Topic #44: Phrase - "Assume the Position"
Taking the Horses by: Ty
Now You Know by: Nina
Double Trouble by: Jo
Fire and Water by: Amara
The Problem by: Dede
The Long Night by: Lori
Teaspoon's Box by: Cindy
Put My Back Where? by: Dede
Taking The Horses
by: Ty

The town was dark and deserted, that was to be expected, most people were asleep at three in the morning, but not Buck and Ike. They slide out of the dark livery, Ike was leading the two horses, while Buck closed the door. Silently walking the horses toward the edge of town, the boys watched for any movement that might indicate they were being observed.

"Gentlemen, the way you obtained those horses is a sin,...and a unless you receive forgiveness, you will receive a death sentence." A voice directly behind them spoke sternly.

Ike looked at Buck in annoyance and suppressed terror. Buck returned the look with an apologetic shrug and equal horror.

"Please assume the position!" the man demanded, more than requested.

*Please tell me I imagined that voice.* Ike pleaded.

"Wish I could, but I heard it too." Buck muttered, just loud enough for Ike to hear.

"Boys, don't make this any harder then it needs to be." the voice ordered.

Moving slowly both raised their hands, and gently dropped to their knees, as they surrendered.

"Now, you boys know what I want from you. Will this be voluntary or do I have to call in the higher power?" the man asked in a disappointed voice.

Two sets of eyes closed in dread. They knew what was expected and neither could believe that it had come to this, right in the middle of the street no less.

They hadn't cheated anyone or stolen the horses. They had won them fair and square in a poker game. However, the former owner hadn't wanted to admit that he had lost the two horses in the poker game held in the back of the mission.

Buck and Ike had agreed to leave town during the night so no explanations would be required. No explanations to the Sisters, as to why they wanted to leave the Mission. No descriptions of why they were tired of being targets for the rest of the children. No arguments to justify their objections to perform rituals they didn't believe in.

Their original plan had been to take the horses while everyone was asleep, leave the Mission, and strike out on their own. However their plans hadn't included being caught by the Father Brandon.

Buck sighed, knowing he would have to be the voice for both, he began; "Father forgive us our sins: We have violated the sanctity of the Lord's house, and have been unappreciative of the generosity of his humble servants..."

Now You Know
by: Nina

Even though April 1 was far away, all the express riders, except for one, went to bed filled with anticipation for the day to come. They had planned this for so long it was hard to grasp that tomorrow was the day that it would happen.

They got up an hour before they usually did, got themselves dressed and rubbed the yellow goo out of their eyes. Soon after Emma entered the bunkhouse carrying two trays with various breakfast items on them.

“Let me help you with that,” Jimmy offered in a low voice as he took one of the trays from Emma and placed it on the table.

“Thank you, Jimmy,” Emma said as she placed the other tray on the table.

They all sat down and passed out the plates.

As if they were all thinking the same thing, they looked at the still sleeping form in the bunk near the window, wide grins plastered on their faces.

Calmly they began to eat breakfast. Each taking time to chew the food and enjoy not having to grasp for anything eatable.

An hour later

In a slow and tired manner, Cody dragged himself out of bed, got dressed and sat himself down to enjoy breakfast. Problem was; there was no food left at the table. Everything had been eaten.

“Hey, who ate all the food?”

“We did,” Jimmy said, patting Cody on the shoulder.

“Why?” Cody looked at everyone in disbelief. “What’s so funny?”

“Now you know what it’s like to be our position at mealtimes,” Buck chuckled

Double Trouble
by: Jo

Inspired by Christopher and Leah

“Mr. McSwaine, Mr. Cross the Reverend Mother will see you now.” Sister Agnes stood over the two boys sitting in the outer office. Both had their heads bowed and their hands clasped in their laps they appeared sorry but the smirks on their faces spoke otherwise. The sister shook her head as she ushered the two youths into the inner office. Those smirks would be gone soon.

“Well, Gentlemen, what have you got to say for yourselves?” Two pairs of eyes slowly looked up at the stern looking nun. “This time you’ve gone too far. I gave you extra chores when you tried all the boy shoes laces together. I had you muck the stables for a month when you put crushed blueberries in the girls’ rain barrel; Susie Blackman’s hair is still a bit blue. I know the older boys have a tendency to pick on you but was it necessary to fill their shoes with water, I hope it was water, last month. I guess scrubbing all the floors on your hands and knees didn’t teach you anything. I’ve tried detention, extra chores, extra school work, and extra time in the confessional but nothing has helped. This last prank was the worst. I know it was you two who the frogs in Sister Martha’s desk. Thank goodness they were all alive…

Earlier that day:

“Come on Ike we’ve got six frogs she’s only got five draws in the desk.” Buck lurched after another frog and landed in the mud; without the frog.

*Buck, she’s made you write I will behave five hundred times more then anyone else and she never smiles or nothing. This should get a reaction out of her* Ike skillfully captured their seventh frog.

“Yeah, I guess so. I’m a mess how come you’re not covered in mud?” Buck looked down at his mud covered clothes and Ike’s clean ones.

*I know how to catch frogs, now come on we need to get these into her desk before school starts.* Ike led the way and he and Buck crept into the classroom.

They had worked together to get the frogs into the draws and then hurried back to the dorms to change for breakfast.

The students were all seated hands folded on top of their desks when Sister Martha entered the silent room. Then it happened. A soft croaking sound was heard and the giggles started. Sister Martha took her seat and shushed the students. She pulled open her top draw and out hopped a large bull frog; right into to her lap. She screamed and fell over backwards knocking the desk just enough to open another draw, out hopped two more frogs. The children were shrieking with laughter and soon had the other draws open and all the frogs hopping about with children chasing them. All the commotion had had attracted the attention of the other nuns who came running. Soon there were children everywhere the boys chasing the frogs and then chasing the girls. The nuns tried to quiet the children and finally were successful when all the frogs had been captured and returned to the pond behind the barn.

The Reverend Mother had been livid she knew without asking who was behind the uproar and sent Sister Agnes to bring the culprits to her. The Reverend Mother would never admit it but she had laughed behind closed doors at the sight of the usually dower faced Sister Martha spluttering on about the two monsters who she was burdened with in her class. Demon Seeds she’d called them. The Reverend Mother had another name Scalawags; they were boys and, well, boys will be boys.

The two boys looked at the Reverend Mother as she spoke. They’d really gone and done it this time. She was walking toward the back cabinet were everyone knew the switches were kept. Ike and Buck looked at each other they were about to have sore backsides. They didn’t mind chores, or mucking stalls or scrubbing floors but the switch was another story.

THWAP! The sound of the switch hitting the desk brought their attention back to the nun. “Gentlemen, assume the position”

They’d be standing for dinner.

Fire and Water
by: Amara

This is also an explanation of Drabble Number 8 That I did.

There was nothing natural about it. Jimmy had decided that five minutes after he had been goaded into joining Cody in helping out the brothers. Five minutes was the exact amount of time it took for Jimmy to go from curious to just plain out of his element. He stood behind the livery watching the man dance around with the stick. Cody was trying to follow along but Jimmy just stood there weighing the stick in his hand trying to get a good feel for the thing. It was weighted strange.

“Jimmy, if you’re going to do this you have to at least try,” Cody whispered when he noticed Jimmy wasn’t following along.

Jimmy just looked at him. He DIDN’T want to do this. He knew that Cody was going to keep at him relentlessly if he didn’t though. Jimmy sighed deeply as he turned his attention back to the dancing man. How did these things happen?

The man, Hanso and his brother Buru were traveling with the circus that would arrive in town the next night. They handled the opening ceremonies but Buru had broken his leg during the last show and now that they couldn’t perform. Hanso had come up with the grand idea that if the towns own people performed the ceremony then it would be a big hit. Cody had already seen the entire show in St. Joseph and had volunteered. Jimmy had then been suckered into it when Cody tried to get him to join in while Jimmy had been having a very nice conversation with Lillian Rutherford. She of course thought the idea of him being in a show was wonderful and promised to come and see him. Therefore, Cody had won by default, as Jimmy certainly couldn’t disappoint the lady he was looking to take to the upcoming dance. And so here he was watching the dancing man and Cody as he tried to follow along.

After twenty minutes, Jimmy was actually smiling. He thought he actually had it. He did the first turn without dropping the stick. He did the first toss and caught it flawlessly. Hanso even stopped, with a beaming smile on his face, and applauded.

“I think your ready for the next step,” he said with a thick accent.

Jimmy had never heard the accent before so he wasn’t sure where the man was from but he was starting to enjoy this. That was until Hanso lit both ends of the sticks on fire. Hanso started the dance again, as Jimmy looked down at the stick wondering if this was such a good idea. Was Lillian really worth this? He leveled a concerned glance at Cody and found the blonde smiling devilishly. Cody knew about the fire. Cody had seen the entire show before. Jimmy swore under his breath and started the dance again trying to make sure he didn’t set himself on fire in the process.

