All My Relations - For Buck it's all relative
Spirit Horse - When the last ride, becomes the first step
And Justice for All - James Butler Hickok had never planned on coming back to Sweetwater, not after the war, not ever. He was sure he had burned too many bridges until a telegram arrived from Emma Cain calling him home to help search for a killer.
Peace is All Around Me - He knew that if he could just close his eye, it would all fade away. If only for a moment he could just be Jimmy instead of Wild Bill.
Buffalo Moon - Come join the celebration.
Celebration of the Heart - A simple reminder of love.
Stomp Dance - Family and friends, that's what it's all about.
The Chosen One - Visiting for a friend's wedding, things don't turn out as Emma planned.
A Warrior's Song - Sam rarely spoke of the range war. When asked why he would say, 'because of what it turned me into.'
One World, One Nation - In his lifetime Aloysius "Teaspoon" Hunter had been many things. As a lawman he fought to protect innocents and his way of life. As a husband he had lived to please his wives. Somehow, no matter what he tried, he ended up alone, alone and yet strong. He never thought he'd be a father until he looked at the six young men lined up against the railing.
Dakota Stardust - Writing a poem is hard, giving it life, harder yet. Letting it go is freeing.
Man in the Sky - Kid thinks about something Lou said and it confuses him. He has always seen his life as a journey that he must take if he is to become the man he wants to be. A visiting friend helps him see the light.
Dance of Life - Cody searches for the dream he’s lost.
Fast Horse - Noah's run takes him through his favorite part of the plains.
Star People - *coming soon*
All My Relations

For Buck, it's all relative

Buck sat in the clearing waiting for his brother's arrival. As he thought about the last time he'd been here, his hand went to his chest and the faint scar that lay there. It had been made in this very clearing almost a year ago.

So much had happened in that year. He had moved further away from his home and his brother. He had feared that that had closed the final door between them and that he would never see Red Bear or the others again. It had seemed so final until he had received the message from his brother.

When he saw the quiver leaning against his saddle, he knew he had to go. This time however, he told Ike and the others. Going with their blessing made it easier. He was not alone. He would never be alone unless he wanted to be.

Sitting in front of the fire, waiting for his brother it was a good thing to know. He smiled when he felt his brother's presence.

"Red Bear?" he asked as he stood and faced the approaching man.

His brother smiled and gestured for him to sit back down. "It is good to see you my brother."

Buck sat back down, noticing the dark circles under his brother's eyes. "What's wrong?" he finally asked.

Red Bear sat down next to him, putting his hand on his brother's shoulder. "It is as you have warned Running Buck. Too many have died because of my pride. I must sign the white man's treaty. And I must ask you for your help."

Buck shook his head in disbelief. "Me? What can I do?"

"You have done many things Running Buck, many things I did not think you would be able to do. You have made a home for yourself in the white world. You have made a family with your brothers in the Pony Express. You have found a path that leads between us and them, and you have remained true to who you are. These are no small things and they will be greatly needed."

He put another log on the fire and looked at the night sky. "It is a dark time for us Running Buck. I cannot live the life they offer me yet my people will die if I do not. I must accept that which cannot be accepted."

He looked at Buck, a deep sense of pride and understanding shining in his eyes. This was why Running Buck had been given to them, it was why he had been forced to leave and learn the ways of the whites. His brother's sacrifice put him in a position to help.

"If you stay in the white world, they will let you sell us supplies. With your help, we would have a chance to survive."

Buck studied his brother, realizing how hard this was for him. He pursed his lips for a moment and nodded. "You know I'd do anything for you."

"Anything but deny your heart," Red Bear answered wryly.

Buck bowed his head slightly to hide his chuckle. Then he nodded. "Anything but that."

Red Bear patted his brother's knee before standing. "I must go now, the longer I wait, the more will be lost, but I will look for you once we have moved."

Buck stood. "I will be there," he promised.

"I know."

Buck saw the pride in his brother's eyes as he turned and left. He knew he would always remain in his brother's heart and that Red Bear would be in his.

He put another piece of wood on the fire and began setting up camp. He had a lot to think about before he headed back to Rock Creek.

Spirit Horse


When the last ride, becomes the first step

The ground seemed to open up before her as Lou rode for all she was worth. This was the end of the Pony Express, her last trip across the plains running full out. She touched her horse's mane before urging him on.

"Come on Lighting, show them what you can do," she urged. Though she didn't expect more speed from her mount, Lighting found that extra store of energy his rider was looking for.

As they moved like his namesake towards Rock Creek, Lou found her mind wandering. No matter how many problems she and the others had, in the end it all came down to this, a single rider, their horse and the pouch.

Life was easier on a run because you couldn't afford to over think anything. There were no arguments, no pain no loss. Just the terrain beneath your horse's hooves and whatever stood between you and the next station.

Too soon her leg of the journey would be done, and another would finish the relay. One final pouch was all there was left to the life she knew.

Soon the world would be about weddings, and missing friends. It would be about worrying over the war, and whether or not they would survive unscathed. She smiled as she saw Kid waiting at the station, Katie striking her hoof against the ground anxiously.

She could hear Rachel call 'rider coming' but it easily could have been Emma. So much had happened in a little more than a year. She took a deep breath.

For one moment her life came down to passing the pouch to Kid and seeing him off. She had taken the pouch from her saddle horn and prepared to hand it off when another rider appeared, and another.

Suddenly instead of just Kid waiting she saw Buck and Jimmy alongside him. Buck's chestnut stallion and Jimmy's palomino joined Katie as she waited for Lou and Lightning.

It caused a brief moment of indecision before she focused on Kid and Katie. The pass was perfect and as she slowed Lightning to a canter, she smiled.

"Ride safe!" she called to the departing riders as they passed the mochila between them and laughed.

The end of her ride became the beginning of theirs. It seemed to prove something Teaspoon had told her before she'd left: "The World may be full of endings, but it is just as full of new beginnings and each one is better than the last because you have a better idea of what you're looking for."

And Justice for All

James Butler Hickok had never planned on coming back to Sweetwater, not after the war, not ever. He was sure he had burned too many bridges until a telegram arrived from Emma Cain calling him home to help search for a killer.

He looked at the telegram and shook his head. Ten years had passed since he had last seen Emma Cain, not since the last of his days in the Pony Express. He'd stopped by and seen her in Cheyenne before signing up and joining the army as Cody had. He never expected to see her or Sam again.

He wasn't sure what he wanted from her then, but now she needed him. She needed all of them. He quickly paid the man behind the desk to send a reply and two other messages. The one to Emma was simple: Am Coming STOP. Be there soon STOP JBH

The other two were identical: Emma needs Help STOP Sam hurt STOP Come to Sweetwater Best Speed. STOP

He knew where to send the one to Lou and Kid, but the one to Cody was sent 'care of Fort Kearny.' He didn't have a better idea of where Cody was.

He settled his accounts and saddled up. There was one stop to make, and he wasn't sure how it would go. If he was lucky, then he'd return with Buck at his side.

* * *

The fort had been built close enough to the reservation that Jimmy could see the square buildings that housed Red Bear's clan. He felt his throat tighten when he looked at them. Buck didn't belong in a place like that and neither did his people.

It was strange thinking of the Kiowa as Buck's people, then again even when he rode with the express and lived as a white man, Buck Cross was always Running Buck a proud Kiowa warrior at heart.

Jimmy was pulled from his musing by a nudge from one of the soldiers standing guard. "The commandant's ready to see you son."

Jimmy nodded and climbed down the wood stairs. He quickly joined the soldiers sanding outside the commandant's office and waited. It was only a moment before a clerk nodded to him and gestured towards the door.

Jimmy touched the brim of his hat in a form of salute and quickly entered the office. He had sworn he was done with forts and military, but here he was walking into one willingly. It was the only way he could talk to Buck.

* * *

"This is highly unusual."

Jimmy nodded. "Yes sir, I'm aware of that, but the Territorial Marshal was ambushed, and there's nobody I trust more than Buck Cross to track them.

"Buck Cross... You mean Running Buck, Chief Red Bear's brother," the commandant stated. "I really don't like the idea. I know you're trying to help your friend and his family, but if anything happened to Red Bear's brother... I don't think he'd take it very well."

Jimmy frowned as the man shook his head. He didn't want Buck to leave because he might get hurt.

"I understand that sir, but Buck rode with us in the Pony Express and there were plenty of times things 'happened' to us. Red Bear understood."

He knew it was an exaggeration, but he had to get them to at least let him talk to Buck. He had to suppress a smile when he remembered that at one point Red Bear had actually been one of the risks of their job.

"I'll let you talk to him, but Red Bear has the final say on whether or not Running Buck leaves with you."

Jimmy nodded grateful for the chance.

* * *

Buck entered the building where he usually met with the facility's administrators, or more accurately argued with them. Most of them had refused to believe that a half blood could truly understand the issues at hand, but sooner or later they each learned that he knew the situation better than any of them.

He took a deep breath and knocked on the door. He hadn't called this meeting. They had and the fact they had never called one before today was not lost on him. He wondered briefly if something was wrong.

When the door opened, he learned just how wrong things were. Standing in front of him was Jimmy, James Butler Hickok, his brother in all but blood.

"Jimmy?"

For his part Jimmy smiled, seeing the changes in his friend. He was dressed in buckskins, his hair long but well groomed. If anything he looked more like his brother Red Bear than Jimmy had ever thought possible.

He started to offer Buck his hand, but after a shake of his head he opened his arms and hugged the former rider.

Buck returned the hug, and suddenly it was ten years earlier. The feeling only lasted a moment, but Buck clung to it.

"What brings you here?"

Jimmy sat down, realizing he should have come to visit years ago. "I wish it were to just visit Buck, but we both know that ain't in me."

When Buck nodded he continued. "I got a telegram from Emma. Somebody ambushed Sam and left him for dead."

When Jimmy saw the hurt and concern in his friend's eyes, he knew he'd done the right thing in telling him.

Buck looked around the room. "They'll never let me out of here," he said in a resigned tone. "Not even for something like this."

Looking at him Jimmy realized that this building was as much a prison as it was a place to argue for the Kiowa's rights. They might as well have caged an eagle.

"They will if you're willing to go and your brother agrees."

Buck stood, unsure how Jimmy had done it, but it was clear he wasn't going to argue about it. "I'll be right back."

* * *

It had taken less than an hour for Buck to return with his brother's permission. It was obvious that Red Bear did not like what Buck was doing, but it was equally clear that he had understood his brother's need to help his white family. In the end he had given Buck his blessing and a horse.

When the gates opened to allow them to ride out, Buck drew a deep breath and rode on without looking back. He had learned a long time ago that he could never look back once a decision of this magnitude was made.

He would return, only after he had seen to Sam and Emma's safety. He reflected on that for a moment as he waited for Jimmy to join him.

* * *

As they rode Jimmy kept looking over at Buck, realizing how much had changed. When he heard Buck ask him what he was looking at, it was hard to miss the annoyance in his voice.

"You," he answered honestly. "I never thought you'd go back to the Kiowa."

He looked at Buck for a moment and as he did he realized the reason. With Ike and Noah gone and everyone leaving, there was nowhere else for him to go.

"I'm sorry Buck," he said softly. "I never should have left."

There was the briefest of pauses, but the answer told Jimmy all he needed to know: the spirit of their friendship had remained true. More importantly, Buck understood.

"You had no choice Jimmy. No one really did, not after we lost Noah."

Jimmy nodded. Life had changed for all of them after that.

* * *

They rode together in companionable silence until they reached Sweetwater. Jimmy hesitated. He knew he should stop by the Marshal's office and let them know he was there, but he also knew all too well the reception Buck would receive especially with the way he was dressed.

He shrugged, realizing that it was Buck's decision.

"I need to report in at the Marshal's office," Jimmy stated. "Don't know if you want to come into town with me or just go on ahead to Emma's."

Buck paused. It had been a long time since he'd been through the town of Sweetwater. At its best, the townspeople tolerated him, but that was ten years ago when he lived as a white man.

"How long will you be there?"

"Just long enough to introduce myself."

Buck nodded. "I'll go with you. Things get too bad, I'll ride on."

"Just be careful. I don't want to find out things got bad by you being shot."

Buck laughed and shook his head as he urged his horse on. The sooner they got this over with, the better.

* * *

The town of Sweetwater had changed since the days of the Pony Express. It was bigger, but that wasn't the biggest difference. No, Sweetwater had been 'gentrified'. There were more shops, and more people walking down the boardwalks in their Sunday best than either man could recall.

Jimmy wondered if they even had their 'Sunday best' anymore, or did they just dress up whenever they were in town?

Whatever had happened, it was clear no-one in town was prepared to see an Indian riding down Sweetwater's main street. Jimmy sat up straight as he looked around at them all but daring them to say something.

As they moved through the town, more people seemed to stop and stare at them, several backing away after they looked at Jimmy's expression.

"Jimmy," Buck called in a stage whisper. "You're scaring them."

Jimmy turned, surprised by Buck's comment. "Me? I'm scaring them?" He shook his head then quickly tipped his hat in salute to the young couple they were passing.

"I'm not scary."

The exchange seemed to break the silence that had surrounded them the moment they arrived. Several men stepped forward, their hands resting on the butts of their guns.

An older man stepped out of the Doctor's office ahead of them and shaded his eyes so he could watch the two riders. Finally a smile lit up his face. "Jimmy? Buck?"

They turned, both surprised to hear a friendly voice.

"Doctor Barnes?" Buck answered in surprise. He quickly slipped off his horse and offered the man his hand. "It's good to see you sir."

As he shook his Buck's hand Doc Barnes nodded. "Should have figured you two would show up after what happened with Sam."

Jimmy nodded, pleased that the Doctor remembered them. "We were just going to introduce ourselves to Sam's deputies."

"There's only one in this morning," Doc Barnes warned. He looked at Buck and shook his head. "Man's as likely to shoot Buck here as he is to arrest him for being an Indian in town."

Jimmy looked towards the Marshal's office and then back at Buck. "Well then, I guess maybe I'll come back later."

"Tell you what, when Sam's Chief Deputy comes in, I'll tell him you two stopped by on your way to the Cains'."

One look at the people staring at them was enough to convince both riders that leaving was their best option.

"Thank you sir," Jimmy replied as Buck remounted his horse.

There was no need to tempt fate more than they already had. They rode out of town, angling towards Emma's. By unspoken agreement, they urged their horses into a canter once they were out of town. The sooner they were home, the safer they'd be.

