Chapter 1

They were kissing. Lou and Jimmy were kissing, tenderly hugging each other in one of the stable boxes. Kid's eyes widened in shock. He'd entered to put up a forgotten tool and had seen them. A sharp pain invaded him. How many times had he and Lou done that? Sneaking away to find time for each other through the chores of the day, longing for those moments to spent alone. But now all was different, another man was holding Lou, another man was making her smile sweetly, and his best friend was doing it. Kid felt like he was suffocating. Backing away, he staggered and violently banged his shoulder against the doorpost.

Jimmy and Lou turned, alarmed by the sound. Kid saw their eyes full of astonishment and sorrow. Lou opened her mouth to say something but he turned and ran from the barn.

"Kid!" He heard Lou calling him. She had run after him, but Kid didn't turn. He felt like a coward but he couldn't face her at that moment.

"Kid!" Lou reached him; she took him by the arm and made him turn. "Kid, wait…"

"Let me go…please," he begged.

Lou saw his glistening eyes and heard his contracted voice; he was on the verge of tears. She let him go and watched him mount Katy and rode away. The girl fought the desire of follow him, while her own tears began to run down her cheeks.

°°°°°°

Kid dismounted and fell to the ground where he remained immobile and shocked. He still couldn't believe what he had just seen. All his hopes and expectations, all his dreams had been destroyed by the kiss he had just witnessed. He thought something had changed with Lou in the weeks after Amanda's rescue, that they were rebuilding what they had lost. Instead he had only fooled himself. He began to cry.

He had fallen for her from the first day, and when she returned his feelings he felt the luckiest man on the earth but it hadn't been easy at the beginning; they both were confused and uncertain. It had been the best time of his life and the most problematic. They loved each other with all the passion and the ardour of new love. It had been a bumpy road, but finally they couldn't deny what they were feeling anymore.

Kid would have made her happy, given her what she wanted; but she was too strong, too independent for him. The bonds of his love and care had smothered her, so she had left him.

When Lou refused his proposal it was as if his world had crumbled on him. He had offered her his heart and she refused it. "We went too far, too fast," She told him. "It's better to return just being friends" But they couldn't. Back then he was so much in pain he had hurt her, even if it was the last thing he had wanted. He had said things he didn't feel and belittled their love in front of their friends when it had been the most important thing he had ever had.

He had seen her went away with tears in her eyes and a broken heart. Jimmy was the one who had consoled her… it had been Jimmy who made her feel good…Jimmy who understood her and didn't question her choices. It was Jimmy who deserved her.

°°°°°°

It was dinnertime, but Kid still hadn't returned. Lou knew where he was; his favourite spot near the pond. The place where the two of them had begun to meet and talk since they arrived in Rock Creek. How good those moments had been …they had talked and joked and teased again, without that distance that had grown between them.

She had deluded him, she knew that. She had seen his love in those blue eyes of his and the hope that everything could return as it used to be. He never made any more advances; he wouldn't do such a thing without a signal from her. Lou hadn't been able to tell him how the trip with Elijah Mills had changed everything.

She had been selfish, she knew it, but she hadn't wanted to lose their newfound closeness. But on the other hand, she hadn't been ready to reveal her new relationship either. For this reason she accepted the dance with Kid during the Summer Social and had let him console her after Ike's death. She knew those gestures meant a lot to him, but she couldn't renounce them. By doing so she had broken his heart.

Lou looked at Jimmy, who was sitting across from her at the table. He looked as troubled as she was feeling. The young man couldn't forget Kid's desolate expression when he had seen them. 'I've betrayed my best friend,' Jimmy thought. 'I went behind his back and took away the only woman he truly loved.'

Jimmy had seen how Kid's eyes lit up every time Lou smiled at him, listened to his secrets and hopes…Kid had trusted him and he didn't say anything. He was scared; scared that if Kid would have discovered their relationship he would have tried to win Lou's heart again, and Jimmy knew how much she still cared for him.

When Kid rode away, Lou burst into tears, pushing him away as he tried to console her. Jimmy hadn't seen Lou for the rest of the afternoon and when Rachel called them for dinner, she had passed near him without looking at him. His heart had sunk. Had Lou changed her mind?

"Where's Kid?" Teaspoon's voice distracted him from his reverie.

Jimmy and Lou exchanged a glance, but the girl quickly averted her eyes.

"I sent him over to the widow Archer's" Rachel responded. "If he hasn't returned yet, Abigail has most likely asked him to stay for dinner."

Jimmy looked at the woman astonished, but she gave him a look full of understandings. 'Lou must have told her everything,' he thought.

°°°°°°

The riders had already turned in for the night when finally Lou heard the familiar sound of Katy's hooves. She waited for Kid to come in but after almost twenty minutes later and he still hadn't showed himself, she couldn't wait any longer.

She got up and dressed herself and then she headed towards the door.

"Lou?" Jimmy called in a whisper. He had sat up when he had heard her movements.

She went to him; she understood perfectly how confused he must be at that moment. He was scared that she would change her mind now that Kid had discovered them. The look Jimmy gave her made Lou's heart soften. Quickly she went to Jimmy's side. "It's okay Jimmy. Go back to sleep."

"But..."

"Please Jimmy." She kissed him softly on the lips.

He lay down again on his bunk, somewhat reassured by her gesture. Lou left the bunkhouse and headed to the barn. She was sorry to have left Jimmy like that but right now all she could think about was that she had to make things right with Kid.

She had never seen him so pained, not even the day she refused his proposal. After their reconciliation she had sworn to never hurt him again. But that afternoon when she looked in his tearful eyes, it was like she could hear his heart breaking all over again.

Grabbing a lantern she entered the barn. There wasn't any sound, other than the soft snoring of the horses. Going over to Katy's stall, she saw Kid curled in a corner with his knees raised and his forehead leaning on his arms; in much the same fashion she founded him at the pond after Doritha's funeral.

Lou crouched before him.

"Kid," she called softly.

He raised his head a bit surprised, as if he hadn't heard her come. His eyes were dry, now but it was difficult to look at them all the same.

"Kid, where have you been? You worried us."

He diverted his gaze and got up.

"I'm sorry, I just needed some time alone." He headed toward the stalls' entrance but Lou stopped him. He wouldn't run away on her again.

