Author's Note: Ok, this story is probably cliche, but I can't say that I care. Also, it is in a very slight sense a crossover with the video game Red Dead Redemption. There are just references to the events of the game, so I didn't really think it should be in the crossover catagory. You really don't have to know anything about it. But, if you get confused, you can message me or something. Also, if you think it should be a crossover, feel free to tell me. I couldn't make up my mind.

After avenging John Marston's murder, I basically became an outlaw that no one wanted to waste time catching, and I just got cast to the wind. The name Julie Kahn didn't really travel out past Gaptooth Breach, so I rode beyond it; all the way to New Mexico. It wasn't long before I was caught out in the desert without a soul within screaming distance, and out of water. I just resigned to die, laid myself down under a bush, and closed my eyes.

It was almost an unwelcome surprise when I woke up to a handsome, blonde man picking me up quietly murmuring, "Easy, miss. You been out here for a while."

"Put me down, damn you," I said hoarsely.

He looked down at me and grinned. "Brash ain't you?"

"I'm serious, you god-damned cow hand. Put me down! Ain't no reason for me to live no more."

"Now, why would you say that?"

"Damn government swine took everything I loved. Ain't nothing in this world to keep me goin'."

"Well, maybe we can change that."

"And what makes you think that?"

"See, our establishment kinda takes in people with nothin' to live for. Turns their life around a bit."

He gently sat me in the back of a wagon and jumped in with me. "What makes you think I want to get turned around?"

"Everyone wants to make their life better, ma'am. It just takes some a while to see it."

"Well, ain't you just a poetic son of a bitch?"

"Actually, yeah. I'm a poet."

I jerkily turned my head to look at him. "Really now? You don't look like one."

"I'm just now finding it in me. John here says it might take a while to show." He indicated the man driving the cart.

"Hi there, ma'am," he said as he urged the horses forward. "John Tunstall at your service."

"Hello."

"So," the blonde man continued, "you don't have to stay. We at least want to feed you and give you a bed for a bit, but you don't gotta stay long."

I sighed. "Thank you, sirs. What's your name, poet?"

"Just call me Doc. That's what the other guys call me."

"Doc. John." I nodded, then sighed, "Another John."

"Sorry?" he asked.

"Nothin', sir! Just...wondering at my own fate."

"Aren't we all, dear girl?"

"Yeah, I spose we are." I leaned over to Doc and whispered, "He's a Brit?"

"Purely so. Came over here to start up his business of making lives better. Some people in the town don't look too kindly upon it. They thinks we some sort of thieves."

"Aren't you?"

"Naw! We're regulators!" he answered with a wide smile.

"Regulators. If I choose to stay...you gonna accept a woman regulator?"

"Can't speak for everybody, but I'll give ya a chance. How are ya with a gun?"

"Let me tell you something, Doc. The only reason I'm this far out in this god forsaken country is 'cuz some government bastards kidnapped my family in order to force one of the best gunslingers in the Blackwater area to deal with their problem. That gunslinger was me. The only help I got was from a man named John Marston. They took his family too. We did what they wanted. We hunted down his old gang members and disposed of them. They gave us our families back. I sent mine back east and stayed on John's farm to help them get back on their feet. I loved that man, and honestly, he loved me. But he was married, and he loved her too. I knew this. I could accept it, just let me live my life out with them, helping them." I paused, trying to gather myself to continue. "They killed him, Doc. They rode in one day out of nowhere. John got his wife and boy out. I refused to leave, so we took shelter in the barn. They surrounded the place. John told me to stay out of sight. For whatever reason, I listened to him. He walked out the front door of that barn and got off two shots before they filled him with lead." Doc was staring at me, stricken. "I waited until they rode off, then walked out the door. There he was, lying in a pool of blood with at least 10 gory holes in him. I hung around to help bury him, then I left. Where did I go?"

"Here, right?"

"Not yet. I rode right into Blackwater and into those lawmen's office." I stopped and smiled. "I shot 'em dead, Doc. All of 'em. Before they could even utter a word. Yeah, they chased me as far as Armadillo, but then they decided I wasn't worth it. So, what was I to do? People knew me in about an 80 mile radius all around. I rode past the radius...then I ended up here."

Doc pursed his lips and said, "I'm sorry."

"Thank you, Doc, but your sympathy doesn't help."

"Maybe not, but it's always good to know there is some."

I couldn't bring myself to answer. I rode the rest of the way to their abode in silence, occassionally accepting a drink from Doc's canteen. When we arrived, a group of guys approached curiously. There were about 4 of them and each one seemed to have a distinguishing feature. One had teeth blacker than sin and a mouth full of tobacco. Another had a very narrow face with nice brown eyes. Another was a little pudgy, but he seemed amiable. The last was the one that caught my attention. He was some kind of Indian or Mexican or something, and his beautiful, long black hair struck a fire of envy in my like no other.

Doc jumped off the wagon, then offered a hand to me. "I can get myself down, thank you." I scooted to the edge and made to get off. As soon as my feet hit the ground, my knees gave out. I gasped as I lurched forward.

Doc caught me and chuckled. "I think we better feed you something before you try to do too much. By the way...what's your name?"

"Oh," I said with a small smile. "Julie Kahn."

"Well, Miss Julie Kahn, will you consent to my carrying you inside?"

"No."

"So, how do you intend to get there?"

"I intend to have you help me inside, but not carry me." I wrapped my arm around his shoulders, and he, in turn, wrapped one around my waist. "Now, walk." He got me indside and to the table.

