January 3, 2015
Author: M. Raiya
Pairing: James and Ambient (from Another Healing)
James leaned forward and patted the sweaty neck before him. Orange was his favorite horse: a big, strong, even-tempered chestnut. A bit like himself, he admitted. Ambient always chose to exercise a feisty little mare named Alexie, which made James nervous, since his most important job in life was to protect Ambient at all times. At the moment, he didn’t know where Ambient and Alexie were. Ambient was the most disaster-prone person he’d ever met.
James twisted in his saddle and looked back at the trail. They were supposed to meet in this little clearing. Ambient had taken Alexie down to the river to let her run on a long stretch of dirt road with little traffic. James and Orange had climbed the hill, giving the gelding’s muscles a good workout. One of the best parts of living on a farm in their RV was getting to ride horses all they wanted. Doing so was not only fun, it helped out Jules, the owner. It was the least they could do in return for the way Jules was training them to master the intricacies of witch/demon relationships.
With a sigh, James loosened the reins, kicked his feet out of his stirrups, and stretched. He still wasn’t used to the idea of being a demon, or completely at ease with the fact that his partner was a witch. It hadn’t been a year yet since they had discovered what they were, and they had almost gotten killed in the process. But Jules was the best imaginable teacher, and they were making rapid progress working together.
Taking advantage of the loosened reins, Orange lowered his head. He snorted at the ground and then snagged the tops of some grass stems with his lips.
“No eating with your bit in.” James gathered up the reins again. Orange shook his head in protest and mouthed the grass. “Idiot horse,” James added fondly. “Where is your lady friend, do you know? Ambient wants me to go dancing with him tonight. I want time for a shower first so I don’t smell like you.”
Orange swished his tail at flies, ears flopping loose and relaxed.
The late afternoon sun beat down, hot. James wasn’t overly worried; he’d know if anything was wrong through the mental link he and Ambient shared. But he really should keep Orange in motion until the horse was well cooled down from their climb. Orange would be sound asleep in another few minutes. James found his stirrups and softly clicked his tongue, getting Orange’s attention. “Off we go,” he said. He turned Orange’s head and nudged him with his heels, heading down the trail toward the river at a walk. Orange grumpily tossed his head a few times, but didn’t protest too much, though he would clearly rather be going back to the shady barn.
Aside from Orange’s soft hoofbeats and the high-pitched drone of insects, all was quiet. The river, swollen by a thunderstorm the day before, made a low, rushing sound ahead of them. The air smelled of the sun-warmed grass bending over the trail. Orange had just made another swipe for a mouthful when the incongruous squealing of car tires rent the afternoon.
James dug his heels into Orange’s sides as a burst of panic from Ambient slammed into him. There was no following burst of assurance that Ambient was all right, either. Instead, there was a surge of absolute fury. No pain, though. James could tell that much as he sent Orange into a headlong gallop down the trail. The horse became electrified by James’s sudden emotional swing. James didn’t even bother trying to send to Ambient. Nothing would get through the anger suffusing his partner. But as long as Ambient was angry and not in pain, he was okay.
Never, James vowed, would he let his partner out of his sight again. Never!
James and Orange raced around a curve in the path, and a view of the river spread below them. It came down from the hills and rushed high and fast around large, round boulders. Right before them was a bend that formed what was usually a deep, quiet pool. Ambient had been swimming there all summer. It always looked deep and dangerous to James, who was afraid of all water, anytime. Today, it was an evil green bowl of churning death.
The first thing James saw was Ambient leaping into it. Alexie, stamping in agitation, was alone on the bank with her ears pinned back and her eyes on Ambient. For an instant, James thought Ambient had been thrown and landed in the river. But no, Ambient was definitely swimming, fully clothed, away from shore. James looked down the road and saw a dark-colored van disappearing around the bend.
James wanted a talk with whoever was in it. As he pulled Orange up beside Alexie, he sent a flash of power after the van. He wasted no energy on finesse. He just sent a pulse strong enough to overheat the engine. A couple seconds later, he felt the van halt with a hiss of steam. He’d deal with the occupants later. Ambient was far more important. Already, Ambient was in the middle of the damn pool and swimming downstream as fast as he could, heading right toward a boulder field of frothing white water.
James kept his eyes locked on Ambient’s red shirt, which was hard to do with both horses jumpy with fear. Alexie was pulling at a branch which her reins were looped around.
His training kicked in. Before a working, gain control of your own surroundings. He sent some soothing power to both horses. They quieted instantly. Then James urged Orange into a canter along the riverbank, trusting the horse’s sense and luck not to trip on the narrow path. He wove strands of power and flung them like a rope across the water to Ambient. At the same time, he desperately scanned the water and land, trying to figure out what the hell had caused Ambient to jump into the river. No reason was apparent.
