Author's Note: This story may be disturbing to some readers, it touches on the ugly subjects of racial prejudice, gang violence and suicide.

Chapter One

"Glad to see you buying shot and putting it to good use, Killin' Indians….." Tompkins prattled on to his customers. He was well aware that his words stung the young man in the back of his store; they were intended to. There were only seven people in the front part of the store, a farmer and his wife who lived well outside of town and were concerned about some recent Indian raids, Tompkins, the shopkeeper, and four riders from the Sweetwater Pony Express Station, a tall dark haired one, a short dark haired one with glasses, a blond one in buckskins and a tall darker skinned young man of mixed blood. The darker skinned young man ignored Tompkins which made the shopkeeper even more determined to continue his taunts. The three other young men looked over at their fellow rider concerned by the shopkeeper's taunting. They began to relax when they saw their friend was doing his best to ignore the hurtful words and continued to look around the shop when Tompkins began again. "Then again times are changing…..why even the Pony Express managed to train one of them to hold down a regular job, that half-breed there." He said as he pointed to the darker skinned young man. Now it was personal.

The farmer glanced at the man Tompkins was pointing to with a look of concern on his face, quickly gathered his purchases and guided his wife out of the store. The other three young men had heard enough; tempers began to rise. All four riders stopped looking around and glared at the shopkeeper for a moment. They were upset and let their feelings be known.

"He has a name, it's Buck. He's our friend." Jimmy, the tall, dark haired rider said turning toward the shopkeeper.

"Yeah, well I wouldn't be too proud of that, now get him out of my store. I don't want his kind in here." Tompkins snarled back.

Buck put the gloves he had thought about buying back on the shelf, gave Tompkins a look of thorough disgust, shook his head and left the store. Behind him the tempers boiled over. No one noticed Buck had left the store.

Tompkins, sensing he may have gone too far called out for two of his assistants who were busy in the back room stacking sacks of flour and grain. "Boys, get on out here and meet a couple of smart mouthed Indian lovers." Two teenaged boys, a year or two younger than the pony express riders came out from the back room, each smacking one fist into the opposite palm.

"We didn't come here lookin' for no trouble" the one with glasses, Lou, said glancing around at his fellow riders.

"Yeah, we came here to shop is all" Cody, the blond haired rider dressed in fringed buckskins, echoed Lou's statement and was about to say something more when Jimmy took action. "….uh-oh…."

Jimmy picked up a knife that was for sale, looked at it momentarily and pulled it out of its sheath. "These boys don't want to get in a fight over no smart mouthed Indian-lovers." Jimmy smirked to Cody but didn't take his eyes off the two teenagers then jabbed the knife into a bag of dried beans, splitting the bag open and spilling beans all over the floor. "That, we can fight over!"

Lou removed his glasses and placed them safely in his shirt pocket; he had a bad feeling about this. The two stock boys ignored the smallest rider and each took on one of the other two. Tompkins made a grab for the small rider who grabbed a skillet off a table display and swung it with all his might at the shopkeeper's head. Tompkins fell over backwards, momentarily stunned by the blow. The small rider, Lou, then jumped on the back of the closest boy who happened to be shoving Cody's face in a torn flour sack and began swinging.

The fight was short but intense and several display tables were knocked over scattering the goods to the floor, smashing some items and covering everything in flour. Soon only Jimmy, Cody and Lou were left standing. The store was a mess and each of the riders had sore knuckles from some well landed punches.

"Where's Buck?" Cody asked spitting out a pink gooey mixture of flour and blood from his mouth.

A quick glance around the store proved Buck was no where to be found. As Lou turned to leave, brushing flour off of himself, a movement across the street caught his eye. "There he is, at the horses." Lou said with surprise, pointing at Buck.

The three riders hastily left the ruined store and ran toward their fellow rider. "Where the hell did you go Buck? We just got in a fight over you and you just walk away?" Jimmy yelled at Buck, his voice compressed with rage.

"Yeah Buck, What's your problem?" Cody asked as he wiped away more bloody mucus from his mouth.

"No one told you to fight." Buck replied curtly, taking his jacket off and securing it behind his saddle.

"What were we supposed to do Buck? Just let Tompkins throw you out of his store?" Cody shot back angrily, his face still covered in flour.

"That's right, Cody, it's his store and it's his right to do what he wants with it." Buck replied preparing to mount his horse. He'd been humiliated and this confrontation was just adding to his frustration

"Buck, he called you a half breed" Jimmy yelled at Buck in frustration.

Buck angrily mounted his horse and turned to the others. "You didn't get into a fight over me; you got into a fight because he called you Indian-lovers. HA!" He kicked his horse's sides and galloped out of town toward the station house.

"Go figure, do you believe he said that?" Jimmy asked to no one in particular shaking his head. Cody spat out more flour paste and shook his head; a halo of flour surrounded him.

The three riders stood, rooted in place, for a few moments watching Buck and his horse grow small in the distance. Finally Lou spoke. "He's right you know." Lou looked at Jimmy then Cody, shrugged and sighed.

"Let's go home" Cody said with disgust, turning toward his horse. Jimmy scowled and muttered something under his breath.

"Emma's not going to like this. You know how she's always saying to watch our town manners." Lou grumbled turning to his horse.

"Yeah" Jimmy said shaking his head as he mounted his horse. "She'll be thrilled" Jimmy groaned, his voice dripping with sarcasm, gave his horse a little kick and joined the other two riders as they rode out of town at a leisurely pace, none of them wanted to get home any time soon.

~*~*~

Emma, the station mistress, saw them as they were riding in and immediately saw the large bruise that was forming on Jimmy's cheek. "Jimmy, how'd you get that?" Emma asked angrily walking toward the riders.

"The storekeeper got on Buck about the Indian stuff, we didn't start it." Lou said quickly looking at Emma as she walked purposefully toward Jimmy.

"Yeah, we didn't start it, besides Tompkins called Buck a half breed and threw him out of the store." Jimmy paused and looked around. "Is Buck here?" Jimmy asked and tried to turn away but Emma caught his jaw with her hand and held him while she looked at his face.

"Hmmm, I'll bet you didn't look for a way around the fight either. Buck came back and went right into the bunkhouse. He seemed to be in a bit of a huff." Emma turned and walked away from the riders and somewhat toward the house, stopped then turned. "Kid and Ike just came back from their run. They found a way station that had been attacked and burned by Indians. Mr. Spoon thinks they maybe Kiowa. The station master had been beaten and left for dead. Yeah, Buck's upset and with good reason. Now go get washed up. Ah, Cody, I'd brush your hair first and get all the flour out, otherwise you'll need a chisel.

The riders entered the bunk house and found Buck sitting at the table staring at his hands; he looked dejected. Kid was sitting on his bunk taking off his boots and Ike sat across from Buck with a worried look on his face.

"Kid, Emma told us about the run, what happened?" Lou asked.

Ike held up a round object it looked like a drum of some sort. It was a skin stretched over a hoop about eighteen inches in diameter, laced to pull it tight over the hoop and tied in the back with a drawing on its face. Jimmy took it from Ike. "What's this?"

"Buck said it was a message or a warning." Kid started to say.

"Hello, I can speak for myself." Buck mumbled angrily

"I'm sorry, geez" Kid stepped back so Buck could take the object from Jimmy.

"See these symbols, they're Kiowa." Buck began pointing to some of the drawings on the skin.

Ike signed something. *Like you?*

"Yeah Ike, like me. This drawing is from my brother's tribe. That's him the red bear, his name is Red Bear. And that drawing there is me, Running Buck, That's my Kiowa name. My Mother called me Little Running Buck until I grew old enough drop the little. These white men on horses are us, the Pony Express riders…." Buck pointed to each symbol as he explained its meaning.

"Buck, why does the Running Buck have an arrow in its chest?" Lou asked wincing as he waited for the answer he was afraid he already knew.

"This is a warning to us but mostly me. Red Bear is saying that if I continue to ride with the Pony Express he'll kill me just like any other white rider. He's telling all of us that if we keep riding over their land, they will continue to attack us. This little drawing here, I think, is supposed to be a town." Buck looked intently at the drawing. The others looked at him.

"Does Teaspoon know about this?" Cody asked studying the drawing with knitted brows.

