by Sammy Girl
Disclaimer: Not mine, not making any money.
Authors Note: This is a story in Joe Lawson's awesome Hunter's Moon AU and if you haven't read Hunter's Moon, then this might be a bit confusing! Thanks Joe for the AU and all the help. Thanks too to Kerry for proof reading and because this is all her fault!
Warning: This work of fiction contains graphic descriptions of violence between animals including deaths. The writer does not now, nor has ever supported or endorsed the so-called 'sport' depicted, which has been rightly illegal in her country for years, but was still practised in the 19th Century, when the story is set.
"Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make."
Ezra Standish rolled over and stifled a groan as his hip encountered a rock under his bedroll.
God, he hated camping out.
Finally he pulled himself up on to his feet. Now a whole new stiffness set in, actually the more he tried to move, the worse it seemed. It was soreness, not stiffness, or perhaps both, whatever it was he didn't like it. He looked over at his horse, quietly chopping the long sweet grass near the creek. Riding was going to be torture today.
"This parlous state of affairs is your own fault Ezra P Standish, you asked for it."
That night he and Buck had camped early because the creek was so inviting and the weather so stiflingly hot. They had swum and generally played in the water. Buck had seemed very amused with Ezra, as if he didn't believe Ezra ever played.
Not bothering to dress, they had lain themselves on the mossy creek bank to dry off, before thinking about getting something to eat. Since neither of them really felt like cooking - it was just too hot to make a fire - they contented themselves with biscuits, hard tack, and apples. Finally they had been lying side by side on their bedrolls as the breeze - that was as hot as it had been during the day - blew over they're naked bodies.
"Too hot t' sleep," Buck had commented idly.
"Indeed," Ezra had responded.
"I know a way to guarantee we fall asleep."
"Really, do enlighten me."
"Rather show you."
With that Buck had rolled over on his side to eye the gambler with a leer. His large hand reached over to run itself over Ezra's hard flat abdomen, letting his fingers dip in and out as they passed over the rippled stomach muscles. The flat of his coarse, callused hand brushed over Ezra's dark nipple, already erect and demanding attention.
"This…this is gonna make me sleepy?" Ezra gasped.
"Eventually, give it time boy, give it time." Buck rolled over more, stretching one long, long leg over Ezra, straddling him. He grinned at Standish. "You wanna reach into my saddle bag behind you?" he nodded at the worn leather pouches just behind and to the right of Ezra's head.
"And what, pray tell, am I looking for?" Ezra enquired.
"Oh you'll know it when yer find it," Buck grinned, his while teeth flashing in the fading light.
Ezra had been none too keen to riffle around inside the dark recesses of Wilmington's saddlebags, but forced himself to push a hand inside. He rooted past what felt like a clean shirt and a small leather pouch he took to be a shaving kit. Finally he encountered something hard and smooth. In truth it was hard to concentrate with Buck kneeling over him teasing his nipples. He withdrew the object, which proved to be a small jar. Ezra raised an eyebrow.
"You came prepared?" he enquired.
"Always." Buck took the jar from Standish and opened it and, winking at Ezra, lay it down beside him.
"You're not going to use it?" Ezra asked somewhat disappointed.
"Not yet, no."
Buck moved his hands down Ezra's torso as he bent and gently kissed the now proud nubs he had just been massaging. Ezra for his part writhed and moaned under this ministration. The gentle kissing became more insistent, less gentle, and as it did he liked it more. Then the kisses and small bites were moving, travelling down his now sweat-drenched torso, the skilled tongue occasionally lapping at the salty dew as it passed.
"Oh good Lord!" Ezra exclaimed as big coarse hands began to cup and roll his balls, and yet still his now rock hard cock was neglected. "Please Mr Wil…Buck, please…"
But Buck paid him no mind as his eager mouth moved inexorably closer and closer to the object of his desire at its own pace.
Finally he was licking his way up the shaft until he reached the top. By now Ezra was panting, his hands balled in the fabric of the bedroll. Buck kissed and nibbled and sucked at the tip.
"Please Buck, I'm begging you, please…please more!"
Buck looked up. "More?"
"Yes damn it! More!"
"Well you should have said so." With that, the Two-Blood winked at him.
He then began sucking, licking, and nibbling the now weeping cock in earnest, running his teeth along the length and then suddenly deep-throating the gambler, who, for his part, was now thrusting his hips up to meet the skilled mouth as it went about its work.
When Ezra came it was shouting Buck's name, as the tall Two-Blood swallowed his seed. Finally Buck sat up, and as Ezra watched through slightly glazed eyes, he licked a slight dribble of creamy liquid as it escaped the corner of his mouth.
"Mmmm, like lickin' butter off a knife," he purred.
Buck watched as Ezra relaxed and tried to get his breathing back under control. As Ezra watched he reached for the jar, removed the lid and scooped out a generous amount. Warming the cream in his hands as Ezra propped himself up on his elbows the better to watch the show; Buck coated his impressively large erection in the warm, slick paste.
"My turn I think?" he said looking down at the naked man beneath him.
"So it would appear." Ezra grinned, moving his legs so they were either side of Buck's and not between them, he spread himself invitingly for his lover.
Buck made sure his finger was well coated and then bent down to slip it inside Ezra, moving it in and out as his lover smiled up at him. Ezra really did prefer to be on the bottom - most of the time anyway. Eventually a second finger was added, but Buck was still taking it slow and careful.
"Damn it Buck! Get on with it! I need you and by the look of things you need me," he encouraged, eyeing the weeping state of Buck's cock.
"I don't wanna hurt you Ez, we done this before, you know how big I am, I could do you some damage."
"I can take it, I want it…. now come on big man!"
"Hell Ez! You know you what you do to me when you talk like that! But I ain't gonna hurt you, so wait!"
With that he started to work the two fingers apart, stretching Ezra to accommodate his width, finally he added a third finger, noting that Ezra's apparently spent cock was twitching as his fingers touched bottom and hit the sweet spot. Finally he withdrew is hand and edged the head of his shaft into the well prepared opening as Ezra drew back his legs further to better facilitate Buck's entry. Buck leant forward until he was resting his hands either side of Standish's chest and bent down to kiss him as he rocked slowly, increasing the speed and depth of his thrusts.
"More! Move damn it, faster!" Ezra demanded.
"Harder, I need it harder." Ezra repeated his demand.
Buck had complied with the request and fucked him into the ground, and it was good, it was very, very good!
Now however, the endorphins had worn off and a night on the hard ground had wrought its revenge, he was paying the price for indulging his baser instincts.
He walked a few steps away from the bed roll, casting his eye around looking for the Two-Blood. Not seeing him, but discovering a pile of clothing, he wondered if his friend had changed into wolf form and gone for a run. Now that they knew about Buck's true nature, Ezra had chided himself he had not seen the signs before. He prided himself that he could see peoples' 'tells', and yet he had missed everyone of Buck's. After all - no matter how late Buck went to bed, no matter what 'activities' he got up to in the night, he was never late up, he was a habitual early riser. Buck liked his steak so rare it ran with blood when cut; he rarely if ever ate any vegetables. And when he slept - and Ezra had watched him sleep while on watch often enough on the trail - he always started on his back but ended up on his side; all his long limbs stretched out to the side, his head tucked down against his chest; it was a very canine position. And then there were the dreams. When Buck dreamt he twitched, his limbs jerked and trembled and he made little growl-like sounds and yips. When you took it all together it was so obvious, he could have kicked himself.
His musings were interrupted when he spotted Buck, the true Buck not the wolf. He had evidently been bathing and shaving in the creek, as he now walked, naked and wet, up the bank to retrieve his clothing. Ezra watched transfixed as the big, lean gunman casually pulled on his clothing over his still wet boy.
"Mornin' Ez!" Buck called as he noticed Standish staring at him. "Why don't you wash up while I get coffee started?"
Buck and Ezra were headed to a mining town in the mountains, called Blue Creek. The sheriff had arrested a man who had tried to rob the stage. He matched the description of a man who had attempted to rob the bank in Four Corners, although he had failed, mainly due to Ezra's quick thinking, he had killed a cowboy as he stole his horse to make a successful escape. Since only Ezra had seen the man up close, he was travelling to Blue Creek to make a formal identification. Buck came along because it was, as a general rule, safer not to travel alone. No one seemed to know much about Blue Creek, other than it was apparently thriving. As they made their way higher up into the mountains a small breeze picked up, for which they were truly grateful. They entered the town with the breeze on their backs.
Blue Creek was relatively small, much the same size as Four Corners but the streets were crowded and the buildings all looked new or in good order. As they made their way along the main street looking for the sheriff's office, Ezra became aware of an unpleasant odour. As they got closer to the end of the town the wind shifted, so that now it was more to their side rather than their backs and suddenly the odour got stronger.
Ezra turned to look at Buck, if he found the smell unpleasant, he hated to think how it was affecting Buck with his much more finely attuned senses. The answer was there for him to see, Buck looked grey or even green. Standish wouldn't have been surprised if he had leapt from Steel's back then and there, and run for the nearest outhouse.
"Um, Ezra?" Buck said somewhat unsteadily.
