In Wolf’s Clothing
Vin sighed in contentment as he continued along the eastern border of the Four Corners’ territory. He was still a bit amazed that he had stayed in the town for as long as he had. It had been a long time since he had stayed in one place longer than a few weeks. With the price on his head it was never a good idea to stay in one place too long and he believed that whole heartedly, at least until the day he met Chris, and helped him save the life of Nathan. He had never realized that one act would change his life so drastically. Now here he was, one of the peacekeepers for the small, dusty town and still content to remain so after nearly six months.
Looking out into the vast desert, windblown sand floated in small eddies across the dry cracked ground. Small boulders, outcropping rocks and leafless trees offered little protection from bright sun heating everything from above. He spotted a large number of buzzards circling towards the east. Even though it was beyond their territory he turned his horse in the birds’ direction to investigate what sad fate had taken a life just a few miles from their town.
It was a sad sight that greeted him a half hour later when he saw two coyotes lying dead together with a few buzzards hanging on the outskirts like they were just waiting for the dinner bell to ring before feasting on the meal laid out before them.
Vin tethered his horse before he walked over to the depressing scene. There were no ranches out this far for the canines to have been shot for attacking livestock; as well they both still had their skin, so fur traders were discounted. He knelt down to take a closer look at the larger of the two and froze when he heard the deep growl coming from the smaller one he had thought was dead. Oh crap, he thought, slowly turning his head to turn his attention to the danger he now found himself in. He would never be able to pull his mare’s leg rifle from its holster before he was torn apart by the critter.
“Easy there fella I don’t mean ya no harm.” He kept his voice soft and his movements slow as he moved ever so slowly away from the downed creature. “I’s just wanted to see what happened is all.” Finally getting a chance to look at the smaller canine he was surprised that it wasn’t really a coyote he was seeing. The small size of the creature was deceiving at first but the shorter muzzle, heavier bone and larger size made the minute distinction between the species. “Well I’ll be you’re a red wolf, I haven’t seen the likes of you this far west before.”
The wolf seemed to quiet down when he noticed the man didn’t seem intent on harming him. He lowered his lips and quieted his growl while his ears pricked to attention as he listened to the man speak.
“Can I check your pack mate?” Vin reached down to check the other wolf again and was surprised when he was allowed to without any impediment from the once protective creature. “Sorry pal she’s dead, looks like she starved to death.”
Sad green eyes stared back at him and he couldn’t help but think the wolf expected something from him. He noticed the wolf staring at him was also on the thin side, though not nearly as emaciated as the older female was. He figured she had given everything she was able to hunt up to the younger wolf. “Well pal looks like you’re on your own now.”
The wolf snorted at him. Like that’s something new.
Blue eyes widened in surprise when he heard the voice. He swiftly turned around but was unable to find the source of the voice. “Did you just speak?”
Do I look like a dog doing parlor tricks?
Vin fell on his rear and stared in wonder at the wolf that had somehow spoken into his head. “Oh my God you do speak.”
The wolf turned his attention to the man, cocking his head slightly. You can understand me? He watched the man nod slack jawed. Good lord close your mouth before you start catching flies.
Vin snapped his jaws together. “Amazing”
Not exactly what I would call it. Would you mind helping me bury my mother so these disgusting creatures do not desecrate her body?
“Yeah I think I can manage that.” Vin shook his head; he had to be dreaming. There was just no way possible that he could be hearing a wolf talk. He imagined Nathan would lock him up in his room forever if he told them he could hear a wolf talk.
The wolf watched the man pull a digging tool from his saddlebag and start digging the hole for his mother. I suppose I would be a bit shocked as well if I came across a talking beast.
“No joking, I must be hallucinating. That’s it the sun is affecting me. I can’t believe I’m burying a wolf and its offspring is talking to me. Maybe I should have Nathan check me out when I get back to town.”
Mother was an amazing woman, of course it is all her fault we are in this predicament. Although there seems to be no changing that, now that mother is gone. I still can’t believe she would rather have starved to death than eat the wild creatures around us. The young wolf seemed to shake his head in a mixture of sorrow and exasperation.
Vin smiled as he heard the wolf prattle on about the virtues and difficulties of his mother. He had dug a hole deep enough to keep any critters from digging her up and consuming her. “You ah wanna say any words before I cover her up?”
The wolf padded over to the deep hole and laid down looking over the edge. I’m going to miss you mother. He felt his eyes water and looked up forlornly at the only person who had been able to understand him in so long. Thank you for your kindness. He watched only for a moment as the rough looking man filled in the hole before he had to move away. A deep feeling of loss and regret filled him. He felt terribly alone in the world now.
Vin hurriedly filled the hole in and turned his attention to the mourning wolf. “All finished pal. Nothin’ will get to her that deep.”
“I gotta get back to town before they send out a search party. You going to be alright?”
Wide green eyes shot up towards the man. Alone. Oh God he was going to leave him on his own.
“Easy there pal.”
Dear lord you can even hear my private thoughts. How disconcerting.
“Yea I suppose that would be a might disturbing not having anything private.”
You have no idea, although it is quite pleasant to finally hold a conversation again. I couldn’t even talk with mother.
