Topic #74: You're lucky, it went clean through
Circle of Life by: catsimmie
Luck Or Not by: Cindy
Shock And Awe by: Lori
Lucky Day by: Michelle R
Victim of Talent by: Dede
Lucky Enough by: Miss Raye
Coming Up by: Miss Raye
Circle of Life
by: catsimmie

The storm outside raged on, but the couple inside the house ignored it. The summer heat had driven everyone crazy, and with Lou due to give birth any day, she was especially irritable, no matter what Kid tried.

"Kid," she whined. "If this little one doesn't decide to make its way into this world soon, I'm going to take matters into my own hands."

Kid chuckled as he rubbed her lower back. "I know you're miserable, sweetheart, but there's nothing we can do. Don'tcha think I would've if I could?"

The thunder outside shook the windows and Lou once again moaned. "I know, and I'm sorry. This heat is just making this pregnancy even more miserable than when I first found out."

Kid shuddered at the thought. Lou had been so sick during those first few months that he'd been concerned there was something seriously wrong with her. The doctor had assured them that some women, especially during their first pregnancy got that sick, and that it would pass in time.

"Well at least now you can keep your own cooking down," he said chuckling, eliciting another groan from Lou. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Lou nodded. "If my back would stop hurting, then the heat wouldn't be so unbearable."

"Maybe I should go get Doc Barnes."

"Don't go, Kid," she begged. "I'll be fine once I get to sleep."

"Want me to get you some more warm milk?" He asked slowly crawling out of bed.

"Thank you," she said.

Kid grabbed one of the lanterns from the dresser and headed towards the kitchen. As he lit the stove and poured some milk into the saucepan, a big flash of lightning brightened the night sky. He noticed part of the corral had been knocked down, but decided since the horses were in the barn, repairs could wait until the morning.

When he returned to the bedroom, Lou was already fast asleep. Since she was lying in the middle of the bed, Kid placed her glass on the nightstand and settled down on the chair next to the bed. He soon fell asleep watching his beautiful wife as she slept.

~~~ *~* ~~~

"Kid?" Lou called out the next morning.

Kid immediately woke up and crossed to sit on the bed next to a distressed Lou. "What's wrong?"

"Go get Rachel and the doc," she begged. "I don't think that was normal back pains I was having last night." Lou groaned in agony as she doubled over in pain.

Kid started to panic. "Are you sure?" One look from her was all it took to spring him into action. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he said kissing her forehead and then running out to the barn. The sight that greeted him stopped him dead in his tracks. Katy was lying on the ground near the downed fence.

"Oh Katy, no," he said as he ran to her side. Her front right leg was bent at an angle and her breathing was labored. "You'll be alright, girl," he said running his hand across her flank. "I'll get the vet while I'm in town."

Deciding it would be quicker that saddling another horse, Kid ran into town. In his heart, he knew there was nothing that could be done for Katy; the break looked like it went clean through. As much as it would pain him to do it to his beloved horse, he knew it would be best if he put her down. After nearly breaking Rachel's door down, he ran to get Doc Barnes as well as the vet. By the time they arrived at Kid and Lou's ranch, Kid had only been gone about twenty minutes.

Kid was torn between being with his wife and being with Katy, but the choice was taken from him when Doc Barnes told him he preferred expectant fathers to wait outside of the room while the mother to be was giving birth. Kid walked back to the corral where the vet was shaking his head.

"I'm sorry, son, but there's nothing I can do for her now."

"Had I found her sooner..." he said, his voice cracking in sorrow.

The vet shook his head. "Would you like me to take care of her?"

Kid shook his head and the vet quietly left. Kid continued caressing his beloved horse; his heart breaking into a million pieces as he spoke softly to her.

"It's alright girl, it's time," he said as he fought back the tears. "I ain't alone anymore, so you don't need to worry 'bout me. You've been a better horse than anyone could have, and I'll never forget you."

The sound of a gunshot was drowned out by the sound of a baby crying as Katherine Louise was brought into the world the exact moment Katy left it.

Luck Or Not
by: Cindy

“So help me, if you say I’m lucky ‘cuz it went right through, I’m gonna have to shoot you.”

Buck clenched his jaw tight to keep from laughing – and to keep from saying the offending line. With the mood Jimmy was in right now, he figured it was the wise move. “Just hold still,” he muttered, resuming his task of covering the wound with a paste of herbs and water. He’d been really lucky to find what he needed – especially after their hurried departure from Cobbville.

“Hold still,” Jimmy grumbled. “What the hell else am I gonna do? I got my pants around my ankles, my flap open, my butt stickin’ out, and a hole in my leg.”

“Yup.” Buck had to agree with everything the other rider had just said. And now that he knew the wound really wasn’t too serious, he was finding it awfully hard not to laugh at the whole situation. Just to be safe, he snuck a glance at where Jimmy’s pistols were laying safely out of reach, for now anyway.

Somehow, amazingly, the bullet had hit the fleshy part of Hickok’s inner thigh, punching a neat hole through the flesh. Buck figured it was gonna hurt for a while – and the ride back to Sweetwater was going to be anything but pleasant for Hickok, or himself. Still, it could easily have been a lot worse.

With the exit wound treated on the back of Jimmy’s leg, he turned his attention to the entry wound. He scooped up more of the herbal salve and moved his hand around…

“Hey! Watch you hand!”

Buck sighed and got to his feet. He shoved the cup with the herbs into Jimmy’s hand. “Here, do it yourself then.”

As Jimmy scowled and opened the front of his longjohns to apply the salve, Buck went to where he’d dropped the saddle bags when they stopped. He tossed his own aside and opened the other one, pulling out a shirt.

“Hey, what’re you gonna do with that?”

“Use it for bandages.”

“But that’s my good shirt!”

Buck just stared at his friend for a long moment. “Well, I’m not cutting up my shirt for your leg.” Before Jimmy could argue, he drew his knife and made a clean cut right down the back, then started to cut strips. And then he couldn’t hold it in any longer. “You were damn lucky, you know.”

Jimmy looked down, pausing from applying the salve. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Couple o’ inches to the left and I coulda lost somethin’ real important.”

“Couple inches to the right and it could have smashed the bone,” Buck pointed out. “Then you’d really be in trouble.”

Jimmy just nodded and straightened up slowly, testing his leg. “Damn, that stuff stinks! Stings, too.”

“Maybe, but it’ll help that wound heal,” Buck replied. He knelt down again and started to wrap a strip of the shirt around the injured limb. “Now tell me again why I got rousted out of bed in the middle of the night by the Sheriff and told to leave town.”

“Well, it wasn’t my fault.”

“Now you sound like Cody,” Buck said, tying off the last strip.

Jimmy lowered himself gingerly onto a rock and bent down to pull his pants up. “He called her a cow. An ugly cow.”

