Topic #93: Word List - use at least three of the following words: dark, light, press, simple, and plea
Memories and Nightmares by: Cindy Oh Dear! by: Jo
Consequences by: Karen A Simple Plan by: Dede
A Unique Proposal by: Dede In The Pink by: Miss Raye
Lost and Found by: Lori Nighttime Reflections of Kid by: Debbie
Nighttime Reflections of Lou by: Debbie  
Memories and Nightmares
by: Cindy

A/N: This story follows "The Thunder Rolls" from Quick Fic #33, "On the Edge" from Quick Fic #53, "To Help a Friend" from Quick Fic #54, "By the Book" from Quick Fic #91, and “Home is Where…” from Quick Fic #92.

It was still *dark* when he awoke suddenly, and for a moment he felt a touch of confusion. This wasn’t the bunkhouse, and he wasn’t in his bedroll on the trail somewhere. The bed wasn’t familiar…

A flash of lightning illuminated the room and clarity returned, even as a boom of thunder rolled in. It was the house on the farm he had helped Lou buy. He was in the house because of the storm – and because the tack room that was to have been his shelter had turned out to need a lot more work than he had remembered. Lou had insisted…

Lou.

Something had awakened him, and he didn’t think it was the storm. Over the years he’d become quite good at sleeping through natural noises, reacting only to those that were out of the norm. Buck took a deep breath, closing out the sounds of the storm, listening for anything else.

And then he heard it – a sob, muffled but yet distinct – coming from the room across the hall.

He slipped out of bed and padded, barefoot, into the hallway and toward the door across from his. It stood ajar, and at first he could only make out shadows in the gloom. But then another flash of lightning from the storm brought a temporary *light* into the room, and he saw her – sitting up in the bed, knees bunched up against her chest, face buried against her legs.

Buck set one hand against the door and pushed it open a little farther. “Lou?”

There was no answer, but as his eyes readjusted to the dark he could see her shoulders shaking, her shuddering breaths as she tried not to cry out loud. He took a step into the room, hesitated, then went to the bed and sat down on the edge. He reached out with one hand to touch her arm, wrapped around her knees. “Lou, what is it?” There was genuine concern in his voice, as well as confusion – he’d never known Lou to be afraid of a storm before.

Lou took a couple of shuddering breaths, and then finally looked up at him. Even in the storm illuminated gloom, he could see her puffy eyes, and the tears on her cheeks. He reached up and gently brushed those tears away with his thumb. “Lou?”

“I was… I was just rememberin’,” she finally said, her voice little more than a whisper. “The last big storm, an’ how that’s when… that’s when he…”

And then he knew. The last big storm was when Kid had slipped out into the night, leaving just a note, and a broken-hearted wife, behind. “Lou, I didn’t think…”

She laid a hand over his and tried to smile. “I thought all the cryin’ was behind me. Didn’t see how I could have any tears left in me, for all I cried. But the storm, it just reminded me.”

“Do you want me to stay for a while?”

Lou sniffed and swallowed hard, then nodded her head, her thanks expressed in her eyes.

Buck tipped a pillow up against the headboard and settled back against it. He held out one arm as Lou turned to *press* against him, and then he wrapped it tight around her shoulders, offering whatever safety and security he could. She shuddered as another boom of thunder rolled through, and then finally relaxed a bit against his side.

“Tell me how it’s gonna be, Buck,” she finally said, her voice little more than a whisper against the storm outside. “How it’s gonna be here.”

He heard the *plea* in her voice, the *simple* pleading for reassurance, and he considered his words for a moment before answering. “There’s real good land here, Lou,” he said slowly, carefully. It was one of the first things he had noticed – the deep, black earth, partially reclaimed by the prairie since the last owner had farmed it. And now it was ready for planting again. “We’ve got a few weeks before planting time. Plenty of time to get the house all fixed up, and get to St. Joseph to bring Teresa and Jeremiah back.”

“A family again,” Lou said, her voice muffled against his chest.

“Your family, together again,” Buck confirmed.

“That’s gonna be good,” she murmured.

“Then we’ll plow the fields, and do the planting. Watch as everything grows.” That was probably oversimplifying things, Buck figured – they were bound to find all sorts of hidden pitfalls neither of them knew about in farming. But they’d learn, and somehow they’d make it work. One thing he and Lou had in common was that they were survivors.

Lou absently rubbed at her abdomen. “As the baby grows.”

Buck reached for her hand, his long fingers encircling hers. “That’s gonna be all right, too, Lou,” he promised. “I told you I’d be here for you, as long as you want me.”

“You ain’t gonna get scared off by a baby?”

Buck’s body shook with a gentle chuckle as he remembered the infant left on the bunkhouse steps one time in Sweetwater – and how he’d been sure he’d caused the little girl to spring a leak. “Not this time.”

“It’s gonna be a lot of work.”

“Teaspoon would say it builds character.”

Now it was Lou’s turn to chuckle, and he felt her shoulders shake as she laughed. “You make me believe it’s all gonna be fine.”

“It is.” Buck put all the confidence he could muster into those two words.

