Author's Note: My idea for a missing scene at the end of Home of the Brave
He let the cool, evening breeze wash over him and inhaled deeply. It was good to breathe the fresh air after the musty, sweaty atmosphere of the bunkhouse. Living in such close proximity to others did have its downside but he had to admit, at the same time, there was something comforting about the pungent aroma of their living quarters.
They were good people and he knew they meant well, but he'd needed to get away from the constant questions, kind words and sympathetic looks, just for a while. Since he'd got back, with Ike and Kid, he hadn't had a moments peace so, while the others were momentarily distracted by Kid, describing some further event of the previous day, he had slipped outside and sought the solitude he craved.
He found himself sat by the same rock, a little distance from the way station, where he'd stayed the night before the Kiowa had taken Ike. He had come here that night to escape the others but, on that occasion, it had been because of the animosity he felt between them, giving him the distinct feeling he wasn't wanted about the place. It had only been a couple of days since his spat with Jimmy, with regards to his meeting up with his brother, Red Bear, but it seemed a lifetime ago so much had happened in between.
Resting his forearms on his knees, he regarded the red marks about his wrists, left by the leather thongs, which had bound him to the post, while he hung above the hot coals. He was still not quite able to believe he had endured and passed the tests, proving him to be true Kiowa. The cuts and bruises seemed small and insignificant compared to what he had been through but their presence gave tangibility to the whole episode. He wasn't sure if was the medicines he'd been given, by the Man of Dreams, that made it all seem so distant, almost like an illusion, but the last couple of days still didn't feel quite real. So much had happened he was swept up in a wave of physical and mental exhaustion.
It had felt strange to be back amongst his people. Strange but familiar. He had grown up with the sounds and smells of a Kiowa village. Even in his dazed state, the sounds of the women chattering as they worked, scraping hides and cooking had been reassuring. The smells of the fires and the sun warming skins of the tepees, - he remembered them all so well. But these had been things of his past. It was not a happy past but one riven with rejection and isolation.
The misery had increased with the death of his mother but there had been one saving grace - Red Bear. He had protected him as best he could but soon, the taunts and assaults had risen to such proportions that the only course of action had been for Buck to leave the tribe behind and try to make a place for himself in the white world.
As his thoughts turned to his brother, a lump rose in his throat at the memory of his parting words. He knew Red Bear meant well in telling him to never look back but he held him with such high deference, feeling such gratitude and affection for the man, he wasn't sure that would be so easy. Taking a deep breath he swallowed down the emotion, which threatened, releasing it slowly, through pursed lips. Raising his eyes to the sky he looked at the crescent moon, which hung there in all its radiant majesty. Another sigh escaped as he wondered if his brother could see the same moon. It may be all they could share throughout the remainder of their lives, or until they happened upon each other again.
Red Bear's words echoed in his head once more, ' … but I would have to kill you, brother.' He had told him he knew and understood but it didn't make the thought any easier to stomach. Perhaps he had integrated into the white world so far that his natural Kiowa insight had been diluted, as he found this reasoning hard to comprehend. The thought of a violent confrontation, between them, filled him with horror and revulsion. He would never be able to bring harm to the one man who had protected him throughout his troubled childhood. Now that was all gone and he would have to make the best of his new place in the world, here at the Pony Express.
On his return, earlier in the day, he hadn't even been sure he still had a job, having told Teaspoon he was leaving. It had been a great relief when Teaspoon had reassured him he still had a job with the Express and all the riders had made it clear how much he was part of the group, from Cody's over exuberant slap on the back to Hickok's twitch of a smile and nod of the head. He let a small smile of his own crease his lips at the thought.
The soft scrunch of footsteps alerted him that someone had chosen to join him. He looked up, expecting to see Ike but instead saw the grizzled stationmaster looking down at him.
"Here, thought ya might like some," he said, holding out a cup of coffee to Buck.
"Thanks," Buck said softly, taking the proffered cup even though he didn't really want it.
"Nice night," Teaspoon commented, trying to sound casual but Buck caught the tension in the older man's tone, so merely dipped his head in response.
Teaspoon squatted down at his side, nursing his own cup of coffee.
"How ya doin', son?"
"Fine," Buck responded, huskily.
"From what Ike and Kid have told us ya had one hell of a day."
"Just glad to have ya back in one piece," Teaspoon said solemnly. "All of ya," he added, before taking a sip of his coffee.
Buck turned to look at the older man, trying to judge if he was as sincere as he sounded. Teaspoon caught the look and placed a reassuring hand on the Kiowa's shoulder. Seeing the question in the young man's eyes, he gave the shoulder a squeeze. "All of ya," he re-iterated.
"Thanks," Buck mumbled, not quite sure how to respond. Even though he knew Teaspoon meant what he said, he couldn't be sure if it was out of sympathy, because of what had happened at the Kiowa village.
Seeing the uncertainty in Buck's face, Teaspoon realised he needed to reassure the boy further. Knowing how reticent the young Kiowa could be he thought this could take a while, so decided to make himself more comfortable. Lowering himself stiffly to the ground, to sit alongside Buck, he let out a grunt as his backside hit the hard surface.
