Author's Note: This is for Angela and Finn.
Kid stretched as he woke. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm October day. Today was the day he was going to see the banker about a piece of property that he was looking at. He and Lou had pooled their money to buy a homestead and he had found the perfect place. It was very versatile. They could do almost anything with it. The property had room to build extra buildings for crop storage or animals. The landscape would be perfect for farming or ranching. It had a large house that could accommodate Lou's brother and sisters as well as any children he and Lou might have in the future. The place was perfect. He hadn't told Lou about it yet, he wanted it to be a surprise.
Kid rolled to his side and gently kissed the back of Lou's neck. She moaned sweetly as she felt the tickle of his lips brush her skin. He loved waking her up this way. She rolled over and met his lips with hers. Every morning of their marriage had been like this, but at the same time it was new and unexpected. They had been married for exactly five days. Kid hoped they would wake up like this every day.
They held each other close for a while until Kid kissed her and started to rise from the bed. He grabbed some clothes and started to move toward the door.
"Where are you goin', Kid," she asked.
"To clean up some, I've got a surprise for you later and I don't want to be late for my appointment."
"I can't tell you yet, otherwise it's not going to be a surprise," he said laughing and he gently threw a pillow at his love.
Lou threw him a mock angry face and then burst out laughing. She threw the pillow after him, hitting the door as he closed it behind him.
Kid decided to get ready in the bunkhouse so Lou couldn't see what he was wearing. He was nervous, he had never negotiated for something this big before. Now that he and Lou were married, he knew he would have to do more of it. They were grownups now. Kid started to put on his Sunday best suit and tie. He was fixing his hair when the door to the bunkhouse opened and Jimmy walked in.
"What are you all dressed up for?" he asked as he set his saddle bags down on his bunk.
"Nothing that concerns you, Jimmy."
"Aw, come on, Kid. You don't have to get all defensive."
"I'm sorry, Jimmy, I'm just nervous is all."
"If you must know, I'm planning a surprise for Lou and I don't want to talk about it with anyone, alright?"
"Ok, ok, I was just curious. The only reasons you ever get dressed up are for weddings or funerals."
"Well it isn't for either one of those. I gotta go if I'm going to make my appointment."
Kid looked at himself in the mirror and tugged on the lapels of his jacket. 'Here goes nothing' he thought and walked out the bunkhouse door and down the street to the bank.
Kid was sitting waiting patiently just inside the door to the bank. Mr. Jenkins, the banker, was with another customer. Kid's palms were sweaty and he kept rubbing them on his pants. The last thing he wanted to give Mr. Jenkins a sweaty handshake.
Kid sat up straight as he saw the banker conclude his meeting with a farmer from the out east of town. Kid cleared his throat, wiped his hands on his trousers once more, and stood up ready to greet Mr. Jenkins.
"Hi, Kid, good to see you," he said taking Kid's hand. "Why don't you come on back and we can talk."
"Sure Mr. Jenkins. Is there something wrong? With the Reilly place, I mean?"
"Well, I've had another offer on the place and I wanted to see if you could top it before I talk to the other gentleman."
Kid tried not to look alarmed. This was their dream property. He didn't want to lose it. He had made so many plans around it. It already felt like home to him. He really wanted this property and he was not going to panic. "Well, let's talk about it and see what I can do."
Thirty minutes later Kid ran his hand through his hair. He just became a landowner, but the price was steep. He knew it was right that he and Lou owned the old Reilly place, he knew it. He didn't know how his surprise was going to go over now. He had spent almost all of their savings on the place and now he had to tell Lou that they didn't have enough money to move her sister and brother from the orphanage to Rock Creek. Maybe if they could take on some extra work for the express they could manage. Right now the money he made from the express was the only funds they had. He hoped the express could last at least two months longer, and then maybe they would have a chance to get through the winter.
All he wanted to do right now at this moment was show the place to Lou. He knew if she saw it, she would see that it was perfect for them and her siblings. He started to walk back to the station rehearsing what he was going to say to her. He had a smile on his face. Things were going to work out.
"Kid, where are we going?" Lou asked as she rode along side of Kid.
"It's a surprise, Lou," Kid said smiling at her. He kicked Katy up into a gentle canter.
"You know how I feel about surprises," she warned kicking Lightning up to keep pace.
"This is a good surprise, I promise."
Kid was beaming. The place was all theirs they shouldn't even need to do much fixing to it. All it really needed was a good airing out and some minor cleaning and they could move right in. It would be nice to have some privacy.