"Just stay here and we'll get you something."

"Alright." I wasn't used to men waiting on me...and it kind of bugged me. "Can I do anything?"

"I think we already answered that question."

I snorted. "Alright, smart mouth. Just be quick about it." Doc was catching me very off guard. He was really good looking, and the way he was treating me...it reminded me of John. He got me some bread, dried meat, and water.

"Sorry we don't have anything more exquisite."

"This is fine. I'm not used to exquisite anyway. It would probably cause stomach irritation."

John came in, followed by the rest of the guys. "Boys," he said, "this is Miss...Julie Kahn, yes?"

"Yeah." I turned in my chair. "Hi, guys."

"Well," the tobacco man drawled, "wouldn't you know we got a bonified female in the house."

He grinned at me with those black teeth. "Tha's right, Mister..."

"Steve! Dirty Steve!" he filled in.

"How fitting," I muttered.

The pudgy one came up and said, "Hidey. I'm Charlie."

"Hello, Charlie. Good to meet ya."

"And you," he answered with a nod and a smile.

The guy with the skinny face smiled and said, "I'm Richard. Some people call me Dick. Whatever you want."

"Well, alrighty. Always good to have an alternative. I like Richard better, I think."

"Fine."

I turned my eyes to the guy with nice hair. "And you? Who might you be?"

He raised his dark brown eyes from gazing at the floor and said quietly, "Chavez."

Steve said, "Yeah, he's our local Mexican."

"Mexican Indian, you ass hole," Chavez shot back.

A fight just about ensued right there, but they all froze when I calmly inquired, "Navajo?"

Chavez glanced over and responded, "Yeah. Navajo."

"Never met a Navajo I didn't like."

"Oh? And just how many have you met?" he asked skeptically.

"You would be the third."

The defiant look in his eyes faded and he simply conceded with, "I see."

"Well, I'm very glad to make ya'll's aquaintence. Thank you for your hospitality."

"You're very welcome, madam," John said. "It's the least we can do. I do hope you will consider staying with us on a more permanent basis."

"We'll see. I don't wanna cause trouble. Those boys from Blackwater may eventually come looking for me."

"We can handle 'em," Doc said. "Besides, how the hell they gonna know you're here? Didn't talk to nobody on the way, did ya?"

"The correct form is 'anybody', Doc," John corrected. "Didn't talk to anybody."

"Oh. Thanks."

"Of course."

After I ate and had regained some strength, I was assigned some duties. One, regrettably, was laundry. I took the basket out to the stream with the bar of soap they provided me. I had no idea how to do this. I knelt by the stream and pulled the first article of clothing. I shook my head at it and then thrust it into the water. As I tried my hardest to get everything clean, I could feel the eyes of the boys on me. I kind of wondered how long it had been since they had been this close to a girl.

I was almost on the last piece of clothing when Richard came over and knelt beside me. "Need some help?"

"I needed some help about the time I started," I muttered.

"You ain't used to washing clothes are you?"

"No, I can't say that I am."

"I have to say, you don't look much like a normal woman."

"Well, thank ya," I said with a devilish grin.

"That's not what I meant."

"I know what you meant, Richard. And you're right. I'm not a normal woman. One of the best gunslingers in the West Elizabeth territory."

He whipped out his pistol and said, "Well, you're in Lincoln County now, missy. You might have a few rivals."

"I'd be happy to take them on sometime...but I gotta finish these clothes first."

He laughed and took one of the two shirts from me. "Here, let me."

"Happily." When I started hanging the clothes on the line, suddenly, Doc showed up offering to help. I sighed and asked, "Could it be, Doc, that you all are getting competetive over me?"

"Well, maybe. See, there's a dance tonight over around town hall. And it just might be that we all have it in our heads to take you."

"Ah, I see. But, I have only just met you. Why should I go with any one of you?"

"Isn't the whole point of dances to get to know someone?"

"I thought that was the point of the actual dancing. You don't go to a dance with any particular person. You dance with multiple people, getting to know each of them a little bit at a time, and when you find one you like...well, then you won't have a reason to go with anyone else, will you?"

"So that's where you stand on the issue?"

"It is."

"Hmm. I guess that makes my day a little easier. I don't have to worry about wooing you. Will you at least promise me a dance, then?"

"I will promise that."

"Ok. I can settle for that. But be warned...the others will try to get you to go with them too."

"And I'll tell them the same thing."

When it came time for the dance, I had been asked by every man there save John and Chavez. I told them all the same thing, and I held true to my word. I danced with all of them. After that, I narrowed down my repeat dancers to Doc and Richard. After dancing with them awhile, I found my eyes constantly distracted to Chavez who was standing off by himself. Between dances, I approached him. He was about half a head taller than me, so when I pulled up beside him, he had to look down a little to meet my eyes. "Evening," he said quietly.

"Evening to you," I answered.

"Can I help you?"

I stood there, pondering my fondness for a Native American lilt a bit before answering. "I'm just curious, I suppose. You were the only one who didn't ask me to come here with you tonight."

"Do you want an explanation?"

"I guess that's what I'm asking."

"I didn't ask you to come with me tonight simply because I didn't much want to come myself."

"Why not?"

"Why do you think?" he hissed.

I glanced up at him. "They don't like you 'cuz you're a Mexican Indian, so you'd rather just avoid the world."

"Wouldn't you?"

"Probably."

I surprised him with that answer and it was obvious. "You would?"

