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Wolf Run

Chapter Text

 

"I sense there's something wrong

I'm not sure what it is

It grabs me and it's cold

I gaze into the sun I see myself

I've been bought and now I'm owned

surrounded by the madness"

--Lukather/Paich/Williams

 

 

 

Noah Wyle eased his lanky form back in the seat of his 4 year old cherry red Jeep. He had been driving since the La Quinta Inn near the border of Washington and California and he was tired but also very anxious to complete this last part of his journey. He had eaten a bowl of Lucky Charms with some lukewarm milk (pretty sure the place hadn't been inspected recently by the Department of Health) around 6 am and his stomach was letting him know that Noah was in complete denial of dinner. He pushed back his unruly dark hair from his sweaty forehead, eschewing the air conditioning in favour of the open side window, and thought once again that he should have gotten a hair cut before leaving the quiet confines of his suburban driven life in Berkeley California.

A battered paper map lay on the other seat where she used to sit said the voice in his head. She always loved it when you sang to her trying to match the words of the radio songs but now she's dead isn't she. She's dead and you are quite alive my fine friend. "Get out of my mind!" Noah said out loud and the voice retreated only to squat menacingly waiting for a return du force when Noah was trying to go to sleep. He didn't sleep much these days. In fact, looking back on the last year of his life, he would estimate an average of 3 to 4 hours nightly, before the nightmares woke him up and his hands shook until he popped an ativan. Noah shook his head and glanced at the map, one large hand holding on to the dog eared corner to keep it from the wind.

Winthrop was close. The heavy line he had drawn with a black Sharpie was starred at the end, by the name of the city where he was bound. It had been a long journey but maybe, he thought, worth it. Ahead of him, on the right hand side, he spied a dinor. The AL American Dinor, the second L somehow missing from a burned out light, Noah suspected. Still, a piece of pie and some caffiene might be what the stomach ordered so he cruised into the parking lot and hitched up the Jeep next to a nondescript looking Taurus that had seen better days. America. You had to love it.

A half hour later, Noah was glad to get out of the collection of motley misfits sitting in booths and along the low counter in the front. He had been stared at and scrutinised and sitting among them picking at a piece of unspectacular pie and sipping lukewarm coffee was not the high point of his self imposed California exile. He climbed back into the Jeep and turned back onto Route 20, heading for Winthrop and thinking about the house he had inherited from his great uncle. (house? cottage? cabin? a matter of semantics. The man who answered the phone assuring him that the electricity and water would be functional and running when he got there used both words interchangably.) He remembered his Gramma sitting beside him over turkey and stuffing in his Aunt's home at Thanksgiving. It was a horrific occasion not because of the dinner, although he ate very little, but because Hannah was missing. And where was she at that dinner and the Christmas and Easter festivities? You didn't even remember to put flowers on the grave in May, the anniversary of her death and here it was June. Forgetting your wife already, Noah, what kind of husband are you and here you are alive and she is so dead dead dead dead dead

Noah cursed and slammed his hand on to the steering wheel. His palm stung from the ridges of the plastic wheel cover and he momentarily brought his hand up to his mouth to nuzzle it. The sting made him normal again, righted his thinking, his Gramma called it. Gramma with her ever present Dunhill Red sticking out of her mouth, the smoke curling around her like tendrils of fog on a cold day. "Billy left us to go live with that woman. He moved up out of state. It was like she took what the best of us had to offer. Left us nothing." Noah had heard it before. It was angry, always angry, just like his own state of mind when he thought about the day in May when he had lost Hannah forever.

"Wolf Run is only 6 miles from Winthrop." Noah spoke out loud, partly because he was tired of not talking and partly because he missed the sound of his own voice. It hadn't always been like this. He had once been a successful professor of American History at Berkeley, shopping at Trader Joe and Whole Foods every Saturday, carting home juicy oranges and grapes and bottles of wine from local vineyards. He and his wife (EX wife) not really ex, Noah thought...more like deceased, like the little black square on his income tax form. Hannah Elizabeth Morgan Wyle. Dead but all that was left was a little penciled in square indicating status of marriage. yes, well, he and his wife, he began again hoping not to be interrupted as he drove into the small and defintely not modern village of Winthrop Washington (hello 400 people)used to be that couple people envied. She was always so beautiful, no matter what she wore or the time of day. Noah heard Gramma say 'left us nothing." So true Gramma. Salut and checkmate.

Noah parked the Jeep in one of the diagonal parking spaces facing the Winthrop Hotel. He had a 7 pm meeting with the man he had spoken to on the phone about getting the cottage/cabin ready, and he wanted to be a bit early to make sure he had the right spot. The hotel itself looked like a relic of a time gone by but the petunias in the porchboxes and the yellow waving bushes (Hannah would have known what they were called but she wasnt around was she?) gave an air of something more sophisticated. Noah wavered between getting in and finding a table or waiting to see who drove up. He opted for the latter and slouched in the seat, playing with the map and holding it up to blot out the early June sun that was surprisingly still warm enough to heat through the windshield. He checked his watch, a plain black digital from Target, his battered Citizen left behind on the dresser. She had given him the citizen for their tenth anniversary and just that thought made the tears prick the back of his eyes. Damn, he was going soft!

Sudden noise that was a cross between a washing machine on the prowl and a motor straight out of the MOPAR motor pit caught his attention. Noah glanced over to his right as a beat up old Chevy truck pulled in beside him and with a wheezing grind of the gears, shut down. Inside was a man around Noah's age, early forties, wearing a black cowboy hat that looked impossibly ridiculous with his shoulder length sandy coloured hair. The man yawned and looked over in Noah's direction, then nodded in a friendly way.

