This is for Katy for her birthday. She requested a two-blood story with Buck and Ezra. This is my first try at Two-Blood, I hope it works for you. A big thanks to Chris (aka Niteowl) for accepting the job of beta at the last minute. Also a big thanks to LaraMee for the wonderful collage she made.
They had been riding steadily most of the day. Buck looked at his companion and saw how tired Ezra was. "Late night?"
The gambler looked up, trying to hide a yawn, "Why yes, I had a very lucrative game going until the wee hours."
Buck nodded, "There's a nice place to camp just up ahead. We could stop for the night. Besides, I feel the need to stretch my legs. Haven't been able to run for days now." The Two-Blood wiggled his eyebrows.
Standish smiled. "Very well, I find the suggestion agreeable. Perhaps while you are on your run, you might catch something fresh for our evening meal. I am very tired of camp food."
"Be glad to Ezra. I'll catch it, you cook it."
Ezra started to protest, but stopped himself. "Oh, very well. At least if I cook, it will be edible."
The rogue laughed; Ezra smiled at the sound. Buck was a man who took every pleasure in life with great gusto. When he laughed, you couldn't help but smile with him. Buck always made the gambler feel better about everything.
They stopped at a small clearing. There were a few trees and a spring bubbled up, flowed for perhaps two hundred yards and then disappeared under ground again. There was shelter from the wind and plenty of fresh feed for the horses.
Buck stayed only long enough to give Steel a rub down and picket him. Then, spreading his bedroll, he swiftly took off his clothes. Once he was unencumbered by boots and pants, Buck stretched, enjoying the warm air on his bare skin.
The gambler stopped laying a fire and watched the well-muscled man. "You won't be too late will you?"
"Nah, I'll be back before full dark with a fat rabbit or two," he added with a smile.
"Excellent. I shall have every thing ready when you return." Standish watched in an amazement that never left as the tall rangy man in a flash of an eye turned into the large black and silver wolf. The wolf stretched, front legs straight out on the ground and butt in the air, tail wagging. The very act of stretching managed to show the pure enjoyment of being and the power in the four-legged body. Standing Buck padded over to Ezra and flicked his tongue out, covering Ezra's hand. The wolf grinned at the man. Then, with a nod of the huge head, the lupine turned and ran.
"Be safe, my friend," Ezra whispered at the retreating wolf. Then humming softly to himself, he began making camp. After taking care of Chaucer, he laid a fire and put the coffee pot near the fire. He didn't want the hot liquid to boil away. Finishing the camp fire by lining it with flat rocks to place the pots on, he looked around nodding his head in satisfaction. Even when on the trail, Ezra preferred things in order and neat.
Ezra turned as he heard someone approach. Searching the trees he called out, "That was quick. . ." but stopped as he saw a stranger walking toward him. It was one of the men from the poker game the night before, a big loser with a foul temper.
"Don't move, Fancy Man, or I'll blow a hole right through ya with this here scatter gun." The man was big but looked huge with his hide coat. His long beard was speckled with gray and his hair hung in greasy fingers down his back.
Motioning for Ezra to raise his hands he asked, "Where's the other one?"
There was no way Ezra could deny Buck so he simple shrugged, "He went hunting for supper. Probably won't be back for hours."
The man smiled showing black broken teeth. "Good. I'll leave him a little surprise for when he does get back. Lock your hands on top of your head."
Once Standish's fingers were laced together on top of his head, the man placed the barrel of the shotgun under Ezra's chin. With his other hand, he took the gambler's pistols and threw them aside.
"Now, Fancy Man, I'm going to give you a lesson on cheating at cards."
"I don't cheat, I don't have to," Ezra couldn't help saying, knowing that it wouldn't help at all.
"Yeah?" The man sneered and punched low and hard.
The air whooshed out of Ezra's lungs and he doubled over holding his stomach. Before he could take a breath, the second blow came. Over and over the large fist slammed into his body. He was vaguely aware he was being held up and the scatter gun was gone.
From a great distance he heard, "Where's my money, Fancy Man? Where'd ya hide it?"
Ezra shook his head, trying to clear it. He gasped for air. Suddenly he was falling. Standish lay still, blinking, trying to clear his vision. He thought he heard the man rummaging through his things.
The man threw down the empty saddle bags in disgust and pulled his Bowie knife. "I'll skin ya alive, ya bastard." He took two more steps toward Ezra when a huge shape streaked toward him from the bushes and knocked the man down.
Ezra watched in horror, trying to get enough air to scream a warning to Buck.
The man rolled and came up on his knees. He swiped at the snarling wolf with the hunting knife but missed.
"NO!" Ezra gasped. He tried to push himself up and his hand fell on the shotgun. Picking it up, he tried to get a clear shot at the man. "Move out of the way Buck," he ordered.
