Topic #23: They Told Me Not to Go
Guilt from the Past   by: Raye
Take Me Away from Here  by: Lori
The Blue and the Bold  by: Cindy
Blinded   by: Raye
Three Steps  by: Dede
Letters from Home  by: Raye
Guilt from the Past
By: Raye

*Teaspoon's ponderings about the Alamo*

They told me not to go,
those voices in my head.
Told me that if I left,
others would die in my stead.

But I was given an order
and sent away from friends
A part of me was grateful,
for we all knew how it would end.

Still the guilt follows me,
hounding my every step,
I thought I'd stripped my mind of them,
but each memory it seemed I'd kept.

When will I finally put to rest,
this empty hole within?
When I can walk in peace,
no reminder of my sin.

In truth I know I'll never rest,
never see the sunset whole.
For there are pieces of me missing,
parts taken from my soul.
Take Me Away from Here
By: Lori

Take me away from here
Make it seem like we’re
A million miles away
Another time, another place
Make me a different man
Move me farther than
I’ve ever before
Show me that there’s somethin’ more

Take Me Away From Here, Tim McGraw

“You shouldn’t worry so,” came a soft voice, still thick with sleep, from beside him. Her cool hand lifted, brushed across his brow as if she could soothe the wrinkles and the concerns away.

“I wasn’t worrying,” he smiled. “I was remembering.”

“You’ve been doing an awful lot of that lately,” she frowned. “Are you sure everything is alright, William?”

“Everything’s fine, Nicolette,” he smiled reassuringly.

She regarded him a minute, her expression searching as she weighed his words against his actions, then she nodded her head as if to say she would accept them. He always marveled at her ability to look at him, and make him feel as if she were peeling back all the layers of his soul and defenses one at a time. She could always see through even the best attempts to shield her from his inner demons and worries, to not weigh her down with concerns he hadn’t sorted through. Somehow she always knew when there was more to the story, but she rarely pressed, merely supported and was there when he was ready to talk.

But he remembered the one time she did press, the time she refused to accept the platitudes he gave her. Unable to find decent new talent on his trip, he’d returned home worried what the investors would do. He’d gathered his cast, tried to dream up new and creative performances, but the wells all seemed to have run dry. The investors didn’t want to continue backing a losing enterprise and they told him without new talent to draw in the audiences, they were going to have to pull their money. Without their money, he wasn’t going to be able to keep the show open.

He’d tried to keep the troubles from Nicolette for as long as he could, not wanting to burden her during her pregnancy. She tried to hide it well, but the time he’d been gone had taken a toll on her spirits and he had been feeling guilty about contemplating walking away from his family, so he’d shielded her as best he could. But she knew. Knew when the creditors came calling, knew when the newspapers ran their stories about Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show closing due to lack of interest and money. Knew that losing his dream was affecting him more than he wanted to admit.

And she also knew that he had slowly been dying inside living in the East. All his life he swore he wanted to make a name for himself, make some money and head to a big city to live life like a king. Now that he was living that dream, it was slowly suffocating him. He didn’t know how to let go, though, how to find himself once again.

As usual, she seemed to have the answer. When he finally told her the problems with the show, she made him dig deeper and recognize some truths he hadn’t wanted to voice. He was a man who needed to be connected to the land, who needed to be able to roam, ride his horse, not be fenced in like cattle. She suggested that losing the show maybe wasn’t as bad as it seemed and that they should look at it as a blessing in disguise.

If he could live anywhere, she asked him, where would it be? Immediately a house surrounded by lush green land came to mind. Plenty of room for horses and children to run, plenty of room to breathe, plenty of room to feel like he could sneeze without waking a neighbor. He realized he wanted out of the city, he wanted to return to the place he once fought so hard to escape.

Through it all, she supported him. She told him she knew he was unhappy, that the light in his eyes wasn’t shining as bright and that he needed to find it again. Maybe if he did, he could start another show, or find something else that he would love. She began talking of packing and where could they move to, and he tried everything he could to dissuade her of the notion. She was pregnant, she didn’t need to undertake such an event as moving in her condition.

But she would not be put off. She told him she wanted their child to be born in a place where there was fresh air to breath and plenty of blue sky to see. Put like that, he couldn’t refuse her, and so he made the preparations. Two months before their child was born, they left and moved to Wyoming Territory, not too far from where he’d been during the Express.

He knew now why Nicolette had been so insistent they move before the baby was born. He would have found ways to keep putting the move off, never having the courage to truly get away. But Nicolette knew, she knew exactly what he needed, how to feed his soul, and she once again gave him more than he could have ever imagined.

The Blue and the Bold
by: Cindy

“Lou, you seen Buck around?” Teaspoon called out as he approached the corral.

“I think he’s in the bunkhouse working on that supply ledger you left,” she replied. She turned around, but Teaspoon had already moved on - followed by an army officer. Lou just shook her head. Buck probably wasn’t going to like this.

Teaspoon headed directly to the bunkhouse and opened the door. Just as Lou had predicted, his quarry sat at the table, papers strewn around. “Buck?”

Buck just shook his head, not looking up. “Teaspoon, half the receipts are missing here. I don’t know how the company’s going to figure this out.”

“Well, that can wait a bit,” Teaspoon replied. “Buck, we need your help.”

Buck looked up - but his eyes went hard as he saw who ‘we’ was. “Teaspoon . . .”

“Buck, this here’s Captain John Marcus. He’s got a favor to ask.”

Buck just shook his head. “I don’t work for the army, Captain,” he said firmly. It was hard enough to have a near-permanent army encampment just outside of Rock Creek.