"Mr. Kane?" Noah said, sounding loud to his own ears.

The man tipped his hat back and grinned, showing even white teeth and dimples that were absolutely symmetrical. "Mr. Kane would be my Daddy. It's Christian. You must be Noah Wyle?" Christian jumped out of the truck at Noah's nod and came around to the side window. "Eden's Landing is a beautiful piece of property. Lucky guy to have inherited it. Of course, it has been empty for a long time. When I turned on the water and hydro, I also cleaned up a bit."

Noah leaned out the window, liking this man's affable nature. "I appreciate that, Mr.--" At the raise of an eyebrow, Noah nodded. "Christian. I do indeed. A long drive from Berkley."

"Indeed.: Christian acknowledged this and then half turned to point north down ROute 20. "Wolf Run is around 6 miles that way, although you'll be leaving the main pipe about a quarter mile before the split. One way goes to the river. The other way goes to a cluster of businesses, a grocery store among them. Might be good for you to know. I'll lead if you want to follow me. Can't get lost. You'll run out of road before that." Again that grin. Noah relaxed. If people were as friendly as this guy, perhaps this is what he would need in the coming days.

 

3 Hours later, Noah and Christian were sitting in lawn chairs in the back of the house. No, not house. Cabin. Cottage. Hell, it was small but snug and totally surprising with its neat walls and tidy carpet covering the wooden floors. The kitchen had defintely seen better days. Perhaps it was considered cool in the Eisenhower era, Noah thought, but not in this lifetime. The pink metal cupboards and the green counters were outdated at best. Outrageous at worst. But it would do, Noah thought. It would do for the summer. The summer of his discontent. The summer that he would spend without her. Without his wife, like last summer, but less raw. Or was it more raw? Eh the jury was out on that one.

"So tell me, Doc. How long did it take for you to come to the wilds of Washington?" Christian tipped his beer and took a swallow. Noah watched him, liking the affable silence between them but also amused at the way the man said his words. There was something there, a twang, that came through in his speech.

"3 Days. I stayed at La Quintas because I had...um I had a card. Like a perks thing. Allowed me to stay um for free after a certain amount of days. Or nights rather." He was babbling. Hannah always said he babbled when he got wound up and maybe he was wound up now or maybe he was just trying to be a good conversationalist but his head hurt and his eyes burned and he had to wonder if he was doing the right thing at all. 

"I got a Holiday Express card. I go to Mexico. Work on the oil rigs. 6 months of sweat and I am home for 6 months. It all evens out." Christian leaned back in the deck chair and stared at the water. The river was surprisingly wide, Noah thought. Nothing like it in LA with the beaches and the surf and the bikinis. Here it was all salmon and dark currents and trees leaning out far over the bank as if to take a thirsty drink.

"Mexico. I like it there." Noah nodded. He was making conversation much like he did when he sat in the front room at the funeral home, refusing to go in to the main room where she was laying in some kind of wooden embrace of a mahogany iron maiden.

"Yep. Hey." Christian sat straight up, startling Noah into almost spilling his beer. "I need to take you round the Run tomorrow. Introduce you to some folk."

"Oh no, it's all good. I can--"

"Doc." Christian's voice was hard edged and Noah leaned in to listen. "Trust me. You need to be introduced. This ain't no debutante ball but people here, they are pretty tight. I'll show you around." Then he poked Noah in the arm and smiled, teeth showing white in the moonlight. "Even your great uncle Billy wasn't always totally accepted. He had to earn his stripes."

"Earn his...ok, well, what's a good time for you?"

"say eleven. That work?"

"Yep." Christian grabbed his hat off the nearby picnic table and put it on his head. "See ya then, Doc. Oh, hey, if I were you, I'd use that nightlight I left you. This is a whole new floor plan. YOU're gonna need something when you get up to beer pee."

"GOod advice. Thank you, Christian." Noah stuck out his hand and it was genuine. He was grateful to Christian for all the help.

"Count on me. I'll help get you through the summer. Who knows? Maybe you;ll like it here so much you'll settle down permanently." With that, the wanna be cowboy strode through the door and out to his truck. It wheezed and coughed to life as he put it into gear and with a jaunty wave out the window, he was gone in an oil smelling cloud.

 Surprisingly, Noah slept through the night. He had taken a fast shower, not bothering to shave his face, knowing that any day now the beard would start to itch and the razor would come out, but until then he had the luxury of not wasting the time standing in front of the mirror tearing the whiskers off his face with the whisker killing agent of death, in this case his mach 5. In the morning, he had made coffee in the little 8 cup coffee maker by the microwave, and cooked an egg in a buttered skillet to put over his toast. The house (cottage/cabin) was small, just a bedroom, a rather spacious bathroom, and a kitchen that bled into the living area. It was the deck that trumped all, though. It was wide and sturdy and extended out almost to the bank of the river and Noah loved it already. It reminded him of a simpler time when he would take his coffee on the deck at his home and she would drape herself over him and kiss his ear, making him giggle. A sharp stab of pain made him shudder. She wasn't here and things would never be the same.

11 o'clock neared so Noah slipped into a pair of worn jeans and a t shirt under a flannel shirt. He hoped he did not look too Pearl Jamish but he had always loved the red and black flannel shirt his step sister had given him when they were celebrating his 20th birthday. Madcap days, those were and if he had them to do over, perhaps he would never notice the red headed green eyed beauty in his Intro to Sociology class. He had tried, once, to analyse how many hours a day he spent regretting and wondering what things would be like had he not arranged for that picnic in the glade, but it was too exhausting and it made him sick, so he had stopped. Rough estimates though, and if he were a betting man like his friend Ed Grandy at Berkeley, he would bet the farm or the cottage or whatever it was called, that would put him at 20 hours a day out of a 24 hour day and if that wasn't pathetic then he didn't know what was.

