Disclaimer: I don't own High Mountain Rangers, not making any money, just cheap thrills.
Warnings: Angst, AU
Italics= Shoshone language
A Man Called Hawkes
"You will remain here my son?" Grey Wolf asked.
"Haa," White Eagle replied.
Grey Wolf met his son's eyes, his own shining with pride. He knew his son would take good care of the boy he had adopted as his dawi. "You will be careful?" Grey Wolf couldn't help worrying for his eldest child, man though he was. Leaving him here to live amongst the whites, knowing the hostility he would face, was the most difficult thing he had ever done. Yet, taking him from the child who needed him would be more difficult still.
White Eagle nodded. "I will see you next summer." His words both a promise and a reassurance that he would be careful of those who would greet his presence with hostility and violence. Clasping his father's arm in a warrior's greeting, he said his goodbyes.
"Why aren't you going with them?" Matt asked. He had watched them talking, though he only understood a word here and there. He never had taken to the Shoshone language like Cody had. When he had seen the two older men walking away he had been surprised. Moving away from the porch, he had come to stand next to the slightly older boy.
White Eagle turned his head, giving the blond a short glance. "Dawi needs me."
Matt bristled. "I can take care of him."
White Eagle sighed. Always with this one he must be careful of his feelings. It was strange that it would be the older, less coddled boy who would be most prone to hurt feelings. No, that wasn't right and White Eagle knew it. It wasn't hurt feelings, it was wounded pride and fear that was at the root of these outbursts. "It has been two moons since the attack and he yet clings to me. Would you have me leave him?"
Matt knew it was true and it hurt. "It should be me and Pa that he clings to."
"He needs you too Matt. You are his brother. I wouldn't change that if I could," White Eagle assured the boy.
"But he calls you his brother too, his papi," Matt mumbled.
White Eagle frowned. It was clear from the boy's tone that he resented this. He had thought they were past such resentment. "He does and I am, but he does not cling to me because his feelings for me are stronger."
Matt looked up from the ground, staring at the older boy. He wasn't sure he believed him, but he was curious. "Then why?"
"Because it was I and my family who saved him from the white devils. If you and your father had come home in time to save him it would be you he clings to."
"We should've taken them with us to town." Matt insisted, looking away from the older boy.
White Eagle shook his head. This child was so filled with anger and resentment that it would eat him alive if he didn't rid himself of it. "You have left them behind before?"
Matt nodded, "Every year."
"To look after the livestock and Ma didn't really like traveling in the heat. We should've taken them this time. Cody wanted to go, but Pa told him he wasn't old enough."
"There have been problems before?"
Matt shook his head, "No, but we still should've taken them." He looked up to see White Eagle staring at him. "What?" he snapped.
"What signs did you miss?"
"Signs? What are you talking about?"
"You say there were no problems but you insist your mother and Cody should not have been left alone. There must have been signs of trouble that you see now were missed," White Eagle patiently explained.
Matt thought over the Shoshone's words for a time. Finally he sighed, "No, there weren't any signs," he admitted. "But if we had..."
"Enough," White Eagle growled. "You cannot live in the past, you must live in the now. The past cannot be changed, you can only move forward."
Matt was startled by the vehemence in White Eagle's voice. In all of the years he had known him, White Eagle had always been calm and patient. Even when he had accused the older boy of hurting him, the indian had not raised his voice. The difference got his attention. "How do I do that?"
White Eagle sighed. "You must discover that for yourself. It is different for each man."
Matt looked towards the barn, his face screwed up in thought. "Maybe if he could it'd be easier."
White Eagle followed his gaze, together they watched as Cody sat in the loft, silently watching for something. Once physically recovered his dawi had taken to spending every moment of wakefulness outside. Only with the insistence of his brother would he come inside the small cabin. White Eagle suspected the little one was attacked by memories of that day each time he entered the cabin. It would explain why he remained outside as much as possible.