"Go my friend, I will ascertain the man's identity and join you - back at the creek?" Ezra offered. "Just what is that smell, anyway?"
"Tannery, up in the hills to our left, I'm sorry Ez, if I lived here I could have gotten used to it but like this, all of a sudden…" Buck looked very guilty.
"Go, I will be fine, go…go." Buck tipped his hat at Ezra and with a smile turned is horse back the way they had come and galloped out of town.
As it turned out it wasn't the same man. True, they were of similar height, colouring and build but it wasn't the same man. Ezra resisted the desire to engage in a game of poker with people who didn't know him, and after purchasing a meal, headed for the store. Finally loaded up with oranges, - an expensive rarity, but remembering the night before he considered Buck worth it - biscuits, bacon, a pair of steaks, and an apple pie he headed back toward the creek. By keeping up a good pace he reckoned he would make it back just before dusk.
He found Steel easily enough. The big grey was hobbled so he wouldn't wander too far and was standing in the shallows browsing on the lush vegetation along the creek banks. Buck's big, well cared for saddle was propped up against a tree, his clothes overflowing out of his saddle bags, and his boots sitting neatly beside the saddle. Buck had clearly 'gone wolf' as JD liked to put it.
Ezra unsaddled his own horse and, like Steel, hobbled him and turned him loose. He built a fire, not something he did often because he wasn't very good at it, the others always did it, claiming it was quicker than watching Standish struggling. When he was done, it was getting dark, and still Buck had not returned. Once he had brought the hoses back to camp and tethered them, he tried calling but still Buck did not show. Eventually he had to cook his steak and eat, still calling occasionally. When Buck did not come in response to the smell of cooking Ezra tried firing his gun in the air but to no avail. In the hours since he had returned to the creek side, Buck's absence had generated a variety of emotions in the southerner. First amusement and a little disappointment, then irritation and annoyance that quickly moved to anger, but as darkness fell anger became worry and now, in the black of the night, fear.
Buck was not like Chris or Josiah or come to that Vin, he just didn't take off and not tell anyone, he would never let a friend worry about him unnecessarily. Too worried to sleep Ezra sat by the fire waiting for dawn. As the sky paled he penned a note and tucked it into Buck's saddlebags with his clothes and saddled his own horse.
The wolf had been enjoying just being alive, running in the sun for the sheer joy of running, picking up scents and following them, not to find where they until lead, not to track down the prey that had left them, but just because he could. Then he had picked up a new scent, a female wolf, a female in season, a scent no wolf, no matter what his heritage, could ignore. Lifting his head he tried to get a better sense of where the she wolf was. Then he was up and running, stopping every now and again to check his progress, finally he found her. She was young, maybe only three and she stood in a small wooded grove. The scent of her was intoxicating, it clung to the ground and the trees, it hung in the still, swelteringly hot air. Only the smallest, lightest of breezes disturbed the warm air heavy with her enticing aroma. He approached.
Suddenly something snapped up all around the huge wolf, one moment he was walking towards the waiting female, the next he was lifted up off the ground as a net hidden under the dusty soil snapped up. He struggled ineffectually against the strong net that held him prisoner as it swung four feet of the ground.
Frankie Williams approached the grove from his down wind hiding place. He bent and patted the she wolf.
"Good girl Sheba, snared a good one." He walked up to and around the snarling angry wolf. "Jeez, you're a big one, aren't you?" He approached to get a closer look; in response the wolf snarled and snapped so much he stepped back. "Big and mean, oh you are just perfect my fine, fierce friend."
Williams let loose a loud whistle and in response a wagon rumbled into the wooded grove, driven by a second man. As the net was lowered toward the wagon, the powerful wolf prepared himself to make a break for freedom. But just as he landed on the wagon he found the men were both behind him and in front, so he couldn't watch both. And that was his undoing because suddenly he gave a yelp of surprise and pain as something sharp hit his rump.
The second man held up a syringe. "Thank God for morphine!" he exclaimed as he watched the wolf try and fail to fight off the effects of the drug. When the big wolf regained his senses he was in an iron cage in the back of a dark moving wagon. The cage had been built for an average sized wolf, such a wolf could have stood up and just about turned around in the small cage, but this wolf was huge and he could neither stand properly nor lie down without curling his legs up and he couldn't turn around. In realisation of his captive state, that he was a prisoner travelling who knew where, that his pack would have no way to track him and rescue him, the wolf let out a howl of rage and despair.
Frankie's brother Rhys turned back to shout at the wolf from the driver's seat. "You shut yer yap!" The wolf growled and snarled at him, rattling the bars as he tried to get at his tormentor and captor. "You carry on like that an' I'm gonna pump you so full a morphine you won't wake up 'till we git there!" Miraculously the huge wolf went quiet, as if he actually understood the threat.
Ezra cursed himself repeatedly as he slowly circled out from the campsite on foot, searching for any sign or clue as to where Buck might have gone. If he had only listened when Vin had been instructing JD on how to track. The hot spell had baked the ground hard as rock, the grass away from the creek was brown and stunted, nothing marked the wolf's passing. After more than three hours of fruitless searching he gave up and mounted his horse. Steel whinnied at him as if to say 'Where is my master? Why are you leaving without him?'.
"I will find him for you, have no fear my faithful friend, you remain here in case he returns." Ezra spoke softly to the big horse.
Ezra rode out and began to spiral out from the campsite, calling, shooting and searching for any sign of man or wolf. He hadn't eaten breakfast and didn't stop for lunch as he became more desperate and afraid. It was getting on to dusk when he came upon the wooded grove. Dismounting - the better to search in the shadows under of the trees - he finally found some signs, signs so clear even he couldn't miss them. A wagon had been driven into the grove and had left in the same direction; which had to be significant. Mounting up again he began to follow the wagon tracks as they lead away from the grove, it quickly became clear the tracks were heading north. Eventually it became too dark for him to follow the marks - which while clear in daylight were almost indistinguishable in the fading light - so despite the urge to keep following, he forced himself to stop and make camp. If he lost the tracks in the night what, help could he be?
The wagon carrying the wolf rumbled to a halt. The driver dismounted ignoring the creature imprisoned within. Rhys met his brother who had ridden ahead with his pet wolf Sheba at a pre-arranged campsite.
"You wanna go for a second one?" Rhys asked.
It was normally their practise to return to their client with at least two wolves.
"No, look at the size of him. No he's worth almost as much as two little un's. 'Sides weather's about to change, no… we'll head back now."
The cage had an opening at the bottom of the front panel high enough for a dish to be pushed through. Only when both men and the she wolf had been fed, did the men push in a dish of water and drop in a hunk of salt beef. The huge wolf drank the water after sniffing it carefully, but refused the meat, snarling at the men.
"Suit yourself, ain't no skin off my nose if ya starve yer self," Frankie commented as he left the wagon.
Ezra forced himself to make a fire and eat. If Buck was lost out there someplace he might see the fire and it would do Buck no good if he faltered through lack of food and rest. Eventually he fell asleep only to be woken an hour or so before dawn with a massive thunder crack.
"NO!" Ezra shouted just as the first raindrop hit his face.
Why, he asked himself, did God send the rain now? Now - when it would obliterate every sign the wagon had left. Why did God not want him to save one he had so obviously blessed? For in truth Ezra failed to see how anyone could have endured what Buck had in his life and retained his humanity, retained his honesty and decency, become in fact a force for good, if he were not blessed by God.
But God was not listening, and the heavens opened in earnest and the rain came in torrents to scour the earth of every sign and clue as to the fate of the missing Two-Blood. There was nothing he could now do but call the pack for help.
"What the hell happened?" Chris demanded as he dismounted just outside Blue Creek.
The rest of the Four Corners pack had ridden like the wind to reach the town, but it had still taken them nearly a full day and a half to reach Ezra. The gambler explained the events leading up to Buck's disappearance and his attempts to find him as they rode out to the campsite where the ever-patient Steel still waited for his master to return. Chris, ever the alpha male and pack leader, took command.
"Nathan - I want you and JD to stay here in case he comes back, JD you give Steel some exercise. Ezra, you'll take the rest of us out to this place were you found the wagon tracks. After you show us where you lost the tracks, you and Josiah head into town see what you can fine out, Buck's one big wolf, maybe if someone shot him they'll be boasting about it."
"He's not dead!" JD stated angrily.
None of them had wanted to acknowledge this fear, but many farmers and ranchers would shoot a wolf on sight without a second thought, every time Buck 'went wolf', especially during the day, he took that risk, but it fell to their leader to voice it.
"I don't believe it either JD, but it remains a possibility. Whatever happened we will stay until we know or Buck is back with us, I promise you we will not give up on him!" He placed his hand on the younger, smaller man's shoulder. "Look after Steel, keep a good watch, all right?"
JD nodded his agreement.
In the grove, Vin found evidence of the ropes used to hoist the net into the air, places on the tree branch where the bark had been rubbed smooth. Ezra was even more convinced Buck had been captured, not shot or trapped. The possibility that Buck was lying somewhere, caught in a trap, bleeding and in pain had haunted his nightmares and invaded his thoughts even during the day. Action, something to do, to be instructed and not have to make the decisions somehow made it easier to bear the fear and uncertainty.
