The following characters are my own. This story is set during the American Civil War and experienced from the Confederate side. Some of the language and terms may offend some readers.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state, province or country in which you live please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Northern Peace and Perils, Part 1
17th February 1865
The silhouette stumbled in the snow for the third time, partly hidden by the blizzard. Hurt, cold, hungry and tired, that's how the figure felt as slender but strong fingers pulled the tattered furs tighter around the broad shoulders. Blue eyes scanned through the trees for any signs that would indicate someone following. At least the trails left behind would soon be hidden by the blowing snow.
The shoulder and leg wounds were almost unbearable, only the numbness caused by the arctic cold helped. Taking a ragged breath, the fugitive got up once again on unsteady legs and continued on its way. The darkness was quickly setting in and shelter must be found soon. Barking dogs were heard by the fugitive, the sound being carried by the wind and was getting closer fast. Looking around for any kinds of weapons, the figure grabbed a solid piece of branch and held it in shaking hands. 'Why fight back anymore,' the figure snorted, laughing at the absurdity of the situation. 'So far from home, no food and no bullets left for the Colts.' Looking down at the piece of wood in the hand, the fugitive laughed again, raised the weapon in the air and shook it at whatever Gods were looking down to end their game. Then another kind of darkness took over as the figure collapsed on the snow, the fingers slowly releasing their grip on the branch.
Michelle Laberge couldn't wait to get home, she thought as she guided the dog team through the forest. It had been a long day and the weather was getting worst. She had made her monthly trip to Mansonville, a little village some twenty miles west from her home. Mr. Cole, the general store's owner, had all of her supplies already packed when she arrived. Michelle smiled as she remembered the elderly gentleman trying again to have her to leave her solitary life in the mountains and come live in the village. Mr. Cole considered Michelle like his daughter and he really didn't like having her so far away from civilization.
The young woman pushed her running dogs even more as she noticed the late hour, wanting to be home before darkness fully fell. She carefully guided the sled through the blowing snow and suddenly noticed some movement to her right and saw a figure collapse on the ground. Stopping the team, she stepped off the sled and took her rifle in her hands. Carefully, she approached the person that wasn't moving.
"Allo?" she called out in French, pushing her fur hat back slightly so she could see better. Receiving no answer, she walked closer and bent down, out of reach of whoever was lying down on the snow to look at the face. Michelle was surprise to look upon the face of a woman. She slowly reached to shake her shoulder, getting no reaction. Pulling her left hand out of her mitten, she slowly reached down and touched the pulse point at the woman's neck and let a sigh of relief escape her lips as she felt a faint heartbeat.
Michelle looked around them, trying to see if anybody else was there but with this blizzard, it was hard to see and hear. The young woman looked back at the still figure and brushed away the long, dark hair that covered her face. "As tu besoin d'aide?" she tried again in her native language, shaking the woman more forcefully.
She jumped in surprise as a hand shot out from beside the woman and grabbed at her furs, refusing to let her go. The hostile gesture was soon forgotten as Michelle saw the disoriented look on the stranger's face, and was completely mesmerized by the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. "Tu est blessée?" she asked as she helped the woman to sit up.
Even though she had a haggard look and her body had an obvious lack of food, the woman was a beauty. Eyes the color of sapphires looked back at her, high cheekbones and a strong jaw gave her a look of regal barring.
"Wa..." the woman croaked, her voice breaking from being so dry.
"Wa?" Mick frowned at the barely uttered word, "Wa Water! Yes, of course! I'm sorry." Michelle said as she ran back to her sled and brought back her canteen. Pulling the cork out, she bent down and brought the canteen close to the woman's mouth.
The dark haired woman suddenly grabbed at Michelle's wrist, stopping her from getting too close and took the canteen herself, drinking until she started to choke.
"Hey, careful." Michelle said as she took the canteen back. "Listen, daylight is almost gone. Can you walk?" she asked and the woman shakily got up. "Good. I don't live too far away. Sit down on the sled and I'll bring you to my place." she smiled as the woman nodded and slowly made her way towards the dogs. "What's your name?" No answer. "Do you speak English?" Michelle said before she could think. The woman turned to Michelle and raised an eyebrow at her. "Stupid question, sorry." Once the dark haired woman had settled onto the sled, she mushed her dogs on their way, pushing as much as she could to help her dogs deal with the extra weight.
The fugitive couldn't believe her luck. 'Alex, there must be someone looking out for you!' she smiled to herself as she closed her eyes. Her shoulder was killing her, her wound having gone too long without being taken care of. The only thing that kept her from falling back into unconsciousness was the image of her rescuer.
Alex had caught a glimpse of golden hair that stuck out from under the fur, the hat slid low to stop just above sparkling green eyes. 'She looks so young,' Alex thought, 'and cute too.' she added with a tired smile. Another time, another place, she might have enjoyed seducing the young woman, but now wasn't the time. She held her breath as another shock of pain shot through her body and she clenched her jaw shut. She was about to demand the young girl to stop when the sled slowed down and Alex looked up and saw through the blowing snow that they had arrived at a log cabin.
Michelle stopped the team right in front of the cabin and reached the woman who had her eyes closed. "We're here," she gently shook the woman. "I'll help you in and get the fire going again." the blonde said in a loud voice to be heard over the wind. The stranger slowly stood up, only then did Michelle notice that the older woman was at least six feet tall. She pushed the door in and guided the woman left and towards the bed that was close to the fireplace and helped her sit down."
"My name's Michelle. Michelle Laberge, but people call me Mick." she supplied with a smile as she put logs into the fireplace and blew on the embers to start the kindling alight. She watched briefly to make sure that the fire was well started and turned to look at the woman who was still sitting on the bed. "I'll go get the dogs out of their harnesses. It won't take long. Are you gonna be okay?" she asked but still didn't receive any answer. She shrugged as she walked to a lamp and lit it, bringing it with her. Just before she walked out back into the storm, she cast another look at the beauty sitting on her bed. The older woman was now staring into the fire, her ragged furs still tightly closed around her. Mick shook her head with a sad smile and walked outside to care for her dogs.
Once the door closed, Alex shifted her eyes to look at where the woman had stood, Michelle wasn't it? Even though Alex had proven to be very uncooperative, Michelle was still willing to give her shelter. The dark haired woman shook her head slightly. 'That kind of trust in people will get her killed someday.' Alex thought. As the room started to get warmer, the fugitive let her tattered furs slip off of her shoulders and winced as she moved her arm.
Looking around, Alex saw that the cabin was of good size. The main room seemed to serve as sleeping quarters as well as working area. With the fireplace on her right and two rocking chairs right in front of it, she turned her head left and spotted an old desk in the corner with many books littering the top while a few loose papers could be seen along with a pen and ink bottle.
Trailing her eyes along the left side of the cabin, Alex saw two closed doors distanced by shelves of books, the wall ending up in the kitchen. A square table was in the middle of the room along with four chairs. A wood burning stove stood on the opposite wall from where Alex sat and the right wall had a long working area for cooking with cupboards above it. The main door was located right between the kitchen counter and fireplace.
"Nice." Alex nodded her head as she finished her visual tour of the place. She shakily stood up and limped toward the kitchen area, opening doors in search of food. Little cakes were found on the counter and Alex quickly grabbed three of them, wolfing the first one and started munching on the second. She wondered what lay behind the two closed doors.
After she finished taking care of the dogs, Michelle quickly emptied the sled of its supplies, filled the storage room that was an extension of the log cabin and brought the perishable items in the cabin with her. She opened the door the best way she could and pushed it open the rest of the way with her boot, causing the wooden door to slam against the wall, making the older woman jump.
Alex was still looking around the kitchen when the door crashed open and she spun around in surprise. The sudden move made her dizzy and she briefly lost her balance, causing her to lean forcefully against the counter.
"Oh! Sorry!" Mick exclaimed and almost let her parcels drop when she saw the woman start to collapse. She quickly put the food on the table and grabbed at the woman's vest, walking her back to the bed. "Easy, you should have told me you were hungry. Lord knows I am!" she said with a smile as she spotted the half-eaten cake tightly held in the woman's right hand.
