A/N as requested, this is an extended version of the Quick Fic. “Visions of a Man”

“Running Buck, it is time.” Red Bear called to his younger half brother.

Cautiously Running Buck looked up at his brother. He was sitting on the bank of a meandering brook. He wished he could become one of the little sparkles that the sun created on the water as it played among the rocks; glimmer brightly then disappear. This was the moment he had dreaded for the last few days. The summer solstice was only a few days away and the warriors were preparing themselves for the Sun Dance. This required all the men that would join in the hunt to participate in a cleansing Sweat Lodge before the dance could begin. Their spirits must be pure and ready for the rebirth of the Earth and all it is made from during the dance. He had hoped to go on this hunt but a vision by the Man of Dreams had caused Red Bear to question his decision to allow Running Buck to participate.

The Man of Dreams had begun preparing himself first and had a disturbing vision. In his vision he’d seen the young half white brother of Red Bear on the hunt beside his brother and the young man had fallen. The Man of Dreams requested that Red Bear and Running Buck join him in the Sweat Lodge. This would be Running Buck’s first time in the lodge and he was nervous. He knew the ceremony, the jobs of the participants and the herbs used. He’d gathered the sage, tobacco, cedar and beaver grass they would need. Red Bear had assured him he would do well. He was smiling down at Running Buck and offered him a hand to stand up. The feeling of dread was growing; Running Buck wasn’t as sure of himself as Red Bear hoped. He didn’t want to embarrass either himself, or worse, Red Bear. Little Bird had also been encouraging but the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach remained. “Yes, Red Bear,” was the best he could manage. He tossed the rock he’d been turning over and over in his hands into the water and reached for his brother’s hand.

His clothing was shed and he entered the sweat lodge with his brother, two other tribal elders and the Man of Dreams. He looked down at his body, he was still a boy in stature; a little too thin, no real muscles, very little hair and very pale. Too pale, he looked like a ghost beside the darkly tanned red skin of the others. Running Buck knew the elders did not approve of him taking part in the hunt but he was twelve summers old and all the other boys his age had already been on at least one hunt. Red Bear had insisted and the Elders had relented. He sat there as the ceremony began, the cedar bark and beaver grass were added to the water and the tobacco was placed on the fire. The rocks were brought in and glowed red. The air became heavy, hot and humid, the water was poured over the rocks and the steam rose, mixing with the heady fragrance of the tobacco to surround him. He drank from the ceremonial bowl and smoked the pipe with the men. His thoughts began to swim around in his head. The Man of Dreams spoke but Running Buck couldn’t hear the words, the sweat lodge was fading and he was being carried away on the wings of a large bird. It swooped down and his vision blurred and became clear only in the center. He clung to the bird for fear of loosing his life.

He saw a large building with many children; he was one of the children. He saw two pieces of wood a long one and a shorter one tried together near the top of the longer one but the shorter one was almost perfectly centered. He didn’t know what that was. He saw women dressed all in black. He saw a boy with no hair or mouth riding a horse and waving at him. He waved back but had an over whelming feeling of sadness. He saw a funny looking silver ladle that became a man and a red and yellow haired woman holding the boy with no mouth. He saw a man with two guns, a yellow haired man with a fringed top holding a very dark skinned man and crying, a boy that was a girl and another young man with sand coloured hair holding her, smiling. He saw a pretty yellow haired woman hanging large white blankets on a rope of some sort. He saw the eagle flying over him taking him away from the village and a pit of snakes. He saw himself in white man’s clothing kissing a light haired woman and a dark haired baby. He saw himself on the hunt beside his brother he saw himself covered in the blood of the animals that gave themselves so the village could survive the winter. He felt fear and pain but also pride. He saw his brother holding him and later holding a bear’s claw dripping with his blood from a gash on his bare chest. He heard his brother say ‘you are dead to me’. He saw the village in ruins and himself running looking for something. He was calling out but couldn’t hear what he said. He felt pain and sadness, joy and happiness, fear and courage.

