A/N: And with thanks to Jo for her countless readings
Jane climbed into the back of the wagon and felt herself nearly collapse against the side. Her body and mind were exhausted after all that had gone on over the last few weeks, but she didn’t want to seem weak so she sat up against the side and blinked. She looked over the edge of the wagon and saw Buck, with his friends riding close by, and the sight seemed to reassure her. They were planning on riding towards their different homes together for as long as they were able. The thought of that left Jane feeling empty and sad, but Buck somehow seemed to know and rode up beside the wagon and asked how she was, and once again she felt better. Her heart always gave a little jump when he talked to her.
Hours later they stopped to make camp and Jane sat close to Buck by the fire as they ate and talked. He’d had such a tough life but it was very interesting and she liked it when he told her stories about growing up among the Kiowa. She’d also learned more about his friends and how they had all come to know each other and become a family; she felt the oddest twinge of longing and jealousy. Before too long though she was yawning and it was decided that they’d let the fire burn itself out while they slept.
The next morning they woke with the sun and Jane was feeling much better after a good night’s sleep. She looked over and saw Buck sitting a few feet from the group. He had clearly been awake for a while. He had slept next to her last night and knowing that he was close by had let her sleep all the more soundly. Jane decided to ride her horse rather than sit in the wagon today, she would be able to talk more with Buck that way. They hadn’t been on the trail for more than a few miles when Teaspoon reined in next to her.
“Darlin’” Teaspoon began gently, “What are you plannin’ on doin’ now?”
“What do you mean? Jane asked confused, then it dawned on her. Her father was dead, their home and shop burned, she had no one and nothing. “Oh,” Jane said quietly.
“Why don’t I send Lou back with you. The two of you can salvage whatever you can and you can take care of what needs to be dealt with, then you can come on back with her.” Teaspoon’s eyes twinkled. He’d seen Buck and Jane together and knew that if, gently led in the right direction, they’d figure it out. Sending Lou with Jane rather than Buck would be a safer choice, Teaspoon had decided this last night as he had watched the two talking before settling down near each other to sleep. Though he knew he could trust Buck, sending him alone into a strange town to escort Jane around and then bring her back to Sweetwater might be asking for problems he didn’t want either to have to face just yet.
Jane opened her mouth to argue. She wasn’t sure what she would say but she didn’t want to be a burden. She would love to be near Buck but, she didn’t want to seem pushy. Teaspoon seeing the look on her face held up his hand and said quickly, “Now before you go arguing, I been needin’ some extra help around the station lately. Eight men is just too much for Rachel to clean up after all by herself. So you’ll be helpin’ us out as much as we’d be helpin’ you.” Teaspoon continued.
“Lou, get up here,” He called behind him. Lou quickly caught up to them and Teaspoon laid out his plan for Lou and she agreed so quickly that Jane wondered if maybe he had talked to her about this beforehand.
Jane and Lou left the group two days later. Jane and Buck had sat and talked for a long time before they’d finally given into the exhaustion that last night. In the morning, before they would be heading off in different directions, Buck woke Jane early and asked her to take a short walk with him. They didn’t say much, just walked away from the others to a stream and then sat on the bank and watched the sun rise with it’s amazing shades of orange and fire red and a mishmash of blues and purples.
Before they headed back, Buck touched Jane’s hand, when she turned to look at him he gently touched her face and smiled at her. Then he dropped his hand back to hers and picked it up and entwined his fingers with hers and said, “I’ll be waiting for you.”
Jane thought she would cry from that simple statement, it told her that she had someone to go to, that she wasn’t alone. All she could manage as a reply was, “I won’t be long,” in barely more than a whisper. She reached her free hand up and brushed a stray hair from Buck’s face, her fingers lingering for just a moment. Their eyes held and a world of words were said in the silence.
The ride back to Falls Church was pretty uneventful. The girls didn’t talk much as they rode but talked constantly whenever they stopped. Lou enjoyed having a girl to talk with for a change and Jane liked making a new friend. They talked a lot about the men in their lives, particularly Kid and Buck. Jane had been reticent to bring up Buck at first but Lou had gotten her to and once Jane started she had a hard time stopping! Lou laughed because she knew just how she felt. If she’d had someone her own age to talk with about Kid she probably would have been the same way. As it was Emma and Rachel heard all about the ups and downs of their confusing relationship, but someone her own age who was going through the same things was definitely better.
