asleep almost before the meal was over. Nathan told them not to worry, sleep, healing sleep he called it, was the best thing for him. The others became worried when Nathan detected a slight fever the next morning, but he told him not to worry; it was, he said, to be expected. And for all that time, the rest of the pack stayed close to him, making him feel safe and reinforcing the bond. On Monday, Buck moved back to his apartment. Nathan insisted he stay off his leg and rest for at least two days. This new infirmity was explained away as, a fall from the corral fence and catching his leg on a nail. While having someone stay with him at the apartment might have looked strange to outsiders, the rest of the pack managed to ensure he was never alone for more than two hours, and they fell into the habit of eating their evening meals together. While Buck was off work, they all assembled at the apartment to eat. After he returned to work, they started to eat together at the Saloon, lunch was eaten together in the break room or at the local diner, and eventually even breakfast became a communal affair, taken together at a coffee shop around the corner from the federal building. Most weekends were spent at the ranch, from mid day Saturday until Sunday evening. Chris even started looking into converting the loft into two large bedrooms and a bathroom.
Three weeks after the fight at the ranch, the seven members of the Denver Pack found themselves outside the Dragon Studio.
"We all ready?" Chris asked.
"Um, I guess," JD admitted nervously.
"Don't get cold feet now, kid, this was all your idea," Vin scolded.
Buck threw an arm over JD's shoulder. "And it was a damn good idea too. Look, even Nate's gonna do it."
"Yeah, only after he interrogated the owner for like a hundred hours!" JD countered.
Nathan had not been exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of getting a tattoo. JD had suggested the tattoo as a way to mark them as 'Pack'. Vin and Josiah both had tattoos already and agreed instantly. Buck thought it was a wonderful idea. . Ezra agreed reluctantly, mainly so as not to be left out. Chris had some reservations but went along with it. Nathan was persuaded, on condition that he chose the studio. The Dragon Studio was as far from the traditional tattoo parlour as it was possible to get. This was where the bright young things came to get the latest in fashionable body art and jewellery.
Josiah had found a design, a stylised wolf, from the art of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. He had altered the design to better reflect their situation. Three artists would work simultaneously, so it would take just over an hour for all seven of them to get the tattoo. It was about an inch and a half square, and would be placed on their left hip.
"It's gonna hurt, isn't it?" JD asked as he psyched himself up to go in.
"No pain, no gain," Buck reminded, as he guided him through the door, the others following in his wake.
By the grace of God, it had been a quiet time at work, but they were now on a big case. So far it had been a paper trail and some very routine and boring surveillance, but the paper trail was leading toward a legitimate shipment of explosives, passing through Denver next week, that was likely to be hijacked. Chris needed his team fit and ready for action. It would have been logical to get the tattoos the week before, but Buck insisted it had to be this particular Friday. He refused to explain, promising it would all become clear. They had gone to the studio straight from work, everyone expected to adjourn to the saloon for their evening meal. But Buck said there wasn't time, he insisted they grab burgers to keep them going and head out to the ranch.
Ezra protested at having to eat fast food, but went along with the others. On arriving at the ranch. Buck headed out to the barn as soon as he was out of the truck.
"What are you doing?" Chris called.
"Come on guys, we need to get the horses ready." Buck walked on. It was cold, there was frost in the air already and in less than an hour it would be dark.
"Stop!" Chris command.
Buck froze where he was and turned. "Please guys, this is important - trust me?"
"It's not a matter of trust, it's dark - almost - too dark to ride safely," Vin argued.
"Horses can see where they're going, I'll lead you, dont worry."
"And how will you " And there he stopped, it was still hard to get used to the idea that Buck could see in the dark, among other things.
JD strode past the two alphas to join his 'brother', the others waited to see what Chris would do.
"Alright, but if anyone gets hurt - man or beast - it's your fault," he finally conceded.
Buck lead his pack, like some Wild West posse, up into the mountains to the same rock outcrop he had gone to the day he decided to ask them to become a pack. There, below them, the lights of Denver twinkled in the night, above them in the crystal clear sky the full moon shone.
"Today is exactly 84 days since I stepped in that damn trap," Buck announced. "I was up in the mountains that night too, because this is the Hunter's Moon," he explained.
"And?" Chris prompted.
Buck shrugged. "Just follow my lead."
With that he stepped up onto the rock outcrop, threw back his head, and let loose a long single note. It rose steadily and then he held it for what seemed like an age. It wasn't a howl, it was something apart, a unique sound. Finally he stopped; for a moment; he stood there, gazing up at the moon, before risking a look at his pack.
"Cool," JD gushed.
"Come on then, have a go." JD joined him, it took him a couple of goes to get the right technique, but he joined his lighter voice to Buck's, singing a different note. One by one the others joined in, each singing a different note, Nathan's voice, by far the lowest underpinned everything, together they made music, a strange primeval harmony of voices rising on the still, cold air. The Denver Pack had arrived and this was their territory, others take note.
Three Months Later
Franco Henry had taken his pack back on the road. No one challenged him when he assumed the role of alpha. As was his duty he also took on the role of father and protector to Zac's cubs, until their mother mated again, returned to her home pack or died. Those of the Blood Moon Pack who had wanted to settle, had returned to their home packs. New recruits had joined the Rogue Pack, as they once more wandered the country. After three months they were down in the Deep South. One of the cubs was sick. So they sought out the closest Two Blood doctor. It turned out to be the doctor belonging to the biggest, richest, most powerful clan in the whole of North America. To say that Franco was nervous, as he approached the formidable alpha of this small empire, was an understatement of the highest order.
"I'm told one of your cubs needs a doctor?" he asked the young alpha.
"Yes sir, if that would be possible."
"Naturally." He made a small gesture with one hand and instantly someone took Kelly and her whimpering cub to find the doctor.
"Now, while we wait for them, tell me of your travels, young man." The words were polite, even welcoming, but that was all they were, words. Franco was in no doubt that if he did or said just one thing to anger the alpha, he would regret it, possibly permanently. He was a tall man, with a strong, clean jaw line and a full head of hair that was probably once very dark but was now turning grey. He could have been any age from mid fifties to early seventies, but however old he was; he was in very good shape. Franco told him about the lone Two Blood in Denver and of his One Blood pack.
"Tell me about him."
Franco swallowed; this was the first time the man had interrupted him. "Um well, they called him Buck, I don't know what his other name was. He, well, I think all of them, worked for the federal government."
"Yes well he was tall, mid thirties, dark hair - kinda wavy."
"I'm not sure, dark."
"And he fought well?"
Franco nodded. "Zac was good, very good, but this guy killed him."
The clan alpha nodded then stood. "Thank you, you have been most helpful, be sure your pack stock up on supplies before you leave."
Henry was shocked; offering to feed a visiting pack was raer, supplying them almost unheard of. He stood to face the other men. "That is very generous, sir."
Jon Doe watched the Rogue Pack leave, the cub diagnosed with an ear infection and dosed up on antibiotics and eardrops. He smiled; it had been too many years, he had thought the trail cold. Time to finally bring the prodigal son home, where he belonged. As he turned back to the house, he was already making plans to travel north.
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