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled again, but this time instead of shuddering, Lou just sighed. She leaned closer into Buck’s chest. “You almost make me believe that,” she said softly.

Buck didn’t have an immediate answer for that, so he just held her. A comfortable silence settled over the room, broken only by the wind and the rain of the storm outside.

After a few minutes, Buck realized that Lou’s breathing had changed, and he shifted ever so slightly to look down at her. And then he smiled as he saw her eyes closed, a peaceful look on her sleeping face.

Very carefully he reached down with his free hand and pulled the blankets up, covering her shoulders. He gently brushed a wisp of hair from her face and leaned back against the pillow. Holding her tight he closed his own eyes.

“Believe,” he whispered. “Believe.”

Oh Dear!
by: Jo

“Why? Why do I let you talk me into things….?” Buck asked Ike not really expecting an answer.

*Because you love me?* Ike turned and batted his eyelashes at his best friend.

“I’ll have to think on that one…” Buck looked at the bloody sack he’d just secured behind his saddle. “I’m sure Emma will make good use of this.” Buck gestured toward the sack.

*Buck, have a heart don’t let Nipper see the bag….its her mother.* Ike replied after he’d mounted his horse and secured the bundle he was holding.

“There you go namin’ things again….come on lets get home. Teaspoon’s gonna love this….” Buck grumbled as he mounted up and the pair began the long ride home.

Ike insisted that they stop several times during the day so he could feed his new charge. Buck was left to sit and think back on how they managed to get into this situation in the first place. It was all his fault. They were only ten miles from the station the night before but he hadn’t felt like going those last few miles. He’d picked the place where they made camp and he’d been too lazy to fill up the canteen….if only…..

The *dark* moonless night was just beginning to surrender itself to the *light* of a new day when Ike punched Buck in the arm. *Roll over, you’re snoring so loud the trees are shaking*

“Sorry, I have a little head cold….it’s almost time to get up anyway.” Buck stretched out on his bedroll and watched the area around them come out of the shadows as the sun crested the horizon.

Ike began going through their saddle bags getting the few biscuits and hardtack they had left together for breakfast. Buck rolled the bed rolls after their *simple* meal and checked his canteen; empty. He shook his head and continued getting his gear ready to ride. He heard Ike start to move off into the bushes. “Hey, where are you going?”

*To answer a call of nature, want details?* Ike said shaking his head.

“Ah, no…hey since you’re heading that way want to refill my canteen?” Buck asked not wanting to walk the few yards to the nearby creek.

*Fine…Toss me mine too.* Ike said and left to take care of his personal matter.

Ike hadn’t been gone long when he came running back to Buck. *Come Quick, You have to help me…*

“What’s wrong….Ike!” Buck asked as he hurried to follow his friend.

They hadn’t gone too far when Buck noticed a dark trail on the ground. Ike was leading him right along that trail. Suddenly Ike stopped and pointed. *I can’t do it Buck, you can, you have to please….*

Buck looked and saw a doe. She’d been shot in the shoulder and was bleeding badly, she was in pain and clearly didn’t have long to live. “I hate people that just shoot things and don’t check to see if they only hurt the animal.” Buck said with disgust. The doe was trying to stand and drag herself away from them but she was too weak. Buck drew his knife and began chanting in his native tongue. Finally he spoke to the frightened doe and approached it slowly. When he reached the animal he patted her head and cleanly and swiftly ended her pain. “Ike help me carry her back to the horses. I’m sure Emma can make a few meals for us…..What is that?”

Ike held a small fawn in his arms. Buck looked back at the doe and sighed. She’d tried to protect her fawn even as she died by leading them away from her baby. “Ike, it’s too small, it can’t be more than a week old. It will die without its mother.” Buck knew he’d lost the argument before he even opened his mouth but he had to try….

So here he was sitting on his horse watching Ike feed the fawn water and wonder what was going to happen when they got back to the station.

It was late afternoon when they rode into the station. Emma and Kid greeted them. “We um, found a deer someone had shot but I had to finish it off. I dressed it quick before we started home but I’ll have to finish it so we can use the meat.” Buck said dismounting and removing the heavy sack.

“I’ll take care of your horse so you can do that.” Kid said with a grimace. He was glad Buck had volunteered to get the deer ready to be butchered.

“I’ll help you with that Buck.” Teaspoon said joining the group. “Where’s Ike?”

Buck looked over at Ike’s horse; it was empty. “Thanks, he was just here a minute ago….Maybe in the barn?….”

Teaspoon and Buck carried the deer around to the back of the barn where he could hang it up to clean and butcher then they entered the barn. They saw everyone gathered around Nanny’s stall. Nanny was the goat Ike had been given for helping an elderly neighbor. The goat having just had a kid and had plenty of milk and Buck could tell from the looks on Emma and Lou’s faces that the fawn was here to stay.

Teaspoon and Buck looked into the stall and saw the little fawn nursing happily from the goat. Teaspoon looked at Buck “Tell me you didn’t let him name it….” It was a *simple plea* but Teaspoon already knew the answer.

*Her name is Nipper….I think Nanny thinks she’s another kid.* Ike beamed like a proud papa.

