NOTE: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in May 2014
Buck watched from across the street. He saw both the young pups shake off the big man's arms from their shoulders and head into the saloon. For a moment Buck met the man-mountain's eyes, and he knew in that split second what he was looking at. It was another of their kind, a Gamma, but there was something dark about him that put a shiver up his spine, and brought the protective instinct out in him.
Glancing across, he saw Chris watching them; the aggression was coming off his friend and Alpha in waves, and all it would need would be a spark to explode that anger into violence.
It was only minutes after Chris went into the jail that JD came flying out, heading straight for Buck, and was babbling.
JD, JD, calm down kid, what's wrong?
Mr Larabee, JD said the name and then looked round as if he was expecting to see the man himself appearing behind him, threatened to shoot me. Hell, to blow my brains out.
Buck exhaled slowly. He won't, he's just pissed off at the moment. You know that pile of wanted poster you've got? Go into the saloon, there's a guy with Ez and Vin. Take a real good look at him, and then go through them.
You think he's wanted?
I wouldn't be surprised JD; let me know what you find out. When JD hesitated, Buck shooed him away. If Chris gets antsy, just remember one thing.
And that is? JD asked.
An hour later, Buck finished his patrol and went into the Saloon. The man mountain was still with Vin and Ez, but Buck's attention was fixed on Vin. He could sense the distress in the younger man; his expression was normal but his scent was soured. He could feel the tension coming off Ez; the piano was hammering away at John Brown's Body, before swinging into Marching through Georgia. Ez looked up, meeting Vin's gaze; for a heartbeat green eyes locked on blue, and the gambler slowly exhaled. I simply can not abide bad piano playing, if you would excuse me, gentlemen. He got up. Vin, Mr Connor, and then he walked out, giving Buck his two fingers to the brim of his hat salute, then pausing at the bat wing doors of the saloon to pull the cuffs of his black coat in place as he stepped out. Buck collected his beer and went over. Vin pushed a chair out for him and Buck sank into it, his eyes sweeping over the younger man, then to the man mountain.
Buck, Big Bill Connors, he's an old friend.
Buck shook hands, but both men pulled away. It was like mainlining lightening. Gamma. Big Bill's voice was a deep rumble; his nostrils flared and then he settled back with a contented, knowing smile. The newcomer Buck's scent was not on Vin. The tracker carried the gambler's scent heavily imprinted on him, so it appeared that Vin claimed the guide for himself. The Alpha must take his claim separately, and the Gamma must pick over the leftovers. He had been worried that they were a pack, but it looked like all they had was a loose collection of Sentinels travelling together. It would make it that easier to cut Vin and his pet out of the herd.
Mary poured another cup of tea for Mr Bedford, as he smoothed the newspaper onto the table. I see you managed to confirm everything I told you about Mr Standish.
The Sheriff was very helpful.
How did he take it? Murphy wanted to know how rattled the gambler was.
I haven't seen him, but Mr Larabee was very unpleasant about the whole article. He has to understand that if, and I only say if, my father in law continues to employ him, that he has to get rid of the undesirables; it's bad enough that Standish is a conman and gambler, but Tanner, Mary blushed, that creature, well, I happen to know is having an unnatural relationship with Standish. She fanned her hand in front of her face. I caught them in the livery stables, thank god they didn't see me. I am sure that Judge Travis and Mr Larabee are unaware of their true nature.
Murphy hid his smile behind a look of concern. Have you told anyone else about this?
That is the problem; I think the whole town should know of their perverse nature, but to put it in the Clarion would be unwise. It is just my word against theirs, I would need more proof. As it is, I have sent a copy of my paper on Standish to the Judge.
I know what you mean, the name of the town would be besmirched by their actions. I think that we need to take a lesson from what happened with Standish before, a warning that we will not accept their behaviour.
Could you do that, Mr Bedford? I know that town would be grateful. She dropped her voice slightly. I would be grateful; my husband and I helped build this town, we must safeguard it, at all costs.
At all costs Mrs Travis, or may I be as bold as to call you Mary.
She blushed at his forwardness. More tea?
Chris and Vin had gone out on an outer-patrol ring around the surrounding country, and Ezra, much to his disgust, was patrolling the town, even as the sun began to set. A noise brought Ezra round the side of the Potter's store, his hand resting on his gun. When he was hit, it sent him flying forward, straight into the corner of the building. With a cry of pain, he felt his shoulder dislocate, his legs kicked out from under him. Before he had a chance to roll clear, a large bucket was tipped over him, then white feathers rained down.
Blinded by the black contents of the bucket, Ezra could not do anything to avoid the kicks that followed to his back and stomach.
