Crossover "The Young Riders"
This fic originally appeared in the fanzine Let's Ride 2 from Neon Rainbow Press.
The hawk flew over the desert towards a small town in the distance. The raptor glided in and landed on the roof of the jail. The hawk swiveled its head and looked around the town. A sign across the street read "The Clarion News" owner and proprietor Mary Travis. The bird ruffled it'd feathers and waited patiently. Two men walked out of the saloon. One was dressed in black with a fancy rig. The other was dressed in a buckskin coat and slouch hat. The hawk watched as they crossed to the jail. As they did a shadow appeared and engulfed the man in the buckskin coat. The hawk screeched and flew away.
Buck Cross sat up in bed gasping. He pushed his sweat soaked black hair out of his eyes and took a deep breath. The dream was still vivid in his mind as he glanced around the familiar bunkhouse, at the ranch outside Sweetwater. He hadn't thought of his friend Vin Tanner in many years. A dream of death was not they way he wanted to remember his friend. After the Pony Express disbanded Buck had no where to go and became partners with Rachel and Teaspoon. They pooled their money and bought the ranch from the Pony Express. Their reputation for training and breeding horses had spread and the ranch prospered. Buck could see the sun was just rising and decided to get up. He knew he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep after the dream. He got dressed and went out to take care of the stock.
+ + + + + + +
Vin, JD and Ezra spent the evening in the saloon. The three regulators were playing poker when they noticed another patron stand up and take a swing at his company. It never took much of an excuse for a fight to start at Digger Dan's and in no time a full-blown brawl was under way. They tried to break up the fight but were soon pulled into the fray. JD was grabbed from behind and was held tight while someone punched him in the stomach. Vin dispatched the drunk he was fighting and moved over to help JD. He hit the man holding JD over the head with a bottle and he slumped to the floor as he let JD go. Once released JD punched the man in front of him. Vin checked to see how Ezra was doing and saw him deliver a right cross to the man he was fighting. Vin was grabbed from behind and pulled back into the fight.
Chris heard the crashing of bottles from across the street and knew another brawl had started in the saloon. He stood up and headed for the saloon. When he got to the bat winged doors he was joined by Buck and they entered together. As soon as they entered JD went flying past Buck to land a few feet away. JD got up and shook his head. He looked around to see whom he could fight next. Chris saw Ezra knock out the man he was fighting while Vin ducked a swing from someone else. Chris pulled his gun and fired a shot.
"That's enough," he bellowed.
Everyone stopped like guilty school children and looked around. Vin turned to Chris but failed to notice his opponent pick up a bottle. He slammed the bottle into Vin's right temple and he dropped like a stone.
"Not very sporting," Ezra declared and punched the ruffian.
"You all right," Buck asked JD as he grabbed his chin to get a better look at JD's bloody face.
"Yeah I'm fine," JD said batting Buck's hand away.
Chris stepped over the bodies and debris to get to Vin. He knelt down and rolled the tracker onto his back. Chris grabbed Vin's bloody chin and turned his head to the right. Vin's long hair was stuck to the blood seeping from a wound on Vin's temple.
"Better get Nathan," Chris said.
"I'll get him," Buck said and disappeared out the door.
Vin couldn't figure out why his head hurt. As he slowly regained consciousness he realized he was lying on the floor. He became aware of voices then felt someone touch the side of his head and he moaned.
"He's comin' round," Nathan said as he continued to clean the wound.
"What hit me?" Vin mumbled as he opened his eyes and instantly regretted it.
"Hurts. Huh?" Nathan commented as Vin closed his eyes again. "That'll teach you to get into bar brawls."
"Nathan," Vin groaned as he opened his eyes. "Go to hell."
"Looks like he told you," Buck laughed.
"Right testy when he's hit over the head," Josiah observed.
"Let me up," Vin said pushing Nathan's hand away as he sat up slowly.
"I want you to spend the night at the clinic," Nathan said.
"I'm fine, don't need to stay at the clinic," Vin protested. "Now help me up."
Nathan shook his head as he grabbed Vin's right arm while Chris took the left. They got Vin standing and he looked at them in triumph. It was short lived as he began to sway towards Chris.
"Yeah you're fine," Chris said grabbing Vin's arm. "More like a stubborn mule."
"Ain't goin' to the clinic," Vin insisted. "I'll just sleep it off in my wagon."
"Concussions can be serious," Nathan argued. "You need to be watched."
"What if he stays with me," Chris said forestalling another protest from Vin.
"Fine by me," Vin agreed. "Least ways I know you won't try to feed me ditch water."
"You'll have to wake him every few hours," Nathan said. "Make sure he knows where he is. He might get sick on ya."
"Don't worry, Nathan," Chris said as followed Vin. "I'll keep an eye on him."
Chris followed closely behind Vin as he made his way across the street to the boarding house. The gunslinger was surprised to see that Vin was fairly steady on his feet. Vin entered the building and headed for the stairs. He stopped at the first step and looked up.
"Reckon I might need a hand," Vin reluctantly admitted.
"Room spinning?" Chris asked with a smile as he grabbed Vin's arm.
"Ain't admittin' nothin'," Vin answered as they made their way up the steps.
Chris helped Vin to his room and opened the door. Vin walked unsteadily over to the bed and sat down. He unbuckled his gunbelt and handed it to Chris. Chris hung the sawed off Winchester on the peg behind the door and turned back to Vin. The tracker was already stretched out on the bed asleep. Chris walked over and pulled off Vin's boots then threw a cover over him. Chris sat in the chair by the window and lit a cheroot. He sat down and watched the street through the window.
The wolf loped through the familiar town. He hadn't been there in a long time but he remembered being there. The wolf saw the Indian that was dressed like a white man. His scent was one he knew and he followed the Indian. The Indian stopped in front of the sheriff's office when the wolf saw a shadow engulf the Indian and he disappeared.
"No!" Vin yelled and bolted up in bed.
"Bad dream?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Vin said as he raked his finger through his hair.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Not much to talk about."
"How's you're head?" Chris asked sensing that Vin wouldn't tell him about the dream.
"Better," Vin replied touching the lump on the side of his head. "Didn't get hit with a bottle as a bounty hunter."
"Reckon not," Chris replied. "Why don't you go back to sleep."
"You ain't got to watch me," Vin said as he lay back.
"Nathan said to watch you," Chris said. "That's what I plan to do."
"Suit yourself," Vin said as he rolled over and faced the wall.
Chris waited for Vin to get settled before he stood up and walked over to the pallet he'd laid out earlier. Chris removed his boots then stretched out on the blankets.
"Night, cowboy," Vin said with a laugh.
Chris grunted and rolled over to find a more comfortable position on the hard floor. Soon the only sound in the room was the even breathing of the two men.
Buck Cross quietly ate his breakfast with Rachel and Teaspoon at the house. Teaspoon could see something was bothering Buck but knew the boy wouldn't talk until he was ready. Teaspoon smiled as he realized he couldn't call Buck a boy any more. It had been ten years since the pony express ended. Teaspoon was proud of the mature young man Buck had become. In the traditions of his Kiowa blood Buck continued to let his hair grow. The black hair now fell to the middle of his back. The gangly look he had as a teen was replaced by a well-muscled body. Working the horses and the up keep of the ranch helped maintain Buck's physique. Teaspoon could see the young man's brown eyes were troubled. He glanced at Rachel and could see she knew something was wrong also.