It would have been less worrying if Cody spent his time playing, but that was not the case. When he wasn't clinging to White Eagle, he was in the barn loft, watching with a stillness that would rival any of The People. Grey Wolf had suggested he was watching for signs of danger; Running Elk had thought he was perhaps looking for the mother he had lost. White Eagle didn't know which was true, maybe both, and not knowing left him feeling more frustrated than he could ever remember. Something had to be done for his dawi. He had lost one brother because of the white man, he would not lose another.
"He at it again?"
Matt jerked, surprised to hear his father's voice. Turning around, he took in his father's appearance. For the first time in two months his hair had been combed, his beard trimmed and he had put on clean clothes. "Um...yes sir," Matt replied. He hadn't even known his father was aware of what any of them were doing. While Cody hid outside as much as possible, their father hid inside the room he'd shared with their mother, coming out only to use the privy or eat the ocassional meal.
Laying a callused hand on the boy's thin shoulder, Jesse gently squeezed. "I haven't made this any easier for you, have I son?"
Matt shrugged, "It's okay. You've been grieving."
"So have you," Jesse quietly pointed out. "I shouldn't have shut you out, that wasn't fair to you," he glanced towards the barn, "or your brother."
"I wanted to help him but he wouldn't let me," Matt confessed. "He turned to White Eagle and I couldn't come to you," he nearly choked on the words.
Jesse sighed, his heart breaking at the quietly spoken admission. "White Eagle could you keep an eye on Cody?"
The young indian quietly agreed, his eyes never leaving the loft where his dawi sat.
Matt looked between the two of them, confusion clearly written on his face. "Pa?"
"Walk with me son." Turning away, Jesse led the way around the back of the cabin and to the spot where his beautiful Jacklyn lay in her eternal rest. He said nothing, waiting patiently for his oldest to join him. He heard him moving slowly towards him, his steps hesitant. Jesse wondered if this was the first time Matt had visited his mother's resting place. Finally Matt stood next to him, stiff and uncertain, almost as if he were afraid of what his father would say to him. Wanting to reassure him, Jesse draped an arm over his son's shoulders, pulling him near. Yet he said nothing, merely waited for his son to speak. Just as he was about to give up, the silence was broken.
"I miss her, miss my family," Matt said in a voice thick with emotion.
"I know son, but your brother and I are still here," Jesse reminded him.
Matt shook his head. "You haven't been and I don't know if Cody will ever get better. He don't hardly talk, except to White Eagle and that's usually in Shoshone. It's..." he trailed off, unsure of how to describe what he was sensing from his brother.
"It's what son," Jesse quietly encouraged him to speak his mind. "Matt?" He was growing concerned by the continued silence. What was Matt afraid to tell him?
"Sometimes I think he's trying to pretend he isn't white," Matt finally admitted. He shrugged, uncertain if he should even be saying this. What if his father decided to send White Eagle away? As angry as he had been earlier, Matt knew that his little brother needed the indian boy. He didn't think he'd ever truly understand why Cody needed the Shoshone, but if White Eagle's presence helped his brother then he would do whatever he had to in order to ensure he stayed. "White Eagle says it's because it was him and his family that rescued him. He said if it'd been us that got here first then Cody would be clinging to me and you."
Jesse nodded, "That makes sense. But what's this about him pretending he isn't white?" He had nothing against the Shoshone and was more grateful to White Eagle than he could ever say. Had he and his family not arrived when they had he would have buried Cody next to his mother. Jesse bit back a sob at the thought of how much more they could have lost that awful day.
"I ain't sure," Matt admitted. "Just that he talks in Shoshone more than English. Do you think he doesn't want to be white because it was white men that hurt him and...and Ma?"
Jesse thought the question over carefully. "I doubt he doesn't want to be white son..."
"Then why doesn't he hardly speak English anymore?" Matt demanded, his anger getting the better of him. Almost immediately his eyes dropped, his entire being flooded with shame. "I'm sorry Pa."
"You don't owe me an apology son, not this time. You've every right in the world to be angry."
The toe of one boot scuffed at the dirt, green eyes never raising to see the pain of regret in his father's eyes. "Shouldn't be angry at you."
