A/N: So I've been sitting on this one for a while. Recently I've gotten on a real Western kick, and it ultimately inspired what is sure to be a wildly historically inaccurate fanfic. Wow. Never thought I would go here, and yet, I'm psyched.
"Calamity" Jane Rizzoli had a voice like sin.
If she spoke your name with it, God have mercy on you: for many an unlucky soul, Jane's voice was the last sound to ever pass through their ears. It was deep and powerful as a church bell, and when you heard that voice, you knew you were encountering a woman who had really experienced life—really swept into each corner of it, exploring every nook and cranny she could, never resting for a second. A new mountain to be climbed? Jane was on it. A new lake to be explored? Jane was in it. A wild animal taking out your cattle? Jane would be wearing its hide by the next day.
In short, she was not a person to be reckoned with. If you were fortunate enough to consider her an ally, she'd sooner take her own life than betray you. But her list of friends grew smaller by the year, because most people she met had heard of her reputation with a gun and were wary of her alleged trigger-happy finger. She didn't seem to smile so much as smirk, and then of course there was the fact that she was simply unlike any other woman most people had ever met.
Another reason her friends numbered so few was because Jane rarely stayed in the same place longer than a few months. She traveled from town to town with just one other soul, the only person she would trust with her life. But settle down? Never. Hers was a spirit that could not broken. Hers was a lifestyle that could never be tamed. Hers was a passion that could never be quelled.
Hers was a life Maura Isles could never have imagined in even her wildest dreams.
They had told her it would be impossible.
They had said that if the best and brightest Boston had to offer would scoff at the idea of a woman establishing her own medical practice, those hooligans in the West would surely cry witchcraft. It was this last idea that gave Maura pause, and made her wonder how her fellow Americans in the West really would feel about her. She had been honest in her intentions when she told some friends in Boston that she would like to take over her father's hospital, but no one had been able to take her seriously. This had gotten her to thinking.
August 4, 1884
Has your situation in Hollow Creek improved? I'm afraid that Boston is getting more insufferable by the day. It has been almost half a year since father's death, and without him or you here, life is becoming quite intolerable. People I had counted among friends have turned against me, and have laughed at my hopes and ambitions. It seems only a matter of time before I will be run out of town. I feel despondent and lonely. I've enough money saved up for fare to Arizona, and wish you would allow me to at least stay near you. Is there a doctor in Hollow Creek? Perhaps he could use the help of a humble nurse.
Anxiously awaiting your reply,
your devoted Maura
His response arrived several weeks later, which was the fastest he could do:
My dear Maura,
After giving your proposal serious consideration, I have deemed it appropriate for you to come and join me in Hollow Creek. There is great need of my financial expertise in this town, and it's a refreshing change from Boston. It is not overwhelming in size, but not despairingly small, either. Things are never dull around here!
My only concern is that it may be too rough for you. You are a very refined lady, despite your familiarity with the most unpleasant of medical procedures. There are some things here I should hate for you to witness or be a part of, but I have decided that so long as you are never unaccompanied, you should be able to navigate around Hollow Creek's more unsavory portions. As we are indeed to be married, it would be foolish to prolong your coming here any further; at some point, you must become accustomed to this terrain because I plan to raise our family here.
Please find enclosed the fare for your ticket. I'll do my part to take care of our finances from now on. Ask at the station when the next train is scheduled to come through Mesa, and send an express letter to me with that date. If possible, I will come to meet you. If not, I shall arrange for a coach to escort you.
With the skepticism of various townspeople still ringing in her ears, Maura boarded the Mesa-bound train at the end of September. It had taken her little more than a month to settle her affairs in Boston, and she had packed all her worldly possessions into five pieces of luggage which lay stacked above her head in a private, luxurious train compartment. In spite of the fact that Garrett had conspicuously failed to mention any openings in Hollow Creek for a woman with medical experience, Maura felt optimistic about her future and excited for what lay ahead. She hoped that she would be leaving small-mindedness behind her, along with the crowds and the greed that she assumed came with all big cities like Boston. The journey out West was long, and Maura felt restless at times, but more often than not she was too upbeat to get down. This train was carrying her to Garrett, to a new adventure, to happiness.
Her welcome to Arizona was a mixed bag; or, at least, that's how it seemed initially. A porter helped Maura off the train with her luggage, but a quick look through the crowds proved that Garrett had been unable to meet her. She had to admit that this was disappointing. It had been almost a full year since she had seen him, and it hurt that he hadn't felt it worthy of his time to pick her up from the station. But she was quick to scold herself: Don't think of it that way. He must be very busy with work. I should be glad! I should feel fortunate to have such a successful fiancé.