* * *

Jimmy and Buck rode into the yard of the former express station side by side. The place had changed over the years, but the layout remained the same. The house itself had been rebuilt and enlarged as had the barn and corrals. The only building that remained the same was the bunkhouse that they'd shared and that looked as if it hadn't been used in years.

They both dismounted, and Buck held out his hands for Jimmy's reins. "I'll take care of them," he said.

Jimmy thought about objecting, but stopped when he realized that this was how Buck had always dealt with issues that bothered him. No matter how angry or hurt Buck had been, taking care of horses seemed to provide the peace denied him elsewhere. The reaction in town was enough to make him nervous. He could only imagine what it was like for Buck. No, caring for the horses would give Buck the peace of mind he needed for dealing with what had happened to Sam.

He handed Buck the horse's lead and watched as he led the horses to the barn. It was hard to miss the serenity that seemed to settle over Buck.

He found himself wishing there were something that could do that for him, but nothing seemed to work. The closest he'd come was the numbness whiskey provided, and he knew it was a false comfort at best.

Looking at the house he shook his head, It was hard to believe it had been ten years since he'd been there. Lost in thought, he was barely aware of the door opening and Lou running out to greet him.

"Jimmy" she called as she jumped down the stairs and into his arms. "We figured you'd get here before we did."

Her smile was infectious. "I had to make a slight detour."

Lou looked towards the barn and then up into his eyes. "You found Buck?"

He smiled at the hope in her voice. "He's putting away the horses."

Lou nodded then gestured towards the door. "Sam's in the downstairs bedroom, Emma's with him. Cody's due in this afternoon."

He nodded as he took it all in. They were all home now, or would be shortly. "Any word on who did this?"

Lou simply shook her head. "You go in and let Emma know you're here, I'll go get Buck."

"Good luck with that." Jimmy knew that Buck would leave the horses only when he was ready to, but he also knew that Lou had no intention of returning without him.

She turned and nodded. Both of them knew that there would be time to catch up later. Right now their main concern was consolidating their family and finding the men who'd hurt them.

"Ter...Kid's inside working on lunch."

Jimmy gave her a questioning look but let it slide. There would be time for that later.

* * *

Lou watched Jimmy for a minute before continuing on to the barn, and attached stables. She hated the pain and concern that had brought them all here, but they were finally together again. When this was over, she vowed she was going keep contact with her family if she couldn't keep them together physically she'd find a way to keep in touch with them.

She smiled to herself as she entered the barn. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but when they did she could see Buck standing there grooming his horse. With Jimmy it was hard to believe any time had passed since the last time she'd seen him, but with Buck the time between visits was obvious.

The first thing she noticed was the length of his hair and the fact that he was dressed as a Kiowa warrior. Gone were the trousers and vest she always remembered him wearing. In their place he wore a buckskin shirt, leggings and a breach clout. She could see he had filled out some, which she took as a good sign. He'd always been too thin.

She blushed slightly, realizing that he still cut a fine figure.

"You could come and help rather than stare at me."

Lou laughed at Buck's jibe and came over. "I didn't want to interrupt you," she said, but when she noticed the unsure look he gave her, she hugged him. "It is so good to see you!"

The softness of her voice reached through the hurt he felt at their parting. He swallowed hard, finally remembering that he was the one who'd left. Lou and Kid hadn't abandoned him. If anything, he'd left them when they needed him the most. He wondered if Kid would have stayed in Rock Creek if he hadn't left.

"It's good to see you too," he replied softly. He returned the hug and gently kissed the top of her head. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed her and the others until that moment.

"How have you been?"

Lou laughed at the question as she picked up a brush and started brushing Jimmy's palomino. She knew it wasn't the same one he'd ridden in the express, but it was so 'Jimmy' to ride one.

"Well," she answered. "Kid joined the confederate army, but was injured early on. He came back and we started a horse ranch." She sighed. There was so much that had happened in her life, but she couldn't explain it when asked.

"We have two children..." She offered. "Michael and Mary Louise."

Buck smiled at that. "Good. I always thought you two would make great parents."

"You?"

Buck shook his head. "No children... no wife..." He shrugged. He wanted children, but he had never let himself dare hope that he would find a woman who wanted him for who he was. True, he was more accepted by his people and the others who'd been put on the reservation, but no one had expressed an interest in him.

He was still white in the eyes of his people, but he knew how to talk to the people running the reservation. More importantly, he knew how to argue a point with them. As Red Bear's brother and his voice with the administrators Buck received a certain amount of respect.

Lou reached out and rested her hand on his arm for a moment. "Buck...."

She didn't know what to say. Just as he knew that she and Kid would do well as parents, she knew that Buck would make a fine father and husband. She had seen it when she watched him with the boys at the orphanage after they'd rescued her brother and sister. He was patient with them, but more importantly open and understanding.

She'd also seen the way he treated a woman when he was in love with her. Sometimes she wished Kid could be that attentive. Then again, when they'd been courting they had to hide it.

"You'll find someone," she finally assured him. As she spoke, she realized that when he did she was going to be jealous of them.

"Lou, I'm too old now," he told her in a resigned tone.

Lou turned placing her fists on her hips. "Buck Cross, you are nowhere near too old for a wife, or children."

"Good Lord," she groused. "You're what, twenty eight?"

"There abouts," he admitted.

Lou shook her head and went back to brushing Jimmy's horse. "Twenty-eight and he thinks he's too old," she complained to the horse.

Buck gave Lou a wary look before settling back into the routine of brushing his horse. He had almost relaxed again when Lou turned and waved her brush at him.

"So I guess you figure Kid and me are too old to have another baby?"

Buck held his hands out in surrender. "You win, all right Lou? Please?" He paused as he tried to read her expression, then he tilted his head. "Are you?"

Lou had to smile at the twinkle in his eyes when he asked. She didn't trust herself to speak, so she simply nodded.

Buck put his brush down and hugged her again, this time swinging her around in a circle. "That's wonderful."

"I hope Kid feels the same way," she said softly as he set her back down.

"He doesn't know?"

Lou looked up at Buck and shook her head. "I just found out and... If I'd told him..."

"He wouldn't have let you come," Buck finished for her.

"Emma needs us," Lou stated firmly.

"Kid needs you too Lou," he said softly. "Trust me on that. He's overprotective because he knows you aren't nearly as indestructible as you seem to think. Do you know it would kill him if anything happened to you?"

Buck knew all too well how different his life would have been if he had a woman like Lou to share it with, but Lou never saw how special she was to all of them, let alone Kid.

Lou ducked her head. "I'm not..."

Buck gently tilted her head up, until their eyes met. "Lou. You are. You've always cared more about how we were, and how we were feeling than you cared about your own feelings. You've always put our well being first. You watched out for us even when we didn't watch out for ourselves... you are an amazing woman Louise. Kid just knew that from the first."

He held her there until he was sure she'd heard him then he kissed the top of her head. The only problem with Lou was the fact that she was one of a kind.

Lou blushed at his compliment and took a moment before speaking. "You're pretty mazin' yourself, Buck. You know that?"

She remembered him comforting her when she was worried about the Kid, how he looked out for her when she was hurt, or scared or alone. She laughed when he tried to turn away. "Long as we're bein' honest here Buck, figured I should have my say."

She tilted her head so she was looking at him through the corner of her eyes.

"I like how once someone's your friend, they're your friend for life. How you accept us as we are, and you never tried to change us... When I needed a friend, you were there without question... that's rare Buck. And I don't think I ever told you how much... how honored I am to be your friend."

She shook her head as he turned away. She had seen Buck take some of the cruelest insults and hatred in stoic silence, but a compliment? With a sigh she went back to working on Jimmy's horse. The last thing she wanted to do was make Buck feel uncomfortable.

"I'm glad you're here," she finally said softly. "With you and Jimmy, that just leaves Cody, and he should be here later on today."

She turned when Buck froze next to her. The look on his face made her drop the brush. She quickly took his hand and led him to a hay bale. When he didn't resist her guidance and simply collapsed onto the bale, Lou began to worry. "Buck?"

He looked at her, his expression making him look so much younger than any of them were, younger and so lost it looked like he'd never find his way home.. "He was scouting for the army... they came to our village near the old river bed just past here."

Lou gasped. She'd heard part of the story from Cody, but he'd never told her that it was Buck's family that was involved. She sat down next to him, gently resting her hand on his forearm.

"Oh Lord Buck, Cody didn't say you were there ... he just..." She stopped, noticing how he clenched the curry comb in his hand. "Buck, I'm so sorry... "

She moved closer, trying to get him to meet her gaze, but he was lost in his own memories. She reached out, trying to take the comb from him, anything to distract him from what he was remembering. She knew just how bad those memories were, and there wasn't anything she could do, not for either of her friends.

"It changed him," she softly. "It opened his eyes Buck. He knows what's happening now and he's trying to find a way to stop it. He stayed with us for three months right after... and he never slept through the night. He still has nightmares over it."

Buck's reply was so soft Lou barley heard the vehement "Good."

There was a short intake of air as Lou processed what he'd said, but she was saved from having to reply as Buck continued.

"Five men I grew up with, one of my nephews... three other children from the village, all dead Lou. They forced us to walk to their new 'home' at their pace, and it took its toll. Red Bear had signed the treaty, he was going to lead us there without a fight and they came and forced us to go."

"Cody was there, he saw and he did nothing."

The sense of betrayal in Buck's voice hit Lou like a wave of despair. "Buck, he quit the army rather than go back. He'd seen too much, been a part of too much. He's been working to make amends."

"How do you make amends for the lives that were lost?"

"By fighting to make sure there are no more."

The two of them turned surprised to see Cody standing there, his hat was in his hand, his head bowed. Gone were the buckskins he'd always worn when he was a rider with the Express. They'd been replaced by a simple blue shirt and trousers.

He paused before looking at his friends sitting there. "I tell you Buck, I didn't know. We were told to look for a few remaining tribes and make sure they were heading towards the reservation. They never said..."

He wanted nothing more than for Buck to turn his way and see the sincerity in his eyes, but instead when Buck turned, he saw all the hurt and anger that boiled inside his friend. He moved as if he'd been struck.

"Buck, you know me. You know I'd never purposefully hurt you, and I sure as God didn't want to hurt those people."

"They were children..."

Cody simply nodded. "I know Buck. I know it now... and every day I see those children, and their mothers ... God Buck, you have to believe I didn't know.... I didn't...

As his voice trailed off, Cody felt his heart being once again torn in two. Kid and Lou knew the story, they knew how it haunted him, but he knew it was nothing in comparison to what Buck had endured.

Buck focused on Cody for a moment. For years he had cursed the name of William F. Cody, but looking into his friend's eyes, he knew that kind of cruelty and callousness were not in him. He swallowed hard, realizing he would have known it if he'd taken a moment to think about it, but he hadn't. The pain had been too deep.

"Please Buck, I'm begging you... forgive me."

Buck shook his head sadly. "I can't."

Cody bowed his head and nodded. Buck was right, what had been done was unforgivable and he should have known better than to ask

Lou watched the exchange and took a deep breath when Buck stood, his movements slow and purposeful. She noticed how Cody braced himself for the attack he knew was coming, but made no move to defend himself.

She was about to say something when Buck put a comforting hand on Cody's shoulder. "I'm sorry Cody, I should have talked to you-I should have tried to find out."

Cody stood, stunned. He was unsure what to say. "Then you forgive me?"

Buck stepped back slightly and shook his head. When he saw the hurt look in his friend's eyes he gave him a kindly smile.

"Cody, it isn't for me to forgive." He studied his friend, waiting until they made eye contact before continuing. "When this is over, come back with me... tell Red Bear, tell the others... ask them for their forgiveness."

He pursed his lips hoping that Cody would understand that this was needed for their healing as well as his own.

After a moment Cody nodded. Then a slow smile came to his face. "I will," he promised. "But that ain't enough." He looked at Buck, his expression one of gentle wisdom.

Buck tilted his head, unused to that look in Cody's eyes.

"I need you to come with me to Washington. I need you to tell Congress what happened and why we can't let it happen again."

"Why me?"

"Buck you lived it. You lost people you care about-I can tell them about it, but I only saw what happened. I know your brother and the parents of those children suffered more, but you're the one who can tell Congress what happened in your own words." He nodded as he spoke knowing Buck had to be the one to tell them, if for no other reason than the fact that there would be no translator or language differences to get in the way.

Buck swallowed hard. He knew what Cody was asking, more importantly he could see that Cody knew exactly what he was asking him to do. Cody was asking him to relive one of the darkest times in his life and speak of losses he had strived to forget.

"They have to know Buck," Cody urged, his tone one of determination. "They have to know what you went through-it's the only way they're going to want to do something about it."

He paused, fumbling with his hat. "You wouldn't be alone. I helped put you into that hell, please let me help you out..."

There was a long pause as Buck thought things over. "After we've dealt with Sam's attackers we'll talk." He didn't trust himself to say more.

Cody nodded, it was better than he had hoped for and far better than he deserved.

As each they stood lost in thought Lou joined them. She took each man's arm in hand and led them out of the barn.

"Let's go see Emma," she said effectively reminding them why they were there. It was clear she was glad they had at least started to mend their differences, but they had more important things to do for now.

Buck and Cody exchanged glances over her head and smiled.

"Glad some things never change," Cody quipped.

"I'd worry if they did," Buck replied.

Lou glared at both of them, which only made them both chuckle.

* * *

Jimmy entered the house and made his way to the front bedroom. It was strange to think of Emma and Sam moving back to Sweetwater, but he knew the town would always be an important part of their life.

"Emma?" he called softly to the woman dozing in a rocking chair next to her husband.

She looked up and smiled, then set her book down. She gave Sam's arm a gentle pat as she stood then paused, almost as if she were willing him to look at her. When he didn't, she turned to Jimmy and gave him a hug.

"Thank you, for everything."

He swallowed hard. He could see the worry and exhaustion in her eyes and he somehow knew that if Sam died, he would take a very important part of Emma with him.

"I just let the others know," he said, pushing the thought from his mind.

"Exactly James," she said giving him a sad smile. "It's good to see most of my boys, and know they're all right."

Jimmy nodded. When he'd stopped to see them in Cheyenne he'd told her about Ike. He didn't have to tell her how hard losing him had been on all of them, especially Buck. So he knew she wasn't expecting him, but looking at her he realized she wasn't expecting Buck either.

