This story was written about seven years ago and published on my erstwhile site The Kid & Lou Shrine. It was uncovered in some old files and dusted off because I still love this show… and it's being released on DVD at the end of the month! Woo hoo! And because I started a sequel that is still rattling about in my brain and won't go away, so I have no choice but to finish it.

This story picks up right at the end of the series, after Noah's funeral.

On the Strength of a Promise

Chapter One

March 1861

A number of the townsfolk of Rock Creek milled in and out of Rachel Dunne's small living room as the gathering after Noah's funeral continued throughout the afternoon. Though not expected to be a lively affair, the gloomy and somber faces of the room's occupants made many of the guests uncomfortable. The threat of war and the presence of the blue-coated soldiers in town had affected each and every one of them, overshadowing the death of the young rider. The guests paid their respects to Rachel and to Teaspoon, and stayed no longer than absolutely necessary.

The other riders, what was left of them, spoke to no one, not even each other. Buck sat quietly by himself in the corner watching the hushed murmuring of people who had not even really known Noah. And yet his funeral caused a crowd to gather, due to the fact that the townspeople had marked his death as the beginning of the War Between the States. All afternoon the talk had been of secession of the Confederate states, Jefferson Davis, and Lincoln's recent inauguration. There was a buzz of fear and excitement in the crowd that sickened Buck to his stomach. He wanted no part of any of it. Before long he saddled his horse and rode slowly out of town to find some peace. Like Ike's death, he could make no sense of Noah's passing, and he would never understand the white man's need to kill each other in a futile civil war.

Cody stood composed and silent with Captain Erbach and the few soldiers who accompanied them. He was eager to be on his way too, though he knew his leaving so soon after the loss of their friend would be hard on Teaspoon and Rachel. Noah's death had left Cody empty. He knew no other solution but to leave with the army as soon as possible. Until then he would be unable to exact any revenge for the senseless killing. Cody needed to do that, lest his guilt and regret get the better of him. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other with controlled impatience as Erbach placated some worried mothers over the coming fighting. Cody wanted to be on his way.

Across the room, Rosemary Burke was similarly eager to leave Rock Creek. She shared Cody's guilt over Noah's death, deep down she even felt responsible. She could not bear to stay on a place where his friends secretly, and in some cases openly, accused her of bringing about his murder. She had no ties to the place and stayed only out of courtesy. But then, she also stayed for Jimmy's sake. She would stay to mourn the passing of his friend as long as he needed to, but it was her hope that now the Pony Express would be disbanded, Jimmy would be free to go with her to Kansas. Rosemary would find her own revenge fulfilled when she rejoined the abolitionists who once fought with her husband. Their work was only beginning, and the outbreak of war only heightened her desire to be where she was needed.

Jimmy would go with her, Rosemary was not mistaken about that. He had not left her side all day and had defended her to all of his friends. Jimmy would not stand for accusatory looks and snide remarks about her. They had not discussed the idea of leaving Rock Creek so soon, but now he would take little convincing. He sat, stony- faced, beside her, his dark eyes surveying the room until they fell on Louise who was comforting Rachel. The stationmistress had taken Jesse's leaving hard, and the sadness of the day's events had been too much Rachel who loved all the riders as if they were her own. Lou held her hand and patted it absently, her thoughts obviously elsewhere. Jimmy watched as her eyes stole around the room, looking for someone. Jimmy did not have to guess who. Mumbling a few words to Rosemary, he slipped out of the room and made his way outside into the early evening air.

Lou could not see him anywhere, and realized she had not seen him for at least a couple of hours since they had returned from Noah's graveside. Ashamed that she had not noticed her husband was missing from the room, Lou gave Rachel's hand a final squeeze and left her with Teaspoon.

Peering through the window of the parlor she could see that Katy was still in the corral, so Kid could not be far. They had barely spoken since Noah's death. It was as if they were too afraid to talk about the recent events and what they meant for their future. Lou had spent long, sleepless nights dreading what would come to pass — what she knew in her heart would happen now that the war was upon them. In her mind she could try and pretend otherwise, but she could not deny the dread-filled surety she felt in her heart.

Lou swallowed with difficulty as climbed the narrow staircase of Rachel's house. Soon she was standing before the closed door of the room she and Kid now shared. Her thoughts momentarily flew back to the days when they lived peaceably in the bunkhouse with the other riders — back when Ike and Noah were still alive and then when Jesse arrived to make a nuisance of himself. They had been so happy and carefree in those days that the memories were painful to her now. She could not look back if she was face to the inevitable future.