“Well I suppose you can come back with me. You’re gonna have to be careful though, most people will be more likely to shoot ya til they know ya ain’t gonna hurt um.”
Thank you kind sir.
“Ain’t no sir, name’s Vin, Vin Tanner.”
A pleasure to make your acquaintance. Ezra P. Standish at your service.
Vin snorted in amusement as his mind was again touched by Ezra’s thoughts. “Sorry Pard, can still hear ya.”
This is entirely unfair Mister Tanner. A man should have some privacy of his thoughts. There must be some way for me to block my thoughts.
“Ain’t worked yet Ezra, you just keep working on it.”
I’ll do that.
Vin smiled as the wolf settled into silence. They had spent most of the time travelling with Ezra trying to figure out a way to keep his thoughts to himself. So far it had proven unsuccessful. They were still a couple of hours away from town and Vin expected to see some of the other peacekeepers before too long. He knew he was long overdue from his patrol and couldn’t help but wonder just how he was going to explain Ezra.
Mister Tanner would you hold up a moment please.
Vin slowed up his horse but didn’t stop moving altogether, giving small corrections through the reins as the horse started fidgeting. “What is it Ezra?”
I hear something sir, if you would stop for a moment I may be able to discern what it is.
Ezra had just finished his request when Vin’s horse rolled its’ eyes and reared onto its hind legs. The abrupt angle and the surprise easily unseated his rider. Without the burden of the rider, nor the corrections coming down to the bit, he planted his hooves back on the solid ground leaving a cloud of dust as he took off in a dead run for home.
Ezra watched in bemusement as Vin landed on the dusty ground cursing his horse.
“Dang blasted, mule-headed idiot.” Vin jumped to his feet and continued to yell obstinacies towards the distant speck that was his horse.
Well Mister Tanner, you certainly can fly, Ezra laughed.
Vin could still hear Ezra’s amusement and scowled at the young wolf. “Did ya ever figure out whatcha heard?”
Oh certainly Mister Tanner, but it’s of no consequence now. Your trusty steed managed to dispatch the evil doer with post haste while unseating his master
“What?” Vin shook his head at the wordy response.
A serpent Mister Tanner.
“Why didn’t ya just say it was a rattler than?”
Ezra snorted at Vin before turning his back and heading in the direction Vin’s horse had taken. Why didn’t ya just say it was a rattler than? He mimicked to himself as he walked on.
“I heard that Ezra,” Vin laughed loudly at Ezra’s silent curse. “Hey Ezra, hold up a minute. We might as well hold up and eat something.”
Ezra turned back to his companion, What a novel idea Mister Tanner, I find myself famished.
“Great I’ll get a fire started and cook up some grub.”
Ezra watched in fascination as Vin had a fire started and a camp set up. With Vin’s saddlebag halfway home by now Ezra was curious as to what the meal would entail. His eyes widened in alarm as he saw the Vin retrieve the remains of creature his horse killed before abandoning them. He felt a shiver course through his body as the brown snake with the black diamond shape marks hung from Vin’s hands and the slow evil smirk on the man’s face as he shook the creature and a rattling sound could be heard from the tail end. You cannot be serious!
“Food’s food Ez and no reason it should go to waste. Sides I reckon it’s about five foot, plenty of good meat on it.”
Ezra watched with trepidation as Vin promptly removed the head. Wonder why one would bother with a dead snake?
“Seen dead snakes strike before, you take the head off and there’s no danger from the venom.”
Oh, that is interesting. Why’s the body still moving?
“Should probably have waited a few hours before doing this then it wouldn’t wiggle so much. Don’t know why it does it though.”
Ezra continued to watch as the snake was skinned completely and the meat was cut up and skewered on some sticks to cook over the flames. Well it smells good, wonder what it will taste like?
“Tastes a bit like chicken or fish. It’s good, you’ll like it.”
Ezra laid down to await the meal and decided he needed to get more information about the town they were headed to. Vin, what’s this place we’re going to like?
“Well it’s a small place, but it’s growing bigger every day. I’m one of six that protect the place.”
Interesting, what are the others like?
“Well there is JD, he’s the youngest of us. He’s a brash kid from Boston got a bad habit of boasting but he’s quick with a gun and has a good heart. Then there’s Buck, he’s taken the role as big brother to JD. He’s full of life and loves the women. Nathan’s the town healer, quick with a knife though he sees life pretty cut and dry. Josiah is our spiritual man, man’s always looking for his crows.”
Crows? Why on earth would he seek out crows?
“I think Josiah is expecting death to come for him. Always going on about some past sins.”
Interesting, please continue.
“Then there’s Chris, he’s quick with a gun, drinks a bit too much on occasion, but there ain’t no one I’d rather have beside me in a fight.”
Sounds like a unique collection of personalities, and what about yourself Mister Tanner?
“Ah well I’m a good sharpshooter and pretty fair tracker. What about you Ezra? What happened?”
Ezra shifted nervously, I’m really not certain how I came to this predicament, I believe though that mother was the cause for our transformation though.
“Why do you say that?”
