Disclaimer: the Young Guns movies belong to Morgan Creek Productions and its various producers and director as do the characters which appear here or are mentioned. They are not mine and are only 'borrowed' for the purposes of the story. This is set prior to the events shown in the movies and was written for the Summer 2012 Multifandom Bromance Big Bang Challenge

"Banking on the Good Will of Others" by karrenia

Their reasons for coming out west were as varied as the individuals themselves; some saw it as being uprooted from everything comfortable and familiar and safe in order to venture into unknown. Some saw it as a chance to start over. And yet others, as a hardship, or an investment or an opportunity chance to exploit the land's natural resources.

Josiah Scurlock believed he could say that he was a mixture of all venturing into the unknown and a learning experience, one which he relished with every fiber of his being.

.All though he could say that he welcomed even relished the new experiences that came his way, in others he was still a bit rooted in the ideas and customs that he'd observed and learned back West.

Even as he stood at the side of his horse with his arm raised to shade his eyes from the noon day that slanted down towards the meridian, he was reminded of one of his favorite Mark Twain quotes he'd once had to memorize in school. "East is east and West is and never the twain shall meet".

In the back of his mind, he thought. 'That's true as far as it goes, however, there are always exceptions to every rule and the way I figure it, it's will take a lot more experience and common sense when to recognize the difference.

If that were not the case he might not have made much account of himself, considered himself much too bookish and fonder of the mind than the body, as the saying went, to make it in the rougher and tougher environs of the New Mexico Territory.

He shook his head and wondered exactly what it was that had convinced a certain Mr. John Tunstall take as varied a bunch of boys and take them under his wing and entrust them with the upkeep and security of his sprawling cattle ranch.

Said ranch was one of the largest in the territory for miles around. While it was profitable and well-maintained that it also made it an attractive target for others to prey upon and not all of those predators went on four feet.

Tunstall had always been a careful man, a clever one, too, and kind but he had never made the mistake of being naïve enough to let others take advantage of him, and much of that involved the topsy-turvy nature of life in the Territory and the intricate politics of the time.

Said politics were thorny and often dangerous, but he wanted to get ahead he would be forced to navigate his way through them.

Such maneuvers would require nerves of steel and the kind of insider knowledge of the area and its people. It was a dangerous and delicate game, one which none of the participants were at all willing to lose.

Josiah sighed and shook his head, figuring that he had never cared much for politics anyway.

His horse and those of his fellow regulators snorted and pulled on their reins eager to be off once more

Dick Brewster, who rode at his side, had his attention focused on the herd of cattle and was not, paying any attention to him.

Chavez, a Mexican, Indian; and considered something of a mongrel half-breed, watched Josiah, once given the nickname Doc because it had seemed to fit his studious and doggedly determined personality; rocking back and forth in his saddle and allowing to let his hands rest lightly on the reins.

By now Chavez had come to recognize that far-away look in his friend's blue eyes; as if Josiah were regarding the scenery. However, in truth, Chavez realized that his friend was seeing the landscape of the mind that was much clearer at this moment than anything external.

He knew a thing or two about be able to see within oneself, having never really feeling that he felt in, and having to more or less learn that lesson at an early age Chavez had felt himself to have much in common with that of the interminable tumbleweeds that blew across the face of the land.

He would never willingly give up on his heritage, a heritage that he still embraced because while he might not ever be fully Indian or fully White; although he had long since resolved that the two halves should never have to be at war with one another.

The outside world might see it that way but to his way of thinking it made no sense whatsoever. In the back of his mind he thought, 'Why should they be? I made the decision long ago that I will never be ashamed of either who or what I am and there is certainly no reason to start now.'

He turned his attention back to Josiah and tapped him gently on the shoulder, his friend blinked and then seemed to return from whatever place his mind had been and offered his friend a confident and reassuring grin.

After a moment or two, Chavez returned the grin, realizing in that moment how grateful he was for the friends he had made since agreeing to come aboard as one of John Tunstall's ranch hands.

Their milling herd of cattle were occupied in snorting and stomping and munching on the forage they could muster as they waited to be prodded into movement once more.

"We should get going, the sun is almost at the tree-line and we don't want to be late," Chavez said.

"I agree," replied Dick Brewster.

"We don't want to be late and we still have several heads of cattle to get in before dark," Chavez agreed.

"You'll get no argument from me," Josiah remarked, now apparently returned from whatever distant place in his own mind that he had been visiting.

