William Tompkins looked up when he heard the bell over the door jingle to see a woman he did not recognize from town entering his store.

"Good afternoon, Ma'am, what can I help you with today?"

He saw her brow knit together for a moment and then the sweetest smile he'd ever seen spread across her face before she spoke in a thick accent.

"Please," she began, "I try to find the Pony Express."

She was so focused on the man behind the counter she didn't see another walk up beside her. She turned with a start at his voice. He had long blonde hair and clear blue eyes and an easy smile.

"Well Ma'am," this new man said with a hint of a bow, "I work for the Pony Express. What can I do for you?"

"I need to find a man. He rides."

"I ride," the man said hopeful that he could be the man this pretty woman was looking for.

"His name is Buck."

The disappointed look passed briefly over his face before being obscured with a smile. There were a lot of riders for the Express and at least she was looking for one that he considered family.

"I think I might just know this man," he replied, "I can take you to him, if you'd like."

He stood uneasily looking at her and then quickly added, "My name's Cody, by the way, William F. Cody."

"I am Monica," she said as she took his outstretched hand, "You can help me?"

She seemed uncertain and looked to the man behind the counter for confirmation.

"Cody'll get you there safely, Ma'am. There's no need to worry."

Monica nodded and followed the man who called himself Cody through the door he held for her.

"Let me take that basket for you," Cody offered.

"No," she said simply.

He shrugged and watched her carefully set the basket on the buckboard and allowed him to help her climb onto it. He then mounted his horse and nodded to her to follow him. Once out of the town, proper, he fell alongside her and began to speak.

"How do you know Buck?"

"We met once," she smiled and Cody felt a deep wish that a woman would have a smile like that for him. There was such love in it.

"Just once?" he asked, unsure how she could love someone like that with only one meeting.

"Yes," with her one word, Cody knew that subject was closed.

Monica could see the homestead come into view and wondered for a moment if she could really do this. She had only met him once and there was always the possibility that she was the only one who felt as she did at their meeting. She might have misread his expressions. Perhaps he wasn't that grateful for the place to stay or the time they shared. Perhaps he had many nights like that one. Perhaps he was not so cast out and lonely as she thought. Perhaps he would be angry she came. She heard Cody tell her he was riding ahead to find Buck and she thought to turn the buckboard around and try to leave but a sound from the basket behind her spurred her on. He had a right to know, even if he didn't want either of them. She wasn't asking for anything from him, after all. She'd been doing just fine on her own and still could. Her musings occupied her mind until she was right on top of the little station and she brought the buckboard to a stop. She looked around to find herself the focus of a few curious looks. Monica turned her head toward the sound of a door shutting with some force. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw him and then her stomach flipped and turned at the bewildered look on his face. He crossed the distance to her and held a hand to help her from the wagon.

"Monica," he said tenderly as if he hadn't expected to speak that name again, "What are you doing here?"

She wasn't sure if he was glad to see her or not. He was a very guarded man and she guessed that he'd had to become so.

"To talk," was her only reply.

Buck had cursed himself internally for asking why she was there. He really didn't care why she was there, he was only glad she was. He wished Emma was still there as she was the only one he'd ever told the story to and he would have liked for Emma to have met Monica but it had been a while since Emma and Sam had left.

She carefully took the basket from the wagon and he offered to help her carry it but she shook her head.

"Where can we go?" she asked and then clarified at his wondering look, "To talk."

He led her back to the little building where he had just come from.

"No one's in here right now," he explained, "We can talk."

She nodded and Buck tried to read her. She seemed almost scared of him and he guessed she was. They had only shared the one night. It was precious to him and, he thought, to her too but she might not have known what it meant to him. Still, if she wasn't sure how he'd receive her, he wondered why she would go to the trouble of seeking him out. She looked uneasily at the beds in the room but Buck gestured to the table.

"It's the bunkhouse," he explained, "The riders all live here; we eat, sleep, whatever in here."