"Yeah we showed him first and he called Buck out to look at it. Cody why are you all white? Is that flour?" Kid answered looking Cody over then he noticed Jimmy's face. "That's a pretty good shiner you got there Jimmy, what happened?" He looked at Lou but didn't see any bruises on Lou's face, just some faint traces of the white power on Lou's clothes.

"Its flour, Tompkins threw Buck out of the store on account of him bein' an Indian and we took exception to it." Cody replied looking up from the drawing and glancing at Buck.

"Can you go talk to your brother? Will he kill you on sight?" Lou asked Buck trying to avoid any more questions about the incident in town.

Buck hesitated then replied. "I can try. I don't think he'll kill me if I go alone and unarmed."

"You can't do that Buck, look at that, he's telling you he's going to kill you. You said so yourself. We'll all go, you can go in first and then….." Jimmy started making plans.

"NO! Jimmy, he's my brother, let me talk to him, alone. Besides this is a warning, if he really wanted me dead I would not be here. Please let me handle this my way." Buck looked at each rider pleadingly in turn but glared at Jimmy.

"You better talk to him soon, Buck. You should have seen what they did to that way station and the station master." Kid responded with a mix of fear and concern in his voice; the others nodded in agreement.

They all jumped as Emma opened the bunkhouse door carrying a plate of sandwiches. "I hope you boys are all washed up because lunch is ready…." Emma looked over the riders and shook her head. "And I can see you're not; Jimmy, Lou, Cody the wash basin is that way." Emma pointed out the door to the wash basin on the porch. The three riders grumbled a bit but obeyed and left the bunkhouse to wash up.

"Is that the message that Mr. Spoon said you found?" Emma asked Kid and Ike as she pointed to the round drawing that Buck had tossed on his bunk.

"Yeah, Buck's been telling us what it means." Kid answered glancing at Buck.

"Well, Buck what is it?" Emma asked as she rearranged the table a bit. Teaspoon, the station master, had entered carrying a pitcher of water. "Ike, could you get the cups for me, Thank-you."

"It's nothing, may I be excused? I'm not hungry." Buck said picking up the warning from his bunk and heading to the door.

"I'll save you something over at the house if you feel different later." Emma spoke to Buck's back as he left and the others entered all cleaned up, mostly. Not one of them even looked at Buck.

"Cody, I told you to brush the flour out of your hair before you got it wet. Too late now….I have a sharp pair of scissors if you can't get it out yourself, I'll cut it out." Emma teased the blond rider who winced as he attempted to finger comb his hair.

The boys began filling their plates with sandwiches and cups with water when Emma spoke again. "Was that message really nothing? Buck seemed even more upset than he was earlier."

"Where is Buck?" Jimmy asked just noticing that the Kiowa rider was absent from the table.

"He asked to be excused. What did he say about the message? I ain't much good with Indian symbols but the buck with an arrow in it didn't seem to me like a welcome symbol." Teaspoon replied.

"Er, well, um, he said it was from his brother. It said something like stop the riders on our land and that they would kill Buck just like the rest of us if we kept doing it." Kid answered reluctantly. "He said he'd go talk to his brother."

"Yeah, he told us to let him do it alone but this concerns us all, I say we kill them first before…." Jimmy interjected between bites.

"Jimmy! That is Buck's brother; you can't just go and kill him. No wonder Buck's upset; first the thing at Tompkins, then the warning, and now you? How much more do you think he can take? How much could you? I'm going to go check on him." Emma wiped her hands on her apron and left the bunk house. The others ate in silence.

Outside Buck had walked over to the corral and stood leaning against the rails. His arms were folded on the top rail and his face rested against his arms. He could see that horses were grazing peacefully but watching the human watching them. There was one mare and her colt in the corral and Buck had to smile at the antics of the young horse. A butterfly had fluttered into the air near the colt and the young animal was jumping trying to catch the brightly colored insect. If Buck hadn't known better he could have sworn the butterfly was enjoying teasing the wobbly legged colt. Finally the butterfly grew tired of the game and fluttered away toward the garden. The mare nickered softly and the colt returned to its mother for a meal then nestled on the ground exhausted from its cavorting with the butterfly and, under the ever watchful eye of its mother, slept. Buck wished he was that colt; not a care in the world and someone to watch out for him. Behind him he heard the bunkhouse door open and close then footsteps approaching. He knew by the swish swish of the fabric of her dress that it was Emma.

Emma approached Buck cautiously, she knew his nerves were on edge and didn't want to startle him. "Buck, Are you alright?" He didn't turn but he lifted his head up.

"I'm fine, Emma, thanks." Buck replied softly.

Emma came up beside him and peered between the top two rails at the horses. "I always find it comforting to watch these horses. They're so large yet so gentle and each one has its own personality. Well, usually gentle. Katy gave Kid a hard time the last time he had to put a shoe on her. You should have seen it, she nudged him with her head so hard he ended up sitting on the ground and I swear she laughed."

"I'll bet she did." Buck laughed. "They're smart too. If they ain't in the mood to have a rider they let you know. They know the exact height of each tree limb and location of every prickly pear cactus west of the Missouri."

"Ouch!" Emma laughed. "I really like watching the mares and their colts. How old is that little one." Emma asked pointing to the sleeping colt.

"He's about a week old. I was away on a run when he was born so I'm not sure. He was chasing a butterfly a few minutes ago. He's still getting used to his legs so it was kinda funny. Did they tell you what the warning meant? That's why you're here, am I right?" Buck changed the subject quickly.

"Yes, they told me, Buck. I'm worried about you." Emma reached her hand over and touched Buck's arm. He stiffened slightly but didn't pull away. "I'm not going to pretend I understand how you feel but I can imagine that this has not been an easy day for you. I'm your friend Buck, if you want to talk about this I'll listen, if you want to be left alone, I'll leave you alone. If you want to come over to the house and just sit away from the others that's fine too. When you get hungry just go into the kitchen, I'll leave a plate for you on the side board." Emma grew silent for a moment hoping Buck would speak: he was silent. "Are you going to go see your brother? Will he speak with you?"

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do, Emma. I want to talk to Red Bear, that's my brother, but I don't want anyone to come with me. Jimmy just wants to kill them all. I don't know if that includes me or not. Did they tell you what happened in town?" Buck finally turned to face Emma as he spoke.

"A little bit, there was a fight. Tompkins was giving you a hard time because you're part Indian." Emma spoke softly. "I heard he called you a few hateful names."

"Yeah, he did. Then he told me to get out of his store, said he didn't want my kind in there. I felt so dirty, Emma, like I have some sort of disease that people can catch just by being with me. I've grown up with it but that doesn't make it any easier." Buck looked at his feet as he spoke.

"I'm sure Jimmy doesn't want to harm you Buck. He's the kind of man who speaks before he thinks so what he says doesn't always come out right. Let's go over to the house. I've got to get dinner started." Emma tried to shift Buck toward the house but he wasn't about to be moved.

"I've got some chores I need to get done. I… Thanks." Buck touched Emma's arm as he moved past her quickly and disappeared into the barn.

Buck managed to spend the rest of the afternoon doing chores and avoiding the rest of the riders. Teaspoon had attempted to talk with him but before he could reach Buck, Sam Cain, the marshal of Sweetwater, and Tompkins came riding into the yard.

"That's them" Tompkins angrily yelled as he pointed at Jimmy, Cody and Lou. "That little one hit me with a skillet and those two busted up my whole store. I demand they pay for all the damages and the cleanup."

"Now simmer down Mr. Tompkins, boys is this true?" Sam started to ask.

"TRUE??" bellowed Tompkins.

"Bill, let them answer." Sam tried to quiet the angry man. By now everyone except Buck had gathered in the door yard; he was no where to be seen. Emma stood on the house porch with her hands on her hips. Ike stopped walking with a load of wood for the stove in his arms and listened to the shopkeeper rant. Kid came out of the barn and stood in silence. Jimmy, Cody and Lou all left the porch where they had been sitting and walked toward the marshal and the shopkeeper. Teaspoon hastily decided he needed to be between the two groups. The two men on horseback and the three riders glared at each other.

For a few moments nothing but the wind could be heard; Finally Jimmy spoke. "I wouldn't call it bustin' up…..more like messin' up; besides his boys started it."

"You started it by bringing that low life half breed into my store…." Tompkins started yelling again. "I want my money."

