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(fic)Winterbone's Blues - Not a rock, I'm just Ruth
All Me, no apologies
(fic)Winterbone's Blues
Title: Winterbone's Blues
Author: Ruth
Theme: Song
Original or Fandom: Original (Jess Winterbone)
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Violence, supernatural happenings
Symbols: _italics_
Beta'd – Unbetaed

The McDonalds was only serving coffee and packaged Danish at this hour of the night. I set my pack and my guitar down on a plastic table and dug out my wallet. I counted over my money. I hadn't left with much and my searching had diminished it rapidly. I frowned, rubbing at two days worth of stubble on my chin thoughtfully. Finally, I counted out enough change for a large cup of coffee.

The girl at the counter was tired. She looked young to be working so late, but there was a determined air about her. I could feel her weariness in my bones; I thanked her warmly and hummed a blessing as I left. It was tired too my Singer's sight watched it drift like a pale, feather winged moth to the girl and perch listlessly in her hair. Well, better a weary blessing than a fresh curse, I thought.

The coffee was black, hot and bitter. It jolted through my system, waking up my stomach which angrily reminded me how long it had been since I'd eaten. That had been a lavish breakfast at the truck stop given me by a kindly driver who had a nice long speech about how you can't run away from your troubles. I thanked him politely, but explained I wasn't running from anything but I was looking for someone. He offered me a blessing and said he'd pray I'd have luck with my search. I did appreciate that; he hadn't even the seed of an Earthsinger, but any blessing can never cause hurt.

Mother says she named me because I was born in the most bone-chilling storm that came on the winter solstice she could remember. I wouldn't have even thought of leaving the village if Owl Feather hadn't come. He had another name once, but left that behind him when his plane crashed and Uncle Laughing Raven found him. He was an outlander. We=d all been taught that outlanders were spirit dead and only the Earthsingers were keeping Earth in harmony. Owl Feather had the seed of Earthsinger in him and it woke up as he healed in the village. Grandfather didn=t know what to make of it.

Owl Feather had lots of stories of the outlands. Once the twins were born, I told Mother I was going to Quest in the outlands. Grandfather said I was making a mistake. Mother said I was out of my mind. Owl Feather gave me lots of good advice and part of his old name. I rather liked the sound it made; Jess Winterbone.

I found a hospital on the edge of the city where they treated children with major sicknesses and there I could bring a bit of healing and a bit of hope.

Little Emily Porter was the reason I was here. She was very sick and needed a bone marrow transplant. Everyone in the family had been tested except her big sister Anji because Anji ran away from home. Dr. Porter was all hard and angry and Mrs. Porter cried. Emily looked up at me as I came in to mop the floors that night and asked if I could find her big sister.

"Now, sweetheart," I said as low as I could so I wouldn't wake the other children in the room. "What makes you think I can do that?"

"Alice said so," she whispered, her eyes all sparkling in the dim light from the hallway. "I was dreaming I was in the garden and Alice said so."

See, Alice was the little girl that called me to this place. She couldn't beat her cancer but she still dances sometimes in the garden her parents gave the hospital. If Alice told Emily I could find her big sister, well, I was just going to have to make it so.

I sang a mark on Emily and did a Seeking through that mark. I felt a calling down further into the city than I had ever gone, and so I packed up my guitar and I went.

I drank down the coffee and eyed the packaged Danish. They didn't even begin to look good. My stomach and I were going to be quarrelling with each other by morning unless I could come up with something. I shrugged and went into the men's room to wash. I looked into the mirror and was not impressed.

My hair was falling out of its tail and the stubble and the circles under my eyes just seemed to make my face look thinner and my nose stick out like a broken Swiss knife. The leather jacket that Mother made was looking the worse for wear. My tee-shirt was sweat stained and the left knee was coming through my jeans. My boots were worn and battered. My cowboy hat was the newest part of my wardrobe; I bought it with my first pay check because I liked the look of it.

"It don't matter what you look like 'Bone," I said aloud. "You've got to find Anji Porter for Alice and Emily."