It was all jumbled together he knew he was seeing himself but at many ages. He was an older boy in some of the visions and a young man in others; in some he was seeing himself now and others a full grown man. Horses, there were horses running always in the vision, some with riders some without. He was riding fast and free then he fell and the darkness swallowed him. An over whelming feeling of loss washed over him and he felt tears on his face. He saw his mother begging the other women of the tribe to give her something; it was a baby. He saw the infant grow into the person he was now through a series of beatings. The images flashed in his head and he had no idea where he was. He was in many modes of dress from naked to white man’s clothing then a combination of the two worlds, white and red. He had long hair, then short hair and finally long hair again. The large bird suddenly vanished and Running Buck was falling, fast, there was no ground beneath him.

He heard someone screaming and realized it was himself. He was curled on the floor of the lodge his brother was holding him and speaking softly to him. Slowly Running Buck became aware of his surroundings and the people near him. He’d made a fool of himself and was certain that he would be left in the village while the others went on the hunt. He’d felt there was going to be a problem during the hunt too, but he’d seen a man he assumed was himself a few years older. He was confused and looked to his brother and the Man of Dreams for help.

“Running Buck, as you have traveled through your visions of life so have we. We have seen you travel through this lifetime and you will grow older yet. You have many trials to face and they will lead you far from the Kiowa and this village.” The Man of Dreams began to interpret the visions Running Buck had just seen. Running Buck was frightened and intrigued by the visions but he was more confused by what he didn’t see. Where was Little Bird? Who was the woman he was kissing. Was the baby he’d seen his? Who were those people and why did Red Bear say he was dead to him? He suddenly realized the Man of Dreams had stopped talking and everyone was looking at him. He swallowed hard. He dropped his eyes to his hands clasped together in his lap and nodded. He had no idea what he had just agreed to.

Red Bear patted him on the shoulder, “You will come with me on the hunt and together we will help feed our family and the village. You will be alright you have learned many skills and now you put them to use.” Red Bear was smiling. He’d been fearful of Running Buck’s death but it was not seen for this hunt or many that would follow. The Man of Dreams felt that the fall Running Buck would take was not a fatal one. He’d seen his brother grow to be a man also. Yes, there would be hard times and he didn’t know why he was holding a bloody bear claw standing before his brother watching blood seep from a wound he’d just inflected. He had heard himself tell Running Buck he would mourn him but later saw himself holding him and being filled with a sense of pride at whatever Running Buck had just done. He saw his brother’s spirit soar and rise above the pain and sadness. He knew he would someday say good-bye and never see his brother again. He knew that day was still many summers in the future but not too far either. He smiled sadly at the young manchild beside him.

The Man of Dreams and the elders all had a feeling of foreboding surrounding the upcoming hunt but felt it was not associated directly with Running Buck and agreed he would be allowed to participate in the both the hunt and the Sun Dance before the hunt took place. Red Bear brought Running Buck home that night and told his wife that she needed to prepare Running Buck’s things for the hunt and Sun Dance. Song Bird said she would teach Little Bird what need to be done so she would be able to perform these tasks for Running Buck once they were married.

The women and young maidens of the village had much to do to prepare for the Sun Dance also. They begin the ceremony by selecting the tree the Sun Pole will be made from. The next morning at dawn the ceremonies begin with the building of the Sun Lodge around the Sun Pole. Little Bird was excited about this and was still doing the elaborate bead work on her dress. She wanted Running Buck to be proud of her and it needed to be perfect.

The dance itself would begin at sunset on the day the lodge was completed and last between four and eight days. It would also end at sunset showing that there is no true end to life or the cycles of life. The dance would tell of the rebirth of man and buffalo, of the Earth itself.

~*~*~

It had been almost a half cycle of the moon since Running Buck had his visions in the Sweat Lodge and he still had many questions. He had been able to ask his brother about the vision of his mother and the baby. He’d been shocked to learn that the women who attended his mother during his birth had wanted to drown him. They felt he would bring bad luck to the village. Only his mother’s impassioned pleas and her husband’s standing in the village had saved his life. He’d certainly had his share of beatings at the hands of the other children growing up so that part made sense to him. There just hadn’t been time to speak with the Man of Dreams about the rest of the vision.

The Sun Dance was successful and the warriors left on the hunt the next morning, a feeling of rejuvenation prevailing over the group. The warriors had all taken part in the cleansing sweat and then the Sun Dance took place over several days. The first light of dawn found the warriors mounting their ponies and bidding good-bye’s to their families; they expected to be gone through the full moon, possibly two.

