Alternate Universe "Hunter's Moon"
Disclaimer: Not mine, not making any money.
Author's note: This story is set in Joe Lawson's wonderful Hunter's Moon AU, which you will find, if you haven't already, at the Blackraptor Adult site. This story is not an adult story in any way. If you haven't read Hunter's Moon, some of this story will be a little confusing, but all will be made clear by the end. If adult is not your thing, a short PG summary of the story can be found at the end of this one.
"God I'm gonna be glad when we get home." Buck Wilmington said with a hart-felt sigh as Steel picked his way over the rough mountain trail.
"You and me both," Nathan Jackson agreed, as his big bay dutifully following Steel.
The early fall sunshine was still hot, though the nights were colder now. The scenery was spectacular, and they were in no hurry, but the men were keen to return to the small dusty town both were surprised to find they called home and missed. More than the town they missed their friends, the five other men they worked with who had come to be more than just friends. So the view and pleasant weather were of no interest to the men as they rode on, finally heading home.
"What's that?" Buck pulled up and pointed at a tiny white blob on the distant mountainside.
"Snow?" Nathan ventured.
"No, not cold enough, 'sides it's a south facing slope." Buck looked up just to make sure he had his bearings right. "Come on, let's find out," Buck urged Steel on a little faster.
Nathan rolled his eyes in exasperation, Buck's 'distractions' had already added two days to the trip, and he wasn't keen to add more. But Nathan knew better than to try and stop Buck once his course was set, so he followed. As they got closer, the white blob proved to be a tent. There was a horse and a donkey tethered outside to a line strung between two trees. Both looked none too happy. The two friends approached from the cover of the trees.
"Hello the camp!" Buck called.
No one answered.
"Hello, coming in!" Buck warned as he drew his gun.
Nathan put a hand out to rest on Buck's arm, a silent question on his face. "Assume the worst, Nate, you'll live longer that way," Wilmington warned.
Jackson nodded and drew his own weapon as both men dismounted, still within the cover of the trees. Once their reins were dropped on to the ground, the two well-schooled horses stood still and waited patiently for their masters' return. The two experienced men split up and moved to either side of the tent. Once more Buck called in, but as before there was no answer. Finally, with Nathan covering him, Buck pulled the tent flap aside and moved very quickly inside, gun at the ready.
"Nate! Get in here," he called out instantly.
The tent's occupant proved to be a thin young man with dark hair and a moustache not unlike Buck's, lying on a bedroll. He was deathly pale, drenched in perspiration and unconscious, his breathing laboured and wheezing. Without a second thought Jackson dropped to his knees beside the man. The tent wasn't really big enough for two, let alone three, especially when two of the occupants were the size of Buck and Nathan. So Buck backed out and went about doing what he knew best, taking care of the horses and making camp. The stranger's animals were desperately in need of water, so after passing Nathan his healer's pouch, he lead all four equines down to the nearby stream. That done he made a fire and put water on for coffee. It was just done when Nathan came out.
"Well?" he asked, handing the healer a mug of coffee.
"Poor man's got a bad infection in his chest, I don't think it's pneumonia, but he's real poorly."
Buck nodded. He didn't need to ask if they were staying to care for the man, it was a given.
"How long?" he asked.
Nathan shrugged. "Hard to say, a day or two here if things go well, then maybe we could move him to that ghost town we passed this morning, some of them buildings were in good order, maybe a fire place we could use, even a bed?"
Buck frowned at this suggestion. "What?" Jackson enquired.
"Not sure about that place, didn't smell right."
"You didn't say anything before," Nathan challenged.
"We weren't stoppin' before," Buck replied pointedly.
Jackson silently conceded this was true.
Their discussion about something that was at least two day's hence, was cut short by the sound of coughing coming from the tent. Instantly Nathan was up and on his feet and headed into the small canvas shelter.
"Sir? Sir do you hear me come on sir, you gotta sit up now." Buck listened to the familiar litany; Nathan's gentle voice could be like a balm, it accompanied his recent memories of being ill or hurt and was always reassuring and calming. There was more coughing, then Buck could hear a faint voice.