"Kid, wait," she grabbed his arm. "It's not what you think."

He turned to look at her.

"And how is it, then?"

Lou struggled under his stare.

"Things are too difficult between us, Kid. Don't you remember how much we fought?! How much I made you worry? How much you made me crazy…"

He didn't say anything, continuing to stare at her.

"With Jimmy it's easier?" he asked after several moments.

Lou didn't answer immediately.

"With Jimmy," she hesitated. "With Jimmy it's different." With him there was no pressure. They both knew that where ever the relationship led them, there were no expectations. She could maintain her independence and she wasn't judged for what she did. She felt free. Jimmy didn't ask her for anything; he accepted what she gave him. And it was what she needed now... "It's better with Jimmy."

She could tell by his expression she had hurt him once more. Her heart began to bleed, but she couldn't continue to lie to him. Yes with Jimmy it was easier. Damn, she loved Kid, but she wasn't ready to be what he asked for; it was too much. She was sure if she had accepted his proposal or simply got back with him again, that he would have loved her for all of his life and he would do everything to make her happy. What she didn't know was if she would have been able to return those feelings.

"For how long?" he managed to say.

"Since…since Elijah's trip…"

"I see…" Kid said. What else could he say when he felt like he was dying at that very moment? "I really have done everything wrong with you, haven't I?"

"No Kid…" Lou stretched a hand to caress his cheek. "It isn't like that at all… It's me…I -I'm not… I don't know how to be what you need, who you need."

Even to her ears, it sounded like nothing more than an excuse…

Kid drew back from her hand. Lou's eyes filled with tears, he never withdrew from her, never in that way, as if her touch hurt him.

"Sorry," he said, seeing her tears. "But I want to be alone now…" his voice cracked and he turned his head away from her.

She nodded and left. She had no right to console him, not now that she had made her choice, but it didn't make her feel better.

That night she cried bitterly in her bunk. Why did she feel as if she was being split in two? On one hand there was Kid, who loved her with all of his soul, and yet she wasn't sure if she was ready to pay the price for making the commitment he wanted of her. On the other there was Jimmy, who loved her as much as Kid and probably understood her even better. But he hadn't offered anything to her nor asked for anything in return.

It would have been a lot easier if she had fallen for Jimmy during their trip at Willow Creek, when Kid had turned his attention to Samantha. In that moment his decision had been the confirmation of her doubts and insecurities and if Jimmy would have kissed her, she probably would have accepted him without all the remorse she was feeling now.

But now everything was different. She and Kid had talked. He had been completely honest with her. He asked for her forgiveness for Samantha and as he explained his feelings openly, he revealed to her his past, his worries and his fears, without leaving anything out. He had opened his heart to her, trusting her completely. But she hadn't been able to give him the same trust, because of that fear to let herself go and to lose her control. His trust had scared her, instead of reassuring her.

Jimmy had his secrets, but he didn't tell them to her. She had only sensed them, like that fateful night during Elijah's journey. Jimmy never opened himself to her as Kid did and for this reason it made her more comfortable.

°°°°°°

The bloodstain widened on Kid's chest, the young man bowed his head to look at it, then he returned to stare at him with widen shocked eyes.

"Why Jimmy…?" it was the last thing he said, before he crumbled on the ground, shot in the heart by his best friend.

"No!" Jimmy woke up suddenly, covered by a thin layer of sweat. His heart beat wildly for a couple of seconds until he realized where he was.

It was early morning and the grey light that came from the windows lightened up the bodies of his sleeping bunkmates. His eyes went immediately to Lou's bunk. When he saw her asleep, curled on her side, he released the breath he wasn't aware he was holding.

His gaze lowered to his best friend bunk, the one he had just dreamed he'd shot. The bed was empty; the blankets were neatly folded as if no one had slept in it. Jimmy's heart began to race once again. Had Kid gone away without saying anything? Rapidly he got up, got dressed and left the bunkhouse.

He went to the barn, because he was sure that Kid wouldn't leave without his beloved Katy. When he spotted the horse in her stall it was as if a weight had been lifted from his chest. He looked for Kid and found him curled in the hay in the mare's stall. On his shirt there was a dark stain and Jimmy sucked his breath, remembering his dream.

"Kid?…Kid!" he called hastily while grabbing Kid's arm. The young man grimaced and Jimmy loosened the grip on his wounded shoulder.

Kid opened his eyes slowly and Jimmy found he couldn't look him in the face.

"Jimmy."

"Hi Kid." he responded awkwardly. "Your…your shoulder is bleeding," he added after some seconds.

Kid looked down at the stain of dried blood on his right shoulder. He had hit a nail when he bumped against the doorframe and it had scratched deeply his skin. He hadn't noticed it the day before, but now it began to hurt.

"I'll go see if Rachel can patch me," Kid said tonelessly. He got up without taking the hand Jimmy offered and headed for the barn door.

"Kid…" Jimmy called him, not wanting to let him walk away like that. His friend turned and looked at him and the young gunslinger couldn't pronounce the words that had come to his lips.

Kid turned again and went to Rachel's house.

"Damn!" Jimmy kicked one of the stall's walls, causing an irritated whinny from its occupant. But the young man didn't notice, distracted by his stormy feelings. He felt guilty about Kid and angry at himself. Kid had a way of making him feel miserable and, at the same time, he was angry at Kid for making him feel that way.

Kid had looked him straight in the eye without saying anything, without even accusing him of anything and he couldn't talk. How could Jimmy explain to him that when Lou had turned to him he didn't think twice before returning her feelings; that he hadn't been able to be honest with him? Damn! Kid was his best friend and he couldn't find anything better to do but fall for the woman he loved and take her away from him.

Jimmy had been angry with him when he began to court Samantha, or every time he tried to boss Lou around. But at the same time he had been happy that Kid behaved as a jerk, because this gave him a chance. Kid's errors allowed him to close the distance between them and to win her heart.

They hadn't told anyone about their relationship and it made things easier. It was like living in another reality where there were only the two of them. There was no "Wild Bill," no Kid, and they could ignore the taunts of the others. There was only Lou and him, and it was beautiful. Jimmy could think about his feeling for her without any worries.

