the paper's headlines blared- 'Pony Express Riders Foil Bank Robbery in Ft Laramie'

Teaspoon clucked like a tired mother hen, "For once in my life I wish the papers wouldn't glorify my boys." He stared out across the yard at the men walking towards him, "'s as if they don't have enough to worry about... these newsmen make them seem larger than life."

Rachel laughed softly behind him.... " Sometimes I think they are larger than life, Teaspoon." She leaned her head on his shoulder, "Trouble is, 'boys' like ours attract a lot of attention. Good -and- Bad."

Teaspoon grasped her around her shoulder and nodded, "Yep. There's no denying that."

The Riders gathered in front of Teaspoon, some squintin' into the sun. "What's the news?" ask Buck.

Teaspoon handed the paper to Noah, "Robbers tried to knock over the bank in Ft Laramie, " his mouth turned up in a wry smile, "and Lou and Cody walked right into the middle of it." He held up a hand before the questions flew, " Settle down..."

When it was quiet he continued, "Cody got winged in the side by a lucky shot, but Lou is still as God made her."

Noah looked up from the paper, "Just be thankful Kid's on a run or he'd already be half way to Laramie... riding Katy into the dust."

Teaspoon's warm chuckle followed, " Dare say you're right son. Jimmy?"

James Butler Hickok looked up at the Marshal.

"Cody might need some motherin' on the trip back to Sweet Water, you think you can spare some time to help Lou?"

Jimmy nodded, "You don't need to ask twice." Jimmy headed back to the bunkhouse to grab his pack.

Chapter One

Riders and horses, townsfolk and society... they all bustled through the streets, kickin' up dust and makin' a huge racket.

Lou walked through the streets enjoying the sights. Sometimes it's nice to just watch the world go by.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw ... "Who?" Lou stood in the middle of the street blinkin' in the bright sunlight. The light glinted sharply off the studs on his black hat and her eyes grew wide in surprise.

"Hickok!" She called, "what are you doin' out here?"

A single gesture and his hat tipped back from his face to reveal a satisfied grin, "I heard some of my friends were in town, shootin' up the place. What's the matter Lou, don't want the rest of us to be in on the fun?"

'Not that we asked for it!" She had to suppress the feminine giggle she could feel building inside.

He came up beside her and Lou turned to walk with him. Townsfolk that heard her call his last name were quick to back out of their way as they passed.

Quietly they continued their talk.

"No, really Jimmy, are you here to keep an eye on me for Kid?"

His gazed turned to acknowledge a man who tipped his hat, and when he turned back to his companion his grin was gone.

She saw the truth in his solemn eyes.

Lou's shoulders relaxed as a soft smile returned to her lips. "I should have known better Jimmy - I can count on you to back me up." The spring had returned to her stride as she walked beside him.

Chapter Two

Cody rested comfortably in the middle of the four poster bed - he stretched out under the lacy sheets and almost laughed out loud as the soft cushions beneath his head seemed to smell like roses!

Miss Mina was so 'beholden' to him for rushing to her rescue during the robbery that she insisted that he recover under her tender caresses.

Since the morning he had had breakfast (bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, pancakes, oatmeal and several glasses of fresh milk), a mid-morning platter of cold sweet fruit and a luncheon that could easily have been mistaken for one of Rachel's feasts. Then he slept.

Mina rubbed his shoulders and back with her soft hands and whispered sweet words to sooth his spirits.

Cody swore he was in heaven...

Chapter Three

Lou & Jimmy were shown a sleeping Cody, a sated smile on his face, just seconds before they were nearly shoved out the door by an over zealous Miss Mina.

They walked back towards the hotel, all the while 'bemoaning' their friend's sorry condition.

Lou kept up with her friend's long strides, "At this rate, I don't think Cody will want to get better-"

Jimmy agreed, "did you see that mountain of dishes on the sideboard? I bet he ate everything in the house!" He cleared his throat, "I'd love to see what she'll find for his dinner-"

Lou punched Jimmy's shoulder before stopping abruptly in the street to look back at the brothel. "If he spends much more time in her care it'll be a miracle if his horse can carry him. He'll need a horse just for his stomach." She grimaced at the thought.

Jimmy chuckled under his breath, "Yep, that would surely be a sight to see." They came up on a Saloon- "You hungry Lou?" Lou nodded and they walked up the stairs together.

