Author’s note: This story takes place after the episode ‘Hard Times’ and is based on the song ‘I Just Got Back From Hell’ by Gary Allen. Thanks to Kristin for posting this song fic idea that put a story idea in my head that wouldn’t go away until I wrote it! And thanks to Dee for looking it over – it’s much appreciated!
I just got back from Hell and I'm standing here alive I know it's really hard to tell Don't know how I survived But I can't say that I'm doin' great But I think I'm doin' well That Devil's gonna have to wait 'Cause I just got back from Hell
Jimmy glanced sideways at the rider keeping pace alongside him. If he weren’t able to see the man, he would have thought he’d lost him several miles back. He’d been like that all afternoon, not saying a word, letting Jimmy set the pace. They’d made their delivery but with no mail to bring back, they didn’t have to rush. Jimmy shook his head, not being able to figure it out; his bunkmate hadn’t spoken a word since they’d stopped around noon to grab a quick bite and that was hours ago. It certainly wasn’t like him and on any other occasion Jimmy might have enjoyed it but due to recent events, it actually had Jimmy a little worried.
“Hey, Kid, this might be a good spot to make camp for the night,” Jimmy called out, slowing his mount down.
Kid looked his way then nodded as he also brought his animal to a walk. He pulled on Katy’s reins, ready to turn toward the hollow Jimmy had indicated with his head.
Jimmy quickly turned in his saddle.
“What?” Kid asked, noticing the look of confusion and disbelief on Jimmy’s face.
“You’re gonna agree with me, just like that?”
“I figure you can tell if we’ve ridden enough for one day or if the animals are getting tired,” Kid told him with a shrug. “So why wouldn’t I agree with you?”
“’Cause you always have an opinion about everything.” Jimmy got down out of the saddle and began to unload his supplies.
“No I don’t.”
“Uh, yeah you do, Kid.”
“Then why don’t you just not listen to what I have to say?” Kid questioned, a hint of annoyance clearly in his voice. He tossed his things to the ground then began to take his saddle off while avoiding Jimmy’s eyes.
“Because sometimes you do make sense,” Jimmy reluctantly admitted. “The other times I’m not so sure of because I only listen with my ears half opened. And as much as I hate to admit it, right about now I’m starting to miss all those opinions thrown my way.” Jimmy dropped his saddle on the ground then began to walk around, picking up enough sticks to start a fire.
Kid heard the underlying message in Jimmy’s words. He took a couple steps in Jimmy’s direction then changed his mind and went to get dinner supplies out of his saddlebag and placed them on the ground. “Sorry, I just haven’t felt much like talking lately.”
“Maybe you haven’t felt like talking much the past week but you sure did feel like yelling,” Jimmy observed. “You been yelling at everyone for everything. You even yelled at Lou. I don’t know if anyone told you but she was real worried about you. The night we were out on the trail, headed toward Prosperity, it took Cody several times to assure her you would be alright.”
Kid looked away out of guilt. “Yeah I know. Buck tried to tell me about it but I wouldn’t listen.”
“Well I’m listening.”
“To you, to whatever you might wanna say. You look to be a man with a lot going on inside right now and I thought you might need to get some of it off your chest.” He stood still, his arms laden with wood.
Kid stared at Jimmy. He seemed genuine in his desire to listen and maybe help Kid but Kid wasn’t sure if that was what he wanted right now.
“And this is from the man who would rather hold a gun on someone than tell them how he might actually be feeling.”
Jimmy bent his head and laughed. “That’s a topic for another day. Besides, I may be like that but you’re not and that’s the way you’ve been acting.” He paused when he noticed that Kid had stopped moving around and was now looking at him. At least he had the man’s attention. “So I thought you might want to talk about it. You can take your time, we have all night.” He came back to the center of their camp, dumped his armful of sticks, then knelt down and began to make a fire. He gave Kid a glance every couple seconds.
Was that a hint of smugness on Jimmy’s face? Kid wasn’t sure but whatever it was, it was annoying the hell out of him. “Alright, yeah, I have something I want to say.”
