"Mrs. Collins, you need to calm yourself. There is nothing for us to do but wait," Marta said as soothingly as her own jangled nerves would allow.

"Even now, that half breed could be conspiring with the savages. He could be... selling us into slavery, while we sit here, waiting," Mrs. Collins' voice became louder and higher pitched with each word she spoke.

Marta looked at her incredulously and was about to defend Buck, when Mrs. Collins turned and snapped,

"You let him touch you, I saw it with my own two eyes... and you look at me as if I'm the hysterical one."

"Mrs. Collins, if we make it out of this alive, I promise you, it will be because of Mr. Cross... and I will make sure you eat every mean word you speak. Now, calm yourself!" Marta hissed angrily, her eyes flashing.

Eternal minutes passed. Marta felt anxious and uncomfortable. She removed her hat and gloves and tossed them on the bench, then unbuttoned the top button of her jacket and stretched her collar with her fingers. Marta could hear the voices of several men speaking a language she had never heard before, she assumed one of them was Buck. They didn't sound overly angry, but it was hard to tell. Marta gripped the edge of the bench seat, closed her eyes tightly shut and sent up a silent prayer, that her God, or the Indian's God would grant them peace and safe passage away from here. She concentrated on how Buck's eyes looked just before he left the coach, filled with intensity and power. He would find a way out of this.

Suddenly they heard a harsh sounding laugh outside. Mrs. Collins eyes grew wide, and her breathing turned loud and gasping.

"They are going to take us now, I know it! I've got to get away!" she said as she stood up and grabbed the handle of the door. Marta threw herself in front of her,

"Are you crazy? Sit down!"

But Mrs. Collins forcefully shoved her aside,

"Air! I need... can't... breathe!"

The next thing Marta knew Mrs. Collins shoved the door open and was gone, screaming towards the woods. As Marta stood in the doorway, she realized she had the complete attention of Buck and two fearsome looking warriors. Buck did not ask, but ordered her to stand behind him and continued to talk in the Indian's language.

"We will see, if she is yours," Kicking Pony said smugly as he rose himself to his full height.

Buck said nothing. The fire in his eyes was answer enough. Kicking Pony's smile broadened as he slowly walked around Buck, to get a better view of Marta. He appraised her from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet and grunted his approval. Marta kept her eyes fixed on the back of Buck's coat as she felt the brave step within feet of her. Her skin started to crawl and she felt the sudden urge to join Mrs. Collins in the woods.

"Yes," Kicking Pony said slowly, "she is beautiful. She will warm my bed."

Kicking Pony reached out to touch her, but in the same second it took for Marta back away, Buck grabbed Kicking Pony's wrist and stopped his hand.

"I said, she is mine, you will not touch her."

"Then I will kill you." Kicking Pony said simply.

Black Elk watched as his brother lowered himself into a fighting stance. The woman gasped in fear and held a white knuckle grip onto Running Buck, who made no move for his weapons yet, but held himself in between his brother and the woman. His warriors were waiting and watching behind them, anxious to spill blood. It was not a fair fight.

"My brother, the Great Spirit does not want bloodshed today," Black Elk said calmly.

"You can not stop this," Kicking Pony growled.

Black Elk saw the deadly glint in his brother's eyes and sighed as he turned to Buck,

"You are willing to fight and die for this woman?"

"Yes," Buck answered.

Black Elk saw his brother unsheathing his knife and stayed the action with a wave of his hand.

"This will be a fight of honor, between Running Buck and you, I will not interfere. You will fight hand to hand."

Kicking Pony glared at his brother, but saw that Black Elk's jaw was set,

"I do not need a knife to kill you.." Kicking Pony smiled coldly. He removed his knife and the knapsack from his shoulders, then waved Buck forward with a motion of his hand, "come."

Buck nodded that he understood, and held up his hand to wait. He turned around and glanced at Marta briefly before lifting his foot to the stage step to untie the knife and sheath from his boot. He spoke quietly without looking at her,

"I'm going to fight one of them now. They want to take you with them. I won't let that happen..." he paused as he handed her his knife and gun, then he quickly removed his jacket.

Marta was cold and trembling, so he wrapped it around her shoulders. She looked up at him in terror,

"No...what? Buck... please..." she said desperately, unsure of what she was even asking him. She reached out her hand to his arm and held on tightly.

Buck stepped closer and continued to whisper,

"Hay, you'll be ok... Marty, look at me. We'll be alright... I need you to do something for me, though..."


"When we're fighting, don't make a sound. Don't call out my name... I can't look at you... I'll forget what I'm doing if I look into those eyes of yours."

Her eyes flew up to his when he said those last words, and she felt the warmth of his gaze. He smiled at her for the briefest moment, before turning all his attention to the fight before him. Marta couldn't remember ever being so frightened, but as she stood leaning against the coach, holding Buck's weapons in her arms, she vowed she would do her part and not make a sound.

