Disclaimer: If you recognize it, I don't own it. Larry McMurtry, Rysher entertainment, and probably a lot more people I've forgotten do. I'm just borrowing them for my own entertainment and will return them when through. Gray Fox and Jesse Calder, though, are MY creations and I'd like to be told if you plan to use them. I'll probably say yes anyway.
Author's note: This is an AU story, based on the Lonesome Dove Saga by Larry McMurtry. AU means that some of the faces, features, and facts might have been altered. If there are any questions, send them through my profile and I'll try to answer them quickly.
Author's note #2: I know I've been neglecting my other stuff, and I PROMISE to work on them when I can, but this took hold and wouldn't let go.
Author's note #3: Reviews are like food and water to me. If you read, won't you please review?
Jesse Calder let her horse pick his unsteady way along the rocky path. He needed a rest, after the flat out run she'd demanded of him when the soldiers discovered her handiwork. It didn't matter. What mattered that her debt was paid. Gray Fox had saved her life; she had saved his. They were even.
Unfortunately, the US Army didn't seem to agree with her. They wanted to hang her for treason, even though she'd tried to explain why she'd turned him loose. Her reasons didn't matter to them. They wanted her hide and if she hadn't run, they'd have had it. She'd have hung at dawn.
Apparently they didn't think she was smart enough to escape their makeshift prison. She proved them wrong, catching up her mustang and heading for the border without looking back. The Army wouldn't waste time tracking her, now. They'd send the Texas Rangers after her, and she had no wish to end up on the wrong side of their guns.
Hoof beats sounded behind her and she risked a glace back. She wasn't far from Mexico, but it might as well be across the world. Her horse was tired and those sounded like they were moving full steam. Two days' hard ride would see her safe, but did they still have it in them? She didn't know, but she'd have to find out. She bent low over his neck, murmuring words of encouragement in his ears as she demanded more speed from him.
One rider, moving fast, easy in the saddle. Damn it to hell anyway. She recognized that big buckskin horse and the easy slouch of one who'd spent more time in the saddle than on his own two feet. She had to move faster.
They hadn't just sent a Ranger after her.
They'd sent Woodrow Call.
Call reined in and scanned the horizon when the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He was being watched, he could feel it. Was it the girl? Didn't really matter, as long as it wasn't Blue Duck. Still, he ought to get out of the line of fire.
He walked his horse under one of the scrubby trees lining the ravine. If it was the girl, she was moving faster than he'd given her credit for. And she knew the territory as well as he did or better. That didn't sit well with him.
How could a white woman turn loose an Indian captive? It made no sense. The Comanche were brutal, heartless killers, and the Cherokee were said to be considering an uprising of their own after being forced onto reservations by the government. And Calder would have known better than anyone else what they were capable of, having been an Army Scout. The irony wasn't lost on him.
He slid down, checking the area for signs of her passage and cursing the rocky ground. It wasn't going to be easy tracking her here, and for a moment he wished Famous Shoes had come with him. Only for a moment. This was best handled fast and quiet. He'd return her to Austin for trial, of course, but he knew the verdict already. Innocent until proven guilty didn't often hold true out here. She'd helped a Comanche and there wasn't a jury in the country that would hesitate to hang her for it, female or not.
A rattle of pebbles further up caught his attention and he swung back into the saddle, pressing forward, staying close to the wall of the ravine where he couldn't easily be spotted. She wasn't too far ahead of him, from the sounds of that racket, and she wasn't taking too many pains to be quiet, either. Probably too scared.
He asked for more speed from his buckskin and was rewarded with a steady lope forward. Hopefully he'd catch up with her before dark and be able to be on the trail back with her.
Jesse pulled up short and backed her little pinto under the outcropping. She slid down fast and left him ground tied there, waiting for her to come and collect him after she'd dealt with Call.
She knew she wasn't going to be able to outrun him. Domino was flat exhausted and she wasn't much better. No, an ambush was the only answer, that and hoping she hit him while he was surprised. If she could just bash him over the head and get moving, she would. He wouldn't be hurt out here, not for a couple hours while his head hurt. She just wanted running room.
She crept over to the very edge of the ravine, right where he'd pass if he kept to the wall like she figured. He was smart; he'd stay where she couldn't get a decent shot at him. So she'd get the drop on him, in more ways than one.
There he was, watching her trail, not expecting her to have stopped, going forward. She had to judge it perfectly.
She dropped like a stone, intending to pull him down with her, but he reined aside just as she jumped and she only struck him a glancing blow, instead tumbling to the ground and rolling to come up running. Damn him, he was smarter than she'd thought, and that was saying something. She rushed forward, a big branch in hand, and swept it at his horse, hoping to scare it into throwing him.
Call kept a firm hand on the reins, keeping the big gelding under control as he drew his forty-five. "Don't." His voice was hard and cold.
"Why the hell not?" Jesse raged as she threw the branch down. Carefully. Contrary to what he might believe, she didn't want to end up dead. "You're going to take me back and they'll kill me anyway. Why shouldn't I let you shoot me?"
He kept the gun leveled at her without speaking, keeping her in his sight as he swung down and moved forward. The buckskin stayed quiet, well trained to ground tie.
Call loosened a rope from the saddle skirt and moved forward, the gun never wavering. "Turn around," he said finally. He waited until she put her hands behind her back to take those last two steps, and that was what saved him.
She rounded on him like a wounded wildcat, all claws and spitting fury. She tackled him to the ground, knocking his gun away and then scrambling madly to try and get to it first. She'd almost made it when his hand closed on her foot and drew her backward, using his greater height and weight to get the best of her and finally just sitting on her, holding her hands over her head and out of reach of her kicks.
"Settle down!" he snarled at her as she continued to try to get loose. One hand broke free and scratched at his face and he wanted to knock some sense into her, but he'd never hit a woman and wouldn't start now. He settled for getting hold of her shoulders and shaking her hard. "Settle down, I ain't gonna hurt you!"
Jesse went limp underneath him, startled by the shake and the words. Still, she glared at him, hoping for an opening to try to run. Her hazel eyes met his dark ones fearlessly, filled with rage and pain. "Why not? You're supposed to take me back, right? Dead or alive, I'm sure. And I'm dead when I get back, trial or not. They'll hang me. They'll hang me because I helped an Indian escape what was certain death for him. So what's a few bruises? It won't matter for long, anyway."
Call hauled her up with him and made short work of tying her hands. Then he retrieved his hat and dragged her over by the ropes. "Where's your horse?" he said simply. He wasn't about to get into an argument with her, not about this. He'd already had his fill of fighting with her.
"Above, on the ridge, under a shelf." The words were sullen and resentful, but she had to admit he'd fought fair even when she hadn't. A few of those kicks he'd taken were going to hurt like hell in a couple of hours. Especially if he insisted on riding back immediately.
He tied another short rope to her hands and then mounted, grimacing a little at the discomfort and then moved forward, bringing her with him. He stopped only when they reached the tough little paint standing tied and content, munching some of the grass he'd found. "Can you get up there or do I need to lift you?" he asked simply.
Jesse kept glaring at him, saying nothing, even while she swung aboard her horse and got comfortable. She'd lost her own hat somewhere in that scramble, but she wouldn't ask him for it. She'd manage, even though her hair was loose now and had a mind of its own. She had to keep spitting strands out of her mouth.
Call shrugged and moved forward, taking the little paint's reins from her to lead him. He wasn't giving her any chance to run. Then he kicked the buckskin into movement, headed back toward Austin. For once, things had gone fairly well. He didn't have any bullet holes yet, anyway.