Disclaimer: Not mine I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Bella has decided to stay and Buck turns out to be not so understanding where his little sister in concerned.

Sequel to Bella.

Vin limped into Four Corners, Peso's reins in his left hand, his mare's leg in the right, his head down. It was pretty early, so nobody saw him come in and that suited him just fine. He couldn't really remember any more how many times that bloody, ornery mule of a horse had thrown him off, but this time had nearly become the last. If it hadn't been for the fact that Peso had thrown him because the gelding had stepped into a gopher hole and twisted his right front leg, Vin would have used the weapon he was carrying to put an end to the gelding's life. At least he had felt very much like it right after it had happened.

He hadn't suffered nearly as many bruises as he could have, and from what he could sense, he hadn't broken anything, but his back felt like every single vertebra had fused with the next, making it hard for him to move, let alone get back on his horse. Besides, Peso was once again lame, and he didn't want the animal to get any permanent damage, which would subsequently call for his release from this world.

Muttering under his breath, Vin guided the equally limping gelding into the livery, pulled the saddle off him and rubbed him down before easing him backwards into his booth. "You better come up with somethin' better than a twisted leg next time, mule," he growled, grabbed a hold of the edge of the booth and eased himself into a crouch, every muscle in his back screaming bloody murder, to take a look at Peso's leg. The gelding would need to rest for a few days. That was okay with Vin, though. He figured he'd need a few days on the ground as well.

In agony, he hauled himself back to his feet and limped over to the tool box, which Tiny kept in one corner of the livery. He searched the contents and found a roll of bandages, which would do nicely. Turning, he kept his head still, trying not to move too much to aggravate whatever muscle he had pulled in his back, but still felt the ripple of cold pain shoot up along his spine, causing him to grab out for the nearest support and close his eyes tightly until it had passed.

Then he limped back to Peso and stared helplessly at the gelding's injured leg. It took him a moment to get his act together, but eventually, he again grabbed a hold of the edge of the booth and lowered himself into a crouch, over-stretching his right calf muscle in the process. It took him no time at all to wrap the bandage around Peso's leg, since every second he had to stay in that crouch pushed him closer to a full-blown muscle spasm in his back.

Groaning, he finally hauled himself back to his feet again and staggered, barely able to keep upright while darkness and light competed for his attention for a moment. Light won, though, and he managed to pat Peso's neck before turning painfully slowly to walk out of the livery.

Once outside, he came to a brief stop and gazed somewhat forlornly over at his wagon. He couldn't even begin to imagine lying on the hard boards of it right now. His back ached harder when he just thought about it, so he figured he'd make use of the room in the hotel instead. At least the bed there gave a little.

Sighing deeply, he wondered if he was getting too old for this or if he was just plain unlucky these days. The last many times Peso had thrown him, he had been hurting for days afterward. Maybe it was just the easy life in town that was making him soft.

Gingerly tilting his head back a little, he briefly surveyed what he could see of the town. The funny thing was that he couldn't really imagine going away any more. This was as close to a home as he had ever had. After his mother's death, his father had spent much of his time away from home, leaving a scared little boy alone. Vincent Tanner Sr. had been a harsh man, a cold man, and the last thing he had wanted had been a sniveling little kid. So he had done his best to raise the boy right, to make a man out of him, and Vin figured the man still didn't understand why he had left home when he was eleven and hadn't been back since. There had been too many beatings, too many harsh words, too many nights in the stable for being a wimp. What had driven him away eventually had been the man's claim that his mother had made a wuss out of him, that the woman had been weak and spineless and had transferred that to her son. If there was one thing Vin Tanner would never accept from anyone, it would be anything derisive about his mother. Despite his young age when she had died, he remembered her vividly, remembered her smile and how she had always praised him when he did things right. At the tender age of eleven, he had felt that he needed no more harshness in his life and had left, intent on never going back. And he hadn't.

Another sigh escaped him and he pushed those thoughts from his mind. Whenever he remembered his father, his mood plummeted to new depths and he was afraid that one day, he might not be able to climb back out of that dark hole his father had dug for him with his belt and his fist.