She placed a trembling hand on the doorknob and pushed it open. The room was beginning to darken as the sun slipped below the horizon, but she could still see Kid sitting on the bed staring out of the window. She smiled to herself when she saw his familiar strong back and shoulders, his tousled brown hair that fell to his collar. It was a comforting sight that sparked hope in her — perhaps she had been wrong all along… perhaps things could go on as they always had.

But then her eyes fell on the saddlebags on the bed beside him, lying half packed with Kid's clothes. Lou's chest thudded painfully and her hand tightened on the edge of the door. Giving herself a moment to compose herself, she cleared her throat and tried to speak as if nothing were wrong, as if she didn't feel panicked by what was to come.

"Here you are, I've been lookin' for you." Her voice was tight with emotion but Kid did not even seem to hear her. She stepped forward into the room. "Kid?"

"Huh?" he said after a few seconds of silence. He turned his head in surprise. "Sorry, I didn't hear you."

"I just said I've been looking for you. Have you been up here all afternoon?" Lou wished her voice didn't sound so timid, but she could barely control the fear she felt.

"I guess so."

She looked at the saddlebags again, but Kid had already resumed staring out of the window. He withdrew into his silence once more. Lou knew she would have to be the one to say it. Smiling sadly as if to cushion the blow, she ventured quietly:

"You're leavin', aren't you?"

He stood and walked towards the window. After a long pause, Kid's eyes met hers and she was taken aback to see they were shining with unshed tears. He glanced down at his feet as if looking at her was too painful.

"I have to go."

"I know."

Lou blinked back her own tears and walked towards him, but focusing on the window. She looked out over the town as dusk fell and watched the few people on the street going about their business as if nothing had happened. Louise's life was changing all around her but everyone else was just going on as normal. It didn't seem fair.

"What about the Pony Express?" she said to her own dim reflection in the glass.

"Teaspoon will understand. I'm sure he'll be able to find another rider to replace me."

Lou bit her bottom lip as he continued to avoid the most important issue facing them. She turned around to face him finally, her arms crossed over her chest.

"I hope you weren't plannin' to ride on without me again." The lightness in her voice failed to resonate, leaving her words hollow.

Kid sighed and looked down at her. "I can't take you with me to Virginia, Lou. It'll be too dangerous."

"Let's get one thing straight, Kid," Lou stated. "I won't let you leave me behind this time. You promised me you never would and I aim to hold you to that."

Kid smiled grimly when he thought of the promise made in the graveyard in Davenport where Lou had finally agreed to marry him. She had said she wanted to face any trouble with him, but Kid was afraid this was too much trouble for either of them to face. He felt it was his duty to return to his home and defend the land he had grown up on, but he could not put Lou in danger and risk losing her. When he told her as much she shunned his response.

"I won't stay here safe on Rock Creek while you're off fightin' in Virginia!" she said vehemently. "I'm coming and that's final."

Lou stalked across the room and started to pull out her own clothes from the bureau. Kid's eyes narrowed with determination of their own, and he grabbed hold of her wrist as she stuffed a handful of garments into the saddlebags.

"Lou, listen to me," he said fiercely, "I don't want you to come. It's too dangerous and no place for a lady. If somethin' happened to you I couldn't live with myself."

"And what about me?" Lou cried back. "What if somethin' happens to you in Virginia when I'm thousands of miles away? I don't want to lose you either, Kid. I need to be as close to you as I possibly can. I couldn't bear it otherwise… Please, don't leave me all alone."

Lou's last imploring words came out as barely a whisper, as tears fell down her cheeks.

"I've lost almost all of my friends and family," she said. "All the boys'll be leavin', and so will Teaspoon. I may never see any of them again. But you're my family now. You're my husband and we are supposed to be together. I love you too much to lose you."

Kid's face softened even as his chest ached painfully. He held her tightly as she wept, her body trembled against his. She clung to his neck as if her life depended on it and he was undone.

Kid wished they could banish the rest of the world and ignore the doings of other men that threatened to rip them apart. They belonged to each other and he knew they needed to be together for as long as they possibly could.

"Promise you won't leave me," she whispered in his arms.

"I promise," Kid said finally, hugging her even closer.