Author's Note: This is my longest story yet.

Chapter 1

Dark clouds pushed their way through the blue sky. The howling wind had the riders out at the corral making sure all was secure. Holding his hat on, Buck looked up at the sky. Something stirred inside his head and a bad feeling crept over him. It was barely noon and it looked like midnight across the desert. He spoke in Kiowa unaware of listening ears. Ike touched his friends shoulder and signed "What did that mean?"

Buck smiled at his silent friend's curiosity. "Trouble, Ike, this storm worries me." But his expression changed with the call of "rider coming" floating toward him.

He watched as Lou sprinted toward her horse that Jimmy was holding. She grabbed the reins and took off as the pouch was handed off to her. "Ride Safe Lou" several of the rider's called out. Kid slowed his horse down and dismounted as Jimmy grabbed Katy's reins and walked her into the barn.

Rachel called the boys to lunch. Cody's appetite getting the better of him looked at Buck picking at his food, "Buck if you ain't gonna eat that..." Buck slid his plate toward Cody. The others stared at Buck "What's wrong Buck, You look like you just found out your twin brother is ugly. " Cody said bringing a chuckle from the other rider's.

"I guess it's this weather. I just got a feeling of trouble coming."

The riders never doubted Buck's instincts. Every one of them could tell of instances where Buck's instincts had helped them in one way or another. Buck stood up and said "I'm gonna go check the barn again." The wind almost pulled the bunkhouse door open before he reached for it. Fighting the turbulant wind and the rain that fell at an angle, he made his way to the shelter of the barn. The clouds were black and mini dust cyclones danced across the yard.

Lou was grateful her hat had a string on it or she would be stopping constantly to retrieve it. Instead she just let it fall to her back and pushed Lightning farther down the trail. Raindrops fell on her shoulders and she knew before long she would need to find shelter from the rain. "Come on Lightning, Let's see if the Murphey's are home." She reined the horse in the direction of the nearest farm as she watched the dark clouds above her. She had never seen clouds so dark.

Lightning pranced and started backing up. "Whoa girl" Lou tried to calm the horse. The silence around her startled her and the rain had suddenly stopped. She felt a weird feeling deep in her gut just as the dark cloud in front of her took the shape of a small funnel and descended to the ground. She saw debris flying all around the spiraling cyclone as it neared her. Spooked, Lightning reared onto her hind legs. Lou tried to hang on to the frightened animal but when the horse fell Lou lost her grip of the reins. She felt the impact of the horse on her chest as they both hit the ground. The sound of the whirling wind coming closer to her went silent as the darkness crept over her.

Buck stepped out of the barn as the bunkhouse door opened and Teaspoon and Ike stepped out. The wind assaulted their hats. They walked toward where he was standing and stared at each other in awe as the wind suddenly stopped. The silence was deafening. All their eyes looked toward the sky. Buck pointed in the direction of the darkest cloud as it seemed to materialize into its own shape. "There" Teaspoon watched as the tornado touched the ground on the flat prairie. Buck raced toward the barn, he quickly saddled his horse Spirit, Leading it out to where Teaspoon and Ike still stood he mounted it and only said. "Lou." Before riding off.

Teaspoon's heart sank as he realized he had a rider in that area. "Go get her Buck. Ike, go get the boys" Ike nodded and ran back into the bunkhouse.

The other riders still sat at the table finishing their lunch when Ike entered. His eyes wide and his gestures were shaky. "Slow down Ike" Jimmy said trying to figure out what his friend was saying. Ike took a deep breath. He had to make them understand. He pointed to Lou's bunk. Then the sign they all knew as "trouble."

"Lou's in trouble?" Kid asked standing up and running to the door, the others only a step behind. They positioned themselves near Teaspoon and he told them Buck had ridden off in search of Lou.

Noah's voice broke in with "There's another one." They all looked in the direction of the second funnel cloud toward the east.

"Oh God" Teaspoon stated "Let's secure the station." The rider's scurried in different directions as their immediate duties called them.

Lightning staggered to her feet and trotted off to a nearby grassy area and began to nibble on the grass. Lou coughed as the weight on her chest eased a bit. Her eyes fluttered and then opened. She stared up at a very menacing dark sky. The silence that had scared her earlier was broken by a sound she had never heard before. She tried to sit up but flinched in pain. Slowly she tried again. Releasing a deep breath, she sat up and her eyes widened as she saw the sight that accompanied the sound she heard. A funnel shaped dark cloud headed in her direction. She tried to stand but couldn't. The only shelter she saw was a huge tree about 20 feet away. She slid onto her knees and desperately crawled to the tree. The wind blew harder as the cloud ate the desert floor as it neared her. She turned and wrapped her arms around the broad trunk of the tree.

Lightning bucked and reared as the storm approached and her fight or flight instinct told her to run home. She galloped back in the direction her and her master had just left. Buck never took his eyes off the tornado as it danced across the prairie in front of him. He was also aware of the smaller one to the east. His gaze momentarily strayed to the moving object coming in his direction. Focusing on it he realized it was a horse. Lou's horse. But his friend was not on the horses back. He steered his horse in the direction of Lightning and grabbed the horse's reins as he neared. His panic rose as the base of the tornado seemed to be expanding. He took a deep breath and again rode off toward the storm, Lou's horse in tow. The tornado hit a small ditch and quickly changed direction. Buck panicked as he saw a small figure behind a huge tree and the tornado headed straight for them. He raced Spirit toward the tree and jumped off before the horse even stopped "LOU!" He fought the wind and debris on his way to her, his words lost in the thunderous sound that was advancing on them. He reached Lou and covered her with his body. He dug his booted feet into the loose desert floor and braced himself against the wind that was trying to blow him off his feet.

