Somewhere in the western sky,

the stars are brighter way up high.

POSTED: Tue Jan 07, 2014 12:56 am

1955 words. Wayne reflects on his true purpose in the pack, and Chevelle leaves CdC after a last favor from Wayne.

Winter was a boon to the wolves, but it had been worrisome for Wayne McCoy. It became harder and harder for him to simply let his horses out to graze and forage for food on their own, and so he’d had to delve into the stocks of dried grasses for food for the animals—and there were a lot of them. It was a bit easier, now that he had Tennyson eagerly helping him with any task he required of the boy, but there was going to be a lot of additional work until the harsh season passed.

The doggish hybrid was leading the horses inside the fort now, riding Gypsy and cutting around to make sure that every animal was accounted for. Most were used to the routine and didn’t fuss, and it was over with quickly, before the sun had fully set. He wasn’t going to take any chances with them outside in the dark—not that he ever had. The cowboy was very careful, always sticking to procedure.

He led his own little band to the stables, where he dismounted and untacked Gypsy. He gave her a brisk rub-down with a towel, though it was too cold to wash her. Her daughter, Medley, stayed long enough for him to check her over before galloping off, probably to play with the two fillies—Lyra and Bonnie—from the island. Singer, nervous but improving, lingered beside Fern, who glowed with her pregnancy.

The wolfdog smiled at his animals. He brought the pinto’s nose forward and kissed it, scratching along her jaw. Letting her go, he stepped away, and watched as the tiny “herd” wandered off into the grass surrounding the barn. They’d sleep out there, dozing standing up or sleeping on the ground for short periods, protected by the walls of the fort.

He stared until they disappeared into the darkness, and then a great sigh left him. He would go to the Courthouse, snuggle with Sebastian until he fell asleep, and then wake at dawn and repeat the same process: let the horses out, patrol, hunt, train Tennyson and the horses, round ’em up again. There were some special cases—Merlin was a priority, as the War Lord’s prospective warhorse, and he wanted to make sure that Cochise was still making progress with Alexander and hadn’t regressed to his timid state.

Wayne saw this routine repeating itself for a very, very long time.

It filled him with some bitter amusement. He allowed himself a grimace, here in the dark away from any of his pack mates. It was inevitable, really, that the cynical cowboy would reach the conclusion that he had.

Wayne was of high standing in the pack. He was a member of the Brotherhood. It meant that he was a knight of sorts, a warrior meant to defend the weak, to uphold the ideals of the pack, to always do good.

It was all too much pomp for him; it always had been. He’d taken this long to take the Oath for a reason, and only did so now in the hopes of giving himself some purpose besides taking care of the pack’s horses. He was no more than a humble horseman, not cut out for fighting, or even for teaching anything beyond the ethics of hard work. Annabeth had not blossomed under his teaching like he’d wanted, even if their relationship was amicable. He’d never think of himself as a warrior or knight.

As far as he was concerned, right now, he had the horses. He had Sebastian too, for sure, and he would obey whatever orders Jazper and Alistair gave him. But he didn’t see himself going out of the way to do anything else but herd, and muck stables, and go to bed stinking of horse sweat.

Wayne McCoy did not truly belong in Casa di Cavalieri, the pack of knights and do-good warriors. He belonged to the stables, and to his friends and comrades, but he did not think he belonged to the spirit of the pack.

It had taken a horse thief to get him to fully acknowledge it.

***

Chevelle caught him staring at the grey stallion. She urged her dark mule forward and stood close beside Gypsy, nudging him with the butt of her shotgun. The pinto mare fussed at the proximity of Sonny for a moment before Wayne, jarred out of his reverie, pulled her away and gave the shepherd mongrel a warning look.

“As if you have the time to go out and tame wild horses,” she said, ignoring him.

He snorted and looked back at the stallion, only to find the animal gone. “Plenty of fool pups think they can,” he answered. “They think they’re experts, but they ain’t been around horses their entire lives—not like we have, not for livelihood.” He huffed. “Even Loralei, thought she could handle Prancer special when the mare was gettin’ frisky.”

“Ain’t you special,” Chevelle retorted, and turned Sonny around. She ran her hand up and down the bristle of his short mane. “You just feel threatened. First time in a long time where you ain’t the only one who knows what the hell they’re doin’, y’know? Tennyson’s smart, and you can boss him, but you can’t boss little-miss-healin’-’n’-horse-expert Veri, and you can’t boss the other Brotherhood members.” She snorted again. “You think about all the pack’s horses as your horses. I know you don’t like sharin’.”

He scowled at her, as grumpy as ever—though she’d really hit the nail on the head, as far as his jealousy went. He’d been a fretting mess with Alexander thought he could take on Cochise as his own. Didn’t he know the gelding was abused, was he really ready, was he going to ruin all the work Wayne had done for him—those were the kind of questions that had bothered him. And he’d worried that all the other Cavalieri were too stupid to treat the horses right, and then he got upset when they really did do well.