"Not from me." Cody started but a stern look from Teaspoon made him shut his mouth.

"Mr. Tompkins there's no reason for you to go callin' anybody names. You'll get what's comin' to you. I'll see to that myself." Teaspoon tried his best to calm the situation. He failed to see Ike moving behind Tompkins' horse.

"You see that you do and just keep thaaaaAAAAT…….." Tompkins' words were cut short as Ike dropped the wood at the rear of Tompkins' horse. The sound and the wood hitting the horse's hooves startled the animal and he reared up bucking away toward town. Tompkins held on for dear life as the spooked animal bolted. His words were lost in the wind.

"Ike that was uncalled for." Teaspoon attempted to admonish the silent rider but failed to hold back his laughter; Even Emma and Sam were laughing. "How bad was it?" He finally managed when things began to calm down.

"They really gave it to Tompkins. As you heard, I think Jimmy's right, those two boys Tompkins has workin' for him really did start it but they were egged on by Tompkins. I know its not fair or right Teaspoon, but maybe for Buck's safety he should stay away from town for a little while, at least until this Indian scare blows over."

Buck stood in the barn just out of sight beside the door and heard everything. A single tear slipped down his face as he turned away and picked up a hay rake.

Chapter Two Buck lay in his bunk that night waiting for the others to fall asleep lost in his own thoughts. He needed to speak with Red Bear. He needed Red Bear to understand that the riders were only carrying the mail; they weren't the ones taking over the Indians' land. They weren't warriors or soldiers, sure they carried guns but they had to; it would be suicide not to. Finally everyone was either snoring or breathing deeply; settled into a deep sleep. Buck got up whisper quiet, grabbed his clothing, boots and hat then left, easing the door shut behind him. He padded over to the barn in his stocking feet and silently lifted the latch on the barn door letting him into the barn. Once inside he quickly dressed then saddled a horse. He walked the horse out of the barn, closed and latched the door and walked the horse out of the yard. Buck glanced around making sure no one else was up and possibly watching him, satisfied he mounted the horse and urged it toward the location his brother had designated for their meeting. He'd left that little bit of information out of the translation he'd given the others of the warning.

Teaspoon had been awake sitting in the dark thinking over the events of the day when he thought he heard the latch on the barn door. He'd looked out and was barely able to see that the barn door was slightly ajar. When the door began to open again a few minutes later he'd closed his door quietly just enough to see it was Buck with a horse. Teaspoon watched him leave wondering if he'd ever see Buck again.

Forty minutes later Buck saw the campfire. There was no one there but he knew he wasn't alone. He dismounted and tied the horse to a tree so it wouldn't wander off. Buck had moved only a few steps toward the camp when he sensed Red Bear behind him. Red Bear was a full blooded Kiowa war chief. He stood tall for his race almost six feet, Buck was only an inch or so shorter. Red Bear's long hair was pure silky black, one side braided and the other moved gently with the night wind. In contrast, Buck's hair was dark brown and his skin was a lighter copper tone than his brother's rich copper coloring. At least Buck's eyes were the same deep rich brown as his brother's, they were his mother's eyes; their mother's eyes.

"Red Bear?" Buck spoke in his native tongue.

"Yes, it is good to see you again." Red Bear answered as Buck turned to face the man he hadn't seen since he was eleven summers old. "You've grown, you are a man now." Red Bear embraced his brother then held him at arm's length looking him over. Buck had worn only his vest, pants and boots, the night was chilly but at the moment he didn't notice.

"I've missed you, it's been too long. How did you find me? Why did you send for me?" Buck asked as Red Bear led him to the campfire and sat down, indicating that Buck should sit also. Buck sat crossed legged watching his brother stir the fire.

"So many questions, you always had questions. Did you think I would let my brother walk away and not follow him? I almost lost you when you left the children's home but one of my warriors saw you and told me you are working for the white men. You have been in the white world too long. Come back with me, come back to the village." Red Bear said after a long pause. "I sent for you because if you continue to ride with the whites I may loose you forever."

"Why are you attacking the Pony Express? We are not your enemy." Buck stated simply.

"You carry the white man's words. They are taking our land, our hunting grounds, our sacred land, forcing us to live on reservations, begging for food and clothing. Our ways are vanishing. Running Buck don't you see you are helping them." Red Bear's voice grew angry.

"These are my friends, we are like family, we sleep together, we eat together, we fight together, but we are not warriors. We do not attack the villages or take the land; we are only riding on it." Buck answered trying to keep his own anger from surfacing.

"And are you all white to them? You are Kiowa. They will all be gone some day and you will be alone." Red Bear snapped back.

"My mother was Kiowa, our Mother, Red Bear. The man who took her and created me was white. I'm not white or red." Buck's anger was barely in check.

"And have I loved you any less?" Red Bear answered softly.

"No, I'm only your half brother but you took me and raised me as your own. I know you love me but I can't go back. I was hated and mistrusted in the village because of my father. I was always alone, something for the villagers to scorn and beat. You didn't see it." Buck retorted.

"I didn't see because there was nothing to see." Red Bear spat.

"You chose not to see…..I can't go back." Buck stood up.

Red Bear stood and took off his bear claw necklace. Without warning he used one of the claws to slash Buck's chest. He looked at the blood oozing from the shallow slice and grabbed Buck's hair pulling his head back. "I will mourn you when I show the others your blood. If we meet on a field of battle I will kill you. The next time we meet I will not know you as my brother, he died here tonight." Red Bear released Buck and turned away. Before Buck could react he was gone.

Buck stood in stunned silence for a few moments, his hands clutched at his bleeding chest. The cut wasn't deep but it was long, almost six inches, and it crossed his heart. Buck finally sat back down, watching the dying fire. His brother's words had cut much deeper than the bear claw. He was dead to Red Bear, the only real family Buck had was now gone. The night chill finally penetrated his grief. Reluctantly Buck kicked dirt on the fire to extinguish it, walked to his horse, untied the reigns, mounted and started for the only place he could still call home.

Teaspoon was relieved to hear the sounds of the barn door opening and closing twice about four hours later. He knew Buck was home. Cautiously, Teaspoon opened the door to check on Buck. The night was dark, dawn was still several hours off, but the silhouette of Buck crossing the yard was still visible in the wan starlight. The boy looked dejected, his head was down and his shoulders slumped. Teaspoon decided that he'd keep a very close watch on his rider for the foreseeable future.

~*~*~

The next several days were quiet; no further Indian attacks were reported. The only uncomfortable incident happened between Buck and Emma. It was washing day and Emma had gathered the riders soiled clothing and bed sheets as usual. She was putting the sheets into the boiling pot to wash them when she noticed that someone's sheets had blood on them. Finding blood on the sheets wasn't all that uncommon, the boys were always getting into some mishap or another but this time there was more blood then usual. Emma tried to recall what the boys had done to draw blood in the past week but no one had gotten into trouble this week, other then Jimmy biting his nails to the quick and Cody getting a huge splinter, she couldn't think of any other accidents or fights that would have bled onto the sheets. Emma changed her mind when she started on the riders' clothing.

"BUCK" Emma called knowing he was doing his chores somewhere close by.

"You callin' for me Emma?" Buck appeared around the side of the house.

"Yes, come over here please." Emma watched him carefully but he appeared to be moving without pain or discomfort.

"What can I help you with?" Buck asked assuming she needed help with the washing.

"Is this your shirt and undershirt?" Emma held up both articles of clothing. The long john top had clearly been bloodied and an attempt had been made to rinse the blood out. It might have worked if there hadn't been fresh blood stains on top of the rinsed out ones. The inside of the shirt had blood stains on it too in the same place as the long john top.

"Yes, ma'am." Buck replied knowing full well that Emma knew who the shirt belonged to.

"Are you hurt?" Emma finally asked when it became clear that Buck wasn't going to volunteer any explanation.

"I'm fine, really" Buck mumbled looking at his feet.

"Humpf, I see, could you grab that soap and scrub this shirt while I work on your long johns?" Emma intended to find out where the blood came from one way or another.

"Yes, ma'am" Buck replied getting the bar of lye soap and began scrubbing the stains on the shirt.

The two worked in silence for several minutes, both pausing several times to inspect the garment they were working on. When Emma was satisfied that the stains had been scrubbed away she put the undershirt in with the other wash. "How are you doing on that shirt?" Buck silently held it out for her inspection. "That looks good; put it in with those other things there please." Emma instructed Buck.