“I’ll bite, why Nipper.” Jimmy asked with a laugh and a wink. The others groaned at the pun.

*When I picked her up the first time she bit me but she knows me now.* Ike said holding up a slightly bruised finger.

“So we still can’t eat anything you name?” Cody asked somewhat disappointed. Ike nodded. “Please don’t let him name the chickens.”

*The rooster’s name is Xavier. Buck said I’d *press* my luck too far if I named the chickens anything other than Fried, Broiled or Roasted* Ike signed to everyone’s amusement.

“Yeeeah.” Buck sighed. “Don’t worry Cody, her Mother is out back we’ll get a few good meals from her. OUCH!” Buck exclaimed as a tiny rock bounced off his hand. He turned and looked at Ike. Ike was holding his hands over the fawn’s ears and making a rather indignant face at Buck.

Everyone laughed….Except Buck.

Consequences
by: Karen

He hadn’t realized it would be so *dark* out here away from the others. He would have to stop soon, or he would run the risk of injury from having no *light* to show him the way. Luckily, he found a spot suitable for camping just before it became too *dark* to see. He even managed to get a small fire going so he had some *light* as well as some warmth.

He sat feeding small sticks into the fire as he contemplated his situation. He was alone with no one to help him, and it was all his fault. If he’d listened to her *plea* for him to stay, he wouldn’t be here now. True – the odds were that he’d be dead just like the rest of them, but at least he wouldn’t be here – alone.

He sighed. It had been such a *simple* request, “Don’t go. Stay here with us; with me.”

As he sheltered the fire and prepared for sleep, the boy shook his head and whispered softly, “I’ll find you, Little Bird. I’ll find you.”

A Simple Plan
by: Dede

Sam chuckled as the riders groaned over his latest declaration of love. He appreciated all the help they were giving him and, though they rolled their eyes at his *light* chatter, they were willing participants. Sam was giving Emma a surprise birthday party and they loved Emma almost as much as he did so they put up with him.

He’d started a month earlier with his plans and had asked Emma about her memories of her birthdays from when she was young. At first, she’d talked about how her father would bring her something special, like a doll or a small figurine. But soon, Sam could tell she was suspicious so he’d decided not to *press* for any more information. What he’d gotten was more than enough to make his plan – a very *simple* plan.

So here they were, on Emma’s birthday, decorating her house. Teaspoon had played along and had taken Emma to town for dinner. They’d told her that Sam was unavailable because he’d had to ride to nearby Williamstown. She’d been disappointed but had understood, as she always did, Sam’s job and responsibilities came first.

Sam giggled and Jimmy looked at him curiously. The marshal coughed to cover it and Jimmy, though wearing an amused look, went on with helping Lou set the table. Kid and Cody were hanging decorations they’d all made, and Ike and Buck were in the kitchen cutting the cake Sam had brought from town. Sam looked at his watch and noticed it was almost time for Emma to arrive so he called for everyone’s attention.

“Okay,” Sam said, rubbing his hands together happily as the riders all looked at him, “they should be here real soon. Now, is everythin’ ready?”

The riders looked around at each other and the room, and nodded. Sam’s grin was wide and he clapped his hands. “Well, then we’d better get ourselves in place.”

Sam took his position just inside the door so he could grab her as soon as she walked in. Jimmy and Kid were in charge of lighting the lanterns as everyone yelled ‘surprise’. The others were to scatter themselves around the room ready to jump out for the finale. Sam giggled again and could just make out someone staring at him from the other side of the door. He was sure it was Lou. He cleared his throat and, with one last silent *plea* to heaven that this would work, waited.

It wasn’t long before they heard the buckboard coming down the road. This time everyone giggled and Sam covered his mouth to stifle the laughter. They could hear Teaspoon pull the buckboard up near the house.

“Hmm, it’s awful *dark*,” they heard Emma say.

There were a few quiet snickers but the culprit quickly silenced them. Sam was pretty sure it was Cody but with it being as dark as Emma said, he couldn’t prove it. Suddenly there was the sound of footsteps on the steps leading up to the porch. Sam was so excited.

“Now Emma,” Teaspoon said, “the boys worked purty hard today, must be tuckered out.”

Sam almost laughed out loud at that excuse and he was sure the boys felt the same way.

The footsteps ended at the door and Teaspoon and Emma were just outside. Sam could feel his nerves tingling with anticipation. This was going to be great. He couldn’t wait to get Emma in his arms. The doorknob turned and the door slowly opened. Just as it was wide enough for Emma to walk through, Sam jumped up and wrapped his arms around her.

“Surprise!” everyone yelled, Sam being the loudest.

The lanterns were lit and the light cut through the dark to show an amusing sight. Emma was in near hysterics laughing hard as Sam quickly dropped his arms to his side. He’d hugged the wrong person.

Sam knew as soon as he’d wrapped his long arms around the person in front of him that it wasn’t Emma. It wasn’t the fact that his arms didn’t wind around as much of the body as they did with Emma; it was the smell. No, Teaspoon didn’t stink but he sure didn’t smell like Emma.