I stripped to the waist. I didn't look any better, my ribs stuck out like a racing greyhound's. Not enough meat on my bones to make soup with.

Shuddering with the cold of the water, I waved my hand under the tap to break the light beam and rapidly sponged myself off with a spare undershirt. Damn sanitary blow dryers! If I had some paper towels I could've done a better job, as it was, I barely got the stink off myself. I stuffed my undershirt and tee shirt into my backpack, buttoned my jacket over my bare chest and walked out of the building.

The pink lights glared in the parking lot, making the wooded area behind the station look even darker. It glinted off the sleek lines of the biggest, blackest, baddest of bad-ass motorcycles I'd ever seen. I couldn't help but stop and walk around it, giving a silent whistle. Bless me, but I wasn't sure I wanted to meet the fellow who rode _that_

A big white dog trotted out of the wooded area with blood around his muzzle. He put his ears up and growled low in his throat. He stalked over between me and the bike. He glared at me with one moon yellow eye and the other ice blue.

I gave a silent whistle again. Dog? Hell, no, this was a wolf and further more, being Earthsinger, I could tell he was a Shifter.

"Pleased to meet you," I said, tipping my hat. His ears went straight up and his head cocked to one side in a look that said "huh?" plainer than words.

I gave a chuckle and walked off to find a spot for a nap before I headed on.


I paused to get my bearings. Mother and Grandfather hadn't liked cities much; dirt, smoke, noise and people all more than a body can stand, they said. Owl Feather the Outlander wasn't very impressed with cities either. Yet, the more I wandered, the more I could hear its music, feel its rhythm, like the beat of a great heart. There was a harmony here, not the kind I was used to, it was filling me and working in me and begging to come out in the music. "Sing me, Bone," said the city and sing it I did.

I came back to himself as a series of metallic chimes sounded in front of him. My impromptu audience applauded politely. I blinked. I was sitting on the sidewalk. I didn't know where the rusty coffee can had come from, but the bottom was covered in coins. A couple of people in the audience dropped bills in as they walked on. I tipped my hat and thanked them. I picked up the can and tucked it into my backpack after removing the money. The city had given me a gift. That was worrisome, because it would expect a service in return.

I was at a corner where there were many big, fancy glass buildings. In one corner of the largest building was a little convenience store. It offered coffee and sandwiches. There was a brown haired woman behind the counter. Through the big glass window I could see she would be pretty if she ever smiled and her eyes sang the saddest music I'd ever heard.

She wasn't Anji, but something inside me said, "Sit down right here, Bone." So I did. I dusted off my boots, sat down with my back to the big window of the shop, pulled out my guitar, put out the coffee can and started playing.

The people at the cabstand stared as I sat and played my songs; like they'd never seen anyone like me. Given their fancy suits and shoes, they probably hadn't. Most of them hurried on by,
but a few stopped to drop some money in.

A limping, grizzled man in a preacher's collar dropped in a pamphlet with the name and address of a homeless shelter along with his money. "Drop on by," he said. "I play blues guitar myself and we can jam together." I tipped my hat to him and he walked away, leaning hard on his cane and laughing. He had a good feeling to him. He wasn't Earthsinger, but he had a power for healing and harmony.

Lady Sad eyes came to the window and looked at me a moment. She then came outside with a big cup of coffee and a fancy sandwich. I found out the sad lady with the singing blue eyes' name was Jinx. It said so on her little name tag. I didn't like the name. She was no "Jinx"; there was no wish for evil in her.

"Here," she said. "The customer decided they didn't want white bread. I'm supposed to just throw it out but "

"Lady, I do thank you most kindly," I smiled as warmly as I could. I wished her no ill. I never could.

"You can't stay here for long," she said in a voice as soft as an owl's feather. Owl feathers are the softest so their wings make no sound hunting. She might have had a lovely voice if there had been any laughter in it. "Mr. Stephen won't like it."

"Who's Mr. Stephen?" I asked, blowing on the coffee.

"He owns this building," she said in that sad, soft voice as she went back inside.

