Convert this page to Pilot DOC Format
Disclaimers- Xena, Gabby and everyone else from the show don't belong to me :-( MCA/Universal do own them though.
Uber-Xena- But of course & it's a sequel to Outlaw (in case you didn't know). It's not completely necessary to read the 1st one but it would help.
Finally subtext- They're in love, so get over it if you don't like that...no sex though. I don't feel the need to write that...use you imagination if you want to see it!!
Oh yeah, the song belongs to Mercury records (Country music! Whoohoo!).
In Loving Memory of Ryan A. Profet, May 10, 1982 - April 6, 1998, Battle On Ryan!
Outlaw II...Outlaws, Guns, & Roses
"You've got a way with me
Somehow you got me to believe
In everything that I could be
I've gotta say - you've really got a way
You've got a way it seems
You gave me faith to find my dreams
You'll never know just what that means
Can't you see...You've got a way with me
You've got a way with words
You get me smiling even when it hurts
There's no way to measure what your love is worth
I can't believe the way you get through to me
Oh, how I adore you
Like no one before you
I love you just the way you are
It's just the way you are."
The three months spent at Cyrena's house in South Carolina had done a world of good for Zeen Zamorra and her companion Rielle MacGab. The outlaw had visibly relaxed over the weeks and surprisingly had not grown too restless during her stay. Zeen had busied herself with helping to mend a fence or a roof for someone in town, teaching the young children who idolized her to tie trick knots (much to their mother's displeasure), helping her mother out at the inn, and more often than not, spending time with Rielle. Rielle had grown quite at home in Charleston which was not surprising considering the fact that it took the town all of two days to fall in love with the young woman. There was not a single person in town who did not adore Rielle MacGab, the young woman had captured their hearts with her kindness...and with her stories. Night after night people would flock to Cyrena's inn to listen to the young woman spin tales old and new alike, her sweet mellifluous voice captured the room and left the people begging to hear just one more. Sometimes Rielle would give in to the pleas and tell one more tale, other times she would politely decline, saying that there would be more tomorrow. Then the people would head home realizing how tired they were, but happy that there would be more amazing tales the next evening. Every night, as the inn emptied, one audience member who sat hidden in the shadows at the back of the inn, watched, still captivated, as the young woman modestly accepted the praise for her stories. When the last person left the inn, Zeen would move out of the shadows and give her friend a crooked grin which was her way of saying, 'Good job.' The two would then spend the rest of the evening on the roof of the inn, gazing up at the stars.
Chapter I: California, Here We Come
The bustling platform at the Southern Pacific station in San Francisco nearly cleared as the tall, dark form emerged from the gray smoke surrounding the train. Behind the intimidating form, a smaller one appeared and anyone who would have waited around for the smoke to clear would have seen that the bright smile which graced the petite young woman's face was grudgingly reflected on her tall companion's lips.
"I can't believe it! We're actually here Zeen!" the young woman exclaimed, clapping her hands together.
"Yep," Zeen replied, collecting their two small bags.
Rielle smiled up at her friend and said, "Thank you."
"For coming here because I said that I thought it would be fun, and for riding in that small train car for hours on end even though you hate to be stuck in small places," Rielle answered, then added playfully, "And for offering to carry my bag to the inn."
Zeen raised a dark eyebrow and said, "I don't remember volunteering for that last part."
"Really?" Rielle asked over her shoulder as she started in the direction of the street. "Then I guess you'll just have to take my word for it...you volunteered."
With an exaggerated roll of her bright blue eyes and a sigh, the outlaw Zeen 'Lawless' Zamorra slung her companion's bag over her shoulder.
"Zeen," Rielle said without turning around. "As my mother would say, 'Don't roll your eyes dear, or one day they'll get stuck that way.'"
"How- ?" the outlaw started, but was cut off by Rielle who wasn't finished teasing.
"And those baby blues are too exquisite to be stuck in the back of your head like that."
'Damn,' Zeen cursed to herself. "What was I going to say?"
"You were going to say, 'Why Rielle, OF COURSE! I'd love to buy you dinner.'"
Zeen narrowed her eyes at Rielle's rapidly retreating back and muttered, "Was not...but okay."
"Great!" Rielle exclaimed, running back to her friend and taking her bag back with a grin. "Let's go!"
People...Rielle had never seen so many people in all her life. The young woman drifted through the crowded streets absorbing every new sight and sound that the city had to offer and storing them in her memory for later use. She was well aware of the fact that Zeen was trailing along somewhere behind her, but completely oblivious to the occasional flying body of a pickpocket or a "gentleman" who was getting too close to her.
"Rielle," Zeen called, walking up alongside her friend. "There's only one...inn...that has vacancy."
Rielle studied her friend's face for a moment, then asked, "What's wrong with it?"
"It um...it provides...entertainment," Zeen stammered, running a hand through her black hair and hoping that she would not have to explain to Rielle what the 'entertainment' was.
"And that's a bad thing?" Rielle asked. "Y'know it wouldn't kill you to have a little fun once in a while Zeen."
The outlaw cursed silently to herself as she felt the blush creep onto her cheeks. "Rielle-"
"You seemed so at ease when we were at mom's, and I realize that you have to be on your guard now because someone might recognize you, but more than likely no one out here knows you so-"
The young woman finally looked up and saw the blush on her companion's cheeks. "What's wrong?"
"You're thinking of a different kind of entertainment," Zeen muttered.
"What do you - OH!!" Rielle said, understanding dawning in her mist green eyes. "Well, I think we should take a room anyway and if it turns out to be really awful we can always leave."
"It's your decision."
"Lead the way," Rielle said, immediately breaking into a grin once Zeen had turned her back. 'Gotcha!'
"Rielle," Zeen said in a serious tone. "Walk beside me?"
'Till the day I die,' was the young woman's silent vow as she joined her companion.
"I just want you to know," Zeen started as they entered the Gold Rush Inn. "That when I tell you to stay behind me it's only because I want to keep you safe. I know it makes you angry at times because you can defend yourself but...you deserve better than to stand in anyone's shadow, especially mine."
Rielle smiled warmly at Zeen and said, "I understand Zeen, and I do feel safe when I'm with you...and Zeen, I don't feel like I'm standing in your shadow."
"Good," Zeen said. 'If anything ever happens to you I'll never forgive myself.'
The inside of the Gold Rush Inn was crowded and smoke filled, but it seemed relatively clean. There were crowds of rough looking men at the small wooden tables playing cards, drinking whiskey, and smoking cigars while the piano player pounded out Ragtime tunes, and saucy women in low cut dresses slithered between the tables and occasionally took a more than willing man upstairs with them.
"Zeen-" Rielle started, but was cut off as a buxom blond swished between them and gave the outlaw a wink and a fetching smile. Rielle glared at the woman's back then quite deliberately stepped on the bottom of the woman's skirt, causing her to trip.
Zeen frowned, trying to figure out if she had actually seen what she thought she had, and asked, "Rielle, did you just-?"
"No I did not!" Rielle said quickly. "Zeen, this is NOT an inn, it's a brothel!"
"Yes, but it's a place to stay, unless you'd rather find a place to camp."
"Okay, but we're not eating here," Rielle said. 'Who knows where the cook's hands have been.'
"Fine with me," Zeen agreed. "Anyway, who knows where the cook's hands have been."
Rielle gave her companion a slightly surprised look and muttered, "My thoughts exactly."
"C'mon." Zeen jerked her head towards the bar and waited for Rielle to join her.
"Are you getting a drink?"
"No, a room," Zeen answered, clearing a path to the bar with one heartless glare.
"What'll it be lady?" the large, barrel-chested bartender grumbled.
"Who do I see about a room?" Zeen asked coolly.
The large man looked the tall, raven haired beauty up and down and said, "Just about anyone you'd like."
The outlaw leaned across the bar so that her emotionless blue eyes were boring into the bartender's, and said in cold, liquid tones, "I don't like to repeat myself but I'll ask that question one more time so that you can reconsider your answer...who do I see about a room?"
The bartender, who had suddenly gone quite pale answered weakly, "The owner, Mae...I'll go get her."
"A woman owns this place," Rielle muttered to Zeen after the bartender had departed. "That's hard to believe."
"Yeah, well this isn't Cherry Creek Rielle, this isn't a small town, and these people aren't farmers," Zeen said.
"True," Rielle agreed. "Definitely interesting."
"Uh huh, I'm sure it is-"
"Well, I don't believe it!" a honeyed female voice drawled from behind the two.
The outlaw and her companion turned to face a small woman with gray eyes and flame red hair. Zeen narrowed her eyes and asked, "Mae?"
"Some call me that," the woman said, studying the outlaw. "And you're Zeen 'Lawless' Zamorra?"
Zeen smirked and replied, "Some call me that."
"Well, you're quite a hero I hear."
"What are you talking about?" Zeen inquired, confused. 'I was half expecting to get thrown out of here.'
"Zeen Zamorra, the savior of Cisco." Mae turned to Rielle and said, "And you must be Rielle. I heard that the two of you stopped some raiders from burning Cisco to the ground."
"Rielle, how many people did you tell that story to?" Zeen asked. "In three months it's traveled from Texas, to South Carolina, to California, and God knows where else."
Before Rielle could respond, Mae cut in and said, "Don't worry honey, it's better for people to hear stories about her helping others rather than those other tales of Lawless Zamorra that have been going around for so long."
"You're absolutely right," Rielle agreed.
"So, what can I do for the two of you?"
"We need a room," Zeen answered gruffly.
"Well all right! Are the two of you um-"
"Look, do you have a room or not?" Zeen snapped, her patience thinning.
"Sure, room seventeen," Mae drawled, handing the key to Zeen.
"Thanks," Zeen muttered, pocketing the key. "I don't know how long we'll be staying so could you just keep tab 'till we're ready to leave?"
"Sure, and if there's anything I can get for you just holler."
"Right," Zeen muttered as Mae left.
"Well," Rielle said with a smile. "She seemed nice."
"Yeah, a little too enthusiastic though."
"You really think so?" Rielle asked with a sparkle in her mist green eyes. "Then I guess you'd rather not know that I have that same reaction every morning when I wake up and see you there. I think, 'God, I still can't believe it! She's really here by my side! This is great!'"
Zeen stared at Rielle in wonder, then asked, "Rielle, how do you do that?"
"Do what?" the young woman asked, innocently.
'Get through every wall and barrier I put up, leave me defenseless before you and instead of feeling helpless you make me feel secure. All you have to do is smile at me and...' Zeen shrugged and said, "How do you know just what to say?"
"I just speak the truth Zeen," Rielle answered simply.
Zeen paced the floor of the inn, cursing and glancing at her pocket watch every two minutes. 'Dammit! She's been gone too long! I shouldn't have let her go off by herself!' The outlaw spun around quickly when she felt a hand on her arm, and glared down at Mae who smiled up at her sympathetically and said, "Honey don't worry, she'll be fine. She's only been gone for thirty minutes."
"I know that!" Zeen snapped. "What makes you think I'm worried?"
Mae laughed and said, "That pocket watch has spent more time in your hand than in your pocket, and you're about to wear a hole in my floor."
"That doesn't mean that I'm worried...I'm bored."
"Bored? Honey there's plenty of entertainment here," Mae said with a sly grin.
Zeen narrowed her ice-blue eyes on the small red head and was ready to warn her about messing with an outlaw, but the woman went on, well aware of what she was saying. "But I suppose you wouldn't be interested in that."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Zeen snapped.
Mae studied the outlaw's face for a moment before saying, "You really don't know do you?"
"Apparently not," Zeen said. "Enlighten me."
Mae boldly cupped the outlaw's chin and said softly, "When your heart is set on something...or someone, that's the only thing that matters. Nothing else seems all that interesting...and you know what? It won't go away and it won't get easier, so there's no use in letting your mind fight your heart 'cause your heart will always win."
Zeen stared after the red head as she walked away and wondered about what the woman had said. 'Where did that come from? So I'm worried about Rielle. This is a big city and she's out there alone, of course I'm worried...Damn.' The gunfighter flopped down in a chair and a mug of ale was immediately placed in front of her. 'What is this? I can't tell if I miss her more than I'm worried about her...I must be going soft...or something.'
Fifteen minutes later, Zeen abruptly stopped her brooding as she felt an oddly familiar calm settle over her heart. Her blue eyes instinctively swept to the door which Rielle had just entered, and she was at the young woman's side in an instant.
"Zeen, what's wrong?" Rielle asked.
"Nothing," Zeen said quickly. "I was just waiting for you."
"You sat around for forty-five minutes waiting for me?" Rielle asked. 'Wonder why...not that I wouldn't have done the same.'
Zeen shrugged and muttered, "Yeah."
Rielle smiled and pulled Zeen over to a table, gesturing for her companion to sit down. "You've got to see this town! Everything here is so different! There are so many interesting people! And we've got to go shopping here..."
Zeen quietly listened to Rielle talk about the city and all of the interesting things she had seen. She found herself actually looking forward to touring the city with her companion. Little did either woman know that while Rielle was out exploring the town, a pair of dark eyes followed her every move.
