Buck sat staring at the flames. His mind was somewhere else besides the fire he seemed to be tending. Every now and then he would poke at the coals with a stick, add another branch. He seemed to be looking for answers to all his troubles, deep in the flames.
Ike glanced at his friend. He was very unsure of what was troubling his friend, but had an idea it might have something to do with Lou. He knew Buck had not slept well these past few nights and possibly longer than just the return trip from Fort Laramie; but usually no one slept well on the hard ground. But Buck had also not spoken hardly a word during what was to be a 5-day run.
They had left Sweetwater with important documents for the Army at Fort Laramie. They had waited 3 days for the Colonel's reply and were now on the 2-day return trip. They were already 2 days overdue. Ike was sure Teaspoon was concerned. They should have been back yesterday, at the latest.
As Ike sat writing in his journal, he was lost in his own thoughts of the past events in his life. But, every night was the same. He was awakened by the sounds of Buck hollering in his native tongue. He knew by the distress in his friends' voice, Buck was scared. He was usually able to calm Buck with the simple caress and touch of his hand. But last night had been different and Buck was still not talking. Buck had hollered out in his sleep several times, though, last night was not in his native tongue. Last night he had hollered for Louise. He was scared. Ike tried to make out what Buck was hollering but only caught a few words: 'love you,' 'don't,' and 'kill me,' his last words leaving Ike in a cold sweat. Ike frantically awoke his friend and tried to find out what was troubling him. But, Buck still wasn't talking. Only replying "it was Just a bad dream". But Ike knew the importance that Buck put in his dreams.
"I think I'll turn in" Buck looked at Ike, climbing into his bedroll. "Good night."
Ike watched Buck for several seconds then signed, ~When you can take it no more, I'm here.~
"Thanks buddy. But I'm okay, really. Just tired of sleeping on this hard ground." Buck said with a smile and climbed into his bedroll.
~We will be in Sweetwater by tomorrow afternoon,~ Ike signed with a smile and noticed the tired look in his friends' eyes, in his face.
Buck only smiled and climbed into bed.
Ike and Buck had traveled many long and difficult roads in the few short years they had known each other; but the fear and unusual quietness that seemed to overpower Buck, scared Ike. It was Buck's nature not to talk about his problems, but eventually he would open up to Ike. They shared their lives in many ways. But Buck had been quiet an unusually long time. When he tried to think back to when he noticed a change in Buck, he couldn't place and exact date on it, but it had seemed to start soon after the wedding.
Ike watched as Buck curled up on his side and went to sleep. After several minutes, he recognized Buck's even peaceful breathing and said a small prayer for his friend for a quiet and peaceful rest. He knew that Buck and Lou had become close over these last few months. But up until now, he had been unsure of just how close.
As he watched Buck sleep, he thought back over the last few months. He wondered if Lou and Buck had consummated their relationship. But immediately thought ~no~. Ike knew that in the eyes of his Kiowa brother, when a relationship was consummated, it was the same as a marriage in the white world. He knew that Buck and Louise had not gone that far. That he was sure of. Ike's thoughts continued to drift.
Over the last 10 months, Kid and Lou had slowly fallen out of love. Kid, was hell-bent on returning to Virginia to fight in the war and Lou could not understand why. With the war and Kid's determined idea to go and fight for 'the cause,' Lou could not understand why Kid was so overprotective. "If he is going off to fight in the war, why is he always checking up on me? Wouldn't the war be more dangerous?"
Kid was constantly checking on her. Checking her cinch and Lightning's shoes, assuring she had enough shot for travel and possible gun-battle, making sure she knew where she was going and how many days before she was due back. He often asked Teaspoon if one of the other riders could take the longer mail deliveries, especially through dangerous territory. He was slowly suffocating her, but he only saw it as loving her.
Over the last 10 months, many words of anger had exchanged between the two. One of the last incidents that Ike remembers is Lou shouting, "Why don't you stop being my mom and start being my man!!" Everyone at the station house was aware the relationship was dying.