“Good, good,” Jimmy said, trying to be encouraging. He gave up on the fire and moved back to sit on his bedroll, trying to give Kid his undivided attention.
“What are you doing here, Jimmy?” Kid demanded angrily. “What, did Teaspoon not trust me enough to make a run by myself? Was he afraid I would get swindled back into another labor camp or worse, maybe I’d wind up dead this time?” He untied the rope around his bedroll and threw it to the ground.
“Just wanted an extra gun on this run, that’s all,” Jimmy told him calmly.
Kid wasn’t sure if Jimmy was being honest or not but he decided to drop it. When did he start doubting his family? He took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair. He didn’t feel like the same person anymore, nothing that was important to him seemed to matter anymore and he couldn’t stop himself from feeling that way. Kid sighed heavily; he wanted to go back to the way things were before he’d gone off on that ride with Cody but he didn’t know how because he wasn’t exactly sure what was bothering him.
Jimmy glanced over at his friend and could almost see the gears turning in the man’s mind as he struggled to rise to the surface. “You know, Kid, the only one doubting your capabilities is you.” He got up and went to his pile of sticks again.
Suddenly Kid let out a huge sigh and sat on a fallen log near the fire pit Jimmy was now preparing. “I know,” he admitted slowly. “I keep thinking maybe there was a way I could have prevented it or at least seen it coming.”
“What, you getting dragged in there or those other fellas dying?”
“Both!” Kid cried out in frustration as he got up and stepped away then realizing he was doing what Jimmy had just reminded him of, he quieted down and said in his normal voice, “both.”
“Kid, you gotta keep your mind from going there.”
“Well it ain’t that easy. A place like that changes a man.”
“Only if you let it.”
“How can I not? You ever feel out of control, Jimmy, like the life you were living was on someone else’s terms? That you had to ask permission to do anything and at any moment it could all be taken away from you?”
“Yeah, I’ve felt that a time or two. Not a nice feeling, is it?”
“The worst there is. I vowed when I left Virginia I would never feel that way again but then we don’t always get what we want, do we?”
“Look, Kid, I can’t pretend to know what all you and the others went through that week but I do know that you wouldn’t be here now if you didn’t fight for what you want. Maybe you were too young when you were in Virginia to do anything about it but you did do something about the control here. Despite what you think, you can’t change everyone; make them better than they are. You did what you had to do to survive and they did what they had to at the time.”
Kid stared at Jimmy as what he was saying was slowly starting to sink in. “I just feel guilty that I couldn’t do anything to help them. What right do I have to just forget, huh? You know, I thought I could just walk away, go back to the way things were. But all I think about are the ones that didn’t walk away.” Kid sat back down again, feeling dejected.
“Was it because of you?”
“Then it wasn’t your fault. You should be happy, proud, you survived all that. Kid,” Jimmy continued as he got up and went to his friend, “I think part of it is that you didn’t get any closure. I know how that is; you want to punish the people that hurt you and you tried but it was done before you got there. You can either let it eat away at you or brush it aside and go back to living.”
“Could you do that, Jimmy, just pretend that nothing happened?”
Jimmy looked away for several seconds as a few events in his life played across his mind. He finally looked down at Kid and answered, “I’d like to think I’ve learned enough being around Teaspoon and the rest of you all to give it a fair try. Couldn’t promise anything but I’d at least make an attempt.” He chuckled at the irony of that whole situation.
Kid nodded, knowing Jimmy was being as honest as he could. “I don’t want it to take over, I want to beat it,” Kid said quietly as he looked at his friend for help. He wasn’t sure he could do this alone and as hard as it was, he was telling Jimmy that he needed help.
“You already have. See, the real Kid wouldn’t let scum like that win. Sure he’ll take things personally but then that’s the type of person he is.”
“Yeah and the real Kid knows when he’s done wrong and will admit it, even if it’s hard,” Kid said. “You’re right about me being mad at them but since I couldn’t get my revenge, well …”
“We were safe, right? You took it out on us.”
