by GSister

Main Character: Buck

Disclaimer: These Characters do not belong to me (but if they did, I'D share… probably.) That said, this story was written purely for self entertainment and no money is being made, has changed hands, or has been paid out for the contents therein. Special thanks to my Beta – Van, who made this piece so much better than it began as, and to "S", (who has threatened me with a Death by Larabee-Glare if I mention her by more than that) – it's totally her fault that I got into fan fiction in the first place. Without her encouragement (nagging), constructive criticism, and long talks on characterization, I might still be writing pathetically depressing purple poetry, and what prose I did write, would NEVER be finished…

~Constructive Criticism will be graciously accepted

~Flames will be used to toast marshmallows

Buck Wilmington grabbed his Stetson with his right hand, sweeping it off his head and running his forearm across his sweaty forehead before settling his hat firmly on his head at the usual rakish angle. The midday sun beat down hard on the two riders, but he knew they would be home in just a few hours.

Home. He quirked a small smile at that thought, barely lifting the corner of his mouth as he focused on the rider just ahead of him and to the right. Time was he didn’t think he’d ever think of a single place as “home” again in conjunction with that man. Chris Larabee had been freer than an eagle, had traveled more than the wild mustangs they used to round up, had been on his own for a lot of years, and Buck seemed to follow naturally along. Oh sure, ol’ Chris would light out on his own, but Buck would usually catch up sooner or later. Didn’t even half try. Buck just couldn’t seem to settle down himself after… Well, just after. Hell, he didn’t even know when the habit of following Larabee started.

He snorted. Yeah, he knew. The habit started when he was tossed into Lt. Larabee’s unit in that ridiculous war. Buck had been making a name for himself; not all of it good, but then he never did care if a woman was the daughter of a major, a general, or the local shopkeeper. As long as they were warm, and willing, that was enough for him. Unfortunately, certain members of the Brass just didn’t see things the same way. ‘Course, they all liked Chris. Saw a man with the potential to go far in the Army, make a good son-in-law. Breeding and all that. Buck grunted to himself. Chris was just as wild as Buck had been back then. He was just more circumspect. What was it Chris had told him back then? Oh yeah – I know when to keep it in my pants. Buck blew out another derisive breath, making his horse give an answering snort and bounce his head up and down. That’s when Chris wasn’t caught without his pants. Buck could recall a few times… He grinned to himself, knowing if he ever tried to tell those stories in Four Corners, J.D. and Nathan would never believe him. And if Chris didn’t threaten him to shoot him, he knew some stories about Buck that Buck just as soon J.D. and the others didn’t hear.

After the war, the two men had drifted together a while, sowing wild oats, enjoying just being alive and trying to forget some of the horrors they’d seen, until Chris hooked up with a local widow woman. She was a wild one, but three was a crowd. They’d parted for a while, and Buck had signed on with a couple of cattle drives before signing on to a mustang roundup. There he’d met up with Chris again – seemed the widow was making nesting noises and Ol’ Lt. Larabee wasn’t ready to settle yet. He still had the moves he’d perfected in the Army for getting out of wedding webs woven from womanly wiles. One day Buck was going to figure out just how he did it, too. The man could be slicker than a greased pig at a Founders Day Fair. Buck himself had managed to avoid the webs, but Chris always seemed to slide out of them like bear grease on a wet boardwalk, and Buck always felt like he was almost lunch and had to hack away at the sticky strands with his bowie knife. Must be his animal magnetism making women want to tame him or something.

They’d had the option after the roundup of getting paid cash money or getting paid in horses. Most of the hands picked the cash money. After all, horses cost money to feed, and it wasn’t as if these were saddle-broke. Even green-broke horses would bring in more than fresh caught Mustangs. Chris had talked Buck into pooling their resources, one of them getting paid cash money, the other getting paid in horseflesh. They would then work together to break the horses, and sell them at a profit. With Chris putting up the horses, and Buck the cash, the two men started what would be the beginning of a lucrative partnership. They did the second round up themselves, picking horses they thought they could break and get a good price for. That continued for a few years, just rounding up and breaking horses to sell — until Chris fell for Sarah Connolly.

Buck had watched with a grin as Chris pulled out all the stops to win his Irish filly. He’d been indignant on Chris’s behalf as Hank Connolly found fault with the former Army Lieutenant, had laughed at Chris when Connolly had riled the Larabee temper so easily just by dismissing him as a shiftless cowboy — remembering the drunken assertions, “I work horses, Buck. You’re the one that did the cattle drives.” Buck had known it was only a matter of time until Sarah fell for Chris. For who could hold out for long against Chris Larabee? Buck had taught him all he knew about wooing the ladies a long time ago.

