Mopuro (info here
Slash!, language, eventual smut and M rating
Don't own. No profit.
Previous/Continuing chapters found here
Comments/Questions very welcome! email me
Vin Tanner knew time was not on his side. These men had a plan, whether that Mopuro tracker was part of that plan or even on their side, he couldn't say. If they weren't working together, the tracker kept close to the group, close enough that he smelled like he was part of it. Vin knew better than to trust the obvious. If another Mopuro came around and started to smell on this camp, it would smell like he himself were a part of it. As much as he hated to do it, he'd have to wing it. It'd been three days already. If they were going to hurt JD, they'd do it soon. If they were going to make a move on the Ranch, they just evened the odds quite a bit. Buck had been hit bad; he wouldn't be able to put up much of a fight probably, even if he was up and about; so the Ranchers were grossly out numbered.
Did these men know of Ezra? Did they know about him? It was hard to say. He didn't think JD would talk even if they tortured him. The kid was far too proud to give in and loyal to an astounding degree. No matter what horrible things they did, JD wouldn't break. Even though he knew that, Vin didn't want it to get to that point. They hadn't hurt the kid anymore that he could smell; they were just holding him captive. Were they feeding him enough? Giving him enough water? Were they giving him any at all?
Damn, it shouldn't have taken him so long to find this stupid camp! He had no time to go back for help, so he must get JD out alone. Hopefully the kid would be strong enough to run. While he'd try to take out as many of these bastards as he could, the most important thing was getting JD back to the Ranch, back to Ezra. Long after Vin had parted ways with the half breed he was working his way through the foliage, his sharp eyes losing nothing in the dark of the night. He'd heard it then, that long, desperate cry of despair warbling through the otherwise silent night. The feral side was coming out certain sure, how well would Ezra be able to control it? Would he be able to control it at all? Maybe with Buck's help, but what of Wilmington? Was he even still alive?
Those men better hope Buck was alive, if that feral side came out full otherwise not even God himself could save them from the half breed's retribution. And whatever Ezra didn't get, Larabee would.
There was nowhere to go, nowhere he could hide and it made the half breed feel thoroughly exposed. He couldn't wander outside, who knows what lay in wait? They hadn't heard from Vin yet, it just wasn't safe. That left indoors, in a house that was not his own, the one refuge he'd found here, the one place he wanted to run to now was the only place he definitely could not go - Buck's bed. And why could he not go to Buck's bed? Because in said bed, Buck was fighting for his very life.
Just thinking along those terms had Ezra's ears drooping, his tail tucking further between his legs as he crouched in the corner of the living room, trying to make himself smaller. He squeezed himself between the wall and the big leather chair, whimpering softly in his throat. Confusion assaulted his thoughts, he didn't want to face any of the others at the moment, his baser Mopuro survival instincts had taken over by this point. Lack of sleep and stress had taken their toll; with nothing else to do his mind simply began to shut down on him.
It was different, not even two days ago all he had to worry about was slapping Buck's hands away when they strayed and the possible threat some old tracks held. His mind had been spiraling then, human and Mopuro side fighting regarding his feelings toward Buck but that all seemed so inane now. He'd been lying to himself, stringing himself and the taller man along. He loved the attention Buck lavished on him. It's true that his feelings were still jumbled; he still had the cautions of a Mopuro mixed with a gambler, that unease in trusting anyone so wholly. He had his polite upbringing to consider, how scandalized he felt he should be reacting but how shocked he was to find he liked certain things - that he sometimes liked when Buck made him feel naughty and inappropriate.
Right now, he wished Buck were awake. He was aching to go into the room and curl up at the wounded man's side but he couldn't bring his feet to move. He was worried sick about JD. He felt incredibly guilty that either JD or Buck had been put into such a situation. Every fiber in his being itched and pulsed with the desire to attack, attack something, attack anything to get this pent up energy out of his system. With no enemy in sight, the feeling simply thrummed beneath the surface, strengthened by worry and grief.
"Ezra?" the voice startled the half breed who jolted slightly, lifting his head to try and focus bleary eyes on the tall form of the ex-Preacher. Josiah regarded the younger man, noting his posture, the position of his ears, the wary look on his face - he looked more like a cornered animal than a man at the moment. He'd thought before approaching, knowing he had to choose his words carefully with this man. "Why don't you come out here, have something to eat?"
"Ah'm not hungry." Ezra drawled carefully, keeping his eyes hawk sharp on any motion the other man made.
"Oh," Josiah took a step back, shrugging his shoulders in an attempt to seem less intimidating. "You haven't eaten in a while, I was just," he shook his head, smiling softly. "I recalled how Buck was so worried about you losing too much weight."
At that, Ezra's ears perked atop his head. He looked slightly upset a moment before his features seemed to settle on disheartened. "Buck," he repeated the name, swallowing with effort. "...Said that?"
