Sequel to Love's Greatest Creation

She loved living with Emma, Teaspoon and the rest of the riders. They made her feel at home and a part of their close knit family. Little Tsen was spoiled by all the attention he received on a daily basis. A worried frown came over her face as she stared out the lacy curtains at the white covered ground. Sometime during the night, Sweetwater had met with the first snow of the winter and a few flakes were still dancing about in the air.

Casting an anxious glance down into the oak cradle not far from the fire's warmth where her son rested, Dorrie walked nervously back and forth across the well-worn bunkhouse floor. She watched as the sun began to set upon the horizon with a few bare cottonwood trees silhouetted in the blazing red background and anxiously awaited her husband's return from his ride to Blue Creek. It wasn't like him to come back so late from a ride.

She'd just finished helping Emma to clean up the evening meal and couldn't seem to sit still. As the minutes ticked slowly by, Dorrie looked down at the lonesome plate praying that soon she would hear Midnight's thundering hooves. She stood there watching...waiting...not realizing that her son had awoken and wanted to be held, nor that Lou had picked him up.

"Buck's alright, Dorrie. He's probably just slowed down because the other relay station ran short on horses or the snow set him back a bit," Lou said laying a soft hand on her friend's shoulder while she held little Tsen gently in her arms. The infant was chewing on a piece of Lou's dark hair which he'd grabbed as it danced in front of his eyes.

"I'm worried. Lou. Buck tis usually a wee bit late boot this is bay far the latest he's aer been. I...maybay I'll take Keir fer a ride in the buggy and meet him on his way back."

Nodding, Lou gently pulled her hair free from the baby's tight grip and handed Tsen to Dorrie. "I understand. I'll go get the buggy ready while you get my nephew together for the ride." With a small smile, Lou picked her hat off the hook on the wall, placed it on her head and strode out the bunkhouse door intent on her promised task.

"Thank ya, Lou!" The Scot Irish woman called after her departing friend. "Come along may little one, let's get ya ready ta go see yer Da! He's on his way...we'll joost give him a surprise," she said with forced cheerfulness though her voice shook slightly with fear.

Pushing a loose curl behind her ear, the healer reached down into the large basket and wrapped the infant in the big wool blanket that usually hung over a willow rocker. Luckily they'd pulled it inside from the porch before the onset of the winter months. "Let's go see if we can meet yer Da on his way home, eh may lad?"

Lifting her medicine bag from the hook by the door, she quickly carried the child toward the barn where she laid him carefully in the small basket on the floor of the buggy and then proceeded to pull herself up into the seat. "Thank ya Lou. Yer the best o friends...I joost hope nothin's happened..." Her voice shook husky and her hands trembled.

"I'd come with ya Dorrie if I hadn't promised to help Emma. We're kinda short on riders since Cody went home ta see his family," the pretty dark haired woman said sadly.

"Nay...I'm joost bein' a silly fishwife tis all. Ya go on and I'll bay sure ta meet up with him. I promise I won't go further than the crossroad," the green-eyed woman promised as Tsen gave a small squeal and pushed at the blanket to try and break free from his wrapped prison.

"Promise me ya won't go any further or Buck will have my hide for helpin' hitch the buggy!" Lou said giving Dorrie a small hug.

Dorrie climbed into the buggy and gave her friend a smile. "Ya have may word!" she said before slapping the reins and calling back at to Lou, "Take care, Louise!" Once she had the vehicle moving, the young woman called to the horse, "Go on with ya Misty. We'll follow the road a bit ta see if we can surprise that husband o mine."

*~*

Buck had been rushing home, just as he did from every run he was on. He was anxious to see Dorrie after being away, especially when he had an overnight run. It felt so empty, sleeping without her soft warm body next to his side or not hearing Tsen's steady breathing. If it was up to Buck, he wouldn't go on any of the overnight runs, but he had a family to support and those runs earned him more money than the shorter ones.

Coming home, first thing he'd do was give Dorrie the biggest and longest kiss that was known to mankind. Then he would lift his son up in the air and Tsen would laugh his little baby laugh.

There was only one problem this time; he didn't think that he was going to make it home.

It had been so long since he'd seen anybody come by - there had been a small carriage some time ago, but they hadn't noticed him. He couldn't call out due to the bandanna stuffed in his mouth and his hands were tied behind his back so he couldn't use them to draw attention to his predicament.

Hours had passed, Buck wasn't sure how many. He'd lost all concept of time and was so very cold. The young Kiowa cursed the weather-god for picking last night to make snow. The sun was a small comfort, but couldn't stop the shakes that he felt raging through his body. All he wished for was for someone to come by and help him, like in that story he had read in the bible when he was at the mission school. Buck didn't remember what the story was called, but he remembered that there was this person who came and helped a man who had been attacked by bushwhackers after everyone in town had passed him.

The men had tried to take Midnight, but he'd refused to leave his owner. The horse had risen up on his hind legs while his front hooves whipped at the men. If Buck didn't have the bandanna stuffed in his mouth, they would have seen a small smile lurk at the corners of his mouth. Midnight was the best horse a man could have.

While the sun began to set, Buck wished that someone would see him soon. Midnight stood faithfully next to him and he hoped that even if they couldn't see him, they would see the horse. 'Please somebody ….I'm over here!,' Buck prayed to all the gods and spirits in his knowledge.

Buck knew that he shouldn't get his hopes up when he noticed a buggy up ahead with a person inside. Buck couldn't see anything but the outline because his eyes were almost swelled shut but there was definitively someone there.

Tears fell down his cheeks as he thought about his family and that his farewell three days ago might have been the last time he saw Dorrie and little Tsen.

Just as Dorrie came around a small curve in the road, she hesitated a moment when she saw a movement in the snow by the side of the road. 'Probably joost a fox or squirrel,' she told herself while moving down the snow covered path. As she came closer, she instantly recognized Midnight standing just beneath a nearby tree and fought to bring air into her body.

"NO!!" she shouted pulling the buggy beside the stallion and searching frantically on the ground for her husband. "BUCK!! BUCK!!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. The healer ran through the trees stumbling to her knees as she slipped in her haste on the icy snow.

"Buck where are ya? Where are ya...?" The healer called out before beginning started to weep.

Through the blur if his impeded vision, Buck searched the landscape for Dorrie's form. There was something that looked like a human off to his right. For the moment forgetting that his arms were tied behind his back, Buck tried to raise them to show where he was. Then again, it could be the men that had beaten him, returning for some more fun. It was hard to tell. Hoping that it was Dorrie that had found him, Buck let his mind drift off to a place where there was no pain.

An imaginary smile came to Buck's swollen, blue lips. It was Dorrie! "Dorr, over here," he tried to say, but due to the bandanna it only came out as a series of muttered R's.

Wiping her wet cheeks, she struggled to her feet and began to look around with more care. She saw a black patch just over the rise and shuffled carefully in that direction. Dorrie stopped sharply when she saw Buck lying covered in blood on the cold frozen ground. Believing him dead she ran to his body and dropped to her knees by his side. "No... please God dinna take him from me..." She pleaded laying her head on his chest to listen for his heart. Hearing it's steady rhythm, she let go of the breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding in while praying.

With quick hands, she plucked the bandanna out of his mouth and moved to untie her husband's hands and feet. Sitting back up she pulled her short jacket off and put it under his head. "Buck can ya hear may? Come on love I need ya ta wake up." she pleaded her voice shaking with near tears.

Buck tried so hard to open his eyes. He needed to see Dorrie. To make sure that she was really there, that it wasn't just his mind playing a trick on him. He could feel her touch him, but it was so strange because he really felt a prickling, like someone stinging him with a needle over and over again. "Dorrie," he forced out in a stutter. "Love...you...Tsen..."

He tried to say something else but instead his head made a jolt and a thin line of blood dripped out of the corner of his mouth.

"Oh...we love ya too. Please don't leave us. We need ya, do ya hear may? I'll bay right back. I need ta get may bag and Tsen from the buggy." Leaning down she kissed his forehead, making sure that she didn't come near the ugly gash he had there, and raced back to the carriage. Scrambling as fast as she could with shaking hands, the healer tried her best to remain calm. She slipped her bag over her shoulder and lifted the basket out of the buggy. "Your Da needs us little one. I want ya ta bay a good boy fer Mum okay?" she chattered trying to keep from breaking down and crying. It was one thing to care for strangers who needed your help but quite another when it was the person whom you loved more than anything in the world.

Buck felt more alone than he had ever felt before when Dorrie went to get her bag. He had sensed her light kiss, and though it hurt, it was the best kiss ever because now he knew for certain, it was really Dorrie.

Feeling someone touching him, touch his wounds, Buck painfully turned his head to see his wife.

"Dorrie." He reached out to feel her. He had to make sure she was back and real. His hand didn't even make it halfway to her face as the little strength that he had left in his body disappeared.

Laying the basket by Buck's head, she pulled the bag once more over her head. "You stay there right next ta yer Da Tsen." Running her hands over Buck's body anger burned within her. Why would someone do this to him? He had never hurt a soul in his life. Working quickly yet as tenderly as she could she began wiping the wounds and taking care of each of the ones that were visible but knew the real danger lay in his low body temperature.

As soon as the majority of his wounds were clean and dressed, she placed her hand to his swollen cheek. "Buck I need ya ta help may get ya ta the buggy. Let may put Tsen in and then I'll come back fer ya." She gave his hand a squeeze and then picked up the basket. She ran back to the buggy, but her sudden movements woke the infant and he began to cry as if sensing the drama around him.

"Shh, we're goin home lad and yer da wheel bay joost fine...joost fine..." she whispered while trying to convince herself as well as the infant.

Buck didn't try to speak or make any indication that he had heard her. His head was throbbing too much. It was as if now he was with Dorrie he could suddenly feel again. He heard her come and sit down next to him.

"Dorrie," he whispered. "Take my arm and pull me up. I'll try and carry my own weight." He knew that he couldn't stand and much less walk, but he didn't want to put any pressure on Dorrie. He could sense she was already worried, and he didn't want to trouble her any further.

Struggling like two drunken sailors on their way from a night out at the local pub, Dorrie and Buck finally reached the edge of the buggy. She had already tied Midnight to the back of the buggy. Tsen was wailing, his screams tearing at her heart but she need to care for his father first.

"Let may get up in first and I'll pull ya up," Dorrie ordered as she held his hand and climbed up inside.

She felt his hand slipping and grabbed with both hands to keep him upright. "BUCK!! Don't fall...please I canna do this without ya," she pleaded fearfully.

There was so much pain he couldn't believe it, but he vowed that he would not let Dorrie know. When she let go for just a moment, he felt himself slip and as if in slow motion, he felt himself caught in his wife's arms. Leaning into her until he had gotten some sort of footing under him, he smelled her hair, which was a scent that he could only describe as Dorrie.

As she pulled on his arms, she saw him use the side of the buggy to help. After fifteen minutes of struggling, Buck was finally lying in the wagon bed, moaning in pain.

"I'm sorry fer the pain lov. Now let's get ya home where ya belong," she said gently wrapping the lap blanket over him. "Let's go Misty, get us home," she called out snapping the reins. Reaching over she lovingly touched Buck's forehead. "Wheel bay home soon and get ya into a hot bath and I'll reheat yer supp...per and..." Dorrie broke off crying along with little Tsen. Who could have done this to her husband?

All Buck could hear were the sobs emerging from the two people that he loved more than anything. His soul hurt because he knew that he was the reason for their weeping. When he thought about it, matter of fact was, that he shouldn't be alive…not really. Everybody had expected his mother to put her son out to the wolves, but she had been persistent in keeping him and raising him. He was glad that his mother had given him a chance to live, but he didn't want it to end like this.

At one point during the trip home, Buck passed out from the pain that racked his body and soul. He just couldn't stand hearing Dorrie and Tsen crying on top of what had happened today.

*~*

'Dorrie has been gone an awful long time,' Emma thought to herself as she dried her hands on the towel and looked out the window. She had gathered everyone in her drawing room for tea in front of the fire. Now they were just waiting for Dorrie to come back with Buck. Buck probably would want some tea when he came home, to warm him up. It must be freezing out there. Seeing a buggy come towards the station, Emma let out a silent whoop of joy.