Ezra had been right about the thunderstorm, no sign of the wagon was left, all they knew was that it had been going north before the trail was lost. Ezra and Josiah spent their time in the town asking questions and keeping their ears and eyes open. After two days it was beginning to look hopeless and Chris was intending to just head north and hope to find something. That night Ezra entered yet another game of poker with no enthusiasm or intention to win. People were more loose-lipped when they were winning.
"Tell me sir," he addressed the well-dressed older looking cowboy at the table. "Does anyone around here engage in any other form of sport a gentlemen might wager upon?"
Just why someone would apparently go to the trouble of capturing a wolf instead of killing it had been taxing Ezra for some time.
"What kind sport would you be interested in young fella?" the man asked, taking two cards. "I'll open for two."
"Oh any kind, in my own state of Louisiana there were cock fights for example, where a man might places a friendly wager…see your two and raise you two."
"Well, now you mention it, I heard of a place north of here, don't know about cocks but they got dog fightin'…see you and raise you five."
"Most interesting, do you know any more about this place? See your five raise you another five."
"Don't know where exactly, but I heard it was two hundred ante just to get in through the door…call."
The man lay down three jacks. Now he had the information he needed Ezra was disinclined to let the man win, especially now he needed two hundred dollars. So, with not even the smallest of smiles, he lay down his five diamonds to take the pot, which came to twenty three dollars, so with what he had already he was still one hundred and fifty six short.
With no more information Chris determined they would move north following in the general direction of the wagon. It the course of the next two days, they passed through several towns and discovered some more information. The dogfights were held at a ranch near a town called Pine Springs, the two hundred dollar ante was true, but a guest could accompany each player. On arrival at Pine Springs only Ezra and Nathan entered the town.
It was decided that Ezra would play the part of a bored southern gentleman looking for some sport, Nathan would be his manservant. While Ezra played poker to picking up the extra hundred they needed, the two of them would try to find out more and hopefully get Ezra an invite and, more importantly, an exact location.
"Yessir." Nathan really, really hated playing the 'boy' and if Buck's freedom or even his life hadn't been at stake, he wouldn't ever have considered it. What Nathan didn't know was that Ezra hated to play the 'master' just as much, and was only doing it for exactly the same reasons.
"Take the bags to the hotel, register us then come and find me." With that, Ezra strode across the street toward the biggest, most opulent looking saloon he had seen in a very long time.
He practically drowned in the smell of money and gambling as he entered the fine establishment, even the working girls were tastefully dressed. It didn't take long for him to locate the bigger players and most profitable games. As the afternoon wore on to evening Ezra worked his way through the games, toward the big game in the back room. Nathan played the attentive servant to perfection while trying to get information from the girls, bar staff and even other servants he identified. Finally, at around ten in the evening, Ezra had just taken a big pot of around a hundred and sixty dollars. He now had close to two hundred and fifty dollars. If possible, he wanted to get to six hundred - that way all of them could get in.
"Mr Sands?" A man approached Ezra as he collected his money.
"Sir? Ah don't believe ah have the honour of your acquaintance."
"I'm Mr Ross's foreman, he wants you to join the game." The man who spoke was an average looking man, with bad teeth and receding hair.
Ezra stood up, placing his winnings in his wallet.
"Come Nathan," he commanded, not bothering to look at Jackson.
"Just you, Mr Sands," the foreman warned.
The foreman raised an eyebrow as Ezra handed his wallet to Nathan..
"Mr…?" Ezra enquired.
"Don Cole." The man supplied.
"Mr Cole, I trust Nathan completely, where I go my money goes and therefore so does Nathan."
Cole turned to view the very tall well-built Negro behind Ezra, he certainly didn't want to tangle with him.
"Very well, this way." He indicated the way to the closed back room.
The back room was actually a fairly good imitation of a small gentleman's club. The circular gaming table in the centre was covered in the finest green baize and trimmed with Moroccan leather. The chairs were mahogany, generously upholstered in dark green leather. The lamps suspended above the table were made of gleaming brass and topped with bottle green glass. Under normal circumstances Ezra would have been in seventh heaven, he could have died right there and been happy. The men around the table were clearly taking a break from their gaming, but looking at the money sitting ready in front of the various seats, this was very definitely the big game. If he played it right not only would he get his invite to the dog fights, but also the stake money.
A tall man with steel grey hair and a cut glass tumbler in his hand walked around the table.
"You must be Mr Edward Sands, I'm Leland Ross welcome to my saloon." He held out his hand and they shook.
"Ah am very glad to meet you Mr Ross, and may ah compliment you sir, on such a fine oasis of gentlemanly civilisation. Ah had despaired of findin' such comforts and such stimulatin' challenges this far west."
Nathan personally thought Ezra was laying the accent on a bit thick, but Ross seemed to be lapping it up.
"And who would this be?" Ross indicated Nathan.
"That is Nathan, where ah go he goes, it is rule of mine." He turned to Jackson and extending his hand clicked his fingers. "Money Nathan!" he commanded.
Obediently, Nathan handed over the well-stuffed wallet. The point was well made and no one questioned Nathan's presence. The game went well, some of the men were skilled players, others just very rich and liked to think they were good. None were so good Ezra had to resort to cheating, although he was quite prepared to do that if needed. Ezra regaled his new gaming partners with tales of his gaming exploits both real and imagined. He told them of cock fights in New Orleans, poker tournaments on riverboats, horse racing in Kentucky and alligator wrestling in Louisiana.
"Tell me mister Sands, have you ever seen dog fighting?" Ross finally asked.
"Once or twice, but the contests were so uneven there was very little sport in it. Why do you ask?" Ezra tried desperately to remain calm.
"I have an interest in the sport, breed my own dogs and even hold the occasional contest for a select invited players. I was wondering if you would be interested?"
Ezra didn't want to seem too keen and they still didn't know if Buck had been taken to fight.
"Ah might be, what sport is there?"
"We have dog fights, and to add variety we pit the best dogs against other opponents, rather than each other. No one wants to lose his best dog to a friend."
"Other opponents?" Ezra asked.
"Yes, mountain lions, wolverines, bears, and wolves. Of course sometimes we have to put up more than one dog or there would be no contest, but it is fine sport, might I interest you? We had a meeting only this last weekend but there will be another this weekend coming, costs two hundred to get in."
"Ah may well be, ah..er…ah have couple of acquaintances, they are due to meet me here in a few days who might be interested as well." Ezra decided to strike while the iron was hot.
"Can you vouch for them?"
"Most assuredly, both are a little rough and ready but wealthy men and lovers of good sport."
"Who are these gentlemen?" Ross enquired.
"Mr Christopher Lawson, a horse breeder from California travelling with his younger brother Vincent, and Mr Joseph Sanchez and his son Juan, from Mexico. Young Juan has been studying in the East, Senor Sanchez wishes the boy to gain some more 'experience' if you understand?"
"Oh indeed I do. Them eastern colleges can be a mite soft on a boy. My man Cole will give you directions, the fights begin next Friday, at around eight p.m., at my ranch. I'm sure you will find it entertaining."
The ranch proved to be huge, the house new and very large. There were a number of buildings, which might house the dogfights, but without getting closer even with Vin's telescope, it was impossible to tell which. Security was high; a man with a rifle on the water tower, another in the hayloft meant no one could approach the ranch undetected. Cole had made it clear to Ezra no 'players' would be admitted before Friday. So, much as they hated it, the pack had to wait it out until Friday, which since it was only Monday, was a whole five days away. Chris and Vin made an appearance in town playing the parts Ezra had set up for them, likewise Josiah and JD. They refrained from gambling, but Ezra continued to play in order to raise the six hundred they were going to need. In between being seen in town they kept a watch on the ranch, but although they saw dogs there was no sign of any other animals. Then on the third day the wind picked up and changed direction.
The wolf had been placed in a cage just six feet square and three feet high. He was given water, but only minimal food.
"Keep 'im hungry Jack," Cole had told the man who fed the dogs and other animals. "Keep 'im hungry an' mean."
The cage, along with three others, was underground, the ceiling so low the guard could barely stand upright. It was dark most of the time and it smelled bad - the odour was bad enough for humans, but for the other creatures incarcerated down there the stench was overpowering and relentless. The huge wolf was stiff and sore, he just ached to stretch his legs to run, and down in the darkness it was impossible to tell how long he had been there. He was hungry and although he got water it was warm and stale, so he dreamt of cool clear creek water, and of the one he had been with beside such a creek only a short time ago. At least he thought it was a short time ago. He had examined the cage carefully, iron bars on the floor meant he couldn't dig his way out. The door was locked with a new looking padlock. At first he though they knew he was a Two-Blood, but on spotting that all the other cages had new looking padlocks hanging from the doors he dismissed the idea. Perhaps since wolf pelts, not to mention bears skins were valuable the captive animals had to locked up to protect them. He then had a sickening thought, his pelt was only worth stealing now, not after they were finished with him. Just how much damage was there going to be? Well if they wanted him mean they had it, he was one angry, mean, pissed of wolf and any chance he was offered he would be away, and if he got to bite a chunk out of one of his tormentors, so much the better.
