Sequel to Ultimate Sacrifice

Buck hated his job right now; he hated being at the station and the looks everyone was giving him when they thought he wasn't looking. Teaspoon had tried to speak to him, but Buck didn't feel like talking. He knew that he didn't have to keep his job as a rider since he no longer had a family to provide for, but this was the only place he'd ever been able to call home, and in a way, he felt obligated to this station and everyone there.

Being in the room at the main house only reminded him of Dorrie and Buck knew her couldn't remain there with the memories of her and his son haunting him. He really didn't want to sleep in the bunkhouse, with everybody looking at him but knew that it was better than aching for the love he'd so recently lost. No, he would have to stay with the other riders and just get used to their staring angry eyes.

When he moved back into the bunkhouse, Buck took only clothes, Dorrie's journal and her pillow. He had yet to open the book, but had placed it at the bottom of his trunk wrapped in the kilt that he'd worn the day they were married. Every time he opened his trunk, the scarlet plaid red fabric taunted him to take a look; but he never did. Every night, he hugged Dorrie's pillow to his chest because it still smelled like her. By doing this, he was able to pretend that they were together…that he would wake up in the morning and look at her beautiful face. Every morning was a disappointment.

If his wife leaving wasn't bad enough, just this morning, he and Ike had another big argument. His mute friend wanted to know why he'd pushed Dorrie away? Buck didn't want to talk, especially not to Ike. Heck, after seeing them together, the two of them probably had their own little secret spot where they'd been sneaking off to every chance they got. Buck shuddered at the thought because in his heart she would always belong with him and no one else.

Once all his chores were done, Buck decided to go for a ride. He didn't know where he was going, he just knew that he had to get away from the station. At least for a short time. Letting Midnight choose the path they would take, Buck was surprised when they ended up in town. Shaking his head, Buck looked around for something to do besides standing in the middle of the street.

Seeing Dorrie standing over at Doc's talking to an elderly woman, Buck couldn't help but stare. She looked more beautiful than Buck remembered; yet sadness marred her features. Should he go up to her? Try to explain what had happened that night and say he was sorry? No, he couldn't… because she couldn't possibly love him anymore - she probably was in love with Ike judging by the amount of time the two spent together.

Walking into the nearest building in the hopes of getting as far away from Dorrie as possible, Buck wasn't surprised when he ended up in the saloon. Right now, the most unsavory place in town seemed the only place he was welcome. Looking over at the far corner of the establishment, Buck spotted Shane sitting behind his piano. He didn't realize until now that his father was really quite good at playing, even drunk.

With determined steps, Buck walked up to the bar and ordered a bottle of whiskey. He wanted to know if the stuff really took away pain, like people said. Was that why his father was drinking so much? Was he too trying to forget something? Running away from something that couldn't be changed?

Sitting down at a table in the shadows, Buck opened the bottle and took a long sip. The burning liquid hurt as it made its way down his throat, but it made him think of something other than Dorrie so he took another, longer sip this time. The shadows offered a comfort of sorts - he could see the world, but the world couldn't see him.

Standing along the wall as yet another loud-mouthed cowboy tried to fondle her, Sherrie saw an Indian walk in and make his way up front to where Shane was playing one of his little ditties. She'd heard all sorts of stories about red skinned men and always wondered if there was any truth to them. Sherrie couldn't help but to speculate how many men the Indian had scalped and what he really looked like beneath his cloths.

As the night wore on, she smiled and watched him pouring the whiskey down as if it was water. Maybe now that he was more than a little drunk, he'd like to spend some time and money on her. It certainly didn't hurt that he was quite handsome.. Pushing Randal's hands away, the silvery blonde wove her way over to his table. Leaning over just enough so he could see her exposed cleavage, she looked down at him with her beautiful blue eyes. "Hello sweetheart. Buy a lady a drink?" she said huskily.

Buck had been too busy to even notice the girl who had walked up to him. He studied her for a moment before he took the glass that came with the bottle, poured about half an inch of whiskey in it and pushed it towards the girl. It didn't take him long to focus his full attention on the bottle again. Buck was starting to get a little lightheaded, but he didn't care; it made him forget what Dorrie looked like. It made him forget about little Tsen and how he was missing out on seeing his son grow as each day passed.

With a small chuckle, Sherrie sat down in the chair next to the Kiowa and sipped the golden liquor. "If ya keep drinkin' it down that fast you'll soon be under the table...and unable to have a little...fun with me upstairs," she smiled sweetly at Buck and reached over to gently touch his hand with her index finger. "You would like that, now, wouldn't you?"

"I've been feeling like that for a couple of days now, under the table, and I don't think some whiskey is going to change that." Then he looked at her, really looked at her and it brought back memories of Dorrie once again. In the shadows the young woman looked a little bit like his wife. They both had similar cheekbones. "I don't know if I feel like having fun right now...or ever."

Shane looked up from the piano as he saw his son talking to Sherrie and let out a sigh. He felt for Buck. He had been there himself, a broken heart and nothing to be done to make the pain disappear. Shane wanted to say something, but knew that it wasn't his place. He had never really been a father so Buck probably wouldn't listen to him. Besides, he hadn't been feeling too good, and wasn't sure if standing up would help his dizziness. Lately, he had been dizzy a lot, and unable to hold much of anything down. Turning his attention back to the piano, Shane decided that he was going to keep half an eye on his son, not let him get into too much trouble.

"I can make all the pain go away..." whispered Sherri, as she leaning in, placing her hand on his thigh. Running her hand up and down his leg she gave him a small smile, "Much better than that bottle."

"I have a feeling you would be softer than the bottle...and not burn in my throat so much." Buck's voice had a slight slur to it. "I no longer have a family to provide for so the money won't be a problem. Yet, I think my mother would haunt me forever. My father works here and as far I know she ain't haunting him..." Buck wasn't sure where he was going with this, but it felt nice to have someone touch him again. Someone who didn't hate him or want to talk some sort of sense into him. "How much would I owe ya for the whole night?"

"Just two dollars love and I promise to make it worth every bit of it," she said, her voice soft, while taking his hand and pulling him up out of his chair. She gave a chuckle as his tried to focus on her face. Buck swayed a bit and Sherrie pulled him to her side as she led him through the maze of the other tables toward the stairs. She got some sour looks from a few of the regulars, but the hardened saloon girl paid them no mind. Money was money, and the fact that he was good looking as well was an added bonus. Sherrie caressed his chest, playing with the buttons on his shirt.

"Hmm can't wait to see what you look like...under those clothes love." she purred. Just as the two of them were climbing the stairs, Lou came into the saloon looking for the Kiowa. The boys had all been taking turns watching him since the trial. They were all angry with him for pushing Tsen and Dorrie away, but he was still a part of their family. They intended to see that he didn't get into trouble. When she saw Buck heading up the stairs with a pretty blonde saloon girl, Lou pushed and hustled her way towards them, determined to stop them from getting any further.

Shane stood from his piano, one hand tightly grasping it not to fall over. "Don't make the same mistake I did," he called up the stairs after his son. Lou jerked her head to give Buck's piano playing father a sharp look before following after her friend and the floozy. 'Why are you doin' this Buck?' she pondered as pressed against the wall of the stairs to let a staggering drunk sway past.

Reaching her room, Sherrie held tight to the now wobbly young man and unlocked the door to her room. Pushing it open she led him to the bed and helped him to sit down, until he fell backwards with a small thump. Looking at the ceiling, Buck felt light headed and dizzy. Was the room really spinning or was it just the bed? As the saloon girl's head came into view, Buck slurred, "You're pretty. If you had red hair, you'd look like my wife. She left me, you know. I saw her leave with my best friend. She was holding my son, determined on never letting me see him again."

"It's alright...Sherrie will make the pain go away...she must have been a real stupid woman to leave such a handsome man as yourself," she said, unbuttoning his shirt and running her hands over his now bare chest. Leaning over the handsome Indian, the saloon girl pressed her lips to his.

Feeling her lips, Buck realized that he missed the feeling of someone kissing him. Placing one hand at her neck and the other one around the small of her back, he drew her closer. Buck knew in the back of his mind that this wasn't real, this woman wasn't Dorrie. But she was the first person for days that didn't judge him, or try to talk him into doing what they thought was right for him.

Drawing back from the kiss, Buck moved Sherrie so she was lying on her back. Resting his head on her shoulder, Buck sighed and drew in her scent. "Please, just hold me like my wife used to. I'll still pay ya, I just want to fell like she's with me…in my arms once more." Closing his eyes, Buck drew in a deep breath and imagined that this woman smelled like Dorrie and that Tsen was lying in a cradle at the bottom of the bed. Deep in his imagination, he was content and happy.

Sherrie moved her hands around the young man finding it strange that he didn't want her in the way every other man did. The young woman's head jerked up as a scrawny young man came in the door.

It had taken Lou some time to find out from the other call girls which room the blond haired girl had been given. With determined and angry steps, Lou pushed the door open to find Buck lying on the pretty saloon girl's bosom, a small smile on his face. Horrid memories flooded through Lou's mind and she had to press her hand against the frame of the door until the nausea passed. A deep disappointment in her friend had her frozen for a moment. In her mind's eye, she saw Dorrie's face as she'd been hurt by those men in the street, almost dying when Tsen was born, and Lou felt sick at the sight of Buck in the arms of another woman so soon after he pushed her friend away. She was reminded once more of the reasons why she didn't trust men, not even Kid to get that close. She saw how easily women were replaced by men...or used.

Shaking her head she moved into the room. "So this is what ya want to do, is it Buck? After all Dorrie went through in that courtroom and all... Well I was gonna stop ya from makin' a mistake but...just by bein' here ya already made that mistake. Just wonder how ya'd feel if she was off with someone else right about now. While you have yer 'fun' tonight with this little piece of fluff, think on where she might be. That should make what yer doin perfectly all right..." With bitterness in her voice and tears in her eyes at seeing a love so strong brought to such ugliness, she turned and slammed the door on her way out.

Buck opened his eyes and looked after Lou as she disappeared. "You didn't see her ride off with Ike. How much time they've been spending together. You didn't see how great he is with my son when I have no idea what I'm doing," he mumbled softly. Buck knew he was wrong. He was the one who said that they shouldn't have married, but Dorrie didn't understand what was going through his head. His need to protect them. Moving closer to the woman, Sherri, he thought her name was, Buck again whispered, "Just hold me like my wife used to do whenever I was troubled. Don't let me be alone."

A frown came over the pretty saloon girl's face at the scrawny young man's words. When the angry boy left and Buck pleaded with her to hold him as his wife had done she pulled him close. "Sure love. If that's what ya want but...I can do a lot more..." she whispered in a soft voice as she turned her face toward the Kiowa.

Lou raced down the steps and stopped for a moment to glare at the man who called himself Buck's father, before running out of the saloon. As she mounted Lightning, tears began to fall for her friends. Hastily brushing them away, Lou sped off toward the station.

*~*

Nearly a week had passed since Dorrie had moved in with her Mother and Rory. Each day away from Buck ate away another piece of her soul and she lost all interest in food or sleep. Tsen cried all the time as if sensing his father's continual absence and his mother's desperation. No matter how much Rory and her Mum tried to help, the pain did not lessen in the least...it only grew. When Dorrie had been in town yesterday, she'd seen Buck heading into the saloon and thoughts of him with one of the working girls sent lightning bolts through her mind and into her already wounded heart.

'Maybe if I go and try ta talk with him...tell him how much I love him...he'll come back...he'll change his mind, take back what he said,' Dorrie thought as she sat upon the grass while the sun rose slowly upward. A small smile came to her face at the thought of him coming home and things returning to the way they'd been before those men had touched her. They'd loved each other so much. How could they have let what happened pull them apart when it should have brought them closer together?

"I'll go take care o Tsen and then head over ta the Station ta speak with him. Please, sweet Bridgid, please let him still love me enough to face this together," she whispered in prayer as a frog hopped into the pond and let out a loud croak. Dorrie ran her hand across the soft grassy spot where she and Buck had shared their love. She would never forget the first time he said, "I love you, anam cara." (Soul mate in Gaelic) Whenever she needed comfort, she came here for it brought back the joy of that moment when he'd said the words that were hidden in his heart...his words of love.

Just as she was about to rise, a rider came thundering up into the open field as if intent on reaching the pond's cooling waters. Lou was furious, and she felt like screaming. She couldn't believe what she'd seen. Buck with that...that...whore. She thought of Buck as a friend, but didn't think that he would be stupid enough to throw away his wife for a night with a saloon girl. Riding as fast she could, Lou didn't pull Lightning to a stop until she saw Dorrie in the distance. Jumping down from the horse, Lou ran to give the healer a hug. Holding her friend tight, Lou felt even madder at Buck for doing this to her best friend.

"Lou? What is wrong? Tsen? Is he all right?" Lou quickly reassured her that Tsen was fine. Dorrie cried out, " Oh may God, nay Buck..!" She pulled back to look into her friend's face. "Is he alright? Has someone hurt him again?" she asked in a panicked voice.