"Did you expect me to say no?"

"Well...I don't know what I expected you to say."

"You expect that everyone will think the worst of you. You expected me to totally disagree with you and call you crazy."

He stared at me, utterly shocked. I smiled slightly and shrugged, then tried to walk away. "Hey!" he called. I turned back, one eyebrow raised. One corner of his mouth pulled up in a half-smile and he asked, "Will you dance with me?" I took his offered hand, and he led me to a place close to the fire. The next song played was a slow ballad, so we began to move accordingly. I couldn't take my eyes off his deep brown ones. "Why do you look at me like that?" he asked.

"How am I looking at you?"

"You seem...intriguiged."

"I am. I've never danced with a Mexican Indian before." His eyes hardened a little, so I laughed and said, "I'm joking! Lighten up, Chavez. You're too serious."

"I have my reasons."

"I don't doubt that you do. I'm just saying, smile a little. Let people know that you're human too." He glanced around, almost as if he was afraid someone would see him, then, slowly, both corners of his mouth inched up his face. "There," I murmured. "See, now, that's much more becoming."

He closed his eyes and shook his head. "What have you done to me? I am smiling simply because you told me to do so. What's your secret?"

"I don't have one. You're just discovering your humanity again."

"Even so..."

"Just shut up and dance."

He sighed, "Well...alright." I sniggered.

When that dance was over, he left with a small inclination of his head and a small smile. I watched him go until Doc came running up. "Hey! I want you to meet someone!" He dragged me over to where a man was standing. "Pat Garrett, this is our new comrade, Julie Kahn."

Garrett held out his hand to me. I shook it. "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Garrett."

"Likewise, Ms. Kahn. Please, call me Pat."

"I will if you call me Julie."

"Fair enough. So, Julie, how are you liking living with these vagabonds?"

"I've only been here a day, so I don't think I can offer a fair assessment."

"Well, believe me, it won't take you long to come up with one."

"I don't doubt it."

"If you'll excuse me, I gotta go see a man about a dog. Again, good to meet you, Julie. I'll be seeing you around, I'm sure."

I waited until he was out of earshot to say, "He was charming."

"Don't let him fool you. He's as rowdy as any one of us."

"I don't think there is a man out here that isn't as rowdy as any of you."

"Maybe you're right."

We didn't stay too late. The moon was just rising when we decided to head home. Just after we arrived and I was headed towards the front door, Chavez grabbed my arm. "Will you meet me later?" he whispered.

"Just what might you be proposin'?"

"Probably not what you think I am."

I smirked. "Where?"

"By the stream. After everyone goes to bed."

"Ok, Chavez. I'll humor you." He flitted away silently, and I just shook my head. What was he playing at?

When it came time to go to bed, John had the dilema of where to put me. "It would hardly be proper to place you in the bunk house with the boys, but neither would it be proper for you to stay in here with only me."

"Sir, I've been in a lot more improper situations than sleepin' in a room full of guys. You can just hang up a sheet to separate my area so I can dress."

"True. But, boys will be boys. What if they...well, peek?"

"Then I shall promptly be removing one of their peeking eyes with my fabled accuracy on a quick draw," I said loudly enough for them all to hear.

John glanced around with a smile. "I'm sure that won't be necessary. They're decent fellows."

"I certainly hope so."

There were two doors on opposite sides of the bunk house and John set me up an area near the northern one. The guys were congregated around the southern end. Once my place was established, we all hit the hay. I waited until all I could hear was even breathing, then I silently snuck out the northern door. After I was outside, I ran to the stream where I had washed the clothes earlier and waited. I was inspecting some curious marks on a tree when someone grabbed me from behind and covered my mouth. I struggled for a minute, but he spun me around and I saw it was Chavez. "Shh," he whispered with a grin.

He let go of me and I breathed, "How the hell did you creep up on me like that?"

"I'm an Injun, ain't I?"

"So?"

"It's what we do," he said with a shrug. Then he took my hand and pulled. "Come on."

"Where are we goin'?"

"I want to show you something." He led the way down the stream. The farther from the house it got, the wider and more surrounded by trees it got. "We have to cross here," he said at one point. We splashed across, and I couldn't keep a giddy giggle from leaking out. This was the most fun I'd had in months and we hadn't done anything except jog downstream. Once we were across, we walked about 10 yards farther, then pushed through some underbrush. When we emerged, the full moon was just about the only thing immediately visible. A field stretched out in front of us as far as the eye could see. You could hardly tell where earth and heaven met, and the size of the moon made it no easier.

My jaw dropped and I gasped, "My god..."

"Do you like it?"

"It's beautiful!"

"It's where I go to be alone."

"Then...why did you show it to me? Now it's not a secret anymore."

He shrugged. "The way I see it...maybe...if you're willing...we can be alone...together...here."

The sentence had been a little hard to follow due to the stuttering tentativeness with which he had said it, but finally, I got the main idea. Vaguely, I realized he hadn't let go of my hand yet. "You seemed like such a closed off person, Chavez. Why open up to a girl you just met?"

He looked out across the plain at some distant thing no one else could see. "Why not?"

I looked up at him. "Well...I..." No answer would form in my mind.

He looked down at me and smiled. "What do you say? Give me a chance?"

"I decided to give you a chance about the time I decided to find out why you didn't ask me to the dance."

"Alright then."

He tried to let go of my hand and sit down, but I held tight and said, "Wait. You need to know something."

"What?"

"I...I was in love with a man before coming here. He's dead now, but that doesn't mean I don't still think of him."