Well it all began about a month ago when mother finally requested my presence to join her in New Orleans. Mother required my assistance on her newest business venture and I was finally at the appropriate age to render my support. Well anyhow I had barely met up with mother, dressed for a private dinner and off to a locale I had never seen before. Mother never discussed whom her business was with. I remember walking in with mother and after that it was a blank until I woke up beside mother in a swampy area in my present form.
“Damn pard. Well we’ll try and figure out what to do.” Something else was bothering Vin about the retelling. “Just how old are you Ezra?”
Old enough to know better than to answer that. Now about that food?
Ezra had to admit the snake wasn’t as bad as he figured it would be. Sure it was no fare for the fine dining establishments, with their crystal chandeliers and exotic faire that he frequented with his mother, but it was better than the gruel he was reluctantly accustomed to in some of the relative’s homes he frequented. He shuddered in as he remembered the rickety shacks, depilated and coursing with a variety of disease-infested creatures.
Vin silently watched the young wolf devour the meal in front of him. The meat would only take the edge off the hunger. The wolf was too thin and would need many good meals before he started to resemble the beautiful creature he was. He still wondered about the Ezra’s age but there was no telling for certain until he decided to share that information.
“Come on Ezra let’s get this fire put out and get on our way. It’s a long walk back to Four Corners. Though I suspect we’ll run into the others somewhere along the trail.”
Ezra watched as Vin kicked dirt over the flames causing smoke to rise before the red coals slowly turning black and the campsite picked up. At least there is one benefit of this lupine form, no clean up.
Vin snorted at that comment and shook his head as he headed them in the direction of Four Corners.
“You think he’s okay Buck?”
“Sure he is kid, you know Vin’s about as sharp as they come.” Buck gave a nervous look to his old friend whom was also saddling his horse with quick efficiency.
“But his horse came back without him, why’d he do that? And Vin’s really late he shoulda been back hours ago. You don’t think bounty hunters caught him do ya?”
Buck winced at the low growl Chris gave before heading out of the livery with his horse in tow. “Nah just think that ornery ole horse ah his just decided it’d rather be in the barn than scouting around. Why I bet Vin’s cursing that dang horse ah his from here to Mexico.”
“Yeah you’re probably right, hope we find him soon.”
Buck clapped the kid on the shoulder before he followed Chris out of the livery with his own horse to join the others and begin the search for their friend. “Let’s go JD, Chris is antsy to get a move on.”
A few minutes later the town watched the dust clear as the five peacekeepers disappeared in the horizon.
“Dang it” Vin cursed his bad luck again. What a day this had been so far. It wasn’t enough he spent the morning burying a wolf, dumped on his rear when his horse spooked cause of a rattler, and he spent the afternoon walking back to town long after his patrol should have ended. Nope all that didn’t seem to be enough for his day it seemed now he had a twisted ankle to deal with. Of all the luck, now it seemed inevitable that he would just have to wait for the others to find him.
Ezra winced in sympathy for the man; he seemed to be quite in tune with the others pain. It seemed every time Vin tried to place weight on the appendage that a jolt of pain would hit Ezra as well. Finally the tracker had decided to stop and rest, but even sitting down he could feel the pain radiating off the man.
Perhaps Mr. Tanner we should wait here for your friends to arrive?
“Sure Ez,” Vin sighed as he removed the boot from the rapidly swelling limb, “don’t think we got much of a choice anyway.” Vin glared at his ankle’s swollen appearance, hues of red and black swirled around the puffy skin, and knew there was no way that boot was going back on anytime soon. He couldn’t believe they were only an hour’s walk from town when he felt the sand shift under his foot causing him to misstep.
I believe I hear something Mister Tanner. Ezra cocked his head in the direction of the low rumbling noise.
“Sure hope it ain’t another rattler, had my fill of those today.”
Ezra gave him a disgusted look, well as disgusted as a wolf could create. I believe it is a group of riders, do you think it could be your associates?
“Could be, which ways it coming from?” Vin nodded as Ezra looked off in the direction. “Could be them, that’s the right direction.”
Ezra padded away from the injured man to get a better view of the encroaching group. He moved farther away from Vin until he was out of the tracker’s sight. He could just barely see the five riders headed in their direction with the missing horse tied behind one of them. Finding a spot that provided him with some notion of protection he took a moment to observe the five riders. The man in the lead was dressed all in black and had an ominous air about him. Ezra was sure he was the leader that Vin had spoken about. He was sure of one thing; he didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the man. Next to him was a large man who was quite intimidating, but Ezra could also feel a gentle nature about him. He was surprised by the dark man who was included with the group. The man rode with such comfort and self-assuredness, which was a contrast to the former slaves of the south he had met. They rarely showed any type of pride, it had long ago been beaten out of them. He could feel a deep compassion about the man and looked forward to being around such a caring soul. He could literally smell the sex appeal, never thought the theory of pheromones to have any merit, of the man who rode next to the young man lagging behind the others. The man’s face was animated with good humor and Ezra felt drawn to him over the pleasant feelings. The young man that rounded out the group had an atmosphere of boundless energy. He felt a child-like innocence in the man and wondered just how he had managed to hold onto that incorruptibility for so long. A truly unique collection of individuals. He was a bit surprised that he didn’t hear Vin respond to him after spending nearly the entire day trying to block his thoughts from the man. A bit worried by the lack of response he turned back to the man he had left behind.