Rielle gazed down at Zeen from the balcony and watched as the outlaw maintained a stoic expression while she played poker with a few men in the saloon below. Zeen silently puffed on a cigar while the other players chewed on theirs and cast nervous glances her way.
Rielle felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Mae's warm smile. "Hey."
"Hey honey, whatcha' doin' up here? Trying to get a reputation?" the woman teased, casting a glance around the balcony at the 'Ladies' who were flirting with the men down below.
Rielle laughed a little and said, "I was just watching Zeen play cards...those guys have good reason to be nervous, she's good...and as far as my reputation goes, well I've got someone to defend it."
'More people than you know of I'll bet,' Mae said to herself. She glanced down at Zeen's cool expression and almost laughed out loud at how distinctly that expression changed whenever she looked at Rielle. 'Zeen 'Lawless' Zamorra my foot! It's more like Zeen 'Lovesick' Zamorra if you ask me.' Mae shook her head and said to the young woman sitting in the floor beneath her, "You certainly do have someone to defend you, and I'm guessing that you do your part in defending her too."
Rielle glanced down at her companion, then said seriously, "Yes, I do...not everyone believes that she's changed."
"Most people won't 'till they see it with their own eyes, honey."
"I know," Rielle said sadly.
"C'mon sweetie, you'd better get down there before your outlaw cleans out all their money and starts a fight," Mae said, lightening the mood.
Zeen saw the drunk stumble off of his stool at the bar out of the corner of her eye, and got the distinct feeling that there was going to be trouble. She let her senses spring into action and listened to the sounds behind her...what she heard made her blood boil and her eyes turn ice-cold. She let out a low growl and slowly got up from the table, not even noticing that the four men who had been sitting with her had quickly vacated their chairs.
"Look," Rielle said calmly to the man who had grabbed her waist. "I think that it would be in your best interest to let go of me now."
"Now why would I wanna' do that sweetheart?" the drunken man asked.
"Because if you don't let go of her, I'll break both your arms," Zeen said in a low voice which sent a chill through everyone in the silent saloon.
The man turned around, letting go of Rielle and pointed his gun at the gunfighter. "What'd you say to me?"
"I said that I'd break both of your arms if you didn't let go of her," Zeen answered coldly.
"Well nobody talks to me like that," the man said, raising his gun.
Zeen broke out in a feral grin and hissed, "Nobody in their right mind points a gun at me, and absolutely no one bothers Rielle. Ya got that?"
The man laughed and pulled the trigger, a shot rang out and the man fell to the floor clutching his hand and cursing. His gun was on the floor five feet away.
Zeen spun her pistol on her finger then flipped it back into its holster, and walked over to Rielle. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine...I handled Eastowe remember," the young woman joked as two men dragged the drunken man out of the inn.
"Oh, I remember," Zeen said with a smile.
"Excuse me ma'am," a man's voice sounded behind the two.
Both Zeen and Rielle turned around to face a tall, thin man dressed in city attire. "Yes?"
I couldn't help but observe your...quick draw, and I was wondering if you'd be interested in entering a shooting contest? The winner will receive two-hundred dollars, and two new matching pistols."
"What are the rules?" Zeen asked, interested. "And when is this contest?"
"Rules; shoot the targets not the people, you get caught cheating you get thrown out. It's tonight by San Cristobol Creek, six o'clock sharp and it lasts 'till sundown," the man said. "You'll be shooting for accuracy at a distance, moving target, standing target, how fast you can draw your weapon, and of course everyone's favorite, trick shooting. Bring your own guns, you'll need a pistol and a rifle and your weapons will be checked for tampering before we start. Any questions?"
"Can anyone join?" Rielle asked.
"Yes ma'am," the man answered with a tip of his hat.
"And the point of this contest would be?" Zeen asked.
"Why for the sport of course," the man answered as he walked away.
Rielle looked up at Zeen's contemplative expression and asked, "Well, are we going?"
"I don't know," Zeen muttered. "I kind of have a feeling that this contest isn't just 'for the sport'."
"Because it's open to anyone who wants to join."
"So, why is that a bad thing?"
"What person in their right mind would set up a shooting contest that will probably attract...people on both sides of the law?"
"Oh, that would probably be trouble, huh?" Rielle said.
"Yeah, so there's probably some other reason for this 'contest'."
"So," Rielle said with a glint in her eyes. "Are we going?"
Zeen gave her companion a crooked grin and said, "Of course we are."
Chapter II. The Contest
Rielle again marveled at the amount of people that she saw crowding around to either watch or participate in the contest. She had surprised Zeen by entering the contest, but she knew that it would be her chance to prove to the famed gunfighter that she knew quite well how to handle a gun. She glanced up at her companion who was, she was sure, observing every tiny detail about their surroundings. "See any trouble yet?"
"Yeah," Zeen answered. "Every five feet or so."
"Good, this should be interesting then," the young woman said with a smile. "So, what're you-"
The outlaw put a hand up to silence Rielle, and listened to the conversation that was going on a few feet in front of them. The two men who were checking the contestant's weapons for tampering looked at each other and nodded after approving a rough looking young man. "He's got it."
"Yeah, we'll arrest him when it's over."
"I'll have Grady and the boys keep an eye on him."
"Damn good plan Thompson."
Thompson shrugged and said, "I figured the idiot who stole Jesse James' gun from the museum wouldn't be able to resist a shooting contest."
The other man nodded and called, "Next."
Rielle gave her friend a pat on the back and said, "So you were right, it wasn't just for the 'sport' of it."
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean that there won't be trouble," Zeen muttered, absently polishing a spot off of her gun.
"Who knows, maybe everyone will play fair and everything will be fine," Rielle said.
Zeen raised an eyebrow and said, "If that happens, I'll be thrilled."
The first event was shooting still targets at various distances and nearly everyone tied in that event. Zeen thought to herself, 'I could've taken that one blindfolded.' The gunfighter was impressed with her companion's aim and wondered how long Rielle would last. The young woman had effortlessly taken the first event and seemed quite ready for the moving targets.
The moving target event proved difficult for many people, so by the end of the event the number of contestants had decreased leaving, Zeen, Rielle, the young thief with Jesse James' gun, a U.S. Marshal, and two other men who Zeen said were outlaws.
"That leaves an even number for the quick draw event," Zeen muttered. "Why didn't you tell me you were such a good shot?"
"I did," Rielle muttered.
For the quick draw event, Zeen and Rielle were paired together, the thief and the Marshal were the next group, followed by the two outlaws. The thief and the Marshal went first and surprisingly, the kid won by half a second. The two outlaws were chosen to go next, and Rielle noticed that Zeen had her gun ready.
"They were in rival gangs, one of 'em is going to die."
The two men walked out twenty paces, drew, and fired. Rielle shook her head and muttered, "Guess that's a tie."
"Guess so," Zeen replied, watching as the crowd cheered when the two dead men were dragged away. "We're up."
The crowd went dead silent as the only two female contestants took twenty paces, then turned to face each other. The silence was so thick that one could hear the sound of the outlaw's knuckles crack as she flexed her hand. The people looked from the tall, sinister woman with the blazing blue eyes to the smaller young woman who wore an expression of cool confidence. There was a tension building between the two women which radiated to the very last row of the crowd, then exploded when the announcer called, "DRAW!"
It happened as if in slow motion; two hands moved at the same time, connected by an ancient force which ran unwavering through their shared soul, and two guns flew from their holsters to reflect the setting sun on their polished surfaces.
The silence remained for a moment while people registered the fact that the guns had been drawn at all, since it had happened so quickly in actuality, then the announcer called in an astonished tone, "TIE!!"
The crowd erupted in applause and cheers all around the outlaw and her companion who stood and stared at each other in quiet wonder.
The announcer broke the spell for Rielle and Zeen by loudly saying, "A tie means that we will have three contestants in the trick shot category! Choose wisely folks, and may the best shot win!"
Zeen walked over to Rielle and asked, "Where'd you learn how to do that?"
The young woman shrugged an said, "My daddy was friends with Bill Cody and one summer he and his son came to visit. His son took a liking to me, and I kind of asked him to teach me to shoot."
Zeen stared at Rielle who did not seem in the least bit fazed that the son of one of the most famous gunmen in the west had taught her how to shoot. "Bill Cody as in Buffalo Bill Cody?"
"Yeah," Rielle answered with a shrug.
"Damn," Zeen muttered. "C'mon, I've gotta' see your trick shot."
The thief went up first and did an old trick which nearly everyone had seen before. Most people were unimpressed when the young man threw his hat in the air, drew his gun, and shot the brim off.
"What a waste of a good Stetson," Zeen muttered to her companion.
Rielle shook her head in agreement, then pulled three shot glasses out of her pocket and said, "I've been meaning to show you this trick."
"Good luck," Zeen said as her friend walked out in front of the crowd.
Rielle flashed a grin over her shoulder at her companion, then tossed the three shot glasses in the air, drew her pistol, fired three times, and flipped the gun back into the holster, leaving glass shards littering the ground at her feet. The crowd exploded and Rielle blushed then quickly retreated to the sidelines.
"Hey Rielle," Zeen said. "You did great."
"Thanks," Rielle replied with a smile. "Good luck."
Zeen gave Rielle one of her crooked grins and said, "Thanks, I may need it to beat that last trick."
Rielle shook her head and said, "No you won't. Zeen, you're the best there is, you could've taken this whole contest blindfolded."
The outlaw gave a mischievous grin and said, "I just might do that Rielle."
The young strawberry blond just shook her head and watched as Zeen pulled a bandanna out of her back pocket and sauntered lazily out to the crowd. She allowed a man to cover her eyes with the black bandanna, spin her around three times, then tap her on the shoulder as a signal to start shooting at the moving targets.
The people in the crowd held their breath as the dark woman faced them with her rifle drawn, and if they had not been so worried about being shot by the blindfolded gunfighter, they would have seen the crooked grin that was on her face. The first target moved and people in the crowd gasped and ducked when they heard the shot go off and saw that the woman had struck the target dead center in a blinding movement. Four more shots rang out, and four more targets had smoking holes in the bull's eye, and it was clear to everyone as to who had won the contest.
Zeen pulled the bandanna from her eyes and glanced over at the targets as the crowd roared. "Not bad."
Rielle glanced over her shoulder just in time to see the young thief being placed under arrest by the two lawmen who had been watching him throughout the contest. 'Good, that saves Zeen the trouble.'
"Well," Zeen said as she walked up to Rielle. "What did you think?"
Rielle playfully raised an eyebrow and asked, "Were you trying to impress me Zeen Zamorra?"
'Uh oh, she's on to me!' the outlaw thought with a smile. "Um...well, I..."
"Let me tell you a secret," Rielle said, gesturing for Zeen to lean over so that she could whisper in her ear. "I'm already impressed."
Zeen stood up and looked at Rielle with a slightly startled expression. "You are?"
"Yes, I am," Rielle answered with her warm smile. "Go get your prize."
"Go with me?"
Zeen and Rielle walked up to retrieve the $200 and the two new guns, and the crowd applauded. "Congratulations Miss...?"
"Well congratulations Miss Semois," the man said, handing the gunfighter her $200 and a maple box which contained the pistols. "You two sticking around for the entertainment?"
Zeen glanced down at Rielle then looked back up and said, "Nah, I've got other plans."
Chapter III. The Favor
Mae grinned as the outlaw and her companion entered the inn together and shook her head when one of the "girls" muttered, "They're inseparable."
"Uh huh," Mae said. "Soulmates usually are."
"But they don't even know..."
"Give them time," Mae said. "They'll figure it out."
The other woman shook her head and said, "I just think it's funny that it's plain as day to any stranger who walks through that door that they're crazy about each other, yet they can't see it for themselves."
"They will," Mae said, watching Rielle smile warmly at Zeen. "I think that Zeen has a lot to learn from Rielle."
The woman laughed and asked, "What could that little girl possibly teach Zeen Zamorra?"
"She can teach her the most important thing she'll ever need to know...how to love," Mae answered, then gestured for the subject to be closed.
The other woman nodded and headed down the stairs, passing Zeen and Rielle on her way to the bar. "Good evening ladies."
"Evening," Zeen replied.
"Hi," Rielle said.
"Hey Rielle," Zeen said. "Could you do me a favor?"
"Sure. Everything okay?"
"Yeah, could you just bring this up to the room?" Zeen asked, holding out the box with the guns in it.
Rielle took the box and nodded. "Sure."
"Thanks," Zeen said with a smile. "I'll be up in a little while."
Rielle headed up the stairs, and as soon as she was in the room with the door closed, Zeen walked over to Mae and said, "I need a favor."
"Sure honey, what can I do for you?"
"I need you to distract Rielle," Zeen said. The outlaw got a sly grin from the red head and said, "You know I don't mean it like that!"
"I know, but it's so easy to get a reaction out of you. So, why do I need to distract your storyteller?"
"Well, I kind of wanted to...you see it's her birthday tomorrow, and I wanted to do something nice," Zeen explained.
Mae smiled at Zeen's awkward expression and said, "So it's a surprise?"
