The draw:

Main character: Ike
Secondary character: Nun/Preacher
Setting: Box Canyon
The problem: Kidnapped

Emily Metcalfe was sitting on a chair, her head bowed on her shoulder; the weariness had finally overcome her and she had fallen asleep while sitting up with Ike. After the doctor had, almost miraculously, saved him, the girl and Buck had spent endless hours at his bedside, while the other riders hadn't spared themselves to cover their friends' runs.
Everybody was waiting for the moment when finally Ike would open his eyes, refusing to give up hope, and that moment had finally arrived. The green-grey eyes of the mute rider flickered open.
Ike grimaced for the pain and looked around him, totally disoriented; he didn't remember anything else than a sharp burning pain shooting through his chest and Emily's tear streaked face. Now he was lying in a soft bed and, in the dim light of a lamp, he made out an unfamiliar room. Turning slowly to the left he saw the sleeping girl, her face clearly exhausted. On the nightstand there were what looked like some Indian medicine.
Tears prickled his eyes; Buck and Emily must have taken care of him.
Using all his energy he stretched his finger toward the girl's hand.
Emily felt something touching her and she woke up with a jerk. Her glance immediately fell on the young man lying on the bed, ready to check if there was something wrong. When she met his eyes, her heart stopped.
"Ike…" she choked. She crouched near to the boy's face, gently caressing his cheek. "You've come back," she said between the tears.
A month later
Ike stood frozen, listening Kid's tale of violence and shame. Lou had hidden her face in the Southerner's shirt and he was telling how their friend's innocence had been brutally stolen when she was nothing more than a young girl.
The mute rider grabbed Emily's hand, not caring about the sharp pain that shot through his chest at the sudden movement. He circled the girl's shoulder and pulled her to him. She turned to hide against him, suffocating a sob.
Teaspoon went to Louise and hugged the girl, consoling her as a father would. Slowly all the riders rose and took her in their arms, but Ike found himself incapable of doing) as the others.
Horrible memories he thought he had buried forever in the back of his mind flashed unwilling before his eyes. When Lou turned to him, Ike couldn't look at her face. He rose from the table with unsteady legs.
"I …I'm sorry" he signed and rushed out.
He scrambled down the porch and fell on his knees, unwillingly releasing the content of his stomach on the ground. He felt horrible, Lou needed to know he was there for her, not to have one of her friends backing away from her as if he couldn't stand her presence. God knew it wasn't truth, but Ike couldn't help himself.
"I'm sorry Lou…I'm so sorry."

°°°°°°

Lou stood here, in the middle of the room, trembling as a leaf. What she feared the most had happened. One of his friends was sick of her; and what was worse it had been Ike, the last one she expected to. She slumped on a chair and curled in on herself.
Everyone had been taken aback by Ike's reaction. All of them were greatly upset for what happened to Lou, but Ike ran away from her, as he didn't want to have nothing to do with her anymore. Emily was torn between her desire to comfort her friend and the need to know what happened to Ike. She looked at Buck, maybe he knew the reason behind his behaviour, but the Kiowa rider shook his head helplessly.
As much as he knew and loved Ike, Buck found difficult to justify his actions; but he was sure of one thing: Ike didn't behave in that way because he was disgusted by Lou, but because he was deeply distressed for what happened to her.
"I'll go to talk with him." Emily said to the Kiowa.
"I don't know if this is a good idea." Buck tried to say, but the girl looked so troubled that he didn't have the heart to tell her so.
She bent to kiss Lou on the forehead.
"Lou, I'm sure there is a good reason." The girl said softly.
Lou nodded, unable to speak. Kid embraced her shoulders and she hid again her face against is chest.

°°°°°°

Emily found Ike curled on the ground and immediately she crouched near him. He was crying.
"Ike, what is it?" she said leaning a hand on his shoulder.
The young man turned abruptly his back to her.
"Go away, please." He signed.
Emily still had problems understanding his sign language, but his gesture and expression were quite clear.
"No, Ike. I don't want to go away." She said softly, but firmly. "Something is bothering you and I want to help."
"You can't help! Go away." He pushed her away, making her lose her balance and fall on the ground. She wasn't hurt, since she fell from a sitting position, but he regretted his gesture immediately. Sometimes his inability to speak was so frustrating and he acted before thinking.
Emily was hurt by his behaviour but, when she saw his pained expression, she understood that something terrible must have happened to him to make gentle and kind-hearted Ike react like this.
She watched him run into the stables but she didn't follow him. To discover Lou's past must have reawakened some demons and he needed to face them alone.