Mister Tanner are you alright?
“Fine Ezra, why ya asking?”
I was disturbed when you didn’t respond to my thoughts a few moments ago.
“Never heard ya.” Vin looked at the wolf like he had lost his mind.
“That’s what I said didn’t I?”
Yes, yes. This is marvelous somehow I have managed to block my thoughts from you. Finally, some privacy.
Vin grinned evilly at Ezra, “I wouldn’t be so certain of that Ez, I can still hear ya.”
Ah hell, I’ll figure it out Mr. Tanner, be assured of that good sir. Now there are five riders headed in this direction and I believe they are your associates.
It wasn’t long before the five peacekeepers caught sight of their missing tracker sitting against the trunk of a tree. Chris literally sagged with relief seeing the man in apparent health and encouraged his horse into a faster gait to reach the tracker’s side. The others followed suit and soon were pulling up to Vin’s position. They watched as Chris and Vin did their silent passing of thoughts and soon both men had small smiles crack their facades.
“Vin you hurt?” The gentle healer asked as he dismounted and started in his direction.
“Just twisted my ankle.”
“Let me take a look at it.” Nathan gently manipulated the joint and hmm’d to himself. “You’ll live but you won’t be walking on it for a while. I’ll just wrap it up for now and we’ll make sure you stay off it til it’s healed.”
“So what happened?”
Ezra watched from the safety of the shrubbery he had hidden in as Vin retold his story. Well an edited story that somehow left some important facts out of it, like his being able to understand a wolf when he spoke and hear it’s thoughts as well. Ezra shifted position to get more comfortable on the unforgiving ground and heard the click of five hammers drawn in his direction. His eyes widened in alarm and a small whimper escaped before he could stop himself. Oh God! Oh God! He chanted in fear he was about to be plastered with multiple gunshot wounds.
“Nooo don’t shot!” Vin yelled in panic as he tried to gain his feet and found himself falling to the ground in pain. “Damn’t don’t shoot ‘em cowboy.”
Chris looked back at his friend as if he had lost his mind, that was a wolf hiding in the bushes, not some damn dog. Seeing his friend’s determination and fear for the animal he relented for the moment, but if it even looked like the animal was going to attack it would be dead in an instant. “Fine” he nodded “but he even thinks of attacking I’ll fill him with lead.”
Vin sighed with thanks that he had gotten the others to listen, though he could still see they were a bit nervous with the wolf so close. “You can come out now Ezra.”
You must be kidding Mister Tanner, I move and they will fill me with holes, and I’m rather attached to this hide at the moment.
“They ain’t going to shot ya, now come on out and meet everyone.”
Vin missed the looks the others were giving him, but Ezra’s sharp eyes caught their distressed look. I believe your compatriots are a bit worried about your conversation with a wolf. Why the healer has completely forgotten about me and looking at you as if you started sprouting something out of your head.
“Vin you okay?” Nathan asked a bit worried that Vin may have hurt his head when he fell.
“I’m fine, damn it Ezra get out here before I shoot ya” Vin grumbled out in frustration when he caught the looks of his friends.
Fine, fine Mister Tanner, but if any of these men shoot me I will exact my revenge upon you. Ezra slowly emerged from his hiding spot and tried to look as non-threatening as possible. He kept low to the ground and avoided looking directly at one of the others as he slowly crept towards Vin.
“Dang Buck he looks about half-starved,” JD shouted out, causing the others to jump a bit.
Ezra found a position next to Vin and eyed the other men with trepidation. He had to get the focus off of him and had the perfect plan to do so. Did you tell the others how I saved you from certain death?
“What the hell are you talking about Ezra? What certain death?”
You know from that evil serpent.
“It would have been more help if you had told me sooner not wait until the dang horse had spooked already.”
Point taken but really I tried to warn you about the soft sand before you fell. Ezra noticed that much of the focus was off of him, all really except the darkly dressed man who looked on with a growing smirk on his face. Ezra had a big grin on his face, as his plan had worked.
Nathan bent down and started to check Vin’s head for lumps and bumps. “Now hold still a moment and let me check your head, you may have hit it Vin.”
“I didn’t hit my damn head,” Vin protested, but to no avail once Nathan was determined there was no stopping the worrywart. He looked over and caught the grin on his best friend’s face before giving the wolf an evil look.
Chris laughed at the two of them; life was going to be interesting with the mischievous wolf around. Turning his attention to the wolf he gave a quick nod, “Ezra” he acknowledged before walking off to get ready for their trip back to town.
The trip back was anticlimactic for the peacekeepers of Four Corners. They arrived back to the small dusty town with no major events unfolding. Wood buildings lined both sides of the streets with small alleyways stretching between each. A raised boardwalk on each side connected a majority of the building together. They made quite a stir as they made their way into the town, a young rangy wolf following in their tracks.
Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
“Ezra would you shud’dup already!” Vin had been growing more and more terse on the trip back with Nathan’s near constant attention. The healer just wouldn’t let up with his worry about Vin hitting his head. He had kept his horse closer to the tracker, much to the black clad leader’s mirth.
“Vin I think you should at least spend the night up in the clinic. I know I didn’t find no bump on your head, but you expecting that mangy wolf to answer you back has me real worried bout ya.”
Mangy! I’ll admit I may not be in my best fashion at the moment, but I don’t think you can call me mangy! Ezra was in an awful mood; the quick pace of the horses had left his paws tender and sore. He was certain the pads on his feet would be cut up and streams of blood would be oozing from them. He even found himself looking back over the ground he had covered for any sign of blood he may have lost. Now Vin was mad at him because the worry wart healer wouldn’t leave him alone. OOOWWWWWW!
“Damn’t Nathan I’m fine and now you hurt Ezra’s feelings with your mangy comment. If anyone needs to be up in your clinic it’s him, ain’t shut up about his feet since we started heading back to town.”
Chris listened with growing amusement the argument just behind him. He was about to interrupt when the sound of a shot gun blast brought his attentions to the sight of one of the townspeople taking aim at the wolf that followed them back to town. Shit! “Damn it put that gun away before I break it over your head!” Chris had swiftly dismounted and snatched the gun from the man’s hands.
“But, but Mister Larabee that’s a wild wolf, it needs to be destroyed before it harms anyone” the nervous man pleaded his case to the dark gunslinger.
“He’s harmless.” He raised his voice so the rest of the town could hear. “And anyone even thinks of taking a shot at him will have to go through me first.” With that he shoved the shot gun back into the man’s hands and made his way over to the others that encircled the young wolf at the sound of the gun blast. Seeing a small pool of blood he grew concerned, “he alright?”
Ezra could feel the concern pouring off the dark clothed man. It was such a novel feeling that he felt decidedly drawn to the man. His attention was pulled away when he felt a sharp pain and yelped before instinctively lashing out towards the source. His near bite was stopped before he could grasp the healer’s probing hand. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, he whined to the tracker that had kept him from making a dire mistake.
“Shh, it’s okay Ezra I know you didn’t mean no harm,” he crooned to the young wolf before turning his attention to Chris’ question. “Ez just got a bit of glass in his paw.”
“Now just hold still a minute Ezra and I’ll have this piece of glass out.” Nathan carefully pulled the piece of glass from his paw and tried to ignore the small whimper of pain from the wolf. “Hmm may need to put a couple of stitches in that. Help me get him up to the clinic and someone help Vin up there too.”
“Aw Nate, I’m fine.” But the tracker was ignored as he felt himself helped along behind the others.
“Leave it alone Ez,” the tracker grumbled for the umpteenth time for the day at the wolf trying to remove the bandage from his paw.
But it itches. Ezra sighed and returned his attention to the tracker and his current game of cards in the saloon. The two of them had been told to stay off their feet and Ezra thought it was quite ironic that they both had injured their feet. He had heard of sympathy pains before, but really this was a bit ridiculous. He looked at the other three players, all strangers to the small town from what Vin had said earlier. They had all arrived in town together and seemed a rough sort. The largest of the three could rival Josiah in size but Ezra could feel a strange darkness in the man’s spirit that would warn others away if they were privy to its existence. He felt decidedly uncomfortable in the man’s presence, especially when his cold eyes focused greedily onto him. He wondered if Vin had picked up on his unease with the man’s presence. The other two men had arrived on the stage earlier that day to stay in the town for the night before leaving on the stage in the morning. They reminded him very much of JD, both full of energy and a zest for life. He watched as the two soon bowed out of the game good naturedly, and with good sense he thought. Neither of them were good poker players and it seemed they were both well aware of their lack of skills. He watched the two men leave the saloon and shivered as he felt a greater disturbance in the strange man’s gleam on him. Vin didn’t seem aware of his growing unease of the man he was playing poker with, focused instead on the game that continued between them. Ezra eased himself closer to the tracker and kept a closer eye on the man across from them.
Vin focused on his cards thankful that Ezra had stopped trying to pull the bandage off his paw for awhile. He was uneasy of the man left playing cards against him. He had started up a poker game with the three fellas traveling through town when the boredom of sitting in the saloon all day had left him itchy for escape. Now a few hours later the other two men had bowed out of the game and he was left with this mountainous man across from him playing cards. The other peacekeepers had been scarce for most of the day, likely due to his scathing remarks with the cajoling they had done at his expense. Ezra though had stuck close to him, still unsure about his safety loose on his own in the town, but more so because of his own injury keeping him confined or ensuring the healer’s wraith. Vin looked back at his cards again wondering if he should play the hand out of fold and end the game.
He’s bluffing but has something up his sleeve, of that I’m certain.
Vin looked sharply at the wolf sitting by his side with his gaze watching the man warily from his position next to him, much closer than he had been before. Vin looked at the king high full house in his hand and decided to play it out. If Ezra was wrong then he would be out some money, but if not than he would take the substantial pot between them. He smiled when he called the other man, his hand easily beating the pair of tens the other man held. He decided he had played enough for the day and reached to collect his winnings never noticing the eyes darken. The next moment was a blur as he heard Ezra shout out his name before seeing the red blur cross in front of him and the sound of a gunshot was heard.