“Oh Sam,” Emma giggled, groping for a chair to sit in. Lou, who had been closest to the door with Sam, helped her. Sam noticed that he was laughing too. In fact, everyone was laughing, but he really couldn’t blame them. What a sight it must have been.

“Sam,” Emma said, calming down a little as she fanned herself. “That’s got to be the best birthday present I’ve ever had!” That sent a new wave of laughter through the room. “Should I be jealous?” she barely squeaked out.

“Very funny,” Sam said, though he was happy that she was happy. “Um, could we get the cake passed around…please?”

“Come on boys,” Teaspoon said, as he walked by Sam, “I believe Sam’s got some ‘xplainin’ to do.” The boys laughed at Teaspoon’s joke as the stationmaster winked at Sam. The marshal blushed and walked over to see Emma. He squatted down in front of her and covered her hands with his.

“I really wanted this to be…” Sam said, not sure what he wanted really.

“Sam Cain,” Emma said, leaning forward and taking Sam’s face in her hands. “I was serious when I said that this is the best birthday I’ve ever had. Thank you.” She leaned towards him and placed a soft kiss on his lips.

Sam leaned into the kiss and placed his hands on the arms of the chair for leverage. Hearing all the noise from just feet away, he begrudgingly pulled away and stood up. He held his hand out for Emma to take and pulled her up, holding her against him for a moment. She blushed and murmured, “Time for cake.”

As they walked into the boisterous activity in the kitchen, Sam let Emma’s hand go as she quickly moved to the counter to help serve. She and Teaspoon were soon arguing because the station master insisted she sit down since it was her birthday. Jimmy and Cody were trying to push each other out of the way to get the first piece. Buck and Ike were poking at the presents on the table, trying to guess what was in each parcel. And Kid and Lou were off to the side recreating the scene and laughing about how Sam had hugged Teaspoon.

Sam watched all this and chuckled. He was the simple one to think a plan with this bunch could be simple. Sighing happily, he walked into the fray. “I get the first helping.”

A Unique Proposal
by: Dede

“He said what?” Kid asked, rolling his eyes and laughing. He nudged Jimmy who was laughing so hard he was doubled over.

“I don’t believe that,” Buck stated emphatically. His shoulders shook from laughter as he glanced at Kid and Jimmy. The three shook their heads in disbelief.

“I’m tellin’ ya’,” Cody said, insistently, “Tim said to Sarah ‘Let me turn your *dark* into *light*.’” He couldn’t keep it in and he joined the others. The four were laughing so hard they had to sit down to keep from falling.

“Good grief,” Jimmy said, between coughs of laughter. “Tim Lihte is marryin’ Sarah Darke and he uses that to ask her?” The laughter increased.

“Y’all are jus’ jealous,” Lou said, as she jumped down from her bunk. She’d been quietly reading when Cody had come in with the news.

“Jealous,” Jimmy said, incredulously. “Are you serious?”

“What?” Lou asked sweetly. “It’s a *simple* but affectionate proposal.”

“You aren’t serious?” Buck blurted, as the others laughed even harder and eyed Lou dubiously.

“Yeah I am.” She just smiled at her friends.

“Lou, come on,” Kid said, standing up from the chair and walking towards her. “A simple proposal is ‘will you marry me.’”

“Yes.”

The laughter ceased immediately and was replaced by silence as each boy wore an expression of shock. From the look on Lou’s face, that same sweet smile, Jimmy, Cody, and Buck realized what was happening. Kid was a bit slower so the three stood up and gathered around Kid, ready to help him understand.

“Wait, what?” Kid stammered, staring wide-eyed at Lou. “Wait. Ya’ mean...wait…is that…what?”

“Uh, Kid,” Cody said, elbowing Kid to get him moving, “I wouldn’t *press* the issue. The lady said yes. She may jus’ change her mind if ya’ try to argue.”

“Um, guys?” Kid didn’t take his eyes off Lou but leaned towards his friends. “Help?” The others knew it was a half-hearted *plea* that he really didn’t mean.

Jimmy opened the door and held it as Cody and Buck walked outside, waving at Kid and Lou as they left. Jimmy followed them and, just before he closed the door, leaned in and said, “You’re on your own there.”

Jimmy watched as Kid nodded dumbly and closed the small gap between him and Lou. A grin spread across his face and he scooped Lou up in his arms, swinging her around.

Outside the bunkhouse, Cody, Buck, and Jimmy smiled as they heard Kid whoop and Lou giggle.

“I’m jus’ glad he kept it simple,” Cody drawled, starting a new wave of laughter with the three friends.

A/N: The bizarre proposal is riffed from the show Kath & Kim, the original Australian version not the abomination on NBC, in episode 1: “Sex” where Kel Knight asks Kath Day to marry him “…change Day into Knight.”

In The Pink
by: Miss Raye

It had been a long three weeks since Emma’s wedding by Cody’s estimation. The length and breadth of time since her departure was only made more unbearable by the fact that they hadn’t found a suitable replacement.

Sure the others had given him more than his fair share of joking… playing up on the fact that he sorely missed Emma’s cooking… now there was a lot of truth to that, but the fatal problem in his way of thinking was his clothes.

