The challenge was five stories, each story concerned with one of the five senses.
The stories do NOT need to match the graphic
Valentine's attack Touch: Buck and Ike experience their first love problems at the orphanage.
Pickin' Berries Taste: Jimmy begins to feel something more than a brotherly friendship for the little sister of a friend.
Decisions Sight: After their marriage Lou worries about her husband's decision about their future.
Valentine's Attack

Debbie Donnelly slowly entered in the barn, carefully clutching the small bundle in her arms.

"Missy…" she called. "Missy…"

The cat was nowhere to be seen, so the chestnut haired girl stopped, a little disappointed. She didn't eat a couple of the meatballs the nuns gave them for lunch and now she had gone to the barn in the back of the yard to give them to Missy. The cat was pregnant and Debbie wanted to be sure it would eat well.

Suddenly a figure appeared in the dark, it was Ike McSwain, the mute boy. Debbie didn't know him very well because he kept always by himself or with his friend, the half Indian Buck Cross. Some of the others kids loved to give them a hard time, she never liked their behaviour but at the same time she was too shy and unsure about Ike and Buck to try to become their friend.

Ike saw someone enter in the barn and stomped angrily toward the girl. The other kids used to come there as a sort of 'courage test' to demonstrate to have the guts to be alone with the 'dumb boy' and this upset him greatly, plus in that moment Missy was going to have her kittens he didn't want someone to disturb her.

Debbie took a step back when she saw Ike, the others said that he was crazy and, even if she didn't believe them, when he began to make faces at her and wriggle his eyebrows angrily, Debbie got scared and ran away, leaving her bundle on the ground.

"Ike?" Buck came out from the stall where he was, "What's happening?"

*Nothin,* the mute boy signed angrily, *Debbie Donnelly came here for one of those stupid test…*

The young half-breed nodded, he knew how bad his friend felt when the others made fun of him, but Debbie didn't seem to be one of those kind of girls, from what he knew of her she seemed quite shy and gentle; who maybe one of the bullies had forced her to come here to scare her.

"Are you sure? Debbie doesn't seem to me that kind of girl…"

*And what type is? The ones who giggle when we pass or the ones who shy away because they are afraid of us?*

Ike took those things personally, because they were in that age when boys and girls began to grow and therefore became more sensitive to the other sex.

*Girls are stupid, I say.*

Buck smiled at his friend's statement. Things between boys and girls seemed a lot more complicated among white people than where he spent his childhood. Among the Kiowa, when a boy was interested in a girl, he went to talk with her parents so they could begin to court properly. Here, at the orphanage, instead, the nuns seemed not to approve of relationships among their young protégées and tended to keep boys and girls separated. The young Indian couldn't understand why they acted in that way and he had come to the conclusion that it was one of the main reason because boys and girls didn't get along well and instead of clearly showing their feelings, they liked to torment each other.

"What is it?" He said when he noticed the bundle.

He crouched to take it and saw the meatballs. Ike went near him and Buck showed him the content.

"It seems part of the lunch the nuns gave us, today. What did Debbie want to do with them?"

*I'm an idiot.* Ike signed mortified.

Buck looked puzzled and the young mute continued.

"I saw Debbie cuddle Missy a lot of times, probably she wanted to give these to her…"

"Oh." It was the only thing Buck managed to say, the nuns didn't starve them, but at the same time meat wasn't common at the orphanage, because it cost a lot. Despite of it all, that girl had saved some of her lunch for the cat.

"I'm afraid you're right, Ike. You gotta do something to make her forgive you."

°°°°°°

"I'm sorry to have scared you, I'm an idiot. Forgive me, Ike,

PS: Missy had had her kittens, if you want to see them we can meet after the classes at the barn."

Debbie held tightly the piece of paper she found under her desk. There was a nice drawing of Missy and her kittens and those few lines. The girl blushed, that sweet apologetic note made her inexplicably warm. She knew that Ike wasn't like the other boys, despite of what her friend Wendy Silver told her when she went to her weeping.

"Boys are stupid" Wendy used to say, and Debbie couldn't honestly disagree with her, since it seemed that the only scope of the boys of their age was to torment the girls. But at the same time she knew that Ike was different, and not only because he was mute. Even if she knew him only from afar she was sure he was better than some of the other boys who just loved to bully the weaker ones.

She waited until the end of the classes and then went to the barn with Wendy; she asked to her friend to accompany her because she was too nervous to meet Ike alone, and Wendy had eagerly agreed because she wanted to be sure the boys didn't weren't trying to pull her leg or something else.

Taller and slightly thinner than her chestnut haired friend, Wendy was very protective toward Debbie, because she knew how naïve and good-hearted she was and didn't want anybody hurt her feelings. The blonde girl walked with her arms crossed on her chest and a determined look on her eyes that wanted to say 'If you make my friend cry again, you'll have to answer to me."