But that unexpected coming out obliged him to face the reality: his happiness had destroyed his best friend's and now he and Lou and him would lose him for that reason.

Chapter 2

Lou and Jimmy didn't see much of Kid in the days that followed. He took all the extra runs he could, did all of Teaspoon's errands and even when he was at the station he spent more time doing chores than in the bunkhouse. He closed himself in., not the kind of angry and bitter silence he was in when Lou left him and before their reconciliation, when the mere sight of Jimmy and Lou talking together made his rage and jealousy mount. It was like when his brother and Doritha died; he isolated himself to block the pain he was feeling.

Lou observed him from afar. Kid was talking lightly and smiling with the others but she knew him too well to not notice how his smile didn't reach his eyes, how he was only hiding his pain. He hadn't bitter words for her or Jimmy nor recrimination, but he didn't talk either; he was as gentle as ever but apart from some idle chats about rides or chores, Kid never had a real talk with Lou or Jimmy. He hadn't looked them in the eyes since the day he found them in the barn.

Lou sighed and looked away. Kid had erected a wall around himself so he wouldn't get hurt any more, and she couldn't blame him, seeing how his trust had brought him nothing but pain. But the idea of not having even his friendship brought new tears in her eyes.

"We really have lost him, haven't we?" she asked to Jimmy, who was leaning in the shadow of the barn near her.

"I guess so," he sadly agreed with her.

Lou turned to hide her face in Jimmy's chest, hugging him tightly.

"It's so unfair," she murmured.

"I know."

They remained like that for a while, enjoying each other nearness. Jimmy draped his arms around her waist and let his chin rest on the top of her head. He sighed heavily, Lou was right, it wasn't fair. But even the knowledge of having hurt someone who he had always considered a brother couldn't make him renounce the girl who now was in his arms.

Jimmy could never forget the day Lou went to search for him. They had just returned from the Elijah's trip and the Lou had passed the day assisting Kid, whose wound had became infected. His friend had begun to run a fever during their trip back and once at home, he had practically collapsed before he could even dismount from the saddle. Lou had never left Kid's side until she was sure he was going to be okay and left Jimmy alone to deal with the painful, bitter knot of feelings that that trip had left to him.

He saw a good man hanged, a man whose life and destiny seemed terribly similar to his own. For the first time he had the nerve to act upon his feelings and kissed Lou and for some moments he really thought that she was going to choose him over his best friend. But he deluded himself. Kid had been Lou's first thought when she needed comfort. She turned to Kid when Elijah was hanged, not to him. Her gesture crushed his heart; in that very moment Jimmy understood that he was desperately in love with Louise McCloud but he could never have her.

But he was wrong.

The evening after their return, Jimmy was in the barn brushing Sundance, anything to avoid the bunkhouse and the sight of Lou tending Kid. Suddenly he heard Lou's voice.

"Jimmy? I was looking for you," Lou said entering in the stall.

"You were?" Jimmy asked tonelessly. He didn't turn, he was hurting for what was happening, but he didn't intend to let her know that.

"Yes Jimmy, I was." Her tone became harder. "Why are you avoiding me, Jimmy?"

"I'm not avoiding you Lou, you were pretty busy with Kid." He covered his pain with sarcasm and that stony face he'd learned to wear.

Sparkles of fire burned in the girl's eyes.

"Kid is sick, Jimmy, and I was helping him. So I ask you again, why are you avoiding me?"

He couldn't look in her eyes, not without being overwhelmed once again by the need to kiss her.

"I-I have to go." It was the only thing he could think to say, before retreating from her.

"Wait Jimmy." Her voice had lost her determination and held a pleading, painful tone that made him stop in his tracks. "Please, Jimmy. We need to talk."

"And what do we need to talk about?" the man was defeated; he could never deny anything to her when she spoke in that way.

"About what happened between us, Jimmy."

"Nothing happened between us. I was upset and you were trying to console me, it was only a mistake."

"Only a mistake?" the trembling whisper that left her lips was not what Jimmy expected.

He expected relief from Lou. He was ready to reassure her they would be friends like before, that their kiss hadn't messed with anything. He was ready to see her get back with Kid and to push deep inside of him his feelings in order to see her happy. But what he saw surprised him.

Lou's large eyes were brimming with unshed tears. When he looked at her, she diverted her gaze and turned away from him.

"O-ok, I wanted only to be sure," she hurried to say. This time it was Lou the one who turned, hastily retreating from him.

Jimmy stared at her dumbfounded. What did those tears mean? Does Lou… he didn't dare to formulate that thought. It can't be. Kid was the one for her; everyone knew that, but that expression…could he dared to hope there was something more for him? And was he ready to commit himself seriously to a woman? Because one thing was sure, he couldn't take this step with Lou light-heartedly; because she deserved all he could offer to her.

Jimmy smiled slightly remembering how he had run out of the barn, only to find her wiping away her tears with the palms of her hands, leaning against the wooden wall. The sight of her like that had made his stomach twist uneasily, his words had hurt her. It had happened before; especially at the beginning of the Express when he had put his foot in his mouth more than once, making her cry with his callousness; but this time it was different. The only times he saw Lou like that had been after an argument with Kid.

"Lou…" he had called her softly. "I'm sorry"

"Don't," he heard her sniff. "I took it all wrong. I've made a fool of myself," she added when her voice returned normal.

Jimmy stepped closer. He felt himself at a crucial turning point. The words he was going to say in that moment could change his life forever. He could apologize to her and let her turn again to Kid or he could let her know what he really felt. He watched her face, the eyes red from the tears, the long lashes lowered to avoid his glance.

"Lou…." He called softly again. He lifted her chin with his finger.

"Lou…" his voice trembled.

"You haven't made a fool of yourself," Jimmy whispered before he bent down to kiss her. It was a slow kiss, one that let him savour her sweetness, one that showed how much he cared about her.

She sighed softly against his lips and melted herself against his body.

°°°°°°

Teaspoon found Kid in the office that morning, as he did almost every morning in the last few weeks. He had understood that something must have happened between him and the young lady who took his heart. For this reason, every time Kid asked for a run or anything else, he had given it to him without any question. Teaspoon thought he needed some time away to reflect and clear his mind and he was willing to give it to the young man in order to help him. But this time was different. Weeks had passed and Kid's mood still hadn't changed.

