Disclaimer: The characters are from my imagination, but are based on our favorite Warrior Princess and Battling Bard. J

Content Warning: There's a little bit of hurt/comfort in this chapter. A lot more of that later on as well.

Note: Sorry for the lack of updates. Real life got in the way, and I had a writer's block for a while.

Acknowledgement: I want to thank my Beta reader, Pam.

Comments: You can send comments to my email. hip2square@yahoo.com Thanks!

Copyright August 2004: R. A. Hughes

~*~

April 15-continued

The young group was putting the final additions to the fence. They worked long after dinnertime. The fence was in a shape of a large circle, so there was enough room for the cattle to walk.

Elena was holding the last split log, while Tom nailed it into place. The log crossed between two other logs that was imbedded into the ground. The gate had a string that looped over the other log to keep the cattle from getting out.

They herded the cattle inside. Together they stood back to appraise the new sturdy fence and decided it was a job well done. Breaking the silence, a rumbling came from Elizabeth's direction.

Elena looked at her with lifted eyebrows.

Frank elbowed Tom on the arm. "It seems that we missed dinner," he teased.

Everyone snickered, except Elena. She just smiled softly. She took pity on her especially when Elizabeth's face turned a beet red and looked like she wanted to hide. She draped her arm around her shoulders. "Don't pay attention to them. They're just teasing," she said.

"You're not?" Elizabeth asked.

Elena tweaked her nose. "Alright, boys. Let's cook dinner before the little sprite starves to death."

The boys laughed as they ran to the cabin.

Elizabeth poked her in the ribs. "You're making fun of me," she pouted.

"I would never make fun of you, Elizabeth," Elena said.

Elizabeth saw nothing but truth in those blue eyes. "I believe you," she said.

"Last one inside the cabin is a rotten egg," Elena whispered in Elizabeth's ear. When she sprinted away, she looked back at her and sneered.

"That's not fair! I can't run in these pants," Elizabeth exclaimed. Holding up her pants, she ran after her long legged friend.

Elena laughed heartily at Elizabeth. It was amusing to see the little blonde try to keep her pants from falling down while running.

Because of her lightweight frame, Elizabeth was able to catch up with her. Laughing together, they both made it inside the cabin. They shared a hug, and then began cooking their late dinner.

~*~

James' eyes fluttered open as he came to, and grimaced at the excruciating pain in his shoulder. He slowly sat up, untying the bandanna from around his neck. Using his left hand, he unbuttoned his shirt. He placed the bandanna over the exit wound, applying as much pressure he could handle. When he stood up, he leaned against the horse to steady himself. He used all the strength he had left to climb onto the saddle. Steering his horse around, he trotted back to town.

~*~

Back at the cabin, Elena was sitting across a small table in the living room. She smiled as she watched Elizabeth win another game of gin against the boys.

After dinner, Tom had invited Elizabeth to play the card game, but she informed him that she wasn't familiar with the game. Therefore, he took the time to teach her.

Elizabeth smiled broadly when she won the fifth hand. The boys threw in their cards. It was a good thing that Tom didn't teach her poker, or she would have won everything.

"How can she win every time after not knowing how to play in the first place?" Frank asked.

"Luck is a lady," Pedro said.

At that moment, Carlos entered the room carrying his rifle. He placed the rifle on the pegs above the doorway.

"Where did you go, Carlos?" Elena asked.

"Hunting," he replied. He sat down in a chair on the other side of the room.

Instinctually, Elena knew that something was wrong. It was unlike Carlos to return empty handed after hunting. "We built the fence today," Elena said, changing the subject.

"Good. We will be leaving for Mexico in a couple days. Make sure you have everything ready," he said.

"Is Elizabeth going with us?" Elena asked.

"Yes! Do you think I'm going to leave her here?" he said gruffly.

Elena looked away because it was pointless to argue with Carlos, especially when his mind was made up. She looked over at Elizabeth, who was idly shuffling the card deck. She's being so brave, she thought

Elizabeth was being brave, even though she had to swallow the lump that formed in her throat. She wanted to go home now more than ever. Going to Mexico would lessen the chance of that ever happening. She wondered if her father was looking for her.