"The rest of us are here Emma," he told her. "Buck'll be in once he's finished tending to the horses."

When her eyes lit up, Jimmy couldn't help but smile. "We're here for you, Sam and the kids."

"Of course you are. I never doubted that for a minute James."

He nodded. "I'm going to go check on the others, after that, we'll see what we can do to help out."

She nodded, patting his arm. "The doctor's coming later on today. Hopefully he'll have some good news for us."

He nodded, noticing how she'd said us, rather then her. "Where are the kids?"

She met his gaze, and again he was struck by the pain there. "They're keeping Lou and Kid's children, Mary Louise and Michael busy."

After a pause she looked at him. "They saw him Jimmy, saw him before we could do anything for him."

Hickok rubbed her arms, trying to comfort her. "They're good kids Emma, and you raised them well, hell, you raised us well. They'll get through this-we all will."

She smiled. "Isaac's had nightmares and Samuel James won't say a word about his father."

He nodded. "I don't think I'd want to talk about it neither Emma. If you want, I'll talk to them."

She gently nodded towards the door. "James, go get something to eat and make sure Buck gets something to eat as well. That boy never eats enough."

He nodded. There was so much he wanted to say to her, but in light of everything else, it didn't really matter. He pulled her into his arms and held her for a moment.

"Ah Emma, you know I'd do anything for you. If that includes makin' sure Buck eats, I'll do it."

She laughed, patting his arm. "You're a good man Jimmy, don't ever forget that."

Jimmy laughed at that. "So you keep tellin' me," he said but then nodded towards Sam. "He's the good man Emma, and we're gonna find the men that did this."

Emma shook her head. "Jimmy, your bein' here, all of you-well, that means a lot to me, and it says a lot about 'my boys' and how you all feel 'bout me and Sam. I don't care 'bout finding those men-all I care about is makin' sure they don't try anything else."

"You know, just sometimes they're the same thing."

"I know."

* * *

As they entered the house Buck was barely aware of Lou urging him ahead, allowing him to enter first.

"Uncle Buck!"

Buck turned, tension giving way to joy as he greeted Lou's brother. "Jeremiah?" His voice was soft and full of disbelief. "When did you get so big?"

Jeremiah laughed, reaching out to touch his uncle's hair. "Probably the same time you started growing this."

Buck gave him a wry smile, which broadened when Jeremiah called out to Kid. "See, I told you he'd come!"

Suddenly Buck was surrounded by friends and family. He hugged them, smiling so broadly it hurt. He didn't know what to say to any of them. Finally the others backed away allowing Emma to greet him.

"Buck... you've..." She stood there shaking her head. The changes she could see ran so deep she didn't know what to say. Gone was the young man who was far too thin for his own good, in his place stood a battle hardened warrior.

"Changed?" he offered.

"Grown," she corrected as she rested a hand on his shoulder and studied him. "And you finally filled out a bit."

Buck ducked his head. His brother and sister-in-law had teased him about that very thing before he left. When he had shown up to see them, he had been far thinner than any of them had ever seen, but a few years of limited activity had worked to put meat on his bones.

"Admit it Emma," he said in a gentle tone as he patted his stomach. "I got fat."

Emma laughed and shook her head. "It's going to take a lot more food than I've got here to make you fat Buck."

He rewarded her with a mock scowl. How had he gone so long without this?

* * *

Cody stood to the side, watching as Buck was treated to the homecoming he deserved. Even with everything that had happened to him, he was still the same man they had always known, a man of deep integrity.

Cody smiled at that. Buck had seen his share of darkness, but he had kept his own light and his own peace. He had a strength of character that would see him through almost anything, hopefully that would include the hurt Cody knew he had caused his friend.

He hadn't realized until that moment how that hurt had affected them all.

* * *

Soon they were all gathered around the kitchen table, discussing what had happened. In ten years, two things hadn't changed: how much they cared about each other and how Kid and Jimmy couldn't agree on the best course of action.

Jimmy was beginning to regret sending for Kid and Lou. All he and Kid were doing was arguing and they weren't getting anywhere.

"We can't all go after these guys Jimmy," Kid declared. "It leaves this place unprotected."

"I know that but we got to have enough guns there to make sure that if we're riding into another ambush it won't matter."

As the others settled in for a long fight Buck stood and nodded towards the door. "Cody, why don't we go check the grounds and make sure everything is in order?"

Cody looked at him, then at Jimmy and Kid. "Yeah, I guess we should get something done."

As they stood, Emma joined them. "Just be careful."

They smiled at her as if to say 'of course'. Buck gently touched her shoulder before moving on and Cody simply nodded. He was planning on being careful enough for both of them.

If Jimmy or Kid noticed them leave, they gave no indication.

* * *

Buck and Cody fell into a companionable silence as they explored their surroundings each watching out for the other. Once they were sure there was no current threat they began looking for weaknesses and blind spots.

By the time they were finished, Buck knew that Cody had learned quite a bit during his time with the Army Surveying the area, Cody pointed out the terrain and how it could be used to protect as well as direct and attack.

Buck's respect for Cody's training grew.

"We should probably do this in groups."

Buck nodded. "Two maybe three at a time, no set pattern."

"You want to tell them?"

"Would you?"

"Not really."

There was a pause as they both thought about it for a moment. Finally Buck nodded towards the hay loft. "I'll take the high ground for a little while."

Cody thought about it for a moment then shook his head. "No Buck, I'll take that. You're better with a running battle, I'm better with range."

In spite of himself, Buck smiled. "Guess that means I should go in and tell them."

"No, I'll go tell them if I can get between Kid and Jimmy long enough to get a word in edgewise."

"Good luck."

Cody sighed. He was going to need it.

* * *

"You can't just come in here and decide that you're in charge Jimmy."

"Did I say I was in charge? No, I asked for your opinion then I stated mine. You're the one who isn't willing to listen to what anybody else says."

Kid stared at him and took a deep breath, he was about to tell Jimmy he was wrong when Cody walked back in.

"Where have you been?"

"Scouting the area," Cody answered evenly. "Buck and I figure we should have at least two people outside at all times. Least until you two make up your minds about what we're doing."

"Look Cody, it's good that you and Buck have checked things out, but what we really need is to try and track these people down."

"No Jimmy. The first thing you do, any of us do, is make sure we have a safe place to rest. Only way I know to do that is to stand guard. Sam's got deputies. Let them worry about tracking. If they can't Buck or I could..."

Cody was interrupted by a call of 'Riders coming!" from outside. He had enough time to turn before the sound of gunfire filled the air. He tensed, running towards the door without a thought to his own safety. Buck was out there, facing the incoming riders alone.

He was still five feet from the door when he heard an explosion outside. He was momentarily stunned, but quickly forced himself to move.

* * *

Things did not look good from where Buck was standing, or more accurately crouching. Cody had been gone less than two minutes when he heard the riders coming. His first thought was that they were Sam's deputies coming to help, but when they failed to slow, Buck knew that wasn't the case.

He had just enough time to call out a warning but when he did he had been met with a barrage of gunfire than left him reeling. He had been pushed back from the doorway, and finally forced to jump from the loft to the walkway below when he heard the hiss of a burning fuse and then another.

He winced in pain as he landed harder than he'd planned, but he forced himself up and ran as far from the loft as he could. One stick of dynamite would have been enough to bring down most of the roof, but two meant that very soon, everything was going to be falling in around him.

As he moved, he could hear the men shouting to each other. They were getting closer. He drew a deep breath and forced himself to keep moving. He had to keep them occupied and keep them away from the house.

It represented everything he'd thought he'd lost. Emma and her family were there, Lou and Kid's as well as the others. They were his family and if need be, he would willingly die for them, but he had no intention of dying now that he'd been reunited with them.

Counter to that thought, he yelled as he moved knowing it would draw the attackers' attention back to him. If they were worried about him, it would give the others the chance they needed to get into position and protect him as well as themselves.

* * *

As Jimmy and Kid ran for the door Isaac and Samuel James started to follow. Emma stopped her sons in mid-stride. "Just where do you think you're going?" she asked them.

"Ma, they need us."

"I need you here Samuel. I need you and Isaac to take the children to the storm cellar and I need you to keep them safe."

She could see the objection die on their lips as they looked at Lou and Kid's two children. She nodded. "It'll be all right," she assured them as she handed each of her sons a rifle and several boxes of cartridges.

Isaac took them and kissed his mother's cheek. "Be careful ma."

She gave his arm a gentle squeeze. "Keep your heads down, and mind Teresa."

She patted Samuel's shoulder as she handed Teresa a third rifle. "You keep them inside."

Teresa nodded, and quickly fell in behind Samuel and Isaac. Emma watched them leave before taking the final Sharps Rifle from the case and tucking the cartridges into her pockets.

* * *

Coming out of the house the former Express Riders were shocked to see what remained of the barn.

"No!" Jimmy growled in denial. He hadn't dragged Buck all the way here to burry him. He turned toward Kid and saw the same determined look in his friend's eyes. One nod was all it took.

"Cody, get up high."

"Lou, don't let anybody get closer to the house."

"Jeremiah, make sure nothing comes up behind her."

Jimmy and Kid alternated giving orders as they covered the other's progress towards the barn. Later they would never be sure which of them said what, but at that moment, it didn't matter.

* * *

Lou rested a hand on her brother's shoulder and nodded towards the small outbuilding by the corral that served as a tack room. "That's going to be our best bet," she told him. "I'll cover the house from there. You cover anything coming through the corral.

To his credit Jeremiah simply followed his sister's lead. He knew how important it was to watch over her, and was grateful he didn't have to fight her to do it.

* * *

When he saw what had happened, Cody ran back to the house and took the stairs two at a time. Jimmy had told him to 'go high' and the roof was the highest point in the area. As he ran through the house he saw Teresa ushering the children into the storm cellar, rifle in hand.

He knew Teresa wouldn't let anything happen to them, and he could hear Emma in the front room, pushing over furniture to use as cover.

That left him free to worry about Buck. He slipped out a bedroom window and pulled himself up to the eaves, then stretched out. Once settled, he began looking for Buck. He scanned the top of the barn, knowing that if Buck wasn't there, that he was buried under it.

"Come on Buck," he urged softly. "Don't let me down here... "

There was a long silence as he searched the walls and grounds, hoping for any sign of him. Finally he caught a slight movement. It was Buck moving along the edge of the barn's inner walkway. It was clear he was trying to keep the barn between him and an unseen attacker.

Cody held his breath, knowing that Buck would keep moving as long as he could. This was the fighting style he'd learned from the Pawnee Scouts: never fire from the same place; never stop moving; fire and move for as long as your cover lasted. That was the way Buck had always fought.

He watched where Buck had been, and saw a man drawing a bead on him. Cody shook his head. There was no way on God's green earth he was going to let the man take that shot.

* * *

Buck could feel his heart racing as he tried to keep from being pinned down. When he and Cody had surveyed the area, the plan had involved everything staying where it was. Now the barn provided as much cover for their attackers as it did him.

As he moved, he could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. For years he'd been taught to follow his instincts and he reacted without thinking. Throwing himself to the ground, he rolled to the left ready to fire. He saw his would be killer a moment before he was felled by a shot from outside. He traced the trajectory back to the house and felt relief.

He wasn't alone.

He stood where he knew Cody would be able to see him and pointed two fingers to his left: there were two more men in the barn. Once he was sure Cody had seen him, he slipped back up the walkway and began backtracking the other man's trail.

It was time for the hunters to become the prey.

* * *

As they moved, Kid could hear the sound of approaching riders. He gave the barn a determined look, but he knew they couldn't do anything for Buck. He and Jimmy had to deal with this new threat. If they didn't, none of it would matter. He surveyed the area then nodded towards the bunkhouse. They'd have to make their stand there. Together they ran for the front door.

"It's not much cover," he said as they took up position outside the bunkhouse.

"It'll have to do."

He could tell by his voice Jimmy wasn't happy but that made sense he wasn't either. They had no way knowing if Buck was hurt, or holding his own, and it was their fault he was there by himself.

When they reached the door, Kid pulled it open and held it. Jimmy waited a moment before moving into the one room building and searching for signs of trouble. He was relieved to find they were the first to reach the bunkhouse.

"It's clear," he called out and Kid quickly slipped in and closed the door behind him. They took their positions in front of the two front windows and waited.

* * *

Lou scanned the horizon, making herself as small a target as possible. "Here they come," she warned her brother softly.

"Once I shoot, they're going to come looking for us so you have to be ready."

Jeremiah nodded. He had never been in a situation like this, but Kid had talked him through what he'd have to do. It was just after he got back from the war and the years that followed had been hard. He never forgot the haunted look in his brother-in-law's eyes.

'Have to make sure you've got cover, have to make sure you control the situation.'

He remembered how soft Kid's voice had been as he spoke. It was as if he was handing down the secrets of the ages, secrets that had been hard fought and won. He let out a shaky breath and waited.

He could hear them now, and they were moving fast. If these riders had arrived at the same time as the men in the barn, they wouldn't have stood a chance. It was an odd thing to think of as fortunate, but Jeremiah remembered another thing Kid had told him: 'Take whatever advantage you have as a gift and use it to the best of your ability.'

As Lou began firing, he shifted his grip on his gun and scanned the area behind them. He knew they'd be coming, they couldn't afford not to.

* * *

David Merrick watched the scene unfold below him and shook his head. It had been twelve years since Sam Cain had taken his life away from him, twelve years of breaking rocks and remembering everything he'd lost, twelve years of planning his revenge and in a moment, it had been denied.

"Martinez," he called as he closed his spyglass angrily. "I though you said it was just the Missus and some friends down there."

"They came in yesterday. It was, a wagon and two horses," the man confirmed. "Two men, two women, two children, why?"

"Because," he said leveling his gun on the man. "There are at least five men in position down there defending the house. There's probably another two or three of them in the barn."

He watched as the man's eyes widened and he looked up. To his credit Martinez didn't beg. "I will not miss again."

Merrick nodded. "If not, don't bother coming back."

Martinez gave him a single nod and mounted his horse. They both knew it was too late for them to win this round, but there was still more they could do.

"They will suffer," Martinez vowed before he kneed his horse forward.

Merrick smiled. Martinez had good reason to want to make Sam Cain suffer, they both did.

* * *

Kid used the barrel of his gun to break several panes of glass. He didn't need it distorting his vision. The sound of breaking glass on the other side told him that Jimmy had done the same. He offered up a quick prayer as he drew a bead on one of the approaching riders.