With her furs off of her body, Mick got a good look at the stranger. She quickly realized that the woman was not an ordinary one. She was dressed in black pants, the tan suede shirt partly covered by a black leather vest, her boots were so worn that holes were visible, even from a distance. What caught Mick's attention though were the two gun belts that hung low on each hip, each carrying a Colt revolver in their holster. Mick stood up and smiled at the woman, choosing not to ask about the weapons. "How about if I heat some stew for us to eat?"
Getting used to not having any replies, Mick headed for the small kitchen area to heat the stove and prepare their meal. Stealing a look at the gunslinger, she noticed the woman wince as she carefully lay down on the mattress and closed her eyes. She wished she could learn more about her silent and mysterious guest. Why was she carrying revolvers? Was she a criminal and if so, was she a thief or a murderer?
All those questions were giving Mick a headache. 'If she was a murderer...' Mick thought then shook her head. For some reason she didn't quite understand, she really believed that the older woman wouldn't harm her, let alone kill her. She smiled as she saw the woman's hand slowly slide off from her thigh down to the mattress still clutching the little cake.
Mick softly walked toward the woman and was about to put a blanket on the tall stranger when she noticed that under her leather vest, the shirt was torn. Looking closer she saw that the left shoulder had a nasty wound, having probably been treated once but had been neglected ever since.
Alex woke up startled as she felt soft hands tugging gently at her shirt. A hand captured Mick's, blue eyes flashing a warning, causing the young blonde to stop what she was doing with her fingers in mid-motion of undoing the shirt. "What are you doing?" the woman growled, not releasing her hold on the smaller woman's wrist.
"Your wound, I was trying to clean it." Mick explained, swallowing hard as the woman kept staring at her.
"What?" The question confused Mick. It had always been natural for her to help people in need. She never stopped and asked herself why she did it.
"Why are you nice to me when you don't even know who I am?" she said, letting go of the blonde woman's wrist.
That had been the longest sentence Mick had ever heard from the dark haired woman. She suddenly wished she would say more. The sound of her voice held a rich tone that vibrated through her. "It won't make any difference to me to know who you are." Mick said with a disarming smile. "You're hurt and I will take care of that wound, even if you don't want me to." she continued to unbutton the tan shirt, noticing the stunned look on the gunslinger's face.
Nobody dared to speak to her this way, Alex thought. Many had died for a lot less. But this diminutive woman had clearly taken over in deciding what was best for her. She watched as the blonde pushed the shirt away and proceeded to clean the wound carefully, noticing with amusement the green eyes slowly wander over her nearly exposed breast.
Getting caught staring and blushing furiously, Michelle quickly concentrated on her task at hand. What had gotten into her? Sure the older woman was a beauty, but it was no reason to gawk at her like a drunken sailor. 'I'm spending too much time alone in the woods!' "Is the wound on both sides of your shoulder?" Mick asked as she put fresh bandages on the newly cleaned injury. She watched as the older woman shook her head no. "Was the bullet taken out?" a small nod, "Any other wounds I should know about?" she asked. Another shake of the head and Mick closed her medical box and put it on the small table next to the bed. 'That was an interesting conversation!'
Walking to the kitchen area, Mick took two bowls from the cupboard and filled them up with hot stew then brought one to the stranger along with a big piece of bread. She watched in amazement as the food disappeared almost instantly. Blue eyes looked back at her with a smile so small that Mick almost missed it.
"Thanks." she mumbled as Mick took the bowl away. With some difficulty, Alex took her gun belts off and put them by her side on the bed. She took her boots off, wincing as another wave of pain shot down her left arm and slowly laid down on the soft mattress with a sigh of relief.
Coming back into the main area, Mick covered the still clothed woman with a warm blanket. "Try to get some rest. I'll be close by if you need anything." Mick said with a smile and sat down in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace to eat her own bowl of stew.
"Alex." the woman suddenly said, surprising Mick.
"Excuse me?" she said and leaned closer to the gunslinger.
"You asked me what my name was. It's Alex." She said as she closed her eyes and soon fell asleep.
'Small victory!' Mick smiled as she watched the sleeping woman. "Good night, Alex." She whispered.
It had been a very hot day and Alex was glad that the sun had finally set some time ago. The sweat on her body made the dust from the trail stick like glue on her skin. All Alex wanted once she got home was a beer and then a nice soak in the tub. She had spent most of the day in Kansas City and the bustle from the hectic town got to her nerves. She much preferred the life of a smaller town like Carson Pass, the town she grew up in. But the trip had been worth the hassle. Her wagon was full of supplies needed for her parent's saloon and their small restaurant.
Another reason why Alex wanted to get home as quickly as possible was that she had bought a gift for her lover and she was looking forward to see her reaction to it. Even though the tall, dark haired woman hated to shop for clothes, the dress she had seen in Kansas City simply screamed Jodie's name and Alex had bought it without a second thought.
'Her lover.' Alex smiled to herself as she repeated the words. It had been a fairly new development in their relationship. Jodie and Alex had been friends since their school days and now that they were adults, they had discovered that their feelings for each other were much deeper than that of simple friendship. Tomorrow was going to be their second anniversary together as lovers.
Both of them now shared a room above the business Alex's parents owned. Jodie worked with Mama Carmichael during the restaurant's open hours while next to it, Alex helped her father behind the bar when needed but her main job was making sure everybody behaved in the saloon. Her six-foot tall and well-muscled frame was impressive enough and if that didn't convince the newcomers to act in a civil manner, the fact that Alex was one of the best sharpshooters in the area did the trick.
Whistling to herself, Alex guided her horses and wagon toward the saloon to unload the supplies and smiled, knowing that Jodie would be waiting for her there. She nodded as a few people waved at her with a smile, recognizing her regular customers and neighbors. As she made her way closer to her parents' business, she noticed that a crowd had gathered in front of the saloon and she frowned, thinking that maybe somebody was already making trouble.
"Alex!" a voice yelled and she turned to see the general store's owner come running down the steps toward her. "Wait!"
"Whoa!" she hollered as she pulled the reigns back, stopping the horses. "What's up, Mr. Carson?"
"Please, stay calm." he called, out of breath, "We had some trouble earlier."
"What kind of trouble?" Alex frowned as she stepped off the wagon. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Mr. Carson shook his bearded head and took a deep breath. "But a bunch of soldiers made some trouble this afternoon. They were already drunk when they arrived in town. Your father asked them to leave the saloon but they refused. A fight started and he got hurt."
"Damn!" Alex exclaimed and turned to head home but was quickly stopped by a solid hand on her arm.
"Wait, there's more." Mr. Carson added and swallowed nervously. He had known Alex all of her life and he had seen her grow up into a beautiful woman. But he also knew what she was capable of doing when she was in a rage and he was afraid that what he was going to say would make her go on a rampage. But he knew that she would rather hear the news from a family friend instead of from a stranger. "Jodie was found behind the saloon. Somebody beat her up pretty good and..." he never had time to finish. The tall woman burst into a run, leaving behind the wagon and horses at the general store.
"Get out of my way!" Alex yelled as she shoved the curious onlookers away from her path. "Jodie?" she called out and took a quick look around the demolished saloon. Broken tables and chairs were strewn everywhere, the huge mirror behind the bar was broken and the floor was wet with the alcohol bottles that had been broken. "Dad?" Alex stepped out and ran around the building, taking the steps that led to her room two at a time.
"Jodie?" she called again as she pushed the door open. Her father was sitting at the small table, his left arm in a sling. Numerous nasty cuts and bruises could be seen on his face and his opened shirt showed his strapped chest. Alex's mother was kneeling by her husband and both looked up as their daughter entered the room. "Mom?"
"Honey, please, come here." Mama Carmichael said as she stood up, opening her arms to Alex.