The two girls found Ike and Buck waiting for them outside the barn; The mute boy was also quite nervous to meet Debbie alone, because it was always quite difficult for him to communicate with the others, and he didn't want Debbie to think he was dumb as everyone said.

The boy beckoned them with his hands and then he put a finger to his lips to warn them to stay silent while they entered. In the further corner of the barn, lying in the hay, there was the momma-cat with three tiny kittens that sleep curled in tight little balls near her. Debbie crouched near the cats, clearly delighted. Wendy stood back for a while, not wanting to give to the 'stupid boys' any satisfaction, but after few minutes of 'ohhh' and 'aahhh' from her friend, she crouched near her to look better. The kittens were so cute with their tiny eyes shut, looking for the warmth of their momma's fur…Wendy stretched her hand to touch one of them but Buck blocked her hand.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." The Kiowa said.

"What?!" Wendy asked, clearly annoyed.

*Let her see what Missy did to you.* Ike signed.

"C'mon, it was an accident…"

"What was an accident?" the blonde girl asked; she and Debbie had seen Ike and Buck communicate using the hands several other times and they were very curious.

*Tell them.* Ike prodded, grinning mischievously.

Buck raised his eyes to the heaven and sighed.

"Ok, yesterday I tried to help Missy to move her kittens and …well, she didn't appreciate my gesture."

He pulled up his sleeve to reveal several red marks. The girls giggled, Debbie asked if it hurt, but Ike reassured them telling Buck was fine because his has a skin as thick as a buffalo. The two friends laughed and the girls looked a bit puzzled, not having understood anything.

"Why don't you teach us how to make those signs?" Wendy asked, "It's not nice to exclude us."

She tried to sound annoyed, but she was really interested in learning those Signs. Those boys didn't seem too bad, she conceded, and maybe it would be nice to know them better.

°°°°°°

"Debbie, do you know what day is tomorrow?" Wendy asked to her friend.
"Err-no, what have so special day tomorrow?"

"It's Valentine's Day, you little silly! What do you intend to do with Ike?" the blonde asked, quite bluntly.

"What?!" Debbie blushed instantly.

After the kittens' accident the two girls had became friends with Buck and Ike and it was obvious that Debbie and the mute boy liked each other. Wendy, at first had gotten jealous, because it seemed that Debbie had betrayed their rule not to like the boys because they were stupid but, after a while, she too got tired to play the part of the cold and detached one and began to soften a little, discovering that it wasn't so bad to befriend a boy. To tell the truth Wendy had started liking Buck but the Kiowa boy seemed not understand the subtle hints she sent to him and this frustrated the determined girl to no end. So she came to the conclusion that she had to show clearly that she liked him; only in this way, maybe, Buck would understand her.

°°°°°°

"Why are girls so strange, today?" Buck asked to his friend, puzzled.

That morning the girls' giggling and the glances in the boys' direction are even worse than usual and the boys seemed annoyed, embarrassed and somewhat as excited as the girls. During the classes, at lunch, even in the dormitories, every once and then there were sudden burst of giggles or tears or boys who become as red as tomatoes or wore stupid grins on their faces.

"Has everyone gone crazy?"

Ike grinned while they walked toward the barn.

*It's Valentine's Day.* he signed. At his friend's still confused face, the mute boy continued *Today is the love day. Boys and girls give each others cards or little presents to show how much they care.*

Buck nodded, even if he hadn't understand perfectly what Ike had told him, and then noticed two small pieces of papers places between the planks of the barn's wall.

"Ehm…Ike? I think we had just received one of those Valentine's cards you were talking about."

Ike took the one addressed to him and blushed furiously; Buck saw the strange expression on his face, embarrassed and happy at the same time.

"Ike???" he looked at him interrogatively.

*Well, actually I gave my Valentine's to Debbie, earlier and…well, I have to meet her now…*

The young Kiowa nodded, a little bewildered by his friend behaviour, and Ike scurried away. He was happy for him, because he and Debbie seemed to get along very well, but at the same time he felt a little jealous and left out, because Ike never told him about the fact he liked Debbie so much and had arranged a meeting with her.

He looked at the note in his hand, who could possibly have sent it to him? The only girls he knew well were Debbie and Wendy; but the first one was clearly interested in Ike and Wendy…well, he was not sure he understood how the blonde girl's mind worked. She was smart and witty, but she left him a bit confused, because he never couldn't understand if they were having an argument or Wendy was just enjoying to get him riled up.

Buck opened the card, but he didn't find any name in it; this confused him even more. He shrugged, and went inside the barn to see how Missy and her kittens were doing.