Ezra grinned to himself as he watched Vin win the pot. He knew the man was bluffing and was happy for his friend to take the large pot. He only wished he was able to partake in a game of chance himself. He continued to watch as the behemoth’s eyes narrowed and anger permeated the area surrounding him. Ezra felt his hackles rise in warning that something was going to happen. He stood ready to defend his friend if the need arose never taking his gaze away from the man. He wondered why Vin had not become aware of the danger the man was presenting. To Ezra it was like flashing lightening, the air was so charged with the impending danger, and like the crash of thunder that followed he was instantly flying across the distance. VIN, he screamed in warning before his teeth sunk into the tender flesh of the man’s skin. He heard the instant sound of a gunshot and prayed that no one was in the path of its bullet. He had never felt such fear or protection for someone before in his life, not even his mother. He felt the man fighting his hold and he tightened his holding ignoring the curses flying from his mouth.
“Get this damn critter offa me,” the man yelled as he tried to fight the vicious creature off his arm. He continued to curse and swing his free arm onto the animal that held onto him with more tenacity than badger protecting its home. He screamed as he felt the pressure increase until his bone snapped and the teeth sunk even deeper into his flesh. His wild movements only seemed to feed the escalating force.
“Mr. Larabee what are you thinking letting that creature into the town? He’s a hazard to our children and the safety of Four Corners. What are you going to do about it? It can’t stay in town, what if it bites someone?” Mary Travis continued her tirade of why the peacekeepers should get the wolf out of their town.
Chris should have known that Mary would be the town’s spokesperson regarding the status of Ezra. He often wondered why she always felt it was her duty to become involved in every little thing going on in town. “He’s staying and he ain’t going to hurt anyone that don’t deserve it.”
“He could be carrying diseases! He looks half starved and mangy, what if he is rabid?” She continued her argument trying to bring up anything to sway the gunslinger into doing what she wanted.
“He’s not rabid and ain’t carrying no diseases.” Chris was growing rapidly tired of the conversation. “He’s staying!” He would have continued however the sound of a gun going off in the saloon gained his attention and he left Mary standing alone on the street with her righteous indignation as he promptly made his way to the saloon.
Chris was joined by the other peacekeepers as he made his way to the saloon. He was worried about the gun shot as it didn’t sound like the mare’s leg Vin carried, which he never heard a retort from. That in itself was even more worrying for the gunslinger.
He entered through the swinging doors taking care not to be shot upon entering. He scanned the interior and couldn’t help but notice the large man on the floor swearing and screaming in pain. Ezra had a vicious grip on the man’s arm and there was a steady stream of blood coming from the limb. His gaze swept the rest of the area and promptly located the tracker unanimated on the other side of the table. He clenched his jaw tightly in anger and worry that his friend had been shot. “Nathan,” he called for the healer to check on Vin while he continued to watch as Ezra shook the arm encased in his mouth with vengeance. He had little ambition to tear the wolf away from his victim until he heard from Nathan regarding the status of Vin’s health.
Nathan hurriedly made his way towards Vin worried by the lack of movement from his friend. He placed clammy fingers onto the tracker’s neck and sighed in relief to feel the strong ‘thump thump’ of his heart beating. Releasing the tension in his body he looked closer at the bloody wound across the side of his friend’s head. “He’s alive,” he informed the waiting men. “Josiah, help me get him up to the clinic so I can check this would better, it’s bleeding too heavily for me to get a good look at it.”
The others watched dispassionately as the young wolf continued to exact his vengeance on the scum that had shot their friend as Nathan and Josiah carried their friend out of the saloon.
“JD, give them a hand getting into the clinic,” Chris told the young sheriff before focusing on the man squirming in pain on the dusty floor.
“Suppose we should get Ez to let him go now?” Buck questioned as he wondered just how to accomplish that task.
“Ezra let him go,” Chris ordered the young wolf.
Ezra could feel the strong emotions that filled the saloon a few moments ago. He could even identify the men that had arrived even though their natural emotions were clouded with anger and worry, each still bleed their normal auras. He knew it would be safe to let go of the vile creature that was within his grasp, but he couldn’t seem to get himself to release. Every time he was ready to relinquish his hold the man would start fighting harder and he would instinctively adjust his grip tighter. The wave of relief that rolled over him belayed his deep fear for Vin when he was unable to get a response from him. He had been calling out to his friend but only other voices intruded, none of which had the wanted Texas accent he was craving. He finally heard the demand of Chris but still couldn’t seem to release his prey. I’m trying Mister Larabee, but I just cannot seem to release him. He had no idea how to convey his message to the tall gunslinger. He heard the hammer of a gun being pulled back and wondered if he was going to be killed by the man. He remembered the threat the man had made when they had found Vin that he would shoot him if he ever attacked. Oh God please don’t shoot me! Damn it, stop moving. Stop moving! He continued to chant nervously as he waited for the bullet to sink into his hide.