"Where's Jodie?" she asked and looked nervously around the small room, noticing Doctor Forbes for the first time. "Where is she?" she asked again, this time more forcefully.
"Please, sit down, Alex" the doctor instructed and sighed when the tall woman refused to budge. "I'm sorry. There was nothing I could do." He said gently, glancing briefly at the closed bedroom door.
Fear took hold of Alex's body as she saw the sad faces of the people surrounding her. "No!" she took a few steps back then headed toward her bedroom, opening the door in one swift motion. "Jodie?"
Somebody was lying in their bed, the form covered by a blanket. Alex carefully approached the bed and knelt down beside it, reaching a shaking hand to grab at the cover. She held her breath and closed her eyes, slowly pulling the soft material away from the face hidden under. She could feel her heart beating furiously against her chest, the sound of her blood racing in her veins loud in her ears. Opening her eyes slowly, Alex looked down and saw the bruised face of her gentle lover.
Tears started to fall down her dusty cheeks as she gently brushed her shaking fingers on the once soft skin, now swollen and cut. "Jodie? Please wake up. I'm here now. I'm home." Alex spoke softly as she slowly shook her friend's shoulder. "Come on Jodie. Wake up." She shook the petite woman more forcefully and looked up as a strong hand patted her shoulder.
"She's dead, Alex. I'm sorry." Doctor Forbes said and tried to make Alex stand up. A strong arm violently pushed him back accompanied by a growl that sounded inhuman.
"Get away from me! Leave us alone!" Alex barked at the doctor, her eyes swollen and red from the tears. "Get out!" she screamed. Turning her eyes on the immobile form before her, Alex's facial expression changed as she looked at Jodie, her features becoming soft and loving. "Jodie?"
"Please, Alexandra," her mother pleaded, her heart breaking at the sight before her. "Let her go."
"No!" Alex cried and looked up at her mother. "Please Mama, do something."
"No!" the dark haired woman whimpered as she looked once more at the battered body of her lover. "NO!" she howled in pain and furry.
Alex woke up in a sweat. Her eyes wide in fear as she looked around her. Remembering where she was, she took a few deep breaths and tried to calm her racing heart. It had been four years since Jodie had been murdered and it still felt like yesterday. All those years spent trying to find her killers, her search unsuccessful. "I'm so sorry." She whispered to her friend, hoping that Jodie could hear her thoughts but on the other hand, hoped that she hadn't witnessed Alex's murderous rampage that had followed the tragic event.
"Will you ever forgive me for what I've done?"
The tall woman slowly turned on her side and stared at the dying embers in the fireplace. She knew that sleep wouldn't come easily now as guilt gnawed at her soul. 'People die in wars. You had a job to do and you did it well.' A voice sounded in her mind, 'But you weren't a soldier. The men you went after were killed in revenge for Jodie's death. They had nothing to do with it. All they were guilty of was wearing the same uniform as her killers.' Another voice replied. "I know that now." Alex answered to no one in particular and silently listened to the howling wind outside.
Mick woke up earlier than usual, the arctic cold having kept her awake most of the night. The small room she had slept in was used in the summer time only and had no heating. During the winter months, Mick always used the main area where the fireplace was, but now with the injured woman, she had no other choice but to keep her close to the warmth of the fire. She stretched fully and quickly got dressed, making sure not to make any noise.
Walking out of the bedroom and leaving the door open so the heat from the fire would warm it a little, Mick checked on Alex and made sure that everything was okay. The woman was still asleep. The young woman put more logs into the fire and brought it back alive, warming the small room and stayed just a few moments to warm her cold limbs. The only other fireplace was in the public section of the cabin, used when trappers and the occasional traveler passed by and stopped at the relay to rest and take shelter. Mick thought of preparing that room for Alex's use, but opted to keep the injured woman within her reach until she could fare better.
Opening one eye, Alex watched the young blonde. She was huddled in front of the fire, rubbing her arms and saw a shiver go through the petite woman. Alex pushed her blanket away and tried to sit up, causing more pain in her shoulder. She tightened her jaw as the muscles screamed in agony. A low growl escaped her lips, causing Mick to turn around.
"What are you doing?" Mick was quickly beside her and tried to make the older woman lie back down again. "Just rest and I'll check your bandage." the blonde said as she took the medical kit she had left close to the bed. With the light of day, Mick got a better view of the woman's injury and noticed that the shirt had more rips in it and so had her pants.
"I have to leave." Alex said as she tried to get up again, only to be held back by Mick.
"You're in no shape to go anywhere Alex." Mick said sternly. "You haven't eaten in how many days?" she asked but didn't wait for an answer, she expected none. "And you have a nasty shoulder wound. So you're gonna listen to me and do what I say." Mick suddenly stopped as the dark haired woman's expression changed and saw the jaw muscles twitch with tension. Mick looked at the older woman, not knowing what to expect.
A dark eyebrow shot up and she stared at the blonde. Either the woman was nuts, Alex thought or she was one gutsy lady and she somehow knew that the young blonde wasn't a stupid woman. She watched as fear registered on Mick's face, but was quickly masked by a defiant look. So Alex did the only thing she could do right now, she laughed.
Relief washed over Mick as she heard the woman laugh and watched her slowly sit back down on the bed. "What about if I heat some water for you to take a bath? I'll check your wound after. But first, how about some coffee? I'm freezing!" Mick said as she walked into the kitchen and prepared a pot to heat.
Seeing that the young woman wasn't looking, Alex got up once again, unable to sit still. She stood in the doorway of the room Mick had left open and peered inside. She noticed a bed that had been slept in but realized that the room had no heating source, then remembered seeing Mick shiver in front of the fire earlier. Limping back to the fireplace, Alex gingerly knelt in front and stoked the fire. "Where did you sleep?" she asked the blonde woman as Mick walked back, carrying a mug.
"I slept in the small room. Why?" Mick asked confused at the sudden question.
"There's no heat in that room." Alex stated as she kept poking at the logs. "Tonight I'll sleep on the floor here."
"Now listen," Mick started, "You're not going to sleep on the floor!" the blonde shook her head. "You need to rest. The other room isn't so bad." she lied and hesitated when the tall woman stopped poking at the logs and gave her a 'look'. "Well, it's not bad in the summer time." she said, playing with the mug of coffee in her hands, not knowing why she couldn't look at Alex.
Holding back a grin, Alex stood up again trying to hide the pain in her leg and walked up to the blonde woman. "I'm sleeping on the floor, you sleep in your bed, that's it."
"But..." Mick started and found a finger on her lips, the simple touch sending shivers down her body. She looked into the blue eyes staring back at her and lost herself in them.
"No arguing." Alex said and smiled slightly to take the edge off of her command. "If you get sick, who's gonna take care of me?" she asked.
'Did she just make a joke?' Mick couldn't believe it. 'Less than twelve hours ago, she could barely say a word and now this!' Mick smiled at the tall woman and nodded. "Okay. But during the day, you'll rest on the bed." she handed the coffee to Alex and walked back to the kitchen to start breakfast and put the first buckets filled with water in the fireplace to heat for the bath.
Both of them had eaten in silence, but at least it wasn't the uncomfortable silence of the evening before. Having talked a little bit with Alex, Mick felt more relaxed now. She only wished she knew what the dark woman's story was but the last thing that she wanted to do was push Alex to talk. If she wanted to say something, she would in her own time. As soon as the water was warm enough, Mick left the woman to her privacy and stepped out to take care of her dogs outside.
The tub had been set in the corner of the small room, right between the bed and next to the fireplace. Alex soaked her body, enjoying the hot water. With her eyes closed, she tried to figure out what to do next. She couldn't stay here too long. She had to keep moving. But the thought of spending more time with the young blonde was a pleasant idea. It seemed like ages since she had been in the company of such a gentle woman.
She mentally shook her head. She was on the run, chased by a bounty hunter. The longer she stayed, the more she put Mick in danger and the last thing Alex wanted to do was risk any harm to fall upon a gentle and caring woman such as Michelle. She would only bring her trouble, Alex thought as she sat up and bent forward to reach for the soap.