Marcus stepped forward, pulling off his hat. Sandy blond hair tumbled over his forehead - a forehead lined with worry. His blue eyes mirrored the concern. “Mr. Cross, Marshal Hunter has explained why you would be hesitant to help the army, and I do understand. But would you at least hear me out?”

Buck just stared silently for a moment, finally turning his gaze toward Teaspoon. Why would the stationmaster do this to him again?

Teaspoon stepped up next to the table and sat down. “Buck, you know I wouldn’t ask you if there wasn’t a good reason. I know what you’ve been through with the army. But I’d sure like you to listen to Captain Marcus. Then if you still feel the same way, it’s done.”

Buck took a deep breath and then let it out, slowly. “All right, I’ll listen.”

Marcus stepped up and took a deep breath himself. At least it was one small victory that he’d get to tell his story. “I just received word about an hour ago that a shipment of guns and ammunition was waylaid somewhere north of Hollenberg. All but one of the soldiers assigned to the guard detail was killed. The last man was injured and left for dead, but he finally managed to make his way here. The attackers were apparently a band of southern raiders, though the man was very badly wounded and couldn’t tell us much before he passed out.”

Buck looked to Teaspoon and then back to Marcus. “This sounds like an army problem, Captain. I don’t see what it has to do with me.”

Marcus dropped onto a bench across from Buck. “There’s more,” he said wearily. “There were . . . civilians traveling with the group.” He dropped his head, staring at his hands. “My wife, my two daughters, and my wife’s younger sister.”

“The private who survived didn’t see their bodies around the place where the attack happened,” Teaspoon added. “We think the raiders may have taken them.”

Marcus reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph. He pushed it across the table to Buck. “This photograph was taken last Christmas,” he said. “That’s my wife, Elizabeth. Hannah, she’s seven. And Ruthie, she’s . . .” His voice caught and he swallowed hard. “She’ll be four next week. Elizabeth wrote how excited Ruthie was that she’d be here, we’d all be together for her birthday.” He paused for another deep breath. “I don’t have a photograph of Elsa, but she looks a lot like my Elizabeth.”

Buck just studied the photograph. It showed a beautiful blond woman smiling at the camera, and two darling blond girls sitting next to her. And there was another woman missing too, one he couldn’t even see. “You want me to help track them,” he said softly.

“Before he left with his unit last week, William Cody told a number of people about your skill as a tracker,” Marcus replied. He looked right at the man across from him, sensing that he actually had a chance. “Mr. Cross, if it was just the guns and ammunition, I’d call for reinforcements and send men out in every direction to chase these raiders down. But it’s not just the guns - it’s my family. I need to give them the best chance. And that means I need you.”

“I’m gonna ride out with the Captain and his men,” Teaspoon said. “Figure kidnapping civilians makes this my problem too.” He studied his rider, seeing Buck’s conflict mirrored on his face.

Buck finally slid the photo back toward Marcus and looked up. “When are you leaving, Captain?”

“Tomorrow morning, at first light.”

Buck sighed, sure that somehow he was going to regret this. Still, if he didn’t try, those three faces from the photograph were going to haunt his dreams for a very long time. “When we get to where the attack happened, your men have to stay back. They can’t be trampling all the tracks.”

Marcus nodded quickly. He’d definitely noted the use of the word ‘we’ as the other man spoke. “My men will stay back,” he promised. “We’ll do this however you say.”

Buck just nodded. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he said softly.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The smell of death was everywhere. Bodies clad in army blue were strewn about the area, many of them already showing the signs of being found by scavenging animals.

Teaspoon walked gingerly across the bloody ground to where Buck was crouching, studying the ground. Behind him, Captain Marcus and his men waited anxiously, their horses nervous from the scent of death surrounding them. “Buck, what do you think?”

Buck pointed at some small footprints. “It looks like the girls were here,” he said softly. “But then their prints just disappear.”

“Like maybe they was picked up by someone on a horse,” Teaspoon suggested.

Buck nodded, looking out toward the southeast. “That’s what I’d figure.”

“Well, the two women ain’t among the dead,” Teaspoon said, relief in his voice. As hard as it was to see all of the dead soldiers, many of them really only boys, finding the women dead would have been harder. “So that’s something.”

“There are too many hoof prints covering everything for me to be sure what happened to them,” Buck said. He stood up, tossing a rock out in frustration.

“But you can track them,” Teaspoon said, making it a statement, not a question.

“They took the wagon, I suppose to carry the guns,” Buck replied. “That’ll be easy enough to track.”

“Well, let’s get going then,” Teaspoon said. “Ain’t nothin’ we can do for these boys here, but let’s hope we can still get to them hostages in time.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They finally stopped when it got too dark to follow the tracks. Marcus silently cursed the cloudy sky as he ordered his men to dismount and set up the camp. He handed the reins of his horse to Corporal McKay and went to talk to the two men from Rock Creek. “I hate having to stop like this,” he said as he approached.

“Buck can’t track in the dark, ‘specially with no moon,” Teaspoon pointed out.

“I know that,” Marcus admitted. “It’s just so frustrating!”

“Chances are, they’ll be stopping for the night too,” Buck said. “They’re heading into some rough country. They won’t want to take the chance of hitting something in the dark and breaking a wagon wheel. Not after killing so many people to get those guns.”

“So we won’t lose any time on them,” Teaspoon added.

Marcus just nodded, looking back to where his men were organizing the camp. After leaving four men behind to bury the dead, he still had six soldiers with him. Counting himself, Hunter, and Cross, they were a party of nine. “You still think there are about twelve men?”