The next night Jimmy was sure that he could do it. He had been through the routine so many times that he was almost sure he could do it in his sleep. It was going out on the stage looking like this that he was having a problem with. He had on a grass skirt and no shirt and felt like he was practically standing around naked. Even the paint that Hanso and Buru had carefully put on their chests and faces did nothing to make him feel any less exposed. “You ready?” Cody asked twirling the stick between his fingers.

“Not really but I guess we don’t have much choice NOW do we?” Jimmy sighed looking down at his body one more time. “Do we really have to wear this?”

“It’s part of the act...something about the islands. Did I tell you Hanso showed me how to eat fire. I’m going to do it at the end of our act.”

“Eat fire?” Jimmy asked in confusion. “I don’t care. I just want to make it through this and hope that Lillian still wants to go to the dance after all of this.”

“Are you kiddin’? She would be crazy not to go to the dance with you once she sees a couple of stars in action.” Cody beamed as Hanso walked by readying to light the sticks.

“We ready?” Jimmy wasn’t so sure Cody had enough sense to be speculating on Lillian’s idea of what a star was made of. Hanso shook his head.

“We are waiting on the clowns. They have three more minutes. The clowns always go first,” Hanso replied quickly. “I will be right back.”

“Aren’t you nervous?” Jimmy knew that Cody loved to put on a good show but this was something altogether different. Eating fire? Dancing? Tossing flaming sticks? Catching flaming sticks? It all sounded otherworldly. Especially dressed in nothing more then a grass skirt and some little grassy things around their ankles.

“Not a bit.” Cody took a nip of something out of a small metal flask and Jimmy frowned.

“What’s that?” Jimmy asked pretty sure he could guess.

“Something Buru gave me when I told him I was nervous earlier. He said it would calm my nerves. It really works. Want some?”

“Let me see that.” Jimmy took the flask from his grasp and smelled of the liquid inside. It smelled like a fermented frog turd or what he imagined one would smell like. “Cody we aren’t supposed to be drinking. Teaspoon will have your head if he finds out.”

“Hey I didn’t know it was liquor...well, not at first. I plead ignorance. Let me have one more swig. Buru said not to drink any right before the act.”

“Cody, it is right before the act.” Jimmy looked at him in wonderment; Cody’s logic really dumbfounded him sometimes.

“Nah we still have two minutes...come on.”

Jimmy handed him the flask back and watched as he downed the rest of its contents.

“Okay the clowns are finished. Lets get ready.” Hanso returned a moment later and lit the sticks.

Jimmy took a deep breath as he and Cody took the stage and assumed their starting positions. Jimmy didn’t think he was going to live this down when he heard all the catcalls from the audience and the distinct sound of laughter. Then the music started. Jimmy spotted Lillian, her mouth hanging open in shock as he and Cody began to dance around the stage in unison.

They had good timing and the turns and tosses were all going off without a hitch. Jimmy finally got to enjoying himself when the audience began to ooo and ahh at the obviously dangerous catches they were making. They would turn and stomp and toss and had everyone nearly on there feet in awe until the music died out and Jimmy turned to toss his stick in the water barrel. Cody however had learned his knew trick.

Jimmy tossed his stick in the water catching Lillian’s eye as he moved to the center of the stage tossing a smile her way. She smiled back sort of lustily and he raised an eyebrow. Maybe this was a good idea. Cody was now attempting to eat the fire and many of the people in the audience were gasping as he leaned his head back and began to inch the flaming end of the stick towards his mouth. Jimmy looked away from Lillian to see. He heard the belch before he saw Cody jump in shock turning in his direction and then there was a billowing burst of flame engulfing Jimmy’s entire head. He screamed falling backwards and hit his head on the bottom of the stage. Everything went black.

Voices came and went. “It’s gone...There’s nothing we can do. I mean, if you leave it like it is it’s not going to look right. I suggest just taking the rest of it off.”

He didn’t know what they were saying as he seemed to be drifting from one voice to the next. There were voices of concern and voices of laughter. Soon all he heard though was some scraping sound. When that was gone only the sound of his heart and his own slow breathing greeted him. Finally, he awoke to the first light of day.

He rose to his feet and turned to the mirror. It was all Cody's fault. If Cody hadn't talked him into it, then none of this would have happened. He gasped at his reflection and swore under his breath. It was all gone. His head as bald as Ike's. He hadn't been able to get out of bed to see the extent of the damage until now. What wasn't burnt off had been shaved to even it out. Jimmy picked up his hat and placed it on his head vowing revenge. He stood there looking at his reflection with the hat on his head and hurriedly got into is clothes. He was in the spare bedroom of Emma’s house. He hurried out the door and nearly ran into Emma in the hallway.

“Glad to see you’re up. You feeling okay?” Emma asked with concern.

“Just fine...You seen Cody?” Jimmy asked unable to hide the anger in his eyes.

“Now Jimmy...” Emma started but he cut her off.

“Just want to talk to him,” Jimmy said evenly.

“As long as it’s just talking.” Emma sighed. “He’s out by the corral. They’re breaking in a new horse.”

“Thanks Emma.”

“Jimmy just talking, remember that,” Emma replied in a tone of warning.

“Don’t worry,” Jimmy said as he made his way out the door.

Cody was on the horse in question when he saw Jimmy walk out the door. He was so distracted at seeing the bald and angry gunfighter that he lost his hold on the horse and got thrown. Cody landed in a heap unconscious and Jimmy just stopped in shock as Kid and Ike scrambled to get him out of there. They had him pulled to the side and Emma came out to check on him finally pronouncing that he was fine and would be coming to any minute. That’s when Jimmy decided what he was going to do.

“Emma can I talk to you a minute.” Jimmy said softly

~*~*~*~*~

Cody came to with a start. He had been dreaming about being chased down by Jimmy and now that he blinked in the harsh sunlight and saw Jimmy’s face looming over his, he almost flinched.

“You okay?” Jimmy asked him with a smile.

Cody wondered if he was still dreaming.

“Fine, I think,” Cody said cautiously.

“Good.” Jimmy offered him a hand to help him to his feet. Cody accepted it hesitantly. He had to be dreaming. Jimmy was madder than hell when he had come out that door. Maybe Cody getting thrown had made him realize how much he cared for him though and he couldn’t bring himself to fight him. Cody didn’t know what to think.

“We got to go into town for some supplies. Didn’t you want to see Nancy today anyway?”

“Uh…yeah,” Cody replied still addled. He noticed that none of the other riders were anywhere to be seen and wondered how long he had been out. He saw that the wagon was all hitched up just waiting for the two of them.

“Well let’s get on with it,” Jimmy said and climbed up into the seat.

Cody followed and tried to put to rest his fears. Jimmy seemed genuinely in a good mood and they were going into town so he could see Nancy who he had been planning on asking to the dance today anyway. Things were looking up. Jimmy didn’t say much on the ride into town and Cody just assumed that he was still a little bit upset with him over that little altercation at the show.

“Lillian was really concerned and she said she was still going to the dance with you. You might want to go and talk to her,” Cody said as they pulled to a stop in front of the general store where Nancy had just started working for Tompkins. He noticed a few people laughing in their general direction and felt a pang of guilt for Jimmy. It had to be hard to have everyone seeing you without your hair like that for the first time. Jimmy seemed to be taking it well though.

“I’ll do that,” Jimmy said and handed Cody the piece of paper with the list of supplies on it. “See you in a little bit. You take your time in there with Nancy. I plan to with Lilly.”

“Alright.” Cody hopped down and started in to the store. “ Thanks Jimmy.”

“For what?” Jimmy asked in surprise.

“For not being so sore at me,” Cody replied.

“I wouldn’t thank me just yet.” Jimmy walked away from him towards the bank to see Lillian.

Cody shook his head wondering what that was all about as he walked into the store and saw Nancy turned away from the counter working on the shelves at the back. “Well, well. If it isn’t the prettiest lady in all of Sweetwater. Nancy I was wondering if you would go to the dance with me?”

“Cody,” she smiled her back still turned to him. She quickly got to her feet and dusted herself off. “I would love...” She turned around and gasped then almost pitched forward and fell over in laughter. “Oh my gosh.”

Cody moved around her to see the mirror to her left and almost fell over himself. He looked down at the folded paper in his hand and quickly opened it. He gritted his teeth together looking from the note to the mirror and cursed. Scrawled on the paper in big bold letters was one statement.

‘The Clowns Always go first.’

Cody’s face was painted up like a clown and his eyebrows were missing. He balled the note up and threw it across the room making his way out the door. “Hickok!” he yelled going towards the bank.

The Problem
by: Dede

A/N: This is dedicated to the wonderful ladies at Reunion05. Thanks Lori for sharing the letter you read in the Motherhood magazine that sparked this and thanks Lori, Cindy, Tracy and Debbie for this bunny we created! d;-)

Kid glanced at the sleeping form beside him. He eased out of the bed, careful not to wake her. It wasn't out of consideration exactly; it was more out of self-preservation.