Having fed the dogs and made sure that they were all right, Mick brought the rest of the supplies indoors and quietly closed the door behind her. Looking left to make sure that Alex was okay, Mick saw her reach forward and saw the marks on her back. Long, red scratches from her shoulders down as far as the tub would allow.
A gasp coming from behind Alex caused her to turn and look at Mick who still wore her coat and fur hat down almost covering her eyes. With the soap in her hands, Alex started washing herself. "You'd better take your coat off, it's warm in here." she said with a soft voice. Mick still wasn't moving.
"Huh? Oh! Yes, I'd better." she mumbled as she put her coat and hat away, then took her boots off. "How are you feeling?" she asked the gunslinger as she opened the medical box and took out what she needed to clean Alex's shoulder wound.
"Much better," Alex said as she rinsed herself off and stood up.
A small bottle slipped out of Mick's hands and went crashing on the table as she saw the vision before her. Water glided over Alex's body as the dark haired woman stood up, making no effort to cover herself, much to Mick's satisfaction and consternation. Quickly reaching for the bottle before it rolled off the table, Mick reluctantly tore her eyes away and continued to prepare her items. "What happened to your back?" Mick said as she looked at the woman again, hoping that Alex wasn't looking at her, only then did she notice the other wound on Alex's thigh. "What happened to you?" she exclaimed as she approached the naked woman and took a closer look at the wound.
Alex chuckled to herself. 'Here I am, standing naked in a tub, but all Mick is looking at is a stupid injury!' Alex shook her head and tapped Mick gently on her shoulder, causing the woman to look up. "Towel, please." she pointed her finger to the cloth that was out of her reach. "Unless you want me dripping all over the floor?"
Looking away from the wound, Mick's green eyes trailed over the long legs and the muscular thighs. She slowly looked up and glanced at the dark patch of curly hair and quickly looked away only to look upon well-toned abs and then rest her gaze on the full breasts that were in plain view. Swallowing hard, Mick felt her breathing quicken as she lingered on the firm breasts, trailing the curves hungrily with her eyes. The blonde held her breath as a gentle finger lifted her chin and blue eyes looked back at her, causing her heart to beat furiously.
Alex slowly leaned closer to the blonde woman, secretly enjoying the looks she was getting from Mick and smiled. "Towel?" she asked in a soft voice.
Michelle blinked as she realized that she had been staring and stepped back from Alex as if burned, blushing furiously. "I'm sorry...I, I didn't mean to..." she stammered, reaching for the towel and gave it to the waiting woman still standing in the tub. "I'm sorry." Mick mumbled as she turned and left the woman to dry herself.
Alex watched Michelle leave the room with a guilty feeling. She didn't want to make the young woman uncomfortable. The thought that Michelle probably never saw another woman naked before hadn't even crossed her mind. But now she felt sorry for embarrassing the young blonde, which surprised her. Why did she care how the young woman felt? Ever since Jodie's death, Alex hadn't felt emotionally close to anyone. Having decided that love only brought pain once you lost it.
She gingerly stepped out of the tub and dried herself as best as her shoulder would allow, careful of not brushing the deep scratches covering her legs and back and wrapped the large towel around her body. Slowly walking towards the room Michelle had entered, Alex peered inside and looked at Mick who was sitting on the bed, both of her hands covering her face.
"Michelle?" Alex called out softly, causing the young woman to quickly wipe her tears away and look up at the dark haired woman. She slowly made her way into the room and sat beside Mick. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you." Alex said, "It's just that I'm used to...I never had to..." a sigh escaped her lips. Why was it so hard to explain something that was so natural to her?
"No. I'm the one who should be sorry." Michelle said as she took a deep breath. "I didn't mean to stare at you like that. That was improper of me."
"I didn't mind." Alex murmured, too softly for Mick to hear.
Seeing a shiver go through the older woman, Mick stood up and opened a drawer, taking a long sleep shirt out and handed it to Alex. "I think this will fit you. You're about the same size as my brother." she gave a shy smile as she tentatively looked at the tall woman's eyes.
"Thank you." Alex smiled and took the offered shirt in her hand. Not knowing what to say, she stood up gingerly and winced as the towel rubbed on her scratched back.
"Alex?" the young blonde quickly said. There were so many questions she wanted to ask, especially since Alex was talking a little bit more.
She turned and saw the gentle green eyes looking back at her. "Yes?" It had been such a long time since anybody had looked at her this way.
"Are you huh " Mick hesitated and changed her mind from asking Alex a personal question. "Do you want me to check your shoulder?" she asked instead.
"I'd like that." Alex replied with a smile and limped out of the cold room.
Sitting on the bed close to the fire, Alex turned so that Mick could have an easier time changing the bandage. She could feel Mick's soft fingers working gently and remembered that Jodie had the same caring touch. Alex closed her eyes at the memory and bent her head down, her shoulders sagging slightly. How she missed her friend.
"There, I'm all finished." Mick said as she got up from the bed and closed the medicine box. "Are you okay?"
Alex stood up slowly and nodded. "I'm fine." she replied, not wanting to talk about her lost love. She slipped into the long sleep shirt and let the bath towel slip from under it. "Thank you, Michelle."
Reaching to take the towel, Mick smiled and pointed to the bed. "You're welcome. Now get in bed and sleep for a while, okay? I have a few things to do."
An eyebrow hid behind dark bangs and Alex looked at Mick, an amused smirk on her lips. "Is that an order?"
"You bet. Now git!"
In normal times, Alex would have refused to listen but she did feel tired and weak. Some rest would do wonders right now. "Alright." She finally agreed and carefully slipped under the blankets.
"I'll wake you up later to eat a little, okay?"
"Sure." Alex nodded and closed her eyes. Of all the rotten luck she had in the past month, how come things were slowly turning in her favor now? What or who had put Michelle in her path? 'Whoever you are, thank you.' She silently said and quickly fell asleep.
The aroma of freshly baked bread teased Alex's senses and she sleepily opened one eye, noticing that it was already dark outside. Slowly, she sat up in the bed and stretched carefully, testing her shoulder as she did so. Her wounds were still painful but she could see that her strength was coming back. What she needed to do once she was strong enough was to find a place to hide for a while until things quieted down. Too many people wanted her dead and staying here was too dangerous and Alex didn't want Michelle to suffer for her actions.
Going home was out of the question for Alex. Branded as a traitor by some, a murderer by others, the tall dark haired woman had simply nowhere to go anymore. She closed her eyes and sighed softly, wondering when her life had become so complicated. 'Revenge will do that to people, Alex.' A voice in her mind said, always there to remind her of the things she had done. 'But I learned by my mistakes. I was wrong to do what I did. All I wanted was justice to be served.' Alex told herself and shook her head slowly. 'How do I right all the wrongs?'
"Alex? Are you okay?" Mick asked softly as she sat on the bed. She looked worriedly at the taller woman and gently squeezed her arm. "Are you in pain?"
"No, I'm fine." She replied, rubbing at her eyes to get rid of the tears that threatened to fall. "Did you do all the things you wanted to do?" Alex asked, wanting to change subjects.
"Oh yeah. I went a couple of times to check on the dogs, brought more wood in for the fire and I filled the tub with snow so when it melts down, all I'll have to do is heat the water and it'll be my turn to take a bath." Mick smiled as she described her afternoon. "I also made us a nice meal. Hope you're hungry."
Alex frowned at what the young woman had just told her. All that work and she hadn't even woken up once. Either she was exhausted or she really felt safe in Mick's cabin, she wasn't sure. One thing she knew though was that she never slept that deeply, even when her own family was around. Only Jodie managed to make her relax a little but not as much as being oblivious to everything.
"Hey!" Michelle nudged the taller woman teasingly, "Are you listening to me?"
"I said that the blizzard stopped some time ago. I cleared a path to the outhouse if you need to go."
"Oh, sorry." Alex mumbled and looked down at her nightshirt. "Yeah, that would be a good idea. Where did you put my clothes?"
