Author's Note: I want to thank all those who have given Kid, Lou and Buck (and Sam and Emma) some place to be after the Pony Express ended. I know I am borrowing others ideas in regards to what may have become of them and I thank you for being the inspiration for the following story.

CHAPTER 1

The early morning rays peaked over the vast horizon giving a small glimpse of the bright light that was sure to follow. The open valley seemed so calm and peaceful at daybreak that Buck couldn't help but get caught up in the beauty of the area surrounding him. Below him to the front sat the house he and his family spent months building. The same house he spent over a year sharing with them and it was that house that finally made him feel at peace. He had felt he at last belonged somewhere and the hard times had passed on.

Behind him, on the opposite side of the small peak, lay a second house, the small building he now called home. When she had finally returned from Boston meeting him in Sweetwater it was his wedding gift to her and the last 2 years were her gift to him. They were married right there on the spot he was currently admiring his surroundings from and she had recently given him a lovely daughter with his dark brown hair and her awe-inspiring green eyes and she was now expecting their second child. His daughter was the greatest gift anyone could ever give and at five months old she was their little armful of joy and he couldn't wait to look into the eyes of another little girl or even little boy.

Buck met eyes with his entrancing wife as she not so gracefully scurried up the hill to meet him. She was clad in a simple flowing brown skirt and tan shirt, her hair pulled back in a long sandy braid. At first the shadows had cast across her face, but as she made the final steps up the hill those beautiful rays illuminated not only her sparkling eyes, but the matching eyes of his daughter. He reached out to help her up and she gladly accepted his hand still balancing the young one on her right hip. Motherhood had given her a glow that he would never have imagined the beautiful former gunfighter would ever have.

A sudden jolt from his horse behind him set in the reality of his parting ways with her and why they were atop this hill.

"I wish I didn't have to go" he confessed to her.

"You have been on longer rides than this and I've survived just fine."

"But I haven't been away since Sally came; it just doesn't feel right leaving."

She placed her hand upon his cheek and gleamed into his saddened eyes.

"This is what you have to do and I know that. I can't tell you not to worry, you will anyway," she smiled to him.

He couldn't help but stare into those piercing eyes. It was times like these where he wondered how they could have ever been separated for the 3 years after Noah's death when she had left Rock Creek and returned to Boston. Since Sally came he couldn't picture spending one day apart from either of them, but she was right. For the good of the ranch they had to pick up two new mustangs. A two day ride didn't sound like much, but the thought of the distance that was going to be put between him and his family always made him cringe.

The realization only solidified as his business partner approached on horseback heading up from the homestead Buck first called home a few years ago.

Dani dropped her hand from Buck's cheek and used it to wave in the direction of the approaching rider.

"Morning, Kid," Dani shouted out.

As he brought his mount to a halt he also threw in his greeting.

"Morning, Dani. Lou wanted me to tell you that she'll be over after breakfast to head into town."

"That's perfect. I have some laundry I need to attend to and hopefully Sally will take a short nap before then."

Kid turned to his partner.

"You ready, Buck?" Kid tapped him on his shoulder.

Buck looked over at him, but it didn't seem as if he intended to answer the question.

"Don't mind him, Kid. Cat's got his tongue. You take good care of him while you're gone. Don't let him sulk the whole time," his wife spoke for him.

Buck shook his head at both of them as all three let out a chuckle.

"I won't," Kid assured her giving Buck one final slap on the shoulder as he once again mounted up.

Buck continued to stare into the sparkling eyes of the two ladies in front of him. He reached down to Sally first letting her grab his finger, matching her smile with his and placing a small kiss on her forehead. He then placed his hand on his wife's still flattened tummy. He paused for a second knowing the next set of us would not be as easy to move on from. He raised his brow to meet Dani's gaze, she too smiling at his tensing expression.

"Enjoy the time away. We'll be here when you get back," she again attempted to reassure him.

He finally pushed out the only thing he could say at this moment.

"I love you," he stated plainly.

"I love you, too," her smile only getting bigger as the words escaped her lips.

He leaned in, catching her lips as she embraced him. He removed his palm from her stomach and returned the embrace wrapping his arm around her and his daughter and holding on as tight as he could. Nothing was going to ruin this moment. It had to last him the two day trip.

"Come on you two. We have to get going," Kid finally interjected.

