Title: Western Lovers: Cowboys and Biologists <20/33>
Beta the patient and talented charlieisagirl
Rating: NC-17 for the series, and for this chapter.
Summary: David is a hard, jaded warrior, Orlando is a biologist tracking Big Cats on the Double L.
Feedback: Feedback is my writers crack, which is not to be confused at all with plumbers crack.
Disclaimer: Not at all true in reality. These men whilst adorable and perfectly happy to slash themselves, their actual relationship is something that they only know. This story is adapted from a series of books that I adored when I was younger written by Elizabeth Lowell.
Word Count: 3615
Previous Story: Can be found here
Previous Ordaisy chapter: As suggested by mystery_ink can be found here
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1| Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4| Chapter 5| Chapter 6| Chapter 7| Chapter 8| Chapter 9| Chapter 10| Chapter 11| Chapter 12| Chapter 13| Chapter 14| Chapter 15| Chapter 16| Chapter 17| Chapter 18| Chapter 19
Posted to: fellowshippers, monaboyd and ordaisy
Header Art: Courtesy of the incredibly talented loki_girl.
Author’s Notes: Special thanks to dylan_dufresne.
Orlando took a deep, shaking breath and acknowledged the truth to himself: David was hurting. Badly. And there was nothing that he would let Orlando do to help. When he had refused to leave David’s side and return to his cat tracking, David had given him no options. He had thrown a pack into the back of Orlando’s pick up and waited until Orlando had loaded Baby into the back and started the trek to Fangorn Canyon. In silence.
Once they arrived, David had wordlessly waited for Orlando to collect his gear and sling his pack onto his back before they had set out for the higher country. Orlando had followed patiently, smiling as David unconsciously offered a hand of affection to Baby as the wolf sensed his pain and persisted in pushing his head under David’s hand as they walked.
Standing now, watching David in the snow, his cold eyes staring into the distance, long fingers scratching idly through the thick ruff of fur on Baby’s neck, Orlando swallowed nervously. “You know, David, I do understand. I do really I do. But we’ve had this conversation before. I meant it then and I mean it now. You won’t love me. I can’t help loving you. Too bad. The earth’s still turning, the seasons won’t stop changing and babies are born, the weak die and there’s nothing we can do about that either.”
“Don’t, David.” Orlando advised him, stepping closer. “We’re alive. Both of us. No matter what happens, I want to live, David. Live…”
“Even if it means I hurt you?” David turned to look into Orlando’s face, his voice filled with pain.
“Even then. What you want me to do is not living, David, it’s existing, and I owe it to my dead sister to live my life to the fullest. I won’t regret falling in love with you. But I will regret not loving you, pain or no pain.”
“Knowing what life truly is…” David hesitated, not wanting to hurt his lover more but needing to ask. “How can you?”
Orlando looked into the savage depths of David’s eyes and saw a curiosity that was as great as his wariness, as intense as the passion that burned for him…he was in every sense a wolf circling closer and closer to the beckoning campfire, pulled towards the flames against his deepest instinct of self preservation, enthralled by the radiant possibilities of the fire.
“I can’t do anything else, David.”
David pointed off to the right where a deer had left tracks along the margin of the open forest. “Follow those tracks, Orlando. They’ll tell you all you need to know about the true nature of living.”
Without a word Orlando signaled for Baby to heel and began following the deer tracks, knowing what he would find. The mama cougar was alive, which meant other life must die to sustain the cat. It was the way it had always been. It was the way it would always be. Life fed. Life must take life to survive. It was the very thing that distinguished life from death.
The deer tracks ended in a tumult of snow and muddy earth. Cougar tracks led away. The cat had been walking easily despite the limp burden of the deer clenched in its jaws and the hoofed feet dragging across the snow.
“A quick, clean kill,” Orlando said calmly, reading the tracks. “There’s nothing surprising in that. Cougars are among the most efficient predators on earth. All you have to do is watch them move and you know that they’re supremely adapted for the hunt and the kill.” He waited, but David said nothing. Taking a deep breath, he turned and confronted the warrior he loved.
“In moose country,” he continued, “A cougar will routinely stalk and kill moose that weigh up to eight times more than the cat does. Sometimes the moose wins and the cougar is injured. Cats are tough. It takes them a long time and horrifying amount of pain before they die. When it comes to death, nature is much more cruel to predators than predators are to their own prey.”