"Who who are you?" the man gasped out. To Buck his voice sounded foreign in some way.
"M' name's Nathan Jackson sir," When meeting strangers, white strangers, for the first time when he or they were vulnerable; Nathan was generally deferential, just until he knew how things lay. "We found you here." There was more coughing. "Are you alone sir? Is there someone with you?" In between wet hacking coughs the man said he was alone. There was no more conversation for a while. Eventually Nathan re-emerged.
"I heard, so he's alone, guess we'll really be here for a while," Buck said before Jackson had even sat down. "I took a look through his stuff, some canned stuff, bacon, tea?" Buck shook his head. "And some biscuits, bit stale, that's all."
"He needs feeding up, any chance of some fresh meat, something I can make into a broth?" Jackson asked.
Buck nodded, and collecting his rifle, he headed off on foot in search of game.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan sat up with the stranger all that day and most of the night. Buck had shot a pair of good-sized grouse. He had settled down to pluck and gut the birds, and after putting on some water for broth, spit roasted the other for himself and Nathan. Buck liked to pretend he could do little more than fry bacon and brew coffee, but in truth more than twenty years of looking after himself had taught the tall ladies man to be fairly self-sufficient; he had even found some wild garlic and sage to add to the broth. But by the next day, after being made to drink constantly, including Nathan's congestion relieving tea and having Buck's grouse broth spooned into him the stranger was beginning to show a small measure of improvement. After a long day and no sleep Nathan was out on his feet and Buck forced him to take a break. So with a long list of instructions Buck sat himself down in the small tent, next to the sick man. By placing the man's own packsaddle behind him and padding it with a saddle blanket, they had propped the stranger up to ease his breathing.
Buck was just sitting and thinking when the man woke. He stared at Wilmington for a long time, trying to work out who he was. The entire time Buck was oblivious to the scrutiny as he sat staring out of the open tent flap, lost in thought.
"You must b b be Mr Jackson's frrrrr iend, I've heard your voice." The sudden breathy voice broke into Buck's reflections. Instantly on the defensive, out of pure instinct Buck turned suddenly toward the stranger, his hand already on his gun. It took only a second for him to remember where he was and what was going on.
"Yes yes I'm Buck, Buck Wilmington, pleased to meet you." Buck favoured the man with a full on Wilmington grin.
Remembering Nathan's instructions Buck reached out and lay a hand on the stranger's pale brow to check his fever. The man was still over warm, but no longer burning hot.
"Well?" gasped out the man.
"Not good, but not too bad, at least by my reckoning, but I know nothing, we need Nate."
"No." The man's eyes implored Buck. "Mr Jack s son is tired, no?" Buck nodded. "He sleeps?"
"Then let th th the poor man sleep," he gasped.
Buck reached for the canteen and poured the man a mug of water, helping him by steadying his shaking hands as he sipped from the tin cup.
"You should sleep sir," Buck advised.
"No, I have b..been sleeping too long," the man responded.
"You know we don't know your name."
"Oh goodn ness how rude of me. I am Stevenson, Louis Stevenson."
Buck shook the man's hand. "Right pleased to meet you Louis." Buck grinned down at the man.
"Mr Jackson, he seems to be a very com compassionate man?"
"Nate? Yeah, he's one of a kind, saved my life more an' once I can tell you."
"Please, talk to me, tell me stories, I I like stories. How did you come to be travelling together?" Stevenson asked.
Buck looked down at the man, he had settled back, looking drained. Buck sympathised; he knew what it was like to be too sick to do anything but lie there and too uncomfortable to sleep.
So Buck told him stories. Stories about the seven of them, about his adventures with the ladies, even about the war. His audience of one listened with his eyes closed. Occasionally Buck would stop and check if Stevenson was awake, and once he had given him some more water continue his narrative. Close to noon Buck was telling him about Nathan saving the life of a lady having a difficult birth.
"I was surprised to find my physician was a a " The sick man looked at Buck, desperately searching for the right word.
"Negro?" Buck guessed.
"Yes, from what I h h " He began to cough again. Once it was over the man continued. "have seen Mr Jackson's people are not well treated, I didn't expect one to be a doctor."