Slashing the Bowie down the wolf's body, the large man turned at the sound of the gamblers voice. He had time only to take one step before Ezra blasted him with both barrels. The body jerked and fell back over the still wolf.
It took all his strength to shoot the gun and with the sight of the falling man, Ezra Standish fell unconscious.
Buck whined at the weight of the body and inched his way out from under it. Once free, he quickly changed back to human form. "Ezra?" he called, standing and staggering toward the fallen gambler. His whole right side was on fire as he tried to move quicker, but the pain was too much; the wolf could handle the pain better. Stopping, the rogue changed again into wolf form. Once again on all fours, he lay on his fur-covered belly. Whining, he crawled toward the gambler, inch by inch until he was beside the unconscious form. Buck licked Ezra's face, pushing with his cold nose, making little whimpering noises at the man beside him.
Ezra groaned, and trying to roll over, opened his eyes. "Buck?" Attempting to sit up, he gasped. Then his eyes widened. "Buck? You're hurt? Let me see."
Holding his ribs with one hand, Standish looked at the wolf. "Oh, Lord," he whispered. He could see streaks of blood dripping from shoulder to flank though the thick fur.
"Can you change back? It would be easier to tend your wounds if you were in human form. You're beautiful fur is a hindrance in this case."
The wolf whimpered, but in an instant the man lay before Ezra, breathing hard at the sudden increase in the throbbing pain down the length of his body. "Ez? You okay?" Buck managed to whisper.
"I shall be fine. We need to move you over to the blankets so I can tend your wound."
Buck nodded. "The man?"
"Dead! By his own gun. Please, Buck, you're bleeding."
Nodding again, the tall man tried to stand. He only made it half way up before he felt the gambler's hold tighten around him, lifting and supporting him as he stumbled over to his blankets.
"Please lay down on your left side, leaning forward slightly, so I might tend your wound."
The Two-Blood lay down with a groan. "You sure it's better this way?"
Ezra knelt down and looked at the long cut. "Yes, I'm sure. What is it with you and large sharp objects?"
"Didn't mean to get cut, Ezra."
"I know. Rest while I get some supplies. The cut must be cleaned and stitched." Ezra frowned as he got up. The wound ran from the back shoulder down the ribs and about six inches over the hip and down the cheek. He needed to clean the cut, and while it was no longer bleeding heavily it would need stitches.
Taking the pan he'd been heating water in, he added some carbolic to it and then using a cloth square, he began washing the wound. The sharp hiss from Buck caused him to stop. "I'm sorry, Buck. I know it is quite painful, but I must clean the wound thoroughly. I shudder to think what might have been on that knife blade."
"You mean besides my blood?" Buck joked between clenched teeth.
Knotting the blanket in his hands, Buck nodded and said, "You'd best get too it then."
Swallowing, Ezra continued cleaning the wound site, trying to ignore the sharp intakes of breath and the white knuckles. He frowned as he cleaned. While the wound was not deep, the blade had slipped off the muscle and only sliced the skin and what little fat Buck's lean frame had, it appeared that the long wound would require a lot of stitches.
"Might I suggest you help yourself to my whiskey before we start stitching?"
"You offering me some of your fancy booze, Ezra?"
"Well, yes; it seems the circumstance deems it appropriate." He held out his flask after pouring some into a cup.
Buck took a large sip and then another.
Ezra looked down at the cup of whisky with the needle and thread floating in it. "More, Mr. Wilmington. The more you can drink the better, I think." Green eyes rose and met the cobalt blue ones showing the gambler's worry at what was to come.
"Hell, Ez, I don't need an excuse to drink your fine liquor." Buck smiled at his companion.
"It's EZRA! Why do you persist in calling me that?"
" 'cause it makes you turn red." Buck grinned as he took another sip. "Best get at it, Ez. From the feel of it, it'll take a spell to sew me up."
"Drink some more. I'm serious, Mr. Wilmington. The knife didn't cut muscle or bone, but it did cut you deep enough to require stitches. As long as the gash is, it will take quite a few. I am not the skilled doctor that Mr. Jackson is; it may take me much longer to do a proper job. You will need as much fortification as possible."
The smile dropped and Buck placed a shaky hand on Ezra's knee. "I know what's coming. Been cut before, remember? You just do what you can an' I'll hang on.
Ezra cleared his throat. "Well, yes. If you require me to stop and let you rest, please do not hesitate to say so."
Sipping the whisky, Buck nodded. Once the mug was empty Ezra filled it again and then a third time. When he attempted a fourth Buck held up his hand. "No more just yet, Ezra, else it'll all come back up."
