Disclaimer: Victorious is not owned by me, despite my daddy staking a claim back in the first gold rush. However, his nefarious partner, Dan Schneider betrayed and took the giant Victorious nugget, claiming it for his own.
A tumbleweed skittered across the open, empty plain, sun sinking behind the distant hills, rimming the sky purple as night eased into its place. The quiet chirping of crickets started, a chatter amongst the tufts of weed that sprouted across the desolate land. The stamp of a horse hoof and the jingle of a bit silenced them, small dust clouds raised by the solitary rider as they crossed the darkening vista, shape silhouetted against the wide open sky.
The rider was slumped in the saddle, posture weary, shoulders hunched. Silver spurs glittered on their heels, the remaining light sparking off them. A rabbit trembled in the sparse grass, terrified into stillness by the passing strangers. The horse, a golden palomino with a mane as white as sea foam, plodded along the faint remains of the road seemingly without direction, ears twitching back to its rider on occasion.
As they travelled along the lonesome trail, a light suddenly appeared on the dark horizon, flickering and wavering like a spirit. Another was quick to follow, a warm yellow, and gradually a town emerged from the darkness, buildings painted with the last of the days light, lanterns flickering into life as their owners lit them.
The rider straightened a little, shoulders shrugging under the patterned brown poncho that covered them, roused by the appearance of the town ahead. A click of the tongue caused the horse to raise its head, steps quickened with a gentle nudge to the ribs.
Few witnessed the rider coming into town, most concerned with their supper, businesses already closed for the night, but those who did pulled closed their curtains, suspicious of the lone figure. The rider stopped outside the saloon, a raucous hum bursting onto the streets from inside the brightly lit establishment. The figure dismounted with ease, face hidden by a wide-brimmed hat. They hitched the tired horse to the post, the equine snorting, tail swishing. A quiet word reassured the beast, a tanned hand stroking its neck.
The saloon fell quiet as the figure entered, swinging doors clattering loudly. A finger tipped the hat up, revealing a cautious face, smeared with dust. But even dirt couldn't disguise the distinctive features and high cheekbones of Kid Victorious.
A murmur ran through the patrons. "It's Kid Victorious!"
"I heard she killed a man just for sneezin' funny."
"I heard she killed a man by sneezing."
"The fastest hand in the West, she is!"
A smile turned up the corner of Kid Victorious' lips, spurs clicking as she strolled up to the bar. It'd been a long ride to the little town of Hollygulch, a place long forgotten by the rest of the world, but even here she was known. Although it was no surprise really, her sister was hardly one to keep her relation to a celebrity quiet. In fact, her sister was the whole reason she'd come to this little backwater.
She pulled the crumpled letter out, taking a seat at the bar and signalling the bartender for two fingers of whiskey. The dark-skinned bartender complied, pouring out the measure with a deft hand and sliding it her way. "On the house, Kid Victorious."
"Call me Tori." The Kid said distractedly, pouring the drink down her throat, eyes intent on the letter.
I know we haven't really spoken since you burned down the farm and ran away all those years ago, but I wanted to let you that despite your attempts to sabotage me, I've finally made it big. I've got a regular show in Hollygulch if you want to come and gaze in awe, though I can't promise you'll get in. It's a high class place, and they don't really allow riffraff like you.
Tori folded the letter up again, slipping it back into the pocket of her dusty jeans. "You know a girl named Trina?"
The bar tender laughed, his dark, tight braids of hair shaking with the movement. "It's hard not to know her. She makes pretty sure everyone does, if you catch my drift. I'm Andre, by the way. I run the bar and play the pianny, over there." He pointed to a somewhat rickety looking piano, situated next to an equally rickety looking stage.
"The... pianny?" Tori asked doubtfully. Where she came from, people usually added a vowel at the end of that word.
"Yeah, you know-" Andre mimed playing keys. "Pianny."
Tori nodded, an eyebrow raised.