When they arrived in Falls Church, Lou was shocked at how much damage had been done to Jane’s home and shop. She could tell from the little pieces that had remained that the home had been very carefully done so that it was pretty, comfortable and welcoming. Clearly, whoever had lived here had loved it and Lou decided that she would try to save as many things as she could. Jane may not realize it now but later on these little things would mean a lot to Jane later. Lou hid pieces of china, tiles, handles, and a small metal box the size of her thumb with designs carved on it. Anything that might remind Jane of her home and how much her parents had loved her and their home Lou placed into a bag she had picked up at the General Store.
The owner of the General Store gave them a room to stay in above his shop that his oldest daughter had used before she had grown up and “gotten herself married to a fast talking Army man” as the owner would say often. Everyday brought a new find. Jane had found an assortment of tools and supplies and even some clothes that she was hoping could be saved, but most importantly of all she had found several pieces of jewelry that had special meaning to her and her family. Jane didn’t tell Lou about some of the things she found, she just held them close as she whispered to herself, cried a little, then wrapped them carefully and put them away safely into one of the boxes that they were filling up. Other items Jane would exclaim over and tell Lou a story about her family or the item she had just found. Lou was shocked at how many things Jane’s family still had from the 1600’s and 1700’s that her family had saved, hidden, and somehow managed to keep with them through out their travels to Portugal, Spain, France, England, Germany and eventually America.
Lou suspected that Jane was often talking to her parents as she would sometimes see her lips moving silently and it made her think about how she had missed her own mother after they were sent to the orphanage. It made her feel close to Jane to be able to give her things that she hadn’t had when her mother had died and to know, even though it was something that neither girl really talked about, how similar their situations were. Lou found herself caring for Jane as if she were actually her sister and caught herself a few times calling her Teresa.
It was two and a half weeks of grueling, sweaty, dirty work but the town’s people came out everyday to help bringing food and checking in with them. Finally, though, everything was cleaned up and salvaged as best it could be. The boxes were loaded up and Jane and Lou were going to take the stage back to Sweetwater because of the amount of things that they had. All of Jane’s friends had pressed mementos upon them. Making them both promise to write often and visit if they could. They actually had an extra two boxes of things that had come from the people that Jane had been raised with, clothing, hand-written stories, books, pressed flowers, bibles, even some jewelry that Jane’s father had made or fixed that they felt Jane would treasure more than they would. Jane didn’t stop crying for nearly an hour after they left Falls Church but when she did, her first thought was of Buck and she smiled. Seeing the look on Lou’s face Jane let her in on her happy thought and Lou grinned and admitted that she was looking forward to seeing Kid again too.
Jane’s arrival was a blur to her and in the years to come she would never truly be able to remember all that had happened. The important parts stayed with her and stood out in her memories like rays of sunlight through a cloudy sky. Buck and Kid were waiting for them when the Stage got into town. Buck took Jane’s hand to help her down and then held onto it as they walked to the wagon. She remembered him lifting her in, but not the ride home.
Home what a wonderful word. It hadn’t taken Jane long to think of Rachel’s house as her home. Rachel and Lou had helped get Jane settled into a small, friendly looking room at the front of the house. It had two sets of windows; one looked out onto the front yard and the other towards the bunkhouse. She quickly developed the habit of sitting in the window seat and doing her mending or knitting and watching for Buck when he was due back from a run.
Jane eased into life at the station helping Rachel out with the cooking, and other chores. Jane and Buck often went for long walks when they were both finished with chores. They would talk for hours or sometimes just sit and watch the world around them. They both treasured these private times away from everyone when they got to be alone and learn about each other. When Buck was away, she and Lou would sit and talk or go down to the pond. Jane soon began too look upon Lou as her big sister and the two could often be found with their heads together laughing about Kid and Buck. Buck never asked what was in all the boxes that Jane had brought with her but slowly she began to go through them and she shared the stories with Buck. Buck in turn began to share some of his stories of growing up with her. She sometimes thought it odd that most of his stories were now about the time after he arrived at the mission school but she never pushed him to tell her more than he was ready to.