Buck turned to leave but Emma stopped him. "Not so fast young man…..in the house, now."

Buck rolled his eyes and sighed but obeyed the station mistress. He reluctantly climbed the back stairs and held the door open for Emma to enter first.

Once they were inside the kitchen where no one else could see them Emma turned to Buck. "I know that blood was yours so are you going to tell me what happened?" Buck didn't respond. "Let me see the cut please."

Buck nodded and began unbuttoning his shirt and undershirt. There was a faint pink stain on this undershirt as well. He opened the shirt to reveal a large cut across his chest. The cut appeared to be a couple of days old and parts were starting to heal but it needed to be cleaned out. He looked up at Emma, the hurt and shame he felt reflected in his eyes.

"Sit down, that needs tendin' to. How did you get cut?" Emma asked as she opened a cupboard and withdrew a brown bottle and some cotton. "This will probably sting a little." She added her voice softening.

"I, um, cut myself doing chores…." Buck began but Emma cut him off.

"I have never seen you doing chores without your shirt on and it's getting a little cool for that anyway so would you like to try again?" Emma asked as she worked on cleaning the cut out.

Buck winced both from her words and the medicine she was applying on his chest. "I, um, I'd rather not say, it was kinda private."

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to but please don't lie to me. Buck, if someone hurt you, maybe you should tell Mr. Spoon." Emma was trying to be as gentle as possible. "Will you as least tell me if it was one of the other riders?"

"I went to see my half brother and it didn't go real well. As far as he's concerned I'm dead. The others don't know about this and I'd like to keep it that way. Not even Ike knows." Buck looked at Emma hoping she would respect his privacy. The pain he was feeling inside was reflected in his eyes; they shone with unshed tears.

"I care what happens to you Buck, please remember that. If you don't want anyone to know that's fine but if you need help or a little bit of patchin', up please come see me, alright?" Emma finished working on the cut. "That might bleed a little bit now so don't button up yet. Let me look at it again tomorrow. I want you to wear clean underclothes for the next couple of days so bring the dirty ones over every morning and I'll wash them out for you. Now sit a spell and relax. When that's stopped bleeding button up and go back to whatever it was you were doing. And Buck, I know we're not your blood family but we are family. You ARE part of MY family, don't ever forget that." Emma put the medicine away, washed her hands and wiped them on her apron. She winked at Buck as she opened the back door to return to her washing.

Chapter Three

Two weeks had passed since the incident at Tompkins store and Emma planned a trip into town to buy supplies. Once again Kid was on a run, Ike and Buck decided to stay at the station and just relax while the others rode into town with Teaspoon and Emma. Tompkins was cool toward Jimmy and Cody but took Cody's money for an apple the blond rider decided to snack on. "Miss Shannon, How are you today?" Tompkins greeted Emma formally. "What can I get for you?"

"I'm fine, thank-you Mr. Tompkins. I have my list right here." Emma smiled at the shopkeeper tensely. "My boys will carry everything out to the wagon; I hope that won't be a problem." Emma had been afraid that Mr. Tompkins wouldn't allow any of the boys to come back into his store and she couldn't come into town every time she needed something. She'd been pleased that he'd allowed Cody to pay for the apple.

Tompkins scowled looked around noticing Lou, Jimmy and Cody but didn't see Buck. "Where's that Indian of yours?"

"Buck told me you didn't want him in your store so he didn't come with us." Emma replied matter of factly.

"Well then, that's just fine by me. Now let me see, fifty pounds of oats….." Tompkins smiled and started to fill the order while the others looked around the store. Tompkins watched them as if he expected them to start tearing the store apart again. The two boys that worked for him watched too, hoping for a fight and disappointed that the Indian hadn't come into town.

An hour later as Jimmy was just carrying the last bag to the wagon they all noticed a commotion over at the Marshal's office. "I wonder what's goin' on over there." Jimmy mused to Lou and Cody.

"I dunno," Lou shrugged. "Let's go find out, Emma's in the office talkin' to Sam anyway."

The trio started moving toward the gathering crowd when they heard someone shout. "That's them, they brought that half breed to this town. We wouldn't be havin' no Injin trouble if'n he weren't here." The riders spun around in time to see the two teenaged boys from Tompkins store and several of their friends running toward them. Jimmy instinctively reached for his gun but one of the teenagers leaped on him from the boardwalk. The trio was hopelessly out numbered but none of the gang really knew how to fight and the riders managed to hold their own for several minutes.

BANG! BANG! Two shots rang out and the fight came to a sudden stop. "What in the hell is going on here?" Teaspoon stood at the edge of the crowd that had gathered to watch the fight; his gun pointed into the air.

The combatants all scrambled to their feet and one of the gang defiantly stepped forward. "We was just teachin' some smart mouthed Injin lovers a lesson." The boy was one of Tompkins workers and echoed the shopkeeper's hateful words.

"I suggest you go on home to your Mamas' and think about how lucky you are that I didn't arrest you today. I will be speaking with your parents" Sam had joined Teaspoon and spoke with authority.

"We didn't do nothin'. You can't arrest us for fightin', sides didn't some of them Injins just attack the Miller's place?" Another one of the boys lashed out.

"I can and I will if you push me, NOW GIT!" Sam shouted. The gang of boys hesitated only a moment until Sam placed his hand on his pistol. Once the other boys left, Sam turned to the riders. "You boys get on back to the station; I've got my hands full here." His voice wasn't angry just frustrated. Emma, who'd been standing behind Teaspoon and Sam, shook her head. The boys knew she didn't approve of them fighting even if they didn't start it.

Teaspoon and Emma began walking toward the wagon, the boys hesitated a moment. "Was the Miller place attacked?" Cody asked already guessing the answer.

"Yeah and it looks like it was the Kiowa again. Emma said Buck didn't come with you, is he alright? I mean really alright, I know what Emma said but you boys are with him more." Sam asked quietly as he walked with the boys to their horses. Emma and Teaspoon were getting into the wagon across the street.

"He's pretty quiet; I think he's taking this whole thing hard. He didn't want to come to town. Who knows what he's thinking." Lou answered with a shrug as they reached the horses and mounted up.

"IF IT AIN'T THEIR INDIAN THEN HE KNOWS SOMTIN" Someone from the crowd yelled to Sam and the riders. Sam sighed then took a deep breath.

"I'll talk with you later. Keep a close watch on Buck; it ain't safe for him right now." Sam said slapping Cody's horse on the rump. As the riders rode away Sam turned to the crowd. "I told you to simmer down."

"Yeah well it ain't them whats getting' attacked and killed." Another angry voice from the crowd called out.

"You better get your facts right; those riders have been under attack a lot longer then the rest of us." Sam began hoping to get the crowd calmed down. "Go read that notice tacked to my wall. Look at the date." Sam pointed to a notice that gave details of the trouble the Pony Express was having delivering the mail and apologizing for any delays. Several people turned and began reading. Someone read it aloud for the benefit of those town folk that didn't know how to read. Soon those people walked away and more took their place. Sam could hear the notice being discussed as they walked. Finally the crowd began to thin out and Sam started to relax. He needed to talk to Buck but it would have to wait until tomorrow.

~*~*~

"Mr. Spoon, we need to tell Buck what happened in town today" Emma finally said breaking the strained, very unnatural, silence that had fallen over the small group as they made their way from town.

"He's gonna find out one way or another." Cody seconded glumly.

"Any suggestions?" Teaspoon glanced at the small group.

"He's been so, I don't know, moody, I guess, this isn't gonna help." Lou commented.

"Yeah, he's harder than a girl to figure out." Jimmy muttered shaking his head.

"Jimmy….." Emma admonished mildly. "I think we should have him come in the house as soon as we get home so no one has to lie to him and tell him we had an enjoyable trip to town."

"We could just call it eventful and leave it at that….." Cody interrupted.

"Or you boys could do what you are supposed do…take care of the horses then unload the wagon while Emma and I have a talk with Buck." Teaspoon finished as the station came into sight.

"Awe, Teaspoon, since we was the ones….." Cody started.

"Now, Cody don't go thankin' me fer makin' sure your fellow riders help you with the horses…." Teaspoon cut Cody off. Emma stifled a laugh.

