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Fic: Simpatico [TYR]

Luck of the Draw challenge story written for The Writer's Ranch.

The draw:

Main character: Jimmy
Secondary character: Rancher/Miner
Setting: Saloon/Dance Hall
The problem: Errand for the Military/Temp Deputy



A/N: Set early in season 3, before Blood of Others.


They heard the man before they saw him. The small posse crept forward towards the sound, and five sets of eyes peered over the boulders that surrounded the clearing. The camp below was small but homely, with a coffee pot warming on its fire and clothes strung up to dry between two trees.

Singing could be heard echoing from the cave opening behind the canvas tent. It was in a language they did not understand or in a style they had heard before, but it wasn't unpleasant to the ear. The voice rose in a crescendo – the note that was held was pure and strong – and then there was silence.

"Keep watch now," whispered Marshal Parker.

The boys kept their eyes fixed on the cave opening. Jimmy cocked the hammer on his Colt, the noise causing the marshal to glare at him. Teaspoon's hand on Parker's shoulder refocused his attention, silently assuring him that his boys knew how to handle themselves. Beside Jimmy, Cody eased his rifle into place and trained the sight on the cave. Buck was crouched next to him, gun also at the ready.

"Easy," said Parker. "Wait 'til he shows himself."

They only had to wait for a minute, then the singing started again. It increased in volume until its source emerged from the cave. Teaspoon and the boys were surprised at the sight of him. When Marshal Parker had arrived in Rock Creek seeking his old friend Teaspoon's help in apprehending a criminal he'd been tracking from Ft. Kearny, they assumed it was a dangerous fellow he was after. But this man – young, handsome, and well kept for a man on the run – did not fit the part. He set down the pick axe that was slung over his shoulder and helped himself to some of the coffee on the fire.

"That him?" asked Teaspoon.

Parker nodded. "That's him all right."

"What are we arrestin' him for? 'Cause he sings funny?" Jimmy wondered darkly, annoyed to have been dragged away on his day off to help bring in such an innocuous looking man. He didn't know why they needed five men, two of them wearing badges, to capture him.

The man hummed as he set about making some breakfast. Soon the smell of frying bacon was in the air, making the boys' stomachs grumble. Jimmy was further put out when he thought about the breakfast Rachel would be cooking back at the bunkhouse – the breakfast they'd missed after riding out at dawn.

"Can we go get him now?" he asked petulantly. "Or do we wait until he's shaved and put out the welcome mat for us?"

"Just wait," Parker said tetchily, his eyes not wavering from the camp. "We have to see if… Ah, there she is, boys."

Jimmy looked back to see that a woman had emerged from the tent, drawn out, no doubt, by the delicious-smelling bacon. Despite the cold she was dressed in only a calico petticoat and lacy camisole, her blonde hair spilling over her shoulders. The man greeted her with a smile, and she sidled up to him and slipped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to kiss her passionately.

Cody grinned. "We should probably make a move soon, otherwise we might be waitin' a while."

"All right, I've seen enough," said Parker resignedly. "Ready, boys?"

On the marshal's count, the four other men rose to their feet and trained their weapons on the couple.

"Hold it right there, Rovere," yelled Parker. "Don't even think about running."

The man looked up in surprise. The woman yelped and hid behind him, but a wide smile broke out on the man's face. He held out his arms in a welcoming manner.

"Marshal Parker! This is surprise! Come, come." He beckoned them all forward, seemingly unaffected by the guns pointed at him. "Good morning, sirs! I am Giovanni Massimo della Rovere. We have coffee. Come, you join us!"

The man rummaged through their belongings, retrieving a couple of extra tin mugs. His thick Italian accent did not mask the friendliness in the offer. The pleasant way in which they'd been greeted confused the boys, who lowered their weapons hesitantly and looked to Teaspoon for direction.

"This is your murderer?" Teaspoon asked Marshal Parker, one eyebrow raised.

"Don't be fooled, boys, he's a slick customer," replied Parker, still aiming his gun at the man.

"I thought you said he killed a preacher's daughter."

"Well, she disappeared when he left town, so we weren't to know," said Parker sheepishly, but it was clear he was lying.

"That's the preacher's daughter, I take it?" Jimmy asked.

"That's Lucy," confirmed Parker grimly.

"She looks plenty alive to me," said Cody, pushing his hat back on his head. He grinned at her lasciviously, admiring her form which was all too evident in her half-dressed state.

Lucy had enough decorum to cover her bareness with a thick shawl she plucked off the ground, but she fixed Parker with a hateful stare.

"I'm not going back, Marshal. You can tell my father that Gianni and I are staying right here," she stated firmly.

Parker pulled his hat off. "Now, Miss Lucy, you know that ain't right. Unless... if it ain't Miss Lucy no more..."

Her chin rose defiantly and she caught the handsome man by the arm, pressing herself against his side. "I may not be Mrs Giovanni della Rovere yet, but I will be soon, won't I, Gianni?"

"Ah, Lucia," Rovere said, "we must put more bacon."

He slipped away from her and beckoned the others forward once more.