Chavez stole one last long appraising look at his friend and then, seemingly satisfied with what he saw, shrugged his own supple shoulders and kicked his own mount into motion as well.

"Then let's get while the getting's good," exclaimed Dick and with that began to yell and cajole the cattle back into line, weaving his own horse in and out of the herd and slapping the flanks of the most relcatraint animals with the cattle prod that he carried with him for that purpose. The milling herd, now pointed in the right direction began to move and then got moving once more.

Later that evening, with the majority of the daily chores had been completed and the others had settled in to enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation, Chavez was still out putting some last minute touches on a new paddock.

When Josiah went to look for him, he found him huddled at the side of the pen with his left hand clutched in his right, applying pressure with his could hand as best he could with his uninjured hand under the circumstances in the fading light.

It had gotten quite late, and the moon, a bare silver of itself this late in the spring was hidden behind a bank of scudding clouds, which made it even more difficult to determine the extent of the injury.

However, Josiah realized that the bright red that seeped out from between Chavez's upturned and tightly clenched hands, was both difficult to miss or mistake it for what it was.

"What happened?"

"I missed a step," Chavez," remarked in his laconic fashion and seeing that was not going to be enough of an explanation went on to say, "It was getting dark but I wanted to finish putting in the palings of the new fencing before bed tonight, but I slipped and cut my hand."

"We need to get you inside and have that looked at immediately," Josiah said. "Come on, let me help you up."

"It looks worse than it feels," Chavez remarked even as Josiah levered him up off the ground and he leaned on him as they made their way back to the front door of the ranch house and inside.

The other regulators, not yet abed were occupied playing a game of gin rummy and looked up as they staggered in. "Where's the first aid kit? He's cut his hand on a loose paling in the new stockade."

"Near the mud room," Dick replied.

The newest and youngest member of the regulators seemed primed to offer a few barbed remarks of his own. 'The kid's got a mouth on him, and often seems to have nothing but a kind of barely constrained nervous energy about him at all times, that we might have to leash in should it get out of control, but I the way I figure he's got a lot more to him than that.'

"Need a hand?" Billy asked in a low, lazy drawl, allowing the fan of the cards to flutter to the top of the table where they'd been playing and spring up to a standing position, all the while taking a surreptious glance at the hands of the other players.

He did not look at it as strictly cheating or that he simply could not help but look or that he did not know any better, but to his way of thinking the more someone told him no, or that it was something that people did not do because it was against the rules or what have you; the more he felt that he had to do it.

It was probably the most telling trait of his volatile personality, but he meant well, that was the important thing, right? And for what it was worth he had found in this place and these people something stable and secure that he had never even known he'd needed; and he had vowed he would stand by them come hell, high water and back, no matter what.

Josiah nodded and said. "I've got it covered, thanks all the same. You guys can go back to your game, in fact, once were done we might even join you."

"When you've finished come on back and we'll deal you in, "offered Dick with an encouraging smile.

"Right then," Josiah replied.

He went out of the front living room and took Chavez around back to the mud room and sat him down on a stool while he went to look for the promise first aid kit. Finding it up on a high shelf near the back door he opened it and began to apply iodine and gauze and to Chavez's injury.

The gash was deep but not a long one and his customarily stoic friend did not wince more than once as he worked on it.

"Thanks," Chavez replied, balling his hand into a fist and testing it for flexibility and ease of movement, reassured on that score because while the injury was not as severe as he had feared it would be, it was his dominant hand and he did not want to become a liability to the others if he could help it.

"How does it feel?"

"Better, but stiff, but I figure that's only temporary."

"Well, that's reassuring, because you really had me worried there for a moment."

Chavez tilted his head up and regarded his friend for a moment or two with a quizzical expression on his face, and then added. "You worry too much."

"I guess I do, at that," Josiah replied. "Let's go back and see if that offer to play is still on the table."

Dick reshuffled the cards three times and then shoved them over to Chavez on his left hand side to cut and then took the resulting stack and began to deal the cards making a snicking sound on the wooden table.

They began to play and for a good while or so nothing untoward happened but Dick who was more a stickler for adhering to the rules than the others noticed that Billy, never able to sit still for long stretches of time, was fidgeting, his eyes seeming to travel from one player to the next as if memorizing their hands and their body language, and frankly, it was getting on his last nerve.

"You cheat, Billy," Dick finally remarked in an off-hand casual manner.

