Just a bit of a disclaimer: I wrote this fanfic 5 years ago and I went back I tried to fix it. It's still a mess but at least it doesn't make me cringe as hard as it used to.
Song for the prologue: The Cougar ~ Bruce Broughton and Julian Nott from Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey OST
Song for Chapter 1: Rain ~ Hans Zimmer
The Black Wolf
Cholla Springs, 1911
With the sun beginning to set, John had decided to head back to the MacFarlane Ranch. Maybe he would do another night watch for them. Hell, anything to get his mind off the events that unfolded in the last two weeks. He finished the last of his cigarette, flicked it to the ground, and stomped it out. As he approached his horse, it began to whinny and stomp the red soil beneath its hooves.
"Easy, boy," John said, grabbing the reins.
The horse jerked away and shook its head.
"Somethin' got you spooked?"
He heard the mountain lion's scream. Great, more trouble. As if he didn't have plenty enough to deal with. He scanned the landscape but found nothing. He could still hear it growling in the distance. However, he still couldn't spot it. It sounded as if it were coming closer though.
The cat coming from the brush lowered its body and began to creep towards him while letting out a low and angry growl. John noticed the large gash on its shoulder that was bleeding profusely and its paws were covered in dust and blood. If there was one thing John knew: a wounded animal could be more dangerous than one that was unharmed.
The cougar charged and at that same moment, John took aim and fired. The poor beast went down with a thud and skidded across the ground. John let out a sigh of relief and holstered his weapon. He approached the body and inspected it. Its gash had gone deeper than he thought. The damage would devalue the pelt, but no matter. Money was money.
After skinning the mountain lion clean and harvesting some meat and claws, he decided to make a quick trip back into town and sell the pelt and meat before it spoiled. He climbed onto his horse and rode back for Armadillo.
When he came to Two Crows, he happened to look over and notice something bloody and white laying between the two boulders. He didn't think anything of it at first. It was only when he took another glance he realized something was wrong. John pulled on the reins, forcing the horse to stop.
"Slow up," he commanded.
He climbed off the horse and went over to the bloody figure that lay before him. To his horror he saw that it was a young Indian girl no older than twelve, maybe thirteen, dressed in a white cotton dress and barefooted. The right side of her face was caked with blood and dirt and her eye was swollen shut. What the hell was she doing all the way out here? And why didn't he hear her hollering? The only thing that mattered now was that he needed to get her help.
Lying beside her was a long knife, similar to the one he had, stained with blood. Putting two and two together, he realized it was the girl who dealt the damage to the cougar. John was amazed a girl as tiny as she put up a fight at all.
The girl's remaining eye fluttered open, her gaze resting on John. She instantly began to sob.
"Help me, mister! Please, I don't wanna die!" the girl begged.
"You just hang on. We're gonna get you some help."
He went back to his horse and fetched a blanket to wrap her in. The girl let out a whimper when John lifted her.
"Easy now," he whispered.
Cradling her in one arm, he used the other to pull himself onto the saddle.
"I don't wanna die!" She wailed.
"You're not gonna die, little one."
John spurred the horse's sides and it took off at lightning speed. He knew the ride was probably making things worse, but he couldn't waste time. More blood was spilling from her wounds and he could tell she was going unconscious again. John spurred the horse again. Its hooves thundering over the terrain.
"Come on, faster!" he said, spurring the horse again.
When he saw Armadillo insight, he brought the horse to a canter, then finally a trot. He pulled up the reins in front of the doctor's office. A crowd was starting to form by then. A woman rushed over and helped John with the girl off the horse.
John jumped off his horse and took the girl back from her. The girl let out a moan at the sound of everyone chattering around her.
"Who did this?"
"Where are her parents?"
"Unless you're going to help, I suggest you all get back!" John snapped.
Doctor Nathaniel Johnston was there to meet them at the door and pointed to the back.
"The bed's back there," Dr. Johnston said.
John placed her gently on the mattress and backed away. The girl opened her left eye again and reached out to John.
"Hel…help…me…" she rasped.
"You're gonna be okay now," John said.
Dr. Johnston began to dress her wounds. Not knowing what else to do, John backed out of the room and left the Doctor to his work. He took his horse to the trough and checked into the saloon.