"We're getting married, Gianni. Tell him!"

Rovere smiled apologetically at the five men, keeping his back turned on Lucy who continued to shrilly berate the marshal. Instead of rescuing the woman from him it appeared Rovere was the one who needed rescuing.

"It ain't just Lucy I'm here for, Rovere," said Marshal Parker, embarrassed at the scene she was causing. "Jim Piker says you cheated him out of his silver mine here."

"No, no. No cheat, my friend," said Rovere sunnily. "We play cards and I win!"

"That ain't what he's saying. Reckons you swindled him for the title."

"I do not know what means 'swindle'."

"Means you didn't win it fair and square," said Parker. "Then you went and ran off with the preacher's only daughter... and the church takings as well. I got no choice but to arrest you."

"No!" cried Lucy, pausing long enough in her tirade to run to Rovere's side again. "He didn't steal any money!"

"And I'm taking you home, Lucy," Parker said.

"I won't go!"

Rovere turned to her and clasped her hands to his chest. "Maybe is for the best, Lucia."

"But Gianni..."

"Best to return to father."

"You said you loved me! You said I was your bella Lucia..."

"Teaspoon, take care of him, would you?" Parker handed him a pair of metal shackles and moved to calm the increasingly irate Lucy. He tried to cover her up with his jacket but she shrugged it off as she screeched at Rovere, gathering her clothes as she did so. Parker dragged her towards the horses which had been left over the rise.

"Thank you, my friend," Rovere said with a sigh of relief as Teaspoon clasped the cuffs around his wrists. His eyes, dark like the wavy hair that fell to his shoulders, were warm and friendly.

"We're taking you back to Rock Creek, son, then to the territorial judge in Nebraska City."

"But why?" Rovere asked, genuinely surprised.

"Seems the fella who owned this claim wants you charged with theft, not to mention what you stole from the preacher... er, the money from the church," said Teaspoon.

"I steal nothing. Is my silver mine – I have papers." Rovere indicated with his bounds wrists at a rucksack lying on the ground. "I am miner now, yes?"

"You'll have to tell it to the judge. Boys, go on and pack up the camp. Jimmy, you keep an eye on our prisoner here."

Teaspoon left them to it and found Parker trying to persuade an agitated Lucy onto a horse. She was weeping into her hands, wrenching herself from the marshal's grasp, so he let her be for a moment. Parker let out a long breath as he made his way over to Teaspoon.

"Well, thank you for your help, old friend," he said.

"I don't get it, Eli," Teaspoon said, looking back down into the camp where Rovere was assisting the boys to collect his things, and Jimmy stood around looking bored. "Why take him all the way to Nebraska City? Ain't you got a judge in Ft. Kearny?"

"We do. But Judge Leach may not be the right man for the job. Let's just say his view might be... er, biased."

Teaspoon chuckled soundlessly. "His daughter?"

"His wife," Parker admitted. "She won't allow the Italian scamp to be put in jail. And Judge Leach ain't one to stand up to her. I swear, Teaspoon, I'm glad to be a bachelor. I never seen the women in town so fixed on defending a gambling layabout before. You watch him close. He has a way of getting himself out of tight fixes."

"I reckon me and my boys can take care of him." Teaspoon straightened his old black hat. "'Sides, I'm a ladies' man myself from way back, Eli. Ain't too many tricks I don't know about."

"Well, here's the paperwork for the territorial judge." After dispensing with the wad of papers, Parker shook Teaspoon's hand. "Good luck, that's all I'll say."

Once Buck and Cody had gathered up Rovere's meager belongings from the camp they were soon headed back to town. To everyone's relief, especially their captive, Marshal Parker and Lucy were bound for Ft. Kearny instead.

* * *

The weather turned bad on their way home, the icy wind cutting through their jackets as the heavy, gray sky threatened snow. Everyone was relieved when the buildings of Rock Creek appeared on the horizon. Only Rovere seemed unaffected by the weather.

"Is beautiful, no?" he said cheerily, as they rode along.

"No, it ain't," grumbled Jimmy, pulling on the rope tied to the prisoner's horse.

The boys arrived back in time for a warming meal of beef stew that Rachel had kept for them in the bunkhouse. Teaspoon took Rovere to the jail and soon returned for his helping. Cody was filling in Noah and Lou on the day's happenings – positing what an Italian gambler turned miner and a preacher's daughter could possibly have gotten up to all alone in that camp – when Teaspoon interrupted the conversation.

"I need a volunteer to take our Italian guest to the territorial judge in Nebraska City," he said, after clearing his throat loudly.

The boys looked down at their plates and avoided his gaze. No one wanted to be outside any longer than necessary with the weather the way it was.

"Jimmy?" Teaspoon said, fixing him with a beady eye.

"What?"

"Thank you for volunteerin'."

"Now just hang on a minute..." Jimmy began to argue.

"Enjoy your trip, Jimmy," Cody needled. He snickered into his stew, oblivious to Jimmy's glare.

"I can go too, Teaspoon, if you want another gun," Lou piped up from across the table. "I don't hafta ride for a few days."