Kid nodded. “I got a lot of apologizing to do. I don’t even know what to say ‘cause I still don’t feel like it’s over.”
“You have to work your way back to the living one tiny step at a time,” Jimmy explained. “It’s like when Teaspoon was teaching us the proper way to ride and fall off a horse. We just went straight to the end result without doing each step along the way and all we got for our trouble was a lot of bruises.” Jimmy rubbed his hip at the memory.
Kid chuckled. “That’s what you and Cody got; the rest of learned how to do it by watching and helping each other out.” Kid stared at Jimmy as he finally understood what the meaning of this conversation was. “I guess it’s alright that things don’t go right the first time; it’s the end result that matters. And I survived – I survived that first week with Teaspoon trying to kill us and I survived the past week with those men trying to kill me.
“You’re right, Jimmy,” Kid continued, “I can’t let them win. I need to let everyone know they lost and that they lost big time.”
“Good for you, Kid,” Jimmy said. He was proud of his friend and hoped if he was ever faced with a similar situation that he would get the help of his friends.
“Thanks, Jimmy, oh and, Jimmy, when we get back, well, I was kinda wondering …” Kid blushed as he tried to get his point across.
“I’ll keep Teaspoon away so you can apologize,” Jimmy said, grinning. “See I was easy, you didn’t have to say the ‘s’ word to me and I’m sure the others will just be glad to see the real Kid beginning to return …,” he paused as he looked to the ground for a moment then back at Kid with a sympathetic smile, as he continued, “but for the person who makes doe eyes at you from across the table, I don’t think you’ll be that lucky.” He jokingly winced at the thought of how mad Lou was at the Kid right now; he had his hands full with that one.
“Thanks for the words of encouragement. Just promise me that if I talk extra loud, it’s ‘cause she’s pulled her gun on me and I need reinforcements.”
“Deal.” Jimmy held out his hand and Kid gladly shook it.
The ride back to Sweetwater the next day went reasonably fast; maybe it was due to the fact that Kid and Jimmy both had someone to talk to this time. Well Kid talked, a little, but at least it was more than he had done on the ride out so he was making progress. And Jimmy was grateful that he didn’t have to get a sore neck by always looking sideways at his riding companion.
That changed once they got close to the way station. Kid began to ride slower and hung back as he suddenly got nervous about seeing the other riders. It had been easy with Jimmy; he hadn’t expected anything from Kid but there were four other people he had to deal with before he could live comfortably with them again, if they even wanted him around. He’d been horrible to live with the past week, yelling at everyone for no reason, not doing his chores as was expected, riding off without letting anyone know to where or for how long he’d be gone.
Kid groaned inwardly when he saw Buck, Ike and Cody come out of the bunkhouse upon hearing horses approaching. He wasn’t sure he was ready for this yet. Kid let Jimmy ride up to meet them alone.
“Where is everyone?” Jimmy asked as he put his feet on solid ground. He glanced behind him to find Kid holding back as if he was a child about to be punished for staying out all day playing and missing dinner.
“Lou just got back from a one day ride and is taking care of her horse in the barn; Teaspoon is in town taking care of some kind of business or other; and Emma’s in the house. Said she’d have plates waiting for the two of you,” Cody told Jimmy.
Kid looked toward the barn when he heard that was where Lou was. He needed to talk to her, alone.
“How was the ride?” Buck asked. He glanced at Kid, trying to read the man’s mood but with Kid not looking at them it was hard for him to decide on anything.
“It was good, wasn’t it, Kid?” Jimmy asked as he waited for Kid to join them.
Kid had no choice but to stop Katy next to Jimmy’s horse and dismount. He nodded. “It was very revealing.” He gave Jimmy a slight grin.
“What do you mean by that? Did something happen?” Buck asked. He glanced at Ike and Cody. Kid was actually standing around speaking to them and not brushing them aside. ‘Something must have happened,’ Buck decided.