I was inwardly cringing against his response, but all he did was reach out and touch my cheek. Then he said, "And you should. You've already forgotten that you're talking to an Indian. We hold our dead in the highest regard."

I sighed, relieved. "I just thought you ought to know. To be fair."

"Well, thank you."

"Sure." I finally let go of his hand, and he went and sat against a tree. Nonchalantly, he pulled out a knife and started whittling on a stick. I turned and surveyed the field once more, then went and sat next to him. "Watcha makin'?" I asked.

"You'll have to wait until it's finished to find out."

"Damn it all, you're a cryptic artist too?" He didn't answer, but he was fighting a smile. I chuckled quietly and settled a little deeper against the tree. "You any good with a gun?" I asked randomly.

"I suppose so. My speciality, however, is a knife." He suddenly slung his knife into the air and it lodged with a thud directly in the center of the branch above him.

I looked up and muttered, "Damn. Remind me not to cross you."

"Oh, I'm sure you could get a bullet in me at just about the same rate I could get a knife in you. Besides, no one wants to kill a woman."

"That doesn't mean they won't. Believe me, them boys in Blackwater was dead set on killing me."

"And I'm sure you deserved it." I looked over in indignation and playfully punched him in the shoulder. He sniggered and shoved me back with the same shoulder.

"I'll honestly admit, you confuse me. When I got here, I was pretty sure you weren't ever going to say a word to me unless you absolutely had to."

"Can't read people as well as you thought, huh?"

"Naw, I guess not," I yawned.

"Do you want to go back now?"

"No."

"You intending to sleep out here? 'Cuz you're about to drop right off."

I yawned again and answered, "Why not? It's nice out tonight."

"You may think that now, but wait until around midnight. I'd be willing to bet you'll be shivering so hard those pretty eyes will cross."

"How charming of you," I muttered.

He pat his shoulder and said, "Lay your head down here." I was a little reluctant to do so, but he said, "Come on, I won't bite."

"I ain't worried about your teeth. I'm more worried about them knives you prolly got hidden everywhere."

"I promise, the only one I had was the one that is now stuck in that branch."

Slowly, I scooted closer to him and put my head on his shoulder. "Do you know what my daddy would do to me if he saw me in the arms of an Indian?"

He tensed a little, but said, "I can imagine."

That night set a trend. Every night after for about a month, except on the nights where there was no moon, Chavez and I snuck out to our spot by the stream. We would spend hours out there, and occassionally, we fell asleep in each others arms. Before too long, our relationship wasn't a secret anymore, but that spot still was. Now that we were openly together, both of us got harped on by Steve and many a fight broke out because of it. Doc and Richard always kept me in line, and Charlie could usually control Steve. One time, Chavez and Steve were getting into it, and I decided that my headache was bad enough and I didn't need their bickering making it worse. I whipped out both my pistols and shot a bullet into the dirt between each of their feet. They froze and looked over at me. "Steve," I growled, "Move on. I said move!" Steve scurried away. "Chavez," I began threateningly, then I walked closer and finished, "quit letting him get to you. He's just a filthy hick who has nothing better in life than putting down others. When you react, that makes him go at it harder."

Chavez spun to face me. "Easy for you to say, mi amore. You haven't dealt with this your entire life! I have!"

"Then you should be used to it by now, yes?"

"I got used to it about 2 years ago. Nowadays, I'm just sick of it," he sighed.

"Somewhere along the line, you have to learn to tune it out."

"Again, easy for you to say." He had calmed down, and he put his knife away.

"Look, I'm sorry it's like this for you, but what am I supposed to do if you get yourself killed in a petty argument with Steve?"

"I'm not going to, so don't worry about it. He's too drunk half the time to make an insult make sense let alone shoot me."

"Don't underestimate him. You let your guard down and he might just take advantage of it."

"I hear you." He took off to tend to his duties, and I did the same.

I was in the middle of feeding the chickens when Doc came riding up with my horse in tow. "Hey, girlie, you want to help me move the cows?"

I grinned and quickly mounted up. "Anything to escape the poultry."

We rode out to the eastern pasture to herd the cows to the northern pasture. On the way, Doc said, "Heard you broke up a fight all by your lonesome! Well done!"

"Ha, thanks! I couldn't let Steve get sliced to pieces...well, maybe I could've but I would've felt guilty later."

He laughed. "That sounds like you!"

We rounded up the cows and moved them north. When we got back to the farm, we were surprised to find Pat Garrett there. I jumped off my horse and ran into his open arms. We had created an extraordinary friendship over the last month or so. He laughed and spun me around. "Hidey, Pat!" I said when he sat me back down.

"Hi, Julie. How are ya today?"

"Fine. You?"

"Just fine."

"What ya doin' here?"

"What? I can't just visit my friends?"

"I didn't say that!"

He smiled, and I was starkly aware of how much I liked his smile. "I know you didn't. I just came to hang out." He winked at me and I couldn't help but grin. "You busy?"

"Not really. Why?"

"I was wondering if you might be interested in losing a race."

I cocked my head. "Where to?"

"Top of the hill?"

I stood there for a moment, as if thinking, then cried, "GO!" I started off at a dead sprint towards the destination, then whistled for my horse.