But it was Buck who was able to comfort Lou and it was Buck whom she always turned. Ike had seen them walking and talking on many occasions. Buck even escorted her to the last dance they had all attended. Ike knew that they were getting closer, but still, "just how close."
Just after the wedding, between Ike and Emily, everyone awoke to find that Kid had left for Virginia with his beloved Katy. A note on the table in the bunkhouse offered few words of comfort for the family, about his plan.
Dearest Family, I know this war is tearing us apart. But, it is something that I must do. Buck, please take care of Louise and make her happy. I see that fire back in her eyes when she is with you.
Ike brought his attention back to his journal. He was thinking and writing of Emily; his thoughts of her, the events of the past several months, everything still so vivid in his mind. The dance and the evening they had spent in each others arms; the death of her father; the shooting; the fear he felt when he knew that Emily was on her way to the saloon, knowing what her plan was; trying to get there before anything happened to her.
He can still remember running. Running fast; his lungs ready to explode; slamming through the saloon door; colliding with Emily. Then the pain and burning he felt as he fired wildly, unsure if he hit anything. Then blackness.
He awoke days later. On a bed, in the house at the Sweetwater weigh station, unsure of when and how he got there. His first thought of Emily. Buck was there, asleep in the chair next to him. When he tried to move, blackness overtook him again, but not before he felt Buck's grip on his arm and heard "Ike, can you hear me".
How many days he laid there, he didn't know. He remembers waking again to see Emily the next time, asleep in the chair next to him holding his hand. He squeezed her hand and she awoke, tears in her eyes. He layed quietly and gripped her hand, trying to stay awake. Fighting against the blackness. The fear that coursed through him as he thought he had almost lost her.
After what seemed like many days of drifting in and out of sometimes painful slumber, he was awake. Fully awake. He lifted his hands and slowly and meticulously signed, ~ I love you, will you marry me?~ Within minutes of waking up, after Emily's words of surprise had alerted Emma and Buck that Ike was awake, Emily said "yes".
Life continued to move. Ike grew stronger everyday with the help of Emily, Lou and Buck. Slowly he regained his strength.
They soon discovered that after one night of passion, Emily was expecting. Ike was thrilled beyond life. He made a promise to himself and to Emily to take care of her and the baby. Ike and Emily were married in the meadow where he wanted to build their house. Ike's meadow, they called it. It was situated not far from the station house. It was a blue-green sea full of wild flowers.
It has been almost 3 months since the shooting and 1 since the wedding. Emily was close to 3 months along and her pregnancy was going well. They had also started building a house in Ike's meadow. A large house for Ike and Emily and all the children they had planned to have. With all the riders helping, save Kid who was in Virginia, the house was going up quickly.
On the first floor a roomy kitchen with washroom in the back, a sitting room, an office of sorts with another smaller room off the sitting room for occasions that arose. Upstairs were 4 bedrooms with the largest bedroom for Ike and Emily that looked out over Ike's meadow.
A corral, a barn, a bunkhouse and a house for Buck were also planned.
Buck and Ike talked about starting a horse ranch, something they had talked about since the orphanage. They had also spoken to each other about having the other riders build and stay on as partners. But they had not spoken to others about this just yet.
Ike finished with his journal entries and made his bedroll ready to lie down for the night. He was pulled from his own thoughts by the moaning and thrashing of his friend. The dreams had started again. He watched Buck, bathed in a fine glistening sweat. Buck hollered for Louise and raged at Stands-Alone. Ike's blood ran cold. He knew who this 'Stands-Alone' was. He understood, to some extent, why Buck was in such a state of panic as he slept. He knew of some of Buck's life with the Kiowa and the threat that Stands-Alone posed.
Ike's mind drifted back to when he and Buck had just left the mission home.
They had not been on their own for long. They had stopped next to a stream for the night and Buck mentioned that his Kiowa village was not far from where they camped, but stating no more. As they made camp, he appeared. Seeming to materialize from thin air. He sat on a chestnut brown stallion, his long black hair blowing in the breeze. He watched. He stared at Buck.
