Le Fantome Etoile: Thank you, dear! I do like a good action sequence.
pumpkinpuss: Merci, Mademoiselle. My inspiration would surely falter if you hadn't said anything.
Thanks: Once again, credit goes where credit is due – a big thank you to pumpkinpuss, my loyal editor, beta-reader, and friend. Slowly but surely, you're helping me to become a better writer and overall better person. Also, I thank all of my readers who took the time to peek in upon my humble fanfiction, and those of you who will in the future.
Disclaimer: I own only the misjudged girl, not the withdrawn man. Shame, isn't it?
I gasped and then moaned. My stomach twisted, and I felt like I was going to be sick. I yelped as the needle pierced my foot again, running another stitch through the sole. "Don't move s'much, miss!" raged the woman trying to sew my appendage back together. The 'brave' Constable stood nearby, his face pale with horror as he watched me being pierced repeatedly as I was sewn up. My feet looked better. They weren't very dirty anymore, but they were still red and bleeding and cracked with cuts. My other foot had already been attended to, and as the woman finished off the last stitch to my poor, aching feet, she wiped her brow off with her sleeve and stood up. She cut off the last of the black thread with a knife and smiled. "There y'go, miss. All nice'n doneup, aye. Now. How will ye be payin'?"
I dug deeply into the pocket of my dress as Ichabod opened his mouth, ready to ask how much. I shot him a glance and he closed it, staring at me. His jaws moved but I heard no sound, but I'd been lip-reading for a while, having to be a thief, and so I discerned the words "What are you doing?" upon his pale, thin lips.
"Wait and see." I pulled a small pouch out of my dress that jingled the tell-tale jangle of coins. He glared at me suddenly and vehemently, aware that once again I'd lied. I screwed up my mouth in an angry snarl and his expression changed to that of fear. "So how much'll it be, ma'am?" I asked, my voice improving, but not yet back to it's full, sweet, seductive quality.
She said some numbers and I emptied most of the contents of my pouch into her hands. She smiled brightly, and tucked the coins away in her dress. "Thank ye kindly," she said, scurrying off with her belongings. I sighed and slipped my feet back into my shoes. I ignored Ichabod's hurtful looks and began on without him, yelped at the pain and fell backwards against a tree. Oh God… I hurt so bad. I'd surely go through Hell on Earth with this.
Mr. Crane sauntered over to me, smiling. "Can't walk, can you?" he asked smartly. I ground my teeth together and slapped him. He stumbled back a bit, rubbing his cheek, which was beginning to reveal a bright red hand print across his pale face. "What was that for?" he asked, sounding like his pride was injured. I grinned wickedly.
"For the smart remark," I replied nastily, panting slightly from the pain. Continuing to rub his cheek, he placed his other arm around my waist to support me and off we went, me, still limping heavily and he, still walking steadily, although there was something new in that walk that said that he was going through an immense pride jerking.
"I still can't believe you lied to me. Again."
"Yeah, well… Deal with it."
The next few days progressed on rather quickly, and I healed more over those days than I had my entire life. It showed just how much it helped to have comfortable clothes and an actual bed and good food to sustain you.
Ichabod had, only a few days ago, gone to the funeral of one of the murderer's victims, and acquired a small boy for help. Then, as far as I'd been able to drag out of him, he'd done an… what in the world had he called it…? Oh yes, an autopsy. He'd cut open a body, which pulled a frightful shiver out of me. I'd seen my fair share of corpses in my life, but I could never fathom opening one up. Splitting it open. Poking around the body's internal organs.
A sort of bond grew between Constable Crane and me. No, I don't mean in that weird lovey-dovey way… a sort of, "friendship" as it were. We still regarded each other as opposite sides of the law, of course, but we got along. We chatted about things, and it seemed he was pleased that I knew a lot more than the people of my gender type.
I wasn't as… closed, as other females, as he put it. I wasn't withdrawn and stuck to doing exactly what the male section of our species wanted women to do. He seemed to respect me for that. I was independent. I was solo. I was… free. I wasn't tied down like others. I ran footloose and fancy free.
