Saturday, March 31, 2012


When The Lights Go Down, Faith Hill

Author's note: This is a sequel to Sweet Talking.  It occurs during the episode Old Scores in season 2.

This is Part 2 of the Sweetwater Romance series.

Kid sighed as he slumped down against his saddle and grabbed the plate of beans Lou handed him.  He started to smile at her before remembering, remembering she wasn’t his anymore.  Instead, he nodded his thanks and began to shovel the first bite into his mouth so he didn’t have to look at her.  He gagged, nearly spitting the beans back out as fast as he’d spooned them in.  But, his stomach was starting to eat into his backbone so he forced himself to chew and swallow.

“Where’s Cody?” he asked, to have an excuse not to take a second bite.

“Said he’d take first watch for the monster,” Noah answered, a laugh in his voice.

Kid nodded, staring off into the darkness surrounding their makeshift camp, ignoring his plate.  He wished every day could be like this one had been.  It had been so sweet to work with her again.  He’d missed her at his side.  Even now, he could feel Lou seated next to him, nearly bouncing in her seat in excitement at the adventure they’d all undertaken, to find the town’s mysterious monster.

He felt like grabbing her hand to still her exuberant motion, but forced himself to quiet stillness instead.  He had no rights to her anymore.  She’d made that clear.  But today had given him hope that could change.  He’d already decided he couldn’t let things go on the way they had.  He needed to win her back.  Now he felt more sure than ever he still had a chance.  The only question was how to go about it.

The sound of Jimmy spitting out his latest bite of their supper, poked at the edge of Kid’s consciousness, though not as loudly as the woman moving happily beside him.

“What I don’t understand is how a simple can of beans can taste so bad?” Jimmy grumped, tossing a spoonful of said beans into the fire.

“For starters,” Noah commented drily, “you mixing up the mustard and molasses didn’t help.”

Kid chuckled at their antics.  It was no wonder Cody had uncharacteristically offered to skip supper.

“I don’t know, I think it was when the top came off the pepper jar,” he added, picking out a particularly highly seasoned spoonful and tossing it behind him.


Lou stared down into her plate of beans, absentmindedly pushing them around a bit, unwilling to take another bite.

She was tired, physically and mentally, but in a good way.  A smile flirted with the edges of her mouth.  This last day had been the best she’d had in what seemed like forever.  The best since that day in the barn when she’d said that stupid little two letter word.  Today had almost been like before, when they’d all been the best of friends, brothers and sisters, sometimes a bit more.

It had been a long day searching for this monster that spit stinky, greenish slime at people.  But what had kept her energized was the presence of the man at her side.  She snuck a glance at him, pushing the beans around on his own plate, a grimace on his face.

Ever since she’d turned him down, they’d done their best to stay out of each other’s way.  Teaspoon had unwittingly helped, sending them on runs in the opposite direction as much as possible, trying to keep peace in the bunkhouse.  That was until her run to Willow Creek with Jimmy.  After almost getting hung, she’d needed a few days to recover.  Those had been tough, watching Kid mourn over what might have been with that… that… schoolteacher, she mentally sneered, he’d almost gotten himself killed over.

During the days the charade that they were just friends hadn’t seemed so hard, at least as long as they kept their minds on their jobs and sort of pretended the other one simply wasn’t there.  Not really talking, barely interacting, certainly not acting like the friends he’d said they’d be.  But it was getting harder all the time to keep that up.

She missed Kid in ways she’d never expected. His smiling face waiting for her at the end of a run, concern written in his furled brow if she was running late for some reason.  His readiness to help her out with any project or chore.  His simple presence at her side through so many adventures.  Now, even when he was there, he wasn’t.  Not really.  It was… hard.  And she had no one to blame but herself, she thought bitterly.

She’d come to live for those days when she had an overnight run and got to spend the night at another station.  Because it was in the dark, after the lights were gone, that she couldn’t hide from herself any longer.  She had to face the truth of what she’d done, what she’d lost because she hadn’t been able to get past her fears and her pride.  She wished she’d been able to explain herself better to him. Maybe he might have understood, if she’d had the guts to share the complete truth with him.

When the truth is all you have left, you spend a lot of time examining it.  And that had led to too many tears to count.  She flicked her eyes quickly past Jimmy, reminded of her breakdown on that last run with him and shamed by it.  She’d thought she was stronger, one of the boys by now.  But being without Kid had left her weak.  She couldn’t understand it.

At the end of the day, she was left with nothing to do but examine the past.  Her actions.  His.  Trying to figure out what had gone wrong.  It wasn’t just her bed that was empty now, it was her heart and her head.  And that emptiness seared her to the bone and left her questioning everything she’d thought she’d known.  Going another round with herself and her pride.  Should she try to change things?  Fix things?  Or should she just let him walk away?

But these last couple of days had been different.  She’d found herself nearly constantly by his side, the two of them subconsciously reverting to the team they’d become, before.  They’d been so busy, so concentrated on their goal, neither had had a chance to think about their hurt feelings, their mistakes.  Almost by habit they’d fallen into old cadences and behaviors.  It had felt so right.

She took another, tentative, bite of her beans and shook her head in disbelief.  Even she couldn’t have messed up dinner this badly.  Only Jimmy could have ruined the meal worse than she could.

Happily bobbing her stretched out feet back and forth in front of her, Lou looked across the fire at Jimmy and Noah, getting a good look at Kid out of the corner of her eye in the process.  She could see the toll the day’s activities had taken on him in the tightness of his shoulders, hear it in the tone of his voice as he complained about the beans. 

But, he was there, sitting right next to her.  And it had been his choice, his alone.  He’d been acting all day as if they were the best friends they’d been before.  It gave her a sweet sense of hope.  Maybe they could go back to the beginning… maybe they could start all over again.  Maybe… maybe she should write Emma for some advice.  She certainly hadn’t done very well on her own, or following Rachel’s lead.  Time to try….

A sudden howling interrupted her bitter reverie.  Already tense, she immediately reached for her pistol as she began to scan the brush.

“Shhh!” she hushed the others.  “ Cody?  Cody?”


“When the lights go down” Faith Hill

When the lights go down
 And there's nothing left to be
 When the lights go down
 And the truth is all you see

When you feel that hole
 Inside your soul
 Wonder what you're made of
 Well we all find out
 When the lights go down

When the lights go down
 At the end of the day
 With this game that I play
 Has gone another round
 As I lay there alone in this big empty bed
 Nothing but thoughts of you in my head
 I think of the things that I wish I had said
 When you were still around

When the lights go down
 And there's nothing left to be
 When the lights go down
 And the truth is all you see

Sweet Pea

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Doctor

This World Is Crazy, Jessi Alexander
Decode, Paramore
Realign, Godsmack
It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday, Boyz II Men

Author's Note:  This story was written for the "I'm a girl!" Challenge at the Writers Ranch.  The idea was, what if Kid didn't find out Lou was a girl in the first episode.  How would her secret have finallly been unveiled.  This is one scenario I came up with.

Crouay, Near Amiens, France, July 1918

“Incoming casualties!”

The elderly man seated at the mess table playing a round of solitaire cocked his head at the call being repeated urgently up and down the camp lanes.  He sighed as he slowly packed up the cards and stowed them in a pocket on the inside of the long white jacket he wore over his olive green Army uniform.  Reaching out he grabbed a cane resting against the nearby tent wall and slowly pushed himself to his feet with a grunt.

“I’m gettin’ too old fer this,” he muttered to himself as he moved out of the mess tent and down the dirt ‘lane’ toward the reception marquee, where the ambulances would drop the latest batch of wounded men, fresh from the front, before racing off to pick up more.  He wondered what battle it was this time.

Reaching the marquee, he stopped and watched the frantic, yet business-like bustle of a half dozen Allied doctors and dozens of orderlies and nurses preparing for the arrival of wounded men.  He nodded in satisfaction.  Everything was working just as it ought.

“Sister,” he called to the middle aged nun hurrying past him with a clipboard in her hands.  “How are we doing on sulpha drugs?”

“Fully stocked, Sir.  We just got a new delivery yesterday,” Sister Mary Magdalene smiled at the elderly gentleman who stood head and shoulders shorter than her own nearly six foot frame.

He nodded and motioned for her to return to her work.  The sisters that provided nursing service made things run so much smoother.  He’d learned that back during the Civil War when he’d run into Clara Barton’s group.  He was thankful for the efforts of the nuns here.

A sudden roar down the dirt lane heralded the arrival of the ambulances.

“All right, folks,” he called out in a loud, gruff voice.  “Time ta get ta work.”

All activity paused for a short moment, as everyone looked his way in response to his words.  Then, they sprang into a much more hurried motion, jerking open the doors of the first ambulance to arrive to begin pulling out the stretchers.

“This one can wait,” Sister Mary Magdalene ordered, indicating the first stretcher.  “It’s only a flesh wound.  Take him on over to the pre-op tent.”

A slight frown wrinkled her normally smooth brow at the sight of the second stretcher.  Leaning in closer, she pushed aside the man’s uniform to get a closer look at the wound.

“How long since he was wounded?” she urgently asked the ambulance driver.

“Don’t know, ma’am,” he shrugged.  “I know he was found this morning on the edge of No Man’s Land.  It’s been at least 12 hours since he was discovered.”

Nodding, she yelled out, “Dr. McCloud!  You’re going to want to attend to this one yourself.  He’s coming up on the time deadline you set!”

Shuffling up, Dr. Lou McCloud pushed a stray strand of her short grey hair out of her eyes and leaned in to get a closer look at the wounded man.  A gasp escaped her mouth.  The long dark hair, high cheekbones, dark skin and lush lips… they could only belong to….

“Buck?” she whispered.

“Excuse me, Doctor?” Sister Mary Magdalene asked, concerned.

“Nothing,” Lou shook her head.  “He just looks like someone I knew.  A long time ago.”

Looking back up to meet the concerned nurse’s gaze, Lou smiled at her.  “Yer right.  Get him ta the operatin’ tent as quickly as ya can.  I’ll go get washed up.”

