Cody was hovering. The fact that he was hovering with a plate of cake in one hand and a fork in the other just meant that he was doing a better job of getting in the way.
Emma lifted a pot from the hot soapy wash water and handed it to Rachel, nearly elbowing Cody in the middle.
Rachel 's shoulders shook with laughter. "If you're going to stand there, Cody… could you at least make yourself useful?"
The question furrowed Cody's brow with concern. "But I am."
Emma's maternal love for the blond rider insured that any tinge of shock at his audacity was softened into an indulgent smile. "And how are you doing that, honey?"
He nodded at the plate in his hand. "Scraping the plates for your ladies." He gave Rachel a knowing nod. "This is my fourth."
"Well," Rachel smiled, her eyes wide with shock, "I can see how that will be a great help to us. Thank you, Cody."
"See?" Cody caught sight of Sam standing behind him. "I'm just about the most helpful person here."
"I can think of someone that won't be happy about it."
"Oh?" Cody looked around the room. "You think Hickok'll be upset I'm eatin' so much of the cake?"
Sam laughed and leaned in to brush a kiss on his wife's rosy cheek. "I was thinkin' about your horse. That sorrel'll have it in for you when you saddle back up in a few days."
Cody waved off his concern. "He's gotta bigger appetite than me." He held up his hand and the fork that seemed permanently attached to it. "Buck!"
Slowing his steps, Buck stopped and gave the ladies a smile. "What's going on?"
Swallowing another bite, Cody replied. "I'm waitin' for the pots and pans to get washed."
That earned him a cautious look. "You in charge of putting them back?"
Cody's look of horror put an end to that idea. "No! This is about tradition!" He looked around at the assembled group and shook his head at their blank looks. "I can't believe no one else was thinking about it."
"About what?" Polly walked up, her hand tucked into the crook of Teaspoon's arm.
Leaning in to preserve the grandiose secret, he hissed out the single word of "Chivaree!"
In exchange for his dramatic announcement, the others quite simply stared. Some of them with open mouths.
"You've finally lost your mind." Buck shook his head and folded his arms across his chest.
Sam's curious look narrowed on the collar of Cody's shirt. "Those army shirts a little too tight, son? Cuttin' off some of the air from your lungs to your head?"
"Now, Sam," Emma waved Sam off, but her expression was somewhat lukewarm… almost pained, "I'm sure Cody thinks it's a fine idea. Maybe he just didn't think-"
"That's pretty much what it is, Emma." Teaspoon's hawk-like gaze was softened by his light tone. "Boy didn't think. Takin' up a bunch of pots 'n pans and creating a big ol' hullabaloo outside of Hickok's house tonight… well, there ain't no thinkin' behind it at all."
Teaspoon leaned into Polly's gentle touch as she took his hand up in hers. "You learn anything useful in the Army, son?"
Cody set down his now-empty plate and picked up another one with half a slice crumbled on the surface. "I learned plenty in the army, Teaspoon. I just don't see why everyone's makin' such a big thing about it. It's all in fun!"
Buck shook his head, tangling his earring in his hair. "We'll ask the undertaker to put that on your headstone."
"I think," Cody began, reassembling the smile on his face with practiced ease, "that all of you are taking this too seriously. This is a celebration after all!"
Polly lifted her head from Teaspoon's shoulder. "So is a wake."
Taking the opportunity, Teaspoon leaned in closer to Cody, his eyes directly focused on the younger man. "Son, throughout the time that I've known you, I've come to believe that you're destined for greatness."
Cody beamed at his mentor. "Glad you think so, Teaspoon. I-"
"But for that to happen you have to find a way to live long enough." His eyebrows rose at the end of his statement making his point loud and clear.
Cody was just on the verge of accepting the inevitable, but there was a little doubt the crept back up onto his tongue, bypassing his brain. "Hickok wouldn't-"
"You think so?" Buck nodded at the dance floor. The groom looked long and tall in his black suit as he danced his bride by the table. His hair had fallen forward slightly as he leaned down toward his bride, but it couldn't completely obstruct the look of utter adoration that softened the gunfighter's features.
The two held gently in each other's arms had no time for anything except each other. For them, the rest of the world was just a blur on the outside.
Cody sighed, his shoulders sagging a little with his resignation. Rachel held out another piece of cake but he shook his head, turning his eyes back to the dance floor, and watched his old friend manage a waltz.
They'd been through a lot and Jimmy had finally gotten around to settling down. He'd gone and done what both of them had feared was impossible for the formidable gunfighter and he wasn't about to wreck it for him. Hickok would have whipped him up and down the street for making trouble on this night of all nights, but it just wasn't worth the danger to his life.
Jimmy paced the floor of the living room, looking out each window in turn. There was something amiss. He felt it in his bones. A soft creak of a board above his head drew his attention. He knew the layout of the home inside and out, and had laid many of the boards himself. He'd even driven nearly each nail home.
She was in the bedroom. Walking around their bed. Opening the wardrobe. Changing into her robe.
His mouth was dry and no matter how many times he swallowed there was no relief.
This part of his life was both the most exciting and the scariest by far.
He paced toward the door, peering out of the windows on either side, his eyes looking deep into the darkness. The town was asleep. The party long over. The streets quiet.
That's what it was, he decided, the bothersome part of it. Quiet. Cody. When his old friend had ridden into town he'd been happy to see him and it was only when he'd seen the glint in the man's eyes he knew he'd invited trouble home to roost. Cody's started hinting from that day on that he had 'something special' planned for the wedding.
And Jimmy had waited, one eye on Cody. Then nothing.
But tonight. Tonight he'd married the woman who had filled his heart and life with hope and he'd be damned if he was going to let Cody poke fun at it.
Movement at the end of the street caught his eye and he held in a little breath as the light of the moon cast over a head of light-colored hair. It was shorter than it had been during the Express, but life in the Army had changed at least that much about Cody.
A tense twinge pinched between his shoulder blades and he waited to see what was about to happen.
Cody walked closer, the only man on the street, and Jimmy stepped out on the porch to see what he wanted. The Army scout stopped a few feet away from the bottom step and looked up into Hickok's narrowed gaze.
"I come by to let you know that I ain't gonna do nothin' to upset you two, Hickok." He shook his head slightly. "I came to town thinkin' I'd give you a fine weddin' night with all kinds of fun and such." He held up a hand and continued on. "Still, I had folks tellin' me it wasn't such a good idea." He sighed. "And while I'm still a man that hates to have folks tell me what to do, I ain't as much of a fool as most people make me out to be."
Scuffing the dirt at his feet he nodded a little. "So I wanted to tell you to go ahead and a…" he looked up at the second floor of the house at the one window with light shining from within, "go on and," he cleared his throat, "whatever. Don't worry about nothin' cause there ain't nothin' gonna happen out here. That's my gift to you. A little peace and quiet."
Jimmy smiled and nodded at his old friend. "You've got my thanks, Cody."
Cody grinned right back. "You're more than welcome, Hickok." Turning on his heel Cody headed back toward the hotel.
"You know," Jimmy's words stopped him in his tracks and Cody turned back around, "If you had done somethin' tonight… I'd have shot you dead in the street."
Cody laughed out right and pointed at Jimmy. "That's just like what the others said! The only thing that kept me from runnin' straight out of town was the fact that I knew you'd be joking." Cody shook his head and continued on back toward the hotel whistling a jaunty tune.
He'd only made it a few feet before Jimmy's voice reached his ears again. "I wasn't joking."
The tune died on his lips and Cody continued his walk in utter silence.
Author's Note: chivaree* - a noisy mock serenade (made by banging pans and kettles) to a newly married couple