A peaceful quiet had settled over Rock Creek as the holiday season approached but Rachel found it anything but peaceful. She watched as her students grew more and more excited about Thanksgiving and Christmas but instead of sharing their excitement she could only feel an odd sort of sadness settle in its place.
Sure, she was thankful for her job, and friends but she had wanted so much more in her life. This would have been her baby's first Thanksgiving and that thought left her feeling hollow inside. She hid behind her own preparations but the thought was there, haunting her every chance it could.
She placed another loaf of bread on the cooling rack and began measuring out the flour for her cookies. She could hear someone enter the house and looked up to see Buck standing in the doorway, a bemused smile on his face.
"Rachel? You think you got enough food there?"
She laughed then looked at the table that was covered in baked goods. "I just wanted to make sure nobody left hungry," she answered.
"Long as Cody doesn't get wind of this and descend on the house, we should be fine…"
She laughed at Buck's jibe, but she could see the haunted look behind his smile.
"You're missing Ike aren't you?"
Buck's gaze sharpened as he studied her. "Is it that obvious?"
Rachel swallowed and shook her head. "He was your best friend Buck. It ain't hard to figure," she said softly. "It's my first Thanksgiving since Henri… and the miscarriage…."
It was all she managed to get out before she broke down and started crying. She was surprised at how strongly the memory washed over her but what surprised her even more was how quickly she found herself wrapped up in Buck's arms as she cried.
He held her there, letting her cry herself out. When she finished he rested his head on hers. "Sometimes, I feel the same way," he said softly.
She pulled back slightly so she could look at him. "How are you holding up?"
"I'll be all right, its just… Ike really loved Thanksgiving," he explained. "And…"
"And all this just reminds you of him, doesn't it?"
"Kinda makes being thankful a bit hard?" Rachel offered.
Buck thought for a moment then shook his head. "In an odd way… it doesn't."
"You know, you don't have to if you don't want…"
Buck caught the soft burr in Rachel's voice and he hugged her tightly for a moment before letting go.
"No, Rachel believe me I want this more than anything. Not being here would be... worse."
Intrigued Rachel tilted her head but remained silent, allowing Buck to choose whether he continued or not.
Buck smiled. He realized that he very much wanted Rachel to understand. Slowly he put into words, what he had only just begun to realize himself.
"See growing up, I never celebrated Thanksgiving, not like you do here. I mean, when a hunt was good and we had extra food, we'd celebrate but nothing like this."
He gestured towards the table where all the food had been laid out. "I guess for me it made things easier when I was sent to the mission school. I mean you can't miss what you've never had, but Ike…"
He shook his head. "Ike would try and be cheerful and thankful for what we had, but he always felt like he was letting me down because he couldn't show me what a real Thanksgiving was like."
'One day,' he'd tell me. 'One day, I'll show you what Thanksgiving is really about.'
"Last year, Ike had the flu and I was stuck in St. Joe so he said he still owed me one. His Thanksgiving would have been the one he promised to show me, and here I am."
He paused about what he'd said, and then added, "I'm here because of Ike. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have taken the job with the Express… I wouldn't have met you all."
"You are Ike's gift to me. You, and Teaspoon, Lou, the boys, Emma, Sam… Ike wanted this life and because of him I have it. He gave this to me…
How can I not be thankful?"
Rachel felt the tightness in her chest lessen, and the emptiness was filled with Buck's words. He had reminded her of just what she had to be thankful for. Yes, she'd lost her family but she had gained another in its place. Maybe it wasn't the family she'd planned on having, but it was her family just the same.
"Buck," she said drawing him into another hug. "That means you're his gift to us too. And I am grateful for that gift. Thank you."
"Me? I didn't do anything," he objected.
Rachel looked at him and shook his head. He had no idea just how much he'd helped just by being there.
- - - * - - - * - - -
"Come on Lou, its fine," Kid objected as his wife checked the baskets in the back of the wagon for a fifth time. "You know you're just going to re-arrange everything when we get there."
Lou scowled at him for a moment but her love for him made it quickly dissolve into a fit of nervous laughter. "I know, but I want it to be just right. This is our first Thanksgiving as husband and wife and…"
"And you want to prove you're as good a cook as Rachel is."
"Well, at least as good as Jimmy," she teased.
"I don't know Lou, that's leaving a lot of room for burned everything. Maybe I should check and make sure it's all right," he offered as he reached for one of the baskets.
"Kid, you're going to make a mess," Lou objected playfully shoving him towards the front of the wagon. "Everything is just fine where it is."
