"It sure is nice of you to spend a few days with us here at the post, James."
"Good Lord, Beth… with the way you've been flirtin' with Bill here, I'm surprised he hasn't either run for the hills or swept you away."
Elizabeth Custer paused mid-pour, tipping the pot back to stem the flow as she regarded her husband with the kind of look that would have stopped a rampaging buffalo in its tracks. The look was lost on General George Custer. He took another puff of his cigar and blew out a cloud of smoke that rose to the rafters.
"James?" She turned her gaze to their guest, her lower lip protruded slightly as she blinked at the gunman. "Tell George how mean he's being to me…"
Holding up both his hands he couldn't hold back the chuckle. "I never get in the middle of a husband and wife when they're," they both turned to look at him and he smiled wider, "discussin' things. I'm no fool."
George set his cigar down and gave Hickok a toothy grin behind his moustache. "I never said you were, Bill."
Elizabeth sighed and rolled her eyes in a dramatic fashion. "Really, George, I don't know why you call him by that name, it's not his Christian name."
Leaning forward in his chair, her husband swept the corner of his mouth with the pad of his thumb. 'Darlin'… what a man's called sometimes has nothin' to do with his Christian name."
A knock sounded at the door and Elizabeth gave her husband one more scathing look before she resumed pouring tea.
The knock sounded again and the General replaced the husband and friend. " Yes, yes I heard you… come in before I have you bound and flogged for insubordination."
The door swung open on a fearful young man who looked no older than thirteen. "So… so sorry to disturb you and the Missus, General."
"Well, you have… what of it?"
"Don't scare the boy, George."
He took his wife's set down in stride. "Out with it, son… tea's getting' cold."
The young soldier held out a letter in his gloved hand. "Message for Mr. Hickok, sir. I brought it right over."
General Custer looked down at the message and then back up at the soldier's face. "Then give it to him, son… he's standing right over there."
They both looked up at Hickok, a cup of tea poised at his lips.
"Oh fine…" he set the cup down with barely a whisper of sound against the saucer and reached out a hand, "give it to me."
The boy moved forward and set the letter in the gunfighter's hand. Hickok turned it over and saw the handwriting. For a moment his mind struggled to remember why it looked so familiar, but when he finally wrapped his head around the memory he ripped open the missive and read it quickly.
Looking up past Elizabeth's fearful face he looked at the General. "Where's the town of Hollisburg?"
"Just about ten miles from here, why?"
Jimmy tucked the letter in his pocket and grabbed for his coat. "I've got to go help a friend."
Elizabeth stood and rush after him, stopping in the door as he descended the steps toward the barn. "James? Where are you… why… can't you wait until tomorrow?"
Stopping in the middle of the street, he turned back around for a moment. "I can't chance it, darlin'… he needs me."
Buck dropped the spoon and felt the splash of the watery stew on his chin. "That's just… "
"You complainin' 'gain, breed?" The deputy turned around in his chair and glared at Buck. "I've had just about 'nough of your guff. You want I should come back there and-"
"Sheriff's callin' for you down at the livery."
The Deputy got out of his chair and faced the stranger. "What's goin' on?"
The man shrugged. "Looks like a brawl… plenty of drunk folks to go around."
Grabbing a rifle from the gun case, the Deputy swore, "Bet its Bert Thompson, never could hold his liquor and his tongue at the same time."
Pointing at the street the man questioned, "You want me to go tell the sheriff you're comin'?"
"No, I'd better get myself down there and tell him myself." The deputy turned around at the door, "and stay the hell away from that breed, he's a sneaky devil."
The deputy ran down the stairs and into the street. It wasn't more than a few seconds before the stranger closed the front door of the Sheriff's office and locked it. "What the hell happened this time, Buck?"
"Jimmy?" Buck stood, upending the platter of food that had been balanced on his lap. "I wasn't sure you'd get here."
"You're lucky I was only a stone's throw away from there or I might've decided it weren't worth the effort." Jimmy bend over and started looking through the desk drawers, rifling papers and sending little personal items this way and that.