"I'm ready," Buck said flatly.

Buck and Kicking Pony circled each other with arms out and loose... waiting. It was hard to tell who struck first, both men's fists went flying at the same time, as if by some unseen signal. Buck landed a hard body shot, while Kicking Pony used his full weight to grab Buck by the neck and throw him to the ground. Kicking Pony crouched over him, and immediately attacked with both fists, but Buck managed to push him away with his knees. He shoved against Kicking Pony's body with with his feet and rolled away. Kicking Pony recovered quickly and jumped to his feet. Buck did the same and kicked against his opponent's legs, hard enough to leave Kicking Pony off balance. Buck seized his opportunity and threw himself forward, tackling Kicking Pony in the mid-section. Both of their bodies fell to a ground with a thud.

Marta watched, unblinking. Her eyes took in every punch, every blur of the two men, twisting, dodging, slamming into each other. She could hardly believe what she was seeing, it seemed so unreal. Every time she saw Buck take a hit, wince in pain, she wanted to cry out, to scream for this madness to stop. It was too terrifying to comprehend what could happen if Buck lost. The harsh looking Indian had looked at her as if she was naked, and he wanted to take her away. No, it couldn't happen. She understood that much. She glanced at the older looking brave, he was watching the fight impassively, he wasn't paying attention to her. Carefully she moved Buck's knife to her left hand and used it to cover her right. She found her grip on Buck's gun, pulled back the safety and curled her finger around the trigger. She knew how to shoot and she would be ready, if Buck needed her.

Buck had Kicking Pony where he wanted him, unable to breathe. Buck had been worried for a minute, that he might lose. Kicking Pony was a skilled fighter, but finally, Kicking Pony had left his back exposed and from the ground, Buck was able to wrap his arms and his legs around Kicking Pony from behind. Buck locked his arms around Kicking Pony's head and squeezed with every ounce of his remaining strength. He could feel Kicking Pony struggling, throwing punches in the air he couldn't land. Just as he felt Kicking Pony weakening against him, Black Elk raised his hand and shouted,

"Enough! The fight is over. Running Buck, release my brother."

Buck glanced over at Black Elk, who hadn't moved since the beginning of the fight, and nodded. He let Kicking Pony go in one quick movement and shoved himself away from his opponent. Buck struggled to his feet and leaned forward, his hands against his knees until he caught his breath, keeping one eye on Kicking Pony the whole time. Kicking Pony took much longer to recover. Once he did he rushed to his brother's side.

"Why did you stop us, I would have beaten him!"

Black Elk pursed his lips together,

"Another breath and you would have been asleep. I saved your honor, brother. Accept your defeat quietly,"

Kicking Pony let out a Sioux curse with a hiss,

"but The Sky Eyes..." he said angrily as he looked over to Marta.

"Sky Eyes was also willing to end your life. She has Running Buck's gun pointed at your heart, even now."

Marta had no idea what the brothers were saying, but she saw all three men's eyes fly to her at once, to the gun in her hands. She slowly lowered the weapon and shrank further against the coach. The Indian who wanted her glared at her, while she could've sworn she saw the briefest flash of a smile across Buck's lips.

Kicking Pony took a long look at Marta and took several steps towards her, before saying in Lakota,

"Sky Eyes, remember my face, you will see it again."

Then he abruptly turned and grabbed his things from the ground. He ignored Buck, who moved to be by Marta's side. Kicking Pony and Black Elk remounted their horses. Buck could feel Kicking Pony seething from where he stood. The younger brother urged his horse forward without looking back, the elder waited. Black Elk eyed Buck levelly.

"You have shown the strength of your fighting spirit, Running Buck. I have shown you fairness. Go to the Blue Coat chiefs. Tell them. You will know what to say," he waited for Buck's nod of understanding before galloping away.

Marta set Buck's weapons down in the coach and held her breath, she waited until all eight Sioux braves were over the ridge before closing the few short steps between her and Buck. His eyes were still to the horizon watching the Sioux leave. Marta opened her mouth to speak, but no words seemed adequate just then, so she made the one last step to close the distance between them and threw her arms around Buck's waist.

"Oof," Buck winced in surprise and pain, as he felt the strength of her embrace.

"Oh I'm sorry, you're hurt, aren't you, well of course you are," Marta gasped as she pulled back. Buck put his arms around her and kept her close,

"It's not bad," he said, though now that the immediate danger had passed, his body suddenly remembered every blow he had received.

"No, now let me look at you," Marta insisted as she leaned back and reached her hand up to his face, her feather light touch traced across his cheek, his jaw, "you going to have a nasty bruise here," she said as she looked the side of his face, "and your lip... you're bleeding," her voice trembled as she saw the small trickle of blood from the side of his mouth.

