Author's Note: A Letter of Domestication

Coming Home... Going Home

Louise had maintained a happy stream of chatter with Rachel, the two going over the things they'd packed for Jeremiah and Teresa and all the things Louise was going to do when she found a place to live. Buck and Ike for their part made fun behind the wagon, pretending to copy the two women as they talked.

The one person who didn't seem to be trying to maintain the laughter and high spirits was Jimmy. He tried to stay as far back as possible. As they rode behind the wagon, Teaspoon moved his mount closer to his. "Little bit late to have second thoughts."

"Me?" Jimmy didn't look at Teaspoon, keeping his eyes on the trail ahead. "I'm not goin' anywhere."

Teaspoon didn't answer him. There wasn't anything to say… not at that moment.

*** ***

Cody was the only one really grousing about lifting the trunk out of the back of the wagon and everyone knew it was for Louise's benefit. The underlying attitude of the group gathered at the train station was agitated but no one wanted to admit it. The trainees had stayed behind with Noah to keep the station running and he'd said his goodbyes on the porch before they'd set out for the train. "Tryin' to break my back, Lou?"

She rolled her eyes and shook her head as she signed the papers at the freight office. "Cody, you were the one that volunteered to help."

He rubbed at one shoulder then the other. "That was before I knew you were takin' half the station with you."

"Then you'll be glad I'm going." She cuffed him on the arm. "To save yourself all the hard labor."

She expected him to punch back with words, but she didn't expect Cody to pull her into his arms and hug her tight. A moment later when the shock had worn off she wrapped her arms around Cody and hugged him back. "I'm gonna miss you, Billy Cody."

He squeezed her hard and mumbled into her hair. "I'm gonna miss you too, Lou. You take care of yourself, you hear." He gave her one final squeeze and then let her go.

Louise watched him walk away with a soft smile on her face. Buck and Ike were just a few feet away both grinning at her. "I'm beginning to worry that you're all much too happy to see me go."

They hugged her at the same time nearly knocking her off her feet and she grabbed on with both arms to keep from tipping over. "You say that now," Buck warned her, "but when we show up on your doorstep looking to be fed."

*then you'll regret it*

Lou brushed a kiss on Ike's cheek and then Buck's. "I may never let you boys leave."

They stepped back as Rachel moved closer, her arms spread open wide. Louise stepped into her embrace with a soft sob in her voice. "I'm going to miss our late night talks and all the fun we have."

Rachel pulled back, holding Louise by the upper arms. "You keep in mind that you promised to write."

"I will." Louise nodded and blinked away the tears that were starting to gather on her lashes. "I will… and you will. It's a promise."

The train's whistle startled both women and they laughed when they realized what they'd been reacting to. That's when Teaspoon stepped in with a gruff chuckled and a bear hug. "My Lou."

That's when she started to cry in earnest. "Teaspoon, I…" "Now, I don't want to hear anything from you but, 'Thanks, Teaspoon for all your lessons and tricks.'"

She blinked quickly as she struggled to keep her emotions in check. "Thank you, Teaspoon for keeping us out of trouble and keeping our family together all this time."

He didn't have a snappy comeback for her words he couldn't seem to put together any kind of response besides holding her closer and closing his eyes up tight.

"I think I might miss you most of all," she leaned back a little in his arms and looked up at him. "I know you didn't sign on to become family when you took this job, Teaspoon, but… if I had to name the man I respect most in the world." She pursed her lips together for a moment. "It would be you."

Teaspoon didn't have much to say at that point, nor would Lou have heard it as the train pulled up chugging to a slow and grinding stop just a little bit past the ticket office.

Louise reached into the pocket of her coat and felt the ticket there, cool against her hand. She turned, looking for Jimmy but saw the commotion as passengers started leaving the train. She almost turned away to continue looking but a man stepped from the second car and straightened his hat drawing her attention.

There was something so familiar about the way he moved that she knew before he turned to face the platform that his smile would be broad and his eyes sparkling blue. "Kid!" She raised her arm, waving before he even heard her. "Kid!"

Louise knew the group had gathered around her on the platform she could feel their warmth even more than she could see their shadows at her feet.

"Oh my goodness."