They entered the yard chattering about who would be doing what chore. Ike and Buck were sitting on the bunkhouse steps both of them reading a book. Ike stood up first and walked toward the wagon. Buck finished the page he was reading and marked his place before joining the group.

"Buck could you help me into the house with these, please?" Emma asked smiling at Buck as he helped her down from the wagon.

"Sure, just these three or is there more?" Buck asked picking up the packages Emma had pointed out.

Buck followed Emma into the house and was somewhat surprised to see Teaspoon behind him. Buck placed the packages on the table in the kitchen and turned to go.

"Have a seat Buck, we need to talk to you." Teaspoon said pulling a chair out for himself.

Buck looked at Emma and Teaspoon as he sat down. "Did I do something wrong?" Buck asked with a worried look on his face.

"Not at all, something happened in town and we wanted to tell you about it before you heard about it from anyone else…." Emma quickly told Buck what had happened both in town and at the Miller farm.

"Thanks for telling me. I guess the others are alright; they didn't look too beat up…..I really need to start my evening chores. May I be excused?" Buck spoke in a very tightly controlled voice that sent a chill down Teaspoon's back.

"Are you alright Buck?" Emma asked placing her hand on his shoulder.

"I'm fine, thank you. May I be excused?" Buck asked again.

"Of course, but Buck, please remember you had nothing to do with this, none of this is your fault." Emma answered moving aside so the young Kiowa could stand up.

"Yes, Ma'am" Buck mumbled barely above a whisper as he stood and made a hasty exit out the back door.

Emma watched the door close behind him then turned to Teaspoon, "I'm very worried about him. Did you see the look in his eyes? He's going to feel this is his fault no matter what we say to him. I'm not really supposed to tell you but he had a meeting with his brother and his brother disowned him, declared him dead….First that now this……I don't want to see him do something….."

"I know Emma," Teaspoon interrupted Emma. "I'll give him a few minutes to think this all over and then I'll have a long talk with him. Teaspoon rose and left the kitchen through the back door.

Emma sighed, sat down at the table and began to unwrap the packages that Buck had brought in for her.

Buck felt horrible. He'd gone out into the barn in the hope that he could be alone for a few minutes. He knew that he'd done the right thing and not gone into town but at the same time it was because of him that Jimmy, Cody and Lou had been attacked. It seemed that even when he tried to avoid trouble it still managed to find him. Lou entered the barn a few moments after Buck carrying a saddle blanket. "Lou, Emma told me what happened in town. I'm sorry you got into another fight because of me."

"Don't worry about it Buck. It was just those kids that work for Tompkins. They're just tryin' to be tough in front of their friends. We whooped 'em once and if Teaspoon hadn't broken up the scuffle we woulda done it again and this time we woulda got their friends too." Lou replied with a laugh and smiled at Buck.

"Emma said the townsfolk was all stirred up about the attack on the Miller place. Do they think I had something to do with it?" Buck asked looking intently at Lou. He wondered, not for the first time what was so different about this small rider.

"There was a lot of shouting, people were riled up, you know how things can get said that shouldn't." Lou answered not sure if he should tell Buck what had really been said.

"No, I don't know…tell me." Buck said fearing that Lou would confirm his thoughts.

"Hmm, Yeah, I guess someone did kinda yell something about you and the attacks, but Buck we all know that's not true." Lou said reluctantly admitting that some of the people in town believed that he had something to do with the attacks.

"Thanks but it don't really matter to the town what you or anyone else here thinks. To them I'm the one who did it. Ask Ike, I'm always the guilty one even if I was no where around whatever trouble there was….I thought it would change when I grew up. It's only gotten worse." Buck stabbed at the bail of hay he'd been worrying with the pitch fork with such a vengeance Lou jumped involuntarily.

"I gotta go Buck, I just wanted to hang this blanket back where it belongs." Lou stammered and left the barn quickly.

"I'm sorry….." Buck called in a voice barely above a whisper to Lou's back. It wasn't Lou's fault he hadn't liked what Lou had to say. Buck was in the barn mucking out a stall when Teaspoon entered from the back.

"Buck, can I speak with you a minute?" Teaspoon called and motioned Buck toward him.

"Ah, sure." Buck set the rake he'd been using on the side wall and started toward the stationmaster, sure that he was in for one of Teaspoon's lectures about the way he'd acted toward Lou.

Before Buck reached the spot where Teaspoon was standing, Kid rode into the yard shouting about the Indian attacks. Everyone dropped what they were doing and ran to meet Kid.

"It was really bad….." Kid was talking excitedly but Buck wasn't listening too closely until he heard Kid say something that sent a chill down his spine. "I thought I was a dead man but the Indian just looked at me and turned away. He just let me ride away."

"Where did you say this happened?" Buck asked suddenly very interested in what Kid was saying.

"About a mile or so from the Miller place, I could see the smoke." Kid answered as he gave Katy a pat on the neck. "Good girl" "Was there only one Indian?" Cody asked. "Musta been a lookout"

"Nah, there were three more but they were further away. The one near me looked me over, pointed to the pouch, I think, then turned toward his friends and yelled something to them. I'll swear it sounded like he said 'Pony Express', strange." Kid shrugged "I was just happy to get out of there. I found the Miller place burning a few minutes later."

"Did he say anything else?" Buck asked. There was urgency in his voice.

"Not so's I could make sense of…..maybe 'cabbage poo', Why?" Kid turned to look at Buck, they all did.

"Um, just wonderin', I'm glad you're alright Kid." Buck turned away but didn't get far.

"I'd say that was strange behavior for an Indian that just attacked a farm. You wouldn't have any ideas on the subject, would you Buck? I saw you walk your horse out of here the night that warning came in. Where is it anyway?" Teaspoon asked watching Buck's reaction intently.

"I burned it." Buck started walking again this time toward the bunkhouse.

"You snuck out, where'd you go Buck?" Jimmy asked angrily grabbing Buck's arm.

"I went to see my brother, Red Bear." Buck shot back as he shook off Jimmy's hand and quickly disappeared into the bunkhouse. The others followed.

"What did you tell your brother about us, Buck? Did you tell him our routes so they can...." Jimmy was yelling at Buck.

"What happened with him was personal…." Buck cut Jimmy off.

Jimmy grabbed Buck by the arm and spun him around so the two were face to face. "It's personal when it affects us." He yelled into Buck's face.

"Jimmy, they let me go…." Kid desperately tried to quiet the situation.

Buck tried to shake off Jimmy's hand but it didn't work this time. Jimmy's fingers were digging into the soft skin of Buck's forearm. "Take your hands off of me" Buck growled as he pushed Jimmy away from him with his other hand.

Jimmy lunged toward Buck and both riders fell onto Buck's bunk sending it and them crashing to the floor. Jimmy landed one good punch on Buck's face before the other riders managed to pull the two combatants apart. Buck scrambled to his feet; a small trickle of blood ran down his face where Jimmy's fist had opened a cut above his eye.

The bunkhouse door burst open and Teaspoon entered angrily yelling "ENOUGH!"

Jimmy struggled against the riders holding him, while Buck easily shook off Ike who was holding him. Buck bent down and picked up his jacket that had been on the bed, stepped on the flattened bed and retrieved his hat and gun belt from the wall peg. Buck looked at them all a moment and Jimmy grumbled something unintelligible. "Keep him away from me" He finally said coherently.

"Don't worry I'm going," Buck said with barely controlled anger as he passed the riders and said nothing more as he brushed past Teaspoon and left the station on foot.

"I hope you boys are proud of yourselves." Teaspoon said as he too exited the bunkhouse. Emma was standing on the porch of her home with one arm folded across her body and the other hand covering her mouth. She'd heard most of the commotion from her house.

"Mr. Spoon, what just happened? Why is he walking away from here?" Emma asked indicating Buck.

"It's a long story Emma….Let him go." Teaspoon began but Emma shook her head

"He's been through enough." Emma said as she ran down the stairs after Buck. "BUCK! BUCK, WAIT!"

To Teaspoon's surprise Buck stopped walking and waited for Emma to catch up. He was about one hundred yards away from the house but he waited with his back to the station until Emma reached him.

"Where are you going, and why?" Emma asked as soon as she was close enough to speak in a normal voice and be heard.

Buck didn't answer right away; he just stood still until Emma was standing in front of him. "I don't know where I'm going, just away from here."