Lou had been miserable during the past month, her sixth month of pregnancy, and, thus, had made everyone around her just as miserable. Kid knew she didn't mean to, but, when Lou was agitated, well, it wasn't much of a secret.

"Kid?" A sleepy mumble came from under the quilt.

Kid froze, pants halfway up. He kept quiet, hoping she'd just fall back asleep. A moment later, he knew his wish was granted when he heard her soft, steady breathing. Quickly, but quietly, Kid finished dressing and rushed out to get the chores started on the ranch.

*~*~*~*~*

"Oh," Lou gasped, doubling over as she tried to get dressed.

Sitting on the bed, she breathed deep and rubbed her stomach, trying to calm the cramping. It was as if someone was taking a bellows and blowing her up with air. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no release.

She was so uncomfortable but she didn't know what to do about it. She was too embarrassed to talk to anyone, even with her doctor, especially since it wasn't something he'd mentioned when he discussed all the possible "problems" she might have.

And it certainly wasn't something she wanted Kid to know about. So, she kept her mouth shut and her distress to herself. Well, mostly.

Recently, it seemed that Kid had started his days much earlier than he had before. More like dawn now. But Lou didn't blame him. She knew she kept him awake, since she couldn't get comfortable. And, she wasn't really a very cheerful mother-to-be.

Lou sighed. She had more important things to worry about right now than her comfort. She needed to make sure the house was clean. She was having company.

She smiled. The first real smile in the last few weeks. Both Emma and Rachel were coming for a short visit.

Sam needed to meet with Teaspoon about some important matter and Emma, missing her older children, decided to come with him. She was excited about seeing what Lou, Kid and Buck had done with the old homestead, turning it into a working ranch.

As for Rachel, she had been convinced to take the teaching job here in Sweetwater when the post came available. Teaspoon had been very persuasive. She'd been in town for just over a week, but had been busy getting everything ready for the school term. So Rachel was just thrilled to have an afternoon to sit and catch up with Lou and Emma.

Lou couldn't wait. Emma and Rachel would come over for tea and everything would be wonderful. Lou wouldn't allow anything less.

*~*~*~*~*

"She's still, um, irritable?" Buck asked Kid as they rode into town. He'd spent the last thirty minutes watching his friend try desperately to stay awake and not fall off his horse.

"Yeah," Kid said, yawning. His early mornings had taken their toll. "I just don't know what to do for her. She won't tell me what's wrong."

"You don't think it's..." Buck really didn't want to finish the thought. He didn't think the baby was in any danger but he didn't know.

"Wha...oh, no the baby's fine," Kid said, realizing what Buck was worried about. "Naw, Doc said it was sitting right and Lou was doing great. So, I don't know what it is."

Teaspoon had asked them to join him and Jimmy in the meeting with the territorial marshal. Sam had some information about a conman who might make an appearance in Sweetwater.

They arrived just as Emma and Rachel were about to leave for the ranch.

"Boys!" Emma said, climbing down from the buckboard. "It sure is good to see you two."

"Emma!" Buck jumped down from his horse and drew Emma into a big hug.

Lacking sufficient sleep, Kid wasn't as quick as Buck in climbing off his horse. He nudged Buck.

"It's my turn now, move."

Emma laughed as she turned to hug Kid.

"How's Louise?" Emma asked, as she pulled back looking at the two boys. 'I called 'em boys but they sure look like men,' she thought.

When she saw the look that passed between Kid and Buck, and then the expressions on both Teaspoon's and Jimmy's faces, she grew concerned.

"Nothin's wrong, is it?"

"Um, no, Emma," Kid hemmed, "Lou's just..."

"She's not too happy," Jimmy offered, shrugging his shoulders.

"She's not?" This was the first Rachel had heard of any problem and so she was a bit miffed that no one had told her. She concentrated that feeling in her look directed at Teaspoon.

"Now Rachel," Teaspoon said, holding his hands up, "that ain't exactly right." Aggravated, Teaspoon glanced at Jimmy. "Happy ain't exactly the right word. She's...well, she's..." He looked around for help.

"Don't look at me," Sam chuckled, "I ain't been here. And I'm still tryin' to get used to Lou bein' Louise."

"Really, Kid," Emma said seriously, giving Sam a pointed look, "what is it?"

Kid shrugged. "I really don't know." He looked at Buck, the only other person that might know, being almost as close to Lou as Kid was himself.

Since the Kiowa had formed the partnership with Kid and Lou, Lou had become even closer to Buck than when they were Express riders.

"Well," Buck started, not knowing how to put it, "it's really like she's...she's...uncomfortable." He didn't know how else to say it.

"Uncomfortable?" Sam said, incredulously, forgetting Emma's look of warning. "Of course she's uncomfortable! She's pregnant!"

Teaspoon and Jimmy laughed. But Kid remained quiet, knowing Buck had sensed something.

"Hush, Sam," Emma chided, then looking at Buck, continued, "what exactly do you mean?"

Embarrassed, Buck wasn't sure whether to finish but the expression on Emma's face, as well as Rachel's, told him he'd better.

"She walks hunched over and she's always rubbing her stomach," Buck stated, raising his hand before someone made another comment, "but it's not like you normally see." Buck sighed shaking his head. "I guess it doesn't make sense, does it?"

"Oh, it makes more sense than you think," Emma said, smiling, as Rachel nodded. Emma climbed up on the seat by Rachel.

The men exchanged confused looks but knew better than to question either woman.

"Well, we'd best be goin'," Rachel announced.

Emma snapped the reins and both women waved good-bye. As the men turned for the marshal's office, they missed the knowing look exchanged by Emma and Rachel.

*~*~*~*~*

Everything was going smoothly; Lou had actually been feeling good. She could walk upright, as much as her stomach let her, and she hadn't had a pain since early that morning.

She was enjoying the afternoon with her friends and thought she'd be okay. That was until she tried to get more tea. As she turned from the stove, she felt the expanding begin.

'Oh please, not now!'

Lou grabbed her stomach and double over.

"Alright Louise," Emma said, standing by Lou's side. "What's wrong?"

Lou had no idea how Emma got to her that quickly and then she saw Rachel by her other side. Each woman had a hold of an arm and was guiding her to the sofa.

"Noth...nothin's wrong," Lou stuttered, as she lowered her body to the soft cushions.

"Well, that's not what it looks like to us, now spill it," Emma demanded, standing by Rachel in front of Lou.

Lou knew by the look on both women's faces and their stance, hands firmly on hips, they would wait until the baby was born for her to tell them what was wrong.

"Really it's nothin'," Lou said, waving her hand as if swatting a fly. She laughed, but it just sounded nervous. "It's just, well, I'm a bit uncomfortable, that's all."

"Uncomfortable, how?" Emma said, sitting by Lou, intently studying the young woman's face.

Lou couldn't take it. She looked at Emma then up at Rachel and the concerned looks did her in. Her tears flowed.

"Oh Emma!" Lou cried. "It's like there's a gang and there blowin' bubbles in my stomach!" Lou tried to wipe her eyes but the tears were coming so fast, it was useless. "But the worse thing is..." Should she say it? Especially in front of these women, whom she cared greatly what they thought of her? Yes, she should, she trusted them.

"I can't release it. I can't pass gas." There. It was said.

"Now Lou," Emma said, trying very hard to stifle the giggle that she felt bubbling up. She was doing a good job until she glanced at Rachel, who was now sitting in the chair across from the sofa. When she saw that Rachel was covering her mouth with a napkin, Emma lost control. And once Emma started, Rachel joined in.

Lou couldn't believe these women, that she felt so close to, that she felt kin to, were laughing at her. She stood up, face red, tears falling.

"I can't believe this!" Lou ran, as best as a six-months pregnant woman can, into the kitchen.

"Lulabelle honey," Emma cooed, arms out, coming toward Lou.

Lou tried to push the woman away but Emma was too insistent and Lou didn't have the strength. She fell into Emma's open arms. Rachel joined them.

"Come over here and sit." Emma guided Lou back to the sofa.

"Darlin', you don't think you're the only woman to ever have this," Rachel coughed, covering her laugh, before continuing, "problem."

"But Doc didn't say nothin' 'bout this in his list of things to look out for."

"Well, Doc's a man," Emma sniffed, smoothing Lou's hair as she rocked the girl. "And most women are like you, not inclined to share problems such as this with a man. See, I know exactly what you're goin' through."

Lou pulled away quickly. She stared at Emma, looking for any signs of deception but all she saw was sympathy and compassion. And maybe a little bit of amusement. She looked at Rachel as well and saw the exact same emotions.

"You really had this, um," Lou squirmed, "problem?"

"I did too." Rachel sat on the other side of Lou, taking the girl's hand in hers.

"Really?" Lou looked from Rachel to Emma and back again. She couldn't believe she was hearing this. "How'd..." Lou stopped, looking down at the ground.

"How'd we handle it?" Emma finished Lou's sentence.

Lou just nodded as she continued to stare at the floor.

"Well, it's a certain position you get in that helps," Emma tried to explain.

"A what?" Lou looked up, confused.

"See," Rachel began, looking at Emma for approval to continue.