They were lucky the Saloon was still empty for the most part. The heavy drinkers and gamblers would arrive later in the evening.

Jimmy told Lou to order for them and he went to find them a table.

Lou was enjoying herself quite a bit - conversation with Jimmy was easy and full of fun. They traded stories about the past week, including the fit Rachel had when she discovered a raccoon holed up in one of the cupboards... eattin' up everything in sight.

Lou nearly spit out a mouthful of sarsparilla when Jimmy imitated Rachel's shrieks of anger.

"Shoo! Shoo, you dirty beast!"

Coughing to cover her laughter she couldn't get over the squeaky voice he used. Jimmy pounded her on her back until she choked out, "enough - enough. I'm okay." Her eyes were shiny with tears and red-rimmed but full of laughter. "Jimmy," she gasped" you sure know how to tell a tale."

She took off her glasses to wipe at her eyes. "Just do me a favor next time," she caught his eye, " let me swallow first."

Jimmy nodded as he set his bottle down on the table. "You better go wash off your face, you're covered in dust."

"Guess so," Lou crammed her glasses back onto her face and stood up, pushing her chair back with her legs.

The heavy wooden chair bumped into a man carrying a full glass of scotch.

"Dammit to HELL!!" he hollered as the richly colored liquor dripped off his hand and into his shirt cuff.

"Hell George," another man called, "it's even on your new boots."

The man leaned back on his heels and saw dark blotches staining his leather boots. His gaze rose to meet the startled eyes of the 'boy' who was stammering out an apology.

She had to choke back a nervous laugh, "Gee Mister.... I'm real sor-" Lou was cut short as the glass the man was holding splintered into a shower of glass at her feet. Instantly her mood sobered, "I'll buy you another."

"What if I don't want another! I'm not in a drinkin' mood no more!

Lou could feel her heart pounding as the man advanced toward her, his eyes glassy and piercing... his hand rose to strike her and she ducked to the side as his momentum carried him into the table.

Jimmy lifted their bottles out of the way as the table groaned and buckled under the man's weight.

'George' pushed himself back up from the table and came at her again.

Lou grabbed a heavy metal tray from the passing bartender and brought it down on the man's red sweaty brow.

He grunted and hit the floor, his eyelids lowering to half-mast.... unseeing.

Lou made sure she could see the steady rise and fall of his chest before she looked up at the bartender's shocked face and sheepishly handed him back the tray. "Hey, I offered to buy him another drink.." she turned back to the table, "I'm not lookin' to fight..."

A slow moment later - everyone turned back to what they were doing and Lou bent to pick up her chair that now lay on the floor.

She sat down with a sigh and realized with a laugh that Jimmy was still sittin' at the table, calmly finishing off his sandwich.

"Hickok?" she asked.

"Yeah Lou?"

"You just sat there?"

"Uh-huh," he nodded and pushed her bottle back in front of her. "I knew you could handle it on your own." Jimmy wiped his mouth and tossed the napkin on the table.

Lou took her bottle in one hand and sat back in her chair - a smile spreading wordlessly across her lips. "I did it."

Chapter Four

Lou and Jimmy spoke with the Doctor just moments after he examined the 'deathly ill' Cody who was still nesting in Miss Mina's guilded cage.

"Well now," chuckled the aging doctor.. I don't know who was in more pain... the 'lady' or the young gentleman." He was putting his instruments back in his bag, one by one. "Everytime I touched him she would whimper and ring her hands."

"So...." Jimmy hedged.

"He's fine to ride, but he seems to like the care he's receiving here. I told him to stay abed another day or so... and then ride on home."

Lou nodded and shook the Doctor's hand, " Thank you, sir."

The man nodded at Jimmy and left through the back door... it doesn't look good for a doctor to be seen coming out of a brothel.

The ride back to the Waystation had the two in high spirits, they enjoyed the fresh air and lighthearted conversation.

Several times Jimmy would gaze at Lou as she told him a story of her childhood or make some comment about the scenery. He tried to remember everything about these moments as if they were precious memories. To him they were, it was so rare to find himself alone with Lou. No Rachel (who watched them all so carefully), no Teaspoon (who acts like a mother hen), no riders (acting like a flock of overprotective brothers) and especially.... no Kid.

He moved up so that he rode side by side with her, everything but the moment was pushed aside in his mind.

