"Kid, you need a bath!"

"Nice to see you too, Lou," Kid muttered as he shifted his body to the edge of his bunk and stood up, all without using his hands. He sat down at the table and deliberately placed his hands palm side up on the surface, holding the bandaged pieces of his body in her direction. "In case you've forgotten, the doctor told me I can't get them wet for at least a week."

Lou moved from where she was standing just inside the doorway until she was opposite him by the table. "I know, I was here when he gave you that diagnosis but it's been four days already and no offense but you ain't gonna make it to a week if you don't clean yourself up and I mean right now. The boys are grumbling and threatening to throw you in the pond."

"If Cody even thinks of coming after me it's all his fault I'm in this shape to begin with!" Kid interrupted her.

"Cody says you wouldn't have gotten hurt if you weren't in the way."

"He says I was in the way?! My hands were where they were supposed to be. He just can't get his mind off the ladies; he's always gotta be lookin' where he's not supposed to and always at the wrong time. All I did was put my hands down on the wagon bed and all he did was put the crate down in the wagon bed the only problem was that he put the crate down right on my hands!!"

"Yeah, so you've said like a hundred times but if you hadn't been so stubborn and insisted they were fine and didn't need to see the doctor you wouldn't have tried to use them when you shouldn't and they wouldn't have swelled up like they did." She gave a nod of satisfaction that no matter what he said, she would have an answer for him that would make him realize he really was at their mercy at the moment.

How Kid wanted to teach her a lesson but he couldn't even get dressed by himself in the morning so unless he only used his mouth, there wasn't much he could do at that moment. "It can't be as bad as you say it is, Lou," he finally grumbled.

"It's worse. It's the middle of summer and even if you don't do any work, you still sweat. So I came up with a solution that will work for all of us and keep this place smelling better than it has been lately." Lou looked proudly at him as she waited for him to ask her what her idea was.

Without trying to be obvious, Kid leaned toward his armpit and tried to smell if she was telling the truth but all he smelled was his usual smell. Still, it was possible she was being honest with him and if he didn't do something about cleaning himself up and the boys retaliated by making his hands get wet, he'd have to go at least another week without the use of them. He could use his fingers for small things he needed to do that he was not about to ask anyone under any conditions to help him with but he didn't want to take the chance of doing anything that had to do with water.

Seeing her standing there looking all smug made him want to jump up and kiss that look right off her face but they weren't a couple anymore and even though he still loved her, he knew he had no right at this time to even be thinking about doing such a thing. They were now civil toward each other since their breakup but neither one had ventured so far, either by actions or words, as to let the other one know they were still interested. So Kid shook his head to clear those thoughts and asked her what he knew she was dying for him to ask. "Alright, Lou, so tell me how I can take care of this little problem."

"It's simple actually. Like I said, you need a bath in a bathtub but you need someone to give it to you." Lou grinned at him. She knew she was making perfect sense; she just needed him to agree to what she was saying then the rest would be a memory he wouldn't forget for a long time.

A bath Kid knew a shower wouldn't work because of the water falling everywhere, and neither would a dip in the pond because if he lost his balance, he would automatically shove his hands out in front of him to catch himself and he'd be wet, obviously. "I don't know, Lou," he told her hesitantly. "I ain't much of a bath person. The last bath I took was that time we stayed over in St. Joe and we were covered in mud from the storm we'd rode through and you said 'I'll clean you if you clean me' and we did that and more until the water was freezing cold and we " He looked Lou in the eyes, not believing he'd replayed that scene in their relationship out loud in front of her and made it sound like it meant something to him. Of course it did but she couldn't know that just for his own stubborn pride. "I'll pass but thank you anyway." Kid went back to looking at his bandaged hands as they rested on the table.

Lou had bit down on her lip to keep a smile from showing as Kid had spoken of that ride they'd taken months ago. It was the first verbal sign he'd given that he still cared for her and she wasn't going to let him forget it. She knew that what she had planned for today would help in that area. "You know it's the only way, Kid." She paused until he was looking at her once more then finished, "I'm only sayin' it for your own benefit I don't want you out of commission any longer than you need to be. It's just one friend offerin' to help another friend out." This time she did smile his way and he found himself smiling back.

"So how do you suggest I go about it?"

"You have three choices - it's either me, Jimmy or Rachel. If it's me we can do it now since all the boys are in town with Rachel pickin' up supplies; if it's the others you'll have to wait a little bit. Now Jimmy I can understand you choosin' 'cause you're both boys and have been swimmin' and such together. But you better not think of pickin' Rachel."

Kid heard the threat in her voice loud and clear so he ducked his head to hide his smile. Didn't she just say she was trying to help him as a 'friend'? So why did those words make it sound like she was jealous? Kid needed to find out. What she needed was a good old riling up. He was very good at that - getting her mad so that by the time she realized he'd been leading her on and hadn't been serious, she was already in position for him to take advantage of physically. Well, he couldn't do that now but at least maybe he would leave the idea on her mind and give her something to think about of what they used to have and what was now missing from her life. He was sure she wanted him as much as he wanted her; their only problem was that they were always in a competition to oust the other as most stubborn so nothing got said that should get said.

He stared out the window as if pondering over Lou's suggestions. "Maybe if it was the other way around and Rachel was the one needin' the bath."

"What?!" Lou growled out from between clenched teeth.

"I'm kidding! I'm kidding!" Kid held his mittened hands up in mock surrender.

"You better be," she warned him.

"'Sides she's too much of a woman for me to handle."

"Thanks a lot, Kid," Lou said, not letting the hurt hide from her voice.

"I meant her personality," he clarified. He knew he'd said enough, that the gears in her head were churning at full speed, trying to decipher all he'd told her. He let it rest for now; he had her right where he wanted her.

"Sure ya did," she muttered as she looked down at her petite frame.

"Who do you take me for, Cody? Jimmy? I would think you'd know by now that I like my hands full, not overflowing." He watched as she seemed to calm down, in fact she did more than that, he noted, as her cheeks began to turn a lovely shade of pink. He was good at getting to her that way; usually she caught on but she had no clue right now. Good, he thought. "Havin' her do it would be like my sister givin' me a bath if I had one and that just doesn't sound right. And Jimmy wouldn't let me forget I owe him for doin' a favor of that kind for me so, you win. I pick you. At least it ain't like we never took a bath together before."

"Only this time I ain't gettin' in the tub with ya, Kid, I'm just scrubbin' ya."

Kid thought long and hard on what she'd just said and raising his eyes to stare at her, he asked, "Is there a difference?"

She didn't know how to answer that. She didn't want to. She would give him the bath then he could answer that question for himself; she was just glad it was now on his mind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Lou, there bubbles in there."

Kid was standing in the back room of Rachel's house staring at the tub Lou had prepared for him. She'd told him to give her some time to heat the water and get all the supplies together then she'd call across the yard to him. He had, in the meantime, retrieved from his trunk clean long johns, pants, shirt, and socks. When she told him to come to the house, he brought those items with him.

Now he stood staring at the foamy surface of the tub. True he'd shared a bubble bath on that ride with Lou and thoroughly enjoyed it but it was what was going on under the surface that had his attention, not what was floating on top of it so this was now his only concern. "Bubbles," he repeated.

"I know," she answered simply. Lou's mind drifted to that same ride, knowing he was visiting there as well.

"You may not know this, Lou, but men don't take bubble baths; it's just not manly."

"I figured the bubbles would be a good covering for, well, you know," she said then paused pretending to get embarrassed as she looked away for a moment. "I thought you might feel uncomfortable havin' me in the room with ya so I added them at the last moment." That was such a lie; she'd had the bottle of bubbles waiting along with the towel and wash rag she would need to get the job done.

Kid looked at her and smiled. "That was really nice of you. Thank you."

"My pleasure." And hopefully your pleasure too, she thought wickedly as she bowed her head graciously in acceptance of his thanks. "I also want you to know I'll hold the towel up high so once you're undressed you can get in and under the safety of the bubbles without being seen." Lou gave him an innocent smile. She was really very good at this, she decided.

"Uh, yeah, right about that." Kid glanced around nervously before taking a deep breath and plunging head first into his explanation. "I'm gonna need help." Kid had thought about her buttoning up his clean clothes after he put them on but not about needing help taking off the dirty ones. The shirt was one thing, no big deal, but the pants that was entering into dangerous territory. "With the splints on I can't do any buttons. The boys gotta help me in the mornin' and each time I have to make a trip out to the, well, let's just say I've never drank such little amounts of anythin' as I have this whole week." Kid nervously laughed.

Lou bit down on her bottom lip to keep from smiling. That wouldn't be very nice of her to make him feel uncomfortable when he already felt that way, now would it?

"Not a problem," she answered. "I'll just get you started then you can pull the clothes off the rest of the way. I won't look, I promise." She stepped closer to him than was necessary and quickly undid each button of his shirt then she bent her body over but kept her face directed at his and made fast work of undoing his pants. "There you go." She stepped away from him and unfolded the towel, holding it up to block herself from the tub.

Kid exhaled as he found he'd sucked in his breath at not only having Lou so close to him but also at the feel of her fingers on his body. True, it was on his clothes and not his skin but he had a good memory and as she'd touched him, it was like being back in the pond with her or sharing a bed roll with her out on the trail. And he didn't even want to begin to think about the memories that had surfaced when she'd undone his pants. She was quite skilled with buttons, he had to acknowledge.

Glancing over the towel and noting that Lou's eyes were not in the direction he was, Kid undressed as quickly as his mittened hands would let him. He gingerly stepped into the tub so as not to splash any water in the direction of his hands and lowered his body into the water. It was warm, he realized, admitting to himself that maybe she'd had a good idea after all. His whole body began to relax as Kid leaned back against the edge of the tub.

Lou had deliberately looked away because she didn't need to see him in all his glory, not this time anyway. She had learned from being with Kid that a girl could get pleasured other ways.

"Alright let's get down to business." She picked up a bowl in one hand and the washrag in the other.

"What do you mean?" Kid asked as he began to panic. He tried to squirm away from her but that would require placing his hands on the edge of the tub and that was too close to the water and too close to another week of being helpless and at everyone else's mercy so instead he just leaned in the direction she wasn't and stared at her.

Lou clucked her tongue at him as if reprimanding a small child. He may not be small but he was a kid so her action seemed justified. "Now, Kid, you know you can't get your hands wet so I don't know how you thought you'd be gettin' your hair and body clean without me doin' it for you."

Kid shrugged. "I figured just gettin' in the water and gettin' wet would be enough."

"Well you figured wrong. Now hold still and I'll go as fast as I can. Lean your head forward."

He watched her demonstrate then figuring it was safe since it was only his head, Kid did as she did and just in time as she already had the bowl dunked in the tub and filled with water.

Lou poured a few bowls full on his head until she heard what sounded like spitting.

"Lou! You tryin' to drown me?!"

"Oh, sorry, Kid." She grinned sheepishly at him as she reached out her left hand and pushed his wet hair back away from his face. She wanted so badly to run her hand through his wavy hair again but didn't dare take that much advantage of him. That would be going too far and he might not appreciate it. So she went back to the business at hand. Picking up the wash rag and soap, Lou dunked both items in the tub to get them wet then went about lathering up the rag.

Once Kid could see again without having water run into his eyes or mouth, he didn't take his eyes off her hands. He watched as she soaped up the wash rag and hoped with all his might that she was only going to use it on his head. That he could handle; anything else and he was afraid of how his body would react and what he would be forced to do to her to stop his body from reacting that way. And all he knew was that anything he did would result in his being bandaged for yet another week. He sighed in relief as she did bring the rag toward his head and placed it on the top of his hair.

"Now just lean your head back so no soap goes in your eyes," she softly directed him.

Kid did as she said, also closing his eyes. He felt like he was being massaged as she gently scrubbed and scratched with her fingernails through the cloth all around his head, behind his ears, at the base of his neck. He felt like he was in heaven until

PLOP!

His eyes shot open as he turned to look at her. He opened his mouth to speak but instead used it to blow on his forehead. His fast action of sitting up made the soap on his head begin to slip down from his hair, onto his forehead and straight toward his eyes. Kid now stared at her with one eye closed.

Lou's heart melted at the sight of Kid winking at her. She did know the real reason for the face he was making but she couldn't help herself; he was just too darn cute for words. Without being able to stop herself, she reached out and gently used her thumb to wipe the suds off his eyebrow. She then ran her hand down the side of his face before coming to her senses and realizing just what it was she was doing.

Kid was temporarily mesmerized by her soft touch and gentle care. Then his mind brought him back to the reason he'd gotten the soap in his eye in the first place. "What was that?"

Lou looked at him, with a straight face, all business again. "Oops, I dropped the rag. Give me a minute to get it so I can continue washing your face and shoulders and such." Before Kid could protest, Lou shoved her hand into the tub, right up to her rolled up sleeves. "It's so hard to see in here with all these bubbles so it's gonna take me a second to find it. Ah, there it is!" She grinned triumphantly at him.

Kid, meanwhile, sharply sucked in his breath and moaned to her through clenched teeth. "Lou."

"Hmm?" She glanced up at him, her hand still in the water.

"That ain't the wash rag."

"It ain't? You sure?"

"Trust me on that."

"I'll just have to check to be sure."

This time Kid's mouth hung wide open as he arched his back. He turned two startled and confused eyes in her direction.

"You're right; my fault. Ah, here it is." She brought the piece of cloth triumphantly up out of the tub to show him. "Now you just relax and let me clean you the rest of the way." She went about soaping the rag again then placed it on his shoulders, quickly working her way down to his chest.

"But , but, but, but " Kid managed to protest feebly. Just what was she doing? And why, more importantly, wasn't he stopping her? He could grab hold of her and risk getting his hands wet in order to get her to stop torturing him; or he could move his body out of the way by standing up and telling her firmly that the bath was over but that would involve exposing his unclothed body to her and he wasn't ready to do that; or he could sit there like the fool he was and let her have her way with him.

"Kid, I don't mind. 'Sides you know it would be foolish to stop now when we've accomplished so much already."

He stared at her open mouthed. He'd done nothing but agree to her giving him a bath, which is what she wanted to do all along, so why was he being tortured by her? Her words told him she was there as just a friend so why was it so hard to believe that from her actions? Kid watched as Lou's hand moved lower and lower on his chest. He threw his head back, resting it on the edge of the tub as he looked heavenward.

Kid felt defeated. He would rather be facing the barrel of a gun, pointed straight at his heart, than have to helplessly face Lou's hands in the tub.

Lou smiled in satisfaction as Kid let out a moan that was several syllables long; a moan the meaning of which was perfectly clear to her. If this didn't get him flowing in the right direction nothing would.

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