"Be my guest, I'm not sure I'd be able to get up," Emma said, laughing.

"Let me just show you, Lou." Rachel walked over to the window, glanced out making sure no one was around and then drew the curtains.

Curious, but slightly alarmed, Lou watched the blonde woman intently. Rachel walked to the center of the room, got down on her knees, and, bending forward, she rested on her elbows.

Lou tried to jump up but only got inches off the sofa before falling back. She tried again, this time bracing herself with her hand on the sofa back. She was successful, with the help of Emma.

"You are jokin'," Lou said, staring at Rachel still on the floor. "You cannot be serious! I ain't gonna' have my, my, my," Lou stammered, pointing at Rachel's rear sticking up in the air.

Rachel sat back on her heels and nodded, brushing the wisps of hair back into her bun.

"Yes we are," Emma confirmed. "Go on upstairs to your room so you have privacy and try it."

Lou looked doubtfully at both women. How in the world could something like that work? She couldn't do that, could she? Her stomach took that moment to answer for her. A bubble unlike any she had had caused her to double over, almost falling to the floor.

Emma caught her in time as Rachel jumped up to help. Once Lou was sitting down, Emma squatted in front of her, speaking softy, "Just try it. I promise it will work."

Lou's eyes were squeezed shut against the cramping. She was in agony now and would try anything. "Fine. Help. Me. Up. Please," she grunted out.

Emma and Rachel pulled Lou from the sofa and walked her to the stairs. They would have helped her the entire way to her room but Lou held up her hand. She wanted to be alone. If it didn't work, she really didn't want anyone to see her in that position. And if it did work, well, it would just be better if she were alone.

Emma and Rachel watched Lou head upstairs. They shared a triumphant smile as they took their posts on the chair and on the sofa.

*~*~*~*~*

"Well, Emma," Lou said, smiling a knowing smile as she hugged her friend. "It was so good to see you."

"And you too, Lulabelle," Emma said, returning the same smile. "Kid, you take care of her, you hear?" Emma hugged Kid.

"Yes ma'am," Kid answered, glancing at Lou. He was amazed at how much happier she looked in just one short day. He looked at Buck getting a shrug from his friend.

"Alright, we need to get goin'," Sam said, for what seemed like the hundredth time. It never ceased to amaze him how long it took to make their goodbyes.

"Just wait a minute Sam," Teaspoon hollered from the marshal's office, "don't you dare leave without me gettin' my hug." Teaspoon hurried down to the stage, enveloping Emma in a big hug. "Now, you two have a safe trip."

"What?" Sam said, holding his arms open. "No hug for me?"

Everyone laughed as Teaspoon politely declined and Emma swatted Sam as she climbed in the stage.

"Finally," Sam said, with mock exasperation, climbing in behind her.

With the last goodbyes, the stage was off.

"You doin' okay?" Kid asked Lou. He still couldn't believe the change.

"I'm fine, but we best get back," Lou answered, kissing Kid quickly on the cheek. "You and Buck have some hammerin' to do and I've got some cookin' to do." With that she waddled happily to the buckboard.

Kid watched as Jimmy, Buck and Teaspoon gathered around him.

"What do you suppose..." Kid began.

"I wouldn't ask any questions if I was you," Teaspoon warned, silencing the boy.

"I agree," Jimmy said, "Just be happy she's happy." He grinned, slapping Kid on the back.

"Yeah," Kid sighed, absentmindedly nodding. He still couldn't stop his curiosity.

*~*~*~*~*

"Hey Buck," Kid said, wiping his brow. "Why don't we wait 'til tomorrow to finish this?" He'd noticed how tired his friend was.

Since Kid had gotten a very good night's sleep the previous night, he hadn't been up as early. In fact he'd slept in, unlike Buck, who'd been up since dawn as they had been doing for the last month.

Even though Kid had really wanted to finish the stalls in the new foaling barn and had told Lou to hold dinner, he knew Buck was exhausted and so figured they'd done enough for one day.

"Fine by me," Buck answered, "but I think we can finish this one." Buck indicated the partially complete stall Kid was standing in.

"Yeah, okay," Kid agreed, "but why don't you go let Lou know so she can get the food ready. I'm starvin'!" Kid laughed, waving Buck away.

Buck laughed and headed toward the house.

*~*~*~*~*

"Oh no," Lou grabbed her stomach.

She'd been concentrating on getting the dinner perfect that she'd ignored her stomach's warning signs. She'd really wanted to make a special meal for Kid and Buck since she'd been such a bear to deal with the last month. Both men had been very kind and understanding even though they really didn't know what was wrong.

"Ah!"

That latest cramp brought her to her knees. She wasn't going to make it upstairs and she knew it. She was going to have to perform the odd remedy downstairs but she wouldn't do so in the kitchen. She made every effort to crawl into the sitting room.

She pulled herself up with the help of the chair that Rachel had sat in just yesterday. Lou looked out the window making sure that Kid and Buck were still working on the new barn. She didn't see them but that didn't worry her since she knew they were inside the building finishing up the birthing stalls. Thank God. She drew the curtains the best she could, crawled over to the middle of the floor and assumed the position.

*~*~*~*~*

As Buck walked through the gate, he noticed that the curtains were drawn. Concerned, he picked up his pace and hurried up the steps. After he opened the door and walked two steps into the house, he was greeted by a sight that he would never, ever forget.

Lou was crouched on the floor with her rear raised into the air.

Buck stood there, not knowing what to do. Thinking that the best thing would be for him to quietly leave, he turned but was stopped by a gasp.

"Oh my God, Buck!" Lou blurted out.

She couldn't believe he'd seen her. She pushed herself up but in her haste to get her foot under her she caught it on the hem of her dress, bringing her back down on the floor. Trying again, her hand got wrapped in her skirt and she plopped down once more. By this time, she was giggling so hard she didn't have the strength to move.

Buck just stood there, hand on the doorknob, shifting from one foot to the other, wanting desperately just to leave.

"Buck would you just help me, please," Lou got out, through her hysterics. She reached her hand out to him.

Buck couldn't say no to Lou, and not just because she was pregnant. So, he took a deep breath, regretting it after he had. He scrunched up his face and looked toward the kitchen.

"What are you cookin'? Cabbage?"

That was all Lou needed. She collapsed into fits of laughter, which, when she looked up at Buck and saw his face, grew increasingly loud. All she could do was shake her head.

"Um, Lou," Buck said, backing up toward the door. "Kid wanted me to let you know that we were gonna' stop soon, but I'm thinkin' we might work some more. So take your time." Buck was out the door in a flash.

Lou sat on the floor until her laughter died down and she was able to pull herself up with the chair.

*~*~*~*~*

"So did you tell her?"

"I think she needs more time, and I'm suddenly not as tired as I was, so let's just finish the rest of the stalls." Buck walked over, picked up the hammer and handed it to Kid, and picked up the wood so Kid could hammer in the last rail.

"You okay?" Kid asked, noticing the peculiar look on his friend's face. Suddenly he was uneasy. "Is somethin' wrong with Lou?" Kid started toward the door, hammer still in hand.

"She's fine. I'm fine. Everyone is fine. Hammer."

"Okay," Kid said, shaking his head as he picked up where they left off. "Ya' know, what do you suppose..."

"Teaspoon's right, Kid. Don't ask questions."

The Long Night
by: Lori

A/N: A continuation of QF#43: 'Tis the Season

“Hold it right there, Son.”

Jimmy paused, unable to ignore the imperious tone in the man’s voice coming from behind him. He knew that voice, he knew that tone, and he wasn’t able to simply pretend he hadn’t heard it. And once he’d paused, he had to turn around and face the man leaning back in a chair on the porch, his arms crossed over his chest.

“And where do you think you’re going?”

“Inside,” he answered.

“Uh-uh,” Teaspoon shook his head. “I don’t think so. Grab some wood and have a seat.”

Jimmy tried to stand his ground, adopt a posture and attitude that wouldn’t go unchallenged. He had a right to go inside. He hadn’t done anything wrong. No matter what everyone else said, he was going to go inside and check things out. Make sure everything was alright. “I’m goin’ in,” he said.

The other man didn’t even rise from his seat, didn’t allow anger – or really any other emotion – to cross his face and Jimmy felt that he’d won. Nodding once, he turned on his heel and reached for the door.

“Jimmy, if you open that door, I’ll have to hurt you, Son.”

He turned to laugh at Teaspoon’s empty words, and instead found the man no longer sitting, but standing. And looking decidedly firm in his statement. Jimmy couldn’t believe he was actually going to be kept outside.

“Teaspoon.”

“Son, there’s no need for you to go inside,” the old man said softly.

“No need?” he demanded. “No need?! I’ve got every need, every right to go inside. My wife is in there. Havin’ a baby!”

“And that’s exactly why you’re going to stay out here,” Teaspoon said, coming forward and taking Jimmy’s arm. “You’ll just be in the way. You heard the doc and Polly. No, the place for us men is out here, waitin’ ‘til the doctor comes out to tell you if you have another son or another daughter.”