She sat at the table and set the basket on it gently.

"I'm glad to see you again, Monica," he said and tried so hard to make his voice and face convey how glad he was, "I feared I wouldn't see you again. You were kind to me."

She nodded her understanding and felt emboldened by his words and tender tone.

"But I don't understand why you went to all the trouble to find me after all this time."

She stood and seemed to ponder her actions a moment before she lifted a blanket from the basket and then pushed the basket toward where he sat. He stood and looked inside and then back up to her in question.

"Nessa," she said.

He wasn't sure at all what to say. He wasn't sure what or how he felt but he didn't want to say something stupid.

"You mean," he began cautiously, "When we…you…and she? I'm a father?"

She nodded and lifted the infant from the basket gently and held her to Buck. He wasn't sure at all but there was a desire within him to hold the child so he carefully took her from her mother's arms and cradled her. He saw his own features looking back at him with a few variations. The child had the same dark, limitless eyes her mother possessed and he fell in love with her instantly. He vaguely heard the door open and close and only looked up when he heard Jimmy speak.

"What is that?"

"What does it look like Jimmy?" Buck asked rhetorically, "And it's not an it; it's a she."

Jimmy shook his head trying to figure out what was happening.

~~~***~~~

The rest of the riders were sitting down to supper but Monica sought out Rachel.

"I must feed her now."

She looked imploring at Rachel for a place she could nurse the child in some privacy. Rachel smiled and led Monica to the house and into the sitting room.

"Here you are," Rachel told her warmly, "You take what time you need and come on back out to the bunkhouse when you're done so you can get something to eat too."

"Thank you," Monica responded, "Do you think it wrong for me to come?"

"No sweetheart," soothed the other woman, "I think he had the right to know and I think he's glad to know."

~~~***~~~

The riders were all sitting around the table in a state of shock at the news that had been sprung upon them; Buck more than the others.

"Buck," Teaspoon said finally, "Maybe you'd better fill us in on the story."

Buck recounted the day he'd been caught in the sudden, violent storm and how he'd taken the chance of finding a safe harbor in a barn. He then told of Monica finding him there and asking him in. He did not go into detail of how they spent the night but, blushing, did admit that they had engaged in activities that could surely bring about a child.

"You sure the kid's yours?" asked Jimmy, "I mean, if she goes around inviting strangers in and all."

Lou kicked him under the table and he just glared at her.

"Did you look at her face, Jimmy? Nessa's I mean; she looks just like me."

Jimmy looked back down at his plate. He had in fact looked at the baby and, although he thought it was tough to tell what person a baby might favor, there was something in the child that screamed she was Buck Cross' daughter.

All of them looked up when the door opened and Monica slid into the room as if trying to go unnoticed. Buck smiled at her, he hadn't had a lot of time to think about it before but he was sure in this moment that he loved her. He had loved her before on that night deeper than he had felt possible but he was now sure that, if she'd have him, he'd be hers forever.

Monica gave a timid smile back. She still wasn't sure it had been the right thing to seek him out and his friends were suspicious of her. She didn't blame them. She was thankful he had people who loved him so much to be protective. Family was important and could be gone so quickly. She looked to see that the one introduced to her as Ike was standing and motioning to a chair he had brought over and sat between himself and Buck. Without knowing Ike before today and having only her brief encounter with Buck, she could still tell the two shared a special friendship and for her to be placed between them was an honor. It also seemed that Ike was showing her that she'd be shielded from any judgment there. She sat and watched as Buck dished a plate of food for her.

"Is Nessa in the house?" he asked, setting the plate in front of her.

"Yes, she is sleeping," she replied, "She is good baby."

Cody couldn't contain his curiosity anymore.

"Where are you from, Monica?" he asked. Her accent spoke of some far off place he might have read of but thus far could only dream of visiting.

"Österreich," she replied and then blushing corrected herself, "You would say Austria."