"Did you plan on breaking the new horses today?" Rachel asked.
"What?" Buck asked surprised.
"The new horses," Rachel repeated. "Were you going to break them?"
"Yeah," Buck said. "Figured I'd started with the black."
"He looks tough," Teaspoon commented.
"Always better to do them first," Buck smiled. "Then the others seem easy."
"Makes sense," Teaspoon agreed. "Well I have to get the sheriffs office and watch the town. I'll see ya tonight."
"Guess I better get started also," Buck said as he stood up. He wiped his mouth and put the napkin by his plate. "Breakfast was good Rachel."
"As always," Teaspoon said as he rubbed his stomach. "Hard to keep my girlish figure all these years."
Rachel laughed and shooed them out of her kitchen. She watched as Teaspoon mounted his horse and headed for town. Rachel was glad Sweetwater had turned into a peaceful and quiet town. She always worried Teaspoon was getting too old to be sheriff. She told her fears to Buck and he agreed but said it would break Teaspoons spirit if he weren't sheriff. Rachel gathered the dishes and put them in the sink. She decided she'd do the laundry since it was a nice day. She also liked to watch Buck break the horses. Rachel gathered what she needed and headed outside.
Buck walked into the corral and over to the black. Earlier in the week he halter broke the small herd and they were used to his presence. The black flicked its ears forward as Buck approached. Buck talked to it in a soothing voice as he slipped the hackmore over its nose. He led the horse out of the corral and shut the gate before the others could follow. Buck walked around the yard with the horse to calm it down. When the black was comfortable with the area Buck led him over to the pond. He walked into the water and was pulled up short when the horse wouldn't enter.
"Come on, boy," Buck said and gave a tug on the rope.
The horse shook his head and planted its feet. Buck tugged on the rope again and the black laid its ears flat and pulled back.
Rachel watched the war of wills as she scrubbed the sheets over the washboard. She smiled when Buck pulled an apple from his pocket and bit into it. The horse pricked his ears forward and leaned in as far as it could with entering the water. Rachel laughed out loud at the ridiculous position of the horse. Buck let the horse lip the apple but kept pulling it out of reach before the horse could bite it. Finally the horse reluctantly walked into the water. Buck stopped the horse when the water was up to the middle of the horse's belly. He patted the horse and gave him the apple. Buck walked to the horse side and swung on its back. The horse was confused by the weight on its back and wanted to throw it off but was hampered by the water. Rachel watched as Buck just sat on the horse petting it and talking to it. When Buck was ready he tapped his heels to the horses flank and the black walked out of the water. When the horse was on dry ground it bolted and Buck let it run as he clung to its back. Rachel knew this was Buck's favorite part, even if it did make her a nervous wreck. Buck let the horse run full out and completely free. This was the reason their horses were favored by so many. Buck never broke the horse's spirit. It was happy to serve humans because the horse enjoyed human company. Rachel smiled as Buck disappeared from site. She finished hanging the wash and went back inside.
+ + + + + + +
Vin was awoken the next morning by his grumbling stomach. He sighed and sat up. He noticed Chris was still asleep and got up quietly. His head didn't hurt that much and he decided to leave. He grabbed his boots and his Mare's Leg from behind the door before leaving. Once he was in the hall he pulled on his boots and strapped on his gun then headed for the stairs. He walked out of the boarding house and squinted in the sun.
"Hey, Vin," JD said coming up behind him. "Didn't expect to see you up."
"It was just a bottle, JD," Vin said. "Nathan made it worse than it was."
"I was just heading over to Mrs. Walkers for breakfast, want to join me?'
They walked side by side down the boardwalk to the restaurant. They were half way through their meal when Nathan walked in. He gave Vin a long look before he spoke.
"How's your head?"
"Fine," Vin answered. Nathan leaned over and went to check the wound. "Leave off, Nathan."
"Still hurt?" Nathan asked.
"Only when someone touches it," Vin retorted causing JD to choke on his milk as he laughed.
"He got you there, Nathan," JD said when he recovered.
"I want you to take it easy," Nathan said. "Head wounds can be serious."
"I can take care of myself," Vin said angrily.
"Suit yourself," Nathan said throwing up his hands.
"Don't worry Nathan he'll do nothing all day," Chris said as he walked over to the table. "He's coming fishing with me and Billy."
"That'll do," Nathan said satisfied.
"And what if I didn't want to go fishing?"
"Why are you so ornery? Most people would jump at the chance to do nothing all day. Just meet me outside the Clarion in half and hour."
Chris stalked out of the restaurant as Vin smiled and continued to eat his flapjacks. JD gave Vin and odd look.
"You like to rile him don't ya?"
"Keeps him on his toes," Vin smiled.
"I don't know, Vin," JD said. "Sometimes I think your just plan loco."
Billy waited patiently for Chris to come. He'd been up extra early just to get ready. Billy saw Chris walking towards the Clarion.
"Chris!" Billy shouted and dashed out the door.
"Billy!" Mary called. "You be careful."
Billy ignored his mother as he ran down the boardwalk. Chris knelt down and Billy jumped into his arms.
"Ready to go fishing?" Chris asked as he stood up.
"Yeah!" Billy yelled. "Just you and me!"
"There's a small change in plans," Chris said as he walked towards the newspaper office. "Vin's coming with us. He was hurt in a fight last night and Nathan wants him to take it easy."
"I guess," Billy pouted as Chris stepped inside.
"You guess what?" Mary asked.
"That its okay Vin comes fishing with us," Billy replied. "He was hurt and Nathan wants him to take it easy."
"Is he okay?"
"Yeah," Chris assured her seeing her concern. "He was hit in the head with a bottle. He was out for a few minutes but he knew who he was when he came too."
"I at least remembered my name," Vin said as he joined the group. "Ma'am."
"Morning, Vin," Mary said. She took a closer look at the bruise on his right temple. "Does it hurt?"
"Some," Vin admitted. He ignored Chris look of surprise.
"Let's go saddle the horses," Chris said as he left the newspaper.
"You listen to Mr. Larabee," Mary called to Billy. "Don't make a nuisance of yourself!"
"Yes ma," Billy said rolling his eyes.
Mary watched as they disappeared inside the livery.
+ + + + + + +
Chris kept the horse to a slow pace. Vin gave him a dirty look but Chris ignored it, he wasn't in a hurry. They arrived at the fishing hole and settled in for a day of fishing. They were there for a few hours when Chris noticed Vin had fallen asleep in the shade.
"Is he okay, Chris," Billy asked.
"Yeah," Chris answered as he gathered up their gear. "Let's move over to the other side of the pond. Maybe we'll have luck."
