This is my second Wild Wild West/Eleanor Talbot fanfic. I don't own the Wild Wild West, CBS Paramount Pictures or anything else related to the show. Please don't sue me, I don't have any money.
The Night of the Mysterious Maiden
Eleanor sighed and leaning forward patted the mare's neck, "Good girl," she muttered. Flurries of snow were starting to affect visibility and once again she cursed the necessity to leave Trask in such a hurry. Lucky I don't carry much baggage, she thought ruefully.
Urging her mount forward she began picking her way across the dark landscape, the snow seemed to be getting heavier and she hoped that she could find shelter soon. She looked up into the whirling snow and cursed under her breath.
"Well, girl," she muttered, dismounting, "looks like we'll have to go on foot from here. See if we can't find some shelter."
Stroking the mare's nose, she dug out a couple of sugar lumps from her pocket and offered them to the animal, it crunched them happily and she slipped a hand under the mare's cheekpiece and began to walk slowly through the darkness, the whirling snow coating her hat and jacket.
He pressed the cloth tighter against the wound in his side and hissed as a spasm of pain rocked him. Swallowing bile he urged Mesa onwards, the mare rearing and whinnying at the smell of blood.
"Easy, girl, easy," Artemus muttered, "it'll be all right." He could already feel a sticky wetness on the saddle that he hoped was water and not blood although the chances were unlikely. So are the chances of you getting back, he thought grimly.
Reaching down he patted Mesa's neck trying to ignore the black stain that was slowly creeping towards his gauntlets. "Just get me back home, girl," he said softly.
Mesa snorted almost in reply and then with a slight urging from Artemus set off into the night.
Eleanor cursed inwardly, the blizzard was getting stronger and she wondered what the hell she was going to do. Trask was far behind her now but she knew that if she didn't find shelter soon then she and her horse could freeze to death out here. Wiping the water away from her face she peered into the icy darkness. Then she saw it, a row of lights, faint in the distance. House? She thought dazedly. That's what she was going to head for.
Jim was pacing the varnish car, Artemus should've been back by now, he thought, he was only going into town for a few supplies – what the hell's happened! He heard Mesa's whinny and was out of the car and down the steps before conscious thought stopped him. Artemus was hanging over his horse's neck, a dazed expression on his face.
"Jim," he whispered in delight when he saw his friend's face, "I made it back then."
"Yes Artie," West swallowed when he saw the blood covering his friend's jacket, "you made it back."
"Good," Artemus said and slowly slid off his horse. Jim half-caught him as he did so, feeling the body go horribly limp in his arms, "Orrin!" he yelled.
The driver looked out of his cab, swore and then he was running across to support Artie's other side, "What the-"
"I don't know," Jim replied tightly, "I think he was bushwhacked. Help me get him inside."
Both men heard the sound of hoofbeats and Jim looked up to see a familiar face, "My God! Eleanor, what are you doing here?"
Eleanor surveyed the three men quickly, "Later I think," she said tersely, "We'd best get Mr Gordon inside."
West eyed her thoughtfully as she gave instructions for her mount to be taken to the stable car after removing her saddlebags.
Carefully Artemus was laid on the table and without asking Eleanor began to examine him.
"What do you think you're doing?" West demanded.
"Trying to ascertain the extent of his injuries," she replied, "Do you want to help me or argue?"
Artie's eyes flickered and he stared up into Eleanor's face, "Hey," he said, "Fancy meeting you here."
"Small world," she replied, grinning back at him. "What happened, Artemus?"
"Couple of villains recognised me, ambushed me behind the livery stables, managed to get away but some of them were better shots than I thought." He winced and Jim was instantly at his side, a hand on his shoulder, murmuring softly.
"Well you're mostly lucky," she smiled, "But there's one bullet lodged in your side which is going to need to come out."
"If we can get going," West muttered, "we can get Artie to a hospital. They can perform the surgery."
"Fair enough," Eleanor stepped back, "a train in the middle of nowhere is never the best place anyway."
She turned to her saddlebags and began unpacking first aid equipment talking to Artemus all the while, "I'll dress your wounds," she said, "and we'll try and keep you comfortable until we get to – where are we going Mr West?"
"Next stop St Louis," West replied shortly, his own sea-green eyes never leaving her figure.
"Oh good," she nodded, "I can catch a connecting train to Washington from there."
She opened her first aid kit and quickly and expertly dressed Artemus's wounds, he noticed the slight frown as she examined the bulge in his side but dressed it anyway. "We'll have to check for bleeding throughout the journey," she explained to an unusually silent West.
"If we allow you to stay on board," he replied tightly. "We have a rolling cell up forward, perhaps I should confine you to that until we reach St Louis."
"If you wish, Mr West," she replied calmly, "as long as you let me have a blanket and a pillow. I could do with the rest."
Jim swallowed, to be perfectly honest he wasn't sure he could believe his eyes, this did not appear to be the woman he'd met five months ago, the eyes and face were the same but she seemed to be a completely different person, gone were the fine clothes. Instead the woman that stood in front of him wore dark trousers, a plain white linen shirt, a dark, travel-stained jacket and sturdy boots.
"I could of course let you travel with Artie and I," he said, "but I'd like an explanation."
"You'll have to tell him, Eleanor," Artie rasped from the table.
"You're supposed to be resting," she admonished. "Want something for the pain?"
"In a moment," he hissed through clenched teeth, "You two need to work together. Tell him Eleanor."
She cursed softly and to his surprise West felt his mouth break out in a smile, "That's not the sort of language I expect from a gently brought up young woman."
"That's because I'm not gently brought up," she replied, "here." She reached into one of her saddlebags and silently handed her warrant card across to him. The expression on his face was similar to Gordon's when he'd discovered her true identity, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I wasn't supposed to," she replied, "I wasn't even supposed to tell Mr Gordon but one of my bad habits caught up with me."
"Only one?" he raised an eyebrow and she rolled her eyes, "What was that?"
"As Uncle James said, 'I talk too much,'" she sighed. "You were supposed to treat me like an airhead, that's how I get my jobs done. I dislike it, but if people assume that you're an airhead they'll often say things in front of you."
West nodded, "And me?"
She looked uncomfortable, "You seem to prefer your women like that."
West frowned and said, "Is that what you think of me? That I want to spend my time with airheads?"
"Frankly, Mr West, yes." She replied.
He didn't say anything and she looked up to see a stricken expression in his eyes, shrugging her shoulders she bent over Artemus, "I'd like to give you some laudanum," she said gently. "It should take the edge off and let you sleep for a bit."
"All right," Artemus nodded.
She held the glass to his lips and gently lowered his head to the pillow, "Eleanor," he whispered.
"Yes?" she said gently, holding one of his hands.
"Give Jim a chance. I think you judge him too harshly." And then his eyes rolled and he was unconscious.
Eleanor straightened up and looked across Artemus's unconscious body at Jim. "Do you want to sit with him while I make us coffee?"
Jim nodded, "Thanks," he replied shortly.
She handed him one of the mugs and then went to sit on the sofa.
Jim rested his hand on his friend's arm just as the train began to move.
She saw the look of relief cross his face and regretted what she'd said, "With luck we should be in St Louis tomorrow morning."
"Hope so," Jim muttered, "How long will Artemus sleep?"
"Four, maybe five hours," she replied, suddenly tired. Her whole body ached, especially her leg, What I wouldn't give for a copper footwarmer now,she thought.
"If you want to get some sleep, you can use my room," Jim said shortly, not turning to look at her.
"My thanks," she said getting stiffly to her feet.