James felt Ambient sense his rope and grab it with his mind. James tried to pull Ambient toward him. Ambient, however, wrenched the rope of power from James’s control and sent it flying ahead of him, downstream. What the fuck?
Ambient hit the outskirts of the boulder field and was immediately slammed into a rock the size of a small car. He managed to catch hold of it and stop.
James felt pain now in Ambient’s right side. He and Orange had finally caught up to him. Ambient was maybe thirty feet from shore. James pulled Orange to a halt and flung another rope to Ambient, this one laced with healing power. Ambient’s pain level dropped an instant later. But instead of letting James help him to safety, he resumed swimming through the rushing water without even glancing in James’s direction. He was heading, James thought, toward a tangle of tree limbs and debris caught in a V of rocks in the middle of the river.
And then James saw what Ambient was aiming for. A tiny white puppy was clinging to the limbs.
It all made sense. The car, the screaming tires, Ambient’s fury. Someone in the van had thrown the puppy into the water and gunned it. Ambient had gone in after it. Now James wished he’d exploded the bastard’s engine, not just overheated it.
James sensed that Ambient was using their combined power to hold the puppy in the tangle of limbs and not wash it farther downstream. Working together now, James focused on keeping the puppy safe and freed Ambient to concentrate on swimming.
In a few seconds, Ambient reached the debris. James used more power to keep Ambient in place against the current while Ambient scooped the terrified puppy out of the mess of tree limbs. As soon as Ambient had hold of the puppy, James let the limbs break loose. They rushed downstream so swiftly that James felt a burst of nausea. God, he hated water!
Ambient cradled the puppy against his shoulder with his left hand and grabbed tightly to James’s mental rope with his mind. As quickly as James could, he pulled them toward shore. Ambient had to deflect himself from several more rocks on the way, but in a few moments, he got out of the worst of the current. He struggled to his feet, holding the puppy close.
James jumped down from Orange and gave the horse a mental command to stay still. When Ambient reached the bank, which was about four feet high and stony, James crouched down.
“Here, take him,” Ambient gasped, trying to get the pup to let go of its death grip around his neck. “Some bastard in a van threw him out the window!”
“Yeah, I figured. I disabled the van just around the curve. Deal with him later. Come here, little guy. I’ve got you.”
The puppy didn’t want to leave his rescuer, but James finally got him peeled away. The poor guy—he was definitely a male, James noticed during the transfer—began to shake violently. He burrowed under James’s arm the moment he could.
“Is he okay? Can you tell if he’s hurt?” Ambient tried to scramble up the bank without taking his eyes off the pup and fell backward.
James leaned down and gave Ambient his spare hand. There was so much pain in the air that he couldn’t tell what was coming from the dog and what was coming from Ambient. For a moment, the river struggled to hold his partner, but love won. James pulled Ambient up and into an embrace. The terror was a memory now, but the echo of it made him hold Ambient very, very close. Ambient held him back just as fiercely.
Then the pup gave a muffled yelp from somewhere in between them. Quickly, they drew apart, set him down on the grass, and knelt on either side of him. The pup tried to stand up and couldn’t. His back end wasn’t moving. He looked up at them with terrified brown eyes. Then his front legs buckled and he collapsed with whimper. He turned and licked at his motionless back legs.
“Can you?” Ambient whispered.
James swallowed hard. He’d never healed an animal before. As much as he wanted to, without a human mind to connect with, he wasn’t sure how to go about it. After years of trying to analyze how he used his gift, he’d never figured out how it really worked. It just did. But would it work with an animal?
Ambient’s eyes looked just about as pitiful as the pup’s did. James drew a deep breath. His healing powers rose to meet him as he held out his hands. The little wet head turned toward him and sniffed. Despite everything, the tiny pink tongue licked his fingers.
James tried hard not to let his heart melt. He had to stay impersonal about this, because it might not end well. Even assuming he could heal a dog, a spinal injury might be beyond his ability. He’d only ever faced a damaged spine once before: Ambient’s. He’d been damn lucky that time. They’d both been damn lucky.
“Okay, little one,” James said. “Let’s see what we can do here. Lie still for me. That’s it. Good pup.” As he stroked the shivering body, he let his mind reach out just as he would to a human’s.
Holy shit! There was no difference at all! Brain, bones, organs, pulsing blood—life was life! James’s healing power went right to the place where a vertebra had broken and was pinching the spinal cord. Beneath his hands, the bone healed and the swelling faded away. The pup relaxed and let out a huge sigh as the pain disappeared. The shivering became a faint quiver.
“Oh, James!” Ambient whispered.
“There.” James ran his hands over the rest of the little body, checking the legs, the tail, the neck, the skull. The pup lay still at first, but by the time James was finished inspecting him, the little white tail thumped the ground. A second later, the pup was licking James’s fingers again, but with more gusto. Then the pup jumped up, gave himself a vigorous shake, and looked startled when Ambient swept him up into his arms and began to cry. But in a moment, the pup was licking Ambient’s face.