The sister nodded briskly.  Turning to two waiting orderlies, she crisply ordered, “Take Lieutentant….”  She paused, looking significantly at the ambulance driver.

“Uh, Cross, ma’am,” he piped up, looking at his clipboard.  “Says here he’s Lt. Red Hawk Cross, U.S. Army.  From Oklahoma.”

“Take Lt. Cross to the operation tent immediately.  I’ll be right there.”


“Sir?” the Sister asked a wordless question, a wet cloth at the ready in one hand.

Lou nodded a quick yes, her eyes never wavering from the ragged, inflamed edges of young Red Hawk Cross’ bayonet wound as the nurse wiped sweat from her brow.  Even as Lou efficiently cut away the damaged tissue already starting to putrify and cleaned out the potentially deadly injury, she felt her mind wandering back to those long ago days when she’d ridden for the Pony Express.

She could almost see Buck standing on the other side of the operating table, watching her every move with that same pained, worried expression he’d worn as they’d watched the doctor rush Ike into his surgery.  Ike hadn’t survived the day.

“I’ll save him, Buck,” she whispered to herself.  “Or die tryin’.”  She hadn’t figured out yet how, but she knew Lt. Cross was related to Buck.  The similarities in appearance left no doubt in her mind.

“Did you say something, Sir?” the nurse asked, concerned.

Lou started to shake her head ‘no’, then paused and cursed as her latest cut sliced into a hidden blood vessel.

“Clamp!” she ordered urgently, holding out one hand in a demanding motion.  The nurse slapped the requested tool into her palm and Lou quickly clamped off the spurting blood vessel, sighing in relief when nothing else went wrong.

A quick glance up at the clock mounted over the tent’s entrance showed her she’d been operating for more than four hours now and was only a little over halfway done.  She sighed, then returned to her work.


“Dr. McCloud.”  The young, concerned nurse leaned over the elderly doctor and gently reached out to shake his shoulder.  Lou jerked her head up off her arms and blinked at the nurse blearily.  “Dr. McCloud, that patient is waking up.  The one you wanted us to tell you about?”

Lou nodded and started to jump to her feet before her protesting joints and muscles reminded her of her age and need for her cane.  Slowing her movement, she reached out to grab the detested thing.  She hadn’t meant to fall asleep.  But she’d spent 15 hours in surgery, saving lives.  She’d just closed her eyes to rest them for a moment before getting started on the paperwork every rush of casualties engendered.

“How’s he doin’?” she asked as she followed the nurse out of the mess tent which also held her office and down the lane to the post-operative/recovery tent.

“All vitals are stable, Sir,” the nurse answered.  “Blood pressure is good and there’re no more signs of infection.”

“Good, good,” Lou nodded.  It appeared they’d gotten to him in time.  Ducking through the opened flaps of the recovery tent’s entrance, she paused a moment to let her eyes adjust to the change in light. 

Out of habit she scanned the rows of beds, one each down the sides of the tent and a third down the middle.  All was in perfect order, each bed filled with a man recovering from his injuries.  Nurses were moving up and down the rows, checking on the patients.  Orderlies hurried over at the slightest call to help adjust a heavy man’s position in bed or carry away a tray filled with dirty bandages.

All of this Lou noted and carefully cataloged out of habit, without paying the least bit of attention.  Her eyes were busily searching for him, Lt. Cross.  Ah!  There he was, in the last bed on the outside row, closest to the surgeon on duty.  She nodded in approval.  Given the severity of his wound and the length of time he’d gone before getting help, that’s precisely where he should be.  Even as she watched, the surgeon on duty stood up and moved over to check Cross’ vitals.

“How’s he doin’?” Lou asked, trying ineffectually to peer over the taller man’s shoulder at Cross’ patient chart.

“Oh!  Doctor McCloud!  I didn’t hear you come in, Sir,” the younger man said in a crisp British accent, turning sideways to face her and handing over the chart.  “Everything looks fine.  He’s been getting restless the last quarter hour or so.  I think he’s about to wake up.”

Lou nodded, moving to take a seat in the chair positioned at the head of the bed as she read through the chart.  Handing the chart back to the other man, she smiled at him approvingly.  “Thanks.  I’ll just wait here until he does, Doctor Hayward*.”

Hayward looked at her curiously.  “Sir, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s so special about this patient?”

“He’s related to someone I knew in my younger years, before I became a doctor.  Someone who was like a brother to me, still is, really, even though I haven’t seen him since the ‘70s.”

“I’ve never heard you mention any Cross’ before,” he said.

“I don’t like to talk about those years much.  Too much pain in the memories,” she laughed softly, regretfully.  “One of the foibles of old age, I guess.”

The sound of movement in the bed, followed by a groaned whisper grabbed both doctors’ attention.
“Water,” the young man muttered.

Lou nodded to Hayward who quickly left to get a glass of water.  She turned back to the awakening Lt. Red Hawk Cross and checked his temperature with the back of her hand to his forehead before reaching for his wrist to check his pulse rate.  As she worked, she spoke softly to the young man.

“Water’s on its way, Lt. Cross.  Can you tell me how you feel?”

“Hurts,” he groaned.

“How?  Where?”

One bronzed hand moved across his bandaged chest to rest over his injury.  She nodded as his deep brown eyes, so familiar!, finally fully opened to meet her gaze.

“Well, considering I spent nearly 8 hours digging around in there, that doesn’t surprise me,” she smiled at him.

“Who are you?  Where am I?” he asked, after taking a confused glance around the tent.

“You’re at the Allied Casualty Clearing Station* in Crouay.  You were brought here after medics found you injured near No Man’s Land yesterday.  You had a rather nasty bayonet wound that was starting to get infected,” she explained gently to him.

He watched her intently the entire time she spoke.  She could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he thought.

“Why do you look so familiar?” he asked when she’d finished.

Lou raised one brow at him as she rearranged his pillow to better support his head.

“Who’s Buck Cross to you?” she asked in response.

Looking even more confused, he answered cautiously, a question in his tone, “My grandfather.”

Lou nodded her head.  It made sense.  “Does he still have those old pictures of him and some friends hanging on the living room wall, from before the Civil War?”

Lt. Cross started to nod, then stopped when it pulled at the stitched up wound in his chest.  Wincing he said, “Yes.  There were a couple of photos from when he rode for the Pony Express, and a drawing.  He always referred to the boys as his brothers, called them our uncles.”

Lou smiled at the young man, pushed her glasses higher up on her nose and held out her hand in greeting.  “Guess that makes me Uncle Lou, then.”


Lou shook her head as she closed her diary.  She’d started keeping one decades ago, when Charlotte had pressed an empty journal into her hands as she’d boarded the stagecoach for Wyoming Territory and away from St. Joe.  Now it was habit.  Every night before bed, she detailed the events of the day.  Every morning, she went back and re-read from an older diary, usually from one of the two she’d filled while working for the Express.  It was her way of keeping her memories of those days, and those friends, fresh.  The days she wanted to remember, that was.

She smiled at her face in the mirror as she checked to make sure her appearance met regulation.  She wondered what would have happened if the others had ever found out her little secret.  She certainly wouldn’t be the Chief Medical Officer of an Allied Casualty Clearance Station, that was for sure.

Exiting her quarters, she stepped down the lane toward the recovery tent for morning rounds, moving like a man half her age.  Something about having Hawk, that’s what he’d told her to call him, to speak to on a daily basis had turned back the clock for her.

She visited him twice daily, once before morning rounds and again after lunch.  They’d spent hours talking about her adventures with his grandfather and the others in the Express.  He was fascinated, curious and smart.  He was everything Buck could have been, should have been, if it hadn’t been for his tortured upbringing and the prejudices so many had held against him.

She nodded to the head nurse on duty as she entered the recovery tent, but didn’t speak to her, heading instead straight for Hawk’s bed.  As he’d improved he’d been moved from the high priority cot near the surgeon on duty’s desk, into the middle of the tent.

As she neared the bunk, she saw several other young men gathered on the nearby beds, waiting for her.  Not only Hawk, but those nearest him, had all come to enjoy her tales of the old days.
One jumped to his feet as he saw her approaching and pulled out the visitor’s chair for her.  She smiled her thanks as she sat down.

“How y’all doin’, boys?” she asked genially.  “Any complaints?  And don’t tell me ‘the food’.  I can’t do anythin’ about that!”

A chorused round of ‘Fine’s and ‘No’s and ‘None’s met her ears as they smiled and laughed at the common Army joke.

“So, what are we talkin’ ‘bout today?”

Hawk looked around at the others then spoke up.

“How’d you become a doctor?  I mean, you were an orphan, with only a little schooling at the mission before you ran off.  How’d you end up here?” he asked.

Lou leaned back in her chair, both hands resting on the head of the cane standing between her widespread knees.

“Well, now, that’s a long story.  But I s’pose I could give you boys the short version.”

She waited to let the grumbles and complaints rumble through the group of gathered men before continuing.  “Y’all know I’ve got rounds in less than an hour.  Ain’t near ‘nuff time ta tell the whole story!”

“But, let’s see… I figure it probably begins back in ‘61, when I was still ridin’ with the Express.  Things were gettin’ mighty tense those days as the War was startin’ and it was splittin’ us boys up mighty hard.  Teaspoon, Jesse and Kid all felt they had ta go back and fight fer the South if, when, hostilities started.  Cody and Jimmy were talkin’ ‘bout joinin’ up with the North.  Noah didn’t know what ta do.  He wanted ta join up, too, but the Army wouldn’t take him ‘cause he was Colored.  Rachel, Buck and I?  We just wished the whole thing would go away, so’s we could keep the family tagether.  Things finally came to a head the day we got the news about the South firin’ on Fort Sumter….”

”Where ya goin’, Kid?” Lou asked, as the rider next to her leapt to his feet and moved to start pulling things out of his trunk by his bunk, stuffing them into his saddle bags.

