Author’s note: Episode reference – ‘Bad Blood’

The five riders stood on the bunkhouse porch as they waved and called goodnight to Emma and Teaspoon. They watched until Teaspoon had walked Emma to her front door then returned to the tack room to retire for the evening.

The riders disassembled from the line they’d formed at the edge of the porch and went to find a place to rest their weary bodies. It was a humid evening with very little breeze but whatever the night had to offer was better than what was waiting for them inside. Ike and Buck sat on the bench under the windows while Jimmy lounged out against the front post, his legs hanging down the length of the steps. Kid just leaned on the side of the building and put a piece of straw in his mouth to chew on.

Cody turned but didn’t follow the others. Instead he clapped his hands together and threw them up into the air. “Is this great or what?!” he exclaimed.

“I don’t know what’s going on from your side of the porch that would make you think things are great but from where I’m sitting, it’s anything but,” Jimmy grumbled.

“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy,” Cody began as he walked toward his bunkmate. “You have to look at the whole picture.” He clapped him on the shoulder then took a seat next to his friend.

“I am looking at the whole picture and I don’t like what I’m seein’,” Jimmy retorted. He backed his body up as far as it could go as Cody’s face was getting a little too close to his own. “We got the whole evening to ourselves and not a darn thing to do.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, my friend.” Cody got up and turned in a circle so he was including everyone in his conversation. “Can’t you see? Emma and Teaspoon have retired earlier than usual, there’s half a cherry pie still left in the bunkhouse, and none of us have to get up extra early to leave on a ride.”

“You can take all that, I’ll take being in the company of someone a whole lot prettier than the likes of the four of you. I just wish I had the energy to get up and head into town.”

“Without us there you’d probably get into a fight as usual,” Cody told him. ‘Jimmy, this is an opportunity not to be missed – to say what we want, be as forward as we want, offer advice freely, maybe teach these boys a thing or two, and not worry about how we say it since it’s, you know, just us fellas, no girls around.”

Kid looked up at Cody. “You make it sound like we live in a bunkhouse full of women and never get any privacy. There’s only one girl who would be around and you know it.”

“We know it now,” Cody said, turning and walking toward the Kid. “But we didn’t know it when we first signed up, we didn’t know it a month ago, we didn’t know it two weeks ago and we also didn’t know it five days ago. Only one person was privy to that deep dark secret and he wasn’t talking.” He crossed his arms and stood staring at Kid.

Kid tried to swallow the lump that was forming in his throat as he noticed the other three riders turn their bodies until all attention was directed his way.

“Yeah, Kid, what do you have to say to that?” Jimmy asked as he sat up straighter; suddenly the evening looked more promising. He and Cody glanced at each other.

Kid noticed the look that passed between the two of them and stood up straighter. Suddenly their conversation began to make a lot more sense. “You two have been planning this all along. You couldn’t wait to get me alone to try to get it out of me.”

“What would make you think that?” Cody asked nervously as he glanced at Jimmy again.

“Because you can’t stand the fact that I knew something before the two of you,” Kid chuckled. “If you wanna know so badly why don’t you just ask Lou?”

“’Cause you know full well she’s not gonna tell us,” Jimmy told him.

“Besides we already asked her,” Cody blurted out. “Owe!” He grabbed his arm and gave Jimmy a nasty look.

“Can you blame us for wanting to know, Kid?” Jimmy asked. “It is quite a bit of juicy information you had there. Didn’t it make you crazy keeping that kind of knowledge to yourself?”

“It wasn’t for me to tell.”

“Well then it sure was a good thing that Jimmy was present when her daddy decided to call her by her proper name. I’ll tell you when she let us know it was a shock to me; must have been a shock to you too, Jimmy, seeing as how you were there when the moment of truth unfolded.”

“Left me speechless. Must have left you speechless too, Kid, since you couldn’t bring yourself to tell us what you knew.”

“I already told you I couldn’t tell,” Kid said, getting annoyed. “I gave my word and there was no way I was going to go back on that.” He pushed himself away from the wall with his shoulder then buried his hands in his pocket as he walked past the others on his way to an empty chair. He was half tempted to go inside and pretend to fall asleep in a second’s time but the truth of the matter was that it was much cooler outside than inside so he figured he’d try to hold out as long as he could.

“Wouldn’t expect you to, Kid, but don’t you think as men we had a right to know there was a woman sleeping in the same room as us?” Jimmy asked as he watched Kid walk past him.

“Yeah, it’s not fair,” Cody whined. “We get changed in there. She’s seen all of us naked and none of us have seen her naked.”

THUMP!

The four riders turned to see Kid sitting on the wood floor of the porch, a turned over chair behind him.