"Hey!" he called after me as he ran for his own mount. My horse came running up beside me, and while it was still moving, I swung up into the saddle. It was trick I had learned from John Marston. Once in the saddle, I spurred my horse on towards the top of the hill. Pat was still a good 20-30 yards behind, so I had a good chance. He had a stubborn horse who would probably fight him all the way up the hill. My black, American Standardbred stallion and I had a strong bond. He would do whatever I asked him to. Very quickly, he propelled us to the top of the hill. I reined him in and sat there, waiting patiently for Pat to catch up. When he finally did, I was leaning on my saddle horn, grinning. He pulled his horse to a stop, and gave me a look. "I could've won if we had started at the same time."

"We did! I started running, and you started running."

"Ok, then, from the same place!"

"Just face it, Patsy. Your horse don't like you that much. It still would've fought you all the way up the hill."

He sighed. "Yeah, you're right, as usual."

"Spend some more time with him. Get him to trust you."

"I guess I should."

"We got an open corral at the moment. Have at it."

"Thanks, Julie, but I got to be headin' back to town."

"Got an engagement?"

"Yeah, actually."

I smiled. "Be careful then, Pat. And we'll see ya."

"Bye, Julie." He wheeled around and rode off towards town. Vaguely, I realized I didn't like seeing him leave, but it passed.

I rode back down the hill, and put my horse in the barn. When I came out, Chavez fell into step with me. "Hey!" I said happily.

"Hello," he responded quietly. "Nice race."

"Thanks. Did you watch the whole time?"

"Yeah. You and Pat sure do get along well."

"What are you saying?"

"That you and Pat get along well."

I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye to try and gauge his expression. Nothing seemed out of place really, but his tone wasn't normal. To try and put him at ease, I said, "He reminds me of John, I guess. It's just nice to have someone like him back in my life." He nodded, but said no more. Before I could say anything else, Richard called me into the house. I gave Chavez's hand a squeeze and ran to the house. "What's up, Richard?"

"Can you cook at all?"

"Well, yeah."

"Ok. See, today is John's birthday, and we wanted to make him a cake. Then we realized that none of us knew how to bake a cake."

"Are't you boys brilliant? I haven't ever made a cake either, but I can try. Do you have a recipe?"

"Yeah, we do. Here."

He handed me a small card on which the recipe was written, and I looked it over. "I think we have everything we need. Where is John?"

"Him and Doc went into town. Said they'd be back in a few hours. Is that enough time?"

"Yes. I'll get at it."

"Thanks a lot, Julie."

"No problem. I just hope it works." I washed my hands and immersed myself in the task of baking.

About an hour and a half into it, I was covered in flour and the kitchen was a mess, but the cake was in the oven. Charlie came in to do something and froze. "Woah..."

I turned and looked at him. "You all wanted a cake...I made a god damned cake."

He snickered, then doubled over laughing. I laughed with him, then tried to clean off the flour. "You certainly put your all into it," Charlie said.

I shrugged. "I try to do that with everything."

"You need help cleaning up?"

"Sure." He helped me erase the mess, and then volunteered to be my taste tester.

"This is good cake!"

"Thanks. Where did the recipe come from?"

"I think it's Dick's mother's personal recipe."

"Oh! Well, I really hope I did it justice then."

"I'm sure you did." We both stopped and stared at the front door when we heard yelling outside. It was Chavez and Steve again. I sighed and Charlie said, "Here we go again."

We went and pulled open the front door. Chavez had a knife out again and was very close to using it. "You want to play games, gringo?"

"You're a red ass Mexican greaser! You do it with your horse!" Steve spat tobacco all over Chavez. That did it. "Mexican greaser!"

"Come on, you piece of white chicken shit."

Richard came riding inbetween them on his horse yelling, "Knock it off!"

"Cut me down, Mexican! Cut me down!" Steve taunted. Chavez took a quick swing with his knife and missed. "Yeah, that's right, Navajo! Navajo!"

"ENOUGH!" Richard shouted. We all looked to the road when we heard a wagon approaching. "John's back. Now wash up and get into your supper clothes. NOW! Both of you." Both Steve and Chavez kind of glared at Richard, but did what he said. Charlie and I sighed in relief and made our way outside.

I walked up to Richard and said, "Thanks, man."

"They can't do this," he said. "It undermines all of us."

"I know. I tried to talk to Chavez earlier about it. I don't think we've seen the end of it."

"Naw, prolly not." Chavez came out of the bunk house, so I left Richard and went to him.

He saw my expression and said, "Don't."

"We just talked about this this morning!"

"I'm well aware."

"Do you listen to anything I tell you?"

"Occassionally."

I sighed and shook my head. "You're frustrating."

"I'm sorry."

"Whatever. It's not important."

We had all kind of gathered in one spot to wait for John. Richard said, "Who's that in the wagon behind Doc?" No one knew, so we just waited. Doc jumped out and came over to stand with us. John drove the wagon past and we all got a look at the newcomer. Mine was cut short, however, because Steve chose that moment to shove Chavez which pissed me off, so I whipped around and hit him upside the head. Luckily, Steve knew not to mess with me after that.

"Glad you're back, Doc," I said. "You all bring in another hard case?"

"Hope it's not another Mexican," Steve muttered.

"Mexican Indian, you son of a bitch," Chavez growled.

Doc just shrugged. "His name is William H. Bonney. Goes by Billy."

We all split up to do random stuff until supper. Chavez got all his throwing knives out and decided to practice on a pole right where Billy was feeding the pigs. Billy had obviously not dealt with pork before and the pigs got the better of him which basically added up to him falling flat on his face. "He ain't all there, is he?" Steve said.