Mrs Potter, empty washing basket in hand, came out and saw the attack. She dropped the basket and grabbed her broom, swinging out at the men who took to their heels. Kneeling quickly, she caught the blinded gambler's arm. Mr Standish, they're gone, then over her shoulder she yelled, Julian, go and get Mr Jackson. When her son hesitated, she added, Now.
She could feel him shaking under her hand; the way his arm was hanging she knew he had dislocated it, but his breath was coming so fast he was having trouble breathing. Ignoring the black paint, she leaned over him. Mr Standish, breath slowly, you're alright, you're alright. She rubbed his back, only for him to suddenly grab her. She kept her grip, knowing that there was no threat from this young man. Keep your eyes closed until we can get this stuff off you.
It's alright Mrs Potter, I'll take him. She looked up to see Buck Wilmington. The usually jovial gunman wore a deadly air around him, one of barely suppressed anger, made all the more frightening by his usually very open and fun loving nature. Mrs Potter said, Mr Jackson is on his way. She tightened her grip on the gambler as she used her apron to try and wipe the paint off his face, clearing it from his eyes. When she looked up at Buck, she said, what's wrong with him? Then her mouth formed an O as she saw the white feathers and remembered the newspaper headlines.
Mr Wilmington, can you get him to his feet and into my kitchen? Mr Jackson will need warm water. Please be careful of his arm, it's dislocated.
The same arm Ez? What are we going to do with you.
Still no reply from the gambler. Buck was worried, he had seen Ez almost freeze up when he smelt tar after the horrific attack he had suffered.
They had just got him seated with Nathan came in. He took his bag off his shoulder and laid it on the table, and took over from Mrs Potter in cleaning away the paint, checking to make sure that the eyes where clear. The green eyes of his patient had an unfocused look to them. Shock, the man was in shock. I would have thought a gambler would get used to this.
Buck's fist hit the table. You heard Chris, Nathan. The same goes for me; Ezra don't cheat, and what that paper didn't say was that Ez was taken down only after the Mayor's son lost his money.
N-n-n-nev-er gamble w-w-with a clan. The southern accent was thick and Ez slurred the words. Buck reached out, gently rubbing his good shoulder.
Even so, he tried to avoid Nathan's grip.
Don't you think no black man can be a healer? It came out harder than Nathan meant it; the man was hurting and he didn't want the southern gambler to refuse treatment.
What the hell is it?
Ezra took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice steady, hating the shaking.
My first Sentinel was black Mr Jackson, in a Union Prison Camp. He kept me alive - him and his brother - when I would have been another dead Reb Officer. He died for me, Mr Jackson, so it's not your colour, it's you. Ezra took a deep breath again. I, I c-can feel the hatred for my accent, my profession, for me. All you see and hear is a slave owner, your emotions are like acid. They eat into me.
Sentinel, Guide, you're a Guide? Nathan shook his head then he looked at Buck. You're his Sentinel.
Buck nodded. I am a Gamma, if you understand that.
Nathan asked, Then his Alpha is?
Chris Larabee and his other Sentinel is Vin Tanner. He's a feral.
Nathan dropped into the chair. Oh my god, somehow it all makes sense now. He took a steadying breath. Ezra, I am sorry, I didn't know. You need to let me fix your arm, and I promise I won't let my emotions hurt you. I will try.
That is all we can do, Mr Jackson.
Nathan was quick and although Ezra tried to clamp it back, he did cry out in pain as his shoulder slid back into place. Only then did he help the gambler remove his jacket and shirt. It was then that he saw the horrific scarring to Ezra's chest and back. Now he understood what the paint attack had done to the younger man, the nightmares it must have brought back.
Luckily the paint had been watered down to allow it to pour easier, and it washed off his skin. Mrs Potter came back from the front of the store with a new shirt and trousers. Not quite what your used to, Mr Standish, but it should get you back to the hotel.
Ezra reached down to tug his money out of his boot, but Mrs Potter refused him. She was one of the few supporters of the Seven, and was pleased to be able to help out.
Chris came through the back door, and Mrs Potter jumped back. If she was honest, she was scared of Chris Larabee. The man had an air of violence around him that seemed to cloak him; he was a notorious killer, and she had heard the stories that circulated round the town, none of them good. Yet the concern he showed for the gambler was genuine.
The next morning
After all of the excitement last night, the senior regulators were all over at Nathan's clinic, seeing to Ezra. Which left JD holding the fort at the jail. He had been pleased when Dr Sandburg had joined him. Over coffee, they had gotten talking; he found the young doctor interesting. The man had such a different way of looking at things, and unlike some people didn't laugh at his Dime novels.