When they arrived Lou looked around. "What are we doing here, Kid?" she asked
"This is our new home, Lou," he said as he jumped off of Katy and helped Lou off her horse.
"I bought it this morning."
"Why would you do something this big without discussing it with me first?"
"Don't you like it, Lou?"
"It's not that, it's just that I thought we were in this together."
"We are. I just wanted to surprise you is all."
"I'm surprised," she said uneasily and then sighed, "Well, don't just stand there, show me around."
Kid dragged her around the place like a child on Christmas morning. Lou was always a step or two behind him. He took her into the roomy barn that was set up with box stalls for horses and narrow stalls for cows that were roomy enough for milking. There was a tack room built in and a spacious hay loft above. The chicken coop was in great condition, all it was missing was chickens.
When Lou saw the inside of the house she put her hands up to her mouth in amazement. The house was large. It had a parlor and a dining room on either side of the front door. The kitchen was behind the dining room and had a door out to what Kid had assumed to be a garden patch out the back. The parlor was laid out in front of pair of divided glass double doors leading to what could be used as a library or a den. There was a staircase leading to the upstairs with a master bedroom at the end of the hall. There were 3 smaller bedrooms and one room that could be used as a sewing room or a nursery.
"Kid, how much did we pay for this?"
Kid looked away from her. This was the moment he was dreading. He did not answer and walked down the stairs. Lou followed him.
"How much, Kid?" Lou asked in a shaky voice. She had crossed her arms over her chest when he didn't answer.
Kid hated it when her body braced for bad news. He opened the front door and proceeded outside. It was a beautiful day so far, the sky was clear except there looked to be a storm coming in from the west. Kid sat on the porch swing. Lou walked over and joined him. She put her hand on his knee.
"Kid, how much did we pay for this?" she asked again. There was a look of dread on her face.
"Now, hear me out, Lou," Kid began.
Lou looked up at the porch roof and let out the breath she was holding. Her anger was slowly building. "You didn't spend all of our savings?"
"Well, not all," Kid replied. "Lou, we were never going to find another place this perfect. It was a little more than we planned, but I know we can make it work."
"What about my brother and sister, Kid?" she asked starting to tear up. "Will we be able to get them out of the orphanage this year?"
Kid looked down at the ground and his shoulders started to slump. "Maybe in the spring we can..."
"Kid, I don't care about where we live as long as we're all together. I thought you understood that."
"I did…I do, Lou. It's just I didn't want to waste the opportunity. I want us all to be happy and I think we are going to need space."
"Kid, I need some time to think about this," she said as a tear rolled down her face. She mounted Lightning and took off toward home.
Kid put his head in his hands. How had he screwed this up? This was supposed to be a wonderful moment. She was supposed to jump into his arms and kiss him. Then, he would twirl her around and they would be happy. This was their home now. Kid wracked his brain and started remembering when they were back in Sweetwater and he had moved Lou into the house with Rachel. What was it Lou called him…ah yes, a 'lowdown mealy mouthed coyote.'
"Lou!" he called jumping up off the porch. He hadn't asked her…again. He jumped on Katy and headed back toward the station. That is where she would be. He would apologize and try and get his money back from the bank and he and Louise would look for a place together. They would look for something smaller so that they would have more money to live off of.
"Oh good, Kid, you're here," Teaspoon said grabbing Kid by the arm. "I have a package I need you to deliver."
"But, Teaspoon, I need to talk to…"
"No time, Kid, I need this delivered as soon as possible and if you want to out ride that storm, you're gonna have to leave right now."
Kid looked longingly at the station house for a moment and then jumped up onto Katy's back. The quicker he made this run the quicker he could come home to Lou and apologize. He needed to make this right.
Teaspoon handed him the package and Kid took off.
Kid looked up at the sky. The storm was moving closer. He thought he might be able to get to Marysville before it came crashing down on him, but the storm was moving faster than he had anticipated and soon it would overtake him. He could feel the wind picking up and was thankful that at least the wind was at this back.
By the time he reached Marysville he was soaked to the bone. The storm was pretty bad. Besides the wind the rain was heavy and there was a lot of lightning. He was ill prepared for the weather. He had left so quickly he didn't pack anything much less a rain slicker. All he wanted now was to deliver this package and get some hot coffee.
Kid walked into the bunkhouse of the Marysville station and grabbed some coffee. He hung his shirt up and sat by the fireplace, trying to get warm and dry. He kept replaying the conversation with Lou that went so wrong this morning. He always got into trouble when he made decisions for the both of them without her input, but this was different. He had meant to surprise her and make her happy, but he blew it. He had to figure out how to get Jeremiah and Theresa out of that orphanage as soon as possible. Maybe Rachel or the other riders could help them.