He had seen him like this other times, when he had to deal with Jed's deception and loss, after his break-up with Lou and the last time, after Doritha's death, just a month ago. In all those times Kid had closed in himself, falling in a silent and sad mood and not letting anyone come close to him, but he had always returned to the old Kid they all knew with the help of the Express family and, above all, Lou.

This time was completely different, though. Kid was hiding his pain, something was eating himself inside but he wouldn't let anyone see it. At the station, he was the same Kid as ever. He was a little more taciturn, and he found every excuse to take a run or keep himself occupied, but he didn't act different with the boys so no one understood how bad Kid was feeling.

"Kid! You can't be here again!" The exasperated marshal exclaimed to him. "I have no run, no errands, nothing for you!"

He regretted immediately the harsh tone he used seeing the troubled face of his boy.

"Son," He continued more softly. "You can't continue like this…I know there's something troubling you…something concerning that young lady over there at the station, but I'm sure you two will find the way fix whatever has happened."

Teaspoon smiled reassuringly and patted the young man shoulder, but his smile died as soon as he saw the painful look that crossed Kid's features.

"There's nothing to fix anymore, Teaspoon."

"What are you sayin' Kid. I'm sure Lou…"

"Lou isn't interested in me anymore."

"Now Kid, don't jump into conclusion…maybe she is mad at you…but…"

"She has found someone else."

Teaspoon fell silent. Kid slumped on a chair and hid his head in his hands.

"I can't stay here anymore. Can you find a place for me in another station?"

Kid couldn't help the pleading tone and hated himself once more for his weakness; but he really couldn't stand the entire situation anymore. He missed Lou and Jimmy fiercely, but at the same time he couldn't stand being near them.

He had trusted them; he allowed himself to open his heart to them, as he hadn't done in a long time. After what his father did to his own family, after his brother and Doritha's abandonment, he never thought he would have been able to trust anyone like that. He had been deluded first by his father who, with his brutality, destroyed his childish world, then by Jed's promises, that his brother never had kept, and finally by Doritha's refusal to come with him after all that they had shared.

He had always tried to find excuses for the ones he loved, but when he headed West, Kid had promised to himself to never give his confidence so easily anymore. For this reason he had kept his distance when he started with the Express, sleeping in the barn and keeping aloof. But he had soon perceived how similar to him were those boys he never met before. All of them had a past made of pain and hardships, all of them wanted to make their life worth something, all of them needed a family.

Kid had felt he had found a new family joining the Pony Express, but he had also found something else, someone else. When he had discovered the real Lou, he had been shocked. He never thought there could be a woman like Louise McCloud: so strong and independent and so fragile at the same time; so beautiful, complicated, stubborn and feisty and yet so sweet and caring behind her tough appearance.

He had been scared of his feelings at first; he couldn't lose his heart to someone else again. Lou had accused him to take things too slow at the beginning, but how can he explain to her that he couldn't stand another disappointment? Despite all of that, his heart had won over his rationality and he had found himself in love. Sure, they had their problems, but he really believed in their love, really believed they could become a family one day, that she wanted to spend her life with him. Now, Kid realized he had been too naïve to have such an expectation. And in not understanding this, he had made both of them suffer.

But it wasn't the only thing that hurt him. He had exposed himself totally to the two people he trusted the most, Louise and Jimmy. The woman he loved and the man he considered his best friend; once more he had been disappointed.

Jimmy. Sure, he and the gunslinger had a lot of differences, they fought about almost everything and there had been a period when he hated his interference in his relationship with Lou. He had been hurt by his friend belief that his Southern heritage prevented him from understanding what Lou really needed. Sometimes Jimmy had made him feel as if having grown up with a different way of life made him incapable to see how amazing Louise was and to respect her for what she was.

Kid never told Jimmy how much his attitude towards him hurt because he never doubted their friendship. Jimmy would never voluntarily hurt him…Jimmy was a brother…Jimmy was the one he could talk about almost everything…even if he didn't think in the same way of his, or maybe just for that…instead…

"Why didn't they tell me…?" Kid sobbed, defeated.

Teaspoon saw the tears slip past his shut eyes.

"Son…" he began, but he really didn't know what to say to console him.

"I talked to them…I-I told them what was in my heart…to both of them…why didn't they tell me anything…"

Teaspoon could easily image who were the ones Kid was talking about. So Jimmy finally had won Lou's heart, he thought. He knew his boys too well to not being aware of their feelings, even if they were pretty good at hiding them.

For a long while he had sensed that Jimmy's feelings for Louise ran deeper than the love for a friend, and the old marshal had been sorry for the young man, divided between the loyalty to Kid and his growing feelings for his friend's girl. It sure was a tight spot to be in. Jimmy had been Lou's confidant and protector and maybe in some situations he had interfered in the couple's problems more than he should have, but he did that only because he really cared about Lou.

Teaspoon never imagined that Jimmy would really be able to win Louise's heart, though; not because he was unworthy of the girl's love, because Jimmy was one of the most caring people he had ever met under his hot-headed and hard appearance, but because he thought that the love between Kid and Louise was one of those life-lasting kind.

All of them had witnessed the ups and downs of Kid and Lou's relationship that had finally ended with a break-up that made both of them suffer. After their arrival in Rock Creek though, Teaspoon had seen Kid and Lou get close again, and the tension between the young Southerner and Jimmy faded away. They had been happy then, and he thought that the intricate relationships existing among those three had found a balance between friendship, caring and love. He expected that sooner or later Kid and Lou would marry, with Jimmy's blessing.

Kid must have thought the same thing, and it must have devastated him to realize that things weren't as he believed. From the boy's broken words Teaspoon understood that the relationship between Lou and Jimmy had gone on for a while and that Kid had discovered it only by chance. It must have been a really hard blow for him.

"Not so thick as the others." Teaspoon had said the first time he had saw the Kid, and in some way it was still the same. He had remained the naïve, righteous Southern boy he met at the beginning of the Express, honest and willing to believe in the other's goodness and honesty even with the many times people had taken advantage of him. The bad experiences had helped him to become a bit less ingenuous, but it didn't scratch the trust he put in the Express family, on the contrary it had strengthen it.

