Then You Are One Of Us

by Farad
Notes: Adapted for the WEC challenge for February of 2009, "Choice 1: The Bloody Valentine - one of the boys has to bleed." Special thanks to Sprite, Mardi, Stan, Artisan, and the wonderful people at WEC for the beta work and excellent suggestions and ideas on the history and details.
Warnings: history, politics, The American Civil War

This is a missing scene from "Ghosts of the Confederacy". There was a discussion recently about how the series only touches lightly on the chaotic time that was the Civil War and Reconstruction, a very turbulent time in American history and one that would have affected at least six of the seven (JD was probably too young to have been involved, but the others could have been, especially Ezra and Vin, as they were in Confederate states; Nathan is the only one of the seven canonically who states he was involved in the war, as a 'stretcher-bearer for the Union Army', early on in "Ghosts of the Confederacy".) This a vague attempt to discuss where the boys might have been in the war.


Cut me down.


My father told us they hired white men to protect our village.


Cut me down, now.


They sent us here because these men cannot be trusted.


That was probably real smart of them.


You were a slave?


A long time ago.


Then you are one of us. Many runaways sought refuge with our tribe. Now we are one people.


Now we going to cut me down?


You are strong. You have a woman?


No, ma'am.


Opa Locka is looking for a husband.

( giggling softly )


That's real sweet, ma'am, but, uh... Can y'all please cut me down here, please?

From the Blackraptor transcript of "Ghosts of the Confederacy"

They gathered around one of the fires, drinking liquor from a bottle that wasn't new but never seemed to get low or to empty, despite the attempts that Chris, Josiah, and Buck made to kill it off. Josiah and Buck had valid reason; like Corcoran, they were stretched out on pallets near the fire and within easy reach of water, extra blankets, and several mugs of willow bark tea that Nathan had brewed up for them. In the long term, it would work better than the liquor, but it wouldn't put them to sleep the same way.

After the day they'd all had, shot at, captured, threatened with death by cannon, fighting to take out Anderson himself, and then worried about their own wounded, they were all exhausted and relieved, especially when Nathan finished the last stitch to Buck's chest and pronounced him out of death's door as long as he rested for a while. He'd been covered in blood, most of it Buck's at that point, and it had taken him a very long time to get it off his hands. Buck's skin, under and around the bandage, was still tinged red, and Nathan kept checking to make certain it wasn't infection. Buck kept complaining that he'd appreciate it a lot more if Nathan was wearing a skirt, which always seemed to make the people around them laugh, and after the way today had gone, Nathan had decided that was a good thing.

Francis - as he'd told Nathan to call him during their time together in the improvised clinic Nathan had set up - was in better shape than Buck, but by the time Nathan got to him, he'd lost enough blood to make Nathan keep a close eye on him. Josiah had already had a leg shot, which he had ignored, until he, too, had lost more blood than he needed to, and now he had the bullet that had grazed his ribs as he protected Buck. Nathan was watching him, too, glad to have all three of them close together, and in the company of the other men who had come with them to fight, Chris, Vin, Ezra, and JD. The villagers also needed care, some of them badly wounded, and Nathan had done what he could for them, too.

It was well into dark when he settled down by the fire, taking his turn with the never-ending bottle and eating a bowl of the thick stew several of the women had managed to put together out of the stores that the Ghosts hadn't taken. Tastanagi wandered over and sat with them from time to time, as did others of the village, but they had their own fires, too, ones where people gathered to mourn the losses of kin and friends, where they tended their own injured and cried for their own lost homes and loved ones.

"He keeps that for when white men visit," Rain said, looking at the bottle as she settled in beside Nathan.

"There are several boxes of bottles in his home. It's a good way to keep uninvited guests happy and to distract them from taking things that are not theirs to take." She tried to smile, but in the firelight he could see the glimmer of tears of her cheeks. One of the fires was lit in honor of her father, the people around mourning his loss, and Nathan felt a spike of guilt that he was here, feeling relieved, while she was grieving.

