Warnings/Ratings: This is pretty light, no bad words, just the boys.
Disclaimer: I don't own them and I'm not making any money.
Note: This story was archived on my website until AOL did away with it. Thanks Nancy for taking me in.
Buck loped his horse along the trail towards Four Corners. He was coming back from Ridge City. Chris had sent him there to help the sheriff for a week while the deputy was out of town. Buck had hated being away from Four Corners and the men he had started to consider family. Luckily the deputy had come back early and Buck was now headed home. The thought of seeing the others had the handsome ladies man in a happy mood.
<Sure is gonna be nice to get home. Bet JD's gotten in all sorts of trouble without me there to provide a calming influence. Wonder if Inez missed me any while I was gone.>
Lost in his own thoughts Buck wasn't really paying attention to the trail, letting his horse pick it's own way. Perhaps if he had been riding his big gray the accident would never have happened but the gray had strained a tendon, forcing Buck to borrow a bay horse from Yosemite. The horse had staying power but was very skittish, Buck was looking forward to retrieving his gray.
Horse and rider were traveling along the edge of a dry creek bed. At one time the creek had cut a deep ravine in the earth but now only a trickle of water remained in the bottom. His mind busy making plans for when he got home Buck was not prepared when a partridge suddenly flew out of the bushes directly into the bay's face. The horse screamed once before exploding into a bucking frenzy. Buck frantically tried to gain control but the crazed horse had danced too close to the edge of the ravine. An already eroded bank crumbled underneath sending horse and rider to the bottom of the creek bed. Slowly the dust settled leaving a heavy stillness behind.
Josiah was repairing a squeaky floorboard when he suddenly felt a cold breeze blow across his neck. Looking up he saw a young woman hovering in the doorway to the church. The girl was very pale, with brown hair that seemed to float around her like a cloak. For a minute the sun behind her made her look like she was glowing. Josiah could see that she was very upset.
"Sister is there something I can do for you?" Josiah started to move toward the door holding out his hand.
"Please, _help him."
The words were spoken in a breathy voice with the word 'Please' stretched out pleadingly. As she spoke the girl backed out of the door. Josiah ran forward trying to catch her but she was gone before he reached the door. As he scanned the street he thought he saw her dress disappear around the corner. Josiah hurried after the upset girl.
JD was in the Sheriff's office, with Buck gone he was finding things to be pretty boring. He was sitting there wishing that Buck was due back today instead of the day after. Lost in his thoughts the girl surprised him, all of a sudden there she was. He could have sworn she hadn't been there just a second ago. JD's jaw dropped as he stared at the beautiful girl before him. She was about his age, dressed in a simple white dress that moved as if in a breeze even though the air was dead still in the office. Before the stunned young man could regain his composure she spoke.
"Please, _he needs you."
Again the same pleading tone that sent a shiver down the young man's back. Then she was gone as suddenly as she had appeared. Jumping up JD ran to the door of the office. He was just in time to see her disappear down the alley by Mrs. Potter's store.
Nathan was in his clinic organizing supplies when he heard a knock on the door. Opening it he found a very worried young woman standing outside. She was twisting her hands nervously and seemed almost frantic. Nathan thought she was about to faint she looked so pale. She spoke quickly without giving him a chance to say anything.
"Please, _he's hurt."
"Who's hurt mam, where is he?" Nathan turned to grab his medical kit while he spoke when he turned back the woman was gone. Moving out on the balcony he saw her hurrying down the street toward the livery. Anxious now, he followed.
Chris, Vin and Ezra were all in the saloon relaxing when the young girl appeared. They were surprised to be confronted, by what was obviously a good woman, in the saloon. She was pretty, with pale skin and brownish hair that seemed to glow in the dusty bar room. Her obvious distress brought all three men to their feet. Her hands were held out in a pleading motion toward them.
"Please, _he's trapped."
"Who's trapped, who are you? Wait come back here." Chris lunged forward to try to grab the girl as she backed out of the saloon. He missed, grabbing air instead, cursing the gunslinger pushed through the swinging doors. Looking down the street he saw the girl headed toward the livery. Turning back Chris found that Vin and Ezra had followed him. Without a word Chris started after the fleeing woman, Vin and Ezra exchanged a glance and a shrug before following him.
