Author's Note: The title of this story is the Spanish term for Child Birth. It literally translates as To Give To (the) Light, which I think is much more evocative of the experience of bringing new life into this world.
Hotheads & Misfits Ranch, near Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory April 1866
Lou rode wearily into the courtyard between the barns, the large ranch house Buck shared with his family and the smaller cabin they were building for her and Kid. It had been a long night in Rock Creek, patrolling the town for troublemakers. Her feet hurt, her back ached and she would do just about anything for a good night's sleep.
Kid came out of the barn, where he'd obviously been waiting for her, at the sound of Lightning's hooves clip clopping down the road. Rushing to the stallion's side, he reached up and caught Lou, cast iron skillet and all, as she slid off the horse's back.
"Tough night?" he asked.
"No more than most," she sighed. "I'm just so tired all the time and this youngun'," she paused to rub her belly, "won't let me get much rest anymore."
"I'll take care of her horse," Buck said, having followed Kid out of the barns. "Why don't you get her into the house for a hot breakfast and some sleep?"
"Thanks," Kid said, handing the reins over to Buck and swinging Lou up into his arms.
"I can walk," Lou protested, but only in a pro forma manner. She made no move to struggle against Kid's grasp, instead snuggling into his arms.
"But you don't haveta," Kid smiled, kissing her forehead even as he walked into the big house. He marched straight through the house to the kitchen, where Dawn Star was serving breakfast to the kids.
A few minutes later Lou had revived at the sight of the plate set before her and begun scarfing down its contents like a soldier who hadn't seen a chowline in a month. As she was finishing up the last of the meal, and considering asking for seconds, Buck came in the back door with Standing Woman.
"Are you done?" Kid asked solicitously. "Ready to get some sleep?"
"You need to start sleeping more," Standing Woman added. "The closer you get to your time, the more rest you need to get."
"I know," Lou sighed, leaning back and patting her rounded belly. "I just wish we knew how close my time was!"
"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride," Dawn Star said, smiling, as she placed a glass of milk in front of Lou.
"Oh," Lou said, "I almost forgot." She started digging in her pocket until she found an envelope and pulled it out to hand over to Buck. As he looked at her questioningly, she smiled, "It's an invitation to Cody's weddin'."
"When is it?" Kid asked.
"A June bride, huh? They're observin' all the traditions."
Lou shrugged, looking around hopefully for another sausage to go with her glass of milk.
"I already wired 'em, we'll be there," Lou said.
"What?" Kid gasped, outraged. "Lou! We can't go! You'll be too close to yer time, or we'll have a newborn. We can't make that kinda trip."
"Kid, it's family," Lou responded adamantly, jumping to her feet and banging her skillet against the table. "It's not a question of can or can't. We're goin'!" With that she stomped out of the room and up the stairs to bed.
Buck, Kid, Standing Woman and Dawn Star looked from Lou's disappearing back to each other.
"Well, I guess we're goin'," Buck said quietly.
St. Louis, Missouri May 30th, 1866
"Wheet!" the train whistle sounded, announcing the locomotive's arrival in town.
"I hope they're on this train," Cody muttered, pacing back and forth near the tracks. A pretty young brunette seated on a bench in the shade along the edge of the train station, smiled gently as she fanned her face.
"If they're not on this train, they'll be on the next one, Willie," she quietly remonstrated. "Mrs. McCloud clearly stated they were leaving this week. But you know, even now, the train schedules aren't that reliable. A bad rain, cattle on the track, Indians, all sorts of things could have delayed them."
Cody sighed and slumped down on the bench next to her, taking her gloved hand in his. "You're right, my dear. It's just been so long since I've seen them! And if they miss the weddin'…."
He couldn't finish the sentence.
"They won't miss the wedding, darling," Louisa smiled at her distraught fiancé, boldly reaching up to push a lock of blonde hair back behind an ear. "If they don't make it in time, we'll simply postpone. I could never marry you without your family here!"
"I knew there was a reason I fell in love with you," Cody smiled, leaning in to steal a furtive kiss.
"William!" she squealed in mock outrage, hitting his shoulder with her fan. "Not in public!"
"I've found the lovebirds," a familiar voice mocked. Cody jumped to his feet and enveloped Buck in a bear hug.
"You made it!" he exclaimed. Pulling back from the hug Cody looked around. "Where are the others?"