Ezra sat facing the rogue's back. Buck was propped up on his side with a roll of blankets to lean into. Swirling the needle and thread in the cup, Ezra asked," Are you ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"Very well, I shall begin at your shoulder." Ezra held the needle and thread poised over his friend's shoulder. He sat there just looking for so long Buck looked around and up at him.
Green eyes met cobalt blue. "I'm not sure I'm up to this."
"You're stronger than you think, Ezra. I know you can do this, because you have to. I trust you."
Ezra blinked and swallowed. "Very well, I shall begin. " Ezra took the needle and pierced the skin on one side. It was like stabbing a heavy canvas. Once the needle was through, he pulled the thread and then pierced the opposite side. Then pulling the thread to the end and forcing the two edges of skin together, he knotted the thread. The gambler repeated the process about every quarter of an inch down. Ezra tried to ignore the quivering flesh beneath his hands. He closed his ears to the little moans that escaped the dark haired man's tightly clenched lips. He was just below the shoulder blade when Buck called out.
"Ez? S. . .stop for a minute, will ya?" Buck tried not to tense at the prick of the needle. He'd had stitches before, but that had been just a few, not the dozens that this cut required. Not even when Nathan had stitched him up after Anderson had he needed so many. He bit the blanket so hard he felt his jaw would break.
Blinking Ezra answered, "Of course, Mr. Wilmington. Would you care for another drink?" He laid a warm hand on the cold shoulder. "I'll give you all the time you need, Buck."
Buck sighed in relief. "No, just a rest. I'm sorry, Ezra. . ."
The gambler reached out and laid a hand on Buck's arm. "You have nothing to be sorry for my friend. This was my fault. That loathsome man did not like losing at cards and tried to steal his money back. It is I who should apologize."
Buck was struggling to even his breathing and not really listening to what Ezra said, but was comforted by the smooth quality of his voice. That smooth, honeyed voice could always relax him. When he did finally relax, even just a little, the pain eased.
Ezra felt the big man calm down, "Mr. Wilmington. . . Buck, I must continue. You are still bleeding. Not much, but some. It will not stop until I finish stitching."
"I know Ezra. Go...go ahead." The Two-Blood tried to steel himself for the feel of the needle piercing his skin, the pull of the thread through the hole, the tight pinch of the threads being pulled together and the thread knotted. Then it started over again, and again, and again.
Twice more Ezra had to stop and let Buck collect himself until finally he put the last stitch in below the hip at the bottom of Bucks right cheek.
"Almost done sir. I need only smear some of Mr. Jackson's salve on the wound."
"Glad to hear it." Buck hissed at the sting of the salve on the raw flesh.
Finishing, Ezra reached up and placed the back of his hand on the rogue's forehead. He could already feel the heat rising. Buck was developing a fever and he must keep it down. The gambler looked around at the scattered items in the camp and realized it was almost dawn. What was he to do? First build up the fire and then make Buck take some of Nathan's awful tea.
But when the gambler returned to Buck's side with a cup of the healing tea the rogue was fast asleep. Seeing the man was resting, he sat down and placed the cup beside him. Not meaning to, Standish dozed also.Buck wrinkled his nose and chewed at the bandage on his paw, his sharp milk teeth catching and shredding the linen wrap. He had to get it off. His paw itched and he couldn't run and play outside under the moon. . .
"Bucklin Wilmington! What do you think you're doing?"
"Ma!" Buck scooted back under the quilt, hiding.
"Bucklin, you come out from under that quilt right this minute and it had better be a boy I see, not a cub." Mae Wilmington stood, working clothes pulled tight around her, her foot tapping.
Buck changed and stuck his head out. "Hi, Ma, what'cha doing home?"
"I came to check on you. Let me see your hand."
Buck, ducking his head, held out his hand.
"No, young man, the other hand."
Glancing up, Buck held out the hand with the torn bandage.
Sighing, the perturbed mother sat heavily on the bed beside her small son. "Son, what did the doc tell you?"
Sniffing between words, Buck answered. "He said I had to keep it bandaged for a week and then he'd see about takin' out the stitches."
"And what did I tell you?"
The boy refused to look at his mother. "You said I couldn't turn wolf 'til the stitches came out 'cause it might hurt me worse if I walked on 'em. An' you paid the doc a whole twenty-five cents to take care of me, an' that's a lot of money. . ."
Mae gathered her son into her lap. "That's right, you have to be careful. I don't like it when my Buckie gets hurt." She then began humming and rocking back and forth, holding the small boy close. "Its okay, sweet boy. I know it hurts."
"Sometimes I just gotta change Ma. It feels so good. Ma?"
"The weird part is it hurts less when I'm a wolf."
"um humm." The five year old Two-Blood yawned, "I hurt now. Can you stay?"