"Alright, why are you going away from here?" Emma noticed the dried blood on Buck's face. "Does that have something to do with it?"

"Maybe, I don't know…." Buck was looking at the ground between them.

"Hmm, if all you're doing is going for a walk fine, supper will be in three hours. If you think I'm going to let you run away from whatever just happened back there, you are wrong. Look at me, please." When Buck didn't raise his head Emma gently cupped his chin in her hand and raised it for him. There were tears in his eyes.

"I don't have a bed anymore. I fell on it and it broke." Buck mumbled thinking wildly for an excuse, the whole thing seemed a little stupid now.

"I'm willing to bet you had a little help falling on your bed. Jimmy can be a hot head, we all know that, if you don't want to go back to the bunkhouse tonight that's fine there's an extra bed in the house or you can sleep in the barn. The choice is yours. Why don't you finish your walk then come back over to the house for some supper then decide where you want to spend the night." Emma's tone of voice brokered no argument.

"Yes, Ma'am" Buck said nodding.

"Good I'll be waitin' on you." Emma patted his cheek and walked around him heading in the direction of the house. Buck turned and watched her go. He noticed that Teaspoon was standing just outside of her gate and the other riders were standing on the porch of the bunkhouse. Buck turned toward the open prairie and started walking; the tears that had been threatening finally spilled over. He just let them fall. As Buck walked he thought and thought about the recent events. Kid was alive and well because the Indian had spotted the mochila. Had that happened because of the talk he had with Red Bear? The others had had trouble in town. The fight in Tompkins store had happened because he had been in the store. If he had never gone in the store, the fight would never have happened. Maybe the fight today would not have happened either if he wasn't working for the Pony Express. He wasn't welcome in town and he had serious doubts about being welcome back at the station. Jimmy didn't trust him, that was obvious, and the others had seemed to side with Jimmy even if they hadn't said anything; the looks on their faces spoke volumes. Even his best friend, Ike, looked at him wondering what he'd said to Red Bear. Ike hadn't taken his side or come after him. His brother had been right. These people didn't care about him; at the first sign of trouble they had turned on him. Buck touched the scar on his chest, it was almost completely healed but the pain was still fresh. He was dead to his brother. The people he had come to think of as family had turned on him. He was alone. Emma seemed to care. He'd made a promise to her to return tonight but tomorrow he'd leave. His stomach growled as he turned in the direction of the station. The sun was setting and the night chill was nipping at his exposed skin. Maybe the barn would be a good spot to sleep tonight.

Chapter Four

Back at the bunkhouse the dinner table was missing its usually raucous banter; the riders were all wondering what had happened to Buck. Emma placed a plate of biscuits on the table, sat folding her hands and bowing her head. The others followed suit, when it was quiet she began "Dear Lord, please bless this food and the people about to eat it. Please help them find a way to understand and help their friend through this troubling time. Please help Buck know that he's not alone and that he has a family that cares about him. Amen"

A chorus of 'amen's' was heard but the table remained silent otherwise. Emma's words had hit home. She looked at each rider as they slowly began passing the bowls of food around the table. Teaspoon took the offered bowl of potatoes from Kid, "Thanks, Kid. Emma did Buck say where he was going or when he'd be back?"

"He was going for a walk, he'll be back to get some dinner later. He's very hurt by all of this. I see someone fixed his bunk. He said he didn't have a bed anymore." Emma looked over between Kid and Jimmy and saw Buck's bunk was back standing on its own.

"It wasn't broke too bad, nothing a few nails and a couple of pieces of wood couldn't fix." Cody offered. "I tried it out and it's good and sturdy"

"Yeah, that was his excuse to take a nap" Jimmy mumbled. "I hope that means that you all would like Buck to come back." Teaspoon looked around the table at the heads nodding. "I'll let him know that if he'll let me speak to him. Buck has to be torn in half over all this. Remember he was brought up to think like an Indian but he has to live in the white world. White men don't think the same way. To you today was just blowin' off some steam; a misunderstanding that you'll all laugh about later but to Buck it was a rejection. His own blood family told him he wasn't welcome anymore. Chew on that awhile" Teaspoon saw Emma wince slightly at his words. She'd told Buck their conversation would be just between them but she'd been so upset with Buck's brother that she'd told Teaspoon a little about the confrontation.

Dinner was finished in silence. ~*~*~ Buck finally tapped on the back door of Emma's house about two hours later. "Well it's about time, Come on in Buck you must be freezing." Emma had been sitting in her parlor darning some socks, waiting and praying for the young Kiowa to return.

"Thanks, Emma, I am a bit cold." Buck spoke hesitantly. He really only wanted to ask if she had an extra blanket he could use in the barn.

Emma had immediately begun stoking the fire in the cook stove and moving some pots around. There was a place set at the table already. "Sit, Please. I know you just want to leave but you are not leaving this house until you have a good hot meal. I made the bed up in the spare room and the reason you didn't find any blankets in the barn was because I had Mr. Spoon take them all out."

Buck was stunned. Emma had known he'd try to make a bed in the barn and avoid coming to the house but the cold night air had demanded a blanket and there were none. "I really just wanted to ask for a blanket. I don't want to put you out, Emma, really I'm fine, I'm really not hungry." Buck stopped talking when Emma shot him a look that said she didn't believe a word out of his mouth.

"You will sit at that table until you eat something, there will be no arguing." Emma stirred something on the stove that smelled wonderful; Buck's stomach grumbled. "Hmm, your mouth says one thing but your stomach says something different."

It was just then there was a knock on the front door and Teaspoon entered before Emma could call 'come in.' "I was hoping I'd find you over here" Teaspoon addressed Buck. "I hope you'll excuse me barging in Emma, I was afraid if you left him alone he'd bolt." Teaspoon's eyes drilled into Buck.

"I think Buck knows better than that but now that you're here would you like a cup of coffee? The pots almost ready." Emma winked at Buck as she grabbed another cup down from the rack. Buck smiled back wanly.

"Buck, I wanted to let you know that I spoke with the other riders and there's a warm bed waiting for you over at the bunkhouse. Jimmy fixed it for you and Cody tested it to be sure it was stable and comfortable. According to Ike he took a two hour nap in it so it's just fine. Thank-you Emma" Teaspoon smiled as Emma placed a cup of hot coffee in front of him.

"Thanks Emma," Buck said as Emma placed a plate of food in front of him. He'd already wrapped his cold hands around his warm coffee mug. "Thanks, but I won't be needing it anymore I have to quit the Pony Express"

"Buck, no, why?" Emma sat down in a chair opposite Buck.

"Son, if you think that are hard feelings between you and the boys that's wrong. They're sorry for the way they acted and want you to come back." Teaspoon had been worried that this was the way Buck would react. "Son, they care about you, we care about you, this is your family."

Buck ate in silence a few minutes, not really tasting the food. When he couldn't force down anymore food he looked up. "I know Teaspoon, Emma, and I care about all of you too, but I also care about my brother. If I stay here I make the riders a target for the town. I can't go back to the village but I can't stay here either."

"Where will you go?" Teaspoon asked.

"Does it really matter? Tell Ike first, alone. He belongs here, not with me. I'll be gone by sun rise, I need to go and clear my head, pray for answers. Please don't make this any harder on me than it already is." Buck's eyes begged for understanding.

"Son, I know I can't stop you but remember you will always have a place here. Take one of the horses and your saddle." With those words Teaspoon stood up patted Buck's shoulder and left.

Emma sat looking at Buck a moment or two more. "Please stay in the spare room tonight. I'll put some food together for you and leave it on the table. Will you come back for your things?"

"Yeah, later when I know no one will be around; I'm not real good with goodbyes. Thanks, for all you've done for me." Buck stood and suddenly found himself being hugged by Emma.

"Remember what Mr. Spoon, said you'll always have a place here." Emma kissed his cheek then released the stunned rider. He took a few steps toward the door leading to the stairs and the spare room then turned and looked at Emma. She had picked up the dishes from the table and was standing at the drain board with her back to him; her shoulders were shaking as if she was crying but there was no sound. Buck's own tears threatened to make another appearance and he hurried out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Once in the spare room, he closed the door and threw himself down on the bed. When he managed to calm himself down he pulled off his boots, shirt and pants and settled in for the night.