Removing all her clothes was not possible but she managed to remove her calliper. It took all her self-control not to whimper as she massaged the limb. Eventually the ache in her leg eased and although the rest of her body still felt stiff and sore she thought she might get a couple of hours rest.
She didn't think she'd sleep but she was suddenly woken by a jolt. Sitting up she rubbed her eyes and looked around. It was pitch black outside and she wondered what was going on. Grabbing her calliper she strapped it onto her leg and got to her feet. As usual she swayed until she regained her balance, then opening the door she stepped out into the corridor as James West came up behind her, his usually open face tense. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Landslide on the track," he said shortly, "and the weather's getting worse." He moved past her and she could see tension in every line of his body.
"Awake and in pain," Jim replied, moving through into the varnish car.
Resisting the urge to scamper after him, Eleanor followed him and then walked across to Gordon, "Artemus," she said gently, bending over him.
"Eleanor," he whispered, "Why have we stopped?"
"Landslide on the line I believe," she replied, "I suppose the next stupid question would be, 'How are you feeling?'"
"Now that would be a stupid question," he whispered, "Everything hurts."
"And I'll probably hurt you even more," she replied, her eyes carefully examining him. Artemus was clammy to the touch and there was a grey pallor to his skin that she didn't like. She smiled when their eyes met and he shook his head, "Something's not right, Eleanor. Stop trying to reassure me."
She nodded quickly, her eyes flicking to the dressings she'd applied, most seemed to have stopped bleeding, but the one that was worrying her was the one in his side, "This will probably hurt," she said quickly, looking up at his face.
Gently she palpated the area, the tautness of his abdomen worried her, he hissed as she gently touched the area, "Painful?" she asked quietly.
"Yes," he replied, panting.
"This is not good," she looked up at him.
"What's not good?" West was at the corridor leading to the stable car, snow coating his hat and jacket.
Eleanor straightened up and said, "Mr Gordon is exhibiting the classic symptoms of internal bleeding. What's the situation with the landslide?"
"No go," Jim shook his head, "Orrin and the boys are working on it now, but they say they won't be able to make an accurate assessment until daylight."
Eleanor swallowed, "I'm just going outside for a moment."
She closed the door behind her and stared out into the wintry landscape, holding onto the rails of the varnish car she swore, "Damn! Damn, damn, damn!"
"Are things that bad, Miss Eleanor?"
She turned to see Orrin mounting the steps of the varnish car and managed a rueful smile, "I just don't know what to do next – well I do, but I don't want to."
"Have no faith in your ability?"
"Hah!" She snorted, "No, I just seem to have upset one of the few people I would like to like me. Me and my big mouth."
"Mr West doesn't hold a grudge, Miss Eleanor," Orrin said as he leant on the rail.
"Oh, I think he might now," she replied, "I said that he preferred to date airheads rather than intelligent women."
"Oh dear," Orrin frowned, "I can see why you're concerned."
"Oh Orrin," Eleanor chuckled, "I do love you sometimes. But it doesn't detract from the fact that I've made a complete fool of myself in front of someone I like very much."
"Perhaps that's why you did," Orrin replied, a guarded look in his brown eyes, "You guard your heart so carefully, Eleanor. Must you push everyone you like away – all the time?"
Eleanor didn't reply and Orrin smiled, "As I said, James West doesn't hold grudges. Give him a chance."
He got down and turning she could see him moving up the side of the train, his lantern glowing yellow in the darkness. Turning around again she leant on the rail and heard the door open behind her and then Jim was stepping out of the car.
"How's Mr Gordon?" she asked without turning round.
"Not good," Jim replied, tipping his hat back and leaning on the rail next to her. "Which means that the bullet still in him needs to be removed," Eleanor sighed and ran a hand across her face, she turned and looked at him, his face was hidden in shadow and she said, "I can do it, I think I can do it so Mr Gordon will be pain free, I'd just rather not."
"I'm not sure you have any choice," came the quiet reply. He turned and Eleanor saw that his face was stern, "You see, Eleanor, you don't seem to be the girl I met five months ago."
"I see," she replied, looking up at him, "you're a tad displeased that I didn't tell you who I was."
"A tad," he replied, he suddenly gripped her shoulders, "Why did you tell Artemus and not me? Do you think so little of me that I wouldn't understand?"
She swallowed and resisted the urge to pull away, finally she found her voice, "I think highly of both of you, I wasn't supposed to tell Artemus, he kind've figured it out."
"One of your faults I suppose?" Jim raised an eyebrow.
"One of my faults." She responded.
"So, if we had to operate on Artie what would you do?"
"I've been thinking about that," she replied, "I could put Mr Gordon into a somnambulistic trance and then you could operate, or I could operate."
"I don't believe it would work," Jim said tiredly, "someone tried to hypnotise Artie a couple of years ago."
"But did he want to be hypnotised?" Eleanor asked. When Jim shook his head Eleanor continued, "You have to want to be hypnotised in order for hypnotism to work. Besides which I can't make him behave any differently than he normally would – if I tried he would automatically come out of trance. It's called abreaction."
Jim regarded her thoughtfully, "All right, who does the sugery?"
"I could if you want," she swallowed, "I've had some medical training."
"Then let's go inside," Jim opened the door and ushered her inside.
Artemus was awake but his skin had a nasty grey tinge and his breathing was fast and rapid. Eleanor bent over him and gently touched the back of her hand to his temple, "Hey, how you doing?"
He opened his eyes and rasped, "Are you sure you want an answer to that?"
"Not really," she grinned, "Dumb question, but I thought I'd ask anyway. We need to talk."
"You're going to have to get this bullet out of me, aren't you?" Artie swallowed.
"We're going to have to stop that bleeding," Eleanor said, "Remember how I hypnotised James the last time we met – I'd like to try the same thing with you. It'll mean that either Jim or I can operate and you'll be pain free."
"What if it doesn't work?" Artie whispered.
"We'll cross that bridge if we come to it," Eleanor promised, she looked up at Jim, he had a strange expression on his face and she said, "Do you want to wait outside?" she asked kindly, her eyes never leaving his face.
"May I stay?"
"Of course," she smiled. Turning back to Artemus she positioned herself at his head and took the crystal hanging from her neck and held it up above Artie's head so that it sparkled in the light. She smiled down at him and began the induction. Some twenty minutes later she finished and then laid her hand on Artie's shoulder, his eyelids flickered but didn't open. She looked up at Jim and mouthed silently Ready
"Jim's going to sit and talk to you," Eleanor said quietly, "for a bit."
She watched as West wiped his palms on his trousers and sat down at Artemus's head. She nodded quietly and then turned to her instruments. She began to carefully wipe the area with antiseptic and then she picked up the scalpel, despite his best intentions, West tensed waiting for his friend to jerk as the scalpel cut into his flesh.
To his shock and surprise there was no reaction, he stared at the blood welling up from the wound and then suddenly felt slightly sick.
Talk to him, she mouthed silently and feeling guilty he turned back to Artie. Sitting down he laid a hand on Artie's shoulder and began talking to him about anything he could think of, old missions, when they'd served together in the Civil War, until finally his voice dried up and all he could do was lay his hand on his friend's shoulder and watch his face.
Meanwhile Eleanor gently probed for the bullet, she had seen the lump just under the skin but the amount of blood that had welled up as she cut surprised her, she swabbed and then saw the metallic shine of the slug and using the forceps, carefully eased it from the tissue and then dropped it onto a plate. Carefully swabbing away more blood she examined the wound and then West saw her take some dressings and carefully pack the wound, finally applying a large dressing pad over the top. Then she carefully checked Gordon's other wounds, cleaning and dressing them and stitching the gash in his leg and arm.
