Topic #91: Birthday Challenge: Choose character and word (by birthdate) for your subject.
Let It Rain by: Dede Part of the Equation by: Dede
Writing Woes by: Lori Over His Head by: Miss Raye
Shirt Tale by: Dede In Heat by: Miss Raye
Out of the Dark by: Cindy Bunny Tales by: Lori
Winter Wonderland by: Dede Best Intentions by: Miss Raye
He's Our Brother by: Miss Raye Reaching Out by: Miss Raye
Over and Over by: Miss Raye By the Book by: Cindy
Downhill by: Miss Raye Water, Water, Everywhere by: Dede
Mud Puddles and Mud Puppies by: Dede Muddy Waters by: Miss Raye
Time To Ourselves by: Miss Raye It's All a Show by: Dede
Time to Herself by: Cathy Consequences by: Cindy
To Us by: Cindy Longing Through the Night by: Miss Raye
Bottoms Up by: Dede Precious Metal by: Dede
Dark by: Karen Pride & Joy by: Miss Raye
Let It Rain
by: Dede
Dad: 01/13 – Barnett/rain

Barnett pulled the chair from the marshal’s office outside and settled his lanky body onto the seat. He leaned back, propping his long legs on the railing. It was a crisp and rainy fall day; the slight chill in the air warned of the cooler temperatures coming. Undeterred, Barnett sat and listened to the rain fall lightly on the hard-packed dirt. When the drops hit, they bounced off as if the street had closed up tight against any nourishing liquid. He sighed contentedly. He loved rain. The sound of footsteps pounding quickly down the wooden walkway caused Barnett to sit up.

“Mornin’ Deputy,” Mr. Cole said as he rushed by. He glanced over his shoulder but didn’t stop. “Ain’t fit fer a body in this mess. I’m stumped to why you’s out here.” He didn’t wait for an answer and Barnett was sure the man didn’t care for one.

Barnett resumed his relaxed position and watched the people as they hurried to their destinations. He couldn’t understand why they didn’t take time to appreciate the little things, like rain. To Barnett it washed away the dirt, leaving everything fresh and pure. It struck the deputy as funny that when it rained the people ducked inside to keep dry but even when the sun came out, they tried to stay in the shade. People didn’t make sense to him.

His gaze flickered across the street and he caught sight of Miss Emma Shannon. “She’s a right purty lady,” he murmured. “Sam’s a fool.”

He watched as she walked briskly down the sidewalk. The livery owner said something to her that made her smile. “What could’ve ol’ Wicker said ta bring such a smile as that,” Barnett wondered aloud.

She seemed to be in a very good mood and he was pleasantly surprised when she removed her glove and stuck her hand out to feel the rain on her palm. He rocked the chair back and looked around. Even with the rain, the town was busy. Barnett watched Tompkins step out of his store like a bear from hibernation – and he was just as happy.

“Dang it, Frank,” Tompkins bellowed, “can’t ya’ do anythin’ right?” He stomped off the walkway and stepped into the street. As soon as Tompkins foot hit the soft mud, the ground slid underneath and he lost his balance. With a loud splat, the man landed on his hind end.

Barnett crossed his arms over his chest and ducked his head to laugh. And he saw that he wasn’t the only one. Emma was standing a few feet from Tompkins with her hand over her mouth. Barnett could see her shoulders shaking. As if she sensed him staring, Emma met Barnett’s eyes and, blushing slightly, winked.

“Yep, a right purty woman,” Barnett said softly as he nodded and smiled.

*~*~*~*~*
MIL: 10/13 – Emma/rain

Emma walked down the sidewalk, enjoying the nice chill in the air. She loved the rain and normally liked to curl up in her comfortable stuffed chair and knit or read, but today she had errands. Looking around, she saw all the people scurrying about, desperate to get out of the weather. She thought it was invigorating and took a deep breath of the clean, cool air. When it rained, Emma believed that everything was renewed, like it was all washed clean. Stopping to watch the rain fall, she grinned at the stubbornness of both the ground and the rain. The rain refused to let up, beating to get into the earth; and in turn the earth refused to give entry to the drops. “Jus’ like some people I know,” she said, softly. Sighing, she continued on her way, not wanting to think about a certain someone.

“Miss Shannon,” a voice said from behind her. Emma turned to see Mr. Wicker, the livery owner, but continued walking as he followed. “What the devil are ya’ doin’ in this mess? Ain’t a fit day fer a lady to be out in.”

“I’m fine Mr. Wicker, jus’ fine,” Emma said, reassuring the man with a bright smile. He seemed to accept it and hurried on his way.

Emma shook her head. “Why don’t people enjoy the day?” She stopped suddenly and, as a mischievous grin spread across her face, pulled the glove off her right hand. She stuck it out from under the awning and let the rain wash over her hand. It felt glorious.

“Dang it, Frank,” Tompkins bellowed, “can’t ya’ do anythin’ right?” Emma watched as the storeowner stomped off the walkway and stepped into the street. She knew immediately that he’d made a mistake. As soon as Tompkins foot hit the soft mud, the ground slid underneath and he lost his balance. With a loud splat, the man landed on his hind end.

Emma’s hand flew up to cover her mouth and stifle the laughter that threatened. She giggled softly behind the glove she held. Her smile faltered slightly because she felt someone watching her. Looking around, she noticed Deputy Barnett Hamilton sitting in a chair in front of the marshal’s office. He was grinning too. She blushed but gave him sly wink. He responded with a knowing smile and nod.

“What a nice man he is,” Emma said. She continued on her way and glanced surreptitiously in the deputy’s direction. “A very nice man.”

Part of the Equation
by: Dede
SIL: 01/21 – Barnett/pass

“I…they…but how…why?” Barnett stammered. He pushed his hat back and scratched his head in confusion. Sam couldn’t possibly be serious.

“Now Barnett,” Sam said and smiled a bit too widely. Barnett knew he was going to try to placate him but that wasn’t going to work. “It’s just a simple test, is all. The territorial marshal thinks it would be a good idea for all the peace officers in his area to show what they know.”

“So you gotta take it too?” Barnett eyed Sam suspiciously.

“Well, no,” Sam said. He quickly held his hands up to stay Barnett’s argument. “Wait a minute. It’s mainly fer the deputies ‘cause there’ve been some problems with paperwork and such.”

“Right,” Barnett muttered. “Considerin’ we’re the ones that do all that fer you marshals.” He crossed his arms over his chest indignantly.

“I do paperwork,” Sam said, peevishly. When Barnett narrowed his eyes at him, Sam shrugged. “Okay so not as much as you. But look, there ain’t a thing I can do, so...here.” Barnett took the test that Sam held out.

The deputy’s eyes widened as he scanned the many pages. “Have ya’ looked at this?” He shook the papers at Sam. “Do ya’ know what they’re askin’ here?”

Sam had the good sense to look sheepish. “It’s just a little math and some –”

“A little?” Barnett whined. “They’ve got two whole pages a’ stuff.” He crumpled the test in his hand. “What the hell does that gotta do with anythin’?” He frowned and looked at Sam expectantly.

“Barnett,” Sam said. The deputy immediately knew by the sound of Sam’s voice and the look on his face that the marshal was through discussing the matter. “This needs to be done by tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Barnett’s face fell. How could he do something he didn’t understand in such a short amount of time?

“Yeah, well, I’ve had it for some time,” Sam said, gruffly. His voice softened. “Jus’ do yer best, okay?”

Without a word, Barnett nodded grudgingly and walked out of the office. As he stood on the walkway, he looked around and tried to figure out what to do about the math part. He scanned the town and his eyes set on the bank. “Mr. Cromwell will know what ta do.” He headed across the street, hoping the man could help.

*~*~*~*~*

Defeated, Barnett stepped out of Tompkins’ store. He’d had no luck with Mr. Cromwell at the bank; or the clerk, Roger Wilson. Both men had tried to explain the math but Barnett just couldn’t grasp what they were saying. It didn’t help that the manager and clerk had shared an amused look at Barnett’s expense.

The next stop had been Pete at the livery. Barnett knew he used math in taking money and allotting feed, among other things. When Barnett had asked, Pete had been more than willing to help until he’d looked at the pages. His bewildered expression had matched Barnett’s. Pete had suggested Ruddy Bietzel, the tanner. Pete had been sure Ruddy could help considering the math he used when he measured. Unfortunately for Barnett Ruddy had been off fishing.

One after another, Barnett had tried the different business owners but to no avail. Either no one had time to help or they couldn’t explain it in a way Barnett could understand. His final and least agreeable stop was Tompkins. At first, Tompkins had been unwilling and had barked at Barnett to leave. But then – and Barnett was pretty sure it was his forlorn expression – Tompkins had relented and asked to see the papers. After perusing the problems, the storeowner had announced that it should be pretty easy and straightforward.

Tompkins had used coins to show the problems by grouping them together. First had been two groups, one of three coins and the other of eight. Tompkins had then pushed the groups together and asked how many there were. Barnett had responded by telling him how much money total. Tompkins had been annoyed but didn’t give up.

This had gone on five more times, using different coin groupings. When Barnett had looked blankly at each group of coins, Tompkins had grown increasingly more belligerent. Barnett could easily tell him how much money was there but it just didn’t register on the number of coins. Tompkins had thrown his hands up and refused to help anymore.

Helplessly, Barnett stood and looked around for someone else but there wasn’t a soul left he hadn’t tried. Or was there? A smile unfurled on his face as a name popped into his head. ‘Teaspoon.’ With a renewed sense of hope, Barnett hurried to his horse. “Teaspoon will definitely be able ta help.”

*~*~*~*~*

Barnett rode into the yard and was immediately greeted by Teaspoon.

“Barnett,” the man drawled, “to what do we owe this pleasure?”

“Uh, I need some help,” Barnett said softly as he climbed down off his horse. He glanced around furtively, hoping none of the boys were around. He didn’t really want the riders to know how stupid he was. He figured that would affect the amount of respect they had for him.

“Help with what?” Teaspoon sounded so intrigued that Barnett wondered if he’d made a mistake by coming.

“Well, I gotta pass this test….” Barnett nervously shifted from one foot to another.

“Ah the territorial marshal’s new regulation,” Teaspoon said snidely and Barnett sensed the contempt in the statement, which made him feel much more comfortable. Teaspoon turned to him and smiled. “I’d be right happy ta help.”

Barnett heaved a deep sigh of relief. It seemed he’d been holding it in since Sam gave him the test. “I really appreciate this but, uh….” He looked around again.

“I understand completely,” Teaspoon said, as he put his hand on Barnett’s shoulder to direct him towards the bunkhouse, “but don’t ya’ worry, the boys are all busy with their chores so we’ve got plenty a’ time.”

The two men walked into the bunkhouse and Teaspoon indicated for Barnett to sit at the table. “Now get comfortable ‘cause that’s very important, and get out yer test.”

Barnett did as Teaspoon said and placed the papers, along with his hat, on the table in front of him, flipping through to find the ones with the problems. Once those two pages were on top, Barnett folded his hands and patiently looked at his teacher.

Teaspoon paced slowly and ran his thumbs under his suspenders. “Math is a complex science with a series of just as complex equations to help a man find the answers he’s lookin’ fer.” Teaspoon eyed him to make sure his pupil was paying attention and Barnett nodded slowly. He really had no idea what Teaspoon was talking about and just hoped they’d start talking about his math problems. However, the stationmaster continued his lecture anyway.

“People who study these maths are called ‘math-mah-teeshuns’ and they tend to seek out patterns found in numbers and use this science to draw the necessary conclusions to answer whatever problems come up.” He cleared his throat and, giving Barnett a wink, he continued.

“It takes quite a bit of book learnin’ ta actually understand even the simplest of problems,” Barnett opened his mouth in shock and Teaspoon held up his hand, as a preacher does his congregation, “but don’t ya’ worry, I’ve had plenty a’ experience and can learn ya’ proper.” Barnett heaved a sigh of relief.

Teaspoon took a seat across from him at the table and leaned forward. “So let’s have a look at yer problems.” Teaspoon pulled the top paper towards him and stared down at the list of problems. He made a few grunting noises as Barnett watched the variety of expressions run across the man’s face. Barnett didn’t have a good feeling and thought this would be another failed attempt, but the smile that suddenly appeared on Teaspoon’s face had Barnett sitting up in anticipation.

“Now, here we have a three and an eight,” Teaspoon said, placing the paper flat so they both could look at it. “With this symbol,” he pointed at the cross between the two numbers, “that tells us we need to set the equation proper.”

“Proper?” Barnett echoed, more confused than he’d been after just looking at the page.

“Right,” Teaspoon said, with a definitive nod. “So, seems we need ta use a value of, say, ‘x’ and assign it t’ the answer.” Barnett’s jaw dropped. He had no idea what Teaspoon was saying. That didn’t faze the man as he barreled on. “This here ‘x’ means ta multiply…” he squinted at Barnett, “ya’ know multiplication?”

Barnett just blankly shook his head.

“Well, never mind that,” Teaspoon said, waving his hand in the air. “Take the numerator,” he grinned at Barnett in a slightly self-satisfied way, “that’s Latin fer ‘number eighter,’ and put that on the other side of this here equation.”

“Um, but isn’t it already an equation?” Barnett asked tentatively. He was completely lost now. Why would the territorial marshal want all the deputies to know how to do this?

“Well, there’re equations and there’re equations,” Teaspoon said, wisely. “Anyway, that leaves ya’ with the three here on this side. Now ya’ ask yerself, ‘what times three equals eight?’” He sat back happily and waited for Barnett to answer.

The deputy just stared from the paper to Teaspoon and back again. Finally he shrugged. “I ain’t got no idea.”

“The answer of course is six,” Teaspoon stated matter-of-factly. “Let’s look at the next one.” He glanced at the second problem and scratched his whiskers. “Hmmm, nine times four. That’s a bit tricky, I think ya’ need ta use some calculus with that one.”

“Calculus?” Barnet spat. He grabbed the papers off the table. “Ferget it. I ain’t gonna ev’r be able ta do this.”

“Now, now,” Teaspoon said, patronizingly, “ya’ jus’ started and –” The door swung opened and Teaspoon looked up.

“Mr. Spoon,” Emma said, with her head cocked to the side. Barnett thought she was wearing an oddly amused look on her face. “I believe the boys need ya’ at the corral.”

“Sorry ‘bout that Barnett,” Teaspoon said as he stood up. “Duty calls an’ all, ya’ know.” Teaspoon tipped his hat to the deputy and walked to the door. Before exiting, he added, “If ya’ want, I can resume this here tutorin’ later on.”

Barnett shook his head dejectedly and watched Teaspoon hurry out the door. With a weary sigh, he clutched the papers in his hand and stood up to leave. He picked up his hat and absentmindedly stared at it. He wasn’t going to be a deputy anymore. What would he do? He’d always wanted to enforce the law, ever since he was little. Pulled from his musings by a soft cough, he was startled to see Emma was still there.

“Barnett,” Emma said, still standing in the doorway looking at him, “why don’t ya’ come up ta the house and I’ll fix us some coffee.”

Barnett trudged forward and looked curiously at her. “I think I prob’ly should try ta do this test.”

“Come on,” Emma coaxed, standing to the side for him to pass. He did as she directed and waited, wondering why she wanted him to have coffee with her. She took the lead and walked towards the house, every so often glancing over at him.

Once inside, she headed to the stove. “Go on and sit at the table.” Barnett, as was always his way, did as he was told. He kept the papers crumpled in his hand, placed his hat on the table, and sat nervously at her table. Why was he here?

She poured two cups of coffee and brought them to the table. Sitting one in front of Barnett, she smiled and sat in the chair across from him. Emma took a small sip of the hot coffee and placed the cup back on the saucer. Barnett sat and stared at the brown liquid. He didn’t know what to say so he mumbled, “Thank you.”

“I guess yer tryin’ to take that test Sam was talkin’ about,” Emma started. Barnett nodded and picked up his cup to drink. “An’ ya’ came out here ta get help from Teaspoon, is that it?”

Barnett nodded again. Sighing, he softly said, “Ain’t matter anyway, nobody can teach me. I’m too stupid to –”

“That ain’t true,” Emma disagreed. “Perhaps ya’ need ta go about it another way.”

He looked up at her, confusion etched all over his face. “I’ve tried just about ev’ry which way I know how. I asked ev’rybody, includin’ Tompkins.” He made a sour face and Emma laughed. Blushing he looked down at the table. “I figured Teaspoon would be able ta help but, well, not that he didn’t try, it’s jus’ that….” Since Emma had been upset, he left the words unsaid – he was stupid.

“Ya’ haven’t asked me yet,” Emma prodded. Barnett’s head whipped up and he stared at the redhead.

“Uh, you?” he asked, meekly. “I didn’t…I mean, I jus’ thought…um….”

Emma held her hand out for the test and waited patiently as Barnett worked through this possibility in his mind. Could Emma do what no one else could? He handed the papers to her, figuring he had nothing to lose.

She smoothed them out and placed them on the table. Barnett watched her eyes quickly read over the problems. Once she got to the end, she was wearing the same peculiar grin she’d had when she came into the bunkhouse. “I believe I can help.”

