Actions

Work Header

New Blood

Work Text:

“You trying to get me in trouble, kid?” Arthur said as he slowed Boadicea to a walk.

The skinny kid who Hosea and Dutch had fished out of some nowhere town out west scowled and straightened up in the saddle. He wasn’t much of a horseman—his ‘borrowed’ horse, the usually docile Lady May, snorted and chewed at the bit. If he’d stolen Lady May out from under the noses of everyone in camp though, he was in trouble. “Not a kid,” said the kid, sticking out his lower lip. “Name’s John.”

“And how old are you, John?” Arthur gave John a pointed once-over.

Kid was an orphan, just like most of the rest of the misfits that Dutch and Hosea attracted. Starved kid, more bones and angles than very much else. Short and lanky, with greasy black hair that stuck out at angles under his too-big hat. Angry, though. The rage was familiar. John had seen the same rage in the mirror when Dutch had first scooped him up. A grinding twisting rage in his belly that he’d had to learn how to control and direct. Dutch and Hosea were good teachers for that kind of thing.

“Twelve,” John said defiantly.

“Well blow me over, you’re a young man right enough,” Arthur said. The sarcasm slid past the anger and left John unfazed. “I’m just out to catch us some dinner. Nothing fun in that. Go back to camp.”

“More fun than helping Pearson haul water from the river,” John said.

“Yeah, well, them’s chores that need doing.”

John bristled. “’Cos you’re a wolf and I ain’t?”

God give him patience. This was why Arthur tried to stay away from the new kids until Dutch had filed down some of the rough edges. Not that he could say very much. Dutch and Hosea delighted in reminding Arthur of all the many, many times he’d acted out when he’d been younger. Before he’d learned how to live with the monster riding in his blood. At least John didn’t have that additional problem.

“Don’t know whether you are or you ain’t yet. You’re just a kid,” Arthur said. He personally doubted it. John was aggressive, sure, but a bad temper and a light trigger finger didn’t mean he was halfwolf. John didn’t exhibit the restless unease that Arthur had around normal people, didn’t have to watch them for social cues.

“Won’t be a kid forever,” John said.

“Ain’t that many of my sort about. You should be glad if you ain’t. Nothing wrong with being normal.”

Arthur often wished that he was normal. Wished his mouth didn’t water when he smelled blood, wished that the full moon didn’t make him restless and feral. Wished that he wasn’t cursed to spend the rest of his life sniffing around a world full of people who weren’t like him, just to maybe catch a scent of the right kinda someone who was.

“Nothing wrong with being strong,” John said, defiant. It was a brittle kind of defiance, as though John had said something he hadn’t wanted to say. His knuckles were clenched white over the reins. Lady May whickered uncomfortably.

“Hosea ain’t halfwolf. Nor Mrs Grimshaw. Not Dutch either. None of them would beat me in a fight. You saying they’re something less than who I am?” Arthur twisted in his saddle to stare John in the eye. John flushed, shrinking in on himself and looking away. Even Lady May sidestepped. Beneath him, Boadicea snorted as she heard the start of a snarl twist its way into Arthur’s words. Arthur bit down on his lip and looked back to the road. “Say your piece and git back to camp, boy.” Arthur itched for the quiet.

To his surprise and irritation, John forced Lady May to keep pace beside Boadicea. “Hosea said you were a lone wolf. Why’re you running with him and Dutch? Whole camp’s normal but you.”

“I like Dutch. I like Hosea. I like Mrs Grimshaw, Mary-Beth, Jenny, hell, I even like Pearson. Why not?”

“Not me?”

Arthur nearly laughed. He bit back the mirth against his teeth as he got a good look at John’s face, tensed and drawn back like he was expecting a blow. “Hell, I like you too. When you’re doing what you’re s’posed to. Like your damn chores.”

This didn’t faze John none, sadly. “I wanna learn how to hunt.”

Arthur guffawed. “You? Even a varmint rifle’s gonna kick you sideways. You need to fill out a bit more first.”