The wolf ran along the forest trail. He came to a stop on a hill and cocked his head to listen. The wolf heard a horse running and went to investigate. As the wolf loped along the trail he saw an Indian riding a lathered horse at a full gallop. The wolf could see the Indian was terrified as he kept looking behind him to see what was chasing him. The wolf looked beyond the Indian and shivered. A sinister shadow was gaining quickly on the fleeing Indian. Owl cried in the distance and the wolf knew death was near. The wolf turned back to the Indian as the shadow over took them and they disappeared.
"No!" Vin screamed as he sat up. Vin looked around in confusion trying to figure out where he was.
"Are you all right?" Chris asked. He was surprised when Vin jumped.
"I reckon," Vin said as he ran a shaking hand through his hair.
"You have a bad dream?" Billy asked. "Sometimes I have them too."
"Yeah it was a dream," Vin said as he looked around.
"We better head back to town," Chris said.
"Catch anything while I was asleep?"
"Yeah!" Billy exclaimed as he held up a string of fish.
"Guess I won't be having any trout tonight," Vin sighed.
"You can have some of ours," Billy offered. "Ma said she'd cook whatever we caught. As long as we cleaned them."
"Sound like a good deal to me," Chris said. "Let's get back to town."
They packed up the gear and swung up on their horses. They were all looking to a home cooked meal.
Teaspoon returned to the ranch house in the evening. As he stabled his horse he could see the other animals contentedly eating. He finished in the barn and headed for the bunkhouse. Teaspoon entered to find Buck soaking in a tub. Buck had his head back and his eyes closed. As teaspoon walked closer he could see a bruise on the boys left cheek.
"They give you a hard time?" Teaspoon asked. Buck was startled awake and gripped the side of the tub as he looked around. "Sorry, son, I didn't mean ta startle ya."
"It's alright," Buck said as he looked up and smiled. "Considering I might have drawn since I fell asleep."
"So did they give you a hard time?" Teaspoon asked again as he handed Buck a towel.
"One of them tried to knock me off by running into a tree," Buck said as he stood up taking the towel and drying himself off then wrapping it around his waist. "Got this bruise on my cheek for the effort."
"So how are they?"
"They're good, Teaspoon," Buck said as he grabbed another towel and dried his hair. "Especially the Palomino. She's smooth and even-tempered. Was thinking of keeping her."
"Thought she'd make a nice gift for Rachel's birthday," Buck answered as he got dressed.
"Not a bad idea," Teaspoon said as he rubbed his chin. "Ready for supper?"
"Yeah, I'm starved," Buck said as he strapped on his gun and followed Teaspoon to the main house.
Rachel greeted them as they walked and took seats at the table. She dished out the stew and asked Teaspoon how his day was. Buck only half listened as he ate his stew. Rachel noticed Buck was being very quiet and glanced over at him. She smiled when she saw he was asleep leaning on his hand.
"Looks like he had a rough day," Teaspoon said as he looked at Buck.
"Couple of them gave him a hard time," Rachel said. "But I think he likes to run as much as they do."
"I think you're right," Teaspoon laughed. "Guess we better wake him before he falls face first into his bowl."
"Buck," Rachel said as she touched his arm.
"Huh, what?" Buck dropped his spoon and it clattered against the plate. "Aw hell I'm sorry."
"Its okay, son, why don't you got get some sleep."
Buck wished them goodnight and walked out to the bunkhouse. As he got closer he saw an owl perched on the roof looking at him. Buck wasn't superstitious but he respected his Kiowa blood. The owl was an ill omen and he shivered as it flew away. He continued into the bunkhouse and over to his bed. Buck pulled off his boots and threw them in the corner. He pulled off his clothes and lay back on the bed. The owl troubled him but not for long as his soft snores filled the room.
+ + + + + + +
Teaspoon woke with a start when he heard a noise coming from the bunkhouse. His shack shared a wall with the bunkhouse and he could hear everything that went on inside. The sound came again and it sounded like furniture scrapping along the floor. Teaspoon sat up and swung his feet to the floor. He pulled on his boots and walked to the door. He walked along the porch to the door of the bunkhouse and stepped inside to find Buck thrashing in his bed.
Running Buck ran in the form of his namesake across a field. He knew he was in dreamtime and didn't fight it. In the distance a town came into view that he recognized. It was the one from his vision as a hawk. The buck walked down main street but was ignored by the people in the street. Buck turned as a door opened and a friend he hadn't seen in a long time walk out of the saloon. His friend hadn't changed much. He still had the long hair from his time with the People. Buck watched as Vin crossed the street to the restaurant. He could sense something evil was coming and ducked his head as an owl screeched and flew passed. When he lifted his head he saw Vin had been shot and was lying dead in the street.
"No!" Buck screamed as he reared up in bed gasping for breath.
"Easy, son," Teaspoon said grabbing his arm. "It was only a dream."
"Damn," Buck said as he pushed his sweat soaked hair from his face.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Remember that skinny kid that joined up with me and Ike?"
"You mean that scrawny one that could be blown away in a stiff wind?"
"Yeah him," Buck laughed. "He was sent to the Harper's Ridge station."
"What about him?"
"I keep dreaming about him," Buck said as he pulled his knees up and rested his arms across them. "This is the second time I've dreamed about him. About his death."
"His death." Teaspoon was skeptical but he respected Buck's beliefs in the dream world.
"Yeah," Buck said with a sigh. "A shadow is stalking him. The first time it engulfed him and he disappeared. This time he was shot."
"Well, I know your people take great store in visions," Teaspoon said. "Have you decided what you're going to do?"
"He's in trouble," Buck said. "I have to warn him but I'm not sure where he is."
"Do you have any ideas?"
"Just one," Buck admitted reluctantly. " My first vision showed me a newspaper, The Clarion. I remember reading about seven men guarding a town."
"Not much to go on," Teaspoon warned.
"My vision gave me a name," Buck said. "Mary Travis the owner of the newspaper."
"Ask Horace in town and see if he has any out of town papers," Teaspoon suggested. He would be very surprised if this person existed but stranger things have happened.
"Fine, now try and keep it quiet in here," Teaspoon said gruffly. "I need my sleep."
Teaspoon stood up and walked towards the door. Before leaving he looked back to see Buck staring at the ceiling. He doubted Buck would go back to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning Buck rode into town with Teaspoon. They stabled their horses then walked towards the sheriff's office. Buck left Teaspoon at the jail and continue on to the newspaper office. As he walked along the street some people stopped to look. Buck was used to this and he ignored them. It didn't matter if he dressed like a white man they still looked at his skin and disapproved. He arrived at the newspaper and stepped inside.
"Morning Horace," Buck said as he removed his hat.
"Morning, Buck," Horace said from behind the desk. As he stood up he pushed his spectacles up on his nose. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm looking for a newspaper," Buck answered. "The Clarion run by Mary Travis."
"The Clarion," Horace said. He tapped the pencil he was holding against his chin thinking. "Hold on a minute."
The tall lanky newspaperman moved to stack of old papers along the wall. He rifled through them until he found what he was looking for.
"Ah, here it is!" Exclaimed Horace as he handed it to Buck.
Buck took the paper and read the town name. Four Corners didn't ring a bell and he asked Horace.
"It's in the Arizona territory," Horace answered. "I think I have it on a map."