°°°°°°

"C'mon, Debbie, go!" Wendy gave a little push to her friend, who was observing Ike from behind the corner of the dormitory. It was almost five minutes Ike was waiting -quite nervously- under the tree that grew in that corner of the yard but still Debbie hadn't found the nerve to go to him.

Wendy had helped her to do her hair tying her soft curls with a nice blue ribbon, and Debbie looked very pretty, even if she was wearing the old simple cotton dress she wore everyday. Her friend finally gave her a harder push and she lost her grip on the wall, coming out from behind the building.

Ike noticed her then, and waved timidly at her, Debbie waved back, as shyly as him, and approached him.

Wendy saw the adoring look in both their eyes and smirked.

"Good. Those two are ok…now it's my turn." She said, and hurried toward the barn.

°°°°°°

"Hello Buck."

Wendy's voice startled the Indian boy, who turned to see the thin blonde girl looking at him and grinning in a way he didn't quite understand. She seemed like the cat who had just caught the mouse.

"Hello Wendy." He answered warily.

"Did you get my card?"

"Oh…it was from you. Oh, well, thank you…" he stammered, not quite sure about what to say.

She looked at him again trough her long lashes and Buck's heart jump in his chest. What's happening? With Little Bird he never felt that way, she was able to soothe his troubled heart with the gentleness of her spirit and he cared and cherished her as a precious and delicate thing. Wendy instead, unnerved him, confused him and made him feel all those strange sensations, but he had to admit it wasn't an unpleasant feeling.

The girl walked toward him, until Buck found himself with his back to the wall and Wendy's pixie face dangerously near his own.

"Do you know what Valentine's Day is, Buck?" she asked.

"Err, yes…" he responded uncertain "Ike was telling me…" his dark eyes darted on the side, trying to find a way to escape from the girl. He was feeling really hot, and nervous and he didn't know what the girl was up to.

"Well..." she began, her eyes twinkled and Buck felt like he was paralysed "You should know why I'm here, then…"

Suddenly Wendy placed her hands at the sides of Buck's face and kissed him on the lips. Buck squinted his eyes, not even Little Bird had even touched him like this!

Her lips were soft and warm on his own, her thin fingers held him firmly at first, but then they loosened their grips, becoming a caress and sliding through his black hair.

Buck closed his eyes and sighed, and for a second Wendy's tongue slid in his mouth, Buck didn't know what to do exactly but thrusted his into her mouth. As sudden as it began the kiss ended and Wendy pulled away from him.

Her cheeks were on fire and her grey-blue eyes were sparkling even more.

"I like you, Buck Cross." She said and scurried away, leaving a shocked and bewildered Buck sliding down the wooden wall.

"Girls…" he murmured.

°°°°°°

Debbie sat down the big tree near Ike. They weren't even touching and yet the girl was blushing all over and she had the butterflies in her stomach. Every once and then they glanced shyly at each other but they weren't able to talk too much. At a certain point she saw Wendy ran away from the barn with her face flushed and a huge grin.

"Oh!" the girl murmured surprised. "She must have succeeded in her plan." She thought.

The chestnut haired girl blushed. Wendy had prodded her to do the same: kiss the boy she liked. But Debbie didn't know if she had the nerve to do it.

Ike touched her hand, startling her and sending her cheeks on fire. She turned to look at him and found two sweet eyes staring at her.

*You ok?* he signed

Debbie nodded; even if she felt somewhat disappointed he had removed his hand from hers. With a sudden bolt of forwardness she clutched the boy's hand again, relishing in the feeling that simple touch gave her.

"I like you Ike." She said looking straight in his eyes, "I think you're the gentlest and nicest boy of the orphanage, and…"

Before she could finish Ike lowered his head and kissed her. It was clumsy, because neither of them knew exactly what to do, but it was also the sweetest thing they had ever felt.

After some moments they returned to look at each other.

*I like you too.* Ike said, and embraced her.

°°°°°°

Later that day, Ike returned to the barn only to find a still bewildered Buck sitting near Missy and the kittens.

*Are you ok?* he asked, concerned.

"Huh…" The Kiowa boy was startled, not having heard his friend approaching. "Huh well…to tell the truth…" he began to say but then he noticed Ike's face.

"Ike? Are YOU ok?" he asked. His friends wore the silliest grin he had ever seen on him.

The mute boy blushed and it immediately dawned on Buck what happened.

"Ike!" he exclaimed. "You and Debbie kissed!"

*How did you know?* Ike asked, was it so simple to read him?

"Well…it seems that the girls planned their attack together…"

*Are you telling me that Wendy…*

"…Wendy kissed me…" he concluded blushing furiously.

Ike shook in silent laughter.

"White girls are terrible" Buck muttered, still shocked about Wendy's forwardness, but secretly pleased of what happened.

*White girls are wonderful!* Ike said instead.

