Disclaimer: The following work of fan fiction isn't intended to infringe on any copyright or to make a profit. I don't claim the characters, setting, concept, or (in this case) the backstory, but this little snippet is mine. Please don't reproduce, link to, or sue without permission from the author.

Warnings/Rating/spoilers: PG-ish, for language. As this is an epilogue for "Love and Honor," I assume everyone will understand that there are, in fact, spoilers for that ep (and for the pilot and Safecracker, in a very vague sort of way) contained herein.

Notes: thanks to Larie for the quick beta, and for hitting lots of stop lights so I could write without getting carsick <G>.

by Katie

//The silver flash of the saber-blade held him transfixed for a second too long, then released him with an agonizing swath of red. He fell, screaming in pain . . .//

. . . screaming in terror, he shot upright. It took him a second to realize that he was in bed, safe and a little sore from sitting up so suddenly and pulling on his wounds.

"Damn," he whispered, running a hand over his face wearily. If he didn't get some decent sleep soon, he wasn't going to be worth much.

Two nights of waking up time after time, heart thudding in fear, was beginning to wear on him more than his injuries. He didn't know why he was still having nightmares. He'd made the decision to fight Don Paolo, and it had been the right one. Sure, he had been scared of fighting. But according to Josiah, that was only natural . . . and he was the one who'd survived, right? Why was he still dreaming? Why wouldn't this leave him alone?

Sighing, he laid back slowly onto his pillow and closed his eyes. Abruptly, they flew open again as the same vision of the glittering sword he'd seen in his dream played out against his eyelids. "Damn!"

The next morning, Buck sat in one of the wooden chairs outside the general store, lazily watching the traffic on the street. He was sipping disgustedly from a glass of lemonade, since Nathan had told him to go easy on the whiskey for a few days or else he'd be drunker than a soldier on a two-day pass. It was a beautiful day; the sky that clear, bright blue it sometimes was in the early spring.

And all you can think of is going back to bed. Without company, at that. Buck Wilmington, you're getting old. Buck sighed. If he went over that fight in his mind one more time, he'd most likely go crazy. The problem was, it was all too easy to see it ending differently, with Buck the one sprawled on the street, his blood staining the dirt. Morbid, that's what you are. Why can't you just get over this?

Like last night, he was left without an answer. This was hardly the first time he'd been in a dangerous situation or thought he was going to die. He didn't normally dwell on it afterward, though.

Hesitant footsteps on the boardwalk caught his attention. He looked up, spotting JD down the walk a bit, starting to turn away. Buck frowned slightly. The kid had been acting a bit strange the past day or so--but then, a man sometimes got a bit addled when he was being pursued by a lady.

"JD? How's the courtin' goin'?" he asked cheerfully, welcoming the distraction from his thoughts. Nothing like teasing the kid to raise a man's spirits.

JD turned, an odd expression on his face, then slowly came over to sit in the chair next to Buck. "Well, she ain't stuck me with that froggigger yet. That's gotta be a good sign."

Buck's grin widened. "That's mighty promisin', JD. You plannin' on takin' her out diggin' sometime soon?"

JD didn't answer. He was studying a loose splinter of wood on the table between them like it held the answers to the universe, running one finger up and down it till he was likely to get it stuck in him if he wasn't careful. The expression on his face was more closed and guarded than Buck could ever remember seeing on him. Normally, Buck could read him like a hand of cards.

"What's on your mind, kid?" Buck asked gently. "You look like you ate a bad strip of hardtack and it's still running around in your belly, takin' its revenge."

JD snorted. "It ain't that, Buck. It's nothing."

"C'mon, kid, you know you can tell ol' Buck anything. That little girl giving you trouble again?"

"Casey's fine." JD's voice had hardened into a fair imitation of Chris's "leave it alone or die" tone. JD was a lot smaller and less naturally mean than Chris, though, and all that tone did for Buck was tell him he was on the scent of something bigger than just lady troubles.

"Then what's eatin' at you? And don't tell me 'nothin',' kid, 'cause I ain't blind."

JD's eyes flashed up to meet his. Buck almost flinched at the depths of the anger that replaced the guarded look he'd had. "That was a damn fool thing you did yesterday, Buck."

"Now, kid . . ." Buck started, flustered. This certainly wasn't what he'd expected.

"You could've died out there," JD snapped, his voice rising. The hand that had been tracing the splinter clenched into a fist. "That fancy-pants don, he was carving you up like a Christmas goose."

Buck stiffened, the beginnings of indignation stirring in his belly. "Was I supposed to let him take Miss Inez instead of fighting him? Is that what you want?"