“That’s how many horses rode in to ambush your men,” Buck answered. “We’re tracking more horses now, but they probably took some of the army horses after the attack.”

“They might have more men,” Teaspoon said. “So when we find them, we just gotta be smarter.”

Marcus studied the older man for a moment. At first, he hadn’t been very happy about the idea of having the civilian lawman along. But now he was glad to have the Marshal’s calm confidence with the group. Heaven only knew his own nerves were badly frayed with worry. “When we find them, yes,” he said softly.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Buck crept slowly forward, staying in the shadows of the trees, carefully placing each footstep so that he wouldn’t make any noise. He could smell a fire more clearly now, and the leftover smell of something cooking, but he couldn’t see anything yet, so these men knew how to hide a camp. That meant there were probably guards hidden nearby, even though most of the camp appeared to be sleeping.

He found the first guard just moments later. The man was standing under the cover of a large oak, a rifle cradled in one arm. But he made the mistake of looking toward his camp, instead of watching for danger from without. Buck crept to within a few feet of the man, then he stood still, watching, listening. When he was sure no one else was near he stepped forward.

A hand over the man’s mouth, a quick thrust of his knife, and one danger was eliminated.

He cleaned the blade of his knife on the grass and then he took the dead man’s pistol and rifle. If it came to a gunfight before he could get the hostages out, it wouldn’t hurt to be better prepared than just his own pistol.

He started forward again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Teaspoon leaned back against the tree, twisting a long blade of grass between his teeth. “Pacing ain’t gonna solve anything, Captain,” he pointed out.

Marcus paused, looking over at the lawman. “I suppose not,” he admitted. “But shouldn’t Cross have gotten there by now? It’s been a long time since he left.”

“Not more’n half an hour,” Teaspoon replied. Though truth be told, he was more than a little anxious himself. Still, there was no doubt that Buck had the best chance of getting into the enemy camp unseen and unheard. “We need to give Buck a chance to get the women out of there before we go in. Once the bullets start flyin’ that ain’t gonna be a safe place.” He looked in the direction of the other camp, where everything was still and quiet. “If’n anything had happened to Buck, we’d’ve heard about it by now.”

Marcus nodded, and then he started pacing again. Everything the Marshal said made perfect sense - but the waiting was so hard.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Buck slid slowly closer to the wagon. There was another guard there, and beside him two small blanket-covered figures with blond hair. About ten feet to one side a woman sat under a tree, her hands tied in front of her and the rope was secured to a branch high above. From the photograph, he was sure it was Elizabeth Marcus. He hadn’t located her sister, Elsa, yet. But, one step at a time. And the first step was to take care of the closest guard.

The man was sitting against one of the wagon wheels, which made things a little more difficult. But this gang apparently either figured they had enough of a head start, or were overly-confident in their numbers, and this man, too, was spending most of his time looking toward the camp. By moving very slowly, Buck was able to get under the back part of the wagon. When the guard’s attention was drawn by a rabbit scampering through the camp, he quickly reached around, covering the man’s mouth. Another thrust of his knife, and another danger was eliminated.

This guard was closer to the camp, so Buck took the time to prop the man up. In the darkness, someone would have to get very close to realize the guard wasn’t just asleep.

He eased his way past the girls. It would be better to get the mother first - she could help calm the children.

Buck worked his way into the trees behind Elizabeth Marcus. He got up behind her, then paused, listening for any sound of movement. Hearing and sensing nothing, he moved up the last few feet and slipped his hand over her mouth. Almost immediately he felt her jerk awake and he leaned in as close as he could get. “Mrs. Marcus, my name is Buck Cross. I’m here with your husband. Do you understand?”

Elizabeth could feel her heart pounding, and she seemed to be having trouble breathing. The words being whispered in her ear were jumbled - until she realized the man mentioned her husband. She’d known John would come looking for them! She nodded that she understood, and the hand disappeared from her mouth. “Where is John?” she whispered.

Buck worked to cut the ropes as he spoke in a barely-audible whisper. “Captain Marcus and his men are waiting nearby. I’m going to get you out of here before the army moves in.”

Elizabeth’s eyes darted toward the wagon. “There’s a guard by my daughters.”

“He’s dead.”

“The girls?”

“They’re fine, just sleeping.” Buck finished slicing the last rope and sheathed his knife. “I’m going to take you to the trail out of here, then I’ll bring the girls to you, one at a time.”

Elizabeth considered objecting, and insisting on getting the girls herself. But something about the stranger’s calm confidence changed her mind. She nodded in agreement.

Buck took the woman’s arm and helped her to her feet, then led her slowly away from the camp. “I haven’t seen your sister yet,” he whispered. “Do you know where they’re keeping her?”

Elizabeth stopped and pointed toward the western edge of the camp. “They didn’t want us talking, so they took Elsa over there.”

Looking that way, Buck could make out a figure tied to a tree, much as Elizabeth had been. Of course she’d be that far away - increasing the time he’d need, as well as the danger of discovery. “I’ll get her after the girls are safe,” he promised.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Buck inched his way toward the tree. A third guard lay dead a few feet away. So far, everything was quiet. But he’d been in the camp too long, and he couldn’t help but wonder if his luck was going to run out. Still, he couldn’t worry about that. A few minutes more and he’d have Elsa free.