I thought about that as I started eating. The sandwich was roast beef and cheese with vegetables and fancy mustard; it was one of the best things I had tasted in a long time because it came as a free gift from a pure heart.

"Pretty Lady Jinx," I whispered to my guitar. "Kind Lady Jinx, let me sing you a blessing, Lady Jinx." I saw it hover in the air and perch like a shining butterfly in her warm, brown hair.

I finished up and starting picking again. The sun started going down and people poured out of the buildings to the subway and buses and the cab stand. My can was half-full of coins and bills. I added in the coins from this afternoon. I stood up to see if Lady Jinx would be willing to change the coins into bills so I could travel light to the preacher-man's shelter.

There she was, helping Lady Jinx clean tables. Anji Porter. She looked more like her mother than Emily did with black, black hair and cat-shaped eyes. She was also hugely pregnant, which explained why her father was so angry.

"You're Anji!" I cried as walked in the store and she started like a deer, scared to death.

"We're closed," Jinx came to her side, ready to defend her.

"Yes, ma'am," I said. "I came to see if you could change some of my coins, but I saw Miss Porter. Miss Porter, Emily sent me to look for you."

"Emily?" She blinked at me, "How do you know Emily?"

"My name's Jess Winterbone, Miss Porter, I'm a janitor at the children's hospital."

"Oh," she gave a cry and sank to a chair. "Emmy's sick again?"

"Who's Emily?" asked Lady Jinx.

Well, no sense singing a song twice; Anji told her part about Emily being her little sister and I told my part about her being sick and needing bone marrow and how Anji was the only one not tested. Anji started crying and said she couldn't go back; her father wanted to kill her baby. I didn't know what to say to that. Jinx changed a pile of coins into bills and told me to be on my way.

I went and was sorry to go. I felt I had let down Emily and Alice.

Just as I walked away, a long, black, shiny car pulled up to the curb and a big fellow in a grey suit got out and opened the back door. A tall man in black, with white, white skin and red-gold hair pulled into a ponytail got out.

"Woo!" I breathed, feeling my hair stand on end. I could see them spirits, some sad, some bad and all of them trapped instead of heading on to where they were supposed to be. They were swirling like a big dark cloud around the man in black, feeding off him even as he was feeding off them. He looked at me like I was dirt, then he looked at the women tidying the little shop. From under his coat he took an ugly looking knife with a black, black blade that drank the light. He looked _hungry_.

He wanted Lady Jinx's soul in that black cloud and Anji Porter's and her baby's.

"No," I whispered and plucked a string. He jumped like he'd been stung. I stepped between him and the door. He glared at me. I tipped my hat to him. That seemed to make him angrier those poor trapped spirits howled around him as his face got red.

"Lock the door, Miss Jinx!" I called to her. She looked frightened, but she locked the door.

"I _own_ this building." He said harshly. This was the Mr. Stephens that owned the building? I felt sick. What sort of man does that to himself? "Make sure the trash is cleared from the sidewalk, Tremayne," he snapped, pointing at me. The man in grey looked at me indifferently. I lowered my guitar and my pack to the sidewalk, silent chanting a song to call the Earth spirits to aid and protect; not just me, but the women in that shop. I felt it. The power of the city that had sang in me before came up and filled me. _This_ was the favor the city wanted from me – to stop this terrible man and sing those trapped spirits free.

I could do it if I wasn't pounded to pulp by Mr. Stephens body guard. He was bigger than me, with short-short hair. His eyes were concrete dull and I wondered if his soul was already whirling in that ugly black cloud. I hiked up on the balls of my feet and clenched my fists.

"No," I said again.

I didn't expect the howl. It echoed off the glass buildings. It was the full-throated challenge howl of a wolf. It was accompanied by the roar of a motorcycle.

Well, I'll be dammed. . .

It was that big, bad-ass bike from the McDonalds. It was being ridden by a long-legged blond man in chocolate brown leathers and mirror sunglasses. He skidded to a stop and jumped off the bike. He was as tall as me, but half-again as broad; lean muscle all of it.

Stephens glared at him. "Who are _you_?"

