The next day, between classes, Jane drove to the boarding stables that had taken in the traumatized horse. She was able to see him and get some private time because the woman’s family had decided to sell him. They didn’t want any reminders.
Jane simply told the owner of the stables that she was considering buying him. The man had snorted and warned her that he didn’t think the buckskin gelding would ever be useable again, because every time people got near him he started shaking and sweating. That had only made Jane feel worse about what she was about to do.
::Hello.:: Jane put as much reassurance and calm into her mental tone as she could, once the stable owner had left to tend his other duties.
::Who?:: The tone was panicky, and the muscled gelding backed into the corner of his stall, snorting.
::I’m Jane. What’s your name?::
::Buck. Where are you??:: Confusion was starting to overwhelm the fear in his tone. ::Can’t see you, can’t smell you. Where are you?::
::I’m right in front of you, Buck. I’m People.:: Jane kept her eyes averted from the horse, trying not to put any more pressure on him than he already felt.
::People can’t talk. Every hoof-kin knows.::
::I’m a special kind of People, Buck, I can talk, and I can hear. Would you like to smell me?:: Jane moved slowly to the door of the stall and stood leaning one shoulder against the wood, presenting her profile. She kept her face turned away and a bit down, relaxing her body and not turning her predator’s eyes on the frightened and nervous prey animal.
Buck stretched out his neck, keeping his feet planted, but couldn’t quite reach her. Even out of the corner of her eye Jane could see that every muscle in his body was wound tight, ready to flee or attack. When he couldn’t reach, he took one stiff step forward, and then another. As soon as he caught a whiff of her, he stopped, and drew her scent in.
::Are you ok?:: Jane had decided to go the roundabout way to the subject she needed. Maybe if she came at it at an angle, he would stay calmer.
::No.:: Buck’s body relaxed in increments as he detected nothing immediately threatening in her scent.
::The herd is only as strong as its weakest member.:: Jane used a phrase that she had heard from Legs. It never failed to bring the subordinate herd members to tell her their problems, so that she could fix them.
::You are not my herd. My herd is gone.::
::I am herd to every hoof-kin who needs
::You are NOT my herd.::
Jane sighed. She didn’t have the time to build a rapport with Buck, as much as she’d prefer it. She turned to face the horse full on, and drew herself up to her full height.
::I am lead mare. You cannot take that position from
Buck’s head dropped and he began mouthing the air, signaling his submission. Jane spared a moment for regret, before shaking her head and getting back to the issue at hand.
::Now, do you want to come to my range? The rest of the herd is there, and you will be safe with them.:: Jane had already made up her mind that she’d be taking this horse home, if he wanted it. She wouldn’t force him, but he deserved a place where he’d be safe and able to recover. Legs would know how to take care of him.
::Hoof-kin, or People like you?::
::Both.:: Buck was smarter than she’d originally thought. He might come through ok after all. She used the connection she’d formed with the horse to send him an impression of the ranch, the horses and the people there, and most importantly, the safety of the herd again.
::I will come.:: Buck’s body relaxed, in a subtle and different way, once he tacitly accepted membership into Jane’s herd. He was a herd animal, and in his mind, with the death of his previous owner, his entire herd had been taken from him.
Jane sighed in relief. She could tease the story out of him by inches at the ranch, or even better, ask Legs to help him. Joseph could wait for his information. And while she was thinking of Joseph…
“Joseph, it’s Jane. I need you to transfer four thousand dollars into my account.” Jane tried to keep the grin out of her voice. This was going to be an interesting conversation, and she was far enough away from Joseph himself that she could enjoy it.
“And why, exactly, do you need that?” Joseph’s voice was steady, but she could hear a note of puzzlement in his tone, along with a hint of suspicion.
“Because you just bought a horse. One registered buckskin Quarter Horse gelding, with a big long name on his papers. But he answers to Buck.” Jane bit the inside of her cheek to keep from giggling. A werewolf owning a horse, that was a rich one. But she couldn’t afford to buy Buck herself right now, and after all it was Joseph’s pack that orphaned the poor creature. They could make up for it by financing his purchase.
“And what, precisely, am I going to do with a horse, besides give it a heart attack?” She could practically hear the gears turning in his head as he thought over the implications of her statements. And about whether or not she was challenging his authority by basically demanding the money.