Kid smiled and waited beside the wagon to help Lou up.
Lou watched him before carefully covering the food before calling her brother and sister over.
"Jeremiah! Teresa! We're ready."
Jeremiah strode to the wagon and smiled at his sister as he climbed into the back of the wagon. "It's about time," he complained.
Teresa came running from the barn, the carrot she'd been feeding Katie, still in hand. Kid turned when he heard his horse's protest and shook his head.
"Teresa, if you keep feeding her like that she'll be too big to ride."
Teresa smiled at him, trying to hide the carrot even though she knew it was too late. "But Kid…" Her voice seemed to mimic her sister's tone when she pleaded with him.
Kid shook his head and looked at his wife. The tone was too perfect to be co-incidence. "You taught her that didn't you?"
"Now Kid," Louise objected, putting two syllables into 'kid', just as Teresa had done.
"That's what I'm talking about. It's not fair-there are two of you."
"Now you know how I've felt," Jeremiah told him. "And you may as well give up 'cause you aren't going to beat them. Not when they get like that."
Kid studied his brother-in-law, and then his wife and sister-in-law. "I recon you're right," he sighed as he offered Teresa a hand up into the wagon. He smiled realizing how much he liked being the big brother to Jeremiah and Teresa.
Once she was settled, he offered his wife a hand up into the wagon.
"Kid," Louise objected. "You know I can get up there on my own."
"I know. I just like helping you is all…" He ducked his head slightly then quickly hid his embarrassment behind a smile. "Everything is fine Lou," he assured her as he pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.
- - - * - - - * - - -
He had been riding for over a week when he saw the familiar landmarks that marked the way to Rock Creek. If only for a moment, James Butler Hickok felt a weight lift from his shoulders.
He was coming home to the people who knew him. They knew him as Jimmy not 'Wild Bill' not the gunfighter, but the man. The past few months the number of challenges had increased as Marcus released yet another one of his book and the more he was called out, the more he needed to be home.
He urged his horse on. In less than one hour he'd be there among friends. That was more than reason enough to be thankful.
Less than an hour later he had dismounted and was leading his horse to the barn as if he'd just finished his leg of a relay. He could scarcely believe it was real.
- - - * - - - * - - -
Teaspoon poured himself a cup of coffee as he surveyed the jail. Everything was in its place, the cells were empty and other then a fight over at Tompkins' store over the last of the cranberries, the town had been quiet all week.
It was as if the spirit of the holiday had descended on the growing town and all was right with the world.
He also knew he couldn't rely on that sense of goodwill remaining and so he hoisted his tired bones out of his seat and headed out to make his rounds. He tipped his hat to those he met, but almost everyone was home already enjoying the festivities.
He sighed when he thought about all the food Rachel had prepared: the pies, and the cookies. She'd all but kicked him out of the house this morning so she could cook the main meal in peace.
It had surprised him that Buck hadn't reported in-but he was breaking a new horse for the Roberts and had been gone long before Rachel had started her final preparations. He'd been worried that Buck wouldn't come, but Rachel had assured him that nothing would keep the younger man from celebrating with them, and he believed her.
Kid and Lou were coming, though the fact that Lou was brining some of the dishes worried him. Again, Rachel had assured him that everything was fine-and it wasn't like Rachel hadn't already cooked enough to feed a small detachment, if not an entire army on her own. Still, it worried him a bit.
What really worried him was the fact that two of his boys wouldn't be there when they broke bread together. Jimmy had taken off for parts unknown when more and more men had come to Rock Creek looking to call him out and Cody of course was in the army now.
He knew the army wasn't likely to give Cody a furlough this soon-he and men like him were needed. Least he'd taught the boy everything he could about staying alive, and obviously some of that learnin' had stayed with the boy-that and luck that seemed to dog his every step.
He prayed that luck lasted. With the war on, he was going to need it.
Thinking about it, he realized that Jimmy could use a bit of that luck as well. It was a hard life on the trail with men gunning for you: a life Teaspoon knew all too well. He hated the idea of his boys being alone during the holidays, but he knew in life you played the hand you were dealt.
He offered up a quick prayer for his two boys: that the lord would watch over them and see them safely through these troubling times. He worried about all his 'boys' but at least Kid and Buck had decided to stay on after the express had ended and he could watch over them along with Rachel and Lou and the others. He knew life wasn't any safer for them here than it would be anywhere else, but at least here he could do something for them if need be.
He sighed and shook his head. 'You're never going to stop worrying about them old man, so get used to it.'