"He did, I think he'd be very worried to know you hadn't eaten anything in well over a day." Josiah gestured to the couch. "Maybe just a little bite?"
Green eyes looked at the couch, then to the table in front of it. He hadn't heard Josiah enter the room at all but it appears the man had brought in some food beforehand. He eyed the food, then the Preacher, his thoughts turning slowly in his head. He didn't want to come out but the Mule had been mentioning his weight? He had been trying to cram seconds and thirds down Ezra's throat for days now that he thought about it. He didn't want to upset his Mule. He tried to open his mouth to speak but nothing would come out. The Preacher must have seen the look of resignation because he stepped back easily, allowing the distance between them to remain the same.
It seemed a painstakingly long time for Ezra to stand and inch his way toward the table. Finally he sank cautiously on the couch staring blankly at the food. Josiah waited a few more moments before approaching, sitting on the couch as well, but he made sure to keep his distance.
A wary hand reached out, taking hold of the apple the Preacher had sliced, then just as carefully pulled the fruit to his mouth where he began to nibble it. The taste awakened his taste buds which had his angry stomach grumbling in recourse. He was hungry; he'd just been too worried to eat. Now that he had the food in his mouth it took all his will power not to stuff his face. His human side reminded him of his dignified upbringing and that a gentleman would never, ever stuff his face so to speak.
Are you alright was a very stupid question. It was obvious the half breed was not alright. It was usually obvious that whoever you asked that question to would not be alright or you wouldn't be asking in such a manner. Still, it was a door opener, he didn't figure he could get Ezra to say much, maybe if he were lucky and thought carefully, but there had to be some other way to get the ball rolling.
"Vin is the best tracker I have ever met," he said suddenly, turning his attention to the other part of their problem at the moment. "He'll find JD, I have no doubt."
Ezra chewed slowly, reaching for a piece of jerky meat next. He'd thought about that. He didn't know Vin very well but the Mopuro was feral as anything, practically a wild animal. In all honesty, Ezra had no doubts either. "Ah know he will."
The Preacher seemed pleased to hear that. "JD will be fine. I promised to take him riding to show him how far the Ranch stretches, I don't break my promises."
"JD is very fond of you." Ezra's voice was soft as he thought to his younger friend.
"He's very fond of you," Josiah pointed out. "He's fond of Buck too."
At the mention of the other man Ezra dropped the food in his hand, his eyes widening as he sat up straighter. His breathing shallowed out slightly. Good Lord, how could he be sitting here eating when Buck was in the other room fighting for his life?
Josiah's heart dropped into his stomach at the sight. It was almost as if he could hear the half breed's thoughts they were so clearly painted on his face and mirrored in his actions. "Son, it's not your fault." he risked it, reaching out to place a hand on the other man's shoulder.
"If Ah hadn't..." Ezra sounded slightly panicked, his eyes searching wildly in front of him, taking nothing in. "If Ah had only left sooner..."
"If you left, you and JD would both probably be up there right now." Josiah kept his voice soft and neutral.
"But at least then Buck wouldn't be..." watery green eyes blinked to fight off the emotion as he looked toward the hallway. He stared hard at the doorway to Buck's room but couldn't finish his sentence.
"It might sound foolish to you now, but if you left, if you lied to him and told him you felt nothing for him he'd be just as hurt."
Ezra snorted at that, giving the other man a sardonic look. "Even if he were heartbroken that tends to mend easier than a bullet wound."
"Does it?" the Preacher challenged, noting the wavering look of doubt cross the half breed's face. "Why are you so easily disregarding Buck's feelings?"
Ezra looked positively shocked, like the big man had just slapped him across the face. "Ah...Ah'm not."
"Yes you are," now the Preacher took a slightly stern tone. "Confusion and guilt are a side effect of mixed feelings, but your lack of faith in Buck..."
"Mah lack of faith?" Ezra growled, his hands gripping tight bunches of his pant legs in anger as he cut the big man off. "How could you..."
"Do you care about him, son?"
Another face slap. This time Ezra shook his head to clear the confusion from the way the conversation kept jumping. "Of course Ah do."
"It stands to reason," Josiah said carefully. "That if you care about him like you say you do, if you're spending as much time worrying over whatever it is you have with him, that he is worrying and caring about you in the same manner."
"Ah don't," Ezra fumbled, feeling his cheeks color slightly. "Ah don't doubt his affections." his mouth worked again, words that before came so easily eluded him. He couldn't express himself at all.
"What happens tomorrow or the next day is anyone's guess, I feel that God himself doesn't know. Who can say that whatever he's feeling for you will last for a month or a lifetime? Who can say that what you feel will last that long. What I can predict," and here the Preacher exhaled slowly. "Is that if you leave simply because you're afraid of the unknown, you'll regret it for the rest of your life."