Buck and Dani separated as Buck pushed himself toward his mount. He knew that if he didn't get up there at that moment he might not have been able to force himself to finally leave. He quickly turned his horse in the direction of their destination and slowly trotted away too afraid to look back. Kid and Dani smiled at each other as Kid turned his mount in the same direction and trotted off to catch Buck.

Dani simply shook her head then turned her attention to her daughter who was now resting her head in the crook of her mother's neck and slowly closing her eyes.

"Well, young lady. It looks like I will get that nap out of you after all."

She turned her attention to the simple two bedroom home that lay just down the hill and began making the trek back to it. She had a pile of laundry calling her name.

*****************

Bill "Long Tooth" Johnson and Martin Shipner cautiously starred out over the distant cliff. They glared as the half-breed wrapped his arms around the homely woman down below, neither holding back the look of disgust as they watched the scene unfold. An Indian being intimate with any woman was wrong, but with this particular woman - it just pushed their ill will even further along.

The Indian finally mounted up and road off, his friend taking off with him. She was all alone now with no one to protect her, exactly has they had planned.

"Are you sure that's Jane Marks?" Martin questioned.

"Sure as day, besides - he said she had married a half breed and were living in Sweetwater. How many white women in Sweetwater have married an Injun? It's her," Long Tooth confirmed.

"What if they come back?" Martin's question filled with concern.

"Folks in town said they had been planning this ride for weeks. Said they were gonna gone for a few days. We shouldn't have any problems."

Martin, still unsure but much too frightened of his larger cohort continued to peer down watching the blonde woman head toward the homestead so plainly in view. He wasn't too happy that a baby was going to be involved, but there was no way he was going against Long Tooth. He had watched other men lose their lives for crossing him. Whatever he wanted is what was going to happen.

"Let's go," Long Tooth ordered. "By the time we get down there they'll be long gone."

Martin nodded and retreated from his prone position, wiping off the dirt from his knees and approaching his stead.

"Jane Marks is gonna pay," Long Tooth nodded to him as they turned their horse in the intended direction.

CHAPTER 2

The ride to Willow Springs started off slow. Buck still felt that it was wrong to leave his girls behind, but the ranch was in need and he had to fulfill it. This was something he signed on for while they were separated and in the end, he was doing it for them and for the rest of his family, a member of which was riding just as quietly along side of him.

Buck glanced over at Kid.

"How do you do it?" he asked.

Kid peered out of his daze and looked over at his friend.

"Do what?" he questioned.

"Just leave them? You have a beautiful wife and two little ones, how does it not bother you to leave them?"

If the question had come from anyone else he may have taken it as an insult, but he was sure that his Kiowa friend had not intended it as such and looked for a good way to answer.

"Its hard, but I know it would be harder if I fawned over them every time I had to go. I love my kids with all my heart and I just have to tell myself that I'm doing this for them. As for leaving Lou, well, I made a choice. I chose to stay with my wife and not go off to war, but in choosing that I have to take care of her and this is the best way I know how."

"Does it get easier?" Buck inquired.

Kid shook his head.

"Not at all, but I know that in two days I'll celebrate coming home with them and we'll sit and talk and laugh and be a family. Leaving is hard, but coming home again is easy."

Buck understood Kid's point, but still found the separation unsettling. It was time away where he couldn't be there just to be there. Who doesn't know what lurks behind the corner and with their past, that thought always scared him, but he tried to keep a positive outlook as his wife requested. He sucked up his fear and put on a smile. He was set on enjoying the ride and would simply think about how happy coming home was going to be.

*****************

Dani had laid Sally down for a short nap while she worked on the laundry. It was good to have something to take her mind off of Buck being gone. Though she had kept the strong face for him she was just as tangled up in knots about his leaving as he was. They hadn't been apart in over 6 months, Kid taking on the rides by himself so that Buck could be there when the baby came. Sure enough it was during one of Kid's trips away that Sally had decided it was time to make her entrance into the world.

Dani thanked the heavens that Buck could be with her through that moment. He sat beside her, holding her hand and wiping away the sweat through the whole ordeal. Even when the doctor tried to kick him out for the delivery he refused to budge. It was more his right to be in that room than the doctor's and Dani wanted him to be their regardless of how improper it was for the father to view such a thing. Nothing about their entire relationship was proper so why start with the birth of their child? He held on tight as she squeezed his hand and welcomed into their world little Sally Blackbird Cross. They had chosen Blackbird because of the full head of dark hair she had been blessed with upon birth. Buck hadn't left her side since and it was hard for her to put on a smile knowing he was going to have to leave now.

