Fire and Ice

by Starbright © 1999



Chapter 1

It was a cold morning in Rock Creek. Rachel scanned the empty street in front of her. Seemed like it was going to snow anytime now. She sighed as she realized it wouldn't lift the mood in the bunkhouse. Kid and Lou had stopped talking to each other. It had been two weeks and Kid was obviously avoiding Lou. Nobody knew what had been going on between the two of them but whatever happened had sent the Kid into a mood Rachel hadn't seen in him before. He had not spoken to anyone except Buck, and some occasional words with her or Teaspoon. Lou spent an awful lot of time with Jimmy, but she didn't look that happy. Something clearly troubled the girl. Problem was that when Rachel had tried to talk to her she clearly avoided the issues Rachel wanted to discuss. Earlier it had seemed as if they had become closer, her and the Kid, but now something was definitely wrong. Even Jimmy didn't know, thou' Lou usually confided in him if Kid wasn't around. And now it seemed he wasn't around. For anybody.

She swept her shawl closer as she stopped at the barn door and looked in at the Kid doing his stable duties. He looked up and made an almost invisible nod before he continued with the chores at hand. Nope Rachel thought to herself, no change today either. The silent treatment was getting on everybody's nerves. She sighed as she left knowing that talking to him wouldn't be a good idea. The occasional nods he provided wasn't the information she needed. Usually he just walked away as if he avoided them all. She looked at the sky above her and wondered when Jimmy or Noah were gonna arrive? Hope they make it before it starts snowing!

(((

Cody sat on his bunk carefully watching Lou. She'd been in an awful mood this morning. As soon as Kid left the bunkhouse, and Lou standing with her "Goodmornin'" unanswered, she took it out on him. Now she walked around putting a log in the fireplace and looking out the window.

"Who you waitin' for?" Cody couldn't help asking her. His natural curiosity taking over. He knew he was gonna regret this, but he couldn't help himself

"None of your goddamn business" she growled at him. "An' get your filthy belongings off of my bunk" she continued throwing a sock at him.

"That ain't my sock for you information" he growled back "that's you dear friend Jimmy's!"

"Everybody seems to think we're engaged around here" she was making her way over to Cody's bunk. Cody decided to move out of her way.

"Not everybody, but you've sure spent an awful lotta' time with him an' I guess the Kid's noticed it" Cody just had to tease her about the turning of things. He had come across Lou and Jimmy talking in the barn a lot of times. He'd never been lucky enough to hear what they were saying, but judging from the Lou's mood lately he gathered it wasn't sweet-talk. He just died to know what had happened. Teasing Lou about Jimmy made him hope she would tell him.

"You're about the most stupid one I ever seen" Lou cried out taking a leap for Cody. Cody realized it was time to get out of the bunkhouse. Before closing the door he yelled "Don't fret Lou, he'll be home today!" As he turned around he noticed himself standing eye to eye with the Kid. Kid's stonecold eyes glaring at him. Cody moved nervously away from the door. "Hi" Cody let out insecurely. Kid didn't bother to utter a word, just walked right past him into the bunkhouse. This is goin to get intrestin' Cody thought as he leaned in placing an ear to the door. All he heard was Kid's footsteps over the floor. The opening and closing of a trunk and footsteps coming back towards the door. Cody barely had time to get his ear from the door before it swung open and Kid came back out. Cody stood on the poarch watching him make his way back to the barn.

"Phew" he remarked to himself sneaking in to the bunkhouse.

"Lou?" he called out. She was sitting on the bench by the table, clearly miserable by the looks of it. He felt a bit of bad conscience, him teasing her before.

"What's with the Kid?" he asked "He looks like he's about to kill somebody."

"I know" Lou sighed deeply "he hasn't been talkin' to anybody for weeks now, and that ain't like the Kid."

"What happened, somebody die or what?" Cody was dying to know some gossip he could spread around. "Has it got something to do with you and Jimmy?"

"Please, Cody, there's nothing goin' on between me and Jimmy!"

"Well by the looks of it, nothing's going on between you and the Kid either" he said trying to lift her mood. He immediately understood he had put his foot in his mouth again, seeing her put her head in her hands.

"Get out" she almost whispered, "just get out!"

(((

Noah rode in like a blaze, throwing the mochilla to the next man in turn, Cody. He watched the Kid come after his horse without a word. He just took the reins and made his way to the stables. "You don't have to do that" Noah shouted after him. Kid didn't look back. Noah sighed as he went in to the bunkhouse. Nothing had changed obviously, Kid was still avoiding the bunkhouse and Lou. Driving them all crazy with his sullen mood.

Lou and Cody were helping Rachel set the table as he strode in. "Hello ladies! Guess what happened to the stagecoach!"

"What?" Cody 's ears perked. His interest immediately changing from Lou and the Kid to more promising issues. Lou didn't seem too interested, Noah thought as he watched her, she looked subdued. He had been right, nothing had changed.

"It was attached by Indians" Everybody looked shocked, that was not a usual thing to happen around these parts. "I know" Noah continued "I dunno why, but that's the story."

Rachel turned an questioning face to him.

"Well, Jimmy rode up just after the fact. Seems like a lady was hurt so he didn't go after the Indians." He watched out for Lou's reaction. Nothing. "Well" he continued "he's coming in with her now to the doctors. I think she was shot." Rachel looked at him "Badly?"

"Nope, just a scratch on her arm, but Jimmy's takin' her to the doctors. He told me to ask you if you could find a place for her in the house while she rests up. Seems there's no other place for her." Noah was kind of worried how Lou was going to take this news. Seeing as she was spending a lot of time with Jimmy these day. That and the fact that Kid looked as if he was about to kill somebody had made Noah think there was something going on between Jimmy and Lou. But Lou didn't seem to mind the news.

"Kid's on stable duty?" he asked Rachel. Having said that he saw Lou twitch and almost drop the plate she had been holding. "No, it's really Jesse's turn but Kid seems to have taken over his chores. I saw Jesse run around with some boys from town." Rachel's and Noah's eyes met. Things were still the same around the bunkhouse

(((

Jimmy arrived with a beauty at his side. Rachel watched Lou's face as she was presented to them all. "This is Natalie Shearer" Jimmy told the bunch around the table. "She was hurt in the stagecoach incident." The girl was tall and slim, with darkblue eyes and light hair down to her waist. She pushed a slim white hand to everyone and shook their hands. Buck grinned foolishly at Jimmy's demeanor. Jimmy just gave him a warning glance. Jimmy had staked his claim, that much was obvious. Rachel threw a glance in Lou's direction but she didn't seem to mind. Odd, Rachel thought she always get's upset with the boys antics when beautiful girls were around. Now she doesn't seem to mind. Jesse was looking at Natalie with eyes wide open. Rachel laughed at him and then suddenly remembered that Kid hadn't come in yet.

"Would somebody go get Kid from the barn?" she asked, looking around the room for volunteers. Buck rose from his place "I'll go" he said having checked for Lou's reaction.

Rachel watched Lou's eyes follow Buck to the door. Normally she would have been the one running out after him. But now everything was different.

As Kid and Buck stepped in Natalie's eyes fell on the Kid. She smiled her sweetest smile at him obviously taken by him. "Enchanted, I'm Natalie Shearer, I've been invited to dine with you all tonight." Kid's face lit up and he took her hand "Folk's call me Kid" he replied with a faint smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. But for the first time in weeks the riders saw Kid actually smile. Oh God Rachel thought watching Jimmy's and Lou's reactions.

(((

Lou wanted to run from the table and yell. But obviously she couldn't. She watched Kid smile and the girl look at him as he was something godsend. Damn you Natalie, she thought, can't you see he's ... Then she remembered the harsh words she had spoken to him. He wasn't hers anymore, and after what she had said she wondered if he ever would talk to her again. Oh God if I could take everything back!

Jimmy noticed Natalie's fascination too. Again he thought to himself. What is it in that man that makes every woman, almost, fall for him? He's eyes went for Lou's and he saw she had noticed too. He knew it would lead to another discussion in the barn. But he wasn't going to give up this one. He was going to fight for Natalie. He had already lost Lou to Kid, he wasn't going to lose this one too. He felt his anger for the Kid rise and make the blood boil in his veins. He knew it wasn't the Kid's fault Natalie watched him with those deep blue eyes. Damn it Kid, you've already got Lou and you want her. Don't let your pride and stubbornness destroy everything!

(((

Lou watched with her heart shrinking Kid actually talk to Natalie over dinner. That was something he hadn't done to anyone of them in weeks. But as soon as anybody of them tried to talk to him he clammed up again. Rachel was the only one that succeeded to get a word out of him. Natalie had promptly placed herself between Jimmy and the Kid. Lou watched Jimmy as he tried to get Natalie's attention. Being the perfect gentleman he served Natalies every wish. But she was looking at the Kid just as much as she was watching Jimmy. Jimmy won't be too happy about this, Lou thought as she watched the happenings in front of her. Not once had Kid even glanced at her. Treating her as if she was air. Serve's me and my big mouth right, Lou thought, If I only could get him to listen to me one more time and take back everything I said to him.

She was relieved when dinner was over and they bid their goodnights. She couldn't have taken a minute more of it. As Rachel and Natalie were making their ways back to the house Natalie looked back at the Kid. "Would you show me the beautiful horse, you've been tellin' me about?" Kid nodded and took both the ladies arm "I'll show Rachel home first, then we'll go to the stables. If you're up for it?" Kid's voice was the old warm voice that used to send shivers down Lou's spine. Now it sent tears to her eyes.

Jimmy was left standing in the bunkhouse door, ready to take Natalie to the house. He watched in disbelief her taking Kid's arm and following him out.

Noah and Buck laughed. "Seems like Kid's taken over you claim, Jimmy" Buck was being just a tad sarcastic. "Not that I understand why you're so mad about it, I thought you and Lou were gettin' on pretty good.." Jimmy took a step in Noah's direction as he spoke. Jimmy's action made Noah's voice trail off. Jimmy felt Lou tug his arm. "Jimmy we gotta talk!" Her eyes shone of unshed tears. "Is it the barn again?" Noah shouted out after them. "It's gonna be crowded tonight" Buck tossed out as they left the bunkhouse. Then they heard the laugher and Jesse's "What's goin' on?"

The remark made both the riders laugh even harder.

(((

"Jimmy, we gotta do something. He's fallin' for that girl and it's all my fault." Lou's voice sounded desperate as she whispered. They stood by the corral so they could have a good view over the barn and its surroundings.

"Lou, I've been trying' to talk to him but he acts like I don't exist."

"I know Jimmy. I was just hopin...'"

"Couldn't you tell me what the fight was all about Lou, maybe if I had a clue, I'd be a better helper?"

"I can't Jimmy. Some things I said were just too damn cruel."

"Still I think it's better if you talk to him instead of me!"

"I try, but he get's up and leaves if I come close enough to talk to him."

"I've never seen him this angry this long. It's not like the Kid."

"I know Jimmy, and it's makin' me crazy!"

"What I can't understand is what I'm doing in the middle of this?" Jimmy couldn't make out what had happened between the two. But he felt like he had lost his best friend, and nobody bothered to tell him why. He had tried to make Lou tell him what had happened between the two, but she was evasive. Just telling him bits and pieces, and he felt there was something she felt uneasy telling him about.

They watched as Kid and Natalie walked over the yard towards them. Kid hesitant on approaching them, but Natalie eager. As they stopped in front of them Kid had assumed the posture he held earlier, Lou noticed, of utter disengagement. Natalie turned to Lou "What a beautiful place you've got here!" Lou just nodded in agreement. She stared at Natalie, who was still clinging to Kid's arm. "So you're the two sweethearts" she smiled at the two in front of her. Lou's mouth fell open and Jimmy looked baffled. "Excuse me" he said with disbelief "who told you a thing like that?"

Natalie giggled "Oh Kid here's been telling me about you all. But don't worry, he said you're secretive about it. And I wont tell a soul!"

"Well" Jimmy started, with an glance in Lou's direction "That ain't exactly the truth now". Jimmy's eyes were darting from Kid to Lou.

Jimmy stepped in and took Natalie's arm "Kid's been kiddin' you" he said as he took a hold of her arms making her almost spin. "I'll take you to the house, you look beat." Now Natalie looked bewildered, it was her turn to let her eyes wander between Jimmy and Kid. "I'll tell you what's really going on here." Jimmy lashed her one of his smile's and Natalie couldn't help but smile back at him. Jimmy being the perfect gentleman and a charming one at that. She waved at Kid and Lou, left them at the corral, looking lost.

"Kid?" Lou started but was stopped abruptly as he walked right past her not even hearing her, as it seemed. His posture telling her there was no way getting through to him, not tonight either, he was not talking to her. Lou sighed and felt the familiar tug at her heart as she followed him at a distance to the bunkhouse.

Chapter 2

The next morning Jimmy was up at dawn. He knew Kid was going on a ride so he had to try to talk to him, one more time. Jimmy was glad Cody had left for his ride right after supper, he didn't need his big mouth and ears around at a time like this. Everybody was sleeping except the two riders sitting on their bunks. Jimmy carefully watching a silent Kid get ready for his ride.

"Kid?" Jimmy tried in a vane hope to get an answer out of him.

Kid just have him a quick glance but said nothing. "You're really gettin' on my nerves here" Jimmy continued, feeling the blood rush trough his veins. Remembering the evening and Kid's antics, he wanted to kick him hard, more for Lou's sake than anything else. Kid saw the anger in Jimmy's eyes, but the just didn't care about anything anymore. After what Lou had told him that evening he just didn't care about anything Jimmy would have to say to him.

"Kid, I'm talkin to ya!" This is getting tedious, Kid thought to himself. Jimmy was waking up the whole bunkhouse.

"What!" Kid voice rang as a shot. Jimmy almost fell from his bunk. The first word this one had said to him in over a week! Maybe this was his chance to get trough to his bullheaded friend.

"I'm askin' you if you ain't forgettin' about somebody?" Jimmy looked over at Lou's bunk. The tiny rider looking back at him with tired and scared eyes.

Kid kept staring at him and that made Jimmy uneasy. "'Bout last night I mean." Jimmy was trying to explain Lou's distress over the previous night's events without putting it into words. Earlier Kid and him had a kind of understanding that needed no words. It seemed to have disappeared.

"Am I on your territory?" Kid's voice was filled with tamed anger. Jimmy recognized the tone of voice and knew it wouldn't need much to explode into full rage. He would almost welcome a fist fight. Anything would be better than this silence.

"At least you're not on yours" Jimmy began but let his voice trail off as he saw Lou's warning glances.

For the first time in ages Kid's eyes followed Jimmy's and went over to Lou's. "Seems I never had the right to claim any stakes" he said his eyes not leaving Lou's. Lou had to look away, feeling the tears moisten her eyes. Kid's eyes went back to Jimmy's, "an' you outta know why by now!" Kid's voice sounded almost normal and Lou dared look at him again. But he just turned and opened the bunkhouse door and stepped out.

Jimmy watched the closed door for a moment. Then he turned to Lou. "The barn, now!"

(((

Kid had to take a hold of Katy's mane and breathe when he got out to his mare's stall. This act he'd been putting up was killing him. Just looking at Lou made his knees tremble, he hadn't dared too in a long time. "Girl, you don't know what I'm going throu'" he complained to Katy that whinnied softly at her owner's distress. "Hope Teaspoon forwarded my request of changin' home station" he continued to the horse. Katy was the one he had been talking to all this time. "It's gonna kill me, but it has to be done". Katy rubbed her head against her owners shoulder. Kid stroke his mare's mane "At least you like me girl!"

His thoughts went back to the last conversation, or fight, he had with Lou. The fight that made him see where her heart really belonged. She had actually called him a substitute for another man, Jimmy. Remembering her words he shrugged, how had he let himself be fooled for so long? He had seen the signs. Hell, they had been there right before his eyes. But he hadn't bothered to look. He was not going to fall for anybody anymore. His feelings for Lou prevented that, he knew as much. But his pride prevented him from being a substitute. He was not going to show his feelings to anybody again. And he was working hard on not feeling them either. "What I don't understand, Katy, is why I still love her!"

(((

Jimmy dragged Lou out to the barn as soon as Kid had left. It was cold and snowing outside. Jimmy walked with determined steps towards the barn and the haybale on which they had all their endless discussions about the Kid. He was getting sick of it all. Lou not telling him all and Kid talking in riddles.

"Lou, now you're gonna tell me exactly what happened that night. And why Kid seems to have some crazy ideas?"

"Jimmy, you don't understand..."

"You're damned right, I don't. Unless somebody tells me what's going on. And what I'm doing in the middle of it?"

Lou twisted a haystraw in her hands. She was unsure of how to put this. The night she blabbered out the things to Kid was one she'd just as soon forget. She had hurt him on purpose and she knew it. What she didn't know what how to make things right again. She never intended to say those things to the Kid, and telling Jimmy about it would only get things worse.

"Lou...?"

"Remember the day I came back from Blue Creek, half a day too late."

"The day Lightening dropped a shoe?"

Lou nodded in affirmation. "See, the day started bad already. Not that I'm makin' any excuses but it started bad and when I went to Thompkin's store to pick up that wheat Rachel ordered I saw Kid talking to the Nelson girl, again."

Jimmy stifled a soft laughter. Was this all? The jealous streak in Lou had awakened and caused all this? "Jealous, huh?"

"Don't laugh Jimmy. It get's worse."

"I don't understand how you being a tad jealous caused all this?"

"Well that night we got into a fight and I pretty much accused him of not being man enough for me." Lou was looking intensely at the ground. Afraid how Jimmy would react to her story.

"I seem to recall that happenin' before without starting a war?"

"Well here's where it gets ugly. I was mad at the world and took it out on him. I hinted to him, or more or less told him that you were the real love of my life."

"What?"

"I told you it was ugly. I was jealous, I can see that now, but not then, and I had to hurt him to make him feel my hurt. So I told him he was a substitute for you, more or less. And me being with him was just fooling around with him "

"You really know how to hurt a man, don't you."

"As soon as I'd said it I regretted the whole discussion. I was so shocked over what I was doin' to him, I just walked out on him."

"Not a good move."

"I see that now!" Lou had put her face in her hands. "Oh Jimmy. I took him for granted and now I've lost him an' it's... it's the worst thing that's..." Lou couldn't find the words. Sobbing she wiped the tears off her face. Tears she hadn't realized she was shedding.

"Worst thing is that I told him everybody knew except him and everybody was laughing at him!"

"God Lou! What was goin' on with you?" Jimmy slowly started to understand Kid's reaction. If somebody he loved had said a thing like this to him, he would have gone crazy too. And knowing the pride in Kid made Jimmy marvel at the fact he hadn't exploded yet. If he had, this would have been over by now. He also realized that if he had been in Kid's place, he'd left the station ages ago.

"The thing with you two is that you're both too proud for your own good. No, don't interrupt me Lou. You couldn't just admit to the Kid, or even to yourself, you were just bein' jealous. And he can't admit to himself he overreacted. Which is exactly what he did. I'm sure he can see it by now. But admittin' to it? No, not the Kid. It's like when you two see a fire you don't run for water. No, you stick dynamite into it. With you two it's like puttin' out fire with fire. When you should run for ice to cool yourselves instead."

(((

They found Rachel and Natalie in the bunkhouse when they stepped in. Natalie was helping Rachel but the breakfast onto the table. Rachel was putting more logs into the fireplace. "Kid's already gone?" she asked when Jimmy and Lou stepped in. Teaspoon followed right behind them "Mornin' all!" Scanning the room he noticed Kid was already gone "Darn, I see I missed him"

"Missed who?" Rachel raised her eyebrows at Teaspoons remark.

"Kid's request for changing homestations's been approved and I was thinkin' of sending him with Natalie the day after tomorrow, seein' as she needs to get to to her fathers and the stagecoach's not comin' for another week. And since where she's goin' seems to be on the way to Kid's new homestation, Ash Point, I thought..." he stopped as Lou rushed out past him.

"She didn't know?"

"Everybody's at a loss right now" Rachel had to sit down, "What'ya mean Teaspoon, Kid's request for what? Ash Point?"

Teaspoon looked surprised "He told me he'd talked it over with y'all."

"Talked to us about what?" Jimmy had already figured out what was going on, but he had to make sure.

"He's swopping places with Jeremy at Ash Point" Teaspoon started to realize his initial doubts about the Kid and his reasons for leaving were right. "Seems he wants a change of scenery real bad ...."

"And you just granted the swop like that" Jimmy growled at Teaspoon, flicking his fingers.

"Hold on, son! Me and the Kid talked about this for days. He wasn't to be persuaded. He said he'd leave otherwise." Teaspoon remembered the Kid's stubbornness. "There was no way of talkin' him out of it. It's Kid, we're talkin' about, you outta know! Furthermore, Kid's always done what I've asked of him, he was askin' one thing from me now, I couldn't deny it now, could I"

"He just don't know what he's doin' right now!" Jimmy lashed out at Teaspoon, angry that the man hadn't stopped the Kid.

"Care to elaborate, son?" Teaspoon crossed his arm over his chest, leaning back on his chair, waiting to hear what was going on in the bunkhouse.

"He's not thinkin' straight, that's all!"

"And why is that Jimmy?"

Teaspoon question put Jimmy in a hot spot. He wanted to tell them all about the misunderstanding, but doing so he would betray his best friends, both of them. He was still in the middle of it all. And he couldn't do anything about it. He threw a glance at Teaspoon and decided to get out of the bunkhouse.

Teaspoon narrowed his eyes at Jimmy as he slammed the door behind him. Teaspoon turned to Rachel with a inquiring look. She looked straight back at him, just as bewildered. Natalie watched the happenings with wide eyes.

Rachel couldn't believe her ears. One of her family was leaving. Without any explanation. When the Kid gets back tomorrow morning, he sure is goin' to explain it to me, Rachel thought bitterly. What was happening around this place?

 

Chapter 3

When Kid returned the next morning he found the riders sitting in the bunkhouse waiting for him. Seeing their faces he realized they had found out about him changing homestation. He couldn't help but feel he was letting them all down. He escaped to the barn in a hurry. "There's more people in the barn than in the bunkhouse nowadays " Noah remarked as they watched the Kid take off. Jimmy was out on a ride and Lou was waiting for her turn. Rachel watched the red-eyed girl with concern. She was in no shape to take a ride. Noah had offered to take hers, but she insisted she would go. Kid and Natalie were headed out to Seneca the next day, and Rachel was sure Lou wouldn't be so keen on saying good-bye. When Kid got in from the barn after tending to Katy she was going to have a talk with him. Deep in her heart she knew it wouldn't account for much, but at least she had to try one more time. Rachel sighed as she watched the table in the bunkhouse, she feared for the moment one place would be vacant. She wondered who was going to fill it? Rachel hoped the Kid knew much he would be missed, and not only by Lou.

Lou was sitting by the window hanging her head, waiting for Cody to arrive and hand her the mochilla. Buck had gotten words from his brother late yesterday evening and was leaving with Kid and Natalie the next morning. Another one to worry about, Rachel thought as she tidied the table, I must be aging ten years every day in this pace. Cody arrived in his usual style and Lou got up to take the ride. Before she was out the door, Cody flung himself inside. "There's no mail to Willow Creek today, Lou, ain't you the lucky one! You get the day off!" Cody didn't notice the desperation on Lou's face. She'd have to be there for the parting tomorrow. Rachel knew she herself was going to cry her eyes out. And even if it seemed like they already had kind of parted, seeing the Kid leave would probably kill Lou!

(((

Supper that night was a disaster. Nobody talked. Kid had packed his belongings earlier and the evidence of him leaving was now laying on top of his bunk. Jimmy had returned from his ride, he had probably broken some kind of record on his trip to Lone Valley. Rachel felt she didn't have anything left to say. When she got around to talking to the Kid, he had reacted in his usual way, grunts, but no explanation. Cody was all around Natalie at suppertime, but she didn't seem to be too bothered. Nobody seemed to mind about anything anymore. Lou had stayed out in the barn all day, crying. When Rachel had arrived in the barn, to try and talk Kid out of leaving, she heard Lou giving it a try. She had almost pleaded with him to talk to her. But the Kid had acted as if he didn't care. Who is this? Rachel had thought to herself watching the Kid tend to Katy not giving Lou the time of day. What happened to the real Kid? She was at her wits end. It was then she realized she had to let him go, she hoped Lou would realize it too.