"Why do you still care about him? After all that he's done to you and Tsen. And now this." Lou restlessly placed her hands at her sides. She may have said too much already... Stomping her feet, Lou looked at Dorrie, trying not to seem too accusatory.

A cold fear ran through the healer at that one little word from her friend's mouth... 'this'. Heart pounding, voice shaking, the red haired young woman asked, her fingers grabbing tight to Lou's arms, "Is he gone? Has he gone away?"

"No, I saw him in town. He was with..." Lou knew she should have stopped before she started running her mouth, this would kill Dorrie.

Eyes widening, the auburn haired lass swallowed hard before quickly responding, "With who? Who was he with...Sam? Did he get inta a fight again?" she asked anxiously as she tried to pull free and head to her horse.

"He didn't fight. He was with a...a...girl at the saloon." There, she's said it. "Both me and Shane tried to stop him, but he was drunk, really drunk and wouldn't have any of it." Dorrie sucked in a large gulp of air and swayed on her feet as her friend's words slowly sank into her mind. For a moment her heart stopped beating. "Nay...it canna bay true...he didn't...it joost looked like it...maybe he was helpin' her or..." she stammered out, her head shaking back and forth in denial. "Nay he woodn't...he loves may...he promised...Buck wouldna' lie ta may..."

"I saw them in bed together...with my own eyes," said Lou in a low voice. Right now she hated herself. Why did she have to be the bearer of the bad news? She could have just kept her mouth shut.

'My own eyes...my own eyes...them in bed...' each word was like a knife to her heart and Dorrie just stared at the open field in shock as tears began to fall down her cheeks. For a few moments she just stood there...not moving. She looked down at the place where they had shared a love they thought so strong it could bear the brunt of prejudice and hatred. Now it served to teach Dorrie her hardest lesson ever; what it was like to lose one's heart. The knowledge that love was anything but a foolish notion in books, poems and dreams.

"I've been a fool ta believe in sooch a thin as love," she murmured more to herself than anybody else as she began to walk like a lost soul for a place to rest. Dorrie was oblivious of everything but the need to leave the mockery of a place, which once held memories of her foolish youth.

Running to catch up with Dorrie, Lou laid a hand on her friend's shoulder and drew her into a hug. "Do you want me to take you back to your mother's?"

"May mum?" she asked dazed while the two horses neighed to one another in the background. "Aye...may Mum has Tsen...I want may son now...I need him," she said in a voice that sounded like it belonged to a child.

Lou nodded. "Let's get to the horses and go back. I'll take care of ya," said Lou as she began to lead her friend towards the horses. Helping Dorrie up on Wind Chaser, Lou mounted Lightning and looked to see if her friend was ready to leave.

The auburn haired woman kicked her horse and quickly set off down the road toward the Macalister farm. Bouncing like a rag doll, the healer eventually made her way to the barn. She shook her head to try and regain her composure but was finding it difficult to know what exactly to do.

Once Wind Chaser came to a stop just outside the barn, Dorrie slipped down from his back and let the reins drop to the ground. "Thank ya Lou. I...I'm surry. I joost need ta think bout thins fer a bit." Lifting her dazed eyes to meet her friend's concerned gaze. The tears were screaming to be released but Dorrie was too lost to find her way back from the numb state she was in to free them. "I need ta take care of my son right now...maybe we can get together later..."

Lou nodded. "I understand," she said. "If you ever need anything you know where to find me." That was the last Lou said before she kicked Lightning into a trot and exited the small farm. Left alone, a thousand images of Buck sleeping with one of the saloon girls went rushing through her mind and her stomach clenched in rebellion. Kneeling down by the trough, she lost what little she's eaten earlier that morning.

Hearing the sound of horses coming up the small lane, Moira made her way out the door with Tsen in her arms to find her daughter bent over in the yard being sick. "Doreen...lass what in St Patrick's name is wrong?" she asked hurrying to her daughter's side.

"Joost nay feeling well...aye 'tis all." Wiping her mouth with her sleeve, Dorrie pushed herself up and upon seeing her son's face began to cry.

"Come here may lad...I need ya so." She hugged the now squiggling young boy close to her chest.

"Oh may love...it pains may ta see ya like this. Come on now...Buck wheel see the error ta his ways and come back ta ya. He joost needs some time ta think thins through," her mother said trying to comfort her child.

Shaking her head, Dorrie walked with Keir up the steps and onto the porch. "Nay Mum...he dinna love may. I was a fool...boot I have Tsen...yes he's mine and his love is true," she said before opening the door and going into the house.

Moira looked at her daughter with a confused look. 'What has happened that has my daughter acting so strange. I certainly hope Buck will come soon so the two of them can talk.' With determined steps, she followed her daughter into the house.

*~*

The first thing Buck became aware of the following morning, was a splitting headache. The second was something soft and safe. He drew out of a set of warm arms and tried to lean up on his elbows but swallowed as dizziness overcame him. Slumping down into a prone position, Buck groaned in pain.

"Guess I owe ya two dollars." As he said it, Buck realized something. By the Kiowa ways, he wasn't doing anything wrong, but in the white world he was still married to Dorrie and was doing something that was against her beliefs. Overwhelming guilt hit him and Buck knew that no matter which customs he thought on, he could never stop loving Dorrie and being connected to her. It was all so confusing. Which laws should he follow? In his heart, he would always be Kiowa yet he was no longer in the village with his tribe. Did the rules of his mother's people apply in the white world?

Slowly opening her eyes, the saloon girl looked over at Buck and smiled. "Well, I haven't really earned it...yet. If ya like we can...enjoy each other's company now." Shifting a bit to unfasten her gown, Sherrie smiled at the Indian man while raising a brow. "It must be hard knowin' that your wife...went away with your best friend." She gave him a sympathetic look and touched his face.

Buck didn't want to talk about Dorrie so he pulled away from her touch. "I should probably go. Thank you, for last night. For not judging me like everyone has in the last couple of days. I may be doing something wrong, but I needed …." Sitting up, Buck felt dizzy and placed his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes, trying to will the hangover away. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a couple of coins and laid them on the bedside table.

"Oh...sure. If you ever want to get together again...I'll be here. I'm Sherri Ellis by the way." Noticing that he was looking for his shirt she pointed to the floor a few feet from the bed. Buck went to retrieve his shirt but was quick to sit down again. It must have been the alcohol that he'd been drinking. Most of what had happened last night was a little blurry. Buck had a feeling he would never remember exactly what had happened.

"Now I know why I don't drink," Buck said in a low voice. "Thanks Sherrie, for taking care of me, but I have to get going. I have work waiting for me." Buttoning his shirt, Buck stood up and walked towards the door. He didn't like the prospect of work right now, not when he would rather be safely tucked in a bed, but he didn't want to get fired. "Maybe I'll see you around." With a small smile, Buck stumbled out the door and down the stairs.

The bar was completely different from the previous evening, Buck noticed. The place wasn't busy and there was calmness where once it was filled with l boisterous voices and people playing cards. Swallowing, the Kiowa remembered what had happened last night, how mad Lou had been at him. At the moment, Buck didn't want to go back to the station. There are things that are just dangerous, and then there was Lou, who was darn near deadly when riled.

"Morning." The half Indian heard someone say behind him. Turning, he saw Shane sitting at the bar with a cup of coffee. The man looked like Buck felt - horrible.

"Morning," said Buck. "I have to get going." The rider didn't want to spend time with his father and have yet another person to tell him how to run his life.

"Why don't you sit down and have a cup of coffee with me," said Shane.

Some coffee sounded great, so Buck ignored the usual hatred he had for the man and sat down on the chair next to the older man. The coffee wasn't half-bad and it bought him some time before having to be back at the station. The two men sat sipping on the strong brew unwilling to break the silence. After a few moments, the young Indian rose from the chair and stood swaying slightly on his feet.

"Thanks for the coffee," said Buck, happy that Shane hadn't made any attempt to talk.

"Sure thing, Running Buck."

"Why do you call me Running Buck?"

"Because it's your name." Shane saw Buck look at him as if he was stupid. He knew that the relationship between him and his son was strained and wondered if he had unknowingly just put his foot in his mouth.

"Thanks." Buck forced a small smile on his face. Shane using his real name was a small comfort right now.

Just as he was about to step out the door, his father offered to accompany him home to the station and Buck gratefully accepted. He knew that with his hangover, it wouldn't be safe for him to ride out alone. The young rider was uncomfortable with Shane helping him, but didn't want to do anything stupid, like fall off his horse. Once Shane had his horse saddled, the two men rode out of Sweetwater toward the station.

Seeing Emma standing on the porch with her hands crossing her chest, Buck swallowed hard and knew he was in more trouble than he could ever imagine.

As the young Indian swayed more than a little on his way to the porch, Emma shook her head with anger and disappointment. It looked as though Buck had decided it was a good idea to drown all his problems in a bottle, like so many others, rather than trying to work things out.

"Mornin' Buck. I have a nice large plate of breakfast in here just callin' for you. I'm so glad you won't disappoint me by not eatin' it," she said with a nod. Emma knew if he'd been drinking as much as she thought he had the smell of the food let alone eating it would be punishment enough.

"Had some coffee," mumbled the ebony haired rider as he kept his eyes firmly set on the ground. "Not really hungry." But there was no getting out of it. Buck knew that Emma would sit and watch him eat every last bite. "A little food has never hurt anyone," He forced a smile on his face and more or less stumbled into the bunkhouse. Sitting down in front of his plate, the Kiowa looked down at the offensive object and frowned.

"I wouldn't worry too much about Buck. He's just a little drunk and a whole lot stupid," said Shane as he watched his son enter the bunkhouse.

"Well now this is an amazing coincidence you bringing Buck home now isn't it?" Emma said with a tinge of briskness to her tone. Of course insinuating that he certainly hadn't stopped Buck from his foolish choices. "Eat," she said sharply as the young man pushed the egg around with distaste. "So Mister you want a plate as well or have you also been taking your nourishment from a bottle?"

"No thank you ma'am. I have to get back to town. Besides, Running Buck is in capable hands now. I only meant to get him home safely. In his state, I don't think he would have found the station."

Buck looked at the plate with a strong sense of distaste before taking a bite into his mouth. It tasted like cotton and his mouth already tasted like that. Knowing that Emma had her eyes on him, he chewed, swallowed and then took another bite.

"No he probably wouldn't have found much in the state he's in, true enough. I thank ya kindly for bringing him home...safe. Would have saved a lot of bother had he been sent home BEFORE he had so much fun at the Saloon," she stated her brown eyes meeting the older man's. Shifting slightly, she saw Buck looking a bit green. "Go on… keep eating. You have chores ahead of ya and ya need yer strength."

"Maybe your next visit will be on happier circumstances," she said with a slight tilt of her head to the man that they'd learned was Buck's father.

"I hope so," said Shane. "He may be my son, but he is also a grown man. He needed to learn that he couldn't find what he's looking for in a bottle of whiskey. Besides, by the looks of him, he'll think twice before touching the stuff again." Shane looked past Emma at his son, who appeared to be on the verge of losing his stomach.

Buck groaned at Emma and contemplated suicide. There should be a law against making a person eat against his will.

"True enough. He's a grown man...responsible for the choices he makes. Nothin' truer has ever been said. Guess when ya care 'bout people ya hope to keep them from making bad choices like some of the choices we older folk have made along the way," she said with a sad smile. Her eyes glazed over a bit as she turned back to continue cleaning up the rest of the dishes the other boys had left behind. " Let's hope it was a well-learned lesson. 'Cause some don't go away after a day or two...they stick with ya for the rest of your life." the strawberry blond paused for a moment and then added, "My goodness, Lou sure was in a mood today. He barely touched his food before riding out," she said softly as she worked wondering if her moodiness had something to do with Buck's state of drunkenness.

Buck looked up at the mention of Lou. "Did he say anything?" he asked. If Emma found out what he was doing last night he would be skinned alive, then killed.

Emma's eyes narrowed at his question. "What would he be saying to us, Buck?" she asked looking from the older man and back to the younger. "I heard the boys sayin' Lou was gonna check up on you last night. You two have a fight or something?"

"Something like that." Buck looked at Shane, silently begging the man to not say anything. Shane nodded. "I should get going," he said. "I've been away long enough. You take care now Buck, ma'am." With that, Shane was out the door.

Buck smiled in pride, as the last bit of breakfast was gone. Feeling dizzy, Buck stood and walked over to his bunk. Lying down, he pulled his wife's pillow to his chest and drew in her scent that was fading quickly. "I'm sorry, Anam Cara," he whispered, hoping that Emma hadn't heard him. Nobody knew that he used to call Dorrie that when they were alone. It was private and he wanted to keep it that way.

Shaking her head, Emma continued working until the meal was all cleaned up while peeking over at Buck to find him hugging his pillow and trying to get comfortable on the bed. "Probably best you and Lou work things out later. You'll need ta get to your chores...but..." Feeling sorry for the young man she added, "I'll let ya sleep for a couple hours." Then with one last sad glance at the young man, Emma closed the door behind her.

*~*

Rory was furious! He'd trusted Buck...and he was a fool for doing so. His sister loved the half-breed and Rory thought he'd seen love in the other man's eyes but after today...they were enemies. Making a Macalister an enemy would be Buck's end he swore as his black stallion made its way up into the yard.