"Have you ever been involved in serious crimes?" he asked suddenly, startling the bejesus out of me. I'd been sitting and carefully trying to make sense of the 'words' on a little page of paper in a book. I dropped it when he asked me that. I blushed and picked it up.
"No-o…" I lied, stretching the word thoughtfully. Suddenly he advanced on me, pulling me up and forward so close that I was pressed to him. He looked deeply into my wide eyes, for I was very shocked at his sudden gesture. He leaned forward slowly, his head tilted slightly to the side. I pulled my head back as if to ward him off, wondering what in the blazes –
It was then that he roughly grabbed my left arm and shoved my sleeve high upon my limb.
There, tattooed on my flesh, right next to the large, gruesome scar that ran vertically along my arm and of 'mysterious' origins, was an enormous black 'X', the mark of a criminal that had been caught, punished, and released. No petty stealing jobs ever got the X. Of course, when I received the X I had been down in Pennsylvania, where they don't believe in hanging people, thank God. But I was in New York now, and they did hang people. I had to be careful.
"Just full of lies, aren't you?" he seethed, forcing me away from him, pushing me back down onto the bed and turning away. I sighed.
"Constable – "
"Ichabod," he said tersely, interrupting me. His voice was full of anger.
"Ichabod," I agreed softly, my voice no longer having a rasp, but soft and sweet and gentle as it once had been. "I'm sorry. I just… I'm just afraid that one of these times you're going to haul me off to the police. Well, I suppose that's rather dumb to say… you're a constable…" I shrugged, and stared at his back. "And then I'll be hanged, like a goose. Or worse. I could end up rather like that poor soul that lost his head." I saw him shudder, but he didn't say anything, so I went on. "Sometimes you seem like you're going to, too." I got up, and walked over to him. I didn't limp much anymore, but my steps where still uneven. I reached up a gentle hand and placed it on his shoulder, but he pulled away from me. My hand fell, rejected, to my side. I saw him toss a glance over his shoulder at me, but I pretended I'd never seen it, to give him some reassurance, almost. "As soon as I'm better, I'll be leaving, I suppose…" I mumbled regretfully, silently wandering towards the window and looking out. People bustled through the streets, some on horses, some in carriages pulled by horses, most on foot.
His voice spoke up behind me, his tone withdrawn, almost sad. "I'd… I'd like you to stay, I think," he whispered, and I heard his footsteps come up behind me and hazily saw his reflection in the glass. I turned slightly to look at him.
"You mean that?" I asked, equally as soft, but not quite as low as he had said. He nodded slightly, then peered over my shoulder.
"I… need an assistant. For an experiment I'm going to conduct, tonight. Across the bridge."
I sighed, wondering why I'd believed he might have feelings for me. It seemed absolutely ridiculous, and I scolded myself for having thought of such things. "I thought that's where the Horseman stays?" I said, meaning it as a question and yet not meaning it to be at all. Then I stiffened. "Not that I believe in that silly myth, anyway," I scoffed, staring out the window to avoid his eye. I could still see him behind me, looking at me thoughtfully. "It's just that some nutty… nut seems to be impersonating the Headless Horseman, s'all."
"Yes, I know… that's why we're going," he said, then turned. "I am here to solve these murders, and I'm going to. You can help me if you want to. Unless you're too scared…" his voice had a hint of playfulness in it. I turned and grinned, and punched him lightly on the shoulder. In mock hurt, he rubbed it, smiling at me. "I'll take that as a no."
"You bet your bottom dollar," I replied, and he blinked. I sighed. "Just an expression," I muttered, then shooed him towards the door. "Now scat. I'm going to change into something else, something that'll be more comfortable for our 'experiment' we're going to do tonight." He nodded and allowed me to usher him out the door. I closed it with a sigh. So far, so good. I was growing on him, and the more I did that, the less chance I had of him getting too angry with me and turning me over to the authorities. And as soon as I was sure he wasn't going to be a turncoat on me, I could get lost. Leave the state, maybe. I heard Virginia is awfully nice.