"You dare to return. I see you have no mate," his English broken and fragmented. " But, I see all that will have you." Indicating to Ike with a nod and an evil expression. "Do not forget my promise to you, Running Buck," and with that he was gone, just as quick as he had appeared.
Ike looked at Buck, for any sign of recognition or explanation of the encounter. It had taken Buck several days to finally tell Ike who this Indian was. Ike new the grip of fear that Stands-Alone held over Buck.
As he moved to comfort his friend and wake him from his nightmare, Buck rose straight up and lunged at Ike.
Ike had no time to defend himself. He was scared. He had never seen such rage and anger on his friends face before. Buck's eyes were glazed over. Ike could see anger, he could see fury and for the first time since he had met Buck, he could see a savage Indian. Ike tried to awaken him, but then Buck was over him, his knife raised.
Just when Ike thought Buck was going kill him, he felt a rock with his right hand. He picked it up and struck his best friend in the head. The blow to Buck's head sent him reeling, sprawled in the dirt.
Buck slowly arose, blood running from his left temple. He was aware his knife was out and momentarily thought of Stands-Alone. He wildly looked around, only to find Ike near him. Then he saw the fright in his best friends eyes as Ike slid across the hard ground, getting farther away from Buck. "Ike…" Buck started and then glanced at his knife. He slowly realized what he had done and dropped the knife and stared at Ike.
Buck realized he had been dreaming that Stands-Alone was here and he had tried to strike out against him in his sleep.
Buck looked at Ike and apologized over and over. "I'm sorry Ike. I'm so sorry. I can't stop this Ike, I can't save her." Ike slowly moved to Buck and knelt beside him.
Tentatively he touched at Buck's temple. He removed his red bandana from his head and cleaned the wound that he had caused. Tears rolling slowly down his face for the damage he had caused to Buck and the despair of his friend. He hugged Buck to his chest and rocked him gently.
Buck sobbed into the chest of his best friend. "I don't think I can keep her safe. He is coming. He promised me years ago he would make me suffer."
Ike sat Buck up so he could watch him sign. ~I think it's time to tell me what these dreams are about. I already know they involve you, Louise and Stands-Alone. It's been over 5 years since you left the Kiowa village. Do you think he would know where to find you?~
Buck dropped his gaze to the ground. He could not believe he had attacked his very best friend. He sat for several minutes trying to get his breathing and emotions under control.
"My brother has sent for me. The village knows I ride for the Pony Express. I am sure that Stands-Alone would know also."
There was a silence and Ike thought Buck would not continue. Buck when did continue, his voice was low and monotone. "The dream is set in the future. It must be several years into the future. We are at the weigh station, Lou is there and there are children…. and Stands-Alone comes..." With his head now in his hands, Ike has to strain to hear the last of Buck's words. Buck slowly raises his head and Ike can see the pain written across his face. "He takes her Ike, he kills her and I can't do anything except watch as he..." Buck's voice trails off.
Ike didn't need to hear the rest. He knew what Stands-Alone had promised, he saw the anger and heard the malice in his voice many years ago.
The two friends had sat up most of the night and talked, neither able to sleep, both trying to comfort the other. When the sky turned from and inky black to a faded grey, they decided to break camp and continue on to the weigh station.
As the two riders approached the Weigh Station, they slowed their mounts and stopped. Ike watched as Emily and Louise stood by the corral. He tapped Buck on the shoulder and signed. ~You need to tell Lou all of this. She will be able to see right through you and know that something is wrong. You made a promise to her to always trust her judgment.~
"I know Ike. But do you think you could tell Emily, that in the future she was going to die and the only thing you could do was watch as it happened?' Buck sighed. He hated keeping things from Lou. He knew one of the reasons her and Kid had split up was because Kid was always trying to protect her. He had made a promise to himself, that if this relationship endured, then he would always be honest with Lou, always make her happy and never try to smother out the fire he knew that raged in her. The fire and the strength that he loved, that he admired in the petite rider.