"Right here," a soft voice answered as a hard hand whapped Cody upside the head. "Waitin' fer ya ta notice us!"
"Lou!" Cody exclaimed, swooping in for another hug. After a moment, he pulled back and examined Lou from head to toe in mock horror. "Good Lord, Lou! You look like yer ready ta pop!"
"She's due any day now," Standing Woman smiled, walking up to shake Cody's hand in the white man's style. "She should be at home, resting,"
"But you know our Lou," Kid smiled, hugging her close, "stubborn as a bull. Wouldn't even hear of missin' yer weddin'."
Lou glared at the lot of them, then reached down a hand to gently caress her stomach. "I'm startin' as I mean ta go on. I ain't gonna let this child rule the roost."
Buck and Standing Woman looked at each other for a shocked moment, then burst out in uncontrollable gales of laughter, even as the other two couples looked on confused by their hilarity.
"Would ya mind lettin' us in on the joke?" Cody asked, bewildered.
Buck finally managed to get control of himself and between gasps for air answered, "Just her naiveté, thinkin' she's not gonna let a child change anythin'! Children change everythin'!"
"And I, for one, can't wait," Louisa spoke up brightly. Then, realizing exactly what she'd said started to turn a brilliant shade of red.
"So, where's Dawn Star?" Cody asked quickly, squeezing Louisa's hand in reassurance as he tried to change the topic of conversation.
"Uh…" Kid started, then stopped.
"She pulled the short straw," Lou finished for him.
"Yup!" Buck affirmed.
"Y'all drew straws?"Cody asked.
"We couldn't exactly drag all the kids along and since both Lou and Rachel were so determined to come, someone had to stay behind to watch the young ones," Standing Woman smiled. "And I understand this straw drawing is something of a family tradition."
"Rachel and Janusz will be along next week," Lou added brightly. "They wanted to take somethin' of a honeymoon trip while they had the opportunity."
As they got caught up on who was where and doing what, they gathered their luggage and headed out to the carriage Cody and Louisa had brought to convey everyone to Louisa's family home. Cody began loading bags into the back of the carriage.
"Anyone heard from Jimmy, yet?" Kid asked.
"Yup!" Cody grunted. "Whatcha got in this thing, Lou, rocks?"
"Be careful with that," she warned. "That's got my weddin' present in it!"
"Better hope it ain't a skillet!" Buck teased even as Lou swatted his arm for his effrontery. "Lou's tricks with a skillet don't exactly involve a stove!"
Turning back to help Louisa into the carriage after Lou, Cody smiled. "I well remember what Lou can do with a skillet. And what she can't!"
Cody climbed into the driver's seat next to Louisa at the front of the carriage and grabbed up the reins. "Anyway, Jimmy's comin' in this weekend. He was on a case that took him ta Omaha, so he'll be ridin' in with Sam and Emma."
Lou smiled contentedly, leaning her head on Kid's shoulder. She was pleased to know the remainder of her Express Family would all be able to make it for this wedding.
The next week was an exhausting and exhilarating round of activities, including a special church service on Sunday to honor the engaged couple, the wedding rehearsal and a rehearsal dinner at the town's best restaurant hosted by the bride's family. It all culminated in a special 'shower' for the bride the night before the wedding and a similar party for the prospective groom, all designed to keep both from getting too nervous about the next day's events.
"Alright, Mrs. McCloud! Your's is the only gift I haven't opened yet," Louisa smiled at the petite young woman seated on a chair next to her. The pair were surrounded by several of Louisa's friends, Emma and Rachel. Over the last hour she'd opened several presents meant for the bride specifically, frilly underthings, a beautiful, almost see-through peignoir for the wedding night and other gifts designed to make the bride blush profusely. But Lou's gift, though wrapped just as gaily as the others, was obviously not clothing and Louisa was dying of curiousity.
Lou smiled serenely as she handed the present over. Emma and Rachel, being in on the gift, tittered in appreciation of the coming surprise.
Louisa ripped through the pretty paper to uncover, "A skillet?!?"
Her friends looked from the gift to Lou in confusion even as Rachel, Emma and Lou all doubled over with laughter.
"I don't get it," Louisa said quietly.
"Well," Rachel gasped, "surely by now you've figured out the way to Cody's heart is through his stomach!"
"And the way to get through his thick skill needs either a 2x4 or a cast iron skillet," Emma added.