An hour later she finished and then looked up, Jim's hand was still resting on his friend's shoulder and the other was against his head, and she knew that Jim was giving Artemus his strength.
She covered him with a blanket and moving to stand behind him spoke very softly in his ear, "My turn, Jim."
He nodded and removed his hands, she laid her own hand on his shoulder and said firmly, "Artemus, I want you to listen very carefully. I'm going to wake you up in a moment so you and Jim can talk for a bit and then I'm going to put you back to sleep to let your body heal. I'm just going to give you the trigger word."
Artemus's eyes flickered but didn't open. She smiled and then said, "All right, Artemus, I'm going to count from one to three and when I reach three you're going to wake up. You'll feel a bit groggy but you won't be in any pain." She began to count and as she reached three Artie's eyes opened, almost instantly Jim was at his side, she watched as he pasted a smile on his face, "Artie," he said, "How you feeling?"
"Bit tired, Jim," Artie grinned, "Did it work?"
"What do you remember?" Eleanor asked bending over him.
Artemus frowned, "The crystal, something about an elevator. I think you were talking to me for a bit, then Jim was telling me about some of his missions while I was in Washington. I remember thinking about my underwater breathing apparatus, and nothing else really."
"Rest here a moment," Eleanor smiled, "I just want a quick word with Jim and then we'll come back."
Outside on the running board she turned to him, "I gave Artemus a post-hypnotic suggestion which would allow me to put him into a deep sleep-"
"Do you mean trance?"
"No, it just allows him to sleep without pain and enables his body to heal."
West frowned and then said, "Would you put him to sleep now?"
"Not necessarily," Eleanor sighed, "I need to see how the dressings are holding."
He nodded tightly and then opened the door, "After you, Miss Talbot," he said quietly.
"You feeling a bit better?" Eleanor asked, eyeing Artemus critically, the dreadful grey tinge seemed to have lessened and he seemed more alert.
"Hungry," he complained, "and thirsty."
"Now that I can do something about," Eleanor replied, "omelette for you both, coffee for Jim and weak tea for you."
"Don't mess up my galley," Artemus ordered as she stood up and slipped past him.
"No, mother." She laughed softly and disappeared round the corner.
"Well?" Artemus asked, regarding his friend quietly.
"Well what?" Jim replied, "I don't know what to make of her, I mean the last time I saw her-"
"I know, Jim, I know. Give her a chance."
"She didn't have to say that she thought I preferred airheads," for a moment the usually urbane James West looked hurt.
Artemus smiled at his friend's consternation, "But you are the glamorous James West, Secret Service agent extraordinaire. Perhaps she didn't want to be taken advantage of."
"Do you think I would do that?" Jim asked.
"I know you wouldn't," Artemus replied, "but she doesn't. And I would imagine that she has to be defensive – remember – she's a woman."
"I'm not likely to forget," Jim grumbled.
"But you are likely to assume she's incapable because she's female, remember Rita Leon? She wanted to help but your reaction was to dismiss her. Eleanor is probably as skilled as most of our colleagues."
"You really think so?" Jim raised an eyebrow.
"Would Pinkerton's employ her if she wasn't?" Artemus managed a smile, "James-my-boy five months ago she knew you, knew where to bring you and knew what had happened to you, that does not sound to me like an airhead. Tell me, what did you think of her five months ago?"
A slow smile curved the handsome mouth, "I thought she was brave, bright and beautiful. When we got back to Washington I was going to look her up, I thought she was wonderful."
"So why is she different now?"
"Because she's not who I thought she was." Jim's usually placid forehead creased in a frown, "she's not-"
"A society lady? A woman who would fall at your feet in adoration? What, Jim?"
Unfortunately he didn't get a chance to answer as the galley door opened and Eleanor emerged carrying a tray, she set it down and then turned to Artemus, "Let me check your dressings, Artemus, and help you sit up."
James watched as she gently unwrapped the bandages and examined her stitches and the dressing she'd applied to his side. Finally she took Gordon's pulse and then a slow smile curved her lips, "Well, your pulse is steady and your colour seems to have improved which is good. I've made you a one egg omelette, something light. And then I want you to rest."
Artemus grinned up at her, "Do my best, Eleanor."
Finally both men had been served and picking up the tray she quietly slipped from the room into the galley to eat her own supper. She could at least sit down and rest her leg, wiping the back of her hand across her forehead she picked up her own plate and began to eat her own supper.
Meanwhile Jim turned away from his plate and bent over the telegraph, "I'll just let them know in St. Louis that we've encountered a small problem."
"That's an understatement," Artemus yawned suddenly.
Jim managed to dredge a a smile from somewhere and nodded. "You could say that."
She had just finished her own supper and was about to clear away when Jim appeared at the galley door, "Finished?" she asked.
"Brought the plates and cutlery through," he said shortly, "Do you want to put Artie to sleep now?"
"You'll do the washing up?" she asked slowly.
Jim eyed her thoughtfully, she was very pale and there were dark shadows under her eyes. "You look washed out," he said sympathetically.
She didn't respond, merely turned and walked out of the galley, Artie half-smiled as she sat down in the chair, "I'm going to put you back to sleep," she said, "I gave you a post-hypnotic suggestion while you were in trance to put you back to sleep, it'll enable your body to heal."
Reluctantly Artemus nodded and she took his hand and spoke the single trigger word. He half smiled at her and then his eyes slid shut. She squeezed his hand reassuringly and then laid it on the coverlet.
Jim was drying when she slipped into the galley, "Artemus is asleep," she said quietly.
"You should go and get some rest," he said, "If there are any problems I'll call you."
"Promise, Mr West?" she raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow and to his surprise he nodded, "I promise, Miss Talbot." And to his astonishment he meant it.
She nodded and he noticed the spasm of pain that crossed her face as she turned away, instantly he was at her side, "What is it?" He asked quietly.
She looked at him and then shook her head, "It will make you ten times worse than you already are."
"Try me," he said gently.
"Oh what the hell-" she swore again and Jim had to bite his lip to keep from smiling. She caught it out of the corner of her eye and shook her head, "Stop trying to charm me, Mr West, I'm not in the mood."
Surprising himself he took her arm and got the shock of his life, as he moved behind her, intending to escort her into the varnish car, her boot came down hard on his instep and he jumped back in pain, "Grief, woman!" he snarled.
"Don't ever grab me like that!" she backed away from him her green eyes bright with fury.
West raised his hands placatingly, "All right, all right, I'm sorry. Where the hell did you learn to do that?"
"Evidence of a misspent youth," she replied turning away.
"That hurt," Jim complained.
"It was meant to," she retorted. "I'll see you later, Mr West."
He nodded reluctantly, and then left, still limping. She waited until she heard the scrape of the chair next to the sleeping Mr Gordon and then she slipped quietly away into West's room. She sat on the bunk and wrapping her arms around her torso, leant forward trying to control the shivers that ran through her body.
Through the roaring in her ears she heard a muffled curse and then someone had scooped her into their arms and was holding her close as great shudders racked her body.
West held her slim body as the spasms shook her, he'd entered the room in order to give her a pair of pyjamas but when he'd seen her shaking as if in the grip of a fever his whole demeanour changed, dropping the clothes onto a chair he'd crossed the room and lifted her into his arms.
"Easy, easy," he murmured, "It's all right. Hit me if you want."
She turned on his lap and buried her face in his shoulder and he carefully stroked the auburn hair, it was her lack of noise that frightened him the most.
Eventually the shudders stopped and she lifted her head to look up into Jim's face, "Damn," she muttered.