Chapter Five

"Riders Comin'" Buck called as he stood up from the steps of the Bunkhouse.

Ike came out of the Bunkhouse, hat in hand & half-heartedly signed

"Lou and Jimmy are home."

Hearing Buck's last comment, Rachel came to the door wiping her hand on her apron and smiled a greeting at the two riders reigning their horses to a stop.

Lou slid down off Lightning and took the steps two at a time- a warm hug for Buck and Ike. She beamed a smile at Rachel.

Jimmy wordlessly took Lou's horse and his and walked them to the stable.

By the time he washed up and entered the bunkhouse Lou and the other riders had started dinner. Lou was rapidly motioning with her hands as she told them the story of their encounter with 'George' at the Saloon in Ft. Laramie.

Rachel sat across from Lou and listened to the story with a happy heart- this was a different Lou than the young girl who had been sleepwalking through the last few weeks.

Others noticed it too - Noah honestly found the story funny and sat smiling and laughing with Buck and Ike.

Jimmy took a plate and helped himself to the salad and chicken on the sideboard. He sat next to Ike, who signed,

Jimmy nodded as he buttered a roll, "Yep, it was a sight to see-"

"And what were you doing while he attacked her?" Jimmy ignored a furious Kid, who until now had remained all too quiet.

Lou froze mid-word and Jimmy dropped the roll back onto his plate, knocking his fork off the edge. "Now Kid-"

"What Jimmy?" the young man pushed his plate away from him, "What 'good' reason did you have for sitting back doin' NOTHING!"

Jimmy leaned forward across the table and seethed through his teeth, "because she didn't need no help-"

"What do you know about it?" Kid's hands were clenching the edge of the table, " We need to look out for each other Jimmy, we're family. Don't forget that!"

Jimmy tore a piece of meat from the chicken and popped it in his mouth, trying hard to maintain his calm demeanor, "I didn't forget anything_Lou is family, she can take care of herself." He nodded in her direction, "and like a family," he paused to look at all the faces around the table, "we all have to grow up sometime."

Kid pushed his chair back and stalked out the door.

Rachel chided Jimmy with a look as she picked up Kid's plate.

Lou stared down at her food, her appetite and good humor gone. Buck, Ike and Noah cleaned up their own plates... each trying to give Lou some room as they filed past the table.

When they were alone, Lou looked up at Jimmy who was thoroughly involved in eating his meal.

She picked up her own chicken and shrugged her shoulders, "I still think it's a good story." A little spark returned to her voice.

Jimmy wiped at his mouth and nodded, "a damn good one Lou-"

Lou smiled and finished her meal with Jimmy in companionable silence.

Chapter Six

Jimmy had an afternoon run the next day and headed to the stable early to saddle up. He was absorbed in securing his pack, but he still heard the unsteady foot fall behind him. He knew it was Kid- no one else had cause to hang back. He thought he'd let Kid make the first move.

"Jimmy," he stilled, his hands on the cinch, "Jimmy, I wanna talk to you."

Jimmy turned around and looked at his friend, "I'm listenin'."

Kid shuffled his feet in the dirt, losing some of his nerve-

Jimmy clicked his tongue, impatient for Kid to 'spit it out', "Kid, I've got a run_"

"Dammit Jimmy!" Kid through his hands up in frustration, "Just when I think everything is fine with me and Lou, you-" Kid paused, unsure of the next word, "you-"

"I what, KIIIDD?" he drew out the word, making it sound like an insult.

"You try to change her." There, Kid felt relieved, he had finally said it.

"Change her?" Jimmy could have laughed, "You think I'm trying to change her-"

Kid's bravado faltered, he looked away from Jimmy's dark eyes.

"For all your talk of southern manners, you sure can act like a horse's ass sometimes!"

Jimmy shook his head and turned to mount his horse, "Rider Coming!" called Rachel from the porch. Picking up the reins, Jimmy stared down at the shaken Kid, "You say you love her, but you want her to fit the image you think is right." He paused before he headed out into the courtyard, "The thing is Kid, maybe its time you find out what she is really like. Stop fighting the person she is becoming, and learn to accept it _or 'dang it', you'll lose her."

Jimmy rode out into the sun and reached out to the incoming rider_ his gloved hand gripped the mochila with ease and goaded his mount into a gallop. "-and I'll be waiting," he said to himself and he headed off to the next stop.