Yes, his father had been greatly responsible for making him tough, but his survival skills he had learned from a people he had always been told were savages. The two Indian tribes he had lived with for awhile had taught him so much more than his father had ever been able to. And they had done it with respect and encouragement.

"Enough already," he mumbled to himself and proceeded down the street toward the hotel and the room waiting there for him. God, he needed to lie down so badly. Every step he took, be it ever so careful, sent a shock up through his back, increasing the tension in his muscles. He feared that if he didn't lie down soon, his back would simply snap from the tension.

Ever so carefully, he hauled himself up the two steps to the boardwalk and pushed the door to the hotel open. Walking very slowly, he made his way over to the stairs and started up them, suddenly understanding why the action of walking up stairs was sometimes referred to as climbing. He clung to the banister with his right hand, every step he took carefully considered. How could he hurt so bad without any obvious injuries? He wasn't bleeding. There were a few scratches and the heels of his hands felt raw, but that was nothing serious.

The effort of moving upward, of putting extra weight on his legs and thereby also his back, brought tears to his eyes. And while he struggled to reach to top of the stairs, he wondered if maybe it wouldn't have been a good idea with a hot bath instead. But there was no way in Hell that he would turned around and walk back down those steps. All he needed, he decided, was to lie down and sleep for a few hours. He'd feel better when he woke up again.

He didn't hear the sound of someone approaching the bottom of the stairs and start up them. If he had, he would have made an effort to walk normally. Instead, he heard a somewhat sharp intake of breath and then hurried footsteps up the stairs until he found Bella next to him, staring at him as if he had been shot or something.

"My goodness," she said, staring at him with dread. "What happened to you, Vin?"

Vin stared back at her, feeling very much like telling her that nothing had happened, he was just tired, but he could tell by her expression that she wouldn't believe him. And what was the point in lying about it, anyway? "Damned mule threw me," he replied darkly and covered the last few steps a little faster than he felt like. He fought back the pain, subduing it forcefully.

Bella hurried after him, hoping she could somehow help him. She knew, though, that all of these men were damned pigheaded and would rarely accept a helping hand from anyone. "Where're you hurt?" she wanted to know, putting a hand on his back right between his shoulder blades when she caught up with him again.

"It ain't nothing, Miss Bella. My back's just a little sore. All I need is to sleep for a bit. It'll be better then," he claimed, for the first time doubting it since he had made the decision. This hurt a hell of a lot more than he was used to.

"It ain't such a good idea to just leave it be if you've pulled a muscle or something," Bella claimed. "You want me to call Nathan?"

"No," Vin said immediately, barely preventing himself from moving his head and intensifying the agony he was in. "No, there ain't no need to be disturbing Nathan at this hour for something as silly as this. It ain't the first time it's happened and it ain't gonna be the last, neither, if I know that mule right. I just need to sleep, thanks all the same."

Bella knew when it was time to back off. "All right, then. If you need anything, you just send for me, all right?" she tried, hoping he would at least take her up on that offer.

All he did, though, was raise a hand and nod weakly before heading stiffly toward his room. Once the door had closed behind him, he carefully shrugged out of his coat, not bothering to pick it up where it hit the floor. Instead, he settled down carefully on the edge of the bed, groaning under his breath as he undid the his gun belt and dropped that on the floor, too. He tried several times to get his boots off, but eventually managed after accidentally twisting his back a little and having to fight to keep any verbal outbursts at bay.

Eventually, though, he was able to ease down on the bed and pull the covers half over himself. He lay very still for a very long time before sleep caught up with him. By that time, the hotel had come to life around him.


Bella stood by the piano in the saloon, listening to old man Parker playing a tune she didn't recognize. She wore a new dress this evening, red with white lace on the edges. It was low-cut, but not low enough for Mary Travis to be offended. She had conferred with her about the dress, and although she could feel Mary's disapproval of her chosen profession, the newspaper lady was always willing to help her. Bella sometimes believed it was merely because she was Buck's sister, but most of the time, she allowed herself to believe that it was as much from human kindness as anything.