"Eleanor I'll put you down, just promise not to hit me," she nodded quickly and he saw the same spasm of pain cross her face, "all right. I've had enough of this, what's the matter?"
She sighed and looked away, "Let me up, Jim."
He set her down on the edge of the bunk and watched as she unzipped her left boot and again the metal calliper emerged. He stared fascinated as she withdrew it.
She looked up at him and smiled, "Polio as a child. As I said to your partner, my left leg is considerably weaker than my right. So I wear this," she tapped the metal brace.
James stared at her, "And you're an agent? For Pinkerton's? Do they know?"
"No, they don't." Eleanor replied, "For a damn good reason. Please don't say I don't look disabled, and please don't assume that I'm some helpless female because I'm not in the mood."
He watched as she lifted her left leg up onto her right knee and began to massage the calf muscles. "Can I help?" he asked kindly.
She looked up at him, "It's all right, I have to do this every night, the muscles stiffen up during the day."
Suddenly Jim wanted to assist her, "Here," he said softly, "Let me do that."
She looked up at him, "Are you patronizing me again?"
"No, not this time." He replied, "Take that other boot off and put your feet on my lap."
Surprising herself, she did as he asked. He began to run gentle fingers along her left leg, gradually probing the muscles, feeling the knots beneath his fingers.
"Is this how you seduce all your women?" Eleanor asked.
He looked up and smiled, "I've never done this for any other woman."
"Flatterer," she replied, and he noticed that the colour had returned to her cheeks.
"How does that feel?"
"Much better," she smiled, "Thanks, Jim"
He lifted her feet and put them down on the bed, "My pleasure, Eleanor," he replied, "I suggest you get some sleep."
"Patronising again, Mr West," she yawned suddenly.
"Not intentional," he replied, a smile breaking out across his face, "Shall I order you to get some sleep?"
"No, you don't need to do that," she replied tiredly, "I just dislike being treated like a child."
"That would be the last thing I'd do," Jim bent down and placed the tenderest of kisses on her lips before slipping out of the door and leaving her completely dumbfounded.
Smiling, she pulled the pyjamas from the chair and slipped into them. Turning up the sleeves she smiled when she remembered the last time she'd done the same thing.
Snuggling under the covers she laid her head on the pillow and dropped almost immediately into slumber.
Half an hour later, Jim poked his head around the door. She was fast asleep, her copper hair splayed across the pillow. He stood looking down at her for a long time and then just as quietly left. Artemus was still fast asleep and he looked down at his friend tempted to shake him awake but remembering what Eleanor had said, he allowed his friend to sleep.
He walked into the galley to make himself another cup of coffee and was just adding milk when he heard Orrin's voice, "Mr West, I just came down to see if you were all right?"
Jim poked his head out of the galley and smiled at the driver, "I'm fine, Orrin. Can I make you a coffee?"
"That'd be great Mr West, sir," the man rubbed his hands together, "How's Mr Gordon doing?"
Jim managed to dredge a smile from somewhere, "Better I think. I think Eleanor saved his life. What's the situation with the landslide?"
"We'll take another look in the morning," Orrin said, "at the moment and with the snow it's impossible to see anything."
"Fair enough," Jim nodded, "You and Sam take care of yourselves, all right? There's spare blankets in the stable car if you need them."
"Thanks Mr West," Orrin swallowed the last of his coffee and set his mug down on the table, "You should try to get some rest too."
Jim nodded, he'd been operating on adrenalin for the past seven hours, "I will, Orrin."
When he was alone he took Artie's hand and watched his friend's face, Despite his promise to Orrin he was still too keyed up to sleep. He sat watching his friend's face and listening to the sound of his breathing. Eventually he dropped into slumber.
It wasn't restful. He was standing at the foot of the running board watching as Artie slid off his horse and running to catch him feeling the body sag in his arms. He was lifting the man, almost dragging him into the varnish car, trying, trying to find a pulse and knowing there was nothing he could do as he knelt in the blood pooling about his knees.
"Jim," a gentle hand was on his shoulder and he was awake and wrapping his arms around the young woman sitting next to him.
"It's all right, Jim," she said gently, holding him as the shudders wracked his body, "it's all right."
Eventually he released her and looked up into her face, "Eleanor," he said slowly, "How?"
"You were calling Artie's name," she said softly, "I'd got up for a drink and heard you."
"Oh," he swallowed.
"It's all right, Jim," she said gently, "I saw how your partner reacted when you were hurt five months ago. I wouldn't expect anything less."
"I thought I would lose him this time," he said slowly.
"You have too many guardian angels watching out for you," Eleanor replied, "both of you."
He shrugged and then said, "How long do you think Artie will sleep?"
"I'd give it until late tomorrow morning," Eleanor replied. She laid a hand on his arm, "Do you think you can sleep now?"
"Yeah," he managed a wry smile, "What about you?"
"I'll keep watch on Mr Gordon for a bit," she replied, "all right?"
"Thanks," he said, squeezing her shoulder, "I appreciate it."
She heard the door close and then a soft voice say, "Thanks, Eleanor, I was wondering when he'd go to bed."
"Artemus!" she gasped, "How long have you been awake?"
"About five minutes," he smiled, "your trigger word did put to sleep for a bit though. I'm afraid that I was a bit too worried about Jim to sleep for long."
"Want a drink?" she asked softly and when he nodded she held the glass to his lips. He lay back, "That's some skill, Eleanor."
"Ah well," she took his hand, "that's another story."
"As I said the very first night I met you," Artemus replied, "I suspect that there's more to you than meets to eye."
You don't know the half of it, Eleanor thought, she leant back in the chair and sighed, "It's been a long week, Artemus."
"Bet you're looking forward to St Louis," Artemus said.
"A long hot bath to start with," she smiled, "I have a friend there and she'll be able to provide a change of clothes. Then I'll telegraph Uncle James and hopefully get a few days off before I have to trundle off on another assignment."
"Uncle James?" he raised an eyebrow.
"Colonel Richmond," she replied, flushing to the roots of her hair.
"That's Uncle James?" Artemus chuckled and then winced, "You may have done wonders with your surgery Ellie, but it still hurts."
She chuckled, "Well hypnosis can do many things but it can't heal you overnight. I'll still need to take a look at that side of yours."
"Go ahead," he smiled as she stood up and pulling down the covers examined the dressing on his side, she didn't remove it but carefully examined the area around the dressing. Then she looked up and smiled, "Well, I think you might be all right. It'll be sore for a while, I had to cut to remove the bullet, but I've packed the wound open and it seems to be healing. I'm not going to remove the dressing, I think we'll leave it as is, as far as I can see there shouldn't be any problems."
She sat down and Artemus took her hand, "I owe you my life, Eleanor."
"Jim would have known what to do," Eleanor shrugged, "I just helped."
He nodded and then said, "I know, we're both skilled with battlefield medicine and I don't doubt that he would have coped, but I thank you for being here."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Artemus." She smiled and bent to kiss his cheek. Brown eyes met emerald ones and he said softly, "So? You and Jim?"
She sat back down and smirked, "Well apart from the fact I've bruised his instep and he thinks I'm an idiot we're getting along famously."
"Oh dear," Artemus rolled his eyes, "What did you do?"
"He grabbed my arm and I'm afraid I reacted instinctively," she sighed, "I stamped on his foot."
"But you seemed to be talking as I woke up."
"I think I was just a shoulder to cry on," Eleanor sighed, "Ah well. I doubt we'll ever trust one another."
"Will we see you again?"
"Who can say," Eleanor replied, "this country is vast. Chances are that you could be sent to Washington while I'm sent to some remote town like Trask."