°°°°°°

Too ashamed to face the others, Ike didn't return to the bunkhouse, but instead he hid in the hayloft and fell asleep between the bales of hay. Sweet grey eyes and a gentle smile haunted him that night. When he was a child, those eyes and smile had been able to bring again to him a little of the joy and serenity he had lost after his family's slaughter, and he had loved them with all the tenderness and the devotion of a child for someone who had became an older sister and a mother to him.
Her name was Rosie, Sister Rose for the nuns, and she was a young novice when she first arrived at the orphanage.
The girl was the first one who made him feel really accepted. The other nuns were kind to him, but they can't help them to consider him different from the other children. "Poor unlucky soul", they told between them when they thought Ike couldn't hear "we couldn't expect too much from him". But Rosie didn't think in the same way.
Sister Rose was able to look past his disability. She didn't excuse him for his occasional wild behaviour, nor for the fact he had stopped attending the lessons. The Lord gave you a sharp mind and caring soul, she used to scold him when he had one of his fits of rage and hid for hours in the stable, don't waste these gifts you have.
She made him understand he was worth of something, she helped him to get through that horrible time when he felt completely alone in the world, and -instead- he hadn't been able to do anything for her.

°°°°°°

"Ike, Ike…"
The mute rider was awakened by someone shaking slightly his shoulder. He opened his eyes and saw Buck. The Kiowa had come to look for him and he had found him sleeping awkwardly in a corner of the hayloft. He got worried, sleeping like this could re-open the stitches of his still healing wound.
"C'mon, Ike. It's not good for you to sleep like this." He said gently.
He stretched a hand to help him up and Ike took it without looking at him. His face was pale and tense, surely he hadn't spent a nice night of sleep, Buck thought. He was even more worried now, what had happened to his friend? Lou's story had upset him too. He himself was born by a violence, but only yesterday the Kiowa truly realized what a rape could do to a woman, since his mother had never talked about that to him, nor had she even loved him less. For Ike it seemed to be different, though. It seemed almost that he had already witnessed that pain and shame and he had wanted to run away from it. Could it be possible? Had Ike seen someone who loved to be raped? His mother, maybe?
A slap on his arm distracted Buck from his reverie.
"Don't look at me like this" Ike signed angrily.
"I'm sorry." Buck didn't realize he was staring at him and he knew how Ike hated to be stared at. It made him feel as if he still was the dumb boy of the orphanage.
"Do you want to talk about yesterday?" he asked softly, his dark eyes clearly revealing his concern.
Ike looked at him, how could he say to his friend what was troubling him? Buck never met Sister Rose and Ike had never found the strength to talk about her to him, especially not after he had learned Buck's story. He shook his head no.
"How is Lou?" he asked instead.
"She is fine, now. But she is still…"
"Angry at me?"
"Upset." As everyone else. Buck thought.
Ike looked at him with eyes full of concern and guilt, but he didn't say anything and instead he exited form the hayloft.