Once again Horace began to rummage through his papers. Buck read some of the articles in The Clarion. They mentioned the seven regulators and Buck was convinced one was Vin even though she didn't give descriptions. Buck wasn't surprised that she didn't. He knew Vin was a wanted man in Texas. He'd worked as Teaspoon's deputy when he was needed and had come across a wanted poster of his friend. Buck didn't believe it and destroyed the poster. He knew Vin would never shoot anyone in the back.
"Found it!" Horace yelled.
He spread the map on the desk and they looked for the town. Buck spotted it first. It was small town close to the desert and not far from the Mexican border. Buck thanked Horace and went back to the sheriff's office.
"Find anything?" Teaspoon asked.
"Yup, I found the town."
"When do you leave?" Teaspoon asked. He knew Buck would leave as soon as he found the town.
"As soon as I get back to the ranch and pack," Buck answered. "Something tells me I can't wait."
"Good luck, son," Teaspoon said holding out his hand. "Come back safe."
"I will," Buck said taking Teaspoons forearm and squeezing it.
Vin wandered around town early in the morning. It wasn't his turn for morning patrol but sleep abandoned him when he dreamed about his friend Buck from his pony express days. He wanted to talk to somebody about the dreams and figured Josiah was his best bet. The ex-preacher had spent time with The People and would understand about the dream world. He knew Josiah wouldn't dismiss his worries because he would under stand. Vin doubted the others would. Vin noticed Mary stepping out of the newspaper office with broom in hand. The ever-present dust was covering the boardwalk in front of the office and she was determined to get rid of it. Vin saw her look up and wave a greeting. Vin tugged on his hat and nodded as he continued down to the church. He climbed the steps and entered.
"Brother Vin," Josiah said. "What brings you here?'
"Need to ask you something."
"I'm all ears," Josiah said as he took a seat in one of the pews.
"Not sure where to start," Vin admitted as he joined Josiah.
"The begining is usually best."
"Keep having theses dreams. Knew you would understand if I was concerned about what they showed."
Vin explained about his friend Buck. Josiah was surprised to find that Vin rode for the pony express but made no comment. Vin continued about the dreams and that he always woke up when he saw Buck dead.
"I have to warn him, Josiah," Vin said.
"Could he be dead already?" Josiah asked gently. "Your dream could just be letting you know."
"I don't think he is," Vin admitted. "But I ain't sure."
"Why don't you wait a few days," Josiah suggested. "The dream might be able to tell you something more."
"I reckon, thanks Josiah."
"Doors always open."
"Yeah so's the roof," Vin teased and quickly moved out of Josiah reach. "And the windows."
Josiah tried to swat Vin with the broom he'd been using to sweep the floors but Vin was faster and easily made his escape.
Chris was sitting in front of the jail watching the town. It had been three days seen Vin told them about his dreams and his wish to go look for his friend. Chris was glad that Josiah had convinced Vin to wait but he had a feeling Vin wasn't going to wait much longer. Chris sat up as he noticed Vin heading for the livery. He knew if Vin wanted to leave there was nothing any of them could say to stop him. Chris was preoccupied with thinking about Vin but he didn't fail to notice a stranger ride into town. When he got closer Chris could see he was an Indian. Some of the townsfolk stepped away from him as he dismounted. Chris didn't blame them. It wasn't everyday an Indian rode into town dressed as a white man carrying a gun. The stranger was tall with long black hair in a single braid hanging to the middle of his back. The Indian looked around town and spotted Chris across the street. Their eyes locked and Chris wasn't surprised when he didn't look away. The brave nodded and Chris touched the tip of his hat. The doors to the livery opened and the strangers gaze shifted towards them. Chris became alarmed thinking the Indian could be a bounty hunter as the brave stared at Vin.
"Hunkawanzi," the Indian called.
Chris watched as Vin's head snapped up. Chris couldn't understand the words and his hand rested on his gun incase there was trouble.
"Tomdoka," Vin said surprised.
The Indian walked towards Vin holding out his right hand. Vin grasped it around the forearm as the Indian smiled and put his left hand on Vin's shoulder and gave it a shake. Chris relaxed as Vin smiled at the Indian and they started talking.
"Must be his friend," Buck said from the shadows. Chris heard a gun being un-cocked and wasn't surprised.
"Must be," Chris said as he watched Buck holster his gun.
They watched as Vin and the Indian continued talking. Buck's curiosity finally got the better of him and he stepped off the boardwalk. Chris stood up and followed as Buck made his way over to Vin.
"So, Vin, who's your friend?" Buck asked.
"Hey, Buck, Chris," Vin said excitedly. "This is my friend Buck Cross."
"Now that's gonna get confusing," Buck said with a smile as he held out his hand. "Nice to meet ya."
"Same here," Buck said as he took the older mans hand.
"Won't get confused," Vin said. "We'll just have to call ya Bucklin while he's here."
"Great," Bucklin groaned.
"So your Vin's friend," Chris said.
"Yes, from when we rode with the pony express," Buck replied.
"You rode with the pony express," the ladies man exclaimed as he looked at Vin.
"Sure, they wanted orphans," Vin said. "And the pay was decent."
"The hours and the grueling rides weren't," Buck added.
"How the hell old were you?"
"Not sure," Vin admitted looking at Buck. "Thirteen maybe."
"Close enough," Buck agreed.
"Knew the express wanted them young but I never imagined."
"They took Vin because he stuck to a horse like a burr," Buck smiled. "And he was scrawny."
"He still is," Chris commented. "You must be hungry. Why don't you unsaddle the horses and meet us at the restaurant."
"Let me take your saddle bags," Bucklin offered. "I'll get you a room at the boarding house."
Buck handed his bags to Vin's friend then unhitched his horse and followed Vin. Buck gave his horse a quick rub down as he talked to Vin. Neither one of them realized that they automatically switched to Kiowa when they were alone. It was the language they had both grown up with and it was natural. When Buck was finished they headed over to the restaurant. Buck and Vin walked in the door and glanced around. Wilmington waved from the table in the corner. JD was sitting with them and looked up. Buck followed Vin over to his friends and sat down.
"JD this is Buck," Vin said. "An old friend of mine."
"Yeah I know, Buck told me," JD said smiled. "I mean Bucklin."
"Now look what you started," Wilmington said as he glared at Vin.
Chris sat back and listened as JD started asking Vin's friend all sorts of questions. Chris glanced around the restaurant and saw some of the patrons whispering and staring towards their table. The waitress was across the room dealing with and angry customer who was gesturing towards their table. She nodded to the man and left. Chris couldn't figure out what was going on. The others were oblivious as Buck told them an amusing story about Vin and a skunk.
"You mean the skunk got him?" JD smiled.
"Got both of us," Buck said.
"What did you want with it in the first place?" Bucklin asked.
"To pull a practical joke on Hickock, Cody and the others," Vin answered.
"Whoa! Wait a minute!" JD said in surprise. "You mean The James Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody?"
"Yeah," Buck said with a smile. "Why?"
"They're famous!" JD exclaimed. "And you rode with them."
The conversation was interrupted when the owner came over to the table. Chris didn't like Mr. Forsyth and usually avoid him if he could.