He had heard of Austria, it was very large and took up much of Europe. He had so many questions but knew he'd have to table them for the time being and merely smiled and nodded to let her know he was familiar with the name. It was then that Teaspoon cleared his throat to draw the attention to his end of the table.

"I hate to be the one to ask this but I think someone has to," he began really wishing the things he said, "I ain't going to dispute who fathered that child. I know Buck's face pretty well. I'm wondering why you're here. You could've come when you were still expecting or when she was first born or later or never. I'm not trying to be harsh but I have to be blunt. What do you want from Buck?"

She looked frightened. She knew there was a chance that Buck might think she was there with demands and maybe this question was putting voice to Buck's own worries. Of course this man was obviously like a father to this group of young men and Monica was sure that he was probably concerned that she was trying to take advantage of his young charge. She took a breath and spoke.

"I need nothing. I have what I need-what we need. I can care for Nessa. I feel love for Buck. If he does not feel it to me, that is okay too," she paused, aside from speaking to Nessa for practice, this was the most she'd ever said in English at one time.

"I want no trouble. I ask nothing. I think he should know about Nessa."

There was silence in the room after that. No one knew quite what to say. After the meal, Buck leaned to Monica and whispered in her ear, "Would you come for a walk with me?"

Monica nodded but then looked worried, "I should..."

She looked toward the house indicating she needed to check on Nessa.

Rachel overheard and offered to check on the baby for her since she was headed back to the house anyway.

The two walked a ways into the growing night before Buck spoke.

"You know I can't turn my back on the two of you. I feel responsible."

"There is no need," she said softly, "You gave me a gift. I have much thanks for you."

He smiled at her words.

"But you brought her here," he said, "You had to know I would feel I needed to care for her, for you, in some way."

"I take care of us."

"What if I don't want you to have to do it alone?" he asked and then continued before she could answer, "What if I love you and what if I fell in love with her too? What if I want to be there for both of you?"

Monica was still afraid, of what she didn't know.

"If this is true," she said carefully, "It is your choice what you do."

Buck considered her words for a while.

"I missed you," he said finally, "I thought about you a lot."

She smiled but seemed unsure. They walked a bit more and let the silence close around them but it wasn't the same silence from their first night together. Too much had happened without them even being together and they knew it somehow. It seemed almost like they had just met and Buck felt he had to conjure all the courage within him to take her hand in his. She looked at him surprised but smiled and relaxed at the contact.

Buck walked her to the house and climbed the steps. He stood there uncertainly for a few minutes before lowering his head to hers in a near chaste kiss.

He then knocked on the door to let Rachel know that Monica was there and turned to head to the bunkhouse.

"Good night, Buck," she said.

He turned to her sweet smile and the eyes he was so far lost in that he knew he'd never find his way free of her, "I'll see you in the morning."

Rachel opened the door to let Monica in and Buck called causing Monica to pause for just a moment.

"Kiss Nessa good night for me?"