She latched onto the basket of wet clothes as she headed out to the awaiting laundry line. There was a stiff breeze this morning that could wake anyone from a dead sleep and she knew that it would help with the quick drying of the small pile she was going to hang. She placed the basket in front of the line and pulled out the shirt that lay on top. Grabbing a few clothes pins from the apron she was now adorning she pinned up the shirt and went about her dazed task not really paying attention to anything else around her. Her thoughts of Buck took her to a deep crevice of her mind and nothing seemed to penetrate it until she caught the sound of approaching hoof tracks. Assuming it was Lou she didn't think to look over the clothes until she realized she didn't hear the buckboard of either of the kids.

She pulled the sheet away to look behind the line as a man who looked not too happy approached her. Her instincts knocked her out of her daze as she stared the man down.

"Can I help you?" she questioned, the man staring with a scraggily grin as he approached.

Dani began backing away from the laundry not truly waiting for an answer. Something told her this man was not a friendly salesman. She continued her steps toward the house as the dark man responded.

"Sure ma'am. I'm looking for Jane Marks."

Dani's heart began to race has she no longer felt the need to be in this man's presence. Her first thought was for her daughter who was sound asleep in her bassinet in their room. She darted for the front door, the man now on her heels as she flew inside slamming the door behind her. She grabbed the shotgun that kept its guard behind the front door for occasions such as this one and pointed it in the direction of the intruder. As the door flew open she grabbed for the trigger but was roughly pulled by her hair to the ground behind her.

She didn't realize that while this man had pulled away her attention another one must have entered the house from the side door. The scraggily toothed man grabbed the shotgun muzzle pulling it forward and then pushing it into her stomach; the thought of her unborn child now flashing through her mind as her upper body jolted forward from the impact. She didn't make a sound, she didn't scream. She didn't want to alert them to the sleeping baby no more than 20 feet away from what was going on.

The second man kept a hold of her hair as the first man repeatedly kicked her in the side. She curled into a ball trying desperately to protect her unborn child. Though the hands on her hair were still present the kicking ceased. She didn't want to look up too afraid that her reaction would cause her to let out a noise and she wasn't going to let that happen. She could feel the hot breath upon her cheek and the hand so brutally ripping through her hair pulled her out of the fetal position and pushed her head up to meet the eyes of the man who called her 'Jane Marks' only moments ago. She was forced to smell the stench of his breath and stare deep into the eyes of a man who seemed to have no conscious buried within.

"Not so tough now, are you Jane?" he grunted out, the foul odor of his breath catching her senses.

She fought everything in her body that told her to lash out at him. How she longed for her six shooter and that one bullet that would put this man on his back. She had escaped Jane Marks all those years ago and somehow these men now knew exactly who she was. She just stared at him, her will to keep her daughter alive being the only thing that kept her mouth shut.

"Not going to deny it?" the man added.

He raised the butt of the shotgun Dani had so hurriedly grabbed to protect herself with and smacked it down onto her temple. Her thoughts began to swirl in her head as the room went out of focus. She went stiff unable to move or react. "I'm going to enjoy this," was the last thing she heard before her world became black.

*****************

Lou was so happy to be out of the house and enjoying the crisp, fresh air. With the morning she had she was simply happy to be out of the house. After Kid left, Noah and Mary decided it was time to play with everything in the house including her knitting needles. Mary had punctured a small hole in her hand as she ran around the house sword fighting with her older brother. Since Kid introduced them to The Three Musketeers it is all they wanted to do anymore, so after landing uncomfortably on one of the needles Lou had to patch her up so they could continue their fight. Lou talked them into using two very small sticks instead of her knitting needles.

After breakfast she got her two little ones dressed and got them to sit semi-peacefully beside her in the buckboard as she trotted up the small hill to the Cross home. It was time to go shopping and Lou had been looking forward to the distraction since Kid had kissed her goodbye this morning. As the home came into view something didn't sit right with Lou. She noticed the half full basket thrown off to the side and wondered what would cause Dani to dismiss her chore so quickly. Lou hoped everything was alright with Sally. She didn't see either outside and didn't hear any crying from the baby. Perhaps it was the wind that knocked over the basket. Surely if something was wrong Lou would have heard it. There was a hill that separated their homes, but that hill didn't muffle the sound of the baby screaming. There had been nights where Lou could have sworn Sally was sleeping in the next room with how crystal clear she could heard it.