"I do not," Billy griped. Sometimes he felt that everyone was out to get him, as a matter of course, even people that he considered his best friends.

He did not much like the feeling because it made him doubt his own mind, and the sincerity of the others who made him feel that way. And whenever he got up like that the fine blond hairs on the back of his neck would stand up on end like the bristles on a boar, and he would get all flushed in the face and his hands would spasmodically clench and unclench at his sands.

Whenever that happened he felt like the only way to relieve the tension was to break something or hit something, whichever came first. "You take that back!" he yelled.

Dick shrugged and added, "You do, and the evidence is sliding out of your sleeve even as we speak."

"Okay, okay, you caught me," Billy griped as he allowed the incriminating ace of spades to slide out of the billowing sleeve of his loose long-sleeved shirt. He removed it and held it up to the light of the lamps turning it over and over in his slender but strong fingers as if to examine it from every possible angle, surprised as anyone as it had gotten in there in the first place.

"Is this a common occurrence?" Chavez asked.

"I should not have to be, "Dick replied, if a certain party who shall remain nameless agrees to fess up to it."

"Okay, okay! Sheesh, you'd think I'd kicked your puppy or something, "Billy remarked with and then flashed everyone seated around the table one of his trade-marked dazzling and confident devil-may-care grins.

Then throw the ace of spades at Dick who caught it between the middle fingers of his right hand and shoved it back into the draw pile.

Josiah smiled and said: "No, of course not, but maybe we should reshuffle all the cards and start fresh, that way it'll be a fair game."

"We do that, and we'll be here all night," Dick replied with a gaping yawn, and it's decent of you to offer because I am seriously tapped out, but with your luck you'll just win anyway, cheating or no cheating."

Grinned thought that over for a moment and then realized that in his own unique fashion Dick was offering him a compliment. "Yeah, okay then. Have it your way."

Just then John Tunstall came into the room having heard what he heard at a remove from his office where he had been working on finishing up a stack of paperwork and was about to retire for the evening. "Is everything all right here, gentlemen?" he asked.

"Yes, Sir," Josiah answered, "Just a bit of disagreement over the rules of the game, but it's fine now."

"Well, then, I shall bid you all a good evening then, but I would suggest that you finish up soon for we have an early start tomorrow morning."

"We'll do, that," Billy added. "Goodnight, Sir."

"Good evening, boys," Tunstall offered and turned around and headed up the stairs to the second floor of the ranch house and to his bedroom.

Interlude

At this time the dominating force in the county was the L.G. Murphy & Dolan Co. and just in time too, because tensions were building between the Company and their new competition, John Tunstall.

Both Dolan and Tunstall had one objective, to form a monopoly in Lincoln County. But the Murphy & Dolan Co. had already established their enterprise, and they had the Santa Fe Ring, the county sheriff and now the "Boys" backing them up.

In 1877 before the outbreak of the Dolan & Tunstall feud, Murphy became ill and went into a hospital in Santa Fe and would die of cancer a year later. This of course discredits the common belief that Murphy was the antagonist in the war against the Englishman, but in reality he was in a hospital bed dying. Instead it was Murphy's protégé, James Dolan, who took his place and became head of the faction.

A native of Ireland, Dolan was a feisty young businessman and wouldn't tolerate anything getting in his way and most wouldn't dare to do so -but one man did. His name was John Tunstall, he was a young cocky newcomer who had a get-rich-quick scheme and believed he had the sophistication and brains to outwit these Westerners.

"Everything in New Mexico that pays at all (you may say) is worked by a 'ring' there is the 'indian ring' 'the army ring' 'the political ring' 'the legal ring' 'the Roman Catholic ring' 'the cattle ring' 'the horse thieves ring' and half a dozen rings. It is necessary either to get into a ring or make one for yourself. I am at present at work making a ring."

"I propose to confine my operations to Lincoln County, but I intend to handle it in such a way, as to get half of every dollar that is made in the county by anyone."

Tunstall was not exactly an honest man struggling to start his own business in a corrupt town, but he too was as greedy as Dolan and wanted to form a monopoly; it was only the difference between who was going to outdo one another.

So with his father's money and taking on attorney Alex McSween as a partner, Tunstall started his own ranch, opened a town store, and quickly became a thorn in Dolan's side.

Tunstall knew he was shaking a hornet's nest, because he built his store like a fort and hired gunmen as ranch employees, so he was expecting trouble, but he believed the law would protect him.