"We got a fine show here every night. Hardly anyone throws bottles at the performers anymore." Andre beamed proudly, thumbs hooked in his red suspenders. A small clock behind the bar chimed weakly, causing the bartender to jump. "Matter of fact, it's time for our first show now." Andre slipped off his apron, exiting the bar.
"Hey, wait! What about my sis-"
"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, your favourite ventriloquist!" Andre announced in a loud voice, interrupting the Kid. Tori sighed, reaching out for the half-full bottle of whiskey near her and uncorking it. She had the feeling she was going to need it.
"He's our only ventriloquist, and we stillhate him!" A voice heckled from the audience, laughter following.
"Robbie Shapiro, and his wonder puppet, Rex!"
Andre gestured grandly, seemingly oblivious to the groans from the audience. A slim, nervous looking boy came out, a red neckerchief tied inexpertly around his neck. He wore black-rimmed glasses, dark, curly hair spiralling from his head. He walked with all the grace of a wounded jackrabbit, and Tori wondered for a moment which was the puppet; this wooden-jointed boy, or the poorly hewn caricature in his arms.
He dragged a stool to the centre of the stage, free hand wiping sweat away from his brow. He cleared his throat, puppet perched on his knee. "So..." He began awkwardly, looking around at the uniformly hostile faces of the audience. "So Rex, you ever tried the whiskey here?"
The puppet's mouth flapped open, voice sarcastic. "Yeah, and it's stronger than you."
A few chuckles sounded from the audience, panic crossing the Shapiro boy's face. "Rex, I told you not to insult me in front of the audience."
"Then stop making it so easy."
"Rex, they're never going to buy me as a performer if-"
"They wouldn't buy you even if you were free."
Tori downed another shot of whiskey, feeling it burn all the way to her stomach. The puppet was right; this stuff probably was stronger than the gangly ventriloquist.
"Look, just stick to the jokes we had planned, and-"
"Those were jokes? I thought that was your suicide letter."
Robbie's lower lip trembled, face distraught. "Rex-"
"Ladies and gentlemen, Robbie and Rex!" Interrupted Andre, laughing nervously. "Let's all give them a hand as they exit the stage." He threw a pointed glance to the defeated boy, the puppet chuckling as he left. A spattering of applause sounded, a lone bottle shattering on the stage, more for appearance than any real venom. "Who threw that?" Demanded Andre, eyes scanning the audience. "Come on. You know broken glass is a safety hazard. Was it you Hank?"
A lanky cowhand shrugged, foot kicking the floorboard. "No sir."
"Then where's ya bottle?"
The cowhand's mouth twisted. "On the stage." He admitted sheepishly.
"Alright Hank, that's it. Out you go. I've warned you before about this."
"I hope you learned." Andre watched the downcast cowhand exit the saloon, shaking his head in disappointment.
Kid Victorious watched the whole thing with an air of disbelief. In all the saloons she'd been in, in all the many towns and cities, she'd never seen anything like this. Words like that usually led to a gunfight, or at least a fistfight. Maybe this is what a high class establishment did, although the place certainly didn't look too classy. As if on cue, a hand draped itself over her shoulder. Tori's hand instinctively went to her gun, fingers on the smooth pearl handle. "Hey sis!"
She relaxed, turning. "Trina? Is that yo-" Her brown eyes widened. If this was her sister, she'd certainly grown up in the two years Tori had been away from home. And grown out. Tori didn't remember her sister having such prominent assets jutting from her chest, but then her sister had always worn a shirt at home. She was wearing one now, there was just vastly less of it.
"You made it!" Crowed Trina, batting her heavily made up eyes, sea green eyeshadow liberally applied. Her lips were painted a garish red, like she was in the last stages of tuberculosis, and the deathly pallor painted on her face only added to the impression.
"I made it." Tori echoed, still taken aback by her sister's transformation.