Chris sighed as he waited for the wolf to respond to his order. When the request didn’t produce the action he wanted cocked his gun and placed it against the stranger’s head. “If you don’t stop moving he won’t let go, and if I have to shoot you to get you to stop moving I will.” Chris watched in satisfaction as the man went as still as stone. His eyes were wide and tiny tremors could be seen as he held as still as possible.
Ezra felt the fight leave the man and found he was able to control his actions again. He released the man and backed out of the way as he searched for a place to run off to. He was contemplating running past Buck to the freedom the saloon doors offered but was stopped in his tracks by the words that left the gunslinger’s lips.
“Ya done good Ezra.”
Ezra found himself in a state of shock, someone was proud of him. His limbs trembling, he couldn’t hold himself up any longer and promptly sat down. He watched the two gunslingers gather the man that had caused all the problems. He was still in a state of shock as JD and Josiah returned to help take the villain off of Chris’ hands. He was finally pulled out of his thoughts when the man knelt in front of him.
“Come on Ezra let’s go check on Vin.”
Ezra’s wonder disappeared as worry took over again for his friend. He had started to follow the gunslinger out until he caught sight of the table with Vin’s winnings on it. Wait Mister Larabee, what about Mister Tanner’s winnings? He stopped and whined to get the man’s attention. Oh the indignities!
“Forget about it Ezra.”
But it’s his, he earned it. Wouldn’t he be disappointed if it were to be taken? He couldn’t just leave his winnings behind. Ezra tried to figure out how to collect the winnings. He’d be able to carry the bills in his mouth but the coins he would never be able to carry.
Chris rolled his eyes in exasperation but finally collected Vin’s money. “Let’s go Ezra.”
Ezra sighed in relief. Thank you Mister Larabee.
Chris and Ezra found the others gathered outside of Nathan’s clinic when they finally arrived. Nathan had assured Josiah and JD that Vin would be fine before they went back to help the others. This however didn’t stop the others from waiting outside the clinic doors for their chance to check on the tracker once Nathan was done with him.
Ezra found a spot outside the door where he could keep an eye on everything that was going on around him. He was anxious to see Vin and would have been mortified if he realized that he was whining quietly as he waited. His sharp hearing alerted him to the healer approaching the door and he rose to attention as he waited for the Nathan to impart news on Vin. Please let him be okay.
The others noted Ezra’s attention on the door and anticipated Nathan’s arrival. They didn’t wait long before the door opened and Nathan stepped out onto the balcony. “He’s going to be fine, bullet just glanced his head. Probably have a bad headache for awhile but he was lucky. He ain’t woke up yet so we’ll need to watch out for a concussion.”
Once Nathan had announced that Vin would be fine Ezra snuck passed the healer through the slightly opened door. He could hear the others asking questions but getting his first look at Vin since the incident in the saloon he felt a great weight removed from his shoulders. His keen senses told him his friend was in no distress, just sleeping. Vin, Vin can you hear me? He wasn’t answered and couldn’t help the slight worry from sinking in again. He couldn’t believe how much he had missed the tracker’s presence already. He had spent so long not being able to communicate with anyone that he didn’t think he could handle reliving that silent existence again. It was a scary thought for him to feel so dependent on another person. His mother had drilled into him his need to keep a distance and never form relationships with anyone, but maybe she was wrong. The companionship he felt with the scruffy man was like nothing he had ever felt before. He also thought about the pride he felt with the dark clad gunslinger praising him for a good deed. He still wasn’t sure how to process that feeling. Ezra wanted to hold onto these feelings as much as he could, but first Vin really needed to wake up. Vin? Mister Tanner would you please wake up? You’re really scaring me with your silence. Nathan said you’re going to be fine but I would feel much better if you would wake up. His pleading though had no response. Sighing in disappointment he looked towards the door that lead outside before carefully making his way onto the bed with the tracker. He laid his head on Vin’s chest, his ear cocked towards his heart to hear the steady beat. A single tear leaked from his eye as he prayed the healer was right and Vin would be okay. He had lost too much in his young life already to give up the close connection with this man. He soon fell asleep to the steady rise and fall of the tracker’s breathing.
Vin groaned softly as he awoke from his unconscious state. He could feel a heavy weight on his chest, but gasped in pain when he tried to lift his head and figure out its source.
“Easy Vin, best you lie still. Got yer’self a heck of a graze there. Here drink some of this tea and it’ll help with the pain.”
“Nathan?” he rasped, confused as to what had happened.
“Shush now, drink this first.” Nathan watched as his charge drank the strong tea. He shook his head in exasperation when Vin made a funny face in regards to its taste.
“Damn Nate, this stuff tastes like boiled skunk.” Vin knew the taste was terrible, but knew from prior experiences that it would ease the pain. “What happened?” Though the pain was easing his memory was a bit foggy. The last thing he could recall was being stuck in the saloon with Ezra.
“Don’t know all the particulars, but you got shot while playing cards with some big fella. Guess he didn’t like losing and figured he’d just shoot ya and take the money. Good thing your little shadow was with ya, tore into that guy with a vengeance.”