Barnett felt a sudden rush of optimism but stoked it in case this was yet another hapless situation. “Ya’ think?” When Emma nodded, he couldn’t help but grin.

She got up and walked over to the small pantry. Barnett was perplexed as to what could help him from there but said nothing. He watched as she searched the shelves and soon found what she wanted. A small bag in hand, she came back and, sitting the bag down, took her seat. The top page was between them now and she pointed to the first problem. “Now this is askin’ fer ya’ to put three and eight together.”

“I know Teaspoon tol’ me.” His shoulders dropped as he recited, or tried to, what Teaspoon had said. “I have ta assign a value and take the number eighter and –” Emma was laughing. Her hand was over her mouth but Barnett could hear the laughter. “What? Tha’s what he said, or I think he did.” Barnett scratched his head.

“Barnett,” Emma said, kindly, “it’s much easier than what Mr. Spoon was tellin’ ya’.” She opened the bag and pulled out a handful of beans. “Now,” she separated them into groups just like Tompkins had. Barnett groaned.

“Tompkins tried this with money but I jus’ kept tellin’ him how much was there, I couldn’t –”

“It’s okay,” Emma stopped him. “See here?” She pointed at the first group and said, “Here’s yer three,” and then moved to the second group, “an’ here’s yer eight.” After pushing the groups together, she asked, “So now how many are there?”

Barnett stared at the beans until his eyes were watering. He shook his head.

“Put yer hands up here,” Emma encourage, “palms flat.” He did what she said, and she put a bean by each finger. There was one bean left over. The sudden burst of realization spread across his face.

“Eleven!” he blurted out so loudly Emma jumped. But she recovered quickly and clapped.

“Very good!” She patted his hands. “Ya’ got a pencil?” Barnett immediately produced one out of his pocket. “Good, write that answer here.” He carefully drew two ones on the line provided. “Now, let’s move on to the next one.”

*~*~*~*~*

Barnett walked along the sidewalk with a bounce in his step, almost skipping. He’d completed the test with Emma’s help. Once he’d gotten the hang of the beans, he’d used those to solve the rest of the problems. Emma had checked them for him and helped him correct the ones he’d missed. Then they’d moved to the grammar section. By then the boys had finished their chores and everyone got in on the session. Teaspoon had been hurt at first to find out that his help hadn’t been as helpful but he soon jumped in with suggestions and comments.

Spotting Sam out front of the office, Barnett quickened his pace. He couldn’t wait to give the marshal his test. All night, he’d had dreams of the accolades he’d receive for doing so well. What if he was the only deputy to get all the answers? What if he was the only one to complete the test? Grinning from ear to ear, he came to a quick stop in front of Sam.

“Um, Barnett,” Sam said, leaning back slightly from his deputy. “Ya’ feelin’ okay?”

“Sure am!” Barnett chirped. He held the test up against his chest so Sam could see the front page. “All done.” Barnett’s smile faded as Sam looked questioningly at the papers. “It’s the test.”

“Oh yeah, that,” Sam said. “Well, I jus’ got word that the test has been canceled.”

All the blood rushed from Barnett’s head and he felt his heart plummet into his boots. “Canceled?” he croaked.

“Yep,” Sam said, “seems all the deputies threatened ta quit.” A bark of laughter startled Barnett from his stupor. He saw that it had come from Sam. “Ain’t that good news?” He slapped Barnett on the back and strolled down the walkway. “Oh,” Sam turned to face him but continued walking backwards, “there’s a stack of papers on yer desk. Needs ta be done and sent on the stage this afternoon.” He waved and faced forward to resume his stroll.

“Great news,” Barnett said, with a sigh. Defeated, he walked into the office to start on the paperwork.

A/N: The lesson Teaspoon gives Barnett is from the cartoon Calvin & Hobbes. I know I made Teaspoon rather obtuse, which I know he’s not, but some of his explanations could get a bit longwinded. And when I read the cartoon, I could actually hear Teaspoon’s voice. d;-)

Writing Woes
by: Lori

1/30: Barnett/Complete

He hated these tasks. He didn’t like doing them because he wasn’t particularly good at them. He could read and he could write, but not very well; he was slow, he struggled for the right words and he always had a headache when he finished. But Teaspoon had given him the assignment to write to the marshal of Miller’s Gulch, despite the deputy’s protests, and Barnett wanted to try to complete the task while the cool morning air drifted into the quiet, and empty, office. If he was going to have to write something, he wanted to do it with nobody around.

He was nearing the end of the second paragraph, a feat that had only taken him twenty minutes to accomplish, when the door to the jail opened. He gritted his teeth and hoped that it was Teaspoon returning. Then maybe he could convince the older man, and the one who should rightfully be writing this letter, to take over and Barnett could avoid the headache that was beginning to march across his skull and dance on his eyes.

“Hey, Barnett.”

He nearly snapped his pencil in two. It was not Teaspoon. It was one of the riders.

Looking up from his letter, he tried to give a cordial smile to Jimmy, thankful it wasn’t Cody who had come in. The blond rider was not one who enjoyed silence, and so tried to make up for it by talking twice as much. An interruption by him was not what Barnett wanted today. “Hey, Jimmy. Whatchya need?”

“Just lookin’ for Teaspoon,” the other man said. “Got somethin’ I need to discuss with him.”

“He headed out earlier this mornin’,” the deputy explained. “Wasn’t sure when he’d be back. I can tell him you were lookin’ for him.”

There was just a bit of hope infused into the last statement. He figured Jimmy would hear Teaspoon wasn’t here, there was no idea when he’d be back, and the younger man would head on out and leave Barnett alone. So he could finish up his letter in peace. Before his headache got any worse.

Jimmy’s words dashed all that hope. “Well, I don’t have a run today and my chores are finished…so I’ll just stick around here for a while and wait for him to come back.”

Barnett tightened his grip on his pencil and narrowed his eyes in annoyance. Jimmy just sat down at Teaspoon’s desk, put his feet up on the wooden structure and tipped his chair back, his hands linked together over his slender stomach. It appeared he was settling in for the long haul. Perfect. Just perfect.

~*~*~

Barnett sighed and scratched prettiest hazel eyes out of the letter and dropped his head in defeat. He was going to have to start the letter over again. He was on his fifth letter because Hickok had apparently decided that today he didn’t want to be quiet and brooding; he wanted to talk and wax poetic about the new assistant seamstress in town. The lady in question was showing an enormous amount of good sense and taste and wasn’t falling all over feet to date Hickok and the rider just couldn’t understand it. He’d come to ask Teaspoon’s advice, which just showed how addle-brained the man truly was.

Asking advice on love from Teaspoon was like asking Tompkins for charity. Nothing good would come of it.

Keeping his now worthless draft of the letter beside him for a guide, Barnett once again started over. He did his level best to ignore the besotted and ridiculous ramblings of the other man in the room while working diligently to complete the letter. The headache that had been looming at the beginning of the task was now a full-blown symphony of pain. That, combined with Hickok’s pacing and talking to himself was making it very difficult to concentrate and find the right words.

“Don’t you think so, Barnett?”

His ears pricked as he caught his name, but he was not going to answer. He wanted to finish and maybe if he kept on working Hickok would realize that the man was bothering him and stop.

“Barnett?”

Or, maybe not.

“Barnett?!”

“What?” he snapped as he slammed his pencil down on the desk and caught the letter, ripping a corner of it. “What do you need, Hickok? I’m tryin’ to work here!”

The younger man blinked, as if realizing the situation for the first time.

“I uh...sorry,” the other man offered. “How many letters you gotta write?”

“Just this one,” he groused. “But I have to keep startin’ over ‘cause I don’t think the marshal out in Miller’s Gulch wants to hear about Miss Abbot with hair like golden daffodils or the prettiest hazel eyes you ever done saw. You keep rambling and suddenly I find myself writing down what you were sayin’.”

He arched his brow, but then suddenly slumped in defeat as he confessed, “I’m not the best letter writer, Hickok, and I told Teaspoon that. But he wanted me to write this letter anyways, and I’ve been workin’ on it for hours because you just had to come in here and sit down and wait for Teaspoon ‘cause you had nothin’ better to do. I wanted to get this done, but instead you’ve been moving chairs around, lockin’ yourself in the cell like a fool and babblin’ on and on all ‘cause some girl’s got you so twisted up inside you don’t know end’s up.”

Hickok blushed, before he tried to cover it by adopting a stony mask on his face and crossing his arms over his chest.

“If you’re gonna stick around,” Barnett decreed with a burst of authority, “then sit down, be quiet and let me finish my letter. Otherwise I’ll tell Teaspoon and the whole station all about this morning.”

The rider tilted his head to the side and the deputy was certain that the younger man was going to challenge him. Instead, he turned on his heel, sat down in Teaspoon’s chair, shuffled it around so that his back was to Barnett and then sat quiet as a church mouse. Staring in shock and confusion for a moment, the deputy marshal let out a breath and then sat back down at his desk.

Now, in the peace and quiet, maybe he could finally complete his letter.

Shirt Tale
by: Dede

Me: 02/23 – Teaspoon/heat

‘What is goin’ on in that boy’s head?’ Teaspoon watched his riders working on the fence, especially Lou McCloud. ‘He immune to heat?’

It was a sweltering day but nonetheless, Teaspoon had the boys setting posts and extending the fence near the station. He liked to keep them busy and as he’d just told Buck, their job was anything he said it was.

Glancing at the smallest of the riders, Teaspoon couldn’t figure the boy out. Just two days earlier, they were fixing the section of shingles on the barn roof due to the violent thunderstorm that had blown through. Lou had been at the top of the ladder with the sun beating down on him, wearing his shirt. The sleeves were rolled up and the collar opened, but Teaspoon could tell the boy was not comfortable in that heat. Just like now. Teaspoon eyed Lou as he walked by. He had to admit, hot or not, Lou was working hard.

“‘Sides,” he said, knowing it was time to bestow on these young men his vast wisdom of life, “ain’t you never heard of the dignity of honest labor?” He puffed up, ready to impart his knowledge. He really was only half into the lesson, he still couldn’t grasp why Lou was keeping his shirt on. The other boys had their shirts off, even if Buck refused to be without his vest. That confused Teaspoon a bit too. If you’re going to take off your shirt, why leave your vest on? His musings were interrupted by a willing pupil. Well, maybe not so willing.

“What dignity is ’at?” Cody said; the sarcasm dripping as he twisted another post into place.

They were all hot and Teaspoon could appreciate that but they still needed work and discipline. “The pure satisfaction of knowin’ you done an honest day’s work,” he removed his hat and wiped his brow; it really was hot out there, “for an honest day’s pay.” He sat his bowler back on his head and turned to walk back the way he’d come. Letting all the boys hear his words of encouragement. “The pride of bein’ one of the fine young men that are carvin’ out a nation,” he paused, glancing at each one of his riders, his eyes resting on Kid as the boy tied the rail to the post, “fence post by fence post.”

The other riders kept their mouths shut, all knowing that the quicker they got done the quicker they’d be out of the heat. Not Cody. This had ruined a perfectly good day for him.

“Fence post by fence post,” he echoed snidely, “while the dignified folks who own the land are sittin’ around gettin’ fat on their backsides.”

Teaspoon couldn’t help the wry smile that appeared; the boy was challenging him. “Well, I’ll tell ya’ son,” Teaspoon said softly, “there’s dignity…’en there’s dignity…isn’t there?” Before the discussion could continue, the sweetest sound came to the riders’ ears.

“Lemonade!”

Chuckling, Teaspoon watched the boys drop whatever they were doing and head towards the house. Lemonade certainly did sound like a good idea. Leave it to Emma to time it perfectly. Still worried about Lou, Teaspoon walked quickly to catch up to the boy. He wanted Lou to know that there wasn’t anything wrong with being small and skinny. The boy was still growing and had nothing to be ashamed of.

“Ya’ know son,” Teaspoon said, “you’d be a lot cooler if you took that shirt of yours off.”

“I’m fine.”

Teaspoon noticed how Lou quickened his pace. ‘Probably wants to get to the lemonade b’fore Cody drinks it all.’

While the boys took the cups from Emma and drank greedily, Teaspoon thought about Lou. A small smile played on his lips. ‘Once they’re done with this section of fence, I’ll let ’em go to the swimmin’ hole. Lou will definitely enjoy some swimmin’ with the boys.’

Out of the Dark
by: Cindy

Date: 3/10 Buck and Dark (my friend Kitty’s birthday)

It was the darkest night he could recall. In fact, with the heavy cloud cover blotting out all moon and star light, the night was about as close to pitch black as he figured it could get.

All in all, it was perfect for the mood he was in, Buck decided.

How could anyone expect him to be in a good mood, so soon after Ike’s death?

This was really the first time he’d been away from the station by himself since… since that day. Teaspoon thought he was doing him a favor by reassigning his regular mail run, but just being at the station all day, every day, wasn’t doing much good either. And so, when this special delivery came up, Buck had asked for it.

Demanded it.

And the lonely ride across the prairie had been a good tonic in many ways. Oh, it didn’t diminish the pain he still felt. But at least for a couple of days he hadn’t had to answer questions or endure looks of pity from well-intentioned friends.

His horse lurched forward as they hit a rut, and Buck scrambled to stay in the saddle. It was madness to keep riding as dark as it was. At any moment they could encounter a gopher or snake hole, or some other obstacle, and the horse could be injured. By all rights he should stop…

A quick glance back over his shoulder made him keep going.

The sky to the west was not pure black; it was crisscrossed at fairly regular intervals by jagged bolts of lightning. The storm was still too far away for the lightning to do anything to brighten his path, but the rolls of thunder were getting louder. At the slow pace he was maintaining in the dark, the fury would be on him in no time.

He looked ahead again, hoping to see something – anything – ahead that might mean shelter. Weathering the oncoming storm out in the open wasn’t something he was looking forward to. But the prairie remained defiantly flat, at least for the few feet he could see in any direction.

That was the problem with this part of the Nebraska Territory – it was flat. Long gone were the canyons and deep washes that had populated the foothill area near Sweetwater. Here there was just prairie. Long, rolling stretches with barely even a hill, much less real shelter.

The horse stumbled again, and Buck finally gave in to common sense. He dismounted and took the reins in hand, leading the way. Maybe he could feel something in the terrain that he couldn’t see.

He’d only been walking for a few minutes when there was a sudden change in the wind. A strong gust blew up from behind, pushing his hair into his face and threatening to dislodge his hat. There was a definite smell of rain in the air as well. To be prepared he reached back into his saddlebags as he walked and pulled out his rain poncho. He tugged it on and kept going.

He walked a little faster, trying to watch both his feet and the surrounding area. As the wind picked up he used one hand to keep his hat on his head. And then the first raindrops arrived – a few wet drips against the back of his neck at first, and then a steady sprinkling.

From the sound of the thunder he figured it was going to get a lot worse.

The horse was getting a bit skittish, and Buck tugged the reins harder to keep moving. A bolt of lightning lit up the area, followed almost immediately by a boom of thunder. And as another gust of wind pushed against his back, Buck thought he could smell something burning. Looking back he couldn’t see anything, but that was hardly surprising in this weather. Still, since he hadn’t smelled it before, it probably meant that the lightning had hit something – which made it even more imperative to find shelter.

More lightning illuminated the area, the bolts seeming to come faster and faster. The peals of thunder were almost continuous, and the rain was so heavy it almost seemed to be a solid sheet. Just off to one side, he saw a puff of smoke as the lightning hit the ground, and he knew his quest was even more urgent. Lightning tended to hit the highest points, and right now as far as he could see, that would be him and his horse.

Finally, in one of the lightning-illuminated moments, he saw an even deeper shadow just to one side. Pulling the horse with him, he headed that way and a moment later he stumbled into a shallow depression between two hillocks. It was only about two or three feet deep, but at least it was that much lower than the surrounding area – and with the lightning flashing all around him, any advantage would help.

Working as fast as he could, Buck pulled his bedroll and saddlebags off, and then un-cinched the saddle, dropping it off to one side. He spread the oilcloth from the bedroll on the ground and then turned his attention to the increasingly skittish mare. Right now, she was the tallest thing around, and therefore in danger. But with the right leverage on her neck and the reins, he finally got the horse down on her side.

Dragging the oilcloth up close, Buck lay down against the horse’s back, pulling his poncho up over his head. He was already drenched, and it was going to be an uncomfortable night, but at least they were no longer the tallest objects on the prairie.

