Elam Ferguson had never met a grizzly bear face to face before, but he had heard enough about them to know he didn't have a chance in hell of outrunning one. His single shot either hadn't found its mark or was simply too small of an annoyance to faze the huge beast. However, he still had his knife and was not willing to die without a fight, so when the bear charged, Elam charged too. At the last moment the bear reared up again, and the fight was on. Elam had never been hit by a locomotive, but he imagined it would be similar to the impact he felt when colliding with the bear, only the locomotive would have a lot less hair and smell better. He somehow managed to keep hold of his knife though, and slammed it into the bear's middle, even as the bear raked him with its claws.
Unfortunately, the knife seemed to have almost as little effect on the bear as the bullet had. Had Elam known more about bears, he might have realized that the bear was well into the process of fattening itself in preparation for hibernation and had packed on enough blubber to make reaching its vital organs with a knife even more difficult than usual. Fortunately, Elam had enough experience with fighting to know that if hitting your opponent in one place was not producing the desired result, then you needed to try hitting him somewhere else. Seeing as how the bear now had its jaws around his head, letting Elam hear the horrible sound of tooth on bone, which he would never forget for as long as he lived, the choice of where to try attacking next was simple.
Elam brought his knife up and stabbed blindly at the bear's head. Blood was running into his eyes, but he managed to slice into the bear's jaw muscle on the first try, forcing the animal to loosen its grip on him whether it wanted to or not. The bear gave a pained bellow. Elam would have given one of his own, but he couldn't spare the breath for it. Instead, he stabbed at the bear again, more towards the neck this time, and hit the jackpot, piercing through muscle and sinew to open the bear's carotid artery. The bear made one last lunge at Elam, its teeth raking across his skull again as it collapsed and carried them both to the ground.
In that moment, two miracles happened. First, one of the grizzly bear's canine teeth, which by all rights should have punched through Elam's skull and into his brain like a nail through a shingle, instead broke off along a preexisting hairline crack before it could do any worse than giving Elam's already abused scalp yet another cut. Second, a deer which was being tracked by a Comanche hunting party turned west instead of east, thus leading the hunters away from the site of Elam's fight with the bear rather than towards it. Elam had no way of knowing about either of these miracles having any effect on his future health and happiness. All he knew was that the bear was dead, and then he did not even know that much anymore because he had fallen unconscious. And that was how Elam remained until Jimmy Two Squaws (he had briefly tried calling himself Jimmy Three Squaws after marrying Buffalo Face, his third wife, but the name change didn't stick even though the polygamous marriage continued to be a mostly happy arrangement for everyone involved) stumbled across the scene on his way to trade at Fort Smith for a few sundries which his wives demanded that he acquire before winter closed in.
Jimmy, being a pragmatic man, paused in his journey long enough to tend to Elam's wounds as well as he could, then skinned the bear, cut the carcass into more manageable pieces, loaded as much of it onto his pack horses as they could carry, and continued on his way. Elam remained unconscious and unaware of all of this. Jimmy returned a short time later, having concluded his originally intended business with the added bonus of selling the bear meat to the Mormons for some extra pocket money. Then he loaded Elam, the bearskin, and the best remaining parts of the carcass onto his pack horses, and headed towards the railroad. Two days later, Jimmy arrived in Cheyenne, where he delivered Elam, along with the bearskin and a necklace of bear teeth and claws he had strung together while sitting by the campfire the night before, into the hands of Elam's friends for safekeeping. Then Jimmy sold the rest of the bear meat, left some of the money to help pay for a real doctor for Elam (because he was still very grateful to Elam and Bohannon for part in helping him meet Buffalo Face), bought some small gifts for his wives, then headed home, where the whole family lived happily ever after.
Elam's recovery was slow, possibly made slower by the harsh winter, but eventually his injuries healed enough for him to get up and about again. He wanted to go back to Fort Smith to look for Bohannon, but the snow was deep enough to render the way there impassable to horses, and the man had been gone for so long that it seemed impossible for him to still be alive. Elam saw no alternative but to swallow his regrets and go back at work. A few months later, he was able to watch Durant lose a train into the river. Even without that setback, there was always more work to do. Time marched on and so did the railroad, though the pace of the latter was far more variable than the pace of the latter. Other than that, very little ever changed.
Then, one morning not long after the spring thaw had stopped teasing the landscape and settled in to stay for the duration, Elam was walking along with the freedmen workers on their way towards another futile day of trying to build an impossible tunnel. He had been lost in thought, not paying much attention to anything beyond watching where he put his feet on the uneven ground while he contemplated whether he should make another attempt at reconciling with Eva, when he heard Psalms, who was walking beside him, suddenly break their small local bubble of silence with an interjection of, "My god, can that be Cullen Bohannon I see? As I live and breathe, it is!"