"All right boys, you can start the party now," Emma said as all her boys and Lou threw themselves over the cinnamon rolls that were on the table. "Save some for Buck and Dorrie, will you," she laughed as she turned once again to look out the window. "Wait," she uttered holding a hand up. "Something happened."

Grabbing her shawl, Emma threw it around her shoulders before she went outside to see what had happened and why Buck wasn't on his horse.

"Dorrie, dear. What happened?" Emma said in a low voice as she helped the crying woman down from the buggy and drew her into a hug. It was then that Emma saw Buck lying unconscious on the bed of the buggy. "Oh my God," she uttered.

"I...I found him out layin in the snow. They left him ta...die. Tied like an animal on the gr...ground!" Dorrie cried out clinging on to Emma's shawl and letting the older woman hold her tight.

"Who did this?" Jimmy asked with a small grunt as he placed his hands under Buck's arms while Ike grabbed his feet. He knew that a lot of people didn't like Buck because of the way he looked, but he had never imagined that this would happen. Buck was a good man and those who couldn't see that well, those could just go to hell for all Jimmy cared...

"Now's not the time ta be worrin' over who done it Jimmy. It's about getting Buck taken care of," Teaspoon said as he lifted the basket that held the screaming infant within. "Shhh now Keir...yer father will be just fine."

Ike hated to see his friend like this, so weak and helpless. Ever since the mission school, Buck went through every thing that happened to him standing strong and tall. Nothing ever made him look weak...until now.

"Kid...go open the door and you boys can carry him into my room. Then I'll need ya ta set up the tub and bring in some water so it can be heated." Emma barked out as she wrapped an arm around Dorrie's shoulder and led her up the steps and into the warmth of the main house.

Dorrie eyes never left Buck's face as she stumbled slightly up the stairs after him. Her dress was soaked through from sitting in the snow and helping her husband. Her glazed eyes shifted to be sure Tsen was all right and she relaxed when she saw that her son was in Teaspoon's safe arms. As Jimmy and Ike laid Buck in the bed in the small downstairs bedroom, Dorrie rushed to his side.

"We need ta make the water warm boot nay hot...and some o may chamomile and willow bark tea..." she started as the boys laid him before the fireplace.

Once he'd made sure Buck was safe before the fire, Ike turned to Dorrie, *Who did this? Why?*

Shaking her head Dorrie met Ike's angry eyes. "I dinna know, Ike. It canna bay about the mail fer he dinna have any. I want ta know too...I joost canna imagine anyone doin sooch a thin..." The healer let out a gasping sob before moving quickly to Buck's side as she began to undress him.

"Emma...could I have some blankets and towels ta dry him off when he's finished in the water?" the young Scotch-Irish woman asked while giving Buck's face a gentle caress and pulling his soaked coat off.

Jimmy couldn't stand watching his friend in pain and do nothing. Buck was lying near death and all he was doing was standing there like an idiot. "I'm going to get Mrs. Macalister and let Sam know what happened on the way back. There's no way I'll let the people that did this get away with it, even if I have to break the law!"

"Jimmy..." tried Emma, but there was no use. The gunslinger was already out the door and a minute later the sound of hooves could be heard leaving the station.

Buck felt his head spinning around as he woke up once more. There were so many people and they were all running around in different directions. He was so cold, but he no longer felt like ice. His head throbbed while every other part of his body ached. Managing to open his eyes just a little bit, Buck saw Dorrie and Emma next to him.

"Hi..." he said sheepishly before his head lolled back a bit. The room was spinning and he could see two of everything.

Using her shirtsleeve, Dorrie quickly wiped the tears from her face in the hope that Buck would not notice her moment of weakness. "Lo, Love," she whispered softly.

"I'm gonna be sick," he mumbled and no sooner than it took to get a bowl stuffed under his chin, did he throw up. "Sorry," Buck mumbled followed by a, "hurts so much."

Emma moved to the wash basin and poured some water in it from the pitcher before nabbing a glass from the stand as well. Filling the cup with water, she leaned down and took a damp cloth to Buck's mouth. "Sure hope that boy doesn't get himself inta trouble," she started, referring to Jimmy, before handing Dorrie the glass full of water, taking the bowl of stomach contents from the young woman's hands. "I'll go take this outside and clean it up while you get some water into him."

"Thank ya Emma!" Dorrie choked out while placing her arm behind her husband's neck and pulling him upward toward the glass. "Oh Buck...why?...who?" she asked her voice shaking almost as badly as her hands.

"I'm Kiowa..." Buck croaked out. "No water. Hurts," he said. The small amount of water that had slipped down his throat actually hurt.

The earlier shock was wearing off and the reality of what had happened to the man she loved was beginning to come to the foreground of her thoughts. "Don't leave me...please Buck..." she pleaded in a small almost childlike voice.

Through half closed eyes, Buck looked up at Dorrie. "Dorr," he whispered in a raspy voice. With a weak hand he reached up to touch his wife's face. Just when his hand found its way there, it fell to his side from exhaustion. "Love you," he whispered. "Love you and Tsen."

Buck took a few deep breaths as if to gather the courage and strength to say what he had to. "Dorrie," he said grasping on to her hand. "If I don't...will you tell my brother. He should know..." Buck felt his entire body convulse in pain and he swallowed hard. "Teach our son to be proud of who he is...both sides of him."

"Nay...nay Buck…I lov ya so. Please keep fightin, A ghra. I need ya with may…please..." Dorrie cried out and her hands shook so badly that water splashed over the sides of the glass. "…Our son..." she said before letting out a small whimper. The young healer quickly placed the glass down on the bedside table as he reached out and grabbed a hold of her hand. Then with a gasping breath, Buck began speaking of his final wishes and it tore at Dorrie's heart as fear of loosing him took the very breath from her. She listened in a daze as he requested her to take news of his passing to his brother and to have their son learn the ways of the Kiowa and of her family.

"Oh Buck, ya can talk ta yer brother soon enough.." Yet even as she said it, Dorrie could tell by the frown of concentration on his face that he wouldn't rest without her saying the words. "I'll tell him…I'll tell Red Bear and teach our son to know about all that tis within him. I promise." The last of her words rose slightly as her throat constricted with the painful thought of loosing him and his eyes closed in utter exhaustion. With gentle hands and tear stained cheeks, the healer tugged off the soppy cold clothing from his unconscious body and covered him with a pile of blankets until his bath could be put together.

She rose to her feet when Ike entered with a metal tub followed immediately by Kid who was carrying two oak buckets of hot water. Looking worriedly from Buck to Dorrie, Kid said softly, "Emma sent us ta set this up and said she has more on the stove. I'll bring the teapot she's getting together in a minute." Then with a grimace on his face Kid shuffled out of the room after giving Ike a knowing look.

The mute rider made his way slowly over to the couple's side with an angry glint in his eyes. *Who could do something like this? *

Dorrie sniffled before struggling to give Ike an encouraging smile.

"I dinna know Ike. I joost found him on the ground beaten and tossed aside like an animal." she said huskily. Seeing the pain in the eyes of the man her husband considered more a brother than the one by blood she whispered, "Buck needs ta get warm. Could ya go ta Emma's room and get a few more blankets from the chest at the bottom of her bed?" she asked while gently rubbing her husband's arms and legs to help get the circulation back into his limbs. "And when the rest o the water tis ready…I'll need help getting him in…if ya dinna mind."

Ike moved over to gaze down at Buck's beaten face and his hands clenched at his side for a moment before he laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. *I'll be right back with them…if you need me…just call.*

Dorrie gave Ike a sad smile before replying, "I will Ike. I promise." With that, he strode out of the room intent on his given task.

Buck looked up at Dorrie and tried to stay awake. He heard her say that she would talk to his brother, and thus knew that he could rest peacefully, and he drifted into a painless darkness, still holding tightly to her hand.

Most of the Express family was gathered in the sick room. It was fairly crowded but no one seemed to care. Emma and Kid were moving back and forth pouring warm water into the tub while Ike and Dorrie were looking after Buck. Little Tsen, who had fallen asleep during the commotion, lay content in Teaspoon's warm, caring arms, his little thumb firmly stuffed in his mouth. The rest of the family members stood where there was room, feeling helpless and did the hardest thing there is; wait. They all knew that many folks didn't like Buck due to his Indian heritage, but they had never expected something like this to happen.

*~*

When Buck woke up he was in a strange place. He didn't recognize it at first, but a smile came to his lips as he remembered the village where he'd been raised. All the teepees were just where he remembered them, as well as the smells that had been present during his childhood. There wasn't a person to be seen as he looked about so Buck walked with determined steps towards the teepee where his family used to sleep.

Opening the worn leather flap, Buck smiled as he drew in a deep breath and layed down on his old sleeping pallet. Burying his face in the warm buffalo hairs, Buck's smile grew wider and a sense of peace came over him. Looking up as someone slipped through the entrance, Buck found his mother quietly coming into the small room and he quickly sat up. Feeling her arms come around him and hug him tight, Buck knew that no one could hurt him, not now, not ever.

"Mother, will you sing the song that you used to sing, when I was a child?" Buck remembered the song that his mother had created especially for him. Buck was flattered that she would do that, and because of that, Buck held the song as his most prized possession right after his family. It warmed his heart when he heard it sung and he knew that he was safe because his mother would be there to protect him.

Oh Great spirit over Earth and Sky Bring my son to the Circle Way this nigh

From the four corners West, North, East and South This Kiowa warrior's heart let him never doubt

Whispering Winds bring forth gentle rains return the buffalo upon our plains

Take his hand and lead him around the river's bend Until the eagle calls him to his journey's end.

Sage burning his sorrow filled soul set free Until my son Running Buck returns to me.

*~*

Ike looked at Buck's face and swore that his brother had just smiled. He smiled back before he went back to rubbing warmth into Buck's arms.

As soon as the tub was filled with warm water, Dorrie gave Ike a nod to signal that she was ready to carry Buck over when Jimmy, Sam and Mrs. Macalister came rushing into the room.

Dorrie's tear filled eyes met her mother's and she whispered in fearful desperation, "Mum..." The very thought of losing Buck was overwhelming and at the sight of her mother she let slip the false bravado that she'd been presenting to the others around her.

Moira moved quickly to Dorrie's side, pulled her into a tight hug and held her child while she wept. After a few moments, she stepped back to look at Buck.

"What tis wrong with 'im, lov?" the older healer asked as she saw her son-in-law's bruised body and his now swollen face. The Irish woman closed her eyes for a second before opening them and looking into her daughters sorrowful green eyes.

"He twas in the cold snow…lying there tied up, mum. I thin he has the cold sickness," Dorrie said with tear stained cheeks as the shock was beginning to take its toll on the young woman. "Ike and I are takin him ta the bath ta try and warm him."

Nodding, Moria gently touched her daughter's cheek and looked across the room at Emma.. "Best ya leave the room then and I'll need another strong lad ta help get him inta the tub."

"Boot Mum..." Dorrie began but her mother put a hand to her arm,

"Ya need ta get inta dry clothes o ya'll bay getting the sickness as wheel. I'll take care of him, may bairn …I promise. Now go on…check on Kier bayfore ya come back."

A tear came to Dorrie's eye as she bit her lip to keep from breaking down in front of all those gathered around. She gave her mother a nod before leaning down to give her husband a kiss on the forehead. "I'll bay right back may lov," before hurrying out of the bedroom. She noticed that Teaspoon had her son safely in his arms, "Thank ya, Teaspoon," she said huskily before hurrying up the stairs to their room for clean cloths.

Anger showed in Jimmy's eyes as he came into the room and watched Dorrie's mother as her daughter told just a tiny bit of what had happened to his friend. Once the young redhead had rushed from the room, Moira caught the fire in Jimmy's eye and gave him an understanding look. "Later wheel see ta answerin questions and deilverin out justice but fer now I need ya boys ta help may get him inta the tub."