"You've got to be-"

"I can't believe it…" They moved forward toward the train everyone trying to understand the picture before them. Dressed in coat and pants that looked like they'd never seen dirt the man they'd known as the Kid looked as though he was a couple of inches taller than he'd been the last time they'd seen him.

He looked a little overwhelmed at the reception. "Hey there."

Louise at the center of the hastily assembled group was the first to reach him. She saw in his eyes that he wasn't very sure of his greeting. "Hey, Kid."

"Lou." His grin looked a bit pinched. "You look good."

Looking down at her dress she grinned back up at him a moment later. "Thanks."

"I'm sorry," he started, "I wanted-"

"Harmon!"

Kid froze mid thought and turned back to the train.

Standing at the top step of the train was a young woman in a beautiful green traveling gown waved at Kid. As she lifted her chin everyone could see that it was Samantha Edgars. "Harmon, sweetie… I need a hand."

He gave a little shrug and started back toward the train. Lou caught up in the general movement of the group was pushed along as they moved closer, all so very curious about the woman he'd bought home with him.

Kid reached out his hand and she took it to support herself as she stepped down from the train. The instant that the sunlight seemed to inch toward her face Samantha opened her parasol and artfully slung it back over her head, resting the stem on her shoulder. "Hello, all."

Teaspoon pinched the brim of his hat and gave her one of his usual Sunday -at-Church grins. "Pleased to see you back again, Miss Edgars."

"That's-"

"Mrs. Anderson." She gave a knowing smile to the group as she gave them her name. "Since Harmon and I married my name is Mrs. Harmon Anderson."

"Harmon." Cody seemed to taste the name in his mouth. "Harmon." He looked at the Kid. "Really?"

Kid shrugged. "Never thought it was that big of a deal… just didn't much like it… wanted a new start."

"And that's what we have." Samantha slipped her hand through Kid's arm and beamed a smile at the group.

Behind them Martha stepped out onto the stairs, carrying two large satchels in her hands. Buck and Ike stepped forward to help her. Ike took one bag but Martha held onto the other with a strong grip and managed her way down the stairs without his help.

"I guess there'll be plenty of time to socialize once we've got our things off the train." Martha's statement fell in the middle of the happy reunion like a brick in a trough. It make a big splash and sank down to the bottom in a heartbeat.

Kid's apologetic smile wasn't missed on the group. "Sorry, I guess I was so happy to be home that I…" he looked at Martha and tipped the brim of his hat. "If y'all will excuse me." He was gone into the crowd a minute later leaving the group in a strange juncture in their conversation.

"Well this is just a wonderful chance for me to meet with Harmon's family." Samantha was still gushing with joy. "We've such wonderful plans for our new life. Once the telegraph office opens we'll be in the center of society here in Rock Creek."

There was another pause in conversation. For most of the gathered group, the beginning of the telegraph service meant that they were out of a job.

Rachel moved forward and took Samantha's hand in hers. "Yes, well, we're glad to have you here. We wish you and Ki- Harmon the best. We were happy to get his letter about the wedding."

"Oh my," Samantha set a gloved hand against the side of her face, "yes, it was such a dear ceremony, the most intimate gathering and the words that the preacher said," she sighed, "he said it was inspiring to see two people so in love."

"Wonderful, really." Teaspoon gave her another nod. "Glad to have you here, Mrs. Anderson… was it?"

He leaned down as Samantha started talking and whispered to Lou. "You've one more to say goodbye to, don't you think?" With a gentle push on her shoulder he sent her in the direction of the train.

A few steps closer and Jimmy came into view. He was speaking with the conductor at the door to one of the cars. When she was close enough she heard what he was saying. "Here's the list of her bags, the freight man took them into the car, but I don't want them shuffled around too much. Her horse is in with the livestock with feed and water paid for."

"Yes sir, Mr. Hickok." The conductor's tone held a little bit of terror and admiration at the same time. "Everything will be taken care of." The man pulled on the brim of his hat when he noticed her. "Excuse me, Miss, we'll be getting on our way in," he lifted his watch to examine the face, "five minutes."

With a nod he was off.

"Mr. Hickok." She couldn't help the way she mimicked the man's voice. "It's not fair of you to make him afraid for his life like that." Her words were reproachful, but her tone was laughing. "I thought you didn't want folks to think of you as the 'big bad gunfighter.'"