Just as he was about to reach the tree, he saw the woman’s head jerk up, indicating she was awake. He didn’t think he’d made any noise to alert her, but he couldn’t afford to have her draw attention to their position. He made his decision quickly and stepped forward swiftly, taking the chance that he might make some sound. He slipped his hand over her mouth, feeling her tense under his touch. “Elsa, it’s all right. I’m here to get you out, not hurt you. Captain Marcus sent me.”

Elsa fought against the hand, unsure of whether to believe the voice. She wanted to believe, but so much had happened . . .

Keeping one hand firmly over her mouth, Buck put his other hand on her arm to try and stop her struggles. “Elsa!” He realized he didn’t know her last name, so the familiar first name would have to do. He moved just far enough so she could see him. “My name is Buck Cross. I am not here to hurt you. I need to get you out so that Captain Marcus can come in and take care of the men who kidnapped you.”

Now that she could see him, Elsa realized he wasn’t one of the men who’d been in the camp. So maybe he was telling the truth. She relaxed her shoulders and nodded. When the hand slid away from her mouth, she whispered, “What about Elizabeth and the girls?”

“They’re already out,” Buck answered. He turned his attention to the ropes. “I sent them up the trail to where I left the horses.” He looked around, hoping to find a way out of the camp closer to where they were. But the outlaws had chosen well, settling into a valley with steep hills on both sides. There was undoubtedly a way out at the other end - these men didn’t seem the kind to get trapped without an exit - but that was a good distance away. “We need to go out that way too.”

Elsa nodded again, rubbing her wrists to get some feeling back in her hands. She felt his hand on her arm and she started to get up to follow him.

That was when their luck ran out.

In the camp, one of the men was awakened by an urgent need to relieve himself. He got to his feet and headed for the trees. His path took him near the wagon - where he noticed the guard seemed to be sleeping.

Then he noticed the prisoners were missing . . .

The alarm sounded just as Buck was getting Elsa to her feet. He looked quickly into the camp and saw the man standing by the wagon. Cursing quietly under his breath, he pulled Elsa after him toward the heavier tree cover.

They’d been seen though, and bullets started to fly. Buck pushed Elsa in front of him to protect her as much as he could. He watched as she disappeared behind some large trees. Another couple of steps . . .

The bullet ripped into his side just then and he stumbled. He fell forward, stopping his plunge by reaching out for a tree, dropping the rifle in the process. He pushed himself up, hoping that Elsa had kept going - a hope that was short-lived when she suddenly appeared by his side. “Go on!” he said, trying to push her away.

Elsa ignored the command and ducked under his hand to pick up the rifle. Then she pulled his arm over her shoulder and pulled him forward. “We’re going together,” she said firmly - hoping he couldn’t feel how badly she was trembling with fear. Feelings of self-preservation said she should run. But this stranger had risked his life for her, and that thought overrode the desire to flee.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Marcus jerked to a stop at the sound of the first gunshot. He turned toward the Marshal - and found the lawman already on his feet. “What do you think happened?”

“Only one way to find out,” Teaspoon answered. “Let’s go.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They stumbled forward, deeper into the trees, as bullets flew around them. Buck finally pointed out a large tree that had been toppled, and they headed for shelter behind the trunk.

He dropped to the ground, gingerly pulling his hand away from the wound in his side. The good news was that the bullet had caught him just below the ribs, and it didn’t seem to have hit anything vital.

The bad news was that it was bleeding a lot, and it hurt like hell.

“How bad is it?” Elsa asked. She had no experience with gunshot wounds . . .

“I need to get the bleeding stopped,” Buck admitted. “But it’s not that bad.” He gritted his teeth against the pain as he finished speaking.

Elsa hesitated a moment, then reached under her skirt. She tore a wide strip from her petticoat and slid over next to Buck. “I read this in a book one time,” she said. The sight of the blood almost made her gag, but she managed to get the cloth tied around him, binding it tight.

“Thanks,” Buck said. “Now you should go. Head up onto the hill here and stay quiet until this is over.”

Just then, more bullets whistled by, kicking up dirt right on the other side of the tree that was sheltering them. Buck turned slowly, holding his breath against the pain, and drew his gun. He couldn’t see anyone yet, but he could hear them coming closer. He also thought he heard horses coming, and he hoped that would be Teaspoon, Marcus, and the soldiers. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elsa pick up the rifle. “Can you use that?” he asked.

“We grew up on a farm,” she answered. “Daddy made sure Elizabeth and I could shoot.”

“Well, just stay down for now,” Buck said. He saw movement now, but they were still too far away for a clean shot among the trees. “But if anything happens to me, you may have to use it.” He took a moment to look right at her. “If you do, just aim and shoot,” he warned. “Don’t think about it.”

Elsa just nodded, her fingers tightening on the gun. Practicing on the farm was a lot different than being shot at. “They tried to warn me,” she whispered.

Buck had turned his attention back to the approaching outlaws. He was sure now that Teaspoon and Marcus had reached the camp, judging by the amount of gunfire. He knew Elsa had said something, but he hadn’t really heard her. “What?”

“Elizabeth and I were staying with John’s parents in Chicago,” she replied. “This trip west was not something they approved of. They told me not to come.”

“I’m sure you wish you’d listened right about now,” Buck said. But then he saw someone coming toward them and he readied himself for the fight.

Conversation would have to wait.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He looked up at the sound of the knock on the door. Rising stiffly, still favoring his right side, he walked slowly to the door and opened it. Then he took a half step back in surprise when he saw who the visitor was. “Miss Carlisle.”

Elsa just smiled and shook her head. “When we met, you called me Elsa.”

“I didn’t know your last name then,” Buck admitted.

“We’ve been through a life and death situation together,” she said. “I think that qualifies to use first names - Mr. Cross.”