"That's all right, Lou," said Teaspoon, pouring himself a cup of coffee. "I reckon Jimmy can handle this one on his own."

"I don't see why I have to be the one," Jimmy grumbled. "It's close to freezin' out, Teaspoon. Why can't Marshal Parker send one of his deputies? Or for that matter why can't you?"

"You can argue all you want, son, but I made my decision. You'll leave first thing." Teaspoon sat back in his chair with a contented sigh and sipped his coffee.

A gust of cold wind blasted them as Rachel entered the bunkhouse and quickly shut the door behind her, having returned from the jailhouse where she'd delivered some of the stew for the prisoner. Her cheeks were rosy as she pulled off her coat, smiling down at everyone seated around the table. She began collecting their empty plates, humming to herself.

"You're in a good mood, Rachel," Teaspoon commented.

"I suppose I am," she murmured, a faint smile still on her face.

"Wouldn't have anythin' to do with the Italian, would it?" Cody asked slyly. "That preacher's daughter had the same look about her."

"Giovanni – I mean, Mr. Rovere – certainly is charming. And handsome. And that accent…" Rachel stopped herself, then blushed further. She was aware of all sets of eyes on her and proceeded to stack the dishes noisily. "He doesn't appear the sort to break the law, Teaspoon."

The marshal shook his head. "Eli Parker was right, he is a slick customer."

"Is he really all that handsome, Rachel?" asked Lou curiously.

Rachel glanced at Teaspoon then nodded at Lou, smothering a smile. The younger woman grinned.

"Maybe I'll take a walk into town," Lou said casually, rising from the table.

"It's freezin' out," Jimmy said again, still annoyed that Teaspoon had chosen him for the task.

"I'll take a coat."

"I'll walk with you," said Rachel quickly and the two women left, another gust of icy wind chilling the room as they slammed the door behind them.

"I'm glad the Kid's not here," said Buck. There were murmurs of agreement from Teaspoon, Noah and Cody.

"I don't know... might save me the trouble of totin' the man all the way to Nebraska City," Jimmy replied unhappily.

* * *

The next day dawned even colder than the one before. It was with great reluctance that Jimmy climbed out of his bunk, cursing Teaspoon, the Italian prisoner and the preacher's daughter. He dressed in his warmest clothes but as soon as he left the bunkhouse he still felt chilled to the bone. He fixed the deputy's badge on his jacket before stepping off the porch.

Teaspoon gave him the necessary papers for the territorial judge and set Rovere on a spare horse. Despite the early hour, the shackled man was bright-eyed and all smiles. He bade Teaspoon a fond farewell, and dipped his hat politely at Rachel and Lou who were waiting on the bunkhouse porch as they passed.

"Ride safe, Jimmy," Lou called out.

"Addio, signore. Arrivederci alla prossima volta!" Rovere sang to them both.

Jimmy rolled his eyes and kicked his horse into a trot.

He tried setting a swift pace but when it started to snow he reluctantly slowed his horse to walk, lest they lose the trail. He buttoned his jacket higher and squinted against the icy flakes that hit his face. Jimmy hadn't failed to notice the warm, expensive-looking coat and scarf his prisoner wore, undoubtedly purchased from ill-gotten gains. It made him even more resentful.

"Ah, is beautiful morning!" Rovere said, oblivious to the miserable sky or the shackles around his wrists. He looked over to Jimmy whose eyes were firmly fixed in front of him. "What is your name, my friend?"

"I ain't your friend," Jimmy replied gruffly.

"But your name?"

"What difference does it make?"

Rovere struggled to respond, unable to find all the right words. Jimmy sighed.

"It's Hickok. Jimmy Hickok."

"Jimmy. Hello, my friend! I am Giovanni Massimo della Rovere. I come from Roma."

"Nice to meet you," Jimmy said sarcastically.

"I am miner. I have silver mine. Is good work," Rovere told him as they rode along. "Back home in Roma I no have mine. Not even my father has mine. I learn all to do. And so I show my father, see, I have big silver mine in America. Is surprise."

"I like America," he continued, barely pausing for breath. "I learn to speak good. I try. But is difficult... Sometimes, come dite voi, is hard. I come to New York City. Then, I think, no, better to come to West. Is more opportunity."

Rovere looked expectantly at Jimmy, hoping for some response. When there was no reply he continued, undeterred. "This is big mistake. I play cards. I win silver mine. I no cheat. You understand me, yes?"

"Listen, Rovere..." Jimmy finally snapped.

"Gianni," he corrected cheerily.

Jimmy snorted in annoyance. "I don't care who you are or what you did. My job is to take you to Nebraska City, that's all. So do me a favor and keep your mouth shut and we'll get along just fine, all right?"

Rovere nodded in acquiescence and Jimmy turned his attention back to the trail which was covered in powdery snow. They rode along in silence for all of five minutes when Gianni spoke up again.

"I must write letter to my Lucia. To say goodbye."

Jimmy swore under his breath – so much for peace and quiet.

"She is beautiful woman, but she no like my silver mine."