(((

If dinner was a disaster, the morning after was even worse. Kid, Buck and Natalie decided to leave at first light. Nobody slept that night. They all watched as the Kid took his belongings and went for Katy. They gathered on the poarch, each trying to say something but words weren't enough.

Kid tightened the girth of Katy's saddle and turned to tie her behind the wagon. This is it, Rachel thought, he's really leaving. Worst thing was that since this morning the old Kid seemed to have returned. Making it all so much harder. Buck was already on his horse and Natalie settled in the wagon Kid was going to drive the girl to Seneca in. All waiting for Kid to say his good-byes. They watched him tie Katy behind the wagon and hesitate before turning around to face them.

Kids heart was beating so loudly he thought everybody heard it. I have to go through with this, he thought. I have to let go. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life, but it has to be done! He stepped up to Rachel and gave her a hug. "Take care Rachel, dont let them wear you down!" Realizing she was crying, he let go of her and blinked hard to keep the tears from rising in his own eyes. He shook Noah's hand and said "You too" tapping him on the shoulder. He just grinned at Cody, knowing he wasn't one for teary good-byes, "I'm sure I'm gonna see you around!" The two left were the hardest one's to say good-bye to. But at least they'll have each other, he thought as he stepped in front of Jimmy. "Jimmy!" his voice was trembling and he couldn't speak anymore for a while. He wanted to tell him he was sorry he had stood in his way, not realizing that Jimmy's and his friendship had prevented Jimmy from being with Lou. He wanted to tell Jimmy that because of that, he considered him a much better man than he himself could ever become. But somehow he couldn't get the words out. Feeling Jimmy's gaze on him he looked down , not able to meet with the other riders eyes. "Jimmy, dont get yourself killed!" Jimmy blinked hard and shook his head, mumbling something nobody could make out.

Lou, Kid thought and felt his knees go weak, God help me go through with this! Knowing it probably was the last time he was going to see the love of his life, he felt like laying down to die. But knowing any excessive outburst of feelings was going to hurt her, as they had before, he fought to stay calm. "Lou" he whispered softly, causing an outburst of tears in her. He took her into his arms for the last time. Hugging her tightly into his arms, hoping Jimmy would understand, he whispered "Everything's gonna be fine now, Lou."

Lou felt his arms around her, something she had longed for so long. But now it all felt so wrong, he was leaving her behind. She cried helplessly as her fingers closed around his collar, refusing to let go. Through her tears she felt his familiar scent that used to bring such comfort and peace to her. Now she knew he was going and yet she coudn't get a word out. She knew whatever she'd say he'd think she was lying. She had let it go too far. She pressed herself into his lap to stop herself from trembling. She tried to speak, but her sobs preventeted her from saying what she'd been trying to say for so long; "Kid please don't go!"

Feeling her shake uncontrollably, Kid took her face into his hands and looked a last time into those brown soulful eyes, "I know I should have left a long time ago, you'll have to forgive me all the pain I've caused you both in my foolishness." He spoke in a low voice so only she could hear."I'm glad you finally told me the truth, tell Jimmy that! Coz' I just can't right now." Lou squeled and tightened her grip on his collar.

This was not the reaction he had awaited, not this amount of tears. He couldn't figure out why she was crying so hard. He'd finally let her go and find happiness with the man she really loved, not having to take pity on him! His bewilderment eased his pain a bit. But he knew that if he held her any longer he might never be able to let her go. "Lou, you'll have to let go now" he whispered into her ear. Lou was crying so hard she didn't get a word out, her knuckles tightening around his collar. No! You don't understand was all she wanted to scream, but her crying left her limp and powerless. When Kid carefully loosened her fingers from his collar she had to take hold of Jimmy not to fall down . Right there, that minute, she wanted to die.

"Take care of her, Jimmy" Kid told his friend before he climbed into the wagon and they were off.

"Kid! Goddammit! You really got it all wrong" Jimmy shouted out after him. Kids didn't hear that. His eyes were filling with tears and he had to wipe them away.

They watched the three disappear. Lou still holding on to Jimmy, crying as they never heard anybody cry before. They stood on the poarch until Lou's crying had calmed down a bit.

"He's just made the biggest mistake of his life, the goddamn..." Jimmy mumbled to himself. Putting an arm around Lou's shoulders he steered her into the bunkhouse. Nobody felt like talking.

Rachel stayed out on the poarch a while longer, trying hard to control herself. Why would the Kid do a thing like this, didn't he see? Why would he leave her, even she could see Lou's whole being begging him to stay? She had seen the immense pain in the Kid's eyes as he turned to Jimmy for one last time. The pain she saw only proved one thing, Kid still loved Lou. In that moment she realized this was far from over. The thoughts whirling in her mind she sighed and went after the riders into the bunkhouse.

They all sat there, sad and unbelieving. Rachel tried to make Lou tell them what the Kid had said to her. Rachel still trying to understand why Kid had left. Lou started crying uncontrollably again so Rachel decided to leave her alone. Turning to Jimmy, probably the best friend Kid had at the station, she begged him for clarity.

"Jimmy, tell me what's been going on? Kid's told Teaspoon that Lou's engaged with somebody else, and I get the feeling he meant you!"

"It's just a big misunderstanding, and Kid's being hardheaded as usual."

"So you wont tell either" Rachel sighed as she watched Lou curled up on her bunk, shoulders still shaking. "But why leave?"

"Coz he's fighting fire with fire."

"What?"

"He's doin' an easy thing the hard way. He'll come back as soon as he realizes his mistake, don't worry Rachel" Seeing Lou and the Kid earlier he knew they were meant to be together, Kid just had to understand this himself and forget about the words Lou had said to him in a fit of jealousy. Fully aware of the actions he had taken with Lou, sitting with her for hours in the barn had only added to Kid's misunderstanding and hurt. Damn it, if I only had known the whole story!

"I ain't so sure about that Jimmy." Rachel spoke in a weary voice. Neither was Jimmy. He had never seen Kid so hurt before and so determined to do, what he thought was, the right thing. Damnedest thing was, that he was the right thing, and didn't realize it. Jimmy decided to let things be for a couple of days before riding out to the station and talking some sense into Kid. With his fists if necessary.

(((

Natalie watched the destroyed Kid from the side. The thing she had seen earlier this day almost had ripped her heart out too. She saw the pain in Kid's eyes when he looked at Lou. She saw the tears rolling down his cheeks as they left, almost blinding him.

"Kid, why'd you leave her?"

Kid had been lost in his memories and was startled by Natalies question. He eyed her cautiously to see if it was safe to tell her. I'm not gonna see neither Lou nor this girl evermore, so why not? "I left her so she could be with the one she loves" he said softly.

"Men" Natalie spoke with disgust.

"What?"

"You truly must be the stupidest creatures on earth!"

(((

Lou offered to go out and feed the horses. Jimmy wanted to accompany her but Rachel stopped him. "Let her be alone for just a while" she said fixing the table for supper.

"She hasn't talked since this morning when he left" Jimmy protested.

"And something tells me she ain't willin' to talk just yet" Rachel remarked and took a hold of Jimmys sleeve as he was going to go after Lou. "Haven't you two talked enough already?"

Jimmy turned around and faced Rachel. Is she blamin' me too? he thought as he was looking at her. Is she blamin' me as much as I am?

"Jimmy, I don't think words are gonna make much difference now. The only thing that's gonna make a difference is her gettin' Kid back home. And we gotta figure out a way how."

(((

Darkness settled and Lou didn't come in. Rachel was getting worried about the girl but wouldn't admit it. When Cody strolled in she asked him if he had seen Lou. "She's probably in the barn crying her eyes out." Rachel turned and went out, almost tripping over the threshold in her hurry. Cody stared after her for a moment. "Probably goin' after Lou" Noah informed him with a patient voice, making a face in Jimmy's direction. Cody sighed "First it was tossins' and turnin's from the both of them. Then it's this crying. I tell'ya all, Kid had the right idea. Any stations probably much calmer and quieter than this one." Jimmy frowned..

That's just coz' you ain't there to disturb the peace" Noah snapped at Cody.

"I ain't the one crying..." Cody protested but was cut short by Jimmy's "You'll soon be if you don't shut up." They were getting into one of their more heated arguments when the door flung open and Rachel stormed in

"Lou's gone!"

 

Chapter 4

"Should we go after her?" Noah asked the rest of the riders. Rachel shook her head and gave him a paper. "I found this in Lightning's stall, I guess it pretty much says it all"

Noah took the paper and started to read out loud:

I have to go after Kid. I cannot leave things like this. At least I have to get him to listen to me one last time. Please do not come after me. I will be safe and back as soon as I have sorted things out with Kid. I can only hope he will come back with me.

I beg you to let me do what I feel I must, or I will have no peace in my heart.

Lou

Ps. I have asked Ben to take my rides!

Noah lifted his eyes from the letter and let them wander around the bunkhouse. "It pretty much says what she wants, Rachel's right. We can't stop her."

"Very considerate of her!" Cody remarked. Rapidly adding "the Ben part I mean." They all looked at him with disgust. "Now hold on! I was just thinking, if she's left that means were gonna have to take more ride's, so..." he was silenced by Jimmy's murdering looks.

"We can only hope she stays out of trouble and gets what she wants." Rachel sighed.

"Not that I understand why she wants it" Cody rebutted.

(((

Kid stopped the wagon as he arrived at the point Buck's and his paths were to be parted. He stepped down and went towards Buck. "You take care, you hear, I don't like it when your brother calls for you. It usually means trouble." Kid's concerned eyes met Buck's. "Don't worry Kid, I'll be fine" Buck smiled at him.

"I was just wonderin' if I outta come with you?"

"Kid hold on, you're on your way to your new homestation. You don't know if the stationmaster is as tolerant as Teaspoon has been with our comin's and goin's!"

Kid smiled as the thought about Teaspoon's antics when they strayed from time to times. "You're right Buck, I outta see how things are first."

"Will you be takin' any rides for Rock Creek?"

Kid lowered his eyes "Not if am not forced to."

"You know you're dead wrong, don't ya?" Buck was carefully watching the Kid. Kid lifted his head and looked steadily into Buck's eyes A wave of pain shadowing his face."She told me, so I know I aint wrong."

"No way convincing' you, huh?"

"I'm already convinced."

"That's a pity" Buck grinned at him "specially when you're wrong."

"Take care Buck, and look after her for me will'ya? If something happens to Jimmy, let me know."

"I'm sure out paths will cross, sooner than you think. Ride safe Kid!"

The Kiowa rider turned his horse and galloped away to meet his brother. Leaving Kid standing, watching the last one of his family leave. "Ride Safe, Buck! he told the diminishing figure.

(((

Lou was determined. He was going to listen to her this time, if she had to hold him at gunpoint while talking. She didn't care if he believed her or not, at least he would have to listen. She was going to tell him exactly why she had said what she said. Feeling ashamed over the fact that she had fallen into the jealosy-trap as she so often had accused Kid of doing, she knew he would understand, or she hoped he would. She was probably gonna be paying for it for the rest of her life, admitting to her jealousy. But if that meant she could spend the rest of her life with the Kid she didn't mind. She'd have to explain the kiss Jimmy and her shared too, of course she had to blabber about that too. She had a lot of explaining to do, she knew that. God was I a fool, she thought as she let Lightening storm over the plains. She knew now, Jimmy had been a fling, something that made her feel more like a woman, one of those the boys drooled over. And God knows she needed that at times. She realized her mistake when Kid wasn't there for her anymore. It had felt good when Jimmy showed an interest in her, but when Kid lost his interest, it felt like the world came tumbling down. She had always thought he would be there, whatever she did or said. She had taken him for granted and was she wrong to do so! She had hurt his pride, and that was the worst thing you could do to someone like Kid, she knew that well before she started the argument. Thoughts were running through her head as she rode Lightening like she never had before.

(((

Kid felt uneasy about the trip. A couple of hours ago Buck had left them and soon after that Kid felt something was wrong. He tried not to worry Natalie, who sat silently besides him. Uttering a word only now and then. Kid felt as somebody was following them, or watching them from a far. At times he thought maybe Buck changed his mind and decided to come back for him. He was worried about him, seldom did something good come out of Buck's visits to his brother.

"Are you worried about something" Natalie said suddenly as if she had read his thoughts.

"What makes you think that" he said, trying to smile reassuringly.

"The way you've been watching the surroundings the past couple of hours."

"I was just looking for a place to let the horses rest."

"I thought you knew this territory like the back of your hand?" she spoke, scanning his face for further signs of worry. Kid made a face. There was no fooling this girl. She was almost as sharp as Lou, almost. The thought of Lou sent a tug to his heart. When will I ever be able to think about her without feeling this way?

"Are you waiting for Louise, by any chance?" her voice was soft as if she didn't want to hurt him, if that was possible. Too late for that! Kid's face fell. He had considered turning back a thousand times even though he knew he shouldn't.

"And have her drag me out of my pity yet another time, no, ma'am I don't think so"

"Is that what she told you?"

"Pretty much!"

"You two deserve each other, that's all I can say."

"What do you mean by that?"

"How two people can be so blind is beyond me."

Kid stopped the horse and slid down from the wagon. There's water here. I think we outta stop and give the horses a rest.

"You didn't answer me!" she looked at him helping her down from the wagon.

"'Bout what?"

"Your blindness!"

"I was blind until I was told to look."

"Sometimes Kid you gotta hear the unseen and look for the unspoken!" Kid watched her and a smile crept to his face. She was relieved to see him smiling again. He had looked like he'd lost all hope ever since they left Rock Creek. She was sad to see a handsome, nice fella' in that kind of mood. And God, I might have added to all this, acting the way I did that night! My brother was right, never trust a man and never flirt, it only causes trouble and ends in disaster.

"Sometimes I just don't understand you" he smiled, shaking his head.

"Like with Louise?"

(((

Kid took Katy and led her to the creek. Standing there, letting his horse drink of the water he couldn't shake the feeling somebody was observing him. But looking around he couldn't see anybody. But observing Katy's behavior he knew somebody or something was out there. Knowing they where near Indian territory made him uneasy. The Kiowa tribe had signed a peace- treaty but there were always renegade Indians around. Braves that wouldn't accept the decisions made by their elders. Braves that would fight to the last man, defending their soil. Kid understood how they felt. But he didn't have any wish to become one of their victims. Immediately his thoughts went to Lou and the possibility she might be in danger on her runs. He fought the pictures of her popping up before his eyes. I have to stop thinking about her, it's over, she never loved me anyways. Why do I keep forgettin' that? He closed his eyes and leaned on Katy. Girl, will I ever get over this? Totally immersed in his thoughts he suddenly heard Natalie scream. The blood froze in his veins as he saw two Indian warriors holding her to the ground. He jerked the bridle of Katy and made her run "Go home girl" he yelled after her and leapt in Natalie's direction, drawing his gun and pointing it at the Braves holding Natalie. He felt a sudden blow to his shoulder, making him stagger backwards and lose his gun before he regained his balance. He looked surprised at the warrior that appeared on his right side. Out of nowhere it seemed. There had been no shots fired. Kid couldn't understand where the pain came from, his right side felt paralyzed. He moved toward the warrior but his feet wouldn't obey him anymore. His head stated to swirl. Shaking it in a desperate attempt to clear his head made his vision become blurred. Helplessly sinking to his knees, he saw a grim smile creep over the Indian's face. Then all blackened and Kid fell over on the poisoned arrow imbedded in his shoulder, thrusting the arrow further inside his body.

Natalie watched in terror what happened. While the warriors held her to the ground she could see the third Indian place an arrow in Kid's shoulder. Kid took a few steps towards his aggressor and fell over onto the arrow. Then he laid still. Natalie screamed in fear. One of her aggressors put a firm hand over her mouth and prevented her from screaming. The other Brave kneeled over the Kid and took a knife in his hand. When he pointed the knife at Kid's throat, Natalie closed her eyes and started praying. Wondering when the warrior would do the same to her. Why's this happenin'? Why kill us? We've done nothing! She screamed silently inside her head. Suddenly she felt the hand move away from her mouth and the Brave that had attached Kid stood in front of her, holding out a colored thing that seemed like a bracelet, in front of her. She looked surprised at him. She had noticed Kid put that colored strip in his pocket this morning. She never bothered to ask why. The Indian in front made a sign to his brother in arms that spoke "His?" and made a sign in the Kid's direction. Natalie nodded, too afraid to speak. The Brave's started to talk to one another, in a language that seemed unintelligible to her. The Indian that had attached the Kid now watched him, shaking his head. Then they finally reached some sort on decision for what it seemed. One of her captors came toward her with a bag of hide in his hand. "Drink" the obvious translator said and forced her to taste the bitter liquid inside it. She spit out most of it, before the world started to spin and darkness swept in on her.

(((

Buck arrived at Red Bears camp late that evening. His brother immediately took him apart to his dwelling. Without further ado he sat Buck down on the hide's covering the ground and told him about the situation that had aroused. A renegade Lakota-tribe had arrived from the north in search for an Indian agent that had double-crossed their tribe. Rifles had obviously been promised in trade of Buffalo hide's. The Buffalo hide's had been provided and paid for by deadly bullets from the Indian agents men. The survivors of the raid had gathered together to hunt down the man that had fled. He obviously was awaiting his daughter in Seneca. Buck immediately realized who his brother was talking about.

Red Bear noticed the shift in Buck's position. "You've seen her?"

"Yes, she was in our station and is now on her way to Seneca with my friend"

"Brother, then it's too late, there's going to be more bloodshed" Read Bear sighed.

 

Chapter 5

Lou was letting Lightening walk for a while. She should catch up with them any moment now. With the wagon and Natalies belongings loaded they couldn't drive too fast. She was having second thoughts about this whole thing. It would have been alright if Kid was by himself out here. But what about that girl? What am I gettin' myself into? She was all but sure this was the good idea she had figured it to be last night. She was getting tired of having ridden hard all night. She was surprised they had gotten this far. But she was right on their tracks.

Suddenly she heard a woman scream in terror. She halted Lightening abruptly, looking in the direction of the scream. Then there was nothing. What on earth? she thought as she spurred Lightening into a fast canter to get to the sound of a woman in distress.

She never saw the rope that was risen in front of Lightening. She felt her stumble over something and fall to the ground sending her off. She landed on the hard ground, gulped for air a moment and then passed out. She never saw the Braves approach her with dismayed faces. This was not in their plan. They had not realized there was yet another rider so close behind their prey. Still they had to stop him from riding into what was happening further away. One of the Braves knelt down at Lou's side. Sitting there for a while sensing the rider wouldn't wake up just yet he signed to his companion. "This is not good! We' ll have to take him to the camp. He wont make it out here" The other man leaned in over Lou to take a look, smiling at his friends mistake, he tapped the warriors shoulder "He's a she!"

(((

Buck was ready to leave but his brother stopped him. "Not so fast Buck"

"I have to be on my way, brother, you know that!"

"First there's somebody you need to see."

"Dawn's here? I thought you sent all the women away?"

"You said it, the women. This one is trouble" Red Bear chuckled "she sneaks out at night to go hunting! I need you to have a word with her!"

A young man approached with a struggling young woman behind him, the young man had obvious trouble stilling the girl. "Be still girl" Red Bear spoke "Buck's here" he added with a mischievous smile. The young woman stopped her struggling at once. Looking up she saw Buck behind his horse. A sweet smile lightened her face as she ran towards his open arms."

(((

Natalie was waking slowly, her head still spinning. She squinted her eyes to see clearer in the dark. Slowly she started to make out where she was. It was a large teepee with light sipping in through the opening in the upper part. She looked around to see where Kid was? He wasn't in the teepee. Maybe they had changed their minds and killed him? The thought made her sick. It was all her fault. If she hadn't followed her brother's advice and left Boston, he would still be alive. She struggled to get to her feet. But the poison they had given her took all her strength. She knew this was a bad idea when the Indians attached the stagecoach. She wondered what her father had done now? She was still fighting hard to get her limbs to obey her when the teepee's door opened and somebody was entering. She stiffened with fear as she saw two warriors come in with a limp body between them. She groaned and tried to make her way out of the teepee. She was abruptly stopped. When the warriors laid their burden down she had to blink twice to believe her eyes. It was Lou!

(((

Buck and Dawn were sitting by the creek, Dawn securely wrapped in Buck's arms. They just held each other, happy to finally be together again, if only for a few hours.

"Buck, when will you come back?"

Buck kissed her forehead and stroke the hair out of her eyes. "You know I might never be able to come back and live with the tribe."

"Then we'll go live some other place, it been since ... Aidenguak'o P'a since I've seen you last!" Buck chuckled softly into her ears.

"See you don't even remember the word for September in English anymore!"

"And who's fault is that, if you came a little more often and not just every three rising moons, maybe I wouldn't forget! Since my mother died I don't get to speak your language very often."

"My language?"

"Buck, I'm forgetting more and more of the white way, because you aint here and mother's gone."

"I know, nobody's here to look after you."

"I dont need nobody looking after me!"

"Red Bear seems to think otherwise."

"Red Bear's an old... " she stopped as she saw Buck's smile, realizing he was joshing her. "Stop it, of I'll throw you in the creek!"

Buck tightened his grip and kissed her. "I know you will" he whispered. "No that I've told you why I'm here, don't go going anything foolish, promise!"

"He means a lot to you, this Kid?" Dawn looked up in Buck's eye.

"He's like family."

"Then he's my friend too" she smiled at him, knowing Buck would chose his friends with care.

"That's why I want you to listen to Red Bear and stop sneaking out at night, going hunting."

"I promise, if you promise to stay a while longer."

"It's a deal" Buck said, kissing her again.

(((

Natalie had finally gotten control of her limbs. She was thankful she hadn't swallowed too much of the poison. She crawled towards Lou, still too weak to walk. Lou? she reached out to touch the rider laying on the ground, pale and unconscious. She lifted Lou's eyelids and looked into the girls eye. Concussion, just as she had thought. Thankful for her brothers lessons in medicine she wouldn't be at a complete loss. She checked the girl's airways and made sure that she was breathing properly. As she was about to lay her in a more comfortable position the teepee's opening flung open again. A young Brave stood hovering over her, looking at her with suspicious eyes. "You know medicine?" he asked.

"A little" she replied, wondering what was coming next.

"What does she need? We have no Medicineman with us and she needs help."

Natalie was surprised at the Indians reaction, she had expected something else. The Indian read her face. "She's not like you, she's innocent." Natalie almost choked "What have I done?"

"You're Benjamin Shearer's daughter!" Natalie felt her heart shrink, she had known it, her father had been at it again.

"I'm not him!" she told the warrior.

"You're of his loins!"

They stopped their arguement as they heard Lou move. Natalie leaned over her again and saw her eyes flicker. Then she laid still again.

"Not yet?" the man asked.

"Soon" she reassured him, hopeful that at least one of them would be spared.

"What about the man, Kid" she asked. The Brave gave her a stern gaze. "Is he your man?"

"No" she shook her head "he was just taking me somewhere."

"He had a friendship sign, we have to find out if it was a true one."

"You can ask her when she wakes up" Natalie made a sign in Lou's direction.

"Is he her man?"

"I think so"

Lou was groaning and waking up. She looked up into darkness. Is it night already, she thought, what happened here? She felt somebody else was in this place, she could hear somebody breathing. She tilted her head and her eyes fell on Natalie. "Kid?" was the first word she uttered.

(((

"Where is he? Is he alright? Why was that Indian asking me all those questions?" Lou was sitting up waving and holding her aching head.

"Lou" Natalie said softly "You outta lie down. You've got a concussion and that means you have to be still."