David simply watched Orlando with bleak eyes, saying nothing.
“And man is the only predator who can see into the future,” Orlando continued in a soft, relentless voice, his eyes never breaking contact with David’s. “Man knows that he, too, will die. That’s the critical difference between us and cougars. Yet even knowing that we’ll die, mankind is capable of creating as well as destroying, of loving as well as hating, of true living as well as sheer animal survival. Violent death is only a part of human reality, and not even the most important part at that.”
“And I suppose that love is?” David asked, sarcasm filling his voice.
“Yes.” Without realizing it Orlando raised his hand to the open collar of his jacket. He touched his throat, reassured by the familiar presence of Savannah’s ring. “Love is never wasted, never in vain. Never. But it can hurt like nothing else on earth.”
David watched with narrowed, cynical eyes, wanting to argue with him, to shake him from his foolish belief in love; yet the words died unspoken, for Orlando’s pain was very real and not foolish at all.
Saying nothing more, Orlando turned away from David, lifted the binoculars and searched the landscape, trying to forget David.
“What if there’s no hope for that love?”
“There’s always hope.”
“Not when all hope died so long ago.” David growled, turning his back to Orlando, struggling against the ocean of emotion that was beginning to wash over him like a tsunami. “I won’t let myself. I can’t I’ve seen what it does. It’s a predator, a cancer that lays in wait and knocks you to your knees and then goes for the jugular. I won’t be a victim of that.”
Orlando grit his teeth and clenched his fingers around the binoculars until his knuckles whitened, desperate to turn and take his lover into his arms and soothe the pain he heard in him.
“Then until you can let go of your fear, you’ll never really live.”
His misty eyes found the place where the cougar had dragged the deer and watched without seeing. He examined the remains of the cougar’s meal with the eyes of a biologist rather than those of a man who loved deer as well as cougars. Usually cats ate their fill, raked debris over the remains and walked off to nap nearby, returning to feed until the carcass was consumed or the remains disturbed by other predators. A careful survey with the glasses allowed Orlando to pick up the cougars tracks without coming close enough to alert the wary animal when it returned to feed.
The big wolf came to Orlando’s side instantly, eyes alert, his whole being intent upon the man who had rescued him from an agonizing steel trap despite his own attempts to savage the very hands that were helping him. Gently, firmly, Orlando’s fingers wrapped around Baby’s muzzle in a command for silence.
The change that went over the wolf was indescribable. It was as though he had been standing in shadow and then stepped out into the sun. Past experience told Baby that the command to be quiet meant that the object of the hunt was probably close by, and the wolf was a predator from the tip of his erect ears down to the black pads of his feet. Walking as though on springs, Baby followed Orlando in a wide semi circle around the deer carcass. When he came across the fresh cat tracks, he bristled but made not one sound.
For over a mile they followed the tracks, David following Orlando as silently as Baby. The cougar’s tracks led up a long, shallow rise where trees offered only sparse cover, if any at all. Where the snow had melted through, a distinct green blush covered the ground. Despite the intermittent snow squalls, spring would not be denied.
Partway up the slope it became obvious that if the cougar’s den was on the far side; David would clear the rise first. Orlando didn’t want to panic the cat, maybe sending it searching for a new den. All he wanted to do was find the tracks and follow them to the den where he could watch the cat from a distance so as not to disturb the animal.
Frowning, Orlando tested the wind direction with a wet fingertip. He tested again and shrugged. The wind was weak, but unpredictable. Thankfully, scent wasn’t nearly the problem it would have been if he had been tracking wolves. Cougars depended on their eyes and ears rather than their noses.
Orlando stopped, looked at the gentle slope rising ahead of him, and sighed. It would be a cold, wet and sometimes muddy crawl, but there for no help for it if he hoped to get to the top without giving away their presence. He slipped out of his backpack, but before he set it aside, David went past him like a golden wraith. He had removed his hat and backpack but had kept his rifle.
Crouching, taking advantage of every scrap of cover, crawling on hands and knees and finally on his stomach, David went up the slope with a speed and silence that sent a shiver over Orlando. David moved like a cougar – confident, soundless, graceful and potentially lethal.
Let me tell you what the real world is like, fairy-tale boy…you walk through a narrow mountain pass in single file with five handpicked men and arrive at your destination and look around you and you’re alone, nothing on the back trail but blood and silence.