Buck's first thought on waking up was that he must have had some night judging from the throbbing in his head. Then the fact that he was not in a soft bed but on the ground registered. Opening his eyes slowly the ladies man looked down to see what was laying on his legs. The sight of a dead horse brought everything rushing back. Groaning Buck laid his head back and tried to think.
<Okay, I remember falling over the creek bank, fall must have killed the hoss. Which means ole buddy, your trapped unless you can figure out how to move over a thousand pounds of dead meat. No one's gonna miss you for at least two days, man can get pretty thirsty in that amount of time. Course if that storm I saw hits and this creek fills with water I'll drown before I die of thirst. That's it Buck, look on the bright side.>
Closing his eyes in an attempt to ease the headache pounding behind them Buck drifted off.
All six men converged on the livery at the same time. JD was the first to speak.
"You guys I just saw the strangest girl in the office. She said someone needed me. I've been chasing her all over town."
"Did she have brown hair and a white dress?" Josiah asked
"Yeah, she seemed really upset."
"I saw the same young woman, just a little bit ago in the church. She asked me for help as well." The preacher looked at the others.
"Make that three of us she asked for help. She was just at the clinic, said "he" was hurt." Nathan offered.
"And she told us "he" was trapped. What's going on here?" Chris was starting to get angry.
The sound of an frantic horse drew everyone's attention to a corral outside. Buck's gray was having a fit, running in circles in the corral and whinnying. Before the men could do anything the horse gathered itself and jumped the fence racing toward some nearby trees. Coming to a stop the horse lowered his head to the woman standing there.
"That's her!" JD exclaimed.
"Alright, everybody get saddled. I don't care who she is, I'm not gonna stand around while she steals Buck's horse." Chris ordered.
"Yeah, Buck will never let us hear the end of it." Vin said as he turned to enter the livery.
Chris and the others had been chasing the girl and horse for over an hour and everyone's temper was starting to fray. Whenever the horse would start to settle down to where they thought they had a chance of catching him the girl would appear in the distance. Gray would throw his head up, look at the girl and take off running again. Finally Chris called a halt, everyone got down to stretch and discuss the situation.
"How is she managing to stay ahead of us?" Chris asked the question that had been bothering him since they had started the chase. "Vin, you're the tracker, what do her tracks say, she got a horse somewhere."
Vin looked uncomfortable at the question, he seemed not to know exactly how to answer. Finally he sighed and without looking at the others replied. "I ain't seen any tracks for her Chris. I been followin Gray's, even where I know the two should cross I can't seem to find any for her." His answer hung in the air for a minute before Ezra spoke.
"I dislike intensely having to point this out but has anyone else noticed that the lady in question seems to be, _well_ seems to be rather transparent at times?"
"So we're chasin a ghost?" JD asked, his eyes wide as he looked around him.
"No! Whatever is going on here, there's an explanation for it. I don't believe in ghosts." Chris stated firmly. He noticed that the others were looking over his shoulder with rather strange expressions on their faces. Turning he found the girl standing a few feet from him with a sad look on her face.
"Sister, let us help you, we won't hurt you I promise." Josiah stepped forward speaking to the girl in a reassuring voice.
Shaking her head the girl backed up a bit before speaking, there were tears running down her face.
"Please, _he needs help."
The sound of her voice seemed to drive straight into each man's mind and linger there like an echo.
"Lady, I don't know who "he" is but my men and I aren't going anywhere until you tell us what's going on." Chris glared at the girl in front of him.
"Please, _he's trapped, he would help you, help him."
The girl turned and started moving swiftly down the trail leaving six confused men behind. Finally Vin spoke.
"So do we go on or head back? There's a storm headed our way, should be here in bout an hour."
Chris stood for a moment trying to remember where he had seen the girl before. Finally he shook his head and moved toward his horse. "We go on." The words were flat and determined.