Buck and Jane continued their slow and gentle courtship for several weeks; never doing more than holding hands or hugging. Both were afraid of the growing intimacy and the love they had for each other. Neither was quite sure what to do with their feelings.
One night as they sat by the pond watching a pair of ducks playing in the water Jane leaned over and put her head on Buck’s shoulder. Buck stiffened slightly but quickly relaxed and wrapped his arms around her and lowered his head to her forehead.
“This is nice.” Jane said quietly and lifted her head to look at Buck.
At the same moment Buck leaned his head to look down at her. Their eyes locked. Jane smiled, Buck’s heart began to pound, he pulled back slightly and then placed his hand on her cheek. Nervously Jane licked her lips but her eyes never left Buck’s. Buck slowly lowered his head and placed a feather light kiss on her lips. He felt Jane sigh and added a miniscule amount of pressure. She responded to his kiss so he let his arm tighten around her shoulders and held her close as he deepened the kiss slightly. Jane reached her hand up to the back of his neck, held onto Buck and pulled him closer to her at the same time.
After what felt like an eternity they finally broke apart. Both were surprised to see the ducks sitting in the water watching them intently. Jane felt herself blush and looked down at her lap. Buck reached over and took her hand in his and then pulled her close to rest against him again. He wanted her to say something, to do something, but she just laid against his chest smiling with her eyes shut. He figured she couldn’t be too mad at him since he didn’t get slapped but, still he’d have felt better if she would tell him that everything was still ok. The old worries that had plagued him for years suddenly seemed to be growing again. He had never felt them when he was with Jane but now, they seemed to become alive like a great serpent in his chest wiggling and writhing, waiting for it’s chance to strike and he had given it the opening. Fear began to eat at Buck as eventually he stood, Jane’s small hand still clasped in his, and they and headed back home. They didn’t say another word until they were on the front porch and said “Good Night.” Unbeknownst to the pair, both were feeling scared and guilty over the kiss they had both treasured.
Jane had been feeling more and more guilty ever since Buck had kissed her. She didn’t know what to do. She wanted more than anything to tell him the truth but it wasn’t allowed. He must have known that something was bothering her because he hadn’t even tried to kiss her again since that afternoon by the lake. Nothing else had changed between them though; he continued to come by and see her every chance he had. They talked and went for walks like before but never mentioned the kiss. Everything else was just like it had always been but the guilt she felt when she looked at him was eating her up. Finally she decided that she was going to have to talk to him, to explain, and hope that nothing bad happened.
Two days later, Buck came by to visit with her after returning from his run. He walked over to her, took her hands in his and she thought he was going to kiss her again but then he stopped. She knew it was because he had looked into her eyes and saw that something was bothering her. Buck squeezed her fingers lightly, silently asking her what was wrong. He felt a lump form in his throat as that darn serpent began moving again.
She couldn’t wait any longer, “Buck,” Jane began, “Would you go for a walk with me?” She was afraid that he’d say no and just as afraid that he’d say yes.
Smiling a half smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “I’d love too. Where would you like to go?” His insides were twisting, he knew that she was going to tell him that he had been too forward, that she liked him as a friend or worse, thought of him as a brother.
Jane shook her head slightly. She didn’t care where they went; she just wanted to be with him, so she could finally be honest with him. She stepped out onto the steps in front of the house and they set out for the path behind the house still holding hands. When they got to the pond and the spot where they had kissed nearly two weeks before, she stopped.
“Buck, we need to talk. I need to be honest with you,” Jane said as they sat on a large tree stump that they’d sat on many times before.
Buck felt a fear so strong that he felt himself shiver slightly at her words. He’d known it was coming, everything had been too perfect. They were getting along so well and then he’d gone and kissed her. He knew as soon as he’d looked into her eyes that she was upset. He thought that she felt the same way about him as he felt about her, up to that point.
“Jane I think I know what you’re going to say. I’ve known it was coming, I just didn’t want to face it.” Buck said looking out over the pond. He couldn’t face her, couldn’t see her agree with what he was about to say. His jaw was steadily tightening and his left hand began to unconsciously pinch the skin on his right wrist, as if the physical pain would lessen the emotional pain.
“You know what I need to tell you?” Jane asked her face screwed up in a look of complete confusion. “How? No one knows, no one even suspects. How can you know?”
