Author's note: This is an AU story of what could have happened

"Rachel, you sure outdone yourself this mornin'. How I'm gonna make it into town after this fine meal is beyond me," Teaspoon announced as he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his belly. "Muffins? Is that cinnamon I smell?" He grinned upward at the blonde woman who had just set a plate of piping hot muffins down in front of him.

"It sure is," she told him as she left the muffins by him and moved the eggs and bacon to the other side of the table to let the riders have a turn at the food. Rachel pat Lou on the shoulder as the young lady almost bumped into her arm as she leaned out of the way of the plates coming toward her. "Eat up, Lou, boys, before Teaspoon decides he needs seconds," she joked as she moved to get a pitcher of milk and set it on the table.

"It sure smells good, Rachel," Cody agreed as he grabbed the plate of eggs and helped himself. "You want some, Lou?" He held the plate out for Lou to take.

The female rider shook her head and muttered, "No." Lou tried to reach for her glass but it was still empty and she was forced instead to look at the yellow gook staring back at her as Cody literally threw it under her nose.

"Come on, Lou, take it now or lose it 'cause I can guarantee what the rest of the boys don't eat I sure will."

"Louise, Cody is right. It may look like a lot but once these boys dig in " she paused for emphasis as Kid, Jimmy, and Buck joined them at the table and instantly began loading up their plates. " well, you know as well as I do that they have bottomless stomachs. And besides, you haven't eaten barely anything the last three mornin's. You'll make yourself sick if you don't eat like you should."

"I'm fine, Rachel," Lou managed to get out as her mouth wanted to gag in protest to the smells all around her. She didn't dare look at the woman for fear of having to answer questions; all she needed was this meal to be over with and she'd be fine like with the past three mornings.

"This is your last chance, Lou."

"I told you I don't want any, Cody!" Lou exploded as she finally got the strength to shove the plate away from her. She stood up and began heaving heavily as she tried with all her might to not lose what little was in her stomach. But the combination of people staring at her, as well as food being all around her, throwing their awful smells her way, was too much for the young girl. As her stomach lurched in protest, Lou covered her mouth as she stumbled to the door, threw it open, and ran outside.

"Louise?" Rachel asked in surprise as she hadn't really been looking at the girl, just making her comments from listening to what was going on around her. Now she stared from the table to the door as she tried to put the pieces of the puzzle regarding Lou's strange disappearing act together.

"Lou?" Kid called in worry, which he quickly tried to change to surprise since the two of them weren't a couple anymore and he really had no right to be concerned. Except as a friend, he told himself, as he tried to act casually. "Wonder what's up with her?" He shrugged as he went back to eating, though his eyes stayed focused on the opened door.

"Must be something she ate," Cody suggested as he filled his mouth once more.

"But she didn't eat anything," Kid told him then felt his face flush as he suddenly found his plate very interesting. All he was doing was giving away clues that he had been watching her during her exchange with Cody. Something had been different with her; she would get annoyed at Cody as much as any of them but the way she was acting was from more than annoyance, only he couldn't put his finger on why she was looking sick to her stomach.

"Only one thing I know of would make a person turn green over breakfast."

Rachel turned slowly and stared at the person seated at the head of the table. That statement was the last clue she needed as the pieces began to fit together. Try as she might, a stomach virus just didn't seem likely after she thought back on Lou's strange behavior that morning and the past few mornings.

As Teaspoon sat casually munching on a muffin, she stared at him directly before heading to the open door. "I don't even wanna know how you would know something like that." She stepped outside then took a step back into the room so she could look at him once more. "On second thought, I do wanna know so don't go disappearin' on me."

"I'd be happy to oblige ya, Rachel," Teaspoon told the blonde woman as she went out the door, closing it behind her, which only forced him to speak louder. "It's a pickle of a story; juicy tidbits squirtin' outa every single pore. You goin' somewhere, Kid?" The stationmaster stood up and removed the napkin from his shirt front as he watched the Southerner who was now paused in front of the door.

"Yeah, I thought I'd see how Lou is doin'." Kid looked at the floor so his eyes wouldn't meet those of the other riders as he knew he was revealing that he still cared about Lou and that would warrant some teasing in his direction from the others.

"Rachel can handle just fine on her own whatever's goin' on with Lou."

Kid glanced toward the closed door, definitely not being able to hide his concern. "But there might be somethin' I can do."

"I'd say you done enough."

"Huh? Teaspoon, I ain't been near her all week!"

"Trust me, son, I am far from an expert but I can pretty much guarantee it happened more than a week ago."

"What happened? Ain't she just sick?" Kid glanced toward the others this time, trying to see if any of them might know what Teaspoon was talking about. He only got shrugs or headshakes in answer.

"Kid, go sit." He waited until the Southerner finally went back to his seat next to Jimmy before moving back to his own chair at the table. "Boys, I think maybe I should have a talk with all my riders."

"Well you'll have to wait, Teaspoon, 'cause Lou ain't back yet."