Ike laughed even more, elbowing him and Buck followed him, Ike was right after all. Girls are wonderful, terrible, incomprehensible, but wonderful.

Many thanks to Shauna who beta-read this story for me!

Pickin' Berries

Jimmy helped his limping friend toward his home. He and his fellow deputy Martin Moore had been called to quell a brawl at the saloon, with the result of three drunken men put behind bars, and a nasty fall of for Martin, who stumbled on a broken bottle, spraining an ankle, and cutting his left arm with the shards.

"Claire will kill me now…" Martin moaned, while leaning heavily on Jimmy's shoulder.

The young man chuckled at his friend's words. Claire Moore, Martin's little sister, was eighteen years old, with a lovely face and a spirited temper. Brother and sister lived alone after their family's deaths and she ruled the house with quite a strong hand, even if she was nothing more than a child to Jimmy's eyes. But then, he often reasoned, Claire was the same age as Lou when she worked for the Express, so maybe it was just him who was getting old.

Martin knocked at the door and immediately Claire came out, her eyes widening with fear when she saw her brother leaning onto Jimmy, and the blood on his shirt.

"Oh God Marty! What's happened?" she exclaimed.

"It's nothing serious sis, don't worry." The man tried to say, but her glance made him fall quiet.

"He's right. He just had a bad fall, nothing more…"Jimmy came to his friend's aide. He had learned that Claire was one of those people who when worried, became really difficult to dealt with…just as a petite brunette he knew very well…

The girl glared at him too but seemed reassured by his words, she sighed and ruffled her older brother hair.

"Come in, let me tend to you."

They laid Martin on his bed, and Claire bandaged his ankle and cleaned the cuts on his arm.

Jimmy stood on the threshold, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Martin was almost seven years older than his sister was, but this didn't prevent the girl from behaving like a mother hen toward Martin, fussing over him and shushing his protests he was fine.

In the year he had been working as a deputy in the town of Fairfield, he become friends with Martin and Claire. They were good people and for the first time after the end of the Pony Express, the young gunslinger felt he had found two real friends again.

They had been one of the few people who had seen past his infamous reputation and they accepted him just as Jimmy, not caring much about him being a 'dangerous gunfighter'. Claire, in particular, had never been afraid of him, nor was she in awe when she was with him, as many other girls were when they met. She had treated him as she did with her brother and Hickok was pretty amused by her spunk, enjoying getting her riled up from time to time.

Martin and Claire made him feel less alone and he had even begun to think that -maybe- he had finally found his way in life. He smiled thinking about how happy for him Rachel and Lou sounded in their letters after he wrote them that he had taken a job as deputy and he had befriended the Moore's. They still cared and worried about him as if he was the old Jimmy of the Express days, even though it had ended almost four years ago, and despite all the rumours about him and his less than frequent visits. It felt good to know they still cared and worried about him, even if he knew that they could never reclaim the days of the PX ever again.

°°°°°°

The next morning, after the bar brawl Jimmy went back to the Moore house to see how Martin was doing. As he approached the door he heard Claire's raised voice.

"Don't be silly Martin! You can't come with me!" she was saying.

Jimmy entered through the back door and saw Claire with her fists on her sides, glaring at a quite sheepish looking Martin, who sat with his leg propped on a chair.

"I made you a promise." He said stubbornly.

"But you can't come with me, and I can't go another day…" she reasoned.

Jimmy cleared his throat, making his presence noticed known. Claire and Martin raised their heads to look at him.

"Here you are, Jimmy, just in time to accompany me." The girl said.

"Where?" he asked puzzled.

"To pick blackberries with me." She said matter of factly. "As we've done every year Martin and I pick blackberries for jams and pies when they are in season. We were planning to go to pick berries today, but since he isn't available, you can come with me. After all you like my jam, don't you?"

"Your jam? Are you telling me that you made that blackberries jam I eat when I stay here for breakfast?"

"Don't look so surprised, Hickok." Claire rebutted, "Yes, I made it and now it's finished, so I need more blackberries before the Fall rains start. So what did you say? Are you coming with me?"

Martin grinned at her sister's bluntness.

"I'd do as she says, Jimmy. After all how you can say no to such a gentle request?"

Jimmy smiled, amused at Martin's comment. Claire had practically forced him to come with her and he couldn't refuse, after all it was true he had eaten her jam, and he had liked it very much indeed. It wasn't too sweet, like strawberry jam was, that filled him up after a few bites, nor too sour like marmalade, which the young man never liked despite his sister Celinda's protests it was a refined taste.

Blackberry jam was just perfect for him when he had breakfast at the Moore's house, he really found it hard to pass up the chance to have the wonderful jam, so yes he was in debt with Claire.

"Well, if you put it in this way, how can I say no?"

