A/N: This story was loosely inspired by the song of the same title from the Disney movie Mulan
Teaspoon stared at the sorry lot in front of him and shook his head. He had his hands, full that was for sure but Russell, Majors and Waddell didn’t hire him for nothing; they knew if anyone could work miracles it would be him.
Standing in front of him were six … and that’s where he kept getting stuck. They weren’t boys and not quite men yet – they were stuck somewhere in between. And it was his job to fix that.
He stared down the line they’d formed in their attempt to hold up the corral fence. One look at them and a person would think they’d been on their feet for as many years as he’d been. He was sure they’d feel as old as he sometimes did and probably wouldn’t be able to walk straight when he was through with them. And if he had taught them right, they would not only be too sore to walk, they’d be too sore to notice they would be sleeping on those paper thin mattresses that were waiting for them.
What an odd assortment he’d been handed, each one as different from each other as was possible yet all were the same. They were young, foolish, and so sure of themselves. One look at them and it was obvious they were positive they had learned all they needed to survive. Maybe that was true on a day to day basis but Teaspoon knew what lie ahead of them out on those trails. And he needed more than just the half breed to survive if they came in contact with Indians. The surety they felt that they could do anything would come in handy but also easily get them knee deep into a pile of manure they couldn’t crawl out of. Cocky as they were, they’d probably go looking for trouble just to prove themselves and wind up dead before the first way station.
Well time to begin training. He’d been nice enough to them.
“Does anyone here know why the company hired you?”
“’Cause we’re orphans,” Cody answered sarcastically.
Teaspoon stood in front of Mr. Cody and hitched his thumbs in his suspenders. “Wrong!”
Protests flew at him at such a rate he was impressed they could think that fast. “Alright,” he said, holding up his hands, “I know it was part of the job requirement but there ain’t no true way to prove that anyway so they would have taken anyone. See, they don’t want any runny nosed squeaky voiced kid who is still attached to their mama’s apron string. No, they want young, but not too young, and strong individuals that will be able to handle themselves out there each and every time they ride out of here. And I believe you have what it takes to fill that role. Now I’ll have to admit it’s buried far beneath dirt and whatnot and will take a while for me to bring it to the surface but it must be there or none of ya would have had the guts to sign up to begin with.”
The six of the boys in front of him started grinning to themselves and sticking their chests out a little farther than a few minutes ago, all that is, except the puny one. He actually quickly stuck his hands under his armpits and slouched even further back against the fence. If he leaned back anymore, he’d be sitting on his rump on the ground, Teaspoon noted.
Teaspoon grinned to himself; he had them right where he wanted them, in his greased up palm ready for him to mold them into shape. He began his pacing once again, studying this rag-tag bunch that went by such names as Buck, Ike, Jimmy, Cody, Lou and Kid. Try as he might, even he couldn’t have come up with a more unusual looking lot of young ‘uns. “Now like I was saying, you came here as boys but by golly I can guarantee you that when I get through with you, you’ll be heading out on your first ride as men.” He turned as the small rider Lou suddenly lost his footing and had to right himself. If Lou hadn’t of shown how good he was on a horse, actually the best he’d seen so far, Teaspoon would have sent the young lad packing, though he probably didn’t have any luggage with him to pack.
“We got one week before this station starts its first ride, that’s six days I got to whip you boys into shape.”
Teaspoon walked to the end of the line and stared at the only one in the lot that didn’t seem too eager to get blood on his hands. “Excuse me?”
Not one to be intimidated, Kid stared back at his boss and said, “There are seven days in a week.”
“I am quite aware of that but I’m sure the other boys thank you for updating them on that bit of information – they might have missed that lesson in all the years of schoolin’ they were given. The way I see it, Kid, if the Good Lord could create this world of ours,” he paused and lifted his hands heavenward, “in six days then rest on the seventh, I do believe I can handle this undertaking in the same amount of time. And don’t think that just ‘cause I’m resting it means you get to too. You think you know how to ride, you think you know how to shoot – well you don’t. I am gonna learn you what it will take to survive out there. And if you ain’t gonna listen to me and do what I tell ya then you can just head back home.” He stood with his hands on his hips and waited to see which hot head made the first move.
Feet shuffled for a couple seconds as the six made brief eye contact with each other.
Jimmy finally shrugged. “Well I ain’t got a home to go back to. Can’t see as this could be too hard anyway, besides, I smell something awful good comin’ from the house.” He grinned at Teaspoon as he resumed his position against the corral fence.
The others echoed their plights regarding the lack of a better place to go and took deep breaths of the aroma floating through the air.
“Alright then I don’t wanna hear no bellyachin’ and maybe we’ll get along just fine. Now mount up, boys.”
The six newly employed Express riders quickly made their way to their horses, each walking a safe distance from the other.
“I hope he leaves me time for target practice,” Jimmy mumbled, fingering his holster.
“I hope he remembers we need to eat three square meals a day,” Cody whined as he grabbed his growling stomach.
“I hope he doesn’t keep trying to test me with his white-made Indian looking items,” Buck sighed.
“I hope he lets me do more with the animals that just feed them,” Ike thought.
“I hope he stops treating us like kids,” Kid whispered.
“I hope he doesn’t tell us to cool down at the swimmin’ hole,” Lou worried.
“Come on, let’s get a move on!” Teaspoon shouted through the open bunkhouse door. He stood on the porch as one by one they stumbled out into the early morning light. Squinting and yawning, they made it as far as the bench next to the door and slumped onto it. Teaspoon was actually impressed that Kid, Buck and Lou had managed to make it to the bottom step before landing on their butts.
“Teaspoon,” Cody whined, “you keep getting us up earlier and earlier each day. What is it gonna be tomorrow? See if we can beat the sun?”
“Yeah, Teaspoon, we’re exhausted and achy all over,” Jimmy complained. “Can’t we take a break for a while.”
Teaspoon stuck his index finger in his ear and swirled it around, tipping his head to see if it would help. “Now let me get this straight. Did I hear right?” he began quietly then in the next instant boomed, “You’re tired?! You’re sore?! What? Did Russell, Majors and Waddell make a mistake and send me girls dressed up like boys?”
“Huh?” Lou squeaked before she could stop it from leaving her mouth. As all eyes turned her way, she quickly began to cough. “I mean,” she began, changing the cough to a laugh, “I’d like to see some weak female handle what we’ve been doing this past week.” Lou instantly started looking around to find the source of such an announcement. Her chin dropped as she realized it had come from her mouth. She sealed her lips shut when she realized it had gotten the others going and sighed in relief that the focus was now off of her.
“Yeah, a girl couldn’t have even made it past the first day,” Kid agreed, directing his comment to Lou who found it hard to look his way.
“Well you six just barely did so I wouldn’t be too quick to talk,” Teaspoon reminded them.
“We already know how to ride and shoot so what else do we need to know?” Cody asked.
“Yeah, what else?” Jimmy agreed.
Teaspoon ran his hand down the front of his face. “Cody, Jimmy ain’t you two heard anything I been sayin’ these past three days or has that stomach of Cody’s been growling so loud it blocked out everything I was saying? I need you to learn what I’m teachin’ ya then you might survive out there.”
“How is learning how to fall off a horse gonna help us survive?” Jimmy questioned.
“You’ll be grateful you learned how to do it right when you can walk away instead of dragging a busted leg behind you.”
“Thank you, Buck,” Teaspoon said. “See, Jimmy, some people have heard what I said and they might be the only ones left here come the end of the week.” He nodded happily at the worried expressions that crossed their faces. “Now move it.” He watched, grinning, as the six grumbled on their way past him. To the untrained eye it would appear as if he was driving them into the ground with hard work but this was necessary for their survival. He’d make them fit for this job that was for sure.
This was judgment day and each of them knew it. They slowly made their way toward the corral fence and waited with bated breath for Teaspoon to decide the fate of their future.
Each knew they needed this job as much as the person standing next to them but it was now out of their hands. Teaspoon had repeatedly told them if he didn’t consider them man enough for the job that he would find replacements for them. The past week had been hard but they’d stuck it out and grown as a result. They were getting used to each other, had a warm place to sleep, and Emma gave them good food to eat. That was all anyone needed, especially six anyones who had been without for so long.
He lined the six riders along the corral fence in the same fashion he’d done on the day they had arrived only this time there was a difference in the air. This time they knew one another, knew each other’s name, where they were from; they weren’t friends yet that wouldn’t be far behind. Teaspoon felt a kinship among the group, something he was sure they each needed and maybe it was something even he could afford to have around.
Teaspoon only felt slightly guilty for the fib he’d told them. He had no intention of firing anyone but it had lit a fire under them even the most stubborn of them so that’s all that mattered. Even the ones like Buck and Kid who had proven themselves early were starting to sweat.
He cleared his throat and tried to look stern. The day had finally come and amazingly they were still standing. He felt like a schoolmarm about to hand out grades.
Six anxious students stood in front of their teacher and waited for his report.
Teaspoon walked down the line, pointing to them one at a time as he spoke.
Buck grinned proudly.
Ike grinned proudly.
Lou grinned proudly then ducked her head.
“I’ll get back to you.”
Cody whimpered in shock.
Kid grinned proudly.
“Ah, what the hell, man.”
Jimmy grinned proudly.
Teaspoon turned around to find Cody standing in his path looking like a five year old who’d lost his teddy bear.
“Fine, you’re a man too.”
“Yeah!” Cody whooped as he got back in line.
“I have to admit I’m proud of you boys, I mean, men. You worked real hard and it shows. Now go on, get out of here, you got the rest of the day off.” Teaspoon watched as twelve feet made a beeline for the bunkhouse as fast as they would carry their bodies. He shook his head as he settled onto the barrel outside the barn. He stretched his feet out in front of him and began to lower his hat over his eyes. He paused as a thought struck him.
“I hope those boys, er, men, do me a favor and none of them do anything stupid and wind up losin’ a mail bag or gettin’ shot on his first run.”