That made him smile. “Maybe you’re right - Elsa.”

“Of course I am - Buck,” she responded with a laugh. “Are you going to invite me in?”

He looked around the bunkhouse, not really knowing why. After all, he knew he was alone there. “Sure, come on in.” He stepped back and opened the door wider.

She walked in and stopped near the table. “It looks like you’re busy,” she said, noting the pile of papers strewn on the table.

“It’s the ledger of expenses for the station,” he explained. “Teaspoon asked me to take a look at it - and it’s a mess.”

“Well, sounds like you need a break then,” Elsa said. She held out the covered plate in her hands. “Ruthie sent you a piece of her birthday cake.”

Buck took the plate and lifted the cover, smiling at the contents. “Looks good.”

“It is good,” Elsa said. “I made it.”

Buck just laughed as he walked across the room. “I’m sure it’s excellent then,” he said. He opened the cabinet and pulled out two forks, then returned to the table. “Join me?” he asked, holding out one of the forks.

Elsa smiled and took the fork. She sat down at the table and waited for Buck to take a seat across from her. Then, forks ready, they dug into the cake.

It really was excellent, Buck decided. He wolfed down several bites before finally pausing. “Are the girls all right? And your sister?”

“They’re fine. A bit frightened, of course, but they’re with John now, and feeling safer.” She took another bite of cake and then asked, “How about you? Is the wound healing?”

“The doctor says it’ll heal just fine,” Buck answered. “I just have to take it easy for a few more days. And what about you?”

“Oh, I’ll admit I’ve never been so scared in my life! But I’m fine.” Elsa paused, considering how to go on. She didn’t want to appear too forward . . . “I’m looking forward to seeing more of the land around Rock Creek,” she said softly. “Do you think you’ll be feeling well enough to show me around soon?”

Buck hesitated, the fork halfway to his mouth. The request surprised him - but pleasantly so. “I should be able to ride in a day or two,” he said. “I’d be glad to show you around, if you want. There are a lot of good things around here.”

Elsa smiled in response. “Oh, I’ve already noticed that,” she said. In fact, one of them was sitting directly across the table.

Despite the warnings not to come, Rock Creek held a lot of possibilities.
Blinded
by: Raye

She must have opened the window while he was sleeping. That was the only explaination for it. The noise. But the noise didn't bother him as much as the dirt on his skin.

Absently, he swiped at it, dirtying his fingertips before rubbing them along the sheets that covered them both.

Jimmy shut his eyes against the bright sunlight streaming in the window. Hadn't he drawn the drapes the night before? Hadn't he told her how the sun bothered his eyes in the morning? He dropped an arm over his eyes, shielding them from the blinding light.

"James? 're you up?"

He could pretend he was asleep.

Her hand snaked across his chest, slipping beneath the edge of his unbuttoned shirt.  "James?"

"I'm up." Might as well meet the problem head on.

She snuggled up beside him, slipping her leg over his thighs, sliding her willing body along his.

Why did he want to leave... run... leave her behind?

Instead, he shifted his body, putting a few inches between them.

She sighed, perhaps disappointed, but left her hand where it lay, across his stomach.

They'd told him not to go, that he didn't have to leave.

But how could he stay?  How could he watch the pain in their eyes when they looked at her? Looked at the man he was when she was around.  How could he?

*******************

Louise had been the last one to say goodbye. 

"Jimmy?" 

He stopped in his tracks, fingers flexing around the handles of Rosemary's bag.

"Jimmy."

He was going to miss that voice.  The beauty of its simplicity. A poignant echo of his past. He set the bag down on the back of the wagon and sank down to the bed. He raised his eyes under the shadow of his hat, trying to hold onto this final memory.

She wore rose and it suited her; so did the soft curve of her hair about her shoulders.  He took a deep breath and felt the air heat in his lungs. "Lou."

Her feet stopped just a step away from his, the edge of her dress swished forward, covering the worn tips of her shoes. "I... I wanted to say-"

"Good-bye," he finished for her.

"No... I wanted to say how much I'll miss you... how much we all will."

Silence fell between them and the sounds of wagons and other folk passing by seemed to roar in his ears.

"Sure... sure," he offered. "I'll miss you all, too."

Lou nodded. Silence, again.

"You'll be needing more riders-"

"We'll be all right."

"Watch out for the young ones..."

She smiled, "You know I will."

"Good... good."  Jimmy swept his hat off and set it down beside him.

"But, who's going to watch out for you?"

He couldn't meet her eyes. "I don't need anyone lookin' out for me-"

It was the simple touch of her hand to his that stilled his words.  The tips of her fingers burned across his skin, making indelible memories in his mind. He fought back tears as he looked up into her face.

The early morning sun shone like a halo around her face as he tried to find the words he thought she needed to hear. "If you ever need anything, Lou, anything. Just let me know. I'll be there."

With her voice she touched him in places her hands could never reach. "Then stay."

*****************

Jimmy threw back the covers and rose to his feet as the floor shifted beneath him. He threw out a hand to stop the walls from crashing onto his throbbing head as the other hand wrapped around the long neck of a whiskey bottle.  Instead of opening his lips in a curse he wrapped them around the mouth of the bottle and downed more than he should.

"Stay."

"Damn!"

"James?"

He whirled on her, frustration fueling his anger more than anything else. "What?"

Her eyes shone with hurt, but somehow he couldn't seem to care.  "What's wrong?"

The back of his hand wiped away the remaining gloss of liquor.  He didn't even want to answer, so he looked for an excuse... any excuse to keep his mouth shut.