Jack opened the doors at the far end of the underground structure and descended the steps. He left the doors open to increase the light and make the stench less unpleasant. A warm breeze blew in from the surrounding hills and carried on it was a faint scent. At first the wolf didn't notice, then another gust of wind blew in. He raised his head and sniffed, the scent was familiar, something safe and calming, he sniffed again and finally recognising the scent and what it meant, the huge lupine threw back his massive head and howled, and howled.
There was just something so distinctive about that howl, something so pain filled, that JD stood up suddenly, quickly followed by Sanchez.
"It's him," the young man breathed, "Oh God - listen to him - he sounds so sad!"
"Then we better give him something to feel happy about, hadn't we?" With that Sanchez let loose his own howl, except it was more like singing, as if it was a full moon and he was singing at the moon. Quickly JD joined in, adding his higher but equally powerful voice to Josiah's bass.
When his call was returned, the wolf just howled all the harder, but this was a call of greeting and relief. They were there, his pack had come for him, they would rescue him, he wasn't alone, they hadn't forgotten him or abandoned him, his family had come for him!
"You shut yer noise!" Jack ran his long heavy stick along the bars. "Shut up! Or I'll smash yer teeth - in see how long you last like that!"
The wolf just growled at him, approaching the bars menacingly, licking his lips, and still the low growl continued in the back of his throat. Outside, the howl the wolf had answered was faint and to Jack's ears somehow not quite normal, but the huge wolf threw back his head once more and howled in reply
"You think they're here for you? What - you think a pack of mangy wolves is gonna save you? Oh no my friend, yer fate is sealed, you ain't ever gettin' outta here!"
More than anything the wolf wanted to tell him, show him, how wrong he was. But that was just too risky. No, he could wait it out, no matter how long it took the pack was here and they would come for him.
That night the two voices that had called to the wolf were joined by four more, but with the doors shut they couldn't hear his reply to their song. Still they sang, reaching out to their captured pack-mate with every fibre of their beings. Ross stood on the veranda and listened.
"What do you reckon Cole?" he asked the Forman.
"Don't get it sir, that big fella he just keeps callin' to 'um but we can't find sight nor sound of them. We found evidence of a camp, but no wolves, not so much as one paw print. I tell you it's weird."
"Don't know that either, they pulled out long before we got there, looked like seven horses, that's all I know."
The two men listened a while longer until the strange wolf song stopped. "It ain't like any wolf howlin' I ever heard a'fore sir, it's more like singing than howlin'." Ross nodded his agreement with his subordinate's assessment.
"Double the guard on the stock, tell them to shoot to kill if they have to, come Saturday this will all be over." With that the wealthy rancher turned and retired inside for the night.
"Can't we just go in there and bust him out?" JD demanded.
"No we can't," Chris stated firmly.
"But we don't know what they're doing to him in there, I mean … to them he's just an animal!" JD pleaded. Only he and Josiah had heard the first, lonely howl before Buck had heard them and begun to sing rather than howl.
"JD, they need him alive, and reasonably fit, until they want him to fight they will look after him, at least they won't hurt him. Yes, they think he's just a wolf, so if we go in there and something goes wrong they're gonna have no compunction about killing him, and you know there is nothing we could do about it, because they will have killed a wolf, and that ain't no crime," Josiah tried to explain to the distraught young man, "I know you want him out, we all do." Sanchez glanced at Ezra, no poker face could hide his distress. "But for Buck we have to be strong and patient, he knows we're here, he knows he's no longer alone. Be strong John Dunne, take your strength from the pack, only together are we strong enough to do this."
JD nodded, bowing his head to hide just how distressed he was by this turn of events. With the increased guards around the ranch it wasn't possible to return without possibly blowing their cover stories. All of them hoped Buck understood that they had not abandoned him.
The days leading to Friday dragged. Ezra resorted to cheating to get the remaining money they needed, not because he needed to but because he just couldn't be bothered not to, they needed the money and the quicker the better.
Come Friday all of them, especially Ezra, were nervous. Normally the Southerner never got edgy before a con, but never had so much been at stake. Never had he been trying to save not just a friend, but someone who might very well prove to be the most important person in his life. But he put his nervousness to the back of his mind. In this operation he was the leader, the others, even Chris, would look to him for a lead. As the six of them rode toward the ranch, Ezra reminded them to stay in character, characters they had been rehearsing daily since Ezra had explained them. He cautioned them on over-reacting, warned them not to give the game away until Chris gave the signal to act. He told them, and prayed he could do the same.
The building they had suspected of being the venue of the so-called 'sport' did indeed prove to be a semicircular dog pit. The steep sides were lined in wood, white washed and ominously splattered with what had to be blood. The top edge was over hung to stop any animal, most likely the mountain lions Ross had mentioned, jumping out. Around it there were seats, actually little more than benches in two banked tiers. Powerful lamps were suspended over the pit and lined the walls. Off to the side was an opening leading into what appeared to be a private bar.
"It's very impressive," Chris breathed in Ezra's ear.
"It's barbaric," Nathan commented.
Their host welcomed the new 'players' and introduced them to some of his friends and fellow dog owners. The fights were brutal, and sickening. So much so JD had to leave rather than watch when a brave white bitch, who, having lost, lay down and submitted, as she tried to save herself, but the other dog just kept ripping at the poor thing. Her pathetic whimpers and yelps were too much for the young man and he fled the building. Luckily his behaviour fitted into his persona of the eastern educated boy who needed toughening up. Vin walked up to him as he stood staring at the half moon in the clear sky of another sweltering night.
"You all right kid?" he asked.
"No! I am not all right! I…I am, God that is just…how can people call that sport?" JD stammered out.
"Nature is cruel JD, animals fight to the death all the time."
"If they have to! Not just so some rich guys can't feel so bored 'cos, they have so much money and nothing to do!"
"Yeah, yer right, but we have to do this just a bit longer, just until we find Buck. Can you do that?"
JD took a deep breath, cleared his eyes and nodded. "I can make it, I won't let Buck down."
Disappointingly there was no wolf baiting on Friday, Chris, Josiah and Ezra had made some small bets but nothing big, none of them had lost badly. Chris was slightly up on the night, Ezra more or less even and Josiah was only slightly down. Ross came over to Ezra as the evening wound up.
"Did you enjoy the sport, Mr Sands?" he asked brightly.
"Indeed sir most entertaining and diverting. The sport continues tomorrow? Ah was most intrigued by your mention of wild beasts."
"Of course, your entry is already paid, we will be very happy to have you, you and your friends. They too had a good time?" he enquired.
"Ah believe so, yes."
"I noticed the lad go a little green about the gills, he recovered?" Ezra nodded. "I see why the father wanted to bring him out here, boy needs to toughen up some!"
"Quite." If you only knew just how tough that boy really is! Ezra thought. Well you will, you will!
It seemed unbelievably cruel to have to wait another day, they were all too well aware that Buck must have known they were there, so close he must have smelled them with no difficulties. Chris knew he had to keep his men occupied until the second visit to the dog pit. They set up camp just outside the ranch boundary. JD gave Steel some gentle exercise, Ezra took out Buck's crumpled clothing and washed it, before doing his best to dry it flat and brush some shape into the jacket. Vin went out and hunted down some game, returning with a freshly shot small deer. The other three were, by nature, much calmer and more able to sit out the agonising wait, but even for them the last few hours dragged.
And the waiting wasn't over. It seemed wolf baiting was to be the highlight of the evening and the very last event. Finally, when even Chris though he couldn't stand the wait any longer; Ross called for attention.
"My friends!" he began, "As is traditional we end with a spectacle. My prize dog, Sultan and Tom Liner's King will open against a worthy opponent. As before, once you have viewed the foe you may place bets with the house as to how long the contest runs and how many dogs it takes to end it. You will not be disappointed my friends, this one is magnificent!"
"What does all that mean?" asked Vin.
"It means," Ezra explained. "That once we have viewed the wolf…Buck, we can place bets as to how long and how many dogs it will take to kill him."
"So Buck has no chance, no matter how hard he fights he dies?" JD clarified.
"No!" Chris stated firmly. "Because we are here. Spread out and watch for my signal. Go!" he commanded.
The six men dispersed into the throng, as the other patrons crowded the sides of the semicircle to catch sight of the night's sacrificial lamb. There were gasps as the truly huge wolf was released into the pit. Once in there the big creature stretched and cast his eyes up and around the sea of faces gazing at him, it was almost as if he was searching for someone. The patrons were now clamouring to make bets based on the size of the creature. Chris had no intention of letting the fight even begin and in readiness drew his gun.
"Don't move." Chris obediently froze, feeling the unmistakable pressure of a gun barrel pressed into the small of his back!
Ross came to stand beside Ezra. "Enjoying yourself Sands?" he asked.
Ezra felt his blood freeze in his veins, there was just something about the tone of voice, years of conditioning told him something was very wrong!