With every passing moment, more and more people left the station, and Maura felt anxiety settling in. How would she recognize the person Garrett had sent to collect her? Or had he perhaps forgotten that she was coming, and hadn't sent anyone? Even if Maura had known the way to Hollow Creek, it would be quite difficult to get there alone with all of this luggage. Just as she was about to turn and ask the station attendant if he could at least point her in the right direction, a small, balding man approached her with a frayed hat in his hands.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said, trying to suppress a grin. "Are you Miss Maura Isles?"
Relief flooded through her. "Why, yes! Did Mr. Fairfield send you?"
"Your fiancee sends his regrets," the man said, reaching for Maura's bags. "He's been working mighty hard and said he just couldn't get away today. Asked me to come pick you up, and I said it'd be a pleasure."
"How did you know who I was?" Maura asked, following him to his horse and buggy.
"Well ma'am," he said, starting to load her bags on top of the carriage. "Mr. Fairfield said you had hair the color of a sunset, and that you were prettier than a desert flower." He turned around in time to see Maura grinning bashfully. Mr. Fairfield sure knew how to pick 'em. "I also figured you'd been traveling a long ways, and you'd more likely than not have a bit of baggage with you."
"Oh, of course," Maura laughed. "And oh, I feel so rude! What's your name?"
"Crowe, ma'am. Welcome to the west!"
He clumsily assisted her inside the carriage, then shut the small door behind her and climbed on top. Maura's smile widened as she heard the crack of a whip and the two horses start at an easy trot.
Even though she'd had several days on the train ride to admire the scenery, Maura still couldn't get over the beauty of the countryside and how exotic it seemed compared to Boston. Having been to Europe, she felt comfortable in asserting that the West was just as foreign a place as Paris, London, or Sicily. The skies were bluer here, the clouds fuller. Very few trees dotted the arid landscape, replaced by enormous mountains which dwarfed anything puny man could even conceive of building. She didn't care that with the shutters open, she was letting in the occasional spurt of dust. She didn't care about the scorching heat or the bumpy ride. All that mattered was that she was going someplace, and she was getting closer to Garrett.
About half an hour into their ride, Maura was delighted to spot two lone figures on horseback. They seemed to have emerged out of nowhere, perhaps unseen earlier because of the heat waves which blurred Maura's distant vision. Real cowboys! she thought with childlike wonder. Her innocent curiosity was further piqued as the riders came closer, but that awe transformed into unease as she noticed both men had pulled out guns. They got closer, and the lighter one shot twice into the air, his horse running out of sight of Maura's tiny window. She almost fell off her cushioned seat when the horses pulling the carriage came to an abrupt stop.
"Please, I don't want no trouble!" Crowe said, clearly panicked. This wasn't a good sign: if her driver was scared, surely Maura ought to be as well.
"What a coincidence, we don't want no trouble either," said the rider Maura couldn't see. "Couldn't help noticing all them fancy bags on top of your surrey back there. Wondered if maybe there was anything in there you'd like to lend us."
"Well I—I wouldn't rightly know," Crowe answered.
"You wouldn't, eh?"
Maura jumped when the black man used his gun to nudge the shutters open wide enough to look inside himself. Catching sight of the refined-looking woman, he whistled and said, "Look here, Jake! Seems this fella's carrying some precious cargo."
Maura's heartbeat continued to race and she turned to look out the other window, which had just been opened by the man she assumed was Jake. Part of her thought she should be more afraid, but for some reason, she couldn't bring herself to even have the ladylike decency to faint. This seemed to impress Jake, who would not have looked out of place as a villain in an onstage melodrama. A faded cowboy hat was pulled low over his face, covering a head of short black hair. Maura felt herself blushing under the intense gaze of his dark brown eyes, but even with a smirk, it was hard to pinpoint his expression. Aside from very prominent cheekbones, a thin black mustache and well-trimmed triangular goatee were his other noteworthy facial features, made all the more surprising because of his extremely clean-shaven face.
"Driver," he called out, his voice a combination of whiskey, honey, and thick black cigars. "Where you headed?"
Crowe's voice was a squeak. "Hollow Creek."
Jake raised his eyebrows and stared across the carriage at his companion. Maura knew it was presumptuous to make assumptions about a stranger, but it seemed to her that Jake's gaze carried a streak of longing. "Hollow Creek?" he said. "Gosh almighty, how long's it been since we stopped by there?"
"Five, six years?" the other guessed.
For a few moments, Jake just sat there, idly stroking his horse's mane. It could have been that he was doing some serious pondering, but Maura was just as willing to believe that he was trying to instill more anxiety in her and Crowe. Finally, Jake nodded over at his partner and said, "Get up on top of there with our driver." Addressing Crowe, he said, "You sir are going to have the privilege of escorting Jake Wyatt to Hollow Creek." He winked at Maura. "I'll join the lady down here."