"Call me Garm," he bared his teeth in his short beard. "I followed a Calling and find you here. I know you," he pointed at Stephens. "You killed my sister."

Stephens hissed and swung the knife. Garm dodged back. Tremayne looked torn between me and his master. I solved his problem with a quick right under his jaw. (Damn, that hurt!) He staggered and took a swing. I grabbed his arm and kicked his legs from under him. He crashed into the side of the car.

I jumped back and I started singing. I heard the notes and let them echo over and over. I felt the power rising through the sidewalk and I flung the song out, seeing it as a spiral of light rising from my chest, blossoming in the darkness into a questing tendril seeking the lost souls that would hear and respond.

I felt an answer me. The soul of a Shifter woman, she caught my tendril and threw it to another soul. That one flung it to another and that one did too until they were all linked by a line of light and song.

Another voice, a man's voice, rough and deep, singing an old sacred song, joined with mine.

_"In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore . . ." _

His voice opened a door to a place of light and healing and hope. One by one the souls helped each other into that door. The Shifter woman went last and looked back to smile her thanks.

The preacher man limped to my side. "I heard someone call for help."

"I'm glad of it, sir," I said.

"No, no, _no_!" screamed Stephens. "They were mine, _mine_." Garm caught him from behind. I heard bones break as he twisted that ugly knife away from him. Garm spun him around and lifted him by the front of his coat. His glasses had come off in the tussle and his right cheek had a bloody cut.

"My sister's soul is not _yours_ ," he snarled in Stephens' face. He shook him violently. "_No_ soul is yours!" He finished shaking him with a sharp crack.

"Let him go, son," the preacher man called. "He's not worth it."

"Your sister's soul is free," I added.

Tremayne rose up, clutching the side of the car. His eyes looked alive but he didn't look so good. "M- Mister Stevens?"

"Do something!" Stephens screamed. Garm dropped him. Stephen sat down in the middle of the street.

Garm snorted in contempt and turned his back. Stephens screamed and grabbed up the knife in his other hand.

"Look out!" I shouted. Garm jumped back out of his reach.

Tremayne had staggered around the car. "Mister Stephens, stop!"

Stephens whirled and stabbed him with the black knife. "Mine! Mine! Mine!" he screamed. He kept stabbing Tremayne even as the whooping siren of a police car nearly deafened us all.

The police stopped him with a lot of force. While they were holding Stephens down, Jinx ran out with one of her table cloths to try and stop Tremayne's bleeding. I helped her. Anji came out and the preacher man started talking to her. Garm fidgeted on the sidelines, but when more police showed up, he fled.

Too bad. I wanted to make his acquaintance. It's a rare Shifter that can hear a calling; and what had brought a Shifter into the city?


I leaned against the coffee machine and sighed deeply. I had finally had to get out of the Waiting Room. I pulled out my money and counted out enough for a cup of coffee.

The coffee was black, hot and bitter. It jolted through my system, waking up my stomach which angrily reminded me how long it had been since I'd eaten. That had been the roast beef sandwich Lady Jinx had given me I checked the clock yesterday afternoon.

This was a bad habit to be getting into. Upstairs, Preacher Rick was talking to Dr. Porter and Mrs. Porter while they waited for Emily and Anji to get out of surgery. Dr. Porter was still angry that Anji wouldn't tell him who was the father of her baby, but Preacher Rick was telling him that shouldn't matter.

I walked out to Alice's garden. She was laughing and dancing in the moonlight.

"They think Emily's going to be fine," I said to her. She gave me a great big smile, like she'd known all along, and maybe she did.

"You talk to ghosts too?" said a voice behind me. Alice ran off laughing.

I turned. Garm was standing there, his head cocked to one side. One of his eyes was yellow amber and the other was ice blue.

"How'd you find me?" I asked.

"Ask her," he said.

I looked back into the garden, but Alice was gone.

"Didn't catch your name," he said.

"Jess Winterbone, my friends call me 'Bone."

"Bone, huh? I'm Garm, Greysong, Garm Greysong."

Greysong? Might be some luck in that. . .



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