"Ew you're all dirty." Trina wrinkled her nose, removing her arm from the girl.
"I rode four days, alone in the wilderness just to get here."
Trina waved a hand. "And there wasn't a stream anywhere, or-"
Tori's hand found the significantly emptier bottle of whiskey again. "No."
"Anyway, I'm so glad you're here! You should've come tomorrow though. My show's only once a week." Trina fluffed her teased brunette hair. "They don't want to exhaust the talent."
"Who- oh, you. Of course."
"Did you have a place to stay?"
"Actually, I just got he-"
"'Cause if you do, I'll need to stay there too. Been having a bit of trouble with the old landlord lately." Trina nudged Tori with a sharp elbow, chuckling. "For some reason he wants money now, instead of those 'favours' I do him."
"Oh... that's... that's unfortunate." Tori looked doubtfully at her sister once again.
Trina waved a hand. "I know, right? He gets a little teensy bit of syphilis, and suddenly it's my fault! I mean, hello, half the town has syphilis, why's he blaming me?"
Tori had faced down a man intent on killing her on more than one occasion, but she'd never had to deal with anything this terrifying before. She was starting to remember why she'd run away after the homestead had burnt to the ground. That and a lynch mob had been after her. She almost breathed a sigh of relief as Andre came back behind the bar, Robbie surreptitiously creeping back on stage to clean up the glass, seeming almost fascinated by it.
Trina's attention focussed on the bartender, Tori's shoulders relaxing from the reprieve. "Andre, did you get that champagne in?" She directed the next sentence to Tori, in the tone of someone teaching an important lesson to a child. "Ladies only drink champagne." She looked pointedly at the whiskey bottle still in Tori's grasp.
"That's exactly why we haven't got none in. We ain't got no ladies here. Excepting Ms. Valentine, of course."
Trina snorted. "That two dollar whore? She ain't fit to do back-up singing for me. She's no lady. What kind of name is that, anyway? 'Cat Valentine'. You know it's fake, right?"
"Uh, sorry to interrupt, but who's Cat Valentine?" All this bickering was making Tori's head spin. Or it could've been the copious amounts of whiskey she'd imbibed.
Andre puffed his chest out proudly. "Only the best damn act in the whole town." He nodded as a mosquito of a boy popped out from behind the faded curtain surrounding the stage and gave a thumbs up. "And I think she's ready. 'Scuse me." He exited the bar again, fingers flexing, as Robbie, having cleaned up the glass and disposed of it, came back onto the stage with a guitar, hands slightly bloodier than before.
Tori turned back to the bar, jumping as she saw the boy-mosquito cleaning a glass with a rag nonchalantly. "But how- when- you were just over there!" She pointed back to the stage. "How did you-"
"I have my ways, Kid Victorious. I'm the back-up barkeep, Sinjin." He peered down at her from behind tiny glasses perched on his thin nose, hair wild and frizzled. "Trina, may I add that you're looking lovely tonight."
Trina made a noise of disgust, turning away. "Look Tor, just be here tomorrow, okay?"
"Sure, sure." Tori waved a hand dismissively. She could barely stand five minutes of her sister, she wasn't sure how she'd be able to endure a whole show.
"Bye Trina." Sinjin said in a loving voice, sighing as the girl left the bar. "She's an angel."
Tori shifted further up the bar, eyes narrowed at the odd boy before turning their attention the stage, Andre trilling a soft melody on the pianny. After a few moments of wincingly picking at the strings, Robbie joined the melody with his guitar. The Kid was confused. This was the kind of music for showhalls, not for rowdy saloons. This wasn't something you could slap your table to, or roar and howl along with. This was a gentle and wistful song, better suited for reminding people of why they're drinking in the first place. Tori's thoughts froze, however, when a smooth and clear voice rose from offstage, piercing and pure. The voice was followed by a girl, a short petite flower of a thing. Tori's gut whispered the name to her. Cat Valentine. But if this girl was a flower, she was a rose, hair the colour of fresh blood, something Tori'd seen spilt many times before. It'd never turned her stomach quite like this though. It was flip-flopping about like a pig in mud, and quickly rising to her heart.