"I'll just take this." Ross pulled out Ezra's Remington before he could do anything about it. "I was never sure about you, there was just something not right, and your friends so conveniently close at hand. You know if you are going to earn your living deceiving people you have to work on your act!"
Ezra was well aware this had been a hastily put together plan and he was so worried and distracted he was off his usual game, and now his lack of professionalism had put Buck - all of them - in jeopardy. Chris had given him the responsibility of leading the mission and he had failed all of them and his failure might cost Buck his life or worse, because if he were forced to change, here, now, in front all these strangers, who knew what would happen to him!
"What was the plan, wait until the very end, until all the money was in one place and then take it all with your gang? Well Sands…if that is your name - I'm afraid not tonight. Now I don't want any trouble, we will just stand here and wait until it's over then you and the others will be escorted out of here." Ezra's eyes darted around trying to pick out the others. "Oh don't worry, they are all taken care of as well. So Mr Sands, let's just enjoy the show."
Ezra's right arm, complete with it's hidden Derringer, was trapped against his side as Ross stood close beside him with a gun jammed up under his ribs. As Ezra looked around the room he picked out the others. Cole stood just behind Chris, all the others had a man beside or behind them, and he could tell by their expressions they were as helpless as he was.
"I assure you sir, neither I nor my friends had any intention to rob you or any of your group, we are merely seeking a friend who has been missing for some time, that is all," Ezra explained.
"Really," Ross commented sarcastically. "Well you know, I don't care. Now you hush because I have a good deal of money says my Sultan will get the kill and it will take three to bring him down, so you just be good and I won't have to through you in there with them!"
Suddenly a huge cheer rose from the crowed as two dogs entered the arena. Both were Bull Terriers, the smaller one was mostly white with a few black points, the large was brindle with part of one ear missing. Both dogs wore thick leather collars to protect their vulnerable necks. The two dogs split up as soon as they entered the arena, snarling and snapping at the wolf, who in truth looked bewildered, looking up every now and again as if seeking help.
Oh Lord, Buck's never had to fight like this before, Two-Bloods fight one on one! Ezra suddenly realised.
Indeed the wolf looked unsure how to deal with the twin attackers coming at him from two different angles snarling and snapping. He snarled back, his hackles raised, ears back, swinging his head from side to side to try and keep track of them.
"The wall! The wall!" Vin's voice cut though the cheers and shouts. "Git yer back against the wall!"
The wolf lifted his huge head and then began to back away from his tormentors until his vulnerable rear end was pressed up against the wall. Now the dogs attacked each flank, first one then the other would come in. To begin with they just worried at him, small bites here and there, but little by little the attacks got stronger, the wolf, big though he was, wasn't quick enough to stop them; only occasionally did his powerful jaws find a target and when they did he seemed unable to deliver a real bite, as if he didn't want their blood in his mouth.
"Attack brother, attack is the best form of defence!" Josiah's voice was instantly recognisable as he shouted advice to the beleaguered wolf.
Ross spoke to Ezra. "Can it be that some of your friends actually bet upon the wolf, do they not understand how this works?"
"Oh they understand all right, it is you who do not understand."
The wolf suddenly came to life. Ignoring the damage being done to his shoulder by the Brindle he suddenly swung his head at the white and since the neck wasn't an option because of the collar, he grabbed the side of the head, ripping into the flesh as he lifted the dog into the air and swung it across the arena, blood pouring from a wound where his ear had formally been.
"King!" Ezra heard the owner's cry of distress.
King landed against the wooden wall in a heap and began to pull itself unsteadily to his feet.
"Jack!" Ross bellowed close to Ezra's ear.
"Yes boss!" came the response.
"Send in Vicky!"
Almost as soon as he had spoken the door in the middle of the back wall opened a fraction and a third dog was in the arena, this was a bitch, but she too was a brindle.
"That's Victoria, my queen and my sultan, together they are going to found a dynasty," Ross told a sickened Ezra proudly. King was now on his feet again, despite the blood pouring from his lost ear.
JD was going mad with frustration, he was held not just by the man with the gun in his ribs but by the same man's powerful grip on his arm, both his guns were in the man's belt. Every time he saw another set of jaws rip into the wolf he felt sick. Unable to watch anymore he looked up and across at Vin. The normally calm Texan, who was adept at hiding his emotions locked gazes with the youth. Those blue eyes, usually so clear and bright were clouded with emotion, there was a hard set to his jaw that was rare in the young man as he held JD's gaze, trying to give him the courage to see the thing through for Buck's sake. Josiah prayed, he implored God and every other deity he and ever heard of for strength, for something to help them. Nathan tried to keep track of the injuries Buck was picking up because if he did that, he didn't have to think about what was really going on.
Chris felt he was alone in this hot, noisy room, with a gun pointing at his back. His weapon had been taken from him, he was helpless. He didn't like the feeling.
The noise around him faded away - the people, even his captor - were distant as he tried through sheer force of will to give Buck strength, as the wolf tried to fend off three dogs. And as if he could indeed draw strength from his pack, Buck suddenly turned on the wounded King and, taking the opportunity as it presented itself, he once more attacked the dog's head. Despite the fact that the two brindles were attacking his vulnerable rear and flank he mercilessly attacked he white dog - ripping into it again and again, until this time the dog did not move when it crashed into the wall after the wolf tossed it.
"NO!" King's owner cried out desperately, this was not how it went, it was the beast that died not the dogs, these dogs were the best, the breeding stock for the next generation, this is why they no longer fought each other.
Now Buck turned on Vicky, still ignoring the torments Sultan was inflicting. Desperate not to see his king and queen hurt, Ross shouted at Jack to let in another dog, one named Pirate, a black dog with a white chest blaze.
"Seems you lose your bet," Ezra commented idly.
"Only half of it, I ain't riskin' my two, to that thing!" With that Ross moved toward the edge to see better.
With Ross moving ever closer to the edge Ezra's right arm was almost free. The wolf appeared not even to notice the trail of blood he was now leaving in his wake as he relentlessly pursued Vicky, ignoring the new dog and Sultan. She faltered and the wolf managed to get his massive jaws on to her hind leg. Picking her up he dashed her skull repeatedly against the wall until she was just a lifeless hunk of meat.
Ross forgot about Ezra as he watched his precious queen die, he forgot to hold the con man close and in a flash the derringer was out and jammed up against the man's groin.
"You know what this is Mr Ross?" Ezra asked with menacing slowness. The rancher nodded. "It may be small BUT at this range it will destroy what little manhood you have and even if you don't bleed to death you will never be a MAN again. Do I make myself clear?" Ross, now ghost white, nodded vigorously. "Call your men off, I promise you we do not intend to rob you, we never did, as I told you we just want our friend back."
Ross gave the signal and his men backed off, once free the six gunmen quickly regained the upper hand and disarmed their erstwhile captors - then, as they backed away, now all carrying a gun in each hand, the six men edged closer to the ring side. Once they were all in position and to the amazement of the crowd, all six men jumped over the lip and down into the pit! Once they landed there was a moment of inactivity from both men and beast. Then the new dog Pirate, turned on Chris, who shot him dead with no compunction. He would have done the same to Sultan but Ezra waved him off; this was Buck's kill. The men formed a line with their backs to the straight wall. Each with two guns drawn, they covered the astonished near silent crowed. The wolf advanced on Sultan who didn't appear to be backing down, but then the wolf began to snarl, his blood stained jaws dripping with saliva as he bore down on the dog no matter how much aggressive posturing the dog put up.
"Call him off!" Ross shouted down in desperation.
"Not mine to call!" Chris shouted back. "Not in this at least."
With the vindication and permission of his pack leader still ringing in his ears Buck lunged at the dog, catching its hind leg as it tried to flee. The wolf paid no mind to the dog's display of surrender, it pinned it and, as a horrified Ross looked on, the Wolf proceeded to use its teeth and tongue to undo the buckle on the collar and, once it was free, toss the leather strap away.
"God no! No, that thing it ain't natural, stop it!" Ross begged.
But the men with the guns did nothing and said nothing, as the wolf took hold of the dog in his powerful jaws and dragged the whimpering Sultan back to the men to stand in the centre of the line, flanked by three men either side of him. The wolf never once let go of Sultan as it raised baleful yellow eyes to Ross, as he stood trembling above them looking down. Then in a room that was now silent except for the dogs' whimpers. There was a yelp that was cut off half way as the sickening sound of a powerful pair of jaws breaking a neck pierced the silence.
Sultan's body hung limp and lifeless in the jaws of the huge wolf. Then, still maintaining eye contact with Ross, the wolf contemptuously dropped the body. Ross looked on helpless and horrified as he mourned the loss of his favourite dog. Then the wolf threw back his head and howled in defiance and triumph and as a cold chill spread though the spectators each of the men in the arena joined him in the howl.
Finally the eerie noise died down and Chris spoke. "We're Four Corners Pack, touch one of us again and you all die!" No-one in that place doubted it for a second. "Nate, 'Siah, door."
The two biggest men needed no second bidding to shoulder in the door behind them. Everyone in the room was too stunned no to say 'freaked out' to react, as the six men and a wolf disappeared through the small door. The wolf was elated, overjoyed to be back with his pack but he had one more thing to do before he could celebrate. Following his nose he found Jack hiding in a storeroom. The door handle proved no match for the skilled mouth and the wolf quickly had the door open.
