Author's Note: Story is set post-PX
"There ain't no way you're getting' me on a boat."
Lou turned away from the ticket window and skewered him with a look, the ambient noise from nearby vendors and waiting passengers faded away as she watched him. He shuffled one boot against the other as his gaze shifted out over the muddy waters for the Mississippi. "You said that we'd do whatever it was that I set my heart on and I'd like to ride one of the riverboats."
He almost seemed to dig his heels into the worn wood of the dock. "Isn't there somethin' else you'd like to do instead. Anything. I'll pay for it." His strained tone suggested he was already paying for it.
Her answering glare argued with him, he hadn't even begun to pay. "If I didn't know any better, Jimmy Hickok, I'd say you were pouting."
Pressing his lips together he looked away and back again. "What gives you that impression?"
Trying as he might to keep a straight face, he lost the battle and the corner of his mouth curled up as he folded his arms over his chest. The only thing he succeeded in doing was wrinkling the front of his freshly pressed shirt.
"Oh, I dunno," she knew the sing-song tone of her answer would dig right in beneath his skin, "maybe it's the fact that you're wrapped up tight like a little boy that doesn't want to eat his vegetables… or maybe it's the way your face has turned an odd shade of green… or maybe-"
"Or maybe," he interrupted, stepping a little closer as he dropped his arms stiffly to his sides, "I just think it's silly to ride a boat up the river and right back down again to the same place. If you want to see the river, then we'll take our horses and ride up a ways. We'll see what there is to see and come back down again."
"Maybe," she lowered her voice, a smile playing across her lips, "it might be nice to just stand there and watch the world go by." A paddle boat sailed into view, the great wheel slapping and churning behind it as the pushed forward along the top of the water. "We could sit or take a walk on the deck and-"
A few hurried shouts drew their attention as another boat, a smaller craft heavy with cargo waded out in front of it. The crews of both ships called out angrily as they struggled to force the two onto different paths.
The little craft rode the crest of a wave pushed up by the bow of the paddle boat, the crew grasping at whatever was handy to stay upright as the two missed each other narrowly.
Beside Jimmy, Lou bit into her lip as her eyes widened at the close call.
"You were saying," Jimmy drawled the word just an inch or two from her ear, "seems to me that ridin' one of them things is puttin' your life in the hands of whatever idiot that wants to take the wheel. It's dangerous."
She stared at him, a quizzical gaze fixed on his features as though he wore the leaves at the bottom of a teacup and she was a gypsy fortune teller. Then again, they knew each other so well that it really only took a moment of pondering his strange behavior to understand. "I can't believe this!" She gaped at him. "You're afraid."
There was nothing he could do but agree with her. Lying wasn't going to help. "Yeah… so?"
"I just don't understand, Jimmy, all of us used to go down to the swimmin' hole together… had ourselves a grand ol' time!"
He shrugged. "Sure we did, but if you'll think back… really think back… I never really," he stopped short, the words bottling up inside this throat. "Remember when Emma had to go to Fort Reunion?" He looked down at his boots.
Lou smiled, "Sure, she said she fell in the river and you jumped in after her."
"That part of the story is right," he looked back up at her with a little grimace, "I jumped in after her… but she saved my life."
It took a moment for the words to sink into her mind and then another before a sobering realization came over her and her fingers tightened around his forearm. "You can't swim."
He sighed, resigned to admitting his secret. "I can't." He couldn't help the little defensive lift of his chin.
Lou's expression softened, her hand rising to his shoulder. "We'll find something else to do. I just," she smiled encouraging, "thought it would be fun and-"
"It will." He took her hand in his and moved to the window. Reaching into his coat he withdrew his billfold. "Two tickets."
She watched him pay for the tickets and took hers in hand when he gave it to her, turning the piece of paper over and over before looking up at him. "Are you sure?"
He shrugged, but she could see the tense muscles in his jaw. "You said it was safe."
"Jimmy, if you don't want to, then-"
"I figure," he offered her his arm to walk her down to the boat dock, "if anything happens…" he looked down as Lou took his arm, "you'll jump in and save me."
She walked easily beside him, knowing that he narrowed his steps to match hers. "That's what friends are for."
Author's Note: Place the full blame for this on Marlea's shoulders… it's ALL her fault :D okay...