°°°°°°

Ike avoided everyone that day. He still wasn't allowed to ride, so he couldn't leave the station, but he kept his distance form the others all the same. His heart ached to see Lou's distressed face and Emily's worried one, but he didn't have the nerve to approach any of them, so he took refuge in the barn. He spent all the morning in there, grooming the animals, feeding Samson, fixing some small gear that needed to be repaired. Ike felt as if he was back at those horrible days at the orphanage when, for the second time in his life, a person who he loved and who loved him back and understood him despite of everything, had been brutally taken away from him.
Light steps distracted Ike form his mulling.
Lou appeared on the threshold of the stall box the young man was cleaning, but the girl stopped as soon as she saw him.
Ike didn't miss the hurt and embarrassed look in her eyes; Lou took a step back, it was an involuntary gesture but tore at his heart. Lou was family and he had been able to hurt her when she needed his friendship and support the most.
"I'm sorry…I thought… I've forgotten…" she babbled some excuses and turned to leave.
Ike took a step forward and grabbed her by the wrist. He didn't want her to believe she disgusted him, he didn't want to cause that pained look in her eyes.
Lou raised her face, startled by his sudden gesture, and she was surprised to see Ike's clear eyes filled with bitter tears. In that moment, her friend looked so guilty and lost that Louise forgot how his callous behaviour hurt her just the day before and she went to hug him tight.
Ike sobbed earnestly against her shoulder and Lou began to weep with him. What had happened to her friend? The young man's sobs became heavier and he slumped on the ground, Lou followed him, still continuing to embrace him. His weeping was too desperate to be caused only by the guilt over what happened the evening before. There must be something else.
"What is it, Ike?" she asked softly at his ear.
Again the mute rider refused to speak; it should be him comforting her, not the contrary.
"Ike, please, what's happening?"
He looked at the girl; her eyes were so full of concern and understanding that Ike finally found the strength to speak.
"I knew a nun, Sister Rose." He smiled between the tears."I loved her." "What's happened to her?" Lou prodded gently.
The girl felt his friend had never shared his burden with anyone, and she had just learned that to pour her own soul to someone who loved and comprehended her, was the only way to put behind the ghosts of the past.
"Was, was she raped?" she suggested with a tiny voice.
Ike shut his eyes and nodded tensely.
It happened the summer of his eleven years. One day he had gone with her to get some supplies in town and, on the way back, she decided to take a different route that passed through a little canyon not very far from the orphanage. Up on the hills the sun was high and hot and the grass of the prairie was dry and yellow. But down here, under the trees there was a nice coolness and the undergrowth was full of flowers.
It was as a little corner of Eden in the eyes of the young Ike, but it became a nightmare.
"Out of nowhere appeared three men, they must be some outlaws or fugitives, I don't know, I got scared and tried to turn the buckboard but they were faster and…"
Ike stopped his tale for a moment, his hands were shaking.
"They attacked us. I, I never see anything like that, they were like animals, they knocked me out and then they brought us to their camp..."
He stared unseeingly before him. He still could hear Rose's pitiful sobs and moans of pains. To think that also Lou had to endure a similar pain and humiliation made him sick again.
"They tied me and then they grabbed her…I couldn't do anything for her. She, she helped me every way she knew and I couldn't save her."
Lou rocked gently his sobbing form. Ike's guilt was painful familiar to her. For a long time she had lived feeling responsible for what happened to her, for not being able to help her brother and sister and ultimately, for not having saved Charlotte. Similarly to her, Ike felt guilty because he couldn't help his friend back then.
"Hush, Ike. You aren't the one to blame. Those men are."
She had come to understand this only with the help of Kid, Rachel and the other members of her family, and now she wanted to Ike to understand the same truth.

°°°°°°
When Ike came out from the barn with Lou, he was exhausted for crying, but finally he felt lighter. He passed an arm around the girl's shoulder and gave her a peck on the forehead.
"Thank you" he mouthed gratefully.
"That's what friends are for, isn't that?" she blushed.
Emily was sweeping the porch, worriedly waiting for the moment when Ike and Lou would come back. She had seen the girl go in the barn and when she didn't come back she had immediately thought that Ike had found the strength to talk with her.
When she finally saw Ike and Lou walking together, a serene expression on the young man's face, her heart gladdened. Whatever had troubled him and made him alienated from Lou and everyone else, it had been resolved.
Lou had smiled at Ike's sweet gesture, but when she spotted Emily she stepped back.
"Go to her." she said glancing at the girl under the porch.
The mute rider turned to look at where Lou was pointing, and his eyes locked with the clear ones of the blonde girl. He stood still, uncertain about how to face her. He sent a trembling smile in her direction. It was all what Emily needed.
She dropped the broom and ran toward Ike, without stopping she launched in his arms and hugged him tightly. The young man hugged her back, his eyes glistening. He looked briefly at Lou and the girl understood immediately. Now that Ike had finally faced his past, he didn't want to hide anything to the two people that were the closest to him.
"I'll go to call Buck.," she said.
The girl went to the corral, where the others were working on some horses. As soon as they spotted her, the boys stopped and looked at her with a mix of worry and expectation, since they had saw her enter in the barn and almost an hour later she still wasn't returned.
"Buck." She called "Ike wants to talk with you."
Her smile somewhat reassured the Kiowa and he gladly dismounted his horse to go to his friend.
Meanwhile also Kid had come up to her. He didn't say anything, but Lou felt his eyes searching hers. Yesterday she had cried herself to sleep, shaken by Ike's reaction, and Kid was obviously worried for her.
She squeezed his hand gently.
"It's all ok."
"Ike?"
Lou turned to look at her mute friend. He was walking toward the prairie with Buck and Emily.
"He'll be fine too."

THE END

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