Lambert hits me with a force that leave me breathless. I feel the metallic taste of the blood in my mouth. He doesn’t stop, another blow strikes my cheekbone, and then another one, and another…I can’t react. I feel myself slip away. God, I hope he'll be satisfied with only beating me…this is my last thought before I lose my senses.
My head throbs terribly, my left cheek is swelling and my upper lip is split. I’m lying on my back; the first sunrays of the early morning hurt my eyes. Slowly I get up. I still have my dress on, so I take a relieved breath while a tear runs rapidly down my cheek. He was in a hurry to find Kid and the others, so he didn’t waste his time with me; I thought wryly.
I have to get away as soon as possible, because Lambert and his men will return here if they can't find them, and I don’t want to be the one to tell them where my friends are.
I take my things; I put my pants and my shirt on. Never have my boyish clothes felt so comfortable. I go downstairs, careful to not make any noise, but at this time of day the saloon sleeps so I reach the livery without any problem.
I ride out of the town, taking a long, complicated route, because I can’t risk them finding my trail. I ride as fast as I can without leaving much of a trace.
Now that the tension has begun to fade I realize how scared I've been. I had fun dressing up like a saloon girl, and feeling the appreciating glances of the men had been good for once. I wanted to prove to myself I could do that, despite my past. I liked shocking the boys and showing them I’m a girl under the layers of masculine clothes they always see me in. Kid’s comments made me angry – why couldn’t he say simply that I looked pretty, instead of telling me I shouldn’t be dressing in that way? I know his reaction was mostly because he was worried and jealous, and I liked that too; but I wanted to prove to him that I was capable of handling the whole thing without his help. Instead I failed. When Lambert overcame me, when I saw him on me, immediately the thought of another man and another suffocating room washed over me once again and I panicked.
I reach the others and see Kid run towards me. I’ve never seen him so scared. I can barely get off my horse before he pulls me into a tight embrace. I don’t say anything, I only want to feel his reassuring arms around me.
“I was worried.” He whispers after some moments.
He pulls away to look at me and sees my injuries. His grip on my arms tightens.
“What happened? Who did that to you?” Kid’s voice is tense when he speaks.
“Lambert jumped me.”
“He knocked me out but I got away as he was coming back.”
I see his rage mount at my words, and his blue eyes became ice.
“Lambert's gonna pay this time.” He growls.
“Leave it to the judge” Noah tries to says, but Kid doesn’t listen to him.
“Nobody's gonna testify against him, they're too scared. There's only one kind of justice for him.”
He wants to call Lambert out. The mere thought terrifies me but I can’t say anything.
“You ain't ready, Kid. Lambert's an experienced gunfighter.” Jimmy tries to bring him to reason. “You've never called a man out before!” he yells after him when his words don’t stop him.
“I'd say it's high time I did.” Kid says and rides toward the town.
“He's gonna get himself killed.” Jimmy mutter.
I feel my heart in my throat as we follow him.
Kid is outside the marshal’s office. He calls him out, and then he turns to look at me. I want to tell him to not do it, that Jimmy is right, that I’m scared, but I can’t, so I divert my gaze. I remain near Jimmy as my heart thumps wildly in my chest.
It’s not like I've never see him in a gunfight before, and I know how well he can handle a gun; but this is completely different. He is alone facing his opponent, and the only thing that separates him from the death is a thin line made of luck, ability and cold blood. And this isn’t enough for me.
Damn Kid and his righteousness. Can't we just go away from here and return home? No! He must make that man pay for his crimes, for having killed that poor man and making his children orphans, for having taken advantage of Kid's good faith, and above all for having hurt me. I know how much pain and guilt he has been feeling since he discovered the truth about Lambert, and seeing me like that must have been the last straw.
'None of this is worth your life!' I want to shout at him, but it’s too late. Lambert comes out and Kid confronts him. Jimmy and Buck kill Lambert’s men who were ready to shoot Kid in the back, and then he fires at the marshal. Lambert falls but Kid is unharmed. Now I can breathe again.
Emily and Michael Dyson have just left on the stage, I gave them Lambert’s money. I couldn’t keep it; I hope at least it can help those children.
I look for Lou; I haven’t seen her since we returned. During our trip back home she barely spoke a word. What I did must have upset her greatly, but I couldn’t let that man not pay for what he did.
When I saw her battered face something inside me snapped. I’m ashamed of myself now but in that moment I didn’t think about justice, in that moment I only wanted vengeance for what he dared to do to Lou. I acted like an animal, and can understand Lou being mad at me, but now I want to assure myself she is okay.
I find her in the bunkhouse; she holds a cold cloth against her swollen cheek. I cringe, it must be painful and the bruises on her lip will last for at least a week, I know this from first hand experience.
She raises her head.
I sit next to her, unsure of her reaction. But she doesn’t pull away from me, and it gives me a little confidence.
“The children have just taken the stage. I gave them the money.”
She nods imperceptibly, but doesn’t speak. Maybe it isn’t the right time to talk, so I start to get up from the table, but she grabs my arm. I stop and she turns to press her unarmed cheek against my chest.
“Don’t you dare do such a thing ever again,” she says firmly without looking at me.
“I’m sorry, Lou…I didn’t want to upset you, but when I saw what Lambert did to you, I …”
“Damn it, Kid! You scared me to death!” Her voice is angry. “You could have died before my eyes! Do you have any idea what that would do to me?!”
I’m astonished. She's never shown her feelings to me so openly. I find myself smiling, even though I know that this will make her angrier now.
She punches my ribs hard.
“I’m serious, Kid! Don’t you dare risk your life again…” Her rage is drained and she slumps against me. “I want you to live, you hear me?”
I hold her and kiss her hair. She doesn’t protest and snuggles closer in my arms.
“I want you to live too, Lou.”
This short story has been written for the “I want you to live” challenge at the TYRfic livejournal.
As ever, thanks to Broedy for her help.