“I done told y’all before, fightin’ breaks out, I’m headin’ back home ta Virginia ta join up,” Kid said, never looking back at the others still sitting at the table, gaping at him.

“Son,” Teaspoon reasoned, “I know how ya feel, but why don’t ya wait a bit, see if things settle down.  This is one battle.  That may be all there is to it.  Washington ain’t gonna be able ta get enough support ta keep firin’ on her own people!  Not for long, anyways.  You’ll just get all the way back East to find out there’s nothing ta fight for and no job ta come back to here.”

“It’s a risk I’ve gotta take, Teaspoon,” Kid shrugged.  “Virginia’s my home.  I can’t leave her undefended.  ‘Sides, there ain’t gonna be a job here much longer anyway.  The telegraph’s movin’ further west every day.  When it gets here, we’ll all be outta jobs.”

Standing, he threw his saddlebags over his shoulder and walked out the bunkhouse door.

“He rode out that afternoon and we never saw him again.”  She paused a moment, a deep, unacknowledged pain shuddering through her eyes.  She gulped back the sobs that still wanted to form as she thought about what happened next.  She looked down at her hands, unable to meet the eyes of all these sympathetic boys.  A single tear streaking down her face, she continued, “A few months later, we got word through the Marshal’s office that he’d been killed by Southern Bushwhackers in Missouri.  They’d killed him and stolen his horse, Katy.  He’d been killed by men on the side he was tryin’ ta join up with.  A short time later we lost Noah in a fight with another band of Confederate outlaws.  Then came the news that the Express was over.”

Lou looked around at the other remaining boys, gathered in a morose group on the bunkhouse porch.  They’d all been sitting there silently, not knowing what to say after Teaspoon’s announcement a half hour ago that the Express was shutting down.  The last ride would be in a few weeks.  Their family was going to be split up, whether they wanted it to be or not.

”What are you gonna do, Buck?” Jimmy finally asked, looking across at the Kiowa who was repeatedly tossing his knife, point first, into the wooden planks of the porch.

Buck just shrugged.  “Don’t know.”

Cody turned to Lou, “What about you, Lou?”

Lou raised her pain-filled eyes to look at the rest of the boys, men now, she’d come to think of as her brothers.  “I figure I’ll join up when you do, Jimmy.  Ain’t nothin’ left fer me here no more.  And I can’t forgive the Rebs fer killin’ Kid… and Noah.  Not now, not ever!”

Cody nodded in understanding even as Jimmy placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.  They were all still mourning their most recent losses.

“Well, I can’t see joinin’ this fight.  It ain’t my war,” Buck sighed.  “I guess I’ll stay here ‘til the Express ends then head on West.  See what I find.”

“Cody left with the Kansas Cavalry as a scout a few days later.  Buck, Jimmy and I stuck with the Express for another month, until the last run in October, then went our separate ways.”

“Jimmy?  Jimmy Hickok?” one of the newer members of the group interrupted her.  “You mean Wild Bill Hickok?  The gambler and gunslinger?”

Lou nodded in fond remembrance.  “A gambler?  Yes.  A gunslinger?  Only by necessity.  But he was wild, in his way.  He certainly had a temper.  But he was loyal to the day he died to those he loved.  And protective!  He’d a died for anyone of us, without bein’ asked.  He just didn’t handle rules real well, if ya know what I mean.”

She smiled as the men laughed.

“That’s why he didn’t last long in the Army.  He and I, we’d decided ta go to Missouri ta join up.  We wanted our chance at the bushwhackers that had killed Kid.  But War, the Army in general, is a lot of hurry up and wait.  That’s why there’s so many rules, ta keep the men busy and out of trouble while they’re waitin’.  And as I said, Jimmy didn’t do so well with rules.”

”Don’t tell me ya can’t find ‘em!  Just give me two men and horses and I kin track them bushwhackers down in a few days, Captain,” Jimmy half-pleaded, half-demanded. 

Lou cringed.  The marionette of a captain would never stand for this sort of backtalk from a mere corporal.

“That’s it, Hickok!  I’ve had it with your attitude.  You’re on latrine duty for the rest of the week!” the captain snapped before turning in disgust to look at the rest of the men assembled.  “Any of you want to join him?”

A slight murmur of dissatisfaction ran through the troops as none of them wanted to see the bushwhackers get away after massacring another innocent family, but none spoke up against the captain.  He was tough, but usually knew what he was doing.  They’d learned to trust him.

Jimmy snorted in disdain and walked away.

“This ain’t what I signed up fer,” he muttered.

“But you did sign up, Jimmy,” Lou reminded him, running to catch up with his hurried, angry steps.  “And this is ain’t Teaspoon and the Express, it’s War.  Ya leave without permission and you won’t have ta worry ‘bout bein’ fired.  They’ll just shoot you! Dead!”

“Lemme tell y’all, that captain was as eager ta get rid of Jimmy and me as we was ta be free of him.  So, when the general come lookin’ fer volunteers for a special mission, Jimmy and I were first in line.  The general decided he could use Jimmy, but thought I was too young and small fer the job.  This was still early in the War, before both sides started gettin’ desperate fer men.”

She paused for a moment to catch her breath, not really seeing the boys in front of her, but rather those in her past. 

“Officially, on the record, Jimmy was mustered out of the Army.  But, unofficially, he headed South ta spy behind enemy lines.  I got transferred to the medical corps.  It was hard work, but I found I enjoyed being able ta help people, ‘sted of shootin’ ‘em.  And,” she held up her still small, slender hands so the gathered men could see them, “turns out these small hands come in handy when diggin’ around in someone’s innards.  It wasn’t long ‘fore I was apprenticed ta the head surgeon at the Army hospital outside Vicksburg.”

“Doctor McCloud,” a soft female voice interrupted the story, “you asked me to remind you when it was time for rounds.”

“Thank you Sister Mary Magdalene,” Lou smiled at the nun.  “I guess you’ll have to get the rest of the story some other time boys.”

There was a general chorus of good natured groaning.  As Lou began to push herself to her feet, Hawk reached out to grab her hand.


“Yes, Hawk?” she asked, smiling down at the young man she’d already come to think of as a son or nephew.  “What can I do fer ya?”

“Would it be possible to get some paper and something to write with?” Hawk asked, his eyes pleading.  “I want to write my parents, let them I’m alright.”

“Sister, could ya see to that?” Lou asked.

“Of course,” she smiled.


Dear Grandpa,

You were right, white man’s war is something not meant for a true warrior.  Certainly not this war!  But I hope my actions on, and off, the field of battle are such that I have made you proud of me.

I have a surprise for you.  I’m sure by now you’ve heard from Ma and Pa that I was injured.  Took a bayonet to the chest.  Well, you’ll never guess who the Doc was that patched me up.  Uncle Lou!  You remember?  Lou McCloud from your Express days.

You never told us Uncle Lou was an Army doctor, Grandpa.  How come?

“What are you writing, son?” Doctor Hayward asked as he checked Hawk’s medical chart.

“A letter home,” Hawk said, finishing off his missive and slipping it into an already addressed envelope.

“How are you feeling?” the doctor continued, looking up from the medical chart.

“Like someone punched a seven inch knife into my chest then pulled it out with a fist.”

“So, better?”

Hawk started to laugh, then pressed a hand to his bandaged chest.  “Don’t make me laugh!”

“Sorry, Cross,” Hayward smiled.  “It’s good to see you doing so well.  Won’t be long before we can send you back to the Base Hospital to finish your recovery.”

The doctor hung the chart from the stand at the foot of Hawk’s bed and started to turn away, but stopped when he heard his name called.

“Doctor Hayward, Sir, can I ask you to mail this letter for me?”  Hawk held up the addressed envelope for the doctor’s inspection.

Hayward reached down and took the missive, looking at the address on the front.  “Buck Cross?  Isn’t that Doctor McCloud’s friend?”

Hawk nodded.  “Yes, sir.  I told the Doc I was writing my folks.  I want to surprise him with a letter from Grandpa.”

Hayward’s smile broadened.  All the doctors had come to love the elfin man who was their leader.  He’d enjoy being in on what was sure to be a pleasant surprise for the old surgeon.  Hayward nodded his agreement and slipped the letter into his pocket before moving on to check the next patient’s chart.


“After the Civil War was over, I decided to stay in the Army,” Lou said.  Looking down she added a muttered, “Wasn’t nothin’ fer me ta go home to by then.”

She paused a moment, to get her bearings back before continuing.  “I got the chance to take and pass the new medical exam the Surgeon General put in place.  What a joke that was!  I didn’t need to know anything about actually practicing medicine to pass it, but I had to know the cube root of 3.6 and the capital of Saxony!”

The avidly listening men laughed at that absurdity, but Lou kept on talking.

“Then I got to attend Medical lectures at Harvard Medical School, ‘cept I already had more practical experience than most of the doctors lecturing, due to my work during the War.  Didn’t take me long to rise through the ranks.”

“I was actually supposed to be forcibly retired some 15 years ago, but I had started plans to modernize our field hospitals,  much like these Casualty Clearance Stations of the British.  The powers that be decided to ‘reward’ me by letting me stay in and ‘finish my research.’  So, here I am.”

“You said the last time you saw Gramps was back in the ‘70s.  What happened?” Hawk asked.
Lou smiled sadly as she recalled those days.

“Well, I’d been sent out to inspect the Army doctors with the Seventh Cav in Kansas.  We’d had some complaints about their effectiveness.  Buck had been scouting for them out of Fort Riley.  I ran into him the night he quit.”

Lou sighed in weary, angered exhaustion.  Things had been worse than she’d expected from the complaints they’d received back in D.C.  Walking down the boardwalk, she turned at the sound of a fight going on in the officers club.  Something about the raised voice was awful familiar.

Peering in the doors she saw a tall, lanky form being held back by two M.P.’s as he spat angry words at the young colonel with long, blonde curly locks sitting at a table with a glass of whiskey in front of him.

“They’re innocent families!  You can’t treat them like this!  They’re just tryin’ ta survive!”