“I’ll tell you what I can over dinner,” Kid told him. He took his horse’s reins, walked a few steps then stopped and gave the yard a quick look over. He held his hand out to Jimmy. “Here, I’ll take him for you, Jimmy.”
“What? I can take care of my own horse.”
“I know you can but I’m offering to do it for you. You said you were hungry so now you can eater sooner than later.”
“You’ve had a rough time of things lately,” Jimmy told him, feigning seriousness. “Maybe I oughta join you then we’ll get done twice as fast.” He finally couldn’t keep the smile from appearing on his face, especially since he knew Kid was using the horses as his excuse to get to talk to Lou alone.
Kid wiped his face on his sleeve as he felt his cheeks getting warm. He hated being teased when it came to his feelings for Lou. “I’m fine,” Kid told him as firmly as he could without drawing attention to himself then playfully yanked the reins out of Jimmy’s hand. “And when I’m done with the horses, I’ll make sure the stalls are mucked out for the night and all the horses have hay then get to chopping that firewood over there. That alright with you boys?” Kid asked as he looked at each rider. His face showed no emotion but in his opinion, his words held volumes.
“Well … that … that’s just fine with us,” Cody finally managed to get out. He almost fell to the ground out of shock that someone was willing to do his chores.
“That’d be fine, Kid, thanks,” Buck said, smiling at him. “Well bring you out a sandwich.”
Kid nodded his thanks as he headed toward the barn, the two horses in tow.
“Hey, Kid!” Jimmy called then paused and waited until his friend turned around. “I’ll keep Teaspoon away from the barn if he returns too soon.”
“Thanks, Jimmy.” Kid hoped Jimmy knew he was thanking him for more than just watching out for Teaspoon.
“You know, Emma wants me to shuck peas for dinner tonight. You are more than welcome to do that job too!” Cody called after Kid.
Buck slapped the blonde rider alongside the head.
“Ah, what did you do that for? I just figured if it was clearing his soul to do all those chores for us, another one would only make him feel better.”
“You mean it would make you feel better,” Jimmy grinned.
“Now you know what they say, ‘working is next to Godliness.’”
“My mama used to tell me ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’,” Jimmy said as he, Buck and Ike headed toward the house.
“If God wants us to be clean wouldn’t he want us to work hard as well?” Cody asked.
Buck shook his head then asked, “Why are you keeping Teaspoon away from the barn?”
Jimmy smiled. “Kid has a lot of making up to do with Lou.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis.
“Making up as in ‘making up’?” Buck asked with a grin.
“Well it is Kid we’re talking about; he might not get past holding hands or he could totally surprise us. He’s been doing that a lot lately.” Jimmy smiled as he thought of how far his friend had come in just a short amount of time.
“If it was me, I’d hold out as long as I could,” Cody said.
“Yeah if it was you, I think Kid would want you to hold out as long as you could too ‘cause I don’t think you’re on his list of people he wants to kiss,” Buck told him. He gave Ike and Jimmy a smile as he tried to look serious to Cody.
“You saying I’m not kissable?” Cody asked, pouting.
“See what you started, Buck?” Jimmy groaned as the three friends climbed the steps to Emma’s house with Cody trailing behind them, mumbling to himself.
Forgive me if I had any part If I ever broke your heart in two Forgive me for what I didn’t know For what I didn’t say or do And, God, forgive me as well ‘Cause I just got back from Hell
Well, I just got back from Hell And I need to make some plans It’s the last thing that I wanna do But I’ll do the best I can I’m gonna learn to live again But I think I’ll sit a spell Tell the world that I’m alive And I just got back from Hell
Kid opened the door to the barn and brought the two horses in. He let his eyes adjust to the change in light then he searched for the person he hadn’t apologized to yet. He didn’t have far to look – she was in one of the front stalls brushing down Lightning. He stood still for a moment trying to figure out the best way to approach her. He frowned when Katy took care of that for him.