"Excuse me," Forsyth said nervously. "We don't serve his kind here."
Forsyth took a step back as three pairs of eyes gave him a dirty look. Buck didn't even bother to acknowledge the man. He heard and seen it all before.
"You what?" Chris asked in a deadly voice.
"It's the other patrons, you see."
"Yeah we don't want to eat with no buck." A male stranger called from across the room.
"Oh it's me you object too," Wilmington said as he innocently pointed to himself. "Well in that case I guess we better go."
"Yeah we can get served at Inez's," JD said in disgust as they all stood up.
"That's right, injun, you do as we say," the stranger said.
"No!" Buck said grabbing Vin as he went for his mare's leg. "He ain't worth it."
"If you weren't with your Indian loving friends I'd take you down, redskin," the stranger growled.
"You wouldn't stand a chance," Vin said pulling against Buck's restraining hands.
"Come one boys," Wilmington said. "I'm hungry."
Wilmington walked out followed by JD. Chris and Buck pulled a fuming Vin along with them. Once outside they let him go. Chris had never seen Vin this upset about anything.
"I can't believe you let them talk about you like that," JD said angrily.
"Doesn't matter what they think," Buck said as he pointed to his heart. "As long as I know who I am in my heart."
"I accepted what I am a long time ago," Buck said.
"Yeah that he's a stubborn pain in the ass," Vin commented.
Buck laughed as he followed his friend to the saloon. Chris pushed through the bat-winged doors and saw Ezra sitting at a table alone. He walked over to the table followed by the others.
"Evenin' Ezra," Wilmington said as they all sat down.
"Please join me," Ezra said sarcastically.
"Don't mind if we do," Vin said as he leaned back in his chair.
"What can I get for you?" Inez asked as she walked over.
"The key to you heart," Wilmington replied with a smile.
"In your dreams gringo."
"We were kicked out of the restaurant," Chris said ignoring the exchange. "So whatever you have cooking is just fine."
"And may one enquire as to the reason for your dismissal at our quaint restaurant."
"You mean the only restaurant," JD said.
"It's because of me," Buck said.
"I see," Ezra said. "And you are?"
"Aw hell, Ezra, I'm sorry," Vin apologized. "This is my friend Buck Cross."
"A pleasure to meet you," Ezra said holding out his hand.
"Same here," Buck said as he shook Ezra's hand.
Inez came back a few minutes later with a tray of food and placed it in the middle of the table. She went back to the kitchen and returned with plates and forks. They each grabbed a plate and dug into the rice, meat and tortillas. All except Ezra. As they were eating Josiah and Nathan joined them. As they ate Vin and Buck stared to reminisce about the pony express. Josiah leaned back in his chair and smiled. He'd never heard the quiet tracker talk so much.
"So do you ever here from the others?" Vin asked as he pushed his chair back on two legs.
"Lou and the kid have a ranch up in Wyoming," Buck said. "They took in Lou's sister and brother. Last I heard Lou was expecting their second kid."
"What about Hickock and Cody?"
"Yeah what about them," JD said eagerly. "I still can't believe you rode with them."
"Haven't heard from them in a long time," Buck admitted. "I had a falling put with Cody when he became an Indian fighter against the Cheyenne. Read that dimestore novel written about him a few years ago. Made it sound like killing Indians was a good thing. Wasn't too happy when I heard he got the Medal of Honor for it."
"Ain't surprised," Josiah said.
"I can't believe he would do that," Nathan said. "You being friends and all."
"Me and Cody were never close," Buck said. "Teaspoon used to break up our fights all the time."
"Teaspoon?" JD asked.
"Teaspoon Hunter," Vin laughed. "What a character he was."
"Still is," Buck laughed. "Still sheriff too. I joined him and Rachel as partners in a ranch."
"The old way station in Sweetwater?" Vin asked.
"Yeah we raise horses."
"What about Hickock?" JD cut in before they went off on a tangent.
"Jimmy's made a name for himself as a gunfighter," Buck answered. "Teaspoon was pretty upset by the novel they wrote about him in '67. Few years ago he was the sheriff in Abilene. Town made him leave after he accidentally shot his deputy. Last I heard him and Cody were in a play in Chicago called "The Scouts of the Prairie'."
"They're doing plays?" JD was a little disappointed in this.
"Last I heard."
"Shakespeare must be rolling in his grave," Ezra said dryly. "So what brings you to town?"
"Him," Buck said pointing to Vin. "Kept dreaming about him."
"You too," Vin said looking at Buck. "Got any ideas what it's about?"
"Nope," Buck said shaking his head. "Was hoping you could tell me."
Horace stepped out of the newspaper office and looked around Sweetwater. It was still early and there weren't many people on the street. Horace took a deep breath as he stretched. Now was a good time to sweep the boardwalk in front of the news office. He stepped back inside to emerge a few seconds later with a broom. The distinct sounds of a rough bristle broom against the wooden boardwalk could be heard clearly in the early morning air. As Horace swept he glanced around town. Being a newspaper report made him a very curious man. He stopped seeping when he saw a man walking towards him from across the street. Horace leaned on the broom and waited for the man to come to him.
"Mornin'," Horace said. "Can I help you with something?"
"Was wondering if you could tell me if a someone still lives in this town?"
"Well sure," Horace smiled. "I know practically everybody. Names Horace Lincoln."
"Pleased to meet you, I'm Randall Hawkins."
Horace shook the mans offered hand. The name sounded familiar but he couldn't figure out where. "So who are you looking for?
"I'm looking for Vin Tanner or Buck Cross," Randall said. "They used to ride for the Pony Express."
"Well mister that was almost ten years ago," Horace laughed. "But you're in luck. Buck Cross still lives here. Owns a ranch just outside of town."
"He does," Randall said surprised. "Now who'd of thought a Injun could buy land."
"Well he's partners with Sheriff Hunter," Horace commented. "They bought the old express way station."
"Think I'll go out and visit Buck then."
"Won't do ya no good he ain't there," Horace informed him. "He left for Four Corner two days ago. But the sheriff should be here in town."
"Don't trouble yourself I was mainly looking for Buck."
"No trouble," Horace said looking around. "There's Teaspoon now."
Teaspoon walked along the boardwalk checking on the stores to make sure everything was all right. Usually early in the morning things were quiet. He tipped his hat to the widow Harper as she walked by. He continued along his way when he saw Horace waving for him to come over. There was a man standing with the newspaper editor that looked familiar. As the man turned Teaspoon went on guard and continued across the street.
"Well if it isn't Teaspoon Hunter."
"Randall Hawkins, what do you want?"
"Is that any way to talk to a fellow citizen," Randall said. "It's been ten years."
"Yeah and I remember what you said you'd do when you got out," Teaspoon challenged.
"Ten years in Leavenworth can change a man," Randall smiled. "It was good to see you again sheriff."
Teaspoon watched as Randall Hawkins mounted his horse and rode out of town. He was just glad Buck wasn't here.
"What did Randall want?" Teaspoon asked as he turned to Horace.