And then there was nothing to do but wait for the storm’s fury to pass.

~~~~~

Morning finally arrived, and the darkness lifted. At some point the worst of the storm passed, and Buck dozed off. But now the sun touched his eyes, warming his face, and he forced his eyes open. The quiet of the new day stood in stark contrast to the loud storm of the night before.

His head was still pillowed against the mare’s back, but as soon as he sat up the horse climbed to her feet. With a snort and a shake of her head she wandered off a few steps and began to graze.

Buck slowly got to his feet, trying to ease the stiffness from his muscles. Huddled the way he had been against the storm definitely hadn’t been comfortable, and he was paying for it now.

He pulled the poncho off and shook out most of the water. Then he climbed the nearest hillock and looked around. Most of the prairie grass was laying almost flat, battered by the wind and the rain. He saw a few dark patches that might have been lightning strikes; fortunately the heavy rain had kept the burned areas from spreading.

Buck went back to his saddlebags and pulled out some jerky. It wasn’t really much of a breakfast, but with everything in the area soaked it wasn’t likely he’d get much of a fire going. That also meant no coffee, so he washed the jerky down with some water from his canteen.

Somewhat fortified, he tracked the horse down and saddled her, rolled up his muddy bedroll, and repacked his gear. Then he mounted and turned toward home.

The mud would still keep their pace down, at least for a while, but it didn’t really worry him. He still couldn’t talk about Ike, so the less time he spent at the station right now the better. All he had to worry about was getting back in time for his regular run tomorrow.

Hopefully Teaspoon hadn’t reassigned this ride too; the stationmaster would have an argument on his hands if he had. Despite the storm, this ride had been good. And a nice, quiet mail run was just what he needed right now.

*****

A/N: I’m picturing this happening right before the episode “Survivors” – a nice, quiet ride for Buck indeed!

Bunny Tales
by: Lori

My son; 3/14: Buck/Sunset

A/N: Thank you to Raye for the furry, mythical inspiration.

“Daddy, Daddy, let’s go!”

Buck chuckled as he walked towards the barn, his children jumping around him in excitement. It had been a long week, temperatures rising, tempers getting shorter, and chores becoming more daunting. Buck had promised his children that if they finished their chores and did not get into any fights that day he would take them out camping. They’d get to sleep under the stars, they’d get to have a campfire, they’d cook over the fire, tell stories and his wife could stay home and relax without grumpy and squabbling children underfoot.

“Slow down, little one,” he laughed as his son nearly tripped over his feet in his haste to get underway. “We have plenty of time. Sunset isn’t for another hour or so and we’re not going that far. We’ll have plenty of time to set up the camp before it gets dark.”

“I wanna ride with you, Daddy,” his daughter stated, holding up her arms in clear indication for him to pick her up. “I don’t wanna ride with Ike. He always makes me sit in the back and complains if I hold him too tight. You let me sit in front and you hold onto me.”

“Alright,” he smiled indulgently as he lifted her and settled her on his hip. “You can ride with me this time.”

“Thank you, Daddy!” she squealed and threw her arms around his neck nearly strangling him in her enthusiasm.

~*~*~*~

Once the horses were saddled and the supplies secured, everyone kissed Momma good-bye and began the short trek. Buck had learned from previous experience to not go far from home when camping with his young children. They wanted to be far enough away that they didn’t feel like they could walk to the house, but they wanted to be close enough that if things got scary or they missed Momma that they could go home. It had only taken one time for the father to discover that riding home for hours in the dark with a crying child was not something he wanted to do again.

As they guided their horses to tonight’s destination, Buck pointed out the different plants they passed and what their uses were. His children delighted in the stories he told, but he also wanted them to have the practical knowledge he imparted to them. It might aid them at some point in the future, and it helped them learn the traditions and heritage of his mother’s people.

By the time they reached camp, he was quite ready for the ride to end. His daughter was young, but that did not keep her from talking and sharing her thoughts on every subject that entered her mind. Questions, observations, stories…they all poured forth from her lips as they rode. While Buck admired her enthusiasm and zeal for life, he was grateful to be off his horse and not have her chatter so directly near him. He could busy himself with gathering wood for the fire and setting up the camp for them to enjoy for the night.

As the sun began to set, Buck prepared dinner for them to eat. Another thing he had learned; never wait too long to make dinner. It is not fun to cook in the dark, and something about the lack of light suddenly turned his children ravenous. They wanted to eat and they wanted their food immediately. Dark apparently meant dinner and they were impatient to wait even one minute longer. He no longer made that mistake again, and soon their simple dinner was cooking and would be ready for them to eat.

~*~*~

When dinner was over and the sky was nearly dark, Buck sat with his children around the campfire. His daughter was curled up against his side, unwilling to be apart from him once the sun was down. His son was determined to prove he was not a little kid like his sister and stubbornly sat several feet away from father and daughter. Buck knew, however, that before the night was over, his son would be tucked up right against his other side. He didn’t way anything, merely allowed his son to do as he pleased.

“Tell us a story, Daddy.”

As always, it was his daughter who made the first request, but his son would always listen eagerly and attentively to the tales he told.

“Tell us about the rabbit,” she requested.

“You always want that story,” Ike grumbled.

“But we can see it so clearly,” she protested. “And it’s so sad, but so wonderful. Please, Daddy, tell us about how the rabbit got in the moon.”

With a smile at her enthusiasm, Buck cleared his throat and leaned back to look at the moon. It was full and bright, and the shadow outline of the rabbit was clearly discernable. He noticed Ike shift slightly towards him, leaning back as well to look up into the sky at the pale orb.

“Long ago,” he began, “a rabbit, a fox and a badger lived together. The moon god was lonely by himself up in the sky and he came to earth disguised as an old man, and searched for a companion. He came upon the three animals as it was growing late and he stopped and asked them for something to eat. The three animals went out, searching for something for the old man to eat. They could not find anything and when they came back to the man, they had nothing for him. The old man was hungry, and so the rabbit said ‘you may eat me’ and threw himself into the fire.”

Darlene shivered slightly and gasped, “Oh.”

Buck wrapped his arm around his little girl, knowing she wasn’t truly upset, but was always saddened by the thought of the rabbit in the fire. “The moon god was so moved by the rabbit’s sacrifice that he decided to make the rabbit his companion. He took him up to the moon to live with him…and we can still see him up there today.”

By now Ike was close to his side and stared up at the sky with rapt attention. Lifting his hand to point, as he always did when he told this story, Buck said, “There are his ears, and his face.”

“And his hands,” the little girl said in delight.

“And his feet,” his son concluded.

“Yes,” Buck nodded, bringing his arm down around Ike and feeling warm in the joy of spending time with his children. “And that is how the rabbit got in the moon.”

A/N: The tale Raye shared is actually a Japanese tale, but Japan was closed to emigration during this time period so I took some liberties in adapting the tale for Buck to know it. There are, however, different versions of the Rabbit in the Moon myth, with different animals who are the rabbit’s companions, including an Aztec legend, Mesoamerican tales and Mexican folklore. I felt it may not have been that big of a stretch for Buck to have heard a tale such as this growing up and for him to share it with his children.

Winter Wonderland
by: Dede
Brother: 03/18 – Buck/snow

It was so peaceful. He was surrounded by pure white as he rode lazily along. There wasn’t a need to hurry since the delivery of the prisoner was done. Sighing contentedly, he rocked in his saddle with the movement of his horse. Buck was at ease and the area around him reflected that. He loved snow.

He knew it could be harsh especially if left out in it, vulnerable to the elements. But that wasn’t a problem for him now. He had a good job and a wonderful family, and he felt thankful for all of this. The beauty of the land made him smile.

He inhaled, feeling the cold air nip at his lungs. Breathing out, he watched as his breath warmed the air and the vapor drifted above him. He turned to his companion and grinned.

*~*~*~*~*
Nephew: 12/18 – Jimmy/snow

He was absolutely miserable and pulled his coat collar farther up. Any farther and his head would be inside it. He grimaced as he looked around at the wintery mess. He tried to get his mount to go faster but the stupid animal wouldn’t cooperate. Home, all he wanted to do was get home. A blazing fire, a shot of whiskey, and perhaps a beautiful, warm body, was all he wanted and not necessarily in that order. Any order was fine as long as he was not in this white hell. He hated snow.

The delivery of the prisoner went perfectly and Jimmy thought they’d stay in town but no, someone had thought it a good idea to get a head start and enjoy the ride. Enjoy? Jimmy snorted at the thought. How could someone possibly enjoy losing the feeling in his hands, feet, and other areas that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company? Or any company for that matter. The idea of getting stuck out here, in these conditions, was not an option Jimmy wanted to contemplate. He rubbed his gloved hands together and tried very hard to nudge his horse into something more than a saunter.

Breathing in, the frigid air bit his lungs and he coughed. He glanced over to see his companion looking at him with a stupid grin on his face.

*~*~*~*~*

“Isn’t this the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen?”

“Either shut up or get shot; it’s your choice.”

He's Our Brother
by: Miss Raye

4/16 Liz Noah Tight

Teaspoon was trying very hard not to lose his temper but the situation wasn’t helping. He looked at the man waist deep in the earth and let out an impatient sigh. “I understand that you have a job to do, but I gotta wonder why them Army boys are any more important than one of our own.”

Mack leaned on his shovel and looked up at Teaspoon with a helpless expression. “Sorry, Teaspoon… I know he was important to ya, but I got me a direct order from the Captain and he said that I gots to take care of his boys first.”

Buck put a restraining hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, keeping him behind Teaspoon. Jimmy shrugged off Buck’s hand but he didn’t advance any further, his eyes speaking volumes for him.

“Noah ain’t just another… person, Mack… he’s a son to me.”

The other man scratched at his temple and surveyed the ground around him, three holes already dug. “I dunno what to say, Teaspoon… that Army fella told me to have it done by morning and I got my hands full, boys these days…” he looked over at the two young men he’d hired to help and sighed, “they just don’t know what it means to put in an honest day’s work.”

Buck turned toward Jimmy and a moment of silent communication passed between the two friends. Reaching out to touch Teaspoon’s shoulder, Buck stepped back toward the station, Jimmy following quickly behind him.

They’d nearly made it back to the station before Jimmy balked, stopped dead still in the street. “I say we head back there and… and…”

“And what,” Buck challenged, “beat them up? Shoot them?”

The hint of a smile touched the corners of Jimmy’s mouth and he had to shake himself. He hadn’t smiled since…since… “I wouldn’t mind, but that wouldn’t do anythin’ that would help… Teaspoon-” the rest of his words died in his throat and when he looked at Buck he saw the same pain in his eyes.

“Then let’s help.” Buck’s comment struck a chord in Jimmy and the two went straight to the barn.

*** ***

Mack looked up and brushed sweat from his forehead as he saw the two young men approaching. “What now, boys? I’m busy and if you want me to get finished so I can-”

The two riders moved over to the center of the lot and laid their shovels down between the occupied plots before they removed their coats. “You do what you have to, Mack,” Jimmy picked up the handle of his shovel and dug it into the dirt, “and we’ll do what we have to.”

Buck nodded and dropped his first shovelful of dirt onto the ground beside them.

Shaking his head, the gravedigger “I understand you work with the man, boys… he’s one of you riders over at the Express. I’ve seen you boys in action and I guess it don’t matter much that he’s one of them free blacks… he’s pulled his weight ‘round town when there’s been need.” Another shovelful of dirt arched out from the grave he was standing in. “So I guess I got no call to wonder why you boys would come on down here and take up this job. Sure you don’t have other things that need doin’?”

With great effort, Jimmy swallowed the first words that came to his mind and turned when Buck voiced the words they’d both had echoing in their heads since they’d gone into the barn after the shovels. “He’s our brother.”

They didn’t wait for Mack’s reaction, both turned back to the small depression they’d made in the ground and sunk their shovels into the dirt in earnest.

By the Book
by: Cindy

Date: 5/1 Lou and Book (My cat Loxley's birthday)

A/N: This story follows "The Thunder Rolls" from Quick Fic #33, "On the Edge" from Quick Fic #53 and "To Help a Friend" from Quick Fic #54.

He found her curled up in a chair by the fireplace, a cup of coffee in one hand and a book open in her lap. But her eyes were somewhere else, staring off into a distance that was far bigger than the room.

"Lou?"

Her head jerked, and for a brief moment it seemed that her eyes wouldn't focus. But then she took a deep breath and smiled. "Hi, Buck."

He stepped further into the room and returned the smile. "What are you reading?"

She lifted the book and turned it so he could see. "It's just my journal. I was lookin' at some of what I been writing."

He sat down on the chair next to hers. "Find anything interesting?"

She looked down at the book and sighed. "This is where… where me an' Kid were plannin' the future."

It was one of the very few times she had even said his name in the three weeks since Kid had simply left one night in the middle of a thunderstorm. Lou had been left with a note, and the shattered remains of a newlywed dream.

And a child on the way, as the doctor had now confirmed.

Buck took the book gently from her hands and looked at the writing. "Well, seems like you're well on the way," he said softly. "We made the payment to the bank, and the farm is yours day after tomorrow. Soon as it's yours, we can get a crop planted and get started on the repairs."

"Ours," Lou corrected. "I couldn't have bought it outright without the money you put in."

Buck shrugged. "I need a place to stay too." Now that he'd made the commitment to stay in Rock Creek, at least for now, that was very true. He couldn't stay in the bunkhouse forever, especially if the stage schedule changed. But he already had a plan for fixing up the tack house attached to the barn for his use. "And once the house is fixed up, we'll get your brother and sister. I know they can hardly wait to be here with you."

Lou took the book back and ran her fingers over the journal page. "Just seems like so much has changed."

"Some things," Buck agreed. "But not everything. You're not regretting buying the farm, are you?"

"No." Lou's answer was immediate and firm. "I've always wanted my own land. Growin' up, we were always movin' around. Guess it was 'cause pa was tryin' to stay ahead of the law, but I didn't know that then. What I wanted though was a place of my own, someplace I could really make a home."

"And you've got that, or at least you will in a couple of days."

"I don't really know all that much about farming. Kid's the one…"

Buck reached for her hand, squeezing her fingers. "We'll learn, you and me together."

She looked up at him, studying his face. "You sure you ain't regretting sayin' you'd stay?"