Shaking off his boss and friend’s hand, Jimmy stalked away, running his hands through his hair. His hat was long ago discarded on one of the porch chairs. He hated waiting. For anything. But he especially hated waiting outside his house while his wife was inside having one of their children. Just because he was outside didn’t mean he couldn’t still hear her cries, and he hated having his wife in pain. It was enough to make him declare they weren’t ever doing this again.

“Maybe I should go visit the kids,” he said, “since no one will let me inside my own house.”

“The kids are asleep,” Teaspoon shook his head. “You don’t want to wake them up until we know if they’ve got a brother or a sister. Besides, Rachel will tan your hide if you go in all worked up like you are now. Your children are fine, they’re asleep at Rachel’s, let ‘em be until we have word on Karen.”

Oh sure, it was easy for Teaspoon to be calm about this whole thing. It wasn’t his wife in there having a child. The one child that Teaspoon knew about had shown up in his life long after she’d been born and raised. What would the marshal know about the anxiety and fear that went through a man when the woman he loved was lying in a bed having a child?

“Son, why don’t you come sit down?” his friend suggested, with just a hint of command in his voice. “It could still be a while yet. No sense wearing a hole in your porch while you wait.”

Jimmy glared at Teaspoon and defiantly shook his head.

“Son, you’ve been through this three times already. Surely you know that it could be a while.”

It didn’t matter that he’d been through this three times before; all Jimmy could remember was the last time the doctor had been to his house. When Karen had lost the baby. Even though this pregnancy had gone just fine and the doctor wasn’t worried at all, didn’t mean Jimmy wasn’t. He wouldn’t be able to stand it if something happened to the baby, or to Karen.

A sharp cry was heard drifting from the house and Jimmy froze, and turned his head. Their bedroom was at the back of the house. That was a loud cry. What if something had gone wrong? What if something was happening to the baby? Or to Karen? What if she needed him?

He wasn’t going to stand around outside like some useless fool, he was going in. Except that his hands felt funny and his feet didn’t want to seem to work. Turning he looked at Teaspoon who was now regarding him with a bit of concern on his face. Just as the marshal took a step towards him, things went black around Jimmy and the world faded away.

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

“How are you feeling?”

“I think that should be my question,” Jimmy asked as he sat in the chair beside the bed. Karen was lying down, cleaned up by Polly, resting against the pillows.

“I’m tired,” she said honestly. “Your daughter is already taking after you, stubborn and refusing to do what she should.”

He smiled at the description and reached out to take his wife’s hand. “I don’t think she gets it all from me.”

“Jimmy.”

“Alright, I was teasing.”

“No,” she shook her head, even as she was fighting against the exhaustion threatening to overtake her body. “Are you sure you’re fine? I couldn’t believe it when Teaspoon said you’d fainted.”

“I did not faint,” he corrected her mildly. “I just couldn’t stand it any longer and had to lie down.”

“In the middle of the porch?” she asked with raised brow. “Honey, we call that fainting around these parts.”

“I was worried about you,” he admitted. “And the baby. It didn’t matter that you’d done this before…I worry about you every time it happens. I guess it was just a bit more this time.”

“That’s why I love you, Jimmy,” Karen smiled fondly at him. “You take such good care of your family. But I had the doc and Polly here; they wouldn’t let anything happen to me.”

“Doesn’t make me worry less.”

“No, I suppose it doesn’t. Have you seen her?”

Her. The little girl who Teaspoon was proudly holding in the front room, preening like an overgrown peacock, and already making plans with Polly to spoil their newest grandchild. She was beautiful, as Jimmy thought all their children were. Only a couple of hours old, and already he knew that she would have him wrapped around her little finger like her older sister did. He always told his children he loved each of them equally, that he didn’t favor one over the other, but this time he wasn’t sure that would remain true. This little one was a little different, a little more special. She already had Karen’s curls.

Their youngest son, Jordan, had his wife’s curls, and it had been a source of contention for them several months ago. He didn’t want his son to look like a girl, and Karen was sad that the baby that finally had the curls she always dreamed of dressing up in ribbons was a boy. Now, they had those curls on a girl. Jimmy had a feeling she was going to end up with a collection of ribbons that was unmatchable anywhere in town. And he knew he’d do his fair share of contributing to the bounty. He was a father who loved to lightly spoil his children.

“I have,” he told his wife in a soft voice. “Teaspoon has her at the moment; you know how Grandpa gets.”

“Not really different from Dad,” she smiled, her eyes half-lidded. “You spoil them rotten and you know it. She’s going to be no different.”

“No,” he chuckled as he watched his wife drift off to sleep. “I s’pose she won’t.”

Teaspoon's Box
by: Cindy

Buck finished loading the bags of feed into the back of the wagon just as the door to the general store opened and Jimmy came out, carrying a box.

“That’s everything from Emma’s list?” Buck asked.

Jimmy nodded as he added the box to the wagon’s contents. “Tompkins is out of cinnamon, but this is everything else.”

“Next time one of us heads toward Blue Creek, we can check there.” Buck pointed over toward the livery stable. “I guess we can stop in while we’re here and see if Higgins has those harnesses ready.”

“Good idea,” Jimmy agreed. “We spend enough time in town, Cody and Ike should have that fence fixed.”

Buck just grinned and raised an eyebrow. If he had to guess, he figured Ike, at least, was working hard on the fence. “We are talking about Cody,” he pointed out.

Jimmy grinned in return. “Might take us a while to talk to Higgins.” And then maybe they’d need to stop for something to drink. He was not going to do Cody’s work today.

They crossed the street and headed for the livery. There was a blacksmith shop to one side of the stable, and an open dock to the other side. Freight shipments for the town and surrounding areas were delivered to the livery as one of many enterprises run by Tom Higgins.

As Buck and Jimmy approached, they could see Higgins standing out by the dock supervising the movement of a number of large crates. He was a small man, balding with spectacles perched low on his nose. Even in the warm spring weather, he was bundled up in a heavy jacket, with the collar pulled up to his nose. But there was no mistaking the small man’s authority as he directed the movement of the cargo.

“Mornin’, Tom,” Jimmy called as they walked up.

Higgins turned around and smiled as he saw his visitors. “Jimmy, Buck. How you boys been?”

“Well, you know Teaspoon,” Jimmy said.

“He keeps us busy,” Buck finished.

Higgins laughed. “I’ll bet,” he agreed. He pointed over behind the two riders. “George finished up those harnesses for Teaspoon, if you wanna take ‘em,” he said, indicating a box sitting in front of the livery. “Say, I ain’t seen Teaspoon around for a few days.”

“He’s helping the army with something over by Devil’s Gate,” Buck explained.

“Should be back tomorrow, he figured,” Jimmy added.

“Well, I got a special delivery here for him,” Higgins said. “You boys wanna take care of it for him?”

“Uh, any idea what it is?” Jimmy asked.

Higgins consulted his ever-present clipboard, then shook his head. “Nope, the shipping list didn’t say. I just know it came in with the freight shipment yesterday, all the way from Philadelphia.”

Jimmy and Buck exchanged glances, and each could well imagine what the other man was thinking. Visions of velocipedes, baseball, and lawn tennis came quickly to mind.

Higgins noticed the hesitation and was puzzled. “It would really help me out if you’d take it,” he said. “I like to keep my dock cleared and orderly.”

Buck just shrugged his shoulders at Jimmy and then turned to Higgins. “Sure, we’ll take the box,” he said.

“Oh, excellent,” Higgins said. He clapped his hands and one of the men working with the freight came running over. Higgins pointed to a line on the sheet attached to the clipboard. “Bring this crate up front.”

As the man hurried off to comply, Jimmy leaned in close to Buck. “You sure we should pick this up?” he whispered. “You know what Teaspoon’s deliveries have gotten us into before.”

“I know,” Buck agreed softly. “But he’s gonna get the box anyway.”

“Well, maybe it’ll get . . . lost,” Jimmy suggested.

Buck shook his head. “Teaspoon would find out. And whatever he’d do to us then, mucking stalls would seem like pleasure.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Jimmy paused as the worker came back carrying a crate. “Well, it ain’t that big,” he said.

“Big enough,” Buck replied. He figured the box was about four feet square, and the man was struggling to carry it alone.

“Well, here it is,” Higgins said as the worker put the wooden crate down. He checked the numbers on the box against his list and then held out the clipboard. “If one of you could just sign the receipt.”

Buck took the clipboard and signed his name where Higgins indicated. “Thanks, Tom.”

“You boys have a good day now!” Higgins waved and turned his attention back to his freight.

“Yeah, thanks,” Jimmy said. He picked up the box of harnesses and set it on top of the mystery box. Then he grabbed the rope handle on one end of the crate and waited for Buck to take the other side, and they headed back toward their wagon.

“Ain’t really that heavy,” Jimmy commented as they loaded the box.

“Doesn’t mean it’s not trouble,” Buck replied with a shake of his head. “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”

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

“Hot diggity dog!”