Christian was right on time. He was wearing one of those pseudo cowboy shirts with the silver snaps instead of buttons but it looked good on him. The hat was back on his head and his jeans were, Noah supposed, appropriately tight in all the right places. 

"Ready to go, Doc?" christian opened the passenger side door and waved him inside. 

"We could um take my Jeep...if you want..." Noah offered.

"Oh hell no. Let me drive and you can gawk." Christian got into the truck and with a grin cranked the stuttering starter. "Wait til I show you the Run. I mean, full name Wolf Run but we call it the Run."

"Looking forward to it." Noah settled back into the seat. He looked for a seat belt and when Christian saw what he was doing began to laugh.

"I took the belts out. Hate feeling strapped in. Me, I like freedom while I drive."

"You...took the seat belts out?" Noah swallowed and gripped the window, which was rolled all the way down.

"Hell yeah. OK, ready for your tour?" Christian shifted and pulled out of Noah's driveway. 

"Yes. I guess so, yeah."

The 2 mile drive to The Run, or Wolf Run as it was known on the map that Noah had used to get there, was non specific. Noah thought that word summed it up fairly well. There were some less than noble structures--trailers that fit every known stereotype--and some run down two story frame houses. Cows grazed in fields. There were some pastures with horses and a bridge that spanned the river just before they reached the main street of town. 

"Church." Christian pointed to a white building with a huge steeple. Noah nodded more to himself since Christian was not really focused on him. "Beer distrib. The guy who runs that delivered me at home."

"Was he a doctor?" Noah asked. He might as well have shared a funny joke since the reaction to his question was unabashed laughter from his driver.

"A doctor? Hell, the nearest doc is 20 miles from here. My Momma was squeezing me out long before he could have made it."

"I see." Noah twisted his wedding ring around his finger. It was big, bigger even than last month. He should eat more, he supposed.

"Ah, to the left is the grocery. You're gonna want to meet Nora. She's a great gal. Moved here with her son to find love. Instead the bastard died when a tree fell on him in Olympia. Kind of glad to see him go. I heard stories where he used to beat her. Now there's just Nora and her son John. John goes to university in Seattle but he comes home every summer to help his Momma. Good kid." Christian wheeled in and parked then indicated the bar across the street. A lopsided sign hung on one chain. 

"The Nest." Noah turned back to Christian who was pinching the bridge of his nose. "You um don't recommend me going there for a nightcap?"

"John Pope runs that place. I would recommend you staying away from that place like you would the plague. Pope's not the friendly type especially not to strangers, which technically um you are. Sorry."

"No need to apologise. Good to know." Noah nodded but like Blackbeard's wife, the seeds of curiousity had been planted. Some time he decided, a visit to The Nest was in order. Noah focused his attention back on Christian who was babbling in that pleasing almost southern good old boy syntax. 

"Come on. You need supplies anyways so might as we'll get them today. I didn't stock the fridge all that well but my girlfriend thought you should have some essentials".

"I'm grateful." They were walking up the low steps to the grocery store doors. Noah reached into his pocket to find his wallet. "how much do I owe you?" 

Christian laughed again and clapped him on the back while holding the door open with his other. "Put that away, Doc. It's not a problem."

The second Noah entered the grocery store, he was struck by 2 things. The first was the smell. He breathed deeply without realizing he was doing so and the rich combination of wood, old flooring, spices, fresh onions and peaches, dust, bleach, and bread assailed his senses. Whole Foods had never smelled, or looked, like this. 

Christian seemed amused but paused, standing beside Noah and grinning.

"Yeah, I know exactly what you're thinking and it is absolutely true. Except on Fridays when Nora makes THE most fabulous molasses cookies you ever tasted!"

"kinda fond of those," Noah admitted with a shrug. He looled around for a cart and found  5 of them, all different colours and materials, pushed by the far wall. He pulled out a red plastic trimmed cart with a faded Tolliver's stamp on the side. Christian chuckled.

"Yeah we just hijacked whatever cart someone wasn't using and besides, that place burned down a couple years back."

in response, Noah nodded, but the words 'burned down' hit a bit close to home. He pushed the anxious down and re focused on the here and now.

"Guess I'll just take a look around." He squinted down the one aisle. Looked like there were some baskets of fresh fruits sitting out. Good as any place to start, he guessed. 

"Hey, while you do that,I'm going to walk down to the PO and get some stamps.

For some reason, Noah was flustered. He was able to grocery shop on his own. After all, it had been a year since--

"Yeah great. No, I'll be fine, sure." Perhaps it was Bc he had not broken in to his fresh supplies of Ativan or maybe it was because the man who knew this town so well was walking away and Noah had never been one for meet and greet. That was always Hannah's job. 

"Ya sure? " Christian was grinning at him. 

"Yes of course." Noah straightened up and grasped the plastic handles of the red cart. He could do this, and while he had never been a big eater, he realised he had to eat. One of the neccessities of life. A life Hannah did not have, and he tried to push that thought out of his head. There would never be any more crock pot chicken or chil spiced brownies, 2 of her specialities. She was DEAD gone and there was nothing he could do about that..

Ten minutes later, he had enough staples for a week, he thought. Eggs, bacon, coffee, cereal, bread, peanut butter, some homemade jam, bananas, potatoes and some butter. On a lark, he picked out a bag of neatly marked ground round (he guessed there must be a local butcher shop and though he knew the warnings about listeria and e coli thought that if he got sick it would be tit for tat.) and a whole chicken he could roast. Noah had sized up the kitchen that morning, ignoring the pink hue of the cupboards (metal...really?) and the green swash of the counters. There were utensils, pans, a roaster and basic table service.