Some of the woman would be going along to support the warriors; Song Bird was among them, Little Bird was not. She had not yet learned to skin the buffalo and prepare the hides and meat for storage. She would learn soon. She was coming of age and she and Running Buck had already been promised to each other. They would marry the summer after she became a woman; she had much to learn in the coming year.

Running Buck and Little Bird both felt there was something desperately wrong surrounding the hunt but couldn’t tell what. He spoke with Little Bird and she insisted he go on the hunt; he felt he needed to stay. He kissed her good-bye on the cheek and she watched him ride away with the other men. They would not see each other again for years.

~*~*~

The hunt was not as good as they had hoped. The buffalo, elk, and antelope were getting harder to find and they had to travel further to the hunting grounds. Running Buck had indeed fallen during the hunt but the wounds were not serious and he was able to continue after a days rest. He had made his brother very proud of him by brining down a large buck with one arrow. The deer meat and hide would both be welcomed additions to the supplies the village would need to survive the winter. They returned to the village with enough meat to sustain the village and hides to keep them warm but not much extra. They’d been gone nearly two moons and Red Bear felt they needed to return quickly. They hoped it would be a mild winter.

They knew something was wrong long before they reached the village. There was no smoke rising from cook fires, no children ran out to greet them as they rode closer. A few of the warriors rode on ahead, Running Buck and Red Bear among them. They found the village in ruins. The tipi’s were burned and there were dead bodies laying on the ground. Running Buck searched for Little Bird, running to each body calling her name, but didn’t find her. Slowly the survivors ventured out of their hiding places and told of white trappers attacking the village. They took anything of value and that included Little Bird. They killed many of the elders and a few of the children; all the male children had been killed. His vision was becoming a nightmare.

The grief was overwhelming and the hatred turned on Running Buck, HE was half white, HIS people had done this. He heard an older woman say that if they’d done what they wanted to do when he was born none of this would have happened. Everyone began looking at him with suspicion in their eyes; he wanted to die when he saw the same look flash in his brother’s eyes. He knew he couldn’t stay. He packed his few belongings including, the knife Red Bear had given him for the hunt, and left in the dead of night. He walked for days until hunger and sorrow threatened to drive him crazy. He found a place to sleep late one night after the sun had long since set, curled under the thin blanket he’d taken and cried himself to sleep. He prayed to die in his sleep; none of the other visions were coming true; he’d never be a grown man.

The dawn didn’t wake him but the sound of children did. He followed the sounds to a small valley hidden by a low rise; when he crested it, he gasped. The building he had seen in his vision stood before him. He knew he was destined to go there and live out the rest of his vision. He sighed and began the short walk down to the place he’d seen in another life time. Childhood, as he knew it, was over and the man was emerging with each step toward his future.

~*~*~

The first few days had been rougher than he expected. The women in black took his Indian clothing and dressed him in white man’s clothes. They cut his hair, took away his knife, earring and medicine pouch, they even made him sleep in clothing on a raised palette. Little Bird had taught Running Buck some of the white man’s words and they helped him get through those hardest days.

The women in black wanted to know his name, Little Bird had told him his white name was Running Buck so he proudly told the women in black. They seemed puzzled and spoke amongst themselves. The leader came back and told him they would call him Buck. He’d shrugged then he remembered the two wooden sticks tried in the middle. The woman all wore one of them but with a man tried to the sticks. Running Buck pointed to it and the one on top of the building he could see out the window.

“Do you know what this is?” The Leader asked. Running Buck had just looked at her the question still in his eyes. “This is a Crucifix and that is a Cross.” She indicated the end of her rosary and the cross on top of the chapel.

“Cross” Buck repeated after her.

“Well, you needed a surname and I think that suits you, Buck Cross it is. I’m Reverend Mother and this is Sister Agnes and that is Sister Mary Margaret, Welcome home.”