Kid finally felt as if everything would be alright. He looked out the window and noticed the rain had stopped. He got up to check his shirt. It felt dry. He was just about ready to leave when the station master came into the bunkhouse.
"Kid, you heading out already?"
"Yeah, I've got to get back?" "Well, take this with you, Son," he said thrusting a letter addressed to Teaspoon at the Rock Creek station.
Kid put the letter in his shirt pocket and went outside to get Katy ready. He would practice his apology some more on his way home.
Kid crested the hill overlooking the town of Rock Creek. He stopped Katy and went through his apology once more. He wanted it to be perfect. Some smoke caught his eye and he looked over in the direction of it. It was awful close to the property he just bought.
"Oh, no…" he said under his breath and then kicked Katy up to a gallop.
When he got to the homestead, he noticed a lot of smoke coming from inside the house. There was also a black streak by the chimney and a hole in the roof. There was only one thing Kid could have imagined happened. The house was struck by lightning.
Kid jumped off Katy and ran up to the front door of the house. Maybe it wasn't that bad. Maybe it was just smoldering and everything would be ok. He gingerly opened the front door and was met with a thick cloud of smoke and an intense heat that knocked him on his backside. Kid sat stunned on the porch floor and watched his house go up in smoke. How was he going to tell Lou? She was going to murder him in his sleep for this. Still, he couldn't let his house burn down without a fight. The smoke was clearing from the house with the door open and Kid stepped inside to survey the damage. There was still so much smoke and it looked like much of the fire was contained in the upstairs. He coughed violently and the smoke stung his eyes. Kid heard some creaking and just narrowly missed getting hit by a piece of the ceiling. He had to get out of here before the whole upstairs crashed down on him. He ran for the door and just made it out as the ceiling fell.
The house was a total loss. Kid wiped the sweat from his brow while he coughed out the smoke he inhaled. The house was far enough away from the barn so at least there would be something salvageable about the place. He slowly walked over to Katy with his shoulders slumped. He had utterly failed with this place. Lou didn't want it and now they couldn't get their money back from it either. He slowly climbed up onto Katy's back and started the short arduous journey back to the station. His eyes were blinded with tears as he rode toward the station. He was completely lost in anguish.
Kid nudged Katy from a trot into a canter. He knew there would be no easy way to tell Lou so his best bet was to tell her quickly. He was thinking about how badly Lou was going to react when Katy pulled up short and let out a loud neigh. She started to struggle and rear up. Kid could feel himself falling backwards toward the ground. He saw the light drift from his sight as his body hit the ground.
Kid's eyes opened slightly. He didn't know where he was. The ground felt the damp underneath him and he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head when he tried to sit up. The house fire came flooding back to him. The house was lost. His body fell back into the soft ground defeated. Several minutes later, Kid tried to figure out if he was hurt or not. He didn't think he had any broken bones, but he felt like all the breath had been removed from his body. He coughed for a few moments trying to get the air back in his lungs. Gingerly, Kid started to move his arms and legs. He didn't know how long he had been unconscious. Slowly, he picked up his head to look around, but his vision was a little blurry. He heard Katy whine softly a short distance away and hesitantly sat up to get a look at her. She was lying on the ground about 10 feet away from him. Every once and a while she would try and pick her head up off the ground. Kid slowly got to his knees and crawled over to her.
"Katy?" he asked softly toward the horse that had been his best friend for almost two years.
He knelt by her head and gently stroked her face. Something was wrong. Katy's eyes weren't as bright and spirited as they usually were. He thought back to when Katy was shot and Sam helped him fix her up. He was a mess then. He thought she was a goner for sure. Kid started looking over her body for bullet holes finding none. The only thing he found was barbed wire. They had gone through a fence. Katy started to rock her body trying to get up for Kid. She couldn't do it. She just gave Kid another soft whinny. It sounded almost mournful. Katy was hurt. He needed to find out where and how bad. He gently ran his hands down her shoulder and front leg. The tears started to well in his eyes and his nose started to run. He could feel the breaks in her shoulder and one of her front legs.
"Oh no. No, no, no, no, Katy, please no," he begged. He balled up a fist and put it in his mouth biting down on his hand. This couldn't be happening. Not to Katy. They had been through so much together. Too much.
He crawled back by her head and gently lifted it into his lap. There was so much he wanted to tell her. Cody once accused him of talking more to Katy than Lou and maybe that was true.
"Oh, Katy, you're the best horse I'm ever gonna have. I don't know what I'm going to do without you, Girl."