A few days later Tunstall had made good on his promise of a reward for all of their hard work and had taken them into town for a social mixer being held and had urged them all to be on their best behavior.

Apparently, it was also an unwritten rule that the men could carry their guns on their persons at all times but they had to be checked at the entrance and with the safeties on; and that whatever long-standing grudges or feuds or what not stood by men of any number of alliances had to be set aside for the duration of the gatherings.

Joisah recalled Billy snorting at that last bit of instruction but had chocked it up to his friend's rather volatile personality and sheer penchant for perversity. Billy had always struck him as the type who whenever he was told not to do something did the exact opposite and vice versa.

Josiah shoved the meandering thought to a back corner of his mind and scanned the faces of the milling and mixing crowd as it eddied and flowed along currents too subtle for him to pick up on.

He was looking for a certain red-head with a spread of freckles across the bridge of her nose, hoping against hope that she would be there.

The only other time he'd been to a dance in town he had happened upon a girl named Olivia Dunning; and they had shared a brief slow dance together and an abbreviated talk, but she had made a definite impression on him; and he would like to see her once more.

The coordinator of the dance had separated the milling crowds of young girls and boys into two halves, facing each other across the expanse of the dance hall, shuffling and fidgeting in place with the kind of awkwardness that only comes with adolescent, then the music began to play, a swelling upbeat from the band that had been situated against the far wall.

It was just when he was about to give up and determine that Olivia had not come after all, that he caught the sight of bright green eyes studying him from behind the flimsy shield of lacy blue and white hand-fan and a look in those green eyes that said she had also been watching him for some time.

Dick caught him scanning the girl's faces and gave him a quick apprising glance and a good-humored nudge in the ribs. "Don't get your hopes up, bro," he said. "You know how girls can be, they love to play the come hither, go away game and it's been my experience that they know exactly how to tug on your heart-strings."

"You don't know her like I do."

Dick shrugged. "How long have you known this girl?"

"For about two hours, but I am hoping to remedy that, tonight."

"What are you talking about?" Billy interrupted.

"Josiah has a crush on a girl he's only known for two hours," Dick replied.

"Oh, then I say, go for it," Billy said with a grin and an encouraging nod. "I think you should make the first move."

Josiah nodded and squaring his shoulders and with sucking in a deep breath crossed the dance floor and "Hello, Olivia, remember me?"

"Well, hell there, yourself, Josiah Scurlock. I do, indeed, and here I was thinking that you'd never come over and greet me right proper like," said Olivia with a coy fluttering of her reddish eyelashes and fluttering of her hand fan, which she snapped close and pocketed.

"May I have this dance?" he asked.

"I would be honored," she replied.

They walked out to the center of the dance floor, her elbow entwined in his and they began to move in tandem to the rhythm of the music as it rose and feel in intermittent swoops and dives, and in between he looked for a conversational opening, uncertain, after several months had passed exactly what to say to a girl from one of the powerful and influential families in the New Mexico Territory.

"I, I," he stuttered. "I've been busy. You see, I work for Mr. John Tunstall on his cattle ranch and I'm one of his Regulators."

"Do tell," Olivia said. "What exactly does a regulator do," she asked this time with an honest note of interest in her voice.

"We keep the peace and security on Mr. Tunstall's property and whenever we're out and about on a cattle drive across country we make sure that none of his property goes missing."

"May I tell you a secret, Josiah," Olivia asked in a hushed undertone.

"Of course," he replied.

She smiled and tilting her head up and stretching a bit because of the difference in their respective heights she suddenly planted a warm and lingering kiss on his lips.

His reaction was a mixture of something between surprise and pleasure and he found himself looking for something to do with his hands as he began to shuffle his booted feet on the hard wood dance floor.

Olivia smiled. "I've been wanting to do that since we first met."

"Not that I'm complaining," he said, this time with a much more confident smile than his earlier awkward and nervous one from a few moments earlier, "but why did you do that?"

"Because I wanted to, because I think you're the only one around here who would really listen to my rambling thoughts, and because I think you're really cute," she replied.

"There have been times, since my family and I came out here that I've wanted to be less of a spectator and more of a participant in the affairs of this part of the country," Olivia replied.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, that just because I'm a girl, no one can bring themselves to believe that I can have a thought in this pretty little head of mine," she griped with a pretty but petulant slant to her mouth.