"Oh sweet Jesus!" the man gasped as the wolf approached. Suddenly the terrified human lost control of his bodily functions. As he looked on in horrified silence the wolf cocked his head on one side at the sight and smell of the man, then as he advanced and the man turned to try to climb the shelves, the wolf took a huge bite out of the man's ass! With that accomplished the wolf guided his pack to the big doors that lead to the outside, he paused as he passed the tiny cage he had been held in.
"That where you've been all this time?" Chris asked, eyeing the filthy state of the tiny cage. The wolf just lowered his head a little.
"The bastards, I should have killed 'um," Chris breathed.
Once they were outside the wolf made his joy at being back with his pack known. He yipped and barked, jumping up and down to lick their faces. JD knelt down to hug the huge shaggy neck and having his face well licked.
"Jeez I missed you!" he gasped out. "Guess you did too?" this just produced more licks.
Ezra dropped to his knees beside JD. "I'm so sorry I couldn't find you sooner," he confessed, but he didn't get to say much more because he too was covered in licks.
"We don't have time for this guys!" Chris cut in. "Buck, Steel's over the ridge, past the scrub and across the creek, that's outside the ranch boundary, we'll cover your back," he ordered.
Buck yipped, bouncing up at him.
"Me too pal, me too, now go, go…" Chris pointed to the distant ridge just visible in the light of the half moon.
Ross and his men suddenly came to life after the shock wore off. "Get them!" Ross shouted running for the front of the building.
As Ross and his men came around the building a hail of fire met them that kept them back but hit no one. As he took cover Ross could just make out the fleeing wolf as it raced into the night.
"You did all this to set a wolf free?" Ross bellowed at the six gunmen.
"Yes!" Six voices bellowed back.
"You're on my property!"
"Don't wanna be," Chris called out. "Just wanna leave, an' never come here again."
"So why ya shootin'?"
"So you don't shoot the wolf."
"It killed my dogs!"
"He is our friend and since you were planning on killin' him. I don't see what yer problem is? You're just lucky we don't take offence to the way you treated him! And just how much money of ours you got." With that Chris signalled his men to pull back. To discourage further pursuit, Vin took a shot at Ross blowing his hat off. With that the six mounted and rode off into the night.
The chase was half hearted. No one wanted to get shot for a wolf!
Buck found Steel using a mixture of Chris' directions and his nose, he greeted the horse with a little bark, which faithful Steel answered with a whinny. Buck quickly changing back into human form, and dressed, eager to return to the others and help. He was in so much of a hurry and so high on worry and the joy of being reunited with his pack he didn't notice his own injuries or how odd it felt to once more be a biped after so long on four lags. Steel had been happy to have JD take care of him but it wasn't the same as having his master back. Man and horse flew over the ground retracing his tracks back to the ranch. He was just cresting the ridge when the others came racing toward them, Cole leading the pursuing group pulled up his men following suit.
"Why did you stop?" Ross demanded.
"Look!" Cole pointed at Buck on top of the ridge, rifle in hand aimed at them as the other six got further away. "You remember that night we heard the wolf pack?" Ross nodded. "It had to be them, we never did find any wolf tracks, but remember I said we found tracks for seven horses? Well look there's the seventh one!" Cole looked at his boss, he knew how much the dogs meant to him but they weren't worth dying for. "It's not worth it sir, it's not worth risking the men's lives…"
Eventually Ross nodded his agreement and turned back.
Buck was now in the lead, with his superior night vision he lead the others in the general direction of Four Corners, in the moonlight it was easy for the others to follow the big grey in front of them. Powered only by a desire to get as far away as possible from the place of his captivity Buck just kept going, even as dawn broke he didn't stop.
"Hey Buck hold up!" Chris called.
But the Two-Blood didn't even seem to hear him. He just kept riding. Chris shook his head and spurred Pony to bring him beside Steel.
"Buck wait up! Now Buck! STOP!" Finally Buck seemed to hear and rained Steel in. Only now he just sat there looking down at the saddle. Chris noticed that he was not sitting in his usual lazy comfortable style, with one hand tucked into his waistband, both his hands were wrapped around the saddle horn, gripping so tight his knuckles were white.
"Buck?" Chris tilted his head down to get a look under Buck's broad brimmed hat. "Nate! Get up here!" he yelled suddenly.
Nathan appeared on the other side of Buck. After one look at the big Two-Blood he shouted over his shoulder. "Vin, we need to camp, shade and water! And we need it now."
"I'm on it!" the Texan responded.
It took just twenty minutes for Vin to find a campsite. Buck didn't so much ride there as sit on Steel who just followed the other horses. When the horse stopped he just sat there.
"Buck we need to you to get down now," Chris said softly.
Buck looked at Chris and nodded, he made an attempt to move, to swing his leg over the saddle but as he moved his vision blurred and the darkness that had been edging it for some time enclosed it completely and he began to slide out of the saddle. Chris was only just able to steady him long enough for Josiah to come to his side and together they lowered him to the ground. Once they had him safe on the ground Nathan took over. In no time Buck was stripped of blood-soaked clothing and laid on a pair of bedrolls. Now they could all see what the wolf's heavy coat had covered. Bites all over, some big, some small, and dozens and dozens of bruises. The worst two wounds, the ones responsible for the blood loss that had caused him to black out, were on his shoulder and hip. Huge open wounds, that were still bleeding, the one on his shoulder was so deep the shoulder blade was clearly visible. Except for some claw marks on his chest all the wounds were on his back or sides.
"I have to get these all cleaned out before I can even think of stitchin' them, I'm gonna need a hell of a lot of water and rags, how many clean shirts we got?" Nathan asked.
"Sometimes Mohammed needs to go to the mountain," Josiah said enigmatically.
"Would it not be easier if we took Buck to the creek, it's deep and running quite fast, looks clean, we could lay him in the stream and let it clean all the wounds in one go. He fevered?" the preacher asked.
Nathan lay a hand on Buck's brow and nodded.
"Might help with that as well, what do you think?"
Nathan thought and than nodded.
"You get him down there, I'll take him from you," Sanchez offered, already stripping off his clothes and striding toward the creek.
While Chris and Nathan got Buck upright again, Vin and JD started collecting firewood while Ezra took care of the horses.
"Vin, I want a ring of small fires around Buck's bedroll, that way I won't need to put a blanket on him." Nathan instructed.
"No Nate, not all around," Vin corrected, "he'll feel trapped, he's gotta have a way out or he'll panic."
JD frowned. "Buck ain't afraid of fire."
"No he ain't, but wolves are, he's been a wolf fer near ten days, don't reckon he's been one fer more than a night before this…it's gonna take him some time to adjust I reckon, is all."
"You're right, do what you think is best Vin," Chris instructed, Nathan nodding his approval as the two taller men moved their unconscious friend toward the creek.
Josiah had stripped of all his clothing and waded into the creek. The melt water from the mountains was so cold he thought his feet would drop off and he hated to think what would happen to the more sensitive part of his anatomy, when he waded deeper! But it was what was needed. He reached out to take Buck's dead weight from the other two. Supporting the taller man under his armpits.
"Come on Buck, let's get you cleaned up." Manoeuvring out into the deeper stream he lowered Buck into the fast flowing water, supporting him under his neck as if he were conducting a total immersion baptism. He watched as the younger man shivered and made a feeble effort to get away from the cold water.
"I'm sorry Buck, just a little longer, we gotta clean them wounds. God knows what's got into them," he whispered into the injured man's ear.
Almost as soon as he was in the water Nathan said it was enough and he was out and lying face down on the bedroll. With the help of Ezra's whisky the fires were already burning and Vin and JD were adding fuel all the time. The effect was to surround Buck with warm air, so Nathan didn't need to cover him and risk the small puncture wounds getting dirty again. This meant he could concentrate on the wounds that needed stitching. When he was done he had used all the thread he carried, and Buck had nearly a hundred stitches in his back and sides. The fever Nathan had detected hadn't got any worse, if anything it had dropped a little, but he was still restless.
"Well Nate?" Chris asked as the exhausted healer finally stood up.
"If I can keep the infection an' fever back he'll be fine with some rest. He's gonna have a few more scars but notin' worse than that I'd say. 'Cause he'll have to take things slow fer a bit, 'specially while he's got the stitches in."
"Buck won't like that," Chris commented.
"Well that ain't nothin' new, fer any of you!" Nathan snorted.
Ezra sat himself down and lay a hand on the tall mans' head, running his fingers through the luxuriant wavy black hair. He bent down and spoke into Buck's ear.
"This is my fault my friend, my beloved, if I were not so helpless in the wilderness I might have tracked you more efficiently. If I had been more alert we would not have been captured and that barbaric fight would never have started, forgive me my love, I will make it better, I will make you feel better I promise you." With that he bent and kissed the top of Buck's head.
"He don't blame you." The voice startled Ezra. "Buck ain't like that, you know that," affirmed JD.