Lou slowly approached the homestead noticing the front door remained wide open with no one in sight. The tingles she got when something was wrong were now kicking in. She pulled the buckboard up to the house, but still allowed some distance between it and the front door. She grabbed the shotgun that Kid had mounted from under the seat and told Noah to sit very quietly with his little sister while she went and checked on Aunt Danielle. Lou slowly crept up to the door trying not to make too much noise, hoping that if there were intruders she could sneak up on them before they got a hold of her. She peered into the house now getting a glimpse of how disheveled the room was. She moved her right foot into the doorway when a glint of something on the floor caught her eye.

She kneeled down realizing that what she was looking at was blood and it trailed to the back of the small house. She looked back to her children who were watching her, keenly aware that something wasn't right and were being as quiet as possible just like their mother had asked. Lou looked back into the home afraid of what she was going to find at the end of that blood trail.

"Dani?" she called out hoping to hear an answer.

She heard nothing but her own feet hitting the wood planks below her. She took a few more steps along the trail and gasped at what she saw next. It couldn't be real. All that blood had lead to one thing, her friend balled up in the corner of her dining room covered in bruises and gashes. If it wasn't for the sandy blonde hair that poked out between the splotches of blood and bruises she wouldn't have even recognized her. Lou followed her instincts and ran to her side.

"Dani?" she questioned tapping her shoulder.

Dani didn't move. he didn't flinch. Lou now expected the worst as she stared, her own face paling at the sight before her. Dani's face was swollen, one eye bruised shut, her lips so puffy she wondered if she would be able to get any words out. Her tan shirt was now almost completely brown and trailing her eyes down her beaten body she could see that her skirt had been lifted revealing too much of Dani's thighs for Lou's liking. The gruesome image in front of her couldn't match the gruesome thoughts of what could have happened running through her mind.

"Danielle?" she again tried to nudge her friend.

This time she received a response though only that of a low groan.

"Dani? Are they still here?"

Dani shook her head though it seemed that small movement caused her even more pain letting out another small groan. Lou then heard a whisper escape from Dani's lips, but couldn't make out what she was saying. She pulled herself closer finally understanding the question being asked by the broken woman before her.

"Where is she?" Lou asked.

The response was so faint she once again strained to make it out. In reaction Lou headed into Buck and Dani's bedroom, leaving her own shotgun behind and retrieving Sally from her basinet. She returned to the dining room placing Sally in Dani's sight line. Though she couldn't see any change in Dani's expression she could feel the sense of relief pass over her with the sight of her daughter. Lou knelt down to her again.

"Can you move?" she questioned.

Dani once again painfully shook her head.

"I'll go get the Sheriff and the doctor. You hang on!" she informed her.

Though Lou didn't want to leave she felt she had no choice. She was now responsible for three little ones and there was no one within ear shot that could help. She couldn't carry Dani in her condition and she was afraid to try to move her for fear more damage would be done. Lou quickly ran into their bedroom grabbing the blanket from the freshly made bed and brought it out to the dining room. Balancing a sleeping Sally on her hip she placed the blanket over Dani, kissed her on the forehead and whispered in her ears.

"Hold on. I'm coming back. Stay strong."

When Dani didn't respond she knew she didn't have any time to waste. She ran out to the buckboard placing Mary and Noah and now Sally in the back.

"Noah, now you're in charge of little Sally. You hold on to her tight."

Noah nodded to his mother as the buckboard jerked forward. Lou knew she needed to drop off the kids with someone quickly if she was going to be any to Dani. She knew the Cain's house was on her way into town and that was going to be her first stop.

To be continued…

Chapter 3

Emma Cain sat staring at the pile of dishes left over from her family's morning breakfast. Since her oldest son, Sean, had entered double digits in age it seems she can't put enough food out to satisfy him let alone enough for Sam and their youngest boy, Patrick. How she dreaded scrubbing away the remnants of a good home cooked meal only to be rewarded with semi-sparkling dishes and shriveled up hands that never seemed to return to proper shape in any timely fashion. Hoping to put off the experience just a bit longer she looked out over their land watching as her two boys played out front, each taking turns throwing dirt piles at each other and giggling. She added the boys clothes to the mental list of everything that needed to get heavily cleaned today.