He prayed that Buck was all right, that the others would get through this unscathed and that God would forgive him for taking more lives.

Then the fight was upon them and there was no more time for thinking.

* * *

Lou leaned out slightly as the shooting began. She had a few seconds of clear field before their attackers had passed the bunkhouse. She saw at least two riderless horses pass before the attackers appeared. She quickly squeezed off three shots before ducking back around the corner. She held her breath as the wood above her splintered, then she popped back out, lower this time, again firing off three shots.

As she pulled herself up, she felt her brother grab her hand and pull her back behind the tack room. He said nothing as he handed her his pistol and took hers. Once she was rearmed he began reloading, all the while scanning his assigned area.

Lou gave him a relieved smile before leaning back out and firing two more shots.

* * *

Buck slipped back into the shadows, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark and dust before he sought out his attackers. Despite the situation a wry smile crossed his lips. He was dressed more for stealth than he would have been ten years ago.

As he slipped around one of the fallen supports he could hear the men moving towards the ladder to the loft. He looked around and found a cross brace that was still standing. He placed his pistol on it then pulled himself up.

He held his breath for a moment, unsure if it would hold. When he was sure it would, he picked up his gun and slipped his knife from its sheath.

Outside, he could hear horses and gunfire, but he forced himself to focus on the two men coming up the ladder. The others were depending on him to finish things here for them.

* * *

Kid quickly began reloading as the riders finished their first pass. "I think we got a few of them."

"A few, but not nearly enough," Jimmy agreed. "I don't think any of them headed for the house, but it's only a matter of time 'fore they do."

Kid nodded. "I guess hoping they get tired is asking too much."

"Probably."

As they finished reloading, Jimmy checked the back windows to make sure they were still secured. When he was satisfied, he moved back to the window.

"If this don't remind you of our days in the express, ain't nothin' will."

Kid shrugged. Jimmy was right this brought back a lot of memories.

* * *

Emma slipped into the guest room and braced the rifle up against the bed. She quickly went to work moving the furniture around. She dragged a dresser in front of the window, and then pushed the nightstand against the door. It wasn't enough to stop someone from opening it but it would slow them down.

She didn't put anything else in front of the door in case something happened to her. The last thing she wanted for them to be trapped inside. She could hear the shooting in the yard and knew the others were doing everything they could to protect her and the others.

She picked up the rifle and was startled when a hand reached out for hers.

"You got one of those for me?"

She gasped, tears coming to her eyes when she saw Sam's lopsided grin. He could barely move but he was wake. "You just rest," she told him. "Me and the boys got everything under control.

Sam simply nodded. 'Of that, I have no doubt."

His voice was music to her ears. She pulled his revolver out of its holster and handed it to him. She doubted he could do more than hold it, but it gave her hope.

* * *

"Reload while you can," Lou told her brother. "If they start coming in, shoot.

She gave him a serious look. "I'll be right behind you."

Jeremiah nodded, trying to keep everything straight in his mind. To his credit, his eyes never left the corral and the ground beyond.

"We'll get through this."

* * *

Buck watched the men as they passed beneath him. They were searching for him, unaware of just how close he really was.

Once they were past, he slowly lowered himself to the walkway. His movements were slow and calculated, like a mountain lion stalking it's pray. When he sprang it was like the cougar's attack, fierce and merciless.

Even as he shot the first man, his knife flew to the second. He was already closing in, ready to shoot again as the second man fell from the walkway to the ground below. Satisfied that they would never hurt anyone again, Buck slipped back into the shadows.

They still had the incoming riders to deal with.

* * *

From his vantage point Cody could see very little in the barn. He thought he saw Buck once, but it was hard to tell. He was about to give up when he saw a slight movement and noticed a shadow climbing onto the barn's inner supports.

He paused, sighting in on the figure until he realized it was Buck. He quickly scanned the area to make sure no one else could see him then waited. When he heard the sound of gunfire he held his breath until he again saw Buck.

Soon, the Kiowa rider was back on the ground, moving behind what was left of the barn. He paused long enough to point towards the bunkhouse then moved away.

Cody winced when he noticed that Buck's movements lacked their usual grace. It meant he'd been hurt. Still he was upright, so Cody followed his instructions.

* * *

Jimmy looked out at the yard in front of him. "Here they come."

For the next few minutes his ears rang with the sound of gunfire. He saw several men fall, but there were still too many riding towards them. He felt a bullet pass within inches of his scalp, but kept firing.

It was all they could do.

* * *

When she heard the shooting, Lou slipped into position but quickly pulled back when she heard Jeremiah firing towards the corral. She took his arm, and began moving sideways towards the tack room door.

With Lou leading him, Jeremiah focused on the men. He got off three shots before he was inside with Lou.

"Reload," was all she said but he could see her hands shaking.

* * *

Cody picked his targets carefully. He had a limited numbert of cartridges and while a breach loader was faster than his old Hawkins he still had to slip the cartridge into place each time.

He took out two riders, but then his attention was drawn to the other side of the yard. He swore as he saw Lou leading Jeremiah to safety.

He could tell by the way she moved that Lou had been hit. He knew he had to get the man who did it and soon.

He focused on where the shot originated and fired, quickly reloading. It took him three tries, but he finally found his target.

* * *

Buck worked his way to the back of the bunkhouse. His original plan had been to get in and join Kid and Jimmy, but as he closed the distance he saw two men laying in wait.

He had no time to give a warning, and no energy to waste. He moved with deadly precision as he threw himself at the man ready to shoot through the back window. He rolled as he impacted with the man.

He brought his gun up quickly shooting the second man then tossing his gun clear. He was too close to use it now and he didn't want to be shot with his own weapon.

While Buck was occupied the first man drew his own knife and struggled to his feet. Buck let his breath out slowly as he turned to face him his eyes never leaving the other man's.

He sensed the subtle shifts in weight as the man feinted towards his left, and then right as the man tried to get a feel for him. In a prolonged fight, the man would win. The explosion and subsequent fight had taken their toll. Buck let out a hard breath then shifted his grip on the knife, still waiting for an opening.

The man feinted again, and this time Buck threw his knife. The man gave him a surprised look as he fell to his knees, Buck's knife lodged in his chest.

Buck gave a satisfied nod and collected his gun.

* * *

Kid had just finished reloading when he heard something hit the back of the bunkhouse. He was on his feet in an instant, but Jimmy was faster. He watched Jimmy look out the window, and saw his smile.

"It's Buck," he said, nodding to the man outside. "He's all right."

Kid gave a relieved nod. "Good, 'cause we're going to need him."

He had enough time to pause before he heard the sound of approaching horses. "Riders comin'."

Jimmy quickly moved away from the back window and took up his position, but then he realized this was no attack.

"Kid, we might be in luck."

They watched as the riders dismounted and moved slowly into the yard. The man at the lead signaled a halt, then faced the bunkhouse. A dozen silver stars flashed in the sunlight: the posse had arrived.

"I am Edward Overton, Deputy Marshal out of Sweetwater..." He called out loudly enough to reach the house.

"Took you long enough," Jimmy answered.

"Identify yourself."

"James Butler Hickok."

"And the man with you?"

"Terry Terrell."

Jimmy looked at Kid, his brow raised. "Terry? What's so bad about Terry?"

"Nothin'. Just short for Terrell" Kid answered in an annoyed tone.

Jimmy nodded. Terry wasn't bad, neither was Terrell, but Terrell Terrell... well, you just didn't do that to a kid.

Deputy Overton started towards the door, but quickly brought his gun to bear when he spied Buck. Jimmy quickly holstered his guns and stepped out, hands in the air.

"Hold on Deputy," he urged. "He's a friend."

Jimmy stayed there long enough to make sure he'd been heard him before turning. "Buck?" he called when he saw the glazed look in his friend's eyes.

It didn't look good and he really didn't like the way Buck was leaning against the side of railing. "Kid."

Kid came out, handing his gun to the surprised deputy before he moved over to Buck. He took Buck's right arm and draped it over his shoulder, supporting him long enough for Jimmy to slip in on his left.

"I'm all right," Buck managed to object, but when he tried to move on his own, his legs didn't want to respond.

"We know you are," Jimmy assured him as he tightened his grip on Buck's arm. They had just taken a step when they heard the unmistakable sound of a rifle lever action being pulled. It came from behind them.

The three friends managed to exchange the briefest of glances before they moved. Jimmy turned left, pushing Buck and Kid away from him. He continued his turn, his hand slipping to his holster and he drew his guns. He fired as the man came into view.

As Buck and Kid fell back, Buck drew his gun and fired as well. While his movements were less controlled than Jimmy's, his shot was no less accurate.

Kid heard the sound of three shots firing at almost the same time, and looked up. He was relieved when he saw the man fall but it was short lived when he realized that Buck wasn't moving. Concerned, he pushed himself up, gently cradling Buck in his arms. He could barely feel the rise and fall of Buck's chest, but it was there.

"It's all right Buck," he said softly. "We've got you."

* * *

Merrick closed his spyglass with grim satisfaction. He'd seen Martinez sneak up on three of the Marshal's defenders and smiled when he watched them try and stop him. True, Martinez was gone but he'd taken one of the Marshal's friends with him. It was something.

He raised his hand and signaled a retreat. There would be another time to deal with Sam Cain. He had spent twelve years in prison planning his vengeance, he could wait a little longer.

* * *

Cody kept his sights on the retreating riders trying to pick out their leader. He knew he'd have to take his shot soon, but he wanted to make it count. The only way to stop the attacks was to take out their reason for attacking.

He looked up slightly and smiled. There were three men who had remained at the top of the rise watching them fight for their lives.

He felt a cold calm fill him as he realized he'd found their leader. It was obvious the man had military experience. His tactics bore that out. He watched as the man raised his hand, signaling a retreat and sighted in on him.

He let his breath out slowly as he squeezed the trigger. The shot sounded like the roll of distant thunder as the bullet found its mark. He watched as the man fell and slipped another cartridge into place.

He quickly fired a second shot, taking out the man who had waited next to the leader. By the time he reloaded a third time, the others had fled.

The war was over.

* * *

Kid tightened his grip on Buck when he heard the final shots ring out but didn't move from his side. "It's all right," he said softly, praying Buck could hear him.

"You're going to be all right. Just stay with me Buck... Stay with us."

Jimmy turned from Kid and Buck, angrily pushing his emotions away. He still didn't know if it was over. He stood, placing himself between Buck and any possible threat.

He felt a wave of relief when Cody stood up on the roof, waving his rifle.

"They're running." Cody called out then added, "I think they got Lou. She and Jeremiah are in the tack room."

Jimmy could feel his breath catch in his throat. Buck's injuries he could almost accept but Lou was another matter entirely. He gave Kid a worried look then called out, "Deputy, get the doc. We got injured."

When he realized that Cody was settling back down on the roof, Jimmy holstered his guns and headed for the tack room.

"Lou?" he called out as he neared the side door. "Lou, Jeremiah, its Jimmy... ya hear me in there?"

"We hear you," Lou answered. How could they not hear him?

He smiled at her tone of voice. Lou may have been hurt, but she was still more than capable of taking care of herself.

"Cody says you were hit," Jimmy stated in a worried tone as he opened the door. He paused in the door way, realizing he was staring down the barrels of two pistols. He wasn't surprised, not after what they'd been through but he was honestly relieved when Lou and Jeremiah lowered their guns.

He was about to say something when he noticed how Jeremiah supported Lou. It was obvious that if Jeremiah stepped away from his sister, she would have fallen.

Jimmy took one look at her and moved in.

"How is everyone?" Lou asked in a tense voice.

"Buck's hurt," Jimmy answered. "Kid's with him. Can you walk or am I carrying you?"

Lou tried to stand straight but quickly found she couldn't. She noticed Jimmy's expression. His head was tilted to the side and his eyes wide, as if to say 'that was stupid.'

She sighed and let him pick her up. She rested her head against his shoulder, trusting him to keep them all safe.

* * *

Kid rested his hand on Buck's forehead, his heart slowly being torn in two. He wanted to hold Lou and make sure she was alright, but looking down at their fallen friend, he knew he had to stay.

He took consolation in knowing that Lou would disown him if he left Buck in his current condition even if he didn't understand what it was. After Buck had fallen, he had checked him over, but there were no obvious wounds to bind. He hadn't been shot. If he had, Kid would have known what to do for him but this was something else entirely.

Buck was unconscious, and his breathing was labored. It spoke of far deeper injuries. Kid found himself thinking about the explosions that had rocked the barn. If Buck had been caught in the blast…

He heard a sickly catch in Buck's breathing, and quickly looked back down. He was expecting the worst, but instead Buck was looking up at him, his eyes questioning his surroundings.

Kid swallowed hard, tears forming in his eyes. "Buck? Can you hear me?"

Buck blinked, trying to focus on him. He managed a half nod, but the effort seemed to sap his strength.

"Take it easy," Kid urged. "They've sent someone for Doc Barnes."

Buck tried to speak, but the words refused to form. He tried again before giving up and signing, *others?*

Kid's smile broadened as he gently patted Buck's shoulder. After all that had happened to him, Buck's first concern was still everyone else. "There're all fine Buck, thanks to you."

Buck gave him a relieved smile, but Kid could see the pain behind it. "You just stay with me, you hear?"

Buck nodded weakly, but it was as good as a promise to Kid. He looked up, searching for any sign of aid. He'd lost too many men for the want of a doctor, he couldn't take losing Buck that way.

Everywhere he looked, he saw bodies strewn across the yard. For a moment he was back in Manassas. He could hear the sound of the dying mingling with the screams of horses. He was startled when he felt Lou touch his arm, brining him back to the present.

"He'll be all right," she told him. "He has to be."

He wasn't sure how long she'd been sitting next to him, but he could tell she understood and shared his fear. He turned, noticing the awkward way she sat.

"Lou?"

She smiled as she tried to reassure him. "It's just a graze," she stated. As she spoke she thought about what Buck had said.

"Do you know it would kill him if anything happened to you?" His voice echoed in her mind. "It would kill him…"

"I'm all right," she said soberly. She turned so Kid could see her leg.

"That's not too bad," he reluctantly admitted.

"Hell Kid, I was hurt worse that time at Harley's," Lou teased.

"I was scared then too," he said softly. He studied Buck's face for a moment, before turning back to Lou. He took a deep breath and shook his head. Buck was in pain and there was nothing he could do about it.