Buck took the back of his hand and wiped it away.

"Can't even feel it," he assured, but Marta only shook her head as she felt the tears gathering in her eyes.

"What about the rest of you?" she asked as she pulled away slightly and looked to his chest, she put her hand against his ribs and felt his sharp intake of breath, "he hit you so hard here, are you sure nothing is broken?" tears were falling down her cheeks now. Buck stilled her hand with his own.

"Marty, look at me... I'll be sore for a few days, but I'll be alright."

Marta was nearly undone by the warmth she saw in his eyes. He opened his arms to her and she fell into them, gently this time.

"I don't know if I've ever been that scared!" she cried, "I didn't know what they were saying or doing and if anything had happened to you, I don't think I could have lived with myself. They were so big and mean looking and there were so many braves up on the hill, just watching..." she started shivering now and couldn't seem to stop.

Buck held her tighter and rubbed his hands up and down her back until he felt her shivers subside.

"Do you want your jacket back? It's gotten chillier, the skies are so grey now..." she asked quietly, her voice muffled from the side of his chest.

"I'm warm enough...Were you really going to shoot Kicking Pony?" he asked as he leaned his head against hers.

"Is that his name? Yes. I would've shot him dead too if he had..." she wasn't able to finish saying what could've happened.

"That probably wouldn't have made things any better. If I had died, you'd need to go willingly. It would've been your best chance to survive until your father was able to find you," Buck said seriously.

Her head shot up and her eyes flew to his, her fear renewed.

"Don't even say that... I can't believe... you were willing to die..." she trailed off, realizing the truth of her words.

"Yes... and you were willing to kill."

"Yes." she nodded slowly.

Buck looked at her with frank admiration. He smiled as he saw her blushing in response. She cleared her throat and dropped her eyes,

"So... while I was in the coach, what did you say? Who were they and why did they want to take me with them?"

Buck sighed, he supposed he should release Marta and explain things, but he couldn't seem to let go of her.

"They were Black Elk and Kicking Pony, the sons of the Sioux war chief Grey Wolf. These are the Sioux your father has been fighting. They had planned on burning down the stage, but the older son Black Elk told his men not to. We talked instead. They were ready to leave when Mrs. Collins jumped out and lost her mind. That's when they saw you."

"Stupid Mrs. Collins! I hope it takes the driver a long time to find her," Marta hissed as she scrunched up her face.

Buck let out a chuckle,

"I'm not disagreeing with you."

"So why did it matter that they saw me?"

Buck gazed at her and reached his hand up to move a stray curl out of her eyes.

"Because you're beautiful. Because you have eyes like the brightest summer sky. That's actually what they called you. Sky Eyes. I kind of like it..."

Marta blinked at him in surprise,

"You told me to stay inside, to drop my eyes... I'm sorry."

"It wasn't your fault."

Marta looked at him unsure, but saw no judgement in him. She couldn't help asking,

"You really think I'm beautiful?"

"Yes," Buck answered without hesitation, he tightened his hold on her slightly.

Marta suddenly felt very warm, despite the chill in the air.

"So... so what did you tell them when this Kicking Pony said he was going to take me?"

"I told him you were mine."

"You did?"

Buck nodded, his gaze fell to her parted lips.

"Oh," she breathed.

Her hands moved from the back of his waist, up his chest and around his neck. Buck lowered his head, his mouth was inches from hers. He saw her eyes start to close. His heart was beating rapidly now, maybe even faster than it had during the fight. He stopped himself before he was completely lost in her and rested his forehead against hers.

"Marty, what am I going to do with you?" he asked, shakily.

Marta opened her eyes and turned her head so she could look at him. She saw so much vulnerability there it brought tears to her eyes.

"Fall in love with me?" she asked quietly before she saw Buck's eyes widen in shock.

She dropped her hands from his neck and backed away, wishing the earth would open up and swallow her whole.

"I... I don't know what possessed me to say that. I don't know what it is about you. I'm saying things I never thought I'd say, speaking without thinking first and..." she looked around desperately, looking anywhere but his face.

Buck opened his mouth to answer her. There was so much he could say, but his thoughts were too jumbled. He just shook his head and dragged her back into his arms. She looked up at him in surprise the second before his mouth came crashing down onto hers. It took her a moment to kiss him back, but she did with all the passion she felt. Buck felt all the pain from his injuries leave him. There was only her, her warmth, her softness. Marta moaned against his mouth as the kiss deepened. She had never been kissed like this, felt emotions as strong as this for a man before, but she wasn't afraid, she only wanted more. Buck finally pulled away, breathless.

"I don't think I'll be able to let you go now... Marty, I think the question is... what are you going to do with me?"