Nodding at the old healer and meeting Ike's gaze, Jimmy went to Buck's legs while Ike slipped his arms beneath the sick young man's arms. Together they laid his icy cold body into the warm water.

Buck felt something moving around him, but he couldn't tell what it was exactly. He tried to force his eyes to open, but they wouldn't, not completely. A part of his brain didn't want him to wake up, he wanted to stay with his mother, in her arms, safe from all harm. And he would listen to her sing the song that he had grown up hearing, but now could hardly remember. His mother had told him that this wasn't his time, that he still had a wife and child to take care of, but Buck didn't want to leave the safe place.

Opening his eyes, as much as they could anyway, Buck tried to move his head so that he could look around the room. "Dorrie," he slurred. "Hurts...so cold." He didn't know what else to say and he felt weak so it would be for the best if he only got the important things out.

Sam Cain stepped forward and kneeled down next to Buck. "Do you remember who did this to you? How many were there?" He could see that Buck was weak, but the Marshal had a job to do.

"Don't remember how many. Smelled bad. Beard," coughed Buck. A tiny sliver of blood rolled down his chin. "Sorry," he said, again trying to move his head. "Dorrie...where."

Jimmy sat down next to Buck, "She's upstairs getting changed out of her wet clothes. Her Ma doesn't want her to get sick."

Buck turned his head a little so that he could look at Jimmy, even though his vision was blurred.

"Jimmy, take care of Dorrie, when I'm not here. You're a lot better man than what you give yourself credit for." After saying all that, Buck was exhausted and breathed heavily. "You should give yourself a chance and find somebody you love. It's the greatest feeling in the world."

Jimmy bit his lip and fought back whatever emotion came over him. "Don't talk like that, Buck. You're gonna be just fine after you've rested some and gettin' your strength back."

"Jimmy, no. I won't rest until you promise to take care of Dorrie and Tsen." Even though Buck's face was battered and bruised it still bore a feature of determination. There was little Jimmy could do but to nod.

"Say it," demanded Buck. "Say you'll take care of her."

"Yes," gulped Jimmy, "I will take care of her."

Emma had been watching the scene unfolding in front of her and a small smile came to her face when she realized that Teaspoon and herself had done a great job in raising these boys.

Ike stood back a bit when Buck and Jimmy started talking. He didn't want to lose his best friend, again. When Ike realized what he had been thinking, he wanted to kick himself up side the head. How could he be so selfish? The two had first become friends because they were both outcasts and needed each other. When Buck had gotten married, Ike felt like he was no longer needed by Buck. He hated himself for feeling jealous and sad inside his heart when he thought about it but he soon realized that those feelings were a good thing because they reminded him that he cared a great deal about Buck. Over time, Ike grew to understand that though things had changed in their lives, the two would always be best friends...brothers. Now he saw Dorrie as a sister of sorts and he reveled in being an uncle.

Without realizing how it had happened, Ike now sat down next to Buck. *It will be alright. You're lucky because you have a wife and a family that cares about you and loves you. Rest now, and we'll take care of your family while you get better.*

"Thanks Ike," Buck croaked as his head was starting to slip down on his chest.

"Why don't we let Buck rest for a little bit," Emma said as she put on hand on Ike's shoulder and the other on Jimmy's.

"Emma, I feel cold," Buck said, almost whispering.

"Oh Buck, I know ya are sweetheart. but we'll be adding more hot water so..." Emma broke off as Moira bustled back into the room with a bucket of hot water. Ike jumped up to take it from her hands with a sad smile.

"Thank ya Ike...we need ta pour it inta the bath and bring the temperature up slowly," she said pointing to an area in the tub where it was safest. With a wary look at his friend, Ike laid the lip of the bucket on the metal tub and began to pour it a little at a time.

While the two of them worked on warming up the water, Emma touched Sam's shoulder and the two walked out into the kitchen.

*~*
Dorrie's hands shook as she tried to unbutton her blouse. The lower half of her dress was soaked through to her undergarments from kneeling in the snow. Seeing Buck near dead was such a shock and she still hadn't quite grasped it. Her present condition was impeding her ability to work the tiny bits of shell free from their holes and she gave a frustrated huff as she fumbled with the offensive bindings.

Finally, with intense concentration, she slipped them free and began pulling off the cotton fabric that had been near plastered to her skin. Rushing, she jumped into a pair of bloomers and a camisole before pulling a pale yellow skirt on followed by a dry white blouse. "Lord, please dinna take him from may...I love him so," she prayed softly while fastening her blouse her voice wobbling at the end.

Walking over her wet clothing, Dorrie buttoned her blouse as she nearly ran down the stairs. At the bottom, she saw Teaspoon rocking an agitated Tsen in his arms. It was as if her son could sense the tension radiating from the adults around him and his father's pain. Dorrie stepped quickly over to the man who had been so kind to her and had welcomed her into their Pony Express family with open arms.

"Lo may boy. Shhhh twill bay fine," she said touching her son's dark hair with her lips. "Thank ya Teaspoon...for watchin oer Tsen."

"Watchin oer this sweet little thing? Why the boy's watchin oer me," Teaspoon joked before taking her hand in his. "Now don't cha worry none, Dorrie. Buck'll be just fine, you'll see. He loves the two of you so much...he'll walk the plains of his ancestors just ta get back ta yer side. Now you go on and do what's got ta be done. I'll have this little tyke asleep before ya know it."

With a grateful nod, Dorrie went to the stove and lifted the pot of hot chamomile tea mixed with a bit of willow bark that her mother had been brewing. Pouring a cup, she walked quickly into he bedroom to find Ike and her mother pouring more hot water into the bath. At seeing her, Jimmy gave her an uncomfortable look and stood back out of the way.

Sitting down on the chair next to the tub, Dorrie gently brushed a wet strand of Buck's ebony hair from his face. "Lo lov," she whispered while shifting her hand to touch his cheek. "I have somthin here fer ya that I need ya ta drink. Twill help warm ya up and take away some o the pain."

"No," Buck said as he made a futile attempt to push the cup away from his face. "Tired and cold." It was stupid to try and fight it, Dorrie had that look in her face that said he'd better do what she said. Taking a small sip, Buck let the hot liquid slip down his throat and linger in his stomach. After a couple of more sips, Buck felt drowsy and his eyes closed.

*~*

"Sam you need ta find out who did this. They could do it again and the next time...." Emma wrapped her arms around her and shuddered at the thought.

"I know," said Sam, "but Buck says he doesn't remember how many there were and what they looked like. All he could remember was that they smelled bad and they had breads. That description goes for a lot of men."

Emma sighed, "I know, but there must be something you can do..."

"Unfortunately not. Even if I got the men that did it, there is no way that a judge will convict them, not for beating up an Indian. The judge will be too afraid to lose his position and standing with the town's citizens."

"So a man can do any thing he pleases ta Buck 'cause he's half Indian? What about little Tsen? Last I opened the bible it made it wrong for ANY man ta kill another and if you don't do somethin' about this...well I guess me and the boys will!" the red haired woman snapped as she turned in anger to walk back into the bedroom.

"Now Emma It ain't me that makes these laws and you know it I..." Sam said as he grabbed her arm and turned her around to face him once again.

"Then the laws you enforce are wrong." Emma's light brown eyes met Sam's as her lips drew tight.

Teaspoon had finally gotten little Tsen to nod off to sleep and though he normally liked to stay out of arguments between young couples, this one was affecting their whole family but more importantly one of his boys.

"Seems ta me Emma may have a point Sam. Maybe we need ta find a law these fellas have broken. Most men that gang up on one man are cowards to the core. Me and the boys all do some checking around...find out who might be spouting off how they beat on Buck." Teaspoon paused to look down at the small dark haired babe now fast asleep in the cradle. "Don't ya worry none Emma, there's always more than one way ta skin a cat." he said his eyes shifting from one to the other.

"First we need ta get Buck back on his feet. I'll grab Kid and we'll bring in some more wood ta warm the boy up. Looks ta be a long night," Teaspoon said as he worked on slipping his hat and jacket on.

*~*

Once the water had warmed Buck's near frozen body, they lifted him out and Dorrie dried him quickly before her mother and she dressed him in long johns to keep him warm and placed him under a mound of blankets. Teaspoon sent the rest of the boys to bed knowing there would be quite a bit of station work to do in the morning and taking turns with their injured friend.

Dorrie sat in a chair all night next to Buck holding tightly to his hand while her mother and Emma brought tea whenever he stirred in pain. Between the three women, they watched over the injured Kiowa for the next three days. On the third afternoon, just after nursing Tsen, Dorrie laid her head on the mattress by Buck's head and drifted off to sleep. Moira shook her head at her exhausted daughter and pulled a blanket from the pile at the bottom of the bed and pulled it over Dorrie's sleeping form before brushing a long strand of her auburn hair back from her child's face.

"Oh Lass," she said in a choked whisper before slipping back out and into the living room where she watched her grandson suck on his little fist while she rocked his cradle.

Lou looked from the doorway at Buck lying there his lip swollen and around his eyes was a black and blue mark that ran down his cheek. She clenched her hands before leaning against the door frame.. Jimmy came towards her with a tin cup full of coffee.

"Here Lou," he said handing the beverage to her. "When's he gonna wake up?" the tawny haired rider muttered. The two just stood there looking at Dorrie's sleeping head laying on the bed by her husbands side.

Lou pulled her eyes away to look up at Jimmy. "I don't know Jimmy...but I can't stand the waiting any more than you."

"Well I ain't waitin any longer. Sam has been busy with a group of rowdy miners passing through and he hasn't had a chance ta look into who did this to Buck." Jimmy's agitated body movements professed his turmoil. Looking down at Lou he continued, "I'm going into town to look for some answers of my own before I have to go on a run tomorrow. Do me a favor will ya, tell Teaspoon where I went. I'll see if Emma needs anything before I..."

Jimmy didn't get any further before Lou's eyes narrowed and she turned toward her fellow rider, "If ya think you're going by yourself ya need ta think again Jimmy Hickok! You ain't the only one who wants ta find out who did this! I'm goin too."

Unknown to the other two, Ike had been listening in and smacked his hand to his chest. *I'm coming too!* The mute young man's thin lips and set jaw told the other two that he would not be left behind.

"I guess that settles it. We'll tell Emma we're goin in ta get her supplies and maybe something ta cheer Buck up when he wakes."

Lou and Ike nodded before they all gave one last glance at their Indian brother who still lay unconscious before they strode toward the Kitchen where Emma was beginning to make breakfast. Dorrie's mother had been called away to a birthing late last night and told them she would have Rory bring Doc out in the afternoon to check on Buck's condition.

*~*

When Buck woke up, the first thing he noticed was something furry next to him. He tried to turn his head away, but then he remembered where he was and that the reddish curls belonged to Dorrie.

"Dorrie," he mumbled as he moved his hand to touch her. A strained smile came to his lips as she stirred slightly.

A movement near her head had the young redhead's eyes opening and she blinked a few times before raising to find her husbands dark eyes staring back at her. Jerking upright with a smile spreading across her face, Dorrie ran her fingers across his bandaged hairline downward to his cheek.

"Buck...oh may lov..." she whispered before leaning over to hug him gently. "I was so afraid...afraid ya would leave may and Tsen..." She continued in a husky voice before lifting her head once more to look him over.

"How aer ya feelin'? Twood ya like some more o the willow's brew fer the pain?" she asked with shimmering tear-filled eyes.

"I've been better," Buck admitted. He had never felt more horrible, but he wasn't about to let Dorrie know that. There was a little voice in the back of his head saying that Buck should tell the truth, but he ignored it.

"Dorrie..." Buck drew a deep breath as if preparing himself for what he was about to say. "How long have I been out? Please, tell me. I need to know." Buck reached out and took her hand in his, squeezing it ever so slightly.

Placing her hand on his forehead, she slowly moved it down ward and felt him take her hand into his. "You've been sleeping three days lov. Doc's come and gone twice. Said that all we could do twas wait..." she stopped as her voice closed with emotion. Dorrie squeezed his hand and gave him a smile. "Oh Buck...I am so happy ta be able ta look into your eyes once more." She leaned forward and gently kissed his forehead. "The whole family twas so worried fer ya. Mum left yesterday afternoon ta care fer Mrs. Roberts. Emma, Lou and the rest o the boys have been in and out sitting with ya...prayin."