Later Emma lay in her bed listening to the night, hoping and praying that Buck would change his mind and stay but she heard the familiar creak of the third stair from the top about an hour before dawn. Moments later she heard the barn door open and a horse walk out. When she heard the barn door close again she cried.

~*~*~

The next few days proved to be rather uneventful. The truth had come out about the attack on the Miller place. Mr. Miller had been hunting and wandered into Indian Territory; he'd had a run in with an Indian woman and slapped her for resisting his advances. When the braves caught up with him he'd shot one of them and fled for home. The Indians had paid him back the favor by burning his home. There were no more attacks on either the outlying farms or the riders; there was also no sign of Buck.

The truth didn't seem to matter to some people. Tompkins still ranted on about the evils of the red man and the boys in his shop continued to taunt the riders whenever they came into town. The women of Sweetwater seemed to somehow manage to avoid Mr. Miller. Slapping a red woman was still slapping a woman and that was not well accepted; many husbands felt differently. Sam and Teaspoon kept a close watch on the boys but the only thing thrown about were words.

"How long has it been since Buck left?" Sam asked Teaspoon as they stood outside the Marshal's office watching the people go about their business.

"Ten long days, I'm worried about the boy; this cold weather came in early this year." Teaspoon answered. "Looks like were almost all loaded up. Will we see you on Sunday?"

"Of course you'll see me Sunday….I'm not missing one of Emma's Sunday suppers!" Sam smiled and waved to the boys as they mounted up for the ride back to the station. Sam was worried about Buck too. He had been told earlier that day by a passing trapper that he'd found the body of a young man with Indian features that had been tortured and killed probably by the Indians. Sam feared that the tenuous peace had come at the cost of Buck's life. Emma had confided in Sam about the warning, the meeting Buck had with his brother and the events that had happened back at the station. Sam wondered if Buck had gone to try and see his brother again but with a bad result.

Sam knew he'd have to tell Teaspoon about the trapper's find but he wanted to be sure it was Buck; he prayed it wasn't. The trapper had told Sam where he'd left the body and Sam planned to leave first thing in the morning to see if he could find it. He'd be gone overnight and his deputy would be in charge of things in town while he was gone. He'd packed a shovel so whether it was Buck or not, the body could be properly buried.

The next morning just as the gray of dawn began to lighten the town Sam mounted his horse and headed out following the directions the trapper had given him. The shadows were growing long when Sam finally found the rock outcropping the trapper had described. As he approached he could see the shape of the body on the ground, the body had long dark hair. Sam swallowed hard. The clothing, what was left, was little more than dirty rags; Sam couldn't see a vest or tell what color the pants were from this far away. He drew closer to the body and his fear increased; the body was tall and slim, not unlike Buck. The victim was face down. Scavengers had attacked the corpse and the sun had bloated other parts still inside the clothing. A hand with long slender fingers seemed to reach out for help that never came. Sam dismounted and began digging the grave; the smell was almost too much to endure. When the grave was as deep as Sam could make it he drew in a deep breath, this was it, he'd have to turn the body over to see if it was Buck. Sam grabbed an old blanket he'd brought with him to wrap the body in from his saddlebag, drew another deep breath and walked to the body. The victim's hair covered the part of the face that could be seen. The skin on the neck looked young and very dark, the sun and death had darkened it. Sam swallowed hard as he knelt and placed the blanket beside the body. He placed his hands on the victim's shoulder and hip planning to roll him onto the blanket and drag him to the grave. Slowly he turned the body, the hair fell away revealing the man's features. Sam gazed into the face of a complete stranger. "Oh, thank God" Sam breathed. The man was probably older than Buck and he'd suffered greatly at the hands of someone; probably Indians. The person looked like he might have been part or full blooded Indian but it was hard to tell in the waning light. Sam quickly wrapped the body in the blanket, dragged it into the grave and began covering it with dirt. "Rest in peace, Friend. I don't know who you are but I'm very glad you are not who I thought you were." Sam said as he finished covering the body.

Sam remounted his horse and retraced his route a mile or so before stopping for the night. He didn't want to sleep anywhere close to the body. He hadn't eaten all day and really hadn't been hungry but now he was starving. He checked his saddle bags and found the food he'd packed and his coffee pot. He started a fire put the coffee on to brew and heated up the beans and strips of beef he'd packed. He was so hungry that he ate two biscuits before the rest of the food was ready but easily finished the rest when it was hot. After cleaning up the dinner things he settled down in his bedroll and slept without dreaming.

The ride back to town was easier than the ride out. He didn't have to worry about finding Buck's body or telling Emma and the boys any bad news. He was hoping for a good fight in the bar tonight, he was in the mood.

~*~*~

The last twelve days had been hard on Buck. He missed the other riders but he missed Ike most of all. They'd been like brothers; twins almost. One of them would speak and the other could finish the sentence. They knew each other so well. Ike could read Buck's moods and cheer him up when he was down and Buck could hear Ike speak. Buck hoped that Ike was doing alright without him. The other riders had learned Indian sign quickly and Ike was thrilled to be able to speak with them without resorting to a chalk and slate board.

Buck found the loneliness almost overwhelming; he longed to be part of something again. Buck tormented himself by sitting on the hill just behind the bunkhouse a few evenings watching the riders, Teaspoon and Emma finishing up their daily chores and preparing for the next day. He'd watched Emma carrying the riders' dinner over to the bunkhouse and he longed for just a bite. Emma's words kept ringing in his head. I know we're not your blood family but we are family. You ARE part of my family.

Family, what was family? That was the question that had haunted Buck since the morning he'd left Emma's house. He'd gone to the mountains and prayed to the Spirits for guidance and that one word kept resonating in his head. Family. He'd thought about going to see Red Bear again but his brother had been very definite when he'd said Buck was dead to him. The cut on his chest and the blood on the bear claw would be nothing compared to the damage and blood his brother's knife would make. Buck had told Red Bear the riders were like his family and now he was alone, just as Red Bear had predicted. Maybe being dead was better than feeling like he belonged absolutely nowhere. He was feeling dead inside anyway. The cool nights chilled his body and turned his thoughts toward the darker side of life. He'd woken up crying more than once. He wanted to go home and home was down there in that bunkhouse with the riders. He still hadn't gone back for any of his gear, maybe tomorrow or the next day he'd ride to the station and see if the offer Teaspoon had made was true; there will always be a place here for you. Buck knew that they hadn't replaced him yet, that was good he hoped. Buck stood up and walked back to his horse. Tomorrow was another day.

Chapter Five

The following day was warm for this time of year and Buck's spirits were buoyed. He rose with the sun and prayed for guidance. If he had counted his days right today was Sunday and Emma would be cooking a big meal after church. He planned on returning to the station in the afternoon once the meal was over and everyone was usually in a good mood. He thought about returning before the noon meal but decided against it; it seemed too much like begging. He'd lost weight since he'd left the station the food he'd been left was almost gone, it should have been gone days ago but he'd made it last. He'd been living off the land as much as possible but it would only get harder once the cold weather really set in. He hadn't taken a change of clothes with him and hadn't bathed since he left the station, both he and his clothing could use a good washing. He rode down to the stream, removed his clothing and began washing. When the clothes were as clean as he could get them he set them on the bushes to dry and went for a swim. The water was cool but not cold and it made his skin tingle. Buck emerged from the water, dressed in his still damp long john bottoms and lay down to let the warmth of the sun dry him. He felt good about his decision to go home and felt safe and comfortable for the first time in days. He fell deeply asleep.

Unfortunately Buck wasn't the only person out to enjoy the warmth of the day. A few of the older boys from town decided that this would be a wonderful day to go fishing. Among them were the two boys that worked for Tompkins and two of their friends that had harassed the riders in town. Clint, the oldest of the group, saw Buck first. "Shhhh, look ain't that that Indian express rider?" The boys all stopped and looked.

"It looks like him; let's find a different spot to fish. I don't want no Indian trouble." Jared, the youngest of the group whispered. He'd been forced to go along with his older brother by their mother, an arrangement neither boy liked.

"Nah, lets teach him a lesson. You all heard Mr. Tompkins, the only good Indians are dead Indians. Wha'da ya say?" Jake, Jared's older brother and Tompkins' other employee, whispered.