"Where is he?" Lou wasn't going to give in.

"I don't know." Natalie shook her head "They gave me poison so I was out when they brought me here."

"What happened?" Lou was at a total loss. She couldn't remember anything about what had happened. The last thing she remembered was her riding Lightening over the plains.

"I don't know what happened to you. What are you doing out here? Shouldn't you be in Rock Creek?"

"I don't mean me, what happened to him" Lou hissed at Natalie, impatient that she didn't understand.

"We got ambushed."

"And...`"

"Kid was hit by an arrow in his shoulder" Natalie began but was silenced by Lou's reaction. She was already on her way out of the teepee. "Lou, you can't go, they're watching us!" Natalie got a hold of Lou's leg and dragged the still weak girl back.

"I have to see him!"

"Lou, they're not letting us out. I've already tried that!" At the noise the girls were creating a Brave placed himself in front of the opening.

Lou sank to the ground. Her head was still spinning and she felt weak. She started to sob uncontrollably and Natalie placed Lou's head in her lap. "He's gonna be fine" she said "You're both gonna be fine, but you have to rest up first. Then we'll go find him." Natalie was talking more to herself than to Lou. Seeing the girl cry heartbreakingly made her want to cry too. Over this whole situation that she had led them into!

The teepee was getting darker and Natalie gathered it was night already. The warrior came in and lit the fire in the center. "Dont get any ideas", he warned them "Somebody is watching you all the time." Leaving water and food for them on the ground he stepped out. Natalie turned over to Lou, but the girl was sleeping, exhausted from the days events. Natalie covered her with hide's and continued her wake.

(((

Buck slept by Dawn side in the teepee. It was getting light outside and he had to be on his way. He hated leaving her, but he knew he couldn't stay. He had to get word to Teaspoon about what had happened. They had to see if Kid and Natalie had made it it Seneca alright. They ought to be at their destination right now. If they weren't it was going to kill Lou! Silently he moved away from Dawn, covering her with blankets to keep her from getting cold. He kissed her and she smiled in her sleep. With a heavy heart he rose to return to the white world.

 

Chapter 6

Lou woke slowly. Her head still hurting, she had to keep her eyes shut a long time before she dared to open them. When she did she saw the wall of the teepee. It wasn't a bad dream she realized and forced herself up to a sitting position. Natalie was still sleeping. Good. Lou thought and made her way to the opening. She put her head out and was immediately accompanied by a Brave, watching her. "Natures call" she pleaded. The man looked at her questionably. "I have to go!" she demanded. The Brave tried to hide his smile as he understood what she meant. He gave her a sign to wait and was disappeared. "That's just what I wanted" Lou said silently and was almost out of the teepee. Then she felt the presence of somebody else behind her. As she turned around she saw the man that had questioned her before, stand behind her, calmly watching her doings. "Uh" Lou said, seeing there was no way to escape.

A woman turned up and took her to the creek. On their way Lou's eyes scanned the camp for signs of the Kid. It was a fairly small camp, maybe ten teepees. There were maybe twenty-five men, going about their doings in the early morning light. The ground was covered with a thin layer of snow. She saw few women, and she understood this was one of the renegade bands that had broken out of their original tribe. This happened usually for a reason, and she wondered what the reason for this tribe to be out here, was? The woman pointed to the creek and gave Lou a soft cloth. Lou understood she could wash herself up in the creek. As the ice-cold water hit her face, she shrugged and thought about the Kid. Was he lying out in the snow somewhere? She had to ask the woman. "Do you know about the man they captured yesterday? Where is he?"

"No English" came the answer from the woman. Lou felt tears rise to her eyes as they turned and started back to their teepee. She had accomplished nothing. No signs of Kid anywhere. She had to find out what had happened, but she feared for the worst. Her head had started to ache again. Her vision was blurred occasionally. Lou didn't know if it was from the blow to the head, or from her tears. The woman was looking at Lou as tears rolled down the girls cheeks. A man appeared and the woman was saying something to him. He threw a quick glance at Lou and answered the woman in his native tongue. More than anything Lou wished she would understand their language. She was let into the teepee again. Natalie was awake and her frightened eyes fixed on Lou. "I thought they had taken you away!" she burst out as she saw that the returning Lou was still alive.

"Morning wash" Lou explained to the frightened girl. She couldn't help but like her. Even though the memory of Natalies face when she saw the Kid the first time still tugged at her heart. But who was she to talk, she was the main reason all this was happening. If she hadn't made the Kid leave, this wouldn't be happening. A man stepped into the teepee and made a sign to Natalie. "I think it's your turn" Lou said, giving the frightened girl a reassuring smile.

(((

Natalie returned red-faced and shivering. As soon as she stepped inside Lou started her interrogation "Did you see any signs?" Natalie shook her head, placing herself near the fire.

"Are you sure he wasn't shot dead?" Lou almost whispered her question.

Natalie sighed "That depends on how much poison there was on the arrow."

"Poison?"

"I think they poisoned him to immobilize him. I remember that one of the warriors leaned in over him and was going to kill him, but then something happened. He found something."

Lou's hands trembled. Natalie could see that she was going trough hell hearing this. "The warrior found some kind of colored strip and that obviously prevented him from killing Kid. That's why he was questioning you last night."

"Curly" Lou whispered "Curly saved him" She had to lay down, her head had started to spin violently again, she felt like throwing up.

"Who?"

"Kid's bloodbrother."

Natalie's face was of utter bewilderment, so Lou had to tell her the story, through clinched teeth. Every time she moved her head the slightest, the teepee started spinning. Her voice trembled as she remembered her fear when Kid had disappeared. Still that fear was nothing compared to what she felt now. Natalie watched the girl talking about the Kid. Her eyes had softened and shone of the love she felt for him. Natalie had seen the same look in Kid's eyes. When Lou finished talking, Natalie couldn't stop herself from asking "Why did you two brake up?"

Lou was stunned by her question, still not sure if she was talking to an adversary, she hesitated to answer Natalie. "Lou I have to tell you, you look sick! I told you not to move around. Headinjures aint nothing to fool around with." Natalie scolded the girl for not listening to her and running around the camp with a concussion. Be still or you'll get even worse. It'll end up bad, believe me!" She stopped as she saw the Lou's inquiring eyes fixed on her. "Don't worry Lou, I'm not getting in the middle of this. I've seen what you two feel about each other. And even a fool wouldn't interfere with that."

Lou's eyes met Natalie's. "Then you know I have to find him!"

"It's your funeral!"

(((

Buck returned to the way station late that night. Everybody was as still up when he strode in, even though it was way past sunset and bedtime. Teaspoon was sitting in his favorite chair. Obviously preoccupied. "What's going on?" Buck asked, sensing something had happened. and fearing he knew exactly what.. "Oh God" Rachel said "I was hoping you would have an explanation".

"For what?" Buck was getting bewildered by the looks on the riders faces and by their demeanors. Jimmy sat drumming his thumb against the table in a nervous manner. Noah was looking at him, obviously waiting for him to say something. Jesse's eyes were fixed on him too. Cody and Lou weren't there so Buck gathered they were out on a run. "Katy came back today" Teaspoon spoke "I was hoping you'd tell me she'd run away for some reason." Buck had to sit down, it was like he had expected. The renegade Indians had succeeded in what they had set out to do.

"No" he said hesitantly "but I have an idea about what may have happened."

"Did your brother know anything about this?" Teaspoon asked Buck, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back. Prepared to hear whatever Buck had to tell.

"There's a Lakota renegade tribe looking for a Indian agent who double- crossed them." Buck said, not exactly knowing how to put this.

Jimmy curled his lip "What do we have to do with that?"

Buck realized he had to tell the whole story. "It seems the Indian agent is Natalie's father." He heard a gasp of surprise. Ignoring it he continued. "I know this man had promised rifles in trade of Buffalo hide's. When the Buffalo hide's were delivered the payment was Death instead." He looked around the table and nodded as a response to the unbelieving looks in the others faces. "He had them all killed. Only a few survived. There were women and children in the camp. Some of the warriors decided it was time for revenge. There must be around thirty men. Some women that lost their children went with their husbands. The Indian agent escaped to Seneca and is waiting for a new placement."

"Ain't the Government goin' to punish him?" Noah interrupted. Buck gave him a glance that spoke of resign

"What Red Bear has found out " Buck continued "is that the renegades had plans to take Natalie and use her as collateral. They still want their rifles. And they want revenge for the dead."

"What exactly will that involve?" Jimmy leaned forward over the table in Buck's direction "The reverence part, I mean."

"Who knows?" Buck shrugged.

"I should've guessed" Teaspoon sighed. Their eyes turning in his direction he continued "Some of the passengers on the stagecoach said the Indians were after Natalie. But other's said something else. It seemed to have happened so fast, nobody knew exactly what happened. It was a mess. One of the Brave's got injured, thou'"

"That's another thing they're going to try to get retaliation for." Buck replied. "Anything can happen..."

Buck let his voice trail off as he heard a sob from Rachel's direction. "We still don't know if they've got them Rachel" Buck tried to comfort the housekeeper "Katy may just have gotten lose." Rachel was trying to control herself, "Buck, Lou's gone after the Kid!" The statement left Buck staring at Rachel.

(((

Lou had fallen asleep and Natalie was relieved. The girl looked scaringly pale and if she wouldn't get any rest she'd get worse. Natalie tried to make the girl as comfortable as possible when she heard steps approaching the teepee. The young translator's head was visible in the opening and he motioned to Natalie to come out. Hesitantly she stepped in his direction. As she came out in the light the man took her by her arm and steered her towards another teepee. "We have a problem" he said. Natalie wondered what was coming next. "A man was shot in the leg, and is getting worse." He looked her straight in the eyes. "I have been ordered to tell you that if you can pull out the bullet you might live" he looked to the ground as he spoke the last words. Natalie felt shivers running down her spine. She wasn't a doctor, she couldn't operate on anybody. She tried to tell the man about her limited abilities. "Do what you can, and I'll do what I can" the Indian replied with a low voice. Natalie's eyes met his and she understood he wasn't the enemy. He had kind, worried eyes. When he noticed her staring he smiled ever so slightly at her. She felt more at ease. Then she stepped into the teepee and her blood froze.

Chapter 7

Natalies eyes scanned the small teepee. Near the fire a young man with a bloody thigh laid on a stretcher made of wood. He was sweating and obviously in great pain. On the far side of the teepee, obviously forgotten, she saw the Kid. The arrow embedded in his shoulder still protruding. She could see his pale face, but she wasn't sure he still was breathing. "Is he dead" she whispered. "He will not make it till morning if he don't get any help" the translator informed her. They had obviously done nothing for him, except to leave him there to die! She felt the anger rise in her. Turning to the translator she remarked coldly "Why should I help you? You' done nothing for him!" she growled, pointing in Kid's direction. The translator laid an hand on her shoulder "We had to find out if he really was a brother first. We've just gotten words that it is so. You help the injured warrior and we'll help you help him. Men are finding a place for him."

"A place to die in?" Natalie hissed.

"A place to heal in."

Natalie watched the Kid thrown in a corner to die. Then her eyes went over to the injured Brave again. She had to do it, in order to save Kid, and maybe all of them. What would happen if the Brave died? She shrugged at the thought. She sat down by the injured mans side, and removed the cloths laid over the wound. She almost sighed of relief, it was not as bad as she had feared. She could clearly see the entrance wound and the bullet was lodged just under the skin, in his thigh-muscle. Still, she had no equipment. She remembered when she used to play with her brothers equipment and getting scolded for it. He'd considered his medical equipment sacred. She could understand why now.

"I need a knife, some cloth and alcohol." Her capturer turned leave. "What's your name?" she called after him. The young man turned and was notably baffled over her question. Then a faint smile crept over his face "Aganti"

"What does that mean?"

"Wait until I come. It's also the Kiowa name of the month I was born in." Seeing her bewildered face he continued "It means Wait until I come and we're Oglala Lakota, my mother is Kiowa." With that he turned and was out of the teepee. The warrior besides her was watching her with feverstricken suspicious eyes. Natalie considered for a while to run and hide. Then two men came in with something that looked like a stretcher similar to the one the injured warrior was laying on. They went over to the Kid and lifted him onto the stretcher. One of the men took a cloth and dipped it into some liquid and put it on the Kid's mouth, forcing some liquid into his mouth. I hope it's not more poison, she thought. Then they started to undress him, the action made Natalie startle. Are they preparing him for his funeral, her thoughts flew. With eyes fixed on the men she watched them take another cloth and wash him. Just as they did when my mother died, she thought horrified, I'm glad Lou's not here to witness this! Her thoughts were interrupted by Aganti's hand on her shoulder. "I have what you asked for" he informed her. Then he followed her gaze and realized what she was thinking. "Don't worry" he said calmly "they're just washing him with healing water." She glanced at him. not entirely sure about his honesty. "Trust me" Aganti said "help him now " he motioned in the warriors direction "and we'll take care of this one called Kid later. His eyes met hers and she knew he could be trusted.

"Would you hold the knife over the fire, for a while?

Aganti nodded and went to do as he was told. Natalie prepared the things she would need. She took a cloth and drenched it in alcohol. She pressed the cloth against the wound causing the injured man to jerk violently. She let go of the cloth and gasped in fear. Aganti was immediately at her side and told the man something in a harsh voice. Giving her the knife he gave her a nod "We'll hold him for you. He placed himself over the man's legs. Saying something to one of the men at Kid's side. The man came up to take hold of the injured's shoulders. "Go on" Aganti urged her. This is it, Natalie thought, what will happen if I fail? Her hands were trembling slightly as she moved her hand towards the wound. Silently she repeated what she had heard her brother say, one slight cut through the first layer of skin. The man jerked. Natalie saw the bullet, it was only halfway into the muscle. She breathed out as she realized she might make it. She forced the knife-edge under the bullet and it popped out. Glancing around her she saw the approving smile of both men. She felt a relief that made her knees tremble. "Tell him this will hurt like hell" she told Aganti, preparing to pour alcohol into the wound. As she poured the sterilizing liquid into the wound, the man twitched and let out a scream of pain that echoed in the village. Natalie prayed that Lou wouldn't hear it.

(((

In the Kiowa village a young girl was planning to sneak out into the night. As she packed the belongings she thought she would need, her hands felt a round stone. She smiled as she picked it up. This was the most precious gift she had ever received. She let her mind emanate the picture of Buck and the memories of the day he had found the stone and given it to her. Her face shone with love and happiness as she let the stone caress the palm of her hand. "You'll be so proud of me" she whispered to the wind. She left the signs for: back soon, don't look for me, on her bedroll and started out to the fenced horses. She giggled to herself as she put the halter on the horse. My brother will kill me when he finds out I've taken his horse. With a last glance over her sleeping village, she rode into the night.

(((

Natalie had finished bandaging the wounded man. She turned to Aganti and told him that the wound should be rinsed with alcohol twice a day till it started closing. Aganti told the man this and the glance the injured threw her made her take an involuntary step backwards right into Aganti's lap. "Don't worry about him" he chuckled "he's more ashamed of his screaming than angry with you." She felt a strange feeling standing so close to him. She shook it of and started for the Kid. Aganti's hand stopped her. "This teepee is too small for two sick men. We'll have to cure him in you teepee. When he wakes he'll need soothing tea every two hours to ease the pain. Somebody should watch him all the time. I think he'll feel safer if your friend is around." Seeing her doubtful eyes, he hurried to continue "I'll help you."

"I don't know if Lou can take it" she told him.

"I thought you said he was her man?"

"It's not that easy..."

"What could be easier than that?" Aganti smiled and took a step in her direction, standing right in front of her. As he breathed the air touched her hair. His hand still around her wrist almost burned her skin.

"I'll go warn Lou"

"We'll bring him in a few minute's"

She dared not look at him. She shook herself lose and started for their teepee. I must be going crazy, she thought to herself. First I almost fall for a man on the rebound then I go weak in my knees around the man that captured me. Why didn't I stay in Boston?

As she approached the teepee she noticed there were two men on watch instead of one. She threw them a wondering glance as they opened the teepee and let her in. Lou was sitting by the fire with a wild look in her eyes. "Tried to escape, huh?" Natalie had to ask her.

"Who was screaming?"

"A warrior whose bullet I pulled out."

"You pulled out? You're a doctor?

"My brother is and he thought me something's" she said casually. Nothing that will help the Kid thou', she thought with a shudder. "Lou, I have to tell you something!"

"Kid? You've seen him? How's he... is he...I mean" Lou began to stammer rising to her feet.

"Sit down, your concussion is not healed yet, you know that." Seeing the frantic look in the girls eyes she continued "he'll be coming over soon!" Even to her own ears that sounded strange. She watched Lou's face lit up and immediately she realized her mistake. Giving Lou false hope hadn't been her intention.

"He's alright then! He's been hiding from me the..." Lou suddenly noticed the shift in Natalie's face. "What is it you're not tellin me'? What's goin' on...." Lou was silenced by the men carrying the Kid in on the stretcher. He was still pale and motionless. The arrow was fully visible, still protruding from his shoulder. Natalie had to put her arms around Lou preventing her from falling down. Then a second scream echoed in the village.

(((

When morning light lit the sky in Rock Creek, Rachel let her weary eyes leave the window. She had been waiting for somebody to show up. Praying that somebody would come with a explanation to Katy's appearance. Nobody had. She glanced over to the bunkhouse, she was sure nobody had slept in there either. She sighed as she started to prepare for the boys breakfast, it was time to feed them. Gathering what she needed into a basket her thoughts went to the riders not present. Not really knowing what had been going on with the two she could only guess. But she knew Kid would come for his horse, she knew that, and for Lou, as soon as he'd sobered up. She knew the two were meant for each other, why did they have to make it so difficult? As she stepped out into the yard she tightened her shawl around her shoulders. Gosh it's cold she thought. Looking up to the sky she tried to figure out what kind of a day it would be. In the corner of her eye she saw something move in the facility of the barn. As she turned around to get a better look she stiffened to her place and the basket fell out of her hand. Now she knew something was terribly wrong. Lightening had returned without a rider too!

 

Chapter 8

Rachel was running towards the bunkhouse in a speed she didn't believe herself capable of. She was met by Jimmy on the doorstep. "What's goin' on Rachel, what'ya runnin' for?" He took a firm grip on her shoulder. She pointed in the direction of the barn.

"Is there a fire?" Buck inquired coming out of the bunkhouse.

"It's Lightning!" The boys let go of her and rushed to the barn. Noah emerged in the doorway "Come in from the cold!"

"Lightning's out there" she repeated. Noah nodded "I heard you the first time." Jimmy came back and gave Noah a glance before his eyes went over to Rachel. "You're right, it's Lightning alright, I guess I've better get Teaspoon!"

Noah took the housekeeper by her shoulders and lead her into the bunkhouse. "We'll have some coffee and wait for Teaspoon. Then we'll decide what to do" he spoke to Rachel in a comforting voice. "I'll make a pot" he continued, glancing over the shoulder at Rachel being scaringly silent.

"Guess we know what happened now" she stated in a voice that sent shivers down Noah's spine.

(((

It took two men to hold Lou down. She squealed and fought them both. "Lemme go!" She was desperate, seeing the Kid lying on the stretcher seemingly lifeless made her heart beat fast. "You've killed him you miserable ..." She got one arm lose and took a swing at the man at her side. "I'll kill you for that!"

Natalie had never seen anybody react like this. She believed every word Lou said when she threatened to kill the men. "Lou!" she called out "You aint helping him like that!" Lou silenced herself for a moment, trying to fool the men at her side. "He's been here for two days and they've not bothered to help him in any ways!" she yelled trying to bolt again.

"Lou, I'll help him now but I need your help to do so, and you've got to calm down!"

"I'll calm down when his killers are dead" the girl growled and threw murdering looks around her. Aganti told something to a third man that was peeking into the teepee, wondering about the commotion.

"Don't hurt her" Natalie pleaded, afraid her companions behavior would make the men angry. "I just sent for some soothing tea" he smiled "I think we need it."

"It's us she's threatening to kill, and I'm afraid she'll do it if we don't get her calmed down," he continued at Natalies look.

Natalie turned her eyes in Kid's direction, this was something she knew nothing about, "I don't know if I can do this" she told Aganti with a sob.

"You do what you can, and I'll help you" Aganti's voice was calming her and he put his hand on her arm. He threw a glance at Kid. "What do you need to get the arrow out?"

"I don't know!" she sobbed out. Trying hard to collect herself and her thoughts, she continued in a calmer fashion "A long knife and lots of lukewarm water." She spoke so silently that Aganti had to lean in to hear her. He nodded and told one of the men something. Aganti noticed the girls despair and took her face into his hand. "Don't worry, the spirits will be with you"

(((

Lou was feeling sick to her stomach. She wanted to kill the men that had done this. She fought them as they were holding her to her place. She couldn't understand how Natalie could stay so cool. Her head started throbbing violently but she didn't mind. Tears rolling down her face she watched the man she loved on the stretcher. A bloody wound in his shoulder with an arrow sticking out. Worst thing was that he hadn't moved since they brought him in, she wasn't sure he even breathed. Had he been like this for over two days? She had to get to him! Suddenly an Indian woman appeared before her. She was holding a bowl with something in it. The woman was saying something but Lou didn't understand. A spoonlike object was put in front of her. She shook her head, she needed only one thing, to be with Kid. The woman pleaded but Lou kept shaking her head. Then one of the man lifted her head and forced the bitter tea down her throat. She coughed and tried to spit it out, but swallowed most of it. The woman took hold of her shoulders and held her tight, talking to her in a soft voice that almost made Lou cry again. She felt her body relax. The woman watched her face and then gave a sign to the men. They let her go and she staggered towards the Kid, in a strange daze of unfeeling determination.

Natalie was examining Kid's wound when she reached them. Sobbing she let her hand wander over the familiar face, his skin feeling hot and tense. She let her hands wander onto his arms and chest. He was so tense. She threw away the blanket that was covering him and looked for other injuries.

"Lou! He has no clothes" Natallie was shocked. "Cover him up for God's sake!" Aganti let out a soft chuckle. "I'd guess she's seen him like this before"

"It's indecent!" Natalie couldn't believe her eyes. Lou was touching a naked man! And didn't seem to mind. In despair she turned to Aganti "Make her cover him up!" Aganti took the blanket and covered the Kid "I don't think our doctor's ever seen a man before!" Natalie shook her head. Was this how things were in the Wild West?

"Why is he so tense?" Lou's question was directed at Aganti.

"It's the poison" he explained. At Lou inquiring look he continued "The arrow has been immersed in poison that paralyzes. The poison keeps streaming into his body from the arrowhead. We have to get it out."

"Get it out" Lou ordered Natalie. Clinging to Kid's hand.

(((

Teaspoon watched the horse that had come in last night. "I told ya Teaspoon" Jimmy growled "it's Lightning!" Teaspoon let out a sigh. "Just had to make sure. We have to figure out what to do."

Buck was standing behind them. "I'll have to return to my brother" he said with a determined look on his face. "I have to find out more." Teaspoon nodded approvingly and turned to Jimmy "You take Noah and get yourselves to Seneca and find out what this is all about!" Jimmy was already on his way to the barn. "Hold on a minute! I need to talk to you first" Teaspoon yelled after him "an' you wait there 'til Cody and me get's there. I'm gonna wait for him and join you in Seneca!" Turning to Buck he continued "And you too, we'll meet up there. I think that's where the roots to the problem lays."

"I'm coming too" a voice rang out from behind them. Rachel was standing there. "Why?" Teaspoon wondered in bewilderment. "It's my family too, that's why" the woman stated with determination.

"And how am I gonna explains this to Major's Russell and Waddell? This station's gonna be closed, there's not even goin' to be a housekeeper to feed the extra riders! Or am I supposed to let Jesse take care of it all" Teaspoon was trying his best to talk Rachel into staying.

"That's what we're gettin' paid for, bringin' bad news to people, aint it?" Buck replied. Rachel gave Teaspoon a halfhearted smile "I have another suggestion, why don't you and Jesse stay home and take care of it all!"