"Well " Mick hesitated as she stood up, "Everything is in the small room but they're torn and ripped in many places. I wanted to repair them but it's pretty useless, especially with all the blood I found on them. What happened that you got hurt so much?"
Alex stared at the fire. Somehow, she didn't want to lie to the young woman but she knew that the truth would probably shock Mick or worst scare her. But at least she owed Michelle to answer some of her questions.
A small sigh escaped Michelle's lips. Why did she expect Alex to answer her and why did she want so much to know about what had happened to the blue eyed woman. Was it just curiosity? Or was it because she cared? Maybe it was just a need to hear exciting things so it would spark her ordinary life? Then again, why would Alex answer her questions when the dark haired woman knew nothing about her? So many questions!
Alex silently watched as Mick walked into the small bedroom. She was about to say something when she heard the drawers open and close with Mick mumbling to herself. 'Nice going, Alex! She's upset at you. What harm would it do to tell a little bit about yourself?'
"I hope you'll like this." Mick said from the room, stopping Alex from saying anything. "I made it this summer for Pierre but he said it wasn't practical where he worked so " the voice trailed as more mumbling was heard then a loud thump. "Got it!" The young woman walked back into the main area carrying a bundle in her hands. The package was wrapped and tied with a string as if for a gift. "It's yours if you want it." Mick smiled as she handed the bundle to Alex.
"What is it?" she asked and was surprised at the heavy weight of the package.
"Open it! You'll see." Mick made her way towards one of the two chairs in front of the fireplace and sat down, watching Alex intensely.
The older woman carefully unwrapped the parcel and stopped as she glimpsed at what was in it. A beautiful buckskin tunic with a delicate beadwork lay under Alex's trembling fingers. Pieces of leather and fine feathers could be seen on each shoulders while the collar had a V shape that was embroidered with an intricate design on each side.
"I can't accept this!" Alex exclaimed, stunned.
"Why? You don't like it?" the younger woman asked softly, hurt evident in her voice.
"Of course I do! It's beautiful, but " Alex continued staring at the tunic, amazed at the beautiful piece of workmanship. " but, would your husband mind? You made it for him, right?"
A loud laugh sounded from Mick, causing the dark haired woman to look up in confusion. "Pierre isn't my husband. He's my brother." She giggled and stood up, taking the tunic out of the wrapping so Alex could see it better. "Yep, I knew it would fit you. It will look better on you than Pierre as a matter of fact. There's some pants in there too. I hope the legs are long enough. My brother isn't as tall as you. Bigger yes but not tall."
Speechless, Alex continued to look at the ensemble, not knowing what to do. Why would Mick give something like this away to somebody she didn't know?
As if reading her mind, Mick walked back to the bed and sat down next to Alex. "It would please me very much if you'd accept this, Alex. Besides, my brother doesn't seem to care much for it and it's too big for me, so "
"You could sell it and make some money. It's really beautiful." Alex said softly.
"But if I did sell it, it wouldn't be as fun as seeing that look on your face right now." Mick gently patted Alex's arm. "Please, take it."
She stayed silent for a while as she fingered the soft buckskin tunic. "Thank you." Alex finally said and looked up to see a bright smile on the young blonde's face. "When is your brother coming back?"
"Pierre doesn't live here. He comes twice a year to check up on me and pester me to go back with him but it never works. He wants me to act like a proper woman but I like living in the mountains. The city life isn't for me."
"Oh? And what don't you like about acting like a proper woman?" Alex asked with a grin.
"Getting married for one." Mick replied, "If he asks me one more time why I don't get married, I'll scream!"
"And why don't you want to get married?" Alex teased and laughed as she ducked Mick's hand as it headed for her arm. 'God, it seems like years since I've laughed this way!'
"Don't you start too!" Mick warned with a laugh of her own. "I have nothing against marriage. It's just that it's not what I want. I'd like to travel and see exciting things. Be able to live adventures instead of reading about them. The city life was exciting but " she sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "People are friendlier here."
"I noticed." Alex smiled as she looked at Mick. She could spend hours just listening to her talk. She was so gentle and seemed so honest in her caring for others. "I'm just surprised that you weren't more careful when you found me. People do dangerous things in times of war."
"What do you mean in times of war?" Mick asked confused. The last war to happen had been in 1812, way before either of them were born.
Alex looked up and saw the look on Michelle's face. "The war between the States. How long have you been living in the woods?" she asked, half seriously.
"Oh! That war! Well, we don't talk about it much since it doesn't really concern us. Politics never was an interesting subject for me, especially when it came from another country."
'Another country?? Why is Michelle talking as if she's ' Alex stopped thinking for a moment and closed her eyes, not daring to hope. "What's the closest city from here?" she asked suddenly.
"I usually get my supplies in Mansonville. Why?"
Not recognizing the name, Alex opened her eyes and frowned. "Mansonville?"
"Hang on." Michelle smiled and stood up. Walking to the small library, she pulled out a rolled map and sat back down beside Alex. Holding the map in front of them, Michelle indicated a small dot with her finger. "This is where Mansonville is. And this " she said as she pointed to a long lake east of the village, " is Lake Memphrémagog. We're about here." Mick finished as she tapped to an area between the two locations, but closer to the lake.
Alex slid a finger on the map from the location of the cabin down the western coast of Lake Memphrémagog to end up at its very bottom on a dot that indicated the town of Newport. 'I'm not in Vermont anymore!' "I'm in Canada. I must have walked all the way through " She murmured to herself as she slowly stood up, the tunic forgotten on the bed.
"Yes, you're in Quebec. Where did you think you were?" Mick asked, joining the tall woman by the fire. She had always assumed that Alex lived in the area. The past twenty-four hours played again in her mind as she thought about the injuries on Alex's body, the torn clothes and the fact that she hadn't eaten in a few days. Mick looked up at the tall woman with wide eyes. "You're on the run, aren't you?" she asked and swallowed as she saw the muscles tighten in Alex's jaw. "Don't worry, Alex. You're safe here."
'Safe!' Alex snorted. 'There are no safe places for you, Alex. You hurt too many people to deserve that.' "How do you know you're safe here with me?" the dark haired woman asked more forcefully than she intended. "I could be a dangerous criminal running for her life or a murderer looking for another victim. What tells you that I won't hurt or kill you?"
Mick wanted to take a step back from the angry woman but somehow she felt that Alex was more hurt than angry. "Because if you had wanted to hurt me, you would have done it already." She gambled and held the blue eyes staring at her without flinching. "And if you're a thief, well, look around you. There's not much to take but you're welcome to it if you want."
Alex stared at the petite woman. People would make a mistake to judge her defenseless if they went by her delicate features. That young woman sure knew how to confront people. "I'm not a thief and I won't hurt you." Alex said softly to the blonde and turned her head to stare at the flames. 'But I am a murderer.' She silently added.
For six months, most of Alex's time was spent in a futile search for her friend's murderers. She had followed all of the possible leads, hoping to find any of the five men she was looking for, which only led her to more Union soldiers and trouble. Frustrated by her lack of success, Alex often found solace in saloons, finding pleasure only when provoking U.S. soldiers into fights or duels, which she always won.
The country had been plunged into armed combat for almost a year now, talks of battles between the Confederacy and the Union in the area were always the topic of conversations, but it was the last thing Alex was interested in. She didn't care much for politics and had nothing in common with either cause.
The only thing Alex found that she had in common with the Confederacy was her hatred for the Union soldiers. It had nothing to do with politics or a wish for independence. What motivated Alex was a sense of pure revenge. If she couldn't find the guilty men, she would at least try to kill as many Yankees as possible as long as they wore that damn blue uniform. She just had to find a way to offer her services to the Confederacy.
Born in the Kansas territory in 1835, Alex grew up in a loving family atmosphere. Her mother, a very good healer, taught her daughter the art of healing and had a hope that maybe one day, Alex would choose to work in the medical field. Wanting his only child to be able to survive on her own in the great Wild West and not having to depend on anybody for her welfare, Papa Carmichael had also taught Alex how to hunt and handle weapons. The young woman quickly became an accomplished sharpshooter and made her father proud when she started winning shooting contests, much to the dismay of many men in the town.