The unknown. The words hit the half breed hard. Most of his life he avoided the unknown. Gambling might have been a risk but it was a calculated risk, there were mathematical certainties involved with his line of work and he always preferred cards to his Mother's cons. Traveling assured him he would not run into too many of the same faces, that he wouldn't leave a lasting impression or make any friends or enemies. If you had friends you became too dependent on other people, and everyone lived their own lives so their actions or future needs remained unknown.
Unknown. Where he'd spend his summers or school months as a child had been unknown. Whether his mother needed his help in a con or was just missing him when she came back was unknown. The relationship between his mother and father and how it progressed was unknown. What tribe he belonged to, at least partially, was unknown. Whether Buck would live, whether JD was alive, whether they'd be able to find out what exactly was going on here was all unknown. He realized then just how much he loathed that word and everything it implied.
"Mopuro will always be safe and welcome on this Ranch. You have my word on that. You have the other's words too. If it's not good enough for you, trust Vin's instincts. Trust your own, son. Don't use that fear as an excuse to run away from something you really want. No one's tying you down, so long as there's a door you're free to walk out of it."
Ezra deflated in his posture scrubbing a hand over his eyes. The Preacher was right.
"No one's sayin' you have to have everything figured out at all times either. You weren't headed in any particular direction before; why not stay awhile, just to see what happens?"
"Ah planned to remain here for a little while." Ezra admitted finally, gnawing his lower lip with his remaining fang.
"You could get to know Buck a little better." Josiah offered, glad the conversation seemed to be having a positive effect. He could almost see the tension flying out of the other man's body, although at the mention of Buck's name he tensed again.
"If Buck doesn't, that is to say, if he..." the Mopuro stammered. Doesn't die, his brain screamed at him but he couldn't bear to say it.
"Buck?" Josiah cocked an eyebrow. "Tell me, what name is it that you call him by?"
"Mule?" Ezra asked, slightly confused.
"And I believe it was partially his stubborn nature that helped earn him that name. As certain as we're sittin' here I know that Buck will be back on his feet in no time. Besides," now Josiah smiled widely, alleviating the tension. "Do you think he's not in there now, planning all the things he's going to do to you once he gets better?"
Ezra looked scandalized once again, turning pink and trying to sink back into the couch. "Mr. Sanchez!"
The Preacher just shrugged. "I merely acknowledge what I know, and I know Buck.
Nathan broke the mood of the room then. The healer came out of Buck's room, looking none too pleased. He swore softly to himself, muttering before he seemed to notice the men on the couch.
"Somethin' wrong?" Ezra drawled slowly, not even realizing how thick his accent became with the way his throat was constricted. Seeing Nathan so frustrated had his chest hollowing out. He sniffed the air repeatedly, trying to ascertain Buck's current condition. Did he worsen somehow?
"He's awake again." Nathan's frown deepened.
"And this is bad news?" Josiah saw the way the half breed was coiling in on himself, ready to jump at a moment’s notice. If Ezra didn't get some food and some sleep he was going to become a dangerous problem. Those Mopuro instincts ran deep, the Preacher could see that look in his eye, the glimmer of something more primal gripping hold of him. It was worrying, for he had no idea how in control of himself Ezra would be if that Mopuro side took over fully.
"I can't get him to lay still or take any remedy." the healer shook his head. "He jus' keeps askin' for Ezra and his gun."
The Preacher turned to help entice the half breed to go in for a visit but he was surprised to see the couch already vacated. Turning back around he caught the back end of Ezra with his tail swaying slightly disappearing into Buck's room. Guess he didn't need any enticing after all.
"The remedies ain't that bad." Nathan lamented, perplexion crossing his face at the look Josiah gave him. "What?"
The Mopuro barely had time to think, his feet had already brought him into the bedroom where Buck was laying on the bed. He looked pale still, weak and sweaty, that really unsettled Ezra but suddenly those blue eyes were on him, the strength and determination behind them hadn't dwindled any at all. Ezra's ears perked hopefully as he took the chair next to the bed.
"How do you feel, Mule?" Every instinct urged him to literally throw his body on top of the other man, to hug him as much as to protect him. Considering the extent of the injury is the only thing that kept him in that chair.
"I'm madder than a bull with his rocks tied!" Buck answered, his voice strained but determined. "Get me out of this damn bed!"
"You've been shot." Ezra repeated, his eye twitching slightly. What ever was the Mule going on about? Getting out of bed, the fool. He had to stay there and rest or he'd get an infection. He really was a stubborn oaf.
"I been shot before," Buck brushed it off, the angry look on his face deepening. "I ain't useless, now help me up; get me my clothes."