"Why didn't he try it this time?" JD asked from where he was leaning against a boulder. Beside him, Nathan saw Vin smile and in between JD and Vin, Chris shook his head.

"Take more than a saloon full of whiskey to distract that group of men," Josiah answered from across the fire. "Doubt that they have that much here, JD."

"Wouldn't have done any good, anyway," Francis said, his voice dry. "The Colonel didn't like for us to drink, not around women and children."

Nathan opened his mouth to comment about the Colonel's priorities, but Rain spoke first, her words still quiet but strong. "He shot a man, one of your men," she said, looking across the fire to Francis. "To protect me."

Nathan stiffened, knowing immediately what she was implying.

"Private Sanders," Francis said with a sigh. "The Colonel told me. Not much angers - angered him more than the men behaving like animals."

"You want to explain to me how blowing men to death with a cannon ain't the same thing?" Vin asked, stretching his legs toward the fire. He asked the question casually, his tone more curious than bitter, which surprised Nathan, given that Vin had been with them when they were all chained together, the big gun pointed at them, feet away, just waiting for the Colonel's order to fire. Even now, the memory of it made Nathan shiver; he'd been in too many battles in the War, seen the Red Mist hanging in the heavy, humid air after a canister of shot was discharged into an oncoming line of men. Times like that, he didn't care that the men attacking them were men who'd put him back in chains if they won; all he cared about were the screams of the wounded, the men who had lost a part of themselves, most slowly bleeding to death and no one alive able to save them from it or the pain that preceded it.

Francis glanced at Vin then looked into the fire. When he spoke, his words were slow, as if he were dredging them from deep deep down. "He hadn't done that in a long time, since - well, since The General surrendered."

"The General?" JD asked, his words slightly slurred.

"Lee," Ezra answered, his voice more somber than usual

"General Lee," Francis agreed with another sigh.

The fire seemed loud, but it was the sudden stillness in the men around it. Nathan felt Rain turn to look at them, to look at him, and from the corner of his eye, he saw the frown on her broad features. Without thinking, he reached to her, catching her hand and squeezing, even as the irony of it caught him: no matter which side of the war a man had fought on or supported, everyone respected the man who had led the Confederate troops. There was some talk that Lee had believed slavery to be the evil that it truly was. Nathan wasn't sure about that, and he was sure that the man had fought on the wrong side of the political issue. But he couldn't hate the General. Lee had fought hard, and he had tried to do what he could for his men. Nathan respected him, and from the look of it, every man here felt the same.

"So your little army has been roaming around the territory for over a decade?" Chris asked. He glanced at Nathan and pointed with his chin toward the bottle Nathan was still holding. Nathan lifted it to his lips but hesitated as Rain's hand, still in his, tugged. He slowly lowered the bottle, handing it off toward Josiah on his left and squeezing Rain's hand again. She looked at him and her lips twitched up into something that looked a little like a smile.

Francis started to shrug but stopped, his face catching in a grimace. When he answered, his tone was tight with pain - physical or emotional or both. "We were part of General Sibley's army, under his command at Glorieta Pass. Colonel Anderson - he was one of the best officers under General Lee, but after he was injured at Shiloh, he was sent West and we had the honor of serving under him. He was one of our leaders at Palmito Hill."

Chris drew on his cigar, the smell of it acrid in the cool air of the night. "Hard battle," he said, the burning tip moving as he spoke, reminding Nathan of the tip of a branding iron, or the end of a cauterizing iron. He'd seen way too many of those during the war, too many amputations and surgeries. "War was already over, wasn't it?"

Francis shifted, trying to find a comfortable position. "After the battle, we were ordered to surrender to the Union forces, but when we tried, they fired on us. We lost more men when we were trying to surrender than we did in that last battle. The Colonel kept us going, though. He broke us into smaller units, teaching us how to live off the land. He kept us alive. We owed him for that."

"That what kept you with him all these years?" Vin's voice was soft, and Nathan found himself watching the younger man. He seemed curious, easy, as if they were talking about the weather or which trees to cut to make the best fence.