Having been told all of her life by her parents that she could do anything she wanted if she worked at it hard enough, it's with her shooting skill that Alex went in search for a position with the Confederate Army. Of course, being a woman, her offers of serving as a soldier were all refused.
As she was about to leave town in search of another CSA unit and again try to offer her services, Alex came upon a small group of men that were engaged in a precision-shooting contest. She halted her horse and looked on as men fired at the indicated targets. Men made the contest as hard as possible as small balls were thrown in the air at weird angles. Not many men succeeded in hitting the targets.
Alex quietly dismounted and walked up to the Confederate officer watching the group, leading her horse behind her.
"Not much luck in finding new recruits, huh?" Alex said as she pointed to the failing shooters with her chin. "Very poor shooting if you ask me."
Standing close to the officer, one of the men snorted. "And I suppose that you can do better, right?" He elbowed his friend in the ribs, "I know one thing she must be good at." and leered as he inspected the tall woman from her to toe. "One thing's for sure. You're not better than me."
"Why don't we make a bet?" a bald soldier asked as he brushed his thick mustache. His green eyes twinkling mischievously. "Give the lady a chance, Johnson." 'Damn! That girl sure grew up since I seen her last!' the soldier silently thought to himself.
"Gordon's right!" Another man piped in as more Confederate soldiers surrounded Alex. "Let's see what she can do."
Alex watched in amusement as her plan worked perfectly. If you want to prove yourself, all one had to do was provoke somebody. "What's the bet?" she drawled as she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned gently on her horse.
"If I win," Johnson said, "You're mine for the night." He licked at his lips as he made his intention known. "And if you win "
"If I win," Alex cut him off, "I get hired in your team."
Silence met the tall woman's words. The assembled men looked at each other, trying to figure out if the woman was serious or not. Johnson looked at the silent officer standing near them and waited for his answer.
"If she wins, she'll have earn a place with us. The position will not be won because of a bet." The Captain finally said.
"Alright," Alex nodded and looked at Johnson, "You want me for the night if you win, right? Then, what I want if I win " she took her time while she looked at each and every member of the team, then rested her eyes back on Johnson, " is your pants."
The group burst out laughing as the Confederate soldier stared at the woman in disbelief, "My pants?"
"Yep. Is it a deal?"
"Alright," Johnson grinned as he rubbed his hands together, "You've got yourself a deal. I go first." There was no way a woman would beat him. He was the best sharpshooter the unit had.
Moving away from the small group, Johnson readied himself and watched as Gordon, the bald headed soldier, took three balls and shuffled them in his hands. One at a time, the balls were thrown at different angles and were immediately hit with three clear shots of Johnson's pistol.
"See? Nothing to it." The soldier laughed, "See if you can do better."
Alex nodded and leaving her post beside her horse, she walked to where Johnson had stood and waited. She wiggled her fingers next to her Colt revolver and kept her eyes on Gordon who took another three balls.
"Ready?" the bald man asked with a grin. As soon as the woman made the slightest nod with her head, the first ball was quickly thrown in the air at a 45-degree angle. Drawing her pistol out of its holster at her thigh, the target was hit immediately with no problems. With a smile, Alex put her weapon back into its holster.
"You call that a throw, Gordon?" Johnson asked as he walked towards the two people. "Give me that!" he growled and took the remaining two balls away from the bald soldier. "Now we'll see what you're able to do." Taking one of the balls in his left hand, Johnson threw the ball horizontally at his right side, making it bounce back against the wooden fence.
Another draw was made and again the target was quickly hit as if it was the most natural thing for Alex to do. Cheering greeted her shot and Gordon smiled as he crossed his arms over his broad chest.
"Is that the best you can do?" Alex taunted the man who had made the bet with her with a wicked grin.
Frustrated that a woman seemed better than him, Johnson made a move to throw the ball directly at his feet, but as soon as it left his fingers, Alex shot the target out of his hand, missing his hand by mere inches. The soldier stared at the woman with wide eyes and mouth open.
"Damn, Johnson!" Gordon snickered, "Tell me that this young woman can't shoot. She beat you fair and square!"
"The bet, Johnson! Pay up!" the soldiers laughed. "The pants! The pants!"
"You must be joking!" Johnson nearly screamed.
Alex quietly approached the man and put her colt back into its holster. Crossing her arms over her chest, she looked at him with a smirk on her face. "Were you serious about wanting me for the night if I lost?"
"You bet your ass I was! If you think that "
"Then I'm serious about wanting your pants." Alex cut him off after giving him a chance to drop the bet and its results.
Humiliated beyond belief and knowing that he had been beaten, the soldier angrily took his pants off and threw them at Alex's face. He stepped back as the officer approached the group. 'That woman will pay dearly one day.' He raged as he walked away from the laughing men.
The dark haired woman let Johnson's pants fall down on the ground, not bothering to catch them. What the hell would she do with a worn pair of dirty trousers? She had given him the chance to back out of the bet but he had been too stupid to rephrase his wish.
"That was mighty impressive, Miss " the Captain asked as he stood in front of the dark haired woman.
"Carmichael. Alexandra Carmichael." Alex replied.
"Miss Carmichael." He tilted his head and tipped his hat with the tip of his fingers. "My name is Captain Richard D. Beauregard. May I have a word with you?" he asked and started walking towards the saloon.
Seeing that the man everybody called Gordon took care of her horse, Alex silently followed the Captain. Taking a seat in a quiet corner, she waited until the officer spoke first, expecting him to say how a young woman like herself should be home with her husband and family instead of wanting to play soldiers. She had heard that story many times already and wasn't expecting this time to be any different.
"Would you like something to drink?" Captain Beauregard asked.
"A beer, please."
Nodding to the barkeep and holding two fingers in the air, he then turned his attention to the beauty sitting before him. "Kansas sure have women different from the ones I'm used to. Where did you learn to shoot this way, Miss Carmichael?" the officer asked as the bartender put two beers on the table and took the money the Captain gave him.
"My father taught me." Alex replied with a smile.
"He did a very good job at it." He nodded and took his time drinking his beer. Looking up at the woman watching him silently, he smiled and leaned back in his chair. "What I would like to know now is why you want to be a part of my elite group here."
"Let's just say that I would like to be a part of the war effort." Alex said as she took a sip of the beer. "To have a job that's more fitting to my skills."
"And besides being a sharpshooter, what other skills do you have?"
The blue eyed woman gave the officer a mysterious smile, "Oh, I have many skills." She watched as the Captain shifted uncomfortably in his seat, "So, do I have a job or not?"
Aware of the intense gaze directed at him, the officer stared at his beer mug for a while, trying to compose himself. He had seen that look before, and those people made the best soldiers he had ever had the pleasure to serve with. Whatever her reasons for wanting to join them, the Captain was not the type of man to let a perfect candidate go for the simple reason that she was a woman.
"Have you ever killed a man, Miss Carmichael?" the man asked as he slowly lifted his eyes and looked at her. He could see the barely controlled anger raging under the skin as her jaw tightened and her eyes squinted to mere slits.
"Not enough if you ask me." She replied from between clenched teeth. "I'll never be able to kill enough Feds for them to pay for the pain they caused me."
'So, it's revenge that's driving you, my dear woman.' Captain Beauregard thought as he continued to watch her. "Even though I am an officer with the Confederacy, this unit isn't part of the regular army. We're basically on our own. Our main mission is to cause the Union troops we meet as much trouble as possible." Not wanting to say too much too soon, the officer watched the mysterious woman for a reaction and seeing none, continued. "I'll let you participate in a few missions. If you work out fine, I'll include you in the special jobs we do."