“Who?”

“That saloon girl, Merry. You know, like Merry Christmas, she said. She served us dinner…”

Buck was nodding impatiently. “I know who Merry is.” Who could forget her bright Merry Christmas speech, even though it was a blistering hot August day? “Who called her a cow?”

Jimmy shrugged. “Some guy,” he said, then paused. “Said he was her husband, and she run off from Big Sandy.”

Buck considered that for a moment. “So this guy, he say anything to you?”

Jimmy shook his head. “I was over playin’ poker, like I said I was gonna do when you left.”

“So how’d you get in the middle?”

“Well, he was insultin’ her, and I don’t abide no one insultin’ a lady, Buck,” Jimmy replied. “And ‘sides, I kinda liked her smile.”

Buck just stared at the other man for a long moment, then slowly shook his head. “Jimmy, those two men at the end of the bar when we walked in? The ones who were each a good head taller than either of us, and probably weighed about as much as us put together? It was their job to take care of any trouble.”

“I was closer,” Jimmy insisted.

“And that’s when he shot you?” Buck prompted.

Jimmy was silent for a moment, looking down as he scuffed the boot on his good leg back and forth in the dust. Then he cleared his throat and shook his head. “Not exactly.”

“Then what exactly?”

“Wasn’t him who shot me.”

That took just a moment to sink in. “Wait, Merry shot you?”

“She wasn’t aimin’ at me!”

“But Merry shot you.”

Jimmy scowled and kicked at a rock, then finally nodded. “She had one o’ them little guns down her… top. She was aimin’ at the other guy, an’ I was just sorta in the wrong place.”

The whole picture was just too much, and Buck finally just shook his head and started to laugh.

“It ain’t funny,” Jimmy growled.

“Oh, yes it is,” Buck managed to reply.

“I got shot here!”

“You’ll live.” Buck took a deep breath, reaching control again. “Though how you’re gonna make it back to Sweetwater, that I ain’t sure.”

“I can ride,” Jimmy muttered, though the look in his eyes seemed to indicate he had considered the effect a couple days of bouncing in the saddle might have.

“I could go back to town tomorrow,” Buck offered. “Maybe rent a wagon…”

“I’ll ride,” Jimmy insisted.

Buck put his hands out, giving up the argument. “Have it your way. But I ain’t listening to you moan all the way home,” he warned. He walked over and retrieved the bedrolls, tossing one toward where Jimmy was still sitting. “Got a few hours of dark left, might as well try and get some rest,” he said as he started to undo his bedroll.

“I ain’t never goin’ on another special run again,” Jimmy muttered as he reached for his bedding.

Buck settled on top of his blankets and then looked over. “So the next time Teaspoon needs riders…”

“I’ll hide,” Jimmy insisted. He used his foot to kick the last bit of the blanket out straight and then slid painfully onto the ground. “Or, I’ll quit!”

Buck just rolled his eyes and grinned, both actions lost in the darkness. “Get some rest, Jimmy.” He rolled onto his side, facing away from the other man.

The silence of the night descended on them like a blanket for a few minutes, and then Jimmy cleared his throat. “Uh, Buck?”

“Hmmmmmm.”

“We, uh… we don’t gotta tell anyone what happened here, right?”

“I think they’ll notice you’re hurt, Jimmy.”

“No, really, I heal fast!”

“Uh huh.”

“Buck…”

“Teaspoon’ll want to know what happened.”

Jimmy considered that for a moment. “Well, we don’t gotta tell him everything do we?”

Silence.

“Buck?”

Buck’s grin just widened in the darkness as he struggled not to laugh. He could only hope the cloud cover would hide the fact that his shoulders were shaking.

Not tell??? Of course the details would have to be told.

That was going to be the fun part…

Shock And Awe
by: Lori

Continuing the story of Molly...

If Molly thought this morning had been overwhelming, it was nothing compared to how she was feeling now.

Seeing Jimmy again while she’d been involved in her morning chores had scared her. Just because her father hadn’t come home last night didn’t mean he wouldn’t be showing up soon. Jimmy knew he couldn’t come around because it would just make her father angry, and she’d stared in fear at him as he had suddenly appeared in the barn. That fear had become shock when she realized that the reason the young man had broken his word to her and returned was because her father wasn’t coming home.

He hadn’t run off like she’d always feared; he was dead. Shot at the saloon in the middle of a card game. While the marshal, a tall man who intimidated her despite his obvious attempts to put her at ease, tried to assure that he had died instantly, it didn’t matter to her. He was a cruel man, and while she knew she should feel bad that her father was dead, there was another part of her that was so relieved she didn’t care. And why should she feel better that the bullet went straight through his heart, killing him instantly?

She thought the marshal might have questions for her, but instead he just expressed his sympathy and said that he could take care of the funeral arrangements if she wanted. Since she had no idea what she should do, she’d agreed to his offer. She just wondered how she was going to pay for it. She didn’t know where her father hid the money, and she wondered if the bank would give her anything.

But her fears had been somewhat eased when Emma Shannon stepped forward. She had introduced herself as the station mother for the Express riders, and Molly remembered Jimmy once mentioning her. The older woman came with her and helped pack up Molly’s belongings. She’d asked if there was anything from the house the young woman wanted to bring with her, or if she should just have the boys come out and pack up everything to go through it later. Molly had only shrugged, and Emma assured her she would take care of it later.

It wasn’t until she had a small valise packed and followed Emma outside that Molly asked where they were going. Emma told her that she was coming to stay with them at the Express station. Molly’s eyes widened at that, and she insisted that it wasn’t necessary. She had to take care of the farm. Emma, though, wouldn’t be swayed and so she found herself assisted up into the buckboard by Jimmy and on her way somewhere else for the first time in years.

She had never left the farm since her mother died, and while she knew that she had gone into town once or twice with her mother, she couldn’t remember how old she’d been. Now she was leaving the only place she’d ever known, and even though there weren’t good memories, Molly was frightened to leave the security of what she knew for the fear of the unknown.

When they arrived at the farm, Molly was introduced to everyone who worked for the Express. There was an older man with a funny nickname she couldn’t remember, and more boys about Jimmy’s age. Two minutes after she met them, she forgot their names, but not their curious looks. While Jimmy’s expression had always seemed polite, if curious, whenever he showed up at the farm, these boys did nothing to hide their wonderment and it made her uncomfortable.

Her room was pleasant enough, but it was bigger than her one at home and her dresses didn’t fill up half the space allotted for them and she felt frightened and out of place. Despite Emma’s kind looks and soft words, Molly shied away from her every time she spoke. But when the older woman left her alone to rest, she found herself wishing there was someone around. While she was used to being alone at home, this wasn’t home and she found herself peeking her head out the door and looking for someone. Anyone.

Preparations for lunch had been one of the few times she felt at ease. She insisted on helping out, and as she worked beside Emma, she finally felt some sort of normalcy. Molly was used to working and helping out. But the normal feeling she acquired was shattered the moment everyone came in to eat. The boys were boisterous and noisy and everyone spoke over one another and passed the dishes quickly. It was nothing like the meals she shared at home with her father whenever he was around. There was no talking, because her father didn’t have anything to say to her, and she made sure he had plenty on his plate and then took what she could for herself.

Despite the wonderful smells of the meal and the pains in her stomach, Molly didn’t eat much. There were too many sights, too many sounds and she was completely overwhelmed even before they all quieted down long enough for grace to be said.

Somehow though, Emma came along to rescue her. She appeared silently at Molly’s side once the meal was over and the boys dispersed and said, “Why don’t I warm up your plate? I normally don’t eat until the boys have gone back to their chores. There are just too many requests and I long ago learned that if I wanted to enjoy my meal in peace I had to wait until they were done and out the door.”

When it was just the two of them, Molly found herself able to relax. Emma said a few things, but mostly they ate in quiet. Molly was grateful for that because the ability to eat and not have it be questioned or restricted was liberating and for the first time in a long time, Molly ate until she was full. Once she was done eating, fatigue hit and Emma shooed her out the door and back to the house to rest, insisting that she was quite used to after meal clean up.

Stumbling the last few feet to her room after she made it upstairs, Molly barely paused long enough to take off her shoes before wrapping herself in the soft, handmade quilt on the bed. The last thought that drifted through her mind before she fell into sleep’s gentle embrace, was that her life was never going to be the same. The thought terrified her, and she wondered if she would find a way to survive all the changes.

Lucky Day
by: Michelle R

"Boys…Lou. I've got a parcel that needs to get to Ft. Laramie in the next couple a days."

All the riders, except for Ike who was out on a run, looked up at the station master.

"And before you start askin' what's in the parcel, like I know you will. It's a map and some papers for the Army."

Everyone looked at each other wearily, then back at Teaspoon.

"Uh…Teaspoon? Why is it we always get these 'special' runs for the Army?" Cody was concerned, just like the rest of the group.

"I don't know son. I guess it's 'cause you boys…and girl, have a way of gettin' out of predicaments."

"Ah Teaspoon. The only reason why we get in these predicaments is 'cause the Company or the Army always puts us in 'em."

Teaspoon looked over at Jimmy, "I know son, but it goes with the job and y'all know it."

Louise looked around at the rest of the group, "Teaspoon…if you're lookin' for volunteers, I'll go."

Everyone looked at Lou with worry in their eyes. There has been trouble on that particular part of the Pony Express route, and no one really wanted to run into that trouble. All except for Louise, who seemed to have no problem wanting to find it lately.

"Are you sure Lou?" Seeing the glare that he was receiving, Teaspoon back peddled with his response. "Before you start gettin' upset, just hear me out Lou. I'm not sayin' you can't handle it, 'cause I know you can. What I'm askin' is why you're wantin' to do this."

Lou just stared at Teaspoon in disbelief and then looked at the group with a rosy hue to her cheeks, embarrassed by being questioned in front of the group, she thought of us as family. Teaspoon saw the reaction, "Boys…could you excuse us for a moment?"

Teaspoon put his arm around Louise's shoulder and walked her away from the group, who all just stood there with concern shining in their eyes.

"Lou, darlin'…what's up? You've been Hell bent on takin' as many runs as you can lately, and none of 'em have been easy. You're actin' like you're runnin' with the Devil on your heels. What gives?"

Lou softened her stance a little, looking up at the only real father figure she's ever had.

"Teaspoon, it's nothin' alright. I just want to keep doin' my job, that's all. There's

nothin' wrong...I promise." Staring at her wearily, "You been actin' like this since you and Kid broke things off

and you and Jimmy came back from Willow Springs. Those two actin' like they have been, causin' you to do this?"

Taken by surprise by such a direct question, Louise snapped her head up to stare at

Teaspoon.

"Uh…no, Teaspoon. It's nothin' like that at all. I know things are finished with me and Kid. That was obvious, soon as he took up with Samantha. As for Jimmy…there ain't nothin' wrong with us at all. We…uh, I mean…I just been tryin' to keep my mind off some stuff. Is there a problem with that?"

"No Lou, there ain't. I'm just makin' sure that you're not goin' out there to get away from somethin', that's all."

Louise smiled slightly, "Thanks Teaspoon. But I'm okay…really. Now where's this parcel that needs to go to Ft. Laramie? I wanna make sure I get some miles behind

me tonight, before sundown, so I can get there in plenty of time." Still on edge about Lou going out on this run, Teaspoon grudgingly answered her. "It's over in the bunkhouse. It was delivered to me in town today by an Army Officer. I'll bring it over to ya', while you go get your horse ready."

She walked away towards the barn where Lightning was resting, mentally preparing herself for another ride. She was exhausted, but she didn't even want to begin to think that Teaspoon was right. 'I'm not runnin' from Kid, and I'm certainly not runnin' from Jimmy. Sure thing's have been a bit off since he and I got back from Willow Springs…but I don't know how else to tell him that it wasn't his fault with what happened with Hopkins.'

She sighed as she reached Lightning's stable, "Come on girl. We got another run to do."

The horse neighed with a snort, just as unhappy as Teaspoon sounded earlier.

"Don't give me that. We got a job to do, and you're comin' with me." Laughing slightly to herself, Louise shook her head. "Oh God…I'm soundin' like Kid does when he talks to Katy all the time."

As Louise went to the stables, Teaspoon walked over to the group of men standing by the fence. Seeing the concerned looks on their faces, he shook his head. They all were worried about how Lou was acting. They were used to her wanting to go out and do her runs like normal, but lately she'd been taking any extra runs there were, and she was always doin' extra chores around the station.

"Well Teaspoon? She's takin' the run ain't she?" Kid was frustrated beyond all belief. She knew how worried he got when she was out on a run, but with the extra ones she'd been taking, it made it doubly worse.

"Yeah, son. She is." He looked at each one of the riders, holding a particularly long stare at Jimmy and then Kid. "Boys, she says she's fine, but we all know different. Right now, we just gotta give her space and let her work through what ever it is she needs to work through. Don't give her any grief."

All the boys lowered their heads, wondering what was bothering the female rider of the group. They all noticed what was wrong, and a majority of them thought that it was because of her breakup with Kid. All except for one, who thought it was because of something that happened on a ride to Willow Springs.

As the group broke apart, Buck, Noah and Cody headed towards the bunkhouse, but Jimmy and Kid started to go their separate ways. That's when Teaspoon stopped the both of them. "Boys…hold up."

They both turned around to look at Teaspoon.

"What is it Teaspoon? What ain' t you tellin' us?" Kid was already working himself into a dither.

"That's what I'd like to know son." Kid looked at the station master like he had no idea what he was speaking of. "What I'm sayin' is, ever since you and that young lady broke things off, she's been tearin' herself away from us. I know I ain't here all the time to see what's goin' on…but when I am here, I don't like what I'm seein'."

"I don't like what you're sayin' Teaspoon. I didn't do nothin' wrong when I took up with Samantha. Lou's the one that broke things off with me, not the other way around! If anyone should be sulkin' 'round here, it should be me, but it ain't."

"Now hold on a minute Kid!" Jimmy snapped at his best friend.

"No Jimmy! You butt out of this! This ain't any of your business, it's between Lou and me, and that's all."

"It became part of my business when I saw one of my friends get hurt by another one of my friends. Now deal with it." Jimmy was seething and Teaspoon was wondering if he was going to have to break up another one of the infamous fights the two riders got into over Louise.

"Boys! Boys! Knock it off, will ya?! Jimmy…it's not just Kid I was talkin' to either. I wanted to talk to you too. But first…Kid, I'm just sayin' take it easy on her. The way you change moods around her, you're just confusin' her more, and that ain't makin' things very nice for her around here. If I were her, I'd wanna get outta here as much as I could too."

With that he looked at Jimmy, and then looked back over at Kid. "Kid, I'm gonna talk to Jimmy now, so will ya go grab that parcel for me in the bunkhouse? Bring it back here for me, so's I can get Lou out on her run." Kid left the two other men quietly, pondering on what Teaspoon had said.

"What'd I do Teaspoon? It's not me drivin' Lou away is it?" Jimmy was genuinely concerned. He had noticed that Louise had been spacing herself from them, especially he and Kid, but he figured it was because of what happened in Willow Springs. Hell, if he were her, he'd wanna get away from him also. 'I bring nothin' but trouble to the ones that I love.' Shaking those thoughts from his head, he tried concentrating on what Teaspoon was saying.

"Listen son. I don't know what happened in Willow Springs, but what I do know is that ever since the two a you got back… you've been farther apart than when you first started with this outfit."

"Teaspoon…I know we didn't tell ya everything that happened. Let's just say we ran into some trouble when we were there, and I don't blame Lou for not bein' 'round me anymore."

Teaspoon put his hand on the younger man's arm, "Son…I don't think that's it at all. I know that ain't all that happened. I had a feelin' somethin' happened while you were there. The way Lou was hidin' her neck and not movin' so fast, had me thinkin' somethin' happened. What was it?"

"Hopkins." That's all Jimmy had to say to get Teaspoon's attention.

"What'd he do to her?" Teaspoon was angry at the thought of what happened. He knew it wasn't Jimmy's fault, be he also knew that trouble was doggin' that man like no tomorrow, and he hated that for him.

"Ah Teaspoon…she was upset, so when we got held up in Willow Springs, waitin' for the drafts to come in, I figured I'd show her a good time."

Teaspoon's head snapped up at that comment.

"You know what I mean Teaspoon. She was really hurt by what Kid said, so I thought I'd show her that someone really did…care." He didn't want to say love; because he had a feeling the older man already knew how Jimmy felt for Lou. Teaspoon was good at reading people, and he always knew how to read each and every one of his riders like a book.

He continued on with the rest of the tale, "So we went and checked ourselves into the hotel, and we saw a fair was comin' to town. I figured what a great way to distract her. So we went into town and I bought her a dress and then we went for dinner and to the fair." He didn't really want to tell Teaspoon about the kiss on the cheek at dinner, the kind words that she said to him that just about made him melt and fall in love with her more, or the dance in the street. That was complicated enough as it was. "When we was at the fair, I didn't know that Hopkins was followin' us, but he was. She was brought up on stage and was part of this magic act. She disappeared, but was supposed to be brought right back. When she didn't show up like she was supposed to, I panicked. I'd never been so scared before…at least, I didn't think I'd ever had been. Not till I found out who took her and found her with a rope 'round her neck, tied to a horse, standin' on a rock."

Teaspoon just watched Jimmy's face as he retold the story, he could see that he was lost in the awful memory of it all. He knew that there was more to the story, 'cause Jimmy and Lou had been growin' closer each passin' day before that trip. She relied on him as a friend, and he did the same. They'd both been through a lot of heartache, so maybe, just maybe they'd find some happiness together. He turned his thoughts back to the story being told to him.

"So, when Hopkins' asked me to choose, I couldn't. I'd give my life for her, and he didn't like that answer. I just wanted to get her outta there Teaspoon. He didn't count on me havin' two guns. I dropped the one to the ground, but he figured I was a fool for doin' that. He was surprised when I got the drop on him by shootin' the saddle and breakin' it apart so Lou would go free. That surprised him and then I shot him next." He took a deep breath and then focused back on Teaspoon. "That's gotta be why she don't want to be around us anymore Teaspoon. She ain't had nothin' but trouble since she's been around me."

"That ain't true Jimmy and you know it." They both turned around to see Louise standing there with Lightning's reins in hand.

"Lou. How can you say that? It's true ain't it?" Jimmy was ticked that Lou'd caught him retelling the tale to their boss.

Teaspoon looked between the two of them, wondering how this was going to turn out for them. He'd never tell the others, 'cause he figured Lou'd end up with Kid, but he was hopin' these two would work out. They certainly matched each other will wise.

"No Jimmy. It ain't true. Yes, it's true what happened. But it weren't your fault. How were you supposed to know that Hopkins was doggin' you? We certainly didn't. You got me outta there, and I can't thank you enough for that." She slowly walked over to face him closer, ignoring the station master standing there.

"Lou…I don't ever want you gettin' hurt 'cause a me. It'd kill me if that happened. I care too much to have that happen to you." That cost him a lot to admit that, but he thought that was the only way to get his point across to her.

Lou leaned in and surprised him with a tight embrace, her head tucked into his chest. "Jimmy, I know what you mean. I feel the same way 'bout you. I care about you…a lot. I ain't been tryin' to get away from you 'cause of what happened in Willow Springs. Not for what you think was your fault in Willow Springs I mean. What I'm sayin' is, I just realized some things when we were there, and I've just needed to sort them out is all. When I get back, we'll talk, okay? I gotta talk to Kid too, when I get back." With that she rose upwards onto her toes and kissed his cheek like she did at dinner in Willow Springs.

Jimmy stood there stock still, surprised at her forward manner. Lou'd always been a comfortable with him, but that was definitely something he hadn't been expecting her to do in front of Teaspoon or the Kid. Of course, that's the time that the Kid had to come out of the bunkhouse with the parcel for Teaspoon.

'Oh God, this ain't gonna be pretty.' Teaspoon cringed at the thought.

Kid came stomping towards the group, glaring at the group. "Here's the parcel you wanted Teaspoon."

With that he stalked off back towards the bunkhouse and Lou ran after him.

"Kid! Kid! Stop walkin' away from me." She turned him around to look at her. "Listen, when I get back we need to talk. I've been doin' some thinkin' and it's high time you heard me out." With that she walked back to Jimmy, Teaspoon and Lightning.

"I'll be back in a couple a days. We'll talk then." With that she spurred Lightning off and they rode east to Ft. Laramie.

The ride to Ft. Laramie was fairly uneventful. Thankfully. She'd been a bit worried herself, with the trouble that had been doggin' the Pony Express on this route lately, they couldn't be more careful.

As she handed the parcel off to the Major sitting behind the desk, he stopped her as she was heading out. "Oh…son. I've got somethin' here that needs to get to Ft. Bridger. They'll be another rider meetin' you in Sweetwater to take it from there. Glad you got here when you did, 'cause it's somethin' that needs to get there post haste."

He handed Lou the parcel of paper and she tucked into her mochila, taking a deep breath. Well, hopefully her good luck will hold with her and she'll make it back to Rock Creek as quickly and safely as she had to Ft. Laramie. As she started out the door, she suddenly thought to ask a very important question, "Uh…Major? What is is it I'm carryin' exactly? Just so I know how much trouble's gonna be chasin' me."

He frowned at her question, not used to someone questioning his authority or questioning anything that was told of them to do. "Son…it's none of your business what's in that parcel. Just make sure it makes it to Sweetwater for the next relay to Ft. Bridger. That's all you gotta concern yourself with, now git." He shooed her out of the room, dismissing her from his sight. 'Damn Pony Express riders, always nosin' in business they don't need to know anything about. It's Army business, so it's not theirs. Their job is to take it and guard it so it gets through, that's all.'

He shook his head and then went back to work.

Lou slowly walked out of the office and out the front of the building towards where Lightning was tethered. "The nerve of him. I just need to make sure I get it there. Who the Hell does he think he is? Just dismissin' me like I'm one of his soldiers. Well, I ain't." She huffed and put the mochila over the horn of her saddle, and mounted the horse.

"Sorry Lightning. I thought we were gonna get a quick break and then head home tomorrow, but I guess we got another deadline to make." She patted her faithful steed's neck and then they started on their way.

As they rode out of the front gates of the Fort and back towards Sweetwater, Lou didn't notice the group of 'soldiers' that were watching her leave from horseback.

"Men, we gotta get that mochila from him. Those papers he's got from the Major are the ones with the names of the men that can be tied to us. We can't let them get to Ft. Bridger. If they do, then we know we aren't gettin' out of this outfit alive. We'll be charged with treason for helpin' the South." The men all nodded and left the fort, with out anyone batting an eye at them, as it was their turn to do patrols around the area.

Lou spurred Lightning on through the terrain, trying to get them home. She'd had a weird feelin' like she was being followed or watched, ever since she left Ft. Laramie. 'Maybe it's just 'cause I had such an easy ride here. Or maybe it's 'cause I know the talks that I'm gonna have to have when I get home, and I ain't lookin' forward to one of them.'

She was so lost in thought, that she didn't hear the group of horses coming up fast behind her until it was too late. What woke her from her thoughts was the sound of a gun shot whizzing past her right shoulder and then pounding of hooves hitting the rough soil behind her.

She looked back to see a group of Union soldiers riding fast behind her and coming closer each second. She spurred her mount on, "Come on Lightning! I know you're tired girl, but I don't wanna see what these fellas want."

With a quick nudge in the flanks of the horse, they sped off and tried dodging the bullets that were flying by her.

"Damn, that boy's fast!" One of the men yelled. "Come on!"

They spurred there horses into action and tried keeping up with Louise.

"I wish that Army Major woulda told me what I was carryin'. What ever it is, these guys want it, and I'm not gonna be the one to give it to 'em."

She'd been half way home, when they caught up with her. 'I knew this ride had been too easy.'

With that thought, that's when she felt the searing pain in her left shoulder. "Ah!" She sucked in a breath as she looked down at her now bleeding shoulder. It hurt like hell, but she didn't have time to think about it.

Seeing that the Express rider had been hit, the soldiers had held off on some of their shooting, thinking it would slow him down. Little did they know, that they were dealin' with a ticked off woman now, who was just itchin' to get home.

Lou held her revolver in her right hand and tried holding onto Lightning's reins as best as she could with her left, even though the pain was radiating down to her fingers. She knew she could count on Lightning for keeping on the trail and heading in the right direction. They'd taken this route many times before, and she figured the horse could make it home on her own if need be. She turned around in her saddle and aimed at the men following her. Taking aim, she shot and hit her mark, causing one of the men to fall out of his saddle, hitting the ground with a hard thud.

Lou looked down when she felt Lightning stumble a bit, realizing that the horse was tired and needed to slow down. She'd barely had a break on her run to Ft. Laramie as it was. "Come on girl, once we shake these guys, we'll go hide off some where and take a bit of a break." She patted her neck and turned her attention back to the men chasing her.

Her shoulder was hurting something fierce, but she had to get rid of these guys. She wanted to get this parcel back to the next rider in Sweetwater and just get this ride over with.

Once again, she took aim at the men chasing and shooting at her. She winced as she felt the pain in her shoulder again, feeling the blood trickle down her arm. The lightheadedness was starting to set in, but she just needed to get rid of these last three men. She fired twice, nicking one of the men and slowing him down, but they still kept coming after her.

"Damn! What is it gonna take to get rid of these guys?!" She was angry with the situation at hand. With that, she channeled her frustration and tiredness into firing her last three shots in her revolver, making sure that she hit her mark. Lou knew that she wouldn't have time to stop and reload her weapon with the way these guys were coming after her.

She concentrated as best as she could and hit one of them, knocking them off their horse as well. As the men drew closer to her, she felt as if they were breathing down her neck. Luckily, they'd been firing at her and missing all except the one time, and they'd have to reload soon as well. Knowing this, Louise was able to hit the other two men with her last two shots, and quickly rode off towards Sweetwater.

She was tired, sore and hungry, and she knew Lightning had to be feeling the same way. As promised, she came upon a clearing where a stream ran through and she hid her and her horse behind a grove of trees, making sure that the men hadn't followed her. She let Lightning relax as she knelt next to the stream herself, trying to cool herself down and to clean her wound up a bit. The last thing she wanted to do, was to have all of the guys say 'I told you so,' when she comes back with a wound. But she knew she needed to get home fairly soon, knowing that she'd lost a bit of blood, she didn't want to take any chances.

She sat quietly on the banks, not knowing that one of the soldiers survived his wound and was trying to catch up to her.

Lou slowly stood up and looked Lightning over, checking to see if she was fine and had no wounds herself. Once she was satisfied with what she saw, she leaned into her horse's neck and whispered softly to her. "I'm sorry girl. We gotta keep goin'. We'll be home by tomorrow mornin' if we ride through tonight. I know you're tired. I am too, but I don't wanna push my luck."

She tenderly got onto her horse and then nudged her forward, knowing that it was gonna take all the luck and skill she could muster to get home by morning.

The soldier watched as the Express rider took off in the direction of Sweetwater. "I'm gonna get you boy. There's no way, I'm gonna be shot by firin' squad 'cause you got through with those papers." He sneered and then mounted his own horse, quietly trying to keep up with the rider, thinking he was going to have to stop some time in the night and to rest him and his horse. He'd get him then, when he wasn't looking.

Louise kept riding through the night, still glancing over her shoulder making sure that no one was following her. She still couldn't shake the feeling like someone was following her, but she knew she'd shot every single one of those men chasing her. Either way, she was tired, weak and almost home. One of Rachel's home cooked meals, sounded really good right about then as her stomach groaned in protest of not being filled in almost a day.

As daylight broke over the horizon, Louise looked into the distance, seeing her home station and feeling a bit of relief flood into her being. Letting her guard down, she slowed down a bit and headed in the direction of her home. The quiet of the morning was broken by the sound of another horse behind her. She quickly turned around to see one of the soldier's she shot, riding in her direction, looking more angry than before.

He raised his revolver towards her, and in seeing this she spurred Lightning into a full gallop trying to get away from the man.

"I thought I got all of you! What the Hell do you want from me?!"

The soldier fired his weapon at her shrinking form, and then took off after her. "I want those papers boy!"

"Over my dead body!" Lou yelled.

"That's the idea son." He smirked as he chased after her.

He knew if he was going to get those papers, he was going to have to get them before the Express rider made it to that home station. He fired again, barely missing Lou's already injured shoulder.

Lou turned around to peer back at the man chasing after her. Luckily when she had stopped at the clearing, she had some time to reload her weapon, just in case she needed it again. She fired again, hearing a grunt, knowing she must've nicked him, but he still kept coming after her.

The rest of the riders, hearing gun fire in the distance, all shot out of their bunks grabbing their own weapons, to see what all the commotion was. As they ran out of the front door of the bunkhouse, they could see two riders coming in fast, and they were firing at each other.

Buck was the first to see who it was, "Oh my God. It's Lou!"

They all pulled their weapons, taking aim at the man following her.

"She looks hurt!" yelled, Cody.

They all tensed, watching the scene unfold before them. Lou looked at them, seeing all of the worried looks in their eyes. She turned back one last time and fired at the Union man, hitting him straight in the chest and knocking him to the ground. He was dead the instant he hit the ground.

Louise rode into the yard of the station, looking tired and bleeding badly from the shoulder.

Kid came running up to her, along with the rest of the riders. "Noah, go get the doc!"

"I'm fine Kid. It's just a nick, that's all." She looked over at Jimmy and then down at Kid. As she threw her leg over the saddle to get off Lightning, the last thing she remembered was seeing grey at the edges of her vision and then the whole group of guys standing in front of her was spinning. "Oh God…"

That's the last thing she said before she hit the ground. All of the riders sprang into action, trying to get her off the ground and away from a spooked and tired Lightning. That's when Jimmy picked her up and held her to him, gently taking her into the bunkhouse to lie on his bunk. Kid just watched angrily, but still too worried to fret about Jimmy scooping Lou up and trying to rescue her. That was his job, damn it. At least it used to be. He had a feeling that Lou wanted to talk to him about what was goin' on between her and Jimmy, and he knew he wasn't gonna like it.

Rachel and Teaspoon followed them all into the bunkhouse and Ike took Lightning into the stable to rub her down and get her settled. She'd look like she'd been riddin' straight through without a break, and she needed one. He gently patted her on the neck, thanking her in his own way for bring the woman who was like a sister to him, back to them as safe as she could. At least, he hoped that she did.

"That's it Jimmy. Just set her down there, and when the doctor gets here, he'll be able to get to her better." Jimmy gently set her down on his bunk and he brushed the hair away from her sweaty forehead.

"Ah, Lou. You better be okay. You and me gotta talk." He leaned down and graced her cheek with a gentle kiss, leaving the rest of the riders in shock, except for Teaspoon.

"Boys, everybody out. I gotta get her ready for the doc to get here, and you all ain't gonna be in here and get in his way." Rachel shooed them out of the room, as they all waited on the front porch for Noah to arrive with the doctor.

They all stood there pacing, Kid every once in a while stopping to gaze into the early morning sun and then to glare at Jimmy. He saw the kiss that Jimmy had placed on Lou's cheek. He knew it was bound to happen, but it certainly didn't make things easy for him. He still cared for Lou a lot, but he also knew that they were broken up now, and she was free to see who she wanted. It was just hard when it was his best friend. He had a much easier time blamin' Jimmy then he did Lou.

He was broken out of his thoughts as Noah and the town doctor came riding in fast. "Where is he?"

They all looked at him, knowing he was about to find out a major secret about their fellow rider. "Uh…he's in the bunkhouse." They pointed him in, and then they had to wait.

The morning seemed to drag on forever, but when the doctor finally came out, he asked for Teaspoon to follow him inside. He turned to Jimmy as well. "She's askin' to see you too."

Jimmy paled, thinking something was really wrong, when he heard that. He quietly followed them in, seeing Louise sitting up in his bunk, pale but looking much better than she did when she had come riding in at dawn.

The doctor motioned for them all to sit around Lou, and Rachel stood by her. "This young lady tells me that you know about her bein' a her. Is that right, Teaspoon?"

Teaspoon looked at him and smiled, "Yeah it is doctor. She's one of the best riders we got." Louise smiled up at him, thankful that he was standing up for her.

The doctor looked down at Lou and then back at Jimmy, who was now sitting next to her, holding her hand loosely. "You're lucky young lady. That bullet went straight through. If it woulda gone an inch or two either way, you wouldn't be sittin' here right now." He smiled at her, "You're one brave woman, livin' here with these boys and doin' what you're doin'. I gotta give ya' credit. You take care of that shoulder, and you…" he looked at Jimmy, "make sure that she takes care of herself. I don't wanna see any of you gettin' shot again, anytime soon."

Jimmy chuckled, "I'll do my best, but I ain't makin' any promises doc. She's got one Hell of strong head, and she ain't gonna listen to anyone if she don't want to. But, I'll keep an eye on her just the same, 'cause I love her."

Louise grinned tiredly at him and then laid her head on his shoulder, happy at the declaration he had just made. Rachel and Teaspoon smiled at each other and then followed the doctor out of the bunkhouse to tell the boys the good news on Lou's health. They'd leave it up Lou and Jimmy to decide if they want to tell the boys that they were gettin' together. It was gonna be hard with the break up happening between Kid and Lou, but it was a good match. A lucky match in Teaspoon's eyes.

Lou lifted her head up from Jimmy's shoulder, "Did you really mean that, when you said you loved me?"

"Yeah Lou, I did. I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it. You just got a way of workin' yourself under my skin, and now you're stuck with me." He grinned down at her.

She leaned in and kissed him softly, then pulled away. "I've got some explain' to do Jimmy. I know you thought I was pullin' away from you 'cause of what happened in Willow Springs. You were right in a way. It was because of what happened in Willow Springs, but it wasn't for the reason you thought it was. It was 'cause I was confused on all these feelin's I was havin'. I was upset over the Kid, but you were workin' yourself under my skin, and I needed to get away for a while to make sense of it all. Does that make sense?" She asked him.

"Yeah Lou. It does." He hugged her to him gently.

"I'm just glad you got home and we could finally talk about this. I won't blame ya though, if you don't wanna stick this out with me. It's dangerous knowin' me, as you already found out. I don't want you gettin' hurt 'cause of me." He looked worriedly at her. "I ain't gonna let that stop me. I've got my own skeletons in my closet that like to come knockin' sometimes. We all have some demons doggin' us Jimmy. I ain't gonna let you face them alone, like you wouldn't let me face mine. We all stick together. I love you too much." She kissed him lightly again and then pulled away this time.

"Listen. I gotta talk to Kid. Just him and me about this. I think he already knows what's happenin' but, just to be safe, I wanna talk to him myself." He got up to get him.

"Not right now though. I'm tired, sore and hungry." Louise laid back down on his bunk.

"Alright Lou." He started to walk out the front door.

"Jimmy?" She called from his bunk.

"Yeah Lou?"

"Thanks. For bein' there, and for lovin' me for me." She smiled and drifted off into sleep.

"No problem, Lou. It's not too hard to do." He chuckled and walked out the front door. "Guess it's a lucky day all around," he thought to himself.

A Victim of Talent
by: Dede

“Cody, you in here?” Buck called into the dark barn.

“He ain’t nowhere else,” Jimmy said, “so he has to be here.”

“I still can’t believe what he did,” Kid said, shaking his head in disbelief.

Bawk-Bawk-Bawk

The three riders exchanged amused looks before staring up at the loft. They saw bits of hay float down, definitely proving that something (or someone) was up there. They’d followed Cody to the station knowing he’d hide after the chaos he’d caused in town.

*~*~*~*~*

“Can you really shoot that far?” the pretty young girl asked, giggling with her twin sister.

“Well,” Cody drawled, “I don’t wanna brag but –”

“Right,” Lou scoffed behind him, “you never brag.”

Cody looked over and glared at Lou but when he turned back to his audience, he immediately returned to his charismatic self. “Now Miss Patience, you ain’t doubtin’ me are ya’?” He grinned at the two girls.

“Oh no Mr. Cody,” answered Constance, Patience’s sister. She placed her hand on his arm, adding, “We’re just amazed at how far that is.”

“Cody, I thought you were gonna help us?” Lou asked as two little boys pulled on her arms trying to get her to show them riding tricks.

The whole town of Sweetwater was out to welcome their new territorial judge, Judge Harold Poe, his wife Gertrude, twin daughters and son, Harold Jr., as they visited the towns on his circuit. The townsfolk gathered just outside of town for a picnic, setting up tables laden with all kinds of food. As everyone ate the banter was light and the riders seemed to enjoy themselves. But once everyone was finished eating, the topic of conversation turned to politics and the riders were so bored that they headed away from the crowd to find entertainment more suited to their tastes.

Emma had told them to take the judge’s children with them and as they did, some of the older children followed. Soon every child at the picnic had migrated from the uninteresting adult discussions to the interesting rider camp. So now they were entertaining the youngsters with rope, riding and other tricks they’d learned as Express riders.

“Cody,” Kid called out to the blonde showoff as he took one of the boys from Lou’s arm, “did you hear her?”

Cody just waved Kid away like a worrisome fly and continued impressing the judge’s daughters. Exasperated, Kid and Lou took the boys back to where Buck and Ike were busy trying to keep less than five children at a time from climbing all over the horses and Jimmy was busy keeping two of the older boys away from his Colt.

“Now, would you like to see me set that weather vane a’spinnin’?” Cody asked, grinning slyly as he readied his rifle to shoot.

The two girls squealed with delight and clapped their hands – a confirmation by Cody’s standard. He set his site and concentration on the target. Just as he was pulling the trigger, he heard someone call his name – but it was too late, the shot was off.

He glanced around and saw the shocked looks on his friends’ faces and whirled around to see what they were looking at. Of all the luck, Judge Poe had picked that time to climb up in his buggy to stand (probably making a speech) right in the trajectory of Cody’s bullet. It would have cleared anyone else but not Judge Poe. The man stood well over six feet tall and wore a top hat that added at least another foot.

Everything seemed to slow down except Cody. He heard the two girls yell “Father!” and run towards the crowd. He watched the hat fly into the air and the man fall back on the seat. Judge Poe sat up and stared straight at Cody, causing the rider to blanch in fear. Then seeing the faces of Teaspoon, Sam and Emma, Cody did the first thing he could think of. He ran for his horse, hopped on and took off towards the station.

Just as he rode away he heard the ping of a bullet hitting metal and Lou yelling, “And he still hit the stupid weather vane.”

*~*~*~*~*

Bawk-Bawk-Bawk

“Um Cody,” Kid said, chuckling, “I don’t think that’s gonna work.”

Cody peeked over the edge of the loft floor. “Is he mad?”

“Don’t you think the question should be ‘is he hurt’?” Buck asked annoyed.

“Oh well I saw him sit up,” mumbled Cody.

“Yeah, he did,” answered Jimmy. “But you could’a waited to make sure.”

“Fine, fine,” Cody snapped, rolling onto his back so his friends no longer could see him, “I know I messed up.” There was a slight pause before Cody rolled back to look at them and asked again, “Is he mad?”

“Actually, he was impressed by your shot,” Kid said, looking up at Cody’s sheepish expression, which changed quickly by this news.

“Impressed?” A grin spread slowly across Cody’s face, growing into a very self-satisfied look. “Territorial Judge Poe’s impressed by my shot.”

“But Sam and Teaspoon ain’t,” Jimmy growled, reminding Cody of the severity of the situation.

“And Emma’s beside herself,” Buck added. “You really could have hurt someone.”

Cody rolled back onto his back again. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“What the hell were you thinkin’?” Jimmy finally asked what everyone had wondered.

There was a long pause and for a moment the boys figured Cody wouldn’t answer. They exchanged knowing looks, realizing their friend was trying to come up with some explanation, particularly for when Emma, Sam and Teaspoon got there.

When the boys had left to find Cody, the three adults had been helping the judge’s wife, who had fainted, and Ike and Lou were calming the judge’s children. The judge had waved away any type of assistance and just kept saying, “That was a helluva’ shot.”

They knew Emma, Sam and Teaspoon wouldn’t be far behind so Buck opened his mouth to say something, hopefully to get Cody down from hiding, but before he could Cody let out an excessively deep sigh and said, “I’m a victim of my own talent.”

“You are what?” Jimmy scoffed.

Cody rolled back to glare at his friend. “Just what I said. People are always askin’ me to show them how well I shoot and stuff.”

“People? What people?” Buck asked incredulously.

“Oh you wouldn’t understand Buck,” Cody said, as if explaining to a child.

“You are so full of –”

“Cody,” Kid interjected, cutting Jimmy off, “all you were doin’ was showin’ off. It’s that simple.”

“Humph,” Cody grunted. He sat up on his elbow and played with a piece of hay. “If his dang hat wasn’t so tall, the shot’d gone right over his head and nobody’d known.”

“Except for the loud bang,” Buck sarcastically replied.

“That hat was pretty tall,” Kid said thoughtfully. “Must be at least a foot.”

“Not anymore,” Cody muttered. The three riders below burst out laughing and Cody flung straw down on them though he was grinning when he did so and soon was laughing as well.

“You’re just lucky it went clean through,” Jimmy said softly, thus putting a stop to the laughter.

The friends sat in silence, knowing that an inch in the other direction, Cody would be facing murder charges and hanging.

“William Frederick Cody!”

“Oh God,” whined Cody, “I’m dead.” Looking around frantically, he got up on all fours and crawled towards the haystack. Just before disappearing behind it he said, “I ain’t here.”

Amused and bewildered, Jimmy, Buck and Kid watched Cody. Resigned to Cody not facing his punishment, the three headed for the door. As they pushed it open, they heard a faint whisper, “You won’t tell ‘em I’m here will ya’?”

The three exchanged looks. They didn’t want to tell on their friend but they also didn’t want to be on Emma’s bad side. Finally Kid said, “We won’t tell but, if asked, we ain’t lyin’.”

Buck and Jimmy both said, “Right.”

“I’m dead,” Cody muttered.

They exited the barn and saw Emma, hands fisted and planted firmly on her hips, turning circles in the middle of the station yard, yelling Cody’s name. She spotted them immediately.

“Do you know where –”

All three pointed their thumbs over their shoulders at the barn and continued walking as Emma marched past.

“He’s dead,” Kid whispered.

“Well, they did think the judge had been assassinated,” Buck pointed out.

“I just hope he knows what to do,” Jimmy said, a small grin playing on his lips.

Kid and Buck stopped. “What exactly should he do?” Buck asked.

Grinning, Jimmy turned to his friends and tucked his hands in his armpits and flapped his arms like wings as he walked backwards towards the bunkhouse. “Cluck like a chicken. That’d fool ‘em.”

Lucky Enough
by: Miss Raye

Doctor Chambers set down his instruments on the cot beside his patient.

"Well, what's the news Doc? Do I get a visit from Cal to measure me for my necktie?"

The Judge cleared his throat and looked over at the doctor. "Well?"

When the man didn't immediately answer, the gunman launched into his own supposition. "Can't be good news either way, I guess." Swinging his head toward the Judge he grinned. "Either my eyes is shot and I'm done as a lawman, or I've lost my eye and I'm done as a lawman."

The aging man took a step back from his patient and nodded. "Sorry, Bill, but I-"

"Doc, you've known me know for the better part of a decade… do you think for once you can call me by my Christian name?"

Clearing his throat, almost as if it was an effort to remember, Doc Chambers addressed the man sitting before him. "James, I'm sorry, but you've got glaucoma. It won't be long now until you ain't fit to sign your name on a line, let alone fire a gun at anything…. Or anyone with accuracy."

Hickok seemed to take it in stride, the Judge adding on. "You're lucky; it went clean through Carter's arm."

He tried not to shrink back from the news, tried not to ignore the feelings it brought up in his throat. It was a dangerous stupid thing he'd done and this was just his due from his long life of misdeeds. "It shouldn't have happened in the first place. I know when I'm beat, Judge."

The doctor leaned against the wall and sighed as he wrung his hands. "What are you gonna do now, James?"

The gunfighter turned lawman gave a shrug that belied the dark thoughts in his head. "I'll find somethin' to occupy my time."

The Judge shook his head. "Hittin' the whiskey and cards ain't a solution."

Jimmy smiled back. "What if I throw in a heavy dose of womanizin'… would that be better for you, Sir?"

The doctor scrawled some information on a piece of paper and handed it to Jimmy. "Give this to your doctor… when you get settled, he'll know to contact me and I'll tell him-"

Jimmy let the paper fall from his fingers as he stood. "I appreciate that doc, but I don't think it'll do me much good where I'm goin'."

He stopped at the door when the Judge called out to him. "Where exactly is that, Hickok?"

The charismatic smile that had flustered so many women and angered so many men was in full force. "To hell, gentlemen, I've got a little place waitin' for me from what I've been

Coming Up
by: Miss Raye

He set the Henry rifle in the corner of the room, laying it up against the wall behind the coat rack as if he expected it to collect dust and fade away. The luxuries in the room weren't anything special, nothing to draw attention and remind him later when this room was long behind him.

The tub was ready… brought up just how he ordered it. Of course, it didn't hurt that he'd paid handsomely for the privilege. It wasn't going to keep him from using it either.

He reached up and started to remove his buckskin shirt, his own reflection catching the corner of his eye.

"You're lucky, it went clean through."

Hezekiah straightened and looked at his reflection and narrowed his gaze. "Tell me somethin' I don't know."

His fingers continued on their task revealing a dingy undershirt as they went. "There's more like him comin' up… more like him dyin' to see the West and tame it."

"Who told them it would be fun and games?" Hezekiah huffed as he tugged at a particularly pesky tie. "This land will kill ya if you ain't lookin'."

A snide little grin on his face was sliding into a grimace. "You didn't come here thinkin' it would be easy, Horne. Problem is you've forgotten what it's like to be young and headstrong."

"Young and stupid," he huffed back at his reflection.

"Adventurous and longing for freedom."

"Stupid." He argued back as he peeled of the remainders of his clothing off and dropped them on the floor. "Someone should put a bullet in the head of everyone like him."

The voice in the mirror continued out of sight. "He's just like you old man…"

Hezekiah reached for the bar of soap but it slipped past his fingers and fell with a plop and a sloppy splash into the water near his hip. "Even more of a reason to end it now. It's the least I can do…"

"All I can say," argued the voice in his mirror, "you're lucky it went clean through."

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