Chapter Seven

Lou finished her chores and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. She waved to Noah and Cody as they rode back in from Town, supplies loaded in the back of the wagon. They called out to her as they neared. "Hey Lou!" called Cody.

"Lou," Noah tipped his hat. "You done?"

"Yep, chores all finished!"

"After we put the supplies up, you want to swim with us? The water looks damn good today."

A broad smile spread over her dust streaked features, "Sure, sounds good."

"Lou!" Lou's eyes closed as she heard Kid's voice, "Hey Lou, hold up!"

Lou clapped her hand on the side of the wagon, "Better go on without me."

Cody shrugged his shoulders and turned the horses toward the house.

"Kid?" she looked at him, square in the eye, and he found his steps unsure.

"Ah, Lou? You got a minute?"

"Actually? No, there's a ride in a hour (I think Buck will trade me)... can you let me clean up first and I'll meet you in the barn."

Chapter Eight

About a half an hour later Lou was fresh from her shower and dressed for her ride. Jimmy wasn't due back until tomorrow, and Lou had a feeling that she was going to need to talk to him.

She saddled Lightning and then walked him into the open area of the yard. Everything was finished when she heard the door open, "You have a minute?"

He sounded so unsure, Lou had to shake her head in amazement. This was a different man than the Kid she knew and lo- she stopped herself. Her feelings for the last few weeks had caused her no shortage of grief. She knew she needed some time to sort stuff out, and Kid wasn't giving her a lot of room.

"Lou?" she brought her gaze up to meet his.

"Yeah Kid, I'm ready."

He moved a bit closer but still stayed back about an arm's length... "I ah..." he laughed under his breath, " heck, this is hard."

"Jimmy and I were talkin'" Lou took in a deep breath, "and uh, he said..."

Lou looked around the barn... this was was not turning out well, "and..." she prompted, her foot tapping out a beat on the hay strewn floor.

"and I was wondering...." Then Kid lay it out on the table, "Why have the two of you been spendin' so much time together? Is there something I should know?"

"It's really simple, " she started... and for once, the words seemed to fall into place, "I like who I am when I'm with him."

Kid hung his head and clasped his hands in his lap, "and you don't like who you are with me?" he asked, almost as a joke.

Lou felt ashamed, but she had to admit, "No, I don't. Not lately."

Kid stared at her like she had grown a third eye, "What's changed between us?"

"Us? Just that fact that I want to like me." She could see she wasn't quite reaching him. "We call you 'the KID', but the way you treat me_ that's what I feel like!"

"Lou," he scoffed gently, "You're almost a grown woman."

"When I'm with you, I don't feel like a woman at all," she shook her head. "Heck, most times I don't feel like a person either."

"Lou," he reached out to touch her shoulder, "How can you say that? Together _"

"We're not together- you order and I'm expected to obey - heel, stay - sitting around, totally useless." She shook off his hand and stood - laying her hat on her head. "Kid, you treat Katy with more common respect that you offer me."

"Rider Coming!" called Buck from the yard.

Lou mounted Lightning, her back ramrod straight and without a backward glance she rode forward, arm outstretched like she had done hundreds of times before. The mochila came into her hand and she was off, the wind warm across her face.

Two long strides and she smiled. She felt free, reborn. She began to respect herself.

Chapter Nine

Kid stood there in the barn, his mouth slightly open. He replayed their conversation in his mind... again and again... the words still seemed to make no sense.

Jimmy Hickok made her feel like a woman, a real woman! She had all but come out and said it. What happened? What had he missed? How long had things been growing between them? Kid couldn't fathom it... had she and Jimmy? Nah- Lou would never, not his Lou....

Ike walked into the barn as Kid stood there wrapped in his own world. Ike was concerned about his friend and stood before him signing questions that Kid didn't see.

Taking matters into his own hands, Ike took a bucket full of water and dowsed Kid with it. The Kid came around in a second, his arms waved as he spit out the water that he had almost swallowed. "IKE! What the -?"

Ike shook Kid looking him dead in the eye,

Kid shook his head..."It's awful Ike, I don't know what to do." He sucked in a breath as he tried to find the words, "It seems like everywhere I turn, my world is falling apart! I don't understand what Lou is going through... she won't talk to me and what's worse... She's spending all her free time with Jimmy!"