~*~

San Antonio

James was barely conscious when he neared the jail.

One of the deputies noticed James' condition. He jumped up from his chair from outside the door, and ran inside to notify the sheriff.

Sheriff Grant and the deputy ran outside. Together they carefully removed James from on top of the horse. "Get the buckboard wagon. We need to send him to the doctor, fast," the sheriff commanded.

The deputy jumped onto James's horse, and galloped away. A few minutes later, he returned with the buckboard wagon hitched to the horse. With help from the sheriff, he loaded James into the wagon.

The sheriff tried to make James as comfortable as he could, to keep the short journey to the doctor from jostling him too much. "What happened out there, James?" he asked.

James couldn't answer because he was back to the land of unconsciousness.

~*~

The cabin was uncomfortably quiet for the rest of the day. It's amazing how the mood changed when Carlos was around. Gone was the teasing banter between the young group. The boys decided to prepare for the trip to Mexico.

Elena decided to do the same. She walked inside the stable, grabbing the saddlebag from the pegs.

Elizabeth followed her. So many emotions were brewing inside her. She walked over to Sunshine's stall, and started petting the horse's neck.

Elena folded some of her clothes into the saddlebags. "I'm sorry you don't have anything to take with you, except for the clothes I've given you."

Elizabeth shrugged a shoulder. "It's okay."

"I guess we could ride double," Elena said.

"It doesn't matter to me," said Elizabeth.

Elena was concerned with Elizabeth, but she didn't want to prod her friend into telling her what was wrong. She unrolled the horse blanket, and draped it over the stall to air it out.

Elizabeth couldn't hold back the tears any longer. Wrapping her arms around Sunshine's neck, she sobbed into the soft mane.

Elena dropped the saddle she was carrying, and rushed to her side. Turning her around, Elena pulled Elizabeth into her arms.

The tables were turned between the two friends. The first to give comfort was now receiving it without hesitation.

Elizabeth wrapped her arms tightly around Elena's waist, and continued sobbing onto her flannel shirt.

Elena rubbed her back in soothing circular motions. She was unfamiliar with giving comfort, but it felt so natural. When her crying subsided, Elena lifted her chin with a finger. An emotional storm was brewing within the green orbs. "What's wrong?" she asked softly.

Elizabeth sniffed and wiped away her tears. "I want to go home. I miss my father," she answered. She mentally kicked herself for sounding like a whiny child.

Absent-mindedly, Elena lightly kissed her forehead. "I'll find a way to get you back home."

Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I don't want you to take that risk."

Elena fought with herself. She knew that Elizabeth should be with her father. Sighing heavily, she nodded her head. "Okay, I won't try to play hero."

Elizabeth hugged her. "Thank you," she said gratefully.

"Now, are you excited about going to Mexico?" Elena asked.

"A little bit," Elizabeth answered.

"I think you'll like it. There is someone special there I would like for you to meet," Elena smiled at her before picking up the saddle again.

"Do you have family there?" Elizabeth asked.

"Yes. I have an aunt, uncle, and a few cousins there," Elena replied.

"I would like to meet then," Elizabeth said.

Elena smiled broadly. "Good. Let's do some packing."

~*~

Bill stood outside, waiting for the doctor to inform him of James' condition. He saw the doctor walk out of the room that he used to examine patients. "How is he?"

"It could have been worse. Fortunately, the bullet went through his shoulder. I didn't have to dig around for it. The bullet shattered the shoulder bone though. He has a lot of mending to do," answered the doctor.

"He's not going to be happy about that. As soon as he wakes up he's going to go back out there," Bill said.

"I'd advice that he didn't."

"Try telling him that. It's like talking to a brick wall," Bill said, annoyed.

"Maybe because of this he will finally come to his senses."

Bill shook the doctor's hand. "I hope so, doc. I really hope so."

TBC

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