"No, sweetie, I have to go back to work. But I'll be here when you wake. Promise no more wolf 'til I say, okay?"
"Okay, Ma." The little boy snuggled tighter falling asleep.
The man heard a voice in his foggy sleep. The southern accent was so very close to his mother's. It gave him the same sense of security despite the constant throb and the heat he felt. He smiled in his sleep.
"What is it. Mr. Wilmington?"
Buck forced his eyes open and saw Ezra sitting beside him looking worried. "Was dreaming 'bout my ma. First time I got cut bad enough for stitches I's about four or five, something like that, still little anyway. It was bad enough Ma took me to see the town doctor. We had to go to the back door an' he made Ma pay him 'fore he'd even look at my hand. It hurt really bad, but I didn't cry; wasn't gonna let him see me cry no matter what." Buck's voice got hard as he talked about the doctor. "Ma had to go to work, but she told me I couldn't change. I guess she knew me better than I thought 'cause she came back and caught me trying to chew the bandage off."
"What did she do?"
"Made me promise not to change until she said it was alright. Then she rocked me to sleep. "
"I see your mother was right. Now, I want you to drink some of this tea. You have a fever and we need to keep it down as much as we can."
Even though he didn't want it, the Two-Blood drank. "God, that's awful."
"Yes, but it does work. Please try to get some sleep. I must tend to the horses and clean up the camp some." Standish looked distastefully at the body still lying on the other side of the fire.
"Go on, Ezra, I'll be find," Buck said his eyes slowly closing.
Ezra hurriedly ate and checked on the horses. He had more willow bark tea steeping for when the Two-Blood woke. Most importantly, he'd drug the dead body out of camp and dumped it into a dry rocky arroyo, feeling it was good enough for the man who'd hurt Buck. He went back to check on his companion. Sitting down beside Buck, the gambler could feel the heat radiating from the larger man's body. Wetting a cloth, Standish reached over and began wiping Buck's face and arms.
The rapid eye movement told Ezra that the rogue was caught in a dream. "Easy Buck, you are safe," Ezra tried to reassure the fevered man.
Buck heard the voice he knew that voice. It meant comfort and friendship, but somehow it seemed so far away. KNIVES!! He was surrounded by knives, and swords - big ones and little ones all coming at him, all around him. Some were dripping with blood, some shiny in the light, almost blinding him.
Buck looked around desperately trying to see through the fog and smoke that seemed to cover everything, hide everything. He had lost Chris somewhere in the fighting and kept searching, hoping his friend was still alive. It was hard to tell with all the bodies on the ground and men still trying to kill each other.
There seemed to be an endless time of trying not to get killed and find Larabee. It did no good to shout, the noise of the cannons and gunfire, the screams of men as they fought and died would drown out any sound he could make. His eyesight, his Two-Blood sight didn't even help much. Where was Chris? Wilmington paused to re-load his long gun, eyes never stopping their search.
There! A man stumbled and leaned heavily against the tree. It was his alpha - he would recognize that long lean frame anywhere. Wilmington started toward Larabee. He moved struggling to move faster, but he couldn't get to Chris.
Then out of the mists came a horseman galloping toward Larabee. "NO!" Buck stopped and took a shot but the ball whizzed past the horseman harmlessly. Wilmington was running again, only this time he was moving faster. He was in front of the big black horse when it shied as Buck suddenly appeared before it. The rider swiped his bayonet at the same time Buck heard and felt the heat as a shot went past his ear and into the officer throwing the rider off the horse.
Chris was beside him, lifting him onto the black, jumping up behind him. His arm hung limply and he could feel the wetness dripping from his fingers. Buck watched the drops fall slower and slower to the ground. The numbness went as quickly as it had come, and the pain came- pounding, unrelenting, screaming with each beat of his heart.
The next thing Buck was aware of was Chris pulling him off the horse. It was still daylight and the sounds of battle were far away. Chris was talking to him, but he didn't understand what was being said.
"Come on ol' dog, help me. You're too heavy." Larabee struggled to get his friend down. "Come on Buck, there's a stream over here. I need to check that arm."
Wilmington was aware of gentle hands guiding him off the horse and over to the water. He felt Chris lay him down and rip open the sleeve of his shirt. Once his arm was bare, Chris could see where the bayonet had slashed him across the bicep.
Chris licked his lips. "Gonna need stitches, Big Dog. It's cut to the bone."
Buck finally found his voice. "No field hospital, Chris. Those places are death traps. You fix it."
"Buck! I can't, I don't know how. You could die."
"I mean it, Chris. I could lose my arm in one of those places. I could die in a field hospital, too. I know what they're like. I trust you, you clean it, and you stitch it."