The thunderous sound, louder than anything he had ever heard, roared passed them. Debris and dust flew at them. Lou was finding it hard to hold on and even harder to breath. She felt Buck pressed against her and heard him speak harshly in Kiowa. The air was being sucked out of her lungs. Saying a silent prayer she closed her eyes and felt the sticks and rocks hit her body. Buck didn't know how much longer he could hold on to the low hanging branch. He didn't want to frighten Lou more than she probably already was. So he said a Kiowa Prayer and watched as rocks flew through the air in their direction. He lowered his head to keep it all out of his face. Noting that Lou was doing the same thing. He couldn't catch his breath as the wind lifted his feet off the ground. Lou felt Buck rise off of her and watched as his feet flew up in the air, his hands firmly on the branch above them.

Taking as much control as he could Buck tried to swing his legs over the branch. He lost his grip and fell to the ground. Lou felt the wind slowing down as the tornado glided across the nearby lake and slowly dissolved back into the clouds. She let go of the tree and crawled to Buck who sat up and was trying to catch his breath. His first thoughts were for Lou. He reached for her, "Are you ok?" he stuttered between gasps of air. Buck saw shock and fear and even pain in the chocolate depths of her eyes. "Are you hurt?" He asked with concern.

"I am fine, The storm scared Lightning and she threw me off but… "Panic rose in Lou's heart as she looked for her faithful mount. "Lightning" She tried to stand but a shooting pain in her abdomen stopped her.

Buck watched her and jumped to his feet. He reached for her and slowly placed his hands on her abdomen. Lou looked at him strangely until he said, "You have at least two broken ribs." He released her when he noticed the look on her face as she stared over his shoulder. He turned and saw the second smaller tornado from the east gathering speed and strength.

He looked for their horses but did not see them. They were in trouble again if that second twister came their way. He grabbed Lou's hand and pulled her back behind the tree. He had to think of what to do before it hit them, with no horses their chances of escape were dwindling. He watched as the tornado turned and headed in the direction of their home. He walked out from behind the tree and watched the path it was taking. He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer that their family was safe. He looked down at Lou and helped her to her feet. She saw the tornado in the distance and could feel the wind from it.

"Oh God, that has to be right over the waystation." Panic creased her voice. They were without their horses and Lou was injured.

"Can you walk?" Buck asked with concern. Not sure if she wanted too she nodded yes and they took off slowly back toward the station.

After all the horses and the barn were secure Teaspoon did a quick count to make sure all his 'family' was accounted for. The Eastern tornado was advancing quickly. He yelled "Get to the barn." The riders ran toward the secured shelter, Ike and Jimmy pulled the doors open and the others ran inside. Closing the doors against the raging wind Ike saw movement on the horizon. He touched Jimmy on the shoulder and signed "horses" then ran out to meet the steeds. Jimmy stared in the direction Ike had ran off to and saw the riderless horses. Without a word he followed his friend into the turbulent wind. He helped Ike pull the horses into the barn and closed the barn door.

Kid slowly stood up as he stared at Lou's horse. The wind howling outside whistled through the barn. The wooden structure started to shake. Kid ran back to the security of the stall he had been sitting in. "You boys hold on to something" Teaspoon yelled wrapping an arm around Rachel and pulling them both against the wooden frame of an empty stall. Jimmy took two huge steps and was planting himself on Rachel's other side bracing her to the stall. Noah felt the wooden beam he was holding onto start to detach from the ground as the thundering sound from outside echoed inside the barn. Cody wrapped his arms and legs around the center pole of the main barn and started to say something as a piece of the barn roof blew off. "Dear God" was all he heard and he wasn't sure who said it. Another piece of wood flew off the roof and the wind started to swirl the hay around inside the barn. Spirit and Lightning inside the barn started panicking and rearing up. Lou's horse kicked at the stall that Kid was in with her back legs. Kid threw his arms up over him his head to protect his head from the splintering wood. Ike jumped up from his secure spot to calm the scared horse. Rubbing a shaky hand over the horse's nose, Lightning calmed down and Ike watched as Kid pushed the boards off of him and grabbed on to the wall. The barn shook and the rafters started to crack under the pressure of the wind. Ike quickly guided the two horses to an area away from his friends and sat with his back against the wall still holding their reins. He watched as several more pieces of the roof blew off and a huge piece of rafter broke. He watched in stunned silence as the huge board fell to the ground. Again the horses startled and he calmed them. He stared up at the dark sky that suddenly turned gray then blue. The wind stopped almost as suddenly as it had started.

Cody dismounted the pole he was on and ran a shaking handover face. He watched the others slowly stand and dust the hay off of them. Teaspoon offered a hand to Rachel and pulled her to his feet. Jimmy, Noah and Ike all walked to the center of the barn accessing the damage to the roof. Kid met them and grabbed Lou's horse from Ike, He quickly did a check of the horse for injuries. Jimmy walked to the barn door and opened it as the bright midday sun blinded him. The group of friends exited the barn and saw several of their horses roaming in the yard. Teaspoon looked at the corral that once housed the animals and only saw a few wooden poles in the dirt. He shook his head and let a breath escape his lips. "Looks like we got some fixin' to do, boys."

Rachel said a quick prayer that her family here was safe and another one hoping for Buck and Lou's safety. She watched as the boy's all took off in different directions to get the supplies they needed to fix the corral and the barn roof. Kid approached Teaspoon as they both stared out in the direction where Lou and Buck had ridden off. Teaspoon placed a hand on Kid's shoulder and said with certainty "Buck will keep her safe." Kid nodded. Him and Lou had broken up but he still loved her and was worried about her and his friend. Kid nodded and walked toward the corral where Jimmy was preparing to cut boards to repair the fence.