Looking up, Emma quickly stepped down the stairs. "Rory? Is something wrong? Dorrie? Tsen? Are they hurt?" she gasped moving to his side.

"Where tis he?" Rory barked out as he ground his teeth together and his head shifted agitatedly about searching.

"Where's who? Buck? Oh.. now Rory, this little problem with Dorrie will blow over, you'll see. Just give them some..." Emma didn't have a chance to continue as the dark haired man dismounted and walked towards the barn.

"Where aer ya, ya liar?" he bellowed. The Scot at the top of his lungs and waiting for Buck to face him like a man.

Buck still had a headache, but he was doing better now. Looking up from mucking the stables, He saw Rory come at him with tremendous speed. "Rory...what are you doing here?"

"Ya bastard! Ya lying bastard!" he screamed as he charged at Buck and grabbed with his left hand while he swung with his right.

Buck was just able to move his head away as Rory threw his punch. Connecting a right hook with the man's chest, Buck felt another punch hit him in the gut. Soon the two men were rolling around in the stall, throwing punches every chance they got.

"Ya gave may yer word ta protect Dorrie, and ya broke it joost as sure as ya broke the promise ya made ta may sister!" He screamed while the horses made unsettling noises as the two men fought.

"Stop it the both of you!" Emma cried from the barn door. "Teaspoon!" she hollered while praying she didn't have to go get her shotgun.

"She's the one that left me, in case you don't remember," gritted Buck as his fist connected with Rory's chin. Feeling icy cold water splash over his head, the rider looked up for a fraction of a second and saw Teaspoon standing there.

The cold water had Rory gasping for breath as he grabbed tight around Buck's throat. "Ya bloody lying.." the Scot started again.

"That's enough." Teaspoon's voice carried through the stables. "You two, come with me." Grabbing both Buck and Rory by their collars, Teaspoon dragged them towards the sweat lodge. "Sit," he commanded as he prepared the fire. "Now who wants to go first?"

Buck looked down, trying to make himself invisible. He didn't want to start, nor did he want to talk about the events of last night.

"I'll start...and I'll finish the lying bastard too!" Rory screamed while reaching for the Indian, but Teaspoon pushed him back. "He swore he wouldna' hurt may sister and he's killin' her! He promised in front of everyone he'd love and honor...oh aye all the words ..and last night he sleeps in another woman's bed!" As if the words were fuel for a fire they had him jumping to get past Teaspoon's wide girth to reach the Kiowa.

Buck jumped to avoid Rory. "In case you don't remember, your sister was the one that left me, and I didn't do anything wrong!"

"The two of ya, sit down. Now Buck will you kindly explain to me what's going on here."

"Dorrie and me had an argument. She left me to be with somebody else. I didn't sleep with Sherri. There's nothing more to tell." Buck didn't look at Teaspoon. It wasn't like the man was going to believe him.

"YA LIAR! Ya Spawn o' Satan, I'll kill ya !" roared Rory as he made a jump at Buck. "May sister has nay been with another! Ya take it back." As the large Scot wrestled with Teaspoon to get his hands on Buck, the increased temperature and his struggling had him gasping for air. "She ...left cause...ya ," Rory huffed and wiped his forehead. "Ya're naer around. Came home cryin ya didna love her and ya dinna want ta bay...married." He paused a moment as he wove a bit on his feet. "Why in blazes aer we in this bloody hot house?"

"That," said Teaspoon, "is because..." but he didn't have chance to continue before Buck shot in; "I won't take it back. I saw them leave together. True, I said those things to Dorrie, but I was upset, I was coming back to apologize and I saw them leave together. So don't blame this on me." With that, Buck stood and before anyone could really comprehend what had happened, the Kiowa left the sweat lodge, muttering something about going to pray.

"Guess it's just the two of us then," said Teaspoon as he poured some water over the stones. Swaying on his feet, Rory turned to follow after Buck, "He canna get away with this! He's lying, so help may! Dorrie is at home with may Mum and I. " 'Tisn't anyone else! Oh..." The large man looked a bit green around the gills and sank onto the ground. "I feel kinda funny." Then he passed out cold at the older man's feet.

"Now that's better," said Teaspoon with a smug smile as he rubbed more bear grease under his arms. "Must have never been in a sweat lodge before."

*~*

Shane took his time riding back to the saloon because he felt like being alone due to the nausea that had come and gone in the last weeks, but had returned worse than ever. Stopping to drink a bit of water, the piano player sighed, knowing that he had to be getting back.

Almost stumbling up the steps to the saloon, Shane sat down by the bar and ordered a whiskey. It might be a little hypocritical given what he'd said to his son last night, but luckily Running Buck wasn't here to see him.

Wearing a dressing robe, Sherrie stepped lightly down the stairs to get some fresh water in her pitcher to wash with. When she saw Shane leaning up against the bar sipping on a glass of whiskey, she sighed and shook her head. The pretty blonde pushed a few scattered chairs from her path and made her way to the older man's side. "Little early for that don't ya think, Piano Man?" she asked with a sad smile as she placed the pitcher on top of the bar.

"I dunno," said Shane as he leaned back against the bar and looked at the chandelier for a moment. "I just realized something, I'm a bad father." He let out a strange laugh at that. "The irony is that I was never a father."

Eyebrows rising at his comment, Sherri slipped into a chair next to him. "Father, but not a father? You've got me a bit confused Shane?" she chuckled. "Do ya have a son or is this about wishin' ya had been a father?"

"Running Buck...you know the Indian from last night. He's my son. And I was never there for him when he needed me. That's what he told me. Said he don't need a father." Shane sighed. "Now's he's making the same mistake I did all those years ago." Shane downed his whiskey and let out an even bigger sigh.

Reaching for the bottle, Sherri poured herself a shot of the amber liquor and took a sip. "Ya mean that Indian I took upstairs last night...was your son?" The pretty woman spun the liquid about in her glass before continuing. "If ya mean sleeping with a whore at the saloon...that's all he did Shane. Sleep." A wry looking smile came to her face. "Wanted me to hold him like his wife used ta do was all...and a few kisses. Won't lie, I would have done more but...he didn't. So if you're afraid he made that mistake...he didn't. Not yet anyway." A mischievous glint to her caramel colored eyes.

"That's not what I meant?" said Shane, pouring a second glass. "I mean leaving when he should have stayed. I don't know what happened exactly but he and his wife were having some sort of argument and now they're not talking. All I've heard is rumors so... I don't want Running Buck to have to live with the consequences of leaving his wife, like I left his mother." It didn't help saying it out loud, in fact, it only made it worse.

Sherrie cocked her head and she nodded in understanding, "I don't know why his wife left, but if ya ask me, she's a fool. Last night, Running Buck cried in his sleep and mumbled her name. I feel for him." Sherrie sat in silence before adding, "Ya left your wife...ya mean you were married ta an Injun?" Her voice rose a bit in surprise.

"Indian, and yes, in a way. Marriages among Indians are different. There's no fancy ceremonies or anything. All that's needed is for the marriage is making love, have one of the elders bless the marriage and that's it." Shane bit at his lip until he could taste the blood. "I left because I was scared. To save their lives. It was so amazing the first time I held Running Buck and he looked up at me with those big brown eyes. It was as if I knew at that moment he would grow up to be a wise man. There are many laws among the Kiowa...one of them is that when a husband dies, the husband's brother takes over the wife. I came in the way of that happening and Strong Wolf said he would kill me, all of us, if I stayed. I should have stayed to protect my family and not let Running Buck grow up with the lie that a white man had raped his mother and left her to die. He didn't have to grow up feeling the pain of that lie." Shane held on to the bar so as not to fall over for the nausea was back and it was worse than ever.

The pretty saloon girl listened intently but couldn't help but gasp when she heard of the strange Indian tradition of brother's acquiring the wives of their brothers. She could tell that leaving Buck had left Shane with a great deal of guilt and regret.

"Raped?" she choked out. "Poor Buck. Ta think your mother was..." Just as she was about to continue, Shane slipped to the floor. Grabbing his arm she looked about but none of the staff were around. Struggling, she put underneath arm beneath his and began to walk him toward the stairs.

"Ya all right, Shane?" she asked, fear evident in her voice. "I can take ya up ta my room ta lay down for a bit, but ya really should start taking it a bit easy with the liqueur. I've seen the stuff kill far too many a man."

"I'll be fine," said Shane. "Didn't I tell ya, I'm immune to alcohol...? This is all just a bit too much to take in. Wait!" cried Shane. "I need to sit down." Forcing his way down on the steps, Shane leaned his head back and it lulled for a bit. "I'll be better soon. I've had this before and it always passes."

Noticing the yellowish tone in the man's pale face and the ruddy blotchy spots around his nose and forehead, Sherrie sat down beside him and brushed a fallen lock of hair from his face. "Shane, I think I should go get Doc. You aren't lookin' so good love," she said in a soft voice. "Or I could go get your son if ya'd rather?" Her eyes darted to the batwing doors and to the back office searching for anyone who might be able to help her. It seemed last night had everyone totally tuckered out.

"Doc," gasped Shane. "I don't think it'll pass on its own this time. Might need a bit of encouragement." Swallowing hard, Shane closed his eyes and tried to will the world away. It didn't work.

"Ya wait right here. I'll go and get'im," she ordered, rising to her feet. Looking down at her robe covered body she gave a shake of her head and a large sigh before running through the bat wings out of the saloon.

Clutching her robe together, which gave flashes of the young woman's pantaloons when she ran. Folks who were about town doing their business began to murmur in shock at seeing such a sight.

Sherrie opened the door and screamed, "DOC!! Come quick...the piano man at the saloon," she paused to catch her breath, "...Shane is looking pasty and can't get up of the steps." Doc turned and gave the disheveled young woman, raising an eyebrow. "He often has problems getting around when he's been drinking."

Rolling her eyes, the blond gave him an exasperated look, "Naw this ain't from bein' drunk I'm tellin ya!"

"All right, let's go and see what the problem is," he replied while picking up his black bag. Soon the two were racing side by side as whispers of a shooting began to spread about Sweetwater. Why else would a working girl come running for the Doc in her underclothes? Rushing through the doors, the two soon made their way back to Shane's side. Setting his bag down, Doc took his tube and placed it on the man's chest. "What you been up to now Shane?" Doc asked in a stern voice.

"Nothin'." Shane put on his best innocent young boy look, knowing that he had failed. "I've been nauseous a lot over the last two weeks, but never like this. I've never felt this tired before." Shane heaved for breath as he tried to focus on the doc. Doc opened the man's eyes wider and noticed a yellowing to the white that would normally be there.

"Maybe together, the young lady here and I can get you upstairs and into a bed." Doc murmured his eyes narrowing in concern.

"Sure…" Sherri murmured, "...he can stay in my bed."

With a great deal of struggling, the two of them eventually got Shane up the stairs and safely tucked in the young woman's bed.

After checking the entertainer, Doc shook his head and looked sadly at Shane, "Your liver isn't working as it should, Shane. This has been going on for some time now...hasn't it?"

Shane knew he was in trouble. "I know the way I've been drinking ain't been good for a body. I've tried to clean myself up sometimes, but it just ain't been working." He looked away for a short moment before he looked back on Doc. "This is bad, isn't it? Tell me the truth, I don't want you to sugarcoat it. I'm a big boy, I can handle it."

The gray haired man nodded in understanding, "You're dying Shane. Your liver is getting hard and soon..." He let the words drift off as he began gathering up his equipment.

"Die?" Sherrie swallowed hard as she looked back and forth between the two men. She never knew her father and her mother had brought her into the profession when she'd been merely twelve years of age. She thought herself hardhearted after being used near her whole life but the thought that this sweet natured man was dying struck something inside her. "Ain't there nothin' ya can do Doc?" she asked her voice wobbling a bit.

Doc shook his head. "All that can be done is to make him comfortable and I have some laudanum I can give him...ta take away the pain when it comes."

"Sherrie, the man upstairs has decided that my time has come, there ain't nothing to be done about that." His breath was a little easier than what it had been a moment ago. "I need you to do me a favor. Don't tell Running Buck, he has enough on his plate..." Suddenly feeling tired, Shane closed his eyes.

Sherrie rubbed her eyes and gave the Doctor a sad look. "I'll watch over him best I can when I ain't workin."

"You're a good woman Sherrie Lynn," Doc said patting her hand. Handing her a vial, "Just give him a drop of this when he says he's in pain. Save for serious pain though...ain't got too much of that on hand." Then he walked over to the door an paused to look back, "If ya need me...just send someone and I'll come. I might be a bit short on time for a bit. I lost the woman who was helping me."

Once the Doc left, Sherrie sat down on the bed by Shane and watched him sleep. She knew from what he'd said that his son meant a great deal to him. 'He should know,' she thought and with a nod she began to dress in her regular clothes. She needed to be quick before Jack saw her riding out of town. The man held her contract and thought he owned her life...he was wrong. Finally dressed, she touched Shane's hand gently.