"He was looking for Buck and some other fella named Tanner," Horace answered. "Told him there wasn't no Tanner here."
"What did you tell him about Buck?"
"Said he left for Four Corners two days ago."
"Damn!" Teaspoon cursed as he walked away.
"What's wrong?" Horace asked out of curiosity.
"Go back to sweeping Horace and quit being so generous with other peoples where abouts," Teaspoon said.
"Well!" Horace said indignantly and headed into his shop
Teaspoon left Horace and quickly made his way to the telegraph office. He'd received a telegram from Buck saying how he could be reached. He'd made it to Four Corners and found Vin but neither of them could figure out what was wrong. Now Teaspoon knew and he had to warn them. He walked into the telegraph office and grabbed a pencil and paper and began to write out what he wanted. Teaspoon smiled as he addressed the telegram to Chris Larabee. Buck didn't want him using Vin's name and Teaspoon knew it was because the young man was wanted. He'd found the wanted poster stuffed under Buck's mattress one day but knew Vin couldn't have killed someone in cold blood. When he was finished writing what he wanted sent he handed it to the operator. Now all he could do was wait.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee sat in front of the jail with the chair tilted back and one foot up on the post in front of him. He watched the town from under the brim of his hat as he smoked a cheroot. The morning had been quiet except for the antics of Vin; JD and his friend Buck. The two older men had been teaching JD how throw knives. Chris wasn't surprised that Buck was deadly accurate. Vin wasn't too bad either but JD was another story. The younger man tried to hit the target but he missed more than he hit. Chris righted his chair as Vin walked over and stood where the target was. He knew what was going to happen as Buck stood a few paces in front of him.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Josiah said. Chris relaxed as the ex-preacher took them in hand.
"Hell Josiah me and Buck used to do this all the time," Vin said.
"Yes but you didn't have impressionable minds watching," Josiah said indicating Billy and his friends watching from across the street.
"He's right," Buck said as he slipped his knife into the sheath on his boot.
"You ain't no fun any more," Vin teased.
"And you were always too wild," Buck smiled.
"You can't really do it can you," JD said.
"Want to bet?" Buck said. "We can go outside town later and we'll show you."
"Deal," JD said. "So now what should we do?"
"Did Vin ever tell you the time we stole some horses from a neighboring tribe?" Buck asked as he threw an arm over JD's shoulder as the walked away.
"Those three are trouble," Josiah said as he joined Chris by the jail.
"Tell me about it," Chris said as he tilted the chair back. "Do you know what they were doing earlier?" Josiah shook his head no. "They were racing up and down the street doing saddle tricks."
"Was that what the commotion was," Josiah laughed.
"I put a stop to it when Ezra start taking wagers."
"What was Ezra doing up so early?"
"He hadn't gone to bed yet," Chris said. "I better go see what those three are up to."
Chris stood up as threw down the cheroot. He snuffed the still smoldering end and stepped off the boardwalk. Chris didn't get far when he heard his named called. Looking up he saw Hiram, the telegraph operator heading his way.
"Mr. Larabee a telegram came for a Buck Cross in care of you."
"Thanks Hiram," Chris said as he took the telegram and put it in his pocket.
"It's marked urgent," Hiram pointed out.
"I'll see he gets it."
Chris continued on his way but got a bad feeling whatever was in the telegram would mean trouble. The threesome he was looking for wasn't hard to find. He could hear JD talking with Buck as he passed the livery. The Kiowa was answering one of JD's millions of questions. Chris was glad to find out that Vin's childhood hadn't been as rough as he suspected. Granted living with the Kiowa couldn't be called luxury but Vin had been excepted and made a good friend. Chris didn't think Vin was all that happy with Buck at the moment. The Kiowa had revealed more about Vin's past then Vin ever would have shared on his own. Chris made his way into the livery to see them tacking their horses.
"Buck, a telegram came for you," Chris said as he walked in.
Chris watched as Buck unfolded the piece of paper and began to read. It was ironic that Buck was able to read but Vin wasn't. As Buck read the telegram Chris could see something was wrong.
"Damn!" Buck cursed as he crushed the paper in his hand.
"Something wrong back at the ranch?" Vin asked in concern.
"No," Buck answered. "It's trouble for me and you. Hawkins is out."
Vin thought about it for a minute then nodded. "Reckon that would be right. It's been about ten years."
"I think that's what the dreams were about."
"Ya think they were trying to warn us about Hawkins?"
"He did say he'd kill us when he got out."
"Whoa," JD interrupted. "What the heck are you talking about."
"Trouble," Vin said. "Best if you rounded everyone up and we told this once."
"I'll go get Bucklin," JD smiled.
Chris shook his head as he watched JD run out the door. "You realize Buck's never going forgive you about using his right name."
"Walkin' around calling him Wilmington takes too danged long," Vin smiled.
"How bad is this trouble?"
"Don't rightly know."
"Well whatever it is we'll handle it."
Twenty minutes later they were all assembled at the jail. Ezra wasn't happy about being there since he'd only just gone to sleep. They waited patiently for Buck and Vin to tell them what was going on. Chris watched the two of them across the room as they argued in Kiowa. Finally Buck had the finally word and turned to face them.
"Vin doesn't think we should involve you," Buck said.
"Of course you should," JD said quickly. "We're your friends."
"This quarrel ain't none of your doing," Vin replied. "No sense in you getting hurt over it."
"Why don't you tell us what's going on first," Josiah suggested. "Then maybe we could make up our own minds."
"Fair enough," Buck nodded and sat on the desk. "About ten years ago I witnessed Randall Hawkins murder a homesteader and his wife. Me and Vin were on a run for the express. Vin's horse picked up a stone and we had to stop. I went to take care of some business when I heard a scream. Went to investigate and that's when I saw Randall kill the homesteaders. I couldn't let him get away with it so I snuck up behind him and hit over the head with a log."
"Where were you Vin?" Josiah asked.
"Came at the first shot. Got there in time to see the woman fall to the ground. Next thing I knew Buck was dashing out and hit Randall with the log."
"So you never actually saw Randall shoot them?" Ezra asked.
"Didn't have to," Vin said angrily. "I know what he'd done."
"We tied Randall up then I sent Vin to the next town to get the sheriff," Buck continued. "He brought the sheriff back and we explained what happened. The sheriff didn't even bother asking me about it and that's when I knew Vin would have to testify. That they would never take the word of an Indian."
"So you lied under oath," Josiah said.
"Didn't lie," Vin said. "Buck's my blood brother. What he knows I know. What he saw I saw."
"What happened at the trial?" Chris asked quickly before Nathan or Josiah could get into why what they did was wrong.
"It was like I figured," Buck continued. "They only wanted Vin's story. I told him exactly what happened. During the trial when Vin wasn't sure of an answer we used sign language to pass information. Vin was only fourteen so they just thought he was nervous. The jury found Randall guilty and sent him to jail for ten years."
"Why didn't they hang him?" Wilmington asked.
"Not sure," Buck said. "All I remember is he had a big ranch and ran a huge herd of cattle."
"A man that could get favors done," Ezra said.
"I guess so," Buck nodded. "Anyway after the trial he vowed to kill me and Vin."