If Crowe had been just a bit less squeamish, he might have protested, but something about his new passengers—perhaps their guns—rendered him rather permissive. Jake and his cohort dismounted their horses, and the animals stood by the carriage as if awaiting further instruction. Jake's partner climbed on top of the surrey to make sure Crowe didn't try anything funny, and Jake, true to his word, clambered inside of the carriage, sitting opposite Maura. When they failed to start moving, Jake lazily pulled out his gun and fired a shot upwards. Maura jumped again, but Jake just smirked, knowing that because of his aim, he hadn't been in danger of actually shooting Crowe. Nonetheless it did the trick, and they set off at a quick clip, Jake and his companion's horses keeping up all the way.
"No need to look so worried, miss," Jake said, putting his feet up on the seat by Maura. She scooted as far away from them as possible. His boots appeared to be made of snakeskin, but were so caked in mud and red dust that it was almost hard to tell for certain. One thing was for sure: they smelled worse than a donkey that had been ruminating on rotten asparagus. Jake emitted a low chuckle. "If you continue to stare like that, I might get to feelin' mighty bad about myself."
"S-sorry," Maura stammered.
Jake shrugged. "Don't mind me, I ain't gonna give you no trouble. In fact, I think I might try and get a little shut-eye if you'd be so kind as to wake me once we get to town." He folded his arms and sank a little lower down into the seat, closing his eyes.
After a minute or two had passed and he really seemed to be asleep, Maura allowed herself the opportunity to study Jake more closely. He fast proved to be a much more interesting subject to examine than the foreign landscape. For someone who talked so big, he was rather thin, or maybe limber would be the better word. She had to wonder if Crowe would've been so intimidated had it not been for the gun slung around Jake's slender hips; without that weapon, he didn't seem to pose much of a physical threat. A thin, fringed vest added little weight to his trim frame, and despite his bravado, there was something strangely delicate about him.
About forty minutes later, something curious happened. Jake rubbed his nose, and in so doing, slightly dislodged his mustache. Maura frowned and tried to look closer. She was so perplexed that she wasn't even startled when Jake suddenly opened his eyes and stared right at her.
"Yes?" he asked, not appearing surprised that she had been studying him.
"Your mustache is askew," Maura said blankly.
It took a moment for the words to register, but when they did, Jake sat up, swearing under his breath. He felt the mustache, and upon realizing that half of it had tilted onto his upper lip, laughed gaily. Maura wasn't quite sure how to react when he peeled the entire thing right off, then removed one of his rawhide gloves in order to more easily take off the small goatee. Jake slipped the beard and mustache into his shirt pocket and put the glove back on, and Maura thought she caught a glimpse of a scar on his palm- but before she could enquire further, Jake did something even more distracting: he pulled his hat off his head, revealing that his hair had been pulled into a tight bun. Pulling out the pins, beautiful thick hair fell down to his back, like a waterfall of black syrup.
Which is when it dawned on Maura that this was not a man.
"Sorry to startle ya," the woman said, her voice still deep but sounding a bit gentler now. "You don't seem to be familiar with Jake Wyatt, are ya?"
"No," Maura said, still reeling.
"You're new to these parts."
"How do you figure that?"
The woman leaned forward, smiling. "Aside from the fact that you didn't recognize me? One: your skin is too fair to have been exposed to our dirty country sun. Two: you have enough bags strapped to the top of this here surrey to furnish a large home. Three: you're wearin' far too many layers for this heat. Four: you speak funny."
"I most certainly do not!" Maura protested. "Take that back at once, Mr. …I mean, Miss..."
"I'll help you out. The name's Jane," the woman said, extending a hand that Maura didn't take.
"And what is your surname?"
Jane shrugged. "Ain't important. Who're you?" When Maura remained silent, Jane sighed and said, "You might as well tell me now. If you're fixing to stay in Hollow Creek, I'm goin' to find out who you are anyway."
After a quick internal debate, Maura straightened up and adopted her most confident tone to declare, "I am Dr. Maura Isles."
"Doctor! Well, well. That's mighty remarkable."
And the funny thing was that she actually sounded and looked sincere. Trying not to fidget, Maura said, "May I ask who exactly you are?"
"Sure," Jane said, crossing her legs. "Hollow Creek is sort of my hometown, I guess you could say."
"Is that where your kin are?"
"Your family. Your parents."
"Ain't got parents no more," Jane answered casually. "Both dead. Gruesome stories you don't want to get into, I assure you that. So I just got two brothers." She ignored Maura's shock at this information and the airiness with which it was delivered. "Anyway, the last time I went through Hollow Creek, they were still there. I'd like to see 'em."
"Where do you live now?"