°°°°°°

"Uff…I never thought that pickin' berries was so laborious," Jimmy said stretching himself as much as he could to pick the higher blackberries, trying at the same time not to scratch himself with the thorns.

"C'mon Jimmy, it's not so difficult." Claire teased him, "Have you never gone to pick berries?"

"Mmmmh…to tell the truth, no." he admitted.

He had picked berries from time to time, when he found them on the trail, but he never went to pick berries in order to make jam. A lot of jam, considering the quantity Claire was picking.

"What's this, a sort of family tradition?" he asked, but as soon as those words exited from his lips, Jimmy would have wanted to take them back.

A sad expression crossed the girl's face.

"Well…actually it was." Claire responded. "When I was a child we always went to pick berries to make jam."

She had a faraway, melancholy look on her face and Jimmy wished he had bitten his tongue rather than sadden that little face of her.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"It's ok," she responded to him, but they remained silent for several minutes, both of them unsure of what to say to break that uneasy silence.

"Look up there, Jimmy." Claire said suddenly after a while. "Those blackberries must be delicious!"

Jimmy look where the girl was pointing and saw some big and juicy berries that grew on one of the higher branch of the bush. They were ripe and looked delicious, as Claire said, since they had taken a lot of sun.

"Help me to get up there." She said to him.

"How?" Jimmy really didn't understand what she wanted to do.

"Pick me up on your shoulder so I can pick those berries," she said as if it was the most natural thing of the world.

"Are you sure about this?" Jimmy wasn't very comfortable with the idea, as much as Claire was his friend, he wasn't that close to her.

She had positioned herself before him, with her back to him and at his words she turned her head to look at him mischievously.

"I didn't know you were such a prude, Jimmy…C'mon pick me up by the waist."

"Prude?" Jimmy thought "Nobody has ever called me a prude before."

"Ok, Miss Moore" he said in a challenging tone. "At my three…one…two…three!"

Jimmy picked her as she told him and at the same time, she jumped to seat herself on his right shoulder. When the young man stood up, he grabbed her, while she tried to reach the berries. Claire was slightly taller than the average girl, but she was slender, with a thin waist and long legs that Jimmy had never noticed before. He was feeling quite uncomfortable right now, with her side pressed against his head and his hands encircling her waist to keep her steady. Claire instead didn't seem to notice the awkwardness of that situation, her minds focused only on the blackberries she wanted to pick.

"A-hem, Claire…are you sure of what you're doing?" Jimmy said with a strained voice.

It's not that he hadn't never been so close to a woman before; but it was just that he didn't feel right. Claire was just a girl and she was acting without any malice, and him instead couldn't stop thinking about how thin was her waist and how nice was to feel her soft body pressing against him.

"Stop, Jimmy." He chided himself mentally, "She is only a kid and she is the sister of a friend."

"Jimmy; stop moving now. Otherwise we both…" she couldn't finish her sentence though, because, just as she was saying, Jimmy's unsteady movements made her lost her balance and she fell off him, dragging him down with her.

Jimmy felt the girl slip from his grip and tried desperately not to lose his balance, but he failed miserably and the both of them stumbled on the ground. Fortunately, there was soft thick grass under them, so they didn't got hurt. They remained immobile and speechless for several moments though, both too stunned to speak.

"Ouch…what a fall!" Claire exclaimed.

She had been more surprised than scared by the fall and now she had already recovered.

"My brother has never let me fall!" she teased him smirking in his direction.

"Yeah, but I'm not your brother." He wanted to respond "and he surely doesn't have my same distractions."

He kept quiet though, not wanting to embarrass her.

"Did you pick your berries, at least?" he asked instead.

"Sure! Look here" she said opening her hand. "Oh no…" the girl exclaimed.

While falling Claire had closed involuntarily the hand and now the blackberries were half-smashed.

"What a pity…" she said. "We can't put them with the others, now…"

The girls looked pensively at the ruined berries; their dark red juice marred the fair skin of her fingers.

"Oh well, since we can't use them…" She picked up one of them and ate it.

"Mmmhh…I was right! It is delicious! C'mon Jimmy. Taste it by yourself!"

She lifted her arm in his direction.

Jimmy stared at her; he had never met anyone so fresh and spontaneous. Smiling he picked the half-smashed blackberry she was offering to him. The berry melted in his mouth, juicy and sweet.

"You're right, Claire. This is one of the best berries I have ever tasted."

Her transparent green eyes sparkled for the happiness and Jimmy's heart made an unexpected jump on his chest.

What the hell was happening to him? Claire was far too young for him and sincerely he didn't want to ruin his friendship with her brother. The man was pretty protective toward his little sister and Jimmy was sure Martin wouldn't be too happy if he started to court her, as much as he trusted him, he would surely prefer to see Claire married with some nice fella with a quiet life, than with a man like him.