"Why not? I hid myself away, practically burying myself right along with your mother. Left you to deal with your own grief and that of your brother as best you could."
Matt sighed. He didn't know what to say. How could he explain that he didn't even know how to grieve? He wasn't sure he could, not a tear had been shed by him since the day they put Ma in the ground. "Why do you think Cody barely speaks English?"
Jesse smiled grimly. He knew what Matt was trying to do, well he'd let him for now. "I think that some things, some emotions are easier to express in Shoshone. The indians don't always look at things the way we do, maybe your brother just finds it easier to deal with his grief as his Shoshone friends would." Pausing, he glanced towards the front of the cabin. "And maybe he heard such ugly things that day, harsh words in English, that speaking Shoshone helps him forget the horror of that day."
"I didn't think about it like that. Guess maybe it doesn't seem like such a bad thing when ya think of it that way." The small smile that had begun to form was gone so fast a man could be forgiven for wondering if it had ever been. "I think you should talk to him. Maybe it ain't so bad, him speaking Shoshone, but he'll listen if you tell him to talk English too. Ma wouldn't want him to forget how to talk proper and all."
His tone was so serious Jesse didn't dare smile at the irony of the statement. "I will son, I will," he promised. "Right now, though, I want to talk about you."
"What about me?" Matt looked up, clearly startled.
"Matt...son, it's all right to cry. You need to grieve."
Matt nodded, "Just cause I don't cry all the time doesn't mean I can't."
Jesse raised an eyebrow at that. The defensive tone made it all too obivious that the statement wasn't entirely truthful. "Have you cried since the funeral?" he quietly asked.
"Ain't none of your business," Matt snapped.
As the boy turned to stomp away Jesse grabbed his arm, pulling him up short. "I'm your father and I won't have you speaking to me in that tone."
"I'm sorry Pa, I didn't mean it," Matt meekly responded.
"You've got to let the grief and anger out Matt before it eats you alive," Jesse warned.
"It scares me," Matt softly admitted.
"Tell me son, tell me what scares you," Jesse encouraged his eldest son.
Matt frowned, looking away from his father, unable to meet that penetrating gaze.
"I wish White Eagle and his folks hadn't killed those men," Matt snarled.
Jesse blinked, taken aback by the venom in his son's voice. He had known the boy was angry, how could he not be, but he'd had no idea it ran so deep. Had his absence from day to day life allowed the hatred Matt felt to fester, to grow deeper than it would have if Jesse had been the father he should have been? Swallowing his own guilt he bit back the apology he'd been about to utter. The apology would come, but first this fury needed to be dealt with. "Why?"
"Why?" Matt yelled. "After what they did to Ma and Cody do you really need to ask?" Matt was furious, had been since the day they buried his mother; now that fury had a target. Almost without his knowledge Matt's hand formed a fist, striking out to catch his father on the chin, knocking him to the ground. With a wild howl of grief and rage he fell upon his father, pummeling the man without mercy. "I hate them! Would kill them! Why did they...why did we...I want my family back...miss Ma..." Matt screamed, each word puncuated by fists hitting the flesh of his father's body.
Jesse resisted the urge to fight back, offering only enough resistance to prevent any serious injury being inflicted. Matt might still be a child, but of an equal height to Jesse and strong from years of hard work, he could easily cause serious damage. Suddenly, as if a string had been cut, Matt collapsed onto his father, sobs welling up from deep within his soul. Jesse slowly sat up, arms wrapped tightly around his son. Silently he rocked the boy. Jesse grieved with his son; grieved for the loss of Jacklyn; grieved for the loss of his boys' innocence; grieved for the empty place within all of their souls, a spot that would never be filled, try as they might.
An indeterminable amount of time later Matt's sobs slowed. Shame filled him, he was fourteen, nearly a man, but it had felt so good to release his grief while cradled in his father's arms. Feeling a mix of emotions Matt slowly pulled away. Keeping his head down, he couldn't bare to see the look he was sure would be in his father's eyes. He jerked in surprise as fingers grasped his chin, raising his head.