Billy jumped up on the fence and sat, but jumped when Chavez's knives lodged into the pole beside him. He whipped out his gun and held it on Chavez from the moment the knives hit the pole all the way through pulling them out and walking back to me. Just when Billy let his guard down, Charlie threw a lariat around the same pole, hitting Billy in the process. Charlie chuckled and asked, "Hey, did you know pigs is as smart as dogs? It's true! I know a fellow in El Capitan...taught his pig to bark at strangers." Billy rolled his eyes and put his gun away. "What you doin' here, boy? We work for Mr. Tunstall as regulators. We regulate any stealin' of his property, and we're damn good too. Mr. Tunstall's got a soft spot for runaways, but you can't be any geek off the street. You gotta be handy with the steel, if you know what I mean, to earn your keep."

Billy kicked angrily at the pig. "Go on, go on, get!"

"Not that I'm a pistoleer or knifesmith like our two local lovebirds over there," Charlie said while gesturing to me and Chavez. "I'm a pugilist! But, then, I ain't expectin' you to know the explanation of that word...hog boy!" He snorted a few times and laughed.

Billy shook his head. "Shit, you don't even know why I'm here."

"Sure I do! You're a runaway derelict scudbottom vagrant, just like the rest of us! Petty theif, rob a bank, kill somebody..." Billy turned to look at him and smiled. Charlie's face lost some of it's color and he said, "...killed somebody, huh?" Billy just smiled.

Suddenly, Richard let off a gunshot from the top of a ridge off a ways. "Regulators!"

Billy jumped up to help, but Charlie said, "Hey, you ain't no regulator, boy! You just stay here with the pork. They smarter'n you anyway. You might learn somethin'!" Richard said something about a herd of horses over yonder, and that we should take a look. I whistled for my mount and went to help.

That night at supper, I gave Billy my seat next to Doc and across from Chavez, and took a place at the head of the table, opposite John at the other end and next to Chavez. We were all eating in relative silence until John said, "Well, it looks like you all have appetites this evening." Steve responded by reaching for something across Charlie who batted his hand away and handed it to him. I smiled. "William, have some more," John said. Billy looked up and happily reached for more.

Richard asked, "You ever work beef before, Billy?"

"Yeah," Billy answered. "A little out Fort Sumner way. Pete Maxwell's place. I, uh...I got a way with cattle."

Steve started quietly laughing to himself. We all looked over at him. "What's so jolly funny, master Steven?" John asked. Steve's face went blank and his eyes wide. "That's no proper table manners." Everyone went back to eating. Then Charlie leaned in towards Steve and quietly snorted like a pig again. Both of them started laughing. "Congratulations, Charles. You and Steven will be doing the dirty crockery alone this evening." I had to hold back a laugh myself, and it didn't help that Chavez started grinning either.

Charlie cleared his throat and responded, "Sorry, John. It struck me funny."

"And to William. Both of you."

"Apologies, Billy. We was just hackin' on ya. That's all."

"Yeah, we was just hackin' on ya," Steve reiterated. We all looked to Billy for a response. He just looked at them for a moment, then nodded his acceptance of the apology.

Richard said, "Rumor has it you killed a man, Billy. You don't seem like the killin' sort."

Steve said, "Yeah, Billy, what'd you kill him for?"

Billy chewed up his food and looked at Steve. "He was hackin' on me," he answered smoothly. The sudden swallowing of Steve's mouthful of food was loud enough for us all to hear. I bit down hard on my lower lip to keep from bursting into laughter. Chavez kicked me under the table and hid his grin by looking at me. Once I had finally calmed, I looked up and saw that John was smiling softly himself.

When we got done and cleared off the dishes, I brought out the cake. John was extremely surprised. "It was the boys' idea," I said. "They just had me bake it."

"Well, thank you all," he said.

After that, and after Charlie and Steve got done with the dirty dishes, we gathered in the living room to read from the newspaper as we did every night. Richard and I were the most proficient readers because we had had some education before, but the others hadn't. Steve was saying, "There are...plenty of men who will...never suseed..."

"Succeed," John corrected.

He looked up and nodded. "Suc...who will never succeed anywhere."

"We got a whole room full of 'em right here," Richard said with a smile. We all glanced at him and shared in the smile.

John also smiled and said, "Well done." Then he looked around for the next reader. "William."

Steve tried to hand the paper over. Billy chuckled and said, "Yeah, sure."

"Well, excuse me, Billy. Very sorry to offend you," John said. "But we congregated here to learn to read and write. You'll need more than skill with a firearm to succeed in the new world. So, take up the journal, and start where the other boy left off, or you can go straight back to your home on the streets."

I was shocked. That was the first time I'd ever heard John threaten to kick someone out. Billy grabbed the paper and read, "Young men who don't know how to do any kind of business, and have no energy or application, should better stay at home near their relatives so they can be taken care of. They are not wanted here. Only men of enterprise are practically sure of success." We all exchanged amazed glances.

John nodded. "Splendid. Splendid reading, William." As he walked from the room, he pat Billy on the back. "Goodnight, boys. Goodnight, Julie."

"Night, Mr. Tunstall," we answered.

Later, Chavez and I snuck out to our spot. "So, what do you think of Billy?" I asked as we settled against the tree.

"He's cocky."

"I agree. A little too much so. But he's smart."

"Yes. That he is." We sat there another minute before he said, "Here. I've got something for you."

I held out my hand and he dropped something in it. It was a necklace; a carved wooden feather attatched to a string of cow hide. "Is this what you were carving that first night?"