This one on Bat Masterson, that's the one that really made me come west, Blair. My money only got me as far as Four Corners, so I reckon it must be destiny. Where else would someone my age get a chance to be a Sheriff? Then he added, keen to move the conversation away from himself,
Did you always want to be a fossil hunter?
Never knew a time I wasn't interested in the past. We can learn so much from it.
You and Marshal Ellison seem close, but then, you're one of them, aren't you. JD blushed.
I am a Guide, JD, pure and simple. Without us, our Sentinels would risk falling into a zone out. He saw the puzzled look. I mean, he would fall into a living sleep, and never wake up. We can bring them back by touch and by voice.
JD, I hate to break it to you, but you have it in you. I can feel it; you're not going to be a strong guide, but you can learn to use your talent to help you. For a lawman, to be able to tap into the emotions of people is a very handy skill to have, you can tell if they're telling the truth or lying.
Nah. JD shook his head. Better leave that alone, I've got my hands full with this, he jerked his thumb towards the street, that's enough for me. That's if I live that long.
Concerned, Blair leaned forward. Someone threatened you.
If it was someone, I could use these to warn them off; I am fast you know. JD tapped his brace of guns.
Hell, Blair, I wouldn't even get a chance to clear leather against Mr Larabee.
Well, he is under pressure at the moment, I am sure he's usually quite even-tempered, polite... and why am I lying? Blair grinned and leaned forward. JD, trust me when I say he won't kill you. He saw the look of disbelief on the younger man's face. Err, would it help if I say his bark is worse than his bite? Err... Maybe you should ask Buck.
I already did.
What did he say?
Blair burst out laughing and a heartbeat later, JD joined him. It was just a pity he couldn't tell JD that his empathy as a budding Guide was what would keep him safe from Larabee; an Alpha would be tolerant to a greater degree with a young guide. But, just as he would discipline a young feral, he would hold back with a guide, unless that guide was a danger to himself. Finally, he was beginning to understand the Seven; what drew them together and held them together. JD's involvement had been a puzzle, now that was solved.
At ten o'clock the newspaper was published and distributed.
A Town standing strong against Crime
Last night Ezra Standish, conman, cardsharp and sometime Regulator, was attacked.
Jim came through the door of the Clarion. Mrs Travis, we need to talk.
Of course Marshal, I would be interested to hear your views on why a known criminal has been allowed to stay in town when he-
Mrs Travis, this rag-
How dare you! She spat indignantly back at him, just because we point out what you should have done. You should have taken over the law from that boy, you should have ran Standish and that perverted tracker out of here on the first day. My father-in- law is well aware of your part in this fiasco, I-
Your father-in-law is the one that recruited them, remember, and until he tells us different, they are here to stay. Learn to live with it, and for god sake, stop printing this stuff.
The people have a right to know.
Sure, that's what they always say, but Mrs Travis, it's not always in their interest. Those men have a hard enough job trying to help these people without you undermining one of them. Just think before you publish.
Jim came out of the office and came face to face with Chris. It's been taken care of, Larabee.
She sees sense?
I hope so.
Just then, a chair came crashing out of the saloon window, and the two Alphas set off at a run. It looked like trouble had started early today.
Coming through the bat wings they ground to a halt. Vin had a drover by the collar and was dragging him towards the door, while Josiah was hauling another two of them out. Appreciate the thought cowboy, but we've got them, Vin drawled as he passed his Alpha, giving the one he was half carrying, half dragging, a shake to keep him on his feet. Move those legs, I am not carrying your carcass to the jail.
The reply was a mouthful of obscenities; Vin clipped him round the head, then touched the brim of his hat. Sorry ladies. They just rushed past him. He gave Chris a grin. There goes my invite to the church social. And with a push, started the drover towards the church.
Later on in the day, as more of the drovers came in from the Double TT herd which was camped north of town, the amount of trouble started to escalate, the combination of thirsty drovers and whiskey making a bad combination.
Julie Bell was crossing the street as a gang of the drovers spurred their horses at a dead run. As they fired their guns, Vin didn't have a chance to yell a warning. He came off the sidewalk running, catching her around the waist and his momentum rolling them clear of the thundering hooves as they hit the ground. Even so, pain exploded through his shoulder as he landed, and he felt the sudden wetness as his wound burst open. His weight pinned the now screaming girl to the ground. Suddenly, he was picked up and thrown off her. He landed sprawled on his back, the blackness that clouded his mind threatening to pull him down into unconsciousness.
Get the hell off him. It was a woman's voice, old but with power to it, someone used to being obeyed. It was backed up by a bullet being chambered. There was the rustle of a skirt and then a hand on his good shoulder. You all right son?