Buck had never felt more alone in his young life. The vision had led him here; the cross, the building, and the women in black they were all here. The vision hadn’t prepared him for the loneliness. The other children seemed afraid of him except for one boy who never spoke; the boy had no hair. This was the boy with no mouth and no hair from his vision. Buck knew this person would be someone important to him but he didn’t know how to make that part of the vision happen. He and the quiet boy were about the same age and were in many of the same classes. Buck struggled through and managed to learn the language rapidly, figures were easy for him and he soon learned he loved to read, write and do sums. The nuns rewarded the children with a trip into town one hot summer afternoon and some of the older boys decided it was the perfect opportunity to give the Indian a beating. They trapped Buck in a small alley and began to taunt him. Things soon got out of control and Buck found himself on the receiving end of a fist. As his head snapped around he noticed the quiet boy beside him taking a swing at the boy who had just punched him. They became fast friends in the infirmary while they recovered from the pounding they took.

Buck became Ike’s voice. They were brothers in every way but blood and together they faced all the trials of adolescence and young adulthood. Ike taught Buck how to behave in the white world and Buck taught Ike how to sign and communicate with others. When Ike turned sixteen he and Buck left the mission school and began life on their own. Buck was pleased to have his knife, medicine pouch and earring returned. Ike had his family Bible and some of his parents’ possessions returned also; his father’s pocket watch and his mother’s locket with a picture of him and his sister. Ike cried and Buck held him. He’d never known that kind of love, maybe someday. The visions had long been forgotten. He painfully repierced his ear and his hair grew longer.

~*~*~

“Orphans Preferred, Hey, Ike, think they’d hire us? Look at the money they’re payin’.” Life hadn’t been easy since they left the mission but they’d survived, barely. It seemed no one wanted a bald mute or a half breed working in their place for long so they were constantly moving. They were not yet seventeen years old.

*It says apply at the Marshal’s office. That’s across the street* Ike read the poster and pointed out the building to Buck who was busy trying to pretend the stares of the people didn’t bother him. Ike grabbed Buck’s coat and turned him toward the office. *Maybe one of us can get hired.*

“You go, I’ll wait outside of town, that shopkeeper wasn’t too friendly and he’s loud.” Buck started to head in the opposite direction when his coat was grabbed again.

*It’s both or neither! Come on Buck, what have we got to loose?* Ike almost dragged Buck into the office.

They were met by a tall man wearing a badge and an older man with a squinty eye. After a few minutes conversation they were told to report to the Shannon place about five miles outside of town. They were told they’d find a hot meal, a hot bath and clean clothes waiting for them. If they worked out they’d have a warm bed and money in their pockets by the weeks end.

~*~*~

The squinty eyed man was Teaspoon Hunter an ex-Texas Ranger and the Station Master. The other riders were Cody, Jimmy, Lou, and Kid. They became friends slowly and family quickly. They learned to rely on each other and work together. Emma Shannon was the glue that held the family together. She was their house mother and loved each of them as if they were her own children.

One day Ike got kicked in the head by a spirited Mustang and Emma held him as she bandaged his head. That night Buck awoke with a start. These were the people of that long ago vision. The red and yellow haired woman was Emma. He knew Ike was the boy with no mouth. Cody was the yellow haired man with the fringed jacket; Jimmy was the man with two guns. Kid was the sandy haired man and that left Lou…. The boy that was a girl…. The more he thought about it the more he was convinced Lou had a huge secret he was keeping from them. Lou was different from the rest of them; extremely private, almost shy. Buck looked over toward Lou’s bunk and saw Lou’s hand hanging over the edge; it was small, almost delicate. Buck stood to look at Lou’s face without the glasses. The blanket covering Lou had been pushed down to his hips. Lou lay on his side the top two buttons of the longjohns were undone. The dim light in the bunkhouse afforded Buck a glimpse at the silhouette of the woman Lou was trying to hide. Buck smiled and gently tucked the blanket around her shoulders. He promised he’d look after her as much as possible without her noticing; after all he was raised to respect women. He’d keep her secret and was sure she had a good reason for going to this extreme. He had to laugh when he realized the shiny ladle of the vision was a teaspoon and he’d completely missed it, Teaspoon Hunter! Buck was destined to be here and while it comforted him it also sent a chill up his spine.

~*~*~

“Teaspoon, where’s Buck?” Kid’s excited voice reached him in the bunkhouse and he met them on the porch.

Kid tossed Teaspoon a shield made of deer hide stretched over a wooden hoop and tied with sinew. The symbols on the shield were meant for Buck. It was a message from his brother Red Bear. Meet him tonight at the fork in the river, alone.