"Yes."

"It's beautiful! Thank you! Tie it on for me." I pulled my hair up out of the way and he quickly tied a knot in the string behind my neck. The light touch of his fingers felt really good against my neck. I leaned against him and he wrapped both arms around me, letting his chin rest atop my head. "Do you think John knows we come out here?" I asked.

"I don't know. Probably not."

"Would he be angry if he knew?"

"I don't think so. If he trusts anyone here, he trusts you. He knows you won't do anything foolish."

"Oh. Good to know, I guess."

We sat and listened to the crickets chirp for a while. Suddenly, he asked, "Have you been with anyone...intimately...before?"

"No. Have you?"

"No. I've never even kissed a girl."

"Oh...well, I can't claim that. John Marston kissed me once."

"But you didn't sleep with him?"

"No! I couldn't. He couldn't. He was married, and he had a kid. It would've been all kinds of wrong."

"But kissing you was ok?"

"It was a mistake. I felt bad about it for months. I'm not the most righteous girl in town, but I have a few standards."

"No premarital relations?"

Slowly, I answered, "I didn't say that. I'm more of a no post-marital relations, if you get my meaning."

"You mean you're not gonna help a man cheat on his wife."

"Exactly!"

He nodded. "I see."

I yawned and said, "We should probably head back."

"Yeah. Come on."

I jumped up and held out my hands to him. He took them and I pulled. Once he was standing, he looked down at me and cocked his head. "What?" I asked.

"I'm not against premarital relations too much either, but I was just thinking you ought to start somewhere before getting there."

I grinned. "Where do you want to start?" He leaned down and kissed me. It wasn't a fierce, passionate kiss. It was a soft, sweet, tentative kiss that charmed me more than a passionate one could have. "That's a good start," I said when he stopped.

"I agree." He smiled and looked down. "For some reason, I feel embarassed."

"Don't! Silly goose." I played with a strand of his hair. "You know, I would kill for hair like yours."

"Don't be stupid. My coarse mess? Yours is so smooth."

"Well...maybe combine your color and volume to my texture. Perfect hair, that."

He laughed and shook his head. "Weren't we supposed to be going back?"

"Yes, we were." He turned and started walking, so I ran and jumped on his back. He staggered a little, but laughed again, and carried me the rest of the way home.

The next afternoon, we were all somewhat alarmed when a good 20 men came riding in. All of us, minus Billy, went out to greet them. Amongst the men were Sherriff Brady and L.G. Murphy, a store owner who competed with John for business. Finally, we were all at a standstill and John came out. "Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

"Good afternoon, John," Brady said. "John, Mr. Murphy here has been complaining about his merchandise wagon bein' plundered on several occassions on the way into town. Quite frankly, John, he thinks you're behind it."

Richard cried, "That's a fargin' lie, and you know it!"

"Richard!" John scolded. Richard looked away. John said, "Sherriff Brady, Mr. Murphy is going to continue coming to you claiming that I've taken his property until I'm pronounced a thief and shaken out of Lincoln. I've never touched his property. I have no cause."

Murphy chuckled. "Well! The belted earl has spoken. Look behind ya, earl. All I see are hired thieves." Chavez and I exchanged a dark glance.

"These are all promising young men. And Julie is a promising young woman. They are all here to aquire an education."

Murphy dismounted and responded, "Well, I had you pegged as the type that likes educating young boys." The whole group behind him laughed. I chewed on the inside of my cheek to keep from saying anything. Murphy waved Tunstall over to the pig pen, where I realized Billy was hiding, to have a private conversation. As they talked in hushed voices, I kept my eyes trained on the other men. They were all unpleasant looking. More than one was looking me over far too many times, and I was of a mind to shoot out a couple eyes. My attention was drawn back to John and Murphy when Murphy came away saying, "You'd be better off selling ladies' undergarments in Hamstead."

That pissed us off, so we drew our guns. The other men followed suit. Brady called, "Alright, let's put those away!" Nobody listened.

"This is a new country," Murphy said as he mounted. "We won't be bowing down to you no more, English. Get ready for hell. Come on!" They rode off.

John turned to us and said, "Back to work, chaps." I sighed and slid my gun back into its holster, then did as he said. Later that week, a new boy showed up. His name was McClowsky and he said he worked for Murphy but that Murphy fired him. I didn't like him. Not at all.

John took Billy into town one day and bought him a suit and matching hat. He had done so for all of us. Amazingly, he hadn't made me get a dress. I got fitted for a suit just like the rest. It was a little more feminine, but it still had pants. There were no words that could express my gratitude for that small fact.

A few weeks passed and it was suddenly New Year's Eve. There was always a dance in town on New Years, and we were planning to go. Chavez had me braid his hair back in a very small, tight braid. "I don't like it as much like this," I said when I finished.

He shrugged. "I didn't do it for you. I don't want all my hair on my neck. It gets hot sometimes."

"I can understand that."

While we were waiting to leave, Chavez started showing off a little with his knives. We all gathered around as he spun and threw knives smack in the middle of a bucket every time. He got done with one set, and suddenly, the bucket exploded in a shower of bullets. We all hit the ground and looked for the source. Billy was sitting on the roof, cracking up, with two smoking pistols in his hands. John came running out and yelled, "Regulators!" Then he saw what all had happened, and simply smiled. Then he said, "Let's dance!" We mounted up and rode into town.