"You like him don't you?" Artemus asked softly.
"Very much," Eleanor replied, she managed a wry smile, "I just seem to be very good at pushing people away."
"And I suppose you can cope with being thought an airhead while working but it would be nice to be taken seriously by other agents, yes?" Eleanor nodded seriously as he continued, "And I'm guess that as a rule most don't."
"None of them do," Eleanor replied in a low voice, "not even you and Jim. Let's face it, you'd prefer an airhead, that's what you both like, all these adoring girls fawning at your feet."
"I thought I did," Artemus replied slowly, "but an airhead would have been no use out here and the last thing Jim or I would want is a woman sobbing in the corner when we needed her help."
"But an airhead wouldn't have been out here, would she?" Eleanor raised an eyebrow at him and he nodded ruefully, "If you think you can cope I'm going to go and see to my horse. I made sure she had hay and water when I arrived and took her saddle off but she could do with a brush."
"Go ahead," Artemus waved his hand, "I'll be fine."
She dressed quickly in her shirt and trousers and then slipped through to the stable car, the mare made a soft whickering noise as she stepped into the stable car and she rubbed the mare's nose, "Hey girl," she murmured, "how you doing?"
The mare nuzzled her hand, Eleanor laughed softly, "Let me just get the brushes and combs and I'll give you a quick grooming."
She was combing the mane when the mare turned her head and began nuzzling her waistband, she rubbed its nose and then laughed as it took her trousers between its teeth and pulled her towards him. "Stop it," she laughed, patting the mare's neck, "Or I'll weave coloured ribbons into your mane."
Eventually she finished and making sure that the mare had enough hay and water she put the curry comb and brushes back and then slipped back through to the varnish car. Slipping quickly into the room Jim was letting her use she scrabbled in her saddlebags for a clean shirt. Pulling it on she scrabbled in the bottom of the bag for her brush and pulled it through her auburn hair.
She tied it back with a ribbon and then walked through to the varnish car. Artemus looked up and smiled, "Everything all right?"
"Yes, thanks." Eleanor replied, she looked out of the windows, "Well, it looks a bit wild out there. Hope Orrin and Sam are all right. Right I'd better start making breakfast. But don't expect miracles, cooking is not my forte."
"Fair enough," Artemus smiled up at her, "Jim should be awakening soon I think. But coffee first – you'd better nip down to the cab."
She nodded and then pulling on her heavy jacket slipped down the corridor to the stable car. Patting the horses as she passed she opened the door at the head of the stable car and dropped to the ground.
The snow had stopped and she was grateful that it wasn't deep. She reached the locomotive and called up to the cab, Orrin's head poked out and a smile lit the firm lips, "Good morning, Miss Eleanor."
"Good morning, Orrin," she called, "I came to ask if you want breakfast, I can stretch to a bacon and egg sandwich for both of you."
"That's great, Miss Eleanor," Orrin called down, "Do you want to come up, we've just made a brew."
"No thanks, Orrin, I'd better get on with breakfast. Come through in about twenty minutes and I'll have them ready for you."
Grabbing a couple of pillows from her carriage she propped Artemus up and then went into the galley to make breakfast. She'd just finished making four bacon and egg sandwiches when Orrin's head came round the galley door, "How's it going Miss Eleanor?"
"I'm just finished, Orrin," she smiled at him.
"Have you had a look at the landslide yet?" Eleanor asked.
"Sam and I looked at it early this morning. I think if we attack it after breakfast we should have it cleared by the end of the day."
"Well the sooner we get to St Louis the better." Eleanor smiled, "I'd be much happier if Mr Gordon could be examined by a doctor."
"I don't think Mr Gordon would have survived this long without you," Orrin replied, "Have faith, Ellie."
She scowled when he called her by her pet name, "Ah Orrin, sometimes I think back and wonder if I wouldn't have been happier as an airhead."
"You? Not a chance," Orrin replied, "You're just tired, Ellie."
"Go take your sandwiches," she replied.
She was pouring coffee when a familiar voice said, "I'll take Artie's through, Eleanor."
She turned to see James standing in the doorway and her heart sank, "Go ahead," she replied, "Do you want one?"
"Please." He watched as she poured two mugs and as he was leaving she said, "Ask Mr Gordon what he'd like for breakfast."
When he was gone she poured herself another cup of coffee. Let me get through the rest of this journey she thought to herself.
"Eleanor," his voice interrupted her thoughts and she plastered a smile on her face and turned to James West, "I did Orrin and Sam bacon and egg sandwiches, do you want the same?" she asked.
"That'd be fine for me," Jim said.
"Great," she swallowed, "And I suppose that Mr Gordon would like half a haunch of venison."
Jim smiled, "Yeah, that's about the size of it."
"He'll have boiled eggs," Eleanor replied, "and like it."
"You want to keep his meals light?" Jim asked.
"I think so," Eleanor replied.
He smiled again and said, "I'm going to go and see if I can help Orrin and Sam with the landslide.
"All right." She smiled and then he was gone.
She took the boiled eggs through to Artemus who was sitting up in bed flipping through a book.
"Breakfast," she said quietly.
His face lit up "Bacon, sausage and eggs with black pudding?" he asked hopefully.
"Two boiled eggs and a slice of bread and butter," she replied.
He scowled, "But I'm fine. Surely I can eat something more substantial."
"Perhaps," she smiled, "but I'm going to avoid giving you rich sauces and cream for the nonce – and it doesn't help that I'm a lousy cook."
Artemus raised an eyebrow, "You can cook omelettes and boil eggs."
"But that's it," she sighed, "I'm afraid that I've not been much help to either of you."
"Oh I wouldn't say that," Artemus replied, "you didn't turn into a heap of hysterical female."
"We can't afford to do that," Eleanor replied, "If you'll excuse me, Artemus, I'll let you eat in peace and go clean up your galley."
As he ate the eggs he frowned, We? He thought, Not I, we. We.
When she returned with a cup of coffee Artemus had finished his breakfast and was relaxing back against the pillows. She took his pulse and after examing his colour nodded in satisfaction, "Well, you seem to be healing well. I think we could get you back in your own bed soon."
"That would be good," Artemus managed a smile.
"You should be resting," Eleanor replied.
"You keep saying that," Artemus scowled. "Perhaps you should talk to me."
"There's nothing special about me," Eleanor shrugged.
Artemus laid his hand on her arm, "That I would dispute. You knew what to do." "Thinking back I think I'd rather be an airhead now," she said forlornly, "You know Artemus, the one man I really like and would like to like me thinks I'm an inconsequential woman. Oh, he does-" she said as she saw Artemus start to shake his head, "he certainly wouldn't want to spend any time with me. He's angry that I didn't tell him who I was; he's angry because I injured him and he thinks I shouldn't be out here."
Jim was walking up the corridor when he heard them speaking, he was about to step forward when he heard Eleanor talking, despite his own admonition never to eavesdrop he stopped just out of sight and listened to her talk, She was right, of course, he thought ruefully, he was angry that Artemus had kept this information from him and angry because she'd caught him off guard. But there were other reasons, he did think she shouldn't be here. But she'd handled herself well and hadn't dissolved into hysterics. He frowned thoughtfully. She was probably as exhausted as him, but – and this was a big but, at no point had he heard her complain. She'd denigrated her cooking skills but when she'd needed to, she'd rolled up her sleeves and got on with the job. There was indeed something special about her.
Artie squeezed her hand, "I'm sorry, Eleanor, I have spoken with him but-"
"I told you," Eleanor replied, "he prefers airheads, you were wrong Artemus."