Summer Cloud never had a chance to thank the man who saved her life, but she heard the stories of his heroics across New Austin. His tales would soon inspire her to practice with her father's pistol, hoping that one day she could be a gunslinger too. Unfortunately, she never fully regained sight in her right eye, but it never dampened her spirit. It only motivated her all the more to achieve her goal.
Beecher's Hope, 1918
After four years of living by himself, Jack was not used to the emptiness of Beecher's Hope. Most of the time his house was almost too quiet and he would, on occasion, do target practice on empty whiskey bottles that Uncle had left behind or a few bandits when he felt like bounty hunting. However, there were times when he would give anything for that silence.
After John died and Abigail fell ill, Jack would hear strange noises at night. He didn't believe in ghost, so at first, he figured it was the house settling, but then he would hear what sounded like someone in boots walking around the house or a light in the barn would come on. The first time it happened he thought someone was stealing the horses. He tried to defend the barn, but his Ma protested and pulled him right back into the house out of fear she would lose her only son.
But for Jack, the most unsettling thing was the wolf. Every night at three in the morning, he would awaken with the uneasy feeling that he was being watched. He always felt the need to look out his bedroom despite his gut telling him not to. For the longest time, he barely saw it as it moved swiftly in the shadows. One night Jack looked out his window and there off in the distance, was the wolf, watching him with its yellow, illuminating eyes. Every hair stood up on end as it never broke eye contact with him.
It stayed far from the house at first but gradually moved closer as Abigail's illness grew worse. On the night she died, the wolf was outside her bedroom window looking in, but Jack paid the wolf no mind as he sat by his mother.
When dawn broke, he was already digging her grave and that's when he noticed it by the house. After three years, Jack couldn't tolerate the creature any longer. He pulled out his revolver, aimed for the wolf, and fired off a round. Instead of running away, it simply got up and walk off into the woods. For the next four years, he went without seeing that wolf, until today.
He'd just finished rounding up the last of the cattle when he happened to look up at the hill on which his folks were buried and there, in broad daylight, he saw the black wolf again.
What do you want now? Jack thought.
The wolf didn't move. It just watched Jack with curiosity. Surely it couldn't be the same wolf… could it? How long did wolves live, anyway? He didn't know much about them, other than they were a nuisance.
As he finished up the rest of his chores, he would occasionally look over to find that the creature was still watching him. It broke away its gaze, momentarily, to looked down the road. Jack turned in the direction the wolf was looking and there off in the distance he saw an Indian woman walking towards the house and pulling a white horse behind her.
She was dressed in a white blouse, pale blue skirt, and black boots with a red and blue beaded necklace. Even from a distance, he could see the patch that covered her right eye and a long scar across her cheek.
I wonder who this could be...
She waved at him and he awkwardly returned this gesture. Setting down his tools, Jack walked towards her, meeting her halfway. Getting a closer view of her face revealed more scars, though they were fainter than the others. Jack did his best to mask his shock at the damage on her face.
"Hello there!" she greeted cheerfully.
Jack tipped his hat to her. "Howdy, miss, is there somethin' I can help you with?"
"I was wondering if this was Beecher's Hope."
"Oh good! I was afraid I would be wandering the area for hours. My name is Morgan Harlow -some folks call me Summer Cloud- and I'm looking for John Marston. I have something for him."
Jack ran his fingers through his hair. Everyone from Blackwater to Armadillo knew of his father's passing. He wondered why she never heard about it.
"I hate to tell you this, Miss Harlow, but my father passed away about seven years ago."
Her exposed eye widened in shock. "Oh no, I'm so sorry. I didn't know," Miss Harlow said, her voice filled with grief.
"It's alright," Jack said. "I just assumed everyone knew by now."
"I never had a chance to thank him," she replied sadly.
"Thank him?" Jack inquired.
"Maybe I should've explained sooner. Seven years ago, I was hurt real bad back in Cholla Springs after a cougar got a hold of me. Well, your father found me. If he hadn't come along like he did who knows how long I would've lasted."
That explains the scars and eye patch.
"So," the girl continued. "I guess it's only fitting I give his next of kin this stallion."