“You’re going to put him into training on my parents’ ranch, that’s what. I’ll work with him on my off time from school. We’ll have to completely redirect him away from trail riding, of course, but he’s got a good mind and the right bloodlines to be a cowhorse. We’ll see how he does when confronted with an actual bovine.” Jane examined her fingernails as she leaned against the side of the barn, keeping her voice airy. The stable manager watched her from across the yard, knowing that she was talking to a potential buyer. She hadn’t given the man a definite yes or no yet. If Joseph balked she was going to have to find some other way to come up with the money.
“Jane, is this that horse I sent you to interrogate?” Joseph’s voice dropped a couple of octaves, hovering just above his growl tones.
This is where it gets interesting, Jane thought. “You didn’t send me anywhere, pack leader, you came to me for help.”
“Fine, is this that horse that I asked you to interrogate?” Jane listened closely to his intonations. Even tenor, level, not monotone, but not moving from that almost-growl either. Good.
“Why yes, Joseph, my friend, it is. He’s too traumatized to give me any information until he bonds with another herd. Hell, he’s too traumatized to do anything but go to my herd, if he doesn’t get some help he’s going to have to be put down.” Jane made sure her tone imparted exactly how she felt about that option.
“And you think I should finance his rescue why?”
“The pack leader is responsible for the actions of his pack.” Jane was quoting one of the etiquette lessons that Joseph had given her all those years ago. She left it at that. Joseph could, by pack law, deny any responsibility for the horse, but that would mean he was denying Serina as a member of his pack. He could accept the responsibility for the horse’s condition, but decide that his responsibility was to spend a couple of hundred dollars having it euthanised instead of thousands of dollars buying it and a token fee for the books every month on the “training.”
There was a long silence, and Jane was getting nervous when Joseph finally said “Is there a transfer fee for the… title?”
“There’s a small fee, plus a membership fee for the American Quarter Horse Association. And it’s registration papers, not a title. He’s a horse, not a car.” Jane went a little limp with relief.
“I’ll expect you to actually do something with him. If I’m going to own a horse, it’s not going to be a lawn ornament. I’ll expect progress reports.” Joseph’s tone was much lighter now that he’d apparently decided to make the best of it.
“Well, he’ll need a few months at least of just running with the herd to form a proper bond and to recover from his trauma. But after that, he’ll need a job.”
“You’re the trainer. Give me the address and the total cost for the horse, and I’ll have a check cut and sent over.”
Jane did, and gave the stable owner the thumbs up. He sagged with relief. He’d been worried that he’d never sell the horse, he’d confided to Jane, and he’d have to put the poor beastie down. Jane had told him that she knew a philanthropist who might be interested in rescuing the “poor beastie” just for the sake of the rescue.
She might have told the stable owner a white lie, but it was better than the truth. And it all worked out in the end, she thought as she made arrangements to pick Buck up and trailer him to the ranch.
“Why me?” Jane moaned to herself as she walked out of the class room.
“Why you what?” Trevor bumped her with his shoulder, nearly shoving her into the bulletin board. At six foot two, and a hundred and eighty pounds of well-toned muscle, Trevor dwarfed Jane’s slender five foot seven frame.
“Watch it, you giant! Why me a test to study for this weekend on top of everything else. I have entirely too much to do, and I can’t afford to blow off any of it.” Jane grimaced as they passed the rooms containing the nursing classes. This week they were covering enemas, and had been begging everyone for volunteers. Her steps quickened until the hallway opened up into the atrium.
Trev slapped one hand to his forehead, and held the other out, as if groping for something in the dark. “I foresee…. I foresee you losing sleep!” His eyes shut tight, Trev didn’t see Jane reach up to flick his ear. “Ow! What was that for?”
“Just because you see the future doesn’t mean you get to be an ass.” Jane snickered at the comical hang-dog look on Trevor’s face.
“But it’s true, you are going to lose sleep. You’re also going to lose weight if someone doesn’t make sure you eat.” Trevor looked at her, trying to be stern. Jane wasn’t convinced, though. She’d known him long enough that she still saw the chubby six year old snot inside the large young man. He was well able to intimidate anyone else, but not Jane.
“I’m sure you don’t mean to be overbearing, Trev,” Jane said with a look that told him he’d better not mean it, “but I’ll be perfectly fine.”
“Uh huh, right. So dinner tonight?” Trevor ignored her look and smiled down at her.
“Fine. But you’re buying.”
“Ok, I can handle that. Hey, you might want to stay away from
Brat still won’t give me the lotto numbers though, Jane thought.
“Thanks. How about Chinese?” Jane asked.
“Sounds good, I’ll see you later.” Trev gave her a one armed hug, and headed off to his next class. He turned back with a big grin, and said “And, congratulations on your nuptials.”
“What?!?!?” But Trev just laughed and jogged off.