Jesse waited until he could see Matt's eyes. "There isn't anything wrong with expressing your grief son."
"Men aren't supposed to cry. Only weaklings, women and children cry," Matt argued.
"Really? Do you think I'm weak?"
Matt was shocked. His father weak? That was ridiculous, his father was the strongest man he knew and he said as much.
"All this time I've spent holed up in my room, what do you think I've been doing?" Jesse softly asked. He knew, all too well, that common wisdom gave young boys and men the idea that expressing emotion was to be avoided. But when a man was faced with a devasting loss he quickly realized the impossibility of keeping his grief inside.
"I cried son. I cried until I thought there couldn't be any tears left and then I cried some more."
Jesse sighed, it was clear that Matt was shocked by the idea. He realized, in that moment, that he had done his children even more of a disservice than he had first imagined. "I did," he honestly replied. He gently brushed the tears from his son's face. "Tell the truth son, don't you feel better for the tears?"
Matt nodded, he couldn't deny it. "I feel like a burden is...not gone, but lighter. Does that make sense?"
Jesse gave him a sad smile, "perfect sense son." Pulling the boy forward, he hugged him tightly. Silently he promised himself that he wouldn't forget to give his boys these expressions of his love. They would need it if they were to grow into good men, men their mother would be proud of.
"Pa?" Matt said, his voice muffled by his father's chest.
"I'm worried about Cody. It ain't right, him clinging to White Eagle and talking Shoshone most of the time. The only time he ain't near White Eagle he's up in the barn loft, looking for something. Even then he keeps track of where White Eagle is. If he don't see him he climbs down and starts looking for him."
"Guess I better have that talk with him now." He held Matt at arms length, quietly looking him over. "Will you be okay?"
Matt nodded. "I want my little brother back."
"You know he'll likely never be the same," Jesse quietly pointed out. "We'll do what we can to help him, but something like this...it leaves a mark on the soul. The kind of mark that never leaves."
"But he'll get better, won't he?" Matt had known the events of that awful day had affected his brother deeply, how could he not? He had thought, with the innocence of youth, that with time his brother would get back to his old self. He was just now realizing that might not happen and it scared him, badly.
Jesse nodded, "I think he will son. I just don't want you expecting him to act like he did before. He'll carry that day with him for the rest of his life; it's bound to affect him."
"I didn't realize, but I won't forget." Matt gave his father a gentle nudge in the direction of the barn. "Go talk to Cody, I'm just gonna sit here by Ma for a bit."
"You take all the time you need son." A quick hug and Jesse finally moved away, heading for the barn and his youngest. He could only hope that he would be able to help Cody. Moving into the yard, he saw White Eagle where he'd left him. Though he knew the young man had probably heard at least some of his conversation with Matt, the Shoshone gave no indication of it. His focus remained where it had been when he and Matt had left. "Has he moved at all?"
White Eagle shook his head. "He does not move much ever."
"What do you suppose he's looking for?" Jesse asked. He hoped White Eagle would have an answer that would help him.
"I do not know. Perhaps he looks for signs of danger, perhaps he looks for the mother he lost."
Jesse swallowed hard. He really hoped the latter wasn't the case. It would be hard enough to convince the boy that men like those who had attacked his family were rare, Jesse didn't know what he would do if Cody was looking for Jacklyn. How would he make the boy understand that she was gone, that there would be no coming back for her? Bracing himself, he headed towards the barn.
Cody had seen his father from the corner of his eye. Even as he watched the distant horizon for anything that could hurt his family, he kept half an eye on the yard and cabin. He wouldn't fail again. He would learn to be aware, the way his papi was. Never again would somebody take him by surprise. He would learn and he would become stronger so he could protect his family. In spite of seeing his father moving towards the barn, he didn't realize Jesse intended to join him in the loft until he heard the creak of the ladder.
Turning away from the loft door, he picked up the stick he had brought up with him. Holding it ready, Cody prepared to swing if anybody other than his father entered the loft.
Jesse blinked, surprised by the sight that greeted him as his head cleared the opening of the loft. "Cody?"