Jimmy pressed his lips together in a grim line, ignoring him.

"She no like camp. She better like hotel and nice things. But me, I like it. Is nice outdoors, not too cold. Lucia say we must stay hotel. But I say, I am miner now. I find much silver – much money, yes? Then we stay nice hotel. Then I show father I no need his money."

Gianni let out a long breath. "She very beautiful woman, Lucia. But has un caratteraccio... much temper."

"Why'd you take her with you, then?" Jimmy snapped, then swore at himself for engaging in any sort of conversation with the man.

"She follow me. I want to work, and when I win mine, I think is good idea. When I leave Ft. Kearny, she follow."

"Humph," was all Jimmy said in reply.

"She wants to marry, but I think no," said Gianni contemplatively. "She is not best for me."

They rode on for a few minutes.

"Do you have love for a woman, my friend?" Gianni asked.

Jimmy threw him an annoyed glance.

"Ah, I see maybe yes! Love is beautiful thing," he mused. "And there is many beautiful woman in America. Is lucky for me."

"I bet."

"Yes, I have loved many. But I no find the best – I always look but I no find," Gianni's voice grew a little sad. "My best, my heart, is in Roma."

"Why are you here, then?" asked Jimmy brusquely. He certainly wished Rovere had not made the journey.

"She is my brother's wife," admitted Gianni. "My older brother, Lorenzo. She choose him, so I go… I understand, he is older brother, I am only second son. But Marcella… she is my heart, yes? Since we are bambini."

Gianni grew quiet, then sighed. "I hope maybe I find beautiful woman like Marcella in America. Then I am happy."

"Until then I guess a preacher's daughter will have to do," Jimmy replied sarcastically.

"Hmm... Maybe if she no talk so much," said Gianni with a trace of regret.

* * *

For the next several hours Rovere tried to engage Jimmy in conversation by inquiring about his work with the Pony Express, his friends, his family, where he'd come from. The replies, when Jimmy bothered to make any, were abrupt. But the one-sided nature of their conversing did not seem to bother the Italian, and he managed to keep talking throughout the rest of the morning and while they stopped to water the horses and eat lunch.

After he'd exhausted his English vocabulary, Jimmy had hoped for a reprieve. But when they started riding again Rovere started singing arias instead. Jimmy cursed out loud.

* * *

By late afternoon they had not gone as far as Jimmy wanted, but the horses needed to be rested and he wanted to make a fire before darkness fell. When he could find no dry wood to start it, however, it appeared they would be spending a long, cold night camping with only cornbread to sustain them.

Jimmy knew they weren't far from Cottonwood. He'd stopped there before on a special run to Nebraska City, when the lure of a saloon was too much to pass up. He counted the money in his pocket and cursed the fact that he'd given most of his last pay to the Kid, money he'd long owed him. But Jimmy reckoned he'd at least be able to afford a room, a hot meal and a shot or two of whiskey for warmth. He would just have to ask the town marshal to keep watch over his prisoner for the night. The thought that he might get a moment's peace was enough to spur Jimmy on, and soon they were on horseback again.

Cottonwood was not much of a town, but it had a few saloons, a hotel, and plenty of cowboys who passed through and spent their money on women and liquor. Jimmy tied their horses up outside the marshal's office and was surprised to find a crowd spilling out onto the muddy sideboards. He took a length of rope and tied Rovere's hands tightly to the saddle horn, warning him to stay put. Gianni just smiled passively.

Jimmy pushed his way through the rabble of townsfolk who were having a heated discussion with the harried looking lawman.

"I told you folks, go home. Duggan is locked up and he's gonna stay that way," the marshal yelled above their protests.

"It ain't right, Marshal! It was no fair fight – he shot Andy down in cold blood," an older man shouted above the others. "We all saw it."

"Tell it to the judge, Tobias. There'll be a trial and Duggan will get what's coming to him."

"We'll give it to him right now!" another man jeered and the crowd agreed loudly.

The marshal rubbed his forehead tiredly as the noise continued, and did not see Jimmy appear before him.

"Marshal?" said Jimmy. "James Hickok. Marshal Hunter from Rock Creek sent me."

The man looked confused. "What business do you have here, Deputy?"

"None, sir. I got a prisoner with me, we're headin' for Nebraska City. I was hopin' you could keep him here in the jailhouse tonight and we'll head out first thing."

"Not tonight, son, I got my hands full," the marshal replied dismissively.

"He won't be no trouble, he's quiet as a mouse," Jimmy lied.

"That may be, but I got a bad man in here and I only got one cell. I wouldn't put my worst enemy in there with him. I'm sorry, son."

The crowd pushed forward again to regain the marshal's attention, shoving Jimmy out of the way. He swore some more as he returned outside, his mood growing even darker when Rovere greeted him with a happy grin.

"What are you so cheery about?" he groused.

"We stay here tonight, yes?" Gianni asked, glancing around the town.

"Unless you want to freeze, we are." Jimmy set about unlacing the rope and wondered what he would do now. He could hardly take a prisoner to the hotel, but he didn't relish the idea of sleeping outdoors either. He looked up at Rovere. "I don't suppose you got any money, do you? 'Cause I ain't buyin' you dinner."