Michelle watched as Alex continued staring at the fire silently. Sighing softly after she realized that the older woman wouldn't say anything more, Mick turned to leave Alex to her thoughts. She wondered how to let her understand that she wouldn't judge her for what she had done, no matter what it was. Everybody made mistakes but how could one make up for them if they didn't have a second chance? Maybe her coming to Canada was all that Alex needed to start her life again. There was so much pain behind those blue eyes, it tore at Mick's heart. If only she could just talk a little instead of bottling everything inside.
Seeing Michelle turn to leave, Alex bit her lip at the sudden sadness that gripped her. 'Damn you, Alex! All she wanted to do was help.' She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before calling after Mick, "I'm sorry." Alex said softly, stopping the young woman from leaving, "I didn't mean to scare you."
Walking back slowly to stand beside Alex, Mick put her hand on the muscular arm and gave her a gentle squeeze. "I know. But I want you to know that if you ever want to talk, I'll listen, okay? No matter what it is that causes you so much pain, if I can help, I'll do it. You can trust me."
Alex opened her eyes and looked down at Mick's smiling face. "Why would you want to help a total stranger? I don't understand this."
Guessing that Alex wasn't the evil person she made herself out to be, Mick shrugged and spoke softly, "Before all your troubles started, would you have helped somebody in need?"
It seemed like such a long time ago that Alex had lived the simple life of a normal citizen. Being a good neighbor and helping the community. Now, all she could remember was the past four years spent in a total state of revenge.
Taking Alex's silence as agreement to what she had just asked, Mick continued speaking, "I don't go out of my way to help people, but when I see somebody in need, I don't ask questions. I offer everything I can to help. If I can make a difference in somebody's life, I'm happy." Rubbing the solid back under her hand, Mick smiled at the taller woman, "I hope you're hungry. I think I prepared too much food for us."
Alex watched the blonde leave for the kitchen. 'Maybe talking about what happened would be the best thing for me to do, if Mick was really serious about her offer to listen. Maybe it's time to finally let go of my thirst for revenge, let go of the horrors I have seen and done during the war, and time to finally let you go, Jodie and try to start my life all over again.'
But trusting somebody couldn't be done within a few days of knowing each other. She had nowhere to go and Michelle did offer to give her shelter for as long as she wanted. Maybe staying at the cabin in Canada wasn't such a bad idea. She was a good distance away from where she had last seen her pursuer and if she was honest with herself, she would love to spend more time with the younger woman and get to know her. But if Alex was going to stay in Mick's cabin and recuperate, she would do her share of chores once her wounds were healed enough. If the weather held, the first test of her resistance would be done in the morning when she would go hunting, bringing back fresh meat for them to eat tomorrow.
Still standing before the fireplace, Alex turned her head right and looked at the water filled bath in the corner. She remembered that Mick wanted to take a soak later on in the evening. Wanting to do something nice for the younger woman, Alex bent down to take one of the three buckets and proceeded to fill them up with water and putting them in the fire to be heated.
"Dinner's ready." Mick said as she put the plates on the kitchen table. "Would you like some porter with " she started and stopped as she saw Alex put the metal buckets to heat for the bath. "Oh! Thanks, Alex. That's nice of you."
The tall woman shrugged as a small smile crossed her lips. "It's nothing. I just want to help a little if I'm going to spend some time here."
"You'll stay?" Mick exclaimed excitedly, "That's great!" and smiled as she saw the shy look on Alex's face. "Come on, let's eat. I'm hungry."
The rest of the evening went by quickly. Having taken her bath and emptied the tub of its water, Mick brought a bed pallet from the summer bedroom and put it near the fireplace for Alex to sleep on. If she was going to have the tall woman as a room mate, a better arrangement would have to be made. To have Alex sleeping on the floor was simply not acceptable to Mick.
Alex had lay down for the night and seemed asleep already. Trying not to make too much noise, Mick put an oil lamp on the small table and sat down in one of the chairs in front of the fire. She took the book next to her and continued reading for a while. Feeling like she was being watched, Mick looked down at Alex and saw her wide awake and staring at her.
"Aren't you tired?" Mick asked and put her book aside. "Are you in pain?"
"I'm fine." Alex reassured the younger woman and shifted gingerly on her side to have a better look at her. "I was just thinking."
"About how somebody so young could live alone in the mountains."
Michelle straightened in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest, mildly insulted. "I'm twenty-five years old! I'm not that young."
Alex bit back a grin and then nodded with a serious look on her face. "Oh, my mistake. Sorry."
"I'll have you know that I've been on my own for almost ten years." 'Why does everybody assume that just because I look young, I can't take care of myself?'
Surprised at the latest information, Alex looked at Mick with a grown sense of respect. "I didn't know that."
Mick sat back in her rocking chair and sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. It's just that I'm tired of people thinking that I'm a helpless little girl."
"Don't apologize." Alex said with a small smile, "I never thought of you as helpless. I can see that you can handle yourself very well on your own." She said as she looked around the well-kept cabin. And most importantly, Michelle didn't look like she was starving. "If you don't mind my asking, what happened to your family?"
The young blonde looked at the fire for some time, trying to figure out where to start with her story. "I lived here all of my life. My parents made the cabin into a relay for trappers and hunters in the area. Sometimes we even had a few travelers as they went from one town to another." Mick smiled as she remembered the evenings when the cabin was filled with exciting people, each telling their own stories of adventure. "My brother, who's much older than I am, decided some time ago that he wanted to live in the city. I stayed with Mom and Dad and helped with the chores."
Alex could feel that Mick needed to talk and she wondered how long had she been alone without any company. She silently watched as Michelle's gentle motion rocked the wooden chair.
"My father fell ill one winter and died. My mother followed the year after, having lost all will to live." Mick said simply as she stared at the dancing flames in front of her. "It took three years before my brother came back to the cabin, not knowing that our parents had died. Suddenly, he wanted me to do what he wanted and leave with him. I had survived all that time without his help and there was no way that I was going to let him run my life."
Interested by Mick's story, Alex sat up on her palette, "How did you get your food? Were you able to hunt?"
A small laugh escaped Mick's lips and she smiled at Alex. "I'm not a very good hunter but it's amazing what someone can do when they're hungry. There was enough food to last for some time. I'm just thankful that I listened to my mother and learned how to cook or else I would have starved to death."
"I never did." Alex said softly.
"Never learned how to cook or never listened to your mother?" Michelle asked with a grin.
"Learned how to cook." Alex smiled, "I had no choice but to listen to my mother unless I wanted a good slap on the butt."
Michelle laughed. "What was your mother like?"
"My mother," Alex smiled as she thought about the caring woman, "My Mom is a good woman. She always told me to do what I thought was best for me, to never listen to others. That's why she never pushed so that I would work with her in the restaurant my parents owned. I much preferred to work at the saloon with my Dad. Jodie was the one who worked " Alex hesitated, surprised at the easiness of her conversation with the younger woman. Turning her head to look at the fire, Alex closed her eyes, her heart aching at the memory. She had spoken to no one about Jodie since her death and especially not to a stranger. "She used to work with my mother." She finished with a sad voice.
Sensing the change of emotion in Alex, Mick stood up and sat beside the taller woman on the palette. "What happened to Jodie?" she asked softly, seeing the sad blue eyes.
Alex's jaw muscles twitched as she tried to keep her emotions under control. She thought of talking about her friend with Mick but wondered how the younger woman might react to learning that Jodie had also been her lover. "She was killed by Union soldiers." Alex answered quietly. "I learned later that they thought she was one of the working girls in the saloon. When she refused their offers, they got upset and beat her."
"That's awful," Mick breathed, horrified. "Did they attack you too?"
Alex slowly shook her head. "No, they didn't. They were gone by the time I arrived from Kansas City." She could feel Mick's hand softly rub against her back and turned her head to see a look of compassion on the young blonde's face. "When I got up to our room, she was already dead. I was too late to save her."
Michelle stayed silent for some time, not knowing what to say. Obviously, Alex cared a lot about the woman, who seemed to be more than just a friend. "You can't blame yourself for what happened, Alex." Mick finally said in a soft voice, "It wasn't your fault."