"James?"

"The name...." he ground out, "is Jimmy."

Tears bent her lashes as her fingers fumbled over the night-table. They found a smoky colored bottle and drew it up to her lips.

"Again?"

She glared at him over her clasped hands. "You're one to talk, Jimmy, at least I... drink in private. You... you-"

"What, Rosemary? What about me?" He couldn't seem to stop the words from spitting out between his lips.

She shrank back against the sheets, her skin rivaling the dingy cotton's pallor as she pressed the bottle of laudanum to her lips for another drink. "I'm s...s...sorry, James," her words slurred through the air, "It ... it...was a missstake."

Mistake.

Mistake.

Ah Hell.
She was right.

**********************

She watched him from the window, the drapes fluttering around her waist. Her robe gaped open, but she didn't seem to care, didn't try to cover her thin cotton shift. He gave her credit. Credit for not throwing something at him, credit for not arguing,... which they'd always done in the past.

He turned away, putting his back to her, the hotel, the town... and turned his face to the sun. The rays blinded him as they always did of late, but then again, he didn't need to see where he was going.

He was going home, to stay.
Three Steps
By Dede

A/N: My sincerest thanks (and apologies) to Lynyrd Skynyrd and any fans.

Cody rushed into the room and frantically grabbed his things to shove in his saddlebag.  Glancing towards his still sleeping roommate, he couldn’t believe Buck didn’t wake up.  Softly, he called out over his shoulder.

“Buck!”

Buck mumbled something, rolling toward the wall.  Groaning, Cody turned to face him.  What happened to the normally alert Kiowa?  He tried again.

“Buck!  You gotta’ get up now!” he urged as he walked toward the snoring form.  Still no response.

Wake up!”  He nudged the bed.

In one fluid motion the warrior instinct emerged and Buck sat up with his knife aimed and ready.

“WOAH!”  Cody put his hands out trying to get Buck’s attention and, remembering why he’d been quiet in the first place, lowered his voice. 

“It’s me…Cody!”  Though Buck had just woken up, Cody knew his aim would still be deadly accurate. 

I’m sure glad I ain’t here with Hickok.  I’d be dead now!’  Cody thought, wryly.

Buck squinted into the darkness at the shape in front of him.  Yawning, he leaned over the side of the bed to put his knife away.

“Why are you waking me up like this?”  Buck sat up, stretching.  “It’s the middle of the night!”  Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he focused on his friend nervously throwing things in their saddlebags.

“Why are you dressed?”  Suspicion colored each word. 

“Look, I ain’t got time to discuss this.  Just trust me.  We need to leave…NOW!”

Sighing, Buck fell back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.  He’d been so happy to be sleeping in a real bed after four nights on the prairie.  “What did you do?”

“Buuuuck!”  Cody whined.

“Cooody!”  Buck mimicked.  Sitting up with a pointed look, he asked again, stressing each word.  “What-did-you-do?”

Cody knew that Buck would sit there like a stone unless he told him what happened.  Heaving a dramatic sigh, he relented.

“Well, you were snoring and I couldn’t sleep so I went for a walk.”  Thinking this was an adequate explanation, Cody continued collecting their things.  He glanced over at Buck.  “So, let’s go.”  Buck didn’t budge.

“A walk?”

 “Yes a walk.  Around town.”  Cody nervously paced the room looking around like he was forgetting something.

“Around town?”

“Buuuck!”  Cody rounded on his friend.  “Are you gonna’ repeat everythin’ I say?” 

“For clarification.”  Buck stared at the pacing man, and almost found it amusing because they really didn’t have that much to pack. 

Cody hated that stare because he felt like Buck could read his mind and soul.  He heaved another exasperated sigh and stopped in front of the reserved Kiowa, deciding he’d better come clean or they’d never get out of here.  And that was one thing Cody knew they had to do and soon.

“Okay, it wasn’t my fault.” 

Not an auspicious beginning from Buck’s point of view.  He closed his eyes and began to chant in Kiowa.  It normally calmed him when dealing with the trouble-prone but likable blonde rider.  There was one thing he had learned since meeting Cody, when Cody said it wasn’t his fault it generally was, though most times indirectly.  And the situations were usually harmless.  Usually.

The chanting aggravated Cody because he didn’t understand what the Indian was saying.  Oddly enough, when he’d asked the others about Buck’s habit of chanting to himself, they said he didn’t do that around them.  In fact, they’d never heard Buck talk to himself in Kiowa or English, which was strange because he did so quite often around Cody. 

Buck opened his eyes and, taking a deep breath, looked at Cody.  “Continue.”

“Well, you were snoring and…”

“You’ve said that.  What happened when you were around town?

“I ended up in one of the saloons, I think it was called The Jug.”

“Cody!  A saloon?  Need I remind you what happened the last time you were here?  If not for Lou coming by to see if you wanted to ride home together, you’d probably still be in jail.”  Buck rubbed his hands across his face.  He couldn’t believe this was happening.  Again.  In the same town.  He thought back to when he was packing for this run.

“They told me not to go.  Lou even stressed the fact.  But did I listen?  Nooooo.”  Buck muttered.

Cody ignored Buck’s mumbling.  “Look was it my fault that I won all those hands.  That gambler was a sore loser.”

“No, that gambler said the saloon girl was giving you signals.”

Cody grinned.  “You better believe she was givin’ me signals.  Was it my fault that she found me more appealin’ than him, even if she was on his lap?”  Remembering Buck’s comment about Lou, his grin faded.  “And Lou didn’t get me outta’ anythin’!”