"Well look who's finally back." Emily said with a smile.
Louise turned her gaze the direction of Emily's and watched as the two riders approached and as they stopped and talked. It was Emily who watched as Ike signed and she wondered if her best friend had also caught what Ike was signing. As Emily turned to direct Lou's attention back to the corral and the newborn colt, she caught the expression on Lou's face and thought that Lou had also seen, but was unsure of how much.
Lou directed her attention back to the corral and the colt, but she wasn't seeing the colt. She was lost in her own thoughts. She had seen all that Ike had signed and felt as though she was intruding, eaves dropping on a conversation between friends. But she had seen enough to know that Buck was troubled and was keeping something from her. 'He made a promise to me, to always be honest,' she thought with a fire burning in the pit of her stomach.
She didn't hear the two riders come into the station, and was startled when Buck drew her into his arms.
"I missed you," Buck whispered in her ear and nuzzled her neck. Lou was still watching the colt, not making eye contact with Buck. She didn't cover his hand with hers, or make a move to let Buck know that she was even aware that he was there.
"That's a beautiful sight." Buck managed to say while still holding Lou in his arms and noticing the tension rising in her petite frame.
"Yeah, she's a beauty, huh." Was Lou's reply, not turning at all to welcome Buck home. " You must be hungry, I'll get you a bite to eat before supper. Rachel won't be home for an hour or so. You get washed up and tend to Warrior." With that said, Lou walked to the Station house to fix the boys something to eat.
Buck stood at the corral holding the reins to Warrior and watching Lou go.
"I think she knows that something is up. We were watching you when Ike signed 'you need to tell Lou.' " Emily explained to Buck that she wasn't sure if Lou had witnessed the conversation between the two riders, but now with her behaviors of moments ago, she was sure Lou had seen it all.
Ike looked at Buck. He felt a horrible weight on his shoulders for putting his best friend in the situation he was in. ~I'm sorry, Buck~.
"No Ike. It's me that should be apologizing. I have hurt two of the people who are most important in my life." He stood a moment and watched the house. "I need to go and talk to Lou."
"We'll take care of the horses, Buck. You go ahead." Smiled Emily as she and Ike headed for the barn.
Buck smiled and handed the reins to Emily, he took a deep breath and thought of all the he needed to tell Lou. He needed to tell Lou everything, and he needed to start with his past. He needed to let her know that she was the most important thing in his life. Without her, he would be nothing, lost, wandering incomplete.
As he stood by the corral fence watching the newborn colt play and run around its momma, Buck couldn't help but think of another time in his life, when he was much younger and helping with the horses at his Kiowa village. Horses were considered value among his people. The more Indian ponies a brave had, the richer he was.
One of Buck's responsibilities growing up, part of his challenges to meet as he prepared for manhood, was to watch over the Indian ponies. As with everything that Buck did, he did it to prove himself worthy of being a Kiowa brave and he did it to please his brother, Red Bear.
He remembered watching the herd and feeling as though something was not right. The ponies were getting restless, agitated and anxious. As Buck tried to get the horses to settle and find out what was spooking them, he saw Stands-Alone and his friends running at the horses and scaring them. They were flapping buckskins and running at the horses, laughing quietly and not saying a word. As Buck ran at the boys, he realized, to late, that he should not have run into the middle of the spooked heard of horses. As he ran at Stands-Alone, he was thrown off balance by stomping and rearing horses. He remembers Stands-Alone laughing, pain in his arm as he tried to shield himself from pounding hooves and then nothing.
He awoke in his mother's teepee, his head pounding, his arm splinted. He tried to lift his head and explain to his mother and to Red Bear what had happened, but of course no one was listening. His mother only soothed him and bade him to rest. His brother only stood, no emotion on his face, looking at Running Buck. Buck could take all the pain and the broken bones, but the look from his brother, he would rather be dead.
As he leaned on the corral fence, he hadn't heard anyone approaching.