Whistling to let them know he was coming, Jim stepped into the varnish car, "Orrin's just clearing the last of the boulders, he'll do a quick check of the line and we should get moving."
"Think you can get me into bed?" Artie looked up at his friend and Jim rolled his eyes.
"We can try," he said, "Do you think he'll be all right, Eleanor?"
She nodded, a smile breaking out across her face, "The bleeding's stopped, and the dressings are holding. I think we can risk it."
Jim nodded and then he was helping Artie to the edge of the table and carefully supporting Artemus as he stood up, "Whoa!" Artie said slowly, "She rocks!"
Eleanor stepped up on the other side and slipped her arm around Artie's waist, above Jim's arm, she noticed her hand was touching Jim's arm just below his shoulder, "Let's take this slowly," she said.
Painfully they walked Artie to his own room and Jim eased him onto his own bed. Slowly Artemus was eased back into bed and settled down.
"Oh that's better," he murmured, "much better on my back."
Jim and Eleanor looked at one another and despite everything a smile broke out across both faces, and then Eleanor turned away.
"Never get between a Gordon and his bed or his bath. Always did like your creature comforts," Jim laughed, "Shall I escort you back to the main car?"
She looked up at him and then nodded, "Thank you, Mr West."
"You can call me Jim," he said, "I think this experience definitely qualifies." He offered her his arm and flushing she linked her arm with his.
"I suppose this makes me a weak and feeble female," she sighed.
"No more than it makes me an overbearing male," Jim replied, "I don't intend to patronize you, merely to offer my assistance."
She looked up into his face and nodded, "All right, I'll take you and Artemus at face value for now."
"Sounds ominous," Jim sat down. "Am I really that bad?"
"No," she half smiled tiredly, "You're just a man, and you have no idea how privileged you are."
He studied her face, despite her sleep she still looked washed out, "I guess you'll be glad to get to St Louis," he said.
"Definitely," she replied, a weary smile curving the mouth, a mouth he suddenly wanted to kiss. "I'm meeting a friend and I can get a bath and a change of clothes. Then maybe a few days rest."
"Yes, I think I could do with that too," Jim replied leaning back against the cushions, "But I thank you for your help. We couldn't have done it without you. Colonel Richmond and a Doctor will be waiting for us at the station."
"You'd have managed," Eleanor sighed, "after all you applied tourniquets to Colonel Vautrain and he survived."
"Not with any degree of sanity," West replied, "perhaps the pain drove him mad, or the thought of losing his legs."
"Or the fact that he didn't die, but had to live as a cripple." Eleanor replied wearily, "being disabled is worse than death to some."
"It depends what you make of your disability," West replied thoughtfully, thinking of the woman sitting in front of him.
"If you say so," she yawned. "Lord I'm tired."
"Me too," he admitted, "Come and sit over here," he held out a hand.
"Do you trust me not to injure you any further?" she raised an eyebrow and a smile curved his mouth.
"Yes, just this once. Come and sit next to me."
"Fool," she said softly but did as he asked taking his hand and feeling the firm fingers closing around her own. He shuffled down the couch so that his head was resting on the back of it.
"Is this where you seduce me?" she asked quietly, her emerald eyes never leaving his face.
"No, not really," he rolled his head to look at her, "I just wanted you near me."
"James West of the silver tongue," she said softly and was rendered speechless when he lifted her hand to kiss her fingers.
She lay back next to him and asked, "So what now?"
There was no answer and she turned her head to see that Jim was fast asleep. Looking down at their linked hands she saw that his hand was still loosely holding hers, Oh Jim, she thought.
Laying her head back against the sofa she stared at his face, relaxed and open in sleep and wondered what she was doing.
She was still watching him when the train began pulling into St Louis. Getting up she walked through to Artie's room and found him fast asleep too, a book lying open on his chest. Smiling to herself she picked up her saddlebags and quietly slipped back into the varnish car. She took one last look around and then bent over a still slumbering West, and then gently so as not to wake him placed a kiss on his temple.
She stood on the running board as The Wanderer rolled into St Louis and could have wept in relief when she saw the two men and Phoebe. Colonel Richmond smiled when he saw her and said, "Phoebe will take care of you Miss Talbot. Dr Philips and I will go and take a look at Mr Gordon."
"Yes, sir." She nodded, and then turned to the Colonel, "Be gentle with them, Sir. It's been hell."
"I surmised that," Richmond nodded, "My thanks, Eleanor." Richmond replied and then she'd stepped off the running board and onto the platform and he'd knocked and opened the door.
Jim heard the knock and opened his eyes, sitting up he came face to face with Colonel Richmond, "Sir!" he said attempting to stand up, but the Colonel gently pushed him back down onto the sofa, "Dr Philips, if you would go forward and examine Mr Gordon, Mr West and I will wait here."
Jim blinked the sleep out of his eyes and sat up, Colonel Richmond seated himself opposite and said, "I understand it's been a somewhat trying trip."
"You could say that, Sir, yes." Jim replied.
"I hear that Mr Gordon owes his life to Miss Talbot," Colonel Richmond said.
"I think so, Colonel," Jim replied, running a hand across his face. "Whatever the doctor says, I'm convinced that had she not been there, Artemus would be in worse shape."
"I think she would just be grateful he's survived," Richmond replied.
"Yes, Sir," Jim replied. He sat forward trying to find the words to ask the Colonel what had happened to her when Dr Philips came through, "Well, gentlemen, I'm impressed. It's rough work and your surgeon obviously had to use makeshift tools but they saved his life. There's no inflammation and the wounds seem to be healing well. I understand that your surgeon had to extract a bullet?"
"Yes, Doctor," Jim replied standing up. If the doctor was going to vilify Eleanor he was going to defend her.
"I'd have stitched it, but they were obviously concerned about internal bleeding. I think on the whole they made the right decision."
Colonel Richmond watched West as he relaxed, noting the clenched fists and taut face. Well, Ellie, you've certainly made an impression!
Doctor Philips smiled, "I'm going to have Mr Gordon transported to the hospital," he continued, "I know he would rather stay here, but you look exhausted young man, I suggest you go and get a bath and a hot meal. Then you can come and visit your friend."
Reluctantly Jim nodded. He felt Colonel Richmond's hand on his shoulder, "Come on, Jim. I'll put you up in my house."
"I'll just say goodbye to Artie first, Sir," Jim replied, flashing a smile. His hat in one hand he walked through to Artie's room, his friend looked up as he entered, "They're whisking me off to a hospital," he said as Jim entered the room.
"I know," Jim smiled. "I know you'd rather be here, Artie-"
"Oh I don't know," Artemus replied, he could see the exhaustion in Jim's face, "I can work my magic on the nurses – charm them for a couple of days."
Jim smiled and squeezing his friend's shoulder quietly left the room. Colonel Richmond was waiting for him, "I'm sure it was an oversight on my niece's part, Mr West, to not invite you to supper at Colonel Fairchild's tonight so I'm extending the invitation. You will come won't you?"
"Very well, sir," Jim managed to smile and then Colonel Richmond was ushering him out of the door of the varnish car.
Eleanor managed a weary smile at her friend, Phoebe looked cool and fragrant and it made her realise that she must look a state. Phoebe merely smiled and offered her arm, gratefully Eleanor took it and together they left the platform.
"Did you get everything done at Trask?" Phoebe asked as they got into the carriage.
"Enough information for the agent to take over," Eleanor replied, "I just wish that I hadn't had to leave so suddenly – and I'm not sure I made the best impression on Agent West."
"Did you want to make a good impression?" Phoebe asked gently.