Seeing him wince, she asked once again, "Ya sure ya dinna care fer some tea fer the pain?"

"Yes, I'm sure," answered Buck. "I've been gone long enough. I have chores to do in the barn." Buck moved his arms to support his weight as he tried to get up. It didn't take long before he realized that he wasn't going to be able to get up, at least not now.

Dorrie gasped out as her husband tried to rise to his feet. "Buck Cross, have ya lost yer senses? Ya'll stay in that bed til you've full healed! Do ya understand?" She then pushed him backward onto the bed. "Dinna worry bout anythin boot getin better. I'll take care o thins til yer wheel."

"But Dorrie," Buck complained. He knew that there would be no point in it, though. When Dorrie had that look on her face, he'd better do exactly as she said. Letting himself be pushed down onto his pillow, Buck sighed. "When will I be better? I can't lay here and do nothing." Buck placed his most determined look on his face in hope of getting his point across. At the moment Buck didn't feel like doing anything though. He just wanted to lay still and sleep for a while longer.

She could tell by the tone of his voice and his worrisome expression that Buck was thinking of his need to work in order to pay for their small family's upkeep. Wanting to put his fears quickly to rest, Dorrie gave him a gentle smile and squeezed his hand.

"You'll need ta be in bed fer a few days , Buck ta bay certain yer properly healed. Ya can probably start small chores by the end o the week." The healer eyes watered a bit as she leaned forward to touch his lips with hers and then whisper into his ear, "Dinna frash about the money and sooch. Mum and the rest o the family have offered ta watch Tsen while I help Doc a few more days a week til yer well enough ta ride again. Dinna ya know that ya nearly died? Please Buck....rest...heal. I love ya and..." Swallowing down a small whimper she continued, "I almost lost ya..." As the words ended she laid her head onto his shoulder and hugged him.

Buck was silent - he didn't know that he was that bad off. In the last year, he never thought of himself as dying. He'd been too happy to think such depressing thoughts. Slowly, he wrapped his arms around Dorrie and hugged her back. "I'd like to be back at work as soon as possible. I can't lay here and feel useless. Is there something I can do while in bed? Something that won't come in the way of me healing. Right now I want to rest some, but maybe later."

To prove his point about being tired, Buck let out a yawn and sank further into his pillow.

"Right now ya sleepin' tis the best thin ta do," she said softly as his head rested on her shoulder and she brushed a strand of his dark hair back from his face. "I'm sure Emma can find somethin' fer ya ta do...maybe watch after Tsen a bit or..." The healer drifted off as Buck's body went slack against her and his breathing deepened. Smiling at the fact that he was finally resting peacefully, she let his steady breathing and warmth lull her weary eyes closed as well.

Emma carried Tsen into the bedroom and found both the little boys parents fast asleep. "Looks like it's just the two of us for lunch little one. Lets get ya some grits til your Mum wakes up," she whispered to the infant in her arms as she tip toed out of the room and gently closed the door behind her.

*~*

Lou cut a worried look at the two men riding by her side. She knew that Jimmy was like a wolf ready to chase down his prey but she was worried that he might do something reckless and take his anger out on the first man to catch his eye. Shifting her eyes to Ike, she saw the same determination but knew that the mute young man was far more cautions and less likely to make a rash decision.

As they reached the front of the Saloon, the young woman noticed quite a few drunk and rowdy men laughing aloud as they enjoyed a pretty saloon girl's attention.

"I can see why Sam's got his hands full," Jimmy said while his eyes narrowed to look from one end of the street to the other.

"Might as well start here. Saloon's a place where liqueur loosens many a tongue," Lou said in a low voice as she looked from Jimmy to Ike.

"How would you know bout that Lou?" Jimmy asked his eyes moving to meet hers.

"Just do," said Lou, before swinging off Lightning and tying him to the rail. "You two comin or do I have to do this on my own?" she continued with bravado in her voice but hesitation on her face.

Jimmy walked into the saloon and took in the atmosphere. Most all of the miners were already drunk, and that would probably work to their advantage.

"Let's see if any one of them mentions Buck?" Jimmy said in a low voice before he ordered a sarsaparilla and stood by the bar, taking in the appearance of all the people that might have beaten his friend. Buck said that the men who did it smelled bad and by the smell of things they had come to the right place.

Lou moved slowly over to one of the tables where there were some miners playing a hand of poker and sat back to watch...and listen.

Ike moved about the saloon listening to the men talking about everything from the price of ale to their ailing horse. But his head jerked up and he gave Jimmy a look when one man bragged aloud about killing every Indian that crossed his path.

Jimmy nodded to Ike and cast Lou a glance - she'd heard what the man had said as well. Slowly they closed in on the offensive character.

"Killed any of them Injuns lately?" asked Jimmy. When he saw the look he was given, Jimmy hurried to say, "I mean, someone has to get rid of them..." Jimmy hated the way he spoke about Indians, but he had to find out if these were really the men that attempted to murder his friend. Out of the corner of his eye, Jimmy watched Lou and Ike as they were preparing themselves for anything.

It wasn't often that Ike saw red, but when he did, there was no telling what he might do. Looking at the man through narrowed eyes, Ike saw in his mind's eye Buck being beaten by the man as well as the other men around the table. Nobody hurt someone he cared about, especially not his brother. For a flicker of a second, Ike looked at Lou as she placed a hand on his arm.

"We're two who also likes ta kill'm. You're not alone," the gunslinger said as the very words caused his stomach to revolt.

The miner looked at Jimmy, weighing and measuring him. "Well, I'm glad ya think of it that way...why lettin' em dress like whites and live near our towns burns me up." The scraggly bearded man with muddy brown hair.

"Burnin' is what we should do ta them if ya ask me! Discustin' red skinned heathens!" A younger man with dirty blond hair muttered as he pulled on of the Saloon girls on his lap.

Lou stared long and hard at both men while she tried to keep a restraining hold on Ike. "So how many have ya seen about? One… two?" the young woman kept her voice low but her eyes took in every nuance that the three men made, as they drank happily form their mugs.

"Well now my boy...we came upon one just a few days ago, riding fast on a road that led not far from your small town but ya don't have nothin ta worry bout. Me, Siras and Jacob here took care ta see that he won't be botherin' the good citizens of this lovely little town." A black haired man with a gruff unkempt beard added as he nuzzled at the neck of the young bar maid in his lap.

"That so?" Lou asked her voice growing a bit sharp. "What ya do ta stop the fella...I mean ...did he fight ya with his bow an arrow," she gave a short fake snort of laughter as she caught Jimmy's eyes and squeezed Ike's arm once again.

"We spooked the horse, ran out straight in front of him we did. The Injun fell off and we took ta beatin' im. Damn Injun never stood a chance. If ya don't believe me, he's probably still out there dead on the ground all tied up like a thanksgivin' turkey," the man called Siras laughed loudly along with his two friends.

Ike had had enough, and before Lou could react, Ike had jumped Siras. He took the him to the ground and started to pound him with angry fists.

Sam Cain had been watching the exchange between the riders and the three miners, hoping to God that they weren't headed into trouble. As a fight broke out, Sam fired a shot at the floor. Everyone turned to look at him.

Jimmy shifted and with a "move Lou!" quickly pulled his gun from his holster and was just about to shoot one of the other men when a shot rented through the small room.

"All right, Ike, Lou, Jimmy, gentlemen." Sam was referring to the three miners. "Come with me. If you can't sort out your business like normal people, the law will have to intervene."

"It was the dummy that started it," called Siras, but he wasn't heard.

Hearing dummy, Lou tried to move past Sam to get at the man but the Lawman pushed the small boy back. "That's enough. All of ya move it. We're goin' to the jailhouse till I can figure out what in tarnation is goin on!"

The three men and riders walked after Sam out of the saloon. Once in the office, Sam placed Ike, Lou and Jimmy in one cell and the three miners in the next.

"Now what was this about?" The Marshal asked putting his gun back into his holster.

"That fella said that he beat Buck," Jimmy said and pointed at Siras.

Sam's eyes narrowed and he moved over to the other cell and looked at the man that Jimmy had pointed to. "Is what he says true? You beat up one of the Express Riders?"

Siras got a funny look on his face and moved closer to the bars to face the dark-haired lawman. "Express rider? Don't know nothin' about that. We just beat up on an Injun we caught ridin' toward yer town and did our civil duty in teachin' him a lesson."

"By tryin' to kill Buck! Sam ya gotta arrest them!" Lou spat out as Jimmy moved in beside her. "Lou's right, and we didn't do nothin' wrong!"

Angry now, the Marshal moved toward the bars. "What would that lesson have been?" he asked his voice low with a dangerous edge to it.

"That he ain't got no business among civilized people," Siras stated as a matter of fact.

"Did you know he has a wife and a kid worried to death about him?" asked Jimmy.

"Jimmy, hush," said Sam.

"What are ya gonna do, Marshal? Lock us up? Why we ain't done nothing wrong." Siras said with a knowing look at the man who represented the laws written by white men.

The lawman grimaced and with a look over at the three boys, then he turned to the miners.

"I don't bide trouble in my town...it's time ya leave...and if ya know what's best for yourselves, you won't come back through again."

Shaking his head, Sam took the set of keys from his side and began to turn the lock. Sam slowly opened the cell where the miners were and pulled it open and stood back to let them out.

"I can't believe you'd let them go," wailed Jimmy. "You saw what Buck looked like when Dorrie found' im. He's yet to wake up." The gunslinger was so mad that he didn't know what to do with himself. Lou and Ike stood next to him and nodded with determination.

"Sam, you saw what Buck looked like, and you're letting him go. You're the Marshal, you're supposed to protect people. Buck's one of those people too," said Lou.

"What's going on here?" asked Teaspoon as he entered the small office.

"Look boys I don't have a choice here..." he started as he stationmaster for the Pony Express walked in.

"Sam! Ya can't do that! They almost killed Buck!" Lou cried out as Ike banged on the bars to the cell.

"Teaspoon, Seems your boys here got into a little fight with these fellas in the saloon. They admitted ta beating up Buck on the road outside of town. This ain't easy boys but...there isn't a law against beatin or...killin an Indian."

"That's stupid," called Jimmy. "Buck is just as much a part of this town as the rest of us. It's your job to protect him. If you let them go, how many more Indians would they beat up? Innocent Indians, Sam. Ya hear me, innocent." Jimmy let the last word drag out, hoping that Sam would understand what he was trying to say.

The miners grumbled something among themselves about Indian-lovers, making the rest of the room scowl.

"Jimmy, you need to calm down. All this will get sorted out in the end."

"You can't say that when Sam is letting them go. They should hang for this." Jimmy looked at Teaspoon in disbelief.

Teaspoon's face was grim and his right eye squinted as he moved over to the bars to look at Jimmy. "Things have a way of workin' out ya'll see...but Sam's right...Ain't no laws protectin' Indians...just a few for their land and hell, most the time they ain't recognized by whites." He paused to give the men in question another look over.

As the men left the cell, they grinned at the three boys in the cell. "You boys best think of the type of friends ya keep...could be dangerous hangin out with Injuns," chuckled one of them as they walked past. Just as he moved past Teaspoon, the older man moved his foot just enough that the man tripped.

The stationmaster looked sharply at the fellow and said, "Best watch where yer goin...there's dangers aboudin' here in the west far worse than the Indians."

"Why you..." the man moved in on Teaspoon when Sam barked out. "Go on and get..."

"Sam what about Dorrie and Tsen? Buck is married to a white woman doesn't that give him any rights?" asked Lou.

Shaking his head and with a sad look, "Sorry Lou but it doesn't...wish it did but..." He drifted off.

One of the leaving men snarled back to one of his companions. "That redskin'd savage was breeding with a white? The woman and mongrel should be dead just like the savage."

"They're human beings!" yelled Lou. "You're just to ignorant to see that!"