Buck let out a short laugh "That would make the local funeral parlor happy." Teaspoon gave him a offended glance. "Well I gotta say I'm at a loss here. I know we gotta find out what happened, but how?"

"Just deputize us" Noah added approaching the group "Like you always do."

(((

Natalie's hands were trembling violently as she tried to take out the arrow from Kid's shoulder. Lou's gaze didn't help matters much. When she made the first cut around the wound blood spurted all over her and she felt like fainting. For a while she couldn't see anything but blood and she thought he was bleeding dry. She threw a helpless glance in Aganti's direction who promptly took a cloth and pressed it against the wound. Lou was getting a whiter shade of pale. When the bleeding had calmed down Natalie took another look. The arrowhead was imbedded in the flesh and she had to cut deeper. He's not gonna make it and I'll be responsible for his death, in more ways than one, she thought as she stuck the knife even deeper into the wound. She had noticed Kid's breathing getting more shallow by the minute. She threw a quick glance at Lou to see if she had noticed too. She had, she held a hand over his chest and her jaws were clinched.

"Hurry up" she said in a harsh voice. Natalie was afraid what Lou might do if Kid died under her hands. Natalie started to pull out the arrow slowly, praying that it would come out in one piece. The sickening feeling of flesh giving in made her head spin. She noticed she was mumbling to herself not knowing what she was saying. Aganti threw a concerned eye in her direction. She had to pull ever so slowly not to brake the arrow, leaving deadly pieces of it, in Kid's shoulder.

"You're hurting him" Lou sobbed, "just pull it out!" She was making a move towards Natalie's hand, Aganti pulled her back.

"He's not hurting! She knows what she's doing. She has to get everything out!" Lou threw a pleading glance in his direction. "He's gonna stop breathing before it's out!"

Natalie and Aganti looked at each other, this fact had crossed both their minds. But leaving the arrow in the shoulder would kill him anyway. Natalie decided to take a chance, the arrowhead being almost out, she made a fast move, jerking it all out.

As it came out the Kid stopped breathing. The three of them aside him stared at him, all three trying to make him breath. It seemed like a lifetime was passing by. Lou felt a numbness spread all over her body as the seconds passed. So this was it? Unbelievingly she stared at the dying Kid, this ain't happenin', this is not for real, the thoughts swirled around in her head. Her lips moved, silently pleading "Kid, please" over and over again.

Aganti put a hand on Kid's chest and said something in his language, making a sign over Kid's head. Then Kid took a hesitant breath. Lou closed her eyes and started praying, clasping Kid's hand desperately into hers, bringing it to her tearsoaked cheek. Then, after what she thought an eternity, she heard another breath and another. She finally opened her eyes. He was breathing, slowly but steadily. She watched, with tears rising to her eyes, the other two standing close to each other watching the Kid. There was still a chance!

When Kid stopped breathing so did Natalie. She held her breath until the room started spinning. She felt Aganti take a hold of her and she finally took a breath. The surroundings slowly started to fade away. She fought hard to keep focused.

Natalie started to pour water into the wound with shaking hands, praying she did the right thing. She watched like in a trance blood and splints of bone come out of the wound. The sight made her sick. Lou emitted an indescribable sound, making Natalie vision blur from the tears. She kept pouring water into the wound until the wound seemed somewhat clean. In her head a deafening noise was rising, blocking everything else out. "You can but a bandage on now, try to immobilize his shoulder with something" she told Lou, but Lou didn't seem to understand. Natalie felt like walking in a fog, the roar in her head increasing. She had caused all this, her mind kept whirling back to that simple fact. She had to get out, her feet walked by themselves to the entrance. She saw only a tunnel of light before she fell to the ground outside the teepee.

Lou heard Natalie say something incomprehensible, she looked up at her and noticed she looked more dead than alive herself. Lou and Aganti watched the girl stagger out, with a face so pale it scared them. Aganti stared with confusion after the vanishing girl. Lou took the cloth Aganti was pressing against Kid's wound and motioned him to follow Natalie out.

(((

Natalie felt two arms around her. Her head still spinning, she wanted to throw up. She was shaking so hard her teeth clashed. "You've done it " she heard Aganti speak, holding her in his arms. "It's over know, the rest is easy." He was rocking her slowly. "Now he just needs water, food and rest. He'll be fine." She heard him speak from a far, her body still trembling violently. Then somebody offered hot tea to her and she drank without questioning. She didn't care if it was poison. The warmth of the tea filled her body and she felt her limbs soften. Aganti embraced her tighter, gently placing her head against his chest. "You and Lou are like ice and fire" Aganti was speaking softly into her ear. "You have the calm and stableness of ice, while Lou flares up like fire." She wasn't so sure she liked being compared to ice, she made a sound against his chest. "I prefer ice" he continued in the same comforting voice "it melts into life-giving water." Natalie started crying helplessly into his chest.

 

Chapter 9

Lou was carefully bandaging the Kid as she saw Aganti carry Natalie inside. "What happened to her? she asked with suspicion, thinking the young Brave had done something to her.

"Working with the spirits wears you down" Aganti explained as he laid her on her bedroll. "How is he?" he continued looking over his shoulder at the Kid.

"Still breathing. But ..." Lou voice was thick. "Tell me the truth, is he gonna make it?" Remembering what had happened earlier made her aware of every breath he took. Afraid they would stop again, at any time.

"He's strong, he wouldn't be alive otherwise, he'll be fine. He'll be like that a day or two, then he'll come around. When the tension is out of his body, he'll wake up." Lou's hand stroke the Kid's arm, still not feeling any change. She watched Aganti start to undress Natalie. "What are you doing?" she lashed out.

Aganti looked surprised at her. "Her clothes are bloody, she needs new ones!"

"Should you be doing that?"

"I didn't think you wanted to leave him" Aganti replied calmly, taking the dress of Natalie and covering her in blankets. "And you shouldn't be talking" he said in a mock stern voice. Lou blushed, remembering Natalie's reaction when she had uncovered Kid. She looked up at Aganti and saw him smiling in her direction "Just don't tell her who undressed her, please."

"If you behave, I might just tell her I did" she told him, answering his smile with trembling lips. "Good" he said. Watching her he saw the tiredness in Lou's eyes. "Shouldn't you get some sleep? I'll watch over you all."

"I'll sleep when I can sleep with him" Lou said and immediately realized her mistake. "I didn't mean it like that" she snapped at Aganti's raised eyebrows. Aganti had a hard time hiding his broad smile "I'm sure you said just what you meant."

Lou didn't bother to answer that.

(((

Teaspoon decided to have a talk with Jimmy and Noah before they left Rock Creek. Fearing they would get themselves into something too hot to handle he had hesitated in sending them out. But seeing as there was nothing else to do, he had decided to take a chance and deputize them both. He was hoping Noah could exercise some kind of control if Jimmy's quick temper got the better of him. He watched the boys enter his office.

"Well boys, I see you're hot and ready?" Jimmy glanced at Noah, was this going to be a sermon? He was eager to get going, it'd probably take them two days to get to Seneca, at least. He felt as every second was important.

Noah was the picture of calm "Did ya have something to tell us Teaspoon?" Teaspoon threw a glance in his direction. Seating himself on the chair he started his sermon "Now boys, I don't want you to do anything stupid", in a fatherly voice. Both boys sighed in unison.

"Like we ever would?" Jimmy growled.

"And if any problems you can't handle should arise, I think you should wait for me, Cody and hmm, Rachel."

"There ain't no such problems" Noah informed the raggedy man.

"Now boy's there's been one or two times you've gotten in too deep. This one might just turn out to be another one."

Both boys glanced at each other. They had a feeling there was something Teaspoon hadn't told them.

"Is there something you wanna say, Teaspoon. Or is this just another one of your speeches?" Jimmy made a questioning face.

"Don't go to the Marshal with any complaints, he might just be crooked. Get your information from the former Indian agent only, and don't believe a word he says."

Noah stared with disbelief at the man. "How do we do that exactly? Getting information without believing a word of what the informant tells us?"

"Well boys. That's for you to figure out!"

"Oh thanks Teaspoon, thats just what we needed" Jimmy snorted out.

"An' that's all ya gonna get" Teaspoon replied, waving them out of his office.

(((

Natalie woke early next morning. She moaned as she tried to move. The moan made Lou turn her eyes in her direction. "What's a matter? Lou asked as she saw Natalie's wry face as she was trying to get up.

"Every muscle in my body is aching, feels like I've been dragged behind horses! How is he?" she was halfway up, supporting herself against the ground.

"It looks painful" Lou remarked.

"It's nothing compared to what Kid's gonna feel when he wakes up. He has had his muscles tensed for three days." Natalie looked down on the still unconscious Kid. "Hasn't moved yet, huh?"

"No but he's breathing deeper, fever's not down yet thou'" Lou's hands were still on Kid, in a protective manner.

Natalie reached down to feel Kid's forehead and let out a cry for the pain it caused her. "I can't figure out where this is coming from" she muttered to herself.

"Aganti said you'd be sore, evidently workin' with the spirits drains you."

"When did he say that?"

"Oh last night after he und.... put you to bed." Lou almost bit her tongue for breaking the promise.

"He what?"

"Well you were sleeping in his arms and he put you to bed, couldn't just leave you out there in the cold, could he?" Natalie gave her a dismayed look, then she tried to put her hand into her pocket and found out she was standing in her petticoat. "God" she squealed "where are my clothes?" She took two painful steps to her bedroll and jerked herself a blanket.

"You're kinda prude, aint'ya" Lou pointed out.

"You can't go around half-naked, there are men around! And a lady shouldn't do certain things!"

"Like looking at an uncovered man, you mean?"

Natalie squirmed, she remembered the shock she had when Lou without hesitation threw the blanket off of the Kid and touched him! No lady in Boston would have done that. "It's not exactly ladylike, Lou"

Lou smiled tiredly, "You aint exactly accustomed to having men around you, ar'ya?"

"For your information, I have a brother!"

"I wasn't exactly thinkin' about men in the brotherly sense."

"I don't know any other sense" Natalie replied as Aganti stepped in.

"Maybe you're about to" Lou smiled.

(((

Dawn had reached the place where the assault had taken place. The signs they had left were almost invisible, but they couldn't fool her. They were Lakota, five of them. They had taken the wagon and all. So somebody needed to travel in it. She guessed it was the captured ones. Scanning the ground before her she found more traces that told her there had been a girl and a man, probably the one's traveling in the wagon. I've got them Buck, and I'm gonna follow their tracks until I find their camp. She knew it wouldn't be easy and probably take her days. She decided to leave marks that only Buck would understand along the way, just in case he would come looking for his friends. She strongly suspected he would.

(((

Natalie was desperately trying to hide behind the blanket. Lou giggled and Aganti saw her confusion. He smiled comfortingly at her and handed her a bundle. "I guess you'll need these."

"Where are my clothes" she demanded, not liking the situation at all.

"They're being washed, you had blood all over you! You'll have to make use of these, I found them among your belongings." Natalie felt a bit ashamed of her behavior, but this was a situation she never dreamt of finding herself in. Half-naked in front of an Indian. A goddamned handsome Indian too. She could feel herself blush.

"I brought some food and some water for him, Kid" he spoke, still wondering at the unusual name. "I guess he needs a wash?" his question was directed at Lou.

He went to feel Kid's forehead. "Still runs a fever?" Lou nodded.

"Well have to get some food and water into him" Aganti remarked "I'll help you hold him up." They lifted the Kid in a position in which they could get water down his throat. I wasn't an easy task and water dripped all over him. Lou took the bowl of water Aganti had brought and started to wash Kid with a cloth."I'm gonna uncover him now; Natalie, so close your eyes" she teased the girl. Natalie decided to stay strong. Aganti and Lou were glancing at each other, not even bothering to hide their amusement. When they were done, Aganti pulled out a bottle of horseliniment. "You should have somebody rub this in on your sore muscles Natalie" he told her with a mischievous smile "I'll do it for you!"

Natalie stared at him in disbelief, he was laughing and making fun over her and her values. She felt hurt and lowered her eyes. Aganti realized he had pulled the joke too far. "I'm sorry" he said reaching out a hand to touch her arm in an apologetic gesture. She pulled back. Insecurely.

Lou watched the two and looked back at the Kid. She longed for him to fool around too. Caressing Kid's arm she felt his muscles somewhat more relaxed, but he still hadn't opened his eyes or moved, not even once. Forgetting there were others in the teepee, she leaned in to put her cheek on his feverish one. "Wake up Kid, please. I need you to wake up, I need you to come back to me. I want you to hear me tell you I love you" she whispered softly in his ear.

Natalie turned around as she heard Lou move. She noticed the girl's sad appearance and her leaning over Kid, whispering something in his ear, her hand still clinging to Kid's. I wonder what it feels like to love somebody that much? And I wonder if it will ever happen to me? She was interrupted in her thoughts by Aganti touching her arm. "I'll leave you to eat now, I'll be around, if you need something, just holler." He moved to leave.

"It's one thing I don't understand" Lou's question stopped his stride "why are you doing this?" Aganti looked at her "which do you mean, holding you here or helping you?" his head tilted as he scrutinized her face searching for ulterior information.

"I don't understand either of them."

"Well I'm helping you because Kid here is a bloodbrother, he carried the sign and because Natalie helped our warrior."

"But why capture them in the first place?"

Aganti's eyes flew involuntary in Natalie's direction. "I cannot tell" he said turning his gaze back at Lou, then he turned and was lost out of sight.

Lou turned to Natalie, her eye's piercing Natalie's "Do you have something you want to tell me?"

Chapter 10

"There's something you're not tellin' me!" Lou had gotten up and took a decisive step in Natalie's direction.

"I'm not exactly sure myself" Natalie stammered, frightened by the look on Lou's face.

"You obviously know more than I do!" Lou was standing right in front of Natalie, staring her right in the eye with an angry demeanor. "Is it you fault he's here?"

Natalie didn't know how to respond to the girl, seeing the reactions her quick temper could provoke she was afraid of what might happen. "Lou..." she began in a hesitant voice.

"Dammit Natalie, tell me what's goin' on!"

Natalie had no choice, she saw that in Lou's eye's. She began to tell her the story. "I was living with my ten years older brother, the doctor, and his wife since my mother died. I've never really known my father. He went out West when I was very young. He provided for us by sending money, but I never knew him. Then one day my brother heard some rumors that my father was a criminal, shooting Indians for profit. We had always thought he was in the Army. Luke, that's my brother, heard that he was involved in some massacres of Indians, shooting up innocent people for money. My brother felt sick, thinking that the money that had enabled him to go to medical school was blood money. He had to know if it was true. So he decided to start looking for our father. We finally got word that he had been transferred to Seneca, waiting for a new assignment as Indian Agent in the northern territories. He has some kind of arrangement with the Government and would be in Seneca a few months to plan something, don't ask me what. By this time my sister-in-law was six months pregnant, so I decided to go instead of my brother."

Natalie threw a glance in Lou's direction. Lou still wasn't content, she had to tell her the rest. This is the ugly part, she thought. "Going through some documents and speaking to some people, I found out that my father had indeed promised a Lakota village rifles in trade of Buffalo- hides. The hide's were provided and my father and his men shot the whole village, almost." Lou gasped and Natalies eyes were filling with tears. "I almost decided to go home then, but I was so close. So I took the stagecoach to Seneca, and that's when I landed in Rock Creek. The stagecoach was attached by Indians, they obviously wanted me. But they were few and the driver and his men managed to hurt one of them and scare them away. I didn't know that they were after me, I swear Lou. They must have found out someway. And before you ask, I don't know what will happen next!"

Lou was coming even closer "Ya mean you knew all this and still said nothing to warn us?" Natalie took a hesitant step backwards, "Lou, I'm telling you, I didn't know, I mean I wasn't sure..."

"Goddammit Natalie" Lou was yelling "it's all your fault!"

"I didn't ask him to come, you sent him away!" Natalie yelled back at her. Lou couldn't believe her ears. "You little...why didn't ya shoot him yourself, that would have..."

"Hold on Lou, I wasn't the one telling him he was as a substitute for somebody else!" Natalie lashed out. Lou felt a red cloud rising before her eyes. Natalie's adding to her already guilty conscience made her want to kill the girl. She swayed, having to take deep breaths to try to control herself. Her hand flew up by themselves to grab hold of the girl in front of her. "But I sure as hell didn't ...." Lou's low menacing voice was abruptly stopped by Aganti who had stepped in, placing himself between the girls. Holding a protective arm around Natalie and the other restraining Lou. Lou's eyes were on fire. "Hey" he started and was in his turn interrupted by a moan from the other side of the teepee.

(((

Kid heard Lou yelling in the back of his head. He struggled to open his eyes, scared something had happened to her. He tried to move but he felt like he was pinned down. Every part of his body ached and his shoulder was definitely on fire. Struggling to wake up from the strange torpor he found himself in, he tried to move. But nothing happened. He felt desperate, he had to do something. With a deep breath and sheer willpower he finally managed to open his eyes to a slight crack. What he saw made his eyes crack wide open. He had no idea where he was. He saw a fire on the ground and on the other side Lou and Natalie were held by an Indian. He tried desperately to get up, but all he accomplished was a moan.

Then he witnessed the strangest thing. Lou turned around, and came towards him, the Brave and Natalie on her heels. Watch out! He's behind you, he wanted to scream but all that came out was another pitiful moan. The only part of his body he was able to move a little was his left hand, and he tried to point at the Brave. But Lou didn't seem to notice. He felt a terror like never before.

"Kid" she said softly, kneeling down besides him. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. Horror turned to bewilderment as he saw her turn to the Brave "Aganti, he needs water!"

"I'll get some soothing tea for him" the Indian spoke and left. Kid's eyes darted from Lou to the Indian and to Natalie, making his head spin from the effort. What's going' on here. Why didn't they seem scared? What exactly has happened? He looked at Lou and wondered what she was doing here? Then he remembered what he had told Buck. He told him that if something happened to Jimmy to let him know. He closed his eyes as he understood what had happened. Somebody had finally caught up with Jimmy. Opening his eyes again he scanned Lou's face for information. But she was just looking at him with the same gaze that used to make his knees go weak. He felt her hand on him and moaned. He had to close his eyes and remember what she had told him. She loves Jimmy, not me and I have to remember that! He felt Lou take a firm hold of his hand, her action almost made tears spring to his eyes, did she have to torture him like this?

"Kid, you still awake? Kid, hold on a minute longer. Aganti's bringin' you some tea to take away the pain!" her voice was filled with concern. Kid squeezed her hand in a silent reply. Her hand on his face now, caressing it. He knew it was out of pity and that hurt him more than the ache he felt in his body. He moved his face away from her hand.

"Kid's what's a matter? Why are you shying away? Aganti will bring you some medicine, it'll take away some of the pain. Kid just hold on, I'm here beside you! Oh God, just hold on" Lou's thick voice made him open his eyes again. He moved his lips and fought hard to utter the question he knew would explain everything. He finally heard himself say it, "Where's Jimmy?"

(((

Jimmy and Noah were sitting in the saloon in Seneca. They had ridden hard to get there fast. Asking around in the hotels they found out no Natalie Shearer had been around.

"What if she used a fake name?" Jimmy pointed out. Noah shook his head "You're clinging to the last straw of false hope, ya know that don't ya?" Noah knew that Jimmy intensely wished that their suspicions were false. Noah had gotten to understand they probably were right on. But his friend didn't want to admit that, seeing how things between him and Kid, and Lou, where when Kid left. "There ain't no wagon with a horse like Lollipop been throu' here either, you heard what the boy at Livery stable said."

Jimmy frowned "That boy didn't know nothin'. Probably couldn't see the difference between a horse an' a cat!"

"Give it up, will ya" Noah answered his friends unspoken protest against the situation.

"It just can't be, Noah, it just can't be!" Jimmy muttered removing his gloves in a violent manner, revealing the rage inside him.

"Well find them, Jimmy, and they'll be fine!" Noah stated in a soothing voice, praying with all his heart, that was going to be the case.

(((

Buck had reached the camp the second time in just a few days. His brother was waiting for him in his teepee. Buck scanned the camp to see if Dawn was anywhere around. Still, he was sure his brother hadn't told her about his arrival, since Red Bear seemed convinced she wasn't the girl for him. Buck chuckled to himself as he made his way to the teepee, one day his brother just had to see eye to eye with the fact. He'd find her later anyways, now he had to find out about the Lakota-camps whereabouts. He stepped into the teepee and saluted the Kiowa braves around the fire. They all glanced at him in a curious manner. Buck felt something had happened? But what? Where they involved with the Lakota renegades and had decided not to cooperate with him? "Red Bear, I need your help!" Buck started but Red Bear interrupted him. "I don't know how to say this my brother, Dawn is missing!"

(((

Kid' words were still hanging in the air. Lou wasn't sure she had heard right, had he asked about Jimmy? And why?

"Is he delirious Natalie? Please do something to help him!" she pleaded in Natalie's direction as she found herself unable to help the Kid. She was afraid to touch him, fearing it would bring him more pain. Watching his pale face with his half-closed eyes directed at her, she began to cry of helplessness. "I don't think he knows what he talkin' about! Natalie please!" she was begging the girl. Natalie shook her head in despair "Lou, I don't know what to do, I don't know what's going on."

Aganti came in and they gave him the tea. Having to almost force it to him. Kid's face was a greenish gray that scared them all. His eyes were fixed on the Brave making him drink the tea. The pain of swallowing making him close his eyes again, concentrating on breathing. He felt the pain ease off and finally mustered to swallow and breath easier. He felt somewhat calmer and he directed his gaze back at the Brave. Why was he helping him? Natalie noticed his bewilderment and spoke to him "Kid, don't worry, he saved your life." "With her help" Aganti smiled at Natalie and Kid saw the warmth in his smile. This made him relax, but it still didn't answer his question.

"Lou, why are you here? Has something happened to Jimmy?" he finally succeeded to speak, the tea having taken the edge of the pain away. But his voice was still faint and full of hurt.

"Kid dammit, Jimmy aint here, an' I really don't care where he is right now!" Lou had realized Kid's mind was still set on the words she had blabbered out, that dreadful evening. Leaning her head against his chest she sobbed out "I came for you". Kid's eyes wandered over to Natalie. She answered his question with a nod "She came for you, she's been sitting here with you all the time. She damn near killed some warriors for hurting you, and was nearly killed herself getting to you." Kid involuntary jerked at this revelation. His body answering him with an acute fit of pain that made him clinch his teeth. He tried to place a hand on Lou's shaking head, but had no force to do so.

"But Lou, you..." he started, talking still hurt, but he had to find out what the truth really was. And he had to find it out from Lou. She raised her head and read the question in his eyes.

Aganti realized the two needed to be alone so he laid an arm on Natalie's shoulders and carefully dragged her out of the teepee. "Let's leave them alone" he whispered to her.

"Hush Kid" Lou was still talking with her head against his chest. "That day is the day I regret most of all days in my life. All went wrong from the start. I was scolded at Blue Creek for being late. Then Lightning dropped a shoe and I couldn't go as fast as I wanted to. To top it off, she threw me when she stumbled. It was my fault, I made her run too fast. I should have known then, the day was just going to get worse. But that day I blamed everyone but myself. Then when I got to Thompkin's I saw you laugh and talk with that Nelson girl. The one with the fancy dresses. That really made my day. I know it ain't any excuse for what I did, I'm just tellin' you."

"You kissed him" his voice came out as a hoarse moan. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes. He saw her eyes fill with tears and couldn't help himself from feeling the hurt she was in. He suddenly felt ashamed. They hadn't even been together then, so who was he to talk?

"Kid, that just happened, both Jimmy and me knew right away we weren't acting ourselves. And we knew right away it wouldn't happen again. Kid, please, that kiss meant nothing, it just was to prove what I always knew. And when Elias was hanged I instinctively turned to you, not to Jimmy, but to you, Kid. And we weren't even together then, don't that tell you how I feel. She sobbed into his chest, desperate in her effort to make him understand.