The meeting didn’t go well and yet another part of the vision came to pass. Red Bear slashed Buck’s chest with a bear claw and told him he would show the others his blood and mourn him. Buck was in shock. He stood there holding his torn chest feeling his blood trickle over his fingers as his brother rode away. Red Bear could easily have killed him but he didn’t; Buck wished he had.

The brothers parted both feeling the pain of the meeting that had been shown to them many years before. Red Bear was glad he was alone. He knew that the time to say good bye to Running Buck forever was near. A lone tear danced its way down the war chief’s face as he remembered the child he’d raised and the man he’d become. He loved Running Buck but the traditions of his standing in the tribe prevented him from showing Running Buck. Many times he would have liked to hold the child as he cried after being beaten by the older boys or simply hugged him after Running Buck had learned a skill and showed Red Bear what he’d learned. Running Buck had to learn to be tough; he had to be better than the others. Another tear slipped down Red Bear’s face as he realized that Running Buck had done all he’d asked and more. He was proud of his younger brother.

Buck slept fitfully that night and dreamed of the day in the Sweat Lodge. He saw the visions again over and over but this time when the eagle dropped him he felt someone catch him. He awoke to someone shaking him and calling his name. His eyes snapped open and he looked into Jimmy’s worried face. His face was wet from sweat and tears, Buck hastily wiped his face with the blanket.

“Buck, it’s alright, it was just a dream….you really scared us.” Jimmy stood and Buck looked behind him, the others were all gathered around his bunk. “You OK?”

“Sorry, yeah, I’m fine. I think I’ll get some air…. You all go back to sleep.” Buck saw Ike sign something. “Ike, I’ll be fine, I just need some air.” Buck pulled on his clothes and left the bunkhouse as the others returned to sleep. Jimmy’s words resonated through his mind. Just a dream, Yeah Right.

Two days later Buck found himself riding into the Kiowa village to rescue Ike and hopefully stop a war between the Kiowa and the white men. He didn’t know if he’d ever ride out. He’d found himself in the sweat lodge again and this time his visions were more immediate; the snakes and the eagle were there as well as the beatings. It would all come to pass. The trials lasted several days and somehow Buck managed to live through them. Red Bear held him with great pride as he passed the final trial and reached the top on the rock before the sun. The visions of both men had again come true. His body was bruised and bloodied but still whole and his spirit was declared to be Kiowa. His brother turned him down when he offered to stay and help fight beside him. “Don’t look back” were the last words his brother spoke to him and with those words Buck knew he would never see his brother or his people again. It was with a heavy heart Buck rode out of the village and back to his destiny in the white world.

~*~*~

Buck told Ike everything about the visions and the feelings associated with them. Ike decided that they needed to be written down and he wrote while Buck spoke. They all knew Lou was a girl by this time, well, except for Teaspoon, so he didn’t have to hold back anything. If the vision had come true they wrote in the details. If the vision hadn’t happened yet they left room to add the details. The first one to be filled in was the light haired woman and the kiss. Kathleen Devlin would become a nightmare and left Buck heartbroken; at least there had been no baby. When Rachel arrived she fulfilled the vision of the yellow haired woman hanging the sheets. Buck was hopeful that his interpretation of the kiss vision was wrong and pursued a young white woman held by the Lakota that he helped free. He and Jennifer Tompkins never seemed to get it right those few weeks and she also left him. He did manage the kiss and a bit more before she took the stage East to her mothers family.

Buck tearfully wrote of Ike’s death in the journal and how he now understood why he’d felt so overcome with sadness in the vision of Ike. As Ike’s funeral pyre reached for the stars Buck had a vision of Ike riding off into the sunset smiling and waving. The darkness surrounded him; threatening to swallow him alive. The sadness and loneliness almost consumed him; only the love of his family kept him alive.

Little Bird had come back into his life briefly on her way west to begin her life as the wife of another man. Their paths had diverged and she was happy. He was a good man and she loved him.

Lou and Kid married and Buck once again added this to the journal. He smiled thinking that he’d known all those years ago they would be joined. His worst fears were confirmed a short time later when Noah died in Cody’s arms. The vision didn’t care, good or bad it showed him everything. There was one problem; he had almost reached the end of the visions.