She took in a deep breath, grabbed a rag and dish from the water and began scrubbing. She had hoped to lose herself in her thoughts as it always made the task move along quicker, when she heard someone yelling her name. She looked up to the yard to find the young lady she considered a daughter quickly approaching with the family buckboard. Emma could tell from the high pitch in her voice that something was wrong. Throwing down the dish and rag she ran for the front door. There she met a panicked Louise.

"Emma, something's happened to Dani. I have to get the Sheriff. Can you watch the children while I head into town?"

Emma nodded but responded with, "Louise, Sam's upstairs. He hasn't gone into town yet. What happened?"

Without explanation Lou yelled up to get Sam's attention. He quickly came running down to see what was wrong. As he approached Lou she tried to sum up the situation as she knew Dani didn't have much time, if any.

"Someone attacked her this morning and she's pretty beat up. It doesn't look good," she told them.

Sam responded with, "Let me get my gun, I'll be right back," and with that headed back upstairs as quickly as he could.

Lou then turned her sites to the buckboard. Noah and Mary had taken little Sally out and they were standing with Patrick and Sean in the yard. All of the children were staring too afraid to speak or move as they could feel the fear now radiating off of their parents. Emma, noticing the trouble Noah was having keeping Sally up on his side exited the house and picked her up thanking him for being such a good helper. Sam returned as Lou began exiting the house as well.

"You two go," Emma stated, "I'll take care of everyone."

Sam quickly kissed Emma on the cheek and ran to the buckboard where Lou had already situated herself.

"You take the buckboard. I'll take my horse since it'll be faster. We may need the buckboard to get her to the doc."

Lou nodded and quickly motioned for the horse to move. The buckboard began its rickity journey back to their homestead. Sam quickly mounted up feeling grateful for the fact that Emma had already saddled her in expectation of his leaving this morning. Kicking his mount into a gallop he passed the buckboard and headed onto the young couples' home avoiding the thought of what he might find awaiting him.

***********************

She didn't look good at all. Sam slowly lifted the battered woman as gently as he could from the dirt covered floor staying careful to keep the blanket over her. Her appearance made it perfectly clear what had happened and knowing they would have to take her into town to see the doc, he wanted to be sure to leave her with some dignity for the ride by keeping her covered and away from the gawking eyes of the less than private town folks.

Sam was aware of Dani's past, but he was also aware that Jane Marks had died many years ago. Even he remembered hearing that bit of information when he was still working as the territorial Marshal. It was images like this one that finally made him turn in that badge and come back home to Sweetwater to resume the simple life of a Sheriff. Sure Sweetwater had it moments of adventure, but they were few and far between. His normal day was spent listening to town folks complain about the uprising of barbed wire and the occasionally dealing with little Johnny Biggs stealing candy from the town store. Carrying this striking woman off to the doctor in hopes that the life hasn't been beaten out of her was not an everyday occurrence in Sweetwater and while he thanked God for that he was also praying to God that he wouldn't have to bury his friend's wife anytime soon.

Lou hurried up to the door with the buckboard as Sam exited holding the almost lifeless body in his arms. The only sound that gave either of them any hope was the small groans coming from her swollen lips. Lou jumped down and placed her hands underneath Dani helping to stabilize her body so they could more easily move her into the back. They slowly slid her in and Lou repositioned the blanket over her as Sam mounted up. Lou jumped on and with a silent understanding they both began the sullen trek into town.

************************

Buck and Kid had the most uneventful journey that they could recall in a long time. Once they picked up the mustangs there was really no conflict along the road. Granted, keeping the horses contained long enough to make it back home without taking a kick to the head was always tiring, but with that set aside the journey was quite boring and moved pretty smoothly.

While the two men did converse regularly they both seemed to avoid any thought provoking discussions. Kid knew Buck may have been riding beside him in body, but he was not usually there in mind or spirit. He knew his mind was off on his expectant wife and their little girl so he let Buck have the uninterrupted silence when he could. Kid's mind also sunk in and out of the ride often picturing the smiling faces of his beautiful bride and his two little ones. It was always a happy return after a long trip and he couldn't wait for those smiling faces much longer. They were tired, they were dirty and they needed much more than masculine companionship could offer either one of them right about now.