"I'll be right back. Need ta do a few things before its time to work the room. You sleep...rest..." Her hair swaying behind her, Sherrie left the room, made her way down the stairs and slipped out the back to where Jack kept a few horses.

*~*

Furious but still a bit woozy from passing out in the sweat lodge, Rory mounted Diablo. Taking the reins, he spun his horse about as he looked around the station yard and swore he would return to finish what he'd started but he had to find his sister before she heard about Buck with the woman from the saloon. Her brother wanted to spare her the pain but maybe it was best that she knew the truth and moved on in her life. A young woman with a part Indian child would have a tough life without her family, but Rory knew that he and her mother would always be there for Dorrie and Tsen. As his horse thundered toward town, he thought of how he could help his sister get over Buck's betrayal. With a nod, the dark haired Scot thought of a few friends who would be willing to bear up under the prejudice of Tsen's birth....to help her realize there were men out there, honorable men... who would love her enough to treat her how she should be treated.

"Hah...let's go Diablo....we have a great deal ta do taday I'm afraid."

*~*

Constantly looking behind her to be certain that Jack wasn't following her, Sherrie rode out toward where one of the other girls told her the pony express riders lived. The saloon girl gave a sigh of relief when she saw a windmill and a white farmhouse sitting off to the left. Kicking the horse's flanks, the blonde rode down into the yard and looked around.

Slipping off her mount, she walked the chestnut mare over to the rail and stood looking about for a few moments when she heart something stirring in the barn. "Hello?" she called out while walking toward the doors.

Buck looked up from where he was mucking out the stalls and opened the door to the barn. Seeing Sherri, Buck wasn't sure what he was going to do, mostly because he had no idea what she was doing here. Not wanting to seem rude, he opened the door a little wider and let her inside. "Is something wrong?" asked Buck. He could see that she was distraught and wanting to tell him something. "Would you like to sit down?" Buck motioned to a hay bale in the corner.

Feeling totally out of her element, Sherri nodded, tied her horse to the rail and walked into the barn. She looked dubiously at the hay bale before lowing herself slowly to sit upon it.

"Ummm thanks." Looking about the large barn, she pressed her lips together and pondered how she should tell him the news about his father's health. The golden haired girl cleared her throat, "Guess my coming here seems a bit odd I'm sure...I mean after last night...and all."

Knowing that she couldn't waste time or Jack would take it out on her later, Sherri patted the straw next to her saying, "Why don't ya set a spell...I need ta tell ya somethin and looking up at you is giving me a neck ache."

*~*

Coming over the rise and looking down at the white farmhouse bought tears to Dorrie's eyes. It had been her home for quite some time now, and her family...and Buck. Buck was the center of her world or so she'd thought. After resting with Tsen for a few hours, she realized that Lou might have been mistaken. Maybe Buck had been resting and the girl just showed up and thought to sleep with Buck. Her mind made all sorts of reasons as to why her husband would have been in bed with the unknown saloon girl. One thing her mother had taught her was to try and talk things over with those you care for the most. Ask them for the answers first hand. That is what she was her to do...ask Buck what Lou saw...and worse of all, if he wanted a divorce from her. With a kick to Wind Chaser's side, she rode down the hill gently sloping hill.

*~*

Buck sat down next to Sherrie and looked at her. "What are you talking about?" She looked distraught so the Indian laid one of his hands over hers. "What's wrong? What did you come all the way out here to tell me?"

"This is hard for me to say seein' as we hardly know each other, really…" she started before nervously squiggling and releasing a large sigh. She didn't know how Buck would react to the news since the relationship between father and son was strained. "...I don't know how to say this but...your father....ummm, Shane, is really sick."

Buck's eyes narrowed. He didn't know what he was going to say. "He looked fine this morning. He'll make it." Buck knew that Shane had a tendency to drink, it was one of the reasons he didn't want anything to do with the man. He didn't want to expose Tsen to that. Besides, Shane had already left once, who was to tell when he'd leave again.

Looking at Sherrie, Buck bit on his bottom lip. "Shane will probably be fine in a couple of days."

Her golden eyes met his darker brown, "I'm...afraid not." The saloon girl shifted a bit on the bale. "Look, I know that you and your Dad don't get along...but I know he cares about you. You were all he was worried about while he lay there on the stairs at the saloon."

She paused for a minute to try and gage how the handsome Indian was taking her words. "Doc says he's not gonna make it. His liver is...too damaged," she said softly.

"Um," said Buck. "Why are you telling me this? Shane knows I don't want anything to do with him. Earlier I heard him speak to Emma about me needing to learn the consequences of my actions. Well, he needs to, too. He left, now he has to deal with me not coming back, no matter how sick he is." Buck was angry. Had his father sent Sherrie here to try and guilt him into forgiving him? That was just low. "Did he send you here to try and use pity to make me see him?"

"NO! No he didn't send me! Actually...he told me NOT to...I came on my own...to try and see if I could talk you into coming."

Sherrie grabbed his arm as he was about to rise from their self made bench. "I'm sorry if I made you angry...but...he cares. I guess I never really had that. I'm the child of a whore who gave me to a brothel for money. What do I know of parents?" she gave a sad bitter chuckle. "I know he's made mistakes but....he wants to make things right I think...it would let him go to his maker in peace." She paused for a bit before saying, "I think everyone deserves a bit of peace before they die..."

Buck sighed. "That may be so, but that still don't mean I have to forgive him. If he's so worried, then he needs to forgive himself." The Indian looked at Sherri and touched her shoulder. "Thank you for telling me, but I'm not gonna see him."

Shaking her head in frustration, "Great. I just risked...never mind. Seems the hate's too strong ta see past to forgiveness I guess. I best get back before...shouldn't have come in the first place...I'm sorry..." she choked out and as she started to rise the hay bale shifted sending her awkwardly toward the ground. Instinctively her hands reached out to grab hold of Buck to stop her downward motion.

*~*

Dorrie tied her stallion to the rail and hearing a noise in the barn, walked over toward the door.

*~*

Buck grasped Sherrie's waist to brace her. Helping her sit down, Buck moved his hand up and down her back in an effort to calm her. It was obvious that she cared a lot about Shane, though he couldn't understand why. Her intentions had been good when she had come to see him. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be mad at you, it's Shane that..." Buck let his words drift off, realizing she saw Shane in a different light than he did and that she came to him with good intentions.

What the healer saw when she looked in the barn door took her by surprise and she just stood there for a moment staring in disbelief before spinning on her heel, untying her horse and swinging up into the saddle. Kicking hard, Wind Chaser thundered up the hill back the way they'd come as fast as she could.

"Thanks...lost my balance. That's alright...I..." but before Sherri could continue the sound of thundering hooves had her jerking her eyes toward the door fearfully...wondering if Jack had found out about her leaving.

Buck rose and looked out the barn door. There was no one scheduled for a run. Seeing Wind Chaser's rear and Dorrie's auburn hair, Buck's heart sank to his stomach. Why had she come back, why didn't she stop and say hello? Why didn't she do anything?" Looking at Sherri, Buck felt like he owed her an explanation. "That was my wife..."

Relief shone in the golden haired young woman's face for a moment until it was replaced by a frown. "Your wife?" then Sherrie recalled how things might have appeared to the other woman as the two of them had been sitting on the hay bale. "I'm sorry...umm she probably saw us together and..." Sherrie noticed that Buck's eyes continued to follow the red glints off the other woman's hair as she rode away. "Guess I best be on my way...sorry about her seeing us...like that." Brushing a piece of straw form her hair, the saloon girl took determined steps out the barn door, only to bump into another young man on his way in.

"Oh ...sorry... I was." Sherrie stopped when she met the tall brown haired man's eyes. Buck looked at Jimmy and knew what it looked like. "She only came to tell me that Shane is dying." Buck said it as nonchalant as possible. He didn't care about the man so why should he let Jimmy believe otherwise.

Jimmy's brown eyes narrowed on the scene before him. He'd seen Dorrie ride out at break neck speed and wondered if the couple had been fighting again. He'd come out to ask his friend what had happened only to find him with a pretty young blonde; a pretty young blonde who seemed to have bits of straw sticking out of her hair. Shifting to look at Buck, he saw one or two golden pieces in his friend's hair as well. "Came to tell you bout Shane," Hickok said sarcastically. "Well ma'am if you want I can 'talk' to you about Shane too." His lips tightened as he moved a bit closer to Sherri. "I think I've seen you at the Saloon a time or two...seems you like to 'talk' to a lot of folks."

Sherrie's eyes widened at his uncouth comment before the cold smile easily slipped back into place. The smile that she'd used to keep herself alive through the years. "Well if ya want to 'talk' then please come to the saloon later...I'll be there," she said with mock warmth as she ran her hand down his arm. Angry and finished with the whole situation she strode toward her boss's horse.

Buck made sure that Sherrie was out of hearing range before he turned to Jimmy. "There's no need to take that tone. She was telling the truth. Next time, maybe you should take a few moments to find out what's going on before you to jump the gun." Buck looked at Jimmy accusingly.

"Now what moments should I take Buck? I see Dorrie flying away on her horse to find you in the barn with a known whore?" Jimmy asked shaking his head. "I didn't jump the gun...but seems to me you're the one going about killing something special." With that Jimmy turned and began walking back to the bunkhouse.

*~*

Over the next three days, Dorrie was unable to cry for the pain was far too deep. She spent a great deal of time with Kier, as if in some way she had some piece of the love she believed in when she held him in her arms. She called him Keir around her father and brother, not using the name his father had given him, for it brought a frown to Rory's face.

The situation between her and Buck put a great deal of stress on the healer and she began losing weight, which in turn caused her to become ill. Doc had laid into her the last time she'd come into town and had pulled her mother to the side to speak with the older woman.

The following evening after dinner, Lou came by and brought up the idea of her going away for a bit to see her father and Liam. Truth was she was always tired and felt as if she was just waiting for death to claim her, but knew she had to stay alive because she had a child to raise. Lou was right. It was probably best if she left Sweetwater, but the thought of taking her son to a railway encampment filled with men much like those she'd faced in the courtroom turned her stomach.

Going to the maple dresser that had held all her clothes as a child, Dorrie opened the third drawer to find the dress she'd been saving for her son. It was her creamy white buckskin that she'd worn in the hopes that Buck would see that she accepted his Indian blood, but looking at her present circumstances she knew she had somehow failed. Touching the velvety soft buckskin, she smiled as the garment reminded her of Summer Wind and the Lakota who'd been so kind to her when she'd wanted to learn the ways of their people...so she could show Buck how much she loved him.

'Maybe it would bay best if I take Tsen to their camp. They would treat him with respect, nay harm him,' Dorrie thought as she closed the drawer and began to pack up her things. She would tell her Mum and Rory that she was going to stay with her Da and Liam. She couldn't tell them where she was really going or they would do their best to stop her, especially her eldest brother.

With conviction in her heart, Dorrie gathered what little she had into a few wooden boxes and baskets. She would ask Ike to help her. 'Yes, he would understand,' she thought while her hands quickly folded her meager belongings. Looking over at her bed to be certain Tsen was still sleeping, Dorrie smiled sadly. No matter where she ran, the love she had for the half Kiowa would always be with her...she would see it in her son until her last dying breath.

She sat gently on the bed and brushed one of the little boy's midnight locks from his eyes. "Sleep well may laddie. We've a long journey on the morn." Then leaning down, she kissed the small child on the cheek.

*~*

Early the following morning, Dorrie secured Tsen to her chest with a sling, and then mounted Wind Chaser. She had Misty tied to the back of her saddle carrying the necessities she would need for her stay with the Lakota.

"Aer ya sure bout this Doreen may lass. Buck twill bay back for ya ...you'll see," her mother told her yet again.

"He tisn't comin Mum and I canna stay and watch him...find someone else...I canna. I'll wait fer him ta send the papers for...our...divorce..."

But her mother interceded with a spark in her azure eyes, "Ya know the truth in yer heart Doreen Moira Cross. He'll come ta his senses soon and they'll bay no need fer a divorce."

'Doreen Cross...how much longer shall I bear that name?' she thought as Rory came up beside the horse and patted her hands.

"I dinna like this Dorrie. Wait till I can find time ta take ya. Ya shouldn't bay ridin' on yer own," the dark haired Scot growled.

"Dinna frash ya two. Ike will bay ridin with may," She lied and shifted the sling that held her child against her. "We'll bay fine. He'll see we get there. Love ya both boot,,. he's waitin fer may at the crossroads. Take care o each other." She said before giving her horse a kick and heading down the road.

*~*

Ike sighed as he waited for Dorrie. He didn't know what to think of anything. Buck had hardly been home, and he had moved back into the bunkhouse. Buck also claimed that he didn't know anyone named Dorrie, but when Ike mentioned Tsen, he became eerily silent.

Seeing Dorrie, Ike straightened himself in the saddle and waited for her to ride up.

"Lo Ike," Dorrie said in greeting while moving her horse along side him. He was a good friend but she hadn't wanted him to think he had to choose between her and Buck. The Kiowa was like a brother to the mute young man and she would not have that ruined by their failed marriage. Giving him a small smile, she patted her son's back as he shifted within the fabric at her chest.