Readjusting the matching stole around her shoulders, a present she had received from Inez for some obscure reason, she once again thought about how Vin had looked when she had bumped into him this morning. Sore had been a crude understatement.

The memory of the injured tracker made her glance over one shoulder toward the table the seven peacekeepers usually occupied and she found only four of them there this evening. Buck, Chris, Josiah and Nathan. J.D. was probably over at the jail or out with Casey. Ezra was playing cards at the gaming table with some poor hapless fool who had no idea what he had agreed to when accepting the gambler's invitation to play.

But Vin was nowhere in sight. With a worried crease between her eyebrows, she walked over to the table, nodding and returning Ezra's smile in passing, and settled down on the empty chair next to Buck. "Have any of you seen Vin around today?" she asked.

Chris, who had been staring forlornly ahead of himself for some reason, focused on her and frowned. "Nope, can't say that I have. Why?" he asked.

Buck looked curious, too. "You got a thing for him?" he wanted to know and grinned.

Bella gave him a withering stare, which made Josiah chuckle under his breath. "Shut up, Bucklin," she told her brother and returned her attention to Chris. "I was just wondering. I saw him come in this morning and he didn't look too good. Said his horse threw him."

That made Chris sigh. "Just let him sleep it off," he told her. "It ain't the first time he's fallen on his face because of that mule of his." He paused, then gave her a brief smile. "He'll be up and about in the morning," he then added and dismissed the subject.

Bella made a face and glanced at her brother, who had lost interest in the topic at hand and was staring at one of the other working girls across the saloon with that gleam in his eyes. That made his sister sigh audibly and he glanced at her, then blushed. It was funny how nobody could make him feel the least bit embarrassed about anything except for his sister. She just had to look at him in that special way to make the blood rise to his cheeks.

"Just the same I figure I'll just look in on him," she said, ignoring her brother's burning cheeks without so much as a twitch of a smile. "Just in case he needs something," she added.

"Tell him to stop being so stubborn and ask for help if it's bad," Nathan told her, nodding to her when she rose again.

"I'll do that," she replied and hurried out of the saloon.

Chris glanced at Buck and rolled his eyes. "What is it with you and that sister of yours?" he wanted to know. "She just gotta look at you and you're red as a beat?"

"Oh, shut up, Chris," Buck growled, folded his arms over his chest and leaned back on his chair, in every manner and fashion looking like a pouting little boy.


It wasn't very much later that Buck decided to turn in. It was mainly due to the fact that his present interest had turned him down and, being the man he was, he didn't respond well to rejections. Emptying his glass, he then grabbed his hat and rose. "Time to get some shut-eye," he said and glanced at the wall clock. It wasn't too early.

Chris, who had spent the better part of the evening just staring into space, looked up at him. "I just gotta check on J.D., make sure he ain't getting in trouble or something," he said and rose too. "Guess I could use an early night, too. Ain't done that in a bit," he added, clapped Buck's shoulder and left the saloon, effectively stranding Buck with the bill.

"Nice friend," he grumbled and made his way over to the bar to pay Inez before doing as proclaimed. He found himself to be curiously tired, a fact he attributed to doing nothing all day.

He gave Ezra a nod before heading out and walked slowly down the street toward the hotel, taking his time. There was no rush. It wasn't every day that he managed to get to bed alone before eleven. The thought made him grin sheepishly. It would probably be good for him to spend a night alone now and again, not that he valued the idea of waking up alone in the morning.

"Oh well," he mumbled and stepped into the lobby of the hotel. Glancing toward the reception desk, he saw nobody around and figured they'd all gone to bed already. He made his way up the stairs and started down the corridor only to come to a stop at the sound of a rather pronounced groan coming from one of the rooms. His curiosity awakened, he listened more carefully and was rewarded with another sound. To his great surprise, the sounds came from Vin's room. It only took him a second to put two and two together and with a sly grin on his lips, he stepped up to the door and leaned closer to hear better. There was definitely something going on in there.