"Well go on then," Mae said, gesturing towards the door. "I'll keep her busy, but I won't in the least bit surprised if she catches on right away that you're up to something."
Zeen gave Mae a mock glare and said, "Well, just as long as she doesn't find out what I'm up to."
"Well, I hope you have a good excuse when you get back," Mae said with a smile.
"These floors are awfully hard, they're not meant to be slept on."
Zeen shook her head and walked out the door, muttering under her breath. She wasn't used to being picked on, no matter how good natured the teasing was.
Mae laughed and went upstairs to find Rielle, she knocked on the door, and was surprised when the first words from the young woman's mouth were, "Where's Zeen?"
"I don't know honey, she just walked out the door," Mae lied. "How'd you know that she was gone?"
Rielle shrugged and said, "I can tell when she's close or far away...I always could."
Mae smiled warmly and said, "You're lucky. You know that?"
"I guess," Rielle muttered.
Mae's red eyebrows shot up and she said, "You guess??"
"Yeah, I mean-" Rielle started, but was cut off by Mae, who gave a warm smile and spoke softly.
"Honey, you are lucky, believe me."
"What do you mean?" Rielle asked, wondering if the woman was saying what she thought she was saying.
"Oh I think you know, but if you don't then ask your heart. I think it'll have a better answer for you than this 'ol harlot would."
Rielle laughed a little and said, "Mae."
"Well now honey, we all know it's true," Mae said with a laugh. "Now, how 'bout we take this time to corrupt you while your protector is gone?"
Rielle gave the woman a sly grin and said, "Yeah, that's what she gets for running off without telling me where she's going."
"Don't be too hard on her, I'm sure she had good reason."
Rielle broke out in a silly grin and said, "Oh, I have every intention of giving her a piece of my mind when she gets back...but she'll make that face that she does every time she thinks I'm going to yell at her, and I'll forget why I was angry in the first place."
Mae laughed and thought, 'I can't tell which one of them's got it worse.' She gestured for Rielle to go downstairs, then asked, "So Rielle, do you play poker?"
Rielle gave Mae a wicked grin and said, "No, but I'm a fast learner..."
Mae stared down at her pitiful hand again, and asked for the tenth time, "Rielle, are you sure you've never played poker before?"
"Positive," the young woman muttered. "Like I said beginner's luck."
"Yeah, well your beginner's luck just cost me twenty bucks," one of the men at the table muttered. "I'm out."
Rielle shrugged and watched as another man proudly placed a full house down on the table, then reached for the chips. "Hold on a second."
The man stopped reaching for the chips and snapped, "What?"
Rielle slowly placed her cards on the table and said, "A royal flush beats a full house, right?"
The man glared at Rielle, then at the other people in the room who had their hands ready to draw their guns if need be. "Yeah kid, a royal flush beats a full house." The man looked around the room again, and snapped, "Calm down! I'm not going to start a fight, I just saw this girl practically tie that shooting contest at San Cristobol with Lawless Zamorra."
Rielle shrugged as almost all of the activity in the saloon stopped, and all eyes turned to her. "I guess today's just my lucky day."
Mae shook her head and said, " Honey, it takes a whole lot more than luck to tie a shooting contest with the fastest gun this country's ever known."
The young woman leaned back in her chair and glanced around the room, seeing that she had almost everyone's attention she said, "Okay, here's what happened..."
Mae watched Rielle as she recounted the events of the shooting contest, and knew that storytelling was a very powerful, yet gentle part of the young woman. She could tell that Rielle loved to tell stories, and by the looks of it, everyone loved to hear them.
Towards the end of the tale, Mae noticed that Rielle suddenly smiled and looked out the front window, and Mae being curious as she was, glanced out the window and saw Zeen peering inside. The woman shook her head and thought, 'Well I'll be damned! She can tell!'
Rielle turned her eyes back to her audience and finished the story while its heroine silently slipped through the front door, invisible to everyone but Mae and Rielle.
Zeen quickly stashed the box that she had been hiding under her long leather duster in the top of the closet, and managed to look like she wasn't up to anything at all by the time Rielle burst through the door.
"Zeen, you're going to polish the silver right off of your guns if you keep doing that," Rielle said coolly.
'Oh damn, I'm in trouble,' Zeen thought, putting the guns down.
"You could've said something Zeen."
"I know, but I-"
"And having Mae distract me? That was just-"
"I'm sorry Rielle, I just needed-"
Rielle cursed to herself as Zeen started to make the hurt face that she always did when she thought that she was in trouble, and with a sigh Rielle said, "Zeen, I'm not mad at you. I just worry, okay?"
Zeen smiled and said, "I'm sorry I didn't say anything, that was stupid. I'm okay, everything's okay. I just needed to take care of a few things...you would've been bored."
"I'll take your word for it," Rielle muttered.
"So, what kind of trouble did you get into while I was gone?" Zeen asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Trouble?" Rielle asked with mock insult. "I'll have you know that unlike some people, I can sit around for an hour and not attract trouble."
" 'Some people?'" Zeen repeated. "Are you saying that I attract trouble?"
"Yeah," Rielle said softly, brushing back Zeen's dark bangs to reveal a swelling bruise above her eyebrow. "What happened?"
Zeen suddenly looked embarrassed and mumbled something that Rielle didn't catch. The young woman gently took Zeen's chin in her hand so that the outlaw would look her in the eyes, and asked, "Zeen?"
"It's no big deal, really," Zeen muttered, trying to get out of telling Rielle about what had happened.
"Zeen," Rielle repeated.
Zeen sighed and said, "On my way back here I ran into some guys on the street who were um, talking about you and-"
"Talking about me?"
"Yeah, seems you cost one of 'em twenty dollars...anyway, I didn't like what they were saying about you so I made sure that they would think twice about ever saying anything bad about you. One of them got a lucky shot, that's all."
Rielle smiled and hugged Zeen saying, "Thanks for defending my reputation."
Zeen hugged her friend back and said, "Hey, you defend mine all the time and I don't even deserve it."
"Yes you do deserve it, now," Rielle said softly, looking into Zeen's doubtful blue eyes. "Believe me."
The outlaw looked straight into her companion's soft green eyes and saw great compassion and assurance in them, and she knew that Rielle would not lie to her. "Yeah, I believe you."
"How'd you know that I got hit there?"
"Your hat," Rielle answered. 'Not to mention the fact that I could feel it when you got upset.'
"My hat?" Zeen asked, confused. She picked her hat up from where she had dropped it on the floor and inspected it. "I don't see anything wrong with it."
"It was the way you were wearing it, Zeen," Rielle said. "You usually have it pulled down over your eyes, but when you came in you had it tipped on the back of your head."
"Rielle, who notices things like that?" Zeen asked, incredulous.
"I do," the young woman answered seriously. "I bet you would notice it if I changed something about my appearance."
"Probably," Zeen replied. "But I like the way you look."
"I like the way you look too, Zeen...even when you're intimidating everyone around you with that look."
Zeen put on her best innocent look and said, "What 'look?' I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh right!" Rielle laughed. "You love to do that Zeen. I swear, every time we stopped at a different train station on the way here, people suddenly disappeared when we got off the train."
"That wasn't my fault," Zeen said innocently. "But just to be sure, is this the 'look' you're talking about?"
Rielle rolled her eyes at the menacing glare on Zeen's face, then lightly hit her companion in the face with a pillow and said, "Yeah, that's the one, and it doesn't work on me."
"Yeah, I know," Zeen muttered, snatching the pillow from Rielle's hands and hitting her on top of the head with it.
With a playful glint in her eyes, Rielle leaned over and whispered, "I have something for you."
"Oh really?" Zeen whispered back. "What is it?"
"This!!" Rielle exclaimed, swinging a pillow out from behind her back and knocking Zeen in the head with it. The outlaw instantly returned the blow with her own pillow, and the fight was on. ;-)
Chapter IV. Guns & Roses
Zeen silently thanked Mae for the hundredth time for taking Rielle out shopping, knowing that Zeen needed time to arrange things for the young woman's birthday present. The outlaw looked at the clock which read 5:00 and cursed, "Damn! Rielle will be back any minute!" She quickly glanced at her reflection in the mirror and was satisfied that she looked half way decent, so she turned down the lamp and headed out the door, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder at the gift on the bed before she closed the door.
Rielle climbed the stairs to their room wondering where on earth Zeen was, especially when she had her arms full from shopping. She dropped three of her packages on the floor while searching her pocket for the key to the room, and three more when she finally got the door opened. Muttering under her breath, the young woman gathered her packages from the floor and entered the dimly lit room only to drop all of them once again when she saw the beautiful cream-colored dress lying on the bed. She turned up the lamp and slowly walked over to the bed where she found a red rose with a card resting under it. She picked up the rose and took in its light scent. She then picked up the card and read Zeen's firm handwriting, "Grand-Royal Hotel, 6:00 p.m. Zeen." The young woman placed the card and the flower back on the bed and ran her hand over the rich fabric of the dress, thinking, 'What in the world are you up to Zeen Zamorra?' Rielle glanced at the clock which had just struck a quarter past five, and sighed, "You sure don't give a girl enough time to get ready."
By a quarter 'till six, Rielle was dressed and ready to leave. She took a moment to study herself in the mirror and smiled warmly at the thought that Zeen was the first person to ever give her something so nice. Rielle picked up the red rose that Zeen had left for her and headed out the door where she ran into Mae, who handed her another red rose and said with a grin, "I've been instructed to give this to you."
Rielle smiled warmly and said softly, "Thank you."
"Don't thank me honey," Mae said with a smile. "The person who deserves thanks is waiting for you."
Rielle nodded and walked down the steps, not even noticing that the whole room went still and silent as she passed by.
Outside the inn, Rielle was met by a handsome gentleman in a top hat and a long black frockcoat. The man bowed slightly, handed her a red rose, and said, "Milady, I will be escorting you to the Grand-Royal Hotel this evening." The man then led Rielle to a private carriage, opened the door, and helped her in. She smiled when she found another red rose resting on the seat, and felt like she was in the middle of a fairy tale.
Zeen was finding it quite impossible to sit still, calm down, or think straight. The outlaw kept saying to herself, 'Get a grip Zeen! This is just dinner with Rielle, you eat dinner with her every night! Of course tonight it's her birthday and I'll probably do something stupid to ruin it for her.' Zeen fussed with the cuffs on her crisp white shirt, checked her pocket watch, polished nonexistent spots off of her gleaming pistols, and prayed that Rielle would arrive soon. 'Oh, I don't believe this! I'm nervous! I'm never nervous!'
Rielle arrived at the Grand-Royal Hotel at six o' clock sharp, she was greeted by the host who handed her a red rose and led her to the impressive dining room which quieted as she entered the doorway...
Zeen looked up as a hush fell over the room, and stared at the vision standing across the way. She managed to rise to her feet, but much to her vexation she found herself rooted to the floor, unable to move, unable to breathe. Tapping deep into her reserves, the outlaw found the strength to put one foot in front of the other and walk over to Rielle. Zeen might have been staring, she didn't really know, but if she was she couldn't help it, she had never seen anything so radiant in all her life. 'If Aphrodite herself appeared in front of me now I wouldn't even blink,' she managed to think. Zeen took in the beauty of the woman before her and imprinted every detail into her memory. Standing in the place of the young girl who Zeen had met only a few short months ago, was a mature woman who's presence demanded attention. Rielle did indeed look much older in the cream-colored dress with the full skirt and the low neck line, with her hair done up in a delicate Victorian-style coiffure with a few elegant curls and ribbons. She wore very little makeup, thus allowing the purity of her young skin to shine through, and her eyes looked like deep emeralds with enchanting specks of gold glittering within them. Rielle smiled her dazzling, angelic smile and Zeen nearly fell to her knees. She walked as steadily as she could the rest of the way and held out her arm for the young woman to take.
Rielle linked her arm through Zeen's and smiled up at her companion who managed to return it with her endearing crooked grin. Despite being overwhelmed with emotion, Rielle had been able to take in her companion's dark beauty as Zeen approached her. To say the least, Zeen looked impressive with her dark hair pouring down over her broad shoulders, sparkling sapphire eyes, and adorable crooked grin. She wore a white shirt under a black vest with black trousers, and her boots were polished to perfection as well as her guns which rested in their holsters at her hips.
Zeen guided Rielle to a candle-lit table near the back of the room, and pulled the chair out so that Rielle could be seated. Resting on the young woman's plate was the sixth red rose. Zeen sat down across from Rielle and said, "Oops! I almost forgot!"
Before Rielle could say that she did not think it possible that anything could have been forgotten, the outlaw handed her the other six flowers, making a bouquet of a dozen red roses for the young woman. Rielle was quite speechless and all she could do for a few moments was smile through her tears at the gentle look in her soulmate's eyes. She took a breath and said, her voice barely a whisper, "Thank you Zeen."
Zeen smiled and said, "No thank you."
"Me?" Rielle asked. "Why?"
"For being you...and for being with me."
Rielle fought back a new flood of tears and asked, "Zeen why-?"