"No money. I buy pick and tools for silver mine." There was a hint of longing in Gianni's voice for his beloved mine.

"Well, looks like you get the cornbread Rachel packed. I'm eatin' at the hotel. You better behave yourself while we're in there, all right?"

"Is fine." Gianni's face brightened in an instant. "You have money?"

Jimmy's eyes narrowed. "Yes."

The prisoner fixed his gaze on the rowdiest saloon, then looked back at Jimmy. "You give me. I play cards."

"Hell I will," Jimmy retorted.

"I win money. Much money, yes? Then we eat and sleep in hotel, not outside."

"I ain't givin' my money to no card cheat," Jimmy said, but was thinking that it wasn't such a bad idea. If Jimmy played a few hands of poker himself he might win enough to ensure his return journey from Nebraska City wasn't too unpleasant.

"I tell you, I no cheat." Gianni slipped down off the saddle and fixed Jimmy with an earnest stare. "I play, yes? You see, I win."

"Come on." Jimmy ushered him by the arm and they crossed the main street to the saloon. Once inside Jimmy shrugged off his jacket and folded it over Rovere's bound wrists in order to avoid any explanations. It also hid the tin star pinned to the front of it. He glanced around the smoky room and found an empty seat at a table where a game was about to start.

"Deal me in," Jimmy said and withdrew the few precious bills from his pocket.

Gianni stood behind him, watching intently as they played. He tutted every now and again when Jimmy made a bet, which drew him angry glances from the card holder. But his instincts turned out to be accurate, as Jimmy lost each hand and soon his money was gone. He stood up, annoyed at himself, and found one of the bar girls offering Rovere a shot of whisky on a tray. Gianni was smiling winningly, clearly charming her, but before he could accept the drink Jimmy snatched it up.

"He can't pay for it," Jimmy said curtly.

"It's on the house," the woman replied, casting a lustful eye at Rovere.

"Many thanks then," said Jimmy and downed the drink in one gulp. He turned to his prisoner and began to usher him out. "Come on. Looks like we're gonna have to sleep outside after all."

"Wait," pleaded Gianni. "I win."

"I ain't got any money to bet with."

"Is okay, my friend. Please..." He proffered his hands so Jimmy could unshackle him.

Jimmy's eyes narrowed. "How do I know you won't make a run for it?"

"I give you my word. Yes?"

After remembering just how cold it was outside, Jimmy relented and surreptitiously unlocked the handcuffs. He admitted to himself he was curious to see how Rovere could do it.

Gianni ducked between a few of the hotel patrons and found the woman who'd offered him the drink. He whispered in her ear for a few moments, his dark eyes shining. A sly grin appeared on her face and she slowly withdrew a few bills from her cleavage. Jimmy was impressed when Gianni held up the money then, with a wink, returned to the table where Jimmy had just lost.

Jimmy remained a few feet behind him, positioning himself between his prisoner and the saloon door just in case he remembered he was on his way to jail.

"Another drink?" said the woman who appeared at Jimmy's side. It was Gianni's friend again.

"Is it still on the house?"

"It is if you're with him."

Jimmy didn't argue and accepted the whiskey.

* * *

Within half an hour Gianni had a neat pile of money in front of him and had managed to befriend everyone at the table. No one begrudged him his winnings, and allowed him to leave before they had a chance to win their money back. He handed a wad of bills back to the woman, much thicker than the one he'd borrowed, and then went over to join Jimmy who was leaning on the bar.

"You see, my friend, we have money," Gianni said proudly.

Jimmy did a quick count. There was plenty for a hearty meal and a room, and then some.

"A drink, yes?" Gianni went on, and ordered two shots of whiskey from the bartender.

Jimmy figured he was on deputy business this trip, not working for Russell, Majors and Waddell, so he didn't feel guilty for drinking on the job. He downed the glass quickly.

They ate at the hotel restaurant next to the saloon, where Gianni convinced the owner to part with a dusty bottle of wine he'd been hoarding in his cellar. Jimmy, astounded that Rovere had spent fifteen whole dollars on the dark looking liquid, tentatively dipped his tongue into the glass. He screwed his nose up at the taste, and quickly ordered a beer instead.

They ate until they were near bursting. Then after dinner the restaurant owner produced a fiddle and Gianni entertained everyone with an Italian song. And though no one understood the words they clapped along and even joined in the chorus at Gianni's urging. Jimmy sat in the corner, nursing his beer, and shook his head at the man's ability to win over complete strangers.

It was late when the party in the restaurant finally broke up. Jimmy inquired about a room for the night, to be told that Gianni had already secured the last room for them – the finest in the hotel. Even the horses were receiving the best of care in the town livery, thanks to Gianni. They trudged up the stairs, bellies full, to the surprisingly decadent room which reminded Jimmy of Grace's cathouse in Sweetwater. He eyed the double bed in the middle of the room.