"Any idea how many men he'll come with?" Chris asked.
"Ain't got no idea," Vin answered. "That's why me and Buck have ta leave."
"That's crazy, Vin," JD said. "He'd only follow you. Then what?"
"He'd have a hard time following our trail," Vin assured JD. "Can't let the fighting come to town. Too many people will get hurt."
"Six extra guns might come in handy," Nathan said.
"Buck how long did it take you to here?" Chris asked.
"So we have that long to get ready."
Tyler Hawkins waited patiently for his brother outside of Sweetwater. When his brother went to jail he helped their father run the cattle ranch. Life hadn't been easy for Tyler since their father's favorite had always been Randall. When the old man died four years ago, Tyler went to visit his brother in Leavenworth. That's where they came up with their revenge against Buck Cross and Vin Tanner. Tyler wanted revenge because he had been forced to stay with a father who made his life miserable. While they waited for Randall to serve the rest of his term, Tyler started to gather some fighting men. One of the men, a bounty hunter, informed Tyler that Tanner had a five hundred-dollar price on his head for murder. Randall found that to be very amusing and was looking forward to bringing Tanner to Texas for trial. But if Tanner proved unwilling to go, the poster did say dead or alive. Tyler glanced at his watch and cursed. He'd never been a patient man. He was about to head to town when he saw his brother coming up the trail.
"What did ya find?" Tyler asked as he brother stopped his horse next to him.
"They ain't here?"
"Damn! Now what do we do?"
"We go where they are," Randall smiled.
"Where's' that?" Tyler asked impatiently.
"Patience brother," Randall said. "Their time will come.
+ + + + + + +
"This is crazy, Chris!"
"What that we want to help?" Chris asked as he watched Vin pace back and forth.
"Can't get the whole town involved," Vin said indicating the barricades placed in the alley. "This ain't their fight."
"Buck doesn't seem to mind," Chris said as he pointed to the Kiowa.
"Oh I mind," Buck said. "But I figured if Vin can't change your mind I certainly can't."
"He learns fast," Wilmington said with a chuckle.
"Everything is set," Chris said. "Starting tonight we'll post a guard. I figure they should show up sometime tomorrow."
"I'm sure the town folk will appreciate being cooped up the whole time," Vin argued.
"They won't be," Chris said. "With you up on one of the building, with your spy glass, that should give us plenty of time to get them off the streets."
"I guess that means its time for bed," Buck said as he stood. "Have to be well rested for the battle."
"Everything will be fine," Wilmington said with confidence. "Josiah hasn't seen any crows."
"Yeah, well, with the Kiowa it would be owls," Buck smiled.
"Guess I better ask Josiah if he's seen any of those. See yas in the morning."
Chris watched his old friend as he ambled down the boardwalk towards the church. Buck was talking with Vin but Chris couldn't understand him. When he was done he gripped Vin's arm.
"Hoka Hey," Buck said with a smile as he walked away.
"What was that?" Chris asked as he walked over to stand next to Vin.
"It's Lakota," Vin said. "It mean 'it's a good day to die'."
"Let's hope not," Chris said. "Come on, we've got first watch."
Vin hoped so too as he fell into step with Chris.
+ + + + + + +
The Hawkins brothers stopped just outside Four Corners. They had eight other gunmen with them who pulled up their horses behind the brothers. Tyler looked towards the town and laughed.
"May not look like much," Corbin said. "But I hear it's got seven gun men for protection."
"What would a bounty hunter know," Tyler sneered.
"Corbin take three others and sneak into town," Randall said before a fight could break out.
The bounty hunter nodded and signaled to three of the other men. If Randall hadn't been around he would have killed Tyler. Corbin rode off to the south so they would come into town at a different angle. Randall watched them go then turned to his brother.
"You like to live dangerously."
"I ain't afraid of him."
"You should be," Randall said. "Now lets go."
Randall led the remaining four men towards town. He'd decide to just ride right in since they had a big enough group. As they got closer to town he noticed that it was awfully quiet. They rode passed the hotel and saw two men standing on the boardwalk by the jail. Barrels and boxes had been piled at strategic areas along the street to hide behind. As they rode on the man in black stepped off the boardwalk.
"That's far enough."
"We ain't got no quarrel with you," Randall called. "Hand over Tanner and the Injun and we'll be one our way."
"Can't do that," Chris said. "Why don't you just ride out before you regret it."
"What the hell are we waiting for," Tyler said as he pulled his gun and started firing.
Chris jumped behind some boxes as bullets started flying. Randall cursed his brother as they scrambled off the horses and found cover. Buck had been guarding Chris's back and now shared his hiding place behind the boxes.
"Would have been easier to give us up."
"What and miss all this excitement."
Buck smiled as he returned fire. Josiah and Nathan were at the other end of town with Wilmington and JD Firing from the balcony of the hotel. Vin had the high ground on the roof of the saloon across from Chris and Buck. Ezra was in the saloon firing from the window. Chris could hear Vin's rifle above the noise and he watched in satisfaction as one of Randall's men went down. JD took down another one as the fighting continued. They knew that four men hadn't ridden in with Randall and Chris wondered where they were. He glanced towards Buck and saw him reloading his revolver. Chris turned back to the fight and saw a leg sticking out from behind a box. He took careful aim and smiled as he heard the man scream. One of the other men went to help him and Josiah shot him. That now left Randall and his brother fighting on the street alone. Chris was wondering where the other four men Randall had where as he scanned the street.
"Chris! Look out!" Buck yelled as he saw two of the missing men step from the alley behind them.
Chris was taken by surprise as a body tackled him. As he peered from under Buck's unconscious body Chris could see two men advancing towards him. He tried to get his gun out but knew he wouldn't be in time. As he watched them raise their weapons to fire he knew he was dead. They were about to fire when Vin's rifle cut them down. Chris looked up to see Vin standing exposed on the roof. He was about to yell for Vin to take cover when the tracker was hit and slid down the roof and stopped when he hit the chimney.
"Vin!" Chris screamed.
Chris quickly but gentle untangled himself from Buck and dashed across the street. He knew Buck wasn't dead because he groaned when Chris moved him. He wasn't so sure about Vin. The firing on the street continued as Chris ran into the saloon.
"What's wrong?" Ezra asked as Chris ran inside.
"They got Vin."
"I'm going to check on him," Chris said. "Buck's hit also but he's alive."
"Cover me and I'll take up the position you abandoned," Ezra said.
Chris nodded and Ezra eased towards the door. He nodded to Chris and the gunslinger laid down covering fire as Ezra dashed across the street. Ezra made it behind the boxes as bullets ripped into the wood. The gambler moved closer to Buck and saw that he'd been shot in the right shoulder. Ezra removed his bandanna and placed it against the wound to stop the bleeding. Buck groaned and opened his eyes.
"Did we win?"
"That's yet to be determined," Ezra answered as the firing continued.
The two other missing men had tried to sneak in passed Josiah and Nathan. The ex-preacher saw them and told them to throw down their weapons. They refused and began firing on Josiah and Nathan's position. Wilmington and JD were still exchanging fire with the Hawkins brothers as Chris dashed across the street to check on Vin.