Zeen 'Lawless' Zamorra, the feared outlaw and gunfighter, the master of cold looks, shrugged shyly and said softly, "Because it's your birthday and I wanted to do something nice for you."
Rielle felt her heart soar and said, "This is the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me Zeen."
Zeen grinned and said, "I'm not finished yet." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small box wrapped in white paper, tied with a red ribbon, and handed it to Rielle. "Happy Birthday."
Rielle took the box from her companion and started to protest, but Zeen quieted her and asked her to open it. Rielle slowly unwrapped the gift and gasped when she lifted the lid to reveal a beautiful silver poesy ring. She looked up at Zeen with wonder in her eyes and said, "Zeen, it's beautiful."
'So are you,' the dark woman thought. "It's old, it's been in my family for almost four-hundred years. It's kind of been passed on, you know? One of my ancestors was a noblewoman who fell in love with a peasant, that's where she got the ring. Of course her family didn't approve of their love, so they gave her two choices; she could vow never to see her lover again, or she could lose everything that she had ever known to be with her love...she chose love instead of wealth."
"And I thought I was the storyteller," Rielle murmured with a grin. She studied the inside of the silver band and saw writing on it. "Do you know what that says?"
"Yes," Zeen answered. "It's French, and it says, 'You and no other'."
Rielle handed the ring back to Zeen, then held out her left hand and softly requested, "Would you put it on me please?"
With a slightly trembling hand, Zeen took Rielle's smaller hand in hers and slipped the ring on her finger. "Good?"
"Perfect," Zeen repeated softly.
Zeen awoke to golden sunlight pouring through the windows to surround the young woman who was sleeping peacefully in her arms. The outlaw looked down at her companion who's head was resting over her heart, and stopped breathing for a moment. 'She's an angel,' Zeen thought, staring at Rielle's sleeping form. The young woman's face was soft and peaceful and her tousled red-gold hair nearly glowed in the golden sunlight which was streaming in through the opened window. 'God Rielle, I don't deserve you. I don't know why you're with me, why you stay with me. You stayed by me when Eastowe came through and you stood up to her...you didn't even think about yourself, even when Eastowe was down and that stampede was coming through you were worried about saving her...and she tried to kill you. I think that you know perfectly well the danger that you face out here with me, and you accept it...but I don't know if I can. If you get hurt out here I'll never forgive myself, Rielle. You saved my soul and I haven't done a damn thing for you...but you have to know that I'd do anything for you.'
"Hey," Rielle whispered, catching the pained look in Zeen's blue eyes. "Are you okay?"
Zeen smiled down at Rielle's concerned look and said, "I'm fine...just thinking."
"Sure?" Rielle asked, watching the troubled look in her companion's eyes slowly fade away.
"Mmmhmm," Zeen sighed, settling back on the pillows. "There's something that I forgot to give you last night."
"What?!" Rielle sat up in surprise and stared down at her companion who was laughing softly. "Zeen, there's nothing that you could have possibly forgotten! No one has ever done anything like that for me." She took a moment to look at the silver band on her finger and said, "And no one's ever given me anything like this before."
"Someone should have," Zeen said softly to Rielle who had flopped back down to where she had been lying with her head over Zeen's heart and one arm draped over the outlaw's waist.
'I wouldn't have wanted it from anyone else,' Rielle thought with a smile. "I thought taking me to the Independence Day parade today was going to be my present," she murmured into Zeen's shirt.
The outlaw laughed and said, "Nah, I was going to do that anyway...so do you want to see what it is that I have to give you?"
"Don't wanna' move," Rielle muttered.
"Mmmhmm," Zeen sighed. 'I've never in my whole life slept this late...and I'm pretty sure that I could just stay like this forever.'
Rielle rolled over and said, "Okay...but I really don't think that you need to give me anything else."
Zeen shrugged and rolled out of the warm bed. After a graceful, cat-like stretch, she walked over to the dresser and retrieved the maple box which contained the pistols that she had won in the shooting contest. Zeen walked back over to her friend and opened the box, revealing the gleaming twin pistols. Engraved in the ivory handle of one gun was Rielle's name and the year, and on the other gun was Zeen's name and the year.
Rielle looked up at Zeen with an expression of amazement on her face and said, "Zeen, you won those. How come-?"
"Rielle, you earned it," Zeen replied. "You could have won that contest."
"Maybe," Rielle muttered.
Zeen ignored the muttered comment, knowing that Rielle really could have won the contest if she had not pulled her blindfold trick. "I had it done the other day when I went out but I forgot about it last night. I know that you won't use it to kill, but I figured you could use it to practice those trick shots."
"Thank you Zeen," Rielle said with a smile. "It's really beautiful."
"You really like it?" Zeen asked, doubtful.
"Yes," Rielle answered, laying her head on Zeen's shoulder. She held up her left hand and said, "But this is my favorite."
Zeen gazed at the silver band on Rielle's small hand, and thought, 'I'm glad I finally did something right especially since I did it for you.' Zeen ran a hand through Rielle's soft red-gold hair and said quietly, "I wanted you to have it."
Chapter V. Independence Day
Darkness was beginning to fall over the city of San Francisco and Rielle, despite being tired from participating in all of the Independence Day festivities, could not wait to see the fireworks. "Hey Zeen, what time do they start?"
The outlaw sighed and said, "For the tenth time Rielle, seven-thirty."
"Well what time is it now?"
'Five minutes later than the last time that you asked,' Zeen thought with a smirk. She pulled out her pocket watch and handed it to her friend. "Here, now stop asking."
Rielle took the watch and said, "Thanks, I'll be back in five minutes."
Before the outlaw could respond, Rielle had disappeared into the crowd. "Don't you ever get tired of shopping?" Zeen muttered to Rielle, wherever she had disappeared to.
Five minutes later, the young woman returned balancing two mugs of ale and two plates which were nearly overflowing with food. Zeen darted forward and caught one of the mugs as it threatened to topple off the edge of the plate that it was balancing on. "Hungry Rielle?"
"No Zeen, I just like to show off my wonderful balancing skills," Rielle muttered. "I thought that you might want some dinner."
Zeen took one of the plates and said, "Thanks...always looking out for me, huh?"
Rielle smiled warmly and answered, "Always."
Zeen took a sip of her drink then asked, "Why?"
Rielle gave Zeen an incredulous look and before she could respond, Zeen rushed on, "I mean I really...I know it's true and I do believe that you'll always be there for me, and nothing could stop me from being there for you...but I've done so much to cause pain in others that I feel like I don't deserve someone who can take away my pain and chase away my demons just by...just by smiling at me."
Rielle looked at the ground and did not even bother trying to cover the foolish grin that had broken out on her face. 'Now? She wants to know this now?' The young woman glanced over at Zeen who appeared to be calmly waiting for her answer, but she saw the barely hidden fear in the outlaw's blue eyes. 'She's afraid that I'm going to leave her and I'm scared to death that she's going to leave me, but I won't lie to her. I'll tell her how I feel and if she wants to leave me, I'll let her go,' Rielle mused. She took a breath and began to speak, "Zeen, it doesn't matter whether you think that you deserve me or not because it isn't a matter of who deserves what because of what we've done in the past. Zeen, I've heard about your past from you and from what others have told me. I know that you've done terrible things but if I couldn't accept that part of your life then I wouldn't be being true to you." Rielle took a sip of her ale and looked at Zeen who was listening intently. "I feel like I've known you all my life, even long before we ever met I could feel you in my soul...I just didn't know it. Zeen, I've lo-"
Zeen cursed mentally as a loud explosion cut off whatever Rielle was about to say to her. She looked up and cursed aloud when she saw the burning building which was shooting off stray fireworks and causing panic in the crowded streets. "Oh damn! The fireworks must've caught on fire!"
Rielle jumped as another explosion went off and dodged a golden rocket as it flew past her head. "Zeen there are people in those buildings!"
"I know," Zeen said.
The two stood looking into each other's eyes for an intense moment, then Rielle said, "Go on, I'll take care of the people outside."
"All right," Zeen said. "Be careful Rielle."
"You too Zeen," Rielle replied seriously. "I want you back in one piece."
Zeen flashed a brilliant smile and said, "I'll always come back for you Rielle."
"I believe it," Rielle whispered as her companion disappeared into the smoke. With a shake of her head, Rielle set to work steering people away from the explosions and burning buildings, and trying to calm frightened children...
From inside the burning building which was collapsing more and more with every explosion from the fireworks, Zeen heard the distinct sound of shots being fired and horses running into town. 'Damn! This wasn't a Goddamn accident!'
Rielle froze when she heard the piercing cry in the distance, then convinced herself that it was just the fireworks that were going off. She concentrated on getting the crowded streets cleared and prayed that Zeen was okay...
The outlaw could barely make out the huddled form of a child on the other side of the wall of fire that had spread across the room, and she was finding it difficult to concentrate with the increasing sense of dread that was invading her mind as the hoofbeats outside grew louder. 'She's fine! Just get the kid and get your ass out before the whole damn building collapses!' With an ancient battle cry which sprang naturally from her lungs, Zeen flipped through the wall of flames and landed neatly on the other side. Stomping out the flames which threatened to engulf her favorite black duster and quickly glancing back at her hat which had become food for the fire, Zeen turned to the frightened child and held out her hand...
Rielle crashed to the ground as a spurred boot slammed into the back of her head. After a moment, the young woman rolled onto her back and stared up into the dark, heartless eyes of the person who had attacked her. "Eastowe..."
Zeen blinked back a sudden sharp pain in the back of her head and said softly to the child, "Hey, c'mon I'm not gonna' hurt you. Let's get out of this place, huh?"
The child stared up at Zeen with large dark eyes and asked, "Who are you?"
"My name's Zeen," the gunfighter answered gently, fearing the child's reaction.
The young boy smiled broadly and said, "Like Zeen Zamorra the hero?"
'Hero? That's the last thing I expected to hear,' Zeen thought with a surprised smile. "Uh sure...I'm that Zeen Zamorra..."
Cal Eastowe glared down at Rielle from atop her large black stallion and said, "Fancy meeting you here. Did you come to finish me off?"
Rielle rubbed the back of her head and climbed steadily to her feet. "I didn't even know that you were here, and I wouldn't kill anyone."
Eastowe laughed her heartless laugh and said, "Oh that's funny! You left me for dead in case you forgot."
"No I didn't, I-"
"Please!" Cal yelled, pointing at the long scar that ran down her face. "You knocked me out cold and then left me for that stampede!"
"You obviously got away," Rielle muttered.
"Yes I did. It's a shame that you won't be so lucky..."
Zeen pushed the child out the door just in time for him to escape the falling roof, but she was not as lucky for her world went black as one of the ceiling beams crashed down on her at the same instant that Rielle's world went dark as Eastowe cracked the butt of her rifle against her skull...
Chapter VI. Missing
**Zeen crashed to the hard frozen ground in a miserable heap and scanned the cold, dead landscape. She knew that she was lost in a lifeless land without anyone to guide her out because she was quite sure that she had lost the one person who had guided her out before. Hopeless and alone, Zeen curled up on the frozen ground and shouted Rielle's name into the bitter-cold wind.**
The doctor stepped back from the outlaw's bed as she cried out her soulmate's name in agony. He looked at the small red head who was seated on the other side of the bed and spoke, "I'm surprised actually, the beam that hit her could have killed her, but all she has is a bad bump on the head. She'll have to rest but she'll be fine in a day or so. The only thing that concerns me right now are those nightmares...if you think that they're starting to get worse, try to wake her up."
Mae raised a red eyebrow and said, "If I do that you'll be back here sooner than you think, honey."
The doctor gave Mae a confused look then tipped his hat and said, "Good evening, Miss...?"
"Honey, just call me Mae," she said, shaking the doctor's hand.
"Well good evening Mae," the doctor said politely. "Please call on me if she gets worse, though it's not likely."
Mae nodded, thinking, 'She'll only get worse as long as Rielle isn't by her side. I wish I knew where that girl was.'
Rielle groaned and tried unsuccessfully to roll onto her back. The young woman hazily became aware that she was lying on a dirt floor with her feet bound and her hands tied tightly behind her back. She groaned again when she tried to move her head, and wondered what train had rolled over it. Rielle finally opened her eyes when a bucket of cold water was thrown in her face, she looked directly into the dark eyes of Cal Eastowe.
The blond outlaw smiled sweetly down at her prisoner and said, "So nice of you to finally join me. Now, do you think that you can behave yourself? Because if you can I might untie you."
Rielle closed her eyes and tried to ignore the pounding in her head which only worsened when Eastowe spoke. She bit down hard on the gag that the woman had put in her mouth when Cal decided to slap her back into awareness.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Eastowe whispered in Rielle's ear. "I forgot about that."
Much to Rielle's surprise, Cal gently untied the gag and gave her a sip of cool water. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me, it's necessary if I want to keep you alive," the woman replied. "Now, can you behave yourself?"
"Yes," Rielle answered. "I thought you wanted to kill me."
Cal cut the ropes at Rielle's hands and feet and helped the young woman sit up. She watched as her young captive blinked back a wave of dizziness, then said, "I did want to. I guess I still do but you interest me."