"Oh, Lord," he heard the young tracker groaning and that made him wonder. He had never actually seen Vin in the company of a woman apart from that Charlotte Richmond. Apparently, he had found company for the night, though. Grinning to himself, Buck stepped even closer to the door, listening so closely to what was transpiring on the other side that he completely failed to hear someone coming up the stairs.

"Buck," Chris snapped, causing the big cowboy to jerk around in surprise. Chris grinned at his friend. "What are you doing?" he wanted to know.

"Vin's got company," Buck replied quietly with a grin of his own and returned his attention to the door.

"And that gives you the right to listen at the door?" Chris wanted to know, not sure he liked this situation.

Buck held up a hand.

"Aw hell, not so hard," Vin yelped.

"Don't be such a baby, Vin. I hardly touched you," a voice replied, followed by a giggle.

The proverbial uh-oh went through Chris' mind. He recognized the woman's voice. One glance at Buck told him that so did he. The big cowboy had gone utterly pale, his hands clenched into fists.

Inside the room, the bedsprings creaked. "There. Is that better?" Bella cooed, drawing a long-suffering groan from the tracker.

Chris grabbed Buck's shoulder when it looked like he was about to break down the door. "Whatever is happening on the other side of that door, Buck, it ain't none of your concern," he warned him.

"None of my concern?" Buck snarled, angry enough want to break down the door in front of him.

Chris pushed him back across the hallway until he had him pinned against the opposite wall. "None," he agreed. "You're sister ain't a kid and neither is Vin. Now, go to bed, Buck. Forget about this. If you wanna make a big thing outta this, do it in the morning and somewhere else than here. Besides, it ain't your problem."

"Like hell it is," Buck snapped, raising his voice.

Chris clamped a hand over his mouth, staring hard at him. "It ain't. Now, go to bed before I loose my famous patience and knock your lights out, cowboy."

Fuming, Buck ripped out of Chris' grip, gave the door to Vin's room a very nasty look, and stalked off to his own room. He slammed the door hard enough to rattle the frame.

Chris sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. This was really the last thing he needed. Vin was in a load of trouble right now. Shaking his head vaguely, Chris stared at the door for a moment, then sighed again. "Damnit, Vin. Won't you ever learn?" he growled and walked over to his own room. Chris knew for a fact that Buck was very unhappy about Bella's chosen profession. The big cowboy wouldn't intervene because he didn't want to drive her away. But he would not accept that any of his friends took advantage of the situation and that was why he was so upset about this. Chris figured he'd better get up early to prevent any shoot-outs or fist-fights from erupting when the tracker turned up.


Chris was up before dawn and found himself in the uncommon position of being the first one out of bed. It would take awhile before any of the others turned up, but he figured Buck would be there as soon as the sun started to rise. And he wasn't mistaken.

Chris looked up from yesterday's edition of the Clarion and gave his friend a sharp look. Buck said nothing, merely dropped down on his customary chair and stared ahead of himself with a dark look in his eyes. For a moment, Chris just eyed him, then he shook his head lightly and returned his attention to the paper. "Are you gonna cause a problem today?" he wanted to know.

Buck gave him a sour glance. "I ain't the one causing the problem here. If that damned tracker had any sense at all, he'd know it ain't right to mess with a friend's sister," he growled, still angry.

A great many thoughts went through Chris' mind right then and quite a few of them would have been able to make him smile. But he knew that this was no laughing matter for Buck, even though he did think that Buck was getting entirely too riled up about this. "If you had any sense at all, you wouldn't have asked her to stay, Buck. Bella's been looking out for herself for a good long while and I doubt she needs your protection or brotherly intervention."

Buck gave him a hurt look. "You ain't got a sister, Chris. What do you know about it?" he snapped.