"salt."

"Aisle 6."

Noah jumped because did he say that out loud and who answered him? He whirled to find a young man behind the counter in the front, cleaning the black belt of the conveyor line on the one and only register.

"To your left. Got some other spices there too. Majoram is good with chicken. My mum makes it like that and people compliment her all the time." The young man had an accent. Not British, no, it was ...clipped and angled, much like Dr. Jokeben's accent had been and he was from New Zealand.

"Ok. thanks." Noah peered around the corner, grabbed a small tub of table salt, some peppercorns, and the marjoram. He added these to his bounty and then looked back at the young man, who was smiling, showing very nice even white teeth. People in Bev Hills would kill for those teeth, came a random thought, and Noah wondered if he was losing his mind. "You the owner here?" Might as well make small talk. Noah started to empty his groceries on to the now shiny black belt.

"Oh, my Mum is. I just help her out in summer time." He paused then extended his hand. "John Kim."

"Oh, uh," Noah fumbled with the bagged chicken and wiped his hand on his jeans. "Noah Wyle."

"You living in Eden's Landing." Statement not a question. "Oh, mate, everyone here knows everyone else's business. I saw you arrive with Kaner. He says he doesn't but the man is a magnet for repeating gossip." John grinned. "I am sure you heard about why my Mum and I came here. SO I won't bore you with the details. You have to make the best out of everything. So welcome."

"I...uh...he didn't.." John looked amused and cocked an eyebrow as he held a can of spaghetti sauce in his hand. "OK," Noah laughed, "Yes he did. He told me."

"I thought he probably would." John went back to packing the groceries in a slow deliberate manner. He was using a large sturdy box instead of a bag. "Next time you come in, just bring this with you. Doing our part to help the environment."

"Done deal." Noah reached for his wallet to pay and was suddenly choked with an emotion so large it threatened to well up and burst in his chest. Hannah. His wife. Laying in a field, shoes blown off. Her hair cascading behind her like she was riding a cycle, green eyes opened to the large rain drops that were swamping them. He realised he was frozen in place and tried to stop the pulse of sweat that was gaining ground on his brow. Dead. She was dead. Always liked to make crock pot chicken Noah do you think you could pass me the corkscrew I need to open the wine oh there you are happy birthday parties are for derelicts no matter you get one anyway on your fortieth

"Sir? Sir??"

Far away. He was far away and choking on the dead debris that was all over her grave. He couldn't breathe, couldn't see, he was having a heart attack that is what it was and he would be dead soon

"Breathe. Deep breaths. Come on, breathe for me, not through your mouth through your nose. There. That's it. You're ok. It's ok."

Noah was surfacing from a dream from a swim from somewhere black and dirty. He sat up and realised that he was in a chair and that John's arms were around his chest, holding him tightly against the wooden back. Noah did as he said, trying not to think about his dead wife and crock pots and birthday parties long since past. A furrow of sweat soaked his brow. What had happened?

"There, now, it's fine." John was in front of him now, kneeling between Noah's spread legs, legs that were long and lean from cycling up and down hills. "Panic attack is all. My friend Aaron gets them so I know what to do. Wait here. I'll be right back."

"I ...really need to go...I.."Noah felt the blush creep from his neck on to his face but John didn't notice. He simply patted Noah's leg and stood, then disappeared in the back behind the register. Noah could hear him messing around with something, then the blender going. He had a blender. Did it work? Did the toaster work? Was he ever going to work again? How about your marriage, said the voice. Obviously THAT didn't work out. He fumbled with his feet trying to get up, feeling the panic well in his gut again and threaten to spill out over his being.

"Stop." John's voice. Dragging hm from the brink. Strong but small hands stroking his hair. Noah leaned into the touch, breathing through his nose. "YOu're good. It's ok." Focusing on the hands caressing his scalp made Noah logey, almost sleepy. "You like that? YOU ok now?"

Noah jerked back and felt the blush start again. Why the hell was he sitting in the neighbourhood grocery store being massaged by some kid he didn't even know? He started to get up but in his line of vision was John with a glass of green frothy liquid. He held it out pointedly.

"Drink. It's good for you."

"When they say that," Noah said slowly, accepting the glass, "It usually means it tastes pretty bad."

"No, mate, this is def yum. Let's see...kale, ginger, kiwis, melon, oranges, a banana, some soy milk, and some vanilla powder to kick it up." He watched as Noah took a sip, then smiled when Noah gave him a thumbs up. Shit, it was really good, Noah thought. Like Orange Julius good.

"Thank you. I mean....it isn't every day that you must meet a stranger and that stranger has a panic attack in your grocery store." Noah wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his flannel. "God, I must look a wreck," he muttered.

"No worries. Just happy I was here to help you." John cheerfully returned to packing the groceries into the box while occasionally glancing up to see how Noah was doing. The man was tall, thin, and looked like he hadn't had a good night's sleep in years. Still, though, the good looks were there, even with the almost too sharp nose and the dark hair littered with cow licks. Noah seemed to notice that John was studying him. He drained the rest of the drink and set the glass down on the counter.

"Seriously, thank you. I....just need to..."

"Whatever you need, you take it." John nodded once to himself and then looked at the register receipt. "That's 42 dollars...Mr. Wyle."

"Oh, come on. You made me a drink. Gotta be on first name basis." Noah smiled. It was perhaps the first time he had smiled without thinking about it, or how it looked, or if the occasion was right for it.