"This is all a game to you," Rielle stated, closing her eyes against the pain in her head.
"Yes, and I make all the rules and in the end I always win."
Rielle looked at the blond outlaw who was beautiful despite the long scar running down her face, and said, "Where's the challenge in that? You'll soon tire of winning all the time."
Eastowe frowned and said, "People have told you that you talk too much."
"Yes," Rielle replied with a little laugh.
Cal smiled a brilliant smile and said, "When I first saw you in that pathetic town in Texas I thought that you would be easy prey, but you weren't and that surprised me. Hearing you speak to me, fighting me even when I hold your life in my hands is quite fascinating. I think I'm going to have a wonderful time breaking you."
Rielle looked Cal Eastowe straight in the eyes and said, "I don't break easily."
Zeen shot bolt upright, got two feet on the floor, then crashed down beside the bed as a wave of dizziness swept over her. She fought the dark spots that were obscuring her vision and slammed her fist into the hardwood floor with a curse. "Goddammit-to-Hell!!"
"Hey," Mae's soft southern drawl sounded in Zeen's ear. "Take it easy, you've got a pretty good bump on your head."
The outlaw allowed Mae to help her back onto the bed then asked, fearing the answer, "Where's Rielle?"
Mae sat down on the bed next to Zeen and answered, "Honey, I don't know. She didn't come back last night when they brought you in."
"Last night?" Zeen repeated. "She's been missing since...I was out that long?"
"The doctor said that he was surprised that you weren't killed never mind not even seriously injured," Mae said.
Zeen stared fuzzily at the floor and muttered, "It's my fault."
"Honey what are you talkin' about?"
"She's in trouble, I can feel it," Zeen explained. "And I couldn't...I wasn't there to stop it."
Mae looked straight into Zeen's eyes, pale gray boring into intense blue, and said sternly, "Stop that nonsense now! It's not your fault child. Do you think that Rielle would've wanted you to let that child who you rescued die just to keep her safe?"
Zeen put her head in her hands and said, "No, she wouldn't want that."
"I'm sure she's okay Zeen," Mae tried to reassure the troubled woman. "Your storyteller's a strong woman."
"I know," Zeen said. "I know she's alive because I can feel her...and if she was dead I would be too."
Mae nodded knowing Zeen's words to be true and said, "You need to rest."
"I can't," Zeen said, rising and bracing herself against the throbbing in her head. "I've gotta' find her Mae. I promised her that I'd always come back for her, I told her that I'd come back in one piece when I went into that Goddamned building and I'm going to keep that promise."
Mae knew that arguing with the outlaw would be pointless so she said, "I'll do all I can to help."
"Good," Zeen said, her blue eyes turning cold to cover the fear in them. "I'll need a horse."
Rielle drifted awake hours later to see the blond outlaw holding out a piece of bread and a bowl of steaming...something. "Eat."
Rielle rubbed the lump on the back of her head and winced, for once in her life she was not hungry. 'If I don't eat it she's likely not to give it to me when I need it,' Rielle thought. She took the bread and the bowl and asked, "Do you have a spoon or something?"
Cal dropped a spoon in the bowl then walked over to the fire to retrieve her own dinner. "Did you sleep well?"
"No," Rielle answered sourly.
"What a pity," Cal mumbled sitting across from Rielle.
"Where are we?" Rielle asked, picking at her bread.
Eastowe pretended to consider the question then answered, "Oh we're out in the middle of nowhere in this wonderful abandoned mine where no one will find us."
'I wouldn't be so sure of that,' the young woman thought. "So what's the point in keeping me alive? Are you doing it just...just for the sport of it?"
"Hmmm, you could say that," Eastowe answered tauntingly. "You see my dear, not only do you amuse me, but..." The blond outlaw pulled Rielle's ivory handled pistol out of her pocket and waved it in the young woman's face. "Rielle is it?"
Cal tossed the gun in the corner then took the young woman's left hand in hers and ran a finger over the silver band that Rielle wore. "Somebody loves you...and he'll come looking for you, and he'll find you, and when he does you'll be dead."
"I thought that you just said that no one will be able to find us here," Rielle muttered.
"Oh they won't," Eastowe said. "We'll be moving in a few days."
Mae watched as the stoic outlaw mounted the sleek black Arabian mare and said, "I'll ask everyone who comes in if they saw anything yesterday, okay?"
"Thanks," Zeen said, then added doubtfully, "And if she comes back while I'm gone, tell her to stay put."
"One more thing," Mae said. "Those raiders have come through a few times before and we managed to break them up the last time, but they wouldn't give up the whereabouts of their leader...we think she's hiding out in one of the abandoned mines."
"She?" Zeen asked, the only emotion playing across her face, anger.
Mae nodded and answered, "Yes, blond hair, black eyes, a scar running down her face."
"Damn!" Zeen growled, kicking the black horse into a gallop.
Cal Eastowe watched the young woman who had fallen asleep on her bed roll and sneered. For the past two nights she had watched Rielle as she slept and each night the young woman had looked peaceful despite her grim situation. The outlaw nudged the sleeping woman with the tip of her boot and received no response so she kneeled down and shook Rielle which only caused her to roll over, so Eastowe finally slapped the young woman across the face to wake her up. "I believe your blanket's over there."
"Sorry," Rielle muttered, getting up and walking over to her blanket.
"How do you do it?" Cal asked, settling down on her bed roll.
"How do I do what?"
"How do you sleep so peacefully when you know that I could end your life at any time?" Cal asked. "How can you find peace in a world like this?"
Rielle shrugged and said, "I guess I just look for the good in everything and it brings me a little peace when I find it."
The blond woman gave Rielle an incredulous look and asked, "What good is there here?! You're being held captive by a murderer!!"
'Could be worse,' Rielle said to herself. "I can't explain it."
"It's pathetic," Cal spat.
"Why?" Rielle asked. "Because you don't feel it?"
For a moment Cal's dark eyes flashed with anger, but it quickly melted away into an unreadable expression and she said, "I don't feel anything really...only bits and pieces sometimes."
Knowing the answer but wanting to hear it from the woman sitting on the other side of the fire, Rielle asked, "Why?"
"Why? Why? Because my life was ruined by that murdering bitch Zeen Zamorra!" Eastowe exploded.
"What do you care?" Cal snapped. "Are you trying to figure me out?"
"I just wanted to know."
Cal got up and walked over to Rielle. Settling herself next to the young woman she said, "Fine, I'll tell you. Eight years ago Zeen Zamorra's gang rode into my town and demanded that we give them all of our money...we refused and they took it by force. They killed anyone who resisted them and those who didn't were killed anyway when they burnt down all of the buildings. I watched my family and friends die and I wondered why I was the only one who had survived, and then I knew...Revenge. I hated Zeen Zamorra for what she had done, and I only wish that I could have been the one to kill her."
Rielle nodded then asked, "So all that you do, all of the killing and stealing is for revenge against Zeen Zamorra?"
"Not just her, everyone who has what I lost."
"So you became what you hated most," Rielle stated.
Cal narrowed her eyes at Rielle and said, "She created me. Yes, I hate Lawless Zamorra for what she did to my family and I deserve vengeance."
"You deserve vengeance?" Rielle said. "Why?"
"Because my life was ruined!"
Rielle looked straight at Cal and said, "Your hate ruined your life. You said that you deserve vengeance because of what was done to your family, but your hate is selfish. You only want revenge so that you'll feel better, not because you want to avenge the death of your family."
For a moment the blond outlaw's expression of indifference faded into one close to sadness as she thought, 'She's right. This little girl's figured me out...and now that she knows, I wonder what she'll do.' Cal turned back to face Rielle and said, "You talk too much."
Zeen rode back to the inn at the head of a posse and she led the group of lawmen into the saloon. "Mae, these guys are here to help."
Mae nodded a greeting to the men then said to Zeen, "Well I've got a few more people who want to join your group."
"The more the better," Zeen said. "Who are they?"
Mae indicated the whole room full of men and women and said, "All of them want to help."
"Okay, find anyone and everyone who knows anything about the abandoned gold mines and tell them to come talk to me."
"Sure honey," Mae said, then placed her hand on Zeen's shoulder and added, "We'll find her."
"I won't stop until I find her," Zeen said resolutely.
"I know you won't," Mae said as the outlaw walked over to the group of lawmen, clearly in control of the group.
Zeen sat down at the table and cast an icy glance at everyone before she spoke in a low, controlled tone. "I know your priority is Eastowe, mine's Rielle. You help me find my friend and I'll help you get Eastowe."
One of the men at the table spoke up and said, "I don't see why we should help you. For all we know you're in on it with Eastowe."
There was a whisper around the table and another man said, "I'm an officer of the law and you're a criminal. I'd arrest you now if those bounties hadn't been taken off of your head, Lawless Zamorra."
Zeen cast a hard glare around the table and the men quieted. Many of them shifted in their seats when Zeen's cold voice seemed to cut through their very souls.
"Fine, you don't have to help me, but don't expect my help when Cal Eastowe gets to you because I'll be long gone. I know how Eastowe works, she plays games, tortures, and then leaves the mess for her victims to clean up...but I'm sure you can handle her. I'm saying this now, if you're not with me get out of my sight."
The men quickly pushed away from the table, leaving Zeen with the two men who had stayed. "What are a couple of Texas Rangers doing in California?"
"Tracking Cal Eastowe," the short man with the curly blond hair answered.
"Are you sure you weren't tracking me too?" Zeen asked.
"Just Eastowe," the short man answered.
"Look," the other man said. "We want to help you."
"Why?" the outlaw asked the tall muscular man with the long brown hair. He wore a tan duster with a badge pinned to the front, and his hat was resting on his knee.
"Anyone who would run into a burning building to save the people inside deserves help. Your friend deserves help also."
"She's helped more people than I ever have," Zeen told them. "You'll help me find her?"
"Of course we will," the large man answered. "I'm Henry Lees, and this is Ike Ioluson."
Zeen shook both of their hands and said, "Zeen Zamorra."
"Good to meet you," Ike said.
"We'll do all we can to help you find your friend and once she's safe we'll deal with Eastowe," Henry said.
"Thanks," Zeen said in her usual dry tone, but she meant it sincerely.
Rielle glanced at Zeen's pocket watch by the embers of the dying fire and sighed, the watch read 1:30 but she was not sure if it was 1:30 a.m. or p.m. 'Probably a.m. if she's asleep,' she thought, glancing at Cal who had just fallen asleep. Rielle closed her eyes and thought of Zeen. 'Hey, I know you're out there and that you're looking for me. I'm okay, my head hurts a little but I'm fine so don't worry too much...' Rielle glanced at the sleeping outlaw and then at the tunnel which led to the outside world, and for a moment she considered sneaking out. As she started to rise, Cal's voice sounded from the other side of the cave and she stopped cold.
"Mother?" the blond outlaw mumbled. "Where's papa? What's going on outside?" Rielle pulled her blanket around her shoulders and strained to hear what Cal was saying. "I don't want to hide...don't leave me here alone!"
'Everyone has their own demons to fight, their own nightmares to deal with,' Rielle thought, watching the dreaming outlaw. 'Even you...'
Zeen absently rubbed her eyes as the map that she was staring down at started to blur. She glanced over at Henry and Ike who were clearly struggling to stay awake and said, "Hey, let's call it a night."
Henry stretched and mumbled, "Good idea."
"Yeah," Ike agreed. "I'm beat."
"The rest of the group should be here by morning," Zeen said to the two Texas rangers who had moved to the other side of the fire. "I want to start looking as soon as the sun's up...whether the rest of the group's here or not."
"Okay," Henry yawned. "We'll find your friend Zeen."
"Yeah," Zeen replied stretching out on her bed roll. "We'll find her."
"Night guys," Zeen replied. The outlaw gazed up at the sky which was bursting with stars and remembered all of the warm summer nights spent on the roof of her mother's inn with Rielle, gazing up at the starry sky. 'Damn the stars,' Zeen cursed to herself. 'They just don't seem to be shining as brightly as they used to...'
Cal awoke, surprised that she had not been yanked from her sleep by her nightmares which haunted her each and every night. The blond outlaw felt a warm body curled up behind her and turned to see her young prisoner asleep on the bed roll next to her. "Wake up."
Rielle slowly opened her eyes to the dim light coming from the fire and looked up at Cal. "Huh?"
"What are you doing over here?" Cal asked, not bothering to move.
"You were...I was cold," Rielle answered, not bothering to tell Eastowe that she had stayed up for over an hour telling her stories before she finally stopped the nightmares.
"Oh?" Eastowe replied. "And you were willing to sleep next to an outlaw to keep warm?"
Rielle nearly laughed out loud at Cal's comment, but she merely shrugged and watched as the woman pulled out a watch. "What time is it?"
Cal smiled wickedly at Rielle and said, "Four-thirty. Time to move!"