Oh Lord, the Mule really was not going to relent easily. Ezra could see now why Nathan looked so annoyed. He tried a different tactic. "Mr. Tanner has not yet returned with the information we need, if you get up now you'll only wear yourself down. How will you go after JD if you're unconscious?" He lied through his teeth; he had no intention whatsoever of letting Buck out of bed or allowing him to go on the rescue mission, but it seemed to work.
Buck settled down at that, the anger leaving his face. "I guess you're right. I can stay layin' a bit until we know where we're goin'."
Ezra nodded and patted Buck's shoulder, frowning internally. How were they going to keep Buck here when they went after JD? They may have to secure him to the bed in some fashion. He chewed on his lip as he tried to think it over.
"You look tired." Buck's voice was soft and concerned, drawing the half breed's gaze. "Have you slept?"
Looking down at Buck, seeing the worry on his face, hearing the emotion in his voice had Ezra barking out a nervous laugh. The tension squeezed his throat as his hands fumbled at the bed. Without realizing it, he bunched fistfuls of the white blanket, the familiarity of it soothing him. "After all this, y-you think to ascertain if I've slept or not?"
"Uh, yeah." Buck gruffed. "And it doesn't look like you have either. You're still healin' ya know."
"You've been shot, Ah merely injured mah ankle. Ah believe your condition is far worse than mah own." the half breed's voice rose slightly. Just hearing Buck's voice again had him more relaxed than before. His eyelids drooped slightly, letting the fatigue take over. He hadn't slept, that was true, but how could he?
"No it ain't, says who?" Buck challenged, turning his nose up slightly at the conversation.
"Says anyone with half a brain in their thick, oafish skull!" Ezra half stood, not at all prepared for the way Buck grabbed him. He suddenly was pulled down onto the bed, held against the other man's body. When he realized what happened, he panicked and pulled away from Buck's chest as if it'd stung him. He sat on the side of the bed, green eyes wide in fright staring at Buck's bandages.
"What's wrong with you?" Buck offered a hand out, slowly petting it down the Mopuro's arm in a reassuring manner. "A little hug isn't going to make it worse."
Ezra just looked down at his hands, then at the bandages, whimpering softly. He hadn't meant to, when he tumbled onto the bed he'd touched Buck's side, touched the injury, touched where a bullet had torn through flesh.
"Don't tell me you've never seen anyone shot before?" Dark eyebrows danced across the tall man's forehead.
"Ah...Ah can smell it." Ezra said after a minute, allowing his body to slowly relax so he was sitting on his knees on the bed next to Buck.
"The pain," Ezra shook his head, letting his eyes meet Buck's. "The injury. Ah can smell how it hurt you."
Buck regarded the other man for a long while; finally he smiled softly, reaching out to take Ezra's hand. He dragged it to his side, setting it carefully over the bandaged wound. "It'll heal, Ez. Don't worry." A moment later he pulled that hand up his chest and rested it over his heart, hoping the other man could feel how it was beating. "See? It's still beatin'. Beatin' a little faster mind you to see how worried you are about me." Buck grinned.
Ezra let his hand remain there, just feeling how strong and steady that heartbeat was, when he felt assured by its presence he let his hand wander down and rest over the bandaged side once more. He frowned down at it. He'd seen men shot many times before; hell, he'd shot men before. He'd seen men die of all sorts of things: bullets, snake bites, poisons, illness, drowning... never before had he felt anything like this related to the scent of a wound. Was it because it was the Mule that was hurt that it twisted his insides suddenly?
"Well this ain't fair," Buck teased after a minute, sighing with the exhaustion that crept up on him. "I finally get you alone in my bed and I can't do nothin' about it."
Ezra smiled genuinely at him, seeing the fatigue washing over his features. "If you promise to get better," he offered, "Ah'll stay awhile, perhaps then we'll find ourselves in a similar situation - though you'll be able to," he trailed off, pursing his lips as he looked down at Buck, noting how eager the other man looked. "Do something about it?"
"Oh you just wait, talkin' like that is gonna give me the energy to do somethin' about it right now." Buck squirmed to sit up but frowned when the other man stayed him gently.
"Now, now. Imagine my guilt if you were to incur more injury by fault of my actions."
"I'll make ya a deal," Buck offered, exhaling and closing his eyes. He was suddenly tired enough to sleep for a week, his body felt drained. "I'll behave if you take a little nap with me."
Thinking a moment, Ezra then let himself lay out very gently next to the injured man. He made sure to put himself along Buck's uninjured side and while he only meant to lie alongside the other man, getting this close to that constant warmth triggered something. The Mopuro curled up along Buck's side, burying his nose into the tall man's shoulder, nuzzling his neck gently. He inhaled deeply at Buck's scent, feeling exceedingly comforted and suddenly tired. He hadn't realized how truly tired he'd been until that moment.
"That's a good little Peach." Buck cooed, moving his arm to wrap it around the other man and let him nuzzle closer. It felt nice lying with Ezra like this. More than nice, it felt right.