Kid couldn't stop crying now. He knew what he had to do, but he couldn't do it.
"Please, God, I don't want to do this. There has to be another way."
Katy looked up at him with what looked like pleading eyes. Kid thought she must know what was happening and what he must do. Her eyes were almost begging him to end her suffering. He unbuckled her bridle and removed it from her head. He leaned down and kissed her forehead and gently stroked her velvet nose. He rested his head against hers whispering how much he loved her and how much he was going to miss her. Kid wanted this moment to last forever. Saying goodbye to Katy was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.
One more mournful bellow and Kid knew he was out of time. He wiped his eyes and nose on his shirt sleeve and took out his pistol. He must have lifted it up a half a dozen times only to lower it again. Finally, he lifted the pistol once more and squeezed the trigger. Kid looked away as his best friend became still. He dropped his gun and walked over to a nearby tree. He leaned into the old oak letting his grief consume him and started hitting it until his knuckles were raw and bloody.
Kid turned back toward the still body of his horse and walked past her. He needed to figure out what happened. Why was this fence here and why didn't he see it? He needed to blame someone. He needed to know why. There weren't any answers to his questions, not good ones anyway. That made it all the more frustrating and heartbreaking.
Kid sat with Katy until she was cold. He couldn't just walk away and leave her there. He kept going back and forth on whether or not to take his saddle and ultimately decided to take it leaving Katy's body unencumbered. This was how he most enjoyed seeing Katy -without the saddle and bridle. His heart ached to see her so still, but there was a beauty in her stillness that he wanted to remember. He looked to the sky and saw the scavengers circling. It was not unusual for turkey vultures to be around and this time of year as it was hard for them to find food. He couldn't watch them take his girl. He shot a few shots into the air even though he knew it was futile. It wouldn't keep them away forever. He needed to go home and find Lou.
Kid lifted the saddle over his shoulder and started the short journey home that felt like it would take an eternity to complete. Lou was there and he still needed to make things right with her.
Kid's steps were weary. He was covered in dirt, soot, and blood. The small town of Rock Creek was coming into view. Kid's steps slowed. He was at a loss for words. New tears formed in his eyes as he headed for the barn. He could put his saddle away and compose his thoughts.
Kid opened up the back door to the barn and stopped. All of the other's horses were there, even Noah's buckskin. He didn't know why, but he expected the barn to be empty. This was too hard right now. Dropping the saddle in the doorway, he stepped out of the barn. He thought about the letter in his shirt pocket. The one addressed to Teaspoon. Maybe he should deliver it now. He knew he was avoiding Lou, but he had lost so much today, he couldn't bear to lose her too. As long as she didn't have the chance to see him, they were still together. Right now that was enough.
Kid walked down the thoroughfare towards Teaspoon's office. He stopped just short of the door and raised his fist to knock. He hesitated for a moment and then knocked on the door.
"Come in," Teaspoon said.
Kid opened the door slowly and walked in holding out the letter. "This came for you," he said already turning to leave.
"Hold up, Kid. Are you alright?" Teaspoon asked concerned.
"Fine, just having a bad day," Kid said leaving the office and heading toward the station. He had to find Lou and face her.
Teaspoon opened the letter and quickly read it. He ran out the door and caught up with Kid.
"Do you know what this letter says?"
"No, I don't, Teaspoon."
"Well come on, I need to talk to all you boys."
Teaspoon gathered everyone in the bunkhouse and read the letter. The Express was done effective immediately.
Kid walked out the door and up to the corral. He leaned up against the fence and buried his face in his crossed arms. First, the house, then Katy, and now this. The only way this day could get worse is if he lost Lou.
He heard footsteps behind him and knew instantly who it was. "Please, Lou, tell me I haven't lost you too," Kid pleaded.
"Why would you think that, Kid?"
"We fought, I messed up."
"I ain't goin' anywhere," she reassured him. Lou gently touched her hand to his and took in the damage to his knuckles. "Kid what happened to you today?" she asked gently.
Kid turned and sank against a fence post. Lou sat beside him and comforted him through his story. He told her about Katy and Lou held him as he cried.
"Supper's ready!" Rachel called from the bunkhouse.
"Come on, Kid, let's go eat. It's been a hard day," Lou said holding out her hand to him.
"The hardest day ever," he whispered grasping her hand in his and pulling her back to the ground. "Do you mind if we just sit here for a while longer?"
"Not at all, Kid," she said and snuggled against his shoulder.
Author's Note: Thanks to Shauna for giving this the once over.
Written for the 2011 Title Challenge - Original Title given by: WendyM