Zeen stayed awake for hours, not wanting to fall asleep and be dragged back into the cold, dark nightmares which had plagued her ever since Rielle had been kidnapped. 'Rielle, I swear if Eastowe's done anything to you I'll kill her! No...you wouldn't want me to do that, so I'll just break every bone in her body. You wouldn't be angry at me for that would you? Even if she hasn't hurt you I still want to...if she hasn't hurt you I won't do a thing, I'll just grab you and get you the hell away from that monster. Rielle, I'm so sorry that I got you into this mess but I swear I'll get you out...even if it kills me.'
Rielle stood perfectly still as Eastowe tied her hands securely behind her back. The young woman was just too tired to fight the outlaw because of the long walk that they had taken to get to the abandoned mine where Eastowe planned to finish her little game.
"You're not afraid to die?" Cal asked, pulling out a knife and admiring the way its blade glinted in the firelight.
"I'm not afraid," Rielle answered.
"Why?" Cal questioned.
"It happens to everyone."
"So, you're not afraid to die," Cal stated. "Are you ready to die?"
"No, I'm not," Rielle answered.
Rielle looked straight into Cal Eastowe's dark eyes and said, "Because I've finally found...all I've ever wanted and I don't want to lose h...that."
"Mmmhmm," Cal murmured. "And what is all you've ever wanted?"
"Somebody to love," Rielle answered softly. "Someone to share my soul."
"You know what I think about love?"
"No," Rielle answered. 'I can't imagine that it would be anything good.'
"I think it's a trick nature plays on us to get us to reproduce."
"You speak of lust, not love," Rielle replied.
Cal ignored the young woman's comment and asked, "Would you die for the one you love?"
Mist green bore into dark brown for a moment before the young woman nodded and answered, "Yes, I'd die for my life."
Zeen turned to the two Texas rangers and held up Rielle's ivory-handled gun. "They were here."
Ike ran his hand through that ash of the dead fire and said, "They couldn't have been gone that long, it's still warm."
"Where would Eastowe have taken her?" Henry asked the stoic woman beside him.
'If I knew that I wouldn't be here!' Zeen thought with a frown. "I don't know. This is all a game to her."
"Well it took us long enough to find this place," Henry commented. "Do you think she's gone to a more secluded spot?"
"I don't...," Zeen started, then thought, 'Of course not! She's probably got her out in plain sight!' She looked at Henry and Ike and said, "Maybe. Why don't the two of you head south to the older mines, I want to look around here for a while."
"Do you want one of us to stay with you?" Ike asked.
"No," Zeen answered quickly. "Go together in case you run into Eastowe. I'll be fine."
"Okay, we'll meet you back at the camp if we don't find them," Henry said, heading out of the tunnel followed by Ike.
"Okay," Zeen muttered absently. "See you later then." She waited until Henry and Ike had left before she sat down on the ground and said, "Rielle, you know that thing you do where you always know where I am even when you're not looking? Well, I wish I could do that right now...I mean I can do it sometimes, but not like you can. I just wish I knew how to do it...maybe it's something that only you can do, or maybe I'm just not doing it right...I don't know, but it would make it a hell of a lot easier to find you if I could do it." The outlaw rose to her feet and then almost immediately crashed back to the ground when a bolt of fear shot through her soul followed by a wave of dizziness and a flash of darkness. Zeen knelt on the ground trying to catch her breath and focus on the image that she had seen in her mind...a sharp, glinting knife. She recovered quickly and ran out of the mine knowing that time had just run out.
Fighting the dizziness that had been brought on by Eastowe's blow to her already damaged head, Rielle rolled out of the way of the blade that was flying towards her stomach. 'Okay, so talking to her didn't work too well,' she thought, kicking Cal in the back of the knee and causing her to fall to the ground. The first time Cal was ready to kill her she had seen a certain look of indecision in the blond outlaw's eyes, and she had said, "You don't want to kill me." Unfortunately for her, she had read Eastowe's expression correctly and that had pissed the outlaw off.
"It doesn't matter whether I want to or not!" Cal had yelled. "I have to!"
"Why?" A simple question that Rielle was eager to know the answer to.
"Because," Eastowe had said calmly, then exploded, "BECAUSE YOU MAKE ME FEEL!!..."
Rielle dodged Eastowe's blade again and thought, 'I've got to learn to keep my mouth shut sometimes!'
"C'mon, I'm getting sick of this!" Eastowe complained while blocking a powerful kick to her other leg.
Rielle only blinked and wished that she had a weapon. 'At least I broke that bottle of poison that she had...now if only I could get that knife away from her without being stabbed.'
Cal smiled a sort of twisted smile as she saw an opening in Rielle's defense and took it. She plunged the poison covered blade into the young woman's right arm and watched as she fell to the ground. For a moment Cal's eyes locked with Rielle's and where she was expecting to see pain or hatred she saw forgiveness. "Damn you! I should have just left you alone, I knew you weren't trying to kill me...but I had to win the game...I still have to."
Darkness fell and with it came a fierce thunderstorm which nearly matched Zeen's current state of mind. She had been sure that she was headed in the right direction earlier because she could sense Rielle's presence, but then it had slowly faded and that had scared Zeen more than anything.
A clap of thunder brought the outlaw out of her daze and she raised her head to the black sky pleading to whatever power that would listen to her, "I've got to find her! Please, I know I don't deserve help but she does...I just need a sign or something!"
After a few moments of nothing but relentless downpour Zeen hung her head and said, "Fine, I'll do it myself and I won't give up until I find her." She started to turn her black mare back towards the camp where Henry and Ike were waiting when a bolt of lightning struck a lone tree in the distance and Zeen figured that it was the closest thing to a sign that she was going to get. She kicked the horse into a gallop and prayed that she would find Rielle safe and warm.
She reached the tunnel next to the burning tree in under ten minutes and rushed into the dark entrance. Zeen burst into the fire lit cave and froze for a moment when she saw Rielle lying on the dirt floor. 'Oh God no! Please let her be okay! Please let her be okay!' She slowly walked over to the young woman and kneeled down on the floor next to her. "Rielle?" She reached out a shaking hand and felt for a pulse which wasn't there. "No! You can't be..." Zeen pulled Rielle's peaceful form onto her lap and buried her face in the young woman's soft red-gold hair, crying over and over again, "I'm so sorry, so sorry! I love you Rielle! I'm sorry! Please come back, I love you..."
Cal watched her old enemy break down and cry like a baby and she had to admit to herself that Zeen Zamorra was the last person she had expected to see running through the tunnel in search of the young woman. 'I don't believe it! She's in Love with her!'
Cal stepped out of the shadows and spoke to the sobbing outlaw, "What's the matter Zeen? Going soft? Did that trip to Hell when you were shot make you change your ways?"
Without turning to face her enemy, Zeen answered in a strained, broken voice, "No, seeing Heaven did."
For a moment the blond outlaw was quiet as she glanced at the still form of the young woman cradled in Zeen's arms, but she then said bitterly, "You'll never get to Heaven Zeen Zamorra."
"I was there for a little while," Zeen replied, still not facing Cal.
"Well it's time to face reality," Eastowe said, inching closer to Zeen. "It's time to pay for your sins." Seeing that Zeen was making no attempt to move, Cal walked up to her and kicked her in the back with her spurred boot growling, "Time to burn in Hell!"
Zeen gently laid Rielle back down on the ground and faced Cal who was smiling down at her. "She never did anything to you."
"She left me for dead!" Cal yelled.
"No," Zeen said shaking her head. "She wanted to save you I...I made her leave you."
Cal shrugged and said, "Well it really doesn't matter now, she's dead, I'm alive, and I'm going to kill you."
"Then do it," Zeen said tossing her gun towards Eastowe.
Eastowe kicked the gun back to Zeen and said, "You failed her y'know. She was waiting for you to save her and you didn't come. She actually believed in you...and that got her killed."
"I know," Zeen whispered looking at Rielle's peaceful face.
"You're a failure!" Eastowe yelled, harshly backhanding Zeen in the jaw.
The outlaw simply took the blow and moved away from Rielle's lifeless form. 'She's right.'
"FIGHT!" Cal screamed, kicking Zeen in the stomach. When Zeen only gave her a blank stare, Cal struck her across the face and said, "Get up."
Zeen looked at the ground and then back up at Eastowe who rushed at her and yanked her up by her black leather duster. The blond outlaw looked at Zeen with fire in her eyes and screamed, "Fight damn you!" She struck Zeen across the face causing her to fall back and land on Rielle, her blood staining the young woman's beautiful pale face. "I'm sorry Rielle."
Eastowe drove the heel of her boot into Zeen's back and screamed, "I SAID GET UP AND FIGHT, DAMN YOU!!"
Zeen winced as she felt her ribs crack under Cal's powerful blow but she ignored the pain and moved her hand up to Rielle's face to wipe away the blood, and froze. The outlaw ignored Eastowe's next kick and stared down at Rielle's face. There were tears flowing down the young woman's pale cheeks. Zeen fell forward, rested her head over Rielle's heart and listened to the faint beating. 'Oh God! Thank you!' she sent out a silent, joyful prayer. "Hang in there Rielle, I'm going to get the both of us out of here," she whispered. She heard Eastowe move behind her and allowed an evil grin to touch her lips...
Cal had grown quite tired of Zeen's unwillingness to fight her so she pulled out her knife and decided to end her enemy's life. She raised the weapon over her head, said a silent farewell to her old adversary, then brought the blade down with incredible speed. She was shocked when she heard the sound of bones splintering as the knife was stopped half way through its descent when her wrist was caught in Zeen's vice-like grip. Cal dropped to her knees as Zeen rose up, still crushing her wrist. The outlaw towered over Eastowe, her eyes almost white with rage, she looked inhuman, like something born of the underworld with wild black hair flowing over her long black coat, and that positively evil grin. Cal had never seen such a frightful sight in all her life...and she cherished the fact that she had caused such a reaction in Zeen Zamorra.
The dark haired outlaw spoke in a surprisingly low, controlled tone, but her grip on Cal Eastowe's crushed wrist never let up. "What did you do to her?"
Cal laughed up at Zeen and said, "Wouldn't you like to know?"
Zeen twisted Cal's splintered, bloody wrist and growled, "Tell me!"
"P...poison," Cal choked out, no longer enjoying the game now that the tables had turned.
"Uh huh," Zeen said. "What kind of poison?"
"Lethal," Cal answered. "It killed her right away."
Zeen let go of the blond woman's wrist then knocked her aside and picked up the broken vial on the floor and inspected it. "Tetrodetoxin. How much did you give her?"
Cal rose to her feet cradling her arm and said with a sneer, "Not that much. She broke the vial before I could completely cover the knife, but I guess it was enough."
Zeen turned away from her enemy and gently picked Rielle up. "Why'd you do it? Revenge?"
"Sure," Eastowe said. "Revenge."
"She shouldn't have had to pay for my mistakes," Zeen said softly. "She cared about whether you lived or died, I didn't and I left you for dead. I'm sorry for what I allowed my men to do to your town. I can't change what happened but I want you to know that I never intended for it to happen...I...I lost control of my gang, by the time I got there...the damage had been done."
Cal only glared at Zeen, not wanting to hear the honesty and grief in her voice or see the regret in her eyes. Cal Eastowe did not want to feel the pain of the memories that were flooding her mind but she did because one young woman took the time to care enough to figure her out and treat her like a human being. "You have thirty seconds to get out of here before I shoot you."
Zeen stared at the blond outlaw who screamed at her, "GO NOW!"
Without a second glance, Zeen ran out of the tunnel tightly holding on to Rielle. She managed to get the both of them on the black mare and back to town despite the wild storm...she never noticed the lightning bolt which struck the entrance to the tunnel causing a cave in.
Chapter VII. Safe, Sound...and Sensitive Chats
The doctor stepped away from Rielle's bed and turned to Mae and Zeen saying, "The affects of the poison should wear off in a few hours, the paralysis has already started to diminish. She's lucky that she only got a small dose...anything more would have killed her. She'll probably be extremely tired when she comes around so she should get plenty of rest, and the stitches in her arm should be fine but the wound will more than likely scar." The doctor looked at the distraught outlaw and said sympathetically, "She'll be fine Ms. Zamorra."
"Thanks," Zeen muttered. "Call me Zeen."
"All right Zeen," the doctor said with a smile. "Rest, take it easy on those ribs...I still don't see how you managed to ride back here at full speed, carrying her with three broken ribs."
Zeen shrugged showing no signs of pain and said, "I have many skills."
"And being hard-headed doesn't hurt her any either," Mae joked, getting a small grin from Zeen.
With a mock glare, Zeen said, "Watch it Mae...remember who I am!"
'What was it that Rielle called her? A misguided angel who's fighting her dark side to get back to Heaven,' Mae thought with a smile. "Oh I know who you are honey and that tough as nails act won't work with me."
Zeen raised an eyebrow and said, "Oh yeah?"
"Mmmhmm. Now get to bed, doctor's orders!" Mae said seriously then looked at the doctor and asked, "Right?"
"Right," The doctor agreed. "Take care of them Mae."
"Of course I'll take care of them," Mae said with mock indigence. "I take care of all my children!"
The doctor tipped his hat and said, "Good night ladies."