“Never mind about that.  What happened tonight?”  He felt the beginnings of a headache right behind his eyes.

“I swear I’ll tell ya’ everythin’ if you just get movin’!  Please!”

Buck looked at Cody again and, seeing he was indeed anxious, did as he asked.  ‘Guess this isn’t going be one of those usually harmless situations ,’ he inwardly sighed.  As he began to put on his boots he prompted Cody once more with a wave.

“Well, I got to talkin’ to a girl named Linda Lou and…nothing like our Lou.  This Lou can fill a dress and then some.”  Cody smirked.

“I’m sure Lou would appreciate that.  Go on please.”  Feeling very tired, Buck struggled with his right boot.

“Kinda’ like Rachel.”  Cody continued.

“I’m definitely sure Rachel would appreciate that!”  Why wouldn’t this boot go on?  He picked it up and, with a grunt, pulled out his money pouch and slipped his foot easily in.

“Oh Buck I’m in love.  She’s got this copper colored hair and these blue eyes that just twinkle when she laughs and her dimples…”

“CODY!”  Buck stood up, one boot on.  The headache was in full force.

“What?”  Cody looked miffed.

“Linda Lou….” Buck tried to keep Cody on the right track.

“Now that’s what I’m tryin’ to tell ya’.  She’s got these dimples that…”

“NO!”  Puzzled, Cody saw that Buck’s normally placid face was scrunched up.

“Buck, that ain’t a very attractive expression.”  To Cody, it looked like Buck was shaking and his mouth was moving like a fish but no sound came out. 

Once more rubbing his hands across his face, Buck finally gathered control.  Glaring at Cody, he decided a more direct approach was needed.  “Why are we making this midnight run?”

“Oh.  That.”  Chagrined, Cody looked down at his feet and mumbled.  “Well, I’m talking to her and all of a sudden this man walked in with a gun in his hand and, um, I guess he was lookin’ for you know who.”

“For just talking?”  Buck pulled his left boot on with such force he stumbled.  Righting himself, he eyed the storyteller dubiously.

“Um, well, maybe we were standing a bit close.”  Cody hemmed.  Then he got a faraway look and a smile formed.  “And I guess I had my arm around her.”  The smile got bigger.  “And I guess she was kissin’ on my neck.”

As he slipped on his shirt, Buck gaped at Cody.  “Kissing your neck?”  Shaking his head, he resumed dressing.  “You know…” A loud noise from downstairs quickly put an end to the conversation.

Walking over to the door, Buck opened it a crack letting in some very loud and very angry voices from the lobby.  Glancing over at Cody, he saw the blood drain from his face and truly realized this wasn’t a normal Cody blunder.  As the voices approached he looked out trying to judge how close they were.  Closing the door, he quickly turned in time to see the quarry disappear through the window.

Grabbing his things, Buck resignedly followed his friend out into the night.

~~~***~~~***~~~

The two quietly slipped through the side door of the livery.  Buck hunched over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath.  Normally an excellent runner, the long ride, the lack of sleep and, certainly not the least of which, the running for his life had winded him.

Cody hurried over to the stall and began saddling his horse.  The untimely intrusion brought an indignant snort from the occupant.  Walking over to the stalls, Buck smiled, completely agreeing with the animal. 

“Friend, settle down.  I ain’t got time for this.”  The horse sidestepped, causing Cody to almost drop the saddle.  “Friend, cut it out.”

Buck saddled Warrior, thinking about how Cody had always addressed the horse as Friend.  He did it so often that everyone else did too and soon it was the poor animal’s name.  Though an odd name for a horse, it was unique.  Just like the rider that gave it to him. 

Watching Cody, Buck knew there was more to the story so they might as well continue.

“What did he say?”

“Who?”

“What do you mean ‘who?’  The man with the gun.” 

“Oh him.  Well he comes in and says, ‘hey there fella’ with the hair colored yella’,” Cody mocked.  “Got a big chuckle outta’ everyone in the saloon with that rhyme.”

Buck almost choked trying not to laugh but when he saw Cody’s expression he couldn’t stop.  The sullen look Cody gave him was too much.

“Cody, it’s funny.”

“It’s stupid!  I mean, I don’t have yella’ hair!” 

Dumbfounded, Buck looked at the brash rider like he was simple.  “Um, yeah you do.”

“My hair’s gold.”  Cody sniffed, nose in the air. 

Buck rolled his eyes.  “Give me a…”

“Oh, and then he informs me that she’s his woman and that he’s a man who cares.”  Cody pulled the cinch tight.  Too tight according to Friend’s reaction.  Cody patted the animal apologetically, loosening the strap.  “I mean, a pretty thing like that shouldn’t be workin’ in a saloon in the first place, so if he was a man who cared…”

“Just give me a dollar for your horse and go open the back door.”  Buck held out his hand putting an end to Cody’s ranting.  Receiving a sheepish smile but no money, Buck groaned.  He rubbed his temples trying to ease the pounding.  ‘A good night’s sleep would help,’ he wearily thought.

“Where’s your money?”

“I tol’ you I was talkin’ to Linda Lou.”

Buck grumbled grabbing two dollars out of his saddlebag and placing it on Moss Grimmick’s makeshift desk.  He hoped it was enough but even if it wasn’t, Moss knew where to get the rest.

Cody was already out the door kicking Friend into a gallop when Buck started Warrior and hoisted himself up.

Hearing the shouts of the mob moving towards them, the two boys rode hard and fast putting as much distance between them and Landyville as quickly as possible.