All of this pondering couldn't prevent him to enjoy a nice afternoon with a pretty girl, though. He had just to continue to see her in the brotherly way he had always seen.

"Err- it's better we get up now," he said, "otherwise we'll never finish our pickin' today."

"Just a moment! Let's finish these first!"

She pushed one berry on his lips with her slender fingers, sliding them slightly inside his mouth in her haste and then, without even thinking, she licked her fingertips to clean them from the purplish juice.

She really didn't understand the effect her gestures could have on a man.

"C'mon kid. Those berries don't wait." He said more brusquely than he intended. Standing up and walking away from her.

"As you wish, Mr Hickok." She responded slightly offended.

What have happened with him all of a sudden? What was that patronizingly tone? She really couldn't bear when people treat her as she was still a child. She stood up, smoothing her wrinkled dress and grabbing her basket. She walked away stiffly, leaving his behind.

He smiled at her retreating back, trying to ignore how her auburn hair seemed to spark in a golden tone in the sun. He grabbed his own basket and followed her.

"I'm coming, sugar berry."

Thank you to Wendy for her help and her suggestion!

Decisions

Lou opened her eyes, disturbed by the sunrays hitting her face. It was almost noon, she had overslept…they had overslept, she thought with a smile: her husband and her. She turned in his arms, careful not to wake him, and she observed lovingly his features: the long lashes lowered to cover those incredible blue eyes of his, one of his unruly curls fallen on his forehead, the lips slightly parted in a smile.

She caressed his cheek. There had been a time when the thought of sharing an entire lifetime with someone else, to be bond to him forever, to depend emotionally on him, had scared her. But all her fears and doubts melted away when she entered that little church, that very morning, and looked in Kid's loving eyes.

She stretched slightly and smiled when Kid moved in his sleep, closing the distance between them. Suddenly she heard some shouts for the outside, the army was passing by their hotel windows.

Lou shivered.

Noah and Cody had wanted to join that Army, even if only the blonde rider had been accepted. Jimmy seemed interested in joining the Abolitionist Cause. And Kid? What would Kid decide if the war started?

She remembered the words he told her in front of that fire, when they went to rescue Jesse from his brother. Many things changed since that night. They got back together, they were finally able to share the secrets of their past, and now they were married. Did any of this make Kid change his mind?

She involuntarily tightened the hold on Kid's neck, waking him. His eyes fluttered open.

"Hey…" Kid said.

"Hey you sleepyhead." She said smiling at him.

"Good Morning" he smiled back.

One look in that blueness and, as every time, all her fears seemed to disappear. Her hands went down to rest on his shoulders while Kid's arms tightened his hold on her waist. Lou grimaced a little, she still was sore from their wedding night.

"Lou, are you ok?" Kid asked worried.

"Never feel better." She responded. "Just a little sore due to our nightly activities."

She smiled mischievously, Kid blushed but smiled back. The night they had finally made love as man and wife for the first time; despite the fact they had been lovers for months now, still it had been different from all the other times, in a way it had been stronger, and deeper; they were one thing now, 'till death part them.

"Do you want to rest a little more?" he asked caressing her face tenderly.

"I'm not that sore, Mr McCloud." She responded kissing him.

That night Kid had finally revealed to her his real name, as he promised her, and Lou had to bite her lip to not laugh, at the same time worried to be the bearer of that name too from now. But then Kid asked her to give her name to him, because he didn't want her or their future children to bear the name of a man like his father. Lou accepted readily, moved by his thoughtfulness and saddened by the way how Kid's father still bothered him.

With one movement Kid was over her, using his arms to not press upon her, and Lou moaned feeling his weight on her once again. A knock at the door disturbed the newlyweds though.

"Ignore it." Lou said, irritated by that interruption; they were on a honeymoon, after all.

But the knocking continued and the voice of Teaspoon called them. It had a strange strained tone that alarmed them.

Kid raised from the bed.

"I'm coming Teaspoon." He said putting on a pair of trousers.

Lou covered herself with the blankets and remained in the bed, looking apprehensively at the door Kid was opening. Her husband stepped out to talk with their station-manager. After some moments he came back inside with a lost look in his eyes.

"Noah is dead." He said.

°°°°°°

Lou stood in the middle of Rachel's kitchen with a basket in her hands. Within few minutes Cody would leave with the Army and she had wanted to prepare him something to eat for the trail. Rachel had already prepared his lunch but Lou felt she had to do something for her leaving friend too.

She and Kid had been married for less than a week, and those should have been the happiest days of her life, instead she felt terribly sad. Why life was so unfair? A brother was taken away from them just the day after their marriage. How could they be happy in a moment like this? Noah, with his wit and intelligence, could have done everything he wanted, even if he was a black man, Lou was sure of that. Now he was dead and Lou couldn't help but cry for the injustice of all of that.

