He wore it up under his white man's clothes, for if they did not see it, they wouldn't take it. They did not covet that which they did not know with their eyes.

The nuns had sent them to butcher a few frying chickens. They sent them because the other children complained about the messy task. So, it came down to the mute and the half-breed to do the job.

Ike didn't like the blood. He'd confessed as much when the tears threatened to fall and he did not want his new friend to think he was a coward.

Buck hadn't laughed at Ike. There wasn't a need to make fun of someone that had been honest with him. A friend.

So Ike turned his back and waited his shoulders tense from anxiety while Buck made short work of the butchering. They'd died flapping their wings and clawing at the air. They died unhappy with their lot in life and Buck didn't blame them.

"Ike." Buck's voice turned the other boy toward the sound. "It's over."

It was the fright on Ike's face that had Buck's body tensing for the blow. The first one brought him to his knees saying things in his ears that made his anger burn, but he managed to hold onto the knife and when one of the boys got careless and let go of his arm he'd cut him. Not deep… not to cause damage, but just painful enough to draw the attention of the others.

They ran away… only one boy turning back to point a finger at Buck… then Ike and tell them. "You tell, either of you… breed or dummy… you tell and we'll do the same to you… only worse."

Ike had helped him up and tried to lead him over to a chair, but Buck waved him off and moved over to the water pump. The blood on ground was now on his clothes, dirt too. "They're gonna punish me for this. They don't like when we dirty these clothes."

*tell them*

Buck looked away for a moment. "Tell them? Tell them what? That they tried to," Buck tensed with the memory of the voices hissing in his ear, "paint me like an Indian? Make my skin as red as a real Indian should be? What would they care as long as I don't cause them any trouble?"

Ike put a hand on his shoulder and Buck nearly knocked him over by accident. When he turned to apologize he blinked once… then again. Ike didn't show any fear. The boy just held out the wash cloth, damp with water from the bucket beside the pump. With his free hand, he signed, *use this*

Buck wiped the blood from his skin, cleaning the bronzed planes of his face and the column of his neck. When he drew the cloth over his collarbone the sun in the yard caught on the metal at his wrist and he saw Ike narrow his eyes against the blinding glare.

*what is that*

Buck pulled back his shirt sleeve and allowed the silver cuff to fall forward onto his wrist. He turned it over and over in the sunlight as the facets played with the available light.

"This," the word came out so softly that Buck had to repeat it to make sure that it was heard, "this is from my mother."

Ike waited for Buck to continue. In the few months that they'd known each other Buck hadn't said anything about his kin. Not that Ike could remember, anyways.

"Her people would make bracelets like these… hammering silver dollars into a solid piece… or when traders would bring them silver from Germany." Buck swept the damp cloth over his arm, wiping the dust and blood from the tanned skin and silver alike. "This was the first bracelet she made when she was a young woman. Her skill improved a lot after she made this one… but she said this one was always her favorite. 'This one,' she said, 'has character.'"

Buck turned the silver around and around on his wrist, his fingers trailing over the metal following the different gouges left behind by the tools she'd used to shape it into the silver circlet that he took with him everywhere. Murmuring to himself he told Ike something he'd never said to anyone else. "She gave me this when my arm was big enough to hold it on, when it wouldn't fall off my hand." He chuckled at the thought of how small he'd been as a child. "And she told me that while I wore it we'd always be together, that the silver had a little bit of her spirit in it… she'd shaped it and it had taken on elements of her soul."

The young man, so divided in spirit, turned to his young friend, so equally lost in the world and said, "and with everything I've been through I think that maybe it's taken on a little bit of me, too. That it's been with me through all of my travels and holds that memory just as much as the memory of her efforts."

*** ***

Ike turned the bracelet over and over in his hands only half listening to Teaspoon as the older man explained to the others that Buck had quit the Express.

No one was more upset than he was, but how was he going to tell them? Lou and Cody had begun to pick up on a few words here and there, but most of them depended on Buck to tell them what he was saying.

'How could he?'

Ike squeezed his eyes shut and pounded the top of the table with his fist, setting their coffee mugs bouncing on the hard wood. He was angry. He was furious! Buck had talked him into this job and he'd just gone and left!?

Shoving his plate back Ike darted out into the night to fight his own demons with the silver bracelet clutched in his hands.