Ike pulled the ladder out of the barn leaning it against the structure as Noah and Cody brought out pieces to patch the roof. As Ike was on the roof he saw two moving specks on the horizon. He quickly shimmied down the ladder and ran to Teaspoon never taking his eyes off of what he hoped were his friends. He tapped Teaspoon on the back and pointed toward the two figures walking in their direction. Teaspoon looked up as Ike ran toward Buck and Lou. Kid saw Ike run into the prairie and said "Lou" as he followed after Ike, Jimmy close behind.

Buck and Lou approached home and saw the rubble where the corral once was. Buck saw the ladder leaning against the barn and realized the person on top had seen them. "Look Lou we're home." He said with an arm around her. She had walked so far in pain and almost collapsed several times. Buck had kept her going with kind words and even tried to make her smile. Walking hurt but it was worth it as she watched her family near her. Realizing she was home she couldn't take another step and fell to her knees. Buck leaned down to her as Kid skidded to a halt in front of her looking at Buck for an answer. Buck looked at his worried friends as Ike placed a hand on his shoulder. "The storm spooked Lightning and she fell on Lou, I think she has a couple broken ribs." Without hesitation Kid picked her up and carried her to the bunkhouse. Cody yelled out that he was getting the doctor. Jimmy ran to get Rachel. Kid pushed the bunkhouse door opened with his foot and laid Lou down on the only bed without a bunk over it. He placed a hand on her forehead and felt the heat from the fever. Noah brought Kid a wet rag and he placed it on her forehead.

Rachel entered the bunkhouse and shooed all the boys and Teaspoon back outside. "You too, Kid." She said calmly as she took over wiping Lou's face with the rag. He knew not to argue but hesitated as he looked into Lou's face. Noah grabbed him by the arm and carefully pulled him out of the room.

Ike and Buck were in the barn with Lightning and Spirit. Ike watched as his friend examined his horse and then staggered as he stood back up. Ike's eyes filled with panic as he watched Buck grabbed Spirit's saddle to catch his balance. Ike placed a hand on his friends shoulder. Buck smiled his lopsided smile and said "I'm fine. I just fell out of a tree." He tried to joke but Ike saw through his friends smile. Buck knew it too. "Look Ike I am fine, Lou is worse, she needs to be tended to. I'll be fine." He placed a steady hand on his caring friends shoulder. Ike didn't believe him for one minute but decided just to wait until the doctor got done examining Lou then he would have Buck checked out.

When Cody arrived with the Doctor, Teaspoon stepped aside and let the man enter. The doctor looked at Rachel and Lou and asked what happened. He readied himself by the bed as Lou spit out between coughs. "M-my horse got s-spooked and fell on me."

"All right fella let me take a look." The doctor said reaching for the buttons on Lou's shirt, Lou's eyes pleaded with Rachel's .

"Uhm, Doctor," Rachel got the doctors attention. "What you find out here stays here. I expect privacy."

The doctor nodded,"All my patients get privacy. Now let me take a look at ya, boy." The doctor raised Lou's shirt to examine her abdomen and noticed Lou wasn't a boy. He cleared his throat, shook his head and recovered her chest. He ran a hand over Lou's ribs and she stifled a scream as the Doctor probed at her abdomen. He reached into his bag and produced a roll of wrappings. After wrapping her ribs he gave explicit instructions to stay in bed. He handed Rachel a pouch that had a powder in it for Lou's pain. The Doctor looked at his patient. Grabbing his bag he stood and shook his head again. "You riders never cease to amaze me." Rachel smiled and Lou tried to but it hurt too much to even move.

The Doctor left the bunkhouse and felt several pairs of questioning eyes on him.

"How's Lou" The Kid was the first to ask.

The doctor wasn't sure who knew the secret he had just found out and was sworn to keep so he simply said. "Your friend will be fine in a few days, just a few broken ribs." Kid moved passed him and entered the bunkhouse to check on Lou. The older man stepped down the steps and started to mount his horse when Ike stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. The doctor's grey eyes looked at Ike as he pointed to the barn.

"What is it Ike?" Teaspoon asked. Ike pointed to the doctor then to the barn again. Teaspoon said "Doc I think you're needed in the barn?" Teaspoon led the way.

Buck was leaning against the back wall of the barn trying to keep the world from spinning around him, as Ike, the Doctor and Teaspoon entered the barn. He quickly straightened up and started to walk toward them but immediately had to brace himself against the barn wall. Ike raced to his friend's side. Teaspoon was puzzled at his Rider's condition. The doctor who wasn't prepared to tend to two patients asked "What happened, Son."

Buck hesitated and said "I'm fine. How's Lou?"

Teaspoon said "Lou's fine. What happened to you, Buck?"

Buck knew he was out numbered and took a deep breath. He spoke slowly as the doctor approached him. The doctor started to multiply in front of Buck. First one man, then two. He blinked and then there were four doctors standing in front of him. This was worse than any vision quest image he had ever seen. He gave a wry smile and answered Teaspoon's question. " I fell out of a tree." Buck was thankful Ike still had a hold of his arm because he was seeing six doctors now and his head really hurt. The doctor examined Buck's head and felt the bump on the back of it. He shined a light in Buck's eyes.

"You more than likely have a concussion. Can't you boys have a normal day around here without someone gettin' hurt." The doctor looked tired. "He needs rest as well. Looks like you're gonna be down a couple riders for a few days Teaspoon. " The doctor continued.

The doctor left the station with a smile on his face. This had turned into quite an interesting day. Teaspoon gathered all his boys in the bunkhouse as Rachel prepared dinner. Lou laid on the bunk and Kid leaned against it but faced the center of the room as Buck laid on his bed and told the story of his fall off the tree branch. Cody laughed and Jimmy just shook his head.

"Man, I wish I'd a seen that. That's a might bit hard to believe." Noah said with a chuckle.