He heard the fear in her voice, and he smiled, hoping to allay her worry. "I didn't know what I was going to do," he admitted. "But I know I made the right decision." And he did know that now. He was at ease with staying to help Lou. Staying close to friends like Teaspoon, Rachel, Polly, and Janusz also made him certain this was the right thing to do. For now anyway.

Lou flipped to a blank page toward the back of the journal and reached for a pen on the small table between the chairs. She dipped the nib into a bottle of ink and then held it poised over the paper.

"What are you writing now?" Buck asked.

"Got new dreams now," Lou replied. "Different, at least. I like to write 'em down so I can see when I finish things."

"Good idea. And in two days you can write down that you're a land owner."

"I like the sound of that."

"In a couple of years you'll be able to look at that book and see how much you've accomplished."

"How much we accomplished."

Buck grinned and got to his feet. "It's gonna be all right, Lou. You'll see. And you'll have it all right there in that book."

"My record of success."

"That's right." He pulled his hat on, still smiling. "I have to go help Teaspoon."

She returned the smile. "I'm gonna put some dreams in for you too."

He guessed he could probably use some. The decision to stay in Rock Creek had been so sudden and recent, he really hadn't thought much beyond the immediate issues. "A year from now we'll look at it and see how we're doing."

Lou held the journal up. "It'll all be right here in this book. Dreams for both of us."

Water, Water, Everywhere
by: Dede
Dog Cody: 05/27 – Lou/water

‘Why d’ they keep askin’ me?’ Lou thought. ‘I always say no.’

“Lou ya’ sure ya’ don’t wanna go?” Kid asked.

“Yeah, it’s awful hot out,” Jimmy said, walking around in just his drawers. Lou averted her eyes. The boys made it very difficult for her to keep hidden as a boy.

“Ya’ know,” Cody said, dressed in less than Jimmy. Lou hadn’t looked at him once, she kept her nose in her journal, “ya’ have yet ta come swimmin’ with us.”

Everyone stopped and looked at Lou. She grimaced but kept staring at the page in front of her.

“Leave him alone,” Buck said, “maybe he just doesn’t wanna go.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want our comp’ny,” Jimmy said, glancing at Cody before looking back at Lou.

*Considering how some of you act at the pond* Ike signed, *can’t say I blame him* She looked at Ike out of the corner of her eye.  He was smiling at her and she knew he was trying to lighten the mood.

“Wha’d he say?” Kid asked, looking at Buck.

“The way some of you act, Ike can’t blame Lou,” Buck summed up.

“So is that it Lou,” Cody prodded, “they way we act?”

Sighing, she sat up but made sure her eyes stayed over their heads; she couldn’t risk looking at any of them in the state they were in. “Fine, I’ll tell ya’ why I don’t go.” She could tell they were all waiting expectantly, even Buck and Ike, and she had to laugh. “I don’t want to.”

They all groaned and shook their heads. She turned back to her journal as the boys got dressed.

“Fine Lou, miss out,” Jimmy said. “Let’s go.” He grabbed his bag and walked out the door. The others followed; each glancing up at Lou as they walked by. Kid was the last one.

“Ya’ sure?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” she said. It came out more waspish than she’d intended. She smiled and added, “Go ahead and have fun.”

Kid eyed her suspiciously but didn’t say anything and walked out the door.

*~*~*~*~*

“Great,” Lou muttered as she followed Teaspoon, Jimmy, and Ike. “I avoid gettin’ wet swimmin’, and now I have ta dig a well.”

“You say somethin’ Lou?” Jimmy asked. He narrowed his eyes at her and she knew he didn’t trust her. She wanted to scream at him, “Yeah I’m suspicious…I’m a GIRL!”

“Nope, jus’ hummin’,” she said, as happily as she could muster.

“Wait,” Teaspoon said as he held his arms up, almost reverently. “We’re here.”

Lou and Ike shared the same look of doubt, as Jimmy just rolled his eyes. Teaspoon looked at the three riders and pointed to a spot on the ground.

“That’s the spot. Dig.”

And so they did. They dug…and dug…and dug. Nothing.

“Teaspoon,” Jimmy grumbled, from the bottom of the hole, “I think this ain’t the spot.”

“It is. Ya’ jus’ need –”

“Mr. Spoon,” Emma called, her voice sounding frantic as she hurried over.

“Emma, ev’rythin’ okay?” The concern was clear on the older man’s face.

“Oh yes,” Emma said, smiling. “Um,” she glanced at Lou and Lou thought she looked nervous, “could ya spare Lou for a bit?” She smoothed her hair back and Lou definitely knew the woman was uneasy.

“Um, well,” Teaspoon hemmed. “I don’t suppose it’ll hurt. “ He turned and looked down at Lou. “Go ahead but tell Buck ta come out here.”

Lou nodded and placed her palms on the ground at the top of the hole to hoist herself out. Just as she jumped, she felt a hand on her rear push her up and over the edge. Landing on her face, she rolled over quickly and glared at the two boys. She’d expected it to be Jimmy but it was Ike. He just grinned at her and signed, *You are welcome.*

She swallowed and smiled weakly. Jumping up, she brushed off her pants and shirt as she ran over to Emma.

Smiling, Emma waved at Teaspoon and the boys, and grabbed Lou by the arm. “I’m glad I caught ya’ b’fore somethin’ happened.”

Lou’s expression was blank. “Happened?”

“You gettin’ wet,” Emma said, incredulously.

Lou chuckled. “Yeah, I was thinkin’ ‘bout that too.” Giggling, the two women walked to the station.

*~*~*~*~*

Lou peeked out the bunkhouse door and glanced around. Nobody was there. Emma, Teaspoon, and the boys, except Kid, had gone to town. Kid was on a run so Lou was all by herself. She was so happy. She grabbed her towel and toiletries, and headed for the shower.

Giddy with the anticipation of the wonderful treat – a nice shower without having to duck in, wash quickly, and duck out – she skipped the last few feet, threw her towel over the wall, and dropped her bag of supplies. Giggling, she slipped out of her underclothes, tiptoed in, and pulled the cord. A rush of cold water washed over her and she squealed with delight. She released the cord and bent over to get her soap when she heard the distant sound of hoofbeats.

“No, no, no,” she muttered as she grabbed the towel and quickly dried off. “Who is that?” Pulling on the undergarments she just shed, she listened closely and heard the unmistakable creaking of a wagon. “Why? What’re they doin’ back? They jus’ left! Why, why, why?” She stuffed her towel under her arm, snatched the bag from the ground, and took off at top speed for the bunkhouse. She was over the threshold and slamming the door shut when the wagon rounded the corner into the yard.

“I swear,” Lou heard Emma nagging, “you boys don’t have the sense of a moth flyin’ into a flame.” Lou rubbed her hair with the towel, desperately trying to dry as much as she could before anyone came into the bunkhouse. She peeked out the window just in case.

“You two are not goin’ to town actin’ like that, treatin’ each other that way.” Lou saw that Emma had turned in her seat but couldn’t tell who she was talking to. Teaspoon jumped down from the wagon, facing Lou and away from Emma, so Lou saw Teaspoon roll his eyes. She giggled and felt her hair.

“Good enough,” she mumbled. She moved to her bunk and dressed quickly. She’d just pulled on her boots when the door flew opened.

“Jimmy,” she heard Cody snarl as they walked through the door, “if’n you could read, perhaps you’d –”

“I suggest ya’ keep yer mouth shut,” Jimmy said turning to face Cody, his expression dark.

“So, y’all are back early,” Lou said, hoping to calm the situation. No one answered.

Buck walked up and stood in the doorway. “Teaspoon wants me, Ike, and Lou to actually go into town with Emma.” Lou saw the disappointed look Buck gave Jimmy and Cody. “And he’s got, um, work for you both.” Buck glanced at Ike and Lou before turning to walk back to the wagon. Lou looked from Jimmy to Cody and then questioningly at Ike. He just shrugged and followed Buck outside. She sighed softly and did the same.

*~*~*~*~*

Lou looked around the cluster of trees that hid a small pool of water. It was beautiful and peaceful, just what she wanted. She stripped and draped her clothes over Lightning’s saddle. Walking gingerly to the water, she sighed at the feel of the soft grass against her feet. At the water’s edge, she dipped a toe in and it felt glorious. Looking around once more, she couldn’t help the feeling of being watched. But that was ridiculous because she’d first rode then walked around the perimeter to make sure. Taking a deep breath, she plunged ahead. The water was cold but refreshing. Soon she was swimming and singing happily.

Finally, she was able to enjoy water without any worries.

*~*~*~*~*

‘Well, can’t say I’m surprised,’ he thought as he watched the young woman swim, ‘explains it better than a fear of water.’ He chuckled softly and quietly left.

A/N: I know I changed the timeline of Lou being outed that Emma knows before everyone, forgive me please, but she just came running up and who am I to stop Miss Emma from doing anything! d;-)

Mud Puddles and Mud Puppies
by: Dede
Dog Cody: 05/27 – Lou/water

Humming softly, Lou hung the last few pieces of laundry on the line. She stepped back and let the garments flutter in the warm breeze. Lou turned her face to the gentle wind and breathed deeply. It was a good day. A slight shiver escaped and Lou looked down at the damp dress she was wearing; she must have thought she was washing it too. The bodice was soaked. Motivated to get moving by another shiver, Lou hurried over to her next chore, which really wasn’t a chore for her.

She smiled as she picked up the hoe and turned the soil, readying it for water. This place had been a work of love by the whole family, though some members weren’t as in love with it as she was. Jimmy and their children had surprised her with a cleared plot for her birthday. When she’d come back from lunch and shopping with Polly, the little square section was ready for a garden. Immediately, she’d enlisted everyone’s help with the planting.

A faint bark echoed in the distance followed by voices and laughter. She glanced in the direction but couldn’t see anyone. Lou was alone at the house since Jimmy had to work, Em and Maggie were visiting friends, and Polly Ann was with her grandparents, Teaspoon and Polly. The youngest member of the Hickok brood was with his uncle. Buck had agreed to help Joshua train his new puppy, Hickok. Lou giggled thinking of what Jimmy thought of calling Hickok a “puppy.” She could still hear Jimmy bellowing as Hickok crashed through the marshal’s office, upending chairs and sending paperwork flying everywhere.

“I swear as soon as I agreed Joshua could have that puppy, the dang thing turned into a horse!”

She thought of that “dang thing” and how Hickok had helped with the planting. Joshua had coaxed the dog to dig just a little spot and the boy followed behind with the seeds. It had been an amusing sight but though they’d laughed, Hickok had been very helpful. Em had been thrilled when she saw this and had pleaded to be allowed to stop the “menial labor.” Jimmy had left the decision to Lou, something he seemed to do a lot of; Jimmy didn’t like disciplining the children or saying ‘no.’ Lou had relented, mainly because she didn’t want to hear Em’s constant complaining. And since Em was dismissed, Maggie had been the next to whine and be allowed to go. Polly Ann and Joshua had been more than happy to help; it was a great excuse to play in the dirt and mud.

Chuckling at the antics of her children, Lou continued softening the dirt as she moved down the rows. She loved the feel of the soil and the results of all the hard work. Her mouth watered at the possibility of the scrumptious vegetables that would soon grow. Joshua and Polly Ann didn’t share that anticipation at all. Lou had sworn the older girls and Jimmy to secrecy until the planting was finished. Once Joshua had found out what he’d helped plant, he’d pouted for days, mumbling about Hickok digging some new holes.

‘Joshua might not have anythin’ ta worry about,’ Lou thought, sadly.

For the past few weeks, the weather hadn’t been the best to raise the vegetables, rain being scarce. But, four days ago, Jimmy had come up with a solution that would ease the strain of carrying water to the plot. He’d posted a rain barrel on the edge of the garden that had a spigot just above the bottom chine hoop so all Lou had to do was turn the lever and a small stream of water came out. They’d dug small furrows between each row, to act as a natural aqueduct. He’d worked everything out with the cooper, Mr. Brower, on how to build it. Mr. Brower had called Jimmy a “daft loon,” but when the man had come by to see it in action, he’d been impressed with Jimmy’s idea. Everyone had been impressed, but Maggie most of all. Lou smiled softly at the memory of how proud Jimmy was to have impressed their bookworm.

The barking and shouting seemed closer and Lou wondered how Buck was faring with the boisterous duo of Joshua and Hickok. Jimmy had been beside himself with delight when Buck volunteered to help train the dog. Lou knew Jimmy was just too impatient and wouldn’t take the time to help Hickok understand what was expected.

“He’s just a sweet, lovable puppy gettin’ used to bein’ in his skin,” she said, talking to the plants. “He’s got those big ol’ paws that seem ta get in the way when he walks, ’specially when he runs.” She thought of how Hickok lumbered and tripped over himself when he chased after Joshua.

“Hickok no! Stop!”

Lou’s head popped up when she heard Joshua’s voice so close but she didn’t see anyone, though the bushes were rustling. Worried that something had happened, she dropped the hoe and slowly walked towards the noise.

Suddenly Hickok ran through the high brush followed closely by Joshua. “Hickok, come back!” Lou chuckled as Hickok ran towards her, his tongue lolling out so he looked like he was wearing a big grin.

“Joshua,” she heard Buck call, “you’ve gotta show him who’s boss.” Buck burst through the brush, looking very flustered. Lou laughed harder and watched Joshua and Buck try to get control of the dog. Buck grimaced and yelled, “Grab the leash! That’s what it’s for!”

“Have ya’ had –” Lou started to ask if Buck had had enough but the words died on her tongue. Her eyes widened as she realized Hickok was running straight at her with no sign of stopping. “Hickok no!”

The dog didn’t hear “no,” just “Hickok,” and happily continued on. Determined to get to Lou, Hickok ran around the barrel but the hand-loop at the end of the leash caught on the spigot and slowed the dog’s pace. Annoyed, Hickok, as with all dogs, wasn’t deterred and just pulled harder. The water in the barrel shifted in the direction Hickok wanted to go. When he felt the release, he picked up speed and continued forward – the barrel included.

“Lou!” “Mama!”

Buck and Joshua watched as a wave of water knocked Lou off her feet and flipped her over a few times before she landed finally on her back. The water rushed over her, the garden, and Hickok, who began to cheerfully lick Lou, happy that he’d succeed in his quest.

Lou sat up, sputtering and coughing. Pushing Hickok gently away, she blinked a few times and rubbed her hand over her face to wipe the water off so she could see. Her garden was a muddy mess, as were she and Hickok. Lou looked down at her filthy dress, and Hickok plopped on the ground, sending up a splash of muddy water that squirted across her chest and face.

Buck and Joshua slowly approached. She could tell they weren’t quite sure what to do, and neither was she. The garden she’d wanted for so long was a huge mud puddle. But when she looked down at Hickok who in turn looked at her with such a goofy expression, tongue still hanging out; she saw the unconditional love the dog had. Without looking at Buck or Joshua, she leaned over and wrapped her arms around the dog’s neck. Her shoulders were shaking.

“Is she cryin’?” she heard Joshua ask.

“Um, I don’t know.” Someone was moving forward and she knew it was Buck by the footsteps.

Her laughter bubbled to the surface and she lifted her head up, letting it go. It felt good. Hickok jumped up and wagged his tail, his whole body wagging with it. She saw Buck standing a few feet away, his expression unsure, and Joshua just behind him, his eyes bright and his expression worried. “Honey, I’m fine.” She hiccupped and sniffed as her laughter died away. “Joshua, come here.”

He slowly walked towards her, his steps hesitant.

“Sweetie, I’m fine,” she said, holding her hand out for Joshua to take, “and so is Hickok.” She kept her other hand on Hickok to show there were no hard feelings.