"Nate ain't no real doctor, he's a sort of a healer, but I tell you, ya couldn't be in better hands. But yer right, lots of folk don't treat him and his kind decent." He looked over at the still sleeping form of Jackson. "I figure it's their loss."
"A wise philosophy, my friend. So Mr Jackson works both as a healer and a lawman?"
"Yup, and he's damn good at both. I mean he can handle a gun - but with a knife - whoo-ee! You don't wanna mess with him! I ain't never seen no one throw a knife like old Nate."
"So with one h hand he takes life an' with the other he saves it?"
"Yeah, I guess so." Buck had thought about this himself, the strange paradox of a healer who took lives.
When he looked down Stevenson was asleep again. So Buck went back to his thoughts and the view outside the tent.
+ + + + + + +
Their patient slept on and off for another day and a half before Jackson said he was fit to be moved. He was able to tell them he was from Scotland and was travelling across America to meet his fiancée in San Francisco. While camping alone he had been caught in a downpour and taken a chill. Nathan told Buck, he suspected Mr Stevenson had a weak chest. Finally they were able to travel to the ghost town.
Buck still didn't like it. The rain, the same rain that had caught their patient, had washed the town almost clean. The odour Buck had detected was so faint now, four days after the rain, he was almost able to ignore it, almost.
Nathan rode into town leading both Louis' horse and his donkey. Buck had gone ahead to scout the town. Now, as Jackson rode in, he was standing outside the abandoned saloon, grinning.
"You have to be kidding, the saloon?" Jackson looked despairingly up at the dilapidated building.
"Nope, only this place and the jail still got a decent roof, and the beds here are much nicer here!"
Jackson wasn't convinced by this explanation but helped Louis get down from his horse and with Buck's help they got him inside. Buck had found a bedroom with a reasonable bed near the top of the stairs, which were still sound. The stove in the room was rusty but he had managed to get a fire going. Looking at the state of the town, it seemed to Buck that it had been abandoned for only a year or two. He knew that up in the more remote hills there were towns that had been empty and crumbling for years and years.
+ + + + + + +
The trip had taken a lot out of Stevenson, but after a day and a night in bed he was improving again. He drank all the medicinal teas Nathan gave him without complaint, ate the broth they both pressed on him and even complied with the steam inhalations Nathan made him endure.
"Yer doin' much better, Mr Stevenson," Nathan said encouragingly as he cleared the supper things, a rabbit stew, his first solid meal.
"Please, call me Louis. And sit man, you work altogether too hard. Sit, rest, talk a spell."
Nathan was indeed tired, but working hard was all he knew how to do, all he had ever done. He would see a job that needed doing and do it, tomorrow was never good enough for Nathan Jackson. Giving a little shrug, Nathan sat down in the soft but dusty chair at the end of the bed, facing the patient. Just as he did, both men cringed simultaneously, as the most appalling sound wafted up to them from the street below the open window.
"Good Lord man! What is that noise?" the Scotsman asked.
"That would be Buck," Nathan explained. "Singing."
"Dear God, there should be a law against it!"
Nathan laughed. "Yeah, well, you're not hearing him at his best."
"That I find hard to believe!"
"No really, Buck can sing, he just sings a different song."
Stevenson looked on silently, not understanding, and sensing he was not going to get an explanation.
"Tell me how you came to be a 'healer', is that what you call your profession?" Louis sat back on the mound of moth eaten pillows and rolled blankets that kept him propped up to listen.
Nathan took time to think about what, if anything, he wanted to tell the man. They had come to know something of him. The woman he loved was married but separated, she was ten years older than he was, but his love for her had driven him to cross an ocean and a continent, despite delicate health. Nathan had not said anything, but when he heard the woman had children he found himself disapproving. A mother should stay with her husband. Buck, of course, was all for the great romance, he made it clear he believed people should be free to pursue love where ever they found it.
"Well," he began. "I wouldn't call it a profession exactly."
"I would. But please, go on."
Nathan told him about being a stretcher-bearer in the war, about learning all he could from the doctors and the traditional healers among his people.
"It must have been hard, to have to choose, who to save and who you couldn't help, to play God on battle field."