"I know enough to stay outta her life, Buck. I like Bella just as much as you do and I ain't happy about what happened to her back then. But she lives with it. Why can't you? Besides, this is the way she makes her money. I don't see you making a fuss over other men sharing her bed for one night. Why's Vin so different?"

"'Cause he's supposed to be a friend, damnit," Buck retorted and folded his arms over his chest. "How'd you feel if that was your sister with him?"

"If she'd chosen that profession, then I'd leave her to it until she told me otherwise. And Bella's told you enough times to stay outta her professional life," Chris replied sharply and put the paper down. "This is none of your business, alright? You'll look like a fool if you get upset about this when either of them turn up," he added.

Before Buck could think of a proper reply for that one, the batwing doors parted and Bella strode in. She walked straight over to the bar and asked for a cup of coffee and whatever was on the menu. After getting both, she walked over to the table and settled down next to her brother, seemingly completely oblivious to his state of mind. "'Morning," she said with a smile and started to eat her breakfast.

Buck didn't look at her, but he scowled nonetheless. Chris returned Bella's smile and sent a sideways glance at Buck. "'Morning," he replied. "You slept well, I hope?"

Bella smiled and nodded. "Yes, as well as can be expected. The beds in that hotel ain't the best I've tried," she said and that drew a contemptuous snort from her brother. With a frown, she turned her attention to him. "You got something to say?" she wanted to know, challenging him.

Chris gave him a warning look, but it was too late. Buck turned toward her, furious once again. "Oh yeah, you bet I got something to say," he snapped. "I heard you last night."

Bella glanced at Chris, then back at Buck. "Pardon me?" she asked, obviously not entirely sure what he was referring to.

"You and... and that... tracker," Buck spat out, finding it hard to say the words.

Bella blinked a few times, then frowned again. "What are you talking about?" she wanted to know. "What exactly is it you thought you heard, huh?"

"I heard... the two of you... in his room." Buck virtually pushed the words out and had still not caught onto the fact that something was wrong about this scenario.

"Last night?" she asked and he nodded angrily. "You heard me in Vin's room?" she wanted to know and he again nodded. Bella shook her head and sighed. "How many times have I gotta tell you, Bucklin. Stay outta my business." With that, she rose and grabbed her plate. "I'll be having my breakfast in more friendly surroundings," she added and left the saloon with a toss of her head.

Buck was about to get up to follow her, but Chris grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back down on his chair. "Leave her be, Buck. She's right and you know it."

"Like hell I do," Buck growled. "I'm gonna go have me a word or two with that tracker," he added, rose forcefully from his chair and left too.

Inez had been following the whole thing from behind the bar, where she was busy polishing glasses and she gave Chris a frown when he glanced in her direction. "Why is Senor Buck so upset?" she asked, more curious than concerned.

"Because he can't mind his own business," Chris replied and strode out too. He most of all wanted to prevent that Buck hurt Vin in his present state of mind. And since the tracker had obviously taken another fall from his horse, it was quite possible that he wouldn't be able to defend himself properly.


Vin had decided to get outside for a bit even though his back was still pretty sore and his leg still hurt. As it were, he had actually made up his mind to talk to Nathan about it. He didn't want to risk any permanent damage by dragging it out too long and he did feel a lot more tender than he had any of the other times.

He had barely stepped outside the hotel before he was nearly run over by Bella, who brushed past him in a huff with a plate in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Surprised, he glanced after her, then turned back to the street at the sound of approaching footsteps and very nearly bumped into Buck. Buck's expression was enough to make him take a step backward.

"I wanna talk to you," Buck snapped, prodding Vin's chest with a finger and thereby driving him back another step.

Not entirely certain what was going on, Vin stared at him. "What..." he began, but Buck cut him off.

"You ain't going anywhere near my sister again, you got that straight?" Buck snapped, this time giving him a push, which sent him straight into the wall of the hotel.

Vin flinched when the impact jarred his sore back. "I ain't..." he tried again, but again Buck cut him off before he could say another word.