Joshua immediately rushed over and sat in her lap. Hickok decided he wanted to join them and tried to sit in Lou’s lap too. Joshua giggled and pushed at Hickok’s rear but, as is a dog’s instinct to do, Hickok pushed right back. Hickok had more power and easily won the contest. Lou started to pry herself from the two who were now rolling over her and wrestling in the mud. Joshua giggled gleefully as Hickok yipped and yapped.

Before Lou could get away, Hickok stood up and shook with such force, the muddy water that coated him sprayed everyone. Lou held her hands up and squealed as Joshua tried to stop Hickok. The dog shuddered as the drops flew off from his nose to his tail garnering more giggles from the boy. Lou wiped her face again and shook her head wryly.

“Here let me help,” Buck said. He wiped his hand on his shirt and held it out for her. She gratefully accepted and pulled herself up. She looked at him and giggled. Buck hadn’t avoided Hickok’s shower.

Lou and Buck walked a few steps away from the playing. She heard Buck sigh softly and glanced over at him but said nothing. After a few moments of silence, she turned to her friend.

“So, how’re those lessons goin’?”

Buck threw his head back and a deep, hearty laugh burst forth. “I think we need a few more.”

“Um, yeah,” she said, giggling. They watched Joshua and Hickok play until the two were completely covered in mud, head to toe and tail.

“Hey,” Buck called, “what about the three of us going swimming while your ma gets cleaned up?” Joshua jumped up and started skipping around the yard, Hickok jumping around with him.

Lou beamed at Buck and whispered, “Thank you.” She clapped her hands together to get Joshua’s attention. The boy stopped and dutifully looked at his mother. “You behave and mind your uncle, ya’ hear?” She knew she didn’t have to say that, Joshua always did, but it was good to cover it just in case.

“Yes Mama,” Joshua said, solemnly.

“See you later,” Buck said and walked towards the muddy pair. He took Joshua’s hand and the three headed off to the waterhole.

Lou was turning towards the house when Joshua ran up to her. “Mama,” he said, staring at the ground, “I’m sorry about your garden. Even though I don’t like what ya’ planted; I didn’t mean for it to be ruined.”

“Honey, it’s okay,” she said, smoothing Joshua’s mud encrusted hair, “I know it was an accident. But listen ta what Uncle Buck says about teachin’ Hickok.”

“I will,” he said, softly.

She leaned down and kissed him on his forehead. “Now you run along and get cleaned up.” She turned him towards Buck and popped him on his rear, propelling him forward. He giggled and ran back to join Buck and Hickok. She watched as the trio walked away, disappearing around the back of the barn.

Sighing, she stared at her garden. “Well, Tompkins will be pleased.” Grunting, she strolled over to the clothesline, grabbed a towel and a change of clothes, and headed to the shower. “I have mud where mud just shouldn’t be,” she grumbled.

A/N: Thanks Cindy for the ‘encouragement’ to do another story w/ this prompt since Cody is Hickok! d;-)

It's All a Show
by: Dede
Cat Ariel: 07/19 – Cody/drink

“Why do ya’ have ta always be that way?” Jimmy asked, exasperatedly.

“Seriously. Ya’ seem to enjoy actin’ the fool,” Kid said, shaking his head.

“Cody,” Lou said, “ya’ always spout off without thinkin’.”

“Of the consequences or of anybody’s feelings,” Buck added, clenching his jaw.

It was another situation where Cody had said the wrong thing and had tried to clown his way around the outcome.

*Forget it* Ike signed, looking at his friends, *he doesn’t have an excuse and he doesn’t care*

They all looked at Cody one last time as the blond leaned silently against the corral railing, and walked off towards the bunkhouse.

“…actin’ the fool….”

“…spout off without thinkin’….”

“…consequences or feelings….”

“…he doesn’t care….”

“That’s where yer wrong Ike,” Cody muttered.

“Ge’ ou’ ‘ere an’ ge’ me my dinner woman!”

Billy cowered in the corner hoping he would go unnoticed. His father had been at the saloon all day and had come home in a sour mood, as well as very drunk.

“Woman! NOW!”

Billy watched as his mother hurried out of the backroom, running over to the stove to finish fixing the stew. Or what was supposed to pass for stew. Mr. Cody hadn’t remembered to bring home the supplies; they hadn’t had meat in days and there was very little else in the house. And Mrs. Cody never had any money anyway. Trying to chop the vegetables, her hands were shaking so badly that she cut her finger.

“Oh!” She grabbed a towel to staunch the flow of blood.

“Ya’ shtupid cow!” The man flew out of his chair and at his wife. He grabbed her arm and raised his hand to strike her but was stopped by the sound of someone singing softly.

“Took my gal to the blacksmith shop; to have her mouth made small; she turned around a time or two; and swallowed shop and all…”

“Wha’s tha’ boy?” His father stopped and stumbled over to where Billy stood shaking. Billy was terrified but didn’t want to see his mother beaten again so he’d caused a distraction. “Whatta ya’ singin’?”

It seemed to be working so Billy sang louder. “Once I had an old gray mule; his name was Simon Slick; he'd roll his eyes and back his ears; and how that mule would kick.”

His father threw his head back and let loose a deafening howl. Billy was alarmed and stared fearfully at his mother. She gave him a tentative smile and made a subtle gesture with her hand, indicating that it was okay. His father smacked him on the back with such force, Billy stumbled forward. The drunken man staggered to his chair and fell back onto the seat. Eyeing the boy, he nodded for Billy to continue. Swallowing hard, the small boy started once again.

“How that mule would kick; he kicked with his dying breath; he shoved his hind feet down his throat; and kicked himself to death.”

After Billy finished, everyone was silent. There wasn’t a sound in the house. As his father rubbed his chin, he continued to stare at Billy. Finally, he leaned forward and said snidely, “Think yer so shmart, don’ ya’?” His father narrowed his eyes at him. Determined he wouldn’t give the man the satisfaction of seeing him cower, Billy stood very still but didn’t look away. “Keep singin’,” the man mumbled as he leaned back in his chair and let his head drop back against the cushion behind him.

Billy did as his father said but chose a quieter tune and soon the man was snoring loudly. Billy’s mother scurried over and kneeled down in front of him, hugging him tightly to her. She pulled away and, smiling weakly, brushed his white-blond hair out of his eyes. “Ya’ want some dinner?’

Billy just shook his head and didn’t take his eyes of his father’s sleeping form.

Cody stared out as the sun began to set, unaware of anything around him.

“Seems like it’s gonna be a nice night.”

Cody glanced over as Teaspoon walked up beside him. He just nodded at the stationmaster. He was in no mood for advice or a lecture.

“Guess it’s just about time for dinner.” Cody could tell Teaspoon was trying to make friendly conversation but the rider wasn’t in the mood for that either. However, he didn’t want to show disrespect, so Cody nodded.

Teaspoon waited for a reply and when nothing came but a nod, he asked, “You okay son?”

Again Cody just nodded. Letting another silent moment pass, Cody pushed off from the railing. “Best wash up,” he said softly and walked towards the pump.

As Teaspoon watched Cody, he couldn’t help feeling that something long closed off had opened up again. He sighed inwardly and murmured, “I believe there’s a lot less funny in that boy’s life than we know.”

A/N: The song Billy sings is "Boil Them Cabbage Down" or also known as "Bile Dem Cabbage Down" or "Bake Them Hoecakes Down" and is a classic American folksong with unclear origins. Most historians believe the song dates back to at least the mid-1800’s, so I figured it could work for poor Billy to sing.

Time to Herself
by: Cathy

June 21: Rachel and Pass

"Well, that's done," Rachel murmured for herself as she folded the towel and placed it on the newly clean counter. Looking around the kitchen she smiled in satisfaction. The dishes were done and stacked for the next meal, a pot of stew bubbled slowly on the stove and a fresh apple pie was cooling on the window sill.

The woman moved into the parlor, wiping at an all but invisible speck of dust from the sideboard as she removed the apron she had been wearing all morning. She stood for a moment reveling in the silence before beginning a mental debate of what she should do to pass the afternoon.

The question wasn't one that Rachel was able to ask herself very often-at least not since becoming a part of the Pony Express station "family" in Sweetwater. With six riders and the older station manager using the farm as their home, it was a rare moment when she had time just to herself.

Rachel looked around the parlor, her gaze stopping at the pile of mending that needed to be done, then moving on to pile of paperwork that Russell, Majors and Waddell required be done in order for the riders to be paid. Next to that pile was a smaller stack of letters-letters from her sisters-that really needed to be answered at some point.

It didn't take the woman long to decide that this particular afternoon was going be just for her. Moving to the writing desk, she took out a fresh sheet of paper and a pen, then picked up the top of the three letters.

A few minutes later, after rereading the letter and contemplating her response, she picked up the pen and began to write . . . only to be interrupted by the sound of the front door being pulled open.

"RACHEL!?!" Cody's yell could have been heard all the way into Sweetwater, let alone where Rachel sat just a few feet away.

"What do you need, Cody?" the woman asked.

"I was wonderin' if you had sewed that button back on my blue shirt," the rider asked in a more normal tone of voice. "I was kinda wantin' to wear it to the dance in town tonight," he added sheepishly.

Rachel put the pen down on the desk. Moving to the basket where she kept her mending, she pulled the shirt in question out. She found a button in the sewing box and spent the next few minutes attaching the button to the shirt.

"Thanks, Rachel!" Cody said as she handed him the shirt. "You're a life-saver!"

As the door slammed closed behind the young man, Rachel walked back to her desk and picked up the pen once more. She hadn't written more than a couple of words when a soft knock at the door interrupted her once again.

"Come on in," she called out.

Ike McSwain stepped into parlor and signed his apology.

"It's okay, Ike," Rachel told him. "What can I do for you?"

You said at breakfast you had some carrots that were getting on toward being spoiled . . . the mute rider signed.

"They're in the cupboard in the kitchen," the woman replied with a smile. "Don't let Samson eat too many of them."

Thanks, Rachel! Ike signed, turning back to the hallway and heading for the kitchen.

Rachel smiled softly to herself as she reread what she had written so far-which wasn't much. She had barely started another line when the door opened once again.

"Rachel, have you seen Cody?" Jimmy asked. "He was supposed to be helping me with that new corral fence."

"He said something about going into town to a dance," Rachel replied.

"Gosh darn him!" Jimmy exploded. "He does this every time!"

The door slammed behind the angry young man before Rachel had a chance to say anything more.

Shrugging the woman returned to her letter only to be interrupted yet again by the sound of an argument taking place on the front lawn. Sighing, Rachel rose to her feet and moved quickly out to the porch.

She had expected the row to be Jimmy and Cody but was surprised to find Kid and Lou in a loud argument instead.

"What's going on, you two?" she demanded of the riders.

"He just keeps tryin' to tell me what I can and can't do!" Lou stated angrily. "He ain't got the right to do that but he just keeps on tryin'!"

"Well if SHE would stop trying to do stupid things," Kid countered, "I wouldn't HAVE to tell her anything!"

Rachel sighed again. This argument had been ongoing ever since Kid had discovered Lou was a girl. "What is it you think she shouldn't be doing this time?" she asked the young man.

"She thinks . . . " Kid started.

"She KNOWS!" Lou interrupted furiously. "I AM going to do that run to Fort Bridger and that's all there is to it."

"There's been all kinds of Indian trouble up that way," Kid explained. "I think one of us should take the run instead."

"Kid," Rachel said calmly. "Lou knows what she's doing and she knows how to do it well. Let her make her own decisions."

She held up her hand to stop Kid from responding. "How do you think Lou would feel if one of you boys took the run and something happened to her? She would never forgive herself-or you-if you or Buck or Cody got hurt just because you were protecting her."

"And I don't need no protection!" Lou declared firmly. "I knew what I was gettin' into when I started ridin' and I'm not going to let you keep me from doin' my job!"

Kid's mouth opened but Lou didn't let him get out even one word. "I'm goin', Kid," she stated. "And that's final!"

Kid looked in Rachel's direction only to find the older woman firmly nodding her agreement to Lou's declaration. The rider shook his head, then stomped away, his anger still very obvious.

"Is he EVER gonna to let me be what I am?" Lou asked plaintively.

"He loves you," Rachel replied softly turning back to the house and the partially written letter.

She had barely sat back down when she heard yet another knock at the door.

"Sorry to disturb ya, Rachel," Teaspoon offered. "I need ta get the invoices for last month into the eastbound pouch for the pickup this afternoon and for the life of me I can't find that one for the grain we bought."

"It's on the sideboard," Rachel replied, pointing at the tall stack of paperwork she had carefully sorted the night before. "Should be on top."

"Got it!" the man declared, pulling the paper from the stack-promptly dumping the rest of the pile off the edge of the counter.

"Oh no!" Teaspoon exclaimed, trying to catch the papers as they fluttered to the ground.

"It's all right, Teaspoon," Rachel said with a soft sigh. "I needed to get to this month's invoices anyway."

"Ya know, Rachel," Teaspoon stated. "You really need to take some time for yourself. It ain't right that you are always doin' things for everyone else. Quiet afternoons like this, you oughta be able to spend some time doin' things just for you."

Rachel stared at the man, wide-eyed, for a minute, then began to laugh. "I'll think about doing that one of these days, Teaspoon," she agreed. "Just never occurred to me until now."

Consequences
by: Cindy

Date: 7/23 Cody & Heat (My cat Tiberius’ birthday)

“I’m, uh… I’m gonna go look for that other hammer!” Cody called over his shoulder, heading for the barn. He heard some grumbling behind him, but he didn’t stop to listen.

It was too hot to be working on that corral fence! Why wouldn’t the others listen?

But now he had a perfect excuse to be gone for a while. No one really knew where that other hammer was, so he could be ‘looking’ for a long time.

Perfect!

He walked into the barn and tossed a few things around, making it sound like he was really looking. And then after a few minutes of noise he made his way to the small door at the back. Fortunately, the hinges had been oiled recently – he’d seen Buck doing the work – so it opened silently as he slipped outside.

From there it was just a matter of moving fast and low toward the trees.

He thought briefly about heading for the swimming hole, but if the others realized he was gone, that was probably one of the first places they’d look.

Maybe he shouldn’t have spent quite so much time trying to convince them they should go there.

But that was all right, because he had another plan. All he had to do was make it into the trees without being seen. So he stayed as low as he could and ran as fast as he could.

There was no sound of pursuit, so he took that as a good sign.

Once in the trees he moved into the shadows, then turned to look back across the field. He couldn’t see anyone, and there was still the faint sound of pounding coming from the direction of the corral.

“They won’t miss me for a while,” Cody muttered to himself, moving farther into the trees until he found what he was looking for. This close to the river there were willow trees, and he picked one with a huge canopy of drooping branches – and a thick cushion of moss underneath. Sliding in under the branches he settled back against the trunk, pulling his hat low over his eyes.

The shade was welcome after working in the heat of the sun, and there was just enough of a breeze to rustle the leaves slightly. All in all, it was perfect.

The others really should have listened to him, Cody thought as he closed his eyes. They could have been here, avoiding the worst of the heat, and still fixed the fence when it cooled down.

But they wouldn’t listen…

It was his last thought as he drifted off to sleep.