"Noah." John accepted the money and gave change, then heaved up the box of groceries. Noah was about to protest but John was moving quickly through the store, obvious muscles through the worn white Portland Ducks shirt he was wearing. "I can put this in the back of Kaner's truck."

"Thanks. I really appreciate that." Noah watched as John heaved the box up and slammed the tailgate shut. "Really. I do." The words hung between them awkwardly until Christian loped up waving his mail.

"Got my new Gibson catalogue!" He grinned at both men and adjusted his cowboy hat. John laughed.

"More stuff you can't afford." He squeezed Noah's hand (did people really do that any more?) and turned to go back inside the store. "See ya."

Christian studied Noah, then clapped him on the back. "COme on before your chicken rots in the sun."

 

30 minutes later, Noah was putting his groceries away. His thoughts were kept at bay by the monotonous chores of choosing a place in the cupboard for the spices and cleaning the interior of the fridge with a baking soda cloth before putting his cold items away. The fridge was a model from the 50's, with its chubby sturdy rectangular outside and a Fridgedaire metal stamp proclaiming the model make. Still, it was serviceable and he thought not for the first time that his Great Uncle would probably not have seen fit to buy any new appliances. After all, if one worked why replace it? The stove was also old, with 4 gas burners operable by a pilot flame and matches. Noah had found it rather fascinating the hear the hiss of the gas and the pleasant smell of the match when lighted, and he could also get along using that for his cooking needs. he thought about Gramma and her obvious malice for her brother moving away and marryng some woman the family did not know. Noah wondered if they had a good life here, and if Billy ever thought that he should come home to make amends.

As he put the bread on the counter, Noah's hand brushed the ativan bottle. He had not taken one all day; perhaps that was the reason for his meltdown in the grocery store. He was just as glad that Kaner was not there to see it happen as he would prefer not to be the subject of gossip. Oh, he was sure that everyone in town knew who he was. But the what had happened part he would prefer not to spread around. Noah checked his watch and figured maybe he should eat something. Maybe take it out on the deck and enjoy the sunshiine and lazy flow of the water. And with that action in mind, he did just that, sprawling with legs in front of him, eating a sandwich and sipping some milk.

He wondered how deep the river was here. Not an outdoorsy type guy, Noah had no clue. Perhaps by the dark blue green of colours and the way the bank just dropped off he could surmise that it was deep. Maybe....10 to 12 feet deep? He should have asked Kaner, and thought that he should have done a lot of things. Checking the weather report last may was tops on the list. Shaking that away, Noah walked over to the edge of the deck and looked down at the water. He could tell there was a current here, the way the leaves swirled then darted downstream, but it was not quick. The water by its own definition was dark and was giving away no secrets. Noah bent at his knees and gently swept his hand past the surface. He was surprised at how cold it was, and he wondered again if it ever flooded enough to be worried during hard rainstorms. Still, the cabin/cottage showed no erosion.

"Humph." He stood back up and turned to go back to his chair but something caught his eye. A flash in the deep, a colour swirled, maybe a fish, scales glinting in the late afternoon sun? He paused then shrugged and went over to his chair. He should get out his computer but first he would have to ask Kaner (or John) if there was a Best Buy around there or even someplace he could hook up to the internet. He imagined Billy never would have wanted such modern inconveniences. And what if there was no internet access? Well, there had to be some place around here that had it. Maybe the library and Noah wondered if Winthrop even had a library. "Should have considered that. Now what?" Now, he would take a walk, he thought. Woods surrounded his cabin/cottage and he might as well get some fresh air and exercise. "I'm turning into Pru Desmond," he said to nobody. Pru had been their neighbour, and was well known for long walks on the trails. She had gotten lost once and went missing for 12 hours. Her husband said it was the best 12 hours of his life. 12 hours, Noah thought. What he wouldn't give to have 12 hours of his life back with Hannah.

Noah walked to the main road and saw that he had a mailbox. Something was sticking out of it so he fished inside and pulled out a paper, neatly rolled up and held with a rubberband. Amused now, he opened it and examined it, noting that the ink was black against the stark white of the newspaper itself. The Herald. Civilisation had come to Wolf Run, he mused. No more than 6 pages of busy type, it was colloquial and crowded. He saw an ad for John's mother's grocery store as well as an ad for Pope's Nest (finest fish fry around!). Deciding to save the paper for later, Noah stuck it in his back pocket and walked back to where he now lived, a far cry from the 5 bedroom house on the cul du sac in Berkely.

 

 

 

 

"

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"With the dragon eyes that overlook the bay

There's a layer below the city

Where the bottom dwellers go

Trying to buy that thrill they've never known."

--Paich/Sherwood

 

"Ohhh Earl my friend, looks like the oil is hot and the people are pouring in!" John Pope was in a good mood. It was Friday night, revered in these parts for a good time especially at a place that not only served freshly caught fish but cheap liqour and beer, and plenty of both. The townies came like townies would, and Friday being payday, well, John Pope was feeling fine.

"Boss, it looks like a busy night." Earl, a former wrestler and manager of The Nest was a formidable looking man with countless tattoos and a calm demeanour, unlike his boss, the small but strong long haired man in front of him. He had been with Pope (as he preferred to be called since John was the name of a religious holy man or a toilet, Pope said) for 6 years now, and in those 6 years had saved Pope from himself many times. He poured a beer from the tap and put it, contents frothing out the top and over the rim, on one of the server's trays.

"I need to turn up the jukebox!" Pope sashayed around the milling people with the eloquence of a ballet dancer. He was a force, though, an engine that drove the car of The Nest. He had that much dangerous charisma and took nothing from anybody. Pope pushed the machine out enough to snake his hand in for the volume control and "Beast of Burden" ratcheted up from the multilight machine. Singing along, Pope pushed back through the crowds and then spied a friend, alone, at one of the back tables. He glided over to him, pulled out the chair across from the man and sat down.