Teaspoon certainly couldn't blame Louise for having followed her heart, but seeing the Kid like that had upset him deeply. Kid had lost not only the woman he loved and his best friend, but he had also the awareness they hadn't been honest with him; and for a man like Kid it meant the destruction of his own certainties. Maybe it was a too close-minded way to live, but that was part of what made Kid who he was.

We are going to lose him, Teaspoon thought sadly, while he observed the young man walk away from his office, and no one could do anything about it to make him change his mind.

A big thanks to Lisa, who helped me even if she was busy, and to catsimmie who reworded some sentences making them more understandable. Thank you, girls!

Chapter 3

Jimmy couldn’t bear that situation anymore. He hated himself for thinking like that but the Kid’s painful expression started to get on his nerves. He would have preferred Kid punching at him, yelling at him and calling him a bastard than seeing him like that; at least it would be a sort of reaction from his part. But Jimmy knew how Kid was; he could go on with that silent treatment for a long time, and Jimmy feared this time he would never gain again his friendship.

Damn Kid! He would shout at him. She is only a girl!

But Lou wasn’t “only a girl”, and Jimmy knew it. She was special. It was impossible to forget her, because once she settled in someone’s heart, she would remain there forever.

Jimmy had fallen in love with her aware that Lou would never could be his. It wasn’t his first heartache, even if it was the one that hurt the most. In a way he knew how to handle it, from his first crush for Clara to Sarah Downs and then Alice, he got used to falling in love with the wrong girl at the wrong moment.

For Kid it was an entirely different matter though. Lou has been his first real love, the first girl he even got so close, in every sense of the term. The gunslinger had felt himself very honoured when Kid had trusted him enough to confide to him his fears and doubts about starting riding double with Lou. Jimmy tried to help him as much as he could, even if he never completely understood his friend’s reticence about sex. Kid’s values remained a mystery for him. Jimmy too was taught the same things when he was a child, but when he had grown up he had begun to decide for himself what was wrong and what wasn’t. Kid instead tried to stick to what he was told. Sometimes he was so stubborn he could appear obtuse, but in a way Jimmy admired Kid’s willingness to follow his principles, even when it wasn’t a simple thing to do.

He had observed the blossoming relationship between Kid and Lou with a mix of tenderness and envy. Sometimes they acted as two fools but their bond was something Jimmy never experienced in his past relationships. He had wanted to “protect” that love against their own foolishness and inexperience; instead he ended up falling in love with Lou.

It had been something unexpected, he did know it would bring only problems and pain, but when Lou began to go to him for advice, when Kid made her suffer with his obtuseness, something began to change. His deep friendship for Lou slowly became something else.

Jimmy had been angry at Kid because he didn’t seem to understand how lucky he was to have her; all his stupid values and rules got on his nerves. They might be OK in the East but here they were so completely out of place. Lou wasn’t a girl who needed to be protected and guided. She was different. How couldn’t Kid understand that? She was stubborn, proud and strong and, if she needed to prove herself, Kid shouldn’t prevent her from doing that.

Who knew, maybe if Jimmy haven’t took Lou’s side so openly, arousing Kid’s jealousy, things would have been different…instead his interference has been one of the things that probably led Kid and Lou to break up.

How had Jimmy felt back then? Confused, that was for sure. Sad because his friends were suffering, angry at Kid and in a way even happy, because for once he was the one who was right, and not his blue-eyed friend who was always so sure of himself.

Thinking now about that period Jimmy realized he never talked with Kid about his break-up with Lou. Actually, he never thought to ask him how he was doing. He supposed Kid must not be so upset, considering he had started to see Samantha not long after Lou had left him. He should have known Kid better than thinking in that way, but he hadn’t wanted to delve in those thoughts back then.

After a while Lou and Kid were on speaking terms again and also the strain and the rage he had felt toward the Kid disappeared, so he felt there’s no need of explanation between the two of them. Kid could be stubborn and irritating but he remained his best friend and even a blind man could see how much he still loved Lou.

For this reason when they arrived in Rock Creek Jimmy had decided to suffocate what he had been feeling for Lou in the last months. Lou and Kid were happy and he had began to regain Kid’s friendship, that was more important that any fleeting feelings he thought he felt for Lou. He smiled bitterly, he had been so sure for that, but then they met Elijah Mills.

Jimmy still didn’t know if he was grateful or not to have made that trip. He had won the heart of the most special girl he had ever know, but he had lost a friend.

Damn you again, Kid!

Sometimes Jimmy thought it would have been much better if they had never met the Kid; in this way he wouldn’t feel so guilty and Lou wouldn’t be always so miserable.

It was a horrible thing to think but Jimmy couldn’t help himself. He felt too strained and upset, if something didn’t happen soon he would explode, he knew that.

Something happened, indeed, but it wasn’t what Jimmy had hoped.

°°°°°°

One evening, after dinner, Kid stood up from his place, Rachel and Teaspoon looked at him and a chill ran down Jimmy’s back. His heart began to pound…what was that sad, resigned look in their eyes? …What was Kid going to say?

The Southerner looked at his fellow riders and sighed heavily.

“I need to tell you something…” the words seemed to drag out of his mouth. “Russell, Majors and Waddell requested an expert rider for the Sweetwater Station, and I…I’ve decided to take that job.”

The gunslinger’s mouth became dry. He saw Lou covered her mouth with her hands, trying to stifle a sob. He couldn’t manage to say a word, but the others overwhelmed him with their questions.

“What the hell had came in your mind, Kid?!”

“Sweetwater is thousands of miles away from here!”

They were shocked and upset, being completely unaware of the reasons behind his leaving.

“How will you do without Lou?!” Finally the much dreaded question arrived.

Jimmy’s head shot upright. He saw Kid and Lou stare at each other for a moment, pain clearly written in his friend blue’s eyes. Jimmy waited for him to tell the others about him and Lou, but Kid quickly glanced away.

“You don’t have to worry about Lou.”

“What does he mean, don’t worry…Lou, tell him something…”

“It’s enough Cody.” Teaspoon stopped him. “Kid will leave the tomorrow afternoon. The new Station Manager of Sweetwater asked me if I could send him one of my riders to help him with his boys and Kid had accepted the job.”