He’d filled in all the pages and there was nothing left. Was his life over? The express had ended months ago and he was working for Teaspoon as a deputy. He’d managed to keep in touch with Jennifer Tompkins but hadn’t heard from her in a few weeks. He was trying to talk her into coming out to visit him. He had some plans he hoped she’d go along with once she finally did visit. He’d saved a good bit of money and had bought some land. He and Kid had gone into to business together and the McCloud Cross ranch was slowly gaining a much deserved reputation as the best place to buy horses. Kid and Lou had their own home and were expecting their first child in a couple of months. Buck’s own home was just down the road from them and he hoped to someday fill it with a family of his own. Why hadn’t the vision shown him anymore? It was really beginning to bother him.

~*~*~

“Penny for your thoughts there, son” Teaspoon’s voice brought Buck back to the present. “What’s eating you lately?”

“I don’t know Teaspoon; I guess it’s just that… well you know those visions I had when I was young?” Buck shrugged and proceeded to tell Teaspoon the whole story and showed him the tattered journal. It was nearly dusk when Teaspoon finished reading the last page.

“You’re worried that all these plans you’ve made or hope to make can’t come true because you didn’t see it when you were twelve?” Teaspoon placed a hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Son, the best advice I can give you now is to go sweat. You’ve added to this over the years haven’t you?” Buck nodded “Well, each time that was after a sweat or a dream, am I right?” Buck nodded again. “Buck, go home tonight sleep and dream and tomorrow build yourself a lodge if you don’t already have one and see if you get any more visions.” Teaspoon patted Buck’s shoulder a couple of times then sat behind his desk. “Well, what are you waiting for? Git!”

“Thanks, Teaspoon, I’ll see you in a couple of days.” Buck left feeling very stupid. Why hadn’t he thought of that? It had always been the solution in the past. He rode home fixed himself some dinner and ate on the porch watching the horses in the corral. Kid and Lou stopped by for coffee a bit later and Lou looked exhausted, the evening walks were becoming a chore as her pregnancy advanced.

“Do you want me to hitch up the wagon or you could stay here over night I’ve got plenty of room.” Buck asked Kid after Lou said she wanted to rest inside a bit. The two friends talked awhile and finally noticed Lou hadn’t come back out. They found her sound asleep on the couch in the parlor. The two men smiled and Lou was carried up stairs to the spare room.

As Buck was tucking the blanket around Lou he touched her and felt movement. He pulled his hand back quickly and startled both Kid and Lou. She looked confused as her eyes blinked open in the dim lamp light. “What’s wrong Buck?”

“I think I felt the baby move…..” he whispered.

“You did, here give me your hand….” Lou took one of Buck’s hands and one of Kid’s and placed them on her rather large tummy.

It only took a moment or two for the baby to let them know it was there and active. Buck was amazed at the feeling of the tiny human child moving inside his friend. He’d felt mares about to foal but this was so different. He looked up at Kid’s face and saw the love Kid and Lou shared shining brightly in their smiles. Buck thanked Lou and quietly left the couple alone. He’d long since decided that the dark haired baby in the vision had been Jennifer’s half brother Two Ponies and not his child. He was sitting on the porch thinking how lucky Kid was when Kid joined him again.

“Is Lou OK?” Buck asked as Kid handed him a fresh cup of coffee. “Thanks”

“Yeah, she’s fine she’s just tired all the time. She tries to do all the things she did before but she just can’t. I can’t get her to stop either, you know Lou.” Both men laughed, neither was about to get Lou angry at them.

“I wish I could be half as happy as you and Lou. I wish you could see the way you two look at each other. I hope I’ll find someone to love me like that someday.” Buck saw Kid nod and look out at the horses.

“I thought you had some plans for a certain Miss Tompkins? Any success there yet?” Kid took a sip of his coffee.

“I thought so, a least for a while but I haven’t heard from her in almost three months. She’s moved around a lot and had some hard times. I’ve sent her money a few times and I’ve offered to pay her way back here, Hell, I offered to go get her. She keeps saying she can’t face her father. I don’t understand that totally but I don’t know what was said between them before she left. He knows I’ve kept in contact with her and asks about her once in awhile. I don’t know, Kid. Am I asking too much to want a wife and children?” Buck stared out as a mare nuzzled her colt near the fence. “Let’s get them inside for the night and get a good night’s sleep.” Buck stood and headed for the corral. He wondered if he’d ever hold his own child.