A few hours later I found myself sprinting across the bridge, hoping to not be seen. I was dressed in a stablelad's outfit, easy enough to run in, but those shoes… argh! I'd just have to get used to them, which I would. I pulled my hat down lower over my eyes, my hair now short and simple. I'd cut it earlier, figuring that maybe it'd help with all the mats and snarls once I went back to being an 'outlaw', so to speak.
Mr. Crane had crossed ahead of me fifteen minutes earlier so as not to raise suspicion. I had told him it was all quite silly; no one was going to care that we were crossing the bridge. I'd simply appear as an apprentice, or something of the sort. He'd given me a very wise look, and replied that that was just what the murder wanted us to think he'd think. I personally didn't understand.
Plus, I didn't understand what all those 'words' on a book page meant, for I'd tried to read that journal of his that he gave to me to look at concerning the Sleepy Hollow murders, but I couldn't make sense of it heads or tails. So what if I couldn't read. That just added to my character, didn't it?
Anyhow, I went sprinting across the bridge as fast as I could, and hid myself behind a small little clutch of trees that had grown too close together, joining the skinny man I had come to befriend. From this vantage point we could simply observe, but not intrude.
"We have around an hour to wait until dark," he informed me as I slipped down beside him. I sighed gratefully and sat down on the ground, not caring if my butt got covered with leaves and such. The first half hour passed and we were alert as could be. By the time forty-five minutes rolled around, I couldn't stop slumping to the side and into Ichabod's shoulder. The fifth time I'd done that he wrapped an arm around me and kept me from sitting back up. I yawned widely, and closed my eyes, only meaning to catch a few winks of sleep in the last ten minutes we had until dark.
When I woke up, everything was near pitch black. The moon only peeked out a small sliver, causing everything to be dark and eerie. I shivered, and then I jumped, startled, when I heard a soft growling noise. I whirled my head in every which direction, my hat tipping precariously on my head, until I suddenly realized what was making the noise.
It was the Constable. I snickered, and gently shook him awake. He moaned and grumbled about it at first, but when his mind finally began to work he sat up stiffly.
"Whahuh?" He looked disoriented, as if he wasn't quite sure where he was.
"Ichabod. Wake up. We slept past nightfall." This startled him.
"Oh my, you're right. I hope we didn't miss anything."
"Did you know you also snore?" I teased. "You missed that." He blushed.
"Er, no, I didn't… No one's ever… told me that…" he rubbed his back slightly, and I rolled my head around on my neck. It issued five or six loud cracks that told me I'd succeeded in what I was trying to do, which was to simply… well… crack my neck. I shivered and wrapped my arms tight around myself.
"It's cold, innit?" I remarked. He looked at me and nodded but didn't say anything. I blew on my hands and rubbed them together to try and unfreeze my fingertips. Oh, my God, it was COLD out there! I gritted my teeth together to keep them from chattering. A light mist began seeping its' way around our feet. I shuffled a bit, stirring up the fog. I chuckled lightly, sticking my finger down into it and tracing shapes in it. It swirled lazily in the direction my finger was going. It seemed to be… getting thicker, though. I looked up from my little game and found that it was so foggy I couldn't see the bridge!
I looked at Ichabod, who seemed rather concerned. I felt rather sorry for him. Today we wouldn't be able to carry on our experiment, I supposed. He stood up and I followed suit. "I suppose we'll just have to go back…" he muttered dismally, kicking at the fog lightly with his left foot. It stirred and whirled angrily in his wake.
The hair on the back of my neck raised eerily. Ichabod began to walk off towards the bridge, when I grabbed his sleeve. The look of horror on my face caused his eyebrows to shoot up. "What is it?"
"I… I don't know. Don't you feel that?"
"Feel what?" He sounded rather skeptical, like I was playing a joke on him. "Surely you're not going to tell me you're scared of a myth."
"Quiet!" I hissed, my eyes widening in fear. I could hear something. We listened. A soft snorting sound. I strained to hear better. Ichabod still apparently thought I was joking, for he tried to pull away from me. I clutched onto him hard. He struggled. I snapped my head in his direction and bared my teeth. He stopped.