~~~~~

It wasn’t hard to follow the tracks; he obviously hadn’t thought he needed to cover his trail. But it hadn’t taken the others long to realize that it was taking Cody an awfully long time to look for a hammer.

And it didn’t take long at all to find out he wasn’t in the barn.

Buck followed the tracks from the back of the barn easily, barely breaking stride as he kept his eyes on the ground. The others followed behind, anxiously awaiting the discovery of their missing colleague.

Anxiously planning how to get back at their missing colleague.

They reached the trees and fell in single-file behind Buck, trying to make as little noise as possible. All the better to exact some revenge.

Finally, Buck held up a hand, halting the others. He took a few more silent steps forward, then came back toward the others, pointing over his shoulder. He mimed sleeping, then raised an eyebrow and grinned.

Motioning for the others to follow, he led them away to where they could talk.

~~~~~

She had long blond hair, and it fell freely almost to her waist. And her eyes, the bluest blue he’d ever seen. When she smiled, he knew it was only for him. And then she was walking toward him, saying something, and he leaned forward to listen.

But he couldn’t hear her words. Instead it felt like something was touching his skin, crawling on his arms. He tried again to hear the woman, but it was no use.

Something was definitely making his skin crawl – his hands, his arms, his chest, his face…

Still mostly asleep, Cody moved one hand lazily to try and slap away whatever was bothering him. He really didn’t want to let go of the dream. He had a hunch the blond was trying to tell him that she loved him…

The itching got worse, and finally it roused him. He opened his eyes and yawned…

“BLECH!” Something was in his mouth and he worked to spit it out.

That’s when he realized he hadn’t been dreaming about something crawling all over him – it was real. Really real.

Ants. Hundreds – maybe thousands – of ANTS! They were all over him, black ribbons of ants wrapping around and up and down his arms, legs, torso.

Cody jumped to his feet, brushing furiously at the creeping horde. That’s when he realized he wasn’t just covered in ants.

His hand came away covered in ants – and something sticky.

He looked closer, sniffed, then touched his tongue to a bit that seemed free of ants.

HONEY!

Cody looked up quickly into the branches, wondering if he had missed seeing a beehive. But there was nothing like that above him. Which meant…

The laughter that suddenly erupted around him confirmed his suspicions.

“Find that hammer yet, Cody?”

“How’d you figure it got out here?”

“Sweet dreams, Cody?”

“Whatcha dancin’ for, Cody?”

But Cody barely heard the taunts as he desperately brushed at the honey and ants, mostly only succeeding in spreading the gooey substance to more areas of his body. And now the little buggers seemed to have found a way inside his clothes, and he was twisting and turning, squirming as they crawled everywhere.

“AAARRGGH!” He couldn’t take it any longer, and he pushed the branches aside, pulling his arms free when they stuck to the leaves. And then he was running for the river.

“Better find that hammer!”

“We saved your share of the work.”

“What’s your hurry, Cody?”

But he quickly left the voices and the laughter behind. His only goal now was to get to the water, wash the honey and the ants off – stop this feeling that it was his skin itself that was crawling.

When he reached the river he fell to his knees and literally crawled into the water. When it was about chest deep he sat down and splashed water all over himself. Then he grabbed handfuls of sand from the riverbed and used it to scrub at his skin, his hair, his clothes.

It seemed to take forever, but finally he felt like he was free of honey – and ants.

As he slowly got to his feet, he looked to the west, noting the sun starting on its downward track. And despite everything, he started to smile.

There might have been consequences for skipping out on work, but he had managed to avoid toiling in the worst heat of the day.

To Us
by: Cindy

My birthday: 8/19 Sam & Drink

The day had passed like a whirlwind, fast and furious. And to be honest, Sam felt a little like he had been in one of those winds – exhausted, tossed and turned, and finally spit out and left on the side of the road.

And yet…

And yet, he was happier than he could remember being. Happier, certainly, than he had been in years. Happier, to be honest, than he would have believed he could ever be again if someone had asked him even a few months ago.

Sam sat down on the edge of the bed and started to pull his boots off. But his eyes remained fixed on the modesty screen set against one corner of the hotel room. The reason for his happiness was behind there.

Mrs. Sam Cain.

The reality hadn’t fully set in yet – maybe because so much of the day had passed in a blur. But he was pretty sure he’d managed to stay on his feet in the church, and even say “I do” at the right time. Hopefully the memories would come back to him, because if there was one thing he wanted it was to remember every moment he had to share with Emma.

She was humming behind the screen, a tune he thought he recalled hearing at the reception they’d just come from. But once again, his memories were foggy. All he could really remember was Emma in his arms, seeming to float to the music as they danced.

He set his boots off to the side and slipped his suit coat off. He’d loosened his tie quite some time earlier in the evening, and now he took it off altogether, tossing it on top of the jacket. Next he undid the top buttons on his shirt, finally feeling like he could almost breathe again.

There was a scraping sound as the screen moved, and Sam looked up just in time to see his bride emerge. Emma stepped out into the room, her hair loose about her shoulders. She was dressed in a fancy lace-trimmed nightgown; he knew she had ordered it from Chicago with money the Pony Express riders had collected as a wedding gift.

Of course, he was the one who had gotten the best gift of all.

Sam stepped forward to take his bride’s hand. “Emma, you look beautiful,” he managed to whisper, leaning toward her.

She blushed as her lips met his; no answer was really required.

As they parted for a breath, Sam reluctantly stepped away toward a stand set near the bed. He withdrew the bottle that was sitting in it. “Teaspoon sent up a bottle of champagne.” Not something they saw often in Sweetwater – but fitting that the station master had obtained it somewhere. Because this was truly a night to celebrate.

“Well, I think you should open it,” Emma said, her voice low and, to his ears, musical. She picked up the two glasses set carefully on the table.

Sam had never actually opened a bottle of champagne, and his attempts to do so now seemed clumsy. When the cork finally did pop out it sounded like a gunshot, and he jumped in surprise. Then he jumped again as the bubbly liquid sprayed out of the bottle.

Emma laughed and held out a glass, trying to catch some of the champagne. Recovering somewhat, Sam tipped the bottle, managing to pour some into both glasses. Then he set the bottle aside and accepted one of the glasses from her, raising it in a toast.

“To us, Mrs. Cain.”

“To us, Mr. Cain.”

They each drank then, sipping the bubbling champagne. And then Sam set his glass aside; he took Emma’s from her hand and set it aside as well.

Right now, all he wanted to do was drink in the happiness of his wedding day.

He lifted Emma tenderly in his arms and turned to the bed, laying her gently on the mattress. She reached for him as he settled next to her, and his insides bubbled like the champagne at her touch.

“To us,” he whispered…

And then no more words were necessary.

Bottoms Up
by: Dede
Hub: 09/10 – Kid/dark

SAW…SAW…SAW

“Don’t know why I’ve gotta do this alone,” Cody grumbled. He threw the saw down and picked up the board he’d been working on. Stomping over to where the partial building stood, he slammed the long piece of wood down. He was just finishing with the repairs on the bench inside his project – the station’s outhouse.

“‘Twasn’t my fault,” Cody mumbled. Cody picked up a nail and placed it against the wood. He grimaced as he hoisted the hammer over his head and brought it down swiftly.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

He probably pounded a bit harder than he needed but it made him feel better.

“Cody you stupid fool!” Jimmy yelled.

“I can’t believe you left the gate opened!” Kid hollered as forcefully as Jimmy.

“AGAIN!” Lou snapped.

“The outhouse was just finished yesterday,” Buck grumbled. None of them were looking forward to building another one.

“Well, now,” Teaspoon said quietly, “since it’s not in too bad a’ shape…” Teaspoon strolled around the outhouse, eyeing it up and down, “I don’t think it’ll take much work.” He smiled and looked straight at Cody.

“Jus’ cause that blamed donkey got out and knocked the dickens outta it, don’t mean it’s my fault.” He picked up another board and hammered it into place. “At least I didn’t have to dig the hole.” With one last pounding, the bench was done.

He walked over to the wooden horses holding up the last part – the seat.

SAW…SAW…SAW…

“Great he’s eating stink weed,” Buck growled. Running up to Samson, he tried to stop the animal but Samson was having none of that.

Kicking out, Samson’s back hooves hit the side wall of the outhouse. The boys groaned. Samson let loose another kick, sending more splinters in the air.

“Get him b’fore he tears it up completely,” Jimmy barked. He tried to get near Samson but the donkey snapped at him. Jimmy glanced at Kid and, without saying a word, the two flanked Samson and tried to approach. Samson brayed, kicked, and snapped.

“Good grief,” Lou breathed. “Look at the privy!” The side was demolished two-thirds up and the bench was smashed as well. She tried to approach but Buck held up his hand.

“I think if we just stand here, we can keep him from getting away,” he said, eyeing Samson warily, “but I don’t think we should go near him. He should calm down soon. I don’t think he was out for too long.” He glared at Cody who just shrugged.

The riders stood there waiting for the donkey to calm down.

“I don’t know Buck,” Jimmy said, standing with his arms and legs spread as if he was going to tackle the donkey if the animal tried to run. “Seems he’s still goin’….”

Suddenly, Samson stopped. The riders glanced hopefully at each other but didn't move. Samson turned, quietly trotted over to the corral, and wandered in. They followed him at a safe distance and watched as Samson headed straight for the trough. There he drank and drank, slurping up the liquid greedily.

“Boy,” Kid said in hushed tones, “think he’ll drink it all?”

“He’s got dry-mouth,” Buck explained as they all walked towards the corral fence. Jimmy quickly closed the gate and latched it. They all stood silently watching the poor dehydrated, tired animal.

“Ya’ gotta be pretty stupid ta eat that stuff,” Cody said. “It stinks ta high heaven.”

“You’re just lucky Ike ain’t here,” Kid ground out. “He’d kill you.”

“Samson’ll be better by the time Ike gets back later,” Buck said, glaring at Cody. “But there’s a reason for the warning ‘Eat a little, and go to sleep. Eat some more, and have a dream. Eat some more, and don't wake up.’”

Cody knew that, which made him angry with the whole stupid situation. Now, because Samson took his annoyance out on the outhouse, Cody had to build a new one. Alone. Teaspoon had said it was only fitting.

SAW…SAW…SAW…

*~*~*~*~*

Jimmy stepped out of the bunkhouse slowly and glanced around – perfect, not a person in sight. He tucked the catalog under his arm along with the necessary papers and walked purposefully to his destination.

Emma was busy in the house since, according to her, it was the first day of spring cleaning. Teaspoon had collared Cody and Ike to go into town with him and pick up the necessary supplies for fixing up the station. It was the first day of spring renovations for Teaspoon. Kid was on a run and was expected back later that day. Jimmy slowed his stride. But where were Buck and Lou?

“Buck just do it, alright!”

Jimmy tiptoed to the barn and peeked through the slight opening between the doors. There were the last two possible intruders, fixing (or trying to) the worn-out tack. Teaspoon was adamant about not wanting to buy new so everything had to be fixed. Lou was standing over Buck, hands on her hips, ordering the Kiowa to do something. Jimmy grinned. He didn’t care what it was as long as it kept both of them occupied in the barn.

Jimmy turned away happily and walked quickly, but quietly, to his objective. Opening the door to the outhouse, he stepped in. Looking around, he noticed it seemed to be lighter inside and saw that the ventilation slit on the one side was larger than what he was used to.

“The fool musta been daydreamin’ an’ not concentratin’,” Jimmy grumbled, though he didn’t really mind the extra light. He also noticed that Cody had measured wrong on the top of the bench and now there was a bit of a lip, someplace to put things down – like a book and papers. He grinned and placed his things there. Turning, he unfastened his belt and dropped his pants. He sat down and realized immediately something was wrong.

“Son of a….”

*~*~*~*~*

Lou’s head popped up and she looked around. “Did you hear that?”

Buck grunted.

“Seriously, it sounds like a muffled voice,” she murmured, cocking her head to listen closer.

Buck grunted again and this time received a smack from Lou. “Look, all I hear is you tellin’ me what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Lou snorted. “Well, ya’ know Teaspoon wants –”

“I know what he wants. Remember I was there too.” Buck went back to the bridle he was working on.

“And ya’ don’t hear –”

“No.” Buck didn’t look up and wasn’t interested in what Lou heard.

“Fine.” Lou stomped over to the door and pushed it opened. She stood in the entrance looking around and listening. She heard nothing. “Well, I guess….” Then she heard it, a faint moan, like the sound of a cow in distress. She took a few more steps so she was completely outside and strained to hear.

“Buuuuuuu”

There it was. She walked slowly towards where she thought it was coming from, on the far side of the barn.

“Buuuuuuu”

Lou’s face crinkled in confusion. It sounded like Jimmy’s voice. “Jimmy?” The sound stopped and so did Lou. She tried again. “Jimmy?” It was so silent that she figured she’d just imagined it so she turned to go back into the barn.

“Lou, go get Buck.” His voice was louder this time.

“It is you,” she said turning again to where she thought Jimmy’s voice was coming from. It confused her because nothing was there. “Where are –”

“Go get Buck!” And louder still.

“Jimmy,” she said, giggling despite the mystery, “why? Can’t I help ya’?”

“NO! GET BUCK!” He was now screaming.

She was sure where it was coming from but she was still confused, there wasn’t a thing over there except…

“Are you in the outhouse?” she blurted out.

“GET BUCK!”

She doubled over not able to stop. “Come on Jimmy,” she said, between fits of laughter, “I can help…” she snorted and continued laughing.

“What are you laughing at?” Buck asked, coming up behind her and startling her so much that she laughed harder. Buck couldn’t help but laugh too, it was infectious.

“Thank God! Buck help me!”

Buck stopped laughing immediately and looked around. “Jimmy?”

The perplexed expression on Buck’s face just increased Lou’s laughter. She tried to point but was too busy holding her stomach.

“Lou, go away!”

“Jimmy where are you?” Buck glanced from Lou to around the station yard. He saw nothing. “Lou where is he?”

“In…” she snorted and coughed, “the…” she grabbed ahold of Buck’s arm, “privy!” The last word was elongated in a burst of giggles.

“Buck, help me!”

Buck was laughing again, doubled over with Lou, until Jimmy’s request sunk in. Buck bolted upright. “Wait. Help you in there?”

“Pleeeeease!”

“Jimmy,” Buck whined. “In there?” He walked towards the outhouse. “Help you how?”

“Come to the door and I’ll tell ya’.”

“Lou get!” Buck ordered. This command had the ability to stop Lou’s laughter and Buck received a very indignant “humph” but she didn’t follow.

“I’m here,” Buck mumbled to the door. “What’s wrong?”

“Look, I’m stuck and –”

Lou startled Buck by laughing right beside him. “Go away. Seriously Lou, leave.” She glared at him but did as he asked and walked back to the barn. “She’s gone. Now…you’re stuck?”

“That stupid son of…Cody cut the seat hole too big,” Jimmy growled.

Buck coughed to cover the laughter that bubbled up. “So what’s your plan?”

“Open the door –”

“Um no,” Buck stated.

“Buck listen, open the door and take my hand –”

“Oh hell no,” Buck blurted. “I am not going to touch –”

“Don’t be stupid, I ain’t done nothin’. Hell, my hands are ‘bout numb from keepin’ myself from fallin’ all the way.”

A laugh escaped and Buck coughed again. Realizing there really wasn’t another way, he sighed. “Is the door unlocked?” Buck heard some movement inside.

“It is now,” Jimmy said, sounding strained.

“Alright,” Buck said, regretting that he wasn’t the one in town with Teaspoon. He gripped the handle and opened the door slightly.

*~*~*~*~*

Kid rode into the darkened station many hours later than he should have. It had been a rough trip home. Katy had picked up a rock causing Kid to stop for a while. He’d waited until he was sure she was okay to carry him and had let her walk slowly the rest of the way home.

And he wasn’t faring much better, very tired and very hungry. After taking care of Katy, he walked quietly to the bunkhouse and opened the door as gently as he could. A lamp was burning low on the table and he could just make out a plate of food wrapped in a towel.

‘Thank you Emma,’ he thought happily.

Tiptoeing to his bunk, he eased his belongings to the floor.

“Hey,” a soft, sleepy voice mumbled.

“Hey yourself,” Kid whispered, smiling at Lou. He brushed the hair out of her eyes. “Go back to sleep, I’m not gonna be long.”

“‘K,” she mumbled turning to face the wall. Kid saw her breathing deepen immediately. He chuckled and walked to the table, ready to devour the entire plate.

It took him no time to finish the food and he was very ready for his bed. He’d removed his shirt and was starting to undo his pants when his stomach rumbled. “Great,” he muttered.

Kid walked quickly but quietly out the door and hurried to the outhouse.

*~*~*~*~*

Teaspoon grumbled to himself as he walked out of the tack room. “Hate bein’ woke up fer this.” He’d just pulled his boots on, not worrying about pants or a shirt; since he figured no one else would be up at that hour. He walked absentmindedly towards the outhouse but stopped as he remembered what had happened to Jimmy earlier that day.

“Hmm,” he muttered, “maybe I can jus’ go ‘round the barn.” He scratched his whiskers and started walking again. “But then, I won’t exactly be sittin’.” He chuckled as he thought about the story Lou had tried to tell. Buck and Jimmy, especially Jimmy, were furious with her but Teaspoon, Ike, and Cody had showed up as Jimmy popped out of the outhouse. And Lou had been rolling around on the ground so of course someone had to explain. “Well, I suppose I should use it.” Teaspoon continued on his way.

*~*~*~*~*

Kid’s legs were numb. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there but he had seen the pale light from the moon move quite a bit. He’d realize what had happened as soon as he’d sat down – and as soon as he’d gotten wedged in.

“I am going to kill Cody when I get outta here,” he’d vowed. Now he was just hoping to get out of there.

It was very dark. Even with the tiny hint of light from the moon he couldn’t see any of his surroundings; of course he knew what they looked like so it didn’t matter. He’d found a catalog, and wondered if it was Cody’s. He’d been tempted to rip it up into small pieces, which would have given him something to do, but decided not to, in case it was someone else’s.

“Ya’ think I should call out again?” he asked. He immediately felt like smacking himself. “Who the hell are ya’ talkin’ to? Great, I’ll be found babblin’ to myself.” He grimaced. “Ain’t this jus’ gonna be a sight in the mornin’. Wonder who it’ll be that finds me? I sure hope it ain’t Lou. Or Emma. Oh wonderful. Actually, I’m not sure if I want any of ‘em to find me. Course how will ya’ get out if they don’t? I suppose Buck or Ike wouldn’t be –”

“Kid?”

Kid’s mouth snapped shut. Someone was out there but he couldn’t tell by the voice, it was so soft. ‘Maybe if I keep quiet…wait, what am I thinkin’, I want out.’ Sighing and taking a deep breath, he opened his mouth.

“Kid is’at you?”

It was Teaspoon. Kid released the breath and mumbled, “It’s me.” All in all, Teaspoon wasn’t bad either. “Can ya’ help me?”

“Lordy, Lord,” Teaspoon said, “no one tol’ ya’ did they?”

“That Cody cut the stupid hole too big? No.”

“Um, well, then, um, how d’ya’ –”

“Know? Because he’s the stupid idiot that had to fix this and he’s the only stupid idiot that would cut the hole too big.” Kid moved and the wood scraped against his hips. “Ouch! Can ya’ get me the hell outta here?”

“Alright, alright,” Teaspoon said, softly. Kid knew the older man was trying to calm him down but he was well past that. “How stuck are ya’?”

“How stuck? There’s a scale?” Kid asked, petulantly. “Gee if ya’ open the door, ya’ can see just how stuck I am!”

Teaspoon laughed, but stopped immediately and Kid knew the man had regretted it. Kid sucked in breath and opened his mouth wide, ready to let loose a tirade but Teaspoon quickly said, “Wait a minute, now. I ask ‘cause Jimmy got stuck earlier.” Kid slowly closed his mouth and pondered this new bit of information. It was quiet for a minute and Kid gifted Teaspoon with a wonderful sound. Kid laughed.