I managed to convince Chavez to actually dance for most of the night which amazed me. At the end of one, his eyes wandered behind me. Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Can I butt in for a minute, Chavez? I'll give her back real quick, I promise."

"Sure," Chavez answered. He let go of my hands and I spun to find myself now dancing with Pat.

"Hello," I said with a smile.

"Hidey!" He looked past me at Chavez. "He ain't mad is he?"

"Probably, but he'll get over it."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, don't worry about it! How are you?"

"Fine. You?"

"Well enough. This whole thing with Murphy is putting a strain on things, but we're getting through."

"Good. I just have to check sometimes. I worry about a pretty girl like you in a houseful of boys."

"They know not to mess with me."

"Because of Chavez?"

"No, silly! Because of me!"

"Oh! That scary, are ya?"

"Damn straight. They know better than to cross me. You better learn it too. I ain't afraid to shoot you if you get outta line."

He chuckled. "Duly noted." The song ended. "I guess I should let Chavez have you back."

"Probably. Thanks for the dance, Pat."

"No, thank you." He tipped his hat and left, and I went to find Chavez.

I found him drinking a shot of whiskey. "Eww," I said as I sat next to him.

"Yeah, I agree."

"So why do you drink it?"

"I like the burn."

I stared at him like he was crazy. "Well, whatever floats your boat, mi amore. Come on. I ain't done dancing with you." He rolled his eyes and followed.

While we were dancing, we noticed Charlie surrounded by a group of women. We meandered closer to see what he was saying. "Medicine!" he announced. "Yes, I shall recieve my degree from St. Michael's in July and I shall be practicing here in Lincoln until my mission to the islands."

"Isn't that nice?" one of the women commented.

Chavez and I busted out laughing. We were far enough away that no one connected the conversation with the laughter, so we let ourselves laugh until we couldn't breathe. We stopped dancing and simply leaned on each other for support. Richard came over and asked, "What's so funny?"

I pointed at Charlie and barely said, "He's practicin' medicine!" before breaking down into guffaws again. Richard was a pretty straight faced, serious guy, but even that got a big smile out of him.

Finally, both Chavez and I calmed down, and we started to observe everyone around. I saw Doc approach a young China girl who was standing next to Murphy. My good mood disappeared, and I got nervous. "What are you doing, Doc?" I muttered.

"He's just asking a girl to dance," Chavez said, unconcerned.

"But she's associated with Murphy!" He suddenly got concerned. "See? Him and Doc are talking." We watched tensely, but Doc was allowed to dance with the girl. We watched them talk quietly as they danced. I smiled. Sometimes, I couldn't help but think that Doc was utterly adorable. Before long, however, Murphy came over and broke up the dance. He said something in Doc's ear, then led the girl away. Doc stared after them until John's lawyer friend, Alex McSween, approached him. I sighed. "What just happened, Chavez?"

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure it was good either." We got back to dancing until we noticed someone intentionally run into John. Suddenly, all the regulators appeared.

The man pointed to John and said, "It's you and me."

Charlie got between them and responded, "No. It's you and I. Is that right, John?"

"Yes. Yes, it is."

Charlie nodded. "It's you and I," then held up his fists. The fight didn't last very long. Within a few seconds, the man had been thrown over top a table and was lying at Chavez's and my feet. Steve picked him up and shoved him away while the rest of us just looked around and grinned.

"Pugilist!" Billy said. Charlie smiled over at him and nodded.

Someone cried out, "Happy New Year!" and fired a shot into the air. The regulators joined in with both voice and pistol.

We didn't head for home until the sun had started to rise. Most of the guys were relatively drunk and they were all singing some folk song very badly. As we topped a hill, a couple quail scattered. The guys rode off in pursuit, hooting and hollering, but I hung back by John. He said, "Go on, Julie. Join the boys and make sure they don't hurt themselves."

I smiled. "Yes, John." I rode off to join them by the tree they were now at. About half way there, I realized I heard more hooves than I could account for and looked back. A bunch of men had ridden up behind John. He glanced at them, then looked at me. Our eyes locked for a second, then the men opened fire. John flew from the wagon he had been driving, and his horse collapsed. All the regulators spun in their saddles to look. I pulled out my gun and tried to level it at one of the killers, but Doc came riding up and shoved it down.

"No! There's too many! Skin outta here!" he cried. We wheeled our horses around and took off, the killers close behind.

We rode for hours and finally lost the men chasing us, so we rode back and got John's body. We took it back to the farm for burial. Richard did the service. "We therefore commit his body to the ground. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust."

Those words bounced around inside my head. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This was the second John I'd heard that said for. And both had gone before their time. "Damn government bastards," I growled. "Not again." I stalked away and got on my horse.

"Where you goin'?" Charlie asked.

"I'm gonna go talk to Alex. He's a lawyer. Maybe he can get something done about this!"

"I'm goin' too," Doc said. After him, they all agreed to go.

Alex agreed to talk to somebody in town about deputizing some people to hunt down the Santa Fe Ring. We rode in with him, and milled around while we waited for the result. I leaned against a pole and closed my eyes. This was almost too much for me. Too much death and corruption. Then, Chavez came over and grabbed my hand. I opened my eyes and saw his, as beautifully deep brown as ever, looking back. With him beside me, I could handle anything. We all looked over when we heard Alex ask, "Are you gonna deputize them?"

"Hell no!" the man said. "No, I'm not. Not me."

Alex responded, "Alright, then you go tell 'em."

About an hour later, we were all standing in a barn, taking an oath. We were constables of the law.