"Glad that ya got may note from Emma. I know may writin' is still poor boot glad am I that it was fair enough ta send ya here."

*Don't sell yourself short, * signed Ike. *You write well. * After looking down for a moment, The bald young man turned his gaze to Dorrie's face. *Are you really going to leave? *

"Aye...boot Ike, I've decided nay ta stay with may Da and Liam," she said hesitantly, looking at her hands before returning to the bald headed man's hazel eyes. "I've decided ta stay with the Lakota tribe that I went to bayfore Buck and I were...married." Dorrie said the last word with sadness. She didn't want to think about Buck and their marriage.

Ike nodded but his eyes filled with confusion. *Why? * He had no right in saying anything against Buck's wife but he couldn't understand why she would leave her home filled with those that loved her to go live in a tribe full of strangers.

Dorrie's eyes softened as she looked on Ike's troubled face. "Because they treated may and Lou very well and...Tsen can grow up there with respect. Oh Ike, 'tis all that I can think of and fer certain 'tis safer than with the men workin' on the railroad."

Ike thought for a moment and then nodded, *Then let's go. You know the way better than me so my job will be to make sure that you're alright. *

A surprised expression came over her face. "Oh ..Ike I dinna expect ya ta come with may. I joost wanted ya ta know where I was...cause I trust ya ta keep may secret. Dinna worry, I'll tell may Mum and Rory after I'm settled but...I dinna want the others ta know...especially Buck. He dinna care anyway so he needn't know where I've gone," she said with a sad, pain filled angry tone.

With a nod, the mute rider kicked his horse and rode west on the road and Dorrie followed him as they rode side by side down the old road until it came to a point where the well traveled path split and they rode upward into the mountains.

After two nights spent on the trail, the three finally made their way along the edge of a stream which marked the beginning of the Lakota tribe territory. The crunch of their horses' footfalls could be heard as they walked along the riverbed. As they began to cross the stream, two Indians came riding up to them and blocked their path.

Ike cast a glance at Dorrie and worried his bottom lip. He knew they were in Lakota territory, but he had to trust that she would communicate with the Indians. She already knew them and she knew what to say. Ike nodded slightly to Dorrie before he returned his gaze to the two Indians in front of her. Ever since Buck's brother had captured him, the silent rider felt a little skittish around Indians he didn't know. It was a baseless fear, but he couldn't stop himself from thinking it.

Dorrie looked fearfully at the two Lakota dog soldiers and then lifted the beaded necklace from beneath her blouse as she had on her first visit. "I wish to see the medicine man, Standing Bear." The two Indian's whispered back and forth while giving Ike a wary look. Then they pointed in the direction they wished them to take.

With a nod, Dorrie and Ike followed the lead brave as he led them through the woods along the river's edge, while the other Indian took up the rear. After riding for a few miles, they came to a small open area along the river's edge where teepees were lined up and children ran happily in the midst of the camp. Everyone stopped as the four riders made their way into the open area.

One of the riders called out and a flap to one of the teepees opened to reveal a tall, dark haired young brave followed by an older man with gray running through his hair. The young brave's eyes widened when he saw the two white people on horses before them but then his eyes locked onto the red-haired woman who nearly swayed in fatigue from atop her horse. "Spirit Woman? Why you come back to our people?" He struggled to say in the white man's tongue.

Brushing a fallen lock from her face, Dorrie bit her lip nervously before clearing her throat and replying. "I...I come to ask if I can live with the Lakota..." She started wearily. "I...Umm...Spirit Woman help heal those who need her help if she can stay...and live..." But before she could finish, Tsen began to squiggle in the pouch and let out an angry cry for freedom.

Slightly embarrassed, Dorrie pulled the fabric back to reveal the infant as Tsen's hands reached up to grab a curl that had fallen free, the still bandaged cut could be seen. Meeting Standing Bear's eyes she looked from her child to the older man. "The white people that I lived with...they tried to kill my son because he has red skin. I need to find a safe place for him to grow...where he learns to be proud of what he is and not filled with shame or threatened."

She swallowed and gave Ike a frightened look. "This is my friend Ike. He had come to help me safely come to the camp of the Lakota. Please Eagle Feather...I ask your help...I will work to heal your people if we can stay."

Silence filled the small camp as the chief moved through his people to stand at his son's side. Then in Sioux, the young brave retold what Dorrie had said to all so they would know what she'd said.

Chief Eagle Feather, the leader of this band of Lakota, turned and raised his hand. "The council talk and decide if Spirit Woman stay." With those few words their two guides moved to help her down but his second son, Eagle Wing, spat something in Lakota as he strode purposely to her horse. "Come you rest with your little one in teepee until after the counsel decide. I have Summer Wind come and help you."

Giving the handsome brave a nod and a small smile, Dorrie let him lift her down from the saddle. Her not eating and loss of weight had her feeling light headed and she reached out and grabbed the horse to keep her balance.

"Thank ya ." She said softly and then waited for Ike to dismount as well.

*~*

Unknowingly, Dorrie leaned into the Lakota brave's side as he led her into a nearby teepee. She was so tired all the time. "Thank ya, Eagle Wing," she whispered softly and let him guide her to a small area filled with animal pelts.

Shaking his head, the handsome Indian helped her to untie the knot at her neck that kept Tsen closely bound to her. "Rest," Eagle Wing murmured softly, his eyes lingering on her face. Ike watched the other man help Dorrie into the teepee and followed closely behind. When he came into the small area, the bald rider saw that the Indian was standing close to the auburn haired woman. He gave the Indian a sharp look as the dog soldier moved past him to leave. "Summer Wind come soon." Then with an abrupt nod, Eagle Wing pushed the flap and left them alone.

The young healer sank slowly down onto the soft skins, her eyes nearly closing, while the young infant began eagerly crawling about looking at his new environment. He found a small stick on a deerskin and brought it upward to his mouth. Ike was just about to move forward to take it when the flap was pushed back and a young woman with long dark hair the color of a midnight sky came in.

Seeing Dorrie, Summer smiled brightly and moved over toward the young mother and hugged her. "Spirit Woman come back!" she said breathlessly. "Summer happy to see you again." Turning she looked at the small baby and then upward to see Ike looking down at the two...well along with Tsen three of them. "Oh...Summer sorry...did not know you have another here," she said her cheeks turning pink beneath her tanned skin.

*It's fine, * signed Ike. *I am Ike McSwain. I'm a friend of Dorrie...Spirit Woman. * He smiled weakly as he pulled Tsen into his lap while trying to keep the young boy from eating the stick. Looking over at his friend, Ike wasn't sure what to do. He didn't know how to explain everything to the woman who was obviously Dorrie's friend.

Seeing the puzzled look on Summer's face, Dorrie touched her hand and smiled. "Ike is a friend o mine...Buck...may husband...he dinna want ta bay with may anymore. He's...found someone else." Her voice turned gravelly with emotion an she looked up at the man whom she saw as a brother in embarrassment. She didn't know if he knew about Buck and the saloon girl but she was sure that he would find out when he returned to the station. It would soon be all over town she was sure and Dorrie figured it was better that Ike find out now than when he returned.

"Ike speaks with his hands alone, Summer," the healer said with a yawn. "But he can hear and understand everythin' that ya say...wheel in the white man's tongue."

Nodding, Summer looked up shyly at the handsome young man with greenish eyes. A pained look came onto her face when she saw his bald head. In the young Indian woman's mind it was due to battle that Ike could not speak. "You loose your tongue and scalp in battle?" she asked in a hushed voice.

Ike shook his head. *I was sick when I was a child and I lost my hair. I lost my voice after my parents and sister were killed. * He had planned on making an excuse for not telling Summer Wind the truth, but she had never given him any reason to lie. Tsen no longer found the stick interesting and turned his attention to try and pull Ike's bandanna off of his head. The bald rider gave a silent laugh and threw the boy up a few inches up in the air before catching him again.

A kindhearted look of understanding appeared in the young Indian woman's eyes and she nodded. He too it seemed had known great loss. Giggling at the smile on the young child's face as he drooled in delight, Summer watched the silent speaker as he played lovingly with the small infant. She remembered on the fire haired woman's last visit that she had been with child. Dark eyes reflected the sorrow she felt upon hearing that her new friend's husband had deserted her for another. Shifting her attention toward the healer, she noticed that the young woman was pale and exhausted.

"Spirit Woman rest...Summer Wind and...I eee k watch after little one," she started then touched Dorrie's hand. "What name you give son?" Summer asked with a gentle smile. Her mouth rising upward, "Tsen T'ainte. White Horse in may..." She paused her smile fading. "...in the Kiowa tongue."

Nodding, Summer shuffled the skins around and with gentle hands pushed the fair skinned woman back onto the pelts. "We be gone not long...sleep. Tsen T'ainte be safe."

Her green eyes met the Pawnee's and then Ike's before she replied. "Aye...I know he wheel bay safe with ya both." Taking a deep breath as her eyes began to slowly drift downward. "Not too long though...wake me."

*I think the sprit is already take her to the land of dreams. Come I show you to a place by river...to clean the small one," said Summer Wind with her hands and then moved toward the teepee's exit.

Ike laid one of the pelts over Dorrie before he picked the infant up in his arms and followed Summer Wind outside. As soon as Tsen saw the water he reached out for it, wanting to play. Ike grinned and sat down by the water's edge to wash the grime off of the young boy's face. Looking at Summer Wind, Ike smiled at her while trying to keep Tsen from crawling into the water. The rider wanted to say something, but he didn't have four arms.

Watching the kindhearted man play with Spirit Woman's son, Summer smiled and reached her hand forward to touch the tiny child's soft hand. "He almost big as Silver Fox and he nine moons. She laughed as the small child reached for a strand of her long ebony hair. When the child gave a playful tug, the Pawnee moved closer and began to work the strand free. "Tsen T'ainte has Summer,"

"Summer Wind!" A guttural voice called out just as she finished pulling her hair free from the Tsen's chubby fist. Her eyes looked up in fear at the large Indian who came stomping toward her. "You have many duties that you! Must do" he spat in Lakota.

"Eagle Wing told me to help Spirit Woman and her son. Since he is the chief's son, I must follow his commands first." she said in her soft voice while trying her best not to reveal her fear.

The dog soldier moved quickly forward and grabbed her, pulling her upward. "Soon Pawnee...you will belong to me and it will be only my voice you will heed!" he growled before pushing her onto the ground and striding angrily away.

An embarrassed Summer looked over at Ike. "I sorry..." She paused to touch the small boys cheek missing her son but knowing that he was in his grandparents' loving care. Wiping a small tear that drifted down her cheek, the pretty Indian woman said, "You wish to clean? I care for Tsen if you wish."

Ike didn't understand what he had just been witness to and he frowned while trying to make sense of the man's obvious anger. The bald headed young man wished that he could somehow help but knew that he it was probably best that he let her tell him if she wanted him to know. *I think Tsen is ready for his nap, * signed Ike as the infant yawned and snuggled into the young man's chest. . *Sometimes I think this little one is the only thing that gets Dorrie through the day. Ever since Buck started pulling away, she's been clinging to him. Buck is stupid. He doesn't know what he's missing out on. *

Nodding, Summer watched jealously as Ike carried the small boy back toward the teepee. "You right...small one is as tired as his mother." Waiting a few moments as their feet made soft whipping sounds as they marched through the grass, the pretty Indian woman looked up at the white man. "I see the truth of your words. Spirit Woman's eyes have lost the light she have when she here before. While she help our people, she talk much of Running Buck and wanting to show him her love by knowing Indian ways. Summer no understand why he leave her and son for other woman."

Once they reached their destination, she pulled back the flap for Ike and Tsen to enter. Summer followed them in and took a few of the doeskins and made the small boy a bed. *You can put him here to sleep*

Ike nodded and laid the small boy down next to his mother. Dorrie reached over and drew her son's body closer to her own. *I don't know why Buck left either, but he knows that none of his friends like him for it. He's an idiot, * signed Ike with determination. *He can't see how much he is hurting Dorrie or how much he is missing out on knowing his son. Tsen will be walking soon, he's already trying. *

"Han....the little one only three moons younger than my son Silver Fox." she paused to look sadly at the mother and child. "I sorry...you must want food. If you come with me I will show you to the teepee you shall be sleeping and bring you something to eat." Glancing back she smiled at the mute rider.

"Once Tsen T'ainte walk..." She shook her head. "He no stop. It seem they look for everything to go into mouth." The pretty young woman slipped out of the dwelling and stopped to wait for Ike to follow. While she stood there, her eyes looked across the camp at two elderly members of the tribe who were playing with a small boy who toddled back and forth from one to the other.

The young rider nodded and followed after Summer Wind. He could see her looking at the young boy, playing with the two adults. *Tsen is already putting things into his mouth. He's always wondering what things taste like. Is he your son? * Asked Ike with a nod in the toddler's direction.

Nodding, she turned her dark eyes toward Ike. "Silver Fox. He twelve moons." Her voice was soft that held a small a tremor. "They like to put things in the mouth...all things...even bug and dirt." she said shaking her head. Touching his arm, she pointed to a teepee that was closer to the woods. "This my teepee. You use tonight. I stay in Eagle Wing teepee with Sprit Woman." The Indian girl then beckoned Spirit Woman's friend to follow her as she led him toward the small buffalo skinned lodge.