"Cody, I'm sure Rachel and Lou are deep in conversation as we speak." He took a deep breath as the blonde young man was wearing him out more than normal. "Rachel can handle what Lou needs to hear; I'll take care of what I think you boys should know."

They looked at each other then at the stationmaster as so far none of them could figure out what was going on or what he was talking about.

"I ain't so old that I don't 'member what it was like to think you was all grow'd up and knew enough to make your own decisions in this world. The problem is that sometimes we don't look at the landscapin' 'round us; we see all these different roads we ain't traveled down yet. Some look easy enough to venture down but those tend to be the ones we shy away from, too boring or what knot, then there's that road we cain't see clearly down, so we decide we can handle anythin' and trudge ahead not thinkin' about how our actions are gonna affect others." Teaspoon glanced from the door that Lou had run out of to Kid seated at the table, overlooking the blank stares turned his way. "What you boys need is a mentor."

"I guess it is a good thing Lou ain't here," Cody said as he reached for another cinnamon muffin and stuffed it instantly in his mouth.

"And how do you figur' that, Cody?" Teaspoon had thought this would be a difficult thing to talk to the boys about but was sure he'd figured out how to do it in such a way that it wouldn't become a lecture; but with Cody around, that was proving to be futile.

"'Cause what you said we need is for men and Lou certainly ain't one of them, is she Kid?" The blonde rider smirked at his bunkmate, knowing that would make the man squirm.

"You know as well as we do she ain't, Cody!" Noah spoke for the Kid, seeing how uncomfortable he was getting over his worry about Lou. Normally he and particularly Jimmy would have been happy to tease him about still having feelings for the female rider but since this involved her being sick, that was never a joking matter for any of them.

Kid just glared at Cody before giving Noah a brief nod of thanks. He should have known they wouldn't tease him when they were probably just as worried about what might be wrong with Lou.

Teaspoon looked heavenward before turning to the rider at the other end of the table once again. "Son, if you would get your nose out of 'em dime store books you've taken such a shine to and read some novels or the dictionary, you might be able to follow more clearly what yours truly is tellin' ya."

"A mentor is kinda like a spiritual leader." Buck had been quiet up to this point, listening and trying to figure out where Teaspoon was headed. He gave the older man a small smile as he found himself liking what Teaspoon was suggesting.

"I don't know if any of us need any spiritin', Teaspoon," Jimmy told him as he glanced at the others before pointing at Buck. "Buck always thinks he needs some but he can do that on his own, can't you?"

"Well you don't hafta have any. All it really means is havin' someone around you can go to, to talk about what's troublin' ya or before ya decide to do somethin' that will affect yours and someone else's life." Teaspoon glanced around the table, his eyes resting in the usual spot.

Kid leaned closer to Jimmy and whispered, "Why does it always seem like he's lookin' at me half the time?"

"'Cause he's lookin' at me the other half so whatever bad thing it is you done, mine apparently is just as bad," Jimmy whispered back.

"I ain't done nothin' at least I don't think I have. Now you on the other hand, you like to find trouble."

"Hey!" Jimmy protested but seeing as how it was hard to argue about something that was true, as well as seeing the grin on Kid's face that meant he was just being teased, Jimmy's shoulders began to shake as he softly shared a laugh with his friend.

"Boys, all I'm gettin' at is kinda like what Buck said. A spiritual leader guides an Indian in one way or another, to help him figur' out his path in life; now I ain't gonna tell you what you should do, that's for you to decide since it is your life. But maybe as a mentor I can listen and ask questions to help you decide what is right and what is wrong as far as the actions you take." Teaspoon stood up and began to slowly walk toward the door, pausing to gaze into each rider's eyes. "I just want you boys to know I'm here if you need someone to talk to."

Seeing the concern and care in the man's eyes, Kid finally understood what he was trying to tell them. "Thanks, Teaspoon, that's good to know." He wished he had thought to go to him a time or two recently as certain events in his life had happened quicker than he thought they would. Well that was in the past and from now on, Kid nodded to himself that he would take Teaspoon up on his offer to help them sort through their decisions.

"I'd like that, Teaspoon," Buck told him with another small smile.

"Sounds good to me, too," Noah added as the others nodded their acceptance of his offer.

Teaspoon headed out onto the porch. He glanced toward the main house where he figured Rachel and Lou had retreated to. His heart ached that he hadn't thought to have this talk with the boys long ago. When a situation had come up, he'd tried to help them through it best he could and he had to admit that anything that involved guns was easy compared to what Kid and Lou were about to face. He had no experience in that area and hoped that this change would bring them back together where they belonged.

As Teaspoon headed to the barn to get his horse ready for the ride into town, he thought about the changes coming to their small family in the distant future - some things you didn't know about until after they happened but he also should have told the boys that not everything that changed in their lives was bad. Maybe that could be the topic of tomorrow morning's discussion over breakfast as he was sure that Lou would be making another hasty exit from the bunkhouse.

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