Lou tried to laugh remembering the sight but it hurt too bad but said " Believe me, it happened, if he had a rope around his boots he could have been a kite, that tornado was fierce." That enlisted a laugh out of everyone.

Rachel sat the food on the table and handed Kid a plate for Lou. Teaspoon looked over the room and realized how thankful he was that even though the property was a bit damaged and could easily be repaired. His family was safe. A bit battered themselves, but they were together.

The next morning came too early for Lou as she was in pain and couldn't get to her powder that Rachel had placed on the table beside a cup and the water pitcher. She struggled to sit up but the pain in her ribs hurt even more so she laid her head back on her pillow.

Buck was awake early as well and watched as Lou had struggled to get up. He had a suspicion that she was in pain and was trying to reach her powder. He sat up not as dizzy as he was yesterday thankfully. Standing he walked to the table, poured some water into the cup and stirred a small amount of medicine into the water, he sat on the edge of her bed and handed her the liquid. She drank the bitter liquid and made a horrible face as she handed the cup back to Buck. He smiled his crooked smile at her as he stood and walked back to his bunk.

Lou couldn't wait to be able to get back to her rides, she hated laying in the bed all day, being waited on by the others, she hadn't expected Buck to have been there that morning with her medicine. He was there when the tornado had swirled passed her and had been injured. He had been there on the walk home which she barely remembered.

Buck watched Lou's eyes as he had asked her if she could walk. She was in pain and he knew this was going to be a long trip. His head had started hurting but he wasn't going to complain. "Ok then let's go home." Home at that moment had him scared. He didn't know what kind of damage may be there when they returned. Or if anyone was hurt. He grabbed Lou's arm and helped guide her across the desert. His vision was blurry and he shook his head to try to clear the blurriness. The sun had returned to the sky and a rainbow danced its colors across the sky. "Hey Lou look at that." He smiled as she raised her weary head and stared at the vibrant colors. "Wow that is the brightest rainbow I have ever seen." Lou smiled through her pain. "Kiowa believe that when the Spirits paint color across the sky that there will be a good harvest." He stated as they walked slowly through the wet dirt. Lou liked the sound of a good harvest, she was hungry, "I think I know how Cody feels all the time," Buck looked into her chocolate eyes questioning her, "I'm starving." She continued and watched his smile get bigger. Why did that smile send sparks through her injured body. She stumbled and fell to one knee, Buck reached down and carefully pulled her to her feet. He hated to see her in this much pain. He would gladly take it all from her if the Great Spirits would allow him too. He looked at her and didn't know how much longer she could go on. A lot of thoughts raced through his cloudy mind. He could leave her sitting there and return with the horses. No that wasn't going to happen. He would stay with her and they would arrive home together. The distance to the way station was barely a mile now but it seemed to be halfway across the territory. He was feeling nauseous and he couldn't show weakness right now, not in front of Lou. "Come on Lou you can make it home, then you can get something to eat." He encouraged his injured friend and himself. Her steps were slow and staggered but he was her steadiness. He was her strength to take one more step. He marveled at Lou's strength not knowing he was the source of it. They walked in a comfortable silence until Lou placed a hand on Buck's arm and coughed. "I n-need to rest a minute." Buck lowered her to the ground then sat beside her. His thoughts again flashed to their awaiting family and hoped they were ok. Lou closed her eyes and clenched her teeth against the wave of sharp pains that filled her abdomen. She would give anything for her bed. And a bath. She couldn't imagine the way she looked after being thrown from a horse and nearly sucked into a tornado after having dirt thrown at her. Buck stood back up and slowly and cautiously pulled her to her feet again. "We need to get goin' again. We're almost there." As they neared the property Buck was surprised to see the windmill transform into two windmills. He blinked a few times and was thankful that there was again only one windmill. Lou saw the landmark that told her they were home. She couldn't take another step and felt the ground rushing closer toward her. Buck felt her collapse, his own weakness making him nauseous. Lou felt herself being picked up and carried across the yard.

The bunkhouse was quiet. Buck was on laying still on his bunk and the others were all outside making repairs to the barn and the corral. Lou knew the doctor had told her to stay in bed but this was driving her crazy, she slowly sat up grimacing at the pain that shot through her ribs. She bit down on her bottom lip to keep the scream from escaping. She took as deep of a breath as she could, swung her legs over the side of the bed and slowly and delicately stood up bracing herself with one hand on the table. She released the breath she was holding and slowly walked to Buck's bunk. She couldn't stand the quiet anymore she needed someone else to talk to. As she neared his bunk she saw sweat glistening off his forehead. She reached down and placed a shaky hand on his face. "You're burning up." She said. Buck didn't move or even reacted to her voice. "Buck," she shook his shoulder. "BUCK!" She spoke louder. Still no response. Something was wrong and she had to get him help. She painfully walked to the bunkhouse door. Opening it she stepped out onto the porch.

Ike was walking toward the bunkhouse when he saw Lou step out onto the porch, She was pale and looked as if she was going to collapse. He took two huge steps and caught her before she fell on the wooden porch. "Buck.. help…Buck" She stuttered looking into Ike's green eyes. Ike nodded and helped her back inside to her bed. He quickly turned and ran to Buck's bunk. He saw his friend was in trouble and ran out the door. He ran to Teaspoon who was standing near the corral. He placed a hand on his shoulder to get the man's attention. "What is it, Ike?" Ike quickly signed "Buck is in trouble" and pointed to the bunkhouse, then ran back toward the door, Teaspoon right behind him.

Teaspoon saw the sweat on Buck's pale face. Placing a hand on Buck's chest he could still feel a heartbeat but a slow one. Teaspoon turned to look at Ike. "Go get Rachel, have Jimmy go get the Doctor." Ike nodded and ran out the door. Lou was sitting up on her bed watching and listening.

"Is he gonna be okay?" she asked startling Teaspoon.