Finally, the hill that separated their homes came into view and both unleashed grins that could brighten up any dark day. Kid stopped starring over the breathe-taking and lush green land around them. He loved to just take in these moments appreciating everything he had. If there is one thing he had learned in his life it was to stop and smell the roses. He had dodged death so many times in his life it was moments like these that made him feel like he was the luckiest man in the world.

Buck stopped along side him and stared out. Giving Kid a puzzled look he asked, "We are so close, Kid? Why stop now? Aren't you anxious to get home?"

Kid just smiled to him, "I don't get much time to just stop and look out at everything good in my life. In these moments, I can take all that in because once I get down there it is back to work either with the ranch or with the family. I just like to take a second to take in everything before I head back to work."

Buck could accept that, but he was much too excited about getting home to sit there much longer. Kid could see him getting antsy.

"Buck, you'll have plenty of time to appreciate this. Go home and kiss that wife of yours."

Buck just winked at him, handed over the reins to the mustang he was holding on to and kicked his ride into a gallop. Kid watched as he quickly disappeared down the hill and couldn't help but laugh. He remembered the days when he could rush home and have some alone time with his wife without any interruptions. With the two little ones walking and talking now those days were long gone so he figured he would let Buck enjoy those moments while he can. Once Sally started walking, he wouldn't be getting them much longer.

*************************

The front door came into clear view and Buck couldn't help but well up with excitement at the thought of seeing his stunning wife after these few days. He leapt from his horse and ran to the front door quickly stopping to remove his hat and dust himself off. He wanted to be somewhat presentable for her so he cleared his throat, put on his best smile and pushed open the door.

What he saw next caught him completely off guard. Quickly drawing his sidearm he pointed it at the intruder that seemed to be hiding behind their dining room table.

"Buck, it's Sam," he heard.

Buck swallowed down the lump in his throat and smiled at his friend.

"Sam, what are you doing down there? Where's Dani?"

As he let the words escape his mouth he began to scan the room. It had obviously been cleaned as the floor still had small pools of water gathering in spots, but whatever was being cleaned was not completely gone. The red splotches quickly stuck out and his eyes grew wide. He went into a panic.

"Where is she, Sam?" he began yelling as he stomped his way toward their bedroom.

"She isn't in there, Buck." He stood up grabbing Buck's arm and facing him down.

"Where is she?" he desperately repeated, the fear evident in his face.

"Buck, something's happened," Sam squeaked out.

CHAPTER 4

"Kid, where is she?" Buck yelled pushing through the Doc's front door.

Kid knew exactly what was coming his way when he found out Dani was hurt. The note on his door written in Lou's handwriting directing him to meet her at Doc Goodson's had him blazing the trail into town faster than if Katy had been scared by a rattlesnake. He knew that Buck would be feeling that same fear as he raced in here and unfortunately for Buck it would be founded. Kid hadn't seen her, but from Lou's description and the look of despair on her face he knew the odds weren't in her favor. Kid would have to have the level head for this situation.

"Buck, the doc is in with her now. We have to wait."

Buck sure wasn't going to stand by and wait as his love suffered on the opposite side of the door only 5 feet away from him. Kid was his only obstacle and he could be moved. Buck pushed hard, but Kid stood his ground.

"I know you're scared, Buck, but busting in there is going to do no good."

Buck kept shoving but it was as if all the strength he had mustered just to jump on his horse and ride into town ignoring what he feared would be the loss of his heart fell short of pushing his friend out of the way. Kid could feel his friend's imminent collapse. Buck's final blows hit his shoulder and as it brushed past he grabbed on to Buck's arm keeping him up on his feet.

"Sit, please," Kid pleaded.

Kid, still helping support Buck, moved with him to the bench. Lou had watched the entire exchange without moving an inch. She had seen with her own eyes the damage awaiting Buck and she couldn't help but to feel pity. Dani was bruised and battered and when they dropped her off to the doc a few days ago she wasn't moving. Lou was sure she had died somewhere along the route into town and as she held onto her friend's hand she said a little prayer for the small family. When Sam finally stopped the buckboard and pulled Dani into his arms, her body stayed limp, but she was still breathing. Nothing in Danielle's body showed any sign of recovery since then and Lou was sure she would be helping plan a funeral soon enough. As she stared into her Kiowa companion's now pale face she just hoped he would have the will power to keep it together for his little girl.