He heard the faint laughter and the sound of a piano playing at the saloon and shook his head. Today was a big family holiday and the Saloon was open. He shook his head and headed back to his office. Folks without family needed a place to go too, and he was simply thankful that he had at least half of his family waiting for him.
As he put his hand on the door, one of his deputies, Tom Barnett came running towards him.
"Teaspoon, come quick, there's trouble over at the saloon."
Teaspoon looked at the man and held his hands out. "Now calm down son, take a deep breath and tell me what's going on…"
The deputy nodded and took a deep breath.
Teaspoon waited a moment then sighed. "Now tell me what's going on."
Barnett nodded as if he'd just realized that he wasn't supposed to merely hold his breath. "I was over at the saloon," he began then quickly added, "just checkin' to make sure everything was all right is all…"
Teaspoon nodded, trying to keep his temper reigned in. With Barnett, it never helped to get angry, though it was challenging at times. "I'm not questioning that Barnett, just tell me what happened."
Tom nodded and took another breath. "This man walked in, bought everybody a round a' drinks… then he started asking 'bout you.. and 'bout Buck and Kid… I figured he was trying to find out 'bout the law in town, so I laid low'n hid my badge… but then he started askin' bout Jimmy..."
"Oh lord…" Teaspoon sighed. This couldn't be good. "Then what?"
"Well then… then he bought another round fer everybody."
Teaspoon looked at Tom for a moment before he bowed his head. "And this is the trouble you're all fired up for me to go and deal with?"
"Teaspoon… He was askin' about Hickok."
Teaspoon sighed. Though it wasn't as all fired up an emergency as Barnett made it out to be, he knew he should check it out for himself before he headed home. Jimmy hadn't been in Rock Creek in over three months, but there was no point in waiting for someone to point the stranger towards Rachel and the others.
"Alright Barnett, lets go…"
Whatever possibilities Teaspoon had imagined during the minute walk to the saloon, none of them could have matched what waited for him. The bar had been decorated in leaves and ribbons, and standing there waiting with an elbow on the bar stood William F. Cody, beaming as brightly as the day they'd first met.
Teaspoon looked at Cody, then his eyes narrowed as he turned on Barnett. "This is the stranger? Barnett. It's CODY!"
Barnett smiled at Teaspoon. "You honestly think I'm so dense I wouldn't recognize William Cody iff'n he walked into the Saloon? 'Course I know'd it was him."
"Then why in tarnation did you…"
"'Cause I wanted to see the look on yer face when you saw Cody!" Tom answered with a decisive nod. "'Least one of your prodigals is home for the holidays."
Teaspoon shook his head. Sometimes he wondered why he put up with Barnett, but seeing the grin on the man's face, and seeing Cody, he knew why. He had a good heart.
"All right Barnett, you can go home now... you've surprised me enough for the day."
Tom smiled, tipped his hat to Cody then smiled at Teaspoon. "You have a good one Teaspoon."
Teaspoon laughed still shaking his head. He wiped his eyes and smiled at Cody. "It was a good one actually… Son, how did you manage to get off?"
Cody smiled at him and handed him a glass. "I had a message to deliver to the fort… they won't have a reply until morning so… I was hoping…"
Teaspoon laughed. "I'm about to head home now. The others are going to be so surprised."
- - - * - - - * - - -
Rachel sat at the table a relieved smile on her face. The turkey had a half an hour or so to cook, the rolls were rising nicely and everything was in order.
Her thoughts turned briefly to Henri and their child, but it didn't hurt as much. It was like Buck had said-how could she not be thankful for what she had. She would always have her memories of Henri and lord willing she'd have a child of her own some day, but she wasn't alone.
She smiled when she heard the door open and shook her head: never alone.
"Buck that better have those herbs I asked for or you can turn right around and go back!"
She heard a chuckle behind her and turned. It wasn't Buck, but she'd know that laugh anywhere. "Jimmy!!!"
"I don't have any herbs for you Rachel… 'fraid all I got's an empty belly and a hankerin for something to fill it."
Rachel hugged him close. "Don't matter, you're here. The others will be so happy you could make it!"
She suddenly held him at arms length and gave him an appraising look. "You need a shave."
Jimmy chuckled and shook his head. "That I do Rachel that I do. How is everyone?"
Rachel smiled at him. "They're good. We haven't heard much from Cody, but Kid, Lou and Buck are still around and Teaspoon is well… Teaspoon."