"But had I been there, maybe "
"Alex, the worst thing you can do is live your life wondering how you could have done things differently." Mick said as she brushed a lock of dark hair away from Alex's face. "Believe me, I know. I spent so many years after my parents died, wondering what I had done to deserve this." Noticing the older woman's shaking hands, Mick took a chance and wrapped an arm around Alex's waist and pulled her gently against her. "You loved her very much, didn't you?" she asked simply and felt the dark head nod slowly against her shoulder. "At least you got to know what it felt like to be in love." 'I never got that chance.' Mick silently added.
Both women stayed in a comfortable silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Mick was glad that Alex felt secure enough to talk about her past. She knew that there's was a lot more to the story and hoped that Alex would continue to talk whenever she felt like it. Michelle could already feel that her roommate was a little more relaxed and she smiled as she realized that Alex hadn't moved away from leaning against her.
It had been such a long time since she had talked this way, Alex thought as she kept her eyes on the slowly burning logs in the fireplace. Michelle didn't seem to be upset at learning about her preference for women. In fact, she had been surprised at finding herself wrapped in a comforting embrace. If it had been anybody else, she would have pulled away from the touch, but somehow the simple gesture from Michelle seemed so natural, so right.
"I think we should get some sleep." Alex said softly as she pulled away from Mick. "It's getting late."
Michelle nodded with a smile and slowly stood up. "Yeah, you're right. Are you going to be okay?"
"I'm fine." Alex smiled and leaned back down on her palette, bringing the blankets closer around her.
The younger woman stoked the fire one last time and added a big log for the night, then walked to her bed beside Alex. Sliding under the heavy wool covers, Mick reached for the oil lamp and extinguished it.
"Thanks for the talk." Alex said simply, missing the smile on the young blonde's face.
"Anytime, Alex. Good night."
Michelle slowly woke up the next morning and became aware that the room was nicely heated. Opening her eyes, she saw that the fire had been stoked and that more wood had been added. Sitting up in bed, Mick noticed that Alex's palette wasn't on the floor anymore and that the blankets had been neatly put away. But the dark haired woman was no where in sight.
Getting out of the bed, Mick walked into the summer bedroom and saw that the palette was back on the bed. She quickly dressed then put her boots on and opened the door to peek outside. "Alex?" she called out, "Are you out there?"
The only sounds that answered her were the singing of birds and of the wind blowing lightly through the trees. Mick spotted some freshly made tracks in the snow that led away from the cabin and frowned. What was Alex doing outside? She was still injured and she knew that her full strength couldn't be back so soon. A sudden thought crossed her mind at the idea that maybe Alex had left to never come back. Mick knew that it would happen sometime, but wished that if Alex had gone that she'd at least said goodbye.
Taking the fur coat next to the door, Mick stepped outside and closed the door behind her. Life goes on, she sighed and went to feed her dogs. The animals felt her presence and started to yip in excitement. Smiling at the reception, Michelle opened the door to where her Malamutes were. Six big dogs greeted her as she walked in and she bent down to scratch behind their ears. Wolfish faces looked at her as their plumed tails wagged from side to side. "Hey boys, how are you doing?"
After preparing their food and making sure that they had fresh water, Mick let her sled dogs out of their pen and let them play for awhile. Brushing the snow away from a fallen tree trunk, the young woman sat down and smiled at seeing the dog's antics. Her thoughts slowly drifted to Alex and she closed her eyes as her heart tightened in sadness. After their conversation the evening before, Michelle was so sure that Alex felt comfortable enough to want to stay. Hadn't she even said so?
Barking and growling broke Mick out of her reverie and she turned her head to see what the dogs were looking at. A huge smile crossed over her features as she spotted Alex walking back slowly towards the cabin. "It's okay, boys. Shhh, she's a friend." Standing up from her perch on the log, Mick walked halfway to meet the tall woman. "Where have you been?"
"Hunting." Alex grinned and lifted the wild turkey that she had caught. "I thought that it would be a nice way to say thank you for what you have done for me."
"Oh! Thanks." 'Now I'm really embarrassed!' Mick thought to herself as Alex stopped in front of her. 'And here I thought that she had left without saying goodbye.' Spying a tan color through the tattered remains of what had once been a long fur coat, Mick slowly pushed the lapels away and smiled as she saw what Alex was wearing. The buckskin tunic and pants fit her perfectly. "You look so good dressed this way!"
Alex's raven hair was worn loose and fell over broad shoulders. The color of the tunic was a nice complement to her already bronze colored skin and the ensemble almost made her look like an Indian. Only the blue eyes proved that she wasn't. At least not a full blooded one.
"Oh?" Alex grinned, "And I didn't look good before?"
"Of course you did! I mean it's just that what I'm trying to say is "
"I'm just teasing you, Mick." Alex laughed, seeing Michelle's cheeks slowly turn pink. "Did anybody ever tell you that you're cute when you blush?"
"I am not blushing! It's the cold outside." Mick stated, trying to get her emotions under control. How come this woman could make her react this way? One thing was for sure, she was glad that Alex hadn't left. She looked up at the older woman and smiled.
"What?" Alex asked as she let the turkey fall in the snow and took her knife out of her right boot.
"I'm just happy to see that " Mick hesitated. 'That you decided to stay? That you didn't leave without saying goodbye? That I'll get the chance at knowing you better? "Well, that you're feeling better." She said instead.
"I am," Alex nodded, "But I was disappointed to see how fast I get tired."
"Then, you should be in bed. Let me clean the bird." Mick made a move to take the turkey away from Alex, but it was quickly moved aside and out of her reach.
"I'll clean it, you cook it. Deal? Besides, your dogs need attention." Alex said as she indicated the six Malamutes staring at them.
"Alright, it's a deal." Mick smiled and headed towards the animals.
Alex watched as Michelle played with the dogs, chasing them around the land. She seemed so carefree and happy. A small smile tugged at Alex's lips when she saw one of the heavy dogs topple the smaller woman to the ground and licked her face clean. The turkey momentarily forgotten, Alex sat in the snow and wrapped her arms around her bent knees, her eyes never leaving the young blonde.
Even though she loved her dogs, Michelle hadn't played with them like this for a long time. Was it the bright shinning sun that made her act this way or maybe it was the mild winter day they were having? Or maybe it was the fact that she had somebody to keep her company for a while. Mick stole a glance at the blue eyed woman not too far away from her and was surprised at finding Alex watching her, a crooked smile on her beautiful features.
'What a beautiful woman Alex is!' Mick told herself as she took in the angular face and high cheekbones. Her dark hair was lightly blown back by the soft wind and gently caressed her broad shoulders. Looking down at the large hands and strong fingers linked around Alex's knees, Michelle wondered how soft those hands could be. She sent a silent thought to Jodie, telling her that she had been lucky at the chance of sharing the life of somebody special like Alex. Mick only wished that maybe one day, she would find somebody like her.
Lost in her thought and caught staring at the beauty, Michelle missed seeing one of her dogs barreling down on her and she lost her balance as the big Malamute put his strong paws on her chest, making her crash on the snow in a muffled thud.
"Mick!" Alex got to her feet as quickly as her injuries would allow and knelt beside the stunned woman. "You okay?"
Michelle nodded as she tried to catch her breath and gently pushed her dog away from her. "Got caught daydreaming."
"I'd like to know what put that interesting smile on your face." Alex teased as she helped Mick stand up.
"I was just " she cleared her throat and bent down to brush the snow off of her coat, feeling herself blush furiously again, "I think I should bring the dogs back in their pen." and quickly left the older woman behind so she wouldn't notice.
Looking at the woman as she rounded up her sled dogs, Alex wondered what Michelle was thinking that made her blush this way, 'How many times so far? Twice?' she thought. The only one she had been able to cause a similar reaction to, had been her lover Jodie, and only because of the things she had whispered in her ear when people were around. Shaking her head with a smile, Alex turned back to plucking the turkey.
Continues in Part 2
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