There was a always a chance that the Garretts would ride in in the middle of the night. There was always a chance that they’d sneak up on him in the dark. There was always a chance that someone had turned against the rest of the town looking to save their own necks…

And that’s why when everyone had fallen asleep, some where they stood, Jimmy Hickok made one last round of Benton before finding Emmett.

The smaller man raised a finger to ‘shush’ him as he walked up. “She’s asleep inside.”

Looking past Emmett into the darkened doorway Jimmy rubbed his hands together, suddenly cold. “I would tell you to take her and run for the hills.”

Emmett’s chuckle brought him back to reality. “I don’t think she’d-“

“Oh I learned a long time ago that she does what she wants.” Jimmy looked at Emmett and hoped that his voice didn’t waver as much as his resolve.

“And what she wanted was to stay.”

The words were simple but they rocked Jimmy down to the soles of his boots. It was true… every word. The problem was he was much too selfish to do what he should have done the instant she walked into the Saloon, tie her on her horse and send her packing. He was selfish… he wasn’t going to try to talk himself out of the thought… he was also too weak to do anything about it. “Yeah, she does what she wants to… there’s no arguing with that.”

Emmett stole a glance at the gunman and smiled to himself in the shadows. “Maybe that’s why you like her.”

Jimmy’s gaze fixed on Emmett’s face and the little man knew even in the darkest part of the street that Jimmy was looking right at him.

“I didn’t mean nuthin’ by it, I-”

“I’m goin’ in to check on her.”

Standing still in the darkness, Emmett nodded even though Jimmy couldn’t see him. The gunman had already turned toward the small house nearly hidden behind the saloon and was making his way toward the back door.

*** ***

The floor was sound and didn’t make a noise as he stepped into the room. The way he figured it, it was for the best, Lou had ridden the better part of the day to beat the Garretts and she could use all the sleep she could get.

He could barely make out the shape of her body beneath the blanket on the bed, but he didn’t want to walk up and touch her. He didn’t want to wake her if she was asleep.

“Lou?”

He flinched, waiting for her to groan or roll over and look at him. A moment later he tried again.

“You asleep?”

Silence. Not even a hint of movement.

Fighting sleep, Jimmy leaned against the wall rubbing at his eyes to ease the burning. “I’d never say it if you were awake,” he reasoned, “but I’m glad you’re here.”

The words were flat on his tongue, as if he was eating paper. “It doesn’t make any sense really, I know what we’re…” he almost chuckled, “I don’t know what’s about to happen.”

He didn’t dare think about how silly he was being standing there talking to her back.

“I know that no matter what happens when the Garretts get here, I’m goin’ to take out as many of them as I can at the start. I guess that’s what’s the worst part of this… I won’t be there to watch your back. I know you can handle yourself, but this wasn’t your fight, Lou. You rode into this for me and for that…” The breath he sucked into his lungs burned on the way down. “You’d never blame me for this, but I could have walked away from it… I would have if I thought you’d ever come riding into town to save me.”

His laughter was harsh even as it whispered through the room. “You’ve been tryin’ to do that for awhile now and I’m sorry that I’ve been such a… stubborn idiot about it.”

Her leg moved slightly under the blanket and he froze for a moment waiting for her voice and then eased into the silence when she didn’t wake.

“I dug in here because I felt responsible… I trained Matt and never got through to his head past the thick skull… I thought he was ready… thought I’d found someone to take your place-“ he pulled his hat down from his head and worried the brim between his hands, “so you could go on and… be happy.

“That would make one of us.” He spat out an unintelligible curse and balled up his fist ready to hit the wall. Waking Lou was the only thing that kept him from putting a dent in the wall… or putting a dent in his fist. “I don’t know why I’m sayin’ this to you…” but it was a lie. He knew exactly why he was doing it now. “I’m a chicken… I’m yella… there’s no excuse besides the fact that I want you to be happy.”

In place of her voice, he remembered not too long ago when she’d tried to get him to talk… when she’d tried to get him to see reason. Riding alongside of each other on the trail of Elias Mills she’d come right out and told him what to do.

”Jimmy, someday someone special’s gonna come along and you can’t just treat her like she don’t count for nothin’.”

“That’s the thing, Lou.” He answered her even though he knew she wouldn’t hear the words. “That’s what I’ve been doin’… If you weren’t the woman that you are… if you weren’t a woman I would die for… I would have told you right then and there that a kiss wasn’t where that night would have stopped. It’s stupid to try and explain it to you when I don’t understand it much myself, but I look back at Sarah and even Alice and I know that I was needed… and I needed them too. I was Sarah’s easy mark and Alice needed someone to show her that there was someone outside of her folks that could care for her.

“You’re different. You’re such a part of my life that I can’t even begin to figure out what I’m gonna do when I won’t get see you all the time. You count in ways I don’t even want to think about… but that’s why I’m… I’m never gonna tell you… that I need… you to make it out of here so you don’t pay for my stupid mistakes.”

He slapped his hat back on his head and took one last look at her sleeping form and cursed himself under his breath. “I’m never gonna tell you that you need to be the one to leave… cause I’d never leave you, Lou… I love you too much for that.”

*** ***

She listened to his footsteps across the floor and heard the soft click of the door as it shut behind him. Balling the edge of her blanket up she pressed it tight against her lips so he wouldn’t hear her cry.

What hurts the most
Was being so close
And havin' so much to say…*

*lyrics from ‘What Hurts the Most’ sung by: Rascal Flatts

Author’s Note - Prompt: Breathtaking – Never Mine
Thanks to Liz for not only beta reading this but for helping to inspire/plot out the next TWO stories... grrrr :D

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