“That all there is to hunting? Find something and shoot it full’a buckshot?” John stared evenly back. He didn’t even smell afraid. Maybe he was too stupid for fear. Scrawny thing like him, all bones and fight and little else. The monster in Arthur’s blood made him huff with feral amusement.

“Guess I could use someone to do the skinning,” Arthur said. He tossed over a knife from the saddlebag. “Don’t you cut off any of your fingers.”

“I’m not that stupid.”

“You sure?” Arthur smiled, baring all his teeth, even the too-sharp canines of halfwolf folk. “Smells like you are to me, kid.”

“You don’t know me,” John said. He unsheathed the knife, glanced at it and sheathed it again. “We hunting or what?”

Arthur gave in. As long as the kid didn’t eat a stray bullet, Dutch and Hosea probably wouldn’t mind. Besides. He instinctively approved of people who had a hunger for the kill. It was the way people like him had been made.

#

“In the beginning,” said the Reverend Swanson, launching into Arthur’s least favourite sermon, “there was the Garden.”

“Pretty sure you skipped forward at least seven days,” Arthur said without looking up from his sketching.

Dutch kicked his foot and shot Arthur a quelling stare, hunched with Hosea over a crudely drawn map pinned to a crate with pebbles. The Reverend when sober was good at keeping kids occupied and out from underfoot, though it was Hosea and Dutch who had to teach people their letters. The Reverend wasn’t often sober enough for that.

“In the Garden there were many Trees,” the Reverend said, ignoring Arthur’s interjection, “of which one Tree, in particular, was significant. And it was…?” He looked at the three kids at his feet.

“Knowledge!” Mary-Beth said. Freckled and tiny and blue-eyed, Mary-Beth’s diminutive appearance belied one of the finest pickpockets Arthur had ever had the misfortune to meet. Dutch had hidden her when she’d been on the run from some particularly persistent patrons, and had taken her into the gang after she’d followed them for miles.

“Exactly.” The Reverend beamed. “Now—”

“I don’t get that part of the story, ‘scuse me sir,” Mary-Beth said, her hand still up in the air. “You being a priest and all, I was always gonna ask.”

“Reverend, not a priest,” said the Reverend. He cleared his throat. “Uh, this isn’t another question about ahem, ‘dinosaurs’, is there? I’ve told you all, they likely were created and then corrected. Probably within the fourth and fifth days of Creation.”

Arthur started to open his mouth and got another kick from Dutch for his trouble. He closed it with a wounded expression.

“Nope,” Mary-Beth said. The Reverend sagged with relief even as the skinny brown kid, Javier, muttered something under his breath in Spanish and John rolled his eyes. “It’s ‘bout knowledge. What’s so bad about knowing things? Why’s that get people kicked outta Eden?”

“God in His Infinite Wisdom forbade Adam and Eve from touching the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The Reverend forged quickly toward familiar ground. “For it was after eating its fruit that they began to know right from wrong, and were therefore exiled from Eden.”

Mary-Beth would give him no quarter. “But if they ain’t known right or wrong before then, why’s them the ones punished? Why ain’t it just the snake? Seems to me what if you don’t know right from wrong then you can’t be guilty of nothing.”

Arthur pushed his book in front of his face and bit down on his lip. There was a loud bark of laughter—from Hosea, who looked surprised at himself for laughing. “Ahem, well, they did disobey God,” the Reverend said desperately. “It meant disorder in Creation and uh, sin and guilt from Adam and Eve, which all of us then inherited.”

“So if I do wrong now, it ain’t my fault but theirs?” Mary-Beth asked sweetly like the little devil she was.

Dutch cleared his throat. “I ain’t so sure about where this is going, young lady,” he said with a whiskery grin, “but I’m rapt. Just rapt.”

“…Moving along,” the Reverend said, looking hurt that he wasn’t getting help from any quarter. “Adam and Eve—”

“What I no get,” Javier interrupted in his uneven English, “Bible say Adam and Eve children are fullblood human.” The Reverend nodded cautiously. “You say, the halfwolf, they because Eve lie with a wolf. What they say?”

“Sorry, what?” The Reverend asked, bewildered.

“You say she and wolf lie,” Javier said impatiently. “What they lie about? A lie so big it make half children?”

Arthur couldn’t hold in his laughter any longer. He collapsed against the tree, gasping, and not even the Reverend’s sputtering or Mrs Grimshaw’s pointed glare could keep him calm. Dutch covered his own mouth, curling in on himself with his shoulders shaking.

“Well er, about that, maybe we’ll tell you when you’re older,” Hosea said, even as Mary-Beth sniggered and John looked over at Arthur with an unreadable expression.

John fetched Arthur some water when the Reverend retreated, and Arthur choked it down between gasps. His ribs hurt from the laughing. “I don’t believe in all that,” John said as he sat down beside Arthur.

“What?” Arthur drained the cup.

“The Adam and Eve thing. I heard Hosea talking, he said, he read this book, ‘On the Origin of Species’, which said halfwolf people are people who e-volved from a different tree.”

“Another Tree that ain’t the Tree of Knowledge?” Arthur had never been particularly interested in books that didn’t involve wars and battles. He did like books about Rome, though. Rome, which had been founded by two halfwolf siblings.

“No, not that. Book says people all got their start from a kinda species. Monkeys. Then got more and more people-like over time. Most people are from the main branch, Homo Sapiens. The halfwolves are Homo Lupus. The book reckoned that everybody's got both kinds of blood in them. Just that some people got more of one active than the other.”

“People starting from monkeys, people starting from God, it’s all the same to me,” Arthur said. Funny what kinda stories people liked to tell to explain their place in the world. He worked out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit up, ignoring John when he reached for the pack.

“What’s it like?” John asked. He sounded like he was asking a casual question, but Arthur could taste his hunger in the air. “Being halfwolf.”

“You wait a whole year to ask me?” Arthur said with mock irritation. John sniffed. Arthur couldn’t often fake something past him. Where Arthur was concerned, John had excellent instincts. Wasn’t the same for the others in the pack. Gang.

“Took all this time for you to be patient enough for my questions. You usually run off the moment you see any of us ‘kids’ coming.”

“Mary-Beth ain’t so bad,” Arthur said. John scowled, and flinched as Arthur nudged him with an elbow. “Aww, you jealous? She’s smarter than you. Not that it’s hard.”

“Whatever,” John said, glowering at his feet.

“It’s strange,” Arthur said reflectively. “Being one in ten thousand. My dad thought I was bad luck. Didn’t really blame them. Halfwolf folk, we can be real violent. Real angry. Stronger, faster. Lots of people are scared of people like me for a reason.” His father had blamed his mother for Arthur, even though they both couldn’t be sure which half of the family had been touched by the wolf.

“How’d he guess?”

“I turned early. When I was ‘bout twelve. Golden eyes during the full moon. Not that my parents were real kindly folk even before they knew, but after that, they tried to beat me to death. Good thing Dutch happened to be walking by.” It was the first gentle memory Arthur could remember, the first time anyone had shown him kindness. “He bought me from them for thirteen dollars.”

John’s face twisted with anger. “Bastards.”

“Life’s cheap out here.” Arthur took a long drag of smoke. “I got lucky. Lots of people didn’t.” He’d ridden through enough frontier towns to see the graves. Often, they were small.

“Is it true that a halfwolf will only sleep with another halfwolf?”

“Now where’d you go on picking up something like that?” Arthur asked, amused. “I ain’t a priest just ‘cos of what I am.” Some people found him handsome enough to overlook everything else that he was. Arthur had availed himself of that fact now and then over the years.

“You never met another halfwolf?”

“Another alpha? Sure have. Lots of halfwolves can’t live easy in civilisation. Easier to turn to a life like ours than work as a clerk in a general store somewhere.” Arthur yawned, smoking his cigarette to a stub and grinding it out.

“No omegas? Guess they’re rare.”

“I’ve seen a couple of omegas before. Pair of Lakota women, last time I was ‘round Saint Denis. They were dressed as men. We didn’t talk.”

They’d taken one look at Arthur and Dutch and shuffled away quickly into the crowd. Arthur hadn’t blamed them. He was a big man with a lot of guns, even if his blood didn’t turn him easily toward violence. They’d have smelled him on the wind just as he had them, taken their measure of him right quick. Arthur had been kinda relieved. Omega halfwolves were meant to be more dangerous than alphas. Quicker to anger. Faster. Closer to the wolf.

“Hosea said they got other stories about what halfwolf people are,” John said.

“I don’t doubt it. Theirs are probably better too. They got nicer names for people like me.” Arthur got to his feet, dusting off the grass as he got bored with the conversation. He started to amble to the horses, glancing at the sky. River out east had a flock of fat ducks he’d seen a few days back. Would be good eating.

As Arthur saddled Boadicea, John picked up Lady May’s saddle from the makeshift rack. “You going hunting,” John said.

“I don’t need the company,” Arthur told him.

“You do, if you want to shoot enough ducks for everyone.” John saddled Lady May briskly as Arthur stared at him, bemused. He hadn’t said anything about where he was going.

#

The pack grew bigger until feeding everyone started to turn into a job and a half by itself. Having John around helped, even if the years with Hosea and Dutch hadn’t quite ground off as many of John’s rough edges as Arthur had hoped. “You never think there’s something maybe off about Dutch?” John asked as they slowed their horses to a trot in boar country.

“Off how?” Arthur growled.

John ignored the clear warning, because he hadn’t grown any smarter that way. “C’mon, Arthur. You saw what I saw. He shot that sheriff dead. Man already surrendered. We had our masks up, he didn’t see nothing.”

“Dutch has his reasons,” Arthur said. The words sounded weak out aloud. He’d been shocked as well, same as Hosea. Unlike Hosea, he hadn’t said a word. Back at camp, Hosea had said something to Dutch that had ended up with both of them drinking, reconciled. Arthur had looked at the payroll chest and had thought about a man begging on his knees for his life, a family man whose family they’d now widowed.

“He always felt off to me,” John said. He looked around over his shoulder to check that they were alone. “From the beginning, he did.”

“Why’d you come with us then?”

“Wasn’t gonna. Go off with two strange men into the wilderness? Please, I ain’t that stupid. I was just gonna walk with them to the edge of town and then run away to hide. Then I saw you,” John said.

Arthur let out a snort. “Like I’m one to inspire any confidence.”

John shrugged. “Something about you feels right. The way Dutch doesn’t. Or Bill, or the Callahans. I don’t know why the rest of you don’t feel it. Walking near one of them, hell. Feels real bad.”

“Bad how?”

“Just… makes me feel like, y’know. Same feeling you get walking in crocodile country.”

“I think you don’t have the brain for thinking,” Arthur said, scoffing. Bill and the Callahans were violent assholes, sure, but Dutch? Dutch was nothing like them. “If you got a problem with Dutch, you got a problem with me. With Hosea, too. Our hands are just as bloody as his.”

“Ain’t what I said,” John said, so softly that Arthur nearly didn’t catch the words over the horses. Arthur opted to ignore him, curling his fingers into the reins. If John was starting to run spooked, Arthur was going to need to have a word with Hosea.

#

John grew older, taller. The bigger he got, the more confident he was. Age didn’t seem to help none with his temper, which had only worsened since he’d been a kid. Even on better days, John appeared furious with the world, as though he’d never wanted to be born but was enraged by the fact of it rather than depressed. It gave John a killing instinct that was just as good as Arthur’s, but it didn’t give him wisdom.

“It’s normal,” Hosea said, when Arthur complained about John again. John’s hair-trigger temper meant a fuckup on the last payroll robbery, one that had ended up with the Callahan brothers shot and recuperating and the money nearly thrown into the bottom of a river.

“What’s normal?” Arthur demanded. They were some ways from camp. Arthur had ridden off on his own to blow off some steam and Hosea had come after him.

“The way he is, of course.” Hosea looked surprised that Arthur had even asked. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“What is?”

“About John,” Hosea said patiently. “He’s halfwolf.”

“He’s already eighteen going on nineteen and his eyes are normal during a moon cycle. He ain’t.”

“Some people come to it late. I’ve heard of people only having their first turn in their twenties. It isn’t an exact science,” Hosea said, “what with the Church having thought halfwolf people were demonically possessed and such until fairly recently. Ain’t nobody studying it like they should.”

“What makes you think he is? He don’t seem so to me,” Arthur said, puzzled.

“You were just like he was right when we first picked you up,” Hosea said. He leaned over to pat Arthur on the arm. “Besides, maybe you haven’t noticed, but John’s uncannily good with guns. Just like you. Time feels like it slows down for you two when you draw on someone. The way the two of you can shrug off injuries that’d kill or cripple a normal person? It’s obvious.”

“Oh.” Arthur hadn’t noticed John getting seriously injured before. “When did John get that hurt?”

“The most recent incident? You were away scouting. He broke his leg getting thrown off a new horse. Twisted it all up, the kinda injury that’d mean a bum leg forever for anyone else. John just wrenched it back together, ate something from the stores, and was right as rain in an hour.”

“You never said.” Arthur tried to remember whether John had come off strange to him at any point. Different.

“Thought you knew.” Hosea tilted his head. “Two of you go out hunting pretty often.”

“That wasn’t… he’s just a… he ain’t the brightest card in a deck,” Arthur said. John, halfwolf? Hell.

“When has that mattered? Arthur. This isn’t going to be a problem, is it?” Hosea asked. He sounded friendly, but his eyes were calculating rather than curious.

“Might be,” Arthur admitted. “I ain’t ever had to live with ‘nother halfwolf adult before. Could be messy for the both of us. You seen how he is. Might be one of us has to leave the p—the gang.”

“You’re a better fighter than he is, and I trust your self-control,” Hosea said.

“He’s younger than me, and I don’t trust his,” Arthur said. Hosea changed the subject after giving Arthur a searching glance. They shot a deer and brought it back to camp, talking about nothing in particular. By the morning, John was gone.

#

“Did you follow Hosea and I outta camp?” Arthur asked when he finally tracked John down in the snow. Arthur hated the cold—he wouldn’t normally ride anywhere snowbound unless he absolutely had to. It was probably why John had run up here.

“Did I what?” John sat back down by the small campfire that he’d built beside the small lake. Lady May whinnied at Boadicea in greeting as Arthur dismounted, the horses keeping an eye on the tree line for predators.

“When Hosea and I went hunting. You overhear us? That why you left?” Arthur had questioned everyone else in camp before he’d ridden out after John.

“No? You’d have smelled me on the wind if I’d tried. What’re you doing here?”

Arthur settled down on the dirt, folding his arms over his knees. “You left the pack. Why?”

John stared at him. Now that Arthur knew what to look for, he could finally see it. That wild and rangy tension in John’s lean frame, the way he sized Arthur up like he was thinking of going for Arthur’s throat. “You hear yourself speak? They ain’t your pack. Them’s human. You ain’t.”

“You and I ain’t,” Arthur said. He sized John up in turn. “When did you guess?”

“I figured things out years back. Wasn’t hard. Nobody normal walks off gunshot wounds the way we do. Always thought it was funny how you couldn’t see it. Hosea had to tell you, I’m guessing?” At Arthur’s nod, John let out a loud snort. “Fucking funny.”

“Why’s that?”

“Ain’t that why you never liked me? You knew what I was, deep down.”

Arthur rocked back, startled by the venom in John’s tone. “I don’t dislike you, John. Nothing like that. You’re one of the gang, same as the rest.”

“You ain’t ever that comfortable around me. Not when I was a kid, not the way I am now. I didn’t wanna wait until I turned, if you was gonna attack me.” John’s eyes flicked out over the lake. For someone who was a really good poker player, outside of card games John had the most goddamned obvious tells of anyone Arthur had ever met.

“You know I won’t ever do something like that,” Arthur said softly. “What are you scared of?”

John didn’t answer for a while, scuffing his feet near the fire. “How’d you stay in control?”

“What?”

“You heard me. How’d you. How’d you stop yourself from being so angry all the time?” John clenched and unclenched his hands. “You’re… it’s unfair is what it is. The way you are. I kinda hate you sometimes. That’s why I left. Every time there’s a full moon I think, maybe this is it. I’m gonna turn and lose it. Put a bullet in your head. This time’s different. I know it’s coming.”

Arthur laughed. He ignored the furious glare John shot his way, rocking back onto his palms. He laughed so loudly that he could hear his voice roar back at him from the high peaks. Leaning back onto his elbows, Arthur fought to calm down, chuckling and stretching out. “You think you’re good enough to kill me, boy?”

“I’m faster than you are,” John said, unblinking, “and you wouldn’t have seen me.”

“Okay, kid, okay.” Arthur got to his feet, walking over to Boadicea and taking the sleeping roll and tent equipment off her back.

“What are you doing?” John asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m setting up camp.”

“Here?”

Arthur made a show of looking around. “Seems like a good spot.”

“I mean.” John rubbed his chin and looked meaningfully up at the sky. “Full moon’s in a day or so.”

“You ain’t gonna shoot me in the back,” Arthur said. He knew that with the same certainty as he knew that the moon was rising. “And if you come at me from the front, you’re gonna get your ass kicked.”

“Why bother staying? You really spoiling for a fight?” John didn’t sound angry. Intrigued, maybe.

“I remember what it was like to be shit-scared of what was happening to me and have nobody to turn to,” Arthur said, setting down his bedroll. “You should’a stayed in camp, jackass. This would’ve been easier for you with people like Hosea and Abigail around.”

The sun was dropping in the sky. In the dusk, the campfire touched John’s eyes with flecks of light. “I’m good,” John said. He smiled with teeth that would soon be sharper.

#

Ever since Arthur had been a boy, he’d had dreams of being a wolf. Running on all four paws through the old forests, hunting prey, howling at the stars. He’d imagined ‘turning’ as something literal. Sprouting fur, bones cracking, flesh melting. Being pulled like pottery clay from man to wolf.

In his first year of life with Hosea and Dutch, Arthur had imagined this vividly. They’d been better than his parents, but not that much better. He’d been old and smart enough to know the difference. They’d saved him, sure. Taught him how to read and write, taught him how to shoot. Arthur loved Dutch and Hosea but they were the reason that Arthur was who he was today. A monster in either skin, a thief, a killer. He didn’t blame them. Hell, he’d gone right along with it. Learning to be a monster meant never going hungry again. Learning to kill meant he survived.

The moon rose over the clouds in bleak definition. The change took Arthur in a heady rush, the world greying before his eyes even as his other senses thickened. He could smell the old coffee that lingered in the empty pot by the fire, the embers, the horses and their musk, the deer spoor further from the trees. He could smell John.

Yeah. That scent, changing right under his nose. Shouldn’t have been a surprise. Arthur should’ve known all along. Slowly, deliberately, he pulled off his coat and tossed it beside the tent. He rolled up his sleeves. This deep into a full moon, Arthur wouldn’t be cold.

John shivered, crouched by the fire. His eyes were squeezed shut, flickering behind closed lids. His hands hung loosely by his flanks as he breathed in steaming puffs. “You feel it?” Arthur asked. John nodded tightly. “Let it come.”

“I feel it,” John whispered. His scent was warping still. “This always how it’s like?”

“Like what?” Arthur asked. John snarled, frustrated. He swung his head from side to side, his sharpened canines bared. Arthur grinned, tucking his feet under him and getting into a crouch. “I’d say first time’s the worst but I ain’t sure what it’d be like for you.” He breathed in deeply. “You ain’t like me at all, are you? Omega.”

John went for his throat. Arthur brought up his hands but he was too slow. They collided together into a heap on the gravel even as Lady May and Boadicea whinnied in alarm and backed off to the trees. Shit. “John—” Arthur’s protest tore into a yell as John dug his teeth into Arthur’s neck and ripped out a bloody chunk.