"you stitch it . . . you stitch it. . ."
Ezra leaned down, trying to make out what Buck was saying. He reached for the wet cloth again. Buck's fever kept rising. Nothing seemed to help and with the rising fever, the dreams seemed to getting worse. The cool cloth helped sometimes.
"Buck, please wake. You are in no danger. It's alright, Buck." Ezra tried to find the right words to bring his friend out of the nightmare.
Finally the dark blue eyes fluttered open. "Ezra? Oh, I don't feel so good."
Smiling encouragingly down at Buck, the gambler said, "Yes, it is I. I have some tea you need to drink."
"I don't want any. I hate that damn stuff."
"Mr. Wilmington, you have a fever and you are in pain. The tea will help with both. I must insist you drink a cup."
The Two-Blood felt too bad to argue and reluctantly drank the tea. He couldn't keep his eyes open and drifted back to sleep.
Ezra looked around for something to use to wet down the fevered man. His eyes fell on the carefully folded shirt that Buck had left the night before. If he took the shirt and others and wet them in the cold water of the spring, he could drape them over Wilmington to cool him.
Moving quickly Ezra brought the dripping shirt and draped it over his friend. Frowning, he watched Buck who seemed to be trapped in another nightmare.
He suddenly felt strong hands holding him, a fist in his hair holding his head up.
"Watch boy, see how weak One-Bloods are. You owe her nothing. She's nothing. She kept you from you true people." The voice in his head dripped with disgust. "See how easy they are killed."
"NO!!" Buck struggled, but it did not good. There was so much blood. The hands that held him were so much stronger than he. He could see nothing but the red sticky substance that spread that over every thing - the ground, the man standing beside his mother, his mother. . . "Ma!" Buck called choking on his own tears, "Ma. . ."
The beloved blue eyes looked at him sadly, becoming his whole world. Then the spreading red tide covered them, "No, Ma. . ."
Ezra gripped the arm of the Two-Blood. He swallowed and shook his head when Buck cried out, the voice somehow younger and defenseless. Ezra knew that Bucks Two-Blood father had killed his mother and made the sixteen-year-old boy watch. He seemed to recall the bastard had knifed her and it had taken her several agonizing minutes to die. All the while the son was forced to watch, the man had laughed as the boy vowed to kill the father.
Buck screamed, but all that came out of his mouth was a whimper.
Ezra brushed damp locks back, feeling the heat rising from his friend's skin. The shirt that covered Buck was dry and hot. Ezra spread the newly wet shirt over Buck's shoulders and side. "Please Buck, you are no longer in danger. You are safe here with me. Leave your nightmares behind." Ezra babbled as he took another freshly wetted shirt and spread it lower down on the rogue's legs, letting the water evaporate to cool the fevered body. He tried over and over to wake the Two-Blood, calling him back from his nightmare world.
With the cool, newly wet shirts, Buck seemed to calm and Ezra sat back. Then he noticed that Buck was watching him. Smiling, Standish asked, "Buck? Are you with me?"
"Yeah," the rogue whispered, licking his dry lips.
"Listen to me, I need to drain the wound, it appears to have some infection. I'm sorry but it will pain you a great deal."
"Do. . ..do what you have to, Ezra." Wilmington said with resignation.
Swallowing, Ezra peeled back the now, dry shirt. On the shoulder the wound was red and puffy, swollen so that the stitches pulled and threatened to tear out. The gambler dipped the tip of his knife into the whisky and then holding it like a pencil he slit the first ten stitches with the razor-sharp blade. The irritated flesh pulled apart once released from the hold of the thread.
Once finished with cutting the stitches Standish opened the wound and then pushed to force it to drain. He wiped away the pus and corruption and pressed again until the wound ran dark with blood. He then poured carbolic into the open wound, and then laid a carbolic-soaked cloth on to the wound. Once the infection was gone, Ezra knew he'd have to stitch the wound once again and the gambler cringed at the thought.
When he was finished, he allowed himself to feel the tremors radiating from Buck. Gently laying his hand on the man's arm he said, "I'm finished for now, Buck. Hopefully I won't have to clean the wound again. Would you like a drink? On second thought, let me insist you partake of Mr. Jackson's finest herbal tea."
"God Ez, I don't think I can do this again."
Ezra squeezed the arm slightly. "Would you like some tea?" He couldn't answer the unspoken question of would Buck have to go through the cleaning again.
"Sure, I'm dry. Can I have some more of your fine whisky?"
"After you drink the tea. I'm sure Mr. Jackson wouldn't approve, but I feel the need to be fortified my self."
"Ezra, I hurt too much. Can't you just say you want a drink, too?"