"On him, yes," Eleanor replied forcefully, "and I fear that his good opinion once lost, is lost forever."
"Perhaps you judge him too harshly," Phoebe said gently, "I know James West, he's a good man."
"But he's a man," Eleanor responded, "and he likes airheads."
Phoebe pursed her lips, "I don't know about that. He likes to be admired. What he doesn't like are liars or being lied to. What I suspect he's most annoyed about is that he was fooled."
Eleanor shrugged, "I don't know, Phoebe. I just don't know."
"let's get you home and into a nice hot bath. Colonel Fairchild's having a supper party tonight and we are invited."
"I suppose we have to go," Eleanor grumbled, looking down at her hands.
"You might enjoy it," Phoebe replied.
"Why do I doubt that," Eleanor looked up into her friend's face and smiled, "I don't suppose I can stay home with a book?"
"No, not tonight." Phoebe replied, "You've been away too long, people need to see you. I'll help you choose a dress and after a bath you'll feel so much better."
Eleanor raised an eyebrow but sighing softly nodded.
Although both Jim and Eleanor felt better once they'd bathed – and in Jim's case shaved – and changed neither felt particularly like going out. But having promised, both dressed, pasted bright smiles onto their faces and sallied forth into the night.
Eleanor took the glass of orgeat from the tray. She was too tired to drink and she knew that if she did, she'd end up falling asleep in her supper. She'd been introduced to a variety of Senators, Congressmen and Colonels until eventually they'd all blurred into one, so when her uncle and James West walked into the room she caught her breath. He was in full evening dress, and it took her breath away.
Wanting to speak to him she gradually edged closer and luck was with her as her hostess suddenly grasped her arm, "Eleanor dear, there's someone you really must meet." She half-dragged, half-walked her across the room, "Mr West, a pleasure to see you. May I introduce Miss Talbot."
Her heart in her mouth she held out her hand and felt his own hand close around her fingers, "A pleasure, Miss Talbot," he said softly.
"Likewise, Mr West," she replied.
"May I have the pleasure of escorting you into supper?" he asked offering her his arm.
"I'd be most pleased and proud, Mr West," she replied a smile of relief crossing her face as she slid her arm into his.
"Thank you," she murmured, when they were out of earshot.
"For what?" he asked.
"Not giving me away," she gestured to the people around them, "I appreciate it."
"I'm not the vindictive sort," Jim replied, "but I would hold you to your promise."
"To have supper with you? Absolutely." She replied, "but I think I have the better bargain."
Although they had both pasted bright smiles on their faces neither of them felt particularly hungry and when the musicians began to play Eleanor leant forward and said quietly, "I realise this is the man's prerogative but would you allow me to have the pleasure of this dance?"
For a moment she thought that she'd overstepped the mark, but to her surprise and secret delight he nodded. He rose to his feet and held out a hand, "May I have the pleasure of this dance, Miss Talbot."
"I'd be honoured, Mr West," she replied, laying her gloved hand in his.
"How's the leg?" he asked softly once they were on the dance floor.
"It aches a bit, but I'll live," she smiled, wishing she could reach up and touch his face, "You look tired."
"You on the other hand look gorgeous," Jim replied.
"It's paint – make-up," she explained, "If I wasn't wearing any I'd look like a hag."
"I doubt that you would ever look like a hag," Jim replied softly. "Maybe I should have applied some make-up before I came out this evening."
Eleanor was tempted to reply that she thought he looked wonderful now, but decided just to smile and shrug her shoulders. They danced another waltz together and then Jim said, "Do you think we could take a turn in the garden?"
Eleanor eyed him thoughtfully, she could see the taut lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth, "Where are you staying?" she asked quietly.
"Colonel Richmond's putting me up at his house," Jim replied.
"I don't think a walk in the garden will help," she said gently, "I think we'd just better get you to bed."
"How can you tell?" he frowned.
"You've gone quite pale," she said quietly, "and I can see the tightness around around your eyes. You need a good night's rest."
A half-smile lifted the corners of his mouth, "What do you suggest?"
"We'll slip out through the garden. Mrs Fairchild might miss us, but I doubt that anyone else will. I will just say tomorrow that I was feeling tired so decided to leave early."
"Someone may have seen us leaving together, what if they assume that we slept together," he stopped, "this impinges on your reputation."
"The people that matter won't be troubled by it – and the people that are troubled by it – don't matter. It won't impinge on anything I do for the Secret Service. It may even turn out to be an advantage."
"You won't be invited to places like this – or supper parties." Jim warned.
She grinned, "Is that a promise, Mr West? Then you can take me right here in the garden!"
He laughed, "Miss Talbot, you're amazing."
"Not really, but I thank you for the compliment."
They got into the carriage and just before it moved off, one of the servants handed a valise to Eleanor. When West surveyed her curiously, Eleanor explained, "A change of clothes, my nightdress and a few toilet articles."
"You seem well-prepared," he replied.
"Not always," Eleanor replied, she yawned suddenly, just managing to cover her mouth with her hand and blushing scarlet. "When I was first sent out on fieldwork, I was woefully ill-prepared Mr West."
"Jim," he smiled, "I think you should start calling me by my first name. After all we have shared a wealth of experiences."
"Yes," she smiled, "In that case, please call me Eleanor."
"I'd like that," he replied, taking her hand again. She looked down at his strong fingers linked around her glove and had the strangest impression that they'd just crossed some sort of boundary.
He was so tired, despite her set face and straight posture, he could sense the fear boiling off her in waves. He wanted to put his arm around her and reassure her but he had the feeling that this would probably scare her even more.
He put his head back against the squabs and closed his eyes, "Sorry, Eleanor," he mumbled, "I'm just so tired."
She squeezed his hand, "It's all right, Jim."
He opened his eyes again, "I should be showing you the time of your life."
She smiled feeling his hand, warm against her glove, "I'll forgive you this once, Jim."
A weary smiled touched his lips, "What about the next time?"
"The next time I might be too tired for you to show me the time of my life," she replied, "it works both ways."
"Yes," he replied thoughtfully.
He recognised the man who opened the carriage door, "Johnson!" A smile touched the strong lips, "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Mr West. And you?"
"A little tired tonight, Johnson. Hard mission." He turned to Eleanor who had stepped out of the carriage behind him, "Johnson, may I introduce-"
"Miss Ellie! How are you?"
"I'm fine, Johnson. How is Sarah?"
"She's better Miss Ellie. Thank you for helping us last year."
"My pleasure, Johnson."
"Would you both like to go through to the parlour?" Johnson asked, "I can have the kitchen make up some sandwiches?"
"I think we'll just call it a night," Jim replied, "If you could take Miss Talbot's valise up to her room."
"Certainly, Mr West." Johnson took the case out of the carriage and stepped into the house. "If you will both come this way. I shall put her in the adjoining room with the connecting door."
"He was very understanding," Jim remarked as he closed the bedroom door.
"He's known me since I was five," Eleanor replied, "I think he has faith in both of us." She swallowed, suddenly nervous.
Jim must have sensed this because she felt his hand, warm and reassuring on her shoulder, "I just need to have a word with Johnson and make sure that we're not disturbed. Do I need to let anyone know you're here?"
"You could ask him to get a message sent to Colonel Howard's to let them know I'm staying here tonight."
Jim nodded and then she was alone. Slipping out of her dress was relatively simple, but removing her stockings and calliper left her frustrated and shaking. Eventually she pulled her nightdress over her head and sat pink and gasping on the side of the bed to unbind her hair. When Jim returned he'd changed into his pyjamas and when he entered the room he saw her half turn and the paleness of her face contrasted sharply with her copper hair and he realised just how frightened she was.