"So…" Lou finished, still trying to catch her breath, "we put 'both in one package! Don't worry, I'll show ya how ta swing it!"
"Shhhh!" Cody whispered exaggeratedly, as he peeked through a window at his bride's party. "We don't wanna get caught!"
"I can't believe we're spendin' the night spyin' on the wimmenfolk," Jimmy grumbled. "What's wrong with gettin; a few drinks and playin' some poker at the saloon?"
Kid just shrugged, keeping his eyes glued to Lou.
"Hey, this is Cody's party," Buck said, smiling. "He wants ta risk his hide spyin', that's his choice."
Slowly all the men inched their eyes above the edge of the window and peeked into the room. A strange sight met them. The women stood in a circle, each with a skillet or pot in their hands, practicing swinging with one arm to Lou's repeated calls of, "Ready! Aim! Swing!"
Cody's friend Will McDonald patted him on the shoulder. "Ya never should've invited her, my friend. There goes yer chances for marital bliss!"
"Ya," Janusz added. "Our Lou is teaching her how to rule the roost."
Janusz, Kid and Buck all winced as they watched their wives take another swing with the cooking implements.
"She can swing it all she wants," Cody smiled. "Long as she keeps up her good cookin'!"
St. Louis, Missouri June 6th, 1866
The day of the big event dawned bright and sunny. Kid smiled as he rolled over and gathered his still snoozing wife into his arms.
"Mornin' sleepyhead," he whispered, starting to scatter kisses down her neck and shoulder. He started laughing gently when she grumbled crankily and pushed him away.
"What're ya laughin' at?" she grouched.
"You," he smiled. "Ya've been lookin' forward ta this day fer weeks and now ya want to laze away in bed all day."
"Unlike you, I didn't sleep well last night," she complained as he helped her sit up, something she could no longer do easily on her own. "And my back's killin' me!"
"Shouldn't've spent so much time swingin' skillets last night," Kid teased. She whipped her head around to glare at him.
"And just how would ya know what we were doin' last night?" she asked in a dangerous voice. Kid just smiled at her as he held both hands in the air.
"Don't blame me," he said. "It wasn't my idea. Cody insisted!"
"And ya couldn't stop him?" Lou demanded. Kid just shrugged and Lou grabbed her pillow to toss in his face, before moving toward the chamber pot in the corner where he wouldn't feel free to retaliate.
An hour later, Lou finished dressing in the white bridesmaid's gown with a blue sash and veil Louisa had asked her to wear. She sighed as she observed her reflection in the mirror over the dresser.
"What's the matter?:" Kid asked.
"I look like Buck's buffalo!" she complained. "Why'd she haveta ask me ta wear white?"
Kid moved up behind her and wrapped his arms around her stomach, resting his hands over the baby's favorite place to kick. He gently nuzzled her neck. "You look like the love of my life and the woman who's about to give birth to my first child."
Lou's heart melted at this and she turned within Kid's arms to press her lips to his in a kiss that quickly became passionate. But a sudden stabbing in her middle brought the moment to a close as she stiffened and let out an "oof!"
"What's wrong?" Kid asked, pulling back to look down at his petite wife.
"Feels like 'your' child wants somethin' ta eat," she smiled, rubbing distractedly at her taut stomach.
"Well, let's head downstairs and see what we can scare up for ya," Kid suggested. "They won't be servin' a real breakfast until after the weddin'."
Lou felt like it was déjà vu all over again as she slowly moved down the aisle between the guests' seats in the Frederici's fragrant rose garden, smiling at her loving husband. But, when she reached him, she had only a moment to press her fingertips to his before moving over to make way for the blushing bride.
Cody had eyes only for Louisa as she glided down the aisle in a beautiful, dove grey silk gown with a white lace veil. Her hair was curled, beribboned and bedecked with wax orange blossoms ordered especially for the wedding, since real orange blossoms couldn't be found in Missouri. The pretty white flowers contrasted nicely with her dark hair. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
He gulped audibly as her father placed her hand in his and they turned to face the minister.
"Dearly beloved…" the man began. With all eyes on the bridal couple, no one noticed when Lou suddenly stiffened and dropped her bouquet to the floor to grab at her belly.
As Cody and Louisa exchanged wedding rings, Lou began to pant slightly. The sound of her strained breathing caught Standing Woman's attention. She suddenly sat up straighter in her seat in the groom's family row. She reached forward and tugged at Buck's pant leg. When he looked down at her, she pointed at Lou with her chin. A frown crossed his features as he noted Lou's strained expression tighten, then relax.