“But…”

“Stop now, Cody. I think there are some chores to finish before turn in for the night.”

The riders got up from the table, still quite shocked for that sudden and unexpected news. It was clear they were dying to know something more about Kid’s leaving, but the Southerner’s dejected expression, as well as the hard one on Rachel’s face, prevented them to ask anything else.

Jimmy followed the others in a daze, his mind still in turmoil. Kid was going to leave for another station…he couldn’t go away like that! There were still so many unresolved issues between the two of them, Jimmy still hoped to solve the things with his friend, to make him understand how sorry him and Lou were that it had gone like that, how much they still cared about him. Jimmy wanted them to return what they were, but Kid’s decision had destroyed that hope.

Damn you Kid! How could you do something like this to us!? What is it? A way to hurt us? The rage and the frustration were getting over him once again.

°°°°°°

Kid was in the barn checking Katy’s gear; he knew it was unnecessary but he needed to be alone. He still couldn’t believe he had been able to tell the other he was going to leave. When the boys had begun to ask him why he had decided to leave them and how will he do without Lou, he felt himself on the verge of the break up once again. What was he supposed to say? Someone else will take care of Lou? This is the reason I’m leaving?

The thought of losing his family was almost unbearable, but he knew he couldn’t go on like that. He couldn’t stand and watch Lou looking at Jimmy the way she looked at him, kissing him, doing with his friend the same things she had done with him. His heart just couldn’t bear it. It wasn’t a matter of jealousy anymore, it was something that was eating him inside little by little; day after day he mulled over the fact that Lou was no longer his, that maybe she never had wanted and needed him the way he did, that maybe he had only deluded himself and, above all, that the people he loved and trusted the most hadn’t be honest with him.

All of this was eating him inside and he didn’t want it to spoil any feeling of love he felt for them. Kid needed to put together the pieces of his life, to start on once again, for this reason he needed to leave. Even if it was the most difficult thing he had ever done.

Suddenly Kid heard someone storming in the barn, but he remained where he was. Jimmy came stomping toward him. He looked furious and angered.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing Kid? Running away like a coward?!” Jimmy’s swing was almost predictable and he avoided it, but it was the words he used that enraged him.

How dare he call me a coward?! It had needed all his strength and resolution to make his decision and Jimmy, who hadn’t even the guts to tell him about what he was doing behind his back, was accusing him to cowardice.

His fists soon responded to Jimmy’s.

“You…you, of all the people have no right to call me a coward…I told everything about Lou and you…you hadn’t the nerve…” Kid continued to punch at Jimmy, his vision was becoming blurred for the tears. The gunslinger barely tried to defend himself from his friend’s almost ineffective blows.

“Of all the girls...why, why did you have to take the only one I love…damn you Jimmy…I trusted you…you could have told me something…” Kid’s voice was broken by a sob…he stopped, his rage drained, leaving him exhausted. In that moment he didn’t even care that Jimmy could see his tears.

Hickock felt his heart constrict, the only time he had saw Kid like this it had been when he was crying over the body of his brother. He felt his own eyes filling with tears. He had never wanted this to happen.

“I’m sorry Kid.” It was the only thing he could manage to say. He clutched his friend shoulder. “Don’t go away...please”

“I can’t stay…”

“You don’t have to leave…we can solve the things…talk with Lou…”

“And what I could say to her?” a short bitter laugh escaped form his mouth. “That I love her…that she has been the only one I wanted and loved? What else I could say that she already doesn’t know? Lou doesn’t need me, at least not in the way I need her. I don’t know how you have could stand watching us, Jimmy, but I can’t do the same, I’m just not strong enough.”

Kid stopped talking and exhaled one last trembling sigh. He remained for a moment like that, and then he straightened up, wiping his eyes with the palms of his hands, trying to regain his composure. He felt he had exposed himself too much once again so he turned to walk away.

Jimmy had been staring at him, unable to find the right words to say, but when he saw Kid leaving he blocked him and pulled him in an embrace. He hugged him tightly.

“I’m sorry Kid…” he murmured, his voice cracking. “I’m sorry for everything…”

The two friends remained like that for some moments, until Kid disentangled himself and looked at Jimmy straight in the eye.

“You must make her happy, Jimmy. You must love her and give her what she needs…she deserves all your heart, nothing less.” (Why did you delete ‘must’? I wanted to make what Kid said a sort of request for Jimmy…)

Jimmy stared back in his friend’s eyes. They are sad and defeated, but also firm.

“I promise, Kid”

°°°°°°

Lou couldn’t stop crying. She stood here, unable to do anything else than wipe the dishes Rachel was passing her and let the tears roll down her cheeks.

Kid was leaving, and he didn’t tell her anything. He had decided to go away and he hadn’t even talked to her first. How could it have happened? He had been the first one to discover her secret, the first one to gain her trust, the first man who had ever really loved her… they had shared so much and now it was as if they were two strangers.

“It’s not right!” she sobbed.

Rachel turned to look at her friend. She had volunteered Lou to do the dishes with her to save her from the prying question of the others and to give her the chance to vent herself if she wanted to. But she had remained silent…until that moment.

“It’s not right, Rachel! He can’t go away like this! You and Teaspoon have to stop him!”

The woman smiled sadly. “It’s his own decision. We can’t force him to stay here if he doesn’t want to.”

“But he belongs here! We’re his family! He can’t leave us…”

“You can’t stop him,” Rachel put an arm around her shoulders. “You made your decision, and now you must let him make his.”

“But he is leaving because of me! He doesn’t want to talk with me but…but if that fool would listen to me, he would understand how much I still care about him and need him…”

“Do you think he doesn’t know, Louise? But you don’t love him in the way he loves and needs you, not anymore.”

“But how will he do without us…we are his family…he’ll be alone, and he needs so much all of us...”

“Don’t make the mistake of confusing your feelings of guilt, with your caring for him…you’ll hurt him even more.”

“It’s not…” Lou was going to protest, but she understood the truth in Rachel words. She didn’t want Kid to go away because she didn’t want to lose him, but also because she was feeling responsible for his leaving. Seeing his pain made her felt miserable, and all what she wanted was for him to accept her decision and be her friend so the three of them could return to what they used to be. But it was a selfish thought, she knew that, she couldn’t oblige him to be happy only because she was suffering seeing him like that, nor she can make him stay. She loved him, and a part of he heart will forever belong to him, but Kid didn’t deserve the crumbles of her love, for this reason, as much as losing him would hurt her, she had to let him go.