"Oh yes you are." Rather forcefully, Buck grabbed Vin's shirtfront and very nearly hauled him off his feet. "That's my sister we're talking about, you hear? You ain't got no right to mess with her. Not now, not ever. You hear?"

Chris reached them at that point, took in the situation as he climbed the two steps to the boardwalk and drove the heel of one hand into Buck's chest as he stepped between them, driving the big cowboy backward a step. "Stop it! Right now," he snarled, angry.

Buck was livid, but still had sense enough not to go up against Chris when Chris was angry. "You ain't got no right to interfere here," he growled.

Chris gave him a hard glance, then turned his attention to Vin. "You all right?"

The tracker nodded stiffly and slipped his right hand behind his back, wincing in pain. "Yeah. Just ain't got any clue what he's so worked up about," he replied, nodding toward Buck.

"Oh, that's rich," Buck sputtered. "You ain't got no clue? Right. I'll believe that in week full of sundays."

Bella took that moment to reemerge from the hotel, her expression one of surprise and anger. "What in tarnation has gotten into you, Bucklin?" she demanded, her hands on her hips, her eyes sparking righteous fire. Waving a hand toward Vin, who was still leaning against the wall with a pained expression, she very nearly hit him in the face. "He's hurt. Can't you see that?"

"I don't give a damn. I won't have my friends... taking advantage of my sister," Buck snapped back.

"Advantage?" Bella snapped back, her voice rising in pitch. "You should be the last one to talk about taking advantage of others, you... you... hound dog. How many times do I gotta tell you that this ain't any of your concern? This is my life and I live it any way I choose."

Chris had the very distinct impression that the siblings were going to have a go at each other if he didn't intervene, so he did the only thing he could. He stepped between them, ready to tell them both off, but was stopped short when Bella's hand slapped him square in the face when she lashed out for her brother.

Bella clapped a hand over her mouth, looking utterly shaken by what she had just done, and Buck looked stunned. Chris just stood there for a moment, not moving at all, then he slowly turned his head and gave Bella a sharp look. "You gotta watch out who you hit, Bella," he told her calmly.

His words and calm response to the fact that he had just been slapped by Bella was like taking the lid off a pressure cooker. Vin started laughing and a second later, Buck joined in.

Bella still had her hand over her mouth, but the mirth in her eyes was unmistakable. "Oh lord, I'm so sorry, Chris," she finally said, fighting hard to keep a smile at bay.

Chris just looked at her for a second, trying hard to figure out exactly how he should respond to this rather ridiculous scene, then settled for making a face. Jabbing an elbow into Buck's mid-section, he nearly drove the big cowboy off the boardwalk. "This isn't funny," he huffed, beginning to feel the first tugs of a smile himself.

A little sobered by this comical interlude, Buck figured he didn't have a right to interfere. Not that he liked the situation any better. "Well, I reckon I shouldn't have interfered, huh?" he asked after finally having stilled his need to laugh at Chris.

"No, you shouldn't," Bella agreed and shook her head. "Vin could hardly move when I checked in on him last night. So I gave him a back rub. And that's all," she informed her brother, then turned to Vin. "You don't look so good, Vin. You all right?" she wanted to know.

"I reckon I'd best see Nathan. I must have sprained my back or something," he replied, all serious again.

"You need a hand?" Bella asked and he nodded.

"Sorry, Vin," Buck said, looking a little contrite. "Didn't mean to go at you like that. I just... well... I'm sorry, all right?"

Vin merely nodded. "No harm done," he assured, although he didn't feel that way. His back hurt almost worse than the night before.

Bella helped him down the street toward Nathan's clinic, while Chris and Buck lingered. For a moment, the two men just watched Vin and Bella go, then Buck glanced at Chris, a glint in his eyes.

Chris gave him a warning glance and raised a finger. "Not a word, Bucklin," he growled.

"You got smacked over a back rub?" Buck asked and started to chuckle again.

"I'm telling you, Buck, one of these days, I'm gonna shoot you," Chris promised and stalked off. The minute he had his back to Buck, he couldn't help grinning. Bella sure livened up the place.