The six men had been following Gray and the girl for about a half an hour. They had pretty much given up on catching the horse when suddenly he stopped and started pawing the ground. Vin and JD slipped off their horses and cautiously approached. Instead of running, this time Gray pointed his nose at JD nickering softly. The young man was able to finally reach out and slip a rope around his neck. JD turned to Vin who was studying the ground and starting to look concerned.
"Vin, what is it?"
"Stay back JD and keep Gray back it looks like a horse went over this bank recently. I'm gonna check it out." Vin started edging toward the crumbling bank. He carefully leaned out to look down into the creek bed. JD was startled when the normally unflappable sharpshooter started cursing. Vin didn't even look up, just started yelling instructions.
"Chris, everyone, get over here and bring every rope we got. Buck's down there with his horse on top of him."
It took a lot of cursing and straining muscles but about an hour later an unconscious Buck was pulled to safety. It had started to rain so Nathan decided it would be better to get the injured man home rather than try to treat him there. A travois was quickly built, attached to Gray and the seven prepared to head home. Just as they were leaving a roaring noise was heard coming down the creek bed. The storm, that was just reaching them, had already caused flash flooding in the mountains. Chris looked back in time to see the dead horse being swept down the creek along with the other debris. He felt a cold chill run down his back as he thought of what would have happened if they had been a minute later.
Two days later the seven were gathered in the saloon to celebrate Buck's recovery. He had been extremely luck, mud in the creek had cushioned his legs enough so that the weight of the horse hadn't broken them. Except for a mild concussion and some bruises and minor cuts the ladies man was fine. They had been drinking for a while before Buck finally asked the question everyone had been trying to avoid.
"So how'd you boys know I was in trouble? I figured no one would miss me for a couple of days."
All six men exchanged uneasy glances before Chris finally replied in a no nonsense tone of voice.
"Told ya, Gray got out and we were chasin him."
Buck leaned back and looked at the others for a minute. He noticed that no one wanted to meet his eyes and everyone was shifting slightly in their chairs.
"Ya all sure that's it, I'm not callin anybody a liar but ya seem to be hidin somethin." Buck was teasing as he directed his gaze at JD knowing who was the weak link when it came to lying. The young man squirmed restlessly under his gaze for a minute before blurting out.
"It was a girl, she told us you needed help."
Buck sat straight up in his chair, the teasing expression draining from his face. The others noticed that he had suddenly gone pale. He started to speak but nothing came out, taking a swallow of beer he tried again.
"Was she young, prettier than the morning sun with brown hair?"
"I think that would be an accurate description of the young lady." Ezra had leaned forward and was studying Buck's face intently.
Buck leaned back and closed his eyes, almost to himself he whispered, "I thought I dreamed her."
"Who is she Buck, some farmer's daughter? I thought she looked familiar but couldn't remember where I had seen her." Chris had also leaned forward hoping that Buck could provide a sensible explanation for the girl's presence.
Buck opened his eyes and the others were surprised to see a deep sadness there. He didn't speak just reached in his shirt pocket and removed his wallet. Slowly he removed a picture which he wordlessly handed to Chris. The gunslinger looked down at the picture and recognized it immediately as one Buck had shown him when they first started riding together. Closing his eyes in protest of what he was looking at Chris handed the picture to Vin. Silently each man looked at the girl in the picture and passed it on. Finally Josiah handed it back to Buck.
"Who is she Brother Buck?"
The ladies man took the picture and slowly ran his hand over the face. His voice sounded choked and tears glimmered in his eyes as he answered.
"Her name was Bridgett, she was eighteen, I was nineteen when we met. I never loved another woman the way I loved her. We were gonna be married as soon as I got a stake. She died of the fever before…." Buck's voice trailed off as he continued to caress the picture. Sighing he looked up at the others before continuing. "I thought I was dreamin when I woke up under that horse the second time and she was there. She told me to hold on, help was coming." Shaking his head Buck stood up. "If you boys will excuse me, …. I think I'll take a walk."
Buck walked out of the saloon leaving six stunned men behind. Finally Chris reached for the whiskey bottle and started filling everyone's glass. "I think we're gonna need another one of these." He remarked. The others nodded and downed their shots in one gulp.