"You, are supposed to be resting, my dear." Teaspoon said as he wet a rag and walked back to Buck and placed the rag on the rider's head.

Lou stood slowly and asked again "Is he gonna be okay?" as she stood beside the old man and her friend.

"Dunno Lou, Buck is strong. We'll just have to see what the doctor says."

Guilt shot through Lou. This was her fault. He had come out to save her and now he was really hurt. The bunkhouse door swung open and Rachel and the doctor walked in.

"Out" Rachel told Teaspoon. "Lou get back in that bed" She continued in her mother hen tone.

Rachel saw the guilt in Lou's eyes as she helped her back onto the bunk. "Now don't you worry, Buck will be fine," she said as she laid Lou down.

Lou looked like her spirit was broken. Rachel's heart broke for the girl.

The doctor examined Buck as Rachel looked on. He shook his head and looked at her. "He is in a coma, the head injury must have caused his brain to swell," the doctor looked at the floor then back at his patient. "I just can't be sure. Talk to him. Keep his temperature down. I'll be back in a couple days to check on him." The doctor got up, replaced his hat, bid both ladies a goodbye and left the bunkhouse.

Ike approached the doctor with questioning eyes. The Doctor placed a hand on Ike's shoulder. "Just talk to him." The doctor walked away. Ike pushed the bunkhouse door open and sat down on the edge of Buck's bed. The other rider's gathered close but knew Ike needed to be closer. Ike stared at his friend. His brother. He grabbed Buck's hand with tears in his eyes. Jimmy put a hand on Ike's shaking shoulder "He's gonna be fine, Ike." He said trying to sound convincing.

Dinner was a quiet event, Ike stirred his food around on his plate and constantly glanced over at Buck. Lou couldn't sit up for too long because of the pain in her ribs. Teaspoon watched the two with concern. Cody, Jimmy and Kid seemed to be eating fine, but even Cody was quiet and that in itself was cause for concern. "Alright boys, What is goin on around here. It's too quiet." Teaspoon asked

Cody looked over at Buck then back at the table and said what everyone was thinking. "It happened so fast, One minute he was talking then we all go do chores and he….." Cody stopped when Ike pushed his plate away and stood up. They all watched as Ike sat down beside Buck's bed.

Ike was upset that he couldn't talk to his friend. Buck couldn't hear him talk so all he could was sit beside him and hold his hand. Ike didn't care who saw the tears. Lou watched from her bunk and the guilt was weighing heavy on her heart. Her heart broke for Ike, that he couldn't talk to his friend. As she watched the other boys eat their dinner in uncomfortable silence. She tried to get up. Rachel saw her trying to move and told her "Get back in that bed"

"I need to get up, I am fine." Lou lied. She pushed herself up and stood a bit dizzy. Jimmy watched her and stood to help her. He led her over to Buck's bed where she sat on the edge of the bed. She smiled back at Jimmy "Thanks, Go finish eating" Lou sat and watched her friends shallow breathing. It only made her guilt worse.

The night seemed to pass slowly as they all got ready for bed. Jimmy had to pry Lou and Ike away from Buck's bed one at a time. Lou laid a wake and watched Buck all night. She could see Ike tossing and turning on his bunk and knew how hard this was for him. She never closed her eyes as the morning sun peeked through the window and woke her sleeping bunkmates, they all started to stir and begin their day. Ike was the last one to slide off his bunk he slid down beside Buck and took a deep breath. Lou needed to apologize to Ike, she felt it was nessesary for her to do this. "Ike," she spoke to her friend startling him a bit. He turned to look at her. Her smile led him to her bunk where he sat quietly on the edge of it.

She placed a hand over his hand and saw so much worry in his eyes. "I am sorry Ike." She said softly. Ike looked confused at her "For what?" he signed.

"For what happened to Buck, if he hadn't come after me, he wouldn't be hurt." She spoke full of conviction and belief that this was all her fault.

Ike shook his head, placed a reassuring hand on her arm and smiled a small smile at her. "Buck would have done it for anybody, but especially for you. I don't blame you and I know he wouldn't either." He signed slowly so she could understand. Lou nodded at him and he rose to go get ready for his morning chores. Lou watched as Ike left the bunkhouse. His words echoing in her head 'but especially for you.' What exactly did that mean? Had Buck risked his life for her?

Hours passed slowly into days. Lou couldn't sleep. She laid in bed and rested but sleep never fully claimed her as she watched Ike with Buck. Ike looked drained and she knew he wasn't sleeping well either. Damn, this world they lived in, when was it going to stop throwing them curve balls. Lou sat up in bed, easier now as the days have past. She swung her legs over the edge of her bunk and walked to Buck's bunk and placed a hand on Ike's shoulder. "Why don't you go get ready for your run. I'll sit with him." Ike looked at Lou with sadness in his eyes.

"I can't lose him." He signed with tears forming in his eyes. Lou's heart sank at the look on her friend's face.

"You're not gonna lose him, remember the doctor was here yesterday and said his color was improving and that was a good sign." Lou said reassuring him. Ike took a deep breath and nodded. He slowly stood and motioned for Lou to sit in the chair, he walked to the bunkhouse door, took one last look at Buck and exited. Lou was worried about Ike and knew he had a run scheduled for that afternoon. It was an overnight run and since Kid was on a two day run and Jimmy was due back this evening it only left Ike to take the next run. She was worried with his lack of sleep and his mind clouded with Buck's health she hoped he would be safe. Lou placed a hand on Buck's arm. "Buck, we're all worried about you, but this is really bothering Ike, so if you can hear me, God I hope you can hear me, you need to come back to your family. Please." The last plea barely a whisper.