"I know, but sometimes I wish he would, sometimes I wish he would just accept that he deserves to be apologised to, that people do him wrong and he doesn't deserve it. Sometimes it's good to be just a little selfish." Ezra looked down again stroking Buck's hair.
"I love him too, you know?" JD said quietly.
Sometime after dusk Buck passed from unconscious to asleep and the dreams came. As normal he twitched and yipped and growled but mostly he growled, his hands began to claw at the ground.
"Buck?" Chris was sitting beside his oldest friend. "Come on now pal, hush now, you're safe."
The growls got louder and more intense.
"We gotta get close to him," Vin stated.
The others looked on puzzled.
"When wolves sleep, the pack all sleep together, touching. I think we need to get close to him so he can feel us, know he's safe, home."
And they did, placing all the bedrolls around Buck, and since it was still warm they stripped off and lay down with their injured pack mate. JD and Chris lay beside him, making sure they were pressed up close to him without putting any pressure on any wounds. Vin lay beside Chris with Josiah near Buck's feet, his arm draped over Buck's long calves and Nathan on the other side. Buck's head was cradled in the small of Ezra's broad back, his arms wrapped around Ezra's mid section. Like this they settled down for the night. To the surprise of the One-Bloods it was a very comforting, safe feeling. And it had the desired affect on Buck, who quietened down almost instantly.
It took them two days to get back to Four Corners. Nathan had wanted to send Vin and JD ahead to get a wagon but Buck would have none of it. Despite the injuries to his ass he insisted he could sit a horse, and did, although he did allow Nathan to put a folded blanket over the saddle. Once they were back Buck agreed to stay in the clinic until the last of the fever was gone. This proved to be just two days. Apparently Josiah's method of mass wound cleaning had worked. On the evening of the second day Ezra came to the clinic to collect Buck.
"I have the bath tub all set up, I thought you might like a proper, warm bath, if Mr Jackson agrees." Nathan looked over at Buck, really he wanted the patient to stay a while longer but realistically knew he wouldn't.
"Just be careful and don't let them deep wounds get too wet, no long soaks, all right?" Nathan cautioned.
Buck looked at the steaming tub, it was so inviting and yet he just couldn't face it; not just sitting in it, but even bending down just to get into its inviting warm waters seemed impossible. Ezra he noted hadn't put any fancy smelling oils in the water; the soap on the chair beside the bath was of the plainest kind, only smelling of soap. The room was lit with candles which, while as well as being soothing on the eye, was also soothing on the olfactory senses, compared to a kerosene oil lamp. Humans probably wouldn't even notice a difference, but Ezra had taken the time to think about it because these were proper bee's wax candles, their scent was a true smell of the forest, and Buck found it soothing.
Ezra quietly closed the door behind him, then just as quietly he removed his jacket and hung it the closet.
"Buck?" he asked, walking silently around the tall Two-Blood.
"Would you like me to help you undress?" he enquired politely.
"Yeah Ez, I'd 'ppreciate that."
Ezra stood in front of him. For the short journey from the clinic to Ezra's room Buck had only donned the minimum clothing. First Ezra knelt in front of him, and as Buck raised first one foot and then the other, the gambler tugged off the well-worn boots, Buck hadn't bothered with socks. Next he stood behind Buck and with infinite care eased the jacket off his shoulders, needing to stand on tiptoe to accomplish the task with the tenderness it required. Blood had seeped into the faded shirt fabric in a few places but not many, fewer than Ezra had feared at least. He came around and stood in front of Buck again.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Do it," was the only response.
One by one he undid the shell buttons and tugged the shirt out of the loosely worn pants. The claw marks across the chest weren't deep but they were very sore looking. Moving to Buck's side he peeled the shirt of one shoulder, then changed sides to repeat the operation. Now he was at the back again, gently peeling the cloth down past the ugly bruises and stitched wounds, oh so gently easing it away where the dried blood had stuck the fabric to the torn flesh. Ezra felt the rage in his heart all over again, wishing they had killed those men, wishing they had known then, what they knew now. That anyone could do such things to such a beautiful, magnificent creature, was beyond him. As if he was reading Ezra's mind Buck spoke softly over his shoulder.
"It ain't that bad Ez, it's over."
In response Ezra traced his soft fingertips down Buck's spine, moving first one way then another to avoid the injuries. Finally he pressed the softest, gentlest of kisses to the undamaged small of Buck's tanned back.
"It's bad enough…bad enough," he breathed.
With that Ezra came around to face Buck again. Once more he knelt and with a gentleness that bordered on reverence he undid the buttons of Buck's fly. Once free from its dark prison, the flaccid cock lay before him, perfect and undamaged. Resisting the desire to touch it, caress it, kiss it, Ezra moved so he was behind Buck, the better to ease the pants over the ragged angry wound on his left hip and the bite marks on both ass cheeks.
"Got my best feature," Buck commented with a wry laugh in his voice, a laugh which sounded entirely forced to the Southerner's practised ear.
"Only one of your best features," Ezra assured him as he eased the coarse canvas down Buck's long lean legs and waited until he stepped out of them.
The gambler took only a second to appreciate the sight of Buck naked in the candle light, seeing only the long limbs, broad back, fine muscles and luxurious hair and not the livid bruises, bites and lacerations. Ezra gathered the clothing and, folding it quickly but efficiently, he placed it on a chair. Buck meanwhile had walked stiffly toward the bathtub. As he tried to bend, a hiss of pain he just couldn't suppress, passed his lips.
"Buck no! Wait for me," Ezra chided, crossing the room quickly. "I do not think it advisable for you to try to sit in the tub tonight."
"Well how in the hell else am I gonna take a bath?" Buck demanded.
"You will stand, I will wash you," Ezra explained. With that he rolled up his sleeves and taking the biggest sponge Buck had ever seen, dipped it in the water before rubbing the soap over it. Then he worked and rolled it in his hand until it was thick with creamy white suds. "Ready?" he asked.
Buck nodded. And as promised Ezra proceeded to wash his pack mate. He started with the shoulders and worked his way down, he was tender but thorough, paying attention to the wounds as Nathan had instructed him. He held the soap rich, water laden sponge at the small of Buck's back. Buck hadn't been bathed this way since he was a toddler. He had said very little, just standing there enjoying the wonderful sensations as Ezra soaped, rubbed, sponged and rinsed his body clean. It was as if Ezra was washing away the whole experience, re-claiming him for the pack by ridding him of the last scents of that place. Logically he knew the human members of the pack couldn't smell the different scents on him, but he could and he needed to be rid of them. Despite the fact that he was standing up Buck was getting drowsy; he was almost dozing until Ezra spoke.
"Move your legs apart a little," he requested.
Once Buck complied, Ezra squeezed out the warm soapy water so that it ran down between the pale globes of Buck firm ass, then he moved the freshly soaped sponge between the cheeks, moving it back and forth gently and rhythmically, eliciting a sigh from the Two-Blood. Moving around to face Buck again, Ezra once more knelt, paying no heed to the puddle of soapy water he was now kneeling in. He lifted the still limp cock to run the warm sponge under it, then along its impressive length. Buck gave an involuntary shiver and Ezra thought he detected a slight twitch but was determined not to get side tracked, at least not yet. He lowered the member and dropping the sponge picked up a brand new, very thick and expensive wash cloth. Once it was dipped in the water he moved to cup one of the heavy balls in it's sack; using just the pressure of his thumb through the cloth he both washed and massaged in gentle circular movements. This time there was no mistaking the twitch as Buck's cock began to stir. Once one was thoroughly washed he turned to the other. This time the response was stronger. Finally he moved to the cock itself. Wrapping the warm, wet, soapy, soft cloth around the half erect member he moved it up and down; occasionally he would roll his wrist over producing a twisting motion, once or twice he let his hands come to rest near the tip and just gently squeezed and released in a kind of throbbing rhythm. Buck began to moan and shift his weight as Ezra continued. Once he was sure Buck was almost fully erect he stopped, and stood up.
"No Ez, don't, please don't stop," Buck complained.
"Never fear beloved, we have a long way to go, I'm gonna take good care of you." As an extra assurance he bestowed a few gentle kisses to Buck's chest, just brushing the fully erect nubs that were just aching for some attention. Finally he stroked Buck's cheek, but then frowned. "But first, a shave I think."
This proved to be quite comical as Ezra had to stand on a chair to shave the much taller man effectively. Showing the kind of trust few Two-Bloods ever showed a One-Blood, Buck let Ezra shave him with his own cut-throat razor, and even trim his moustache. Finally Ezra was patting Buck's cheek dry and climbed down. Once Buck was dry, Ezra led the battered, bruised and stiff man over to the huge feather bed. Buck had to admit he had rarely seen anything so inviting. Ezra pulled back the covers and, pulling one of the pillows from the pile at the top of the bed, placed it where Buck's belly would be. He then waited for Buck to gingerly ease himself face first onto the crisp white sheets, the extra height of the pillow accommodating his erect cock more comfortably.