Ike stood still, watching his friend pace the length of the barn. After a moment the Kid looked up, "Well?" he asked.

Ike raised his hands slowly and began to sign, he paused, phrasing his gestures carefully, His peace said, Ike left the barn.

Chapter Ten

Late that afternoon Jimmy Hickok rode into the waystation exhausted.. the ride was hard, but nothing special. What weighed hard on his mind and body was the thought of facing Kid again.

Riding over the dusty roads Jimmy had ample time to come to a decision. It was time to stop avoiding the issue.

He entered the bunkhouse and found Kid sitting at the table. In a moment Kid was on his feet and the two men faced each other in the middle of the room.

From where they stood at the fence Noah and Cody watched Hickok enter the bunkhouse, "Time?"

Noah looked at his watch, "I give them 5 minutes before a chair comes through the door."

"Three." They shook hands and turned back to watch Buck school one of the horses.

Lou rode up and Jesse took her horse. Lou thanked him... all she wanted to do was grab some clean clothes and- she stopped outside the bunkhouse door.

"You've got some nerve askin' me that Kid!"

She let go of the door knob and stood there, held captive by her heart.

"Well, I had t' know if the two of you had..."

"You shouldn't have to ask... you know Lou-"

"That's the thing," Kid argued, "I don't think I do." Jimmy backed off a step and leaned against one of the bunks, Kid continued, "I don't know how, but I missed it. I had this vision of Lou and me. How our lives would be... and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get her to see it."

"Now I realize that I was the problem... I spend so much time shielding her from the world I had blinded myself to the truth." He looked over to the bunk where she slept everynight, where her dresses were hidden in her trunk. "She became a woman in spite of me."

Kid became silent for a moment, lost in his own thoughts. There was a fire in Lou's eye, one he knew deep down inside, he couldn't match. He saw it when she took the hand off at the station, when she guarded a friend's back in a fight, and when she rode hellbent to be there for her family.

"I spent so much time tryin' to 'refine' her that I missed seeing the fine woman she already was." He looked back at his friend, "but you saw it." Jimmy kept his mouth shut... so far Kid was doin' a fine job of whippin' himself... "I guess I am the mule-headed one of the bunch, huh, Jimmy?"

"If you say so."

"Just tell me one thing," Jimmy nodded, "What does she mean to you Jimmy? What can you offer her?"

Jimmy laid his hat on his bed, "Nothing, ... except my life." Kid looked up as Jimmy's tone shocked him... this came straight from his heart. "You know how I feel about the future Kid. I always have someone doggin' me where ever I go. I can't do much to change that, but what I can tell you is that no matter what, I will do everything I can to keep her safe, but I want her right be my side for whatever time I got on this earth."

"And when things get bad..." Kid questioned?

" Doesn't matter - rich or poor, thin or flush all I need is her."

Kid stood there for a minute... thinking on what Jimmy had said... and walked to the door.

On the other side of the door, Lou felt like a feather could knock her over. She couldn't see him, but Jimmy's voice had her entranced.

She once more moved to the door, but it opened before she could touch the knob. Kid stepped out and stopped when he saw her.

He opened his mouth to speak but stopped when he saw the look in her eyes... he knew she had heard them... how much? He didn't know, but he knew it had been enough.

"Lou," he paused and looked away from her sweet brown eyes, "I think you should talk to Jimmy..."

"I know Kid," she leaned forward and kissed his cheek tenderly, her eyes closed. She never saw the tear in his eye before she turned and walked in the bunkhouse.

Jimmy stilled when he heard Kid's steps stop so abruptly on the porch... he knew she had been there. He didn't look up at the door... he didn't move ... he didn't breathe.

"Jimmy?" His heart pounded when he heard her voice, "Jimmy, I ..."

He started to turn away, but stopped himself.. he was going to face her, now.

She was just a few inches away and looking straight into his face. "I never knew..."

He tried to straighten up, to put some distance between them. She had other ideas... she grabbed the collar of his shirt. "Jimmy Hickok, the only thing I want in this life is to be right by your side.... today, tomorrow, however long God grants us." Jimmy leaned into her embrace as their lips met in a kiss. Like the kiss they shared that night by the fire, this kiss was filled with all the longing and passion within them. It promised many more of the same and as they clung to each other, they realized what they had found together - love... and complete acceptance.

no, not an end...a new beginning

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