Ike stared at the horizon as Teaspoon hollered "Rider comin'." Ike mounted his horse as Teaspoon handed him the reins. "You sure you can do this Ike?" He asked the boy, his heart full of worry. Ike nodded and nudged his horse into a gallop as Cody tossed him the pouch. Cody slowed his horse and dismounted.

"Was that Ike? Is Buck awake?" Cody asked hopefully as Teaspoon grabbed the reins.

"Yeah that was Ike and No Buck isn't awake, but I have no other rider's. You just got back, Noah's only been back an hour, Jimmy's not due back 'til this evening and I sent Kid out this morning for a two day run." Teaspoon explained as he took the horse to the barn where Noah was mucking stalls.

"Damn, Teaspoon, I sure hope he'll be okay, he hasn't slept much lately." Cody said worried.

Teaspoon looked as if he had aged twenty years this past week. "I know Cody, all we can do is pray."

Lou sat and listened as the call of "Rider comin'" echoed through the bunkhouse and the sound of thundering hooves taking off toward the horizon. She had to talk to Buck "That was Cody handing the pouch off to Ike, he's got an overnight run. Cody should be in here shortly to tell us some wild story," a small smile creased her lips as she laid her head in her hands and rested her elbows on her knees. "There are so many things I wanna tell you. I miss hearing your voice, hearing you laugh. You have a great laugh." She smiled at the thought, how could she have missed these feelings that she was having. There were butterflies in her stomach and her heart skipped a beat when she reached for his hand. Her and Kid were broke up and yes if she admitted it to herself she still cared about him but laying in that bed alone for days had gotten her thinking and these feelings came out. She still felt guilty for him being hurt but now all she wanted was for him to open those dark brown eyes that she knew she could lose herself in. "Buck, we all want you to come back to us, Ike needs you, I need you."

Her voiced seemed to hover over him. Had she said something about Ike? Did she say she needed him? His head was hurting and his eyes were heavy. He willed himself to open his eyes. His eyes fluttered and saw the broken angel beside his bed. She looked so fragile and scared. He slowly raised his hand to her shoulder and smiled when she jumped. "Hey" he said softly.

"BUCK." She screamed with a smile "My God you're awake." She leaned down, placing a hand on each side of his face and without hesitation kissed him. Buck didn't want to ruin her happiness so he placed his hand on the back of her head and held her softly in place until she pulled away for air.

"Wow I need to fall out of a tree more often," He said trying to sit up.

Lou blushed and said "Stay laying down, you've been in a coma for almost four days. I'll get Rachel." She started to leave when Buck's voice stopped her.

"Where's Ike? I felt like he was here with me." Buck looked toward Ike's bed.

Lou walked back to Buck "He has been, he is on an overnight run." She didn't want to worry her friend with Ike's lack of sleep. She walked out the door just as Teaspoon, Noah and Cody left the barn. "Teaspoon, Buck's awake." Lou shouted.

Teaspoon exhaled a breath he had been holding for days and told Cody to go get Rachel and Noah to go get the doctor. Teaspoon bounded up the steps of the bunkhouse with a spring in his steps. He smiled at Lou as he jogged in the door.

"Buck, nice for you to join us again." The fatherly man said.

Buck smiled his crooked little grin and said "It's feel good to be missed. But I am hungry." He tried to sit up but a wave of dizziness swept over him. He steadied himself and controlled the spinning. Buck swung his legs over the edge of his bunk as Rachel ran through the door. She smiled and pulled Buck into her arms and said, "Don't you ever scare us like that again?"

"Yes ma'am," He said as he smiled at her.

"Rachel the boy said he was hungry, is there any lunch left." Teaspoon said

"Oh yes, yes, Cody come help me." She smiled and almost ran out the door.

"It's awfully quiet around here. Where is everybody?" Buck asked stretching his tired muscles.

Lou took that opportunity to speak up as she neared his bed. "Jimmy will be back this evening, Noah went to get the Doctor, Kid is on a two day run and Ike left out right before you woke up."

Buck could tell she was hiding something and looked at Teaspoon for answers but he looked away as well. "Okay what's going on?" He looked at both of them. Teaspoon took a deep breath.

"Ike is on an overnight run, he has been worried about you and hasn't slept more than about three or four hours in these last couple of days." Teaspoon watched as a look of pure shock rolled across Buck's face.

"You let him leave?" It was more of a statement then a question.

Teaspoon defended his actions. "Buck, I had too, Noah had just gotten back and Cody passed him the pouch, I had nobody else." Buck saw worry and concern in the mans eyes. Buck nodded in understanding. Buck knew Ike was good with a horse and the way he spoiled Amigo, Buck knew the horse would do anything for Ike, he smiled at the thought.

The bunkhouse door swung open and Doctor Myers walked in and smiled at his patient. "Welcome back." The jovial man said as he began his examination of Buck.

Rachel walked in and sat sandwiches on the table, Cody followed her in and sat down the bowl of apples and pitcher of milk. The doctor stood and smiled. "Everything seems fine, another day of rest and he should be as good as new." The doctor packed his bag, turned back toward Buck and said " Do me a favor, Stay out of trees." Buck nodded with a smile and shook the man's hand. The doctor excused himself.

Teaspoon helped Buck to stand and guided him to the table. Buck grabbed a sandwich before he even sat down and began eating it in large bites. Cody smiled and said, "Geez Buck, ya ain't hungry are ya?" Buck nodded and reached for the glass of milk Lou had poured for him.

Lou was estatic with Buck's recovery. He was bright and alert and hungry. She can't believe she had kissed him. But he had woke up after she had said she needed him. Lou's eyes got big at the thought that he may have really heard her. How much had he heard? Her cheeks turned red as his brown eyes looked in her direction.