The seconds kept ticking on the clock above the mantle in the small front office. Lou's eyes never left the floor boards, Kid's eyes never left Buck and Buck's stayed glued on the door. Tick, tick, tick.

As if a gun shot went off Buck's head darted up and toward Lou.

"Where's Sally?"

"She's with Emma. She's fine."

"How did you get here so fast?" Buck's emotions had him so veiled from reality that he didn't wait for Sam to explain all the details and then upon arrival he hadn't realized how quickly Kid must have gotten here. They had separated just minutes before Sam told him about Dani.

"I just dropped the mustangs in the coral and ran to the house. Lou left a note on the door. I didn't even go inside, I just jumped on Katy and here I was."

Even as the word's passed through his lips he knew none of them were registering with Buck. His friend's mind wandered and he knew there was no offense meant. It didn't matter who got here first and why. It didn't change what they were all waiting here for. Tick, tick, tick. Creeeeeekkkkkk….

Buck was on his feet and in front of the Doc before he could clear the doorway.

"Is she okay?"

"She's hanging on."

The doc's grim face spoke volumes. It didn't seem he held any hope for her and as he cleared the way Buck finally looked passed. His breath caught in his throat. Who was this laying before him? This person was so beaten their features couldn't be made out. This wasn't his wife. This wasn't his love. Where were those beautiful green eyes? Where was the fire in her smile?

"And the baby?" Buck asked.

The doc just shook his head 'no.'

Buck looked down at his feet, took three long strides forward then his knees finally gave out. He came crashing down, knees landing on the floor, his head landing on the stiff mattress beside his beloved wife's hand. The thud would have sent any sleeping person screaming to their feet, but she lied rigid as if a statue before him. Buck buried his face in the sheet next to her hand as he intertwined their fingers. His sobs were soft at first muffled by the fabric and feathers.

Kid watched his friend fall, but found he couldn't move as he stared into the masked face of the body before him. Suddenly he turned away and looked to Lou. Despite his friend's pain he was thanking God that his wife was safe and sound. With a stiff breath he turned his attention back to the room and stepped toward Buck putting his hand on his shoulder.

"Who did this?" Buck gulped out as he lifted his head from the mattress keeping his gaze locked on Dani's hand.

Lou stepped toward the door.

"We don't know. They were gone before I got there and she couldn't say much when I found her."

Not having anything else to say and not having the ability to think clearly as it was, Buck just dropped his forehead onto their joined hands and continued to let the waves of emotion shudder through him. The tears trickled down their hands causing a small wet spot to form on the fresh linen. Dani didn't flinch.

Silence swept through the office.

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The clock struck noon. It had been 24 hours since Buck had taken hold of his wife's hand and though both Kid and Lou attempted to bring him food he ignored it, but thanking them just the same. Once the tears had stopped flowing he became consumed with making her perfect again. He barely moved from her side except to get a pale of fresh water.

He had bathed her entire body hoping to wash away any remnants of the foul man or men that had tarnished his wife's perfect body. He had Lou bring some fresh washed cloths and undergarments to put her in making sure to ask her to burn the ones he had changed her out of. He had Lou help him wash away the crusted sanguine fluid from her sandy hair and was now slowly pulling a boar bristle brush through it as Lou helped balance her weight. The only sounds in the room were those that were unavoidable as the two seemed to be holding their breaths with every one of their movements hoping to feel some kind of stiffening from the comatose body. Thankfully her shallow breathing never ceased, but her limbs remained lifeless.

Placing her back gentling on to the pillow Buck stared searching for anything in her face that showed some possibility of her eyes opening. What he wouldn't give for just 10 seconds of her entrancing emerald gaze. There was nothing. He intertwined their fingers again and placed his head on her chest feeling the very slight rise and fall.

Lou took this as her cue. She needed to get back to Kid, Noah, Mary and now Sally. She had decided to keep Sally with them knowing that it would be more familiar to her than Emma's house and if she needed to get any of her things they were just over the hill.

"Buck, would you like me to bring Sally when I come back later tonight? I'm sure she would love to see you."

Buck lifted his head just long enough to signal 'no' to her. He placed his ear back to Dani's chest looking away from Lou once again. She didn't push the matter. She stepped out of the room, then the office; placed her foot in the stirrup, threw her leg over the saddle and road off.

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