"I ain't sharin' no bed with you," Jimmy stated firmly. There was an overstuffed arm chair but no other form of bedding in the room. "I guess you'll be takin' the floor."

Gianni was not phased by the slight, nor did he remind Jimmy that he was paying for the room. He gave him a half bow instead, and settled himself on the rug. Jimmy pulled off his boots and tested the comfort of the soft bed. He had never felt anything as warm and inviting as the downy quilt. His eyelids grew heavy as soon as he lay down, nestling contentedly. After a few moments he stopped, then pulled one of the pillows from the bed and threw it over to Gianni.

"Thank you, my friend," was the reply.

Jimmy closed his eyes again, sleepy from the long day and the alcohol he'd consumed. Only then did he remember why he was there at all and pulled himself up so he could lock the door. He look pointedly at Gianni as he put the key into his pocket, then returned to the bed. He blew out the lamp and settled back with a sigh. Jimmy could hear faint music and laughter from the saloon next door but it only served to lull him further.

The interruption to his slumber was not long coming.

"Jimmy?"

"What?" he growled.

"I no steal that money. I no cheat. I play cards and I win my silver mine."

Jimmy opened his eyes in the darkness. "Maybe so. But I still have to take you to Nebraska City."

"I understand," said Gianni. "But is not true. Is important you know this."

"All right," muttered Jimmy, confused as to why.

"Good night, my friend."

Jimmy frowned, annoyed again. He didn't bother to reply.

* * *

He had intended to sleep lightly, rise early and be headed to Nebraska City at dawn. But the hotel bed, with all its unfamiliar comforts, and too many long, tiring days riding for the Express, resulted in Jimmy getting the best night's sleep he could remember. Upon waking, he squinted against the light and rolled over, his head sinking into the soft pillow once more. He stretched languidly and let out a contented sigh. It was only then that he remembered. With a low grumble he pulled himself up and peered across the room to where Gianni had spent the night on the floor.

It was bare.

Panic gripped Jimmy as he leapt from the bed and looked around the room. Realizing he was alone, he swore loudly and tugged on his boots as he made for the door, almost tripping in his haste, with his gun belt tucked awkwardly under his chin. The door was unlocked. Jimmy felt for the key in his shirt pocket and found it gone. He swore again and quickly descended the hotel stairs.

He was running to the front door of the establishment when he heard a familiar laugh from the dining room. Jimmy stopped and stared in surprise at Gianni who sat in the middle of the restaurant eating breakfast with the hotel owner, his cook, and the woman who'd staked him his poker money.

"Ah, Jimmy, you wake up! Good morning!" Gianni's voice boomed across the half-empty restaurant. "Come, join us."

Jimmy finished strapping his guns to his hips and glowered at Gianni.

"Coffee, son?" the hotel owner asked him jovially, and poured a cup without waiting for a response.

"Please, Jack, some of your delizioso biscuits for my friend. Grazie," Gianni said to the cook, who promptly disappeared inside the kitchen.

Jimmy slowly took a seat at the table, mindful of the knowing look the woman was giving him. He felt a fool for oversleeping and failing in his deputy duties. At least his prisoner hadn't fled – he didn't know how he would explain that one to Teaspoon.

Gianni insisted that Jimmy eat a proper breakfast, and chatted amiably with his new friends while he did so. Jimmy wondered if they knew about the shackles waiting for Gianni in the room above, and that he was on his way to be tried by the territorial judge for larceny. Somehow he wouldn't be surprised if they had known the truth and didn't care – Jimmy had soon learned that was typical of the reaction Gianni received when he befriended people.

When he collected his saddle bag from the room, Jimmy looked at the shackles and then at Gianni who was waiting calmly for them to be reattached to his wrists. After a brief pause, Jimmy shoved them into the bag and decided to wait until they had left the hotel to cuff the man again. He thought it was a fair trade for the food and shelter that had been bought from Gianni's winnings.

The hotel owner had their horses waiting for them, and shook Gianni's hand goodbye. He made the Italian promise to return sometime to sing more songs in his restaurant, to which Gianni politely agreed. Then he raised his hat in farewell to the woman from the saloon and received a long kiss in response. Jimmy looked away, vaguely embarrassed, when the kiss lingered. Eventually he cleared his throat and shoved Gianni unceremoniously with his shoulder as he prepared his horse. Only then did she release him.

"Addio, mia dolce fanciulla. Voi siete una stella lucente nel cielo notturno. Non dimenticherò mai la vostra gentilezza. Ne il vostro petto," Gianni said, and kissed her hand.

Jimmy turned his attention to the crowd that was gathered again in front of the marshal's office and even more vocal than the previous evening. He was pleased to be leaving Cottonwood before things turned ugly.

"Unless you want to get caught up in a lynch mob, I suggest we get out of here," he said firmly.

Gianni didn't dally further, and pulled himself into the saddle.

"Goodbye, my friends!" he called out as they rode quickly out of town.

Once they had left Cottonwood behind them, Jimmy thought about retrieving the shackles from his saddle bag. He made no move to do so, however, figuring Gianni was unlikely to make a run for it now. Not when he'd had plenty of opportunity to do so while Jimmy slept. He couldn't understand it.