*Let me out of here Sam,* Ike signed as he beat at the bars *Now!*

"No Ike. I think I'll keep you three in here for a bit til ya cool off some and think on this. The law can't help ya if you all get foolish and go after those men," he said walking away as Jimmy and Lou called out for Sam and Teaspoon to let them out.

"Much as I hate ta admit it boys...Sam's right. Don't ya worry none we're gonna go and see that they leave town. Why don't ya all just have a bit of a rest. We'll be back ta let ya out in a few hours."

Then while the boys muttered and shook the bars, Sam and Teaspoon slipped out the door intent on seeing the miner's out of town.

*~*

Rushing quickly about gathering her healer's bag and her basket filled with supplies for Tsen while she was in town, Dorrie hurried down the stairs and into the warm kitchen where Emma was busy making breakfast.

"I finished cutting the vegetables and made a pot pie for lunch last evening...tis in the root celler," Dorrie rattled off as she tried to catch her breath. "I need ta be at Doc's soon. I'll be workin boot I want ta bring Tsen in ta get his ears checked. Poor thin just kept cryin all night and tuggin at them." Grabbing her shawl, Dorrie gave Emma a weary smile before heading toward the door.

Moving over to the young Scotch-Irish lass's side, Emma ran a gentle hand on the handsome infant's cheek. "Awww sweetheart." before lifting her head to look at the young mother. "Probably from teething. You take your time and see that our little boy is seen to. I'll be fine getting supper together. Besides Cody and Buck can help with peeling potatoes," she grinned up at Dorrie.

"I'm surry Emma, I should bay helpin more boot with Buck ailin and may needin' ta work a bit more...I..."

"Shhh we're family...it will be fine. Your brother stopped by yesterday after work and brought some of your mother's summer squash, peppers and some venison. See family all pull together when there's a need." Emma said softly.

With a small nod and the corners of her mouth rising, Dorrie gave the older woman, her friend, a hug and then holding the squiggling boy to her chest, "I should bay back bay around four unless an emergency comes up. See ya then," the healer called out as she hustled across the yard toward the barn.

*~*

Buck was happy to finally be out of bed. It was so boring, just laying there day in and day out and staring up at the ceiling. Especially when he felt like doing something. This was where he truly belonged: in the stables, among the horses, out on the trail. The doctor hadn't allowed him to ride yet, but Buck loved taking care of the horses. Picking up a brush, he moved it over Lightning's strong neck. The mare reveled in the attention she was receiving.

As Dorrie entered the barn, she found Buck brushing down Lou's horse. Lou had just returned from a two days ride and was at present cleaning up.

Dorrie moved hesitantly towards her husband. Buck had been so antsy lately and wanted to be more by himself but the last two days he'd started to talk to her and...touch her once more. Last night he'd even...well they'd spent some time together talking and making love after their son's cries had woken them in the middle of the night.

"Lo love," she whispered as she looked about for a place to put her stuff down so that she could prepare the buggy for town.

"Morning," said Buck as he stood. working. "I didn't want to wake you so I just got up. Hope that's alright?"

She looked so beautiful standing there in front of him, Buck couldn't help but give her a small kiss. Last night had been special for him because he had realized that things weren't as bad as what he had first thought. Getting beat up was just a freak accident and wouldn't happen again. He was glad that he'd allowed himself to share his love with Dorrie last night. Even though he was tired and not as strong as normal, it made him feel good and it gave him the strength he needed to get out of bed.

Taking Tsen into his arms, Buck looked down into his son's scrunched up face. "Is he getting any better?"

"Nay...poor bairn. I thin tis his teeth comin in and his ears may have fluid in 'em. I'll have Doc take a look. He's sooch a good man," Dorrie said running her hand over her son's dark hair.

"I joost need ta get the carriage tagether so I can head off ta work. I should bay back bay four or near nough to it. Did ya need anythin from town?" she asked softly touching his arm.

"I don't need anything," said Buck. "You two just come back safe and sound."

The two chatted among themselves as they got the buggy ready. Buck wanted to spend more time with Dorrie and hopefully they would be able to do so when she got back from town.

Once the buggy was ready, Dorrie held tight to Kier and looked down at Buck, their hands touching a little longer as he handed her the reins

"I'll see ya tanight then. Make sure ya rest up!" She said with a slight blush to her cheek as she realized that what she'd said could be taken to mean something quite different..

"I will," Buck grinned. He started to get tired, and after watching Dorrie drive off, he walked up to the house.

"I'm going to lay down for a while," he said to Emma as he entered the kitchen.

"You look a little tired," said Emma. She knew that the young man hadn't had a lot of sleep last night and there were circles under his eyes that attested to it. "I'll wake you up when dinner is ready."

"Thank you Emma," said Buck as he headed up the stairs, hoping he didn't have to stop and catch his breath on the way up. Last time it had happened, he had been so embarrassed. Shedding his shirt and trousers on the floor, Buck crawled under the covers and let out a small sigh. His body still hurt from the beating and there were still large bruises on most of his upper body. Buck couldn't wait for the bruises to go away and he could stop pretending that it didn't hurt.

*~*

Once Dorrie reached the livery, Rory came over to the buggy and with a look of concern took a crying Tsen from her outstretched hands. "What's wrong with our lad?" He asked holding out his other hand to help her as she jumped to the ground.

Brushing a strand of hair from her eyes, Dorrie gave her older brother a weak smile. "Dinna know fer sure boot I thin his ears are botherin him as wheel as the teeth breakin through his wee gums. Tisn't that right may lov," the young mother murmured as she took her son back from her brother. With her supplies in hand, she rose up on her toes and gave Rory a kiss on the cheek "Thanks fer the venison and vegetables ya sent oer. Tis a great help right now."

"Ya go on now, Mauvereen. I'll take care o the buggy and Misty," the dark haired Scot replied with a gentle touch to her shoulder.

"Thanks Rory! I dinna know what I'd do without all the others helpin out while Buck has been gettin better."

"Twill bay fine...go on now and find out what we can do for the wee one," he replied as he tied the horse up in one of the stalls.

"I'll be leaving bout three thirty fer home if ya could..." she said but her brother butted in.

"I'll have yer rig ready ta go then, lass. Off with ya now." Hurrying out the door she made her way over to the boards and began to race down the old wooden walkway to the doctor's place of business.

Her footsteps were soon matched by heavier footfalls behind her but in her haste Dorrie was oblivious to their presence and intent.

The miners had no intention of leaving town until they had finished what they started. Siras, the obvious leader of the gang, blocked Dorrie's path. "Lookie, if it ain't the squaw and her little mongrel. So stupid she can't even keep the kid quiet."

"Please...I dinna want any trouble...I, he's sick and needs doc's help," Dorrie stammered looking about the street but finding no one around...well, willing to interfere. Looking back the way she'd come, the healer wondered if her brother would hear her if she screamed.

"If he's sick, why don't you fix him yourself, witch." Siras put extra pressure on the last word. Jacob, who stood behind Siras, had drawn a knife and tossed it from one hand to the other, the blade shining in the sun.

Dorrie's eyes darted left and right before dropping her basket. She turned quickly and began to run around the man closest to her.

"No!" she hollered as the small boy in her arms screamed even louder.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion, as Siras pushed Dorrie to the ground and tore her white blouse as she struggled to keep her son safe, when they hit the dirt road. Sitting down next to her, he slapped her son across the face. "That should teach the little brat to shut up!" Then with a grin on his face, he passed the small child up to Jacob.

"Please no...let me go! Tsen...Help...Please!!!" She screamed out while fighting to break free as his hands moved beneath her skirt. She could hear her son screaming in pain and fear but she could do nothing to save him. Dorrie reached upward and used her nails to scratch the man who was above her while her hair became unbound and fell about her face. Striving to break free from beneath the massive miner, Dorrie was oblivious to her torn shirt and her camisole showing.

Sam had been looking through some wanted posters when he heard the commotion and saw the crowd gathering in the street. He and his deputies rushed across the street shoving gawkers out of the way. "All right," he said. "What's going on here?" Seeing Dorrie on the ground and one of the miners holding Tsen, Sam was quick to take Siras off of Dorrie and take the crying baby out of Jacob's hands and gave the boy back to his mother. "Take them away," he said to his deputies.

The crowd that had gathered blocked the way so that the three miners had nowhere to go and they were soon led to the jailhouse.

"Dorrie, are you alright?" he asked as he squatted down next to her.

"Tsen ..." she gasped out as she noticed the blood dripping down the little boys arm.

"Sam...he's hurt...Tsen..." Dorrie cried while reaching out for her son and noticed a small nick on him from the blade that Jacob had been holding in his hand. Reaching into the basket that lay overturned on the ground, she took the diaper from within and pressed it over the wound.

Holding tight to the nick on Tsen's arm, Dorrie glared at the three men as Barnett and two other deputies walked the miners towards the jailhouse. The young mother clung to her screaming child while the safety of his mother's arms gave him some comfort and his cries began to dwindle to soft huffing sounds. Sam slipped his arms under Dorrie and lifted the two upward and carried them down the boardwalk toward Doc's.

One citizen, not blinded by prejudice like the others, opened the door to Doc's for the handsome Marshal, as he carried the two into the office, calling out: "Doc!"

Doc had been in the back room stitching up little Andre Sutter's puppy when he heard the Marshal call out for him in a somewhat panicked voice. Moving into the room, he saw Dorrie and little Tsen. "Put her on that bed there," he ordered and on seeing the bloody diaper went for his black bag.

"What happened?" he asked in concern.

"Seems there was some problems with the same men that beat Buck. They're in jail now," said Sam as he laid Dorrie down on the bed. He wasn't sure how much he should tell about the miners in front of Dorrie. He already felt like he'd said too much.

"Doc, the man's knife nicked Keir...I dinna know how bad...I couldna look...the men...and everythin'..." the young mother gasped out as she brushed the tears that she had been trying to hold at bay from her face.

"Shh now, don't you worry none Dorrie. I'll take good care of your son," Doc said softly pulling the diaper from the injured arm, while the Scotch- Irish woman held the infant close, as he began to cry once more. Taking a look at the little boy's arm, Doc moved across the room and poured some water in a bowl so he could wash the wound. Returning to the bed, Dorrie held the baby's arm still while Doc cleaned and closed the wound with a few stitches. The pain and emotional turmoil had the poor child's screams echoing throughout the room. Once the Doctor was finished and had wrapped the cut, she asked him for a blanket and covered herself so that she could nurse Tsen. Once his cries had settled and he began to nurse more for comfort than in hunger, he fell asleep in exhaustion.

While Dorrie held her child, her hands shook as realization about what had happened began to set in. Doc pulled the lawman off to the side, "What in tarnation is going on?"

Sam let out a sigh of relief when he saw that the child seemed to be doing fine. "The men that beat Buck, some of the miners that are in town," said Sam in a hushed tone. "They seem intent on killing every Indian in their path. Dorrie and Tsen too. I couldn't do anything when they beat Buck, there's no law protecting Indians, but I'm going to now. Damn, you saw how Dorrie and Tsen looked. Judge Harrison is coming through next week. There's no way those men will get away with what they've done. They tried to kill an innocent baby, Doc."

Sam pulled a hand through his hair before he continued, "I need to talk to Dorrie. Will you go tell her brother at the livery to hitch her buggy and I'll take her home. There's no way I'm leaving her alone."

Doc nodded and headed out the door. Sam nodded as if agreeing to his own houghts.

"Dorrie," he said as he sat down next to her. "What charges would you like to press? I know they hurt you, but what I'm trying to say..." Looking at Dorrie's torn blouse, Sam couldn't help but to think of what could have, almost happened. "Did they hurt you...?"

Her fright filled eyes looked up into Sam's. "Charges...I... Aye they grabbed may and tried ta...they..." She struggled to speak of what the man above her had been trying to do when the door to the office was thrown open so hard, it banged against the wall.

"Doreen!" Rory shouted as he stomped into the room and over to his sister's side. "What happened ta her?" he snapped at the lawman as his eyes raked her blanket covered body and the small dark head just peeking out from beneath.