"I don't know what's wrong with him."

Jimmy stood watching over them, his arms crossed in front of him as if to ward off the cold he felt inside. They'd lost too many friends already and each time it had eaten away at him. He didn't think he could take losing Buck.

* * *

Edward ordered his men to fan out. While there was no sign of further attacks, he'd already seen one man sacrifice his life for a chance to hurt Sam through his friends. He wasn't going to give them another chance if he could help it.

He quickly surveyed the area, watching as a man reported from the roof. He was about to say something when man who'd introduced himself as James Butler Hickok moved to the tack room, only to return carrying another injured member of their tightly knit group.

There were six of them all told, six who stood up against at least twenty men. They had been lucky to only have two injured. He stepped over to where they gathered.

"The Doctor should be here shortly," he said with a grim nod. "We should move the injured inside."

He was surprised when Hickok stepped forward, blocking his way. He was about to object when Jimmy spoke in a low threatening tone. "We take care of our own."

Edward nodded, an odd smile coming to his face. "I understand that sir," he said. "But Sam Cain is like a father to me-and it's obvious he means as much to you all. And as you said… we take care of our own."

Jimmy finally nodded, letting Edward and his men through. He had to smile when the deputy realized that one of their injured 'men' was actually a woman.

"Ma'am?" He asked in a surprised tone.

"Kid," Jimmy interrupted. "Why don't you and Jeremiah help Lou to the bunkhouse and see if there's something we can use as a stretcher for Buck?"

Kid looked up at him as if he'd been shot. It was clear he was grateful for the chance to be with Lou, but it was obvious he didn't want to leave Buck.

* * *

Inside, Emma heard the final two shots and the sudden silence that followed. She waited, listing for any sign of trouble. When she heard none, she inched towards the window and looked out. She had never seen a sight as lovely as the small posse that was now guarding her family.

"It's Edward and the boys," she told Sam in a relieved tone. "You going to be all right while I go check everyone?"

Sam nodded weakly. "I'll be all right Emma."

She smiled. "I know you will Sam."

She gently patted his shoulder before moving the nightstand away from the door. She gave him one last look before leaving the room and heading for the front door. She knew all too well how Isaac and Samuel were taking being relegated to the rear guard but she had to make sure it was safe for them.

She cautiously opened the front door. She made sure the members of the Posse saw her before she backed away and to the side. There was no point making herself a target.

"Edward, it's good to see you," she called out. "Jimmy? Kid? Is everyone all right?"

"We're fine Mrs. Cain," Edward answered.

"Buck and Lou have been hurt Emma," Jimmy added. "Lou says it's just a graze…"

"Buck's not doing so well. Not sure what's wrong with him," Kid continued when Jimmy let his sentence trail off.

Emma's shoulders sagged slightly. "Is it safe for me to let the kids out?"

"Kids?" Deputy Overton asked Jimmy. "Isaac and Samuel?"

"And Lou and Kid's two.."

Edward studied his men and then the man on the roof of the Cain's house. "Might be better if you keep them in the house, Ma'am."

"I'll do that," she answered. "But they're going to want their mother, so bring Lou and Buck up here. Kid, the sooner Mary Louise and Michael see you three the better, so you and Jeremiah take Lou upstairs, let Jimmy and Edward and the others take care'a Buck… Jimmy we got a hammock in the back yard, figure you could use that to carry him in."

Jimmy smiled, grateful for Emma's no-nonsense approach. Even Kid couldn't argue with it.

* * *

Once she was sure Buck and Lou were being taken care of, Emma headed for the cellar and knocked on the door. "Isaac. Samuel. Deputy Overton's here and your father's awake."

It was hard to tell which news made them happier as the door was thrust open. Isaac hugged his mother as Samuel stepped back slightly to give them room. When he was sure it really was safe, he placed a hand on his mother's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"I told you Pa would be all right," he said softly.

Emma rewarded him with a smile. "I know you did son."

Teresa handed her rifle to Samuel, and took her niece and nephew by the hand. "Mrs. Cain, do you know about the others?"

Emma nodded. "Your sister was hurt, but she's going to be fine." She hesitated for a moment before adding. "Buck's hurt pretty bad-but everyone else is all right."

Teresa nodded, before turning towards Mary Louise and Michael. "Let's go back to the kitchen and make some coffee for everyone all right?" She was relieved when the two youngsters simply agreed.

Emma shook her head then turned back to her sons. "Why don't you two go stay with your father till the Doctor can look at him?"

The boys nodded, Isaac taking his mother's rifle. "Soon as we put these away."

Emma nodded. "I'll be with you shortly."

"Don't be long," Isaac urged

Emma picked some imaginary lint off his shirt before she spoke. "I'll be there as soon as I've looked after your Aunt Lou and your Uncle Buck," she promised then ruffling his hair she smiled. "You did good son, I'm proud of you."

She turned to Samuel, her eyes twinkling. "Both of you."

* * *

Doc Barnes moved as quickly as the buckboard would allow him. If Buck was as bad as the deputy said, then he needed to get there soon. He shook his head. What these men had done to Sam was bad enough, but attacking his home?

He prayed the deputy was right and the man responsible had been dealt with. They'd done enough damage as it was.

When he pulled into the Cain's yard, he noticed the covered pile of bodies and the bullet holes in the bunkhouse. Then he saw the barn. He reined in the team and pulled the brake shaking his head as he climbed down.

"Buck was in there when it happened."

"I was afraid it was something like that," he answered, noticing how Jimmy was studying the barn.

"Cody says Buck was standing guard in the loft. Musta jumped when they threw the dynamite."

After a moment Doc Barnes nodded. If he hadn't, he wouldn't be needing his services. "You checked inside?"

"They took out most of the front supports. Back end's not as bad."

"They said someone else was hurt?"

Jimmy nodded. "Lou. It looks like it's a graze, but of course, you're the doc."

"Glad you remember that."

* * *

Kid sat watching over Lou as the Doctor finished working on Buck and checking in on Sam.

"Are you sure I can't get you something?"

"Kid," Lou said softly. "I didn't need anything five minutes ago. If I need anything I'll let you know."

"I know it's just taking him so long."

"Because I'm not hurt that bad," she assured him. "You know that… and the longer he's with Buck, the better I feel about the whole thing."

Kid shifted in his chair, finally settling down again.

Lou had almost drifted off to sleep when she heard a knock on the door. Kid opened it and Doc Barnes entered.

"Sorry for the delay," he apologized as he set his bag on the dresser and poured some water into the wash basin.

"How's Buck?" Kid asked anxiously.

"I'm not sure," Doctor Barnes answered honestly. "He's been hurt, but most of it is internal and that can be bad. He's got a few cracked ribs and his ankle is swollen pretty badly." He let his breath out slowly.

"According to Jimmy when you saw him he was looking queasy and leaning up against the side of the bunkhouse?"

Kid nodded.

"And he had trouble standing on his own?"

Again Kid nodded.

"Did he wake up at all?"

Kid swallowed hard. "He asked about the others. He had trouble speaking… ended up using sign."

"The explosion could have damaged his inner ear. That would explain what Jimmy described, but there's no real way to see what's wrong until he's awake. I'm afraid we're just going to have to watch him and pray for the best."

He finished washing his hands and opened his bag. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to take a look at Lou."

Kid was surprised to find Doc Barnes ushering him out of the room so he could treat Lou.

"We're married now Doc," she told him softly. "Been married over ten years, and if you don't want to be mobbed as soon as you leave this room, let him stay."

Doc Barnes nodded and went to work. He removed the bandages Kid had applied and inspected the wound. He gave Lou a kindly smile and re-bandaged her leg. "You're going to want to keep this clean and dry…"

He stopped and gave Lou a dour look. "You know all of this don't you?"

Lou nodded shyly. "I've been hit before."

"Always lucky enough to only get creased I see."

Lou nodded, tilting her head as the doctor leaned in closer. There was something about the twinkle in his eyes that had her chuckling even before he whispered to her in a conspiratorial tone.

"If you were just a little luckier… you'd get missed all together… you might want to work on that."

Lou smiled. "I'll see what I can do Doc."

He patted her shoulder and nodded. "I thought you might."

* * *

The next day Cody and Jimmy joined the posse, acting as trackers while the others continued to watch over Buck and Sam. Edward had been against them helping until Sam deputized them himself and ordered them to track the men who'd attacked the house.

It didn't take them long to find the trail. The men were more concerned about getting away then they were subterfuge. Jimmy quickly called Edward over and explained what they were seeing.

"They're moving fast," he said. "Now that don't mean they aren't going to slow down at some point."

"Or that they won't try and set traps along the way," Cody added.

"But it does bode well for Sam and the others."

Edward listened to them, impressed by how calmly they were after everything that had happened. Thinking about it 'calmly' wasn't the right word, they were focused.

Both men knew what they were doing and more importantly, knew what they needed to do. The attack on the house had hurt them deeply, but they weren't letting that rule their actions.

"You done a good job," he told them.

"Not nearly as good as Buck would have," Jimmy replied.

"He'd have told you how many."

"And where they were headed."

"I'm guessing he's done this before as well?"

"We all have," Cody answered his smile widening.

"Including Lou."

"But…" Edward objected.

"There aren't any 'buts' when it comes to Lou," Jimmy warned him solemnly. "She rode with us in the express and can probably still outride both of us."

"I wouldn't doubt that," Cody agreed.

Edward shook his head. "I have a feeling you have a lot of stories to tell."

"A lot of stories, and a lot of folks who ain't here anymore," Jimmy confirmed. "Folks like 'Bulldog' and Ike."

Cody nodded, a sad smile playing across his lips. "Noah."

"Teaspoon."

"Matt."

"We've lost some good friends," Jimmy finally added.

"And it never gets any easier." Cody agreed. "You'd have liked them all. They were good men. And Buck, he's one of the best I've known. I really hope you get a chance to meet him."

It was obvious he was worried that Buck wasn't going to make it, they all were. He had risked his life to give the others a fighting chance. They just weren't sure what it had cost him.

"Let's hope we have some good news when we bring these men in," Edward stated taking a deep breath. They still had work to do and doing it might be the best thing for all of them.

* * *

It took the posse two days to catch up with what remained of Merrick's men; two days where Edward Overton learned just why Sam wanted these two tracking for him.

"They're starting to lay in false trails," Cody announced nodding towards the ground in front of them. "They backtracked here."

Edward looked at the trail and shook his head. "I don't see how it looks any different," he admitted.

Jimmy traced the outline of the track and then the older track beneath it where they didn't quite line up.

"It means they think they've got enough room, they can try and give themselves a better lead," Cody explained.

"It also means, there's a much better chance of them setting an ambush," Jimmy agreed.

"And we've already seen that these boys do love an ambush," Edward said with a sigh.

Jimmy and Cody looked at each other and nodded. Sam had chosen well with Edward, the man was quick on the uptake and a steady second in command.

"It also means Cody and me are going to scout ahead of the main posse."

"No." Edward's voice was firm. "I'm not going to put you two in more danger than you're already in."

Cody smiled. "That's really sweet Edward, but we got a job to do and it's going to be a lot easier to slip in and out unnoticed if we don't have a small army movin' with us."

"Just be glad we aren't Buck, 'cause, you wouldn't be having this argument. He'd already be far enough ahead that he'd have found them and been on his way back to report."

"Well, you're still here. So you better do something about it," Edward grumbled. Still, he was fairly certain by now that Buck would not have been nearly as annoying as his friends were becoming.

* * *

Edward waited along with the rest of the posse while Cody and Hickok moved ahead. He was about to break down and follow them an hour later when they showed back up.

Cody was practically beaming. "They're a few miles ahead," he confirmed, "just waiting for us to ride in after them."

Edward let his breath out slowly then nodded towards the dirt. "What's the set up like?"

Hickok picked up a stick pointed to the ground. "The trail leads to a small stream," he said drawing the stream.

"Only the stream's nice and low and walled in."

"I saw about seven men, all laying prone on a ridge line here," Hickok said drawing a line west of the stream.

"They got at least three more over here," Cody added, drawing a line towards the north.

Edward looked at the setup Cody and Hickok had described and shook his head. "If I were running this-I'd want to make sure I draw the posse in and once they're in, I'd want to close it up," he said drawing a line behind the path.

"Make it a blood bath," Hickok agreed.

"So what are we going to do about it?"

Edward looked at Cody in disbelief: the man was actually smiling. "Well, if they're expecting us to come in from the south, I'd say we do anything but."

"We could try and take out these three quietly… replace them with our own men," Hickok suggested.

"But we don't know if there's only three. We saw three…"

Hickok's shoulders sagged slightly, but Cody had a point.

"How close do you figure we can get before they notice?"

They both thought before answering. Hickok had to smile though he and Cody were thinking the same thing.

"We could get a lot closer if send a few riders through the gap."

"If we're there as scouts-checking out the area before the main posse comes, they won't have reason to shoot. Not until we signal you to come in."

"No." Edward shook his head. "I am not putting anyone in that position, let alone you two."

Cody tilted his head, a huge grin on his face as he smiled at Jimmy. "Aw, he likes us Hickok. He don't want to risk us getting hurt."

"I don't want anyone getting hurt," Edward growled. "Or are you forgetting how one of those bastards let himself get killed for the chance to kill one of you."

"He didn't," Hickok answered with a grim nod. "His shot went wide."

"But it could have gone very differently."

"Could have, but it didn't."

"No Hickok. That fight you reacted quickly enough. I'm not even sure how but your friend Buck managed to move, and he was fast enough, but that fight was two on one. That ain't what we're talking about here. You two go in there, you'll be facing at least six to one odds until we can get into place, and these men have proven they're willing to die if it means killing one of us."

"It's bad enough your friend's in the shape he's in," he added shaking his head. "You think I'm going to sacrifice you two, you're sadly mistaken."

"It wouldn't be a sacrifice," Cody argued. "It's a calculated risk."

"Tell me another one Cody, 'cause I ain't buying it."

* * *

In the end, they settled for having two riders lead a string of horses towards the creek, keeping them where they could be heard, but not seen.

The rest of the posse moved into position behind their 'would be attackers'. In addition to the men Cody and Jimmy had seen there were four more waiting to close the trap once the posse had ridden in: Four men who would have cut anyone inside that circle to shreds.

Though Edward would rather have issued no warning, he was a constabulary of the peace. And that meant he had to give them a choice.