She nodded and felt happy for the last part. Whatever he did or did not feel for her, he must have some good feelings for their baby.

~~~***~~~

Buck entered the bunkhouse to find his friends looking at him expectantly. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk about it but he wasn't sure he had any real choice. He settled into his bunk and hoped against hope that there wouldn't be a barrage of questions but soon he saw Ike's face looking down to him from his bunk above.

'What are you going to do?' Ike signed.

'I wish I knew,' Buck signed back. If the conversation stayed between them, it might not be so bad.

"What do you mean you don't know?" asked Kid, "You're going to marry her, aren't you?"

"Kid!" hissed Lou and he looked at her in question, "Maybe he'd like to make his own decision."

"Maybe it's not all my decision," Buck said causing them all to look in his direction.

'Doesn't she want to marry you?' asked Ike.

"I don't know really. I didn't ask. She didn't come here for a husband; she came to let me know I'm a father."

"She's a beautiful baby, Buck," said Lou, "I don't think I heard her cry once. She fussed only a tiny bit when she was hungry. It's got to be a shock though."

He nodded at her.

'How do you feel about it?' asked Ike and his expression was filled with an understanding as if he already knew of the struggle going on inside of his dear friend.

"I look at Nessa and I'm happy," he said, "She is beautiful and I feel so much love for her. I just know what the world will think of her. I never really planned on being a father. I always thought it would be better if I didn't visit this upon a child. It wouldn't even matter who I had a child with, the kid would be like me, all wrong for either world that could claim her so neither one will."

"Seems it's too late for whatever you planned," Jimmy piped up, "The question is, what you're going to do about this now that she's here."

"So you admit Buck's the father now?" asked Lou sourly.

"Lou, I didn't mean anything bad by it. I just thought it needed asking," Jimmy tried to defend himself knowing that there wasn't much defense, it had really just been a reflex, "Buck's right, there's something about her that's just like him."

"Her eyes," said Kid.

"No," Buck spoke up, "Those are Monica's eyes."

No one spoke for a while and the room was darkened so they could sleep.

"Do you want to marry her?" Lou asked, "I mean, do you love her?"

"I think I do," Buck answered. He heard the others fall asleep; the deep breathing and snores that were so comfortable to him and signaled being home. He didn't sleep though. He spent the night trying to sort how he felt and how to explain to Monica how he felt. After a while he felt the need for air and quietly got up and went outside to sit for a bit. He sat on the porch of the bunkhouse looking out at the stars as if hoping they would yield an answer. Soon he heard another join him. He knew who it would be.

"Sorry if I woke you, Ike."

'You didn't. I was worried about you.'

"This is so sudden," Buck said sounding as helpless as he felt, "Don't most men get nine months to prepare for this?"

Ike smiled and signed, 'Are you upset about the timing or that she came here at all?'

Buck just shook his head; he didn't know.

"It's like I'm feeling about a thousand things all at once," he tried to explain, "I'm glad she came and I'm glad to meet Nessa. But I'm angry that Nessa's been born into this. I'm scared because I don't know the first thing about being a father and I haven't had any time to prepare. I want to be with Monica but it's not that simple anymore. There's more than just the wants of two lonely people now. There's a child."

Ike didn't respond. He knew Buck wasn't done trying to sort this out.

"I think after that night, if I hadn't had to get back here, I would have stayed with her," Buck confessed, "I thought it wasn't meant to be for us to be together and I started to question whether it was really love or something else that caused what happened between us."

'What do you think now?' Ike asked.

"I believe I really love her but now I don't know if that's enough."

'What else is there?'

"Yesterday I would have said nothing but today things are different. Today I'm somebody's father."

~~~***~~~

Monica did not join the others for breakfast and that disappointed Buck. He wasn't sure if he had done something wrong. Maybe he shouldn't have kissed her the night before; maybe that was too forward. It seemed a strange thought given the nature of their relationship but then things were different and he had already figured out that they had to start all over again. He wanted to ask Rachel if Monica was upset with him but there was not a time when he could get her alone and he didn't need everyone hearing his business. So he just went to start on his chores. Heading toward the corral, he saw her sitting on a rocking chair on the porch holding Nessa and heard the same song he remembered from their night together.

He smiled at her and called "good morning" and was rewarded with a genuine smile. He was struck once again by how beautiful she was when she smiled. He felt a hand clamp onto his shoulder and heard Cody's voice low in his ear.

"If you don't want them," he said earnestly, "Stand aside. You can't have a woman smile like that at you and not do anything about it."

Buck understood that Cody was joking but that there was a serious note to his words as well. And he knew them to be true. He did have to do something but he hadn't the slightest idea what. He didn't have much experience courting a woman nor was his luck very good when he tried.

Monica watched him set to work while she rocked and held Nessa. Soon Rachel came to sit beside her.