Ike held on to the reins as he felt sleep overpower him. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs that hung in his vision. He patted Amigo on the neck urging him to go on. If he could make it to the next station before sun down he could leave immediately and be home by midmorning. His body begged for sleep, his eyes wanting to obey. He trusted Amigo and knew the horse knew the trail as well as he did. Ike knew he should stop and make camp at least get a couple hours of sleep, but he knew if he fell asleep he may not make the drop off in time. His mind wandered back to Buck and his spirit seemed to smile at the thought of his friend. He heard a distant howl of a coyote and smiled as if Buck was telling him to go on. Ike saw the station come in to view and the next rider sitting on his horse. Ike passed the pouch off and slowed Amigo to a stop.

"Hey Ike, Come on in and take a bunk." The station master said slapping a hand on his back.

Ike nodded and raised two fingers to the man. The man understood and nodded "I can wake you up in two hours but you can stay longer." Ike shook his head and raised two fingers again.

Ike laid on the offered bunk and fell asleep with his boots on.

The cool evening air filled his lungs as he inhaled walking toward the corral. The boys had done a great job fixing it. Buck heard the bunkhouse door open and could tell by the footsteps who it was. He smiled a knowing grin. He didn't even turn around to verify it. "Hi Lou."

Lou smiled as she approached the fence. She was amazed at how he knew it was her.

"How are you feeling?" He asked as she leaned her back against the corral fence.

"Better, now that you're a wake." She blushed as the words came out.

"You know red is a good color on you." He stated with a smile.

She had to know what he had heard. "Buck, how long were you awake before you touched my shoulder?" she asked not looking at him.

Buck looked at her face, silhouetted in the moon light. He couldn't lie to her. " I heard you say Ike needed me and that you needed me." He watched the red get brighter on her cheeks as she covered her face with her hands. A small laugh escaped her lips.

Buck took a small side step so that he was in front of her, he reached up and pulled her hands away from her face, "If everything I said would make you laugh, I'd talk forever" He smiled at her, as he saw the smile on her lips he remembered the kiss from that afternoon. "So do you really need me, or was that kiss just a spur of the moment kiss?"

Lou knew he could read her soul "I..I mean…you were laying there and…Oh hell, yes I kissed you because I wanted to. Laying in my bed all those days had me thinking. I felt guilty about you being hurt and then Ike said something and .. well it got me thinking…"Lou couldn't completely look him in the eyes.

Buck smiled and asked "What did my brother say to you that had you thinking about me?"

Lou said "I told him I was sorry for you getting hurt, he said he didn't blame me and neither would you, and that you would have done it for anybody but especially me." She watched as a twinkle appeared in his eyes.

"Ike knows how I feel about you but you deserve better." Buck said releasing her hands and stepping away from her, but never taking his eyes out of the depths of hers.

"Shouldn't that be my decision." Lou asked pushing away from the fence and reaching for Buck's arm.

"Lou, there are a lot of people that will look down on us if we are a couple. People in this town don't like me and they won't like you if we are together." Buck said as his hand reached for her cheek.

She leaned into his touch. "The only people whose opinions I care about are in that bunk house, and I don't think they would say anything bad." She said with certainty. Seeing the smile in his eyes she leaned forward and touched her lips tenderly to his.

Buck enjoyed the feel of her lips on his but pulled away only to announce "Rider coming" with a husky voice. He turned to see Jimmy ride back into the station.

Jimmy dismounted Sundance and smiled at his friends as Buck and Lou walked to him, "Hey Buck glad to see you awake, man you had us all worried." He slapped his friend on the back.

Buck smiled back at him and reached for Sundance's reins. Jimmy shook his head. "No way Buck, I'll take care of him, you too go back inside." Jimmy said grabbing the reins and taking the palomino into the barn.

Lou smiled at Buck's kindness and watched as Jimmy disappeared into the barn. She was caught unaware as Buck stepped in front of her and leaning his head forward said "Where were we?" He placed a hand on her cheek and slowly pulled her lips to meet his. They were lost in the passionate kiss when Jimmy left the barn, he cleared his throat to get their attention.

"Well it's about time." He said pulling his gloves off his hands. Lou blushed and looked down at the ground, Buck wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer to him.

"What's that supposed to mean" Buck asked

Jimmy smiled "Well my friend, for months we have watched you do small things for Lou and the look in your eyes of course when she was in the room. Actually we all had a running bet on how long it would take you to say something to her." Jimmy slapped Buck on the back.

"Everyone knew?" Buck asked.

Jimmy nodded. "Kid on the other hand didn't want to believe that she would be with anybody else so he didn't bet. But I do believe I owe Ike some money." Jimmy said

Buck smiled that Ike would be the one winning the bet. He smiled as Jimmy walked back into the bunkhouse. "I guess our secret is out" Buck grabbed Lou's hand and walked toward the bunkhouse. Lou stopped and looked at him. "What did you say when the tornado was near us and you pressed against me." Buck blushed at the memory and tried to recall the words.

"It was a Kiowa prayer of safe return." Buck said softly.

Lou shook her head "No, before that you said something a little harsher then a prayer."

Buck smiled and pushed a lose strand of hair behind Lou's ear. "Uhmm.. well I can't repeat that in front of a lady." Lou blushed again as they walked inside the bunkhouse.

All eyes were on the couple as they sat side by side at the table. "Damn it Jimmy I thought you were messin' with us." Cody said playfully knowing now that he had lost the bet too.

Buck smiled seeing all the happy faces around them. He was worried about Ike and hoped that his brother would rest. The rest of the evening was quiet as they prepared for bed.

Ike woke with the sun in his eyes. He stretched his tired muscles and after looking around remembered where he was. He walked out of the empty bunkhouse to a vacant station yard. He saw Amigo tied to the hitching post. Patting the horse on the neck he smiled. Mounting the horse, he nudged him in the direction of home. He knew by the position of the sun and his growling stomach, that lunch would soon be served and he hoped he made it back before Cody ate it all. He had missed breakfast and now he was starving. He nudged Amigo to speed him up.