Interrupting her, Buck said in a rush, “I shouldn’t have kissed you. I’m sorry. I thought you wanted me too, that you felt something for me. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, and I won’t do it again.”
Jane nearly laughed with relief. “Oh Buck!” Jane said with a small sad smile. “That’s not it at all. In fact I was happy that you kissed me and I’ve been hoping that you might even do it again. I think I was hoping you’d kiss me almost from the moment I first saw you,” Jane added with a tiny laugh as she remembered pointing her father’s gun at Buck,
“Well, ok, maybe not then but not long after we first met.”
Taking a breath and watching the relief wash over Buck’s face followed immediately by confusion, she said before he could ask, “What I want to talk to you about is something that I’ve been told all my life not to talk about. No one outside of family can ever know, but Buck, I can’t lie to you and I can’t hide things from you. I won’t. I need to tell you what has been on my mind since that kiss but it’s very hard for me to talk about, because it’s something that we’re not allowed to. Does that make any sense?”
Jane paused, wondering how to explain. Buck didn’t want to interrupt her, whatever she had to say was obviously something that was hard and it was costing her a lot to talk about so he quietly reached out to her. To give her whatever strength he could.
When Buck nodded and took her hand she felt more in control, more centered, so she began again. “My family is, was, very different than the other families in Falls Church or anywhere else we lived. We, my grandparents, came from the old country, and we had to leave because otherwise we would be…” Jane paused unable to go on.
Buck reached over to her and ran a hand soothingly down her long brown hair, “Jane, it’s ok. You don’t have to tell me.” He was scared for her he’d never seen her this serious or this hesitant.
Jane leaned her head into his hand as her eyes shut, she gathered herself together. As Buck’s hand went back to her hands and rested over them in her lap. Jane tried again, “I need to tell you. You have a right to know. And I know that I can trust you. Many people hate my family and those like us because of what we don’t believe in, and because of our…” Jane paused looking for the right words and finally decided on a different tact.
“Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?” Jane asked and when Buck nodded slowly but in a way that said he wasn’t as convinced as someone else may have been. “My family and others like mine don’t believe that. We go to church on Sunday’s to hide who we are because it would be too dangerous if anyone knew the truth.”
Buck nodded slowly, he understood the need to hide what you believe in and do things that you didn’t agree with in order to fit in but for the life of him he couldn’t figure what this had to do with his kissing her.
“What is the truth Jane?” Buck whispered barely loud enough for her to hear, but to her it sounded as if he had screamed it at her.
Jane lowered her head fighting the tears that were threatening to form. She raised her head to the sky,. “THIS IS STUPID!” Jane finally yelled.
Looking back at Buck she calmed down and tried again. “I can explain all about it to you but I can’t say the words. I’m so afraid to say the words.” Taking a deep breath Jane laced her fingers through Buck’s and looked at their intertwined hands and finally said, “I’m Jewish.”
At the blank look on his face Jane almost laughed. All of this and he had no idea what she was talking about.
“OK, I don’t know what that means.” Buck began slowly, desperate to understand, “But I want to. I know this is hard for you so we can take as long as you need, as long as it takes. Is this what was worrying you?” Buck was trying to understand but his worry over Jane and his confusion about what she was telling him were battling for a place on his face. He let go of her hands and began stroking her hair again. He wasn’t sure what to do for her.
When Jane nodded but didn’t look back up Buck moved so that he was kneeling in front of her in the grass and he placed both hands on her face and lifted her head gently so that they were eye to eye, “I understand Jane.” He paused slightly between each word letting her absorb what he was saying. “I know what its like to hide who you are. You never have to do that again with me. I will keep your secret safe. You are safe.”
Jane began to talk, telling him about what it meant to be Jewish. Why it was so important to her and her people and why it was a secret that could never go any further than the two of them. When she finally stopped, she realized that there was so much more to say but that the rest could wait. She leaned forward and placed her hand on his and said, “Buck, I know that it’s a lot to take in, and a lot to deal with. I’ll understand if you don’t want to but…”
Buck lifted a finger and placed it on Jane’s lips. “Shhhhh, don’t you realize by now…” Buck paused,waiting for Jane to meet his eyes and as their gazes locked he murmured, “I love you.” With these words he kissed her for the second time since they had met and they both knew that this was forever.