Cody dropped the stick and turned back to the outside door, once again taking up his sentry position. He couldn't look his father in the eyes.
Finishing the climb, Jesse quietly moved towards his youngest. Squatting down beside him, he looked towards the horizon. "Find what you're looking for?"
Cody's gaze never wavered. He was honestly surprised his father was talking to him. When his brother and father had first come home he had been relieved. He had feared they were gone too, that the bad men had found them before they came to his home. He had expected his father to hold him, had braced himself for the pain it would bring. It hadn't happened. Instead his father had spent a couple of minutes by his side before he turned away and entered the room where his mother lay. He didn't blame him. Why would his father want to be near the son who had failed? He had been left behind to look after his mother but he hadn't kept a good lookout and his mother had suffered because of his failure. The young boy forgot, while he was heaping blame on himself, that he was only a child and in all the years they had lived here nothing bad had ever happened, not like that day.
Jesse watched his youngest, the blue eyes never flickering from the task Cody had appointed himself. It concerned him, the stillness of the young child. Cody was only seven years old, he should be running around the yard and the woods, whooping and hollering, not sitting still while silently watching the horizon. As he watched he noticed the child beginning to tremble, for the life of him he couldn't figure out why.
"Cody," he quietly called. The only response was an infintesimal flinch. "Please look at me son." Jesse sucked in a breath. He wasn't sure what he was expecting but the fear and shame he saw in the glistening eyes of his youngest certainly wasn't it. "What is it son?"
Cody looked away. How could he accept the love he saw in his father's eyes? He didn't deserve that love, didn't understand how the man could still love him. "I'm sorry Pa," he finally whispered, the weight of his guilt becoming too heavy to carry any longer.
Jesse was puzzled. "Sorry? Cody son you don't have anything to be sorry about."
"I do," came the nearly inaudible response.
"I don't think you do," Jesse countered. When no further response was forthcoming, he dug deeper. "Alright, what do you think you have to be sorry about?"
Cody swallowed back his tears. He wouldn't cry. Crying would make his father feel sorry for him and he didn't deserve his pity. Stricken by the ennormity of his guilt and failure he managed a stuttering reply, "I ffailed."
Jesse's confusion was growing each time his son spoke. "Failed? I don't understand son, how do you think you failed?"
He was going to make him say it. Cody's small shoulders began to shake with the effort of holding back his tears. "I...Ma...was supposed to look...my job...failed..."
"Oh God," Jesse cried out, pulling the small boy into his arms. "No...no son you didn't fail. I promise you." His heart broke anew as he imagined the horrible guilt Cody must have been carrying all this time. He sighed as he felt the small head nod against his chest.
"You said I had to look after her but they surprised me. Ma had her gun but one of them got me and said he'd shoot me. That's why she put her gun down and then I couldn't stop them from hurting her." Once started, he couldn't seem to stop and the horrors of that day came tumbling out. "They said horrible things to her, called her mean names and they hurt her. I closed my eyes, but I could still hear them, could hear her crying. I don't know how long it was but all of a sudden it got real quiet and then they told me to open my eyes. Ma was there, he was holding her and...and...he cut her throat...her blood was on me Pa and they were laughing. That wasn't the worst." In a small, horrified whisper, he concluded his tale, "Her eyes, before he cut her, she looked at me Pa and her eyes was cold. She hated me cause I failed her."
"Never," Jesse nearly growled. "Your mother could never have hated you Cody. She loved you son. I know you think she blamed you, but you're wrong. Your mother knew where the blame lay, those two men were the only ones to blame for what happened to her."
"But her eyes," Cody protested.
"She was probably in shock." Jesse paused, thinking over his words as he tried to find the best way to explain shock to a seven year old. "Sometimes when a person has been very badly hurt or frightened their mind takes them somewhere else. If you look at a person's eyes when they're in shock they could look cold and hateful, but the truth is they don't even see you. When your mother looked at you that day Cody she didn't know you were in front of her. She never thought you failed her, I swear it." He didn't tell the boy that she had likely felt as if she had failed her son, he didn't need to know that right now.