When the tea and a stiff shot were down him, Ezra watched as Buck drifted back to sleep. He was so tired and he was beginning to feel his own injuries. So far he'd been able to push his own pain out of the way and ignore it. With the sun rising again, it became almost impossible to ignore any longer. Now that Buck seemed a little quieter, Ezra went back to the spring and gently began washing his own battered face and body. At least his ribs were only bruised, not cracked or broken.
After he'd washed, Standish went back to the camp. Taking the small pot, filled it with water and spooning in the ground coffee, he set the pot closer to the fire to boil. Ezra was tired. It wasn't unusual for him to stay up all night for a game of cards but this last two days and nights had wrung him dry. He needed sleep, needed it badly. But until Buck was no longer in danger he must stay awake and alert. There were usually the others who watched over a wounded comrade, but for once there was only him. He would rise to the occasion and see Buck back to good health if it was humanly possible.
The Two-Blood moaned and tried to roll over onto his back. Ezra jumped, and holding Buck still, pleaded, "Please Buck, you must lie still."
The air charged and Ezra found himself holding a struggling half-conscious wolf. The animal's lips were drawn back in a growl. The gambler quickly changed his tactics, loosening his hold and began stroking the wolf from head to tail, avoiding the stitches. "Easy Bucklin, you're safe, but you must be still. Good boy, that's it. Ezra will make it better. You just rest, good boy."
The calming voice and soothing strokes calmed the wolf. The lupine stretched out on his good side, little whimpers coming as he drifted back to sleep.
Ezra couldn't believe that Buck had changed right under his hands. It was a singular experience. It was so easy to forget as he stroked the huge head that inside this form was a man, his friend. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he hoped 'the man' wouldn't remember too clearly the care the wolf was getting.
Standish stretched out beside the wolf, never stopping his petting. He slowly stopped, his hand resting on the silver and black furred neck as he fell asleep.
Ezra was startled awake by a large wet tongue lapping across his face. "What?" He jerked back. "Buck?"
With another sweep of the wet long tongue came a whine.
"Mr. Wilmington, please. Could you possibly change back?"
The static-charged air shifted and the human lay beside the gambler on his belly.
"Much better. How do you feel?" Ezra asked as he reached out to check for a fever.
"Better. Sore. Stitches pull a bit. What happened, Ezra? How long have I been out?"
Ezra sat up. "You don't remember? Please lie still, I must check your wound."
"The last thing I remember is you stitching me up. I don't remember how I came to be in wolf form."
"You were battling a fever and from what I could tell, having rather unpleasant dreams. You started struggling and I was attempting to prevent you from turning onto your wound and. . .suddenly. . .you were a wolf. I..." Ezra raised his hands in wonder, looking back at the Two-Blood. "I felt you change in my hands. It was quite remarkable really. And then you were much easier to calm as a wolf. I must have fallen asleep, I apologize for that. . .."
"Ez, it's okay. How long have I been out of it?" The rogue asked again.
"You were tired. I. . .It couldn't have been easy taking care of me. I don't remember any of that. Could you tell what I was dreaming?"
"At one point I believe you were re-living saving JD from the crazed Col. Anderson. I must get the salve." Ezra abruptly stood and walking over to his pack retrieved the small jar.
Buck watched him and turned his head to keep watching the smaller man. He called softly, "What else, Ezra?"
"I can't say for sure. You were delirious, yet you didn't say much. Now let me put some of this on your wound." Ezra knelt down and began smoothing the healing salve over the stitches. "It's not so red and irritated, there seems to be no further sign of infection.
Does it pain you too much?"
Buck thought for a minute watching Ezra as the smaller man concentrated on tending the long gash. When he didn't answer right away, Ezra stopped and green eyes met dark blue.
"No, it doesn't hurt, hardly at all now. It was about my Ma, wasn't it?"
Ezra refused to meet Bucks eyes, "Yes."
Buck laid a big hand on the gambler's leg. "It's all right Ezra. I told all of you about my Ma so you'd understand what a bastard my father is. My ma was the best thing in my life until Chris and I hooked up."
"I didn't wish to burden you. There is something I'm curious about though. You said once when you were half awake, 'I don't think I can do this again', what did you mean?" When Buck didn't answer right away, Standish said, "I'm sorry I didn't mean to pry."
"No, you weren't. Hell, we're pack mates now and pack mates don't have secrets. It's just. . .. I'm not sure what I was talking about. One guess is. . ..it's hard to explain. You see, ever since I was a lit'le 'un I seem to get hurt by getting cut. The first time I 'member I's only around five. I'm not sure how I cut my hand. Ma had to take me to the doc and get stitches. That was just the first time that I remember. Seems like if there was something long, shiny and sharp anywhere near me I got cut." Buck looked away, his hand opening and closing in a fist. "I got bayoneted during the War once. I don't think I'd have survived that one, but Chris is a stubborn cuss and wouldn't let me
die . . ."