“Young man, if you can’t get yourself under control I will no longer be able to see my way to employing you as a scout with the Seventh,” the colonel drawled.  “We’re heading out in the morning after those murderous renegades and I need a man I can trust.”

“Well it won’t be me!” Buck snapped, shaking himself free of the M.P.’s hold.  “I won’t be party to anymore massacres.”

He turned toward the door and stomped out, nearly running over Lou in the process.

“Buck!” she exclaimed.  “What are you doin’ here?”

“Lou!” he responded, as shocked by her presence as she was by his.  Looking back over his shoulder, he added ruefully, “’Pears I’m quittin’ my job.”

Seeing the angered glares of the colonel and other officers in the club aimed in their direction, Lou grabbed Buck’s arm and began to drag him down the boardwalk toward her quarters.

“What’s goin’ on?” she asked.

“That stupid colonel’s so glory hungry he can’t see that half of the so-called renegades he wants to hunt down are just starving families desperate for food!”

Lou shook her head regretfully.  She knew the Army was woefully mishandling the Indian Situation as they called it back in D.C., but no one would listen to her.

“Anythin’ I can do ta help?” she asked.

Now it was Buck’s turn to shake his head.  “Not unless you’ve got a pill that’ll make men see reason.”

“Sorry, Buck, that ain’t been invented yet.”  They laughed together, as if it had only been hours since they’d seen each other, not years.

“What about you?” Buck asked as he followed her into her quarters and accepted the glass of whiskey she poured for him.  “What are you doin’ here?”

“Tryin’ ta save lives, just like you,” she sighed, slumping down into a chair wearily.  “We got several complaints back in D.C. ‘bout the way docs here were handlin’ things.”

She looked up at Buck, her face twisted between grief and anger.  “They’re still amputatin’ for any limb injury, Buck!  And they ain’t washin’, not with soap and hot water, not even with carbolic acid!  We proved those things more than double the chances of survival back durin’ the War.  And the hospital is so dirty I wouldn’t house Emma’s hogs in it!”

She gulped down the entire contents of her glass of whiskey and reached over to pour another. 

Turning back to Buck, she asked, “So, what’re you goin’ ta do now?”

Buck shrugged.  “Head back ta Oklahoma Territory*, I guess.  Married me a beautiful Cherokee gal down there last winter.  She’s expectin’ a baby in the fall.  I just took this job ta save up a little extra money so we can buy a farm.”

Lou nodded.  “Listen, if you still need some extra cash, stick around a bit.  I’m gonna need a lot of help to get this hospital cleaned up.  And I’m authorized to pay for it!  Then, when we’re all done, I’ll head down ta Oklahoma with ya, say hello to yer missus, maybe meet that baby of yours.”

“I was there when yer Pa was born,” Lou smiled in soft remembrance.  “Helped deliver him, as a matter of fact.  Scandalized all yer Grandma’s people, havin’ a white man at the birth, but it made yer Grandpa happy.”

Hawk laughed at the mental image she drew.  “I can imagine.”

“Mail call, Lt. Cross!”

Lou and Hawk looked up at the sound of Doctor Hayward’s overly pleased voice.  He was holding out a letter in one hand, with a broad smile on his face.  Hawk reached up and took the letter, quickly ripping the envelope open and smoothing out the folded pages.  His eyes rapidly scanned the words, then he looked up with his own broad, face eating grin spreading from ear to ear.

“Good news, I take it?” Lou asked.

“For you,” Hawk said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I wrote Grandpa Cross all about meeting you.  He says he’s coming over here to visit you and, in his words, bring you home.  Says you’re too old to still be slaving away for the white man.”

Lou laughed.  Those words sounded so much like Buck, with a touch of Noah echoing in them, she could almost hear their voices. 

“Seein’ as how this war’s windin’ down and I’m up for retirement soon’s the Armistice is signed next month, I’ll be glad ta go with him.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the farm and the family.”

“Good thing, too,” Hawk said.

“How’s that?”

“He’s already on his way.  Should be here in the next couple of weeks.”


“Due to the approaching Armistice signing, command has decided we’ll be shutting down this camp and going with the last shipment of casualties to the Base Hospital at Trouville,” Lou announced to the rest of the Station’s doctors, nurses and orderlies.  “The war’s almost over, ladies and gentlemen.”

A rousing round of cheers rocked the tent as the men and women celebrated the announcement.

“When do we need to be ready to leave?” Sister Mary Magdalene asked as the celebratory cheers died down.

“By next Wednesday,” Lou said.  “Which means we’ve got a lot of work and not a lot of time to do it in.  You can recruit the mobile wounded to help with minor tasks, just make sure to check with their surgeons as to what activities they’re cleared for.”

It wasn’t long before the room emptied as each man and woman rushed off to do what he or she could to hasten the end of this long, bloody conflict.

“Sounds like you’ll be free to come home soon, then,” a voice said from the tent entrance.
Lou looked up from the papers she was straightening on her desk to squint at the silhouetted shape of a man standing in the tent’s entry way.

“What’s the matter, Lou,” he said when she didn’t respond.  “Don’t ya recognize yer brother?”

“Buck!” she gasped.  He fully entered the tent even as she moved out from behind her desk to meet him.  They clasped each other’s forearms in a traditional greeting, before pulling the other into a tight embrace.  It had been too long since they’d seen one another.

Pulling back, Lou looked up to survey the changes the years had carved into her brother’s appearance.  Laugh wrinkles fanned out around his eyes and mouth, mute testament to the happiness he’d had over the last few decades.  His long black hair was now snow white, pulled back into his customary pony tail.  His jowls had sagged and his hairline had receded a touch.  But he was still her Buck, her only remaining brother from the Express.

“You haven’t changed much,” they both said simultaneously.  Then laughed together at the irony, for both had changed in innumerable ways in the intervening decades.  But not in any of the ways that truly mattered.

“I bet you’re eager to see Hawk,” she smiled at him.

“A bit,” he admitted with a shrug.  “But I knew he was alright from his letter.  It was you I was most eager to see.”

“Well you’ve done the one, so let’s get you over to the recovery tent, so you can do the other.”
They walked out of her office tent side by side, chattering away like in the old days, as if one of them had just come in from a run.

Allied Base Hospital, Trouville, France, November 1918

“So, how long do you have to stay here?” Buck asked, pushing back his dinner plate and picking up his coffee cup to take a sip.  They’d completed the hospital move to Trouville that day and everyone was sitting back in the mess hall, relaxing and enjoying the knowledge that soon they’d be headed home.

“My enlistment is up the moment that Armistice is signed,” she said.  “And, the Army’s already in the process of discharging Hawk.  The bayonet damaged his lungs too badly to keep him in service during peacetime.”

“His parents will be glad he’s home for good,” Buck nodded.  “And Morning Star will be happy to see you again.”

Lou nodded, then yawned widely.

“Seems I’m not as young as I used to be,” she said, smiling.  “Can’t work all day and play all night, like in the old days.”

“Me either,” Buck said, shaking his head ruefully.

“I’m headed for bed.  I’ll see you in the morning for the radio broadcast of the signing.  We can make plans for the trip home then.”

Buck nodded as Lou pushed himself out of his chair and moved toward the door.  Buck frowned.  Lou was moving much more slowly and stiffly then he had been when Buck had arrived the week before.  He hoped Lou was alright.  Oh well, it was probably just exhaustion, as he’d claimed.  It had been a busy few days.  He could get plenty of rest on the ship home.


Buck looked around the busy commons as everyone settled in to listen to the radio broadcast of the Armistice signing.  He was supposed to meet Lou here at 8:00.  It was already 8:15 and there was no sign of the smaller man.  Buck started to worry.  Lou was never late.  It just wasn’t in him.  Something must have happened.

Seeing Doctor Hayward and Sister Mary Magdalene conversing nearby, Buck walked up to them and asked, “Have either of you seen Lou, uh, Doctor McCloud this morning?”

Both shook their heads.

“No, I haven’t seen him since last night,” the Sister said quietly.  She looked up and shared a worried look with Doctor Hayward.

“What?” Buck demanded.

“It’s just,” the Sister started to say something then stopped, seemingly at a loss for words.

“He’s not doing so well,” Doctor Hayward finished for her.  “He should have retired before this damned war started.  I can’t understand you Americans making him stay in at his age.  It’s his heart.  We all try to make sure he doesn’t work too hard, but…”

“But it’s impossible to keep Lou from doing somethin’ he’s determined is part of his job,” Buck finished for him.

Hayward nodded in confirmation.  “He overworked himself this last week.”

“Damn it!” Buck cursed, heading toward Lou’s assigned room in the hospital barracks, Hayward and the sister close on his heels.

Within moments the trio was surging up the stairs and stopping in front of the closed door to Lou’s room.  Buck reached up and pounded on the door, yelling out, “Lou!  Wake up!”

When there was no immediate answer, he shared a look with the other two, then tried one more time.  “Lou!  You in there?”

Still no answer.  Buck tried to open the door, only to find it locked.  Stepping back, he began kicking at it, until the lock broke free of the wood around it and the door swung open.  Buck rushed in then stopped stock still as he registered the utter stillness of the small form on the bed.

Falling to his knees next to Lou, he pushed the grey hair off of his friend’s cold forehead and rested his own against it, his tears dripping down onto her cheeks.

“No,” he moaned.  “I just got you back.  You can’t leave me now.”


“Mr. Cross,” Sister Mary Magdalene walked over to the grieving Indian sitting on a bench outside the hospital morgue.  He looked up at her with tear streaked cheeks and watery eyes.  “Mr. Cross, is there something you need to tell us about Doctor McCloud?”

His gaze turned questioning, as he shook his head.  “I’m sorry, Sister.  I don’t understand your question.”

She sighed deeply, then straightened her shoulders, as if making a decision.  “I think there’s something you need to see.  Do you think you can handle viewing the body?”

“Of course,” he said.  “Back home I would have been responsible for cleaning it for the funeral anyway.”

Standing, he followed the sister into the morgue, where they were preparing Lou’s body to be shipped back to the States for burial.  They didn’t know that Buck planned to give him a traditional Kiowa service, complete with cremation, once there.

Walking up to the body, the Sister grabbed the edge of the sheet.  Looking up at Buck, she cautioned, “It appears your friend had something of a secret.”

She pulled back the sheet and Buck gasped at the sight that met his eyes.  There was no doubt it was Lou’s body before him.  But it was a body he’d never before seen or imagined.  It was the body of a woman.

New York Harbor, USA, December 1918

“Grandpa, it’s time to go,” Hawk said, placing a hand on his grandfather’s shoulder.  The entire trip across the Atlantic, Buck had spent every possible minute on the ship’s deck, reading from one of a series of journals that had been among Doctor McCloud’s effects.  As his, uh her, closest living family the doctors at the hospital had given them all to Buck.

Buck looked up from the book he’d been reading at his grandson. 

“How could we not have known?” he asked.  “How could we not have seen?  Things could have been so different for her.  She didn’t have to live such a hard life.”

Hawk shrugged as he patted his grandfather’s hand tenderly.  “I don’t know, Grandpa.  I don’t know.  But, I’d say she lived the life she wanted to live, a life to be proud of.  Maybe you saw what you expected to see.  And, more important, you accepted her as who she wanted to be, as who she was.  That’s why she considered you, all of you, her family.”

The Long Journey Home

Historical Notes:
*Dr. John Hayward was an actual British doctor who served at the Allied Forces Crouay Casualty Clearing Station in 1918.

*Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) were the British version of the American field hospitals during World War I.  They provided immediate care to battle casualties, including surgery, as close to the front as possible before evacuating them to more permanent hospitals once stabilized.  The CCS and American field hospitals were the precursors of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or M.A.S.H., units made famous by the movie and T.V. sitcom of the same name.

*In the 1870s Oklahoma Territory was actually still Indian Territory.  It wasn’t renamed the Oklahoma Territory until the passage of the Oklahoma Organic Act of 1890, after the Oklahoma landrush of 1889.  I used the more familiar term so people would know exactly which place I was speaking of.

*According to the U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command, it is estimated that more than 12,000 American Indians served in the United States military in World War I. Approximately 600 Oklahoma Indians, mostly Choctaw and Cherokee, were assigned to the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division. The 142nd saw action in France and its soldiers were widely recognized for their contributions in battle. Four men from this unit were awarded the Croix de Guerre, while others received the Church War Cross for gallantry.

Thanks:  To the ladies at the Writers Ranch for another great bookcover graphic.  I certainly couldn't have made it!  =)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Name's Louise!

Author's Note: This story was originally posted at the Writers Ranch as part of their "I'm a Girl" Challenge.  The idea was, what if Lou's gender weren't revealed in the premier episode, The Kid.  How and why would it have been revealed?  This was one answer I came up with. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

“Harley?” Lou called in the gruff ‘boy’s’ voice she’d been practicing.  She wondered where the waystation’s master was.  Teaspoon would’ve been out waiting for the incoming rider for an hour or more by now.  She called again, louder this time, thinking maybe he’d had to run to the necessary for a moment.  “Harley, you got my horse?”

Starting to seriously worry, she quickly scanned the yard.  That’s when she heard the groan. 

Turning in the direction of the pained sound, she saw a pair of legs sticking out from behind the wood pile.  She jumped off her mount and ran to help.

“Kid!” she gasped, as she neared the body and recognized the buckskin trousers and moccasinned feet.  Skidding to a halt next to the larger rider, she reached out to roll him over.  He groaned again as she tugged and jerked at him.  Then she saw the bloodstain along his ribs.  Acting quickly, she grabbed his arms and laboriously pulled him over her shoulder.  Barely managing to stumble to her feet, she half carried, half dragged him toward Harley’s cabin, his arms and legs dangling like a ragdoll’s.  The movement began to bring him around and he pushed against her in an unconscious effort to sit up.  Patting his back like a baby to calm him, she muttered half-desperately, “Hang on, Kid!”

After what felt like forever, Lou finally managed to lower him to the lone bunk in the cabin’s corner.  Alright, so it was more like she dropped him.  And, he bounced a bit.  But, the bunk had to be more comfortable than lying out in the spring chill had been.  For a scant moment she stared down at him gasping for breath, unsure what to do.  Then, leaning forward, she grabbed the bottom of his tunic and pulled it up to get a better look at his wound.


Kid jolted back to consciousness when all the breath left his body from being dropped onto the hard bunk.  He started to open his eyes, but quickly squeezed them shut again as the light through the window made his already throbbing head worse.  He could hear Lou’s voice muttering at him as he felt the younger boy checking his wounds.

He was glad it was Lou who’d found him.  He was kinder, gentler then the rest of the boys.  There was something about him that drew Kid in.  He just worried Lou’s smaller size and tender years might be a problem on the job.

Kid felt a draft of cool air as Lou pushed his tunic up and out of the way, preparing to clean the wound.  He braced himself for the pain of having his wound cleaned.  But pain wasn’t what he felt at Lou’s gentle touch.  The tendrils of pleasure washing through his system unnerved Kid in a way his injury never could have.

Discomfited, Kid began trying to escape the hands causing the unwanted feelings.  Reaching up, he started to push Lou away. 

“No.  Don’t,” he groaned.


Seeing the bullet had only creased his ribs, leaving a bloody trail and not much else, she breathed a sigh of relief.  Quickly, she rummaged through the cabin until she found some clean rags and a bowl which she filled with water that Harley had apparently been warming on a tripod over the fire.  Kneeling next to the bed, she muttered, “Better hold still, Kid.  This might hurt a bit, but we’ve got ta get ya cleaned up.”

As she started to clean away the blood, she couldn’t help but notice how hard his stomach was or how it felt under her fingers.  Kid groaned and began to squirm, pushing ineffectually at her hand, startling her out of her inappropriate reverie.

“No, don’t,” he grunted.

Lou shrugged, unseen, and kept dabbing at the wound.  “Got to, Kid.  Or ya might get an infection and get real sick.  Ya got lucky this time ‘round.  Maybe a couple broken ribs and a little blood.  Coulda been a lot worse.”

Looking up, her brown eyes met his blue ones.  She smiled at his pained grimace.  “Now, let me get ya cleaned up.  By then the rest of the boys should’ve seen the smoke and come ridin’ ta the rescue.  If yer all bandaged by then, maybe we’ll let ya ride out with us after the men what done this to ya.”


Kid grunted.  He knew Lou was right.  If he wasn’t ready to ride when the others got here they’d most likely leave him behind.  Letting his head fall back, he steeled himself not to feel anything as Lou returned to his ministrations.

But, no matter what he thought about, mucking out stables, fighting Indians, Buck’s snoring, it couldn’t completely distract him from the feel of the other boy’s soft touch.  He’d have to learn to hide this reaction to Lou.  He didn’t dare let him know what he was thinking or feeling.  Not if he wanted to keep his job with the Express!


Kid hmphed and let his head fall back down on the pillow, no longer arguing as she returned to her work.  Lou was thankful.  It gave her a chance to hide her reactions to him.  She didn’t dare let him know what she was thinking and feeling right now, how she still felt like she couldn’t quite fill her lungs.  Not if she wanted to keep up her disguise and her job with the Express!

Chapter 2

Lou sighed as they all huddled behind a log for shelter from the bullets flying fast and furious across the ravine.  All this just to get Ike to Blue Creek so he could testify.  It sounded simple.  But life was rarely simple.

“Send out the boy,” one of the bandits yelled across to them.  “He’s the only one we want.  The rest of ya can go.”

The riders looked at each other.  Jimmy laughed.  “Whatta ya say, guys?”

For a pregnant moment, they continued to stare at each other before turning simultaneously and firing wildly back at their pursuers.

Even as she fired, Lou was keeping a corner of her eye on Kid.  Ever since she’d found him wounded on that first run, she’d felt a special connection to him.  Surprisingly, they were all becoming friends, and maybe something more, not exactly what she’d expected to happen with any of the boys in the bunkhouse.  But with Kid, there was something else.  It was almost as if they were two halves of a whole.  She always seemed to know what he was thinking, how he would react in a certain situation, even where he was at any specific time.  Right now, she could tell he was mulling over how to get them out of their current dilemma.


Kid watched Lou out of the corner of one eye, even as he continued to aim and shoot at the bandits trying to take Ike.  As protective as he was of Ike and the others it was nothing compared to what he felt about Lou.

After his reactions to Lou’s touch when he’d been shot, Kid had tried to keep his distance.  But there was just something about the boy that drew Kid in.  Soon, they were spending most of their free time together, fishing, racing Katy and Lightning across the prairie or just talking about their dreams for the future.  He felt he could tell Lou things he wouldn’t dream of telling the other boys, even if they had begun to feel like brothers.  Maybe especially <i>because</i> they had begun to feel like brothers.

Thinking of which, he forced his mind back to the problem at hand, how to get Ike safely to Blue Creek.  Scanning the area, his eyes focused on the rock face towering over the other side of the ravine, casting a shadow on the men currently trying to shoot them.

They had brought rope, hadn’t they? A quick glance back at the horses, and he saw the coiled rope tied to the back of a saddle.  Yep, they sure had.

“I’ve got an idea,” he suddenly said.  “I think one of us should stay behind to cover the others while they retreat.”


Certain she knew what he was going to suggest, Lou jumped in first.  “I’m small enough, I could climb those rocks over there.  Between my gun up there, and yours on this side, we’ll keep ‘em pinned down nice and tight.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jimmy said, before Kid could even open his mouth to disagree.  Lou just smiled slightly, even as she grabbed the rope and headed down the ravine to the rock face.  As their connection had grown, so too had Kid’s natural protective instincts around her.  He treated her like the little brother he’d never had.  And just like that little brother, she chafed at the restrictions he tried to impose on her, for her own safety, of course.

“Never mind I’m the one always seems ta be doin’ the rescuin’ so far,” she muttered to herself as she began to inch her way up the rock pile, one finger hold at a time. 


Frustrated, Kid watched as Lou inched her way up the rocks.  That was supposed to have been his job.  Lou was always so reckless!  Instead of taking his smaller size and lesser strength into consideration, it was almost as if he felt he had to prove he could do everything, and sometimes more than, the others could.  He took so many stupid, unnecessary risks.  And the others seemed to delight in encouraging him.  Kid tried to protect the boy, keep him safe, but it was hard when Lou kept pushing the limits.

Even as he watched Lou’s ascent, Kid was using the ravine to sneak into the brush on the other side of the gang.  He kept one eye on their foe the entire time.  So he was watching when one of the men noticed what Lou was up to.  Even as the man stood to get a better shot at the boy, Kid was already firing his weapon.  Bullseye!  Right in the heart.

No one, but no one, would hurt Lou while Kid was on watch!


Finally reaching the top, Lou sighed in relief before grabbing her gun.  A whistle to the boys and she started taking aim at the line of outlaws huddled below her.

“They got one up on the rocks!” one of the bandits shouted.

This was Kid’s signal to start shooting from his new hiding place behind the gang.

“And there’s another back in the bushes!”

As she finished emptying her revolver, Lou could hear the pounding hooves of the others’ horses, taking off for Blue Creek.

“Ride safe, boys,” she muttered as she paused to switch out the emptied drum of her revolver for a fully-loaded one.  Stretching back out atop the rocks, she took aim at one of the bandits trying to sneak into the bushes after Kid.  A soft squeeze of the trigger and he fell to the ground with a bullet in his chest.  She smiled grimly.  “That was for Cody!”

“And this one’ll be for you if ya don’t drop yer gun, boy,” a man’s voice drawled from behind her.

“Aw, man,” she groaned, dropping her forehead to the ground in defeat even as she let her pistol fall from her hand.  Rolling over, she looked up at the grizzled mountain man holding his rifle on her.  He grinned slowly, showing the blackened gaps between what few teeth remained in his mouth.

“Kick it over the edge,” he said.

Slowly getting to her feet, Lou nudged her revolver over the edge of the rock face with one foot.  Watching her every move, the bandit motioned back the way he’d come with his rifle.  “This way, boy.  And don’t try no funny stuff!”

She moved as slowly as she could, holding her hands in the air, the entire way down the back slope of the rock pile.  She stumbled slightly as they circled back around to where the rest of the gang was holed up, still shooting wildly in every direction.


Kid cursed as the sound of gunshots from atop the rocks suddenly stopped.  Lou wasn’t out of ammo yet, so either he’d been caught or his gun had jammed.  In either case, not good.

He was so worried about Lou he almost stood up for a better view.  But then he saw Lou’s form, silhouetted against the prairie sky, as he rose to his feet.  He had his hands in the air and a moment later was kicking his gun off the edge of the rock face.

“Damn it!” Kid cursed again.  There was nothing he could do from this distance.  He quickly crept out of the brush he was hiding in and began to sneak around the base of the rock pile, looking for the alternate route up someone else had obviously used to sneak up behind Lou.  Kid was so busy looking up, he almost tripped over the gang’s horses.

The momentary distraction of the surprise had him pausing next to a tree just as Lou rounded the base of the rocks, followed by a man with a rifle pointed at the boy’s head.  The tree kept Kid hidden from their sight.

Kid watched as the raggedly dressed mountain man harried Lou toward the rest of the gang. 

Reassured Lou was alright, for the moment, Kid turned back to the horses, a new plan forming in his head.


“It was just a kid,” the rifle man behind Lou shouted to his compatriots.  “A kid with a six gun.  You can stop shootin’ now.”

“Lookee that,” a lanky man with long, stringy blonde hair muttered, spitting a stream of tobacco juice at her feet.  “What’re we gonna do wit’ ‘im?”

“I say we shoot him,” growled a squat, barrel of a man who’d followed the skinny one out of hiding.  Lou tensed at that suggestion.

“Why waste good lead on ‘im,” asked the skinny one.  “I got a length of nice, strong rope in my saddlebag.  Let’s jus’ string ‘im up.”

As the suggestions worsened, Lou got ready to run for her life if it looked like the men were going to follow up on their deadly thoughts.

“Where’s the money in that?” the rifleman behind her discouraged the others.  “We only get paid fer the bald one.  Let’s jes’ knock him out and get outta here.”


Shoot Lou?  Hang him?  Like hell!  Kid thought as he caught bits and pieces of the gang’s conversation while slipping back into his hiding place.  Pausing to make sure his gun was fully loaded and that he had a fully loaded spare barrel, Kid once again took aim.


A sudden sharp retort of a pistol being fired had all of them turning to look in the direction of the bushes Kid was hiding in.  The mountain man holding a rifle on Lou grabbed for his hat, sent flying by Kid’s first bullet.

At the same time, Lou hit the ground, rolling toward the base of a nearby tree.  She kept right on rolling to her feet and ran in a crouch as fast as she could toward the stand of brush and trees, even as Kid laid down a covering fire.

Pushing her way into the thick brambles, she nearly stumbled over Kid’s legs, instinctively falling forward into another roll.  Coming to a rest on his other side, she muttered, “What took ya so long?”


Kid had never felt so exultant to be tripped over in his life.  Lou was alright.  They were going to make it out of here.

“Sorry,” he whispered, handing Lou the emptied drum of his pistol to re-load.  “Decided ta slash all their cinches while they was distracted.”

Working quickly, Lou was soon returning the reloaded drum.  He laughed at Kid’s comments, the sound sending unwanted tingles down Kid’s spine. 

“I take it our horses are nearby and ready ta go?” Lou asked

Kid nodded, snapping off two more shots over the heads of the now fleeing gang of outlaws.  Starting to crawl backward, he muttered, “Let’s go, before they discover what I did.”


“Hahahahahaha!” Lou laughed so hard tears came to her eyes, as she remembered the last view she and Kid had had of Nickerson’s men, all scrambling to catch up to their fleeing mounts after falling out of their saddles when the cinches broke, dumping them onto the cold, hard ground.

“They did look kinda funny, didn’t they?” Kid smiled at her, his teeth flashing white in the gathering dusk.

“Do you think the others made it alright?” she asked, suddenly quiet, as if afraid to hear the answer.

“Sure they did,” Kid reassured her.  “They’re probably sitting down to a nice steak dinner right about now, without a thought for us poor folk still pounding the trails.”

Lou laughed again, her good spirits restored.


Listening to the silvery sound of Lou’s laugh, Kid wondered yet again what it was about Lou that unsettled him so.  It wasn’t just that he was smaller, younger than the rest.  The more time he spent around Lou the more…. feminine… the boy seemed.

Maybe it was time he sought out female company, Kid thought, stopped spending all his time at the station with the boys.  If he was around real ladies more maybe he’d stop thinking of Lou this way.  That was it, as soon as this was over, he’d start looking for a gal he could really court back in Sweetwater.

Chapter 3

Kid sighed as he contemplated all the local girls clustered here and there around the room.  The idea of talking to yet another one right now was more than he could stomach, let alone dancing with one.  They bored him beyond belief.  He’d escorted more than half of them to some function or another over the last few months, but none had distracted him from Lou for more than a few moments.  Even now he was aware of the other boy, leaning up against the wall.  If only Lou were a girl!

Lou was always there when he needed someone to talk to.  He was a very good listener.  When he did speak, which wasn’t often, it was always interesting.  And he could always make Kid laugh.  It was almost like Kid was another person when he was around Lou, a happier, more relaxed, fun-loving person.  And that disturbed Kid almost more than any of the rest.  Because it meant he wasn’t willing to give the other boy’s friendship up, for anything.

Just then, Lou lifted his head to glance around the room, a longing look on his young face.  The absolute misery and jealousy was more than Kid could stand. 

“Kid,” a soft, sultry voice with a distinct southern accent called.  “Kid, I believe ya signed mah dance card fer this next set.”

But Kid never responded.  He just pushed past her and her two companions, headed toward his friend.


Lou stood, huddled in the corner, watching as all the other boys, even Buck and Ike, found young ladies to escort out onto the dance floor.  She hated these dances.  Teaspoon made anyone at the station attend whenever there was a town social, said it made the Company look good to the townfolk.  But Lou always seemed to spend the entire night holding up a wall.

She sighed again in discontent. She’d argued she should be excused tonight, seeing as how she had a run first thing in the morning.  Teaspoon had refused to listen.

“Ya know, if yer so bored, why don’t ya ask Betty Lou ta dance?  I’m sure she’d say, ‘Yes.’”

Lou looked up startled at the sound of Kid’s voice.  Slowly, what he’d said seeped into her brain.  She shook her head. 

“No way,” she muttered.  “That girl wouldn’t know how ta shut up if there were a whole tribe of Paiute on her trail.”

“Don’t mean ya gotta listen.  Or, ya could always ask Mary Ann.  She’s quiet.”

“She’s also so stuck up she’d look at me as if I weren’t fit ta clean the mud offen the bottom of her fancy little boots.”

“Askin’ the girls ta dance don’t mean yer gonna spend the rest of yer life with ‘em,” Kid said, exasperated.

Lou just shrugged, wishing he would drop it.  There was no way she was going to escort any of the local girls, any girl period, out onto that dance floor.  The only one she wanted ta dance with was Kid, and that wasn’t going to happen as long as he thought she was a boy.

She found herself sighing.


Along with trying to find a gal to court, Kid had decided to help Lou become a little more outgoing with the ladies, too.  Maybe, if he could find a gal of his own, Lou might lose some of his more girlish attitudes toward things.  Except Lou wasn’t cooperating with that plan.

Kid started to get angry at that thought.

“Well, you may be content holdin’ up the wall here all by yer lonesome, but I ain’t,” he said shortly, brushing a hand fastidiously down his shirtfront and heading toward a bevy of the local beauties.
He’d already danced with most of them at least once.  And every single one had bored him to tears.  All they chattered about was who was wearing what or who was stepping out with whom.  He could have cared less.  But he wasn’t willing to give up on his search for the woman who could make him forget his reactions to Lou.  Soon he was leading a pretty little blonde out into the crowd of dancing couples.


Lou watched, wishing it were her his arms were encircling.  She could almost feel the skirts swirling around her ankles as he twirled her in and out amongst the other dancers, practically lifting her off the ground with his strong embrace.  She could feel tears of longing prickling at the corners of her eyes.
She’d had enough.  Half-angrily she stomped toward the door.  Teaspoon or no, she was headed back to the station.  She had a run in the morning and she didn’t need to sit through the torture of watching Kid making up to all the pretty girls.


Kid rolled over, waking to the sound of Lou dropping out of his bunk overhead.  Slitting his eyes open, Kid saw the first slivers of dawn peaking through the curtains on the bunkhouse windows.  Lou was already headed out the door to get ready for his ride that morning.

Kid closed his eyes, determined to get more sleep.  He hadn’t crawled into his bunk until well after midnight.  He’d stayed until the very last dance, spending most of the time out on the dance floor.  He was exhausted.  Who’d have ever thought dancing could be so much work?

After several more rolls, and a couple of sighs, a pillow suddenly hit the side of his bunk.  Kid lifted his head to peer out at his attacker.

“I don’t care what ya do, Kid,”: Jimmy growled, “but do it quietly.  The rest of us need our beauty sleep.”

Kid snorted at that comment, but gave up trying to get anymore shuteye and was soon headed out to the barn to spend some time with Katy.

“Kid!” Teaspoon called, bringing the young man to a halt.


“Here,” Teaspoon said, handing a bridle to Kid.  “Since yer up anyway, take this on in ta Lou.  It was gettin’ a bit worn out, so I mended it fer him.”

“Sure thing,” Kid said, turning back toward the barn with more purpose.


“Where is that danged thing?” Lou cursed softly as she frantically searched the tack room for Lightning’s bridle.  “I know I hung it right on its hook, where it belongs!”

“Lookin’ fer this?”

The sound of Kid’s voice sent a shiver down her back, even as she straightened from where she’d been bent over a trunk, rifling through its contents.  Moving slowly so as to get her senses under control, she turned to face him.  The sight of Lightning’s bridle dangling from his fingers arrested her, by now, normal reaction to the sight of him.

“Give me that!” she demanded in exasperation.  “I’ve been searchin’ fer that thing for the last quarter hour and I’ve got a run comin’ any minute now!”

“Don’t blame me,” Kid smiled, easily keeping the bridle out of her reach.  “Teaspoon took it.  He said it needed some repairs.”

Jumping to try to grab the bridle from Kid’s upraised hand, Lou nearly growled, “Well right now it needs ta be on Lightning!”


Kid laughed in unholy delight at Lou’s increasingly frustrated efforts to retrieve the bridle dangling just out of reach.  Finally he relented and, though still keeping possession of the tack, turned toward the stall where Lightning placidly munched on some hay.

“Come on,” he said, laughter still evident in his voice.  “Let’s get ya saddled up and ready ta go.”
Even as Kid walked away, he could hear the angry smoke curling up out of Lou’s ears.


“I can saddle my own horse!” Lou called after Kid in righteous indignation.

“I know ya can,” Kid said, looking down into her eyes as he finished slipping the bridle up over the horses silky ears.  “But ya don’t always have ta.  That’s what friends are for.”

“Hmph!” Lou responded, non-committally, already swinging up into the saddle.  Kid grabbed the reins at the base of the bridle under Lightning’s chin and led the horse out of the barn.


Standing there next to Lou, Kid felt so at peace, with himself and the world.  He didn’t want to break that peace for anything.  He decided to try once again to get Lou to let him help find the boy a sweetheart.

“Listen, Lou,” he began, not sure how to go about this.  “When you get back, what ask a couple of the gals from the church to Sunday dinner here?”


“No, thanks,” Lou muttered, feeling her entire body tense up at Kid’s suggestion.  Hadn’t he gotten the hint last night?  Why couldn’t he just leave well enough alone?

“Lou, ya need ta get out more if ya ever wanna have more than this outta life,” Kid continued, turning to look up at her.  “Folks are startin’ ta whisper.”

“So what?” she asked.  “What they got ta say ain’t gonna change who I am.”

“And just who are you, Lou?”

“What I am is not interested in courtin’ any of the gals ‘round here.  Not now, not ever,” Lou responded emphatically. 

The sound of approaching hooves pounding into the hard prairie earth interrupted their discussion.


Kid watched disconsolately as Lou rode off into the golden purple sunrise.  He sighed as he mulled over what Lou had said.

“Well,” he finally muttered to himself, “you might be content with the way things are, but I ain’t.”

Turning back toward the bunkhouse, he began to make plans to ask the pretty little daughter of the new blacksmith, Gunther Mueller, for a buggy drive after church this Sunday.  He deliberately didn’t think about how what really attracted him to her were all the ways she looked and sounded like Lou.

Chapter 4

“So, what do you want for Christmas?” Lou asked Kid as they turned their horses back toward the station.  They’d just completed a long special run to Fort Laramie for the Army and were finally heading home.  “A new hat?  New saddle for Katy?  New boots?”

Kid got that face-eating grin she adored and tipped his hat down to hide the blush creeping up his face.  “Naw.”

“Then what?”

Kid just shrugged before turning the question around on her.  “What do you want?”

“I’d love time off ta go visit my brother and sister,” Lou ruminated.  “But that ain’t too likely.  Not the way Teaspoon’s been runnin’ us ragged.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Kid laughed wryly.

“Ain’t nothin’ I really need.  But, a new bridle for Lightning might be nice.”

They rode on in silence for awhile, each thinking their own thoughts about the upcoming holiday.  As they topped the next rise, Lou asked, “Do you think we’ll make it back before the town Christmas Party?”


“I hope so!” Kid breathed fervently, earning a startled look from Lou.

“Why?” he asked, confused.

Kid was already regretting his honest response.  He could never dare tell the boy he wanted to go to the party with Clara Mueller because she reminded him of Lou.

“I asked Clara Mueller to step out with me,” he smiled shyly, twisting reality enough to make it palatable.  “And I’m hopin’ she won’t mind if I steal a kiss or two.  I already marked out all the places where they’re hanging the mistletoe.”

There, that sounded reasonable.  Clara was the first of the many town girls Kid had spent time with over the last several months who could keep his interest for more than a few minutes.  And that was only because she reminded him of Lou, the way the other boy moved and spoke, even had his light brown hair and big, dark brown eyes.  Kid sighed again.  This growing obsession of his just wasn’t right and he was starting to get desperate to break it.


Now it was Lou’s turn to grunt in irritation.  That was not what she’d been hoping to hear.  Kid was popular with the young ladies in town, too popular, and it hurt to watch him with his latest lady love.  But, Clara Mueller seemed to be more serious than most. 

Usually, Kid’s attention wandered as soon as he’d spent more than a few minutes with his latest ‘love’.  Not so with Clara.  This would be the third formal event he’d escorted her to.  And she seemed to enjoy his company as much as he enjoyed hers. 

Lou rode on, silently fuming.  At one point, she reached down and patted the butt of her pistol in possessive contemplation.  She’d come to think of Kid as hers.  And she was learning she really didn’t like to share.  She just didn’t know what to do about it.


“Well, I think it’s just so sweet what you all are doing for the Jorgenson’s,” Clara Mueller trilled as she hung on Kid’s arm. 

He beamed down at her, a basket of baked goods she’d brought along for the Jorgenson’s hanging on his other arm.  He was glad she’d decided to join in the riders’ Christmas plans so readily.  It showed what a generous spirit she had. 

No matter how he felt, she would make a good choice for him.  She liked horses, she enjoyed spending time out in the country and she was charitably inclined.  Maybe it was time to take the next step.  Surely if he were happily married to such a fine woman, he would stop feeling these… urges…. toward Lou.


Lou made a face as she turned to walk backward, not able to stomach any more of the intruder’s mooning over Kid.  That was the only way Lou could think of Clara, as an intruder.  She wasn’t, and never would be, a member of their close knit Express family.

“It’s just so sweet,” Lou trilled in a deliberately exaggerated falsetto, grabbing onto Buck’s arm and hanging on it so hard, she almost pulled the taller rider off his feet.  “Soooooo sweeeeeeet.”
Cody and Buck laughed at Lou’s antics.

“Aw, leave him alone, Lou,” Noah intruded.

*He’s in love,* Ike signed.

“I don’t know, Ike,” Cody muttered.  “He’s in somethin’ all right.  I just ain’t so sure it’s love.”

“Stop yer gossipin’, ladies,” Teaspoon interrupted, walking up to the wagon.  “Grab somethin’ and help carry it in!”

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” they all chorused moments later as they filed through the Jorgenson’s front door, one by one.  All except Kid and Clara who tried to push through side by side, tittering as they were forced to squeeze their bodies close into each other to get inside.


Kid deliberately tried to brush up against his partner as much as possible.  She certainly seemed amenable to the plan, holding his arm tightly to her and refusing to let go when they walked through the door.

But, all the physical contact seemed to just leave him cold.  He felt none of the nervous sparking and tingling a simple touch of Lou’s hand started.  Well, it had to be simply because he respected Clara.  That was it.  When he kissed her, things would start heating up, he reassured himself.


Lou firmly surpressed a desire to stick her tongue out at the couple.  Then decided it wasn’t worth the effort and let fly, only to stumble as Jimmy pushed her forward.

“Stop yer lollygaggin’, Lou,” he muttered.  “I want ta get in outta the cold.”

Lou picked up her pace, even as she glanced down at the basket of Christmas oranges she was carrying.  She reached down to run a finger across the dimpled skin of one as she fondly imagined throwing it at Clara’s head just as hard as she could, like Teaspoon’d been teaching them to do in baseball.  She could just imagine the satisfying splat the juicy orange would make when it collided with the other girls fancy hairdo and slid down onto the lacy collar of her fine, silk dress.

Inside, Lou leaned back against the wall, next to the Kid as usual, enjoying the singing and Teaspoon’s story telling.  Unfortunately, just as Teaspoon was getting to the good part of the story, a sudden flurry of whispers and giggles distracted her.

She glanced over to see Clara whispering something into Kid’s ear, something that made red crawl rapidly up the back of his neck.  Lou sighed in irritation.  The simpering flirt was even managing to ruin Christmas for her.


While Clara’s insistent flirting was actually starting to annoy Kid, what annoyed him even more was the brightly burning heat spreading up and down his side, the side Lou was consistently brushing against as he leaned against the wall.

Looking up from whatever comment Clara was making in his ear, Kid’s eyes landed on the mistletoe hanging over the entryway.  That was it!  He’d take Clara over there, kiss her long and hard and wipe away all these damned feelings Lou was causing.

Not paying any attention to what was going on, Kid suddenly jumped to his feet and began dragging Clara over to the door.  It was time to move on with his life!


The children jumped up to start tearing into the presents the riders and townsfolk had brought.  But Lou’s eyes were elsewhere, watching in disbelief as Kid stood and grabbed Clara’s hand, leading her back toward the front door and the mistletoe hanging from the lintel.

“Why that little….”  She left the thought hanging in the air.  Her outraged tone caught Cody’s attention.

“I’d’a figgered Kid would know better than that,” he muttered.

“What’re ya talkin’ ‘bout, Cody?”

“Just that if he goes kissin’ her there, in front of all them townsfolk, he’ll be expected ta marry her.”

“And?  Maybe that’s what he wants,” Lou defended, suddenly despondent.

“Well, let’s just say, he’ll be in for a mighty big surprise in ‘bout 6 months or so, if he does,” Cody sniggered.  “I found out today Miss Clara’s been playin’ it fast and loose on him while he’s out on runs and she done got caught.”

“No!” Lou gasped.  Cody just nodded in confirmation.  “What’re ya gonna do ‘bout it?”

“I was gonna tell him when we got home, but it don’t look like he’s willin’ ta wait that long,” Cody said, suddenly defensive.  “It ain’t like he don’t want ta spend time with her and I’m not the sort ta air others’ dirty laundry in public.  What am I s’posed ta do?”

“But, we’ve got ta stop him before he makes a big mistake,” Lou hissed.

Angry now, Lou looked frantically around the large single room of the Jorgenson’s cabin, hoping for inspiration.  But nothing came to her.  Turning back, she saw Kid and Clara giggling together under the mistletoe, Clara rising up on her toes as Kid slowly leaned down toward her.


Kid closed his eyes as he leaned in toward Clara, looking forward to the feel of her lips under his.  This was it!  This would be the moment that changed his life forever.  That made it better.


That was it!  Lou stomped forward, pushing past the similarly gaping faces of the rest of her brothers.  She reached the couple in the doorway and shoved Clara out of the room just as Kid’s lips landed where Clara’s had been, and Lou’s now were.


Her lips were just as soft and supple as he’d imagined.  And he’d been right.  All the sparks and tingles were right there, jumping from her lips to his.

Kid sighed in contentment as he felt her melt into his chest, her hands gliding up and over his shoulders, fingers tangling in his hair.  He was almost overwhelmed with the sensations he was feeling and had totally tuned out the rest of the world.

Reaching out, he began to wrap his own arms around her, sliding them down and around her waist, only to come into contact with something that shouldn’t have been there.  A gunbelt?  Clara never wore a gunbelt!

Opening his eyes, Kid pulled back and looked down in confusion at the woman, boy!, in his arms.


Lou inhaled sharply at the feel of the lips she’d spent so many hours dreaming about over the last several months.  She melted into his chest, her hands snaking their way around his neck.  As his hands slowly circled her waist they came in contact with her gunbelt, something Clara most definitely hadn’t been wearing.  He stiffened and pulled back from the increasingly torrid embrace.

Looking down at the similarly poleaxed Lou in his arms, his face lost all its color.  White as a sheet, he squeeked in astonishment, “Lou?!?”

Pulling out of his embrace, Lou smiled up at him.  Oblivious to their avidly curious audience, she reached up to touch her fingers to his firm lips.  She couldn’t wait to kiss him again.  But first, she had an announcement to make.

Stepping back, she straightened her gunbelt, pulled off her hat and looked Kid straight in his wide, panicked, beautiful blue eyes. 

“The name’s Louise, ya big galoot!”

**A big thanks to the ladies at the Writers Ranch who designed the bookcover graphic!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sweet Talking

Talking In Your Sleep, Bon Jovi

Author's Note:  This story falls between the end of Color Blind and the beginning of Old Scores, late in the second season.

This story is Part 1 of the Sweetwater Romance series.

Kid sighed deeply as he stepped up onto the bunkhouse porch and tried to quietly open the door.  It wasn’t often he had a ride that got him home after midnight, but that’s what had happened today.  The rider he was supposed to take the relay from had been delayed by Indian troubles further West.  Then, his first mount had lost a shoe, forcing Kid to walk more than half of the mountainous five mile stretch to the next waystation.  Now, Kid wanted nothing more than to drop into his bunk and sleep for a week.

Taking off his hat and coat, he carefully hung them on their hooks before prying off his boots.  Holding the footwear in one hand, he turned toward his bunk, prepared to tiptoe across the room, and froze.

She was here! 

Ever since that fiasco with Samantha, Teaspoon had kept him and Lou, and Jimmy, riding in different directions.  He’d catch a glimpse of her horse’s tail as she galloped away when he was arriving, or her slender hand as she tossed him the mochila and he raced off.

The sight, now, of her sweet face snuggled against her pillow in sleep the way she’d once snuggled against his chest made his breath catch in his throat.  He’d tried so hard to move on, even chasing after a woman who was Lou’s complete opposite in an attempt to forget her.  But it hadn’t worked.  Every time he saw her he was forcibly reminded of what he’d known since that first kiss, she was the only one for him, now and forever.

He loved her independent spirit, her willingness to fight alongside him and the other boys, even her stubbornness.  He didn’t want to wound her spirit or change her, no matter what the others might think.  He just couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.  And with the risks they all took that was a daily concern.  But, in trying to keep her close, he’d only pushed her further away.  He wasn’t even entirely certain how.

He stood there for countless moments, content to watch her chest rise and fall with the slow even breaths of sleep.  One hand was tucked under her cheek, the other flopped over the side of her bunk.  She was so close, yet so far away.  He could feel the gulf that separated them as if it were a physical thing and he had no idea how to cross it.  Sometimes he’d swear he could even hear her calling to him.

“Kid,” she mumbled, turning over to face the wall.

Like now, he thought, surprised to hear his name come tumbling from her lips.  What was she dreaming about, he wondered, that would have his name on her tongue?

Her feet kicked free of her blanket as she restlessly moved again.

“Don’t go, Kid,” she half-moaned, half-pleaded.  “I need you.  Please… don’t leave me.”

The sudden plaintive tone of her voice spurred Kid into action and he fairly flew across the bunkhouse floor to her side.  Tentatively, he reached out and rested his hand on her cheek, like he’d used to do.  Before.

“I’m here, Lou,” he whispered to her.  “I’ll always be here.”

One small hand reached up to caress his much larger one and a satisfied smile crossed her slumberous features.  It felt so right to be here, by her side, he thought.

“I love you, Kid.”

“I love you, too, Lou,” he answered, pressing a soft kiss to her forehead.

He could feel her body relaxing as she sank once more into the deep sleep of the truly exhausted.  Reaching over, he grabbed the blanket she’d tossed off and gently pulled it back up and over her.  He waited a moment to be sure she really was asleep, then softly moved his hand away from her face, leaving a caress in its wake.

Slipping into his own bunk, he lay back, hands behind his head, and stared up at the thin boards separating him from her.  He was done with all the games, the hide and seek that had been going on.  He’d demand Teaspoon stop messing with the riding schedules first thing in the morning, even Cody was starting to get annoyed by them. 

He knew he’d hurt Lou badly with his actions.  But he couldn’t start trying to make things up to her until they were actually spending time in the same room again.  He didn’t know how, but someday, someway, he’d win her back.

Kissing his fingers, he reached up and placed the palm of his hand flat against the boards of Lou’s bunk, right where her head was resting.

“Night, Lou,” he whispered.


An unidentified sound roused the restless Lou.  She rolled over with a groan.  She never slept well when one of the riders was late coming in, especially the Kid.  Stretching her arms over her head, one hand hit the post in the corner.  It slid down the side of the post, her fingers coming to rest on a gunbelt, a gunbelt that hadn’t been there when she’d turned in.

Raising her head slightly off her pillow, she squinted across the room in the dim light.  The sight of
Kid’s coat and hat hanging on their hooks was a welcome relief from the worry that had invaded her rest.

Slowly, quietly, so as not to wake the others, she slid her hand under the corner of her mattress to the bare boards of the bunk.  Peeking through a small gap between two of the boards, she saw Kid, slumbering away.

Closing her eyes, she pressed her flat palm against the boards, savoring the knowledge of his safety and nearness, even if he was out of her reach now.  She longed so for his presence she could swear she’d felt the warmth of his hand on her cheek in the midst of her dreams.

“Night, Kid,” she whispered, closing her eyes once again.

Talking In Your Sleep by Bon Jovi

Locked up inside your room
You play your lover's tunes
You dance all night, but you run out of moves
You're so close but out of reach
Your voice is haunting me

You've been talking in your sleep again
You talk in your sleep baby
You're talking in your sleep again
You talk in your sleep

You play so hard to get
I know you'll never change your ways
You make the minutes seem like hours
The hours seem like days

You know I'll come when you whisper
I'll run when you call
And when I'm calling out to you
Oh baby, I got no replies at all

This hide and seek we’re playing
Is such a vicious game
But it don't matter what you say
I love you anyway

Cause you've been talking in your sleep again
You talk in your sleep baby
You're talking in your sleep again
You talk in your sleep