The girl's voice was like a ray of sunshine converted into sound, soaring and sweeping throughout the simple melody, weaving into it in some places, breaking apart from it in others. Tori was transfixed, hand slipping away from the almost empty whiskey bottle to rest limply in her lap. Cat strolled across the stage, smiling sweetly at the audience, hips moving provocatively to a swell in the music. She had wide, innocent eyes, lips like a pink cupids bow, and an air of innocence The Kid was sure was deceptive, and was sorely tempted to try and prove that.
The song finished with an almost whispered promise, Cat winking at the audience with a grin, Tori gradually becoming aware of the world around her again. It was somehow prettier than before, even though a large part of it was composed of filthy, drunken cowboys.
One such cowboy stood up, swaying unsteadily. "Take yer clothes off." He hooted, gesturing vulgarly at the stage. "Go on, take yer-" He swallowed hard as he spotted the pearl handled gun pointed squarely at him, Tori waving the sixgun in a downward motion. The cowboy sat, fear in his eyes.
"Apologise to the nice lady." Tori cocked the hammer, smiling sweetly at the terrified and inebriated man.
His drooping mustache trembled, eyes bulging. "Sorry. I ought not to have said that. I'm real sorry Ms. Valentine, real sorry." He gulped, relaxing visibly as Tori drew her gun away from, giving it a slick spin back into its holster. She nodded at Cat, the girl responding with a smile and a blown kiss before waving at the rest of the audience and exiting the stage. She paused, almost out of sight, a look of surprise on her face. Tori narrowed her gaze. There was someone behind the curtain. Someone tall, with dark hair and a slim form. More than that she wasn't able to make out, as the pair disappeared from sight.
She put it out of her mind as Andre came back behind the bar, Sinjin sliding away from sight soundlessly. Andre shook his head. "Some people. Y'all are animals." He spat in disgust, spit hitting the glass he held. He proceeded to polish it vigorously with a rag, causing Tori to look questionably at her own shotglass. She shrugged; she'd been drinking straight from the bottle most of the night anyway.
"Where's the blacksmith around here?" She asked amiably, feeling the edges of exhaustion gnawing at her brain.
"You looking to store your ride?"
"Somethin' like that."
"Sikowitz is the only blacksmith in this town. Most of the time, you'd find him here, actually. If he's at the stables, he's either passed out or working his way towards it." Andre noticed Tori's look of apprehension. "Oh, but he'll take real good care of your horse. He's just down the road and to the right."
Tori tossed a few coins onto the bar, standing. "Thanks."
"Hope y'all enjoyed the show." Andre grinned. "Ain't often we get a star like you in town."
The Kid tugged down her hat as she exited. "Yeah, I'm a real star." She chuckled, unhitching her horse from the post.
"C'mon Pal, let's get you bedded down for the night." She led him down the deserted main street, silent but for the clip clop of the palomino's hooves, and the jingle of Kid Victorious' spurs. Tori yawned widely, stretching. "Figure I might head that way too, Pal." The horse whickered in response, Tori laughing. "You're a good friend, Pal. You know that?"
She found the stables by following the sound of snoring, finding the source emanating from a filthy man clothed in more attire than she'd seen in one of those fancy boutiques in the city. He even wore one of those Oriental scarves she'd seen slung around the necks of the railroad workers, a bright yellow and green patterned thing. The man's face was scruffy, hair everywhere but on the the top of his head.
Tori proceeded to give his foot a kick, the man almost falling off his wooden chair. "Wha-whosat?" He rubbed his eyes, blinking. "Oh, it's you. Who are you?"
The man looked down at himself. "I think so." He checked a pocket before rummaging inside his coat. "There's a label here somewhere."