"Are you sure?" It didn't occur to Cody to ask how his father knew. He was an adult and his father, of course he would know how his mother felt.
"I'm absolutely sure son," Jesse replied, hugging the boy tightly. "You've been looking for more danger up here, haven't you?" He felt the boy nod. "Keeping an eye out for danger is good son, but you can't let it be the only thing in your life. If you don't let yourself relax and just be a little boy then you're not really living, just existing. Your mother wouldn't want that for you. Your brother and I don't want that for you either."
"Neither does White Eagle," Cody mumbled.
Jesse chuckled, "No, neither does White Eagle."
"Is it okay if I still watch sometimes?"
Jesse kissed the top of his head. "Yes, but for every hour you spend up here watching, I want you to spend an hour doing something fun."
Cody didn't feel much like having fun but if that was what his father wanted he would do it. "Okay."
Seven years had passed since that day. Jesse sat on the front porch, thinking back over the years following their personal tragedy. A lot had changed after the day he had finally woke up to living again. There was no miracle that came from the talks he'd had with his boys. There were months of grieving to yet get through, times where one or both of the boys had bad days. Cody more so than Matt, but his oldest had plenty of bad days too. He knew they had both been deeply affected by the loss of their mother. In the case of his blond son, the boy had grown into a fine man. He had stayed on the mountain with his father and brother for a few years. Eventually, as all young men must do, he struck out on his own. Moving into town, he had worked a few odd jobs before helping the sheriff on a posse. The man had been so impressed he had made Matt his deputy. A couple of years later the sheriff had been shot down in the street and the townsfolk had elected to make the young deputy the new sheriff. Jim Cutler, at Matt's request had become the new deputy. He smiled as he thought of the friends his son had made and the young woman he was tentatively courting, a young school-teacher by the name of Robina Kelly. He was well respected in the town too, so much so that when he brought a young, former slave along on a posse, only a small protest was made. It helped of course that Tim Hart was himself a respected ranch hand who had proven himself to be a loyal, hard-working young man. Matt never had any lack of aid when he needed it, but he seemed to count mostly on a small group of men. Along with Jim and Tim, the local blacksmith, Issaiah (Izzy) Flowers, was another Matt could depend on. Surprisingly he sometimes even asked White Eagle for help.
White Eagle had never left after the day Jacklyn died. Ignoring the few protests from neighbors, Jesse had welcomed the young Shoshone into their small family. To this day he was sometimes the only one Cody would speak to, especially after a nightmare. When the Shoshone had been forced onto a reservation, Jesse had went to the local Indian agent and pledging responsibility had gained permission for White Eagle to remain on the mountain with he and his son.
Cody had come the furthest and yet still had the furthest to go. As he had warned Matt, the boy would never fully recover from the horrors of that long ago day. Most of his time was spent on the mountain, the one place he felt comfortable and at home. On the few ocassions they had company or went to town, Cody generally stayed in the shadows, keeping a silent watch for danger, determined to never again let his family down. For no matter how many times he had been told it wasn't his fault, the boy still carried the guilt of what he deemed his failure. Jesse sighed, he supposed he should be grateful that the boy only grew silent and watchful in the presence of other white men, mostly those he didn't know. Among those he knew, or alone on his beloved mountain Cody was like any other boy his age, albeit a bit more solemn than most.
Looking towards the trail, he smiled as he heard Cody and White Eagle conversing in Shoshone. From what he could hear it sounded like they would be having fish tonight. Standing up, he moved into the house. If they were having fish, there were a few things he needed to get ready.
I am so sorry it took so long to finish this story. All I can say is I got his with a case of writer's block from hell. I have some other story ideas, some in this universe, some in the normal universe. Given the nasty blockage I suffered from, and y'all along with me, I have made one definite decision. I'm returning to the way I originally wrote, meaning I won't start posting until the story is complete. That way if another bout of writer's block hits me, I'll be the only one to suffer. ;)
Please review, I'd love to know what y'all thought of the story.