*** ***

Jimmy leaned against the barn shaking his head, arms folded tightly across his chest. “I jus’ don’t get it, Cody.”

Cody paused in his ministrations and turned around to give Hickok a look. “What don’t you get about ‘clean’ clothes, Jimmy?”

“I get how you want ‘em… we all do, but that’s why we got that added to our chores list until Teaspoon finds a new Emma.”

“Well forgive me if’n I don’t care to see you ‘wear’ through another one of my buckskin shirts with your… scrubbin’

Shrugging, Jimmy turned to look at the empty house across the yard. “Well, we all learned a lot from Emma… I just didn’t catch on to her washin’ technique.”

Cody’s exaggerated sigh had them both smiling. “That’s true, but the saddest part is how Lou wouldn’t take on the job herself. Seein’ as how she is the only ‘girl’ on the property.”

“Right,” Jimmy nearly choked on his laughter, “I’d like to see you bring that logic up to Teaspoon and see how much Lou likes it.”

Clutching the front of his shirt in a frantic gesture, Cody shook his head. “Aw hell, Jimmy… I ain’t so stupid as to go and do that…” he looked at the sun as it rose into the sky, “but if I wanna get my laundry done while I get the rest of my shoppin’ done, I’d best be goin’.”

Swinging up into the saddle Cody was soon a speck of dust on the horizon heading to town.

*** ***

Loaded down with his purchases, Cody managed to maneuver himself through the narrow doorway of the laundry and barely avoided stepping on someone’s toes.

“Ai-ya… why don’t you watch where you step!?”

Cody peered around his packages. “Mighty sorry ma’am, I didn’t see you standin’ there.”

The small woman narrowed her eyes at him. “You not see much ‘through’ those boxes, I think… put down and then walk.”

His cautious glance told her he wasn’t so sure about putting down his packages, but he did, cowed by her stern look. “Are my clothes done Mrs. Wong?”

“Clothes done, yes.”

Relief flooded his features. “Oh good… you don’t know how long I’ve been waitin’ to hear that,” he reached into his pocket for some coins, “at our station, the last time my shirts was really white was back when Emma-”

“White?” Her questioning tone stopped him in mid-motion. “What’s this ‘white’ shirt you saying?”

“My… you know, the shirts I brought in to have laundered this morning?”

Again her eyes narrowed at him as if trying to discern if he was telling the truth. Leaning back toward the curtained partition she barked out a few words he didn’t understand.

A young boy stepped out from behind the curtain and gave the older woman a slight bow. They exchanged a few words back and forth before the boy turned to Cody. “Your shirts ready, mister, but they ain’t white.” The odd use of Western slang sounded like broken glass in the boy’s heavy accent, but Cody fought through the sensation to get to the heart of the matter.

“Why ain’t they white?”

Mrs. Wong turned an imperious glare on the young rider. “You no separate.”

“Excuse me?” Cody’s head was starting to ache in the worst way. “I no- I mean… I didn’t what?”

“Colors.” She barked the word at him with a smile. “You no separate colors. *Dark* one pile,*light* one pile… no make mess.”

Cody’s eyes bugged out of his sockets. “Dark? I don’t think so. I brought you a couple of shirts, ‘white’ shirts and some of my unders and that was it! It’s pretty *simple*, really.”

The boy ducked into the back of the laundry and Cody tried not to cry. ‘My shirts…’

“Hello!?”

The booming voice outside the door gave Cody a start. “Teaspoon? Teaspoon! Is that really you?”

The older man poked his head in the open doorway. “Why yes, Billy. It is me… what can I do for you?”

Cody ignored the use of his first name and waved helplessly at the woman standing behind the counter. “Teaspoon, they done ruined my shirt! You gotta help me…”

The *plea* was unmistakable and Teaspoon, being the man of action that he was, had to answer. “What seems to have happened here, Mrs. Wong?”

Cody’s jaw dropped. What Teaspoon was doing he couldn’t understand. Mrs. Wong was the enemy! She was the cause of his potential ruination and downfall and he was asking ‘her’ what happened?

The boy reappeared with a stack of neatly *press*ed and folded clothes. He set them on the ‘counter’ they’d constructed out of some wooden panels and then laid out each individual piece of clothing.

“One shirt,” the boy began his count, “anothah shirt… long undah shirt…” as he went on Cody was again near tears. Each piece of clothing was a soft pink color, too rosy to be mistaken as anything potentially manly, to red to be tan in anyone’s estimation, “and…” the boy reach for one last item beneath the final shirt, “suspendahs.”

“Oh glory, how did those get in there?”

Cody’s head swiveled around to look at Teaspoon, “What?”

“Those suspenders… why, those are the ones I’ve been lookin’ for all over the bunkhouse.”

“Excuse me?” Cody’s perplexed emotions were quickly crystallizing into something entirely different. “Those are yours???”

Teaspoon took the suspenders from the boy’s grasp and turned them from one angle to another. “Well, they were red when I last saw them, but I guess the water pulled out quite a bit of the dye and it all,” he gestured to the array of clothing on the make-shift counter, “soaked right up into your clothes.” Smiling with relief, Teaspoon reached into the pocket of his shirt. “How much do I owe your establishment for washin’ my suspenders, lovely Mrs. Wong?”