"He was your alpha even then?"
Smiling, Buck replied. "Yeah, from the first time we met, I knew Chris was my alpha."
"Why didn't you tell him about yourself then?"
"I couldn't. It went against everything I learned as I grew up. Besides I was afraid. . .afraid that he'd be disgusted, walk away from me. I couldn't lose him, he's the closest thing I had to a brother, so. . .."
"So you kept your secret for all those years."
"Yeah," Buck tried to change positions and hissed as the movement pulled on his wound. "Yeah, one time after Chris had married Sarah, we were working on a fence, stringing wire. Chris cut it and it bounced back at me, sliced my leg from hip to ankle. We were too far from town so Sarah had to stitch me up. She was eight months pregnant and she never complained. I was really sick for a while after that, she and Chris nursed me. I thought I was gonna die that time."
"I was lucky, I couldn't move and Sarah went into labor. Chris had to deliver the baby, with my coaching. What? I saw lots of babies come and go when I was a kid. Anyway, I got to hold Adam first thing, 'cause I was there and Chris was busy." Buck smiled at the happy memory.
"There does seem to be a pattern there. Please, roll over so I might add some more of this salve to you wound. I also need to check if the infection is gone. I'm sorry, but I may have to re-stitch it." Ezra said, reaching for the small jar.
Buck fell forward rather than rolling over, exposing his back side to his friend. "Okay."
Ezra examined the wound, and taking the cloth off the infected part, he looked closely, relieved to see that most of the red was gone. And despite the stitches being removed, it seemed to be healing. Standish took a finger full of the salve and carefully spread it over the cut. The wound surprised him it was healing so fast. Buck always said he healed faster than most; now Ezra believed it. He spread the thick salve down Buck's back. Sitting back, he wiped his hand. "If you will drink more of Nathan's healing tea, I have prepared something you can eat. Then I think you must get some more sleep, you will be much better tomorrow, I 'm sure."
"I hate Nathan's tea. I want to go home tomorrow."
"I know, but it will be difficult for you to ride. I'm afraid the end of your wound will, umm, rub on the saddle."
"Then I'll walk on four feet."
"I don't think so, Mr. Wilmington. That could prove even more disastrous than riding."
"I still want to go home."
Ezra couldn't help smiling at the expression that could only be described as a pout on the ladies man's face. "We will see how you make it through the night, how the wound looks tomorrow. Is that satisfactory?"
Buck opened his eyes. It was daylight, again? The last he remembered it had been night. He mentally explored his body discovering it felt much better. Turning his head, he looked for Ezra. He found the gambler shuffling cards, leaning against an overturned saddle. Buck licked his dry lips. "Ezra?" he called, shocked at how weak he sounded.
Ezra looked at Buck, getting up he came over and knelt down beside Buck. "How are you feeling?"
"Dry, better, I want to go home."
"The dry I can fix, I'm relieved you're better. But I'm not sure you're well enough to ride. The stitches would rub against the saddle."
Sipping the tepid tea Buck said, "Then I'll run on four feet."
"I don't think that would be wise either. But if you promise to rest today, we'll consider going tomorrow."
Buck leaned back, looking Ezra in the eye. "Okay Ez, but you know I heal faster than most. I'll be ready to go tomorrow."
True to his word, Buck was much better the next morning. He gingerly pulled on his pants and shirt leaving both open. "I'm ready to go Ezra, as soon as you are."
Ezra frowned at his friend. He felt deep down that the Two-Blood was rushing, but didn't have the heart to try to stop him. Besides, he'd like to be as far away from this place as Buck. "I'll saddle the horses," he said without arguing.
Buck smiled and began packing the saddlebags, winching occasionally as the stitches pulled when he stretched too far.
Ezra brought Steel over and handed the reins to Wilmington.
Buck stood and leaned his forehead against Steels. "I missed ya, fella." The gray gelding blew 'burr' and leaned into his man.
Wilmington went around to mount. The whole wound stretched as he swung into the saddle and he realized that Ezra was right - the last four inches or so rubbed the high back of his saddle. He could 'stand' in the stirrups or lean to one side. It was going to be a long day.
The Two-Blood bit his lip as the morning passed. He wanted to be home with the others. He needed to be home, with the others, not just Ezra. Finally at midday, he called out, "Ezra, I need to stop."
Ezra stopped instantly; turning his horse around. He dismounted and quickly stood beside Steel. "Let me help you," he said, reaching up. He carefully guided the tall man down and helped him sit.
Loosening the saddle girths, he left the horses, bringing the canteens. "Please allow me to examine your wound."