"Anywhere I like," Jane said with a glint in her eye. "Wherever there's somethin' new going on. Any place I ain't ever been before. I don't need nothing or nobody but Frost."
"My, uh, business partner," Jane explained, nodding upwards to indicate the man they couldn't see (who was holding Crowe at lazy gunpoint, ensuring they got taken to Hollow Creek).
"How did you, um…"
"Pick him up? We crossed paths about ten years ago. Found out he was lookin' for the same person I was, and we decided to team up."
"And does he know you're a woman?"
"Aw hell, 'course he knows," Jane chuckled, folding her hands behind her head. "He's the one who swiped this here facial hair for me. Pretty good, ain't it? Got it from some traveling acting troupe. Never mind why. But hear this," she said, leaning forward again. "People in Hollow Creek know me as Jane. You tell a single soul that I'm Jake Wyatt, and I won't hesitate to shut you up any way I can. Watch this." She rapped the roof of the carriage with the butt of her gun. "Frost? Throw a slug off the east side of this here carriage, will ya?"
He'd heard her make odder requests. "Yes, sir."
Jane cocked her gun and aimed it outside the window facing east, and Maura peered out. Thanks to the unrelenting sunlight, she caught a glimpse of a tiny piece of copper flying through the air before Jane's bullet hit it with a tinny but audible "kapwing" sound.
"Do we have an understanding?" Jane said, placing the gun back into its holster.
"Yes," Maura said. It had never been her intent to rat out Jane anyway.
"So what brings you out here, Dr. Isles?" Jane asked.
"I'm going to be married."
"Ah. My condolences."
Maura furrowed her brow. "Don't patronize me just because I don't subscribe to your more freewheeling lifestyle."
"Sorry," Jane said, sounding as though she meant it. "I suppose there's some merit in what you're doing. Just don't interest me much."
"You don't want to be married?"
"I'll be damned if I ever do - if you'll excuse my language," Jane said, though it looked as if Maura might never recover from hearing such vulgarity. "I like men, but I don't ever get too attached. Anyone who really loved me would want me to give up my job, and I couldn't ever do that."
"What's your job?"
With a one-sided smirk, Jane said, "Sorry, Maura, I don't know you well enough yet to tell you that much. Don't take it personal, though. I think I like you."
"Sure. You stayed alert when I got in here. Of course, that may be because you didn't realize that I'm wanted in most counties, but still. It's impressive. If anybody in Hollow Creek ever gives you a hard time, you let me know and I'll set 'em straight."
Wondering if that was likely to happen, Maura just nodded. About fifteen more minutes passed, with Jane whistling intermittently. Quite aware of how closely Maura was watching her, Jane started to put her hair up again. She tucked her wide-brimmed hat over it, then pulled the fake mustache and goatee out of her pocket. It would be a good idea to pick up some more adhesive soon, but she didn't need much right now: she wouldn't need this disguise in Hollow Creek. Wiping the sweat off her face with the back of her sleeve, Jane reapplied the fake facial hair with such casualness that it was clear this was routine for her.
"How's it look?" she asked Maura.
"Quite convincing," Maura replied, surprised at how credible the disguise was. "Although the mustache…"
"What, is it cockeyed again?" Jane laughed, trying to feel it. "I usually have Frost help me out." She nodded and leaned forward. "Would you fix it straight? Come on," she laughed, sensing Maura's hesitancy. "We're all girls together."
Maura leaned forward as well to meet Jane halfway, and raised a trembling hand to the other woman's mouth. Her gloves with thin enough that they didn't encumber her fingers from smoothing out the mustache so it sat on a straight line. She tried to pull back as soon as the job was done, but Jane caught her at the wrist. Maintaining eye contact, Jane pressed her lips against the back of Maura's gloved hand.
"Thank you kindly, ma'am," she said. Then she straightened up, knocking on the roof of the carriage again. "Driver!" she called out. "Let's stop here." In a quieter voice, she spoke to Maura: "It's about ten miles to town from here, I reckon. Hope I'll see you around."
She exited the carriage as Frost climbed down, and they mounted their faithful horses. "You from Hollow Creek?" Frost asked Crowe.
"I been living there two years."
"Two years? That's an awful long time," said Jane. "Might be a good idea to try settling some place else, wouldn't it?"
After a long silence, Crowe said, "I got a sister in Flagstaff."
"A sister in Flagstaff! Well, well, don't keep her waiting! I'd say you oughtta head on out there tomorrow—today, if you can!" Jane said, sounding cheerful. "We'll even give you a runnin' start. You tell anyone in Hollow Creek that you seen us, and they won't have a body to bury."
On that happy note, she and Frost rode ahead, leaving behind one terrified driver and one terribly confused doctor.
A/N: No, I haven't forgotten about my other stories. Just trying to gauge general interest here...