JD's shoulders slumped. Going back to playing with the splinter, he sat in silence for a long moment before saying almost under his breath, "I killed a man yesterday, Buck. So did you. And if it weren't for Miss Inez and for Don Paolo cheating, you'd most likely be dead right now, too."

Buck had been thinking the same thing earlier, but hearing it come from the kid just stirred his indignation a little more. "Well, now, I wouldn't say I was doin' that bad . . ."

"Damn it, Buck, he was about to stick that sword in you, and I didn't know if I should shoot him down or stay out of it and let him kill you."

JD's voice and eyes held a note of anguish that was more than Buck wanted to deal with. Settling his hat back on his head, he tried to lighten the situation a little. "Good to know how much faith you got in me, kid."

"Damn it, Buck . . ." JD trailed off helplessly and stood up hard enough that his chair crashed to the floor, almost upsetting the table and Buck's glass of lemonade.

Buck sat up straighter, his wounds making themselves known at the abrupt movement. "Whoa there, slow down, JD."

If the kid had decided to stalk off, there wouldn't have been much Buck could do about it, being slowed down by his injuries and blood loss. Luckily, JD turned back to look at him, then slowly uprighted his chair and sat down again. He refused to meet Buck's eyes, though, instead going back to playing with the splinter.

Buck frowned at him, baffled as to where this outburst had come from. "Listen, kid, what we do ain't never been safe. You been hurt enough to know that, and it never seemed to get to you before. What's got you spooked now?"

JD shook his head impatiently, the long hair threatening to get in his eyes before he brushed it back. "I knew I could die. That don't bother me too much." The uneasy look in his eyes belied that statement, but Buck didn't call him on it. A man had to have his illusions. "I guess. . . I ain't never thought much about the men I shot. Or . . . " his voice lowered till Buck almost couldn't hear him, "about you guys dying."

He's growing up, Buck thought suddenly, and wondered why the thought brought a stab of regret along with the pride he would have expected. He didn't have time to worry about that now, though. "I wouldn't waste no grief over Don Paolo or that bandito you shot. Sometimes it comes down to you and your pards, or them. You did what you had to do . . . and I sure ain't complainin' about bein' alive."

JD sighed. "Yeah, Buck, I know, but . . . "

"Listen to me, JD." Ignoring the protest of his wounds, Buck leaned closer to the kid, as if he could make his point by sheer proximity. "There ain't nothin' wrong with feelin' bad about a man dying, even when it's one you had to kill. Thing like that's supposed to bother a man. You kill someone, you feel bad about it, you think about what you could have done differently, you maybe feel some regret for his family, if he had one. Then you make damn sure you shoot straight the next time someone comes gunnin' for you or yours."

JD met Buck's eyes again, a look of relief crossing his face. "You feel that way about Don Paolo?"

Buck frowned. Did he? He'd fought the don because he'd wanted to protect Miss Inez.  Did he really regret that the man was dead? Gazing down the street toward where they'd fought, Buck pictured him lying on the dirt, that look of complete shock on his face.

"Yeah, kid, I do. Hell, any decent man does. It's hard not to wish you couldn't find a way to settle things without killin'."

Suddenly JD pinned him with angry eyes. "Then why the hell did you fight him? You knew you couldn't beat him with a sword. The least you could have done was made him use a gun."

"And what, shot him down when he wouldn't use nothin' more than a sword?" Buck shook his head impatiently. "You know I ain't about to do that."

JD unconsciously mirrored Buck's exasperated gesture. "Then why not just walk away? Miss Inez said she'd go with him. You didn't have to fight."

"Damn it, JD . . ." Buck caught a glimpse of the expression on JD's face--the look of a man watching a friend in trouble and not being able to help. In a gentler voice, he continued, "That woman would have been in hell if she'd gone back with him. I know you don't want that any more than I do."

"But she escaped once already," JD persisted. "I like her, too, and I don't want anything bad to happen to her, but . . ." he hesitated, his eyes locking on Buck's as if the older man had all the answers, "was it really worth dying for?"

The question hit Buck with a rapier-sharpness, cutting down to the place where his nightmares lived. He'd damn near died, and it hadn't been the quick, hot-blooded, no-time-to-think death of a gun battle. He'd been helpless to stop Don Paolo as the swordsman had played with him, taking a piece of him at a time with no doubt who would ultimately win. He'd wanted to protect Miss Inez, to save her from a fate he understood all too well. But was it worth dying for?

Looking back to the dark, questioning gaze, Buck found his answer. "It was worth fighting for."

JD stared at him for a long time, then nodded, a slow understanding dawning in his eyes. He settled back into his chair, relaxing for the first time that morning. "It was still a damn fool thing to do," he said peaceably.

Buck nodded, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "That it was, kid, that it was."