"Why didn't you leave this morning?" Jimmy asked abruptly, interrupting Gianni who was speaking on a different topic entirely.

"Why...?"

"This morning," Jimmy repeated. "You could have left. You had the horse and money, and the key to the room."

"Ah. If I leave you would be in much trouble from Marshal Teaspoon, yes?"

"I don't s'pose he'd be too happy about it, no."

"Perhaps that is why I stay." Gianni wore an unreadable smile that only served to infuriate Jimmy further.

"What do you care what happens to me? I was you, I'da been miles from here given half the chance."

"We are friends, you and I. I no want you to be in trouble for losing Gianni."

Jimmy sighed. "I ain't your friend. Why don't you get that?"

Gianni looked genuinely surprised. "But we have party! We sing, we drink wine."

"I didn't sing or drink no wine," Jimmy reminded him.

"Jimmy, my friend, you must smile and be happy. Always like this." Gianni threw him an exaggerated frown. "But is beautiful day! Smile!"

"You're the one bein' takin' to the territorial judge," Jimmy replied, unable to hide the exasperation in his voice. "You ain't got nothin' to be happy about!"

"Do not worry about me." With a grin he kicked his horse a rode ahead of Jimmy a few paces.

"I ain't worried!" Jimmy yelled in response.

* * *

"I like Cottonwood," Gianni said an hour and two arias later. "It is nice town."

"Humph. Nice women, more like," said Jimmy.

"That is true, my friend. So many beautiful women in America."

Jimmy glanced over at the man, so handsome and confident that it appeared nothing could shake him. Jimmy was not much different, but he had none of the sunny disposition of the Italian who, like it or not, had an uncanny ability to draw people to him.

"How do you do it?" Jimmy asked eventually, after he let Gianni wax lyrical – in some English and much Italian – on the attributes of his new female friend.

"What is that?"

"We weren't in that saloon more'n a half hour and you had her eatin' out of your hand," Jimmy said with a modicum of admiration.

"Eating?" Gianni looked confused and looked down at his hands.

Jimmy snorted in annoyance. "She liked you right off, is what I mean."

"Oh, yes. I understand."

"So did Rachel," Jimmy said.

"Ah, Mrs. Dunne. Very beautiful lady," Gianni mused. "And Miss Louise. You are lucky man to know such fine ladies, my friend."

Jimmy was surprised that he knew the truth about Lou, but then admitted there was probably very little Giovanni Massimo della Rovere couldn't find out about a woman given a minute in her presence.

"What's the trick? You and these women?"

"Trick? No trick. Is not hard to like such fine ladies."

"They don't always like a man right back, though."

Gianni shrugged, as if the thought had never occurred to him. "I think so for you too, yes? Sometimes?"

"Sometimes," Jimmy admitted. There had been some women, some he'd felt an immediate attraction for and who'd felt the same way about him. Clara, Sarah, Alice... maybe even Lou, even though they'd never really taken their burgeoning attraction further.

"You must fare loro i complimenti – you say 'how beautiful you are'. That is secret to women."

"Oh, is that right?" Jimmy replied sarcastically.

"You try, yes? You see. Gianni is right. Soon, maybe you find you best, your heart. I hope so, my friend."

Jimmy frowned. He had never gone looking for "the one", like there was someone he was destined for. Not the way Gianni had described it anyway. Jimmy doubted he would feel that way about anyone, or let himself feel it anyway. He certainly wouldn't allow himself to consider what he had been thinking about Lou lately. There were too many consequences to contemplate if he dared.

Theirs had always been an easy friendship, one that could so easily be ruined if he made a mess of it. But then he remembered how beautiful she'd looked in Willow Springs, how shy and happy she'd been, having the opportunity to dress like a lady. That was before his plans had all been ruined, when once again his past, present and future caught up with him and threatened her safety. Jimmy had tried to keep his distance since, but he was finding it increasingly hard to do so.

"You think about her now, yes?" Gianni said teasingly.

Jimmy shot him an angry glare. "I don't need no advice about women from you."

He rode ahead in silence.

* * *

They arrived in Nebraska City by midday. Jimmy quickly located the jailhouse and delivered Gianni to the law. Even though he was to be held in the city jail until the judge would try his case, Gianni's mood did not falter. Jimmy saw him settled in his cell and handed him his coat and scarf through the bars. He glanced around the cold, dank surrounds and figured he was going to need them.

"Well, so long," Jimmy said gruffly.

"Wait, Jimmy… Please," Gianni held out a fistful of money to him. "For hotel, so you no get cold."

Jimmy felt a stab of guilt. "That's your money. I'll be fine."

"No, is for you. Please. If not for me, you stay in Rock Creek. Please."

Jimmy reluctantly took the money. He looked around the cell again. "I don't suppose they'll keep you here long," he said, though he had no idea if that were true.

"I be fine too. Is not so bad," Gianni replied, ever optimistic.

"Well, I best be goin'..."

"Goodbye, my friend." Gianni stuck out his hand between the bars and shook Jimmy's. "Maybe we meet again. And I meet your beautiful woman."