It was a lot different when it’d just been him, Anann, and Dixie-May with the horses.

“I ain’t threatened,” Wayne protested at long last, but sighed.

“You are,” Chevelle said. “The horses are all you’ve got. Other’n’ that, you’ve got your queer-ass boyfriend”—What other kind of boyfriend would I have, Wayne thought, amused—“and you’ve got clubs you hit people with. If other canines learn how t’ train warhorses, you’re done for.”

His humored smirk vanished.

“There’s more to life,” he said.

“Than horses?”

“Yeah. I’m a member of the Brotherhood, for Christ’s sake.”

Chevelle huffed. “Whatever. Ain’t my kind of life, I guess.”

He nudged his heels into Gypsy’s flanks, and mare and mule began to head down the grassy slope. It hadn’t snowed that day, and so horses were out and about playing and nibbling at the grass, but Wayne knew it’d only be a matter of time before the world was blanketed and white and more caution would need to be exercised.

As they walked, he looked at the woman. “You said this ain’t your kind of life—I mean, I thought you’d considered staying here.” He felt unusually sad.

Uncharacteristically, Chevelle didn’t meet his brown gaze. She pushed some dark hair out of her face and stared between Sonny’s tall ears. “Why would I consider it? I ain’t some pack dog, you know. I’m a horse thief, still. A loner. I care only about myself ’n’ then my family,” she said, and her voice lowered. “But that’s it. I’m not cut out for knights ’n’ advancing in some rank I can’t pronounce.”

Wayne stared at her. And he got it, and nodded, slowly, and tried not to reflect on how much this hit close to home.

“I reckon I’ll leave soon, anyway,” Chevelle murmured. “I just… wanted to help you out, cowboy. Pay my debt, ’n’ such. Reckon I’ll go tomorrow, if there ain’t any reason to wait longer ’n’ that.”

He frowned, and tried to examine his feelings. He’d grown fond of Chevelle’s company, mostly because she did good work and was familiar as another southerner and a dog. But he’d never thought, not truly, that the rebel woman would fit into Casa’s hierarchy.

“Except—” Chevelle started to add. She looked unusually awkward, flustered.

“Goddamn,” Wayne exclaimed. “You ain’t in love with me, are you?” he demanded of her, and immediately regretted the words—because if she was, that was probably the worst tone he could have asked the question. Or—maybe it was better to nip it in the bud sooner rather than later, spare her feelings. As far as he was concerned, he could go off and flirt with and sleep with whoever he wanted, but he loved Sebastian and sure as hell didn’t see himself betraying the man in that regard.

Chevelle laughed. “Ah, man, no,” she said. “Love, wow. Don’t flatter yourself there, partner. I don’t reckon I’m capable, anyway. Jesus.”

He glanced at her, wrinkling his nose, then chuckled. At least until:

“Be lyin’ if I said I ain’t attracted to you, though.” She grinned. “Handsome devil, strong, muscular,” she drawled, but laid this on so thick that he laughed again. She reached out and hit him with her shotgun again. “Hey, rude!” She laughed, but the noise trailed off. “But—well.”

Wayne glanced at her, considering her—her form, her fire. He’d been attracted to plenty of country girls before: Dixie, Kenna, Brandy. One of those women had been in heat, though, and the other two were far more submissive, the type of woman an idealistic and stupid Wayne had wanted to coddle and romance. It wasn’t so with Chevelle. He hadn’t considered—

“Now hold on,” Chevelle warned. She stopped Sonny, and Gypsy came to a halt, tossing her head, a pale cloud of breath blowing from her nostrils. The dog woman reached back to adjust her ponytail, undoing it for a moment and holding the tie in her teeth. Once she’d fixed it and put it back up again, she stared at Wayne with unprecedented seriousness. “Listen here, cowboy…

“I’ve got a different kinda proposition for ya.”

***


He heaved that sigh, then shook his head and turned away from watching the horses.

She’d agreed to meet him in one of the abandoned houses in town, rather than risk someone noticing them together at the Courthouse. He was careful not to disturb any of the Luperci who actually lived here, and found the house quickly, opening the door. He was glad to smell whiskey right away, and he grabbed the glass of it poured for him, taking a swig.

“Not too many,” Chevelle Dallas warned, and fidgeted a moment. “Well,” she said, “are we going to get this over with?”

Wayne sighed, and took her up in his arms.

There was one less person tending the horses, in the morning. Sonny was not there harassing him when he tacked Gypsy up for the ride out of the fort. Wayne was alone with his singular purpose again.

But now there was the possibility that he would find another purpose in life, a possibility he had abandoned after Dixie-May. He’d wait for a letter in sixty-three days.

Canon