Francis almost shrugged again but caught himself in time. "Didn't think I had much to go back to. We started home, several times - some of the men had families before the war, and over time, a lot of them left to find them. But most of us didn't, and the more we heard about what was happening at home, the less we thought we'd have to go back to." He shook his head then looked across the fire to Vin. "Are you going to tell me that all of you were born and lived out here, untouched by the war? You're wearing a cavalry hat and you don't sound like a Yankee - no offense intended. Most of you seem to be from other places."

Nathan looked around at the men he was riding with, the ones who he'd trusted his life to. His gaze caught on Ezra; he had no doubts about him. If the accent hadn't given it away, the attitude at the start - "Is he riding with you?", followed by a short refusal to join them because of Nathan - would have. But Ezra had still shown up the next morning, and despite his unwillingness to let Nathan help him, he'd been less hostile since Nathan had forced his shoulder back into place.

Now, Ezra looked back at Nathan, his face cast so that only his eyes were visible. When he spoke, his voice seemed to come from somewhere else, startling Nathan.

"I came West after the War," he said, his accent sounding stronger now, as if he were working for it. "I had the pleasure of serving with General Alexander as part of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, right up to General Lee's agreement with General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse." He said the word 'agreement' slowly, drawing out each syllable as if he were pulling the word from his deep inside.

For a few seconds, Nathan felt the burn of fury, a hatred for the man who sat across from him, a man who had fought to maintain the enslavement of his people, of himself, a man who even now refused to admit that he and the men who believed like him were wrong.

But as he struggled to find words, to even form them, Ezra went on, his voice languid, his face still in shadow. "I don't agree with all the reasons that we fought that war. But I do not believe that the methods used to win the war or the methods used afterwards to force reconciliation leave any room for moral superiority on the part of the victors."

The fury was strong, his stomach roiling with it, and he was again struggling for words, but his attention was caught by a pressure on his hand. He jerked, startled, to realize that Rain remained beside him, still holding on to him. But now, she was looking at him, her face turned down in a frown. She blinked, the question as clear as if she'd said it, and some of the fury dulled in the face of her concern.

"History's written by the winners," Josiah said solemnly and just slowly enough that Nathan knew he was working to form his words. "Never good to be on the losing side of anything, a war, a battle, an argument . . . " He shifted, grunting a little as he stretched his leg out.

"Spoken like someone who wasn't," Ezra answered dryly.

Josiah grunted again. "We all lost in that war, Ezra, even those of us fighting for the Union. I saw more men die - " He caught himself then said even more slowly, "I saw more of my friends die than I can replace in this life. I suspect that every man who fought and survived, no matter which side he was on, feels the same way." He lifted an arm, rubbing the back of it over his face, but he kept talking. The words were muffled but still clear enough. "I was with General Grant in Tennessee - through Shiloh and the siege of Chattanooga. I was the post chaplain - priest - for a thousand men or more. I'd hear confessions, prayers, talk to these men - these boys, some of them no older than JD there. I swore after that first night at Shiloh that I'd never forget their faces, any one of them, but . . ." His arm dropped away and in the dancing light of the flames, he looked old and worn. "I don't care how great Heaven is or how welcoming the good Lord and his son are, I hate funerals. I must have buried half the men I knew in that damned war. And I must have killed my fair share. By Gettysburg, all I could see was my own anger for all that carnage, all that death." He shook his head and looked at Francis. "I guess I can see why you'd stay out here," he said. "Guess that's why I came this way myself, to get away from it, from the memory of it, from the questions that still make me doubt." He swallowed and blinked hard several times, forcing his eyes to focus. "Pass the damned bottle," he said shortly, and not even Chris argued with him this time.

As the bottle moved back from Chris to Josiah, Rain settled in against Nathan and asked quietly, "Is this the thing you all have in common? That you all fought in that war?"