“If it’s meant to be Buck, it will be. Maybe with Jen maybe not, you’re a good man and sooner or later I believe good things happen to good people.” Kid patted Buck on the back as they shooed the horses into the barn.

~*~*~

Buck’s dreams that night were filled with visions of Jennifer and babies. He figured it was all because of the conversation he’d had with Kid earlier in the evening. He awoke to the smell of bacon cooking and coffee brewing. He’d dressed hurriedly and found Lou in his kitchen making breakfast for them. Kid joined them a moment later and the day started with plenty of good food and great company. After breakfast Lou and Kid left for home and Buck intended to build or rather repair his sweat lodge; the winter hadn’t been kind. He was almost to the barn when he heard a horse coming fast.

“Buck, Buck, You gotta come quick, some bank robbers robbed the bank and shot the Marshal! Dep’ty Barnet tolt me to fetch you.” Little Timmy Waters breathlessly delivered his message. The child wanted to be a deputy and idolized Buck and Kid. “I ‘ready tolt Mr. Kid. He said he’d be waiting on you at his place. Can I come?”

“You can ride back to the McCloud’s with me but your horse needs to cool down before you go anywhere further. Remember you have to take care of the horse.” Buck quickly saddled his horse and rode over to meet Kid. Together they rode into town, Timmy stayed with Lou, who promised a batch of cookies if he’d stay behind with her. The last thing the men needed was a dead ten year old hero.

“Seems a bit quiet for a town that just had its’ bank robbed, don’t it Buck?” Kid said as they rode into town stopping at the marshal’s office.

“I’m gonna shoot Barnett myself if he’s called us out on a wild goose chase.” Buck grumbled.

They opened the door to the jail and found Teaspoon sitting at his desk with the doctor bandaging his foot. Old Mr. and Mrs. Palmer were yelling and gesturing wildly at Barnett who somehow managed to look even more confused than normal.

“Kid, would you escort the Palmers home please and Buck, would you get that man out of here before I loose my temper and SHOOT HIM?” Teaspoon shot Barnett a look that would have sent most men running. Barnett just half smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Teaspoon growled.

Buck and Kid hurried to do as Teaspoon said both wondering what in the world had happened. Buck found out from Barnett that he had been in the bank and mistook Mr. Palmer asking, somewhat loudly due to his deafness, for some money as a demand to rob the bank. Mrs. Palmer had reached in her bag for her coin purse and in the meantime removed her knitting needles. Barnet thought it was a gun and pulled his, firing two shots. The only thing Barnet managed to hit was the base of the flag pole which deflected the bullet into the framed picture over the door; it fell onto Teaspoon’s foot as he entered the bank. Buck figured Teaspoon should have shot Barnet then and there but wondered why he didn’t.

“I’m sorry you’ll have to work for me the next couple of weeks until this foot heals up, Buck. If you find an excuse to shoot that idiot, be my guest” Teaspoon spluttered as Rachel fussed over him back at their home. Kid had helped calm the elderly couple down when he brought them home. Kid had offered to do their banking and pay their bills the next day; they had accepted and invited him and Lou to dinner. It was all Kid could do to keep Teaspoon in the wagon seat for the short ride to the old bunkhouse; he was still fuming over Barnett. Buck was filling Rachel in on all the details and trying to keep a straight face as she laughed till she cried. Kid thought Lou would have the baby right there when he told her.

Buck forgot about the vision for the next couple of weeks.

~*~*~

“Hello? Err… Hi, I was just riding in along the stage trail and came up on the stage.” The stranger had knocked then entered the office where Buck was reading a book.

“Yes, please go on, it is a bit late, has something happened?” Buck looked at the clock on the wall and realized the stage was over 5 hours late.

“It’s about a half days ride from here, maybe a bit more, but the axle shattered when it fell over in a ditch or maybe that’s why it fell in the ditch I guess it could have hit a rut.” Buck cleared his throat loudly. “And, well, anyway it happened, the stage driver asked if I could let them know at the next town, well that’s you.” The stranger finished talking and stood worrying the brim of his hat.

“Do they need help or was he just letting us know why he’s late?” Was this stranger related to Barnett, Buck wondered. This conversation was painfully slow.

