Blue Cannon road old Soapy out further and further into the wilderness. He pulled Soapy to a stop and loosely tied her to a gangly-looking bush before sliding under a rock formation with a mason jar full of moonshine. Some of Uncle Buck's best sippin' whiskey, as he called it. Maybe a bit of a relaxing drink and a nap would help him out. At least keep him out long enough so that he didn't come to blows with his father again.

"Ornery old buzzard..." Blue muttered, taking a hefty slug.

Glory, but his shoulder was aching. Maybe the whiskey would ease it off. He watched the sun dipping behind the clouds, wondering idly if it would even matter if he came back at all; a thought that had crossed his mind many a time throughout his 18 years. However, one face passed through his mind, and he knew he couldn't do that... Buck would be devastated if he just ran off, and the
thought of hurting his beloved uncle was enough for him to stay- at least for now... And, that was the last thought that slipped through his mind as his slightly swollen eyes closed, and rest overtook him...

********************************************************************************

Buck came back to the ranch with Manolito as the sun was setting. He was tired, dusty and starving. But, he wasn't looking forward to coming in at the moment. Manolito looked sideways at his friend. He'd had a permanent scowl ever since Tobias Cannon, the brother between he and John, had come to stay. John, on the other hand, had seemed ecstatic to see him. And, though the man seemed pleasant enough when he was around, Manolito noticed that Buck, Blue and Victoria kept
tight scowls for the three days he had been there. He didn't know why; asking also wasn't helping. So, Mano decided he would just be glad when the "encroacher" was gone, as he wanted his family back. His three best friends, Buck, Blue and Victoria, really.

Though, he sometimes felt that Big John got a bad rep-even by his own son and younger brother- he knew the man was hard. But, he could not help but like and respect him, and was one of the few in existence who actually enjoyed teasing the gruff cowboy. In any event, something was under the surface, and Manolito was going to find out...

When he and Buck returned from washing up enough to be suitable to eat at Victoria's table, they did notice that one chair was conspicuously empty.

"Ah, Big John? Where is Blue-Boy?" Buck asked, concern creeping into his tone.

John snorted. Buck always coddled the boy- no wonder he turned out the way he had! Always stepping in John's way to try to make him more of a man...

"I believe the two of them got into a bit of a scuffle, little brother." Tobias said, reaching for an ear of corn across Buck's plate.

Buck looked at John accusingly. "What'd you do?"

"Me?" John snapped, throwing his napkin down as though it were a duelling challenge. "Can't you ever see that it's the boy's fault?"

"Nope, 'cause it mostly ain't. "Buck countered, his voice rising only slightly."It's all you and that temper, and that attitude that nobody nor nothin' is ever good 'nuff for 'Big John Cannon'. Now, what'd you go an' do to him, huh?" Buck demanded.

"He... he was talkin' some kinda crazy talk..." John fumbled, embarrassed.

"John Cannon, it was not crazy, you just weren't listening is all!"

"Does nobody in this house ever take my side?" he asked sourly.

"Husband, I take your side in many things... but, I never agreed to take it when you were wrong." she said softly, gently placing her hand on top of his. "He came to you for... well, something, I didn't catch what, exactly..." she admitted, "but, you could have heard him out, rather than just hitting him like you did."

"You hit him?" Buck asked, his voice low and slightly dangerous.

"Aw, ease up, Buck." Tobias defended. "Four or five smacks. Paw was way rougher."

"That ain't no excuse!" Buck said, standing up so suddenly that the table moved forward with a scraping sound against the floor. "Where is he?"

"Rode off in a pout." Tobias said, earning himself a glare from Victoria and Manolito. "Johnny's right; boy needs to man up."

Gritting his teeth, resisting the urge to throttle both of his older brothers, Buck turned on his heel and stalked out of the house, going straight to the barn for his horse...

**************************

After Buck left, only Tobias still had any appetite. Everyone else just pushed their food around on the plate. After a minute or so, Manolito had definitely had enough, and stood.

"John, come and join me on the porch for a smoke, por favor?"

John stood, and Tobias started to stand, too, but Manolito grabbed his shoulder and shoved him back down, giving a visible squeeze before walking out the door. Raising his eyebrows, John followed.

"All right, out with it, Mano." he rumbled.

"What happened this afternoon?" he asked gently.

"I... boy come to me, hemmin' and hawin' around... something... couldn't really make heads nor tails of it." John admitted. "But, when I brushed him off, he got mouthy."

"And, then you hit him." Mano guessed.

It was a simple, straightforward statement; no accusation like had been in Buck's voice. And, that at least slightly relaxed the man.

"Yes. Just once to start with. But then he got up and took a swing at me for it!" John said in a surprised tone. "Little shit." he said with slight affection.

Mano smirked briefly, but then turned serious.

"So, you hit him with more anger, a few more times..."

"Yes, all right!"

"Senor... I was not around when the boy was growing up, but, that sort of treatment... would not have rendered the man I know today." he said bluntly. "He has a good heart, yet is a strong fighter. He is someone I am proud to call friend. However, if that were the entire way he was raised... I would be surprised. Men raised in that way usually either turn into the slinking, hang-headed vattos I grew up with, or into violent cowards. None of which describes your son."

John swallowed, digesting what he said. And, the taste was bitter...

"I... did you know when he was a kid I only actually striped him twice?" John said gruffly.

"And, why is that?" Mano prodded.

"Because Buck always stepped in." he revealed. "Interferring ass... And, one of the two times he didn't, he actually clocked me. Knocked me out cold. As if it were his business..."

"Si, senor, it is and you know it. He loves that boy as if he were his own. Could not love him more if he had been..."

And, John stayed, leant against the porch as Manolito headed towards the bunkhouse...