Buck snorted, hanging on to the bottle for a second, his eyebrows drawn together in debate. Of all of them, he needed it the least; he'd lost a lot of blood, not so much as to be dangerous, but enough that he didn't need to be getting drunk and throwing up in the morning, ripping out those stitches Nathan had worked so hard to get into him. "It's where Chris and I met," he said, his eyes cutting away from the liquor to look at Chris. "Hard as it is to believe, he was one of my own men."

Nathan looked from Buck to Chris, who was shaking his head but half smiling.

JD snorted. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked, looking at Buck. His dark bangs hung down over his eyes, and the stubble on his cheeks and chin was darker than the shadows. He had stuck close to Buck after Buck had put himself between JD and Anderson's sword, and he sat close now. He was still ragging on Buck, the way they had been ragging on each other since they'd first met, but Nathan heard the undertone in JD's words now, the worry and concern and affection. "You were an officer over Chris?"

"He was," Chris answered. "For about a month. Army was so short on officers, they'd take anyone who'd been in for more than three months." He did grin there, the expression changing his face, making him look so much younger that Nathan almost didn't recognize him. "He wasn't half bad, could have made a career. Was one of Butler's favorites. Until he got caught in bed with the daughter of one of New Orleans more prominent citizens. The Beast didn't much care for his officers consorting with the locals."

"The Beast?" JD asked, turning his head from side to side as he looked at Buck then at Chris and back.

"Major General Benjamin Butler," Buck intoned. "Also known as Spoons Butler or The Beast." He grinned. "Surprised you haven't heard of him - he made quite a name for himself all over the world, as I understand it. He believed in martial law and he used it to its full extent."

"Indeed," Ezra said, his tone bitter. "He managed to turn every lady in New Orleans into a courtesan with one sweeping command."

"Didn't help his army any," Buck said lightly, but as Ezra straightened, his face visible in the light, Buck held up a hand, his tone no longer amused. "You're right, the Beast went a little too far in trying to control the city."

"A little?" Ezra shot back. "He made it permissible for his men to do what they wanted with any woman they encountered - he gave them the right to rape as they wanted - "

"He did not," Chris cut in. "He was as hard on us as he was on the people in the city. Hell, he was trying to keep control of a city that viewed him and all of us as enemies - which we were. He went too far, no one's arguing that. But he had reason. It wasn't just the Confederate Army that put up a fight. The people of New Orleans were fighting their own kind of war."

"My, how unfortunate for y'all," Ezra said sarcastically. "Spending the war in New Orleans as part of the occupation force."

"Hey, now, it had its dangers," Buck said with some defensiveness but more amusement.

"Yes, I suspect it did," Ezra shot back, his tone a little sharper than Buck's had been. "Boredom from living in the comfort of captured homes and sleeping in the beds of captured women - "

"We weren't there that long," Chris cut in, waving a hand at Ezra. "We were sent along to the front. Saw action in Mansfield and Pleasant Hill."

"Red River Campaign," Vin said slowly as he turned to look at Chris. "It would have gone easier for you if you'd kept your supply train."

"Not the Union's finest hour," Ezra added, but he wasn't as sharp now. He relaxed a little, pulling out his deck of cards.

"No, it wasn't," Chris agreed with a sigh. "If Halleck and Smith had been in charge of the Union forces, we'd still be fighting."

That wasn't true. The Confederacy had been on its last legs by the time Sherman marched into Georgia, and the shortages and demoralization he created had had as much to do with the war ending as any military victory.

Chris frowned and turned to look at Vin. "You sure know a lot about that campaign."

Vin shrugged. "Rode with Green's cavalry, part of Parson's Brigade." He looked over at Francis and touched his hat, acknowledging Francis' earlier remark about his hat.

Nathan frowned. "You were a soldier?" he asked, trying to figure Vin's age.

Vin shrugged. "Things were pretty desperate by then, even in Texas. I was old enough to shoot a gun and I knew my way around a horse. When Parson's men came through town looking for deserters, they picked up anyone they thought could serve. I left town with 'em the next morning, me and about four others, riding the best horses in Milford - which weren't saying a hell of a lot."