“Goddamned motherfucker,” Arthur said, incredulous. He slammed the heel of his hand into John’s throat, making John jerk back and spit onto the dirt, gasping for breath. The wound was already closing, healing more quickly under the full moon. Arthur kicked John off him and sprang to his feet, hands dropping to his holstered guns. John rocked back on his haunches, wiping his mouth slowly. His silver eyes burned into Arthur as he licked Arthur’s blood off his knuckles. He didn’t go for his own guns.

Slowly, Arthur clenched his hands into fists instead of drawing on John. “You wanna fight? C’mon then, boy.”

“You know you’d lose,” John said, looking him over. “I’m faster. Younger. And you don’t actually want to hurt me. Part of you still thinks I’m a kid. Thinks I’m human.”

“You ain’t that smart. Think that makes us pretty even,” Arthur shot back.

John growled. He lunged at Arthur, only to let out a surprised huff as Arthur hunched down to ram his shoulder into John’s ribs, knocking him clean off his feet. They wrestled on the ground, snarling, John clawing at Arthur, scratching bloody gouges down his arms and cheek, Arthur using his fists. He could hear John’s ribs cracking under the blows. As John slowed down, getting winded, Arthur hauled him over to the icy lake. Water killed their kind the quickest. Man or beast, everyone needed to breathe. He shoved John’s head under the black water and held his thrashing body down, watching bloody bubbles heave to the surface. Arthur held John in the water until Arthur was sure he’d made his point, then he hauled the shaking, coughing body back up and tossed him over near the fire.

“Better?” Arthur asked. He crouched down again, inspecting his wounds with probing fingers. The one on his throat wasn’t even bleeding anymore.

John glared at him from the fire. He was soaked and shivering, bruises reddening into splotches over his skin. “You tried to drown me.”

“You ain’t that dumb. If I wanted to drown you, I would’ve.” Arthur gestured at himself. “You don’t really wanna hurt me neither, or you would’a tried to go for my eyes. So what d’you want, John?”

John let out a low, coughing moan. He ducked his head, his lanky black hair plastered in bars over his bloody teeth. “I don’t actually rightly know.”

“Hell, maybe you are that dumb.”

“Used to think I wanted to be you,” John said, lying down onto his back. “Thought maybe I was jealous or something. Of how you’re the favourite. Of how good you could shoot, fight… I don’t know. I get funny around you. Thought I could run away for a bit and figure it out.”

“Figure it out by trying to tear out my throat?” Arthur inched closer. John didn’t budge, though he narrowed his eyes once Arthur got within reach.

“You weren’t gonna die from that. Wouldn’t even scar.” John stiffened as Arthur bent over him, pressing a hand on the gravel beside John’s cheek. “Arthur.” He squirmed, blinking. Arthur huffed as he breathed it in, the musky new scent in the air that had his cock pressing urgently against his breeches. John was growing wet. “The hell,” John said, flushing.

“Figured it out yet?” Arthur growled. He tucked fingers around John’s throat, his grip firm but not choking, holding John against the dirt. John snarled but subsided under Arthur’s stare. They’d fought and Arthur had won. The monsters they were had accepted that.

John glared up at Arthur. “You ain’t gonna win every time.”

Arthur chuckled, nuzzling John’s temple. “We’ll see.” He licked the cooling water off John’s throat, lapping up over his jaw. John dug his fingers into Arthur’s shoulders and leaned up. He hesitated with his teeth near Arthur’s throat, then he ducked his head in submission and started to lick the gouges he’d left over Arthur’s arms.

Stripping down was always a fucking trial and a half. They stumbled into Arthur’s tent, ripping at their clothes, dragging off boots and gloves. John got his teeth into the other side of Arthur’s throat but didn’t break the skin, sucking a mark over his pulse instead with a hungry moan. Skin to skin, Arthur kissed John roughly, tucking his tongue over sharpened teeth. Tasting his own blood in John’s mouth. John’s fingertips dug into his skull, scrabbled over his cheeks. He moaned as Arthur rocked his thickening cock against his thigh and let Arthur push his legs open. John was wet and yielding against Arthur’s fingers, keening as Arthur pressed them in to the knuckles, spreading him impatiently. Their mingling musk and sweat were thick in the air, making Arthur lightheaded. His cock was already starting to ache where his knot would form, and as he stroked it experimentally he could feel the mass thickening.