Ain't your son, he spat back. As he managed to push the darkness back, he pulled himself up, using the hitching rail to get to his feet. The woman's hand rested on his shoulder, still ignoring the flinch at her touch.
Tarnation girl, what were you trying to do, get yourself killed?
No, but he didn't have to touch me. The voice was petulant as she brushed off the dust from her clothing, as if it would also eradicate the tracker's touch.
Julie, you thank the man, the old lady told the young girl.
Julie ignored her and ran to her mother who pulled her close. The mother hesitated and then, meeting Vin's eyes said, Thank you, Mr Tanner, and then took her daughter away, as concern gave way to anger for her wayward child.
The owner of the hand and the rifle was a small, bird-like old woman, but who was obviously as tough as rawhide. I am fine, ma'am.
Fine. She shook her head. You're bleeding and the name is Nettie Wells.
Ain't nothing I can't take care of; I've had worse before, Vin shrugged.
The old woman said softly, her tone sad, I am sure you have son.
Vin tried to push her hand away, and it was then Jim who caught hold of him. Immediately Vin was struggling to get away from him, trying to free himself from the touch. Quit it; Tanner you're going to Nathan's, your choice, you can either walk or I'll throw you over my shoulder. See how you'll like that, Jim growled as he manhandled the tracker towards the stairs to the clinic. You send Larabee up there; don't care what you tell him, you find him and send him up, he said to JD as the youngster arrived.
Jim could feel the aggression building in the feral; as an Alpha himself he could try and impose his will on the younger Apex, but he knew that he didn't have the time for that kind of domination, and anyway, Larabee would kill him if he tried.
Nathan turned as they came into the clinic, the argument loud and angry.
Jim's hand was now firmly holding the back of the tracker's neck.
He bust his shoulder wound open, Nathan.
Get the coat off Vin.
No fucking way, Nathan, I am fine, Vin snarled as he tried to twist free.
Not that easy to do, Tanner, with a busted wing, Jim gloated, giving the smaller, younger man a hard shake; the Alpha showing the younger pup his place.
You do that again and I am going to shove my mare's leg up your ass and pull the trigger, Ellison.
You can try, pup. Jim let his voice drop to a deep- throated growl.
Nathan shook his head; thank God Josiah had had a long talk with him last night as Ezra slept, and he understood a little of the interplay going on. But it still made him uneasy.
Let him go, Ellison. The cold voice of Chris Larabee came from behind them.
Nathan felt his blood turn cold at the look on the gunman's face; he looked ready to kill someone. His tone was barely civil as he said,
Nathan, let me talk to Vin, and then, I would appreciate it if you'd bind his shoulder up. You won't have any trouble with him.
Nathan slowly backed out of the clinic; he could almost see the sparks flying between the three men.
Your pup nearly got himself killed, you know that, Jim pointed out.
Yeah, more balls than brains, but he's mine.
Son of a bitch, Jim swore as Vin brought his foot down onto his instep to try and get him to let go, and he clipped the tracker across the back of the head, a small sharp reminder to the pup. Then, sensing rather than seeing Chris coming at him, he gave Vin a sharp push into the arms of his enraged Alpha and ducked out the door.
Chris caught hold of Vin to stop him falling, Jim now forgotten.
Vin, seeing the look, began to struggle but he was expertly spun round and brought down on top of one of the clinic's beds, half on and off. Vin couldn't get any purchase and with Chris on top of him, he was pinned. His good arm was caught and pulled up high behind his back. Chris jerked out of the way as Vin threw his head back and tried to catch him in the face. It didn't matter that it was his Alpha; he wasn't going to be held. When Chris's other hand touched his face, he managed to twist enough to snap at it, trying to bite him, anything to get the man off him.
Quit it, Vin. Vin- Chris lowered himself down onto the trapped body that was still heaving under him to try and stop the movement. You're hurt, you have to have that wound taken care of. You listening to me, Tanner?
Get the fuck off of me, I can take care of myself Larabee.
Gently, he touched the feral's face, Sentinel light touches, designed to settle him. Finally, Vin was leaning into those touches and needing the connection with his Alpha. Only then did Chris slowly lift himself off him.
Chris felt the sudden surge of energy as the muscles tensed under him then a violent twist of the body as Vin tried one last time to throw him off. As the tracker had felt his weight change on top of him, Chris had immediately countered the move, a grin spreading across his face. That was his feral, never one to give up. He knew Vin would always fight him. Until he established his domination and only then would he accept help. You don't have to go off and lick your wounds, Vin, you're not alone anymore.