"Good night Dr. Coleman," Mae said as the doctor left. The small woman turned back to Zeen who was still standing in the middle of the room looking rather lost, and ordered softly, "Go to sleep now. You can beat yourself up later."
Zeen gave Mae a sad smile and climbed into the bed next to Rielle. "When Henry and Ike come back would you tell them thanks for me?"
"I'm sure they'll want to hear it from you," Mae said. "I'll ask them to stick around."
"Okay, thanks," the exhausted outlaw yawned drifting into a peaceful sleep despite her troubled mind.
Rielle slowly opened her eyes and immediately noticed that Zeen was no longer lying by her side. She tried to sit up and cursed silently when a sharp pain shot down her right arm, rolling her sleeve up she saw a row a neat stitches nearly four inches long running down from her shoulder. 'This is nothing compared to three broken ribs,' the young woman thought glancing across the room to where Zeen was sitting in a chair with her head in her hands. With great effort Rielle got up and made her way over to Zeen.
"You should be resting," Zeen said in a hoarse voice, not looking at the young woman seated by her side.
"So should you," Rielle replied. She gently put her arm around the outlaw making sure to avoid Zeen's broken ribs, and said, "Talk to me."
Zeen rubbed her temples and said, "I'm so sorry Rielle, I wasn't there for you. I thought...I thought you were dead...and it was my fault! I couldn't stop it! I couldn't protect you from her! I...I almost gave up!"
"Zeen," Rielle said softly, yet her voice also held a firm note. "That's not true! You came looking for me after a ceiling collapsed on you! You could have been killed and I thank God the you weren't, but you were hurt and instead of staying in bed like you should have you came out to find me."
"I never should have let Eastowe get to you in the first place," Zeen muttered.
"Zeen, you were inside a burning building! You couldn't have even known that she was out there!"
"I did!" Zeen cried. "I heard gunshots outside but I chose to-"
"To save a life," Rielle said softly.
"But was it worth losing you to save that kid?" Zeen asked quietly.
Rielle took Zeen's chin in her hand and said softly, "Zeen look at me. You did the right thing, you put that child's life before your own."
"And before yours," Zeen whispered looking into Rielle's mist green eyes, seeing no blame in them.
"Zeen, she attacked me from behind and with all of the confusion there was nothing-"
"NO! I failed you Rielle...Eastowe was right!" Zeen cried, the tears rolling down her face. "I don't deserve you, you don't belong out here with me, with all of this..."
"Then where do I belong Zeen? Tell me honestly." Rielle asked.
Zeen stared into her companion's gentle green eyes and knew the answer to the question. "You - you belong wherever you want to be...as long as you're happy."
"Zeen, I'm happier than I've ever been my entire life when I'm by your side...I don't think that I could ever have true happiness without you. Every smile, every laugh, every happy moment is because of you," Rielle said truthfully, watching the tears silently roll down her soulmate's cheeks. She leaned over, gently kissed away one of Zeen's tears, and said lovingly, "I'm with you because I want to be." Kissing away another tear, she continued, "And because there's no one in this world that I'd rather be with." Rielle gently kissed away one last tear, then looked into Zeen's troubled blue eyes and said ever so softly, "And because I'm in love with you."
Zeen stared at Rielle, not quite believing that she would ever hear those words spoken to her. "Y...you love...me? But I failed you."
"No you didn't! Zeen listen to me," Rielle said. She covered Zeen's hand with her own and placed it over her heart saying, "The whole time Cal Eastowe had me I could feel you here. I knew that you were coming for me, I just had to hang on until you found me." Rielle looked into Zeen's eyes for any sign that she had gotten through to her and waited patiently for her to speak.
"Rielle, I don't know how...but you've got a way with me," Zeen said. "I never thought that anyone could love me...or that I could love anyone in return, but you had my heart, dark as it was, the day we met. I tried...I wanted to tell you so many times before but my tongue got tied and I couldn't figure out exactly what I wanted to say but now I know...so please believe me when I say that I love you with all my soul and I'd do anything for you."
"Of course I believe you," Rielle said with her soft smile. "You told me before in your own way."
"I did?" Zeen asked. "How?"
"You did a lot of things...like the way you smile at me, and the way you watch me when you think I'm not looking, but I think you really told me on my birthday. All of the gifts, dinner, the dress, the ring, were not even half as precious as the other gift that you gave me."
"My love?" Zeen asked.
"Yes," Rielle said, placing a soft kiss on Zeen's lips. "Your love."
Mae smiled warmly as Zeen and Rielle made their way down the stairs side by side and thought, 'Finally! It's about time they figured it out!' She rose from her chair and waved the two women over to the table saying, "C'mon y'all, Henry and Ike will be along in a minute. How are you feeling?"
"We've never been better," Zeen said smiling at Rielle.
Rielle returned the smile and said, "You've got that right."
Mae watched the two women gaze at each other and barely hid a grin. Shaking her head, she turned and saw Ike and Henry headed over. "C'mon over boys, the sleeping beauties have finally decided to join us. Zeen, why don't you introduce them."
"Henry, Ike, this is Rielle MacGab. Rielle, these are the two Texas Rangers who helped me find you."
Rielle smiled and shook their hands saying, "Thank you both so much for helping her, for being there for us."
"You don't have to thank us Rielle," Henry said sincerely.
"Yeah, we wouldn't have it any other way," Ike said with a warm smile.
"Why don't y'all sit down and I'll go get Frank to bring some drinks around," Mae said.
Zeen sat down on the bench, obviously in pain, and Rielle quickly made her get up again. "Wait a minute Zeen." The outlaw quickly obeyed and watched as Rielle pushed the bench closer to the wall then sat down resting her back against it and gestured for Zeen to sit and lean against her. "Better?"
"Oh yeah," Zeen sighed, settling against Rielle and leaning her head on the young woman's shoulder. She turned to Henry and Ike and said, "Sorry I left you guys, but I had to find her."
"It's okay Zeen," Ike said. "We were just a little worried about you."
"Was Eastowe there Zeen?" Henry questioned.
"Yeah, she was," Zeen replied wearily.
"Did uh...did you kill her?" Henry asked the outlaw.
"No," Zeen answered. "I really didn't really care about Eastowe at the time, I was worried about Rielle."
"You could've been killed!" Ike exclaimed.
"Yeah," Zeen replied dryly. "I almost was...but she let me go."
"Let you go?" Henry and Ike said in unison.
"Yeah, I don't know why but-" Zeen started but was cut off by Rielle's soft voice.
"She has a heart," the young woman said. "It's just broken and she's afraid to fix it."
"Rielle, this is Cal Eastowe we're talking about! She's a murderer! She almost ki-" Zeen started to protest, turning slightly to look at her companion.
"She did that out of fear Zeen," Rielle said calmly.
"Fear of what Rielle?"
"Feeling again," came the soft answer.
"She didn't really hurt me when she had me with her in the mine."
"How on earth could you see good in Cal Eastowe?" Zeen said, then thought, 'She saw good in me.'
"I saw it," Rielle said firmly. "It's just buried under all of that anger and pain."
'I caused that,' the outlaw thought.
As if sensing Zeen's thoughts, Rielle said, "It's not your fault Zeen, she brought some of it upon herself."
"Well I still don't see how-"
"Trust me Zeen."
"You're the only person I trust," Zeen said, and with that she dropped the argument, trusting in Rielle's quiet wisdom.
The two Texas Rangers who had stayed silent during the exchange glanced at each other and then at the young woman who had just gained their highest respect. Henry smiled at Rielle and said, "You're a strong woman."
"She's the strongest person I've ever known," Zeen said softly. 'She's stronger than I'll ever be.'
"You're lucky to have her," Henry said to Zeen.
"Luck," Mae said from behind. "Has nothing to do with it. Isn't that right Zeen?"
"That's right," Zeen agreed with a grin. "It's not at all about luck, it's all about destiny."
"Destiny?" Ike asked.
"About three thousand years of it," Rielle said, exchanging a knowing glance with Zeen.
"Three thousand years?" Henry repeated. "Care to fill us in?"
"Sure," Rielle said with a sparkle in her green eyes. "It started with a Warrior Princess and a young village girl turned bard and queen of the Amazons. They lived in a time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings..."
Chapter VII. Promise of Eternity
Zeen sighed and said for the third time, "Rielle, I'll be fine!"
"Zeen, it's barely been three weeks! I don't think that sparring is a good idea with three broken ribs!" Rielle argued. She and Zeen had met an 'Amazon' who was on her way back to Texas a few days earlier and Zeen had been invited to spar with her that afternoon.
"Please Rielle?" Zeen nearly pouted, knowing that it got Rielle every time. "I promise I'll be careful...and if it starts to hurt I'll stop."
Rielle looked up at the puppy-dog eyes that Zeen was making and sighed, "Fine, but be care-"
"I will!" Zeen said, starting to take off.
"Wait a second," Rielle said stopping Zeen in her tracks. The young woman slowly walked up to her outlaw, wrapped her arms around her neck, and kissed her passionately. "Come back as soon as you're finished...I have something for you."
Zeen stood and stared at Rielle as she headed back into their room, aware of nothing but the woman who had stolen her heart. Rielle turned back around and grinned, saying, "Go on Zeen, Andrea's waiting for you."
"Huh...who?" Zeen muttered.
"Andrea. Remember, you just spent fifteen minutes trying to convince me that you were well enough to spar with her?"
"Oh...oh yeah," Zeen mumbled, vaguely remembering. "Well, I could tell her that I can't-"
"No, no! Go on now," Rielle said teasingly. "You promised her that you would have staff practice. I'll be here when you're finished."
"Okay, I'll hurry!" Zeen said as she took off down the steps.
Shaking her head Rielle went back into the room and flopped down on the bed to take a nap...that idea lasted about five minutes as she was interrupted when Zeen burst through the door and said, "Done!"
"Zeen Zamorra how can you be finished? It's been less that five minutes!" Rielle exclaimed.
"I dumped Andrea on her butt three times in a row!"
"Did you even give her a chance to fight back?" Rielle asked, doubting that the answer would be yes.
"Well...she got mad at me when I beat her the first time," Zeen said. "She's not very good."
"Zeen, go down and apologize to her," Rielle said. "And play fair!"
"Zeen, I'm not going anywhere."
"Okay," Zeen muttered, trudging out the door.
"Quit pouting! You don't want everyone in the state of California to know that Zeen 'Lawless' Zamorra pouts, do you?" Rielle said with a grin.
Zeen turned and flashed her crooked grin at Rielle saying, "You wouldn't dare tell anyone!"
"Maybe," Rielle said backing into the room.
"You do realize what will happen if you do," Zeen said creeping closer to Rielle who kept backing further and further away.
"What would happen to me?" Rielle asked.
"Oh, I don't know...maybe THIS!" Zeen exclaimed rushing forward, grabbing Rielle and flipping the both of them onto the bed which promptly collapsed as they landed on it. "Oh Shit!!"
"Zeen!" Rielle said through uncontrollable laughter. "You broke the bed! Mae's gonna' kill you!"
Zeen shrugged and said, "She'll get over it."
Rielle shrieked as Zeen started to tickle her mercilessly and defended herself with a feather pillow. "Zeen! You'd better stop that!"
"Really?" Zeen purred. "I don't think so!"
"Then I'll have to hurt you!" Rielle laughed, swinging a pillow at Zeen who blocked it with her arm.
"You wouldn't do that!"
"Right!" Rielle said as she swung the pillow at Zeen's head. She missed as the outlaw ducked and the pillow exploded into a million feathers as it hit the wall.
"Trying to take my head off Rielle?" Zeen exclaimed, spitting out the feathers that she had inhaled.
"Never!" Rielle said throwing a handful of feathers in Zeen's face, prompting a feather fight.
Mae stood in the doorway shaking her head at the sight of the feared outlaw 'Lawless' Zamorra being pinned by her small companion who was shoving handfuls of feathers down Zeen's shirt and getting a few in her face in return. The small woman stepped forward and said, "What on God's green earth are y'all doin'?"
The two abruptly stopped their play and tried to look innocent, which was quite impossible when the evidence was floating around the room and clinging to their hair. Zeen blew a feather away from her face and said, "She was trying to teach me how to make the bed."
"Uh huh," Mae drawled with a raised eyebrow and a grin. "Never in all of twenty some years of running this place have I ever had anyone break one of my beds."
"That was Zeen's fault," Rielle informed Mae.
"So much for being on my side," Zeen muttered to Rielle jokingly. "I'll pay for it Mae."
"Oh don't worry about it honey." Mae waved Zeen's protests off. "I think it'll be worth more broken."
Narrowing her ice blue eyes on Mae, the outlaw asked, "Just what do you mean by that?"
"I have the bed that Zeen 'Lawless' Zamorra broke while trying to...to make it!" Mae said as she burst out laughing.
Zeen glared at Mae who was holding onto the door frame for support, and then at Rielle who was curled up next to her laughing hysterically. "Very funny."
Mae and Rielle glanced at each other and said, "We know!" The red head wiped a few tears from her eyes then barely looked up when the next thing she knew was that she was flying out the door and into the hallway on the other end of a pillow and the door to room seventeen was slammed closed. 'She still can't take a joke!'