Nathan regarded the man; he hadn't said anything about that aspect of his war experiences. It had indeed been hard, to ignore the men boys, calling for help, begging for release and pick up the ones who had at least a fighting chance of surviving their wounds. He had nightmares about it for years; he could still hear them, if he let himself think about it.
Nathan lowered his head. "Yes, it was hard."
Louis gave him a moment to regain his composure before he continued. "You work with Buck and the others, as a lawman, you have taken lives?"
Nathan nodded. "When I had to, yes, to protect others, to save my friends, to help those who can't help themselves."
"Have you ever shot someone, or knifed them, and then saved their life?"
"Yes, yes I have."
"Why? Why try to kill someone and then try to save them, probably so they can hang?"
Nathan regarded the man. They were of an age, he and the frail Scotsman, yet he felt; he had lived twice as long, experienced twice as much, seen twice as much, but not understood even half of it. Yet this man, who seemed to have experienced so little, understood so much, or so it seemed.
"Because I'm not the judge, I guess?" He shrugged. "Because despite what happened in the war, I don't play God," he finally said.
Buck's boisterous, tuneless singing cut through the uneasy silence that had descended on the room. The song was very bawdy and Buck was giving it everything he had as he chopped wood outside. Suddenly both men burst out laughing.
"Very um er interesting lyrics that song has," Louis commented wryly.
"Yeah, well, that's Buck for you."
"He is very earthy, your Mr Wilmington, very uninhibited. I get the feeling the so-called rules of 'polite society' don't apply to him."
Nathan wasn't sure how to answer that, because if ever there was a person for whom the rules didn't apply it was Buck, and that had been true before they found out he was a Two-Blood! Just how did this man understand them so easily?
"Yes, you could say that," he finally admitted.
+ + + + + + +
They had been in the ghost town for three days now, and Stevenson was improving rapidly. Nathan had allowed him to get out of bed to eat with them downstairs, he was now only coughing sporadically, though he was still wheezy and had a low-grade fever, but all in all he was improving steadily. The meal, rabbit, was tasty and the conversation entertaining. Louis told the two men stories of pirates and rebellions. If he noticed Buck was edgy he said nothing, but once he had retired to his room, Nathan asked.
"Storm coming, can't you smell it?" To emphasise his point the big Two-Blood turned his head to the door and sniffed. "Later tonight, dawn maybe, big."
"I was going to say we could move out tomorrow, but I can't risk movin' 'im in a storm," Nathan said with no attempt to hide his disappointment.
Just as predicted a huge thunderstorm with torrential rain arrived just before dawn. The noise woke both regulators. Nathan rose from his bed behind the saloon's bar, just as dawn brightened the room enough for him not to need a lamp, although the dark clouds still made it very gloomy inside. Pulling on his clothes he started to make coffee. Storm or no storm Buck would be up by now.
The aroma of the freshly brewed coffee wafted up the stairs to the room directly above the bar. Buck was shaving as he stood by the window watching the torrents cascade of the eves. He had looked in on their patient, happy to find he was asleep and that the room was dry. His assessment, that the saloon's roof was sound, had proved right. He detected the aroma of the coffee almost instantly and silently thanked the healer. Finishing quickly he headed downstairs to enjoy his morning brew.
"Nathan, you are a life saver," Buck announced as he arrived at the bottom of the stairs. "Well it's a " He suddenly stopped mid sentence.
Nathan frowned at him. "What?"
"I head something." There was a clear warning in his voice, he was no longer relaxed, but wary and tense.
"Any idea what, do ya smell anything?" Nathan asked.
"In this rain?" Buck commented incredulously.
Suddenly the tall Two-Blood's head snapped around toward the back of the saloon. "Nathan!" he hissed. "Don't move, just stand quite still," he warned.
While obeying the instruction, Jackson turned his head very slowly to see what Buck was looking at. Entering the large room from the gloom at of what had been the kitchen, was a huge dog. It was black, looking similar to a German Shepherd, its hackles were raised and it was moving in a clearly aggressive way. Behind it came another dog, this one was smaller, with a rough tan coat. A noise off to Nathan's left alerted him to three dogs entering the saloon through the broken front door, the more he looked the more dogs arrived.