"I took the liberty of changing," he said softly.
"I'm just going to braid my hair," she replied slowly, suddenly wondering why she was so scared .
"I can do that," he said gently.
She nodded jerkily like a badly manipulated mannequin, and without turning round felt the mattress shift as he climbed onto it. "Give me your brush," he said quietly.
She half turned and held it out for him to take and felt him shuffle up behind her, and began to brush the auburn hair, using long slow strokes that made her whole head tingle.
To her surprise he began talking and despite her fear she found herself listening, "I used to do this for Cecily when she was ill."
"Cecily?" she queried, half-turning.
"A woman I loved a long time ago," he stopped talking,, but she could still feel his hands, braiding , plaiting, weaving.
"Oh," she said softly.
"You're not going to ask me who she was?"
"No," Eleanor shrugged, "If you tell me, you tell me. If you don't, you don't."
She thought she heard a soft, but choked laugh from behind her and then his hand was on her shoulder. "I've finished. Bed I think."
She felt him pull the covers back and then nervously she did the same and shuffled in between the sheets. He snuggled up behind her and put an arm over her waist, drawing her towards him. She relaxed back into his warmth and yawned again, "I'm sorry," she murmured slowly.
"For being afraid." She swallowed.
He chuckled again, "I would be surprised if you were not afraid. But I give you my word I will not touch you." He sighed, "Besides which I'm too tired tonight."
She was too tired to respond, the last thing she felt before she dropped into sleep was his arm around her waist.
She woke slowly, half-enveloped in someone's arms. She woke slowly, half-enveloped in someone's arms. She opened her eyes to see Jim staring down at her, "Good morning," he said gently, "Did you sleep well?"
"I think so, yes," she smiled up at him, "what about you?"
"Yes," he smiled and then he bent his dark head and kissed her. At first she froze and then as the kiss deepened she relaxed and returned the kiss. His hand was cradling her head and she felt his tongue probing between her lips. A soft moan emerged from her throat and she felt a tightening in her groin that reminded her of her menses.
Finding a strength she never knew she possessed she put her hands up against Jim's chest and pushed him away, he broke off the kiss and a frown creased his forehead, "What's wrong?"
"Not like this, Jim," Eleanor replied, her emerald eyes meeting his sea-green ones.
He shook his head as if to clear it, "Sorry, Eleanor. You're right. I wasn't thinking."
"That's all right, Jim." She laid her hand on his chest, "What time is it?"
"About two in the morning." Jim smiled, "Want to go back to sleep?"
"We could talk for a bit," Eleanor replied, "Thank you for plaiting my hair, I'm sorry I was frightened."
He laughed softly and drew her into an embrace so that her head was resting on his chest. She could feel the vibration of his laughter against her forehead, "Eleanor, as I said earlier, I would have been more surprised if you hadn't been frightened."
"But I wasn't as frightened when I was on the train." Eleanor lifted her head to look into his face.
"Dear one, it's a different scenario." His arms tightened around her. "Go back to sleep."
Snuggling against him, Eleanor closed her eyes and drifted back into slumber. Jim lay awake for a long time, holding the slumbering woman in his arms, her head resting below his chin.
She murmured softly in her sleep and he gently kissed the top of her head. She snuggled closer to him and despite his own misgivings his arms tightened around her. As she slept he lay awake and thought about his life. Eventually, tiredness overcame him again and he drifted back into slumber.
She woke first as the fingers of a blue-grey dawn were stealing into the room. Gently raising herself on an elbow she looked down at Jim's sleeping face. He looked young and vulnerable although she knew that he had a core of diamond. Both of them she thought ruefully.
He opened his eyes and stared up at her, she saw something hungry in his eyes and then he was pulling her down onto him and kissing her fiercely and this time the feelings threatened to sweep her away and for a fleeting moment she wondered how to stop him.
He moved away from her running a hand through his dark hair, "Damnit, Ellie!" He muttered, "you'd make a monk forget his vow of celibacy. We'd best get up before I do something we'll both regret."
Reluctantly, Eleanor sat up and shuffled to the other side of the bed. She felt Jim's hand on her shoulder and heard him say, "I'll go get dressed in the adjoining room. Can you dress yourself?"
"Might need you to button me up," Eleanor replied half-turning.
"Call me when you need me."
"Definitely," she replied, a smile lighting up her face.
Through ease of long practice she dressed quickly, finally pulling up the sleeves of her dress when she heard the soft knock at the door, "Come in," she called.
The door opened and she heard Jim's voice, "Would you like me to button your dress?"
"Please," she half-turned and he was glad to see that her face no longer registered the terrified expression of the night before.
She could feel his hands, warm against her skin and was reminded of the time Artemus had done the same in his compartment aboard the train, but on this occasion Jim's fingers sent little shivers up her spine and it took all her self-control not to turn and kiss him.
"Done," he said softly. She smoothed down the front of her dress, turning she saw him dressed in what she always thought of as his 'work clothes' the teal of his monkey jacket and trousers contrasting sharply with the blue cravat and gold waistcoat.
"Ready?" he asked softly.
More than ever! She thought, but her voice failed her and she nodded dumbly.
He held out a hand, "Let's get down to breakfast."
Smiling she took it and felt his warm fingers close round hers. Just before they entered the dining room he released it, "Let's just try and keep impropriety to a minimum, for your sake."
Colonel Richmond was already sitting at the dining room table, "Good morning, Eleanor, my dear. Johnson told me that you decided to stay here for the night." He bit into his slice of toast, "did you sleep well?"
"Wonderfully, thank you Uncle," Eleanor took a plate from the sideboard and began helping herself to kedgeree.
"Good morning, Mr West. Mrs Fairchild was most upset that you departed so early."
Eleanor caught sight of the wry smile that touched Jim's lips, "I am sorry about that, Colonel, but I doubt she would have appreciated me falling asleep in the jelly."
"And you, Ellie," her Uncle turned to the young woman sitting opposite him, "I know you dislike these functions, but could you not have stayed an hour or two longer?"
"I'm sorry, Uncle, after Mr West left I was bored to tears. So I took the second carriage."
"Yes, it must have been a carriage I had not noticed," Richmond remarked, "especially as when I looked, only one was missing." He smiled at them both and then said quietly, "perhaps a little more planning next time, my dear."
Eleanor nodded, "Yes, Uncle."
"Mr West," Colonel Richmond turned to the man sitting att the head of the table, Eleanor had to suppress a smile as he tensed.
"Yes, Sir," he said, trying to keep his voice casual.
"Would you allow me to accompany you to the hospital after breakfast to see Mr Gordon?"
"I'd like that," West replied.
Richmond smiled, "Well I've finished my breakfast. Ellie, Phoebe wants to see you as soon as you're ready. She's got a new assignment for you. Mr West." He stood up and quietly left the room.
Jim regarded Colonel Richmond quietly and then turned back to Eleanor, "He knows, doesn't he?"
"That we spent last night together? Yes." Eleanor responded, "but he trusts both of us."
"He shouldn't. I don't wholly trust myself with you."
Eleanor reached across to lay her hand on his, "But you wouldn't. That's the point."
"Write me?" he asked quietly.
"Oh definitely," Eleanor smiled, "you never know our paths may cross again sometime."
Soon I hope, Jim thought. He watched as she finished her breakfast, drink half a cup of coffee and then get to her feet. He rose to his feet too, "It's been a pleasure, Eleanor."
She smiled, "I still think I got the better end of the bargain, Jim." Then she'd slipped past the table and out the door.
Finishing his own breakfast, he picked up his hat and quietly left.