“John,” Arthur moaned. He kissed John as John trembled and ground himself down on Arthur’s fingers. “You gonna let me?” Arthur whispered between them, nuzzling John’s jaw. John was deliciously tight, still far too tight. Arthur growled as John clenched down over his fingers, panting but still defiant. “John.”

“Ask me nicely,” John said. He bared his stained teeth. “You wanna fuck me, alpha? Ask me. Nicely.”

“Please,” Arthur grit out, wary of the strength in the fingers curled over the back of his neck, the powerful thighs pressed against his ribs.

John laughed. “You call that asking nicely? Think you can do better than that.” He twisted his fingers into Arthur’s hair and tugged. Arthur glared at him but obeyed, shifting down to where the musk was thickest, licking a stripe up from John’s hole to his balls and to the tip of his cock. John yowled, scratching at Arthur’s shoulders. “God! That’s… Arthur, God,” John gasped as Arthur did it again.

Arthur sucked in his thickening cock, fitting what he could into his mouth. He bobbed his head as he drank, trying to hold John down at first until John shoved at the hands clenched over his hips. John groaned as he rocked into Arthur’s throat, the intrusion heavy over Arthur’s tongue. The world was falling away, the last of the chill, the gravel Arthur could feel under his knees, the snow and ice. John sobbed his name, arching as he started to come, his heels digging into the gravel as he held Arthur down. Arthur choked but took what he was given, drinking it down. Then he looked up, greedy for more.

Temporarily sated, John grinned lazily down. His eyes gleamed in the dying light, a closer shade of the moon than Arthur’s. Closer to the wolf. He pulled free and twisted around over Arthur’s sleeping roll, spreading his legs and angling up his hips. Instinct was in the driving seat for both of them. Arthur covered John with his bulk, got his teeth into the back of John’s neck as he pushed slowly inside. John keened, scrabbling at the sleeping roll but otherwise staying still. Taking Arthur beautifully, all of him. God, he was tight. Arthur ground his way deeper, moans stifled against John’s skin. Once hilted he thrust against John, the smack of their bodies loud in the silence. Just enough to seat himself as deep as he could go. Arthur bore down against John, holding him still as his knot swelled, release hollowing him out with a snarl.

They lay on their flanks, tied together. “Thought you’d last longer,” John said. He shot a cheeky smirk over his shoulder as Arthur sniffed.

“Full moon. Ain’t how it works.” Arthur nipped John reproachfully on his throat. John lifted his chin to allow it, though he was not at all cowed.

“Now what?”

“You really wanna talk?” Arthur grumbled. He was tired and wanted to sleep. “Now?”

“Full moon,” John said, with a gesture at the sky. “I know you can’t lie to me right now. No more than I can lie to you.” The part of them that was human was dormant and far away, buried under the warm noise of everything else that they were. To lie was human, and they weren’t that right now.

“A lie big enough to have kids,” Arthur said. He snickered.

John let out a startled laugh, his fey mood fading. “Hell, I never let Javier forget he said that. Mary-Beth too.”

“Yeah, I seen that. To be fair, it was probably the Reverend’s fault for not being clear.” Arthur stroked John’s flank.

“Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m thinking. Takes time.” Arthur breathed John in, the scent of him, of them both. “What d’you want?”

“Don’t quite know yet,” John said, “but I’d like to figure it out. You could come with. Until I work things through.” He’d said it defensively, avoiding Arthur’s eyes.

“Then that’s what we’d do,” Arthur said. He tucked John against him, closing his eyes. For the first time in longer than Arthur could remember, he wasn’t restless for the road and the empty plains. John’s fingers skated up his arm, stroking tenderly over the new skin on Arthur’s throat.