Cody leaned forward to capture Louisa's lips in their first kiss as husband and wife. The spectators erupted in cheers and the musicians began playing the triumphal recessional.
Except Cody and Louisa were the only ones to head back down the aisle. The rest of the former riders converged on Lou.
"Are you alright, Lou?" Kid asked worriedly.
Lou looked up at her husband with an excited look in her eyes. "I'm wonderful! I think it's time."
"Time for what?" Kid asked, confused.
"Time to have a baby," Standing Woman said, pushing past the nearly oblivious father to reach the expectant mother. "Come on, Lou, let's get you back upstairs."
"The baby? We're having the baby?" Kid asked. Then he reached down and swooped Lou up into his arms and began pushing his way through the crowd gathered around the newlyweds to congratulate them. He shouted frantically, "Woman in labor! Let us past!"
As the Express Family trooped together into the house and upstairs to Lou's and Kid's room, Louisa's father came after them.
"Shall I call for a doctor?" he asked, concerned.
"No!" Lou answered, almost panicked.
"It's alright, Sir," Cody said. "Lou has a slight problem with most doctors. She's real particular. Standing Woman's a trained Medicine Woman and Midwife. There's nothin' a doc could do that she can't."
As the family reached the top of the stairs, Rachel and Emma began shooing the men back down. "Go on now. You know this takes time and you can't do anythin' to help. Go on downstairs and enjoy the weddin' party."
"But, but, but…" Jimmy, Buck and Cody sputtered even as Janusz helped push them back down the stairs.
"What about the Kid?" Jimmy finally managed to shout out around Janusz' arm. Just then they all heard a scream of outraged pain from Lou and suddenly each found a reason to get back downstairs. Fast.
"Hieronymus Kidd McCloud," Lou belted out at the top of her lungs after he set her down on the bed and began backing toward the door. "You better get your arse back over here before I fill it full of buckshot! You got me in this mess, you're gonna stick around 'til the bloody end! Just like ya asked."
She struggled against Rachel and Emma as they began trying to remove her dress and get her into a nightgown.
"Lou, ya gotta stop fightin' us," Rachel said. "We're just tryin' ta help."
"You wanna help?" Lou spit out through gritted teeth. "You get that mangy husband of mine back here."
A quick glance between Standing Woman and Emma had the older red head stepping out of the way and pushing Kid up to his wife's side. Kid reached out and ran a hand down the side of Lou's face.
"I wasn't leavin', Lou. I was just tryin' ta stay outta the way while they helped ya change.' "Argh!" Lou let out a deep throated growl. Kid's panicked eyes flew to Standing Woman.
"It's alright, Kid. She's just having a contraction," the Indian woman reassured him. "Why don't ya take her hand and reassure her. But…"
Kid reached out and grasped Lou's small hand in his large one. Suddenly he winced as she squeezed tight, unaware of what she was doing as she rode the pain of the contraction.
"Aggh!" the couple screamed nearly simultaneously.
As Lou neared the end of the contraction and started to relax her grip on Kid's hand, the women in the room heard an unnerving popping sound. Kid turned bone white.
A sudden rush of movement ensued as they all checked to see what had gone wrong. Finding everything as it should be, a perplexed Standing Woman looked up to see Kid gingerly shaking his hand with a couple fingers bent at an odd angle.
"Everything's fine," Standing Woman said. "I have a feeling the problem may be Kid."
"What?" Emma asked, confused.
"Check his hand," Standing Woman said. "I think she broke it. He didn't let me finish my warning not to let her hold more than two fingers at a time."
Emma moved over and picked up the hand Kid was holding close to his side, even as he carefully made sure Lou could only grab two fingers of his other hand.
"Kid!" Lou begged, as she panted in the break between contractions. "Don't leave me. You promised."
Even as Emma began to bind up his hand, Kid squatted down on his haunches next to the bed and pressed his face next to Lou's on the pillow.
"I ain't goin' nowhere, Lou," he whispered.
Despite predictions it could be a day or more before their baby made its first appearance, less than an hour later Standing Woman arose from her latest inspection and asked, "So, do you feel like pushing yet?"
"Yes!" Lou gasped with relief at the prospect of finally being able to do something.