"That's a lovely tune," said Rachel, "Did your mama sing it to you?"

"Yes."

The two women sat in silence for a while before Monica spoke.

"He thinks I want something," she managed at last.

"I have to admit," confessed Rachel, "That's what I thought when you first showed here. But are you sure you don't?"

"I want many things," Monica replied, "I came here to ask nothing."

"What do you want?"

"I want his love. I want him," she wasn't sure if she was being too bold to say these things out loud but it felt so good to have another woman to share her confidence.

"Does he know that?"

"He knows I love him."

Rachel thought a moment and then stood. She held out her hands for the baby.

"I'll tell you what," she said to Monica, "You go in and find yourself something pretty to wear. You know where my room is and I think we're near to the same size. You get yourself all prettied up-leave your hair down-and come on out here. I have a plan."

Monica made to protest but Rachel shook her head.

"You just fed her and she's the sweetest baby, I'll take care of her while you fuss over yourself a bit."

Monica went inside to do as she'd been told, she felt wrong going through the other woman's things but there was a light blue dress, the color of the sky as it had been the morning Buck rode away from her and she was drawn to it.

Outside, Rachel stood on the porch with Nessa for a minute before heading to the corral. She walked up to Buck who looked at her questioning.

"I thought you might want to say good morning to your daughter."

He gladly took the bundle from her arms and stood transfixed and staring into those impossibly deep eyes.

"Good morning little one," he said and then looked to Rachel, "You think she knows who I am? You think she knows we share so much?"

"I don't know what babies know for sure," Rachel answered, "But I believe they know when they are loved."

"I never knew my father," he said so quietly that she had to strain to hear, "What if I do this wrong?"

"You know what you needed from a father, even if you didn't have one," she said, "I think if you take that and how much you love her-and I can see that you love her-you'll do just fine."

"Is her mother upset with me?"

Rachel nearly laughed at the insecurities of these two young people.

"No," she said with a smile, "She was worried you were upset with her. I sent her to get ready for the picnic you're taking her on today."

"The what?" he asked.

"You heard me," she said matter of factly, "And you should get ready too. It wouldn't hurt if you cleaned up a bit. I'll take the baby."

He reluctantly handed Nessa over to Rachel and was grateful for the soft sent of her that clung to his clothes. Buck looked a moment more at the baby before setting off to get cleaned up.

A short while later, Buck approached the house and stood uncertainly on the porch. Before he could raise his hand to knock, the door swung open and in the doorway stood Monica. His breath was taken from him at the sight of her. She was wearing a dress he thought he had seen before on Rachel but he had to say, as beautiful a woman as Rachel was, she held not a candle to Monica that day. Monica had unwound her hair and the result was dark waves that cascaded to her waist. She smiled unsure at him and he beamed at her almost sorry that they weren't going into town as he would have been so very proud to have her on his arm and surely would have been the envy of every man he passed. But then he knew he was to take her somewhere that he would not have to share her with anyone at all. He would be the only one there to appreciate her beauty.

Monica cast a look at Rachel that he wasn't sure he understood but Rachel apparently did.

"She's been fed, just come back before she needs to nurse again. I'm sure Buck will help you keep track of time."

Buck wasn't sure he would be able to even think about time if he was off alone with Monica but she just smiled and glanced sheepishly at the cleavage peering out from the plunging neckline of the borrowed dress.

"I will know."

He didn't understand that in the slightest but guessed that a woman would know what she meant. He offered his arm and they were off. He took her to a clearing where the grass was green and lush and the sun peeked through the branches of the shade trees.

"It is beautiful," she said looking around.

"Yes," he replied, "You are."

It had been a slip of the tongue and he thought to apologize as it sounded like a line Cody would use but she smiled and blushed and he thought that he shouldn't be sorry he'd said it. It was the truth after all. They sat and ate and then sat a bit longer in silence and for once it was the comfortable silence they had shared that stormy day and night all those months ago. It was Monica who broke the silence.