Then Ambient shivered.
“Come on, let’s get you two back to the trailer,” James said, remembering the horses and swiftly looking over his shoulder. Orange was standing quietly nearby, dozing in the sun, and Alexie was doing the same upstream where Ambient had tied her. They were still relaxed from the mental suggestion James had sent to them.
“Are you sure he’s okay?” Ambient asked, getting to his feet without putting the pup down.
“He’s fine. But what about you? I felt you slam into a rock out there. After you gave me heart failure.”
“Sorry about that. Glad you got here when you did—the current was a little stronger than I thought.” Ambient flexed his torso. “Yeah, I’m a bit sore.” He met James’s eyes with a smile. “I think I’ll need your attention too, once we’re in the trailer.”
James smiled back. “I think I will be more than happy to oblige.” Not that James ever wanted Ambient to get hurt, but healing life’s bumps and bruises had become one of their most enjoyable occupations. Oh yeah, James would be happy to heal Ambient’s sore muscles. And check him over very carefully for other damage as well. With his hands and mouth and….
“But first,” he said with a sigh, rising and pulling out his phone, “we’d better call 911 about that bastard in the van. He can’t get away with this. You did say it was one guy, right?”
Ambient nodded and got to his feet, too. The pup snuggled under his chin. “James….”
James hesitated, holding his phone. He wasn’t sure what would happen to the pup. He assumed the police would take the little guy to a shelter to be evaluated. The vet would just assume the pup had been very, very lucky. Not even a strong adult dog would have fared well in that river. Ambient wouldn’t have fared well either, but James wasn’t going to let his mind go there again.
Then the pup peeked at him through the curtain of Ambient’s brown hair. Just a glimpse of those eyes was enough. It wasn’t fair that he had big, soft paws and sweet little ears as well. To say nothing about the fact that he would probably dry from his current drowned-rat look into a white puffball.
James groaned. “Look, we can ask about adopting him, all right? But we’ve got to report it, and they may want to take him in for now. I don’t know what the procedures are for something like this. But we can’t let that guy do this to some other animal.”
Ambient’s sudden smile was radiant. “You aren’t just saying that? You really want to adopt him too?”
James shrugged. “I’ve never had a pet, but he looks like he’d be as good as any. Not because I healed him or anything. I mean, we could look around at what the shelter’s got….”
Ambient burst out laughing, and James knew he wasn’t fooling his partner. But he still didn’t see how they could just go back to the trailer and ignore whoever had done this.
“It’s okay,” Ambient said, going serious. “We don’t have to report anything. Believe me, the guy in the van won’t ever mess with another animal. While you were busy just now, I—ah—did a little exploring with my mind in that direction.” Ambient nodded down the road. “The man sitting in the overheated van owns an apartment building in Burlington. One of his tenants just moved out and left the puppy. Rather than go through the hassle and expense of taking it to a shelter, he decided to chuck the pup in the river. While he was sitting there fuming, I sort of slipped into his mind and adjusted a few things. For example, he now has a phobia about dogs and cats that borders on the irrational. A kind of fear that they might chew on his private bits in the night. And that fear will get overwhelmingly stronger whenever he thinks about what he just did. To the point that he will not only never dream of doing it again, he won’t ever touch anything with fur again.”
James let himself grin. “Ambient, that sounds like witchcraft.”
Ambient shrugged and moved closer, slipping into James’s arms. “It does sound almost as though I’m a witch, doesn’t it?”
James hugged him. “We worked well together today. Jules is going to be proud.”
James looked down at Ambient and Little Pup. “I was thinking that today’s adventure changed something for me. This guy, and dumb old Orange here, have got me realizing that I have an affinity for animals I never knew I had. The best part is that I can heal them, and they aren’t going to be able to tell anybody. I mean, it’ll be a little tricky in some cases for sure, but this could be a really cool thing.”
“A modern Dr. Dolittle.” Ambient caressed James’s cheek. “Just as long as you always remember who your favorite healing subject is.”
“Ah, yes, I believe we were having a discussion about that a few minutes ago. Shall we return to our trailer, now that you have made it unnecessary to call the police?”
Ambient just tipped his head back. James remembered that they were supposed to be going dancing tonight. Somehow, he didn’t think that was going to happen. So he gathered Ambient and His Puppiness closer, moving them gently to the rhythm of the water and to the music of the thrushes that had begun to sing as the sun set. Much, much better than any loud club.
Just before James’s lips closed over Ambient’s, Orange shifted his drowsing weight. A ray of light from the setting sun that he’d been blocking with his body fell on them. In its soft glow, James couldn’t tell whose eyes were shining more—Ambient’s or the pup’s.
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