He finally managed to take her hand into his as she continued "That night in the barn, I was dead jealous. An' I know how often I've accused you of being jealous, but this time it was my turn. I hate to admit that. That's why I told you all those things. I didn't think you'd believe me anyways. And I know you've been thinkin' Jimmy and me's got something, but he's a dear friend. That's nothing compared to what I feel for you. But I used that to make you jealous too. And I added all those things coz' I'm a cruel an' mean human being, and I understand if you don't love me anymore. Hell, I hated myself for sayin' those things. That's why I turned and walked out on you. Coz' I couldn't believe what I just had said. I still hate myself for that. God knows I tried to tell you that before, but you wouldn't listen. When you went away, I just knew I had to find you. To tell you I've never loved anyone the way I love you and I know I never will. And Kid, please don't hate me for what I've done, you don't have to love me, please just don't hate me."

She was sobbing heartbreakingly by now. Kid's couldn't help the tears falling from his eyes too. What a fool I've been not listening to her, if I had, this wouldn't have happened. It's all my fault and I'll have to live with that if something happens to her now"

"Oh God, Lou, I'm so sorry I didn't listen. Lou, you know I love you, ain't nothin' gonna change that" he uttered with his last strength, before darkness overcame him.

 

Chapter 11

Aganti took Natalie out to gather some wood for the fire. They gathered fallen branches and sticks in silence. Natalies eyes wandered over to Aganti every now and then. His buckskin covered appearance scared her to death just a few days earlier. Now she felt totally secure around him. Funny how fast things change, she thought to herself. Her eyes stayed on the Brave and she registered his every move. Something about him stirred up feelings she'd never felt before.

"Something a matter Ice?" he asked seeing her stare at him. With his lap full of wood for the fire he made his way over to her. Natalie felt herself blush again. Goddammit, I'm really making a fool of myself here! She shook her head and tried to find something to say that would make sense.

"I was just watching you to see how much wood you have" she almost stammered. Gosh! Was that stupid or what?

"It's about enough" Aganti replied softly, with his eyes twinkling in a faint smile. He knows, the thought just hit her and she felt like sliding under the ground. She turned and made her way out of the wood, half running, away from Aganti and her own feelings.

"Wait for me Ice!" Aganti's step came closer, him being an expert on the terrain, she wouldn't be able to run away from him, how much she ever wanted too. "Why this hurry?" She felt him walk close to her. Glancing over her shoulder she simply told him "I gotta get back!" running towards the teepee as fast as she could with her burden. Sensing that Aganti followed right behind her.

Aganti put his burden on the top of the stack of woods they had reached, motioning to her to do the same. He took her hand and gently pulled her towards another teepee. She struggled a bit and repeated "I gotta get back!" Aganti looked at her and smiled that smile that sent stars into his eyes. "I think we should let them be alone a little bit longer."

"They've been alone for hours!" she pointed out.

"Making up sometimes takes a long time" Aganti chuckled. Natalie felt her cheeks go red again. Dammit!

"There someone who want's to meet you" he continued more serious, "don't be scared, nobody's gonna hurt you!"

Hesitantly she followed him into another, bigger teepee. By the fire a woman was working with dried leaves. As they stepped in she smiled at them. "This is Piwi" Aganti explained and made a sign for her to sit down by the fire. "She wants to offer you some tea." Natalie detected a sadness over the woman so she had to ask Aganti "Was somebody close to her killed too?"

"A young son, and her brother"

"Oh God!" Natalie hid her face in her hand's. "Tell her I'm so sorry, tell her I wish to God I could change everything!"

"We know Ice, dont worry. We know you don't feel like him."

Piwi came to her with a bowl filled with steaming tea. Her eyes showed sadness, but no hate toward her. How can she? Natalie thought, if it was me I'd hate my guts! She mumbled a thank you to the woman. Piwi smiled at her again and touched her gently on her arm. Making Natalies eyes moisten.

"What made you change your minds about me" she asked, her voice thick with emotion.

"Piwi and I had a dream" Aganti explained casually.

"The same dream? About what?"

"About you!"

"Me?" Natalie's eyes cracked wide open in surprise. Aganti threw a glance in Piwi's direction. "Yes, about you" he nodded. "Our dreams wary somewhat" he said with a mischievous smile "but it told us you were not the enemy. Instead, Piwi's dream told us to show you our medicine and so you would show us yours."

Natalie nodded her affirmation "I don't know that much, but I'll tell you all I know. And I know your tea works!" Natalie was glad she in someway could start to repay the debt to this Indian tribe. She knew she could never repay for the lost life's, but she'd do what she could.

"Then we'll start learning together tomorrow" Aganti spoke softly leaning in towards her. Making her curse her blushing cheeks.

(((

Lou spent the night watching the Kid. He fell into an feverish sleep soon after she had told him what she had to say. She hoped she had gotten trough to him, and that the words he had spoken hadn't been just due to his fever. She was tracing his features with her fingers, imprinting his face in her whole being. She had been doing it for hours. She would remember him for the rest of her life, whatever happened. The fact that they were captives in a Lakota renegade camp with no knowing of what would become of them didn't bother her right this minute. Kid was still alive and she was going to make sure he stayed that way, nothing else mattered. She couldn't stop crying, seeing the pain he was in made her body ache too. She would have done anything to take his pain away. She sat besides him, tears running down her face and held on to his hand.

She sat there the whole night. Natalie coming in watching her with preoccupied eyes. "Shouldn't you get some rest, Lou? She just shook her head, no she would wait until he opened his eyes again. Occasionally falling into a half-slumber, her body ready to react if Kid moved. She hardly moved the next day either, watching him and making him drink the tea the few moments he was awake. She could see in his eyes he was too tired to talk, so she just held his hand and watched him slip back into a feverish sleep.

(((

Lou woke with a startle. In her state of light sleep she had noticed something change. Glancing over to Natalie's bedroll she noticed she was out already. Lou couldn't tell what time of day it was. Turning to the Kid, she found his coloring somewhat better. Feeling his forehead she realized his fever had gone down a bit. He moved slightly in his sleep. Lou smiled, that was probably what had made her startle.

He suddenly opened his eyes in a crack and watched her. She smiled at him. "Go back to sleep, Kid, you need your rest!"

"Are we alone?" his voice sounding so much stronger now.

Lou nodded, "Yes we are, is there something you need?"

Kid tried to nod but his muscles still prevented him from moving too much. Still, he felt his body slowly starting to obey him again, but not fast enough." "Yeah Lou, there's something I need very bad. You can say it's urgent!"

"What?"

"I need you to curl up besides me and get some sleep. You look like you need it real bad!"

"Kid, you're sick and I shouldn't disturb you."

"Lou, you're disturbing me more by sittin' there!" Kid frenetically tried to move himself to the side, clinching his teeth he finally succeeded in freeing a spot for Lou, "Come on, there's just enough room for ya." With his left hand he took Lou's and pulled her towards him. "You're so bullheaded" she said as he tried to make her lie down besides him. "That aint contagious" he remarked as he struggled. Weak as he was his effort was pointless and Lou stood her ground. "Do I have to beg?" he pleaded. Watching his forehead fill with tiny pearls of sweat she finally gave in. Afraid he would totally strain himself otherwise. Carefully placing herself besides him she snuggled into his sane side. "Seein' as I have some problems movin' around' ya think it's too much with one more favor?"

"What?"

"It has something to do with lips meetin'"

"Does this mean I'm forgiven?"

"Lou, you're always forgiven, it wasn't your fault anyways. I hope you can forgive me for my foolishness? I'm so sorry Lou, I should've listened. I should've.."

"Hush Kid, dont talk too much. You need your rest."

"How about the lips meetin'? That's what I need most right now!"

Lou chuckled happily and kissed him quickly on his lips. Teasingly she withdrew and placed her face only an inch from his and gazed into his eyes. Kid slowly closed his in anticipation. He drew his lips to hers and they kissed hungrily, forgetting everything around them. Content to be in each others embrace, they both fell asleep entwined in each others arms. Lou finally sleeping calmly for the first time in days. Kid held her close, trying to stay awake to watch over her. But the secure feeling having her close evoked in him, made him fall asleep too, his lips pressed against her hair.

(((

Buck heart stopped in the instance Red Bear spoke the words "Dawn's missing." He had to sit down. "What do you mean missing? Maybe she just sneaked out, maybe she's out hunting?"

Red Bear shook his head. No she left signs on her bedroll telling us she would be gone for a while. It's been tree days now!"

"Did she tell anybody where she was goin'?" Buck looked around the crowd, knowing in his heart Dawn wouldn't have said anything to anyone. Hell, she promised him!

"You know her" Read Bear remarked, "and you know as well as I do where she went. She went for your friend."

Buck shrugged and wished he hadn't told her. "She's a young Indian girl out there with white's and renegade Lakota's with revenge in their hearts all around, it scares me brother" Read Bear spoke.

Buck rose to his feet "I'll find her, brother, I swear"

"I know you will" Red Buck replied. Buck turned and went with heavy steps towards his horse. Seeing her face before her his knees felt weak as he thought what might happen to her. Why'd she go out chasing a renegade gang whose intentions nobody had a clue about? He had to find her before she got into to something she couldn't get out of!

(((

Natalie was trying to have Aganti tell her exactly what he had dreamt about her as they walked back to the teepee she shared with Kid and Lou. Lou had been unreachable the last days, immersed in her worry about the Kid. Natalie had found it safer to leave them alone. She went to find Aganti. Spending the day with him she felt more at ease with him than she had felt with anybody before. She finally felt she could ask him about his dream.

"I wish you could tell me?" she pleaded. He just smiled at her and walked on. "It's not funny" she remarked seeing him smile, "I don't like being dreamt of!"

He stopped right in front of their teepee, "Lou's right you know, you're, how did you tell me she put it, prude?"

Natalie was beginning to regret everything she had told him. "I'm not a prude" she snapped at him, squeezing herself past him into the teepee. She noticed the fire had almost burned out, only some braces were left. "Oh Lou!" she called out, it was going to be a cold night and if she had known, she would have stayed herself to watch the fire. Leaving these two alone a whole day obviously wasn't a good idea.

Aganti stepped in behind her and promptly put more logs on the fire. "You're gonna feel a bit cold tonight!" he remarked letting his eye's wander over to the injured's place.

"I can't believe she forgot to tend to the fire" Natalie complained. Seeing Aganti trying to hide a smile she asked "What's so funny now?"

He glanced over to the stretcher and her eyes followed his. She gasped in shock, feeling her cheeks get hot. Kid and Lou were entwined on the stretcher, sleeping in each others embrace. Natalie couldn't help the feeling of disgust that overwhelmed her. Kid was almost naked under the blankets and Lou was sleeping right next to him. This wasn't right! How could she? Natalie felt embarrassed for her friend, what would Aganti think about them?

"What was the word again?" Aganti was standing right in front of her, smiling teasingly. Natalie felt another wave of hot blood painting her cheeks red. "Goodnight Ice, I think you're already starting to melt around the corners." He kissed her on the forehead. "I'll be nearby" he said and stepped out. Leaving a shaking Natalie behind. Her feelings of disgust had disappeared and a longing had taken over.

 

Chapter 12

Noah and Jimmy had been watching the Indian Agents doings for three days already. Nothing seemed to happen. They had tried to talk to him at the saloon but the man was obviously careful in making new acquaintances. Sitting in their room late that night Noah watched the man's room from the window. His room being under their's they had decided to keep an eye on the light in the room below.

"He don't seem to be worried 'bout his daughter at all" Jimmy remarked.

"Something's not right Jimmy" Noah spoke from the window "I don't think he even knows she's been captured." Or killed, he wanted to add. But didn't dare. That would probably make Jimmy go over the edge. Noah had to stop Jimmy from charging at the man earlier at the saloon, Noah noticed the stonecold gaze Jimmy threw the man, and wondered if he would shoot him right there and then.

"Or he don't care" Jimmy remarked dryly. Noah threw a quick glance in his direction.

"Tell me Jimmy, is it Natalie being out there that makes you go crazy or is it Lou and the Kid?"

"Does it matter?" Jimmy muttered.

"I was just wondering how far you fell..."

"Natalie probably knew what she was leading the Kid into!" Jimmy voice was filled with anger. "She should have told us! That should tell you what kind of woman she was. I mean, is" Jimmy hastingly added the last part, not willing to even think about the other option..

Noah smiled to himself, Jimmy's rotten mood was due to his too best friends being in danger. Being the proud man he was he couldn't admit to that. There was most certainly some guilt involved too, Noah had a feeling Jimmy was hiding something that ate at his soul. Even thou' he wouldn't say what had been going on between the three of them, something surely had. Noah wasn't sure he needed to know.

"You an' the Kid are really the same, y'a know that don't ya!"

"Don't insult me Noah. Kid's the most bullheaded person I've ever met. An' that says a lot. And look what it's gotten him into!"

"Kindo' the situations your hot head get's you into!" Noah reminded him. Suddenly his attention was directed to the empty street below. The Indian Agent was on his way to the Livery stable.

"Jimmy! We gotta get goin'!"

(((

Buck had finally reached the point where Kid's and Natalies faith had been sealed. Scanning the ground around him, he found some odd traces that ought not have been there. One of the horses tracks were much more recent than the others. Maybe just one or two days old? Somebody was following the renegade Lakota's. Buck's gut feeling told him it was Dawn. Sighing he fell to his knees. He had to make a decision. Going to Seneca too meet up with his friends or going after Dawn. He knew Dawn could probably take care of herself, or could she? He had promised to join the rest of the riders in Seneca. A given word was a given word. But his heart told him to follow the tracks left by Dawn, so he did.

(((

Jimmy and Noah was following Benjamin Shearer into the night. They stayed far behind him and just followed the tracks. The man was in a hurry. Going in a direction that obviously lead nowhere.

"What's he doing out here?" Jimmy asked in an angry tone. "In the middle of the night?"

"Your guess is as good as mine" Noah replied.

They came up on a ridge and suddenly Noah pulled his horse into a halt. "Hold on Jimmy, he's stopped." The man was far away and they couldn't make out what he was doin. They both squinted their eyes in a vain attempt to see better in the dark. Clouds hiding the moon occasionally. "He's gettin' off his horse." Noah remarked.

"I can see that much" Jimmy snapped, irritated that his friend pointed out the obvious. What he really wanted to know was why.

They watched in silence as the man obviously picked something up. They saw the man look at what he'd picked up for a while and the and get back on his horse, turning back and riding in their direction in a fast pace.

Jimmy and Noah stared at each other for a while, both of them looking for answers from the other.

"Hell I dunno know what's goin' on" Jimmy remarked. "What'ya think, do we confront him or hide?"

"Why should he tell us anything, it aint like we got something on him, I say we'd better hide.

Jimmy was hesitant, he was tired of this game. He wanted some answers and he wanted them now. Every day that passed without answers to his questions made him feel more guilty for what had happened. But deep inside he knew Noah was right. They would have to think of something else than squeezing the truth out of the man. Jimmy wished he knew what. "I hate to admit it Noah, but you're right, let's hide!"

"See, that didn't hurt that much did it" Noah pointed out, turning his horse and making his way into a group of trees.

Jimmy had no answer to that.

(((

Teaspoon. Rachel and Cody arrived in Seneca the next morning. "Late as always" was Jimmy's greeting. Teaspoon didn't bother to make an issue out of it. "Jesse?" Noah asked. "Left him with Mrs. Webster" Rachel explained "I gathered that we might see things not suitable for a young one like him." Teaspoon gave her a long look, as they made their way to the boys room. Jimmy shrugged.

"Well boys, what have you found out" he inquired as soon as they had settled into Jimmy and Noah's room.

"Well to put it simply, nothing" Noah sighed "the man doesn't even care that his daughter is missing"

"In fact, I don't think he knows" Jimmy added at the questioning faces of the others.

"So you haven't talked to the man yet?" Cody eyed them both.

"Wont say a thing, kind'o reminds me of Kid and the way he acted before leaving. Just got up and left when we tried to offer him a drink." Jimmy explained.

"Guess you aint got the look that pleases him" Teaspoon responded with a wry face.

"You wanna try it" Jimmy growled.

"Now boys" Rachel interrupted "this aint the way to go about things, we'd better come up with a plan fast."

"Something strange happened last night thou'" Noah continued "he went out in the middle of the night, riding like the devil was on his heels. Stopping in the middle of nowhere, picked something up and came straight back."

"Happen to see what it was" Teaspoon was hoping that something would give.

"Nope" Jimmy shook his head "we saw him take it back to his room thou'"

"That means we gotta get in there, and find out what it is" Cody figured.

"But we need a diversion" Noah said "the man's real suspicious."

All the men's eyes turned to Rachel. "No!" she whimpered "Don't make me do what I think you're intendin'"

"Rachel, you just have to stall him a while" Teaspoon explained to the disgusted woman.

"Rachel, we need you" Jimmy pleaded.

"Oh God!" Rachel let out "I know I'll hate myself for this, but I'll do it." She turned to look at the men "Are you sure it's gonna work? I mean me stalling him?"

The men chuckled softly. "We know it will, Rachel" Cody smiled "believe you me, it will!"

(((

Buck was certain that it was Dawn's tracks he was following by now. She had left signs that only he could understand. Sighing he understood he wasn't going to make it to Seneca. Teaspoon and the boys would have to make do without him. Dawn must be two or three days ahead of him, and following her tracks forced him to take it easy. When he had rushed it earlier he had found himself lost and had to go back. That had delayed him to an extent that he decided to go slow from there on. This was a terrain he hadn't been in before. And it was getting worse. He had a hard time following the tracks due to the trees surrounding him, the forest was getting thicker as he was going up the hillside. He knew he would soon have to make camp for the night. Riding in the dark would not be a good idea in this kind of terrain. This was near the High Countries, and he knew there were Indian camps here. Dressed in white folk clothes as he was, he had to take it easy. Riding in on a hunting party dressed like this could become his last act in this life. He found a place to make camp in and decided this was it for tonight. It was already getting too dark to see. The small creek was almost frozen, he noticed as he led his horse to it. This is going to be a hard ride, he thought as he worked to free the water running underneath the ice. The sound of the running water, freed from its layer of ice reminded him of Dawn laughter. "Just be alright" he told the wind, hoping it would carry his words to the young girl that had claimed his heart.

 

Chapter 13

"I'm tellin ya' Kid, that's all I know. That's what she told me. Lou had been filling in the Kid on what had happened. Having had a mock fight in the morning about him getting out of bed even though he still was running a fever had made Natalie flee the teepee.

"I'm telling you Lou, you two really deserve one another" she had said as Piwi had come for her. "You're both ... indecent!" she yelled as she stepped out behind Piwi.

"At least I don't stay out all night with strange men" Lou yelled after her, teasing the girl.

"You should talk!" Lou heard from outside the teepee "At least I'm not getting into bed with naked men!"

Lou had to laugh again as she noticed Kid's face blush after Natalie's last remark. "What's she talkin' bout?"

Lou had noticed Natalie's looks in the morning as she woke. Natalie had been sitting on her bedroll shaking her head as Lou rose from the stretcher, freeing herself from Kid's embrace. "Have I shocked you again, Natalie" she asked in a sweet voice as she noticed the girl's gaze. Reading the answer in Natalie's face Lou laughed so hard she woke the Kid. "What's goin' on?" he muttered as he was struggling to rise to a sitting position. To his relief all his muscles were obeying him. That made him start to get up which ended in a tender debate between him and Lou. Piwi showing up with food and clothes for the Kid made Natalie leave the teepee in a hurry.

The last remark also made the Kid demand explanations. She had to tell him what she knew, deciding to leave the part of her uncovering him during Natalie's presence. That information would be too much for the Kid.

While he was putting on his Indian clothing she filled him in on their situation. He sighed and came to sit next to her.

"What are we gonna do Lou? Why are they holding us?"

"I just don't know Kid. I guess Natalie's in the middle of it somehow but I'm not exactly sure how." She hadn't even thought about it, her worries being getting Kid to survive.

"Come on Lou, let's take a walk and scan the surroundings!" Kid rose with some difficulty and took her arm.

"Kid, you should be restin', ya aint well yet and you know it!" Lou tried to protest. But Kid had that demeanor again that told her arguing would be futile.

"I'll help you" she just said and placed herself on his left side, his arm around her shoulders.

(((

Kid scanned the surroundings of the camp. There were mountains almost all around, a thick forest covered a hillside to the east and a creek was running from the forest to the mountains. It's icy water would stop anybody trying to escape. He wondered what laid beyond the tree covered hillside? It's the High Countries, that's for sure, he thought to himself, that explains the snow and the coldness in the air. He noticed the Braves keeping an eye on them, not in any hostile manner, but he was sure that if they tried to escape, their now friendly manners would change. He tightened his grip on Lou's shoulders, as to protect her. Lou turned her face up to his in concern. She looked so beautiful in Natalie's green velvet dress, her brown eyes twinkling and her auburn hair reflecting the beams of sunlight that touched it. The snow around her making her glow. And to think he almost lost her due to his foolishness! The thought made him shrug.

"Kid, let's go back, you're freezing!" Her pleading voice awoke him from his silent admiration. He whispered into her hair "You're so beautiful Louise, you make it hard to breathe!"

"I think it's the fever risin' coz you couldn't keep still, could ya!" Lou was scolding him in a stern voice, but her eyes told him something different. He let out a soft laugh pulling her closer as they turned and went back to the teepee. As they made their way back he imprinted the picture of the village in his mind. He had to find a safe way out.

(((

Natalie had been helping Piwi all morning. She had been relieved to see that the wounded warriors injury had begun to heel and he was up already. Walking with a heavy limp, but still walking. He had smiled at her and given her a small bundle. Piwi just smiled as she saw his action. Natalie wondered what it was all about? She wished with all her heart she knew their language, she had a thousand questions to ask. Aganti was nowhere to be seen, she had kept her eyes open, looking for him all morning. As they stepped out of the wounded's teepee she spotted Kid and Lou on their way to the creek. They walked close together, their arms around each other. Natalie was reminded of the morning in the teepee. She'd never felt so alone before. Seeing them together made her feel that something was missing in her life. Something was aching inside of her and she didn't know what. She watched the two, Kid's staggering walk and Lou's arms around him, supporting him as they made their way to the creek.

Piwi touched her arm and she turned around. The woman was making gestures of gathering wood into her lap. Motioning with her head towards the forest she spoke "Aganti." Natalie blushed and gave her a smile. She couldn't believe she was so obvious. Piwi made another motion towards the trees and smiled at Natalie's red cheeks. Then she turned and went to her teepee. Natalie started for the forest.

She spotted Aganti behind some pine trees. He turned his head and greeted her with a smile "Had a good day?"

"Where were you?" She answered, feeling her cheeks go red again. Cursing herself for the revelation she'd just expressed.

"I went hunting. Are you and Piwi done for today?"

"I think so, she told me to come help you."

"Piwi is a wise woman!" Aganti had come up close to her. His brown eyes shaded in the shadow of a pine so she wasn't able tell the expression in them. His presence, so close to her, sent the usual shivers down her spine. They stood there for a while, both basking in each other's warmth, eyes resting on each other. Then Natalie broke the enchantment. Lifting up the bundle the Brave had given her she asked him "Aganti, I have a thousand questions about this day!"

"Ask away" Aganti replied with a soft voice, his eyes not leaving hers.

(((

Kid sat down besides the fire. Lou watched as he seemed to drift away, "You OK?" she asked moving herself closer to him.

"Yeah, I was just wonderin' how to get out of here." Taking her hand he threw a quick glance at her "Lou! Your hands are ice-cold! Get closer to the fire!" She gave him a mischievous smile "I'd rather get close to another fire!"

"Lou!" She noticed his stunned glance at her. She giggled to herself, she was getting rather good at shocking people, and it amused her. Watching him she realized how handsome he looked in his new outfit. The light color of the hides emphasizing the blue in his eyes. She leaned in to whisper something in his ear. "What?" he almost jerked.