Buck spun on his heel with his hand on the butt of his gun, a wild look in his eyes.
"Whoa son. I didn't mean to startle ya…. and there ain't no need for that." Slowly and calmly Teaspoon said, pointing to Buck's hand on his gun. "Somethin' gnawin' at you son"
Buck pulled from the memory of the past and cleared his head.
"I'm sorry, Teaspoon. I didn't hear you come up"
"I guessed that. What's eaten ya son? You can hear a rabbit shake its tail at 20 paces. You okay?" Teaspoon laid a hand on Bucks shoulder and looked at Buck and noticed his eyes coming back into focus. Of all his riders, Teaspoon knew that Buck wouldn't talk until he was good and ready. He knew Buck dealt with some pretty serious ghosts of his past and he knew that Buck and Lou were growing closer. But he also knew that something kept holding Buck back, and kept pushing Lou closer. He just hoped Lou was patient with Buck and wouldn't push to hard.
"I'm okay Teaspoon. Guess I better get cleaned up. Lou's gettin' me and Ike a bite to eat." Buck tried to smile as he headed for the washbasin on the porch of the weigh station.
'Delivery go okay in Laramie?' Teaspoon asked as Buck headed to the house.
'Yeah. Not a hitch.' Buck replied.
As Teaspoon watched Buck walk to the porch he mumbled quietly to himself, 'Not a hitch, huh. Then how did you get that knot on your head?' He hoped his quiet rider would come clean with Lou and tell her what was troubling him. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
As Buck walked to the house, he tried to figure out, in his head, what he was going to tell Lou. He thought of the times he had tried to tell his brother of all the things that Stands-alone had done as they were growing up. Buck remembered when he saw his brother not long ago again he tried to tell him that he was not welcome in the village, that many in the village did not see him as Kiowa. But still, Red Bear believed that because he himself had accepted Buck as his half-brother, that the village would accept him also. As Buck argued with his brother over his heritage, Red Bear argued that there was "nothing to see." Buck regretted leaving his brother and not returning to the village with him as he had wanted, but Buck knew he could not return to a life to fear, hatred and looks that he got from the others in the village.
As Buck stood on the porch he remembered Stands-Alone and his friends holding him under water in the stream, telling his brother when he found them, they were only trying to help Buck learn to swim. Of another time when they were learning to hunt and the arrow that had pierced Buck's leg. The tribal teachers questioning all the other young braves and Stands-Alone telling them that he had thought Buck was a rabbit. Stating that he had made a mistake and did not mean to hit Running Buck. But Buck remembered the laughter as he spun around and the arrow hitting him, piercing his thigh like a hot iron. He remembered the words the other boys hollered about "half-breeds" learning to hunt. Words that hurt a young brave.
He also remembered the day he had shamed Stands-Alone in front of almost the entire village, when Little Foot had chosen Running Buck and not Stands-Alone. Buck remembers the look Stands-Alone had on his face and he remembers the fear that coursed through him as he watched Stands-Alone's eyes. But before anything had progressed between Little Foot and Running Buck, the sickness had taken Little Foot. Little Foot had suffered through bouts of coughing and difficult breathing; through high fevers and chills. But all the prayers and medicines that the Shaman offered were not enough. Little Foot was dead.
Buck remembered Stands-Alone coming to him after finding out that Little Foot was dead and Stands-Alone blaming Running Buck and vowing to seek revenge for losing Little Foot. "I will come for you and your mate. I will make you suffer as you now make me suffer, I will kill her while you wait and watch" was all that Stands-Alone had said and then turned and walked away.
Not long after that, the village was attacked, Running Buck's mother was killed and many others. Red Bear came to Running Buck and had suggested that he leave the village to seek the ways of the white man and learn about the other half of his heart. Running Buck was just 13 summers and he had no idea what to do or where to go.
It was that summer he met Ike McSwain.