Both her and Kid had readily joined the posse formed to avenge Noah, despite of the fact there was the risk of losing the life they had just started together. They both agreed that it was the least thing they could do to honor the memory of the friend Noah had been.

The only good thing that happened in these days was that, after having fought shoulder to shoulder to capture the Pierson's gang, Kid and Jimmy seemed to close the rift that Rosemary's presence had opened between them. That woman didn't like and trust her husband because he was from the South and this seemed quite racist to Lou, especially for a woman who believed in the equality of all the men and fight any kind if discrimination. But still Rosemary was the woman Jimmy liked, and they had at least to respect her.

"Lou, are you ready?" Kid asked softly when he entered in the kitchen.

She nodded and took his hand. "Let's go."

Together they stepped out in the porch, going to the others, all reunited to salute Cody. After Noah's death, his determination in joining the Army became even stronger. Even if Teaspoon still didn't approve the young man's choice, at the same time they all understood it was a thing that Cody needed to do, not for fame or adventure, but for doing something important, something to honor the memory of Noah, who made the fight against the slavery the purpose of his life.

Lou embraced Cody tightly when her turn to salute him came. She felt the eyes pricking for the tears, because she was losing another member of the family, but at the same time the young woman didn't want to cry in front of everyone so she pulled away and handed him the basket of food.

"Here." she said. "There's something for the trail."

Cody looked at her weirdly, he didn't expect Lou being able to fix something to eat, but he smiled gratefully at her effort, to not disappoint her.

"Thank you, Lou."

Cody left the Rock Creek station in his usual boisterous way. He made his horse rear and yelped out loud before galloping away, and all the remaining members of the Express family stared at his retreating figure until he disappeared at the horizon.

Lou broke into tears then, the Pony Express may not have yet ended but their family was already beginning to fall apart. It was just normal, they couldn't continue to live like that forever and she herself had already start a new family marrying Kid, but this didn't prevent her to feel all the sadness and the melancholy for the end of a era.

Kid embraced her shoulders and pulled her close, the young woman felt stupid for crying like a baby, but she couldn't stop. Noah's death, Cody's departure and, above all, the uncertainty about Kid's decision…all the worries and the anxiety of those past days had finally took her toll on her.

Kid murmured soothingly at her ear, having understood there was more than the sadness over Cody's leaving behind her tears.

"Let's go to take a walk, ok?" he asked.

The others observed the couple walk away, all of them feeling the same sorrow Lou's was expressing with her weep.

°°°°°°

Kid held her silently, waiting for her to vent out all her emotions.

"Don't go away…" she sobbed all of a sudden.

"I'm not going anywhere Lou…" he murmured softly, stroking her back.

But Louise thought those words could be just a way to soothe her in that moment. She raised her head to look at him.

"Don't go back in Virginia Kid, please…"

Lou hated herself in that moment. She had promised to herself she wouldn't push Kid in any way in making his decision, because she knew how strong his bond with his homeland still was. Kid was troubled enough without her seeming to be a helpless female; but despite all her reasoning, she couldn't help herself. As selfish as could be, she didn't want her husband to go away to fight in that forsaken war, she wanted him by her side, building a future together.

Kid took her face in his hands, looking straight in her eyes. "I'm not going anywhere, Lou. I mean that. How could have I asked you to marry me and then leave you?"

When the meaning of his words reached her, Lou's tears stopped.

"Are you telling me you won't go fighting for the South?" she asked with a last hiccup.

He nodded.

"And that you've already decided this before the marriage?" her voice was steadier now.

Kid nodded again.

"And why the hell it took so long to you to tell me!?" she exclaimed, beating his chest angrily. "I was so…so…"

She freed herself from Kid's embrace and stomped away. That big oaf of his husband! First he did all that talking about fighting for his memories that remained and if the war started staying would be even worse than leaving her…and now, now he chose to be there with her and he didn't tell anything! Lou didn't know she could be so angry and so relieved at the same moment.

"Lou! Where are you going!" she heard him call her.

"To ride!" she responded in such a tone that Kid didn't dare reply.

°°°°°°

Lou stopped Lighting to let her drink. As ever, her wandering ride had brought her to 'their' pond; the thinking spot where her and Kid had gotten back together, had bared their souls to each other…had celebrated their engagement. A knowing smile crossed the young woman face while she remembered the hours they spent together in that place.

She dismounted from the mare and began to walk slowly around the edge of the water, her anger had begun to fade away. Kid won't go away, he decided to stay with her…

A bubbling sense of felicity spread all over her body, she would have had Kid there right now, to kiss him, to shout at him to never scare her like that ever again, to hug him tight and make love with him until he couldn't take it anymore, so the next time he'll know better than to pull a stunt like that.

