Starting the night after Part Twelve ends
and ending the next mid-day

Ham sat on the roof of the roof of the whorehouse, looking toward the skies. It was maybe two o'clock in the morning, way past curfew but he didn't care. He was finding himself missing Fontana more then he thought he would.

They had left as soon as it got dark, going first to meet up with Father Andrew and then to the ship, taking the truck that Fontana had brought, now loaded down with the citrus Elias and Paul had managed to get. Ully, now pitch black with glow-in-the-dark crimson highlights, had flown above them, doing a very bad rendition of the 'Ride of the Valkyries'. Robert and Chris had gone along as well, Robert for a last good-bye with his daughters and Chris to drive the truck back. As much as they hated to do it, the van would have to be abandoned. Ham had wanted to go but Fontana had insisted he stay. The infection in his ears was minor but the danger of deafness was very real and neither of them wanted to take a chance.

He stared into the darkness. Absently he drew his legs up, wrapping his arms around them. The night was cooler then usual and he found himself shivering ever now and again, despite the heavy jacket he wore. He felt something crinkle in his shirt pocket and he smiled, remembering the girls coming into the stable to say good-bye. They had had to write out what they wanted to say and afterwards Polly had remained behind a little longer. Pulling out the piece of paper, he unfolded it to read what Polly had written once everyone else had left.

You should just tell her.

And underneath, in response to his surprised look.

You look at her sometime like my dad used to look at my mom.

Guess he wasn't hiding it as well as he thought. He folded the paper back up then jerked as a hand touched his shoulder. He looked up at Maggie in surprise.

"Sorry." She said, speaking slowly. "Still can't hear?"

He shook his head, slipping the paper back into his pocket. "Not yet." And, he thought, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction.

Maggie offered him the blanket she carried. He smiled his thanks as he wrapped it around himself, watching as she sat down next to him and pulled a pen and pad of paper from her jacket pocket.

"This night air can't be good for your ears." She both said and wrote.

"Maybe not. But I can't sleep." He smiled at her worried look. "I'll go to bed soon." He promised. "What are you still doing up anyway?"

Maggie shrugged. "Just got in. Didn't feel like going to sleep." She looked out over the camp.

Ham found himself watching her, realizing that she had just gotten in from a 'date'. She must have showered first thing, since he couldn't pick up that damned dragon bait's scent on her at all. He suddenly found himself chuckling.

Maggie blinked at the sound and looked over at the man. She prodded him gently with an elbow. "What?"

"I was just thinking of Polly's reaction when she heard some of the men referring to Bernstein as a 'rat bastard'. She considered it highly insulting to rats and told them so in no uncertain terms." He saw the confusion on her face and grinned. "That's right. You weren't here."

Sudden realization appeared on Maggie's face. "That's why they call him dragon bait now, isn't it?"

Ham nodded.

"I wondered where that came from." She glanced sidelong at the man. "Is it a Confederation term? Like phrashi?" No one knew what the latter word meant but it was obviously very nasty and many folks now used it. It was easier then their species name, which Ham had said was something like Hriisherii, and more accurate then the English term they had chosen to use.

"Yeah." To her surprise, he continued. "Their then leader, Xon, was the Dragon, you see, eight hundred years ago. We use the term to remind them of that."

Maggie stared at him, seeing little of the hardness they had known in the first few weeks he'd been with them. She found herself wondering ...

"Penny for your thoughts." Ham said suddenly and she jumped. He turned his head to look at her, his dark eyes serious.

"They're not worth that much." But after a moment she moved to sit facing him, to make it easier for him to read her lips. "I was wondering ... what would have happened if Fontana hadn't been here the last couple weeks." Ham looked confused and she smiled slightly, trying to clarify what she meant. "What would you be like, if he hadn't been here?"

Ham stared at her in obvious surprise then his eyes grew distant as he thought over her question. "I don't know. Probably the way I was when I first came to this group."

"Hard, cold, closed off." Maggie said quietly, remembering Chris' words from the day before.

"You forgot Donovan's favorites." There was an odd bitterness in Ham's voice. "Unfeeling, stone-cold killer, inhuman ... owwww! You need to trim those nails!" He looked at the woman but there was no amusement on her face, just a grim almost angry look.

"You sound as if you believe what Donovan says about you." She said curtly.

Ham drew back from her anger, feeling something tighten inside him. "If you hear them enough ..." His voice faltered and he looked away, suddenly feeling emotionally naked.