Vin looked down to the angular head that was resting on him, with a sudden anxiety he worried over the wolf’s health. “He alright?” he asked as he reached his hand down and began to pet the soft head rhythmically.
Nathan shrugged, “I guess so, been up here with you since they put that guy in jail, stubborn critter won’t budge an inch from that bed.” Nathan suddenly grinned in remembrance of Ezra and Chris having a glaring contest when the gunslinger insisted he get off the bed, so as not to disturb the hunter’s rest.
Vin caught Nathan’s good humor and wondered what had transpired that had the healer in such positive thoughts. What did ya do Ez? He thought to himself.
Absolutely nothing, Vin. It could hardly be my fault that Mister Larabee didn’t share my opinions on where I should reside for the night.
Vin was a bit startled, he had never been able to send his thoughts to the wolf before. Sure he could hear everything Ezra said or thought consciously, but this was a new twist to their interesting relationship. “Uh Ez, wanna fill me in on what exactly happened this afternoon?”
It was later that afternoon when Nathan finally let Vin out of the clinic, but for Ezra once he knew the tracker would be okay he decided it was time to check out the town for himself. Still wary of the townspeople, he made sure one of the other peacekeepers was well within sight to discourage any questionable thoughts by the locals. He tried to keep his body language as non-threatening as possible by keeping his posture loose and his ears relaxed, so as to convince the residents that he meant them no harm.
The time he spent alone gave him a few moments to consider what he was going to do about his predicament. He spent enough time in the company of the healer to know that the man would have little tolerance for him if he knew of his background. Prior experience had taught him that ex-slaves took a direct dislike to white southerners, especially southerners with strong accents. He supposed there was at least one positive to the others not being able to hear him, Nathan wouldn’t look at him with that disgusted gaze for where he came from and stood for. Ezra sighed as he thought about how untrue it was, he loved the southern states, but never liked the business of keeping slaves. He wondered if things between the healer and him would change if he was one day able to return to his human form.
Ezra caught sight of the giant man working on the church’s entrance; he was a bit of a mystery to Ezra. He seemed to be teaming with remorse, rage and compassion. All these feelings continually circulated around the man and he wondered what the caused it. He decided to get to know the man a bit better and padded his way to the church where Josiah was pounding away some nails attached to the porch.
Josiah caught sight of the young wolf making his way towards him. He believed Vin when he spoke of hearing the wolf’s speech and wondered what had caused the transformation to occur. He knew all about bad spirits and evil witchcraft. In his travels he had met many such individuals, none of which he found any good in whatsoever. He continued hammering nails into the wood absentmindedly as he continued to contemplate the reason behind Ezra’s change. Feeling like he was being watched he turned around to identify his watcher. He grinned wide, big white teeth shown nearly from ear to ear, as he welcomed the object of his thoughts.
Hello Mister Sanchez.
Josiah sighed, “I sure wish I could understand you like Vin does. I guess we’ll just have to try and figure something out,” he grinned even wider than before and snapped a wink at the wolf.
Ezra shook his head at the gleam in the preacher’s eye and sharky smile. Uh oh Ezra, better watch out for this one. He spent a short time with the preacher before walking away, after all one could only listen to the man’s parables for so long. Okay so sometimes there are positives to not being able to be heard, he grinned to himself. Walking by the jail he decided to stop in and visit with the young sheriff.
JD watched the young wolf enter the town’s jail and laughed when the big man in the cell scooted back from the bars. “Hi Ezra, coming to visit?” JD didn’t expect an answer but figured it was just polite to talk with the canine. “You sure got that guy didn’t ya. Wow I ain’t never seen anything like that before. I sure wouldn’t wanna get you mad at me.”
Ezra rolled his eyes upwards as he continued to listen to the young man carry on. JD was a bright beacon in a world of storm clouds, he wondered if he was ever that naive to what happened in the world. He continued to listen as he padded closer to the cell that held the behemoth that had injured his friend. He was still unnerved by his actions against the man; it was particularly disconcerting that he was unable to release the man when he wanted to. Not liking where his thoughts were going, he fled the jail and headed for the saloon.
Arriving into the saloon he was bombarded with the sounds of an active community. It was still disorienting the first few moments he stepped into the atmosphere because of his highly attuned hearing and the strong feelings that seemed to close in on him. Shaking his head he caught the scent of strong pheromones and grinned wickedly at the big charmer trying to turn his luck with the women. Seeing the dark clad gunslinger grinning at his friend’s antics he padded over to the man and sat by his feet.
Again his thoughts returned to the circumstances that took place the last time he was in the saloon. He sighed in worry, Dear lord I hope this affliction doesn’t become permanent. I could become an endangerment to these people. Oh God I’d shoot myself if I could before I allow that to happen.
Chris sighed at the down-trodden wolf by his side, “We’ll get it figured out Ezra. Somehow we’ll get you back to normal.” He swallowed hard as those green eyes pierced him right down to his soul with their begging need.
Ezra looked pleadingly at the gunslinger, praying the man was right, before a sudden thought entered his mind. He looked shrewdly at the gunslinger, and just how long have you been able to hear me Mister Larabee?
Chris just grinned wolfishly at him.