"What about training?" Josiah asked.

Vin grinned, his teeth catching the firelight. "Learned as we went along. Fastest way, I guess. We weren't with 'em more than a week before the orders came in that we were to head to Louisiana. Got there just in time to meet you boys." He tilted his head at Chris.

"Cavalry?" Buck asked, looking across to Vin. He said it lightly, but there was a tension in him now, and Nathan worried that it was pain. He shifted, starting to get to his feet, when he realized that the tension wasn't just with Buck; Vin had shifted, too, straightening up, and Francis and Ezra were both looking uneasily around.

Vin nodded. "You boys were infantry, right?"

Buck stared at him and Vin met the gaze directly. They were both still, almost too still. Beside Nathan, Rain drew a slow breath and her hand tightened in his. She felt it, too, the sense of danger, the coiled violence.

"We were," Chris said, his voice pitched low. It cut, but it wasn't angry. "It was a long time ago, a lifetime ago." He lifted a hand and reached over, dropping it on Vin's shoulder. "If you fired on us, you were a poor shot," he said, grinning. "We're still here."

"Then I don't reckon I shot at you," Vin said, grinning too.

For a second, a very long one, Nathan thought it was going to happen, that Vin's attitude was too much for Buck to bear.

A sound made him jump, a hard grunt, but when he looked, Buck was shaking his head and laughing. "You are something else," he said through his chuckles.

Vin glanced away from Chris to nod at Buck.

"So you three fought against each other," JD said slowly, "all of you fought in the same battle. Yet you . . . "

"As the man said, it was a long time ago," Ezra said, his voice easy. "World's moved on."

"Except that in some ways, it hasn't," Josiah countered. Nathan looked at him, surprised; he'd thought Josiah was asleep. Josiah still looked tired and worn and worried. "Doesn't matter which side you fought on in the war, as long as you know the value of a man."

Nathan nodded, understanding the message: it didn't matter that Vin Tanner had fought for the Confederacy, he'd saved Nathan's life several days ago, without even knowing his name. Ezra - well, he still had some issues, but he'd lowered his guard now that Nathan had helped him out. Maybe there was hope for him.

"Going to be hard, going back," Francis said quietly. "It's been - what, a decade?"

"There about," Buck agreed, settling back. He scratched lightly at the bandages over his chest.

"Where will you go?" Rain asked softly.

Francis looked across the fire at her. "Don't rightly know. Had family in Tennessee before the war."

She tugged her hand free of Nathan's. "That is where my father was from." Her voice caught at the end, and without a thought, Nathan reached out to her, touching her arm. She closed her eyes but she didn't cry and after a few seconds, she drew a slow, deep breath.

"I . . ." Francis swallowed, looking around at the others with a desperation that Nathan, though angry, understood. They might all have fought in a war on different sides and about different issues, but in this one way, all men were alike. He could see it in the way the men looked at each other, at Francis, and how they pointedly did not look at Rain. All men were helpless in the face of a woman's tears. "I am sorry about . . ." Francis started again, and again the words drifted away.

Rain opened her eyes, staring across the way at him. When she spoke, her words were clipped, but her wrath was better than her pain. "I do not want your apology. My father was a good man, a strong man, and he died doing what he thought was right. This is our home." She paused, looking at him hard before turning slowly to look at the others. "My father feared bringing you here, he said that you could not be trusted - not just because you are white, but also because all you know is war. He was right."

The tears did come then, clouding her eyes, but they didn't fall. She pushed up, trying to rise, and Nathan moved to help her. But a new voice stopped her, gruff and gentle and old.

"Yes, he was," Tastanagi said, moving out of the shadows behind Rain. He put his hands on her shoulders, comforting her as well as stilling her. "But that does not mean these men are bad, or that they are not trustworthy."

"No," she agreed, her tongue still sharp, "it means they are killers."

Chris shifted, as if he would get up and Nathan noticed that Ezra had stopped playing with his cards. But Tastanagi spoke before anyone could move. "All men are killers. All women, too. Do you not think that those rocks you threw injured men, possibly even killed a few? Or the arrows that you shot?"