"Walter."

The bald man with brown rimmed glasses didn't look up. He was eating methodically, dipping his fish in a rich vat of tarter sauce and wiping his hands on his napkin. "Pope."

"You're back."

"Really?" Walter finally looked up, his dark eyes revealing nothing behind the lenses he wore. Not classically handsome, the man had some magnetism about him. Pope grinned wolfishly.

"Gonna tell me about it?"

"Why should I?" came the answer. Pope tapped his foot impatiently then grabbed for Walter's arm but the big man was quicker and moved back. He half stood, a menacing figure that radiated keep away. "I am not going to explain what happened, Pope. Not to you, not to anyone. It's not like I know much anyways. And I won't play your game. Capiche?"

Pope thought quickly. Walter had kicked his ass before, resulting in some nasty bruises that had taken a while to heal. Plus, the government agent didn't look like he was in a good mood. Pope backed up, running into someone behind him, hands up in mock surrender. "Ok ok, calm down. Enjoy the food. Have a beer on me." He called out to Earl who was still behind the bar. "This gentleman gets on the house tonight!" Earl nodded and Walter sighed. He was sitting down again.

"You always have to make things a three ring circus don't you, John?" Walter went back to eating, dismissing Pope and pretending their exchange didn't happen.

That stuck in Pope's craw. He thought Walter and him were friends, or at least, amiable cohorts. And after the discovery in the big woods, when they had joined together out of necessity (the bar owner and the G man, Pople thought, what a combo) to get out alive, they had a history. He scowled and returned to the bar, not feeling as bright as he had 5 minutes ago.

 

Noah took a deep breath and looked at himself in the mirror of the Jeep. He hadn't had another panic attack in 3 days and he had actually been sleeping better lately. Tonight, he would join in on the ritual of Fish Fry Friday, weighing Kaner's advice to his desire to know a bit more about the town and its inhabitants. He slid out of the Jeep and pressed the lock button, the muted honk sounding loud to his ears. The Nest was brightly ablaze with neon, from the beer signs to the entrance sign and it looked glaringly out of place in the peaceful night of Wolf Run. "No better time than the present," Noah whispered. He took a deep breath and walked inside where the noise of a thousand jet engines greeted him all buoyed by the current of Steve Miller's The Joker. He smelled sweat, beer, perfume, wood, and fish. And every last table was occupied. Perhaps, then, a seat at the bar. Noah approached the long wooden bar with the old stools, swivel style and metallic, lined up in front. There were 3 empty stools, so Noah chose one towards the closest wall, and folded his hands on the wooden surface, waiting for the sweating bald guy with the tats to take his order.

"Noah Wyle?" Noah turned using the swivel stool. The bar had gone on mute it seemed. Every eye was staring in his direction. "Pope." The man addressing him stuck his hand out and Noah accepted it, shaking it warily. How many silver rings did this guy think was fashionable, Noah thought fleetingly, then focused on the here and now.

"Ah, you are the infamous Pope." Noah grinned but it was not returned so he faltered and swallowed.

"Now who told you that?" Pope's eyes narrowed. He looked dangerous and in fact, Noah could see him being in a mug shot, with profile and head on photos, probably arrested for some heinous crime.

"I got a tour of the town. And I heard your fish fry was good." Noah kept his voice light and even. "Said so in the paper."

For a minute, Noah thought the man was going to hit him, but suddenly, he threw back his head and laughed. "And people told me that nobody reads that rag any more!" He slapped Noah on the back--a bit harder than usual if truth be told-- and gestured to the bar. "Mi casa es su casa. Drink up. Eat some fish! Enjoy!" And with that, he disappeared into the crowd like a disciple welcomed by his flock. Noah felt relief course through him. He would eat, then leave. Game plan.

"You handled that well."

It was a night of surprises. Noah saw John slip onto the stool next to him and prop his elbows up on the counter. "He didn't punch you."

"No...." Noah pinched the bridge of his nose. "Guess I got lucky."

"Pope is....not as bad as his bark. He's really just another character in this town. Once he knows he can't rattle you he'll leave you alone." John nodded to Earl who poured the young man a beer and pushed it in front of him.

"You aren't old enough to drink that, are you?" Noah thought the boy was maybe 20 give or take a year. John laughed and punched Noah's thigh playfully.

"In one more year, but ya know, it's Friday night and I'm a townie. Not like Sheriff will arrest me anyways." John sipped at it then made a face. "Though I'm not entirely sure if it's worth it. This beer is awful."

Noah took a sip and made a face. "Yeah, this tastes like....river swill..."

"Or worse." John stood up and straightened up, standing on his tip toes. "I see a table. In the back. Come on."

"Your Mom isn't coming?" Noah asked, following the small figure of his new friend as he darted around tables.

John half turned and grinned. At that moment, Noah was struck by how boyish he was. "She hates fish!" he called back. Noah followed, the people sometimes begrudgingly moving aside, and he felt a curious focus on him. Perhaps it was just his paranoia but he was the new kid in town so he supposed he'd have to buck it up. Somehow, John had led him back to an unoccupied table. Noah set John's beer on it and moved the folding chair back.

"You'd think Pope could afford to buy some new chairs!" Noah half shouted over My Shanara. He hadn't heard this song in a long time, not since Karaoke Thursdays at the Ramblin Rose, when Hannah and he would meet up with Matt Jenkins and his wife and kick back a few and howl out of tune. That was how long ago...

"You're thinking." John slapped Noah's hand, bringing the tall man back to the here and now. "Stop thinking so much. Just go with it."