"I don't see why you have to do this…" he muttered. In all the noise he caused, neither of us heard horse's hooves approaching. Slowly, softly. The snorting noises sounded much closer now. I strained to see in the fog. I could see a horse and rider dimly through the mist, the shape dark and mysterious. My heart nearly stopped. I couldn't see a head on the rider. The Horseman clutched a flaming orange ball in his fist, which took me a minute to realize it was a pumpkin.
"Run…" I hissed under my breath. Ichabod stared at me.
"From what?" he whispered. He could tell I was tense and not at all 'joking' anymore. The chill in the air grew so much that gooseflesh rippled on my skin.
"RUN!" I yelled, pushing him hard towards the bridge. When I burst out like I did, the horse and man leapt forward, after us, the animal whinnying loudly and horribly. Ichabod seemed to have gotten the message, because he took off like a shot, with me hot on his heels, in the direction of the bridge. The stallion's hooves clopped rapidly against the hard path, gaining on us fast. I could hear the horse's breath right behind me, breathing down my neck. I felt something remarkably like pain when something collided with my head, causing me to stumble forward further and hit Ichabod in the back. We went tumbling head over heels past the first wooden planks of the bridge, finally stopping halfway through. Pieces of flaming pumpkin littered the ground around us, and it surprised me that it didn't set the wood alight. The Horseman's steed whinnied and its feet slammed across the ground as he raced away, choosing not to pursue us further. I heard laughter somewhere not too far off.
I clung fearfully to Ichabod, quaking hard and panting. He was shaking just as hard, but he had his arms wrapped around my shoulders to 'keep me from shivering'. It didn't work very well. I closed my eyes and tried to stay calm, my heart pounding and my stomach wrenching from the near-death experience I'd just had.
"Ichabod…" I whispered, meaning to ask him something when he'd let me go. I didn't hear his reply, only a thunk on the wood behind me.
"Ichabod?" I twisted my body to look at him, saw that he'd fainted, and grinned lightly. "The name Braveheart would befit him," I mocked in a soft tone, happily. I moved off of his legs, for I'd been sitting on his lap moments ago, and curled up next to him, my eyes heavy.
The morning after next we were both in my room again. My limp was very faint now, and soon would cease to exist. I ran a comb through my short hair, admiring how it glided right through. "So how about that Horseman, eh?" I finally said, breaking the long silence we had been going through. I'd been the first to bring up our little encounter with the specter, and I supposed he'd been too frightened over it to talk about it.
"It wasn't the 'Horseman'," he replied haughtily. "It was simply someone impersonating him to scare us."
"You saw him!" I raged, waving my hand in front of my head. "No head, Mr. Ichabod Crane!"
"That was a figment of our imagination, Susan," he replied calmly. "We were simply frightened, is all. And I distinctly remember seeing a head on top of his neck."
I waved my hands around in the air in angry gestures, speechless. "You – I – He – It – ARRGH!" I couldn't find words to explain his stubbornness. He looked at me with a slight smile that implied that he thought he was winning. "I refuse to talk to you anymore, Mr. Crane!" I turned my back on him and folded my arms over my chest. I only used 'Mr. Crane' when I was mad, and Mr. Ichabod Crane when I was being sarcastic.
"Look. You're letting yourself get all wrapped up in this silly myth, that's not even true. It can't possibly be true. There's no such things as Headless Horsemen!" he snapped. Books tumbled to the floor behind me. I automatically turned to help pick them up. In the process, our eyes met. His were smoldering with rage and mine were narrowed. My eyes softened, and turned to an expression of guilt.
"Y…yes… I guess you're right…" I murmured, leaning down to pick up the books. He did the same. His hand paused over mine, and I looked up. He was staring down, as if he couldn't register what was going on. He must've felt my eyes on him, for he looked up. I nodded down towards our fingers, resting together. He followed, then gasped, startled, and yanked it backwards. He blushed lightly, then turned his gaze back to the books, picking the rest of them up.