Buck sat on the porch swing, not knowing how or when he had gotten there. He could hear Lou in the kitchen and knew she probably wondered where he was. He needed to speak with her. To tell her he loved her and that his past was holding him back from truly loving her, making her, his own. He wanted to hold Lou and love her like he had done so many times in his dreams and in his mind. He needed to tell Lou that he needed to take this relationship to the next level, to take her as his wife. He wanted to love her slowly and bring her pleasures….
Buck's thoughts were interrupted when he heard the front door slam and saw Lou walking to him holding a plate of food and a cup of coffee.
"There you are. I've got you a bite to eat" Lou handed the plate to Buck and set the coffee on the table beside the swing. She sat down on the swing at the opposite end and looked at Buck. Buck took the plate and smiled his thanks and took note of the space between them.
"Ike and Emily are in the kitchen. I thought I would come and join you and see what is it that Ike says you need to tell me" Lou said looking into those dark brown eyes, losing herself in the love that she felt for this man.
Buck stared into the brown eyes of Lou and he wondered how he ever was able to get so lucky as to get Louise to love him. She wasn't concerned with the color of his skin or his Kiowa ways. She never thought of him as a half-breed, or rolled her eyes at his Kiowa beliefs and customs. She often asked Buck about his beliefs and customs, wanting to learn; asking about the customs of marriage, child rearing, religion and the Gods that the Kiowa believed in. He loved that Lou took the time to learn Indian sign language that Buck had taught to Ike, so that she could converse with Ike. She now in turn was helping Emily.
As he stared into Lou's eyes, he lost all thought of food, coffee and the surroundings.
He jumped just slightly when he felt Lou's hand on his temple. He winced slightly as she touched the wound with her thumb "What happened out there?" She asked as Buck raised his hand and took hers in his own.
"It's nothing, I'm fine."
"You look like you got knocked in the head with a rock and you say it's nothing. Well it looks like a bit of something to me, cowboy." She smiled and went to get a cool cloth, but Buck raised and stopped her. He wrapped her in his arms.
"It can wait, this can't." Buck tried to steady his voice, but he knew that Lou heard the wavering. He pulled away from her and turned. He took a deep breath and tried to think where to begin.
"I love you Lou and I want you to know that I would die for you. Sometimes I love you so much it hurts. It hurts to know that what my love for you…." His breath caught in his throat. Slowly he turned but would not look at Lou. "…could do to you" He finished quietly, looking at the floorboards of the porch.
Lou walked to Buck quickly and wrapped her arms around him. "Buck, your love can only make me stronger, better and more complete. You could never hurt me"
Buck wrapped Lou in his arms and lowered his chin to her head. "I need to tell you some things about my past that will be important to you, to us."
Lou could hear Buck's heart beating as if it might beat right through his chest wall. She felt him tremble as he said these words. She hugged him tighter and tried to hold back the tears that threatened to fall.
"Buck there is nothing in your past that we can not face together. I love you and all I want is to be your wife, to be with you, to hold you and love you, to raise a family and grow old with you." Lou raised her tear-streaked face to Buck and reached on her tiptoes and kissed him lightly on the lips. Lou slid her hand to his hair and held him as she kissed harder with all the passion her petite frame could muster.
"Walk with me" and Buck took her by the hand and they walked down the steps and off across the station, heading to their spot in the meadow by the pond.
As they walked, Buck started to explain his life growing up as a half-breed in the Kiowa village.
"When I was born, many of the other women of our tribe, were angry with my mother for not leaving me in the forest to die and be scattered by the wolves. I was a half-breed. The man who took my mother was white. The people of my tribe did not and still do not trust the white man." "Growing up, my mother always kept me near her to protect me from the other people in the village. The other boys in the village would call me names and try to hurt me. Many time they succeeded." As Buck continued to tell Lou about his past, Lou walked quietly beside and held his hand. Gripping his hand tightly as if somehow to give him the strength to go on. He explained the times that Stands-Alone and his band of thugs had tried unsuccessfully to drown him, the arrow that had pierced his thigh, the horses and the injuries. Lou stayed as quiet as possible so as not to interrupt Buck, but occasionally a sob and gasp would escape.