"I was protecting my home," she said, but her words were weaker now, her temper giving way to her grief.

"Yes, your cause was just. And everyone who fought here felt the same way - including Colonel Anderson. His motives are not ours, but his motives were as just to him as ours were to us." He leaned down and pulled her close.

"I am sorry," Francis said, managing to get the words out. "Colonel Anderson was a - " He caught himself even as Nathan turned to glare at him. "Colonel Anderson was wrong. We were all wrong."

Tastanagi still held Rain close, but he looked at Francis. "You fought with us at the end. Do you believe that what you did was right?"

Francis looked away from him, past them all into the darkness. "Colonel Anderson was like a father to me, the closest thing I had to family. I was wrong to betray him. But," he shook his head, "what he was doing, what we were doing, attacking your village, your people - that was more wrong."

Tastanagi whispered something to Rain then he straightened, his hands still on her shoulders. "Your war is over. Perhaps it is time for you to find something else worth fighting for. We have much to do here, much to rebuild. You are all welcome to stay and to help, for as long as you wish. Even you and your men, Sergeant."

Nathan turned to stare at the old Indian, and he knew he wasn't the only one.

"Sir?" Francis said, disbelief coloring his tone.

Tastanagi smiled and patted Rain's shoulders before stepping back. "We lost many men today, many good people. You can do more good, to help us rebuild our homes, to find and gather food to replace what your men took. We need strong men to help." With that, he turned and moved back into the darkness, walking in and out of the lights of other fires as he made his slow way back through his people.

"He is right," Rain murmured, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hands. "Your war is over." She lifted her head and turned to look at Nathan. "We will welcome those who stay and help." Her words seemed to be only for him.

"Thank you, ma'am," Francis said, but Nathan barely heard him, his attention completely on Rain.

"I should go," she said.

He didn't want that, didn't want to be without her.

"Ma'am," Buck's voice called out, weaker but still amused, "I'd offer to escort you home, but I don't know that I'd be of much service to you. Nathan, there, though - Nathan, I think we can take care of ourselves for a few minutes, can't we, boys?"

"We're just fine," Josiah chimed in.

Nathan managed to tear his eyes away from Rain long enough to look at his friend and then at the others. Now that the crisis of tears was past, the bottle was moving back around, and a second one had appeared. The wounded men, Francis, Josiah, and Buck, were stretched out and two steps from sleep. JD was fussing over Buck, Ezra was playing solitaire with his deck of cards again, and Chris and Vin were sitting comfortably back against their saddles. Vin had pulled his hat down over his eyes, but Chris was looking at Nathan. He nodded, once.

Nathan felt as if he'd been released from some sort of oppression. He was barely aware of moving until he stumbled as he tried to get to his feet. He was steadied by a firm hand on his elbow and he found himself looking down into Rain's eyes. "I'd take it as a kindness to walk you home, Miss Rain," he said, or tried to; the words seemed to clog in his throat and catch on his tongue.

But she must have understood. "Thank you," she said simply, and the hand on his elbow slipped inside it, so that he could guide her away.

Some of the fires were out now, people with homes returning to them, many of them sharing with those who had nowhere to go. Ones that were still burning were tamped down, set to slow burn for the night and surrounded by people sleeping on bedrolls and blankets.

"We have much to do," Rain said as they walked along up the incline towards the little house Rain had shared with her father. "Many houses were destroyed, and most of the ones left standing have been damaged.."

As they neared her little house, Nathan found the courage to ask, "That man, the one Colonel Anderson killed - did he - did he hurt you?"

Rain smiled at him. "No, Colonel Anderson stopped him in time. There was some good in the man, Nathan - there is some good in all men. It is easy to forget that."

He shook his head. "They killed your father, Imala, so many others. They stole from you and your people, did all this damage, caused all this pain - but you forgive them?"