The older woman blushed at the over-exaggerated wink he gave her and waved him off. Rolling up his suspenders, Teaspoon dropped them into the pocket of his pants and gave it a pat. “Mighty obliged ma’am… son…” he gave Cody a smile. “See you back at the station, Cody.”

Cody watched him step into the sunlight, but it wasn’t until he’d managed to gather his wits about him that he turned back to Mrs. Wong and her young assistant. Mrs. Wong held out her hand, wrinkled with age and hard work. “Two dollars.”

“What?” Cody couldn’t believe his ears.

“Two dollars.” She repeated, resetting her hand with a flourish.

Cody opened and closed his mouth once… then again before he leaned out the door and bellowed at Teaspoon’s retreating figure. “What about my clothes? Teaspoon!!”

Lost and Found
by: Lori

A/N: Slightly dark.

It was supposed to be a *simple* ride. Supposed being the operative word. Because the simple ride had quickly become anything but.

All he had to do was take an Army dispatch to Surprise, but when he arrived in town he was the one who got the surprise. He was arrested, thrown in jail, and Jimmy was never told why. He asked to send a telegram to Teaspoon, but his *plea* was laughingly denied. The sheriff said Jimmy didn’t know a territorial marshal, unless he was on the run from the man, and they weren’t going to waste time with a bogus telegram. Jimmy was staying in jail, and could only hope that his friends realized something was wrong before the crooked lawman did something else. Like preemptively kill him.

~*~*~

Teaspoon didn’t know where his rider was. Jimmy should have returned from Surprise days ago, but he wasn’t back. Even factoring in a thrown shoe, or some other problem with the horse that would have slowed him down, Jimmy should have come home by now. He sent out a telegram to the Army captain at Surprise to find out if Jimmy had arrived, and was told that his rider had never shown up in town. A flurry of messages were sent out, asking if Jimmy had been seen. The answers he received tracked Jimmy as far as Cave Creek, the town just before Surprise on the route. He’d been on pace to arrive on time with the dispatch, so something must have happened between Cave Creek and Surprise.

When Teaspoon asked his fellow-lawmen in the two towns to help out by searching for any information, both men found nothing. Not content to accept someone else’s word, especially not about his boy, the marshal decided to head out and find out for himself what was going on. A person could not just simply disappear with no trace and no clues left behind. Somebody knew something and he was going to find out what happened.

Now all he had to do was figure out what rider would go with him. He knew he wouldn’t get out of here without someone coming along. They did not accept Jimmy’s disappearance anymore than he did and they always headed out to help one another. All of them would probably want to come along, but it couldn’t happen; there was mail to run and they couldn’t all be gone.

Teaspoon wasn’t even going to try to leave by himself, he knew better than that. He could only hope it didn’t turn into a fight as the others decided who would go. He also hoped they would get it worked out amongst themselves because he didn’t want to be forced to choose.

~*~*~

The sheriff was mad. As Jimmy languished in the jail cell the young man came to realize that Sheriff Bryce Ross was certifiably insane. He seemed to think Jimmy was a bank robber, a murder, a confidence man and an Army deserter. It didn’t seem to matter that each wanted man had a different name and a different description. Each day the sheriff was convinced he had discovered who Jimmy was, and every day he sent off a new noticed that he’d captured a wanted man and the lawman searching for him could come collect their prisoner.

Jimmy wondered what would happen if someone actually showed up. Would they recognize he wasn’t who Ross claimed he was? Could they convince the sheriff of his innocence? Or would the crazy old coot just insist he was someone else? Or would some corrupt marshal take Jimmy and send him to trial for a crime he didn’t commit?

Surely Teaspoon and the rest of the station suspected something since he hadn’t arrived home. They would come searching for him; he knew it with everything in him. Teaspoon would get this straightened out and then Jimmy could go home. But only if his friend and boss got there before this crazy sheriff decided to hang Jimmy just to be done with it.

~*~*~

“Howdy, Sheriff Ross,” Teaspoon greeted the other lawman congenially as he and Buck entered the jail at Surprise. The two of them had searched every inch of the trail between here and Cave Creek. They’d spent days searching for any sign of Hickok or any clue about what might have happened to their friend. It had been a couple of weeks, so they knew some clues might have been lost, but they weren’t going to give up.

The one thing that worried the territorial marshal was the sheriff of Cave Creek’s warning. Sheriff Wainwright warned Teaspoon that Sheriff Ross was a little…unbalanced. He had the town of Surprise gripped in the madness that held him and people were afraid to speak up against him, even if he was doing something illegal or wrong. Forewarned against the man, Buck and Teaspoon were on their guard, and suspicious when they walked into the jail.

The cell was empty and the sheriff seemed unruffled as he greeted Teaspoon. “Afternoon. What can I do for you folks?”

“I’m Marshal Hunter,” he stated. “I’ve sent you telegrams ‘bout my missing rider Jimmy Hickok.”

“Right,” the other man nodded. Then he shrugged and held his hands out. “Like I told ya, he never showed up. I looked for ‘im, but nobody had seen the guy.”