"What're you lookin' for?"
Jimmy stopped for a moment and gave his friend a look that spoke volumes. "The keys… unless you've taken a likin' to wearin' those irons?"
Buck gestured towards the desk helplessly. "Be my guest."
"Huh," Jimmy chuckled, "big talk for a man in a cell." He slammed one drawer shut and went for the next. "So what happened? You make doe eyes at the Mayor's daughter?"
The joke was lost on Buck, but Jimmy didn't notice with his head down, nearly in the drawer.
Hickok looked up at Buck's vehement denial. "Sorry there, Buck-"
"It was his wife," Buck sighed and narrowed his eyes at Jimmy's disbelieving look, "she didn't tell me she was married."
The front doors rattled and angry shouts could be heard just outside. "What the hell is goin' on in there? Open up this damn door!"
Jimmy straightened up and sighed. "Well, looks like we're in for an interestin' night."
Buck sighed, long and low… almost a groan. They'd been pinned down for the better part of an hour in the tiny jail and there seemed to be an endless supply of men with bullets outside. Men with bullets and the guns to fire them. "Great rescue, Jimmy."
Looking back over his shoulder the gunman stared back at his friend. "It's not like I planned this, Buck… I'm kind of winging it here."
Buck threw his hands up in the air, but the cuffs made it rather difficult. "Not exactly what I had in mind."
"Oh?" Jimmy leveled his pistol and fired into the dark. Somewhere in the night a man groaned and fell to the ground. "Really, Buck… do tell," he fired again and this time a return shot hit the outside of the building less than a foot from Jimmy. He pulled back from the opening, "what did you think would happen? You think I'd just ride into town, the 7th Cavalry at my back and whisk you away?"
Buck sagged against the bars and shook his head. "I don't know, Jimmy, I just-"
The ground beneath them rumbled like the start of an earthquake.
Straightening up from the bars, Buck looked at Jimmy. "What's going on?"
The older man shrugged and fired off a shot into the street. "Maybe a little help."
Buck craned his neck to try and see around Hickok and got a hiss for his efforts. "You tryin' to get yourself shot? Get down!"
The walls were fairly shaking with sound and the angry voices outside were now fearful screams.
Peering out from behind the web of fingers in front of his face, Buck let out a little sigh. "We're going to die, aren't we?"
Thunder rolled through the little jail and Jimmy threw the door open. "Not unless you want to, but really, I'm thinkin' we should get a steak over in the next town."
Boots pounded up the stairs and Jimmy stepped back out of the way. "What took you so long, George?"
The man's mustache twitched with humor. "I'd have been here sooner, Bill, but that wife of mine wouldn't let me leave until she packed up some cookies to bring with me."
Jimmy pressed his hand against his stomach. "I do love her cookies."
"I know," the general growled, "they're all for you."
"Jimmy?" Buck was on his feet, his mind whirling with confusion.
Jimmy waved off Buck's questioning look. "Don't worry, Buck… I'll let you have a few, but we should share with George here… "He could see the shock in Buck's expression, "Maybe you aught to explain, George."
The General nodded and stepped forward with a key ring dangling from his fingers. "Son, you've just been rescued by the Seventh Cavalry."
Buck couldn't seem to form the questions that were screaming through his head. He looked back and forth from Jimmy and General George Custer. "I… uh,… I… um…"
Jimmy shook his head and leaned his arm on one of the cross bars of the jail cell as the General removed the cuffs from Buck's wrists. "That's gratitude for ya."
Dropping the keys and cuffs on a nearby table, the General turned back to his friend. "I'm sure he'll thank you when he's regained his composure."
Smiling, Jimmy shook his head. "No need… after all he's my friend, it's the least I could do."
Thanks to two wonderful ladies. Cindy for the prompt: Buck and Jimmy in shared peril (captured, arrested, bad weather -- your choice); how do they get each other through it? And for Dede who insisted 1) that I have to write all three instead of just one… and 2) for giving me the added prompt of 'Friendship'