"You said it yourself, that part of your job as a Regulator is too keep an eye out for unscrupulous types that would otherwise steal or harm your employer's property, yes?"

"Yes, but I doubt that he's told you much about the details of the alliances and feuds that go on all the time around here."

"I don't understand," he replied. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I think you should know, and because, as corny as it might sound, I think I love you, and I think I have since the moment we first met," Olivia sighed and because if what my father and I have discovered about the Murphy's and their allies, something terrible is about to go down tonight and I don't want anything terrible to happen to you, or your friends."

Josiah titled his head back and thought over everything that she had told him and everything that had been left unsaid and realized that he'd been right about this girl, she was special, so much more so than even had believed. He wrapped his arms around her and held her in a tight embrace bending down to kiss her on the lips not caring in the least at the moment that people were staring at them.

"Thank you, Olivia, for everything," he whispered.

"No, thank you," she replied. "Just promise me that you will be careful and always stay true to yourself," she added.

"I promise," he whispered in return.

Meanwhile, the others had more or less gone off on their own, more by unspoken agreement than by design with the understanding that they would meet up later in the evening after the evening had begun to wind down.

Dick was busy courting a trio of young ladies at a table in the corner with varying degrees of success, and who waved him on as he passed by. The girls seemed to be a mixed bunch, one with such fair hair of such a white blond shade that in the flickering light of the gas lamps it appeared to be almost platinum.

The one who sat on her left had hair that as black as a crow's wing and her wide up-titled eyes in a dusky face hinted at a foreign ancestry. Dick had his arm wrapped around the girl seated at his right with brown eyes that were artfully hidden behind the lacy hand-fan that she waved as much to stave the heat of the day as for effect.

She also giggled quite a lot, a girlish behavior that Dick did not mind at all, and just thought it was a characteristic common to the fairer sex.

He let them carry the conversation for the most part; getting the latest news of dress and hair fashions that had been trickling in from the East and, interjecting a word or two of his edge whenever there seemed to be a conversational opening.

It suddenly occurred to him, that, as the oldest among Tunstall's hired hands and as an eligible young bachelor, that hopefully none of these lovely young ladies would believe that the attention that he was paying to them meant that they thought something more would come of it.

Dick momentarily lost the thread of one of the girl's remarks when Billy passed by his table in a loose-limbed determined stride that was so characteristic of him and waved a greeting in acknowledgement. Billy returned the wave and continued on his way.

From across the dance floor he had marked and noted the presence of a group of young men from the surrounding towns and area who were more less good-naturedly shoving and elbowing and laughing at each other's rough jests when Billy ambled over to them adopting a lazy desultory posture and a winning smile on his face.

"Mind if I join you?" he asked.

"Effing off with you," the biggest and meanest looking of the group muttered.

"Now, now," Billy remarked, spreading his hands out in a dumb show of harmlessness, "Is that any way to act a social gathering?"

"I really don't give a damn what..." he began to say but was interrupted by a not too subtle elbow in his ribs by one of the other boys, with a cooler head and a better sense that their conversation had attracted eye-tracks. Eventually the couple passed on by and the conversation picked up once more.

"Oh, I just thought we might hang out a bit, get to know each other," drawled Billy.

"Maybe I don't want to get acquainted with you," shouted the older bigger boy.

At this point Billy realized that he had not gone into this meeting by chance or the seeing it as an opportunity to widen his social circle; he'd actually gone out of his way to force a confrontation.

It had been a while since he and his friends had clashed with the thugs that comprised the enforcers for the Santa Fe ring, and while their boss had been very careful not to mention his growing frustration and difficulties with the ring in front of the boys; he knew it was becoming more and more difficult for the older man.

He also was aware in a back corner of his mind that he really should not be doing this, it would be akin to continually poking a long stick into a hornet's nest agitating an already tense situation; but he felt as taut as a drawn bow, itching for action, and he wanted to fight; and so did they, all they needed was one wrong move in order to push them over the edge; and he would have the fight he'd been spoiling for after so long.

"Well," he said, I guess what we have here is a failure to communicate..."" he deliberately trailed off and let the awkward silence drag out for a heartbeat or two.

"Are you gonna let him talk to you that way, Roger?" another boy asked.

Another chose that moment to add. "Can't you see that he's just trying to provoke you. Let's get out of here, and be rid of the effing big mouth."

"Are you calling me stupid?" the boy addressed as Roger demanded.