Jimmy smiled and nodded, the knot he'd felt all these months away seemed to loosen. He was home with the people who knew him best.
Before he could say anything the door opened again. "Rachel, there wasn't much, but I got you some…"
They turned in time to see Buck look up, startled to find someone with Rachel. Buck's eyes lit up when he recognized their guest. "Jimmy!?"
"Lo there Buck." Jimmy answered with a smile. Any awkwardness was gone in a heartbeat as Buck held out his hand and Jimmy clasped his forearm.
"It's good to see you," they both seemed to say at the same time. As they laughed, they could hear a wagon arrive outside.
"That'll be Lou and Kid and the kids," Buck said turning towards the door.
"Kids?" Jimmy asked almost in shock. "But I've only been gone…"
"Jeremiah and Teresa," Rachel explained shaking her head. "Lou's brother and sister are living with them now."
Jimmy smiled. He knew how important it was to Lou to have Jeremiah and Teresa with her-how she'd risked her life to save them. They were where they belonged, and for at least a little while, so was he.
"I'll go help them unload," he said and headed out the door. "You comin," he asked Buck.
"In a minute," Buck answered as he handed Rachel the herbs and took his time walking towards the door.
"Buck, aren't you going to help them?" Rachel asked worriedly.
Buck turned and nodded. "Of course-but they haven't seen Jimmy since the wedding, I figured I'd give him a little time."
Rachel reached out and gave Buck a quick hug. "You're a good man Buck Cross."
He smiled and kissed her on the cheek. "You're a good woman Rachel Dunne, and if Teaspoon doesn't figure that out soon… "
He looked into her eyes for a moment before quickly turning and heading for the door. He let his comment hang there, wondering if perhaps he'd said too much.
Rachel for her part watched him leave, a surprised look on her face as she thought about what he had said. She put her hand to her cheek and blushed. She had thought about Teaspoon from time to time but Buck…
She felt the blush reach her hairline and quickly turned towards the table. There was too much to do right now. She'd think about it later, she promised herself that much.
All too soon the kitchen was the scene of chaos as Kid and Buck entered carrying the heavily laden baskets Lou had prepared. As Rachel tried to find a place for all the food, Lou and Jimmy entered arm in arm followed by Teresa and Jeremiah as they all vied for Jimmy's attention.
Finally Rachel had had enough. "Alright, all of you, into the parlor with you-Teresa, you can help set the table, while your sister and I finish up in here."
With order once again restored, she pulled the Turkey out of the cast iron oven and cut into the meat. Satisfied it was cooked to perfection she worked to get it out of the oven and laughed.
"I think I kicked the boys out of here too soon…" she commented as she tried to lift it. Lou quickly moved in, using the apron she'd tied around her waist to protect her hand against the hot metal.
They laughed as they moved it to the table to cool.
Rachel sighed in relief as they set the turkey down. She surveyed the table and nodded. "Now all we need is Teaspoon…"
"Did I hear my name?" Teaspoon asked from the doorway as he entered the kitchen and smiled at his girls. "Is everyone else here?"
"They're in the parlor," Rachel managed to answer before she saw the blonde man standing in Teaspoon's shadow. "Is that…. Cody!?"
Cody ducked his head and quickly removed his hat. Though he was glad to see everyone, the sheer amount of food overwhelmed him.
"You got room for one more?" he asked with a crooked grin.
"For you Cody, always," Rachel answered and shoved him towards the dining room. Suddenly she felt very much whole and very happy. Her family was home for the holidays.
As the others filtered into the dining room Teaspoon looked at her and nodded. "They're all home Rachel, every one of them that can… and the others, they're still in our hearts."
"Always," Rachel answered softly. "Always."
- - - * - - - * - - -
Once everyone took their places, Teaspoon smiled and looked around at those gathered. As much as these young men and women had grown to adulthood, they would always be his children. Standing there, he realized that as 'father' of the brood it fell to him to say grace. He bowed his head for a moment and thought about what he was most thankful for, and the answer surrounded him.
"Dear father in heaven… we thank you for bringing us together today, for joining our lives one to the other, and making us a family. We thank you for the food you have provided us this day and we ask that you help us in the days to come.
In our time of celebration, let us each remember the ones who cannot be with us: Ike and Noah, taken from us before their time: Jessie pulled from our family by his own and others who have shared our table and moved on.
Bless them, as you have blessed us, in the hope that one day we may all meet again at the table which you have prepared for us. Amen."
The others stood there in silence deeply moved by Teaspoon's words until Cody smiled and broke the silence. "Let's eat!"