Maggie poked him and then poked him again even harder until he once again centered his attention on her. "And now that Fontana's gone, are you planning on reverting back to the man you were before?"

"I don't know." There was real doubt in his voice. "I don't know if I'll have a choice."

"Why?" She demanded, sensing that Ham was dangerously close to the edge. "It's not who you are."

"Then who am I?" Maggie was struck by the desperation in Ham's voice and by the realization that he really wasn't sure any longer. "The human, Ham Tyler? Or Komees Ihn'e, the Barbarosian?"

Maggie reached out and grabbed his nearest hand firmly with one hand, using the other to grasp his chin, forcing him look at her. "You're both. Whether you stay on Earth or return home, you'll still be both. For the past couple weeks, you've managed to balance yourself between the two ..."

"Having Fontana here helped. Having him here ..." Having Fontana here had given him the illusion, however thin, of being among his own people again. With him gone, the illusion vanished, leaving him surrounded by beings who, no matter how close the physical similarities or how long he had lived among them, were still alien to him.

"Now you need to merge them." She smiled slightly. "Preferably the better parts of both."

She was rewarded with a slight smile. "Everything's so ... raw and open. Like an unhealed wound." Ham fumbled, unable to explain how he felt but feeling the need to do so. "Part of me just wants to bury everything again. It would just be so much easier ..."

Maggie snorted. "An amputation rather then a healing ... the easy way out. Have you ever taken the easy way out?"

Ham's eyes widened at her words, realizing that she was right. "No." He admitted. "I don't think I ever have." His hand tightened on hers. "Thank you."

Uncaring of the claws, her hand tightened on his and Ham felt the unstable foundation of his self-image settle until he was once again on solid ground. The self-doubts that had plagued him eased. He had enemies here, yes, and would continue to have them but he had friends as well. Friends who didn't care that he was different.

"What are friends for?" Maggie asked and he almost laughed. He reached out in an almost absent-minded gesture to touch her lightly on the cheek, his wrist brushing her chin then abruptly he let his hand drop and looked away, obviously embarrassed.

Maggie looked at him in surprise, trying to reason out what just happened. After a moment, she smiled. Turning the hand she still held over, she touched his inner wrist lightly then looked up at him. "Scent glands." Then she paused, flustered by the look in his eyes. She abruptly released his hand, suddenly all too aware of it's warmth, and sat back, wrapping her arms around her legs.

"I'm sorry." Ham said. "I didn't mean ... no one else here can smell it." He attempted a thin smile. "Fontana did a lot of good here but he wreaked havoc with my self-control."

"As long as you don't end up over-controlling yourself again." Maggie shifted until she was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to him, turning her head to continue talking with him. "Will we see them leave?"

"Hmmmm?" Ham looked confused before realizing what she was referring to. "Oh. No. They'll go out into the ocean, as far away from all the motherships as they can, before taking off."

"And the others ... when should they be back?"

Ham shook his head. "Depends on how far away Doro was hiding ... which must not have been too far away." There was relief in his voice and Maggie looked to where he was looking. The truck was just coming into sight. "There they are."

"Good. Let's get down from this roof."

Ham laughed and rose, stopping for a moment until his balance returned. Once he was sure of his footing, he looked down at the message Maggie had just written. Maybe you should stay off of rooftops until you're sure of your balance!

He grinned. "Maybe. Let's go. Yes, down the stairs."

Ham wasn't surprised to see Julie already out in the street, waiting for the returning vehicles. Donovan was with her, along with a few others. Still holding the blanket wrapped around himself, Ham moved to Julie's far side.

"I'm fine." He muttered at her look of concern then scowled at Maggie, who was pointedly shaking her head. The two women crossed their arms and glared at him until he looked away. He was beginning to wonder what Fontana may have told them both. He would have wondered even more if he'd seen the look they exchanged the moment he wouldn't notice.

Donovan saw the exchange though and frowned, wondering what was going on. While he and Julie had talked a great deal over the last couple days there were some things she refused to discuss, mainly concerning Tyler. 'Some things,' she had said pointedly. 'Have to stay a secret.' And he had flushed, reminded once again that she no longer trusted him as she had before.

Julie shook her head and poked Ham sharply in the side. "Inside." She ordered firmly then gave him a pointed shove toward the stable when he opened his mouth to protest. "I want to check your ears." Unable to argue with that, Ham turned and trudged toward the stable, Julie following. "Send Robert over, will you, Mike?"

"Sure." Donovan watched as Julie and Ham vanished into the RV.

"Sit." Julie ordered and Ham sank into the nearest chair, watching as she prepared a solution of dried kuta.