As Buck lay there stretched out and naked he was able to get a good view of Ezra as he stripped his own clothes off and, using the same water Buck had just stood, in quickly and efficiently washed himself. Quickly that was until he came to his genitals. Here he stopped, and well aware of Buck's gaze on him washed himself thoroughly, slowly and provocatively, putting on a show as his own cock began to harden, springing out from its luxuriant chestnut curls. Drying himself efficiently he approached the bed, and as he lay down beside Buck he pulled up the sheet and the soft eiderdown to cover them both.
Buck could feel Ezra's erection against his side as the southerner captured his lips with his own, easing them open to run his tongue around Buck's warm, soft mouth. Tongue met tongue and for some time that was all. Buck hadn't realised how much he needed this as he relaxed into the sensations of the kissing. Most, if not all Two-Bloods, considered the wolf to be their true form, all except Buck Wilmington who considered himself a human who could turn into a wolf, and not the other way round. While he had been held, unable to change back into his true self, he had been forced to look deeply into his wolf heart. His animal soul, his wild unrestrained primitive side, the side of him that acted only on instinct, the side that howled and sang to the moon. Some of what he found scared him, he felt alone, even when the pack came for him. Once the euphoria had worn off he felt apart and different as he never had before. He was different, he wasn't like them and he never would be, but he wasn't like other Two-Bloods either, he was caught between two worlds, an outcast in both.
But outcasts weren't loved like this, outcasts weren't bathed so reverently by another, outcasts weren't taken to another's bed to be loved. Fucked yes, he had been fucked and had fucked just to release the need, but this wasn't sex just for release, this was something more. Suddenly he was gasping for breath, not because Ezra held his mouth in exquisite captivity but in realisation that the fear he had been living with for so long was false. Stretching he head back he pulled away from Ezra, gasping for breath.
"What's wrong?" Ezra asked worriedly.
"Nothin', nothin' I just…I…can't explain…"
"We don't have to do anything, you know? We can just lie here and sleep, maybe snuggle a little, if you want?"
"No!" he cried desperately, "I need you, I need you so much right now, please don't leave me…"
"Buck I would never leave you, we…the pack, we will never leave you, ever!"
"I know, I know, I know," he said desperately, tears flowing down his cheeks. "It's just… I killed them dogs! I mean… they didn't ask to be there, they were just doing what they do. It wasn't their fault and I killed them. It was…the last one…it was begging for mercy and I killed it, I... Oh God! I took its collar off and killed it… just to get revenge on that man! What kind of animal am I?"
"One who was forced to fight for his life, one who was kept in a tiny, dark, filthy iron cage on short rations and stale water. Cut off from his pack, his family, fearing he would never see them again, fearing he would die or be forced to reveal his true nature and be kept as some kind of circus freak! "
Ezra ran a gentle hand through Buck's hair as he spoke.
"You did what any man would have done if pushed hard enough. He was going to breed them, the two brindles, he would have bread a whole new dynasty of killers from them."
Ezra sat up a little, he lay his hand on Bucks cheek.
"You are one of us, not Two-Blood, not One-Blood, us! Four Corners pack. You are not an animal, you are not a wild beast, you are not a freak and you are never alone!"
With that he bent and kissed the nearest wound.
"Never alone," he whispered kissing his way to the next wound.
"Always one of us," he kissed down to the big laceration on the shoulder. "One pack, one destiny, seven men, one heart."
"Please Ezra, I need you so much."
"Are you sure you're ready?"
"I need you, please Ezra, love me."
"I will, I do."
Ezra reached out to the bedside table and opened the drawer and drew out a small jar. He quickly removed the top and brought it close to Buck. It had a mild, neutral odour.
Buck nodded, the tears had dried up and he smiled at his lover.
"I'm gonna do all the work here, you just lie there and enjoy," Ezra instructed.
"Mmmm, sounds good." Buck folded his arms and lay his head down on them as Ezra moved to straddle Buck's lower legs. Taking a good amount of the cream in the jar he warmed it in his hands then applied it the Buck's back, hips, and legs. It wouldn't be the same massage he usually gave, he had to avoid so many injuries, but he kneaded and worked out as many knots as he could. Then he moved his warm slick hand to the crack between those inviting cheeks.
Gently he moved from straddling Buck to easing his long legs apart and kneeling between them. Ezra ran one nimble fingered hand down the crack, and over the entrance that enticed him and trembled as he passed over it. He continued down to the two velvety covered spheres, he lovingly fondled and stroked them just as he had in the bath until Buck was gasping and squirming under his touch. He moved on to the rock hard shaft, repeating the ministrations he had lavished on it in the bath. Now without a wash cloth between him and the staff, he was able to be more subtle, more responsive to Buck's moans of pleasure. Every time the tall Two-Blood tried to move with Ezra the southerner stopped, reminding him he was to lie still and do nothing. Only when Buck's engorged shaft began to leak pre cum did he move on. Leaving his hands where they were, still massaging, he bent his head down.
Buck gasped as Ezra's warm, skilled tongue first brushed over the puckered opening and then entered it, circling and probing, dipping in and out before circling again. Buck began to squirm back to meet the intruder.
"Now Buck, what did I tell you!" Ezra scolded, stopping his ministrations.
"Please Ezra, don't stop," Buck gasped out.
"I won't, but you have to let me do the work. Trust me," he added quietly.
Ezra's eager tongue returned to its work, teasing, exciting and stimulating. Finally, Ezra took more cream and warmed it before easing one slick finger into the already relaxing entrance; very slowly he moved the finger in and out, just brushing Bucks sweet spot with a feather light touch. He waited until Buck was fully relaxed, his breathing deep and even, before he added a second finger. In response Buck moaned.
"Mmmm, so good Ez, so good," he murmured into his arms.
"Only the best for you beloved, slow and easy tonight, gently my beloved," Ezra all but purred as he began to scissor his fingers, gently stretching Buck. He wasn't as big as Buck, but he wanted him to be as ready as he could before he penetrated him. The man had suffered enough pain, if Ezra could spare him even a little more, however fleeting, he would. He hit Buck's prostate again and felt a tremor run all through the long lean body before him, a body which was now covered in sheen of perspiration.
"Please Ez, now!" Buck cried out.
"Not yet beloved, not yet, soon, very soon." He bent and kissed the wounds on Buck ass cheeks. "Let Ezra make it all better."
"Oh yes, God Ez, I can't last much longer!" Buck gasped as Ezra brushed against the sensitive gland again.
Without interrupting what the fingers inside Buck were doing Ezra reached for the cream one more time and applied a liberal quantity to his own erection. Finally Ezra pulled his fingers back and guided his own erect penis into the well stretched opening, just allowing the head to enter before pulling back and moving forward again, this time pushing further in.
In desperation Buck tried to move back to meet Ezra's gentle thrusts. But as before Ezra froze instantly and slapped Buck on the ass.
"Bad boy! What did I tell you?" he scolded.
"Oh please Ezra, I need you now!"
"And you have me, but I'm doing all the work, remember that."
"Just don't take too long."
Ezra just laughed and went back to his agonisingly slow thrusting, each time a little deeper. His own cock was screaming for release, but he told it 'no'. This was all about Buck. So slow and careful was Ezra that the inevitable pain when the powerful muscle ring was passed was so minimal that all Buck did was shudder slightly and then sigh as Ezra finally slid almost all the way in.
"Good God Buck, you're so tight, so hot." Ezra bent his head to run his tongue up Buck's spine as he worked, slowly deepening each thrust.
Then, after he had move back and forth several times, he hit the prostate with he head of his cock.
"Ezra! Oh God, oh God, ohGodohGod!" Buck cried out, arching his head back but somehow remembering not to push back.
Ezra leant forward placing his hands either side of Buck's lower back and began to rock gently, taking all his own weight ensuring he didn't rest on any of the bruises or wounds. As he rocked the head of his cock deep inside Buck, he brushed back and forth over the responsive little nub deep within the big Two-Blood.
Buck called out his lover's name repeatedly, running the word together in one long steam that was almost a howl, until Ezra felt the muscular ring encircling his own cock tighten as Buck came, and that as all it took for him to let go of his own control.
Buck felt Ezra come deep inside him as his own climax overwhelmed his still weary body and battered senses, and darkness edged his vision.
"Buck?…Buck?" The voice finally penetrated his mind and he opened is eyes to find he had been rolled onto his side and Ezra was gently washing him with a warm damp cloth smelling of soap. "Buck, are you with me?"
"I think so, what…?"
Ezra actually blushed. "You passed out on me, never had anyone pass out before." He then grinned. "Are you all right?"
"I'm better than all right, I'm just great." Ezra pushed back a strand of sweaty hair from Buck's brow and kissed him on the forehead
The Southerner put the wash cloth down and picked up a towel and lovingly and gently dried Buck. The pillow that had absorbed his climax had been removed as Ezra climbed into the bed beside him and pulled up the covers.
"Better?" the gambler asked of his troubled mate.
"Yeah, better." Buck agreed, just managing to stifle a yawn.
"Sleep my love, rest, heal. I will be here when you wake."
If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that Sammy Girl would love to hear from you.
HOME | SAMMY GIRL'S FIC | TITLES | AUTHORS | UNIVERSES
This website is maintained by Donna and Barb
with corrections and additions