"Yeah, he's probably just like Mr. Tompkins says, all Indians are liars and thieves and they like to rape women. He's only a half breed so that means his father raped some poor white woman and held her as a slave. That's what Indians do; he's probably sleepin' off a night of drinkin' and rapin' some poor girl, probably killed her and hid the body." Mike, another boy from town, shot back.

"How do you know that?" Jared asked quietly. He didn't like the look on his brother's face or the glint in his eyes. If his mother thought he'd be able to keep Jake out of trouble she was sadly mistaken. Jared was afraid of his brother.

"My pa told me, least I think that's what he said. Shhh, he's wakin' up!" Mike answered keeping an eye on Buck.

"Let's go, lets get him 'for he gets us. He'll scalp us all if we let him." Clint pushed the others.

"I donno, he ain't done nothin' to me." Phil the fifth boy in the group said. His mother had taken a switch to him when she found out he'd been fighting in town and talking back to Marshal Cain. Phil's father then used his belt once his mother had told him about the marshal's visit.

"Give that half breed a chance and he'll rape your sisters and mother. You want that to happen?" Jake taunted the hesitant boy.

"He lays one finger on them and he's dead…" Phil responded thinking of his little six year old sister and his mother.

"You go around that way and we'll go this way that way we'll all come at him from different sides. Be real quiet…." Clint directed the group. When they were all in position he held up his hand and counted down from three. Buck was beginning to stir. He opened his eyes just as Clint brought his hand down and signaled the attack.

Phil and Jake each jumped on one of Buck's arms and pinned him to the ground. The other boys proceeded to kick and punch Buck without mercy. Jared had held back a moment or two until a look from his older brother told him he'd get beat next if he didn't join in.

Buck noticed the look between the brothers and cried out "You know this is wrong….help me, please…." Jake's eyes hardened on his brother and Jared's answer to Buck was a swift kick in the ribs. Buck struggled and tried to fight back but the five boys overwhelmed him. Buck finally passed out.

Jared looked down at the beaten rider, saw the blood on his own clothing, and feeling sick about what they had just done to Buck, threw up over in the bushes when the first beating was over. "He ain't got the stomach for this." Jake teased.

"Maybe he's one of them Indian-Lovers." Clint taunted.

"Indian-lover, Indian-lover!" Mike and Phil both chanted.

"SHUT UP! I ain't no Indian-lover……This just don't feel right and it sure don't feel very good…." Jared shot back.

"Then go home you cry baby…..you breathe one word about this and I'll beat you worse then we just beat him. Remember you beat him too so if you tell on us you'll be in just as much trouble, sides no one cares about him." Jake hissed at his younger brother then turned and spat on Buck. Jared ran away.

"You think he'll tell?" Phil asked.

"He wouldn't dare, he's too scared of me." Jake laughed watching his brother run for home.

Clint found Buck's knife and medicine pouch in Buck's hat beside his gun, the rest of Buck's clothing lay scattered on the ground. The boys had searched it for anything of value; Buck's boots were too big for any of the boys. Fortunately Buck had let his horse graze in a field a little way down stream and the boy's hadn't seen the animal. It was still saddled. Clint used Buck's knife to cut down the rope that hung from one of the lower branches of the tree and was used during the summer months as a swing of sorts. "Let's tie him up so he don't wake up and kill us." Clint smiled holding the rope up for the others to see.

They dragged Buck over to the base of the tree and sat him up looping the rope around Buck's neck and chest trapping his arms at his sides. Jake tied the rope at the back of the tree and walked around to inspect their handiwork. He'd just turned around to talk to the other boys when Buck moaned. "Hey look who's awake! Learned your lesson yet half-breed?"

"What lesson?" Buck asked before he could stop himself. He didn't know these boys and couldn't recall seeing them before. The two oldest looked familiar but Buck couldn't place them.

"This one." Clint said kicking Buck in the stomach. The beating continued until Buck passed out again.

The four older boys took great pleasure in letting Buck wake up from the beatings by throwing water on him and then beating him again until he passed out. They did this several times during the day.

"I think he's dead…." Mike finally said poking Buck with his foot and getting no response.

"Good, let's make sure of it." Clint said.

Clint picked up the knife, cut Buck free from the tree and rolled Buck onto his stomach, with the tip of the knife he scratched "DED IN DE AN" into the skin on Buck's back. He was just about to plunge the knife into Buck when a shot rang out. All four boys froze instantly, listened for a second then without speaking, prepared for a hasty get away. Clint stuffed the knife into its scabbard and shoved them both into the front of his pants. Mike took the gun belt and gun and Jake took the medicine pouch. Phil had already taken the snake bone earring and the silver loop it was on and shoved them in his pocket. The boys ran, heading in the direction of home, leaving Buck in the dirt beside the stream.

The hunter that had fired the shot picked up his kill and never went near the stream. He heard the boys running and assumed his shot had scared a deer out of its sleeping spot. As the sun sunk behind the distant mountains the night chill set in.

Back at the station the riders were finishing up their evening meal. Sam had stayed most of the day just relaxing. He'd told Teaspoon about the dead man the trapper found and how he'd been worried it had been Buck. Teaspoon agreed that he would have felt the same way as Sam when he rolled the body. "I'm glad that wasn't him but I wish I knew where the boy was, Emma's worried sick over him." Teaspoon stated and after a long pause, "So am I."

"I know Teaspoon, I wish he'd write or somethin', Emma told me she dreamed about him last night." Sam said mounting his horse for the ride back to town. "See you soon…."

The moon rose full and bright but a bank of clouds could be seen on the horizon. There would be rain by morning. Cody had the first run and made sure he had his rain gear ready to grab after breakfast. The riders finished their evening chores secured the station and the animals, said their good nights and went to bed. Teaspoon stood and looked up at the sky a bit before turning in. He hoped that wherever Buck was he was warm and dry. Emma put the dough she'd just made in a bowl and covered it with a towel to rise overnight. She blew out the lamps and climbed the stairs to her room. When she had dressed in her nightgown she sat on her bed and read a little from her Bible. For some reason that she couldn't pinpoint she felt a growing sense of dread. Something was going to happen; maybe it was just the approaching storm. Emma finished her reading and turned down the lamp. She had kept a light burning since Buck had left hoping it would guide him home. Emma pulled the covers over her, said her prayers and wondered for the hundredth time if Buck was somewhere warm and comfortable.

Some time during the night Emma woke, something was different. The storm was just starting, the wind had picked up a little and it was raining lightly. She rose and looked out the windows of her bedroom but couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. The storm made it hard to see much, it was very dark. She sat and listened hard hoping that what ever had awakened her would happen again but other than the storm, the night was still. Finally she slept again and woke just before dawn. It was raining harder now and the sky looked almost as dark as when she'd woken up during the night. Emma knew something wasn't right she checked out her window again and still saw nothing; she dressed and went down stairs.

The window at the bottom of the staircase gave her a view of the corral and barn. That was when she saw it. A horse was standing as close to the barn as possible trying to keep dry. The horse had a saddle on it and Emma planned to let whoever had failed to take care of the poor animal, have a piece of her mind. The least she could do was get the horse in the barn before she stormed over to the bunkhouse and demanded some answers. Emma grabbed her shawl and opened the front door. There was someone or something lying at the foot of the steps. Emma peered cautiously down at the pale crumpled bundle and began to make out that it was a human. The head and one hand were on the first step, the rest of the body was on its side on the ground; the person had been trying to crawl up the stairs. "Hello, can I help you?" Emma called cautiously but the body didn't stir.

The human had been injured, that was obvious. The body was covered in mud and blood and in the semi darkness Emma couldn't tell if it was male or female. The person was thin, had long dark hair and was wearing rags from the waist down. She carefully descended the stairs and knelt beside the body. Emma reached her hand out and brushed back the wet hair from the face of the person. "Buck? Oh Dear God!" Emma cried, the shock of recognizing her lost rider caused her fingers to shake as they desperately felt Buck's neck for a pulse. His skin was cold to the touch. Finally she felt the weak pulse pumping beneath her fingers. "Thank you God" Emma breathed when she felt the slight movement. "Please Buck, you're home don't you dare die on me now." Emma took her shawl and wrapped it around him. It wasn't much but as soon as she could get him inside that would all change.

"IKE, JIMMY, KID, CODY, LOU, MR SPOON! SOMEONE I NEED HELP!" Emma cried out. "HELP, PLEASE HELP!"

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