Jimmy nodded. "Well, that is true… but when it can get your things shipped without a problem. I'm not above using a little bit of a glare when I need to."

"You're the only one that hasn't said goodbye to me, you know."

He looked away for a moment and then back at her face, his smile firmly set in place. "I hate goodbyes, you know that."

She looked down at the planked floor beneath her feet and the blue calico that waved over her boots. "I know… 'cause I hate them too."

"You make sure you send me a letter when you find a place." He shrugged. "I'll write you if you want."

"Really, now?" Louise gave him a smile as she rocked on her heels. "That right there is worth the price of a stamp." She giggled and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Jimmy… I'm not trying to make fun. I just… " she stepped closer and looked up at him, "I just don't know what to say to you."

"Then don't say anything, Lou, I-"

"Hey, you guys weren't waiting for me, were you?" Kid walked up adjusting the cuffs of his shirt beneath his coat. "It's amazing how many trunks Samantha needed to bring with us. I know it's the two of them, but it's probably going to need two wagons to get it to the hotel."

He looked between and Lou and Jimmy and stopped for a moment. He studied their expressions. "What's goin' on?" He looked at Lou, lowering his voice in volume to address her. "You knew, right? I asked Jimmy to-"

"Oh!" Louise smiled. "Jimmy told me about Samantha… he told me the other night."

Kid looked back and forth between the two. "Then what's going on?"

Louise reached into her coat pocket and removed her ticket. "I'm leaving today, Kid… on the train when it heads back in the other direction. I'm heading to St. Jo to live with Teresa and Jeremiah."

"You're not… I mean," Kid was searching for the words, "leaving because…" he looked over at Samantha, surrounded by the Express family.

"No," Louise stepped closer and touched the side of his face, "I'm not leaving because you're home, Kid. I'm leaving because it's time for me to move on with my life and," she dropped her hand to swipe and sudden tears that spilled even though she was smiling, "and I am really… truly happy for you." She reached up, wrapping her arms around his neck. "I'm happy for you both."

Kid had a moment of shock before he answered her hug with one of his own. "Thanks, Lou… that means a lot." He tightened his hold on her and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "Really."

"Boarding…. Boarding!" The conductor's call rang out through the bustling crowd and Lou stepped back from the Kid's embrace.

"I better," he thought, forming his words carefully, "I better get back to Samantha."

She smiled before she could speak. "That's a good idea, Kid… be happy."

"Thanks." He gave her a smile that beamed and headed back toward the group on the edge of the platform.

Jimmy looked down at her. "You want me to get your bag?"

"I'll get it in a minute." She seemed anchored to the spot. "You were saying something before and-"

He shook his head. "Nothing really," he tried to reassure her, but it didn't really work.

"I don't want you to think…" she looked around for the conductor worrying over the time, "I want you to know-" She crossed the space between them and hugged him tight, her face turned to the side her ear pressed against the wall if his chest, listening to the thunder of his heartbeat. "You're such a good man, Jimmy… a good fr- no, the best friend I have." Her embrace tightened as his arms wrapped around her body with a slight tremble of movement. "You make sure you keep safe and come and visit… when you can."

She felt the quick expansion of his lungs and felt the hot brush of his breath against her cheek. "Just be happy, Lou… that's all I want. You be happy… and that'll be enough for me."

"All aboard!"

"Hey now, don't hog her, Hickok." Cody lifted Jimmy's arm away so that he could take Lou into his arms for a hug.

After Cody they all lined up for a final goodbye ending up with Rachel who put Lou's satchel into her hands. "Ride safe, Louise."

She nodded, tight lipped, and stepped up into the car, quickly stepping inside to find a window on their side of track. Setting her bag down she looked out the window and waved to the group. "Take care… all of you… come and visit soon!" The huge wheels of the train seemed to groan in unison as the steam engine up at the other end struggled to move forward.

With some herculean effort the train began to move, a lurch backwards and then forward making Lou grab quickly for something to balance on. As the train continued on, Louise reached out her hand and barely brushed Jimmy's fingers before she was suddenly out of reach.

To be continued...

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