A thought preyed on the feral Mopuro's mind, aside from everything else going on; there was one matter he hadn't fully discussed with the half breed. It was something important, something dangerous and he wondered now if he should have brought it up before he left. He'd been thinkin' on it some, before all this happened but he reckoned if Ezra knew it would just drive him away. That wasn't what Vin wanted, he wanted Ezra to stay put an' stay with Buck and he knew they both wanted that too, no matter how they were actin'. He'd decided to not talk about it to Ezra, besides, he'd be around so if something happened, if Ezra started to change or act differently he'd be around to smell it. He'd be able to help or step in in time.
All that was thrown to the wind now, JD was kidnapped, Buck was shot and Ezra was a mixed bag of emotions so powerful it made the very thing Vin neglected to mention an unknown danger to the humans involved. He couldn't do much about it now - out here so far from the Ranch, he just silently thanked the stubborn part of his being that demanded he tell someone what he knew. He'd chosen his oldest human friend, a man he trusted more than anyone else alive - Mopuro or human alike; he told Josiah.
He'd found the Preacher in the yard, strolling casually after dinner one evening with a cigar. Chris, Nathan and JD were out in the pasture checking up on some of the younger stock, the kid sure did love the baby animals. Vin could smell that part of Nathan and Chris liked watchin' JD be so enthusiastic, so they'd happily accompanied him to check on the calves.
Ezra was in the kitchen giving off a particularly sadistic vibe; Vin knew why, Buck was stuck doin' the washin' up from dinner and the half breed was seated at the table enjoying his complaints. Vin could smell the lie though, Buck was only saying the words, voicing a complaint but inside he was rather happy just to spend some time alone with Ezra. Bucklin really did wear his big ol' heart on his sleeve.
This time Vin eased into view so not to startle his friend, it usually made him smile to watch people act so jumpy but the nature of what he had to say was a mite serious, he wasn't sure he could make Josiah understand and jumpin' in spookin' him wasn't the best foot to start on.
"Vin." Josiah stopped walking, looking pleasantly surprised to see the feral Mopuro before him. "I wasn't expecting you."
"Was waitin' to get you alone." Vin answered carefully, taking another sniff at the air to make sure the others were where he left them. "Got somethin' gnawin' on me."
The big man looked around them, already knowing they were well alone if the Mopuro approached him but it was a force of habit. After another glance he exhaled a cloud of smoke and stepped toward other man, encouraging him to walk so they could speak privately. Vin followed him to the side of the barn, the building acting as a sort of visual privacy shield, though with their distance from the Ranch they wouldn't be heard anyways.
"I didn't tell Ezra yet, if he knew he'd light out of here like a coyote with his tail afire."
Josiah blinked slowly, sensing the serious tone of voice. Vin was usually laid back and easy going, now it seemed that something was really bothering him and it put the big man on alert. "What is it?"
"It's somethin' 'bout his Daddy. Somethin' real important."
"His father?" the Preacher seemed taken aback. How could Vin know something about Ezra's father? Something that would make Ezra leave the Ranch?
"It's a mite complicated so I'll explain the best I can." Vin hooked his thumbs into his pelt and rocked on his heels a moment. "You know his momma was a human and his daddy was a Mopuro. Well, that ain't all of it. I knew from the start but I didn't say nothin' cuz I could smell the storm brewin' in that man. I told you that half breeds tend to carry a lot of confusion; sometimes they don't know whether to be a human or a Mopuro. Well, that's true for a lot of 'em. But not Ezra." Bright blue eyes stared hard at the Preacher now. "He's different; his confusion is different, stronger than others. He ain't a regular half breed."
"Because he was raised as a human?" Josiah offered, remembering Vin had told him that much at least before.
"That has some to do with it," Vin paused again, wetting his lips before speaking. "His daddy was a feral."
"A feral?" Josiah exhaled loudly, his eyes widening a moment. "Ezra is half feral?"
"He is, an' he doesn't know it. He's different cuz I ain't ever met a half human half feral before. 'm not sure there's ever been one."
"But," the Preacher fumbled a moment, trying to think of the words he wanted. "No other Mopuro has sensed this about him yet?"
"Don't reckon he's been around many other feral, an' only they would be able to tell. He didn't smell like it much at first, had me right confused, sniffin' in circles for a while, but it's comin' out of him. Those Mopuro instincts keep gettin' stronger by the day and the smell is stronger too."
"Is it a reaction to his injury? Something that happens with age? What's causing the feral side to come out so strongly now?"
"Somethin' a few inches over six feet with dark hair named Bucklin." Vin smiled at this, seeing the small smile mirrored on his friend's lips. "I can control myself an' get along with humans but we're called feral cuz we're wild, don't be fooled by me. There's some ferals out there that'll attack when cornered, an' they'll come claws out and fangs gnashin'. Even to someone they're friendly with."