Without realizing it Lou had reached the other edge of the water, strangely enough, with all the times they had gone to the pond, none of them had never been there. The bank was narrower and the tree grew thicker than on the other side but Lou noticed a small path between the bushes and, curious, she decided to follow it.

She left Lighting grazing the grass and entered in the small patch of trees; few steps in the bushes and she heard a horse approaching. From her hidden position Lou made out Kid dismounting from Katy. The young man spotted Lighting on the other side of the pond and looked around worriedly, his very angry wife was nowhere to see.

Kid really thought there wasn't any need to tell her he wouldn't go in Virginia to fight. When he said those things, months ago, he believed in what he said. Thing weren't straight with Lou and, as painful as it could be to leave her, Kid knew he couldn't stay idly if his homeland was attacked. He wouldn't have fought for slavery, as many people could think, but to defend the land where he was born and where he grew to become what he was now. Virginia meant slavery and cotton fields, but for Kid it was much more: it was green hills and lush meadows, so different from the ones there in the West, it meant the Chesapeake bay and the sea, so big and powerful it can't be explained to those who never saw it, it meant sweet memories of his mother, his first love pains for Doritha, his mischief with Jed. Virginia meant all of this for Kid and not fighting for it felt like he was disowning what he had been.

But when he and Lou got back together, when he finally decided to ask her to marry him another time, Kid felt he had to make a choice. Virginia was his roots, his past and, as painful as it had been; the time he spent there, it was part of him; but Lou was his future and, if she was ready to marry him, or at least give him the hope for a future together, then Kid didn't have any doubts, he would stay by her side even if it meant to betray the memories of his past.

Now they were married and were planning to start a horse ranch, how could Lou think that he still wanted to go to fight? But then Kid realized he should have been clearer to his wife about such an important issue.

Kid had reached the bank where Lighting was but still he didn't see Lou, where could she have gone? He noticed the path and decided to follow it.

"Lou." He continued to call, "Lou, I'm sorry for making you worry without a reason, please come out." He started to grow tired to this 'hide and seek' game and began to get worried.

He continued to walk through the patch when suddenly the trees opened and Kid found himself staring at a house about fifty yards away. It was nothing special, very similar to all the other houses Kid saw out there in the prairie, but that sight tugged Kid's heart all the same, making his mind rush back to his childhood home. The house he was staring at, in fact, was surrounded by bushes of roses, just like the one where he grew up.

His mother loved roses and in the first happy years of her marriage she had planted some of them in the small garden of their house. Even when the things went bad, the harvests got lost and his father began to drink and mistreat his family, even when the house began to fall apart for the lack of the care, still those roses continued to bloom, and their beauty was the most precious memory that Kid had of his home.

The young man stepped toward the house, mesmerized. He remembered fondly the big bush of pink roses which were the first his mother planted and her favorite. It represented the love her and her husband shared and the hopes they had when arrived for the first time in that house and, even if that loved died and the hopes got shattered, still his mother continued to cherish the rosebush. Kid spotted a very similar plant, where the dark green lucid foliage enhanced the delicate color of the petals.

At home they had another bush of vibrant red roses, that was planted when his mother was expecting Jed, and another one with candid roses was planted for Kid. In that small patch back in Virginia, there was also one last smaller bush, whose roses were of a particular hue of orange, as the sunset sky. Her mother had wanted to plant it for her last child, even if it never lived to be born. Silly enough, those rosebush were the hardest thing to leave when he moved away, but roses were strong, they didn't need too much care, and Kid wanted to believe that back there in his childhood house, that four bushes were still blooming.

Looking around that garden Kid could see all those bushes from his childhood and other ones he had never seen before. Whoever lived in that place must have loved those roses very much. At a certain point he spotted his wife between the plants and rapidly he went to her. Lou was staring at a magnificent rosebush almost taller than her with bright green leaves and deep crimson roses. Lou was just like those roses, Kid found himself thinking: strong and beautiful, but also painful if you don't know how to approach her.

The young woman heard him approaching but she didn't turn, she was enchanted by what she was seeing. As soon as she spotted that house, she knew it was the one where she wanted to start her life with Kid. It wasn't because it was in a good spot, not too far from the town and neither too close; nor because it looked solid, even if clearly abandoned, it wasn't either for the beauty of the roses, or maybe it was just that, she didn't know; she knew only that she would have been happy to spend her life there.

"It's perfect." She murmured to Kid.

"It's beautiful." Kid said embracing her from behind.

A passer by would thought that young couple was crazy, tenderly embracing each other in the middle of a untidy garden full of weeds, staring in awe at an abandoned house. But Kid and Lou weren't looking at the house, what they were seeing was their future.

Thanks to catsimmie who beta-read this story for me!

Email Paola HOME