Chapter 4

Jimmy stared at the small pouch in his hands, it contained the ring Kid bought for Lou, the one Daisy had stolen and they had fought for. It was the ring Kid asked Lou to marry him with. He had had no idea of that. Lou had never told him the reason that led her to leave Kid, Jimmy had only imagined it. He had witnessed how Kid had became more possessive toward Lou after they had started to ‘dance’, more worried for her safety and about what was proper. He had thought it had been this that caused their break up; instead it had been Lou’s refusal to marry him.

That fool had had the worst timing ever, proposing when it was obvious that they had problems…what did he think? That making Lou his wife would solve everything??? But his foolishness didn’t change the fact that he had put his heart on the line for Lou and she had disappointed him.

A lump of bitterness lingered in Jimmy’s stomach. He was supposed to be Kid’s closest friend and he didn’t even know what had really happened. At that time he had really hated Kid’s behaviour, he thought that his friend had tossed away Lou because she didn’t fulfill his Southern expectations, and what had happened with Samantha had strengthened his conviction.

Instead he hadn’t had any idea of what Kid had gone through. Had he talked to anyone about that? He didn’t think so. Kid had been always quite reserved, especially about his relationship with Lou; and him, the only one he usually confided in about that issue, in that moment was also the one who had taken Lou’s side against him.

Jimmy sighed heavily…how did the things among the three of them get so tangled?

He felt guilty, he should have been more sympathetic to Kid; back then the only thing he saw was how he was hurting Lou, but he knew that in Kid’s shoes he would have behaved exactly in the same way, feigning indifference when he was dying inside. He smiled bitterly; it was what he usually did, indeed.

To wear a mask not to show the others what he was feeling was something he learned to do long time ago, even if it meant appearing haughty and cold. At the beginning of the Express he was so stupid to be proud of the fame he had; at that time he never thought he would grow so close to his makeshift family. He had learned that with them he had no need to be the gunslinger the people thought he was, that he could show to them the real Jimmy and they would never disappoint him.

But he had his secrets, same as everyone else. Some things just hurt too much, some thoughts, some fears…he just couldn’t share them with anyone, not even with Lou. Not right now at least. Kid told him he wasn’t as strong as him, but he didn’t feel very strong; Kid was right, he was a coward, because he hadn’t find the nerve to be completely honest with the woman he loved. Kid had that nerve and was refused. And now was leaving, forever.

That morning, Kid had called him outside and had given him the ring, saying to sell it and to buy something “Lou really wanted” for her birthday or Christmas with the money.

“Because surely she didn’t want it.” He had added bitterly.

Jimmy had stared at him dumbfounded.

“What do you mean, Kid?”

Kid looked at him as if he was pulling his leg, but Jimmy really didn’t have any idea of what he was talking about. Slowly it dawned on the gunslinger’s head though: Kid had bought that ring just before their break-up, and Lou had said clearly that their separation had been more her idea than the Kid’s. Was it possible that…

“Kid, you…you proposed to Lou…?”

The look in his friend’s averted eyes had told him everything he needed to know.

“Oh…”

It had been the only thing Jimmy could muster to say.

“Do as I told you Jimmy, please.”

Kid had handed him the pouch and turned to walk away, Jimmy called after him, he wouldn’t let him go away like that this time.

“Kid…you should give your gift to Lou yourself.”

“I don’t think I can...I don’t think I’ll return.”

“Damn you, you have to come back, at least for Christmas! You can’t disappear from our lives! We are family, Kid!”

He looked at his friend’s blue eyes, but that stubborn fool broke the stare.

“Be good Jimmy…” he said as goodbye, and then he walked away.

“Be good too…you fool.” He muttered Jimmy at his retreating back.

°°°°°°

Lou observed Kid from afar. It was the last morning he was with them and she still hadn’t had the nerve to go to him. She had seen him approach, almost awkwardly, the other boys one by one, to say his goodbye to them. She had even seen Jimmy go with him to the barn, but Kid still hadn’t made a move toward her.

His departure was tearing her inside, she couldn’t deny it, but Lou knew that nothing of what she had to offer to him could make him stay… Damn you Kid! Why for you is it always nothing or all? It was going so fine between us before things got serious, when we just fooled around without any other thoughts than the present time…

But maybe for Kid it had never been like this, Lou mused. In the year spent together she had learned enough about him to understand that Kid was a man who needed to think through the things, but that once he settled his mind on something nobody could make him change his decision.

For their relationship had been the same. After their first kiss he hadn’t made any further move for a long time, even if the glances they shared spoke volumes of their blossoming feelings. In those first days the slow pace of their relationship had frustrated her, but in a way she was also grateful for that. She was still learning to trust the men again and his care was a balm for her battered soul.

She had felt like she was the one on charge, because she was the one who worried about him, she was the one who complained about him not acting about his feelings… She wanted him as her boyfriend but at the same time she had pushed him away every time she felt he was getting too close; she didn’t hesitate to yell to him to mind to his own business every time she didn’t want him around but it didn’t prevent her from acting jealous if there were other girls around. Now she realized that she had taken him for granted for a long time, because deep inside she knew Kid would have been there for her no matter what she did.

Also when they started to dance, it had been more her idea than his. Even if Kid’s desire for her was unmistakable, he would have gladly waited longer before starting the intimate part of their relationship, but he had surrender to her in the end. After they became lovers, after they had declared their love to each other, something began to change, though.

Lou had believed she could manage to control his wants and desires as she had done before, that she could keep a sort of distance from him; but the step they took after that first night spent together made her lose that sort of control.

Kid wanted more; he had begun to talk about the future, about children and a family and this had frightened her. She too had thought about a more serious commitment once, she couldn’t deny that, but it had been nothing more than a dream, something she fantasized about when she still was head over heels in love with him, when reality still hadn’t touched what they were living.

If things were different, if she was Louise instead of Lou, she probably would have been overjoyed by the thought of sharing the life with a man like Kid; but she was Lou, Pony Express rider, with demons and ghosts that she wasn’t ready to face, and because of this she felt she couldn’t fulfil Kid’s expectation.