*** ***

Ike was barely aware of the sun baking his skin. He was hardly aware of the blood drying on his bindings. He was in a world of hurt and there didn't seem to be any end in sight. Wordlessly his mouth called out. His lips forming words that his voice would never utter.




He squeezed his eyes shut to block out the sunlight, but a moment later there was a shadow above him. Shadows… had they come to beat him again?

Hands grabbed at him, roughly brushing against his clothing, searching through pockets. He wanted to scream at them… to ask them for mercy… to ask that they wait until he was dead before stealing from him.

Suddenly, the activity stopped and Ike sagged against the wooden frame they had him bound against. Was it now… time for him to pay the price for doing his job… or maybe time to pay for stopping to talk instead of 'runnin' like hell'?

Someone grabbed at his collar and shook him, sharp words barking at him and then seeming to bark at the shadows beyond.

Sunlight burned hot on his face again as though the sun had come out of hiding to sear his flesh from his bones. "Who are you?"

The words sounded… like English? It had to be a dream… a hallucination.

"Why do you have this?"

Ike opened his eyes and stared into the bronze planes of a man's face. A man's face with angry eyes. In his raised fist he held Buck's silver bracelet.

"Tell me!" A light flared in sky like a falling star against a backdrop of blinding light. "Where did you get this?"

There were little if any coherent thoughts available to him. He could hardly remember what happened to it in the first place. The Kiowa had surrounded them so quickly… had pursued them to the point of exhaustion that he'd barely remembered that Kid had given him back the bracelet. The bracelet. How was he going to explain that to the man looming over him?

B-K. Ike couldn't make the sounds, but he repeated the movements that he could muster, the consonants that might mean something if the man was paying attention. B… K…

Anger and fear seemed to roll over Ike like flames across the dry prairie grass. The man was looming over him and Ike realized he was riding the razor edge of the man's on fears.

B… K…

"Running Buck? How do you… how did you take this from him?"

Ike shook his head, his lips dried and cracking, but still he tried to form a word that would save him… that would tell this man that he was given the bracelet. There was nothing he could do with his mouth to save himself… he knew that… anyone knew that… but that wouldn't help him. Not anymore.

Turning his head toward his right hand he looked at his fingers, barely tingling with sensation, he wiggled them to see if they could still move the way he needed them to. When he saw that they ywould he looked back at the man that most likely held his life in his hands and motioned with his hand. *friend* Not sure if the man understood his gesture, he repeated it again. *friend*

*** ***

It was hard for Red Bear to believe. The bracelet, their mother's bracelet, in the white man's pocket. His first feeling was fear, overwhelming fear that his brother had been killed and this white man had taken it… but then he remembered… the 'Express.' The men his brother had chosen over his own people. This man… was one of them.

Then he'd seen the sign of friendship 'spoken' over and over by the white man. By the man who he could kill with a single thrust of a lance. The man that he could kill with a cut from his knife. By the man who he could kill with a single word. Friend.

"You know my brother? You are his… friend?" The word was distasteful on his tongue. The thought of Buck sharing his time with such a man… it was too painful to think of, but still preferable to his brother perishing under the knife of his stranger. Or was it?

Red Bear's thoughts were angry, his sense warring with his tortured thoughts, his love for his brother warred with the hate he felt for the world his brother lived in.

"Friend." He spat the word out but didn't kill… couldn't… until he knew if the man spoke the truth.

He slipped the bracelet into a pouch that he strung at his waist, slipped in to keep it safe. To keep it in this world.

*** ***

He watched them leave. Watched the three horses climb the hill with the sunlight shining in between them. He watched them go and knew his brother would never come back.

He let them go, because he could offer his brother nothing but pain… nothing but suffering and starvation. He let them go because…

Red Bear laid his hand over the pouch he'd strung there and felt the edge of metal press against the canvas and into his palm.

He let them go because there was a part of his brother that would always be there with him and in this one way their mother had finally returned home as well.

Prompt by Rain: And what ever happened to the silver bracelet Buck gave to Teaspoon, to give Ike and he threw it to Kid just before he was kidnapped by the Kiowa....Did Kid give it back to Ike? To Buck? Did Ike give it back to Buck? Did it get lost? Would´ve somebody go to search it?

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