"Nate?" Buck asked quietly from across the room.
"Where's yer gun?"
"Behind the bar, along with my knives." He gave a small apologetic smile. "Sorry."
Buck felt the comforting weight of his own gun belt hanging casually of his shoulder, instinctively he felt for his knife as well. Meanwhile the feral dogs' pack leader was sizing up the humans, and instantly realised not only was Buck different, he was the alpha of the two men.
"What do I do?"
"Nothing, just stand still, they're more interested in me than you, but they could turn on you in a heart beat, an' I can't kill 'um all before they get to us."
"I thought you said wolves don't attack humans."
"Wolves don't, these are feral dogs, most likely left behind when the mines were abandoned, they have no fear of humans. We're in their territory, I'm in their territory."
"So what do we do?" By now the dogs had arranged themselves in what was almost a circle, surrounding the men.
"You do nothing. I could try to kill them but like I say there are too many, we can't just walk out of here, not yet anyway, they'd cut us down." Nathan didn't know how Buck knew this, but he had to accept that the tall Two-Blood knew a whole hell of a lot more about canine behaviour than he did. "I could change and hope that scares them, but I doubt it, most likely I'll have to submit to the alpha male and then they'll let us leave, all of us." He cast his eyes up toward the stairs.
"And if he don't accept your submission?" Nathan asked worriedly.
"I fight him." Buck smiled confidently for the first time. "I don't wanna fight him, but I will win, you know."
Very, very slowly Buck put his gun down on the bar. "I'm gonna slide it along to you, don't try to reach it unless you're gonna have to use it, if you move they'll turn on you," Buck warned. He removed the gun from the holster and slid it along the bar. The sudden noise caused all the dogs' heads to snap around to the bar and just as quickly snap back to Buck and Nathan. With slow, deliberate movements the tall man began to undress.
+ + + + + + +
When Buck had come in to check on him, Stevenson had begun to wake up. It had taken him a while to become fully aware of what was going on around him, but finally he registered the two voices downstairs and as he listened, the strange tone of the muffled conversation. Quietly he got out of bed and pulled on his long coat over the thin shirt he was wearing. Following the voices, in between the thunder, and above the rain, he made his way to the top of the stairs. Below him he could see both of his saviours, they were facing each other. Buck was standing beside the bar not far from the bottom of the stairs with his back to Stevenson. Nathan was beside the stove about a yard from the far end of the bar. Surrounding the men were up to ten dogs of various sizes and hues.
As the Scotsman watched, Buck began to undress. Louis wasn't sure what was going on but he somehow knew to just stand still and watch, as the tall man stripped until he was naked. Then, right in front of the amazed writer, the man tensed and shuddered and suddenly it wasn't the form of a man before him but a wolf, a huge, silver grey wolf! The wolf walked slowly toward the big black dog in the centre of the ring of canines. With his head down, ears flattened, tail between his legs, the wolf crept toward the pack's alpha male. When it reached the dog, the wolf bent his head to expose his vulnerable neck to the leader.
Nathan held his breath, if this went wrong, the big dog could rip into Buck's throat instantly. Then there was a change, you didn't have to be a dog or a wolf or even a Two-Blood to feel it, and even before the two watching humans registered what had happened the wolf and the dog were fighting. The wolf rolled away from the dog in a flash then charged him. Now both animals were on their hind legs snarling and growling as they tried to get a hold of each other. There was a flurry of movement and then the black dog was down on the floor, with the wolf standing over it, his massive jaws just inches from the dog's throat. The black dog's tail curled up so it was between his hind legs, his ears went back, he stretched his throat out to expose it more and he whimpered. Without letting him up, the huge wolf lifted his shaggy head and growled menacingly at the other dogs. One by one they backed off a few paces. The wolf snarled some more, baring his teeth at them and they turned and fled the building.
Finally, the wolf let the former pack leader rise and slink away. The wolf then threw back his head and howled in triumph and to remind the others just who was now in charge now. Prompted by a little gesture of that big, grey head, Nathan, joined him in the howl. Four Corners pack was here and this town was now theirs! When the howl was done Buck quickly reverted to human form and began to dress.