"I just told you how handsome you look in that outfit!"

"I heard that, it was the the other part I didn't quite make out!"

"That you'd look even nicer without it?"

Kid's eyes rested on hers, a faint smile starting to erase the stunned look on his face.

Lou let her hands wander in under his shirt. "Lou?" he whispered trying in vane to stop her.

"I'm just warming my hands!" she whispered back, letting her hands wander.

"This aint right" he protested with a hoarse voice. His hands finally finding hers, stilling them. His eyes half-closed, he exhaled with a soft moan."You in pain?" she asked concerned, scared that she had hurt him.

Kid chuckled softly "That's not what I mean and you know it!"

Lou pushed him gently to the ground, placing herself on him in a playful manner. Feeling his pounding heart answer hers, as she pinned him to the ground. Her hand on his hair, the touch of his chestnut locks sending a shiver down her spine, as she let his hair run through her fingers. Kid's arm was around her waist, pulling her gently towards him. "I'll be careful not to hurt you" she told him, making him smile broadly.

"Louise" his voice was thick with emotion as he drew her face closer to his. Gazing into his eyes she whispered "Don't be a prude" and kissed him. The kiss erased the last of his objections. They forgot everything around them, losing themselves to their passionate love for each other.

(((

Natalie was making her way to their teepee, her lap full of wood for the fire. Aganti was placing his load on the pile of wood outside Piwi's teepee. Surprised he swirled to watch Natalie as she stepped back from the teepee's opening. Her hand stifling the scream she had let out, the wood fallen to the ground. Aganti took two long steps to the teepee and peeked in. A broad smile spread over his face. Letting the opening close he dared not look at Natalie. She was standing there, hand on her mouth, watching the teepee in torpor. "Ice, it's nothing..." he was interrupted by her furious glare as she turned and ran towards the forest.

She was fast, she had gotten to the forest before he stopped her, taking her into his arms. "Hold on! Why are you running?" he asked her, surprised at her strong reaction. "Let me go" she screamed struggling violently against his hold. "Why are you so scared?" he asked softly.

"What were they doing?" Natalie almost sobbed, calming herself in his arms.

"They were just healing their wounds, it's nothing to be scared of!" Aganti reassured her, a smile dancing in his eyes.

"Lou ain't got no wounds" Natalie hissed.

"I was talking about other kinds of wounds, the kind you carry in your soul. You said they had been arguing..."

"That's not a thing to do before one get's married" she interrupted him.

He drew her closer to himself "Sometimes that doesn't seem to matter Ice, sometimes the love you feel is enough and you dont need anything else." Looking deep into her eyes he continued "I know one day you'll feel the same, and then you'll melt, Ice, I promise."

His hand was running through her long hair. She looked at his face, but him being so close making it difficult to read the expression in his eyes. She could feel his breath on her lips. Her body started to shake and she couldn't understand why. She had to take a hold of him, fearing she would fall otherwise. Surprised she felt his lips on hers and had to close her eyes for the feeling that came over her. Clinging to him she answered his kiss. Her head started to whirl. His lips left hers for a while "Uh" he said "I think I'll have to rename you, you're not Ice anymore. You're more like something of a firey ice" She looked into his eyes and was surprised at what they told her. Then he kissed her again, and she threw her arms around him and clung to him as she never would let go. And she wished he'd never let go of her.

 

Chapter 14

Rachel watched the man sitting at a table in the Hotel's saloon. They had been waiting for hours for the table next to the man to be freed from it's earlier occupants. "Do I have to", she whimpered in Cody's direction, as the two men rose and left the table free. Cody was keeping an eye on the two boys on the top of the stairs. "It's our only chance to get into his room and search it, you know that, we have to have a way to stall him if he suddenly decides to excuse himself. And you're our only chance" Cody told her. "Teaspoon an' me's gonna keep an eye on you, every step of the way" he reassured her casting an eye in Teaspoons direction. He was sitting in the other end of the saloon, with a clear view of the man's table. Keeping sure the man wouldn't notice him.

"Go on!" he urged her "and don't forget the script"

Rachel sighed and put on her sad face, determined to do her best. Even though she was hating having to do it. She started for the empty table next to the man's. Hiding her face in her hand she was pretending to cry. Sinking down on a chair in plain view of the victim of her fraud, she whimpered and started to cry heavily, leaning her face into her hands. Even a stonecold killer should be moved by this, she thought to herself. And exactly as they had thought, the man couldn't see a beautiful woman cry her heart out without wondering why.

"Ma'am" he started to rise from his chair and come over to her. "Ma'am what's a matter?" he asked her again. Rachel gave him a tear-filled gaze and the man sat down at her table, looking for a handkerchief in his pocket. Leaning towards her he offered it to her. Rachel took it with a faint smile and mumbled "Thank you, sir!" She had him!

Cody gave a sign to the boy's on the stairways and moved himself in a better position to have a view of both the Saloon and the boys breaking an entrance.

(((

Noah and Jimmy quickly moved toward the locked door in the dark hallway. Noah was fumbling with a piece of metal thread, shaking in his effort to move as quick as possible. Jimmy stood with his back against him, shielding the view of Noah from anybody that came up from the Saloon. The piano had started playing loudly downstairs and Jimmy felt save to growl softly at his friend "I thought you said you was an expert?"

Noah grunted, struggling to get the door open, he heard a soft click and held his breath, moving the handle, he felt the door slide open. "Get in" he prompted Jimmy.

Both boys slid through the door, closing it behind them. "Keep watch, Jimmy" Noah told him "God knows what this one will do if he finds us in his room"

"Specially when he finds out us being deputies" Jimmy remarked realizing the absurdity of the situation.

Noah was looking around the room, having to rely on the dim light from outside made the task almost impossible. Having gone through the mans luggage without finding anything other than clothes he had to look elsewhere. Kneeling down he let his hand wander under the bed. His hand touched cloth. Examining it closer he found it to be a dress.

"What would a man like this do with a dress, Jimmy? he whispered in surprise over what he had found.

"A dress?"

"I think so"

"Give it to me?" Jimmy was holding out his hand reaching for the dress Noah had found. The other hand held his gun, steadily pointed towards the door.

Jimmy let his eyes wander over the dress in the darkness. It reminded him of something, then it hit him. "It's Natalie's dress, the one she had one the day they left. I recognize the texture"

"What?"

"I'm tellin' you, I outta remember."

"She's been here then? What the hell is goin' on Jimmy?" Noah couldn't make out what her dress was doin here, when the girl was nowhere to be found.

"I dunno, but I'm takin' this dress with me. Maybe it'll tell us something more."

(((

Rachel was filling the man in front of her up with the most bold faced lie she ever told anybody.

"He promised to marry me" she sobbed into the man's handkerchief. "After my father died and left me the mine, he contacted me and told me he knew my father and he had promised him to take care of me. I can't work the mine myself."

"Poor woman, and he made you come all the way out here from Sweetwater? And you've never seen the man?"

"The mine's west of here, he wrote me and thought it would be better to live out her, closer to the mine. All I had to do was send him the money to get it started again." She sobbed "And when I get here, they tell me nobody of that name checked in to the hotel. And he promised to be here!"

"Ma'am excuse me for saying this, but I think he fooled you. Pardon me ma'am but allow me to buy you a drink, to calm yourself down."

"No sir, I didn't send him all the money, I still have a considerable sum left, just in case."

The last remark made the man's ear perk. And Rachel was sure he was going to pay attention to her a while longer. Hopefully the boys had been as lucky.

(((

"There's nothing else here, Jimmy!" Noah had gone through the room thoroughly, not finding anything. "There has to be something Noah! Jimmy was getting desperate. They couldn't just walk out with a dress and nothing else. They had to find something to point them in the right direction.

"Hold on Jimmy" Noah was going through the man's bag once more. His fingers had touched something under the lining in the leather valise. "There's some papers here."

"Take'em out and lets get goin'"

"And leave Rachel out to dry? Who is he gonna suspect if he finds out the papers are missing." Noah rebutted.

"Not her, you fool, she's sitting right next to him while this is happening!" Jimmy replied.

"Don't sell him short, Jimmy, we have no idea what this man is all about."

"What'ya thinkin' of doin' then, leavin' them behind, or reading them in the dark?"

Noah finally pulled the papers out, "OK Jimmy, we'll do it your way. I hope it works out to everybody's benefit."

"Except Benjamins Shearer's" Jimmy remarked "Are you done?"

Noah nodded, the papers folded in his hands. "Let's get out of here!"

(((

Cody watched his friends get out of the room. Noah nodding at him. As they went upstairs Cody turned his gaze at Teaspoon, slowly lifting his brim. As a cue for Teaspoon to take action.

Teaspoon rose from his table, praying that he hadn't been spotted by Benjamin Shearer earlier. He made his way to their table.

Stopping at Rachel's chair he bent in over her and cleared his throat in a nervous manner. "Ma'am. do you happen to know where to find a woman called Emma Cain? Damned, he thought to himself, he had forgotten the name they'd decided to use. Rachel didn't flinch thou'. Raising her tear-filled eyes to Teaspoon she sobbed, "That's me sir, and who might you be?"

Teaspoon made a face of sheer surprise, "Why Ma'am you're even more beautiful than your father described you! I'm Mr. William Thompkins, ma'am. I'm so awfully sorry for my delay, some events prohibited me to fulfill my promise to meet you here, yesterday. Ma'am don't cry. A beautiful lady like should not be crying." Rachel stifled a giggle, Teaspoon was doing the perfect act of a gentleman. She smiled at the raggedy man and threw a glance in Benjamins Shearer's direction who had turned to Teaspoon, watching the man with sheer disgust.

"Oh Mr. Thompkin's" she started, rising for the table, it was time to get out now. "It's Will" Teaspoon tapped her arm gently. "I should take you to your room so you can get some rest, Ma'am. Tomorrow will be a long day!" Taking her arm Teaspoon steered her towards the stairs. Rachel turned to Benjamin Shearer, she would like to part with him on a good foot, just in case.

"Goodnight sir, and thank you for your kindness. It seems like all worked out for the better in the end. I'm begging for your forgiveness if I've inconvenienced you in any way!" she made kind of a curtsey to the man and turned to Teaspoon. She wanted to get out of here fast. Behind her she heard the man shout after her "Ma'am pardon me for saying this, but you could have done so much better than an old timer like that." Rachel threw a quick glance at Teaspoon as they made their way up the stairs. He answered her glance and said in a low voice "I outta shoot him for that last remark! Old timer, huh!"

"Let's see what the boys' got!"she was dragging him upstairs to Jimmy's and Noah's room.

(((

As they entered they found Jimmy, Noah and Cody staring down at a dress on the bed. Rachel made her way to the boys and stopped in horror as she realized what they were looking at. It was the dress Natalie had been wearing the day she and Kid left the station. Now it's front was covered with dried blood. A sickening feeling arouse in her as she took the dress in her hands and examined it. She couldn't find any indication of how the blood got there. The dress was dirty and stinking but there was no holes to indicate a shotgun wound or knife going through it. Something with the placement of the blood bothered her too. It was like it had spurted right into her lap. Turning to the boys she spoke "I don't think it's her blood!"

Like waking out of a torpor they all turned to her. Noah made a questioning face and she explained why she had come to that conclusion. Jimmy hesitantly touched the dress "You mean she might have killed somebody?"

Rachel shook her head "Jimmy there's no way of knowing how the blood got there."

Jimmy's eyes were fixed on the stains "It might be the Kid's or Lou's blood" he spoke in a thickening voice. Rachel shrugged and her eyes went to Teaspoon.

Teaspoon laid a hand on Jimmy's shoulder "Son, we just don't know. Dont go jumping to conclusions! We need to find out more."

Noah suddenly remembered the papers he had been clutching in his hand ever since they returned from their mission. He took the paper and opened it. "There's something else" he started with his eyes nailed to the document as he unfolded it.

Cody ripped it out of Noah's hands to take a better look, impatient as ever. Noah threw him a disgusted glance. Cody was unfolding the last piece of the paper. Laying in down on the table in front of him, he studied the document intensely. The others watching him in anticipation. Finally he turned his eyes from the document and spoke "I think there's somewhere we need to get!"

 

Chapter 15

Dawn had been surveying the camp for two days now. As night settled she felt her weary limbs push her to the ground. Always being on watch not to get caught by the Braves watching the village had drained her strength. The cold added to the feeling of despair. She had seen the prisoners, and to her relief they seemed to be treated well. She couldn't figure out what the third woman was doing there, Buck had mentioned only one. But one of the women always stayed close to the one Buck called Kid and the other obviously had found a friend in the tall Brave. She smiled to herself as she remembered witnessing them kissing. There was just something that troubled her, the man that had kissed the girl seemed so familiar. But the darkness and distance may have fooled her.

Settling herself on the ground under some pine twigs for cover against the cold, she realized she wouldn't be able to get the captive's out by herself. Not with the man injured and obviously incapacitated of moving fast. Since she had ran out of food she would have to make the long walk back to her horse and then get to Buck somehow and tell him. I wanted to make you proud of me, she thought, but I am not able to get them out. I'm so sorry Buck, but I will need your help. Her thoughts went to the handsome man she loved and she smiled to herself, seeing his face before her. She would just rest awhile before starting back. It was already getting dark and she knew that would slow her down. Memories of Buck warmed her in the night. Embracing herself against the cold she fell asleep.

(((

Buck had found Dawn's horse. She had left the horse nearby the water and trees and obviously continued on foot. She must be out of food and water by now, he thought as his gazed into the thickening forest. As he examined the terrain he understood why she had done so, there was no way a horse could make it through this kind of stony terrain. He would have to do the same. But it was getting dark and he would not be able to follow her tracks with any speed. He decided to wait until morning. She couldn't be very far now. He wondered if she was feeling lonely and cold out there. Seeing her before him, shivering in the icy wind that was blowing, made his eyes fill with tears. Dawn, he thought, why did you do this? Why did she go out on this wild search for his friends? He knew the answer in his heart. Dawn would do such a thing, that was just her character. You could have waited for me! he grunted. But he knew he had already asked her to wait for too long.

(((

"It's some kind of map" Teaspoon gasped "Boy's you've done good. Finally!" Examining the map Teaspoon wrinkled his forehead "I don't have a clue where this is at, do any of you boys?" He handed the map to Noah.

Noah took it and tried to figure what part it depicted."No, neither do I" he sighed handing the map over to Jimmy.

Jimmy examined the piece of paper with care. There were sign of trees around what seemed to be a plateau of some kind. Mountains surrounded the plain and there was a cross drawn in the middle. An arrow was drawn from the mountain to the cross. His mood sank as he realized he was at a loss too. "Seems like somewhere in the high countries" he said with a resigned voice and handed the map over to Rachel.

The silence grew in the room. They were no closer to their friends despite all this. Jimmy sighed and went to the window. Staring out the window he felt the last hope of ever seeing them again leave him. They would have to go home, having no idea what had happened to Kid and Lou, or even Natalie. Living with the knowledge they hadn't been able to help them would be like carrying a heavy burden on the shoulders for the rest of their lives. He would just have wanted to talk one more time to the Kid, having him understand, and relieve himself of the guilt he felt in his bones. He would have liked to see Lou's soulful eyes shine in the settling sun. He would have liked to ask Natalie, why?

The light in the man's room below was turned out. He registered that but didn't care anymore. Standing in the window he glared down on the street without seeing. Then suddenly he jerked. Benjamin Shearer was making his way to the livery stable, carrying a blanket covered bundle and obviously in a great hurry. The man looked suspiciously behind him, as if he waited for somebody to show up.

"We gotta go!" he said as he turned around, meeting the questioning eyes of the riders in the room. "Benjamin is on his way somewhere, and I think we outta follow"

(((

Dawn woke by somebody touching her arm. She huddled and thought the touch was part of her dream "Buck, let me sleep a little bit longer, I'm so cold.."

"Dawn?" she heard a voice ask in surprise. This was not a dream she realized and opened her eyes. Besides her sat her childhood friend, looking at her with wide open eyes.

"Aganti" she spoke just as surprised as he was. "What are you doing here?"

Aganti pulled her up, brushing the pine needles off of her. "Shouldn't I be the one asking that" he replied in the Kiowa language he knew so well, as he steered her down towards the village, "Girl you have some explaining to do!"

(((

Lou watched Kid sit outside by the big fire. Watching it. He looked worse today than he did yesterday. She knew he was still running a slight fever, she had felt that this morning. She shrugged at the thought that maybe it was her fault. This morning he had decided to pull his weight in the old stubborn way of his. Arguing with Aganti, the latter had given in and decided to let him watch the fire while the others were out looking for food to prepare. Lou sighed as she watched him. He should still be inside the warm teepee, not sitting outside in the crack of dawn. She went inside to get him an extra blanket. Wrapping it around his shoulders she gave him a smile and sat down besides him. Instantly Kid took the blanket and wrapped her inside it too.

"How are you, Kid?"

He gave her a surprised glance "I'm fine, Lou, you OK?"

"Don't look so fine to me, Kid!" she looked him right into the eyes demanding the truth. Looking away he poked with a stick in the fire.

"Kid, I was just thinkin' that what we did last night may have gotten you worse?" she felt her cheeks blush as she threw a glance at him, not daring to meet his eyes.

He let out a soft chuckle and drew her close to him, resting his chin on her head, he hugged her. "No Lou, I'm more worried what might happen to you." His voice suddenly grew serious. "Lou, you know what's bound to happen sooner or later if we go on like this, and that scares me, Lou"

"To tell you the truth, Kid, I wouldn't mind" Lou said softly, knowing she meant every word. Kid took her cold hand into his and entwined his fingers with hers. "I love you, Lou, you know that. And I hope it'll happen some day Lou, but not now, not here and not like this." His blue eyes were filled with tenderness as his gaze met hers. She knew his southern manners still had a strong hold of him, and she loved him for it.

"Don't worry, Kid, everything's gonna be alright" she whispered into his shoulder.

They separated themselves from each other in a hasty manner as Aganti came in their direction, dragging a girl behind him.

"Another visitor" he stated at Kid's and Lou's questioning looks. The girl gave him an angry glance as she sat down by the fire. She leaned in to warm her hands near the flames. Kid and Lou watched the girl, waiting for an explanation. Then she turned her eyes in their direction.

"You must be the Kid" she said looking at the stunned young man.

(((

Buck arrived at the ridge in time to see Dawn being dragged away by a Brave. He felt his heart beat loudly as he silently followed them taking the knife into his hand, hoping to get close enough to free her. He stopped in surprise as he spotted teepees and a fire in front of him. Only trees were shielding him from their view. There were too many to take on alone. He hid behind a fallen tree to watch them closely. His eyes followed the young Braves he steered Dawn toward the fire burning in the center of the village. He gasped as he realized Lou was sitting by the fire, besides the Kid! He squinted his eyes again to make sure they weren't fooling him. But it was them alright. Kid dressed in an Indian outfit that made him almost unrecognizable. Then he saw another girl with long light hair join the rest near the fire, Natalie! He slowly let the breath he had been holding out. A wave of relief rolled in over him. They were all alright and Dawn had found them. He smiled to himself in his hidingplace. Good girl, he thought, you've done your part, now it's my turn to get you all out of here!

(((

Kid eyes almost popped out at the girls statement. He felt Lou's gaze on him. "And you are?" he started hesitantly.

"Oh I'm Buck's friend" she said. Natalie came up from behind her and watched them all, with the same question they had, imprinted on her face. Lou looked at her and shook her head. The she turned back to the Kid and noticed a smile on his face.

"So you're Dawn?" he said meaningly to the girl. She just nodded. Lou's eyes darted from the girl to Kid. Lou's eyes on the Kid demanded an explanation.

"Buck's been tellin' me about his Kiowa sweetheart, during some of our rides" he told Lou almost apologetically.

"Been swoppin' stories have ya?" Lou remarked dryly.

The girl giggled. Natalie was placing a kettle with water onto the fire.

"What are you doing here?" she asked the girl.

"Natalie, huh?" Natalie nodded and continued "Why are you here?"

"I decided to come looking for you, since Buck seemed so worried."

Kid and Lou threw a quick glance at each other. "Is Buck around too" Lou asked silently, watching out that Aganti, who was making his way back to them, wouldn't hear. The girl shook her head and Kid felt the hope he had started to nourish die out.

"So who is Buck?" Aganti asked the girl as he arrived close enough.

"Buck who?" She made a mock face at him. "Dawn, dont even try it, it's me you know!" Aganti pointed out with a broad smile.

Natalie watched them both "You know each other?"

"I used to beat him at every game, even thou' he was three years older" Dawn grinned at Aganti "that seems to bother him still!"

"Childhood friend!" Aganti told Natalie. As he saw her questioning glance in the girl's direction he continued "Dawn here is part Kiowa, and my mother is Kiowa too. Dawn's mother and mine were good friends and we used to visit now and then. Dawn's mother taught me English." He touched the girls shoulder "I'm so sorry about your mother Dawn, I just found out. She was a good woman."

Dawn looked to the ground.

"Just tell me Dawn, are we to expect any more visitors?"

"Not that I know" Dawn answered him, staring him in the eye.

"I sure hope so, Dawn!" he said turning to Natalie and giving her the food to prepare. His eyes rested on hers and she saw a hint of fear in them. Then he turned and went away. Leaving Natalie to wonder where the fear she had seen came from?

 

Chapter 16

Teaspoon watched Benjamin Shearer's actions from the dark empty stall with a view of the stable door, in the livery stable. The man had rushed to the Marshall's office and straight out again. With the Marshall right on his heels. Teaspoon had heard that the new Seneca Marshall was not liked by the towns people, seems he had treated some of them all but fair. He watched the man debate with the stable boy in an angry manner. Other men started showing up, the Marshall with tree other men showed up at the scene. Obviously they were gathering a posse.

The boy had saddled five horses when he was trough. Leading the last horse out the stable door, Teaspoon followed him in the dark. Three men on horses were already outside waiting for the remaining five to mount. A wagon with two men in joined in. Benjamin Shearer placed his bundle on the wagon, inadvertently making the blanket fall off, Teaspoon was able to spot the rifles that had been hidden in the bundle. Now he knew something was not right with this posse! The men mounted and rode out to the west.

(((

Cody and Jimmy were waiting at the Saloon door. As they saw him they rushed towards him and he had to point them into a dark alley. "Boys" he growled at them "why not ring the churchbells to let'm know were comin'!"

"What's goin' on Teaspoon?" Noah didn't mind the stationmanagers bad mood.

"He's gathered a posse. And just as I expected the Marshall's in on it"

(((

"But what if they're goin' after somebody else?" Cody uttered, suddenly insecure, "what if we are lead out on a wild goose chase?"

"Believe me son, I know he's goin' where we wanna go!" Teaspoon remarked. "Worst thing is" he continued "they're ten and they know where they're goin'. We're four and we aint got a clue!"

"Always knew you needed more schoolin' Teaspoon" Rachel butted in approaching them from the main street "Last time I counted we were five!"

"Aw Rachel" Cody began "this ain't no place..." Rachel's glare made him hold his tongue.

"I'm comin' Teaspoon, aint nobody gonna stop that!"

"I hear you! You and Cody take the wagon and an extra horse with you. An' stay behind! Don't forget the man's seen us both Rachel, it might get him suspicious if he sees us again. We'll leave you good track to follow, if you see us it means you're too close. Am I making myself understood?"

Rachel nodded in affirmation. Teaspoon continued "Go to the doctor and get medical supplies and blankets. Buy some provisions too if you can get the storekeeper to oblige" Teaspoon instructed her. Rachel repeated her nod and took Cody sleeve and dragged him with her. Cody threw a desperate glance in Teaspoon's direction. "Aw Teaspoon..."

"Shut up an' keep movin'" they heard an annoyed Rachel lash out at the staggering boy behind her.

Teaspoon turned to Jimmy and Noah. "Listen up boys. We don't know what we're ridin' into! An' we don't know where we're goin'. So let's stay behind the men and not do anything heroic we're born to regret afterwards! Let's not forget that the odds are against us."