With his free hand, Chris began running it over his sides and back, small touches to centre the feral. Slowly his breathing began to level out, his mind and body submitting to his Alpha. Only then did Chris ease up off of him.
The blond gunman kept up his reassurance; he knew all too well how hard it was for Vin to trust. It was only because of their sentinel connection that he could get Vin to settle under his hand, even their Guide had to struggle sometimes because Vin was so skittish. The reassurance Chris projected began to mellow and merge into the bond, and Chris drew the younger man into his mind. Words were no longer important, the very essence of who and what they were was shared between them. But, the older man sensed a part of Vin's mind that was closed off. Fear and loathing flooded his senses whenever his mind brushed against that box and Vin would get distressed, starting to thrash and panic, fearing that whatever was in the box would turn his Alpha against him. If it took one year or a hundred, Chris was willing to wait for his feral to open up to him.
It was only when he was confident that Vin was resting within the bond that he slowly peeled the jacket back and examined the wound; the stitches had broken at the front on his chest rather than at his back. They would need replacing, but for the moment he had time to just give thanks that his young feral was still with him.
Stood out on the stairway to the Clinic, Nathan looked at Jim Ellison and the satisfied look on his face. They're bonding. Don't look like that Nathan, it's not sex, if anything it's much more intimate than sex. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have someone living in your head? That, Nathan, is what it's like to be a Sentinel. Blair keeps me sane; the bond is like a touchstone for us. But the people out here, Jim waved at hand at the town, see Sentinels and Guides as freaks, and the bond as pure animal lust. I've seen men lynched for less.
It's their secret Jim, and I'll honour it for them.
Jim tilted his head to one side.You can go back in Nathan, Chris is ready for you.
From his place on the street, Blair wasn't happy as he heard the talk from the townspeople. Even nearly getting killed saving the girl wasn't enough for some of them. What was being said about Vin and Ezra was ugly. How it stood at the moment was that JD was accepted because he was known, as was Josiah and Nathan. But with Ezra, the townspeople were nearly one hundred percent behind the mock tarring and feathering, and Vin, well, he had seen people cross the street rather than walk past him. Women pulled their skirts out of the way rather than risk him brushing against them; he certainly wasn't wanted here. Chris Larabee and his reputation meant that most people were scared to even talk to him, let along protest at his presence. Not good in the proper time-line they had had people that didn't want them, but there was a core of supporters. In this time-line those people were missing - or maybe not. Mrs Potter came out of her store and called him over, then disappeared back into it to return with a covered plate. She handed it across to Blair, a small something for Mr Tanner'. Blair thanked her and headed to the clinic.
Mrs Potter looked around her, meeting the disapproving look of some of the other townspeople - in particular Mrs Travis - and with a flounce, went back inside.
It was late that night; as the fire of the blacksmith's forge was glowing brightly in the night, Tiny was working the shoes for Vin Tanner's horse. He had noticed how worn they were, and was doing a small kindness.
Something made him look up and he started to find Tanner stood there, his left arm in a sling, as support for his shoulder.
Evening, Mr Tanner.
The tracker leaned against the door. He looked pale and drained.
I can't pay for those shoes, and I don't take charity.
Err, they're included in the cost of the stable and board, it's no problem, Mr Tanner.
Thanks. For a moment Vin just looked at Tiny, as if trying to grasp a memory, then shaking his head as he lost it.
Vin started on his way back towards the wagon, then remembered the threat that was ringing in his ears about what would happen if he spent the night in it. Reluctantly, he turned his feet to the boarding house, and the room that the judge paid for and that he didn't use.
The tracker stopped. He knew he wasn't alone; he was being followed. The streets at that time of night were empty, only a few fires burned to cast light onto the street. He pulled the mare's leg from its holster and cocked it. From his hiding place Vin's stalker watched him; the tracker would be hard to get, but he had something very special lined up for him. It was just a matter of time and that was something he had plenty of.
The next morning the newspaper read
Sodom and Gomorrah.It has been brought to this editor's notice by certain concerned citizens that some members of this town's community, people that should be upholding the morals of this town, have been caught in lieud and improper conduct .This is conduct that you would expect from heathen savages, not civilized men. But, in the case of these men, one of them is only a step above being a savage himself and the other has already shown disregard for gentlemanly behaviour.
Murphy folded the paper back, and read the rest of the article with relish.
Mary Travis had all but put a bull's eye on the back of Tanner and Standish.
Ezra clutched the paper tightly in his hand and went to find Chris and Vin. The tracker tried to hide it, but he wasn't able to read and write, and wouldn't have been aware of what was in the paper. He had to warn him.
End of Part 4
Tide and Times part 5
Feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org