"Hey, if the shoe fits," Billy replied with a supple shrug of his slender but strong shoulders.

"I'm not stupid," Roger continued but this time in a quieter and more subdued tone of voice than a few moments earlier, as if even in his own mind, he doubted his own words.

He was also the type that was more accustomed to following orders and never deviating or questioning them.

When the time came that he got to boss others around, he could usually get his way by using his size and strength to intimidate.

Roger did not like having to think too hard or have to handle more than one thing at once; it made him uncomfortable and when he got like that, he got mad.

Roger's face turned beet read and he growled low in his throat before he lashed out with a clenched fist and slugged the younger over-confident younger boy in the mouth, watching with satisfaction as the blow connected and snapped Billy's head back.

Billy quickly recovered, and with an inarticulate snarl, and all the while with a pleasant grin that showed all of his even white teeth, punched the bigger boy right in the mouth.

He was rewarded a few moments later, watching with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension, Roger swaying back and forth like a pendulum for a few heart-breaking seconds, and who then toppled over like a felled tree.

Even as he watched, the skinny fellow who had only earlier spoken up about not getting out before any trouble was in the offing began to drub him with a few rabbit-like punches, while the skinny fellow verbally egged him on.

Billy followed suit, his mind only following the course of the fight as it flowed from one moment to the next and he felt himself becoming like water, flowing and everywhere all at once, slipping and sliding out his opponents grasp as fluid as if they were not even there.

However, his luck could not hold out forever, for one thing he was out-numbered at least three to one and eventually he'd go down, but even as these thoughts passed through his head, they disappeared as quickly as water from a split and broken canteen.

Meanwhile, Josiah and Dick and Chavez, who had felt it prudent to remain at the fringes of the gathering, had met up with each other when the noise of the growing altercation attracted their attention; and they were not the only ones.

"We'd best put a stop to this, quick like," remarked Dick with a reproving shake of his head.

Josiah nodded and heaved a heavy sigh. "Why is it that I am not at all surprised by this development?"

"Because it's Billy?" Dick said, and given the tone of his voice it was not a question but a statement.

"How much do you want to bet that he provoked the fight?" Josiah asked.

"Not enough to make it worth my while," replied Dick.

"Then let's get this over with," Josiah replied as they wove their way through the crowd, realizing even as they reached the fight that they were not the only ones whose attention had been drawn to the brawl.

The older and cooler heads had begun by verbally remonstrating with the participants to bring it to a halt and after a moment or two as the realization sunk in that none of the boys were listening or even aware that anyone else were listening to them; figured that more drastic matters were in order.

Dick , Chavez and Josiah waded into the fray, taking an elbow or two in the ribs as they did so, grabbed their friend by the shoulders and tugged him out of the fight, all the while urging him to 'snap out of it," as loud as they could. He fought their efforts every step of the way, but they were determined to get out of there as fast as possible.

Billy continually kicked out like an angry and spooked mule and ferocious stubbornness, apparently oblivious to anything else around him with the single-minded determination to get back into the fight; but they hung on and finally pulled him into a relative clear spot, away from the curious crowd of spectators.

In the distance, they could hear a voice of man that they recognized as James Dolan conversing with their boss, and occupied as they were with a struggling and swearing William H. Bonney, could only catch about three words in ten; about how if he were a better judge of character that something like this would never have happened and that was why he was held in such high regard by Murphy and Sons and the Santa Fe ring.

Tunstall's response to that what, "I am managing his own interests, just fine, thank you. And they then overheard him say something that sounded much like, "Boys will be boys."

Whatever response Dolan might have made in return was drowned out in the noise of the crowd and having to concentrate in dragging their friend away by main force.

Conclusion

To say that John Tunstall was furious would have been an understatement; he was livid. A vein high in the dome of his forehead began to pule. However, he was too much the gentleman to allow that anger to show as they rode out of town.

As the dust of the road puffed up in their tracks, none of their company wanted to look back.\

He rode with his back ramrod straight in the saddle and with his lips tightly pressed together, and his hands clasped around the saddle horn white-knuckled.

The boys, who rode along in his wake were just as nervous, Chavez remarked that he could not recall the man ever that angry before and that for his part he did not dread any harsh words that the man might have to offer over what had happened at the dance.

"Well, good for you," Billy muttered, "You're not the one he's mad at."