Buck had been sure when Chris won Sarah, their partnership would end, that Sarah wouldn’t want him around anymore. But they surprised him. Chris settled down with Sarah, built a life, a home, and included Buck in every foundation stone and fence post. The partnership was not only still there, it was stronger than ever. And when Adam came along, Buck became an uncle, something he thought he’d never be, since his mother died without having any other children.

Life had been practically perfect. Buck had him a home and a family for the first time since he was boy. He and Chris had always been close, but now Larabee was the brother he’d never known he wanted. Sarah was the sister that he could protect and compliment, and know it wouldn’t be taken wrong. Adam was his to spoil, leaving the serious parenting to someone else. He could just be fun Uncle Buck, offering up horse rides and penny candy and getting his share of unconditional love. He had all the benefits of Home and Family life — and still got to visit his ladies in town and have fun whenever he and Chris took a herd of horses to sell across the border or wherever the trip took them. Everything was perfect until the day he talked Chris into staying an extra day in Mexico while Buck chased a pretty senorita. True, it wouldn’t be the first time they’d stayed later than planned. That was why it was so easy to convince Larabee to set off later than he wanted. But this time, this time they had arrived home to discover their world in ashes.

Larabee made a new home — in a bottle of rye whiskey. Buck had tried to keep him going, keep him focused on rebuilding the ranch, keep him pointed toward living. But as hard as he tried, as much as he pushed, Larabee slipped further and further away. Where Buck’s compass might point to Chris, Larabee’s true north had pointed to Sarah. Without her and Adam, he had spun out of control. And one day, Buck had looked up, and Larabee was gone, leaving Buck to spin.

Buck had drifted for a while after that. He hadn’t wanted to admit it at the time, but he was looking for Larabee. It didn’t take long to find him. The Larabee temper made itself known as rumors of the man in black who could outdraw the best of them and would take on any challengers soon reached the mining town that Buck was getting paid to babysit.

As soon as he could, Buck tracked down the rumors. His first glimpse of Chris in over a year was to see the man face off against another in front of a saloon in a little hick town in the middle of nowhere. Buck got there just in time to shoot a man who didn’t like the outcome before Chris could be shot in the back. Buck still wasn’t sure if Chris was glad to see him, or royally pissed that he hadn’t let him get killed. On the good days, he liked to think Chris had been glad, but there were still moments when he wasn’t sure. He only knew he couldn’t have handled not stepping in.

From that day on, Buck never let Larabee get too far away. He always kept one ear to the ground, sometimes pairing up with Chris for a while, sometimes letting him leave, but he was never very far off. Over the years, “home” became something other than a place for Buck. It didn’t matter whether they were in a Podunk mining town, or a big city. For Buck, “home” and “family” had narrowed down to one person after the death of Sarah and Adam Larabee, and Buck wasn’t going to lose that too. He had lost too many people he’d cared about over the years, lost too many places that he’d called home. “Home” was familiar. “Home” was where they took you in when you needed it. The only person that fit that for Buck Wilmington was Chris Larabee.

Until Chris decided to head for Four Corners.

Oh, Buck knew Chris was on his way to Purgatorio when he’d stopped there on that fateful day. Buck had planned to get a room — and maybe a little lovin’ — in Four Corners while Chris exorcised some demons in Mexico, and then maybe just casually meet up with his old partner on the trail. There was no way Buck was leaving Chris alone this close to their old stomping grounds. The town of Four Corners was lawless enough for Buck – no need for him to go into Purgatorio. But the next thing he knew, an angry husband was pounding on the door, and when he made his escape through the window, he’d come face to face with the last person he expected to see at that moment — Larabee, who had a plan, and that old devil glint in his eye that had been missing for so long. The rest, as Ezra would say, was fate. Or Josiah’s “Divine Intervention”. Whatever it was, Buck had found a home again — not just with Chris, but with five other brothers and a town full of people that trusted them to watch over them all. And Chris had started to settle again.

Buck knew that wherever Chris went, he’d follow. He had to. But now he just might be bringing a few more boys along to help look after the stubborn, hard headed, crazy son-of-a-bitch that he called home.

He kicked his horse a little faster until he was riding even with Larabee. “Hey Chris, I ever tell you about the time…”

the end

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