"Wait," Nathan commanded, quickly crossing the room. "I wanna make sure you're all right."
"I'm fine, knew I could take him, don't think he even drew blood, look!" He proudly showed off the bite marks on his shoulder. They were a deep purple colour, but he was right, the skin hadn't been broken. "Told ya I was too good fer him," he boasted.
"Damn lucky is what you are, lucky and big!"
"Yeah? Well I better git dressed before Mr Stevenson comes to investigate what all the noise was about!"
By the time Nathan was coming into Stevenson's room with a mug of tea, Louis was back in bed. He feigned being sleepy, pretending to have just woken. In the intervening few minutes his mind had tried to rationalise what his eyes had shown him. At first he tried to pretend what had happened, hadn't. Then he was afraid, because he realised he had been living with a freak of nature, an aberration of creation, capable of ripping his throat out without any problem. This fear was fleeting. Both men had been kind, more than kind to him, their care gentle and efficient, and their time given generously. If Buck were going to hurt him, why not do it when he had been totally helpless when they first found him? So finally he accepted that within Buck lurked a beast, but the beast was not bestial, it was still essentially the same, jovial, generous, courageous man he had come to know. Surly it would be as wrong to treat Buck differently as it would be Nathan. Louis had always believed a man should be judged by his actions and nothing else, and by that criteria these were two of the finest men he had ever known.
"Mornin' Mr Stevenson, good to see you awake. You'll be pleased to know as soon as it stops rainin' we're gonna be leaving this place." Nathan announced, trying to sound casual as he handed the man a mug of hot tea.
The writer took the mug and sipped it appreciatively, finally he looked up.
"Nathan, I believe I heard a wolf or even two wolves?" he said casually.
"You did, but you got nothin' to fear from them."
"No, I don't believe I do."
Seven years later.
Robert Louis Stevenson's publisher looked up from the new manuscript and regarded his most successful author.
"Well, it's not Treasure Island," he commented, with a raised eyebrow, putting down the manuscript entitled 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'.
"No, it isn't." Stevenson said evenly.
"Bit far fetched old boy, don't you think?"
"No I don't."
"I mean, do you really think people will accept the idea that there is a beast inside all of us?"
Louis smiled to himself. "I don't know if they will accept it but I know it to be true, some are like Mr Hyde and some " he paused and gave a small, nostalgic smile, "some are not, some beasts are not really beasts at all."
His publisher watched his client with concern; R L Stevenson did not live a conventional life, he did not obey the conventions of polite Victorian society, and he could be more than a little enigmatic not to say down right mysterious; but he made money, lots of money, so who was he to upset the goose that was laying him golden eggs.
"Well I have no doubt it will cause a stir, which is all to the good because a stir equals interest and that, my friend, means money."
"You are a hopeless slave to avarice," Louis commented.
"And where would you be without my avarice?"
"I don't know." Stevenson smiled, a strange, affectionate little grin that brought a twinkle into his eyes. "Maybe in some small town in the mountains or the desert, writing for the local paper, supping beer in a local hostelry, waited on by a beautiful senorita and kept safe from the local roughens by seven brave and unique men?"
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Dr Jekyall and Mr Hyde; travelled across America in 1879 from New York to California, to meet the love of his life, a woman ten years his senior, separated from her husband and awaiting her divorce in San Francisco. While camping alone he fell ill (he was plagued by illness all his short life) and lay helpless and alone for two days before he was found by two frontiers men, who nursed him back to health.
That much is true, the rest is fantasy!
Hunter's Moon. By Joe Lawson
When a stranger arrives in Four Corners, Buck is forced to reveal his true self to his friends in order to protect them. Buck is a Two-Blood, able, at will, to change himself into a wolf. His father is the alpha male of the so called Red Stone pack and wants to reclaim his son. In his pursuit of this goal, he and his pack have ruthlessly killed anybody who got in their way, including Buck's mother. In order to protect the other six and the town, Buck forms the 'Four Corners Pack', with Chris as the alpha. No other pack has so many One-Bloods (as humans are called by the shapeshiffters), but by Two-Blood law his father's pack cannot touch them.