The riders were gathered on the porch outside the bunkhouse, nervously watching the tack room. Teaspoon had arrived back at the station shortly before, and the enthusiasm he had shown over the news of his mysterious box had all of them very curious.

The exclamation coming from behind closed doors increased both their curiosity . . . and their nervousness.

Jimmy shook his head. “That just don’t sound good,” he muttered.

“You’re sure you don’t have any idea what’s in that box?” Kid asked.

“You saw it yourself, Kid,” Buck replied. “It was sealed up real tight.”

“Could be anything,” Noah commented.

Ike’s hands flew in a rapid pattern.

“Yeah, it might be something good,” Buck agreed, though his voice didn’t convey any conviction behind that statement.

“We could go ask,” Lou suggested.

No one moved off of the porch.

“I’m gonna go take that new mare for a test ride,” Cody decided. Anything to not stay here on the porch and just . . . wait.

Just then the door to the tack room flew open and a smiling Teaspoon came out. “Boys, Lou, it’s here!”

The riders looked at each other, and then Jimmy finally voiced the question. “Uh, what’s here, Teaspoon?”

But Teaspoon had already started toward the house, yelling at the top of his lungs. “Rachel! Rachel, come on out here!”

The front door opened and Rachel came out, wiping her hands quickly on a towel. “Teaspoon? What’s wrong? Is someone hurt?”

“No, no, no, nothing’s wrong!” Teaspoon insisted, hurrying back toward the tack room. “I just need everyone out front.”

Rachel headed toward the bunkhouse, her confusion now matching that of the riders. “What’s he talking about?”

“We don’t know,” Kid answered.

“It’s something’ about that box me an’ Buck picked up in town yesterday,” Jimmy said.

Just then, Teaspoon re-emerged, dragging the crate in question behind him. “This is gonna be great!”

“What’s gonna be great?” Cody asked.

Instead of answering, Teaspoon reached into the box and starting pulling things out. The first items were some long poles, which he set about trying to piece together. As he worked, he finally spoke. “This here’s the future.”

“Oh, that doesn’t sound good,” Jimmy muttered. He was having flashbacks to ending up in the pigpen after trying the velocipede -- another sign of the ‘future’ according to Teaspoon.

Teaspoon was muttering to himself too, as the poles refused to cooperate with his assembly attempts.

Buck finally stepped off of the porch and moved a little closer. The object didn’t look immediately dangerous. “Teaspoon, what is that?”

Teaspoon looked up, a perplexed expression on his face and a pole in each hand. “This? This here’s a tripod,” he answered off-handedly. He held out one of the poles. “Hold this,” he said. “Dang thing’s harder to put up than I thought.”

Buck took a quick look over his shoulder, scowling at the other riders -- none of them had made any move to come and help. But he stepped forward and took the pole Teaspoon handed him. Knowing he’d probably regret it, he still asked, “What’s it for?”

“Gonna hold something,” Teaspoon muttered, his attention focused on the tripod that was now starting to take shape.

“Hold what?” Rachel stepped up a little closer, trying to see what was going on.

Teaspoon couldn’t answer right then. He had his mouth full with a couple of fasteners and a leather strap. He directed Buck with quick hand motions, and between the two of them they finally got all three poles aligned at the right angles. Before it could fall apart again, Teaspoon quickly wrapped the strap around the apex and then stepped back, staring at the pieces in his hand. “Ain’t sure how these go on,” he admitted.

“Teaspoon, what is this for?” Rachel demanded, louder this time.

As if he was just hearing the question for the first time, Teaspoon finally looked at Rachel. Then he smiled and handed off the pieces in his hands to Buck. Then he reached back into the crate and came up grinning, a box about a foot square in his hands. He stroked it lovingly and held it out. “This here’s a camera,” he announced. “Had to order it all the way from Philadelphia.”

“It’s a camera?” Kid asked, finally leaving the porch.

“What’s it for?” Cody asked, following slowly.

“Well, to take pho-to-graphs, of course,” Teaspoon answered. He returned his attention to taking items out of the crate.

“Photographs of what?” Lou asked.

“Of what?” Teaspoon scratched his head. “Well, of us, I guess. An’ the town -- or whatever we can. Sort of a record of who we are, an’ what we do.”

“Well that don’t sound so bad,” Noah said.

“O’ course it ain’t,” Teaspoon said, somewhat confused. Why would anyone think it would be bad? He quickly shook off the confusion and continued. “This here’s the latest model. Supposed to have a longer fuse, so’s the photographer can get in the picture too.”

Buck had finally managed to get the tripod fully assembled and upright, with the poles firmly fastened. Given how difficult that seemingly simple task had turned out to be, he was somewhat skeptical. “Are you sure that will work?”

“Sure, it’ll work,” Teaspoon replied confidently. “Comes with all the instructions.” He reached into the crate and rummaged about, finally pulling out a rather thick book. “Hmmmmmm . . . guess maybe we’ll have to try it tomorrow,” he said slowly, scratching his head.

Who knew there could be so many instructions?

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

“All right, Buck, you’re on the end. Noah, turn the other way. No, the other other way. Jimmy, hold the gun up -- no, not pointed at Cody! Cody hold the rifle on your other shoulder. Uh, no, put it back the other way. Ike, push your hat back, can’t see your face. Kid, slide over a bit . . . bit more . . . now too far. Lou, back up.”

“Ow!”

“Sorry, Buck. Lou, not so far back. Rachel, move a little more toward Cody. That’s it, leave room for me right there on the end.”

Teaspoon lifted the cover at the back of the camera and peered through the lens. It was a little disorienting, seeing everyone upside down. But everything had looked good before he checked through the eye of the camera.

Oh, this was going to be good!

“All right, hold it right there!” he called out.

He checked the fuse he’d set and scowled, grateful that he was covered by the camera. He’d intended to read that whole manual last night -- but it was just so darn big!

He just hoped he’d read the important parts.

Teaspoon checked the view through the camera one more time, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He was about to take his first ever photograph.

“Ready!” he called, reaching for a match. He struck, it and held the flame to the fuse . . .

BOOM!!!!!!!!

The carefully posed group broke apart quickly and raced toward the camera, which was now partially obscured by a cloud of black smoke.

“Teaspoon?”

“Are you all right?”

Teaspoon finally emerged, coughing and waving away smoke. He stepped back a few steps, staring at the camera. “Must’ve miscalculated that fuse,” he muttered.

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

“Boys, Lou, Rachel -- assume the position!”

The riders and Rachel slowly made their way toward the front of the bunkhouse in response to the summons.

“You sure you got the fuse figured out this time?” Jimmy asked as he tried to get his shoulders turned just-so and his gun in the right position.

“O’ course I do,” Teaspoon answered confidently. Just for good measure he brushed at his slightly-singed left eyebrow.

“Rachel, take a step to the left. Buck, look this way. Noah, don’t squint. Cody, quit yawning. Kid, look a little tougher.”

Finally satisfied that everyone was in position, Teaspoon checked the view through the camera and then drew out a match. He hesitated just a moment -- but surely he had it right this time. He struck the match, touched the flame to the fuse . . .

Pleasantly surprised that it didn’t blow up immediately on him this time, Teaspoon stopped to smile at his victory. But then he suddenly realized that he was supposed to be using the time to get into the picture. Turning quickly he started toward the group . . .

He took one step before his left foot caught on one of the tripod legs. In his haste, he couldn’t stop in time.

The ground seemed to come up to meet him as he fell. He hit hard, and then got hit even harder as the camera and tripod fell on top of him.

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

“All right, assume the position!”

By now everyone knew their place, and the pose expected, so they were quickly back in position.

“Teaspoon, you want someone else to do that?” Jimmy asked. Not that he wanted anything to do with the camera, but it was painful just to watch Teaspoon limping toward the tripod.

That might be a good idea, Teaspoon admitted to himself -- but he wouldn’t admit it out loud. It was his camera, and by golly he was going to make this work. “I’m fine,” he answered through gritted teeth.

He checked the view through the camera, pulled out a match, and lit the fuse. And then he limped as quickly as he could toward the group.

He heard the poof of the photo being burned onto the plate as he was halfway there . . .

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

“Assume the position!”

Everyone scrambled to comply, and this time no one said anything to Teaspoon. It was clear that he was in no mood for any questions.

Teaspoon verified that everyone was in position and then he reached for a match. This time he’d prepared an extra long fuse -- this shot was going to work.

“Hold it now!” he yelled and he lit the fuse.

He limped toward the group, faster and faster. He got there, turned around, slipped in next to Rachel, smiled . . .

The camera poofed and the photograph was taken.

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

“You really think Teaspoon knows how to develop that photograph?” Lou asked. They were gathered on the bunkhouse porch again, all of them except Ike, who had taken the afternoon’s run.

“He did get the photograph taken,” Kid pointed out. But he didn’t take his eyes off of the tack room, where the stationmaster had sequestered himself for the next step.

“He said he really read the book this time,” Buck added.

“He had a lot of bottles of stuff,” Noah observed.

“Wonder what all of that was anyway,” Jimmy said.

“Now, I’m sure it’ll be just fine,” Rachel said. But just in case, she was going to stay down there by the bunkhouse -- which was farther away from the tack room than the house was.

“Wonder how long it takes to develop,” Lou said.

Kid opened his mouth to say something, but just then there was a gigantic BOOM from the tack house and black smoke began pouring out from behind the blanket that was covering the door.

“Teaspoon!”

They ran for the tack house, but before they could get there the blanket was pushed aside and Teaspoon came stumbling out.

Buck reached him first and helped the other man to sit down on the ground. Kid and Cody ran on by, looking for something to put out the flames that were licking at the now tattered blanket.

“Teaspoon, are you all right?” Rachel asked as she reached his side.

“What happened?” Jimmy asked.

Teaspoon coughed a couple of times as he shook his head. “Ain’t real sure,” he finally said. “Guess maybe I shouldn’t’a put the lantern quite so close.”

“So the photograph is ruined?” Lou asked.

Teaspoon nodded sadly. “’Fraid so,” he replied. He accepted Buck’s hand and was pulled to his feet, whereupon he turned to watch as Noah joined Cody and Kid in fighting the fire. “And that was all the developer I had too.”

“So there ain’t gonna be no photograph after all,” Jimmy said, not sure if he was disappointed . . . or happy.

Teaspoon brushed off some soot and smiled, waving his hand in dismissal. “I got me the address of the company at the marshal’s office,” he said. “I’ll just order more supplies . . . maybe a double order this time, just in case . . .

Put My Back Where?
by: Dede

A/N: I'd like to thank my neighbor for this bunny...he learned that you s/ always lift w/ your legs! d;-)

"Confound it!" Teaspoon hollered as he rode into the station yard. "You boys ain't paid to sit 'round here all day doin' nothin'!"

The grizzled stationmaster jumped off his horse before she'd completely stopped and stalked toward where four of his riders sat catching their breaths.

"But Teaspoon," Jimmy said, trying to explain that they'd actually just sat down.

"Mr. Hickok," Teaspoon snidely replied, "I don't believe I need to hear whatever excuse you all came up with to explain why you're bein' lazy."

The old man didn't seem to notice the sweat pouring down the four stunned faces that were all gaping at him.

"Honest Teaspoon," Cody began, thinking Teaspoon would seriously listen to him.

Teaspoon laughed harshly. "'Honest' did you say?" Pacing, Teaspoon gestured wildly. "You? Honest? You're probably the one that came up with the..."

"Teaspoon would you please just listen," Buck said, slightly agitated. He was tired, hot and more than a bit frustrated with this chore.

"Excuse," Teaspoon growled, finishing his sentence. He stared at Buck, one eyebrow raised. "And the wagon's barely touched." He waved his hand in the direction of the boy's task.

The boys looked at the wagon. A Conestoga, the largest wagon they'd ever seen, huge by anyone's standards. Teaspoon had spotted it behind Old Man Coyle's barn, in severe disrepair. He'd haggled with the man, until they'd agreed on a sufficient trade - the boys would perform chores around his farm for one month. The riders had been less than thrilled when told the deal, but were even more annoyed when they found out they were the ones to fix the dilapidated beast.

Ike knocked on the side of the wagon. *We've fixed the bed and the wheels...* Unfortunately Teaspoon wasn't paying any attention to the poor boy.

"I swear," Teaspoon moaned, still pacing, "I give you a job and what do I get..."

"Mr. Spoon," Emma said, as she stepped from the house, the authority apparent in her voice, "I hope you aren't reprimanding these boys for takin' a rest." Emma went about passing out the tin cups for lemonade.

"A rest?" Teaspoon blustered, completely exasperated. He shook his head. 'They have Emma fooled,' he grumbled to himself.

"Yes, a rest," Emma stated, matter-of-factly. "They've been workin' themselves to the bone tryin' to fix this fool wagon of yours." Emma eyed the man, who seemed a bit deflated. "Look at the work they've done on the bed." She pointed to the hulking mass sitting on the hay bales.

"Well now," Teaspoon answered, "why didn't they say so?" He sniffed as he walked over to peruse the wagon more closely.

The four boys groaned, shaking their heads, but they did get up to point out everything they had done.

"Alright, so why is it still sittin' here without the wheels?"

"Teaspoon," Cody whined, "the back wheels are as big as I am."

Teaspoon glanced at Cody with a 'tsk.'

*We're having trouble getting them on,* Ike explained.

Teaspoon sighed, continuing his round of the wagon. He did acknowledge, though only to himself, that the boys had done a good job attaching the sides, which had been hanging on to the back and front by splinters. And, they'd attached the lazy board correctly without even knowing what it was. He chuckled to himself, remembering the boys' expressions when he'd brought the thing back to the station. There had been a mixture of awe and dread. It had taken four horses to pull the monster here.

"I think we need more help," Buck added, glancing around at the others.

They'd been complaining to each other the whole morning that it would take more then the four of them to get the wagon back together. Particularly putting on the wheels. So, if no one else was going to bring it up, Buck decided he would. Besides, they did need help and he didn't think it would hurt to say so. He just wasn't expecting Teaspoon's reaction.

"Oh for Pete's sake," Teaspoon scoffed. "More help? Why you're four fine, healthy, strappin' young men. You should be able to attach them wheels, easy."

"Have you tried liftin' that thing?" Jimmy blurted out. "It's like tryin' to lift the bunkhouse!"

The others nodded their agreement, as Cody added, "And I think the bunkhouse'd be easier."

"Tsk, tsk," Teaspoon sighed. "I was sure you four could do it." He scratched his beard, thinking.

Everyone was silent. The boys took advantage of this break by sitting down and having more lemonade. Cody was into his fifth cup and Emma laughed when he waved his cup a sixth time.

"Good grief Cody," Jimmy grumbled, "how 'bout lettin' the rest of us have some."

"But Hickok," Cody moaned, a tad more dramatically than necessary, "I'm so thirsty. This, this," he waved his cup toward the wagon, "has sapped the strength right outta' me."

"Cody," Buck stated, eyebrow raised, "you've been the one with the wheel, while the three of us have been liftin' that thing."

"Oh Buck," Cody said, ready to pass some sage knowledge, "the wheel is..."

"Alright!" Teaspoon shouted, clapping his hands together, startling the riders. "I want you to show me how you've been tryin'."

"Show you?" Buck asked, exchanging a glance with Jimmy.

"Well, you said you tried and I want to see you try." Teaspoon clapped his hands together a few more times, prompting the boys to move.

Grumbling, the riders got up and walked over to the wagon bed. Jimmy and Ike took position in the back, Buck was by the right back axle and Cody grabbed the wheel. Jimmy and Ike looked at Buck.

"On three," Buck instructed, taking a deep breath.

"One..."

The boys crouched down and Cody readied the wheel.

"Two..."

They set their grips.

"Three."

They heaved, trying desperately to get the wagon bed off the hay bales that were strategically placed all around the underside of the bed. They'd left just enough room between each hay bale so they could stand, allowing them to get close enough to lift. This time they were only able to get the bed inches off the bales, not high enough for Cody to get the wheel even slightly on the axle.

The boys set the bed down, noticing how the weight settled further into the hay. Soon the hay would be loosened so much so that they'd need a completely new set of bales, and they knew they didn't have enough. Besides, it had taken them almost two hours just to get the bales under the heavy wagon.

"See?" Jimmy said, almost triumphantly. Though he really did want to get this done, since he knew Teaspoon wouldn't stop until it was, he was still glad they could show the old man how difficult it truly was.

"Boys, boys, boys," Teaspoon said, with a slightly patronizing tone. "You've got to put your backs into it."

"Do what?" Bewildered, Buck looked around at the others noticing the confused looks that greeted his.

"Your back strength," Teaspoon explained, pointing to his lower back. "Try it again, only this time put your backs into it."

Exchanging glances that ranged from befuddled to irritated, the boys took their positions.

"Now when I say three," Teaspoon prompted. "One..."

The boys crouched down and Cody readied the wheel.

"Two..."

They set their grips.

"Remember - the back," Teaspoon reminded, receiving severe looks for his help. He held up his hands in acquiescence.

"Three."

The boys put everything they had into it. Their arm muscles bulged as the veins in their necks stood out. Their faces turned deep red, as they gritted their teeth. Cody grabbed the axle trying to help lift.

"I said - put your backs into it," Teaspoon griped, marching toward Buck.

"Now Mr. Spoon, I don't think you should do that." Emma's warning fell on deaf ears.

She'd been watching the whole scene, shaking her head at how Teaspoon was treating the boys, but knowing that it just had to play itself out. Once her dear friend got something set in his mind, it was fool for anyone to try to dissuade him.

Teaspoon walked up beside Buck, gripped the underside of the bed and said, "Put - your - backs - into - it."

The strangled sound that came out of Teaspoon was unlike anything the riders had ever heard. But when Jimmy and Ike looked at him, the startled expressions they'd initially had when they heard the noise, turned into amusement due to the look on the man's face. And when they started laughing, they lost control of the wagon, leaving the weight on Buck and Teaspoon, since Cody had let go to get the wheel in position. Buck, feeling the weight increase, quickly put the wagon down on the hay, thinking Teaspoon would do the same thing.

"Arrrr!" Teaspoon bellowed, his face contorted into a mask of pain. "Arrr!"

"Mr. Spoon!" Emma yelled.

Emma was running over to see if she could help when the weight of the wagon, especially the abrupt landing, caused the hay to give way so the wagon landed on the ground. And on Teaspoon's foot.

"Fooooo!" Teaspoon said, or tried to.

"Oh Lord!" Emma gasped. "Boys! Move the wagon!"

"What did he say?" Cody asked, not aware of what had happened. "Well, that's just fine!" He grumbled, as he noticed the wagon's placement. "It'll take us hours to put it up on the..."

"Cody I don't think that matters," Jimmy interrupted pointing at Teaspoon.

"Boys! The wagon!" Emma hollered at them, trying to get them to act.

Realizing the situation, the boys quickly lifted the wagon for Teaspoon. The man didn't move.

"Emma!" Jimmy said, gritting his teeth. "You need to get him to move!"

"Mr. Spoon," Emma said, as calmly as she could, "you need to move back."

"Yesssssssss," Teaspoon hissed. "Back."

"What?" Emma asked.

"Baaaaaaack."

"Oh no! You hurt your back?"

"Yessssssssss."

"Emma!" The four boys yelled in unison.

"Alright!" Emma snapped. "It's not gonna' be easy to move him. Ike help me."

Ike looked at the other boys making sure they had control of the wagon before he let go. He moved around to Teaspoon's other side and, with Emma's help, pulled Teaspoon back from the wagon.

"Ahhhhhhhh!" Teaspoon moaned, through his twisted mouth.

The boys dropped the wagon. At this point they really didn't care what happened to the thing. To them it was now a nuisance.

"Jimmy, Ike, get some of those planks out of the barn. And some rope," Emma said, immediately knowing what they needed to do. "Cody go into the house and get some pillows and a few quilts. Buck get Doc."

The boys just stood there, stunned.

"NOW!"

Emma yelling at the top of her lungs brought them quickly out of their shock and they were gone, still not quite sure what had happened.

"Mr. Spoon, we'll have you fixed up in no time."

Teaspoon just answered with a small whimper.

*~*~*~*~*

"Jimmy, you and Ike tie the planks together, so we have somethin' to carry Mr. Spoon on," Emma explained. "Cody, after they're done, I want you to wrap as many quilts around the boards so the rope won't be too noticeable to the poor man's back."

By now the boys realized what had happened. Teaspoon, standing to the side, shoulders stooped, a slight bend at the knee, hands frozen in front of him like he was still holding the wagon, had wrenched his back and the look on his face was priceless. The riders didn't look at him for fear they'd laugh and that would not be good, because, though the man couldn't do anything about it, Emma sure could. So the boys, taking their tasks seriously, concentrated on doing their job.

"Is this okay Emma?" Jimmy held up the makeshift litter.

"That's wonderful," Emma said, smiling. "Now help Cody."

"Emmmm," Teaspoon mumbled, "theeeey caaan't dooo it." He struggled to get out his fear of any of the boys carrying him. Not that he didn't think they could do it, well, not exactly. Just that they'd used practically all their strength lifting the wagon so many times.

"Now Mr. Spoon," Emma soothed, "we're gonna' take good care of you."

"Mmmmm," Teaspoon grunted.

"Okay, it's ready." Cody stood by the finished litter.

Teaspoon looked out the corner of his eye. 'Lord, please help me,' he prayed, seeing what they wanted to move him on.

"Now, bring it over here," Emma directed. "Jimmy and Cody, I want each one of you to take an end. Ike and I'll maneuver Mr. Spoon on it. Alright?"

The boys nodded. Teaspoon groaned.

Jimmy and Cody steadied the litter, keeping it at Teaspoon's knee. Ike leaned over the litter, taking Teaspoon under the arms, as Emma squatted to grab his ankles.

"Waaaaaaaay!"

"What is it Mr. Spoon?" Emma said, trying very hard to hide her irritation as she looked up at him.

"Yooooo," Teaspoon grunted, "droooop meeee."

"Teaspoon," Jimmy sighed, "we won't drooooop yooooo."

Teaspoon glared at the boy from the corner of his eye. "Hmph," was his answer.

"Alright," Emma said, ignoring the man. "On the count of three."

"Seems we've done that a lot today," Cody mused, receiving grumbles in return. "I'm just sayin'..."

"Well don't." Emma surprised everyone with her short answer. She was as exasperated as they were.

"One..."

Jimmy and Cody gripped the litter, as Ike secured his hold under Teaspoon's arms and Emma took a firm grip on the man's ankles.

"Two..."

Everyone ready, they took deep breaths.

"Waaaaaaay," Teaspoon wailed.

"Three."

Ignoring Teaspoon's scream, they were able to get him back on the litter.

"There," Emma announced, hands on her hips, wearing a smile of triumph. "That wasn't so bad now."

Teaspoon released a strange gurgling noise in response.

"Where to?" Jimmy grunted, wanting to get this over with. His arms had already felt like jelly even before lifting Teaspoon and now, he wasn't sure that they wouldn't drop him. Especially since he felt Cody's end shaking slightly.

"Iffff," Teaspoon gritted out, "yoooooo drooooop meeeee..."

"Teaspoon," Cody reassured the man, "you know us."

"Yesssssss, eyyyyyyyye doooooo."

"Emma..." Jimmy looked pleadingly at the woman.

She'd been rubbing her chin trying to decide. "The bunkhouse," she replied.

"But Emma," Cody whined, "the house is right there."

"And the house has more steps," Emma stated. "I want Mr. Spoon to stay as flat as possible." This sufficiently shut Cody up.

Slowly they carried him to the building. Every shift drew a groan, grunt or grimace from the man. As well as one or two more threats. But after what seemed like hours, they made it to the building. Emma opened the door and the boys inched through the opening without a measure to spare. Everyone sighed with relief because they weren't sure what they'd do if the litter didn't fit. If they had to remove Teaspoon to enter, he probably would have shot all of them.

As Jimmy and Cody entered the building, bearing Teaspoon, they heard the sound of horses entering the yard.

"Put him on the table," Emma ordered, as she glanced out the window to make sure it was Buck with the doctor. When she saw it was, she sighed with relief. She walked out to greet them.

"Emma," Doc Baker said, "what happened?" The man dismounted walking over to the bunkhouse.

"Well, come inside and I'll explain."

"Dahhhhhhc," Teaspoon moaned, "thaaaaay tryyyyyin' toooo killllll..."

"Now Teaspoon," Doc Baker said, smiling at Emma. "I'm sure you're mistaken. But let's have a look."

As Buck was following the doctor in, Emma stopped him. "You boys best run along."

"But Emma," Cody said, indignantly, "we're his rescuers."

"Un-huh," Emma said, pushing Cody out the door.

"But..."

Emma ended his argument by closing the door.

"Well, fine."

The boys wander back into the yard, staring at the wagon on the ground. Suddenly a big grin spread across Cody's face.

"Ya' know," Cody drawled, "since Teaspoon can't show us how to fix the wagon and we know the four of us can't do it, I guess the wagon will just have to wait."

A slow smile crossed Jimmy's face. "True, true," he agreed, glancing at Buck and Ike, "and we're done with all our other chores."

"And Doc will probably be with Teaspoon for a long time so..." Buck added, grinning slyly.

*And Emma has her hands full with Teaspoon too, so we'll need something to do,* Ike said, a broad smile on his face.

"Now Ike, that's a good point," Cody said, nodding thoughtfully. "And we should help."

"You've lost me," Jimmy grumbled, his smile fading fast.

"I mean, Emma's certainly not going to be able to cook for us so we should supply dinner," Cody pointed out, holding up his hands as the other three began to complain. "Say, maybe, fish?" He grinned.

Jimmy slapped Cody on the back. "Well, my friend, I'd say it's the least we could do."

Buck and Ike joined Jimmy and Cody in the laugh, as the four boys headed for the barn.

"Oh and ya' know, I'm kinda' thinkin' that's not quite what Teaspoon meant when he told us to put our backs into it," Cody added, with a smirk.

A/N: The Conestoga wagon was named for the valley in Lancaster Co., PA, where it was apparently developed by Pennsylvania-German settlers. The Conestoga was widely used on the Santa Fee Trail, but its main purpose was to move heavy goods on the east coast until the coming of the railroads. The wagon was massive for its day, somewhat akin to the tractor-trailers of today. Its huge rear wheels stood as tall as a man, and it could easily carry up to 6000 lbs of goods. The wagon usually had a blue wagon body, and a white canvas cover. Four to six horses pulled it and the broad wheels kept it from getting stuck in the mud. The lazy board was where the driver would sit if he didn't want to ride the wheel horse or walk.

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