"This is Deputy Marshal Edward Overton, I am ordering you to put your weapons down and surrender."

Edward had enough time to drop to the ground before they fired on him. There were times he really hated his job and this was one of them. As he prepared to return fire, there was a return volley from the posse. He looked up in time to see Hickok and Cody move forward, covering him.

As Hickok fired several shots, Cody took his time and aimed at one of their quarry. He stretched his neck as if her were relieving pressure. "You might want to see if they want to give up," he called out. But when the man he was watching drew a bead on Jimmy, Cody fired.

The fight was over in less than a minute.

Edward looked up as Cody and Hickok each offered him a hand up. He could definitely see why Sam wanted these men with him.

To his surprise, Cody tilted his head and smiled. "Thanks for not letting us ride into that."

"Least I could do," he said as they helped him to his feet. For the first time since this nightmare began, Edward knew he could relax.

"Let's go home."

* * *

Emma made her rounds, checking on her family. It was amazing how quickly the children recovered from the attack. Sam continued to grow stronger and Lou had recovered enough to help out in the kitchen as long as she didn't stay on her feet too long.

The only one left to worry about was Buck. For the past three days he had shown little sign of waking up, but the doctor had assured them this wasn't unusual. Perhaps it wasn't, but it was worrisome.

She opened the door to the spare room and smiled at Kid who sat there reading to the unconscious man. They each did something to try and guide Buck back to them as they took their turn watching over him. The only person who hadn't taken a shift sitting with Buck was Sam, and that was only because she had to threaten to tie him to the bed to keep him from going.

"Terry," she called softly. "I brought you some coffee."

He looked up and smiled, quickly setting his book down and taking the tray from her. "Still can't get used to you calling me that."

Emma smiled. "Well, you have to admit, it is more adult that 'Kid'."

"Yes ma'am."

"Has there been any change?"

Kid shook his head. "He's stirred once or twice, even called out in Kiowa but he hasn't woken up."

Emma nodded, gently patting his shoulder. "It's a good sign," she assured him. "It means he's trying to find his way back to us."

"We wouldn't have made it if it weren't for him," Kid answered softly. "It's not fair that he's the one lying here."

"Now Terry, we all know life ain't fair," she answered. "I always felt for you boys and Lou. Ain't none of you had it easy."

"It always amazed me to see how you all looked out for each other," she continued. 'Specially Buck. Did my heart good to see you all stick up for each other, care for someone other than yourselves. You're the ones who made yourselves a family."

"And we left him when the express ended."

"No. I left." Buck's voice was so soft they barely heard him but looking at him they could see his eyes were slightly open. He gave them a weak smile when he saw the relief in their eyes. "Sorry I worried you."

Emma took his hand in hers, her eyes twinkling with unshed tears. "Everything's going to be fine," she said. "Everything's going to be just fine."

Kid gave Buck's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I'll go let the others know," he said as he stood and headed for the door.

"Tell them they can see him once Doc Barnes has checked him out."

"Yes ma'am," he answered before leaving.

"Is everyone else all right?" Buck asked with a slight groan as he tried to sit up. The room seemed to be spinning ever so slightly.

"Everyone is fine now," she said with a smile. "You just sit still till Doc Barnes gets here, all right?"

Buck gave her a weak smile. He was in no shape to argue and they both knew it.

* * *

Doc Barnes smiled at Buck as he entered the room. "How're you feeling this afternoon?"

"Still a little dizzy," Buck admitted as he set his book aside. It had been two days since he'd woken up, and he'd finally managed to keep some solid food down.

The doctor nodded. "I'd be surprised if you weren't," he admitted before offering Buck a hand up. "Can you sit up?"

Buck gave him a dubious look, before accepting the help. It never ceased to amaze him how someone who seemed as frail as the aging doctor could be so strong. Once Buck was upright, Doc Barnes began his examination.

The fact that Buck was clenching the sheets on either side was not lost on the doctor.

"Well, you're doing a lot better," Doc assured him.

"But I'm still having dizzy spells."

Doc Barnes nodded, and patted Buck's knee. "I think some of that is just that you haven't been able to eat much, but you they are becoming fewer and further between yes?"

"Yes."

"Just give it time son you've been through quite a bit."

* * *

That night everyone was called into the downstairs bedroom where Sam was sitting propped up in bed. He smiled as the former riders entered along with his chief deputy.

He gave them all a grateful smile, but it grew when he saw Buck enter the room. "Good to hear you're doin' better," he stated.

"You too," Buck said. "You had us worried."

"He had us worried?" Jimmy asked Buck in disbelief. "I think it was more than just Sam."

Buck was leaning on Jimmy for support and knew he coudln't object too much. Jimmy on the other hand wasn't above taking advantage of that fact.

"Have a seat," Emma urged, making sure Buck was seated comfortably before sitting on the edge of the bed next to Sam.

Sam watched those gathered as they took their seats. These men and women were his family, and he had never been more grateful for them at he was at that moment. If it hadn't been for Emma's boys, he would have lost his family. Of that Sam Cain was sure. Merrick had told him as much.

He drew a deep breath and sighed. "I wanted to thank you all for coming here, and for taking care of us," he began. "If it weren't for you…"

He shook his head, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. The memory of Merrick standing over him gloating was heavy on his mind. He looked at Emma's hand in his then at his sons before focusing on the others.

"Right before I came to Sweetwater, I was responsible for bringing in a bank robber named David Merrick. It took me a week of hard riding to track him down. He led us on a merry chase until we finally cornered him. It was all but a massacre…"

"I lost two men that day because he wasn't willing to surrender, but the only thing Merrick cared about was the fact that I killed his little brother."

"At his trial, he swore he'd make me pay." He paused again as he remembered the rage in Merrick's eyes. "The other day he said he wasn't going to kill me until he'd taken everything from me."

Jimmy shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he listened, but it was Lou who spoke. "Good thing he didn't count on us."

* * *

Two weeks later everyone went their separate ways, but each had promised to return for Christmas. Emma knew they couldn't stay. They each had responsibilities to get back to and she couldn't be prouder of them.

Jimmy was headed to Deadwood and his job there, Lou and Kid to their ranch in Rock Creek, Cody and Buck to the reservation and then Washington DC.

Her boys had turned out well and no lasting damage had been done. If anything, it had brought them back together and for that she was thankful.


Peace is all around me

He knew that if he could just close his eyes, it would all fade away. If only for a moment he could just be Jimmy instead of Wild Bill.

He forced himself to look at his glass and tune out his surroundings. Calls of 'Wild Bill' were bad enough but the saloon girls seemed to be of two minds, he was either a pariah or the biggest catch in the room.

He picked up the tumbler filled with whiskey and took a sip. As the amber liquid burned its way down his throat thoughts of his friends came unbidden.

He remembered Kid being able to sleep at the drop of a hat, usually his own. How he wished he could sleep so easily. Thinking about it he realized that Kid never had to face down a man intent on killing him simply to build their reputation. Kid had never had to fight for his life.

Jimmy paused. Even that wasn't fair. Kid had faced down more than his share of killers, they all had and they had all slept afterwards. Why couldn't he sleep?

Was it too many ghosts? He didn't think so. Ike had faced the ghosts of his past, but in the end he'd found peace.

He took another quick swallow as he thought about the fact that after that he had then found eternal peace, Ike and Noah both. Sometimes he wondered if that was the only peace waiting for him.

They all had their demons to face, and some dealt with them better than the others. Lou had so many ghosts he found himself pitying Kid until he realized that Kid was her peace.

He couldn't find it with all the talk that surrounded him. How could he be at peace with the insults and slurs that came with the moniker 'Wild Bill?'

It made him think of all the times people had insulted Buck. He'd seen how deep their barbs sank, but Buck somehow found a way to move past the pain, never letting them see the scars they'd made.

He shook his head as he took another sip. Buck, who seemed to be the most open and easy going of the riders, had the cruelest sense of justice when pushed.

He didn't know what exactly Buck had done to the men who had tarred and feathered him, but he knew they never bothered anyone in Sweetwater again and Buck had slept like a baby after that. At least he had after he got over Kathleen Devlin.

There was no getting over being 'Wild Bill'. There was no 'after' for him. The closest he came to peace was the knowledge that he could protect himself and that was security, not peace.

Peace was all around him, but Jimmy could never call it his.

Buffalo Moon

Come, join the celebration

It was dusk by the time Buck reached the encampment. He smiled when he saw the shield just outside the collection of teepees. The image of a red bear standing facing forward made him smile.

It was the sign that this was his brother's camp, but more than anything it made him think of the coat of arms one of Tompkins' friends was bragging about. They thought his people were savages, primitive. 'And yet we have our own sort of coat of arms,' he thought.

Once past the marker, he dismounted and led his horse to the tether line. He knew that others were watching him and had been watching him since mid day, but that was to be expected.

He continued until he found a place to put his horse and tied him to the line. He fell into the routine of caring for his mount, allowing him to observe the others as he worked. He saw several men at the end of the line working as he was. He looked up at them then stepped aside for a moment when he realized he had never seen them before in his life.

He looked around, surprised to see his brother watching him with a smile on his face.

"They are visiting," he said. "They do not speak our tongue, but two of them speak Lakota."

Buck nodded, not looking back at the men as his brother spoke. He knew what it was like to have people talk about you behind your back, and this was bordering on it.

"They are Tagúi," Red Bear added using a more respectful term for their guests than the he would have used even a year or two ago. They were Plains Apache.

Buck nodded remembering the stories the elders would tell of an ally who was far too friendly with the whites. They spoke the language of the Apache, or a related language but they were more like the Kiowa than any other people they had known.

He paused, thinking for a moment as he went back to brushing his horse. "They call themselves... Naishnadina." He paused as he pronounced the word, allowing it to roll off his tongue.

Looking up, he saw an amused smile cross his brother's face. "You want me to learn it?"

"I need you to learn it, and to teach them our tongue." It was his brother's gift and being a good leader, Red Bear knew how and where to use it. "For now you will translate."

Buck nodded. His brother didn't ask this of him, this was something that he couldn't afford refusal on. It was also something Red Bear knew he'd gladly do.

There were others who spoke Lakota, but Buck had shown a gift for learning languages and the faster one of their clan knew how to speak the new language, the faster the others would learn.

"When do you want me to start?"

"Now," he answered pragmatically. "Tell them we have set a place for them and we will take them there when they are ready."

Buck nodded, picked up his saddle and gear then joined Red Bear and the others. There were five of them: three older men in their fifties, another probably in his mid thirties and the final one was about Buck's age. To his surprise, the younger men were not dressed as their elders, but as if they'd come from town like he had.

When he translated Read Bear's offer, the youngest man turned and translated it further.

The group turned studying him for a moment, before the eldest laughed. When he spoke, his eyes twinkled and all but the two younger men laughed as well.

Buck raised an eyebrow, fairly certain that he was now the butt of the man's joke but the younger man simply shook his head.

"My grandfather has accused my uncle or me of drafting one of our friends into posing as a Kiowa warrior to help translate since you are not dressed like any Kiowa he has ever seen."

"Is that the sort of thing he'd expect one of you to do?"

The young man smiled. "I'd like to say no, but we have when needed."

Buck nodded before translating. He was surprised when his brother laughed as well, but he refrained from commenting. For now his job was to translate what was said, not interject himself into the conversation.

Three hours later the meeting adjourned and Buck led the visitors to the tipi that had been prepared for them and bid them goodnight. He had never spoken so much at one time in his life, though after the first question he was speaking for Red Bear.

As he settled in for the night, he picked out the words he could remember and repeated them to himself. If he saw the smug smile on his brother's face, he didn't acknowledge it. It was enough for him to know that this was Buck's decision, and once made, he would never look back on it.

That was a trait they both shared.

Buck turned towards his brother to ask him something when he noticed Red Bear was staring away from the fire. He turned, surprised to see the two younger Tagúi men who had served as translators.

They waited for Red Bear's acknowledgement, but rather than invite them in, Red Bear stood and wished them a good night. He stepped out of the circle knowing that these three men needed to talk together as men and not as his translators. He gave them a slight nod and left them alone by the fire.

"Please," Buck said gesturing towards the fire. "Have a seat." He spoke first in Lakota and then in his own language.

The two men smiled. The elder replied, first repeating Buck's words, then again said them, but this time in the language of his own people. "Thank you," he added, repeating the words in Lakota.

Though the progress was slow, Buck listened, realizing that their language was more tonal than his own, and not too unlike the little bit of Navajo he had heard. It puzzled him, for a moment because they were Apache. 'But not Apache,' he reminded himself. 'Plains Apache, Na-de.'

They talked for hours, translating everything they said and practicing what they had learned. They introduced themselves as Rain on the Mountains and Sun Fox. He introduced himself and translated their names into Kiowa. They in turn translated his name into their own language.

After a while, they simply spoke in Lakota, all three men too tired to learn more, but interested in getting to know each other.

"How many languages to you speak?" Buck finally asked.

"In addition to Naishnadina?" Rain on the Mountains asked. "We both speak Lakota and English. I speak some Pawnee. Sun Fox speaks a little French and Osage."

"I do not speak them as well as my sister," Sun Fox confided. "Briar Woman is far better at learning other languages. She has always picked them up as easily as if it were Naishnadina, especially in school. The professors did their best to challenge her with as many languages as they could and she always managed to surprise them."

"Where did you go to school?"

"When our parents were killed, my brother, sister and I were sent to a boarding school in New Hampshire." Sun Fox shook his head. "It was so different from anything any of us had known. I guess she studied to forget the sorrow of having to part with our people."

"There was a feud," Rain on the Mountains explained. "It was not safe for the children to stay here. It was decided that it would be best that they be sent away."

Buck could tell from his tone of voice that Rain on the Mountains had not agreed with that decision.

"What about you?" Sun Fox asked. "If I had to venture a guess, I'd say you went to school as well."

Buck paused before answering. "I went to a mission school," he explained.

Both men noticed his reluctance to answer, but said nothing about it. Sun Fox instead smiled. "Bet they made you cut your hair."

Buck nodded.

"I don't know what it is about white schools," Sun Fox sighed. "First day there, they have to cut you hair-and they never understand what it means."

"No, they don't," Buck agreed. He had to smile. Though Sun Fox's life had been quite different than his own they both shared much in common and that gave them the common ground they needed to understand each other's languages. Perhaps it was also what they needed to be friends.