Buck looked up at Standish and then wearily shrugged out of his shirt. "It's fine, Ezra, I'm just tired."
"Of course you are, Mr. Wilmington. But indulge me, please."
Buck sighed and turned. Ezra examined the wound, starting where the infection had been worse on the shoulder. He carefully went down the rogue's back, over the hip and down the butt cheek. The only place that showed irritation was where the saddle had rubbed.
"You appear to be fine as you stated, however I propose we rest for a time and perhaps eat. I also am weary of the saddle."
"Ya don't have to say that, Ezra. We could go much faster if it wasn't for me."
"That may be true. But if it wasn't for you, I would not be riding at all. So I suggest we rest, and when you feel up to it we will continue."
"Sure, but I want to be home tonight." Buck reached for the canteen and drank deeply.
"That will make for a very long day, Mr. Wilmington. Are you sure you are up to it?"
"I'll make it, I want to be home. Besides, it won't be dark for a long time."
"Very well, you let me know when your ready to travel again."
They were riding again at Buck's insistence. Standish kept looking back at the Two-Blood. He felt that at any time he'd turn and find Buck lying on the ground. "Do you wish to stop and rest again, Mr. Wilmington?"
"Nah, Ez. I'm good."
"It's EZ-RA, Mr. Wilmington."
"I just like to see ya turn red. Matches your coat so well." Buck tried to laugh, but it didn't come out quite right.
Sighing, Ezra turned and continued riding, still turning back to check on his friend every little while.
Buck was standing in the stirrups, holding onto the saddle horn, his knuckles white. The paleness of his face was a sharp contrast to his dark mustache. He had his hat pulled down low to hide his eyes.
After another mile Standish looked back again. The taller man was leaning over the saddle horn trying to prevent contact between his saddle and his stitches.
"No, Ezra, we keep going. I want to be home. I want to get there tonight."
Ezra turned, sighing. It was easier just to go along with the suffering man than argue with him. If or when the rogue collapsed, Ezra would be there to catch him. The gambler found himself making bets with himself when this would happen. Sighing, he looked back again.
It was almost full dark. Buck hurt so bad he wanted to scream or howl yet he refused to stop. He leaned forward, his head resting on Steel's neck. "Almost there, almost home. . ." he kept telling himself.
Ezra rode beside or a little in front, trying to watch the way they were going and watch Buck at the same time. He squinted and thought he saw a light. He was so intent on the welfare of his companion, he was startled when the horses stopped. Realizing he was at the Larabee ranch house, he called out, "Hello? Mr. Larabee? Any one here?"
"Ezra?" Larabee stepped outside, gun in hand.
"Thank God, Mr. Larabee. Mr. Wilmington is hurt. Is Mr. Jackson here by chance?"
Rushing forward and sticking the pistol in his pants, Chris reached up for the swaying rogue.
"Be careful of his back," Ezra called as he slipped from the saddle.
"Hey, Big Dog," Chris said as he wrapped his arms around the semi-conscious man.
Buck raised his head and blinked several times. "Chris?"
"Yeah pard. Come on, let's get you inside."
" 'kay. I'm home?"
"Yeah, Big Dog, you're home." Chris said as he half carried the exhausted Two-Blood to the first bed. "Here, lay down and let Nathan look at you."
" 'm fine Chris, just tired."
The tall alpha looked down at his oldest friend. Buck was pale, drawn and barely awake. "Buck, you will let Nathan check you out and you will do as he says. Got it?"
Surrendering Buck to Nathan, Chris turned and went outside where Ezra leaned tiredly against a porch pole.
Chris stood on the other side of the pole. "What happened, Ezra?"
The exhausted gambler glanced up at his friend and leader. Taking a deep breath, he began telling Larabee what happened, not sparing himself in the telling.
When he finished, Chris was silent for a few minutes. "It wasn't your fault Ezra. You didn't know that creep would hunt you down. You defended Buck when he would have killed him and you took care of him and got our Two-Blood home."
"I'm not sure how good a job I did taking care of him, Mr. Larabee."
Nathan heard Ezra as he walked outside. "You did good, Ezra. You stitched Buck up as good as any doctor would do. He's healing so well I'll be taking the stitches out in a few days."
"But the infection?"
"That could have happened to anyone. I repeat, you did great. Now are you hurt?"
"Me? No, I'm fine," Ezra answered, startled by the sudden change of subject.
"Umm hmmm. Then go get some rest. You look like you're about to fall you're so tired."
Ezra shifted and looked around. "I believe I shall. I am very tired."
"Go then." Nathan made a shooing motion.
Ezra stumbled through the door, stopping briefly to look down at the Two-Blood. He smiled. "Rest my friend, we made it home. And Buck, it is you that's stronger than you think."