Buck stared ahead into the gloom of the night but slid a sideways glance as the older man sat down. He'd only known Teaspoon for a short while. In that time he'd learned to respect the wise, old stationmaster but there was still much more to find out about the man. Teaspoon had never shown any disapproval of his being a half-breed but in Buck's experience, that didn't mean much. Even if Teaspoon didn't personally have a problem with him it could be a problem for the other riders and even possibly put them in danger.
"I'm gittin' too old for this," the older man grumbled, as he shifted position.
Buck let a small smile crease his lips. He knew the stationmaster may be quite a bit older then him, and the rest of the riders, but suspected he could still give them all a good run for their money.
"So, you wanna tell me about what happened out there or ya gonna let Kid get all the attention?"
Buck shrugged his shoulders.
Teaspoon pressed his lips together and nodded. "Can't have been easy going back there, to get Ike," he commented quietly.
Buck did not answer but looked doggedly ahead.
"I mean, when was the last time ya was there?" Teaspoon continued.
Still no response.
"Sounds like they put you through a whole lot, by what Kid's been tellin' us. Sounds like ya proved yourself too."
Buck dipped his head and closed his eyes.
"Wanna tell me why ya chose to come back here, son? Seems ya could have found a place with your real family."
Buck screwed his eyes shut. "They didn't want me," he mumbled.
"What's that? Can't believe after ya done the trials an all that they …"
Buck's head snapped up. "He didn't want me," he interjected.
Teaspoon frowned. "Your brother?" he questioned.
"Yes," came the murmured reply.
Teaspoon drew a deep breath through his nose. "Wanna talk about it?"
Buck shook his head, his long dark hair, swaying with the movement.
"Well sometimes it's better to talk about these things, get someone else's perspective on things. Perhaps ya misunderstood what he was sayin'. Could be that he thinks ya've done real good getting this job and thinks ya should see it through. I'm sure you'll be welcome back anytime …"
"He told me to go and never look back," Buck replied dejectedly.
Teaspoons eyes widened and he stared at the boy momentarily. "Well … ," he faultered, choosing his next words carefully, "I'm sure he was only thinkin' what was right for ya and can see that ya've made a place for yourself, here with us."
Dropping his head lower, Buck tried to shield his face so Teaspoon wouldn't see the dejection he felt. His brother had been right when he said the love of his white family stayed in his heart but he still had a love of his Kiowa family. It wasn't going to be easy to just turn his back on them because, as Red Bear had said, his spirit would always be Kiowa.
The anguish the boy felt showed clearly in his face. Stretching his legs out Teaspoon looked heaven wards, took a breath and softly said, "Life's never easy, son. Sometimes ya've just gotta go with the hand it deals you and make the best of things. No point thinkin' about things that could have been. Ya gotta look to the future and make your own way in this world. Ain't no one else gonna do it for ya."
Buck looked at the man, with a sad smile on his face. He knew he was trying to help but the turmoil he felt had been with him for quite a while now and even Teaspoon's pearls of wisdom weren't going to drive it away that easily.
"It's not that simple," Buck replied, picking up a small stone and rolling it between his fingertips.
"Never is," responded Teaspoon. He waited, hoping Buck would open up to him a little. In the short time he'd known him, all the boys in fact, he had grown fond of each and every one of them and felt a growing responsibility for their welfare.
He was just about to give up the wait when Buck suddenly sighed and said, "I never asked for any of this. I always tried to fit in, to be a true Kiowa but all they could see was the white in me."
"And now you think that the rest of the boys only see the Indian in ya?" Teaspoon asked.
"Yes … no, not really."
"You know those boys are willing ta risk their lives for you? Kid didn't have to stay - Ike neither but they were there just in case things got too rough. I know a lot of blood families who don't show that kind of loyalty. Ya got a whole new lot of people to look out for ya now."
Buck let the stone fall from his fingers and scuffed it into the ground. "I know. It's just I think my being here will bring them more trouble and perhaps it would be best if I leave."
"And just where are ya goin' ta go? Seems the Kiowa don't want ya and besides, ya ain't gonna bring any more trouble than any of them other boys - especially Hickok!" Teaspoon said gruffly.
Buck chortled at the comment. "Guess you're right."
"I've been known to be in the past on one or more occasions," Teaspoon responded good-humouredly. "Now I think Emma made some pie so why don't we go see if Cody left us any?"
Buck got to his feet with a smooth, graceful movement, while Teaspoon too a little longer to get up. He let out a groan of discomfort as he tried to stand up.
"Give this old man a hand up would ya, Buck?" he asked, holding out his hand. Buck obliged, taking hold of his forearm and pulling the older man to his feet.
Teaspoon dusted himself down and then placed a hand on Buck's shoulder. "I knows they're your kin but ya've got a new family now. It can't be easy but I think the time has come for ya ta let them go."
With a sigh, Buck nodded his head solemnly before following Teaspoon back to the bunkhouse, deciding he could do a lot worse than be a part of this motley group.
Author's Note: Bit of a rush job - no beta - all mistakes are mine!
Written for the 2011 Title Challenge - Original Title given by: Paola