"There were many times when bad things happened in the village, the finger of blame was pointed to me. My mother was always there to comfort me and reassure me that I was not to blame, but I was very young. My brother was there, but the reassurance always came from my mother."
"As the young braves go through training to learn to hunt, fight and how to be a man; many of the young girls will make subtle motions or movements to these young braves to let them know that they would welcome them to pursue an interest of life together. They might bring them a drink of water on a hot day, or offer a dish cooked, to the hearth of that family." As they walked, Lou could feel the tremors in Buck's hand as he steadied himself to continue.
Lou stopped and turned to look at Buck and he saw tears rolling down her cheeks and a love so strong he did not think he could continue. But he had made a promise and no matter what, he did not want to break that promise and lose Louise.
Buck turned from Lou and continued. "I grew up with a girl named Little Foot. She was from a family with less status than mine. My family's status was heightened because Red Bear would be War Chief one day. No one held that high status in regards to me, because I was only a half-breed." Buck shuffled his feet and watched the ground.
Lou could only stay rooted to the ground. She didn't understand what this had to do with her, with them. "What does that have to do with the love that we have for each other. That won't stop me from loving you, that won't stop me from loving you the way I want to love you."
Buck held back the emotions that were threatening to burst. All he wanted to do was hold Louise and make her, his own. But he needed to tell her of the danger that the love he had for her, put her in.
He turned, a single tear rolling down his cheek. "This is the part that I can't fix. This is why my love for you will only put you in danger. In so much danger, I don't think I can stop it."
"Buck, you are scaring me." Lou was sobbing now. She stood beside Buck with her arms wrapped around herself, cold though the late afternoon was bright and warm.
Buck slowly looked her in the eye. When he spoke it was so void of emotion that Lou thought that someone else spoke the words that she saw formed through Bucks mouth. "When Little Foot made her intentions known at our hearth, Stands-Alone became angry with me. He threatened to kill me if I took Little Foot as my wife or kept him from having her. In the winter months of that same year, Little Foot became ill. She was so sick. The medicine man of my village tried to save her and others, but she died. Stands-Alone took his grief and anger out on me and threatened…" Buck couldn't go on. He sunk to his knees with his head in his hands.
Lou felt a fear that clutched at her very being. She knew what was coming. Stands-Alone had threatened Buck's future of happiness, which was her. Lou was beside him. She held his head in her hands and turned his face up to meets hers. "Buck! Buck! What did he threaten to do? You have to tell me to put an end to this. Buck! What did he threaten to do?" Lou was almost shouting.
Buck looked at Lou, his Louise. Tears stained his face. All the emotion that had drained from him earlier now raged as he sobbed uncontrollably. "He said he would find me. Find my mate, and… and… It was the dream," Buck reasoned. He thought that if he could explain the dream to Lou, that she would understand and know the importance he placed on this dream. "They started not long after Kid left for Virginia. When I knew we had a chance. He is coming Louise. He will find us, and I can't stop him, I can't save you."
Lou held onto Buck, his body shaking and sobbing, her head spinning with disbelief.
They sat there for a long time. Buck continued to sob and release all the pent up emotion of these past months. The sun was sinking lower into the horizon when Buck sat up. He seemed to have regained some emotional strength and made his next statement so as not to let Louise know that these words were killing him, crushing his insides. He could barely breath, but he needed to know, he needed to know what to do.
"I'll understand if you want me to go. I will leave now and never return." Buck stared at the dirt, he could not look her in the eye and witness the pain he was putting her through. The statement was hushed, barely a whisper. So low, Louise had to strain to hear.
She sat up straight and lifted Buck's chin to look him straight in the eye. The love she had for this man was so strong she had a very hard time controlling her emotions and her breathing. "There is nothing in this world that will keep me from loving you." Though her face was tear streaked and dirty, she had a small smile on her face as she caressed his cheek, brushing his hair back from his face. His pain ravaged face. "I don't want you to go anywhere. I can't live my life without you. If you left I would wander aimlessly, be lost and incomplete. Please don't leave me." She rose to her knees and kissed him with a passion that she felt to her soul.