"Easy for you to say!" Noah leaned next to John so he could be heard and saw a fleeting sense of disappointment cross the younger man's face. "This chair is gonna have my balls aching by the time we get our fish!"

"Oh my God!" John started laughing then, his almond eyes closed and the corners crinkling with amusement. He had a nice laugh, Noah thought. He was good company.

"Yeah. My fertile years. Wasted on a chair." Noah spied the server, who was cleaning off the table to his right. She saw his hopeful look and nodded.

"Two dinners?" She called out over the closing refrains of the song. Noah nodded. "Slaws and fries?" When Noah hesitated, John stood up and handed her a twenty.

"The works. Keep it."

"Thanks, kid." She put the money in her jean shorts pocket and vanished into the noisy crowd. John sat back down and folded his hands in front of him. He was regarding Noah with a mixture of curiousity and politeness.

"What?" Noah said, playing with the beer mug.

"I just wondered.....why you came here..." John leaned towards him. "Nobody interesting ever comes here. Yet, here you are."

"Interesting? Me? No. Not interesting." Noah started to sip the beer. It was cold and acrid and not really very good but it made him avoid John's gaze.

"What happened?" John insisted. Noah felt the facade crumbling, knew if he looked up he was liable to pour out his whole sad story and he wasn't ready for that, not here not with a kid half his age, a kid he hardly knew.

"File that under none of your business." Noah knew he sounded curt but right now, curtness was the only barrier between him and reliving that day in May, and he wasn't ready, no matter how many therapists said he was.

"Ah, I apologise then." John nodded and sat back, looking around the bar and remaining stoic. Noah knew he was hurt and felt badly, knew he should make things happy again but he was tired of trying to be happy and caring how other people felt. His wife was dead for Christs's sake. Why couldn't people just leave him alone? But there was no reason why he needed to be angry. John had asked. He had snapped and now he felt regretful.

"I'm sorry." Noah muttered, staring at the bubbles that floated lazily to the top of the beer foam. "That sounded mean. I just....can't.."

"My own nosiness. Sorry. I am direct sometimes." John smiled. He pointed to a couple by the bar, he in full cowboy regalia and she in jean shorts that would put Daisy Duke to shame. Still, she filled them out quite nicely. "Kaner and his wife kerri. She runs the hair salon."

Noah craned his neck and could now see the features on the man's face. Yes, it was his pal Kaner, and it looked like he was holding court not only with Kerri but a dozen or so other women, all dresssed in various degrees of tight shorts and low tops.

"I feel underdressed," John continued. "I own lots of snap backs but no cowboy hats."

"Um, what's a 'snap back'?" Noah leaned back, earlier tension dissapaited. John was more animated than he was used to. Just another service we provide around here, he thought.

"A hat...like..." John took off the one he was wearing and his hair felll around his forehead and face. "See...got the snaps in the back for adjustable."

"Ohhhhh." Noah nodded. "I feel like your father."

"Oh my God. Don't!!!" john laughed merrily. "You're not that old."

"How OLD do you think I am?" Noah waggled his eyebrows. The beer was disgusting. He was going to quit drinking it but right now it was a useful prop.

"Ummmm.....let's see....." John was holding up his hands like a camera, turning the pretend appliance this way and that, squinting and closing first one eye then the other.  "35..no...38! Yep 38. Final answer!"

"Oh dear child, thank you." Noah pretended to pray to heaven and then reached across the table and took John's hat in his hands. "Oregon Ducks."

"My uni." John took a sip of their shared beer, then grimaced. "God, that's disgusting."

"I thought Kaner said you went to Seattle?"

"Naw, he always gets it wrong. I go to Univeristy of Oregon. Kaner thinks Portland and Seattle are interchangeable somehow. Poor guy. Oh here comes our dinners!"

The food was, Noah had to admit, tasty in a greasy salty kind of way. He ate gustily, as he had only eaten a small breakfast that morning before going out on his now daily hikes. The woods were full of trails and he reasoned he could not get lost. Perhaps he would buy a cycle and start to ride again. The roads were conducive for some good biking.

"What do you think?" John shouted above Modern Love by Bowie. Was it getting louder or was it Noah's imagination?

"Tasty!" Noah dipped the last piece of his fish into a very good (actually) tarter sauce and wiped his greasy lips with a napkin. "And I could not eat another bite."

"Too bad. My Mum made a pie." John finished the lone french fry he had on his plate and punched Noah's arm lightly. "I know what you're going to say. It's Friday so she should make molasses cookies. Well, we have no molasses so we have to wait for the truck to come on Monday."

"What kind of pie?" Noah thought about the Al American Dinor pie and shuddered. That was an abomination.

"Peach!" John arched his eyebrows and stacked his dishes. "Come on! At least try a little piece!"

Noah was torn. Peach pie, homemade, was something he hadn't had in a while. And good company. He thought that he should be sad and alone all the time, then debated wheter or not Hannah would want that. She wasn't the accusing voice in the back of his head. It was him. Survivor's guilt, someone called it once. Aptly put.

"You're thinking again!" John stood, hands on his hips, and slicked back his hair in preperation to don his snap back. "Come to the back door if you're up to it. If not, see ya around."

Noah watched him leave, his small frame devoured by more people crowding in. That was rude, he heard his Gramma say, shaking her finger and puffing away. Rude and uncalled for. Wallowing in guilt is not going to fix anything. She loved you, you loved her, end of story. Yes, but Gramma, she took the best of me to her grave. And I am all I have left.

"What d'ya think about the fish? Good eh?" A hand on his shoulder startled him and he whirled around only to see Pope sitting where John had sat. "It's all cod, good quality. I might take a hit on it once in a while but the cook puts enough salt on the batter to keep the beer flowing."