David eased up behind the cover of a bush, slowly pulled his binoculars out of his jacket, and began quartering the slope below. The cougar’s tracks continued, zigzagging across a boulder field where ancient trees had fallen like jackstraws. The tracks vanished. They didn’t reappear anywhere on the new snow beyond.
Patiently David scanned the boulders, looking for several big stones canted together to create a sheltered hollow, or for an uprooted tree, or for any irregularity in the land that would provide a den for a mama cougar and her cubs. Finally he spotted a collection of boulders with an opening at their base where a tree had blown down and created a small cave between the uprooted tree and the rocks. In the darkness of the hollow lay a long and tawny shadow.
David focused the glasses and found himself looking at the white muzzle, wheat-colored cheeks and sleek black facial marking of an adult female cougar. There was no doubt about the cat’s gender, for she was lying on her side while three spotted cubs nursed enthusiastically.
Slowly David put down the glasses and looked until he spotted the den once more. He memorized landmarks, cover, approaches, and the general lie of the land with the thoroughness of a man who’s life had depended on knowing just such information in the past. When he was satisfied that he could find the den again, he retreated down the slope as quickly and silently as he had gone up it.
Orlando waited for him at the bottom, a silent question in his eyes. David nodded and slid his hand up along Orlando’s cheek, holding him while he bent down until he could speak directly against his ear. Although there was little chance of the cat’s hearing them, David knew that voices carried an astonishing distance in the snowy silence.
“She’s denned up about two hundred feet beyond the far side of the rise,” he said softly, his breath ruffling the soft curls around Orlando’s ear.
A shudder coursed through Orlando’s body, but it came from the touch of David’s hand rather than from the news about the mama cougar.
“Did she sense you?” Orlando asked, his voice low and soft.
“No.” David lowered his hand. “She’s still sleeping off her meal. I doubt she’ll be out and about before sunset. Maybe not even then.”
“Do you have a clear field of vision from the ridge?”
“Pretty good. It would be even better from there,” David said pointing to a spot farther along the crest, “But that’s the way she went from her kill to the den. I figured you didn’t want to leave tracks there.”
“Not until she’s finished with the carcass.”
Orlando tried to think of possible hiding places, places to build a blind for observation, places where the cougar wouldn’t be likely to find them and become alarmed; but all he could think about in that instant was how close David was and how much closer he had been in the past.
Motionless, David watched Orlando’s changing eyes and the delicate pressure of his teeth against his lower lip, the fiddling of Orlando’s fingers over David’s jacket hem while he thought about other things. If Orlando had been aware of his actions, David would have been angry. But David knew that Orlando wasn’t aware of what he was doing. Unfortunately, that knowledge did nothing to counter the sudden hard rush of his blood when Orlando’s hand brushed against his jeans. David captured Orlando’s fingers and placed them on his beard.
“If you have to pet me while you think, keep it above the waist.”
Orlando flushed. “I didn’t mean…”
“I know,” David interrupted tightly. “You weren’t thinking about what you were doing. But I was. I like being petted by you. I like it way too much. The ground is cold and hard and wet, but I wouldn’t care, and after a few minutes you wouldn’t either. The mama cougar might get kind of curious though. You make such wild sounds when I’m buried in you.”
Orlando’s color deepened to scarlet.
“Don’t,” David said in a husky voice, knowing he shouldn’t speak but unable to help himself. “I like hearing you, feeling you, smelling you, tasting you. I liked it too damn much. You were a virgin, but you took all of me and shivered with pleasure…” David let his breath rush out between his teeth in a hissing curse. “I came up here for cougars, not sex. So get up there on that slope and watch your mama cat, fairytale boy. I’ll circle around and reconnoiter the far side.”
David turned and walked off, heading away from the rise, moving with easy, powerful stride that was as much a part of him as his pale blue eyes. Orlando watched him for a full minute before he took a ragged breath, turned around and went up the rise, following the tracks that David had made.
I came up here for cougars, not sex.
The words hurt, but he had no more meant to hurt Orlando than he had meant for his absentminded fidgeting to arouse David.
You wouldn’t have gotten sex from me, David Wenham. You never have. You never will. What I gave you was love, not sex, and somewhere deep inside your stubborn warrior soul you know that too.
There was no answer but the one implicit in the nickname David had given him.