Buck held her in his arms, caressed her softly, his emotions free and undaunted by dreams and nightmares. He pulled back from her, both breathless and relieved. She didn't want him to leave.
He stood and offered her a hand in assistance.
They continued to walk, holding each other. They found themselves in Ike's meadow, beside the pond. Buck lifted her and kissed her with a fire and passion that surprised Lou. "I love you Louise." Was all she heard as she became lost in his dark brown eyes and her fingers became tangled in his hair.
"Never will I let anyone hurt you. You are my strength and my light." Buck reached into his pocket and pulled out a tattered bandana, stooped at the side of the pond and wet the bandana. Turning back to face Louise, he washed all the tears that stained her dirt streaked face. "I promise my life to you. I promise I will protect you. I promise a future to you of love and devotion."
As Buck finished wiping Lou's tears, she took the bandana from him and wiped away his tears. She looked up at him and smiled and repeated his words back to him. "I promise my life to you." She placed a kiss on his cheek. "I promise I will protect you," a second kiss on his other cheek. "I promise a future of love and devotion." Her hands came up behind his head and she drew his lips to hers. Buck wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up and off the ground.
Lou was lost, floating somewhere between heaven and bliss. Her body responding in ways she could not control. Ways she had never experienced.
Slowly he lowered her to the ground. Never leaving her gaze.
She slid her hand down his chest and a low moan escaped from Buck's lips. Lou smiled and moved her hands to undo the buttons of his shirt. She tugged his log johns from his waistband and she opened his shirt, sliding her hands down his shoulders dropping his shirt, his vest, where they fell. She slid her hands under his long johns and lifted it over his head. She leaned forward and kissed his work-hardened chest as her hands caressed down his arms.
"Lou," was all she heard of his soft whispered voice as he lifted her into his arms. His scent was so familiar to her. She had waited so long for this moment. To taste, explore, and love. She raised her head and kissed him again and was met with a passion that exceeded her own.
Buck was carrying her, walking to the shade of the trees at the waters edge; Louise cradled in his arms.
He easily dropped to his knees and laid her gently in the grass, never once removing his lips from hers. With Lou's arms around his neck pulling him closer, the passion building, her fingers tangled with his hair.
"Buck, I love you," she whispered in to his ear.
Buck raised his head and looked in to her eyes. He wanted her, his entire being ached with a need. "Louise, I need you. I love you so much… But I am afraid. I don't want to lose you".
"Buck, I'm here. I'm here with you. I'm not going anywhere," and she raised herself to him, kissing his chest, needing him, wanting him, giving herself to him.
As they lay in the grass, Buck's head resting on her, listening to the beat of her heart. The sun was setting low. It was Lou who found her voice first as she lifted Buck's chin to look her. "Does this mean I am your wife in the eyes of your people?" She asked with a smile in a whispered voice, her fingers tracing a line to his ear, moving his hair from his face.
Buck raised himself on his elbow and looked into the eyes of this woman, his woman. Louise. He loved to look at her, get lost in her eyes, touching her every inch. But then he remembered. Stands-Alone. He remembered his threat. " Yes." He said, looking serious. "Are you sorry?" Waiting for her answer, fear in his throat.
Tears had started to fall from the corners of her eyes. "No. I have wanted this for so long. I was afraid after all this time…" She stopped, her words caught behind the knot in her throat. She couldn't believe she was finally the mate of Running Buck.
"Afraid of what?" Buck looked at her, his heart pounded.
"I was afraid… you didn't want me." She whispered so soft, Buck had to strain to hear all of her words.
"I have wanted you for so long." Buck buried his face in her neck tears escaping down his face. He began kissing her. He kissed her every being. Making love to her slowly, filling it with all the emotion that he had felt for so long.
He vowed then, Stands-Alone would not win.
She silently dared Stands-Alone to come, just let him try…