Buck sat on the steps of the bunkhouse watching the horizon for any sign of his friend. He heard the bunkhouse door open and smiled as Lou sat down beside him. "He's a good rider, he'll be okay. He's only a couple hours late." Buck looked in her eyes and saw the certainty of her words. "Maybe he slept late at the station." She continued. He touched her cheek and lowered his lips to hers. He could feel her hand in his hair as he pulled away. He smiled at her as he stood up, pulling her to her feet beside him. He pointed toward the horizon, at the cloud of dust that seemed to be devouring the desert floor. "Rider coming" he said loud enough for everyone in the barn and bunkhouse to hear. Buck and Lou stepped off the porch. Buck put his arm around Lou's shoulder as Ike approached his family. Buck saw the goofy smile on Ike's face as he dismounted the horse.

Ike smiled at his brother and knew by the look in Buck's eyes that he had told Lou how he felt about her, as he pulled him into a welcoming hug. "If I had known that it would take a knock on your head to make you two open your eyes, I'd a hit you a long time ago." He signed bringing laughter from the other rider's that gathered on the porch. He looked at them with his hand open, and a smile on his face, knowing that he had won that bet. He had quickly quieted them as they all reached deep into their pockets and placed the well earned money into his hand. He nodded his thanks and smiled at Buck and Lou and he stuffed the money into his pocket. He walked up the steps into the bunkhouse. Jimmy placed a hand on Cody's back "Don't worry Cody, you can win it back from him in poker."

Ike was glad to be home and even happier that Buck was okay. He watched as Buck straddled the bench at the table and Lou sat with her back against his chest. He was so elated for his friend and worried about Kid's reaction when he got home tomorrow. Lou and Kid were no longer together but Kid still had feelings for her. After he had eaten his dinner and enjoyed the company of his family , he decided he still needed sleep. Ike laid back on his bunk listening to the sounds of laughter from his friends.

Lou paced back and forth on the bunkhouse porch. Buck smiled at her and said "You are gonna wear a hole in the porch, if you don't quit pacing." He knew she was worried about Kid's reaction to her relationship with Buck. "You want me to just shoot him?" he asked with a smile.

Lou thought about it for a minute then shook her head no. "I need to explain things to him. We are broke up but he deserves to know how I feel about you." She knew Kid was due in any minute and she dreaded this conversation. Kid was sat in his ways and wanted everything proper. She froze her pacing when she heard the thundering sounds of hooves approaching the station.

Buck saw the fire in Lou's eyes burn down to smoking embers as she watched Kid dismount and walk into the barn with Katy. He stood up and walked to her. "I'll be right here if you need me." He smiled at her, touching her cheek. She took a deep breath and looked toward the barn.

Lou left Buck's side and entered the barn to find Kid brushing down Katy. Kid looked up at her entrance and smiled. "I'm glad to see Buck's awake. You look better now that you're not worry about him."

"Kid I need to tell ya something." Lou said with a worried frown.

Kid put down the brush and moved closer to Lou. "You know you can tell me anything Lou." Kid said softly putting his hand on her shoulder.

Lou swallowed nervously and moved out of his arm's reach, Kid tried to hide the hurt her movement caused him. "Kid I'm not sure how to ya you this but well I umm Kid I'm in love with Buck."

Kid took an involuntary step back, the pain nearly causing his heart to explode. "Does … does … does Buck feel the same." Kid managed to stutter out.

Lou looked miserable. She loved Buck, but Kid would always be her first love and she hated the hurt she was causing him. "Yes he does … we are sorta together now." Lou barely managed to whisper.

Kid's breath hitched, his eyes dropping to the ground. When he raised his eyes again he focused them above Lou's shoulder to the open doorway where he saw Buck standing, the same miserable look that had been on Lou's face on his. Buck didn't make a move to come any closer; he just stood there waiting to see if Lou was going to need him. Kid took a deep breath and focused on Lou's face again.

Lou had tears streaming down her face. Kid's heart was breaking but he just wanted Lou to be happy. If Buck is what made her happy he wasn't going to stand in the way of that. He took a step closer to her, placing his hand under her chin to force her to meet his eyes.

"Lou you know I love you, I probably always will, but I just want you to be happy. If Buck is the one that makes you happy I'm happy for you both. Honestly I'm just relieved it wasn't Jimmy. Not that Jimmy is a bad guy I'm just afraid he would have ended up hurting you. I don't have to worry about Buck hurting you Lou." Kid gave a soft laugh before continuing, "He'll probably even do a better job of treating you like the precious gift you are … without driving you crazy while doing it. I know I was always too protective of you but I just didn't know what else to do. You are unlike any woman I've ever known. I would have broken your spirit if we'd stay together, I know that. Just be happy Lou." Kid said as he took one tiny step closer and kissed Lou on the cheek in goodbye.

Kid left the barn stopping in front of Buck. "Take care of her Buck. I swear if you hurt her I'll kill you."

"I promise Kid … and if I ever hurt her I'll let you." Buck said quietly holding out his hand for Kid to shake. Kid grabbed it and pulled Buck into a 'man' hug before releasing him quickly and heading to the bunkhouse. Buck stepped into the barn and wrapped Lou in his comforting embrace. Then together they finished taking care of Katy for Kid, who had taken the news much better than either of them thought he would.

After they finished with Katy, they started to leave the barn but Buck stopped and looked at Lou. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked

Lou smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck and said " I am sure that I am fine, as long as you are here with with me. I love you Buck Cross." She leaned forward and touched her lips to his. He pulled away only to catch his breath and say. "I love you too, Lou McCloud."

Buck knew that they had survived one storm together and he prayed that they could survive every storm life through at them. Side by side.

THE END

Author's Note: Thank you, rororogers

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