She pulled the horse closer and held out the reins. Jack hesitated. Sure, he'd witnessed folks in the past give his pa gifts as tokens of appreciation, but never had it been something as lovely as the horse before him.
"He's a fine horse, mister. One of the best," Miss Harlow said.
"I have no doubt that he is, miss, but I don't feel right takin' him."
"This is the best way I could repay your pa. I've spent three years training him myself. Please take him."
Not wanting to hurt her feelings, Jack took the reins.
"Thank you," Jack said.
The girl gave nod and said, "I guess I better head back."
In the distance, black clouds were quickly making their way towards the ranch. He didn't like the idea of her being caught in the rain.
"Why don't I give you a ride back? It looks like it'll storm."
"I don't want to trouble you."
"It'll be alright. Lemme just get my horse and we'll head out."
Jack lead the white stallion to the barn and saddled up his painted mare. When he came back the girl was still waiting. He climbed on to his horse and extended his hand to her. She grabbed on and pulled herself up.
"Thanks for the ride back, Mr. Marston."
"Don't mention it. Where are we headin' anyway?"
"Manzanita Post. I'm renting a cabin out there."
"Where are you originally from? If you don't mind me askin'"
"Henningan's Steed. Well, I was born there at least, but my pa and I traveled a lot. We never really stay in one place for very long. Once I stayed in Mexico for a spell. But I guess my true home will always be Bear Mountain. It's farther west from here."
"So I'm guessing you were still stayin' in Armadillo when my pa found you?"
"What were you doing out there?"
"I don't really remember… I think I was collecting flowers. Back then I wanted to be a healer and herbalist like my grandmother. Still do I guess."
"What are you doing now?"
"Well, I don't do much at the moment. I was a bounty hunter… that is until my pa threw a fit."
"You don't look the bounty huntin' type." He quickly added, "If you don't mind me saying."
"Well, that goes to show how lousy I was." She laughed. "I don't know what I'm going to do now, though. I might make a go of it here. It seems like a nice place and I'm tired of traveling, at least for now."
They finally arrived at Manzanita Post. Jack slid off his horse and helped Morgan down.
"Thanks for the ride, Mr. Marston."
"You can call me Jack. Mr. Marston makes me feel like an old man."
She smiled. "Alright, Jack."
He climbed on to his horse and tipped his hat. "Goodbye, Miss Harlow and good luck." And with that, Jack spurred his horse and galloped off.
"Thanks again for the ride!" Miss Harlow called after him.
By the time Jack reached the house, the sky had opened up and he and his horse were soaked.
If that girl was a bounty hunter, then I'm the prime minister. He couldn't help but think.
Since his mother's death he never really interacted with the townsfolk, much less the women. He spent his days alone and that suited him just fine. On rare nights, however, he would often lay awake at night wishing he had someone beside him, but what girl in her right mind would want a man who had too many issues? She would have to be crazy to put up with him. Maybe it was best he stayed alone. No one could get hurt that way, besides, he liked his peace and quiet. Still, something about this Morgan Harlow or Summer Cloud or whatever she was called, stirred something in him. A feeling that thrilled him and scared him all at once.
And why did her last name sound so familiar?
As the train entered West Elizabeth, an old Bounty Hunter lifted up his hat and looked out the window. Before him, was a vast landscape with buffalo roaming the plains and a clear blue lake that sparkled in the sunlight.
He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out the telegraph, and read it again. The town of Blackwater had sent a request for his help in cleaning up the town. The governor explained that the younger bounty hunter they had up and quit for no reason and he went on to rant about how the younger generation didn't have the grit for such a dangerous job.
The Bounty Hunter found the Governor's words to be hypocritical. That stuffy politician probably had everything handed to him while most of the younger folk he looked down on struggled. That mattered little to him at the moment. He was only thinking how far his reputation had traveled and the painful sacrifice he had to make for it. Given the chance, he would have traded it all away if it brought her back.
He reached down to his hip and ran his thumb over the scorpion on his revolver. He made a mental note to clean his guns once he checked into a hotel.
He leaned back in his seat and pulled his hat over his face. He tried to keep his focus on his next target, but soon thoughts of the past and better days slowly came back.