Jimmy and Noah looked to the ground. "Ar'ya listenin'?"

"We hear'ya" the boys replied in unison. Jimmy irritably kicking some loose stones on the ground.

"Let's get goin' then!"

(((

Buck had been sitting still for hours, feeling the cold laming his legs. He had no plan how to get the captives out. There were just too many men around. He wished he knew how heavily armed they were. He had a gun and a knife. His guess was that if he started something he'd end up dead and maybe kill the others while at it. He knew he had to wait until dark and ride out to get help. He hated the thought of leaving them there, but at least he knew where they were. Problem was that it was just morning and he might just freeze to death before it got dark enough. He smiled bitterly to himself as he laid under the pine twigs, desperately moving his fingers and toes to keep them from numbing. He wondered what had happen to Teaspoon, Jimmy and Noah?

He didn't know they were fast on their tracks. Making their ways to the high countries

(((

Natalie stumbled over the stones and dead twigs as she made her way to where Aganti was holding watch. She had to find out what his look this morning was all about. She called out for him as she came closer. He turned around and she saw his face lighten up at the sight of her. This made her smile. They had been spending almost all their time together after her witnessing the disturbing sight in the teepee. "Aganti" she said, almost breathless after her run. "Hey" he answered softly beckoning her to come closer. She sat down besides him on the fallen tree, struggling to make her breath even.

"This morning, when you gave me the food to prepare, you said something about visitors. Are you expecting somebody?" she asked him as her breath settled.

He turned his head to look out to the plain beneath them. They were sitting high up the mountain peak, with a breathtaking view before their eyes. He didn't answer her right away and Natalie knew better than to rush him.

"Wahani has been gone too long already" he finally spoke, his eyes still on the plain. Natalie waited for him to continue, but he wouldn't.

"Who is he?"

"The warrior we sent out to tell your father about you."

Natalie shrugged and remembered why she was here. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear the rest, but she couldn't help herself asking "What's gonna happen to us?"

Finally Aganti turned towards her "Nothing's gonna happen to you. We were only going to hold you as collateral for the rifles you father promised us, when you showed up with the Kid everything changed."

"That warrior wanted to kill him!"

"That was Wahani, and he has an evil streak in him. That's what makes me worry."

"Will he kill us if you don't get the rifles?"

"No, I'm gonna see to it that it doesn't happen."

"How?"

"In whatever way."

She snuck into his arms suddenly feeling cold and frightened. He laid his arms around her and hugged her closely to him, and she could feel how tense he was. She didn't like what she was hearing and she didn't like the premonition she had. Something was not right, she felt something was about to happen. Intensely wishing she knew what to expect she turned her eyes back towards the plain beneath them. The wind had started to howl again and the howling reminded her of human cries in the night.

(((

At nightfall the three riders had arrived in the high countries. But they had also lost the tracks of the men they were following. The darkness prevented them from following their tracks, and the terrain had changed dramatically in the last few hours. Riding through a thick forest they slowly advanced, not in the pace they had wanted to. Earlier they had found out an eleventh man had joined the posse. Obviously an expert, seeing how it got more and more difficult to follow their tracks. Still there was no time to stand around wondering who it was, so they just continued, hoping they still were on the right tracks. Jimmy wasn't so sure no more.

Teaspoon lifted a hand in sign for them to stop. "We have to leave the horses" he informed them. "We'll get faster ahead on foot than on horseback."

"We should have followed the the tracks on the plain" Jimmy grunted as he ducked for yet another twig lashing at him. "I sure hope Rachel and Cody has the wits to do so." He slid down from the horseback, still muttering to himself.

"I can't tell 'bout Cody's wits, but I know Rachel will make the right decision" Teaspoon remarked.

"Why do I have the feeling, we've been going in circles`" Noah wondered.

"Me too" Jimmy nodded "I think we're lost, Teaspoon!"

"Boys, boys, can't you feel the smell of smoke?" the older and wiser man pointed out. "There's a camp somewhere around here, and we gotta find it!"

"You mean we outta ride in to the posse's camp and say 'Hey, what'ya doin', happen to have some of the dinner to spare?" Jimmy snorted sarcastically.

"The posse's aint takin' no time makin' camp, they're dead set on their destination." Teaspoon explained to the young impatient men.

"An' then what?" Noah wanted to know.

"Then boy's, we'll see to..." A shot rang out in the night, cutting Teaspoon's sentence short. They perked their ears, trying to make out from where the shot were fired. The echo of the shot ringing round the mountains, making it hard to exactly assess the location. Then another shot rang echoing through the forest. After that all hell broke lose.

They watched each other for a split second, then the three of them diverged, making their way through the forest in three different directions.

 

Chapter 17

Buck was making his way from his hiding place to the other side of the forest. Still not quite awakened from his involuntary sleep. He cursed himself for falling asleep. He had no notion of the time, but it was way past sunset. Almost close to dawn. He had to hurry to get out of there before morning came with the light and the possibility of him being spotted. He made his way to his horse in the dark, bumping into fallen trees and stones as he stumbled to get where he was going. Scratching his face as he encountered unseen obstacles. Cursing the darkness and the long way he had ahead of him. The wind was howling around him, he hoped it would drench the sound of him moving, making his escape safe. He had to stop and breath every once in a while, the cold had taken his strength. He hoped he was going in the right direction. The sky being completely dark, not one star showed him the way. As he struggled, he heard the sound of a shot ring out. He stopped breathing. Not totally sure if his fantasy was getting the better of him, or not. Perking his ears he relaxed, as all he heard was the wind howling. He was hearing things, he decided as he turned around to look in the direction he had left, seeing no signs of turmoil. Then another shot rang and his blood froze. Almost sobbing he made his way back, half running and half crawling, as the ringing of shots mixed with the howling wind. Into a deadly concerto.

(((

As the first shot rang Aganti lifted Natalie out of the teepee. Almost as if he had expected such a development of events. He turned to help Piwi out and rushed them to the nearest group of trees. The men were not close enough to be able to take a steady aim yet. But as he shoved them behind a tree and made a sign to Piwi to take Natalie further inside the safety of the forest, the gunshots rang out all around the plain. Men rode up close to the camp, setting everything they saw on fire. Natalie hollered something after him, but he made his way back to the camp. Decided to do what was possible, to at least save the one's he could save from encountering their death on this frozen plain filling with fire. He went for the teepee the captives had inhabited. Seeing it turned to the ground he closed his eyes for a second, letting the spirits know his despair. Running towards a teepee he lifted the burning hide's to see if somebody was in there. Somebody that needed help. Smoke filling the air and smarting his eyes, he went further inside of the teepee, yelling out for anybody trapped inside.

(((

Natalie never heard the first shot. She was sound asleep with her head on Aganti's shoulder as she felt herself being lifted out of the teepee. Then she saw through eyes that were not yet awake, how men on horses approached them, lighting up the dark night with their torches. She was still half asleep as Aganti took a firm hold of her waist. Leading her and Piwi behind some trees. As the gunshots started ringing in chorus she woke out of her torpor. She screamed as she covered her ears from the sickening sounds that surrounded her, the scream was lost in the howls.Watching Aganti run back into the camp, made her shriek out his name. Piwi took a firm hold of her and dragged her further up the slope into the sheltering forest. She bolted and cried out his name over and over again. The wind drenched her calls as she watched him disappear in the smoke and fires now lighting up the night. "No!" she wrenched in Piwi's arms and whimpered as she realized the older woman being stronger than she. Dragging her relentlessly into the woods. "Lou, Kid, Dawn!" she called out all their names and lastly she whispered "Aganti" as she realized no one of them would hear her. Sobbing she stopped fighting Piwi and went after her into the dark wood, stumbling in the unknown terrain. With a glance back at the camp, she realized she had seen hell.

(((

In his sleep Kid heard a shot fired. Thinking he was dreaming, he turned around to his side trying to shake away the nightmare, his hand automatically searching for Lou. Then another shot rang and he heard a girl yelp in pain. "Lou?" he was immediately up on his knees, looking around him in the faint light of the fire to find Lou. He heard a sob from the other side of the teepee. "God! Lou, where are you hit?" His felt his desperation rise and the pain in his body disappeared as his blood rushed trough his veins.

"It ain't me Kid, it's Dawn that's been shot!" Lou sobbed as she held the limp body of the girl in her arms. "She's bad Kid, the bullet hit her in the side!"

He made his way towards them as he heard the gunshots increase in number. A shot almost hit his leg as he crawled towards them. "Lou, keep down" he yelled in desperation and shock. "We gotta get out of here!" He was right besides them as bullets ran through the teepee, slitting the side open. Not minding the pain he lifted Dawn to his left shoulder and sheltered Lou with his body. Pushing down what remained of the teepee, he saw men coming at them. Torches lighted and guns firing. "Lou stay close!" he ordered as he pushed her to the sheltering trees ahead of them. Never had they seemed so far away!

He followed Lou's lead towards the trees, stepping over dead bodies on their way to safety. Seeing a man take aim at Lou, while galloping past her, he had to pull her arm hard to get her out of the line of fire. The pain it caused him made him want to throw up. But as he realized the bullet had only missed her by an inch or less, something inside him snapped. He didn't feel any pain anymore. "We aint gonna make this" he heard her yell as he pulled her towards his own body. At least I'll die trying, he thought to himself as he was making his way over the plain, not minding the dead men he stepped over on his pursuit for safety. The men had put the teepees on fire, the smoke filled the air and gave them some cover. The ground was slippery and wet from the fire melting the icy ground. He staggered as he pushed forward, praying to God they'd make it. Feeling Lou slide and fall he almost lost his grip of her and cried her name yet another time in desperation. The roar from the fires and the gunshots drenched all other sounds. Then he felt her hand grab his and he sent out a silent prayer. He didn't know how he reached the trees. But suddenly the gunshots were ricocheting from the trees around them.

"Lou keep your head down!" he ordered the girl in front of him, scared to death something would hit her. Desperate because she wouldn't stay behind him so he could cover her with his body. His heart almost stopped as he felt her fall, losing the grip of his hand. The time ceased to exist as he witnessed her slide away from him, rolling down and lying still. He didn't know how he got to her or where he had left Dawn. He found himself at her side, kneeling besides her, his heart pounding so hard it threatened to explode.

"Lou" his voice was hardly audible as he leaned in over her. Every split second a torture. This couldn't be happening, they had gotten out from the burning hell and now she would die in front of him. "No" he yelled in utter pain, sobbing as he took her into his arms.

"Kid! Kid! Listen to me!" He faintly heard her voice, through the thunder in his head, and felt her hands tag at his arm. "I'm fine, dammit. It's just my leg. I fell, I aint hit!" She clung to Kid shaking him, hoping the hurt she provoked would make him wake up from the torpor. He flickered his eyes and looked at her. "Lou" he whispered in a heartbreaking sob, "I thought..."

"Kid I'm fine, you can let go. I just hurt my ankle."

"I gotta get you out of here" he said as he pulled himself up. His body shaking, he lifted Lou up on his shoulder. Lou fought him violently "Kid, we're fine here. Kid' let me down. You aint strong enough to do this!"

He started downhill and took hold of the trees with his right hand to keep himself upright. Every time he closed his hand around a tree stem it sent a fire up his arm. He focused on his task getting Lou to safety. The rest of the world had disappeared.

(((

Jimmy was running towards the sound of the gunshots. His throat was sore and he was out of breath. He was sure he had been running for a lifetime. His face covered with scratches and his lungs burning. He saw the fires light up the sky as he ran towards the sounds. Suddenly a root took hold of his foot and he fell helplessly onto a rock. He felt the air pressed out of him. He rolled to his side and instantly felt a sharp pain in his ribs. Goddammit! Not now! he thought as he fought get air into his lungs. He tried sitting up and finally air filled his lungs again. He lifted his eyes in the direction he had been going, intent on getting on his way again. Then he gasped in surprise. He noticed a staggering Brave carry somebody down the slope in front of him. He squinted his eyes, his exhaustion and the pain making his vision blur. Lou! he thought as he pulled himself onto his knees. Lou was violently fighting her abductor. But he continued down the slope with a relentless demeanor. Jimmy pointed his gun at the Brave and waited for his own breath to steady.

(((

Buck had noticed Kid and Lou coming at him in the dark. Kid carrying something on his shoulder. Then Lou disappeared from his sight and he saw Kid lay Dawn down on the ground and leap after Lou. Dawn didn't move and as he came close enough, he saw the blood on her side. He was at her side in a heartbeat. He lifted the limp girl in his lap and listened to her heartbeat and breathing. He sighed as he realized it was still strong. He ripped his shirt off as he tried to stop the blood dwelling from her side. She opened her eyes for a second and whimpered before closing them again. He pressed hard against her wound and held her close to him to give her some of his warmth. Crying he rocked her in his lap. Then she moved slightly and whispered "Buck?" He looked at her, her faintly smiling at him, "I'm alright" she whispered as she fell into unconsciousness again. I have to get help! he thought as he raised his eyes, searching for somebody to help him. Then his eyes fell on Jimmy. He jerked as he witnessed the scene in front of him. Kid was carrying Lou down the slope. She was yelling at Jimmy. "Jimmy it's Kid, Jimmy don't shoot!" The wind carried her pleads in the wrong direction.

Jimmy was raising his gun, pointing it at the Kid.



(((

Jimmy held his gun with both hands, his exhaustion and pain making it shiver slightly. He was just waiting for the Brave to get out from behind the trees. He realized Lou had seen him, she was shouting something but he couldn't hear a word. Then he saw her fighting the man violently, her face painted with horror. Holding his breath he held the aim steady on the man's heart. As the Indian stepped out from behind the trees and Lou was sheltered by the man's own body, Jimmy fired.

 

Chapter 18

Lou saw Jimmy's determination. She desperately shouted at him and wriggled, trying desperately to loosen Kid's hold of her. Kid didn't seem to notice. He had disappeared into another state of mind, his main concern to get Lou out of danger. Her violent moves only made him take a tighter grip around her. In horror she watched Jimmy's take aim at Kid's heart, and she knew as soon as Kid took another step, Jimmy would fire. She hit the Kid hard on his injured shoulder, making him lose his footing and with a cry of pain, fall backwards, her landing hard on him as the shot rang out.

In the corner of her eye she saw Jimmy stand up, gun still pointing at the Kid. She whimpered "No" as she laid her body on the Kid's to cover him. Praying that Jimmy would realize his mistake before it was too late. Her mind raced as she watched Jimmy come closer. She didn't know what it would do to Jimmy if he shot Kid. It would probably kill him just as much as it would the Kid. Watching Jimmy's pale face, bloody scratches emphasizing the whiteness, she realized he was in a daze too, not really aware of what he was doing. She prayed he'd come out of it in time.

(((

Jimmy had taken only a few steps before he realized what he had almost done. He felt a wave of nausea as he lowered the gun and ran towards his two friends. One of them which he had almost lost due to his own hand on the gun. His side was aching, making it hard to breathe, but he didn't mind the pain. "Goddammit!" he growled as he knelt besides them. "Damn you!" his voice almost broke as he covered his face with his shaking hands. Lou moved away from the Kid to come closer to him.

"Jimmy!" she exhaled relieved, her voice full of surprise and disbelief. "What are you doin' here? Are you alright?"

Jimmy nodded, face still enfolded in his hands. She took hold of his arms to make him look at her. She was shaken but her face radiated a comforting smile. Jimmy turned his eyes to the man on the ground. He was staring at the Kid, now moving to get up from his position. As their eyes met he was shocked at the Kid's blank expression.

In total bewilderment he watched the Kid stand up, swaying and coughing. "She's hurt Jimmy, take care of her for a while" Kid said as he tried to gain control over his body. Lou's stunned eyes followed the Kid as he turned around.

"Kid, where you goin'?" Jimmy asked, watching Kid's behavior with squinted eyes. There was something wrong about him, he seemed like he didn't even know where he was at.

"Gotta go help the others" he said and made his way up the slope, stumbling and crawling.

"Kid NO! Are you out of your mind?" Lou was yelling at him, trying to run after him. Her attempt made her fall into a heap, sobbing, holding her ankle.

"Lou, you Ok?" Jimmy's eyes fell on Lou and he swept her up in his lap from the icy ground.

"I'm fine Jimmy. It's just my ankle that's hurt." She was sobbing into his chest.

"What's wrong with him?" Jimmy had to ask, having seen the scaringly blank expression in Kid's eyes.

"Jimmy, please go after him, he's hurt!" Jimmy's eyes searched for his friend, but he had already disappeared behind the trees. "Lou, will you be alright?"

She nodded in his lap "Just leave me one of your guns" she spoke, her voice steady now. Jimmy rose with some difficulty. As he went after his friend the morning light painted the sky in a faint yellow.

(((

Kid was moving towards the hell he just had left, determined to help the others. His feeling of guilt, him having survived, added to his determination. He never saw Buck as he went right past him, and he just noticed Natalie as she took a hold of him. He saw her mouth move, but he couldn't make out what she was saying. The roar in is head drenched her words. He motioned in the direction where he had left Lou. Then he made his way past her and out of the woods.

(((

Buck watched Kid walk past him, calling out his name. He didn't react. Buck's desperation grew, he needed help! Then he blinked in surprise as Natalie showed up in front of the staggering Kid. She stopped him and asked him where he was going. Kid just pointed behind him, and pushed himself past her. Natalie stood for a moment staring after him, then she turned and came in Buck's direction.

"Buck" she cried as she saw him with Dawn in his arms. He couldn't talk, tears dimming his sight and a lump in his throat prevented him from uttering a word. "Let me see!"

He heard Natalie speak softly as she tried to loosen his grip on the girl in his lap.

"Let go of her, Buck, I can't see!" Natalie's fingers were on Dawn's wound. She examined it thoroughly and let out a sigh of relief, it wasn't that bad. The bullet wasn't inside the girl. It had just ricocheted on her ribs, breaking a few of them.

"Buck, she's gonna be alright." He heard her, but couldn't believe her. "Buck you did fine stopping the bleeding, she just needs the wound cleaned and bandaged now. She was lucky!" Natalie's words finally carried trough to him.

"But she's unconscious" he stammered. "It's the shock Buck, it's nothing to worry about. Just keep her warm!" Buck nodded and swallowed, his tears threatening to flow uncontrollably again.

(((

As the morning light lighted up the plain Aganti realized the devastation. He had lost count of the dead men, he had stumbled over. The hail of bullets had ceased, and the aggressors were lying among his brothers. He had received help from the hillside, he knew that. The gunshots had been answered by somebody, but he didn't have the time to wonder by whom. Taking the still living but terrified to shelter in the one still standing teepee, he wondered if he was going to come out if this with his sanity intact? He hoped Natalie had stayed in the sheltering forest, he dreaded the thought that he might stumble over her dead body too.

As he reached down to touch one of his brothers, lying face down near the creek, he heard footsteps behind him. As he turned he saw Wahani approach.

"You did this?" Aganti remarked as his brother took a step closer "You lead them here?"

Wahani's grim smile gave him the answer.

"Why?" he urged, not able to understand a man that could do something like this.

With no answer Wahani leapt toward Aganti, the knife he was holding glimmering in the morning light.

(((

Kid had reached the frozen plain, the fires still burning around him. The gunshots had been silenced but he didn't notice. He scanned the area, his being filling with disgust over what he saw. There where dead bodies everywhere, some of them scorched. The sight and the smell brought with them a revolting sense of utter hopelessness. Who would do a thing like this, and why? he thought as he stepped over yet another body. He lifted his eyes from the bloody ground, not able to take in any more of the signs cruelty had left on the ice covered plain. He noticed snowflakes fall on his face. As if nature itself was crying frozen tears over mankind's brutality. Kid wasn't sure if it was the snow or his own tears that dampened his face.

He heard somebody talking not far from him and he turned to see if he could be of aid to them. His hopelessness changed into rage as he witnessed Aganti being attached by another Brave. He ran towards them as he watched the Indian's knife find it's way into Aganti's leg. "No!" he yelled "It's enough!" The Indian had jerked the knife out of Aganti's leg and was about to slit his throat open. Kid's whole being filled with a blood-red sense of rage that made him throw himself at the Indian. The impact sent the Indian away from Aganti. Kid landed at the aggressor's side. With a sound Kid never heard any man let out before, the man rose and turned to Kid. Kid jerked shakily into a standing position but before he was fully erect the man kicked his ribs, sending him into the frozen creek.

(((

Jimmy was close to Kid as he witnessed him charge at the Brave. He drew his gun, hesitant to shoot, remembering what he'd almost done earlier. Then he felt two hands on his back tugging at his sleeve.

"Don't shoot him!" a voice wailed behind him. Surprised he turned around and stood eye to eye with Natalie. Her eyes were wide open and directed at the wounded on the ground. "Dont shoot him Jimmy, don't!"

He stared at her, not believing his eyes. "Natalie?" he finally asked. The girl in front of him had nothing of the calm subtleness he had witnessed in Rock Creek. The feature that had made him look twice. Jimmy took a hold of her shoulders, trying to steady her. Her hair was tangled, pine needles sticking out. Her face was painted with terror as she frenetically tore at his sleeve. A scratch on her cheek sent blood dripping down her collar. Then she stiffened and whimpered helplessly. Pushing Jimmy backwards, she freed herself and started running. Jimmy was afraid what he was going to see when he turned around.

(((

When the ice-cold water hit Kid's upper body, and his head went under, his blood-red rage vanished and a stonecold need for survival took it's place. He was up in a sitting position in a split second. His left hand found a stone. Instinctively he threw, with all the strength he could muster, the stone at the man coming after him. The stone hit the man in the chest with a sickening thud. Kid watched as the man stumbled backwards, gasping for air. The man stumbled on Aganti, helplessly falling backwards, right on the knife Aganti was holding with the edge directed at the man . Kid noticed Aganti close his eyes as the man fell on him and on the knife he was holding, pushing it into his own heart as he fell. Then he convulsed and laid still. Kid felt he had seen all the cruelty and all the needless dying he could take in this lifetime. Knowing he was partly to blame made him shiver. With a blurred vision he saw Natalie run to Aganti's side before he turned and immersed his face back into the icy water, hoping it would rinse everything he had seen, away.

 

Chapter 19

As Jimmy turned he saw Natalie kneel down besides the Braves, pushing away the dead body and throwing her arms around the man on the ground. As his eyes wandered over to Kid, he saw him lying with his face in the creek.

"What the hell" he lashed out and was at Kid's side in three strides. Taking a firm hold of the Kid's collar he jerked him up from the ice-cold water, afraid he'd find him dead. Kid's eyes flickered open and he looked at Jimmy with surprise.

"Jimmy" he spoke and a feeling of relief rushed through Jimmy's body. "Goddammit it Kid, what the hell are you doin'?" He received no answer and he let go of him, kneeling down besides him to get a better look at his friend.

"Jimmy..." was all Kid could muster to say as he saw his friend's eyes pierce him.

"Kid, since when did you start taking baths in icy creeks?" Jimmy's angry voice rang out, but Kid knew it was only his way of showing concern. He had to smile at his friend's antics. Then he remembered the things he had witnessed and the smile dried out. "Jimmy, I've never seen ..." his voice trailed off as he started to shake violently. Jimmy knew what was going on in Kid's mind.

"I know Kid" he said as he watched his friends shaking shoulders. "Come on Kid, you'll have to get dry clothes on ya'. You're gonna freeze to death." He was already removing his coat. "Here! Take this!" Wrapping his coat around his friend shoulders, he saw a wagon coming. Cody and Rachel had finally found their way into the plateau. "Hold on Kid! I'll get help" he told his friend tapping him on the shoulder.

Kid raised his face and uttered "Lou?" trough clenched teeth.

"She'll be fine" Jimmy answered, smiling at the Kid asking the question Jimmy had been waiting for.