"Where do you come from?"

He looked to her in question.

"You are Indian, no?"

He smiled and tried to answer her, because that was the question, wasn't it?

"I'm half Kiowa. My mother was. She was, well, she…" he searched for words, "White men came to the village and one of them…"

He let his voice trail not knowing how to tell her how he came about. For some, he didn't care and for others, he wanted them to see the anger within him but with her, he felt shame for it. He felt ashamed to share the blood of a man who would hurt a woman so. She understood what he tried to say without saying and touched his face tenderly.

"You did not know him?"

"No."

"You grew in the village?"

"For a while," he answered and suddenly felt that he could tell her everything about himself and leave nothing out and she would still look at him with love and kindness, "Until I had to go to the mission. I was never really wanted in the village."

"It was worse outside?"

"The same; I look more like an Indian to the white man but the Indians know that I'm not entirely one of them either."

"This is why Nessa makes you sad."

He was surprised at her words. Nessa filled him with more joy than he had known possible but he did feel a sadness looking at her. He nodded.

"She is so beautiful and perfect to me," he said, "But I know others won't see her that way."

The quiet settled again but it was uneasy and Buck had to break it somehow.

"How did you come to this country?"

She explained, in her halting and unsure English, how she and her parents had made the journey but only she really made it to their destination. She had thought about them often but it had been so long since she felt safe enough to weep for them. He held her as she spoke of their love for her and how excited they were at the thought that she could have a life beyond what they thought possible in the old country. She spoke of her mother's beauty and the way she described her, Buck knew that Monica must favor her mother a great deal.

Her story continued to meeting Henry Atkins as a mail-order bride. He cringed at the thought but she wasn't sad about it and spoke of Henry with fondness. Buck could see she had felt love for the man and knew he had felt it for her. Most brides of this sort did not have such luck and he was glad that she had. He felt so for her feelings of loss when Henry died. He kissed her forehead and held her close as she wept for those she had lost.

"You didn't go back east? You could have, you know?"

"I like it here. I come from a place of farming. Cities are not so good for me."

"Monica," he began before his courage could waver, "I have some things to say and I hope you'll hear me out."

She nodded.

"I fell in love with you that night. I allowed myself to doubt it over the months but you coming here made me know it for sure. I was shocked at first to find out about Nessa. I never planned on having children or of marrying or anything like that. Things are complicated where I'm concerned. But whether I planned it or not, she's here now and that is something I have to face," he paused to collect himself. He was normally a man of very few words and this was more than he usually spoke and there was still more to say.

"I'm still in love with you and I can't see a time when I won't be," he continued, "But there's more to consider now than just if I love you. You're right; I didn't know my father and what little I know about him, I hate. I lost my mother too soon and was left with no one. I found family, I guess but it's not the same. I don't want to think that someday you'll talk to Nessa about the man who took you and then left."

He saw her start to speak and shook his head.

"I know you love me," he said, "I also know you'll resent me in time if we part ways. It's more than that though. I could not live without seeing her or you. Did you fall in love with her the first time you saw her?"

Monica nodded to him.

"She has your eyes, you know," he went on, "Looking in them is like drowning but the best drowning I can think of. I don't want her to have a mystery for a father; just a story you tell her. I want her to have a man who is there and she can talk to. I want to teach her things. I want to be overprotective when the boys begin to notice her. And through it, I want to be by your side. I don't know where this leaves us, except maybe marriage and I don't know if that's what you want. If it is, please say you'll marry me."

Monica processed his words for a few moments and then nodded and smiled and said, "Yes."

Buck pulled her tight to him but she pulled away hissing in pain and wrapping an arm protectively across her chest. He looked at her quizzically.

"Milk," she said simply, "Too full. Nessa must eat now."