Ike did as Summer Wind asked and entered the teepee. It looked like the one Dorrie was in, only a little bit smaller. Turning to look at Summer Wind, Ike's eyes fell to the floor for a short moment, before they returned to Summer Wind's face. *If you ever want to talk, I'm here. * Ike could see that there was something bothering her, but he didn't want to pressure her into talking.

Summer looked at her hands and then with a small nod she knelt at the center of the room and began to add wood to the smoldering fire. Gesturing with her hand to one of the fur skins on the ground she said, "Please sit." She then took some of the smoked meat and fry bread and handed it to him on a plate made of bark.

Picking up a reddish clay bowl, Summer filled it with water that was in a pot near the coals and placed it by Ike's side.

"You wonder why Silver Fox not with his mother? Is hard to make understand the ways of the people," she started while tucking a piece of her hair behind her ear. "I am not Lakota as the others here...I was captured when I was eight summers old." Summer took a cup, filled it with water and took a sip.

"I ..hmmm." She stopped to ponder the words to use that would explain her position in the tribe. "I own by the Lakota. I work as I am told and as I grow White Feather want to marry Summer Wind. Long he fight with Screeching Owl and others...but soon the counsel say yes." Summer fiddled with a piece of leather fringe as she continued with a small smile. "We happy for three moons...I tell White Feather he be father...he so happy." Her smile then faded as she continued her story. "Then he go hunting and die when he fall from his horse."

Ike listened to the story and nodded in the appropriate places. *I'm sorry, * he signed and looked down. He didn't know what it was like to lose a spouse, so he couldn't say anything to make her feel better.

*Some times I hope that Buck will come back and beg Dorrie for forgiveness. But I don't understand him. He is acting as though he has never met her, but I can see that he thinks about her. I don't understand, * signed Ike.

"Summer no understand. When she here all Spirit Woman talk about is Buck but..." She sighed then tilted her head to look at him. "Maybe is like Summer not be around Silver Fox...to keep him safe...be happy?" she asked softly. "Sometimes when you love much. ..you do anything to make the one who have your heart happy...give them the peace of Skan."

*It just doesn't make any sense. When Tsen was born I saw Buck hold him, I saw how proud he was of his family. Then he started to pull away. He told Dorrie that they shouldn't have gotten married. He's had plenty chances to talk to Dorrie and explain, but instead he is with another woman. * Ike shook his head. He still didn't know what to think of the situation. *Sometimes I wish that I could see what's going on inside Buck's head. Whenever he's troubled, he refuses to talk to anyone about it. He's always been set on figuring things out on his own. *

Looking down at her hands, The Pawnee pondered the white man's words. "Is strange. Maybe he not love her as he think when he marry Spirit Woman but...love other woman more?" she said in confusion. "While she with the Lakota we take care of her and little Tsen T'ainte, you no need fear. Her medicine make many in tribe care great deal for your friend. Eagle Wing will see she safe."

*Thank you, * signed Ike. *Then I won't have to worry about her when I return to my world. * It was a great relief that Dorrie would be taken care of. *I will come and visit her when I have the chance. *

"You good friend to Spirit Woman. To lose the man she love to another...it wound her heart. Maybe being here with the Lakota she will heal others and be healed as well. It will be good to see Ieek once more. " She said with a smile. "Now is best you eat and rest. You have long journey home with the sun. " Then while Ike ate Summer busily took pelts and arranged them so that the young rider would be comfortable for the night.

*~*

The more Buck concentrated on not thinking about Shane, the more he thought about the man. Four days had passed and Buck couldn't help to wonder what kind of sick the man was and how long he had to live. He remembered what Sherrie had said. That everybody should meet their maker with peace in their soul. The more Buck thought about that, the more he realized that he was the only one who could give Shane peace and help him meet his maker.

Swallowing hard, Buck excused himself from the table, saying that he had something to do. Saddling Midnight was hard. He didn't know what to expect once he saw Shane. What would the man act like, would he try to apologize for leaving. With all these thoughts in his head, Buck was in town and in front of the saloon before he realized that he'd left the station. Sighing, Buck knew that he had to go inside. Seeing Sherrie by the bar, Buck went up to her. "Where is he?" he asked in a low voice.

Turning slowly to the voice by her side, the pretty saloon girl's eyes widened a bit at seeing him. "Upstairs in my room. He's been sleeping a lot due to the laudanum. I was going to just fo..." But the young woman got no further as the dark haired man by her side pulled her tight to him. "Go get your own whore boy...this one's mine for the night." An angry look slid into the Indian's dark eyes and Sherrie shook her head in the hopes that he wouldn't get into a fight with one of her boss's favorite customers.

Gritting his teeth, Buck nodded his thanks, not looking at the other man. Biting his bottom lip, he walked up the stairs but paused in front of the door to Sherrie's room. Knowing that he had to see Shane, Buck turned the knob and pushed it open. The room smelled of laudanum and Buck nearly choked at the strong scent.

Sitting down in the chair by the bed, Buck looked at his father. The musician looked so weak and the glint that used to be in his eye seemed to have faded away.

"Hi," said Buck in a low voice for he didn't know what else to say. "Sherrie told me about you being sick, but don't be mad at her, she did what was right. How are you feeling?"

"I've been better," admitted Shane. Looking up at his son, a small smile crept to the older man's lips. "I'm not mad at Sherrie. You're right, she did the right thing."

"Guess I'm here because I wanted to see if it was really true, that you were..."

"Dying..."

*~*

"I'll see ya tomorrow Thad...and I promise...it will be worth the wait," Sherrie said to the large barrel-bellied man before slipping into her room. She knew that once Jack heard about her passing up a fellow there would be consequences. For once in her life, the saloon girl felt that she just might have made a difference in this hellish place she lived. She licked her cherry painted lips and moved over to stand by the bed.

"How ya doin' Piano Man?" she asked teasingly using her nickname for her friend.

"Better now," he said, but is eyes were focused on Buck. He wondered what had made his son come and see him but at the moment he really didn't care. Buck was here and that was all that mattered.

Buck looked at his father without a clue at what was going on in the man's head. "If you got a second chance what would you do?"

"What do you mean?" asked Shane frowning.

Buck bit his lip, debating whether or not he should explain. Shane should know what he meant, but he was sick so... Buck looked at Sherrie for what to do.

Giving Buck and understanding nod, Sherrie sat down on the chair on the opposite side of the bed. "He means, love, what would you change in your life if your could?" The pretty blonde restated, patting the older man's hand. "Lord knows I think we all wish we could go and change something in our lives...me it would be to be born into a regular family and not a whorehouse."

Shane nodded. It seemed that it took a while before he grasped things these days. "If I could change, I would never have left you and Little Wren, I would have fought for my family. I never would have started drinking because that is what got me in this situation." Shane drew in a deep breath. "Running Buck Cross, if you could change, what would you...?"

Buck didn't have to think about it, but answered before Shane had finished the sentence. "I would never have married Dorrie because then I wouldn't bring her pain and I wouldn't have brought an innocent child into the world who will face nothing but prejudice." Buck was determined when he said it, and stared at Shane.

Sherrie's head jerked at hearing Buck's wish. Here she'd thought that his wife had left him because she no longer loved him...or because he was an Indian and couldn't stand by him. "Oh my," she let out accidentally before blushing in embarrassment. "I thought...she left you for someone else."

"My best friend. The two left town two days ago. But that don't stop me from loving her, I'll never stop loving her." Buck looked at Sherrie, there were tears in his eyes and he was biting his lip to keep them from falling. "Excuse me, but I have to go. Maybe I'll come back later." Having said that, Buck rushed out of the room and drove midnight harder than he ever had. All Buck knew was that he had to get away.

Swallowing hard at hearing the pain in his voice, Sherrie turned her eyes to Shane. "I feel so bad for him...I mean... Here I was trying to sleep with him and he felt like that for her. I don't understand why she would do that to him." The young woman looked with a puzzled expression on her face.

"I feel bad for him too, but he'll realize that he's making my mistake and fight to get her back. Sherrie, I've seen the two together and they love like nothing I've ever seen. If he doesn't realize that, then I'll come back to haunt him till he do." Shane liked the idea of haunting someone. It would be fun... "Sherrie, can I have some more of that laudanum...? The pain is back..."

Squeezing his hand, she rose to her feet and went to get the small bottle and mixed some into the glass. The blonde then made her way back to his side and held the cup to his lips so that he could drink it down. Placing the cup on the maple bedside table, Sherrie stood up and patted her blond curls into place. "You rest now Shane. I have ta get back ta work," she said in a soft voice. Leaning over she gently kissed his head before opening the bedroom door to the bawdy laughter and loud crass music from below. Sherrie turned around and gave him a smile, "I'll come back to check on ya later. When...I'm done working. Night Shane."

*~*

Slipping a wet strand of her auburn hair behind her ear, Dorrie pulled Tsen tighter to her chest as she climbed out onto the nearby river's edge. She set the small toddler on the bank of the river and watched him take a few wobbly steps on the grass before falling on his bare bottom. With a scrunched face, he began to cry in earnest.

"Oh may bairn, tis fine… Shhh…shhh there'll bay a bit o fallin' boot soon enough ya'll be off and away," she whispered to her son as she lifted him off the rough stony ground and dusted the fine grit from his bottom.

"Is Tsen alright?" Summer asked from where she and her young boy were bathing. Actually, splashing was what Fox was doing while his mother wrestled to wash the soot from his hair.

"Aye. He joost wished ta run afore he can walk," The redhead called out while wrapping a blanket about his small body. "Aer the two o ya almoost doon?" Dorrie glanced up from her task.

As the healer dressed her son in his small leather shirt and pants, she touched his growing hair that was black as a raven's wing. He looked so much like his father that her hands wavered a bit but as she looked into his tear-filled eyes she saw a part of herself in them, green as new grown grass. "Let's get ya dressed so yer Mum can do so as wheel, Keir."

"Han, we come," Summer replied while tying her tan leather dress back into place. As his mother dressed, a naked Silver Fox began toddling toward Tsen. Chuckling, the Pawnee swooped down to pick him up and wrestled with the child to get his shirt and his loin cloth back in place. Finally reaching Dorrie's side, she placed her son on the ground and held her arm open reaching for Tsen. "Here I hold him while Spirit Woman dress. It begin to grow cold and you must take care now you carry another child within."

Taking the small child from her friend's arms, Summer sat on the ground while Silver Fox wove back and forth by his mother and Tsen. "Ahee," The Kiowa boy yammered out while Silver Fox joined in "Teahan geia..." With squeals and guttural noises, the two children seemed to speak to one an other.

Tears came to Dorrie's eyes as she ran a hand across the small swell of her stomach. Her mind returning to the night by the pond with Buck. The night he'd laughed about them creating another child and now his teasing words had come true. She could feel the child growing but still had another month before she could sense if Tsen would have a brother or sister. It was a bit uncomfortable hearing the whispers in the village as they spoke of her son and the child she now carried …saying they were Eagle Wing's. No matter how much she protested, they believed the Lakota warrior was the children's father.

"Hadn't she spent time with him the last time Spirit Woman visited and been in the Chief's second son's Teepee since she'd arrived?" They whispered. Now that the dog soldier's elder brother had gone to the happy hunting grounds to be with his ancestors, the young warrior had risen in rank to become next in line as leader of the small band of Lakota.

The young healer had contemplated returning home to see her mother but the thought of seeing Buck with that blond haired woman kept her with the Lakota. Her son was happy and the tribe respected her …well most of them anyway. Screeching Owl did not like her that was for certain. He'd wanted Summer Wind to become his property and Dorrie shuddered at the idea of the violent man having control over the sweet natured woman. Though women amongst the whites had few rights, they were treated better than Summer Wind. Eagle Wing tried to explain that is was because she was a Pawnee slave. She was angry and disappointed that the Lakota, like the whites in the South, still clung to such a cruel custom. She would be sure that Tsen would not follow that particular tradition.

Looking over at her son within her friend's caring arms, Dorrie smiled sadly. Ike had left about two days ago to return to the station. She couldn't imagine being able to make it without his help. He'd taken a letter to her mother and Rory that first time he'd returned from riding with her to the Lakota village. She tried to explain in the letter why she'd chosen to stay with the tribe and not at her father's camp.

The last note that she'd sent with Ike had been difficult to write. While her family understood her needing to leave, they still wanted her to ride with the mute rider on his return. It had been hard to tell them that she would be staying, but she wasn't ready to face the sight of Buck with another woman and the looks she would get everyone realized that she was pregnant once again. . The mere thought of Rory and his temper supported her decision. Hearing the three voices across from her, Dorrie knew that for now it was what was best ..a least for now.

She watched Summer and had to smile for Ike certainly liked talking to the pretty Pawnee. Once Dorrie was dressed, the Indian woman gave the two boys each a strap of leather that had been soaked in buffalo fat and the two began to chew happily on their treat. The two women smiled at one another as they gathered up their things and began walking back to the camp. "Summer…I...do the people o the village think that …Tsen and may wee one ..aer Eagle Wing's bairns...children? I dinna know what ta do ta stop them from thinkin' sooch thins fer ya know 'tisn't true."