"Probably the same thing," she whispered, before smiling at the emotions she could read so plainly on his face.

He wasn't sure he believed her, but he wanted to. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his lips lightly. He kissed her back, gently this time, enjoying her attempt to take the lead. Finally she broke away and let out a contented sigh as she snuggled into his arms. Buck relaxed as he held her, breathed in her scent. It felt so right to hold her, care for her. It was almost too good to be true. Then his blood ran cold as the realization hit him. It was too good to be true.

"Your father will never accept this, me having feelings for you, you having feelings for me," he said.

Marta startled at the fear she heard in Buck's voice. It was the first time he had ever sounded afraid.

"You don't know him like I do, he's a fair man. I'll tell him how you saved my life... how you saved all our lives."

Buck looked at her sadly,

"Do you think Mrs. Collins will see that? That she'll thank me? See me as anything more than a half-breed now?"

Marta only frowned. She knew the answers to those questions, but didn't want to say the answers out loud.

"You know the answer is no. I can try to see your father through a new set of eyes, because of you, but I don't know if he'll be able to do the same."

Marta sighed,

"I know this isn't going to be easy... it might even be the hardest thing either of us has ever done, but I have to believe we were brought together for a reason. I've never felt, I don't know what to call it... a bond maybe, with someone else like this before, and I've only known you not even a full day. You feel it too, don't you? You were willing to fight to the death to protect me... can't we fight to at least be friends once we get to Rock Creek?"

Buck gave her a half smile,

"I'm going to want to be more than friends," he said wryly.

Marta giggled a little as she felt the heat rise on her cheeks,

"You know what I mean."

Buck's smile faded as he looked at her seriously,

"I do... You can talk to you father about me, we can try to be friendly in town, but not too friendly. We're going to have to take this slow," then pulled her tightly to him and gave her a squeeze, "at least in public anyways... but maybe... maybe we'll find some time to be together, just you and me," he lowered his voice as he said the last few words right against her ear.

Marta shivered,

"I should be scandalized, Buck Cross. I should say, 'how dare you', and stomp off like any proper lady would," she laughed as she saw him raise one eyebrow, "but I'm not going to."

"To talk Marty, that's what I meant. Time where we can really get to know each other."

"That's all you'll want to do? Talk?" she laughed.

"Well, maybe a little more than that," he admitted as he leaned down and kissed her forehead.

"Now that I believe," she smiled.

"I'll always tell you the truth, Marty," he answered.

"I know you will."

He was about to kiss her again when he heard shouts coming from the woods. Buck and Marta walked around the stage coach. Marta shrugged Buck's coat off her shoulders and handed it to him. He put it back on without a word. A second later Mrs. Collins and the driver appeared out of the woods.

"Unhand me, sir. I still feel this is very unwise. That poor girl is probably carried off by now and it only through my wits that we are still alive and..." she stopped short when she saw them, "Miss Marta, you're alive! Are the savages still here? How did you escape?" she said as she bustled over to them.

Marta rolled her eyes,

"Buck saved me. Everything is fine. We can get back in the stage and continue on to Rock Creek now."

"Ah," Mrs. Collins said cooly, "well, so glad you are safe, my dear," then she turned her hostile gaze back to Buck, "driver, don't you think Mr. Cross" she said with a sneer, "should sit on the driver's bench with you? We ladies have been through quite a fright, and I don't believe our nerves could take much more. I'm sure you understand."

Marta's eyes popped open in disbelief, she was about give Mrs. Collins a piece of her mind when Buck gave her a subtle shake of his head,

"I understand perfectly. I'll get my things."

Marta watched helplessly as he walked away, talking to the driver. Soon they were ready to go. Mrs. Collins was already sitting in the coach, waiting impatiently. Marta was about to get in when Buck offered her his hand to help her up,

"See you in Rock Creek," he whispered.

"Yes, see you then," she smiled, unsure until she caught his wink.

She let her thumb caress the back of his hand for just a second before letting go. Buck held her eyes, and gave her a nod of understanding before shutting the stage coach door and taking his seat next to the driver. They traveled the rest of the way to Rock Creek apart, in uneventful silence.

A/N: My husband, Mr. Signefalls, wants it known that he helped me write that fight. We watched some UFC fights and he helped me visualize things. I think Kicking Pony was BJ Penn and Buck, well, Buck would have to be Anderson "The Spider" Silva, of course. I have no idea if either man would be well versed in MMA, but it made sense to my muse, so there you go. Thanks, sweetie :)

I am so glad these two had their moment here! I was surprised with how it turned out, frankly. There's a magic about them though, that cuts through the normal conventions. Both will be longing for it once they have to deal with Papa Erbach, Rock Creek... and some other complications... hmmmm.

I hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think! :)