Celebration of the heart

A simple reminder of love

Rachel took the stopper off the perfume bottle and took a deep breath before tracing the tip up her neck.

She remembered the day he bought it for her. He had said it reminded him of her. The faint scents of lavender and rosemary clung to the air. She touched the stopper to each wrist before replacing it and rubbing her wrists together.

Resting her head in her hands she closed her eyes, letting the scent fill her nostrils. She took a deep breath before tucking her hair behind her ears. She looked up at her reflection in the mirror and gave herself a sad smile when she saw the redness in her eyes.

She bowed her head for a moment before picking up her brush and styling her hair. Her gaze strayed to the tintype she kept on her dresser. Henry.

A small sigh escaped her lips for what would never be as she put her brush down and pinched her cheeks. She quickly checked her reflection in the mirror before draping a shawl over her arm. She looked up, relieved to see the redness fading.

She kissed her fingers, touching them to the faded tintype before she left the room. It wasn't the same without him.

Stomp Dance

Family and friends, that's what its all about.

He watched as the younger children clung to their parents when they approached the camp. He could feel his heart want to break each time he saw it. This was what he was trying to change. He didn't know if it would work, or if it would just be viewed as another one of his 'entertainment enterprises'. He didn't really care.

As long as one of the children in the group would pause and see the other children playing in the camp, it would be worth it. As long as one parent saw that the Indians in his troupe were not so different than they, it was worth it.

He smiled when he saw Aaron wave the group over and invite them to sit down as his grandfather gathered his family together. If he could get them to pause, and listen to a story he knew the older man would help them see their difference weren't all that great.

Two-Rivers could tell a story like no other, and Aaron would use the same nuance and intonation as his grandfather when he translated. He was lucky that Aaron was visiting; lucky that Two-Rivers had accepted his offer to travel with the show and give thousands a chance to see how they had lived before the reservation.

He bit back the feeling of pain and desolation that one word could bring to him, to his friends. It was part of why he had added the camp to the show. He thought it might help.

He remembered the first time he heard Teaspoon tell them an old Indian saying that 'a white man thinks with his head, when an Indian thinks with his heart.' Living with Buck, and later the Pawnee Scouts out of Fort Kearny had taught him just what that meant.

He found that as he got older he wanted to think with his heart. A slight smile graced his lips when he remembered learning Indian Sign. The sign for 'think' indicated that it was coming from the heart.

"You're looking far too nostalgic Cody."

He could hear the amusement in the voice long before he could see the speaker. He also knew that voice as well as his own. "Buck?"

He smiled, surprised to see the former rider dressed in his Sunday best. Cody grinned.

"I haven't been called that in years. Mister Cody, sure... but..."

Buck smiled. "It's good to see you too."

A dozen questions came and went before Cody could speak again. Finally he tried again. "I never expected to see you here."

"Omaha?"

"No Buck the show, I never thought you'd come to the show."

Buck's smile made him laugh.

"Are Eleanor and the girls with you?"

"Not today," Buck answered. "Just Eleanor and Elaine."

Cody tilted his head. Buck had never been all that talkative, but he seemed to be saying something far deeper that Cody didn't understand.

"Buck, you going to talk to me here or are you going to make me go and ask Eleanor."

"We're here to talk to ask Walter and Maureen to be Elaine's God parents."

Cody paused, stepping back slightly. "I thought Louisa and I were her God parents."

"Different Gods," Buck answered. "Elaine is growing up… She wants to have a na'ii'ees"

"Sunrise Dance? Laney wants to have her sunrise dance here?"

Buck paused. This was the moment he'd been worried about. "Not here," he answered. "She wants to celebrate with her great-grandparents, with her family and our people. She wants you and Louisa and the children there but she doesn't want this to be a show."

"Of course," Cody answered. "But there are some people I'd like you to think about inviting…"

Buck tilted his head. "Who?"

"There's a few Congressmen visiting, and the Governor. I think it might be good for them to see one, try and understand how important it is."

Cody knew that the na'ii'ees celebrated a girl's growth into womanhood. It also brought families together and it taught the responsibilities of adulthood. If he could get the Governor to understand even a little bit of it-there would be hope for people like Walter and Maureen.

"I'll ask Elaine, but it is up to her."

Cody nodded.

"It's a four day ceremony-but it takes more like a week…"

"Hell, you missed the Fourth of July party I threw last year… it started in June."

Buck nodded, a smile fighting to grow. "We still have to see what Maureen and Walter say."

"Let's find out."

The sunrise dance - na'ii'ees is a Western Apache traditional dance held in honor of a girl reaching puberty. It re-creates the Apache origin and is a time of learning and dedication.

The Chosen One

Visiting for a friend's wedding, things don't turn out as Emma planned

The sky was clear and the air crisp when Sam drove a rented buggy out to Emma Shannon's home. He wasn't sure if he was happy or worried that she'd asked him to take her to Blue Creek for her friend Alice Edmonds' wedding.

He loved Emma and he loved being with her, but when a relationship started to include attending weddings together, he knew that you best well start thinking of your own. For the first time in a very long time the thought of getting married again didn't give him the cold sweats.

He even managed to smile as Emma came down the steps to greet him. She was a vision in blue and Sam found himself slipping out of the buggy to meet her half way.

"Emma, you look... amazing," he said holding is arms out to hug her.

"You don't look bad yourself Sam," she said as she slipped into his arms and returned the gesture. "Not bad at all."

He could see the twinkle in her eye as they separated and she nodded towards the buggy. "That new?"

"I borrowed it," he told her as he looked around the yard. "Where is everybody?"

"Lou's out on a run. The others should be around here somewhere."

He nodded as he helped her into the buggy. Once she was seated, he smiled at her and took his place at her side. He was about to urge the horse on when Teaspoon came around the house.

"Now Emma, don't worry about a thing. Me and the boys have everything in hand."

"I know that Mister Spoon, and I'll only be gone for three days." She turned towards Sam and smiled. She could tell he was more worried about how the town was going to be for three days.

"Teaspoon, be sure and check in on Barnett for me."

The stationmaster had to laugh at the request. There was a long suffering tone to Sam's voice. Barnett was a good man, he just didn't always act in a logical fashion. "Yep, recon I'll do that for ya Sam, you just take care of Emma and leave everything else to us."

"Why thank you!"

"You're welcome Marshal. Now you best be heading to Blue Creek. Emma's gotta few things she needs to give to Alice afore the wedding."

"Then I just better do that I guess," Sam said with a chuckle. He checked to make sure that Emma was ready before urging the horses on.

* * *

The trip was everything Sam wished it could have been: quiet time alone with Emma. There were times when Emma would look at him and Sam swore he knew what she was thinking. He hadn't planned of falling in love, especially not after what happened to Ginny.

He shook his head. That wasn't true, he'd known he'd fall again, but after Ginny he'd sworn he wouldn't act on his feelings. Ginny was dead because she was married to him. How could he ask someone to take that risk?

Still, when he looked at Emma, all he could think was how good 'Emma Cain' sounded to him.

"You know Emma, I could get real used to this."

"Drivin' me around to friends' weddings?"

He looked at her, his smile broadening. "Weddings, Socials... Church..."

"Why Sam," Emma gasped. Was he asking? Part of her hoped he would, but she knew what he'd been through.

"I'm just saying, you know... Aw Emma, you know how I feel about you.... Would you ever consider marrying again?"

"Would you?"

Sam gave her a playful look and shook his head. "I don't know Emma, right woman come along... I could see me getting married again."

Emma laughed. "Well you think on that Sam Cain," she told him. "And you can just drop me off right here."

Sam gave her a worried look, afraid he'd taken the easy way out and hurt her feelings. He quickly reigned in the horses and pulled the break.

Emma smiled and patted his knee. "You think on it Sam, I'm going to go see Alice." She turned. "You think you can put the horses away and get us a coupla rooms without getting into trouble?"

"I don't know. You might want to keep an eye on me-never know what I'll find when I'm left to my own devices."

She saw the impish twinkle in his eyes and knew he was in a playful mood. "Uh-huh," she answered in a disbelieving tone. Before she could leave the buggy Sam, climbed out and offered her his hand.

When she took it and he helped her down, Sam knew that she wasn't mad at him. This brought back the smug smile. He kissed her.

"I'll be at the hotel time you finish here."

"I know," she said, then sighed. "I'll see you in a few hours Sam."

"I look forward to it."

Sam had taken one step back towards the buggy when he heard the sound of gunfire. Reflexively his hand went to his holster and he drew his gun. He was scanning the area when he saw four men on horseback riding directly towards them.

"Emma," Sam called as he ran towards her. His eyes widened as he saw Emma turn towards him rather then duck. He waved for her to get down but he was moving too fast. Without breaking his stride, Sam tackled Emma, propelling them to the relative cover of a water trough.

"Stay down," he urged as he pulled himself forward slightly. He used his elbows to support himself and take some of his weight off of the woman he was protecting, but he made no move to return fire.

Emma grunted slightly when Sam impacted with her, but when she heard the sound of gunfire she realized what he was doing. She'd known he loved her but-was he really using his own body to protect her?

She wanted to take him in her arms and try to make him understand. Life wasn't worth a thing if he was gone from it. Especially not if he died trying to save her.

She tried to roll away from him, but he held her tightly. Then it was too late. She felt Sam tense on top of her and heard his ragged gasp.

"Sam?"

"I'm all right Emma," Sam managed to respond. There was a hitch in his voice as he tried to move and found it too painful.

He paused, listening to the sound of retreating hoof beats. "I think they're gone."

Emma nodded, but when Sam remained where he was, she turned her head. "You going to let me up any time soon Sam Cain?"

She could feel Sam try and move, but instead of getting off of her he tensed in pain. She gasped. "Sam?"

"I'm all right," he assured her. "Just... have a splinter...."

"A splinter? You're making this much of a commotion over a splinter?"

"It's a bit big...."

Emma tried to move, but she could tell that each attempt only hurt Sam more. She bit her lip and settled back down. "Maybe someone will help?"

They could hear people gathering around them and then an authoritative voice saying, "Let me through... everyone please move back..."

Emma could see a crowd of feet coming nearer and then moving aside as a pair of men's boots filled her field of vision.

"Y'all all right there?" A male voice asked.

Emma saw the boots walk around them, and then heard him say, "Oh dear." She could tell from the man's voice that Sam's 'splinter' was probably more than just 'a bit big.'

"Can ya move son?"

"Brett? That you?"

There was a pause as the man squatted down next to them and sighed. "Sam you're probably the only man I know who could manage something like this. What did you do? Did you get bored?"

"It weren't me..."

As Sam objected, Emma felt someone give her shoulder a gentle pat. "You'll be out of this in a minute Miss." The man's tone was far kinder than the one he used on Sam.

He stood and pointed to a few people and started bringing order to the gathered crowd. "Marcus, round up a posse for me. Ellie, get Doc Robarth. Daniel, we're going to need a buckboard. The rest of ya, please give these folks some privacy."

Emma watched as the crowd slowly disbursed and the man squatted back down. "It don't look too bad," he told her softly. "But I want to make sure we don't do more harm then good."

Emma nodded, thankful for the reassurance. "I take it you two know each other?"

Sam chuckled into her hair then lifted his head slightly. "Emma, like you to meet a friend a mine. That ugly mug there, that's Brett Montgomery. He's the Marshal here abouts. Brett, " he started to introduce Emma but then he paused, not sure what he should say. "Just leave Emma alone or I'll shoot ya myself."

This brought a belly laugh from Brett. Finally as his laughter faded he spoke again. "Sam, you really aren't in any position to be making threats."

Brett didn't say any more, it wasn't really necessary. Any fool looking at them could tell that she meant the world to Sam, and he said as much.

Sam and Emma were spared from having to say anything by the timely arrival of the town's doctor.

He looked at them for a moment and at the devastated water tough behind them. Without a word he set to work pulling the biggest piece of wood out of Sam's hip.

"Okay folks, there are still some splinters in there. Once we can move you, I'm going to want you in my office."

With Bret's assistance they helped Sam up and onto the now waiting buckboard.

Emma started to stand and a young woman offered her a hand up. "Are you all right?"

Emma looked at her and smiled realizing that this was probably the 'Ellie' that Brett had sent for the doctor. "Thank you."

As they moved forward, Brett turned. "Emma, this here is my niece Eleanor. Ellie you take care of Emma and Sam here. We got room in the house, once Doc finishes with Sam..."

Ellie simply nodded. "Who was it?"

He paused, realizing she was asking about the four riders. "Some fool idiots," he answered not wanting her to worry. "We'll get them."

Once he was sure Sam and Emma were taken care of he headed for the Marshal's office where the posse was forming.

Ellie smiled at Emma. "If you don't mind riding in back with Sam-I'll drive you over to Doc's."

Emma noticed how Ellie picked up Sam's name and smiled. "Of course," she said, briefly touching Eleanor's arm as she climbed into the buckboard. She couldn't help but laugh at the dour look Sam gave her.

"You're going to be all right Sam Cain."

Ellie turned to look at them for a moment. "You're Sam Cain?" It was clear in her tone that she had heard of him.

Sam smiled at her and nodded. "I'm guess'n your uncle's been telling you stories."

"Since I was nine," she answered before turning around in her seat. "Hold on..."

Once they reached the Doctor's office Sam was helped into one of the private rooms. Ellie made sure Emma was all right before excusing herself to get their things leaving Emma to wait alone.

It was almost an hour later when the doctor opened the door and gestured towards the treatment room. "He'd like to see you."

Emma nodded, noticing the bemused look the doctor gave her. She thanked him then entered the room. Once her eyes adjusted to the light, she sat down on the bed facing Sam. "You're looking better."

He smiled, still propped up on his side. "I'm feeling a whole lot better..."

She could see the concern in his eyes. He reached up and pushed a stray lock of her hair behind her ear.

"Emma I was so scared I was going to lose you."

She looked at him and gently rested her hand on his shoulder. "Sam..."

"I love you Emma," he said as if that explained everything.

"Did you ever think that maybe I was afraid because I love you?"

She had to smile at the look of surprise on his face. "You were?"

Emma nodded tracing lips with her finger. "I was."

She paused slightly when she saw that smug grin try and form, but instead Sam let his real emotions show.

"I don't ever want to be that scared again Emma."

She pulled her hand back and nodded. They'd both been hurt too much, and though she thought she was ready she realized he wasn't. She was surprised when he took her hand and pulled it back placing it over his heart.