"I told him they were fine, but as soon as I said that she needed to be taken home he raced out of the Livery so fast I near had to run to catch up," Doc huffed as he closed the office door.

Looking from Sam to Rory, Dorrie struggled with what to say. She didn't want her brother to loose his temper and have him heading over to the Jailhouse in a fit of rage. "I..." she started but shook her head while pressing her lips tightly together to stop the tears from falling once again.

Sam made sure that Doc was taking care of Dorrie, before he pulled Rory aside. "The same men that beat Buck decided that the job wasn't finished." Sam knew Rory would try something, so before either of them could really say something, Sam had taken a hold of Rory's arm. "Now, I don't want you to do something, it will only cause trouble for yourself and that is the last thing that Dorrie needs right now. You know how much she loves and cares about you. Let the law take care of them, and since I am the law, I'll make sure that they pay for this." There was something in Sam's eye that said he would stop at nothing to make sure that the three miners would never forget Sweetwater.

"Rory, I am going to take Dorrie home. The person that she needs right now is Buck. I have a feeling that he's the only person that can really understand what Dorrie has just gone through." Sam placed a hand firmly on Rory's shoulder before he continued. "You can come along provided that your boss lets you, but I don't want you to fuss too much over Dorrie. I know that you love her and will go through anything to protect her, but she needs Buck."

As her husband's name reached through to her numb mind, she whimpered in a pain filled voice, "Buck..." and lifted her shock filled eyes toward the two men. "I want Buck..."

It tore at her brother's heart to see his sister in such a state but he heard the wisdom of the Marshal's words and the desperation in Dorrie's. Shifting his eyes from the young woman to the lawman he gave a nod. "I'll see ta the buggy and I'll bay ridin along." Moving to his sister's side, Rory leaned forward to hug her but Dorrie jerked back instinctively holding Tsen close to her chest.

Closing his eyes to hide his rage, the Scot rose to his feet and with a cutting look at the lawman, walked out the door.

*~*

Emma was curious as she heard a wagon approach. Dorrie wasn't due to come back for at least another hour. Wiping her hands on her apron, she looked out the window and saw Sam driving the wagon. Wrapping a shawl around her shoulders, Emma ran outside to greet them.

"What on earth happened?" she asked as the wagon stopped. Seeing Sam driving the buggy, Emma rushed to the young woman's side.

Even though the rig had stopped moving, the healer continued to rock back and forth with her son close to her chest.

"Dorrie?" Emma started her eyes meeting Sam's. "Good God Sam what's wrong?"

Rory made certain his sister arrived safely and gave Sam a nod. "Now that she's safe here, I'll go and get may Mum." Shifting his eyes to look at the strawberry blond woman who wore a concerned look on her face, "Please Miss Emma. Please...take care of her. She...she keeps askin fer Buck," he said his voice catching on the Kiowa's name.

Then he said in a soft lilting tone, "I'll bay right back Mai Feur...right back." With a loud "Ha," he spurred his horse into a gallop and raced down the road toward the Macalister home.

Emma nodded towards Rory and Sam. "Sam, I'll stay with Dorrie. Would go up to the house and wake Buck? He's sleeping in his room."

Sam nodded and did what Emma told him to do.

Up at the house, Sam found Buck snoring under the blankets. Feeling a hand on the his shoulder, Buck stirred.

"What's going on?" he asked with a worried voice. Looking at the expression on Sam's face, Buck could tell that something was terribly wrong. "Please, tell me what happened."

"Something happened to Dorrie in town. You best get downstairs."

Buck rose quickly, the pain in his chest telling him that he'd moved to fast and reminding him that he was in his long johns. Wrapping himself up in the blanket and getting down the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him. When he was out the door, Buck hurried over to Dorrie.

Emma reached out to try and take Tsen but Dorrie screamed and pulled her son even closer to her chest. "No...I dinna keep him safe...my baby safe."

As Buck ran up, Emma moved back giving him room to be near his wife who now sat rocking back and forth, her rumpled hair laced with dust from the streets of Sweetwater.

"It's okay," Buck said in a soothing voice. "I'm here now." Buck didn't know what to do other than to hold her close. "You're safe now."

Buck had never seen Dorrie like this, and it scared him. She was a strong person and never let anyone bring her down. "You're safe now. I'm not going to let anybody hurt you."

At first, when Buck had reached out, Dorrie had instinctively jerked back at his touch until she heard his voice murmuring softly to her as he'd often done with skittish horses.

Laying her head on his shoulder she started to cry. "They hurt Tsen...oh Buck, I couldn't stop them..." she broke off as her body shook and she sobbed in his arms.

"Sam?" Emma asked, her voice rising somewhat in panic. Since she hadn't heard the baby move or cry, the station mistress wondered if the infant was lying dead in her arms. A panicked look came to her eyes and she waited for Sam to tell them what had happened.

Buck swallowed hard and moved Dorrie in his arms so that he could look at his son. He let out a sigh of relief as he saw Tsen sleeping peacefully in his mother's arms. "It's going to be all right," he said in a low voice.

"Sam," Buck said, looking up at the older man. "What happened? The ones who did this, are they in jail?"

Sam nodded, slowly, noting that the other riders and Teaspoon had gathered around the wagon.

"Dorrie, do you want to go up to the house? Get some rest. Tsen is sleeping and I think you'll feel better, too, if you got some rest."

"I have ta protect Tsen....have ta keep him safe..." she drifted off still somewhat dazed.

Emma pressed her lips together and reached up to take a hold of the young mother's arm. "We'll help ya keep him safe sweetheart. Come on...I'll help ya upstairs and the two of you can take a rest."

With Buck's help she reached the ground and swayed for a moment on her feet. Seeing her almost fall, Ike moved close and lifted her up into his arms, nodded at Emma.

The older woman knew that the poor girl would not relinquish her grip on the baby so she swung her gaze at the others before nodding to the mute rider. Realizing that she was in a man's arms.. Dorrie began to struggle and Ike had to grip her tighter to keep her from slipping out of his arms.

As she tried to break free, those around them could see her torn clothing as well as the bandage on the tiny infant's arm. Emma's eyes grew dark and her anger was clear for all to see. "Let's be quick about getting her up there."

Ike looked over at his friend before he hurried toward the old farmhouse with a resisting Dorrie in his arms.

Buck nodded to his friend and hurried after Ike. He wished that he was strong enough to carry Dorrie himself, but he still had a lot of healing to do. Once upstairs, Buck gave Ike a grateful look as his friend laid Dorrie down on the bed. Lying down next to her, Buck drew her into a hug.

Moving the blanket so it covered them both, Buck pulled Dorrie and their son as close to him as he could. He wanted to make sure she knew he was there, and that she was safe. Laying a hand on his son's head, Buck swallowed back his tears, thinking about what might have happened in town.

"Shh," he said. "It's alright now. You're safe. Rory went to get your mother and she'll be her in a moment. You just wait and see."

Buck's soft voice soothed Dorrie's fears and she finally relaxed in his arms and slipped off to an exhausted sleep whimpering every now and again and her body jerking as she faced some unknown demon even in her dreams.

Buck let out a sigh of relief as Dorrie drifted of to sleep. It would be good for her to rest even though it wasn't a good sleep. "Sleep well, my family," he said in Kiowa. "I'll be here when you wake up."

Emma and Sam looked in on the couple. Seeing that Dorrie had settled into sleep, they pulled the door closed.

Looking up at Emma and Sam, Buck decided that he wasn't going to fall asleep until he Dorrie woke up again. He would watch over her and make sure she was safe. "Love you Dorrie," he whispered.

*~*

"All right Sam...ya best come inta the kitchen and fill the rest of us in on what in blazes happened to her and Tsen," Emma requested.

The two of them made their way quietly down the stairs and into the kitchen to find everyone staring up with questioning eyes.

Meanwhile in the bedroom upstairs, Tsen woke up when his little arm hit his mother's and began to cry.

"Shh, Tsen," Buck said in a low voice while touching Tsen's little head. There was no way he was going to be able to get his son out Dorrie's protective arms so instead of softly rocking Tsen, he rocked both mother and child, hoping, praying, that it wouldn't wake Dorrie.

In her dream, Dorrie saw the blood on her son's arm and heard him crying...and crying. "Tsen...surry lov...Mum tis surry," she whispered as her eyes slowly opened to find the small boy trashing his arms about and quieting at his father's voice.

"Buck?" she whispered pulling back slightly to look into his dark eyes before shamefully looking away. She felt embarrassed for not protecting their son better and for what the other man had been doing to her on the ground.

"I...I'm surry," She croaked out as she reached down to open her blouse to nurse to find a reminder of her earlier tussle staring back at her. Pushing the torn fabric to the side she turned the young boy around so that he could nurse.

Once Tsen was greedily eating and making gasping noises as he gulped, Dorrie let her green eyes rise slowly to meet Buck's once more.

Silence stood for the longest time in the room as the shuffling and murmuring voices could be heard in the kitchen below.

Buck looked at Dorrie and laid a hand on her cheek. "What are you sorry about? You're not the one who hurt Tsen. Look at him, he loves you. You're his mother. Dorrie, you're not the one who hurt Tsen." Buck gave her a small smile as he leaned in to kiss her.

As Tsen announced that he was done eating, Buck looked at his young son. "May I?" he asked and reached his hands out to his son.

Teary eyed, Dorrie handed the small boy to his father. The green-eyed boy gave his father a milky grin. "Ahee," he gurgled as Dorrie watched Buck take his son into his arms. "The bandaged arm swung about as he tried to reach a piece of his father's dark hair that lay close at hand.

"Boot I dinna stop him from...cutting our son," she whispered back.

"No," said Buck. "But you didn't ask him to do it either." Resting his son on his shoulder, Buck used one hand to rub his son's back and placed the other on Dorrie's cheek. "Dorrie, you're not the one who hurt Tsen."

Reaching out she laid her hand atop his. "Buck...I love ya so mooch...I...the man," she stopped to take a breath as a small tear slipped down her cheek. "He...I was." Dorrie couldn't seem to get the words out...to tell him what had happened.

Buck bit his lip for a short moment. "I love you so much. Dorrie, you know you can tell me anything." Buck wasn't sure he wanted to know what had happened to Dorrie and Tsen, but more than that, he needed Dorrie to know that he would always be there for her.

"Oh Buck I was so afraid...one of them took Tsen and the other pushed me to the ground..." she choked out before looking down at their son to keep Buck from seeing the shame in her eyes.

Swallowing hard, disturbing images flashed in front of Buck's eyes. "Dorrie, please look at me. Whatever happened today, nothing has changed between us."

Something in Buck's acceptance broke through her pain filled heart and Dorrie reached out to touch his lips with her finger. "Buck...I ..lov ya so. I was so afraid ya'd die and leave may boot ya kept yer promise...and ya stayed here with me and now...ya still love may even though..." She went silent before leaning forward and touching her lips gently to his while their son tugged on the black strand of his father's hair and reached for a long red curl which had just now come within his grasp.

Giving a small smile at his son's attempt to get attention, Buck was glad for the diversion. "Hi there, little one," Buck said as he held Tsen in front of him. "Wanna play?" With fast motions, Buck blew cold air on the child's stomach and reveled in hearing the little one laugh.

Leaning back against the pillow, Dorrie watched the two of them with a small smile before sitting up and realizing that she was wearing the Marshal's coat. She rose to her feet and with wobbling steps moved across the room, slipping the borrowed coat off. Her smile quickly fading, Dorrie turned her back to the two as they played and began to remove the damaged clothing.

Once the torn blouse and camisole were lying on the floor, she poured water into the bowl and began to scrub her skin over and over as if by doing so she could erase what had happened.

Buck was busy with Tsen and hadn't noticed that Dorrie had moved. When he finally realized she was standing across the room changing, he looked at her bare back for a few moments before he said, "How are you feeling?" Buck didn't know what else he was going to say that didn't sound completely stupid or inappropriate.

Tsen, wanting to play more, threw his toy horse at Buck's face and at seeing the stunned expression on his father's face, gave a gurgling laugh.