“I ‘spect they could use a hand there was a woman with a baby and an older man with a little girl.” The stranger looked up at Buck like he’d done something wrong.

“Are they hurt do I need to send the doc out to them or just a wagon to get them.” Buck was loosing his patience.

“The other man looked like a gun fighter and said his name was Jimmy, he said to axe fer Teaspoon. He said he’d send help.” Buck’s attention was suddenly reverted to the stranger. He got the exact location of the stage thanked the man and ushered him out of the office. Reluctantly Buck left Barnett in charge with the order “try not to shoot anything while I’m gone” and got Kid and some supplies they’d need to help the stranded passengers.

The Doc and Kid each drove a wagon while Buck had ridden ahead to let them know help was on the way. Buck was in for a shock. He arrived just as dawn broke and entered the makeshift camp. The stage lay on its side, the baggage piled neatly over to one side. The horses grazed peacefully nearby, including a familiar palomino. There were a couple of people that appeared to be sleeping under blankets but Buck decided to opt for caution. He was about to draw his gun when he saw the stage driver and Jimmy over by a small fire. Jimmy motioned him over.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes, I was expecting Teaspoon.” Jimmy grinned at Buck.

“The kids are still asleep; the girl’s father is hurt but not badly. The mother and her baby are OK save for a few minor cuts and bumps.” The stage driver began before Buck could say anything.

“Jimmy, it’s been awhile, too long. How the hell are you?” The two friends embraced. Buck pulled back and looked Jimmy over. “Are you hurt? The last time you rode in on a stage you had a hole in your leg and us brought Noah.”

“I’m fine Buck, but I did bring someone with me this time too.” Jimmy’s eyes looked at something behind Buck. Buck spun around and thought he saw a ghost.

“Eagle Feather? Jennifer?” Buck looked at Jimmy who nodded. Buck was across the camp in an instant and took the woman into his arms. She was rail thin. “I’ve been worried about you? Why didn’t you write to me and tell me you were coming? I would have sent you money or met you somewhere. You’re so thin are you sick?” He stopped talking when he saw she was crying.

“I’m so sorry Buck. I just couldn’t go on living a lie.” Jennifer tried to push away from him but Buck held her tightly.

Jimmy approached the couple. “I found her outside of Richmond living in a shanty. This War is miserable Buck and it’s even harder on the women with small children. I convinced her to at least see you and hopefully you can talk some sense into her, if not you than Rachel or Lou. I couldn’t let her travel alone so here we all are. Jennifer…..” Jimmy gently touched her arm.

The rest of the camp was stirring and a small cry was heard coming from the stage. Jennifer managed to pull away from Buck and reached into the overturned stage. She returned with a sleepy, healthy looking, toddler not yet a year old. The baby had straight dark brown hair and deep brown eyes; his skin was a light golden tan. “Buck, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, I wanted to but I was afraid to and then you started sounding like you wanted to have me in your life and I got scared.” She was crying again.

Buck was doing some quick math and no matter how he counted it always came out the same. This had to be his child. “Jennifer, is he mine?” She nodded and was shocked when she felt Buck’s lips kiss the top of her head. She raised her face up to look at him and saw tears in his eyes. “I’m the one who’s sorry, Jen. I’m sorry you didn’t feel like you could tell me about him. Did you think I wouldn’t want you both?” Buck was holding them both in his arms and the rest of the camp smiled on them. Buck turned to Jimmy, “Thank-you, Jimmy, thank-you so much….”

It was mid morning when the Doc and Kid finally reached the site of the accident. They quickly loaded the passengers and stage driver into the wagons giving them each a good once over for injuries, and headed back to Rock Creek. Buck carried his son almost the whole way.

~*~*~

The years passed and life moved on, Buck and Jen had four more children. Kid and Lou had six including two sets of twins. The ranch prospered and Tompkins finally realized that “that low life half breed” was actually a really wonderful man who loved his daughter and their children with all his heart. He even reluctantly admitted to Teaspoon once that Buck was the type of father he always hoped he could have been but wasn’t. Buck admitted Tompkins made a really great grandpa. The journal of the visions was read and reread so many times Jen had to recopy it so it could still be read by the grandchildren and there were twenty-one of them.

finis

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