Josiah sat for a minute again letting the information process. "If he gives in to that Mopuro side that he's fightin' with all the time, he'll have feral instincts?"
"S'right, an' I'm just a little worried it might confuse him. I wanna tell him but if I do now he's just gonna up an' leave. He'll think he's a danger to Bucklin."
"Nope." Vin just shook his head easily. "Bucklin cares about him too much. When Ezra's gettin' cornered and pinned in that Ranch now it's to a mattress an' he's gettin' some sweet attention offa it. Don't let him fool you, he may struggle but he's lovin' every minute of it. If he weren't, it'd be a different story. But if he gets worked up one day and cornered, if he feels threatened and that feral side emerges..."
"Like cornering a wild animal." Josiah finished for him.
"Since I never met a feral half breed before I can't rightly say what he'll do, an' I plan to be around here awhile, so the more this feral side shows itself the more I can help him. When he gets a little more comfortable with it and admits his scent is right with Bucklin, I'll tell him about his daddy."
Josiah smiled at the phrasing the Mopuro used and nodded sagely. "He's lucky to have you."
"Hell, Preacher." Vin blushed slightly. "If'n he's half feral he might as well be part of my tribe. I keep an eye on everythin' that's mine. 'Sides, he's got Bucklin keepin' two eyes on him. Reckoned I better tell someone else though, just in case. For any reason he gets backed into a corner you watch him an' step in as fast as you can to diffuse that situation 'fore all hell breaks loose."
"And you're certain he won't have a feral reaction if Buck were to back him into a corner?"
Vin grinned wide at that, showing his fangs in the process. "If Bucklin has that half breed backed in a corner and pinned to a wall you best high tail it out of there or you're gonna get a free show; sure as we're standin' here."
Vin came back to himself, creeping closer to the campsite. He had to focus on the here and now if he wanted to save the kid.
He scoffed, that was an old trick that may have worked some hundred years ago or maybe on a youngin. How foolish did they think he was? Just the scent of lavender was suspicious to most Mopuro - feral or not. Looks like these bastards weren't as educated about Mopuro as they thought. All it did was lead him straight to JD. He could see the kid now, tied up and laying in the dirt, curled into a ball the best he could manage. No new wounds, no fresh blood at least. There was a bowl of water left next to the kid like he were some damn animal, it made the feral Mopuro angry - but at least he'd been able to drink.
What the hell were these men doing? Why hadn't they attacked the Ranch yet? Why didn't they hit while the others were down? Was the Ranch even their intention? If they wanted Mopuro, they had JD, so what else could they be after? This stank the more it sat and it had been sitting quite a while. Maybe they were waiting for something else, someone else? Either way you shook it, it came out bad. They'd have a better chance at the Ranch and these were humans after all, Larabee and the others might have a better idea of their possible intentions, Vin could only guess. He was smart enough and knew how most humans worked, but they could operate on levels a Mopuro could never understand.
Just when Vin shifted in his squat, about to call out to JD there was an obvious crunch behind him. The shifting of dried leaves on the ground, someone was there! The feral Mopuro quickly rolled out of the way, his tan shaggy ears flat on his head with his matching scruffy tail flagging in alert. He came up on one knee, gun drawn already pointing at the figure in the dark. The man already had his hands up, palms forward facing Vin to show he held no weapon.
"Hola." the voice was low and gruff, whispered so only Vin could hear it. A moment later the Mexican man stepped a little closer, keeping his dark eyes focused on Vin's gun. A vaquero? The feral Mopuro could tell by the way the other man dressed. What was a vaquero doing out here? Moving slowly, the man removed his flat crown hat revealing two black, slightly rounded ears. Shit, the other Mopuro, the tracker he'd been trailing. "My name is Raphael," he spoke again as he replaced his hat. "You're a long way from your compadres, amigo. You're in for much trouble, I think. More than you know."
Ezra slept but it was a troubled sleep. He didn't dare move, afraid of jostling Buck in his sleep and he couldn't stop worrying about JD, but it had been two days since he'd even closed his eyes, so his tired body slipped into unconsciousness whether he wanted it to or not. It had to have been a few hours because when he awoke it was dark. He felt he could sleep at least a decade, so what had awoken him so suddenly? He was groggy on the bed a moment, sitting up, feeling Buck's body next to him.
The Mule's skin felt cool and clammy, and it took a heartbeat too long for Ezra to realize something was wrong. Buck was cold, something was wet against his side and his hands but his eyes hadn't adjusted yet, still bleary from sleep. He took a deep inhale, trying to smell the situation out instead; his heart seemed to slam to a stop, blood. He was soaked in something wet and sticky but it couldn't be blood, not that much blood, Buck had already lost too much.