Buck's voice stilled Dorrie's hand as she looked down at her now red skin from scrubbing. Quickly putting on a clean camisole then hastily buttoning her blouse, Dorrie answered, "Fine...um I'm fine."

Turning around, she saw that her husband and son were enjoying each other's company. Lifting the dark brown coat from the floor, Dorrie walked over to the door. "I need ta give this ba...back ta Sam and he wants to talk ta may...bout ask me some thins," she said softly.

Buck looked at her and could see she was troubled. Biting his lip, Buck thought about his next words. He couldn't stand the thoughts that were racing through his head. Dorrie spoke as if it had happened...that the men had hurt her and Tsen.

"Do you want me to go with you?" Buck said after a few moments. "If you want to rest, I can bring the jacket to Sam and tell him you're not feeling up to it right now." Buck wasn't sure how to act around Dorrie so she would know that he'd keep her safe.

Tsen, feeling ignored, suddenly made a big growl and smiled as he caught both his parents' attention.

Hearing her son squeal, Dorrie looked at the small child who was oblivious to the seriousness of what had nearly taken place just hours ago. She walked across the room and gently touched her son's cheek, wanting the reality of her touch to help her to realize how lucky they'd been, for if the knife had cut a little deeper...Tsen would have been taken from them forever.

Dorrie shifted her gaze to Buck, but once his dark eyes met hers, she looked downward...ashamed, knowing that the man who had taken her to the ground had touched her...in places only her husband had. She was afraid to talk to Buck about it ..afraid if he knew, he wouldn't love her any more.

Swallowing hard, she looked at her husband and child and said softly. "Nay...ya dinna have ta come...I'll go do it while ya watch oer Tsen." Then with a forced smile, she walked to the door saying, "I shouldn't bay long...I...love ya Buck." Her voice grew soft, her message of love was just barely audible.

"I love you too," said Buck as he watched her go. He was so confused, he didn't know what to do. How was he going to act around Dorrie to let her know that he loved her just the same as before any of this had happened?

*~*

Sam had explained most of what had happened in town when Dorrie entered the room. Both Emma and him looked at her in silence for a moment wondering to best help her and her child.

Emma jumped up and went over to take the troubled young lady in her arms, holding her close. Pulling back so she could look into the healer's face she said, "It'll be alright Dorrie. Sam will see that those men pay for what they've done." Emma brushed the mussed hair from her friend's face and saw a purple welt begin to show along her jaw line.

"Oh sweetheart...I'm so sorry this happened. Is Keir alright?" Emma asked softly.

Trying her best not to cry, Dorrie nodded, "Aye...he's...he'll bay fine." Turning her head to look over at Sam, "I...here's yer coat Marshal...I thank ya fer everythin ya did taday...if you hadn't come when ya did..." Dorrie stopped and shook her head unable to put words to what would have taken place.

"I was just doing my job," said Sam as he took the coat. "The judge will be in town next week, do you think you'll be up to testifying? It's important you do because it will prevent those men from hurting anybody else." The moment he had said it, Sam regretted it. He didn't want to pressure Dorrie into doing anything she wasn't ready to. Today, Dorrie had been through more than what a person should, and it wasn't his place to make her go through even more.

"Ya mean that they could hurt Buck...Tsen...or any other Indian that they see?" she said softly as her mind thought back to the things the man on top of her had said as he'd tore her blouse. Of her son...who was only a small infant and who had done nothing that warranted such hatred.

She looked at Emma and then met Sam's serious gaze. "I'll do it...I'll go ta this Judge and do whataer it takes ta stop men like 'em from hurtin others...Buck..."

"NO! Dorrie, ya canna! Let may handle thins...if ya do the town and others will bay after ya fer spakin up again sooch men." Rory hollered out from the doorway. The three others had been so deeply involved in their discussion they hadn't heard the Scot and his mother enter the room.

Dorrie swung around to find her brother's worried face, while her mother moved quickly to take her daughter into her arms. There was a silence in the room for a few moments as Moira whispered into Dorrie's ear, "Are ya alright lov?"

Nodding her head, she pulled back to look into her mum's blue eyes. "I have ta do it Mum. If I dinna, they can still hurt Buck o Tsen..."

"Shhh, twill come round right," Moira said while cupping her daughter's bruised cheek.

"Mum, tis daft fer her ta go bayfore the law of the yanks. She's a woman...some call her a witch, who married an Indian. Do ya nay have an idea what wheel happen if she does this? She'll bay the one who'll bay judged," Rory argued as he moved to his family's side.

"Sam is that true? Won't the judge listen to Dorrie?" Emma asked as she watched mother and daughter holding one another.

Sam sighed, thinking about how he was going to formulate his words. "Judge Harrison is a good man, he'll listen to all sides of the story. True, I wasn't able to do anything when they beat Buck, but this time they hurt a woman and her child. As much as I hate to say it, there's a difference. Dorrie is white and the witch thing is only rumors that only ignorant people believe. Seeing as I am Marshal, I have to give a statement as well and I will be supporting Dorrie's statements. There is no way that those miners will get away with what they have done, even if I have to take the law into my own hands." Sam pointed his finger at no one in particular to make his point clearer.

"I know the way certain people believe women shouldn't have the same rights as men, but they hurt Tsen and Dorrie. I won't stand by and see those fellas walk away after doing such a thing. "

*~*

When Buck heard Rory come in with his mother in tow, he stood and walked across the floor, being careful to avoid the floorboards that creaked. Sitting down at the top of the stairs, Buck listened to Sam make his argument. The Kiowa didn't know what to think of the whole thing. He knew that the white man's laws weren't meant to protect him, but Dorrie and his son... Taking a deep breath, Buck couldn't help but think that he was the one holding Dorrie and Tsen down, that he was keeping them back from having a full life. He could never be fully white, nor could he return to his brother's village.

Listening to her brother and Sam's conversation, Dorrie wrapped an arm around her stomach as the seriousness of the situation sank into her already overwhelmed mind. 'What am I ta do? I canna let those animals hurt Tsen again...Or Buck.'

Moira could see the worry on her daughter's face and she looked over to her eldest, "Rory tis nay our right ta choos on this. Tis yer sister's choice." She paused a bit to look sadly at her only daughter. "But know cara that we wheel stand bayhind whataer ya care ta do."

"Oh Mum," she started with a shake of her head. "...I'm so scared...I almost lost Buck and Tsen ta those...animals...I canna let them do it again."

"Ya dinna know Mauvereen!" Rory said sharply as she crossed the room and stood next to Dorrie. "The law tis blinded by many things and yer bein a woman tis just a bit o it. Marryin' a half Indian will have some look at ya like a traitor, for many have lost a loved one as they crossed the land westward to different tribes. Ta them one Indian tis the same as another." The tall man ran a hand through his dark wavy hair and looked down at his sister before turning his eyes toward the lawman.

Feeling saddened by the whole thing, Buck wondered if he should make his presence known. Dorrie said that he didn't have to go with her to talk with Sam, but she hadn't excluded him from the conversation either. Had she? Without really realizing what he was doing, Buck stood and walked down the stairs.

"What will it take for Dorrie to be believed in court?" Buck looked at Sam with the question in his eyes.

"Tell her Marshal...tell her what they'll say when she goes afore the good Yankee judge!" Rory growled out just as a voice called out from the stairway and all eyes shifted to look at Buck as he asked what it would take for the judge to believe Dorrie.

Looking uncomfortably over at Buck, Sam cleared his throat before continuing, "Well...that's hard ta say. He'll hear Dorrie's side of the story, mine of course and then the miner's version. But my input would count a good deal with the judge, Buck," he answered uncomfortably, not willing to tell the young man that his presence in the courtroom would probably make things more difficult for his wife.

Buck nodded and looked down, wishing he could disappear into a big hole in the ground. All of this was his fault, he could see it in Sam's eyes; he could do nothing to help Dorrie, the color of his skin would only make things worse.

"Thank you Sam," Buck said. He knew that Sam would be on Dorrie's side and he wouldn't let the judge convict her of anything. Biting his lip, Buck wondered what he was supposed to do next. "Excuse me," he said without realizing that the words were actually coming out of his mouth. "I need some air."

Grabbing his jacket, Buck slipped it on and walked out the door. Sitting down on the porch swing, he took a deep breath and relished in being outdoors. The air was so fresh it almost hurt his lungs.

"Buck! Where aer ya goin...I'll come..." Dorrie started but stopped as the door slammed shut and her mother grabbed her arm to keep her from following.

"Leave'em bay fer a bit. He joost needs some time ta thiink on thins. Why dinna ya go up and lay down fer a bit with Keir. If yer set on goin ta trial on these men, ya'll be needin' some rest."

"Your mother's right sweetheart. You go on up and be with Tsen. Buck will be shortly I'm sure. He just needs some time to think on things." Emma agreed with a small smile and a comforting hug.

Rory shook his head and sat down at the long wooden table just as a small cry sounded from the upstairs room. Dorrie's eyes focused on the door as she waited for Buck to return but she realized what her mother had said was true. Buck needed time to think and then the two of them would figure out what they should do. Nodding in exhaustion, the red haired woman turned and moved toward the stairs.

"I'll bay in town tomorrow Sam, ta do what needs done ta keep sooch men from hurtin' others." Doreen said as her voice wobbled some as she spoke. Then with one last lingering look toward the closed farmhouse door, she made her way quickly up the stairs to her crying son.

"Come along Rory, Lets head fer home. We'll be in town as wheel Marshal. May daughter and her family wheel nay face these animals in yer court alone." Moira said with determination before striding purposely out the door with Rory stomping angrily behind.

As they stepped out the door, the two Macalister's' saw Buck sitting on the porch swing looking up into the sky.

"It wheel bay alright Buck as long as we all stick tagether on this," Moira said softly before stepping lightly down the steps to their buggy, which was tied to the rail. "Should ya need anythin the door ta our house tis always open," she called out as Rory got into the buggy and gave Buck a frustrated look.

"Take care o Dorrie" Rory's tone was brusque due to his anger. "Night."

Then with a flick of his wrist, the reigns snapped and the horse began it's track down the dirt worn road.

As soon as the young woman was gone, Emma gave Sam a sharp look, "You see that those men get sent away Sam."

*~*

Buck had no idea for how long he had been outside. He only knew that Moria was right, that they needed to stick together, but he also knew that he was right; that none of this would have happened had he been a white man. After a while he just started walking. It was like, he couldn't sit still any longer. He'd might go mad if he did. Buck had no idea where he was walking, or when he was going to go home, he just needed to be alone.

Somehow, without realizing it, Buck had ended up back at the station. Knowing that everyone was asleep by now, Buck opened the door just enough so that it wouldn't creak. Stepping inside, Buck drew in the smell of home before walking up the stairs. He sighed with each step and upon reaching the top, opened the door to his family's room. When he looked down at his wife and son sleeping soundly, Buck let out an even bigger sigh.

Hoping not to wake Dorrie, Buck stepped inside and quickly undressed. Crawling in under the blanket, he moved so that he was facing the wall, hoping that Dorrie and Tsen would stay asleep.

*~*

Brushing tears from her face, Dorrie looked out across the dusty Nebraska countryside numb from all that had occurred at the trial and to her life afterward. No sooner had the trial started, were the many gathered within wondering who it was that was being put on trial, Dorrie or the men who'd hurt her and Keir.

Her brother and mother had ridden into town with her and Tsen early yesterday morning. All of the riders, Teaspoon and Emma had been sitting nearby throughout the trial…although Jimmy had been thrown out of the Schoolhouse shortly after it started because he'd slugged a man who'd made some rude comments about Dorrie and her son.

The cruel words and things that some of the local citizens had said burned in her stomach. People whom she passed with a smile on the street, or helped care for when they were injured, called her a dirty whore for sleeping with an Indian. Others swore that she and Buck couldn't be married because he was a soulless heathen. Everything that happened had been like some horrid nightmare, and she prayed to wake from it.