"Give it up Hawkins!" Bucklin yelled. "There ain't no way out!"
"No!" Tyler yelled as he stood up and began firing like a mad man.
Randall tried to pull his brother back behind the barricades when he felt a pain in his shoulder. He ignored it and tried to get to his brother. He watched as bullet took Tyler in the head and he fell. Randall struggled to get to his brother as another bullet ripped into his body. He stumbled and landed next to his brother. Randall looked to his left and saw his brother's sightless eyes staring at him.
"Stupid kid," Randall said before he died.
The other two men firing on Josiah and Nathan decided to give up when they saw their employer killed. Once they were secure Nathan left to check if anyone was injured. Wilmington and JD had already come down from their windows. JD went to check on Buck while Wilmington went to help Chris. JD found Ezra already with Buck.
"I assume we won?" Ezra asked.
"Yup," JD said. "The last two threw down their guns."
"Excellent, now if Nathan would just show up everything would be fine."
"There he is, Nathan!" JD yelled when he saw the healer coming up the street.
Nathan ran over to where JD was frantically waving to him. He found Ezra holding a bloody bandanna against Buck's shoulder. Nathan knelt next to Buck and checked the wound.
"How bad?" Buck hissed in pain.
"Looks like the bullets still in there," Nathan said. "But it ain't that bad. Lets get you over to the clinic"
"I can walk," Buck assured them.
"I'm gonna go help Chris and Bucklin with Vin," JD said as he ran over to the saloon.
Ezra and Nathan got Buck to his feet. Nathan took Buck's good arm and draped it over his shoulders as they walked Buck over to the clinic. Buck only made it half way up the stairs when he passed out and they were forced to carry him up the stairs. They got him inside and on one of the beds. Ezra began to remove Buck's clothes while Nathan gathered the supplies he would need. As Nathan was washing up Chris and Wilmington carried in an unconscious Vin.
"Damn," Nathan cursed. "Put him on the other bed."
"I don't think he's too bad, Nate," Bucklin said. "Took a bullet in the leg."
"Then slide down the roof until the chimney stopped him," Chris added. "Got knocked out when he hit his head."
"I'll go help JD with the prisoners and the clean up," Bucklin said. "I'll send Josiah over to lend a hand."
Nathan nodded and told Chris to get Vin undressed as he went over to Buck. He had to get the bullet out and the bleeding stopped. Nathan sighed and got to work thinking they had been lucky.
Chris sat between the two beds in the clinic. Buck was sleeping peaceful on his right. Nathan removed the bullet without any trouble but he'd lost a lot of blood. The bullet that took down Vin ripped through his thigh causing damage to the muscle. Vin's right leg was bent at the knee with pillows propped underneath to support it. The tracker also had a lump the size of a goose egg on his right temple. Chris shook his head as he went back to read the paper. A few minutes later Vin began to stir and Chris put down the paper.
"What the hell hit me?" Vin asked as he slowly opened his eyes.
"You were shot then slid down the roof and hit the chimney," Chris answered. "You're lucky you did or you would have fallen off the roof."
"Yeah, lucky me," Vin said as he cautiously touched the lump.
"You never believed in fate," Buck said from the other bed.
"How ya feeling?" Chris asked.
"Hurts like hell," Buck answered. "But if you tell Nathan I'll deny it. Not drinking any more of that ditch water."
Vin laughed then regretted it as his head protested the abuse. "Don't make me laugh."
"What were you talking about?" Chris asked.
"The visions showed me that Vin would be shot," Buck answered. "It was meant to happen."
"That's crazy," Chris said.
"If Vin hadn't stood up you would have been killed." Buck reasoned.
"Don't even try to understand it, Chris," Vin warned. "It'll only confuse you."
"Heathen," Buck laughed then stopped abruptly when his shoulder hurt.
"Takes one to know one," Vin smiled.
"So what happened to Randall Hawkins?"
"They won't be bothering you any more."
"They?" Vin asked confused.
"Randall and Tyler Hawkins," Chris answered. "They're both dead so I doubt you'll be having any more visions."
"I don't know," Buck said. "Right now I'm dreaming of a big juicy steak."
"Yeah with mashed potatoes," Vin added.
"I'll let Nathan know you're both awake," Chris said as he got up and left the clinic.
Nathan returned brining with him two bowls of broth and some bread. Both patients complained that they wanted real food. Chris stood in the doorway and watched as Nathan started yelling at them. Buck and Vin continued to argue as Chris stepped outside closing the door behind him. He knew who would win in the end. He was just glad Vin and his friend were still around to give Nathan a hard time.
+ + + + + + +
Two weeks later Buck was fit to ride. Nathan wasn't too happy about it but Buck wanted to get home. Vin was also up hobbling around despite Nathan's protests. Vin waited on the porch with Chris leaning on the crutches that Nathan insisted he use. JD was at the livery helping Buck saddle his horse.
"Gonna miss having Buck around," Vin admitted as he shifted his weight to relieve the pain in his leg. "Didn't realize how much I missed him."
"You lived with his tribe for a long time," Chris said. "You were happy with them. Only natural that you'd miss your brother."
"Yeah living with the Kiowa was the best part," Vin smiled. "Wasn't always easy but I never had to worry about where my next meals was comin' from or if I'd have a place to sleep."
"I'm surprised Buck decide to live in the white mans world."
"He was never comfortable in the camp," Vin said. "It's strange that they excepted me even though I was white but not Buck because he was a half breed."
"Well it sounds like he has a good life with the sheriff and Rachael," Chris said.
"Yeah I guess he does," Vin said as he saw JD leading Buck's horse out of the livery.
JD led Buck's horse over to where Chris and Vin were waiting. Wilmington, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra came from various places to say their good byes. When they were finished Buck took his horses reins from JD. He waked off a few paces and Vin followed him.
"It was good seeing you again White Wolf," Buck said using Vin's Indian name.
"Same here Running Buck."
"Just remember I will always be there for you," Buck continued. "If you ever need me just call and I will come."
"Same goes for you," Vin said holding out his hand.
Buck gripped Vin's forearm as Vin did the same. Vin was surprised as Buck pulled him in for a hug. It was brief and Buck quickly let him go. Buck gathers his reins and swung into the saddle. He looked down at Vin once last time.
"I hope we will meet again in the dream world," Buck said as he looked down. "Ehakeiapi."
"Farewell," Vin said as he stepped back.
Buck tapped his heals to his horse and a moved down the street. Vin stood and watched as his friend continued out of town. The others came out to the street and stood with Vin.
"Well I'm sorry to see him go," Buck said. "He was a nice kid. But I am glad you won't be calling me Bucklin any more."
"I don't know about that, Bucklin," Vin smiled. "Kinda think it fits ya."
"Yeah Bucklin," JD agreed.
Buck went to grabbed JD but the kid was faster and Buck missed. They ended up chasing each other around the street. JD was teasing Buck about his name while Buck made fun of the kid's ever-present bowler hat. Chris just shook his head as he headed for the saloon. The others followed him. Buck and JD stopped chasing each other to join their friends at the saloon.