“There were plenty of people who saw him come this way,” Teaspoon stated as Buck looked around the jail. “Yet he suddenly disappears right here? Don’t make sense.”

Sheriff Ross shrugged. “What can I say? Maybe they’re not bein’ truthful.”

“Someone’s not bein’ truthful,” Buck said pointedly, drawing both men’s attention to him. He was peering at a spot in the cell and then looked at Teaspoon and nodded slowly and deliberately. “There are initials JBH carved into the cot. Kinda odd since Jimmy’s supposedly never been here.”

The other sheriff never saw it coming and didn’t have time to react; Teaspoon’s gun was dawn and brought up to *press* against the man’s temple and Buck’s gun was pointed directly at the lying sheriff’s chest. Teaspoon growled at the other man, “I know my rider’s here and I want to know where he is. Now!

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Ross denied.

Angrily, Teaspoon pressed his gun harder against the other man’s head, bending Ross’ neck under the pressure. “I can hurt you for a long time without killin’ you. Tell me where he is.”

~*~*~

The door above him opened and a beam of *light* shot through the *dark* hole he was in and made him squint against the bright rays. He wondered what insults or nearly inedible food the older man would offer to him this time. Voices came near him and Jimmy instinctively recoiled away from the possibility of further pain.

Instead of pain, gentle hands touched him, soothing him as if he were a frightened animal. “Easy son; easy. You’re alright.”

He was lifted and helped from the hole. Hands supported him as his cramped muscles protested and refused to work. His wounds hurt and cuts were infected; his eye was swollen nearly shut and his head throbbed. His body ached from more than abuse; hunger and thirst racked him.

“We have you, Jimmy,” Buck’s voice floated to him and he couldn’t turn his head to see the other man. “We’ve got you.”

He closed his eyes, resting in relief against his friend. He had survived. He had forced himself to hold on until they found him because he knew his friends would not give up. And they were here and he could finally relax.

~*~*~

“Why?” Rachel gasped out, covering her mouth in horror as she saw Jimmy.

It had been over a week since they pulled Jimmy out of the hole and the young man’s bruises were still healing. He should have taken more time to rest, but Jimmy refused to stay in Surprise any longer. The town held a swift trial for Sheriff Ross and he was found guilty of numerous crimes. With Teaspoon there as a territorial marshal, the people finally felt courageous enough to stand up to the man.

Immediately after the hanging, the town elected a new sheriff and Teaspoon could understand why Jimmy wanted to leave. He’d had enough of the townsfolk, and he wasn’t the one who had suffered. So even though he thought the younger man should rest, he understood why the rider insisted on going home. The journey had been slow, filled with frequent stops, but now they were finally here.

“Let’s get him inside,” he said. “Then we can talk.”

The station mother nodded and with clucking and fussing, Jimmy was settled in the downstairs room in Rachel’s house. It would be quieter there and he would be able to recuperate without the noise and chaos of the bunkhouse. As soon as he was settled in, the rider fell asleep almost immediately; which was probably for the best.

“Let’s go outside,” Teaspoon told Rachel, placing his hand on her arm to stop her from arranging and re-arranging Jimmy’s blankets compulsively. “The others will want to hear this, too.”

She nodded and the pair stepped out onto the porch where eager visages greeted them. Once the door was closed, Rachel repeated the question she originally asked, “Why?”

“We don’t know.” Teaspoon shook his head wearily. “Nothing the sheriff said ever made any sense.”

“He was crazy?” Kid asked, a tone of incredulity in his voice. “That’s the excuse? Jimmy was tortured and locked in a hole underground because the sheriff was crazy?”

With a heavy sigh the marshal shrugged his shoulders. “Unfortunately, that’s the only thing we could get. He thought Jimmy was a wanted criminal and he could get the truth. It don’t make sense and it makes me angry, but we have to focus on the fact we got Jimmy back.”

There were grumbles and a lot of shuffling of feet; it was clear that nobody liked his answers. Teaspoon didn’t like them either. He hadn’t liked them when they first found Jimmy, and he still didn’t then like anymore now. Hopefully they would all calm down as they watched the young man heal and get better.

It would be slow, but Teaspoon was confident it would happen. His family would heal and hopefully come out stronger in the end. Something positive had to come from this tragedy, so that they did not become mired down in the pain of all that happened and lose themselves to anger. Hopefully they would find that positive in the fact that Jimmy was alive and would recover. It was all Teaspoon could hope for at this time.

The End

Nighttime Reflections of Kid
by: Debbie

Episode reference: Spies

Kid lay in bed, his hands behind his head and his eyes staring at the ceiling above him. He was wide awake and knew that sleep was a long time in coming.

He sighed as he replayed in his mind the scene that had taken place behind the livery only a few hours ago. Why hadn’t he kissed her? He kept asking himself the same question from the moment he’d walked away, leaving her alone in the *dark* night.

The opportunity had been given to him – Cody, Buck and Jimmy had all let Lou know they cared about her then left the two of them alone. When Kid had leaned against the wall, nearly boxing her in between the position of his body and his arm, to tell her this wasn’t a game and to be careful, it would have been so *simple* to just lean a little closer and brush his lips against hers.

But Kid hadn’t wanted to *press* her. He wanted to show her he’d grown and learned from his mistakes that he did trust her. So he’d given her the same words of caution he’d hoped any of the other boys would have given then directed one last *plea* her way with his eyes to show how much he needed her to take care of herself.

Then that was it. She’d nodded that she’d at least heard him and would be careful then gave what Kid thought was a look of desire for him to not leave her. But he did leave her. He had no choice. It was too risky for them to be meeting like that to begin with. So without another glance behind him, he’d followed the boys as they headed away from the direction of the hotel to give Lou the opportunity to get there before them.

Kid sighed again as he moved his hand to steal back some of the blanket Jimmy was trying to hog all for himself. He laughed inwardly at the irony of the situation he found himself in. He was in the same hotel as Lou but he was lying in a bed with their good friend while the woman he loved was lying all alone in a room on the floor above him. He stared up at the ceiling once more, trying to envision her as she slept. Was she wearing long johns like usual or did she have on a nightgown since she was supposed to be a girl on this trip? She had looked so beautiful in that dress she’d bought with her hair pulled back at the sides and white gloves on her hands. He’d been stunned by her appearance into almost forgetting what they were there to do but he’d managed to say everything he needed to except to tell her how lovely she looked. Why hadn’t he told her?

He hated that he had to wait until the first rays of *light* flickered across the floor before it would be close to the time until he saw her again. Kid had let too many opportunities pass him by tonight. Tomorrow would be a better day. They’d ride out toward the location in the note and he’d just be happy to catch a glimpse of her driving the buggy past them. That would have to do until he could speak to her then no more “why hadn’t he’s” as he set about letting her know how he felt.

Nighttime Reflections of Lou
by: Debbie

Episode reference: Spies

Lou lay on her side, staring in the *dark* room in the direction the window should be. She was no where near falling asleep for several reasons. After knowing that Margaret had been killed by someone entering her room through her window, Lou wasn’t taking any chances. Her hand gripped the butt of her gun for comfort as she wished a certain someone was beside her making her feel safe in a way a gun just couldn’t.

Of course Kid had no way of knowing she wanted him there as she hadn’t said anything to him to indicate it. Why hadn’t she done more than just nod her head when he had told her to be careful? It was because all these emotions were running rampant through her mind and body. He had been standing so close to her when he spoke that she was able to feel his breath brush against her cheek. She had tried to make a *plea* with her eyes for him to give her a kiss but that obviously hadn’t worked as he hadn’t even touched her before leaving her alone. Maybe he had been afraid that once he’d touched her, she would touch him back and neither one of them would let go, thus possibly ruining their whole plan. Maybe he felt that way, hopefully he did, she thought.

She tugged at the fabric of her nightgown, not being used to wearing something like that to bed. The only times she’d worn one in the past year had been momentarily as each time the gown was happily taken off of her. Now here she was wearing it all night for the first time and getting ready to begin her second day in a row going around town as a woman.

Despite all her protests that she could take care of herself, Lou was scared. She’d be a fool if she wasn’t. She appreciated the concern the boys had shown her when they’d met out behind the livery a few hours ago to go over the plan for tomorrow. But she appreciated their trust in her so much more, especially the trust Kid showed in her. So why hadn’t she thanked him? She knew it was hard for him. Masquerading as Margaret had been her idea entirely and even if it took more convincing for Kid to go along with it than the other boys, she couldn’t help but be proud of the way he had acted. The two of them had argued but it had been without yelling or her running away from him. Kid had listened to her and the other boys and what they thought and reluctantly went along with her idea. He may not have liked it but he’d agreed to do what they thought was best.

That had been the first shock of the day; the second had been out behind the livery. She, Buck, Jimmy and Cody had come up with the plan they would be putting into effect when it got *light* out. Kid had tried to protest that it would be too dangerous for her and wanted to stay behind to follow her. She’d told him it wouldn’t work and he’d listened to her!

When the boys had left, obviously giving her and the Kid a moment alone, Lou had almost felt shy around him. This was a Kid she almost didn’t recognize and she was beginning to not recognize herself either. In the past, if Kid had told her she couldn’t handle something, she would have jumped down his throat but tonight she had listened to his protest and argued with him in a calm voice. It was such a *simple* thing and yet it took them breaking up to realize they needed to work things out differently.

When he had just stood there telling her to be careful and didn’t *press* any further with what she should or shouldn’t do, Lou had fallen more in love with him than she already was. So why hadn’t she let him know? There was something different between them, that was why. They’d both changed, grown into adults. Kid had done the most responsible thing he could by leaving her so no one would catch them together. And she’d done what she needed to by letting him.

Well tomorrow was a new day. Lou knew she could pull off pretending to be someone else; that was what she’d been doing the last four years. The difference was that Lou had finally figured out who she was and that was the person who was going to tell Kid how she felt about him as soon as this was all over.

Lou released her grip on her gun, feeling relaxed for the first time that evening. She was finally going to get her chance to let Kid know she was ready to move things to the next level.

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