"I love you Emma and the only thing that scares me more than losing you, is never sharing that part of our lives with each other. So I'm askin' you.... Marry me?"

Emma smiled then leaned forward, pulling him closer to kiss her. The kiss seemed to take on a life of its own, drawing them closer until they were both gasping for air.

"I take that as a 'yes'?" This time the impish smile did appear as Emma nodded.

"Yes."

Sam pulled her close knowing that what ever happened from here on out, they'd face it together.

A Warrior's Song

Sam rarely spoke of the range war. When asked why he would say, 'because of what it turned me into'

He rode into town, his back ramrod straight. With his wife dead Sam Cain seemed to fight that much harder.

Anyone who knew him knew just how hard Ginny's death had hit him, but the ones who didn't only saw the emotionless gaze. It was as if Ginny didn't matter to him. They had no idea how wrong they were.

The town's Sheriff stepped out and tipped his hat. "Sorry for yer loss Mister Cain."

Sam nodded. It didn't matter. Nothing really mattered. He wasn't Sam anymore. He wasn't their friend. He was Mr. Cain.

The last one to call him 'Sam' was Elaine, his sister-in-law. He'd held her, but there was nothing he could say that would bring Ginny back. It took him a while to realize Elaine wasn't looking for that. She was asking about him and wanted to know if he was ever going to be back.

He doubted it then and as he took out more of the Cattleman's hirelings his doubt had turned to acceptance. Sam was gone and in his place was Mr. Cain.

Life was easier as Mister Cain. No one expected him to smile, no one wanted to talk about what he needed to do. Sam they talked to, Mister Cain they feared.

Sam had lost his heart and Mister Cain had no need of one.

One by one the soldiers of the range war fell. He told himself it was self defense; that they drew first. Sam was the one who worried about being fair, about giving some one a chance, but in the end Mister Cain didn't really care. They had taken his life-they had killed Sam when they killed Ginny.

They just hadn't realized how much damage a dead man could do.

Out of Many, One (One World, One Nation)

In his lifetime Aloysius "Teaspoon" Hunter had been many things. As a lawman he fought to protect innocents and his way of life. As a husband he had lived to please his wives. Somehow, no matter what he tried, he ended up alone, alone and yet strong. He never thought he'd be a father until he looked at the six young men lined up against the railing.

They had been hired as express riders, and it was up to him to prepare them for that job.

He looked out the window at the boys as they gathered and waited for word on what they were to do. He leaned back slightly and smiled at Emma.

"I do believe they're almost ready."

"They're so young."

He nodded glad they had someone at the station who was better suited to care for the young men. Teaspoon cared, but he was there to teach them how to survive and that was a very different kind of caring.

"I'm glad you're letting us use your place Miss Shannon."

She smiled at him and shook her head. "Don't you worry about that Mr. Spoon," she told him. "They're paying me to use my place as a station, and seeing as how I don't have enough of anything to grow here, you're helping me."

He slipped his thumbs behind his suspenders and smiled at her. He wasn't sure when she had taken to calling him 'Mister Spoon' but he'd come to like it. It had a certain ring to it.

"Looks like it's just about time Emma. Could you please go down and tell them to meet me at the corral?"

"Why certainly," she said and with a nod headed towards the bunkhouse.

From his vantage point, Teaspoon watched the boys as they assembled. The fact that they each waited until the others were ready did his heart good. It meant they were thinking like a team, or at least thinking that there was strength in numbers.

With a shrug he headed out of the house. Chuckling to himself he looked for a place to wait. It was time to lay on the 'eccentric' and see how the boys reacted.

* * *

The day went quickly, but by the time dinner had rolled around, Teaspoon had a very good idea about the riders and how they'd do their job.

Buck seemed to have a good sense of humor and a good head on his shoulders. He had looked at the arrows he had presented and accepted the challenge. In the end had beaten him to his own punch line: his arrow.

He smiled as he remembered the suppressed, crooked smile Buck had given him. It was a good smile.

He sighed as he remembered the next rider in line, Jimmy. He was fairly certain that that boy wasn't so much actively looking for trouble as daring it to show up. That was one strike against him. The other problem, he couldn't ride worth a damn.

Teaspoon paused, realizing that wasn't a fair assessment. The boy couldn't ride the way he needed them to ride. Hopefully that would come in time.

Then there was Ike. Teaspoon's heart went out to the boy. When his introduction had gone bad, Buck had stepped in and explained who he was and why he was there. One thing was sure, Buck was right: Ike really was good with the horses. He found himself worrying about the problems the young man would face despite what he said about not needing a voice to ride.

He scratched his jaw as he remembered how quickly Buck had stepped in. There was friendship there that much was clear. He wondered if it was a case of two people being drawn together due to similar problems, or perhaps something far deeper.

He sure seemed to have learned a lot of Indian sign for the two days they'd been at the way station. He smiled as he thought of those two, so different and yet so much alike. If they weren't friends before, he knew they would be soon enough.

He had seen the hope in Ike's eyes, the hope that they both would be accepted here, and Teaspoon was glad to oblige.

Then there was Cody. 'William F. Cody. Billy if you like.' He really did not like. Cody had confidence Teaspoon would give him that, but there was confidence, and then there was cocky. Cocky could get you killed, and he did not want to lose any of his riders. It was up to him decide who went and who stayed, and if looked like that would get Cody killed, he would let him go. It was a judgment call.

He shook his head, realizing just how off his judgment had been when it came to the smallest rider, Lou. At first look he was sure the youngster wouldn't even be able to mount the horse let alone ride it as he had.

He had never been so pleased to be proven wrong.

Then there was Kid. Like Buck and Ike, he needed a job and while he lacked the overconfidence and cockiness that Jimmy and Cody had exhibited, there was a confidence born of the knowledge that he could do the job. He seemed to combine the best of them without taking on the worst.

Yes, his boys had a chance to survive the job all he had to do was teach them.

He looked up when he heard a knock on the door. When he opened it he wasn't surprised to see Emma standing there.

"Well Mister Spoon?"

"They'll do Emma. They'll do."

Dakota Stardust

Writing a poem is hard, giving it life, harder yet. Letting it go is freeing

The sun will rise
And all, all will be right
I move by day
And rest under the stars
And what I will be
Is in the wind
I see it take the shape of the sky
And lost I'm alone
I look to the skies
And always there
I see what will be.
And what the world has in store
I smile
For it is good
And you're with me
Under Dakota Skies.
Lit with stardust
And the dreams of the sun.

Ike put his pen down, part of him hearing the words in his head. Poetry was about the way the words sounded and though he wrote the words, and felt the emotions behind them they sat flat on the page.

He wanted them to fly, like embers from the fire before him, but without his voice to give them breath, they sat.

He picked up his journal and handed it to Buck, signing *read it*

He waited, but as Buck began to read silently, Ike nudged him and shook his head. A moment later, Buck gave his words the life they needed to dance around them.

Satisfied he tore the page from his book and placed it on the fire, his smile broadening with joy as the embers rose and filled the night sky with his words.

Man in the Sky

Kid thinks about something Lou said and it confuses him. He has always seen his life as a journey that he must take if he is to become the man he wants to be. A visiting friend helps him see the light.

"Why do you have to be right all the time?" Lou's angry question haunted him.

Fifty miles away, and he could still see her expression. How could she have that effect on him and not believe he cared?

He sullenly poked at the fire. He did not have to be right. He just had to be sure. He had seen what indecision could do to a man and he'd learned a long time ago that you had to believe in yourself if you wanted to survive.

Was that the same as being right?

He shook his head and put another log on the fire. "How could she think that?" He called out into the night.

"Think what?"

Kid was startled when someone replied and drew his gun without thinking.

"You have not changed," he heard an amused voice comment. Then Curly stepped out of the shadows and sat down on the other side of the fire.

"Curly?" He asked in disbelief. As he spoke he re-holstered his gun. "I don't know what I was expecting, but it sure wasn't you."

"I know." Curly said in a clipped tone. "You were riding until you could not see the trail. I was following."

"Why?"

"I was hoping to see you and to wish you well. I have heard that you are to be married."

Kid nodded, though right now he wasn't really sure he would be getting married. Not after what Lou said.

"What is wrong?"

Kid looked up and sighed. "I don't know, Lou asked me if I always had to be right."

"What do you think?"

"Curly, I wouldn't be out here, poking at a fire if I knew."

Curly smiled. "Then you do not know everything."

Kid nodded, still not seeing his point.

"And you accept this?"

"Of course."

"Then you are not always right, and you accept it." He shrugged. The answer was clear to him, even if it wasn't to his brother.

"Its not..."

"Now you are arguing with me... which would support what Lou said."

"But."

"No. You are a very determined man. You know your path, and you know where it lies. Once you have made your decision, it is made. It is not always right, but you hold fast to it. Only when you know you are wrong do you change your mind. That is as it should be." He paused, waiting to see if Kid understood what he was trying to say.

"When you take a wife, you must think of her as well. All I can say is that you should allow her to help make those decisions. Let her... complete you."

Kid remained silent as he thought about what Curly had said. Finally he gave a slow nod.

"And you will see what I mean about having problems with people with principles."

Kid paused before he smiled. "Was it that bad?"

"It can be," he answered truthfully. "But it can also seal your relationship."

Kid gave him a slight smile and nodded. He didn't have to be right all the time, as long as they made the decisions together. He could live with that.

Dance of life

Cody searches for the dream he's lost

Bone tired. Cody thought he understood that expression when he was working as a rider with the Pony Express. If he hadn't learned it then, then maybe it was on one of Teaspoon's posses or the posse where Noah died.

It was nothing compared to the day in, day out routine he'd signed up for. He thought scouting would be an adventure and it was, occasionally. Too many times he'd seen families torn apart, some by war, some as a direct result of his actions.

It was too much. He had prided himself on never letting anything get the better of him, but how could he not? He'd seen battle, he'd seen skirmishes that were nothing short of a massacre, and he'd been on both sides of the fight.

Some of them took more out of him. Some of them haunted him when he slept, others when he was awake. He longed for his friends from the Express. They had known him in better times. They had known him when he knew himself.

He needed them. Jimmy, for all his bluster and smugness knew how to get to the heart of the matter. Kid or Lou would have been willing to listen to him, and Buck... well, Buck probably would have tried to kill him by now.

Lord knew he deserved it.

He looked out at the small encampment that stood outside the fort’s walls and shook his head. While the fort was dark and oppressive, there was cheerfulness to the skin and canvas covered poles of the Lakota camp located there.

The people gave them even more contrast, for the soldiers were all dressed in dust coated blue, and the residents of the camp wore brightly decorated clothes made of anything from cotton to deer skin.

Even their horses emphasized the differences. Instead of the uniform dark mounts the cavalry used, the Lakota horses came in every color combination known to man.

Looking out, he could see a young man brushing out a blue roan. The wind seemed to catch the man’s hair on its way into the fort. That breeze called to him.

Suddenly Cody knew he had to get out of the fort before he suffocated. Moving quickly, he headed out the sally port. From there he had a better view of the camp and the countryside.

From the fort, it all seemed somehow smaller, but here Cody felt small. He took a deep breath and headed towards the river.

He managed a dozen steps before he heard a song on the wind that made him stop. He turned, following the song until he saw a young man standing in front of a tipi playing an end blown flute. A colorful blanket was draped over the man’s shoulder and he was focused on the tipi before him.

The music was haunting and yet it was filled with the surety Cody was searching for. He watched as a young woman joined the young man and he wrapped the blanket around his shoulders before opening his arms and sharing its warmth with her.

There the two stood talking under the watchful eye of the camp.

A slight smile appeared as Cody realized the man was courting. It was a dance that was the same no matter where you went—the same but somehow as amazingly different as the people involved.

For those two, and the millions like them across the world, Cody knew he had to do something to keep the dance alive.

Fast Horse

Noah's run takes him through his favorite part of the plains.

Noah reined his horse in as he crested the rise. No matter how many runs he took, he knew this view would always leave him awestruck. Not only did the plains seem to go on forever, they were never the same twice. Anyone who said that the open prairies were boring hadn't seen it from where Noah sat.

He leaned forward slightly and patted his horse's neck but remained silent. This place seemed to steal his voice, but that didn't bother him. It was one of the few places that hadn't been fenced in and 'civilized.'

With a sigh, he urged his horse on. Sight seeing did not get the pouch to the next rider. He smiled, keeping the memory of the vision tucked away in his mind. He knew he couldn't draw it the way Ike could, but if he was lucky he might just paint a picture with words.

He relaxed his grip on the reins giving the horse its head. The horse, after all, had a far better idea of how it could run. As he fell into the rhythm of the horse's strides he suddenly became aware of a rider coming up behind him.

Turning in his saddle he saw a Lakota warrior riding towards him. Even as he strove to urge his horse on, Noah could hear the warrior say something and laugh.

He quickly began scanning the area. If there was one warrior chasing him, it was a good bet there were others waiting.

When he couldn't see anyone else, he reined in slightly unsure of his situation. He turned to see the approaching rider signal him to keep going. There was no threat in his movements, if anything Noah would have sworn the man wanted to race him.

A few minutes later, the rider pulled along side him. He nodded, practically beaming at the startled express rider. He said something in his own tongue that Noah didn't understand, but his smile was hard to miss.

The man gestured towards his mount and then to Noah's. Then he signed 'race'.

Noah's confusion was obvious, but the man smiled and shook his head.

"Sunkewakan washte," he declared with a nod to his horse and then Noah's. "Sunkewakan washte."

When Noah shook his head, the man pointed to his horse. "Sunkewakan."

Noah nodded.

Then the man pointed to Noah's horse. "Sunkewakan."

Noah nodded then smiled understanding. "Sunkewakan. Horse."

"Horse," the man repeated with a nod. There was a pause as he thought for a moment, then simply signed 'good' as he said "Washte." Then he pointed to the sky, "Washte"

"Good?"

"More...."

Noah shook his head, more than good. Great? Wonderful?

The man thought for a moment then smiled. "Not pretty... more...."

"Beautiful."

The man thought for a moment then nodded. Then with a triumphant whoop, he urged his horse on

Noah paused for a moment before calling out "Shunkewakan Washte," and again giving the horse its head.

It was a beautiful day; he was on a beautiful horse and sometimes-all you needed to accept it was a fast horse.

* Shunkewakan is the Lakota word for horse, it means 'Sacred Dog'
* Washte can mean both 'Good' and 'Beautiful.'

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