Her steps slowed to a stop and she turned to face him. "I do not yet forgive them, no. I may never be able to. But most of them are gone, and the ones who are still here, like that man Francis, are wounded and need our help. In turn, they will have to help us."

"You could do that? Let these men stay here, men who you can't trust?"

She tilted her head to one side. "You are riding with six white men. Do you trust them?"

He opened his mouth to answer then stopped, thinking about it. "Josiah has been my friend for long enough. Chris and Vin saved my life - and they didn't even know my name. All of them fought here, Rain, even - even Ezra. So, yes, I guess I do trust them."

"Even the ones who fought to keep you a slave?" She lifted a hand to touch his chest. "I have seen your scars. Those men who fought for that side in the war could have done that to you - "

"No," he cut her off, his heart beating fast. He remembered the bite of the whip, the sound of it as it cut through the air, the burn and snap as it touched him. He remembered the man who had ordered it, an overseer who used the whip as often as he could. But he couldn't remember the face of the man who had done it. Now, thinking on her words, he imagined Vin Tanner holding a whip, raising it - and his stomach roiled. Vin's face faded, replaced by Ezra's and the nausea was stronger. Sweat slid down his spine, catching at his shirt and itching, and his hands shook as they had the first few times he'd taken a knife to someone's flesh.

But even as the doubt gripped him, he couldn't find it to be truly Ezra causing that pain. Ezra wasn't the type.

"How do you know?" she asked.

"Because . . . because I do," he said with a sigh, knowing the answer was inadequate.

But she nodded, once. "Yes, you do. And they trust you. That says a lot for those men." She stepped in close to him, close enough that he could smell the scent of sunlight and flowers in her hair. "The war is over, Nathan, but men like the men you brought to us are still small in number. Most white men still do not respect anyone who is not white."

He couldn't argue with that, either; the memory of the rope around his neck just days before was too strong - 'ain't no darkie doctors and there never will be'.

"You are welcome to stay here, with us, people who will respect you." She leaned in a little closer, her body touching his. "I would like for you to stay."

She angled her head, just a little, and pushed up onto her toes so that their lips met. His brain stopped working, which was good, because otherwise, he would have thought about what he was doing and messed it up.

When he got back to the fire, only Vin was still awake, pouring coffee from one of their pots into his tin mug. "I'm heading up to look around," he said quietly as Nathan moved between Josiah and Francis, checking to see how they were sleeping and to see if their wounds were bleeding. "Make sure that none of the ghosts decide to take any sort of revenge."

Nathan nodded, tucking a blanket around Francis before moving around to check on Buck. "You expecting trouble?" he asked, his lips tingling a little and making him smile.

"Better safe than sorry," Vin answered, standing up. "But nah, I don't think so." He stood for a few seconds, while Nathan finished up with Buck, then, when Nathan stood up, he said, "I didn't fight for slavery, Nathan. I fought 'cause I didn't have choice. Hell, where I grew up, we didn't have slaves - hardly had enough food to eat for ourselves. After the war was over, I drifted around, spent some time with Comanches and other tribes, got to know - well, lots of people like the people here. I don't have a lot of learning, but one of the things I have figured out is that color don't make no difference."

Nathan knew he was smiling - he hadn't stopped smiling since he'd left Rain - but he did smile a little wider. "I think you proved that the other day, Vin. The war has been over a long time."

Vin nodded. "Thanks, Nathan. Hey, is Rain gonna be all right? I mean, about her pa?"

That sobered Nathan quick. "She loved him, a lot. She's gonna miss him something fierce."

Vin nodded. "He was a good man. He cared about her." He paused, looked past Nathan and then back. "He didn't like us being here, around the ladies, but he would have liked you, Nathan. Hell, I don't think he thought I was all bad. He didn't shoot me and he sure had the chance." He grinned a little and nodded. "See you in the morning."

Nathan watched him walk away, disappearing into the night as he headed up the path to the top of the ridge. Watching over them - the six of them down here, the people of the village. Yeah, the war was over. As Rain had said, there weren't many men like the ones he'd come here with. And he was damned glad that he'd found them.