"Not the blue." He protested.

Julie stirred the contents of the glass vigorously. "You need to sleep." Fontana had told her that there was an added ingredient in the blue packets that would help a Barbarosian sleep. "We'll keep an eye out, make sure you don't get an infection. Here."

Ham took the glass from her, eyeing her thoughtfully. "What all did Fontana tell you?"

"He just gave me some helpful advice on how to handle you, if need be. Apparently extreme stubbornness is a family trait. Now drink." She ordered firmly.

Ham smiled slightly, remembering all the times his mother had said those words, usually concerning his father and usually in much stronger language. He drank down the contents of the glass, setting the now-empty glass on the counter nearby. It wouldn't actually put him to sleep but once he laid down, it would be easier for him to go to sleep and stay asleep. On the other hand, it did give him a pleasant enough buzz that he barely noticed Julie checking his ears.

He frowned as she got his attention by poking him again. "Have you and Maggie been comparing notes?" He said crossly. "I'm gonna get a bruise there, you two keep that up."

Julie smiled. Fontana had also mentioned that what was in the blue packet of dried kuta tended to make some Barbarosians high. Ham apparently fell into this group. "How do you feel?"

"Buzzed. As undoubtedly Fontana mentioned would happen." At her stern look, he continued on a more serious note. "I ache all over, my upper back is killing me, I still can't use my claws fully, it hurts to breath too deeply. I still can't hear but at least my ears aren't hurting. Pretty much the only things that aren't hurting." He grumbled.

"So stay inside today and tonight and rest. All day and all night." She glared down his protest. "We need you well, Ham. As soon as possible." Her look softened. "And if you need anything, just ask."

"Yeah, okay. Thanks." He said after a moment.

Julie started at a knock on the RV's door. She opened it to see Robert there. He offered her a metal briefcase and then a case similar to the med kit sitting open nearby. "Fontana sent some things special." He said as he climbed in, shutting the door behind him.

"That's his med kit." Ham said sharply and Robert grimaced.

"I figured that but he insisted we take it." He spoke slowly enough for Ham to understand him. Ham frowned but there wasn't anything they could do about it now.

"How'd it go?" Julie asked.

"Smoothly." Robert sank into a chair. "Doro helped. Does she always look like a humanoid lady fox?"

Ham grinned as he figured out what Robert was talking about. "Fontana has a thing for ladies with red hair and green eyes."

Robert arched an eyebrow. "Okay. I'm not going there."

"Smart." Julie muttered. "And this?" She prodded at the metal briefcase with her foot.

"Fontana sent it back, said to give it directly to Ham."

Interested, Ham reached for the case but Julie grabbed his wrist firmly. "Later." He hesitated then nodded.

"Later." He agreed.

"Bed." She continued and Ham grinned wickedly.

"Is that an order or an offer?"

She glared at him narrow-eyed, aware of Robert trying to smother his laughter. They both knew Ham wasn't serious or rather he was but not in the way most people would assume.

"Behave!" She ordered sternly then she grinned. "You might want to remember that Fontana told me a number of very interesting things."

Ham stared at her. "He always did talk too much." He muttered crossly, gingerly reaching down to untie his sneakers.

Julie touched his shoulder gently. "I'll come over later."

He nodded and Julie turned to leave the RV, glancing at Robert as she opened the door.

"I'll be out in a minute." He turned to see Ham looking at him inquiringly. "Fontana asked me to give this to you." He pulled a box the size of his palm from his pocket and offered it to the other man. Surprised, Ham took it.


Robert grinned and slipped from the RV to join Julie.

"What we got?" Julie asked, all business now as she watched the truck being unloaded.

"Weapons, ammo, and more of those chain mail vests in the truck. The real interesting stuff is here." Robert pointed toward a neat row of boxes and pouches. "A run down of who's doing what where. More or less. Plus some other things."

Julie nodded. "We'll lock this stuff up right away. Mike, Elias, give us a hand, will you?" She gathered up an armload of stuff, stepping back to let the others do the same before leading them into the saloon. She didn't go to the little office but to another small windowless room just beyond it. There, much to Donovan's surprise, was a huge safe.

"Where did that come from?"

"I don't know and I'm afraid to ask." Setting her load on a nearby table, Julie spun the dial then careful worked the combination. Pulling the door open, she started to stack everything inside. "Rico and Nick found it somewhere and hauled it here the other day. They thought it might be useful." Once everything was safely inside, she closed the door and spun the dial several times. "Now I think we better all get to bed. It's been a long couple of days."