He understood at that time her earlier comment to Rachel. He should have known before. Cows were uncomfortable if not milked regularly, why shouldn't human mothers? He smiled and they returned to the homestead.

The others intentionally stayed away when the pair returned even though they wanted to crowd around and get all the news but Rachel and Lou had admonished them all to give the two a bit more privacy. Monica went into the house and Buck followed. Rachel saw them and went outside to allow them time with their daughter. Buck had felt wrong being near when she fed Nessa before but now he looked on the pair, mother and child, and thought there was nothing in the world as beautiful and right as the child feeding at her mother's breast. Monica's face was so placid as she nursed and sang that sweet tune.

Sah ein Knab' ein Röslein stehn,
Röslein auf der Heiden,
War so jung und morgenschön,
Lief er schnell es nah zu sehn,
Sah's mit vielen Freuden.
Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot,
Röslein auf der Heiden.

He was captivated by the song and felt compelled to ask about it.

"A boy sees a rose. He runs to it and wishes to pick. The rose says she will stab him. He picks the rose, she stabs him but song says it had to be."

"You trying to teach Nessa not to pick things with thorns?" he asked.

"To have something beautiful, there is pain. Is okay, is worth it."

"You believe that, don't you?"

"I know is true," she said looking into him, "You do also."

He sat back in the easy wordlessness that surrounded them. She hummed the tune and he thought of what she had said. He had beauty and perhaps he could see it and appreciate it all the more for the pain that had preceded it. She had lived such pain but she knew love and beauty when they came to her. She was right, or the song was. He had loved the lilting melody before but even more so upon learning the lyric. He wasn't sure what came next. He knew at some point they would marry. He knew he still had work to do but that he could earn enough to start them off to a better life. He'd have to be away from her more than he would have liked but he knew that she would be fine. She was strong; possibly stronger than he was. She just took what life gave her without a thought of whether it was good or bad. It just was and she forged ahead. He knew that however he felt things had to be, she would accept.

He also knew he'd have more proving to do for her to fully accept that he loved her. She would marry him; she said she would. But he knew that what he offered was what she wanted and that she didn't trust getting what she wanted. In time, he would make her trust that there was good and beauty for her and for Nessa. He would, in time, give her things she never dared dream of.

Buck sat in the sitting room gazing at the woman who would someday be his wife as she fed his daughter. He knew they'd have hard times and most of those hard times would come in the beginning. But he knew that those hard times would be necessary to the good times that he vowed silently and to himself at that moment would indeed come.

Monica finished feeding the baby and covered herself then rose and held the child to him.

"I should give back," she said indicating the borrowed frock.

Buck nodded and took his daughter into his arms. His daughter-he didn't think he'd ever get used to saying or thinking those words. It seemed too magical like a dream. Monica bustled from the room and Buck was alone with his child. He had been a little nervous the other times he held her but for the first time, he felt at ease with her in his arms. He felt right.

"Little one," he started, "There's a lot of ugliness you'll face in your life. I'm sorry you have so much of my face. You should have gotten more of your mother. You got enough that you'll be beautiful."

He laughed a little at the thought of how the young men would look at her someday and how he'd feel about them.

"I'll try to give some of the boys a chance; I promise. I won't be around a lot for a while. I have to stay here and you and your mother have to go back. I'll come as often as I can but I have to save up some money to really start a life for us. I hope you won't be angry with me. I want so much for you. I want you to have everything and I want you to have the chance to be anything. I wish you could stay this tiny forever so I could hold you close and know you are safe but at the same time I can't wait to see the woman you'll be."

He felt a tear slide down his cheek. He wasn't sad or upset; he was simply overcome with how much love he felt for her. It was more than he thought he could ever feel of any emotion and it almost hurt. He knew in that moment, that one quiet moment of a man sitting with his child that he would die before harm came to her or to her mother. He knew that while he might have fathered this child, it was in this simple moment that he became a father.

~~~***~~~

Forever Young - Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

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