She had leaned to the love he was giving to her, basking in that feeling but, had she ever truly returned that love with the same intensity and honesty? She had accused him not to understand her need to prove herself, but had she ever made a real effort to understand him?

“Lou?” Jimmy’s voice startled her, distracting her from her thoughts.

The girl turned to look at him and saw his distressed face.

“Lou…Kid gave me this…” He pulled s ring out from a familiar velvet pouch.

Her heart sank to her knees; she didn’t think Kid had kept it after all that had happened. They had never talked about his disastrous proposal ever again and she had never thought of talking about it to Jimmy either; it was one of the things she wanted to never think about again. This was the way she faced that genre of pains, burying them inside of her and trying to forget them. She had got over that episode, as well as the Samantha’s issue; and after she had begun to get close to the Kid again without any need of explanation she thought for him was the same; but now Lou understood it wasn’t like this, Jimmy was holding a ring to prove that.

“He doesn’t intend to come back…ever…” Jimmy continued.

She shot her head up, staring at him with big eyes.

“What are you saying…?!”

“He asked to me to sell it and buy something for you, for Christmas or your birthday, he doesn’t intend to come…”

Damn you Kid, for loving me in such a stubborn way…

Lou’s lower lip began to tremble uncontrollably; he was going to lose forever the first man who had ever loved her…

°°°°°°

Kid checked his luggage one last time; a couple more hours and he would leave. He has spent the morning trying to find the courage to say goodbye to the boys. They still didn’t understand why he had decided to leave. Cody was angry, because believed it was only because of a fight with Lou; and Buck too didn’t seem to accept his choice well, he was loosing another member of the family too soon after Ike’s death. Kid couldn’t blame them but at the same time he couldn’t tell them the truth, it wasn’t his place to reveal to the others Jimmy and Lou’s story, he only hoped they would understand sooner or later.

He had done his talks with Rachel and Teaspoon, he had been even able to say goodbye to Jimmy, but he didn’t have the strength to face Lou. He smiled bitterly, to have given the ring to Jimmy had been the last step to convince himself the bond he had shared with Lou didn’t exist anymore, but he wasn’t ready to meet her knowing it will be the end of everything.

Still he had to do it, because the time of his leaving was coming and Kid couldn’t go away without seeing her sweet face one last time.

“Kid…” Lou’s painfully familiar voice distracted him from his thoughts.

He turned to look at her.

“Lou…” he managed a little smile, but then he saw the velvet pouch in Lou’s hand he looked away. Jimmy shouldn’t have given it to her.

“Jimmy says you wanted him to sell it to and buy something for me.”

“I would like to keep it,” she continued when he didn’t say anything.

“Why?” was his answer.

“Because I don’t want to forget you, Kid, because no matter how it had ended, I will never forget what we shared.”

Lou looked straight in his eyes for the first time in days and the love and the pain in them were still so powerful that she felt overwhelmed. She embraced him tightly burying the face in his chest.

Damn you Kid…You have helped me more than you had ever imagined, you gave me your heart, and then you made me break it.

She lifted her head and took his face in her hands before giving him one last kiss.

Kid felt himself dying, feeling her in his arms again made him want to hold her tight and never let her go; her soft tongue slipped into his mouth and all he could think was that he want to throw himself at her feet and beg her to get back with him, because he loved her like no one could ever do. But he couldn’t do that, it was useless and it would only embarrass her. He gently pushed her away.

Lou had felt him tremble in her embrace and his tears slip out from his shut eyelids, wetting her cheeks.

“Oh…Kid…you’ll find someone who’ll love you so much you’ll forget me…she will be beautiful, and fine and wonderful…”

But she won’t be you. Kid didn’t say out loud these words as he stepped back slightly releasing her.

They stared at each other for one last time, before Kid tore the gaze.

“Promise me you’ll be happy, Kid.”

Her words were almost a plea.

He managed to smile, to truly smile at her for the first time in days.

“I’ll try…”

Epilogue

Kid had gone away a couple of hours before, all his family had lined up to shout one last “Ride safe” to him. He had mounted on Katy and then he had looked around for one last time, as to impress in his memory the faces of his friends, then he had spurred his faithful mare and went away.

Lou had stared at the disappearing figure at the horizon the longest before turning away. She found Jimmy in the bunkhouse, sitting on Kid’s bunks, appearing as lost as she felt.

The girl seated near him and leaned her head on his shoulder.

“Lou…” he asked after a while. “Do you regret having chosen me?” his voice was nothing more than a whisper.

“What?” Lou’s head shot up. “No, Jimmy, never.”

The quivering smile he gave her made Lou’s heart melt. She had neglected him, she knew that, and this must have made the fear that had never left him resurface. The fear that she had chose him on rebound, only because the things with Kid were too difficult but that deep inside she had never stopped loving him.

Jimmy had never spoken aloud these thoughts, but Lou had learned to look past him. Since the day Kid had found them kissing in the barn her mind had been focused on Kid, and this wasn’t right. What was happening was hurting Jimmy too, but Lou had leaned on him, letting him console herself over her guilt and worry, forgetting his feelings.

She took his face in her hands, looking straight in his eyes.

“Listen to me, Jimmy. I don’t regret anything of what has happened between us. What I regret is having hurt Kid like this, because he didn’t deserve it. He has been important to me, he was the first man I loved and I even thought he was the man I want to spend the life with once, I can’t deny that. But things haven’t worked between us because he wanted from me something I wasn’t ready to give.”

She caught her breath before continuing. “I don’t know if I’ll be ever able to accept the kind of commitment Kid desired…but I want to tell you something, I want our story to work, I want to try as hard as possible, even if I don’t know where it will lead us.”

She couldn’t say she loved him yet, even if Jimmy probably was ready to tell it to her, and she wouldn’t make the same mistake of rushing things another time.

“Step by step, is Ok for you?” she asked.

“Ok, Lou.” Jimmy leaned his forehead on hers, smiling. “Little by little.”

He didn’t want to lose her, especially not after what they have lost.

‘I promised to you I would make her happy, Kid.’ he thought ‘and I’ll do it.’

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