Doc had been there and told the court how she helped him care for the folks in town and the surrounding countryside which of course brought up tales of her using ungodly methods to help heal the ill. They claimed that Keir was an Indian as well and had no rights but Sam was there arguing for her sake the whole time...just as he'd promised. Now they would serve a simple six moth term in an internment camp for nearly killing her son and husband...not to mention what the man they called Jacob had wanted to do to her.

But the tears running down her cheeks were not due to the painful experience during the trial. No, they were caused by the one person she'd needed desperately by her side, but instead he went on a two day ride to St. Joe.

During the night she and her son had been attacked, she'd heard Buck slip back into their room after his long walk. Dorrie hadn't been able to sleep until she'd known he was safely home. She'd listened in the pitch of night to him undress and then crawl beneath the covers, but unlike their normal nightly routine of him holding her in his arms, he'd turned away from her. Something had been lost between them, because of the attack and neither of them knew how to get it back.

Throughout the next two weeks, Buck rarely stayed home. He would take overnight rides and told her it was to make up for his being ill ...but she knew better. He didn't want to be with her knowing what had happened in town because another man had touched her and that she'd failed their son by not protecting him the way that she should have. Oh he murmured words to her about how it wasn't her fault and that it didn't change anything...that he loved her… but his action sent a much clearer message.

They hadn't…been together as man and wife since that day. Truth was, he rarely even touched her anymore. Dorrie was so upset with their present relationship, that the thought of food made her ill and she found herself sleeping whenever her son took naps, because when she slept she could forget that her husband no longer loved her. The young mother had lost quite a bit of weight recently, which had her friends and family very concerned. They all tried to cheer her up, keeping her busy, especially Ike. He was always around to help her with Tsen and the little things that needed a man's hand. It became very apparent to Ike and those about her that Buck was running away from the situation, but to Dorrie, it was herself that he was running from.

'Oh sweet Bridgette it hurts so...so much that I can barely rise to another morn,' she thought while laying her forehead on her knees, and began to rock back and forth. The pretty young woman was oblivious to the beauty of the now orange sun sinking lower over the old farmhouse with its windmill spinning from a light evening breeze.

*~*

The last few weeks had been horrible for Buck. He didn't know what to do, other than to bury himself in work. He'd taken runs that he was scheduled for, as well as the ones that were to be delivered by others. It felt great to be on the horse again and riding so fast that the Devil not even the Devil could catch him. Yet, no matter how fast or how far he rode, the young half Indian could not outrun the truth. Whenever he looked at Dorrie and Tsen he felt a loss that he'd never felt before. He missed them so much, but knew that that for their own safety he couldn't be near them, he also knew that they were right there within his reach.

Buck watched with jealousy as Ike took care of Tsen and how they played together. Buck wished he could do that...

Watching the sun set had always been Buck's favorite part of the day. It was so beautiful with all the different colors streaming across the sky.. Looking up at the hill, he saw Dorrie sitting there, alone. For a moment, Buck debated whether or not he should go to bed early, but then he decided to join her, at least for tonight. It wouldn't do any harm, besides there was no one else looking.

"Hi," Buck said in a low voice as he sat down next to her. He could see that she had been crying, but chose not to comment on it.

Lifting her tearstained face, Dorrie saw Buck and she took a deep nervous breath. "Lo," she responded before quickly rubbing her damp cheek on her sleeve. "Did ya...have a good ride?" she asked hesitantly fearing to say something that would have him leave her yet again.

"It was like any other ride," said Buck. Looking from his hands to the sky, he said, "It's a beautiful night." He bit his lip, not knowing what else to say. He didn't want to upset her.

Her bright green eyes never left Buck's face, "Aye tis lovely," she said breathlessly.

"I...Buck...I," she stuttered and shook her head at her nervousness around the one person that she loved more than anything. They used to be able to share all of their thoughts...dreams. But those men who'd beaten Buck and attacked her and Tsen had stolen something far greater that day. Now when she talked to Buck it was as if they were strangers meeting for the first time.

"I've missed ya," she said her voice shaking slightly as she tried to keep her emotions under control. "Tsen looks about fer ya as wheel..."

She paused biting her lower lip. "He's crawlin' cross the floor now. Nay grand at it o course but doin a fine job o tryin...Ike says he'll bay on his feet in no time."

"Yeah," Buck said. "Won't be long until he's married." Then he sighed. What Dorrie had just said hurt him deeply. He wanted to be a part of her and Tsen's life. He wanted to watch his son grow up, but knew that he couldn't. Buck knew that he would be the one to fault if something happened to Dorrie, but he wasn't so sure if she knew that.

"It's strange," Buck said. "You look away for a second and when you look again, so much has changed that it seems like a lifetime. You don't realize how much you're missing until it ain't there any more."

Dorrie gave Buck a surprised look, "Aye he's growin so fast...Buck...yer missin out on seein Keir growin up. Canna ya take a day o two ta spend with us. Maybe we could go away fer a bit joost the three o us?" she asked a thread of excitement in her voice as a ray of hope shone through the darkness that she'd been living in for the past few weeks.

"I have to work. Provide for my family." It came out a lot harsher that what he had intended to, but he was angry with himself and the world.

At his tone, Dorrie's pent up anger sent her to her feet. "YOU have ta work ta support us?" She started then closed her eyes to try and gain control. "All ya do tis work Buck. We naer see ya but on yer way coming home o headin out again. We need ya here with us. Ya worked bayfore and had time ta spend at home too. Why canna ya do that again?" Her frustration was clearly heard and she pushed her hand through her long mussed red curls.

"Because..." Buck started, but didn't know how to continue. "Because...because... You know what, this argument is stupid. You have no idea what it feels like to be a provider. Having to work all day to put food on the table. You have no idea what it's like to be on an over-night run. You have no idea what it's like to be all alone in the world. You have right to be angry with me when you don't know what pain is." Buck stood, hovering so close that all he had to do was reach out…instead he clenched his jaw and stared at her.

Dorrie jerked back at his words. She didn't know? Where did he think she'd been while he was off on another ride? "So I dinna know what tis like ta bay alone? Ta work from near sunup ta sundown while caring fer our son while ya' aer runnin away! Alone in the world? Aye ya've left us alone Buck Cross, for so many days yer son tis near forgettin what ya look like!" Her green eyes flashed as she stood glaring back at him. All her pain and anger gushing out. "I've no husband beside may fer he's off and away before the light o day and returns when I'm in the dark o night." Dorrie paused to catch her breath, her hands were now clenched at her sides.

"That wasn't what I meant," said Buck, trying to keep calm. Walking around in a small circle, he tried to get rid of some tension. "You know what, we never should have gotten married in the first place." With that he walked away.

Gasping at his words, Dorrie sank to the ground onto her knees while Buck made his way down the hill, his form blurring into the burning orange orb as it began to sink below the horizon. The young healer placed a hand on her chest to try and cover the wound that had to be bleeding into the dirt from where the man she loved had just struck a deathly blow as sure as any that he'd done with his knife.

Bending over, Dorrie knelt there for a few moments in stunned silence until the tears began to fall but his time they would not be denied, for the pain at hearing him wishing they'd never married, tore at her heart.

For hours she stayed there crying until the night eclipsed the last of the sun's rays.

*~*

Ike was worried about Dorrie, and at the moment he hated Buck. Couldn't his friend see that he was hurting Dorrie by staying away so much? Since neither of them was around, maybe they were together...Ike could only hope. Sighing, the mute rider wondered why they hadn't returned? The last time he'd seen the healer she'd gone up onto the hill to watch the sun set but now it was getting dark outside. With a look of determination, Ike put his coat on and grabbed a lantern on the way out.

He figured that she would still be up on the small hill, so he went there first. He wasn't surprised to find her lying on the ground crying. Putting the lantern down, Ike moved to gather her up in his arms.

"Oh Ike...he...Buck said he dinna love may anymore. That he wished we had naer married," she sobbed into his shoulder as he pulled her tight.

"I feel like I'm dyin'..." Dorrie cried out her tears falling against his muslin shirt.

Ike was going to kill Buck, even though he knew it was last thing that he'd ever do. How could his friend be so stupid? This was past stupidity. Letting out a large sigh, Ike reached over to pick up the lantern and then lifted Dorrie up from the cold hard ground and moved back towards the house.

"Ike no! I canna go back there. He dinna want may...he dinna want may with him anymore," she whimpered. "Where should I go?" her voice began to drift off in exhaustion.

Setting Dorrie down in the rocker outside the house, Ike kneeled next to her. *Do you want me to get a horse and then take you to your mother?* It was the only place he could think of that she would want to go.

Shaking her head, Dorrie struggled with what she should do. "I dinna know Ike...I dinna know what ta do. I only know I canna stay here with him if he dinna love may anymore. Staying at may Mum's...I would still see him and it would hurt...hurt too much."

"Maybe tis best that I leave Sweetwater. Buck can live here with his family in peace and I...I could go ta stay with may Da and Liam fer a bit o..." An idea came to Dorrie's mind but she wouldn't share it with Ike for she knew he would try his best to talk her out of it if he knew.

"Thank ya Ike...fer listenin ta may, boot...I know yer Buck's friend and like a brother ta him. Yer loyalties should lie with him. If ya could help may tomorrow morn..I ..I'll go ta may Mums fer a bit til I am prepared to head out o town."

*No, Dorrie,* signed Ike. *I hate what Buck is doing to you and Tsen and I don't want anything to do with him until he comes to his senses. Do you want to go to your mother now? It will only take a minute to saddle the horses. *

Nodding, Dorrie slipped quietly into the house and up the stairs where her son lay sleeping in his cradle. Lifting him up into her arms she pulled him tight to her chest. "Ya have yer Mum love...and I'll naer leave ya o may free will. Taking her healer's bag and shoving a few items into another bag, Dorrie stepped quietly down the stairs and met Ike in the kitchen. "I couldn't pack everythin tanight. Could ya bring the rest oer ta may Mum's when ya get the chance? I dinna want ta bay a bother...but I...canna see him now..." her voice drifted off into a small sob.

*You're not a bother, * signed Ike. *The horses are ready outside. Guess we should get going.* He as the whole situation made him feel terribly awkward. He didn't know what to say to Dorrie, other than to offer his shoulder to cry on.

Giving the kitchen a last lingering look she nodded, "Alright I'm ready." The two of them made their way to the buggy and Ike held Tsen while she got in and then handed the small boy to her before climbing up and sitting next to her on the seat. Dorrie stared at the house she considered her home and wondered where Buck had gone...for wherever he was...her love hadn't died even if his had. 'Be happy Buck,' she thought agonizingly, as the horses hooves clacked against the hardened dirt road.

*~*

Buck stomped down the hill, 'Why can't she understand that I'm trying to protect her and Tsen?' He thought as he made his way down the road. She didn't understand. Dorrie had no idea what it was like to continually be hounded by those who hated his kind...and he didn't want her to know. He should have known, his being part Kiowa would cause the ones he cared for only pain and misery in the white man's world, but he'd being blinded by love… now Dorrie and Tsen were paying the price.

Each step he'd taken away from her hurt. Maybe...maybe if he went back? No… no. next time they might not be so lucky and he would be singing his son's death song. Torn between his desire to be with those he loved most and keeping them safe Buck continued to walk.

Hours had passed since he left Dorrie on the hill. When Buck had returned home, he saw her in the buggy with Ike and he fell the cold stab of reality that told him that it was over. Dorrie was really leaving him. Turning around Buck walked away from the station. Almost as if by doing so he could pretend that it wasn't happening, yet the image was there; his child in her arms riding away.

Buck continued to walk for the longest time. ..running from the truth ..the pain. He didn't feel like he could do anything else. Somehow he made it to the pond and the spot where he and Dorrie had made love for the first time. Whitin that love, Tsen had been created.. His knees buckling under him, Buck touched the spot as he fell to knees. Large tears falling from his eyes, the dark haired young man curled himself into a small ball and wished he would die. It would be the best for everyone for inside his soul...he was already dead. He lay there watching the stars fade to daylight knowing that with the coming day he would walk alone once more. It would be a new day for all of them but at least Dorrie and his son would be safe.

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