“Jimmy got stuck,” Kid snickered. “So how’d he get out?”

“See, that’s why I need ta know how stuck ya’ are,” Teaspoon explained. “Jimmy hadn’t quite sat so he was jus’ a bit stuck, and he kept himself raised up with his hands on the sides. Did ya’ –”

“Oh yeah, I sat,” Kid grumbled. “And sat good. I’m stuck to my hips.” Kid waited for Teaspoon to tell him everything was okay and that the stationmaster would have him out in a jiffy. So he waited…and waited. Finally, exasperated that Teaspoon hadn’t said anything, Kid said, “Well?”

“I’m thinkin’,” Teaspoon muttered. It was so quiet; Kid could hear the man scratching his whiskers. “Hmmm.”

“Teaspoon please,” Kid whined. “I can’t feel my legs and the numbness is movin’ up.” Kid heard Teaspoon snap his fingers.

“I know exactly what ta do.” At first Kid heard nothing but then the sound of Teaspoon walking away hit Kid’s ears and he felt panic set in.

“Where’re ya’ goin’?” Kid asked, frantically. He did not want to be left alone again. “Teaspoon?”

“Bear grease boy, secret a'…well, a' ev'rythin'!”

A/N: Thanks to Lori for this little ditty; she told an amusing true story at Reunion ’07. Changed the idea I had at Reunion and it fit the prompt (thanks Raye)!!! d;-)

Precious Metal
by: Dede
Mom: 11/05 – Ike/metal

Ike McSwain waited and waited. He wanted to make sure no one was outside before he came out. He peeked out the window and, though he didn’t see anything, or anyone, he still waited. The shed suddenly seemed confining. It wasn’t that small but at that moment it felt like he was stuck in a tiny box.

Ike sighed and sat on a bag of feed. He didn’t want to go out there but soon heard voices and knew he couldn’t stay hidden any longer. He stood, took a deep breath, and walked out into the sunshine. It seemed odd for the sun to be shining after what had just happened.

The Cunninghams had just rode up. Ike knew their son Timmy and looked around for his friend. He didn’t see Timmy anywhere. This probably wasn’t the best place to bring a child, Ike figured. But then, wasn’t he a child? So maybe he shouldn’t be there either.

He walked towards his house and noticed another wagon coming onto the property. It looked like Mr. Wilder. The men were calling to each other as Mrs. Cunningham wandered around, turning her head this way and that, like she was searching for something. Ike decided she was probably looking for him.

He trudged up the hill and his foot hit something. It made an odd clinking sound. Bending over, Ike saw that he’d kicked a few bullets. He stared at the objects not sure if he should touch them but he squatted down to get a better look. How could something so small, do such damage? Not wanting to be a baby, he reached down slowly. Using great caution as if they’d go off if he touched them, Ike put his fingertip on them and rolled the small, round pieces of metal around on the ground. They were smooth and cold – so very cold. Why would a man want to use something so deadly? He didn’t understand.

His father always talked about the respect people needed to show weapons. Ike had been taught from an early age that guns were not for play and should never, ever be used against another person. Then why had that man shot his family? What could they have done to deserve that?

He picked up the bullets and cupped his hand around them, cradling them like he had the butterfly he’d found just days earlier. Had that really been just three days ago? He’d held it so gently and ran all the way home to show his father. Ike had asked if he could keep the beautiful insect. His father had smiled down at him but said that the butterfly should be free, allowed to live just as Ike and his family did. So who were those men to take that freedom away? Ike curled his fingers into a fist around the balls. He squeezed so hard it started to burn and he thought the bullets would burst in his hand. He stared at the impressions on the ground, where his family had fallen.

”Oh Ike!” He looked up to see Mrs. Cunningham running towards him with her arms held wide open. Ike wasn’t sure he wanted to be hugged but in this situation, he knew that’s what a woman would do. He stood still and let the woman envelope him. He still stared at the grass, flat from the bodies.

He held the bullets in his fist, refusing to let go. He wouldn’t let go of them or the memory of this. And maybe one day, he could use these bullets on those very same men.

Dark
by: Karen

11/10 - Ike, Dark

As the darkness of the evening closed around him, the boy curled up in the corner of the shed and slept.

He knew he should probably go back to the house, but he didn’t want to walk past the bodies that were waiting in the yard. He didn’t want what had happened earlier today to be real; if he never left this small building, maybe it wouldn’t be – maybe it would all be a dream.

The next morning, he knew it had really happened. The noise of the people calling his name is what woke him. Moving slowly he pushed open the door to the wood shed; he had to let his eyes adjust from the dark he was moving out of, to the light of the breaking day.

“There he is,” someone said.

Ike stood staring at the man in front of him. He could see that he was talking, but he couldn’t understand the words. He finally realized that the man was asking if he was hurt. Ike shook his head.

“You see what happened?” the man asked as he placed a hand on Ike’s shoulder.

Ike nodded. He held up 4 fingers.

“There were four of them?” the man inquired.

Ike once more nodded.

“You have any idea why?”

Ike shook his head. He pointed to the shed, and motioned for the man to follow. Once inside he showed the man how he had watched and then hid as his family was gunned down. He pointed to where the others were working at removing the bodies of his parents and sister. He simply looked at the man beside him.

The man nodded as he realized that his companions were talking and he couldn’t hear a thing they were saying. “You were hiding from your mom, weren’t you?”

Ike once more nodded and dropped his gaze to the floor.

“Been drawing in the books again?”

Ike once more nodded. He took a breath and looked up at the man.

“Did they take anything with them?”

Ike shrugged.

“You haven’t been out of that shed until we arrived, have you?” the man asked as he moved to open the door.

Ike once more nodded as he stepped back from the dim light of the shed to the growing light of the day.

“Would you come with me and look?” the man asked.

Ike nodded.

The man took his hand and led him across the yard to the house. When the reached the bigger building, Ike quickly looked around. He couldn’t see anything missing. He went to the porch and sat on the steps. He thought back to the afternoon from the day before. He’d seen the one man gun down his family, and then the others had searched, almost finding him. He had waited a bit after the man left the door before he’d dared to glance out the window again. The men were gone, but Ike still hadn’t felt safe enough to venture out. He’d curled up in the corner of the shed and waited.

He stood and quickly made his way back into the yard and the makeshift table that his mother had made a few days ago so they could enjoy the nice weather when they ate. He looked at the items on the table, and then scanned the ground. He wasn’t sure why, but the men seemed to have taken the family Bible – it should be right there on the table. That’s where he’d left it after he’d drawn the picture in the front. It was the reason he was hiding in the shed instead of being outside with them. It was the reason he was still alive.

He somehow had to get the man to know that it was missing. He dropped to the ground and found the colors he’d used to draw the picture. He went to the man and pretended to write.

“You need paper?”

Ike nodded. The man located some paper, and then went with Ike back to the table. Ike wrote – Bible gone.

It was the man’s turn to nod. “They took your family Bible?” he asked just to make sure.

Ike nodded and smiled weakly.

“Anything else?”

Ike shook his head.

The man once more took Ike’s hand. “Makes no sense,” he said as he started walking to the barn. There he quickly fed the stock before taking one horse and helping Ike mount it. He took the boy with him to his home which was the next farm over.

As the darkness once more covered the earth, Ike was contemplating his future - one that looked equally as dark as the night outside. As he drifted off to sleep, he prayed that somewhere in the dark unknown that faced him was a small shaft of light to help him through.

Pride & Joy
by: Miss Raye

My husband, Frank 11/11 Ike School

Ike paused just outside the school house to remove his hat and strike the bottoms of his boots on the bottom step to dislodge the mud. The clumps fell with a wet thud on the ground, but Ike’s ears were trained on the room inside the church.

Miss May Stapleton sat behind her desk her eyes scanning the room before her. “Alright now… let’s see who will read the next paragraph.” Her eyes lighted on a little girl on the end of the front bench and with an encouraging smile she asked. “Missy Paul? How about you?”

The young girl slid to the floor with some effort. She was only a mite of a girl, barely taller than the back of the bench she’d been sitting on. Picking up the reader from the desk she shared with another child, she whispered nearly into the pages of the book, so that the teacher had to lean forward to catch the soft sounds.

“Peep, peep! Where have you gone, little chick?” The young girl looked up at her teacher for reassurance and when she saw the nod and the slight hand gesture to continue she did, adding, “Are you lost? Can’t you get back to the hen?”

Ike realized that he’d nearly fallen into the room straining to hear the little girl’s words. Gathering his wits about him he waited for the lesson to be over… waited for the bell to ring. He’d never really been one for school learning in his day, he’d snuck away more than a time or two to fish or fly a kite he’d made… rather than sit in a warm school room with a bunch of other children that wanted to be outside just as much as he did.

“Lovely, Missy… just as pretty as you are, next time… a little louder please?” The teacher nodded to the bench. “Go ahead and have a seat.” She looked at the child seated behind Missy, “Clark? How about you? The next paragraph please?”

The boy she’d fixed her gaze on, took a moment of pause that drew snickers from a few boys in the back. Miss May wrapped her fingers around a long ruler and gave a sharp rap on the top of her desk. “That’s enough Billy, Joe… now, Clark,” her voice changed… softened… smiled… “the next paragraph please.”

Taking the book that Missy handed him he lifted it up and out in front of his face and swallowed hard as if there was something lodged in his throat. “This,” he waited for something… maybe the boys in the back of the room to give him a hard time. When the room remained quiet he began again. “This is a fine day.”

Ike watched as the young boy’s spine straighten and the tip of his chin lifted up, carrying his voice further, fuller. “This is a fine day. The sun shines bright. There is a good wind, and my kite flies high. I can just see it.”

Miss May stood as the bell in the church steeple rang out in the sunny afternoon quiet and the children of varying ages bounded up and out of their seats as though their backsides were attached to the springs in a Jack-in-the-Box. Ike had to step back out of the way to avoid slipping beneath the current of fleeing children. It took less than a minute to empty the doorway and allow Ike a chance to step inside.

Clark stood before his teacher, his face hidden from Ike as Miss May reached out a hand. “Young man,” she began, “I can’t begin to tell you how very pleased I am at your progress.” She bent her knees and leaned in closer. “I appreciate how tough it was to stand up and read in front of the class.” She reached out and rumpled the young boy’s hair. “I think the boys will have to think twice from now on before giving you any trouble.”

Ike leaned closer to hear what she was saying and his shadow crept close enough across the floor boards to catch the teacher’s eye. “Well, now,” she began, her hands reaching out to grasp Clark by the shoulder and turn him slightly to the left, “it looks like you had an even ‘bigger’ audience for your triumph.”

Clark’s eyes opened wide and a smile lit up his face. “Papa!!”

Ike bent down on one knee to scoop his son up in his arms and give him a tight squeeze.

Embracing his father for a moment, Clark suddenly leaned back and looked at his teacher. “This is my Papa.”

“So I can see.” The young woman had a light of laughter in her eyes, but she managed to give Clark a solemn nod. “Hello Mr. McSwain, it’s good to meet you.”

Ike motioned a reply and looked at the teacher’s confused expression. Clark turned back to face her as he repeated his father’s motions. “He’s happy to meet you, too.”

Realization dawned quickly and the young teacher gave them both a warm smile. “I’m familiar with basic words of sign language, but I’m not familiar with…” she gave a few tentative gestures, trying to copy her student.

Clark giggled and showed her the motions again before explaining. “Indian sign.” Clark looked up at his father with the kind of admiration only a child can know. “Papa’s friend is Kiowa; they’ve known each other… forever!”

Barely able to hold back a giggle at Clark’s last word and the ‘length’ of time it indicated, Miss May nodded sagely. “Truly,” she whispered, “forever.” She turned her attention to the tall silent man standing beside the boy. “Clark is quickly becoming my best student, Mr. McSwain. He’s quick with his mind and has a good heart. He’s a bit shy when it comes to speaking in front of the class, but that too will be something he’ll master. I have every confidence in him.” She folded her hands before her, resting them on the top of her skirt, the cushion of her petticoat making a pillow beneath the fabric.

Ike lifted his right hand, touching Clark’s head with his palm before placing it over his own heart with such a deep love shining from his eyes that it moved something deep within the young teacher.

“I know, Mr. McSwain… he is your pride and joy.”

Clark looked up at her, confusion written on his young face. “How… how did you-”

She blinked back a tear and leaned down toward her student as her voice came out in a whisper. “Sometimes you just know…”

Downhill
by: Miss Raye

Maripaul 5/8 Lou Fall

"Just because we're married, don't mean we forget our family."

The whole way into the fight those words were echoin' in my head. It was crystal clear to me… we'd lost one member of our family and when the Army pulled out of Rock Creek we'd lose Cody for sure. Up until then it was all I could do to spend as much time with everyone… tryin' to hold 'em together when everyone seemed determined to ride off in different directions. I couldn't lose them all now. Not so soon after Noah.

The soldier with the Gatling gun in the back of the wagon was shot as the battle began in earnest and a moment later there was Jimmy and the Kid jumpin' up into the wagon to take up his place, usin' the gun to punch holes in everything from tents to powder stores to wagons to men. There had been times when I'd balked at shootin' men but this wasn't one of those times and I was a different woman now. I was a woman who'd seen too much killin' and too often my family had been on the receivin' end of a lot of pain and sufferin'. This was plain and simple payback for what they'd done to Noah.

Kid mentioned that Rosemary's kin were involved too, they'd lost more than their share, but my heart wasn't bleeding for Rosemary. She may have a connection to Jimmy, but not for me.

Cody went down, toppled from his horse by a single shot and without thinkin' I was on my feet, my horse headin' for cover behind me and I reached Cody's side right at the time Buck did. It was like nothin' had changed. We each took and arm and pulled Cody into the sparse cover of a little tree in the thicket and Cody balked at my questioning. He didn't want to be fussed over and I wanted to fuss… I guess some things do change.

The battle continued around us and Buck ran off before I could find somethin' that needed tending. If I had the time to be honest with myself I would've noticed the weight of the wedding ring on my finger. Where was the Kid? I couldn't spot him in the rush of bodies and there was a moment of blind fear that ran right through me before the rumble of wagon wheels pulled my attention to the rise above. A single man flicked the reins, pulling a wagon with a gun mounted on the back.

Trouble.

That's what it was and I could take care of it. Raisin' my pistol I shot the driver from his seat. For a moment I thought the horses would follow the edge of the rise and I was right… dear God I was right.

The horses followed the curve, but the wagon didn't know any better, didn't understand that it was supposed to follow along behind like the tail behind a dog. So while the horses were headin' for the hills the wagon… it was rolling side over side down the hill…

I used to think that I was quick. That I could get myself out of any situation if I just used my head and got my feet movin' that I could get out of anything.

Well I knew that wagon was comin'… saw the shadow of it rise above me, but my feet were anchored to the ground and I couldn't get them movin'… dear God I couldn't get them movin'… I'm sorry… so sorry.

Over His Head
by: Miss Raye

Me 2/19 Teaspoon Drink

I coulda sworn the water was thick with them little plant things… and maybe dirt, run off from the sides of the swimmin' hole. I coulda sworn that you couldn't see more'n an inch or two in front of your face…

Then again, I coulda sworn that Lou McCloud was a boy… like I thought he was… until I… oh boy. Until I swam up to give Lou a surprise and got one of my own!

It was plumb undignified, I tell ya. There I was, tryin' to enjoy the day and cool off and suddenly I'm suckin' down pond water like it's goin' outta style.

Pond water. Blech… it tastes more like… well, pond water, I guess.

And I open my mouth to spit it out and more just rushes right on in. My world's just been thrown 'bout as far off kilter as it can and all I can do is pull myself back up on top of the water, spoutin' pond scum like I'm a fountain in some English garden. There's… Lou… "Lou?"

That's all I can get out past the lump in my throat and really, I still can't believe it. "You ain't… I mean… You're a…" my feet are kickin' out like one of them fancy egg beatin' contraptions I've seen in the catalogues and I still can't believe it. "A girl."

"A woman." His… her voice takes a bite outta my hide and Lou… she's suddenly nearly to shore, the rest of my riders standin' around with their mouths gapin' open like fish. I look them over one by one from head to boot and suddenly I wonder. "What 'bout you boys?"

Hickok has the nerve to look at me like I've grown an extra head. "What about us?"

I swam slowly toward the edge of the pond, keepin' my eye on all of them… you never know when one of them other boys might… up and change on me. "You're all… what I mean to say is…" I finally got a foot under myself and I slipped in the mud, damn if I didn't almost eat some mud to go with the pond water in my middle. I passed by Buck, takin' in the fine lines of his face and I had to wonder… then there's Ike with his smooth skin and milky complexion. "You boys're… well, um, boys… right?"

Hmph. As they turned away and stalked off toward their horses I heard a few words I could'a taken offense to what them boys was sayin', but I was jus' so happy they were boys that I was willin' to forgive just about anythin' right about then.

Best Intentions
by: Miss Raye

My son, Darius 4/1 Noah Book

The riders were already seated at the table when Jimmy came in from the barn. He'd stopped long enough to get himself a quick shower and wash off the daily grime before entering into the bunkhouse for the evening meal. There was only one space open at the table, the Kid was out on a run, but Tommy Jones, a relay rider from the Eastman station was sitting in Kid's place as he usually did when he was in town. Skirting around the end of the table, Jimmy clapped his hand down on Tommy's shoulder in welcome. The young man responded with a warm grin before lifting up his cup of water to his lips. Jimmy sat down at the table and stared at the strange place setting. "What's this?"

Talking around the generous helping of meatloaf in his mouth, Cody gave a shrug. "Looks like a book, Hickok."

With an expression closer to a snarl than a smile, Jimmy lifted the tome and set it aside. "Got that, Cody… I was wondering what it was doing on my plate."

The peculiar silence that descended on the table spoke volumes. He watched for the tell tale signs. Cody was focused on his plate, he'd be no help. Ike, well he wasn't going to 'say' anything and Buck's stoic expression would only last until the culprit was discovered. Lou was the weak link. Her expressive eyes and sudden blush gave him the answer without even asking her a question. "Noah?"

The dark skin of his face only made his teeth look like beacons beaming from his face. "Yes?" He speared a couple of beans with the tines of his fork and put them in his mouth.

"This is from you?" The book was bound in leather and gold lettering which had seen better years could still be made out along the spine and one the front cover. It had probably cost a precious amount when it had been new.

Noah chewed for a moment before swallowing. "Yep."

"I never asked you for a book."

Shrugging, Noah reached for the platter of rolls. "That's right, but I'm lending it to you nonetheless."