"Nathan." Ezra spoke, trying to calm his breathing and adjust his eyes. He peered down at his hands, his green eyes widening before focusing. It was blood; his hands were covered in it. His lower lip trembling, Ezra looked down at the bed, the sheets were soaked too, the dark stain unmistakable even in the dim light. "Nathan!" he yelled a little louder, feeling a panic grip him. Buck looked pale, too pale. His skin was cold, he wasn't moving. "Nathan!!" When the half breed looked down and realized his own clothes were soaked he tumbled backward over the edge of the bed, screaming so loud for the healer his voice cracked with the strain.
He hadn't heard the footsteps over his own labored breathing but suddenly Nathan, Chris and Josiah were in the bedroom. Nathan was at the bedside in a moment, Chris just a step behind him. The Preacher was kneeling, speaking to Ezra but he couldn't hear what he was saying. Why wasn't Buck moving? Where did all this blood come from? Was it his own blood? Oh God, let it be his own blood! Suddenly he was tearing at his clothes, trying to get them off in hopes of finding a gaping wound. Don't let this be Buck's blood, please don't let it.
The half breed could hear nothing as he whimpered and tore at his clothes, the room was hot and the others seemed to be moving in slow motion. Nathan's mouth moved, he was yelling something and Chris was moving for the bedroom door. Wrong, wrong, something was wrong. Was Buck dead? He had his shirt open but no matter how he tugged he couldn't even begin to get his pants off. He knew though, he knew this was Buck's blood and not his own. He could smell it now, smell it so strongly it burned his nostrils.
Ezra. Ezra. Ezra. "Ezra."
Time skipped and halted, going back on itself before restarting as Josiah's voice breached his shock. Wild green eyes stared the Preacher, searching for answers. And then hands were helping him, helping undress him, getting the blood soaked garments off his body.
"Why isn't it mine?" Ezra cried out smally, lying back on the floor for a moment. He babbled and tried to steel his nerves, tried to come back to himself. "Is he dead? Is Buck dead?"
Josiah worked diligently, finally getting the last of the other man's clothes off. He had years of practice hiding his own emotions and it was a good thing, the blood had soaked through the Mopuro's clothes, even his body was stained with the dark red substance. If Josiah let the dread he felt show in his expression he would have lost Ezra to shock in that moment.
Nathan was working quickly, ordering Chris who obeyed whatever those orders were silently. They were lifting Buck, undoing his bandages. Ezra watched, grimacing at how limp the usually animated man was. His arms hung idly by his side, flopping as if lifeless. He looked like a rag dog and the Mopuro suddenly felt sick.
"Nathan?" Josiah was afraid to ask, but his reason and logic clung on slightly somewhere in the hysteria. If Buck was already dead Nathan wouldn't be working on him.
"He's still here, barely." Nathan's tone was flat. "I don't think..." he trailed off, swallowing the lump that formed in his throat.”He lost a lot of blood." he offered instead after a minute.
Ezra was dazed, not even aware he was currently nude in the middle of the floor. He didn't realize he was still covered in blood as Josiah pulled him to his feet. He tried to lead him from the room, but the Mopuro seemed glued to the floor, staring at the bed longingly, looking in horror at the things going on upon it. With resolve, the Preacher stooped, lifting Ezra easily over his shoulder. He didn't put up a fight, just allowed himself to be carried from the room.
The morning sun crept in through the window, causing the half breed to wince and lift a hand to block his eyes. Why did he feel so heavy? A cautionary sniff brought slightly unfamiliar smells. He knew this room but it wasn't his room, this wasn't Buck's bed. Then suddenly the memory of the prior evening hit him so hard it practically flung him from the couch. He landed on his hands and knees, looking down at his body, but he was in a night shirt, one of Buck's night shirts. He was clean. Josiah...
He remembered the Preacher giving him a bath, helping to rid him of...
"Buck!" Ezra scrambled to his feet, ignoring the sharp tug of pain in his ankle. He damned it, half running and half scampering on all fours down the hallway until he got his feet under him. He didn't realize he stumbled into the wall hard enough to bruise; he was too intent to get to Buck. The door was open and he thumped loudly against the frame, almost drunk in his movements.
Once inside the scene washed over him slowly. He never stopped moving but his body was faster than his mind. Nathan was asleep in the rocking chair, though he'd awoken at this point due to the noise the Mopuro was making. The bed was clean, no longer bloody and in the middle laid Buck. He was pale and not moving much, but he was there and he was breathing.
Ezra dropped to his knees with a startled and happy cry, wanting to throw himself across the Mule's body to protect it but terrified he'd injure him further. Instead, he held Buck's arm tight, sitting on the floor almost coiling himself around it as much as he was able. Buck was still alive. Oh Lord, he was still alive!
"How bad is it?" he drawled after a few minutes, knowing the healer was still in the room with him. Good Lord, he felt highly embarrassed for his reactions but he couldn't help himself. Waking up like that, waking up covered in his friend's blood...