"Any good bar owner knows to serve salty appetizers," Noah agreed. His hands circled the mug of half drank beer and he wished desperately now he would have gone with John.

"SO what's your story, Berkely? Professor?" And Pope pronounced professor like Poor-fess-or, kind of derisive kind of unsavoury, mostly sarcastic.

"My story?" Noah repeated, trying to look blank and affable at the same time.

"Yeah, you know, everyone heard about Billy leaving his place to some upstart straight lace from the big city of El Lay. So that's you, right? Huh? Right?" Pope was looking wolfish. His close trimmed beard accentuated his strong jaw.

"I suppose it's me, yes." Noah nodded. He looked at his watch and suddenly, Pope was in ihis face, not mere inches from close contact.

"What? Am I BORING you, Professor? Not used to some talk with someone not good enough for you?"

"I never said that," Noah stated, trying to remain calm. What was with this guy? Maybe he shouldn't have come. Maybe he should have just stayed at home and--

Pope sat back down and smiled. "That's good. Cuz I would never want to be intentionally boring." Pope indicated the beer Noah was nursing. "You should have asked Earl for the bottled stuff. That's swill." He stood up and leaned down with his mouth so close to Noah's ear that when he talked, Noah could feel his breath. "Don't be a stranger. Some time you and me are going to have a sit down." And with that, he was gone as quickly as he appeared.

 

John sat in the silence of the two story frame house his mother had bought, sight unseen, when they had come to the States. Originally from Melbourne, he had always felt like an outsider there in this country close knit town. It wasn't until he went away to school that he blossomed and made many friends. He had also made Crew, Track and Field, and the Rugby team, his small but sturdy muscular frame useful in the scrums. When he came back in the summer time, he could tolerate it more and relax. And his Mum, God bless her, had made a go of it and had put some money away in the bank for when she could finally move to either Vancouver, where her sister lived now, or Toronto, where her Godparents lived. John supposed when she left he would find a good job in Portland, sports medicine being his major. Although vancouver was tempting.

He looked at the clock and wondered if Noah was going to show. It had been 20 minutes since he had left the bar, walking out away from the mayhem and smoke and laughter to the relative quiet of the street. Maybe he had been too bold with the man. Maybe he should have just let it go, and not extend the invitation. But it hurt him to see the man so broken and so closed off. And it was in John's gregarious nature that he had to FIX people. His friends, his Mum, himself.... He got up and straightened up the counter, putting the bread away and wiping the non existant crumbs off the surface. Naw, he wasn't coming. And it was no fun eating pie himself. Reluctantly, John put the pie away and then went to his room, ear buds in his ears and hope dashed.

 

The next morning dawned humid and hot. Noah awoke with a start, finding the sheets twisted around him and his pillow on the floor. "Was it good for you? Cuz it was good for me." He chuckled and got up, swinging his feet on to the planked floor of the bedroom. He thought he should maybe go into Winthrop, stop at the hardware and get either an ac unit or a fan or both. He had read where Oregon summers could be hot and sticky. And he needed milk and possibly more fresh fruit. That would mean a trip to the grocery, although he could go to to the Food Giant he had seen just before he hit Winthrop. If he went to the Run's grocer, he would have to see John, and since he did not stop in for a piece of pie, he was sure John would be a bit pissy with him. Although...why should it matter? Truly, he was only there for the summer. He didn't have to get close to anyone. When the summer was done, he could go back and resume teaching at Berkely. Wasn't he here because of his therapists' recommendations? All of them had said he should get away and find himself. He wasn't sure when he had become lost but he figured it was that day in May.

Food Giant it was then. Noah stocked up again and then wheeled his Jeep into the Tru Value Hardware in Winthrop. The building was a low cement structure with an assortment of pick up trucks parked in the lot around it. Noah felt a bit out of place. He did not own a pair of cowboy boots or a big metal belt buckle and he had no plans in the future to purchase either of them. Within 15 minutes, he was the proud owner of both AC unit and a powerful 3 way floor fan. The place even accepted credit cards! Now he was all set for whatever the summer threw at him. "Take that, Wolf Run!" he murmured.

By the time he had the AC unit installed (and thank the gods that Billy had the foresight to get the wiring replaced at some point) Noah was sweaty and grimy. He had had to pry the window open and then clean it well, and just the exertion on the humid day was enough to leave his t shirt wet in places and clinging to his body. The fan was easy--he placed it between the kitchen and the living room and turned it on, dissapaiting the heat in the small rooms. Feeling satisfied, he decided to peel off his shirt and sit on the deck.

John wheeled his bike along the 2 lane road running from the Run towards Winthrop. It was bloody hot and his mother had insisted that he place the cookies in a cooler so they would not melt by the time they got to John's new friend, the man from California. Not that John had asked his mother to pamper the man or anything. OK. that was a bit of a lie. John thought Noah was perhaps the most interesting man he had ever met and he wanted to get to know him.

Ahead was the split so John steered his bike to the right then immediately turned off on Noah's road, the one that would lead him to the water and the man's cottage. He parked his bike next to a tree and looked around the property. The cottage was small and clapboard, in the style that was functional in any house next to the river. There was a small porch leading to the front door and John nimbly flew up the 3 stairs and knocked lightly on the door. He waited, hoping that he would not be turned away, hearing his own heart beat in his ears. "Hello? Noah? You there?"

Something....he could only describe as a compulsion...led him around back of the cottage. He held the cooler with one hand, strap looped around his wrist, and what he saw would remain with him for the rest of his days. John knew he had to act and act immediately.