"Look, can I put my horse somewhere or not?"
"Sure, just find an empty stall. If it's still the same horse in the morning, you can pay me then."
"You don't really inspire confidence, you know that?"
Sikowitz snorted. "Of course not, my dear girl. Confidence comes from within!" He gestured theatrically, chair groaning under his enthusiastic movement.
Tori clicked her tongue, leading the horse into the darkened stables, the smell of hay and dung filling her lungs. A few horses knickered softly, shifting in their stalls as Tori and the palomino passed. She found an empty stall towards the back, walking the horse in. The hay was fresh and evenly distributed, better than Tori had expected, a trough of fresh water filled to the brim. She got the horse settled for the night, removing the sweat-dampened saddle and placing it in the corner of the stall, shrugging off her dust-coated poncho and folding it on top. Her grey vest was relatively clean underneath, slightly wrinkled and rumpled from the long ride. She left the palomino contentedly munching on feed, Tori's own stomach giving a pathetic rumble.
The Kid's hand instinctively reached for her gun, halting halfway as she saw who it was. The flower, the red rose that had bloomed onstage, leaned against the stable doorframe, crimson hair almost liquid under the warm, flickering light of the lanterns. She wore a simple blue dress, that was still cut daringly enough to reveal her collarbones, and the slightest hint of cleavage. "Ms. Valentine." Tori dipped her hat.
"What's her name?" Cat batted her long eyelashes coquettishly.
Tori licked her lips, glancing back at the happy palomino. "Pal O' Mine."
Cat giggled. "Because she's a palomino!"
Tori grinned in relief. Most of the time, people just offered blank stares in response. Once it'd actually caused a duel. People just didn't seem to appreciate puns these days. "Right?"
Cat's giggles faded, a smile still on her face. "I wanted to thank you. You know, for what you did in the saloon there. You were awful brave sticking up for me like that."
The Kid shrugged, cheeks heating up. "Wasn't nothin'. Seemed like the right thing to do."
"Still, it was mighty sweet of you. Did you like the show?"
"Ma'am, you've got the prettiest voice this side of the Mississippi." Tori said solemnly. She'd sometimes thought of being a singer, back when she lived on the farm. But that fire... that fire had changed everything.
Cat giggled again, taking a step closer. "Well ain't you just the sweetest thing I ever did meet." She reached out, fingertips stroked Tori's dirt-smudged cheek. "And just look at those cheekbones. A girl could fall in love with cheekbones like that."
Tori swallowed hard, palms sweating. "Ms. Valentine-"
"Cat, you're a mighty nice girl, and I reckon it's far too late for nice girls like you to be out on the street-" A shadow crossed Cat's eyes, hand slipping away from Tori's cheek. "So I offer my services as a gentlelady to escort you home." Tori nodded, finished with her speech, the smile blooming on Cat's face again.
"You're sweeter than candy, Kid Victorious." Cat leaned in close, planting a soft kiss on Tori's less-than-pristine cheek. "And I love candy." She whispered into Tori's ear before pulling away.
The Kid let out a long breath, heart beating a tattoo in her chest. "Call me Tori."
Cat grinned. "Well Tori, how about you take me home now?" She held out an arm, which Tori gladly took, the two leaving the blacksmith's and setting off down the street, Sikowitz's snoring drowning out the sound of their steps. The pair strolled into the night, houses dark around them.
"So Tori, I heard you have the fastest fingers in the West..."
A/N: And so concludes the thrilling part 1 of 'Kid Victorious'!
Tune in next week for more thrilling and dangerous adventures featuring cowboys, Indians, evil cattle barons, gold rushes and more!
Will the daring Kid Victorious win the heart of the lady Cat?
Who WAS that mysterious figure behind the curtain?
WILL Trina's show cause a stampede, killing hundreds and depriving the country of beef and joy?
Some of this and less in Part 2: Sans Sheriff?