~~~***~~~***~~~

A few miles later, they slowed to a trot and Buck turned to make sure they weren’t being followed.  His head was feeling much better.

“I tell ya’, I don’t mind sayin’ I was really scared and fearin’ for my life.  I mean I was shakin’ like a leaf on a tree.”  Cody waved away the comment he assumed Buck would make, even though Buck didn’t open his mouth.  “I know, I know, kinda’ surprisin’ for the likes of a brave soul like me.”

Amused, Buck glanced over at Cody.  He had to admit that of all the emotions he’d seen from Cody, fear really wasn’t one of them, considering all the confrontations the riders had been in.   

“Well, it does surprise me.  Especially you admitting it.”

“Hey, he was pointin’ a gun at me.”

At that, Buck had to laugh.  “Remember, I saw you stand alone against a gang when we were takin’ Ike to Blue Creek.” 

He also quietly remembered how Cody had saved his life later on.  Cody was truly a contradiction.  He was lazy and had a mischievous streak a mile wide, but if there was serious trouble Buck wouldn’t hesitate with Cody next to him.

“Yeah, but that was when I was behind ol’ Betsy here!”  Cody chuckled, patting his rifle.  It felt good to laugh, especially with the danger behind them.

”So what did you say to him?”

“Well, I tol’ him I didn’t even kiss her and I didn’t want no trouble with him.”  Cody fell silent. 

Buck looked over to make sure his friend was okay and, seeing he was deep in thought, kept quiet.  After a few minutes, he decided to say something but Cody continued. 

“And, I knew he didn’t owe me nothin’ but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask one favor.” 

“What was the favor?”

“I asked him to give me three steps toward the door and then he’d never see me again.”

Buck shook his head.  “Yeah, until you have another run to make here.”

“Well, he didn’t know that now did he?”  Cody grinned. 

Buck sighed, ‘He’ll never learn.’ 

“You know Teaspoon is going to hit the roof when he finds out that Landyville is another town to add to your growing list of towns you can’t make runs to.”

“Hey, there ain’t a town I can’t ride into…” Cody paused, feeling Buck’s eyes on him and finally added begrudgingly.  “As long as I’m with another rider.”

“And your list of other riders is growing short.”  Buck chuckled.

“Humph.” 

Riding in companionable silence, Cody thought about what had happened not just tonight but the last time he had visited Landyville.  He knew he couldn’t let the previous ‘situation’ make its way to Teaspoon’s ears, so, looking sideways at Buck, he decided to make sure. 

“Um, you ain’t gonna’ tell Teaspoon about the incident with the gambler are you?”

“Nope.  That’s between you and Lou.”  Cody let out the breath he was holding causing Buck to smile.  Arching his brow, he added.  “But, after hearing about this, that’s not to say Lou won’t tell.”

Cody heaved another one of his dramatic sighs.  “I’m doomed.”

Though Buck wanted to forget everything that had happened, curiosity got the better of him.

 “So, how did you get away?”

“Well, I’ll tell ya’,” Cody straightened in his saddle as the natural showman took over.  “I’m staring down the barrel and, like I said b’fore I was scared but then he turned and screamed at Linda Lou.”  Cody shrugged.  “That was the break I was lookin’ for and I took off for the door.”

Laughing, Buck glanced again behind them.  He figured that as long as Cody was out of Landyville, the man wouldn’t bother coming after them, considering that was all that happened.  A sudden feeling of dread washed over Buck.

“Uh, Cody, that is all that happened, right?”  Buck’s voice was hesitant.

Out of the corner of his eye, Cody looked at Buck.  Another sigh and, “Okay, Buck, it wasn’t my fault.  All I asked for was three steps and…”

Buck began to chant as the headache returned.  They told me not to go, they told me not to go.
Letters from Home
by: Raye

Cody,

I'm still waiting to hear from you, but I wanted to send this off in hopes that I will reach you soon. We're all fine, don't worry. Take care of yourself.

Teaspoon sends his love. He would write you himself, but we're still short handed and he works every waking hour for either the Express or as the Marshal. I doubt he has time to do much more than eat and sleep in the off times, but I know he thinks of you often.

Still, no word from Buck, but I think no news can only be good news as far as we're concerned.

I worry about you. I worry that you don't have enough to eat or that you're putting yourself in more danger when you're scouting. So, for my peace of mind, keep an eye on the world around you and come home, soon.

Rachel
*************

Cody,

I've been walking around the station grumping to everyone and snapping like a turtle with a bur under his shell. Rachel asked if I had anything to add to the letter she was writing, so I told her to tell you that you're a pig-headed son of a gun, but I don't think she took me seriously.  I hope she didn't.

I know I shouldn't have let  you run off without a proper farewell, but I am a stubborn old man. It's not much of an excuse, but it's the only one I can stomach.

I let anger run my mouth and I let you go thinking that I'm disappointed in you.

That couldn't be further from the truth. You are a strong willed young man and sometimes I had  hog tied you and staked you to the ground to keep you home, but you would have found a way to escape and done just what you did.

I was angry.  I called you all sorts of names, especially when you weren't around, but all that has changed.

I never meant them. I didn't.

It's just that I couldn't see beyond my worry.

So I hope this letter catches up to you and finds you well.  Know that when you want to come home, we're here. Waiting.

Miss you, Son.

Teaspoon

**:Letters from Home is a song that's climbing the country charts. Teaspoon's letter doesn't have the creative spelling that Teaspoon would have used, but I felt that it would have detracted from the message... so i hope it didn't bother anyone toooo much  ;)*

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