Zeen turned back to Rielle who was still catching her breath, and asked, "So, what do you have for me?"
"Oh, I don't know...I hope it's something that you'll like," Rielle answered with a smile. "Why don't you take a guess Zeen?"
"Rielle!" Zeen growled, she hated to guess.
"C'mon Zeen," Rielle said with mischief in her green eyes. "I bet you'll never guess what it is."
"Fine," Zeen said calmly. "I'll guess...is it you?"
"No, you already have me," Rielle answered. "Try again."
"A new knife?" the outlaw asked.
"Dinner? A new pair of boots?"
"No. No again."
"A holster? Or how about some cigars? A deck of cards?"
"No, no, and no," Rielle answered with a grin. "Give up?"
"I never give up."
"Okay, then do you want me to say that you don't have to guess anymore so that I can tell you?"
"That works," Zeen said.
"You don't have to guess anymore...but I'm not going to tell you."
"Rielle!" Zeen sighed in exasperation.
"I promise I'll give it to you tonight," Rielle said.
"Okay," the outlaw muttered.
"Hey," Rielle said taking Zeen's hand. "You'll like it."
"I'll like anything that you give me Rielle," Zeen said with a smile.
"Close your eyes," Rielle said to Zeen who had waited patiently all day for Rielle to give her the gift that she had promised. "Okay, you can look now."
Zeen opened her eyes and saw a brand-new black leather hat resting on the table in front of her. "Rielle, this is...where'd you get this?"
Rielle shrugged and said, "I found it at a store downtown. Like it?"
Zeen tried the hat on and said, "Yes, it's perfect Rielle."
"Good," Rielle said with a smile.
"Thanks Rielle," Zeen said as she leaned over to kiss the young woman.
"You're welcome...but I'm not finished yet."
"You're not?" Zeen asked. "Rielle, you don't have to-"
"I want to Zeen," Rielle said softly. Taking Zeen's hand in her own, Rielle pressed a piece of cool metal into the outlaw's palm and watched as her expression turned to one of surprise.
Zeen stared at the ring in her hand and then at Rielle and said, "Rielle, you...you didn't have to do that."
"It belongs to you," Rielle said.
"Losa gave it to me when we were in Artemis," Rielle explained. "The Amazons have had it for three thousand years...it belonged to Xena, Gabrielle gave it to her for their joining ceremony."
Zeen looked at the thick silver ring with the strange symbols running along the band and asked, "Can you read that?"
"It says; 'May we walk together until eternity's last breath,'" Rielle answered without looking at the ring. 'I remember writing it.' The young woman took the ring from Zeen and said softly, "Give me your hand."
The outlaw placed her large hand in Rielle's smaller one and watched as she slipped the silver ring on her finger. Zeen looked up at Rielle and said, "It feels like I've been wearing it my whole life...or that I should have been."
Rielle nodded and said, "I know the feeling."
Zeen glanced around the nearly empty saloon and said, "C'mon let's get outta' here, it's getting late."
"Yeah," Rielle agreed, allowing Zeen to pull her chair out for her. "I guess we should head back before Mae locks us out."
Zeen grinned and said, "I can get us in if she has."
"I'm sure you can Zeen," Rielle said, taking the outlaw's hand as they walked out to the street. "But I think Mae would be insulted if you broke into her place."
"Yeah," Zeen sighed. "I guess we'd just have to camp outside for the night."
Rielle looked up at Zeen, her eyes shining like dark emeralds in the moonlight, and said softly, "I was kind of hoping that we'd get in tonight."
Not needing another hint, Zeen quickly said, "We'll get in!"
Rielle pulled Zeen's head down for a slow kiss which left her dizzy and Zeen senseless. "Good, let's go."
"Go?" Zeen muttered, trying to figure out where they were going. 'Wherever you are, that's where I'll go.'
"Uh huh. Walk with me?" Rielle said pulling on Zeen's hand.
With an affectionate smile Zeen said softly, "Until eternity's last breath."
Chapter VIIII. Going Home...
Andrea stared as Zeen and Rielle finished off their third helping of food. The sun had already been high in the sky by the time the two had made their way downstairs looking like they were not aware of anyone but each other and were too happy to care about the rest of the world at that moment. Mae had snapped the two out of their daze with a slightly teasing comment about not breaking anymore beds and Andrea could have sworn that she had never before seen two people turn the same shade of red at the same time.
After Mae seated the outlaw and the storyteller by telling them that they looked half starved and needed to eat, Andrea asked if she could join them for their meal. Shaking her head at the empty plates that were littering the table, the 'Amazon' said, "The two of you would fit in perfectly at home."
"I don't know about that," Zeen said dryly.
Andrea glanced at the ring on the outlaw's left hand and said, "I'd say that the two of you are already part of the family."
"Why do you say that?" Rielle asked.
"Losa gave you the Warrior Princess' ring, the one that Queen Gabrielle had Hphaestus himself forge for her champion and mate Xena...it is said that the ring would fit the Warrior Princess and no other. Over the years many have tried to wear it but it has been either too large or too small...but I see that it fits you perfectly. Do you know what that means?"
"The ring fits me so I guess my hand is the same size as Xena's was," Zeen muttered.
Andrea laughed and said, "No, it means that you and Rielle, by a rite set down ages ago, are the true leaders of Atremis."
Beofre Zeen or Rielle had a chance to respond, two women burst through the front door and headed for their table. Andrea immediately stood up and said, "Pheoby, Sam, what are you doing here?"
"Losa was killed during a border attack by Delaguerra's gang on our western border," the sandy haired Sam answered.
"Rielle," Pheoby said in a serious tone. "Losa left you the rite to govern and lead the citizens of Artemis. Do you accept this rite?"
Rielle stared at the tall blond 'Amazon' and stuttered, "I...how? Why did she...I mean she hardly even knew me, and I don't even know if I..."
"Losa said that you would be the best leader for our people. You don't have to accept Rielle, you can hand the power over to another."
Shaking her head Zeen cut in, "You can't ask her to accept responsibility when there's about to be a border war!"
"Calm down Zeen," Rielle said, trying to sort out her thoughts.
"Rielle, I know Arez Delaguerra, I used to ride with his gang and I won't have you in the middle of one of his battles," Zeen said, her pale blue eyes pleading with Rielle to understand.
"That's not your choice Zeen," Rielle stated. "Has he invaded the borders yet?"
"He's attacked on the outside only but he's threatened to invade at any time," Sam answered.
Zeen saw the determined look start to come into Rielle's green eyes and said, "Rielle please-"
"I accept," Rielle said with finality.
"Good, we leave tonight," Pheoby said glancing at the suddenly fierce looking outlaw seated next to the young new leader of Artemis. "Andrea, Sam, let's go to the bar." Taking the hint, the other two 'Amazons' followed Pheoby to the bar and left Zeen and Rielle their privacy.
"Rielle are you sure?" Zeen asked, already knowing the answer.
"I'm positive Zeen," Rielle answered looking into the outlaw's concerned eyes. "I have the chance to save lives and maybe stop this fight. If you don't want to come-"
"No! I'm afraid you're stuck with me...and I won't let you go out there alone. You know if it was my choice I wouldn't have you out there at all...I just got you back...I don't want to lose you again," Zeen said , wishing that she could just protect Rielle from every evil that came her way.
"I know Zeen...but it's not just the problem in Artemis."
"I think I owe my parents a visit...an explanation," Rielle answered hesitantly.
"Rielle, if you wanted to go home why didn't you tell me?" Zeen asked, fearing that Rielle had been unhappy being so far away from her family.
"Zeen, I am home, you are my home, my family. You know that."
I know, you're my family too."
"When I followed you I only left a note for my parents telling them that I was going out to see the world and that I couldn't stay in Cherry Creek all my life. They deserve to know that I'm alive and well...and happier than I've ever been," Rielle explained.
"Rielle," Zeen said softly. "It started out that you were following me into the world but now it seems like I'm following you. I'll go wherever you want to go and if you want to lead Artemis then I'll go there with you...and I think that you'll be the best leader that they'll ever have."
"Zeen, we're not following each other, we're walking side by side," Rielle said with a smile.
"You know just what to say," Zeen commented, shaking her head. "I still don't know how you do it."
Rielle just smiled and said, "Let's go get our things together so we'll be ready to leave tonight."
"First let's see how much money we owe Mae for the room," Zeen said spotting the innkeeper across the room "Hey Mae!"
"Hey honey, what can I get for y'all?"
"I need to know how much we owe you for the room," Zeen replied.
"Are y'all leaving so soon?" Mae asked, sorry to see her two favorite guests leave.
"Yes, we're going back to Texas tonight," Zeen answered.
"Is everything okay?" Mae asked, concerned.
"It's a long story," Rielle said. "I want to visit my family and I have been asked to help negotiate a border dispute in Artemis."
"That's putting it mildly," Zeen muttered. "You're the ruler of Artemis and all other 'Amazons' Rielle."
"Ruler?" Mae asked. "You mean like the mayor?"
"Queen," Zeen answered.
"When did this happen?" Mae asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Two minutes ago," Rielle answered.
"Well, you two don't owe me a thing," Mae said.
"I insist," Mae said, silencing the outlaw. "It's not every day that we have a couple of heroes stay here."
"Are you sure?" Zeen asked.
Mae smiled and said, "Positive, just promise me that you'll come back and visit us."
"Sure we will," Rielle said hugging the smaller woman.
"You take care of that big fool y'hear?" Mae whispered to the young woman.
"I will," Rielle answered with a grin.
"Zeen," Mae said holding out her hand. "I certainly will miss you."
"You'll miss teasing me," Zeen said with a mock glare. "I'll miss you too Mae."
"Hold on to her," Mae said so that only Zeen could hear. "You'll learn a lot from her."
"I don't plan on letting her go as long as she's happy with me," Zeen said glancing at Rielle.
"Lord have mercy, the two of you!" Mae muttered, shaking her head.
"What?" Rielle and Zeen asked in unison.
"Did you know that it was obvious to everyone who saw the two of you that you were crazy in love with each other?"
"It was?" Zeen asked. 'Wonder why it took almost losing her for me to open my mouth.'
"Uh huh," Mae said with a grin. "It took y'all long enough to figure it out."
Rielle laughed a little and said, "Even Cal Eastowe knew."
"Honey, I think everybody knew," Mae said with a smile.
Zeen leaned over and kissed Rielle softly and then turned back to Mae and said, "And if they didn't know then, I guess they know now."
Mae grinned at the two women and said, "Well if y'all aren't leaving until tonight and you're going to be on that long train ride-" She never got to finish her remark but at least she knew that she had gotten her point across because Zeen and Rielle were already halfway up to their room. Shaking her head and smiling warmly, Mae muttered, "Soulmates."
"Y'all come back now y'hear!" Mae said to Zeen, Rielle, and the three 'Amazons'.
Rielle hugged the smaller woman and said, "Of course we will Mae. We can't thank you enough for everything."
"It was my pleasure honey," Mae said with a smile. She turned to Zeen and said, "I know I don't have to say this, but be careful and take care of each other."
"We will," Zeen said. "That's a promise."
"ALL ABOARD!" the conductor called for the third and final time. "LAST CALL FOR THE MIDNIGHT RUN, SOUTHEAST BOUND."
"Well, this is it," Zeen said taking Rielle's hand. "Let's go."
"Bye Mae!" Rielle called over her shoulder as she and Zeen climbed into the train.
"Bye y'all," Mae called watching as the train pulled away.
"Well," Zeen said as Rielle settled sleepily against her. "Are you ready to deal with your family and this war?"
"I think I'm more prepared to deal with the war than with my family," Rielle muttered.
"Hey," Zeen said softly, looking into Rielle's eyes. "If it would be easier to deal with your family without me around-"
"No, I want you to be there. I need you to be there."
Zeen smiled, kissed Rielle and said softly, "I'll always be there for you."
Rielle raised their joined hands to her lips and kissed the silver ring on Zeen's finger. "And I'll always be there for you, Love."
Arez Delaguerra watched as one of his men stumbled up to him and saluted him quickly. "Senor Delaguerra, I have received important news!"
"Verdad?" Arez asked. "Do tell me."
"Zeen Zamorra is on her way here Senor," the man answered, watching as a feral grin broke out on his leader's face.
Arez rubbed his well trimmed black beard and said more to himself that to the man, "I heard a rumor that she had changed her ways, that she was fighting for good now."
"Yes Senor," The man answered. "I have heard the same."
Shaking his dark head, Arez said, "I'll believe that when I see it! The Zeen Zamorra that I knew could clean out a whole town without so much as blinking an eye, she was merciless! She barely had a thread of human compassion in her...but I have seen people change...cowards! When she gets here she had better be on my side, because if she's not..."
"You will destroy her Senor?"
Arez said nothing, he only allowed a dark, evil grin to cross his face as he began to laugh at his own dark thoughts.
~El Fin~...for the time being
Comments are always appreciated (especially the good ones). e-mail, MythBard17@aol.com
Return to the Fan Fiction area