Cody gasped for air as though his throat had somehow collapsed in on itself. "I sure hope it's got pictures, Noah. Otherwise Jimmy'll never get through-" The blond rider ducked as Jimmy's napkin sailed past his head. "What? I only speak the truth, Jimmy. You ain't exactly readin' much more than a few words at the most and that's only instructions or things on a shoppin' list."

"That's enough to get by for now, Cody."

"I don't need you standin' up for me, Lou," Jimmy's tone was sharp and his eyes were narrowed and angry. "I can take care of myself."

"Now, Jimmy-" Buck stopped when Jimmy shifted his stare to him. There was a hardened quality that told Buck he'd better back off if he wanted to make it through the meal.

"I lent it to you, 'cause it's always been a favorite of mine and I thought you'd like it… lots of good action and characters I think you'd identify with."

"Oh, good a book about a circus!" Cody winced as Ike dug an elbow into his side. "Ow!"

The quietest rider gave his friend, Buck a look of utter satisfaction when Cody started to rub his side with his opposite hand to ward away the pain. Buck did feel a little pain on Cody's behalf but the moment was just that… a moment and it was truly a fleeting one.

"When… if I EVER want to borrow one of 'em paperweights you call a book, I'll ask you for it." He gave them all a warning look, "until then, I'll thank you kindly to keep your things in your trunks and off my plate."

"Jimmy-" Noah's tone was conciliatory.

"And you," Jimmy pointed his fork at the other rider, "keep your books to yourself… or you'll be eattin' 'it' for supper, got my meanin'?"

Noah's hands lifted in surrender. "Sure, Jimmy… anything you say."

Jimmy gave him a hard look before nodding. "Just remember that."

In Heat
by: Miss Raye

Dede 2/23 Teaspoon Heat

"I am SO hungry," Teaspoon announced in a booming voice as he settled down into his chair, "that I could eat a horse!"

From the far side of the next table Delores Aguilar gave him a hard stare. "Un momento!"

"Yep," he nodded to his friend Erastus, "sounds good, I'll have me one of them." He gave the waitress a wink and she turned her head in the huff, trying to ignore him.

Erastus leaned in closer to his friend and 'whispered a warning,' "I don't think she was suggestin' somethin' to eat."

Teaspoon's face registered his surprise, "You don't say…"

"Ah think," Erastus continued, "she was tellin' ya to hold yer horses."

It was the perfect moment for her to walk up to the table and set a fist against her hip. "Si?" Teaspoon tilted his head back and gave her a broad grin. "Well hello there pretty lady."

"Si?" She seemed unimpressed. "You want to eat?"

"With a beautiful lady like you around, how could a man think of food?"

"Good," she nearly snarled the word at him, "then no eat." She spun on the ball of her foot and made her way to another table.

Erastus leaned heavily on the table, his elbows threatening to dig into the top as he stared at his friend. "Teaspoon… I'm hungry…"

Teaspoon wasn't listening at all as Erastus bemoaned the fate of his stomach, instead his eyes were only for the dark skinned young woman with a curvaceous silhouette and a murderous glint in her eyes. "Erastus?"

Teaspoon's friend paused his tirade long enough to listen. "Yeah, Teaspoon?"

"I think I'm in love."

Erastus looked between his friend and the woman who had refused to feed them and sighed. "I think I'm sick."

Over and Over
by: Miss Raye

Mac 4/27 Noah Water

It should have been a warning bell in his head the way that Cody jumped to his rescue, but to Noah's credit, when a body is cold… really cold, you'll do anything… and I mean anything to be warm.

"What's the problem, Noah?"

Noah looked over at Jimmy from his seat near the fireplace. "Problem?" He gave Hickok a grimace. "No problem, now. When I'm sittin' here by the fire." There was a particular grumble to his tone of voice and Jimmy shrugged it off even as Buck looked on with a questioning brow.

Lou rolled to her side. "You need another blanket?"

"Got a couple thanks." Noah continued to stare at the fire. "That ain't the problem."

Cody swung the door open and everyone braced themselves as a blast of cold air swept through the bunk house. "Got the horses settled down." When no one seemed to notice his words he shrugged out of his coat and hung it on a hook near the door. "Not that any of you'd notice."

Stopping short at the fireplace, Cody looked at Noah wrapped up in blankets from head to toe. "Waitin' up for someone, Noah?"

The older rider turned his head to see Cody's expectant face. "No," Noah looked around the room to see if everyone was in the room, "There's a gap in the wall next to my bunk and when the wind blows, it's cold."

"Is that all?" Cody's face lit up like the morning sun. "I'll switch bunks with you."

Ike rolled over to stare up at Cody his eyes blinking into the soft light of the room. *you* There was a decided question in his confused stare.

Cody looked hurt. "Really, can't I do something nice for someone without someone thinkin' I'm up to something?"

Jimmy gave Buck a nod then turned to Cody to answer him, "No."

"That ain't nice, Jimmy… that just ain't nice."

"No one ever accused me of bein' nice…" Hickok pulled a pillow over his head.

Cody walked over his bunk and pulled his blanket and pillow down and tossed it on Noah's. "I'll be fine down here."

"But it's windy," Noah's tone was hesitant, he really wanted to switch, but didn't want Cody to get into something he'd grouse about later, "you sure?"

Sitting down to pull off his boots, Cody spared a glance up at his friend. "I don't mind a little cold wind," he gave Noah a big grin, "Mama always said I was built like a bear on the inside, I could sleep nekkid and I wouldn't be cold."

"Cody!" Lou giggled at the idea. "Please, don't…"

He gave her a rakish grin, "You never know, Lou… you might learn something about a man's anatomy… how perfect it can be."

Her snort of laughter was muffled by her pillow.

Cody sighed. "Your loss."

Noah was up, having untangled the blankets from his stocking covered feet. "I'm not going to argue." Using the bottom bunk as a step, Noah swung up into the top bunk and wrapped himself up in his blankets. "That was real nice of you, Cody… thanks."

"No problem, Noah… happy to do it."

*** ***

"No problem, Noah… happy to do it." Cody's words echoed in his head.

Noah groaned and pulled the woolen blanket over his head, seething through clenched teeth.

Cody's words echoed in his head over and over…

Over and over… to the steady *drip* *drip* *drip* of water.

The steady *drip* *drip* *drip* that Cody must have anticipated when he offered, so obligingly, to switch.

*drip* *drip* *drip*

Noah lifted the corner of his blanket and peered over the edge of the bunk. "Cody?"

"Uh… yeah, Noah?" There was a worrisome anticipation in Cody's voice.

"Just wait, Cody… just wait…"

*drip* *drip* *drip*

"But… Noah… I… you said you wanted to switch."

"That's true, Cody." Noah's voice sounded just a bit too happy… just a bit too light. "But remember this saying when you go to close your eyes and get some rest… 'No good deed goes unpunished.'"

*** ***

Warm and dry on the bottom bunk Cody winced as Noah's laugh fell down around his ears… a storm of sound… full of promise.

Time to Ourselves
by: Miss Raye

Carol 5/30 Lou Complete

Polly cuddled the baby to her chest and tucked the blanket in around her small round body. With a smile over the little ebony crowned head at the little one's mother, Polly looked out at the wagon standing before the house. "Now don't you two worry… Teaspoon and I are old hands at this."

Teaspoon looked back and gave the young couple a mock salute a moment before turning back to the young boy tugging on his hand. "Yessir?"

Digging his heels into the dirt and pulling the older man toward the wagon, young Louis wouldn't be dissuaded. "Come on, Grampa!"

"All right, son… let's go. Gramma?"

Polly shook her head and leaned in to kiss Louise on the cheek, whispering a few words before pulling away. "Enjoy tonight… there'll soon be nights when you won't have a single second to yourselves, so this one is yours."

Jimmy slid his hand into Louise's and gave Polly a smile. "If you need anything…" he paused, "you know we're only a holler away."

"Riiiight." Polly smiled at them both before she started out the door. "We'll be just fine."

Teaspoon already had Louis seated in the wagon when he took little Dara for a moment, offering Polly his free hand so that she could step up inside. Polly settled Louis against her side and took the baby back into her arms. "Have fun!"

Leaning her head on Jimmy's shoulder, Louise raised her free arm and waved at them a moment before Teaspoon flicked the reins and started the wagon off toward the other side of town.

*** ***

The table was shining with their best silver and brand new china Jimmy'd ordered from Boston. Flowers from Polly's garden overflowed from a vase at the back edge of the table. Everything looked perfect, but when Jimmy looked at the way Louise seemed absolutely absorbed in the color of her wine to the point of distraction, he set down his glass and slid his hand across the table. He slid his fingers beneath hers and trailed the pad of his thumb over her knuckles. It had been a common touch between them, but tonight he used it to gain her attention.

"Louise?"

She lifted her gaze to his with a smile. "I'm sorry… I'm not much company tonight."

"Don't apologize…" he tilted his head to the side and gave her hand a gentle squeeze, "you're supposed to be enjoying tonight." He nodded to her plate. "Not hungry?"

Setting down her wine glass she fiddled with the stem of her fork. "I was hungry… really, I was… but-" her gaze slid across the room to the high-chair set back against the wall.

"Too quiet?"

They shared a quiet laugh and she raised her hand to press a fingertip to the corner of her eyes, to keep a tear from falling. "You'll think I'm bein' silly."

He leaned closer, his eyes only for her. "I think you're wonderful." He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to the backs of her fingers. "I also think I know how to fix this evening."

She brightened, understanding his meaning as he took her coat from the hook near the front door and held it out for her. Louise gently pushed back her chair and blew out the candle.

*** ***

Teaspoon collapsed into his chair as Louis climbed up beside him in his own chair, a large over-stuffed cushion boosting him up so that he could see the top of the table. "Aren't you tired, son?"

The little boy lifted his chin as Polly wrapped a napkin around his neck like a kerchief and loosely tied it at the back of his neck. "Nope," he grinned, "just hungry."

Polly was nearly back to the stove when a knock sounded at the door. She sent a quick look to Teaspoon. "Are we expectin' company, sugarlips?"

He stood, his eyes only on the door, old instincts hard to ignore. He rumpled Louis' hair as he walked past the boy. "Hello?"

The voice was familiar, even vibrating through the door. "Hey there!! Got room for two more?"

Shaking her head, Polly reached into the cupboard for two more plates as Teaspoon swung open the door for their guests.

Almost falling from his chair at the sight of the new arrivals, Louis raised his hand, fork and all. "Mama!"

"Hey, sweety." Louise gave Teaspoon a smile as she raised up the covered dish in her hands. "We were wondering if we could have supper with all of you."

Polly turned from the stove a knowing look on her face. "I thought I told y'all to enjoy yourselves tonight."

Jimmy leaned down to accept a wet kiss from his daughter and then looked up at his mentor and his gentle wife. "We are…"

Reaching Out
by: Miss Raye

Syd 4/21 Noah Pass

It was one thing to watch the others doing it… they'd been doing it for nearly half a year and made it look so easy.

It was one thing to train a horse, you didn't need to break an animal to work with it. You didn't need to kill its spirit to understand it and have it understand you, but that was something you did alone. You and the horse. There wasn't anyone else needed.

It was Hickok's fault really. He'd been the one to tell him that they needed him, tell him that it was easy… tell him everything he needed to hear to stay. Since when had he let 'anyone' talk him into doing something so idiotic?

We'll there was that time…

Noah shook his head to clear his thoughts and turned back to saddling his horse. It was a saddle he wasn't all that familiar with, light, barely a skeleton of the one he'd inherited from his father. It was light and that was the purpose really. You didn't want a heavy saddle slowing you down when you had to make a relay at the next station. You didn't want a heavy saddle slowing you down when you had outlaws on your tail.

Damn Hickok.

Teaspoon the man that had stepped in where Sally had left off, even though Noah had said he didn't need him, stepped up and with a glance assessed the job he'd done saddling the horse. With most anyone else Noah would have challenged them with a word or a look. He knew how to saddle a horse, but Teaspoon wasn't doing it to be mean he did it with all the riders. Noah had seen that with his own eyes. Teaspoon was just… 'checking.'

"Well, son?" There was a questioning look in the older man's eyes. "You ready?"

Noah wondered what the truthful answer was to that question. He'd watched them all as they rode through the yard. Had seen most of them take a ride, grasp the pouch in their hand and take off like the devil himself was after them. He's seen it happen, but he'd never done it.

And he didn't want to look the fool. He already felt it.

But when had 'that' ever stopped him.

"Sure," he answered, but he knew that the conviction didn't make it up into his eyes. He saw the consolation in Teaspoon's gaze and knew he'd made the wrong choice. Taking hold of his mount's reins he led the mare into the open of the yard and turned her head in the right direction. Noah swung up into the saddle, setting his feet in the stirrups and adjusting his frame on the lighter saddle. He wasn't sure he was going to be able to do it, but he was sure it was going to be interesting either way.

Teaspoon gave the horse a pat on her neck, careful not to touch her rider. Both station master and rider knew Noah wasn't ready for the easy display of affection that Teaspoon and the rider's shared. He wasn't ready… and Noah wasn't sure that he would be… ever. This was to be temporary work.

"Rider Comin'…" Buck was standing up on the corral fence, his hand held over his eyes to shield out the sun. "It's Lou." Everything else fell aside as Noah focused on the rider headin' in his direction. She bent low over the neck of her horse, a single hand reaching down to lift the mochila from pommel of her saddle.

Noah leaned over the neck of his horse and pressed his knees into her sides and felt the powerful muscles bunch beneath his legs. They moved together, slowly at first, Noah's body trying to mold his mount's stride to hers, his hand slowly reaching out.

He saw the recognition in her eyes, the answering lift of her hand as she reached the mochila out to him.

He didn't worry anymore… didn't think about failing… didn't think about missing… he just knew that she'd meet him halfway. That they'd all meet him halfway.

Noah reached out and wrapped his hand around the mochila. A half a moment later she let go and he was off… the station disappearing behind him…

But he'd be back.

Longing Through the Night
by: Miss Raye

Nancy 8/31 Sam Fire

Sam Cain was a fool. He admitted it freely. Openly. And if he wasn't worried that some trigger happy gun totter would put a bullet through his head he'd shout it at the top of his lungs.

Stretching out his hands to the fire built safely in the ring of stones at his feet he wondered if there was a fire at Emma's tonight. He was sure there was. A fire built in her fireplace, safely flickering light across her face. She was home. She was safe…

He was sitting out in the middle of nowhere with a price on his head and an emptiness in his heart that was likely to split it open and spill his life into the dust.

"Emma." He couldn't help but taste her name on his tongue, feel the smoothness of it over his lips. "Emma." Such a simple name for such an extraordinary woman.

Brave. Steadfast. Fiery. Passionate. And alone tonight.

It was all his fault.

He could have… she should have let himself drown in Emma's arms, taken her as his wife long before this ever happened, but there was just a part of him that couldn't let 'her' go. Couldn't be completely with Emma until he'd finished avenging his first wife.

What had that gotten him but an empty bed… an empty heart and an empty life?

There had been so many times when he'd come close to leaving Jenny behind, but there'd been that flex of his heart, the cramp in his fingers that had just held on 'tighter' even though he knew… he should just give it up. Give her up.

But where would that leave Jenny? No more than just a memory. Her folks had all gone. Died and left nothing behind but some property to be sold and pictures lost over time. Jenny had been the last and he'd gone and lost her. Let her be killed in his place. What honor had he done her? What could he give her but his devotion to killing the men that had taken her life?

Then again… what had he to offer Emma?

She'd been happy with his passion. She bloomed under his attention and fired back with her wit. She'd met him again and again, letting him in when she should have turned him away and he knows he sees love in her eyes.

He wanted to offer her the same dedication and fervor. He wanted to… A lone coyote called out in the night, Sam's hand reflexively moved over the butt of his gun, waiting. Waiting. And when no attack came, he relaxed a bit. As he relaxed he felt for the creature, howling up at the moon like it would do any good. Alone was alone.

Hunkering down over the fire Sam came to his decision. He'd play the game he'd started so long ago. He'd face the men who killed his Jenny. He'd face them and take them down. If he lived beyond that he knew… the promised that if he lived beyond that fight… he'd set revenge behind him and start living… with Emma by his side… as his wife.

If he lived.

Muddy Waters
by: Miss Raye

Nobu 5/27 Lou Water

"I don't' know about this." Louise backed away from the church door.

Sister Mary Catherine gave her a weak smile. "What's wrong, Louise?"

"I ain't sure that I'm ready to… you know."

Both turned to look at the church, inside, up at the front of room, a line of young children waited patiently for their turn. The young child that was now the front of the line eagerly stepped forward as the priest beckoned forward. The girl's name was Corrie and had been a friend to Louise since she'd arrived at the orphanage. She knelt down on the church floor and nodded in answer to the questions from the priest. One of the nuns knelt down beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders bracing her as she leaned back, her eyes closed as though she were sleeping. Louise tensed as the priest raised a bowl above Corrie's head , pouring a slow stream of water onto the crown of her head, the rivlets streaming through her hair and into something out of sight. The priest helped Corrie to stand and she beamed at the rest of the children, her expression elated.

Louise watched as one child then another stepped forward and knelt down for their baptism into faith and as the line of waiting children started to dwindle Sister Mary Francis shook Louise gently. "It's nearly your turn Louise. Why don't you go up and take your place?"

She stepped back pulling her arm away from the older woman. Sister Mary Francis hadn't been anything but nice to her, but Louise felt cornered. Standing there in the center of the courtyard Louise felt the walls closing in just as sure as if they were the walls of Jericho falling down around their ears. "No…" her voice whispered low as if it swished around their ankles, "no… I don't think I want to."

"Baptism is God's offer of life, Louise," Sister Mary Catherine had knelt down beside her, her hands warming the chill from Louise's fingers, "the baptism is our way of showing that we accept his grace."

Panic seized Louise, but she didn't understand why. "I got a life. I don't need to be beholden to God for that."

"God's grace and his love sustain us." Mary Francis spoke through teeth clenched. "To deny his offer-"

Louise paled, tears coming to her eyes. "I ain't denyin' him nothin', Sister Mary… I just don't want to owe someone else… I already owed the marshal for bringin' us here," she looked to the building where her little sister and brother were kept, "and I owe you and the other sisters for takin' care o' me and showin' me how to do things. I just can't keep owin' folks stuff or I'll never be able to take care of my little ones on my own." She'd fisted her hands in her skirts and creased deep lines in the apron they made her wear. "Please don't make me."

Sister Mary Catherine reached out and finger by finger removed Louise's hands from her skirts, smoothing the fabric as she soothed Louise's nerves. Taking the young girl by the hand she walked with Louise into the church and up through the main aisle, pews passing by like increments of time, long… dark… scary. Step by step they waded through the still air of the mission church until there they were, standing before the priest. Father Gregory.

"Louise?" Father Gregory swept his arm out toward her, his smile gentle and welcoming. "It's your turn."

Louise gripped Sister Mary Catherine's hand hard enough to cause the young nun to grimace in pain. "Louise?" She looked down into Louise's terror filled eyes. "Are you ready?"

Louise McCloud didn't have an answer. Not for them… not even for herself.

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