Standing Woman nodded in understanding, then turned to Kid.
"Kid, since yer here, I want ya to get behind her on the bed," she instructed. "Help her sit up and then hold her legs back. Lou, you just push when your body tells ya to."
Now that she had something to do, the pain of labor suddenly seemed to diminish and Lou set to work determinedly.
"That's it," Emma encouraged. "We can see the head!"
"Your baby's got a beautiful head of dark hair," Rachel gushed.
"Would y'all just shut up and let me work," Lou complained even as she bore down with yet another contraction.
Moments later, she relaxed as the pressure released and she no longer had the urge to push.
"Good, Lou," Standing Woman said. "Don't push for a moment, let me get the baby's mouth and nose cleaned out."
A moment later they heard their child's first cry. Tears started rolling down Lou's cheek in response and she ineffectually tried to brush them away.
"Kid, do you want to cut the cord?" Standing Woman asked.
She simply held out a pair of shears to him with one hand and waited. After a moment he reached out and grasped the scissors in a shaky grip. Walking around, he gently cut the cord still attaching his child to his wife. In awe, he watched as Standing Woman handed the now squalling infant to Emma then turn back to his wife.
"What is it? What is it?" Lou pleaded. "Do we have a son or a daughter?"
Emma walked over with the child and lay it on Lou's chest, wrapped loosely in a towel. "Say hello to your son, Lulabelle."
She stepped back as Lou reached up to wrap her arms around her son for the first time. She now let tears flow down her cheeks unheeded as she stared at his perfect little face, red and scrunched up in distress at his suddenly cold world. Reaching out to tentatively stroke his soft cheek, she whispered to Kid, "We did it, Kid. We did it."
Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory June 30th, 1866
The minister turned and gently took their son in his hands. Holding the baby boy up to face the church he said, "Kid and Louise McCloud are today presenting their child for Christian baptism. This is a sacred time in the lives of these parents, this child and this community."
Kid and Lou smiled at each other, unable to believe this moment had come. Every second of the last month had been a dream come true, from the midnight feedings to the unexplained bouts of crying and the non-stop dirty diapers.
The minister turned to Kid and Lou. "Kid, Louise, do you desire for your child to be baptized?"
With a look at each other, they answered in unison. "We do."
"You understand it is your duty to teach him as soon as he is able to learn, to watch over his education that he may not be led astray, to direct his feet, to restrain him from evil associates and habits?" he asked.
"With God's help, we will," they answered.
Then the minister turned to those seated in the front pew. Lou took a moment to look at all those dear faces, Cody and Louisa, Rachel and Janusz, Sam and Emma, Buck and Standing Woman and Dawn Star and Jimmy, seated uncomfortably at the end of the pew but dressed in his best. Who knew that these two orphans would one day have such a large family to surround their children with? Lou thought to herself.
"Nurturing a child is not only the duty of the parents, but also the responsibility of grandparents, aunts, uncles and the larger extended family," the minister continued. "Do all of you, as members of this child's family, agree to offer Kid and Louise and this precious boy your unqualified love and care?"
"We will," their family chorused joyfully.
With a gesture from the minister, Jimmy and Emma stood and moved over to stand beside Kid and Lou by the altar.
Staring searchingly into each of their eyes, the minister waited a moment before continuing with the service.
"Godparents fill a special role in the life of a child," he said. "In accepting the role of Godparents, you promise to participate in the life of this child, doing everything in your power to assist the parents in nurturing this child. Do you as the Godparents of this child, promise to share responsibility with Kid and Louise for this precious child?"
Emma smiled and said softly, "Of course."
Jimmy just nodded and smiled down at the son of his two best friends.
The minister turned back to Kid and Lou and asked, "What name have you given your child?"
Kid placed his arm around Lou's shoulders and nodded at her. She raised her voice so it could be heard all the way to the back of the church, "James Hunter McCloud."
Jimmy started and turned to look at his best friends in shock. They simply nodded at him and smiled.
The minister, meanwhile, moved toward the basin of water and sprinkled some over little James' head. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Lifting the baby up so the entire church could see the peaceful baby, he finished the service. "I present to you James Hunter McCloud and ask you to welcome him into this community."
Author's Note: I changed the date of Cody and Louisa’s wedding by three months to fit the timeline of my story, Fighting For Love. The backstory behind the skillet can be found in the episode Home of the Brave and my story The Woman Behind the Badge.