"Shut up." Elam punched Psalms in the arm without bothering to look up, because that joke hadn't been funny the first time and sure as hell wasn't funny all these months later.
"No, man, I'm serious," Psalms insisted. "Take a look!" He grabbed Elam by the arm and started dragging him forward.
And now Elam did look up, but only to glower at Psalms, which was a very impressive glower indeed these days due to his scars and bad eye. "I told you to shut up," he said in a low growl. Elam was beginning to contemplate committing levels of violence unbecoming of even a chief of railroad police if Psalms refused to drop this stupid joke, but all those thoughts vanished at the sound of a very familiar voice shouting his name.
"Elam? Elam, is that really you?"
Elam looked up to see a familiar figure in unfamiliar clothing jumping down from a horse a few yards away. And dammed if that didn't look and sound like that really was Cullen Bohannon, heading his way at speed. Bohannon grabbed Elam in a bone-crushing hug. It was a lot like fighting with the bear, only with more laughing, slightly less hair, and no biting, though Elam thought he might have felt Bohannon brush a brief kiss against the side of his neck under cover of that aforementioned shaggy hair. Elam couldn't help laughing too as he hugged Bohannon back with equal force. Eventually, they released each other, and Bohannon took a step backwards, looking Elam up and down.
"God damn, son," he said, "what the hell happened to you?"
"Not much," Elam said with a shrug. "Went looking for you, found a bear instead. What the hell happened to you? We all thought you were dead."
Bohannon gave a shrug of his own. "I got dragged off by the Mormons, as you probably figured, because I got one of their girls, Naomi, in the family way, as you probably didn't figure, because I sure as hell didn't until it was sprung on me. Her father wanted to hang me but settled for making me a son-in-law to keep her from living in disgrace." He took off his hat, ran a hand through his hair, then put the hat back on, doing a poor job of trying to be subtle about stalling for time to gather his thoughts. "I promised to stay until the baby was born. Planted some crops. Dug a well. Oh, and it turns out the Swede had been living up at the fort, playing bishop, but that's taken care of now."
"Is that all?" Elam asked with bland sarcasm. Then he frowned and looked back the way Bohannon must have come from. "You're travelling awful light and alone for a man with a wife and baby."
"Yeah," Bohannon sighed, "I thought Naomi would come with me when I left, but she decided she wanted to stay at the fort and see little William raised surrounded by family instead of just me." Bohannon shuffled his feet, obviously casting about for a way to change the subject. Eventually he settled on asking, "So, a bear, huh?"
"Yeah, Bohannon, I went to save your sorry ass and got half eaten by a bear," Elam said. "You wanna make something of it?"
"Not at all," Bohannon said. "It ain't necessarily something to be ashamed of as long as it wasn't an itty bitty little baby black bear."
"It was a grizzly."
Bohannon gave a long, low whistle. "And you lived to tell the tale. Damn! I'd say it ruined your good looks, but the truth is you never had any," Bohannon said, but the fact that he was grinning like a madman took the sting from his words.
"You should see the other guy," Elam said. "In fact, stop by my tent after work's over, and I'll introduce you." Elam looked around to check for eavesdroppers, but everyone else, including Psalms, had long ago lost interest in the two and continued on their way once it became apparent the reunion was unlikely to degenerate into a fistfight. Free from observers, Elam stepped close to Bohannon again. When Bohannon made no move to pull away, Elam leaned in closer still and pressed a kiss into Bohannon's neck. Judging by Bohannon's pleased reaction, Elam definitely had not been imagining things earlier. Elam gripped Bohannon's shirt as he nipped at his ear, then allowed his hands to start wandering ever lower. Bohannon groaned, turner his head to capture Elam's lips with his own, and pressed himself against Elam, his growing hardness obvious at first touch. And that is when Elam decided it was time to pull away. "After work's over," he repeated.
"Damn it, Elam!"
"Otherwise, I'll never get anything done today," Elam said, smiling as he turned to catch up with the others. "Now," he called back over his shoulder, "you go spend the day thinking about how it feels to be left hanging by someone who let himself be dragged off to less pleasant circumstances without consulting you, and then tonight I'll give you a very thorough welcome to Cheyenne on my bearskin rug. What do you say to that?"
"Sounds fair," Bohannon ground out, sounding much aggrieved, but there was a smile tugging at his lips and there was a gleam of anticipation in his eyes.
And so that's exactly what they did.