Ham lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling, the unopened box resting on his chest. The total silence of the last several hours was more upsetting then he liked to admit. A part of him even now strained to hear something, anything but nothing came through. After several minutes of attempting to hear something, he forced himself to stop, concluding that it was not good for his peace of mind.

His hearing would come back, he had to believe that and if it meant actually following the doctor's orders for that to happen, he would. He looked around the RV, seeing all the items once in the loft now stowed neatly away. Fontana had brought everything down, even the quilt that had covered their makeshift bed and Ham drew it close, feeling an unexpected pang of loneliness. Fontana's scent still clung to the quilt and the faint musk of sex and lust as well. It had been so long since he had had a lover ...

Ham shook himself free of that thought, knowing that dwelling on that was almost as bad as his attempts to hear. He reached for the box and flipped it open, looking inside. After a long moment, he smiled.

It was maybe mid-afternoon when Maggie cautiously opened the door, peering into the RV. When Julie had asked her to check on Ham, she had been leery. Few people were allowed into the RV but Julie had mentioned she'd managed to slip him a double whammy of a nighttime dose, almost guaranteeing him sleeping for a good eighteen hours or longer. And she had been busy sorting through what the New York group had sent so, finally, Maggie had agreed.

Stepping into the RV, she was surprised at how clean it looked. A pair of bachelors ... but then Alice had been living here for a time. She moved as softly as she could toward the bed in the back, stopping when Ham turned toward her, afraid that she woken him up. But no, he was just rolling over in his sleep, probably in response to catching her scent. At least he didn't consider her a threat or he would be trying to wake up no matter how big the dose.

Involuntarily, she smiled. She couldn't help but reflect that he looked nothing like the man who had first appeared in their previous headquarters. In sleep, the sharp foreboding features seemed to soften. With his dark hair too long and tangled, beard just starting to grow back, and cresent-shaped scar hidden in the recesses of the pillow, Ham looked incredibly young and yet he was older then any human ... and quite possibly any Visitor ... on Earth. But what was it Robert had said? Among his own people, Ham was considered young. It was best to continue to think of him as thirty-something, the age he looked.

Reaching out, she touched his cheek lightly, thankful to find it cool to her touch. If major infection set in, he'd have a fever. Before she could draw her hand away, Ham turned his head, nuzzling against the palm of her hand in a fashion that reminded her of a cat she used to have. She hesitated then rested her hand lightly on his cheek. He sighed contently, rubbing almost absently against her hand, the bristle of emerging beard scrapping her skin.

With a quiet laugh, Maggie pulled her hand away then yelped and jumped back, blinking in surprise. He had bitten her! She glanced down at her hand but the skin wasn't broken, though there were indentations visible. Well, that was a lot like that cat as well. Whenever she had stopped fussing over Muggles when Muggles didn't want her to stop, the cat would nip her lightly.

She looked at Ham again, seeing his now-restless movements. She hadn't woken him up but it was apparent his sleep was disturbed. He had a frown on his face as he shifted uneasily. What was it Chris had said ... something to do with scent. She hesitated then reached up to pull the bandana from her neck. Shaking it out, she laid it next to Ham's head, a part of her wondering what she thought she was doing, another part of her somehow knowing it was the right thing to do.

Ham took a deep breath then relaxed, smiling slightly in his sleep. Maggie smiled as well, making sure he really was asleep before looking around, noting the half-empty pitcher of ice water nearby and an empty plate as well. Obviously he'd woken up enough to get food and water and then gone back to sleep. Fontana had recommended that he sleep as much as possible over the next couple days. He probably wouldn't go into the healing sleep but just sleep itself would help a lot.

Picking up the plate, Maggie stepped into the small kitchen area to wash it, setting it carefully in the drain to dry before looking around. There was nothing more she could do except to report to Julie and she turned to the door, slipping back out and closing it firmly behind her, not once noticing the gleam of tiny ruby eyes watching her every movement.

Author Notes: Thus ends Book One of The Outrider Chronicles. This book contains 12 parts, 4 interludes, and 1 xxx-rated interlude. There may be 'missing scenes' posted in Book One in the future. There will be at least three books, quite possibly four.
Some people have complained about the slash content of these stories. Except for some situations, many of them inside jokes, I honestly can't see where anyone could be offended but then I tend to be a very tolerant person. I have often wondered if they would be equally offended if Fontana were female. I have tried to keep the graphic part of the relationship outside the main story.
There are some End Notes available concerning Book One.

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