Touching her friend's arm, the dark-haired woman replied softly, "Spirit Women no tell them anything. Is so Spirit Woman safe and other warriors not fight for you. Eagle Wing let them know you with him, make you safe."

"I dinna know," Dorrie whispered softly and thought on her friend's words as she waved good bye as they went to their respective teepees. Pushing the flap back, she found Eagle Wing half clothed and eating some of the food the women had prepared by the large central fire earlier that morning.

"Oh..yer eatin'. I can.." The woman born of Scot and and Irish blood started in embarrassment. Up until recently, the chief's second son had often been away form camp hunting or leading the other dog soldiers in protecting the small Sioux community. When he did return, he was usually busy with other duties for his father and Dorrie had been busy with those who needed her skills or caring for her son.

"Ne..come...eat with Eagle Wing. I do not see Spirit Woman for many suns. The people are well?" He asked his dark eyes locking onto Dorrie's face.

"Aye. I took care oLittle Turtle's wound that he got from the arrow. 'Twas was quite lucky it dinna hit any lower o..he would nay longer bay with us."

The Lakota remained silent for a moment as he stared at the woman before him. Smiling slowly, he patted the ground in silent command. "This good. A good warrior he be one day." "Aye ..bay the look o the buffalo yer men brought back, the hunt went well." She added shyly while moving over and kneeling on the ground by the fire with Tsen against her chest gnawing on his strip of leather.

"Han, this time. Not always good hunt with the white men kill much…" He said looking down at his food and back up at her face. "There will be plenty for a many suns." Then the warrior held out a large piece of the cooked meat toward her.

Lowering herself further to a comfortable sitting position on the wolf pelt by the fire, The young boy began squiggling in her arms and fussing. Dorrie took a piece of the cooked buffalo and chewed some of it until the meat was soft in her mouth before pulling the bits out and placing it into her son's open mouth. To the young mother, the process reminded her a bit of a robin feeding her young.

"Here, gave Tsen T'ainte to me. I hold while you eat. " The Lakota warrior demanded reaching out his well muscled arms. The healer began to protest but the look on the man's face was one that brooked no arguments.

"Thank ya…" she started while lifting the child toward the Eagle Wing. "Tsen and I were at the river with Summer and Silver Fox. The two wee ones had been playing with old fire ashes and needed ta bay cleaned up." she continued with a shake of her head.

A small chuckle came from the Indian as he looked down at Tsen. "So you look dark with ash. This I like to see! " The toddler grinned at the man's laughter and reached up to tug on one of Eagle Wing's feathers that hung by a piece of leather in his hair.

Dorrie nibbled on the meat and watched her baby's single tooth smile as the future chief lifted the child above his head. "Soon you will earn your own feathers, Tsen T'ainte."

A sad look came over her face and her eyes glazed. This was how it was supposed to be with Buck. He should have been the one to hold their son…teaching him the ways of his people...as well as the child within her womb. As she thought on her husband and her new child, she rubbed a hand across her swelling stomach.

Eagle Wing cut a glance at the sadness in the beautiful young woman's green eyes and set Tsen down in his lap. He then began to chew and pass the food to the young boy. "No fear for the one who is to come. He or she be welcomed here Spirit Woman. Our tribe care for this child as they care for Tsen T'ainte."

"I know.. joost…'tis nothin' " Dorrie said huskily while trying to cover her wayward thoughts. For nearly two months, Eagle Wing had kept his distance so that Spirit woman before him could heal for the ache in her heart from Running Buck's abandonment of his family. The dog soldier thought that the Kiowa would come for her. Seeing that more than two moons had passed, he knew there was an Indian way that the white woman did not know and which would hurt her greatly. He recognized that it was time for him to tell her what she must know.

"Spirit Woman eat, then we talk," he said lifting the small boy in his arms. "Tsen and Eagle Way go for small walk while you finish eat."

Dorrie could see the determined look on his face and nodded as she swallowed another bite of the roasted meat and wandered what wished to speak to her about. Once her meal was done and she'd cleaned up, she sat and began to sew while she waited for the two to return. 'Have I doon somethin' wrong?' she wondered as she sewed on the shirt for her growing son. After a few moments, the flap was pulled back and the Lakota leader carried the slumbering infant inside. His eyes crinkled as he smiled down at her.

"Seem little one grow tired after our walk." he said with a small shake of his head then laid the boy on his sleeping mat. Once he'd seen that the boy was properly tucked in, the Lakota sat back down on a buffalo hide and silence filled the teepee for a bit before he began to speak. "We tell you of some of the people's ways when last Spirit Woman come to our camp. You know of how two choose to become joined but…also can break oath." The handsome Indian paused to concentrate on how to prepare his next words. "All it take to break promise is to leave for one full moon…"

Gasping at his words, Dorrie rose to her feet unable to say a word. "Ya mean in the ways of the Indian people…Buck tisn't may husband any longer?" she asked with a whimper before turning her back so that the leader could not see her pain.

It tore at the future chief to be the one to say aloud the next words but knew that she needed to know the truth. "Han," he replied softly.

Silence filled the small room once more for a few moments before the young woman raced through the opening of the teepee and headed toward the place she'd left just hours earlier. There by the bank of the river, she lay her head upon her knees and released deep soul wrenching sobs.

*~*

After running out of Shane's room, Buck didn't know where he was going, he just knew that he needed to get away from everything; from Shane, the memory of Dorrie and Tsen. Somehow ending up in the meadow where he prayed, Buck sank to the ground and cried. The thought hadn't occurred to him before, but now it all made sense. After Dorrie left, Shane was the one thing that was constant in his life. If everything else was falling apart around him, he would always have Shane for his father would welcome him with open arms, no matter how bad Buck had treated him or what he had done to others.

Buck went to see Shane as often as he had the chance, but the ill man was always sleeping and he didn't want to wake him. 'He would get better! All his father needed was the rest,' Buck thought but inside he knew that he was lying to himself. Shane wouldn't get better. For each time Buck visited, his father seemed to be getting worse. Soon there would not have the older man to turn to..he would be alone..

Without Shane and since Dorrie had ridden out of town with Ike, Buck didn't feel like getting up in the morning… he didn't feel like eating. His head was filled with thoughts of Dorrie and Tsen and the life they were living without him. He imagined them to be happy. As always, his son would laugh at everything and stop at nothing to explore the world. That thought made Buck smile - at least they were safe. No sooner had that thought go through his mind, did his smile fade. Dorrie and Tsen were happy, with Ike and not him.

Turning over in bed, Buck stared at the wall wondering if he should try and get up. He had chores to do in the stables, but his body felt so heavy. Knowing that he didn't really have a choice, Buck groaned and dragged his body out of bed.

*~*

Sitting on the porch snapping beans, Emma looked over to see Ike riding up to the barn. 'Hadn't Buck just gone in there to do his chores?' she thought shaking her head. She'd heard from Barnett in town that Shane had been very ill. All the other riders knew where Buck was going when he wasn't working. While they felt bad for the young man as he dealt with his the fact that his father was dying, they couldn't understand why he hadn't gone after Dorrie. Truth was Emma missed the young woman and little Tsen as did the whole family but Buck just seemed to pretend that they never existed.

Each time Ike returned from visiting Dorrie, he and Buck had constantly been at one each other's throat. While the rest of the riders just kept away from the Kiowa, confused by Buck's behavior, Ike refused to speak to his friend. The young Indian didn't help things by finding anything he could to argue with the man he'd at one time considered his brother.

Seeing Ike ride into the barn had the stationmistress antsy and hoping that one of the two boys would come out soon and without fighting. The whole situation had the lot of them walking softly so as to keep a major argument from occurring.

Throwing one of the beans into the pot, Emma kept her eyes focused on the barn door waiting for one of them to walk out.

*~*

Buck didn't have to look up when Ike entered the stable, he could tell by the man's footsteps that it was his former brother. For a brief moment, Buck bit his lip and wondered if he should acknowledge Ike. Taking the handles of the wheelbarrow, the Kiowa drove it over his old friend's foot.

"Sorry," he said with venom. "I didn't see you." Buck looked at Ike, daring him to talk back. With his thoughts on his recent visit and the long walk by the river two nights ago with Summer Wind, the mute young man smiled as he entered the barn but his smiles was soon wiped away when he saw Buck moving toward him. The two looked at one another as anger burning in their eyes. They'd both been tense and ready to go at one another for so long that they were like dried timber waiting for the eventual spark to put them to flame.

Buck running over Ike's toe was all it took to the angry flame within the mute rider alight. The bald young man had been holding his temper in check due to his promise to Dorrie but the Indian's deliberate act caused him to lose control. *You saw me! You did that on purpose! What is wrong with you? I know your father is dying but you hate him...why should you care for him now Buck? All you ever care about is YOURSELF!* After the last word, Ike shoved the wheelbarrow back into Buck's hip.

The place where the wheelbarrow hit his hip hurt, but Buck ignored it. "And you don't! I'm not the one who ran off with my brother's wife. That's the way what I used to think of you, water's thicker than blood, but you ruined that. I saw you and Dorrie ride off that night…the way you held her and how you've been playing with...Tsen." It hurt to say their names after pretending that they didn't exist for nearly two months.

"And Shane is my business." Buck pushed Ike into the wheelbarrow before he opened Midnight's stall and threw himself on the horse's back. "Tell Teaspoon I quit!" called Buck over his shoulder.

*~*

Buck had been riding hard for what seemed like forever, yet at the same time, no time at all. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Buck drew in a deep breath. He didn't have a place to stay right now, but it would give him a chance to live off of the land like the Kiowa taught him. He would find a place where he could start over

In his heart Buck knew that he would never be happy because he would always have the image of Ike and Dorrie riding away from the station. If he could end his life, he would. Buck looked down on his knife, but shook the thought away. It wasn't worth it, he wanted to go to the spirit plain as an honorable man whose life had found an natural end.

Giving a large sigh, Buck decided to go see his father. Maybe the older man would be awake this time, Buck hoped so because he felt a need to talk and Shane was the only person he could do so with. He couldn't talk to Teaspoon or anybody else at the station, he wasn't even welcomed there anymore. Shane was the only one who would understand.

Upon entering Shane's room, Buck sat down by the bed and studied his father face. They kind of looked like each other. Buck touched his cheekbones and reached out to touch Shane's, but withdrew his hand. The older man seemed far worse than yesterday He was pale, his cheek hallowed and now there were dark blue circles underneath his eyes. The young rider looked at the almost empty bottle of laudanum and sighed. It was a great pleasure to see Shane finally open his eyes. Buck's mouth broke into a wide grin as he found his father's eyes meeting his. "How are you feeling?" asked Buck. It was a stupid question, but Buck throat closed up and he wasn't capable of saying anything else.

"Been better...ready..." Shane's words were strained and he was breathing heavily. Buck held a glass of water to his father's lips, but Shane moved his face while groaning in pain. Buck bit his lip. He couldn't believe that Shane was giving up on life without a struggle. "Don't say that...you're gonna be fine. I can talk to Mrs. Macalister, see what she can do..."

"Son," interrupted Shane, "I've put this on myself and now I have to deal with the consequences. Mrs. Macalister says the same thing as Doc. Buck, I'm gonna die." Buck nodded. He knew that it was because of his drinking that Shane was ill, yet there was denial in his nod. His father wouldn't die. Then he wasn't the man his mother had fallen in love with.

Once the effects of the drug had once again numbed the pain, Buck asked, "Where did you grow up?

"I grew up in New York. My father owned a newspaper there and a publishing house. I never wanted to take part in his business because I had read about the west and all that it promised. I wasn't afraid, I wanted to go, but I knew that my parents would never let me. When I turned seventeen, I left without saying where I was going. I think they were looking for me, but I went by many names..."

"Did you ever regret leaving?" Buck found Shane's story intriguing.

Shane shook his head. "I found adventure I wouldn't have in New York. And I learned more than I ever would from a book."

"Is New York as big as they say?"

"It's bigger."

There was a long silence as the entertainer's struggling breaths echoed about the room. "Shane, will you tell me about my mother? What she was like before I was born? What was she like when you met her?"

"Your mother was a good woman. She always saw the best in people and helped them bring that out. I never thought I would meet someone like her. She had a special effect on people. Whenever she was around, no one could stay sad or angry. Little Wren brightened up my life in a way I never thought possible."

"And she would pretend to get angry when you were eating fry bread without permission, but in reality she would just take it as a compliment and give you more."

"That she would," said Shane with a smile, thinking about an old memory.

"How did you meet?"

"That," said Shane, "is one memory I won't mind revisiting. A long time ago I tried my chances as a trapper. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, until I stepped in one of my own traps."

"So you were a bit clumsy?" Buck asked with a small smile. Swallowing hard, the young Indian motioned to Shane to continue the story.

"Little Wren found me and brought me back to the village. Everyone there thought I was useless, and in a way they were right. Little Wren didn't see that though and at one point we fell in love."