He instantly sprang to his feet, righted the chair and planted himself in it. He sprawled back in the chair and resumed chewing on his piece of straw, trying to act as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He was relieved when Jimmy and Cody went back to looking at each other and when Ike turned to sign something to Buck. Only Kid failed to notice that Buck wasn’t watching Ike but was staring at him instead.

Buck was closest to Kid and even in the dim light cast from the lantern hanging by the door, he was sure he saw a blush surface on Kid’s cheeks as he set about picking himself up. Buck shrugged; he figured he’d be pretty embarrassed too if he’d forgotten how to sit down in a chair.

“Didn’t it bother you knowing she was in there as we had some of our discussions?” Jimmy asked.

“I never said anything to embarrass myself,” Kid told him, which was the truth. He wouldn’t have been as blunt about his relationships or experience as Cody and Jimmy were even if they weren’t in mixed company.

“That’s because you knew she was in there with us.” Jimmy shook his head. “Must admit, we are having a hard time trying to figure out how you would know it in the first place.”

“We know you two had never met before we all arrived here,” Buck said. “Only Ike and I knew each other; Jimmy and Cody only talked when it was to brag that they finally did something right; you kept to yourself, Kid, and Lou kept even more to herself than you did.”

Ike tapped on the building then signed something to Buck.

“Ike’s right – Lou hardly said anything to anyone during that first week of training so it didn’t happen then.”

“Now when did she tell you?” Jimmy wondered. “What did you do or say that made her trust you with something that important?” He paused, deep in thought. “Still I just can’t see her coming right out and telling anyone since she didn’t know what we would do with the information. And to tell you just because she was sweet on you, uh uh, I just don’t buy it. She had too much at stake. And she had no way of knowing you’d be panting after her.”

“I’m not panting after her,” Kid protested.

“So that’s not the reason why your eyes get all misty when ever you see her? It must be the dust,” Cody decided. “You two ever kiss?”

“It’s none of your business.” Kid tried to look away but there was no where to look. Every corner of the porch contained one of his bunkmates. So all he could do was hope the darkness would hide the blush that he felt creeping onto his cheeks.

“Look at him, squirming like a child caught sleeping at Sunday services,” Cody laughed. “He’s kissed her or she kissed him. Which is it, Kid?”

He looked at them. Maybe if he told them they would stop the barrage of questions. Lou wouldn’t get too mad about him revealing that truth, right?

“Once her kissing me and twice me kissing her and that is it.”

“That’s all?” Jimmy asked. “What are you waiting for?”

“I just want to take things slow and it isn’t like I could just take her out to a nice dinner in town. She’s supposed to be a man and I made a promise I wouldn’t give her secret away.”

“Alright that makes sense,” Jimmy agreed. “You sure are honorable, Kid.” As Kid looked away, he suddenly chuckled. “Whatever the reason was for telling you, I will admit she made the right choice. I must say it was a damn good thing you were the one holding her secret ‘cause if it had been one of us, I’m not so sure we would have kept it.”

“You better believe she was lucky I found out,” Kid exclaimed. “Ike or Buck might not have told but if it had been you or Cody, with how hot headed you were when you first got here, you would have told so fast ...” He stopped speaking as he found four pairs of eyes staring at him and each face that contained those eyes was lit up with big smiles.

“What?” he asked in confusion.

“So you found out?” Jimmy asked for clarification.

“I didn’t say that,” Kid replied, beginning to panic. There were still staring at him and this time Buck was looking at him as deeply as Jimmy and Cody had been.

“Yes you did, Kid,” Cody told him.

“It actually makes a lot of sense,” Buck said. “Jimmy was right that it didn’t seem like she would just come out with that bit of information, even if she did think you were cuter than the rest of us.”

“So the question is when and how did you find out?”

“Maybe he walked in on her taking a shower or looking at dresses or getting changed,” Cody suggested.

“Cody, will you get serious. Though I will admit your first idea would be a fun way to find out, Lou’s too smart for it to have happened that way,” Jimmy assured him.

“Alright,” Cody agreed. “Then it couldn’t have been around here because we were always together until we started taking regular rides after our initiation run. So you had to have been with her at some time that the rest of us weren’t.”

“That’s it,” Jimmy said, wagging his finger in Cody’s direction. “Now that I think back on it, it was after Lou’s first run that the two of you became pretty chummy. Now what happened to change that?”

“Lou got shot,” Buck quietly reminded the others.

Kid whipped his head in Buck’s direction then quickly turned away. He was afraid if he met Buck’s eye that the Indian would know instantly what he was hiding.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s right,” Jimmy said, now pointing his finger in Buck’s direction. “But all I remember was her being mad at Kid for not wanting her to go with us when we went after that gang that had stolen the pouch.”

“She was hurt,” Kid explained. “I didn’t want her to get injured worse than she was.”

Buck nodded. “I do remember her looking as if she was in a lot of pain but trying not to show it. Still it must not have been too bad if she was walking around. And come to think of it, you were very insistent that she stay behind.”

Each time someone spoke, Kid would close his eyes and shake his head. They were so close and he couldn’t figure out how to divert their attention elsewhere. He felt numb.

“Ooh, ooh, ooh,” Cody squealed, raising his hand to speak. “Maybe it wasn’t because she was hurt that you didn’t want her to come, maybe it was because you didn’t want Lou ‘the girl’ to come. Is that it, Kid?” He had jumped to his feet in his excitement.

“Why would you think that?” Kid asked nervously. “I told you he was hurt and that he would slow us down.”

“He did tell us that,” Jimmy said, “but it could have just been a cover up. If it was because she was a girl then he would have found out before we got there. So how did you find out?”

“Maybe when he found her she was crying like females do when they’re hurt and he heard her. Or maybe she asked him to leave the room so she could take care of her own injury,” Cody said, deep in thought.

“Cody, do you really think Lou would do something like that, cry over a little gunshot wound?” Jimmy asked.

“Hey, I never expected her to be anything but a shy boy so I say that anything’s possible.”

“Where did she get shot again, Kid?” Buck asked. “I’m not sure if she told us or not.”

“It was near the ribs,” Kid mumbled, finally looking in Buck’s direction. He was trying to read where the man was going with that question but his face was void of emotion.

Buck nodded as he looked at Kid once more. “You were lucky that cabin was there so you could help take care of her or was it like Cody said and she did it all before you got there? It wouldn’t have been easy wrapping a cloth around her middle while probably having some broken ribs. But if a person’s desperate enough and can withstand the pain, it can be done.”

Again Kid saw no reaction of any kind on Buck’s face. Maybe he was just asking questions like Jimmy and Cody were in an attempt to find out the truth. Kid nodded in Buck’s direction then stopped as he realized a nod meant he was agreeing to having helped Lou. Or maybe he was agreeing that she had taken care of the wound herself – he was so confused right now he was finding it hard to keep straight where this conversation was going.

“Maybe he dressed her wound and maybe he didn’t,” Cody interrupted, becoming frustrated. “Big deal. Speaking of dressing or, rather, dresses – have you ever seen her in one?”

“Yeah, Kid, I’m sure if anyone knows if she even owns one it would be you,” Jimmy said, smiling.

She wouldn’t get mad if he told about that, would she? It was better them finding out she owns a dress than them finding out anything else. “I’ll tell you all about it over a card game,” Kid told him. His mouth wanted to smile out of happiness so badly but it would have to wait until he was alone. He couldn’t believe they had all dropped their line of questioning that quickly. He was sure they would try to figure it out another time but he would deal with that then and not a second sooner.

“For that kind of information I’d be willing to lose every hand,” Cody said as he and Jimmy jumped to their feet in an attempt to beat each other to the door.

“You usually do anyway,” Jimmy reminded him as they headed inside.

Ike shook his head at their antics and followed at a more leisurely pace.

“Come on, Buck and Kid!” Jimmy called from inside.

Buck got up to follow Ike inside then paused in the doorway. He turned around. “Can I ask you something, Kid?”

Kid had held back in getting up from his chair because he needed to be alone for at least a second to breathe a huge sigh of relief. He looked up at Buck and again saw a blank expression on the man’s face. “Alright,” Kid agreed hesitantly.

“So, how do things appear underneath it all?”

Buck glanced down at Kid, eyebrows raised but a serious expression on his face. Kid gulped and stared bug-eyed at Buck. He knows! The voice inside his head kept screaming those words at him. Oh, God, how could he know? Lou would kill him for sure. “How…?”

“I’d been trying to think of it and it finally came to me, what Lou used as her argument to come with us that day – she told us you said yourself she wasn’t hurt that bad. I only know of one way to check a gunshot wound and I don’t know any one who could assess the damage without exposing the area.” He began to grin at the nervous man in front of him. “So?”

Kid turned his face away as he was sure his cheeks were getting as red as they had that one afternoon several months ago. He quickly got up and brushing past Buck on his way inside, answered, “Let’s just say everything is right where it should be and leave it at that.”

Buck stood grinning in the direction of the open door. He listened as Jimmy eagerly offered Kid a seat at the poker table and Cody began his round of questions once more. He nodded his head in satisfaction before following the Kid.

“At least that explains why he’s always smiling in his sleep.”

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