Jimmy stifled the urge to roll his eyes again and pressed Gianni's hand firmly. "Good luck to you."

"And you, my friend."

Jimmy turned and left.

* * *

The journey home felt longer, and though he was loath to admit it, Jimmy vaguely missed Gianni's companionship. The cold weather set in firmly but he avoided Cottonwood when night fell, mainly due to the fact that he didn't want to have to explain to all of Gianni's new friends where he was now. Instead he paid a rancher a couple of dollars to sleep in his barn and for shelter and feed for the two horses.

When he returned to the Express station Cody was up in arms over a new set of gloves he thought had been stolen from his locker, only to sheepishly admit later that he'd left them in his jacket pocket. Teaspoon had come down with a cold and was consulting a book on various remedies, all of which appeared to make him sicker. Buck, Noah and the Kid were glad Jimmy was back because he was one more person to draw straws when it came to taking a special run. No one wanted to journey out into the cold unless they absolutely had to. Buck lost.

It was a few days later that Jimmy had the opportunity to talk to Lou alone. She found him mucking out the stables, having lost a bet with Noah that the Black rider couldn't successfully hide Cody's gloves again in order to send him off on another tirade. She had just returned from a run and wanted to brush Lightning down straight away.

"Hey," she said, brightening at the sight of Jimmy knee-deep in fresh hay.

He was trying not to sneeze, his face screwed up with the effort. "You're back. How was your ride?"

"Bless you," said Lou when he was unsuccessful. "It was fine. I've just been to Teaspoon's office – there was a dispatch for him from Nebraska City."

He helped her unsaddle her horse. "Yeah?"

"Uh huh, from the territorial judge. He wanted to let Teaspoon know that your Italian prisoner had been found guilty and was sentenced to serve five years."

"Is that right?" Jimmy said quietly. He felt disappointed for Gianni, though it irked him to admit it. He might have been annoying, but Jimmy doubted he had actually stolen any money from the preacher. It was obvious the daughter had committed the crime. And given what Jimmy had seen of his skills at poker, he guessed Gianni had also won his silver mine fair and square.

"Yep. But it seems he managed to give the law the slip – they went to take him his breakfast the next morning and his cell was empty."

A small smile appeared on Jimmy's lips. "The jailor's wife didn't go missing too, did she?"

"I don't know, why?" Lou said curiously.

"I wouldn't be surprised, that's all." Jimmy turned to hoist her saddle onto the rail and allowed himself a quick grin, imagining Gianni on the road somewhere, maybe back at the hotel they'd stayed at, singing for folks while they ate.

"What was he like, anyhow?" she asked.

"Annoyin'."

Lou started brushing Lightning vigorously. "I thought he was charming."

Jimmy humphed. "He barely stopped talking from here to Nebraska City. And when he did stop talking he started singin' instead."

"I can think of worse traveling companions," said Lou slyly, remembering the handsome man.

"That why you offered to come along?"

Lou shrugged in a non-committal way, smiling to herself.

Jimmy finished spreading the last of the hay. "Well, I'll take you along the next time I get roped into taking a prisoner somewhere, all right?"

"All right then," she replied.

Jimmy walked towards the door of the barn, but then stopped. He turned and watched her for a moment until she looked questioningly at him.

"What?"

"Nothin.'" He fixed her with a calm stare. "You look pretty today, Lou."

She frowned in surprise, looking down at her muddy riding clothes.

"Er, thanks, Jimmy."

He headed for the door, smiling at the look of amazement and, if he wasn't mistaken, happiness that she still wore. He walked back to the bunkhouse, humming softly to himself. The same song was stuck in his head for the rest of the day, and it was only later that he realized it was the Italian tune that Gianni had sung at the restaurant in Cottonwood.

FIN

* * *

A/N: Thank you to Paola for helping me with Gianni – especially his words.

For the curious (and non Italian speakers like myself), Gianni's farewell to the woman in Cottonwood means:

"Goodbye, beautiful lady. You are a bright star in the night's sky. I will not forget your kindness. Or your bosom."

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
annaryder
Jul. 2nd, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC)
Simpatico
Hi Broedy!

This is still my favorite of the Luck of the Draw entries! Adorable!
broedym
Jul. 3rd, 2008 09:06 am (UTC)
Re: Simpatico
Thanks Ellie! :-) It was a bit of a departure, being a Jimmy/Lou story and all... Oh well, I had to try and it once!
wendymypooh
Jul. 19th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story Broedy! I enjoyed it immensely! Gianni was a very colorful character and it would be hard for anyone not to like him....
broedym
Jul. 20th, 2010 10:50 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks! I had a lot of fun writing this one, and even ventured to the dark side (aka Jimmy/Lou). ;-) I recovered enough to never do it again, though. Tee hee.
wendymypooh
Jul. 23rd, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
Nothing wrong with walking on the dark side every now and then(Jimmy/Lou)...as long as you see the light and go back to the light side (Kid/Lou). Talking TYR, but channeling Star Wars...lol.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )