Kid watched Lou’s face across the fire, as the flickering light of the flames highlighted the sometimes stark planes of her face. She wasn’t conventionally pretty, but she was the epitome of beauty to him. Sometimes it made him ache to watch her, but, like a moth drawn to the flame, he couldn’t seem to help himself.
He’d missed her so much for so long, he was afraid to make the wrong move now. So instead he waited and bided his time, letting her dictate the pace of their relationship now. Fast or slow, it was all up to her. He didn’t like the out of control feeling that gave him, but it was better than being without her.
And they had been getting closer again lately, since the move to Rock Creek. It hadn’t been smooth, but since when had things ever been smooth between them? He chuffed in quiet laughter at the thought. He had high hopes that this time, once he voiced them, his intentions would not be spurned.
She smiled and chattered about something she’d seen back in town while they were delivering their special package. Her slender hands flashed in the firelight. Kid smiled at her delight, having no idea what she’d just said, but delighted by her joy in it.
Lou knew Kid was not really paying attention to what she was saying. But the upward curve of his full lips and the amused glint in his eyes more than made up for his inattention. He’d been so somber lately. It had started with Ike’s death, then gotten worse with Garth’s and then Doritha’s. She worried about him so. That’s why she was going out of her way to be entertaining tonight. Using her hands to elaborate on the incredibly awful dimensions of the woman’s hat, she continued her story with exaggerated reactions.
A slight turn of the hand, a flip of a finger and suddenly they weren’t Lou’s hands he was watching anymore, but his lost brother’s, Ike’s. Kid felt the stab of loss deep inside, ripping and tearing at him like a clawed, wild animal desperate to escape.
He’d first really noticed it when Ike died. But it had really started when Jed passed. And Garth’s and Doritha’s loss had turned it in to the ravening beast it now was. Fear. A fear he’d never faced before. A fear he didn’t know how to face. Fear that his very presence, his love, was what was ringing the death knell for those about whom he cared the most.
Lou saw the shadows return and knew she’d lost the battle, for the moment, against the memories. She didn’t know everything that was bothering Kid, as always he was too stubborn to talk about his problems until they became an emergency. But she could guess. Generally, she’d learned to give him time and space to think things through, much as he was learning to let her take her own risks and just be there to catch her if, when, she fell. But sometimes, sometimes she just couldn’t.
“Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout?” she asked, stopping her story in mid-sentence.
“Hunh,” he grunted in startled response.
She forced a slight laugh. “You didn’t hear a word I said. I was just wonderin’ what was so much more interestin’.”
“Nothin’ much,” he muttered, tossing the remnants of his coffee into the fire’s heat. The droplets sizzled and disappeared in seconds. “I’m tired. Think I’ll turn in.”
She watched as he turned to the saddle he’d been leaning against and pulled out his bedroll, intently avoiding her eyes as he worked. This wouldn’t do, not at all, she thought. But she wasn’t sure what else to try. Closing her eyes, she thought back to all of the worst moments in her life and what had brought her up out of the depths of hell. Suddenly she knew exactly what she could offer Kid, a comfort no one but her could offer. If he felt anything near what she did.
She didn’t say anything, just set aside her own plate and cup, then stood up and walked around the campfire to drop back down on the ground right next to Kid. Without giving him time to react or even think, she wrapped her arms around his neck and began to feather light kisses up his neck, across his jaw to his mouth.
At first he stiffened in surprise, but she could feel his heartbeat speeding up with each new touch of her lips to his suddenly flushed skin. She smiled into the curve of his neck as his arms slowly wound themselves around her waist. By the time her mouth found his, he was panting slightly and crushing her against his chest, his lips eagerly, desperately seeking hers. And she could taste the salt of his tears as they ran freely, finally, down his face.
What had begun as a tender moment of comfort quickly took on the proportions of a blazing inferno as they feverishly and frantically fed the fire that both had kept banked for months. The flames of desire licking higher and hotter than they ever had before, accompanied by a desperate need to assure one another that neither would disappear within the next blink of an eye.
The duo by the fire took comfort in the fierceness with which each sought the other, their loving rough and tumble, much like their lives, but full of a tenderness that tried to heal the wounds left by an uncaring world.
Kid lay back on his bedroll, staring up at the bright stars in the dark night sky. His clothes and Lou’s added an extra layer of padding beneath them. Lou’s cheek rested against his chest, her slow, even breaths gently ruffling across his skin.
He knew soon the chill of the fall night air would begin to seep through the heat their desire had fueled in their bodies. When it did, he’d disturb her long enough to grab her bedroll for a blanket. For the moment, though, he didn’t have the strength to move. He wished he could stay like this forever.
Kid wrapped his arms more tightly around the slender body cuddled up to his and gently kissed the top of her head. He’d been considering taking the next step with Lou for some time now, but his own fears had stopped him. This hadn’t been exactly what he’d planned on either, not that he hadn’t enjoyed it.
But he was tired of having to hide how he felt about her when in public, tired of having to help hide her. She was his bright and shining star and he wanted the rest of the world to know it. He smiled slightly as he rolled onto his side and tucked her into the curve of his body while pulling her bedroll toward them. She muttered slightly in discontent as the cold air touched skin that had been heated by contact with him. But then she settled down with a little moue of contentment, much like a kitten’s half-purr, as he wrapped them in her blankets.
Reaching down, he gently brushed the curls out of her face, glad she’d begun to let her hair grow out.
Yes, he decided. It was time to ask her to give up her disguise and come out into the open, as his wife. He just hoped and prayed that this time she was ready to say yes. If she weren’t though, he’d keep on asking. The best things in life didn’t come easy. He’d learned that the hard way, given up on her, on them, once. He didn't ever want to do that again.. She was the very best thing of all.