(((

Rachel and Cody had finally mastered to find the gorge in the mountains. They had seen two dead men in a wagon, both men with arrows in their backs. The sight made them both shrug. The shooting had stopped and a deadly silence hovered over the plain as they made their way towards the fires. Rachel couldn't make out anybody at first. She just saw Indians, obviously caring for their injured. As they came closer they had to slow down, the horses shying for bodies on the ground. "What the hell's been goin' on here?" Cody muttered as he drove past the dead men. He noticed Benjamin Shearer being one of them. With a quick glance at Rachel he asked her "Ya think it safe to go any further?"

"At least they aint shooting at us" she replied, eyes fixed at the horrors around her. The smell of burning flesh and blood made her sick. The fact that she saw nobody she knew made her even sicker.

"Teaspoon!" Cody called out, pointing at a small figure on the hillside, coming down slowly. Squinting her eyes Rachel recognized the man. "You're right Cody, let's get there fast!"

She was almost down from the wagon as Cody pulled the horse into a halt. She had spotted Jimmy. He was pale and walked in a strange crooked manner. But as he saw her, he smiled at her. Rachel had a lump in her throat as she rushed towards him. The girl sitting besides an injured Brave on the ground caught her attention. Having to look at her twice before she recognized her, she took two steps towards her and kneeled down to make sure.

"Natalie?" The girl's face turned to hers and she knew it was really her. Tears and blood ran down Natalie's face. "He needs help" was all she said before turning to the man on the ground again.

"Natalie, are you alright?" Natalie nodded, her hand holding on to the young Brave that was watching Rachel with a perplexed look on his face. Rachel knew she shared his mixed feelings, not knowing exactly how to react to the situation. She gave the Brave an insecure smile. "Hold on" Rachel said as she rose to make her way towards Jimmy. "Jimmy! Where are you hurt?" She took a hold of his sleeve as he came close. She wondered where his coat was at?

"I'm fine Rachel" he stated "I just need some blankets"

Rachel knew he wasn't fine but at least he was alive. She had to find out about the others. "Jimmy where's your coat?" Jimmy turned and pointed at the Kid still sitting by the creek with his head resting on his knees.

"Cody! Get some blankets over here" she cried as she ran towards the Kid. Arriving besides him she noticed his shoulders shaking violently, she knelt down besides him and placed a hand on his shoulder. The action made him stiffen and groan. He didn't look up.

"Kid, it's me, Rachel. How are ya?" She only received a moan-like answer and only barely had time to see Kid's eyes before his head sank again. She couldn't tell about the expression in them. Jimmy had come up besides her and she threw him a questioning eye.

"I don't now Rachel." Jimmy spoke silently looking at the shivering Kid, "I more or less found him like this." Rachel feared the worst so she formed the word 'Lou' with her lips, hoping Jimmy would understand. Jimmy did "Oh she'll be alright. She's up in the woods, she sprained her ankle."

Cody came up behind them. "Why Kid! Did'ya go for a swim in this kind'o weather?" Receiving nothing but murdering glances from both Jimmy and Rachel, he stammered "I didn't mean it like that!" Handing Rachel the blanket, he turned to Jimmy. Jimmy just looked at him, the expression in his eyes making Cody wonder what they had seen.

(((

Kid was fighting the pain that had invaded his body. Trying to keep focused and not letting the dark creeping up in the corner of his eyes take over. He noticed in surprise Rachel's face and her question. Somehow he didn't seem able to respond. He lowered his head back down to let the blood rush too it. Slowly his consciousness cleared. He had to find Lou!

He rose with difficulty and the three before him turned towards him. His only question was "Lou?"

Cody took a step forward to take hold of the Kid. "Goddammit Kid!" he snapped at him as he saw him almost fall again. "Sit down you fool!"

Kid looked at him and simply said "Lou?" again. Jimmy took his other arm and said, "Kid, I told you she's fine" As he grabbed his friend's arm he saw his face go even whiter and a groan leave his lips.

"Kid, Goddammit, stop this silent treatment and talk to us!" Then he felt a warm stream against his own arm. Glancing at Kid's face he took the coat off him and watched the soaked outfit pinker with blood. He stared at the blood for a moment, insecure if his bullet had hit Kid after all?

The pain rising had brought Kid back. He glared at them trying to free his arms. Rachel was at Jimmy's side motioning him to put the Kid down. Kid was struggling effortlessly against their treatment.

"I have to go get Lou" he tried to tell them, but it seemed nobody was listening. With a swift jerk Rachel removed the indument covering his upper body. They all gasped in chock. A loose bandage was only party covering a bloody wound in his right shoulder. A bloody stream slowly flowing. Rachel took the shirt and pressed it against the wound.

"What happened Kid" Cody asked.

"I'm fine. It was long ago this happened. Damn it, let me go, I have to check on Lou!"

"God-al-mighty!" Teaspoon had stepped up behind them.

(((

As Lou heard the gunfire's stop she started crawling towards the plain. Her determination to get to her friends made her unaware of the pain. Having a hard time getting a grip on the icy ground she slowly worked herself up the slope. Suddenly she felt two arms lift her up. She shrieked in fear. "Lou?" Noah's voice calmed her down immediately. "What happened, Lou? Can't you walk?"

"Gotta get to them!"

"Who Lou?"

"Everybody!"

Noah lifted her up with strong arms. "Lead the way!"

(((

Piwi was motioning them to the only teepee standing as they reached out of the woods. Lou struggled in Noah's arms. She saw Rachel and Jimmy by the creek, her heart taking a leap as she realized they were Ok. Then she spotted Cody right before Noah turned and blocked the view. "Let me down, Noah! I have to see where he's at!"

"Not 'til we get to that teepee!"

They made their way to a scorched teepee. Men working around it, trying to rise another one beside it. Lou noticed men carrying hide's and blankets into the teepee. She wondered what she would find in there. As Noah carried her inside she was blinded by the darkness. A small fire scarcely lit up the place.

Noah put her down on a blanket and walked out to help the others. He turned before stepping out, smiling at her, "Don't worry Lou, I'll find him for you!"

She scanned the dark teepee and the sight of Buck, holding Dawn in his lap caught her eyes. "How is she?" she whispered, remembering them leaving the girl in the woods. Everything had happened so fast, she had forgotten about Dawn. She felt a tug of guilty conscience. "Oh Buck, I'm so sorry!" She reached out to touch his arm.

Buck smiled at her, "She'll be fine, she's sleeping now. It wasn't as bad as it looked. Piwi took care of her" Lou was bewildered, she had thought everything had burned in the fire. "Where did they get all this from?"

"They had it stacked away in a cave" Buck explained to her "Natalie knew where" Buck's mentioning Natalie made Lou's eyes moist, she had made it! But where was the Kid and Aganti?

Teaspoon and a Brave carrying Aganti inside interrupted her thoughts. A fresh wound on his leg. Natalie was right behind him, her face ashen. "God" Lou exclaimed, "will he be alright?" Her question was directed at Teaspoon, but Aganti answered in his place "I'm fine, stop fussing!" His voice was somewhat irritated and it reminded her of Jimmy.

Teaspoon smiled at her "Am I glad to see you! You Ok, Lou? Noah tells me your ankle's sprained?"

"I'll be fine Teaspoon, but where's the Kid?" Teaspoon's blank expressions scared her. "Teaspoon?" He said nothing.

"By the creek" Natalie spoke.

"Was that him?" Teaspoon stared at Natalie. She just nodded, surprised Teaspoon hadn't recognized him. Teaspoon took two steps out of the teepee. Lou turned her eyes in Natalie's direction, but she was occupied, taking care of Aganti's wound. And Lou didn't dare to ask. A hard knot of fear was forming in her guts.

(((

Teaspoon ran towards the group at the creek, he hadn't noticed it was the Kid. Relieved to see Jimmy, Rachel and Cody standing tall, he never bothered to glance at the figure in the Indian outfit. As he arrived, stepping up behind them, he saw the wound on Kid's shoulder. It was maybe a weak old judging from the blue bruises around the wound. And now it was bleeding again. "Son" he said as he stepped closer, he never believed he would see him again. He had somehow been convinced the blood on Natalie's dress was Kid's, even though he never dared to tell anyone. And to judge by the amount of it, the bleeder would probably be dead. "Son" he said again almost choking. Then he noticed the Kid's drenched appearance. "What the hell?"

"Obviously took a bath" Cody informed him, nodding in the direction of the creek. Kid gave him an angry look. Taking the blanket from Jimmy, Teaspoon put it around the Kid's shoulders. Kid looked him right in the eye, stammering through clenched teeth, "Teaspoon, tell them, I gotta get to Lou!"

 

Chapter 20

Jimmy sighed, deeply exasperated as the Kid put up a fight against being carried to the teepee. He could barely walk but of course the stubborn, bullheaded, single-minded..., Jimmy couldn't find the exact words to describe him as he lashed out at him. Kid didn't even blink. "Get your hands off me!" he growled as Jimmy tried to take hold of him as he took a shaking step forward. Cody stepped up right behind Kid, fearing he'd fall otherwise. Cody threw a warning glance in Jimmy's direction, "Take it easy, both of ya!"

"Look at you, you bone headed, miserable fool, you can't even stand straight!"

"Look who's talkin'!" Kid rebutted. Jimmy threw an irritated look in his direction, the others standing back.

"Hey!"

"Look at you, Jimmy! If you carry me, who's gonna carry you?" Kid wouldn't let up. Shivering and with clenched teeth he still stood his ground. Jimmy sighed, he should have known that nothing went past the Kid.

"He's right, Jimmy" Rachel spoke out "You ain't lookin' too good yourself!" Noah coming up behind them threw a quick glance at them, trying to assess the situation.

"Couple of broken ribs, I'd guess" Kid pointed out "and possibly a bad head injury, due to prolonged hotheadness!" His voice came out in a jerkily manner. Jimmy had a hard time making out what exactly, he had said, but he had heard enough.

"At least I didn't take a bath..."

"Shut up!" all cried in unison. Teaspoon and Cody taking a hold of the Kid, preventing him from further protests. Noah took a firm grip on Jimmy's shoulders, forcing him towards the teepee. Rachel came up on his other side, taking his arm, silencing his protests with a glance.

"This just aint right" Kid began from his awkward position.

"Shut up!" Even Jimmy joined in.

(((

Lou had crawled to the opening of the teepee. She didn't dare crawl all the way out as she had intended, Piwi was keeping an eye on her. She had noticed that as the woman was bandaging her ankle. She threw Lou a warning glance from her position at the fire, where she was brewing the soothing tea. Everybody in the teepee was busy, tending to injured or loved ones. Only Lou felt a rising fear as none of hers showed up. She had seen them all, except the Kid. Was there something they tried to hide from her?

Then she heard some familiar voices near the teepee. Rachel was obviously telling Teaspoon something that had happened during their nightly escapades. The teepee was opened and she saw Kid being carried inside and Jimmy being lead in right behind. Her heart missed a beat. "Are they alright? she asked Cody who had a tight grip on Kid's ankles.

"Yep, they just had their first fight for the day!" Lou's eyes widened in surprise.

"Don't worry, we made them shut up. I think they've cooled down a bit. At least this one has!" Cody was grinning at the Kid. Then she heard Kid's growl something as they sat him down. Definitively a growl in protest. Jimmy looked all but pleased as he freed himself from Noah's and Rachel's grip. Lou smiled as she limped towards Kid. They couldn't be too bad off if they had the strength to get into an argument. And since both of them still were alive, the argument couldn't have been too heated. As she reached where they had put down the Kid, Jimmy sat down on the hide covered ground besides them, casting warning eyes in Teaspoon and Rachel's direction. Mumbling something to himself. They took the hint and decided to leave him alone for a while.

(((

 

"Kid, you Ok? What happened out there? Where'd you go to?" God! Was he pale, she thought as she saw him. This is not a good sign, she thought as she realized he was all wet and shaking.

Kid stopped her hand "Lou? You alright? How's the ankle?"

"Shut up, Kid. I'll be fine! What happened to you? Lay down goddammit!" she freed her hand again and took another blanket to wrap around him, "Why are you soaked and bleeding again?"

"Lou" Kid grunted in mild protest. Her hand went up to his forehead "I knew it, Kid, your fever is up. I told you to wait in the woods. Why don't you ever listen?" Lou voice grew more and more concerned.

"Lou, has anybody looked at your ankle?"

Lou sighed in despair "Are you listening to me, Kid?"

"I'm fine" he protested trough clenched teeth.

Lou just sighed and took yet another blanket to cover him with, "Sure you are, but please lie down!"

Jimmy smiled under the blanket Rachel had wrapped around him, regardless of his glares. He never thought he'd enjoy their bickering, but now it seemed like being home. He shifted uneasily to to ease the pain in his side. As he changed position he felt the gun and the memories of what happened this morning hit him hard. All that had happened had prevented him from remembering. Hearing Lou and the Kid's bickering threw the memories right in his face. He had almost shot his best friend. If Kid hadn't fallen, he would be dead! The revelation made Jimmy's legs shake. He hated to live by the gun, but the world wouldn't let him forget who he was made out to be. But had he forgotten who he really was himself? The moment he pointed the gun at an unknown man, who turned out to be his friend? Was this going to be his destiny? Shooting somebody close to him, in a moment's mistake. The shock of what he'd almost done crept up on him. He started shaking, trying hard to control his breathing. Kid watched him carefully through squinted eyes. Jimmy tried to avoid his scrutiny by moving away from his stare. This only made him moan as the broken ribs reminded him of his situation.

"Lou" Kid was touching her arm. She was cleaning his wound that had opened up again, casting a dark shade of red on the blanket. "Kid, I'll try not to hurt you, I promise. But it's gotta be done, you're still bleeding!"

"Lou, Jimmy needs help!" Lou looked at Kid, it was hard to make out what he had said, his voice intermittent and faint. "He needs you more than I do right now Lou!" She followed his gaze and saw a shaking Jimmy trying to hide under the blanket.

Hers and Kid's eyes met and Kid's eyes told her to go to Jimmy. She took the bandage and tied it hard around Kid's shoulder, hoping it would stop the bleeding. Still hesitant to leave him she cupped his face in her hands "Will you be alright for a while?" Kid just nodded as his eyes wandered back to Jimmy. With a last look at the Kid, she went to Jimmy's side.

(((

"Jimmy!" He heard her soft voice and felt her hand on his shoulders; "Jimmy lie down and let me have a look at you!" She took the blanket of him, "Jimmy, what's wrong?"

He shook his head, painfully aware of his ribs, as he tried to move away. She noticed the pain on his face and called out for help, "Natalie, I need help!" Natalie came over and Lou told her about her suspicions. Jimmy closed his eyes in embarrassment. Natalie opened his shirt without blinking and placed a hand on his side touching the broken ribs. Jimmy yelped in pain.

"You're right Lou! He needs a bandage around the broken ribs and some tea!" Lou started to move away, Natalie stopped her "I'll get what we need!"

Lou returned to Jimmy's side, talking softly to him. "It will be alright Jimmy. Natalie knows what she's doing"

Jimmy fell silent. But Lou sensed his pain, sitting besides him, her hand on his arm. Natalie returned and put a bandage around his ribcage. Carefully studying his face she smiled at him as she was done, leaving him with Lou. Lou held on to him, trying to comfort him.

"Lou, I almost killed him!" Jimmy was looking at the Kid and Lou realized there was something else, other than the ribs, bothering him.

"Jimmy, you didn't mean to... "

"But I almost did!"

"Jimmy, he would probably have done the same in your situation"

"Lou, what if..." Lou knew that if Jimmy had succeeded in his attempt it would probably have destroyed him. She knew he was thinking about the life he had to lead, not by his own choice, but other people's choices made for him.

"Jimmy, it didn't happen, did it? He would understand, you know that!"

"Would you?"

"Jimmy!" she took his head into her lap, rocking him gently. He threw a nervous glance in Kid's direction. Sick as he was this might just make him get up and fight him! He watched Piwi offer Kid something steaming but he shook his head and pointed in Jimmy's direction. Piwi made a questioning face but Kid insisted.

"Lou" he started again but Lou interrupted him "Hush Jimmy, it was Kid who told me to take care of you!" She threw a thankful glance at Natalie who made her way to take care of the Kid. Lou knew he needed her expertise and she would have all the time in the world to take care of him later. Jimmy needed her now.

Jimmy closed his eyes and let Lou rock him. It was the first time he had shown his fear and his weakness to anybody so openly. They hadn't turned it against him, and he knew he could feel safe with them. As Lou was helping him drink the steaming liquid, a tear rolled down his cheek as he realized how lucky he was.

(((

Rachel walked out to Teaspoon as evening fell over the plain. He was sitting besides the fire. Rachel knew he had seen some of the worst things a man can witness. All in one day. "Teaspoon" she called out softly as she approached "Uh Rachel, he turned around to greet her "Everybody alright in there?"

"As good as can be expected!"

They sat together, warming their hands near the flames of the brightly burning fire.

"Teaspoon, why did this happen? Why all this senseless killing?"

"Rachel, I wish I could tell you, but a thing like this? I don't see no reason for it, but I'm sure the men doing it had reasons of their own, or at least thought they had."

"It's so...inhumane!"

"Only human beings can do a thing like this, Rachel, no other species on earth would turn on his own in this manner, war is a uniquely human endeavor!"

Rachel nodded, she knew he was right. And the war creeping up on them would cause even worse suffering, if suffering could be measured. She shrugged as she looked around, she intensely wished to get out of this place.

"Teaspoon, when can we get away from here?"

"We have to bury the dead. The ground is frozen and we've only got one shovel. It's gonna take time. And the boys need time to heel!"

Rachel nodded. She knew that, but she couldn't help wanting to get out of these killing fields as fast as possible.

"How long before they can be moved? How about Jimmy?" Teaspoon asked.

"Two or three days."

"And the Kid?"

"Hard to say, the Kid you know..." then she remembered why they were here in the first place. Kid wasn't one of her riders anymore. He was on his way to Ash Point.

"Teaspoon" she urged "What about the Kid? He's goin' to Ash Point. He won't be healed for weeks. We just can't let him go!"

"I know Rachel" Teaspoon smiled "It's been taken care of, he aint goin' nowhere, he's comin' home. I aint told him yet, I thought he might learn a lesson from all this. So I was thinking of lettin' him worry for a while."

"When did'ya..."

"Rachel he's like a son to me, hell they all are, ya know that. But I failed as a father when I let him go. Jimmy was right, he wasn't thinking straight. I still don't know what it was all about, but I should have stopped him. I realized that, soon after he had gone away. Lou's actions made me see it. I sent a letter denying the request on my part from Seneca. Ash Point'll have to do without him."

"Thank you, Teaspoon" Rachel put her head on his shoulder, Teaspoon laid an arm around her shoulders. Sitting there they gathered strength from each other. Teaspoon turned to her "When you think supper's served around here?" Rachel laughed "As soon as you and I've prepared it!"

Teaspoon sighed.

(((

"Let go!" Lou heard Natalie's voice get more and more irritated. She left the sleeping Jimmy's side. She had heard Natalie try to persuade Kid let her examine him without much success. "What's goin' on?" she said as she reached them both. Kid was still shaking and trembling and he was holding the blanket tightly wrapped around himself glaring at Natalie. "I don't wanna hurt him Lou, but I might just have to soon, if he doesn't let go!" Kid answered Natalie's outburst with a grunt.

"If you'd know what I've already seen, you wouldn't worry so much about it" Natalie grinned at him. Kid threw a questioning glance at Lou. Lou was glad it was fairly dark in the teepee. Natalie continued her scolding "I would never have guessed you would be so ...prude" she threw a quick glance at Lou.

"Be careful with him" Lou begged as she saw Natalie fighting him over the blanket. Kid moaned and shifted to get closer to Lou. Lou gently forced him to lie down,"Please Kid, let her help you!" Natalies word sinking in she hissed at the girl "What ya mean, prude?"

"Just what I said, how come he's like this after what I saw you two doing in the teepee, one would never think he'd be so sensitive" Lou's face instantly turned a bright red. Natalie watched the Kid, "Look, he's coloring up!" she grinned at them both. Kid definitely looked like he was wanting to slide under the ground. He clung to Lou's hand, silently begging her to take him away from there, dragging himself towards her lap. Seeing them suffer Natalie continued with a smile "You two've surely cured all prudness in me, I can guarantee you that!"

Lou finally regained her ability to speak "You saw us?" Natalie giggled "WE saw you!" Kid just moaned and closed his eyes, letting out an intermittent breath.

"Goddammit Kid, the man kicked you in the ribs, you might have broken ribs too!" Natalie continued angrily, watching him closely. "I'm fine, just leave me be!" Kid's stubborn manners were evident as he opened his eyes and glared angrily back at Natalie. "What?" Lou's embarrassment instantly changed into concern, "Natalie what are you talkin' about?"

"Nobody told you?" Natalie looked at her with surprise.

"'Bout what?"

"The fight at the creek!"

Lou's stunned faced told Natalie that Kid and the other's had left some things out. Kid's angry glare in her direction told her he wanted it left that way. She decided not to oblige him.

"Lou' we got to get some tea into him, I don't think I gave him enough earlier. We'll have to try to get his fever down!" She gave Lou a meaning glance letting her know she'd tell her later. Lou promptly started to help Kid drink, his shivering making it hard for him to swallow. Talking softly to him, trying to ease his pain and his embarrassment, she finally felt him relax and understood she had gotten enough tea into him. Slowly the trembling eased. She smiled at him "It's over Kid, you can relax now, everything's gonna be alright sweatheart, just be still and get some rest." His troubled eyes were fixed on hers and she took his head into her lap, comforting and reassuring him. He still fought to keep his eyes open but soon he fell into a feverish sleep. His hand still clasped around her's. She brushed away some unruly looks from his forehead, finding herself unable to stop touching him. The feeling of him close to her calming her.

Lou watched the sleeping Kid for a while, letting Natalie remove the blanket, exposing the damaged chest and ribcage. Lou swallowed in fear at the sight. "Don't worry Lou, he'll be fine. He so goddamn stubborn I swear this one could walk on water if he set his mind to it." Lou just nodded, fighting hard not to cry, "What happened at the creek, Natalie?" she finally asked with a thick voice.

"Wahani attached Aganti, the one that lead the men here" she explained at Lou's wondering look, and continued "Kid threw himself at him. I didn't have a clear view so I can't tell you exactly what happened, but Jimmy was on his way after the Kid. I was right behind. I realized Jimmy had drawn his gun and I was scared he was going to shoot Aganti so I stopped him." Natalie frowned "I guess I was wrong. Anyways, I was holding on to Jimmy, preventing him from killing the bastard as he went for Kid, kicking him right into the stream. I don't know what Kid did then but I saw Wahani come stumbling backwards and then the fool fell on his own knife." Natalie stopped and looked at Lou "I swear I don't know how Kid did it but he probably saved Aganti's life, and I'll be forever grateful to him for that. And he made me realize where I belong"

"Huh?"

"I'm not going back with you Lou, I'm going with Aganti" she was watching Lou intensely "I thought you'd understand."

Lou stared back at her, not believing her ears.

Natalie continued solemnly "I knew it in that moment as the man fell over Aganti and I thought he was going to kill him. When I realized Aganti was still alive I decided there and then I was not going to leave him ever again. We're going with Buck and Dawn to the Kiowa's to do some healing. After that I don't know where we'll go, the only thing important is that I'm going with him. We'll stay together from here on, come what may!" She stopped and her eyes went over to Aganti, sleeping by the fire. Her eyes softened into a smile. "If we lived trough this hell of fire and ice we can live trough anything" she said.

"I know what you mean Natalie, I know exactly what you mean. Kid's coming home too, whatever anybody has to say about it. And I'll stay with him whatever happens!"

The girl's eyes met and they smiled at each other.

(((

Jimmy smiled in the dark too, having heard the conversation. He knew things were going to be all right now. Everybody was going home, where ever that was. And in his heart he knew that where ever Lou and the Kid found their home, they would always have a place in it for him too. A place he could call home. As long as I avoid buttin' in on them dancing.

The End