He could hear the voices outside even through the wall of the stable. It wasn't hard. Walls were never perfect and even with the rain pounding along the roof and the wooden planks he could still hear the edge of their tones and the bite of their words.
"I'm tellin' you, Teaspoon, you better find a way to rein that boy in… or I'll be takin' him to the town limits and shakin' him loose."
The words cut through the rolling storm and only served to batter his mood along with the walls of the stable. He wanted to go outside and tell the marshal exactly what he could do with this threats but somewhere deep down inside he hoped he could stay. There was something here, something he couldn't put a name on, something he wanted to hold onto.
When the door creaked open he balled his fists at his sides, ground his back teeth together, readying himself for the *fight* no matter who it was standing in the doorway. He wasn't going to back down. No sir, not Jimmy Hickok.
"I brought you a towel and some water if you'd like to wash up."
Her soft tone rocked his resolve more than the resounding crack of *thunder* that followed it in the confines of the stable. He couldn't quite look up and meet her eyes.
Couldn't quite open his mouth and say anything.
"I heard about what happened in town." Her voice was closer, the scrape of wood against the floor meant she'd brought over the stool and set it nearby. "Sounded like you were the life of the party."
He squeezed his eyes shut and curled his toes in his boots. It had been a complete brawl in the middle of the town dance, right in front of Tompkins… the smug bastard. He could imagine how Emma had heard. Sam had been the one to bring him back, no, 'drag' him back to the station. He surely gave her an earful and Jimmy couldn't blame him.
It didn't help that Emma was being so nice to him when she should be yelling and throwing the pitcher of water instead of setting it up for him.
"I've seen more than my share of brawls in my time." She talked as she moved about the room and Jimmy listened carefully, picking up on the snippets of an Irish lilt that crept into her tone from time to time. "But from what I hear, this one would have put them all to shame."
The strike and hiss of a match caught his attention, turning his head to the side. He watched her light the wick of the *lantern* and drop the glass back into place. The flame wavered in the belly of the glass and coughed up a few spurts of smoke. "Now let's see… oh my- I'm going to strangle him with my own hands."
Jimmy blinked up into the light, trying to focus his eyes past the oily yellow glow to see Emma's expression.
The lantern hooked onto the post over his head and he heard the plop of the towel plunging into the water. "I can't believe he dragged you back here lookin' like… like…" she wrung the towel out above the basin and the rapid fall of water nearly eclipsed the sound of the rain battering the wall behind him.
She touched the cloth to the side of his face and the pain that lanced through his lip had him drawing away from her into the shadows.
He wasn't a man who took pity well, so it wasn't the motherly cluck of her tongue that reached him in the depths of his anger, nor was it the concern in her eyes when he was finally able to look up into them. It was the stern tone of her voice when she addressed him.
"I think you've got a good head on your shoulders, Jimmy." She sighed and wrung out the cloth before pressing it to the side of his face again and again, seemingly unmindful of his pain. "I just don't understand why you refuse to use it."
She set the cloth into the water he watched and dirt coated the sides of the basin like a film of *ash*.
"Doesn't matter anyhow," he muttered. "Sam sounds pretty set on me movin' on."
"That's Marshal Cain, Jimmy." Emma smiled, a pretty flush on her cheeks as color *flooded* underneath her skin. "I don't think he'd take to you callin' him Sam until he…"
"Stops wantin' to string me up outside his office come the Founder's Day celebration?" Jimmy leaned back against a post and let his shoulders drop down with a sigh.
"Until he gets to know that underneath all that bluster there's someone worth keepin' around."
The door to the barn opened up and Teaspoon stepped in, rain dripping from the brim of his old hat. "Son, the Marshal and I have a few things we'd like to talk to you about." He looked over at Emma. "That is if you're through with him."
She got up to her feet, pausing to smile at the hand that Jimmy offered her and dusted a few pieces of hay from her skirts. "Oh I don't think we're done with Jimmy, Mr. Spoon, he's got a long future here with us at Sweetwater."
Jimmy got up under the stationmaster's watchful eye and leaned closer to Emma, lowering his voice so that only she could hear. "I've never been the type to beg *pardon* of anyone, no matter what the situation."
She nodded slowly, considering his words. "That may be true, Jimmy, but with good men like Sam and Mr. Spoon, you don't have to beg, you just have to look them straight in the eye."
As he moved off toward the door she was sure, in the space of an instant… the flash of lightning, that she caught the ghost of a smile on his lips. He was going to stay. She was sure of it.
Author's Note: Thanks to Liz for watchin' over my errant words