I gave all but one to him. I held onto the last one, a black bound book with gold interlacing words spelling out the words 'History of Sleepy Hollow', although I couldn't tell that. I cocked my head and opened it to the first page. I couldn't make much of it, mostly what it looked like were squiggly little lines, in the form of shapes. I stared intently at the paper. I sighed lightly and closed the tome, finding that Ichabod was staring at me in a bemused way.
"You find Sleepy Hollow's history interesting, do you?" he asked, a smile creeping over his face.
I felt the right corner of my mouth tugging upwards into a weak smirk. "Oh… is that what it is?" I looked down at the gold swirls of 'words' on the book cover and frowned. "I couldn't tell." I held it out to him, and found that his face was lined with an even deeper frown than mine had been.
"You couldn't tell?" he repeated, puzzled. "You mean you… you can't read?" When I nodded, he gulped and looked down at the book in my hands. He tilted his head to the side. "I'll just have to teach you, then."
"Oh, no, sir," I replied, using 'sir' instead of Ichabod. "I could never do that. You've helped me so much already…"
"Not nearly enough. You'll never get anywhere if you can't read."
"I've always had someone to tell me what the… the words meant. I mean, sure, I know my alphabet, and I know how to talk, but… I was never taught what those little squiggly lines on the paper meant." I sighed and gently placed the book on the table. "I… I suppose if I have to learn how to read, I could – could pay you for it…" I mumbled, patting my pockets and trying to find my pouch. I had a few coins left in it.
"That's okay. I'll do it, but I don't want your money. You'll need it." He smiled. "When shall we start our lessons?" He genuinely looked sincere about his offer, and I had a tiny inkling of hope swelling in my chest.
"You mean it?"
"If… if you have nothing to do… we could… we could start now," I said, rather hopefully. I turned my head towards the bed but my gaze stayed steady on his face.
He motioned to the table and pulled out a chair. "After you, m'lady," he announced. I sat down and he went around gathering papers and ink and a pen. "Now. The basics with all reading is being able to write. The writing alphabet contains two sections of letters; uppercase and lowercase letters."
I frowned. Oh, dear. I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into. "…Okay… What's the difference?" I honestly didn't know.
"Uppercase letters are the big versions of the lowercase letters… here, I'd better show you." He eloquently wrote a large shape and then a smaller shape that didn't resemble one another in the least. "Uppercase a," he said, pointing to the big one, "and lowercase a." He pointed to the little one. Oh. So that was a. I'd seen that many times on signboards. I grinned. "Big a…" I mumbled, staring at the A. "Little a." I traced my finger over the little a. "I think I got it."
Later in the day and many letters completed, we finally moved on to my name. I'd gotten as far as H with my writing, and I could recognize up to S, the first letter of my name. Most of my letters where shaky and wobbly, for I'd never used a pen in my life. My B looked rather like a D, for I continually forgot to add the little line in between the bubbles.
"Susan," he said slowly, tracing out the letters on the page. I recognized all the letters except the one after the big S and the one right after the a on the end. "S-U-S-A-N," he spelled out for me. Trying as best I could to imitate his writing, I wrote down a very wobbly S, a nice looking u, although I'd never written u in my life before, another, smaller wobbly s, a fairly decent a, and carefully copied his n. When I looked at my name down in writing on paper and compared mine with his, I swelled with pride.
"Now. I think that's all for today… don't want to be wearing out your hands, do we? You'll need them again, tomorrow."
"I… guess so…" I muttered. He pulled the page over to him, put the stopper into the ink bottle, and put the things away. I sighed. "I'm not very good yet."
"It takes time," was his answer. And what a wise answer I thought it was, too.
I yawned widely, my feet carrying me over to the bed almost unconsciously.
"I'll be going then, I suppose," he said, opening the door. He looked at me, and when I nodded, he slipped out the door and was gone with a click. I sighed and slipped into bed, snuffed out the candle on my bedside, and fell into a fitful sleep, for the second night since our encounter.