Lou turned at the sound of a horse by the door. “Kid,” she breathed gratefully, “you’re back.” She heard a worried female talking and realizing it was she, silently cursed then quickly looked away. She crossed her arms over her chest as she cleared her throat and lowered her voice. “I mean, I guess you didn’t need two guns on your run after all if you both came back alive.” She tried to sound as carefree as possible. He didn’t deserve to know that try as she might, she couldn’t stop being worried about him; she wanted him to know she was still mad at him and that that was as far as her emotions ran.
“Nope, I’m whole,” Kid told her as he abandoned the horses and came closer to her. “And that’s ‘cause all the little pieces are starting to fit back together.” He thought for one fleeting moment that there was concern written on her face but when he looked again, there was only annoyance displayed so it must have been his imagination, he decided with a sigh.
Lou took a step back as he approached her. It wasn’t out of fear but because she knew if she was around him for any length of time she would probably reveal that she had been worried about him. “What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means that I owe you an apology.”
“Yeah you do owe me one,” Lou told him, her voice rising in anger. “All I was trying to do was find out how you were and you couldn’t even answer me in a civil tone.”
“Like I said, I owe you an apology … for a lot of things. I’m sorry I’ve been raisin’ my voice towards ya but more than that, I hope you can forgive me for not sending word back with Cody that I would be alright, or thought I would be. I would have liked the same from you if the situation were reversed.” He looked down as guilt over took him.
“A simple word or two never hurt anyone,” Lou told him. “You know, Kid, if we’re gonna have whatever it is we have … if we’re gonna have any kind of feelings toward each other, we gotta have ‘em even if the person ain’t in our sight.”
“I know and I do,” Kid said quickly as he reached his hand out to grab hers, “believe me I do.” He looked down at her small hand resting in his larger one and was grateful she hadn’t pulled it away. “Not a day went by when I was in that camp that my mind didn’t drift to you; I couldn’t help it, you have that affect on me,” he admitted shyly. “I kept wondering if I had seen you for the last time and I’d try to remember the last thing I said to you. I would wish I left you with something else to remember me by.”
“Like what?” Lou asked, gazing into his eyes.
“This.” Kid placed his hands on her arms then drew her to him, wrapping his arms around her back. He lowered his head until his lips were touching hers. This wasn’t like the stolen kiss out by the wood pile or the shared kiss behind the livery during the town dance; this was the kiss of a man who deeply cared for a woman.
Lou was surprised that he was kissing her with a hunger she hadn’t experienced before. It took only a moment for her to realize she liked it. Lou responded in kind to Kid’s passion as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
Kid broke the kiss off by placing smaller ones on her cheeks then on her forehead.
Lou thought she liked it when he was holding her hand but this was so much better. “What was that?”
“Just one more step I needed to take,” he explained with a smile. “I might just make a full recovery.”
“If you need any help along the way …”
“You’ll be the first one I turn to. I won’t make the same mistake twice by not telling you what I should.” He touched her hand once more then said, “Well I got a lot of chores ahead of me that I need to get to.” He jerked his thumb toward the two horses behind him.
Lou nodded then moved past him to let him have his space. She stopped and turned when he called to her.
“Lou! I was thinking maybe if you felt up to it, we could go for a ride later, head out to the pond or something. Maybe you could show me how to have a little fun again. I’m ready to stop being the mope around here, that’s Cody’s job.” He grinned at her.
She smiled. “A ride sounds nice.” She walked out of the barn after giving him one last look over her shoulder.
Kid stood watching her leave. He felt even better than after he had talked to Jimmy. ‘Maybe the kiss had something to do with it,’ he thought, blushing. Baby steps – isn’t that what Jimmy called it? Yeah, he’d taken a lot of them between last night and today. He wasn’t there all the way yet but each step brought him closer to the Kid he had once been, the Kid he wanted to be again, the Kid he wanted everyone to know again.
I can’t say that I’m doin’ great But I think I’m gettin’ well Gonna let the world know I’m alive And I just got back from Hell And I just got back from Hell I just got back from Hell Got back from Hell