"It's a nice story. Why did you leave?"

Shane knew the question would come, yet he wasn't prepared for it. Swallowing hard, he opened his mouth to tell that part of the story. "Strong Wolf, Red Bear's uncle, wanted Little Wren for his own because he felt that was his right since she was his brother's wife. I came in the way of that custom. One day, Strong Wolf took me aside and told me that I had to leave or he would kill Little Wren and you. If I refused, he would kill you both and make me watch. The man scared me and I thought I'd better do as he said, to save you..."

Buck wasn't ready to admit it, but it did make sense that Strong Wolf would do something like that. "Shane can I ask you something else? When was I born? I mean, what date."

"Bright and early Christmas morning. I wanted to name you Jesus, but your mother said no."

"That's the birthday I was given at the Mission School. After I left the village, I was starved and freezing. Mother Superior said it was a miracle I found them, and on Christmas morning. I've never seen that day as anything special, but I think I will from now on." Buck smiled at the thought. Before, his birthday didn't matter to him at all, but now, with everything that happened, Buck held on to every sense of belonging that he could.

"Shane, can I ask you something else?" Shane nodded. "How did you get over mother?" "I never did, not really. I fooled myself into believing that I had. For a long time I did that, but I still miss her and see her face everywhere I turn my head."

"Does she come to you in your dreams and hold you? Telling you that everything will be all right and that the pain will soon stop? Then when you wake the pain is stronger than ever, and you're hugging her pillow to your chest letting yourself believe that it still smells like her. That it's her body that's resting on your chest and not a lifeless pillow. Do you pretend that she never existed in a useless attempt to make the pain go away?

"I still do." Shane's voice was weak and the last word was barely audible.

"Then, the pain…will it ever stop?"

"No," said Shane.

"Shane...I'm...sorry for the way I've been treating you before. It's way overdue, but I wanted you to know that even though I can't take back the way I treated you, that you are welcome in my life. Dorrie...she told me that I needed to learn to forgive you, and now I have. Shane I'm sorry."

"Buck, son, I'm the one that owes you an apology. I shouldn't have left, I was only thinking of myself."

"No, you did what you thought was right and the time. You wanted to protect mother and me."

"I still want you to accept my apology. If I had known, I would have done things differently."

Buck reached out a hand for Shane. "Let's shake on it and call it bygones."

"Bygones," said Shane and laid his hand in Buck's. It was a weak shake and with a thump his hand dropped on top of the blanket.

"Son, I know it's a lot to ask, but can you give me a Kiowa ceremony and write to New York to let my parents know what happened."

The color drained from Buck's face. "You're not going to die. You're going to get better. You just need to rest. You look better than last time I visited."

"Buck, stop fretting. Please, give me an answer, yes or no. I know you don't owe me anything, but give me a chance to see Little Wren again. Undo the mistake I made nineteen years ago." Buck swallowed hard, his lip quivering. "Yes, Shane, I'll do it, but only if you promise to fight and get better."

Shane nodded, and closed his eyes for a moment. "Buck, do you love Dorrie?"

"I'll never stop...I'll never stop missing her."

"Then don't make the same mistake I did. Don't wander this world with half your spirit or leave your son to be just like you...searching for his father or...with another man as his father."

Buck sat for a long time watching his father, rest - taking his last breath - preparing to greet the spirit plain. His lip was quivering as the young man realized that he was now truly all alone.

Dorrie and Tsen he would never see again and now Shane was gone. He couldn't go back to the village, not after the way he acted last time. He had been a disgrace to Red Bear and couldn't go back to the station, not even to pick up his gear. Buck couldn't stand the thought of seeing Ike with Dorrie and Tsen, Shane told him to go after them, but Buck was conflicted by the thought. Could he handle the pain of hearing the woman he would always love tell him that she loved Ike and asked him to leave them alone?

Not being able to hold his emotions inside any longer, Buck laid his head on his father's chest and began to cry, hoping that he would hear the beat of his father's heart. When he heard none, he sobbed even harder. "Don't you die on me, ya hear! I need you. Dad… come back. I wasn't ready for you to leave. Love you..." His voice drifted off into silence. Buck turned his head when the window slammed open and in the whisper of a gust of wind, he could hear the words; "Love you, too, my son."

*~*

For a moment, Ike just stood and stared after Buck in confusion as he tried to make sense of what his friend had just said. 'He and Dorrie? How ..why would he even think that?' Knowing that he needed to find out the answer, the mute shoved the wheelbarrow angrily to the side and remounted Duststorm. He was just preparing to follow after the Kiowa when Emma came racing up to beside him.

"What's goin' on Ike?" She said. "I just saw Buck ride out like the devil was after him. Did the two of you fight again?"

*Something like that, * signed Ike. *Buck thinks that me and Dorrie …are together... I don't know how he got the idea because it isn't true. *

With a frown on her face, Emma became quiet and then with a shake of her head looked after Buck's as he headed toward town. "I had no idea he was thinking such things. Why would he think...unless...maybe you going to check up on her made him think you liked her too? Why didn't he just ask you about it? I'm worried about him. He's like a powder keg ready to go off."

*Maybe I should go and talk to him. Try and make him understand things from Dorrie's side. What do you think? * Asked Ike. He didn't know what to do with his friend and maybe Emma could help him make sense of things.

Patting Ike's arm. "You haven't done a thing wrong Ike so don't ya go thinking that you have! Why...where Dorrie would be without you there to help her and Tsen?" Emma shook her head and gave him a look of concern. "I think your right. He needs to do some listenin' instead of running and hiding. You be careful now. Make sure it's talking the two of ya do and not fightin'."

*Thanks Emma, I'll go see him now. I'm pretty sure he is with Shane. * With a soft smile at the Station mistress, Ike swung up onto his horses back and raced toward town. Back low and reigns tight in his hand, he thought on what he should say to make Buck believe that Dorrie was just a good friend...who had become like the sister he'd lost so long ago...

His flight to town seemed endless but finally he reached the Saloon and made his way through the growing late afternoon crowd. He saw the young woman that Jimmy had seen Buck all snuggly with in the barn and gave her a sharp look before heading up the stairs two steps at a time.

Looking around, he heard Buck's voice through one of the doors so Ike peeked into the room and found a very ill looking Shane with Buck in a chair by the bed. He wanted to leave...give the two of them some privacy but he couldn't. The answers to too many questions lay there in this room. For Dorrie's sake he would make sure Buck knew that he couldn't talk about her like she was...well like one of the call girls within the Saloon. No! This was the Indian rider's fault and he would make sure he knew it!

As he listened to what was said between father and son, Ike's confusion grew. 'If he loves her then why had he pushed her away? Why had he slept with one of the Saloon girls?' The more he heard the more confused he grew.

Ike's heart went out to his friend when he saw Shane's eyes close and heard Buck cry out for his newfound father to come back and that he loved him. The bald rider stood silently watching the sad scene not knowing what to do. While he was struggling with what he should do., Buck turned and found him standing there watching what had just transpired.

"Ike," whispered Buck as tears fell from his eyes. "I lost him. I'm alone again." The Indian struggled to sit up and bit his lip. "It wasn't his turn to go."

Buck wondered why he was talking to Ike. Wasn't it his friend who had betrayed him? It didn't matter though, nothing did … because he'd quit his job and had nowhere to go.

Nodding, Ike looked from the old man in the bed to Buck. *He looks kinda happy now. Like he's at peace. * The mute young man continued. *You weren't ever alone Buck...but you just keep pushing everyone away...everyone who cares. *

"Because I wanted to protect you. He don't look at peace." Buck looked from his father to Ike. "Will you go to the station and get my gear? I don't think I can go back now that I quit." Buck was biting his lip so hard he felt blood. "I'll hold his pyre tonight, then I'll leave."

Anger sparked in Ike's eyes once more. *That's right, run away again. Protect us? Maybe we would rather you were around then have you protect us! Run from your wife...son and...* The bald rider stopped for he'd almost let it slip that Dorrie was pregnant and he'd given his word not to tell anyone, not even her mother.

"And what?" said Buck, sitting up completely. "Dorrie and Tsen were hurt because I'm Indian. It was the same men that beat me who hurt them. It was my fault! MINE!" Taking a calming breath, the dark-haired rider continued, " I know I made a lot of mistakes, and maybe one day I'll have the chance to correct them, but right now I have to make the pyre for my father. It will be in the meadow at midnight if you want to be there. I mean...I would appreciate it if you where there."

Still angry, Ike slapped his chest to get his friends attention. *By the way...Dorrie and I...we were never together like that. She is like a sister I lost and I've been helping her since you chose not to. *

Giving Buck a nod, *I'll go get your things. Who knows...you might just keep walking in his steps. * Ike jerked his head in the dead man's direction. *You might just end up like him. With a son who never knew you...dying alone. * He knew the words were harsh but if Buck didn't stop and face the truth of his actions soon what he'd just said very well might take place and where would that leave Dorrie, Tsen and the child she now carried?

Buck watched his friend. "I don't want to be my father. I want to know Tsen, but I don't know how to do it. With the things I said to her that night…I.. I can't take them back. It's been two months, by the laws of the Kiowa, that means Dorrie and I are no longer married. I don't think I could take it if she wouldn't take me back."

Ike frowned at his friend's words. He hadn't known and Dorrie was now living with the Lakota. Not liking what he was hearing, he shifted from one foot to the next as his green eyes met Buck's dark brown. *Is it the same with the Lakota? * He asked his hands moving quickly.

"I think so. Why do you ask? Is Dorrie in trouble? Ike, please talk to me." Buck stood and hovered about an inch over Ike.

*NO! No I wouldn't leave her in trouble..I mean danger but..* He swallowed hard and looked worriedly at his friend. *That day you saw us leave...she went to live with the Lakota tribe she'd gone to before. Said she wanted her son to grow up accepted and to learn the Indian way of life. Since you weren't going to teach him, Dorrie went where she thought he would be safe. I didn't know about that being apart meant you weren't married. She heard about you and a ..saloon girl...I was mad and didn't want to see her hurt any more so I took her to the Indian village.* Thousands of thoughts were running through Ike's mind. He knew Dorrie loved Buck but what might happen if she knew of this Indian way of life where the separation meant they weren't married.

Buck looked at his father. "Tonight, I will hold his pyre and pray the spirits to welcome him in the spirit plain. Then I will write to his family. He asked me to do that. Tomorrow I will go to the Lakota village to see Dorrie. If she'll have me back but if not...I won't give up."

*I'll help you with the pyre and pray with you. * Ike signed and stared at his friend. He now understood why Buck had been acting so strange but it still hurt that he would believe that he would have taken another man's wife especially the man he treated as a brother. Ike didn't know what to say. But he was glad that Buck was willing to fight for Dorrie. On his last visit, he'd noticed how Eagle Wing had been spending a great deal of time around the healer and holding Tsen as they walked about the village together.

"Thank you," said Buck. Giving his father one last look, Buck pulled the blanket over the other man's head. "I'm sorry I thought those things about you. Am I forgiven?" Buck reached out his right hand for Ike to shake.

Ike nodded and reached forward to take his friend's reddish brown hand in his.

*~*

Buck stood frozen to the ground as he watched the flames engulf his father. Fear shone in his eyes. Everyone from the station was standing behind him, except for Emma. He could feel her hand touch his shoulder, and Buck leaned into her touch. He had once said that she was the closest thing he had to a mother in the white world and Buck knew that to be the truth. He didn't want to be alone right now, and he wasn't; Emma was there for him, Ike and his friends were too. With his eyes focused on the flames, he thought 'Soon Dorrie and Tsen would be by his side as well.' Feeling Emma's arms come around his shoulders, Buck let the tears fall from his eyes.

Cropped hair fell in Buck's eyes, but he didn't care. Cutting one's hair while in grief was normal among the Kiowa. Earlier that day, after he and Ike had prepared the pyre, Buck had gone off to pray and made the cuts on his body that was also customary when a loved one died. He didn't want anybody to see the cuts, because he knew they wouldn't understand.

The pyre burned brightly as they all watched the sparks from the flames flutter along with the smoke which billowed upward into midnight sky. Emma pulled Buck into her arms as the rest of the family stood about their Kiowa friend. Every once in awhile, Jimmy and Lou would cut a glance or two at the saloon girl. Sherrie lifted her chin when she saw their disapproving faces and wiped the tears from her eyes while old friend's body was engulfed by flame. She'd chosen to stand off to the side away from the family for she knew that she wasn't welcomed.

All that was left of his father were the ashes that would soon be scattered by the spring breeze. Buck withdrew from Emma's grasp and turned to look at his family. "Thank you, for being here. You too Sherrie." He gave the woman a weak smile. "For taking care of dad when he didn't have anybody else."

Pressing her lips together, Sherrie nodded and gave Buck a small smile. "Ya need anything...you know where I am," she choked out as she followed Teaspoon, Emma and the rest of the riders on their trek back to where their horses were tied. Leaving the young Indian time alone to say his last farewells.

Buck nodded before giving the ashes one last look. Wiping at his eyes, Buck knelt down to pray one last time for his father's journey into the spirit world.

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