"That's the problem, Billy, what possessed you to pick a fight with the Murphy boys, of all people," Dick demanded as loudly as he dared.

Billy shrugged and replied, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"You've gotta be effing kidding me!" Dick exclaimed.

At that Tunstall turned his head and regarded them with a steady apprising look in his brown eyes, his brow furrowed in thoughtful lines. "It was a simple order, to maintain decorum at a social gathering. What that too much for you to manage, William?"

Billy squirmed in his saddle and seemed for a moment rather preoccupied in finding somewhere, anywhere for his eyes to rest upon other than maintaining eye contact with the older man.

His mobile features shifted from angry to chagrined and back with the swiftness of a ticking pendulum before he glanced up and locked gazes. "If you want me to say that I'm sorry, you're gonna have a long wait!"

"This insubordination will not be tolerated; do I make myself perfectly clear, young man?" barked Tunstall.

"Crystal, sir," replied Billy quietly, realizing even without being able to fully articulate why it was so, but he did and maybe he would not have backed down so quickly had it been anyone else but he respected and admired Tunstall and that since he'd come under the man's authority and guidance, he come a long way from the brash and head-strong homeless thug that had come out to the New Mexico territory as just another faceless hired gun in an outlaw gang.

It also sank in like a lead bullet penetrating into one's stomach that now his actions reflected on each and every one of his friends and his boss. "I'm sorry, Sir. I won't happen again."

"It had better not, but if it does, try to pick a location that isn't so….public."

The expression on the younger's face was one of mingled shock and surprise, more so because it was not at all what he had expected.

"Why? Billy managed at last.

"Because I would rather not become too predictable, and also, II figured that by doing so you might learn a thing or two about how there is such a thing as a time and place for picking fights."

"I still don't quite understand," replied Billy.

"You will, eventually, if I have anything to do with it. Although, under the circumstances I suppose it comes as some relief that no one got hurt, so there is that."

"I think that little weasel bruised a rib or two," remarked Billy in an off-hand manner, wondering if he was through the worst of it and was about to heave a sigh of relief when Tunstall pinned him with another level gaze.

"But don't think for a moment that any of you are getting off easy, because you are not." He paused and then tilted his head to one side as if thinking matters over before he continued, "Because you are not. I hold each of you responsible for each other's actions. You will work extra hours on the ranch to make up for this, do you understand me?"

There was a general of an unspoken consensus that travelled around the half-circle of riders before they said almost in unison, "Yes, Sir!"

"Good, then I'm glad that we understand one another." With that Tunstall rode on ahead but the guarded look in his seat in the saddle was gone as was the tight-lipped look in his eyes and tautness of his hands around his saddle pommel. In fact, both Dick and Josiah could have sworn that he was actually trying not to shake, from laughter.

The young men rode in companionable silence for some time, one which none felt inclined to break until they rounded a bend and rode down a low grade into the dip in the land where the ranch house had been built and finally Josiah elbowed Billy in the ribs and muttered. "Nice shiner, by the way," he smirked.

"Gee, thanks," Billy snorted. His horse shifted nervously beneath him and whinnied, snaking its head around to regard his rider with a questioning look in its liquid brown eyes. Billy drew back on the reins and drummed his fingers on the saddle pommel. The horse turned its head back around with a snort.

"You do realize, that most people commonly emerge from a brawl with just one, "added Chavez. "Only you would have to have two to show for your bone-headed efforts."

"They were not entirely bone-headed, Chavez," argued Billy, but his heart was not in it, and they all knew it. "Okay, not completely," he added as an afterthought, " I really did have a plan when I went into it, Honest. But somehow it got lost somewhere along the way. And since when are you an expert in brawls?"

"I'm not, I am just a keen observer of events," Chavez calmly replied.

A moment or two later, Billy lifted his right arm up in order to vigorously rub the skin around the sore and discolored skin around his eyes and squinted up at the sprinkling of late evening stars that dotted the dome of the sky overhead, trying with a moderate amount of success to stave off an oncoming head-ache.

"Not entirely," agreed Chavez, but give us some kind of advance warning before you ever do something like this again."

"I second that," Josiah remarked.

"I third that," Dick added, not to be outdone.

"Then I guess it unanimous, then, " agreed Billy with a broad but heart-felt grin plastered onto the features of his mobile face, only partially succeeding in keeping the laughter from bursting out of him like water from a burst dam. He extended a hand to each of his friends and then sealed the promise with a firm hand shake.