"He lost a lot of blood, Ezra." Nathan was honest; he couldn't lie to the other man. "I can't say. The bleeding stopped for a while, but started again in the night. I don't know why."
Ezra tightened his grip on Buck's arm like a stubborn child. "So..."
"It could go either way right now." Nathan wished he could give some better news, he really wished he could. Why hadn't Buck's body stopped bleeding? He couldn't figure it out and felt entirely helpless. Everything turned bad so quick it felt like every moment they were just getting closer and closer to the fire.
A few deep exhales later and Ezra rose to his knees again, just watching the Mule sleep. He wished the other man looked peaceful but he didn't, he didn't even look like he was there. Like his body was just lying there but his mind wasn't in it.
Suddenly he was back in a dingy, poorly lit saloon. It was years ago, he was very young, barely a man yet and he had been gambling. He'd gambled many times before but he should have known better. His age was deceiving, while others figured him for just a stupid kid he was already well versed in cards and the art of the gamble. Never win big and never win consistently. It had been working; everything was going fine until another man accused him of cheating. Ezra remembered it clearly, for he often thought back to this moment. How could he not? He was sure everyone remembered the first time they killed another man.
Luckily it had happened too fast for him to get into a moral dilemma, there was a gun pointing toward him and his derringer was in his palm before he realized it. A squeeze of the trigger later, a twitching corpse lay slumped over the table in the now silent room. He sat, his gun still in his hand just staring at the now dead body. He'd just killed a man, took his life, but it had been a fair fight. He was defending himself. If he had been a little slower he'd be the one slumped over the table.
It didn't help to think of it as self-defense though; the Saloon business went on normally, this sort of thing happened fairly often. Ezra just gathered his winnings, trying not to shake before leaving the Saloon. He walked for a while, slipping in between two buildings to get sick repeatedly until his body couldn't possibly expel anything more. He shook, his body sweating as his stomach refused to calm and lurched about.
Just that once, that one time had he reacted to death in such a manner. While he usually tried to only wound men, the situation did arise for him to kill more often than he would like. But such was the way of the West. Not once after had he gotten sick or given it a second thought. He had killed, he'd seen men die, men he'd been traveling with whom he had formed an acquaintance with. While it was regretful at the time, he'd never reacted to death like he had last night.
But Buck wasn't dead. Not yet. He was still here, probably. Maybe he was still in there? Ezra looked at his face, wishing the Mule would open his eyes and give him that big, warm smile. He wished he could go back in time and not react as he did last night, that he would wake up sooner, catch the bleeding sooner so he could call for Nathan - but it just wasn't possible.
Leaning down, the half breed let his lips rest against Buck's ear. He breathed in and out a moment, trying to get Buck's scent as much as he was trying to think of what to say. Nathan gave him some privacy, excusing himself to get some more water to help keep Buck's fever down. Now in the empty room Ezra whispered to him.
"Mule," he started, a million things flashing through his mind and heart that he should say, that he wanted to say but when he opened his mouth they wouldn't come out. "If you wish to remain friends then you best never open your eyes again, sir." he swallowed hard. "Not merely because you've once again managed to scare years off mah life." he smiled, stammering a little at that, nuzzling his nose into Buck's neck. "Did you know, Mule? Did you always know that Ah loved your attention and affection? That if you open your eyes Ah'm going to..." his lip trembled, not if - when. "Well Ah b-believe that, you see we'll... copulate." he frowned at that term, scolding himself. Well done, Ezra. Copulate, very romantic.
"Buck, Ah'll..." he tried again, shaking his head with a whimper. "Mule, wake up some you can make love to me. Please, Ah want it." He pressed soft kisses against Buck's cheeks then. "Wake up so we can no longer be friends, Mr. Wilmington." It wasn't as horrible as he thought to admit it out loud, life seemed to continue, no demons appeared to take him away, time didn't stop, hell didn't freeze over, and it was fine. It was fine for him to want to be with Buck.
There was a stirring then, very slight, but Buck shifted in his sleep, a pained expression crossing his face as he swallowed. There were no words and no further movement but as Ezra looked down at his face, it felt different. Buck's lips parted, he exhaled hard, the pain of his condition very apparent to the Mopuro now. But he was there, Buck was in there, he could see him now.
"Fight, you stubborn fool." he whispered, leaning down to press his lips to Buck's. He kissed the other man sweetly, giving his moustache a slight suck and nuzzle, as if a promise of things to come, an enticing offer to come back from the brink. Maybe after all this, if Buck did regain, they wouldn't be together forever. Maybe they wouldn't be together a year, but Josiah had been right. Running away simply because the future was unknown was not only foolish and childish, but it would have been the biggest mistake of his life.
<-- Chapter 17
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